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Romance and other things

SPOILER ALERT!

So another book I already ranted about before

Home the Hard Way - Z.A. Maxfield

And here is more detailed but no less rantish review from DA.

 

Dare Buckley has come home—or at least, he’s come back to Palladian, the small town he left as a teenager. After a major lapse in judgment forced him to resign from the Seattle PD, Palladian is the only place that’ll hire him. There’s one benefit to hitting rock bottom, though: the chance to investigate the mystery of his father’s suicide.

Dare also gets to reacquaint himself with Finn Fowler, whose childhood hero worship ended in uncomfortable silence when Dare moved away. But Finn isn’t the same little kid Dare once protected. He’s grown into an attractive, enigmatic stranger who neither wants nor needs what Dare has to offer.

In fact, Dare soon realizes that Finn’s keeping secrets—his own and the town’s. And he doesn’t seem to care that Dare needs answers. The atmosphere in Palladian, like its namesake river, appears placid, but dark currents churn underneath. When danger closes in, Dare must pit his ingenuity against his heart, and find his way home the hard way.

Review:

 

Dear ZA Maxfield,

The reviews for this book intrigued me. Several reviewers complained about a surprising BDSM theme in the relationship, which is a theme I often enjoy, but equally often I am unhappy with the execution of this theme in m/m romances. However the presence of BDSM is not in itself grounds for me to stay away from the book.

Some reviewers also complained about inconsistent characterization of the main character and that more than anything else caused me to not purchase the book, but when I found it on Scribd recently I decided that I would give it a try.

If I were to grade only the first third of the book, I would have given it a B or even a B+. The guy returning to the small town and reconnecting with somebody he left behind is not a new premise, but I thought it was executed really well in this story. Dare and Finn had been childhood friends, Dare was several years older and he appointed himself Finn’s protector – Finn worshipped him and Dare loved him as little brother. Dare and his mother left town when his dad committed suicide, which was soon after Finn’s mother drowned.

Years later Dare returns after making a huge mistake at his job as a policeman in Seattle, but the Palladian police department gives him another chance for the sake of old times. Dare meets Finn again and all the old feelings and a lot of new ones come back, but everything is just so very complicated. There is also the matter of a client dying while waiting in Finn’s aunt’s hair salon, as well as Dare wanting to know the reasons behind his father’s suicide. And of course there are so many secrets and some of them are not what I would have expected to find out at all.

Finn changed and if Dare expected to find that Finn still hero worships him, he is in for a rude awakening. Finn has built huge walls around himself and he is determined to never be a victim again (he was horribly bullied in high school and there was no Dare to protect him).

I thought that the bleak atmosphere of the small town was extremely well done in the beginning of the book. I was not sure how the mystery would play out and I can honestly say that I was surprised – not so much by the resolution of the reasons behind Dare’s father’s suicide, but the way it all connected with the deaths of several other people. Basically the main villain was an unexpected reveal to me, and I thought it was well crafted.

I thought the tentative, hesitant way Finn and Dare tried to reconnect was very believable, it made sense to me how cautious they would be around each other and how much they would try to guard their hearts. It also made sense that Finn “does not do boyfriends, he just fucks people”, that he would want to be in control because he could control almost nothing when he was growing up, be it his mother or the way other boys bullied him. It all made sense until it did not. I will talk under a SPOILER cut about my reasons for lowering the grade that much, but I can tell you that it has mostly to do with BDSM. If you want to read further, click on spoiler, but beware that it is very spoilerish. I do not talk about mystery at all though.

 

Spoiler: Hide

See, Finn wants to stay in control, great, so he goes into BDSM and becomes a Master, a Dom. This is not the first book I’ve read where a man who is smaller in size is in charge in the bedroom, but I still like the reversal, because most m/m romances which deal with this theme still insist on the convention that the bigger guy necessary equals top, master, what have you.

 

But my problem was that I got from the book that Finn is into BDSM and into being Master because he does not want to be a victim anymore. I mean, I would have liked to have it spelled out more that he *loves* the kink, that he is into it because it brings him joy, not just because he is so broken that he needs that control at all time.

At least with Finn it is possible to somehow infer that; however we also have another guy, another policeman who is deeply in the closet with whom Finn has a Dom/sub relationship of a sort before Dare comes back into town and for a while after that as well. This poor guy (and my heart was breaking for him more than for Finn or Dare) “could not form healthy relationships”, so Finn is giving him what he needs by dominating him? What in the hell? Maybe I should not have been surprised by another story where BDSM is taking the place of actual therapy, but apparently I was and not in a good way. It seems to me sometimes that only broken people do BDSM in m/m books.

Dare is not sure what he wants, but he does want Finn and after he spies on Finn and that other guy sucking Finn off, well, as you can imagine not too soon after we have a mild D/s scene between Finn and Dare when Dare comes to Finn. Dare is drunk, he is not completely wasted, but he is *drunk*. And Finn tells him that he has to stop drinking if this is to continue between them, but apparently Dare will continue to blame himself if Finn is not willing to do something with him now. Again, what? Finn gives him a choice to stay or to leave and let me repeat again, Dare is *drunk*, what kind of consent he can give while drunk? I do not care that the first scene is very mild, I do not care that Dare seems to be aware what is happening. He is drunk, he cannot consent. Was I annoyed? Big time.

And next day or two days after Finn has the nerve to get upset when the guy who has *never done BDSM before* is not sure what he wants? Granted, he does not play psychic Dom for too long and he apologizes, but my annoyance really never went away.

“I thought I wanted what you were offering, but it –, it —“

“Define it, for me, Dare. Do you mean giving up control?”

“Yeah. I mean that. I need to blow off a little steam, not enter into a new lifestyle. I don’t even get all that serious shit.”

“Goddamnit. “You get it all right. You are kidding yourself now if you say you don’t. You’re exactly the type of guy who needs it.”

“That’s your view of things. My view is I got a little drunk and things got way out of hand. That was the alcohol talking.”

“That wasn’t the alcohol. That was your need to be—–“ – 57%

Of course it turns out that Dare needs to lose control, but as you can see from the following quote, he also wants some love and affection that Finn is not sure he can give and the slow buildup of him relaxing his walls is something I liked, but seriously the way BDSM was done, I was not happy.

“Finn was right. Dare did need a loss of control to find the release he craved. He’d needed to give the reins to Finn, and when he had, Finn had taken him someplace he’d never known existed.

Yet Dare wondered what it would be like to simply take Finn into his arms and kiss him.

To make love conventionally.

Slowly.

To casually wind around each other in the damn bed.

What would have happened if he’d taken Finn home and fucked him instead of settling for a scene and a handjob in Lyddie’s salon.

Did Finn even do that?” – 66%

“Then what? Tell me so I can understand. I know how much you want what I can offer you. I know how much you need it.”

“Yeah, it’s good.” Dare thumped the wall with his fist. “I need it. But it’s not all I need. I need…connection. I need to see welcome in your eyes and know it’s there for me.”

Finn started up after him. “Dare—“

“I need that, Finn, and you need it too. You get off on all this control. That’s as obvious as the taste of your jizz in my mouth. You are hot for me. You’re hard and wet for me. But you use this iron will you have to keep everyone at a distance. You use it to keep from feeling an emotional connection, and I am telling you, I need that.”

“Dare… whatever you think, this is what I have offer right now. This is probably all I have to offer, ever”

Dare nodded slowly. “Lock up after I leave” – 75%

(show spoiler)

 

END SPOILER.

 

I liked that there is a lot of uncertainty between Finn and Dare at the end and their relationship is very much work in progress, but what I discussed under the cut caused the grade to drop a lot.

Grade C-