by Lilli Feisty, contemporary (2010)
Grand Central Publishing, $6.99, ISBN 978-0446541931
Lili Feisty's Dare To Surrender is an erotic contemporary romance. It contains mild BDSM elements and usage of sex toys, so if these things aren't your cup of tea, you may want to approach this book with great caution.
The story is pretty simple. Joy Montgomery, an curator for the Cartwright Gallery in San Francisco, is told by her boss to seek out the works of some edgy and hip new artist to spice up the art gallery and lure in the buyers. Joy decides to approach Ash Hunter, a somewhat publicity-shy sculptor and photographer whose erotic bondage-themed works pretty much cause Joy to experience hands-free euphoria when she first sets eyes on them. Ash isn't keen on getting his works displayed at first. He's more interested in exploring his art with Joy, if you know what I mean. Things are going very well for them, but Joy just have to pull off a stunt that can threaten their newly found bliss. There is also a minor secondary plot about a romance between Joy's friend Erica and some guy she meets at her cooking class.
When it comes to delivering the hot stuff, Dare To Surrender works beautifully. The author has a way with words when it comes to the more sensual scenes in her story. Bondage and mild spanking are not my cup of tea, but here those scenes have me fanning myself. The author manages to make a scene involving a remote-controlled vibrator sexy instead of funny - that's how much she has me hooked line and sinker here.
However, this story is pretty lacking when it comes to the non-sensual aspects of the story. Ash is a huge enigma to me even by the last page. This is a pity, if you ask me, because Ash is a pretty interesting kind of artist. Instead of the womanizing pretentious emo type, he's a former action hero who turns to his art as a form of distraction from the stress of the day job. In this story, however, Ash spends a lot of time with his clothes off, but I wish the author has also bared his soul a little bit more to me.
Even the romance feels underdeveloped to me. These two characters are definitely compatible in bed, but I have a hard time seeing them connect similarly well outside the bedroom. During the penultimate reunion, these two actually have sex instead of doing some much-needed talking to overcome their trust issues. While I'm glad they manage to get over all that drama so efficiently in such a delightful manner, I feel cheated at the same time of an emotional moment that could have sold me the romance.
However, the author does an excellent job in developing Joy's character, so much so that I'm tempted to call this story a heroine-centric one. Joy has "generous curves", but while she tries not to get so worked up over her weight, a lifetime of negative reinforcement by her grandmother is not so easily overcome. Nonetheless, Joy isn't the kind of person to whine or indulge in self-pity. In a way, she is an emotional mess, but she is a believable emotional mess. She only realizes how much she has allowed her grandmother to get to her late in the story, but once she realizes this, she tries to do the right thing. I also like how Joy doesn't run away from her problems or make herself a martyr. When she realizes that she has a problem, she tries to fix the problem.
Joy's grandmother isn't a typical villain. She is pretty real to me - she's that family member who means well, but she is blinded by her own prejudices to realize that her constant negativity is toxic to the person she supposedly cares for. Grandmother here is not a hateful character, just someone who is so set in her ways and views that she doesn't realize how wrong she is.
At the end of the day, Dare To Surrender makes a pretty good erotic read, but much about the romance is too underdeveloped for my liking.
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