Today's book review is extra special! I'm done reading this fun novel and thought I'd pass it on so someone else could enjoy it, too. Please see details after review for a chance to win a paperback copy of this awesome book. (Only open to US residents. Sorry for any inconvenience!)
When the author of The Concubine’s Gift contacted me asking for a review, I admit I was skeptical. I’m not much of a romance reader. In fact, most romance novels are a huge turn-off for me, because I either despise the arrogant jerk that the heroine inevitably falls in love with, or I find the whole book unbelievably cheesy and trite. However, I hesitantly agreed to read this book when the author sent me a copy, and I’m glad I made an exception from my romance rule for The Concubine’s Gift.
First and foremost, I have to warn readers that this is not your typical romance. In fact, if possible, this is a romance novel but not a love story. I think that’s why I liked it. A lot of romance novels just don’t convince me. I don’t believe the romance. I don’t buy it. There’s too many clichés, too many overused devices (love at first sight? Oh, please. Love triangle? Sigh. A handsome stranger coming to the rescue? Eyeroll). The Concubine’s Gift avoids all these pitfalls and more. If you’re looking for a novel about a beautiful brainless bombshell being swept off her feet by a swarthy swaggering swindler-of-virtue, look elsewhere. Trust me, you’ll find many, many books that are exactly what you’re looking for. They are a dime a dozen. The Concubine’s Gift is something else, something new and refreshing. It’s a sexy novel about, well, sex, as well as self-discovery.
As we watch Bernice come into her own and accept herself, we can cheer for her because she’s just like you and me. She’s not meeting the hottest guy on earth and falling in love with him the moment she lays eyes on him. She’s working and talking to her friends, trying to seduce her reluctant husband and shopping for antiques. It’s one of these antiques that provides the catalyst for the story when Bernice finds a concubine’s magical face powder, which allows her to see the secret to a happy sex life—for those around her.
Some of the sex scenes are glossed over, while others go into minute detail. I never felt frustrated by lack of detail in the former, or overwhelmed with raunchiness in the latter. The author walks the line between sexy and dirty well, never venturing too far into the obscene. Just when you think she might (lesbian threesome? What is this, a frat-guy fantasy?), instead she breezes right through with minimal detail, focusing on the lasting changes resulting from it, and goes on to a more detailed account of another scenario. The sex scenes were creative and varied, some a bit titillating and some matter-of-fact. I found the varying degree of explicitness made for a more interesting, tasteful read and kept it from sinking to the thrusty and porn-like play-by-play of some romances.
The Concubine’s Gift is sexy, straightforward, and sometimes just a bit silly. I don’t know if I would have made it through Bernice’s story if she had been a typical helpless heroine, or even an butt-stomping, wise-cracking badass. No, Bernice is just your ordinary working woman, trying to be proper, worrying about her disapproving mother, estranged brother, ungrateful children, inattentive husband, and sexually free neighbor. And that’s what makes her such an accessible character who we can relate to so well. After all, who hasn’t wondered at some point, when our kids are screaming in the front yard, or we stop ourselves from telling someone what we really think of their kids screaming in the front yard, WHAT WOULD THE NEIGHBORS THINK?!
I enjoyed reading about those neighbors, the town, its founding and history, and the political struggles surrounding the brothel. The townspeople were also entertaining, although most of them are not developed well enough to get a real sense of their personalities. Most of the book has a light tone, which makes it a quick, light read. A few errors in punctuation (frequent missing commas) were scattered throughout, but nothing glaring.
Although I enjoyed the novel, I did find the whole great-sex-will-fix-your-life theme a bit tiresome. I’m not one to discount the importance of sex in a happy marriage, or to say that it’s something we shouldn’t look for in a partner. However, I doubt that having a good sex life is going to make all your problems disappear. It was implied throughout the book, and really pounded home when Bernice sees her teenage daughter taking one of two paths—having adventurous sex with a boy who will break her heart and then leading a happy, fulfilling life afterwards, or missing out on great sex with her high-school sweetheart and going on to lead a stifled life as an uptight, fearful mouse. Although I’m not much for romance novels themselves (I need more going on than two people falling in love), I do believe that romance, like sex, is important in healthy relationships. I think love is important, and that’s one thing missing from this book. Love didn’t seem to factor into most of the stories. They seemed to all suggest that fulfilling your sexual potential will fulfill your life, and love is either unnecessary in the equation or will inevitably follow. And yes, that is the part I didn’t buy. I can swallow the rest, magic makeup included.
Overall, a well-edited and engaging read that I would recommend to romance readers and other adults looking for some fanciful entertainment.
Today, I am pleased to bring to you not only a review, but also a giveaway! I am passing on the copy of The Concubine's Gift that the author was kind enough to provide for review. This is a paperback, the same one I read. It might show a little wear, but it's in great condition. If you want a chance to read the novel, here it is!
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