St Martin’s Press, $13.95, ISBN 978-0-312-36937-8
Contemporary Erotica, 2009
Better on Top, unlike Delilah Dawson’s previous books, is not funny and it is also easily the least erotic of her works so far. While I’d rather not put down an author if she wants to try out a new direction in her writing, I have to say that this is a painful read because the heroine Toni Lyons is so abrasive throughout the entire story.
Toni is a single mother to an autistic daughter. She’s trying to make ends meet, so the last thing she needs is Twyla’s baby daddy Dan showing up in her life again wanting to know Twyla better. Dan, a former junkie, claims to have straightened out his life now. With a fiancée in tow, he’d like to know what it’s like to be a father. Toni is like, up yours, because she resents the fact that she had to raise the daughter and make ends meet all by herself these last five years. I don’t blame her in this. However, it is hard to care when she also get all abrasive at her landlord’s son and the man now living in the other half of the duplex, Nick Benson. Nick lost his wife a year ago. They were both in the military, serving in the Middle East, and poor Mariah was killed while on duty. Still, despite feeling some guilt over his attraction to Toni, Nick is willing to move on and get to know Toni better. Toni, however… sheesh.
The heroine is the kind of person that, were she real, she would be a total drip, the kind of person I go out of my way to avoid meeting in the neighborhood. She has an auto-repair business, and it’s actually doing well, but at the same time she has to pay off her grandfather’s hospital debts. Then she has an autistic daughter to take care of, and if that’s not enough, she has a potential custody battle to deal with soon enough. The author keeps piling on the blues on poor Toni to such an extent that it does seem like an act of mercy if we put Toni down so that her suffering will end.
At the same time, it’s hard to feel sorry for Toni because she’s so abrasive, rude, and bitchy to pretty much everyone. When Nick lets Twyla have his sandwich, for example, Toni’s reaction is to accuse Nick of thinking that she doesn’t take proper care of Twyla. There is no reason for her to be so rude. In this story, Nick is too good to be true. He fixes up the house, offers Toni a shoulder to cry on, and even gives her his help without expecting anything in exchange, and in return she treats him as if he’s given her an STD. Even after having great sex with him, she’d snarl and snap at him in the morning like a rabid creature. When her behavior remains like this by the second last chapter of the book, I really wish I can turn back time and not order this book from Amazon.
To top it off, Toni isn’t just crazy, she’s bloody stupid as well. For example, in the days after her first confrontation with Dan, she realizes that someone is following her. It takes Nick to point out the obvious: perhaps Dan has hired a PI to watch her and report her every doing in anticipation of a custody battle. Then, when Toni offers to pay Nick to become her fake fiancé, a plot to battle custody claims from evil people that only works in romance novels, Nick offers to do it for free while Toni insists on paying him anyway. The problem with Toni here is that she is so stubborn when it comes to accepting help of any kind that she sabotages herself more often than not. She could be saving that money for a good lawyer should the custody battle takes place, but no, because of her pride, she’d rather be rude and do stupid things.
As I’ve said, Nick is a nice guy and he’s a dream, if you can overlook the occasional pushy moments. Then again, he has to be pushy, because Toni is the kind of person who will accuse you of being a pig and reject your help because she has trust issues, when all you have done is to throw her a rope from the boat while she is drowning. Toni is a very toxic character in this book. She makes this book totally unreadable. I read this book to the very end, hoping for some kind of epiphany or redemption moment that will make enduring her bile all that while worth the effort, but alas, there is no such pay-off here. Everything is about Toni, ugh. I can only hope this is a one-shot “off day” effort from this author because I don’t think I can take any more heroines like Toni in my books.