Book Review

The Count’s Blackmail Bargain by Sara Craven

C-

Title: The Count's Blackmail Bargain
Author: Sara Craven
Publication Info: Harlequin 2006
ISBN: 0373125674
Genre: Contemporary Romance

As I said last week, this month I’m reading nothing but category romances, because I’ve never read that many in my romance reading habit, mostly because I read very quickly, and the categories are so slim I never considered them enough bang for my buck.  When I embarked on the great category read-a-thon – and at this point I might have to go longer than a month because y’all have given me recommendations both good and bad that will last me a while – Jane from Dear Author was kind enough to lend me a copy of Sara Craven’s The Count’s Blackmail Bargain, which she enjoyed. I wish I’d enjoyed it as much.

In a nutshell, the Count in question, Alessio, has been blackmailed by his ridiculously venomous aunt into luring away his cousin’s presumed fiancée., Laura. Meanwhile, the equally ridiculous cousin has lured Laura to Italy to pose as said fiancée., because he doesn’t want to marry the malleable Beatrice (who we never meet but I feel sorry for), whom his aunt has intended him to marry. Ridiculous cousin thinks that once venomous aunt gets wind of his faux love for Laura’s pure British self, Auntie Vinegar will realize her promises to Beatrice’s family will come to nothing. Auntie Vinegar, who clearly has much to lose if her son doesn’t marry Beatrice, decides she’s going to put the kibosh on cousin’s nookie plans, and demands that Alessio seduce Laura, or else Auntie will reveal that Alessio has been slipping the little count into a married woman’s number, if you catch my meaning.

So yeah, double crossing, yadda yadda, hot Italian count who can get away with wearing white pants a LOT of the time, and a setting in the hot steamy countryside of Italy. I lost a bit of patience early when Alessio is in his closet (was R. Kelly there?) and suddenly he yearns for the “windswept crags where clouds drifted.” He’s in his closet in his villa in Rome, and he’s restless because his one night stand is pouting at him, so of course he longs “to breathe the dark earthy scents of the forests….” Ah yes. The shorthand where nature > city and the truth of love > hot sexxoring with a hot willing partner with no expectations of commitment on either side. The unnatural contrasted with the natural – got it. Thanks for the headache after beaning me with the Hammer of Romance Shorthand.

At least Laura doesn’t come complete with the Hammer of Romance Shorthand. She’s open and direct about the vessel of purity that she is: “But if and when I have sex with a man, I want it to be based on love and respect, and a shared future.” Pity I can’t imagine a single person I know saying anything remotely like that. Well, perhaps if I was personally acquainted with one of those wooden sketch figure dummies come to life, because that’s some wooden dialogue right there.

At times the blocking was odd, too:

‘And he tells me she strongly disapproves of open displays of affection, so all I really have to do is flutter my eyelashes occasionally.’

Laura gave a brisk nod. ‘No, this is basically a business arrangement, and that’s fine with me.’

Nods? Why would she nod and then say, “No”? I’m trying to do so now and I can’t make my head nod while I say something negative. The whole scene was a fragile attempt at revealing her motivations for going to Italy, and the shorthand and odd blocking irritated me to no end.

That’s a lot of what-the-fuck for the first few hundred words. And there’s other things I marked as “too over the top for reals,” such as when whiny ridiculous cousin, whose name is Paolo, “smote himself on the chest.” Seriously! He did! I read it three times! And then I tried it but I was on the bus and there wasn’t enough room for me to smote effectively without jostling the person next to me. And rule #56 of commuting in Manhattan: do not jostle an uncaffeinated fellow transit passenger.

But what really sent me over the edge was the degree to which Alessio threw himself into his new ardor for Laura, even though the book spends plenty of time setting him up as a rather callous playboy. He hasn’t had sex with her, and he’s spent all of a few days with her, and suddenly: “He longed, he realised, to fall asleep each night with her in his arms, and wake next to her each morning. He wanted her as unequivocally and completely as he needed food and clothing.” Whoa.

However, I loved the setting in a villa in a rural Italian valley, and I loved the scenes where they ate because, well, YUM. The escapist fantasy of being swept away to a sultry, delicious country while posing as someone you’re not, living in accommodations you wouldn’t otherwise experience, and meeting incredibly scrumptious

meals

men, you wouldn’t otherwise meet – I can see the allure of experience that again and again in the Presents series. Oh, yes. Especially the part about the olives and the fish. No, that’s not a euphemism.

The rest of the story is neat in a madcap kind of way – though I don’t think the nasty parties really got as much of a comeuppance as the short fantasy of the novel warranted. I mean, if Laura’s life in London is neatly coming to a close in many respects, allowing room for Alessio to sweep her literally off her feet and take her to Italy with him, shouldn’t the Calgon-take-me-away fantasy also come with significant humiliation for the ridiculous villains?

But like I said, what do I know? I’m not used to reading these books, and their length and their tropes are a little startling to me. The secondary characters who exist solely to ask questions that advance the story or reveal the backstory – I presume they make appearances in just about all of them? The smooth, somewhat insanely schmaltzy dialogue on the part of the hero that reveals his inner squishy love for the heroine – I’m guessing that is standard operating procedure? I’m still getting used to it. But this was too doofy and wooden for me, and in the end I wasn’t reading it because I cared what happened; I was reading it because I wanted to satisfy my curiosity that it ended in the pattern I expected it would, and because I didn’t have another book to begin on the bus anyway.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Robin says:

    This was a C read for me, largely because of the inexplicable love Alessio feels for Laura.  I can handle love and first sight, but in this case, both the lust and the possessiveness just seemed to come out of nowhere, and worse, they never felt explained during the course of the novel.  In other words, I never felt the development of a deep connection between the two leads that made that lightning bolt moment understandable for me.

    But I gotta say, I did like the Italian setting and I liked the way Craven drew the cousin (and I believed Laura’s motivations for going to Italy with him).  And I especially liked that she actually wanted to leave along the way, and didn’t languish around the villa making excuses for why she had to be trapped, blah blah blah.

  2. 2
    snarkhunter says:

    Sara Craven?

    Is anyone else thinking this *has* to be the penname of a Lisa Kleypas fangirl?

    Anyone?

    Bueller?

  3. 3
    sara says:

    Clothing? He realized he needed her as much as he needed his clothing? His britches and waistcoats and fobs and fantastically feathered hats? He needed her as much as all those fabulous garments?

    That seems a little … Teddy Pig, what is the phrase I’m looking for? Oh. “I can has buttsecks?”

    My verification word is “hand44.” HAAAAA.

  4. 4
    Wry Hag says:

    “But if and when I have sex with a man, I want it to be based on love and respect, and a shared future.”

    Hey, somebody better look into this shit.  I’m almost certain that line was boosted from an eHarmony customer. Or maybe even from their questionnaire.

  5. 5

    SNORT @ Wry Hag!  I especially like the “if” bit of that sentence—or should it be called a Mission Statement?  Gotta love the virgin in a romance who sorta kinda wants to maybe stay that way.

    Me?  I’m more of a “take a lot of test-drives before you buy” kinda gal.  My Mission Statement goes something like this:

    “When and when I have sex with a man, or men, or a group of like-minded individuals, I want there to be birth control, prophylactics, any needed lube, and the possibility of battery-driven devices should not be excluded.  I want this sexxxx0ring to be based on a steaming cup full of lust, blindness to my alleged stretch-marks, and a shared orgasm or ten.”

    Yeah, that sounds about right.  Then again, I might be leaving the “sweet romance” genre with that one.

  6. 6
    RfP says:

    I was with you until this:

    But like I said, what do I know? I’m not used to reading these books, and their length and their tropes are a little startling to me. The secondary characters who exist solely to ask questions that advance the story or reveal the backstory – I presume they make appearances in just about all of them? The smooth, somewhat insanely schmaltzy dialogue on the part of the hero that reveals his inner squishy love for the heroine – I’m guessing that is standard operating procedure?

    Do I really have to make the usual rebuttal that reading one romance does not an expert make?  I know you know better than that.

    I no longer read much category romance, but I used to.  In my opinion they varied from dogawful embarrassing crap to excellent little gems of books, with a lot of average “meh” in between.  Pretty much like the rest of the genre.  Or any genre.

    Unfortunately, the cover blurbs are so dumb that it’s almost impossible to guess which you’re getting (as I just said on the I Heart Presents cover survey.)  And, as we’ve discussed before, romances are published in such volume that there can be a lot of bad books to wade through.  I hope you’ll find some you enjoy.  I still have a few favorites.

  7. 7
    Rhiannon says:

    Actually, I’ve been known to do the nodding head while saying no thing. It’s a common mannerism here, usually used when changing a subject. I find this very interesting, because I didn’t realise it was unusual.

  8. 8
    Nifty says:

    <

    Is anyone else thinking this *has* to be the penname of a Lisa Kleypas fangirl?

    Anyone?>>

    TOTALLY!!!  I saw that name and immediately thought “Fangirl!”

    How funny.

  9. 9
    Robin says:

    Except that IIRC Craven the Harlequin author has been around longer than either Craven the character or Kleypas the author.

  10. 10
    Suzanne says:

    Okay, I am going to show my ignorance here, so I apologize in advance…but what exactly is a “Category” Romance?

  11. 11

    Suzanne, category romance (aka “series romance”, I believe) are the shorter, traditional romance novels put out by Harlequin and Silhouette. Each line (American or Superromance or Desires) produces a specific number of books each month. Those books are stocked in stores for that one month only and then replaced with the next batch.

    I’m no expert though. I hope someone has a better explanation!

  12. 12
    JaneyD says:

    Which reminds me yet again that this line’s market base are 11 year olds and 80 year old virgins.  Anyone in between shouldn’t waste their money.

    Hacks in need of a fast check are encouraged to send in their manuscripts as HQ has increased the number of books per year in this line.

    :goggling in shock and awe, followed by weeping for the dead trees:

    My security word?  “money11”  Someone’s got a hell of a sense of humor.

  13. 13

    Actually, let me clarify. I shouldn’t have said the lines “produce” a certain number of books a month. Clearly the authors write them. Good thing I don’t work with words for a living, huh? *eye roll*

  14. 14
    Anonym2857 says:

    Suzanne,

    I’m not an eleven year old, nor am I an 80 year old virgin.  I am a big supporter of categories, though.

    I personally think it takes a lot more talent to work within the parameters of a category line than it does to write a mainstream novel, which might explain why so many category authors have gone on to become bestsellers.  You might have heard of some—Roberts, Crusie, Brockmann, Evanovich, Korbel, Gardner, Spenser, Lowell, Hooper, Hohl, Johansen, Greene, Delinsky, Samuel, Krentz and Brown come to mind, along with too many others to list.

    Not only do the categories have a limited shelf-life as Victoria mentioned, but each line (category) has specific expectations—for example a sweet story, a more exotic locale, a specific age/demographic of heroine, etc.

    If you want to see how the categories break down, you can go to http://eharlequin.com/articlepage.html?articleId=538&chapter=0 and look around.

    It’s the webpage the hacks use for reference. That way, they can save postage by sending their tree-killing verbiage to the correct publisher.

    Diane

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