If Holly were to review this book, she would call it a Recommended Read. If Ingrid were to review this book, she would write a Rant. Clearly, we needed to review this book together.
Welcome to Dueling Reviews.
Moderated by Erin, who has no emotional investment in this book at all.
Heat Factor: It’s scorching…which is fitting, because with the stuff these two pulled in a Catholic church they may very well end up somewhere toasty.
Character Chemistry: I don’t dig what they dig…but they dig it, and each other, a LOT.
Plot: Catholic priest ends up attracted to a woman who is apparently irresistible but has no hobbies or interests or personality and they end up finding a new, sexy spiritual path together.
Overall: This book has some majorly interesting dynamics but I had to put it down out of sheer frustration many times (and not the FUN kind of frustration, either).
Heat Factor: Absolutely filthy, in the best way
Character Chemistry: Father Bell would have chemistry with a cardboard box
Plot: Catholic priest has sex, angst ensues
Overall: I had so much fun reading this book
Ingrid, summarize the book:
Ingrid: Okay. I’d be happy to. Ahem. So: Priest who appears to have issues with compartmentalization to the extreme meets girl who is not like other girls. They both have some serious BDSM kink going on. He tosses his career in the trash. She turns out to be a big wuss. The end.
Holly, summarize the book:
Holly: (Laughing) Okay, so, basically a priest has illicit sex and some angst, but discovers that sex can bring him closer to God.
What were your expectations going into this book?
I: I’m not gonna lie to you, they weren’t super high. This type of book hits pretty much all of my least favorite kinks, but I did try to go in with an open mind.
H: I didn’t have any. I’d never read anything by this author before. But I found this book on a list of best romances in the last 10 years and read a couple reviews of her stuff, so I knew there was a lot of sex. And indeed, there was a lot of sex and I was not disappointed.
I: It was something else…
H: Just because BDSM makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s a bad book.
I: I may not be into BDSM, but that was the least of my issues with this book.
Holly, please describe Poppy, our heroine:
H: Poppy comes from a wealthy WASPy New England background. She went to Dartmouth. Then decided that she didn’t want the WASP life, so she ran away to the Midwest and became a stripper, and now she has guilt, which is what brings her to the Church, I guess. So that’s her backstory.
The way I’d describe her otherwise: she’s very smart in some ways, but is very sexually naive. Even though she’s into kink, she doesn’t seem to know the basics of how it works. Like Father Bell is her first experience with oral sex, which, given that she’s a sexually voracious woman who is in her late 20s, is crazy to me. Sometimes things that come out of her mouth when she’s talking about sex made me be like, “this is what happens when you slut shame women!!!!” So she’s a somewhat problematic character.
Question for Ingrid from Holly: Why hate Poppy?
I: It’s not that I hate Poppy, it’s that I think she’s an underdeveloped human being. 1. On an annoyance level, she’s exactly the type of person who would be taken advantage of by a person in a position of power. 2. I didn’t love that she was so…It wasn’t like she had any hobbies, it wasn’t like she had any interests. She was basically a blank person. She was a resume. There was no content to her character at all, so she was this propped up vessel that he used for his own pleasure. She was a resume with a pair of red lips with nothing else going on.
Question for Holly from Ingrid: Can you EVEN with Poppy?!? How can you like someone who is so completely flaccid and 2-dimensional?
H: I didn’t love Poppy. I’ll be honest. She was probably my least favorite part of this book.
However, I think the reason she comes across as 2-dimensional is because the book is written entirely from the perspective of Father Bell. So it’s not one of these books where you’re getting into her head, too. So that could be why she seems flatter than with books that are written in 3rd person omniscient, right?
You kept talking about how she thought she wasn’t like other women….
I: I don’t think she said it. It was apparent to me based on the sheer number of contradictions she was, without any other depth. Highly-educated and wealthy, but chooses to strip. Wants to live a simple life and contribute to the church, but oozes sex.
H: Like Father Bell had never felt like this about other women.
I: And the other boyfriend.
I: I wouldn’t be surprised if you had told me she was a ghost at the end of the book. She had no outside interests. She just seemed like a prop.
H: The fact that she has no friends and …
I: Her house didn’t even have any description. Nothing about her was vivid except her red lips.
H: I guess what you’re saying is kind of true, but none of that bothered me, really. Because I felt like: a.) What dude realizes how you decorate your house? I guess I’m being a gender essentialist here. And b.) He couldn’t meet her friends because they were having a secret relationship that no one could know about or his career was over.
I: But even in Church she wasn’t present in any dynamic way…
H: Except that she did go to the soup kitchen one time. But we don’t hear about what she did because Father Bell was too busy being interested in spanking her. There were hints about other components of her personality. Like there was one sentence about how they liked watching The Walking Dead together, but that was kind of a throwaway line.
There are different ways you can show the development of a relationship in a romance novel. You can use sex, or you can show the other in between scenes. Priest focuses in on the sex, and then glosses over the other stuff, because otherwise this book would be a million pages long.
I: Yeah, I get that. So the omissions there bothered me, but that’s a matter of preference. If you’re into the sex, then that was….something.
Ingrid, please describe Father Bell, our hero:
I: This guy, I cannot get a read on. Another character that bothered the bejesus outta me. With his brothers, he’s a frat boy. With his mom, he’s a mama’s boy. I was like well, okay then. FINE. Then with his congregation he’s like, “I’m a priest, this is my flock.” FINE. Then there’s the dungeonmaster who’s like, I have to punish this red-lipped vixen, which…FINE. It’s like he sees her little heiner and all of a sudden good priest = gone. It was like he was a reflection of WHERE he was, but I didn’t ever feel like I knew WHO he was.
Question for Holly from Ingrid: How do you feel about the wildly different personalities the hero has? Bro/frat boy with his family / devout, gentle priest with his congregation / insulting slave master in the bedroom? Was this not a little Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to you??
H: I didn’t think he had multiple personalities, frankly. I guess the first time, I was like, “okay, this is where we’re going with this,” but I didn’t think the different sides of him seemed contradictory. Part of why it worked for me and I didn’t think of it as multiple personalities because there are different aspects of him that manifest in different parts of his life. So the sexual part was something that he thought could have lived without but decided he didn’t want to. So that’s where all the angst comes from, so I bought the angst because these different aspects of his personality are in conflict. And the angst develops – this is not one of the books where the character is being angsty about one thing the whole time. In this case, he’s angsty because he has sexual desires that he thought he had clamped down, and then he’s angsty because he has sex and feels a tremendous amount of guilt, and then he’s angsty because he’s in love and honestly doesn’t know how to move forward from there.
Question for Ingrid from Holly: Is Father Bell a new book boyfriend: yes or no? If no, WHY NOT?
I: NO! Although, I will give you this. The part where he was really trying to dig through stuff is kryptonite for me. I really love complex characters and he was totally self-aware.
Boyfriend-wise, the very first time he called me “Little Lamb,” that would have been a deal-breaker.
Question for Ingrid from Holly: There was lots of sex in this book. Did you think it advanced the plot or the characters? Did you buy the idea that sex was a way for these characters to feel the presence of God?
I: Actually, excellent question. YES. I absolutely did. That was the one part that made me feel like this was very believable to me. Part of having a faith is that you have a belief without needing to know everything about it. So from a sex standpoint, they jumped in without having to understand everything about it. I felt like that part of the book was really well done. Even though it’s not my taste, there were parts of the sexual encounters that were poetic.
H: Off topic, but jumping off from where you are, I felt like the writing was really good.
I: Yes, the writing was good.
Question for Holly from Ingrid: Ignoring their sex life (which is clearly mutual), how is this a healthy relationship at all?
H: It’s not, and that’s kind of the point.
I: But they… but they…
H: It’s a taboo relationship. They’re sneaking around… They can’t tell anyone about this EVER if he wants to stay a priest. But they are also having sex on the altar of the church.
I: Right, but they play this out like they’re meant to be together, so it clearly exits the bedroom at some point.
H: It’s not that they have a healthy relationship, but they’re being brought together on this deeper emotional level. The big conflict is this external conflict – he’s a priest. She can’t ask him to leave the priesthood for her. The rest of the stuff that they otherwise would need to work on falls away in the face of this central problem that they face.
What was the scene that clinched your opinion of this book?
I: I’m not going to lie to you. It was the oil in the butthole scene. I felt like… There were a ton of layers to the book, and there were parts that I completely respected even though it’s not to my taste, but that part… It just jumped the shark for me there. Before that I could see it being interesting and then it was just shock value. It just devalued a whole part of who he was to a certain degree. He saw the oil later and felt good about it, and I didn’t feel like it was believable because if he respected his vows there would have been some layers of his guilt and shame there.
I mean, let’s just look at this from a practical standpoint here. Someone inventories the fancy oil in the church there, and they’re going to have a meeting about it and be like, oh, hey, we’re really short on the oil that smells for Christenings or whatever, and he’s going to be sitting there like, “nice…he he he.”
And then all I could think about was Poppy’s poor bum. You can’t just put any old thing in there. They tell you this in sex ed. She’s going to get an infection of some kind. They sell stuff for this very purpose at the store. All you have to do is go buy some and then you don’t have to show up at your doctor’s office complaining of painful BM’s and have to explain that, actually, you put some stinky “expiration date was questionable” oil up your hiney when you couldn’t be bothered to walk across the street to your house (which is actually a very standard place to do what these two were doing, and likely had some safer options for lubrication)…I mean, okay, they were really heated but safety first, people.
And you stole lube from a non-profit.
H: I don’t know if it was that sex scene, but there was a sex scene around that point in the book where they’re about to have sex in the church and the light comes in and he’s like, “God is here right now.” And then she comes in and she has the same experience, and I felt like the author was really doing something there, it wasn’t just a naughty priest story.
I: The one you’re talking about was the scene that I thought, “This isn’t going to be completely horrible.”
What are your thoughts on the ending? Is it a HEA?
H: Yeah, I would say so. I mean, we’ll say for 80% of the book, I didn’t know how they’re going to resolve this because he really cares about being a priest and feels it’s his calling. He feels very strongly that having a relationship with a woman is a betrayal of his community. If he really loves his calling and really loves her, they’re mutually exclusive, and how can they have a HEA? I bought the reasoning he comes to, to still have a calling and a connection to God.
I: For him, yes. But for him, based on his development as a character, whether or not they were together, I would have seen the ending as a HEA for him. It was like a hero’s journey for him spiritually, so by the end of the book I felt like he had gone through a number of trials. For her, her journey, granted it was from his perspective, but … She wasn’t stripping anymore and she had reconnected with her family, but I still sensed that she was struggling. I think it was strange that she was struggling so hard to function outside her family, and I didn’t get the cues from her about her situation that convinced me that she had a HEA.
I: This was a very uncomfortable book for me on many levels. But it wasn’t awful.
H: What are you talking about? You hated it.
I: I hated it less after my most recent smut read. Perspective. I liked the author’s writing abilities, and I enjoyed the philosophy.
And if I ever hear anyone call anyone a “Little Lamb” again, I’ll throw up a little in my mouth.
H: Well, Ingrid gave such a balanced closing argument. I was all ready to be like, “THIS BOOK IS AWESOME!” So I guess I’ll be balanced too.
Basically, this book is about the audience. If you want really well written, really sexy books with kink in them, this hits that. Obviously this book is not for everybody, but it is really really well written erotic romance. And I thought Father Bell was a really great character.
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