REVIEW: What a Woman Needs by Caroline Linden
Dear Ms. Linden,
I was intrigued by the premise of your first novel, What a Woman Needs.
Stuart Drake has to get his hands on some money, and he has to do it fast. After becoming embroiled in not one but two scandals, neither of his own making, Stuart was cut off from his allowance by his angry father. Now Stuart, the subject of London gossip, is living on meager funds, and worse yet, if he doesn’t find another source of income quickly, he may have to sell Oakwood Park, the beloved estate he recently purchased.
In order to avoid that fate, Stuart has put his future title, his handsome looks and his charming manners up for sale, so to speak, and moved to Tunbridge Wells ahead of the gossip. There Stuart has found a young heiress who wants nothing more than to marry him. But standing in the way of Stuart’s marriage to Miss Susan Tratter is her aunt and guardian.
Charlotte Griffolino is the surly old widow of an Italian count, according to Susan. So when Stuart finds himself halfway seduced by a lushly-curved, golden-skinned woman of thirty, he doesn’t realize who she is until the rug, or rather her tempting body, is abruptly pulled out from under him.
Charlotte has heard the gossip about Stuart in London and she is displeased, to say the least, to find her niece and ward in love with a man Charlotte believes to be a cad. When Charlotte was young, a fortune hunter took advantage of her and she suffered considerably as a result. As a result, she is determined to keep Stuart away from Susan and prevent him from preying on other young women.
Stuart is willing to forget about marriage to Susan (truth to tell, a big part of him is relieved that he won’t be marrying her), but when Charlotte ensures that the rumors from London follow Stuart to Tunbridge Wells and that no mother allows him near her daughter, it’s as good as a declaration of war. From then on, Stuart and Charlotte spar, break into one another’s homes to retrieve their possessions, and fall into delicious lust.
Then Susan disappears, leaving Charlotte a note in which she says she has followed her love. Certain that Stuart plans to abduct her niece, Charlotte threatens him with her gun, and Stuart agrees to take her with him to London, on one condition: if he’s proven innocent of her charges, she must spend one night in his bed.
What a Woman Needs was slow to involve me at first, perhaps because for all the enjoyable sparring, in the first half or so Stuart and Charlotte’s characters were not as clearly defined as I would have preferred.
In the first half of this book, I saw mostly the outward facades that Stuart and Charlotte presented to the world, and not the people they were inside, whom I really wanted to get to know sooner. Stuart seemed to hover somewhere between cad and a desperate man, Charlotte between seductive siren and strict guardian.
In the second half of What a Woman Needs, the masks dropped and I finally felt I was seeing the real Stuart and Charlotte. Stuart began to see and allay Charlotte’s fear for her niece, while Charlotte realized that Stuart was a better man than she’d thought. As the two began to trust each other more, they also saw each other’s fears and scars, and each helped the other find strength.
I enjoyed this portion of the book very much, especially the way you explored and resolved the main characters’ relationship with their parents. Stuart grew into a hero I wanted to see succeed, and Charlotte was refreshingly sophisticated. I also thought your writing style was solid, though occasionally a speech tag here or there seemed superfluous. Here’s an example of what I mean:
“Let’s find out, shall we?” proposed Whitley, puffing at a cigar he’d found.
I can see from Whitley’s words that he is proposing something, so the word “proposed” seems like an unnecessary explanation to me.
But that’s a minor nitpick. On the whole, I thought that What a Woman Needs was an accomplished first novel. I feel that you are a new writer with much potential, and that at just $3.99 for the cover price, courtesy of someone smart in Kensington/Zebra’s marketing department, readers can afford to give this book a try. I hope they do, and that they like it as well as I did. This one gets a B- from me.