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REVIEW: Dreamer by Ann Mayburn

REVIEW: Dreamer by Ann Mayburn

Dear Ms. Mayburn,

I’m always on the look out for Paranormal Romance stories that don’t feature the usual set up of vampires vs werewolves or angels vs demons. Though I haven’t read your work before, the blurb for Dreamer, the new book in your Chosen by the Gods series, intrigued me because it offered a paranormal setting in which a variety of old gods are not only real, but active in modern life. Dreamer is listed as a romance with elements of domination and submission. The BDSM sub-genre isn’t really my thing, but I was curious about your world-building, and I’m always happy to read romances featuring multi-cultural protagonists, so I decided to give it a try.

Dreamer	Ann MayburnIn the world of this series, there appears to have been a Religious Revolution in the 1960s or 1970s which reintroduced ancient gods and magic to the modern world. In addition to temples and worship of ancient gods being commonplace, this world features a select group of Chosen humans who are granted increased longevity and special powers by their patron gods. The hero, Devon King, has a combative, dominant personality commensurate with his role as the Chosen of an ancient war god. The heroine, Shan Harrison, is a potential Chosen and not-quite-closeted submissive whom Devon must protect from the Chosen of the bad gods of Destruction who want to prevent her ascension into the ranks of the Chosen.

I usually like a little moral ambiguity in both villains and heroes, so I was disappointed by the very clear line drawn in Dreamer between the forces of Creation and Destruction. (Creation = Good; Destruction = Bad.) I read this story just before Jane posted her letter of opinion on villains, but I think many of the points raised in that post explain my dissatisfaction with the bad guys, and subsequent lack of engagement in the battle between the two sides.

The romance also did not really engage me, but I think much of my reaction to that aspect of the story stems from the fact that I am not this novel’s target audience. Common trappings of BDSM romances featured in this story, like bondage clubs and leather or plastic clothing, just don’t interest me. Instead, I find myself idly wondering about the janitorial and dry cleaning services the clubs and characters must use, and whether they have to pay a premium.

Though the romance plot leans more toward the sexual than the emotional, it revolves around Shan learning about BDSM and reconciling her desire to be dominated in the bedroom with her need to be in control of the public aspects of her life. While I appreciated that you provided emotional arcs for the heroine in both the romance and action plots, Devon’s character didn’t change much and the characterization in general struck me as shallow. By the end of the book, I realized I was more engaged by the bittersweet love between Devon’s parents—secondary characters who make a brief appearance together—than I was in finding out whether Devon and Shan got their HEA.

Despite all that, there are things I liked about Dreamer. For one thing, this is the second installment in a series, but it worked very well on its own. Although the worldbuilding failed to fully capture my imagination, I did appreciate the respite it provided from the parade of vampires and were animals that so heavily populate Paranormal Romance.

Lastly, I really enjoyed the multicultural cast of characters. While my preferences in fiction tend toward the fantastic, paranormal, or just plain improbable, I do wish more of the stories I read reflected or surpassed the cultural, racial, and religious diversity and complexity of real life.

I had a difficult time picking a rating for this book because I knew going in that a D/S romance probably wouldn’t resonate with me, but read it anyway. I want to be honest, but I also want to be fair. While Dreamer is not a book I would be eager to reread or recommend, I also don’t regret having read it. Dear Author’s FAQ on review grades pegs that sentiment as a C, so that’s the grade I’ll give it.


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REVIEW: Velvet Submission by Violet Summers

REVIEW: Velvet Submission by Violet Summers

Dear Ms. Summers.

Velvet Submission Cover imageI picked up this book because it was a romance with a female dominant and a male submissive, which is about the only reason I read straight romance nowadays. And while I enjoyed it, it has solidified for me that BDSM romance is mostly about fantasy fulfillment rather than verisimilitude. I’m becoming more accepting of that fact but it’s still disappointing to hope for a romance with BDSM-identified people I might realistically meet and get instead…a fantasy. But then what is any romance but fantasy, right? Where/when/why does the desire for stark reality bend to the needs of the story? I don’t know, but this story was too much fantasy, not enough reality for my tastes. (I’ll reiterate here that the “reality” I’m looking for is psychological, emotional reality, not complete James-Joyce-ian stream of consciousness of actual reality.)

One of my biggest problems with this book, however, was something else, and something that effects even my plot summary: it’s so obviously part of a series of romances that it was difficult to follow a lot of what was happening. Characters were either past or future main characters of their own stories and it got to be very annoying and rather confusing when more and more characters piled in for their own cameo. Not only did I not understand all the character connections because of this sequel-baiting, the timeline of the story was strangely off.

For example: in some near past, Megan Jamison went to a club called Velvet Ice and found herself very much at home in its more private upper floors, which are a BDSM club, but was barred from it because of her friend’s feud with the club owner, a plot point that was obviously important to the larger series but was so irrelevant to Megan’s story it was maddening. In some measure of time, she manages to rate a private room at the club. This plot point (will she or won’t she get in to the club) is unnecessary to THIS story and drags out the beginning so that it’s really slow, rather than focusing the beginning of the story on the interaction and tension between the main characters.

All this time, Megan has been attracted to one of the club’s bouncers, Gregori Lavinkia, a sexual submissive. But she refused to play with him because…well, I’m still not 100% sure. She repeats again and again that she won’t play with him because she never has sex with her submissives and, I guess, Gregori makes her want to have sex:

As a Domme she needed to call the shots. She didn’t want to give over control, and that’s exactly what happened when she made love. So, to protect herself, Megan had compartmentalized. She kept sex tame and vanilla-’and infrequent-’and saved her passion for Velvet Ice. She couldn’t, wouldn’t let the two merge.

But Gregori doesn’t just want to submit to her, he wants a full D/s relationship. They go back and forth on this, with him pursuing her and her refusing him, until finally they have a showdown in which she tops him and bests him and retreats:

She’d fucking Mastered his fine ass, and kept her composure the whole time, proving once and for all that for her, D/s wasn’t about the sex.

The throbbing between her thighs said she was a liar.

He then begs to be only her lover, rather than her submissive, because having any part of her is better than nothing. And then of course (and very quickly) they work things out and all live HEA.

The BDSM scenes and the sex scenes are super hot and very well done. What disappoints me about this book, however, is something that someone else without my own personal experiences might find perfectly fine. These two are into BDSM for reasons: Megan is a Southern Belle rebelling against her Daddy’s domineering life plans for her by dominating submissives at the club, by never losing control, and by never having sex with them, although I’m never sure how and why she makes the jump to BDSM to exercise control rather than…I don’t know, being anorexic or an exercise freak or a crazy cat lady or something more socially normal. Nor do I really understand how and why she manages to separate BDSM from sex, but maybe that’s just me. Gregori is a submissive and masochist in order to sublimate the pain of his Russian upbringing…or something: it’s never really explained well — Yeltsin’s regime is brought up, and that didn’t really work for me because it’s not like the 1990s in Russia were 1960s Cold War communism. Anyway, not only did I find their reasons paper thin (in an ebook); I found the NEED for a reason frustrating. No one asks why gay people are gay. Okay, scratch that: no one sane and rational asks why gay people are gay. We’ve accepted the fact that gay people ARE, that being gay an immutable part of their nature that doesn’t need explanation or to be changed. It IS. Not so much with BDSM, apparently. So instead we have pop psychology of an Electra complex and a strangely (a)political statement about the deprivations of…post-communist Russia? None of which really ACTUALLY explain why these two people are so heavily into BDSM — mostly because being into BDSM doesn’t need explaining. It’s as much a sexual orientation as being gay is.

That aside, whether or not it’s an issue for your other readers, the realization of how to overcome Megan’s barrier to the relationship (because Gregori has no barrier and very little character development — he’s just strong and hot and a wonderful submissive) is abrupt and ridiculously easy. We’ve got Daddy complexes galore and one phone conversation makes her change her whole worldview, blowing all psychological barriers out of the water and leaving her open to Gregori’s love? Uh, okay. And once the crisis is over, there’s still another 20 pages (of 70) of the story left. You would have done better investing as much time into the overcoming of the barrier as you did into constructing it, with less time on the denouement and happiness at the end. These are both writerly issues that have very little to do with my own personal hang-ups about BDSM and bugged me slightly more than your depiction of BDSM.

That aside, like I said, the sex and the BDSM scenes were hot. The emotion was strong. The sexual tension was good. Gregori is a wonderful sexual submissive. There’s no cringing around the fact that there’s a male submissive and a female dominant. If this is a peek into a future with more femdom stories, I’m (mostly, sort of) happy with it.

But what I’d really like to see is a BDSM romance with characters who just accept that they ARE kinky, without needing reasons for it. I mean, angst about that is fine (needing to beat someone and/or be beaten to get off — rather than *choosing* to, as shown in this story — is a very difficult thing to accept, after all). But angst about manufactured reasons about WHY one likes to beat someone up and/or be beaten for jollies is a different thing and rings false to me. I stress the “to me” part of that. This story might and probably will work for other readers without my own personal hangups. Because, like I said, the emotion is strong, the sexual tension is good, the characters are enjoyable.

And finally, authors, can we PLEASE stop with the BDSM clubs? I mean, really, please? Been there, done that. Find another way to get your kinky characters together. Maybe a kinky craft club? Or a kinky reading group? Or, hey, maybe two people just meeting each other like normal people and recognizing something in each other that might work? Something different? Please?

Grade: C+

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

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