Velvet Glove by Emma Holly

velvet glove.jpg Audrey realizes she’s in over her head when she gets embroiled with icy-cool banker, Sterling. His ideas of adult fun are more than she can handle, so she packs her bags and walks out of his luxury Florida apartment, heading back to Washington DC in search of a regular life with a regular guy. But for a girl like Audrey, this is not as easy as it sounds.

When Patrick Dugan, the charismatic owner of an old-world bar, fixes Audrey in his sights, some strange alliances are about to be formed. Within a week Audrey talks her way into a job at Patrick’s bar and a room in the apartment he shares with a drag queen jazz singer called Basil. The highly sexed roommates are soon getting intimate with each other, even experimenting with games of kinky SM sex. But Audrey soon suspects that Patrick is not all that he seems. Why is he pretending to be gay? And what is he covering up for his father, a pillar of the local community? Audrey is so affected by the enigmatic, dominant barman that she doesn’t realise they are connected by a mutual adversary – a cold-hearted man who will take them all down if he doesn’t get what he wants.

HelenKay:  There is a movement to define what constitutes a real romance novel – to limit the genre to include only certain types of relationships and sanction only certain portrayals of love as being true and worthy of the title of a romance novel. Emma Holly is one of those authors over whom readers and fellow writers draw battle lines.  Some people love her style and think, while she stretches the boundaries, her work falls within the definition of romance.  Others hold her out as an example of what’s wrong with the new push in romance for hotter and steamier works at the expense of ideas of what is traditionally considered romance.  Velvet Glove, a re-release of an earlier erotic novel, re-labeled an "erotic romance" by the publisher, actually strays far enough to be considered something other than romance. 

Holly writes in a strong and vibrant style in short scenes that keep the story humming, despite the lack of a coherent plot.  Every word appears to be carefully chosen, without room for unnecessary lines and paragraphs.  She sets a scene with vivid detail so that the reader is pulled into the surroundings and into the story until she feels as if she is standing in the room with the characters. Holly’s gift is in her ability to write honest dialog that carries both through mundane activities and sexually charged moments.  She does not flinch or apologize for her daring, and some would say non-traditional, sex scenes.  In this case, the sexual activities include bondage, spanking and S&M.

The story falters from the beginning.  The difficulty centers around the heroine, Audrey.  She is shallow and needy and shows almost no personal growth from page 1 through page 233.  Her personality appears to consist only of her sexuality.  One-dimensional in nature, she roams through the book playing a game of musical chairs with the other characters and having sex with nearly every male – stranger or not – and one female, until she is left with Patrick.  Very late in the book, somewhere around page 215, without any real understanding of why this happens, and based on a flimsy personal revelation by Audrey concerning the hero, Patrick, Audrey engages in group sex with folks other than Patrick. The act and scene do not flow from what came before and feel out of place. Further, this act confirms Audrey’s static nature in that she stands at exactly the same place at the end of the book as she did at the beginning.  One gets the feeling she ends up with Patrick only because he is the person she is with when the book ends, not because there is any true and abiding feeling flowing from Audrey to Patrick.

If the central idea in a romance novel is the nurturing of a strong and developing bond between two people as they overcome conflict and move toward a satisfying ending and possible future together, this book misses the mark.  There exists an almost inexplicable attraction by Patrick for Audrey.  The relationship is not developed in any way that would clue the reader in as to the basis of Patrick’s feelings and devotion, separate from sexual attraction.  This is not enough to sustain a romance premise.  Patrick’s ending declarations of love ring hollow because it is difficult to understand how he arrived at that place.  The general sense is one of: why does Patrick love her.  And, Audrey’s feelings for Patrick arise out of the idea that they are sexually compatible and that he treats her better than her last dominant partner, Sterling, who appears at the beginning and end of the story and is unlikable both times.  As a basis for a relationship, this is slim.  The conflict, separate from the problems presented by Sterling, also is slim to the point of being non-existent.

Part of the disappointment with this book is a result of Holly’s other strong and compelling works.  Strange Attractions  and In The Flesh – both sexy and non-traditional – are examples of Holly’s incredible talent and ability to mesh an erotic storyline with romance.  Velvet Glove does not rise to that level.  The erotic aspects might work for some but this book should not be marketed as a romance since it lacks the form and substance one associates with romance fiction.

Wendy:  Emma Holly never fails to spark debate amongst those who love to carve out categories and neatly assign authors a stratum.  Is her work romance?  Is it not romance?  Is it erotica?  Is it, as her recent Cheek re-releases claim, erotic romance?  Or is Emma Holly fashioning her own Emma Holly genre?

Unfortunately, Velvet Glove does not help clear these muddy waters because it is a work without a central plot.  Holly sets up multiple storylines in this novel, any of which, if explored to their fullest, would have made a compelling read.  However, as they exist in the final product, none are fully realized and limp along disjointedly due to the lack of development. 

The story’s forward momentum begins when the heroine, Audrey, runs from her overly domineering sexual master Sterling. Sterling vows to bring Audrey back, to teach her who is dominant in their relationship; however, because Sterling is an anemically fleshed out character, his actions and threats ring hollow.  The motivations to support his actions are never given so much as a broad brush stroke of explanation. After the first chapter, Sterling is little more than an ineffectual boogieman as he doesn’t appear again, oddly, for another two hundred pages.

From Sterling, Audrey flees into three love triangles: 1) Audrey, her long time friend Tommy, and bar owner/player in the local S&M scene Patrick; 2) Audrey, Patrick, and Patrick’s employee, cross-dressing, bi-sexual, Basil; and finally 3) Audrey, Tommy, and Tommy’s girlfriend Cynthia.

Holly spends the requisite time setting up these possibilities and the players’ involvement, then allows the threads to drift away without further expansion, drawing none of the scenarios to their climax.  Of the three, the Audrey-Tommy-Cynthia triangle could have proven compelling as Tommy is the most developed, consistent, and likable character in the cast.  Tommy, like many of Holly’s best heroes, is a beta, the long suffering and passed over best friend of Audrey, hopelessly devoted to her, losing patience in his quest for Audrey to notice him.  Cynthia is in love with both Tommy and Audrey but clear headed enough to know where his and Audrey’s loyalties lie.  The remaining triangles fall flat because little time is given to Patrick, the character most likely to be the hero.  He isn’t developed beyond what we know of him when we first meet him: he has abandonment issues and he likes to dominate.  He is a difficult hero to root for, because, like Sterling, he never makes it past one dimensional status.

The pacing hiccups and stutters along as characters given importance early on are ignored for the bulk of the book while Audrey drifts from scene to scene.  Her growth is minimal, with little self discovery between the opening chapter and the final pages, despite numerous opportunities for a hero’s journey.  From the beginning we are given to understand that Audrey wants to be dominated while retaining a sense of her own control, a sense of herself. Yet, in the end, she is at the same point.

What’s left then, of Velvet Glove, is an unsatisfying romance. The love aspect of Audrey and Patrick’s relationship is never established and, further, there are few pages of the book devoted to the two of them.

Ultimately, Holly’s trademark daring and heat can’t save this work’s lack of focus, under developed characters, and lack of central story momentum.

Wendy’s response to HelenKay:  Obviously we were both disillusioned by this offering–and I was surprised to be so let down–do you suppose your disappointment in this work is greater because of your Emma Holly expectations?  Or would you feel likewise if another author’s name were on the cover?

HelenKay’s response to Wendy:  There’s no question I expected more from Holly.  Her other works didn’t suffer from the limitations that this one did.  But, lack of conflict, a paper thin plot and an uninteresting heroine is a recipe for disaster in the hands of any writer.  At least you found something positive in the Audrey-Tommy-Cynthia relationship.  I couldn’t find anything redeeming in Audrey or this story or in her relationships with Sterling, Tommy, Cynthia, Basil, the guy at the bachelor party, Patrick…it was all too much.  Or, maybe, not enough of anything I cared about. 

HelenKay’s Grade:  While this is difficult for me to do in light of my respect for Holly and her talent, I give it a C-.  Anyone who wants to try erotic romance should try Emma Holly, but not this one.  As far as whether or not you should buy this for Aunt Gertie, I’d say no unless Gertie is very progressive and not looking for a romance.

Wendy’s Grade:  This book broke my fangirl heart: C.

You can visit Emma Holly here and purchase her book here or here.

4 thoughts on “Velvet Glove by Emma Holly

  1. I agree with you guys about Audrey lacking substance. But as for the other problems–the speed of the story basically swept me away. I also loved how very different it all was.
    Frankly, this is what I found most interesting in the review: You guys honestly think Strange Attractions is a lot better than Velvet Glove? I actually think the two books are very similar in many crucial ways. In terms of heroine growth and the attachment between the hero and heroine, I don’t see any difference between Patrick and Audrey in this book vs. Charity and Eric in Strange Attractions. In Strange Attractions, Eric is all hot to trot for Charity without ever having spoken to her, and he’s in love with her shortly after meeting her and boinking her. Patrick feels a similar sort of instantaneous attraction and attachment to Audrey. The only difference is that Eric’s initial attraction happens off-camera, so to speak, and he’s well and hooked by Charity’s charms before we ever see the two of them together, while we get to see Patrick’s happen before our eyes. Do you think that made a difference, or would you argue that there’s something substantially different about Eric’s Instant Lurve™ vs. Patrick’s Instant Lurve™?
    I’d also argue that Eric and Patrick are equally enigmatic: I left the book having a good idea of their personalities, but only the most nebulous glimmerings of their pasts and how they came to be the way they are.
    Charity and Audrey, as far as I’m concerned, are the same person: young, adventurous, beautiful, unconventional, horny, street-smart.
    And really, did you see Eric and Charity engaging in many meaningful interactions beyond a few cursory conversations and then copious amounts of OMG HOT SEXX0R? The most meaningful conversations actually take place between B.G. and Charity, and more than half of THAT was truly painful mangling of quantum mechanics. I mean, c’mon: Charity successfully changes her life after one conversation with B.G., during which he grossly mis-represents non-locality and quantum wavefunctions? Pffff. In my opinion, that’s no more ridiculous than Audrey having her Great Revelation after the equally painful and ridiculous fantasy scenario Patrick laid out for her.
    And it seems like I fall in the middle in terms of my opinion: I didn’t like Strange Attractions quite as much as you two did, but liked Velvet Glove quite a bit better.
    Emma Holly, as far as I’m concerned, is an expert at allowing her characters to become intimate and fall in love primarily through sex and sexual expression, whereas other romance authors depend on dialog and/or plot contrivances. In real life, I don’t think sizzling chemistry is a reliable predictor of a good relationship, but such is the power of Holly that I totally buy into the fantasy.
    Anyway, thanks for a most excellent review, and apologies for the incredibly long, rambling comment.

  2. Candy, comment as much as you want for as long as you want, but for god’s sake don’t ask me to think about more than one book at a time! I have limited brain cells, ya know.
    While reading Velvet Glove, I saw a lot of similarities, a number of points of comparison, between it and Strange Attractions. I eventually came to think of Velvet Glove as possibly a primer or rough draft for Strange Attractions. There are similar nebulous threats or points of conflict introduced early on, then ignored for the bulk of the work, only to reemerge for the less than climactic climax. As you point out the heroines could be the same girl. But, honesty, my great love of SA has little to do with Charity and everything to do B.G. and Eric, characters that went beyond one dimension.
    Patrick is nearly non-existent as a character (for both face time on the page and substance). He reads as though, what little life he has began the moment he appeared on the page. I never felt that with either Eric or B.G.—they both have histories, lives and experiences that brought them to where they were at the opening of the book. Patrick is nothing but a convenient contrivance, a marionette whose strings Holly pulls at whim.
    All that said, I freely admit that my love of SA is based largely on my emotional response to it. As I read, I could see holes in the plot, weaknesses in the storytelling—your talk of quantum psychics is over my head, I’ll take your word for it—but was so in love with Holly’s risk taking and her erotic story, that I didn’t care. My heart was in my throat because, for the first time in ages, the HAE didn’t seem a forgone conclusion. I couldn’t figure out how she could possibly tie that story up in a bow. There was no such mystery with VG. Audrey and Patrick would conclude with their kinky forever after, there wasn’t any question.
    I completely agree with you that Holly can tell a compelling story by letting her characters grow through their sexual experiences. However, I didn’t see that happening in VG. Instead of an arc, instead of Audrey being in a different place at the end of the book all I saw was a collection of sexual experiences the character went headlong into primarily because each and every one hinged on exactly what she shouldn’t do: 1) pick up a guy in bar 2) long time best friend whose heart she’d surely break 3) co-worker 4) boss 5) long time best friend and his girl friend and on and on. If anyone is different at the end of all this it’s Tommy, at least he sees what hasn’t been gained.
    This one dimmed the Holly glow for me, but I’ll come back around to her.

  3. The pacing was okay for me, too. Also, I’d say Patrick didn’t bother me as much as he did Wendy. I found him charming, even though there didn’t appear to be much to him. My real problem was with Audrey. I found her empty and she never moved away from being empty. Really, I could not find ANY facet to her personality separate from her sexuality. I’d argue Charity from SA was different in that she wasn’t stuck in that one dimension for an entire book. She grew and matured and had a life outside of her sexuality. The relationship in SA evolved. The relationship in VG doesn’t go anywhere.
    Now, I do wonder if we read SA now for review purposes, and not simply for enjoyment, if we’d view it the same way. I don’t know.
    In case you’re interested…Wendy and I don’t compare notes as we go along reading a book. We both love EH so I just figured I’d love this one too. I finished the book and wrote Wendy and said: “I’m done with VG and all I have to say is hmmmm.” Just happened that we both came to about the same place without talking about it.

  4. You’re right that Charity experiences more growth than Audrey does, but I found Charity’s change abrupt and relatively unconvincing. Two pages of cheesy-ass dialogue, and alla sudden she’s a quantum kitten and in control of her life? SNORT.
    And trust me on the quantum mechanics part–it’s bad. Roll-your-eyes-and-gag-me-with-a-spoon bad. But on the other hand, it’s an Emma Holly book, not a Catherine Asaro novel.
    I like Eric quite a bit better than Patrick too, and you’re right, Patrick does get less face time than Eric. Audrey doesn’t meet Patrick until quite late in the book, while right off the bat the reader meets Eric, and he hooks up with Charity shortly thereafter. But–and I may be wrong, mind you–it seemed to me as if Patrick actually interacted with Audrey in meaningful, non-sexual ways more than Eric did with Charity. Frankly, the love story I liked better in Strange Attractions was the one between B.G. and Eric. Overall, I actually found Patrick and Audrey’s love more convincing than Eric and Charity’s.
    Here’s a weird thing I’ve discovered about doing tandem reviews: Sarah and I have agreed about EVERY BOOK we’ve read and reviewed together so far, down to what grade to give. It’s weird, because our tastes are pretty dissimilar. Yesterday, for example, she e-mailed me about White Tigress (which I’d read much earlier) and she mentioned many of the same problems I had had with it. She hadn’t read the review I’d written, and I hadn’t talked about the book with her beyond “It’s in the mail, let me know when you get it!”
    *cue theremin music*
    Anyway, keep reviewing! I can’t wait to see what you guys think of other books, especially The Real Deal.

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