Avon Impulse, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-06-230469-8
Contemporary Romance, 2014
Various States of Undress: Carolina is the first book in Laura Simcox’s series about three women who also happen to be the daughters of the President of the United States. They are all named after states that are, according to the latest surveys that I could find on Google, considered red states – Virginia, Carolina, Georgia. Well, to be fair, it’s not exactly ideal to name one’s daughters Massachusetts or Maryland, so maybe we shouldn’t try to read so much into things. I have reviewed the next book in this series – Virginia’s story – earlier, so you can trust me that books one and two of this series can stand alone very well.
Carolina Fulton finds her fiancé in a compromising situation with another woman, and she is understandably upset. Not too upset, though, as she is starting to believe that the two of them won’t work out in the long run and besides, she has the hots for the Secret Service agent Jake Baxter who is charged to watch her back. She wants to retreat to the family cabin in Wyoming in order to avoid the media circus and get some time alone, and Jake is charged to watch her back really closely during that time. Can she take this opportunity to get him to admit just how he likes watching her back, and have him act on the attraction?
Now, sexual harassment is near the top of the list of things that are considered basement-flooding sexy where the romance genre is concerned. However, it is often the men who are in a position of greater power, pressing themselves (often physically) onto desperate, penniless, breathless, and sometimes terrified women who serve those men as clerks, PAs, and waitresses. It is sexy – well, many people must find it sexy, or else we wouldn’t have entire lines of series romances dedicated to ten thousand shades of sexy sexual harassment for decades and counting. Various States of Undress: Carolina is interesting, from an academic point of view, in that it reverses the gender roles – the woman is the one who is in a position of greater power here, and the man is the one who is serving her – or rather, her father in this instance. Jake constantly insists that he can’t reciprocate and they couldn’t – no, no, no – but Carolina continues makes sexual advances nonetheless. How the reader reacts to this situation would make or break the book where she is concerned.
I personally don’t have a problem with this premise – I’d be a hypocrite if I say I do, as some of my favorite romance novels are steeped in similar premise, although none of them features a woman in the role of the more aggressive pursuer – but I do have a problem when this premise begins to clash with other elements of the story. You see, Carolina is very careful to be proper, well-behaved, and all, since apparently people would raze the White House to the ground or something if the daughter of the POTUS demonstrates that she has functional hormones like everyone else. Fine, but how does that explain her constant pressing her attentions on Jake when he has already made it clear that he doesn’t want to play? Won’t he quitting and then suing her for being a horny creep, for example, make an even bigger scandal than her broken engagement? And yet, she has no issues telling Jake to touch her here and there because she wants it bad, and worse, she is doing all this even when she’s not absolutely certain that he is a bachelor. Imagine if he’s married – the potential scandal would be even more hilarious to contemplate.
Therefore, the more Carolina laments about how she is always careful to behave on her best, the more this single inconsistency stand out like a sore thumb leaking green blood. It becomes distracting, to the point that I can’t enjoy this book much because this inconsistency is driving me nuts.
The romance by itself is also pretty boring because it is linear. Carolina is always chasing, and Jake is always moping and whining that, somehow, the very concept of he and Carolina together forever will never come to be as, apparently, a commoner cannot marry the daughter of the POTUS. The last I checked, the USA is supposed to be a democracy and people are free to marry whoever they choose. He’s already boinking her. Is doing anything more with her that impossible? The entire romance is one-note, revolving around this premise, and by the last page, I think Jake is a far better professional mope than a Secret Service agent.
Oh, and I wish the author has left her soapbox at home. Early in the story, Jake is with Carolina when she stumbles upon her husband-to-be playing patty cakes with another woman, and he proceeds to launch into a thankfully short monologue about how he cannot imagine why that woman would get a boob job. It is not enough that the other woman is portrayed as a promiscuous airhead “skank in training” (Jake’s words), that woman also had – shock, horror – a boob job. Now, I think we can all agree that bad boob jobs are a crime against humanity and those surgeons should be punished by being forced to go under the knife and be made to resemble David Gest. But come on. Having a man like Jake use the word “skank” and then nag about the evils of boob jobs is pretty hard to believe. If the agenda of the day is to tell everyone that beautiful women with boob jobs are all evil liberal home-wrecking hags – GO RIGHT, GO RED! – the author could have at least tried to be less obvious about her agitprop.
Anyway, Various States of Undress: Carolina needs a considerable amount of suspension of disbelief to get into, especially when basic elements of the plot all act to contradict one another. I personally feel that the story itself isn’t interesting enough to warrant the effort needed in order to enjoy it, especially when the main characters can be quite the whiny mess.