To finish or not to finish…

I decided to take a page out of Miss B’s book and write a bit about the books that I’ve tried to read but just couldn’t finish. (And also the ones that I should have stopped reading.) I try not to pick up books that I’m not going to like, but no system of vetting books is perfect.  There’s often no way to know if a book will set me off or veer down a road that I really wish were less traveled. My habit is usually to keep reading, even when it becomes a chore to continue. But is that really the best use of my time and (somewhat) limited patience? I’m probably a much happier person overall because I stopped reading these books.

For perspective: In the last 15 months, there were 5 books that I tried to read and did not finish. (That’s about 2% of my total reading.) There was one book that made me so angry that I deleted it from my e-reader after shouting at the book for a while. (For reals.) Then I posted an angry review about it on Goodreads. I should note that my discussion below requires a trigger warning.

ALL HE NEEDS

Brilliant. Wealthy. Powerful. Dominic Knight is one of the hottest tech developers in the world–and the most demanding lover Kate Hart has ever known. Whether in the boardroom or the bedroom, he is always in charge. But there is one thing he cannot control: Kate’s fiery heart…

As a master in her field, talented Kate surpassed Dominic’s wildest expectations. As a woman of uncommon intelligence and beauty, she unlocked something deep within him. Yet since their professional relationship–and erotically charged affair–came to an end, the fire in him has only grown stronger.

Now, the man who has everything will do whatever it takes to reclaim the woman he lost. From Boston and Paris to Singapore and San Francisco, he will lure Kate back into his elite world of privilege and passion. Together, they will test the limits of desire and the boundaries of discipline. For both, this is uncharted territory–naked, reckless, and uninhibited. But when Dominic’s deadliest enemies target Kate, he must face his darkest fears…and admit to himself that she is all he needs.

I read book 1 of the All or Nothing trilogy. All told, I felt pretty meh about the book, but I liked the ending, and I was curious about where the story would go in the second book. It’s pathetic that this is so remarkable, but the first book won me over because the heroine really is an expert in her field, and readers actually get to see her being awesome at her job. That’s so damn unusual that I was willing to overlook the madness (instalust like you cannot believe; the hero purchasing a new wardrobe for the heroine — his employee; the absolutely insane sex scenes (clip-on earrings doing double duty as nipple clamps, mammogram-level breast play, and an orgasm so powerful the heroine actually blacks out, etc.).  I’m not saying I expected great things from book 2… If you read that blurb, you know what kind of book it is. Rich, powerful man who craves control in all things becomes obsessed with the one woman he needs, reckless passion and danger ensues.

So, you know, I calibrated my expectations. But book 2 was soooo much crazier than book 1. One of the sex scenes involved ben wa balls, a japanese eggplant and a cucumber, all used simultaneously. I don’t even know what to do with that level of OTT. But the worst excess of book 2 was the hero’s instability. The hero (who’s apparently been keeping tabs on his former girlfriend like Stalky McStalkerton) randomly inserts himself back in her life in a “we’re not finished” kind of way (which is a little surprising, considering he Dear Johned her at the end of book 1, but whatever.). Eventually, he flies her to the Bay Area and takes her to his childhood home. He shows her his childhood bedroom, and then he flips the fuck out that she’s seeing his private space (that private space that he decided to show her). He yells at her a bit and then — even though she is totally not into it — he initiates intercourse. Because reasons, probably. Eventually, he realizes that she’s crying beneath him. Horrified, he stops, at which point the heroine, whose tearful reluctance was evidently overcome begs him to continue because magic penis. And I stopped right there at 38%, yelled, deleted, and rage-reviewed.

Because it’s bad enough to have the hero rape the heroine. And, yes, that’s what he did. But for the heroine to acknowledge that the sex act was not consensual yet argue for it to continue because it felt so good…

And that’s all I have to say about that. Compared to that train wreck of a book, this next one was positively delightful, yet I could not finish it.

Every passion has its price . . .

Journalist Sophie Ryder has been following Emery Lockwood’s story since she was a little girl. There has always been something in his haunted eyes that she couldn’t resist and now, when she’s certain he holds the key to solving a string of kidnappings, she’ll do anything to speak to him. Even if it means venturing deep into the seductive world of the Gilded Cuff, a luxurious BDSM club on Long Island’s Gold Coast and Emery’s personal playground.

From the moment Sophie enters his shadowy, sensual domain, Emery Lockwood knows this tantalizing new little sub was meant to belong to him. However, Sophie wants more from Emery than just pleasure . . . she wants his past. And that is something he isn’t willing to give—no matter who is asking. But every moment he spends with Sophie, Emery feels his control slipping and he knows it’s only a matter of time before he surrenders to her heart, body, and soul.

I know, I know. Another multi-book BDSM series… And, you’re right: I probably should stop reading books that fit that description, because it’s such a rare thing when I actually like one. (It’s happened twice, actually. I loved the original Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz, and I really liked the first and third books of Cecilia Tan’s Struck by Lightning series–but book two can go fuck itself, as far as I’m concerned. Just saying.) This book has an interesting premise — investigative journalist heroine seeks out reclusive survivor of a childhood kidnapping and barters her sexual submission for an exclusive scoop on his story. That’s… bold. Turns out, though, that the heroine is motivated by the desire to save the hero from impending doom (which she can predict because… research?) because she has deep-seated emotional issues (of course). When the heroine was 7 or 8, her best friend was kidnapped, and she was unable to provide any useful information to the police.  Her friend was killed by her kidnapper, and adult Sophie still feels responsible. (I repeat: she was 7 or 8.) I stopped reading at 37% because everything was just so overwrought.

A few years ago, I performed with a singing group that did renaissance faires (true story). I met a lot of interesting people at faire. Never before (or since) had I encountered such a number of people who as a rule felt things deeply and vented their emotions openly. It was a giant vat of over-share. One guy developed such a habit of cataloging to me all of his “deep-seated emotional issues” that he contributed to one of my deep-seated emotional issues: I’m not well equipped to handle overwrought anything.

So maybe other readers would like this book. They might not be bothered by the heightened emotions the characters feel in response to every stimulus. They might not be bothered by the excessively flowery writing. (But they should be. Everyone should be bothered by wackadoodle figurative language.) They might not be bothered by the level of attachment these characters feel for each other at the meet cute. 

But I was… Anyway, I was debating whether or not to continue reading the book when I checked out Miss B’s awesome DNF post. I’m pretty sure I made the right choice (with apologies to anyone who read and loved the book).

And here’s a book I should have abandoned:

To her family, Olivia Middleton is a problem of the most vexing sort. With her older two sisters married off, Olivia is now the target of her mother’s matrimonial scheming. Shy and somewhat plain, Olivia prefers the thrill of a gothic novel to the hunt for a husband. And as far as her family is concerned, something must be done. But Olivia has no interest in the men paraded before her-except, perhaps, the sought-after bachelor William Cross. But she’s not about to inflate his already oversized ego by telling him so.

William has sworn never to wed, but that doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy women. What he excels at most is flirtation… unless the woman is question is Olivia Middleton. She barely bats an eyelash at his most creative compliments. She laughs at his attempts to flatter her when other ladies would swoon. William is reluctantly intrigued by Olivia, particularly when he discovers the passion simmering beneath her wallflower facade. A passion that should be to his benefit…

Because he’s determined to impress her, by fair means or foul…

I didn’t think I was susceptible to beautiful book covers (especially because I read ebooks), but… I bought this book because the cover is beautiful and I want that dress. And, because I try to read every book that I buy, I read it.

Olivia’s character is interesting and rather charming, and — aside from the obligatory opposition to love for Important Reasons Hinting at a Tragic Past — so is William’s. The pacing of their story is a little too quick, however, and its speed doesn’t give a reader enough time to care how it’ll all shake out. (Plus, it stretches plausibility.)

My biggest issues with the book are (1) the ratio of negative female archetypes to positive ones and (2) how isolated the heroine is. I’ll start with the latter. The heroine has sisters, sure, but they’re married and, as older siblings, aren’t exactly Olivia’s peers. Also, they don’t show up in the story until everything’s all FUBAR, so it hardly counts. William is given a close friend, but Olivia has no one. Back to my first issue, Olivia’s mother is like Mrs. Bennett, except she doesn’t seem to love Olivia at all; William’s mother abandoned him (and his father) to run off with her lover; Lady Sarah (another house party attendee) is vain, self-centered, unkind and rather like Caroline Bingley. Olivia is the only female character (except her sisters, who were probably the only ‘good’ women in their stories) who isn’t a caricature of bad “female” traits (or a complete nonentity like the house party hostess).

That’s probably what I get for buying a book because I like the dress shown on the cover. I should have stopped reading it when it became clear that vain and awful Lady Sarah was being offered as a foil for Olivia’s kind perfection.

You know what? It really is cathartic to write about these books. (And I think it’s a smidge unhealthy that my DNF ratio is so low.) Thanks for letting me over-share. 😉

*FTC Disclosure – I received e-galleys of All He Needs and The Gilded Cuff from their respective publishers via NetGalley for review consideration. Somewhat obviously, my opinion is my own.*

Dueling Review – Kelly and Kim take on Maya Banks’ Sweet Series (1-3)

Joining me on the blog today is my super-bestest reading buddy Kim from Reflections of a Book Addict.  Our most recent dueling review about the first book in the new Breathless Trilogy by author Maya Banks left us a little conflicted.  On the one hand, we knew we didn’t want to continue reading the Breathless Trilogy; on the other, we weren’t positive that we wanted to write off Banks’ other books out of hand.  In the interest of fairness, then, we picked up and read the first three books in the Sweet series.  While we read, we sent text messages to each other.  Our husbands gave us a lot of side-eye at the giggling that ensued.

Cover image, Sweet Surrender by Maya Banks

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Under Faith Malone’s deceptively soft exterior lies a woman who knows exactly what she wants: a strong man who’ll take without asking – because she’s willing to give him everything…

Dallas cop Gray Montgomery is on a mission: find the guy who killed his partner and bring him to justice. So far, he’s found a link between the killer and Faith – and if Gray has to get close to her to catch the killer, so be it.

Faith is sweet and feminine, everything Gray wants and desires in a woman, but he suspects she’s playing games. No way would she allow a man to call the shots in their relationship. Or would she?

Faith sees in Gray the strong, dominant man she needs, but he seems determined to keep her at a distance. So she takes matters into her own hands to prove to him it’s no game she’s playing. She’s willing to surrender to the right man. Gray would like to be that man. But catching his partner’s killer has to be his first priority – until Faith is threatened and Gray realizes he will do anything to protect her…

Kelly: This book felt a little confused to me, as if it had an identity crisis.  The setup and all the early scenes shown in Gray’s POV are about a man on the hunt for his partner’s killer; for the first fifty pages or so, I actually expected that the book would be mostly about Gray’s quest.  It isn’t.  The entire middle section of the book and all of the scenes shown in Faith’s POV are about a woman seeking a relationship in which she can be submissive, in and out of the sack.  The entire ‘man on a hunt for his partner’s killer’ storyline is really just a ploy to get Gray from Dallas to Houston and to give Gray some reason to feel conflicted about entering into a relationship with Faith.  In the absence of any kind of point to the story, then, the real purpose is to get two people to hook up so they can do the nasty in a whole bunch of precisely-described ways.

Kim: Too true! Even though the hunt for Gray’s partner’s story is there in the background, the “main” conflict of the book (at least in my opinion) felt like Gray’s reluctance to fall for Faith.  He’s constantly fighting his attraction to her, but we never really know why.  He’s all dark and brooding about his feelings for Faith without a reason.  So you’re attracted to a hot lady. What’s the issue? The fact that you’re investigating a murder at the same time? I don’t know what the problem is….you’re a cop.  You’re always “investigating” something.

Kelly: Without any real conflict to drive the story, it seemed a bit boring to me until Banks reached the point in her story where it was time for her characters to stop biting their nails in anticipation and just get it on and on and on (this point in the story occupies about 20% of the book).  Once I reached that point, I spent the next 70 pages hooting with inappropriate laughter and sending ridiculous text messages to Kim.  They boink, they talk a bit, they boink some more, he cooks a meal and insists on cleaning up — all part of the relationship fantasy as he takes care of Faith in every imaginable way — (least realistic part of the whole book, to be honest). Then they have dinner, she falls asleep, he takes her to bed, and, the next morning, ties her to the bed. Next thing you know, a friend has joined them, and they have all kinds of crazy morning sex.  Do you know what I was thinking and texting to Kim?  Who goes that long without peeing? Who wants to have sex with two people first thing in the morning without any access to a toothbrush?  Who ARE these people?!

Kim: Gray’s attitude towards the BDSM lifestyle also bothered me a lot.  He at one point tells Faith to completely disregard safe words, that there is no place for them in their relationship. Now I’m going to be honest. I don’t live a BDSM lifestyle. Never have, probably never will. It’s just not for me personally. HOWEVER I have a ton of respect for those that do live it and respect the “rules” of it.  From everything I’ve read, safe words are a huge deal. Like super huge. Like super size it, it’s important.  So his completely cavalier attitude towards accepted notions kind of bothered me.  His background in the lifestyle is never explained, so his feelings (or lack thereof) make no sense.  At one point he totally Doms out on Faith at “The House” and as a reader you’re left sitting there going “Huh?”  One doesn’t just wake up one day and know that lifestyle.

I will say though, that there are small nuggets of sanity (as Kelly says) thrown into the book.  Gray makes the following speech to Faith:

“Faith, I’m not an asshole. I’m not going to treat you like a piece of garbage. Ever. You don’t ever need permission to speak, for God’s sake. Kneeling is just dumb. There are lots of ways to show your submission and your respect and for me to return it as well. None of those include humiliation or ill treatment.”

Like this statement is AWESOME. I’ve never understood the aspect of submissive relationships that require kneeling, permission to speak, what to eat, or even what to wear.  I understand what the word submissive means, but I don’t understand what people get off on with treating their partner like that.  Like honestly – your partner chooses that they want to eat chicken instead of beef for dinner – that shows you disrespect or something?  What is SO appealing about making every decision for someone? Mint toothpaste instead of cinnamon! Black shirt instead of a red one! No peas for dinner! IDK. I found myself respecting Gray for his statement and it was truly the first time in the book I could say that I liked him.

Kelly: But that sympathy for Gray lasts only about a few pages, and then we were back to finding him vaguely distasteful.  With this kind of book, which honestly can’t have any real purpose in existing other than to be sensational (if you know what I mean), so much of one’s enjoyment as a reader is contingent upon whether one finds the sex scenes HOT.  I didn’t… I was too busy laughing (you know, that horrified laughter that happens when you watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo) at the multiple instances of squirty ejaculate and the intensely-detailed descriptions of super-unsavory sexual congress.  Lots of people go nuts for that kind of thing, but I don’t think I’m the target audience. (I also laugh at funerals.)

Kim’s final thoughts: The only positive thing I can say is that the writing is remarkably better in Sweet Surrender than it was in Rush and it also introduced us to Damon (the hero of book two) and got us hooked and intrigued to learn the rest of his story.

Kelly’s final thoughts: This book is not really worth the read, but it was hilarious, so I actually had a blast reading it.  Other than that? not so much.

Cover image, Sweet Persuasion by Maya Banks

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

The man of her dreams would give the orders. For him, she had two words that satisfied them both…”Take me.”

For five years, Serena has run Fantasy Incorporated and has devoted her time to fulfilling her clients’ fantasies. Never her own. Until now…

Her most secret desire is to give ownership of her body to a man. Someone who will command her, pleasure her, and have complete authority over her. So she seeks out Damon Roche, owner of an exclusive sex club and a man strong enough to make her do anything he wants. Anything.

Together they’ll journey into a world she’s only dreamed of. She’s given the opportunity to immerse herself in a different life while her normal one waits for her to return whenever she wishes. Damon has no desire to let her go, however. Serena is the woman he’s long searched for, and it’s up to him to convince her to stay when the game is all over with. He wants their fantasy to become their reality and for Serena to remain his pampered, cherished submissive.

Kelly: I want to start out with the one thing that I genuinely liked about this book. About a quarter of the way through the story, Damon and Serena have a conversation about boundaries, and Damon has this gem of a line:

“‘I won’t use a word that encourages a man to disregard the word no coming from a woman’s lips. If you say no, if you’re even thinking no, then it ends for me. I won’t indulge in silly little no-means-yes games.  When that word crosses your lips? It’s over. If I ever ask of you something that you won’t give unreservedly, then all you need to say is no.’

She wasn’t even sure how to respond to that because he was absolutely, one hundred percent right. How moronic to ever discount the notion of a woman saying no.”

I am completely OK with having paid $13 for a book I otherwise disliked just to read that exchange in print, to get that concept out into the world, into our culture.  Whatever else I’ll end up saying about this book, I’m glad I read it for those two paragraphs.

Kim: I 100% agree with you.  Kelly and I texted each other back and forth the entire time we read this series and we both like freaked when we read that passage.  I think it’s sad that we got so excited about a character understanding what should be common sense. No means no. Why is this such a difficult notion to grasp in our culture?

Kelly and I were both intrigued by Damon in the first book and opted to read his story to find out more about him.  Sadly, the respect I felt for him for the above passage was possibly one of the only positive things I can say about him.  He lost a lot of points with me for being OBSESSED with feeding Serena.  Kelly knows I can’t handle books that have men obsessed with feeding their partners. Damon definitely rates higher on my list than Gray did, and him losing his heart to Serena was pleasing to read, but I never found myself attracted to him, wishing he was mine. (Aren’t you supposed to want the hero when reading a romance novel?)

Serena on the other hand…..I never connected with her because I just couldn’t relate to her.  Her needs and desires are so far from my own that there was just nothing there for me to connect with.

Kelly:  (I’m answering Kim’s earlier parenthetical question here: You pretty much have to (1) want the hero yourself or (2) at least be able to understand why the heroine does.)  I also had difficulties connecting with Serena, and I think it’s because she didn’t actually own her needs and desires until the end (the very abrupt end).  The rest of the time, the ridiculous plot device that moves this story is that Serena is only interested in a fantasy — because what modern woman would actually dream of being a submissive? — while Damon wants something deeper and more permanent.  Will these two crazy kids ever get their shit worked out?  Well, read the whole thing to find out.

OK… one of the more memorable aspects of this book is a fairly outrageous scene that occurs at a dinner party hosted by Damon.

Kim: We both agree. Our dinner parties just can’t compare to Damon’s. Also, our houses seem to be lacking some really important dungeon equipment.  We’re asking you, our readers, to please please please tell us if you’re hosting dinner parties like the ones that occur in these books. If you are can we please come and be flies on the wall? Because we don’t believe shit like this really happens.

Kelly: I’m not sure I want to know… as it is, I’m looking at all the people I work with and wondering… What do you do when you go home? Does a panel slide open in your ceiling from which a set of restraints descends into your living room? Do you have an armoire full of whips, paddles, and other necessary equipment? I mean, you definitely don’t want to start a dinner party and then find out you’re unprepared, right?  I’ve lost my innocence, thanks to this book.

Kim: I can honestly say I’ve never laughed SO HARD at a section of a book that was totally not meant for laughing.  I honestly couldn’t contain all the laughter that the dinner party scene caused.  And in Sweet Persuasion’s defense…it’s not the only book with a crazy dinner party.  It’s almost every erotica book I read! Everyone who is in this lifestyle seems surrounded by business partners or co-workers etc that are just like them.  Like how do you even broach the topic with co-workers and business partners? “Oh hey. So umm…I’m into BDSM. You? Yeah, ok let’s throw a party where we invite other kinky people and have like a gangbang. And we can totally talk business while 5 women blow us.” Like I just don’t get it.

Kelly: Exactly… I keep wondering if someone’s going to make a time capsule filled with all the crazy books that have been printed in the last five years.  In 100 years, someone will open the time capsule and be like, “Whoah…. those people from 2013… they were freaky.”  Pop culture reflects the trends and expectations of our society… so what the hell does the popularity of these books say about us?

Kim: I’m not sure i want to know the answer to that question – HA!

Kelly: Yeah, I know.  Anyway, as ridiculous as most of the book was, the ending was the real kicker to me.  I got to the last page and tried to figure out what had happened – was my Nook edition missing a chapter or something?  I’m not kidding… it goes like this.  She gets all freaked out, so she leaves, and goes completely off the deep end.  (I’m serious… it was like Bella in New Moon but just for a week…)  He worries, her friends worry. Finally, he goes to find her, and is like, “Hey… there you are.” And she’s like, “LOL… here I am… btw, I ummm… love you.” And he’s like, “Coo.” The End.  That’s it.  I was murderous.  After 250 pages of waffling about whether or not she can accept that lifestyle, and OMG, it’s just a fantasy, and OMG, I love her so much but she’ll never love me, and wah wah wah… the fucking end.  Ugh.

Kim: LMFAO.

Kim’s final thoughts: We were both blind with rage when the end came. Just one more point of contention about this book. It literally feels unfinished.  So…summing up this book…bad characters, no ending, lots of ridiculous angst….DINNER PARTIES!

Kelly’s final thoughts: Now that we quoted the two paragraphs that are worth reading in this book, we’ve spared you the effort.  I know – we’re the best.

Cover image, Sweet Seduction by Maya Banks

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

He was the stuff erotic dreams are made of

Salon owner Julie Stanford wanted Nathan Tucker ever since she gave him his first massage. Getting paid to feel every inch of his body, stripped, oiled, and spread out in front of her. Stuff dreams are made of. But the sexy guy was oblivious to the signals she was sending; until she finished off his final rub-down with something extra. In fact, the best extra he ever had. Unfortunately, he came around too late. Now Julie’s moving on.

She was everything he’d dreamed of

The woman was driving him crazy.  She lit fire to his insides then ran like a scalded cat.  And now she’s going to someone else to have all her fantasies fulfilled? Over his dead body. He’s more than willing to give her what she wants, and as soon as he pins the little minx down, he’d show her his own brand of sweet seduction.

It’s all fun and games until someone falls in love.

Kim: I know what you must all be saying.  “What the hell is wrong with the two of them for continuing on to book three when they clearly disliked the first two books?”  I 100% take the blame for that.  The heroine of book three, Julie, is introduced to us in Sweet Persuasion.  She is literally what got me through that book.  Her no-nonsense attitude, spunk, and sarcasm sold me on reading just ONE more book in the Sweet series.  After many texts back and forth with Kelly she agreed, there was something about Julie that we just had to find out about.  I’m actually really glad I convinced her to read Julie’s story.  Hers wound up becoming my favorite of the three we read.

Kelly: I was very reluctant to read this book — hence all the texts required to get me to consent to read it —  Julie shows up quite a bit in book 2, but I found her kind of annoying, pushy, and a bit desperate.  In other words, she reminded me of myself a little bit, and I wasn’t sure I was up for that much reality.  But Kim convinced me, and I’m actually glad I read the book. It almost justified having read the first two. (Very nearly).  There’s a lot that I just don’t get about these books, but it’s the general tone that annoys me most.  These characters have so much drama in their lives, and it gets a little exhausting after a while.  The drama at the end of book 2 was at a fever pitch, and I knew I couldn’t sustain another book with that level of histrionics.  Lucky for the world in general, this book has a much lighter tone with plenty of humor thrown in to offset the occasional drama.

Kim: I completely agree about the insanely high level of drama in the characters lives.  Books 1 & 2 read something like this: Angst, angst, angst, sex, sex, sex, angst, sex, fights, angry make up sex, angst, brooding, angst, sex, sex, abrupt ending. Julie’s book at least had some feminine power going on and a storyline that wasn’t just about sex.  The friendship between the three women (Faith, Serena, and Julie) gets a chance to take center stage at certain parts of the book, helping give a little more depth to Banks’ book.

One thing that did bother me a lot about this book, though, was Nathan and all his “heifer” comments.  Kelly and I both discussed how we’ve heard women use this term to discuss other women (both in good and bad ways) but have never heard men use it.  We feel it’s one of those things that doesn’t cross sex lines.  Like men should never call women heifers.  Nathan uses it thinking he’s one of the girls, but he isn’t. It’s an indicator that the editing isn’t superb here.

Kelly:  Exactly, and that’s the real problem.  Nathan’s voice isn’t quite consistent throughout the book. Sometimes he’s a little bit broody and totally besotted with Julie, sometimes he’s a lighthearted funny guy, sometimes he seems like one of the girls (and those times are really weird and totally should have been smoothed out in editing).  It’s difficult to get a proper bead on his character if you’re just going by his dialogue.  As the reader, half the time you’re like, “OK, this makes sense… I could totally see why Julie’s a bit obsessed with this fellow,” and then he morphs into the Sassy Gay Friend, and you get a bit confused.

Kim: His up and down personality did get a bit confusing.  I think reflecting back on all the books, you can find all the characters have this wavering voice.  It’s a clear indicator that the $13 these eBooks cost wasn’t exactly well spent.  To be honest, the only one I’m glad I bought was this one.  It’s the most realistic (story-wise) of the three.  Kelly and I think about random things as we read. For example, in book two Damon keeps Serena tied to the bed every night so he can do her in the morning.  Some people might find that hot. Kelly and I? We wonder – man, don’t they have to pee in the morning?  All the marathon sex sessions? We think – I hope these women have been drinking a lot of cranberry juice cause they are totes going to get a UTI. In Rush the all-day butt plugs – our thoughts? Damn – hope that girl doesn’t have to go #2. That’ll be uncomfortable.  It’s difficult for us to see reality in a lot of the ways that sex is portrayed in this series.

Kelly: Exactly – and we read these scenes and try to imagine what we’d think if we experienced something like it in real life, and our response is general hilarity.  It seems to me that the main reason these books exist is to titillate, but they didn’t really work for me.  Not when the whole time I was laughing.  The sex scenes are just over the top, too much, a little ridiculous.  It’s like that time in college when I dated a dude who thought it would be a good idea to do a weird strip tease dance in tighty whities… My response: laughter.  It’s not hot.  And all the odd sex scenes in these books just reminded me of that awkward moment…

Kim: I get that for some people these books are fantasy.  They are escapes from their real lives.  Isn’t that what women kept saying about why they loved 50 Shades?  I guess for me, I’m happy and satisfied in my own life that the sex in these books doesn’t read like a fantasy.  They read like people who revolve their lives around sex only.  How many scenes do you read in these books where the couple can have a serious conversation together that has depth and meaning without it leading to someone being horny as shit? I personally find intimacy in being able to sit with your partner and read together, or watch a movie together cuddling on the couch.  Knowing that your partner finds pleasure in your presence not just because of your body, but because of your mind and soul, too means more to me than someone who can’t keep their hands off me.

Kelly: Preach it, sister!  While there was plenty of odd and slightly awkward sex in this book, it was much more pleasant to read than the last two books, and I think that’s because the entire approach was different with this book.  Let’s talk blow jobs.  In the first two books of this series (and in Rush, the other book we read by this author), there are quite a lot of blow jobs, and they’re all pretty similar — dude grabs a lady’s head and pretty much forces his junk in her mouth, and then all the mechanics are explained in far greater detail than is necessary.  Every gag, every bit of swallowing, you name it, it’s described. Sweet Seduction breaks the mold a little bit and allows Julie to take the lead when giving head.  She’s not just some receptacle for Nathan’s junk — she knows what she wants to do, and she does it, fully knowing that she’s giving him the best head of his life.  I’m never a big fan of BJ scenes in books — really, they’re where all the awkward hides — but I was very pleased to see that Banks could envision another style of sexual encounter and could present it as equally compelling (actually, I found it more compelling).

Kim’s final thoughts: Kelly’s going to share our final thoughts mutually via the texts we shared during the reading of Sweet Persuasion.  I think it’s seriously the best way to represent our feelings on the three Sweet books we read.

Kelly’s final thoughts:  So, the obvious takeaway is that we liked this book better than the first two, but we decided to stop reading this series.  However, our in-the-moment take away was this conversation, and I really think it shows the reality of these books:

Kim: So 100% done with book three. Definitely my favorite of the ones we read so far. I really don’t understand the fruit covers. WTF did grapes have to do with that story?

Kelly: I think we can blame the publisher and 50 Shades for the fruit covers… I’m almost done. She’s just gone raring off to Serena… but now I’m hosting a dinner party, so I’ll have to finish later. Amazingly, no one is naked or likely to be whipped at this dinner… I have all these unreasonable expectations now…

Kim: I hope it’s as exciting a dinner party as Serena and Damon threw! Cause really, if you aren’t whipping someone in the middle of it…How does one even begin to throw a party like that? Like would your invite say to Kelly and slave?

Kelly:  Kelly requests the pleasure of your company at a dinner party at six of the clock. Slaves welcome. Whipping will precede the dinner.

Review – The Prince by Tiffany Reisz

This review was seriously delayed by an attack of evil migraines (yes, plural).  The next time you see a migraine, punch it in the face for me.  Don’t worry: that migraine totally deserves it.

Cover image, The Prince by Tiffany Reisz

I adore that cover.  Anyway, as always, I begin with the plot summary courtesy of Goodreads:

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer…preferably in bed. That’s always been Kingsley Edge’s strategy with his associate, the notorious New York dominatrix Nora Sutherlin. But with Nora away in Kentucky, now it’s Kingsley’s chance to take her place at the feet of the only man he’s ever wanted — Søren, Nora’s on-again, off-again lover — until a new threat from an old enemy forces him to confront his past.

Wes Railey is still the object of Nora’s tamest yet most maddening fantasies, and the one man she can’t forget. He’s young. He’s wonderful. He’s also thoroughbred royalty and she’s in “his” world now. But Nora is no simpering Southern belle, and her dream of fitting into Wesley’s world is perpetually at odds with her dear Søren’s relentlessly seductive pull.

Two worlds of wealth and passion call to her and whichever one Nora chooses, it will be the hardest decision she will ever have to make… unless someone makes it for her…

Tangent: Perhaps the reason I hate plot summaries so very much is that I am consumed by a powerful jealousy – I want that job.  I want to write teasers like “…it will be the hardest decision she will ever have to make… unless someone makes it for her…” that hint at ominous doings.  But I don’t./tangent

Anyway.  I am attempting a thematic review of this book (in keeping with my previous Original Sinners series reviews).  I’m fairly certain I can write the review without including any spoilers, but if you’re itching to read The Prince and just haven’t gotten to it yet, it’s probably a good idea to read the book first and then come back to read my review (just in cases).

I unequivocally loved The Siren and The Angel.  I also loved The Prince, but not unequivocally.  Don’t get me wrong–it still earned the 5-star review it will get from me on Goodreads–but there were a few random elements that sort of poked me in a not entirely good way.  I figured I would get them out of the way before I delve into a discussion of some of the book’s themes.

  1. Zoolander.  There’s this moment towards the middle of the book wherein Kingsley ruminates about how folk think he’s handsome, and Søren definitely is handsome, and Eleanor is beautiful, but another character is just stunningly gorgeous.  And I’m sure I’m completely ridiculous, but when I read that line, this is what played in my head:
  2. I really hate cliffhangers, and this book ends with a big one.  Of course, my personal dislike of cliffhangers (I hated ’em in Harry Potter, too) has nothing to do with the book, but this is my review, and I’ll bitch about cliffhangers if I want to.
  3. Super-duper unsexy sexy sexy times.  (I think Anachronist at Books as Portable Pieces of Thoughts really has the best commentary on the unbelievably unsexy sex in certain parts of this book.)  Overall, I liked the book, but I was still shocked and slightly embarrassed to encounter explody spuge and seriously awkward conversation.  I get that those scenes had to be at least a trifle awkward (they would have been unrealistic, otherwise), but that doesn’t mean that all the awkwardness was even slightly pleasant.  Goodness.

So, caveats aside, The Prince is dark.  It is arranged in two parallel story lines that are intercut, with the “North” story (past and present) following Kingsley and Søren and the “South” story following Nora and Wes.  I enjoyed the intercutting because it helped the pacing throughout the story and gave me time to recover from some of the book’s darker moments.  I’ve seen some comments from other readers that read all of the “South” sections first and then all of the “North” sections, and I thought it was funny (not really ha ha, but a little) that those readers turned Reisz into Tolkien, just a bit.  On the whole, I thought the “North” segments were stronger than the “South” ones.  Kingsley absolutely shines in this book, and Wes seemed a trifle flat, especially by comparison.

If Søren bore a resemblance to the God of the Old Testament in The Angelhe seems to be the spittin’ image in this book, when he appears as a teen.  As an adult, Søren still bears a resemblance to God but it’s to the God of the New Testament (I think).  He makes sacrifices and has to deal with their consequences.  He loves, and he has to watch his loved ones battle it out and make mistakes, and he can’t really know how it will all end.  He’s a God who went from being in complete control to having to wait and hope that his people (person, really) will come back to him.  Uncertainty does not sit well with the Almighty, and neither does Søren handle it without considerable friction.  I loved every one of Søren’s scenes, even the brutal ones.

I am not sure if it is just a case of contrast, but I really disliked Wes in this book, and I was confused by Nora.  While Søren and Kingsley are confronting and, to an extent, reliving the past, Wes and Nora spend their time building an incongruous fantasy dream world and exploring the brutality of the thoroughbred racing world.  (I should point out that I enjoyed the latter explorations as they provided insights to both Wes’ and Nora’s view of her world in the underground.)  Perhaps this issue is just that a lot of the “South” scenes were written from Wes’ point of view, and I didn’t enjoy being in his head nearly as much as I enjoy Nora’s.  She’s funny; he’s sappy.

I recommend this book to anyone who read and enjoyed The Siren and The Angel and is tolerant of very dark subject matter.  There are some extremely intense scenes, and sensitive readers should approach with caution.  I am one of those sensitive readers, actually, but I found enough interesting material and often starkly beautiful writing to compensate me for the few panic attacks this book brought on.  Speaking of starkly beautiful writing, this book contains one of my favorite sentences of all time.  For that one sentence alone, I would give this book a 5-star review; but, of course, I found many more reasons for that rating.

The Prince was released on November 20 by Harlequin MIRA in both e-book and print format, I believe.  For more information about the author (including a selection of free bedtime stories that are well worth a read–but read The Siren first–check out the author’s website http://tiffanyreisz.com.  If you click on the cover image above, you can visit the book’s page on Goodreads and follow links to purchase through Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Harlequin through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

BDSM – tie me up, tie me down

Usually I wait a few days after I finish a book before I even think about writing about it, but in this case, I think it will be a good idea for me to record my initial responses, and maybe I’ll do a follow-up post later to log any further reflections I may have.

Did the title freak you out a little bit?  Don’t worry, I still haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey, and I’m fairly certain that I never will.  I read The Siren by Tiffany Reisz, thanks to a recommendation from Kim over at Reflections of a Book Addict.  I’m not really reviewing this book, per se, but if you’re looking for a fabulous review of the book, please check out Kim’s post here.  It’s a fabulous post, and I see no reason to attempt to re-create that wheel.  It done been did.

Cover image, The Siren by Tiffany Reisz

This book is amazing, straight up.  How amazing?  Well, let me count the ways.  1. I honestly did not have a single snarky thought while I was reading the book.  2. When posting updates on my progress on Goodreads, I couldn’t think of any punchy quips that summed up my feelings – I was reduced to quoting Keanu: “Whoah.”  3.  It’s erotica and cerebral literature, and I honestly didn’t think that combination could exist.  4.  It’s BDSM erotica, but it doesn’t glorify the lifestyle; instead, it cuts a cross-section of that life and lets you form your own conclusions about it.  5.  No topic is off-limits to this book–I went into it expecting fairly good erotica and I got discussions of the Trinity (the Trinity!!!) and art history and literary theory and the nature of love.  6.  The ending may not be what you want, but it is what you need.

Let me start off by saying that I am vanilla through and through.  I do not understand the BDSM lifestyle.  I don’t understand why anyone would be turned on by hurting or being hurt.  That is not to say that I think BDSM is sick or twisted–for those people who actually enjoy the combination of pain and pleasure, it’s what the doctor ordered–but it isn’t for me.  So when I read The Siren, although I kept an open mind about all the…interesting…stuff that happens in it, I found it more disturbing than titillating.  What was most disturbing to me was the idea that the millions of people who have read, are reading, or will read 50 Shades of Grey might be inspired to dabble in a lifestyle that is really not for the faint of heart and might end up harming themselves or others in the process.  So my starting and ending position on this whole cha is: if BDSM gets you off, awesome, but if it doesn’t, there’s really no need for you to be buying this stuff:

Hey, it’s the Bondage Seductions board game!

I’m not saying you shouldn’t try new things to heat up your sex life, but I think that fooling around with BDSM is either silly or dangerous, unless you’re actually into it, and if you are, you won’t be buying these kinds of products–you’ll buy the real thing.  Not that your sex life is any of my business (it isn’t, and please don’t tell me about it).

Back to the book.  My favorite thing about The Siren is that it lets you form your own conclusions.  It doesn’t glamorize BDSM.  Reisz isn’t a charlatan proclaiming that a little bondage and dominance is going to save your sex life.  However strange it might seem, the book actually takes a very neutral stance on both BDSM and vanilla sex (that latter term refers to the more straightforward sex practices of the majority. I hesitate to call it normal, because that would imply that BDSM is abnormal, and I don’t want to make that kind of value judgment.)  Essentially, the book’s stance is that there are vanilla sex people and BDSM people, and both types are good in their own ways, but they shouldn’t mix.

I think the central theme of this book is love and all the ways that love can be/need to be expressed.  There are a lot of relationships – Nora and Søren, Nora and Wes, Zach and Grace, Zach and Nora, Nora and Kingsley, Nora and Sherridan, etc. – and each involves some sort of love, whether expressed or unexpressed, friendly or passionate, and every relationship is complex.  I enjoyed the complexity available in this book.  Human emotions and relationships are messy, and that messiness is given free rein in this book.

It instinctively bothers me that love could be the motivation for one person causing another person pain and humiliation, but maybe that’s how some people need to love/feel love.  It seemed to me, though, that while much ado was made of how much Søren loves Eleanor, considerably less ado was made about how much Eleanor/Nora loves Søren.  She belonged to him, was utterly submissive to him, was his, but he was never hers. Doesn’t love require either an equal or dominant position in order to exist as love?  It seems to me that a submissive can feel devotion, but when all control and decision-making power in a relationship is given over to one party, love is given over also.

This is all my opinion, of course, and it’s worth what you’re paying for it.  Love is something you choose.  I love my husband not because I am in awe of him but because, his faults notwithstanding, I choose to love him, to accept him as he is and as he will be.  I am not sure that the choice to love is possible unless one has the independence from which to choose.  To put it another way, I love my children, but I don’t think they love me because they are not yet mentally or emotionally independent and able to choose to love me.  (As an aside, the 3-year-old always repeats after me: “I love you Allie.” “I love you too, Mom-mom.”)  To put it yet another way, I believe that God loves me, but I am not so arrogant that I think myself capable of loving God; I may feel devotion and awe, but that’s not the same thing as love.

I’m a fan of Paulo Coelho, and his Eleven Minutes is one of the most thought-provoking and arresting books I’ve ever read.  I kept thinking about a couple of scenes from Eleven Minutes while I was reading The Siren, and I think the two books dovetail wonderfully, even though they are very different.

He slapped her again and again, whether she deserved it or not, and she felt the pain and felt the humiliation–which was more intense and more potent than the pain–and she felt as if she were in another world, in which nothing existed, and it was an almost religious feeling: self-annihilation, subjection, and a complete loss of any sense of Ego, desire or self-will.

And later (the “you” below is the “she” above, by the way):

“You experienced pain yesterday and you discovered that it led to pleasure.  You experienced it today and found peace.  That’s what I’m telling you: don’t get used to it, because it’s very easy to become habituated; it’s a very powerful drug.  It’s in our daily lives, in our hidden suffering, in the sacrifices we make, blaming love for the destruction of our dreams.  Pain is frightening when it shows its real face, but it’s seductive when it comes disguised as sacrifice or self-denial.  Or cowardice.  However much we may reject it, we human beings always find a way of being with pain, of flirting with it and making it part of our lives….And so it goes on: sons give up their dreams to please their parents, parents give up their lives in order to please their children; pain and suffering are used to justify the one thing that should bring only joy: love.”

I haven’t proven anything, but this is my analysis, anyway, and I don’t feel a compelling need to convince anyone.  I think that if we choose to have our immediate choices taken away from us, to enter a state where we are completely dominated (even by our choice) by another’s will, we lose the ability to feel and be and act with love for as long as we are without our will.  So, in The Siren, Søren maintains his ability to love Eleanor, but Nora can only really love Søren after she has left him.  When in his presence, Eleanor is in awe of Søren, and he holds a god-like status.  That awe is mandatory – one does not choose to be in awe of the Grand Canyon or a full-grown lion… one simply is.

Anyway… The Siren is thought-provoking in all the best ways.  You’d never expect to ruminate about the nature of God or love because you read some erotica novel, but that’s exactly what this book has in store for you.  This book is art the way James Joyce described it in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (and if you don’t know what I mean, go read that book… now).  I highly recommend it.  (And when you’re done, read Eleven Minutes.)