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Dear Author

REVIEW: Cage by Harper Sloan

Dear Ms. Sloan:

This book was recommended on the basis that it was in the vein of Kristen Ashley. I avoided the first book because many reviews indicated that the heroine was weak and somewhat twee, spending her time being held by all the big handsome men in her life while she weeped.  Not my thing.

The male protagonist is Greg Cage, a big security professional, who lost his sister to a domestic abuser. The story opens with Greg having sex with a “bitch” named Amanda. Greg treats this person cruelly. While he bills himself as super protective and caring about women, it’s only a certain type of woman that is deserving of that type of treatment.

This is how Greg views himself:

Some of us are put on this earth to heal, to make others’ lives brighter, and when those people don’t want our help, our love? We feel it deep.

Yet this is how he treats the woman he has sex with in the first chapter.

Why do I put up with this bitch? Oh, that’s right, because if I wait any longer to get some, my dick will shrivel off. “Amanda,” I roar her full name. “Hear me right now. You do not get to sit here and sling that shit. My sister calls and I’m done. Get that now, if you ever plan on revisiting my bed.”

“You’re done? Your dick is still hard,” she shrieks at me.

I don’t have to look down to know that my dick is screaming at me to finish. I reach down and caress my balls, trying unsuccessfully to ease the ache that is coiling in my gut. Fuck… I need this so bad.

“Babe. I don’t have time to take my time. You want to finish? Fine, but it will be hard and fast.”

This feeling of not helping is new to me. For the last almost five years, I have been the rock, the go to, the strength to help, and it almost makes me feel like I am doing something that would make Grace proud of me. Something better than all those years that I spent wasting away, living off booze, and whores on the road.

Cage’s attitude toward Amanda is stomach churning. He is so mean to her and why? Because she opens her legs to him. She pursues him avidly and doesn’t take no for an answer. Why should she? He goes from sticking his fingers in the female protagonist’s sex on a dance floor to punishing Amanda by boning Amanda in the back room.  Mandy is clearly mentally unbalanced but instead of treating this as a serious concern worthy of someone’s “help” she’s referenced as thus:

 I don’t care what happens to the bitch, but according to him, she is back on her meds and seeking help. ‘Back on the meds’ should have been clue enough that she really is a psycho bitch. Maybe next time, she will keep up with those damn pills. All that matters is he says that she won’t be a problem, and I believe him.

I took from this that a person who may take medication (such as a person who is bipolar, depressed, manic, etc) is a psycho.  I found this just one of many distressing characterizations. Probably the worst, though is Sway.

Sway is the only gay character in the book and his depiction is over the top and stereotypical of a certain type of gay (none that I’ve ever encountered). He’s constantly making lewd comments about all the assets of the Corps Security. He dresses in skin tight pants and shirts. He calls people “darlin’.” In one scene he is painting the sidewalk in front of the security offices in gold glitter and throws the glitter onto these men. Sway has no role within the book other than to be the comic relief.  He is in two scenes, one going crazy over a baby and this one where he is painting the sidewalk in glitter and throwing it on the hot men of the Corps Security.

A clear sign of my distraction is my missing Sway’s presence when I pull up at Corps Security. I am busy picturing Melissa bent over my kitchen counter, but when I look up and see Swag waving like an idiot, the hard on I have been sporting all morning dies a quick death.

What the fuck?

Over the last few years that I have known this man, I have learned he is as unpredictable as they come. But the sight that meets me this morning is like nothing he has ever done before. There he is, standing on the sidewalk wearing those camouflage skintight pants things that chicks wear. The ones that make a man fall all over himself to follow her ass around the world, but on this man, they might scar me for life. If that isn’t enough, the sparkling burgundy shirt hugging his round  stomach might get a good laugh. Then, I notice what he is doing.

“Sway? Why are you painting the sidewalk?” I question, looking down into the bucket of golden shining paint, “Is that fucking glitter?”

“Don’t you start with all your alpha hotness, Gregory. Of course, this is glitter! You can’t paint the sidewalk gold without glitter!” He’s serious, bobbing his head left and right, and waving his hands all over the place.

“This is for real? You’re painting the sidewalk fucking gold? Does Axel know about this shit?”

“Of course he does, my king of hotness. Don’t be such a tight ass. Actually, never mind that darlin’, be a tight ass… just let me see it.” He starts laughing like a loon and all I can do is look around and notice the explosion of fucking glitter.

“Sway, my man, you wouldn’t know what to do with me.” He sobers instantly and I kick myself for encouraging him. “Forget I said that. Tell me why you feel the need to throw glitter all over the damn place?”

“Because my hunk of fine, glitter makes everyone happy!” When he starts dancing around his paint bucket, I have to leave. There is only so much Sway that I can handle when he is acting like this. I might joke, but that man is the funniest little shit I have ever met.

The second Coop steps out of the out of the jeep, Sway attacks, throwing glitter in the air and screaming ‘good morning’. When he leaps into Coop’s arms, I fear I might hurt something, laughing as hard as I am.

The plot is essentially Melissa and Cage dealing with “psycho”, learning to overcome the loss of their sisters to the same domestic abuser, and learning to trust each other. As for the romance between Cage and Melissa, there mutual lust was apparent but even with their similarities (and crazy coincidences) I didn’t really understand why they loved each other. Their animal attraction was the primary driver of their connection for so much of the story and the love rested almost solely on the fact that they’d both lost someone due to domestic violence. But the love? I have no idea what the one loved about the other outside of the bedroom activities.

There are a lot of references to sad women and the other men in the Corps Security group and how their love for each other is kept unconsummated through some secret angst.  These scenes were awkwardly inserted throughout the story in a very repetitive manner.  Cage would see one of the ladies looking distressed and the corresponding Corps Security would be either destroying their office or stomping around tragically unhappy.  Cage’s heart would hurt for all involved. I guess because unrequited love is not psycho and therefore worthy of his big heart.

I know I’m supposed to see Melissa as this awesome chick who stands up for herself and takes care of herself, her mom, and her nephew; yet Melissa spends every night at Cage’s house and Cohen, the nephew, makes only a few appearances. Given that Melissa was essentially her nephew’s mother since Melissa’s sister died, her inattention to Cohen seemed weird and only served to enforce that Melissa was more interested in physical pleasure than anything else. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Melissa was supposed to be this awesome self sacrificing heroine who was taking up the yoke of motherhood.  The showing never matched the telling.

Finally, Melissa’s treatment toward Mandy was disturbing. Yes, Mandy slashed Melissa’s tires but Melisssa’s constant references to Mandy as “demented” and “fucking nuts” and “psycho bitch” just served to reinforce this idea that those who suffer from a mental illness are somehow lesser. I’m sure that this isn’t what I was supposed to take away from the book. I know I was supposed to see Mandy as the villain because she kept trying to interfere with Cage and Melissa and became increasingly unstable and dangerous, but Mandy was written with such a heavy hand (with her fake tits and her complete lack of self esteem and her wild eyes) that I couldn’t help but feeling sorry for her.  The insults thrown Mandy’s way actually distressed me rather than made me want to cheer Melissa.

This book has received glowing reviews and maybe there’s a story here I didn’t see but the characters’ actions as written revealed a completely different set of individuals than the reader was told existed. D

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW:  For Your Eyes Only by Sandra Antonelli

REVIEW: For Your Eyes Only by Sandra Antonelli

Blurb

By day, Willa is a mild-mannered scientist; by night, she’s on the trail of stolen classified documents. Technically that makes Detective John Tilbrook on her side, but Willa has secrets she can’t share…

John is instantly fascinated by the new physicist on the block, even though Willa keeps her distance. A fan of coincidence and happy endings, John has plans for the secretive scientist with the wicked sense of humour.

But Willa has more than her heart on the line — her best friend is at the top of the suspect list for espionage, she’s having trouble leading her double life, and somehow her hair just turned purple. As days speed past, Willa’s life unravels as she struggles to come to terms with her unexpected feelings for a man she just met. John’s a big fan of happily-ever-afters, but will he believe in love and happiness when Willa divulges the real reason she’s in town? Will he break the law he’s sworn to uphold — for love?

Dear Ms. Antonelli,

I’m afraid this is going to come off a bit like “Jekyll and Hyde” review a book. There are parts of this book I really like and some that seemed aimless to me at the time even though they eventually all tie together. The destination was worth the trip but the ride sometimes got boring.

for-your-eyes-onlyAs with “Renovation,” I am delighted with the ages of these main characters. John immediately notices the fine age lines at the corners of Willa’s eyes and likes them. She’s got character and the wisdom of maturity and he’s the same way. They speak and make references that I grew up with – ABBA song lyrics, and 80s pop tunes – and they both think, as I do, that 8 year olds shouldn’t cake on eye liner and sing about their ass in their jeans. If that makes them – and me – sound like the “next stop is liver spots, incontinence, and dentures” so be it. I know these characters. They are me and I love reading about them as the hero and heroine and not as cute oldsters.

Another thing I immediately picked up on and wish there had been more of is Willa’s synesthesia. I first read about this years ago in an article in Smithsonian magazine and was enthralled. I wanted this too. To hear sound/voices in colors, for my letters and numbers to have color and feeling, to experience the world in such an unusual and fascinating way. The only other romance character I recall with it was in an old book called “Enchant Me Not” by Michele Hauf. So kudos to you for including this and for having it help Willa in her investigation. I just wish a bit more of how she sees life on a daily basis had found its way into the story.

Willa is a strong woman. She can change her own tires – well except for one stubborn lug nut – and if she needs help, she’ll ask for it, thank you. She’s a physicist too! An honest to God, works at Los Alamos, brainiac PhD. I wanted to stand up and cheer about the fact that she doesn’t turn stupid to get a man nor give up life goals. Part of this is that she’s past the age of having children and her idea of marriage and settling down is from the viewpoint of a woman approaching 50 but still, she’s smart and stays that way.

John is the starry eyed romantic of the two, the one who thinks in terms of “meet cute” and romcoms. He’s also almost endlessly understanding when Will tells him she doesn’t have the time for a relationship. John is a man of patience who knows who he wants – Willa – and is willing to put the time into getting her. I did worry at the end when he (finally) blows a gasket and wonder if all your heroes will end up doing this. But then it becomes clear – and you have laid the ground work for this – why he should be allowed to and that what he tells Willa doesn’t mean he doesn’t still love her. As John says, these are extraordinary circumstances, ones involving the FBI, classified documents and national security. In other words, not your every day conflict. Willa does tell him some stuff about what she’s doing but not everything. I can admire that as does John once he’s learned about it.

But as I was reading the book, I couldn’t help but feel that it’s told in vignettes which might be fun to read but which often appeared random and unconnected. I’d finish a section and think, “why is that here?” Why should I care about Willa’s contentious relationship with her step-daughter, the murder investigation John’s working on, Willa’s widowhood, or the fact that several men are falling in love with Willa? Eventually it did all make sense but I think readers need to know to stick with this story.

This book also has a lot more extra-romantical stuff than did “Renovation.” The investigation is a major part instead of mere background “white noise.” Willa and John spend a lot of time “on paper” apart because of it. It also comes complete with an alphabet soup of FBI agents. The stakes here make me glad I don’t deal with this level of classified stuff. Thank you for managing to keep it straight and fairly easy to understand even if I have no clue what Willa and her colleagues actually work on when they’re doing their physicist stuff.

My feelings about how to grade the book shifted as I neared the end. I loved that John brings Willa “back to life” and gets her to laugh again. I love that Willa inspires John to be the romantic hero it seems he’s always wanted to be and shows that nice guys can finish first. The resolution of the document leaks actually seems more realistic to me than a bunch of Black Ops crap. The angst and pain that they both go through on the way to a HEA – which I agree is better than a happy ending – feels like two mature people who have lived and lost and are delighted (and a little scared) to find love again. I just wish so much of the body of the book hadn’t seemed so random while I was reading it. B-

~Jayne

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