I swear I’ve read Suddenly You before. I even think it was on my BnF queue and I had it in the house. I remember seeing the cover on my foyer table, in the old house. But did I remember the plot? Not at all. Which is odd; usually I can remember a Kleypas plot. She’s one of my solid-B writers, an author whose books are usually replete with good dialogue and interesting plots or curious arrangements of characters (especially as pertains to social (in)equality).
Suddenly You is the story of spinster writer Amanda Briars, who hires a man-ho for her 30th birthday so as to divest herself of that annoying virginity of hers. She visits a local madam, who arranges the man-ho, and promises to have him on her doorstep at the appropriate hour.
But of course, this is no ordinary man-ho; he is Jack Devlin, the hero of our story. And he’s not even a man-ho. He’s a cutthroat publisher man, owner of a large printing and bookselling empire that grows larger by the minute owing to his predilection of selling books in cheap serial publication so the poor plebians around him can read and enjoy book ownership as well as the rich. Jack is there to discuss a professional matter with Amanda, but quickly figures out she has a different sort of professional matter in mind. Despite her protests that she’s changed her mind and wants him to leave, he seduces her into mindless pleasure and leaves without taking his own (what a man!), wishing her a happy 30th birthday as he goes.
When they meet again, and she realizes he’s not at all a man-ho, but instead a wildly hot and wealthy businessman, one who has bought her first manuscript and is intent on publishing it with or without her approval, she is furious, but also intrigued. Did I mention, he’s hot? And a publisher? You see the attraction, then.
I read this book over the week prior to my own 30th birthday, and while I am married and pregnant and definitely not a virgin (the baby just kicked me as I wrote that – HA! says Baby Bitchlette) I can relate to 30 being a milestone that tends to shock one into evaluating the past 30, and the next 30. It is something of a gateway into true adulthood, that big “3” at the start of one’s age. So I can understand Amanda entertaining the idea that, as a spinster, she has nothing to lose by losing her virginity, as she sees no option to marry in her future. She spent her eligible age caring for two invalid parents, and she’s reached such a level of intellectual success with her novels that no man would want her, as she is both too old and smarter than they are.
I have to say, I enjoyed the idea of Amanda taking matters into her own hands and divesting herself of her virginity, giving herself the sexual experience she’d never had, and I love the misunderstanding that conspires to give her a night of memorable climax with a man who already appreciates her intellect and isn’t going to be intimidated by her sizable creative brain.
I liked Amanda, as well: she’s practical, clever, and very intelligent, and while she recognizes that she’s been dealt a short hand by being dismissed as the spinster aunt by her own siblings, and left to care for her parents without a bit of help from them, she also is very proud of herself and her accomplishments. She’s a shade of Jane Austen – a popular writer who examines the society around her and has plenty to say about it in the context of her fiction. I’m also a sucker for romance novels about writer heroines, as I find writers writing about writers to be a most interesting character challenge.
I somewhat liked Jack as well, in so much as he was a tortured hero with a horrible childhood, looking for a way to his own success, and making sure he brought his friends with him as he rose to his goals. He works hard, and he’s shrewd, clever, and knows exactly how to make good money with his publishing ventures. In short, as a hero goes, he’s good looking, smart, savvy, rich, and wants to make the heroine happy at any cost.
I bet you saw that “BUT” coming down the road three paragraphs ago. There is a very large and irratating “BUT” in this novel, and it’s something of a spoiler. However, I’m not sure I can discuss why this book left me with more of a sneer than a smile without discussing this plot and character decision in detail. So if you’re not interested, I’ll end here with the following: This book is a lively story with characters that I liked, though they didn’t have much to struggle against on the whole. Despite the one flaw that I found throughout the story, which some readers might not even notice, I did enjoy reading about Amanda and Jack, almost to the end of the book.
Now, let me deliver the straight dish:
The minor problems with this book are indeed minor, and slight quibbles. In the book, there was no major conflict for Amanda and Jack to struggle against, except that she thought he was too wild and unsavory a match, considering his ruthless reputation. Professionally speaking, they were perfectly successful at the start of the story, and there was no danger to either of their successes, except that they might, God forbid, have more. Their struggles were internal for the most part, and as such didn’t amount to much. Their disagreements were either resolved midway, or addressed and dismissed after a few pages. So I never got a good sense of what the big deal was as to why she and he resisted one another for 375 pages.
The biggest problem I had with this book, however, appeared over and over as I read, and towards the end, as I mentally tabulated what grade I’d give the novel, I kept having to knock the grade down as again and again this problem appeared. I’ve seen it in other novels, too, and it bugs the shit out of me:
Heroine: Oh! A real and honest problem! An emotional difficulty, a deception, a fear, a real problem!
Hero: Here! I shall make sweet love to you so that you will escape this worry through orgasm and not really deal with it!
Heroine: Oh! But we must FACE this problem! I am practical and pragmatic! We must address, discuss, and manage this problem that is giving me fits!
Hero: Come here! I shall play with your woman parts and you shall stop making this noise about problems!
Heroine: Oh! But… Oh Oh OH!
Yeah. Jack’s a big one in the sack and every time there’s a plot twist that gives Amanda a bit of worry, out pops Jack’s jack to pump her problems away. Avoidance much?
From the manful “claiming” of Amanda through sexing her up, with passionate variations of “Say my name,” which are in this novel centered around the “Who do you belong to?” variety (I kept thinking Jack was going to ask her next, “Who’s your daddy? WHO’S YOUR DADDY?!”) to the steamrolling over her very real and valid anxieties over their relationship and subsequent marriage, Jack did little to perform as an equal partner in the relationship, except where sex was concerned. And that kind of control over her, where he used her sexual pleasure to secure her acquiesence, got old with me really fast. Jack even uses their sexual intimacy against her, threatening to publish news of their sexual adventures to the entire world should she try to leave him. Ugh, I say.
But the worst part was the very end:
Amanda gets pregnant, causing more “big misunderstandings” and the screwing over of a very kind, respectable, and genuinely nice suitor, who of course she has no real passion with, and in the end, suffers a miscarriage. She withdraws from Jack, convinced that he only married her because of the pregnancy, and is devastated by the loss of the baby she did indeed want to have. Jack goes barmy trying to figure out ways to reach her, so of course he goes back to his old bag of tricks, bringing a tray of food and the jack-in-his-pants to woo the sorrow right out of her – three weeks after her miscarriage. He whips out his magic bag of sex and procedes to throw her legs over the arm of her chair and go down on her, despite her protests that she’s not ready. There’s even fruit involved in the kinky sex play, and really, the whole scene made me look at the book with an expression of horrified fury. The hero dismisses the heroine’s agony, and proceeds to override her desire for him to stop, and I’m unable to adequately express my horror and revulsion at the entire scene.
At the end of the book, prior to the Worst Oral Sex Scene Ever (TM Candy), Amanda says, “You’re a bully.” And Jack replies, “And I’m bigger than you.”
Wow. What a man. It was quite irritating really: I wanted to like so much of this book, from the way Amanda comes to the decision to live her own life in consideration of nothing and no one but her own desires and happiness, to the professional element of the story wherein she’s a writer and he’s a publisher, and they’re working on an updated edit of her first novel together. But Jack spent too much time seducing the real issues of their relationship out of the way, and while Amanda got all that hot monkey lovin’, I was left to read about it in cold disgust, and since Jack didn’t save any of that sexx0r for me, this book gets a much lower grade than I thought to give originally.