“A Lady’s Guide to Improper Behavior,” by Suzanne Enoch; Avon; 372 pages; $7.99 (paperback)

Suzanne Enoch has a gift for piquing a reader’s interest.

In her latest book, the second in her “Adventurers’ Club series, characters come alive as they transport us back to historical England. Whether it’s the wounded military hero, the oh-so-proper (or not) heroine, quirky servants, villainous bad guys or the spurned suitor who is neither hero nor villain, each character is given a distinct personality. And whether they are evoking sympathy, empathy, charm or respect; frustration, coldness, unscrupulousness or contempt, these personalities mesh to make an intriguing and appealing story.

Tess, a self-made expert on the proper behavior of ladies, is a laudable heroine and holds her own with Tolly, a wounded military hero who doesn’t behave properly at all. Tolly survived a nightmare while serving in India, and the excruciating pain he lives with is a daily reminder. He doesn’t know why he was the sole survivor of a vicious ambush, and believes he doesn’t deserve to be alive when his men aren’t.

So his disposition is rather nasty, intentionally so to keep people away from him.

It doesn’t work on Tess.

Tolly and Tess are drawn together, and neither particularly fight the attraction. As they get closer, a scandal threatens to end their courtship; the East India Company disavows the existence of the group of vicious thieves that massacred Tolly’s men, painting Tolly as a coward and liar.

Tess is averse to become a part of any scandal, and Tolly understands as she steps away from him. But Tess doesn’t. After a memorable scene at a party, Tess realizes that love is more important than an unblemished reputation.

And most importantly, soon after, she realizes she is in love.

And Tolly realizes why he survived the attack.

Romance definitely trumps suspense in “A Lady’s Guide to Improper Behavior,” but the intrigue does add a bit of interest. And it’s so much fun to watch Tess break her own rules of propriety.

How it stacks up

Overall rating: 4-minus of 5 hearts. Enoch piques the reader’s interest with humor, as well as suspense and just a purely interesting story. It lags just a bit at times, regarding the political battle raged between the hero and the East India Company. But the strength of the characters, particularly Tolly and Tess, make it worth muddling through those few extraneous pages. Otherwise, it’s a quick moving story that will capture and keep your interest from the first pages.

Hunk appeal: 10. Tolly is a sympathetic figure, but never loses his rugged charm and tough, competent-guy image. He treats Tess with respect, and like the woman he adores.

Steamy scene grade: XXXX. He definitely adores her.

Happily-ever-after: Good, despite lacking a truly memorable romantic scene. Still, the bad guys are thwarted, Tess and Tolly are on their way to wedded bliss, love has cured Tolly of his surly disposition and outlook on life, and at the very end, Tolly delivers good news in a rather romantic fashion.

Also this week …

“Black Hills” by Nora Roberts (2009 paperback) 5 of 5 hearts. Nora Roberts’ hardcover novel of 2009 will be released in paperback in the coming days, with her new hardcover, “The Search,” due out in July. If you haven’t read “Black Hills” yet, definitely do so now. The witty repartee between characters — especially hero Coop and heroine Lil — and their rekindled passion is enough to make this a must-read.

The suspense part is lacking Roberts’ usual panache, but the charming love story is there with lots of memorable passages, snappy dialog, dry wit and splendid romantic tension.

The story introduces Coop and Lil as children. They become best childhood friends, and then teen-age sweethearts. Then they split, breaking each other’s hearts in the process. Twelve years later, they’re reunited and find their love again — eventually.

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