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REVIEW: Not Wicked Enough by Carolyn Jewel

Dear Ms. Jewel,

I loved your 2009 book, Scandal, and very much enjoyed Indiscreet, which came out later the same year. So when I learned that you were publishing a new historical called Not Wicked Enough I got excited, and asked Jane if she could send me the ARC. Having now read it, I have mixed feelings about Not Wicked Enough. The novel has quite a bit of elegance and charm, but it’s in a lighter vein than Scandal and Indiscreet and was not quite as satisfying to me.

Not Wicked Enough by Carolyn JewelLily Wellstone arrives in Bitterward, the home of her widowed friend Ginny, at night and in the middle of a downpour. Occupying the entrance hall is an unsmiling gentleman in rough clothes. Yet despite his ill-fitting attire, Lily correctly identifies him as Ginny’s older brother, the Duke of Mountjoy. Lily and Mountjoy converse and when Lily mentions that she is rarely tired enough to sleep before four in the morning, Mountjoy shows her to the library.

Once there, Mountjoy learns from Lily that she is a wealthy heiress, the owner of Syton House, a very prosperous property, and that she was once disowned by her father for her wild nature. Lily offers to leave Bitterward before Ginny learns of her arrival, but Mountjoy, who finds her uncommonly attractive, welcomes her into his home despite the misgiving that Lily may “disrupt his peaceful country existence.”

Mountjoy is not wrong about that, since Lily proves to be a “managing” kind of woman, a bit like Sophy in Heyer’s The Grand Sophy, but more whimsical and less madcap. Lily likes to take others in hand and assist them in finding happiness by enticing them to have fun.

Lily’s first and foremost project is Ginny, who has been mourning her late husband too long, to a point of isolating herself and not allowing herself to enjoy life. Under Lily’s encouragement, Ginny begins to blossom once more, to wear colors and smile again.

But Lily does not confine herself to amusing Ginny alone, she also engages Mountjoy’s near-fiancée Miss Jane Kirk, and his brother Nigel, in such experiments as writing with glowing (and flammable) phosphorous ink. Which would be bad enough, to Mountjoy’s thinking, even without Jane’s suggestion that she write “Mountjoy has not smiled these seven years.”

Although Mountjoy and Jane are not betrothed, the entire neighborhood, Mountjoy included, expects they eventually will be. That Jane is shy and even fearful in his presence is disconcerting to Mountjoy.

Mountjoy and Lily encounter each other at night, when Lily wanders the house or the gardens because she has difficulty sleeping. The first time they meet in the garden, they kiss and then restrain themselves from succumbing to their mutual attraction.

That same night, Lily shows Mountjoy the medallion she says she received from a gypsy king in thanks for rescuing his dog. The gypsy king promised the medallion would unite its wearer with the person with whom he or she “is happiest in love.” But Lily does not expect that will happen for her, since she has already met that man.

Lily loved and still loves Greer, a soldier she meant to marry who died in the war before their union could come to pass. It’s been five years since Greer’s death, but Lily does not believe she will ever love again. Nonetheless, she still has an appreciation for a man’s body and has not forgotten carnal pleasure.

Thus it happens that Lily and Mountjoy become lovers, although neither of them admits that is what they are. During their nighttime encounters, one thing leads to another, and another, and another. Eventually they become what today would be termed “friends with benefits,” neither intending to fall in love with the other, although they like each other very much.

Lily will never love again. Mountjoy will someday marry Jane. Yes, he should stay away from a gentlewoman who is also his sister’s friend. Yes, she shouldn’t touch her friend’s brother. But when there is so much pleasure to be had, how can they keep their hands to themselves?

Not Wicked Enough has considerable strengths to recommend it. First, the characters are delightful. Lily, for all she takes charge of others’ happiness, is endearing because of her generosity of spirit. Her desire to bring joy to her friends makes her appealing, as well as charismatic and outgoing.

Although she had a lonely childhood, Lily looks forward rather than back, and displays a great deal of strength of character regardless of the occasional moment of vulnerability. Her love of color, clothing, and other beautiful things, her sense of whimsy and adventure make her stand out in Mountjoy’s eyes like a bright, exotic flower.

Mountjoy is just as appealing, though in a subtler way. He was a gentleman farmer who came to prominence when it was discovered he was the heir to a dukedom, but he continues to dress like a gentleman farmer in an attempt to prove something to people who are superficial enough to dismiss him on the basis of his garments.

And that is not the only difference between him and Lily. Whereas she is extroverted, he is shy of crowds and social occasions. While she looks for ways to enjoy life, he is dedicated to hard work. And when she takes risks, he feels protective of her. (I especially appreciated that despite those protective feelings, Mountjoy does not attempt to control Lily but gives her the freedom to be herself. He also acknowledges at times that she is in the right and he is in the wrong.)

The affection between these characters is palpable, for all that it grows out of a physical relationship. Their energetic lovemaking sessions are filled with humor and teasing, and I could see them bonding with each other in a way that reminded me of some of Susan Johnson’s earlier erotic romances.

To add to the novel’s strong points, your writing style has a beautiful clarity that I love. There is smoothness to the writing that made me want to savor the words.

Still, while I liked Not Wicked Enough I found myself reading a few chapters and then putting the book down for the day. The reason, as best as I can articulate it, has to do with the relative absence of either external or internal conflict.

While Mountjoy was almost engaged, his near-betrothal never felt like a real obstacle to me. Although he kept thinking that he ought to propose to Jane, his heart was never in it, and it was also evident that Jane’s affections had settled on someone else.

Yes, Lily believed her own heart belonged with Greer and she could never love another, but since she rarely thought of Greer except to repeat this mantra, it was hard to feel that her disloyalty to Greer ever truly upset her. I also didn’t get much indication of what Greer had been like as a man, so I did not feel that Lily was haunted by her past love.

Additionally, the subplots didn’t have much forward momentum except near the very end of the book. Lily’s cousin the Marquess of Fenris skulks around Bitterward’s neighborhood for much of the story, but doesn’t really reveal his motives until close to the end. Nor do we find out the reasons behind Nigel’s odd behavior any sooner, although I guessed what was going on there early on.

Because of the above, and because Mountjoy and Lily were such good friends and lovers, and clearly got on like a house on fire, I didn’t feel their relationship faced real obstacles. The stakes felt relatively low, and consequently I wasn’t deeply driven to find out what would happen next. I also don’t know how much this book will stick with me. Still, while I read about them, the characters charmed and entertained me, and I enjoyed their sexy relationship and the hours I spent in their company. B-.

Sincerely,

Janine

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

31 Comments

  1. Jane
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 17:09:35

    I enjoyed this quite a bit more than you. I agree that the conflict seemed minimal but I felt that the heroine’s contentment in her circumstances was much more believable and that while she was attracted to the hero it wasn’t sufficient, in her mind, to embark on an affair. She didn’t believe that there would be another singular love for herself so it was less about betrayal of a memory and more about the true love she had felt and then kept alive in her memory.

  2. Janine
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 17:14:29

    @Jane:

    She didn’t believe that there would be another singular love for herself so it was less about betrayal of a memory and more about the true love she had felt and then kept alive in her memory.

    I got that Lily wanted to keep her love for Greer alive but what I didn’t understand was why that would keep her from wanting a long term relationship with Mountjoy. In other words, why would that keep her from moving on? You can honor person you loved who is gone, keep their memory alive, even while loving someone else. It seemed like too small a thing to have stand in the way of being with the person you love.

    ETA: I also don’t understand where her belief that she couldn’t have more than one love came from, if it wasn’t from loyalty to the memory of Greer.

  3. Janine
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 17:21:23

    @Jane: Just thought of something else:

    and that while she was attracted to the hero it wasn’t sufficient, in her mind, to embark on an affair.

    But she did embark on an affair (pretty quickly at that), and actions speak louder than words. So I felt that all that “not sufficient” was just lip service.

  4. Amy Kathryn
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 17:29:35

    I really enjoyed this book. I liked it for the fact that it was low on conflict and I could enjoy the development of the relationship between Mountjoy and Lily without biting my nails. I tend to be a low angst reader so it played to my preferences. I loved how good a friend Lily was and such a snappy dresser. I had a smile on my face whenever I was reading it.

    As far as why she thought she would only love once we have all heard the cliches…One true love, lightning doesn’t strike twice, etc. I just believed that she felt it was true and why it came as such a surprise to her that she had feelings for Mountjoy.

  5. Janine
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 17:36:26

    @Amy Kathryn: I think a lot of readers prefer less conflict than I do. That’s absolutely valid and I can see why this book might appeal to a reader who likes books with little conflict.

    But for me, their marriage was a bit too much of a foregone conclusion. When almost everything is happy and there is little need to worry I start to feel that I don’t need to keep reading to know things will end happily. I can set the book down for a few days and come back to it later. That’s what this reading experience was like for me.

    As far as why she thought she would only love once we have all heard the cliches…One true love, lightning doesn’t strike twice, etc. I just believed that she felt it was true and why it came as such a surprise to her that she had feelings for Mountjoy.

    I guess I needed this to be explained more, maybe because I liked Mountjoy so much that I couldn’t figure out how anyone could pass him up without a stronger reason than that.

  6. Kaetrin
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 19:04:02

    I 100% agree with you Janine – I gave it the same grade and made almost the same comments! I felt it lacked conflict – I just didn’t believe there was anything really keeping them apart. But, like you, I also enjoyed Lily and Mountjoy and the beautiful writing.

    I did however learn a new meaning for the word “fetch”. I’ll never play with my dog quite the same way again! :D

  7. Janine
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 19:06:55

    @Kaetrin:

    I 100% agree with you Janine – I gave it the same grade and made almost the same comments!

    Where can I find your review, Kaetrin? I would love to read it.

    I did however learn a new meaning for the word “fetch”. I’ll never play with my dog quite the same way again!

    LOL!

  8. Kaetrin
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 19:11:09

  9. Janine
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 19:18:08

    @Kaetrin: Cool, thanks! We do agree on a lot. I left you a comment there.

  10. Dabney Grinnan
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 20:59:47

    I now plan to read this book. I do love a good conflict but far too many historicals have inane suspense plots that serve no real purpose other than to make the book a standard historical. When a conflict is well done, it’s great–I love the suspense aspect of Joanna Bourne’s books. I don’t, however, need a conflict to make a book enchanting. My favorite book of 2011 is What I Did for a Duke which has very little conflict in it at all.

    Although, perhaps you are defining conflict as a barrier between the lovers. Here again, in a great romance, a barrier isn’t necessary–is there a conflict in A Lady Awakened? But, when the conflict is genuinely intrinsic to the story, I love a good one–again, I think of a Julie Anne Long book: I Kissed an Earl.

  11. Janine
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 23:44:05

    @Dabney Grinnan: I hope you enjoy Not Wicked Enough. Based on your comment, I would say that we define conflict differently. IMO both A Lady Awakened and What I Did for a Duke have a great deal of conflict. A conflict in a book is any kind of obstacle the characters face. In the case of a romance, yes, it’s a barrier to the relationship.

    A conflict can be internal, which means it takes place largely in a character’s heart and/or mind (anything that causes conflicted feelings, for example, fear of commitment, anger at the other person for something he or she did, emotional baggage from a previous relationship, believing one isn’t worthy enough for the other person or that the relationship could harm the loved one, etc.).

    Or a conflict can be external, which means it’s an obstacle outside the character’s feelings (for example, class difference, a big age difference, interfering relatives who intercept letters, a villain who kidnaps the heroine, war, engagement or marriage to a third party).

    Often a romance will have both internal conflict and external conflict. For example, in the movie Casablanca the internal conflict is that Rick believes that Ilsa didn’t love him because she dumped him in Paris without explanation, the external conflicts are that Ilsa is married and her husband is a hero of the Resistance during World War II.

    Both What I Did for a Duke and A Lady Awakened have internal and external conflict. In What I Did for a Duke the external conflict is the age difference, and the internal conflict is that Genevieve believes she loves Harry with all her heart and does not recognize her feelings for Moncrieff.

    In A Lady Awakened the internal conflict is one of values, duty vs. pleasure seeking, which leads Martha to believe she cannot respect much less love a man like Theo, while the external conflict is Martha’s brother in law who is a threat to the community that can be only be stopped as long as the lovers are separated and their child is passed off as belonging to Martha’s husband.

    I Kissed an Earl had an epic, large scale conflict (he wants to capture her brother and see him hanged, she of course wants to save her brother’s life), but a conflict doesn’t have to be that massive to still be a conflict.

    This being the romance genre, of course, all these conflicts are overcome or otherwise become non-issues to the lovers, but until we get there we keep reading to see how these will be resolved.

    To be fair to Not Wicked Enough, it does have conflicts, it is just that IMO they are very weak. The internal conflict is that Mountjoy and Lily don’t see each other as marriage material, but they get along great so I didn’t buy this. Lily doesn’t believe she can ever love again, but she’s not even hung up on her dead fiance, so it is not clear why. Mountjoy intends to get engaged to someone else, but this intention is very half hearted. Jane, the woman he supposedly wants to marry, isn’t interested in him at all, so she isn’t much of an external obstacle. Likewise Fenris.

    It is so clear from the first few chapters how all these barriers will be removed that the only reasons to keep reading are the great chemistry, the enjoyable sex scenes, the lovely prose style and the charm of the main characters personalities. Those really are all wonderful, but I could not read more than a couple chapters at a time without putting the book down. I read the whole book but it took me about three weeks to finish because the HEA was a forgone conclusion.

  12. Dabney
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 06:10:46

    @Janine: Interesting. Using your definitions, I’d have a hard time thinking of any romances that don’t have some sort of conflict–in fact, conflict defined as such undergirds much of fiction… or at least fiction I find compelling.

  13. Janine
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 12:24:40

    @Dabney: Agreed. One of the very first things writers learn in writing manuals or writing classes is that every book needs conflict.

  14. Estara
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 15:09:19

    This sounds almost a bit like slice-of-life historical romance. I have enjoyed Jewel as a historical romance writer before, so I’ll be checking this out.

  15. Janine
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 15:27:54

    @Estara: I don’t know if I would call it slice of life because of the gypsy medallion and the dreams it seems to bring about in Mountjoy and Lily. It’s almost an element of magical realism or a touch of the paranormal. I did enjoy the book though and I hope you will as well.

  16. Kavya
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 11:38:15

    When I read this book’s title, I immediately thought of a Lorraine Heath book I’ve read before. But that one is ‘Just’ Wicked Enough :) (It’s a lovely book, by the way).
    I think I would like to read this one. Not sure I would seek it out and buy it, but I would pick it up if I spotted it in the library. I’ve never read this author though and I think I will buy one of the earlier ones you mention. Those sound really good!

  17. Janine
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 12:10:36

    @Kavya: “Wicked” seems to be a popular word in titles. I hope you enjoy whichever one you buy! Scandal is angsty/emotional and has a flashback storyline as well as a present day storyline. Indiscreet is a lovely romance set in Turkey.

  18. Dabney
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 12:19:04

    @Janine: That’s true. I started to think about all the books I’m fond of with wicked in the title. A partial list would include:

    Wicked Becomes You by Meredith Duran
    Wicked All Day by Liz Carlyle
    Beyond a Wicked Kiss by Jo Goodman
    When He Was Wicked by Julia Quinn
    Wicked Little Game by Christine Wells

  19. Janine
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 12:33:57

    @Dabney: Here are a few more (I’ve only read the Balogh; just felt like listing some of the more popular titles from recent years):

    If His Kiss is Wicked by Jo Goodman
    No Rest for the Wicked by Kresley Cole
    Wicked Deeds on a Winter’s Night by Kresley Cole
    Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt
    Slightly Wicked by Mary Balogh

    Years ago, Susan Johnson had a book called just plain Wicked, and that is still the best wicked title IMO.

  20. Dabney
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 12:41:05

    @Janine: I love If His Kiss is Wicked; I miss that Jo Goodman. I’ll check out the Susan Johnson. I just failed her latest at AAR. (http://www.likesbooks.com/cgi-bin/bookReview.pl?BookReviewId=8786)

    That’s the only one I’ve read.

  21. Janine
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 12:44:28

    @Dabney: Johnson’s older books are much better than her newer ones, but when I said it was the best “Wicked” title, I meant the title rather than the book. I did like the book a lot, but I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite book with “Wicked” in the title. Wicked probably is my favorite Johnson, but most people seem to prefer Pure Sin.

  22. Dabney
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 12:48:45

    @Janine: I think I’ll give it a whirl. I hated the one I reviewed so much I’d like to read one that someone likes!

  23. Janine
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 13:45:20

    @Dabney: I hope you enjoy Johnson’s Wicked. The hero is on the immature side and doesn’t want to commit to the heroine, but since he was only twenty, it worked for me.

  24. Mandi
    Feb 09, 2012 @ 14:43:56

    I think the conflicts are definitely overshadowed by Mountjoy’s and Lily’s relationship..but for me, this book swept me away. Something about the dialogue between these two and the chemistry/sexual tension…it just pulled me in. There was a point in the book where I wanted that supporting character that comes to find Lily – to play a bigger role. But for me, the lack of conflict didn’t hinder the story. The intensity between Mountjoy and Lily were enough.

  25. Janine
    Feb 09, 2012 @ 17:24:48

    @Mandi: I can see how that would be the case for other readers, and it seems like it was the case for Jane and Amy Kathryn as well. The chemistry between Lily and Mountjoy was terrific.

    I’m curious, did you guess from the beginning what was going on with Lily’s relative and with Mountjoy’s fiancee, or did that only become apparent to you later in the book? I’m asking because I think that was a factor in my reaction– I knew how these situations would get resolved, and I think that was what sapped the suspense out of the story for me.

  26. Review: Not Wicked Enough by Carolyn Jewel | Smexy Books
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 06:46:15

    [...] Reviews Dear Author – B- Kaetrin’s Musings – B/B- All About Romance – C+ [...]

  27. GrowlyCub
    Feb 13, 2012 @ 16:34:34

    I just finished this and I’d give it the same grade but for completely different reasons. I had not issue with the conflict/tension or the lack thereof that you perceived. Just the opposite; internal conflict works so much better for me than external. I would agree though that Lily’s reasons were hard to grasp and some deeper exploration of her relationship with Greer would have been helpful (I felt the same way about Banallt’s relationship with his wife, why did he serially cheat on her if he loved her as he said).

    The major issue I had and which downgraded the book for me was the language, particularly in the first 3rd of the book. I can’t quite tell if the writing got smoother later or if I got used to the choppy sentences and oddish word choices. A lot of it the early dialogue and descriptions sounded very modern and extremely flip to my ears. Nevertheless, I really liked the characters and when I reached the end, I was sad it was over and I wanted to immediately read the next book in this series.

  28. Janine
    Feb 13, 2012 @ 17:09:33

    @GrowlyCub: Internal conflict works better for me than external as well. I just didn’t feel there was much internal conflict in this book, unlike Scandal, where there was quite a bit of it.

    I am genuinely curious, can you pinpoint where the internal conflict or tension in the story originated for you? I’m asking because so many people seem not to have had the same issue Kaetrin and I had that I wonder what I’m missing, and whether there was something that went over my head.

    As for the language, I marveled over how smooth and lovely it was, except perhaps for the word “fetching” which seemed a touch overused to me. So for the most part, I did not share your problem there.

  29. swati
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 06:59:17

    I just finished the book and it was ………… nice. Its a good book, written well but like the reviewer said the lack of any conflict robbed the book of a high point. I never understood even before mountjoy realised he was in love with lily, why couldn’t he just marry her instead of jane. he hadn’t promised jane, no declaration of any sorts. so if he had to marry without love, why not a woman he was completely in lust with. Similarly for lily, if she was contemplating the other offer, why not mountjoy ? i think the book could have been spectacular had there been some sort of tension, some sort of an obstacle, a high.

    btw, what was mountjoy’s real name ????? I don’t think i have ever read a book where the hero is referred to by his title even in intimate moments with the heroine. Did he even have a name ? I can’t recall

  30. Janine
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 11:48:18

    @swati:

    i think the book could have been spectacular had there been some sort of tension, some sort of an obstacle, a high.

    Agreed. It was so good in every other regard that this would have made it fabulous.

    btw, what was mountjoy’s real name ?????

    I could be wrong but I don’t think his personal name was given in the book. I looked for it so I could mention it in my review but I couldn’t find it.

  31. Kaetrin
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 17:07:41

    No, his personal name was never mentioned. I was a bit disappointed by that as well.

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