REVIEW: The Good Boy by Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock
Dear Lisa Henry & J.A. Rock,
In late December, the second book of this series was released. It looked good so I requested it for review. Because I hadn’t read the first book, I requested that one also. My review of The Boy Who Belonged will be up shortly.
I’m glad I requested The Good Boy as well: for two reasons. First, I think the second book doesn’t work that well as a stand alone. And secondly; I really liked it.
Landon Moredock (who prefers to be called Lane) is a very shy 20 year old. His wealthy parents, Laura and Stephen, regard him as mainly a disappointment. He’s not particularly athletic, he’s terrified of public speaking of any kind, he doesn’t socialise easily and he’s not academically gifted either. During summer break from the expensive college he was attending in Boston, Landon is evicted from the family home after his mother is arrested for securities fraud. It turns out his parents had been running a Ponzi scheme and his mother had just been arrested in New York. Stephen was in Spain and basically uncontactable. Landon was allowed to take some minimal belongings from his home but the $200 he had in his wallet didn’t get him far. He had never really had to fend for himself before and money had never been an issue but now he has a steep learning curve. Added to that, the police, the FBI, the SEC, the media and the general public believe he’s somehow involved and want his head on a platter.
All of this make’s Lane’s self-disgust even worse. He feels guilty because he didn’t know what was going on with his parents, he feels worthless because his parents left him high and dry to take the rap (especially his father) and his sense of failure is only enhanced by the vitriol thrown at him by the media.
Derek Fields is a 37 year old photographer with his own business. He had $15,000 invested with Moredock Investments – a drop in the bucket to most of the wealthy investors but a lot to him. He’s also angry with Landon Moredock and believes Landon knows where the money is, right along with everyone else in the country it seems.
Derek first sees Landon in the flesh (so to speak) at a party thrown by Acton Wagner, a local real estate tycoon and Moredock family friend (also a Moredock Investments investor). Derek is there in his capacity as photographer – money is tight and every little job helps. In desperation and with no-one to turn to, Lane called Acton and to his surprise and relief, Acton seemed pleased to hear from him (unlike everyone else he used to know) and invited him over. Acton is not a nice man. His motives are not pure by any means. Lane has had a bit of a crush on Acton for the longest time and they had engaged in a kind of mild (very mild) flirtation for some years. Lane’s feelings for Acton are very complicated. There is hero worship and a kind of love in that he has always previously felt accepted by Acton, desperation and guilt for what his parents did and, to add to the mix, there’s what Acton does to Lane when he’s in the mansion.
The first night Lane is in Acton’s house, the party is in full swing and Lane and Acton go to his private study to talk – Lane not being up for partying at all. The media have painted him as a party boy/slut which could not be further from the truth – but everyone believes what the media says. Acton drugs Lane and takes advantage of his youthful attraction and when Derek sees them, he thinks that Lane is drunk but a willing partner. When Derek (much) later finds out the truth he is very guilty but the picture he is presented with in the study is consistent with the media’s image of Lane and he looked happy and willing, albeit impaired by drugs or alcohol. At the time, Lane didn’t even know he’d been drugged, although the reader does.
**Trigger warning** There is rape in this book. It is apparent to the reader at all times that what is happens to Lane in Acton’s house is not consensual by any means but Lane struggles with this for much of the book. The details of the assault/s are not immediately on the page and are largely told in flashback form but they do appear on page. I found them disturbing but not in the same way I found the scenes in With Or Without Him. I think it’s because the scene/s didn’t feel to me here, to be to evoke a particular reader reaction. In this case, I felt they were there as part of the exploration of Lane’s complicated desire for pain and to juxtapose a healthier dynamic which develops with Derek. Or at least, that’s what I thought. In any event, I didn’t feel they were there for some kind of titillation or authorial manipulation. Other readers may not agree.
Acton agrees to give Lane $20,000 for tuition if he stays and is Acton’s “slave” for a week. Lane is desperate enough to do it and he feels guilty for what his parents had done and for being what he perceives as a failure and believes he deserves to be punished. After 5 days however, things become too much and Lane leaves, injured and hurt and with about $6 in his wallet.
When Derek spied Lane that first time there was something beautiful in his face and Derek became somewhat fascinated with it (he took a photo and he keeps looking at it). But Derek is also very angry with the Moredocks and Landon’s party boy image is salt in the wound. Derek comes across Lane a few days later and basically gives him a piece of his mind (just like everyone else has been doing) and sarcastically tells him that Taco Hub are hiring if he’s desperate for work. When Derek sees Lane again – working at Taco Hub – he begins to realise that the media’s portrayal of Lane is not true in the least and he also sees some bruises on Lane’s wrists. He offers him some work as a photographic assistant here and there to help him out – Derek is shooting a calendar for the local animal shelter run by his sister, Christy, and needs some help with the animals and equipment. It turns out that Lane has an affinity for animals – his relationship with Andy, the dog who “doesn’t do people” is pretty special.
As Derek and Lane spend more time together it becomes more and more obvious that Lane had no part of his parent’s scheme and that he is as much their victim as anyone else. Derek is a Dom and he’s also lonely and the early parts of the book have some kind of amusing, kind of sad scenes where he’s feeling a bit sorry for himself. In an somewhat unusual twist, at least for me, Derek is out to his family about his BDSM lifestyle and his mother, Erin, even tries to set him up with guys she thinks might like to be spanked (that’s the funny part).
Lane has a deep desire to be punished and hurt but he’s also quite traumatised after his experience with Acton. Derek is increasingly attracted to Lane and his natural tendency is to be a caretaker/protector and it kind of just happens that they start doing some non sexual D/s scenes. I’ll be honest here. I’m not personally experienced with any kind of BDSM and what I know about it comes almost entirely from fiction (the rest would be from Twitter and Tumblr – does that count as fiction too?). I’m certainly no expert. There are parts of it that I don’t “get” entirely. It’s almost like I can kind of understand it if I squint and don’t think about it too much. That’s not meant to be a judgement at all. I’m just saying that it’s not my kink and to that extent, I struggle to see the attraction. That said, I did feel the book showed that Derek didn’t see submission as weakness and he saw Lane’s desire for pain and punishment to be natural and healthy provided it was dealt with in good ways (ie nothing like Acton, all consensual, safe words, etc., etc.). The first scenes Derek and Lane do are puppy play. Before I read this book, I had almost no exposure to this kind of kink and very little idea about it. The portrayal here was, I thought, sympathetic and careful and, while it was a bit out there in terms of my own experience, it didn’t feel as out there as I would have expected all things considered. There is an explanation given and, in so far as it is possible for me to do so, I understood and accepted it. (By that, I mean only that because it is not my kink there remains an element of disconnect for me. In much the same way as I don’t understand why people like eating fish – it’s not my thing, I can get my head around the concept but there’s a level where I can’t understand).
For those readers who are a bit dubious about the puppy play, I will say that it is non-sexual and not at all humiliating. It is also not something Derek has previously been into and his exploration of it with Lane is new for both of them. It is more about safety and comfort and it ties in with Lane’s innate preference for rules and knowing what is expected of him.
Gradually Derek and Lane become very close and Lane is finally able to share with Derek all that happened with Acton in his house for those 5 days. Just when things are looking up for them, Lane’s freedom is threatened and things look pretty dire for a while. Never fear – this is a romance so there is a HEA. (Maybe that should be an HFN given there is a second book?)
I liked that there was an exploration in the book about submission and how it worked for Lane. In my limited experience, it felt quite nuanced to me. I liked that Lane became stronger over the course of the book and that Derek’s treatment of Lane was about recognising the strength that Lane did not know he had. It was a somewhat new take on submission for me and I felt incrementally closer to understanding it. (Bearing in mind that my understanding is limited to what I see in fiction and I’m aware that not everything I read it accurate or “good”). Here, it felt authentic. In so far as the BDSM aspects were portrayed, it felt like you two know of what you write.
I also felt the writing was pretty seamless. That is, I couldn’t tell where one author finished and the other took over. Sometimes, in authorial collaborations I have been jarred in and out of a story by abrupt shifts in style but I didn’t notice it at all here. There was something very engaging about it. Even when some of the things made me uncomfortable there was a constant draw to keep reading. I became very invested in Lane and Derek and wanted to see them succeed together.
There is also a wider cast of characters – apart from Christy and Erin (Derek’s sister and mother respectively) there is also Ferg and Brin, Derek’s best friends. Ferg is a Dom and Brin is a “bratty sub” who was, for a time, Derek’s sub. I admit I have less understanding about the “brat” dynamic. To me it sounds a bit like dealing with a toddler and I don’t really see the attraction. It’s also difficult for me to tell if Brin was a caricature. He’s certainly larger than life. I found him obnoxious and annoying at first but as the book progressed, his more endearing qualities shone through and I ended the book much more inclined toward liking him than I expected. Brin and Lane become friends (the part where Brin is “teaching” Lane to throw a tantrum was funny”):
“A tantrum, Lane. I’m sure they weren’t permitted in Sister Shush’s School for the Clinically Silent or wherever you went, but they exist, and they’re actually quite fun.”
Perhaps the most amusing character was Mr. Zimmerman – a scarlet macaw who was owned by “an old man with innumerable medical problems and a mouth like a sailor’s.”
“Damn these hips!” Mr. Zimmerman yelled.
“Bye, Mr. Zimmerman,” Derek called.
“I used to bend like a Vietnamese hooker,” Mr. Zimmerman said.
“You will again. Keep up with your yoga.”
“Fuck it, baby.”
I appreciated the lighter moments – with both Brin and Mr. Zimmerman – which made the book a lot less heavy than it otherwise could have been. I felt that the secondary characters had lives outside of their relationships with Derek and Lane and were quite well rounded.
I really liked The Good Boy. I bought the connection between Derek and Lane and loved the little family they made with their close friends and animals. I liked it so much, I started book 2 immediately I finished this one.
This book is a favorite of mine and I loved the sequel. I hope there will be another.
I really liked this one but did not have a nerve to start a sequel yet – will wait for your review. Hate the sequels with break ups for the sake of writing a sequel if that makes sense.
I also want to add that I read a lot of bdsm romances and this one for me was one of tr best because it spent so much time in Lane’s head, showed me so well what sub wanted. And it also did not portray Derek as Psychic!Dom. I also did not get wariness about puppy play – this is one of my squicks if sexual but as you said it was not really in this one.
I liked the puppy play–too often lately it seems that only one type of BDSM is ever shown in romance and erotic and it’s just plain nice to see something else depicted. There’s a lot more to BDSM than whips and cuffs and Master/slave relationships, but you wouldn’t know it if you just read novels. I don’t get off on any BDSM at all, I’m certainly not kinky, but I do like reading about different people and what gets them off so it’s really nice to read something that’s actually a bit different than the usual. I’m excited about the next book, Lane still has a lot of growing to do and the stuff with his family isn’t completely taken care of. And of course Mr. Zimmerman needs his own happy ending.
@Gloria: To me BDSM is first and foremost about psychological dynamics. I do not have any RL personal familiarity with BDSM and only have some conversations with couple of people who like kinky stuff, certainly not enough to be expert on anything to put it mildly. However, by now I read so many BDSM romances that I know what I want to read about *in romances*, you know? Puppy play which is based on humiliation is not my cup of tea, same as blood play and some other things. I really like dominance/submission which can be done with very few toys, I actually do not enjoy a lot of stories about 24/7 master/slave relationships, but I liked some.
Anyway, I was just saying that people who would imagine puppy play in its more humiliating form (consensual, etc, but I just do not usually enjoy reading about it) should not worry IMO.
@Sirius: My review of the sequel will be up shortly. I liked it but did not have the same love as for this one.
@Gloria: It gets even more “different” in the sequel! :D
I know what you mean about changing things up a bit. I found it wasn’t as confronting as I expected it might be because we did spend so much time in Lane’s head and Derek’s too about what they thought of it, the purpose of it, the way it helped and it didn’t seem, to me, to be humiliating at all. I don’t know if other puppy play is humiliating as this is really my only experience with it apart from a blog post at a friend’s blog once. For Lane and Derek, it was more about comfort and safety than anything else and that it was not sexual also opened my eyes a bit to how BDSM play doesn’t have to be sexual – somehow I had always associated the two together before. (This is most probably because everything I “know” about it I learned from romance novels!).
This book was an unexpected delight for me. I picked it up because I recognized one of the co-authors but promptly forgot I had it on my ereader. One night, I was flipping through my library, wanting to read something quick before bed. Lo and behold, I click “A Good Boy” and got totally sucked into the story. Spent the next three nights reading the novel as well as thinking about (when I wasn’t reading it).
I really liked how Lane and Derek went from total strangers and into a serious couple via a honest and healthy embracing of D/s. The puppy play was a happy surprise for me (I like reading non-sexual puppy play but rarely, if ever, come across it) and everything else worked too.
Lane’s bond with Andy was sweet and the scenes with Mr. Zimmerman were an absolute hoot.
I also enjoyed reading Lane’s tentative friendship with Brin. Like you, I was annoyed by Brin’s attitude in the beginning but soon became one of my favourite secondary characters.
About the one thing I didn’t like was Acton. I never felt like I knew who he was (other than a really terrible villain). The scenes between Acton and Lane (after Lane agrees to the 24/7 suggestion) were simply too much for me. I opted to skip all the abusive moments because, by that point, I felt that Lane had gone through a lot.
I do have to slightly disagree on your opinion as far as the seamlessness of Lisa Henry and J.A. Rock’s collaboration is concerned. Though it’s true that both authors did a fantastic job in creating an engaging narrative, I got the feeling that a lot of the darker scenes between Acton and Lane were written by J.A. Rock. There was, imho, a similar vibe to the scenes between Aiden and Scott in By His Rules: the degradation, the blurring of consent, the aftermath of terrible abuse. The main differences is that the Aiden/Scott hard scenes happen fairly early in the book AND that everyone involved was into BDSM from the beginning.
Overall, though, this is a great book. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel as well as the short story one-off about Brin and Ferg (I think the latter is only available at the publisher’s site?)
@Luce: I admit I haven’t read any Lisa Henry along (yet – I have some on my TBR though) and I’ve only read a few things by JA Rock (By His Rules was one though). I guess for readers who are very familiar (or perhaps who pay more attention?) they might be able to pick who wrote which bit. For me, it felt like it was written by the same authorial hand and I also didn’t experience an extra… distance, which I sometimes do when I read books by author pairs (for example, Katie Porter reads that way for me – I find it difficult to connect with the story in some way).
I have a review of the second book up here too. I liked it but found it didn’t have as clear a sense of resolution as the first book. I haven’t read the short yet. It’s on my wishlist. :)
I haven’t read anything by Lisa Henry (yet–I bought a couple of her books after reading The Good Boy. In truth, I think the only reason why I associated the darker scenes between Acton and Lane with J.A. Rock is because I had finished reading By His Rules about a month before I read The Good Boy so the tone was fresh in my memory. All in all, though, the writing was fantastic (regardless of who wrote which bit) . Like I mentioned in my previous comment, I did not expect the narrative to be so fascinating. :)
I’ve just read your review on the sequel and it has definitely piqued my curiosity about it.