Tired of her overprotective family hovering about, Lady Lydia Bedford-Browne decides to escape for a bit of adventure. She first attends the wedding of her loyal maid against her parent's wishes and then intends to travel by coach to a relative's house a few hours away. She arrives at the coach stop to meet the only other passenger for the journey, a rather battered-looking American cowboy. Sam Cody had accidentally missed his wedding that morning, and was trying to escape the bride's irate family. The short trip to the next town was supposed to be a simple affair for both Sam and Lydia, until their drunken coach driver fell off, leaving a team of runaway horses that pull the carriage far off the main road and into a bog. Sam and Lydia barely escape with their lives, and then are left to fend for themselves on the desolate moor. As they try to survive and find their way back to civilization, an attraction begins to build between the couple. Lydia decides to throw caution to the wind even further by trying to seduce Sam, who eventually obliges her with a few days and nights of unforgettable passion, but when rescuers finally arrive, Lydia turns her back on Sam, thinking that nothing could possibly come of an affair between a titled English lady and a rough-around-the-edges cowboy. Not to be deterred, Sam uses his new position in England to gain admittance to a party at her family's country estate, where he continues to pursue the object of his affection, looking for just the right thing to say or do to get back in her good graces.
I'm going to preface this review by saying that I believe every book I pick up has the potential to be a great or at least good and worthwhile read. I also go into reading every book with an open mind and a desire to love it. I'm pretty good at discerning ahead of time whether I will like a book, based on the synopsis, or other readers' recommendations and reviews. The Indiscretion happened to be one of those books that I really thought I would like, mostly because a large part of the premise is based on the main characters being stranded alone together which is a theme that I usually enjoy. I also was rather taken with the idea of an American cowboy (I typically love those) in England. Anyone who reads my reviews with any amount of regularity will know that I'm not overly prone to handing out ratings that are less than 3-stars. In fact, it is an extremely rare occasion that I do, because I can usually find something positive in nearly every book I read. Every once in a while though, in spite of my very best efforts to like it, a book just simply doesn't grab me the way it does other readers. In the case of The Indiscretion, not only did it not draw me into the story, but it was so difficult to read, I would have to characterize the experience as utterly painful. I had three major problems with the story: 1. The characters were one-dimensional and so completely frustrating and confusing to me that I never gained a liking for either one. 2. The plot was tissue paper thin. 3. The author's writing style was so aggravating, I lost count of the number of times I was feeling like screaming, ripping the book to shreds, or flinging it against a wall (thankfully I realized it was only a book and none of those things actually occurred ;-)). There is a part of me that dislikes heavily criticizing someone else's work, but there is another, more primal part of me that is going relish every moment of writing this review as a way to purge the offense from my brain. So, fasten your seat belts and hang on, because it's going to be a bumpy ride.
To start with, I found Sam and Lydia, the two main characters (I call them this because I didn't find either one to be particularly good hero or heroine material) to be petty, selfish, boorish, stubborn, indecisive, immature and downright ridiculous most of the time, and they were so lacking in character development, I couldn't relate to hardly anything about them nor decipher their motivations. I honestly never figured out what each of them saw in the other one, or how they could possibly live happily ever after for the rest of their lives, without driving one another crazy, because they darn near drove me insane with their back-and-forth, I-love-you, I-hate-you, I-don't-know-why-I-want-you attitudes. In fact, I'm really not certain if they ever would have even wound up together in the end if circumstances hadn't given them an extra push. I also had trouble seeing what led to Sam and Lydia's passionate encounter in the first place. They develop an instant disliking for one another right from the start with her thinking that he is a drunk and too provincial, and he thinking that she's an uppity Englishwoman. I guess they did start to get along a little better the more time they spent together, but there still wasn't enough of a connection between them for me to believe that they could have the hots for one another in a matter of two days. Granted the author did attempt to create some sexual tension by having Sam and Lydia snuggle together at night for warmth, but it still didn't convince me. Instead it only felt like lust gone wild or Lydia using Sam to break out of her pampered, overly controlled life. One would think that with them being alone for such a long stretch of time, Sam and Lydia would have gotten to know each other pretty well, but even when they were engaging in dialog, it rarely went beyond the trivial and mundane. I never felt like I knew Sam or Lydia well at all, and as a couple they just never worked for me.
As individuals, there was precious little information that would make me see Sam or Lydia in a favorable light. Sam seemed like he was muddling through life and any success he'd had could be owed more to sheer dumb luck than his own skill. He had left two brides at the altar on three different occasions which is certainly not an endearing trait at all. Sam had a rough life growing up with a father who never appreciated or encouraged him in any way, and in fact, treated him pretty poorly. Normally, this would make him sympathetic to me, but this part of his life was never explored in enough depth. I felt like he was stuck in the circumstances of the past and not actively doing anything to grow or change. In the beginning, I thought I might like Lydia, because she seemed to have a very forthright manner, a bit of an adventurous spirit and a healthy dose of curiosity. Alas, my hopes for her were dashed when she started telling Sam tales about herself to the point that when she did reveal the truth, Sam didn't believe her, although he initially wasn't being any more honest with her. Lydia really got on my nerves though when they were rescued from the moor, and she coldly turned her back on Sam, informing him that he shouldn't try to call on her which basically affirmed his belief that he wasn't good enough for her. It seemed like he was fine for a fling when they were alone together, but once she was back in civilization, she was just throwing him away like a piece of refuse. Then when he went against her wishes and visited her anyway, she constantly either gave him the cold shoulder or sent out mixed messages. I just never understood why Sam was so taken with her and kept pursuing her when she was treating him so shabbily.
To say that The Indiscretion is a character-driven story would be an understatement. I have read and thoroughly enjoyed a number of character-driven novels, but there still has to be a plot to hold everything together and give the characters something interesting to do. I could literally sum up the plot of The Indiscretion in just two sentences: Sam and Lydia meet in a stagecoach which ends up crashing into a bog far off the main road, leaving them stranded on the desolate moor for several days where they end up sharing some passionate interludes. When help finally arrives and Lydia is taken home, Sam uses his position to gain entry to a house party at her family's country estate where he continues to attempt to woo her, but they fight incessantly. In spite of how thin this plot is, Ms. Ivory somehow managed to drag it out for 369 pages, when in my opinion, it could have been half that length or less and still effectively told the same story. The pace was so slow I think a snail could have kept up. The author accomplished this by using far too many words to say what needed to be said, making the general wording of some passages rather clunky. I had to re-read some parts multiple times to figure out her meaning. The author also uses way too much repetitive description. There were times when I thought that if Sam described Liddy's hair, breasts, bottom, etc. or if Lydia described Sam's face (especially the bruises at the beginning), physique, clothes, etc. one more time, I just might scream. With no secondary characters to play off of during the first half of the book, Sam and Lydia frequently indulge in paragraph after paragraph of stream-of-consciousness introspection. I normally like being able to get inside the character's heads, but it was just way overdone in this book and still didn't give me any genuine insights into their psyches. Finally, there was an overabundance of expository narration. Normally, I would be interested in something like archery (Lydia is a champion archer), but the way the author goes about describing the sport never drew me into the action of the moment and instead left me bored. Overall, The Indiscretion was like reading 369 pages of paint drying interspersed with an occasional tidbit of meaningful dialog or character development that only lasted for a moment.
The final thing that literally drove me to distraction was Ms. Ivory's writing style. She uses a plethora of qualifying phrases and doesn't even have a standard method of formatting them. Some come after commas, some after colons, some come within parentheses, and still others in between two dashes, but however they were written, a huge number of them were simply unnecessary. Her sentences that weren't overly long were instead too brief and simplistic, with some not even really being sentences at all, but mere phrases of one, two or maybe three words. I thought this made the narrative very choppy. I found myself constantly rewriting passages in my head to make them flow better, and wondering where the editor was. The author rambles so much, the whole thing was rather like reading really bad poetry masquerading as prose. Oftentimes, if nothing else, I can at least say that I enjoyed some steamy love scenes, but this book only had two. The first was semi-hot, but still had too much extraneous descriptions (not really of the act itself), and I had to re-read the entire scene just to be sure that Lydia had had an orgasm. The second was very brief and not particularly descriptive at all. In my opinion, Ms. Ivory spends all her time telling almost everything and showing virtually nothing. She even tells what the characters are talking about instead of giving them richer dialog. In short, her writing style simply left me bereft of any connection to her as an author or to her characters and the story she was trying to tell.
It is quite unfortunate that The Indiscretion ended up with the dubious distinction of being the first book I've rated below 2-stars. I probably would have only given it 1-star, but I bumped it up the extra half for the two or three scenes that didn't completely bore me to tears (the scene in which Sam and Lydia engage in an archery match with his potential prize being her knickers was mildly amusing). Most of the time, upon completion of a book, I feel satisfaction in having read something that was at least reasonably entertaining and sometimes have a bit of regret that it is over if it was a particularly good one. With The Indiscretion, I felt satisfaction at finally being done with it, and a small measure of pride in actually having been able to complete it. The only regret I felt was in having read it in the first place and wasting precious hours on something that was so agonizing to read. Oh, and I also regret that I don't have the talent to write a truly snarky review like the ones produced by my GoodReads friend Eastofoz (if I had a cootie shelf like her, this one would be on it ;-)) or the ladies at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. At least then I could have had some fun by making my own entertainment out of it. I know that there are readers who really like Ms. Ivory as an author and she did win a Rita award for a different book, but I'm afraid I just don't see the appeal. I really wanted to like The Indiscretion, but sadly I had to force myself to finish it in very small doses in between other better books. Normally, I try to remain open-minded about giving an author a second chance, even if they don't wow me the first time, but in this case, the pain is just too deep for me to probably ever consider reading a Judith Ivory book again.
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