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REVIEW:  Seducing the Enemy by Noelle Adams

REVIEW: Seducing the Enemy by Noelle Adams

seducing

Dear Ms. Adams:

I think this may be my first read from the Entangled Indulgence imprint, which gives readers of category romance another option besides Harlequin.  Seducing the Enemy seems to be going for the dramatic category feel, which for me is Not A Problem. Our heroine Etta is a twenty-five-year-old virgin looking to start experiencing life; when she meets Harrison, his air of power and authority entices her and she spends the night with him. She’s later horrified to discover that he’s Harrison Damon — part of the powerful family her grandfather is suing over an accident that killed her sister, and left Etta partially paralyzed for thirteen years.

As a rich and powerful hero, Harrison naturally has a bad experience with a deceitful woman under his belt. He assumes that their night together was a planned seduction and goes all Harlequin Presents on Etta’s ass:

“Ms. Edwards,” he bit out, still gripping her wrist. He refused to think of her as Etta. “Tell me why you’re here.”
“Isn’t it obvious?” she spit at him. “One taste of your irresistible self — your alluring charm and unbridled sexiness — just wasn’t enough. I’m here to throw myself on your mercy and beg you to take me back.”
Harrison lashed out at her venom with the only means he had available.
He kissed her — hard, deep, and punishing.

Ah, our old friend, the punishing kiss.

The scene continues:

Her free hand flew to him as her passion transformed to rage.
He caught it and held both wrists against the wall, trapping her completely.
He stared down at her. They were both flushed and painting, but her quaking had intensified. In addition to the anger, tears glistened in her eyes.
In a rush, he realized she was scared and helpless. And he gripped her wrists so hard, they’d probably bruise.
He has no idea what had come over him. He’s never been so unrestrained. He lived his life by certain rules. He was physically stronger than Marietta. She was a guest in his house. And no matter what the provocation, he didn’t treat women this way.

This is the kinder, gentler, modern category hero — that is, he still thinks the heroine is a gold-digger and gets abusive with her, but he’s horrified with himself about it.

Thwarted passion, misunderstanding, and hurt make for an enjoyable jolt of feeling. There’s also a protective, comforting element to their relationship: Etta has a severe phobia about beer and is prone to panic attacks, and Harrison is on hand to rescue her. These familiar components give a good emotional charge to the story.

But the rest felt somewhat flat. Etta’s meekly respectful interactions with Harrison’s uncle make her seem dull and cowed, and there are many scenes of her and Harrison laughing together which just aren’t particularly funny. And though story takes place in Monte Carlo, Aix (Etta’s hometown) and England, there’s very little in the way of local color or sense of place.

Etta’s backstory also never felt real to me. Here’s what she thinks about her past:

No more living a quiet, sheltered life. Maybe it was natural — she’d been in a wheelchair for thirteen years after a car accident when she was a child, and she’d only started walking again two years ago. With the lawsuit against the Damons settled, it was time to go out and have fun, like other women her age.

I can’t believe someone who was disabled for thirteen years would really think this way — surely she would have come to terms with it and started living her life? And a high school boyfriend is mentioned at one point, which contradicts this grim picture. There’s no depth to the portrayal, so Etta’s former disability comes off as just a manipulative plot point and a discomforting excuse for her virginity.

This is the first Adams (or Claire Kent) book I’ve read that wasn’t self-published, and though it has fewer proofreading errors, I don’t think it reached the compelling intensity of the previous stories.  But although some of it feels bare bones, the relationship has enough passion to make this an entertaining, easy read for those who enjoy category romance conventions. C

Sincerely,

Willaful

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REVIEW:  The Master of All Desires by Judith Merkle Riley

REVIEW: The Master of All Desires by Judith Merkle Riley

In 1556 France, Queen Catherine de Medici spies on her husband, King Henri II, and his lover, Diane de Poitiers. Driven nearly mad by jealousy, the queen, who is “very fond of do-it-yourself magic,” is frustrated with her sycophantic, possibly duplicitous court astrologer’s ineffective powers, until he reveals his knowledge of the magical object called the Master of All Desires. This is a centuries-old box that contains the living head of Menander the Undying–a magus who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for eternal life. Anyone in possession of the sharp-tongued, mean-spirited and unpleasant head may have their wishes granted, but only by selling their own soul in the process.

Through a series of clever plot twists, Menander winds up in the hands of Sibille Artaud de La Roque, a gritty girl from the provinces, who refuses to make a wish, thereby halting Menander’s destructive path. Sibille and her aunt, the remarkable, independently wealthy Pauline Tournet, endeavor to rid themselves of Menander, with assistance from Nostradamus. With the queen in pursuit of Menander, and Nostradamus aiming to destroy it, can a national crisis be averted and true love prevail?

Dear Readers,

I’ve been rationing my Merkle Rileys but when I saw Sourcebooks was reissuing this title, I decided it was the time to read it. Having now finished this one, I’ve only got two more yet to read. Gulp. If anyone has any suggestions for “If you like Judith Merkle Riley” please let me know.

the-master-of-all-desires1After reading the back blurb, I wasn’t at all sure how this book would go. The reviews for it seemed generally positive but with a plot built around sorcery, prophecy, the occult, a living head in a box and Great People Who Wield Power and can have little people killed without blinking an eye, anything goes.

Merkle Riley manages to make the story funny, entertaining, and educational. But the main thing I took away from it is trepidation about having the means to have your wishes granted. True, there is no magical Menander the Mage who for a horrible price will grant exactly – and only – what you ask of him but I often wonder how the lives of the winners of these multimillion lotteries will emerge on the other side of cashing that check. “Master of All Desires” gives a heartbreaking look at the human cost of avariciousness, entitlement and greed.

The initial set-up takes a while to be fully established as there are numerous characters who must be introduced and relationships delineated. The book didn’t truly kick into gear for me until around chapter 8 when the young Sibille arrives in Orleans to try and save her father from being burned alive as a heretic. It’s not until then that she finally meets up with her auntie again after having encountered a pissy Nostradamus on the road. Until then, Sibille had – I’ll be frank – seemed a bit of a “full of herself” ninny. When rich, eccentric Auntie Pauline bursts into the narrative, it really picks up steam.

Very quickly, I realized that the younger set in this book were going to often be portrayed as nitwits, gobsmacked fools and lovesick moon calves. Fine with me as the elders were the ones who truly grabbed my attention and ran the show. Heck, even Menander had more sarcastic black humor and sly one liners than those caught up in Love’s Young Dream.

No, it’s Auntie Pauline – with her household of ghosts who haunt her due to her dead pirate husband’s actions, “Italian banker newly converted to Frenchman” Monsieur Montvert – who must juggle two lovesick and idiot children while financing the French King’s foreign wars, Queen Catherine – who loves DIY sorcery and has the cold nerves of steel to think she can manipulate history to suit her and – he’s my favorite – Michel de Nostradame who often seems little more than a crabby old man with a dislike of travel, dodgy inns, cheap wine and cheaper royalty – that is until he communes with the angel Anael and manages to save at least a few people from being trampled by the malignant forces let loose by greed.

I laughed a lot while reading this book but it’s definitely got a darker side to it as well. The characters are flawed – sometimes to the point of almost being unlikeable in the case of Diane de Poitiers, Queen Mary of Scotland and Menander – but interesting nonetheless. Before starting to read it, I would suggest referring to a reliable historical account of 16th century Europe to brush up on all the political maneuvering and players as it will help in understanding the plot and the importance of the various wishes made over the course of the story. While this isn’t the book I would suggest for Merkle Riley newbies to begin with – go with “The Oracle Glass” or “A Vision of Light” – it’s definitely worth eventually trying. B

~Jayne

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