Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Italian's Ruthless Marriage Command (book) by Helen Bianchin

A few months ago, I went on a book buying spree, and this is one of the books I bought. Although I've been a romance reader for a long time, I've hardly ever read category romances, so I thought maybe it was time to try some. Plus, one of the bookstores I went to packaged some its category romances in reduced price multi-packs.

I don't know much about the different categories (although I could have learned about this one and more by looking at the writing guidelines), but I sometimes get in the mood for romance novels with uber-rich heroes. The god awful Madlib titles in the Harlequin Presents package I picked up indicated that I could look forward to romance heroes who were, in most cases, rich ("billionaire," "million-dollar bargain") or exotic (meaning "not American" - "Italian," "Greek," "Spaniard"). One of several reasons I continue to read J.D. Robb's "In Death" books is because I like Roarke, who is a confident and often arrogant Irish billionaire, so I figured "why not?".

This one took me a while to get through because I hated most of the book and disliked the main characters. It wasn't until the last 60-or-so pages of the book that I pronounced it passable, but I had to get through the first 120 to get to that point. One giant point that neither the Madlib title nor the description on the back of the book get across: the book's heroine, Taylor, has some emotional issues because at some time in the past (I can't remember if it was ever mentioned how long ago) she was attacked by someone who had invaded her home. She wasn't raped, but the experience scarred her physically and emotionally and sometimes made it hard to remember that she hadn't been raped. Had I expected that bit of heaviness, I might have been able to approach this book in the proper frame of mind, and I might have enjoyed it more.

Synopsis:

After the death of her best friend and sister Casey, and Casey's husband Leon, in a tragic car accident, Taylor is left to care for their young son, Ben d'Alessandri. She doesn't view this as a burden - she loves Ben as though he were her own son. Unfortunately, things can't keep going on as they have been, because she's supposed to share custody of Ben with Leon's brother, Dante, a confident and arrogant CEO. Although both Dante and Taylor want what's best for Ben, they define "best" differently. Taylor would like as little to change in Ben's life as possible, which she sees as being best accomplished by leaving him to live with her. Dante would rather have Ben come live with him in Italy, where he could be properly groomed to take his place in the family's corporation. As a compromise, he's willing to accept Ben living half the year with him and the other half with Taylor.

Taylor doesn't want to budge - not only does she think it's a bad idea to constantly uproot a little boy, he's also the only family she still has. Dante's next suggestion is that he and Taylor share custody of Ben in the same home. Since no more acceptable alternatives have been suggested, Taylor and Ben move in with Dante, and tensions rise. Although Taylor is able to keep doing her work in Dante's home (she's a writer), there are times when Dante overwhelms her. She's attracted to him, but he also makes her unbearably tense at times. She still hasn't gotten over the incident a while back, when a man invaded her home and hurt her badly enough to scar her. Although Taylor saw and still remembers his face, he was never caught. (It's not confirmed until much later in the book that, although she was beaten, Taylor's assailant didn't rape her - something I think is important for me to note, because it really colored my reaction to Dante's early behavior with Taylor.)

Dante takes Ben with him on a vacation to Tuscany to be with Graziella, Ben's grandmother, something Taylor only allows because she'll be going with them. Things heat up a bit more between Taylor and Dante, mainly because Dante won't leave her alone. Graziella and others have assumed that Taylor and Dante will be getting married - the misunderstanding soon becomes fact, after Dante convinces Taylor that their marriage would be what is best for Ben.

Taylor discovers that sex with Dante isn't a terrible thing. In fact, sex with Dante is great. Unfortunately, she fears that it may be the best part of their marriage. Back at their home in Sydney, life seems to go back to the way it was before the two of them got married, only with more sex. Although Taylor and Dante get along pretty well now, all she can keep thinking of is that theirs is not a love match. Women keep prowling around him at a party they go to, and one of them won't stop shoving her own past sexual relationship with Dante in Taylor's face. This pisses Dante off, but Taylor is still not convinced that this means that Dante loves her.

During a visit to the zoo with Ben, Taylor sees the man who had assaulted her. Dante springs in and threatens the man with the police. Later, Taylor visits a run-down police station to interview one of the police officers there for the book she's writing. Unfortunately, she's held hostage by a man with a knife. She manages to free herself after only getting hurt a little, but, again, Dante swoops in. Taylor promises never to go to a place like that alone again, and, seeing how shaken up Dante is, finally realizes that he really does love her - and he finally realizes that she needed him to say the words.

Commentary:

I was a little bit wary of this book, because of the word "ruthless" in the title. Sorry, but the title doesn't sound very romantic. Still, good romance novels sometimes have very bad titles, so I decided to give this one a shot. For such a skinny book, it took me forever to get through - I just couldn't settle down and enjoy it.

First, I didn't really like the writing. I can't quite say what it was about Bianchin's writing that put me off, but there were areas that felt like they could have been better worded or just cut out altogether. I kept getting the urge to mark annoying passages, an urge that made it hard to get into the story and try to like the characters. For instance, here's a quote from page 135: "Sex, she viewed logically, then qualified...very good sex, was one of nature's aphrodisiacs." An aphrodisiac is something that increases sexual desire, so Taylor is basically thinking here that sex is one of nature's ways of increasing sexual desire. Was this sentence really necessary? Or was it maybe meant to show that sex decreased Taylor's brain cells, making her think stupid things?

Second, I disliked Dante - it's never a good thing when I'm reading a romance novel and don't like the hero. It wasn't until after Taylor and Dante were married that I was able to think of Dante as more than just an overbearing jerk - he saw how much his presence upset Taylor at times, did he really have skulk around her so much? The only reason I didn't think of him as a total monster was because he didn't force himself on her, at least not with sex, although he did kiss her without it being truly clear that she wanted and was ready for him to kiss her.

I should be fair, though: I didn't really like Taylor, either. I don't know what it was like for Ben, living with her, but to me she seemed moody, damaged, and capable of sucking the fun and life out of everything. Although I understood why she was like that, what with the recent death of people she cared about and the attack she survived (which I initially thought involved rape), understanding didn't translate into liking. After a while, I had enough of her frightened/cornered animal reaction to Dante and her insistence that only she knew what was truly right for Ben.

I never really ended up liking Taylor, although I tended to dislike Dante more than I disliked her - I just couldn't stand how overbearing he behaved around her. Their marriage, the joining of two characters I didn't really like, wasn't much fun either. While Taylor and Dante are on their honeymoon, doing a little shopping, Taylor refuses to let Dante pay for things she wants to buy (even though there's not a peep out of her when he pays for their room, their room service, and their food). Dante's thoughts on this: "Any other woman of his acquaintance would expect him to pick up the tab for anything that took her whim...most often angle prettily for an expensive item" (p. 137). I found Taylor's spotty adherence to her "I'll pay for myself" rule somewhat annoying, but I really hated this thought of Dante's, because I felt it showed that he still thought of Taylor in the same way as all the arm candy he used to date and sleep with.

Supposedly, Taylor grows more comfortable with Dante, and this is apparently exemplified in her reaction to seeing her attacker again. All Taylor knew was that Dante...did something to or with the guy - she didn't know if he just talked to him, or if he beat him up. And yet, she feels safe, because Dante makes her feel safe. Even though he spent a good chunk of the book skulking around her and frightening her. Right.

Overall, there was just too much "too little" going on - too little of the book was from Dante's perspective, making it even harder to like him and connect with him emotionally than it already was. What little of the book was from Dante's perspective was too shallow, making him seem like a flatter, less fleshed out character than Taylor. The whole thing with "Dante's many former lovers" could have been fun, but, since it was so brief and formulaic, it just came across as cliched. Even if Bianchin had done that part better, it would probably have been too little, too late.

I felt that the book got a bit better as it progressed, but that, unfortunately, isn't saying much. This is not going on my "keeper" pile.

As for my read-alikes list...that didn't go so well. The "wounded heroine" is not one of my favorite things in romance novels, so my experience with those kinds of books is pretty limited. As I've already said, my experience with category romance is even more limited, so it's hard to come up with other category romance recommendations. I'm sure there are better read-alike suggestions than this - basically, my list is mostly the result of reading lots of book descriptions. Well, I tried.

Read-alikes:
  • Naked in Death (book) by J.D. Robb - If you liked the "wounded woman, rich and arrogant man who has had many lovers in the past but falls for wounded woman" aspect, you might like this. It's the first in a series - although the main characters, Roarke and Eve, do get married, it's not in the first book. Part of the fun of the series is watching characters' relationships develop. You'll find this in either the romance or mystery sections of a bookstore - each book has its own particular mystery storyline (Eve is a member of the police, investigating homicides), but the series' overarching romantic storylines (and J.D. Robb's real name, Nora Roberts) qualify the books as romance as well. Although the series is set a few decades in the future, other than a few details here and there (flying cars, cancer cures, droid servants, etc.) the overall feel is very contemporary.
  • Italian Marriage: In Name Only (book) by Kathryn Ross - This one's a Harlequin Presents book. The Italian in question is a hotelier with no time or desire for love, but he needs a wife and heir. His choice for a wife is Victoria Heart, a single mom and restaurateur. This book might suit those who'd like something else featuring an arrogant Italian hero, a heroine trying to take care of a child, and a marriage that seems to start off as one of convenience. By the way, it seems as though Kathryn Ross may have written several Harlequin Presents books that might be good read-alikes for Bianchin's book (for instance, The Mediterranean's Wife by Contract) - so if you can't find this one, look for another one of hers instead.
  • The Italian's Ruthless Marriage Bargain (book) by Kim Lawrence - Another Harlequin Presents book. All I know about this one is what's in the description on Amazon - the heroine is the guardian of her brother's three children and is struggling to hold down a full-time job, when, amazingly, she is visited by handsome Luca Di Rossi, a notorious billionaire playboy. I have no idea why he suddenly needs a wife or why he chose this particular woman for the job. Still, it might be a good read-alike for those wanting another Italian hero, another woman taking care of children, and another "let's live together and get married for convenience, oops we fell in love" storyline.

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