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REVIEW: What a Woman Needs by Caroline Linden

Dear Ms. Linden,
I was intrigued by the premise of your first novel, What a Woman Needs.

Stuart Drake has to get his hands on some money, and he has to do it fast. After becoming embroiled in not one but two scandals, neither of his own making, Stuart was cut off from his allowance by his angry father. Now Stuart, the subject of London gossip, is living on meager funds, and worse yet, if he doesn’t find another source of income quickly, he may have to sell Oakwood Park, the beloved estate he recently purchased.

In order to avoid that fate, Stuart has put his future title, his handsome looks and his charming manners up for sale, so to speak, and moved to Tunbridge Wells ahead of the gossip. There Stuart has found a young heiress who wants nothing more than to marry him. But standing in the way of Stuart’s marriage to Miss Susan Tratter is her aunt and guardian.

Charlotte Griffolino is the surly old widow of an Italian count, according to Susan. So when Stuart finds himself halfway seduced by a lushly-curved, golden-skinned woman of thirty, he doesn’t realize who she is until the rug, or rather her tempting body, is abruptly pulled out from under him.

Charlotte has heard the gossip about Stuart in London and she is displeased, to say the least, to find her niece and ward in love with a man Charlotte believes to be a cad. When Charlotte was young, a fortune hunter took advantage of her and she suffered considerably as a result. As a result, she is determined to keep Stuart away from Susan and prevent him from preying on other young women.

Stuart is willing to forget about marriage to Susan (truth to tell, a big part of him is relieved that he won’t be marrying her), but when Charlotte ensures that the rumors from London follow Stuart to Tunbridge Wells and that no mother allows him near her daughter, it’s as good as a declaration of war. From then on, Stuart and Charlotte spar, break into one another’s homes to retrieve their possessions, and fall into delicious lust.

Then Susan disappears, leaving Charlotte a note in which she says she has followed her love. Certain that Stuart plans to abduct her niece, Charlotte threatens him with her gun, and Stuart agrees to take her with him to London, on one condition: if he’s proven innocent of her charges, she must spend one night in his bed.

What a Woman Needs was slow to involve me at first, perhaps because for all the enjoyable sparring, in the first half or so Stuart and Charlotte’s characters were not as clearly defined as I would have preferred.

In the first half of this book, I saw mostly the outward facades that Stuart and Charlotte presented to the world, and not the people they were inside, whom I really wanted to get to know sooner. Stuart seemed to hover somewhere between cad and a desperate man, Charlotte between seductive siren and strict guardian.

In the second half of What a Woman Needs, the masks dropped and I finally felt I was seeing the real Stuart and Charlotte. Stuart began to see and allay Charlotte’s fear for her niece, while Charlotte realized that Stuart was a better man than she’d thought. As the two began to trust each other more, they also saw each other’s fears and scars, and each helped the other find strength.

I enjoyed this portion of the book very much, especially the way you explored and resolved the main characters’ relationship with their parents. Stuart grew into a hero I wanted to see succeed, and Charlotte was refreshingly sophisticated. I also thought your writing style was solid, though occasionally a speech tag here or there seemed superfluous. Here’s an example of what I mean:

“Let’s find out, shall we?” proposed Whitley, puffing at a cigar he’d found.

I can see from Whitley’s words that he is proposing something, so the word “proposed” seems like an unnecessary explanation to me.

But that’s a minor nitpick. On the whole, I thought that What a Woman Needs was an accomplished first novel. I feel that you are a new writer with much potential, and that at just $3.99 for the cover price, courtesy of someone smart in Kensington/Zebra’s marketing department, readers can afford to give this book a try. I hope they do, and that they like it as well as I did. This one gets a B- from me.

Sincerely,

Janine

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. 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.

15 Comments

  1. Robin
    Nov 16, 2006 @ 10:48:35

    Well, this review is enough to make me buy this book, especially now that I’m feeling so friendly toward Zebra books. At 3.99, I already feel like I’m getting a deal, which is no small thing these days. And a real widow to boot — I think I’d pay 7 bucks for that alone!

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  2. Tara Marie
    Nov 16, 2006 @ 11:43:04

    I gave this one a “good,” we have similar thoughts about it. I’ve reached the point in my reading life that I appreciate romances that feature characters that actually act like adults. Sophisticated is a good word.

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  3. Janine
    Nov 16, 2006 @ 12:32:42

    I hope you like the book, Robin. And I also hope that the $3.99 price encourages readers to try this author, because I hope Linden stays published for a long time. It’s always exciting to come across a well-written first novel since it makes me feel optimistic about the future of the genre.

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  4. Janine
    Nov 16, 2006 @ 12:35:30

    [quote comment="7875"]I gave this one a “good,” we have similar thoughts about it. I’ve reached the point in my reading life that I appreciate romances that feature characters that actually act like adults. Sophisticated is a good word.[/quote]

    You said it, sister! It’s a relief to read about characters who have some life experience behind them.

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  5. seton
    Nov 16, 2006 @ 13:50:05

    I just read this last week. While I love a heroine who has a past, it got a little confusing after a while keeping track of which past lover was which. There were so many men who used her from her past that it got to be a little too much after a while.

    I think Linden should go into the erotic historical category because I thought the sexy bits was where she excelled.

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  6. Janine
    Nov 16, 2006 @ 17:12:38

    I wasn’t confused or bothered by the stuff with the men in Charlotte’s past, but I liked the love scenes also. While I like erotic historicals, there are so many authors writing them now that I am glad of the ones who are writing regular historicals too.

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  7. Josie
    Nov 16, 2006 @ 17:46:07

    This sounds like one I definitely have to check out. I love nothing more than a couple who, while they may antagonise and stir each other up, still manage to resolve their issues together like adults… Plus great sex scenes are always a bonus!

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  8. Janine
    Nov 16, 2006 @ 21:40:21

    I hope you enjoy it, Josie.

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  9. Caroline
    Nov 16, 2006 @ 21:56:35

    Dear Janine,

    I’m so pleased you enjoyed my book. Thank you for a nice review.

    I wanted to make one comment, which I hope will explain a few things in the book: I really wanted to create a lead couple who were true equals. In many romances, especially historical romances, one lead character (for example, “the hero”) generally has a significant advantage over the other lead character (say, “the heroine”): he’s rich, he’s titled, he’s got oddles more sexual experience than she has. To my mind, this stacks the deck somewhat, and gives the hero too much sway in the relationship. So I made up two characters who were on the same plain socially, financially, and sexually, to make sure that their interactions would be driven by other character issues, and not whether or not the heroine has to sleep with the hero to save her family from debtor’s prison (or some such thing). Stuart and Charlotte push each others’ buttons, but in the end are suited to each other BECAUSE they are equals, and each can understand what the other has gone through. I think characters with more ‘life experience’ are by definition more complex and take longer to get to know, but I do hope that by the end, everything they did made sense.

    And to reply to one comment– as glad as I am that the “sexy bits” were good, I just don’t think I’m cut out to write erotic romance of any era. Sorry!

    Thanks again to all who posted-

    Caroline

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  10. Janine
    Nov 16, 2006 @ 22:33:18

    Thanks for dropping by, Caroline. I think that this sense of equality between the hero and heroine was a big part of what I enjoyed in What a Woman Needs. I would love to read more romances in which the hero and heroine are on the same plane.

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  11. Robin
    Nov 16, 2006 @ 22:40:08

    Today I ordered this one and the next, What A Gentleman Wants. Together they cost about the same as one MM paperback from another publisher at the other end of the alphabet. Yippee!

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  12. seton
    Nov 17, 2006 @ 23:08:58

    Well I wouldnt be adverse to catching up on Ms. Linden a few books down the line after she has established her own voice.

    And just to clarify, my reference to the “sexy bits” in my previous comment, I was not referring to just the sex scenes but ALL the sexy bits like the sexual tension in the first meeting between the H/H. Good sexual tension could make a novel seems a lot sexier than it is if one considers the number of love scenes in a romance. (Jo Beverley is a master at this.)

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  13. romancefanreader
    Apr 18, 2007 @ 20:41:36

    QUOTE:”You said it, sister! It's a relief to read about characters who have some life experience behind them.”Janine replies:
    November 16th, 2006

    Finally! I hear others say what I have been saying all along…spare me from virgin ingenues! A widow has more substance and character and wisdom. She has more to bring to the relationship than an 18yr old.
    Give me sophistication any time and there you’ll find a good love story!
    I loved this book and emailed the author to tell her so and I rarely do that. Her second book…”What A Gentleman Wants”… did not come close to this title. I hope the next release will be like the first in style and characters.

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  14. Dear Author.Com | What a Gentleman Wants by Caroline Linden
    Apr 27, 2007 @ 12:01:11

    [...] novel, What a Gentleman Wants, and gave it a B. After enjoying your debut, What a Woman Needs (a B- for me), I thought I'd give your second book a try. I wish I liked it as much as Jane did, but for me, [...]

  15. romancefanreader
    Jun 25, 2007 @ 23:02:01

    I hope Linden stays published for a long time. It's always exciting to come across a well-written first novel

    Caroline Linden is a wonderful author and is fast becoming one of my favorites! I am looking forward to her next release!

    ~Marie~

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