Sara Craven is Old School. Really, really Old School. So I’ll say from the outset that if you love Harlequin romances as they used to be, you will adore this one. It didn’t do it for me, but I can totally see why it would for others. A comforting read, a sweet read, and one where the characters all mind their p’s and q’s and talk like proper English ladies and gentlemen.
Sara Craven is also a very intelligent woman who won the last Magnus Mastermind title and has the glass trophy to prove it. She’s also the chairperson of the RNA, so I’m taking my life in my hands here. Or I would, if it was Anne Ashurst I was talking about, or even Sara Craven. Just as well it isn’t because I’m talking about her book. Nothing else.
The book started badly for me, because it starts at the end. The hero walks into a flat he was to share with the heroine after their marriage, and he’s very angry because they’re not going to get married after all. She’s shafted him in some way. Sorry, she’s done something to make him very, very angry. But it’s a prologue, and in Chapter One, we go back to the beginning of the story.
For me, at this point I thought “Why should I care?” It’s done, she’s wronged him, I want to know what’s going to happen next, not what happened six months ago. But I had this book to review, and review it I would. So I read on. It didn’t get much better, I’m afraid.
The heroine, Tarn, (yes, I know!) tries to gatecrash a party held by the hero, a work-related one. She claims that someone told her they would give her a job, she tells the doorman, and does it very loudly, enough for the hero to overhear. Being a nice man, he talks to her and promises to make her an appointment to see his personnel manager the next day. Tarn turns up at the party in a slinky black dress, slit to mid-thigh, and she wears a garter underneath. To get a job? What HR (they stopped being Personnel quite a while ago) manager worth his salt is going to do that? The setup is so sexist, it made me squirm. Of course, she’s not there for the job. She’s a conniving bitch who thinks it’s all right to deceive because of a wrong she thinks the hero has done her foster sister. Instead of walking up to the hero and asking him or doing something effective, like, well, ruining him, something she could do effectively without even meeting him, she decides to get a job in his company. So why not do one of her celeb biogs, make it complete lies, and then blame him for it? That’s come close to ruining companies recently, and it’s cost them plenty (James Frey anyone?)
Now we know that Caz (I know!) is the hero, so we know he’s done nothing too dastardly. So the Big Mis is coming up.
Tarn shares a flat with her bestie, and they are very nice girls, a bit like Bridget Jones without the funny bits. When Tarn reveals she’s only there for revenge, I ticked off another box in my list and gritted my teeth. Revenge plots aren’t my favorites, but at least there was no secret baby in the offing. She’s a complete and utter martyr, and she doesn’t see when she’s being played. Of course not. Actually, Tarn is pretty much dumb the whole way through. She is the very definition of TSTL.
The scene in the flat with the bestie is a complete “As you know, Bob,” scene. Harlequins have a very restrictive word count, but it is possible to tell a story without the AYKB and the telling. Just read a Caitlin Crews book.
So Caz is a player, a manslut, who takes up with and discards women. Tarn’s brilliant plot is to entice him and then dump him. Do I have to tell you that she’s a virgin? No, I bet you guessed. Oh, and Tarn’s business, ghosting celeb biographies, depends on Caz’s company, the publisher. He seems to have bucked the current trend by making a success of a failing company, but hey, this is Mills and Boon, so I let it pass.
My sympathies were all with Caz. Not only does he fall for a conniving and deceitful person, he falls for someone with a stupid streak, who doesn’t understand that upsetting the person you depend on for your living isn’t that bright, nor is believing someone (her foster sister) without question, when there’s prior. I just don’t buy Tarn’s constant buying into Eve’s whining and excuses.
After the As You Know, Bob scene, we have another screed of backstory in the form of a flashback, one that tries to persuade us that Tarn isn’t stupid for taking up her sister’s cause, but this part of the story is very, very boring, consisting, as it does, of Tarn reading her sister’s accounts of her affair with Caz. Passive, telling and not one bit interesting. That whole section could have been cut. But I read every word, because I got it for review, and review it I would.
Possible mild spoiler ahead:
The plot unfolds. And, I’m afraid, gets worse. If you haven’t read a Harlequin before, this might come as a surprise to you, but you probably know what’s coming. The foster sister is in a facility, and it’s because she’s a mad stalker. It actually doesn’t come as a surprise, because we know who the hero is, and heroes in Harlequins don’t do the things he’s accused of. Therefore, the person accusing him is at fault. But even though Tarn is in danger, nobody thinks to tell her about her mad relative or even warn her. And she’s lived with this girl without realizing what a controlling shit she is. Because she’s kind and nice and tralala, and she believes good of everybody. Kill me now.
No, just no. Medical etiquette doesn’t cover criminal behavior. And how could Tarn have grown up with this girl and not know? Oh, I forgot, she’s not the brightest button in the tin.
And, of course, when she starts to work in the office, the highly experienced, worldly Caz falls in love with her. She has that awesome thing, the magic vagina, although for most of the story he guesses it. There’s no way he should have bothered with her when he has, you know, made-up, beautifully dressed sluts at his beck and call, because women who put a bit of effort into their appearance, even dare to have a spot of plastic surgery, are naturally sluts. But he does, and she falls for him, although she still thinks he’s a bastard. So is she in the habit of falling for them?
The style is very distant. There is a lot of “telling” here. We are told what the characters are feeling, instead of sharing their emotions with them. Consequently, the style has to move into the purple to try to make the reader care. It doesn’t work. The reader can tell that the heroine is stupid, because we are watching Tarn from the outside—we rarely get to share her headspace.
There’s also an obsession with flat description. That’s where the scenery is described without any reference to the characters or why it matters. We have, “She made herself a beaker of tea, settled into her favorite cream leather recliner and began to read.” That’s typical of a point-of-view slip. Because Tarn knows what color and material her favorite recliner is made from, so who is talking here? Or does she think, “Oh, I’ll just go and switch on my central heating, which is half way up the wall and orange, which matches perfectly with my green wall.” That’s what I meant by old-style and the repetition and frequency of sentences like these kept pulling me out of the story. Description for its own sake, taking the reader away from the character, tends to give distance. Craven has learned how to use body language, though, so we do get a lot of pinched faces, grimaces, and solitary tears, which helps to fill in a few gaps. Inanimate or insensate objects are given adjectives, so Caz has a “proud” erection. It’d be better if it was “standing proudly,” but no, this cock is unashamedly proud of what it can do. Lots of nice big words, though. Portmanteau words, even. I like those, they fool me into thinking I’m intelligent.
There will be people who will love this book, I’m sure. But it didn’t work for me. (Runs away and hides). Now I’m scared, and I wish I’d never said I’d review the book, because when I saw Sara Craven’s fascinating discussion of her own book at last year’s RNA conference, I thought “I must get me one of those,” and I did.
To Tarn Desmond family is everything. So when powerful tycoon Caspar Brandon all but destroys her sweet sister, Tarn is determined to make this notorious playboy pay.
Caz is intrigued by the pure beauty of the new girl in his office—no one has ever said no to him before, and if anything that’s just doubled his ruthless desire for her!
As Tarn sinks deeper into her deception, her resolve falters under Caz’s sensual onslaught. She hadn’t banked on revenge costing her the ultimate price: her heart…and her body!
Read an excerpt.