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16 July 2006

His Wicked Kiss (2006)

By Gaelen Foley

From the book's back cover: "An English rose blooming in the untamed jungles of South America, Eden Farraday lives a life of independence - unheard of for a lady - with her doctor-turned-scientist father. But Eden misses England desperately. When the dangerous and darkly charming Lord Jack Knight sails into her life, she seizes her chance to return to civilization, stowing away aboard his London-bound ship.

"Roguish and charismatic, a self-made shipping tycoon with a shadowy past and a well-guarded heart, Jack is sailing on a vital secret mission. When the redheaded temptress is discovered aboard his vessel, he reacts with fury - and undeniable lust. Forced to protect her from his rough crew, the devilish Lord Jack demands a scandalous price in exchange for Eden's safe passage across the sea. As his wicked kiss ignites an unforgivable blaze of passion between them, Jack and Eden confront a soul-searching love that cannot be denied."

I have been putting off this review for a week because it will be a long one. Sigh. If it was truly bad, I would just pan it and be done. If it was good, I would praise it. This was... frustrating. And it's either write a review or do dishes, so here I am.

From Gaelen Foley's website, you will find her a woman very interested - nay, obsessed - with the Regency period in England. Note her little essay on the subject. While all of this is nice, because I adore history as much as the next buff, it is also creepy. Does that make sense?

In her novel, the fact that the table cloths were damask or that the nightgown was zephyr silk - who cares? Frequently, she lost the plot in a quest for detail. I skipped entire paragraphs to avoid more tedious descriptions of the food, the ballroom, the clothes, the carriages. GAG! It was the historical equivalent of the food channel describing some five-star meal - a giant glut of shit that regular folks never experienced. The bigger point of HISTORY was missing. This was just... window dressing, the E Channel of another era as one author tries to out-Austen her competition with more and more minutiae.

And for all of that, what made me laugh is that she still managed to get some things wrong: in 1818, no one would have referred to the War of 1812 by that name, Mozart's music was still relatively undiscovered and most likely would not have been played at a ball in England, and no one would say "I am not trying to run a marathon" - seeing as how the modern idea of a marathon was not conceived until the first modern Olympics. She also littered her prose with mingled quotes from other writers: direct ones from from Blake and Shakespeare, something about how the sea pounded with "sound and fury" (Faulkner), and a lamentation about "man's inhumanity toward man" (Dickens). Some may find it cute, but I found it lazy. Come up with your own memorable phrases already!

And don't even get me started on her elaborate, flowery, flagrantly WRONG grammar (chock-a-block with semi-colons and colons - not that there's another wrong with that if they are used correctly and gently) and the shameless way she promoted her other books, past and future, by introduction characters from all of them. Book whoring! An occasional mention of a family member from another book is great, and I have enjoyed such cameos in other authors' family stories, but introducing them just for the sake of pushing the other books is ridiculous.

The bummer is that the story was good and modestly original. The characters were smart and sexy, feeding off of each other's energy and creating real sparks. I genuinely empathized with them, and there were no significantly stupid moments. Despite a stock sequence for the finale, Foley managed to create nice instances of conflict as these two characters negotiated their feelings.

The problem was that about one third of her word count could have been chopped with NO PROBLEMS to the story, and the tedium of her obsession with this period as some sort of historical True Hollywood Story bothered me. She wants to be a modern Jane Austen, examining the people of the Regency Era by actually recreating it through meticulous research - even resorting to period paintings for the covers of her English reprints. But Austen was good because she lived it naturally, and she was good because she was subtle - modern romances, by their nature, are not subtle. All of this was just trying tooooo hard.

I lasted with her through this one book, but if I had been required to read one more description of how cravats are tied, I would have retched.

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