Total Surrender, by Cheryl Holt

>> Wednesday, July 14, 2004

On Sunday, I started Total Surrender (excerpt), by new-to-me author Cheryl Holt.

He was a master in seduction...

With the last of her family's possessions gambled away by her dissolute brother, Lady Sarah Compton has traveled to a country house gala for one last moment of grace and beauty. But she is unaware that the occasion is actually a notorious trysting event, where members of the aristrocracy can indulge their every sensual fantasy and erotic whim. Nor does she realize that the striking man who has stolen into her bedroom is none other than Michael Stevens—a rake who gives and takes his pleasures boldly...

She was a pupil, willing to learn...

The bastard son of an earl, Michael Stevens relishes his reputation as London's most notorious seducer. But he has no idea what to make of the auburn-haired beauty he'd nearly mistaken for a new conquest or how such an innocent could possibly have been invited to a gathering where London's bored elite caters to each other's carnal desires. When the lady refuses to heed Michaels' warning—to leave the house for her own protection—a powerful attraction grows, and soon, he longs to tutor the very proper Lady Sarah Compton in the art of passion...
I'm now on page 150 and cannot bear to go on. This is awful, absolutely awful, and I refuse to continue to put myself through the aggravation of trying to read it. It may be unfair of me, since I haven't finished it, but I rate Total Surrender an F.

The opening of the book is terrible. First of all, the hero comes across as the most hypocritical, judgemental whiner I've ever read. He absolutely despises all those rich amoral women, who screw around, and yet he's the one they screw around with. He tries to justify it with some nonesense about how it's partly to punish their husbands, because they're just as debauched and amoral, but as far as I'm concerned, this makes him look even more hypocritical. Um, honey, who appointed you God?

Then, the first scene, when Michael is invited by Sarah's cousin to come to Sarah's room, is laughable. Of course, he assumes she's one of "those" women he despises so much, and is simply playacting when she says no. This could have been a provocative opening, in the hands of a good author, but it felt very awkward, with Sarah reacting like a total ninny, and then, when she managed to get the message across that she wasn't willing, for some reason she starts questioning the guy who almost raped her about what exactly sex entails. WTF? Paraphrasing: "If we'd continued in this vein you would have taken my virginity?" "And what would that have entailed?". Oh, please!

After that, Sarah discovers her room has a peephole into a secret room. She can't resist the temptation to look, and sees Michael having sex with various women, throughout three nights. Apparently, this is a kind of game they play in this orgiastic party. He'll be there, and any woman in the party who wants to be serviced by him simply needs to enter the room and state what she wants.

I almost chucked the room in the first scene this happened, and I'm sorry I didn't. It wasn't just the fact that, as a rule, I dislike seeing the hero having sex with another woman. My main problem was the almost cruel way he used these annonymous women. He was terribly contemptuous and didn't even care enough to give most of them pleasure, just simply had them suck him off. That's what I couldn't accept about him. Not the fact that he'd had a not very discriminating sex life, but that he would have sex with women he despised. If he'd simply been promiscuous but had had some fondness for his partners, or got some joy out of the sex, ok, I wouldn't have been crazy about this, but it would have been tolerable. But no, he tries to "denigrate" the women he screws (and yes, he actually does think that he intends to denigrate them), and this is such a sick, sick attitude that I can't accept this guy as the hero.

I guess these scenes are supposed to be erotic, but they felt so tawdry and skanky that I simply didn't find them erotic or titillating, simply distasteful. And the fact that Sarah finds herself getting excited about watching him there... yuck!

I didn't like the writing style, either. I don't usually even notice writing style, unless it's remarkably good or remarkably bad, and Holt's unfortunately falls into the latter category. It's horribly, horribly purple. It's as if Holt's idea of something that sounds "historical" is to grab a thesaurus and change as many words as possible for their more complicated-sounding synonyms. It didn't work, the writing just felt bloated and unnatural and it was very distracting, because she'd often pick a synonym that had different connotations than the word she was obviously trying to substitute, so she'd end up with some really puzzling choices.

I really hate not to finish books, but I've got far too many promising novels in my TBR shelf to waste more of my time with this. Unfortunately, I have another of Holt's books there, Absolute Pleasure. I won't be reading it any time soon.

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