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REVIEW: Just Business by Julie Cannon

Dear Ms. Cannon,

I bought your book because I liked the cover.   Many of the covers this subgenre over-sexualized and off-putting (naked asses and o-faces!), or vague and flowery (Grandma is a lesbian?).   This one strikes a nice balance for me.   It looks modern and sexy.

Just Business by Julie CannonThe book doesn't quite live up to the cover, unfortunately.   The storyline isn't fresh and the characters aren't particularly modern.   I would describe Just Business as pleasant, but bland.

The blurb:

What should be just business becomes much more when two women agree to a deal that changes their lives.

Real estate tycoon Dillon Matthews, in the middle of negotiating the deal of her life, is stunned when the owner of the small parcel of land she desperately needs to complete her latest project presents the final condition she must meet to close the deal. Callie Sheffield is struggling to pay the attorney she has hired to appeal her brother’s conviction for a crime he didn’t commit. When Dillon and Callie meet by chance, they realize each has what the other needs. A simple business transaction will give them both what they need–until love threatens to derail the negotiations.

I'm not fond of business conflicts or tycoon heroes, so that may have played a part in my failure to warm up to this story.   I also felt that Dillon Matthews, the tycoon heroine, was a little too masculine.   As I write that, I'm aware that it is a straight person's criticism and might not be fair, so let me explain.

In all of the lesbian romances I've read, one character is more androgynous.   She has a manly name, she's tough or misunderstood, she works with her hands, etc.   Although the tomboy thing appeals to me in some respects, it also raises questions while I'm reading.   Which character am I supposed to identify with?   And, are all lesbian relationships so sharply defined?

In m/f romance, I know which character I relate to (the heroine) and which one I want to fall in love with (the hero).   In f/f romance, I don't automatically connect with one character or the other.   I'm not sure which heroine type I prefer.   A certain level of androgyny is sexy, and I love to read about daring, athletic women, but I also like softness and vulnerability in women.   I guess I would say that a mixture of female traits, rather than diametrically opposing ones, seems more familiar to me.

Okay, so the basic plot of Just Business is that Dillon is trying to make a lucrative real estate deal with an older gentleman, Bill.   Bill wants to see Dillon settle down and get married before he signs the papers.   It's a silly premise, but I've read worse.   Dillon meets Callie at a gay bar and they hit it off.   She brings Callie as her date to a business dinner, and then to a weekend getaway with Bill and his wife, Phyllis.

Bill and Phyllis think that Callie is "the one" for Dillon.   I'm not sure about this, but I got the impression that the older couple had a gay daughter who died.   They want to see Callie and Dillon live HEA.   Their involvement felt a little creepy, to be honest.   One night, for example, Callie gets the giggles in the adjoining bedroom.   Phyllis teases her about being noisy over breakfast.   The next night, when Callie and Dillon make love for the first time, I wondered if Phyllis was taking notes.   Mood killer!

Speaking of sex, my favorite topic, I thought this book would be steamier.   The cover quotes insist that you write hot.   An Amazon reviewer complained that this was a trashy romance novel.   I had higher expectations!   The first sex scene fades to black (an odd choice), and although there are frequent encounters, I found them to be fairly standard.

The main fault in Just Business isn't lack of sex, but lack of sizzle.   The conflict doesn't create any real emotional energy until the second half of the book.   After the couple gets married, Callie finds out that Dillon used her to seal the deal with Bill.   Callie agrees to continue the "happy newlyweds" ruse in exchange for legal fees for her incarcerated brother.   If the story had started out this way, with mixed feelings and reluctant sparks between them, it might have had more juice.   Instead, you presented a late conflict and quick resolution.

As I said earlier, I had a hard time connecting with Dillon.   She isn't an alphole (TM Jane?), but she resembles a Harlequin Presents hero, rich and driven and successful.   She wears mannish suits, including a tux, and isn't in touch with her emotions.   At one point, Callie tells Dillon's father that Dillon is "more man than he'll ever be."   I wasn't really-getting it.

Callie I liked.   Her relationship with her brother is gritty and difficult, and I could sympathize with her situation.

Overall, I found the story mildly enjoyable, and your writing style is smooth.   I visited your web site and was excited to see two upcoming releases with outdoor settings.   Sporty heroines are more my style.   Just Business, for me, was just average.   C

~Jill Sorenson

Book Link (pdf link) |  Amazon | BN | Borders | Bold Stroke Books

Guest Reviewer

9 Comments

  1. Jill Sorenson
    Aug 10, 2010 @ 15:07:44

    Sorry about that second sentence! It should read: Many of the covers IN this subgenre ARE oversexualized etc. Oopsie.

    ReplyReply

  2. Cathy in AK
    Aug 10, 2010 @ 17:28:04

    The relationship with older couple seems a bit odd. What kind of business person inflicts such a condition on a potential partner? It’s not a premise I can easily swallow anywhere, really. *Maybe* if it’s a family member who wants to see another family member settle down.

    As for the late conflict, does the earlier part of the story give Dillon’s thoughts/feelings about using Callie? I don’t mind a later external conflict addressed and resolved if there’s a solid inner conflict connected to it set up beforehand.

    Thanks for the review.

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  3. Jill Sorenson
    Aug 10, 2010 @ 19:22:58

    @Cathy in AK: Yes, these kinds of arrangements are only made in romance novels, it seems.

    If I remember correctly, Dillon shows some self-awareness as far as using Callie. She doesn’t intend to hurt her and is just so focused on business that the emotional stuff is foreign to her.

    You’re welcome. :) I enjoy writing the reviews but it’s hard to find anyone who has read the book to discuss it with! Let me know what you think if you try it. I would definitely read more from this author.

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  4. Jill Sorenson - Blog
    Aug 11, 2010 @ 07:45:28

    [...] review for Julie Cannon’s Just Business is up at Dear Author. Please ignore the TWO typos in the second line. *headdesk* You know, this [...]

  5. LVLM
    Aug 11, 2010 @ 09:30:12

    And, are all lesbian relationships so sharply defined?

    No, I don’t think so. Or that’s my experience. I’ve read lots of lesbian or f/f in which the characters are not so male-ish or callously aggressive against a softer or more naive female character.

    It sounds like the author didn’t really bring out the characters in a three dimensional way and tried to convey tension by extreme power differentials.

    I think it works really well if the characters grow and change during the course of the book so that they are not so cut and dry, black and white.

    I personally like a power differential in f/f because if both women are too much the same, it’s really boring. There’s no tension. But it can go too far in the other direction like it seems happened in this book.

    You kind of gave this book a slightly negative review, but I wonder what about it or the writing means that you would pick up another of this author’s books?

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  6. Jill Sorenson
    Aug 11, 2010 @ 09:50:16

    @LVLM: Thanks for weighing in on power differentials. I’m becoming more interested in that subject as I read more lesbian romances.

    As far as the grade, I don’t consider this review negative. Maybe it’s easier for me to describe what didn’t work, rather than what did. I will think about that. The C reflects my inability to relate to Dillon. It was a lack of familiar female traits, I suppose, not a flawed characterization. I grade books on my enjoyment, which is just so personal and subjective.

    I would try Cannon again because she writes well and I enjoy hot contemporaries.

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  7. kirsten saell
    Aug 11, 2010 @ 11:26:29

    I’ve found it’s so much easier to write f/f/m than it is to write f/f, *because* having one heroine be more masculine and the other more feminine is what appeals to me. In the f/f I particularly enjoy (whether it’s presented in the context of pure f/f, f/f/m or m/f+f), there is always one woman who is the top and the other the bottom, even if those roles are subtle and changeable. But I’ll admit, I’ve struggled quite a bit with it in the pure f/f story I’m writing at the moment.

    When you write f/f/m, you have that male foil there to bring out the dominant heroine’s more feminine traits, her softness and vulnerability, and those are traits that don’t always come into play when writing strictly about two women falling in love–especially if that power differential is there.

    It’s such a fine line to walk in f/f, creating that dynamic without going just a little bit (or a lot, lol) too far.

    But don’t assume you enjoy the subtle D/s dynamic because you’re straight–I’m bi and that power exchange is what appeals to me. It can be subtle, but when it’s not there the whole romance is just dull dull dull.

    ReplyReply

  8. Jill Sorenson
    Aug 11, 2010 @ 19:45:38

    @kirsten saell: You’ve hit on a interesting point about the masculine presence because I love a tough/tomboy heroine in m/f. I think I’d like it in f/f as long as there’s some subtlety or elasticity there. What I don’t enjoy, in any genre, is no give-and-take.

    And maybe I prefer my romanticized view of lesbianism, which is very soft and pretty! I’m still figuring it out.

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  9. bibiromantic
    Aug 19, 2010 @ 12:17:59

    And, are all lesbian relationships so sharply defined?

    No. But lesbian readers may fall anywhere on the high-femme-through-”I don’t care”-through-butch continuum. That’s my guess for why there’s so often a butch-ish/androgynous one and a more-femme one in lesbian romance. Really, after all, lesbians are a good chunk of the overall population, so it wouldn’t make sense that women would pair up in alpha-butch/lower-status femme sets ALWAYS.

    ReplyReply

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