Review: Market for Love, Jamaica Layne

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In which my inner bitch is unleashed upon the blogosphere.

Previously published as an ebook with New Concepts Publishing (yes, that New Concepts, the one of the web furor earlier this year at  Karen Knows Best and Dear Author) Market for Love is published under the Cheek imprint, a division of Random House, which is “about female pleasure. …but it is also about the pleasures of pampering, shopping, dressing up, having great times, and enjoying all that young life has to offer.” Chick lit meets erotica, basically.

The plot of this book is simple: a stock analyst has sex with her new boss without knowing who he is. Mortified and concerned for her job, she tries to put a stop to the affair, but he demeans and harasses her repeatedly in the work place, uses questionable means to obtain personal information about her, and stalks her at her home. She eventually gives in, only to have him decide he has to push her away in order to save her from himself. They declare their mutual love. The end.

My biases: I need to admit to two things that may well have caused my mere lack of enjoyment to morph into strong dislike. First, when I was asked to review it, I Googled the author, whose name was not familiar to me. It turns out that Jamaica Layne is a pen name for a playwright whose works about women have been recognized by the National Women’s Studies Association and performed at universities (often sponsored by Women’s Studies programs) around the country. I wasn’t stupid enough to expect “empowerment erotica”, but I confess that the sting of this book was more painful due to how little I expected the anti-woman sensibility which animates it.

Second, on Monday of last week, I found out that one of my male students was stalking and harassing one of my female students. I know both of them fairly well, so this situation was upsetting on more than one level. The female student was moved, with a security detail, to a safe house, her studies abandoned, her sanity in shambles. Restraining orders aside, she cannot walk across the quad without fear, day or night. Suffice it to say that when I poured myself a glass of wine Friday night and sat down to enjoy some light contemporary romance, I was not in the mood for “sexual harassment erotica”.

Without further ado, what’s not to like about Market For Love?

1. The sexual harassment. Can office romances be hot? Sure. Do I think no romance should never be written that features an alpha boss and his or her employee? No. I really liked The Raven Prince, by Elizabeth Hoyt, for example. But the way this is written, Miranda is a victim, pure and simple. Her body “betrays her”, sure, but in her head, from her first meeting with Max (when, a complete stranger, he chastises her in public at a coffee shop), he makes her feel only negative things: scared, sad, angry, embarrassed, incompetent, powerless. When Miranda rebuffs Max, trying to establish some boundaries, he reminds her that he’s the boss and she can be fired at any moment, referring to her privately as “a stone-cold frigid bitch.”

2. The characters. Max is the classic alpha of yesteryear, the reincarnation of Steve Morgan of Sweet Savage Love, except that unlike Steve, who was at least self-reliant, Max has a self-pity streak a mile wide. His lowest moment? Before he was a millionaire, “He had driven a used two-door Honda to work and was miserable.” (Poor baby. Let me loan you my used two-door Volkswagen. At least it’s European!) To him, women are “pretty accessories”, whom he uses as they deserve, for “sex, entertainment, or just boring dinner conversation” (with your subtle, nuanced view of human relations, I wonder whose fault that is, Max?). Nothing more to say there. Except that he has a deeply romantic way of coming through when the chips are down and his affair with Miranda is revealed:

“Do whatever you want with the information I just gave you, Joe. Just get the national media talking about something other than how much of a skanky whore the beautiful woman I love is. That’s all I ask.”

Do I need any more romance in 2008? I think not. I’m full up until at least 2009 with that line.

But what about Miranda? She’s a high powered, capable executive, right? Well, you tell me. She has a very bad morning, losing millions for her customers, and falls apart, walking around her office complex like a zombie with raccoon eyes, weeping copiously. At a meeting, by just looking at her, Max nearly brings her to orgasm, making her flustered and completely incoherent. And here’s a typical Max/Miranda interaction at a “business lunch” when he propositions her yet again:

“I’m afraid that’s impossible, Max. I’m leaving.”

“Not if I can help it.”

The nerve of this guy, manhandling her in a public place! Miranda was furious. She struggled to free herself of Max’s grasp. “Let go of my arm, asshole,” she whispered.

The couple in the booth across the aisle started to stare. Miranda felt her face flush — but not from embarrassment. As much as she hated to admit it, being manhandled by a handsome CEO in a public restaurant was damn sexy.

… but, before she could move a inch, Max tossed some cash on the table and half-led, half-dragged Miranda out of the restaurant. She stumbled behind him, teetering on her kitten heels as she struggled to keep up.”

But how does Miranda, our tough executive, deal with all of this?: “After all that had gone on with Max and her job over the past week, she decided she needed a new wardrobe.”

As an aside, the phrase “kitten heels” is mentioned so often that I looked them up. They are sexy low heels, with a thin, set-in heel. More here. As I was reading, I was thinking of a fun drinking game: do a shot every time (a) Miranda has an orgasm (she tends to have 4 in a row), (b) the phrase “kitten heels” appears in the text, or (c) the word “squidgy” is used. However, I decided by about page 30 that to do so would be to encourage alcohol poisoning and desisted.

3. The sex. What if the reader is not an obviously uptight politically correct academic? Is the sexxoring at least good? I’m not an expert in erotica, but I think not. And here’s why. (a) For erotica, there ain’t much sex. There’s a lot of mental lusting and only a few (like 3) actual sex scenes. (b) The sex is only sexy if you like arrogant men, genitals that have personalities which rival the hero and heroine’s, and purple prose. Here’s an example which showcases all three:

“Is this what you’re looking for, sweetheart?” he said, pointing at his very healthy, very prominent and obviously very excited prick.

“Yes.” Miranda breathed, feeling her nether parts swell and sweat with heady anticipation, her already throbbing clitoris screaming for the pull and push of his hard thick long member against it. The folds of her sex blossomed like a wet lily.

I fully admit I was not in the mood for the plotline of this book when I read it, but I don’t think I possess whatever mood might be necessary to appreciate writing like this.

Review: Immortal Warrior, Lisa Hendrix

Cover Comment: Ok, this males only thing is no longer a trend. It’s a takeover.

Series?: Yes. This is Book 1 of The Immortal Brotherhood, Viking warriors cursed to be immortal were-creatures. Book 2, Immortal Outlaw, comes in 2009.

Setting: Early 1000s Northumberland, mainly in a castle and surrounding woods.

Heroine and Hero: Alaida, competent red haired virgin mistress of the keep at Alnwick,  future home of the great Alnwick castle. Known to the Normans as Ivo de Vassy, Ivor Graycloak is actually a Viking warrior cursed a couple of centuries earlier to live eternally as a man by night, an eagle by day.

Plot: King William of England offers Ivo a gift for his help, and when Ivo, tired of wandering for centuries, asks for land, he unexpectedly gets a wife as well. The plot revolves mainly around Ivo and Alaida becoming close while he attempts to keep his secret, but they do face external threats, both human and paranormal.

My Take in Brief: I found the setting unique, the premise compelling, and the historical detail fascinating. However, the plot was slow and the premise did not allow for much interaction between the h/h, who were not particularly compelling individuals.

Fun factoid: This is author Lisa Hendrix’s sixth novel, but her first foray into paranormal romance.

Word on the Web:

Book Smugglers, 5 out of 10

Literary Escapism, very positive

Yankee Romance Reviews, very positive

Amazon.com, 5 stars after 4 reviews (although, it must be said, one of these is Harriet Klausner’s)

The Racy Romance Review:

I wasn’t sure at first about mixing historical and paranormal, having only experienced Beyond the Highland Mist, which inspired my snarkiest review ever. Then again, I enjoyed the movies Ladyhawke and Highlander back in the day (and yes, I saw them both during their original theatrical run). And since originality is often a good thing in a genre that tends to sameness, I said yes when asked by the publisher if I would review it.

After reading many so called “wallpaper historicals”, in which a mention of the marriage mart and a curricle suffices to establish the Regency England setting, I wasn’t prepared for the incredible detail of Immortal Warrior. I’m sure specialists will have bones to pick, but every time I picked up this book, I felt like I was smack dab in the center of daily life of an early middle ages keep. The food and drink, the clothes, the relationships between servant and master, the language, the politics, the church’s influence, it’s all there. In its richness and in the way it was seamlessly weaved into the story, I would compare Immortal Warrior’s history to Outlander, which is, for me at least, high praise. (The one thing I caught was an emphasis on the importance of the queen in chess, which I believe she doesn’t merit until centuries later. I only have this in mind because I showed the Bergman film The Seventh Seal to my class last week, and he made the same error).

Here’s a little example, which gives you a flavor of Ivo and Alaida’s relationship as well:

“It is you.” His fingers closed around her arms, gripping them so she couldn’t turn to face him. He inhaled deeply. “That scent has tickled my nose all evening, but I thought it was the rush-herbs. What is it?”

What was this distraction? Brows knit in suspicion, Alaida sniffed, first the air and then, realizing what he smelled, at the sleeve of her chainse.

“Wormwood and rue … and tansy, I think,” she said, trying not to let on how distracted she was by the pressure of his hands. “For moths. They were on the gown I wore.”

“Ah.” He sniffed near her ear and it tickled. “I thought you might have doused yourself in some strange perfume in an effort to drive me away.”

“I had not thought of it. Would it work?”

“No.” Bending to the curve of her neck, he inhaled deeply once more. “I am not a moth.”

Another major strength of this book is the way the hero’s curse is portrayed. As a reader, I felt what a burden it is on Ivo. I would compare Ivo in this sense to the stoic, resigned, and dignified Captain Navarre in Ladyhawke. Unlike other shapeshifter books where this condition is portrayed as a kind of a mild kink, it’s very painful for Ivo to change over to his animal form, and it separates him from normal human attachments and patterns of living, making him lonely, and motivating him compellingly to accept King William’s offer of a bride.

I also liked Alaida, who knows the score — she’s a woman alone in 1097, not a modern heroine who expects to choose her own husband — and tries to make the best of her unchosen marriage, wielding power to keep her dignity in the ways she can.

Here’s an example:

“She is my horse, my lord. I will ride her.”

“Behind a groom, you mean.”

“No, my lord, nor with a man leading her. I ride her.” She dipped another plum apricot off the trencher and held it out to him. “These are very good. Would you care for one?”

The gesture caught him off guard. In the weeks they’d been married, not once had she offered him a taste of anything. Wanting to encourage this small intimacy before he questioned her further about her riding, he smiled and leaned forward, intending to take a bite. Instead, she shoveled the entire fruit into his mouth. It was swollen with honey and wine, and, as he bit down, it spurted so much spiced liquor down his throat that it made his eyes water.

As he choked and gasped, she leaned forward. His heart scuttered a beat or two as she smiled up at him.

“You may as well hear it now, my lord”, she said more sweetly than she’s spoken to him in weeks. “Not only do I ride without a groom, I ride astride. Wearing a pair of braies beneath my gown.”

I wish there had been many more of these scenes, but the two only shared dinners together, and, after the marriage is consummated, Ivo decides he cannot risk getting her pregnant, so he doesn’t even come up to bed until she is asleep for most of the book. I am one of those people who likes a lot of h/h interaction — not necessarily sexual, mind you — so the fact that so much time was spent with Alaida alone during the day and Ivo alone at night made the book less enjoyable for me. To be fair, I don’t know how it could have been otherwise, given the premise. The hero and heroine are likable, with many good qualities, and no vices at all, but are not particularly memorable as characters, and it’s not all that clear why they fall in love. Ivo’s attachment to his men, especially Brand, who becomes a bear at night, seemed somehow more intimate and enduring.

All of Ivo’s friends will get their own books, eventually. I’m hoping that subsequent books in the series will realize the potential I sensed in Immortal Warrior.

"Come for me, baby": orgasm on command

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Why is this phrase (and its variations) so ubiquitous in romance? You don’t believe me? Well, here’s a list complied ONLY from my bookshelf of maybe 30 titles. I bet you can think of many more.

1. Futuristic Romance: “Again” he demanded, dragging her head by her hair  and plundering her mouth. “again, goddamn it.” Naked In Death, J. D. Robb

2. Scottish Historical Paranormal: “You’re there, sweet leaf. Come. … Come for me.” Immortal Warrior, Lisa Hendrix

3. Romantic Suspense: “Yes, Maggie. Come for me, honey.” Giving Chase, Lauren Dane

4. Erotic novel: “Come for me”, he whispered.  Dirty, Megan Hart

5. Paranormal romance/Urban fantasy: “Come for me, Jane.”  Lover Unbound, J.R. Ward

6. Erotic Romance: “Come for me, then, Miranda, baby. Right now.” Market For Love, Jamaica Layne

7. Historical Romance: “Let go.” he panted, grazing his teeth across her throat. “Give in.”  To Have and to Hold, Patricia Gaffney

My main problem with it is overuse, but there are others I can mention. Like its use in a couple whose relationship doesn’t call for it. Its tendency to take me out of the story by thinking “Oh no! What if she can’t?” And the feminist objection that is too obvious to state.

Some romance mysteries are easy to solve. For example, we know the Dairy Council of America conspired with RWA to insert the word “milking” in every orgasm scene, with extra cash payments for the use of  “creamy” (which has made erotica authors rich, naturally).

But I can’t figure out how “come for me” became de rigueur. Did a memo go out from the Ministry of Heroine Hazards, warning of dire results if heroines are allowed to come without being told to? Or was it the Office of Alpha Hero Protection that issued the dictum (heh) that in order to enhance Alphaness, heroes must control even this aspect of lovemaking?

Use of this phrase doesn’t make me dislike a book: all of the above are in my house right now for a reason, after all. But I really feel it’s time to get creative!

A Change in Blog Policy

Readers of this blog know that one of my goals is to link more reviews together than is usually done. I think it’s unfortunate, in a way, that the online romance community has flourished as series of separate fiefdoms (blogs) rather than a big town hall (fora).  Thanks to Google reader and conscientious blog hopping, we do all manage to get around, but when it comes to posting reviews, they are often islands unto themselves.

The result is that, even on the big blogs where everybody can be found on one thread, conversations about books tend to be conducted the way some professors run their classes: one main speaker holding court and several students talking one at a time to her, but not to each other.

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Review: Demon Bound, Meljean Brook

Cover comments: What do you think of the trend towards hero only covers? Those are some long arms, and his obvious youth makes me feel like a perp, but we can’t have the perfection of Ethan every time. Sigh.

Series? Yes, this is the 7th installment of the Guardian series, which includes shorter pieces.  Ms. Brook promises 8 full length novels, and since Demon Bound is (I think) the 4th, we’ll get a few more. Click on the cover above for more info.

Setting: The one really misleading thing about the cover, actually, is that it suggests an urban setting, like Demon Moon or Demon Night. In fact, most of the action takes place in Caelum (the heavenly realm where the Guardians hang out), in Hell, or excavating temples strewn around the world.

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