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REVIEW: I Heart That City: Razzle Dazzle by Willa Okati

Dear Ms. Okati:

wo_razzledazzle_coverlgAfter my last BDSM novel review, this short novella was a welcome palate cleanser.   While the writing is sometimes a bit too telegraphic, requiring the reader to infer a great deal about the characters’ motivations and emotions, this very fact also rewards close and re-reading.

Zach is a bar tender. Not only does he love his job, he’s famous for being somewhat of an oracle when it comes to mixing drinks.

For a woman who asked for a Push it to the Limit, he’d take in her tired eyes and her strained smile and mix her a Take it Easy. An older woman, her tie-dyed T-shirt bright and her long gray hair braided, asked for a Peace Out and got a Rock On. A pretty young thing who thought she needed a Blush got a Siren.

They loved it, ate it up — drank it down, rather — and most walked away with something new to think about. The way Zach figured it, some were born to heal, some were born to build, and he was born to mix a drink.

And he wouldn’t trade his life for the world on a silver platter.

And then Josef ordered a drink:

Ten minutes later, customers be damned, Zach’s cheek was pressed to the abrading surface of the ancient bricks outside and the blue-eyed man’s hands were tingling on his bare skin, the stranger’s cock buried in Zach’s ass, and his voice filling Zach’s head with soft, dirty promises and praise. The first time, but he already knew it wouldn’t be the last. If he’d had his way, it would have lasted forever.

But it wasn’t forever. The story actually takes place eighteen months later (or maybe a year? the timeline was a bit off now and then), at another bar across the country where Zach finally stopped running from Josef and their relationship.   He ran because, although he and Josef fell naturally into extremely dominant/submissive roles, neither of them knew what they were doing and Zach got scared of losing himself to Josef. This is the story of what happens when Josef finds Zach and how they rebuild their relationship on trust, understanding, and communication, which is how any relationship should be built, D/s aside.

The characters are mostly well-realized.   Zach is great and because the story is told entirely from his perspective, we know who he is and what he’s thinking and feeling. We can feel his absolute attraction to Josef and his almost reasonable panic about losing himself in the relationship. We see him beginning to accept himself and his feelings for Josef, coming to understand that his submission doesn’t make him any less of a man.

Josef, though, is much more of a cipher, and in the beginning of the story, even a bit of an asshole. We’re seeing him entirely through Zach’s eyes, and Zach’s perspective on Josef is a little skewed, after all. He sees him too much as a demi-god, not as a man.   We come to understand along with Zach that Josef’s   just as scared and as human as Zach is. But having him be quite so much of a controlling asshole to begin with and then having him leave for a couple of days because he’s trying to figure stuff out just seemed a little off. Having him tell Zach, “I need to understand you. I won’t be back until I’ve done that. And I won’t give up until you understand me” and then leave was a little surreal. Surely it’s easier to understand someone if you’re WITH them?   If the message of the book, if there can be said to be one, is about how communication and treating your partner as an equal are of primary importance in a relationship, especially one so heavily invested in D/s, then why would Josef just leave to get his head back together, leaving Zach floundering, just as confused as ever?

That said, once Josef comes back and the characters start talking with each other, the relationship is believable, their happy ending satisfying, and the Domination/submission very naturally and realistically shown and works beautifully in the end. The last half of the story makes it all worth while. And that was a welcome and much needed experience.

Grade: B-

Sincerely,

-Joan/Sarah F.

This book can be purchased in ebook format from Loose ID.

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.

9 Comments

  1. Emmy
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 16:28:00

    I read this one when it came out, and just got so confused with the flipping back and forth along an indeterminate timeline and the odd relationship between Zach and Josef. Add that to the weird mixed drink tarot and I just didn’t get this book. I think the story would have done better expanded a bit to novel length.

    Not Willa’s best work…but not her worst either.

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  2. Dakota Flint
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 16:48:07

    I’m just curious…”I Heart That City”–does this mean a certain city features prominently in this story?

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  3. Natasha A.
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 17:12:11

    Well, I think I have just discovered a new author. Thanks :D This sounds great !!!

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  4. Jessica
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 17:17:02

    I heart that cover.

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  5. Joan/SarahF
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 17:29:57

    Emmy, I think the first half of the book was slightly confusing, but the entire second half, when they just got together and talked and….other things, was just fabulous. That’s what made the story for me.

    Dakota, “I Heart that City” is the name of the bar Zach worked at. Loose-Id has a series of stories written by different authors, all linked by “I<3tC”.

    Natasha A.: Willa Okati is usually a great read for me. Sometimes she just completely strikes out, but I like her characterization. And her backlist is HUGE!

    Jessica: Yes, absolutely! That was what drew me to the book in the first place! :)

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  6. orannia
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 19:55:11

    Thank you! I really like the sound of the second half of this novella..I think I’m going to have to try Willa Okati. Is this a good place to start or should I start somewhere else within her backlist? Thank you :)

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  7. Emmy
    Mar 17, 2009 @ 20:13:37

    @orannia: Try Lovers, Dreamers, and Me first.

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  8. Lorelie
    Mar 18, 2009 @ 06:20:33

    Man, this looks interesting but I absolutely cannot read books where the hero (or one of the heros) has the same name as one of my sons. It’s a mental block.

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  9. orannia
    Mar 18, 2009 @ 17:57:32

    Thank you Emmy!

    That title has me singing The Rainbow Connection :)

    ReplyReply

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