Two Sara Cravens, and the difference between nostalgia and dated

>> Saturday, January 19, 2008

I can't not read, not even when I'm studying like crazy for my exams. I usually start really early in the morning and by 6 my brain can't absorb one more fact, one more mathematical proof. What it wants is to read some romance, but nothing too long or complex. So I just went to the library and grabbed some Harlequin Presents (Mills & Boon Modern Romance, here).

The first batch I grabbed included a Sara Craven (because I remembered Jane saying she'd liked her books), and I really liked it. It was exactly the kind of book I used to read as a teen, only better. Yay, I thought, I've found another HP author I like! Susan Napier isn't alone anymore! So the next time I went by the library I looked for all the Sara Cravens I could find, and that night I started the next one. And it was terrible *sigh*. It was also just like those books I read as a teen, only worse. Much, much worse.

TITLE:The Count's Blackmail Bargain
AUTHOR: Sara Craven

PAGES: 187
PUBLISHER: Mills and Boon (Modern Romance line)

SETTING: Contemporary Italy
TYPE: Series Romance
SERIES: No, I don't believe it is

For handsome Italian count Alessio Ramontella, seducing women comes as naturally as breathing. Alessio lives his life based on two criteria: first that success and satisfaction are guaranteed, and second that all his dealings are discreet and conducted between mutually consenting parties.

Then he meets innocent English beauty Laura Mason. She’s sweet, tempting…and off–limits. Alessio must decide: should he ruthlessly pursue Laura until she gives in?
MY THOUGHTS: Ok, so this one was the one that was a blast from the past, but in a good way. Some... hmm, I'd say between 10 and 15 years ago (man, I'm getting OLD!), before I discovered online shopping, I fed my romance craving with translated Harlequins I'd buy in a bookstore near my house. I'd go every couple of months and choose a huge pile, just by skimming the back-cover blurbs. Authors? Who cared who the author was? There were two I knew I disliked, so before paying I weeded out anything by Betty Neels and Lass Small, but other than that, it was all about plot. And my favourites were 1) secret babies (*blushes*) and 2) the very plot of The Count's Blackmail Bargain: the heroine is pretending to be some guy's girlfriend so he can make some kind of point to his family. They're horrified by her, and the head of the family, usually an older cousin or an uncle, is determined to separate the young couple. And of course, the heroine and this guy fall in love.

In this case Laura is helping out the slimy Paolo, whose mother is pressuring him to marry this young woman who's been intended for him practically since they were born. She barely knows the guy, but he's paying good money, which she wants to help her little brother (of course she's selfless, this is a HP!). The batshit crazy mother won't be thwarted, so she then blackmails her nephew, Alessio (who's head of the family business and Paolo's boss) to seduce Laura so Paolo can see what kind of woman he's with.

The beginning is pretty bad. That Zia Lucrezia is waaaay over the top, and not in a good way. Plus, I never bought that Alessio, the way he's otherwise characterized, would give in to her blackmail as he did in the first scene. Seduce this girl or I'll expose your affair with this married woman and it will be such a scandal! Ohhhhhhhh, scary! He looked like a total wimp for not telling his aunt to go to hell. I think Craven realized that, because she tried other explanations later on... he likes the woman's husband, so he was protecting him (eh? Just don't sleep with the man's wife then. Very heroic of you), etc., but none really fly.

But.... things soon improve, and quite a lot. I especially liked Alessio. Yeah, he's suitably macho and dominating, but he's alright, this guy. He has a sense of humour, for starters, and he falls for Laura straight away. And a huge difference from the older books, which made this one so much, much better, is that we get into his head quite a lot, so even when he behaves like an asshole to Laura, we kind of see why he's doing it, and that he's not, in fact, really such a cruel bastard.

Laura was pretty cool, too. Ok, so she's like no 20-something British woman I've ever met, from her attitudes to her wardrobe, but there were some glimmers of modernity there. I liked that she was nobody's doormat. When things started going weird, she very sensibly decided to get the hell out and forcefully demanded to leave.

There's some very definite chemistry there between Laura and Alessio, and I enjoyed their interactions. I even looked forward to the explosion when she found out about Alessio's deal with his aunt, and it really fulfilled all my expectations. Oh and the setting was just lovely!

Now, for the bad: the whole virginity thing raised my hackles. When Alessio first discovers Laura's a virgin (duh, of course she is, this is a HP!) he backs off at full speed. There were some very dated things said here when he was insisting he couldn't have sex with her now because he'd just realized she had been a virgin (*had been*... the moment of realization was just in the middle of things). The whole "Ah, your innocence is a precious gift which you should give your husband" (dude, you've just taken her virginity already, just get on with it.) and "I want you to be able to go with him without shame" Shame?? You sexist little hypocrite!

MY GRADE: In spite of the virginity stupidity, I liked this. A B-.

TITLE: The Forced Bride
AUTHOR: Sara Craven

PAGES: 184
PUBLISHER: Mills and Boon (Modern Romance line)

SETTING: Contemporary England, Scotland and Italy
TYPE: Series romance
SERIES: I'm not sure... there were two secondary characters there who seemed to have a story of their own (Rafaele's friend Marcello and his wife Fiona).

When Emily Blake innocently kissed formidable Italian count Rafael Di Salis, she didn’t know that she was bound by her late father’s wishes to marry him. Emily agreed to be the count’s wife until she reached twenty–one….

Count Rafael has bided his time. He’s kept his passions under iron control for two years—his bride was young and he did not want to claim her until she was woman enough to handle him. But now she has come of age, she will be his!
MY THOUGHTS: Have you read Candy's recent post at SBTB about how one should embrace one's bad taste? (If you haven't, go read it, she's so right.) I read it while I was in the middle of TFB, and one particular paragraph caught my attention:

Those old Mills and Boon novels, in which the hero (who’s usually about 35) at some point grabs the heroine (who’s usually about 19) and gives her a punishing kiss? So. Bad. They’re clumsily written, and awful in all sorts of ways—the repugnant gender politics alone made me seethe with rage, and this was back when I was 11, mind you, when all I could articulate about what I didn’t like about those books was that “they weren’t fair to the heroine and the hero got to win way too often.” You know what? I still found them compelling, and I read them by the boatload.
Indeed. TFB could be poster book for "repugnant gender politics", and it's the kind of book I didn't think was still being published.

We've got a much older hero (we don't get his age, but I'd put him in his early 30s) who lusts after a 17-year-old. But we're told it's ok, because he waits until she's 20 before he jumps her... until she's "woman enough to handle him", as the back cover so elegantly puts it.

We've got a heroine who constantly lets herself be bullied, and whose entire purpose in life is being her husband's hostess.

We've got Emily's demands for an annulment rather than a divorce, because she intends to wear white when she remarries "so that my bridegroom will know that he isn't getting damaged goods" (damaged goods, for crap's sake!!),.

We've got Raf's demands that Emily cook for him, because that's what a wife should do, and we've got her acceptance of this. She obediently goes to the kitchen and cooks for him. And cleans for him. Obediently, too.

We've got Rafe sleeping with other women all throughout the first years of their marriage, even though he claims he was in love with Emily from the start.

And the worst of all: we've got Emily's resignation to the fact that being her legal husband gives Raf the right to "take her" whenever and however he wants, even if she's screaming no. Never heard of marital rape, you little twit? What universe is this book taking place in? Because it was rape, and it made me seethe. The first scene, especially, turned my stomach. As did the fact that these constant rapes are portrayed as positive, what Emily needs to realize she loves him, and that she actually feels guilty because he's trying his best to seduce her and she's not letting him. WTF??

The word that summarizes this book is "Blergh!". "Disgusting" and "ghastly" would also do.

And you know, the only reason I didn't tear up this book and flush it down the toilet (even though it belongs to the library and I would have had to pay 3 full pounds for it), was that I couldn't decide which one of them, Emily or Rafaele, disgusted me the most. So the happy ending was a HEA after all, because these two deserved each other.

MY GRADE: A big, fat F.

Has anyone got any recs for Sara Craven books that are like the first one and nothing like the second one? I've got Mistress at a Price here with me, how about it? Any good?


Vassiliki 22 October 2012 at 10:32  

I'm 4 years late with my recommendation so I hope you are still interested.

One Night With His Virgin Mistress is an example of metafiction that, in my opinion, explains a lot of Craven's rape/forced seduction books. I like both protagonists though the female is a tad young for her the career she is undertaking.

And my favourite Craven is Old Skool from the early 80s. Sup With the Devil is angsty and melodramatic. It is one of my first M&Bs and is to blame for my category romance addiction

Rosario 25 October 2012 at 06:43  

Thanks, Vassiliki, I'll give that one a try and see how it goes. I'm not a fan of the Old Skool sensibility, but we'll see!

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