I have developed a reputation as a hard-ass, especially when it comes to the new adult and erotica genres. This has caused some conflict in the past, with authors and also with reviewers. (The argument seems to be that because I'm an author, this is bad form.) Still, my brutal honesty means that if I rate a book 4 or 5 stars, it means that I genuinely liked it, not that I'm trying to make good with other authors, or cosy up to someone's street team.
I really did like PURELY PROFESSIONAL. I liked the first half a lot more than the second, which started to unravel and even had a few scenes that genuinely upset me. But it was well-written, did a fair job portraying the BDSM scene, and was a refreshing change of pace from all those mafia/sex-trafficking books that contain violent sex/dub-con masquerading as BDSM.
Bridget Hartwell is a senior editor at Sultry magazine, with her eye on the executive position. Sultry is kind of like a racier version of ( it's a "sex-positive magazine for sex-positive women") and Bridget writes sex columns, mostly about the best types of positions, or how to use toys. Functional things that help women get the best out of their sex lives. But the new executive editor wants to take the magazine in a new direction, and when she commissions Bridget to write about BDSM, Bridget finds herself in a bit of a quandary.
Luckily, Bridget's friend, Helen, knows someone who knows about the scene. And I'm going to pause here, and take a moment to say how awesome it was that her best friend was a lesbian. Her friend gives her sex advice, they hang out together, and there's no awkwardness or homophobia, or any sense that Helen was a last-minute token installed in a futile attempt to relate to LGBTQIA readers.
Anyway, Helen hooks her up with a contact, and Bridget is mortified--and intrigued--when the contact turns out to be her handsome next-door neighbor, who she's been flirting with forever. She interviews him. And then, when her boss wants more, ends up starting a D/s relationship with him as well. One that's "purely professional" and won't change anything between them. Good luck with that.
What I liked:
It throws shade on Fifty Shades of Grey. Max, the handsome next-door neighbor, had a relationship with an older woman who taught him about the scene. He was of consenting age, though (twenties, she was in her forties), and they experimented and had fun. No one got hurt.
"So with Vanessa...she was so much older..."
"It wasn't abusive, if that's what you're implying" His expression turned severe. "God, why does everybody think Dominants are some twisted abuse victims?" (36)
He also has some truly delicious lines:
"I'll tease you, make you beg me for more, and then sometimes I won't give it to you. This won't be a game for me. I take my role very seriously. I'll demand control of your entire sex life, and I'll drive you completely crazy" (50).
"I'll fuck you in ways you've never been fucked before" (51).
The main character is not a virgin.
"Most of my lovers have been...less experienced than me. I sometimes wonder what it would be like with someone who knows what he's doing" (54).
She's comfortable masturbating and using sex toys.
There are some pretty unique things that they do. For example, a remote control vibrator. I'm sure you can imagine all the tortures one can do with that. (And he uses it on her in the middle of a crowded lecture hall while he gives a talk about Byronic heroes--mad, bad, and dangerous to know, indeed!) He takes her on a picnic and then has her partially strip and fucks her with an ice cube in public (gasp!). Actually, he's just pretty sexy in general and the scenes with him were hot...BUT...
What I didn't like:
They don't use a condom when they have penetrative vaginal sex!(And yet, he uses a condom for anal. WHY.) Early on in the book, Bridget expresses concern that he's seeing so many women all the time. Max tells her that he's a Dominant and that they women engage in D/s with him, although not in the context of a relationship, and not necessarily involving any sex (I liked that distinction, btw). And yet, despite her wariness, they don't use a condom. They exchange STD test information, but it's easy to say you have one, and when Max tells her that he got tested last month, she just nods and says, "okay." Even though it was obvious he was with different women since last month!
BDSM is about safe, sane, and consensual. Part of being safe is safe sex. Trusting your partner to keep you safe should extend to condom use, unless both partners have agreed otherwise and are in some kind of exclusive arrangement. I, personally, would want to actually see results--solid results--and I would expect them to be current, if someone wanted to have sex without a condom. If they broke that agreement and had sex with someone else, I would end the relationship there.
When Bridget ends up using her safe word, because she got turned off and uncomfortable, Max gets mad at her for using her safe word, and takes his anger out on her in the context of the scene. He makes her give him a blow job to make herself "useful" and then kicks her out of the house.
"Safe words aren't for when you're uncomfortable," Max said, his voice cold. "They're for when you need everything to stop. So I made everything stop" (146).
This isn't exactly true. There are safe words to stop and safe words to slow down. Even though their safe words were the standard Red and Yellow, he didn't really explain their uses and results very well. I feel like Max should have stopped what he was doing and then maybe discussed what was happening with her, whether she'd blurted out Red in a panic when what she meant was Yellow, etc.
But he didn't do that. He got angry and abusive.
"I was annoyed that you used your safe word and I wanted to punish you" (149).
That is not okay. A good Dom should always be in control of himself (or herself). They should never force their subs to do things that they do not want to do, and they should definitely not punish their subs for drawing lines and establishing limits.
That really turned me off the book, and combined with the lack of condom usage, turned what looked like it was going to be a rare 5-star review for me into a 4-star review. Still a good read, but no longer an amazing, panty-melting one. Safe words--like women--should be respected, not abused.
So yes, overall I liked PURELY PROFESSIONAL. It does a pretty good job portraying the BDSM scene, with a few unfortunate exceptions. I would definitely read more by this author.
Paranormal erotica has never really sat well with me, mostly because it tends to fall into the "fated-to-be-mated" category, a la J.R. Ward.
I applied for most of the erotic titles on Netgalley because sometimes I go on these kicks--and to my surprise, several of the books I was approved for were actually good this time around. Unfortunately, DARKEST ECSTASY was not among them.
It bears noting that this is actually book #3 in a continuing series. I did not notice this when I applied for the book. I'm not sure it would have made much difference in my review, one way or the other, since the bulk of my misgivings lie with the portrayal of the male love interest and his penchant for utter douchery.
Talen Gryffon is the name of the male lead. He's part of a big family of supernaturals and I guess they're in a war with another group of supernaturals, and so they need brides to bear them children for reasons.
Talen actually fell in love already but it was with his brother's wife, Lei. There's this passage about how he's all, "I saw her first, blah blah blah, me me me," and he whines about he wanted to be the one to fuck all the trouble out of her past, etc. etc.
Okay, first off, fucking is not a psychological panacea. Yes, it has many long term health benefits (assuming that you go about it responsibly and don't contract an STD due to irresponsible fuckery).
Second, a vagina is not an apartment. You can't pay a deposit and then be all, "IT'S MINE. I WAS HERE FIRST." There is no contract or deed you can buy to say otherwise, and if you persist in thinking to the contrary, here's a nice ol' big fat "FUCK YOU."
Talen is also into BDSM, and he goes to this club. He figures the best way to forget about Lei and get a new wife is to find someone perfect at pleasing him sexually. So he ends up fucking this woman named Angela, who thinks everything from blowjobs to anal is awesome.
But then Talen meets Maggie, whose innocence and awkwardness piques his interest in a way that nothing ever has before. He flirts with her, especially in front of Angela, plays the two off one another, and they slut-shame and it's just fun for the whole family.