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    Anna Campbell’s Review of THE PROPOSITION by Judith Ivory
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  • Published: Jan 16th, 2009

anna_head.jpgJudith Ivory is one of the best stylists in the romance business. I remember the very first time I read one of her books and from the first paragraph of the first page, I was hooked. Partly because she doesn’t sound like anyone else! You know the minute you’re in Ivory World!

I’m really sad that she hasn’t had anything new out for a while. ANGEL IN A RED DRESS, released in 2006, was actually a reissue of her 1988 historical romance STARLIT SURRENDER (must say I like the new title better, LOL!). She wrote STARLIT SURRENDER as Judy Cuevas. Then in 1997, Avon relaunched her as Judith Ivory with an amazing book that’s still one of my favorites, BEAST. She followed this with a book I may even like more than BEAST, BEAUTY. Then in 1999, came her RITA-winning romance THE PROPOSITION.

I always link these three superb books in my mind because they have such strong fairytale themes. BEAST is a really luscious retelling of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST with a gorgeous, ugly-interesting hero. BEAUTY is actually a courtesan book with a lovely older woman/younger man story based on SLEEPING BEAUTY although if you know your opera plots, there’s elements of LA TRAVIATA in a big way. In fact, I almost chose it as my example of Judith Ivory’s work to talk about today.

ivory_propositionreview.jpgIn the end I went for THE PROPOSITION. Partly because I think it’s funnier and more accessible than the other two – I’ve given it to non-romance or non-historical readers to show them how good the genre can be in the hands of a really great writer. But I also think it’s got one of the most beautifully written, most adorable heroes in fiction. More about him later.

THE PROPOSITION is a role reversal of MY FAIR LADY. Which is really a classic CINDERELLA story. See what I mean about fairytale elements?

Professor Henry Higgins is an aristocratic, but impecunious lady, Edwina Bollash, who teaches elocution and deportment to people wishing to enter society. Edwina is one of my favorite heroine types, the Ugly Duckling (oh, no, more fairytale elements!). I love it when the hero falls desperately in love with a girl who isn’t drop dead stunning but nonetheless manages to mesmerize him. There’s a lovely Anne Gracie called THE PERFECT RAKE that uses this plot element and it’s a wonderful story.

I also love books about nerdy, clever heroines who still manage to snag the prince. Edwina is both nerdy and clever and a charming mixture of insecurities and courage and smarts. You’ll love watching her as she gradually gains confidence in herself through falling in love with the least suitable man in the world.

Which takes me to the Eliza Dolittle character, the wonderful hero I was drooling, uh, TALKING about before. Mick Tremore is a Cornish ratcatcher and those are words you don’t often use when you’re reviewing a romance novel. He’s big and virile and funny and kind and absolutely gorgeous.  I kept trying to find a short excerpt to do justice to the way Ms. Ivory writes his internal monologues but it was impossible. You just fall in love from the moment you meet him, filthy, flirtatious, self-deprecating and flat on the floor trying to catch a mouse in a dress shop while he ogles the best pair of legs he’s ever seen (Edwina’s as it happens) from under a screen.

As you know, I have a soft spot for a tortured hero. That isn’t Mick! He knows who he is and he knows what he can do. That lovely straightforward self-confidence without being in any way arrogance is absolutely beguiling. It’s magical watching his transformation from gorgeous man of the people to gorgeous gentleman and it’s also magical to watch as he so quickly falls under the unlikely spell of Edwina. This book just makes you smile from the toes up!

What else can I say but if you see a copy, grab it and don’t let it go? Much like Mick Tremore and his ferrets (yes, even the ferrets have personalities in this story!) go after a rat!

16 Responses to “Anna Campbell’s Review of THE PROPOSITION by Judith Ivory”

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  1. Marisa
    on Jan 16th, 2009
    @ 12:51 pm

    Ah, Anna, you had me running to my keeper shelf and looking for The Proposition. I really loved that book. It’s amazing how Ms. Ivory can take a popular tale and give it just the right twist to have me re-reading it years later. You’re right, she has a very unique voice. It’s amazing how when you find a book you really love, or an author’s voice that speaks to you, you go looking for ‘those types’ of books over and over again. It’s sort of like when a movie agent casts a part and they say get me a Hugh Grant type or get me a Julia Roberts type. When I’ve read a book I love I’m always going to the book store looking for a book that will evoke similar feelings. So you’ll see me wandering the aisles of my favorite book store or browsing Amazon looking for a Lover Eternal type book, or a Tempt the Devil type book or a In Death type book.

  2. PJ
    on Jan 16th, 2009
    @ 1:37 pm

    And the list grows longer. Great review, Anna. You make me want to drop what I’m doing and go find a copy of The Proposition.
    I haven’t read Ivory though I do have one of her books, Untie My Heart in my tbr mountain.

  3. Maria Lokken
    on Jan 16th, 2009
    @ 1:59 pm

    Marisa – can I borrow your copy?

    Anna – you got me hooked. I LOVE, love, love when the heroine isn’t drop dead gorgeous, but uses her cunning, wit and intelligence to get what she wants. Makes the story so much more savory for me.

  4. Anna Campbell
    on Jan 16th, 2009
    @ 2:10 pm

    Marisa, thank you for including me in such glittering company! I know exactly what you mean about looking for more of the same (the beauty of discovering J.D. Robb this year is I’ve got a wonderful long backlist to catch up on, huzzah!). But what I find about those really individual writers is actually there isn’t anything out there that matches up. There’s something about the way Ivory does internal monologues, especially male monologues, that grabs me by the throat and won’t let me go. Her men are funny and self-aware and REALLY smart and sexy as could be and the way they describe their thought processes is completely compelling. Sigh. Wish she’d write something new. Every so often, there’s a flurry of activity (a bit like Lisa Valdez) saying there’s a new one on the way but it hasn’t shown up yet. The least some publisher could do is reissue those old books. I’ve been glomming JI for years and I still haven’t managed to find Bliss or Dance, the two books she wrote as Judy Cuevas which apparently are fantastic.

    I sometimes wonder with these authors with the completely individual voices and the fresh take on romance if they can just keep putting the books out there. It’s interesting that Loretta Chase didn’t publish for about eight or nine years (she’s back with us now, thank goodness!), Laura Kinsale hasn’t published anything new for years and now there’s Judith Ivory as well. I think of the Beatles. You know, ten years of white hot creativity is asking a lot of an artist!

  5. Anna Campbell
    on Jan 16th, 2009
    @ 2:15 pm

    PJ, see if you can find the Proposition. I think you’ll love the sly humor and the emotion and you’ll certainly LOVE Mick! I checked on Amazon where I noticed it’s sadly out of print but there seemed to be stacks of copies available secondhand. It was a huge hit at the time. I’m really surprised it is oop!

    Maria, I agree! And Ivory makes it pretty clear Edwina doesn’t just think she’s a bit odd-looking (although it’s also perfectly clear that she’s interesting!) so it’s one of those “I’ll get a bit of confidence and knock ’em dead at the prom” stories. Edwina really is a bit out of the ordinary in the looks department! Actually, like the Anne Gracie, it’s the fact that this drop dead gorgeous hero thinks SHE’S gorgeous and nobody else can really see it that makes me weak at the knees.

  6. Maria Lokken
    on Jan 16th, 2009
    @ 2:34 pm

    Anna – it’s what I’ve been saying for years – it’s not the outside package. It’s attitude, confidence, wit, guile, tenacity, charm, intelligence, courage — these are things that make me LOVE a heroine.

  7. Anna Campbell
    on Jan 16th, 2009
    @ 2:52 pm

    Maria, unless I get those things, I don’t really care how gorgeous they are on the outside. Actually that works for me with a hero too. Don’t know if you’ve read Beast, the first of the Avon Ivorys? The hero of that really IS ugly although he hides it by being incredibly stylish. He’s scarred and he’s got a bad leg for a start. But you just LOVE him! He’s also pushing 40 (might even be over 40, it’s a while since I read it) and he falls in love with this teenage American heiress who’s just gorgeous and a maths genius to boot. It’s so poignant although also very funny, the lengths he goes to to try and be a real romantic hero whereas in fact, she falls in love with the damaged, imperfect man. Lovely story!

  8. Keira Soleore
    on Jan 16th, 2009
    @ 3:03 pm

    Fo, I’m a huuuuge fan of Judith Ivory (Judy Cuevas). Her books are timeless and each of the characters in her stories so well-crafted, I haven’t forgotten a single one of them

    And Henry Higgins? What can I say? Just thinking about his name has me smiling. I have huge parts of that movie memorized. I adore Shaw and his sarcasm and Rex Harrison plays Higgins so well that I can’t tell where Harrison stops and Higgins begins. They are interwined in my mind. And Audrey. Sigh!! I wish I could write a heroine like her. Presumptious baggage with a world of grace in her little toe.

  9. Anna Campbell
    on Jan 16th, 2009
    @ 3:09 pm

    Keira, isn’t THE PROPOSITION great? I should have known it would appeal to you! And didn’t you just adore Mick the ratcatcher?

    Actually I always had a thing for Rex Harrison although apparently he was a horror in real life! I think he had eight wives, didn’t he? Doesn’t speak well for his ability to compromise, at the very least! Have you seen the Ghost and Mrs. Muir? One of the most breathtakingly romantic movies I know. I watch it over and over again. The funny thing is I came to Pygmalion after My Fair Lady (my parents loved it so I grew up on the soundtrack) and I heard Rex speak all those Shaw lines. Actually one of the interesting things about The Proposition is that it has a bath scene like Pygmalion’s (it’s hilarious in both versions) whereas My Fair Lady skipped that bit.

    I’ve only recently seen My Fair Lady on the stage here. I took Annie West just before Christmas to celebrate the acceptance of her latest masterpiece. We had a GREAT night. Richard E. Grant played Higgins and do you know what? He was FANTASTIC! He’s so long and thin and he used all that length for such comic effect. He was a bit like a gorgeous praying mantis if that makes sense. And he can sing too which surprised me. In fact, he’s probably a better singer than RH.

  10. Helen
    on Jan 16th, 2009
    @ 3:27 pm

    I need to try the 2nd hand shops and find this book sounds great I have added it to my list that I carry around with me when shopping need to read it thanks Anna

    Have Fun

  11. heidenkind
    on Jan 16th, 2009
    @ 3:43 pm

    A rat catcher hero? Wow! I have to say I’m intrigued. And I do love My Fair Lady. Hm, maybe the library has a copy.

  12. Anna Campbell
    on Jan 16th, 2009
    @ 3:48 pm

    Helen, I highly recommend this one! And it won a RITA so I’m not the only person who thinks it’s great!

    Heidenkind, good luck with finding it in the library. As I say, it was HUGE about ten years or so ago so there must be lots of copies floating around. One of the things I love about Mick is that he’s such a bloke (do you have that word in the US?).

  13. heidenkind
    on Jan 16th, 2009
    @ 5:54 pm

    It is at the library! Yay!

    We don’t really use the word bloke in the US, but you know… we hear it in British movies and stuff. 😀 Or at least I do….

  14. Anna Campbell
    on Jan 16th, 2009
    @ 6:03 pm

    A bloke is a good down-to-earth guy,Heidenkind, as you’ve probably gathered. You know, the sort you’d trust to fix your guttering or change a tire! Fantastic news it’s at the library – you’ve got a treat ahead of you!

  15. pambook
    on Jan 17th, 2009
    @ 12:29 am

    I’ve got to get to reading this one soon, Anna, I have such a huge TBR, but you’re making me want to get to this one sooner. So many recommend her books and I did read and love Untie My Heart, and was able to get almost all of her backlist, except for Bliss; snagged Dance in a contest from Alison Kent. There had been talk of a new book from her last year, but I’ve heard she was ill and no news since.

    Yeah we hear “bloke” in British movies and books.

  16. Anna Campbell
    on Jan 17th, 2009
    @ 1:25 am

    Oh, Pam, I didn’t know she was ill. How sad! I think she’s a really major talent. I remember the talk of the new book and then nothing seemed to happen. Hey, lucky you, snagging Dance! I bet it’s great. Definitely move this one up and then I’d say my next faves are Beast and Beauty, but of course I love that fairytale connection in a story. I just love her voice. Sometimes she puts a sentence together so beautifully, yet so quirkily, that she gives me goosebumps. A wonderful writer.

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