Absolute Pleasure
by Cheryl Holt, historical (2003)
St Martin's Press, $6.50, ISBN 0-312-98459-6


There's a problem with this book! You can guess the problem, surely! Don't tell me you can't!

I think erotic romance author Cheryl Holt is an uneven writer. She can be good, she can be bad, or she can be so purple that dead lavenders are dripping gore from the pages. She was pretty good in Love Lessons, misses the school bus in Total Surrender, and is the Queen of Purple and Bewildering Punctuation in this book.

Combining old-school love scene prose ("succulent abyss") and crass vulgarity ("saturated pusssy"), the perplexing Absolute Pleasure tells the story of gigolo painter Gabriel Cristofore who makes money painting his female models and luring these women out of the clothes until these women just have to offer him gifts and monies for Pepe LePew here's mighty skills with his paintbrush. One day he sees Elizabeth Harcourt and wham! He must lure her to be his latest customer! Si, si, ma'am, just come sit here, take off your clothes, and let Pepe mek luuurve to you with me Pepe's paintbrushy yes, yeeesss? Okay, Pepe LePew's accent isn't that atrocious, but that man oozes smarm. He's slick, and I don't mean that in a good way. I know gigolos work hard to maintain their clientele - more power to them - but Pepe here is just too smooth and insincere. His speech about love and beauty is laughably corny. Poor Pepe - his mojo is more of a snerk! than phwoar!

Elizabeth is your typical repressed type. She doesn't like Pepe when he puts the move on her the instant he sees her (see, see, didn't I say he was slick?) but after seeing him demonstrate the best way to breastfeed, hands-on style, with a willing guinea pig in a theater box, she suddenly wants to get her portrait done too.

Meanwhile, his father, Big Pepe, was a slick too. Now, Big Pepe has the hots for Elizabeth's housekeeper. They hate each other, but they soon rock the carriage hard. Ms Holt says it's love. If she says so, I guess.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth's papa doesn't like the idea that her Pretty Pretty Lizzie is going to be independent and leave his house. I mean, okay, so he married a shrew and the shrew hates his daughter and vice versa, what is the world coming to when a man can't indulge in his borderline creepy affection for his daughter while keeping his trophy wife to his side? Did I mention that the housekeeper woman, Mary Smith, is his ex-mistress whom he too wants by his side forever and ever?

So here we are the story of Pepe and Big Pepe stealing poor Daddy's daughter and ex-mistress from him. England is inbreeding. No wonder their Royal Family is screwed up and their Crown Prince is balding.

The characters aren't likable. The father is a crazy tyrant, Lizzie is a silly doormat, the shrew wife Charlotte is ridiculously obtuse, Mary Smith has lousy taste in men, and the LePews are just too slimy for my liking. Their love scenes, therefore, don't engage me at all. In a book where the sex is emphasized more than the romance, this flaw is pretty fatal. The annoying tendency to overuse the exclamation mark doesn't help idea. I know the exclamation mark looks like some phallic imagery, but overusing it won't help to increase the hero's virility or the length of his endowment.

While not exactly an absolute ordeal to read, Absolute Pleasure's unappealing cast and overkill of !!!!!!!!!!s and eyebrow-rising adverbs cause this book to fail to live up to its title either.

Rating: 66


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