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REVIEW: The Au Pair Affair by Bonnie Dee

Dear Ms. Dee,

I enjoyed your book New Life and the premise of this book intrigued me so I volunteered to review it. Unfortunately, The Au Pair Affair did not have the easy flow or the charm of the earlier book.

AuPairAffairHollywood producer Dan Krefman and his ex-wife, actress Crissi Jondalar have two children (Cara, 5 and Liam, 3).  They hire former actor Louis Guzman to be the children’s nanny after a surprisingly short interview process and a scant background check.  The reader knows from the beginning that Louis has something he wants to hide in his work history. Something that, had the nanny agency known, it would not have recommended him.  He has no experience and no qualifications in child care, merely a personal history of growing up in foster care and babysitting foster brothers and sisters.  I found it difficult to believe a celebrity couple would hire Louis in the first place, but especially not without extensive background checks.

Dan and Crissi were married for 6 years but after Dan realised he was gay and came out to Crissi, they divorced.  They remain on very good terms and share custody of the children, with Louis moving between houses to be wherever the children are.  I did appreciate that Crissi was presented as a good mother and a fairly sympathetic character.  However, Dan rides roughshod over Crissi a number of times in the book – showing repeated poor judgement of such things as how to tell the children he and Louis are an item – and he often thinks that Crissi is high maintenance and a bit of a drama queen.  I think Crissi was a saint (Dan came out to her on their anniversary) and far too forgiving of both Dan and Louis.

Since the divorce, Dan has had a few sexual encounters but no relationships.  He is instantly attracted to Louis and the feeling is mutual. Though both Dan and Louis note the inherent difficulties in pursuing their attraction given the employer/employee relationship, I felt that it was more lip service than any real consideration and, when it came down to it, there was little by way of hesitation.

The story was written in short choppy sentences which felt more like an outline or summary a lot of the time. The detail I wanted, which would have made the characters more real and added the charm I was hoping for, was missing.

Dan had hired caterers, and the backyard was decorated with Chinese lanterns, balloons and streamers. Burgers and massive quantities of sugar in the form of soda and ice-cream cake were ingested, and then Cara opened presents. Screaming girls raced over the lawn as they played games. Before the celebration was over, there was an inevitable fight. Names were called, tears shed, and finally everyone went home with party favors.

The whole book was like this

There were a number of little storylines which didn’t seem to go anywhere.  Liam at age 3, while very fond of show tunes, barely spoke, and at various times in the book all three adults felt concerned that he may have some kind of developmental disability.  But he was talking well by the end of the book without anything really happening.   Cara was unhappy at pre-school, Crissi having been unable to pry out why. Eventually Cara confesses to Dan that there were two girls being mean to her.  Dan’s advice was to “be nice” to the girls and they might turn out to be friends. And lo, a few pages later, they were friends. Leaving aside what I thought was pretty ordinary advice – why not at least talk to the pre-school teacher? Cara had been miserable for weeks and weeks – it didn’t go anywhere as a plot point. I think those things were there to round out the story and give depth to the characters but unfortunately, on me, it had the opposite effect.

I didn’t see any meaningful relationship develop between Dan and Louis.  They had the hots for each other but their first sexual encounter pre-dates almost any meaningful conversation – which didn’t make sense given their professional relationship and how much Louis wants to keep his job. Dan, too, doesn’t want to lose “the best nanny the kids have ever had.”   So it was a surprise that even as Dan was thinking getting intimate in the driveway of his house was a bad idea (as private as his front yard was), he doesn’t take any convincing at all to let Louis open his pants and give him a blowjob against the car.  Afterwards, their entire discussion about sexual health consists of:

He let Dan’s length slip from between his lips and wiped the back of his hand over his mouth. “Don’t worry. I’m clean. I can show you my most recent test results. I trust you are too.”

There was a lot of telling not showing. I didn’t feel the connection between Dan and Louis.  I didn’t see Louis and Crissi develop the deep friendship I was told they had.  I didn’t see the leap from “employee” to “friend” in either case.  I did see Louis and the children interact and I did believe his love for them and theirs for him was genuine but overall, I found the story lacked detail and character development.

There was also this surprising passage later in the book.

Chest heaving, Dan glanced down at the messy aftermath of breathtaking ecstasy. He thought about his children’s lives, once contained in a blot of semen like the one on his belly. So weird that two lives existed because of it, and so strange that his desires ran contrary to the design of life.

“Thinking deep thoughts?” Louis rasped near his ear and clipped Dan’s lobe between his teeth.

“Just pondering spunk.”

“Oo-kay.”

“What it’s meant for and how we pervert that. I don’t mean that in a negative way, I swear, but the stuff is meant to propagate the species.”

I was a bit gobsmacked by that.  It was just all kinds of wrong.  I was uncomfortable with the way homosexuality was portrayed in the book – from the way Louis “looked gay” to how Liam likes to sing “Over the Rainbow”.  This just capped it for me.

I also got tired of Louis constantly banging on about how child rearing was a noble and fulfilling role.  I mean, it is, but the numerous times it was mentioned in the story made it feel like it was a message.

It might seem like a limited dream by many peoples’ standards, as if not craving a career meant he had no ambition, but what could possibly be more important than making sure children lived a happy life?

Childcare is not the only important or valuable thing someone can do.

Louis confesses quite early to Dan (but after he was hired) that his previous work history included exotic dancing. It is not hard to guess what other work history Louis had in his brief acting career and, given the celebrity nature of his employers, what happens vis-a-vis that history.  Though, I was never concerned regarding the welfare of the children, Louis did lie on his employment application about something significant  – but instead of getting fired (as he deserved) all was smoothed over and solved within a few pages by the power of lurrrve.

What started out as an interesting premise never got any further for me, the conflict was predictable and the characters under-developed.  I give The Au Pair Affair a D.

regards,

Kaetrin

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Kaetrin started reading romance as a teen and then took a long break, detouring into fantasy and thrillers. She returned to romance in 2008 and has been blogging since 2010. She reads contemporary, historical, a little paranormal, urban fantasy and romantic suspense, as well as erotic romance and more recently, new adult. She loves angsty books, funny books, long books and short books. The only thing mandatory is the HEA. Favourite authors include Mary Balogh, Susanna Kearsley, Joanna Bourne, Tammara Webber, Kristen Ashley, Shannon Stacey, Sarah Mayberry, JD Robb/Nora Roberts, KA Mitchell, Marie Sexton, Patricia Briggs, Ilona Andrews, just to name a few. You can find her on Twitter: @kaetrin67.

26 Comments

  1. Tanya
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 12:24:29

    Looking past the “spunk” conversation, and I admit, it’s tough, all I can think when I see the name Louis Guzman is the actor Luis Guzman. So, um, there’s that.

  2. Isobel Carr
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 12:41:37

    Jondalar. Seriously? Hello, bizarre Clan of the Cavebear reference.

  3. Janine
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 12:47:21

    Kaetrin!!! Welcome!!!

    I’ve tried to read this author in the past and haven’t been able to get far. I don’t think she is for me.

    ETA: Also, while others thought of Jondalar from Jean Auel’s series and of the actor Louis Guzman, the title The Au Pair Affair made me think of my former governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

  4. AJH
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 13:08:50

    Yay, Kaetrin :)

    Also I’m glad Isobel isn’t the only one to be randomly confused by the name Jondalar. Clan of the Cave Bear, or rather, the sequel was, I think, my first ever encounter with written sex. I was about 10 (there is no sex in the first book) and I was horrified that I might be expected to do something like that to another human being at some point. The shadow of Jondalar’s penis haunts me to this day.

    It’s a shame this book didn’t work for, because the premise is fairly interesting. I liked the fact that the ex-wife seems to be non-evil and that there seemed to be an interesting relationship dynamic around caring for the future of the children together.

    The spunk conversation however. Just? What? Also just illogical, I mean are they suggesting that every time a heterosexual couple has sex for a purpose other than procreation, it’s a waste of life-giving god-juice? And what about masturbation?

    All the same, it might make quite a good T-shirt slogan: “Perverting spunk since the 90s.” ;)

    Thank you for the review – I, um, probably won’t be reading this.

  5. Janine
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 13:16:32

    @AJH: I feel like singing that Monty Python song “Every sperm is sacred.”

  6. LG
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 13:27:33

    The spunk conversation in your review made me think of Legally Blonde. Also, “I don’t mean that in a negative way”? Really? Because it sounded negative to me.

    I’ve read one of Bonnie Dee’s works, Captive Bride, which I liked well enough, although some aspects of the romance made me uncomfortable. I think I’m going to pass this one by, though.

  7. Sunita
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 13:33:30

    Kaetrin, you’re here!!!! How terrific!

    Add me to the people who picture Luis Guzman, a great actor but not right for this part, at least not in my head. Sorry you debuted on such a disappointing book, but it’s a great review.

  8. Isobel Carr
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 13:53:49

    @AJH: It’s been so long since I read those books I don’t even remember the title of the second one, LOL! But I *do* remember Jondalar.

  9. Tanya
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 14:09:14

    I just realized I have Bonnie Dee’s “A New Life” on my Kindle – and she appears to be very prolific. It’s moving to the top of my TBR list now, I am curious to see if I like her writing. And I’m feeling like having a Luis Guzman film festival this weekend…think I’ll start with “Out of Sight.”

  10. Liz Mc2
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 14:09:46

    I found this review especially interesting in light of Sunita’s post today about gender in m/m. I can’t say anything coherent about the connections (especially since I haven’t read this book), but it struck me that “dating the nanny” is a classic m/f category romance trope, and it isn’t clear to me what differences transposing it to m/m made in this story, or whether Dee consciously set out to play with re-gendering a trope (to coin a terrible phrase). The quote about child care was odd in this context, because for Louis childcare IS a career, or at least a job, though it’s certainly not a common ambition for a man. Those lines sound like something more conventionally given to a mother who has chosen to stay home with her children. Which makes me wonder whether the book addresses at all the fact that he’s doing work traditionally seen as female, and whether that “feminizes” his character somehow.

  11. Jayne
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 14:15:32

    @Tanya: She’s very prolific in a lot of genres. I’ve enjoyed two of her historicals but none of the blurbs for the others have even made me want to try those books.

  12. Sunita
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 14:26:58

    @Liz Mc2: m/m is full of nanny plots; we’ve reviewed at least two of them here at DA over the years, and probably more. Of the ones I can remember (I haven’t read this book either) the stories will sometimes play the man-as-nanny thing for laughs, sometimes ignore the gender implications. They tend toward the “accidentally becomes a nanny” rather than a career setup. If I think back on the ones I’ve read, they haven’t felt that different from the m/f ones, and as a rule I avoid the trope.

  13. Kate Hewitt
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 17:07:09

    I also thought of the Jean Auel/Valley of the Horses reference with Jondalar. That book was steamy! When I was about 12 my friends and I used to page through the many, many pages of that book to read the sex scenes.

  14. Sirius
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 17:28:01

    Hi Kaethrin I really enjoyed pretty much all of her historicals which she wrote with Summer Devon but her solo efforts left me quite disappointed for the most part and I do not even look at her solo efforts any more. Thanks for such a great review.

  15. Keishon
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 18:46:21

    Kaetrin,

    How dare you give this book a D for your first review (j/k). Congrats on your new job of brining good books to our attention.

  16. Kaetrin
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 20:52:43

    @Tanya: that’s not how I had pictured Louis so it’s probably a good thing I didn’t recognise the similarities. LOL. Also, given the secret Louis was keeping it makes the name thing a little more… O-0 I think.

    @Isobel Carr: Does it make me a Philistine to admit I have not read any Clan of the Cave Bear books? I did have a tingle of recognition at the Jondalar name (it sounds very science fiction-y to me) but I don’t know where it came from. It was an odd name choice I thought – even without knowing the CotCB reference.

  17. Kaetrin
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 20:56:14

    @AJH: Yeah, that spunk conversation was just totally 0-O for me. I thought it spoke for itself in the “what the ?” department. It could possibly (?) have been explained by some kind of internalised homophobia on Dan’s part I guess, but if it was meant to convey that, the book hadn’t really set it up very well and it then didn’t deal with it at all afterwards. So it just kind of sat there being a problem.

  18. Kaetrin
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 20:56:37

    Also, thank you for the welcome everyone :) I’m very pleased to be here!

  19. jeayci
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 20:56:56

    Great review, Kaetrin! I was a bit more gentle and rated it higher in my review over at Jessewave, but I agree with everything you said here. I could see this book working for someone who was in the mood for an m/m version of the classic Harlequin tale, something I never was in the three months I spent trying to finish this book.

    And, like several others, I was thinking of Valley of Horses and Jondalar’s magnificent schlong throughout this book. :D

  20. Kaetrin
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 21:00:31

    @Keishon: I know! I was so hoping for a more positive review for my first, but what can you do? :)

    @Tanya: I quite enjoyed New Life. There didn’t seem to me to be many similarities in the style between the two books. I haven’t read any other books by this author though, so I can’t say whether one or the other (or neither) is more usual for her. FWIW, my review of New Life is here: http://kaetrinsmusings.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/new-life-by-bonnie-dee.html

  21. Kaetrin
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 21:03:54

    @jeayci: Oh good Lord – if I had’ve read the Auel book beforehand I don’t think I could have coped!

    It didn’t really work for me as an m/m Harlequin Presents either because Dan wasn’t an alphahole. LOL. He could be a jerk sometimes (particularly to Crissi) but he didn’t strike me as particulalry dynamic.

  22. Kaetrin
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 21:46:44

    @Liz Mc2: While Louis did get along well with the children and he did seem genuinely attached to them, I don’t think the characterisation was deep enough for me to draw any conclusions about feminisation or re-gendering a trope. Much of the book felt like an outline so I couldn’t reallyl tell what the author was going for in the story. If anything, I would be to say that having Louis as the nanny was merely a way to get the two men in the same space.

  23. tripoli
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 09:18:18

    I read this book recently and found it to be a sweet and lovely romance. I thought the spunk scene was amusing, as it was likely meant to be. But oh well, different strokes for different folks. I enjoyed the story from beginning to end.

  24. Michele Mills
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 10:06:58

    Sad to hear you didn’t enjoy this book. Try Jungle Heat instead by Bonnie Dee. Terrific m/m romance! She hit it outta the park with that one.

  25. Kaetrin
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 20:46:48

    @tripoli: I didn’t get the sense in the book that Dan was being funny. But regardless, I’m glad you enjoyed the book.

    @Michele Mills: I enjoyed New Life and I think I have another book by this author on my TBR. Thx for the Jungle Heat rec. :)

  26. June Round Up |
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 00:39:49

    […] Links Here’s what you may have missed: Defiance by Stephanie Tyler  Breathe by Kristen Ashley Ten Tiny Breaths by K.A. Tucker Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh It Had To Be You by Jill Shalvis Wait for You by J. Lynn Skin in the Game by Jackie Barbosa The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley Wife for A Week by Kelly Hunter And I griped about my least favourite romance trope and talked about Vegemite. Then I had a rant about assholes. I was also over at AudioGals with a review of Fallen by Celeste Bradleyand, at Speaking of Audiobooks, with a review of The Lion’s Lady by Julie Garwood. Plus, my first ever Dear Author review went up too – The Au Pair Affair by Bonnie Dee. […]

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