I picked this one up a couple of days ago to be a light read; I'd been looking for something to inspire the Musai and tantalize the imagination. In that respect, it fit the bill perfectly! I still ended up reading it more "critically" than I'd planned to.
A Strong Hand by Catt Ford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Closer to a 3.5.
The premise was delightful and I loved the almost entire cast of characters (I seriously could have done without Crispin and Eddy). Nick is so sweet, and so lucky to have not one, but two great Doms looking out for him (Ashley as a friend and Damian as a lover). I loved the interplay between Damian and Ashley, it felt very real. The BDSM elements were spot on. (That said, readers who don't enjoy BDSM may find some of the scenes uncomfortable; personally, I found them touching. Damian is a Dom I think anyone would respect.)
The use of stereotypes was, for the most part, perfect; it is really enjoyable when an author gets it and does it right.
On a personal level, I found the angst sweet and just right--it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I love a little angst in my fiction. Nick and Damian had my stomach fluttering as they each went through their bouts of insecurity with the relationship. The angst was also very believable, grounded in sort of things most people would be insecure about.
My biggest overall problem with this one was the head-hopping, particularly as there wasn't any clear break in the page where the author jumped from one head to the next, to the next and to the next. It wouldn't have register as a "problem" in my own head if the only POVs we got were Nick's and Damian's. But we constantly get looks into several other men's heads and after a bit (less than a chapter), it became an annoyance. I didn't care at all what minor characters were thinking and I found myself skim-reading through parts because I hadn't picked up the book to read about Ashley's romance, I was interested in Nick and Damian. I would have much rather seen Ashley just get his own novel; there was enough story there to warrant it, certainly.
I wasn't at all sure why we needed a prologue or an epilogue, since the prologue we got would have functioned perfectly well as a first chapter (usually a prologue is used to give bit of back story), and the epilogue picked up immediately where the previous chapter had ended. But that's Helen the critical reader talking, not Helen the casual reader talking. It's a technical knock, not a criticism on the story or the writing. (I'd honestly forgotten there was a prologue until I went back to the beginning to see something.)
There were a couple of minor "as you know Bob" moments, and one or two phrases that just annoy me on a personal level ("for some reason this felt right....") I find the use of "for some reason..." (much the same way I'm sure I use turns of phrase that annoy other people.) My personal feeling is that writing is stronger without phrases like that.
There was one or two WTF moments near the end and a few elements that I personally felt were unnecessary (mostly revolving around Crispin and Eddy, whom we thankfully saw very little of.) Lately I cringe whenever there's a "club" in a BDSM book, but no points off for something that gets a knee jerk reaction out of me through no fault of the author's (and this one wasn't "perfect" by an stretch--that's a compliment--although I had to wonder about the public nudity in Crispin's club).
Overall, though it's a book I enjoyed and something I would recommend to any of my friends (well... maybe not the totally vanilla ones...oh. Wait. I don't have any of those! :D )
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Why do I cringe at clubs in BDSM books? I've read the first two of the Deviation series (Torquere Press), and they are, overall, very good books. Noah and Tobias have a sweet relationship (erm... you know, from a BDSM standpoint, ;-) And I like most of the supporting cast.
POV is mostly clear--my only gripe there is too little head hopping. Let me explain: POV shifts (IMHO) should either happen at more or less regular intervals and be divided up more or less evenly between the parties into whose heads we're getting looks. Or they should happen not at all. Going three of four chapters in one POV and then suddenly jumping into another POV for three or four paragraphs and then switching back again for the majority of the book doesn't work for me. I understand why the authors did it, how else could we have seen Noah's conversation with his ex or read about his dinner with Phan (whom by the way, I love; a number of people hated him)? But 80% of the book was in Tobias's POV, so it seemed a little extraneous to get a few snippets into Noah's head and then go back. (Stranger still, the publisher tells us that this first book book is all about Noah. I can't see how...except in the sequel we get only about 5% Noah's POV, it's almost all from Tobias's).
My biggest actual issue with the Deviations series (thus far, I've only read book one and two), is the *perfect* BDSM club to which these men belong. (And Bradford, the club's equally perfect owner/manager). Not only isn't there a single stain on the carpet or a spot on the silverware (and by all means order whatever you want, the kitchen will make it), the members are all perfect, too. Okay, maybe not perfect, perfect, but there aren't any bad seeds, everyone is screened, everyone is hot, everyone is male.
Let me jump back again to A Strong Hand and say that that book suffered the same problem. The only female we see is the troublesome Mistress Bette. A great foil and perfect use of stereotype, but there doesn't seem to be a single woman involved in these men's lives, except for family members and an ex that we never get to meet.
Okay, back to Deviations--in which we do at least have some women around to balance things out a bit: Tobias's partner is a woman, so is his housekeeper. There are very good reasons why we don't see much of them "on page. Very little "action" takes place at Tobias's work, and his 80 year old housekeeper doesn't hang around the farm on weekends, when Noah comes over. But at least these women exist and are important to the lives of the main characters.
But I believe I wanted to get back onto a different soapbox.
There are BDSM clubs and groups; I'm going to be working one into another BDSM story I've got simmering on the back of my brain (I've written about 9000 words of it), but I doubt that any of them is as perfect as Bradford's place. I doubt that the finest gentleman's club is as perfect.
Not that I've ever been in one.
My other "reality" gripe with the Deviations series is Tobias's over the top wealth (which was, in fact, what inspired me to write something of my own and play with the usual roles a bit, but I'll yammer about that in a minute or two). Tobias is a farm vet. He's got posh apartment in the city and spends his weekend on the farm. I don't know about you, but it would make more sense if that were the other way around, since he works during the week, presumably out in the country, near his farm. We do hear about his patients, and they are mostly cows and horses. So why the posh apartment in the city? I have *no* idea.
As for Tobias's farm, I find it hard to believe that his housekeeper (a nice liberal minded lady and another great use of stereotype) doesn't know *exactly* what he's up to (Tobias speculates that she might "suspect"). Suspect my hiney. Tobias has a play room set up on one of the stables that puts the "perfect" club to shame. Stalls set up for various role play, enough equipment to stock two dungeons and in the main house, a wardrobe full of fancy dress costumes. Seriously, and you don't think the housekeeper knows how kinky he is? She's a smart lady.
Tobias's wealth is vaguely explained (dad was rich and he inherited) but I prefer a little more reality in my fantasy.
That said, if those are the only things a person can pick on in book, it can't be all bad, right? Right. I do recommend the Deviations series, just with the caveat that a little suspension of disbelief is required. Then again, Heart's Home is about werewolves and daemons, so..... yeah. And really, who wants to read about a dirt poor Dom/Top/Master living in a cardboard box? I just wish it had been toned down to reflect reality a little more.
And, last but not least, here's my biggest gripe about BDSM books in general (and my own WIP falls into this category, too, definitely I am just as guilty).
The top/dom is always wealthy and always older.
In mine, Henry is almost 20 years older (I really love May/December as a theme), and while not wealthy, he has more money than his broke college student slave, Jason. (He isn't over the top wealthy, he's handy and has made most of his own gear and turned that into a business. Or, as he explains it, "There were things I wanted that I couldn't afford to buy, so I learned to make my own. Then friends started asking me to make stuff for them, too, and eventually I was making more money on this I was at my day job.")
In A Strong Hand, Damian does have more money, but he isn't insanely rich, he's just older and established in his field. Nick is a college kid trying to live on his own in London, so it makes sense that his flat is a dump, so it wasn't at all over the top, IMHO.
But all of that got me thinking... so... maybe for 2013, I'm working on a story that spins the "usual stereotype" on it's ear. It will be the sub who is older and quite comfortably wealthy. I've got about 9000 words written (I needed to at least get the basics down while they were in my head) and I like where it's going.
I just have to get some other stuff written first!