Sourcebooks Casablanca, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-8602-5
Historical Romance, 2014
Sue Green has always been considered plain in a never-getting-married way by her mother, who sees her so-called defects as an excuse to constantly browbeat and treat her like crap while openly favoring her younger sister, Evangeline. Evangeline is more than happy to get Sue into trouble as her partner-in-crime, but when they crash a ball with Sue’s cousins, and Sue is caught by their mother, Evangeline is quick to blab everything… while conveniently keeping quiet just enough to let her mother assume that Sue is the only one to blame, of course. Oh don’t worry, Sue still loves her – she won’t be a romance heroine if she has the ability to deliver the bitch slap from hell to all who deserves it.
The damage is done, though. You see, Sue is persuaded to dress all sexy for the masked ball that they are crashing, so she immediately goes all horny and peen-hungry… okay, I mean, she discovers her inner sensuality and proceeds to kick our hero Holden Ellis, Viscount Steelings. Well, the pain is on The Viscount of Steel, as the author loves her slapstick comedy and the heroine stumbling upon men as a result of her newly displayed cleavage is the height of such comedy. Never mind, Holden immediately leads this sexy lady to his room, where he proceeds to stick his fingers into her before letting her play with his cricket bat. You know, as much as we malign controlling mothers who refuse to let their daughters go wild and run down darkened corridors in ballroom parties, this particular mother may have valid reasons to keep Sue away from anything with a functional penis, if our heroine is going to start giving free hand rubs to every hot guy that catches her fancy.
At any rate, her mother catches her after Holden leaves to get them both some drinks, and when Sue gets ready to leave, she is back to her drab unfashionable style, and oh dear, Holden can’t recognize her as the woman whose thighs he’d just buried his fingers between moments ago.
Still, there is no getting away and they will meet again later, and Holden is looking for his Lady of Hand Rubs, “Suzanna”, and he hopes that Sue can help lead him to her. Sue really wants to move beyond hand rubs and finger burgers with Holden, but oh, he wants Suzanna, not her, and surely she can’t succumb to any man who doesn’t see her for her? Okay, she’s already done that half way, but let’s not be so hard on the heroine. Clearly, she’s dying for a hump by the Viscount of Steel and she’s grasping at straws to get humped while desperately trying to assuage her conscience at the same time.
To enjoy Desperately Seeking Suzanna, you have to get past the hero’s rather cavalier treatment of sex with an unmarried lady of quality. He has no intention of marrying Sue – even after he realizes that she’s his Lady of Hand Rubs, he wants to just have sex with her all the time, without any need to marry her. This attitude is everything un-typical of romance heroes in stories of this sort, so you may end up wondering how many young ladies he’d used and discarded in the past without any care for their reputation. Given that the heroine acts like sex is such a big deal – despite the fact that she has no issues giving out so easily in the first place – which contrasts starkly with Holden’s “Whatever… put out, babe, I wanna play!” attitude, this story ends up being a coupling of a woman with no self control and a predatory man who seems to think very little of the woman beyond his next shag with her.
Still, there is some effort at character growth later in the story, when Sue realizes what an ass her family is and he realizes that he really should have married the heroine all along. But all this is ruined by the author’s overall bumbling execution of the story. Sue spends the first half of the book acting like a wildly sexually frustrated simple little girl whose head is close to spinning 360 because she wants it bad but she’s afraid that her mother would treat her even worse if she’s caught. The second half of the book sees her acting, oddly, like she still has the luxury of insisting on marrying for love, generally acting stupid just because the hero does not spell out that he loves her. To be fair to her, the hero takes a long time to realize that every secondary character – except for his crackpot mother – is telling him to marry that girl. Still, Sue is acting like she is full of options and can afford to do whatever she wants, when in reality she’s a ruined tart with little intelligence, no survival skill, or no friends who will take her in should her parents kick her out of the house. It’s like reading about a shipwrecked girl stranded on an island, insisting that she will only take a ride home on a ship painted in her favorite color. Am I supposed to root for this dim-witted darling?
You have no idea how many times I wish Sue gets her wish and lives her life out as the plain, unlovable tart that she insists she is. Yes, another self-proclaimed plain unlovable tart who still insists on marrying only men that profess to love her, although she has no problems sleeping with those men in the process. The fact that the author manages to make an annoying stereotype even more obnoxious is either incredible… or terrifying, depending on how one looks at the situation.
In addition to boasting some of the most tired, unintelligent tropes this side of the universe, this story also has whacked-up pacing. The middle sags as the main characters get stuck in circular games of him wanting honey and she trying desperately not to come off like a banquet table for hot guys she can’t say no to, and things pick up a bit when the villain tries to kill her (alas, the plan doesn’t succeed). But once the rescue is over, the author spends more pages having the heroine acting like she will not marry even Jesus himself if he doesn’t swear that he loves her. The momentum dies – murdered! – in these chapters, and I find myself wondering whether the author actually thought that such chapters can match the momentum of the villain trying to kill the heroine. A big misstep, that.
So, in a nutshell, here are the problems with this book: the heroine is obnoxious, the hero is annoying, both of them have the collective intelligence of gnats run over by a truck, and the author’s pacing is such that the whole thing – annoying psychobabble and all – can just drag on and on interminably. And the secondary characters are no better – they are either too-obvious matchmaker devices, cartoon villains, or props for the heroine to continue playing the martyr. Desperately Seeking Suzanna? Not today, not in this world.