Harlequin Mills & Boon, £3.49, ISBN 978-0-263-90043-9
Contemporary Romance, 2013
This month, the TBR Challenge theme is something that I don’t normally read. In my case, that means inspirational fiction or non-fiction on topics like mathematics and economics. I don’t have such books in my TBR pile at the moment, though, so I suppose I have to settle for the next most painful option: a Harlequin Mills & Boon Modern story, or Harlequin Presents to Americans. I have no idea why books from this line are the most easily available series line in this part of the world, but I guess it explains why this line is the cockroach of the romance genre – other lines and imprints may come and go, but this one will always be around.
Rafe Caffarelli, who is a Mediterranean playboy in order to differentiate him from that Italian playboy and this Greek playboy, wants to buy Poppy Silverton’s teahouse, mostly because it is the only property not owned by Rafe in the vicinity. Since Poppy doesn’t want to sell for cheap, she’s clearly a greedy whore who wants more money, and for some reason, that is awful in our hero’s eyes. Since she inherits the property from an old coot, she must be a gold-digging whore as well. He knows all this without knowing her or even reading up on her, so he’s clearly a genius.
Poppy is a virgin. She is also broke, and her business is failing. Her only and now ex-boyfriend opens a restaurant in the next town that eats at her business, and Poppy’s dog just brought in an expensive vet’s bill on top of all the bills she has been getting. As she puts it, she has no idea that owning a run-down property badly in need of repairs and running a failing business can be so expensive. But she will never sell, because the land is given to her and her grandmother so she will NEVER sell. Here’s another genius.
Oh, and she thinks all men are awful and love is icky because of her mother and blah blah blah. Meanwhile, the author not-too-subtly gives shallow, beautiful women who have sex with Rafe willingly the finger because those women are disgusting. Rafe, who has slept with so many of those disgusting women and parts on bad terms with them, is on the other hand a woobie because the only reason he sleeps with those women is because he is waiting for the right woman – a pure virgin like Poppy – to make him happy. If you have ever suspected that books in this line are written for unhappy women desperately bitter that they cannot get their hands on a hot guy’s penis and take comfort in believing that the hot women who could are morally inferior, and that the man is secretly yearning for the love of those unhappy women… well, this book won’t disprove that assumption.
Oh, and our sweet Romeo acts like a creep around Poppy, asking her intrusive icky questions about her love life and looming over her like a sex-mad fiend – making me wonder how this man could have such a long list of sexual conquests. Won’t it make more sense for him to seduce the heroine with wine and flowers? Oh, no. Instead, he offers her a job of cooking for him. I’d like to imagine that the author is secretly making a cutting inside joke with that one, but it’s hard to tell when it comes to books in this line. The lack of irony when it comes to the horrendous double standards and rarely logical plot things often make it hard to separate parody from stories with weird people.
Still, Never Say No to a Caffarelli – which would make a great title for a rape manual – is actually a pretty painless read despite the fact that the main characters and the story are all one-dimensional stereotypes with exaggerated baggage and overwrought tendencies. This is because, if I take the romantic scenes out of context, these scenes are actually quite good. For example, Rafe’s post-coital morning after thoughts are quite sweet… provided that I overlook the context, which sees him thinking that Poppy is so different from those other conquests of his because she gave him her virginity so freely. The unfortunate implications of that scene are pretty dire, but the scene itself is nicely done. Not that this is any consolation – it is hard to empathize when the author is using her considerable ability only to put out ugh quality stories like this.
At the end of the day, Never Say No to a Caffarelli‘s only merit is that the author writes the story in a tone and vibrancy that is way too good for the crap that are the characters and the plot. Am I glad that I survived reading this one without being in too much pain? Yes. But am I glad that I read this book? Well, not really.