A Secret in Her Kiss - Anna Randol I wanted to give this book 3 stars. I really did. Anna Randol's a debut author, and every struggling writer knows that it takes years of experience to get your feet under you. She even took a risk, setting the story in Constantinople instead of a collection of boring London drawing rooms where rakes and innocent misses exchange significant glances over tea.


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Georgian England loved giving some significant glances.

So, yes, I wanted to take it easy on A Secret in Her Kiss SO MUCH. Unfortunately, the book packs an overload of shenanigans. The heroine is mega-annoying, unbelievable, and inconsistent. The culture switches from traditional to slapstick several times without warning. Don't even get me started on the grammatical errors. For the love of Mr. Darcy, editors, you're getting paid to make the text readable! Edit!

SUMMARY:
Major Bennett Prestwood, a pretty cool and normal guy, is delayed on his trip home after Waterloo with one last assignment. The Crown needs him to play guardian to a British spy with lady-parts who paints enemy fortresses into pictures of nature. The British spy with lady-parts, unfortunately, is a young spinster by the name of Mari Sinclair. Her father, an architect or archeologist or something, moved her to Constantinople after the death of her Greek mother. Apparently, Mari's taken up her mother's passion for Greek independence. So you have that. But Mari is also friends with the Turkish locals, including a powerful pasha. So you have that, too. Despite Mari's work for the British government, she despises England because her English aunt was mean to her a decade ago and her mother only cared about Greece, DAMN IT! So your plate is probably getting really full now. When the handsome and duty-bound Bennett enters Mari's life, she's convinced to shake him and the British government off because she answers to no man! Too bad Bennett's a hottie, then, because Mari totally finds herself in a frequent state of wanting to jump his British officer bones. Mmm-hmm, smexytimes. And Mari's read the Kama Sutra, so she knows what she's doing. Will these two find an allegiance in common, or will they just boink like animals and part? Even more importantly, will they even survive? (Pretend you don't know these answers. Romance may be predictable, but my enjoyment level went up ten-fold when I convinced myself that Mari could meet her Maker by the end of the book.)


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No, no, NO! Not YOU, Mr. Darcy! I wasn't referring to you!

STUPID THINGS THAT MARI DOES:
You know that annoying tendency that heroines have to do completely off-the-wall stuff without warning or prior communication? "You can't tame me! I'll dress as a boy and go to White's to spy on you because it's my RIGHT AS A WOMAN! RAWR!" Mari does this from the beginning. She's embroiled herself in some serious international politics, which is unfortunate because she often shows the judgment of a lobotamized split-pea. So when she finds out that Bennett's coming to protect her, she gets all indignant and treats him like trash from the beginning. How DARE a man with integrity and the survival skills to last twelve years in active duty try to ... help her? If he had actually done something to piss her off in the first place, I wouldn't have been so puzzled over Mari's petulant attitude. But they had never met before!

After Mari sends her maid dressed in robes and a veil in her place to a meeting with Bennett about enabling her well-being (the nerve!), she takes off all alone in Constantinople knowing very well that someone wants her dead to break her dad out of an opium den. Bennett, being a practical and forthright fellow, tracks her down there and is like, "Okay, not cool, strange woman. I'm just trying to keep you alive." This is how their first meeting progresses. Notice Mari's absence of rationality.

His eyes rested on her father, and pity entered into his gaze.

Her free hand clenched at her side. How dare he? How dare he judge her or her father? She stepped to the right to move around the major.

He mirrored her motion. "Miss Sinclair?"

Mari turned back the other way. He had followed her to the opium den, and he could trail her home because she had no intention of speaking to him here. Thanks to her father's weakness, her life provided enough fodder for public discourse. She refused to add to the subject matter.

The major blocked her again.

She exhaled through clenched teeth. "Would you be so good as to move, sir? My burden is not precisely light."

His eyes narrowed. "You're Miss Sinclair." The words were not a question.

Major Prestood moved toward her father, but she led him a step out of the major's reach. "And you, sir, are arrogant and overbearing. Step aside."



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"Even I wouldn't be such a pretentious dick."

Okay, first off, Mari, RUDE! All Bennett does is try to help her father. It makes no sense. Plus, Mari's hostile demeanor is explained as an attempt to prevent causing a scene. However, short moments later, she kisses Bennett in the middle of the street to ward off curious onlookers. In front of her father, who's wasted out of his mind, but still. IN CONSTANTINOPLE, where women aren't allowed to keep company with men outside of their own houses!


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Mr. Bingley is shocked. SHOCKED, I tell you!

So Mari doesn't like Bennett. Fine. And he, being the hero in a romance novel, dislikes her in return but also gets a really bad boner for her. Nothing new in that department. Although she doesn't trust Bennett and actively thwarts his every attempt to "tame" her, Mari's incredibly sexually aggressive with the poor guy. She touches and straddles him at every opportunity. (Special note: In this world, chaperones aren't a problem.) She talks about studying (lol) the Kama Sutra and how it taught her about the pleasures of the flesh.


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Yes, ladies. Take a moment to let that process.

I can't speak for all women because I'm just some nobody from the wilds of Pennsylvania who reads a lot and talks to her 3 cats like they're real people (so does my husband, for the record). But full disclosure here: By the time I lost my virginity, I'd read tons of romance novels, I'd watched sex on TV and music videos, and I'd had several friends explain it to me. And I was still freaked out of my mind the first time. Terrified. First times are supposed to awkward and kind of uncomfortable, right? But NOT for Mari. Oh, no, she's totally prepared for the wonders of love-making because she's read the Kama Sutra, and apparently that makes her a special snowflake. *Headdesk*

At one point, Mari commits treason. That was a fun development. She was all, "I have no loyalty to England. The people there suck." And Bennett was all, "You're the dumbest person I've met in my entire life, but your hair's so pretty ..." People die for committing treason. Mari didn't just put herself at risk by betraying classified information; she also put Bennett, Achilla (her maid), and her father in grave danger. Especially Bennett. This is all to protect a man who later banishes Mari from Constantinople (with good reason).

The big sex scene takes place in a filthy prison cell, I kid you not. As I read the part where they got thrown in the cell, I checked the pages left in the book and started pleading, "Oh, please. PLEASE don't let them consummate their love in a prison cell." But they did BECAUSE THEIR LOVE CAN'T BE CONTAINED. Freaking nonsense, all of it. The air in the cell is described as "fetid" several times, and they can't even see while they're making love. They could have been bumping uglies on the melted remains of corpse, and they never knew it. That's a lovely image to have in your head while reading a sex scene.

After they escaped from prison, I just wanted the nonsense to be over with. But of course, Mari had to act like a silly ass moron for a little bit longer, rejecting Bennett's marriage proposal because OMG, he follows orders, and maybe the orders mean more to him than being with her. Just ... what the hell? IS THIS WOMAN IMBALANCED? Bennett's in the military. He has to follow orders, or he can be tried for - oh, I don't know - TREASON or WORSE. His ability and willingness to follow orders is what makes him ideal for protecting her sorry life!

To her credit, Mari quickly comes to her senses. But it's too late! Time for a shadowy threat from the book to abduct her and her maid and leave two charred corpses in their place! She's lucky Bennett ends up saving her. Also, I was hoping the book would end when Bennett found what he presumed to be Mari's corpse. It would have been a fitting ending for a tiresome woman who commits treason and betrays all of her alliances like it's no big thing. She didn't die.

There's also the matter of Mari's maid, Achilla, who Mari saved from slavery years ago and still works as her maid in gratitude. Okay, fine. But Achilla rarely behaves as a maid would behave. She's loud and crude and opinionated. Mari interacts with her the same way she would with a friend. But she still orders Achilla about like a maid! The dynamic bothered me, both for its unrealistic portrayal and the condescension of Mari being so kind and selfless to allow her wildly inappropriate maid to stay in her household.

Bennett actually isn't that bad. He's gotten his hands dirty in the war, but he doesn't have any woobie-fied crippled legs or sad wittle feelwings that tworture him. He behaves honorably with Mari with the exception of the disgusting prison cell sex, and he doesn't flip-flop on the whole love thing. If only he'd had more to do. He could have been a great hero in a real romantic adventure story with a heroine who didn't squish him like a bug every time she wanted a leg up.

I'll give Randol credit for holding my attention, even if it was to find out what stupid thing Mari would do next. Her prose flowed easily, aside from the grammatical errors. I'm not sure if the draft given to the editors was just so bad that the finished product was the best they could do or if someone in the editing department really dropped the ball. A lot of books these days suffer from sloppy editing. If I have to re-read a sentence to make sense of it solely because of an error, that's bad.

I pine for the days of good romance to return. Remember this?


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Mari and Bennett can't even compare to Anne and Gil, but they could take a few notes on a proper love/hate relationship.

Oh, and for those of you who like to keep track, I'm pretty sure there was sex in a carriage. It isn't clear because the scene was fade-to-black, but the heroine was already tearing the hero's clothes off. I think it's safe to assume that one more soiled carriage got its chance in the Avon spotlight. :D