by Dara Girard, contemporary (2012)
Kimani, $6.25, ISBN 978-0-373-86250-4
Nikki Dupree is an interior decorator who has been selected by the sequel bait secondary characters to renovate reclusive Lucian Kantos's home in his private island. He has niece Callia in his care - or rather, in the care of his staff - and they are both recovering from some fire that constantly had these two chanting and screaming and reiterating what an evil whore the woman he once thought he loved was. Nikki is soon inserting herself into their lives.
Be careful, the hint of misogyny is very strong in Dara Girard's Secret Paradise. Apart from sequel bait female characters and those who are strongly tied to the hero - like Callia - the women in this story are tarred with an uniformly negative brush. Most of the negativity is unnecessary, such as the two female clients of Nikki who are trying to scratch each other's eyes out. These women are described as having paid a lot for their beauty - and we all know that cosmetic surgery is only for evil harlots in romance novels - and, worse, the author then just has to talk about how these women would age poorly so all the money would have gone to waste. This is pure romance novel-style eugenics - you can only be a heroine if you are beautiful, but you have to be born beautiful to really qualify.
The female housekeeper is a horrible person, and let's not forget the evil woman in Lucian's past. It's hard to forget, actually, since Callia keeps having these nightmares which see her screaming out loud what a horrid monster that woman is. Callia's mother is another horrible woman. Even the house maid has to be depicted as a jealous person. Seriously, this story is overflowing with those horrible, horrible women, it makes a typical young adult romance seem like a democracy in comparison.
This misogyny nearly buries the other flaws of this story, notably how the author uses a big chunk of the story that could have gone to developing this story to ramble on and on about the lives of the characters that starred in All I Want Is You. The romance goes from zero to all the way without any credible build-up, so when Nikki claims that she's in love with Lucian, I can only wonder when that happened.
At the end of the day, any story where the theme is basically "Women are all evil bitches!" is not going to sit well with me unless the author manages to work some sneaky magic on me. Alas, there's no magic here, just plenty of gratuitous negative depictions of women in general, pointless advertisements for the previous book in the series, and a romance that is basically a testimony of how Nikki is the most noble woman in the land. I honestly don't know what this book is for. A vicarious read for readers angry that some woman stole their man, perhaps?
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