When I worked at the bookstore, I once helped set up a “thought-provoking read” table, and to my surprise, a book by erotic romance author Lauren Dane was on the list to include. The titles to include on display tables and end caps are determined by The Powers On High, and never before had I seen an erotic romance included, so my interest was definitely piqued.
I decided to pick up and read Laid Bare, which did indeed feature thought-provoking issues, but mostly of a sexual kind—such as, what happens to the idea of “two consenting adults” when one of the adults cedes all power in the bedroom to another adult? Or this one: Can more than two consenting adults in a bed add up to anything more than just sex (a question made all the more difficult in that I don’t believe in “just sex” anyway)?
What’s important for me in any erotic romance is if I believe in the love between characters. While that might seem like a tall order when applied to characters who engage in certain sexual behaviors, there’s a clear distinction, for me at least, between erotica and erotic romance, regardless of what I may think about a person’s backstory and whether it’s tied to any subsequent predilection for the truly kinky. Because I actually know a couple of people involved in “polyamorous” relationships, I try to take a nonjudgmental approach. What would never be a consideration for me works for them, so c’est la vie or vivre, aimer, rire, or whatever other French phrase applies.
What I liked about Laid Bare was that, unlike many other erotic romances I’ve read, all the fucking accompanied an actual story. In addition to owning up to and eventually embracing proclivities generally frowned upon in polite society, Dane also tackled the life-long effect of losing a child...and not as a fill-in to all the sexual shenanigans. That impressed me. After the death of her daughter, the heroine could simply have remained a victim rather than taking a leap of faith back into the land of the living. That leap of faith is something most of us can relate to, even if the circumstances differ.
If Laid Bare offered food for thought, so did Second Chances, although the author’s complete lack of nuance where the heroine’s relationship with her mother is concerned mitigated some of its appeal. Rori’s successes after leaving home for college—including a Rhodes Scholarship!—are meaningless to mommy dearest because her daughter was overweight in high school.
Years later, when Rori returns to her home town to settle down, her mother watches every morsel of food she puts in her mouth out of fear her daughter will once again shame her by being overweight. She constantly reminds Rori how many calories can be found in a glass of wine or salad dressing, serves her half a pork chop at dinner, and nearly apoplexies when her husband heaps potatoes onto her plate.
Later in the book...much later...her mother begins to redeem herself with her daughter. Usually when a character is as cartoony as this mom, there’s little growth throughout the book, so Dane earned points with me for that.
It’s not just Rori’s mother, though, who displays Bad Behavior and victimizes the heroine. A one-time high school Mean Girl all grown up also displays an utter lack of nuance when Rori is out on a date with the hero:
“Oh no, this is fat Rori?” Jeanette burst out. “What on earth happened to you? I see you finally took my advice and went on a diet.”
Though the Bad Behavior in Second Chances lacked any subtlety, reading Dane’s Chase Brothers series reveals it to be positively restrained in comparison.
By the time I finished the quartet I realized the author was stuck on the idea of victimized heroines—whether at the hands of cruel family members, ex and wannabe girlfriends, or dangerously abusive men. While it allows her to show the healing power of love, she beat the concept into the ground in that it appears in three of the four books.
Dane, by the way, states on her website that the Chase Brothers books aren’t erotic romance, which seems odd to me, because two people doing the nasty over and over and over again add up to erotic romance in my book. That said, there is a difference between what Dane deems erotic romance and simply the spicy type of romance she serves up for the Chase brothers in that they engage in sex of the Vanilla Variety.
Giving Chase, the first Chase Brothers book, goes the bitchiness of Rori’s mother two better, because both Maggie’s mother and her sister are truly awful, “pageant” women. In one scene, Maggie’s older sister Janie, encounters Maggie and Kyle out on a date, but she can’t seem to wrap her arms around the idea, going so far as to ask Kyle why he’s at a restaurant as though Maggie isn’t sitting right there.
When pressed on the point, Janie points out that in high school—how many years ago is that? Why, ten, thank you very much!—Maggie and Kyle would have run with a different crowd, because, you know, Maggie wasn’t popular.
Kyle tries to set Janie straight, and calls her on her unbelievable rudeness, all the while admiring how fuckable Maggie looks when she’s pissed off. At which point the two sisters engage in this exchange:
“Hardly. I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be mean or anything, but Maggie knows more than anyone what her limitations are. How she managed to go out with two Chase brothers in a few months, well, I can’t begin to imagine.” She made it sound like Maggie was some two bit whore.
“My limitations?” Maggie snorted, choosing to ignore the last comment for the moment.
“Well at least you’re smart and pretty enough. And now look, you even have a good looking date. But you aren’t pageant material and you weren’t popular and this is not your kind of place. I’m just saying what’s true.”
That night Kyle takes Maggie home from their date, only to discover somebody painted “Whore” on her front door, broke in, and stole her panties. Kyle brings her to his family’s house, where his parents welcome her with open arms. Not so her mother the next day, when she confronts Maggie for how badly she treated perfect sister Janie the night before. Maggie’s mother makes the unfounded accusation that her jealousy of her sister makes her mean spirited. After laughing at the notion that the handsome Kyle is her boyfriend, Maggie’s lovely mother ends her tirade on this note:
“Margaret has been jealous of her sister’s superior looks her whole life. Margaret never ran in the popular crowd or got elected homecoming queen and she couldn’t stand it that Jane Marie was. Jane Marie is simply superior and Margaret needs to accept that once and for all.”
Bitchiness must be added to the water like fluoride in Petal, Georgia, because adding on to this is the behavior of a wannabe girlfriend. It’s one thing for an ex-girlfriend to behave like a bitch, but it’s ludicrous for a woman the hero never even dated. Maggie and Kyle are out on a date at a local honky-tonk when this wannabe comes by to ask him to dance. Even though he’s sitting with her chair between his legs, holding her hand, Lyndsay sidles up to him “like a cat in heat” and asks him to dance as though she’s not there.
Clearly more than a little slow on the uptake, she still doesn’t get it even after being introduced, because another evening Lyndsay promises Kyle he’ll get lucky if he buys her a drink, and when he reminds her he’s with Maggie, she responds, “You must be joking. Did you lose a bet or something, Kyle?”
In Taking Chase, the next book of the series, abuse from the heroine’s past looms large on an entirely different level than Maggie’s horrible family and her panty-stealing stalker. Cassie Gambol comes to Petal on the run, escaping the ex-husband who beat her so badly her injuries left her unable to fulfill her promising career as a surgeon. He was found guilty of attempted murder, but escaped before sentencing, and she knows he plans to finish the job he started.
Shane Chase is Petal’s sheriff, and though he suspects there’s more to Cassie than meets the eye, he can’t help himself from wanting a relationship with her, even though he’s been Done Wrong by a Duplicitous Female before. As more and more of the truth about her situation is revealed, he works harder and harder to protect her while at the same time trying to understand her skittishness about his alpha male personality.
Dane does a very good job at this—I had a bigger issue with the length of the book—but really, another heroine as victim? Particularly one who keeps secrets about the abuse for so long it extends her victimhood? For all I know that might be a realistic response for victims of such abuse, but after Laid Bare, Second Chances, Giving Chase, now Taking Chase...too much of anything is too much.
Book three, Chased, breaks the victimization mold, but frankly, without the drama associated with abuse in the heroine’s background or an over-abundance of Preposterous People, it’s the dullest of the series. Which brings me to Making Chase, the fourth and final book in the series. With a heroine who grew up as trailer trash, you can imagine how the women in Petal take to Tate’s relationship with Matt. Not only that, Tate’s a curvy woman with a neglectful, drunk, and abusive father whose behavior grows ever more dangerous as the book progresses.
Wow—I think we hit the trifecta! What? There’s more? Her father (who in fact probably isn’t her real father) delights in heaping verbal and physical abuse on her, which she took...and continues to take...in order to protect her younger siblings.
Even with all the drama, Making Chase is my favorite book of the series because the heroine is so adorable—she’s like a kewpie doll with a potty mouth—earning a qualified recommendation that would have been wholehearted were it not for the attacks on Tate by a vindictive middle schooler masquerading as an adult woman who continually refers to Tate as a “fat nobody” and a “gold digging whore.”
The hatred this woman brings to the story is nothing compared to the menace of Tate’s father. Tate’s independence, her nurturing qualities, and every little “fuckadoodle” endeared her to me, and Matt goes about convincing her of her appeal in devastatingly sexy ways. While a little of the Chase family went a long way earlier in the series, their buttinsky nature works well here.
Midway through the book, Cassie (remember her? she was nearly killed by her ex-husband), tells her:
“You win, Tate Murphy. Don’t you see? You’re worthy of all the people who love you. And let me tell you, your brothers and sisters love and respect you so much it made me proud to know you. And Matt, he loves you, Tate. It’s not charity. It’s not pity. He loves you. All of you, flaws and alcoholic father, neglectful mother, everything. Let it go.”
Cassie’s statement is important for many of us to hear. It’s unfortunate, though, that its significance is diminished by sheer dint of the abuse suffered by so many of Lauren Dane’s heroines in the books I read. Lauren Dane’s books are thought-provoking, certainly, but her heroines bring the same thoughts to my mind over and over again. She also writes paranormal stuff, and I’ll probably give one a shot, in the hopes that they feature women more kick-ass than victim.
Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Be one of the few who visits her at Toe in the Water or follow her may-be-too-political-for-you tweets at @laurie_gold.