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REVIEW: Not Wicked Enough by Carolyn Jewel

REVIEW: Not Wicked Enough by Carolyn Jewel

Dear Ms. Jewel,

I loved your 2009 book, Scandal, and very much enjoyed Indiscreet, which came out later the same year. So when I learned that you were publishing a new historical called Not Wicked Enough I got excited, and asked Jane if she could send me the ARC. Having now read it, I have mixed feelings about Not Wicked Enough. The novel has quite a bit of elegance and charm, but it’s in a lighter vein than Scandal and Indiscreet and was not quite as satisfying to me.

Not Wicked Enough by Carolyn JewelLily Wellstone arrives in Bitterward, the home of her widowed friend Ginny, at night and in the middle of a downpour. Occupying the entrance hall is an unsmiling gentleman in rough clothes. Yet despite his ill-fitting attire, Lily correctly identifies him as Ginny’s older brother, the Duke of Mountjoy. Lily and Mountjoy converse and when Lily mentions that she is rarely tired enough to sleep before four in the morning, Mountjoy shows her to the library.

Once there, Mountjoy learns from Lily that she is a wealthy heiress, the owner of Syton House, a very prosperous property, and that she was once disowned by her father for her wild nature. Lily offers to leave Bitterward before Ginny learns of her arrival, but Mountjoy, who finds her uncommonly attractive, welcomes her into his home despite the misgiving that Lily may “disrupt his peaceful country existence.”

Mountjoy is not wrong about that, since Lily proves to be a “managing” kind of woman, a bit like Sophy in Heyer’s The Grand Sophy, but more whimsical and less madcap. Lily likes to take others in hand and assist them in finding happiness by enticing them to have fun.

Lily’s first and foremost project is Ginny, who has been mourning her late husband too long, to a point of isolating herself and not allowing herself to enjoy life. Under Lily’s encouragement, Ginny begins to blossom once more, to wear colors and smile again.

But Lily does not confine herself to amusing Ginny alone, she also engages Mountjoy’s near-fiancée Miss Jane Kirk, and his brother Nigel, in such experiments as writing with glowing (and flammable) phosphorous ink. Which would be bad enough, to Mountjoy’s thinking, even without Jane’s suggestion that she write “Mountjoy has not smiled these seven years.”

Although Mountjoy and Jane are not betrothed, the entire neighborhood, Mountjoy included, expects they eventually will be. That Jane is shy and even fearful in his presence is disconcerting to Mountjoy.

Mountjoy and Lily encounter each other at night, when Lily wanders the house or the gardens because she has difficulty sleeping. The first time they meet in the garden, they kiss and then restrain themselves from succumbing to their mutual attraction.

That same night, Lily shows Mountjoy the medallion she says she received from a gypsy king in thanks for rescuing his dog. The gypsy king promised the medallion would unite its wearer with the person with whom he or she “is happiest in love.” But Lily does not expect that will happen for her, since she has already met that man.

Lily loved and still loves Greer, a soldier she meant to marry who died in the war before their union could come to pass. It’s been five years since Greer’s death, but Lily does not believe she will ever love again. Nonetheless, she still has an appreciation for a man’s body and has not forgotten carnal pleasure.

Thus it happens that Lily and Mountjoy become lovers, although neither of them admits that is what they are. During their nighttime encounters, one thing leads to another, and another, and another. Eventually they become what today would be termed “friends with benefits,” neither intending to fall in love with the other, although they like each other very much.

Lily will never love again. Mountjoy will someday marry Jane. Yes, he should stay away from a gentlewoman who is also his sister’s friend. Yes, she shouldn’t touch her friend’s brother. But when there is so much pleasure to be had, how can they keep their hands to themselves?

Not Wicked Enough has considerable strengths to recommend it. First, the characters are delightful. Lily, for all she takes charge of others’ happiness, is endearing because of her generosity of spirit. Her desire to bring joy to her friends makes her appealing, as well as charismatic and outgoing.

Although she had a lonely childhood, Lily looks forward rather than back, and displays a great deal of strength of character regardless of the occasional moment of vulnerability. Her love of color, clothing, and other beautiful things, her sense of whimsy and adventure make her stand out in Mountjoy’s eyes like a bright, exotic flower.

Mountjoy is just as appealing, though in a subtler way. He was a gentleman farmer who came to prominence when it was discovered he was the heir to a dukedom, but he continues to dress like a gentleman farmer in an attempt to prove something to people who are superficial enough to dismiss him on the basis of his garments.

And that is not the only difference between him and Lily. Whereas she is extroverted, he is shy of crowds and social occasions. While she looks for ways to enjoy life, he is dedicated to hard work. And when she takes risks, he feels protective of her. (I especially appreciated that despite those protective feelings, Mountjoy does not attempt to control Lily but gives her the freedom to be herself. He also acknowledges at times that she is in the right and he is in the wrong.)

The affection between these characters is palpable, for all that it grows out of a physical relationship. Their energetic lovemaking sessions are filled with humor and teasing, and I could see them bonding with each other in a way that reminded me of some of Susan Johnson’s earlier erotic romances.

To add to the novel’s strong points, your writing style has a beautiful clarity that I love. There is smoothness to the writing that made me want to savor the words.

Still, while I liked Not Wicked Enough I found myself reading a few chapters and then putting the book down for the day. The reason, as best as I can articulate it, has to do with the relative absence of either external or internal conflict.

While Mountjoy was almost engaged, his near-betrothal never felt like a real obstacle to me. Although he kept thinking that he ought to propose to Jane, his heart was never in it, and it was also evident that Jane’s affections had settled on someone else.

Yes, Lily believed her own heart belonged with Greer and she could never love another, but since she rarely thought of Greer except to repeat this mantra, it was hard to feel that her disloyalty to Greer ever truly upset her. I also didn’t get much indication of what Greer had been like as a man, so I did not feel that Lily was haunted by her past love.

Additionally, the subplots didn’t have much forward momentum except near the very end of the book. Lily’s cousin the Marquess of Fenris skulks around Bitterward’s neighborhood for much of the story, but doesn’t really reveal his motives until close to the end. Nor do we find out the reasons behind Nigel’s odd behavior any sooner, although I guessed what was going on there early on.

Because of the above, and because Mountjoy and Lily were such good friends and lovers, and clearly got on like a house on fire, I didn’t feel their relationship faced real obstacles. The stakes felt relatively low, and consequently I wasn’t deeply driven to find out what would happen next. I also don’t know how much this book will stick with me. Still, while I read about them, the characters charmed and entertained me, and I enjoyed their sexy relationship and the hours I spent in their company. B-.

Sincerely,

Janine

REVIEW: The Orchid Affair by Lauren Willig

REVIEW: The Orchid Affair by Lauren Willig

Dear Ms Willig,

I always seem to be behind in keeping up with this series but I think it’s because I want to be sure I have a Pink Carnation book on hand. And in this instance it worked beautifully for me. You see, I’ve been in a reading slump for it seems like ages (actually about 3 months) and “The Orchid Affair” is what I needed to finally pull out of it. So thank you for doing me such a service. Now, on to our regularly scheduled review:

The Orchid Affair by Lauren WilligMiss Laura Gray has been a governess for sixteen years and is convinced that if she doesn’t do something different now, that this is all she will ever be. Her chance arrives when she is recruited by the Pink Carnation. After a short stint at the Selwick spy school, she leaves on her first assignment. Her job is to take a position in the household of Andre Jaouen who is the right hand man of Bonaparte’s minister of police. True she’s pretending to be a governess for his two young children, but if she does well perhaps her next assignment will be something a tad more exciting.

However, she has to survive this job first and things begin to get dicey after she’s recognized by an old friend of her deceased parents. Is Antoine Daubier merely a friend of her employer or is there something else going on here? Should Laura be worried that Gaston Delaroche, Andre’s sinister colleague, knows not only the names of Andre’s children but hers as well? And who is behind the Royalist plot to remove the First Consul and restore the monarchy? Laura wanted exciting but maybe merely interesting would have been a better wish.

I’ll start by saying that there are some details about the book and its setup that don’t make a great deal of sense and are perhaps best skimmed over. How was Laura discovered and recruited? Why was Andre willing to bring someone new into his household given what was going on? And though I know that the Treaty of Amiens was still in effect during the timeframe of this novel, how are two so obviously English people as Miss Wooliston and Mr. Whittlesby so accepted in the circle of the First Consul’s family? After pondering these questions a bit, I realized that to continue was to not only invite a headache but to also ruin the story for me.

Laura Gray – or Laure Griscogne since she decides to use her real French name while on the assignment – is a great heroine. She’s intelligent, she’s resourceful, she thinks quickly and acts decisively yet she’s not a typical “kick ass” woman. She has been trained – a little – in self defense and how to use weapons but she rarely relies on this. Instead, she acts like the best spies do and that’s to blend in and not attract attention. Sixteen years of blending and being “gray” for lack of a better word serve her well. She’s also not all angsty. Life hasn’t treated her spectacularly well – she lost her parents at age sixteen and has fended for and survived on her own since then – but she doesn’t weep and wail about it and, when the opportunity appears, she takes a chance to change things.

Andre is more complicated than he might initially appear. Laura’s first impression is of a cold, matter-of-fact man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. As her time in the household passes, she sees a man who loves his children even if he might not think he knows how to show that. She also discovers that he isn’t at all what she or her superiors believe him to be. She – and I too – wonder how can this be? Here is a man who has been dedicated to the changes that have taken place in France over the past fourteen years. A man who worked to bring about those changes. So, why is he doing what he’s doing? The way you have him explain it to Laura makes sense. He is a man who wants a better future for his country and, especially, for his children. But he also wants a stable world for them. Since he isn’t a swashbuckling man-of-action, he works for this end in his own way.

I like their relationship. They aren’t flamboyant people and the way they fall in love is slowly and gently. When the misunderstanding arrives, it’s not really a Big Mis and it doesn’t derail their feelings. Instead of a “you betrayed me you beyotch!” scene, there is initial astonishment followed by thought and a reconciliation.

The tension and atmosphere of the novel is excellent. I can feel the cold, wet damp of Paris in the winter. Likewise, the ravaged Hotel de Bac echoes its past glory and sulks in its present gloom. The feeling of political change is in the air as the fervor of the Revolution has almost died down and the status quo is shifting. But there are still throwbacks to recent past methods of dealing with dissension. Andre might not enjoy putting suspects to The Question as much as does Delaroche but he still gets results for his superiors. He is, after all, a practical man who does what is needed to try and bring about the changes he wishes to see take place. It all makes sense given the way you’ve developed the plot and the characters.

The modern portion of the book doesn’t interest me or hold my attention as much as you’d probably like it to. This relationship and Eloise’s research is moving so slowly – glaciers move more quickly – that when it pops up, I feel more impatient to get back to the main action than any burning desire to know about what is going on with her and Colin.

A heroine who is strong in a “period” way, a beta hero who comes to love and admire her for who she is as well as being strong in his own non-flashy way, two children who I haven’t really discussed much but who don’t annoy me – and that’s saying a lot from me, the slow building to a bang up finish and a wrap up that doesn’t require a gooey sweet epilogue means I like this book a lot. Good job and I’m looking forward to the next installment which hopefully I’ll get to sooner than I did for this one. B

~Jayne

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