Title: Spare the Rod
Series: Heretic Doms Club: Book Three
Author: Marie Sexton
Publisher: Amazon/Kindle Unlimited
Length: 388 Pages
Category: Contemporary, BDSM
At a Glance: There were some truly lovely scenes in this book, particularly in Avery’s evolution. In the end, however, Spare the Rod had a messaging problem for me. It tried to take on too much and ended up not accomplishing enough.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Gray Andino is a Denver cop with a pain kink and a history of falling in love with the wrong people. He’s jealous of his friends’ newfound happiness, but with a brain that won’t shut up and a need to argue everything, finding his own soul mate seems impossible, so he settles for meaningless sex and doling out pain with willing subs.
Subs like Avery Barron.
When Avery asks to stay with Gray for a few weeks, Gray reluctantly agrees. Avery may be the perfect sub, but as an accidental roommate, he sucks. The younger child of rich, indulgent parents, Avery is an entitled slob with a disdain for rules, a lack of ambition, and an obsession with social media. Gray tolerates his presence, but when Avery breaks one of Gray’s ground rules, he punishes him and takes away his phone.
Deprived of his usual echo chamber, Avery feels lost until he discovers a local Tap House, a piano, and his buried love of music. The more Avery plays, the more the community around him blossoms. For the first time in his life, Avery has a purpose and goals for the future. But the thing he longs for most—Gray’s love and respect—may be forever out of reach.
Review: Wow, where to begin? Phew. I guess I’ll start by saying I was looking so forward to this book and now that I’ve finished it, I can see why the author agonized over how it would be received. I won’t mince words: This was a problematic read for me. It’s a book that made some valid points which were then topped with some “both sides” weak sauce, and in the end, I had a difficult time accepting that this is the book a character like Gray Andino deserved.
It’s the one I got, though, so here we go.
I first and foremost want to say that I didn’t roundly dismiss this book simply because I wasn’t on board with all of its messaging. It is deliberate in its political posturing, and I did “listen”. I feel I gave it the due consideration the author was hoping for. The truth exists, however, that introducing politics of any stripe into a romance novel is always, always a risk. If I’ve said that once, I’ve said it a dozen times, because many of us don’t read the romance genre to become further entrenched in real-world current events. We read to forget about them for a while since we’re otherwise bombarded by the reality shitshow every waking moment of the day. If I want happiness to die, I have Twitter to turn to for that, which is, in a lovely bit of complementary commentary, a major talking point in Spare the Rod. It takes a deliberate poke at some of the toxicity inherent in social media, and that’s a scintilla of storyline I could relate to.
Avery Barron is a SJW who spends every waking moment on social media. The FOMO is real, and he exists in such a vacuum that his contribution to the discourse consists of no critical thinking whatsoever. He parrots mis- and disinformation and falls for the clickbait headlines without reading and absorbing the substance of the articles let alone fact checking them. He attacks first and does no follow-up research later to make sure he’s right. Everyone who disagrees with him is the Enemy. He’s right by default simply because everyone else is weaker and stupider than he is. A successful day, by Avery’s standards, is a day where he’s harassed and belittled someone off a social media platform for the most minor of infractions, typically little more than disagreeing with him. He’s full of manufactured outrage and scorn but has no solid platform to support his arguments.
Avery is not irredeemable, though. Forced limitation of his screen time—handed down as punishment when Gray wants to teach him a lesson—and then interacting with the real world did Avery a wealth of good, and I think Sexton did a great job of turning him around. Once the layer of blustering obtuseness was peeled away and he quit swimming in a soup of his own arrogance, he was sweet, vulnerable, and charming.
Gray is the character who has stolen every scene he’s ever appeared in since book one of this series. He was the most enigmatic of all the Heretic Doms up to now, although one thing was always clear: Gray is a sadist. Well, a second thing is also made clear as crystal: he’s in love with Phil, which plays a minor conflict in the story along the way. At its romantic core, though, this book is about Gray finding his perfect masochistic sub, the one person who will finally become Gray’s safe place to land, but that person is, for obvious reasons, far from Avery in the beginning. Avery is the spoiled, opinionated, immature twenty-five-year-old son of wealthy parents who’ve just kicked him out of their house for being a slacker when Gray takes him in. While Gray was wildly attracted to Avery’s ability to take a spanking, cropping, and flogging like a pro, Avery’s personality and personal habits were so off-putting that Gray came to loathe his new roommate on more than just principle. It took no small amount of coaxing from his friends, along with some critical examination on Gray’s part, to finally see how much Avery had grown. And not only grown, but that he’d become a man Gray could admire and respect.
There were some truly lovely scenes in this book: Avery rediscovering his passion for music and the way he used it as a means of bringing joy to average, everyday people; watching Avery blossom as he begins to earn money doing something he loves and seeing the pride in his talents grow; Avery finally realizing that Gray cares for him beyond a roomie with benefits who is the kinky yin to Gray’s yang; and the courage it gives Avery to trust Gray and share his secrets. The problem for me was that Spare the Rod covers such a huge swath of political commentary, and a rather pie-eyed oversimplification of what are truly complex and complicated issues, that it achieved the unfortunate effect of overshadowing the romance. Gray and Avery spend no small amount of time in this novel barely speaking to let alone spending time with each other, and, in the end, I don’t in any way feel this book is in the same league with the first two books in the series, which I thought were both gorgeous.
Overall, Spare the Rod had a messaging problem for me. It tried to take on too much and ended up not accomplishing enough. Can there, should there, always be a “both sides”? No. That’s too pat, and the blame can’t always be ascribed to simply being intolerant of someone else’s views. The narrative sidesteps some of the moral and philosophical issue where “both sides” just should not, cannot, coexist. The book did achieve a super-sweet Happily Ever After, though, so mission accomplished there. I still love Gray and love Avery, now, as well. And I’m absolutely looking forward to the next book, Charlie’s book, in the series.
You can buy Spare the Rod here:
[zilla_button url=”http://authl.it/B07YVL13SD?d” style=”black” size=”large” type=”round” target=”_blank”] Amazon/Kindle Unlimited [/zilla_button]