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+