A Secret Life

C.J. Archer
A Secret Life
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C.J. Archer
Release Date
April 2011
Book 1 of Lord Hawkesbury's Players
Historical Romance

Minerva Peabody needs a man. Unfortunately she picked the wrong one. The impoverished playwright has a dream to see her plays performed on stage but in Elizabethan England, not only are women considered the inferior sex, they simply do NOT write plays. Faced with rejection after rejection, she decides to take one more chance with the most desperate theater manager in London, only this time she'll use the cover of a man. Sucked in by a pair of bright blue eyes and impressive shoulders, she chooses Blake out of the crowd, never thinking he'll actually play an active role in her ruse. But when he does, he gets under her skin in the most alarming way.

Privateer (don't call him a pirate to his face), Robert Blakewell, accepted Min's proposal in order to discover which cur among Lord Hawkesbury's Players got his sister with child. But when his mission threatens to destroy Min's fledgling career, he must make a choice: protect his family or the woman he has grown to love. Either choice will see him lose something precious.

A SECRET LIFE is a romp through Elizabethan England and features cameo appearances from William Shakespeare.

Book Review by Bridget (reviewer)
Jul 04, 2011   [ OFFICIAL REVIEW ]
230 people found the following review helpful
I had heard some great things about C.J. Archer's work lately, so I was looking forward to the chance to review this book. And, to my surprise and pleasure, everything I heard—from her vivid characters to her excellent storytelling skills—were completely, 100% true.

Minerva Peabody is a truly unique young lady, faced with an unusual problem. A gifted playwright, Min is determined to see one of her plays performed on the London stage, but she cannot escape the stigma of a society that believes women weak, foolish, and utterly incapable of writing plays to suit a paying audience. So, if she is to save herself and her father from poverty, she needs a man to stand-in as her writer. How fortunate, then, that she seems to have found one—a tall, haunting stranger with the most piercing eyes that Min has ever seen.

But instead of remaining in the shadows, her brooding savior, whom she knows only as Blake, insists on becoming a part of Lord Hawkesbury's Players. And on getting to know Min, in spite (or possibly because) of the tension that is already growing between them. So, when it is decided that Min needs more ‘experience' to make her plays comes to life, Blake also seems more than willing to take on the role…

Robert Blakewell is perhaps the least likely candidate ever to pose as a writer of romantic comedy. A privateer who has stalked the high seas and faced down death, the mere idea of associating with a troupe of actors is one he would have mocked earlier. But he has returned home to find his sister unmarried and pregnant and only the knowledge that one of Lord Hawkesbury's Players is to blame. Blake determines to find the man responsible and make him pay, but has no idea how, until he finds himself cast as a playwright by the beguiling Miss Peabody. She is fiery and determined and try as he might to convince himself she is nothing more than a distraction, Blake soon finds himself completely undone by his ghostwriting partner. But she is not the only one leading a double life—Min has no idea about Blake's real profession, or his pledge to redeem his sister, which might very well mean the end of all of Min's dreams.

From the first moment Minerva set eyes on Blake, I was hooked. The two of them share a connection that you could feel through the pages. The fact that Min's father had attempted (and famously failed) to revolutionize maritime navigation meant that Blake knew her name before he knew her, and it was fascinating to see how his professional opinion of Min's father and his personal opinion of her changed when he discovered her identity. When Min discovers the truth about Blake, the plot just gets even more interesting.

Even through all the lies and the false perceptions, their partnership was an equal one. Whether it is in their play-writing scheme or in their more private discussions, Blake gives Min a hero's share of power in the relationship. It's a point that is even more noticeable when everyone else in Min's life is looking to tell her who to be and what to do with her life. I loved that both of them had spells of irrational jealousy and crazy doubts about the other—it endeared them both to me completely, and challenged a lot of stereotypical elements of historic romance, which was quite refreshing.

The secondary characters, from the actors of Lord Hawkesbury's Players and especially Blake and Min's families, are fascinating. All are three-dimensional personalities, with their own quirks and tempers and passions, and made each scene a pleasure to read. I especially loved Blake's mother, who was one of the most unconventional ladies I've come across in some time. And while I'm normally wary of actual historic personalities appearing as characters in novels, meeting Shakespeare was a rare exception. He is no stock character, but as complex and intriguing as Min and Blake, not to mention the fact that his sarcasm is wonderfully funny and his loyalty to our heroine heartwarming.

All in all, I loved this book. The characters were all gems, the plot was both clever and exceptionally well-written, and the historic details created a vivid world that I didn't want to leave. I can't wait to read more about Lord Hawkesbury's Players, and cannot recommend this story enough.
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