MINI-REVIEW: Michelle Smart’s WEDDED, BEDDED, BETRAYED

Wedded_Bedded_BetrayedIn keeping with its melodramatic ethos, the HP romance thrives on a good revenge story. Revenge is lurid, dramatic, passionate, and more tangible than hate. Hate is nebulous; revenge is concrete and action-driven. New-to-Miss B. Michelle Smart’s Wedded, Bedded, Betrayed is powered by the hero’s vendetta against the heroine’s family. Gabriele Mantegna served two years in prison to save his innocent father from doing so. When he emerged, his father was dead, mother a ghost of her former self, fiancée a no-show, and business, Mantegna Cars, rudderless. For the next four years, Gabriele pursued “a subtle one-man vendetta against” the Riccis, the family who set up his father to take the fall. One night, seeking incriminating evidence at Ignazio Ricci’s Caribbean island villa, Gabriele rescues a maiden-waif captured by thieves. This woman-sprite is Elena Ricci, Ignazio’s beloved, over-protected daughter. What sweeter revenge than blackmailing his enemy’s precious princess into marrying and bedding him? Otherwise, Gabriele exposes her father’s corruption. When desire and love enter a picture where they had no place, what is a wrong-headed alpha-hero to do but the dumb-ass thing – cling to revenge and vindication.

HPs are made of familiar, moveable parts: the billionaire alpha-hero and ingenue, or virginal heroine, glamour, money, paparazzi, and tragic back-stories. On the relationship front, the power imbalance between hero and heroine is gargantuan. The fantasy and fairy-tale elements must be strong to withstand this ethos. It’s easy to say the HP is formulaic and satisfies a dedicated romance reader’s reading id: the quick and easy way to a romance fix is our HP. So what distinguishes a run-of-the-mill HP romance from a memorable or great one? Given its stock nature, two things can make an HP transcend its “formula”: some quirk or twist in the conventions and good writing. Michelle Smart’s Wedded, Bedded, Betrayed has both.

Smart’s one of two strong elements in Wedded, Bedded, Betrayed is characterization. Miss Bates must say she found Gabriele and Elena eminently likable and nuanced. Even though the revenge circumstances are far-fetched, Gabriele had a plausible grievance. His pain over his beloved father’s death and mother’s breakdown were genuinely moving. His demands on Elena are ridiculous: marry him, have a baby with him, all in the name of exposing her father. And yet, from the moment he brings Elena to safety, his guilt over his manipulative actions was sincere. This rendered Gabriele sympathetic and notched down his alpha-ness to near-beta-mild.

Elena is equally simpatico. Her virginity and innocence are fairy-tale convincing. Her father wasn’t a coddler, but he did, after losing his wife, keep her close and cloistered. Consequently, Elena is disingenuous, unaware of the world. Her competition with her four macho brothers and lack of mother left her without female role models: “Even now she struggled with other women. She just couldn’t relate to them.” Elena is convincingly awkward, delightfully fey, and surprisingly ferocious. Smart did a clever thing with these two: she brought them together at a time when both were out of character. Their proximity and growing liking for each other, despite their enemies-FOREVAH avowals, bring out their true and congenial selves. Moreover, Gabriele and Elena don’t share the dense stubbornness so many HP heroes and heroines exhibit. Simply put, Gabriele and Elena aren’t stupid. They know when they’re wrong, when they’re morally compromised and they’re willing to admit it.

Lastly, Miss Bates enjoyed Smart’s pithy writing. Her phrasing displayed the acute emotionalism that done well in an HP satisfies a romance reader. Here’s a snippet for your enjoyment from Gabriele and Elena’s first public appearance. Elena hasn’t yet recognized the rightness of Gabriele’s claims, but agreed to marry him to help save her father. Gabriele makes sure they’re seen at a paparazzi-ridden restaurant, so that the subsequent pictures hurt Ignazio in his most vulnerable spot – his family – as he hurt Gabriele’s:

” … you look like you have something in your eye.”

“I’m trying to look adoring.” Smiling brightly, she said, “Is that better, you savage bastard?”

Mimicking her action and with a full-wattage beam, he replied, “It’s a start, you poisonous viper.” … With mutual antipathy, they both sipped their drinks, both smiling, but firing ice and loathing from their eyes.

Isn’t that just sheer fun? The epithets alone are a delight. And that phrase, “mutual antipathy”: isn’t it the essence of the enemies-to-lovers trope? What this initial heart-stabbing dialogue does is, of course, have the reader anticipate Gabriele and Elena’s fall from hate to love, from lust to tenderness, from wariness to care, from banter to friendship. Because when the genre is done well, as it is in Smart’s romance, then the falling in love part comes with other joys, care, compassion, understanding and being understood, bringing out the best in each other, and having hope that the past can be transcended by possibility. At the end of a week’s worth of life-dragging-you-down, Miss Bates inhaled Smart’s Wedded, Bedded, Betrayed in one glorious lounge-reading afternoon. With Miss Austen, Miss Bates says of Smart’s Wedded, Bedded, Betrayed, ’tis “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.

Michelle Smart’s Wedded, Bedded, Betrayed is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on May 24th and is available at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Harlequin, via Netgalley.

24 thoughts on “MINI-REVIEW: Michelle Smart’s WEDDED, BEDDED, BETRAYED

  1. “. . .make an HP transcend its “formula”: some quirk or twist in the conventions and good writing.” Love this analysis! And so very true.

    For some reason, this month’s HP selections seem heavily weighted on revenge/retribution theme. I picked up three this month because they were three authors I’ve enjoyed either in HP Land or otherwise and didn’t bother to read the back blurb. By the time I’d finished the third revenge/retribution book, I had deep furrows between my brows. What I learned was simple: It is indeed true that a surfeit of bitter revenge stories will give me a heartache and more white hairs.

    The best of the bunch I read was the Lynne Graham Bought For the Greek’s Revenge. The revenge plot was more plausible and the hero was aware that what he was doing was harmful to the heroine and attempted to make amends though it backfired a bit. I did like that twist a lot. The second one’s premise to set up a hero seeking retribution was too outlandish and expected me to suspend belief a little too much. Plus, the heroine was so insubstantial and lacking in backbone she just drifted here and there and everywhere, whichever way the wind blew. The villain compelled her to do THIS thing so she did after token resistance. The hero discovers her perfidy, and, of course, he will have his pound of flesh so she endures THAT. There was a solution to her dilemma that would have been a nice twist to the plot, but that was another road not taken. The last one was pretty straight forward as far as revenge but the hero’s revenge was of a scorched earth variety and the reasons for it took a backseat to the physical relationship for too much of the book. When the dribs and drabs began to make things more clear to me, the hero’s reasons/motivations felt so very shaky and contrived. As a matter of fact, I kept asking out loud (because by this time I really was talking to myself!) ‘Why doesn’t he/she just talk to so and so?’ The last one gave me not only a heartache but a headache.

    This one sounds really good, however, and as soon as I break out my Clairol Nice ‘n Easy #4, meditate for a week to cleanse my psyche of all the stress caused by a little too much of a bad thing, and rediscover my happy place, I’ll probably give this author and this book a try. I’ve read some really good things about Michelle Smart over at the Happy Harley Group on GR. Several people have complimented her expertise and talent at subverting ‘pet peeves’ as well as her remarkable talent for flipping tropes. The Perfect Cazorla Wife which, I’m told, adds a surprising layer or two to a standard plot and Talos Claims His Virgin which has the distinction of a ‘nurturing alpha hero’ are a couple I have on my list to try.

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    • One of the beauties of your comments is that they actually give me a plethora of book choices!!! Love them! Loved your take on the revenge plots: I actually think revenge and betrayal are at the heart of Western literature. But revenge and betrayal can easily “tip” over the top of plausibility. Even when we think about the greatest period of drama (well, equal to the Greeks), Shakespeare’s – there were so many revenge tragedies being written and performed. And yet, which one emerges as the greatest of all? Hamlet, the “revenge tragedy” of a young man railing and ranting against taking revenge. As always, convention-adherence and convention-subversion are at the heart of memorable literature.

      On a lighter note, love your recs of Smart’s other books. How can I join this Happy Harley Group on GR?! 😉

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      • 🙂 Search for Happy Harlequin Harlots and Kiss My Mills & Boon group and be a happy Harley harlot with us. Just send a request to join, and you’ll be set. The great and powerful Willaful is there along with lots of other ladies who know and love Harlequins as much as we do. It’s a fun group with tremendous base of knowledge on how harleys work or don’t. Be sure to join in on the 1000 Harlequins in 2016 discussion board (we’re up to 620 Harleys read so far) as it’s a veritable treasure trove of recommendations there of both old and new harleys.

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