Sunday, January 10, 2010
"Secret Desires of a Gentleman," by Laura Lee Guhrke
The Chick: Maria Martingale. A talented chef, her life's dream is to open her own patisserie and serve delicious pastries to the rich and titled. She thinks she's found her perfect kitchen, but she forgets the most important thing in real estate...
The Rub: ...Location, location, location! Her shop is located smack dab next to the arrogant marquess who paid her to abandon her dreams of marrying his brother twelve years ago.
Dream Casting: Reese Witherspoon.
The Dude: Phillip Hawthorne, Marquess of Kayne. When he discovers the pretty schemer who nearly ran off with his brother has opened a bakery right next door, he feels it's hardly a coincidence. Plus, her presence stirs up all sorts of long-hidden feelings.
The Rub: However, he can't reveal or act on his feelings - he's a marquess and a gentleman, while she's merely a chef.
Dream Casting: Richard Armitage.
Twelve Years Ago...
Maria: Lawrence and I are running away together!
Phillip: No you're not! *pays off*
Maria: I'm moving in next door!
Phillip: No you're not!
Maria: Uh - yes I am.
Lawrence: *sad puppy eyes*
Phillip: Fine, dammit.
Maria: Lawrence said I could bake for your charity parties!
Phillip: Fine. You're still beneath me. *kisses* I'm like, a million times higher than you. *gives orgasm in carriage* Did I forget to mention I'm a peer and you're a chef? Heh heh, want to be beneath me both in status and physically? *sexx0r* Let's have a totally unequal marriage.
Maria: Mmm, let me think about i--FUCK OFF.
Phillip: Um, okay, forget what I said. Just marry me.
Maria: Okely dokely! I'll give up the business that's been my life's dream, too!
Romance Convention Checklist
1 Snooty Peer Hero
1 Workaholic Heroine
Several Tasty Pastries
1 Very Annoying Sequel Bait (Daisy, the cra-ha-ha-zy redhead who can't hold down a job!)
1 Botched Elopement
2 Botched Marriage Proposals
1 Stolen Hair Ribbon
The Word: Oh, Laura Lee Guhrke. You are so much like that girl in the nursery rhyme - when you are good, you are very, very, oh-so-heartbreakingly good (And Then He Kissed Her and His Every Kiss made my Top Ten Year End lists of 2008 and 2009 respectively), but when you are bad, you are horrid. It's very difficult when considering which books of yours I want to buy or not. In this case, I'm theoretically sorry I bought this novel (because it really doesn't come anywhere near the level of greatness I know you are capable of), but in practice, I'm not, because I bought it during the Literacy Booksigning at RWA 2009 so all the proceeds went to charity.
The latest Girl-Bachelor of Guhrke's to find her twu wuv is Maria Martingale, the chef BFF to Emma and Prudence. Now that Prudence is swimming in dough (heh heh), she's decided to help fund Maria's attempt to start her own bakery. After months of searching, she's found the perfect building - great kitchen, great space, it's clean. There's only one problem - it's right next door to the London townhouse owned by Phillip Hawthorne (Marquess of Kayne) and his brother Lawrence.
The Hawthornes and Maria, it turns out, have a History. Twelve years ago, Lawrence and Maria nearly eloped, until Phillip found out and threatened to cut off Lawrence's income. In turn, he offered Maria a thousand pounds to get the hell out of dodge, and exacted a promise that she never come near or attempt contact with Lawrence again.
When Phillip and Maria run into each other outside her shop, he's convinced it's no accident and that she's running another scheme. With Lawrence only just returned from America, with an all-but-official fiancee on his arm, no less, Phillip thinks Maria's reappearance is a little too convenient. Lawrence, who for years was the irresponsible, devil-may-care brother, finally looks like he's settling down and Phillip refuses to let anyone ruin that. When Maria turns down the opportunity to be bought off a second time, he sends her an eviction notice (he happens to own the building). Maria refuses to be driven away, however.
There's more to their conflict than just an elopement. In their childhood, lords of the manor Phillip and Lawrence were close friends with Maria, even though she was the daughter of the house cook. However, once Maria came home from boarding school at age 15, Phillip suddenly remembered (gasp!) there are class differences and essentially severed all contact with her, not even condescending to comfort her after her father died (ouch). To this day, Maria remains hurt and befuddled that Phillip would let propriety dictate his friendships, and is unsurprised to find he still clings to aristocratic tradition with a white-knuckled grip. In fact, when they first re-encounter each other, he actually pretends they've never met (double ouch!).
I rather liked Maria as a character - she's a tough nut and a hard worker. Socially, she's at a disadvantage in the cooking world because she's a woman but she refuses to be cowed - there's actually a rather amusing scene where she gains a French chef's respect in a heated shouting match. The main flaw in her characterization comes from her romance with Phillip.
Ah yes, Phillip. I understand where his character is coming from, really I do. The title of this romance, as overdone as it sounds, is actually a pretty accurate summation of the novel - Phillip is horny for Maria, but has to keep it under wraps because he's a Marquess whose English flag should only salute a woman of proper bloodlines. So what happens in the book is that inwardly Phillip is eager to introduce his baguette to Maria's English muffin, but outwardly he continues to do totally ass-hatish things - the idea being that, awwww, since he's secretly in love with her while he's being a royal jackhole, all of this is okay. Let's just sum up some of his behaviour, shall we?
a) He dumps her ass once she returns from boarding school because he suddenly discovers she has boobies and he needs to keep his pen out of the treacherously sexy company ink, if you will. Of course, he doesn't tell her why - he just stops talking to her, even avoiding her after her father dies. But oh, it's because he's just so adorably horny for her!
b) Around the same time, Phillip finds and pockets a hair ribbon of Maria's and keeps it to himself - even after she cries about not being able to find it because it's the only thing she owns that belonged to her dead mother. But oh, Phillip's so impassioned - impassioned enough to steal and keep a cherished possession in order to sniff it at romantic moments.
c) He had Maria evicted from the shop she leased - for immorality!
d) After diddling Maria in a carriage, he gives one of the most ridiculously offensive and nonsensical marriage proposals I've ever read. He asks for her hand in marriage - not because he's soiled her (her virtue is still intact), not because he loves her (he doesn't), and not just because he lusts for her - no, he says they must marry because he's so incredibly over-the-top Alpha-Male horny that he can't be trusted in her presence.
What makes it more ridiculous is that he lists all the reasons their marriage would be wrong - it betrays his duty, it dilutes his bloodline, his family will be shunned - but he's going through with it anyway because he can't control his penis. It apparently has a mind of its own - Phillip essentially says, "either way you're going to end up fucked. Might as well be fucked in a wedding dress, eh?" Did I mention he grumbles all the while that it's not his fault, that he never wanted to be so shamefully attracted to her, that it's an impediment and a burden to be eternally at half-mast in her presence?
Did I also mention that all of Maria's dimwitted friends (including Emma and Prudence - for shame!) hear about this "marry me because I can't keep my dick in my pants" proposal and think "It's true love! Maria is just afraid of commitment!" Meanwhile, I want to bang my fist and shout, "Agh! It's not love! He only asked because a wedding is less of a hassle than rape charges!"
Okay, these points aside, Phillip is not always a jackass to Maria - but he's never particularly nice to her either, and certainly not romantic. He spends the vast majority of the novel well aware of the difference in their stations and determined to maintain the boundary. But all it takes is a kiss and a smooch and some lovin' with her muffin and Maria thinks it's love, despite the fact that they share no chemistry. I'm sorry - but finding out he's secretly been in love with you the entire time shouldn't make up for the fact that he treated you like a dust mop for twenty years!
I honestly couldn't comprehend what Maria would see in Phillip - it didn't match up with her independent, strong character and it didn't match up with how Phillip treated her (poorly, may I remind you). Furthermore, the novel certainly doesn't explain what Maria finds so fulfilling in Phillip that's worth giving up her entire dream and life's work for. Yes, she gives up working in her dream bakery after only three months! This novel gives me a better appreciation of The Princess and the Frog where the heroine has her cake and keeps a place to bake it in, too.
The Secret Desires of a Gentleman didn't deliver. Most of the Phillip's feelings for Maria are just plain lust - and self-loathing lust to boot! I never understood where his immense feelings of desire (accompanied by his determination to repress them) turn into love, and similarly this lowers Maria as a character. Several times she's reduced to misery by this man who casually did away with years of cherished friendship because he couldn't put a leash on his trouser snake, and most of the other times he's just blandly polite, but one kiss or one smile or one off-the-cuff endearment and she's ready to follow at his heels like a puppy - at least until the next scene when he gives her the blue-blooded-brush off - again.
Seriously - I can understand how his kisses could be nice, but how does that translate into affection and love? I appreciated that she spends most of the book yelling at him, and respected how she vehemently refused his first two douchebag proposals, but how I never bought how in the short slice of the novel where they aren't yelling at each other they somehow develop a love strong enough to make Maria give up her life's dream for his. Again, the entire novel wasn't heinous - it was just bland for the most part with heinous bits. In baking terms, it was a raisin oatmeal cookie. Most of the cookie's just boring oatmeal, but with occasional icky gross raisins. When you're done the cookie, well, it didn't poison you but you remember the icky gross raisins more than anything.
M'eh. Best keep The Secret Desires of a Gentleman an unshared secret.