“Pleasure Me” – An Uneven Tale of a Retiring Courtesan and a Guy With One Ball

This is going to be a bit different from the usual format. Instead of looking at a novel chapter-by-chapter (or part by part), I’m going to have this done in one review. I’m trying to avoid the Dread Curse of Unfinished Postings that seems that have been cast on this here blog.

(Now watch as I decide that the whole review can’t possibly fit into one post, promise a part two and never get around to finishing it)

But, in all seriousness, I would like to thank our humble webmaster for the opportunity to post here.  And, while I’m pretty sure I won’t be as funny as Kevin or as insightful as Noel, I will try my best to be good anyway.

Now, on with the review.

MoF-BR_MonicaBurns-PleasureMe-Cover

I picked up Monica Burns’ “Pleasure Me” more or less on impulse. the cover caught my eye, but it was the synopsis on the back that really grabbed me. A romance novel set in the late 19th century United Kingdom, featuring a 41-year old courtesan and a younger man…

Anyone who’s followed me on Twitter or read my blog would know of my fondness for older women. I’m also a bit of sucker of romantic movies set before the 20th century. I’ve watched entirely too many films where my thought process something like this:

  1. Is it romance?
  2. Does it have corsets?
  3. What are we waiting for – lets watch!

So when I saw a novel that had an older woman/younger man romance and a period setting, I knew I had to check it out.

As I started reading it, I found myself enjoying it. As the novel opened, our female lead, Lady Ruth Attwood, has just been dumped by her latest patron – for a younger woman, no less. At 41, Ruth doesn’t feel particularly old, but that sort of thing has been happening a lot recently, leaving her to wonder if she should take her savings and retire from the courtesan life.

I liked Ruth right off the bat. The opening chapter presented her strong woman who didn’t fold easily under pressure, someone who could be charming and gracious at one moment and  fire off an eloquently cutting zingers in the next. While losing a patron hurt her ego, Ruth was determined not to let the disappointment ruin her life completely. She is as loyal to her servants as they are to her, and, when she loses a patron and with it, a source of income, her first concern is over how that would affect her ability to buy a new building for an orphanage she’s been funding.

Yes – our heroine spends most of her money on orphans. Under other circumstances, that might have been a bit too precious, but, in the context of the novel, it becomes just touching enough to avoid cliche.

While at a society function, Ruth runs into our male protagonist, the 29-year-old Baron Garrick Stratfield. Initially, he came off as a cliche Brooding Love Interest With a Dark Secret. But unlike a lot of characters of this type, he didn’t come off particularly assholish – he came to Ruth’s support when she found herself in the midst of some society drama, and he generally treated people well unless they didn’t deserve it.

As for the brooding thing – well, Garrick was trying to keep people from getting too close. Especially women. For, you see, there was something about him that was so horrible that there was no way any woman could love him.

Then, one chapter later, we find out that his horrible dark secret is the fact that he only had one testicle.

I did a double take. This couldn’t seriously be the horrible secret… could it?

The next few pages made it clear that, yes, it very much could.

At this point, I figured that the novel would either get unintentionally hilarious or somehow make the whole dark secret thing work. Either way, I had to keep reading.

And, in the end, I’m still not entirely sure what to think.

On one hand, it didn’t really get unintentionally hilarious – at least not in the way that’s mockable.  During the course of the novel, we learn why Garrick thinks his birth defect is so horrible – it had to do with a traumatic incident in Garrick’s teenage years and generally terrible environment he grew up in. It’s telling that, once Ruth found out the truth, pretty much shrugged it off (and then spent the better part of the next few chapters trying to build up Garrick’s self-confidence). By the last third of the novel, it’s clear that the real issue isn’t Garrick’s “deformity” – it’s his struggle to achieve a sense of self-confidence and self-worth.

At the same time, as the novel progressed, I came across other things that started to bother me. I liked the early courtship between Garrick and Ruth, full of back-and-forth quippery and discussions of the moral implications of literature. And, later, when Garrick starts to trust Ruth enough to (slowly, oh so very slowly) reveal his secrets, and the readers get to see the defensiveness and vulnerability beneath the broodiness. It is interesting to watch his character growth as he realizes that being vulnerable didn’t make him “less of a man.”

But as the novel continued, Ruth seemed to have been losing chunks of her personality – the wit, her wilfullness, her ability to set boundaries and enforce them. Yes, the whole “being around the man I love makes me want to stop arguing and do what he wants” is a trope as old as romance genre, but it was weird seeing a character who rebuked Garrick after he (accidentally) insulted her in the beginning of the book let him pretty much ignore her requests about half a book later.

And then, there is Garrick himself. At the beginning of the novel, he was presented as standoffish, driven and a bit pigheaded. He was a man who worked hard to establish the “I am the Alpha Male, I am strong and I get what I want” persona to compensate for his deep-seated insecurities. He likes being in control because he grew up barely in control of anything and because, when he let his guard down, it tended to come back to haunt him. One would have hoped that, once Garrick gained more genuine self-confidence, he would have learned to relax a little and not worry so much about getting his way. But, if anything, he became more pushy and arrogant. When he offended Ruth earlier in the novel, Garrick seemed genuinely contrite, and he tried to apologize.  But when, toward the end of the novel, Garrick tried to convince Ruth to marry him, he borderline bullied her into accepting it.

(I say “borderline” because it also involved an attempt to actually address her reservations and try to ease her concerns, but there were several lines and moments that still made me uncomfortable).

There is also the issue of how the novel handled conflict (such as it was). In romance novels, it is customary for protagonists to face obstacles before they get together. Those obstacles tend to form what passes for conflict in the genre. And there is nothing wrong with that per se (personally, I don’t think stories necessarily need to have any big conflicts at all – I’m perfectly content to read about things just happening so long as they happen in an interesting way). But the problem with the novel is that a lot of those obstacles are kind of… weak. They get built up as something significant, even insurmountable, only to have the author resolve them a chapter or two later with barely a fuss.

Garrick doesn’t want Ruth to see him naked, but he also wants to screw her? Ruth suggests a blindfold. Ruth winds up seeing his nether regions anyway? She, as I mentioned earlier, pretty much shrugs it off. Even when Garrick is threatened with a prison sentence for a crime he didn’t commit, the whole plot winds up resolved so quickly that one has to wonder why the author even bothered.

And finally – this is something of a personal pet peeve. The novel makes a big deal out of Ruth’s age – and proceeds to downplay it as much as possible when actually describing her. Yes, she is in her 40s, the novel says, but she actually looks much younger. Come to think of it, Ruth barely shows any signs of aging at all.

There are many women in their 40s who look pretty damn good without the aid of Botox and what have you, but they don’t look like 20-somethings. Aging process affects us all – some less than others, but it’s still there. The Lucy Liu looks pretty damn good in Elementary, but you’d never mistake her for the Lucy Liu that appeared in Ally McBeal.

Now, I realize that a lot of this has to do with the novel’s primary target audience, who are, most likely, women around Ruth’s age. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to appeal to their hopes and dreams, to assure them that 20-something men would still find them beautiful. But I don’t think the audience is particularly well-served if they present an unrealistic ideal of what a woman their age would look like.

Still, the novel has many things going for it. The writing style is descriptive and engaging, the characterization is well-handled, the parts that are meant to be amusing genuinely are. One can tell that the author spent time researching period detail – and while i don’t know enough about the period to be absolutely sure everything is accurate, I appreciate the effort. I was impressed with the fact that social standing was a big deal and an important driving force in the plot – as one would expect from the time period (and something that many less skilled writers tend to forget). I particularly like how the novel drew attention to the distinction between what everybody knew but didn’t talk about and what was out in the open (a subtle distinction, but a pretty important one in the context of the novel).  And it is nice that Ruth actually has a female friend who supports her through thick and thin (and who feels like a living, breathing person with thoughts and opinions of her own) – something that we don’t see nearly enough with female characters in general.

Well, it looks like it’s time to wrap things up. Thank you for indulging me, dear Made of Fail readers. Maybe someday, I will come back and review something that does turn out to be hilariously terrible.

Then again, given this blog’s record when it comes to multi-part features, perhaps I should quit while I’m ahead.

 

Pregnesia, Part 2

Or, Even Badass Airplane Thieves Need Love Too

Apologies for the wait. Between a heavily reduced ability to internet from work, an upswing in personal responsibilities, and an impending interview, I’ve been a bit strapped for review time.

Basically, I’ve started writing a story, getting ready for the North American Discworld Convention in a week or so, continued to work on Deconstructing Moya (which has been getting really good you guys), recorded our third anniversary episode for Made of Fail… I’ve been busy.

This book has been interesting so far. The characters are defined, the plot immediately presents itself without a false start, and what’s even more impressive is that the author knows how to use adjectives, and more importantly, how to stop. Color me impressed.

However, I’ve only read the first chapter. So away we go!


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Pregnesia, Part 1

Or, Make sure you check your trunk EVERY DAY.

There’s a bit of hype involved in this book, and I really hope it can live up to expectations. It’s a bit complicated, and some of you may be wondering what the big deal is here, so I’ll explain it. This third review begins with a story.

It was Episode 23 of Made of Fail (FACE PUNCH!!), and our guests Rinna and Cleolinda were discussing romance novels. Specifically, there was one book Rinna told us about whose title just nabbed us from Word One. The title, of course, was Pregnesia. Apparently, there’s a girl who is pregnant and has amnesia, so you pretty much get what it says on the tin.

The book itself is fairly infamous, though I’ve specifically avoided reading reviews or other discussions of it (including that one I’ve linked to Smart Bitches, Trashy Books), because when I started this site, I promised both Rinna and Cleolinda that I would eventually review this.

What I didn’t know was that this was a Harlequin imprint. Now, I try not to judge a book by its cover (as it were), but I’ve definitely Heard Things About It. Of course, that won’t change the fact that I’m going to read the thing, and I may be pleasantly surprised.

(Speaking of the cover, why the hell is he grabbing her thigh like that she is not a bucket of fried chicken. That looks extremely painful for her and he should put on a glove if he moves any further inward is all I am saying.)

(What the hell, romance novel covers?)

Ladies and gentlemen, the time has come. Lock your trunks and set your alarms, because this is about to get real.

Let’s begin.


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Pleasure 2035, Final Thoughts

I apologise, I’ve lost The Funny™. This book has not been inspiring me to make jokes, it’s been inspiring me to throw it across the room. Not because it’s bad – which it is – but because if you squint hard and look at it a bit sideways, you can see the fascinating story it could have been. Sailboat, sailboat, goddamn sailboat.

There is so much I’d actually want to read, but no, let’s only have plot as a reason to get people having sex. It’s almost reminding me of Cleolinda‘s reaction to Twilight (I apologise for bringing this up yet again) on Episode Ten: Do We Dazzle You; it cuts to a pseudo-Victorian erotic scene as part of Bella’s fantasy, and Cleo protests, “Why can’t we be watching that movie?”

Long story short, this blog has been reduced to me simply reacting and facepalming. That’s not entertaining. That’s not amusing. That’s just watching me rage out; anyone can do that.

    @cleolinda: Oh God. That bad?
    @alliancesjr: It’s not that it’s bad – which it is – it’s that I keep seeing parts that I REALLY wish this book was better so’s I can read it.

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Pleasure 2035, Part 3

Okay, I need to come clean. This weekend I sat down and read through the rest of the book, so the following review is no longer written-as-I-am-reacting, or as I like to call them, “funky fresh”.

Anyway, what we’ve learned so far:

  • Jalopy Mint Alberqueque has creamy blood. It’s actually not creamy, but as I’ve read ahead, I’ve discovered that “creamy” is pretty much the author’s only adjective when it comes to liquids. Or at least bodily fluids. And man does she have cause to use that adjective a lot.
  • There are undercurrents of a halfway-decent dystopian future political intrigue mystery novel in this, and it keeps getting sidetracked with all the sex. And then dropped entirely.
  • Seriously, I’m sitting here, enjoying a bit of rebellion against the caste structure, and I keep getting plotblocked.

I also think that the line spacing is seriously detrimental to this book so far. I mean, it’s one thing to fill up space to be able to pad a few extra pages into your book, but this is absolutely ridiculous:


Personal space.

In any case, here we go again.


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Pleasure 2035, Part 2

So, color me surprised. I don’t know what I was expecting from this book, but there’s a level of underlying complexity in it that fascinates me. Also, re-reading those first couple chapters gave me some more information than I got initially – partially because there was little-to-no editing done on this book at all, and punctuation is all over the place and sometimes whole words are very obviously missing. But still, there’s a lot there (that I sadly have to hunt for). To wit:

  • The distinction between “real” Black women and Blue Honeys. It’s mentioned that there is a distinction, rather, but there’s no indication thus far what it actually means. We know that Mayflower is Black and Jornaldo Mighty Acclamator is Blue, but the latter is just from the summary on the back so far.
  • Mayflower didn’t just grab Druggie Janice and shove her in the robot closet. After she hit the “WASH” button, she grabbed the other guy – druggie girl’s husband – and shoved him in the closet and hit the button again.
  • On that note, it doesn’t specify what the sterilization process is, but it apparently involves water that is hot enough to scald lava. Physical impossibilities aside, that’s a really damned painful way to go.

All in all, I came into this expecting Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep but with additional strangely-written sex and also vampires. What I’m getting is something else entirely. Join me as I figure out what!


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Pleasure 2035, Part 1

Or, How I Learn To Never Issue Challenges To Scottish Women

I’ve actually been sitting on this book for a few weeks now, but there was something very specific that was stopping me from getting this review started. I picked it up at work to do a bit of advance reading, and immediately put it back down.

There’s…a limit to what I feel comfortable reading at work. There is sex on page one. Granted, it’s “off-screen”, and I am not saying I have an issue reading this sort of thing in general, but there’s a difference between reading at home and reading at work in a crowded office building where people constantly ask me what I am reading. (Especially since I appear to have accidentally ordered the Large Print edition of the book.)

I didn’t want to have to explain this to my supervisor is what I am saying.

In any case, Kayleigh has challenged me to Pleasure 2035, by Cameo Brown, of which the summary on the back promises vampires, robot sex workers, and undercover mystery and intrigue.

Let’s begin!


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The Very Virile Viking, Part 7

Ladies and Gentlemen, we’ve reached the end of this journey. I’m going to push my way to the end now, because there is no conceivable reason to drag it out any further.

Both Trekkiegirl and I will post our final thoughts on the book after this, so there’s that to look forward to. Then I’m going to take a short break, and then I’ll get started on Book Choice Number Two, which I’ve promised Kayleigh she’d get to pick. After that, we’ll see!


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The Very Virile Viking, Part 6

Ohgod, overcooked jalapeño poppers are the bane of my existence. On the one hand, they’re burnt and taste horrible. On the other hand, they’re jalapeño poppers, and I can’t help but take another bite just in case they’re not ruined all the way through.

Alas, they are. It’s like a deliciously-smelling Light Grenade.

Such is the case with this book. While I cannot handle more than a small amount at a time, I keep coming back to it, and regretting it each time.

Diabolical. Sandra Hill, you magnificent bastard.


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The Very Virile Viking, Part 5

Welcome to another edition of “You guys will have my fiancée pick books forever”!

From now on, I’m going to start speeding up the chapters. I’ve been averaging about two or three per post, but I’ve read ahead a bit again, and they’re starting to get very uneventful. As in, nothing happens. It’s like how in The Princess Bride, where the narrator comments on how certain skipped sections of the “real” book were about forty pages of packing and unpacking and repacking? It’s like that.

What we’ve got so far is a book that’s about 90% refusing to accept what’s in front of them, and 10% trying to take what isn’t. The amount of incredulity is staggering, but that’s not my complaint – it’s rather the tacit acceptance of some pretty unbelievable things. If it were me, I’d freak out when I found out I had been flung a thousand years in the future. At the very least, I may have a bit of a “Everyone I know is dead” fugue state. Magnus? Marvel at how it works, then go traipsing out to find if he can still have sex.

You have to admit, the guy is dedicated.

(Again, NSFW tag on this from now on.)


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