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REVIEW: Bared to You by Sylvia Day

Bared to You by Sylvia DayThe Bare Necessities – Bared to You by Sylvia Day

I should probably say from the outset that I had real trouble with this book. When I first started reading, I thought it was going to be like The Black Dagger Brotherhood, not really my cup of tea but not something I would actively refuse to drink either.  Unfortunately, by about the half-way point, Bared to You had become evil tea and, frankly, I didn’t want it anywhere near me. I also want to emphasise that I understand some people really like these books and, although I’m probably going to dwell extensively on what went wrong for me, I absolutely respect that. I’m not here to judge other people’s reactions, I’m just going to tell you mine, and you’re at liberty to ignore them, or engage with them, entirely as you choose.

Bared to You belongs to that strangely specific subgenre: Dominant Broken Billionaire Seeks Submissive Human Female For Repetitive Sex and Regular Bouts of Angst. I know it’s kind of fashionable to look down on books like this on principle, but I’m always slightly troubled by knee-jerk hostility to any type of fiction, especially when I’m not its target audience. I don’t particularly like Twilight, for example, but I sometimes worry that there’s something more than a little misogynistic about the depth of contempt expressed towards this book that primarily appeals to young women.  I’m not saying that Twilight doesn’t have its problems, but I don’t think one of those problems is the fact that its vampires sparkle in sunlight.

By the same token, I’ve read Fifty Shades of Grey and, while I didn’t particularly enjoy the experience, I don’t feel I have any right to heap scorn on people who did. For me, the writing was so banal that I couldn’t really engage with the text, or even entertain myself by laughing at it, and I have real issues with its sexual dynamics and its portrayal of kink.  It’s kind of impossible to talk about Bared to You without talking about 50 because, regardless of the contexts that created them and never mind who did it first, they echo and mirror other inescapably.

What I’m having trouble getting my head around is the fact that Bared to You is both better and worse than 50 but, unfortunately, I think the ways in which it was better led to me to respond very strongly to ways in which it was worse. So while, for example the kink-idiocy of 50 is deeply annoying (no, Ms James, people are not drawn to BDSM because they didn’t have enough love in their childhood), it’s hard to really get worked up about it because it already exists in such a vortex of stupid. On the other hand, Bared to You gives a semi-supportable impression of knowing what it’s doing, which meant that when all the problems marched over the horizon like an army of enormous, tumescent cocks I couldn’t simply wave them away.

The plot of Bared to You, such as it is, kicks off with our heroine – Eva Tramell - moving to New York to take up a position as Some Dude’s Assistant at a huge advertising agency. In the opening chapter, she leaves the ludicrously beautiful apartment she shares with her ludicrously beautiful bisexual best friend, Carey, ostensibly to go the gym. However, hearing, I suppose, the ultrasonic whistle of plot necessity, she randomly veers into her place of work solely for the purpose of falling onto her arse in front of Gideon Cross, the sexyhotmagneticmanlymanman who owns the building. And apparently most of New York. At the age of 28. Sigh.

If nothing else, I suppose we can admire the rapidity with which Day immediately introduces us to the diverse themes of her novel: Gideon is hot, Gideon and Eva want to do each other, all other women are shit.  The reason, you see, that Eva ends up on the floor in front of Gideon is because some Other Woman drops her bag. Eva stops to help, falls over (because this is what heroines do), and thus attracts Gideon’s attention (because falling over apparently really turns men on). The Other Woman is so overcome by Gideon’s sexy manliness that she ignores Eva completely, despite the fact Eva was helping her, not Gideon.  I guess this is the male equivalent of the “everyone wants to rape you super power.” So hot it turns women evil.

And you can probably fill in the rest of the plot for yourself. In all fairness, I can distinctly remember a brief period of being genuinely, and somewhat helplessly, caught by the inane pendulum of Gideon and Eva’s relationship. The whole thing is ludicrous, and the characters consistently display the emotional maturity of (if I may borrow Giles for a moment) blueberry scones, but I felt Bared to You understood, and owned, its absurdity. It shares a lot of tropes and preoccupations with 50: a deeply intense relationship between damaged people with apparently nothing else going on in their lives, portrayed in excruciating detail. I can (theoretically at least) see the appeal of books that are so utterly steeped in minutiae. George R.R. Martin, for example, stopped writing books some time ago, preferring instead to chronicle exhaustively the happenings of his imaginary kingdom almost in real time. And I guess some of the fascination of 50 was feeling you could live Ana’s life with her (though why you’d want to, is another question). But to me, this isn’t what a book is for. I read fiction because I want a fictionalisation. I don’t want the moment to moment, I want the good bits. Or, to put it another way, I want the narrative to be shaped for me, given light and shade and contrast and context. I want themes, and images, and implication and subtext and meaning, dammit, I want meaning. I don’t want to find the story sloshed over my feet like vomit, and be left to sort through the mess.

When I was reading 50, I didn’t want to know how messy Ana’s hair was that day, or where Christian Grey put his socks before sex.  And, similarly, even though I found Bared to You noticeably more engaging, I still couldn’t be anything other than mind-numbingly bored as I found myself stuck watching Eva go about her daily routines of gym, work, talk to Carey, have sex and/or an argument with Gideon. I know it’s a personal preference thing, but this simply isn’t the way I want, or expect, stories to be told to me. It’s just a bunch of stuff that happens. It’s kind of the equivalent of a version of Cinderella which spent as much time on her kitchen chores as it did on the ball. Although, to give Eva due credit, she fusses with her hair way less than Ana Steele.  So there’s that.

There were occasions when I found the writing itself moderately effective. Whereas 50 takes place entirely in an over-detailed, under-realised vacuum (you know exactly how the furniture is arranged in Grey’s kinkpad but that’s not the same as knowing what it feels like to be there, I mean apart from seriously skeeved out and, perhaps, like you might laugh in his face), Bared to You does considerably better at creating some sense of time, place and reality. I enjoyed the descriptions of New York.  When Eva wore a frock, I knew what it basically looked like. And sometimes the dialogue is quite snappy, for example as Eva attempts to navigate Gideon’s frankly sociopathic attitude to getting laid, she retorts: “Why not [...] call it a seminal emission in a pre-approved orifice.” I liked that. But it’s all drowned in repetition: the same language, the same images, the same actions. Gideon’s long fingers. His very blue eyes.  The trousers that hang endlessly off his hips (well, what else are they going to hang off? His nose?) To say nothing of Eva’s monsoon-season cleft and Gideon’s huge and veiny dick. Again, I can almost see how this is effective – the sheer, gruelling relentlessness of it hammers your imagination into such a state of numbed submission that your responses become sort of trained. But this isn’t writing, it’s conditioning. Not in a sinister, mind control way, just a banal, depressing way.

I know I’ve made a few sweeping statements in this article about The Way I Feel Things Should Be – and I’d just like to emphasise (re-emphasise) here that I’m very much talking about myself, my own tastes and preferences. It’s just, for me, reading is an act of communication and interpretation. And there’s no space for that here.  Everything is delivered. Over-delivered. It’s like the author doesn’t even trust me to remember Gideon Cross’s fingers are long or his eyes are blue.  I know we are all individuals, we all approach texts differently and want different things from them, and that’s okay, more than okay, that’s a good thing. But I simply can’t respect a book that doesn’t respect me.

My problems with the text are manifold, but I still feel I should try and find something positive to say.  Eva is sort of low on actual, visible personality, because she’s the heroine of this sort of book but, considering she can take nourishment without requiring third party intervention, in purely evolutionary terms, she’s a massive upgrade on Ana Steele. She has a traumatastic backstory which – being in no position to judge – I felt was handled sensitively, sensibly and non-stereotypically.  For the most part, anyway. There’s a slightly disconcerting bit near the end of the book where Eva invites Gideon to finger her, lube-less, in a non-traditional orifice (while they’re at his parent’s fundraiser). And this is apparently empowering because she normally doesn’t like to be touched there. She tells him:

“You can give me my body back, Gideon.  I believe you’re the only one who can.” (p. 332)

Maybe I’m missing the point – we’re in first person narration here, so maybe it’s meant to ring a million alarm bells – but I am deeply deeply uncomfortable with the idea that the best way for a woman to come to terms with her sexual abuse is for the right man to put his dick in her.

The Dry Fingering Incident aside (seriously, that’s an acquired taste, I can’t imagine a less effective way to make someone feel in control of their body than sticking your finger up their arse), Eva seems to have a pretty active and assertive sexuality, which was a blessed relief compared to Ana’s virginal cluelessness. She obsesses about doing Gideon just as much as he obsesses about doing her:

He was the kind of guy that made a woman want to rip his shirt open and watch the buttons scatter along with her inhibitions (p. 17)

And she’s just as freakily jealous as he is. At one point she nearly has some kind emotional collapse when she realises he has had sex with other people over the course of his life.  I mention this not because it made me think she was an admirable person I’d want to date, but because at least I felt she and Gideon were well-suited and mutually incapable of being in an adult relationship. To be fair, the same can be said about Grey and Ana, but she’s so unspeakably wet it comes across as a lot more overtly abusive.

Also, there’s been a vague attempt to give Eva meaningful relationships outside of her deranged, hot and cold fuckfest with a sociopath. She has parents, who care about her, albeit in slightly unhelpful ways (her stepfather showers in her money, her mother tracks her cell-phone), and there’s a semi-largish cast, most of whom have been delivered direct from Tokens R Us and exist solely to show the reader how awesome Eva is. For example, I think one of the first things Gideon’s father says to her is: “Your eyes are a stormy gray, yet they’re so clear and direct.” (p. 229) Oh wow, thank you, Physical Trait Exposition Man, without you I would have known so much less about our heroine. I dread to think how he converses with his son: “Your penis is so large and capable of bringing pleasure to many grateful women.” There’s also Eva’s boss, Black Gay Mark (two for one, oh yeah, score), and his boyfriend Blue Collar Steve, whose relationship is so “beautifully functional that it was a joy to spend time with them.” (p. 38) Because that’s why queer people have relationships. To please random straight women.

And, of course, Carey. When Carey first rocked up, I was disposed to be positive because he seemed to be a non-evil, non-fat, perfectly functional bisexual. I mean there’s this, of course:

No one would know from looking at him that he’d spent his childhood bouncing between his drug-addicted mother and foster homes, followed by adolescence in juvenile detention facilities and state-run rehabs. (p. 22)

Well, how would that look, Eva? People who have had miserable childhoods do not have to wear a special brand, you know. But, hey, the man’s had a hard life, put himself back together and seems to be a supportive, sensible friend for Eva so let’s, at least, take what we can get and rejoice for the one brief shining moment a fictional bisexual was not a complete social or sexual liability.

Aaaand, of course, Carey goes completely off the rails about halfway through the book, letting the side down by failing to be in an appropriately functional queer relationship. Tsk tsk. Didn’t he get the memo? He meets this trainee vet called Trey who is clearly the Good Sort of Gay, as evinced by the fact he is not “flashy”, wears jumpers and does wholesome things with Carey like Snuggling and Cooking Dinner. Then Carey cheats on him with some blonde woman (aaaah bisexuals, can’t trust ‘em) and then has group sex in the living room:

One woman was spread-eagled on the floor. Another woman’s face was in her crotch. Cary was banging the hell out of her while another man was drilling him in the ass. (p. 437)

You can tell this man is a Bad Gay because he is penetrating Carey, not snuggling him or cooking him dinner.  And heaven forfend that anyone would choose to have group sex for fun, rather than as a way to demonstrate they are deeply messed up and believe themselves incapable of being loved. I do, however, agree it’s slightly ill-mannered to use the living room for it without either informing or inviting your house-mate. And, of course, I know that people can, and do, use sex for self-punishment.  And I know that sexual abuse can lead to unhealthy sexual behaviour. But it’s not … inherently the case, you know. Also I think judging Carey’s sexual choices is a bit off from a woman voluntarily dating Gideon Cross. Just sayin’.

Which brings us rather neatly to the man himself. Look, I’m not even going to get into what a complete arsehole I thought he was. He’s a fantasy, a silly, overblown, no-holds barred fantasy. I mean he says things like this:

“Romance isn’t in my repertoire, Eva.  But a thousand ways to make you come are.” (p. 62)

I honestly don’t know how you’re meant to respond to a line like that. With helpless, horrified laugher possibly but I don’t really get much pleasure from laughing at books. On the other hand, I’ve found it fairly useful in my day-to-day life. Now, whenever my partner asks me to do pretty much anything I like to respond “Doing the dishes (or whatever it is) isn’t in my repertoire, but a thousand ways to make you come are.”  It hasn’t, as yet, managed to get me out of doing the dishes, but I live in hope.

The fact is, there’s no way Gideon Cross was ever going to work for me, because he’s just not my fantasy. I can’t find him anything other than risible and borderline abusive. Raging jealousy isn’t sexy to me. Nor would I find  it romantic if somebody replicated my bedroom in their house for when I stayed over. I would run the fuck away. Probably screaming. There are times when the book seems to openly acknowledge that Gideon does stuff that is seriously not okay (tracking Eva’s credit cards, for example, so he can stalk her) but I always got the sense it came with a nudge and wink.  That actually, maybe, it might be secretly kind of thrilling to be the centre of a maelstrom of obsession.  But, perhaps, that’s okay too. We’re all grown-ups here. We’re allowed to pick and choose our own fantasies.  It’s not for me to try and draw the line in the sand that separates abuse from titillation, subversion from reflection.

That said, there was one aspect of Gideon I found very very troubling, and that was the depiction of his sexual abuse experiences. I just don’t understand how Day could clearly take such care to portray Eva with at least some degree of sensitivity, and not extend that same courtesy to Gideon. Obviously, traumatic events affect our lives, and we don’t so much “get over” them as learn to live with them.  But just as it’s a big pile of not okay to suggest that we can be miraculously “cured” of unfortunate life experiences, it’s equally problematic to portray these experiences as necessarily rendering people completely non-functional.

I also recognise that, to a degree at least, it’s plausible that Eva has had all the therapy in the world and Gideon has blundered along, alone, in a complete mess. Although men and women aren’t aliens from different planets, we exist in different cultural and social contexts that are constructed from a wide range of factors, gender among them. One of the many deeply terrifying things about rape culture is that it works to normalise the experience of sexual abuse for women, while downplaying the sexual abuse of men. And don’t get me wrong, rape culture is infinitely more harmful to women than men, and I’m not remotely making comparisons here. The sexual abuse of women is an institutionalised problem. The sexual abuse of men is just shitty.  But rape culture wants us to believe that it’s natural for women to be raped and, consequently, unnatural for men. It essentially reinforces, from both directions, deeply harmful notions of femininity and masculinity. And because male sexual abuse strikes directly at the foundation of everything most men are raised to believe about masculinity and power, it’s a great unspoken.

On the other hand, I hate the fact that much of Gideon’s general unsuitability as a romantic partner or, indeed, human being, seems to be directly related to his sexual abuse. Sexual abuse, incidentally, that is only darkly hinted at over the course of the novel, which has the unfortunate consequence of turning it into a tantalising plot-tease, like a mad wife in the attic. To put it another way, I was made quite uncomfortable by the realisation that the primary consequence of Gideon’s childhood sexual abuse seemed to have been to turn him into a romance hero. Basically, it makes him controlling, possessive, obsessive, jealous and prone to inappropriate sexual actions. Essentially it’s made him dark and damaged, but in a terribly, terribly sexy way. I know there’s a long history of tortured heroes who are gradually healed of their inner torment by the love of a good woman but, to me, in this book, possibly because it’s contemporary, grounding that in actual sexual abuse crossed a line between fantasy and reality that I simply was not okay with crossing. Presenting a history of sexual abuse as an integral part of a romantic fantasy, like a three piece suit and a big dick, is … well … that’s a deal-breaker for me.

Take this scene, where Eva witnesses in Gideon in the throes of a nightmare:

“Don’t touch me,” he whispered harshly. “Get your fucking hands off of me!”

I froze, my heart racing. His words sliced through the dark, filled with fury.

“You sick bastard.” He writhed, his legs kicking at the covers. His back arched on a groan that sounded perversely erotic. “Don’t. Ah, Christ … It hurts.”

He strained, his body twisting. I couldn’t bear it.

I was not thrilled by this scene for a whole bunch of reasons. Firstly, I know this is a work of fiction and realism is not the only purpose of fiction but that is not a man having a nightmare. That is a fictional character hinting to the audience that something terribly dark and interesting will be revealed to them at a later date. It’s the equivalent of those conversations you get in thrillers where the villain is all like “Have you done the thing I asked you to?” and the henchman is all like “Yes but there were … difficulties, and so the object was lost.” It’s a scene that’s been specifically designed to keep you interested without actually telling you anything. I’m not wild about that device on a basic narrative level but when the plot cookie that is being dangled in front of me is, um, sexual abuse it just feels kind of crass and demeaning.

I’m on thin ice here because this is all very subjective and I’m aware that this scene is very similar to a lot of things I’m perfectly okay with, for example Rhys Trahearn in The Iron Duke had sexual abuse in his backstory and it didn’t bother me in the slightest. I think if I had to articulate the difference, it’s between the book hinting at the hero’s dark secret and inviting the reader to be enticed by the question of what that secret is (even if that secret turns out to be sexual abuse) and the book hinting that the hero has been sexually abused and inviting the reader to be enticed by the question of what form that sexual abuse took. I’m not sure how to put this, but I felt I was supposed to be interested in the juicy details, and that just felt creepy and voyeuristic.

Although I know you’re not expected to find the scene actually sexy, it feels to me like you are supposed to be intrigued by it and, perhaps, engaged by the erotic potential of bringing comfort to this beautifully wounded man in a moment of personal vulnerability. As always it’s  not my place to judge what people get off on, or how people read particular elements of particular books, but the way I read this element of this book made me the whole experience actively unpleasant.  At this point, I lost all hope of enjoying the outrageous excesses the book. I couldn’t even laugh at it any more.  It just left me feeling sad and depressed and kind of dirty.

53 Comments

  1. carmen webster buxton
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 12:19:14

    I absolutely loved the phrase “the ultrasonic whistle of plot necessity”! Almost too perfect for words!

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  2. leslie
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 12:31:31

    Terrific review……definitely your best to date……it’s so good I’m going to go read it again. Seriously good…..thanks.

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  3. CK
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 12:56:22

    “Doing the dishes (or whatever it is) isn’t in my repertoire, but a thousand ways to make you come are.” That needs to be stitched on a pillow for posterity :)

    Loved the review.

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  4. pamelia
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 13:07:39

    Great review! This book totally read to me like the author read FSOG and said, “I can do this better”. In some ways it is better — more polished and it appears it was actually…what’s the word?… EDITED. Still, I enjoyed FSOG a lot more than this one, because BTY was just so unrelentingly bonkers/nutso/cuckoo. I think having two emotionally damaged leads careening wildly about the streets of a busy and frantic city was kind of awesomely cray-cray. Still, I did enjoy the fact that when she wasn’t having an emotional meltdown (brought about by severe jealousy or abandonment issues or unrelenting horniness) Eva was a more witty and mature lead than Ana. I just could not glom onto Gideon though for many of the reasons you stated. Just too very OTT.
    I read the first 2 books, but won’t be reading any more in this series which has now apparently stretched to 5 books rather than the originally planned trilogy, so perhaps your invocation of George RR Martin was serendiptious! (Holy never- ending series, Batman!)

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  5. Jill k.q.
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 13:22:54

    wow, another one off my list. thank you for keeping at it, even with all the disappointments. hope you find a good one soon!

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  6. Lisa
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 13:28:35

    Please tell me u are going to review the Rush series from Maya Banks …U r review is the reasons that i dont read SD. You hit the nail on all the KEY issues with this type of Erotica .

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  7. Kierney Scott
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 13:44:34

    I just downloaded and read the series because every other woman on the planet has. I can see the appeal; the sex is hot and um…the sex is hot. The one thing that was missing for me is any sense of friendship or understanding of why these two people liked each other. Day does a brilliant job of capturing the sexual chemistry. Did I mention the hot and frequent sex? The pair also have a bond as sexual abuse survivors but I am not sure that is enough to base a long term relationship on. In the next book I want to see proof that Gideon will be a good husband once the crazy hot sex has died down. I just can’t see him getting up with a screaming baby at 3am. And that is my ultimate hero test.

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  8. lorelai
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 13:50:31

    This review perfectly articulates my feelings after reading Bared to You. I liked the first half and then it veered wildly off course for me for pretty much all the reasons you’ve listed. I had no desire to read the rest of the series – or Fifty Shades of Grey – as a result of reading BTY.

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  9. Lynnd
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 13:56:23

    Thank you for this review. You identified the many problems I had with this book. I thought going in that the premise was an interesting one (how two people who have suffered extreme sexual abuse develop a healthy relationship – I assumed the healthy relationship part as this is, after all a romance novel). I even bought the second book in the series in the hopes that we’d get some progress on that front – I thought it was worse and disturbed me even more than the first book.

    Thanks for also also putting into words exactly why I have given up on a Song of Ice and Fire (at least until Martin decides to finish the damn thing). I will not use your words to explain it :-).

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  10. Jenna
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 14:09:11

    As always, your review is fantastic. Your turn of phrase is so sharp it’s on two wheels. (See there, I did it too! Or not.) Anyhow, I appreciate your expressing your discomfort with how his and her sexual abuse is portrayed. The one thing that keeps killing romances for me is the level of dominance that there often is in the relationships. When it brings ups sexual abuse for the purposes of fetishising it’s just disturbing. As an abuse victim I can promise all authors that there is nothing remotely sexy about my past! It’s a lot more banal then that.

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  11. Meri
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 14:10:32

    I haven’t read this trilogy as the sub-genre you mentioned is not to my liking ;) But I did enjoy the review, and it convinced me that although it’s a totally different sort of book, you really need to read and review Outlander. Is that planned at some point in the foreseeable future?

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  12. Jennifer W.
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 14:25:25

    I really enjoy reading your reviews every week! I think this qualifies as genuine book rant. I am genuinely surprised that you had such strong feelings about it, since I personally am really enjoying the series. I am a real sucker for deep emotional angst. So I am delurking to ask about the last part of the review. While it is obviously artificial and a constructed to further the plot, I am pretty sure that’s the point. Eva (and the reader) needs to understand where Gideon is coming from but since Not Willing to Talk About It is one of his problems/coping strategies, the nightmare scene makes sense for the plot. I agree with you that it feels creepy and voyeuristic, but I think that is the way the author wants you to feel.
    The key conflict between Eva and Gideon is that while their sexual chemistry draws them together the way they each cope with their past trauma tends to trigger the other person. They are want to be together but they aren’t really good for each other. I have only read the first two books, but I still don’t feel like that conflict has been resolved. (And now its going to stretch to five books! Yikes!)
    Reading erotic fiction is pretty much an exercise in voyeurism, but you are making me really reflect on whether this is too much. I’m really not sure.

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  13. cbackson
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 14:27:05

    My two most significant problems with this book, which I have expressed before:

    1) No one is that rich at that age. Particularly not from traditional hard assets (real estate, business ventures). Make him 45 and a private equity guy, and it’s more realistic.

    2) Going to therapy can be a revelatory and incredibly useful experience. Reading about people going to therapy is roughly as interesting as reading a play by play of someone’s annual physical.

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  14. Jae Lee
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 14:34:56

    I had the same problems with this book that you had, without being able to articulate them quite so well, so thanks for that. But I found Bared to You to be engrossing in a way that FSoG was not. I spent 2 weeks getting to the 30% mark in FSoG before dnf’ing it and I devoured BtY in an afternoon. A big part of that was simply because BtY was well-edited.

    I do remember being impressed that Eva had been to therapy to help her deal with her sexual abuse (and other stuff), and that she didn’t seem to be embarrassed about it. It seems to me that in romances where there is sexual abuse, the characters are generally expected to Just Deal With It and then of course that usually segues into True Love Will Make Everything Alright. Which is part of the story here, for sure. But it was definitely nice to read about people in therapy without the stigma that’s usually attached (with the caveat that the acceptance is a gendered thing).

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  15. hapax
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 15:01:11

    I’ll confess that I made it about a third of the way through this book (and about ten pages of 50SoG) before DNF’ing-with-extreme-prejudice, but I loved this review; it pretty much articulated my suspicions of where things were going, and I why I didn’t want to follow along.

    I refer here to Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing Fiction and how books in this genre seem to fail at every one. Well, they seem to follow the letter of #6, but miss the point; and one would hope they adhere to #7, but a fair number seem to be written to cash in instead.

    But by violating the rest of the rules, they fail at the most important one, which is Number One: Do Not Waste the Time of the Reader!

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  16. Katie
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 15:04:08

    Just wanted to comment to say this was a brilliant review. Thanks.

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  17. AJH
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 15:29:48

    @carmen webster buxton:

    Thank you :)

    @leslie:

    Aww, thank you – I know I’ve been a bit hit and miss for you lately, so I’m glad this one was hit.

    @CK:
    Many thanks – really glad you liked the review.

    I feel Gideon Cross could inspire a whole series of cross-stitched homilies…

    @pamelia:

    We were trying to figure out on Twitter which had come first – I think it might actually have BTY, but it was re-packaged after 50 – maybe? We were vague. I got interested enough to read the internet a bit and there’s an interview with Day where she says she was specifically addressing Harlequin tropes. But I still think it serves pretty well as an answer to 50, and I think authors trying to do 50 “better” (or “right” if you prefer) is entirely legitimate as this is clearly a fantasy with some mileage, and that’s cool.

    As I said in the review the better/worse paradox really threw me, because I think I’d have been fine if I’d been able to take the book more, or less, seriously – rather than failing into this uncanny valley of fail.

    God, 5 books of Gideon and Eva arguing and having sex. God. Save me. Although I suppose in an ideal world they’ll also beat back the white walkers and unite the seven kingdoms…

    @Jill k.q.:

    Disappointments have actually been pretty rare. I’ve read books I’ve liked more than others, but this has been the only one so far that has generated an actual “no, get it the hell away from it” reaction and, as I said in the review, that was pretty personal. Usually I really enjoy my reading.

    @Lisa:

    Are you asking to me read the Rush series because it’s better or worse? ;)

    I have almost no experience in this subgenre so I honestly can’t tell the extent to which the problems I had were subgenre problems, or book problems, or me problems.

    @Kierney Scott:

    Obviously I’m not the target market but, for me, it sort of failed proposition one. I can’t really buy into sexual chemistry without emotional chemistry. I know this probably makes me sound a bit ridiculous but since I’m not really in the habit of reading books as, um, erotic material – for me to find the sex remotely engaging, I have to also be engaged with the characters and care about their happiness.

    Also, you know, the book has to have taken me out to dinner first.
    I suspect we probably look for, err, different things in a romantic hero – good husband material wouldn’t really trouble me, as (again, just for me) a successful relationship doesn’t necessarily need the marriage / child structure. But not being a raging sociopath would be a good start ;)

    @lorelai:

    Yes, the book had just won me over to what Pamelia called its “awesome cray-cray” when it … did that veering thing and left me feeling pretty miserable actually. I was so troubled by the portrayal of Gideon’s sexual abuse that I almost read the second book, because I wanted to know if I’d misjudged it horribly and there were subtleties at work here that weren’t apparent in the first volume. But then it occurred to me that I could, well, not do that.

    @Lynnd:

    In which case, I’m glad I didn’t read the second book – I was actually tempted, even though I knew I’d probably hate it, because I had hopes it would get better or, at least, address my anxieties somehow. Again, I agree with you, interesting premise. And fair play to Day for that. God, that sounds like faint praise. But I had such problems with the portrayal of Gideon’s sexual abuse it’s hard to really say more.

    On the other hand, on the subject of A Song of Ice and Fire, I’ve found the HBO series delivers all the pleasures of A Song of Ice and Fire (and admittedly all the eye-rolling – wait, more tits, seriously? How many tits do you think I need to see, per minute, in order to keep watching the TV?) without the page count and the endless waiting between volumes.

    @Jenna:

    Oh classy, I see what you did there, thank you :)

    I’m very jumpy around fictional portrayals of sexual abuse – after all, survivors are monoliths and what looks fetishizing to one person might look fine, or even sensitive and nuanced, to someone else. For me, personally, BTY fell very much into the former camp, at least as far as Gideon was concerned. Obviously I’m in no position make judgements about Eva but, to me, it felt like her experiences were handled with a lot more sensitivity. However, by the end of the novel it had sort of fallen into the “what you need is a good dominating” trope – which probably wouldn’t bother some people, but could easily seem deeply skeevy to others. And obviously I know that dominant man and kinky sex is a fantasy and, for that matter, an expectation of this sub-genre but it becomes potentially problematic when it intersects with sexual abuse and, y’know, “healing”.

    @Meri:

    Oh, Outlander is on my list but I confess I let it slide quite a long way down on account of being a gazillion pages long… bad AJH.

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  18. AJH
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 16:22:18

    @Jennifer W.:

    Thank you :) A genuine book rant, eh? Do I get a prize?

    First off, I should probably say I obviously respect your right to like these books and have a different reading of them to mine.

    I think the thing about the nightmare scene is that it feels … God, this feels like a weird thing for me to say, and sorry if it’s inappropriate and appropriative … but it felt objectifying, to me? It felt very much to me like Gideon’s sexual abuse was being used as plot coupon, rather than as an experience a person has had. I recognise that obviously the information had to be delivered to the reader, and to Eva, but it felt like it was being done in a constructed and teasing way. I genuinely felt like this man’s sexual abuse was something, on some level, I was supposed to be turned on by – not the literality of the actual abuse, but the idea of this very manly man having had this quite emasculating thing happen to him and the way that vulnerability is used to emphasise Eva’s role in his healing process.

    I agree that some element of voyeurism is probably part of a lot of erotica, and that’s absolutely fine. I think everyone draws their lines in different places and it’s certainly not okay for me to tell you where to draw yours. Similarly what’s bad-creepy and what’s good-creeping or interesting-creepy are very personal.

    For me, it’s not the fantasy itself that’s the problem, it’s this particular portrayal of that fantasy. Does that distinction make any kind of sense?

    @cbackson:

    I do see why those elements trouble you. For me, although I sighed and cringed a bit when I discovered Gideon is, like, 12 (okay 28) I was basically willing to go with it as a genre trope. Also I guess I don’t feel entirely comfortable complaining that other people’s fantasies are realistic enough for me. After all, I regularly read books in which 16 year olds regularly become internationally renowned musician sorcerer warriors. Obviously, some people might really like a 45 year old hero, but for some people it might be a complete turn off – I don’t want to make generalisations but I think what’s normal, or realistic, becomes contextualised by your own age. 45 looks kinda sprightly from around 30, but I’m pretty sure I would have considered it near death when I was 21.

    But I’m definitely with you on the therapy thing.

    @Jae Lee:

    I definitely agree with you that BTY was a much more engaging read than 50 – and although I don’t like that very detail-heavy narrative structure in general, I found the writing carried me through some of the more tedious gym visits and burger eatings.

    Also, again, not my place to judge, but I thought Eva’s therapy, and her reactions to abuse, seemed quite sensitively portrayed to me. And I liked how adapted she was to dealing with it – very self-aware of her needs and triggers and, as you say, open about it, and much more troubled by logistical things (like public scrutiny) than personal shame or anything like that. That was partially why I was so startled at the general awfulness of Gideon.

    @hapax:

    Thank you :)

    Do you mind if I be really picky for a moment? Sorry, feel free to throw tea at me. I do very much see your point, but I’m sort of generally bothered by rules about stuff … especially rules about writing. I mean, as much as I like Kurt Vonneugut, his rules for writing fiction are more kind of, well, rules for writing like Kurt Vonneugut. As I said in the review, I find books written in the minutiae heavy style of 50 and BTY rather time-wasting, but another reader might not. Another reader might find it really absorbing and pleasurable, and therefore feel their time has been entirely well spent.

    I don’t know if BTY was written before or after 50 – maybe I’m naïve and Sylvia Day is diving, cackling, into a big money pool like Scrooge McDuck as I write this but, even though I know the book was a huge financial success for her, to me it didn’t feel like a deliberate or cynical cash-in. As someone said above, it seems like a good-faith attempt to do 50 “better” or, if it came first, or just to tell that story, which I think is kind of laudable. It’s obviously a potent fantasy for a lot of people and they entitled to have it served. There’s no rule that says an emotionally intense, highly sexual story about a human female and a billionaire has to be either terrible or a cash-in or, for that matter both.

    Of course I still didn’t like BTY but that’s a different sort of problem – arguably mine :)

    @Katie:

    Thank you – glad you liked the review :)

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  19. Tinley
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 16:22:29

    This review was awesome! Not only were you totally right in almost every criticism, you made me laugh out loud. Thank you for writing this and I can’t wait to read more of your reviews!

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  20. Lynne Connolly
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 16:28:11

    I’ve written books with males who’ve been raped and about women who’ve been raped (they’re always well labelled and I never, ever, turn the rapist into a protagonist) and the research for these are harrowing. I tend to start the stories at least six months in, because they’re about how the person deals with it, not the act itself.
    It’s an incredibly difficult subject to write about, and I don’t go there very often because I find myself emotionally drained.
    One of the things I find troubling about the (many) books I read that involve one or both of the characters suffering childhood abuse of one kind or another is the way it is used as a plot point, and at some point the characters say, “Love has cured me!” or “Oh well, that’s okay then.” As if the door is closed.
    Thanks for the review.

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  21. Ducky
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 17:27:59

    Well, I hated this book and the two main characters and their bizarre and repetitive sexual relationship so much that I just gave up on it before the ending.

    Your review has given me one positive thing to do with this book – thank you for that. Your writing makes the crappy subject bearable and even enjoyable.

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  22. Jennifer W.
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 17:52:40

    @AJH:

    Thank you for your response. What I think you are saying is: the depiction of Gideon’s sexual abuse, rather than show Gideon to be a more complex character and provide insight for his previous behavior (which is how I read it) is being treated by the writer like some sort of figurative snapshot passed around to us readers in a highschool locker room so we can titter and speculate about it. “Oh I wonder what happened to Gideon? He’s such a mystery! I hope Eva’s Magic Hoo Hoo will fix him!”
    And that this treatment is belittling and demeaning to, maybe not Gideon himself since he is imaginary, but to men like him who have suffered abuse like this. I guess I am the only person that wasn’t picking up on this in the book, but I honestly think BTY is trying to show how unintentionally damaging relationships can be. And questioning when you draw the line and stop trying to compromise. I could be wrong though. Apparently I have to wait for two more books to find out. BTW: The Book Rant is intrinsically rewarding as it lets you release the poison you are carrying around after reading a bad book. It felt good right?

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  23. hapax
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 20:18:10

    @AJH:

    I’m sort of generally bothered by rules about stuff … especially rules about writing. I mean, as much as I like Kurt Vonneugut, his rules for writing fiction are more kind of, well, rules for writing like Kurt Vonneugut.

    Hah. I probably should have added Vonnegut’s concluding note: “The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor…She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.”

    I agree with you more than not about “writing by the rules”, but I couldn’t resist referring to the Vonnegut bit because — well, besides y’know, *Vonnegut* — the list of rules pretty much encapsulated my frustrations with that kind of writing.

    (And, for the record, I don’t mind minutiae-heavy writing if it follows rule 4, which I would argue it does for Martin. After all, his world, with all its grit and tedium and pointless intrigue, is as much a character as any individual person. But Day isn’t GRRM, much less Flannery O’Connor.)

    And yes, I phrased that badly implying that Day was cashing it in. I do believe that she wrote the book(s) of her heart, as little as they are to my taste. I can’t say the same of the flood of bad BDSM that I’ve seen follow on the success of her and James’s books.

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  24. Benham
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 21:26:23

    “Again, I can almost see how this is effective – the sheer, gruelling relentlessness of it hammers your imagination into such a state of numbed submission that your responses become sort of trained. But this isn’t writing, it’s conditioning. Not in a sinister, mind control way, just a banal, depressing way.”

    This part of your review was especially phenomenal to read, that’s exactly what I’ve been thinking to myself the last few weeks. This whole relentless, repetitive use of phrases, actions, descriptions and the such, seem to pervade these books to such an extent that it seems to me they become almost hypnotic, if you will. It’s like the tick… tick.. tick of a clock someone is using you to numb your mind but elicit a specific response. I share the opinion that it almost becomes like conditioning, a way to beat the mind into Pavlovian submission to where your body/mind is trained to react a certain way. The This Man trilogy is guilty of this as well (having read it recently), and it seems to have done phenomenally well, so this particular trait is shared by all three series of books (FSoG, CF as well). This Man revels in the minutiae of Ava’s every thought, and every little event on her day to day routine, her constant repetition of how much of a GOD Jessee Ward is, how perfect, how sexy, and the repetition of phrases and actions is frankly OTT. Combine this with oodles of hot sex, fast paced prose, uber drama and the most ridiculously obsessive, over the top male you can come up with, and it seems to be a winning combo: hypnotic repetition interspersed with sex-scene delivered endorphins.

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  25. Lynn S.
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 23:05:12

    When a book starts to make a reader feel manipulated, the author has failed that reader. All of fiction is manipulative, making those strings vanish is the art. Much like last week, when Harrison made you notice the mechanics; once that stuff is seen, it can’t be unseen.

    From what you’ve said in your review, I think this book might better illustrate the problem I had with Jo Beverley’s Forbidden (as an aside, I said Serena was horribly damaged, not horrible), and with traumatized characters as plot device in general; it takes a delicate touch and stern resolve (a resolve which could easily become gloomy when you’re talking about five books) to follow through on what you’ve started and often authors drag it out there but ultimately desert it, and you’re left with a not-so-cute-anymore alligator dwelling in the pages of the book. I’m also curious about Day stating she was addressing Harlequin tropes and wonder if she meant to glorify, criticize, satirize, vilify, or simply laundry list them. I have this book, but I’m not certain now exactly what frame of mind would be required to want to read it.

    All of these trilogies, septets, octohedrons, etc., mystify me. It’s as if the hive mind of facebook decided to write a romance—it’s so very dramatic, but not really, and certainly not in any way that approximates something you should want to read.

    As another aside, Gaffney’s To Have and To Hold was brilliant.

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  26. Susan
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 00:04:12

    Hey, where’s the “what I learned” section? Were you too disheartened by that point to articulate anything further?

    You know, I think I may like the reviews of books you disliked even more than the ones you liked. But, in order to be truly scientific, I’ll need lots more material for comparison! :-)

    On that note, tho, I’m a bit scared for you to read Outlander. It’s one of those books where there’s a real divide among readers. I’m in the group that loves it. For a bunch of reasons, it’s kinda special to me and I’d be crushed if it fell towards the BTY spectrum for you. If you do end up hating it, let me down easy, ok?

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  27. AJH
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 06:44:16

    @Tinley:

    Aww, thank you. Glad you liked it.

    @Lynne Connolly:

    I can see how it would be a very difficult thing to write about, and equally difficult to do well since everyone’s an individual and reactions are so varied.

    I agree that the big problem I had with BTY was the plot tokeneyness of Gideon’s sexual abuse. Obviously because the series goes on for five books, I have no idea whether Gideon is going to be cured by the magic power of wuv or not. I think, to give Day credit, except for the weird bit about Gideon giving Eva her body bit, the presentation of Eva is very much about the way she’s learned to live with what’s happened to her, rather than her being at any point “cured”.

    @Ducky:

    Well … thank you, I think :)

    If I hadn’t been reviewing, I would probably have DNF-ed it after the nightmare scene.

    @Jennifer W.:

    I think that’s a fair summary of my reading, although I don’t think I’d ever been quite that blunt about it :)

    I should probably say again, this is just my reading and no more valid than anybody else’s. I think it’s kind of unfair to you to say that you didn’t pick up on that aspect of the text – you just read those aspects differently, and you’re definitely not the only person who did. I had a conversation with a friend on this very topic quite recently and it felt like she read it in a similar way to you.

    This might be sound a bit weird but I think you book you read is probably the book Day was intended to right. I don’t think she sat down to minimise of the impact of sexual abuse on male survivors or anything. I genuinely think it is meant to be an exploration of how intense a relationship can be before it gets too intense and becomes harmful to everybody involved. Unfortunately it didn’t quite work for me.

    @hapax:

    Of course, Vonnegut :) To be fair, it sort of encapsulated my frustrations with that kind of writing as well. I’m just very conscious of tendency in myself to reach for authorities to lend weight to what are ultimately my subjective judgements, and I very consciously hold myself back from doing that.

    I think the difficult thing about Rule 4 is that what constitutes character varies a lot for different readers. To a fan of GRRM, as you say, Westeros is as much a character as Jon Snow and I suspect to a fan of BTY or 50, the minutiae of the characters’ lives are as much part of the characterisation as anything else.

    As for the sheer volume of Number Colour books, this is one those situations where I tend to give authors more credit than publishers. I’m sure the decisions to package and market and promote those books in ways that are similar to 50 is purely commercially driven but I tend to assume that the people who write the books do it because they really want to. There was loads of children’s fantasy after Harry Potter – much of it better than Potter. I think the way I prefer to look at it is that writers are also readers and so, if something is very popular, chances are some of the large number of people who like that thing will legitimately decide to write books that are like that thing that they like.

    @Benham:

    I found this comment really fascinating. That was part of the review of I was most sure and most unsure about at the same time, if that makes any sense at all. I’m very aware that, particularly in this genre, there is the sub-category of highly popular books that are usually described as “like crack” and part of what I was trying to do was unpick the crackiness.
    “Like crack” feels to me like both a descriptor and a dismissal, and I wanted to try and think about what it is actually that people find so compelling about this stuff. Obviously, not all cracky books the same. I know the BDB books are often described as cracky (and I did actually find them so far myself – I keep getting arbitrarily tempted to read more of them) but I don’t think they work in the same way. And I think you’ve pretty nailed the crack-mechanism of a particular kind of text.

    Having said that, I don’t want to be dismissive the validity of that kind of book or that kind of reading experience – even though, personally, it does nothing for me.

    I mean, if you’re reading for pleasure, as I hope most of us do, then there’s nothing wrong with seeking out a book you know you will give a trained pleasure response.

    I haven’t read the This Man trilogy – and I probably never will :)

    @Lynn S.:

    I very much agree that if a text makes you feel manipulated then that text has failed for you – but, obviously, different readers feel manipulated by different things.

    Embarrassingly I can’t remember where I saw the Harlequin tropes reference – I know it was an interview Day with somewhere but, um, citation needed. I just tried to re-google it but I can’t find it.

    Speaking personally, I don’t think it’s my place to tell other people what they should and shouldn’t want to read. This sort of book very much isn’t my cup of tea but people read for a variety of different reasons. A lot of fantasy readers seem to read specifically to find out Facts about a secondary world, which isn’t a motivation I can remotely understand, but it clearly works for them.

    As I said above, for many people the primary purpose of reading is pleasure and if you know a particular sort of book will be reliably pleasurable for you, then ultimately it makes sense to want to read books of that sort.

    @Susan:

    By the time I got to the end of the review, I was actually so demoralised I didn’t want to write a “what I learned section.” I had such a strong negative reaction to the book that anything I wrote would have been actively hostile.

    I think, to an extent, it’s easier to write negative reviews than positive ones – you can get all sharp and self-righteous, which sounds impressive, and there’s this weird sense that you’re putting yourself out there less. If someone dislikes a book that you like, you feel there’s something wrong with you, whereas if someone likes a book you dislike you feel like there’s something wrong with them. So basically liking books makes you a bit vulnerable, and disliking them makes you feel cool – and that’s something I very much want to avoid, because I’m sure it’s a fair or healthy way to respond to texts.

    I also think that it’s hard to like texts in a critically credible way (there are few reviewers on this site I really admire who do this well) because you tend to just want to go “omygoditwaswaesomeandbeautifulanditmademefeelamazing!!!” and that just makes people dismiss you as some kind of gushy overly emotional fanboy/girl. Whereas if you dislike something, it tends to lead you down more specific routes and it’s easier to make yourself look clever.

    Which is a very rambling way of saying, I’m actually personally invested in positive reviewing. Also reading books you like is inherently more pleasurable than reading books you don’t.

    Of the books I’ve written about so far, there’ve been texts I’ve liked more than others, but this has honestly been the only one I’ve actively disliked. So I think Outlander is pretty safe, even if it turns out not to be to my personal taste ;)

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  28. Jill Sorenson
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 07:44:41

    @Benham: I also found this comment fascinating. I can’t say I’ve seen this “hypnotic repetition” in action because I haven’t read this book or any like it. I’ve read many reviews for similar books, however, and I’ve noticed mentions of repetition, especially of the hero’s muscles, hotness, masculine endowments. Sounds like Real by Katy Evans? and K. Ashley descriptions of every meal. I’ve never heard the theory that readers are being conditioned or falling into an alpha sex trance. Interesting.

    I enjoy knowing what the heroine is wearing and eating, in a scene-building or transitive sort of way. I don’t need ten pages of muscles (or any physical description), but long fingers and blue eyes are the the kind of thing a lover would notice repeatedly. It’s not that Day doesn’t trust the reader to remember, IMO. Maybe she imagines her heroine being struck anew by these details. I’m a lazy reader, not necessarily looking for depth and themes and…brainwork. I’m tired at night when I read. I can’t remember the characters’ names half the time, let alone what they look like. True, I don’t read billionaire dom books or anything that sounds really hero-centric, but I think I understand the appeal of hypnotically sexy with synapse bursts of angst. Actually, does that mirror the sensations of female arousal? Relaxing, building pleasure, mindlessness, focus on physical, bam! orgasm.

    @AJH, you might try The Siren by Tiffany Reisz. I’ve heard it’s clever and kinky and well written.

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  29. Inez Kelley
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 08:59:40

    you might try The Siren by Tiffany Reisz. I’ve heard it’s clever and kinky and well written.

    God yes, this!! I would LOVE LOVE LOVE his take on The Siren.

    P.S. I really hope I did that quote thing right.

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  30. Linz
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 10:34:50

    I am sitting here struck by your review, and while I can see several points, I would like to, respectfully disagree. I liked it. Simply, Bared to You is a very strong example of what well-written, OTT angsty erotica can be. Bared to You was written after 50SoG, and, to me, reads like a better-written response, although Day has said she was inspired by the idea that messed-up characters can still have an HEA. She has said (not sure on exact citation either), her book Seven Years to Sin was a jumping off point for BtY. (Disclaimer: I haven’t, and won’t be reading 50, so my assumption of better-written is based on excerpts I’ve read.)

    I struggled at times with BtY because Eva is so reactive and flouncy. Part of what I wanted to see is how that would change. And, having read all three installments, it does get better. Another commenter said that Eva and Gideon trigger each other, and that is it exactly. To me, the way they were drawn together, and their increasing emotional intimacy (even shown in messed up ways), that then pushes them apart again, is the hook. It’s the crack. You know it’s unhealthy, that love isn’t, or shouldn’t be an addictive spiral, and yet, there’s a sense of trust that the characters will show enough growth not to be these messed-up hormonal adolescents. Since I’ve read most of Day’s backlist, I have that sense of trust in her writing. But that is the premise: two fucked up people fall in love.

    As for Gideon’s nightmares, again, I would disagree on the point of Day having done her research. The effect it had on you, and others, as readers is entirely subjective and valid. But I would argue that as his emotional walls start to come down, that makes him much more vulnerable and his symptoms of PTSD (following childhood sexual abuse) get triggered. Since the story is told in first-person, the lack of detail worked for me because this is the way Eva would clue in to Gideon having this history. He was not about to just tell her. And, to avoid spoilers, he’s built his world to be about control and not sought help because that didn’t go well when he tried. Gideon, until Eva, does not sleep with his partners. He has a fuck-pad and then leaves, keeping those worlds separate. With Eva, he lets her in more, and initially, it causes his old trauma to be triggered. And, although I don’t like the “magical peen” trope of sex fixing everything, Eva’s “you can help me get my body back” worked. She’s done her work in therapy–and continues to do so–but the consensual, accepting, loving touch can also be empowering, thereby helping to let Eva enjoy a broader range of sexual expression, instead of not liking any anal-play because it would be triggered. (One more: I believe the finger was not “dry” but had rather been “lubed” by her own “juices”–certainly not what you can find in a bottle, but not dry. :) ) Ahem.

    I enjoy reading your reviews. As a long-time romance reader, it is interesting to read reactions of relative newbies. Effective books, ideally, would “work” for readers familiar and newly-introduced to the genre. So, while the burning blue eyes and long-fingers were eye-rolling to you, it was not surprising to me, and was expected in this subgenre. Perhaps I should be more critical? :) I would say that I kept with this book entirely for Day, so I would encourage you to read some of her other books. You might like them.

    And, definitely, go read Outlander. Amazing, amazing book.

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  31. Jane Lovering
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 10:35:05

    Regarding the ‘minutiae’ thing – someone once said that novels should be ‘real life, but with the boring bits taken out’. I’ve not read BtY, but it sounds to me as though a lot of the boring bits got left in…?

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  32. AJH
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 11:54:58

    @Jill Sorenson & Inez Kelley:

    I’m pretty sure The Siren is on my list – but thank you both for the rec :)

    @Linz:

    You can disagree with me as respectfully or disrespectfully as you like :)

    For what it’s worth, I can see why someone who liked this genre would like this book, and why it’s a good example of the sort of thing it is. I agree that a lot of my problems with the book probably stem from disliking the tropes and styles of Intense Angsty Erotica – and I did try to flag that up in the review.

    I think, however, if you don’t mind, I’d like to clarify some of my problems with some elements of the text, particularly those relating to sexual abuse, Gideon’s responses to it, and the nightmare scene.

    It troubles me that the premise of “two fucked up people who fall in love” is so grounded in their status as sexual abuse survivors. It bothers me that those are treated almost as synonyms. There are lot of fucked up people who aren’t sex abuse survivors and a lot of sex abuse survivors who aren’t actually that fucked up. A lot of what I had difficulty with about the portrayal of sex abuse in the text was that it was treated as this faintly exotic thing that happens to other people – and, in Gideon’s case, as part of his appeal as this particular type of hero.

    With reference to the nightmares, I had no problem with him having nightmares or being triggered or, indeed, refusing to talk about his experiences. These are all entirely valid and well documented responses to traumatic experiences.

    What troubled me was the way the text seemed to present his experiences specifically to entice the interest and curiosity of the reader. It wasn’t about the lack of detail, it was the very specific level of detail – just enough to reveal to Eva, and the reader, that Gideon has been sexually abused, but holding enough back that you want to read on to find out exactly what happened to him.

    To me, this is a fundamental issue with the whole setup. Gideon is the sort of hero who would never tell the heroine he has been sexually abused but the plot requires that Eva find out he has been sexually abused and, as a consequence, it feels to me that his reaction to his abuse follows the demands of plot necessity not a good faith attempt to portray that person’s reaction to that experience. As I said in the review, it basically turns male sexual abuse into a plot cookie.

    Sorry to put words in your mouth but I think, from your comment, you’re suggesting that this is just a necessity of the text and of Gideon being who he is. But, for me, that the whole problem is that who Gideon is specifically constructed as an erotic fantasy – which essentially makes a history of sexual abuse part of his romantic hero portfolio, like his three piece suits, his massive dong and his expensive car. I’m not trying to judge other people’s fantasies but, to me, that is not a fantasy I am comfortable entertaining. At least not the way it’s handled here.

    I am certainly not disputing that Day did her research but a factually plausible interpretation is not necessarily also a sensitive one. Once again, I stress that this is very much my personal response to the text.

    @Jane Lovering:

    Entertainingly, that was the exact quote I had in my head when I was whinging about the minutiae-heavy style… but I didn’t use it in the end because I’m aware that what’s boring for me might not be boring or someone else.

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  33. Linz
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 14:42:31

    What reads as a plot cookie to you, is foreshadowing for another book to me. I think that’s why Day stretched it into the initial three-book series. I absolutely believe Gideon would tell Eva, because it would be unavoidable and obvious, since his reaction to his abuse history stands in the way of their being a couple who would be able to sleep in the same bed. She’s the first woman he really comes to love and by letting her in, he shows that vulnerability.

    And I agree that “fucked up” and sexual abuse survivor are not and should not be synonymous terms. Part of why the Outlander recs were being made is that it is still unusual for heroes to have such traumatic events. So, to me, it was a risk Day was taking to take the hotter-than-hot, inexplicably wealthy at a young age hero and give him such a backstory. IRL, childhood sexual abuse is all too common (1/4 girls and 1/7 boys by age 18), so pairing such a reality with this type of trope was bold. Gideon is a mix of old-school romance fantasy and all-too-human suffering. It would take more than one book to unpack all of it.

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  34. Meri
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 15:49:13

    @Linz:

    Part of why the Outlander recs were being made is that it is still unusual for heroes to have such traumatic events.

    I can’t say why others want AJH to read and review Outlander, but as the first person to have brought it up in this comment thread, I can tell you that it had nothing to do with the reason you suggest. Rather, I thought that AJH would find plenty to write about after reading it and the review would be entertaining. I’d rather not write any spoilers in case AJH is tempted to move it up the list, but although I have not read BTY, I am pretty sure that Jamie’s background in Outlander is completely different from Gideon’s in BTY (and not just because Jamie is an 18th century non-billionaire).

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  35. HelenB
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 17:24:07

    Detail heavy writing drives me nuts. I have been trying new adult books and have DNF quite a few because of this. A woman gets out of bed and gets dressed, we are told her type of shower gel, style and brand of every item of clothing, makeup etc. I DO NOT care, just say she got dressed for heaven’s sake and when the character is dwelling on her long glossy curls/short sassy style, well, who thinks like that about themselves!

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  36. CD
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 17:42:30

    “the problems marched over the horizon like an army of enormous, tumescent cocks”

    You do realise that I will be dreaming of an army of enormous, tumescent cocks chasing me into a vortex of vomit made up of the words “Dominant Broken Billionaire Seeks Submissive Human Female For Repetitive Sex and Regular Bouts of Angst”. Cheers for that, mate…

    Haven’t read this book and don’t intend to – it’s not really a sub-genre that appeals to me. If someone writes a book about a slutty female billionaire and dominatrix (aged 28) who goes on the prowl for trembling male virgins, then I’ll be the first in the queue… But on a serious note, I have to disagree with Linz in that, IMO, there are a disproportionate number of romance books with male heroes who’ve been sexually abused. Sometimes it’s done seriously and sensitively, for example with Kinsale’s THE SHADOW AND THE STAR or (arguably) Putney’s DEARLY BELOVED/James’s BROKEN WING. But other times, it feels like a tick box affair for certified male attractiveness next to toned abs and huge cock; or even worse, clearly written for the purposes of titillation.

    I remember a girl friend of mine saying that while men stereotypically go for the usual T & A, women stereotypically go for “projects” – nothing’s apparently hotter to us than a guy who’s damaged in some way and just needs our tru wuv to make better. Even, or rather especially, if that guy is a sociopath who kills/ruins other people’s lives… Nothing wrong with that as an idle fantasy, but it unfortunately easily leads to a fetishization (if that’s a word) of something that is incredibly serious and harmful.

    I suppose my thought in the end is that if Gideon feels real and believable, then BARED FOR YOU could be quite an interesting look at the effects of past abuse on the attempt to build a healthy relationship. But if the character is simply an amalgamation of Ridiculously Rich At Young Age + Toned Abs + Slutty + Blue Eyes + Sexual Abuse, then that definitely trivialises the subject matter, and I can understand AJH’s reaction.

    On a post script, if people really do want to read intense angsty erotica about damaged people finding love, then Megan Hart does this really well – especially DIRTY or BROKEN. Two of the most romantic/heartbreaking books I’ve ever read and no billionaire in sight.

    Second post script: I’m one of the few who found OUTLANDER entertaining but rather unmemorable – I actually much prefer her LORD JOHN books. I think people love it because of the subsequent books which continue Claire/Jamie’s story. I still haven’t got around to reading them because they are indeed huge…

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  37. AJH
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 18:12:29

    @Linz:

    I’ll admit that “plot cookie” was a deliberately frivolous word choice but, even if you call it foreshadowing, it’s still the same problem for me, in that Gideon’s sexual abuse is being dangled in front of the reader as something they can look forward to reading about in a future volume.

    I do understand that childhood sexual abuse is extremely common, and I am familiar with the statistics you cite, but that’s exactly why I feel that the teasing, tantalising approach taken in this book so problematic. It feels very othering, and even objectifying, to me.

    What you characterise as a bold and daring genre choice is – as you point out – the reality of life for more than 10% of people. I agree that it could be subversive or challenging to write a hotter-than-hot, inexplicably young billionaire hero who is also a sex abuse survivor but only if you approach it with the understanding that this is something that happens to a lot of people, and it’s something they just deal with. To me, to suggest that a man who is both successful and masculine and also a sex abuse survivor is somehow so outré or alien a concept as to be impossible to explore within a single volume is profoundly unsettling.

    @HelenB:

    I don’t know what you mean. When I get up in the morning, I spend many long minutes staring at myself in the mirror and narrating my physical attributes to myself…

    My favourite personal favourite hobby is to get deeply insecure about my most conventionally attractive features.

    If I was a heroine it would be that my eyes were too big, my legs too long or my boobs were too full. I’m not sure what the sure the dude equivalent would be. Maybe my penis too large and intimidating, or my cheekbones too chiselled.

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  38. PeggyL
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 19:53:27

    Fascinating discussions!

    I read hundreds of first-person Chinese “romantic” novels (many didn’t have an HEA) during my pre-teen and late-teens, so I considered I’d had enough of heroine-centric stories for this life and beyond. Thus it never occurred to me I had to read 50SoG; then came BtY, by an author who had written a few of my favourites. I struggled but the first person narration was one major deterrent, not to mention it’s a series. I know I just can’t bear not knowing the hero’s thoughts over the span of a few books. Now, *if* Day could switch the last two books to Gideon’s perspective, then (maybe?) I’d consider reading them – I’m not sure if I can start from the very beginning, though.

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  39. Ducky
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 20:08:04

    @CD
    “On a post script, if people really do want to read intense angsty erotica about damaged people finding love, then Megan Hart does this really well – especially DIRTY or BROKEN. Two of the most romantic/heartbreaking books I’ve ever read and no billionaire in sight.”

    I suspect the target audience for “Bared To You” and books like it doesn’t want to read about damaged people whose problems and conflicts have the whiff of realism. Also no super-cocks there and endless navel-gazing.

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  40. Worst Song Played on Ugliest Guitar
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 08:44:54

    I kept thinking “amen” while reading this. But here’s the sobering reality:

    Bared to You currently has a 4.21 rating on Goodreads (with 146k ratings), and a solid 4 stars on Amazon (4,428 reviews).

    There is a very large group of people who respond to this sort of Pavlovian mind-conditioning with giddy delight, and it depresses the hell out of me.

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  41. AJH
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 09:31:49

    @CD:

    I’m terribly sorry for giving you vomiting cock dreams… (Also “you vomiting cock dream” would be an excellent insult, and I shall remember it for future use)

    If someone writes a book about a slutty female billionaire and dominatrix (aged 28) who goes on the prowl for trembling male virgins, then I’ll be the first in the queue
    I’ll be right behind you.

    To more serious things… I don’t know whether I’ve just read a distorted sample but I was under the impression that sexual abuse survivor was a relatively common hero trait. Ironically, that doesn’t particularly bother me in general, but – as I’ve discussed at length – I had real trouble with the way it was portrayed in this book. For what it’s worth, I thought THE IRON DUKE was fine and I didn’t like PAINTED FACES but, now I think about it, for quite similar reasons to some of my issues with BARED TO YOU. It wasn’t fetishized in the same way, but it sort of drew a direct correlation between being sexually abused, being “fucked up” and unusual lifestyle choices. Sigh.

    I tend to shy away from generalisations of what men/women are looking for / interested in. I’m not sure, but while there’s not the “projects” stereotype, I think the idea of emotionally damaged women who you heal with the power of your mighty penis is quite attractive to a lot of men. But, as you say, there’s a world of difference between the fantasy of that and the reality of it.

    As for Gideon, I guess it’s a personal call. For me, he was very much an X + Y + Z, but obviously there’s lot of space to read the character differently.

    Megan Hart is on my list and I’m kind of looking forward it – for better or worse, I do seem to quite enjoy angsty romances about damaged people finding wuv. Just not BARED TO YOU, apparently.

    @PeggyL:

    I know dual-perspectives are really popular, and I can see why you’d like that, but – for me – I think I sort of prefer being strongly embedded in a single viewpoint. On a narrative level, I kind of like the sense of uncertainty that comes from it, since I think it sort of mirrors the uncertainty of falling in love with someone, since can’t hear it each other’s thoughts, and thank God for that. On a slightly sillier note, I also sometimes find the heroes POV a bit … how can I put this … hard to identify with, since heroes tend to have one thought, which is “gosh, I really want to have sex with this woman.” And, admittedly I think most people (regardless of gender) think about sex a lot, but sometimes I think other things to, like “ooh, I’m running out of milk” or “I should really do something about this international conspiracy that wants to murder me.”

    @Worst Song Played on Ugliest Guitar:

    I’m finding this comment really difficult to respond to because my mind is pulling me in two directions, and it sort of depends on what you mean by depressing. I found the sex abuse stuff genuinely really problematic and, therefore, on some level, it troubles me that so many readers appear to have got such unalloyed delight out of a book which I feel can be seen as trivialising sexual abuse. On the other hand, I also recognise that mine is only possible interpretation of the text and it’s absolutely not my place to judge people for interpreting the text differently.

    If I believe the book unambiguously minimised or fetishized sexual abuse, then I’d be profoundly disturbed by its popularity but I feel that there’s enough space for interpretation that – partly for the sake of my sanity – I assume all the people who like the book see things in it that I didn’t.

    And all of this is completely independent of the question of the “quality” of the book. Presumably the reason it has an average 4 stars on GR and Amazon is because it’s a good example of what it is, and people like who the sort of thing that it is clearly respond very positively to it.

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  42. PeggyL
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 14:47:34

    I’ve always wanted to ask a male romance reader this question: Which author has a realistic voice when writing the male POV? Because it seems ridiculous to think of sex in/when say a life-or-death situation or planning a funeral or the boiler has just broken down.

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  43. AJH
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 17:15:59

    @PeggyL:

    Hmm, that’s probably a rather complicated question and the first thing I’d say is that, obviously, men aren’t a monolith and what strikes one dude as plausible and realistic might strike another as just the opposite. Also, the nature of my project means I’ve read relatively broadly but not particularly deeply so I can’t really talk about specific authors.

    I think, for me, it’s not really a gendered thing. I’ve never looked at a hero and gone “gosh, it’s unrealistic that a man would behave that way” although a lot of the time I’ve gone “gosh, it’s unrealistic that anyone would behave that way.” But, then, often realism isn’t what you’re going for and so I think it becomes more about what tropes you are and aren’t with. For example, I found it odd that Dragos in Dragon Bound spends all his time lusting after Pia instead of worrying about the immortal faery king that wants to kill him but I think that was more about the sort of book it was (lots of sex, action as a backdrop) than whether Dragos was a well portrayed Man TM.

    I think some romances just are not particularly interested in the hero’s psychological interiority – and that’s absolutely fine.

    That said, I tend to prefer (in general) romances in which the hero is a person as well as an object of desire – but that’s to not say one type of book is better than the other, I just occasionally like to identify with the dudes.

    So, for what it’s worth, I’m a big fan of Ruck in FOR MY LADY’S HEART – to be fair, he does think about the heroine a lot but in a way that is totally mediated through his personality. He’s just a very complex character and I found him genuinely fascinating. I really liked Cal in BET ME – he’s not a huge part of the narrative, because it’s very much the heroine’s story, but he struck me as the sort of person I might hang out with, and that was strangely refreshing actually. Sebastian in TO HAVE AND TO HOLD is completely awful but in a beautifully detailed and intricate way so – even though I wouldn’t necessarily choose to identify with him – I felt I knew where he was coming from. Oh, and weirdly, Declan from ON THE EDGE, even though I thought he was an utter tit for half the book and even though he’s quite opaque, I felt like he had agenda and an identity of his own outside the heroine, and I really liked his relationship with Rose’s family. Even more weirdly, although DARK LOVER wasn’t really my cup of tea, I kind of respect the sheer OTTness of Wrath. He’s not remotely but, strangely, he’s exactly the kind of character I’d have desperately wanted to be when I was about sixteen – so in that respect he’s a pretty gender-neutral fantasy figure.

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  44. Rei
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 17:29:32

    George R.R. Martin, for example, stopped writing books some time ago, preferring instead to chronicle exhaustively the happenings of his imaginary kingdom almost in real time.

    Between this and the handy advice about how to use “no, but a thousand ways to make you come are” in real life, I think I might love you. Platonically. And non-creepily. I promise. …are…are you in the market for a sassy lesbian sidekick?

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  45. mollymay
    Jul 21, 2013 @ 17:58:58

    I just wanted to take a moment to say how much I’ve been enjoying your reviews here, AJH. You always make me laugh, and I really appreciate that while you’re more than willing to say that a book didn’t work for you, you’re always careful to not mock or belittle people who are fans of the book or author. Plus, you quoted Buffy in this review, which is always the way to my heart. Thanks for giving me something to look forward to every Friday!

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  46. Alison
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 02:36:10

    I didn’t bother reading this review for a while because I had no desire to re ad the book (traumatised after reading 50SOG) but I am so glad I did! You have a fantastic turn of phrase, my particular favourite being “when all the problems marched over the horizon like an army of enormous, tumescent cocks I couldn’t simply wave them away”

    You have so aptly summarised this particular genre, “Dominant Broken Billionaire Seeks Submissive Human Female For Repetitive Sex and Regular Bouts of Angst” I may just use this as my review when I accidentally read another one of these thinking it’s a real book!

    Sorry, don’t know what happened with the block quoting but never mind

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  47. AJH
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 04:28:27

    @Rei:

    Absolutely, where do I sign up?

    @mollymay:

    Life is always better with a little Buffy in it ;)

    I’m really glad you’re enjoying the reviews – I think it can be kind of difficult when you have strong personal reactions to things, especially if those reactions are negative, but I do my best :)

    @Alison:

    Thank you. I’m really glad you enjoyed the review and the, um, army of cocks. I confess neither this, nor 50, are for me but I wouldn’t go quite so far as to call them non-real (or unreal) books. I can actually totally see the appeal of the billionaire + human female genre, I just haven’t found an example of it that quite works for me, perhaps just because the house style seems to be this particular sort of minutiae-heavy first person present narration.

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  48. Jae Lee
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 13:41:41

    @Worst Song Played on Ugliest Guitar:

    I’m not taking the comment personally and I hope I don’t sound as if I am but I’ve rated the book 4-stars on Goodreads, mostly because there isn’t a rating that means “I found this book to be an entertaining read, but I had some fairly big issues with it.” That’s what the reviews are for. But not everyone wants to or is capable of writing critical reviews and not everyone reads with a critical eye.

    @AJH:

    I don’t know that I saw Gideon’s sexual abuse as being fetishized, but I think that where Eva sort-of had a personality and her portrayal as a survivor was pretty nuanced, Gideon’s history was a short-cut for characterization.

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  49. Willaful
    Jul 22, 2013 @ 23:49:51

    Nothing to say really, but great review!

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  50. [links] Link salad is still baffled by yesterday’s news | jlake.com
    Jul 25, 2013 @ 08:28:22

    [...] REVIEW: Bared to You by Sylvia Day — Wow, what a review. Snarkalicious. (Thanks to Marta Murvosh.) [...]

  51. M-Moo
    Aug 17, 2013 @ 12:09:54

    I know @Rei has already said this but she definitely highlighted my favourite sections of this review –

    “…George R.R. Martin, for example, stopped writing books some time ago, preferring instead to chronicle exhaustively the happenings of his imaginary kingdom almost in real time…”

    SO true!!

    That, the thousand ways to come quote and so much more had me laughing, a lot! I haven’t read this or FSOG and don’t intend to – not my cup of tea – but the review was both witty and food for thought. Bravo! :-)

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  52. YourDAYhascome
    Sep 16, 2013 @ 03:09:50

    Of course someone with no imagination, sitting at home doing her dishes and living her life dutifully would harp, mock or find this book laughable. It’s only a select few of us women who’ve been lucky enough to experience most of what makes women HOT in this book, that can appreciate what Day has written, revisiting SOME similar experiences through writing and relating to the heated experience is what sells this book. Those that find it “laughable” haven’t lived to rejoyce in such experience, and I pity them.

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  53. Pen
    Dec 02, 2013 @ 18:26:17

    This is one of the best reviews I’ve ever come across – articulate, well written and perceptive. I haven’t actually read the book but I have a good sense of it now. I guess I’d have to read it to judge how I feel about it (and I do like other books by Sylvia Day), but it’s an honest insight into the reviewer’s feelings. I like that – too many reviewers take a supposedly objective stance as if they write ‘truth’ but all of us construct our own. Few do it so well though.

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