I am so very late with this month’s TBR Challenge review, it ain’t even funny. This year, though, I’m just going to push through; better late than skipping the month entirely.
I actually got this book signed by the author, which means that I either got it at RWA 2009 in DC, or RWA 2010 in Orlando. Either way, it’s been sitting on the TBR mountain range for ages. Oh, and I note that this is a rare one for me: a straight contemporary that is not a category romance.
There’s explicit sex and adult language, so if those are not your thing, skip this one.
Skintight, by Susan Andersen
I’m pretty sure that this is only the second of Ms Andersen’s novels that I’ve read, and I’m sorry to say that I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I did All Shook Up; partly, because I’ve been in a filthy reading mood–my inner critic (hat tip to Liz at My Extensive Reading) just wouldn’t shut up. And partly because…oh, where to begin?
But I’m getting ahead of myself; here’s the blurb:
Professional poker player Jax Gallagher should have known better than to wager a World Series baseball that wasn’t his to lose. Now the man who won the collectible is demanding his prize…or else. Trouble is, the ball is owned by his estranged father’s widow–a flamboyant Las Vegas showgirl. Jax will do whatever it takes to get it back.
Yet Treena McCall is anything but the ruthless gold digger Jax expects. She’s build a life for herself filled with good friends and hard work. And she’s got enough on her plate trying to hang on to her job as a dancer without being wined, dined and seduced by sexy Jax Gallagher.
I confess that I sort of scanned the blurb when I grabbed the book last week, but I didn’t really notice the “Jax will do whatever it takes” line. Perhaps if I had, I would not have been taken aback when it became clear–within the first fifteen pages–that Jax intended to seduce his father’s widow.
Let me repeat: Jax intends to have sex with the woman who, as far as he knows, his father was having sex with, just a few months earlier. (‘scuse me while I shudder.)
Yes, it would still have been an asshole-ish thing to do, if Jax planned to romance Treena, gain access to her house, steal the baseball, then disappear. But to cold-bloodedly decide to actually have sex with her? Not only does that setup feel more than a tad incestuous to me, but any character who’s happy to fuck the heroine, sight unseen, in order to (fill in the blank), requires a lot of work on the author’s part, for me to give two rats about.
I kept on reading because I really wanted to see if Ms Andersen managed to redeem Jax. Slim hope, but still.
Unfortunately, we are treated instead to the Las Vegas showgirl edition of the virgin widow.
No, Treena is not a virgin; however, she never had sex with Jax’s father. Everyone–including Treena’s best friend, let alone Jax–thought they screwed each other at every opportunity until Big Jim’s cancer came back, but no, it was a chaste relationship from beginning to end.
Jax, though, does not know this, and doesn’t really care. He cares even less after spending a couple of hours with Treena–it’s barely 24 hrs since they first clap eyes on each other when they almost have sex on the hood of Treena’s car in a hotel’s parking garage.
Keep in mind, this scene is well written, and the physical attraction between the two characters is well done, so it doesn’t feel skeevy until you remember that, as far as Jax knows, the woman he’s *this* close to nailing in public, did pretty much the same with his father. Once that comes to mind, you want to reach for the mind bleach.
Jax bounces between thinking Treena is a gold digging bimbo who fucked her way into marrying his father, and whom, presumably, he need feel no scruples about screwing in all ways; and enjoying the actual woman’s company, beyond and above wanting to fuck her himself. At what point, I wondered, was he going to say, “eeeewwww, I really have the hots for my father’s widow”?
Then we have Treena’s hangups.
Apparently, her sexual experiences have never been what we’ll call satisfactory, so her orgasms are all self–and privately–induced. Which is why she agreed to a chaste marriage to Big Jim. He gets a nice woman who is also beautiful arm candy, Treena gets someone who’ll take care of her for the first time in her life, without the pressure of pretending to enjoy sex.
Of course, what happens instead is that he gets sick, has no insurance, and his medical expenses eat all his money and Treena’s savings. Because having your in-name-only husband die a slow and painful death is not enough for an angsty backstory; we need Treena to be on the verge of both losing her position as dancer for one of the second tier shows in Las Vegas, and having to declare bankruptcy.
Or, you know, sell the famous baseball…
Only, natch, she has scruples about that, because she knows Big Jim wanted the damned ball to go to his estranged son, even if she’s the legal owner.
Leaving that aside, let’s come back to Treena really not being the kind to hook up with people she knows well, let alone having one-night stands with total strangers. Yet, there they are, on the hood of her car, barely two layers of fabric away from full penetration sex in public, at her place of employment.
At this point, I was getting whiplash from shaking my head to try to reconcile these things into something resembling consistency in character development.
Then there are the secondary characters.
Remember that guy who won the baseball from Jax? Well, it so happens that he’s also a Russian millionaire with Mafiya ties, and an Elvis impersonator. He’s speaks in stilted English, and is such a caricature, I found him ridiculous from beginning to end. I couldn’t take his threats towards Jax seriously, and I just couldn’t see anyone doing so either; I kept seeing Dr Evil, but with a pompadour and spangles.¹
Then there are Treena’s neighbors, Ellen the retired librarian, and Mack, the retired aircraft tech, now handyman. Of course he’s rough and tumble, of course she’s prim and proper, of course they can’t share space for thirty seconds without spitting at each other like bad tempered cats. And, of course, they also have had the hots for each other for over a year, they just don’t ever talk to each other because…reasons?
There’s Julie-Ann, your classic made-to-order bitch queen. When Treena had to take leave to care for Big Jim, Julie Ann was promoted to dance captain, but of course, now that Treena is back as a humble low-level dancer, Julie-Ann cannot cope with the jealousy–because everyone liked Treena better, dontcha know.
I gave up at page 80; Skintight is another DNF.
However, as I’m aware that a lot of these issues are extremely subjective, allow me to give you a few highlights:
For Miss Bates, our hero raises his chin on page 12, in order to muster the courage to invite the heroine to breakfast. Turns out there’s more than a bit of calculation on his body language, but still.
There’s an awesome discussion of the evils of ties, bras, and high heels on page 54/55. Here’s a small bit of that:
“Thank you, ma’am.” He ran his finger beneath the tie. “Believe me, this is strictly in your honor. I don’t know who invented these things, but if you ask me they ought to be shot.”
She laughed. “Poor baby,” she said without an iota of sympathy. “But you’re a gambling man. I’ll take your necktie and raise you the average bra anytime. You dragged that out for a special occasion? Try wearing something that digs grooves in your hide twelve to eighteen hours a day, every day of the week.”
~ * ~
¹ I skimmed some pages near the end of the book, and I happened to hit on a scene where we see Russian Elvis impersonate a Bond villain–power tool and monologues–and yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds.