Behind The Red Doors - Stephanie Bond, Vicki Lewis Thompson, Leslie Kelly

Actual Rating: 2.8 Stars (overall rating taken from average of individual story ratings)


Behind the Red Doors is the first in a five book romance series called Santori Stories as well as a collection of three romances surrounding Valentine's Day. The stories all take place with the setting of a high-end department store called The Red Doors that houses three boutiques: Heaven Scent sells items pertaining to aromatherapy oils and candles, perfumes, and so on; Diamond Mine sells jewelry and accessories; and Sheer Delights sells mainly lingerie and sexy women's clothing.

While this collection follows a promising premise for three love stories, it didn't escape my notice that there were quite a few things that triggered my frustration and "eye-rolling" issues. Yes, the stories were cute. Yes, this would make a nice little romance read for Valentine's Day. And it also seems that many others have enjoyed it. But I couldn't help but notice that certain aspects in each story didn't quite sit well with me even as I enjoyed their cuteness. They are enjoyable love stories, but only if able to overlook a few quibbles here and there that weren't quite easily overlooked.

Also, it finally dawned on me by the end of the collection that each of these stories hinges on big secrets and lies to create conflict and propel the love stories. I'm not sure how to feel about that.

A short summary
Thanks to a nice financial windfall, courtesy of Dev Sherman, the two best friends Jamie and Faith have decided to invest all their money into a high-end boutique targeting gifts for women. What makes The Red Doors different from other boutiques are the specially programmed gift kiosks for men--a means of which they can input information about the women in their lives to produce a specially tailored gift order from one of the three Red Doors boutiques without the hassle of shopping in the store.

Each story begins a few days before Valentine's Day and progresses into the love story surrounding a certain couple. Meanwhile, a secret admirer is amidst our group of friends, leaving little gifts for widower and manager of Sheer Delights, Dixie Merriweather.

Heaven Scent by Vicki Lewis Thompson -- 3.0 Stars
Jamie has had a crush on Dev since before she could remember and looks forward to seeing him every morning as their small group gets together for coffee each day. Dev has started taking notice of Jamie for the past two years since The Red Doors has been in business. Thanks to the meddling of younger sister Faith, Jamie and Dev find themselves getting together alone for business research where neither can continue to deny the attraction brewing between them.

Heaven Scent was the easiest to like with the cuter of the three stories. Aside from the standard "cynical heroine who doesn't know how beautiful she is", I only had one other frustration about this story. Granted, the couple's interactions are cute, but at the same time, the consistent lack of communication and all the jumping to conclusions between the two made for a grand fest of frustration on my part. Really, if these kids would have just talked to each other and tried to be honest with each other... well, I guess there wouldn't be much of a story.

Enjoyable, nonetheless.

Diamond Mine by Stephanie Bond -- 2.5 stars
As the young daughter of the wealthy Sherman clan, Faith had been determined to make something of herself to prove her success with The Red Doors. But that's not this story's focus.

Faith and Carter broke up a year ago because neither were on the same page with their relationship: Faith wanted an actual relationship and Carter is the typical commitment-phobe broody male hero. He always showed up late or didn't show up at all to dates, and the last straw was forgetting Valentine's Day. Ending things on bad terms a year ago, Faith is not quite happy to see that Carter had been the police officer hired by her brother as the added security she needs for her newest diamond display. What she also hadn't expected was to find out that Carter was currently attached and in a committed relationship. Except that Carter really isn't... he just made one up to make a statement to Faith that he's not the man she assumed him to be and that she'd made a mistake breaking up with him; that he is not a man who is "not commitment material".

Except that he kind of is.

This story had a good premise to play off of. A second chance romance that went wrong because two people weren't in the same place at the same time. And while things were going quite smoothly and I even thought that the big secret reveal had all the potential to break into a huge angsty problem between the couple... turns out that the rest of the love story was just as rocky as Carter's lie.

As another reviewer had pointed out: I think I would have liked to have more honesty and truth telling before we started getting all lovey-dovey and naked. Otherwise, the story isn't too bad.

Sheer Delights by Leslie Kelly -- 2.5 Stars
Joe Santori draws his sister-in-law for their family's Secret Santa gift giving, and after a plea from his brother to get her something that will make her start thinking sexy thoughts again after her pregnancy, he ends up at The Red Doors to pick up a gift certificate. While there, he plays around with one of the gift kiosks and somehow creates a picture of the "woman of his dreams" after inputting several of his ideal details on a woman; for the next few weeks he continues to lust after this imaginary woman, even buying the lingerie gifts generated by his kiosk information input.

Meanwhile, Meg O'Rourke has discovered that her innocent photo posing had been used as part of the lingerie modeling program of The Red Doors kiosk gift generating program. While she's having an emotional breakdown over this problem, who should come to her rescue but Joe Santori, the perfect man, who realizes that his dream woman DOES actually exist.

I had so many problems with this story that it was hard to determine whether or not I actually enjoyed it. Because aside from Joe's strange habit of ogling a computer generated picture of Meg and buying all the negligees he ends up creating, and aside from a few other unflattering pieces of dialogue here and there... the story itself wasn't all that bad.

The interaction between Joe and Meg were sweet and cute, big looming secret notwithstanding. And if we could overlook Joe's strange, almost creepy activity as part of the backstory, the story itself would have progressed a little bit better. I mean, granted, like the second story, the big secret had big, delicious potential to implode with all sorts of revelations and angst... and it kind of did.

But what really made it hard for me to overlook was the fact that I would have liked a little bit of honesty in the relationship before anyone got naked. And on top of that, there were very casual off-hand comments here and there that came off kind of insulting to the female sex, including some indirect slut-shaming of no one in particular.

But I have a soft spot for Leslie Kelly, and while there were those few things that I didn't care for, the love story itself was still pretty cute.

Overall Thoughts:
I had been looking forward to this collection because it sounded like sweet, cute fun for hopeless romantics. I can't deny that I'm slightly disappointed that things didn't turn out the way I had hoped and that I had more quibbles about the stories than I expected. Just the fact that there's nothing else going for these stories outside of sweet and cute love stories makes it hard to overlook a couple flaws that really stand out.

Nonetheless, each story was written well and, in a way, still quite enjoyable to read.


2016 Reading Challenges:
Goodreads Reading Challenge
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Bookish Resolutions Challenge -- New to me author #7
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