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REVIEW: Red by Jordan Summers

Dear Ms. Summers:

I know you’ve written books for Ellora’s Cave, Kensington and Harlequin, but I was unfamiliar with your work. I was excited to read Red due, in part, to its post apocalyptic setting and I was intrigued by the idea of: "What if Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf turned out to be the same person?" However, as much as I wanted to like this book and its promising female protagonist, I just could not.

Gina Santiago, or "Red"- because of all the blood she spills-is a member of the International Police Tactical Team. IPTT is an elite law enforcement group designed to maintain order within and between the various Republics that make up this futuristic world. While on a patrol mission that goes awry, Gina literally sniffs out the dead body of a severely mauled woman. All signs point to it being a wild animal attack, but Gina has a feeling that there’s something more going on. She requests leave from the team Commander and goes to the nearest town of Nuria to begin her own independent investigation.

Morgan Hunter is the local sheriff of Nuria. He already knows about the deadly mauling of one local woman, and has no intention of revealing that information to anyone. When Gina arrives in town, Morgan tries to keep the town’s secrets while also shutting her out of the investigation.

The details regarding this futuristic world intrigued me. The story is set somewhere around the year 2160, 150 years after the last world war ravaged the earth and countries fell, Republics were formed and many places like Nuria were left with few people and little money.

As for the town of Nuria, it was almost a character of its own. Maybe that was because we get so few substantial characters in the town. There’s the coroner, the woman who rents Red a room, and Morgan’s cousin, and that’s it, besides the killer of course. As soon as Gina arrived there, I began feeling vicariously trapped and uncomfortable. The town seemed oppressive with its isolation and very little incoming or outgoing traffic. Perhaps it’s because:

Red smelled the dying town before she caught sight of any of the buildings. The odor of decay wafted in the air, polluting her nostrils and burning her throat. Located twenty miles north of what used to be Phoenix, Arizona, the municipality of Nuria resembled every other small dusty boundary fence town that was scarce on jobs and brimming with poverty.

Or maybe it was because:

At some point, the town must have had a booming economy, but you couldn’t tell that by looking at it today. The fringe owned it now. It wouldn’t be long before Nuria took its last breath and expired, swallowed by the ever-present boundary area and encroaching desert sands.

Or perhaps it’s because Nuria is a place populated by Others who don’t seem to like letting newcomers go once they’ve sunk their claws and fangs into them. These Others- werewolves and vampires- were created by scientists in the last world war. The idea that technology had evolved to the point where scientists could create super humans in the forms of werewolves and vampires was an interesting choice. Certainly the decision to create a scientific explanation was a conscious effort to break out of the typical paranormal mythology. However, a paranormal origin can be accepted in a way that a scientific origin cannot. And although I liked the idea at first, I found myself questioning the specifics of this scientific achievement. How is it possible that our technology advanced to the point of creating vampires, but didn’t advance the point where we could simply engineer human DNA to enhance our speed and strength? Why did scientists have to create vampires to give them such abilities? Couldn’t those abilities have been engineered without the additional characteristics of drinking blood or growing fur and claws?

Like the town, Gina’s relationship with Morgan felt like just another form of imprisonment. Their attraction also seemed more the result of a lack of available sex partners than anything else. Gina didn’t really have much experience with relationships. She didn’t fit in with the men in her team, and many of them didn’t seem to recognize her as a woman. Morgan, on the other hand, hadn’t exactly lacked for sexual partners, but wondered, "How long had it been since an unattached female entered his town, his territory?"

He became fixated on Gina’s role as an unattached women and later admits that "[s]he was stunning and unclaimed-’a very rare combination for a woman her age these days. One that made her more valuable than water in his mind."

We see this fixation later in the story as he tries to remember:

When was the last time a single female from the outside wandered into his territory? He considered the question a second before the obvious answer popped into his head.

Never.

Of course there was also the "customs of his people, which clearly stated that any unattached female other had to be claimed by someone in the pack or run out of the Republic of Arizona." Between the decaying town and the pack’s tradition of claiming any available female as soon as possible, I had trouble imagining Gina finding any sort of long term happiness with either Nuria or Morgan and just wanted her to leave as fast as possible.

The murder mystery probably won’t keep most readers guessing for long. Due to the fact that so few significant characters populate Nuria, it was pretty easy to guess the killer’s identity. We first see the killer from his POV in the beginning as he stalks and then kills a young woman when his wolfly attentions grow too . . . amorous. The story shifts back to his POV several times, often detailing rather graphic and disturbing scenes. If you’re into forced werewolf/human oral sex gone terribly wrong then this may be the book for you.

Readers may also have a problem with the killer’s over the top psychosis and the lack of explanation thereon. The killer goes from a normal law abiding citizen (from what we hear) to a sociopath with issues of entitlement and we never find out what happened to bring about this transformation. It’s possible that he was like this all along, but why did the bodies just begin showing up? He makes little effort to dispose of them so it appears this is a recent change in his personality, but again, we just don’t get very many answers. You hint that these killing urges are the result of a childhood story, but that too just lent a greater sense of the ridiculousness to this villain.

There are also several TSTL moments brought to you by Gina and Morgan. Both characters have specialized background, training and education in law enforcement. Like all characters with specialized training, I held them to a higher standard of conduct and intelligence. For example, I expect attorneys to know the law- or at least their specialty. I expect doctors to speak and act like doctors. And I expect law enforcement officers to be able to conduct an investigation. It’s that simple. If an eye witness to an attempted murder is almost murdered him or herself, then maybe these law enforcement officers should, well, investigate. What they should not do is abandon said character alone and defenseless at a hospital without any sort of consideration that the murderer has a vested interest in making sure the eye witness disappears forever. Honestly, it gets worse from there, but to discuss it in greater detail would give away too many spoilers. I will say that both Gina and Morgan revealed a very sloppy approach to investigation, seemingly determined to ignore all of the evidence before them.

When I finished the book, I was left with one other question. In the very beginning, Gina awakes in the middle of the night and discovers that she is fully clothed and wearing something of great concern to her. She searches her memory, but cannot recall where she had been or what she had been doing. Throughout the novel, she remains worried about her nocturnal activities. Of course, from the book’s premise we aren’t really surprised to find out what she’s been up to. However, the specifics of those activities were very disturbing and left me questioning the type of werewolves you had created where such an act is insignificant. It also left me questioning Gina’s status as "heroine" because ultimately, I wasn’t entirely sure if I felt comfortable standing in her corner.

In the end, the question on the front cover, "What if Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf turned out to be the same person?" cannot be answered. This isn’t a tale of the Little Red Riding Hood. And this really isn’t the tale of Red as the Big Bad Wolf. Gina Santiago shares little in common with the colorfully clad little girl other than her nickname. And while she may share more in common with the Big Bad Wolf, we don’t see much. Maybe we’ll see more next time. For now, it simply remains a disappointing premise in a book with far too many other problems.

D

:) loonigrrl

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells. No ebook format.

Leslie S

can usually be found hunched over her ebook reader or lurking in the romance and sci-fi/fantasy sections of her local bookstores. She discovered her love of fantasy at a young age, reading everything from Piers Anthony to Robert Aspirin and C.S. Lewis. At the age of 12, she picked up a little book called The Thorn Birds, and after crying for five days straight, decided that she liked the romantic elements, but needed a happier ending. Her first tentative visits to the romance section brought her to such favorites as Linda Howard and Judith McNaught where her love of the romance book was born. She then turned to Brenda Joyce, Lisa Kleypas, J.D. Robb, Anne Stuart, and as the years passed, many more. She currently prefers paranormal romance, urban fantasy, traditional fantasy, historical and the occasional YA.

33 Comments

  1. Emmy
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 05:05:29

    If you're into forced werewolf/human oral sex gone terribly wrong then this may be the book for you

    Uh…no, thanks.

    Actually, this one lost me at the blurb.

    War is brewing in a near-future world where murder is all but unheard of and the existence of creatures known as the others has yet to be proven.

    So why the frick would the world need an “elite tactical squad”?? It stands to reason that people who don’t murder each other also don’t rape and pillage either. Do you really need an elite squad to deal with petty crimes? Do I care enough to bother reading and finding out? Nope.

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  2. vanessa jaye
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 06:22:39

    Can we clarify who the reviewer is? Is it Jane, or loongirl (another one of the Js) or is loongirl another online handle for Jane?

    As for the blurb, we know authors don’t write blurbs and that they’re often misleading. . The world-building in this one really intrigues me so I’m still going to give it a try.

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  3. Shiloh Walker
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 07:23:36

    Oh, man…I loved this book. I’m hoping I can con Jordan out of an early read of the next one.

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  4. ME
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 08:47:12

    I don’t know…sounds kinda cool to me….I’d probably give it a read…I like the descriptions of the town…the visual is very real

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  5. Cathy
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 09:58:56

    Thanks for this review. This book caught my attention in a recent email from Tor, but the review makes me question if I’d really enjoy it. Maybe I’ll look for a used copy in a few months.

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  6. Jeaniene Frost
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 10:20:32

    I really liked RED. The romance worked for me, and I thought the worldbuilding was unique and interesting. The paranormal violence didn’t bother me because I felt it was meant to be disturbing, not sexy or titillating.

    I’ll be looking forward to the next in the series.

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  7. RStewie
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 10:26:08

    If you're into forced werewolf/human oral sex gone terribly wrong then this may be the book for you.

    I was looking at reading these, but then. No. I think I read that part, though. Which was NOT arousing. Actually, a little funny…

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  8. Jane
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 10:47:30

    @vanessa jaye. Sorry for the confusion. I post the reviews for Loonigrrl and often forget to change the “author” part of the post. For the record, this was a DNF for me.

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  9. Kim
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 11:55:51

    I couldn’t WAIT to get my hands on this book. Loved the cover, loved the premise of it and waited on pins and needles for it to come out – something I don’t do normally except for a Jim Butcher, Dresden book.

    However, I’m in the middle of reading it and so far, I’m agreeing with Loonigrrl especially about the whole Red is the only available female angle. So far, I’m not seeing anything to explain the romance between them other than the usual she’s gorgeous and available so I’m hot and horney for her. Arrghh! That’s almost as bad as the destiny/fated/soul mate angle.

    And yes, I picked out the bad guy very fast which doesn’t bother me; however, I don’t like how it was set up. There’s a total difference from the guy’s POV – really immature in speech and actions – to who he is in “real” life. And since I’m not finished, I’m going to find myself disappointed if I don’t understand why he’s the way he is since she’s made him decent enough. There’s another angle I find at issue but don’t want to offer any spoilers.

    And bottom line, I’m truly tired of books about the whole alpha claiming thing. I thought this was going to be a futuristic action/adventure/suspense book with paranormal creatures not a me hunky man, you gorgeous woman, must hook up story with everything else on the side.

    Oh yeah, and the sex stuff in the villian’s POV – gross!!!!!

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  10. Diane V
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 12:09:02

    It was a DNF for me, but I’ll probably try to read it again this weekend as I usually love the books Shiloh recommends.

    Was anyone else bothered by the bright red dye on the edges of the book? I almost didn’t buy it for that reason alone — it looks so obnoxious and I felt like I was thrown back in time to Avon Historicals published in the late 70′s and early 80′s

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  11. Larissa Ione
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 12:15:37

    I loved this book. It was raw, gritty, and I think it took a lot of guts to write. I read it more as a UF than as a paranormal romance, and it worked for me. The issues mentioned in the review were minor for me. I’m really looking forward to the next one!

    (And yeah, the blurb is misleading…)

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  12. Heather
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 12:42:14

    Thanks for reviewing another book with SF elements. Y’all rock!

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  13. DS
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 16:10:08

    Ok, I know to give this one a pass. Just because a book happens in another time or culture does not mean that the characters lack common sense. Actions what would drive me nuts in a modern police procedural, e.g., leaving the witness unprotected in a hospital bed after someone had attacked them, would make me equally nuts in a sff or western setting, or for that matter in a romance setting. The “it gets worse from there” statement really sealed the deal.

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  14. Jordan Summers
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 16:57:05

    ***If you're into forced werewolf/human oral sex gone terribly wrong then this may be the book for you***

    Wow, I must have missed a part of my book. LOL! I’m going to have to go back and find this scene. *ggg* Thanks for taking the time to review the book.

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  15. Ann Bruce
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 21:57:21

    Oh yeah, and the sex stuff in the villian's POV – gross!!!!!

    Is it skanky villain sex circa 1980s historical romances or is it cross-your-legs-and-shudder-and-not-in-a-good-way?

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  16. Shiloh Walker
    Nov 05, 2008 @ 22:29:57

    Oh yeah, and the sex stuff in the villian's POV – gross!!!!!

    Is it skanky villain sex circa 1980s historical romances or is it cross-your-legs-and-shudder-and-not-in-a-good-way?

    IMO, the sex from the villain’s POV is skanky, gross, and shudder…but it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story, because it was the villain. I expect the villain to be skanky, gross and/or shudder-inducing, as well as any other undesirable things. I didn’t see these scenes as anything trying to glorify sexual violence, just as an insight to the villain’s character.

    Larissa mentioned she read this more as an UF rather than a romance, and I think that’s probably how I approached it as well. Maybe that’s why some of the darker aspects didn’t bother me. It wouldn’t have been the same story if that darker stuff was toned down.

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  17. loonigrrl
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 00:04:50

    Well, I wouldn’t say the gross factor in these scenes ruined my enjoyment of the book. I’m not that squeamish. My problem was really the villain’s characterization as a whole. His voice in particular just did not work for me.

    Wow, I must have missed a part of my book. LOL! I'm going to have to go back and find this scene.

    This is the scene I was referring to. If I mis-read it, please let me know:

    I yip in excitement, then delve between her thighs with gusto. Laving and nipping, swirling my tongue inside her body. The ambrosia drowns me.

    I want more.

    I need more.

    I will have more.

    My body shakes as I continue to taste her luscious-ness. It’s too much. The sensations. The colors. I can’t hold back and I haven’t even entered her yet. Oh gods, I’m coming now. I rock my hips, trying to milk my release. Inside my mind, I’m screaming. Outside, I hear only happy growls.

    Moira isn’t crying anymore.

    In fact, I haven’t felt her move since we reached completion. My hips jerk one last time and I lift my muzzle. It drips with blood. The coppery elixir splats as it hits a growing pool beneath my chin.

    I glance down.

    Confused.

    Moira’s abdomen is missing.

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  18. Kim
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 00:55:03

    I’m curious as to why the readers above feel this is a UF versus paranormal romance?

    When I first read about this story, I was excited that it sounded like more UF and that’s what I thought I’d get. However, after having finished reading it tonight, I wonder how is it UF compared to stories like Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson series, Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels series or Toni Andrews Mercy Hollings series? I could name more but these are keepers for me so I pulled them easily.

    Is it because it takes place in future Earth? To me, this was all romance – especially since it felt like it was all about Red and Morgan getting together and the world-building was less about the world and the characters that populated it but more about him being hot for her. And from the ending of this one, it seems the next story is set up to be another character’s story – not necessarily a continuation of Red’s story.

    I’d love to hear opinions. Maybe that could be a poll. :D

    Is it because the line between UF and paranormal romance is blurring? In fact, I just looked at the spine, TOR billed this a paranormal romance – not fantasy.

    And while the villian scenes were gross, because we never got to undestand and were never told why he was what he was, his voice (as looniegirl states) never worked for me either. It was like he had to be the bad guy for the story effect but we are never given to really understand why. And for me, the reaction by the hero to the revelation was minimal at best and it really should have been more based on the set up. Again, trying not to give away too much. Sorry if I did.

    And definitely thought that particular scene was totally oral sex gone horribly wrong. I’d like to know if I read it wrong too.

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  19. Robin
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 01:12:52

    What *is* the draw of heinous villain sex in Romance fiction? Besides providing a contrast to the wonder-inducing sex between the H&H, that is.

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  20. Ann Bruce
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 01:56:21

    Kim – My understanding is UF are paranormal/fantasy stories that take place in real-world urban areas and the protagonists have supernatural/paranormal powers and must use these powers to combat powerful foes. Think LKH’s Anita Blake series or LotR…if the setting was present-day London and not Middle Earth. (By my definition, I wonder if Harry Potter would be considered UF.)

    Anyway, someone please correct me if I’m wrong as I don’t write in this genre.

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  21. Ann Bruce
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 02:16:57

    What *is* the draw of heinous villain sex in Romance fiction?

    Personally, I found most skanky villain sex in the old-school historicals comedic. If they were too over-the-top, I would skip them altogether.

    However, I will admit that there were the occasional villain sex scenes from the 80s I found more enjoyable than the boring sweet protagonist love scenes. Back then, skanky villain sex might just be two people going at it a little rough or performing oral sex. (I recall a couple of Catherine Coulter books that gave the opinion oral sex is an act more heinous than murder.)

    Sometimes I used to think the villain sex scenes served to rachet up the hotness factor of a book to make it sell *cough* Stella Cameron *cough* …without offending those readers who consider kinkier sex to be deviant. Hey, as long as it’s not the hero and heroine tying each other up or sharing their partners, it’s all good.

    The above scene from Red, however, made me hug my knees to my chest after reading it.

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  22. Jia
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 07:28:15

    Jane said:

    For the record, this was a DNF for me.

    This book was also a DNF for me. And I approached it as an urban fantasy.

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  23. Jody W.
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 08:40:07

    When TOR releases a book in its paranormal romance line, I believe it says “Paranormal Romance” no matter if it falls on the romance end of the spectrum or the sf/f end of the spectrum. To me the difference between an urban fantasy and a romance in an urban fantasy setting (urban fantasy romance??!) is whether the romance is the subplot or the primary defining factor in the plot’s flow and resolution (EG the main plot).

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  24. Kim
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 13:19:05

    Jody W, I like your explanation and your new genre-blending “urban fantasy romance”. Certainly, Red be a urban fantasy romance especially since it is about the romance and there were no real paranormal powers utilized to save the world here if we go by Ann Bruce’s definition (which is a good one too).

    I started reading one of Cheyenne McCray’s books with the detailed skanky villian (demon) sex and that was it for me on her. It was total DNF for me. Don’t want to read about nasty sex – want to read about loving sex – if I read the sex at all which I normally don’t. I’m a prude that way – I skipped completely past Red/Morgan’s get together especially when the harsher words were used and really ick on watching it again from the villain’s POV. I’m so glad there are so many great authors to choose from! Definitely different strokes for different folks. :D

    Thanks!

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  25. Robin
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 17:17:43

    However, I will admit that there were the occasional villain sex scenes from the 80s I found more enjoyable than the boring sweet protagonist love scenes. Back then, skanky villain sex might just be two people going at it a little rough or performing oral sex. (I recall a couple of Catherine Coulter books that gave the opinion oral sex is an act more heinous than murder.)

    Sometimes I used to think the villain sex scenes served to rachet up the hotness factor of a book to make it sell *cough* Stella Cameron *cough* …without offending those readers who consider kinkier sex to be deviant. Hey, as long as it's not the hero and heroine tying each other up or sharing their partners, it's all good.

    The above scene from Red, however, made me hug my knees to my chest after reading it.

    I’m with you on the need to hunch over protectively after reading that scene, lol. But I wish Summers would explain it for those (like me) who read it as loonigrrl did and who are apparently incorrect(?)

    As for the villain sex thing, I’ve wondered about the various uses of the contrast and how that reflects on the way we’re supposed to see the “good” sex between the H&H. Like are we supposed to see certain sexual acts as inherently defiled or is it merely that someone villainous practices them. Is the villain sex intended to amp up the hotness factor without offending the sensibilities of the reader who doesn’t want really edgy H&H sex? Or is it subversive, intended to titillate us and undermine the good/bad contrast? Because it often feels that there’s some moral judgment we’re supposed to levy against the villain, I have to wonder sometimes at the use of villain sex in Romance, especially when it’s not straight out rape or torture or something else that most people would mark as not part of a healthy relationship (i.e. actual rape rather than rape fantasy). Or is it intended to offer something like rape fantasy for readers who may be uncomfortable with that in the main relationship? I know the answers are varied across books, but it’s something that interests me, because it seems to common in genre Romance to include villain sex, even though it isn’t “romantic” per se.

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  26. ME
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 20:42:16

    K people…educate me….what does DNF mean exactly?

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  27. Jane
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 20:44:52

    @ME – DNF is Did Not Finish. In other words, we started the book but for various reasons didn’t finish it.

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  28. MoJo
    Nov 06, 2008 @ 20:59:32

    …villain sex scenes…*cough* Stella Cameron *cough*…

    Oh, it wasn’t just me? I’m still scarred.

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  29. Sasha
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 18:34:22

    I posted yesterday but don’t see it here so I thought I’d say again how much I’m looking forward to this book. I think the key is definitely going into it knowing it’s not supposed to be a traditional romance. But to me, that makes it all the more appealing. LOL

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  30. loonigrrl
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 19:00:53

    I hope you enjoy it Sasha. Mine is just one opinion, of course.

    However, the idea that has been suggested a couple times now that I read it as a “traditional romance” is wrong. I read a great deal of urban fantasy in addition to paranormal romance and I honestly couldn’t care less whether a book is classified as one or the other. Based upon the cover, the summary on the back and visiting the author’s blog, I expected Red to be dark and gritty. Therefore, you can count this reader as someone who went into it expecting it to be a non-traditional romance. And as you can see, I still found the above faults.

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  31. Ann Bruce
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 19:02:52

    Robin – I’ve read books where it seems obvious the author wants the reader to know the villain is evil because of his or her sexual deviancy and the H/H are good because there are rainbows and sparkles when they have sex. However, I’ve also come across books where the villain sex scene just isn’t offensive, such as the ones in Sandra Brown’s or Ann Maxwell’s books (or maybe I’m desensitized). So, I’m going to conclude that it’s going to vary from book to book.

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  32. Larissa Ione
    Nov 08, 2008 @ 09:38:40

    Loonigrrl, I didn’t mean to imply that I thought you read the book as a traditional romance, so that’s why you didn’t like the book. I simply meant that *I* went into it with a mindset that probably made it work more for *me* than it might have had I gone into it thinking it was going to be a more traditional romance. I was actually responding more to Kim’s comment that she didn’t see anything to explain the romance.

    I just really enjoyed the book. I found the grim, gritty atmosphere to be refreshing (which, I realize, sounds odd! *g*)

    ReplyReply

  33. Red by Jordan Summers « Scooper Speaks
    Dec 06, 2008 @ 12:25:58

    [...] other people’s thoughts about Red at Village Books, Dear Author and Musings of the [...]

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