I don’t want anyone to think this isn’t an incredibly well-written book. It is. I can understand why Samantha Ann King won the Passionate Plume award in the Contemporary category for it. I honestly wish I could give half stars on Goodreads because this book would have been a 3.5 star book for me, rather than the three I rated it (which, for me, means a well-written book that any reader should enjoy). Solid characters, genuine emotion between the three people in the relationship, and a compelling conflict regarding an abusive ex-boyfriend make for a work that hits all major points for a good romance.
So why do I feel emotionally dissatisfied when I know it was a good book intellectually?
A big part of it is the cover. LOVE the cover…if it was your usual menage book. But really a huge portion of this book is given over to what I would honestly term a romantic suspense plot or more of a psychological angle and I don’t get any of the anxiety I felt for 65% of my reading minutes in looking at this beautiful, sensual portrait.
The book starts off with a menage trope that is familiar to readers. Hailey is a capable, professional woman who just broke up with her manipulative and abusive boyfriend, Daniel. Daniel had gone from being verbally and emotionally abusive to threatening real physical violence and some pretty scaring shoving. Hailey is scared, but hopeful that he’ll get over things since she’s heading out to Hawaii to meet her brother and his wife for the family’s annual vacation on the island.
She flying out with her two good friends (and her brother’s best friends) Mark and Tony. They’ve all known each other since they were little and she can’t imagine two better men. Unfortunately she can imagine them…in all different sexual positions. She has had a crush on them for years and they feature prominently in her sexual fantasies, but knowing what amazing men they are, she respects and truly loves them, believing they see her as Jake’s little sister.
Mark and Tony know they are in love with Hailey and have had conversations about this dilemma. While they are not attracted to one another sexually, they realize that they both want to be with her and that, while unconventional, a menage relationship is the solution that actually works best. If they force Hailey to choose between them, she would potentially be hurt and their friendship would ultimately dissolve with each other and Hailey’s brother.
A brief kiss from Mark on the plane has Hailey’s mind (and nether regions) in a whirl and she confronts them when they arrive at the rental villa. In the private guesthouse that Mark and Tony are sharing, they put forth their proposal for a relationship, a real one, not just vacation sex. Hailey is stunned but incredibly gratified. She’s worried what her family will think but agrees to begin to be intimate with these two men she loves so much. The sex scenes are not only hot but clearly indicate the wealth of emotion these characters bring to the table (or couch..or bed…or shower).
But then the poop hits the fan when Hailey’s brother finds out and goes ballistic. As the threesome leaves, hurt and dismayed by his reaction, the brother reconsiders his rash response when he is confronted by the psycho ex-boyfriend. His good friends are looking pretty awesome even if there are two of them. Everyone disbands from the vacation and heads home in an effort to handle the crazy boyfriend and keep Hailey safe.
Back at home, Hailey is staying with the guys because of evil Daniel who becomes a very threatening menace. Samantha Ann King has done a lot of very thorough research about both the legalities of domestic disturbances as well as the many psychological reactions victims of domestic abuse can experience, and her research comes out skillfully, not in some awkward info dump, but in the midst of what Hailey is feeling.
But the tension is relentless, and I guess that’s what I mean by it feeling more like romantic suspense. I was literally physically exhausted from holding myself so tightly, particularly when characters got hurt. Adding to the tension was the very realistic decision on Hailey’s part to back off from the intensity of their relationship after things got resolved and live her own life, fitting the guys into it and letting their feelings unfold in a more natural setting. Was that the healthy and mature thing to do? Absolutely. Did I like it as a reader? No.
And here’s why. When I read a menage story, I don’t expect it to be realistic, because this type of relationship is rare and therefore not the norm. I’m not saying don’t have challenges or deal with the usual judgment conflict from others about a threesome, but all the legalities, psychological stuff, and aftermath felt like a lot to slog through to see these deserving people get to happily ever after. The kiss between Mark and Tony which was discussed in Hawaii also sort of felt like it went nowhere to me. Why introduce it if there wasn’t going to be more development in the physicality between the two men? This felt like a loose end (the only one, in my opinion).
Perhaps because of this being her first book (and I have to reiterate again how impressed I am at the level of skill and complexity Samantha Ann King brings to this debut novel), it was hard to find the author online. A Google seach did not immediately reveal any book cover (also the case on Amazon) a month prior to publication. I found Samantha Ann King first on Twitter, then used its link to find her Facebook account, which led me to her author website. Her Goodreads page lacked all of these links and didn’t have the pretty portrait that her Facebook account sports. I can only keep my fingers crossed that as we get closer to the book’s official launch date that all these online sources will be interlinked for readers who wish to know more about her.
My final conclusion is really more of a personal one. Not needing the level of realism or accuracy that was so well-depicted in this novel, I have had the personal realization that I am better off sticking to menage fiction that is more along the lines of novella or shorter book length. This work being more the size of a traditional romance novel (and therefore a great value to readers interested in the plot points detailed above) makes it a great value for the money, but I think for me, I prefer my menage groups to have fewer pages devoted to them since I ask for very little realism.
From a writing standpoint, I will be keeping an eye out for more from Samantha Ann King since her debut novel shows a definite understanding of craft and a distinct talent.