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Harlequin Present

REVIEW:  When Falcone’s World Stops Turning by Abby Green

REVIEW: When Falcone’s World Stops Turning by Abby Green

falcone

Dear Ms. Green:

When I’m in the mood for an archtypical Harlequin Presents story — here taking the form of cynical Italian tycoon + secret baby + punishing kisses = angsty-goodness — I look for Abby Green. Originally I decided against reviewing this for Dear Author, because, well, it’s a formula, and you like it or you don’t, and unless you want to do a critique of the entire genre there’s not a whole lot new to say. But then I was interested to notice some small signs here and there of the more modern spirit that’s been popping out in the Presents line lately.

(I go pretty thoroughly into the plot — there are no major spoilers, but if you really like to be surprised, you might not want to read on.)

The story opens with a bang, as Rafaele Falcone and his half brother discover the existence of another previously unsuspected half-brother, at their mother’s funeral. Disappointingly, this mostly sets up the series and doesn’t play into the plot much. Shortly afterwards, researcher Samantha Rourke is horrified to receive a phone call from her former boss and lover Rafaele, asking her to come work for him again. This inevitably leads to Rafaele discovering the existence of their young son, Milo.

The first intriguing thing I noticed was how much the plot is convoluted to make the secret baby aspects more palatable. Rafaele had thought Sam had miscarried, and his reaction to her pregnancy was so negative — the stress even bringing on more dangerous cramps! — that she allowed him to continue believing that. She’s not entirely comfortable with her decision though, and later admits that a desire to punish him for dumping her (and apparently immediately taking up with another woman) might have influenced her. Sympathetic but not blameless — it’s a delicate balance that’s more complicated than we normally see in a short category. Rafaele’s reaction is far more conventional: although he’d been horrified by Sam’s pregnancy, when he discovers he actually has a child he instantly wants full-time fatherhood. I suppose this is intended to make his side of the story more palatable as well, but given that he has Major Issues around parents and children, it would have been good to see him process some.

Another small but significant point: Sam didn’t become downtrodden and poverty stricken after their relationship ended (despite having been dumped by her boss, a point which is not addressed.) With the help of excellent childcare, she went on to earn her doctorate, and she works in a male dominated field, auto engineering. (The coolness of this is somewhat mitigated by Sam having become a tomboy to please her father; she loves how Rafaele makes her feel feminine.)

The main way this story differs from its brethren is… wait for it… Sam actually had sex with someone else while they were separated. It was only one time and God forbid she should enjoy it, but still, this is huge; I’ve encountered only two other instances in Presents. (Even when the heroine actually marries someone else, it’s still pretty damn rare!) Rafaele is also much less of a horn dog than he’d appeared; he was never able to forget Sam. It’s not a complete overhaul of the sexual double standard, but baby steps! (It’s kind of hilarious, in an awful way, to see the response to this plot point on GoodReads — Sam is characterized as a slut and a terrible mom, having sex with strangers “like a hooker.” One time, with a man she’d been dating, makes her into that. No wonder Presents have been resistant to change.)

As for enjoyment value… this didn’t hit the ball out of the park for me as much as usual. It may be because this particular one isn’t really my formula, but even with the updated elements, it felt a little tired. I’m not sure it’s the formula that needs refreshing as much as the language, or perhaps it’s the combination of the two: Rafaele’s desperate exhortations to himself to keep control, Sam’s weak limbs whenever he’s near, even his unbearably attractive stubble — all this is very familiar.  It was entertaining enough, and I’ll hope for a stronger twist to the gut in the next book. C

Sincerely,

Willaful

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REVIEW:  In the Heat of the Spotlight by Kate Hewitt

REVIEW: In the Heat of the Spotlight by Kate Hewitt

“Ambitious CEO Luke Bryant needs a big-name star to help launch his luxury department stores–everything hangs on its success. What he doesn’t need is washed-up pop princess and tabloid joke Aurelie Schmidt.

Faced with the sexiest, angriest man she’s ever met, Aurelie’s first comeback gig isn’t exactly going as planned. But Aurelie’s tougher than that, and she won’t let any guy, no matter how gorgeous, get beneath her skin, even if he does get between her sheets….”

Dear Ms. Hewitt,

Every now and again, I’ll dip my toe into the Harlequin Presents pool. I did so earlier with one of your other books and my good experience with it has made me a little braver. I might even swirl my lower foot around in this line now. Still, I’ll probably stick with known-to-me authors for a while. Anywho, the blurb for this one caught my eye and interest. The CEO hero doesn’t seems like he’ll be assholic and the heroine seems to have a backbone and actually be willing to use it. Well, look at that.

In-the-Heat-of-the-SpotlightI’ll be honest and say this one starts strongly then shifts into low gear for a bit. Luke makes assumptions about Aurelie but as she says herself, later on once she’s calmed down, he has every reason to based on her past behavior as an out-of-control, spiraling down rock star. But Aurelie gives as good as she gets and makes him show and prove why she should allow him back into her life once the initial gig is done. The resulting false start at sex sets the stage for what is to come – a story about two people who have been let down by those in their lives who should have been there for them and who have to learn that every relationship needs trust and involves a little loss of control.

By the second time Aurelie and Luke attempt sex only to have the moment sputter out on them again, I was losing a little patience. Luke had to be sporting the worst case of blue balls as he waits to discover what is behind Aurelie’s reaction to intimacy. She may say there was no rape or molestation but a woman just doesn’t react as she does without some Deep, Dark Past Issue. When he discovers what actually occurred, Luke realizes that his attempts to make things better actually made them worse. Huzzah – no magic-penis-which-miraculously-fixes-the-heroine’s-trauma in sight! Whoo-hoo!

Still, Luke isn’t being totally honest with Aurelie either in spite of his pronouncement that he only deals in truth. At least when his brother calls him on it, he doesn’t try to word weasel his way out of it – much. When Aurelie discovers that she’s still not quite to the trust stage needed for a relationship and leaves, it does unfortunately take a deus ex machina to head her in the right direction again but then these two actually talk about their issues and begin to work things out. Bonus points to you though for having her tell Luke that she still might “need a moment” every now and then. That she still could panic at times. And for Luke replying that he’s still not finished with his own change issues either. I’m glad I stuck with this one and the deus ex machina might just induce me to go back and try the first book in the series. B-

~Jayne

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