Review: “Her Secret Desire” by CJ Archer

secret_desire_cjarcherFinal Rating: Four cups of the Queen’s finest Earl Gray out of five!

After my last adventure with free Kindle romance novels, I have to admit I approached Her Secret Desire with some trepidation. OK, a lot of trepidation. (Seriously. That last book was awful.) But in spite of its cheesy title and hilariously silly tagline, this book really surprised me! Not only is it well written, but it was thoroughly addictive to read. I was hooked hard and hooked early, and literally spent the majority of my days figuring out when I could carve out a few hours to read another chapter.

While Her Secret Desire doesn’t break any new ground, its two main characters are extremely compelling. I knew from the moment they met that interesting things were about to happen, and I wanted to go along for the ride. I bonded with the female protagonist (Min) instantly, recognizing in her a lot of traits I recognize in myself, and my fondness for her only grew as I watched her struggle with a world that took perverse delight in putting her between a rock and a hard place. Most notably, her struggles don’t revolve solely around her love interest, which is a simple but important distinction which most romance novels fail at miserably. Min also shows a shocking (for the time) amount of sexual agency, and I loved her for it–there was no blushing or averting of eyes or nervous giggling. She made up her mind what she wanted, she asked for it directly, and she received it… then proceeded to enjoy it thoroughly. Go get ’em, girl.

Sadly, I must admit to being less fond of the male protagonist (Blake), who stuck a bit too closely to the “bad man who does bad things but changes for love” trope than I’m comfortable with. I didn’t hate him, certainly, and in fact even grew to like him somewhat by the end. But he had a nasty tendency to leverage the fact that Min willingly slept with him in their various arguments together, which rubbed me the wrong way. Even worse, his surprise at his own willingness to stop himself in the midst of love-making if Min asks for it implies that he normally doesn’t, which also rubs me the wrong way. (But I am appreciative of the fact Archer creates a character with a rich enough personality that I was able to imagine his past without her telling me about it explicitly) Blake also loves to throw himself pity parties, indulging in quite a few moments of “well of course she could never love a blackguard like me!” without a hint of irony. Eyeroll. Luckily, he does change some of his behavior by the end, and shows genuine growth throughout the novel. For that I’m appreciative, considering how little character growth there is in your typical romance novel.

Archer also manages to deftly avoid using a lot of purple prose (or any, really), which was greatly appreciated since nothing snaps me out of the moment worse than hearing about someone’s “turgid rod”. Instead she simply tells it how it is, and focuses on how things feel for both characters both emotionally and physically. To me, nothing is more satisfying than that.

The author also does an excellent job of breathing life into her world. It’s a small but focused place, which allowed it to flourish. I really felt like I was there in some cases, unwashed masses and all. It wasn’t just a backdrop for the characters to make out of in front of; it was the world of theater in all of its early ruffle-wearing glory.

All in all, I can’t help but highly recommend this book. It gave me everything I want from a romance novel: Compelling characters, enjoyable sex scenes, romantic tension, (but not too much!) interesting minor characters, a decent plot, and a solid resolution by the end. Add in a bit of comeuppance for the “villain” of the story and I’m a happy Mandaray. Archer borrows from common romance tropes without wallowing in them or relying on them, and it’s wonderful. Anyone who enjoys romance, particularly period romance, will find something to enjoy with Her Secret Desire. I’ll definitely be exploring the rest of the series!

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