Over the winter break, I tried to read a novel that came recommended from folks whose opinions I respect. I couldn’t finish it. Then, last week, I plucked a book randomly from my TBR that is in some ways just like the first one. I read it straight through, enjoying it pretty much every page.
The first book is The Theory of Attraction by Delphine Dryden, published in 2012 by Carina Press.
The second book is Cross My Heart by Abigail Strom, self-published in 2011. I have no idea how it ended up in my TBR, but the price tag of “zero” probably had something to do with it.
Both books are in the romance genre, and are set in a contemporary US city. Both books feature neighbors who ogle one another from afar and then become lovers. Both books have a hero who is emotionally closed and finds relationships very difficult, and a heroine who is open and very relatable.
The major differences are:
1. The Theory of Attraction is a BDSM erotic romance while Cross My Heart is a standard contemporary romance.
2. The Theory of Attraction‘s hero, a rocket scientist, is not just emotionally closed, but diagnosable. OCD? Autism? I don’t know, but he’s more than shy.
Cross My Heart‘s hero is a cardiac surgeon who had a tough childhood, including maternal abandonment, and found that intensely focusing on his goals while keeping his heart guarded was the key to survival.
3. Also, The Theory of Attraction is written in the first person heroine’s voice, and Cross My Heart is a third person omniscient POV. Because I had a harder time with Cami, the first person made the book tougher to get through, and I eventually (at 53%, right in the middle of a flogging scene) gave up.
Cami is a computer geek, comfortable with the guys. Although sexually experienced, she has to be initiated in the ways of BDSM by Ivan, a Dom. I found her voice kind of annoying in the bedroom scenes. She doesn’t see BDSM as a buried sexual orientation, but a thing to try, and, later, an “addiction in the making.” She thrills to the controlling, dominating ways of Ivan. That’s fine, but I felt her character was undercooked. I found myself asking, “Why was she attracted to this arrogant guy again?” and answering, “Oh, right,
Hansel BDSM is so hot right now.” If that’s my first thought as to what “motivates” a character, something has gone wrong.
In contrast, I really enjoyed the heroine of Cross My Heart. Jenna’s a rock star hibernating in Iowa while her band, the Red Mollies,* destroyed years prior by a cheating bass player, reforms for a reunion tour. Jenna is sexy, vivacious, comfortable in her own skin, sweet, nurturing, and very afraid of commitment. While Jenna’s fear of settling down felt a little forced (the author had to give her a family-of-origin tragedy to explain it. Whyyyyyyyyyyyy?) , I thought the way she used music, and the intuitive way music transmits sensation and feeling, to teach Michael that he may understand the science of emotions, but not their significance, worked beautifully. He, of the superior mind, is forced to recognize that “on an essential level, she was unintelligible to him” but Jenna believes, and believes strongly, that as Terentius wrote thousands of years ago, “nothing human is alien to me.” Somehow the book reveals both the inevitability of alienation and the promise of recognition.
I also really appreciated Michael’s strained relationship with his teenage daughter, Claire. With Claire, as with Jenna, he tries to revert to his comfortably numb state, but Claire’s hormones and emotional neediness won’t allow it. Maybe because I am having my own — er — fun — with my own newly teenaged son, I really appreciated the way that part of the book was handled. Michael learns that emotional risk is the only way to reap emotional reward. It’s that simple, really.
Finally, I found Cross My Heart to be pretty hot. The uptight workaholic trying, unsuccessfully, to thwart his own sexual desires works so much better for me than the methodical dom whose need for explicit choreography and control makes a sex scene read like an ob-gyn appointment. YMMV.
Naturally, I have niggles. Michael behaves in a very out of character way a few times, and I wasn’t sure what the author was getting at. Maybe she had to put in that one “asshole jealous remark” because it’s in the romance rulebook? Maybe Michael needed to be emotionally out of whack for a while before he could settle? Also, Jenna, and Michael too, actually, are too good to be true. Finally, at times the book felt a little by the numbers, telly not showy, and as a result I felt a little distanced as a reader.
In short, I know that not every TBR read will be a success, but I really enjoyed Cross My Heart.
*Maybe the author wasn’t contemplating Richard Thompson fans when she chose that name, but all I could think of was 1952 Vincent Black Lightning every time!