Cruel to be Kind, by Stephanie Vaughan

>> Saturday, December 17, 2005

Cruel to be Kind was actually the first book I got by Stephanie Vaughan, but I didn't get around to reading it until after I'd read her two 2005 gay romance releases, Jumping the Fence and Crossing the Line.

Steve Eriksson is a regular guy. He likes basketball and beer. He works hard in his family's construction and restoration business. Steve’s normal life is about to change. Because he's about to meet Megan.

Professional chef Megan Mussina returns to her home town looking for some peace and quiet. A place to put her life back in order after the disaster of a relationship gone publicly wrong. A new man in her life is the last thing she wants. Until she meets Steve.

From the first they share an overpowering physical attraction. Steve is just the sort of powerful, successful submissive man Megan never knew she needed. And Megan knows the one thing Steve never knew he craved. Sometimes, you just gotta be Cruel to be Kind.
Unlike those other two books, CTBK has a romance between a man and a woman, but it's still one that is quite different from what you usually see in romance novels. Megan is a domme, while Steve is a submissive. This is actually a first for me. I've read a few books that had a certain hint of it, all of them with the hero as the dominant partner, and I didn't like any of them at all, so CTBK was a bit of an experiment for me. Would having the heroine be the dominant one make all the difference for me?

The answer is not really. Vaughan was very careful to lay this out as a relationship where the dominance and the submissiveness was something that had full and well thought-out consent from both of the partners, which was a marked improvement from those other books I'd read. The thing is, however, that I never got to viscerally understand Megan and Steve's relationship.

I understood it intellectually with no trouble at all, and I really had no problem with it in terms of approving or disapproving. But I just couldn't identify with the protagonists yearnings. Her gay romances weren't much of a stretch for me in that sense. What Ben and Kevin and Ryan and Jamie were looking for in a relationship is pretty much what I look for, even if I look for it in people of the opposite sex. It's just the same impulse that makes me attracted to men, the same thinking.

It's different here. I didn't completely get the need for dominance, in Megan's case and for submission in Steve's. The shame is Vaughan had been doing a pretty good job in the first half, and I'd began to have a certain inkling of where these two were coming from, but in the second, especially in the very last pages, when they leave for San Francisco, all this seemed to dissipate, and the action left me scratching my head.

Maybe it's unfair of me, because, in a way, I'm penalizing this book for not succeeding in "educating" me. Maybe if this had been the fifth book I'd read about this subject matter I'd have liked this much better. However, I am grading for my enjoyment of the book, and since this affected my enjoyment...

Also, this one had the same problem the other books had: length. It was much too short and could have done with a bit more development of the romantic relationship. Also, I got the feeling quite a few things were left hanging, as some truly puzzling hints about a certain past between Steve and his brother's wife. I really don't know what that was about... maybe a reference to another book?

So, basically, an intriguing book that was ultimately pretty unsatisfying. A C+.

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