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REVIEW:  The Undoing of Daisy Edwards by Marguerite Kaye

REVIEW: The Undoing of Daisy Edwards by Marguerite Kaye

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Dear Ms. Kaye:

I might not have started this if I’d realized it was part of the Harlequin Historical Undone line, and that would have been my loss. I think of Undones as short, sexy, frivolous stories; this is short and sexy, but far from frivolous.

Five years after the end of World War I, Dominick Harrington is living a half life. His older brother is dead, his mother remarried and moved to America, his younger sister Grace is running wild, and he just struggles to get through each day. When Grace puts him in charge of a beautiful woman who’s stoned out of her mind, Dominick is moved for the first time in years. “There was something — broken, fragile, lost? — in the woman’s face that I recognized.”

Actress Daisy Edwards hoped that a shot of cocaine would make the world brighter on her 30th birthday — a birth date she had shared with her dead husband. Instead she just blacked out, to wake up in a strange bed with a strange man. Her first dreamy sensation of safety turns to terror about what might have happened, until she realizes she’s still fully dressed.

So he hadn’t even tried. I felt curiously insulted, which was strange, because that was the last thing I wanted. Though as I leaned over just the tiniest fraction to take a look at him, I was taken aback to discover my body and my mind didn’t quite agree.

It doesn’t take long for them to act on their newly awakened feelings:

There was a split-second, as her lips touched mine, when I thought This is a mistake, and I almost drew back. And then I didn’t. Her lips were soft, her skin cold. Her hands were icy through my shirt-sleeves, I remember. She kissed as if she wasn’t used to kissing, and I probably did the same, because I wasn’t.

Then something shifted. I don’t know if it was just me. It felt like both of us. We–we found it. Our mouths matched.

There’s very little plot to this short story. It’s all about the setting and the voice — or perhaps I should say voices, since both Dominick and Daisy narrate. Despite how depressed they are, their voices are vivid and alive: both are interesting, mature narrators, who are introspective without seeming like naval gazers. (The short length probably helps.) There are descriptions of clothes and objects that put us in the 1920s, but the setting mostly comes to life though their feelings and conversations, rather than via mention of fads or incongruous jolts of slang; the upheaval and trauma of the war has affected every part of their world and ever fiber of their being, in an almost tangible way. (I was reminded of visiting New York, and seeing the emotional impact of 9/11 everywhere.)

In this atmosphere of loss and upheaval and guilt, it’s hard for Dominick and Daisy to accept feeling emotions around anything else; as if to deny them, both compare their intense longings to addiction:

Dominick:

She was too much, but I hadn’t had enough. In the trenches, there were boys who were addicted to the morphine we were supposed to save for emergencies. In the trenches, it got to be impossible to tell to the difference between what was normal and what was an emergency.

Daisy:

He was my drug, that was all. I’d found my drug, and I was going to keep taking it until I didn’t need it any longer… Dominic was my drug, and I was Dominick’s drug, and we’d use each other, and then when we’d had enough of each other, we’d be–better? I didn’t think that far ahead. Looking back, my capacity for self-delusion astonishes me.

Nonetheless, their passion evolves into an actual relationship, and Dominick begins to realize that life is too short to wish away.

I’m sick and tired of not raising my eyes beyond the horizon of the next twenty-four hours, of not expecting or planing or anticipating. Of not hoping. Of never taking more than a tiny piece of life at a time. Of not allowing myself to want more. I want more, Daisy. I want you.

The book ends with a tentative Happy-For-Now, which seems absolutely right for the characters and the type of story. B

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REVIEW:  Burned by Sarah Morgan

REVIEW: Burned by Sarah Morgan

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Dear Ms. Morgan:

I enjoyed the novella Ripped, but found it leaned more towards chick-lit than I like, with its humor based on the narrator’s humiliation. The sequel Burned gets the balance just about right, combining many of the usual elements of contemporary romance with a fun, fresh voice and an emphasis on being loved for who you are.

Rosie’s boyfriend has picked the worst possible time to break up with her. It’s not like she’s in love with him — “do I look stupid?” she asks rhetorically — but her job as a physical trainer has been threatened by a buy-out, and her sister’s recent happiness has made her more aware than usual of how lackluster her own love-life is. “It wasn’t as if I thought Brian was my happily-ever-after. But happy to the end of dessert would have been nice.”

But the hits have just started coming: as Brian finishes telling her how unfeminine and threatening she is, Rosie realizes that the man listening at the next table is Hunter Black.

 

Hunter, the first guy I’d ever dated. The first guy I’d slept with. The man who had taught me that a broken heart was more painful than a broken bone.
My nemesis.

If you’ve read more than five contemporary romances, you know the rest: Hunter is, of course, the new owner of her fitness club. And he obviously still has strong feelings for Rosie — and she for him. But Rosie isn’t just fearful about being hurt again; she’s disgusted by the person she was when she was with Hunter:

It embarrassed me to remember how pathetic I’d been. The memory was so humiliating I tried not to think about it. I tried not to think about him. Deep down I knew he’d done the right thing to break it off — although I don’t think he needed to have been quite so brutal in the execution. I’d been so clingy, so dependent, so good at leaning on him I’d forgotten how to stand upright by myself.

Despite the bad break-up, Hunter genuinely cares for Rosie, and he’s just about perfect for her. He loves martial arts as much as she does, and he’s proud of her strength and skill, not threatened by it. But Rosie is scared to let herself depend on anyone again:

‘I fight my own battles. I comfort myself when I’m low. I have a secret stash of chocolate for that purpose.’
The corners of his mouth flickered. ‘Being able to do those things for yourself doesn’t stop someone else doing them alongside you.

I really liked Rosie’s voice; it’s wry, funny, and vulnerable. I also liked how much was packed into this short novella — it’s definitely focused on the romance, but Rosie’s relationship with her sister is very important to her, as is her job and her love of martial arts. There’s a nice sense of place, and the ending, featuring the London Eye, was swoon-worthy.

I was less crazy about the constant emphasis on how incredibly hot Hunter is, and the way Rosie’s descriptions of their physical interactions sometimes felt like she was talking about it more than feeling it. This is a pretty typical current romance style, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I also found myself thinking of Liz Mc2′s criticism of Ripped:

“And much as I enjoyed this book I found myself wondering if the novel didn’t do to Hayley a bit of what her nasty ex Charlie did: belittle her, and deny her skills. She’s an engineer (of some vague kind): isn’t the size of a dress in relation to the size of one’s breasts, and the strength of its seams, basically an engineering problem? I could accept that her pride made Hayley agree to be bridesmaid for her ex and the friend he dumped her for, but does that pride have to extend to not insisting her puke-yellow condom dress is the right size?… Do we have to go as far as exposing the heroine’s breasts in public so she can be rescued by hot hero Nico?

It’s interesting that Burned does precisely the same thing. Although Rosie is a skilled martial artist and excellent at self-defense, she still winds up in a dangerous situation too big for her to handle and has to be rescued by Hunter. It’s like the books are saying, it’s okay to be smart and strong, and some man will love you for it… as long as he’s smarter and stronger.

Despite those complaints, this was a lot of fun; I think it’s a standout in its “short sexy reads” genre. B

Sincerely,

Willaful

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