Monday, March 2, 2015

One Sinful Night in Sau Paulo, by Amber Belldene - Review

Title: One Sinful Night in Sao Paulo
Series: N/A
Author: Amber Belldene
Publisher:  Entangled/MacMillan
Release Date: January 5, 2015 
Reviewing: Commercial Kindle edition
Reason for reading: Friendly with author, and also this blog post at Wonkomance. I purchased my copy at retail price.

Amber Belldene was my biggest nightmare.

The Blurb (from Belldene's website)
Cassie Wilson has traveled to Brazil for her brother’s wedding; yet she’s the one with cold feet. She’s all set to begin seminary, but she’s sick and tired of being treated like a saint, especially by the best man. What she really needs is one sexy night with him to ease her jitters and give her a taste of normal life.

Adam Forrester crashed and burned at his dream job, screwing up all his hopes for a better life. Now he’s moved home to start over, but first he must confront the irresistible Cass, apologize for whatever happened on that drunken night he can’t remember, and make damn sure it doesn’t happen again. Only she has other plans. He has typecast her as the good girl in his heart. Can she force him to see her as a real woman, desires and all?

Blogger, Explain Thyself
There are all kinds of bloggers and reviewers, and although I indulge in some occasional snark, for the most part I'm a NICE one.  I don't say this in an especially complimentary or superior way.  Mostly I'm not brave enough to post negative reviews, and mostly I don't enjoy posting negative reviews, and mostly I don't enjoy WRITING negative reviews.  If I really dislike a book, I mostly just don't post about it.  I really admire bloggers who are able to be more objective and more courageous.  But as for me, I yam what I yam.

When I ran into Amber online, we clicked pretty well.  I think it was about beer, to begin with.  I find her take on religion in romance fascinating. And she has an amazing brain.  And we had really good beer and really really good conversation last May at RT.

The nightmare is... I didn't like her first book.  There were vampires and wine, and it felt... kind of unoriginal and tl;dr I DNF'd and didn't mention it at that delightful pub in New Orleans. Really, this is my idea of a nightmare.  I know authors are not their books, and I know there are reviewers/bloggers out there who have no trouble at all separating them--but this is just an uncomfortable position for me.

When I saw that she had a non-paranormal contemp story out, I totally jumped on it.  AND IT IS TERRIFIC.

Seriously, Can We Just Talk About This Novella Now?
Right, enough with the angst.

Well, my angst anyway.  The characters do have a bit of that going on.  Although this is a short piece, less than 100 pages, it feels like a complete story, and there is enough character complexity and relationship twistiness to be fully satisfying.  It has a bit of an NA feel, with Cassie getting ready to start seminary school, and the setup is not uncommon for an NA, with a classic big-brother's-best-friend setup. 

But anyway, I liked Cassie a lot.  She has her head on straight, and she knows what she wants.  She's not sure she's going to get it, and doesn't assume she's entitled to it, but she's composed, and level.  She leans a little bit Mary Sue, but in a meta way, that's kind of what the story is about.  Real-life Mary Sues are out there, and they deserve love too.  Not people who never make mistakes, but people who are genuinely motivated to make the world a better place.

One of the things I love about Nora Roberts and Jayne Ann Krentz is the way they write about careers, for both the heroes and heroines.  It's been said that they write the same characters over and over again, which might be true from a trope point of view. And maybe it's that I cut my fiction-reading-teeth on Nancy Drew and they way they embedded educational material* in each book, but I love how I see the world with the context of a photographer, or architect, or decorator, or librarian, or {choose from dozens}.  Ms. Belldene gave me that with this story: an idea of how the world looks to a woman choosing to enter the seminary.  Since it's a romance, it's not surprising that this choice contributes to the conflict.

The hero is a bit muddier to me, but adequate.  He has his backstory and some not-too-OTT demons. Adam (should I assume that's a biblical reference? Hmm... no apples in sight, although Cassie is a bit of a forbidden fruit in his mind...) He's got enough romantic mojo to keep the story going-- but it's clearly Cassie's story.

In perfect doses for a novella, the secondary characters and the exotic locale make a great backdrop.  Cassie's soon-to-be sister-in-law Gabriella, her mother Raquel, as well as Cassie's parents and brother feel real and three-dimensional, without a ton of sequel-baiting (although a Gabriella-Justin prequel might not go amiss).  And the small amounts of scene-setting, from the smog to a visit to the shopping district, gave it a nice texture.

I'm not sure I loved what Belldene did with Cassie's sexuality. I loved that Cassie was unapologetic about what she wanted and not inexperienced. I did have a little twinge of "trying too hard" to make her sooo sexually sophisticated.  Which is not a complaint I usually have about romance.  I liked the concept.  I think it mostly worked.  But just not quite perfect-pitch for me.

Bottom Line
All in all, I really loved One Sinful Night, and I hope to see more contemporary work from Amber!

Around the Blogosphere:
Geeks in Highschool (what a cool blog!)
Read Love Blog
You? (as always, if you have reviewed this story, feel free to leave a link in comments and I will edit it in!)

I don't think I managed a photo of Ms. Belldene and myself, but here is what a list of some seriously tasty beverages looks like:

*I don't see reference to the educational material, but I read an article long ago about the Stratemeyer Syndicate that mentioned that each book contained a bit of interesting background on a particular topic, which usually led to clues that solved the mystery.

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