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REVIEW: Price of Passion by Susan Napier

Dear Ms. Napier:

Book CoverThis is the second of your books I have read, and it was selected purely by what was available on Fictionwise. Luckily for me, Price of Passion was a winner, an entertaining and smart interpretation of the enduring Harlequin Presents equation of plucky but overset heroine + darkly passionate and misunderstood hero = operatic drama and fiery loving. I loved every overwrought page of it.

Kate Crawford has a secret, a growing concern, and she’s come to Oyster Beach to figure out what to do about it. The vacation property she has rented is right next door to famous author Drake Daniels, who has shared Kate’s bed and commanded her heart for the past two years. But Drake, itinerant and unsettled, both physically and emotionally, does not seem happy to see Kate. When Kate — accidentally on purpose — stops by Drake’s super-secret writing haven, casually inquiring about a spare cup of sugar, she proves an irresistible disruption to Drak, catalyzing an anger and lust-fueled game of cat and mouse, although who acts and cat and who acts as mouse changes over the course of the book.

Most of the action in Price of Passion takes place around the push and pull of Kate and Drake’s relationship. We find out that they have been involved but uncommitted, and now that Kate needs something definitive either way from Drake, her fear of rejection clashes loudly with Drake’s well-developed insecurities, especially his difficulty trusting women (a wholly new trope in Romance, right?). And at first, all of Kate’s paranoiac fears about Drake seem well-justified. Like Kate, we see Drake’s aggression in his accusation that she is stalking him. We see the woman living in his house with him – whose forehead Kate initially identifies as “positively botoxical,” a term I think should be delivered to the mint and coined immediately – and curse Drake for his two-timing ways.

It is only as the novel proceeds and the back and forth intensifies that we understand that some of Kate’s perceptions are not accurate. She has believed, for example, that Drake never wanted a particularly close relationship – that he wanted sex but not the affection that goes with it. And so she had structured the relationship as to not get hurt and feel rejected, essentially creating its terms, all the while projecting that aloofness onto Drake. For his part, Drake definitely has trust and intimacy issues, but they are of a different character than Kate believes, and he is as uncertain about what she really wants as she is about him. So much of their relationship development involves rearranging those perceptions and adjusting to a different sense of reality.

Jane said in a recent review that she measures HP books “by the asshole to doormat heroine ratio. The grade for the book is inversely proportional to the ratio.” In Price of Passion, Kate was not a doormat and Drake was not an asshole. In fact, much of the pleasure in reading the book emerged from having my expectations subtly altered much in the same way Kate’s are. It is clever the way I was encouraged to think as Kate does that Drake is the typical careless seducer; it worked to engage me in the story and to challenge my own perceptions of this particular category line. Because I am still learning to appreciate these books where the hero is so much bigger and often louder than life, I especially appreciated the little subversions here and there. How, for example the “other woman” trope is reconsidered here, and how, again, I had to learn that lesson along with Kate. Then there is the prose, which is certainly dramatic, but sometimes surprisingly elegant, too.

Someone had lit a bonfire at the far end of the beach and through the big picture windows she could see the fiery sparks leaping up into the sky, reaching out for the cool sprawl of stars that were just beginning to prick through as dusk teetered on the edge of night.

I like that phrase, “the cool sprawl of stars” and the vivid image it conjures, even as the whole description “teeters on the edge of” too much. In fact, there are a lot of nice details in the book. Drake’s dog, for example, has a funny moment in which he plays a dog, exuding, as Kate describes it, “sarcasm” at the idea of being a typical dog (read: typical cute Romance mutt). At one point Kate is crying in a bathroom stall at the veterinarian’s office and she finds herself looking at the back of the door, as we all do, except that Kate is crouched there under the beady eyes of six fat hamsters crowded onto the veterinary products calendar on the back of the door. In what could have been a relatively insignificant moment, the presence of that calendar makes it more concrete and memorable. Even Drake’s thrillers seem a bit of an in joke, as they pit the world-weary hero against the world and the heroine’s innocence. Then there is the end, which features on of my least favorite Romance scenarios, but which I found unexpectedly fitting and not over the top.

It may be that so many things in this novel seem self-conscious comments on the novel, on the category line, and even the genre, that I somehow felt I was getting both a great HP drama and a smart commentary on it simultaneously. And the commentary merely increased my pleasure in the drama, sometimes even mooting my frustration with the overly-neat wrap up, the too-convenient coincidences, and the annoying and persistent use of the “pale face” to characterize surprise, fear, pain, and most other forms of emotional extremity. Drake, for all of his issues, is unreasonably quick in his emotional healing, and I still don’t really understand how he initially thought Kate could be stalking him, given the context of their relationship and his obviously strong feelings toward her. In fact, the way he let the relationship develop did not completely match his actions at the beginning of the novel or the later revelations we get about how seriously he took their intermittent affair. Had I not been so distracted by the novel’s strengths, I would have found these things a lot more annoying. As it happened, though, I closed Price of Passion feeling it’s a rich little novel, a smart and entertaining B+ read.

~ Janet

This book can be purchased in mass market from Powells or ebook format.

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

14 Comments

  1. Harry~DayDream
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 06:40:49

    I loved this review, although me being a bit slow at moments I wonder whether “growing concern” really means pregnancy. Somehow I always link to that problem.

    “Positively botoxical” should be in everyone’s daily dictionary.
    ~ Hey you are so lovely today, positively botoxical! ~ It sounds so great.

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  2. Janet
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 10:24:00

    HDD — I was trying to be coy, but the book is part of the “Pregnant Mistresses” line, lol.

    I always think of a mistress as someone who’s involved with a married man, but maybe that’s no longer the case.

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  3. Jane
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 10:55:18

    I really liked this one too! Robin called me up and asked if I had purchased it yet and I said I did, right after all the recommendations for various Napier books. Problem is that so few of them are digitized. I think we need to start petitions for the digitization of books from Harlequin. More Helen Brooks and Susan Napier, please.

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  4. katiebabs
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 11:13:33

    At least the title is not “The Price of Passion From the Virgin Mistress”
    LOL

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  5. Keishon
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 11:25:48

    I’ll have to try her since she’s getting such ringing endorsements. I think I may already have one. I was gonna pull a Jane – doing the “one click April HP releases” deal but changed my mind. I haven’t read enough of them to try them all at once. Helen Brooks? Did you review one of hers too? Must go look.

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  6. Harry~DayDream
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 11:37:48

    Janet, there exists such a line?? Somehow I am happy now that I don’t know enough about romance novels. *shudders at the thought*
    But seriously if they keep it below the fourth month, it’s alright with me.

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  7. Ann Bruce
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 11:42:33

    Susan Napier is one of five authors for whom I broke my “no used books” rule. I spent months on eBay several years ago getting her backlist because Harlequin books go out of print so quickly.

    EDITED because my grammar sucks today.

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  8. Sunita
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 12:46:33

    I read this a couple of months ago and enjoyed it. Sometimes Napier is a bit too HP for me (alpha hero, flouncing heroine), and the book had some of those moments, but she’s always good value. Glad you liked it!

    ETA: I didn’t find it as subversive and self-aware as you did, but I thought it was an awfully smart exemplar of the type.

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  9. Meriam
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 16:10:46

    I read this, and liked it! I thought it was clever, what Napier did. It certainly surprised and then amused me. Although I agree with you about the very end: a bit of a let down.

    I tried to read a few Presents earlier in the year and, for the most part, hated every last one of them (I’ve still got a few on my tbr mountain I can’t even contemplate reading). This one stood out because it was a) quite funny b) neatly subverted a tired trope c) there was more to the relationship between the couple than angst and misunderstanding (see TUTGBBMCSMB) I liked the thing they had going with the movie quotes. That rapport is usually missing from the other Presents I’ve read. d) the novel treatment of The Other Woman and e) the fact that there were actually other male characters in the story who weren’t potential rapists, or elderly fathers, or gay.

    The other thing I really hate about Presents is when a character thinks “[the hero] was frighteningly intelligent, with a razor sharp wit‘ and then nothing the hero says and does for the remainder of the book displays either wit, intelligence or any semblance of rational thought. Argh! (Rant over.)

    So, yeah, Napier disarmed me just when I was sharpening the proverbial quill for a poison blog entry on the entire line.

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  10. Robin
    Apr 23, 2008 @ 18:34:26

    Jane: can you hear the silent wails across the Internet at the idea of another petition? ;) I’m game, though!

    katiebabs: I have to say, though, that one of my least favorite things about the HPs is that if the heroine isn’t a virgin, she’s had like one bad sexual partner/experience. *sigh*

    Keishon: I tried another one (I reviewed it here, too) and didn’t think a lot of it. So you might want to do some research before you try one.

    HDD: oh, yeah, there is such a line. But I’ve learned to ignore that kind of thing, else I’d probably never read a category book.

    Ann: I recently ordered The Lonely Season, and it was only available used. As Jane said, the category novels go out of print so soon, usually before I even know about them, lol. And I hate the eHarlequin site because they don’t have ereader.

    Sunita: I don’t think the whole book was subversive, but I definitely think there are subversive moments. In fact, there were way more than I could capture in the review. Like how when Drake storms off, and Kate asks him why he left and he gave that speech about how he is a “flawed human being.” That just cracked me up, because it’s the anti-dramatic answer, so logical and reasonable and therefore not the usual melodrama. But ultimately the flouncy heroine and the alpha hero end up together in a relatively conventional way, so I can’t call the book subversive.

    Meriam: I liked the movie quote competition, too, in part because it created clever dialogue and often engaged me in the recognition game. And thanks for mentioning Drake’s male friends, who actually provided some substance and support. I liked it that he had real friends who were capable of real relationships. Again, it went against Kate’s expectations of him, too, as the completely socially alienated genius. Although the initial caveman response from Drake was pretty over the top.

    I have found that while I don’t grade categories on a different scale than single title books, I experience satisfaction or disappointment to some degree based on my expectations of the line. So I know that I can’t expect certain things in HP and have to judge the book by the limitations of the line. The more familiar I am with the books, the more I “get it,” I think, and the better I can enjoy what there is to enjoy.

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  11. Ritu
    Apr 26, 2008 @ 06:57:31

    I finished reading it two days ago and I did like it but there are other Napiers which are really good. I must add, though, that even her not-so-good titles are better than some stories floating out there. Try The Counterfeit Secretary, that’s a great one but the quintessential Napier, IMO, is True Enchanter. It’s the second of the books featuring the Marlowe family and it’s the best. The Steve Marlowe mentioned in Price of Passion is part of that family.

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  12. Robin
    Apr 29, 2008 @ 11:34:10

    Ritu: thanks so much for the recommendations; I was especially curious about the Marlowes when Drake escaped there to think. Has Ken the veterinarian had a book, or will he have, does anyone know?

    ReplyReply

  13. REVIEW: ‘Price of Passion’ (2008) by Susan Napier
    Feb 17, 2010 @ 07:02:19

    [...] Janet/Robin at Dear Author – B+ [...]

  14. Daily Deals: Two freebies and two strong firsts in their respective series
    Mar 12, 2013 @ 14:02:18

    [...] by Robin aka Janet here and said the book was “an entertaining and smart interpretation of the enduring Harlequin [...]

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