REVIEW: Addicted by Charlotte Featherstone
Dear Ms. Featherstone,
My love of Joey Hill’s books aside, I normally don’t read erotic fiction, but your novel’s cover description caught my interest. A novel exploring opium addiction? Really? Since I’m currently trying to expand my reading horizons, I thought I’d give your book a shot.
Anais Darnby and Lindsay Markham have known each other since childhood and have loved each other for nearly as long. When they finally confess their feelings to one another, their future happiness seems assured until another woman puts Lindsay in a compromising position. Unfortunately for him, Anais catches them, jumps to the worst conclusion possible, and flees. Lindsay chases after her but when his pursuit results in failure, he journeys east where he loses himself completely to his opium addiction. A year later, he returns to England, determined to find Anais again. But he’ll have to make a choice about which he loves more — Anais or opium — because he can’t have both.
I love the friends to lovers trope, so Anais and Lindsay’s story predisposed me to like this book. Because of their history as childhood friends, I was able to suspend my disbelief when it came to their being unsure of each other’s feelings. I certainly understand why they could be blind to the truth — that Anais worships the ground Lindsay walks on and that Lindsay thinks Anais is the most stunning woman he’s ever known.
On the other hand, I wish more would have been done with Anais’s insistence on things being black and white, right and wrong. This comes out more and more in the second half of the novel, but I think it would have made her objections to Lindsay’s opium’s use more powerful had I been more clued in earlier. Maybe I was just slow to pick up on it. Opium addiction in and of itself is a bad thing, so I hadn’t even been aware her opposition to it stemmed less from its usage and more out of a desire that Lindsay be more like her seemingly perfect father and less like his own obviously flawed one.
I do think Lindsay’s struggle between the Anais of his perception and the Anais in reality was well done. Many readers dislike the Madonna and whore dichotomy and I usually count myself among their number, but it made sense here. Lindsay placed Anais on a pedestal, blinding himself to her flaws, so when he has to confront them in his quest to win her back, he finds himself at a loss and prefers to lose himself in his opium cloud where he can have the Anais in his mind, if not the Anais in his reality. It’s a difficult struggle for him since Lindsay is the one who awakened Anais sexually so he’s also the one who took away the very Madonna status he assigned her, even if only subconsciously.
As I said earlier, I don’t read much erotic fiction but I’ve paid attention to previous discussions regarding its conventions. Because of this, I wasn’t too bothered that the plot was simpler than my usual preference. It’s functional but certainly nothing memorable. But more to my surprise, there wasn’t as much sex as I was expecting. In fact, I’m not entirely sure I’d call this an erotic novel. An erotic romance, on the other hand, perhaps. I’d be interested in hearing from readers more versed in erotic fiction who’ve also read this book. What did you think about the label? Is this an erotic romance or an erotic novel?
One thing that disappointed me was the lack of actual opium addiction. It was true that there were many references to it but Lindsay never struck me as being truly addicted until the latter third of the novel. I realize part of this was intentional. Lindsay spent a good portion of the novel thinking he had his habit under control, like many addicts do, and it spiraled out of control when he thought he lost Anais for good. But for a book described as being about a man who had to choose between the love of his life and a crippling addiction, I never got the impression the addiction was ever that crippling. Other readers might disagree. This simply could be a case of misled expectations as a result of a slightly inaccurate cover blurb.
And speaking of the cover blurb, it also led me to believe something about Anais that wasn’t true. I also realize this was intentional since Lindsay believes something is going on between Anais and another man for a good portion of the novel, but I also felt that Anais’s self-flagellation was out of proportion to what actually happened. It’s consistent with her unreasonable standards of purity and goodness but based on her health condition when she and Lindsay reunite, I actually thought Anais had syphilis. I don’t know if that was intentional or it’s simply my jumping to completely ridiculous conclusions but when the actual truth came out, I admit I was a bit disappointed because it was something I would expect from a Harlequin Presents novel, not a book about addiction.
Despite my efforts to go in with an open mind, I think misplaced reader expectations still prevented me from enjoying this novel fully. Ironically, it had less to do with the erotic elements and more with the story elements — namely, the portrayal of Lindsay’s opium addiction and Anais’s big secret. On the other hand, I think readers looking for a story about friends to lovers who then reunite and must circumvent obstacles to reach their HEA might find something to like here. Just don’t expect anything gritty and don’t be too surprised by a Harlequin Presents element or two. C
This book can be purchased in trade paperback from Amazon or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.
umm.. since one of your tags is “secret baby” is that Anais’ big secret?
Yup. I debated including it in the tags since it was a spoiler but went with including it since it’s one of those tropes that can be hated.
So, the opium addiction is discussed but not very important?
I always pause when I see this cover in the book store, it’s just stunning, but I’ve always hesitated to buy the book. Maybe because i wasn’t in the mood for erotica (that’s where it’s shelved), but now that you’ve said it more of an erotic romance, I may check it out further.
I’ve been curious about this one, so thanks for the review. My January 2010 historical features an opium-addicted heroine in medieval Spain. But you can’t really tell from the cover blurb. Shhhh…
@katiebabs: Maybe it’s more like it becomes important when the story necessitates it? It’s there but it seems to serve as a fodder for angst more than anything else.
@vanessa jaye: I’m not as familiar with the genres as some of the other DA reviewers so I might be off the mark but it struck me as a completely different sort of book from The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom & Their Lover.
@Carrie Lofty: A monk and an opium-addicted heroine in medieval Spain? You might have just said a magic phrase there for me.
That cover is STUNNING.
Gorgeous cover. Wasn’t Charlotte Featherstone a famous courtesan, or was she a bluestocking? I always get those two mixed up.
that cover is stunning!
P.J. Ryan has a mystery series set in Boston immediately after the American Civil War with an opium-addicted hero. I don’t know how realistic the portrayal of Will’s addiction was in comparison to the description of Lindsay’s. It definitely plays a role in the books, in part because Nell, like Anais, has something of a black-and-white moral code, at least at the beginning. The romance that develops over the course of the series was very satisfying, and I was sorry to see the series end (although Ryan was probably smart to do so).
I have no clue – what’s the difference between an erotic romance and an erotic novel?
An erotic romance is still a romance. From what I understand, in an erotic novel, you’re only promised sex. That is to say, the main purpose of the book is the sex — the plotline is a vehicle to move the characters from one sex scene to the next. You are also not promised an HEA. If I have gotten that wrong, then someone please jump in and correct me. I’m still trying to familiarize myself with the genre.
Hmmm, I feel like you’re sort of describing the difference between ‘erotica’ and ‘erotic romance,’ whereas to me, ‘erotic novel’ could mean either. Spice has a pretty broad range, IMO, including both erotica and erotic romance (at least, from my way of viewing it!).
Gorgeous cover indeed. Thanks for letting us know about the insides.
@Kristina Cook: I agree that Harlequin Spice has a wide range of books ranging the entire spectrum (based on what I’ve seen) but then that leads to reader confusion, doesn’t it? The liveblogging for The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom & Their Lover was criticized for bringing romance expectations to a book labeled as an “erotic novel.” This book was labeled the same way and I think it reads more like an erotic romance. (I could be wrong. Like I said, I’m relatively new to these subgenres.) It’s fine to cover such a wide range but if that’s the case, can readers then be criticized for having incorrect expectations for a book?
Nope, I don’t think they can. I think it *is* hard to know what you’re going to get. I kinda feel like these days, though, it’s hard to know what to expect from *any* line. I remember reading Patience by Lisa Valdez (which I enjoyed!), and being surprised that it was published under a ‘historical romance’ line rather than an erotic line. Some of the Berkley/NAL Heat books have an HEA with more traditional romance storylines, some don’t. I remember once Kate Duffy describing the Brava line as books “with a lot of really hot sex in them” and I guess that’s what I’ve always thought about Spice, too–and most of the other ‘erotic’ imprints of traditional romance publishers. But yeah, it does seem that the “really hot sex” might come with a traditional romance, or it might come with multiple partners, kinky stuff, and no real HEA–and I can definitely understand how that might be a problem for some readers.
First, thanks for reviewing my book, and thanks to everyone who thought the cover stunning. I think it’s pretty gorgeous, too!
So, I’m just going to jump in here, as a reader of romance and erotic romance. Personally, I’m just as confused as Jia is about what constitutes erotica, erotic romance, romance with erotic elements etc… I’ve read books that I have thought, ‘hmm, that’s in the romance section?’ because it was so explicit and with little romance, and then I have read books, much like Addicted, where I thought, ‘it’s not so erotic’. I even had a bookseller email to tell me that she had read Addicted, loved it and was moving it out of erotica and into romance because she felt it was more romance and that the romance readers would probably like it. And, I think she’s right. I’ve never considered myself an erotica writer, but that’s where I’ve been published. It always confounds me! lol!
I guess what it comes down to is that erotic, and eroticsm is different for each person, and that’s what makes it so darn difficult to peg and nail down into one line. I’ve been burned before by books where I thought the romance would prevail, only to find out it was straight erotica. I’m a romance person, I like those sappy HEA’s! To make matters worse, you can’t always judge a book’s content by the cover. I’ve read some really kinky erotica by accident because I’ve been misled by the romancey cover and a blurb that hints atlove and romance (but blurbs and covers are an entirely different post!)
As an interesting tidbit, I had dozens of emails from interested readers asking two questions (they all asked these questions, in fact!) They were a)is this a romance and b) does it end happily. All who emailed were very interested in the book, but not interested in investing time, money and emotions in a book that was not romance and would not end well. I found that very telling. Even though each Spice book has the ‘Erotic Novel’ printed on the cover, there are still readers out there who wish to have romance and the HEA along with their sex. I think it’s this cross genre melding that has readers skittish about buying something they know they aren’t going to like, or buying something they think they want only to find out its not.
As traditional publishers make new lines and blend old ones, I think the confusion will continue to grow.
@Charlotte Featherstone: That’s smart of the bookseller to move your book to romance. I think it’d do better in that section than in erotica. The cover is certainly eye-catching and does its job!
As for those emails you received regarding the existence of an HEA, that’s definitely telling. Even in this thread, a couple commenters mentioned that they were interested but hadn’t picked it up because they were uncertain and assumed it was more erotica than romance. It’s another face to the marketing issue — like when publishers were marketing urban fantasies as romance for a while (although I guess they still do), even when those series ended with the heroine killing the hero.
When even the authors are confused, what hope for us poor readers?
Seriously, I would think that labeling a book a romance tells us that the relationship is the focus, and that there’s a happy ending. Erotic is an added label to indicate explicit sex. So if I see a book billed as an “erotic novel” rather than an “erotic romance,” I figure that there’s not a main couple whose relationship develops over the course of the book, or that the ending is unhappy. Especially from a known romance publisher.
I am looking forward to reading this book — I fell in love with the cover the first time I saw it, and although I didn’t buy it right away, I find myself pulled back to it every time I’m in the bookstore. Now that I’m sure it’s a romance, and not a sexy book that will end unhappily and depress me, I’ll give in to its temptation.
Nice reveiw, Jia. You make it easy for me to decide that this is a book I want to read, because you explain clearly how it did and didn’t work for you.
Oh, and Ms Featherstone? Nice example of how to respond graciously to a C review. Classy.
Jia, you are exactly right about marketing. You used the Urban Fantasy parallel, and I’ll use JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood, which, to me started out as romance, but now has begun to take the shape of urban fantasy with romantic elements; meaning, it’s just not the romance taking the focus of the book, but the world. I’m okay with that, but I have to admit that I don’t care for taking a series which was heavily romance and changing it midway to something else. I feel kind of cheated as I bought the series in the first place because of the romance. But then, that’s just my two cents!
Sonomalass, thanks for trying out Addicted! It is a happily ever after, but after a fe tears and trials between Anais and Linsay Hope you like it. As for responding to a ‘c’ review, I’m okay with it. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I wish it was a desert Island keeper for her, but she said what she didn’t like about the book in a thoughtful, ariticulate manner, and truth be known, she had every right to feel misled by the blurb. When I first saw the blurb, I felt it was misleading as well, especially in regards to Anais and the other man. I was wordered what readers would think
I can see Jia’s side in her decision to grade it as she did, and I welcome her thoughts and am pleased with the professional way it was written. There was no bashing, just thoughtful ideas of what didn’t work for her. Perhaps I can hope that she’ll be bowled over by Lord Wallingford’s book, ‘Sinful’ when it comes next year! lol!
Best wishes and happy reading!
What a wonderful response. I’m very intrigued by the premise of this book.
@Charlotte Featherstone: So there is going to be a Lord Wallingford book! I was secretly hoping there would be because I was intrigued by his character.
As for the grade, it’s so subjective. I personally have a very hard time assigning grades. Before joining Dear Author, I never used grades or ratings and simply wrote reviews along the lines of what you see above. But since Dear Author does have a grading system, the first thing I did was look at my bookshelf and started assigning grades to the books in my library. So at its most basic level, my personal grading system is based on simple gut checks against the guide posts certain novels in my personal library represent.
Where it gets tricky is when I bring in the checks and balances — does Element A bump the grade up, does Element B knock the grade down. If I’m conflicted and struggle with assigning a grade, does Element A which I loved make up for, and possibly outweigh, Element B which I was not so enthused about? Or does Element C drive me so completely crazy it negates everything else? Of course, that’s where reader bias comes in.
It’s tough. Speaking for myself, it’s the B, B-, C+, and C grades I have the hardest time assigning because it’s usually these grades where I bring the check and balance system into play. The extreme grades (As, Ds & Fs) are the easiest to assign. Everything in between, however, takes more thought and pondering for me. FWIW, a C grade from me isn’t a “bad” grade. It’s average. I know that’s not what authors want to hear because they don’t want to be average; they want to be great. But I see so many people call C reviews “bad” reviews and for many reviewers, myself included, that’s not the case at all.
But seriously, after the train wreck that occurred here the other day with Dr. S’s review, it’s always appreciated when authors are gracious in their responses to reviews. That sort of behavior makes me more likely to give the author’s next book a try. (And now that I know the next book features Lord Wallingford, I’ll certainly keep my eye out for it next year! LOL)
I totally understand this, because it’s *exactly* the same when I’m judging entries in a contest (GH, Rita, or even smaller chapter-sponsored contests). The extremes–highest and lowest possible scores–are totally easy. But anything in between?! And even worse when it’s a contest requiring you to write comments explaining your scores! I anguish over those “middle score” comments. Especially because sometimes it really isn’t anything specific–no ‘craft’ issues or technical issues, just that I didn’t click with the characters or it didn’t catch/hold my interest. How do you explain that?!
So I can only imagine how hard it is to write a review–especially a critical one (and by that I don’t mean ‘bad’–I just mean ‘not gushing’!).
But one thing I really like about DA (and why, as a reader, it’s probably my #1 go-to place for reviews) is that you all do a really excellent job explaining exactly why a book works for you, or conversely, why it didn’t.
Yeah, grading is tough. I feel for you, Jia. Interesting that you use the books in your library as guide posts. I used to grade on a curve with a C as average based not on what is average in my library, but as the average of what is being published (my sense of that was based on books I picked up at random, without recommendations from fellow readers, at the bookstore or the public library).
I couldn’t use the books in my personal library as guide posts because for the most part, if I hadn’t thought those books were above average, I wouldn’t have kept them.
But when I started reviewing for DA I had to stop using that grading system because there was already another grading system in place here. At that time, we had a review grade explanation posted (it is no longer posted as such but I quoted it in an opinion piece I wrote a while back, so I can reproduce it). The grading system went like this:
After I graded a few books based on that system I started using those books as guide posts the way you use the ones in your library. It’s never been easy to assign a grade though. That’s my least favorite part of reviewing. As you say, there are so many elements that can come into play in a book. Sometimes a book will be really strong in one area and weak in another, and it is hard to know how to balance the grade to reflect that.
@Janine: Oh, the grading system is still on the site. It’s just posted under All About Us now.
As for using the personal library as guide posts thing, like I said, that was in the beginning when I first joined DA, before I’d written any reviews, and Jane was working on seeing if anyone would be willing to send traditional fantasy and YA along with the paranormals and crossovers (mostly UFs at the time) for me to read and review. Now I have the reviews I’ve written here at DA to use as well.
Great review, Jia, and I appreciate you mentioning the secret baby in the tags. I was tempted to check the book out, despite the problems you had with it, but a secret baby is a dealbreaker for me.
Love that cover, though.
@Jia: I had no idea that was still posted on the site. Learn something new every day!
I think despite the grading system, each of us here grades a little bit differently from the others. I sometimes wonder if I am too generous in my grading but I think that’s partly a reflection of the fact that I stop reading a lot of books too early to review them.
Jia, another book that explored the world of opium addiction was the 2007 publication Blood of Dreams, by Susan Parisi. Interestingly, it won the 2007 Aurealis Award for Best Horror Novel, although having read the book, I certainly wouldn’t class it as horror. Vampires SO don’t mean horror these days… :)
That cover is gorgeous, but the red on black gives me Twilight saga flashbacks…