REVIEW: Passionate Pleasures by Bertrice SmallTuesday, August 24, 2010 13:00
I remember reading Bertrice Small when I was a teenager. She’s one of those authors a lot of us cut our romance teeth on all those years ago. Her Skye O’Malley series was a favorite back then. So, needless to say, I was a tad curious when I received Passionate Pleasures to review, especially when I realized it’s erotica. I wanted to see how it goes when old school meets new school in the world of erotic romance. Sigh. I’m sorry to say it didn’t go well at all, not only in the erotic elements but also other areas as well.
I’ve not read any other books in this series. I really don’t think that would have made a difference to the bottom line of my review. There are a few relatively major issues that I have a feeling show up in each book. Since the summary below gives you an idea of the storyline, with the exception of not hinting there’s paranormal elements included, I’ll just go to right to those major issues. However, be warned, this is a long review. I just couldn’t help myself.
There’s two elements where it seems Ms. Small is still writing like she did in the 1970s and 1980s. One is dialogue. Most of it is stilted and awkward, and people just don’t talk to one another how a lot of these characters in PP do. In fact, several times during conversations in this story, I kept thinking Stepford Wives. That’s how some of it read, like an automaton, no feeling, no emotion, or the way too much emotion for the situation. There are a few times in the book that work well, but they’re just overshadowed by those that don’t.
Along this same line, there are a lot of inconsistencies when it comes to how the characters speak. An example is the hero, Tim Blair, at one point when talking about an expectant mother used the word preggers. A very up-to-date, today word. Later, however, he uses the phrase “scare the dickens out of me,” and with the inclusion of the rest of that conversation, it just didn’t sound like the same character who I’d been reading about. And it’s not an isolated instance.
To take it a step further, the erotic nature concerning the dialogue is at times very prim sounding between the characters and then in the throes of passion, what is supposed to sound erotic just doesn’t. It’s plastic, wooden, out of character, however you’d like to say it. Very Stepford.
Next is head hopping. Granted, this isn’t done to the extent it was in our romances of old, but it’s still there and it’s blatant. It pulled me out of the story every time. Changing point of view at will never bothered me in the ’70s — I didn’t know any better at the time. But it’s a new age today of both writers and readers who do know better, and this problem is very noticeable in this book when it occurs. Literally a different point of view from a person who isn’t even in the room.
Then there’s a few things I just didn’t like, period. I wouldn’t like them in any book, not just this one. They leave me irritated. First is consistency. A couple of examples.
When Tim is unpacking in his new home in Egret Point, he opens a box of books to place on his bookshelves and he notices a problem. He then goes in to some memory about his father, I believe, and we’re never told what the problem is. Ever. Not just at that point where the problem is immediate, it’s never brought up again. Now I’m wondering about that for pages.
Next, Kathryn is in the middle of one of her fantasies with The Channel, having a rough evening with a barbarian, Temur, who sort of rescues a young girl being roughed up by his men. I say sort of because he diffuses the problem by taking the girl himself to show the boys how it’s done so she’ll cooperate and let every one of them have his way with her. Later when Temur and Kathryn are alone in his room, he orders her as his slave to bathe him, and she does a good job of it, cleaning every body part, no exclusion whatsoever. But within a few paragraphs she’s anxiously awaiting to see what his penis looks like because she didn’t get a good look at it in his earlier demonstration to his men. Huh? The woman, just moments before, had her hands all over that man in the bath.
And since I just mentioned the fantasies Kathryn programmed into The Channel for her daily quota of sex, I’ll just say each of these fantasies are just silly. Way too silly for romance and definitely for erotica. And for a mature woman who wants either just straight sex, rough sex, whatever. It feels like these are just included to get some of the erotica requirements needed.
Another problem I have is being hit over the head with things that make me think the author doesn’t have much faith in her readers’ intelligence. I only have to be told something once and I get it. It’s in the old brain and you don’t have to keep at me about it. The worst example of this is using Kathryn’s full name throughout the book where it just isn’t needed. Ever again. A few times in the beginning is sufficient. I don’t need it thrown at me over and over and over.
Along the same line, Tim keeps thinking or commenting about Kathryn’s “round breasts.” As compared to what? Square? Readers need that same description each and every time a hero pays attention to the heroine’s breasts. We know they’re round and he does too.
I also feel that Ms. Small makes Kathryn, who is an intelligent, confident, and independent woman, and Tim, a charming, educated man, seem rather brainless at times. I take issue with the fact that Kathy believes at 48 she’s too old to date, too old to get married, too old to do any number of things. She’s only three years older than I am. I certainly didn’t like the intimation I’m too old for those same things. I do like the fact that an older hero and heroine are featured, because you don’t see that too often in romance, then they’re knocked down for the very thing that’s unique about them, and it’s too bad they’re portrayed in such a way.
It’s also too bad because I actually like these characters. They’re just in the wrong romance novel. I know Ms. Small is trying to show Tim as an upstanding citizen, school principal, all-around good guy but he’s also what you don’t expect in the bedroom, especially with his sex toys and dirty words. The dichotomy just didn’t work the way it should have.
Oh, Kathy’s also five years older than Tim and has several thoughts or conversations off and on about that. I don’t see the problem. It’s not like they’re at an age that such a gap would make a difference, so I didn’t get the point in talking or thinking about it more than once, and it is more than once. They’re both responsible adults who have lived a good life up to this point, so who cares? There are other more important things to think about.
And the zinger for me, Kathy replies to Tim’s uh-oh moment of forgetting to use a condom with “Not a snowball’s chance in hell. I’m too old,” referring to the likelihood she could be pregnant. For a savvy woman of today’s world, even in small town America, that’s a very narrow, uneducated, and misinformed attitude to have. And Tim’s response to Kathryn at that point? “I’ll take your word for it.” Please. He’s a middle school principal, a responsible male. Again, it’s just not true to their characters, their intelligence has taken a hike.
As far as my curiosity about the erotica element, I’ve decided there’s a huge gap between authors from yesteryear and erotic authors of today. Stringing naughty words together and throwing in “Fuck me! Fuck me!” during lovemaking doesn’t make it erotic and it certainly isn’t sexy or romantic, and that happens a lot in this book. I never felt Tim and Kathy truly had an erotic connection in their love scenes. It’s simply intercourse with the F-word being interjected a number of times. It would have been more erotic to have a tender but very intense scene, then add a couple of those explicit phrases whispered back and forth, instead of all the screaming and playing with toys.
Having them playact a version of Kathy’s fantasy from The Channel doesn’t make it erotic either, especially when it didn’t work the first time around. It just feels like a case of a good veteran author trying her hand at one of today’s most popular genres and falling short.
On the other side of the coin, they do have a couple of tender moments and those are so much more enjoyable, more in line with who they are.
I came very close to not even trying to finish this book after the second chapter, but thought I’d better give it a fair shake. There are a few nice moments in this book, I even laughed out loud once, but there’s too few of those instances to combat all this other stuff. Needless to say, I don’t have any desire to read the other books in this series.
Obviously, this novel didn’t work for me on so many levels. And I will more than likely get some flack from a few of Ms. Small’s readers about my opinion. That’s okay. If it worked for you, that’s great. As much I remember loving this author’s work years ago, I kind of wish this one had worked for me. Alas, it’s just not meant to be.
Some think librarians are stuffy, narrow-minded prudes-but that’s not true of Kathryn St. John. She runs Egret Point’s library and is very involved in her community, even down to keeping them up with the latest trends. One major trend she turned the local ladies on to is the interactive network The Channel. It’s there that Kathryn extends her occupational passions into the bedroom by playing out her favorite pieces of medieval English literature. Kathryn is quite satisfied with the princes, musketeers, and highwaymen her personas seduce in The Channel. But her seductions spill out into the real world and reach Timothy Blair, new to Egret Point. He wants to satiate both of their desires, but how can he possibly compete with fantasy lovers? That is unless he can create a wicked plot twist that even Kathryn couldn’t think up in her wildest dreams…
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