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REVIEW: Dear Sir, I’m Yours by Joely Sue Burkhart

Dear Ms. Burkhart:

1150As a college professor, I had to overcome very many squicks and ethics twitches when reading about a professor who not only starts a sexual relationship with a current student but ends up spanking her over his desk as a “Final Exam.” I also don’t do well with male dominant/female submissive stories, but I liked your writing enough on your prequel posts on your blog that I decided to persevere. I’m glad I did, because I appreciated how well you depicted the BDSM. It’s just a shame that your heroine annoyed me, that you added a quirky paranormal element, and that the narrative progress better resembled a bumpy road than an arc.

Admittedly, the professor/student relationship fail was five years prior to the story. After the “final exam,” the heroine Rae is freaked out (ya think?) and runs away from Conn, the hero, who is racked by guilt because of his perceive failure–not that he started the relationship at all, but that he took her too far too fast. In the meantime, Rae marries and divorces another guy. Although they seem to live in the same town, Conn can’t find her again until five years later when his batty grandmother hires Rae, the “Fix-It Lady,” as the property manager of the B&B she wants to open. Rae signs a contract that has her living on the estate full-time with no more than five minutes of thought, changing her entire life on a whim. WTF?

Conn shows up at the house and he and Rae immediately start their relationship again. They tell each other they love each other pretty soon, so most of the suspense is located in working through the BDSM issues that the over-the-desk final-exam spanking raised five years ago.

But then there’s ghosts. And a murder-mystery, sort of. And a student who sexually harrasses Conn, rather than the other way around. And Rae’s abusive ex-husband shows up to harrass her. If the focus of the story is going to be the romance and/or the sexual relationship, then stick to that and don’t throw all this other extraneous stuff in. It seemed very scattered and was annoyingly distracting.

Anyway, let’s talk about college professors. Authors, please take note (this includes Nora Roberts’ fabulously amazing Birthright, BTW):

  • College professors do not regularly call themselves “teachers.” If we wanted to be teachers, we’d have become, well, teachers. Grad school (in the Humanities, at least) is such a ridiculously long slog that you don’t do it just to teach. You do it because you’re crazy in love with your topic in ways that aren’t all about teaching.
  • College professors in the Humanities require a speciality. Conn specializes in poetry, and apparently in Romantic-era poetry. Except when he quoted and taught and graded Shakespeare. Doesn’t happen. Shakespeareans, for example, are notoriously territorial and don’t ever let anyone else teach it.
  • You canNOT exist in 21st century academia by refusing to read email, use Google, use a computer. Just no. I don’t care how endearing (yuck) a trait it might seem, it just doesn’t happen. ALL research is currently done on internet-based databases.
  • The Dean is not just down the hall, willing to take on all our problem cases. Deans interact with department chairs, not with individual professors.
  • Fine upstanding college professors do not start inappropriate relationships with their students. Sleazy nasty professors, sure, but not men you’re trying to make into heroes.   Okay, sorry. Over that now, right?

But you know, you made a blowjob incredibly hot. Conn’s “ultimate act of domination,” “his trigger,” is having Rae give him a blowjob, and when she finally does it, it is, indeed, incredibly hot. In fact, the sex is pretty amazing the whole time. Except Rae comes at the drop of a hat–almost literally sometimes. I wish *I* could come that easily. She rubs up against Conn and comes, BOOM!

And the BDSM is (mostly) great. Like I said, maledom BDSM romances trip almost as many bad triggers for me as manipulative college professors. But ignoring that, I enjoyed the depiction of BDSM:

"Every time you come for me, you submit. You surrender to me. Every time I don’t come, I master myself. I master my self control by claiming your surrender. It’s not about controlling you, Rae. It’s about controlling myself to give you maximum pleasure, to gain your maximum submission. Now do you understand?"

She jerked harder on her legs, trying to get out of his grasp, but he was too strong, easily holding her
spread. "You’re controlling me right now."

"No. I’m controlling myself to drag out your pleasure as long as possible. I want your ultimate trust,
that you can give me your surrender over and over and over, and you’ll feel nothing but pleasure in my
arms. It’s my job to test your boundaries, to take you places you wouldn’t go on your own, while
controlling myself so you’re safe. If you trust me, really trust me, you’ll go to that boundary. You’ll trust me to pull you back to safety every single time, knowing the power is yours, always yours. Only you can give me what I want."

"What’s that?"

"Trust me with your surrender. I’m going to make you come again and again, darlin’, until you give
me your safe word. I need to know you can say it when you’re ready for me to stop."

Rae has to realize that she’s not going to lose herself in Conn’s dominance, that Conn’s job is to protect her, rather than to completely subdue her will and personality. And Conn has to learn to control himself in order to   control her. But it’s not necessarily good policy to try to force your submissive to safeword. Admittedly, here, Conn is trying to make sure Rae WILL use her safeword for various reasons, but he does it at other points too.

The two biggest problems I had were Rae and the narrative pacing.   Rae herself was so clingy and needy and apparently completely lacking in self-confidence that she set my teeth on edge. Even though the story itself is about Rae finding herself and making sure she can maintain herself as a person under Conn’s dominance, and even though I believed this aspect of the story, she just grated on me. And she did so precisely because of the bumpy narrative pacing: they reconcile, they overcome the Black Moment, they have amazing sex, they have a fabulous relationship, their HEA is in sight…and **Big Mis Alert** she’s second-guessing herself and them and needs to be reassured AGAIN that Conn really loves her and that she’s really strong and An Individual. And if you need to be reassured that you’re a Strong Woman…well, maybe not so much.   And the issue that sets her off again is not a big enough deal that it couldn’t have been dealt with previous to the Black Moment reconciliation, as it should have been.

And then the ex-husband shows up! And we know he’s a jerk because he has a small dick! And his name IS Dick! It seemed to me like you needed another 20 pages to make wordcount and rather than making them integral to the story, you tacked them on to the end. And the quirky ghosts and faux murder/mystery also seemed so unnecessary to me in an otherwise emotionally intense story.

But all-in-all, I’m still glad I read it. I appreciated that you dealt with two characters who were naturally BDSM-inclined and gave them a happy ending, BDSM included–even integral–to the relationship. But please work on pacing.

Grade: C-

Regards,

-Joan/Sarah F.

This book can be purchased in ebook from Samhain.

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

11 Comments

  1. tsarinakate1
    Jul 16, 2009 @ 08:05:43

    Ger. Actually a college professor of mine refused to do email.

    Which sucks when you have to get in contact with them about something important and they only take phone calls – and then they are out of town for a weekend at a conference

  2. Mezza
    Jul 16, 2009 @ 08:39:07

    Read it a couple of weeks ago and agree with the grade. The staff/student ethics thing really threw me out of the story (any Aussies remember the furore over Helen Garner’s book ‘The First Stone’ about the 1990′s MelbUni sexual harassment scandal?) and I just couldn’t abide the additional lack of professionalism in not reading email/using the internet – core tools of the job. I also didn’t get why she stayed in his mind for 5 years (apart from being a bad mistake) her character didn’t engage me.

  3. Elizabeth
    Jul 16, 2009 @ 10:02:41

    I’m amazed you were able to read past the professor/student set up. There are 5 professors in my family (I’m not one), and we’ve had conversations about how rigid the rules are now. We might debate “Can you date a former student while they are still on campus?” but a current student? Are you kidding? That is beyond the Pale.

    Before I devolve into a senseless rant, suffice to say that I’ll wait for her next book.

  4. Cherrie Lynn
    Jul 16, 2009 @ 11:23:12

    This book was one of those that stayed with me long after I finished it. I still go back and read parts of it and melt. I don’t come from the experience of the professor, but I do come from the experience of being a student who had a raging inferno of a crush on my biology prof. *g* So I really enjoyed the fantasy and I loved this book.

    Just thought I’d point out that Conn was the one making them wait; he and Rae actually did not date or have sex while she was his student. I’m sure the flirtation they carried on for the entire semester was inappopriate, and he didn’t try to deny that it was. But I thought he seemed adequately tortured about the whole thing. No squickage here.

  5. Susan/DC
    Jul 16, 2009 @ 11:28:39

    Totally agree about the fact that on the university level professors do not call themselves teachers, in large part because they see research in their field as just as important (and for some, even more important) than what they do in the classroom.

    Also, I don’t know enough about the BDSM world to know if it would be realistic, but I think it would definitely be more romantic (to me, at least) if when Conn has the conversation about control/submission, he said something on the order of how they were both submissive and controlling. He is controlling himself, but he is submitting his own desires to ensure she is fulfilled. She is submitting to his will, but it is her desires that are dominant. The fact that it works both ways is, in fact, why it works. Just a thought.

  6. K. Z. Snow
    Jul 16, 2009 @ 12:51:05

    Even when I was a TA (teaching assistant), neither my professors nor my students referred to us as “teachers.”

    You know, DA ladies, there are e-books out there other than those published by Samhain. (Sorry. Subtlety was never my strong suit.)

  7. Jayne
    Jul 16, 2009 @ 18:10:47

    You know, DA ladies, there are e-books out there other than those published by Samhain. (Sorry. Subtlety was never my strong suit.)

    Yes, and two of my recent ebook reviews were for Siren/Bookstrand and Wild at Heart books.

  8. MichelleR
    Jul 17, 2009 @ 02:06:48

    I pretty much loved this story when I read it. He didn’t date her when she was a student. In the prequel, he told her that they couldn’t date until she dropped the class or after she wasn’t his student any longer. She only took his class, because of the attraction, and the first hint of her sub nature was her obsession with really learning about Romantic poetry in order to please him — and how that carried over into their play years later.

    He also, and I admit this was stretching for the reason you mentioned, had the dean grade her work as well, in order to not let his attraction affect her grade. It seems the author worked to make him as ethical as possible while allowing to remain the natural heat of the teacher/student dynamic. I think it’s also why she made a point of showing him rebuff another student. Romance is based on an irresistible attraction compelling people to do out of character things.

    The whole story had Conn being very ethical, aside from how they met. He felt he’d screwed up before, and was determined not to rush her or freak her out.

    Yeah, could have well done without the paranormal thing.

  9. May
    Jul 17, 2009 @ 05:33:14

    Having had to deal with not one, but two, professors this year who refuse to respond to email, I beg to differ on that one.

  10. ardeatine
    Jul 17, 2009 @ 10:48:09

    That bdsm speech of his sounded like infodump to me.

  11. GutterBall
    Aug 07, 2009 @ 14:36:38

    The Dean is not just down the hall, willing to take on all our problem cases. Deans interact with department chairs, not with individual professors.

    Actually, in my college (admittedly a relatively small one), the dean really was just down the hall. In fact, he was my advisor, and he did interact with individual professors and taught classes and was very involved with the day-to-day functions of the department (including problem cases). I didn’t feel that was a stretch.

    The professor/student dynamic scares a lot of people, and there’s no getting around that. But the Dom/sub thing does, too. If it doesn’t work for you, it’s just not going to work no matter how well-written. I hate to see it count off of someone just because it isn’t your cup of tea, though.

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