The Pursuit of Pleasure by Elizabeth Essex
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I won this book through the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood Winter Writing Festival, and Elizabeth Essex sent it to me directly with a very nice note. Thanks, Elizabeth!
I was in love with this story from the first chapter. Lizzie and Jamie were playful from the start, their dialogue so filled with witty banter and sensual innuendo. As childhood best friends who meet again after a long separation, you can feel the effect their previous relationship has on their current interactions--there's already a history, which means there's chemistry from the first moment. The sexual tension between them was strong throughout and it made everything about their interaction sensual. The wedding night sex scenes capitalized on all that sexual tension perfectly, leaving me, like Lizzie, feeling the devastation when Jamie has to leave (forever, we think) shortly thereafter.
For me, everything works about the book--pacing, characterization, their relationship, plot--up until the moment Lizzie is released from jail (p. 223). Then things started to bug me. First of all, I had a hard time accepting how quickly Lizzie forgives Jamie for his very long and serious list of betrayals. When she finally does forgive him, I had a hard time following her rationalization--I had to reread it to see if I could understand her, and I still couldn't really. He marries her for revenge, lied to her about his plans, faked his death, watched her and his whole family bury him and grieve, pulled her in through association to a dangerous smuggling operation, and left her in jail for his murder for weeks. Yet it seems after a chapter or two, which represented very little actual time, she's declaring she just should've trusted him. Hmm.
It was in the post-jail portion of the book that the pacing slowed for me as well--with somewhat repetitive scenes of Lizzie and Jamie arguing, or her trying to figure out the lies everyone was telling. Both characters became less likable and consistent in their characterization--Lizzie's defiance and independence, so likable before, led her to act spitefully and childishly, in ways that often lacked common sense. Jamie's frustration with Lizzie's well-justified hurt and mistrust, his continual placing of his duty above her, and his insistence to prove she needed him--by pushing her face first into the grass and having sex with her, make him less sympathetic at the very moment when the depth of his betrayal is revealed and he needs to be more likable to get the reader back on his side. Perhaps if the reader had been able to read, in scene, some of his anti-smuggling exploits, had been able to really see just how much danger Jamie was potentially in as he tried to infiltrate the smuggling ranks, he would've been more sympathetic. Without those scenes, it seemed he put Lizzie through all those trials to sail back and forth along the coast and hide out as a groundsman on their estate. In my opinion, NOT showing Jamie actually engaged in the dangerous parts of his mission was a missed opportunity for his characterization. Because of these issues, the sexual tension that was SO effective in the first part of the book falls flat in the last third.
The good news is, I was so in love with them before these issues arose, and so rooting for them to be together, that the problems didn't interrupt my overall enjoyment of the book, which I read pretty much straight through in a day and a half, I was so hooked. I was entertained and enjoyed Essex's world and characters, and on that alone, I can recommend.
And, yowza, is that a great (read: hot!) cover, or what?
Thanks for reading,
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