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CONVERSATIONAL REVIEW: Indiscreet by Carolyn Jewel

0425230996.01.LZZZZZZZPLEASE NOTE: this conversational review does contain some spoilers.

Jennie: I was one of many readers mightily impressed with Carolyn Jewel’s previous historical romance Scandal, which I read in January and graded an A-.

Janine: Totally with you on that. Scandal was one of the most impressive books I’ve read this year, and it’s stuck with me so much that I recently went back to my own review and raised the grade from an A- to an A-/A.

Jennie: I was very much looking forward to Indiscreet. While I had some problems with the second half of the story, overall, it did not disappoint.

Janine: Agreed again, although, as readers will see our opinions about what works in this book differ a bit more than they usually do.

Jennie: The book begins:

How everything started.

This incident took place at about two o’clock the morning of September 3, 1809. The location was the back parlor of a town house owned by the Duke of Buckingham but lived in by the Earl of Crosshaven on a ninety-nine-year lease, presently in its twenty-third year. It should be remarked that Lord Edward Marrack, the younger brother of the Marquess of Foye, was in attendance that night. Lord Edward had been something of a rake until his engagement to the daughter of a longtime family friend. The Earl of Crosshaven currently was a rake.

Several chapters start with this unconventional stage-setting device, and while it startled me at first, I found I rather liked it.

Janine: Although I liked the book very much, this device was one of the few things in it that did not work well for me. I was fine with it for the first chapter, but after that I often found these omniscient narration chapter openings distracting because I would get caught up in the action of the story and then would come a chapter break and this type of description and everything would come to a standstill. And often the information being given would be something I already knew, so it was frustrating — though not enough to seriously mar my enjoyment of the book.

Jennie: Hmm. Well, I think it worked for me for an unusual reason: it did take me out of the story (which is something I also don’t like, usually), but in a way that I found slyly amusing, a sort of wink and nod acknowledgement that it was just a story, after all.

I also liked the scene that follows this introduction, in part because I really wasn’t sure who the hero was or where the story was headed. The Earl of Crosshaven proceeds to boast that he has seduced Miss Sabine Goddard, a young lady recently come to town and one whose reputation had so far been spotless. Lord Marrack disapproves of his friend bandying the young woman’s name around; he doesn’t know her, but he does know that the boast will be all over town by the next day and that she is effectively ruined. His last thought is that her uncle, an eminent scholar who has recently been knighted (the reason for the Goddards’ presence in London), and Sabine’s guardian, will probably put her out on the street when he hears the story.

Janine: Yes, this was a very good scene and it intrigued me on multiple levels.

Jennie: Cut to a year and a half later, where the action has switched to Turkey. Lord Marrack has become the Marquess of Foye with the untimely death of his brother, and has fled England following the breaking-off of his engagement. He encounters the infamous Miss Goddard and her uncle at a party, and immediately finds himself drawn to her.

The scandal that Crosshaven’s lie produced has forced Sabine and her uncle, Sir Henry Goddard, to withdraw from English society, and they are traveling for a book Sir Henry is writing. Sabine acts as an assistant and to some degree a caretaker to her uncle, who is in poor health.

Contrary to Foye’s earlier speculation, Sir Henry Goddard did not turn his back on his niece after the scandal with Crosshaven erupted. However, Sabine is convinced that he does not believe her protestations of innocence, and indeed he does treat her interactions with men with suspicion. The affair has obviously strained their close relationship (Sabine’s parents died when she was very young; Sir Henry is the only real parent she has ever known).

Foye has been made cynical by the way his engagement ended. He is determined to marry an older, experienced woman if he marries at all; he’ll have no love match. His attraction to the young Miss Goddard (23 to his 38) is inconvenient for him, and he tries to fight it.

I know a lot of readers aren’t crazy about huge h/h age differences; honestly, in the past I’ve never been much bothered by them, and just as I began to get old enough to perhaps view them differently, they became a lot less common in romances. The age difference between Foye and Sabine in Indiscreet didn’t bother me, but the agonizing Foye does over it did annoy me. To be fair, I suppose that a hero that recognizes the potential problems and is concerned about them isn’t a bad thing. It’s just annoying because it’s not really a "problem" for which there is any resolution. He’s not going to get any younger, and she’s going to age at the same rate that he does. So the only resolution is for him to get over it, and the reader is aware of that from the start. Which makes any time spent on the issue feel like a bit too much.

Janine: I understand your perspective, but this didn’t bother me. I think I would have had a harder time with the fifteen-year age difference had it been presented as no problem whatsoever for either of the characters. As it was, the fact that Foye agonized over it made me like him better than I think I would have if he had been excited to have found himself a much younger woman.

Jennie: Yes, I’m not sure what sort of acknowledgement I would’ve preferred, because I think an acknowledgement was necessary. I just find that sometimes the more characters agonize over something that I know can’t really be overcome, the more annoyed I get. So I guess I prefer to have such agonizing be as succint as possible.

More interesting is Foye’s insecurity over his looks. He is not your typical breathtakingly handsome romance hero – his features are often described as "irregular", and he’s a big hulk of a man. He’s somewhat self-conscious about his lack of beauty, and tends to be vain about his dress, which I found a touching detail.

Janine: I liked that very much too. Just in general I loved Foye — more on that later.

Jennie: Sabine, of course, has also been burned (and has her own set of insecurities, chiefly about being very well educated; when she first came to London she discovered just how unusual her interests made her). The fact that Foye was a friend of Crosshaven’s does not make her at all inclined to think well of him. In fact, when they first meet, she is afraid that he intends to expose her to the circle of expatriates and British military officers she and her uncle socialize with, or that he may proposition her. Thus, she’s extremely wary about the interest Foye shows in her.

Janine: I loved the tension that resulted from that. Foye and Sabine both had this heightened awareness of one another that was delicious to read about.

Jennie: Yes, and I loved the fact that as a result, Sabine’s awareness wasn’t based on attraction, at first. I find it so rare in a romance that either the hero or the heroine isn’t immediately attracted, that every instance thrills me a bit.

Through a series of meetings Foye and Sabine do come to a wary sort of understanding, and eventually, love. Nevertheless, there remain some significant barriers to their HEA. This all occurs in the first half of the book. The ease with which those barriers were swept away made me realize how flimsy they were to start with. (Which is often the case in a romance, if you think about it. I see it as an author’s job to make me not think about it.)

The second half of the book shifts from the interpersonal conflict between Sabine and Foye to a conflict that is almost entirely external and action-based. I liked this section less. I do sometimes like action, especially when it’s well written. But the lack of hero/heroine conflict in this section and the abrupt shift from small and internal to large and external left the book feeling unbalanced. I think it may have worked better if the sections were switched – at times the story was vaguely reminiscent of Laura Kinsale’s The Dream Hunter – a book I love. That book has the big action-adventure part first, and then the story shifted to a smaller, more character-driven tale. Somehow this works better for me.

That’s not to say that there is no interpersonal conflict in the latter half of the book, but it’s mostly beneath the surface and focused on the hero and heroine’s doubts and insecurities. I think it’s tricky to write "does s/he really want and love me?" hand-wringing in such a way that it’s not tiresome, and I did occasionally find it tiresome in Indiscreet.

Janine: Thanks for the shout out to Kinsale’s fabulous The Dream Hunter. I do agree that the two books were a bit similar. As for the internal conflict in the second half, I loved the subtlety and complexity of it.

As mentioned before I loved Foye. I loved the way he transformed, or rather, showed another facet of his personality, in the second half of the book. Where he had been a thoughtful, even sensitive man, he also showed that when it was necessary for him to have a harder edge and do what was necessary to ensure his and Sabine’s survival, he could do that as well.

I felt that Sabine’s response to that was fascinating. While she was grateful, she also wasn’t sure she recognized him as the man she’d fallen in love with, and this made her uncertain of her feelings for him and his for her. Foye sensed her reaction, and what’s more, he was also torn between his desire for her and his need to protect her good name. I thought that all this added layers of complexity to the story and I enjoyed it very much.

Jennie: You make a good point, and it reminds me of something I’d forgotten that I did want to mention. I thought that Sabine’s reaction to being disguised as a boy was very interesting and well-done. Her observations about the freedoms her disguise allowed her, in spite of the fact that her male persona was in a much lower social position, were really compelling and thought-provoking.

Janine: Agreed. It also highlighted Sabine’s vulnerability and added tension to the story. So overall, I liked the contrast between the first half of the book and the second, after I got used to it. My main issue with the second half was that it made me think of a friend of mine. She is Lebanese-American as well as a romance reader, and she often finds it difficult to read romances set in the Middle East due to negative stereotypes. As much as I enjoyed Indiscreet myself, I would feel leery about recommending this book to her, because none of the Turkish characters were fleshed out, including the villain.

Jennie: Hmm. Well, I did not feel that most of the Turkish characters conformed to any negative Middle Eastern stereotypes that I’m aware of. That said, I agree that they were not fleshed out at all. The story (and most of the characterization) focused on Foye and Sabine, so it wasn’t quite so noticeable to me that there weren’t any fully realized native characters. Though I was a bit uneasy at the “white slaver” aspect of the villain’s character, because that does conform to some stereotypes in my mind. So I can understand you having qualms about recommending it to your friend.

To get back to my complaints about the second half of the book, I want to be clear that I’m not saying it’s bad by any means; it’s really not. I have a lamentable tendency when reviewing to expound at length on the negative, and I don’t want to ignore the positives of what was overall a very good book. Indiscreet features excellent prose, sympathetic and well-drawn characters (even the villainous Crosshaven is allowed a small measure of redemption in the end), and an unusual setting. It’s really only the pacing and arrangement of the plot that I have any real issue with (minor complaints about hand-wringing aside).

Janine: I didn’t have a problem with the arrangement of the plot at all. There were a couple of happenings in the last chapter of the book that raised questions in my mind but to go into them would involve revealing some big spoilers, so I’ll refrain. Suffice to say that I thought the ending felt a bit rushed.

I want to take a moment to appreciate Jewel’s prose. Few authors do a better job of conveying a character’s interior thoughts and emotional responses. Take for example this excerpt, from Foye and Sabine’s first conversation, when Sabine is telling Foye’s fortune based on a reading of what remains in his teacup.

“Lady Foye, perhaps?” she said in a sweet voice.

“No,” he said after too long a silence. “There is no Lady Foye.”

She looked up, interested more by his flat tone of voice than by his declaration of bachelorhood. He wasn’t looking at her. His attention was interior, on some deep and private pain. She hadn’t expected to see anguish, yet that was what she saw in his eyes, and her heart pinched a little on his behalf.

“Another woman, then,” she said. Looking at Lord Foye, with his irregularly put together face, was suddenly too intimate an experience. His eyes were too raw with loss. Had she inadvertently reminded him of a lost love? “Someone who will love you, my lord. Exactly as you deserve.”

Without thinking, she leaned forward, peering into his face. Foye’s gaze came back to the present. Their eyes locked, and with no warning, her breath caught in her throat. Her skin prickled up and down her body, all in pointed awareness of the man sitting across from her. He wasn’t handsome. He wasn’t at all. But Sabine’s heart beat hard against her ribs as if he were.

She leaned away, still struggling to get enough air into her lungs. She felt she had not moved soon enough, that she had unwittingly allowed an intimacy she would never permit in actual fact. A spark of fear settled in her chest because even with the distance between them, she remained lost in his eyes. Lost.

It was Foye who broke their gaze. “What else do the tea leaves predict?” he softly asked.

I think that’s just marvelous writing, the kind that makes me want to savor every word. There is such a smoothness to the language here and yet it doesn’t call attention to itself because it directs all of our attention to the characters and what they are feeling. The result is some powerful emotion in the reader. This is a writer at the top of her craft, which is why, caveats aside, I highly recommend this book.

Jennie:I agree with you about the gorgeousness of the prose (and about the rushed ending, alas). My grade for Indiscreet is a B+.

Janine: Mine is a B+/A-.

This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.

This book was provided to the reviewer by either the author or publisher. The reviewer did not pay for this book but received it free. The Amazon Affiliate link earns us a 6-7% affiliate fee if you purchase a book through the link (or anything for that matter) and the Sony link is in conjunction with the sponsorship deal we made for the year of 2009. We do not earn an affiliate fee from Sony through the book link.


ETA by Janine (in the way of FTC disclosure):
I met Carolyn Jewel at RWA this past July and had the opportunity to tell her that I enjoyed Scandal.

has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

28 Comments

  1. RStewie
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 06:59:07

    I love these conversational reviews. I’m going to have to pick this one up, too…I love the prose from the exerpt, especially since it has to do with the internal thoughts/emotions of the characters.

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  2. Janine
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 10:36:50

    @RStewie: Thanks! There are quite a lot of internal thoughts and emotions in both the Carolyn Jewel books I’ve read (this one and Scandal), and since she does it so well, I enjoyed that tremendously.

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  3. SonomaLass
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 12:59:46

    I loved this book. I’m a sucker for plots that allow the main characters to face something together once they have acknowledged their feelings for each other, so that they have to work together to earn their HEA, not just separately. Getting to see them as a couple, in action, lets me see proof that they will live and work well together after the end of the story.

    My favorite aspect of the book was the way Carolyn handled the cross-dressing. That’s my academic specialty, and so often it isn’t done very well, IMO. The details of how they managed it and the challenges Sabine faces in various aspects of playing a boy reminded me of Pam Rosenthal’s Almost a Gentleman, which is the best treatment of this device I’ve ever seen in a romance. And I just loved the way it made Sabine reflect on her actual gender, and some of the things she had taken for granted about being a white woman (because she crosses a race line with her disguise as well).

    I also liked the unusual setting; there are real challenges in choosing an exotic locale in a historical, but to me the payoff is worth it. I felt the same way about Sherry Thomas’ Not Quite a Husband.

    One other thing I like about this book is the way Carolyn takes standard romance character tropes (a “ruined” virgin heroine and a jilted hero who is convinced he’s unlovable) and makes them really work, both individually and as a couple.

    I wish the cover reflected the physical description of the characters more accurately, though. That bothered me more with this book than with some.

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  4. Janine
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 13:46:59

    I loved this book. I'm a sucker for plots that allow the main characters to face something together once they have acknowledged their feelings for each other, so that they have to work together to earn their HEA, not just separately. Getting to see them as a couple, in action, lets me see proof that they will live and work well together after the end of the story.

    I think the reason this worked so beautifully for me here was that there were still internal conflicts within each character’s mind and heart to resolve in the second half of the book. Had they been completely without doubts during this part of the story, I don’t think it would have worked so well for me. But instead, we were given a subtle, complex, and nuanced internal conflict that kept me riveted.

    My favorite aspect of the book was the way Carolyn handled the cross-dressing. That's my academic specialty, and so often it isn't done very well, IMO. The details of how they managed it and the challenges Sabine faces in various aspects of playing a boy reminded me of Pam Rosenthal's Almost a Gentleman, which is the best treatment of this device I've ever seen in a romance. And I just loved the way it made Sabine reflect on her actual gender, and some of the things she had taken for granted about being a white woman (because she crosses a race line with her disguise as well).

    Yes, I agree the cross-dressing was handled very well and it was one of the things that reminded me of Kinsale’s The Dream Hunter (my favorite cross-dressing romance). I love some of Rosenthal’s other books but I’m not keen on Almost a Gentleman, actually.

    I also liked the unusual setting; there are real challenges in choosing an exotic locale in a historical, but to me the payoff is worth it. I felt the same way about Sherry Thomas' Not Quite a Husband.

    I too liked the unusual setting and it was convincing to me, more so than Middle Eastern settings in romances frequently are. I lived in Israel until age eleven and still visit there from time to time, and some books, even beloved ones such as Chase’s Mr. Impossible and Brockway’s As You Desire, just seem to me to get this region wrong. Indiscreet felt authentic to me, although I should add that I have never been to Turkey.

    With regard to my concern about how my Lebanese-American friend might react to this book, I should clarify that other than the Turkish villain, Nazim Pahsa, the other Turkish characters were not, IMO, portrayed negatively or sterotypically. And Nazim Pahsa’s dealing in white harem slaves seemed more opportunistic than anything else. But I still wondered if the threat of being kidnapped into a harem against Sabine, and the physical description of Nazim Pasha (“His skin was swarthy, his nose regally hooked, his mustache and beard full and luxurious”) wouldn’t be enough to be of concern to my friend, who is very sensitive to any hint of this type of thing. A fleshed out positive Turkish character might have served as a counterbalance, had there been one.

    It wasn’t enough to interfere with my own enjoyment, though. I also love unusual settings, and I don’t want to see authors shy away from them. You’re right that it is a special challenge but such books are often rewarding.

    One other thing I like about this book is the way Carolyn takes standard romance character tropes (a “ruined” virgin heroine and a jilted hero who is convinced he's unlovable) and makes them really work, both individually and as a couple.

    Yes, she does a wonderful job of taking a standard trope and then taking it in an unexpected direction that makes it feel fresh and unique.

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  5. GrowlyCub
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 17:27:03

    I just got my copy today. After I finish the Beverley reissue I’ll be jumping on this one! :) I hope I like it as much or better than ‘Scandal’.

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  6. Janine
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 17:53:33

    I hope you like it too, Growly! Please post your thoughts!

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  7. handyhunter
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 18:40:57

    I would have liked this book a lot more if it had stayed in England. I’m all for diversity, but not exoticism/cultural appropriation. White people running around “exotic” lands, with the native people either as background characters or evil, is something I find I’m tolerating less and less.

    I still wondered if the threat of being kidnapped into a harem against Sabine, and the physical description of Nazim Pasha (”His skin was swarthy, his nose regally hooked, his mustache and beard full and luxurious”) wouldn't be enough to be of concern to my friend, who is very sensitive to any hint of this type of thing.

    It’s a concern to me, and big minus towards my reaction to the book (and possibly, future books by this author, though I did like Scandal quite a bit), fwiw.

    I’m glad the review mentioned this issue, even if it was soft-pedaled, because I didn’t think it was going to be discussed at all. Race issues tend to be hugely ignored in romance reviews/discussions.

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  8. Janine
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 19:28:18

    @handyhunter:

    I understand and respect your feelings, but mine are somewhat different. I really enjoy visiting different places in books, whether or not the main characters are native or foreigners. It doesn’t generally bother me to read about native people as background characters, but I prefer to understand their motives and their concerns when that is the case. Although I would have liked more exploration of that in this book, I have also read books that have stuck me as far more problematic than this one.

    I’m also not at all sure that sticking exclusively to British settings is a good solution, because that tends to make me feel that the genre is in the throes of anglophilia, and that we are glamorizing a class system that was unjust.

    I'm glad the review mentioned this issue, even if it was soft-pedaled, because I didn't think it was going to be discussed at all. Race issues tend to be hugely ignored in romance reviews/discussions.

    Yes, and there is certainly room for improvement in the genre. Native American, Latin, Greek and Arab men are exoticized or fetishized in some books, while African American romances are segregated to a different section of the bookstore and other minority groups, like Asians and Jews, hardly ever appear as protagonists in the genre at all.

    As for my having “soft-pedaled” the issue, I think it is just that different people have different viewpoints and different degrees of sensitivity. To take a different example, there is a minor character in Heyer’s The Grand Sophy that seems to me to be the embodiment of nearly every anti-Semitic stereotype I know of, but since I am Jewish, I’m very sensitive to those stereotypes. However, I have friends who love the book (which I can understand, because the romance between the main characters is wonderful) and don’t notice any of what I am so sensitive to.

    In this case, with Indiscreet, I tried to convey in this review the degree to which I noticed the issue. It didn’t much mar my enjoyment of the book (or I wouldn’t have graded it a B+/A-), but I did wonder if my friend might not feel differently.

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  9. handyhunter
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 20:08:45

    I have also read books that have stuck me as far more problematic than this one.

    I really don’t see how this makes the situation better. Yay, there’s more racefail in other romance books? It’s not this one particular book’s fault that the genre is incredibly white-washed, but it certainly adds to the problem, even if it’s better than most about culturally appropriating in less obvious/evil ways.

    I'm also not at all sure that sticking exclusively to British settings is a good solution

    I don’t think it’s a good idea either. Like I said, I’m for diversity, and against exotification. I don’t think transplanting white characters into foreign locales is a good idea (or my idea of a good read) when it’s all about the white people. I don’t think that counts as diverse, either.

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t enjoy the book or find stuff to like about it despite its problems (or that authors shouldn’t attempt writing about places and people that are not like them, just a little respect for the “exotic” would be nice), but I wouldn’t mind if racism/cultural appropriation was something that was mentioned more in reviews and discussions (and not in a brushing it off/let’s all be colourblind way), and for less authors to participate in it and more authors writing more non-white characters. If people don’t notice or care that it (like, say, the anti-Semitism in your example) exists, I think that’s all the more reason it should be discussed.

    Native American, Latin, Greek and Arab men are exoticized or fetishized in some books, while African American romances are segregated to a different section of the bookstore and other minority groups, like Asians and Jews, hardly ever appear as protagonists in the genre at all.

    I mean, why isn’t this a problem for what seems to be the majority of romance readers? (Well, I know why, but I’m hoping, faintly, for a change.)

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  10. Janine
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 22:47:05

    @handyhunter:

    Like it or not, books don’t exist in a vacuum, and for better or worse, I do take that into account when I review and discuss different aspects of them. One of the things that really made an impression on me during the “Exotic setting” discussion we had here at DA several weeks ago was that more than one author said that it was difficult to get a book set outside the U.S. (contemporaries) or Britain (historicals) published and there was one author who specifically said that making her hero a member of the British nobility was what made it possible to slide an unusual setting in.

    Given that this is the situation authors are facing, I don’t think insisting on books that are both set outside the usual settings and have non-white protagonists, and categorically condemning them otherwise will work, unfortunately. It is rare enough to get one of these things, but to get both of them in the same book is almost unheard of in the genre currently.

    I do accept that as the reality of the situation, and therefore, I think authors who choose to write historicals set outside of Britain are already taking a risk with their careers and trying to broaden the genre. So while I do want to point out in my reviews the areas where I feel room for improvement is needed, short of being majorly offended, which I wasn’t in this case, I just don’t see myself getting up in arms about books set outside the UK which have English protagonists.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably state here that I am the friend and critique partner of two authors who have set their books outside of England (Sherry Thomas and Meredith Duran), and that undoubtedly colors my perspective. But even before I knew either of them, I enjoyed books with a variety of settings, so I bring that part of my viewpoint to the table too.

    I was born outside of the U.S. myself and in a place where some people still, during my childhood, had negative memories of the British Empire, but I have also lived in the United States for much of my life and soaked up its anglophilia, and all these experiences affect my response to books and the way I see them.

    I do get frustrated with the genre’s white-washing, as you put it, and I welcome discussions of the subject. But I also think that progress, both in this area, and in others, is most likely to come incrementally and so yeah, I do compare individual books to what else has been published in the genre when I gauge my opinion of them.

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  11. handyhunter
    Oct 15, 2009 @ 01:00:35

    That’s a really sad state of the romance genre.

    I don't think insisting on books that are both set outside the usual settings and have non-white protagonists, and categorically condemning them otherwise will work, unfortunately.

    I’m sure you’re right. Not enough people care, including authors and publishers whose choices perpetuate these romance genre standards.

    I just don't see myself getting up in arms about books set outside the UK which have English protagonists.

    You didn’t just mean to imply that only white people are English, right? Because my issue is white people treating foreign lands like fun or exciting “exotic” locations, without giving the same amount of thought to people of colour as they do the white characters. Also that the genre promotes the idea that English = white people only.

    I was born in the USA, am not white and live in a white-privileged society, and you can bet I soaked that up. I’m tired of being erased or stereotyped or always in the background. I don’t expect the genre to change overnight, or for one person to combat racism/privilege by his or her lonesome. I would, however, like, every once in a while, for more (white) people to notice and not be okay with the imbalance between white and POC characters, and when white people are appropriating other cultures for their entertainment, especially in a genre I quite like(d). I like to think the more people become aware of this problem and refuse to accept it as reality and are willing to say something or blog about it, the greater the chances the industry will change.

    Anyway. Thanks for the courteous replies.

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  12. Jennie
    Oct 15, 2009 @ 02:39:04

    My favorite aspect of the book was the way Carolyn handled the cross-dressing. That's my academic specialty, and so often it isn't done very well, IMO. The details of how they managed it and the challenges Sabine faces in various aspects of playing a boy reminded me of Pam Rosenthal's Almost a Gentleman, which is the best treatment of this device I've ever seen in a romance. And I just loved the way it made Sabine reflect on her actual gender, and some of the things she had taken for granted about being a white woman (because she crosses a race line with her disguise as well).

    I really thought this was very well done. Jewel doesn’t hit the reader in the face with any conclusions about what each role offers, but just lays it out for us, the good and the bad.

    I would have liked this book a lot more if it had stayed in England. I'm all for diversity, but not exoticism/cultural appropriation. White people running around “exotic” lands, with the native people either as background characters or evil, is something I find I'm tolerating less and less.

    Hmm. Well, I guess I don’t see different locales as necessarily “exotic”, at least not with any negative connotation. I’m not sure I consider it cultural appropriation (though perhaps I don’t understand the term correctly) to have English characters in a locale that English people might have visited/stayed in during the time period. As for having the native people as background characters or villains, I see your point, but I think it can be tricky (maybe that’s why you would have preferred them to stay in England): it would feel anachronistic and false to have a native character shoehorned into the story as a friend of the hero if there isn’t real historical precedent for such relationships, and even worse to have one as the wise and loyal servant to the hero or heroine.

    I think I mentioned in the review that I was less bothered by the one-noteness of the Turkish characters because the story was so closely focused on Foye and Sabine – only her uncle really had any significant fleshing out, I thought.

    However, I have friends who love the book (which I can understand, because the romance between the main characters is wonderful) and don't notice any of what I am so sensitive to.

    I really do think it’s a matter of perspective at least some of the time. Even the description of the villain did not really catch my attention the first time, except as a nice vivid description of someone’s appearance; when I read it in Janine’s comments I was sort of taken aback by some of the descriptors (“swarthy”, “hooked nose”). But on third reflection, I go back to my original impression: it’s a nice, tight description that I think paints an accurate word picture of what the character looks like. I’m not totally insensitive to some of the hot-button words, but I think it’s a choice to view them as offensive. (Besides, I thought “regal” nicely modified “hooked nose”, and took some of the sting out of the description.)

    (and not in a brushing it off/let's all be colourblind way)

    Sorry to pull this quote out out of context, but I just want to say that I totally agree with you on that. Inevitably in this sort of discussion someone will come along and say, “What does it matter what color the characters are?” as if you’re the one with the problem. Let’s all be colorblind and not notice that all the h/hs are white doesn’t really work for me.

    That said, I’m going to agree with what Janine has already said. Probably about 95% of the regulars here (if not more) know more than I do about the business end of publishing, specifically romance publishing. But my layperson’s understanding is that romance readers are mostly white, at least in the U.S., and interested in reading mostly about white characters. So what gets written and published is driven by those business decisions.

    Is it wrong that white readers, by and large, want to read about white characters? I don’t know. I don’t know that it’s a moral issue in my mind. It’s super late and I need to go to bed so I’m not being very articulate at this point, but it just strikes me that seeing it from a moral POV results in can open, worms everywhere. First of all, presumably it would still be cultural appropriation if a white writer were writing about Turkish characters in Turkey in the 19th century. Secondly, you have the issue of different cultural norms, which heaven knows we manage to gloss over in our medieval romances and HP sheikh books and the like, but would it really be progress to have a Turkish writer write Turkish characters who don’t act like 19th century Turkish people? I don’t know. I’m rambling at this point.

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  13. handyhunter
    Oct 15, 2009 @ 04:20:56

    Cultural Appropriation 101 [eta: this was written during the Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of 2009, aka racefail09, which exploded in the SF/F genre. I feel romance ought to be due for a similar discussion, though I certainly hope it goes better than what happened this past year. I don't actually think it would - in fact, I imagine the fallout would be worse - if race were discussed in romance to such a degree, but hope springs eternal and all that.]

    I see your point, but I think it can be tricky

    Writing is hard, yes. Writing what you don’t know is probably even harder. I dislike the phrase “write what you know”. I much prefer, “know what you write,” that is, take the time to learn about what or who you’re writing about.

    Inevitably in this sort of discussion someone will come along and say, “What does it matter what color the characters are?” as if you're the one with the problem.

    Yes. It’s a silencing tactic. Imagine if someone said “what does it matter what gender the characters are” when sexism in romance is discussed.

    Is it wrong that white readers, by and large, want to read about white characters?

    It’s a problem when the genre is so very white. Readers of colour read about white people because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t have very much to read. It’s not always a bad thing. Some of my favourite authors are white! It’s also not an either/or thing. I’m not saying white writers shouldn’t write about white people, or that white people shouldn’t read about white people. I am saying there should be more diversity (NOT appropriation) in the romance genre. I’m saying if white writers write non-white characters they ought to get to know what/who they’re writing about and not set the story in some foreign place just to make it more exciting, without much thought to the native people.

    I mean, is it wrong that POC want to read about non-white characters? Is it wrong to ask white people to read about characters of colour? Why is it so much to ask that we be written with some consideration for our stories? Or to be main characters? and not just as villains or background characters or victims or sidekicks or best friends… I’d like characters of colour with their own agency and arcs, even if the story is primarily about two white people. I’d like even more if they were the main characters.

    First of all, presumably it would still be cultural appropriation if a white writer were writing about Turkish characters in Turkey in the 19th century.

    It’s less appropriative if it’s done respectfully, with an attempt to tell the Turkish character(s)’s story – even/especially if it doesn’t fit in with western viewpoints – from their pov, and not through the lens of white characters in which the Turkish character is a plot device. But, yes, there is still an issue of white writers who write non-white characters being published over writers of colour.

    but would it really be progress to have a Turkish writer write Turkish characters who don't act like 19th century Turkish people?

    What do 19th century Turkish people act like? — are you basing this off of what you’ve read about them in romance novels where the men try to capture white women (which reinforces the violent and dangerous POC stereotype) and the other locals are servants (properly servile POC, though, are not to be feared)? Why shouldn’t a Turkish writer write about Turkey and its people in the 19th century? Why would it have to be anachronistic? Do Turkish people not have romance in their lives? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but if someone were to write about them, I would hope they’d make a real effort to research a culture unfamiliar to them, instead of erasing them or making stuff up or perpetuating problematic/clueless stereotypes.

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  14. Janine
    Oct 15, 2009 @ 11:50:00

    You didn't just mean to imply that only white people are English, right?

    No, I did not. I was writing my post late at night and trying to be brief. I acknowledge that the vast majority of historical romance protagonists are English, white, christian, aristocratic, etc. I can’t say I don’t enjoy reading about them, although I would enjoy reading about members of other groups too.

    But I think this is more than just an issue of race, but also one of nationality. Note we don’t see many romances, historical or otherwise, set in France or Germany.

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  15. Jennie
    Oct 15, 2009 @ 18:03:27

    What do 19th century Turkish people act like? -’ are you basing this off of what you've read about them in romance novels where the men try to capture white women (which reinforces the violent and dangerous POC stereotype) and the other locals are servants (properly servile POC, though, are not to be feared)? Why shouldn't a Turkish writer write about Turkey and its people in the 19th century? Why would it have to be anachronistic? Do Turkish people not have romance in their lives? I don't know the answers to these questions, but if someone were to write about them, I would hope they'd make a real effort to research a culture unfamiliar to them, instead of erasing them or making stuff up or perpetuating problematic/clueless stereotypes.

    Such a romance might work perfectly well and be appropriate. I don’t know. I’m not basing this on stereotypes of white slavers, but on my impression of gender relations in societies where harems did exist. That’s not to say that there wasn’t romance also, but writing a romance that is both realistic and still relatable and appealing to Western readers might be, again, tricky. Readers are less likely to complain about glossed over versions of life in medieval England or cultural appropriation in romances set in 17th century Scotland.

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  16. Robin
    Oct 15, 2009 @ 22:58:59

    Great review, ladies!

    I have to think a bit more about why, but outside of the similarities of gender-crossing and the setting, Indiscreet did not remind me of Kinsale’s The Dream Hunter. I think, actually, that the similarity I find more insistent to me is between Indiscreet and Ivory’s Untie My Heart, where the hero’s mother was apparently quite ugly and was teased terribly for it, and where the heroine was “fallen” in certain ways. Although the scenes with the pasha and where Foye rescued Sabine did remind me vaguely of Kinsale’s Seize the Fire.

    Anyway, I’m glad you discussed those introductory passages, because at first they threw me, but as the novel progressed, I found them to be somewhat entertaining, sort of like scene changes in a play, which somehow fit for me.

    Re. stereotyping and the pasha, while I have never liked the word “swarthy” and believe it can easily become a slur, I found the mirroring of his “hooked nose” with Foye kind of interesting, as well as the way in which his incredible savvy regarding the differences between English and Turkish customs not insane or maniacal or beastly — that is, any more beastly than what Crosshaven pulled. In fact, I found his own trafficking of women somewhat comparable to the perhaps more subtle English version that Crosshaven favored. So I guess I didn’t see it as the traditional English=good Middle Eastern=bad where the treatment of women is concerned. Further, while Foye “rescues” Sabine, I never felt that there was an elevation of English (noble)men over the Turkish men, so I did not find the portrayal of the pasha stereotypically offensive. I certainly didn’t find it nearly as stereotypically offensive as the treatment of harem life in the latest Chase novel.

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  17. Janine
    Oct 15, 2009 @ 23:32:48

    I have to think a bit more about why, but outside of the similarities of gender-crossing and the setting, Indiscreet did not remind me of Kinsale's The Dream Hunter.

    I was reminded of The Dream Hunter in other ways as well.

    BIG SPOILERS for both books
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    There was the fact that both books were half intimate relationship drama and half road romance. There was the fact that during the journey portion of both books, the heroine is not only cross-dressing but also impersonating a native of the Middle East. There was the way the hero kept addressing the heroine by her assumed male name (“Selim” in The Dream Hunter; “Pathros” in Indiscreet). There was the sense of eminent danger throughout the journey, the way the hero set a grueling pace of riding through it, and the way the sexual attraction between the main characters made the heroine’s masquerade more torturous. Also, there was the way the hero and heroine are separated and the hero is presumed dead, so that the heroine arrives in England alone, pregnant and grieving.

    But with all that said, the books were different enough that Indiscreet still felt quite original and fresh, very much its own story.

    I think, actually, that the similarity I find more insistent to me is between Indiscreet and Ivory's Untie My Heart, where the hero's mother was apparently quite ugly and was teased terribly for it, and where the heroine was “fallen” in certain ways. Although the scenes with the pasha and where Foye rescued Sabine did remind me vaguely of Kinsale's Seize the Fire.

    Untie My Heart wasn’t on my mind at all, but that may simply be because I’ve only read it once, whereas I’ve read The Dream Hunter countless times.

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  18. Janine
    Oct 16, 2009 @ 00:04:37

    Anyway, I'm glad you discussed those introductory passages, because at first they threw me, but as the novel progressed, I found them to be somewhat entertaining, sort of like scene changes in a play, which somehow fit for me.

    It sounds like your reaction was midway between mine and Jennie’s. I didn’t mind those passages every time, but there were definitely times (such as when the previous chapter had ended on a cliffhanger) when I just wanted to find out what happened next and the delay made me feel impatient. I am a reader with a pretty short attention span, though.

    Re. stereotyping and the pasha, while I have never liked the word “swarthy” and believe it can easily become a slur, I found the mirroring of his “hooked nose” with Foye kind of interesting,

    I had mixed feelings about that description. On the one hand, I’m with you on the word “swarthy,” and I also think there is an unpleasant literary tradition that associates villains with hooked noses — something that I am sensitive to (I can’t speak for anyone of Arab or Turkish descent, but I know that for me, if I never see another Jewish character with swarthy skin, curly hair and a hooked nose I will not feel regretful). But on the other hand, I did appreciate that there was an attempt to cast the pasha’s physical characteristics in a positive light with the words “regally” and “full and luxurious.”

    Moreover, I think it is important to be true to character, and as the scene was filtered through Foye’s viewpoint, it is perhaps to be expected that a white 19th century Englishman would use a word like “swarthy.” At some point we have to make a choice between being politically correct and being true to history. It’s not always an easy balance to strike but I generally believe it’s better for authors to err on the side of authenticity than on the side of anachronisms.

    as well as the way in which his incredible savvy regarding the differences between English and Turkish customs not insane or maniacal or beastly -’ that is, any more beastly than what Crosshaven pulled. In fact, I found his own trafficking of women somewhat comparable to the perhaps more subtle English version that Crosshaven favored.

    That is a good point, although as Jennie says, Crosshaven does get a measure of redemption toward the end of the story. I didn’t really forgive Crosshaven, so I agree with you that the two villains were pretty comparable.

    So I guess I didn't see it as the traditional English=good Middle Eastern=bad where the treatment of women is concerned.

    I didn’t see it in that light either.

    Further, while Foye “rescues” Sabine, I never felt that there was an elevation of English (noble)men over the Turkish men

    Agree with this too.

    I certainly didn't find it nearly as stereotypically offensive as the treatment of harem life in the latest Chase novel.

    Chase’s Don’t Tempt Me is another example of a book I enjoyed but I would be leery of recommending to my Lebanese-American friend. I don’t think, actually, that I would recommend any romance involving harems to her.

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  19. Jennie
    Oct 16, 2009 @ 01:18:51

    Anyway, I'm glad you discussed those introductory passages, because at first they threw me, but as the novel progressed, I found them to be somewhat entertaining, sort of like scene changes in a play, which somehow fit for me.

    That’s a good way of putting it. I can’t say I would have missed them had they not been there, but they did work for me.

    Re. stereotyping and the pasha, while I have never liked the word “swarthy” and believe it can easily become a slur, I found the mirroring of his “hooked nose” with Foye kind of interesting, as well as the way in which his incredible savvy regarding the differences between English and Turkish customs not insane or maniacal or beastly -’ that is, any more beastly than what Crosshaven pulled. In fact, I found his own trafficking of women somewhat comparable to the perhaps more subtle English version that Crosshaven favored.

    Very good points there, Robin.

    There was the fact that both books were half intimate relationship drama and half road romance. There was the fact that during the journey portion of both books, the heroine is not only cross-dressing but also impersonating a native of the Middle East.

    Yes, particularly to the first point – I think the setting and cross-dressing were what put the similarity in my mind (though I agree that they are very different books – the comparison is not meant to be a negative one for me), but I really felt the echo in the each book had two distinct sections that were similar to each other, though flipped. I still feel having the adventure come first works for me better, though that may partly be a reflection of the fact that while I liked Indiscreet quite a lot, I simply love The Dream Hunter.

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  20. handyhunter
    Oct 16, 2009 @ 03:38:25

    I'm not basing this on stereotypes of white slavers, but on my impression of gender relations in societies where harems did exist.

    Okay, but my point is, where do these impressions come from?

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  21. Jennie
    Oct 17, 2009 @ 00:12:54

    Okay, but my point is, where do these impressions come from?

    I’m not sure – history books? It’s not that I think non-Western societies in other historical periods are inherently less romantic, it’s just that I find the idea of a story in one of those settings that is both historically accurate, culturally sensitive, relatable to Western readers and romantic as potentially problematic. I’m not saying it can’t be done, just that it may be a bit more difficult to write, market and sell than a Scottish romance or a tale like Indiscreet. Which is probably part of the reason such books are not on romance shelves. The desire that some readers have for such stories is understandable and I’m sympathetic, but I don’t see a book like Indiscreet as the “problem” – the thing that keeps these other stories from getting published. IMO, it’s a very good book and should be judged on its own merits and not for what it isn’t.

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  22. handyhunter
    Oct 17, 2009 @ 12:19:35

    It's not that I think non-Western societies in other historical periods are inherently less romantic, it's just that I find the idea of a story in one of those settings that is both historically accurate, culturally sensitive, relatable to Western readers and romantic as potentially problematic.

    See, I think this is because people get used to being told and telling stories a certain way. So, there are lots and lots of stories about white people in any imaginable setting — most white people don’t even seem to bat an eye when a white actor is cast for, say, an Asian character: all you need is a tan (yellowface. like blackface, in a way). And then when it happens again. And again.

    But back to our stories about white people. We’re used to these stories, we’ve built a vocabulary to tell them (describing white people is easier than describing non-white people, because the words for whiteness and white beauty standards are in most every book you pick up (fair skin is very often short hand for someone who is pretty)) and to talk about them (it seems like romance review sites, like DA or SBTB, will point out when a book is sexist; I’d venture to say it’s because the conversation about those issues has been around for awhile, so people are more comfortable talking about that. But race does not get brought up as often and people really do not like talking about it).

    Breaking out of this mold? Not easy at all. I like to think the more (white) people become aware that this is a problem and care (and care to read about non-white people), the more change will occur.

    Also, “relatable to Western readers” — I think you mean relatable to white people. It’s okay to call a white person white. Own your whiteness! Using “Western” as code for “white” is problematic because you are erasing the non-white Westerners, such as myself.

    I'm not saying it can't be done, just that it may be a bit more difficult to write, market and sell than a Scottish romance or a tale like Indiscreet.

    Yes, of course. Change is difficult. Change is extremely difficult when you’re asking someone to be introspective. Change is even more difficult when you’re asking, for example, white people (readers and authors alike, and publishers and editors too) to examine their white privilege, especially white liberals who believe they don’t have any racism to overcome. Which does not always mean the obvious, easy to spot, deliberate, malicious type of racism; a lot of times it’s the unintentional, clueless type, which may include the often unexamined cultural appropriation of setting a story somewhere “fun” and “exciting” or even “dangerous/thrilling”, without thought to the native people who live in some white character’s “exotic” vacation spot. I believe most people don’t intend to do or say racist things, but sometimes their white privilege gets in the way of being able to recognize or understand when and why what they say may be offensive or hurtful to non-white people. Of course, more often than not, if you suggest to a white person that they may be displaying some white privilege/racism, they react like being told that or being called clueless (about race and their privilege) is worse than the racefail they’ve committed.

    IMO, it's a very good book and should be judged on its own merits and not for what it isn't.

    I have judged it on its own merits, and I think it is culturally appropriative and perpetuates stereotypes about non-white people, as well as upholds the idea that only white people can be the heroes or main characters of a story, especially a love story. It can be those things and still tell a good romantic story between the principle characters. It can be well written too. It still has problems.

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  23. Jennie
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 18:32:04

    Also, “relatable to Western readers” -’ I think you mean relatable to white people. It's okay to call a white person white. Own your whiteness! Using “Western” as code for “white” is problematic because you are erasing the non-white Westerners, such as myself.

    No, if I’d meant white people, I would’ve said white people. Not that I think white people have a single mindset or world view (nor do Western [romance] readers, but I’d venture to guess that as a group they may have more similarities than “white people” in general do).

    Other than that, we may just have to agree to disagree on Indiscreet. As a reader I am certainly enthusiastic about reading different settings and about characters of different ethnicities.

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  24. GrowlyCub
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 20:59:44

    I just finished the book and read the review, haven’t read the comments yet.

    What a terrible, terrible disappointment this book was. I had such high expectations and it fell flat on every single one of them.

    I thought the introductory bits totally distracting and lazy writing, possibly a way to lower word count.

    There were so many things just hinted at that – if they had been fleshed out – would have made the characters more interesting and the story (maybe) a bit compelling, but as it was I felt this was a minimal rough outline draft that never went further.

    I liked Foye, a lot. Sabine was okay and her reaction to her disguise interesting, I just hated that this part was necessary. I didn’t feel these two had any time as a couple and beyond sexual attraction I didn’t see a relationship. First it was all, ‘hiho we are in lust, oh no, I can’t leave Godard, oh sob, we have to part’ and then it tried to become ‘Jewel of the Nile’ or some other stupid action adventure. And neither section got the attention it deserved, it all felt rushed and disjointed.

    For a minute I thought okay, they are going to get to England and then the last quarter is about them learning to have a relationship. But no, instead we get ‘now she’s dead, now he’s dead’ and then the book was over.

    I’m really taken aback at the high grades you gave this. I’d give it an D, and that only because I did think Foye was a fascinating character whom I would have wished to get to know better.

    I loved ‘Scandal’ even though I also felt it suffered from being abbreviated and lacked insight into Banallt’s history and motivations (‘loved my wife’ while he merrily fucked everything in sight, but the rest of the story was compelling). This book was just a series of disjointed vignettes, like a cell phone conversation where you only hear every other word due to static.

    I’ll be thinking long and hard before I’ll be buying another book by Jewel. If you think my reaction extreme, I agree. Guess it comes from having such expectations unfulfilled.

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  25. Janine
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 22:44:16

    Growly,

    So sorry the book didn’t work for you! Four of us here at DA enjoyed it very much (not just Jennie and me but also Robin and Jane), but I guess this proves that no book is for everyone.

    I can see what you are saying re. Sabine and Foye not spending that much time getting to know each other through conversation, but I thought that they got to know each other through action when they both showed courage in their journey.

    I do agree that the ending was rushed but overall, I think I found the book a lot more satisfying than you did.

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  26. Jennie
    Oct 21, 2009 @ 00:46:20

    Yes, I felt that the “getting to know each other” bit was below the surface and not overt, but a lot of it definitely happened on their journey to safety. Even before then, I felt that there were all these subtle undercurrents between them – a lot of things played out internally (for instance, Sabine’s realization that she can trust Foye and that he doesn’t mean her harm). I do understand why that’s not to everyone’s taste. Sorry it didn’t work better for you.

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  27. Roy22
    Oct 22, 2009 @ 07:39:23

    Jewish Israeli surgeons do reconstructive surgery on the hands of suicide bombers. ,

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  28. Dana
    Oct 23, 2009 @ 18:08:04

    After reading the review by Janet, I picked up Indiscreet even though I had some reservations about a Middle Eastern setting. And I’m so happy I did. I loved the book. I thought the author did a great job of using the location, but without fetishizing it.

    I actually really liked the adventure part of the plot, and Sabine’s reaction to her disguise. And Foye was a great hero. I really appreciated that Foye and Sabine didn’t do anything to make them TSTL while they were in peril. One of my pet peeves are characters that just have to make love even though 10 bad guys are chasing after them, and of course they get caught. So I really liked that Sabine and Foye made sensible choices.

    This is probably, TMI, but I also appreciated that during the first love scene, Sabine’s hymen wasn’t inside her, as so many romance novels want you to believe.

    I also thought the ending was way too rushed. I wish more time was spent on what happened after reaching England. The whole, he/she is thought dead thing seemed unnecessary and only there to raise dramatic tension. And the repetition of Foye’s ugliness/bigness and Sabine’s beauty/smallness got tiring after awhile, IMO, a lot of those references could have been cut without losing anything.

    Thanks for all the great reviews.

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