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REVIEW:  The Good Boy by Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock

REVIEW: The Good Boy by Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock

TheGoodBoy

Dear Lisa Henry & J.A. Rock,

In late December, the second book of this series was released.  It looked good so I requested it for review.  Because I hadn’t read the first book, I requested that one also.  My review of The Boy Who Belonged will be up shortly.

I’m glad I requested The Good Boy as well:  for two reasons.  First, I think the second book doesn’t work that well as a stand alone. And secondly; I really liked it.

Landon Moredock (who prefers to be called Lane) is a very shy 20 year old. His wealthy parents, Laura and Stephen, regard him as mainly a disappointment.  He’s not particularly athletic, he’s terrified of public speaking of any kind, he doesn’t socialise easily and he’s not academically gifted either. During summer break from the expensive college he was attending in Boston, Landon is evicted from the family home after his mother is arrested for securities fraud.  It turns out his parents had been running a Ponzi scheme and his mother had just been arrested in New York.  Stephen was in Spain and basically uncontactable.  Landon was allowed to take some minimal belongings from his home but the $200 he had in his wallet didn’t get him far.  He had never really had to fend for himself before and money had never been an issue but now he has a steep learning curve.  Added to that, the police, the FBI, the SEC, the media and the general public believe he’s somehow involved and want his head on a platter.

All of this make’s Lane’s self-disgust even worse.  He feels guilty because he didn’t know what was going on with his parents, he feels worthless because his parents left him high and dry to take the rap (especially his father) and his sense of failure  is only enhanced by the vitriol thrown at him by the media.

Derek Fields is a 37 year old photographer with his own business.  He had $15,000 invested with Moredock Investments – a drop in the bucket to most of the wealthy investors but a lot to him.  He’s also angry with Landon Moredock and believes Landon knows where the money is, right along with everyone else in the country it seems.

Derek first sees Landon in the flesh (so to speak) at a party thrown by Acton Wagner, a local real estate tycoon and Moredock family friend (also a Moredock Investments investor).  Derek is there in his capacity as photographer – money is tight and every little job helps.  In desperation and with no-one to turn to, Lane called Acton and to his surprise and relief, Acton seemed pleased to hear from him (unlike everyone else he used to know) and invited him over.  Acton is not a nice man. His motives are not pure by any means.  Lane has had a bit of a crush on Acton for the longest time and they had engaged in a kind of mild (very mild) flirtation for some years.  Lane’s feelings for Acton are very complicated. There is hero worship and a kind of love in that he has always previously felt accepted by Acton, desperation and guilt for what his parents did and, to add to the mix, there’s what Acton does to Lane when he’s in the mansion.

The first night Lane is in Acton’s house, the party is in full swing and Lane and Acton go to his private study to talk – Lane not being up for partying at all. The media have painted him as a party boy/slut which could not be further from the truth – but everyone believes what the media says.  Acton drugs Lane and takes advantage of his youthful attraction and when Derek sees them, he thinks that Lane is drunk but a willing partner.   When Derek (much) later finds out the truth he is very guilty but the picture he is presented with in the study is consistent with the media’s image of Lane and he looked happy and willing, albeit impaired by drugs or alcohol.  At the time, Lane didn’t even know he’d been drugged, although the reader does.

**Trigger warning** There is rape in this book.  It is apparent to the reader at all times that what is happens to Lane in Acton’s house is not consensual by any means but Lane struggles with this for much of the book.  The details of the assault/s are not immediately on the page and are largely told in flashback form but they do appear on page. I found them disturbing but not in the same way I found the scenes in With Or Without Him.  I think it’s because the scene/s didn’t feel to me here, to be to evoke a particular reader reaction.  In this case, I felt they were there as part of the exploration of Lane’s complicated desire for pain and to juxtapose a healthier dynamic which develops with Derek.  Or at least, that’s what I thought.  In any event, I didn’t feel they were there for some kind of titillation or authorial manipulation.  Other readers may not agree.

Acton agrees to give Lane $20,000 for tuition if he stays and is Acton’s “slave” for a week.  Lane is desperate enough to do it and he feels guilty for what his parents had done and for being what he perceives as a failure and believes he deserves to be punished.   After 5 days however, things become too much and Lane leaves, injured and hurt and with about $6 in his wallet.

When Derek spied Lane that first time there was something beautiful in his face and Derek became somewhat fascinated with it (he took a photo and he keeps looking at it).  But Derek is also very angry with the Moredocks and Landon’s party boy image is salt in the wound. Derek comes across Lane a few days later and basically gives him a piece of his mind (just like everyone else has been doing) and sarcastically tells him that Taco Hub are hiring if he’s desperate for work.  When Derek sees Lane again – working at Taco Hub – he begins to realise that the media’s portrayal of Lane is not true in the least and he also sees some bruises on Lane’s wrists.  He offers him some work as a photographic assistant here and there to help him out – Derek is shooting a calendar for the local animal shelter run by his sister, Christy, and needs some help with the animals and equipment.  It turns out that Lane has an affinity for animals – his relationship with Andy, the dog who “doesn’t do people” is pretty special.

As Derek and Lane spend more time together it becomes more and more obvious that Lane had no part of his parent’s scheme and that he is as much their victim as anyone else.  Derek is a Dom and he’s also lonely and the early parts of the book have some kind of amusing, kind of sad scenes where he’s feeling a bit sorry for himself.  In an somewhat unusual twist, at least for me, Derek is out to his family about his BDSM lifestyle and his mother, Erin, even tries to set him up with guys she thinks might like to be spanked (that’s the funny part).

Lane has a deep desire to be punished and hurt but he’s also quite traumatised after his experience with Acton.  Derek is increasingly attracted to Lane and his natural tendency is to be a caretaker/protector and it kind of just happens that they start doing some non sexual D/s scenes.  I’ll be honest here. I’m not personally experienced with any kind of BDSM and what I know about it comes almost entirely from fiction (the rest would be from Twitter and Tumblr – does that count as fiction too?). I’m certainly no expert.  There are parts of it that I don’t “get” entirely.  It’s almost like I can kind of understand it if I squint and don’t think about it too much. That’s not meant to be a judgement at all.  I’m just saying that it’s not my kink and to that extent, I struggle to see the attraction.  That said, I did feel the book showed that Derek didn’t see submission as weakness and he saw Lane’s desire for pain and punishment to be natural and healthy provided it was dealt with in good ways (ie nothing like Acton, all consensual, safe words, etc., etc.).  The first scenes Derek and Lane do are puppy play.  Before I read this book, I had almost no exposure to this kind of kink and very little idea about it.  The portrayal here was, I thought, sympathetic and careful and, while it was a bit out there in terms of my own experience, it didn’t feel as out there as I would have expected all things considered.  There is an explanation given and, in so far as it is possible for me to do so, I understood and accepted it.  (By that, I mean only that because it is not my kink there remains an element of disconnect for me.  In much the same way as I don’t understand why people like eating fish – it’s not my thing, I can get my head around the concept but there’s a level where I can’t understand).

For those readers who are a bit dubious about the puppy play, I will say that it is non-sexual and not at all humiliating.  It is also not something Derek has previously been into and his exploration of it with Lane is new for both of them. It is more about safety and comfort and it ties in with Lane’s innate preference for rules and knowing what is expected of him.

Gradually Derek and Lane become very close and Lane is finally able to share with Derek all that happened with Acton in his house for those 5 days.  Just when things are looking up for them, Lane’s freedom is threatened and things look pretty dire for a while.  Never fear – this is a romance so there is a HEA.  (Maybe that should be an HFN given there is a second book?)

I liked that there was an exploration in the book about submission and how it worked for Lane.  In my limited experience, it felt quite nuanced to me. I liked that Lane became stronger over the course of the book and that Derek’s treatment of Lane was about recognising the strength that Lane did not know he had.  It was a somewhat new take on submission for me and I felt incrementally closer to understanding it.  (Bearing in mind that my understanding is limited to what I see in fiction and I’m aware that not everything I read it accurate or “good”).  Here, it felt authentic.  In so far as the BDSM aspects were portrayed, it felt like you two know of what you write.

I also felt the writing was pretty seamless.  That is, I couldn’t tell where one author finished and the other took over.  Sometimes, in authorial collaborations I have been jarred in and out of a story by abrupt shifts in style but I didn’t notice it at all here.  There was something very engaging about it.  Even when some of the things made me uncomfortable there was a constant draw to keep reading.  I became very invested in Lane and Derek and wanted to see them succeed together.

There is also a wider cast of characters – apart from Christy and Erin (Derek’s sister and mother respectively) there is also Ferg and Brin, Derek’s best friends.  Ferg is a Dom and Brin is a “bratty sub” who was, for a time, Derek’s sub.  I admit I have less understanding about the “brat” dynamic.  To me it sounds a bit like dealing with a toddler and I don’t really see the attraction. It’s also difficult for me to tell if Brin was a caricature.  He’s certainly larger than life.  I found him obnoxious and annoying at first but as the book progressed, his more endearing qualities shone through and I ended the book much more inclined toward liking him than I expected.  Brin and Lane become friends (the part where Brin is “teaching” Lane to throw a tantrum was funny”):

“A tantrum, Lane. I’m sure they weren’t permitted in Sister Shush’s School for the Clinically Silent or wherever you went, but they exist, and they’re actually quite fun.”

Perhaps the most amusing character was Mr. Zimmerman – a scarlet macaw who was owned by “an old man with innumerable medical problems and a mouth like a sailor’s.”

“Damn these hips!” Mr. Zimmerman yelled.

“Bye, Mr. Zimmerman,” Derek called.

“I used to bend like a Vietnamese hooker,” Mr. Zimmerman said.

“You will again. Keep up with your yoga.”

“Fuck it, baby.”

I appreciated the lighter moments – with both Brin and Mr. Zimmerman – which made the book a lot less heavy than it otherwise could have been.  I  felt that the secondary characters had lives outside of their relationships with Derek and Lane and were quite well rounded.

I really liked The Good Boy. I bought the connection between Derek and Lane and loved the little family they made with their close friends and animals.  I liked it so much, I started book 2 immediately I finished this one.

Grade: B+

regards,
Kaetrin

 

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GUEST REVIEW:  Back to You by Jessica Scott

GUEST REVIEW: Back to You by Jessica Scott

Dear Ms. Scott,

In the acknowledgments, you wrote that you have been working on this book since 2008. I can certainly see how this would be a challenging story to get right and while it’s not perfect, I am glad that you persevered. Before I go further, I have to admit that the US military is an organization and culture that is completely unfamiliar to me. When I read military romances, I sometimes wonder about the authenticity and accuracy, but because you are a career officer, I know I can trust you to get it right. That is definitely a plus.

Back to You by Jessica ScottLaura and Trent Davila have been married for more than a decade and have two children, but Trent has been absent for much of the marriage: as an army captain, he has been deployed several times, and although he told Laura that there was no choice about it, she eventually found out that this was not true, and that Trent had actually volunteered to go several times. Feeling that Trent has bailed out on their marriage and unable to trust him, Laura files for divorce.

Around the same time that Laura filed for divorce, an investigation revealed that an officer under Trent’s command had been stealing and selling sensitive items, and the officer implicates Trent in these activities. As a result, Trent is fired from his command and returns to the US to await the conclusion of the investigation and a possible court martial. On top of that, a female soldier has accused Trent of improper advances, which is both damaging to his case and very hurtful for Laura.

Back to You is set about a year after these events, in 2008. Trent has not signed the divorce papers, and realizes that his choices have wrecked his marriage. He returns to Fort Hood, where a hearing is scheduled to take place soon and decide whether his case will go to a court martial. Laura, who works on base as a family readiness liaison for the brigade, still loves Trent, but feels that their marriage is over and wants to move on. Nonetheless, when his lawyer suggests that the two pretend that their marriage is going well as a way to undermine some of the charges, Laura agrees to go along with it, although she makes it clear that she does not believe that they can salvage their marriage. I didn’t really think that the pretend-marriage was needed for the story to work (or a particularly effective legal strategy), but I went along with it.

Laura had been willing to make a lot of sacrifices as an army wife, but finding out about the voluntary deployments and the allegations against Trent crushed her, and she’s afraid of letting him back into her life. Trent is scared because he doesn’t know how to cope with civilian life, including his family, and his way of dealing with it has been to stay away – physically while on deployment and emotionally while home. But this time, he knows that if he wants to fix his relationship with Laura and be a father to his children, he will have to face his problems and somehow find a new normal.

In many romance novels, when heroes carry the sort of emotional baggage that Trent has, it’s resolved with a quick conversation or a cathartic confession. I liked that you chose otherwise and showed Trent’s incremental progress in this regard: learning to ask for help, to share his experiences with others and to rely on them doesn’t come naturally for him and there is no miraculous fix – it’s something he has to work on with Laura, with his psychiatrist and with himself. He has to learn how to be a father and how to really be there in his relationship with Laura.

What didn’t work as well for me was the way Laura and Trent’s reconciliation was portrayed. They both spend a lot of time thinking about their past, what had gone wrong, and their worries about the future – but not a lot happens between them in the present. It was past the 10% point when they saw each other again for the first time, and even after that, there would be long stretches in which there wasn’t much interaction between them. When they did get together, there would often be some major development in terms of their relationship or Trent’s relationship with the kids. Sometimes it just seemed like it was too much and too fast. I wish there had been more Laura and Trent together, rather than Laura or Trent thinking about being together, and I think that might have helped with the pacing and the emotional impact of the story.

The case against Trent isn’t very strong, but the lieutenant who implicated him has a high-ranking and well-connected father so it isn’t something that can just be dismissed. It’s probably for the best that the lieutenant doesn’t make too many appearances, since he’s pretty much a one-note villain with no redeeming characteristics. But the outcome of the investigation and Trent’s consequent choices about his life were believable, and I felt that by the end, Laura and Trent were headed in the right direction. B-.

Best regards,
Rose

Rose lives in a country where romance readers are few and far between, so discovering romance websites was a welcome development. When not busy with reading and graduate school, she can often be found online discussing romance novels or sports –occasionally both at the same time. She has no TBR pile and is forever looking to change this unfortunate fact; recommendations for historicals, romantic suspense and contemporaries (preferably of the non-small town variety) are welcome.

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