Jen’s review of Bare Essentials: Naughty But Nice/Naturally Naughty by Jill Shalvis and Leslie Kelly
Naughty But Nice by New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis
Lingerie model Cassie Tremaine Montgomery intends to have her revenge on the citizens of her hometown—starting with seducing the sheriff, Sean “Tag” Taggart. Tag, however, isn’t cooperating. He’s more than willing to set the sheets on fire with her, but he’s asking for more than just sizzling sex…. He knows Cassie’s not as tough as she pretends. And he knows she cares about him—even if she won’t admit it. So he’ll just turn up the heat until she concedes there’s more between them than this red-hot passion.
Naturally Naughty by New York Times bestselling author Leslie Kelly
Kate Jones, the girl from the wrong side of the tracks, is home. And she’s got an agenda. To get revenge on the man who humiliated her mother, Kate’s going to seduce that man’s son—the town’s golden boy, John Winfield Jr.—and then leave him drooling in a puddle of lust. However, when she finds herself seduced by a sexy stranger named Jack, little does she guess that the tables have just been turned….
This newly released book is basically a set of of two shorter books that were originally published as separate Harlequin Blaze titles in the early 2000s–Naughty but Nice (Shalvis) and Naturally Naughty (Kelly). They were obviously written as a two-book series by two different authors, though, which was a concept I thought was pretty interesting. The tone and characterization was consistent between the books, but each author brought her own touch to her story. The series centers around Cassie Tremaine and Kate Jones, two cousins from the poor side of Pleasantville, Ohio. They were both treated like trash by most of Pleasantville, and both ditched town and never looked back the moment they were old enough. Cassie, the “bad girl,” went on to become a famous lingerie model. Kate, the “good girl,” started a wildly successful sex toy/lingerie store in Chicago. To their dismay, both have to return temporarily to Pleasantville, and both find more than they bargained for while there.
I liked Naughty but Nice, but something about it just didn’t fully work for me. I think the main stumbling block for me was Cassie. Throughout high school, she had a reputation as a bad girl, mostly because her mom slept around and therefore was the subject of major slut-shaming. While not “bad” in the same way as her mom, everyone assumed Cassie was cut from the same cloth. She was always verbally outrageous, though, something she obviously used as a defense mechanism. The problem is, while I could understand teenage Cassie’s behavior, I had more trouble with grown up Cassie. Cassie still pushes the envelope sometimes, but nothing she did really seemed THAT outrageous. She’s obviously still insecure inside, but she covers it up by acting kind of snotty and obnoxious, and I found it hard to be on her side at times. She thinks the worst of everyone in Pleasantville, and it takes her a really long time to see that the town isn’t quite the same as when she left.
Her hero is Tag, the sheriff of Pleasantville. I enjoyed that he wanted Cassie and didn’t care about her past, her family, or even her attempts to drive him away with her obnoxiousness. He is patient with her and realizes she needs time to open up and let him in. They have some sexy chemistry, but the emotional part of their relationship left me a little flat, mostly because Cassie spends so much time pushing him away.
I liked the premise of Naturally Naughty a lot–good girl grows up to make a huge success out of herself doing something that’s a little scandalous (owning a sex toy shop) but still worthy of an overachiever (building a very successful business from the ground up). I felt like the book spent a lot of time saying Kate was really good, but I didn’t see a ton of that. It’s not that she wasn’t nice or helpful or smart, just that this over-the-top goodness and dependability didn’t really shine through a ton. Like her cousin, Kate too has a pretty big chip on her shoulder where the town is concerned. She is always assuming the worst of people and figures everyone hates her guts, when to me it seemed like most of the town could care less about them. In that way I felt like both cousins were awfully narcissistic. While there are certainly some old timers hanging onto their prejudices about Kate and Cassie, they are not in the majority.
Kate’s hero is Jack Winfield, son of the former town mayor who died recently. I like that Jack is the pursuer right from the start. It is a little silly that he switches so fast from “Marriage ain’t for me!” to “I want this woman in my life for a long time,” but I do still enjoy a guy who is confident in his feelings and resolves to pursue the heroine. Jack mostly worked for me, up until one particular scene. Kate’s business partner, and closest friend, is a gay man named Armand. Armand comes to visit Kate in Pleasantville but has to wait with Jack until Kate gets back home. And here is where I heard that noise of a record screeching to a halt:
“Not that Armand had tried anything–if he had, he sure as hell wouldn’t be sitting in his living room, friend of Kate’s or no friend.”
So not only is Jack asserting the stereotype that all gay men must want to “try something” with all straight men, but he would have physically thrown Armand out if such a thing had happened, even knowing Armand is Kate’s closest friend. (So if one of Kate’s girlfriends had come on to you, she’d be out on her ass? Uh-huh.) Up until then I was on board with Jack and feeling great about him with Kate, but this sentence poured some cold water on that feeling because it seemed to reveal something unintended about Jack’s character. While it didn’t ruin the entire book, I couldn’t quite forget his comment, and he never fully got me back on board.
Somehow, these two stories seemed just a tiny bit…dark. The women are screwed up and kind of petty, and the town has a certain depressing quality to it. I did appreciate that small town America was portrayed in a slightly more nuanced way than you see in most small town romances. People can be vindictive and spiteful, they pry into your business, they have economic challenges like unemployment and lack of businesses, drugs can be a serious problem, etc. But again, this all added a level of bleakness that I wasn’t in love with.
I’d say it’s due to the skill of both Shalvis and Kelly that these books worked for me at all. Both stories had great, realistic dialogue and moments of humor that lightened the mood. I just think that neither author had her best showing in Bare Essentials.
Grade: 3.25 out of 5