Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Caitlin Crews

REVIEW:  The Man Behind the Scars by Caitlin Crews

REVIEW: The Man Behind the Scars by Caitlin Crews

Dear Ms. Crews:

I am a big fan of your Harlequin Presents and I feel like you exploit the category length and the fantasy feel of the stories in the best way. This latest effort, however, spent so much time in the head space of one character that I felt disconnected with the hero. The rushed ending didn’t help.

The Man Behind the Scars by Caitlin CrewsWhen we first meet Angel Tilson, she’s not terribly likeable. She has skated by on her looks, believing that those alone would support her but when her mother incurs a $50,000 credit card bill in her name, Angel is faced with impending doom. Bankruptcy followed closely by public humiliation may be the only result unless she finds herself a rich husband. She determines to do just that at her sister’s wedding to a wealthy prince where rich men are thick on the ground. When Angel sees and targets Rafe McFarland, the Eighth Earl of Pembroke, I’m even more perturbed because she targets the man who is obviously alone and visibly scarred.

But her brazenness is mesmerizing and she spells out her plan without qualms to Rafe. She needs to marry for money. After a short conversation, Rafe tells her she can quit with the sales pitch and that he’ll marry her.

Beneath Angel’s studied insouciance, she’s filled with self loathing. Marrying for money is something she had always despised because of her mother’s own embarrassing behavior. Why and how Angel sees beneath Rafe’s scars isn’t well articulated. She just does. Perhaps she sees an echo of her own self hate because Rafe, like Angel, believes himself to be a monster both on the outside and the inside. He believes that a good man wouldn’t allow someone like Angel to grasp at him for rescue even though she is only marrying him for his pots of money.

If he was any kind of man at all, if there was any shred of humanity in him, he would not let her chain herself to a ruined creature like him. She didn’t know any better—but he did. She saw only bank balances and some kind of savior, but he knew that was only the tiniest part of what she’d get—of what she’d have to endure. He carried the weight of every single person who had ever been close to him. Surely Angel deserved better than that. Better than him.

While the emotions are strong on the surface, the underpinnings of the story are weak. Or perhaps weak in the execution. Rafe’s secret hurts are revealed much later in the story and lack emotional power because they are unveiled in such a short space and through minimal dialogue.  So much of the story is spent in Angel’s headspace and her viewpoint is so dense at times I felt like I was peering through a thick cloud of perfume.

There were some great ideas that were raised but never addressed. Was Rafe punishing himself again by marrying a woman who only wanted what was in his pocket book? Was Angel merely repeating her mother’s tragic bad decisions without recognizing their similarities? There were no moments of clarity in which Rafe or Angel discovered the better angels inside of them. Instead, Angel determined that she loved Rafe. Rafe lashes out and then they reconcile.

Perhaps it was the constraints of the category, but I felt unconvinced by the love story. The story suffers from shortness and relies heavily on the category constraints. The cruel barbs followed by the quick apologies near the end didn’t work as well here. The heroine was the only one that showed any kind of devleopment but too much time was spent contemplating internal angst.  C-

Best regards,

Jane

 

AmazonBNSonyKoboHQNARE

REVIEW:  The Disgraced Playboy by Caitlin Crews

REVIEW: The Disgraced Playboy by Caitlin Crews

Dear Ms. Crews:

The Disgraced Playboy is the second in the Notorious Wolfe series (or Bad Blood to the UK readers).  The first, by Sarah Morgan, was reviewed here.  The story treads familiar tropes: low self esteem hero plays at being a dilettante so that no one can see how empty he is inside paired with the buttoned up heroine trying to live down her own disgraceful past.  The familiarity, however, does not lessen its impact.

The Disgraced Playboy - Caitlin CrewsLucas and Grace both know shame and have dealt with it differently.  Grace choose to suppress her past, turning from her teenage modeling years which were tarnished by her mother’s derision and expectations.  Lucas choose to pursue a reputation as a dilettante, flaunting his bad behavior and cultivating a care-nothing attitude.  When Lucas walks into Grace’s office as part of the grand publicity plan for her employer, they strike sparks immediately:

“You are Lucas Wolfe,” she said, ignoring the innuendo that seemed to infuse his voice, his expression, like some kind of molten chocolate. “And I’m afraid I am busy. Can I direct you to someone who can help you?”

“Too busy for my charm and beauty?” he asked, that wicked grin making his eyes gleam, his expression somewhere between suggestive and irrepressible—and surprisingly infectious. Grace had to fight to keep from smiling automatically in return. “Surely not. That would require hell to freeze over, for a start.

Because they’ve both been wearing facades for so long they immediately recognize a kindred spirit but while Grace tries to not care about the Lucas under the surface, Lucas sees Grace as an irresistible challenge, not because she is buttoned up but because she is attempting exert control over him and he cannot stand down.

Lucas wields his looks and charm as a weapon, knowing instinctively what even someone like Grace, who professes to find him lacking, might like.  Grace attempts to thwart this by objectifying Lucas:

Lucas Wolfe was nothing more than the human version of a well-known painting, widely regarded as beautiful in the extreme—even a masterpiece. One could appreciate such a painting the way one appreciated all forms of beauty. Lucas Wolfe was a curiosity to be admired, and then ignored.

The problem for Lucas is that Grace turns into something beyond a challenge, into a sort of obsession as if he knows that by capturing some part of her that it will make him better, somehow.

What often happens in these sorts of stories is that the heroine is helpless in the face of the hero’s magnetism and I’ve always found that to place the power squarely in the hands of the male.  Instead, Grace does resist Lucas and she is able to block him in ways that he’s never been thwarted before.  She resists even knowing that Lucas knows she’s weakening. That she knows she’s weakening.  There is something magnetic about Grace when she’s acknowledging her vulnerability but trying to move past it.  Yet, even a woman such as Grace, whose spine is made of steel, can withstand the onslaught of  man whose smile is “a holstered weapon” for just so long. (and frankly we wouldn’t want her to, right?)

What elevates this book from readable candy is two things.  First, the writing.  I feel like there is great joy in the writing, even during the dark scenes as if these books are pure enjoyment to pen.  There are so many great lines delivered by the characters.  Lucas says outrageous things, meant to provoke such as saying “I am my own heroin.”  or Grace telling Lucas that she does not want to be “one more hapless female connected at the mouth to the infamous Lucas Wolfe.”    Second, is in the ending.  Where many stories in the past have seen the heroine rise triumphant from the past, you rarely see the heroine embrace her past.  Grace and Lucas both decide that their shame was defined by others.  Even though Lucas lived a life of pleasure, his actions were spurred by those who criticized him, just like Grace’s decision to conduct her life in austerity.  Grace’s past really wasn’t shameful (neither was Lucas’ until maybe he made it so) but her mother and those in her past made her feel as if what she had done was dirty and wrong.  I loved the ending scenes where Grace looked upon her past, not with shame but with pride and that is what sets this book apart.  B+

Best regards,

Jane

Goodreads | Amazon | BN | nook | Sony | Kobo | Harlequin