Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dangerously Bound- A NSFW Book Review

*sigh* Apparently this blogging business is harder to keep up with than I thought it would be. After not posting anything in four months, I probably shouldn't be surprised that I don't actually have any "fans" to disappoint. Oh well, at least now that we have that shitty 50 Shades movie to, uh, look forward to, I guess now I've got some sort of motivation to review the two other books before it actually comes out. Although, that is assuming reviews of these books are even still relevant by this point... god, I'm always getting around to everything so late. Does anyone even really care anymore? Wait, don't answer that, I don't really want to know.

But anyway! Until that time, I actually have a different erotic book review to whet your appetite! Oh, and a word of warning to anyone currently reading or who wants to read this book, SPOILERS AHOY.

Dangerously Bound- by Eden Bradley

I'll admit, I didn't exactly go into reading this with the highest of expectations, considering that I've never found the straight-up romance/erotica genre all that appealing to begin with, and my first forays into the realm of mainstream published kinky erotica--The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty and FSOG-- were disappointing with a few exceptions and horrendously awful, respectively. But I had been skeptically scouring the recent rash of  BDSM-themed novels, hoping that there might turn out to be something that would actually appeal to me. And for some reason, I thought I finally had with this one, when I found myself standing in the middle of Barnes and Noble reading it for 15 minutes. Looking back now, however, I'm not entirely sure what it was about this novel that drew me in.


Don't get me wrong, it's not a horribly written book. I'll give credit where credit is due; Eden Bradley's writing style is generally quite good, she doesn't romanticize abuse and then get pissy when people call her out on it (unlike certain other authors *cough*E L James*cough*), and she actually knows how to write some pretty hot kinky sex scenes. That being said, most of the truly sexy scenes happen pretty early on before the sex becomes rote and boring... but we'll come back to that later.

My real problem with this novel has to do with its two main characters, Allie and Mick. The basic premise of the novel is that when they were younger these two were apparently super in love, went through an awkward breakup having to do with Mick being afraid of "corrupting" Allie or whatever, so now after being gone for 10 years Allie has moved back to her hometown and turns out to have been into BDSM all along, and wants to try again with Mick. Sounds reasonable enough at first, and with a plot like that of course some drama is to be expected, but holy shit, does it get exasperating fast! Now, please do keep in mind that I did honestly try to give this book a fair chance, but the first time I gave it a go I put it down about halfway through and didn't touch it again for maybe six months, despite repeatedly halfheartedly telling myself that I should finish it so that I could at least give it a fair review. Last week when I finally did, I just picked it up right where I left off without really going back for a refresher on what had already happened, and I could only bring myself to skim through about half of the rest of the book (essentially, most of the sex scenes and some of the repeated drama), so I apologize if my critique isn't as thorough or coherent as it could be. I'll try to break down my issues with how irritating this couple is as best as I can.

 The most glaring issue with the romance between Mick and Allie is how damn immature and melodramatic they are. The thing about this book that shocked me the most is that these characters are supposed to be about 30 years old, because I had to keep reminding myself that despite them having close to a decade more life experience than myself, I'm confident that I far outstrip both of them in terms of emotional maturity and the ability to maintain a mature, stable relationship. I mean really, it just pushed the boundaries of believability in terms of characters behaving in an age-appropriate manner. I know the narrative just wants to hammer into our heads that Allie and Mick are super-duper in "love" with each other, but when you're confronted with the fact that neither one of them has apparently matured in a romantic sense since high school you have to wonder just how sustainable this romance really is.

Yeah, you heard me, I said high school. This kinda-sorta relates to their general angsty immaturity towards each other, but another thing that really bugs me is the whole "high school sweethearts" trope. Understand that I don't mean to offend anyone who went on to marry or otherwise find long-lasting love with a high school boyfriend/girlfriend, but the way in which it plays out really puts some strain on my suspension of disbelief. Falling in love with someone as a teenager can totally happen, but making it work in the long run takes the kind of mutual effort and the ability to grow and change together that Mick and Allie totally lack. Because they're picking up right where they left off as teens--well, technically after a one night stand in college after they had already broken up in high school, but whatever--the two of them never really got to grow and change together. And yes, people in real life can also reconnect with someone from high school and eventually fall in love, but that's because in real life these couples enter into a relationship  as mature, functional adults who probably already know what they want out of a relationship and don't give themselves stomach ulcers angsting over wacky misunderstandings and woeful mistakes from the distant past.  There's none of that whatsoever in Allie and Mick's relationship; they consistently regress to childish ways of thinking and behaving around each other and constantly make errors in communication which could easily be resolved by a more realistically mature couple, but instead serves as the lifeblood which fuels the plot.

The "high school sweethearts reconnecting" thing also bugs me because in the context of the story it's just so unrealistic. So, you're asking me to believe that Mick and Allie, despite having 10+ years of life experience and multiple sexual (and implied romantic) partners have NEVER stopped obsessing over each other, never fallen out of love, never truly got over their breakup, and never experienced the slightest change in how they felt about each other? After not having seen each other or spoken to each other for TEN YEARS? And even taking into consideration a combination of "absence makes the heart grow fonder" and pure nostalgia giving a boost to these feelings, you still want me to believe that THIS is the basis for an ideal, lasting, One True Love relationship? I know this is romance fiction, but I still find it hard to believe that after not having been together for about 12 years (in high school!) and not having seen each other/slept together for 10 years that Mick and Allie wouldn't have just moved the fuck on already.

One thing I'll say in Allie's defense, though, is that her character bothers me far less than Mick's. At least she is demonstrated in the narrative to be capable of age-appropriate thoughts and behavior during the few times when the world doesn't seem to revolve around her love of Mick, but this dude seems to be perpetually stuck in the mentality of a brooding 18-year-old (at most). One interesting(?) thing about the novel is that it switches between Allie's and Mick's POV's pretty fairly, although whether or not this is a positive I'm not entirely sure, since it basically means we get twice as many inner thoughts of wangst, emotional turmoil, irrationality, and deep insecurity as most romance novels.  So now we get to see just how irritating and infuriating Mick is deep down. I get the feeling that Eden Bradely was trying to strike a balance between the stereotypical "bad boy love interest" and the stereotypical "nice guy" with him, and in a way I can kind of appreciate that; if you know of my opinion of FSOG then you know what my feelings are about "bad boy love interests. And even though he is most definitely NOT a creepy, manipulative, abusive asshole and does seem to be a good person who genuinely cares for Allie, I will give him part of the same criticism that I gave to Christian; his entire personality and way he's presented in the novel is almost solely focused on him brooding over how "dark" and "dangerous" he is and how he isn't good enough for his love interest.

My issues with Mick go far beyond that, though; feeling like you're not good enough for someone is understandable (though in a story it gets old really fast), but Mick's whole attitude towards his relationship with Allie in a BDSM context is really weird and unhealthy and honestly a little bit offensive. He goes on and on at length about how ever since he fell for her at 16 or whatever he put her up on this massive pedestal and has a weird vibe going on reminiscent of the Madonna/Whore Complex where he obsesses over how pure, innocent, and virginal she is/was, despite Allie's constant insistence that she was never some pure untouchable angel. The whole reasoning behind their breakup was kind of confusing and I don't really care to go back and reread a whole bunch of crap now to try to figure it out, but I guess part of his rationale was that he was starting to get these "dark" urges for sexual dominance and bondage, and didn't want to "corrupt" Allie and drag her down a dark path... or something. And even now, after 10+ years of kinky sexual experience during which he learned to express his dominant side in a healthy way, even after his first time having sex with Allie during their hookup in college was a kinky experience, and even after learning that Allie had gone on to become an experience submissive, even after going through years of life experience that you think would teach him that he's not "dangerous" or "damaged" in ways not strictly related to BDSM, he STILL maintains this attitude and doesn't fully shake it off until pretty much the last three pages of the book.

Oh wait, you want to know more about that kinky one night stand in college? Why thank you so much for reminding me, that's another thing that pisses me off. So, apparently what happened was that the first time Mick and Allie had sex was when they decided to hook up and I guess try to get back together during college. It was also apparently the first time either one of them had tried anything kinky (I think? Maybe it was just Allie and Mick had some experience, the book is a little unclear about this). I guess it went pretty well at first until Allie started crying afterwards, which caused Mick to believe that she'd hated it and thought he was some kind of monster so he just abandoned her in the middle of the night while she was sleeping and then never contacted her for ten years. Um, ok. Kind of a dick move, but considering this is Mick we're talking about (see the above paragraph), I guess his heart was in the right place and you can kind of understand- OH WAIT, IT WAS ALL JUST A WACKY MISUNDERSTANDING, JK LOL. Yeah... turns out Allie was just crying because it was such a beautiful moment and she was just so emotional and was the moment when she realized that she was submissive and it was totally everything she ever wanted. 

Soooooo..... Allie, mind explaining just why the fuck you didn't feel like explaining all this to Mick in the first place ten fucking years ago?!?! I mean really; look, I can understand if she was confused by her feelings in the moment and didn't immediately know how to process why it made her so emotional, but Christ almighty, that doesn't mean she couldn't have at least TRIED to explain that her crying wasn't a negative reaction and that she wasn't upset! And ya know, Mick could've at least TRIED to ask her what was wrong, why she was crying, and not just totally abandon her without saying anything to try to understand her reaction. I mean, shit, did these two even have any kind of conversation immediately after the sex was over? The book just says that they fucked, she cried, he left, and leaves a bunch of stuff up in the air. And the real kicker is that if these two DID have any kind of reasonable response to this one moment 10 years ago, then the entire plot of the novel and all the drama that was driving it might never have happened! Why are romance novel characters always so goddamn stupid?????!!?!

Now that that's out of my system, let's talk about what I did enjoy. As I've said before, Eden Bradley does actually have a way with words, and she's pretty damn talented at crafting an interesting and hot sex scene. Ironically, some of the best sex scenes--which happen early on in the novel-- don't feature the standard PIV sex at all, and are really just craftily written BDSM "scenes", two of which take place in the local BSDM club. They're so well done that I can't help but wonder if the author herself is actually a legitimate kinkster. Despite my frustration with Mick, he does generally seem to be a good Dominant, and I like that she even gave him a particular kink that he's really into (his big thing is rope bondage). She goes into some really interesting detail about the rope work, weaves in a lot of other little details that flesh out the intricacies of a "scene" and describes the characters' emotions so well that at first I was actually shocked at having finally found a piece of erotica just this amazing. You can tell that even if these two characters are constantly bemoaning their melodramatic relationship at all other times, they at least have sexual chemistry to spare.

I guess what I liked best about the sex early on in the novel was not only that it was kinky, but that it wasn't the "standard" sex you expect to see in fiction; for the most part, it was an excellent example of what a good D/s dynamic should look like (in the bedroom, at least), and showcased a loving attention to detail. At one point, I was even surprised to find that they used a sex toy I wasn't previously familiar with! So Eden Bradley definitely gets points for creativity; unfortunately, though, that was not to last. At first it was great because it was unique, sexy, and also used rather sparingly, and while the first few sex scenes that did actually have sex in them were pretty hot and implemented enough bondage and general variety to keep my interests, it hit a certain point just past halfway or so that the sex soon turned into repetitive, mindless fucking on every other page. I guess that's pretty standard for erotica, though: in every story there must come a point where the plot just stalls so the sex picks up, but then that gets boring pretty quickly. *sigh* Maybe I'll just never find the erotic novel that's right for me...

I guess what made me happiest of all about this novel was the way it treated BDSM, although that was tempered by Mick's shitty attitude. But apart from him the the few other characters who are kinky are portrayed as well-adjusted people, and in general things are pretty realistic. There's a few things I could nitpick of course; for example, there's a part where Mick goes to a BDSM club and is served alcohol, which I'm pretty sure that most clubs wouldn't do (anyone who actually has club-going experience feel free to correct me on this, I'm just going off of what I learned from visiting the websites of one or two real-life clubs). But other than a few minor things the BDSM community is portrayed in a very realistic way, and despite Mick wavering back and forth between thinking it's no big deal and thinking it makes him "dark", he does get call out on it by Allie and others, so props to Eden Bradley for that.

This review turned out to be way longer than I expected it to be, and it wasn't even as nitpicky as I expected it to be. But oh well. It makes me kind of sad to give this book a largely negative review, because I wanted so badly to like it going in. I guess I just got a little over-excited about the positives that drew me in, so that even with a healthy dose of initial skepticism I still ended up disappointed. But it a lot of ways it is a major improvement over the published erotica and much of the online erotica I've read before. But as much as I had wanted to give this one at least three starts, and really can't justify giving it any more than 2 1/2. It's entertaining for a while, but ultimately the exhausting melodrama just isn't worth it. I'm not sure if I'll be reading any more Eden Bradley after this, but maybe if it looks promising enough I might be convinced to give another one of her works a chance.

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