by Portia Da Costa, contemporary (2007)
Black Lace Books, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-352-34109-9
Suite Seventeen is marketed as an erotic romance. A cynical part of me goes, "Yeah, right, as if I don't know that Black Lace Books publishes straightforward erotica. Are they trying to pull an Aphrodisia on people?" However, after having read Suite Seventeen, I must say that this one is indeed a romance. Sure, it has some trappings of a more typical erotica (some girl-on-girl fondling), but at the heart of the story is a romance between a widow in her forties, Annie Conroy, and a much younger man, Gianvalentino Guidetti.
After the death of her husband Stan, Annie lives the life of a proper upper-class widow of Lavender Court. Underneath her Judi Dench exterior, however, Annie has a secret life of sorts - she is enjoying herself spying on the kinky outdoor activities of you-know-what kind of her neighbors Robert and Maria Stone. She is shocked, but she is also secretly aroused by what she sees through the window. Then one day, she happens to be at the grand Waverley Grange Country Hotel for a semi-professional date with her investment manager Charles. Charles doesn't show up, but Annie doesn't mind because she encounters the crossdressing general manager of the hotel, Valentino (or Valentina when he's in drag), and is introduced to the Hotel's secret sexual underbelly. Suite Seventeen refers to the room where the kinkiest fun takes place.
As Valentino takes Annie on a ride that she has never experienced before - literally, at times - she realizes that she's falling in love with him. You know what they say about emotions often ruining a good thing. What will happen now between those two? A small subplot about the hotel owner wanting to sell off the hotel to folks who will not understand nor appreciate the Viva La Freedom-to-Boink policy of the Hotel shows up for the grand finish.
As a story, this one feels rather underdeveloped. The whole thing about the "sexy secrets" of Suite Seventeen boils down to, I believe, Valentino wanting to offer clients who can afford it the discrete services of well-equipped rooms and trained staff to bring to life their kinky sexual fantasies. That is my impression anyway, because the story doesn't actually define what the big deal is about this room. The subplot involving Charles is introduced and then it sort of fizzles away. The subplot about the hotel buy-out is also similarly anticlimatic.
Also, while I don't find it a sticking point where I am concerned, some readers may not appreciate how the author talks about sexual fantasies and what-not, but the actual pay-off in this story is quite vanilla. The girl-on-girl action feels forced and fake, like silly lipstick lesbian shows more appropriate for intervals in wet T-shirt contests. Valentino claims to have slept with men, but despite his initial appearance as "Valentina", he is strictly heterosexual where the antics in this story is concerned. As a result, the whole "Valentina" thing feels more like a shtick to shock than a credible aspect of Valentino's personality. Despite the words "servant" or "slave" and "master" being thrown about, there is no hardcore BDSM scenes here. The domination and submission scenes are purely psychological in nature. I don't mind all this, let me make this clear, but I think I should just point out all this in case some readers who prefer a more hardcore kind of erotica will mind.
What works really well for me, though, is the author's first-person portrayal of Annie. Annie has a healthy self-effacing humor about her age and her increasingly hedonistic adventures that is amusing and fun to follow. Likewise, Valentino could have easily been an over-the-top parody of the Italian gigolo but the author manages to make him come off instead as this attractive masterful lover who ends up being a complete sweetheart when he falls in love with Annie. The love story takes place over three days and I'm afraid I'm not that optimistic to buy this as real, but nonetheless the two characters seem to like each other enough for their relationship to work.
Oh, and yes, I have no issues whatsoever with the love scenes. That scene where Annie has both real-time sex and phone sex at the same time (don't ask) is a favorite of mine in this book. Ahem.
Suite Seventeen is on the whole a very enjoyable naughty romantic tale. I like it. If I am somewhat disappointed with it, it's because I feel that there is enough here to warrant a stronger story. The characters, I feel, deserve a story that do their personalities justice. In other words, this story could have been much better if it is, say, longer so that the author has more room to flesh out her story a little bit more.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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