Doukakis's Apprentice, by Sarah Morgan

>> Saturday, February 23, 2013

TITLE: Doukakis's Apprentice
AUTHOR: Sarah Morgan

PAGES: 192
PUBLISHER: Harlequin Presents

SETTING: Contemporary England
TYPE: Category romance

With her family business in crisis. Polly Prince does her best to keep calm and carry on. But hard work alone can't save her company from a takeover by the infamously ruthless Damon Doukakis -or her traitorous body from the lethal sensuality of her boss!

As his new apprentice, Polly accompanies Damon to Paris to negotiate the business deal of her life! Worse still, Polly must at all costs resist Damon in the most dangerously romantic city in the world.

I've been hearing really good things about Sarah Morgan, and Brie's review of her latest pushed me into finally trying her, even though she writes mainly for Harlequin Presents, a line that really isn't to my taste. Brie suggested several titles to start with, and it turned out I had Doukakis' Apprentice on the TBR already, so there, decision made!

The setup is very Presents. The hero is Damon Doukakis, Greek tycoon extraordinaire. His sister has ran off with Peter Prince, a feckless businessman twice her age and won't get in touch. Worried that his sister might actually marry him, Damon decides to takes over Prince's advertising agency, to force the man out of hiding.

It turns out that Prince is even more irresponsible than Damon thought, and for years, the agency has been effectively ran and kept alive by his daughter, Polly. She's been pouring her heart and soul into the company and is single-handedly responsible for keeping them afloat despite of the fact that their Board is entirely composed of useless, blood-sucking leeches. With better management and someone reining in the Board, she's convinced the company could be a success. When Doukakis takes over, Polly is terrified. She's sure he's out for revenge, and rather than take a proper look at the situation, he will just shut down the whole thing to get back at her father, putting the people who are like a proper family to her out of work.

Things start out as you would expect in this line, with the very familiar angst at the injustice of having the heroine wrongly judged. Damon instantly makes assumptions about Polly and accuses her of being useless, a rich girl on a lark, who's never done a day of hard work in her life. Typical Presents. I have to admit, it's a very effective technique, and it hits you (and it did hit me, in this case) straight in the gut. It's also a bit manipulative, and now that I've read so many of these books and recognise exactly what the author's doing, it does annoy me a bit.

But then things just flip. Damon turns out to be a reasonable guy, whose first step is to actually look at the evidence. He then reasseses his initial conclusions. Not only that, he admits it to Polly, and is very clear about his admiration and respect for the amazing work she has done.

And there's more! They end up jetting off to Paris for this important meeting, and Morgan allows her big alpha hero to be wrong. About business! Yes, we're not talking about a story where the conclusion is that women are good at the fluffy, creative stuff, but for serious business, you need a man, and women needn't worry their pretty heads about it. Polly's good at the creative side, but when it comes to pitching for accounts, she knows what she's doing as well, and her approach is more effective than Damon's. The story ends with her business being given the management help it needs, but with his business changing to incorporate the more employee-friendly practices of Polly's (creches! no more hot-desking!).

[As an aside, speaking of those business practices of Polly's: some of them are the kind of thing that would have driven me crazy when I first started this blog. The accountant has no idea what he's doing and can't use a spreadsheet, but he's a dear, so she'll keep him on and try to teach him, very slowly. The mail-room lady gives everyone the wrong mail, but again, she's a dear, so people just fix her mistakes. I've written reviews where I screamed in exasperation at that sort of thing, annoyed at what it says about femininity, that a true woman must be nurturing and couldn't possibly be ruthless enough to run a business properly. But now... it turns out I don't mind so much. I've become increasingly socialist in my own age. Oh, the gender role thing still annoys me, and that incompetent accountant is keeping a competent one who could do the job better out of work, but still, there's nothing wrong in a business has providing good jobs for its employees as one of its reasons for being.]

The relationship between Damon and Polly is really, really good, too. She gives as good as she gets in the business sense (read some of the quotes in the Dear Author review, they show that perfectly), but also in their personal interactions (even though, completely unnecessarily, a virgin *sigh*). A lot of the fun comes from seeing the suave, powerful Damon perpetually off-balance with her, and gradually coming to care for the woman he discovers under the surface. It turns out he can give her exactly what she needs, someone who cares about what happens to her, rather than assume she's tough and she'll be all right and can handle anything. Damon comes alive as well, showing both Polly and the reader his vulnerabilities, the family history that made him into the overly serious and protective man he became. It was a romance I found believable and satisfying.

So, a fantastic book, but I have to say, not one that makes me feel any different about Presents. I liked it in spite of the Presents-ish elements. In fact, I loved it because it overturned these elements and stood them on their head.



Liz Mc2 23 February 2013 at 06:11  

I just read Sold to the Enemy, the one Brie reviewed, and like you enjoyed how it played with conventions. I've got this one in my TBR. I don't read many Presents but I enjoy writers like Morgan who leaven the angst with humor.

Rosario 23 February 2013 at 06:50  

That's going to be my next one. It's good to discover a good author with such a big backlist to explore.

Wendy 23 February 2013 at 21:40  

That's exactly the appeal of Morgan's Presents for me. I like them in spite of the Present-ish elements and I enjoy the way she takes those tropes and spins them around a bit. I've read three of her books so far, and they've all landed in my B territory - which means I'm going to have to bite the bullet and go backlist glomming soon.....

Rosario 24 February 2013 at 07:23  

I've got a couple more on the TBR before I need to dive into the backlist. Have you read only her Presents, Wendy? She's got a few interesting Medicals as well, and some which look like chick-lit from the cover...

Brie 25 February 2013 at 03:33  

I love her Medicals! LOL That's actually how I discovered her. My favorite is High Altitude Doctor (I'm not sure that's the exact title, but probably close). Her Presents are more original in that the characters are quite distinct. Her Medical characters suffers from the same problem all the books in the line have: it's always about a bunch of nurses falling for doctors and the stories end up blending in together. Also, there are lots of books about cutesy kids looking for a new mom. I'm doing a poor job at selling the books ;-)

I'm very glad you liked the book, Rosario.

Oh! And whatever you do, don't read the second Ferrara book. That has an awful alphahole hero, a stupid heroine and a secret baby *shudders*

Rosario 25 February 2013 at 06:29  

Cool! I've read a few of Marion Lennox's medicals which I liked, but it's difficult to tell which are good ones and which ones are like you describe. I'll start with that one!

Thanks so much for the rec, it worked beautifully! I'll read Once a Ferrara Wife and avoid The Forbidden Ferrara, then!

nath 28 February 2013 at 22:46  

I guess I need to give Ms Morgan another go :P

CD,  1 March 2013 at 13:33  

Sounds really interesting but I think I'm still where you were when you started the blog regarding Polly's business practices. An accountant who can't use excel? Hmmmnnn...

However, it still sounds like the old gender stereotypes are present - even if Polly can know something about business, she still has to value emotion over business effectiveness.

Rosario 2 March 2013 at 10:21  

Nath: Sounds like it! :)

CD: They definitely are still there, but the whole thing reads more like the author has that position. Polly turns out to be right about that, so much so that Damon changes his own business practices, because he recognises hers are superior. Come to think of it, this message didn't go that well with the adulation of businessmen here.

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