Review – Once She Was Tempted by Anne Barton

So, a month ago, I mentioned that I had eagerly anticipated the release of Once She Was Tempted and that I was going to do a post about it in late October.  Yeah.  Well, that obviously didn’t happen.

cover image, Once She Was Tempted by Anne Barton

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

A Portrait of a Lady

…or is it? The risqué painting owned by Benjamin Elliot, the earl of Foxburn, features a stunning beauty with sapphire eyes, golden hair, and creamy skin. Ben recognizes this particular English rose the instant he meets her—though she’s wearing considerably more clothing. In person, the demure debutante is even more irresistible…

In desperate need of money for her sick mother, Daphne Honeycote had posed for two scandalous portraits. Now she must hide her secret to save the Honeycote family name. Ben’s possession of one painting makes him an insufferable thorn in her side—and yet he may be her best chance at finding the canvas’s companion. As she becomes drawn to the dark-tempered earl, can Daphne risk laying bare the secrets of her heart?

I loved this book.  It has:

  1. A grumpy hero.  I love those, and some of you know why.  This particular grumpy-pants McGee has an injury from the war, a pile of grief from the death of his best friend, and — OF COURSE — a heart of gold.
  2. A beauty and the beast vibe.
  3. A dialogue about morality and how it changes for different social and economic classes and about how something can be right and “immoral” or wrong and “moral.”  Also about how folk shouldn’t judge.  It’s possible I read all of this into the story, but I’m nearly positive the seeds are all there.
  4. A satisfying ending.  Seriously, I danced a little. Might have looked like this.

But there weren’t any witnesses.

I’m not saying the book is perfect, of course.  There’s this weird bit in the middle where the characters decamp to the country to try to locate the other painting and end up stumbling across a severe case of elder abuse, and the painting ends up falling into the hands of a Terribly Inept Villain (the elder abuser, as it happens).  That villain really had to be inept, because Ben’s plan to save Daphne from exposure and social ruin is a little convoluted and also slightly impossible (even with a drying agent added in — and I have no idea whether drying agents are historically accurate to the early 1800s… — oil paint takes much longer than overnight to dry… soooo…).  Luckily, Daphne didn’t actually need Ben to save her. She saved herself.

Back to the dancing.

It may seem (for good reason) as though this review is just a shameless excuse to revel in ridiculous viral videos from days of yore.  And it kind of is, but that’s just because I’m in a strange mood.

The thing is, I loved this book because it beautifully (and subtly) demonstrates everything that’s wrong about objectifying women and punishing women for being objectified.  Grumpy-pants McGee (I really prefer this name to Ben) starts out the book jumping to false conclusions about Daphne’s character based on a “racy” painting of her that he owns and fantasizes about. (And it’s interesting that Ben initially places the blame for those fantasies onto Daphne, as though she’s somehow responsible for his impure thoughts.)  Eventually, he gets to know her and realizes she’s not one of “those” women.

Now… that sort of thing could get me all ragey, especially because Ben takes another tack.  If Daphne isn’t one of “those” women, then she must be a victim of circumstances, of the nefarious artist who took advantage of her, who had her pose for hours at a time, a victim of the reclusive gentleman who commissioned the paintings.

But Daphne counters with a different possibility.  What if, instead of being either a bad girl or a good girl who’s been led astray, she’s just a woman who chose to help her family when she had the chance.  What if the painting is just a painting rather than a personification of Daphne’s sexual history (and possible sexual future)?

What a novel idea.

Once She Was Tempted was released on October 29, 2013 as an e-book and mass market by Forever. To learn more about the book, click on the cover image above to visit its page on Goodreads.  For more information about Anne Barton, please check out her website or Twitter.