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

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.

REVIEW: The Fire Within by Joely Sue Burkhart

REVIEW: The Fire Within by Joely Sue Burkhart

Dear Ms Burkhart,

I was intrigued by the first story in your Keldari world, “Survive My Fire.” Intrigued enough that when you sent us a copy of the second installment, I immediately made plans to read it. It took me a while to get to it but I found it as interesting as the first. I’d like to thank you for creating the Guide to Keldari culture as I think this will assist readers new to this world you’ve created.

There’s nothing gentle, sweet or kind about this story or the people in it. The world you’ve created is harsh and filled with hard people who are willing to do what is required to survive. Everyone is an enemy unless something worse threatens them. Life is based on a ruthlessness that allows no place for the weak. When this is circumvented, chaos results as the hero Zahak discovers. I thought the religion of the Keldaris somewhat resembled that of the Vikings. Life is short and hard, filled with violence and in the end, most of us are going to die in the final showdown with the gods (or in the case of the Keldaris, with their dragon god). They feel their suffering and hard life is due to an ancient sin committed by their people, one which must be paid for with their blood. Question: have you stated what this ancient sin is and I’ve forgotten or missed it? Or will it be revealed later?

When Zahak sees a chance to fulfill an ancient prophecy and thereby offer his people a better chance to survive, he jumps at it. Eleni is of the bloodline needed to raise a Keldari warrior to the position of head of all the tribes. Zahak will see to her delivery to his brother, whom he has positioned and fought for all his life to advance to this leadership role, at all costs. The journey shows just how harsh is Keldari life and is one most people wouldn’t survive. The fact that Eleni does make it shows how tough she is and supports the horrifying background you’ve given her. As bad as the long trip across burning sands with little water is, it’s a cake walk compared to the life she’s lived with her vicious “cruel not only because I can but because I enjoy it” brother.

You gradually show us more about the history and lifestyle of the Keldaris without resorting to an info dump. I would hope that newbies take the time to read the guidelines first before starting any of these books. I wondered if the acceptance of their doomed existence is behind the fact that they don’t try and find or take over a new homeland – one with some water in it? Yet as grim as this world is, I didn’t get quite the hopeless feeling I did with the first book. Yes, there’s going to be more suffering and the prophecy hasn’t been fulfilled yet but there might be hope for these people.

The dragon shapeshifting isn’t as prominent to this story. We do finally see it yet in the Keldari world, shapeshifting is more a curse than in many shifter worlds. It’s something to be fought, feared and avoided if possible. Just because a dragon has mated, it doesn’t mean that s/he won’t try and kill a mate as easily as anyone else who gets in its way. Mating is dangerous in and of itself with biting and marking going on. The bloodsucking leads a sort of vampirish feel to this world as well. There is also a hint, though just a bare hint, of ‘fated mate.’ Though since anyone of a certain bloodline would work, it’s less so than other stories I’ve read. I’ll be honest and say that the relationship between Eleni and her brother was beginning to make me squirm. I didn’t detect any incest but their mental closeness and certain things about their shared political past brought to mind the relationship of Commodus and Lucilla a la “Gladiator.”

As with “Survive My Fire,” I felt the use of adjectives was well done. This is a hot land and flaming, blazing, burning, cracked and parched let us know that. The land and the people are all well described. I did find it a little hard to follow the minutiae during the big fight sequence at the end but overall I could understand what you intended. Since I don’t read too many paranormal books, it might be that this world isn’t as unique as I find it to be but I feel that your approach it separates it from the usual romance fare. B

~Jayne

available as an ebook