Publisher: Harlequin Spice
Publication Date: August 1, 2010
Genre: Contemporary Romance
No strings. No regrets. And no going back.
I didn’t think he wanted me. And I wasn’t about to get involved with him, not after what I’d heard. Sure, Alex Kennedy was tall, dark and unbearably hot, but I’ve been burned before. When I solicited him to model for my erotic photography book, I didn’t expect such a heated, passionate photo session. And now that we’ve crossed that line, our bodies aren’t the only things that have been exposed.
But I can’t give my heart to a man who’s so… unconventional. His last sexual relationship was with a married couple. It’s enough that my ex-fiancé preferred men, I can’t take that chance again no matter how much my body thrives on Alex’s touch. I can’t risk it, but I can’t resist it, either.
Alex can be very convincing when he wants something.
And he wants me.
Naked traces the developing relationship between Olivia and Alex, as well as tackling a number of larger issues involving self-identification of race, sexuality and religion.
I wanted to love Naked. This is a good erotic novel, although I’m not sure I’d call it an erotic romance. I liked certain aspects of it and I certainly thoughts parts of it were thought-provoking. Unfortunately what I didn’t like ended up being either main character.
Olivia never seemed to know what to make of herself, but she generally did know that people ought to feel sorry for her. As the narrator, it was of course necessary to set the premise of the book up and discuss how her former fiancé Patrick had been cheating on her with every man he could find before bothering to come out to her, but then she martyrs herself by remaining his best friend and self-flagellates herself by attending his parties and sitting on the sidelines watching how happy all of his gay friends are. She has issues with her family: her mother doesn’t like her, understand her or approve of her, yet Olivia fails to see that she herself contributes to it with her own bitter, unapproachable behavior. She’s unsure how to handle her religious beliefs: her father’s Catholic, her mother’s Jewish; she thinks she identifies as Jewish, but oddly enough, caring that she’s not Jewish enough for the mother she disdains so much. She obsesses about work; she’s either doing it, thinking about it, telling someone she has to do it or arguing with someone about why she wants to do it. As someone who depends on it for her livelihood (and for the role it plays in some of the erotic scenes), it makes sense that it gets brought up a lot, but it gets brought up too many times in the context of forcing pity for Olivia. It’s “poor, super-talented Olivia who could easily get a gallery show and who’s recognized by a famous photographer is still toiling away doing garbage brochures because she needs the money.” Olivia also brings up the issue of her being biracial several times and discusses her terrific hair quite a few, but it’s generally in the context of “look how different I am.” We get it. You’re a snowflake. It’s brought up later and makes better sense, but in the moment, combined with everything else, it’s too much.
Alex surprised me, because I started out liking his nearly too good to be true character. Handsome, sexy, charming, sweet, rich enough not to have to work, motivated enough to want to anyway, Alex stumbles into Olivia’s life apparently in between relationships. In spite of her issues with Patrick, Olivia didn’t seem to have any problems with Alex being bisexual, as long as he was monogamous and he seemed happy to be, because he was head over heels in lust/love with Olivia. He cooked for her, he listened to her when she needed it, he gave her space when she needed it; he knew what she needed sexually before she did. He was the perfect lover, and even with Olivia’s issues with Patrick, she never seemed to have any stray thoughts about him being with other men. Small issues, like his refusal to drink alcohol or talk about his family were quickly forgotten beneath Olivia’s. The worst that could be said about him was he had a tendency to be passive-aggressive and do things like just not be in his apartment on what was an unscheduled date night when he was ticked off at her.
I could almost mark the crossover place in the book where my feelings toward each of them changed.
Outside of Alex, Olivia found a group of friends who observed Jewish traditions but were less concerned with the things like the proper tablecloths and more with the sentiments and the people gathered. It was her epiphany moment; her feelings of not belonging because of being biracial (she was adopted), because of her parents’ differing religions, because of always feeling on the outside, all crashed in. She left the dinner with a new commitment to pursue Judaism her way and I think a little more purpose to handle her personal life with more respect for herself.
It’s weirdly the evolution of Olivia that begins the devolution of Alex; he loves to be loved and the most important thing ever in Olivia’s life and there are hints of it. While it was before Olivia’s dinner, when the Mexico trip comes up and she tells him she has to work, he sulks, drinks on the trip, then inappropriately flirts with the guy next to him on the flight back – and tells Olivia about it. Of course, he’s suitably sorry about it when he sees he’s hurt her, but he’s made his point. He wants Olivia to be jealous and is angry when she isn’t; after her dinner, he picks fights and sometimes seems to go out of his way to undermine her self-confidence. He’s increasingly out of control and by the time he and Olivia take the trip back to his hometown, it’s a foregone conclusion that he’s hiding something damaging to her.
>***There are spoilers that follow. I can’t finish the review without them; I’ve tried and can’t adequately explain how this ended up being the 3-star review instead of the 3 ½ or 4 star it might have been with a different ending. You can skip to the very last paragraph for a non-spoiler summary***
I don’t know that I’ve ever knocked off a grade point for an ending, but this review cried out for it. There’s no doubt Hart can write the socks off a book. As much as I didn’t like Olivia or Alex by the time the book ended, she made me feel for them and the erotica was well-done, as always. But the ending here felt, well, unfinished. I didn’t believe it and for the first time in what I assume was supposed to be a book in the erotic romance genre I didn’t think an HEA was possible.
There are characters here from an earlier book by Hart, Tempted. Alex was involved in a threesome with friends Anne and Jamie and it ended when Anne decided to stay with her husband and end the ménage, even though Alex was in love with her. Alex dumped Olivia into their house without telling her of the relationship and of course, she figured it out; there are things he tells her about the situation and what he needs in the future that should have sent her screaming into the hills, but instead, she reverts back to the Olivia I couldn’t stand in the beginning. I read the entire book twice and I still don’t get it. If some of the things hadn’t been written about the ménage the way they were, I might have bought it, but Alex, Anne and Jamie still came off specifically as a threesome still yearning for each other.Whatever the pretty words on the page said, why on earth would any reader think Olivia and Alex had any chance at all as a couple? It simply did not match the rest of the book, felt tacked on and not at all true to who at least Olivia had become. I felt cheated, like I missed a couple of chapters somewhere.
My Rating: C