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REVIEW: Bound by Lorelie James

Bound Lorelei James

Dear Ms. James:

I went into this book with some great expectations but ended it disappointed and not interested in reading the second book of the series. This story pairs up Ronin Black with Amery Hardwick. It contains some of the most fetishistic portrayal of Japanese cultural (without any actual minority in the story) I’ve read in a long time along with some poor dialogue, strained conflicts, and unsexy love scenes.

Let’s start with the issue regarding the cultural appropriation in the story. Ronin Black is described as having high cheekbones and a wide, chiseled jawline courtesy of Germanic or Nordic genes in his lineage. and eyes that tilted upward in the corner, “indicating his family tree also included an Asian branch. His black hair nearly brushed his shoulders.” That’s not so bad although Japanese have high cheekbones and it’s rather common to ascribe the cheekbones and chiseled jawline to European genes and the tilted eyes to Asia.

Ronin is one quarter Japanese but his life is 100% Japanese. He has Shunga prints in his halls; he runs a dojo and is disdainful of Brazilian jitjitsu. He has a zen rock garden on his roof and bonsai trees. He says he lives by the “Samurai code.” I’m not even certain how Ronin is actually one quarter Japanese as we learn that his father was a serviceman stationed in Japan and was also one quarter Japanese. I guess that makes his mother one quarter Japanese in a land that’s one of the most homogenous in the world. Ahem. I don’t even want to start contemplating how a Japanese mother would name her child after a disgraced, itinerant and masterless warrior.

Ronin prefers to be addressed as Sensei Black, trained in a monastery and has had a run-in with rival martial arts experts that the heroine refers to as “Karate Kid” like. Even Ronin’s sexual fetish is rope bondage learned from his monastery master in Japan.

But it’s not just the portrayal of Ronin who, maybe I could accept, but Amery’s interaction with him. Amery constantly refers to his “ninja skills” and his “Zen sayings.” The evil ex is apparently Japanese and Amery refers to her as a geisha and exotic. “She had a better idea what Naomi looked like—probably exotic in that Japanese geisha way.” Later meeting another Amery’s sister, Amery describes her as exotic as well and refers to the Japanese woman’s bodyguard as sumo wrestler or just “Sumo Guy”. Even Ronin is described as exotic as well as his cologne. The sister must be one quarter Japanese because she and Ronin share the same parents but the sister is described as Japanese by Amery. Yet Ronin is not.

To round out the weeaboo nature of this book is that Amery has a scar that she got after being gored by a bull that is amazingly shaped in the Kanji letters of Ronin. ““Because it’s nearly identical to the Japanese symbol for a rogue samurai warrior.” NEARLY IDENTICAL

Um, wow. That is some amazing scab picking. What made me laugh/cry even more is that Amery’s skin is described as white and pure. (She, of course, thinks it is pasty, but our 1/4 Japanese hero thinks it’s pure).

But let’s set that all aside for now and talk about the romance. This is one half of a duology and I think the conflict really suffers from having to stretch beyond one book. Amery is from a fundamentalist upbringing and sometimes her interactions with Ronin are colored by her shame and others it is because Ronin can’t bring himself to reveal anything more than his Japanese fetish to her and at other times it is Ronin’s possible violent nature. Because, you know, owning a dojo and all where she’s learning self defense equals being a violet thug.

Their interactions don’t even read particularly sexy to me. At one point, he’s practicing his “tethered turtle” technique and they make lusty turtle innuendos. . “Come out of that shell and beg me to fuck you, turtle girl.” He later tells her that since she won’t perform with him, he has to use other models and will be touching them with sexual manner. I wish she would have responded that she’d be practicing her massage techniques complete with a rub and tug ending but don’t worry, Ronin, it don’t mean anything.

In sum, I found this book to be offensive with stilted dialogue, an ever changing set of conflicts, and decidedly unsexy love scenes. The strange thing is that I’ve enjoyed Lorelei James books in the past. This is such a departure. It felt forced and awkward. You know, if you’re going to write a character who loves all things Japanese and speaks it at random times, why not just make him Japanese? F

Best regards,

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

17 Comments

  1. Solace Ames
    Feb 19, 2014 @ 08:08:57

    As a Japanese-American, I’ve been eagerly awaiting this review. As a writer, I really don’t like to bad-mouth other books in the genre, but this book sounded so racist it made my teeth ache.

    Please, people, we can do better than this.

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  2. Jane
    Feb 19, 2014 @ 08:17:06

    @Solace Ames: For the life of me, I could not understand why Ronin was not Japanese in this story.

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  3. mari
    Feb 19, 2014 @ 08:37:40

    You had me spewing coffee at “lusty turtle innuendos.” LOL! Too bad you gave this an “F.” Now it’ll be a bestseller. Hope it doesn’t start a reptilian trend…the mind boggles.

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  4. Jia
    Feb 19, 2014 @ 09:16:18

    I’m still shocked there was no calligraphy writing on her naked body to put icing on the racist stereotype failcake.

    And… are the “lusty turtle innuendos” supposed to be a hamfisted reference to how turtles are associated with fertility and virility in Japanese culture? I assume so but really, that’s not how this should be done.

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  5. Nadia Lee
    Feb 19, 2014 @ 09:24:53

    I’m shocked that the hero’s name is Ronin. It doesn’t just mean masterless samurai. It’s also used to refer to high school students who failed college entrance exams. It’s like an American mother naming her child “Failure”.

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  6. JJPP
    Feb 19, 2014 @ 09:58:46

    Aside from the teeth-jarring stereotypes, the writing just sounds horrible and lazy. “Sumo Guy” and “Turtle Girl???” Ug. Gah. Just reading this review and the scattered quotes made me wince. I’ve never read any other books by this author, but I can’t imagine they could be good when this sounds so bad.

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  7. Maddie
    Feb 19, 2014 @ 10:28:18

    This book was a mess and Amery was all over the place with her emotions, that I suspect she might need meds to level herself out.

    It almost read like she wrote this books in blocks and shuffled them together. She has two token gays in the book, male and female who get mad at her because she starts dating Ronin and spending less time with them going to gay bars where she was ditched by both all the time.

    The evil cheating ex that left her high and dry in a new town, and who Amery friends hate, they take his word of warning about shady Ronin and get into words with Amery and stop talking to her for awhile.

    It was a mess and I, like Jane read James previous books and thought they were well written book this book just didn’t work out for me.

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  8. jane
    Feb 19, 2014 @ 10:35:34

    @Maddie: Yeah when the sassy gay male character was introduced and then described as an unfaithful manwhore, I rolled my eyes hard. It was incredible how overused stereotypes were. And in other books, James has never gone there so this seemed like such a huge departure.

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  9. Elaine
    Feb 19, 2014 @ 11:37:05

    I agree that this book missed the mark, but Lorelei James has always been hit & miss for me, I think it depends on which James book you started with. I first read Dalton’s story and really liked it, read another I enjoyed, then had a few that didn’t work for me. I definitely think the cowboy novels are a better fit for her aesthetic, the dialogue flows more naturally (I agree that it was particularly terrible in Bound), and the sex scenes feel more organic, perhaps because they’re not trying to work in an unfamiliar (to the author) rope fetish. I thought the Japanese references were deliberately vague to compensate for a lack of real understanding of Japanese culture, and the things that were mentioned (the wall hangings, the occasional Japanese phrase, etc) were more like window dressing, and probably won’t bother everyone. (I was also perplexed by the 1/4 Japanese thing, and had to deliberately refuse to do the math, since it would never add up.) The real issue for me was the story. I probably could have overlooked the other things if I’d been more invested, but Amery’s character was very uneven, choosing to act impulsively out of character when it suited the scene (like taking her pants off when she and Ronin first meet), and being mouse-like and weak later on. Ronin’s refusal to answer questions and the flat way he told her he’d be performing that scene with another woman and touching her in a sexual manner and expected no argument – and got none! – were hard to stomach. I didn’t think the sex scenes were that bad, but they didn’t feel natural, and they were very similar in nature. The ending was extremely irritating, and I agree that the story doesn’t need a second book. This one should have been pared back, the end conflict should have happened in the middle, and they should have grown as characters and a couple in the second half of the book. (Easy for me to say, huh? :)) The sudden insertion of Ronin’s POV for the last pages was abrupt and unnecessary. All said, I’d have given this book a C-. It was readable, but there was a lot of skimming.

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  10. Christine
    Feb 19, 2014 @ 13:11:36

    I’m a ways in and struggling to finish – just not pulled into the story. I had a hard time picturing Ronin in my head based on the physical description. I’ve stopped right around the part mentioned by Elaine above “Ronin’s refusal to answer questions and the flat way he told her he’d be performing that scene with another woman and touching her in a sexual manner and expected no argument – and got none! – were hard to stomach.” It’s been over a week and I haven’t gone back to it, I’m thinking it’s time to just make it a DNF as there are other things on my reading list that are more pleasant.

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  11. Monique D
    Feb 19, 2014 @ 18:27:48

    Well, that’s one book I’ll definitely not read !!! I was wondering if anyone has read Cynthia Eden’s Burn for You – her newest – I hope I got the title right. I read it last week and, well, I wonder if it’s me or …

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  12. Kathy
    Feb 19, 2014 @ 19:27:47

    I was so disappointed in this and I’m relieved that others felt the same. Not all of Lorelei’s books have been perfect but I reread her good ones a lot. I really wanted her to be successful in traditional publishing too (Especially since her writing way pre-dates 50 shades and I’m sick of that whole trend of erotic romance now getting the spotlight) and was happy to support her at this price point. But OMG this was just so boring and weird. I hope her next books are better..!

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  13. Jane
    Feb 19, 2014 @ 19:51:06

    @Christine: and @Elaine: Yes, that part was super weird. “I’m going to tie women up and touch them with sexual intent.” Okay, Sensei Black. That’s so zen.

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  14. Kimberly James
    Feb 20, 2014 @ 07:49:28

    “Um, wow. That is some amazing scab picking.”

    Cracked me up.

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  15. ClaudiaGC
    Feb 20, 2014 @ 08:32:56

    Nice review, Jane! Made me laugh and spot on! :)
    Because I like her books I bought this one without much thinking and I’m regretting it deeply. Right after the beginning I started skipping whole pages because I couldn’t get into the story. So I thought let’s skip to a sex scene because hers are usally pretty well done. Wasn’t the best idea. The one I read felt very clinical and disconnected. That is my first Lorelei James book I did not finish.
    She usually likes to tackle uncommon and uncomfortable topics in her books and mostly finds the right tone but I have no clue what she wanted to achieve with this series and I’m so not reading the second one.

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  16. Katie
    Feb 20, 2014 @ 11:17:57

    I have been thinking about this review all day. I have not read this book but I find the criticism of cultural appropriation interesting. I think writing about race and culture is a minefield but I applaud authors who try because I don’t want to always read about caucasian heroes. I worry that writers will be put off trying to write about other cultures for fear of offending people. To that end, are there any books you can recommend where race or culture was handled in a positive way?

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  17. bam
    Feb 21, 2014 @ 07:44:47

    @Jane: “Okay, Sensei Black. That’s so zen” made me laugh and sneeze at the same time

    ReplyReply

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