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REVIEW:  Midnight Alias by Elle Kennedy

REVIEW: Midnight Alias by Elle Kennedy

Dear Ms. Kennedy:

I keep trying your non Samhain titles in hopes that I can find another winner but while this book started out with promise it fizzled after the first 1/3. The hero, Luke Dubois, is staking out a club and falls for one of the strippers. Olivia Taylor is thought to be the mob boss’s girlfriend by Luke’s team and with good reason.  The mob boss, Vincent Angelo, is in love with Olivia and she has maintained a certain distance from the mob boss by playing on his belief that she is pure and innocent and must be kept in that state.  It’s okay for Olivia to take her clothes off for a living but not sleep with the villain before marriage.

Luke watches the heroine and is immediately convinced by her hair swinging, hip swiveling, dick hardening dancing that she is an innocent in need of saving.  After all, Luke points out that she takes care of her mother and hands out change to homeless people.  A woman like that cannot possibly be sleeping with a bad guy.   His gut convinces him to tell Olivia the truth and thus draw out Olivia’s confidences.

Midnight Alias by Elle KennedyOne of the strangest things in the story is that there was very little daylight between the actions of the good guy, Luke, and the actions of the bad guy, Vincent. In some ways, Vincent was more deferential and respectful of the Olivia than the Luke.  But because Olivia wants the attention of Luke, Luke’s behavior is sanitized.

Olivia is one of those selfless martyr heroines. She is stripping to pay for her mother’s cancer treatments and attending NYU to get her degree.  Unfortunately for Olivia, her boss Vincent took an unhealthy interest in her.  Worse, Olivia believes that she may have killed a patron and that Vincent covered it up for her.  She’s angry at Vincent’s attempts to treat them as a couple even though she is pretending to be his fiance.  Vincent is supportive of her emotionally and tells her that if her mother’s cancer comes out of remission, he will be there to support her.  He pays for her tuition, takes care of her mother’s medical bills, provides a supportive shoulder for her to lean on.  Instead of being grateful, however, Olivia is repulsed.

At one point, Vincent speaks to her in crude sexual terms believing that she is in love with him and that she wants him. After all, she has come on to him and says that she loves him. She views his crude language with disdain “Jeez, were these the kind of sweet nothings he whispered in the ears of his bedmates? If so, no surprise he was still single.

But when the hero says something sexually provocative, it’s a turn on and she replies with her own dirty banter:  “What happened to this only ending with you buried inside me?

While the hero’s language maybe wasn’t quite as graphic, it was certainly in the same spirit and vein. While I think it was unintentional, it seemed to show that the hero and villain weren’t very different characters at all.  It’s not that Vincent wasn’t horrible. He was.  He murdered people, drugged women up and sent them to be horribly misused by his “clients.” Actually having him feel tender toward Olivia would have made him more nuanced.  Instead, I felt like the text tried too hard to make everything he did seem awful and skeevy.

I also disliked the play on innocence here.  Olivia is stripping for money yet that has to be clenased by what a genuine and innocent girl she is.  “Lord that innocent temptress combo she had going on was a huge turn-on.”

The last 40%, though, really unraveled the story for me when Olivia convinces Luke to try to take down the entire mob with her. Just the two of them.  These darker and more serious Elle Kennedy books don’t work as well for me but I’ll probably keep trying.  C-

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW: Deconstruction by Kit Zheng

REVIEW: Deconstruction by Kit Zheng

Dear Ms. Zheng.

Dianne Fox recommended this book on her LiveJournal and since she’s part of my “trust network” and I was intrigued by the description — “seriously fantastic” and “dark and gritty and wrenching” — I went out and bought it. And oh, am I glad I did.

Deconstruction by Kit ZhengTomas is a stripper and a much-in-demand escort. But he’s also the partner of Vic, a homicide detective — they’ve been together three years. We first meet Tomas at the club after his dance; we then see him slip into bed with Vic. There’s comfort and familiarity and deep feeling, but also a sense of unease as the story starts:

But when he was sick of trying to sort out the case in his head, he worried about them, him and Tommy. Nothing was wrong, nothing specific, not that he could put his finger on. If anything, they were going too well, too easily, coasting. And maybe nothing was wrong, but there were things about their relationship that weren’t right. That they were ignoring, letting go, letting slide.

Vic is working a string of horrific murders of blond street hustlers and he’s more worried than normal about Tomas’s job and the dangers he’s subject to because of it. And Tomas is working more — which means “escorting” more — worried about money. One of his weekly regular clients is the “pet cop” of the owner of the club Tomas works at. Jon, the cop, takes illegal payments for arresting dancers the owner wants to scare away from hustling on the premises. Vic is understandably annoyed knowing that one of his partner’s clients — and therefore sex partners — is a crooked cop from his own precinct, but the unspoken deal he and Tommy have worked out is no questions, no information. Neither of them bring work home and that’s part of what’s wearing on them both.

And then, both cause and effect of the breakdown of the relationship between Tomas and Vic, Tomas and Jon start experimenting with handcuffs, domination, and humiliation. These all really turn Tomas’s crank in ways he’s unwilling to examine, mostly because he’s unwilling to examine anything:

Vic was what he wanted, but Vic didn’t want him, not as he was. That wasn’t right, not exactly. But close enough. He couldn’t get it right with Vic, just got angry and made things worse and worse. They couldn’t handle it. He couldn’t handle it. So he was throwing it all out the door with Jon. Was that what he wanted?

Later in the same scene:

So much danced on Tomas’ tongue, in the back of his throat. Selfish fury, injured pride, indignant confusion. All that Vic had said—he was nothing, a dumb hooker, what he did was selfish, for no good reason, for greed. He wanted to argue. He wanted to scream that of all people, he trusted Vic, because he thought Vic got it. That Vic didn’t care that he did what he did, even enjoyed it. But really, it had been three years of what? Lies? Pretense? They had been happy. Or he had been happy, and too stupid to see Vic getting unhappy. And he would have walked away from it all, from everything that he was, even though there was nothing for him on the other side, but now he was too goddamn pissed. He was too goddamn pissed to get a single word past his lips.

Tomas is bad at articulating anything. He’s so used to letting his body talk for him and he can’t get words out. Vic is no great shakes at it either and gets angry quickly. When things are going fine, they don’t need to talk. But they don’t then have the habit when things DON’T go well.

One of the most fascinating choices you make as an author is that we see into the heads of Tomas (mainly), Vic, *and* Jon. And Jon is a truly contemptible human being and he doesn’t get his just desserts at the end. Oh, he doesn’t win, but he’s not destroyed. The emotional climax of the book is when Jon not-quite-forces Tomas into anonymous bathroom sex with strangers and it was utterly fascinating to me how you managed to write a scene in which Tomas was utterly turned on but so totally detached that the scene itself is the furthest thing from sexy I’ve ever read, even knowing that on one level, Tomas was enjoying what was happening. That takes some mad writer skillz.

I had a niggle with the way cell phones and voice mail were used at the end — do they really work like that? But otherwise, everything was pitch perfect for the story. The one thing I felt was lacking was a more elaborate HEA — there is one, don’t get me wrong — but if you’d given me one, my inner romantic might have been happier, but the story’s soul would have suffered, and that would be a crime.

This is almost a claustrophobic book, but oh god, you feel for these men. They’re intense and this book is dark. It deals with dirty sex and dark feelings and no one should read it who’s not ready to have their beliefs about love and fidelity and the importance of sex and closeness challenged. But, fuck, it’s brilliant.

Grade: A-

Best regards,
-Sarah F.

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