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Control by Kayla Perrin

Harlequin Spice is the only Harlequin line that isn’t completely romance-oriented. So this book belongs here, as it’s less a romance, more one woman’s story. However, Spice books are supposed to be hot, and this book wasn’t about that. I can see why the Spice editors wanted this, but it’s an odd read for the line.

The cover and the blurb encourages you to believe that you’re in for a hot, steamy read, but that isn’t the case. I don’t think the author is at fault here, because it’s a well-written book, but it seems to have been shoehorned into the line.

The book is in two distinct parts. The first part follows Elsie’s marriage to Robert, a marriage that is in trouble, because Elsie is unfulfilled and unhappy. After eight years she has begun to realise that she’s been controlled for her marriage, not in a hot, BDSM way, but in a “you dress like this, you behave like this” way. Elsie was a waitress when she met Robert, a man 32 years her senior (she is 37), and he romanced her until she gave in. Now she lives in a mansion, has all she wants monetarily, including her life’s ambition of a florists’ shop, but she feels empty inside. Poor Elsie.

Then one day an amber-eyed man comes into her shop, and she’s captivated. But he doesn’t come back. I should maybe mention that this is a book featuring African-American characters, but that didn’t add or take from the book, which I liked. It was a story about people, not about ethnicities.

The first half of the book drags, and is gloom almost without respite. About half way through I wanted to say, “Yes, I get it, she’s unhappy,” but the book went on with different incidents where Robert tries to control her. Elsie doesn’t confront him, doesn’t ask him what he thinks he’s doing, doesn’t stand up to him. The book starts when she tries, by dressing the way she wants instead of the way he wants, but he sends her back to her room to change into the dress he prefers. It’s pretty much downhill from there. Elsie puts up with the manipulation, has desultory sex with Robert and masturbates, imagining the amber-eyed man in various situations.

The second part of the book concerns her “affair” with Dion, the amber-eyed man, and its results. Since she meets Dion after she’s made the decision to seek a separation with Robert, I don’t think “affair” describes it completely correctly. I won’t say what the blurb describes as Robert’s ultimate manipulation is, as that constitutes a spoiler, but I’d have preferred a tighter build-up to it, as by the time she had her revelation, I was losing patience with Elsie. It took her eight years to realize what her husband was doing? Either she recognized it all along and learned how to deal with it, or she left him earlier. Eight years seemed a long time to me, to realize that being sent back to your room to change wasn’t normal behavior for a loving husband.

The sex between Dion and Elsie is fun, vanilla, but passionate. Nice to read. Not really enough for a spicy read, and since the book isn’t about Elsie’s sex life, but about her outer life, it doesn’t take center stage, so if you’re looking for steam, this isn’t really the place. However, Dion is handsome and sexy, Elsie is willing, and the language used is appropriate, although a little surprising for the naïve, relatively innocent Elsie. Somehow “cunt” and “pussy” seem out of place words for Elsie to use, and since this book is told in the first person, it’s either Elsie, or it’s in quotation marks.

Dion is a bit of an enigma, and there’s a revelation at the end which explains this. However, since Elsie is passionately against having her man lie to her, after she discovers Robert’s manipulations and lies, it wasn’t entirely convincing and was left hanging in the air. The ending was a bit of a cop-out and seemed to happen too fast. I wanted more. And Elsie has to do something that is completely TSTL in order for the ending to come about. I’d have preferred less space at the beginning describing Elsie’s empty life, and more with Dion and providing a more satisfactory ending. And erotic – no. There were plenty of masturbation scenes and sex scenes later, described in detail with appropriate words, and they were fun to read, but not particularly a turn-on. Looking at the Spice line, and I’ve read a few now, I don’t think it can compare with the output of, say, Cleis Press or Ellora’s Cave, which take erotic and make it hot and steamy, with lashings of, well, lashings. Spice books don’t come anywhere near this standard, either in the kind of sex described (so far in my readings, always m/f and always vanilla) or in the frequency of the sex. But they have been good, adult reads and I intend to continue to read them, although maybe with different expectations.

While I wasn’t wholly convinced by all the aspects of this book, I still enjoyed the read, for the most part. Dion was definitely sexy and I liked that Elsie didn’t go from one millionaire to another. Although she did seem a little slow on the uptake to me, that was consistent throughout the book, and so it worked with her character, and I appreciated the consistency.

Official back of book description – “Their romance was a modern-day fairy tale: handsome older millionaire falls hard for struggling young waitress. Robert swept Elsie off her feet—and into his bed—put a huge diamond on her finger and spirited her away in his private jet destined for happily-ever-after.

Eight years later, Elsie Kolstadt realizes the clock has finally struck midnight. The five-star restaurants, exclusive address and exotic vacations can no longer make up for Robert’s obsessive desire to control everything about their life together. From her hairstyle to her music playlists, Robert has things just the way he wants them. No matter what.

But it’s Robert’s ultimate, unforgivable manipulation that finally shocks Elsie into action. Though divorce would strip her of everything, she can’t live under Robert’s roof any longer. Making her decision easier is Dion Carter, a high-school football coach with a heart of gold and a body of sculpted steel. Suddenly Elsie is deep in a steamy affair that could cost her everything—because Robert will stop at nothing to keep Elsie under his thumb.”

Control by Kayla Perrin
(Harlequin Spice, September; ISBN-10: 0373605471)
Available at: Amazon | Amazon UK


© 2010 Lynne Connolly. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission.

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