LynneC’s review of Surrendering to the Vengeful Italian (Irresistible Mediterranean Tycoons, Book 1) by Angela Bissell
Contemporary Romance published by Harlequin Presents 1 Dec 16
I’ve read the Harlequin Presents line for a long time now, but recently my interest has waned. Sure, it’s about the rich and famous, but it’s not about today’s rich and famous. There are few internet billionaires who don’t own a suit and prefer T-shirts with slogans on them. Even fewer entrepreneurs who get their hands dirty. Yes, I get it, it’s the glamour line, but I’m slowly moving to the Desire line where the heroes know what graft is.
They all seem to be living about fifty years ago. The Presents line was very slow to accept condoms, although now heroes actually use them, which is a relief. However, those condoms almost inevitably fail. Either that or the heroine being on the pill means she doesn’t know that missing one, being on antibiotics or being sick spells pregnancy. At least it does if you’re a romance heroine.
These conventions are so set that the Presents line is a fantasy world. I can cope with that, but recently all the heroes and heroines seem to be as thick as a waxwork image of themselves. In short, the Big Misunderstanding. It’s not my favorite trope, and it’s a tricky one to handle properly, but in something like four out of five of the ones I’ve read recently, either or both of the main protagonists are suffering under this misunderstanding. Angela Bissell’s new release is a case in point.
Throughout the first three chapters, I’m almost yelling, “Just tell him!” The hero and heroine are exes, so this is a second-chance story, and we have to suspend a lot of disbelief to get this story to work. They are both wealthy, or from wealthy backgrounds, and neither seem to have heard of Google or what a marvellous thing the internet is. Before the story starts, they have a five-week affair that leaves her pregnant. She doesn’t contact him, and she loses the baby. So he doesn’t know.
The heroine is estranged from her father and works as a secretary. I read that bit a few times. Do secretaries still exist? Most have morphed into PAs, people who do more diary arranging than typing, and most heads of companies don’t have one, they have several. She is so estranged that she lives in a tatty apartment and is treated as normal by her boss. Most bosses, however saintly, would be more than interested in a woman with a rich and influential father, and not so they could type letters. The father is abusive to Helena’s mother, his wife. He beats her up.
The hero, Leo, hates the heroine because she walked out on their relationship and because her father did something awful to him. So does she tell him she has split from her father? Nope. Does he tell her what her father has done to him? Nope.
Told you. Dumb. What’s more, we have “the friend interrupting them when they’re about to speak” moment. I sighed.
Leo invites Helena to dinner. He doesn’t tell her that it’s a swanky charity dinner, so she turns up in the wrong clothes, a cocktail dress instead of a ball gown. The hero thinks she looks lovely because the dress shows off her curves and has a plunging neckline. That someone as sophisticated and aware as Leo is supposed to be doesn’t notice makes him as dumb as a rock. Especially since he invited her specifically to throw her off her game. The hero takes his tux jacket off to eat (erm, no, not at a formal dinner). Really, it’s so she can lust after him as he is lusting after her. He has mistresses, another quaintly antique term that I associate more with historicals, and he assumes mistress and girlfriend are the same thing. There’s a vast difference. A mistress is a professional, and she is kept. A girlfriend is a free agent. And he treats her like crap.
By this point I was picking at the story to see what else Bissell would come up with, so I knew that if she didn’t do something really good, fast and soon, she’d lost me.
They had a passionate affair, and Helena doesn’t know that Leo’s sister is a paraplegic. So he didn’t want her enough to tell her about some of the important things in his life. She wasn’t that important to him, then.
So now we have a hidden pregnancy resulting in a dead baby, an abused mother and a paraplegic sister all at the start of the story. And we aren’t done yet, but any more would be a spoiler. That’s enough issues for a dozen books, and there’s no way each can be dealt with properly in a 50,000 word novel, especially when the story is mainly about a romance. I think the editor might have told the author to pick one. Oh yes, and a predatory woman who wants the hero, which forces the hero and heroine into proximity.
That’s enough about plot contrivances. They didn’t flow very well, as if natural. The reader is slammed with so much that no sooner is the paraplegic sister and abusive father plugged in than the predatory woman appears. It just doesn’t work. Perhaps fewer tropes and plot twists and more concentration on what the hero and heroine are actually like might have made for a more smoother-flowing read. I never got into these characters’ heads, and I didn’t care. None of the issues were taken care of in a way this reader found satisfactory.
So the story goes on. I kept at it, but the more the story progressed, the less interested I got. Every cliché is thrown in – the fabulous apartment, the shopping expedition, where designers magically have clothes that fit (Harlequin heroines only ever have fittings for wedding dresses), the trip to a glamourous city, Rome. Maybe I’ve read too many Presents stories, or maybe the superficiality of the scenes got to me this time.
These two just lust after each other, every chance they get. They concentrate on bodies and how the other person looks all the time. What they are trying to say or what they are like beneath doesn’t really matter. All their efforts are spent in solving all the other problems. The inner life of these people is somewhat lacking. I didn’t actually care very much for or about either of them. Caitlin Crews can get away with writing deeply flawed characters because of the way she delves into inner motivations and the way the characters think deep inside.
It’s mainly because I didn’t like either main character, what we saw of them. Leo is an arrogant git, and having a paraplegic sister he is kind to doesn’t ameliorate that. He treats Helena like crap and she takes it. She might scream and shout, but she takes everything he gives her because he’s sexy. The villain is a moustache-twirling baddie with no redeeming features.
Helena had a baby who died, and she doesn’t tell Leo about it. What’s the point? she thought at the time. What a princess, I thought. She alternately has rampant sex with him and pushes him away, and he does the same to her. The deep trauma of stillbirth is treated somewhat superficially, although it’s one of the most distressing events ever to happen to a person or a couple. I think it would have been better had this motivated and pushed the story on, especially with Helena’s story, instead of her concerns about her abused mother.
And it all, everything, comes out in the second half of the book, when lust hurriedly turns to love and everybody gets some kind of happy ending. It looks as if the paraplegic sister might get her own book, which is promising for this line. It’ll be interesting to see how she copes with it, but maybe with a few fewer tropes!
Maybe, as I said at the start, I’ve read too many Presents books recently, but the rush of tropes gave the characters no space to breathe and develop, and the settings were, frankly, a retread of the usual suspects.
And one more comment that has nothing to do with this book in particular, more about the Presents line. These stories might reach a crisis because we are faced with a new world leader who is everything a Presents hero is supposed to be – rich, a property tycoon with businesses all over the world, a high-media profile, a man who treats women as disposable assets – and yet, and yet. Will his even higher media visibility help the line, or force it into a new direction? We shall see.
For seven years, formidable Leo Vincenti has planned his vengeance on Douglas Shaw and nothing will stop him. Not even Shaw’s stunning but treacherous daughter, Helena, who—right now—is pleading for leniency. Grim satisfaction spreads through him as he knows she would willingly never take up his challenge to return to his side.
But he has greatly underestimated Helena. Secrets drive her as if the very devil were on her heels. And suddenly the passion that left them undone years before is forcing them both to the brink of surrender…
Read an excerpt.