You know when you’ve got a really painful sore in your mouth and you just can’t stop yourself from checking it over and over to see if it still hurts? Okay, so this little exercise in masochism is stupid. And perverse. But I would also argue that there’s a real sense of optimism behind that perversity – hey, someday it’s not going to hurt anymore and we’re all just waiting for that magic moment.
Believe it or not, that very same logic prompted me to choose to review the latest by Susan Johnson. Despite the excruciating pain to which I was subjected during my first foray into her contemporary romances, the wide-eyed optimist in me remains hopeful that someday Susan Johnson will return to writing the kind of complicated, multi-layered, erotic romances I once loved so much.
I tried to keep that optimism going. Really I did. But no matter how loudly I hummed Tomorrow, it all started to go downhill the second I took a casual glance at the book’s cartoon cover. Now, for the record I have pretty low standards for cartoon covers, so it’s really something when I say that this is the worst – the absolute worst – I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to describe just how bad it is, but the two characters on the cover kind of look like those pointy-nosed people in the smutty comics (you know the ones I’m talking about) passed around in high school. They are, in a word, smarmy.
But, since there’s no better word than the aforementioned smarmy to describe video game gazillionaire Danny Rees and comic book store owner Stella Scott, you might, on the positive side, say that the artist perfectly captures – gosh darn it – the essence of the book. But “smarmy” alone just doesn’t cover it. In order to get a full picture of Danny and Stella, “shallow” and “juvenile” should be added to the mix.
As for the plot . . . if you find one, will you let me know? The way I see it, Danny and Stella have lots of fights and lots of sex involving mondo, semi-permanent erections and an array of sex toys. Oh, there are a few other “subplots” (quotes intended) involving Danny suspecting Stella of stealing his video game secrets, giving him a chance to act really pissy, and a secondary romance between two equally shallow characters. And, since this book is 297 pages long (though the type is so large it wouldn’t be out of place in a fourth-grade textbook), you get lots and lots of fights and lots and lots of sex for your money.
What makes all this so painful – make that so incredibly painful – is that this author knows better. Oh, my, does she know better and for proof of that contention I submit for your approval Forbidden, Silver Flame, and Outlaw, all of them flat-out fabulous, sexy, meaty historicals so textured they sometimes compare – and I really mean this – to the phenomenal Judith Ivory. And, coming from one of Ms. Ivory’s biggest fans, that is a very big compliment.
Sometimes, as a reviewer you come across books that are so bad you actually feel sorry for the author. (Really.) But, while this book ranks right up there on my list of all time baddies, I simply don’t have it in me to feel sympathy for anybody but unsuspecting readers. Hot Spot, to put it bluntly, feels like a first draft – and a bad one at that. Add in the fact that the contrast between this book and the novels I mentioned above is so unbelievably wide it’s almost impossible to believe they were written by the same person. It’s one thing if an author can’t do any better…it’s altogether something else to know that she can.
So, my latest little bout of masochism is over. Check performed, answer obtained. Wading through each and every painful page of Susan Johnson’s latest confirms the worst. It still hurts. Bad.