My TBR pile is not in fact one single pile but lots of little piles. Amongst others, I have an “immediate TBR” pile of books I’m dying to read, a “worthy TBR” pile of books I feel I should read and “suck-it-and-see TBR” pile of books I’ve picked up without knowing who the author is just to see what they’re like. Manhandling, by Karen Anders was in my suck-it-and-see pile. I obviously bought it (oooh – two years ago!) cos it was a ‘special price’ book but have never gotten round to reading it. Till now.
….is dark. Not atmospheric-dark. Not deep-and-angsty dark. Just so fucking dark that I can’t actually make anything out except the weird green streak in the female model’s hair.
This is a very “plotty” book. There’s a lot going on. Way more than such a short book needs. My impression was that the author was struggling to make the wordcount so she padded it out with “plottiness”, unnecessary background on secondary characters and just, well, information (about NYC tourist spots, the art deco movement, the contents of a French75 cocktail – you name it, it’s in this book).
Laurel Malone is on the “fast track to partnership” with a big-5 accounting firm. Her dead mother was a collector of Art Deco art (or something, my eyes were glazing over at these bits) and her father is a stockbrokery thing (skimming, skimming). Laurel apparently has hang-ups about her parents controlling her, a fact which bemused me seeing as they seemed to be so nice and everything. This was clearly just a stuck-on plot device, a fact which was amply demonstrated by how easily Laurel resolved her differences with her father. When she tells him she only became an accountant to please him and her mother, his response is: “No kidding? Why didn’t you say anything?” Why indeed.
Laurel fears she will end up with the kind of safe man her father approves of (oh the horror!), so when she completes a quiz in a magazine that reveals that her ideal man is a bad-boy-biker, she resolves to find one and fuck his brains out (I’m paraphrasing here).
Theodore MacAllister Tolliver III (yes, we get the full name in Chapter 1) works for Laurel’s father. When he catches sight of her, he is dazzled but she doesn’t notice him. His secretary – handily Laurel’s friend – explains that this is because she would not consider dating anyone who worked for her father. However, when the quiz falls out of Laurel’s purse, Mac picks it up and discovers what she wants in a man. Yes, Laurel’s deepest most intimate desires can literally be summed up in a pop quiz.
By a remarkable coincidence Mac helps his brother Tyler out in his bike shop at weekends. As stockbrokers do. *rolls eyes*. By another remarkable coincidence, Laurel goes to said bike shop with her friend who is shopping for a bike and spies Mac. Apparently Mac has “bad boy written all over him”. So when he hurts his hand, Laurel jumps at the opportunity to approach him and literally hustles him into a bathroom, ignoring his warning that customers aren’t allowed there. (“He wasn’t going to get rid of her that easily,” she thinks to herself. Charming, non?)
They snog [Bam: does that mean making out or full-on fizznuckin’?], she gives him her number and to cut a lot of plottiness short, Mac ends up masquerading as a bad boy biker so that he can fuck Laurel – sorry, so that Laurel can get to know him. Right.
There’s a lot of tedious stuff about Laurel’s job and her secret wish to design art deco furniture, all of which is tied up in her manufactured hang-ups about her perfectly nice parents. Ya-de-da. Upshot is that Mac decides not to tell Laurel who he is until after her mother’s anniversary memorial. Except of course she sees him with her father and immediately leaps to the conclusion that her father has put Mac, his employee, up to masquerading as a biker so as to ‘trick’ his daughter into marrying a man he approves of. And if that isn’t a perfectly understandable assumption to make, I don’t know what is! *rolls eyes again*.
Only a few pages later, however, Laurel forgives Mac for his lies. Not only that, she apologises to him. For not believing in him or some shit. Like every other conflict in the book, this central conflict is resolved with jaw-dropping ease. Could the author not be bothered to explain the characters feelings and how they managed to arrive at a point of resolution? Or did she not know how?
The whole book suffers from this lack of detail. It’s full of sentences like “There was something inherently special about this woman.” (What was it?) and “His touch… elicited complicated feelings inside her. Ones she had a tough time fighting.” (What complicated feelings? Why was she fighting them?).
Mac is a good guy who – through his masquerade – discovers his inner bad boy. I liked that conceit; it made a nice change from the All-knowing man teaching the Little Lady about the Joy of Sex. And I liked Mac. I much preferred the parts of the book that were written from his POV. He was nicely self-deprecating and even though I didn’t buy the inner bad boy stuff for a second (on their third date he takes her on an organized cycle tour of Central Park for God’s sake!) I was rooting for him.
Unfortunately the template the author seemed to have for ‘bad boys’ was straight out of some kind of middle-aged fantasy: bad boys ride motorbikes and wear – leather trousers! In an unintentionally hilarious scene, Mac’s brother tells him how to dress like a bad boy. After emphasizing the need for very tight arse-hugging jeans, he moves onto the upper body:
“Tight t-shirt in some silky material is good. Shows the pecs and biceps and the material is soft to the touch. Women like that.” He handed Mac a slinky black t-shirt. “Also, the must-have if you’re going to show that you’re a bad-boy-biker – the leather jacket, preferably with lots of buckles and chains. Women think that’s cool too.”
Although I generally liked Mac, there’s no getting away from the fact that he sometimes does squicky things. The morning after their second date, he’s drinking coffee and watching Laurel sleep while pondering her ‘deep facets’ (isn’t that an oxymoron?):
For an instant he indulged in a fantasy about easing her onto her back and slipping inside her while she slept, giving her a special wake up call.
A special wake up call? Special like what? Rape? Jeez!
Laurel is – awful. She was my major problem with this book. She keeps going on about how she was raised to be a “lady” but she has atrocious manners. Atrocious sexual manners to be precise.
In my book, there is a code. It’s perfectly acceptable to be enthusiastic when one is engaged in sexual intercourse, forceful even. But one mustn’t be rude and Laurel is rude. Take this example from their third date:
“Lay down on your back,” Laurel requested as she picked up the [kitchen] timer. “This is the deal. We’re going to have the Big O Marathon. That’s twenty six point four minutes of oral stimulation.” She set the timer and without saying another word, she straddled his body and thrust her sex against his mouth.
UGH! What, no “please”? No “would you like to go first or shall I?”. Believe it or not, it actually gets worse:
Just when she was beginning to feel the tense spiral, she pulled away from him and turned around. Pressing her chest and arms against the bed, she raised her bottom into the air, demanding “Suck me. Lick me”.
She finally climaxes just as the timer goes off. Yes, that poor bastard has to do the Big O (as Laurel so charmingly puts it) for the full 26.4 minutes.
I can’t tell you how off-putting I found this scene. It is so deeply unsexy. Laurel is demanding, selfish and coldly clinical. I mean she uses a timer. She sets it for 26.4 minutes. Point four. Believe me, I have no problem with sexually assertive women in romance but this isn’t assertive. This is rude. It’s their third date for God’s sake! She’s entitled to expect a bit of oral but twenty six point four minutes?
There’s another hideous scene in which Laurel brings herself off on the back of Mac’s legs and heels (heels? *throws up in mouth*). She says she’s going to give him a massage and the next minute she’s wanking on him. This is date four. Can you imagine how bewildered you’d feel if you were Mac? How oddly redundant? Lying there, trying to keep your heels still?
On the plus side, this book started well, had an engaging hero, a decent premise and was reasonably well-written. Unfortunately, the sex scenes were off-putting and the heroine dreadful – but those things were not the worst thing about the book.
The worst thing was the endless ‘filler’ material. We are given paragraphs of pointless background information about Laurel’s family (“Laurel sliced into a plump plum tomato for the salad she was in the process of making in Haley and Dylan’s big kitchen located in Westchester County. Dylan and Haley had moved out of the city but they’d kept the Greenwich Village loft for the times they wanted to stay in town. Laurel approved of the big house they’d bought once they were married.”).
We’re also treated to nuggets of information about NYC straight out of a tourist guide (“Before long he was turning down the street that led to Pier 84 and the trendy Hell’s Kitchen area where there was an abundance of shops, art galleries, music and restaurants.” Then, a few paragraphs later, “..they walked across 46th Street, between Eighth and Ninth avenues to find ‘Restaurant Row’ a block of eateries that catered to theatergoers.”)
The trouble is, I don’t care about Haley and Dylan’s fucking kitchen, nor am I looking for pointers on where to eat after taking in a Broadway show. I want to know why Mac has fallen in love with Laurel. I want to know how she felt when she found out he’s lied to her about everything – his name, his job, even his essential character. But that’s apparently not as important as informing me that a French 75 cocktail is a “blend of gin, lemon juice and sugar topped off with champagne” or that “Functionalism came about in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries that stripped architecture of all ornamentation so that a building’s structure plainly expressed its function or purpose”. Sigh.
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