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Willaful Review: A Prior Engagement by Karina Bliss

Manually ReleasedSensuality rating: Steamy.

I wish I were good with photoshop, because it would be so fun to depict this story ala Twitter:

Lee Davis @leemealone Hey, it’s great to be back with the people who truly love me. #subtweeting #womenbebitches

Juliet Browne @needsnoromeo That awkward moment when your lover returns from the dead right after you finally slept with another man.

I have to joke a little, because this was such an intense read. Reading the first half felt like someone had grabbed my heart and was gently squeezing. The second half changed direction, but was equally powerful.

When Jules gets the news that her lover Lee hadn’t died in Afghanistan after all, her joy is mixed with apprehension.  For the past two years, she’s been playing the grieving fiance for Lee’s family and friends — the grief was completely genuine, but she couldn’t bear to tell them that she’d rejected Lee’s proposal before he went on tour. Lee, severely traumatized from his time as a POW, is suspicious of Juliet’s motives when he learns of her involvement in his family’s life and acceptance of his estate. When she doesn’t immediately confess her deception, he embarks on one of his own to punish her, pretending he doesn’t remember anything past his intention of proposing.

The vindictive hero/misjudged heroine dynamic is one that I absolutely love, and which we don’t find much in realistic contemporary romance any more, because it’s hard to write a hero who isn’t a despicable jerk. Here there’s such strong backstory that it works — both Lee and Juliet have been through a wringer, and it’s easy to cut them some slack. Lee’s frequent pangs of conscience and inconvenient feelings for Juliet also help redeem him.  As is common with this sort of story, Juliet comes very close to seeming like a martyr, but again, her history and character makes it plausible. And I vastly admired her clear-sighted and honest reaction when the truth finally comes out.

The story loses some steam after the big reveal, going on to concentrate on Lee’s difficulties with PTSD and integrating back into normal life; the two halves aren’t a seamless fit, but both evoked strong emotion.  The depiction of how it feels to be Lee is evocative and touching, with both deeply upsetting and positive aspects. Here he is after soaking up his first rain in years:

When at last he climbed into the car, water had plastered his hair to his skull and the sodden t-shirt clung to his body, revealing every rib, every sinew of lean, wasted muscle. But his green eyes were luminous, as though the rain had filled him to the brim and spilled over.

This is the final book in a series I hadn’t previously read, and the previous couples are big parts of the story; although it stood alone fine, I suspect reading them all in order adds even more to the experience. (There are also some possible spoilers.)

Four stars for good writing, great characterizations, and my favorite gut-punch. You can buy it from Amazon here.

Published by Harlequin. Review copy provided by NetGalley.

5 Comments »


  • jane
    May 11
    5:36 pm

    I love your tweets!! LOLOL.

    ReplyReply

  • @jane: Thanks. :-) They don’t really represent the book that well, but I couldn’t bear to give them up.

    ReplyReply


  • Carolynh
    May 12
    12:59 am

    I just bought this book. I love Karina Bliss, she hasn’t done me wrong yet. :-)

    ReplyReply

  • Karina Bliss is one of the best in the brand named romance books department. I can’t wait to read this.

    ReplyReply

  • This was only my second by her, will have to hunt up some more.

    ReplyReply

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