Brainy and the Beast

jmc_brainyandthebeastTitle: Brainy and the Beast 
Author: JM Cartwright
Cover Artist: Mina Carter
Publisher: Loose Id
Buy Links: Buy Link Amazon ; Publisher 
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Novel (272 pages)
Rating: 1.5 stars out of 5

A Guest Review by LenaLena

Review Summary: I spent too much time hating one of the main characters in this story to come up with many positive things to say.

Blurb

Robotics researcher Henry Travis uses his brain for just about everything, but once he meets Nick Shelton over the hood of his 1960 Mercedes 300, he’s at a loss. How does he control his attraction to this brash, sexy mechanic?

Nick owns his own classic car garage, and he is more than willing to hit it with the brainy, seriously hot, Henry. What he doesn’t need is the aggro that comes with feelings. But since his 14yo nephew, Grant, has come to live with him, he’s been dealing with aggravation every day. And now his dad lives with him, too. A dad who doesn’t mind commenting on Nick’s lame parenting skills.

With Henry turning his crank in a big way, and Nick enjoying not being in charge for a change, things heat up pretty fast. They’re actually dating, with dinner and everything, before he knows it. And the after-dinner drinks at Henry’s gorgeous house have Nick wiping the sweat from his brow.

But Henry and Grant don’t get along; Nick isn’t sure he wants a relationship at all, and Nick’s dad, Big Mike, has an opinion on everything.

How’s a guy to have fun on the weekends–even during the week, for crying out loud–with all the family baggage hanging around?

Review

I get the fact that there is a difference between real life and fantasy. I know that people who want to act out rape fantasies with their boyfriends don’t actually want to be raped in a dark alley by a guy with missing teeth, bad body odor and a rusty knife. I get that exploring such fantasies in the form of fiction, whether it is non-con, dub-con or slave fic, is not actually reprehensible in and of itself. As long as there are ample warnings for those people who want to avoid those stories, either because it doesn’t turn them on or far worse, it triggers horrible memories, there is no need to kink-shame people who do enjoy them.

What I am wondering after this particular book is if there is anybody out there who thinks playing with emotional abuse is sexy? Can we pour a bucket of love over that, like we do with most rape fiction, and make it all ok? Is there an equivalent of consent-by-erection in this case? Like, just because Nick has a thing for smart guys and is a bit subby in bed he deserves all the things that Henry does? Personally, I can’t see past the flashing warning signs that go “Warning: Abusive Relationship coming up in 5…4…3…2…1….” to note if there is anything going on in this story that people might consider hot or sexy.

Most of my time reading this book was spent thinking of how much I hated Henry. I did about a dozen years in Academia in a couple of male dominated disciplines and I met so many Henries. Guys so convinced of their intellectual superiority they just ooze smarmy condescension and cannot even conceive of the possibility that the girl with the big rack might have a valid opinion. Like Henry does not even want to entertain the thought of accepting that there are things like kissing, swallowing and hair-pulling that Nick does not like. Henry knows best, even when he barely knows the guy, and gets really patronizing about it:

‘Far from being intimidated, Henry looked amused. In fact, he actually tsk-tsked me.’

“Oh, Nicholas. You are something else.”

“It’s a lovely chianti that will go quite nicely with my burger.” He lifted one shoulder, “You might even like it.”

To my great disappointment, Henry does not get taken down a peg or 7, but does, in fact, turn out to know best. On the other hand, when Henry even thinks Nick is laughing at his taste in TV shows he gets all cold and distant. This is where I started yelling at Nick to GET OUT NOW. But the poor guy instead explains that no, no, he is not laughing at Henry, and he earns himself a reprieve. And while he realizes he is disturbed that [Henry’s] reactions had bothered me so much he does not stop to think: “What if I was laughing at the stupid stuff you watch? How is that a valid reason for going all cold on me? Is that how you are going to react whenever I don’t like something you like?” This is where I would have tossed the book if I had not had to finish it for this review. But, this was also still within the realm of the book being able to sell itself as a bit of a Dommy/subby fantasy if I looked at it sideways and squinted.

Good thing I had to finish it, I guess, or I would have missed the part where Henry goes from merely manipulative to downright nasty. Skip this spoiler if you’re going to read the book.

[spoiler name=”Spoiler”]

Setting: Henry and Nick are parked outside the dojong where Nick used to do tae kwon do and where his nephew Grant, whom Nick takes care of, is now doing the same. Nick hopes to rejoin the dojong to strengthen the relationship with his nephew.

Henry says something vague and roundabout about them possibly being exclusive and Nick doesn’t respond the way he would like him to, instead ‘preferring to go with the flow’. So when they enter the dojong and Nick gets greeted by his old teacher, Henry, pissed off at Nick, decides to take it upon himself to introduce himself as Nick’s boyfriend. Even though Nick has just implied they’re not boyfriends. Nick isn’t out with these people, Nick is invested in rejoining these people. For himself and to bond with his nephew. Henry knows this, but Henry doesn’t care that his claim could ruin all of that. And because this is happy happy romance land, nobody in the dojong has a problem with the gayness, and I guess that is supposed to make it right, even if it really isn’t.

Nick’s old sparring partner Nestor then says he would ask Nick out if Henry wasn’t glaring at him. That’s right folks, now Henry is pissed about Nestor sparring with Nick and making a pass. If you could even call it that. So they go home, they have a big fight. Nick suggests only going to the dojong when Henry is there to keep an eye on him and Nestor, because obviously this is all his fault. Henry gets nasty and sarcastic about Nick’s lack of intelligence and then he storms out. Instead of cheering the loss of Henry, everyone claims it’s Nick’s fault and makes him ‘go get him back’. Yes, Henry takes him back but then embarks on a massively passive aggressive punishment program that lasts several weeks. When that comes around and bites him in the ass, Henry throws another tantrum in the dojong and now even Nick starts blaming Nestor for nothing worse than expressing an interest. He’d caused me enough crap in my life in the very short time since I’d met him again.

Honestly, I cannot fathom why nobody is blaming Henry for anything.

Then the boys get into a fight with a bunch of anti-semitic teenagers, Nick realizes he loves Henry and wahla: the end.

Best of luck, Nick, you’re going to need it.

[/spoiler]

If it wasn’t clear from the title, this is a book about a smart guy and a blue collar guy. Catchy, yes, but also kind of telling in that it insinuates that Nick, who truly has a heart of gold but who is just a little rough around the edges, is considered the ‘Beast’ here and the one that has to somehow transform. We get pounded with how smart Henry is throughout the book. In fact, according to my word searches, there are close to a hundred references to how smart Henry is. It’s a bit overkill, especially because his intelligence does little more than to serve as the reason why Henry (and everyone else) is convinced that he is always right. But if anyone has to be considered a ‘beast’ in this relationship, Henry has my vote.

For me, the best parts of this book were the extensive sections where Nick deals with his nephew and his dad. Grant the teenager was well done and so was Dad. If you’re reading it for the sex, which, by the way, includes at least 4 separate dry humping sessions in the kitchen while the rest of the family is home, these family drama sections may seem really long to you. Since they were pretty much the only times in the book I wasn’t fuming at Henry, they were a welcome reprieve to me. We see nothing of Henry’s family or friends. Henry is an island. Which is probably just as well, because honestly, I can’t see the guy with the classic car collection, the posh mansion and the fancy fish taking a mechanic along for work- and other social functions. No matter how much he claims to love him.

So there you have it. A book that pushed all the wrong buttons for me. If you have different buttons, it’s probably not that bad.

15 comments

  • I enjoyed this book too. Especially Nick. He was a great character. Henry was imperfect but I didn’t react to him the way you did. I don’t mind a bit of jealousy in my romances. It was a bit over the top but I can get jealous myself so maybe it was more understandable to me. And the way I understood it Nick pushed Henry away, describing their relationship as being fuck buddies only which is why Henry begins to act like a fuck buddy and starts protecting his emotions which he believes are a lot stronger than Nick’s.
    For me the Dom/sub dynamic in the story is very spontaneous. Henry is not at all a serious Dom and is fairly amused and also turned on by Nicks’ obvious subby qualities.I didn’t even get the impression that he’d ever done anything like that before. I’ve already reread it and luckily I enjoyed it just as much the second time round.

    • I also had just finished reading it and enjoyed it for the most part. The ending was a little odd with some dangling story bits, but I really read Henry as more socially inept than abusive in any way. I’ve dated a lot of guys who are in the more IQ than everyday common sense category and I thought he fit that well. He wasn’t perfect- that would have been boring- but I thought he really was trying and I felt his heart was in the right place.

  • Interesting review Lena. I could see how Henry could push buttons. I liked it a little more than you did I think because I could see that both characters were insecure and not very good at relationships before plus I think the author was exploring a little dom/sub dynamic between the two characters. Nick finds that he likes Henry taking charge sexually and socially. He’s a tired of all the responsibilities he has having to raise his nephew, running his business and taking care of his ailing father so Henry is actually a breath of fresh air to him & he welcomes him taking some of the control back. I saw them as more consensual than abusive.

    Also the story is from Nick’s view and he’s very insecure about his lack of education so he puts himself down and overreacts when no offense was meant. Henry tells him that he’s really smart because he’s running his own business and doing all the computer work by himself. But Nick just dismisses those compliments because of his insecurity.

    Henry is a man in his early 40’s and in his first serious relationship. He’s spent most of his time working and studying so he’s not up to date on pop culture and gets a little sensitive about that. But Henry is the one that takes care of Nick’s family and is there for him at the hospital and cooks thanksgiving dinner for them. He’s actually sweet in some ways even though I agree we don’t get to know him very well. Again, an imperfect story, but told with a sense of humor. I didn’t see either Henry or Nick as abusive but it’s always interesting to see another perspective.
    (Do agree there’s an absolutely silly jealousy subplot so I get your point about possessiveness not being love)

  • I can see where you’re coming from, but I really enjoyed this book. I saw Henry as someone who had never been good at relationships and who had a bit of a learning curve ahead of him. Yes, he made mistakes, and I think the author really played up the high-brow intellectual side of him, but I didn’t see anything he did as malicious or abusive. And I thought the author had a really good sense of humor, so I didn’t see Nick being made into a “beast” who needed to transform. I just thought it was a catchy title. And their banter didn’t seem like Henry was trying to put him down. It just seemed more like teasing to me. But there you go. Everyone has different opinions. Just thought I’d throw my two cents in. I thought it kind of went off-kilter the second half of the book, but as far as an opposites-attract book goes, I thought this was a pretty good one.

    • “I didn’t see anything he did as malicious or abusive”

      I think the crux of the matter (for me anyway) is that I suspect the author doesn’t think so either, because the only behavior Henry gets called out on is him being bitchy to the teenager. If the book had ended up being about Henry becoming aware of his immature/malicious/abusive tendencies I would have cheered. But Henry is as unaware at the end as in the beginning, and the whole ‘I know best’ attitude in a peer to peer relationship is inappropriate and unhealthy. When Nick calls him out on using the passive aggressive campaign as punishment at the end of the book, that gets portrayed as no big deal. I can tell you from experience that if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of something like that, it is a cruel thing to experience if you love the person that is doing it to you and it is a very big deal.

      Now, in romance land rape can be love, and codependency is very often portrayed as the pinnacle of love and I guess this stuff is called love too in this case. And if people read it that way, I’m not saying they can’t. I am just saying that to me, this book goes down a very slippery slope and if this was the real world I’d hate to see what would be left of Nick’s self-esteem half a dozen years down the road.

  • I don’t mind possessive and jealous in shifter books, actually it’s probably an expected trope, but this? Not my cuppa. Thanks for the review.

    • I agree that the family set up was good. I liked those parts the most. I could have done without Grant’s girlfriend and her story, it was a little tacked on, but I liked Grant and Dad very much. And the writing was decent too. I just couldn’t get over Henry……

  • Great review and I agree with most of what you’ve written. Personally, it was an okay read. It’s just that one of the MC acts like a petulant child most of the time. Being petulant works on some characters and could even be endearing. However, it most definitely did not work for Henry.

    • Oooh, petulant! That is an excellent word for Henry. I wish I would have worked that into the review somewhere.

    • I think that is what it is meant to be. But they’re two people who think possessiveness is the same thing as love: ‘Oh, he’s jealous and abusive, so he must love me!’ If you can see past that, it’s probably not a bad book, but I really, really couldn’t.

      • Ugh. I find it really, really difficult to see past that sort of thing. Jealousy is NOT sexy, it’s an indication the relationship isn’t stable and/or one or more people in it needs to deal with some issues. The world would be a much happier place if more people understood that.

        This sounds like it was even worse than your status updates had suggested, and that’s saying something. Even just reading your spoiler pissed me off. :grumble2: I think I’ll stay far away from this one. Great review, thanks for taking one for the team! Here, have a beer (or five) :beer:

  • Great review, Lena. I can totally see your point–and I think I wouldn’t like this book either. So thank you for saving me money, time and blood pressure meds 😉

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