I bought this book when it was posted as a sale over at the SmartBitches the other day. There was no actual recommendation, only a mention that while the plot was somewhat thin, it’s an interracial erotic romantic suspense.
The cover hits all my good buttons for erotic romance, so I read the sample over at amazon and one-clicked it.
I don’t recommend anyone else do the same, though YMMV, as always.
Be aware that there is plenty of graphic sex, a lot of talk about power exchange and kink, and general cursing. There is also graphic violence, some of it against the heroine. If any of these offend or otherwise upset you, you may want to click away now.
Committed, by Sidney Bristol¹
This is the first in a series, and I could guess at least one of the next couples after reading about twenty percent of the story. This isn’t always a bad thing, though, and there were other things going on that I liked, so I kept going.
There were some good things going on, though I confess that I had expected to have my socks blown off, because of what happens during the main characters very first conversation. But hey, one never knows, all the good stuff could happen after the abrupt interruption mentioned in the blurb, so I kept reading.
And then a character is introduced and I got very angry.
After I calmed down I read on, and then on top of getting angry again, I started to feel sort of cheated, and after that it got kinda messy. Let me ‘splain.
First, the blurb, from amazon:
In this erotic tale of sensuality and suspense, Sidney Bristol proves that desire can be the most dangerous drug of all.
DEA Special Agent Damien Moana works hard and plays even harder. But while indulging in forbidden temptations at a private BDSM retreat, the unexpected happens: He falls under a stranger’s spell. This woman drives Damien to distraction, pushing him to the sweet boundary between pain and pleasure. When duty interrupts their heated encounter, his focus turns to catching a criminal . . . but his head is still with the seductress who ignites his deepest desires. Now Damien must choose between closing the case of his career and losing the woman of his dreams.
Poppy Mercer can’t forget the night she spent with her mystery lover. When chance brings them back together, she seizes the opportunity to again feel his masterful hands on her body. Poppy is a switch who delights in dominating a powerful man . . . and submitting to the ecstasy of his control. Outside the bedroom, however, she questions her place in Damien’s world. His obsession with hunting a ruthless drug lord puts Poppy in the line of fire. And though Damien might be able to save her from danger, salvaging what’s left of her trust is another matter.
When they first meet, Poppy has just spent a large amount of money to attend–if that’s the word–a highly exclusive BDSM retreat. How exclusive, you ask? Well, everyone has to provide a clean bill of health that is not older than seven days when the weekend starts. Cell phones are allowed on the rooms, but nowhere in the common areas. The only people who know your identity are the people getting your money and your lab results, There are resident slaves to clean, cater and generally be there to serve as staff.
Their first conversation skips over things like names and identities, yet includes discussion of their preferences when it comes to kink–he’s dominant through and through, she’s a switch–and they quickly agree to play together at least that night and the following day, on the condition that he’ll bottom for her.
Which he’s willing to do because the insta-lust here rivals those fated to be mated romances we all love and/or love to hate.
The play and sex that follow are admittedly hot, though I found myself surprised that, even though much is made of the importance of negotiation before playing, Poppy forgets some of her hardest limits. The reader knows she can trust Damien not to break the toy he’s playing with, but Poppy doesn’t. It seems rather reckless, if not outright stupid, for someone who supposedly has been active in the kink scene for several years.
Of course, duty calls him, not only before Damien can make good on his offer to bottom for her, but before he properly takes care of her after their play.Which is quite the sucky thing to do to anyone, but in this case sucks much larger. It’s one of the few things that Poppy has stressed are essential for her well being: she needs after care, and lots of it.
Now he’s gone and she refuses to let someone else–hello, hero of a future book in the series–take care of her. Partly it’s temper and pride, partly it’s that there is an intimacy to the play and inserting a stranger in the middle of the process just doesn’t work for her.
In her panties, I would be downright pissed.
A couple of weeks have passed, both of them are still dreaming–and, I infer, self-pleasuring–to thoughts of the other, when their vanilla lives collide. He has occasion to do a search and seizure at the school where Poppy works as librarian.
Which rattles her a lot more than it does him. Damien just becomes all the more determined to persuade her to play with him again.
A note here: his behaviour skirts stalking really, really close for me, but it does not cross the line, only because as a reader I know Damien is aware of what he’s doing and tells himself–and her and everyone around–how he just wants a chance to set things to right and pretty much vows that he will back off if Poppy can’t/won’t give it to him.
I know this, so I give him the benefit of the doubt.
If I only had Poppy’s or her friends’ point of view? Yeah, stalker.
Anyway, the night after that accidental meeting, Poppy invites her two best friends–whom she has met through the kinky community–to her house, for company and moral support. Naturally the conversation is all about Poppy and her no-longer-unknown missing dom and her feelings, and blah.
About her friends’ lives and business? Yeah, not so much to say.
Except to hammer at the fact that one of them…
No, let me quote instead:
The five foot ten transgender Asian was a better girl than Poppy half the time, now included.
Really, because when I see one of my own friends the first things that pop to mind are their sexual orientation and ethnic origin.
Yes, here’s where I got quite angry. But hey, awkward writing happens, and this type of shorthand also does happen, though it’s only when a character is not hetero that the sexuality is included. Still, what the hell, let’s read on a bit, see what happens with the main characters.
Little did I know how soon this resolve would be tested.
Next time we see Nikki, in the very next chapter–and keep in mind, we only see her long enough for them to exchange greetings and a hug–we get this:
Nikki looked better dressing as a woman than Poppy did born as one.
Excuse me, didn’t we just get that line? Is that really the only thing that defines this human being, that she was not born a woman and that she’s girlier than Poppy? Seriously?
Also, please do correct me if I’m wrong, but being transgender is much, much more than “dressing as a woman,” so that phrasing seems completely fucked up.
I believe I would have noticed and been bothered by this in the past, though I don’t know whether it would have so completely stopped in my tracks. Now, after reading María in Courtney Milan’s Trade Me, this treatment felt horribly, horribly offensive. As Kaetrin said in her own review:
I also enjoyed that there was a transgirl in Trade Me and I enjoyed that being trans was one (albeit important) facet of Maria’s character and that it was not the only one. Because of course Maria is more than a transgirl. People are more than any one thing about them.
Yes, we all are a lot more than one thing, even when that one thing is vitally important to us, our identity and our happiness.
I considered stopping there and just deleting the book, but I wanted to write about my reaction to this issue. And though I have mentioned before that I don’t have ‘rules’ for DNF, it does seem to me that stopping about a quarter of the way in is, perhaps, a little too soon.
And so, I soldiered on.
And got hit with another phrase that got me raging.
See, lily white Poppy lives and works in a black neighborhood in Chicago. After another, shorter, play encounter with Damian, she’s spacing out at work. When a student tries to check out a book, Poppy thinks this:
She was unable to recall the girl’s name. She could have been any one of the black girls, her hair tightly braided and her clothing slightly worse for wear.
Why did we need to know the student’s race exactly? No, it’s a serious question. Why the hell does it matter that she’s black? Why was her race essential to that exchange?
All this, as you may have perceived, was grating on my nerves, but then there’s the other crap–this book seems to be one of those “and the kitchen sink” kind of stories.
We have Poppy’s childhood and her struggles to relate normally to other people. She was raised in a commune, with an older sister by a single mother. Her mother and sister still belong to the commune, which has some weird rules. There is no private property and no privacy, yet people weren’t allowed to date unless the ‘heads of the family’ agreed it was a good idea for this boy to see this girl–chaperoned and with eyes to marriage.
When her mother enters her apartment uninvited and unannounced and finds her with Damian, not only all kinds of racist shit come out, she calls Poppy a whore. So we also have family drama.
We have Damien’s childhood. His white mother’s family disowned her for marrying a man of color. His father died when–in his words–he was “five or six.” (And here we pause to marvel: wouldn’t you know how old you were when one of your parents died?) In his own words, he’s “not black enough for the black folk and not white enough for anyone.”
On the professional side, we have Damien’s asshat of a boss–the stereotypical suit aiming for a promotion, who has no idea what goes on, or what needs to happen, in the field. And there’s also Damien’s partner, who survives being shot but now is having issues of her own (hey, more sequel bait!).
We are told over and over–particularly as she’s submitting to Damien–that Poppy is a switch and how terribly important it is to her that this be recognized and given space. Yet I’m at past the fifty percent mark of the story and she has only topped him once. Worse, we only see the beginning of the scene and is more goofy than anything else.
To all this, add a parallel plot about the psychopathic (Latino, of course) drug dealer who escaped a large, well planned bust, and who is now hellbent on killing each one of the cops involved. Because apparently criminals cannot be in it simply for the money and feel utter disregard for human life other than their own; they have to be crazy.
And be Latino–three for three of the big evils in the bust are.
At this point, despite being on his own and on the run, the villain knows the identities of all the law enforcement personnel involved in the bust, from local SWAT to FBI and DEA, and is killing them off like target pigeons. I’m guessing either a long term undercover guy–coincidentally another dominant, hello sequel bait–or Damien, or even Poppy, are going to spend some non consensual quality time with the villain, or there will be a big shootout climax. Or hell, both.
But I don’t feel particularly motivated to read on, frankly. Skimming ahead only reveals that I was right about what’s going to happen with the villain, and that’s when I had to give up.
I don’t feel the author can deliver on the “I’m a switch, respect that” premise, given what I’ve read so far. I’m offended by the “let’s include racially and gender diverse people, but in a way that is not inclusive.”
Committed is my second DNF review, and Sidney Bristol another author I won’t read again.
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¹ FYI: while I commend Ms Bristol for not using the lurid and tired red/black scheme, there’s a popup for her newsletter as you click through to her website. I find those annoying as fuck myself..