"You're not a fan of Pleasantville?"
"It's all right," the girl said shrugging. "Could be a decent place, if it would move out of the 1940s and into the new millennium. Just needs something to shake things up."
Ah Pleasantville, if only you were as interesting a character in this book as that town from the eponymous 90s movie.
I have bit of a weakness for small town stories. I'm a sucker for the returning hero or heroine, revisiting old flames and deep grudges, meaning to serve some retribution and a heavy side dish of gloating. So these two books in Bare Essentialsautomatically had that going for me. And in certain stretches for both stories, I did find myself enjoying scenes and dialogues, but there are still patches of cringe-worthy mishaps and embarrassing pitfalls that were much too obvious for me to ignore.
Cassie Tremaine Montgomery and Katherine Jones are cousins who have both been burned by unpleasant memories in Pleasantville courtesy of their surname's notoriety. Cassie's mother, has been widely-renowned as the town tramp, earning her a reputation by association from the rest of the townsfolk. Kate's mom was rumored to be having an affair with the town's mayor right under his family's nose as Edie works as their maid. Both Tremaine women left town holding a grudge and a promise to return one day and exact some form of revenge on the town that gave them so much heartache when they were younger.
And return they did.
NAUGHTY BUT NICE (Jill Shalvis)
Cassie is now a successful lingerie model and she returns to Pleasantville seeking asylum from a stalker back in New York while settling some real estate affairs for her mother. And just because our Cassie is such a multi-tasker, she also brought along the to-do list she's written when she was younger and went ahead to start crossing items off.
1. Drive a fancy sunshine yellow car.
2. Get the sheriff (because he made a creepy pass on her on prom night involving him, her and her mother).
3. Live in the biggest house on Lilac Hill (which is part of her mother's affairs she needs to settle).
4. Open a porn shop.
5. Become someone.
Conveniently she gets caught by the new town sheriff speeding in her yellow Prosche, Sean "Tag" Taggart the son of the old sheriff who propositioned her for a threesome with her mom. She doesn't know this. They fall in lust at first sight. She opens an erotic store, Bare Essentials with Kate. He wants to have a relationship with her. She doesn't do relationships especially of men in uniforms.
A Tremaine woman always lands on her feet. You know that."
Sometimes it's a long fall first."
Cassie's character is supposed to be the gorgeous, wild and tempestuous Tremaine with a lot more sass and attitude. Which meant a lot of calling Tag 'ace' 'slick', 'big boy', 'big man', 'cowboy' and her dildo 'bad boy' which was really off-putting for me because this hardly translates to sass and attitude to me. It was also quite confusing what she was trying to accomplish pretending she's the hussy the town accuses her to be when she's anything but. This of course resulted in a lot of will have sex, won't have sex moments between her and Tag but emotionally, it didn't make sense.
I did enjoy Tag as a hero. While having him chase Cassie for a commitment is hardly original, I am a sucker for the alpha-beta hero hybrid so points for that. There was one moment when Cassie expressly says 'No' to Tag's advances but he continues to pursue his… ventures which of course ends up with Cassie relenting and they have sex anyway. It's great that we know as readers what Cassie is thinking of but this small scene made me a little uncomfortable. I mean, sex in real life doesn't work like a Robin Thicke song.
But then we are in the realm of supposed erotic female fantasies where the sheriff turns up in the front door leaning on the doorjamb, arms crossed with his fucking "sunglasses hanging out the side of his mouth by an earpiece" so clearly the rules of reality doesn't apply (because in that realm that just sounds hokey and ridiculous).
The narrative flowed quite easily and I think Shalvis' humor felt more organic in the story line than in the other book. There's also character growth in Cassie so all's not lost for this heroine. Plus she owns a cat. I wanted more depth in her relationship with her mother who was just a ghost of a character. Some exposition on her motivations at the cost of one less aborted sex scene between Cassie and Tag wouldn't have hurt. Because the to and fro between her and Tag just went on too unnecessarily long for me.
Rating: 2.5 STARS
NATURALLY NAUGHTY (Leslie Kelly)
Kate is now the owner of a sex toy store in Chicago and she returns to Pleasantville to help her cousin start up their revenge business venture. She meets Jack who is also from Chicago, who kisses her on the street and has mind-blowing (of course) sex with her in the old town cinema. All in one day. He promises to meet her again in Chicago to start something with her but he never did call. Because Jack discovers Kate is the daughter of their old maid whom his father had an affair with. They meet up again in Pleasantville after a few days, with Kate intent on seducing the now-deceased mayor's son, J. J. Winfield as her own revenge.
I liked Kate's story a LOT better than Cassie's mostly because there was more sense and substance in her hurt. I loved the backstory between her mother and Jack's father. I got to know Pleasantville better as well compared to Cassie's story. And I like that her conflict as a character, the supposed straight-A, good girl with an inherent sexual adventurism, was clearly depicted and better enhanced with a hero like Jack.
I do feel some of the dialogue veered on this side of cheesy and outright hilarious that bled into certain details particularly with Jack. Really? He's suddenly a Tae Kwon Do instructor soon as Kate claims she likes dangerous and graceful men? What's wrong with an assassin ballerina? Also in Kate-verse tongues are sweet as well as man sweat (eww), "hearts pound in the rhythm of a tribal drum" and well…
This time she didn't want to be the only one completely out of control, brought to ever higher peaks of ecstasy by Jack.
She wanted to be the one turning him into a RAGING, LIVING, BREATHING HORMONE.
Though I love the originality of this declaration, something about wishing your partner into becoming something that can give you cancer, strange mood swings or the ability to lactate (among others) just tickles me in the way I don't think I was meant to be tickled.
Rating: 3.5 STARS
The assertion that both Cassie and Kate are smart, radical and progressive women for opening a sex toy store in the small and conservative town of Pleasantville was very confusing to me as a form of revenge. Isn't it economically unsound to open a SPECIALTY STORE in a predominantly rural area? Wouldn't that be plotting revenge on themselves as they'd be financing a highly unfeasible business venture? Because Kate's feasibility study was the opinion of one housewife while inebriated with Bourbon playing Bunko (I'm not even kidding).
Most of the sex scenes for both books were quite steamy, this side of graphic (Sex on a swing! Whee!) with lots of talking while still well within the bounds of romance. Both heroes, Jack and tag, were likable but had no perceivable depths as characters. Both stories will expect you to believe that kissing an attractive stranger in the middle of the street won't get you arrested and you can fall in love on the sole basis of great sex… which soon as you let go, made this for quite an entertaining fantasy.
Overall both books were quite well written and an easy enjoyable read that will work with the proper mindset and reader's hankering.
ARC provided by Harlequin thru NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Quotes may not appear on the published edition.