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REVIEW: The Girl Nobody Wanted by Lynn Raye Harris

Dear Lynn Raye Harris:

My biggest problem with this story is that I was unprepared for the emotional reactions of the characters.  They were two steps ahead of me and the whole time, I was internally thinking “wait up.”

Anna Constantinides is the jilted and humiliated bride who learned of her fiance’s perfidy in the tabloids.  Because she has been raised to be proper and polite, she attends the engagement party in order to show that there are no hard feelings.  She should have hard feelings. I have them for her.  There she meets the brother of the woman taking her place, Leo Jackson.

Leo comes on to her, calling her darling and looking at her passionately. Anna responds immediately.  But I’m wondering why Anna doesn’t hate him and all men?  The next moment I’m told she does hate all men but Leo’s wicked grin still makes her core clench or so she tells me.  Leo gets Anna to agree to show him around the island.  Anna, you see, is the quintessential doormat who can’t say no even to the brother of the woman who is marrying Anna’s fiance.

The Girl Nobody Wanted Lynn Raye HarrisAnd the next morning Leo greets her in dishabaille. I guess I’m supposed to find this sexy – him in his unbottoned shirt, with lipstick streaked across the collar. When he is part of the family that humiliated her shouldn’t he treat her with more care?

Anna is described a stereotypically uptight, easily blushing by Leo’s suggestive comments.  It is Leo’s purpose during this next day to unwind her. Because that is what males are created for – to loosen the uptight virgin.

Unfortunately, I’m not ready for his advances or her lust for him.

When Leo diverts from an Island tour of the heroine’s home to Sicily, over her protests, and suggests that they should make love, I’m appalled. When he tells her she is too uptight for all the deliciousness he has to offer, I want to tell him that he needs to back off.

The look he gave her jolted her to her core. Dark, sensual, breathtakingly intense. “We could have fun in Sicily, Anna. Hot, decadent, pleasurable fun.”

Her heart was thrumming. “Please stop saying we. We aren’t doing anything together, Mr. Jackson.”

He laughed again. “Back to that? Have you ever considered, sweet Anna, that perhaps it’s time you let your hair down a bit? Time to let go of that buttoned-up perfection you try so hard to project and have some fun?”

This isn’t sexy, this is harassment and kidnapping.  He’s known her all of five minutes and he is telling her she isn’t dressed appropriately and he knows better? Gah.

“You’re grabbing at straws,” she said calmly. “I am well aware I’m not perfect. And I like the way I’m dressed.”

“It’s not a bad way to dress if you’re chairing a board meeting,” he said. “But it’s not your true style.”

“I don’t think you have the first clue about my style.”
“I’m not sure you do, either,” he said. “But we could start with naked and go from there.”

When the story moves to explain Leo’s motives, I’m already lost as a reader. Sure he’s trying to make up for the harm his sister has done, but his peremptory, patriarchal behavior is one step away from a chest beating caveman. That Anna finds this sexy is disappointing as is the non stop stereotypical portrayal of her as the uptight babe that gets shown how to live by the sexy hotel magnate.

This exchange kind of typifies the book for me:

“Perhaps you need a little promiscuity in your life,” he replied, very aware he was being self-serving as he said it. “A little fun that’s about you, not about others or what they expect from you.”

“You’re only saying this because it would suit your purposes if I agreed with you. Stop trying to seduce me, Mr. Jackson. It won’t work.”

But Anna is an easy mark because not only is she a virgin BUT SHE’S NEVER KISSED ANYONE BEFORE. Oh lord. Her sexual awakening comes about and it’s just so sudden and unbelievable.

I know HPs have a certain formula and there are certain expectations one should observe when reading them, but I just could not lose myself in this book. Every page caused me to raise my eyebrows and tug my hair in frustration.

I almost wished the book had started with her sexual awakening instead of having that mid book because although it was only a matter of hours from the meet to the deflowering, it was a long time in the book itself (1/2). The second half of the book then was a completely different story as it attempts to incorporate more HP tropes (marriage of convenience, secret baby, blackmail).

When Leo sheds his know it all air and Anna has a little more backbone (she never gets much) the story turns around a little for me but it’s hard to win back a reader lost at the opening.  C-

Best regards,

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

20 Comments

  1. Lynn Raye Harris
    Oct 29, 2012 @ 12:03:48

    Dear Jane, thank you for your review. I thought about writing to you privately, which I would ordinarily do because I know you are open to comments from authors and because I’ve stated before that my policy is not to publicly comment on reviews. I don’t want to seem like the intrusive author and I don’t want to shut down discussion by my presence in a thread.

    But, since we were all so recently talking together in the comments to Robin’s Ladysplaining post about authors and reviews, and since you stated that you could imagine an author commenting and indicating she was open to discussion, I thought what the heck. There is much I would like to say regarding this book, so I thought I’d jump in and say it and hope no one feels discouraged about commenting. Please, please don’t.

    I’m sorry the book didn’t work for you. I understand what you’re saying when you say that Anna should be angry with men in general, and why the hell would she even be at that engagement party, but that was not my choice. This book is part of the Santina Crown continuity, as you mention, and as such was brainstormed by the editors.

    You had a previous post on the Notorious Wolfes where Lucy Gilmour explained how that works, and then the authors did another post where we talked about writing the stories we were given.

    It’s frustrating for me when what I was given are the things a reader specifically didn’t like. And yet I also enjoy the challenge of the continuity (I am currently writing one, in fact, where I had a LOT of trouble with the story and have had to basically start over). I was more satisfied with this book in the end than I was with my Wolfe contribution (THE MAN WITH THE MONEY aka THE HEARTLESS REBEL). I liked this book, even if these characters were not ones I would have written on my own.

    But, back to that party. My book specifically had to start at the party (I believe many of them did) and Anna had to be there. She was given to me as naïve and buttoned up, and Leo is supposed to be the sexy rogue who gets under her skin and discovers the passionate woman beneath the staid suits, etc.

    Perhaps I should learn how to make the story more mine and how to eject the elements I don’t care for. I don’t slavishly follow what I’m given, but the party, their core personalities, the scene with lipstick on his collar, the flight (where he basically kidnaps her, as you say) and crash, and the resulting intimacy and pregnancy were all in my brief. Since the book had to start at the party, I simply followed the timeline before making that jump forward to where Anna is pregnant, though I appreciate that you would have liked the story to start later. (Starting with her sexual awakening would have made quite a different story, I think!)

    I was a bit surprised when you stated that Anna is the quintessential doormat, and yet I see how you got there. I don’t typically write doormats (or I don’t think I do!) and so I tried to make her strong within the parameters I was given. Clearly, for you, I failed. My brief did not say that Anna had never been kissed, by the way. That was all me. I figured that a woman who’d been expected to marry a crown prince from the time she was little probably would wait for him to be the one to kiss her. Anna, I thought, has been waiting a very long time and is pretty damn sick of it by the time she’s dumped. I did try to pack a lot into her personality, and I can appreciate that it might give some readers whiplash. (Sorry for the hair tugging – I hope your scalp isn’t sore!)

    I’m trying to think how I could have done this story differently within the framework, but I keep coming up mostly blank. I know other authors take the stories and somehow make them work within their style and the elements they are known for. (Sarah Morgan always manages to inject humor, for instance.) I’m not quite sure what I’m known for yet (my editor tells me it’s strong heroines, which is kind of funny considering your response to Anna). I’m pretty sure I’m not a good judge of my own strengths, so I won’t even try.

    Considering the story *had* to start at the party, what would you have liked to see happen as a reader? How could I have written it in such a way you would be more empathetic with our poor jilted heroine? I thought Leo was encouraging Anna to be her own person instead of someone she’d been told she had to be, but that didn’t work for you either. What would you have liked to see there? (Perhaps he should have been more angry on her behalf than roguish and flirtatious?)

    Something I’ve learned in writing nearly 20 books for Presents in the past four years (only 10 of which have hit the US market thus far) is that a) they are challenging as hell and b) readers either love or hate something about the stories each and every time. Even when they love a particular author, they can passionately despise a particular book. Three years ago, when my first book came out, I would have brooded for at least two days (probably longer) over this review. Now I’m like, “Eh, them’s the breaks. The next book will kick ass!” ;)

    I appreciate that you took the time to read the book and write this review, and I appreciate the opportunity to discuss it with you. While I realize I have many readers, and many of them are perfectly happy with this book, I always want to please the ones who didn’t like something. I’ll keep hoping that one day you read a book of mine you just adore. Until then, thanks for persevering through the ones you don’t like. :)

  2. Ridley
    Oct 29, 2012 @ 12:46:04

    I don’t know about you, Jane, but I’ve never had any luck with HPs that are part of a multi-author miniseries. The books always lack depth for me.

  3. Spinster
    Oct 29, 2012 @ 13:27:26

    Lynne Ray Harris wrote:
    ” I thought Leo was encouraging Anna to be her own person instead of someone she’d been told she had to be, but that didn’t work for you either. What would you have liked to see there? (Perhaps he should have been more angry on her behalf than roguish and flirtatious?)”

    With the disclaimer that I haven’t read this book, and am going solely on Jane’s review and my own experiences with other HPs, I personally would like to see *any* hero in a situation like that be angry on the heroine’s behalf. She’s been hurt and humiliated, and in this case his own family was part of it. I’d instantly be halfway in love with a hero who came into the story taking her side against his own sibling, in that scenario.

  4. connie333
    Oct 29, 2012 @ 13:59:00

    I’m confused. The heroine was engaged to be married but she’d never even kissed her fiance? Or anyone else ever? In a contempary novel? Why not? I can forgive some pretty convoluted reasons for a character to remain a virgin if I liked the rest of the story but that would be an automatic DNF for me.

  5. Lynn Raye Harris
    Oct 29, 2012 @ 15:39:37

    @Spinster: I appreciate your response! I do wish I’d turned up his disgust with the situation now. I believe I had some of that but lost it in revisions when I had to make him seem darker. Still, that was my choice, and I could have made a different one. I almost wish I had. The idea of a dark, angry Leo–rather than a dark, charming one–is kind of fun. Making notes for the next time I encounter a heroine done wrong by the hero’s family. :) Thanks!

  6. Erin Satie
    Oct 29, 2012 @ 16:27:02

    I’m not much for category romances (they’re too short for me, in most of my moods), so I can’t speak as a customer but…when I first saw Lynn’s name pop up in the comments I was worried, but then I found the comment itself really fascinating. The sort of thing I might expect at a conference workshop & really enjoy there, too.

    @Spinster – I hear you when you say you’d want the guy to be angry on the heroine’s behalf, but personally, I’d also be suspicious of any dude who’s willing to defect away from his own family (or family-to-be), to trash the people he ought to be closest to.

  7. Spinster
    Oct 29, 2012 @ 16:49:57

    Erin, he wouldn’t have to trash them to be angry with them. :) Haven’t you ever been disappointed and angry with something one of your relatives did, and sympathized with the person they did it to?
    But you’re right, unless an author writes in a lot of backstory involving someone being just about at their last straw with said relative, the reaction being over the top would be just as bad as my-family-right-or-wrong (which we see a lot of in romance, now that I think on it…).

  8. Jill Sorenson
    Oct 29, 2012 @ 17:13:48

    @Erin Satie: Is the sister a heroine in another novel? If so, casting her in an unflattering light could be problematic.

    The lipstick on the collar–also from a scene in a previous book? It sounds like he sleeps with the heroine and another woman in two consecutive nights. Spacing out those two encounters might have made him seem less flighty/indiscriminate and her more sensible/valued.

    Very interesting to read about continuity issues in a multi-author series.

  9. Jane
    Oct 29, 2012 @ 17:40:55

    @Lynn Raye Harris: Thank you for braving us to comment and I thought your comment was really interesting. First, let me get to some points we can agree on.

    A) You are right. I think a girl destined to be a crown prince’s wife would probably never have kissed another man. That makes sense now that you point it out.

    B) Even though we had that category series post I had no idea that you had so many of the elements forced on you. Like the plane diversion?? Really? Why be so restrictive harlequin?

    As for the party, I really have a problem with men who presume to know the heroine better than they know themselves and that is the dynamic that I felt was going on here. I saw that Leo could sense that Anna was uncomfortable in her situation (and in the book you relate his insight to his own mother’s grief and humiliation at the antics of his father) but his response seemed so “father knows best.” I wished he had evinced his understanding of her hurt and humiliation in ways other than taking her to an island against her will.

    And I guess I needed more justification for her to go on this trip with him and more than her need to avoid the jubilation over the Crown Prince’s impending marriage. I hadn’t read the previous book (I started to and hated the heroine in the first few pages) but there wasn’t anyone on her side? She was so isolated that she had to take comfort in the brother of the sister who stole her man?

    I don’t know exactly how it could have been saved for me and maybe it’s like Ridley suggested that these series/connected books just aren’t going to work for me because how you get the two of them on the island without him being a peremptory jerk is kind of a mystery.

    Thank you again for being so generous with your comment and starting a conversation with us readers.

  10. Erin Satie
    Oct 29, 2012 @ 18:16:03

    @Spinster

    I was just pointing out that there’s a fine line to walk. If he’s standing up for what is right, mediating between his family and the guests in a way that shows him as a stand-up guy that’s one thing. If he’s grandstanding, creating conflict, or immoderately badmouthing his family that’s another.

    @JillSorenson – I don’t know, but that sounds like a likely explanation.

  11. Ros
    Oct 29, 2012 @ 18:31:10

    This was not my favourite continuity series. I liked a couple of the books, but I found the overall set up quite frustrating. Within that, I think you had the hardest task, Lynn. And like Jane, I’m amazing at how much of the detail you were given. I’d assumed you were given the characters and the overall set up of the series and then allowed to get on with it.

    I’m always sympathetic to a heroine who has a strong sense of duty. And I am doubly on the side of one who does her duty and is then let down by other people. I guess I maybe wanted to see more of the internal rage she would feel at that. I’d have liked her to be the one taking the lead with Leo in rebellion at the way she’s been treated. He could encourage her to let it all out, but it would have sat better with me if she had initiated that process.

  12. Ros
    Oct 29, 2012 @ 18:32:12

    @Jill Sorenson: Yup, the sister is the heroine of the last book in the series.

  13. Courtney Milan
    Oct 29, 2012 @ 21:26:40

    I think this is such a fascinating conversation, in part because one of the things that it conveys is that sometimes books can have unfixable problems–that is, things that can’t be made better, no matter what you do with them. Or, usually, a set of unfixable problems: things like, “I can pick up the pace in section A, but if I do, I leave B unexplained” — or “I can heighten the conflict here, but if I do, the character arc isn’t as smooth.”

    From the reviewer point of view, these are things you may ding the author for–and justifiably so–but from the authorial point of view, these are, ideally, choices that you make. Do I do X and maintain continuity with previous books, or do I do Y, which is more emotionally satisfying in this book, but which creates a continuity error?

    Do I do Z, which I know annoys 10% of readers, but which 40% of the people out there really love, or do I go for the blander F?

    Every choice an author makes puts some people off–every single one–and the fact is that some books, by virtue of their construction, have more unfixable errors than others, or the unfixable errors are more central to the plot. I’m not even sure I should call some of these things “errors” because some of them are simply choices–features, in my mind, not bugs. For instance, the fact that my books have reliable happy endings means that some people will automatically dismiss them as “predictable”–I think every romance author has heard that at some point–but I wouldn’t call that an “unfixable error.”

    In any event, I think it’s so interesting to hear an author talk about her book in such an evenhanded, unemotional way, as a matter of craft and construction, and I think it would be seriously cool to have that kind of discussion about books–where authors didn’t have to pretend that we loved everything about our books (we don’t!) but were able to say, “Yeah, the fundamental issue with that book was that the romantic conflict was weaker than all the external plot stuff that had to be worked through, and so to make those parts meet at the appropriate time in the book, I either had to draw out the romantic conflict to the point where the hero and heroine were stubborn idiots, or rely on the external plot to move the book forward without pushing on the romantic conflict. I did the best I could, and I hope it worked for most people.”

    Books are done when the solution for every remaining problem is worse than the problem itself. And that’s kind of what I hear Lynn talking about here–”I could have pushed this piece, but if I did, this other one would pop out of place, and he used to be like this, but I made him more like this to push other things at the end of the book…”

    And Lynn, I could never write in a continuity series. I don’t think I could handle that level of someone else’s plot detail. So I’m always in awe of those who do.

  14. L Penel
    Oct 29, 2012 @ 22:31:23

    @Lynn Raye Harris: I just wanted to thank you for your reasonable (and enlightening) comment on the review. I haven’t read this book but I do plan to check out your work.

  15. Sarah Morgan
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 03:13:13

    @Jill Sorenson: Jill, you’ve mentioned my biggest cause of stress with continuities, and that’s the way other authors present my character. I struggle with that more than anything. It’s less of an issue if you’re first in a series, but it’s hard when you’re further down the line. I want to be in control of that character and if he/she appears in someone else’s book I lose control.

  16. Kate Hewitt
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 04:16:38

    I’m so glad this conversation is happening! Thank you, Lynn, for being brave enough to start it :) I can certainly relate to some of the issues with writing a continuity; there are always plot points you have to keep in your story and sometimes they can be ones you would never, ever have included on your own. It’s a wonderful challenge, but can also be incredibly frustrating, and trying to make it work can feel like forcing a square peg into a round hole.

    And then there are elements you can’t control; in the Notorious Wolfe series an editorial decision was made after the books were finished to include the backstory of my hero, Jacob Wolfe, in every other book–something which built up expectation but also, I think, diluted my story a bit in terms of revealing what he’d gone through. If I’d known that was going to happen, I would have written it differently–but I will say overall I really enjoy the challenge of writing continuities, and the sense of collaboration it involves.

  17. Lynn Raye Harris
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 10:17:52

    Wow, loving all the discussion here! I was out at a friend’s book launch party last night, so just now getting back, but I’m really excited to see everyone’s thoughts.

    @Erin Satie: Thank you, Erin! I’m glad you enjoyed my comment.

    @Jill Sorenson: The sister is a heroine in another book, yes! But the lipstick thing was left to me on how to explain it, and I chose something that you realize later in the book means he did not sleep with anyone. :)

    @Jane: It’s been a pleasure to comment, Jane. Thanks for making it clear that you welcomed it when an author could approach the topic in a reasonable and respectful way.

    You said: Even though we had that category series post I had no idea that you had so many of the elements forced on you.

    I should perhaps clarify that while there are many things in the brief, I know that if I thought of a better way to do it and still have the essential story be there, I probably would be able to do it.

    Some things are non-negotiable. Starting at the party, for instance. The lipstick scene was probably something I could have done differently, but the plane crash and island time was necessary. If I could have thought of a different way to do it and still have it happen, I would have been able to. But, truthfully, I couldn’t.

    When presented with a synopsis of a story not mine, I’m grateful for the plot points, though I truly do change the ones I just can’t stomach. For instance, Leo’s reasoning for flying out of the way in the first place was because he was showing off. I didn’t like that at all and changed it. I couldn’t respect a show-off hero who then ended up crashing because he was an ass about flying. :/

    You also said: I don’t know exactly how it could have been saved for me and maybe it’s like Ridley suggested that these series/connected books just aren’t going to work for me because how you get the two of them on the island without him being a peremptory jerk is kind of a mystery.

    I understand that. There was no way to follow the timeline and the brief and not have him be a jerk about it for some readers. Or to give her a support system that helped to undermine his influence on her. It was all going to happen anyway. Not that I couldn’t have made some smaller, better choices perhaps. But I think I will always feel that way about my books. I never think they are perfect and I always wish I had done something differently.

    @Ros: Thanks, Ros! Well, it does often depend on the particular continuity, but this one had details. Though it had fewer details than the Wolfes did! The one I’m doing now basically gave me their backstory, the place it must start and why, and some details about their personalities. The rest of it will be made up by me — and I’m already pulling my hair out over it. This one has been very hard for some reason. :/

    @Courtney Milan: You said: Every choice an author makes puts some people off–every single one–and the fact is that some books, by virtue of their construction, have more unfixable errors than others, or the unfixable errors are more central to the plot.

    Exactly! I have to say that I’ve really grown as an author in the past couple of years. And I don’t mean as a writer (though I always hope that, of course!) but as the producer of a product that people are going to buy. Some will love it to pieces. Others will think it’s middling. And some will consider it the worst thing ever written. Goodreads has been excellent for me in that respect. With so many reviews, and so many of them simply stars, you get a real feel for the variety of reading experiences. One person might say, “This is the best book I’ve read all year!” And then another will say, “Worst novel I ever read.” All about the same book.

    I wish I could make them all happy! But I can’t, and so every book is a set of choices. I agree with you that we always know our stories are flawed in some way. We make the best choices we can for the story we want to tell, and we hope the majority of readers respond positively.

    You said: I think it would be seriously cool to have that kind of discussion about books–where authors didn’t have to pretend that we loved everything about our books (we don’t!)

    So very true. I said it before, but I’m never 100% satisfied with my books. I always think I could have done something better. I’ve really learned to remove myself from my stories (insofar as identifying with them emotionally) so that discussing them as a product is interesting and edifying. I won’t say I’m immune to emotion over them, because they are still products of my worldview, but I think the benefits are worth the possible ego dings.

    I didn’t think I could write someone else’s plot either — until I did it. :)

    @L Penel: Thank you very much!

    @Kate Hewitt: Round peg and square hole. Absolutely!

  18. cead
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 18:04:58

    @Lynn Raye Harris: I have nothing of substance to add to this discussion, but I just want to say: I hadn’t heard of you before (Presents aren’t really my thing), but you are a total class act. You’re the perfect antidote to all these ubiquitous stories of authors behaving badly, and your comments are exactly the sort of thing I would love to read more of from authors. It’s been absolutely fascinating, and despite Presents not really being my thing, I’m thinking seriously about trying one of your books now. Thank you so much for commenting, and thank you also to the other authors who have weighed in on this thread. This has been great.

  19. Sarah N.
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 20:09:44

    Is the title ever addressed in the novel? As in like “this is not a healthy view to have of yourself”? Because it stands, I would never pick up this novel solely because of the title. The Girl Nobody Wanted comes off as offensive as all get out to me.

  20. Lynn Raye Harris
    Oct 30, 2012 @ 22:46:18

    @cead: Thank you. I’m honored. :) I think there are many of us who would love to discuss our books in an even-handed and analytical way, but unfortunately there are some authors who ruin it for us all. Hopefully, we can have more of these kinds of discussions between authors and readers from time to time. I think we all benefit. I hope we do anyway.

    @Sarah N.: I’m sorry the title offends you, honestly, but I don’t get to pick it. The titles of all our books in the Presents line, for the most part, are chosen by the editors and are done with an eye to marketing. I don’t believe I knew the final title when I was writing this story. :/ Typically, when writing my own stories, I send them in with no title. I know they won’t keep it anyway, so I gave up a long time ago. Some of the authors do get their titles through from time to time, though. I just happen to suck at titling my books. :)

    And now I just want to say how much I’ve enjoyed this discussion. It’s been a privilege. I’m glad I took the chance and commented this time, though I will go back to my usual policy of not commenting on my reviews now. Unless invited, and then I’ll be happy to join in. I appreciate all my readers and I hope I make them happy. I know it’s not always possible, but it’s my wish. Thanks again.

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