Book Review

The Girl from Honeysuckle Farm by Jessica Steele

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Title: The Girl from Honeysuckle Farm
Author: Jessica Steele
Publication Info: Harlequin 2010
ISBN: 0373176341
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Book CoverI honestly wonder if this book came from the past, the far, far distant past where brutal behavior, ripping of bodices, and complete idiocy in response to those first two were the norm. My jaw dropped open more and more as I read it.

To say that Phinn Hawkins (that’s the heroine) has had a very unconventional upbringing would be a honking huge understatement. Her father was an eccentric tinkerer and general dreamer. Her parents split up, and she stayed with her dad on Honeysuckle Farm, where his family has been tenant farmers for generations. The farm itself isn’t much in the farming way, and the land is used more as a repository for various unfinished tinkering projects from Phinn’s dad. Phinn herself gets a job in town – quite a drive from the farm – as a secretary after her mother moves out, and takes on the responsibility of basically supporting her father. Phinn adores him and admires him and accepts no criticism whatsoever of her dad.

Until Ty Allardyce buys the estate, and wants them off Honeysuckle Farm. A series of unfortunate people enter and exit in the first two chapters to create a series of troublesome events that result in Ty’s intense dislike and distrust of Phinn. That dislike is based in part on misunderstanding and on blatant presumption that because, for example, she is a female and related by blood to another female, she’s equal in moral flaw and general asshattery to that other female. Haven’t seen that one in awhile – “She’s related to that awful whore so she must be an awful whore, too!” Way to inspire my confidence in your ability to not be a dickbag, there, Ty. Ty’s a hotshot London financier, pin-striped from tip to toe… who thinks one soggy, wicked uterus is just like another!

I’m honestly having trouble organizing my thoughts to fully express the WTFHUH that is this book. Here, have a list.

1. The heroine has a horse, an elderly horse who is skittish and fearful and terribly expensive. I’m someone who has spent ridiculous amounts of money to care for elderly animals, and even *I* wondered why this girl was doing so much for the horse – there wasn’t nearly enough explanation as to why the horse was so important except that it was. There was a TON of backstory of Phinn’s family but not nearly as much explaining how the horse became such a visceral part of her life. Thus I never quite understood why Phinn should do all of these crazy things to help her horse, including moving into a one room apartment above a stable where her horse could be kept, and thought she was being blindly fixated on a horse instead of her own life.

I guess it was supposed to make her seem unselfish but really it made her immature. I never escaped the image of Phinn as terribly, awfully earnest and blithe and innocent like she was 15 and all that combined to make her seem stone stupid. When the romance started happening, I was squicked to the extreme. There is such a thing as too much innocence, and she totally had more than her share. Her determined ignorance wandered way over the border into cluelessness to the point where she seemed so young the thought of her having sex made me kinda ill.

2. The hero development followed the same route until the end:

I have a boner for her. AM ANGRY BONER HERO.

She has done something that I can interpret as revealing her crappy moral character. ANGRY BONER HERO IS ANGRY WITH BONER.

I will get angry at her even though I’m grossly misinterpreting the circumstances. ANGRY BONER HERO STILL HAS BONER AND IS ANGRY.

Something will happen to reveal that perhaps I was a tiny bit not entirely correct. ANGRY BONER HERO IS STILL ANGRY WITH BONER.

She has done something that I can interpret as revealing her crappy moral character. Again. ANGRY BONER HERO IS ANGRY WITH BONER.

I will get angry at her even though I’m grossly misinterpreting the circumstances. ANGRY BONER HERO STILL HAS BONER AND IS ANGRY.

I will not learn that perhaps I am routinely misjudging her based on the flimsiest of circumstances despite multiple examples of my wrongheadedness. ANGRY BONER HERO IS A GODDAM MORON.

Seriously – she’s related to a thoughtless hobag, so she must be a hobag, too. She’s the daughter of someone who wasn’t terribly responsible, so she must be irresponsible, too. The sins of everyone else must be shared by this girl because she breathes the same air so she must be of absolutely horrific moral quality and a danger to everyone, particularly Ty’s brother.

3. Ty’s brother is actually an interesting character – he’s suffered a complete emotional breakdown twice, so Ty is unwilling to allow him to stay by himself. But breakdown brother has to manage the estate they own – including Phinn’s family farm and another farm up the road.

When Phinn saves breakdown brother from drowning in the local pond and earns brother’s trust and a smidge of Ty’s respect, Ty asks her to move into the manor estate house to be a companion to his brother. But of course Ty can’t TELL his brother she’s his companion. Poor brother with his fragile hold on his emotions has to continue to believe that the real reason for Phinn’s presence is that Angry Boner Hero has a massive angry boner for the heroine.
Which he does but he disguises it badly as aggressive hurtful asshat behavior.

4. The worst is when he comes upon his brother kissing the heroine on the cheek after she’s woken up in bed, feeling emotionally and physically awful herself. What does he do? Gets all pouty and rips her pajama top down her arms because she’s supposed to feel lust only for him.

Gee, what am I as the reader supposed to feel? Admiration for his strength and take-charge attitude? I’m more in the mind of feeling like I want to grab the nearest fireplace shovel and bang him on the head with it twenty times.

It’s amazing how crossing a line affects my impression of a book. The heroine crossed the line into idiocy and spinelessness so many times, and I could tolerate that. I didn’t enjoy it, and I wouldn’t have given this book higher than a C with her involvement because she repeatedly took so many unneccessary and selfish risks, but I could keep reading with some interest. Maybe she’d wake up and realize her own idiocy and have a big huge makeover.

The characters reduced this story. There was unending backstory revealed in the first chapter (HOLY INFODUMP BATMAN) and as a reader I was asked to serve a ridiculous amount of understanding in order to find her character palatable. I found her to be dim and found the excuses for her behavior frustrating. But his pajama top ripping attempts at seduction by force nearly made me shriek. There was no redeeming him after that. She was an idiot. He never learned from his actions, and she didn’t learn much of anything, except that she might want to question her own judgment now and again since she thinks the sun rises and sets on a bunch of morons – her intended included.

I would rather have read breakdown brother’s story – he was much more interesting. As Jane has said, the asshole/doormat ratio was a huge factor in this book, and the degree to which these two were out of balance made this book, which due to the setting and the potential conflict of farmer/landowner I was very curious to read,thoroughly unpalatable.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Ros says:

    Hahahahaha!

    I read this one a little while back because ‘country girl meets business tycoon’ is one of my favourite tropes, but honestly, with each page, my eyebrows were rising higher and my jaw was dropping further.  Unbelievably old school and not in a good way.  I went and googled the author and found that she is indeed an old school M&B writer, with a long backlist.  Which did make me wonder whether the same standards are applied to existing authors as they are to new ones.  I know she’s not writing Presents/Modern, but I cannot believe that the first chapter of this book would have got anything but a form rejection in the recent competition.  I’d say it’s time for M&B to retire some of these authors and pick up some fresh younger talent.  Yes, my submission is currently in the slush pile….

  2. 2
    SB Sarah says:

    ‘country girl meets business tycoon’ is one of my favourite tropes

    Oh, yes, me too! So many stereotypical plot maneuvers, so many ways to undermine and subvert them. But yes, this was very, very old school. Any minute the hero was going to say, ‘And I got you fired so you HAVE to marry me!’

  3. 3
    MRM says:

    “seduction by force”

    I just call that “sexual assault.”  Every time I hear about this sort of behavior presented as romantic, or at least acceptable if done by someone who is a Romantic Hero, it turns my stomach.

  4. 4
    MichelleR says:

    Ha, I think another book from this author was the second Harlequin I ever read. Still remember the name, Turbulent Covenant.  (Airline pilot and flight attendant—Ben Maxwell/Tiffany Nichols.) The first Harlequin was an HP—Yesterday’s Scars, but Carole Mortimer.

    There was another book from the author—we’re talking 80s here—in which the hero, iirc, mistakes the heroine for a non-virgin. GASP. This leads him to think rape is okay. I recall the heroine basically knowing he was going to take her no matter what, and telling him that when he realized what he had done (raped a VIRGIN, as opposed to a slutty, whorish non-virgin) that everything good and decent in him would rise up like bile in his throat and choke him. I don’t think he went through with it, but it wasn’t a moral decision, I don’t think.)

    I can barely recall what I had for breakfast, but plot details from 1981ish, I’m so all over that!

    So, yeah, anyhow—old school writer.

  5. 5
    kerri brennan says:

    I remember reading a Jessica Steele in the early 90’s and the HEA took about 40 pages. I never read another one.

    However have just had a quick look online and she was borne in 1933. I think it’s a case of got so far with modern life and than stopped.

    However if M&B/Harelquin are still publishing her she must be selling? I’m just confused as to who’s buying?

  6. 6
    RebeccaJ says:

    Ty’s a hotshot London financier, pin-striped from tip to toe… who thinks one soggy, wicked uterus is just like another!

    You are such a good writer, Sarah, and sooooo good at drawing a mental picture, whether we want to see it or not…LOL!

  7. 7
    Xay says:

    Jessica Steele is one of those authors that I wonder if she actually exists or if she is a psuedonym for a group of writers like Ann M. Martin because her books follow the same formula so precisely down to the page number at the end where the hero starts confessing everything that he has been thinking for the entire book.

  8. 8
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    Jessica Steele is one of those authors that I wonder if she actually exists or if she is a psuedonym for a group of writers like Ann M. Martin because her books follow the same formula so precisely

    I just Googled her and she does appear to be a real person.  Her bio states that she writes every book out longhand, and at her most productive she released five books in a year, which I personally can’t imagine even with my laptop and a battery of assistants, but apparently it can be done.

  9. 9
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    I honestly wonder if this book came from the past, the far, far distant past

    Could it possibly be an older manuscript that the author had on hand and just tweaked a bit to bring it into the 21st century?  I can certainly imagine such a thing happening if there was a deadline and contract to be fulfilled and the words just weren’t coming.

  10. 10
    molly_rose says:

    Interestingly, how the the only way I realized this was a contemporary was the clothing on the front cover, after I’d read Sarah’s Review. Until that point, I assumed it was an historical from, like, medieval times or something.

  11. 11
    molly_rose says:

    EDIT ABOVE:
    That, and little details like driving, tinkering, and parents separating. But otherwise, the characters sound straight out of the past.

  12. 12
    JamiSings says:

    It’s amazing how much I’ve changed as years go by. Back when I was a teen the rapy-hero never struck me as a rapist. Now that I’m 33 I get disgusted. I mean, Dom/sub has it’s place – when both parties agree and the protocols are followed.

    I think I actually first became aware of the rapy-heroes when I read a romance novel where the HEROINE raped the hero. I can’t remember the title or much of the plot. I do remember, however, how she came to rape him. Her brother forced her into a marriage with a very old man. The old man told her on their wedding night that it proved he couldn’t perform, he would “give” her to one of his knights who “was like a son to him” and also looked like him when he was younger. He had no problem raising another man’s son. But the old man died and she didn’t want to sleep with the knight. So, to protect her life and her inheritance, she and her maid kidnapped a knight with similar coloration to the dead husband, chained him to a bed naked. There was at first a frustrated rape scene because she didn’t know that the man has to be hard to enter her. She gets advice from her maid, comes back, almost performs oral sex on him but just the thought of it gets him hard and she rapes him.

    Later when he escapes I think he raped her as revenge. Or tried to at least.

    I just remember that’s the one that made me realize the heroes in all the others were rapists. Because she even kept saying how she didn’t want to rape the knight. And he kept thinking “A woman can’t rape a man!”

  13. 13
    Francesca says:

    I think I actually first became aware of the rapy-heroes when I read a romance novel where the HEROINE raped the hero.

    Does anyone out there know what book this is? I would love to find it. Although I’m not a fan of the “rape her ‘til she likes it,” genre, it would be worth it for the scene described here.

  14. 14
    Lara Amber says:

    I remember that book!

    Prisoner of My Desire by Johanna Lindsey.  I admit it was one of my favorites as a teen because it was dark.

  15. 15
    JamiSings says:

    Thanks Lara! Geez, amazing how some details get messed up in my head. I could’ve sworn she hatched the plan to kidnap the knight, not her step-brother. But the fact remains that their “love affair” starts out with her raping him.

    I think that was my first romance novel that involved bondage, in fact. Until then it was just the usual him on top pinning her with his body stuff.

  16. 16
    Pia says:

    Whoa crazy, I just read Prisoner of My Desire this past weekend.

    Jami – You’re right in how the “love affair” begins but it was actually the step brother who had the knight kidnapped and chained to the bed. The men didn’t actually know he was a knight (and the step bro’s enemy). Under threat of raping/beating the heroine’s mother to death, the step bro made the heroine rape the knight until she got with child so it could be passed off as the old man’s so he could remain in control of the land and army.

  17. 17
    Lara Amber says:

    No problem Jami.  I’m tempted to reread that one.  I do like bondage in romance novels.  Though right now with the pregnancy hormones it would be hard to top the weird sex dreams I’ve been having.  Man can my subconscious come up with some twisted things.  It’s weird waking up disgusted with your own brain.

  18. 18
    Caesura says:

    Wow, I kinda want to pick up Prisoner of my Desire. Speaking of heroine rape there was a book I remember from working at a bookstore a few years ago. It had a green cover with a girl and maybe a wolf on it? I was using it as an example for a co-worker of mine about being able to flip open to a page and find where the “juicy” parts were in romance novels. Imagine my surprise that within the first chapter we are introduced to a heroine who has captured a guy, tied him up, and was planning to have sex with him just because (I think) her father was going to marry her off to a old guy and she didn’t want to have her first sexual experience be with a geriatric.
    I, of course, found this whole thing to be terribly amusing and proceeded to read excerpts aloud for the purpose of embarrassing my co-worker, who would blush at what she deemed the “naughty bits.” I’d actually really like to find this book again, I never did get to finish it. :D

  19. 19
    Sarah V. says:

    @JamiSings—I read that one, too!!  I thought it was a really interesting twist.  I haven’t yet found another book that deals with the heroine raping the hero, though I’m sure some are out there.

    Rapy-asshat-heroes are becoming more and more tiresome to me.  I could live with them when I was younger, but now I have no patience, even with a satisfying groveling scene.

    Georgette Heyer’s jovial, fun-loving, go with the flow, discerning heroes have ruined me for almost any other type.  Even her cruel men know when something’s up, and do some sleuthing before passing judgment.

  20. 20
    SophiaMcD says:

    Hang on. Hang on a minute. She’s the protective daughter of an eccentric tinkerer/dreamer… who lives on a farm in the countryside… with no mother on the scene… and she owns a skittish horse… and she ends up all but captive in the rich, powerful, dangerous man’s house… and he threatens her father’s well-being…

    Does Angry Boner Man have a household staff of animated tableware and a magic rose under a glass dome?

  21. 21
    Francesca says:

    This is only barely on topic (guy decides girl must be a whore for whatever WTF reason), but does anyone remember Glynda by Susannah Leigh? During the course of the story our hero was captured by some really effete bad guy and was tied up and raped by this guy. Eventually, he is reunited with the heroine and goes down on his knees to beg her forgiveness, having finally learned that, for some people, sex isn’t always a choice. I remember it blew me away at the time, not just the male-rape, which I don’t recall ever seeing in another book, but his penitence.

  22. 22
    Lara Amber says:

    +1 to Sophia. :)

  23. 23
    Kristina says:

    I hate to make a “non comment” but I really want to read the comments from this post and if I comment I’ll get emails instead of lurking on here when I could get in trouble from work.  :-)  this is my work-around for that.

  24. 24
    Ros says:

    @Sophia, he doesn’t actually threaten the father’s well-being since the father is dead and even ANGRY BONER MAN’s powers don’t extend beyond the grave.  But I’m not going to make any bets about what Disney films Mrs Steele may or may not have been watching lately.

  25. 25
    SB Sarah says:

    Kristina: You are always welcome to make a “non comment” to subscribe via email. I’m working with a developer in 2010 to add a custom function to allow subscription without commenting, so that’s a “stay tuned I’m working on it” feature—but until then, always always comment with “Hi! I want email!” or whatever you like. No problem at all. Feel free.

  26. 26
    Liz says:

    Does Angry Boner Man have a household staff of animated tableware and a magic rose under a glass dome?

    lmao.  i loved Beauty and the Beast when I was little (and the title song, as well as Belle, is on my Pandora station), but somehow i doubt that i would like this book magical rose or not.

  27. 27
    RebeccaJ says:

    It’s amazing how much I’ve changed as years go by. Back when I was a teen the rapy-hero never struck me as a rapist. Now that I’m 33 I get disgusted. I mean, Dom/sub has it’s place – when both parties agree and the protocols are followed.

    I have to agree with you on this, Jami. Back when I was younger and the hero was “forceful”, i.e. cutting her off from her friends, calling her all the time,  I thought it was romantic because he loved her sooo much. Now I realize he’s just controlling, manipulative and emotionally abusive. One HUGE pet peeve is when he calls the hero names, like bitch. And yet, she hooks up with him…oy!

  28. 28
    Jessica says:

    Are the old school “rapy” hero books why we had such bad luck with our first years of dating life?

    lot84…  Hope everyone gets a lot!

  29. 29
    Lara Amber says:

    I have no problem with characters calling the heroine a bitch.  There are stronger words (the C word for example) that would have me reaching through the pages to remove his ability to reproduce and speak.

  30. 30
    JaneyD says:

    This SO reminds me of the sweet little ol’ ladies I see who are wearing the SAME hairstyle that was so flattering to them when they were in their 20s.

    (Yeah, I KNOW. Cher does that on a regular basis, but she’s got more plastic parts than a Daewoo and can get away with it.)

    Thankfully I’m not stuck in my writing like that. Since I first started selling in the 80s I have improved on my craft and am writing better stuff that keeps up with the times.

    Of course, I make a point of having intelligent characters running the plot. It gets really embarrassing when it turns out they’re usually way smarter than me.

    Oh, yeah, I have a flattering 21st century hairstyle. ;)

    OMG—the password is “remember 79”  BWAHHHH!

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