Friday, June 29, 2007

Untie My Heart, by Judith Ivory [3]

***/***** (3/5)
"A man in cahoots with a woman's sexual instinct [is] the devil himself, for he [has] the united power over her - himself and her own longing - greater than a mere man." -from Judith Ivory's Untie My Heart

Another enjoyable read overall (I'm on a roll!). I'm immediately struck by Judith Ivory's attention to settings. Some may find her descriptions a bit tiresome, but I find it adds to the reading experience considerably, and Ivory excels at adequately setting the scene with luminous sights, resounding sounds, redolent smells and shivering touches. The only descriptions I found monotonous: rehashing Stuart's handsome, tall, broad-shouldered and muscular physique again and again with different words. I think I get the idea, he's handsome. Although the hero Stuart's character conforms to convention both in appearance and personality, the heroine Emma's does not and the novel belongs to Emma's glib humor and unsavory history. In fact, many parts of the novel had me laughing out loud because of Emma's mature humor. I was happy to read about a heroine's struggles to overcome her trust issues for a change and overcoming her demons.

Another very fun aspect: Emma has retired from a career as a hustler and con artist, only to become embroiled in a con game years later with the hero, a game she really doesn't want to be a part of. The plot was good, I thought there should have been more scenes dealing with the current con game or flashbacks relaying Emma's prior games. Unfortunately, the plot's pacing seemed to stagger and linger trying to paint a deeper relationship between Stuart & Emma. Still, even these efforts were substantive, as you really get a sense of a burgeoning connection between Emma & Stuart. They have common interests and habits, whether that's in matters of intimacy or art or shady dealings. Definitely, their connection resonated, and the sparks were visible and natural rather than staged.

I found Judith Ivory's characterizations exceptional and they resonated. Demons haunt both the hero and the heroine, both must overcome a tortured history, and both have somewhat of a bad streak in them (not just the hero). Judith Ivory's prose is good (albeit a bit confusing to follow at times since we're often treated to 1-sentence paragraphs), and I was very appreciative of Ivory's attention to settings. This isn't just another regency romance comprising of a series of conversations/dialogues and seductions. The plot was good, but once again I would have liked to see more about of the con games. Finally, the romance and passion was palpable, substantive yet steamy.

My complaints?

Well for one, I thought for a novel which wasn't in a hurry to end, ended too abruptly and too soon. The ending could have been much better crafted; we read about a proposal yet the answer to that proposal is simply assumed. I hold romance novels to a higher standard as far as endings go.

Secondly, I was put off by the prevalent references to the hero's beauty and handsomeness. Well I suppose the romance rage is having tall, dark, chiseled and perfectly handsome heroes attracted to very ordinary, below-average looking heroines. I get that romance novelists wish to cater to their predominantly female readership who enjoy reading about an experienced, perfect, and handsome hero instantly falling for ordinary heroines. But seriously, I think 2-3 references and descriptions to the hero's handsomeness would suffice, not 20!

Here's my biggest pet peeve: why in the name of Zeus's bunghole are heroines allowed to describe their hero as handsome (over and over) and yet heroes don't describe their average-looking heroines -- whom they find ineffably attractive -- as beautiful?! It's as though Judith Ivory was going out of her way to avoid having her hero think of her heroine as beautiful even though he's hopelessly attracted to her! I mean she even has a double chin (flab underneath her real chin), and he's attracted to her like a hormoned-crazed stallion, yet nope, I see the words "cute," "round," and "ample," used to describe the heroine from the hero's perspective, but the one word conspicuously absent: beautiful. You know, if a handsome guy is so instantly attracted to a woman like UNTIE MY HEART's Stuart is attracted to Emma, they do on occasion view their heroine as beautiful.... So why the hesitation to use the word "beautiful" to describe the heroine?! Oh and by the way, the picture of the thin, fit heroine on the inside cover is nothing like the heroine described in the book! Alright, enough of my rant...

The Story.

Stuart Aysgarth, the new Viscount Mount Villiars, returns to England from the Continent only to find his avaricious Uncle Leonard claimed the viscountcy in his absence. Although Stuart reclaims the title and estates, he discovers his Uncle Leo may have hoisted off with a couple items from Stuart's childhood he would like returned desperately: an ugly statue and his mother's earrings. Unfortunately, most of Stuart's lucrative accounts related to the viscountcy have been frozen, and it will take some time to free them. UNTIE MY HEART isn't bashful describing Stuart's handsome appearance and in many different ways. Stuart embodies perfection: tall, muscular, broad-shouldered, graceful, big strong hands, striking, attractive face, dark hair and dark eyes. Other than the stutter he's mastered, Stuart hardly exhibit a single fault in appearance.

Thirty year-old widow Mrs. Emma Hotchkiss is a sheep farmer, attempting to make a humble living after a very unsavory stint as a con artist with her late husband. Her sheep farm lies right down the street from the Viscount's seat at Castle Dunord. Emma exhibits a knack for humor, and I was often reminded of Elizabeth Hoyt's Georgina from THE LEOPARD PRINCE. Blond-haired, blue-eyed Emma is described as very round, very woman, pudgy, plump and with very generous curves. She captures Handsome-Stuart's interests however, and Handsome-Stuart immediately requests a liaison after an initial meeting.

The novel begins as a speeding 8-horse carriage bearing the Viscount Mount Villiars' seal runs down and kills Emma's only male sheep, detrimental to her upcoming sheep season. After failing to secure a recompense from the Viscount for her grievances, Emma decides to return to some old, shady habits, conning her way to acquire what she rightfully deserves: 50-some pounds.

When Stuart discovers mysterious loss of a paltry 50-some pounds from his frozen bank accounts, he tracks the account to a specific bank branch and location. Only to discover that his neighbor, the delectable Mrs. Emma Hotchkiss (known to him before as Miss Muffin) has duped him of the money. He then discovers her history as a con artist from the past and enlists her help in a confidence game of "poke and send" to reacquire the statue and his mother's earrings from Uncle Leo. Stuart threatens jail for conning him out of the 50-some pounds and Emma agrees to Stuart's request as a result. They share a very steamy love scene right off the bat, far from cliche.

The confidence game takes off there, as Stuart and Emma engage in a fun game to con Stuart's Uncle Leo out of what belongs to Stuart by right. In the process, both grow closer and the game helps them defeat their demons from the past.

An entertaining read, and I could have used more scenes from the con game rather than Stuart & Emma's burgeoning love.

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