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REVIEW: Her Husband’s Harlot by Grace Callaway

Dear Ms. Callaway,

I was interested to read your debut novel for two reasons. First, I love the title. I’ve always thought being a husband’s harlot is one of the best parts of marriage. (Plus, it reminds me of a classic song, the number one single from 1973, Charlie Rich’s Behind Closed Doors. I’m humming it as I write.) Second, I think it’s impressive you’ve taken your 2010 winning manuscript, (Her Husband’s Harlot was a 2010 Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Finalist) and turned it into a successfully selling novel: It’s currently the 36th most popular Regency romance at and has a five star reader rating.

Her Husband's Harlot by Grace CallawayI enjoyed your book. You utilize a typical regency plot—virginal girl marries sensually experienced and sexually voracious man whose heart she longs to win—and give it an innovative rendering.  I loved the opening scene in which your heroine, the well-bred Lady Helena is wandering the halls of the Nunnery, a high-end London brothel, determined to track down her husband Nicholas and beg him not to consort with whores but to consort with her instead. The two have been married just a month and, after a truly awful experience for both on their wedding night—she practiced “ladylike forbearance” until the moment she screamed in startled pain; he jumped off her, ran out of the room, horrified he’d hurt her—the two barely speak. Helena, though, longs for another chance and so, upon learning Nicholas will be at the bordello this evening, she slips on the clothes of a tart, paints her face, dons a wig and a feathered mask, and goes husband hunting.

She finds him, hidden behind a curtain, watching an exceedingly bawdy threesome. Nicholas has been in sexual hell since his wedding night. He is consumed with lust for his wife, but sees her as too genteel and pure for him. He thinks, after their wedding night, she wants nothing to do with him. But he’s a guy with big needs and even beating off three times a day, while fantasizing about fucking the hell out of Helena, is neither slaking his lust nor assuaging his loneliness. He came to the Nunnery thinking he’d find relief in another woman’s quim, but found, much to his despair, he only wants his wife.

Usually, in romance novels, the hero doesn’t ever have sex with another woman—many romance readers have zero tolerance for unfaithful husbands. In your book, you take a different path and I liked that. When Helena literally bumps into Nicholas, he doesn’t know her. The light is dim—they are swathed in heavy velvet drapes–, she’s wearing a mask and, most importantly, in Nicholas’s mind, Helena is a paragon of virtue; there’s not a chance in hell his highborn, pristine wife would ever be rubbing up against him in a den of vice.

The minute the room is emptied of the threesome, Nicholas jerks Helena into his arms, lays her flat on the nearest table, yanks down her bodice and unbuttons his trousers. He is aflame with desire for this woman who is not his wife. Helena, who got quite an education from watching the ménage a trois, is just as desirous of him. She realizes, though, he doesn’t recognize her, and, afraid he’d condemn her for her wantonness—she speaks to him in French in an altered voice. The two have explosive sex—I love the bawdy language of your sex scenes—after which Nicholas drops a fifty pound note on the table and abruptly leaves.

Nicholas, of course, feels worse than ever after this event. He’s already believes he’s not a worthy spouse for Helena and now he’s gone and fucked a whore while imagining he was defiling his wife. Helena, now that she knows how great marital bliss can be, is more determined than ever to woo her husband. Here again, you don’t take their story down the expected path.

Helena does everything right and Nicholas behaves like an ass to her. She tries to talk with him, works on de-dowding herself, and—I really liked this—gets angry at him when he doesn’t respond pleasantly to her. The nicer she is to him, the nastier he is to her. Normally this dynamic would irritate me, but you make it work. You do a wonderful job of showing why Nicholas thinks he’s so unworthy of Helena.  Nicholas is not from the privileged class. He grew up alone and wretchedly poor in the slums of St. Giles.  He was well on his way to death by noose or starvation when he was given a chance by the owner of a shipping company. Nicholas worked his way up, ethically, to managing the company and when the owner died, he left it to Nicholas to run. Nicholas now has money and a title, but he still sees himself as the abused boy he once was. He’s consumed with shame for things done to him and the things he did in his vile past.  You write Nicholas’s shame so believably—he may be crippled by it, but you give him just enough emotional flexibility for the reader to believe it’s possible for him to change.

You also do a nice job of making Helena a credible character. She may be from the ton with snotty parents, but she really doesn’t care that Nicholas isn’t from her class. She was thrilled when he courted her and has always found him incredibly attractive. She really doesn’t understand why he doesn’t seem to want her anymore—she knew nothing about sex and thought what happened on their wedding night portended permanent problems. Once she goes to the Nunnery, and experiences successful coitus, she sees sex as a way to connect with her husband. It’s not, however, the only way she tries to forge a bond between them. She asks him about his work, invites herself to meet the Fines (they are the family of the shipping company owner and are as close to family as Nicholas has), and pleads with him to socialize with her. She sees what works, what doesn’t, and adjusts her behavior accordingly. I liked that she works so hard to get her husband to be with her but she never acts in any way that is debasing or untrue to whom she is.

I appreciated the emotional relationship between Nicholas and Helena. I liked the way it evolved and how, over time, both Nicholas and Helena began to trust and rely on one another. I also really liked their sex life. Your sex scenes are incredibly graphic and your characters use fairly blunt, even brutal language, as they couple.  Nicholas is such a sexual person—the way he speaks in bed is the way he thinks out of bed. And Helena has, from the beginning of the book, wanted to become her husband’s harlot. For her, listening to Nicholas ask her if she wants his cock and being able to say yes is an affirmation that all she’s worked for is hers.

I did feel that Nicholas’s self-loathing went on longer than it needed to, but this is a small quibble. In general, I loved the romance in your romance.

I wasn’t as engaged in the suspense plot that comprises a great deal of your book. You have Nicholas being anonymously threatened by some unknown villain. Nicholas keeps getting notes that threaten to tell the truth about his past. This extra level of threat seemed overkill to me. Nicholas is already consumed with fear that if Helena knew what he’d been, she’d be disgusted and repulsed. When he uses the possible blackmail to distance himself further from Helena, it felt heavy handed to me. I also had a hard time caring who was behind the notes and, as the book progresses, the criminal activity at Nicholas’s shipping company. For me, the relationship between Nicholas and Helena was so interesting, I was somewhat resentful when you took the focus off of the two of them and put it on bad guys at the docks.

All in all, though, this is a good book. It’s the kind of debut novel that gives me faith your next book will be even better.  It seems possible the next book will be about Helena’s friend Marianne. (She helps Helena get into the Nunnery in the first place.) She was a great secondary character and I hope to read more about her.

So, again, congratulations. Her Husband’s Harlot is a pleasing, out of the ordinary read.  I give it a B. I enjoyed finding out what went on behind closed doors in your book—it was nice to watch Helena become her husband’s harlot!



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I loved romances when, back in the mid 70's, in junior high, I read every Barbara Cartland novel I could check out from the library. Then, thanks to a savvy babysitter, I got my hands on the hot stuff. To this day I can remember how astonishingly steamy I found Rosemary Rogers' Sweet Savage Love. I abandoned romance when I went to college and didn't pick one up again until 2007 when I got my first Kindle. Since then, I’ve read countless romances; loved many, liked more, hated some. Most of what I read is historical and contemporary romance, but I’m open to almost any genre. I like my books to have sizzle, wit, and plots that make sense. I’d take sexy over sweet any day. I’m a sucker for smart heroes and smart-mouthed heroines. When not reading or writing about reading, or wishing I could rule the world, I'm meddling in the lives of my kids--I have four, ages 17 to 21--, managing my husband's practice, doing bossy volunteer work, and hanging out with Dr. Feelgood.


  1. Avery Flynn
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 12:46:09

    Oh I want to read this really bad. Great review.

  2. DS
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 12:55:01

    Where did the title come from? Just wanted to see if the author had to bend over backwards to get the hero a title.

  3. DM
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 12:56:42

    I can’t wait to read this. There are major contest finalists every year who don’t sell–and I’ve often wondered why these writers don’t self-publish. Sure, some of them don’t sell because they only have a great first fifty pages (most contests never judge the whole book–just the first thirty to fifty and a synopsis), but some of them don’t sell because they never land on the desk of the right editor. Kudos to Grace for getting this on the e-shelves. Off to purchase!

  4. Meri
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 13:03:49

    Sounds interesting! I’ll add it to my wishlist.

    I don’t know if Ms. Callaway will be reading the comment thread, but if so – any chance of getting it on Smashwords?

  5. Jill Sorenson
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 13:22:15

    Great review. Sounds like my kind of read!

  6. Mari
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 13:40:48

    Not avable at Sony….when will it be available in e-pub?

  7. Janine
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 13:55:59

    Welcome Dabney! I enjoyed your review and am off to Amazon to look up the book.

  8. Ruthie
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 13:59:34

    Ooh, you sold me on this one. Just went and bought a copy. Sounds great!

  9. Danielle D
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 14:02:55

    I need to get this book! Great review!

  10. MarieC
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 14:11:16

    Woo Hoo! I had this in my wishlist and was so happy to DA positively review it!

  11. Isobel Carr
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 14:36:57

    Grace and Sara Ramsey (both in my local RWA chapter) are both former GH finalists who’ve gone the self-pub route and I’m so freaken proud of them!

  12. Karenmc
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 14:58:14

    Okay, I’m in. I just clicked on that criminally easy Buy now with 1-Click® button at Amazon.

  13. Sarah
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 15:18:09

    Well you’ve convinced me and at $3.99 it’s worth a risk!

  14. Lou
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 15:47:02

    This book sounds so good and something that I would enjoy. You’ve also convinced me to buy it!

  15. Joy B
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 16:14:05

    I really want to read this but don’t buy ebooks from Amazon or BN :-(

  16. Diane
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 18:48:06

    I don’t read much historical but you did say it is good so maybe…

  17. Grace Callaway
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 21:40:10

  18. Brian
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 22:22:10

    @Grace Callaway: If you haven’t already you might want to look into Smashwords. Folks can get a regular ePub that way.

  19. Moriah Jovan
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 23:09:59

    Bought it, read it, loved it.

  20. Kaetrin
    Feb 04, 2012 @ 01:05:34

    Sold! Thx for the review.

  21. Meri
    Feb 04, 2012 @ 05:33:16

    @Grace Callaway: The reason I asked about Smashwords is that Amazon often adds extra charges for international readers, supposedly for Whispernet delivery. In this case, I’m seeing a 50% markup on the cost of the book. To the best of my knowledge, nobody else does that – so I try to buy books for my Kindle elsewhere.

  22. Jen McQuiston
    Feb 04, 2012 @ 09:02:56

    Went out and bought it – can’t wait to read it! Thanks for the review.

  23. Artemis
    Feb 04, 2012 @ 10:06:10

    An excellent review. And I want to read….NOW!

  24. Dabney
    Feb 04, 2012 @ 11:47:23

    Wow. Thanks for all the nice feedback about my review! I have to say I was a bit intimidated to write for Dear Author. Thanks for making me feel so welcome!

  25. Estara
    Feb 04, 2012 @ 14:02:42

    @Brian: Or AllRomance! A friend of mine is offering her short stories via them, and Ilona Andrews are offering their self-published stories there because not only do they allow for many different formats, but also SELL to the whole world and not just the US.

    And from what I hear Smashwords takes quite a while until they finally offer a book.

  26. hapalochlaena
    Feb 04, 2012 @ 14:13:30

    I’ll second the AllRomance suggestion, and I’d be happy to buy the book!

  27. Jackie Barbosa
    Feb 04, 2012 @ 17:43:26

    @Estara: Getting a book up on Smashwords itself is actually pretty quick. They literally make your book available for sale as soon as you run it through their “MeatGrinder.” It’s the distribution from there to Apple, Kobo, Sony, et al that takes time, although with my last release, I think it had gotten to all of the third parties within less than a month, which is faster than I’ve seen in the past.

    All Romance eBooks is SUPER easy to set up an account with, and also gives you the option of distributing a PDF of the book. I find I sell more books in PDF format there than either in epub or mobi. There are, apparently, quite a lot of people who are still reading PDF.

  28. Grace Callaway
    Feb 04, 2012 @ 19:00:22

    Wow, I am learning a lot from this thread. Thank you all for your suggestions and feedback on formats. A question for you more experienced self-pubbed folks out there: any concerns about digital rights management with places like Smashwords or AllRomance? That was my hesitation about going through those sites.

    And just wanted to say thanks again for the review and the reader support — Her Husband’s Harlot hit #4 in Regency on Amazon today!

  29. Quynh
    Feb 04, 2012 @ 19:00:43

    Ok, bought this for my kindle on Amazon due to the review.
    Can’t stand the heroine and her stuttering when she talks to
    her husband. Waste of money in my opinion.

  30. Merrian
    Feb 04, 2012 @ 19:34:19

    @Grace Callaway: Just to say I won’t buy a book with DRM. I want to read on multiple platforms. All Romance notes that around 90% of the books they sell do not have DRM. Piracy arises because books are not available for sale to people who want to purchase them. Make them accessible and you deal with that issue up front.

  31. cbackson
    Feb 04, 2012 @ 20:23:23

    Bought this and read it last night. I agree with the review – the graphicness of the language really works in this story. And I love the fact that the heroine’s response to her husband’s behavior isn’t just to slink away in shame. The mystery subplot didn’t interest me – frankly, I found myself skipping those parts – and I thought that the subplot about her father’s gambling problem actually would have been a more natural secondary storyline. But it sounds like this is Callaway’s first published book, and I thought was really good for a first effort and will definitely check out her future stuff.

  32. Barbara
    Feb 04, 2012 @ 20:33:27

    I have to admit that I passed over this book after reading the first few pages of the “Look Inside” sample because I found several fairly glaring errors in the text, including a missed “She” at the beginning of a sentence in the very first paragraph. That didn’t seem to bode well to me for the editing of the rest of the story, and I’m the kind of reader who can’t overlook that sort of thing. Based on this review, however, I might give it a second shot.

  33. Moriah Jovan
    Feb 04, 2012 @ 20:46:35

    @Barbara: I noticed that, but at that point, I still hadn’t clued in that it was self-published and chalked it up to more of NY publishing’s disregard for the reader. There were no more errors like that I can remember.

  34. Jackie Barbosa
    Feb 04, 2012 @ 21:06:45

    @Grace Callaway: Hi, Grace. Congratulations on hitting #4 (although I see you just hit #3, lol).

    I don’t use DRM on my books (although I did on one before I knew what I was doing). From what I hear, anyone with five minutes and a little ingenuity can strip DRM, so it doesn’t do anything to discourage pirates and only annoys readers like Merrian who want to be able to read cross-platform.

    That said, I’m sure ARe supports DRM because my books published by Kensington and Harlequin are available for purchase there, and they certainly use DRM. I also think some of the retailers Smashwords distributes to may add DRM even if you say you don’t want it.

  35. Grace Callaway
    Feb 05, 2012 @ 00:15:10

    @Jackie Barbosa: Hi Jackie, Thanks for your input. Also got some feedback from readers about what a nuisance DRM can be — good to know! I’ll be looking into Smashwords and ARe.

  36. Estara
    Feb 05, 2012 @ 09:28:25

    @Jackie Barbosa: Yes, I had heard that in fact .pdf is the most widely read e-book format. Probably because so many people don’t use dedicated e-readers (and because .epub is much younger a format in comparison to .pdf).

  37. Little Red
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 13:50:35

    Quite the review. I just bought it for myself and can’t wait to read it.

  38. Madelaine
    Feb 09, 2012 @ 09:36:51

    Too bad that none of us that don’t live in the US can’t get an ePub version.

  39. Lisa J
    Feb 09, 2012 @ 12:07:33

    Based on this review, I contacted Ms. Callaway and got the ePub version . I am so glad I did. I just finished it and I really enjoyed the story. I would agree with the B grade and will definitely look for more books from this author. Thanks for another great recommendation from Dear Author.

  40. Dabney
    Feb 09, 2012 @ 14:03:49

    @Lisa J: I’m now reading her second book, Abigail Jones, which has a paranormal slant to it. It’s on Amazon. I will be reviewing it soon!

  41. Grace Callaway
    Feb 09, 2012 @ 18:39:28

    @Madelaine: Hi Madelaine, Thanks for leaving the comment on my website (I think I recognize the cute frog avatar :) I tried to contact you, but the email was returned. Based on the feedback, I will be looking into Smashwords and other e-book sites to reach more readers, including international ones. In the meantime, if you’d like an e-pub version just message me @ [email protected]. I’ll email you the e-pub and bill the $3.99 via PayPal. Cheers, Grace

  42. Lisa J
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 16:39:56

    @Dabney: I’ll look for the review. I have to wait until the books are available in ePub, though. My Sony won’t take a Kindle file.

  43. Madelaine
    Feb 10, 2012 @ 22:32:11

    @Grace Callaway:

    Thanks for your reply. I don’t leave emails since they always seem to get harvested by online advertisers and I don’t need cosmetic enlargement ads sent to me. I will get my husband to email you since he does the paypal stuff for me.

  44. Review: Her Husband’s Harlot by Grace Callaway | Smexy Books
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