May 2008, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Samhain Publishing, $4.50, 130 pages, Amazon ASIN 9781599989372
The price and ISBN above are valid at Samhain Publishing - the book is not available at Amazon
Though many readers have discovered e-book gems, there's still a stigma attached to authors e-published. Many believe that being e-published is just one short step up from self-publication. Iím not going to try to convert readers to e-books as a quality addition to their romance book sources, but I am going to try to convert readers over to Bonnie Dee, because I think she's among the best romance writers publishing today. Her writing is sublime simplicity, without flowery language, thesaurus-synonyms, or overly fancy word-play. She's all about the characters; thereís no need for car chases, kidnappings, or secondary and/or tertiary love stories. She'll jerk your tears, and two seconds later she'll raise your body temperature. And a perfect example of this can be found in The Countess Takes a Lover.
The Countess Meredith de Chevalier is an older, sexually experienced and sexually adventurous widowed woman who takes as her current lover the younger, virginal Christopher Whitby. Since family dynasties arenít perpetuated between man and plant, and Chris has already rejected the overtures of a willing prostitute, Chrisís father decides to go to a woman known for her skill in the bedroom to put some chest hair on his son. Meredith is that woman.
She meets Chris under the guise of pure physical attraction, a feeling that is reciprocated, and Chris, despite the vow to dedicate his life to his work, accepts the offer to reconstruct Meredithís greenhouse and, ahem, examine her plants.
Once at her country home, we delve into their burgeoning relationship, to the exclusion of everything and everyone else. Apart from a few temporary walk-on roles, Meredith and Chris are all we hear, all we smell, all we taste, all we see, all weíre allowed to think about. And I deliberately mention the senses because, particularly in Deeís love scenes, she employs words to trigger them all.
Samhain doesnít label this an erotic romance (and I donít know whether this is simply not a descriptive tag used or whether it doesnít measure up to their "erotic" requirements) but Meredith and Chrisís relationship, based as it is on lust and sexual awakening, demanded a focus on the physical that would have become repetitive if not for the unique quality to each of their meetings, and Deeís almost poetic attention to detail. In addition, the scenes werenít there so we readers could get our jollies. Character and relationship development was happening there. Iím serious.
It seems as though Chris begins to suffer from heroine worship with regards to Meredith, who for most of the novel holds the reins to their relationship. This is only a cousin to the truth because itís not worship he feels, but love. And itís this love that I have the most problem with, because of Chrisís lack of past experiences.
Though under Meredithís tutelage he evolved into a one-woman Lothario, heíd never before had a relationship (sexual or not) Ė or even a minimum of conversation with a female Ė without the blinkers of his self-imposed intellectualist ideals. I suppose I could believe in the concept of love at first sight or soul mates, but his love for her would have indisputably moved past the puppy variety if I could have seen him interact with women who were not simpering misses, who could hold their own in a conversation, with whom he could actually enjoy himself Ė but still feel his love for Meredith unchanged. Although this doesn't happen, his feelings for her are otherwise tested, and so I finished the book a believer in Their Enduring Love.
There were other quirks within the plot and with respect to character development - ie, Meredithís largely unexplained road to self-made wealth, the lack of conflict resolution between Chris and his father - but I didnít let it spoil the overall effect.
One last aspect to The Countess Takes a Lover worthy of mention were intriguing insights into gender roles:
ďThe primitive need to claim her as his mate, to possess her and drive off all other males filled him. The bit of him that was still a sane, educated man with forward views on a womanís place in society was intrigued by the phenomenon. As a scholar, he realized he was experiencing a primal urge beyond his control. The animal part of his brain was uppermost now. Heíd once feared and fought against that devolution of intellect into animal desire, but now embraced it.Ē
I donít agree with the correlation between primal urges and the devolution of intellect, but appreciated the brain fodder nonetheless. It was like a gift within a gift and who can give anything less than DIK status for two presents?
-- Abi Bishop
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