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Jackie Ashenden

REVIEW:  Taking Him by Jackie Ashenden

REVIEW: Taking Him by Jackie Ashenden

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Dear Ms. Ashenden:

I really love your voice but man this book did not work for me. The heroine came off terribly selfish and given the extent of the hero’s emotional abuse, her constant pushing didn’t come off well. So the guy’s not into you. I get it, but stop making him feel guilty for it.

Ellie Fox is in love with her older brother’s best friend, Hunter Chase.  Hunter has adored Ellie as a little sister but because of his past believes she’s better off with someone else rather than him.  Ellie is preparing to leave for a new job in Japan and wants to try one last time to get Hunter into bed with her.

She pushes and pushes his buttons knowing that Hunter has never been anything but kind to her.  And frankly despite declaring she was a fully grown 25 year old woman, she acted like a child. Refusing to come home from a bar when she was drunk, unzipping her clothes and exposing her breasts when he asked her not to. (I kept thinking of what would I think of the situation if the roles were reversed and Hunter had his salami out and was shaking it at Ellie saying ‘look at me. look at me.’)

Ellie is unable to understand that when Hunter verbalizes his no, she should back away. I guess this is reversed forced seduction? She sees desire in his eyes and despite him adamantly wanting to avoid her, disregards his stated wishes and pursues him. But it wasn’t even her pursuit of him that really bothered me but it was the way that she threw his friendship in his face and basically told him that if didn’t fuck her, he was hurting her.

His gaze didn’t waver. “I don’t want you. I never have.”

Shit. Wrong again. It could get more painful.

Don’t cry, dammit. Don’t be so pathetic.

“Why?” she couldn’t stop herself from asking. “Am I not pretty enough for you? Not sexy enough? Is that it?”

“No, Christ Ellie, no. It’s not any of those things. I don’t…feel that way about you, all right?”

“And I can’t change your mind?”

Something moved in his eyes but it was gone before she could tell what it was. “No. I’m sorry, you can’t.”

Ellie swallowed. “Okay, fine.” She struggled to keep her voice level as years of forbidden fantasies came crashing down around her ears. “I got it. Loud and clear.”

“I’m not saying this to hurt you.”

Well, you have.” Oh she’d love to pretend she didn’t care, but the fact was that she did. Very much. And there was no reason for him not to know that.

So guilt trip for not wanting to have sex with her.  The unease over Ellie’s portrayal in this book deepened when we learn more about Hunter’s past. Granted Ellie isn’t privvy to what the reader knows but it’s hard to eliminate that information when confronted with Ellie’s actions. Hunter wanted Ellie to back off because it was painful for him and I wanted Ellie to back off too. And given that she was leaving in three weeks, I wished she’d acted a bit more maturely. Of course, if she did there wouldn’t be a book. And I’m sure I am supposed to understand that without Ellie’s persistent pursuit, her forced seduction of Hunter, he’d never be able to get over his demons and have an HEA.

I get that intellectually but my emotional response to the book was a recoil. Maybe if this had been told solely from Ellie’s point of view, it would have been easier to root for her and want a positive outcome but knowing Hunter’s deep painful secrets made Ellie’s behavior all the more egregious in my eyes. I realize that’s unfair because Ellie’s in the dark, but my reader response was to tell Hunter to run far away from Ellie.

It’s a dark book and I appreciate the role reversal, although it might not have been a conscious one. Without a clear line of consent, Ellie’s pursuit of Hunter left a bitter taste in my mouth. C-

Best regards,

Jane

 

 

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REVIEW:  Black Knight, White Queen by Jackie Ashenden

REVIEW: Black Knight, White Queen by Jackie Ashenden

Black Knight, White Queen Jackie Ashenden

Dear Ms. Ashenden:

How many times has there been a chess champion as a hero? Right. None come to mind so I had to read it. I’ve tried two other books by you and I love your voice even if the direction the stories have taken have left me a little dissastified.

This is a short novel or a long novella. My calibre plugin says it is 46,089 words and it feels it. Izzy Cornwall packs up her bags and leaves her New Zealand home after her sister’s suicide.  She’s in Bangkok Thailand, sketching, and trying to lose herself in the city.  Aleksandr Shastin is a chess champion who has been trying to sublimate his own grief at the loss of his former teacher.   The two meet on the rooftop of Aleks’ swanky hotel.

There Izzy propositions Aleksandr who, in his own words, is surprised when he is never surprised.

Aleks always knew what was going to happen. Could always see ten steps ahead. And yet he hadn’t counted on this. Hadn’t counted on her or his response to her.

One of the best features of this story is how in character each person acts. Aleks is this cool headed strategy master and Izzy is a fly by the seat of her pants artist. Izzy pushes Aleks off center and he fights it initially because his whole world is being in control.  When the one time sexual encounter with Izzy turns into something more, Aleks instinct is to close down because when she makes him feel, the loss of his mentor threatens to engulf him.

Izzy’s just the same as Aleks but her grief and emotions are displayed separately.  She wants comfort and thinks in some way she can find it with this very hot stranger.  She wants to both find herself and forget in this foreign land and this foreign man.  Both grief and loneliness and relief are written into the pages of the story.  But because of their emotional state, I wasn’t entirely convinced that either of them were healed through their sexual intercourse which is essentially the only interaction that the two had throughout the story.

I wished we had much more about Izzy’s conflict. Her situation with her family and the loss of her sister was given only abbreviated space.  There were overt traditional themes to the characterizations with Izzy being soft, colorful, nurturing and Aleks being cold, hard, closed off.  It was a bit cliched and while it worked, there were times I wanted to be surprised but was resigned to the predictability of their actions.

Further, the story was very sexy and the two communicated via their bedroom activity, but I had a hard time believing in the HEA particularly when a major emotional movement occurs within the epilogue.  Part of this problem I attribute to the length. If this had been a full length novel, there would have been more space to explore the weighty issues of grief, loneliness and belonging.  While there was some lovely imagery in the prose, I still felt unfulfilled at the end.

She began to move slowly and deeply, and he told her she was beautiful in Russian because he couldn’t remember the words in English. A whole language lost because of her. Because of how she made him feel.

B-

Best regards,

Jane

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