Innocent in the Ivory Tower by Lucy Ellis
Contemporary Romance published by Mills and Boon Modern Romance 1 Oct 11
I read these books one after the other, and they were both hmm, I don’t know books, but for very different reasons. So I thought it would be interesting to do a compare and contrast. One is a book by a veteran Mills and Boon/Harlequin author, and the other is a debut novel. Both are polished and exactly what you’d expect from the Modern/Presents lines and both are acceptable reads. But for very different reasons.
Lee Wilkinson is a long-term Mills and Boon writer, whose last book seems to have been Captive in the Millionaire’s Castle from 2009. Lucy Ellis is a writer formerly writing as Lucy Snowe (shades of the Brontes?), but I could only find fanfiction under the Lucy Snowe name, so I think we’re safe to assume that she hasn’t done much before this.
In Love Without Lies by Lee Wilkinson, Madeleine is a physiotherapist who deals with a minor injury that Rafe has suffered when he crashes his racing car (of course!) and then she dates him. At first it all seems perfect, then she learns things about him that worry her, and she doesn’t like it.
It’s a Big Misunderstanding book, the kind that can be sorted out if the hero and heroine are honest with each other. But they don’t trust each other enough, or they don’t trust themselves, and they don’t confide. The Big Misunderstanding is really difficult to get right, and even more so in the shorter category format, because the writer has fewer words to do it. It doesn’t work here for me. Madeleine is depicted as a mature woman who is intelligent, knows her own mind, but is sexually inexperienced. However, all her vaunted intelligence flies out of the window when she’s approached by a complete stranger and told that Rafe is a wolf who goes around seducing women and abandoning them. So all that time Rafe has lavished on her and the courting counts for nothing when Madeleine meets a bitch who lies to her. She doesn’t have the sense to do any research online or to just ask him. Oh no.
I do enjoy the dialogue between the couple. It flowed easily, read well, and had a touch of humor that I enjoyed. But the actions of the characters tell another story.
There are a few too many disembodied body parts. It’s a technique that, used sparingly, can be okay, but I wonder that Wilkinson’s editor let so many through: “his hand wandered over her,” “his mouth returned to pleasure her,” “his fingers found the nest of pale curls” – and that’s just one scene. Too many of those and you start to wonder if his body breaks up into little bits that do their own thing independent of their owner. And it starts to get a bit weird.
When Madeleine finds out about Rafe, or thinks she does, she does something so crassly stupid, he goes away. But this is his Big Misunderstanding, because Rafe doesn’t ask and doesn’t wait for an explanation. He just storms off. For two so-called intelligent people, they really act stupidly.
The book is told mainly from the heroine’s point of view. Insights into the hero are few and fleeting. And that makes me wonder. For some reason, the book was published in 2006 in the UK and is only just now coming out in the US, so that explains its slightly old-fashioned approach. Recently, Mills and Boon editors have made a real effort to update the tropes and themes and have taken on quite a few new writers. One imagines that life as a Mills and Boon author is increasingly precarious.
But such as it is, the story is explained smoothly and the story flows. So well that you can predict “they’re going to kiss around here” and “this is where they come back together.” Wilkinson has been writing so long for Harlequin/Mills and Boon that she can probably write one of these books in her sleep.
On the other hand, Lucy Ellis has her debut in Innocent in the Ivory Tower. A more ridiculous title is hard to think of, but Ellis’s original title seems to have been A Russian Affair, which I like much better. For a start, an “ivory tower” tends to indicate, to me at least, a scholar, locked away from real life, not, as in this book, an innocent person living in luxury. So I was expecting something a bit different to the book than I actually got. I know that in biblical terms it means an innocent, but in most uses today, it means an academic locked up in their own world.
Maisy is working for her friends as a nanny to their small child when said friends are killed in a car accident. They leave the guardianship of their son to playboy and tycoon Alexei Ranaevsky. There is a reason, but it’s hard to think of a less qualified guardian. The money is about all Alexei has going for him as far as guardianship is concerned. Maisy, one of the titian-haired, pale-skinned, curvy beauties, is shy, sexually inexperienced and has the magic vayjayjay that captivates Alexei from the start. The book has the rich bitch character and the usual denigration of the sophisticated woman who knows how to dress properly and may have had a little cosmetic work done on the side. That trope really annoys me, the way women who actually make an effort are contrasted against the sweet, innocent, naturally beautiful heroine. Maisy is all those things and unworldly, too. She doesn’t like Alexei spending lots of money on her and she won’t accept the jewelry and clothes he wants to give her. Yep, that’s right, Maisy is one of those heroines you want to slap. Or I do, anyway. I should add if sweet and innocent and not too bright is your fantasy, and I know it is of many readers, then this is so your book.
Alexei is delicious, and Maisy just doesn’t deserve him. He’s Slavic, self-made, and he gives Maisy everything he can, until she forces him to give it all.
The bits that I enjoyed most are the parts that went off-base. There are certain expectations of a Presents novel, and when Ellis obeys them and makes her characters play their allotted parts, the story goes a bit flat and unbelievable in parts. Can anybody these days be that innocent, that stupid? But it’s required for the mechanics of the story. But when Maisy forgets she’s a Modern/Presents heroine and takes her fate into her own hands, I started to warm to her. She becomes an innocent with a mind of her own, and I could see what a story like that could do. But then we are back in the dance.
So while Wilkinson has few problems getting her characters to run along the tracks, you could sometimes see the way Ellis has to force them. I suspect that Ellis received a harder edit than Wilkinson, because there are parts of the story that read listlessly, the kind of read you get when a story is overworked. The rich bitch, for instance, is completely cardboard and is obviously only there to move the plot along a bit and give Maisy yet another reason to doubt herself. However, when she gets drunk and Alexei looks after her, I enjoyed that part. It shows Alexei’s protectiveness and Maisy’s despair and exasperation really well.
Although both these books are Cs for me, it’s for very different reasons. I’d like to see what Ellis produces next, but I’d hate for her editors to pound all the originality and fun out of her voice and style. I’d like to see what she does with different tropes, because there’s definitely a spark there. Wilkinson I haven’t seen for a few years, and this book is an older one. So did she walk or was she pushed? Or is there more to come?
Love Without Lies:
The whirlwind romance Rafe Lombard lavished on Madeleine Knight was enough to win him her heart. It was only when she learned of secrets in his past that Madeleine knew he would never be hers. So she ran—as far away as she could…. Rafe is determined to prove that no woman leaves him without his say-so. He is determined to have Madeleine back, and he knows there is only one place to keep her—close by his side…
Read an excerpt.
Innocent in the Ivory Tower:
When purity and passion collide… Nanny Maisy Edmonds is furious when a stranger tries to take her orphaned little charge – stealing a shockingly explicit kiss from her into the bargain! Can infamous tycoon Alexei Ranaevsky really be the child’s godfather? Installed in Alexei’s remote Italian villa, Maisy is intent on protecting little Kostya – and nothing else… Alexei’s childhood-turned-nightmare means he allows himself no emotional attachments. But Maisy’s beguiling sweetness has the uncompromising Russian determined to seduce her down from her inexperienced pedestal
Read an excerpt.