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REVIEW: Naked by Megan Hart

A note to readers: Since I felt it was impossible to discuss my reaction to this book without revealing something that happens near the end of the story, my review contains some spoilers. — Janine

Dear Ms. Hart,

Back in October, when we hosted this guest post on cultural appropriation, many of our commenters mentioned that they wanted to see more white authors tackle minority characters in central roles. Now comes your book, Naked, which has a biracial (part African American and part white) heroine.

Naked by Megan HartOlivia has an interesting background. She was adopted into a white family; her father is Catholic and her mother Jewish. Her parents are divorced, and each wants Olivia to choose their religion. Olivia feels like she has a foot in each world, but doesn’t really belong in either one. Maybe this is what draws her to Alex, who is bisexual.

Readers of Tempted (reviewed here) and/or of the Spice Brief “Everything Changes,” which I recently reviewed here, will be familiar with Alex, a character who has been through the wringer in one of his past relationships.

Olivia first spots Alex at a holiday party thrown by her ex, Patrick. Patrick is gay — he and Olivia dated when he was still closeted, and when he came out to her she broke up with him. Patrick warns Olivia that Alex “doesn’t like girls” but that doesn’t turn out to be true. Alex likes both boys and girls.

Olivia sees Alex with another man at the party and assumes he’s gay. But Alex breaks up with that guy and Olivia, who lives in a converted fire house that functions as a duplex, offers to rent him the second apartment in her building. Alex, who is very wealthy, having sold his business in Singapore and gotten a load of money for it, takes the apartment and he is clearly attracted to Olivia, but at first she thinks the attraction is only on her side, since she believes he’s not into women.

Alex and Olivia watch DVDs together and he helps her paint her photography studio. Eventually that turns into a sexy photo session and one thing leads to another. The sex is great, but Olivia has been burned by her relationship with Patrick, and the last thing she wants is to be involved with another gay man.

A good portion of this book was romantic as well as sexy. Naked has some of your most sympathetic main characters and this is especially true of Olivia, the book’s first person narrator. She is hard working, caring, torn between cultures, bruised by her past with Patrick and overwhelmed by her feelings for Alex.

Olivia's identity issues regarding race and religion were interesting to read about. Not being biracial or adopted into a two-religion family that doesn't share my racial heritage, it's hard for me to judge how accurate this portrayal was but I did think it gave her character dimension.

Having read Tempted, I was also rooting for Alex, and he was sweet to Olivia in Naked, though I wish I had gotten a sense of what it was about Olivia that made him treat her differently than he treated most of the people he'd slept with.

I liked Olivia very much, and I thought perhaps the answer to Alex's attraction to her lay in their shared sense of being different from others, torn between two worlds. Olivia felt she was neither fully black nor white, neither Jewish nor Catholic, while Alex was conscious of being neither gay nor straight. But I would have liked to have seen this commonality mined more, and to have more insight into Alex's end of their attraction.

Alex was something of a mystery in this book. I think it's necessary to read Tempted and perhaps also the Spice Brief “Everything Changes” to have a better understanding of him, so I don't feel this book stands on its own that well. Even having read “Everything Changes” and Tempted, I still feel I’m missing some pieces of Alex’s character and I wish he’d shared more of himself with Olivia.

My feeling was that Alex seemed a little too good to be true, at least where Olivia was concerned, until late in the book. There is something big in his past (anyone who has read Tempted will know what it is) which he does not share with Olivia, and at the end of the book, this secret blows up in Olivia's face.

There is no label on the spine of the book to indicate genre, but because there was so much emphasis on Alex and Olivia’s relationship it is hard not to view Naked as a romance, rather than just erotic fiction. But viewed as a romance, it doesn't leave me with a lot of optimism for Olivia and Alex's future, since their communication problems (Alex keeps things from Olivia and she is afraid to ask him about them) are so omnipresent in the story.

The secondary characters were a mixed bag for me. Patrick's motives seem even more mysterious than Alex's. I never fully understood his reasons for causing problems between Alex and Olivia. He seemed like an emotionally unhealthy individual, but was it Alex or Olivia that he wanted all to himself?

I enjoyed some of the side characters I had encountered before in your other books. It was nice to see Sarah, one of Joe's dates in Broken, in the role of Olivia's best friend, and Jack who appeared in Dirty and Stranger as a guy Sarah clearly had feelings for but whose profession (male prostitute) she could not accept. Elle and her brother Chad from Dirty also appear, but the turnaround in Elle's family since Dirty was hard for me to buy.

You make good use of details of both setting and character, which made the book feel truly contemporary, and specific rather than generic. I like that the characters have human flaws and deal with issues people in the real world grapple with but which aren’t always explored in contemporary romantic fiction. This is something that I really appreciate about your books.

I did enjoy this book and I'm not sorry that I purchased it, but I also doubt that I will reread it, because the ending left me with a shaky feeling about this couple's future that negates the warm glow I had about them earlier on in the story. C+ for Naked.

Sincerely,

Janine Ballard

Book Link | Kindle | Amazon | nook | BN | Borders
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Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

9 Comments

  1. Tweets that mention REVIEW: Naked by Megan Hart | Dear Author -- Topsy.com
    Aug 09, 2010 @ 11:05:51

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Janine Ballard, Janine Ballard. Janine Ballard said: My review of Tempted by Megan Hart incl spoiler warning. I couldn't discuss my reaction to this book without spoilers http://bit.ly/cfWn1q [...]

  2. Sayoko
    Aug 09, 2010 @ 12:44:53

    Alex became instantly one of my favorite characters when I read Tempted in 2008, so I was eagerly waiting for this book. Happily I wasn’t disappointed.
    I give Naked a B+. I would have given it an A if only Alex had been less of a mystery, as you say.
    Still, I liked it much better than Tempted, which was a little too bitter for me.
    Naked is more of a romance compared to some of Hart’s novels, but it’s still in her style. I don’t feel shaky about the couple’s future. I found the ending believable and rewarding… So much better than those Disney-like fairytale romance endings that some other authors write.
    The writing is always remarkable, especially if compared to the average fare in contemporary romance, where it’s so hard (IMHO) to find authentic and distinctive writer’s voices.
    As to the sex scenes, I’m happy to say that I haven’t found them repetitive or unnecessary, as was the case with Deeper and Dirty.
    I wouldn’t suggest either to read this book without having read Tempted first… But really, I would suggest anyone to buy most of Megan Hart’s novels^^

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  3. Janine
    Aug 09, 2010 @ 12:55:15

    @Sayoko:

    I’m glad you enjoyed the book better than I did.

    The reason I had difficulty believing Olivia and Alex would be happy in the future wasn’t because the book lacked a gooey epilogue (I dislike many of those too) but because Alex and Olivia did not know how to communicate for 95% of the book.

    Every time Olivia had a fear or worry about Alex, rather than ask him about it, she would just stuff her feelings. And yes, Alex did say she could ask him anything, but there were things he should have volunteered (like the fact that he was bisexual, or the nature of the situation he brought Olivia into near the end) and he chose not to say anything.

    Yes, in the last scene or two of the book they finally open up to each other, but the pattern of not communicating was so established throughout the story, that those last few pages just did not compensate for it in my mind.

    I agree that this was more of a romance than Tempted, but I still thought Tempted was a slightly better book. Yes, it was more bitter, but it had a complexity I really liked.

    It’s a shame I couldn’t buy a happy future for Alex and Olivia in Naked, because I really liked these characters, Olivia in particular, and I wanted to see both of them happy.

    I agree that Hart has a distinctive voice and that is something I appreciate in all her books. Also agree that there wasn’t as much repetitiveness to the sex scenes as there was in Dirty and Deeper (though I still liked those books better than Naked).

    All this being said, Hart as an author is really worth checking out. My personal favorite of hers is Pleasure and Purpose, followed by Dirty and Broken.

    ReplyReply

  4. whey
    Aug 09, 2010 @ 23:27:09

    Megan Hart has a Fairy Cover-mother (that sounds like a curse word). Absolutely gorgeous.

    ReplyReply

  5. Janine
    Aug 10, 2010 @ 00:26:20

    @whey: Yes, her Spice books have gorgeous covers. I am less keen on the covers of her books for Berkley and Samhain.

    ReplyReply

  6. Joder
    Aug 10, 2010 @ 19:00:23

    Great review that really summed up my feelings about the book. I gave it a B grade myself. I actually was creeped out by Patrick from time to time because of his spitefulness towards someone he calls a friend.

    I haven’t read many of Hart’s books, so don’t laugh when I ask this….but have Sarah/Jack been together in the previous books? I so loved them together and would love to see more of them–possible future book.?.

    ReplyReply

  7. Janine
    Aug 10, 2010 @ 19:37:58

    @Joder: Thanks!

    Jack appeared in both Dirty and Stranger and I believe he had sex with both the heroines of those books. Sarah appeared in Broken where she hooked up with the hero of that book. I only read part of Stranger so I don’t know if Sarah appears in that book as well.

    ReplyReply

  8. Nia
    Sep 09, 2010 @ 03:11:46

    ****Spoiler****

    This was my first time reading a Megan Hart book. Without knowing the background of some of the characters… like Alex, for instance, I was scratching my head during most of the read. First I thought he was using Olivia to get back at Patrick. Half way through I finally accepted that he was in love with Olivia. But, by the end I was so confused. I kept thinking this Anne/James couple is random. Then, I’m like “Oh Crap” Alex is really in love with James. Now, I don’t like Alex and I feel like Olivia is settling for a man who she can never fully satisfy, because he has a closer bond with James. Arrrrr, what tha…? I had to do some research and read other reviews just to get some back-story here.

    Side note on story structure – Major conflicts with Patrick's character arise and then fizzle out. Also, there is no mention or hint of the Anne/James coupling in the first act, but it is the source of the conflict in the last act.

    I would like to give this book a B, but I can’t. It was a C, at best.

    ReplyReply

  9. C Summer
    Dec 18, 2010 @ 15:23:12

    I am in the middle of this book and went in search for reviews to see whether I should keep going or give up. I deliberately haven’t read Tempted because of other reviews mentioning the realistic but non traditional HEA for menage books and I wanted to see if Alex has a happy ending in this one first. To be honest, maybe it’s because I haven’t read the previous books but Alex is irritating at best. He seems very shallow and extremely unlikeable if you judge him by his other relationships in the book.

    This is my first Megan Hart and her writing isn’t clicking with me just yet. I’m a big fan of JR Ward, Lori Foster, Nalini Singh, Lora Leigh and I really like their “voices”. I feel like the book cutting too quickly to different things, like a TV show but without the visual aid that gives the big A-HA! to tie it together. I will finish the book but may think twice about getting another one from this author.

    ReplyReply

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