Book Review

Don’t Tempt Me by Loretta Chase


Title: Don't Tempt Me
Author: Loretta Chase
Publication Info: Avon 2009
ISBN: 9789961632662
Genre: Historical: European

Don’t Tempt Me was a strange reading experience for me. While I was reading it, I was so captivated by the chemistry between the hero and heroine that I couldn’t bear to stop. I resented every minute I had to spend working, sleeping or shopping. I cheerfully ignored cats, friends, roommate and boyfriend in favor of finishing the book. I haven’t read a book this way in a very long time—I think the last time I felt like this was when I read Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik last summer.

But once I put it down and I was released from the thrall of the words, my brain slowly started noticing the skips and gaps in the plot, the characterization, and the writing. Like I said recently to @redrobinreader on the Twittertubes, reading is not unlike experiencing a fragrance. There’s that first hit of scent, with pretty much everything hitting you all at once. Then the more volatile compounds start degrading, and you start noticing the more subtle notes. After a few hours, the scent has morphed into something else: mostly base notes will remain, and they’ve had time to blend with your own body chemistry. That’s when you find out if the fragrance has actual staying power and works well with you, or whether it’s gorgeous at first but eventually mellows into something that smells like your Aunt Millicent’s coat closet.

Don’t Tempt Me, alas, comes a lot closer to Aunt Millicent’s closet than I’d like it to, but hey, at least it’s not Uncle Ted’s jockstrap, right? To be honest, I had a hard time deciding on the grade, and I finally decided on a B, as an average of the strange dualistic experience I had while reading the book: while I was reading it, it was a pretty solid A-, but once I put it down and thought about it, the problems with plot and characterization nagged at me more and more, and it rapidly dropped to a B-. It’s a lot of fun and very cleverly written, but ultimately hollow.

The story had a great deal of potential that, in the end, went largely unexplored: Zoe is the daughter of Lord Lexham. When Lucien de Grey’s parents die, leaving him and his older brother, Gerard, orphans at a young age, Lord Lexham steps in as guardian and gives Lucien and Gerard some much-needed structure and affection. Zoe and Lucien are drawn to each other almost immediately, and they form a close and affectionate friendship as children.

(This bit is covered in record time, by the way: four pages. Four pages, moving from howling grief to childhood love. FOUR. Most of them composed of choppy sentences. Gah.)

Moving along: Zoe has always had a talent for escape, so when she disappears at age 12 at an Egyptian bazaar while on holiday with her parents, they assume she ran away and was kidnapped. Her family is devastated. Her father does not give up hope, and searches for her relentlessly, turning away countless impostors from his door.

Lucien, on the other hand, has another tragedy to deal with: the death of Gerard in a riding accident. To cope, he teaches himself to stop caring about anything. He lives a life filled with pleasures and distractions, but he experiences everything from a remove: he delegates everything he can to his servants, and even has his secretary buying the presents for his mistresses.

Lucien is shaken out of his pleasant complacency, however, when he hears that a mysterious blonde girl has showed up at Lord Lexham’s doorstep, and instead of rejecting her out of hand, as he has so many others, Lord Lexham has enfolded her into the family’s bosom. Lurid rumors are circulating about how she was a harem girl, with the requisite humiliating caricatures. Lucien, to his surprise, finds his protective instincts in an uproar. Convinced that the girl is another Princes Caraboo, he immediately pays a visit to the Lexhams, determined to expose the impostor.

Only to find that Zoe truly has returned. Kidnapped twelve years ago with the aid of a nefarious maid, she was sent to the court of Yusri Pasha, trained in the sensual arts and then given away to his oldest son, Ali. She rapidly becomes Ali’s favorite toy, but he’s both fat and impotent. (Of course he is—this is a romance novel. It’s not so much “love, thy will be done” as “virginity, thou wilt be preserved.” Plus: Zoe doesn’t have all that icky sexual trauma to get over, so it’s a really convenient way to deal with the conflict all the way around.)

At any rate, Lucien finds his old feelings for Zoe reviving, to his discomfort. Spurred by a combination of loyalty to their old friendship, love of his erstwhile guardian and a desire to remove a temptation who threatens his pleasantly numb existence, he decides to reintroduce Zoe to society and help her find a suitable match. Hijinks, of course, ensue, and the only suitable match for Zoe turns out to be, surprise surprise, Lucien.

Part of what carried the book for me is the gorgeous chemistry between Zoe and Lucien. The dialogue is, as always, witty and sharp, and Chase does a lot with the decreased wordcount she’s working under. (I was anal-retentive enough to do a quick-and-dirty comparison: Lord of Scoundrels was 375 pages and 37 lines per page; Don’t Tempt Me runs 355 pages and 32 lines per page. Hmmmm.) Lucien and Zoe don’t just love each other, they like each other a great deal, and their affection for each other shines like a beacon. That’s relatively rare in a romance—most authors focus almost exclusively on explosive chemistry and leave affection in the dust. Watching them fall in love and seeing Zoe’s determined seduction of Lucien is tremendous fun: she’s an improbable virgin, but she Learned Things while in the harem, and her sexual mores are certainly not that of a well-bred English miss. In fact, Zoe’s sexual assurance and her ease with her sexuality are what ultimately salve my irritation at her Improbable Virginity.

But like I said, once the giddy pleasure of reading about Zoe and Lucien wore off, questions started popping up faster than boners at the Playboy Mansion. For instance:

  • Why was Lord Winterton, who helped rescue Zoe, set up to be a Major Character, only to be dropped without so much as a ripple partway through the book?
  • Why is Zoe so eerily well-adjusted, despite living in circumstances that would’ve inspired PTSD in other people? And no, Because She’s The Heroine and Endowed with Supernatural Powers of Endurance isn’t a good answer, it’s a lazy one, and it seems like that’s the route Chase went with. And that? Makes that special part of my heart where the Baby Ganesh lives weep bitter, bitter tears.
  • Why was the introduction so quickly glossed over, when there could have been a wealth more detail, including the death of Lucien’s brother?
  • Dammit, I wanted to know more about Zoe’s captivity, other than the bare details we were given.
  • What’s with Chase’s penchant for stringing together many short sentences in a row? I’ve noticed this trend in her more recent books, and reading her novels is a much choppier experience than it used to be.
  • Only the people who read The Lion’s Daughter will get this, but: remember the pasha in that book? How he was basically bugfuck and dangerous and not at all a good man, but he was interesting and you actually felt the menace so much more acutely? I wanted the same from this book. Not exactly the same thing, because the story starts after Zoe escapes, but I would’ve taken a flashback scene, or Zoe recounting some of what she went through, but instead, all we had were a lot of comments from Zoe about how she’s used to handling eunuchs (the book makes a point of noting how they’re even more temperamental than women. Oh, dear) and how kissing Ali felt like kissing furniture (which is a fair assessment of how he’s treated as a character in the book, so hey).

I think I can sum up the problems with this book thusly: it needed about 40 more pages, or about 20,000 more words. The book was tasty, but it was insubstantial, and it killed me that it could’ve been so much more—could’ve been GREAT, in fact, one of Chase’s best; as good as her best work so far, or even better. It could’ve been Chanel No. 5, and it ended up being yet another cheap body splash. And I don’t have anything against cheap body splash (it’s what I use for daily sprucing-up), but… Let me put it this way: ten years from now, I don’t think too many people will be haunted by Don’t Tempt Me or debating its merits the way they do Lord of Scoundrels, or even books that I don’t like or think are particularly good, but that are nonetheless incredibly compelling, like Whitney, My Love or The Flame and the Flower. I feel like Chase’s writing has been unduly constrained by word counts, and that this book lacked complexity and nuance because it was way. Too. Short. But to be fair, I can’t remember the last romance I read published post-2005 that didn’t make me feel that way. Chase is still better than the average author, don’t get me wrong, and if you’re looking for a well-written bit of fun to occupy you for a few hours, I highly recommend this book. I just wish Chase hadn’t gotten into the body splash business.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Sherri says:

    I have to say I was also expecting a bit more from this one.  I just discovered Chase thanks to the SB as I had taken a hiatus from the regency era for years.  I think the biggest problem was that it had a daring premise, without any of the daring being shown.  How about a chapter of Zoe’s experiences?  That would have been interesting.  How about – she isn’t a virgin and didn’t hate the sex!!!!!!  That would have been DARING!  It was still a good read but nothing I’ll turn back to for a re-read or recommend to anyone who’s not already devoted to the genre.

  2. 2
    Michelle Schaefer says:

    I’ve got this book on my list of “to be read” and I have a feeling that I will walk away with the same feeling as you.  when I read your blog entries I find that we have similar opinions on many books.  I will let you know if I too am sucked in by the characters and then left hanging by the gaps.  I always enjoy your entries and wish I had time to comment more.

  3. 3
    Karenmc says:

    My reaction to DTM was exactly the same as yours. I enjoyed Lucien and Zoe so very much, but kept wondering when Zoe’s psychological issues would pop up. And my reading of the book was sandwiched between Meredith Duran’s Bound by Your Touch and Written on Your Skin. That just made the “body splash” quality more obvious (nice analogy, BTW).

  4. 4
    Jennifer says:

    The Improbable Virginity is enough to turn me off this book, period. Kinda like how Francesca the courtesan wasn’t uh, all that much of a courtesan, but even worse.

  5. 5
    Blue Angel says:

    You are kinder than I am about this book, but I think your analysis that the book is too short is right on the money, but it does not absolve Chase of producing something that is basically so unsatisfying.  “Lord of Scoundrels” is about the same length, but everything’s worked out in it, unlike this one. 

    Unlike you, I didn’t really feel as if I knew either the hero or the heroine and wanted A LOT more of them together.  I found Zoe feisty (another word for intensely irritating) and thought that Lucien is your usual, generic rake—afraid to love because he’s lost people he loved before. Yada. Yada. He’s attracted to Zoe, but fights it. We are supposed to be amused because he constantly makes 1,000 pound bets at White’s about what will happen to Zoe (the first one: she’s an impostor) which he loses. Ha. Ha. At the end, we see his “depth” because he must choose between mercy and harsh justice. Oh, the dilemma. Oh, the drama. Oh, the ennui.

  6. 6
    SonomaLass says:

    No one does affection/attraction/the whole love package quite like Chase.  That part always works for me in her books.  But I’m firmly in the “needs another 40 pages” camp. I am thrilled when Regency characters have experiences in other other countries and cultures, but those take WORDS to explore and explain.  Same thing with traumatic back story —show don’t tell, right?  Sometimes showing takes longer.  I don’t have any inside info that says authors are being constrained to shorter page-counts or anything, but that’s how it feels. Many historical romances I’ve read lately make me want MORE, DAMMIT, and not always in a good way.  It’s especially disappointed when it’s an author like Chase, who limits herself to one book a year, so you know she’s had the time to give it her best.

  7. 7
    JoanneL says:

    I loved this book and I don’t think there is a nicer compliment that can be given to an author than wanting more story. (okay, ‘here, have more money’ would be better, but still). I do understand your body splash analogy but, for me, sometimes it’s nice not to drown in a heavy scent.

    @ Jennifer: I was really undecided about purchasing this book because of the virgin-wife ‘thing’ but she’s a virgin in hymen-only if you get my subtle as a hammer drift.

  8. 8
    Deb says:

    It’s amazing how significant the word count reduction in romance novels is.  When I pull out books from my keeper pile (generally books written before about 1995), they tend to be big, meaty books with lots of secondary characters, plot twists, and time for the development of the love story in a rather leisurely fashion.  Even slimmer books from that time period tend to either be part of a trilogy or have smaller text on the page.  I remember one Jennifer Blake novel (I think it was called “The Storm and the Splendor,” but I could be wrong) that was so long it could easily have been two different books with two different storylines.  (Incidently, that also involved a heroine who is kidnapped an taken to a harem—however, she was not a virgin when she was kidnapped, but she remained untouched during the time she was there.)

    I’m not sure what’s driving this reduction.  I suppose it could be the market, the desire on the part of some publishers to get more books by favorite authors onto the shelves.  I suspect there might a general sense that romance readers are so familiar with the tropes of the genre that they know when A and B have known each other in childhood and then disappeared from each other’s lives, they’re going to be romantically involved when they get back together.  Whatever is reducing the size and scope of romances, it really is a significant loss.  (Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why so many of your favorites were published a decade ago or longer.)

    Interestingly, as someone who reads a lot of mysteries in addition to romances, I observe that the inverse is true where mysteries are concerned:  The books keep getting bigger, with more characters, more backstories, more “red herrings.”  Take a P.D. James or Ruth Rendell mystery from the mid-1980s and compare it to one of their books from the last five years:  The size of the more recent book is significantly larger than something from 20 years ago.

  9. 9
    MB says:

    I so agree with your review.

    It is frustrating because it could have been one of her very best.

  10. 10
    Candy says:

    @Blue Angel:

    “Lord of Scoundrels” is about the same length, but everything’s worked out in it, unlike this one.

    That’s the thing—Lord of Scoundrels is actually longer—considerably so. It’s 20 pages longer than Don’t Tempt Me (375 vs. 355), and the text is printed at 37 lines per page in LOS vs. 32 lines per page in DTM. I did some approximate math (I counted a bunch of words on a bunch of random lines, assumed 9 words per line), and LOS seems to be about 20,000 words longer than DTM. And I think the difference shows.

    About the length thing in general: I’m not calling for longer books across the board. I do think, however, that certain complex conflicts and setups are impossible to deal with in a satisfactory fashion, and I’m seeing authors set up difficult, complex, interesting conflicts, conflicts with real meat to them, and then sort of brush by them airily, and I feel like the shortened wordcounts are partly to blame.

  11. 11
    Anony Miss says:

    It would be very interesting to see if Ms. Chase was forced by publisher / editor / whateverver to chop down the book into its current form, i.e. I wonder if she crafted it longer but was forced to pare it down.

    Anyone know if she reads this blog? (She should.)

  12. 12
    Randi says:

    Personally, I gave this one a C. I didn’t hate it, I liked it fine, but yeah, it wasn’t a LoS. I actually called my mom and whined that it was a “meh” read. She calmly replied that no one could have an ‘A’ book every time. Pooh. Pooh, I say. ;)

    Since this is the first Chase book I’ve read that I didn’t jump up and down in joy after reading it, I’m not going to complain. I just have high expectations for the next one.

  13. 13
    Jocelyn says:

    I agree with this review (though I didn’t mind the impotent harem owner – we didn’t invent erectile dysfunction in this era and it’s a much more plausable explanation than many I’ve read in other romances).  The thing that really gets me is Zoe’s gyroscope-like emotional balance. 

    She’s kidnapped, tries to escape and is punished repeatedly, has her captors die, flees everyone and everything she’s known since she was 12, goes to a radically different culture.  How can she not be bug-fuck crazy at that point?  On top of which, I think she buys into the English social restrictions on women far too easily, too.  There’s some lip-service paid to not trading one prison for another, but it’s never actually carried out. 

    I also loved reading this book, but the more distance I gain from it, the more plot points bother me.  I wonder if word-counts will increase as e-pubs start putting out more novels?

  14. 14
    SonomaLass says:

    I agree about the emotional balance thing.  Maybe that’s because I just read Meredith Duran’s Duke of Shadows, where the heroine is pretty close to “bug-fuck crazy” after her ordeal.

    I wasn’t much bothered by the impotent fat dude, but I was by the whole machination that somehow she has to be a technical virgin. I HATE that trope, particularly when the character does have sexual experience.  It’s right up there with “i’m in ur ass, saving ur virginity.”  Now if Chase had exploited the concept as part of making that “trading one prison for another” into a real issue, that would have been different.  Turn the trope on it’s head?  I’m all for that.  But this execution seemed just the same old thing, and I guess I expect Chase to be better than that.

    Like Candy, I’m not in favor of longer books no matter what.  But the story needs to be told well in the space that you have, and lately I’ve felt like some excellent authors don’t take (or aren’t given) the space to completely resolve the conflicts they have established.  I’ve noticed it more in historical fiction, but it’s there in other sub-genres, too—the ending of Lisa Kleypas’ Sugar Daddy comes to mind. Some authors can tell some stories well in category length, or novella, or even short story.  (Victoria Dahl’s The Wicked West was just as long as it needed to be; a very good and complete story in very few pages.)  But sometimes the author’s style, or the complexity of the story, or some intersection of the two, calls for a longer and more detailed treatment.  And more than before, I’m seeing a lack of those in romance.

  15. 15
    LizC says:

    Why is Zoe so eerily well-adjusted, despite living in circumstances that would’ve inspired PTSD in other people?

    This! This bugged me the most about the book. There was barely even a hint that Zoe might have Major Issues with her experiences and, frankly, I was turned off by how sexually adjusted and tempting to Lucien she was because I couldn’t forget just how exactly she came to be that way.

    Also it didn’t help that I’d recently read The Last Hellion before DTM and I loved TLH almost more than LoS.

  16. 16
    Anonymous says:

    Lord of Scoundrels according to Amazon’s Text Stats is around 95K.  My publisher wouldn’t tell me no for that length today.  Some publishers are more strict about manuscript length but I haven’t talked to anyone whose publisher requires 20K less than 95K.

    I couldn’t get a good fix on how long Don’t Tempt Me was but did an estimate somewhat similar to Candy’s and it came in around 65K.  So we have one rough estimate of 20K less than LOS and another of 30K so we are probably in the right ballpark.

    I don’t know if other authors (especially authors at Avon) will speak up, but I’m having a hard time believing that a publisher would push an author to have a 65K manuscript versus one that was 75K or even 85K long, and saying that the 85K manuscript would be unacceptably long.

    I’m not sure I can blame the publisher for this, because I don’t know anyone who has turned in an 85K manuscript and been told, “That’s too long, go cut 10,000 words.”  Maybe I am just not in touch with the right people but a 75K manuscript, especially for a historical, would seem a touch on the light side.  Acceptable, sure.  Happens, all the time.  But add another 10K and nobody will ever complain, I don’t think.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that I am having a hard time imagining that Loretta Chase said “I need another 40 pages to close out these arcs effectively” and her editor responded with “no, that would be too expensive.”

    Does anyone who writes for Avon in particular want to speak up about word count?  Anonymously of course. :)

  17. 17
    --E says:

    Anony Miss said: “It would be very interesting to see if Ms. Chase was forced by publisher / editor / whateverver to chop down the book into its current form, i.e. I wonder if she crafted it longer but was forced to pare it down.”

    —>That is extremely unlikely. I’m the former design manager for Avon Books, and I can say with authority that all their romance paperbacks are deliberately typeset for 384 pages (counting front and back matter). That was a plan instituted at my suggestion more than a decade ago.

    Because of printer/imposition considerations, 384 is a very efficient page count. Avon has long had a reputation as a publisher of “meaty” romance novels, and so authors are generally encouraged to shoot for 120,000 words, which fits very comfortably into 384 pages. If they fall short, the book is still typeset for 384 pages because that is Avon’s standard. Thinner books don’t fit the Avon image.

    There’s little I can imagine the editors at Avon would ask to be excised for reasons other than “this book is too long to make its price point,” which clearly is not the case here. My guess is that the demon deadline is to blame, but that’s nothing more than a guess.

  18. 18
    Anonymous says:

    I’m anonymous at 2:27 PM, and while I may agree with the fact that typesetting changes can make up for shorter or longer books, I think this from E @ 2:36 PM:

    Avon has long had a reputation as a publisher of “meaty” romance novels, and so authors are generally encouraged to shoot for 120,000 words, which fits very comfortably into 384 pages.

    cannot possibly be true, at least not now.  I do not write for Avon but I do read almost all their romances and I challenge anyone to find me an Avon romance (aside from Stephanie Laurens) in the last 2 years that is 120K.  I know several people at Avon who HAVE been told they must write under 100K. 

    I doubt there are many that make it over 100K and most of the people who do are almost certainly heavy hitters.  I bet most are under 90K.

  19. 19

    I think I will take this off my list for now. Thanks for the post!

  20. 20
    Nicole says:

    I was also really disappointed by this book.  Unlike Candy, I wasn’t particularly jazzed by the characters or their interaction.  I thought it was singularly lacking in the kind of witty exchanges that I really love about Chase’s books.  They spent most of their time dry humping each other and when they finally have sex it was fairly uninspired. 

    I was so disappointed by it that I reread a couple of her other books (Miss Wonderful and Mr. Impossible to be specific) and I was just charmed and delighted by those books, while i was definitely not by Don’t Tempt Me.  Of course, I don’t think that DTM was necessarily supposed to be all charm and delight.  Being kidnapped and held in a harem has got to be horrifically traumatizing but, as so many other commenters have stated, Zoe’s trauma is not dealt with satisfactorily.

    I know that several commenters and Candy had a problem with Zoe’s virginity.  I don’t really care about that.  So its incredibly unlikely, so what?  I just accept that particular cliche as part of historical romance novels.  In fact, I find the machinations that authors have to go through to keep their heroines virginal amusing.  The virgin widows are my personal favorite. 

    Anyway, compared to other Chase books this book is a C- for me.  Having said that, a bad Chase book is head and shoulders above 90% of the romance novels out there.

  21. 21
    Hopeful says:

    I read this book Monday and Tuesday night, and really enjoyed it.  I read so much technical stuff all day long (and write it, too), so all I’m looking for is a good, fun story, with likeable characters and this one hit the mark (with the exceptions of Zoe’s sisters!).

  22. 22
    --E says:

    Anon @ 2:46:

    Granted, the folks upstairs would do a lot of crazy things that we down in production wouldn’t know about. But I was asked very, very often and repeatedly what was a wordcount that would set comfortably at 384 pages. My answer was always “100,000-120,000.”

    I agree that in recent years the things have been getting shorter and shorter. So have the deadlines. I suspect there’s a causation factor there.

  23. 23
    Jocelyn says:

    @SonomaLass – I also read this one close to Duran’s Duke of Shadows, and you’re right, it suffered in comparison because of the sheer arching awesomeness of Duran’s plot structures and emotional development.  I’ve gotten used to one book a month from her with her back-to-back releases this summer and I’m sad that there are no more new books from her until next year.

  24. 24
    reesa says:

    I had a similar reaction to this book.  I thought the introduction was really interesting but once I found out that Zoe was still a virgin I kept wondering what decade the book was written in.  I felt like the plot came about in the 1980s, was kept on the shelf and then written today. 

    I did enjoy the chemistry between the characters but I kept feeling like I was being cheated because of the plot.  For me, Chase’s last few books have been misses….

  25. 25
    Sherri says:

    I wonder if the length issue has anything to do with $?  If the book is shorter it doesn’t take as long for us to read it and then we have to go buy more books!

    Also, perhaps doing a book a year on contract was to much for LC this time.  I don’t know why she had taken such a long break before, but maybe she needed a bit more time to put in all the background we are all looking for.

  26. 26
    Tai says:

    Thank you for highlighting PRECISELY what I found wrong with this book. Cause I did enjoy it and it was a good bit of fun but I was feeling very dissatisfied when it was all said and done and I could not figure out why for a good while and eventually it hit me how hollow and insubstantial it was in the end. This is also how I felt about “not quite a lady” although in the case of that story it felt that way all through the novel instead of as an aftertaste.

    It is a damn shame cause like you said it could have been so much better and chase is one of my favorites so when she does less than her best it’s especially upsetting. That being said I’m looking forward to her next book quite alot (it will apparently be about peregrine and olivia from Lord perfect. who were really the best things about that novel) and sincerely hope it wont suffer from the same problems this book did.  A girl can hope!

  27. 27
    LizC says:

    Tai, you have just made my day with that news about the next book being about Olivia and Peregrine. The entire time I was reading Lord Perfect I was wishing that Olivia and Peregrine had their own book.

  28. 28
    Tai says:

    Glad to have been of service! Mrs. Chase actually mentioned this in an interview at the booksmugglers blog. She also spoke about Dont Tempt Me in that interview so if anyone is wondering where I got the peregrine/olivia thing from (or what was going on in her mind when she came up with the idea for DTM) then head there. I sadly dont have the exact link on me atm but it was one of their more recent posts so it shouldnt be too hard to find I think.

  29. 29
    chisai says:

    Tai, thanks for the info on the next book.  I loved Olivia and Peregrine. 

    I was pretty disappointed in this book.  While I know every book out of her isn’t going to be another LoS, I still expect more from Chase than what this book gave.  I felt no connection with any of the characters.  Nor was there the level of charm I’ve grown used to in her books.  Because that’s the thing with her stuff.  The stories are great and all with excellent banter, but they’re also so damned charming.

    This will not, of course, stop me from grabbing up her next and her next, because I love me some Loretta Chase.

  30. 30
    chisai says:

    This is the address for the Loretta Chase interview Tai talked about:

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