Sunday, April 3, 2016

ARC Review: Ben by J.P. Barnaby

From her perch on a shelf above my bed, the doll accuses me with lifeless eyes of failing Juliette in the most heinous way imaginable, forcing me to crave the bite of his whip and the steel in his voice to drown out the ache in my chest.
For his entire life, Benjamin Martin’s parents drilled into his head that he must watch out for his little sister, but one horrific night, he failed. Now, the bite of a whip, cuffs digging into his wrists, his arms and legs stretched beyond endurance, these things give him what he needs to forget his sister’s violent death, at least for a while.

When Ben’s latest Dom casts him aside like a broken toy, he manipulates his best friend, Jude Archer, into picking up the pieces. Jude has been in love with Ben for years, but his fantasies about his friend never included whipping him. He doesn't understand why Ben needs BDSM and he worries about Ben’s addiction. Most of all, he fears losing his humanity because he’s already lost himself in Ben. When he’s forced to trade the marks upon his soul for the pain that ravages Ben, Jude learns the real definition of submission.

1st Edition published as Painting Fire on the Air by Dreamspinner Press, September 2013.

My rating:

When I saw this book being offered as an ARC, I hesitated. And then I messaged the author on FB to ask her whether my heart could take it. She assured me I'd be fine.

See, I'm not one for a lot of angst. Those books are few and far between, usually, and I'd heard of this book (as it's a second edition, with a revised title), and the others in this series as being very angsty. Full of heartache and pain.

But I trusted JP Barnaby when she said I could handle this one.

So I asked the publisher for a copy. I don't regret it. I don't regret having read this book, despite how it hurt my heart.

Ben Martin's pain is evident from the start. Something horrible happened to his sister, something for which he blames himself to this day, and the only thing that keeps him mostly sane is his submission, the pain he receives at the hands of his Dom, Kage.

Ben lives with his friend, Jude Archer, who's been in love with Ben for years, but who doesn't know the extent of what Ben does with his Dom. But then Ben's world comes to a crashing halt, when he loses the one thing that keeps him tethered to his sanity.

I cried a lot while reading this book, and I know that I won't be able to read its predecessor. The author pulls no punches with this story, and doesn't hold back from delving deeply into Ben's fractured heart, showing her readers with each word how much this man is suffering. The words flow, and they kept me glued to the pages, not only for the intense descriptions of the BDSM scenes, but also for the parts that put Jude front and center, Jude, who gives up pieces of himself to help the man he loves.

My niggle with this book is the ending - it felt rushed, as if we skipped over important parts. Yes, I got the happy ending I wanted, the ending I needed Ben and Jude to have, but I missed out on seeing their growth. Seeing how they moved up from that massive step Jude took, seeing how Ben reconciles with his parents, how he learns to accept forgiveness and forgive himself. I would have liked to see that.

Still, that's my hang-up, I suppose, and it shouldn't stop you from reading this book. There is growth, after all, in Ben and in Jude, and even Ben's old Dom can finally see Ben for the treasure he is, the one he gave up all to easily. Stupid Dom.

The author, though never preachy with her words, also makes it very clear that she knows what she's talking about when she writes about BDSM, about the scenes, about the roles of Dom and sub, the nuances in every relationship, and that the first rule of any BDSM relationship is that it's sane, safe, and consensual.

I liked that we didn't just get to see the inner workings of Ben, but also Jude's struggles as he finds himself in the role of a Dom to Ben, even as he hates himself for liking it. I think that's probably the biggest hurdle Jude had to overcome in his journey, and the one that held him back for most of it.

What also stood out was the difference between Kage and Jude when it came to caring for Ben. Kage apparently only saw Ben as a toy for himself, as someone to play with, have scenes with, providing the required aftercare as almost a chore, whereas Jude's primary thought was FOR Ben, applying care because he loved him, not because it was a requirement. Jude did what he did for Ben, unlike Kage, who came across as a selfish asshole.

I smile evilly when Kage gets put in his place - he deserved it. I cheered for Jude. And even more so for Ben, who learns and finally sees the difference too.

This is not a fluffy romance, not even close. But it is a love story.

** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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