410055Title: Balance
Author: Zahra Owens
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy link:
Genre: Contemporary M/M, very light BDSM
Length: Novella (15,529 words)
Rating: 2 stars out of 5

A guest review by Leslie


By day Cooper Miller is a bland paper pusher, a health and safety inspector who does everything by the book. Deciding he needs some excitement in his life, he sheds his off-the-rack suit and tan raincoat and signs up for an introductory session at a BDSM club. His welcome mat turns out to be Nando Arenas, the man who owns the new tattoo shop Cooper inspected just that morning. At first glance, Nando seems like forbidden territory, but when Cooper discovers a taste for being tied up and dominated, the enterprising tattoo artist delivers all the excitement Cooper could want.


The main character in this story is described as bland and that would be the adjective I would use to describe this novella, which really did nothing for me. I felt like I was reading words on a page. There wasn’t much of a plot and the main characters were completely inconsistent—saying one thing and doing another—which made them totally unrealistic. Without a plot or interesting characters, what’s left? Not much, unfortunately.

Let me give you a few examples…

The story opens with the scene described in the blurb. Cooper is waiting in the lobby of the BDSM club for his “welcome mat” (a term I’ve never heard before in relation to a person, but whatever) who turns out to be the guy from the tattoo shop that Cooper had inspected just that very morning. Now, if you were in this situation, don’t you think you’d have some sort of reaction? Surprise, perhaps? Maybe a twinge of anxiety? For Cooper, none of that. He’s completely blasé, as if this sort of thing happens to him every day. Nando is equally nonplussed.

Cooper suddenly turns all whisper-y and shy. Nando manages to get him to say what he wants during their time together—his “ultimate fantasy” (which in the big scheme of things was a pretty tame and boring fantasy)—and they head to a private room. After a not-very-exciting build-up, Nando delivers the goods, giving Cooper “a mind blowing orgasm beyond all belief.” Then suddenly, Nando, who is supposed to be the tough Dom, is holding Cooper, kissing and caressing him, and apologizing for “screwing up.” I actually went back and read the scene three times, trying to figure out where or how Nando had screwed up, and never found it. Anyway, in the face of this, Cooper, who had been shy and submissive, suddenly takes the assertive role, reassuring Nando that he was “terrific” and “great” and that he had given him something that none of his previous lovers had ever been able to do. It was at this point that I seriously considered this book to be a DNF but I plowed on.

Two weeks pass. Cooper can’t get Nando out of his mind and he starts lurking around the tattoo shop at closing time. After three nights, he finally gets his courage up and accosts Nando as he is coming out of the shop. Nando is a little baffled by this (who wouldn’t be?) but agrees to go along with Cooper to have  “a talk.” Now, realize that their sole interaction had been one scene at a BDSM club with a bizarre ending, so what exactly they need to talk about is a mystery to me (and Nando, too) but again…whatever.

Nando comments that he is hungry but it’s late and they decide that the only place open at this hour is McDonald’s, which is right across the street. In they go and Nando orders two coffees and a hot fudge sundae. Hello? I thought he was hungry? Don’t they sell hamburgers at McDonald’s? Even more bizarrely, when they sit down, Cooper announces that if he had known that Nando was hungry, he would have taken him to a late-night restaurant that he knows about (in another part of the city) and bought him dinner. Nando says no, he’s not really hungry and then proceeds to devour his ice cream sundae. Then they have a dopey conversation and the next thing you know, Nando is sitting on Cooper’s lap and they are making out.

See what I mean about inconsistent?

I chuckled at this conversation, however…

“You’re clean?”

Cooper shrugged. “I showered.” Nando’s only reaction was to give Cooper a questionable look. “Even ‘positive’ people are ‘clean’, Nando.”

I wondered if the author had been visiting this site and read the lengthy blog post on the issue of using clean versus positive when discussing HIV status. For those who might not remember, it can be found here.

The story continued on, with various inane conversations peppered by not-terribly-exciting sex scenes and eventually I reached the blessed words, “The End.”

I thought long and hard to see if there was anything in this book that I could suggest for a recommendation and I came up with…nothing. Maybe fans of the author will like this but beyond that, I suggest giving this one a pass.


  • Great review Leslie. Very clear on what worked (nothing it seems) and what didn’t (quite a few things). It seems like we’re getting not so great offerings out of DSP recently, a trend which is making me sad. 🙁

  • Leslie
    I read a book by this author about 2 years ago, I think it was her debut novel, that I liked very much. But what sucked me into the story was because it was a book about the Foreign Service. I guess everyone has a book that’s not very memorable although I must admit I haven’t read any other books by Zahra.

    I’m sorry that this one was such a disappointment Leslie but maybe her next one will be different.

    • Hi Wave,

      The actual premise of the book interested me which is why I wanted to read it. But, what’s in the blurb and what’s in the book are two different things. I wouldn’t have minded what’s in the book (basically, Cooper and Nando getting together) if the story had been told in a more interesting way, but it wasn’t. Oh well, not every story can be a winner for a reader and fortunately, I seem to have more winners than duds.


  • I wasn’t overly impressed by this one either – but just for clarity, I want to say something about the D/s scene.

    Basically, the dom lost control and carried on in the scene when the sub was fighting him and was unable to use his safeword. Although in this case it turned out that the sub was only ‘play-fighting’, and really wanted to continue, the dom didn’t know that at the time. He should have stopped and checked that the sub didn’t want to safeword. If it hadn’t been mock resistance (which they hadn’t discussed or agreed before the scene) the dom could really have hurt/traumatised the sub. In fact, reading it myself, I thought the sub was really fighting, and was shocked that the dom continued.

    This is a huge no-no. Any good dom would be really upset and annoyed at himself for getting carried away like that, hence why the reversal at the end of the BDSM scene, with the sub comforting the dom and reassuring him that it was okay.

    Just wanted to get that out there. Safe, sane and consensual, people.

    • Alexi, thanks for that clarification. Like I said, I read the scene a few times, trying to figure out what exactly was going on. I think it was so clumsily written that it was hard to sort out, which was mostly the problem I had with the entire book. Thanks for your comment.


      • Frankly, I don’t think the author of this novella understands BDSM at all, so I’m not surprised you (or anyone) found it tough to figure out what was going on in that scene. The character is supposed to be a seasoned and well-respected dom, who breaks in newbies all the time – but the way he acted was not consistent with that at all, and in real life it would not have ended with snuggles, kisses and HEA, it would have ended with a hurt and traumatised sub. I wish people would do their research on this stuff before writing.

  • Leslie, I wish you would just say clearly whether you liked it or not. lol Classic, your favorite words were ‘the end’.

    Does sound like one to avoid. Better you then me reviewing this.

    I don’t know much about bdsm, but I do know that the dom would never sit cuddled on the lap of the sub. yuck

  • They must live in a village because the place tattoo parlours are located usually have TONS of late night restaurants/diners/dives to eat. LOL That did sound rather odd. I think I’ll pass.

  • At least this one didn´t have a totally unexpected m/f scene in it.
    I will pass on this one.

    • I know, I sort of wondered if that would happen–at the BDSM club, maybe, since there were women there. But no, nothing and I probably should be grateful for that.


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