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REVIEW: Unrestrained by Joey W. Hill

UnrestrainedDear Ms. Hill:

Generally speaking, I think that you write some of the most consistent and interesting D/s erotic romance in the genre today. I find your books equitably balance discipline and emotional connection while going deeper than a little Friday night spanking to get “wild”. Unrestrained is perfect example of that balance.

Athena Summers is a businesswoman, a wife and a Domme. She spent years acting as Mistress to her husband, Ray, who recently died. While he was alive, she and Ray spent quite a bit of time at Club Release, a private club where Athena became quite renowned for her creative and artful sessions. But after Ray’s death, Athena rarely goes to Club Release and has little desire to re-engage in the Life. Despite that, she decides to go to the club to see if she can reawaken her desire. She decides she’ll just watch while she’s there. It is there that she encounters MC, the Master Craftsman. A Dom so creative, so talented that Submissives are desperate for even one session with him. She watches, intrigued as he takes a sub through a session. She’s amazed at how easily she’s able to picture herself experiencing what the sub is, and how excited that actually makes her. But of course, she’s a Domme herself, so it would be ridiculous to even entertain the idea. She leaves the club, which is in a seedier side of town, and stops for gas. While there, she is jumped by two muggers. She’s enraged when they try to steal her wedding rings, and won’t give them up. She’s quite certain they are going to kill her, but she refuses to give up this tangible connection to Ray. Suddenly the attackers are pulled from her. Her savior is of course, MC. He introduces himself as Dale Rousseau, and tells her that he was aware that she was watching his session very closely. He wonders if she might want something from him. She denies it, but still agrees to meet him for lunch to discuss further. As Dale comes into her home, she realizes that she might be far more interested in subbing for him than she thought. His direct nature, and pure artistry as a Dom allow her to do nothing but be truthful about her desires. Soon they are embarking on a D/s journey that neither expect.

Oh I loved this book! First, it’s got a ton of angsty goodness. Athena genuinely and completely loved her husband. She misses him terribly and really believes she’ll never find love again. She’s this wonderfully together heroine, a businesswoman, smart, engaging and warmhearted. Dale is a former Navy SEAL with his own demons. He’s tough, no nonsense and matter of fact. He’s also a creative and interesting Dom. He sees that Athena is submissive from the moment he meets her, and is willing to help her change her mindset, which has always been to act as a Domme to that of a submissive. He understands immediately that her Domme mindset was because that is what her husband, Ray, needed. And at her core, Athena is a “giver”, she only wants to please those she loves. And Dale helps her understand that her submission is far more fulfilling for her than being a Domme was. And he does it all the while respecting the deep well of love that Athena had for Ray.

The book is fully about two grown-up people on a grown-up journey of discovery. Athena about her submission, Dale, about opening himself to possibilities and perhaps losing a tiny bit of the tight rein he holds on himself. The sexual scenes are beautifully crafted and grow in intensity as the relationship between the characters deepens. If I had an twinges at all, it’s that the book runs a bit long. I think that the story could have been tightened up a bit towards the inevitable ending of the two going back to Club Release with Athena as Dale’s submissive. Either way, it’s a truly lovely book with so many elements to recommend it. If you’re looking for an angsty D/s romance with plenty of heat and a really satisfying emotional journey, I think that Unrestrained fits the bill perfectly. Final grade: B+

Kind regards,

Kati

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Kati Brown

I've been reading romance for more than 30 years and reviewing regularly for the last five. My first romance was Irish Thoroughbred by Nora Roberts, and once I read it, I was a goner. I read most subgenres of romance (except inspirational and steampunk) but focus mostly on contemporary and paranormal, with a sprinkling of historical thrown in for flavor. I am an avid sports fan, so I have a special place in my heart for sports themed romances. I'm a sucker for old skool romance, which is probably most evident in the fact that The Windflower is my favorite romance of all time.

19 Comments

  1. Tori
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 08:09:20

    Lovely review. I too enjoyed this one. I liked the fact the D/s aspects actually played second fiddle to the emotional issues between our couple. To often I feel as if theses stories morph into instruction manuals and I lose my connection with the characters.

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  2. Shelagh
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 09:01:52

    I was really keen to try this one until I went to Amazon and saw the price. At £8.60 for the Kindle edition it’s almost twice what I usually pay for books.

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  3. Kati
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 09:13:12

    @Shelagh: Yikes! We’ll keep an eye peeled for a sale for you. Hope you get the chance to read it at some point.

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  4. annie
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 09:49:00

    i find that cover to be very, very creepy looking…

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  5. Joey W Hill
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 10:53:59

    Kati, thank you tremendously for this warm and wonderful review of Unrestrained. I love that you plunged right to the heart of what the story was about, and am so glad you enjoyed Dale and Athena’s story. Thanks for sharing those thoughts and spreading the love! Happy holidays to you and yours.

    Thank you as well, Tori, for those kind and insightful comments. I’ll keep that in mind for future books!

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  6. Jenny
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 10:58:21

    I started this one last night, so I’m not even through the first chapter yet. I really hope I like it as much as you did, Kati. I tried to read another by Ms. Hill (Natural Law, maybe?), but put it down when it got to a humiliation-type scenario at a party. For some reason, that’s one of the things in BDSM books that hits my squick button.

    Can you tell me if there’s any such scenes in Unrestrained? If so, maybe I can lend my copy to Shelagh. :)

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  7. Anonymous
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 13:51:01

    Where are all the switches in BDSM romance?

    I was intrigued by the storyline until I got to the part about “he knows she’s REALLY a sub and not ACTUALLY a domme” and then … why is it necessary for all the ostensible dommes in these stories to turn out to be subs? Can’t some of them be switches who have never explored the submissive side before?

    It’s not that this storyline bothers me in principle (although I do dislike the “he totally knows what she is” trope). I’m generally interested in stories about protagonists exploring kink, and I used to happily read stories with submissive heroines… until I started trying to find stories with actual domme or switch heroines and couldn’t find any, or at least couldn’t seem to find any that are actually good. The asymmetry disturbs me to the point that I don’t really feel comfortable reading the submissive-heroine stories anymore.

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  8. Rei Hab
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 13:53:34

    It’s a shame, because this story does sound like an interesting one, there was a lot to like about “Natural Law” and I’m always on the lookout for good BDSM fiction, but I don’t think this one’s for me. I’m antsy around “dominant woman has submissive nature revealed to her by masterful Dom” stories by now, and while this seems like it might treat the subject matter with a bit more depth and tact than most I just don’t see it taking me past that roadblock.

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  9. Rei Hab
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 13:56:30

    @Anonymous: I have a similar problem. And it does always seem to be women in these stories who discover their true submissive nature at the hands of an expert Master, or something. I’m not saying it’s not a story worth telling, but I’ve seen it so often and so much more than any other BDSM storyline that it just puts me off automatically by now.

    Tiffany Reisz’s “The Siren” series features a switch heroine, although I’m hesitant to recommend it; I enjoyed it a lot, but it has problems of its own.

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  10. Anonymous
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 14:09:57

    @Rei Hab: You have no idea how glad I am to hear someone else say that. Thank you.

    What sort of problems does the Reisz series have?

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  11. Kati
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 14:18:55

    If it helps at all, despite what Athena “thinks” she’s NOT a Domme. Never was. And it’s clear to the reader from the beginning that this is true. It was what her husband needed, so she did it. Either way, I hope you’ll try it. It’s a really well done read.

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  12. Rei Hab
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 14:20:30

    @Anonymous: My main problem with it was that I just really hated the hero. He was a “dark and complex and tormented” type, but there were times when it got beyond the point of being understandable and just started to be an excuse for him to treat people like crap and never get called out on it because he was Just So Amazing.

    Plus, for a series about the dark and liberated underbelly of America it’s heteronormative as hell. Although it does have the distinction of being the first Mills and Boon series I’ve ever seen to feature a gay couple as one of its main romantic storylines.

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  13. Joey W Hill
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 14:45:59

    While I usually stay out of discussions of the pros and cons of my books, since I feel the reader should be guided by their own interests and desires (smile), since this was the subject of several of the blogs I’ve done about this book, I’ll go ahead and jump in and say here what I’ve said there, if it helps.

    The idea for Unrestrained was launched as a result of a discussion I was having at a con with some readers and authors. We were discussing exactly what you note above – the BDSM romances where the Mistress is hardcore until the right Master just shows up and “suddenly” she’s a full submissive. We felt the plotline was insulting to real life Dommes and their desires/motivations for being Dominants, as well as a seriously contrived story idea. However, the devil’s advocate in me started wondering, “Okay, when WOULD it make justifiable sense for a Mistress to switch sides?” and Athena’s character was born. A writer can never resist a challenge. :>

    Anyhow, whether or not you choose to read it, I hope this clarification helps! Thanks again, Kati!

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  14. Sunny
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 18:09:43

    I’ve only read men as subs/switches in m/m and ONE m/f novel, and in that one both were willing to switch for the other. Have to admit, seeing a man who is usually a Dom go sub for a woman because they both trusted each other that much was the hottest thing I’ve ever read. Any recommendations on books with more Dommes?

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  15. Melissa
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 20:06:58

    For those looking for a “switch”– I just finished Delphine Dryden’s The Principle of Desire that was reviewed here yesterday. One of the things I liked about it was the sense that the protagonists (who switched roles back and forth) were sort of playing cops and robbers, but dirty for adults (totally stealing that idea from Dan Savage). And they weren’t inhabiting dominant or submissive roles outside of play time. I do find myself weary of books in this corner of the genre where every interaction between the H and h has to show how each one is so very dommy or subby in all their interactions with each other.

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  16. DB Cooper
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 22:43:40

    @Jenny: I mean this with all seriousness, (with no sarcasm, and no attempts to make a dig at you or your tastes) thank you for mentioning that a humiliation-type scenario got to you.

    I’ve picked up Natural Law, but have yet to read it…and this actually increases my interest a bit.

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  17. DB Cooper
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 23:07:26

    @Anonymous:

    For my part, I’m currently enjoying Ms. Reisz’s series. The Siren was the first romance novel I ever read, and this is the only series I’ve ever read (currently, slowly working my way through the third book now). I suppose you should take anything I say with a grain of salt then, given my lake of breadth (and because a lot of things that might squick some people didn’t bother me at all).

    That being said, I’m rather fond of the first book, and I think it does well enough standing on its own that I would recommend it if you want to give it a try. It also takes a different slant at the romance setup, which might or might not be a bonus in your book. It does have a switch main character who is thankfully not “a domme waiting for the single right ‘dominant’ to make her a devoted sub for the rest of her life” kind of girl.

    I wish there was more of her topping people in a D/s sort of setting in the first book, but at least it’s fun to watch her have her way with someone from outside of a kink community. Also, she actually has a lot of shit to work through which (I think) makes her an interesting character.

    As for the dark brooding one Rei is talking about, if he’s the one I’m thinking of, then yes one of the male characters has a rather eventful past (that so far hasn’t moved me, let alone disturbed me, though I admit looking forward to its deeper exploration) .

    A friend of mine happens to think that same character is a god among men, and would happily jump his bones if she could. Another friend takes issue with the female protag, whom she wishes would “grow up and make a real goddamn choice”. I probably like my wife’s take on it (or book 2 at least) the best though: entertaining, but they all needed wiffle bats to the head. :D

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  18. Rei Hab
    Dec 18, 2013 @ 07:17:55

    @DB Cooper: Oh, hey, I’m not saying it’s not a good series. I enjoyed it a lot. (And I didn’t start to properly hate the hero until around book 2, so there’s that.) Although I agree that I would’ve liked to see more of the heroine topping. (And also more of her attraction to ladies. Is it just me or do romance novels seem to be starting to take male bisexuality seriously, but kind of treat female bisexuality as an afterthought? Guys. Guys, come on.)

    @Joey – Thanks for stepping in to clarify. I must admit the idea of her *never* having been a Domme really is still kind of offputting to me – people’s sexualities evolve over the course of their lives, after all, and I would’ve been interested to read a narrative that took that into account – but I might pick up Unrestrained at some point, once I’ve put some distance between me and the sore point trope.

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  19. Joey W Hill
    Dec 19, 2013 @ 18:47:22

    Rei Hab, I understand. That’s one of the things I really like about the erotic romance genre now; there are a wide variety of storylines that offer something for everyone. If you do decide to read Unrestrained at some point in the future, I hope you enjoy it. :>

    Sunny, I have some very strong female Dommes in my Vampire Queen series and the Nature of Desire series (but be warned, Jenny – and encouraged, DB (lol), the Vampire Queen series has some scenes that could be considered humiliation). But as a reader, I’ve personally been impressed with Domme work by folks like Ann Mayburn and Cat Grant.

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