Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Harlequin-Presents

REVIEW:  Banished to the Harem by Carol Marinelli

REVIEW: Banished to the Harem by Carol Marinelli

Dear Ms. Marinelli:

Captivity narratives are a staple of the romance genre, but rarely is it ever done correctly. And yes, I do believe that there is a correct way in which a captivity narrative is carried out in a book. The idea is that one person, usually the woman, is kidnapped by the another more powerful entity (usually the hero). The captive then begins to effectuate change from within. In some ways it is a true triumph of the submissive and the trope replayed itself exhaustively in early 80s and 90s historical fiction. You see it quite a bit in paranormal fiction as well.

For the captivity narrative to work, however, the captive must gain agency in order for the two to achieve a parity in their relationship. Further, the captivity narrative shouldn’t degrade one culture in favor of the other (in other words the white woman’s culture overtakes all the customs of the native).

Banished to the Harem by Carol MarinelliBanished to the Harem is a category novel that takes the captivity narrative and works it into a contemporary romance; however, it’s almost best to read this as a fantasy or alternate universe tale. Sheikh Rakhal Alzirz must take a wife and beget an heir. The traditions of their land requires that he take only one woman and impregnate her. Once his seed takes root, he must suppress his desires and take surcease in his harem, allowing the seed to grow within his wife until the heir or heiress to the throne is birthed. Rakhal is a true believer in the customs and myths of his land. His father, for instance, broke the customs and took his wife to London and she eventually died. Rakhal and his father view the mother’s death as the price his father paid for disregarding the myths of the land. And the myths required only one wife for his father, leaving Rakhal motherless.

When he has a brief fling with the virgin Natasha and she suspects she might be pregnant, Rakhal kidnaps her to his kingdom where he tries to impress upon her the values of his world. He has a harem for her sake, not for his. One of the things I appreciated about the book was the unflinching portrayal of Rakhal as a man of power and privilege. When he discovers that Natasha is a virgin, he is delighted. He will take her virginity as a celebration of his last single day in London.

While this might sound like lip service to his own selfish needs, Rakhal’s point of view is dominated by his thoughts of Natasha, his desire to only be with her, and his struggle to maintain the traditions of his people. His frank acknowledgment of his own predilections makes his actions palatable. Further, he agrees to return Natasha home if she is not pregnant and to never touch her again.

Natasha, for her part, is suitably upset at being kidnapped and held hostage. She had been wooed assiduously by Rakhal and she had given in to him, enjoying a fling for once in her utterly responsible life. Natasha believes that Rakhal’s intent to shun her for all but a few days a month means she is simply a vessel of fertility. Rakhal argues that she would be most honored through the land. In accepting the myth of this story, you have to buy into Rakhal’s belief system about his own land and that he is, not ignorant of the outside world, but at the least does not ascribe to Western philosophies in any fashion. Importantly, Natasha continues to stand up for herself and she runs the gamut from not willing to be the honored vessel to fighting for her love.

The story, likely because of its length, doesn’t argue for change in social policy in the broad scope. Instead, it is an agitation of personal and intimate policy. Rakhal’s sister kingdom is ruled by a cousin and their belief is that you can marry as many times as you wish but only a male heir inherits. When the sister kingdom suffers a tragic loss and Rakhal is rocked by his feelings for Natasha, Rakhal is forced to re-evaluate the myth that has dominated his kingdom.

This is not a book for everyone, but if the captivity narrative is of interest, this is a well done contemporary setting full of emotional angst. B

Best regards,

Jane

AmazonBNSonyKoboAREBook Depository

REVIEW:  The Girl Nobody Wanted by Lynn Raye Harris

REVIEW: The Girl Nobody Wanted by Lynn Raye Harris

Dear Lynn Raye Harris:

My biggest problem with this story is that I was unprepared for the emotional reactions of the characters.  They were two steps ahead of me and the whole time, I was internally thinking “wait up.”

Anna Constantinides is the jilted and humiliated bride who learned of her fiance’s perfidy in the tabloids.  Because she has been raised to be proper and polite, she attends the engagement party in order to show that there are no hard feelings.  She should have hard feelings. I have them for her.  There she meets the brother of the woman taking her place, Leo Jackson.

Leo comes on to her, calling her darling and looking at her passionately. Anna responds immediately.  But I’m wondering why Anna doesn’t hate him and all men?  The next moment I’m told she does hate all men but Leo’s wicked grin still makes her core clench or so she tells me.  Leo gets Anna to agree to show him around the island.  Anna, you see, is the quintessential doormat who can’t say no even to the brother of the woman who is marrying Anna’s fiance.

The Girl Nobody Wanted Lynn Raye HarrisAnd the next morning Leo greets her in dishabaille. I guess I’m supposed to find this sexy – him in his unbottoned shirt, with lipstick streaked across the collar. When he is part of the family that humiliated her shouldn’t he treat her with more care?

Anna is described a stereotypically uptight, easily blushing by Leo’s suggestive comments.  It is Leo’s purpose during this next day to unwind her. Because that is what males are created for – to loosen the uptight virgin.

Unfortunately, I’m not ready for his advances or her lust for him.

When Leo diverts from an Island tour of the heroine’s home to Sicily, over her protests, and suggests that they should make love, I’m appalled. When he tells her she is too uptight for all the deliciousness he has to offer, I want to tell him that he needs to back off.

The look he gave her jolted her to her core. Dark, sensual, breathtakingly intense. “We could have fun in Sicily, Anna. Hot, decadent, pleasurable fun.”

Her heart was thrumming. “Please stop saying we. We aren’t doing anything together, Mr. Jackson.”

He laughed again. “Back to that? Have you ever considered, sweet Anna, that perhaps it’s time you let your hair down a bit? Time to let go of that buttoned-up perfection you try so hard to project and have some fun?”

This isn’t sexy, this is harassment and kidnapping.  He’s known her all of five minutes and he is telling her she isn’t dressed appropriately and he knows better? Gah.

“You’re grabbing at straws,” she said calmly. “I am well aware I’m not perfect. And I like the way I’m dressed.”

“It’s not a bad way to dress if you’re chairing a board meeting,” he said. “But it’s not your true style.”

“I don’t think you have the first clue about my style.”
“I’m not sure you do, either,” he said. “But we could start with naked and go from there.”

When the story moves to explain Leo’s motives, I’m already lost as a reader. Sure he’s trying to make up for the harm his sister has done, but his peremptory, patriarchal behavior is one step away from a chest beating caveman. That Anna finds this sexy is disappointing as is the non stop stereotypical portrayal of her as the uptight babe that gets shown how to live by the sexy hotel magnate.

This exchange kind of typifies the book for me:

“Perhaps you need a little promiscuity in your life,” he replied, very aware he was being self-serving as he said it. “A little fun that’s about you, not about others or what they expect from you.”

“You’re only saying this because it would suit your purposes if I agreed with you. Stop trying to seduce me, Mr. Jackson. It won’t work.”

But Anna is an easy mark because not only is she a virgin BUT SHE’S NEVER KISSED ANYONE BEFORE. Oh lord. Her sexual awakening comes about and it’s just so sudden and unbelievable.

I know HPs have a certain formula and there are certain expectations one should observe when reading them, but I just could not lose myself in this book. Every page caused me to raise my eyebrows and tug my hair in frustration.

I almost wished the book had started with her sexual awakening instead of having that mid book because although it was only a matter of hours from the meet to the deflowering, it was a long time in the book itself (1/2). The second half of the book then was a completely different story as it attempts to incorporate more HP tropes (marriage of convenience, secret baby, blackmail).

When Leo sheds his know it all air and Anna has a little more backbone (she never gets much) the story turns around a little for me but it’s hard to win back a reader lost at the opening.  C-

Best regards,

Jane

AmazonBNSonyKoboAREBook Depository