Review of Audiobook Read by Steven Crossley
Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: May 1, 2010
Publisher: Harlequin Presents
Pages: 188 pages
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
Fans of Harlequin Presents in general and Lynne Graham in specific will enjoy this contemporary romance.
Five years ago, Caroline Hale unavoidably left Valente Lorenzatto at the altar, and he assumed she had deserted him on purpose. He has been plotting ever since to both revenge himself on her family and get Caroline back in his life as his mistress.
Because Valente refused to allow Caroline to contact him after the aborted wedding ceremony, in a state of depression a few months later, she allowed her parents to pressure her into a marriage of convenience to a childhood friend, Matthew. Her aging father wanted Matthew to take over their family’s trucking company so he could retire. Unfortunately, Matthew turned out to be an emotionally abusive and unfaithful husband, and he ran the trucking company into the ground.
When Valente knew Caroline in the past, he was a lowly driver for the trucking company, but in the intervening years, he has inherited a fortune from his Italian Count grandfather and multiplied that money enormously. After Matthew’s death in an accident, Valente steps in and snaps up the Hale family trucking company as well as the family mansion from the Matthew-bankrupted Hales. Valente imperiously summons Caroline to see him at the trucking company and presents her with a horrifying choice: become his mistress or he will close down the family business and put all the employees out of work, as well as drive her aging parents from their home. Caroline is appalled by this cold-blooded offer, even more so because she knows she can’t give Valente what he wants due to Matthew’s awful treatment rendering her frigid.
The plot device of Valente blackmailing Caroline into his bed sounds outrageous if one isn’t used to Harlequin Presents–this is a standard ploy for this series. What is unusual and interesting about this book is the idea of the heroine being frigid. I’ve read most of Lynne Graham’s Harlequin Presents (HP) novels, and I’ve never seen her use this plot. It’s a hard one to pull off and not aggravate HP fans because hot sex with a perfect lover, scattered throughout the book right from the beginning, is a major selling point of HP. However, from my point of view as a jaded romance reader, those kind of sex scenes can get pretty predictable. In contrast, the idea of Valente, in order to become Caroline’s lover, having to “earn” the privilege by demonstrating amazing sensitivity to her sexual dysfunction produces some extremely caring and sensual sex scenes. A prime fantasy of many women is the lover who caters to the heroine’s every whim, taking his time with the preliminaries in making love. Valente fulfills this fantasy by offering this type of generous treatment to Caroline to such an extent that it is quite convincing that he could fully restore her shattered self-confidence. It’s very well done.
The overall plot of Valente’s resentment of Caroline, however, is not nearly as interesting because it is based on an easily disproved misconception about her. Caroline could have cleared up Valente’s wrong impression of her in short order if she had simply presented him with readily available documents that would have indicated exactly where she was on the day of their cancelled wedding.
In addition, I couldn’t fathom why Caroline would choose to stay married for five years to her scum of a first husband. There was nothing for her or her family to gain and everything for the business and her personal self-respect to lose by her doing so.
I experienced this book in audio format, read by a male, which was a rather odd experience. I’ve heard many, many audiobooks of romance novels over the years and, other than this one, all were read by women. The narrator is Steven Crossley, a British actor who has been awarded the prestigious “Earphones” award for audiobook narration on multiple occasions. He has a rich, resonant voice, and his reading of the male parts, particularly Valente, the hero, is outstanding. However, his reading of the female parts comes out as a rather shrill falsetto that is a bit grating. This is almost always the case though, that male readers struggle with female voices, and female narrators struggle with male voices–with the notable exception of the late, great Anna Fields, who did a fabulous job with the voices of women, children and males of all ages.
Romance Plot: 4
Audiobook Narrator: 4