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REVIEW: Inside Out by Lauren Dane

Dear Ms. Dane:

After I read Coming Undone, I was struck by the lack of either emotional angst or emotional conflict between the characters yet I found myself liking the characters quite a bit.   They acted like grown ups, albeit totally put together, free of drama, grown ups, but it was a nice alternative to the high agnst books I usually read.   I wanted to try out another Brown book because the people are so likeable so I picked up Inside Out as soon as it hit my doorstep.

About 4 chapters into the book, I started getting confused because all of the characters’ names seemed to start with vowels.   Then I realized that all the heroines in the Brown family books had names that started with E: Erin, Elise, Ella.   Then I noticed another striking similarity.   All the heroines in this series were formerly abused women.

There was no internal acknowledgment of this commonlity such as the three women met at a shelter or a battered woman outreach.   No, just coincidentally, one Brown sister was abused, one Brown brother marries an abused woman, and a friend of theirs is abused and hooks up with another friend.   At one point, I wondered if I had read Inside Out before, what with the similarity in names, past dating history, and even character speech.

Cope has a reputation for being a womanizer.   There was some confusion for me as to whether Cope played the field because he enjoyed playing the field or because he was waiting for Ella to heal from a past abusive relationship. He says that he knew right away that Ella wasn’t someone you played with but that he wasn’t ready to settle down. Things have changed and Cope is ready to set aside his predilection for no strings affairs and pursue Ella.   Problematically, everyone, even his family and friends, see Cope as a player so he has to suffer through each character giving him a lecture about not hurting Ella.

Ella works at Erin, the Brown sister’s, cafe.   She’s put her life back together after being in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship. Ella has fantasized a lot about Cope but given his reputation, kept her feelings to herself. Ella is a survivor and when faced with a serious flirtation with Cope, she’s ready to explore a relationship with him.

Inside Out, like its predecessor, has very little emotional conflict or agnst.   The story relies heavily on dialogue to move it forward, but the dialogue isn’t witty banter but ponderous monologues about self reliance and survival.

"I don't know really. Stupid huh? We had a close family growing up. My parents hung out with Todd's parents so much it was like we were all related. Todd may as well be my blood relation, we're that tight. Hell, our fathers have been as close as brothers until, well, you know that part of the story. I grew up fishing and boating, wood- working and carpentry. My dad and I used to do carpentry together. He isn't mad at me for taking Ben's side. I think he's just mad at the world for changing. He doesn't understand it, and instead of dealing, like everyone else, he's just throwing a tantrum. My mother had a hard time, but she worked it through. Ben is the favorite, so it was easy for her, I think. But my dad, he's sort of stuck there. He loves Ben, Ben loves him and he's still the favorite, even when they don't speak."

That’s a lot of talking.   Because the story is so dialogue heavy, I would have liked for the characters to have exhibit different speech habits.   But instead, if I closed my eyes or removed the dialogue tags, everyone sounded the same.   A simplistic example is that Ella, Elise and even Cope uses Pfft as an expression.

While Cope and Ella are good friends and have been for 6 years, the romance on the pages takes place over two weeks of time.   I would have liked to have seen evidence of their past relationship.   Given the types of discussions they had with each other on page, it didn’t seem like they knew each other very well which made me wonder how good of friends they truly were.   In fact they do so much talking and connecting that I started wondering when the sex would show up.   I think my expectation was that this was going to be an erotic romance. The first in the Brown series (featuring the first E battered woman) was a threesome.   The second, Coming Undone, had a strong sexual overlay.   Other than a couple fantasy scenes, the first coupling didn’t take place until page 139 and there wasn’t a lot of sexual tension leading up to it.

Probably the most compelling storyline in Inside Out isn’t the romance between Cope and Ella, particularly if you have read previous Brown family books.   Instead, it’s the drama that surrounds Cope’s brother, Ben, and his participation in a committed threesome with Erin, the Brown sister.   Ben’s family, particularly his father, finds this alternative lifestyle troubling.   It was also nice to see how the Brown family and friends are doing post their own romances.

If a reader is looking for a specific book, this Brown series has a lot of consistency.   Drama free contemporary romance about a nice community of individuals.   It’s kind of a book you read over the space of several days.   As there is little drama, you can put the story down and revisit it later without any loss of momentum.   I think what makes the Brown series interesting is the community of people that you’ve written about and their ongoing lives and how they intertwine. To some extent, these books remind me of Robyn Carr’s series where the books are less about the individuals and more about how the individuals make up a family of disparate people; or rather, the connections that people have with each other and how those connections sustain relationships.   Only, of course, the sex in the Brown series is much more explicit.     For me, however, the story was dry.   I’m not sure if I am up for another Brown book after this one.   C

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

13 Comments

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  2. TKF
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 16:02:40

    I’m all for a romance between reasonable adults, but how do you write a novel-length work of fiction where there’s no conflict between the protagonists?

  3. Joy B
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 16:26:25

    When I was halfway thru this book, it occurred to me that there was little relationship drama but I was okay with that. There was overall community drama and I liked hanging out with these people. The E names did start to bother me though.

    I think I liked this more than you did. I finished it the night before thanksgiving and was late getting on the road because I didn’t want to put the book down.

  4. Jaclyn
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 17:24:31

    I definitely liked this one more than you did.

    The conflict in this book, as I saw it, was how the hero and heroine dealt with their respective emotional baggage so they could have a happy future together.

    I found Inside Out incredibly refreshing because it’s been a while since I’ve read a book that was just about the developing relationship. They don’t have to save the world, stop a murder, solve a mystery or crime, explore BDSM, find a lost treasure, shift into an animal and naviage pack dynamics, or any other external problem. It’s a story about Ella and Cope and how they transition from friends to lovers.

    I agree with you Jane that the drama surrounding Cope’s brother Ben and his untraditional nuclear family is compelling, but I think this actually makes Cope more interesting as a character because we learn about Cope, his values and what he wants for himself as he defends and supports his brother in their family clash over Ben’s choice of spouses. Also, Inside Out is the first books I’ve read where the (harsh) reality of being in a three-some marriage is addressed.

    I agree Indside Out is more meditative than many romances. And at the time that I read this book, that was just what I wanted.

  5. RebeccaJ
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 18:21:15

    Similiar sounds names in romance novels is a big pet peeve of mine. But I think what ticks me off the most is that this is often mentioned in books for beginners. Why then are the editors allowing established writers to get away with this garbage time and time again? It makes for a very confusing read.

  6. Lisa
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 18:57:48

    RebeccaJ– I haven’t gotten to read this book but I want to. But speaking generally, the name thing can happen, especially in a series where the characters are rarely together and you are thinking of the book you are writing and/or editing.

    I put ROCK and RINEHART in my Knights of White series. These two characters were barely together in book 1 so I didn’t notice the “R” factor, nor did my editor. But we both noticed when Rock and Rinehart were together in key roles in book 2 and it was too late to change the names. R and R were hanging out there was not way out.

  7. Merrian
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 20:26:15

    My responses to this book are a mix of Jane’s and Jaclyn’s. I have read all the series and think the first one remains my favourite which is about how the threesome come together. I think that these are almost chick lit not romance novels. It seems to me that they are about family and asking what does family really mean and that is where the tension lies in these books. I also have liked them as Jaclyn says because the show the reality of making a non-traditional family work. They are not just about the dream.

    Re the names, I was confused too but then in real life I am surrounded by women whose names begin with either ‘L’ or ‘M’. I have four close friends beginning with ‘L’ including three Leannes, and then come Melissa, Miriam and Megan. It’s as if no other letters of the alphabet are there to be used.

  8. Jane
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 21:42:03

    @Jaclyn For me, I look at how interesting or compelling the central romance is and if it is not compelling, then it doesn’t work as a romance for me. It might work on another level such as the community or familial story. Perhaps Merrian is correct that this is more of a women’s fiction genre than a true romance. I never felt that Cope and Ella’s relationship was in peril and thus the lack of conflict for me.

    It’s not as if I didn’t like the characters, but rather I didn’t find their romance compelling. Individually their stories are interesting although Ella’s less so as it mirrored the stories of Elise and Erin, at least in terms of emotional arc.

  9. Jane
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 21:42:41

    @RebeccaJ I think the situation was heightened by having all three of the heroines being battered women. Beware the “E” names?

  10. Jane
    Dec 10, 2010 @ 21:45:18

    @Joy B I’m glad that it worked for you. I think the community aspect is the most compelling and is what would interest me in the next book – not so much Adrian’s romance but to see how everyone is getting along.

  11. Kaetrin
    Dec 11, 2010 @ 02:30:42

    I was a bit disappointed by this instalment and I felt really guilty about it and sad because I wanted to like it so much more than I did. I really really liked the first 2 books in the series but this one didn’t hit the same heights for me. I think I gave it a C/C-.

    I agree with Jane in that I didn’t think there was all that much conflict between Ella and Cope, the E names all bothered me and there just wasn’t enough of Ella and Cope – too much of the story was about everyone else – I felt the balance between community and family and the central couple was struck much better in book 2. Plus, I was expecting a hotter read, based on the previous books.

    Also, I felt that some of the dialogue between the guys was unrealistic – I don’t know any guys who talk like that – it was way too touchy-feely for me – especially since these guys are all supposed to be very alpha and dripping testosterone.

    I still plan to read the next book – I want to know who Adrian ends up with (please God not Raven though!!) and I’m hoping that one will be a return to what I liked best about the first 2 books.

  12. Estara
    Dec 11, 2010 @ 09:22:41

    I enjoyed the Brown Siblings books quite a bit, but I preferred her original version of this sort of storyline – The Chase Brothers series she wrote for Samhain (or which Samhain at least re-released, not sure) – only one of the heroines there is the victim of a formerly abusive relationship *wink* – and I liked the small-town America setting even more than the glamorous rock star and tattoo artist thing in this series.

    Even if the sex weren’t so smoking hot Lauren Dane would be a great contemporary romance author.

  13. Edie
    Dec 12, 2010 @ 04:32:26

    I must admit I didn’t finish this one.
    I think I am actually more of a fan of Dane’s ebooks than her mainstream.
    (The Chase bros series is a fave)

    I loved the first book, Erin was an awesome heroine.

    I think I am too immature, the dialogue starts to feel a bit preachy in the last two, and it is just so opposite of how I am used to people talking, it sort of goes by me.
    Which is a really poor way of explaining it.

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