REVIEW: Whatever You Like by Maureen Smith
Dear Ms. Smith:
I’ve passed over your book several times because I thought it was a Spice Brief. I don’t generally read those because, well, they are often too brief for me. When I was trying out my nookColor, I downloaded a number of samples and yours was one of them. Imagine my surprise when I saw the book had thirty chapters. There was no way a Spice Brief had 30 chapters. I read the excerpt which prompted me to make my first purchase on the nookColor. I’m glad that I did.
I did very brief amount of research and Whatever You Like is the launch title to the Kimani Nights line. I am guessing that is a sexier version of Kimani? If so, bring it on.
Lena Morrison is a high paid escort. She does not have sex with her clients but rather serves as arm candy for wealthy men who need dates but don’t have the time or inclination (in order to avoid unwanted entanglements) to invite their own guests. Lena is recommended to be the escort for wealthy energy magnate, Roderick Brand, one of the wealthiest men in Chicago. Lena is recommended because Brand is trying to secure a Japanese contract and Lena speaks Japanese.
I did buy into the non sex escort idea, primarily because Lena draws lines early on with Brand; but also because part of the conflict is that when she started out escorting, she did sleep with a client which imperiled her boss (and friend’s) business and created an expectation with the client that Lena was a prostitute. Instead, she was a beautiful woman with a flighty sister and a grandfather who needed superior nursing care. Lena’s salary as a grant writer with a local college didn’t allow her to provide for her ailing grandfather in a way she wanted. When a friend suggested escorting and explained that it was without sex, Lena began to rely on that steady income; not to mention the thrill of attending high society events which were out of her normal league.
I liked Lena a lot. She was good at what she did, whether it was writing a grant proposal or escorting a client. For example, when Brand and Lena first meet, Lena fixes him a dirty martini with three olives, exactly the way Roderick takes his martinis.
"Mmm," Roderick murmured after sampling his drink.
"Very." He held her gaze over the rim of the glass. "You seem to know exactly what I like."
Lena smiled demurely. "If I didn't," she said, settling back against her seat, "I wouldn't be very good at my job. And I am."
Something hot and wicked flashed in his eyes. "How good?"
She returned his gaze, pulse thudding. "Good enough to know better than to answer that question."
He chuckled, raising his glass to her in a mock toast. "Well played."
Roderick and Lena have instant and combustible chemistry and against Lena’s better judgment, she finds herself pinned against the wall of yacht enjoying a very heated encounter with Roderick and his talented hands. Lena regrets this almost immediately and turns down an offer to spend the night with Roderick but he is not easily deterred. Roderick made it plain in the beginning that he is dogged in his pursuit of what he wants and now he wants Lena. In true Harlequin Presents fashion, even though this isn’t an HP, Roderick decides to blackmail Lena into his bed. Truly, we could have titled this “Blackmailed and Branded by the Billionaire.”
Left without real choice, Lena embarks on a cruise down Lake Michigan with Roderick where, alone, she really cannot withstand her own attraction to Roderick. Of course, the problem is that Lena is essentially sleeping with Roderick for money (the blackmail) and Roderick, for all his sweet words and seductive gestures, doesn’t forget that.
My biggest complaint isn’t the sex for money blackmail. It is that there isn’t a lot of character growth in this story. The central tension is the romantic conflict: can Lena and Roderick admit their feelings for each other and overcome Lena’s part-time occupation as an escort. I noticed at Amazon that several of the negative reviews complained of too much sex and there was a lot of it but I find it gratuitous. The book is very steamy (which is what I assume qualifies it for the Kimani Nights line) and I thought those scenes were not only well done but served to advance the conflict forward or provide further impediments.
What I would have liked was more nuanced characters. Lena was your standard very good girl who is responsible (unlike her sister); devoted to her grandfather; brilliant and beautiful. It was kind of amazing that someone hadn’t married her sooner given all of her obvious assets. Roderick, despite the blackmail, was also very nice. He sweeps Lena away from her mundane life to spend a week or two on his luxurious yacht that even has a designer boutique on board to serve his sisters’ (and then Lena’s) needs. He’s an attentive and inventive lover who is not afraid to give up control in the bedroom now and again. His reticence toward Lena was understandable although I wished he would have acknowledged his own hypocrisy instead of brushing it aside by saying that it was never a pay for sex for him because he fell hard for her. Overall, it reminded me of a very sexified Harlequin Presents set in Chicago. I could have used more agnst and more individual character growth but it was a very enjoyable read. B-
Let me end with a complaint about the cover. I know you have nothing to do with the cover, but when the hero is compared to Idris Elba, then I think that the cover should depict Idris Elba or some reasonable facsimile. These characters on the cover hardly look like they have a tan. It’s even worse, in my opinion, that the cover not only depicts paler people but they have their heads cut off. Come on, Harlequin.
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Mmmmmmmm. Idris Elba.
If a hero was described as Idris Elba on the back cover, I’d totally read it just for that. Pale impersonations on the cover not withstanding.
In truth I never quite understood the whole Kimani thing. Why does there have to be a line for same skin color romances? Where do interracial romances fit? Does being Afro-American really make such a huge difference when it comes to Romance?
When Harlequin books get translated to Dutch they are all thrown together in lines according to steamyness, which I’ve always found more logical.
Dividing books on the skin color of the hero/heroine (and then whitewashing them on the cover), seems terribly old skool to me.
Any Americans out there feel like explaining how Kimani came to be?
I also did a double-take on the extremely pale cover as soon as I saw “Kimani” in your second paragraph.
I would never have thought this was a Kimani title based on that cover.
@Kerry: @Jia: Ditto, ditto.
@Jan: I just recently reviewed a book in the Intrigue line which features AA characters and was very surprised – and pleased – that it was marketed by plot style and not skin color.
I agree about the cover. I did a double-take when you said “Kimani,” because that doesn’t look like it’s anywhere in the same zip code with Kimani. :/
I can say, though, that Mr. Elba’s face on the cover would certainly have caught my attention. :)
@Jan: Dividing books on the skin color of the hero/heroine (and then whitewashing them on the cover), seems terribly old skool to me.
Any Americans out there feel like explaining how Kimani came to be?
I don’t know the history of Kimani in particular (and I’m not even going to try to figure out WTF is up with the whitewashing here [eyeroll]) but the issue of separating out books by black authors or with black protags is complicated. On the one hand, it’s just another example of ghettoization; not only are these books published in different imprints and lines, but they’re usually shelved in a completely separate section of the bookstore — Black Lit, African American Lit, or even African American Studies if the bookstore really wants to group apples with oranges with radishes with crankshafts. Most romance readers don’t even know that there are romances in other areas of the store, so the authors of these books miss out on a lot of potential sales.
The other side of the issue, though, is that reader bias is a reality. There are a lot of white readers who won’t buy a novel with black characters on the cover. And there are black readers who will only buy novels about black characters, written by black writers, and don’t want to have to comb through the whole bookstore looking for them.
So among the black writers, there’s a large group arguing that they want their books shelved in the relevant genre section, so the wider audience has a chance to find them. But there’s another large group arguing that they want to stay in the Black Lit shelves where their core audience knows to look for them; they might not make the NYT bestseller lists from that section of the store, but there’s just as much of a chance that their books would sink like rocks in the Romance section. They’d lose the readers who only shop the Black Lit shelves, and if they don’t at least make up those numbers in new white readers, they’re screwed. (And if they onlymake up the numbers, why bother moving?)
Some writers are eager to take that chance for a shot at the much larger audience, but others want to stay where they know they have a solid base of loyal fans.
There’s no easy fix to this, at least not in the brick-and-mortar bookstores. The only hope I see of evening things out is with online sales, where any number of tags can be attached to any one book. So people who want AA Romances can find them by searching on that, and people who are just browsing Romances in general can look through all the variety available. (That’s assuming the online bookstores implement all the relevant shelves/tags/categories. At this point, some do and some don’t.) So long as the physical bookstores (and other retail outlets) are still the source of most of the book sales, though, this kind of segregation is going to continue to be an issue, I think. I’d love to be wrong, but I’ve never seen an answer out of quite a few discussions of the subject. :/
@Angie: Thanks for that explanation Angie.
In my country identity and definition of the other (and thus also racism), is much more based on religion than skin color. So I think it’s something I’ll never truly understand.
From your explanation it seems like it’s also a division on subculture, which makes sense in a way, because I assume there are some minor cultural differences. At the other hand, if that’s one of the reasons, where is the Latino Romance line? (Mmmm. That probably exists). And how far can you go with this. Hipster Romance?
It all seems a bit silly to me, so I hope that the online sales will change things around a bit.
On a sidenote, if Romance Books were partly responsable for breaking the blowjob and anal sex taboo, maybe it’s time authors do something similar in this area?
I’ve always had a thing for culture clash romances, so maybe an increase in interracial (I dislike that word though) romances would flurry the boundaries some more? After all, romance is about overcoming obstacles, and in my POV, skin color should be the first hurdle to be overcome, if it’s a hurdle at all.
I don’t know what’s sadder really, the fact that people select on the skincolor of people on covers, or the fact that publishers whitewash the covers.
What I see over at the Harlequin website now looks like Harlequin English language books translated into Spanish but I swear there used to be a Latino line – but I am blanking on the name right now.
@Jayne: There was a Latino line about 10 years ago, but I don’t think it was Harlequin. The books were longer format and I think contemporary.
People select books based on the hair color, weight and outfits of the people on the cover of the books, I think picking based on skin color’s probably a given too. Choosing a book is a highly individualized process and while it’d be nice to say that it should be done without any prejudice at all, you know that’s never going to be possible.
There’s someone who reviewed the book at Amazon who said she picked the book thinking it was about an interracial couple and was disappointed that it wasn’t, yet there were another few that were upset because they thought this was clearly a Caucasian couple.
I hate like crazy when the cover art doesn’t match the story. If it’s really wrong, it does a horrible disservice to the author who’s possibly losing a potential audience (like the person who wanted to read about an interracial couple) or upsetting one that thought they were getting something else.
@DS: Ha, ha! Figured it out. I’m thinking of the Encanto line from Kensington.
Wow, I have this book on my to-buy list and I had no idea it was in the Kimani line.
@Angie I’ve seen this debate (or at least a summary of the debate) on the internet. I would like to believe that integration would help authors overall. I think the segregation of books by race signals to those outside that race that there is something in those segregated books that will be unfamiliar or foreign to the reader. But I do understand wanting to be shelved in an area where you have a somewhat guaranteed audience.
I think the Maureen Smith book has been fairly successful, at least online it appears on the bestseller lists. But I guess the question is whether that success was aided or hampered by the cover. I.e., did more people buy it because they assumed it was about caucasion people or would it have been just as successful because the book was good if the cover accurately represented the people in the book.
Maybe this was something that Smith wanted? Maybe Harlequin was trying to increase her sales (I didn’t see a Kimani Night emblem on the front and the black badging was reminiscent of the Spice Briefs line) by obscuring the race of the characters. The race of the characters doesn’t have anything to do with the conflict. There is some reference to how it was a challenge for Roderick to break into the Japanese market because he was both young and black, but that’s about the only reference made to suggest that race was an impediment to anything.
I find this interesting because a foreigner is a foreigner, regardless of the foreigner’s ethnicity (this extends to people of Japanese ancestry who were born and/or raised overseas). The majority in Japan really didn’t seem to see the difference between black and white in this respect, not like the way some do here and elsewhere.
Anyroad, I think it makes more sense – to me, at least – if the issue was about Roderick being young and foreigner, rather than young and black.
That said, I wonder if there are Japanese editions of AA romances or romances that feature AA characters? I’d love to know if black characters in romances get same attention that popular black characters in comics and YA novels get.
On a lighter note—!
Please tell me I am not the only one who has her mind in the gutter?
Take note of the bloke’s trousers and the woman’s right heel, and tell me you aren’t seeing what I’m seeing.
I should have said that I had no idea either that this was a Kimini Line when looking at the cover.
You say that you “find it gratuitous” but then you also say that you thought the “scenes were not only well done but served to advance the conflict.” I wondered if you’d meant to write that you didn’t find the sex gratuitous.
It’s like this book has an identity crisis. The cover made me think “Spice Brief”, but it’s a novel (and not in the Spice line at all). Then I was confused by the cover image paired with the Kimani imprint.
I want to take issue with the first date between Roderick and Lena. They just can’t help themselves and end up getting it on in the back of a limo. I didn’t buy that Lena would have done that, especially given what we later learn happened with a previous client. She has way too much self-respect and integrity to put her boss’s business at risk for a second time. I know, it’s fiction. But still.
Even with that complaint, I enjoyed this story despite wanting to slap Roderick upside the head from time to time. I’d read more of Ms. Smith’s books.
@Jaclyn Oh, I am glad I am not the only one who thought it was a Spice Brief. I do understand your complaint regarding the first date sex. You would have thought that Lena would have had more control or resistance. I just chalked it up to Roderick’s amazing pheremones or something.
@Laura Vivanco Yes, I meant to say that it was not gratuitous.
1. I’m staring at the print cover. The people on the cover are black. Not all black people have dark brown skin. Should the hero be darker? Yes, I thought that when I read the book, but at no point did I think the cover models weren’t black.
2. The spine and back cover do say Kimani Press.
3. As for why Kimani exists? Because other publishers weren’t publishing black romances, or at least not in big enough numbers for black authors to feel it was a worthwhile endeavor for them. Kimani is not a Harlequin invention. Harlequin bought Kimani from BET. BET launched the books when it saw a hole in the market. BET realized there were ton of black romance who never saw people who looked like them on the cover. I believe Jane has mentioned the pride she felt when she saw the cover for Jeannie Lin’s Butterfly Swords. Black women feel the same.
4. Yes, Harlequin publishes black romances in their other lines, but they’re few and far between. That might be because black authors don’t target those lines, but the facts are the facts.
5. I could go on, but I think I’ve said enough.
6. Oh, wait. Read and loved the book. The only thing that really bothered me is that the story is told entirely from Lena’s point of view.
I bought the read based on Jane’s/DA rec from the recent harlequin ebook sale post. I enjoyed it very much and was happy to hear from the author that she has been offered to write Remy and Zandra’s book. Good news if you’ve read WYL and found the other characters of interest.
Tbh, I’m happy there’s a distinct AA line in Harlequin because I wouldn’t want to pick a book with black characters, so I know what line to avoid.
Reference to Idris Elba aside, it seems some people find it difficult to consider that black and biracial people (usually still considered black or African-American in this country, see Barack Obama, they usually say black or African-American prez, not biracial prez) come in all shades-very light to dark. Check web photos of the following: Faith Evans, Beyonce, Vanessa Williams, Drake, Rhianna, Lisa Bonet, Shemar Moore,Prince, Daniel Sunjata, Rochelle Aytes, Nicole Ari Parker etc., the list goes on and on and on. Vanessa, with two black parents, actually has (gasp!) green eyes.Open your minds, people.
@jml: That’s very true, but it misses the point.
In our society, white is considered the default. Anyone who looks white is assumed to be white. (How many people know Vin Diesel is African American, for example?) In a book, any character whose race isn’t given is assumed to be white. People of color are invisible unless their race is obvious, or is hilighted in some way.
The figures on the cover of this book have skin tones well within the “white” range. Since they don’t have heads, we can’t look at hair or facial features for clues to their race. Most people looking at the cover illustration are going to assume the book is about white characters.
That’s whitewashing. It doesn’t matter that those models could be of African descent. That’s very true, they could be, but that’s not how they’re going to be perceived. And given the publishing industry’s track record on whitewashing covers, I feel secure in assuming that the art department or marketing department or whoever was responsible for this knew exactly what potential buyers would assume, and used those light skinned models for exactly that reason.
I wouldn’t use Obama in this case. He self-identified as African American. It’s his decision that we should respect. So yes, he’s African American. Full stop.
Both of Vanessa Williams’s parents are mixed race, but they chose to self-identify as African American. Vanessa obviously respects this by saying they are AA, which they are.
All that said, you’re right. People do see/treat mixed race people what they think people are, regardless of mixed people’s preferences (self-identification) and right to have these preferences respected.
Remember all those jokes and taunting comments about Tiger Woods’s steady refusal to self-identify as African American, preferring â€œCablinasianâ€ (Caucasian, Black, (American) Indian, and Asian)? I’m 80% Scottish Caucasian (I’m fourth generation mixed race), but when people look at me, they don’t see that at all. People rarely liked my answer to “what are you?” and often insisted I was wrong, e.g. disrespecting my right to have my self-identification recognised. I think most mixed race people experience this frequently, intentionally or not.
Like the “He’s biracial!” thing with Obama. He experienced more as a black man than as a mixed race or half-white man, which I believe played a huge part in his decision to self-identify as African American. I think you already know this: He feels more at home with people who have been there, which also makes sense. (To me, at least.) His self-identification was never about abandoning his white side (which both sides accused him of) or taking the easiest way out (which mixed race people – including me, admittedly – accused him of). It’s about his experiences, right or wrong.
That’s true, but jml is also right. There are many people who firmly believe that all East Asian people have black hair, dark brown eyes and “slant eyes” with certain “Asian” facial features. This is not true.
There ARE East Asians who are light-haired including, although rare, red and blonde (both are Mongolian traits), with light brown or grey/darkgreen/hazel eyes. There are some with “Caucasian” eyes, too. Skin tones range from white to very dark brown with “yellow” in the middle. (When non-Asians see Asians with “big eyes”, they tend to assume these Asians are white wannabes. While some were born with “big eyes”, there are some who had eye surgery, but for some, big eyes equal innocence, not Caucasian.)
And yet, people still heavily rely on what they believe is typical of an ethnicity, which is often gleamed from TV, films, someone they know or like so. And their visual codes are often way off and frequently stereotypical.
I think that is what jml is objecting to (correct me if I’m wrong), regarding skin tones.
I agree with you on this. They wouldn’t crop their faces from the cover otherwise.
For once, I’m not sorry that I’ve been long-winded here. :D Feel free to kill me.
I’m not so sure. Most of the Kimani romances do show the cover models’ faces, but there are quite a lot which show only the lower part of their faces.
Conversely, Harlequin has published some romances with AA protagonists in lines other than the Kimani ones and there isn’t any whitewashing on the covers of Suzanne Brockmann’s Harvard’s Education, Loreth Anne White’s Seducing the Mercenary, Carmen Green’s The Husband She Couldn’t Forget and Brenda Jackson’s Westmoreland’s Way.
@FiaQ: Feel free to ramble; I’m the last person who’ll complain. :)
To me, the issue here is the whitewashing. Whether there are people of any or every race who don’t fit the physical norms (which there are; I’m not disputing that at all) is beside the point. This was a marketing decision made for racist reasons. It sounded to me (and I might well be mistaken here) that jml was defending the cover on the basis that the models could have been of African descent. She’s right, they could have, but that’s irrelevant to the point, and the fact that there are people who identify as AA who are that light skinned does not, in my view, acquit whoever was responsible for this cover of racist-tinged motivations. If I sounded annoyed, that’s why. :/
TBH, that’s probably best. We wouldn’t want you to have a heart attack over *gasp* blacks in books! The next thing you know they’ll be moving into the neighborhood or dating a family member! Then that would be really hard to avoid, huh?
Tough to believe this was the same blog that featured Handy’s diversity posts. Then again seeing how quickly those posts degenerated, I imagine Tania speaks for many (thankfully not the previous posters who posted above) who are blissfully xenophobic but not vocal enough to brag about it.