I live in suburban New Orleans, and this time between Epiphany and Mardi Gras is Carnival. I read somewhere that more tuxedos and ball gowns are purchased here, per capita, than anywhere else in the country. Most cities have a certain "set" that does the charity balls, débutante balls or other formal black tie affairs, but the average person doesn't don formal garb other than for weddings, once his/her senior prom is history. In New Orleans, however, Mardi Grad balls are for everyone. Sure, there are the clubs that are only for the rich blue-bloods but there are plenty of krewes that are more interested in your ability to pay dues than anything else. Most people have been to at least a couple of balls in their lifetime.
So why am I writing about Mardi Gras balls when A Black Tie Affair is set in Chicago? Because this book, like Mardi Gras, is full of formal wear, Greek names and fun. Like Mardi Gras, it is tough to take A Black Tie Affair seriously. It is a short romance novel--only 220 pages, and what sets things off is the heroine, a museum curator and part-owner of a vintage fashion shop, examining a dress that the hero's family is donating to the museum. The dress releases some sort of toxin that causes her to hallucinate. The hero was her first love, and something separated them. Under the influence of the toxin, she kisses him, and flame is re-lit. After she is released from the hospital they discover that the five vintage dresses which were to be donated have been stolen. Athena and Drew set out to find them, and during the course of the search come to grips with what separated them years ago, as well as with a modern problem that could keep them apart.
There is something about the way the book is written that feels fast, breezy, almost breathless. It is quite a ways into the book before we learn what separated the couple originally, though the fact that something did happen is discussed almost from the beginning. Also, Athena's father was recently fired by Drew, but no one knows why. The book is almost over before we learn the reason, yet it doesn't seem like a mystery; it is almost more of an annoyance, like a kid saying "I have a secret, and I'm not telling". Once revealed the secrets provide motive for some of the behavior, but the climax has nothing to do with these secrets.
There are a couple of bedroom scenes and they happen before marriage. They aren't the most vivid ones I've ever read, but this isn't the movie where the bedroom door closes and we are on the outside. The ending of the book seems to be a set-up for another, and Athena has two sisters, so I suspect we haven't seen the last of her.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Anna at Hachette Books. Thanks, it was a fun read.