The Playboy Sheikh’s Virgin Stable-Girl

Title: The Playboy Sheik’s Virgin Stable-Girl
Author:  Sharon Kendrick
Harlequin Presents
Published: August 2009
Reasons I might actually remember this one: I cannot possibly afford the therapy it would take to forget it.


Where do I even START with this? The Smart Bitches review of this thing already covered the most amusing points.

I couldn’t even figure out how to rank it over on Goodreads. I mean, the story was ridiculous, and I HATED the hero, so…that should be one star, right? Except it was also terribly amusing and I could NOT stop reading it. I’m not even willing to give it away; my copy is going on the keeper shelf, at least for a while.

One thing I hated was the fake “people of the desert” dialect. It isn’t a case of “appropriation” (I’m not prone to denouncing things as appropriative, and “Calista” is a made up place anyway, so you can hardly appropriate from it). It has that stilted, pseudo-Araby thing going on. I’ll blame The Sheik, because I like to blame that for a lot of elements I hate in romances. I just found it annoying to read.

There was no reason why a scorpion shouldn’t be lying dead on the ground–but not when Eleni had only just swept the yard. She stared down at its curved black shape and a certainty which defied logic whispered its way in a cold chill over her skin. It was an omen, surely. an evil portent–coming moments before her father’s mysterious guest arrived. She swallowed. For wasn’t desert legend full of signs as ominous as this?

That’s the opening paragraph, and it’s got everything I loved and loathed: stilted and inverted language, check; superstitious, painfully naive heroine, check; overbearing father, soon to be replaced by even more overbearing hero, check; and yet…strangely compelling story.

The cod-Arab metaphors provide some amusement:

Kaliq hadn’t moved; he hadn’t dared to–for the arrow of desire had made a a stiff rod to lie aching at his groin. (p.60)

And a face so inherently beautiful that it was as if  all the desert flowers had bloomed at once. (p. 10)

That’s his face, by the way, not hers.

Oddly, her internal thoughts are half in fake dialect, and half jarringly modern. So when she’s not muttering “by the hawks!” or whatever, she’s thinking about how people always let you down, or wondering if she’s being over-sensitive.

The hero is horrible:

A mocking smile curved at his lips but the chauvinist within him silently applauded her entirely predictable reaction and the fact that she made no attempt to hide her rather prudish disapproval. How rare it was to find an unsophisticated woman–particularly for a man who moved within such rarefied social circles and globe-trotted as often as Kaliq did. (p. 62)

He’s got an awfully good opinion of his prowess, although given how much the narrative dwells on Eleni’s complete jawdropping innocence, some of his internal boasting comes off a little…hollow. It’s not as if she has anyone to compare him to. Nevertheless, he is the best! Take his word for it.

For the greatest experience of all awaited her later in his arms. (p. 99)

Okay then. And yet, it doesn’t much sound like an experience I’d like to have:

Parting her firm thighs, he thrust into her with one long stroke as he heard her stifle the cry as her innocence was taken from her forever. How hot and tight she felt. Kaliq moaned. He could have spilled his seed into her right there and then–and why not? For it was the right of the sheikh to take his pleasure where he found it. (p. 119)

Ow, and also LOL.

Active Ingredients:
A Very Jasmine Princess Commoner
British-educated Sheikh
Imaginary Country/Kingdom
Desperately Poor Heroine
Neglectful Family/Stepfamily
Seething Class Tension
Affinity for Animals

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"Tell me about your Walk with God." "No."

Title: The Nurse’s Secret Suitor
Author: Cheryl Wyatt
Harlequin Love Inspired
Published: October 2013
Reasons I might actually remember this one:  The cringeworthy diologue, to get my one big negative point out in front. But also the masked Benevolent Bandit, and the good use of backstory to explain the characters’ current difficulties, and the willingness of the author to engage with things like death and divorce as painful but real parts of life.

This is a Harlequin Love Inspired romance, and when I bought it (for the cover and title, mostly) I vaguely knew that that meant it was a “Christian romance,” but I didn’t fully grasp the implications of that. The thing is, there ARE other styles of Christianity than the Stuff Christian Culture Likes flavour, and I’m…one of the other kinds. If you are, as well, then you’ll understand instinctively why the following dialogue sounds cringeworthy (also childish, jargon-y, slangy, glib) to me:

“You’re right. Tell me about your wounded faith walk and church experience. Why did you stop going?”

There are a million ways I might ask a person I was very, very close to why religion no longer played a role in their lives, or why church no longer appeared to be a part of their life or a comfort to them, and “wounded faith walk” would not ever be one of them. So the large gap in styles between my religion and this particular expression of Christianity threw me out of the story a few times. Not ALL the time, but a handful. I suspect someone from the particular kind of American church these characters attend wouldn’t even notice–and that’s a good thing, if it’s true; it means the author captured their dialogue and thought patterns accurately. But for me it was a barrier between myself and the story.

But the story itself was captivating enough that I never felt like giving up. It’s a bit of a military romance, in that the heroine is a trauma nurse who used to be enlisted, and the hero is an army medic on the brink of re-enlisting, but combined with admiration of the military there are constant reminders that military life is not what the heroine wants for her future. The hero’s desire to re-enlist is the major stumbling block to their getting together: they resist falling in love because he knows she wants a more secure, stable life when she marries and starts a family.

I really liked that they both knew that marriage and children were what they wanted. I suspect that isn’t an uncommon feature in Christian romances, but it stands out because I’ve been reading a lot of contemporaries in which denying they want children or pretending not to want a commitment is part of how the characters demonstrate their independence. Compared to this book, it makes those other characters mostly look like they’re demonstrating their inability to grow up and make sensible plans for their lives.

The only other negative points were 1) an odd reference to 9/11. That just felt jarring, since it wasn’t otherwise part of the plot at all, but maybe this is ALSO a cultural difference and randomly bringing up 9/11 in church is a thing that happens? I don’t see why, unless you’re also bringing up the other wars that have threatened and killed Americans, unless it’s meant as an indication that 9/11 is part of the current military action, so it’s like…having a poster in a church in 1918 reminding people to pray for the men overseas? I was honestly a bit lost here.

And 2) there was a Plot Moppet. She wasn’t the worst example of the species I’ve ever seen, but real live children (especially ones whose mother has just abandoned them) are not unfailingly cheerful except for those Touching Moments when they exude a single crystalline tear before going back to exuding a Touching Childlike Faith and affection for everyone who enters their life. Real ones sulk, have meltdowns, and do not necessarily charm every occupant of a restaurant. Plot Moppets are as far, far removed from Actual Children as Shirley Temple was, and you either enjoy them or not. I, alas, do not.

But I do enjoy medical romances, and unlike most of those, this wasn’t just “vaguely medical.” There was a good scene of the heroine actually working as a trauma nurse (as opposed to gossiping in a hospital setting, which is as medical as it gets in some medical romances). There were realistic references to things she’d seen and done in the past. There was a sense of the way her career impacted the rest of her life, from concrete things like having to live close enough for a fast response time when she was on call to emotional things like being unwilling to show vulnerability to a member of the trauma team.

So, overall: a good read. I’ve already snagged another book by this author.

Active Ingredients:
Plot Moppet
Best Friend’s Brother
Vaguely Medical
Military
Obligatory 9/11 Reference
“Walk With God”-style Christian Jargon
Masked Hero
Actual Adults Planning to Marry Someday

I have a head cold. Hence, this.

When I have been turned into a Reluctant Phlegm Monster, I tend to reach for comfort reading, usually romances or mysteries.
So yesterday I binge-read this:

Is he doing that “Thbbbt” noise you do to make babies laugh? And if so, why is she looking so ecstatic about it? These people are weird.

Title: Ghost of a Chance
Author: Jayne Ann Krentz
Harlequin Temptation
Published: November 1984 
Reasons I might actually remember this one:  The constant references to the azure-eyed, fever-ridden, scarred hero being like a wounded lion are now permanently ingrained on my memory. In fact, since my own husband has a Man Cold to go along with my own more prosaic flu, I am thinking of quoting those bits at him to see how he reacts.

Ah, the 80s. Jeans were high; standards, apparently, low. Here’s a snippet from a conversation about a woman who was strangled by her husband (her ghost is the transparent lady on the bottom of the cover); for full impact, you have to know that Anne, the heroine, has just described herself as assertive, so Julian’s comment on the ghost reads as…well, a threat, really.

“That’s right,” Prue nodded pleasantly. “Legend has it, that little lady had a mind of her own and the guts to defy her husband. That took some doing back then.” 

It was Julian’s turn to smile with cool arrogance. “Let’s not forget  what happened to her when she finally overasserted herself.”

Let’s not get uppity, ladies, or the hero might just strangle you.

So, okay, there’s that. There’s also a sort of “he seduces her, and she wants him, but she didn’t actually want to have sex” thing going on that possibly read as passionate and romantic in 1984 but gave me the creeps yesterday.

He couldn’t be sure if it was a cry of protest or resignation or desire. He only knew he liked the sound of his name on her lips. With a quick, stripping action he pulled the jeans down over her rounded hips, heedless of her fingers as she struggled to slow him.

They’re going undercover (no pun intended) to catch a ring of thieves who’ve been pretending to be psychic investigators, and that improbable sounding plotline is why I picked the book up in the first place. There’s an actual ghost, too, which is either a bonus or an annoyance depending on how crabby you are when you have a headcold. (Confession: it irritated the hell out of me, but I don’t think I can honestly blame the ghost for that.)

Also there’s a scene when they argue about who he’s going undercover as (he wants to pose as her fiance; she argues for “insane nephew who’s been kept in the basement”) that I found amusing; it was the set-up for this exchange, after the housekeeper has caught them in bed together:

“Lucky we thought of the fiance pose for me, hmmm? It would have been a little difficult to explain that you were in bed with the insane nephew formerly housed in the basement.”

Heh. 

 The entire time I read this, I was plagued with the sense that I’d read it before, a long time ago. I don’t know if I actually did, or read some other fraudulent-ghost-hunters thing, or if deja vu is just another cold symptom.

Active Ingredients:
Bad/Shallow Woman Wants Hero
Hero is Secret Agent Guy (I think “former CIA” or something in this case)
Assertive Female
Ghost Hunters/Psychics
Assumed Identities
Together They Fight Crime
Hero Unconvinced No Means No