Mounting Desire
by Nina Killham, contemporary (2006)
Little Black Dress Book, £3.99, ISBN 0-7553-3277-6


Mounting Desire is the story of two romance authors. One is a born-again virgin, disenchanted with relationships after an unhappy divorce. Now this romance author seeks the right person to fall in love with. The other romance author can't help sleeping with the wrong person, not believing in love but writing steamy erotic romances just because there are bills to pay.

Believe it or not, the born-again virgin is Jack Carter, one of the most successful romance authors out there. Right up with Nora Roberts and few others in terms of success, Jack however becomes increasingly unhappy with having to hide behind the feminine pseudonym of Celeste D'Arcy. Jack loves romance novels, mind you, and his dream is to be able to write romances under his real name, to prove to the world that real men are capable of writing stories that touch a woman's heart.

Jack is also an avowed celibate, tired of meaningless relationships after his divorce. He seeks a woman who, like him, wants to connect on an intellectual and emotional level first. Unfortunately, those women who have read his romance novels believe that the man who writes such steamy love scenes must be some sort of love guru. Poor Jack has to sometimes fight to preserve his virtue. His discontent soon seeps into his writing, turning his alpha males and helpless damsels into perfectly pleasant and nice characters who bore his editor to tears.

Molly Macintyre is the sister of the wife of Jack's brother. Unlike Jack, she doesn't think of love often. Actually, she doesn't think of love much at all. When she sees a hot guy, she makes the move to get him. When the story opens, an unwise affair with an opportunistic subordinate backfired on Molly, causing her to lose her job. Since she needs a place to stay as she gets her life back in order, her sister asks Jack whether he can let Molly move in temporarily. Soon, taking a leaf from Jack's writing, she tries her hand at her own writing career. Much to Jack's dismay, Molly's "porn" stories - featuring whips, multiple male heroes, and more - turn her into an Internet bestseller.

Mounting Desire is quite a rude title, especially when you realize that Molly's pseudonym is Molly Desire, but this is far from a bawdy or rude story. To call this one a romance novel will be pushing it, as the structure of the story is more akin to a chick-lit novel and the characters see other people (or in Molly's case, sleep with other people) throughout the story until they finally get together in the last few pages. However, this book also breaks some chick-lit rules: it is very romantic and it also features the point of view of the hero more than that of the heroine. If you look at this author's other books, you will understand why it is easier to just call her books "fiction" and leave it at that.

There are more to this story, as I've just given the bare bones of the story in the above synopsis. There are many wonderfully amusing and entertaining things to discover as one turns the pages, and I'd let those who want to read this book enjoy the serendipity. What I will say here is that I absolutely love this story. Jack is definitely a nice change from the usual heroes, I must say, as he is sometimes weird, sometimes very stubborn, but clearly a nice guy underneath. Molly is definitely a slut, and I mean that in a nice way. She mellows somewhat as the story continues, to the point where it is easy to believe that she and Jack will work things out for the better in the long run. Ms Killham has does something amazing here. She takes two very different characters, put them in a story that does not follow the typical pattern of a romance novel, and yet make me think that this couple is a wonderful well-matched one. Perhaps, I find myself thinking, that Jack and Molly have the best kind of love as neither needs anything - rescue, money, et cetera - from the other and therefore this is a healthy kind of love based solely on mutual attraction and a need for companionship.

And speaking of romance, the last few chapters see Ms Killham pouring on the romantic overtones and unexpectedly touching funny scenes that this book is more romantic than many romance novels that I've read recently. The last line of the book is just perfect, I tell you, perfect.

But Mounting Desire is more than an unexpectedly heartwarming and very funny love story - it is also a playful peek into the world of romance writing. Ms Killham pokes fun at both the good and the not-so-good aspects of the industry with her tongue pressed firmly against her cheek. From the hilarious yet accurate observations of Jack's editor about the audience of romance novels and the kind of stories that these readers love to Jack's imaginary arguments with his characters, this one is one long inside joke for those who are familiar with the genre. And who would have thought Jack's snooty attitude about erotic romances, especially those published online, would be still relevant years after the publication of this book?

Jack collapsed into a chair at the back of the room. He couldn't believe Molly was on a panel already. A story or two online, and the romance establishment was treating her as one of its members. It was ludicrous, recognizing online publishers of erotica who peddled their filthy wares to Saudi Arabia, exporting their obsessions with spanking and bondage. Jane Austen would twirl in her grave. He was surprised there was no international uproar.

Mounting Desire is easily one of the most enjoyable romantic stories I've read. It is funny, heartwarming, and offers an added bonus of some playful jabs at the romance genre. Besides, any book that promotes a happy union between "traditional" romances and erotic romances can't be bad, right?

Rating: 90


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