Review: The Spice King (Book #1: Hope and Glory Series) by Elizabeth Camden

43838042Gray Delacroix has dedicated his life to building an acclaimed global spice empire, but it has come at a cost. Resolved to salvage his family before they spiral out of control, he returns to his ancestral home for good after years of traveling the world. 

As a junior botanist for the Smithsonian, Annabelle Larkin has been charged with the impossible task of gaining access to the notoriously private Delacroix plant collection. If she fails, she will be out of a job and the family farm in Kansas will go under. She has no idea that in gaining entrance to the Delacroix world, she will unwittingly step into a web of dangerous political intrigue far beyond her experience. 

Unable to deny her attraction to the reclusive business tycoon, Annabelle will be forced to choose between her heart and loyalty to her country. Can Gray and Annabelle find a way through the storm of scandal without destroying the family Gray is fighting to save?

Review. Text on the string. Conceptual 3d image

Source: NetGalley and Bethany House Publishers          Rating: 4½/5 stars

Annabelle Larkin’s family has sacrificed everything so she and her sister, Elaine can spread their wings and live a life far beyond the confines of their failing Kansas farm.  The Larkin girls have both been to college and if they play their cards right, life in their new home of Washington D.C. can and will exceed everyone’s expectations.  Though both women are thrilled to be living in the city, life isn’t without its challenges.

Annabelle’s sister is blind and her presence in D.C. is meant to help her live a real life, a life beyond her limitations.  Elaine spends her days volunteering at the national library where she works with the Braille collection and helps fellow blind people advance their own reading skills.  Elaine’s life hasn’t been easy, but helping others brings her comfort and allows her to live a life she is proud to call her own.  However, her life isn’t perfect and without Annabelle, Elaine’s newfound freedom would not be possible.  Annabelle spends her days working as an assistant botanist at the Smithsonian and if she wants her job to continue, she must impress her bosses.

Annabelle’s ultimate goal in life is to help her family bring their farm back to prosperity and that means learning all she can about wheat and crop production.  To continue toward that goal and keeping her sister safe and happy, Annabelle must keep her job at the Smithsonian, but as a woman working in the late 19th century, that isn’t going to be easy.  Her bosses have a very specific agenda and that agenda includes Annabelle gaining access to the plant and spice collection of one of the world’s most reclusive and private men, Gray Delacroix.  Gray’s collection of rare and special plants would be a boon to the Smithsonian collection and Annabelle has been tasked with gaining access to, if not cuttings and samples from the tremendous collection.

Gray Delacroix has spent his life travelling the world collecting the most exotic plants and spices.  His family’s fortune is based on he and his father’s hard work and focused determination to bring only the best spices back to America and make them commercially available.  Gray is highly protective of his work and believes only he and his family can provide the best products in the industry.  To Gray’s thinking, organizations like the Smithsonian and Department of Agriculture only want to exploit his efforts and give away for free what he and his family have worked hard to build.  To Gray’s mind, Annabelle Larkin is just the latest volley in the ongoing struggle between Gray and the US government. 

Or, is she . . . . .

Annabelle Larkin is the only woman who has ever made Gray think seriously about settling down and being more than a powerful and successful businessman.  Annabelle is knowledgeable, honest, clear in her intentions, and truly interested in what Gray has accomplished.  Her love of plants and desire to learn is rivaled only by Gray’s and that is something he has never found.  In the shortest of time span’s Gray decides to court Annabelle and work towards building a life and family with her.  Gray has every intention of helping Annabelle secure her future and support her sister and parents.  Just as everything seems to be falling into place for both Gray and Annabelle, their lives are turned upside down following the arrest of Gray’s brother for treason.  What unfolds in the wake of the arrest is a story of betrayal, lies, plans, shady business dealings, and the desire to do the right thing even in the face of heartbreak.

The Bottom Line: I was somewhat on the fence when I requested this book from NetGalley and I certainly should not have been.  The Spice King is a bit outside my normal historical fiction comfort zone, but I am quite glad to have stepped outside the zone.  I found this book to be complex, complicated, informative, and absolutely engrossing.  I spent one very late night reading this book cover to cover and regret nothing.  This story could have been dead dull if it weren’t for the robust characters telling the story.  Annabelle is a quiet storm who holds fast to beliefs and loyalties no matter the personal cost.  Gray is a surly, stubborn, reclusive man hell-bent on protecting his family no matter the personal cost.  There are so many plots and sub-plots going on in this book, but Camden weaves them all together brilliantly and creates a truly excellent read.  This book has a bit of everything including well-rounded and interesting characters, a solid and very real historical setting, and a story that weaves in and out in the most wonderful ways.  Elizabeth Camden is a force to be reckoned with in the historical fiction genre and I look forward to her next offering.

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