REVIEW: Something About Polly by Barbara Elsborg
Dear Ms. Elsborg:
I had read one book by you before which had been recommended by a friend. While the voice was strong, I pretty much hated the story because the main character was dislikeable lout sleeping with underaged girls,using drugs, and then miraculously being cured by love within one week or so. Because of the story and the high price point of Ellora’s Cave books, I’ve never revisited your backlist.
I found a recommendation for this book on a goodreads list and decided to take the expensive $7.99 plunge. Despite the rocky start, I ended up being entertained by this fun book. It had a bit of humor that you would find in a Charlotte Stein book which makes me wonder if that is just trademark British humor. But it also had a very strong heroine and a hero who undergoes a big transformation. Moreover, it showed how both characters were at extremes on the side of a social issue and how the extremes could both be negative.
Polly and her best friend Tara, a woman who is so beautiful that grown men practically fall to their knees when she walks by, attend a charity auction. There the Marquis of Shorewood, heir to a dukedom, sees her and dismisses her; instead focussing on getting the lovely Tara in bed. A series of events conspire against Alex, however, and he ends up bidding on Polly’s envelope at the charity auction and not Tara’s.
Polly is a plain, sharp tongued woman in Alex’s estimation but he’s intrigued. When Polly opens his envelope, she sees he’s offered up “Wild Sex” (written in haste and kind of as a fuck you to his brother who is emceeing the auction). She says she’s paid for it and she wants it.
The two embark on some really wild sex. Earthy and frank is how I describe it. There are toys, cosplaying, and exhibitionism. A lot of exhibitionism. And one scene in which Polly, an artist, paints Alex as a tiger for a costume party and he is astounded by her artistry, puts on one of her thongs and some other fabric to hide his package and goes to the costume party. No prudish, stuck up man here.
While Polly is insecure about a lot of things, she not shy in bed and her insecurity doesn’t drive the conflict as the heroine’s innocence and shyness often does in situations with the wealthy lordly hero. Instead, the book is more complex than that.
Polly is from a wealthy family but she is adverse to handouts. She left the bosom of her family and has tried to make it on her own, getting a job at a tax firm and painting. She has litle confidence in her art but believes herself to be competent as a tax advisor. She’s fairly idealistic and takes Alex to task for benefiting from his position in life. What I liked is how the story showed the two sides to the story. Alex has had a life of privilege where he has availed himself of benefits of his family like getting a good education and a good position at a brokerage firm. But he does work and he is not a dilettante. Polly doesn’t give him enough credit though. Her life unravels a bit when her pride and stubborn adherence to the belief that no one deserves an advantage takes her a bit too far.
There are three problems I had with the story. First there are two gay characters and they are shown in a negative light. I think Polly’s range of acquaintances would have had room for a positive portrayal of gay characters. Second, the last conflict that drives Polly and Alex apart is weak and not fully fleshed out. Either make a deal about it or don’t use it for the penultimate scene. Finally, one of Alex’s character arcs was about him being worthy of the Dukedom but his father says it is about earning respect which dovetails into what Polly believes – that you want to succeed on your own which Polly takes too far, not appreciating the hand that her friends want to give her as aid. But we never see Alex acting out of concern for others. He’s fairly selfish. Yes he wants to help Polly but that is kind of a selfish desire. Helping Polly keeps her in his life. There is more that could have been done to show Alex as someone deserving of the Dukedom but I didn’t see it and given that was his character arc, it seemed lke an important piece of the puzzle to be missing. B-