by Lisa Kleypas, historical (2001)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-380-80232-5
Picture this: Amanda Briars is a 30-year old author of what she perceives as "quality romances" (think Jane Austen with some PG-rated eroticism). One day, a dark, handsome young man appears at her doorsteps, madly enthralled by her writings and in lust with the wildness in meek-mannered Amanda that must have inspired all the passion in her books. He offers her a deal: if she lets him publish her first (unpublished) book, he will offer her an advance of sums unheard of: five thousand pounds. And he's a hottie in bed too.
Call me wicked, but I think Lisa Kleypas must have a really great time writing this story. Hands up, authors: how many of you like this fantasy a lot?
Jack Devlin is the guy in question, on his way to being one of the richest man in England on account of his publishing house. He publishes "sensational" (read: sex and 'confessional' memoirs) stuff that the good people of England can't get enough of. And he believes that Amanda's unpublished book An Unfinished Lady will make a profitable serial novel.
Amanda is aghast. Excuse me - she, a series novelist? How undignified. Plus, she does not want a publisher with such ill-repute as Jack to publish her stuff, thankyouverymuch. But Jack has an ace card up his sleeve. On Amanda's 30th birthday, the woman hires a gigolo to teach her the woozies. She chickens out at the last moment, but lucky for her, the madame thinks it's funny to send Jack, the said madame's publisher of her memoirs, to Amanda. Let's just say Mandy soon finds out that Jack has the sweetest fingers in London. And naturally, it's no biggie making Mandy crumble with the threat of her sexual nature being explored more completely in a more public nature.
So Mandy reluctantly settles into a business contract with Jack. But Jack wants more. He wants this passionate woman who writes all those luridly emotional stuff in the books he is a big fan of (yep, this is definitely an author's most erotic fantasy).
Suddenly You may have the male prostitute angle (although this is a case of mistaken identity actually) as a hook to reel readers in, but this is not Robin Schone, and this is definitely not "The Most Sensual Romance Of The Year" that Avon shamelessly touts this book as on the cover. While inviting mild comparisons with the ultimate, definitive Kleypas Dreaming Of You thanks to the authoress heroine and an untitled businessman hero of ill-repute, Suddenly You is actually a very predictable romance. It even lacks the emotional impact of last year's Where Dreams Begin because it is so familiar.
I mean, Mandy and Jack soon embark on an affair. And we soon learn how lousy and unreliable the withdrawal method is. And of course, Jack has a heart of stone, and Mandy wants to marry for love. She even lets herself be courted by a forgiving Other Man who will overlook the parentage of Baby Devlin, but we all know what happens to Other Men in romance novels. They either turn out evil or they stand aside as the heroine, after using them for shoulders to cry on, tosses them aside like soiled tissue paper to run to the more virile bad boy hero. I won't say which is the fate of poor Charles Hartley (is it me or every Other Man is named Charles?) in this novel, but either option doesn't send fireworks of excitement rocketing across the sky. It's all so boring.
And I get very irritated with Mandy. Gawd, poor Jack has to practically plot and hammer away as if he's robbing Fort Knox just to get a kiss. Mandy's favorite words are "I can't" and "No". Protest, protest, kiss kiss, regrets regrets, sex sex, brink of emotional breakdown. It's the Nicole Jordan heroine syndrome all over again: a heroine who is so cluelessly asexual that she probably wouldn't know an orgasm even if she's hit with it in multiple tsunamis. And she keeps downplaying her self-worth in a frequency that makes me grit my teeth. A typical sexy banter is like this:
Jack: You're beautiful.
Mandy: I'm not beautiful. I'm a thirty-year old ape leader.
Jack: You're sexy.
Mandy: Impossible. I'm a thirty-year old bluestocking.
Jack: You are a talented writer.
Mandy: Can't be.
Jack: Kiss me.
Mandy: I shouldn't. I can't. I shouldn't. Oh. I can't. No. No. No - ooohh!
Mrs G: No, I swear I didn't push that Amanda woman down the cliff. It's an accident!
But Jack, now that is one sexy guy. His stubborn refusal to love is okay too, because he lied about his age to Mandy - he can plead stupidity because of his age. He says he's 31. He's not. He's not exactly jailbait either, don't worry, but let's just say he still has some time to go before he hits 31. But emotionally, he's much more an adult than Mandy, his recalcitrance notwithstanding. This is a man who knows what he wants, not like Mandy who floats around, lost and acting like a typical Regency bluestocking with a twisted codex of honor and virtue that makes her happily sacrifice her happiness to appease her perverse sense of martyrdom. Besides, he may be built like a jock and looks like a criminal, but he's a geek and bookworm at heart. He even has a palace of books. Bookworms are sexy, and Jack Devlin makes sexy an understatement. It's a pity that he's stuck in a story where the story doesn't even care to develop the heroine fully.
Suddenly You is essentially a "Pamper That Bluestocking Twit" story. It has some charming quirks, in its emphasis on books and literacy as sexy, and it has a hero that almost matches the dark sensuality of Derek Craven. Ms Kleypas probably wouldn't appreciate this constant comparison to Dreaming Of You, but then again, if she writes predictable, contrived stories like this one when she has done better in the past, she can't ask that much from me, can she?
Still, Jack Devlin is one sexy guy, and Suddenly You is a clean, easy read. It's not exactly a complete loss.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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