*This book was provided to the reviewer by the author in exchange for an honest review at SeductiveMusings.blogspot.com
At first glance, “Hidden Paradise” appears to be a standard literary device where disparate personalities are brought together at a semi-isolated location where they exist in a time-limited protected bubble to interact in various combinations which may result in love and other complications. (Think “Grand Hotel” or more recently, “The Love Boat.”) As the title hints, however, there is more here than what appears on the surface.
The location where all our characters are gathered is “Paradise Hall, where anything can happen,” according to the brochure produced by its proprietors. Although several secondary characters weave in and out of the story, our attention is paid most to Lou and Mac, who are both subconsciously searching for something more in their lives, not realizing that what they seek could be found in each other.
Lou doesn’t really want to be at Paradise Hall, but the scholar in her can’t resist the lure of a place where Jane herself may have once been a guest. After all, there may be something yet to be discovered on its grounds that can help Louise finally finish the dissertation she hasn’t been able to complete since the sudden death of her husband. And the change of scenery, complete with a full immersion in the Austen experience orchestrated by her two dear friends, might just help her move on from mourning and be open to a new relationship.
Mac doesn’t really want to be at Paradise Hall either, but he’s agreed to write an article on Paradise Hall for publication in advance of its grand opening. He’s dallied about with women and relationships his whole life, almost never turning down a chance at intimate female companionship. This carelessness has resulted in Mac being emotionally alone, despite the constant flow of women in and out of his life. Until he meets Lou, he’s never wanted to be better, to do more to deserve a real emotional connection with a woman.
Mac and Lou are immediately attracted to each other, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the fact that their first meeting involved her looking in from a doorway while he was enjoying rather vigorous sex with someone else. But there’s no guarantee that this attraction can become something more, let alone survive all the surface conflicts and unspoken expectations that each of them brings to Paradise Hall.
This was my first Janet Mullany book, and if “Hidden Paradise” is any indication, it will not be my last. Normally, I tend to consume books quickly, especially romance novels where I am assured of an HFN/HEA. But I loved this book so much that I wanted to savor every minute reading it. “Hidden Paradise” did such a good job of bringing these characters and this world to life for me that I wanted to stretch out the experience of reading it for the very first time. The author’s knowledge of Austen and the Regency period are an invaluable part of sharing the Paradise Hall experience without becoming a distraction and the well-drawn supporting characters only enhance the love story between Lou and Mac at its center. For once, I had no idea what would happen at the end, and I was okay with that. The journey was the gift, and the ending was perfect.