Pocket, $13.00, ISBN 978-1-41651-330-8
Contemporary Erotica, 2007
The title and the packaging of The Erotic Secrets of a French Maid are quite misleading in my opinion. The packaging suggests that this is some kind of kinky erotica when I get instead is actually a love story with love scenes that are more explicit than usual. The heroine isn’t French, she has no “erotic secrets”, and she stops being a maid for the hero soon after they meet. This one combines chick-lit type of cynicism with a healthy dose of romance genre optimism and some dose of kink that is more typical of romantic erotica.
Before I go on, may I say something about the cover? It’s odd. It looks to me like there’s a one-legged woman in a maid outfit sitting on the stockinged lap of another woman. Are those two legs supposed to belong to the same woman? Because if that’s the case, the artist needs to take a basic refresher course in human anatomy.
Back to the story. Emma Mayson is in her twenties. She has a degree in architecture but apparently the chances of getting an internship in an architect firm are pretty low so Emma works as a maid while she’s busy making those applications. Emma’s a kind of person who’s devoted to the art, you see, so she doesn’t believe in taking other full-time jobs that may eventually derail her dreams of being an architect. At any rate, she’s a maid and one day she’s hired by her client to clean up her brother’s place.
Russell Carrick is a Silicon Valley millionaire but he’s in a state of depressed funk since the recent death of his brother. He finds Emma pretty hot, however, and easy to talk to as well. So, one day, Emma is down on her luck and she talks about how it could actually be nice to be a kept woman instead of having to work so hard to pay the bills. He mentions the possibility of her cooking for him as well as cleaning for him. So, when at the end of the conversation he asks her whether she is willing to consider her proposal, he’s thinking about the counter-job offer and she’s thinking about the mistress thing. She says yes and by the time they realize that they have misunderstood each other, they probably won’t remember what it is they have misunderstood in the first place, heh.
Russ is an adorable hero in that he is a geek at heart. He’s awkward around women so he’s that fellow who panics when Emma is about to clean his underwear. He’s also the fellow who cleans up the house before Emma shows up to clean the place – don’t want to make a bad impression, you know. Seriously, this guy is a gem. He has some issues about his brother’s death that he may want to talk over with a shrink but he’s a pretty nice guy on the whole. I really love how Ms Cach manages to capture the inner geek in Russ perfectly. He feels exactly like a geek (only more good-looking than a typical real-life geek, of course) and also a very nice guy in a well-rounded and realistic way.
Emma is a chick-lit heroine rather than a conventional romance heroine in the sense that she has no weird hang-ups when it comes to sex. She’s not perfect, she’s not a saint, but she’s no dim-witted twit either. In short, if reactions to previous similarly-inclined heroines of this sort are anything to go by, I’d say more conservative romance readers will dislike Emma on sight. But I like her, Ms Cach does a pretty good job in getting me to understand Emma’s way of thinking when it comes to life. I don’t necessarily agree with every one of Emma’s choices, but I can see where she is coming from and she makes sense.
A very enjoyable aspect of the relationship between Emma and Russ is how these characters already connect before they start sleeping together. They are already talking and sharing what they feel about life, career, and all so I can see that there is a kind of bond between the characters before they start bumping uglies together. I also adore how adorably real some of the scenes are in this book, such as how Emma tries to smear chocolate on her, you know, like she’s read in some sex manual only to feel a mix of embarrassment and amusement because yikes, she has chocolate on her ta-tas. It’s fun to read about such things in a book, but like Emma discovers, doing such things in real life can turn out differently. I like how Ms Cach also adds some probably unromantic kind of realism in the sex scenes, such as how it takes awhile for the two of them to get in the swing of things, so to speak, before Russ gives Emma an orgasm. This story also has a very cynical view about romance as characters often discuss the less-than-perfect aspects of a relationship, such as how a relationship becomes more volatile during the first pregnancy. The characters have their eyes wide open when it comes to a relationship.
While some readers may not appreciate the author laying out the not-quite-a-fairytale aspects of a relationship, I personally feel that the relationship between Emma and Russ becomes more believable when both characters clearly understand how it won’t always be smooth sailing from start to finish. In fact, this story doesn’t end in a traditional marriage-and-babies manner. The depiction of romance in this story can be considered more of a chick-lit style but hey, I like it, because in the context of this story and the relationship Russ and Emma have, what they do make sense. If the author opts to rush her characters through a marriage and three babies by the epilogue, I’d find that ending very hard to believe.
What doesn’t work is how the various chick-lit, romance, and erotica aspects of the story come together. Perhaps it’s due to the author’s writing style in this book, but I find the love scenes rather disjointed from the rest of the story. I find myself liking the characters more when they are not having sex because I find what they do and say to each other more interesting than what they do in bed. Besides, it’s hard to view this story as erotica because Russ has pretty conversative tastes when it comes to sex and he actually resists taking part in some of the more elaborate sexual fantasy tableau Emma sets up for the two of them. The message at the end of the day is that Emma is apparently hiding her true self or something by enacting elaborate sexual fantasies and Russ would rather she be herself. In this case, that turns out to be missionary pumpies. There’s probably nothing wrong with that, but if this book is going to be marketed as some kind of erotica with a French maid theme, I can see some readers feel cheated if they end up not getting the naughty maid story they are expecting but instead a story of discovering one’s true self and all.
I find The Erotic Secrets of a French Maid a pleasant and entertaining read, although I prefer the scenes outside the bedroom better. There’s something about the way Ms Cach tries to put together her story that doesn’t truly gel, but the end result is pretty entertaining as it is. I like what Ms Cach is trying to do here. This story is like Sex in the City when it comes to some of the views expressed by the characters about life and love mixed with the more optimistic “We’ll be fine, really!” outlook of love and life typical of a romance novel and garnished with love scenes with a decidedly more erotic bent than usual. It’s a nice try, and I like it, flaws and all.