Sweet Vixen by Susan Napier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I totally see this movie as one of those elegant, posh romantic movies that came out in the early 60s. I can hear the lush full orchestra and see the beautiful panoramic shots, the sharply-dressed men and the beautifully-dressed woman. Mod furniture and 60s elegant cars everywhere.
This book is set in the 80s, but in my mind, I felt like it was the 60s, except for some of the descriptions of the more over the top 80s disco fashions (yeesh)! I picture Clive Owen as Max and Kate Walsh as Sarah. That's how vivid this book was.
I do admit that Max was a tad too cruel for my tastes. He's one of those people who know just what words to employ to rip you to shreds. I don't like to be around people like that in real life and I find myself flinching when characters in books are like this. Even near the end, he said a few ugly things that I think he deserved a slap for. I don't think falling in love and not wanting to be in love is really an excuse for bad behavior, but there you have it.
Sarah was repressed by her overbearing, possessive artist husband's obsessive jealousy. Now that he's gone, she's retired into a widow's half-life, dressing poorly and not dating. She's good at her job as a personal assistant, and most of her energies are focused there.
When Max, the son of the great fashion designer Sir Richard Wilde, and the lead executive of their family firm, comes down to New Zealand to work for a month and to facilitate the takeover of the magazine, Rags to Riches, it's like a spark on dry kindling.
Max is an alpha hero who happens to be a suave businessman. He's a predator in the boardroom and the bedroom. He's described as drop dead gorgeous, muscular, with an angular face, and intense hazel eyes. He wears his clothes well and is definitely a ladies man. But beneath the fashionable facade, he's sharp as a tack. He hides an inner turmoil after his brush with death in a plane crash. His father sends him to New Zealand to recover emotionally before he gains the chairman of the board position Max covets. I pictured Sean Connery or Rod Taylor as they were in the 60s movies, although Clive Owen is perfect physically and in his demeanor (and also because Max is British).
Max does a lot of needling of Sarah that I felt was downright mean. It seems to bring her out of her shell, there's no question, but it still bothered me. They seem to mix like oil and water. He's used to polished, well-dressed beauties that are sophisticated and conversational. Sarah's very intelligent and perceptive, but is quiet and withdrawn and isn't anything like his usual arm-candy. It makes it all the surprising that they would fall in love with each other (or maybe not). I think from the beginning Max was drawn to her and didn't like it. She wasn't his type, and he didn't want to fall in love or feel intense emotions for a woman who wasn't disposable to him. It's not hard to believe that Sarah would fall for him. He's a ladykiller, and she's a vulnerable widow who's hidden herself away from love and sex for far too long. Sarah falls prey but he gets caught in the trap he sets for her.
Slowly you see the tension building, and this book is really quite sensual in its descriptions of their attraction that heats up to combustible levels, and also in the discussions of art, clothing and food. It's writing that is a feast for the senses. You are totally drawn into this world of high fashion, wining and dining, and beautiful people and clothing. Better yet, you want Sarah to take the plunge back into love and passion with Max, although at the same time, you want Max to get handed his trump card, and to fall deeply in love with Sarah, despite a lack of intentions on his part to do more than to bring the inner passion out and entice her into his bed for his brief stay in New Zealand. Love happens, and it's a painful process for both of them. Yet it's a beautifully-written journey.
This is the way books used to be. Full of passion and descriptions that holds your interest. I was an armchair traveler growing up, reading my Harlequin Romances and Presents, going around the world and seeing the sights, seeing people fall in love. This book brings home all the nostalgia of the old days of romance.
This book illustrates the magic of Susan Napier's writing. I have a feeling that she probably watched all the 60s romance movies and soaked up the delicious atmosphere to fill this book with. In some ways, it sort of reminds me of Marnie with Sean Connery and Tipi Hedren. The adversarial relationship that is ripe with chemistry. Some don't view this movie as romantic, but I find it romantic in an unconventional, albeit dark way. This book is not dark, but it does have an edge in that Max is definitely a cruel hero. His words cut and he does handle Sarah roughly. The ending was very well-down, driving home the 60s romance impression in my brain. It was so vividly written when the couple reunite due to matchmaking by Max's dad. Right out of one of Hitchcock's more romantic movies. Or perhaps a Doris Day movie in one of the more serious moments. It was just gorgeous.
You are probably wondering why I gave it five stars with Max being so mean most of the time. It was so well-written that you wanted them to be together, and when you see this hard as steel, angry man fall at Sarah's feet, and you are not at all surprised.
If you find yourself reading the newer series contemporary romances and feeling that the inner fire of books published by Harlequin long ago is gone, I think you'd like this book.
Cue up the strings and jazz piano.
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