Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review- Heart of Change by Roxy Harte

Heart of Change
by Roxy Harte
March 23, 2010
Contemporary/ Bisexual/ Lesbian/ f/f / m/f
60+ K- $5.50 currently $4.95
Ebook- Samahin

Buy it Samhain (MBaM)

True love hides where you least suspect it.

After the truth comes out about her age, forty-something porn star Simone Sinclair is handed her walking papers, ending a career that has become more extreme sport than art form. The final straw is her long-time partner’s idea to start their own international studio with a marriage proposal tossed in to sweeten the deal. After two decades of waiting for him to deliver the white picket fence, it’s not exactly the offer she was expecting.

At least she doesn’t need a man to answer the alarm of her biological clock. And when she shares a dance with Geri, one of her lesbian gal pals, she discovers she doesn’t need a man to fulfill other fantasies, either. But Geri’s not interested in touch and tease—she wants more than Simone is ready to give.

Torn between three dreams—a post-retirement career, a family, or lasting love—Simone retreats to get her head on straight, coming to one conclusion. She can’t have everything. But two out of three is worse than nothing at all…

Heart of Change was a surprisingly good find for me. While not a perfect story by any means, the author managed to keep this contemporary interesting enough for me to keep reading and care about the characters. The overall feeling I had about this book was that it was enjoyable and affected me on many levels. It’s mainly a story about growth and opening up to new possibilities through love.

What I liked:

Heart of Change started out great for me. I’m partial to a female protagonist who works in a profession considered immoral (sex trade) and who openly enjoys it. I especially like it when there’s no stereotypical justification given for it either to make the reader more sympathetic or comfortable like: using funds for school, an abusive past, they are psychologically damaged, etc. I’d rather read a character who unabashedly loves being a whore, stripper, or in this case, a porn star and makes no excuses.

So right away, I really liked Simone since I felt that she actually enjoys being a porn star and owns her sexuality.

Second, I felt that Simone is a very self aware person. This story is written in first person present tense, which normally is hard for me to read. However, this gave significant insight into Simone’s head. She’s a deep and real person, not some fluffy bimbo. She gets that her relationship with Simon is hurting her. But she also has an attachment to him that she just can’t shake. Simone also self reflects about her life in general and how she acts, taking full responsibility for her actions, which is a character trait I admire.

She loves being a porn star and has been able to compartmentalize that sex as just work having nothing to do with love and relationships. And it really hasn’t made her jaded about men and sex, although at the same time, because of it, she won’t date. I felt it good that she wasn’t portrayed as a flaky sex maniac, but as someone who has some self discipline and makes her own choices.

Simone has been meeting up with a group of lesbians at a bar for 6 years every Friday night. This I liked also because I think it’s unusual that a group of lesbians would befriend a porn star, the very type of woman who perpetuates woman as sex objects, which those lesbian friends find objectionable. However, personally, I love the idea that people can meet as humans and go beyond differences like that to be friends. So this is also something I got off on in this story. Simone is made to feel welcome and comfortable even if she’s doing something they detest and she doesn’t hide or make excuses. They all accept each other knowing exactly what’s going on.

Thirdly, another break in the usual is that Geri, out of all the lesbian friends, is the most serious and intimidating and she scares Simone because she’s been the most outspoken against what Simone does. And yet, it’s Geri who Simone starts feeling something for and thinks is the most beautiful. Since we don’t get into the head of Geri due to POV, it’s hard to tell where she’s coming from. But she’s written as having some gender identification issues, which I also enjoyed because she wasn’t just a stereotypical butch type of lesbian.

Geri herself is a top who likes to pack (wears a strap-on while going out), but feels self conscious about it. She’s very male-ish in her appearance but she never comes across as an aggressive butch type. In fact, she’s got her own stuff going on and is more insecure and tender than aggressive, even when she’s being dominant. She’s as complex a character as Simone and is vulnerable with relationship issues as well. So none of this is stereotypical, but came across as real. I feel most people are usually complex with huge contradictions so I like to read characters that don’t act in stereotypical ways. In this book that’s what we get.

How Geri and Simone get together is very sweetly written. It’s rather poignant and emotionally honest, both of them feeling something for each other but both in foreign worlds; Simone never having been with a woman or even attracted to a woman, and Geri having feelings for a straight woman and a woman who does something Geri detests.

Because of the attraction and love both women feel, they are forced to re-evaluate their own personal reality and what is true for them. For instance, not knowing the “lesbian” rules, Simone does something sexual to Geri that normally as a top she would never allow, but feels OK to let Simone do. And for Simone, being with Geri gets her in touch with that part of her that wants sex to mean something deep and spiritual.

I think because both women are so out of their normal element, they can allow themselves to change and open up to new things about themselves that they normally wouldn’t do when operating in their normal worlds. The idea that change and growth can happen in love is big in this story, which was a positive for me.

Now to the things I had issues with:

I felt the story got bogged down with too much emo stuff at times. I get Simone. I get dysfunctional and co-dependent relationships. I do. But in a story I don’t want to read pages and pages of that back and forth, trying to break away, yet keep coming back thing. This gets annoying after a while. It’s also too much reality for me and my issue with contemporaries often.

This is what went on between Simone and Simon for most of the book. He knows he can push her buttons and he does. I did feel that he himself thinks that he loves Simone and that she loves him on some level. However, it’s not a good kind of love. It’s a manipulative kind of love and throughout the story, Simone keeps giving in to Simon even as she fights for some independence. After a while I was like, “please, just dump that guy. Why do you keep staying involved with him, WHY? It’s been 20 effing years of this.” Especially since they’ve really never had a love relationship.

Then there’s Geri and Simone’s relationship. There was way too much of the misunderstanding and lack of communication trope going on. At times, I just didn’t get these two. Especially Geri. Yes, the author makes is clear that Geri has relationship issues and that she’s never been able to go far in one. But it went too far for me at times. Simone and Geri meet up, have great sex, and it’s clear they really want each other, that they love each other. And yet, they each keep taking off, dealing with business stuff without communicating what’s going on or how long they will be away. Or saying hurtful things out of fears that other doesn’t want them. What is that?!

Simone even makes huge life decisions like having a baby and moving to a foreign country without sharing with Geri first. This is no foundation for a long-term relationship.

When this type of back and forth goes on I really wonder about the relationship long term. If they’ve started out with what seems to be a complete lack of that “I want you and I need you” energy enough to stay in touch, I have my doubts about a long term deal. Although for the record, this is an HFN with a bullet to an HEA. And Geri, fortunately, is also a self reflecting type who admits she has issues but wants to work on them and through them with Simone. So no worries that they are left off in ambiguity about their relationship.

Then there’s the old “am I a lesbian?” thing that is starting to push my buttons in these kinds of stories. I do get that an up-till-now straight woman would start to question her sexual orientation when suddenly falling in love with a woman. It’s normal and natural to do so I think. But in this case, I wondered why Simone was so uptight about it initially.

Until Geri, Simone has never been with a woman. OK, first off, I had a hard time believing that she’s never, ever been with a woman sexually as a porn star. I mean it’s practically a given that as a porn star you’re going to be with a woman at some point. Especially after 20 years. But OK, let’s pretend she never was. Simone realizes after being with Geri and wanting and needing her so much that she’s never actually felt that towards a man. But she also loves cock and feels that she’s had some feelings for Simon who is a man. So is she, or isn’t she a lesbian?

We get her angsting about it for a short while. Even almost getting angry that she might be. She decides that she’s a lesbian in the end, even if she still wants cock. Why, why is this an issue that a character has to be one or the other?

Simone hangs out with lesbians. She has no sexual hang-ups really. She’s in love with a woman after a lifetime of fucking men all the time and enjoying it. Why this stressing over fitting into a specific category? Especially, why a negative fear that she’s a lesbian. What’s so wrong about being a lesbian? And what’s so wrong about loving cock, men and loving a woman as well? Fortunately, this only goes on for a short time and it’s not discussed any more for the rest of the book.

Obviously since this review is really long, there was a lot in it for me. It touched me on several levels and was not a easy breezy fluffy love story. While there is lots of sex in this story, I was more affected by the relationship dynamics and feelings between the women. I definitely recommend Heart of Change for anyone who wants a good f/f story that's not just about the sex.

Sex rating: Orgasmic- many graphically written sexual scenarios. F/f, m/f, strap-on, slight hints of D/s and BDSM

Grade: B+


M. A. said...

Lovely review!

I'll definitely consider "Heart of Change." I'm a tad worried I'll be put off by the "Am I lesbian?" crisis.

LVLM said...

M.A. if the whole "am I a lesbian" thing is a deal breaker than yeah you have to consider that. Although it wasn't something that went on through the whole book. It was a minor part. It pushed me this time when usually I don't have too many issues with it because Simone hangs out with lesbians and I felt her fearing she might be one to be off.

But really, other issues were more frustrating for me.

I never mentioned in the review either and I don't know why because it's a big part of the story, but Simone decides to have a baby and does in vitro.

This might push some buttons as well on people, an older single mom. It was just another part of the story for me but obviously I was more into the relationship dynamics as I forgot to mention the baby.

M. A. said...

Well, your review's great. Simone sounds like a remarkable character. I'm definitely thinking about it, but I might have to pass.

I've read some great first person books, but I don't always enjoy the "one-sided slant" it gives a story. For some reason, I've found erotica written this way extremely unpalatable. I haven't been able to put my finger on why. I really enjoyed LKH's Anita Blake series until she jumped the shark to erotica. I just got tired of reading chapters and chapters about what Anita felt/saw/experienced.

LVLM said...

Yeah, first person present is kind of hard to take over a longer book for me. It's a double edged sword.

You get really deep into what's going on with one character, deeper than 3rd person POV, but then you miss out on where the others are coming from.

And I think it can only work really well if the main character has some character, you know? Simone is a dynamic and interesting character who could carry a 1st person POV for a longer book. But a weaker written character, no. It would be too boring or irritating.

After a while in this story I forgot that it's first person present and just got into it, but it was a bit jarring at first.

Cathy in AK said...

I have no issues with first person, but present tense puts me off for some reason. A shorter piece I might be able to handle, but it would take getting used to for a novel.

Your mention of the "emo stuff" has me waffling about this one. I'm not an emo kind of gal : )

Overall, however, I'm glad to see this book out there and wish the author the best.

BTW, LVLM, if you like stories where women "in the business" enjoy themselves and make no excuses, have you read Money Shot by Christa Faust? It's noir-ish, not f/f, but a good read.

LVLM said...

Cathy, I hear you about the emo stuff. While not as emo as some books that I've read, I do get tired of the lack of communication and angsting about it.

I much prefer to read two people who are attracted and can't get enough of each other. Heh. Maybe even erring on the side of "get a room already."

But this is so common in contemps. Especially I see it very prominent in f/f because women are more emotive and shary feely about their feelings. I see it also in m/m at times, but not as much. But I don't see it so much in m/f contemps. Most probably because the gender differences and dynamics can carry a story a lot more easily without the emo drama.

Unfortunately, with f/f there seems to be a plethora of contemps and a distinct lack of any other sub genre.

But in this case Simone and Geri were compelling characters to me, so that's what made this book better for me than what it might have been given the issues I had.

I haven't read Christa Faust. But I do love noir.

As far as f/f goes, Kirsten's character Viera is one example of a whore who really enjoys herself. She's a really juicy character.

And Lisabet Sarai's Exposure had a main character who was a stripper who loved her work as well.

I have a lesbian noir/ thriller. Maybe I need to get to that one soon. heh.

M. A. said...

That sounds interesting, Cathy.

I've researched prostitution in various historical eras, and I do believe that some women (and men) did willingly enter the business in preference to other alternatives. Like any other job, it's not for everyone, but I am able to see how some would be fine at it and even excel at it.

Cathy in AK said...

M.A., I think you'd like Money Shot too. Faust's MC is a former porn star who owns her own casting agency. She provides mostly female actors a safe and reliable way to book gigs. The decision to do a "final hurrah" pic, however, gets her caught up in some bad, bad stuff.

But I loved her attitude. I don't recall if she came from a terrible background or whatever. She just enjoyed what she did as a young film star and then parlayed that experience into a lucrative business.

The lesbian noir/thriller sounds fun, LVLM. Do that one next : )

Kirsten's character Viera is one example of a whore who really enjoys herself. She's a really juicy character.

I liked Viera for that reason too. Love your work, whether it's whoring or accounting : )

Roxy Harte said...

Thanks for the awesome review