Saturday, April 12, 2014

Romantica: Unrestrained by Joey Hill

Note:  Romantica is erotic romance, not suitable or acceptable to all readers.
My Experience:  A
Synopsis:   Athena is an accomplished businesswoman in control of every aspect of her life. But since the death of her husband, she’s had the desire to explore submissive cravings she’s had for some time. Unfortunately, Athena is known as a Mistress, because that’s the role she’s always played.
Her type A personality was strong enough to serve her husband as a Domme because that’s what he needed. It’s not until she meets Dale, a retired Navy SEAL, that she attempts to discover what her own submissive desires are. But letting go of her control is not so easy.
Fortunately, Dale is an accomplished Master who can help Athena live out her fantasies. And as she slowly surrenders to his touch, both of them will learn more about the nature of love between Dominant and submissive, and how it defies all expectations. 

Back in the day, older hero, younger heroine was the standard for all romance. In more recent days, the age gap between hero and heroine has steadily narrowed. This has forced the hero to be younger. The heroine is still safely in the 20-30 age range. It is what it is for a mature woman to purchase and read erotic romance with characters young enough to be their adult children; but the reverse is just, eew, gross, wrong...isn't it?



There are exceptions, of course, but in general, the unspoken guidelines of erotica are still operating under the assumption that 35 is mature, 40 is aging (or prowling), 45 is old enough to watch the grandchildren so the plot can advance. Women 50 and older in erotic romance land are generally a vague representation best used as a crone, villain or comedic respite from the conflict. With life expectancy for healthy folks nearing 105, and a new source of disposable income developing, I wonder if we'll soon need a new category of romance for the Mature Reader that has nothing to do with themes and everything to do with chronological realities. What a thrill to embrace characters that have made it down the street; turned left then right and discovered life didn't end with the first gray hair or wrinkle or even a stretch mark or two, hallelujah!

For now, it is still rare to read erotic romance with a hero AND heroine over 40. Trust Joey Hill to kick that squick where it belongs, to the curb. She nudged it a bit with Afterlife, but even there, she stuck to the safety net of younger hero and a conflict enhanced by difference in their age. It was an awesome book, so is this one. What I love best about Joey Hill's books are each and every word is about the characters, how they grow, how they hurt, how they laugh and cry and wake up and realize life is an experience they don't want to miss! Who they are beneath the crafted fa├žade they allow the world to see is revealed then transformed, not only by love and sex, but by the confrontation of self, cherished truths, old recordings and even a bit of stupidity that still lingers, in this book at least, even in us Old Girls.

In Unrestrained, Athena and Dale have lived fully, loved deeply and endured loss with realistic dignity. Losing the core component of self-definition is devastating. Sure there's a process to grieving. It isn't pretty, regardless of age, and there is no guarantee you'll come out on the other side of it in one emotional or mental piece. You backslide, take a few steps forward and suddenly fall end over end back to that place you swore you'd never be again. Dale and Athena learned all this the hard way. It has not stopped either of them from laughing, not diminished their commitments to themselves or others; gave them each valid reasons to keep picking themselves up and moving ahead. They've found ways to cope, to rally their energy and yes, to re-define themselves, step by painful step.

Unrestrained begins before the middle of Athena and Dale's life, the genuine middle. Wonderful, lovely, exciting things have happened in the past; sad, fearful, even horrible things have come and gone. They are still learning to live, as we all are, as we all will, until we don't. That some of those coping skills Dale and Athena lean on could be doing more harm than good isn't surprising, it's how people are made. Confronting those truths is as difficult as finding ways to let go and grab on to better ways to be.

I was dancing when Athena found the courage to reach out, I mourned when she stumbled, I cheered when she tried again, and again, and again. Her honesty was mind-blowing, even when she tried to hide from truth. I actually whoo-hoo'd when Dale pointed out being a man isn't a matter of chromosomes or age; when he admitted flaws and struggles and returned the trust he was expecting. His promises were more solid than his chest. I felt his frustration when it was harder than he expected to expose all of himself. I loved how he bit the figurative bullets as manfully as he took the literal ones. I felt empathy for Athena's need to handle things *for* others. I loved how hard it was for her to accept then embrace the fact her need to serve others was both essential to her sense of self and detrimental to the same. I found it utterly realistic that she was afraid of change, aren't we all, even when we crave it most.

Athena found her balance in surrendering certain choices and even then, it will never be easy. She will probably always need to stop, think, listen and examine the motives of service because her instinct and pleasure are tied in to the very thing that could cause her the most damage. That Dale could see this from her first offer of a cup of coffee made him a genuine hero for me, one of life experiences a younger man would not have possessed and been believable, at least for me.

Most of all, I adored that the romance was not rushed! You cannot have dynamic characters supposedly managing corporations or having a full life and expect to just add sex and the romance will follow in a week or two, or less. You don't build trust and communication with a night out having you're @ss flogged so you reach the floaty happy place - yes, of course, it's lurve! There are thousands of quicky fantasy reads out there with that worn-out theme and more power to you if that's your cup of tea. But if you're looking for a read that gives you time to actually invest in characters and romance, to consider what life might be like in twenty years when life strikes a blow and you have to carry on, confront change and embrace joy - Unrestrained is a book worth the time and price.

My *only* complaint is this book is not available in more formats. Boo-bloody-hoo. >g<

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