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A few warnings before I start. This book is a M/F/M story, with the "F" in the middle as the operative word. If you are expecting a relationship where all three partners are equal in their feelings for one another, you would be wrong (more on that later). It also focuses a lot of the grief that Gould is still feeling from Hal's death, including thoughts of self-harm, obsessive thoughts and actions, and many unhealthy behaviors. There is also some pretty heavy humiliation kink, as well as a master-slave relationship.
I could probably talk about this book for a week and not get all my feelings about it on page. I'm a huge fan of J.A. Rock, and this book was another example of how well written and thoughtful her book are. She is a very smart writer, and I could tell that she really examined how she thought Gould's relationship would go with Greg and Kel. There are also tons of interesting themes in this story, including interracial relationships, religion, overweight MCs, and the definitions of sexuality. I admire J.A. Rock greatly for all of that.
I'll start with the discussion of the relationship between Gould and Kel and Greg. Gould is bisexual, a Kinsey five (as he describes himself). However, his primary interest in his relationship with Kel and Greg is with Kel. He wants to worship Kel and be with her, and Greg is more like a friend with benefits that just happens to be long for the ride. Similarly, Greg's interest is in pleasing Kel, and Gould is something like a deep friendship for him.
I found Greg's view of his sexuality to be endlessly interesting. Greg identifies as straight but hetero-flexible. Though he has sex with Gould and kisses him, he still views himself as straight because he isn't attracted to men, as a rule. There is a LARGE discussion on bisexuality and bi-erasure here, before you all jump in, so don't worry on that account. I just happened to find it interesting that Greg says that his self-identifying as straight is simply what he feels most comfortable with. On a personal level, I could really identify with Greg. I consider myself straight, but I could also see becoming intimate with a woman and enjoying it, especially in a charged, erotic BDSM setting. I got Greg's POV, on this topic, totally.
There were also some really interesting discussions on religion and race, as Greg is both Indian and Native American. I really liked when Greg and Gould started discussing all of these issues about BDSM that I've been curious about but never asked.
What I really struggled with in terms of Greg/Kel/Gould's relationship was the fact that all three characters weren't in love with each other, at least not in the romantic way. I have a difficult time with menage books because I find it so hard to believe that three people can make it work between them, even with the issues of inequality and jealousy. Here, it isn't even trying to be a typical menage relationship. It is a really different type of arrangement, one that I've never seen before in romance. Honestly, I didn't find Gould/Kel/Greg's relationship to be very... romantic. It was hard for me to see that these people were anything beyond fondness for one another. It was one of my biggest stumbling blocks with this story.
Although this series has been all M/M up until this point, I personally didn't mind the introduction of a woman. I'm also a M/F reader, so having lady parts be explicitly described didn't bother me in the slightest. Plus, I'll take a book with pegging any day of the week (another of my personal favorite kinks!!).
What I didn't mind, but other people might, is the kink aspect. Humiliation kink and degradation is honestly one of my favorite kinks in BDSM. A good, consensual, verbal humiliation scene is exactly the type of kink I seek out in erotica and romance. I just love it. There is almost nothing in humiliation that is too kinky for me, so I didn't think anything here was very extreme. However, I was worried about Gould because we have an insight to his mind and he is so thoroughly messed up about Hal's death that really none of those scenes should have happened.
My biggest issue with this story, however, was how dark it was. I've been LOVING the light, fun, kinky books in this series, and this book was like a slap in the face. It was really heavy stuff, and it was depressing to read about. I think if this book had an epic romance or an awesome plot line, I would have been okay with the deep level of pain that is in this book. However, while I thought that the kink was interesting, the romance just wasn't there for me. This book only had its skillful writing to pull it through, and I barely got above a like for this story.
If you are looking for a Subs Club book like the others, you will be disappointed. However, if you are willing to read a very interesting, thoughtful, angsty story with some edgy kink content and a M/F/M romance, then try this one.
*Copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
"Gould is magical and gives everyone happiness and dangerous confidence, like cocaine made from unicorn dandruff."
I knew early on in this series that Gould's book would be grueling which is why I put it off; I knew it was going to hurt. J.A.'s done an exceptional job of matching the tone of each book to the character and Gould is an iceberg.
So much more is just beneath the surface. To most he looks placid, but it's all a façade. Inside he's begging for someone to see him, to really see him and maybe love him. But who would? Why would they? He's chubby, struggles with mental illness, is painfully shy... nothing. So he should be treated as such, right?
As Gould's character has evolved the more this niggling in the back of my head started to getting louder that he had somehow twisted Hal's death into being his fault and by choosing to play with Kel and GK he was self-immolating. Who better to make him suffer than the people ultimately responsible for Hal's death? I'm still not sure whether or not he's cognizant of it, though, nor if it was purposeful. Regardless of his motivations it's clear he's extremely attracted to Kel.
He wants to belong to her, to be owned, to serve, but he doesn't want to be in love again. The last time he was he got left all alone and that hurt so much 3 yrs later it still feels like he'll show up any minute-at the drug store or the grocery store or the duplex. Hal's this constant shadow that Gould can't stop looking for the source. He's resentful of all his friends who have seemingly moved on and baffled that some have even forgiven Bill. But if he lets go and moves on then does that mean the love goes away too? If he lets go then won't he really be all alone?
Gould is such a layered and complex character that I couldn't stop myself from dissecting him. The way he clings to Hal's memory and the hallucinations of him prove just how pervasive his grief is. Gould has zero healthy coping skills. He externalizes nothing. He verbalizes less than nothing. And trying to cope with grief in solitude can mess you up. And he is. He is still so messed up over Hal's death that's it's crippling him.
Often in the series I've thought Hal was kind of a dick and I half wonder if maybe he didn't commit suicide on that bench which... *sigh* never mind. I briefly wondered why Gould continues to hang on to him. But since when do we fall in love with the "right" person? Love is messy and sometimes ugly. Sometimes we fall in love with the "wrong" person. How much Gould still loves him is palpable.
His form of coping is to retreat inside himself, creating elaborate scenarios so he can drop out, but it's a prison and he really REALLY needs someone to come in there and find him. Make it stop since he can't ask for help or flat out refuses it. So he keeps asking for more, more humiliation, more degradation, more dehumanization to find the quiet, and I have to tell you this was hard for me. It is so not my kink. I've read a couple dehumanization/objectification things and I always come back to why? Why would someone want that? There are too many psychological landmines to enter into that sort of scene without having a wealth of information.
I found myself frustrated with Kel for not asking why, for trusting Gould to be truthful and honest without him having set a precedent for that and I found myself frustrated with Gould for not saying anything and not safing out. Then the watershed moment happened.
People make mistakes.
Mistakes are made every single day and most of the time it really will be OK. Sure, it might suck for a time, but this too shall pass and all that. I know I've learned far more from my mistakes than I've ever learned from by successes. And I think that's the brilliance of this series-all of these people have been portrayed as human and fallible, even the dominants which is a rarity in a BDSM romance read.
"For me, submission wasn't a game, wasn't temporary, wasn't some bonus facet of my identity. It was the way I kept a promise alive, it was the way I let myself need. It was my voice."
With the love and support of his friends and lovers, persistence and bravery, encouragement to seek professional help for his grief and a couple of colossal missteps something really profound and significant forms in the aftermath which was very gratifying to read.
Would I recommend this to everyone? No. It's brutal at times and I can completely understand people not enjoying it because it is a 180º departure from the lightheartedness of the rest of the series. Gould's self image issues are severe and watching him denigrate himself repeatedly was difficult. There are bubbles of levity mostly provided by Kamen. *heart eyes* And Greg, who by the way, reminds both Gould and myself of Kamen. I am just saying! And, in all seriousness, if J.A. were to decide to write some short stories like "Rymen goes to Triple B" or "Kamen goes to Petco" or "Grillin' with Kamen" or really anything I would read it. True story.
I should also point out that while this is a ménage story both Gould and Greg love and worship Kel far more than each other. Greg and Gould do love each other, but Greg prefers to identify as heteroflexible. They actually have a wonderfully frank discussion about race, religion, gender identity, expectations and sexual politics that is authentic without being heavy or stilted. The romance aspect is not as strong in 24/7 as the others. I'd say it's far more about Gould's internal battle against his own psyche than anything else, but I still found myself believing that he'd found something worthwhile with Kel and Greg at the end.
Would I read this again? I honestly don't know. Not any time soon, I'll tell you that. If you haven't already figured it out I couldn't say that I "enjoyed" this book, but J.A.'s crafting of this story affected me in unexpected ways. It wasn't easy but it is a story that will stick with me for a long long time and for that I can't give it any less than 5 Hearts.
As always, your mileage may vary.
This is a powerful finish to a wonderful series. Gould's story is darker and more complex than the others in his band of friends. I like that we finally know more about Hal and the events leading to his death. Rock does character so well; I feel like I know these people. They are so layered and flawed but charming and very funny.
There may be some backlash against Kel's (a woman) involvement with Gould but I like that Rock went there. The exploration of fluidity at the heart of relationships is the core and soul of this series. I found the book affecting and very rewarding. A highly recommended series but do start at the beginning and read in order. A strong 5 stars from me.
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Well this was surprisingly good!
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