I started this book last Saturday morning while my kids were at swim lessons, and I was in a dark, humid, and loud indoor pool on uncomfortable bleachers.
I did not notice any of those things once I started reading. This book is amazing: confident and clever, funny and touching, and wonderfully done.
This book is a simultaneous story – Mayberry's Harlequin Blaze, Hot Island Nights ( A | BN | K | S | ARe ), takes place at the same time with two separate characters. Is there a name for that style of storytelling? I know Twin of Ice and Twin of Fire and the Julia Quinn duo Mr Cavendish I Presume and The Lost Duke of Wyndham employ the same method. What's it called, dovetailed stories? Hinged stories? Entwined stories? I am sure it has a proper name but darned if I can find it. Anyway.
The story opens with Violet at a formal event with her best friend Elizabeth, and Elizabeth's fiance, Martin. Violet loathes Martin, and the feeling is mutual. She thinks Martin is stifling Elizabeth, and fears for her friend's happiness in their marriage, but she won't breathe a word about that – though she is pretty honest about her opinion of Martin to Elizabeth, before Elizabeth tells her to shut it.
Violet is vivacious, daring, outrageous and happy being the center of attention, positive or negative, while Elizabeth is every centimeter proper and demure. Martin isn't too fond of Violet, either, and thinks she's a bad influence on Elizabeth – not that Elizabeth is out to get drunk and dance on table tops because Violet said so, but that Violet's presence in Elizabeth's life is bad for Elizabeth socially, that people think less of Elizabeth because she's friends with and often seen with Violet. And, well, Martin cares very much what people think.
The beginning scenes set up Elizabeth and Violet's characters marvelously. The story doesn't waste any time going from first to second to third gear. It's full speed ahead from the first page.
Violet focussed on her friend, turning her back on the prig across the room. “Can we go yet?”
Elizabeth's lips twitched. “You know we can't. They haven't given the speeches yet.”
“So? No one will notice if we slip out. We paid for our tickets, they have our money. That's the bit they're really interested in.”
“Behave. It's not that bad.”
“E, be real. These people are the walking dead.” Violet's gaze swept over the well-dressed crowd attending the Heart Foundations annual fundraiser. “Older than Moses, richer than God, and more boring than a truckload of accountants.”
Elizabeth laughed, then immediately lifted her hand to her mouth to hide her smile, almost as though she was afraid someone would take her to task for being amused by Violet's irreverence.
Violet's character is wonderfully done. She is complex and intricate, and she has made mistakes that she wishes she could change – but knows that the sum of her mistakes make her who she is, and when it matters, she's pretty sure of herself. Best part about Violet: she owns a boutique called “Violet Femmes,” which I want to shop at. That's sort of a hazard with some of these Harlequin books by really clever writers. I want to shop at Violet Femmes, I want to wear the stockings described in Sarah Morgan's book Doukakis's Apprentice ( A | BN | K | S | ARe ) – when the characters' reality is clever and witty, I'm bummed that it isn't actually real.
Anyway, I'm not doing a terribly organized job of reviewing this book. Can you tell I really enjoyed it?
After the gala in the scene above, Violet goes to her party (after changing her clothes in the back of Martin's car, daring him not to look, which he does not, much to his credit) and Elizabeth and Martin go out for a drink at a bar, each going their own way to what they think is their best option. Even though Elizabeth had wanted to go with Violet, she knew she should go with Martin.
But the following day, Elizabeth shows up at Violet's in tears. Martin has kept a secret from her at the request of Elizabeth's grandparents, who raised her, and upon discovering their deceit, Elizabeth walks out on them all, and heads to Australia to find out the answers to the secret she's discovered (this would be the plot of Hot Island Nights, all that secret-discoveryness). Violet helps Elizabeth fly away, and then, to her surprise, she finds herself thinking about Martin, especially after he shows up disheveled and desperate to find Elizabeth, worried out of his mind that she's gone and that she's ended their engagement.
Violet brings Martin some peach Schnapps to let him know she's thinking of him, a gift which does not go over well with the prideful Martin, and their dislike of one another, without Elizabeth between them any longer, becomes something much more flammable, with or without alcohol as an incendiary device. They're ridiculously attracted to one another – and not sure what to do about that at all.
I liked Violet, I liked Elizabeth – and I even found myself liking Martin. Mayberry balances the superficial impressions that Violet and Martin have of one another with the truth behind the facade of their suppositions. As a reader, I knew what Violet thought of Martin, and then I learned why Martin was the way he was – and even though Violet wasn't entirely wrong, she wasn't entirely right about him, either. And even though Martin thought Violet was entirely inappropriate and too much of everything wrong, he learns why she is that way, and he learns that as much as he's bothered by it, he's captivated by her exactly the way she is. Violet has a quiet desire for the calm normality of family behind her outrageous exterior – but neither her interior nor her exterior is a lie or is a false representation of Violet's character. Martin is the opposite: he thinks he should radiate that calm self assurance, but inside he's just as fiery as Violet is outside. Each person learns to admire the other, both what they show, and what they later reveal.
It's a very clever study in opposites, especially in the way Mayberry layers expectations on top of the character's inner and outer selves. Martin has a way he has been taught he ought to act. Elizabeth as well, and they both suppress their desires and the more outlandish pieces of themselves to remain true to that external direction of what they should be. Violet is slightly different: she has been told too often that she isn't what she ought to be, and so she has been more true to the outrageous parts of herself and allowing those impulses as much room as they need, but it's not mere rebellion or acting out. She's being herself, with as much freedom as she can grab, because she is long tired of being told she ought to be different than who she is, so she's even more. She's like hot sauce with extra chili powder on top.
And let me say two words about the sexual tension between these two.
That is all.
That is not to say the book did not have flaws. At the point where the conflicts within everyone else's relationships had either been glimpsed as unchanging or rectified sufficiently, the only thing left was Violet's worry that Elizabeth would be upset with her for her relationship with Martin. While I completely understood Violet's thinking – having been rejected so completely by her own family, she was unwilling to admit her actions because they could sever her relationship with the one person Violet loves and thinks of as her family – I grew frustrated with her own conviction that Elizabeth would throw the queen of all hissy fits. Elizabeth was in Australia, having shrimp on the barbie, and that is a euphemism, with some other dude. She was marvelously happy from the conversations they had. I understood the conflict, in other words, and I empathized with Violet, but it was bigger in Violet's head than it was in reality- and everyone but Violet knew that.
Also, editing wise, characters “gather their scattered thoughts” at least twice. I liked the phrase enough but noticed it when it appeared in a later chapter.
The other problem was that at the point where Violet had to face her reluctance to tell Elizabeth about Martin, Martin himself became the most kindest and understandingest manest in the worldest, and the story at the end focused entirely on Violet, and not enough on Martin.
Now, the rest of this review could be considered quite spoiler-y, so I'm going to drop it down a bit further on the page. If you don't want to read a discussion about the book's strengths and few weaknesses, skip this part and, please, do yourself a favor and spend the $2.99 or pound-ninety and buy this for yourself. It is SO worth it.
AND NOW THE SPOILERY PART
I was emailing with a friend, Carin, about this book while I was reading it (which is not something I often do. I was enjoying it so much I had to talk about it while I was reading it, and usually I wait until I'm done to send the “OMGREADTHIS” email. It's contagiously fun, this book) and she and I discussed this aspect of the story at length. Carin received the book because she's part of Sarah Mayberry's mailing list, and Mayberry sent everyone on her list a copy of the book, which I thought was a really kickass thing to do. I wanted to share our conversation because our reactions matched so closely.
I thought it was very well written and clever. Definitely worth reading the old Blaze. I actually think I liked Hot Island Nights just a bit better.
And the sex in Her Best Worst Mistake (spoiler for that below in case you haven't finished yet.) I appreciated that!
(Here’s the sex spoiIer) I don’t think I’ve ever read a romance where the man finishes first, then helps the woman, but Mayberry did it and it was still hot! No simultaneous orgasm every time. And still hot.
I totally agree! I thought the sex scenes were smoking hot, and I find myself often skimming them in other books. I read the whole book today, and while I thought the story lost steam at the end, as each conflict was checked off one after another, I really enjoyed it. I'm going to buy and read Hot Island Nights now.
The end of the book was more about Violet’s personal growth than it was about the relationship. And Martin became a bit Marty Stu by then – perfectly understanding her. But I was hooked by that point.
He was almost too perfect at the end, wasn't he? He knew exactly what she needed, and would do anything for her – but I thought about how he had treated Elizabeth at the beginning – whatever she wanted, so long as it fit what he wanted/expected, he would do. How different it was for Martin to say to Violet, “We are doing what you need, and I'm here for support,” even if it was grossly inconvenient for him personally or professionally, helped alleviate the Marty Stu at the end, because I knew in the beginning he'd been something very different.
But there was no conflict between them then, even when I expected there to be! No sniping, no fighting. And I didn't think Elizabeth's reaction to the two of them hooking up was as big a deal as Violet did.
We should talk more after you finish Elizabeth’s book and see what you think then. I thought it was weird that Violet was so worried about Elizabeth’s reaction. I understood it more when Martin explained it to her – that she was afraid of being rejected by her new family, but up til that I just didn’t get why she thought it was a big deal.
I’m actually a fan of low conflict romance. The conflict here was pretty much all internal and I’m fine with that. Lauren Dane’s Brown siblings series is much the same way. I just enjoy that slow but sure development of the relationship.
I like low conflict romance when it means no serial killers, but when the major conflict that keeps the story going seems weaker than the number of pages I have left, I get a little bored. Even though the story ran a little lower speed at the end, I didn't want to stop reading. It was a wonderful book that I was so, so happy to read.
I'm not sure what else I can say to convince you to give this book a try. It's $3, or nearly £2, and it's a wonderful read. Go get it. It's wonderful fun.