Wednesday, March 17, 2010

TBR Challenge 2010: Clever Bobby

Warning: Minor Spoilers In Review Section

The Book
: Entertaining Mr. Stone by Portia Da Costa

The Particulars: Black Lace, Contemporary Erotica, 2006, Out Of Print.

Why Was It In The Bat Cave TBR?: Before erotic romance broke through the mainstream, if I wanted something spicy to read, I went to Black Lace (at the time, part of Virgin Books). The disclaimer being that they generally published straight-up erotica, but I did discover a couple of writers who wrote stories with romantic elements. Portia Da Costa was one of them. I've got a couple of her books in the Bat Cave Keeper Stash, and I'm still working my way through her older back list titles.

The Review: After aborting two historical romance reads to meet this month's challenge, I decided that maybe I could benefit from a change of scenery. Hence me reading this erotic novel, set in England, about a low-level office drone and the affair she embarks on with her mysterious, high-powered boss.

Maria Lewis was living the party girl life in London when a negative bank account and the realization that her personal life is crap have her returning to her hometown. Once there she rents a flat and takes a job in a financial institution where she shuffles loan applications, stamps papers, and tries to keep from falling asleep at her desk. However it soon becomes apparent that the seemingly boring confines of the office are anything but. There are plenty of sexual shenanigans and office politics afoot, and our fair heroine has caught the eye of none other than the Director of Finance, Robert Stone.

Da Costa's work for Black Lace has two distinct personalities. Her earlier books are most definitely erotica, while in her later novels, romance becomes much more prominent and we get erotic romance. Entertaining Mr. Stone is a bit of an In-Between-er, and because of that, it never quite gelled for me.

The author's writing style continues to work for me, British slang and all. I often say that the heroines in a Da Costa book are the sorts of women I'd like to be friends with. The problem here is that I never felt that Maria was on an even playing field with the other characters in this story, most notably Mr. Stone, who plays the part of dominant, powerful, older man. Maria spends 95% of the book "reacting" to him. To what he wants her to do. The suggestions he makes. Eventually the author does tip the balance of power toward our heroine's favor with a final scene, but it was a bit too late for me at that point.

The other problem is that Stone is very much an enigma for the whole book. I never got a handle on this guy. He's very mysterious, one moment playing the absentminded professor, the next playing the Big Bad Wolf to the heroine's Little Red Riding Hood. And while I certainly appreciated the glimpses the author gave us into his past (namely, he's a widower) those glimpses only added to my unsettled feeling when it's revealed the heroine looks like said Dead Wife. I guess I wanted it spelled out to me that he was with the heroine because of who she was - not who she may have reminded him of. I also would have liked some positive reinforcement that the guy didn't make a habit of running around bangin' comely office drones.

Da Costa excels at writing "hot vanilla" sex - which means plenty of shagging, but nothing completely "out there," kinky or weird. This story tip-toes a bit farther into kinky territory than some of her other work. Certainly it's not the filthiest erotica novel I've ever read (not even close actually), but there are definitely elements at play here that may cause jaw-dropping in readers who aren't seasoned erotica-reading pros.

This is a very hard book for me to review. It had the elements that I enjoy in the author's work (good heroine, sassy writing style), but I was unsettled by the plot and the hero. At the end of the day, I'm glad the heroine got herself some great sex, but I'm still a little worried about her emotional well-being. Is a relationship with Clever Bobby Stone really in her best interests? I'm not really convinced.....

Final Grade = C+


Tracy said...

I never have read a Da Costa. *sigh* I know - bad Tracy. I've had every intention I just haven't gotten that far. I shouldn't say that. I did pick up The Devil Inside but just couldn't get into it.

Great review Wendy but I think I'll pass - doesn't seem like my kind of story.

Wendy said...

Tracy: That's one of hers I still have in my TBR. In the keeper stash I have In Too Deep (which Renee also enjoyed) and The Tutor (hard to find). I've also really liked the short stories she's turned out for Spice Briefs.

Leslie said...

Well, at least you finished it. :)

I don't like it when hero/heroine look like the dead lover. I stopped reading one book, don't remember the title, because of that very thing.

Rosario said...

The hero's name sounds very familiar. I wonder if he is the guy they see in the alley in that scene in In Too Deep?

Wendy said...

Leslie: Yeah, I found that revelation really....unsettling....

Rosario: Yes he is! Da Costa loosely connected her last few books for Black Lace by having past characters do "walk-ons." Another example? The couple from In Too Deep is featured in a restaurant/bar scene in Kiss It Better. They don't have any lines, the heroine merely observes them from across the room :) It's inside knowledge that amuses fans, but wouldn't seem like "series-info-dumping" to newcomers.

Renee said...

Hmm...I really liked the sound of this one, but now I'm not so sure. I don't mind a power differential in the relationship, but it's got to be made up in other areas. Also, not so crazy about the dead wife resemblance.

However, I'm glad you helped put Da Costa back on my radar, because after your last post I looked her up and saw a number of her books in e-format.

Sooo, which of her books would you recommend?

Wendy said...

Renee: I just hopped over to All Romance eBooks to look at the digital titles. Of those I would recommend:

The Risque Reunions trilogy she did for Spice Briefs. These are short stories, but if you read them back-2-back-2-back they really fit together well, sort of like a novella.

I also liked Kiss It Better. I didn't love it like In Too Deep, but I did give a B. Clicking on the "Portia Da Costa" tag will bring up my review.

Shadowplay and The Devil Inside I'm (pretty sure) are from her erotica days. I still have both of those in my TBR (sigh).

And if you ever stumble across a copy, I loved The Tutor. Unfortunately it's really hard to find, and not available in e. Bugger. I was an idiot and sold my copy on eBay some years back, and now I'm trying to get my hands on another one. If/When I do, I will sooooo let you borrow it :)

~ames~ said...

I've read a PDC in the past based on your recommendation, so I think I'll stay away from this one (since I liked the one you liked LOL). Good review though!