As the second son of an earl, Maxim Trevelyan has had an easy life, but one that is strangely devoid of deeper meaning and purpose. While his brother inherited the title, as the "spare," Maxim has skated through life on little more than his money and good looks, merely tinkering around with music and photography when he chooses to. He also never has a shortage of beautiful women to share his bed, but these encounters are little more than empty sexual conquests. When tragedy strikes, taking his brother at a young age, Maxim finds himself entrusted with a duty he's neither prepared for, nor eager to accept. He's never had to be responsible for anyone but himself and finds his new position burdensome until he meets his new cleaner. Her beauty and innocence enthrall him, while her talent and fortitude inspire him in ways he never thought possible. He's driven by a strong desire to make her his even though he knows that as an aristocrat, he'll likely face prejudice for marrying far beneath his social station.
Alessia Demachi is from a traditional Albanian family. As such, she is expected to marry a man of her father's choosing even though it's the 21st century. However, the man her father picked for her is violent and abusive, so with the help of her mother, she ran away, hoping to find a new life in London. However, she was captured by criminals along the way and barely escaped. Now Alessia is trying to rebuild her life, working as a cleaner. One of her clients is a handsome young man who entrances her and makes her dream of a life she knows she can't have. But when the men who kidnapped her come calling at Maxim's door and he offers her a safe refuge far away in Cornwall, she gladly accepts, a move that sends her down a road to a love and passion she never anticipated. Just when it seems like Alessia is finally getting everything her heart desires, her past catches up to her, placing her in a dangerous position from which even Maxim may not be able to save her.
I absolutely loved the Fifty Shades Trilogy, so when I heard that E. L. James had written an entirely new book, I was very excited to give it a try. I was eager to find out if Fifty Shades had simply been a fluke or if Ms. James really was that good of a storyteller. After reading The Mister, I'd have to say it's the latter, at least IMHO. I can't stress enough, though, that this book is very different from Fifty Shades in that the sensual content is much tamer. Aside from one very brief scene early in the story where Maxim engages in a little light bondage with one of his conquests, there's absolutely nothing kinky. In fact, a few of the love scenes are even fade-to-black. Instead, this is a sweet but sensual modern-day Cinderella story with a white knight hero who saves the damsel in distress. If this isn't your type of read then this book probably isn't for you. But, if like me, you love fairy-tale retellings, then I think you'll enjoy this one as much as I did.
Alessia is from a traditional area of Albania, where women are not particularly valued and are still treated much like chattel. After her father betrothed her to an abusive man, her mother helped her escape, sending her to a friend's home in London, but she encountered more ill-luck when she fell into the hands of criminals along the way. She was lucky to get free and make it to London, but she's now employed as a cleaner (aka a daily) for some well-to-do people. One of those people is our hero, Maxim, who catches Alessia's eye and stirs her romantic fantasies from the moment she meets him. She loves working for him, because he owns a grand piano. She's played since she was a child and has an unusual condition known as synesthesia, where she can see the notes as colors, making it easy for her to perfectly recall pieces from memory. If she finishes her cleaning work early and Maxim isn't at home, she takes the opportunity to play, something that brings a small amount of peace to her troubled life. Although she begins to fall for Maxim from afar, she has no expectation that he'll ever give her any notice. After all, he appears to be a wealthy man and she's just his daily. But when the kidnappers from her journey to London show up at Maxim's apartment and he helps her escape, everything changes. Alessia is a very sweet young woman who was easy for me to relate to, because she reminds me of myself in some ways. She's shy, gentle, and caring toward others. She's had a very rough life, and perhaps because of that, she harbors a quiet, inner strength of spirit that's easy to miss if you're not looking closely. Music is her one outlet for all the pain and emotion of the past, while also being a guiding light that helps give her hope for the future. I'm sure there will be a lot of readers who won't "get" her because she's not the feisty, adventurous heroine that seems to be most prized in current romance trends. While I can appreciate those types of heroines as well, I still really liked Alessia a lot because we can't all be kick-ass females, so for me, she was more realistic to the type of woman I am.
Maxim is the second son of an earl, the proverbial "spare," who's basically been frittering his life away with aimless pursuits. He has talents in both photography and music and pursues those interests when it pleases him to do so, but for the most part, he's merely a bored aristocratic playboy, looking for his next sexual conquest. However, his life takes a dramatic turn when his older brother, the Earl of Trevethick, tragically dies in a motorcycle accident, leaving Maxim to inherit the title. He has no idea how to run the day-to-day enterprises of an earldom and never thought he would have to, so it's more of a burden to him than a blessing. Then he meets his daily and unexpectedly finds that she inspires him in ways he never thought possible. Her musical talents astound him, and as he gets to know her and realizes what a difficult life she's had, he comes to appreciate how fortunate he truly is. He finds her beautiful in more ways than just the physical and wants nothing more than to give her the moon if she'll have him. That's why, when the thugs show up at his door, he knows he'll do anything he must to protect her. However, not wanting to overwhelm her with how far above her station he actually is and also wanting to make sure that she genuinely loves him for himself, he initially keeps the truth of his titled status from her. Maxim begins the story harboring some self-loathing and feeling very disillusioned with life, but Alessia reinvigorates him into a better version of himself. With her, he's the white knight, a gallant gentleman, who gently cares for her, keeping her safe and rescuing her when needed. I like the way he held himself back for a while to make sure that the employer/employee power differential wasn't factoring into their relationship in any way. Maxim ended up being a kind, beta-leaning, and near-perfect romance hero for me.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Mister. It came very close to being as perfect as the Fifty Shades books for me. However, there were a few little things that I thought could have been just a tad better. I'm glad that Maxim's persistence and their love for one another won out in the end, but I would have preferred if the main villain (Alessia's betrothed) and perhaps her father, too, had suffered more severe consequences. After them abusing her the way they did, I wasn't 100% satisfied with them having only a minimal comeuppance. I also would have loved an epilogue, perhaps showing Maxim and Alessia happy after some time had passed and her pursuing her music in a more professional way. After all, she said she wanted to work - not just be a kept woman - and what better way for her to do that, especially since Maxim had money, as well as connections in the music world, that could have helped make that happen for her. Otherwise, though, I really did enjoy the book. It's just the kind of tender, emotional, and deeply romantic story that tends to puts a smile on my face. It simply gave me all the warm fuzzies and squishy feels that I look for in a romance, so for me, it was a wonderful read.
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