I just finished Love Plus One, an erotica/thriller hybrid by Andrea Smith. I discovered this quirky novel after finding its prequel, Diamond Girl, on the Book Club Reading List.
“Sometime much later, I felt him carry me to my bedroom. He pulled the covers back and placed me gently on the bed. I felt him take his place beside me. His arms pulled me against him. We fell asleep curled around each other, as if it was an every night thing. My Taz.”
Diamond Girl, was about thirty-something Samantha Dennison’s journey to self-discovery. Love Plus One took up the story of her nineteen-year-old daughter, Lindsey.
Unlike her mother at that age, Lindsey Dennison has a strong sense of independence and self-identity. Unfortunately, learning about her father’s criminal activities and her parents’ unhappy marriage have left the college coed feeling lost and alone. Her mother has her new husband, FBI agent Eric Slater, and a new baby to get her through the previous roller coaster of a year.
Lindsey, on the other hand, doesn’t have anybody – not even her father, whose whereabouts are still unknown. And it gets worse when an anonymous stalker starts to make contact with her; could it be her father, looking for help? Or someone much more sinister?
Tension between Lindsey and her stepfather’s partner, FBI agent Trace Matthews, complicates matters even further. Their age difference alone accentuates the strange match between the headstrong, fearless pair. And both of them know that Eric and Samantha will not approve of their growing connection.
But Lindsey and Trace are drawn to one another, despite the numerous obstacles that continue to challenge them. The universe seems to agree; as events unfold, it becomes evident that the two must work together if they are ever going to wipe the chaos from the Dennison women’s’ lives.
A quick warning: I wouldn’t want to recommend this book without mentioning that there is one non-consensual scene. It was short, and not descriptive in the way that the actual romantic/intimate scenes were; it was clearly written with only plot and character development in mind. This occurred in Diamond Girl as well, and I forgot to mention it then.
Good pacing, and plenty of excitement
The story was interesting from start to finish. The more drama-heavy and romantic scenes were, in my opinion, just as engaging as the mystery/thriller-heavy scenes. There were a lot of competing angles to this story, but it wasn’t unbalanced in the least; the varying threads complemented one another, and flowed quite naturally.
Great intimate scenes
The sex scenes were absorbing, passionate, and well-written. They were neither gratuitously graphic, nor bland. I liked that during the intimate scenes, the power dynamics didn’t overshadow the romantic element, or vice versa. Lindsey and her love interest, Trace (aka Taz), had great physical chemistry.
Smith is not afraid to get dark
In this book, romance doesn’t solve all of the characters’ problems. Smith has created a narrative that, while exciting and romantic, showcases the mundane and downright frightening parts of life along with the good. Sure, there’s a sexy new love interest in Lindsey’s life, but she still has deal with awkward friendships, family crises, missing her dad, insecurity, and more. This book stands out because it doesn’t just ride off of the excitement of sexual tension and one primary conflict.
Things that didn’t do it for me
This is definitely a personal preference thing, but the gender portrayals turned me off. The women come off as completely dependent on men. Even Lindsey, who is written as a more “independent” woman, often reads like a silly girl who needs Taz to come fetch her from whatever party she’s flitted off to (parties at which she and her girlfriend generally talk about the dudes they have crushes on. I mean, they’re in college, right? You’d think they’d at some point discuss their studies, or current events, or movies, or something…). The men march into these women’s lives and just start bossing them around, and it’s written as attractive. I’m not attacking this particular book; I notice it in other novels, and it’s a pet peeve. Unless you’re Mr. Rochester, you’re not attractive if you’re bossy (and even he was only dateable to Jane after he’d gone through an event that put them on slightly more equal footing).
One last note on the gender dynamics in this novel annoying me: both Diamond Girl and Love Plus One included passages that emphatically detailed how the couples absolutely don’t have sex when the women are menstruating. I don’t know why it was brought up in the first place, but it bummed me out. A lot of people have sex when they’re on their period. The idea that of course a dude won’t touch a woman sexually at such a time was written in a very normative tone, which I found off-putting.
Obviously these types of relationship dynamics are popular with a lot of readers, and that’s fine. But I get the idea that in this series, it’s done unconsciously, and it isn’t my cup of tea.
There were a lot of great things about this book, and one thing – which was very much about personal preference – that I couldn’t really get past. As far as contemporary mystery/thriller/erotic romance novels go, it held up: it was exciting from start to finish, and the intimate scenes were fun. And in a lot of ways, I would argue that it’s better than the first book (both stories were exciting, but I liked that more attention was paid to a larger number of multi-dimensional characters in Love Plus One. Plus, the dialogue was better). Based on all of that, I want to give it four stars.
Here’s my quick take: If problematic gender dynamics are going to bum you out, then don’t read this book. If you are in it for the sex, family drama and development, and/or thrilling scenes, then I definitely recommend it.