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REVIEW:  Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella

REVIEW: Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella

 

Lottie just knows that her boyfriend is going to propose during lunch at one of London’s fanciest restaurants. But when his big question involves a trip abroad, not a trip down the aisle, she’s completely crushed. So when Ben, an old flame, calls her out of the blue and reminds Lottie of their pact to get married if they were both still single at thirty, she jumps at the chance. No formal dates—just a quick march to the altar and a honeymoon on Ikonos, the sun-drenched Greek island where they first met years ago.

Their family and friends are horrified. Fliss, Lottie’s older sister, knows that Lottie can be impulsive—but surely this is her worst decision yet. And Ben’s colleague Lorcan fears that this hasty marriage will ruin his friend’s career. To keep Lottie and Ben from making a terrible mistake, Fliss concocts an elaborate scheme to sabotage their wedding night. As she and Lorcan jet off to Ikonos in pursuit, Lottie and Ben are in for a honeymoon to remember, for better . . . or worse.

Dear Ms. Kinsella,

This is only the second book of yours I’ve read but I’m seeing a pattern developing – namely plots that sound more than a little ridiculous but which have to be accepted in order to enjoy your particular brand of literary chaos. So far, I’ve had enough fun with the books that the outlandish things going on haven’t fazed me. But when it comes right down to it, the plot descriptions do make it sound as if your novels are peopled by complete fucking lunatics.

Lottie is a pulled together professional woman with a tendency to go whack-shit when love lets her down. She’s spent years remembering her gap year in a hazy, golden glow that she tries to wrap around herself after the disappointing turn of her relationship with Richard. This jump from the frying pan into the fire of her sudden marriage is the set up that must be bought – hook, line and sinker by the reader. And let’s face it, if this wasn’t a comedy and it hadn’t been written by you, I would have closed the book right then with the thought that Lottie was as crazy as a shit house rat. But, as told by Fliss, Lottie’s past actions and the fact that Lottie and Ben were sympatico at one time makes it easier to shake off the WTF aspect of the plot set up and get on with reading it. It takes the horrormoon with its final trip back to the scene of her memories to jolt it home to her – you really can’t go back.

I literally crowed with laughter – earning me strange looks from my kitties – at so many points — the condom landing in Lorcan’s G&T at the sidewalk bistro, Richard upending his “won’t fit in the overhead bin” suitcase and then, after pawing through it, standing in the Heathrow departing lounge holding his wadded up boxer shorts, Ben’s loud and persistant (despite another guest thinking him a perv) efforts on the beach to rent a hotel room from a fellow hotel couple for quick sex and then there’s the sheer, demonic brilliance of manager Nico & Co’s fiendishly clever “in flagrante delicto” inhibiting efforts at the resort. It’s a shivaree of epic, long distance proportions.

Wedding-Night-by-Sophie-KinsellaBut, there’s something more going on here. The wedding night sabotage is funny but had the book been only that, it would have grown rom-com stale very soon. Lottie and Ben are slowly discovering that maybe you can’t just ignore 15 years of separate living and perhaps at 33 you really do need to know something more about your mate than what you knew as hormonal 18 year olds.

Meanwhile Fliss might come off as a nutcase for her choice to stick a spoke in Lottie’s wedding night wheels. Her defense makes more sense than might initally be believed given Lottie’s long history of kooky post-breakup actions and Unfortunate Choices – this being the worst of them. And then there’s Fliss’s own hellish divorce that drives her to try and avoid watching Lottie endure the same. As Lorcan tells Fliss, after blowing up at her for the epic interference in her sister’s life, in a fucked up way, Fliss is trying to do the right thing and help Lottie, but she can’t be Lottie’s keeper forever and Lottie deserves the chance to succeed or fail in her marriage choice

Then Lorcan shouldn’t be throwing stones in his glass house because he’s just as obsessed with continuing his efforts on behalf of Ben’s company. Fliss gets to raise her eyebrows at Lorcan trudging across half of Europe to browbeat Ben into making the best – in Lorcan’s POV – decision for the paper products company. Just as Fliss is almost blinded in her efforts to “save” Lottie from a mistake, Lorcan can be so singleminded that he can’t see the forest for the trees. This trip, the situation and his time with Fliss will be the things that beak the lock the job has on him and sets him free to get back on with his own life.

Fliss and Lorcan bring the book to some deeper moments as they trade divorce horror stories and find shoulders to cry on about it. Fliss, at least, has spent yonks complaining to anyone she can corner about her soon-to-be-ex husband’s shittiness but it doesn’t seem as if she’s taken the final step to emotionally let it all out and thus let it go until now. This is what finally brings Fliss closure and begins to heal her wounded spirit. It helps Lorcan too I think, as he sees how far Fliss and Richard will go for family and loved ones.

And Richard! Richard is aces in how he comes through romantically – flying around the world, being willing to discover the truth about something that means a great deal to Lottie and even the fact that he knows this means a great deal to her. Bless him that he’s even halfway to accepting the ring Lottie’s bought him.

The alternate first person takes a little getting used to but both women are astute observers and I felt I was getting the unvarnished reactions of the others in the story – mostly men now that I think of it. Both sisters find what they need – Lottie gets the man she really loved all along – and Fliss gets letting go, peace and a new start. I love the gift that Lorcan gets her which shows he remembers what she’s said.

This could have been little more than a light, frothy beach read but underneath the frivolity is some deep shit. My advice for readers is just to let yourself go and flume with it. B

~Jayne

 

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REVIEW:  Sold To The Enemy by Sarah Morgan

REVIEW: Sold To The Enemy by Sarah Morgan

Dear Ms. Morgan:

You’ve taken a number of standard fairy-tale and romance ingredients and turned them into something fresh and original in this book. I’ve always enjoyed your disadvantaged, yet plucky and intelligent, heroines, and in Selene Antaxos you’ve created a character that ranks for me with the heroines of Doukakis’ Apprentice, Twelve Nights of Christmas, The Prince’s Waitress Wife, and Sale or Return Bride. Selene isn’t badly off financially or an orphan, but her circumstances are pretty dire.

sold To The Enemy by Sarah MorganWhen we meet Selene, she is scheming a way to leave her isolated Greek island home and travel to Athens without her father finding out. Selene and her mother are virtual prisoners in a house that doubles as a fortress, victims of a man who insists on complete control over their lives in order to present to the world the picture of a perfect, virtuous family. He keeps them in penury and watches their every move, but Selene has turned a flair for creating handmade soaps and candles into a potential business opportunity. She uses her annual convent retreat as a means of leaving the island and approaching Stefanos Ziakas, who is her father’s enemy in business, but whom she remembers warmly because he was kind to her at one of her rare public outings. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s gorgeous.

Stefan is annoyed with his personal assistant for letting Selene in to see him, but his annoyance dissipates as he is intrigued and attracted to her. He hears out her business plans and decides to offer her the loan she seeks. Even more impulsively, he invites her to accompany him to a party that night. Selene can’t resist; she’s never been to a party where she can just enjoy herself, free from her father’s threatening presence. The only hitch is that she has nothing to wear, but Stefan quickly arranges a way to overcome that obstacle. One thing leads to another and Selene and Stefan wind up in a mutually agreed-upon and passionate one-night stand. The morning after brings guilt, but not for the obvious reasons. Selene’s realization that the party was attended by guests who then plastered her picture all over the tabloids makes her outraged with Stefan and leads to her flight back to Antaxos, where she correctly fears her father is waiting for her.

Stefan rescues Selene just in time, but once she is safely away she escapes him too, angry that he took advantage of her to get an advantage over her father and fearful she’s traded one uncaring man for another. When Stefan is finally able to convince her that he wasn’t behind the photos and that his rivalry with her father is about more than business, Selene does an about-face and decides to go all-in with Stefan. Stefan has spent his adult life avoiding anything that looks remotely like a relationship, so she has her work cut out for her.

For me, this story is all about the heroine. Oh, Stefan is very appealing and sexy. But Selene is even better. She wants, more than anything else, to be her own person, and you get the sense that as much as she wants Stefan, she won’t compromise what she’s finally achieved to keep him:

He took a deep breath. ‘I realise we have some obstacles to overcome, but it would be much easier to overcome them if I wasn’t worrying about your safety all the time. I want you to come and stay at my villa, at least for a while.’

The temptation was so great it horrified her. ‘No, thanks.’

‘I don’t want you living on your own.’

‘Well, I want it. I’ve lived under my father’s rules for so long I want the freedom to come and go as I please. I can wear what I like. See whoever I like. Be who I want to be.’

‘And who do you want to be?’

She’d thought about nothing else.

‘Myself,’ she said simply. ‘I want to be myself. Not someone else’s version of who they think I should be.’

‘So if I ask you—the real you—out to dinner, will you say yes?’

Selene swallowed, unsettled by how much being this close to him affected her. What scared her most in all this was how badly she lost her judgement around him. She didn’t want to be the sort of woman who lost her mind around a man.

Selene is a classic HP virgin heroine, except she’s not. In this story, the virgin heroine is virgin because that is how her life has unfolded.  When I was reading Sold to the Enemy, I happened to follow a conversation among friends on twitter about how romances commodify virginity. Curious, I searched to see how it was used here. I couldn’t find a use of the words “virginity” or “virgin.” Selen’s virginity is not “taken” from her, and she doesn’t “give” it to Stefan. Yes, it’s her first time, but everyone has a first time. She wants to make love with him, she convinces him she wants it, and the next morning she’s the same person, just one who has had a great night. It’s a passionate, wonderful experience for her, and after she realizes that Stefan is not using her, she coaxes him into continuing where they left off.

I also very much appreciated that each of them has a major, traumatic backstory but they are also their own people, especially in terms of their attraction to each other and how each approaches a relationship with the other. And their histories were truly traumatic. Selene’s father was a not a paper tiger. He was truly awful, a scary, oppressive character, and her scenes with him were quite dark.

There were minor aspects of the novel that didn’t quite work for me. Selene’s mother was important in the early part of the book and then faded off the page; I would have liked to see more of her. I liked that Selene was willing to let Stefan fund her startup business, but putting his employees in the middle of the negotiations was unfair to them. And I don’t think I ever figured out quite what Stefan did to mke his billions. Finally, there were some abrupt shifts in plot and character behavior that could have used smoother transitions. But these niggles didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment.

The Presents line is often criticized for stereotyped, unbelievable plots and characters. But regular category readers know that there are also novels that take familiar elements and make something fresh and interesting out of them. Here we have a rich, handsome hero, a virgin heroine who needs rescuing from an ogre, and a happily ever after they are guaranteed to reach. How refreshing that while Selene can’t entirely rescue herself, she still manages a lot of it on her own, she never loses her desire to become her own person, and she tells the hero that he has to get his act together if he wants to reach that HEA with her. Grade: B+

~ Sunita

 

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