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Carol Marinelli

REVIEW:  Banished to the Harem by Carol Marinelli

REVIEW: Banished to the Harem by Carol Marinelli

Dear Ms. Marinelli:

Captivity narratives are a staple of the romance genre, but rarely is it ever done correctly. And yes, I do believe that there is a correct way in which a captivity narrative is carried out in a book. The idea is that one person, usually the woman, is kidnapped by the another more powerful entity (usually the hero). The captive then begins to effectuate change from within. In some ways it is a true triumph of the submissive and the trope replayed itself exhaustively in early 80s and 90s historical fiction. You see it quite a bit in paranormal fiction as well.

For the captivity narrative to work, however, the captive must gain agency in order for the two to achieve a parity in their relationship. Further, the captivity narrative shouldn’t degrade one culture in favor of the other (in other words the white woman’s culture overtakes all the customs of the native).

Banished to the Harem by Carol MarinelliBanished to the Harem is a category novel that takes the captivity narrative and works it into a contemporary romance; however, it’s almost best to read this as a fantasy or alternate universe tale. Sheikh Rakhal Alzirz must take a wife and beget an heir. The traditions of their land requires that he take only one woman and impregnate her. Once his seed takes root, he must suppress his desires and take surcease in his harem, allowing the seed to grow within his wife until the heir or heiress to the throne is birthed. Rakhal is a true believer in the customs and myths of his land. His father, for instance, broke the customs and took his wife to London and she eventually died. Rakhal and his father view the mother’s death as the price his father paid for disregarding the myths of the land. And the myths required only one wife for his father, leaving Rakhal motherless.

When he has a brief fling with the virgin Natasha and she suspects she might be pregnant, Rakhal kidnaps her to his kingdom where he tries to impress upon her the values of his world. He has a harem for her sake, not for his. One of the things I appreciated about the book was the unflinching portrayal of Rakhal as a man of power and privilege. When he discovers that Natasha is a virgin, he is delighted. He will take her virginity as a celebration of his last single day in London.

While this might sound like lip service to his own selfish needs, Rakhal’s point of view is dominated by his thoughts of Natasha, his desire to only be with her, and his struggle to maintain the traditions of his people. His frank acknowledgment of his own predilections makes his actions palatable. Further, he agrees to return Natasha home if she is not pregnant and to never touch her again.

Natasha, for her part, is suitably upset at being kidnapped and held hostage. She had been wooed assiduously by Rakhal and she had given in to him, enjoying a fling for once in her utterly responsible life. Natasha believes that Rakhal’s intent to shun her for all but a few days a month means she is simply a vessel of fertility. Rakhal argues that she would be most honored through the land. In accepting the myth of this story, you have to buy into Rakhal’s belief system about his own land and that he is, not ignorant of the outside world, but at the least does not ascribe to Western philosophies in any fashion. Importantly, Natasha continues to stand up for herself and she runs the gamut from not willing to be the honored vessel to fighting for her love.

The story, likely because of its length, doesn’t argue for change in social policy in the broad scope. Instead, it is an agitation of personal and intimate policy. Rakhal’s sister kingdom is ruled by a cousin and their belief is that you can marry as many times as you wish but only a male heir inherits. When the sister kingdom suffers a tragic loss and Rakhal is rocked by his feelings for Natasha, Rakhal is forced to re-evaluate the myth that has dominated his kingdom.

This is not a book for everyone, but if the captivity narrative is of interest, this is a well done contemporary setting full of emotional angst. B

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW: A Few Harlequin Presents for October 2010

REVIEW: A Few Harlequin Presents for October 2010

Public Marriage, Private SecretsPublic Marriage, Private Secrets by Helen Bianchin

Bianchin has a certain trope she likes to write and most of her books are a variation on the theme of two people who married because their families wanted it and they were a good match on paper, who secretly fall in love with each other, but the woman is beset with jealousy because the man is so gorgeous and is usually the victim of some CRAZY stalker woman who drives the woman away until the man comes after her and forces her to see the light. This book is essentially no different. Gianna married Raúl Velez-Saldaña when it was discovered she was pregnant with his baby. Gianna felt like she forced Raúl into marriage and her confidence was further shattered when she discovered that he was cheating on her with another woman and she lost her baby. Raúl was never cheating on Gianna and when Raúl’s mother falls ill, he takes this opportunity to lure Gianna back into his home and his life. The success of these Bianchin stories rests upon how much I like the heroine, whether I think she is a fool or whether the CRAZY other woman made the heroine’s distrust of her husband believable. In this story, I felt like Gianna was initially had good cause for believing the other woman, but she veered toward fool at the end when she decided once and for all she was going to prove whether Raúl was innocent, something she could have done four years previous. C-

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Innocent Secretary...Accidentally PregnantInnocent Secretary-Accidentally Pregnant  by Carol Marinelli

Emma Stephenson got the position as Luca D’Amato’s assistant by not succumbing to his early flirtations.   She really needed the job far more than she needed to be in Luca’s bed.   As Emma became more and more indispensable to Luca, the frequency of flirting abated. Luca begins to really like Emma, as a person.   He enjoys seeing her in the mornings and working with her all day long.   Unfortunately this doesn’t reduce Luca’s desire for Emma and he really struggles with suppressing his instinct to ask her out, try to pursue her but he knows if he sleeps with her, he’ll lose the best PA he’s ever had.   The reason he can’t have a long term relationship with anyone, including Emma is because his father was a brute, his uncle was a brute and Luca fears that any woman to whom he feels a deep attachment would suffer under his hands.   As an HP, I thought this had some meaty agnst. Emma was a great character who not only stood up to Luca but stood up for herself.   B-

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Maisey YatesHis Virgin Acquisition  by Maisey Yates

The set up of this book is pretty bad. Laughably bad. Our intrepid heroines proposes marriage to a billionaire on the basis that marriage will make him more money. How? He’s on the verge of acquiring her father’s business, one that she wants to buy but her father refuses to sell to her. The contracts are signed and she will then “inherit” the business through the divorce (you can’t inherit anything in a divorce. Inheritance is bequeathed to you. Assets is a divorce are distributed via court order or order approving a private property settlement). What’s in it for him? She claims that married men earn more money and that in divorce he’ll make more deals as men commiserate with him for getting married to and then rid of a worthless piece of femininity.

WAT? I almost would have rather had one of those “If you don’t marry, I’ll disinherit you” plots.

Worse, Marco, the billionaire hero, is an asshole who basically believes that the world is his platter (and I guess that is somewhat believable in a billionaire but it makes for a distasteful hero). I never believed in Elaine’s savvy business acumen and while she wasn’t entirely a doormat, I still found her character, conceptually, as fatally flawed. In other words, she came off as a nitwit to me. D

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Three more mini reviews tomorrow.