Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

REVIEW: When Alex Was Bad by Jo Davis

Dear Ms. Davis:

0451227026.01.LZZZZZZZI picked up this book at B&N because of the cover. I bought it because of its premise and because I’m fascinated by full triad m/m/f menage books actually being sold in the romance section at bricks-and-mortar stores, so I wanted to support that. Once I did, the book was…well, okay. Nothing to write home about, even though I obviously am right now.

At her own house party, Liv Quinn catches her loving husband Alex making out with one of his junior partners (or maybe she was an associate — it kept changing). She doesn’t call him on it — and he resists full temptation anyway. Instead she makes a plan. She will allow Alex to stray, as long as he confesses everything after he’s done and then accepts his punishment by her hand. Because, see, she gets off — always has — on cuckold fantasies, in which a partner in a romantic relationship knows of their partner’s adultery. In fact, a cuckold might even prepare their partner for the adulterous encounter. The fascinating thing, however, is that cuckold fantasists are almost always male — it’s a very rare female fantasy. But! Liv definitely gets off on the thought of her husband in the act of cheating: they used to use it as pillowtalk until they got too busy. So she now uses it not only as a way to spice up her relationship with Alex, but, in her mind, to save it.

I was also intrigued by the punishment aspect of the story. Once again, in typical cuckold fantasies, the one being humiliated is the cuckold himself, the one cheated against. The cheatee is usually cast as superior, as doing whatever she wants. Turning that on its head and having the cheating partner come home and “confess” (as pillowtalk, except this time it’s real) and then be punished for his transgressions was a fascinating concept to me, and I wanted to see how it would play out.

And THEN there’s Jason. He’s just moved in next door to the Stricklands, and Liv immediately hits it off with him — in that, they’re having hot monkey sex two days later, while Alex is out boinking his associate/junior partner. Jason is a mostly homosexual-identified, but bi-curious, sexual submissive…who doesn’t act that submissive around Liv, but does to Alex. He’s also kinda shady. He gets strange phone calls from weird, peremptory people. He carries a gun! It’s obvious to the reader early on that he’s FBI, but once strange stuff starts happening to Alex, Alex and Liv understandably begin to suspect Jason because he’s not telling them the truth about everything.

And that’s where the story took an unwelcome left turn for me. The novel is billed as “a novel of erotic suspense” which is all very well, but don’t you think it’s enough that Liv and Alex have opened their marriage, Alex is fucking Jenna, Liv is fucking Jason, Jason and Alex are fucking, and Liv is whipping out (harhar) her inner dominatrix for the first time, all within the span of a couple of weeks? It’s all just a bit too much for Alex to start having threats against his life and giving that side-plot almost as much airtime as the sex. Major threats to his life, too, like car bombs, assassins at work, bullet almost-but-not-quite to the heart. I think if my life were being threatened like this, I wouldn’t be out gallivanting with my slutty junior associate/partner (big difference there, people! Huge! Which one is it?) two night after two guys tried to shoot me at work. But maybe that’s just me. What do I know?

I do know that there was more than enough here to fill a book if you’d just delved a little more into the emotional lives of the characters. There should be more to the discussion between Alex and Liv when they opened their marriage than, “Hey, whaddya think?!” and “Sure! Sounds hot!” which is basically the level of relationship conversation that they had. Leave out the suspense and make the suspense into true erotic suspense and it’d be a much better story. As it is, both the sexual developments and the suspense plots didn’t get near enough introspection or consideration. Everything seemed very surface, very slick and porno and hott!hott!hott! without meaning anything. This could have been a fascinating look into cuckold fantasies and a realistic construction of a triad BDSM relationship. Instead it was…forgettable.

As for the punishment, some of it was hot. And some of it…not so much, because Liv? she doesn’t have a fucking clue:

The first snap of the leather strip caught the left side of his balls. Fiery pain shot through his groin and he gasped, arching in the restraints. Giving him no mercy, she struck again. The next snap lashed his raging penis, sending bolts of pain to every nerve ending. But the agony also gave rise to a strange, sweet quickening.

The wave spread from his groin to his limbs, forcing him to comply. To accept. Two more lashes to his penis, another to his testicles. Heat coursed through his veins, pain and ecstasy swirling together, lighting his body like a torch. She was relentless, the blows raining down in rapid succession.

Intense, heavy CBT (Cock and Ball Torture) is certainly not where I’d suggest someone who has never done any form of BDSM before should start, as Liv does in this book. The penis can take a lot more impact play than the testicles, but using a leather strap on either, and using it to the same degree on both, is just not done except by the heaviest of heavy players and then after a lot of negotiation and discussion of limits, none of which happened here.

Look, I’m all for kinky play, trust me. But represented in a responsible manner or represented as obviously a fantasy, like the Story of O or Laura Antoniou’s Marketplace series, not as the logical, obvious place to start in what is otherwise a pretty tame sexual adventure, BDSM-wise. Because most of the other sexual encounters were of the cuckolding/teasing and denial/bondage variety, not hardcore BDSM.

And, of course, the villain? I’m not giving anything away by saying he’s a sociopathic sexual sadist, because in books like this, of COURSE he is. Sigh.

So, I was hoping to enjoy it and I did, as quick stroke fiction with some mildly hot scenes. Which is fine, of course. But it wasn’t a book that meant anything, as I was hoping it would be, and it’ll be off to PaperBackSwap as soon as I’ve double-checked the quotations.

Grade: C+

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

This trade paperback book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.

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.

10 Comments

  1. Maria Geraci
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 04:19:54

    I actually just finished this book and I agree, the cover is absolutely intriguing.
    I think the premise is very good, and I liked all the characters, although I would have liked to have seen more character development with Alex. I never felt like I knew him as well as say, Jason (who I thought was a terrific character) and Alex’s seemingly ho-hum attitude toward the death threats aimed at him were odd. That said, I did enjoy it (a lot) and am looking forward to reading Jo Davis’s mainstream romances.

  2. Trikapalanet
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 10:03:02

    The cover is really devious… And your summary give me an interesting point of view. I think i will buy it.
    It’s on amazon place? You think it exist in french…?

  3. Debra Date
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 16:29:44

    I second (or third) the love for the cover. The premise also sounds like it could have been such a good (and Hawwwwt!!!) story. I just wish that the authors of stories that include BDSM would bother to do any kind of research before they just threw stuff they thought was “cool” into the plot.
    I think I’ll just go back and re-read “Natural Law” for the billionth time.. *sigh*

  4. Jo Davis
    Oct 02, 2009 @ 11:34:40

    Dear Joan/Sarah F.,

    Thank you for your review! I enjoy reading your posts and, after cringing in mortal terror to see that you had reviewed ALEX, was happy to read that you enjoyed the book overall. Whew! I’m sorry some parts didn’t work as well for you, but that’s the beauty of readers sharing about books.

    Speaking of sharing, readers might be intrigued to know that ALEX is in development as a major motion picture…under an Academy-Award winning producer. So, there are some highly qualified folks that feel the erotica and supense work really well together. Just sayin’…

    Now, me? I’d call that something to write home about.

  5. areader
    Oct 02, 2009 @ 11:58:07

    @Jo Davis

    Congratulations on selling the film rights to your book.

    If you’re doing so gosh darned well for yourself why are you so busy googling and then getting your nose bent out of shape when you find a review that’s not as glowing as you so think it should be?

    As you obviously have such a thin skin that you can’t take any criticism you shouldn’t have read the review, it was obvious from the grade that this was not a completely flattering review.

    And don’t bother denying you were googling yourself – it’s obvious you don’t read this blog. If you did you wouldn’t have posted comment in that tone. You would just have said thank you and that you’d sold movie rights without the attitude.

    I read the review and found the book intriguing but then I read your comment. I didn’t like your ‘tude so I won’t be buyin’ your book. I’m sure this doesn’t mean a fig to you as your book is in development as a major motion picture with an academy award winning producer.

    Funny thing about the movie business, something can be in development one day and shelved the next.

    You take care now.

  6. Sarah Frantz
    Oct 02, 2009 @ 12:06:36

    @Jo Davis: Congrats on the development! That’s great. And for commenting on the review. I appreciate it. I can see how it would be a good movie, actually, but I hope they treat the sexual relationships as positively as you do, and that they don’t demonize the non-standard sex, as Hollywood tends to do. Everything else aside, I appreciated the positive representation of a triad relationship.

  7. Jo Davis
    Oct 02, 2009 @ 15:51:02

    Thanks, Jane/Sarah! I sure hope so, too, but who ever really knows?

    I truly enjoy your column and read your reviews quite frequently, so I emphasize again that I’m happy you liked it overall. I hope you took no offense to what I wrote in honest good humor–anyone who knows me knows what a postive person I am! You are a tough cookie, so to get a postive review from you means a lot to an author.

    That is the downside to blogging–sometimes our words are taken wrong when they weren’t meant that way.

  8. Sarah Frantz
    Oct 02, 2009 @ 16:20:55

    Jo, please don’t think that @areader was talking for me. Nothing can be further than the truth. I think the fact that ALEX is in development IS relevent and exciting information and my congratulations were sincere. Glad you like my reviews. :) Mutual adoration all around…or something.

  9. Maria Geraci
    Oct 02, 2009 @ 19:36:53

    Jo, Congratulations on the movie deal! As I said, I liked this book a LOT, and I look forward to seeing it on film some day:)

  10. Jo Davis
    Oct 02, 2009 @ 20:48:14

    Thank you so much, Maria!! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! As for the movie, from your lips… :) Anything can happen, but it’s fun while it lasts…

%d bloggers like this: