Wednesday, March 15, 2023

#TBRChallenge 2023: A Night of Scandal

The Book: A Night of Scandal by Sarah Morgan

The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Harlequin Presents #3000, 2011, available digitally, first book in The Notorious Wolfes continuity series.

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: Once I discovered Sarah Morgan I glommed nearly, if not all, of her category romance backlist - which mainly reside in the Presents and Medical lines.

The Review: This month's optional TBR Challenge theme is Baggage, and you will never want for baggage in a Presents.  If anything you might be crushed under the weight of said baggage. Yes, sometimes less is more, but nobody ever says that about Presents.  More is usually more - with varying degrees of success.

Nathaniel Wolfe (of course his surname is Wolfe - that's how you know he's the hero in a Harlequin Presents novel...) is a big time, dreamboat, Hollywood movie star.  The kind of guy that men want to be and women want to be with. Devastatingly handsome, notorious playboy, but also (shockingly enough) a damn good actor. Unfortunately he's a book often judged by his cover, so he's back in England to star in a play, a contemporary retelling of Richard III.  It's the hottest ticket in town, it's opening night, and it all comes to a screeching halt when the curtain lifts and Nathaniel catches his past sitting right there in the front row.  He completely shuts down, tells the audience to get a refund at the box office on their way out, and takes off running - right smack dab into Katie Field.

Katie is the costume designer for the show and, quite frankly, she's counting on it to be her big break.  She needs the break, and the money that would come with potentially more costume design gigs.  When Dear Old Dad died, his mountain of gambling debts were uncovered. An addiction her mother was aware of, but that Katie and her sister were blindsided by.  Sis, a breathtakingly beautiful supermodel, got angry and essentially cut ties with her family.  Katie, ever the dutiful, "frumpier" sister works her fingers to the bone to keep Mom in the family home.  She cannot afford to get distracted, which means she's largely avoided Nathaniel as much as humanly possible outside of costume fittings.  Besides, he doesn't even know her name - he calls her "wardrobe."  So it's all a bit shocking to realize he 1) does know her name 2) convinces her to help him getaway from the theater and avoid the paparazzi and 3) convince her to let him hole up in her tiny, depressing apartment.  I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

I'm not immune to Hollywood stud falling for nobody stories (I'm not a monster!) but this is pretty flat. Sorry folks, what we have here for a long time is a dreaded Meh, It's OK book.  Both Nathaniel and Katie read pretty much like "types" for the first half of this story.  He's the hunky Hollywood star with a Big Secret! She's the pretty girl who thinks she's frumpy because she's living in her glamorous sister's shadow!  For a long time they never quite felt real to me - more like tropes on the page.

But they weren't unlikeable and certainly I was intrigued by Nathaniel's Big Secret. Who was sitting in the front row and why did it have him running scared?  So even though the characters read a bit flat to me, I kept me flipping the pages - which worked out because things get better at about 50%.  That's when pieces of the real Nathaniel start to peak though.  That's when Katie gets a little feisty and slings a few choice words his way.  And once the Big Secret comes out?  Whoa doggie - it's Grade A Soap Opera Drama Llama.  I immediately looked up the next seven titles in this series.

Also, as far as Presents go, this one avoids some of the nastier pitfalls - although some pitfalls still exist.  There is some vague "not like other girls" nonsense but it's nowhere near as egregious as any romance reader has read elsewhere.  Katie is, of course she is, a virgin - because of course.  But Nathaniel really isn't an Alphahole.  Oh make no mistake, he can lay on the lothario playboy shtick, but he's not in that class of Presents hero that you would happily dropkick into the sun if given the opportunity.  

Would I recommend it?  If you're a Morgan completist or wanting to get sucked into a continuity soap opera?  Sure.  For everyone else?  Morgan has written stronger Presents.  Might I recommend A Night of No Return and An Invitation to Sin?

Final Grade = C+


azteclady said...

This was pretty much my feeling about my own choice this month too: not bad, some things were very well done, but not quite recommended.

Dorine said...

You made me giggle at the "Grade A Soap Opera Drama Llama". I might just have to read this for that alone. LOL. Unbelievably, I got mine done in time and I have broken my reading slump with several titles read in the last month. Finally!

Jill said...

I was so hoping this month's book would go well. It was a recently published regency in the traditional vein. It had all the cant and stylistic choices I enjoy and it had the rather daring plot (for a trad) of a marriage of convenience (begrudging on both sides) with a horrible wedding night (mentioned, not shown on the page). The hero realizes he's been a complete asshat (hey, at least he got to that conclusion early!) and even though he doesn't expect love in their marriage, they should at least try to get along. So he sets out to woo her.
And that was all good promising, but over half way through, I just had to put it down. It had one of the my least favorite trad Regency tropes, an evil other woman scheming to keep our couple apart. Every time I come across one of these, I remember why I don't read more regencies, b/c I do have a real soft spot for the older ones. This was recent, but very clearly trying to channel Georgette Heyer.
But the real mood killer was just the circular conflict. They're getting closer. She trusts him. No, now he's a jerk and she doesn't. Now he makes amends. Whoops, now he's a jerk again and they're back on the outs. Ah! Maybe this would have worked better as novella or short story.
Or, I can't believe I'm saying this b/c I usually love a slow burn, maybe the author should not have drawn out their (re)consummation of their relationship so long. I realize since its a closed door romance, that would have presented a challenge, but it would have been nice if the emotional intimacy didn't grown, there could be a feeling of growing physical intimacy.

Wendy said...

AL: Yeah, this was pleasant. Obviously I read through it in one day with no problem. There was never anything that really irked me or had me tempted to DNF. It was just sort of there.

Dorine: One can always count on Presents for the soapy goodness - and soapy badness depending on which way the wind is blowing. And yippee for breaking reading slumps!

Jill: Oof. I hear ya. Back when the Evil Other Woman was a regular conflict staple it wasn't a favorite of mine, and I've only grown more intolerant of the device of the years. A good Traditional Regency is like good category romance - when you find one it hits that sweet spot that just can't be beat. But when you find a not so good one? Oof.

Whiskeyinthejar said...

This sounds like so many book romances and rom-com movies but gah, that formula. Sucker for when the "frumpy" gets sassy to the stud.

Wendy said...

Whiskey: Morgan wrote interesting Presents. They didn't step "out of bounds" for the line, but she had this knack for avoiding some of the more tired (and annoying) pitfalls that show up in the line. I'm a sucker for the Hollywood stud falling for a "nobody" and this one definitely scratched that itch.

Jen Twimom said...

Now I need to know this secret!