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Louisa Edwards

REVIEW: On the Steamy Side by Louisa Edwards

REVIEW: On the Steamy Side by Louisa Edwards

Cover image for On the Steamy Side by Louisa EdwardsDear Ms. Edwards:

For a contemporary without a suspense aspect, this story moved along at a quick and even pace, never sagging. You have a great touch with secondary characters, making even those that only have a little screen time seem individuals without being caricatures.

The main protagonists in On the Steamy Side seem to be a flip from Can’t Stand the Heat. In Can’t Stand the Heat, Miranda is a prickly character who, for most the story, was kind of unlikeable for me. In OTSS, it’s Devon, the hero, who is the asshole. Part of the problem is that Devon is a superstar chef, known for his reality tv show where he goes into any kitchen, anywhere, and challenges them to a cook off. It’s called One Night Stand with Devon Sparks. So in my mind, I kept thinking Gordon Ramsay.

Devon is tired of being a celebrity chef. He is embarrassed when he is named #1 Chain Restaurant Operator. This will only contribute to the disdain his peers have for him. It also is the nail in the publicity coffin for him. He doesn’t want to be considered a brand. He is a serious chef.

Devon seeks to prove to himself, and everyone else in the foodie community, that he is still a serious and superior chef by standing in for Adam Temple, the owner of The Market. Adam, hero of CStH, has an Alice Waters’ type restaurant offering simple, delicious foods based on ingredients ordered not farther than hundred mile radius of Manhattan.

Devon has a big ego:

Devon glared around the empty dining room. So no one had bothered to roll out the red carpet for his first night at Market. Fine. But was it too much to ask that at least be a peon or two polishing glassware and setting tables? Granted, Devon hated waiters of every size and stripe, but they had their occasional uses. For instance, greeting a visiting chef during off hours and telling him where the hell everybody was.

Devon’s ego is so big that it seemed odd that when his special additions to Adam’s menu failed he wasn’t accusing those around him of sabotage or wasn’t blaming the line chefs and sous chefs for failed execution or wasn’t berating customers for their lack of refined taste buds. No, instead, Devon feels like the flaw is in him.

Now I did understand that Devon was like a wounded bear, backed into a corner trying to defend himself from further harm. Anytime anyone got close, sensed his weakness, he lashed out. Yet, I found the tender, likeable Devon artificial given his original construct. I think we were supposed to see his as both an ego driven maniac and a frightened boy still seeking his father’s approval, yet the two sides didn’t coalesce well for me.

Lilah Jane Tunkle was an art teacher in Appalachia who was a victim of budget cuts. She decides to move to New York City to find an exciting new life. Her best friend is Grant, the front of house manager for Market, and one night at a bar, she gets propositioned by the hottest thing this side of the mountain range. After a delicious one night stand, she heads to Market to meet up with Grant, only to see Devon, her hook up.

She serves one disastrous night as a wait staff only to be kept in close contact with Devon when his ten year old son shows up in the custody of child services. Devon had abdicated all care of his son to Heather, the mother, only Heather was a drug addict and had placed herself in rehab. Devon doesn’t want his son, or so he says, but Lilah Jane demands that the son stay with Devon and Devon agrees only if Lilah Jane will be the nanny.

Lilah Jane is a managing sort, if the previous paragraph didn’t spell that out. She proceeds to manage Devon, undertaking to help him and his son bond together. I didn’t find her manipulative but I did find her convenient. She was all sugar and sweetness to Devon’s spice, amazingly intuitive and usually able to defuse even the most volatile of tempers. At times, I felt that it was a Lilah Jane knows best show. I never really did understand why she came to NYC and what she planned to do with her high school teaching experience.

My favorite parts of an Edwards’ book is the kitchen scenes and the kitchen staff. The kitchen scenes are so vibrant, I can almost see the flash of the knives and hear the sizzle of the saucepans. I feel like I am right there, inside that sacred domain, seeing the success and the failures. And the Market staff and their romances and their breakups and their secret longings kept me glued to the pages. C+

Best regards,

Jane

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Proviso: This is a Macmillan book so the list price for the ebook is $14.00.

The Case of the Unlikeable Heroine

The Case of the Unlikeable Heroine

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In reading reviews of Tessa Dare’s book, Goddess of the Hunt, and of Louisa Edwards‘, Can’t Stand the Heat, I noticed there were often comments about the female protagonists, or heroines, of the stories as not being very likeable. I know I struggled with Miranda, the heroine in Can’t Stand the Heat. I thought I would ask Tessa Dare and Louisa Edwards to help me jump start a conversation on the likeability of a heroine:

Tessa Dare:
0345506863.01.LZZZZZZZI will first say that I love Lucy, the heroine of Goddess of the Hunt. I never set out to write an “unlikeable” heroine–I set out to write a heroine who felt real to me, and whom I hoped would feel real to readers.

Lucy is young and brash and stubborn, and she makes a lot of mistakes. Many readers love that about her. Some really, really don’t. I’m okay with that. Of course, it’s nice when people love Lucy like I do, but I’m actually sort of proud of the fact that she’s inspired such a range of strong emotions.

Readers read romance for a wide range of reasons. Personally, I think I’ve always identified with heroines who make mistakes. I’ve made plenty of my own mistakes, and I gravitate toward stories where a flawed heroine gets her happy ending. My favorite Austen heroines, for example, Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse, make very grave errors in their perceptions of themselves and others, with disastrous consequences. They do take steps to make things right. But earning their happy endings doesn’t mean altering the fundamentals of their characters, just arriving at a better understanding of their imperfect selves and displaying a willingness to grow and change. And they are rewarded with handsome, wealthy (imperfect) gentlemen who know and love them “just as they are.” (Mark Darcy/Bridget Jones, anyone?)

That, to me, is a powerful romantic trope, because I know perfection is well beyond my own reach. And that’s the kind of journey I’ve tried to give each of the heroines in my trilogy.

Louisa Edwards:

Tessa, I love this! I wish I could just say “Ditto.” Although I have to admit that I don’t love Miranda, the heroine of Can’t Stand the Heat, in quite the same way you obviously love Lucy. I knew Miranda was difficult–challenging, even, when I was writing her; she’s a bit controlled and controlling, and she can be abrasive in her self-confidence. She loves her brother deeply, but at the beginning of the book, she’s not prepared to see him as an adult in his own right, and all her misguided attempts at protection and caretaking stem from that.

To take it a step further, I didn’t always like Miranda–but I believed in her. As a writer, I never actively tried to make her likable; I was much more concerned with making her real. And on some level, I think I assumed they were the same thing. That if readers hooked into the parts of Miranda that echoed their own lives or experiences, they would understand her, and that understanding would lead to liking.

Clearly, that’s not the case with every reader, which is inevitable. But it was important to me that Miranda’s reactions flowed from her history and personality in a true and consistent way, and that she eventually reached a new understanding of the people around her, and her own feelings for them, which allowed her to dig deep and atone. In the end, I think I accomplished that, at least to my own satisfaction. And since I can never hope to universally satisfy each and every reader (although that’s the dream!) all I can really do is attempt to write a story that satisfies me.

Miranda won me over by the end of the book because she made mistakes, regretted them, and owned them. She made a journey of self-discovery as a character, and without her flaws and imperfections, there would have been no story. Or at least, not a very interesting one. Perfect people, it turns out, are pretty boring.

Can you have a flawed heroine who makes mistakes and is still generally likeable? Can a perfect heroine be interesting?

Tessa Dare:

Well, I think we need to define some terms here. What do you mean by “likable”? Does a heroine have to be universally liked to be “likable”? Because I consider Lucy to be a very likable heroine, and a lot of readers (I would venture to say the great majority, at least that I’ve heard from) have found her likable, too. It’s just that those who don’t like her, REALLY don’t like her.

Maybe what we’re talking about here is the completely inoffensive heroine. A heroine to whom hardly any readers will react negatively. Yeah, I guess I don’t write those! Though some authors do, and manage to do it brilliantly.

Can a heroine be both inoffensive and believable? I think so. Off the top of my head, can think of a few heroines who are interesting, strong, believable, and almost entirely inoffensive, and they star in some of the romance novels that are frequently named as all-time favorites.

But I think that’s verrry hard to pull off. An author runs the risk of making a heroine inoffensive to the point of being uninteresting. I guess thus far, I’ve preferred to err on the other side, and write heroines who have big flaws, but also big dreams and big hearts.

In the series I’m working on for 2010, though, my heroines are all a little older and have more responsibilities. Their struggles come less from growing into themselves and more from conflicting loyalties, as they are torn between obligations to family, work, community on one side and romantic love on the other. Again, I don’t know whether that makes them “likable” or not–but they feel real to me, and I hope readers will agree.

Louisa Edwards

I’m not saying likable heroines are too perfect–sort of the opposite, actually, because I think perfection is boring and intimidating enough that it’s really hard, for me, to like and relate to characters with no flaws. An inoffensive heroine seems like a different thing–not boringly perfect, but probably also not the driving force of the plot. Flaws are helpful from a storytelling standpoint, unless you want all the conflict in your book to be external.

It’s certainly possible for a flawed character to still be liked by many readers, and in fact, I’ve gotten a lot of fanmail about Miranda–as with Tessa’s heroine, the hatred is certainly not universal. But she does seem to evoke strong emotions, one way or the other, which I can only be glad about. Whatever else you can say about her, Miranda seems to be memorable and she gets discussion going.

Even so, I’ll admit it was a bit of a relief to write the second Recipe for Love novel, because the heroine of On the Steamy Side is a total love. Very different from Miranda, and in some ways, more fun to write. Of course, her hero isn’t the happy Alpha that Adam is–because it’s about balance, too.

What do you prefer in a book? The “inoffensive but likeable” character? The thoughtprovoking character? I know I want to root for characters and if I don’t like them, I can’t. But as Tessa and Louisa point out, “likeability” is hugely subjective. What makes you like or dislike a character?