24 January 2014

Review: The Maid's Daughter by Janice Maynard

Burning thoughts
Him: I want her, but my soul can never afford her love.
Her: I find that I love him, yet he distances himself every time we get close.
Cover photo: The Maid's Daughter by Janice MaynardThe Maid's Daughter by Janice Maynard is somewhat a Cinderella story, somewhat a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast. Sort of the heroine taming the tormented, savage male...though by her admission, the heroine's a far cry from being a raving beauty.

It's the third of the Men of Wolff Mountain romance series but the story can stand on its own. I picked it up on Kindle and the fact that it was free didn't hurt a bit. I couldn't exactly say the same for the reading experience though.

But where do I begin?

First lines

Next to the blurb, I always check out the first lines and/or paragraph of a romance novel before I make a commitment to buy, and then to read. I'm not about to spend precious dollars on a romance read that's going to annoy, aggravate and anger me.

The thing is, I'm also an optimistic reader. Although I have the knee jerk reaction of judging books by its cover, I've got the irritating habit of plodding on to The End despite the fact that the first lines were a “Meh!” experience.

My disappointing encounter with The Maid's Daughter, though not a first of its kind, didn't put me off that habit.
Wet yellow leaves clung to the rain-slick, winding road. Devlyn Wolff took the curves with confidence, his vintage Aston Martin hugging the pavement despite the windswept October day. Dusk had fallen. He switched on his headlights, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel in rhythm to the hard-rock oldie blasting from his Bose speakers.
I get it that it's a dark, dangerous night. I get it that the hero's stupendously rich. But what the H?! Why bore me on the first paragraph, Romance? Why?

First lines rating: 1.0

Main Characters: Gillian Carlyle and Devlyn Wolff

The protagonists from The Maid's Daughter are straight out of a Cinderellaesque romance.

Devlyn Wolff is the proverbial CEO to a multimillion conglomerate, gorgeous (with a string of women attached to his name in the country's tabloids), and any heroine worth her salt won't think twice about giving him her phone number. His father and uncle, retired patriarchs of the Wolff clan, have given him run of the family's enterprises. Normally in Atlanta, Georgia for work, he's been called home to Burton, Virginia to report.

Gillian Carlyle, on the other hand, is the epitome of the librarian archetype: mousy (so she thinks), wallflowerish, and currently back in her hometown licking her recently unemployed wounds. Oh, and also, she's the housekeeper's daughter—her mom works at Wolff Mountain, Devlyn's ancestral home. She's back for a bit, then she's on to looking for employment elsewhere.

Their meeting is in keeping with the dark, dangerous atmosphere that Ms. Maynard painstakingly set in the first paragraph. Their cars get into a near-miss, but Gillian's little navy car wasn't so lucky. She ended up wrapping it around a telephone pole.

And lo and behold! Gillian emerges barely unscathed, albeit with “a trickle of blood on her cheek.” (I do drive and smashing your car up a pole at the speeds you're making on a turn doesn't inspire that much confidence as Ms. Maynard would like me to have. It is possible though, so let's go on...)

Turns out, Devlyn and Gillian have been acquainted before as kids. Grade school Gillian tried to comfort high school Devlyn on the first anniversary of his mother's death. He's so conflicted over his parent's passing though that he sends Little Gillian away with cruel words. Something that, when he recognizes her post-accident, reminds him of a guilt he's carried for a long time.

Devlyn, for all his arrogance and cruelty, is actually all white-knightey inside. Or want to be. Because every time he comes to the rescue of damsels in distress, the kind gesture ends up blowing in his face. Women so far has imposed on him, duped him, and all together turned him off the helping bit.

Still, he can't resist what he is and brings home Gillian to recuperate at Wolff Mountain from the accident. And he'd like to believe it's just to help her out, too, but actually it's lust—or something like it—that's driving him. He puts her in his adjoining room to boot!

But there are many times when Devlyn's blowing hot and cold, especially when Gillian gets too close. There are instances though when I feel as if this habit of his is kinda forced just to up the ante towards The End. And those are the things that makes Romanceland not a fun read sometimes.

Gillian, for all her accomplishment as an awarded grade school teacher, instantaneously regains her insecurities of being the housekeeper's daughter as soon as she meets Devlyn again. Aided, no doubt, by their shared history. Despite the attraction zinging between them, she's hampered from freely enjoying the chemistry because of her feeling that they're too different socially.

Something, I think, which I hate about Gillian. Goodness' sake, why be ashamed of your mother? My mom sent me to school working as a housekeeper in someone's house. I owe her who I am today for those years she sacrificed. What's so shameful about that?

Of course, that perspective drove some of the conflict in The Maid's Daughter but I would've liked it if Ms. Maynard found something else to focus on. Like Devlyn's reasons for being hot to trot one moment, and cold as an ice cube the next. Now that was a worthier source of conflict!

Characters rating: 3.0

Romance arc

If there's one thing that's plenty in The Maid's Daughter, it's sexual tension. Right from the moment he sits her in his car, steamy images flare in his mind's eye.
Once, he stumbled slightly, and her hand gripped a fistful of his shirt, her fingernails digging into his skin. For a second he flashed on an entirely inappropriate scenario that involved him and her. Naked. In his bed.
   He shook his head. Weird. Too weird.
I believe that's why he puts her in the room next to his to help her recuperate from the mishap. What do you know, he might get lucky in the night.

It's this sexual interest that's driving Devlyn's offer to Gillian to work as his consultant on the public school project that his family's offering to their hometown.

He's rational about it, too. She's a teacher, she knows the ins and outs of working with school boards, she's more in touch with what works and what doesn't in a school, she's in between jobs, blah blah blah.

But Gillian is afflicted with the same attraction so it's not difficult for him to seduce her. The problem starts when his body's thinking long term but his mind's not in on the program yet. To say the attraction's industrial strength is telling it mildly. They sizzle, and the sex is steamy, but every time they get close, something triggers his commitment complex. It brings them back to square one all over again.

I like that Devlyn's got initiative, but he can be wily about it. He's actively pursuing Gillian, and he's not shy about maneuvering her into a love scene. The cramped atmosphere at home (with his father, uncle, sister, assorted house workers all over the place) means they have to relocate their loving somewhere though. Sometimes, in the most unlikely places. (Really, Ms. Maynard, on a stump in the middle of what's essentially nowhere? Feels like reading about teenagers getting creative on where they can grope in secret!)

Then there's the rub: how can she fall in love with a man who appeared to be “soulless...lacking in compassion, utterly hard and self-centered?”

But of course, there's that something behind Devlyn's apparent lack of compassion. We find the Big Reveal in the end, as stories go, but...the I'm-so-tormented-but-you're-love-is-healing was such a quick wrap up that I think my reading “neck” is still suffering from whiplash!

All I can say is, love as the ultimate healer is a good ol' trope in Romanceland but it helps if it's been established that the tormented soul's, erm, torments are real enough to justify that romantic cha-cha-cha. Meaning, I need it shown, Romance, or we'll have words at the end.

The thing is, despite the on-again, off-again seesaw of feelings and liaisons between Devlyn and Gillian, the turbulent love story had a logical beginning, middle and end. I just wished The End wasn't such a hasty affair though.

Romance arc rating: 4.0

What worked, what didn't

Now, we go to my main beef: I get it that Devlyn's tormented by Mommy issues, but it would've been better if you showed me, Romance, that he had the potential of being physically abusive.

Oh, I get it. Maybe, the torment that he put Gillian through was it. But then, Romance, that wasn't a “potential” thingie. It was actual, and it was done. Poor heroine was subjected to the hero's many emotional swings that I can't believe she just didn't give up and find another man who didn't have so many hangups.

Then again, this is Romanceland, so we expect them to work out their differences and close with an optimistic, if not a happy, ending.

But just sayin'...there's a fine line between co-dependency and helping someone to heal. Gillian and Devlyn walked this sharp edge so precariously IMHO.

There were also abrupt transitions in the story that made me go, “What? Why? Come again?” Return and re-read. And it still doesn't make sense, Romance!

And The End?! Like I said, that one zoomed by so quick, I had quite the whiplash. Good thing this one came for free or I would've demanded a re-write...or at least, an additional chapter. Maybe even an epilogue just so I didn't feel rushed. As it is, it felt like Ms. Maynard was scrambling for a deadline—or she's used up her number of words quota for novel length—and Gillian and Devlyn had to sprint towards a comfortable closure instead of an amazing finish. Pft.

Likert: 3.5

Favorite lines 

   “I don't think it would be appropriate for the two of us to spend the night alone,” she said, regretting the prim stuffiness in her words as soon as they left her mouth.
   Devlyn snorted, and tried to pretend it was a cough. “I promise to be on my best behavior,” he said, irony in every syllable.

   “I'm a stubborn SOB. Don't try to analyze me. What you see is what you get.”

   “Nice guys finish last. Don't you know?”

   “I may be condemned to hell for this.”
   “For what?”
   “Taking what you're offering and giving nothing in return.”
   “Sex for barter is prostitution. And I won't let that happen. Mutual pleasure, Devlyn. That's what this is...”

Book details

Title: The Maid's Daughter
Series: The Men of Wolff Mountain
Author: Janice Maynard
Genre: Contemporary romance, Category romance, Romance series
Original Publication Date: 2012, September 4
Themes: Emotional rebirth, the healing power of love, child abuse, lovers from different social worlds, old acquaintances
He thought he was finished rescuing damsels in distress. After all, hadn't playing hero gotten millionaire Devlyn Wolff into enough trouble? Still, when a car accident lands Gillian Carlyle at his feet, he can't walk away—even when he learns of her connection to his past.

Giving Gillian a job with his new business venture is not Devlyn's way of assuaging age-old guilt. Nor is it a way to keep her close. At least he tells himself that, even as he knows seducing the maid's daughter will lead him where he never meant to go.
Have you read The Maid's Daughter? What's your take on it? Don't be a stranger—share your review of this romance in the comments section below.
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