Monday, November 17, 2008

In A Bind by Stephanie Bond *****

I had been listening to Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, narrated by Anna Fields. In fact, I was up to the part where Carmen takes Mr. Hosikawa upstairs. I've already read the book, so I know what happens. The thing is, I needed an audio book to listen to on my drive to town today, and frankly wasn't in the mood for Bel Canto. It's not romance, and while there is actually a happy ending for some of the characters, the ending is so jarring, so not-happy for other characters (which, if you haven't read it, is foretold in the first chapter, so I'm not really giving a spoiler) that I just couldn't do it.

So I went into my audible library and stared. What appealed to me? Nuttin'. Then I perused my wish list. Nuttin'. OK. I looked through the Blaze listings at audible - yeah, a Blaze - short and hot - sounded good.

Lucky for me, I happened into something new that I enjoyed! I didn't even realize it was a series by Stephanie Bond called Sex for Beginners. The premise is completely unique to me: 3 college friends took a class laughingly referred to as Sex For Beginners - a psychology class that examined sexuality. The teacher had each student write herself a letter containing a sexual fantasy, a letter the teacher vowed to send to each student 10 years later.*

It's 10 years later, and each heroine receives her letter. If the other 2 (Watch and Learn and No Peeking) are the same, the letter is the device that changes everything for the heroine.

In this story, Zoe Smythe is an international flight attendant from Atlanta, engaged to be married to Kevin in a month. She is on her last international flight, to Sydney, Australia, and after she marries she wants to be closer to home. In her section is a gorgeous, hunky Aussie - Colin Cannon - who unnerves her with his looks and his looking at her. During a break, she tries to work on her wedding plans, and opens mail she has brought along. In it she has received the letter from herself, 10 years earlier, with a fantasy of bondage. She hasn't thought about college or the letter or even this fantasy in years, and it also unnerves her.

Colin leaves his seat to find her, and motions to a lavatory - where they join the Mile High Club - and he uses his silk tie to restrain her hands. Although it is totally out of character for her, she believes, she felt drawn to him anyway, and was so ... tempted... unsettled... by her letter to herself, that she gives in to this one, uncharacteristic indulgence. She loves Kevin, really, but he has never exactly given a mind-blowing orgasm... and... well, she can't imagine Kevin ever agreeing to any bondage either, so just this once...

Later, at the resort hotel in Sydney where she and a co-worker are staying for a few days, she runs into Colin again. She angrily accuses him of following her, and discovers, to her chagrin, he actually owns the hotel. He offers her more of what they shared onboard the airplane - and she is tempted. She googles him, and learns he's a wealthy ex-soccer player who is often featured on the society pages with a certain woman on his arm.

In spite of her misgivings both about her own situation, and Colin's apparent relationship, she can't let the fantasy go, and finds herself knocking on his penthouse door.

Ok - without reciting the entire plot, they do spend several days together indulging in Zoe's bondage fantasies, and telling each other it's just sex, not love, a last-minute pre-wedding fling to get it out of their systems. What the author does well is start to put the nugget in the reader's mind about the same time the characters start to feel it - there is more than sex, there is emotion between them, and a relationship is building. When Colin takes her to his outback ranch and discovers how much she enjoys it, he compares Zoe's experience to his girlfriend's - which is just the opposite. The girlfriend hates it, and was actually attacked by magpies! I like how Ms. Bond showed me with their actions and dialog that they were falling in love without actually ever saying it to each other or even realizing it.

Of course - reality sets in, and Zoe must go back to Atlanta and her fiancé and the muddle of her wedding. I won't spoil it for anyone by saying what happens, although - hello! - it's romance and Zoe and Colin get a nice HEA. But the one thing I did not like was how she treated Kevin. By she I mean, actually, both Zoe and the author!

The narrator Gabra Zackman apparently does a lot of Harlequin books, and she's got a long list of other works at She's a competent narrator, and her Aussie accent sounded pretty good. She's a narrator that I would like to ask to stop using breathiness in her reading, though - she's not quite the actor that Anna Fields/Kate Fleming and Barbara Rosenblatt are. They can pull off all kinds of voices and inflections and make it sound good. Great even. In my opinion, most narrators I've heard should stick to reading with some inflection and some attempt at differentiating amongst voices but should not push it and try to act unless they have the Gift!

* I wanted to add, for any nay-sayers, that I took a psychology class in high school in which, similar to this story, we planned a reunion for 10 years hence at a specific spot in NYC on a specific date as part of an exercise. I actually remembered it but was not in a position to go to NYC, and hadn't kept up with any of my classmates (EGSP, Brazil, class of '73). I've often wondered if anyone showed up. I mention it in case anyone feels the premise is ridiculous and unrealistic.

Oh - it's a 5 star listen anyway!

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