by Kathryn Smith, historical (2003)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-000812-1
If anything, Kathryn Smith's Into Temptation is so well-written that the author plays my emotions like a virtuoso violinist. The hero Julian "Tool" Rexley, Idiot Earl, is infuriatingly stupid but at the same time there's a seductive bad boy charm around him that makes me feel like a silly chit tempted despite my better judgments. The heroine Sophia "Doormat" Aberley is the rug that bridged the Atlantic Ocean, but her insecurities and personality are so well fleshed out that I pity her rather than want her nailed by the hair to the bottom of an erupting volcano. Masterfully crafted, the story eases gracefully from past to present to showcase the tumultous love story of two idiots who can't get over themselves for six - or is it seven? - years even if I build escalators for them.
But I find myself reading every word. The main characters threaten to cause several blood vessels in my head to explode during the duration of this story, but I get worked up so much that paradoxically I begin to have fun getting worked up. I don't know how I ended up sighing rather fondly when these two finally make up and head off to the sunset, but there you go. I've been played. It's a great feeling.
Doormat and Tool both were caught in a compromising situation years ago. He assumes that she wants to trap him into marriage. She hates him for not being noble enough those years ago and in return for her being wedded to a nasty husband as a result of their indiscretion, she writes a tell-all that drags his name through the mud. They meet again when his sister tries to use Doormat to stop her impending arranged marriage. Sparks fly, the usual. I need some aspirins.
Tool is an idiot who is cowardly, spiteful, and just plain stupid. But Doormat isn't blameless either, and her capacity for seemingly infinite endurance for humiliation and other fun stuff makes her a tool as much as the biggest Tool of them all. In a perverse way, these two are made for each other. The sexual tension cuts like a heated knife through butter and the author has taken time to carefully bring out these characters' emotions and personality so that Tool and Doormat are at least two-dimensional characters. I find myself rooting for the characters' moments of epiphany (he getting a brain and she a spine) and to an extent the author delivers these moments very well.
While it isn't easy sitting through some of the dramas in this story - why must Tool be so stupid and why must Doormat work so hard to prove herself to him when it should be the other way around? - I enjoy every minute, thanks to the sexual chemistry and the fact that in the end, the characters finally do and say the right things. I'm not sure how they will fare in the future, but for now, it's enough that they make it to the last page without killing each other (or me), Tool and Doormat gloriously in love.
The characters run deeper than the usual cardboard varieties, emotions run higher and more high-strung, and love/lust/hate make a combustible combination, truly. But several major flaws in this story prevent me from giving this book a higher grade. Despite everything else the author has done, I'm still not sure why Doormat and Tool will be so hung up on each other. Shared interests? Not quite. Physical attraction? Could be, but surely there is something more? In trying to keep the story going, the author seems to have overlooked some major issues that are at the foundation of her story.
Oh well, it doesn't matter. Any book that can get under my skin and plays me like the smallest violin in the world deserve my admiration. Kathryn Smith is becoming sneaky. I will keep up my guard a little higher the next time she gets another book out.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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