Museum Piece by Anne Stuart
I think Anne Stuart jumped to a different publishing house because now her backlist is being re-released in ebooks. I bought this book before then...and had to hunt it down online in order to get a physical copy. Anne Stuart tends to write romances in several genres and with different plots. I've found that I enjoy them...even if they're not my normal genre.
My favorite series from her is her Fire and Ice series because it's action-adventure/mystery/romance/international spy stuff. Her heroes tend to be bad. I've seen them listed as gamma heroes, which is a different take on the alpha/beta romance hero (not the weird incel nonsense in which they base male worthiness on a impractical 'study' on wolves). I had never heard of gamma heroes before I looked up this type of male romance counterpart--it was unlike anything I had read before. I don't always like every authors approach to them but I like Stuarts and they tend to make sense...her bad boys are villainous bad boys. Granted, in real life...I would assume these men need to be medicated. Heavily.
I probably don't really need to talk about any of that because this book doesn't fit into that category at all. This book is set within the art world (painting and curation) which is such an insane, slightly unregulated world anyways. The book was written in the 1980s, so that was fun to go back to (with the note that it's a romance from the 80s...so I wasn't sure what type of asshole/Gordon Gekko type male romance interest would show up).
I don't know if the ebook is different, sometimes with re-releases things change. I have only read the print version below.
Title: Museum Piece
Author: Anne Stuart
Page Number: 256 pages (hardcover)
Genre: romance, contemporary romance, fiction
Carefully guarded, untouchable--her heart was like a museum piece.
James Elliott thwarted her at every turn, outmaneuvering and outbidding her, scooping up art treasures before she could acquire them for San Francisco's Museum of American Art. It was unscrupulous and unethical, and Mary Lindsay McDonough decided she'd better do something about it. She would send him a letter of protest, a very cool, very professional letter. But not before she had written an eminently satisfactory, extremely nasty poison pen letter-the letter she would have sent if she didn't have her reputation and that of the Museum to consider.
Unfortunately, distracted by a box of chocolates, she slipped the wrong letter into the envelope ....
The first character introduced is Mary Lindsay McDonough (Molly). She's a curator for the San Francisco Museum of American Art (not a real place). She has friends at work, a boss that likes her in her own erratic way, a tortured artist as an ex-lover and a enemy with James Elliott. James is a private curator for a private collector. James swoops in and 'steals' Molly's picked artwork at auctions, which infuriates her beyond belief. The museum can no longer afford the artwork they want because of James and his private collector. This reminded me of my professor's joke that when Getty showed up to the art auctions, everyone groaned (because of their deep pockets). I'm not sure if that's true but can you imagine.
In a pique of anger, Molly decided to write James a letter (but not send it) in which she rails at his sniping of her picks and her being priced out of the market. They've had run-ins outside of the art auctions, which tended to leave her flustered. I believe Molly gets distracted by a conversation with her friend (they're sharing chocolates and gossiping) and she accidentally puts the wrong letter (her mean one) in an envelope addressed to James Elliot. By the time she realised the mistake, the letter has been posted.
James does receive the letter and he is furious with Molly. In fact, he seeks her out at a gallery showing and they have a showdown in a private room there. This book is an older romance and at times James Elliot straddles the line between abusive asshole and alpha-hole character. For instance, at one point I think he spanks Molly. That's something that does happen in older movies, now I think it's fair to categorize it as assault (unless there's consent). It's not the first thing I've read like that in 1980s era romance novels (my grandmom had a ton) but it seems to be a diminished trend.
After their first official run-in, James and Molly have several more interactions. They get to know each other, their favorite art preferences and their friends/family lives. They also start to fall in love.
Meanwhile, Molly's ex (from two years ago) is a brash, egotistical, temperamental artist. His name is Sebastian Coddaire. He has come back to San Francisco and decided to move into Molly's apartment in hopes that they can fall back into their old relationship (and that Molly will take care of him). Molly is annoyed by his presence but doesn't want to kick him out because she needs his art and presence for her career. This at first causes tension with James but he strangely handles it well, for a guy who spanked his love interest for cussing.
On a personal level, James is dealing with a disruption with his employer (he's ill) and Molly is dealing with her father's remarriage and the meeting with her birth mother. I wouldn't say this totally humanizes either particularly well but it does show how they are great for each other because even when they're being irrational and immature they're supportive of each other.
I liked the book for a lot of reasons. I loved that it dealt with the art world. I liked the enemies to lovers plot-line. I appreciated that Molly had a career and friends. I thought the art part of the book (with the pieces mentioned) was really on point. While I don't love early Americana art and folk art as a whole genre, it's a pricey market. Stuart really seemed to research this well so that was nice.
I didn't love the abusive moment between James and Molly but other than that brief moment, he was kinda just a normal romance lead. I think Molly fit the mold of Anne Stuarts lady leads (slightly neurotic but not helpless). There wasn't a mystery in this book (it was a straight romance) but I liked the setting and the art element.
It's not my favorite work by Stuart but it's a nice 1980s (gotta remember the time period here) published work that does okay. I think if you've never read an older romance work this might be a bit of a shock. It's a decent read and I'm thrilled she's digitizing her backlist because I do really enjoy her books.
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