"Dangerous Pleasures," Bertrice Small

Pros: Great concept
Cons: Stilted, shallow, and scripted
Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Penguin Group.
Visit Bertrice Small’s website.

 

Annie’s husband Nat died two years ago, and she hasn’t yet moved on. She has five children to take care of—the eldest about to leave for college, and the youngest in kindergarten—and her husband’s insurance certainly wasn’t enough to cover it all. Her parents help out, and her lawyer sister Lizzie is generous to a fault, but Annie is tired of taking so much charity. She’s tired of running herd on five trouble-making children. And she’s tired of never being able to do anything for herself.

Then Annie wins a contest giving her a week’s stay at a special new spa that caters to pampering women. It’s run by the Channel, a mysterious network that delivers women’s fantasies. Annie spends a week exploring the wonders of the Channel, and the delights of pampering, and is stunned when the company offers her a job at the end of it. It seems too good to be true: she works her way up at the spa, gaining prestige, a six-figure salary, a company car, and even a company-provided nanny. She avails herself of her sexy personal assistant and many of the other perks that come with her job. But eventually even she has to wonder about the mysterious Mr. Nicholas, reclusive CEO of the Channel, and his generous nature…

 

I find myself confused by Bertrice Small’s Dangerous Pleasures. Ms. Small is a best-selling author and award-winner, and the book’s concept sounded interesting. So I was expecting an enjoyable erotic read, and instead was very surprised to find that I really didn’t like the book much at all.

First of all, the entire non-erotic content of the book feels as though it’s provided merely to string together the erotic content. Sometimes it’s shallow and plodding; other times it’s shallow and rushed. It often glosses over anything that might prevent the book from rushing headlong along its pre-determined course. The most blatant instance of this is the Channel itself. Prim, proper, and uptight Annie discovers that a magical remote control can dump her fully into her deepest fantasies, and she doesn’t give it more than a passing thought. The most ridiculous set of coincidences came together to give her the opportunity to take advantage of her spa prize, and yet again, she never gives it another thought beyond “gee, that’s weird.”

The tone of the book is often off. Lizzie arrives near the beginning to take Annie out to lunch on the anniversary of Nat’s death, which supposedly is still horribly traumatic for Annie, and yet as soon as Lizzie arrives the only things that seem to matter are Annie’s makeup and giggling jokes, all thoughts of Nat mysteriously gone so the plot can move forward.

The sex scenes are hot, wild, and kinky, but characters toss themselves at each other for little to no reason and with almost no buildup or sense to it all. Again, it’s as though every word that isn’t part of the sex is present merely to get the reader to the next sex scene. And frankly, if that’s all I wanted out of erotica, I’d go read online stories and not bother with something that takes up more than 100 pages and costs money.

Most of the dialogue feels stilted and scripted. Whole conversations seem to serve no purpose other than to justify something to the reader that, in many cases, doesn’t even need to be justified.

“What is that?” she asked her eldest daughter.

“The twins made it for me,” Amy said. “Pineapple, banana, a capsule of omega-three, a raw egg, and a little skim milk. I like it. I have energy all morning.”

“I would worry, except the egg came from Baines Farm, and Grandma always made me an eggnog like that in the morning, minus the omega-three, of course,” Annie said.

That last part by Annie seems wholly unnatural, like a thought she might have that’s spoken out loud solely so that the reader knows she isn’t letting her kid have just any old raw egg (as if its coming from a local farm would mysteriously eliminate any possibility of salmonella, for that matter).

In particular, the dialogue in the first fantasy Annie engages in with the Channel was so ridiculous and stilted it practically made me choke with laughter, which kind of ruins the mood. It doesn’t help that characters change moods and attitudes with little warning and less provocation—usually when needed in order to propel them along the author’s scripted sex scenes.

As individual sex scenes taken alone, this would be fun erotica, the kind of stuff that if I found it online I would think was pretty good for internet material. But as a whole novel, it just doesn’t stand up.

 

Edited the next day: After being unable to get this book out of my head overnight (and finding I liked it less and less the more I thought about it), I dropped my rating another half a point this morning. The point of view, which was mostly from Annie’s perspective, kept jumping to other people for a paragraph or two at a time, which was incredibly jarring. Annie became a fairly unlikeable character by the end of the book, which made it tough to enjoy anything about that part of the book. And finally, for a concept and some basic ideas that had promise, it was just plain frustrating to see so little done with them.

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  2. […] authors with some amount of trepidation—some of them are great, sure, but sometimes I end up wondering how on earth they got to be so well-known. And dissing a best-selling author often leads to hate […]

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