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REVIEW:  Don’t Judge Me by Sylvie Fox

REVIEW: Don’t Judge Me by Sylvie Fox

dont-judge-me

So far, Raphael Augustine’s ten year career as a comedian consists of a lot of ones: one night gigs, one night stands, and one night in jail. But he’s committed to inking a successful TV deal, nonetheless. He’s not looking for a relationship and certainly doesn’t expect to have his briefs tied in a knot by a prim and proper woman from Connecticut.
There’s not much to laugh about in Daisy Fletcher’s life. She never thought an Ivy League degree would land her work as an adult webmaster. Years later, fake chat room dates are her only companions, and a failing business her reward. Her father always told her men only want one thing. By selling that one thing to virtual customers, she’s lost faith in the opposite sex.

After Daisy catches Raphael’s shirt during a striptease at a gay bar, she’s tempted. Can a rakish comic change her ideas about love and fortune?

Dear Ms. Fox,

In a world full of romance books on SEALs, billionaires and Dukes I love it when an author steps outside the ordinary and gives me something different. When I read the blurb and saw this would be about a stand-up comic with issues and a woman who makes her living funneling users to adult internet porn sites, I thought now there’s a book I want to try. While I appreciated the unusual livelihoods of Raphael and Daisy, ultimately I had other issues with the story.

The story jumps into gear with a fast start. Daisy needs more oomph in her business which is suffering from user ennui. No, it’s not that people have stopped using adult websites but as Daisy has found out, the demand and drive is for new, New, NEW faces and combos and content. Eventually that will come back to haunt her but tonight it drives her to beg her friend Nari to accompany her to a gay bar where she meets her catnip, Korean-American Raphael.

But Daisy thinks Raphael is gay (he’s not, but his brother is) though this misunderstanding avoids being milked for comic relief. No, it’s when Raphael is arrested for sex with an underage minor (turns out the girl is of age but barely) that the truth comes out. Meanwhile Daisy is crushing on Raphael’s Korean-ness. Lots of effort goes into Daisy telling us that she’s really not fetishizing but given that she keeps saying how attracted she is to Raphael because of his ethnicity along with her long term friendship with Nari, Nari’s family, and Korean food, I find it hard to believe.

But okay let’s move on to Raphael. He’s not the typical hero material if only because of the many ways he keeps screwing up. I’m used to a hero being humanized with one bad decision but sleeping with a barely legal female is only the start of his problems with other women. But for some reason, he’s still attracted to Daisy. When he discovers what she does for a living, he thinks he’s hit the jackpot of sex with a sexy woman who knows all about sex from her job. A terrible first sexual encounter with Daisy keeps his sexual scorecard in the negative.

Daisy’s best friend Nari has been desperately trying to get Daisy to quit her job but then Nari sort of disappears for sections of the story. Daisy really stretches their friendship to the breaking point when she pulls the stunt for her work videos at Nari’s house. Seriously, just washing Nari’s $500 bedding would never be enough to make up for staging a porn shoot there. Meanwhile, Daisy’s longstanding issues with her WASP family (including alcoholic mother) continue.

Raphael faces his own family problems with a father who has rejected his gay son and an immigrant mother who can’t or won’t stand up to her husband over it. He works his ass off to win a reality TV show that will get him a network contract and tries to work to keep Daisy in his life after never having to work to get any woman before. Will he be able to get her to leave her lucrative sex industry business behind and has 10 years of it warped her idea of sexual normal?

There’s a lot going on here. It’s edgy, it takes some risks with trying to make us like the hero after his sexual exploits. It deals with family logistics and immigration worries. It deals with Asian stereotypes while also exploiting them and then throws in some WASP ones as well. What was whole WASP aspect for? To show how Daisy learned her business skills from her banker father? To bring in the issue of her mother’s drinking? Just to show she has a flawed family too? And has Daisy’s view of sex and men been skewed?

The problem for me is that all of these things are introduced but few of them are carried to a end. The story builds up to a scene and then it’s over without us seeing how it resolves. At one point my notes say, “Back and forth again.” So many plot points get introduced but then sink without a trace.

Their relationship goes like a gerbil in a wheel. It just keeps seeming to circle around and doesn’t really get anywhere new until suddenly the book is almost over and both declare they love the other. I closed the book still feeling like they’re feeling their way through and not quite to the stage that is presented as done.

It did make me want to try all this Korean food. But I’m still uneasy about the way the book ends. I’m told that they’re in love and in a steady relationship but I think they’ve still got a lot of work to do and have some issues that I never really saw resolved. Perhaps that’s intended and this is a HFN, which I can see, but not quite a HEA. C-

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Eagle’s Heart by Alyssa Cole

REVIEW: Eagle’s Heart by Alyssa Cole

eagles-heartDear Alyssa Cole,

Salomeh Jones is a Brooklyn high school teacher whose attempt to aid an abused student ruins her career and puts her life in jeopardy. Julian Tamali is a special agent hot on the trail of the Albanian mafia boss responsible for a slew of crimes, including the death of Julian’s family. When Julian finds a connection between the mafia boss and the disgraced school teacher, he sets into motion a series of events that will change their lives forever.

A night of pleasure throws them into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the man who has kidnapped Salomeh’s student and is possibly providing weapons to terrorists. Caught in a web of passion, danger, and betrayal, Julian and Salomeh must stop the mafia boss or forfeit their chance at redemption–and their lives.

We’ve been talking a lot in Romancelandia lately about diversity and when I saw this one tweeted by Suleikha Snyder I went and had a look.  Most of the “gang” books I’ve read (not that there have been terribly many) have been about motorcycle gangs clubs and the heroes there are different in that they’re often criminals.  I liked the idea of a gang book where the hero was an undercover agent – there’s no conflict about who is the good guy here.  (I was mistaken in one respect – Julian Tamali is not undercover at all.)  I also liked that the main characters were racially diverse and that the cover reflects that – although Salomeh’s hair was curly in the book.

I’m trying to include more diversity in my reading but when it comes down to it, those things in themselves won’t make me like a book.  It’s down to the story and the characters.  Here, unfortunately, I found the heroine boarded the too-stupid-to-live train and pretty much stayed right on it till the end of the line.  Salomeh is a high school teacher.  She is involved in mentoring programs and is very dedicated.  When one of her students (whom she feels as close to as a daughter – which surprised me and not in a good way) is being abused by her mother and her mother’s boyfriend, Salomeh reports him to the police.  Unfortunately, the boyfriend, Alexi, works for Albanian gang boss, Bardhyn.  Bardhyn has cops all over the place in his pocket and Salomeh’s allegations go nowhere.  Instead, the book opens when she is told that there are allegations that she molested her students being made against her and she is suspended.  She is hounded by the media who are after a salacious story and even though the charges are dropped, her career appears to have been utterly ruined.  At one point Salomeh thinks

How exactly would she explain that she might pop up in his local child-predator registry?

I’m hoping this was hyperbolic thinking because she was never convicted of any crime and so would not be appearing on any child-predator registries.

Julian hears about a teacher whose career has been ruined by Bardhyn, former BFF and the man he’s been trying to put away for years.  Looking Salomeh Jones up online and then doing FBI-type searches about her, he falls instantly in lust (Salomeh looks awesome in a bikini).  He does plan to interview her regarding her knowledge of Bardhyn but it happens that they are at the same 4th of July party where he fails to tell her he is an FBI agent.  They do have a connection and the banter between them at the party and the way they clearly spent a lot of time talking with each other made the attraction between them understandable and obvious. This was one of the strongest sections of the story.

When Salomeh finds out who Julian actually is, she is angry, hurt and betrayed but pretty soon she finds he is the only one she can rely on as the bullets start flying.  Julian does give fairly good apology about the deception and from then on he is honest with her.

Yelena, the girl at the heart of the allegations has disappeared and Salomeh fears for her safety.  Despite the fact that Salomeh is a school teacher and not a ninja assassin, she thinks it is a good idea to confront Alexi in an effort to get Yelena, safely away from him.  After this goes about as well as you’d expect (ie, really badly), Salomeh still does not learn her lesson.  After Julian comes clean and she is being interviewed by Julian’s boss she refuses FBI protection.  Bardhyn is a very powerful mob boss who has evaded criminal sanctions for a very long time.  He is involved in human trafficking, drugs and guns and he has city officials and police/FBI agents on his payroll.  But that’s fine, Salomeh can just hide out on her own.  (Fortunately Julian convinces her this is a bad idea and to her credit Salomeh does listen to reason).

The sex scenes were mostly pretty good, except for this:-

He wondered if the people around them could possibly tell she was so wet for him that she was soaking through his jeans as she worked herself on his thigh.

which was kind of ick for me. And I’m not fond of sex noises being described as “yips and cries”.  Apart from that however, the sex scenes were definitely steamy, creative and demonstrated the sexual connection between the couple.

I didn’t love the writing style.  I found it over-full of adjectives and adverbs

His grip on her became even tighter, his intensity leaving Salomeh gasping for breath as he molded her body to his. She had wondered at his strength earlier in the night. Now, as his hard pectorals heaved under her palms and his corded biceps held her in his thrall, she knew the feel of brute power tempered by adulation.

and there were quite a few times where I felt the word choice was odd. I felt it was badly in need of further editing.

Julian was painfully hard now, from his memory of the picture alone. He felt a flash of impropriety as he slipped his hand under the blanket and gripped his cock tentatively like he was a nervous teenager expecting someone to come bang on the bathroom door.

He’d thought fantasizing about Salomeh would clear her from his head, but even now, still out of breath from his expenditure, he wanted more.

Bardhyn had laid Julian’s life fallow, had watched the flicker of hope in his friend’s eyes snuff out and be replaced with agony.

It had the melodic but dolorous tone of something not quite European.

She drew her knees up to her chest, innately curling up into the fetal position as if that would ward off any additional blows.

Things did pick up a bit in the last third of the book after I had taken a breather and tried to come back to the story with a more open mind (when I’m not enjoying a book, I find myself being extra critical and I don’t always think that’s fair).  But then Salomeh went and did something really dumb again and, given she and Julian had talked about how he is a trained FBI agent and she is a school teacher and she ought to stay where she was, I really couldn’t cut her any slack for inexperience or naivete. She falls back into bad (TSTL) habits for the grand finale even though she suddenly does develop some ninja moves.

Something wild possessed her, and instead of slowing down, she sped up. In a few steps, she was an arm’s length away from the man. She stopped short and delivered two quick jabs, one to his throat and one to his nose, followed by a hard kick to his groin. She did it so fast she surprised herself. She had obviously surprised him too, since he had put up no resistance. The man fell to his knees, and Julian came up from behind her and finished him off with a hard right to the jaw.

The main portion of the story takes place in only a very short time but the HEA doesn’t occur straight away – this helped me believe that there was more to their relationship than physical attraction.  Even so I thought the exchange of “I love you” was mighty fast, coming prior to the epilogue.  I was curious about what Salomeh was doing at the end of the book (or perhaps, more accurately, how she had managed it) and would have liked some more information about that.  I thought the ending was kind of abrupt.

It wasn’t the diversity I didn’t like. I still intend to read books by authors of colour or about characters of colour and I appreciated the ethnic blend of characters in this story,  where a white woman was very much in the minority.  The Brooklyn setting with its population of people from many different countries was a plus – I don’t know for sure, but my impression is that the area is a bit of a melting pot – and I liked reading about life outside my own very white world.

There were some parts of the story which flowed better for me and some sentences/phrases that worked really well – like this one

“You okay, 007?” she asked when his eyes met hers, and he realized he had let his mask drop and his face was an open book, dog-eared at the sexiest scene.

- and I noticed those because there were others which really didn’t.  I was trying to find things to like in the book by the end but unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot.

Grade: D

Regards,
Kaetrin

 

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