TBR Challenge: Sexxy Times

The suggested theme for August is erotic romance; I don’t have any unread in my digital TBR. I have a couple in print, but due to recent wrist surgery, I can’t read print books right now. (I also type very slowly and need to correct a lot of errors, so this may be a short post.) [Edited to add: not short, because I got ranty.] I chose a Mills & Boon Desire title from 2007; it was part of last year’s M&B free ebook promotion. Warning: this review contains spoilers.

The book is The Player by Rhonda Nelson, the first in her Bachelors’ League trilogy. The basic set-up is that four friends from Alabama were selected to form an elite and hush-hush Army Ranger team; one guy, Danny, was killed on a mission and the other three decide they want out of the army to run their own private security company. Their discharge is held up over a disciplinary action (they got in a fight with someone who insulted their dead friend), so their commanding officer offers them a deal: he will sign off on their discharge, but in return they each owe him one favor, no questioned asked. Of course they agree.

This book spends a lot of time setting up the trilogy; too much, in my opinion. It felt slow to get going because of all the words spent telling about the three guys and how different they were and what each one’s backstory was. Add in the words it took to set up the specific situation for this book and you’ve got a lot of exposition. Much of which is told, not shown, in somewhat clunky (to me) info dumps.

The Colonel calls in his first favor from Jamie Flanagan, nicknamed “the Player” because of his pattern with women. The members of the Bachelor Society have basic rules about not getting too involved with women (including dumping them after the third date), but Jamie racks up the conquests because he’s using sex to drive away the pain of Danny’s death. His mission is to go stay at the Colonel’s granddaughter’s resort and get her attracted to him, so that she will turn down her boyfriend’s proposal. But he is NOT to actually seduce her, as the Colonel makes clear with threats of violence.

Unbeknownst to her grandfather, Audrey isn’t planning to accept the proposal. She knows her current boy friend is not “the one,” but some of his flaws are welcome because of her history. She is an empathetic and giving person, so she attracts some very needy men. Derrick is self-centered and arrogant, but he doesn’t drain her emotionally, and she needed that after a previous relationship. But he doesn’t satisfy her sexually (of course), so she plans to tell him no when he returns from a business trip — the trip that made her grandfather (and her best friend and co-worker, who also wants her to dump Derrick) decide that the time was right to bring another man into the picture. The Colonel tells her about Danny, and that Jamie needs her special therapy to help him deal with the loss of his friend.

So a classic set-up, even if the premise is a bit short on credibility: they’re lying to each other about their goals and motives, and each has a reason to fight off any urge to get involved with the other.

The book isn’t badly written; there are some cute turns of phrase and some funny dialogue. But it didn’t work very well for me for several reasons.

The overall plot structure and resolution bothered me. The main characters are lying to each other until 90% of the way through the book; they become intimate, Jamie unloads about Danny, and the phrase “I love you” is used, but he still hasn’t told her why he’s really there, and she’s still hiding how much of his war story she already knew from her grandfather. She then ends up forgiving him quickly, and he never blames her for her part of the deception. Plus I didn’t feel that either of their sets of issues was resolved; why is this needy guy okay, when previous ones emotionally drained her? The answer seems to be her magic hoo-ha — he throws aside his bachelor promises to his buddies, he cries it all out in her arms, and all’s well. Even though his pain and need affect her powerfully, this is different. Somehow.

It bugged me all the more because the sequence goes like this: they become lovers, then she tells him about her past and he realizes that she shouldn’t be with a needy man in need of her healing. But she pushes him to tell her about Danny because she can feel his pain and it hurts her anyway, so he might as well share. He does, and by telling her how he feels and listening to her rather obvious responses (it’s not his fault, he did his best, Danny wouldn’t want him to blame himself), he feels a lot better. So they have sex again, this time without a condom, and it’s better than ever — she declares her love for him in the aftermath of their unprotected sex. That’s right.

That’s even MORE upsetting because the book took a very early and rather preachy stand on the issue of sexual protection. From Chapter Six:

“Audrey was a big girl. She was sexually experienced and sexually responsible. She didn’t share her body with just anyone and she always made sure she was protected. She had too much self-respect to do otherwise. Though she longed to have a family of her own someday and imagined raising that family on this very shore, she instinctively knew that neither the time—nor sadly, the man [Derrick]—was right.”

That passage sort of comes out of the blue, in the midst of her thinking about how irresistible Jamie is. It suggests that she’s using birth control, but Jamie doesn’t know that, and sexual responsibility goes beyond pregnancy prevention. This really pushes my buttons; I’m tired of romances where protecting yourself from pregnancy is a sign that you’re in the wrong relationship, bare-back sex is much more satisfying than sex with a condom, and everyone KNOWS these characters can’t have STDs because they are the hero and the heroine.

There’s not much of the book after that. The next night, after she has dumped Derrick, they are settling in to watch a video, they talk a little about the future, he STILL doesn’t tell her the truth, and then her grandfather barges in. She finds out everything and kicks him out, he comes back to fight for her, he tells her that he seduced her despite her grandfather’s instructions because he couldn’t help and he loves her. and all is forgiven. Nothing left but (of course) the epilogue to provide the obligatory pregnancy and the set-up of the next book.

FAIL

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The Outer Hebrides: Yes, Another Boat Trip

During our recent trip to Scotland, this year’s version of the annual summer trip to the UK, we spent four glorious days visiting the Outer Hebrides. I’ve been to some of the inner islands on previous holidays — Skye, Mull, Iona. Staffa and the Treshnishes — but this was my first trip, and my partner’s, to the outer isles. Fortunately we traveled with seasoned visitors who made all the arrangements; we had a rental car (a willing little BMW) for getting around on land, and we took ferries when needed to get across water. I am NOT a good sailor (understatement), but fortunately it was only the initial outward journey that involved anything other than smooth sea.

The sailing from Oban to Barra, the southern island where we began our exploration, took five and a half hours. I was miserable and seasick the last three hours, although I managed not to “cast up my accounts,” as we’d say in a good Regency romance. It was rainy and gray when we arrived, plus there was a confusion over our B&B reservation, so by the time I found my bed for the night, I was glad to have the first leg over and done.

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The next day dawned much brighter; our delightful landlady gave us a wonderful big breakfast, and we drove pretty much the entire circumference of Barra before getting on the next ferry. We saw lovely beaches, including the one that’s home to the unique Barra airfield, and we had a nice view (from shore) of the local castle, Kisimul, a stronghold of the MacNeil clan since the 11th century.

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Dosed up with anti-nausea drugs, I was pleasantly surprised at the smooth crossing we had to South Uist. Although the ferry was a lot smaller (usually a bad thing for me), I enjoyed the trip. We spent the crossing out on the front deck, seeing some seals and some sea birds, including guillemots, artic terns, and my personal favorites, gannets.

The Uists are beautiful. We visited more lovely beaches, met some local sheep, and bought some of their wool — I was pleased to learn that the woman minding the local crafts store had personally spun the yarn that I bought!

No more ferries that day, because South Uist, Benbecula and North Uist are all connected by causeways, so we could drive up the spine of the islands with side trips to the pretty beaches on the west side.

Day three began with another ferry, this one to the Isle of Harris. Again we had calm sea and good viewing; this crossing involves a lot of turning, because the channel is so full of shallows and small islands. We drove across Harris to the Isle of Lewis and up the coast to see the standing stones at Callanish.

 

I’m a sucker for neolithic ruins, standing stones in particular, and these are very impressive Also not too crowded, which made it easier to get good pictures.

We also saw the remains of traditional island homes, called blackhouses. The name might stem from the fact that they had no chimneys and so the fire blackened the walls and ceilings. They housed both people and animals, as opposed to the later “white houses” which relegated animals to a separate building or addition.

Ruins dot the islands, but some are being restored with an eye towards traditional building methods.

We visited an excellent example of an Iron Age broch at Carloway; it’s fascinating how sturdy these buildings are, since they are of drystone construction (stones stacked together without any mortar or mud to hold them together).

On this last night of our time in the islands, we had a delicious fish dinner of freshly caught megrim, a left-eyed flatfish that none of us had tried before. It was delicious. We then retired to our B&B on the isle of Scalpay, which we had to leave very early the next morning for our last ferry.

The early ferry to Skye gave us a chance to see some more of that beautiful island. I’ve been there once before. but we only saw the southern end that time. We stopped several times for pictures, but really you could photograph lovely views from almost any spot.

We left Skye via the bridge at Kyle of Localsh (it was a toll bridge the last time I was there, which I think was five years ago). The drive south to Conell was also very pretty; the Highlands are beautiful.

Eilean Donan

Invergarry

Another Post Not About Books

I’m still grooving on Limecello’s Social Media for Social Good idea. We are up to 369 comments on her original post, and each comment means several dollars for Save the Children and their work during the awful famine in Africa.

I was raised to do a lot of charitable giving; my parents always gave to the less fortunate, even when times were “tough.” I thought I had it rough as one of six kids in a single-income household; I didn’t always get the latest toys, gadgets or fashions, and I didn’t get to attend the Ivy League college to which I was accepted, because even with scholarships, we couldn’t afford it. (I had to settle for an extremely elite private college in-state — poor me!) But I had some perspective on my circumstances, thanks to my parents and a dear family friend, Father Richard Timm. Father Timm worked with the poor in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, and every year we sent him the money my mother figured we had saved by giving up dessert for Lent. He always wrote to tell us what he had done with our contribution; there were many heart-wrenching stories over the years, and I grew up with the knowledge that I was very fortunate and that I could make a difference for those who weren’t.

When Father Timm came home to the U.S. to visit, he was full of more stories. Some of my favorites were his accounts of helping people, especially women, learn to support themselves and provide for their children, both through education and through setting up cooperative agencies that allowed them to sell what they could make or grow at a better price than the pennies they could earn working for others. In college, I wrote a paper about these independent third world entrepreneurs for an economics class, riffing on the old “if you teach a man to fish” proverb.

Almost five years ago, I came across the organization Kiva, in a New York Times column by Nicholas Kristoff. I loved the concept and became an enthusiastic participating lender. Kiva works with nonprofit micro-lending organizations all over the world. They collect small contributions from people like me until they have enough to support a loan to someone who wants to better provide for themselves and their family, but who needs capital to begin or expand their small business. When the loan is repaid, as almost all of them are, the donors get their money back. I have had only one loan out of 20 go into default, and that was due to civil war and political & economic turmoil driving the nonprofit local lending partner out of business (in Rwanda). Every other loan has been repaid or is in the repayment process; I have re-loaned the same money over and over, helping lots of different people willing to work hard to help themselves.

This is not to say that I don’t believe in charity; I still give to organizations like Save the Children and Doctors Without Borders, working to help those who can’t help themselves. Both kinds of help are urgently needed all over the world.

What prompted this particular blog post was a message I got from the folks at Kiva. They are providing funds for 4,000 new donors to try micro-lending for free. You can sign up using the link below, browse through the web site, pick an entrepreneur you’d like to help, and Kiva will make the $25 minimum donation for you. You can see how the system works and track the loan’s progress and repayment. Maybe you’ll decide that you like this means of helping others and join up with a little donation of your own — even just $25 can be loaned repeatedly, making hundreds of dollars’ worth of difference.

So here’s the link to Kiva’s offer to let me recruit you. I promise I’m not doing this for the free t- shirt! You can click on the bee & flower avatar to see the loans I’ve made over the years, if you’re interested, and/or accept the invitation to make a free loan.