The First Time We Met - Pippa Croft (2014)

American Lauren Cusack has long dreamed of studying at Oxford University and now she's finally here to take her master's degree. But Lauren soon discovers it's not all dreamy spires and green meadows, with a tutor who takes being hands-on literally and some fellow male students who seem to be stuck in a sexist past. Then Lauren meets Alexander Hunt. Suave, magnetic and handsome, she has little chance of resisting his charms, nor does she want to. However, Alexander, the son of a marquess, and himself part of the titled aristocracy, belongs to a very elite world, one where an American art student is universally not welcomed. So a weekend at Alexander's Falconbury estate home, with him, his father General Hunt, and a host of aristocrats is a baptism of fire for Lauren. It's soon clear that not only is she an outsider, and likely to remain one in the eyes of everyone there, but this is also a world she's not keen to be a part of. The arrival of Alexander's glamorous and determined ex, Valentina, raises questions about her relationship and the void between Alexander's world and her own. This, the first in Pippa Croft's (aka Phillipa Ashley) Oxford Blue series, introduces a highly readable world of privilege, glamour and snobbery, with a fair share of backbiting and venom. The first third of the novel was a bit slow, but as characters are introduced and relationships formed it soon picks up pace. We don't really see much of Lauren at Oxford and it's easy to forget the reason she's there; the focus is very much on her and Alexander, but this is the basis for all of the drama, tension and entertainment in the book. Whilst Lauren and Alexander are the book's power couple, it's the villains of the piece that somewhat steal the limelight, from the sleazy professor and fellow Oxfordian, the devious Rupert to the downright venomous Valentina. As if the twists and turns of the last few chapters aren't enough, the novel's cliffhanger leaves you clamouring for the next book in the series: The Second Time I Saw You and more of this very exclusive world. (JC)

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