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LynneC’s review of  The Marriage Betrayal by Lynne Graham
Contemporary Romance published by Harlequin Presents Extra 28 Jun 10

Harlequin has begun to put selected titles from their category lines on netGalley for review. I’m guessing they want these books reviewed and promoted all over the place. So it beats me why they decided to review a book that Lynne Graham seems to have phoned in.

Warning – there is a kind of spoiler at the end of this review, because this book is one of two books featuring the same characters. But there is a warning too, because Graham uses a trope some readers might not be comfortable with.

I have read some really good Harlequin/Mills and Boon books recently, books that took chances and explored new themes. This book reads like it was set in the 1960s, and, in truth, I’d have enjoyed it much more if it had been written as a period piece. Slang like “shag” belongs in Austin Powers, not the modern world, and this and other aspects dragged the book down and made it a slog to read. Graham uses traditional tropes, but she doesn’t play with them and she doesn’t try to explore character through tropes, like, say, Caitlin Crews and Kate Hewitt. Neither does she plunge into them like Jennie Lucas. She just takes them and plonks them into the plot.

In this one, twenty-year-old Tally meets Sander at a house party. Sander’s there reluctantly, and Tally is accompanying her half sister to the party, but Cosima doesn’t want everyone to know that Tally is her illegitimate half sibling, so she calls her her personal assistant. Cosima refuses to share the room they’re allotted, so Tally has to share the room of one of the servants. She dresses plainly, and what’s more, more like a middle aged woman. Yes, Graham lavishes this, pours the Cinderella trope on with a very large spoon.

Sander is promiscuous and a misogynist, naturally thinking the worst of every woman he comes across. He finishes with his mistresses (and that word, ‘mistress,’ gives me hives) when they get too demanding and clingy. What a prince. Not.

When they get together, he is about to screw her when he tells her he doesn’t do exclusivity. I would have slapped him silly. At least Tally walks out. But in this day and age, it’s just not on. Nor is it on to say it at a moment like that.

These problems are only exacerbated by the poor quality of the writing in this book. Strange descriptors abound. We have pouting nipples and hungry hands, sometimes in the same sentence, and these characters have independent body parts – their hands do stuff, without, seemingly, the approval of their owners. Every author does that sometimes, but too much is never fun, and you start to imagine eyeballs popping out of people’s heads and going a-wandering.

Characters never speak in this book. They breathe, assert, deny, question, retort, even frame. The constant euphemisms for that simple word “said” abounded and took me out of the story more than once. The POV is appalling. It can switch in a sentence. And I do mean head-hopping, with such dizzying frequency it gets confusing as to who is thinking what. It also leads to a shallow point of view, which is one of the main underlying problems in the book. I couldn’t get into either of the characters. With such problematic and difficult characters, the reader really needs to get right inside their heads and feel what they’re feeling, otherwise they’re liable to just not give a damn. Some Harlequin writers do this with aplomb, and I’ve read some Lynne Graham books that really score in this regard. Not this one. You only ever skim the surface with Tally and Sander. Not that you don’t know what they’re thinking and feeling, because Graham kindly tells us. We never experience things with this charmless pair – we are told, and that naturally leads to a dichotomy between what they think and what they do.

Tally is a bolter. Every time there’s trouble, she runs. Except from her miserable home life and her awful mother, and she welters in that. When in doubt, go back to your horrible little house and your promiscuous mother and carry on being a martyr. Sander chases, has sex, and dumps.

Later, Tally agrees to have unprotected sex with Sander. Yes, the Sander that doesn’t do exclusive. I wouldn’t touch him, but there you go. There is a hastily inserted paragraph about Sander having a “health check,” which I bet her editor made Graham put in, but it doesn’t convince me. This man is toxic, in every sense of the word.

And there’s a traffic warden. In London. I kid you not (traffic wardens were abolished in London some years ago. There’s now a different authority that deals with traffic offences). I wouldn’t have been surprised to see parking meters.

On the whole, this is a story about a very young girl and a man who behaves like a stallion in heat, but with less finesse. They both speak in a kind of working-class English slang that isn’t approprSeductive Secretsiate for at least one of them. But I did notice that the British cover of the follow-up book , Bride for Real, has the same character on the front as is on one of my books (check out Seductive Secrets. Which means Harlequin is using stock photography these days. Interesting. The two pictures could have been taken at the same photographic session, actually.

There is a pseudo happy ending to this book, and then you get the prologue to the next book. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. And here is the spoiler:

This book ends with Tally pregnant and she and Sander together. The next book starts with the news that Tally’s baby was stillborn and the marriage broke up. After reading this book I had no confidence that Graham would deal with an issue as heartbreaking as that with any reality or depth, so I chose not to follow her there.

I hate givig Fs, but I couldn’t find anything to redeem this book. Usually I look for something – realism, an interesting secondary character, or good writing, but I couldn’t find anything here. I’m hard, and it hurts to do this to a Lynne Graham book, but it wouldn’t be fair to the other great reads I’ve had lately to do anything else.

LynneCs iconGrade: F


Careless passion, pregnancy surprise…

Sander Volakis goes his own way. He’s forged his reputation in business, rather than relying on the family fortune, and indulges his darkly passionate, wild streak. He has no intention of marrying…

He doesn’t do country weekends, either. Pitching up at Westgrave Manor is a favor to his father and a bore…until he sees Tally Spencer, so pretty and voluptuous that he can’t resist her. Sander’s looking forward to casually seducing her, not knowing that one night with the innocent Tally could end his playboy existence…

Read an excerpt.