Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sweet Addiction by Maya Banks

Why I read it:  I've read all the other books in the series and I wanted to read Cole's story.  Isn't the cover pretty?

What it's about:  (blurb from Goodreads)  He awakened a need within her…

Cole is successful beyond his dreams. He can have any woman he wants, but there’s only one he can’t stop thinking about. His childhood sweetheart, Renita. He’s never forgotten his first taste of innocent love and the desire that consumed them—or the pain he brought upon her…

But now she belongs to another…

Her long ago brush with submission awakened a longing in Ren that drove her to walk the darker edge of desire. She’s become a beautiful woman at ease with her sexuality and unapologetic about her need for a dominant man. When Cole finds her again, he’s gutted that she belongs to another. Ren’s current master agrees to give her to Cole for a short time, but then she must return to his keeping. And though Cole agrees to this bargain, he knows he will never be able to let Ren go again…

Before I start:  I follow Maya Banks on Twitter and Facebook and she seems, from her interactions there, to be a very nice lady.  A number of my Twitter friends (or, as my 9 year old calls them "Tweet Pals") appear to actually be pretty good friends with her.    It makes it harder then, to write a review which is mostly negative.

A while ago, I decided to challenge myself to review everything I read - that way, I couldn't, to use an Australian phrase, "pike out" (a reference to backing out due to cowardice) and only review books I liked.   As a reader myself, I appreciate reading reviews from places that have both positive and negative reviews - that way I feel I can better trust the reviewer to give me his/her honest opinion (especially important with the sock puppetry which goes on occasionally and Fiverr selling Amazon reviews).  I thought, if my goal is to be credible to my audience (however small it may be), I needed to show what I liked and what I didn't and why.

So, this is a (mostly) negative review.  I'm sad about that because I wanted to like the book.  I could still have skated on by and written a very brief review in my monthly reads post, but I found I actually had a lot to say about this one, so I'm sucking it up and telling it how I see it.

What worked for me (and what didn't):  There is a certain level of suspension of disbelief one willingly entertains when reading any work of fiction.  I knew going in that there would be a 24/7 D/s relationship and there would likely be at least some kind of menage scene and there would be the elite sex club (do they exist outside of fiction?).  I was prepared for that; on board even.  But, a story has to be internally consistent for me to be successful in that suspension of disbelief.  I need to understand the motivation of the character - particularly when there is something outside the norm about a character or situation.  What I found in this story is that there was a certain dissonance to the characterisation which made it difficult for me to immerse myself into the fantasy of the book.

For example, Lucas likes to watch his women with someone else but he has never done so with Ren in the year they have been together. While he is not averse to "sharing his woman"  he prefers privacy and dislikes public exhibitionism.  Ren and he discuss it and she says she's not into it either.  But then, they go to his nightclub (normal nightclub, not a sex club) and he allows/instructs her to dance with 3 men (he knows the men but to Ren they are almost strangers).  Lucas joins them on the very public dance floor and proceeds to redefine the term "dirty dancing".  Then, while Lucas is behind her, one of the men lifts her top and fondles and licks her breasts (on instructions from Lucas) while Lucas fingers her and then the other man does that too.  Oh boy.  That seems pretty public to me.   I've read (and enjoyed) exhibitionist erotic romances before.  But this seemed inconsistent with what I'd understood of both characters beforehand.

Cole apparently, doesn't like to share (although, he seemed happy enough sharing Angelina with Micah in Sweet Temptation).  But, that doesn't stop him from doing just that on the boat.  Again, Ren is having sex with men who are strangers to her.  In fact, Cole himself only knew the Captain by way of referral from the friend who owned the boat.  Those confronting scenes, while erotic, were not romantic.  And, they made me question what I knew of Cole. 

Then there's Ren. We're told she's strong, self-confident and secure in herself.  But it seemed that she was only strong, self-confident and secure if she was being given direction and discipline from her Dominant.  Now, this might be on me.  I know very little about the BDSM scene but this,  I didn't get.  I had a bit of trouble understanding her needs and motivations.  She's only strong when someone else is telling her what to do?  While others may get this, for me, this aspect was insufficiently explained. I was told she was strong, but to me, she very often looked weak and scared and needy.

As to the BDSM itself, toward the beginning of the book there's this:
She moaned softly.  With another man, that might have gotten her into trouble.  But Lucas loved to hear her sounds of passion.  He liked to know he pleased her even though her purpose was to please him.
but then later,
"... Even if he respects nothing else in the world, he must respect the woman in his care.  It's his sworn duty to protect, honor and cherish his submissive.  To take care of her and provide a safe haven.  Someone who would put his own needs above his woman's is no man." (my emphasis)
Even though other D/s books I've read agree generally with the latter sentiment, I felt that there was a lack of clarity about it in this book.

And, um, sworn duty?  Really?

In print, this is a trade paperback book.  I could have bought the paper version from the Book Depository for about $16AUD (as for what it may have cost me to buy it in Australia - if I could even do so, let's not even go there).  As it was, I bought the kindle version from Amazon for $9.69.  So, it's not a cheap book. In any event, expected it to be of high quality, particularly as regards to editing.  Alas.

By about page 50, I was noting what I felt were clunky sentence structure and odd word choices. Some of the conversations felt like they were there more to give the reader information rather than being more organic from the characters.  Some of the characters said things that I found it difficult to accept people would actually say. It didn't seem realistic or consistent to me in the context of the book and I found it jarring.

Here are some examples (from various parts of the book) of what I mean:

Lucas chose the meeting to happen at Cole's offices.

(why not "Lucas decided to meet at Cole's office"?)
"I would be lying if I said I had any confidence of knowing how she'll choose either way."

"You're giving me a primer to seducing the woman you care about away from you.  You're bitingly possessive one minute and lazily accepting the next." (my emphasis)

It's not all about you as a lot of people would assume a relationship where dominance is a factor would be about your needs and wants above all else.
I read this sentence 3 or 4 times before I mentally added a full stop after the first "you" to make it make sense to me.

At one point Cole says "If I have my way, you'll have her no longer."   Which would have been fine if he usually spoke that way.  But he didn't.  So when he started with the formal speech, it was jarring. The phrasing may have fit well in the narrative but not so much in dialogue.

Then I started wondering if I was just being picky. Probably by then I was, but, while I was reading it, I was noticing it.  Which tells me, at the very least that I was not engaged in the story. If I'm mentally re-writing sentences, that's not a good sign.  But then, I am a details person (Chris often tells me I'm too harsh!)

Also, there were some strange words in odd places which I think were mistakes.  Like this:
He kissed her with savagery that seemed pint up to now and was suddenly released in a violent storm.
and this
It was a hell of a note when a man's life changed in the space of a few moments over a chance meeting.
It was a hell of a note and two days ago he'd have said that nothing on earth would keep him and Ren apart.
Because it appeared twice in the book in the same context, I actually asked on Twitter whether this was a US turn of phrase that I was just not familiar with. It seems not.

And then there was this
He could see right into the heart of her, which was why he was treating her with kids' gloves.
It's kid gloves.  Made of kidskin (baby goat), not belonging to children.  I'm sure Ms. Banks knows this but it was just one too many editing errors for me.

There was a scene later in the book where Ren was tied by both hands and both feet to four portable poles (we were told they were heavy but they were moved two at a time by Lucas).  It struck me as inherently unsafe - what if she flinched or jerked and pulled one of the poles down on top of her?

Partly because I don't know much about BDSM or 24/7 D/s relationships, I let it pass that Lucas made the decision unilaterally to "give" Ren to Cole for 2 weeks.  Ordinarily I would have thought he was a bit of a tool, but hey, maybe that's how those relationships are supposed to work (clearly I would be very bad at such a relationship!).  Later in the book though, both Cole and Lucas are having a conversation where they basically say that they're both assholes because both of them made unilateral decisions for Ren and that the "final" decision had to be hers.  But then, they totally ignored their resolve and went ahead and sprung something on her again!!  I appreciated when Ren went off the deep end at them - I still think she let them off too easy.
Essentially this is a love triangle.  I don't think it's difficult to intuit what solution is arrived at, but I won't give it away here.  Because of that, this bit might sound vague.  The resolution between Cole/Ren and Lucas/Ren had significant pitfalls.  The story acknowledged that but unfortunately I didn't see the relevant parties (being mysterious here) working on those issues. I was told it was hard but it had been accomplished.  To be honest, that part of the story probably held the greater interest for me.  I was very interested in knowing exactly how it worked out.  Even though I was told it had, I found it difficult to picture and so I'm not sure I totally bought the "happy ending" (being mysterious again).

What else?  It wasn't all bad.  The story was split into 3 parts, Lucas, Cole and Ren.  I felt the Lucas part was the "clunkiest" but things picked up a bit by the middle third of the book.   By the end of the book, while I was noticing some strange word placement (see above) I was actually thinking more about the characters and how things were going to work out and Ren's safety and well being.  I guess that tells me that for the first part, I wasn't really engaged, but by the middle third that had changed.

I did find some of the sex scenes fairly confronting.  (I did in Micah's book too.)  I don't think it's romantic (it may be erotic, but not romantic, at least not to me) for a Dom to let strangers have sex with his submissive.  In Sweet Surrender (which remains my favourite of the series), Faith had specifically said to Grey that she had had a fantasy about a threesome and he gave it to her; with Micah - someone she knew and trusted.  The other thing about that book was that Faith and Grey had a clear discussion early on about to what level Faith wanted to be dominated in a relationship (it was more that she wanted to be "taken care of" and cossetted rather than dominated 24/7, although there was some D/s in their sex play).  That all made sense to me.  It was explained in the story and I understood it, in context.  I can't say the same here.  I felt off balance when it came to the relationship dynamic between Ren/Cole and Ren/Lucas and that hindered my enjoyment of the book.   Again, that could be on me.  YMMV.

It was also nice to have a half-Korean heroine, although not very much was made of her ethnicity.

The sex scenes, particularly where no strangers were involved, were smokin' - although there was one where Ren was basically on her head which was, um, different.

Then, there were also lines like this, which I loved:

"I can't be the better man here because I'm only better if I'm with you." 

 One thing I didn't mind was that there wasn't a lot of the "sweet girls" in the book.  They didn't need to be there to tell this story.  I hear that there have been some complaints from people who thought that because it was a "sweet" book it would have a reunion of all the previous MC's.    I don't mind when a previous character appears in the story, but they have to have something to do for it to make sense to me.

And, by the way:  what happened to Ren's collar?

Grade:  C- (and edging perilously close to D territory)

Plenty of other people liked this book better than I did.  Mandi at Smexy Books gave it a B

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