Confession time: I’ve never read a Susan Johnson book before. I’m not sure why since Johnson has been writing romances for quite a long time, but somehow I never picked one up. I was happy to review Hot Pink so that unfortunate situation could be rectified. But perhaps Hot Pink wasn’t the right Johnson to start with, because it utterly failed to inspire me with a desire to read more of her books.
Hot Pink starts when Chloe Chisholm encounters Rocco Vinelli in an elevator. He looks just like Goran Visnjic on ER (her dream man) and he’s a “damned fine representative of his gender.” Even better, he’s wearing hand-stitched, custom-made shoes – what more could Chloe possibly want in a guy? By page 23 they’re having unbelievably hot sex. When I say unbelievably, I really mean it. Rocco isn’t just capable of several acts of intercourse in a row, which is true of most romance heroes; he goes well beyond that. He stays, shall we say, rigid, regardless of how many orgasms he experiences. It made me wonder if he’d accidentally ingested a bottle of Viagra before they met, or if he simply had some sort of physical problem. Either way, it’s not very realistic, but after all, this is a novel. I’m willing to overlook a little silliness as long as the book is enjoyable.
Unfortunately, it’s not. Rocco is a total wuss – never a good thing in a romance hero. He’s already involved with a woman, in a manner of speaking, and this is where my problems with the book began. He takes Chloe home, has sex with her, and fails to mention he has a semi-fiancee. What on earth is a semi-fiancee, you ask? Well, it’s complicated. Rocco’s new soap, shampoo, and fragrance line is being partially financed by Jim Thiebaud, and Amy, Jim’s horribly spoiled daughter, is taking advantage of this situation by trying to force Rocco to marry her. Amy is a total psycho who’s managed to convince her parents that she and Rocco are on the verge of engagement, and Rocco can’t bring himself to simply tell her to go to hell, because Jim might withdraw his financing. So he lets Amy lead him around by the nose, even though he has the hots for Chloe.
Rocco has his reasons for this, not the least of which is that members of his family are involved in his business, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a wimp. To put it bluntly, Rocco lies like a rug to both his business partner and the woman he’s sleeping with. This totally destroyed any respect I might have for him and makes him the most utterly spineless hero I have ever come across. Then again, who needs a spine when you have another rigid anatomical structure keeping you upright?
Rocco’s gutlessness really irritated me. But he gets worse. About a third of the way through the book there’s a very disturbing scene where Rocco virtually rapes Chloe. Chloe repeatedly kicks and punches him in her own defense, but to no avail. I was totally put off by this scene, which didn’t appear to add much to the plotline and was evidently just there for the shock value. It worked – I was shocked. So Rocco is a wuss, a liar, and a rapist to boot. Let’s refer to him as the “protagonist,” because “hero” just isn’t the right word.
Chloe is a slightly better character, although not particularly endearing. She has her own small graphics and web design firm, and she works like a maniac – as the book opens she’s been working “day and night for three weeks on a humongous web site.” She’s a bit of an attention seeker: She’s dyed her hair pink, she wears short skirts and high heels, and she enjoys having men stare at her when she walks into a room because it gives her “such a sense of power.” She’s a little self-satisfied and smug for my personal taste, but at least she starts out as a strong character with a strong sex drive – the quintessential modern woman.
Unfortunately, her attraction to Rocco disturbs her “previously self-indulgent, amusing, vastly contented life,” and she finds herself thinking about Rocco much more than she likes. Annoyed by Rocco’s continuing relationship with his semi-fiancee, she promptly goes and finds Colin, a much younger man with whom she has casual sex. Colin is barely 21, looks like a “sexy street punk movie star,” and is so callow that his idea of a pickup line is: “I’ve been having wet dreams about you for months.” At this point I lost my respect for Chloe, too. Colin is a nice kid, but she’s so obviously using him that it’s painful to watch.
To my way of thinking, there are two kinds of erotica. The first requires craftsmanship by the author, and relies on the slow, careful building of sexual tension between the characters. The second throws the hero and heroine into bed together for marathon sex in various positions. This book definitely falls into the second camp. There’s nothing wrong with lots of sex scenes, but oddly enough for an author who’s known for erotica, the sex scenes didn’t seem very erotic. (In my opinion, the sexiest “love scene” in the book involved phone sex.) There were a lot of somewhat crass words used, but blunt words aren’t enough to make a sex scene erotic. I rated the book “burning” because of the frequent sex scenes and the language, but somehow the sex in this book really didn’t impress me much. And the forced sex scene made me wonder why on earth Chloe would continue to go out with this guy, let alone sleep with him.
Another thing that bothered me about this book was the head-hopping. I can take a shift or two in viewpoint occasionally, but the viewpoints in this book jump back and forth, sometimes every paragraph. Nearly every time Chloe and Rocco speak we shift viewpoint. On page 11, for example, I counted six POV shifts. It’s enough to give a reader whiplash.
There isn’t much of an emotional bond between Chloe and Rocco, just a lot of sex. Even the ending isn’t really convincing. This wouldn’t bother me if the book hadn’t been clearly labeled “contemporary romance.” In a romance, however, I like to feel a connection between the main characters that’s more than just sex. I simply didn’t feel that here. In fact, I didn’t feel too much of anything, and certainly not a desire to explore Susan Johnson’s backlist. Hot Pink was more than enough for me.