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REVIEW: Unlaced by Jaci Burton, Jasmine Haynes, Joey Hill, Denise...

Unlaced, as you might have guessed by the number of authors in the title of the post, is an anthology. It is an erotic romance anthology of three contemporary stories and one paranormal contemporary story. I admit that I did not read the last story by Denise Rossetti. I just haven’t been in the mood from something otherwordly and thus I skipped it but since I did read 3/4 of the anthology, I felt it was sufficient to give a review.

The Ties That Bind by Jaci Burton. Dear Ms. Burton:

I’ve always enjoyed your anthologies and this entry is no exception. Lisa and Rick Mitchell were irresponsible high school sweethearts whose youthful love and lust led to Lisa getting pregnant at age 16. Lisa and Rick tried to get married but because of their youth, their marriage fell apart and they divorced when their daughter, Kayla, was three. They remained a tightly knit family with Rick providing what he could to Lisa and their daughter until Lisa got an education and began providing for herself. But now there daughter is graduating and Rick has met someone and Lisa feels like it is time to move on or so Lisa thinks. Lisa jets off for a vacation for one in the Caribbean determined to allow herself an adult adventure only to find Rick at the same resort.

Rick has never really stopped loving Lisa, even though he dated other women. Lisa has never gotten over Rick. The two take the opportunity to explore their long held feelings for one another and release years of pent up passion. The downside to this novella is that there is little conflict and what conflict there was seemed contrived. Lisa thinks that Rick is just doing this because of Kayla which made no sense because Kayla was graduating and moving out of the house. It’s sexy and enjoyable but a little emotionally lite. B-

Undone by Jasmine Haynes. Dear Ms Haynes:

Undone is a very fun, unusual story featuring the hot topic of the day – the Cougar. Yes, Margo Faraday is a forty-five year old who takes up with a younger man. (I thought the reference to Margo, a mortgage broker suffering because of the subprime mortgage debacle given that this novella must have been written more than 6-9 months ago was prescient). Margo’s life is kind of in the shitter. Her business is suffering, she has two long term failed relationships under her belt, and she’s, well, getting older. Margo sees an ad by an amateur photographer looking for a “real woman” to photograph for a set of erotic photos. The photographer is a friend of the brother of Margo’s friend looking to create an art exhibit of the female form. Margo laughs this off with her friend Lorie but memorizes the email address at the end of the ad.

Thus Margo becomes the model for Dirk, the thirty-three year old who reads a bit more like a mid twenties guy. Their exchanges are sweet, funny, and highly erotic. Margo is amazed at the way that Dirk sees her and the experience revitalizes her. Dirk, however, has fallen in love with Margo. Even though she rebuffs him once the photography sessions are over, Dirk is determined to win her over. I struggled, at times, to see Margo and Dirk as a couple and primarily because there seemed to be some inequality in the relationship and I couldn’t pinpoint where it was. Having said that, it was a very sex positive story and one that reaffirms the beauty that is a woman’s body, at every stage of her life. B-

Controlled Response by Joey Hill. Dear Ms. Hill:

I’m an unabashed fan of your writing and I feel that you could make people looking at each read more erotically that some of the most explicit sex scenes written. This story, Controlled Response, is very erotic but the unintentional messaging of the story bothered me a great deal.   It bothered me to write this review because I do have such respect for you as a writer and a story teller, but I felt to not  write a review would not be fair.

The story opens with Lucas bicycling in the Berkshires when he comes across a woman splayed on her Harley, pleasuring herself. He can no more leave her than a parched man in the desert stumbling upon a pool of water could pass up a drink. They have an encounter but the woman leaves him, wanting and without the means to find her. He can’t even think to memorize her license plate. As fortune would have it, the woman, Cassandra, is brought into his office about a month later as a negotiator hired to navigate a business deal between the company that Lucas works for and another. Lucas believes that Cassandra is too uptight and it is his mission to teach her how to let go.

It grated on me, how Lucas and his team treated her as a sexual object. During the first meeting, Lucas’ team exchange text messages about how hard she is making them. He accosts her in the woman’s bathroom and basically says that he can see through her facade and her attempts at being in control and goes about destroying her control in the middle of the negotiations.   

There’s an effort in the story to make it seem like Lucas is really doing Cassandra a favor, that she wasn’t really living without having been taken on the conference room table by all of the team members because they really, really are going to respect her after this. There is one scene in which they bind Cassandra to a chair during a conference call with Japan and there is a set of Japanese men with a woman bound to a chair in the videoconference and the camera that is piped to the American’s office is of the Japanese woman’s bare pussy. The scene is written as if this was all so beautiful and right and how these men were simply honoring the women that were being pleasured but I found it horrifying.

"They have one camera positioned beneath the table. You’ll notice their gazes keep moving from her to a wall beyond our view. They have a screen there, showing that camera’s feed. They’ve provided me the patch to it in here. . . They have a little bet running with her as well. If she doesn’t come before the advisor gets done, then they’ll each have their turn . . . .when the meeting is done."
"You set this up," she managed under her breath as Ben asked a question.
"Everyone knows the regulatory check is as dull as dirt. I thought you’d enjoy the entertainment."

I could not believe that there was anything beautiful or uplifting about this particular set piece. As a business woman, you struggle everyday to be taken seriously and I just found this whole thing to be stomach turning.

I know you’re worrying your reputation is ruined with them. It isn’t. Trust me on that. Your beauty and intelligence, and the desire you show us now-’it’s a gift to any man breathing. We treasure it

I particularly hated the justification of it – that it was for Cassandra’s own good. I think the worst part of this story was that Lucas always knew what was best, not only for Cassandra but for her family. There was this overweaning paternalism to the story and while I can accept the politically incorrect story, this went beyond my own personal boundaries. The irony is that I find most of your writing to be so female positive and I suspect that this is how you wanted this story to be read. I just didn’t find it so. D.

Best regards,

Jane

This book can be purchased in trade paperback from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.

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

20 Comments

  1. Karen Scott
    Nov 27, 2008 @ 06:02:16

    There is one scene in which they bind Cassandra to a chair during a conference call with Japan and there is a set of Japanese men with a woman bound to a chair in the videoconference and the camera that is piped to the American's office is of the Japanese woman's bare pussy.

    Watch the books fly off the shelves after that description.

    I really hate stories that heinously objectify women in this way. I would have been seriously pissed off, but then again, I do hate BDSM themes, so perhaps I’m biased.

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  2. Ann Somerville
    Nov 27, 2008 @ 08:12:44

    Re “Controlled Response ” – if you look at it as ‘real life’, then yes, it’s repugnant, same as a man forcing a woman to wear a gag or a collar, or chaining her up and whipping her.

    But as BDSM fantasy, it sounds pretty good. Hot, actually.

    The thing is, the fantasy has to be real but not real in this kind of erotica. It’s like the forced seduction scenario – within the universe of the book, you accept it, and the controlling hero etc, even if in real life, you’d run a mile.

    BDSM can weird people out – and I speak as someone outside the scene, though I’ve done my best to educate myself by reading and talking to people inside it. It can look like abuse, and everything we as feminists and adult women have been told to reject. But within the ‘game’, so to speak, the rules are different. The main rule is consent (Safe, Sane, Consensual – the consent is the difference between assault and erotica.)

    Cassandra in this story is consenting (I’m assuming.) Lucas really *is* serving her, and anticipating her wishes and desires. He’s being a stereotypically good dom. To a sub, a master who will know what they want without even needing to be told, who will go to so much trouble, to care for them, is wonderful. (To the dom, it’s a lot of work!) Within Cassandra’s universe, she’s not being objectified (nor is the Japanese woman) – she really is being worshipped, and treated like a queen.

    Not easy to get your head around, but the only way to do that is to enter the mindset of a sub. Which is not easy at all if you’re not that way inclined.

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  3. Anon Y. Mouse
    Nov 27, 2008 @ 08:43:03

    I agree with Ann, but I wanted to add the clarification that for me, most BDSM storylines don’t work because the subs never get the conversation they’re supposed to have. There never seems to be any discussion of what each wants from the relationship, what their limits are etc. The Dom usually just goes “She/he’s a sub deep down, it’s my job to release it” and goes about doing so without ever discussing it with the other person. To me that isn’t safe or sane or consensual. That’s manipulation of one person to make another person who they want them to be, with little care for who that person actually is.

    If, in this story, Lucas and Cassandra have a discussion and she consents to his Dominance (she doesn’t even have to consent to everything he does individually, just a single “I accept your dominance over me” would suffice to cover everything that comes after), then okay, I’d have no problem with it, because Ann is right, in that case Lucas would be being an excellent Dom. Without her consent…it becomes just what you read it as, demeaning and controlling and not sexy but stomach-turning.

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  4. GrowlyCub
    Nov 27, 2008 @ 10:05:38

    That may be how BDSM relationships work, but I think it’s important to consider who the audience is for this anthology, and it doesn’t seem to be folks who live the BDSM lifestyle, who would know the things Ann describes.

    Which leaves us with an audience that either reacts like Jane (and as I would and why I get physically ill if I start reading that kind of story because I didn’t know that it was that kind) or with a readership that gets the idea that that’s what BDSM is solely about: humiliating the sub for the enjoyment of the dom, demeaning women, reinforcing the idea that women are children who need a man to teach them what they need and want, because they can’t possibly know it themselves.

    I’m a translator (among many other things) and one of the first rules of translation is the question ‘who is your target audience?’. This question informs every decision that affects the translation.

    It seems to me that BDSM is a topic in erotic romance/erotica that deserves very careful placement in front of the knowing readership, not an unsuspecting one, who does not know the shortcuts and gets a completely skewed view of the lifestyle and its participants.

    As much as I logically (if not emotionally) understand how and why a good dom/sub relationship works in RL, I’m baffled by the popularity of the BDSM stories I’ve seen that are not describing sane, safe and consensual practices but strike the reader as Jane describes above.

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  5. Ann Somerville
    Nov 27, 2008 @ 14:36:49

    It seems to me that BDSM is a topic in erotic romance/erotica that deserves very careful placement in front of the knowing readership, not an unsuspecting one, who does not know the shortcuts and gets a completely skewed view of the lifestyle and its participants.

    Is it really so different from any other kink fantasy? I mean, you get unrealistic scenarios all the time in erotica which, if played out in real life, would lead to injury or a bad situation for the people involved. A few weeks ago, Jayne mentioned double-cocking as something which needed more negotiation than shown in the text. The amount of insufficiently lubed anal sex – het and m/m/ – you read, is simply eye-watering.

    There might not have been a vocal negotiation on screen in this story, but as Cassandra, I assume, isn’t complaining and isn’t not enjoying it, then her consent is clear to the reader. Again, it’s the fantasy of the master who just ‘knows’. There are plenty of doms around who genuinely don’t negotiate with their subs, and subs too stupid to complain – but I don’t think you can hold the writer of erotic fantasy responsible for that. She’s not writing a ‘how to’.

    As for the target audience – a lot of people, me included, find BDSM hot to read about without wanting to engage in it. I don’t think it needs to be completely realistic. So long as Cassandra consents in heart and mind – as we the reader will know from her POV – then we know the difference between what’s actually happening, and an abusive situtation.

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  6. Laura
    Nov 27, 2008 @ 15:17:13

    So long as Cassandra consents in heart and mind – as we the reader will know from her POV – then we know the difference between what's actually happening, and an abusive situtation.

    But do we even get her POV? The impression I got from Jane’s review is that the story is told from Lucas’ POV.

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  7. GrowlyCub
    Nov 27, 2008 @ 16:50:07

    Is it really so different from any other kink fantasy?

    I’d have to say yes. Any time a reader reaction is:

    I found it horrifying.

    the story has failed on every level. This is regrettable because surely the goal of the author was to make the kink accessible to the readers who are not in the scene.

    As for other scenarios that are unrealistic, such as lack of lube, etc. sure I’ve winced on more than one occasion, but I’ve rarely ‘hated it’, said it showed ‘overweaning paternalism’ or found a story ‘stomach turning’ except for the few BDSM stories I’ve accidentally stumbled across and quickly put down.

    That strong a reaction is especially notable, as Jane has enjoyed other BDSM stories by Joey. Jane, do you think that might be because those were male sub/female dom story lines?

    As for the target audience – a lot of people, me included, find BDSM hot to read about without wanting to engage in it.

    I wasn’t talking of target audience as people who engage in the lifestyle, rather that the anthology was not specifically BDSM which many people like to read without wanting to emulate.

    You know and understand what BDSM is all about. I was talking about the audience that may not have any idea about how important sane, safe and consensual is to the lifestyle and it seemed to me that the lack of the conveying of those concepts were at the core of Jane’s issues with the story.

    And if somebody like Jane, who does know, has such a strong negative reaction, I have to wonder how successful the story can be for others. Clearly, the consent and the sub’s motivation was not sufficiently articulated to make the story work.

    Quite honestly, I was surprised to see a ‘D’ as grade, because after reading the review I expected an ‘F’.

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  8. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 27, 2008 @ 17:00:50

    Is this related to “Board Resolution”? That is so far the only story of Joey’s I didn’t get along with.
    There is a Lucas in that story, and the central characters are Savannah and Matt. I didn’t like it for much the same reasons you didn’t like this one, and at times it turned me cold and embarrassed for the poor woman. I usually love Joey’s work, and I just assumed this one was an early work, or meant for an audience that definitely wasn’t me. Well written, but upsetting subject matter, because it demeaned Savannah as a successful businesswoman.
    If the boardroom is used for consensual BDSM, a scheduled business conference isn’t the time to do it.

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  9. Ann Somerville
    Nov 27, 2008 @ 18:11:01

    Any time a reader reaction is:

    I found it horrifying.

    the story has failed on every level.

    Well no, because people often find things horrifying that others don’t. I have a friend who’s just read her first m/m story – a rather insipid one of mine – and I said she should really try some of my less sappy stories. She was clearly hesitant at the idea of reading anal sex scenes. I’ve personally known feminists who’ve read joyful, fully consensual BDSM stories and coming away frothing at the mouth about rape and abuse. A single subjective reaction is not a useful metric for the success of the story for the audience as a whole.

    That Jane’s familiar with the genre, and is still troubled, indicates a possible problem. Without reading the story, and knowing more about the presentation, I can only go on her review – and from that, I don’t think the author got it wrong per se. It could just be a trigger in Jane, or it could be poor set up and concept.

    There’s a lot of crappy BDSM writing around (and I’ve created some of it!) I don’t rule out the possibility of this being more of it, but I’d need more than Jane’s reaction to label it as bad.

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  10. Jane
    Nov 27, 2008 @ 18:21:31

    @Lynne Connolly: It must be related because there is a Matt and Savannah in the anthology.

    In general, I don’t think that Joey Hill can write a badly crafted book, but I’ve read other BDSM books that included a male dom and a female sub and I didn’t feel it was demeaning to women, but this one read like the male dom was constantly humiliating the female sub under the guise of showing her sexual freedom. There’s a heavy overtone here that Lucas knows what is best for Cassandra all of the time. Lucas does not grow in this book because he is perfect. Cassandra is the flawed one whose uptight lifestyle must be set free by Lucas.

    Cassandra consents to these ventures but only after the fact. Like after she is bound in the boardroom, Lucas tells her that everyone in the room knows that she is bound and that she is sexually stimulated. I’m not sure how that is sexy. Maybe to some it is, but to me, it was stomach churning.

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  11. Ann Somerville
    Nov 27, 2008 @ 18:48:28

    @Jane:
    Whose POV is it told in?

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  12. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 27, 2008 @ 19:03:37

    Cassandra consents to these ventures but only after the fact. Like after she is bound in the boardroom, Lucas tells her that everyone in the room knows that she is bound and that she is sexually stimulated. I'm not sure how that is sexy. Maybe to some it is, but to me, it was stomach churning.

    I find Joey Hill one of the most thoughtful, interesting authors in the BDSM genre. Her “Natural Law” series, set around a group of characters who visit the Zone club is fascinating, because it explores the characters and what motivates them. They’re real, and never do you feel that they’re being exploited, used or manipulated.

    Not so in the story I read, “Board Resolution.” (part of the ‘Behind the Mask’ anthology). In this one, Savannah is suspended above the boardroom table and used by all the men. It is consensual, but she’s railroaded into it.
    Maybe I didn’t like it partly because he uses their business deal to get to her and so demeans her abilities and her standing as a businesswoman.
    She is helpless, she doesn’t know what’s going on, and he uses that helplessness to restrain her. She’s fastened into a machine, and gagged with a ball gag, which isn’t my thing at all, but because I enjoy Joey Hill’s work and I usually trust where she takes me, even if it’s beyond my personal comfort zone, I read on.

    Honestly, I really don’t know why this story didn’t work for me. Perhaps because it uses humiliation as a theme, and for me, that’s a big hot button. I would love to understand why. It didn’t just not work for me, it disturbed me, and I rarely have that reaction to anything I read.

    I won’t be reading this story, but I will definitely be picking up the next Joey W. Hill novel in the mermaid/angel series, and any more Natural Law books she writes.

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  13. Jane
    Nov 27, 2008 @ 20:46:24

    @Ann Somerville: It’s told from two POVs.

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  14. K. Z. Snow
    Nov 28, 2008 @ 09:45:46

    Jane, you really should give Denise’s story a chance. I haven’t read this anthology, but she’s a wonderful writer. You could be missing out.

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  15. Jaci Burton
    Nov 28, 2008 @ 21:14:25

    As always, Jane, thank you for reading, and for the review. :-)

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  16. CJ
    Nov 29, 2008 @ 20:55:21

    I gotta say, I’m with Jane here. And I’m not squeamish about BDSM as a kink. But it’s one thing if the characters are doing this in the bedroom, but a boardroom? With teleconferencing involved? I personally don’t find that sexy at all. Jane has a valid point- women fight to be taken seriously in business. And if she’s consenting after the fact… well, the point of consent is for it to take place beforehand. And I’m also not fond of stories where the hero “knows” what’s best for the heroine (or vice versa, or hero/hero). It’s demeaning to say (especially repeatedly) that someone doesn’t know their own mind, or what’s best for them.

    I’ll probably end up reading it, because I’ll be buying it for Jaci Burton’s story (whose books I seriously heart).

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  17. CJ
    Nov 30, 2008 @ 18:37:12

    My previous post was supposed to end with “but I doubt I’ll enjoy it.” I don’t know where the rest of my post went.

    So, who else is going to read this when it comes out? Does Jane’s review change anyone’s mind?

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  18. Shiloh Walker
    Nov 30, 2008 @ 19:36:22

    I’ll be picking it up, CJ.

    I love Joey and Jaci’s writing. Now Joey’s very good at pushing me past my comfort zone and there’s been a few books of hers that were very hard for me to read, but I’ll still read this one.

    That cover, by the way, makes me green with envy. Very, very pretty.

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  19. Joey W. Hill
    Dec 01, 2008 @ 14:09:00

    Jane, I always respect your opinions of my work, and appreciate your time in reviewing the book. When you write what I write, you know the same premise that works for one reader, will not work for another. I think the comments have demonstrated that wonderfully. Reviewers help readers make choices based on the reader's particular interests, and therefore I'm always delighted to have reviews of my work – particularly thoughtful, detailed reviews such as yours, even if they're not always glowing (laughter). That tells me you're honest, and I like an honest reviewer. I suspect readers do, too.

    So my only real comment echoes KZ's – Denise's story, like all of her work, is outstanding. And while yes, it has otherworldly elements, being an anthology, the central focus is the rediscovery of love between John and Meg, and their willingness to overcome the pain of the past. If you get a chance to read it, I think you'll very much enjoy their love story. Like most of us in this industry, you might not get much time to read purely for the pleasure of it – that one would be a great choice for an hour’s escape!

    Thanks again, and thanks for the interesting and thought provoking discussion of Unlaced!

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  20. Jasmine Haynbes
    Dec 01, 2008 @ 16:10:38

    Thank you for taking the time to read and review, Jane.

    ReplyReply

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