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REVIEW:  Gypsy Heiress by Laura London

REVIEW: Gypsy Heiress by Laura London

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Dear Laura London:

One of the most useful concepts I’ve learned from romance readers online is that of reader consent. Gypsy Heiress is in many respects similar to The Bad Baron’s Daughter, a book I loved. Both are old skool historical romances featuring a young heroine who’s essentially alone and unprotected; she becomes entangled with a powerful, ruthless man and is threatened by a dark villain. But what was fun in that story gave me serious unease in this one. The book lost my consent early on, when the heroine is threatened with rape; perhaps it’s because she is so genuinely helpless, so completely outclassed in every single way — alone, injured, poor, despised — and the rapist is so chillingly unconcerned. Although she is technically saved by the hero, it was done in such a way that I was still terrified for her; I found it hard to accept these two men as the hero and secondary hero of a romance.

It’s a shame, because the titular Liza, who discovers unexpectedly that she’s the heiress to a large English estate, is more interesting than the standard London historical heroine. She’s not so much youthfully naive as she is a fish out of water: having grown up with her Gypsy mother’s family, she finds the lifestyle of the Regency England ruling class pretty bizarre. Since I know virtually nothing about Romani culture, I googled details given in the book; it appears that considerable research was done, but important aspects of the culture have been glossed over or left out entirely. In that sense, you could say that it’s a romanticized portrayal. Liza, although a fairly down to earth person, also tends to flowery language in times of emotion, which is linked with her background: “To concede my love seemed as natural and guileless as the new leaf uncurling from its stem. It was a soft emotion, linked forever in the past with the dripping sands of time…” I really couldn’t say whether the book “gets it right,” overall. However, Liza genuinely feels like someone from another culture, one she quite naturally thinks is superior, and she’s realistically sensitive to slights and stereotypes about her heritage:

Betty made her own preparations for bed, clucking at my eccentric ways, and then knelt by her truckle bed and pointedly said her prayers aloud, enunciating each word in a clear, ringing tone, hoping, no doubt, that they would have a good effect on my heathen manners.

The book is gothic in tone, and Liza has her fair share of “had I but known” moments, but she’s not foolishly trusting. Although she falls for Lord Brockhaven, she doesn’t idealize him — in fact she fails to appreciate his protectiveness, thinking he sees her as a tool against the former heirs. Her confused feelings are expressed in dreams in which Brockhaven fluctuates between hero and villain.

You could argue that Brockhaven is an improvement on other London heroines. Of course he treats Liza like a child, but he’s trying to maintain an appropriate guardian/ward relationship, and with good reason. But he lacked the… coolness factor of other heroes, that might make his sins more forgivable. I warmed to him a little more when his sense of humor appeared, and when we learn the truth about his part in the almost-rape, but I still think Liza could have done better. Though I did enjoy their loves scenes (kisses only), especially one in which Liza is masked and incognito.

Most of the secondary characters didn’t help. The careless rapist of the beginning later becomes a concerned friend and appropriate mate, with no apparent change of heart. It’s just that he knows how to treat a “lady.” Other characters are entirely unpleasant, with none of the acerbic charm found in those of The Bad Baron’s Daughter. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the book is Liza’s friendship with another curious and adventurous girl; naughty youthful hijinks ensue.

If I were grading only on my own feelings, I might give this a C-, but I don’t think it was bad, per se. It might work better for readers who enjoy a gothic feel more than I do, or who have less sensitive old skool triggers. C

Sincerely,
Willaful

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Dear Author

REVIEW: Hungry for More by Diana Holquist

Dear Ms. Holquist:

book review I almost didn’t write this review because it was such a struggle for me to pinpoint why I didn’t respond well to it given that I liked The Sexiest Man Alive so much. Ultimately, I think I failed to connect to the hero and heroine in a "it’s not you, it’s me" manner.

Amy Burns is a psychic who went on to Oprah to reveal Oprah’s one true love. Unfortunately, Amy and her psychic voice Maddie have had some communication problems of late and just when Amy needs her (in front a live Oprah audience), Maddie decides to stop talking to Amy altogether. Amy’s goal, notwithstanding her humiliation in front of Oprah, is to find Maddie.

Amy tracks Maddie to a gypsy named Roni to a restaurant in Philly called Les Fleurs. There she finds the hot chef/owner James LaChance but no Roni. Amy expends a huge amount of effort to find Roni which is extraordinary in that Amy’s only other huge expenditure of effort in the past is related to doing nothing, being a ne’er do well.

James LaChance’s claim to fame, other than his cooking prowess, is his bedroom prowess. He’s well known for his virility and the fact that his overpriced dishes are all inspired by women. All the dishes are named Denise, Josie, Trudy, Amanda, etc.

Throughout the story Amy has imaginary interviews with Oprah and James has imaginary sex with Amy. They spar and look at each other hungrily. All this is observed by a young Rom boy who works for James and dreams of being the next Top Chef (actually really just dreams of being a rich and famous chef like James).

From my many hours watching Top Chef and my own wait staff experiences, the restaurant parts are full of authenticity. Amy’s character growth from being an irresponsible and immature girl to a woman is appealing and James’ exudes a lot of macho sex appeal. James’s restaurant and James’ as a chef are my favorite parts of the book. I loved the waitstaff and the foul mouthed sous chefs. I loved James’ idea that the restaurant was a team and everyone had everyone else’s back even if he arbitrarily decides what mistakes get you kicked off (showing up late) and what keep you on (being hot like Amy). (That’s really not what I see when I watch Kitchen Nightmares but that would probably explain why those restaurants are going out of business and why James is close to getting his third star).

Food + sex = greatness in most equations so why did this story take me a week to read? I had a hard time with Amy as the con. I wasn’t sure if she ran cons because she liked the thrill; because it was the only way to make a living and she did so reluctantly. It seemed like the morality of the story was that the cons were run on bad people so the con was essentially good. But Amy runs cons on everyone from fifteen year old Tony to thirty something James. It’s not that Amy doesn’t grow. She totally does. By the end of the book, she’s changed. But I really wanted to know the “why” of the con so that I could believe in the fact that she could give it up. Further, I never really bought any depth of relationship between James and Amy. After four days of Amy working in James’ restaurant, he declares her his biggest weakness. Really James? That kind of shows that you’ve got the depth of a saute pan. Maybe women are your greatness weakness but Amy, a chick you’ve known all of four days?

I keep thinking as I review this book that I should have liked it. And maybe it was PMS. Bad time of the month, season, year, and that had I tried some other time, I would have appreciated it. Alas, I’ll blame this lackluster response on Gisele. Of course, I’m still up for the next book and I suspect I might re-read this one in a few months and see if I have a different response. In essence, this review is a plea for someone else to read the book and tell me that I am all wet. Or right. B-

Best regards

Jane

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