When a novella is well written, it gives you a lovely, lunch-sized portion of your favorite meal. It doesn’t take long to get through it, it is fulfilling, but, in the end, you still have room for dinner. The following two novellas definitely fit in that category. I decided to review them together because I liked them both and because I’ve got a bit of catching up to do… Here’s what the publisher (Carina Press) had to say about A Scandalous Affair:
From the moment Daphne, Lady Pomeroy, meets the mysterious Marquess of Hartwell at a masquerade ball, she’s determined to seduce him. The handsome, charming man cannot possibly be the cold, calculating lord who Society calls “Black Hart.” Risking everything, the lonely widow invites the elusive Hartwell to her dinner party…for two.
Hartwell’s arrogant reputation is built on a lie. For he has a shameful secret that keeps him in the shadows: a stutter-his downfall since childhood. He’d rather keep his mouth shut than look the fool. But he’s shocked to discover that in Daphne’s company-and in her bed-his stutter vanishes.
After one wanton evening together, Daphne is hurt when the lord lives up to his Black Hart name. Yet his reasons for leaving surprise even him. Now he must confess everything or risk losing Daphne forever…
First of all, I’ve got to admit that I love heroes with issues, and Hartwell is no exception. Girls who like to read about strong male characters that will tell them what to do will probably find him to be a bit of a pansy, but I really like to read about characters who go on some sort of internal journey over the course of a book (novel, novella, short story, whatever). When you have a character who starts out with a major issue or insecurity and gets to discover his strength and value as a human being, you (the reader) get to read a story of the redemptive power of love, and that’s my favorite kind of story. Regarding Hartwell’s issues, I did find it a bit of a stretch to accept that no one else in his entire life (other than Daphne) had ever looked deeper to try to determine the reason for his apparent coldness. Yes, a lot of people are shallow and self-absorbed, but not everyone is…
My favorite part of this novella is the fun relationship between Daphne and her brother. Both characters are likable (which is lovely and sadly unusual) and they actually behave like siblings who know one another on a deeper-than-superficial level and are able to tease. I’m a big fan of authors who manage to write engaging sibling relationships, and I thought Karen Erickson nailed this one.
The big conflict in the story was slightly underwhelming, but that didn’t bother me so much in a novella as it would in a full-length novel. The emotional resolution to the story is extremely satisfying even though the conflict was a trifle lame. Bottom line: this novella will provide a delightful hour or two of reading entertainment and leave you smiling, basking in the glow of a happy ending achieved by worthy characters. It’s worth the read.
Improper Relations is steamy. If you buy and read it, you won’t really be shocked by that. It’s an erotic novel, and unlike the only other erotic novel I’ve discussed on my blog (that would be here), it actually earns its place in that genre. Here’s what the publisher (Carina Press) has to say about it:
When Hannah’s caught watching her late husband’s cousin debauch the maid in the library, she’s mortified-but also intrigued. An unpaid companion to his aunt, she’s used to being ignored.
The black sheep of the family, Leo has nothing but his good looks and noble birth to recommend him. Hannah ought to be appalled at what she’s witnessed, but there’s something about Leo that draws her to him.
When Leo claims he can prove that women can feel desire as passionately as men, Hannah is incredulous. Her own experiences have been uninspiring. Yet she can’t bring herself to refuse his audacious proposal when he offers to tutor her in the art of lovemaking. As the tantalizing, wicked lessons continue, she begins to fear she’s losing not just her inhibitions, but her heart as well. The poorest of relations, she has nothing to offer Leo but herself. Will it be enough when their erotic education ends?
Note the word count. This is another novella, and it is lovely. The pacing, story, character development, etc. are all pitch perfect. Beyond that, the story is told in an interesting way: it’s a first-person narrative, and isn’t that incredible, considering that it’s a steamy, erotic story? And it really is steamy (seriously… I wouldn’t read this around my children…). I was fascinated by how different it was to read sex scenes narrated by one of the participants (the female one, no less) than told through a switching-POV third-person god-like narrator. For starters, we get a much more personal view of Leo, the male lead. We also get the mystery of knowing only Hannah’s thoughts and feelings about the burgeoning relationship and having to wonder at Leo’s. Even better, we don’t have to read a bunch of euphemisms for Hannah’s girly bits, and there’s no irritating mention of how “tight” she is (always annoys me…). Brilliant.
As an erotic novel, the sex scenes are the central focus of the story, but they don’t come across as being tawdry or crude or gratuitous. I never once thought while reading Improper Relations “Really, they’re having sex again? Jeez…” Instead, the sex scenes flowed seamlessly, buoyed by Hannah’s emotional journey and by the plot (the non-sex plot… and, yeah, there’s actually a non-sex plot! Oh my god!). I highly recommend this book to anyone who (1) is OK with quite detailed sex scenes and (2) wants a good story with plenty of emotional movement that is quite short (70-or-so pages).
*FTC Disclosure: I received review copies of both A Scandalous Affair and Improper Relations from Carina Press through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*