Review – Hidden Paradise by Janet Mullany

Cover image, Hidden Paradise by Janet Mullany

When I saw the description for this book, I was all over it.  Grieving Jane Austen scholar goes to an Austen-themed resort for a much-needed break from widowhood and gets it on in a variety of ways… what’s not to like?

Here’s the publisher’s blurb from Goodreads:

Louisa Connelly, a recently widowed Jane Austen scholar, needs some relief from her stifling world. When a friend calls to offer her a temporary escape from her Montana ranch, she is whisked into a dizzying world of sumptuous food, flowing wine…and endless temptation.She’s an honored guest at Paradise Hall, an English resort boasting the full experience of an authentic Georgian country-house weekend. Liveried servants tend to every need of houseguests clad in meticulous period costume: snug breeches, low-cut silken gowns and negligible undergarments.

It’s Mac Salazar, a journalist immersing himself fully, deeply, lustily in the naughty pleasures of upstairs-downstairs dalliances, who piques Louisa’s curiosity—and libido—most. He’s a dilettante straight out of a novel: uninhibited, unapologetic and nearly insatiable. But Lou’s not romantic about this much, at least: Paradise Hall is a gorgeous fantasy, nothing more. A lover like Mac is pure fiction. And the real world beckons….

That blurb doesn’t really do the book justice.  Yes, there’s a bit of crazy to be found in this book, but there is also a lot of wonderful.

The characters in this book and the problems they experience are real and are handled in an understated manner.  The story is told in a shifting-POV third person narrative that bounces between the two main characters (Lou and Mac) and two major secondary characters (Rob and Peter).  I appreciated that each section, headed by a character’s name, is told entirely in that character’s perspective.  The sections following Peter, one of the owners of Paradise Hall, were my favorites.

You’ve seen the cover of this book, so you can guess that it’s fairly steamy.  It is.  There are a lot of sexual encounters – including those of the M/F, M/M, M/F/M, and F/F/M variety, and a dose of voyeurism is thrown in for fun – but they fit within the framework of the characters’ stories and, for the most part, make sense.  Readers who prefer straightforward (pun intended) M/F scenes should probably skip this one, but I thought Mullany handled the wide menu of encounters very well.  The best erotica authors are not shocked by their subject matter; they tell it like they see it.  That’s what Mullany does with this story.  There was no moment when I felt that the author had geared herself up for writing these scenes by pouring a stiff drink and watching a bunch of Saved by the Bell.  She isn’t out to shock you, she’s just writing about a house party where the people dress up in Georgian attire and have a lot of sex with each other.

I know that sounds very strange (trust me, I just re-read that sentence, and it got a shocked chuckle out of me), but it’s true.  While I read the book, I felt that the characters’ decisions make perfect sense, considering the characters, and that really makes all the difference between a story like this and a story like that.

There was one thing about the book that was, to me, less than spectacular, but it’s possible that my imperfect understanding of the main character (Lou) is more at fault than any inconsistencies that may or may not exist.  Lou makes a discovery that is very disturbing to her, and I thought her reaction was handled extremely well, but then Lou goes and does pretty much the same thing to someone else that was done to her, and I was left feeling a whole lot less righteously indignant on her behalf.

Aside from that slightly irritating bit, I thought this book was pretty fantastic.  It is not a romance novel, so readers should not expect that kind of story.  Hidden Paradise provides emotionally-charged erotica full of all-too-human encounters.  Lou works out her grief at the relatively recent (and quite unexpected) passing of her husband, Chris and Peter work through aging and its indignities, Mac tries to find meaning in his life, and Rob deals with his difficult family and finally gets laid (and everyone else pretty much just has sex).

If you are interested in purchasing Hidden Paradise, you can either click on the cover image above or avoid scrolling and click here.  Update: This book will be released by Harlequin HQN on September 25, 2012.

*FTC Disclosure – I received a free e-galley of this book from Harlequin through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review*

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