**Trigger warning: depictions of assault/rape towards women**
Publisher: Carina Press
Publish Date: Out now
How we got this book: ARC from the publisher via Netgalley
Knowing all too well the damage online trolls can inflict, game designer Emily Bartwell takes privacy seriously. Living in solitude and working remotely under a male alias gives her a sense of security. The sexy writer renting the house next door ignites desires she’d forgotten she had, and when he invites her to play games of a very different sort, Em is ready and willing. Even if it means breaking all her own rules to abide by his.
Undercover tech reporter Fox Mullins is so close to the biggest scoop of his career: finding the elusive programmer Phoenix. An increasingly erotic adventure with his reserved but passionate new neighbor is the ideal way to heat up the chilly Pacific Northwest nights as he tracks the brilliant gamer.
At first Fox is happy to help Em explore her newly awakened kinky side, no holds barred, no strings attached. But as they push the limits of intimacy, both physical and emotional, Fox discovers he’s not the only one keeping secrets. And revealing hers may mean betraying the one woman who embodies everything he desires.
This blurb came from the author’s website.
E: So it shouldn’t be a surprise that we are taking a look at one of Jeffe Kennedy’s books to those who frequent the blog. What might be a surprise is this particular story happens to be a contemporary instead of the paranormal romance or fantasy romance we usually feature by Kennedy. She has written several contemporaries but we discovered her through a different romance sub-genre. In this particular story Kennedy brings up the dirty underbelly of gaming and its overall hostile attitude towards women along with the lack of support to those women. While Kennedy addressed this, she also made a point to bring up how much support can make a positive difference.
Has: I loved this aspect to the book about tackling the gaming industry’s attitude towards women and how they suffer with the sexism and misogyny from trolls and certain circles. Em’s character was terrific. I loved how she was determined not to let her horrific experiences from trolls from breaking her spirit and that she turned the tables on them by coming back hard, by developing a new game but disguised as the ‘Phoenix’ which they assume is a male and playing and subverting their rules. However, despite regaining her career, Em is living a solitary life, and like her alter-ego is living under another identity and is not fully living by becoming a bit of a hermit. So when Fox Mullins comes along, hunting the real identity of the Phoenix, sparks light up when they first encounter each other, albeit he is ironically unaware that Em is the target he is hunting.
E: I so felt for Em. She was living a half-life but she was also getting her revenge and using her gift for programming. It was great to see she was able to rebuild and come back stronger like her public name, Phoenix, but sad she felt she had to live a public lie. She was ready for a change and to come back out of her shell when she met Fox. Fox an investigative reporter had been on Phoenix’s trail for years. Fascinated by the mind who could make up such twisty games, the mystery behind the person, and challenged by both he made his way to a quiet secluded island. There his eye was caught by Em and as he pursued her, he found himself captivated by the contradiction between who she appeared to be and the secrets she was hiding. For such a skilled investigator he completely fell for certain gender based stereotypes and while poking around at Em’s past never suspected his professional quarry might be one and the same. I enjoyed watching them dance around each other with their sexual tension the blazing fire in the middle yet I was really haunted about what would happen when their secrets were revealed.
Has: Oh I agree! I was feeling anxious when things would come out of the open. I was worried on how things would play out because Em was so protective about her past and privacy and she became really vulnerable when she opened up to Fox about herself.I also liked that Fox despite him just thinking this would be a sexually intense fling found himself falling hard for Em without realising it until the end. And may I add, that I love how sexually intense, and very open about his past experience especially towards his sexuality. This was very refreshing when they played and swapped dominant and submissive roles. I really liked this element of the book, especially in contrast with the sexism and misogyny with the gaming role which likes to objectifies and hurling abuse at women. It really highlighted attitudes about sexuality as well as sexism and also illustrated how Fox was a fantastic hero who was not hung up with issues and that it can be freeing, and healthy view-point on sex and relationships.
E: I LOVED how Kennedy handled the sexuality in this story. Fox was just plain sexual and he didn’t have a problem with whom or how, nor was he ashamed of what he did in the past which I really liked. Yet that very sexual confidence backfired on his intentions more than once leaving him vulnerable in a way he hadn’t expected. I also enjoyed how he was confident enough to not only switch, but to give Em the keys to his psyche and his trust. I thought those two evenings together in a sense demonstrated that Em had put all of her pieces back together again and reclaimed what was stolen. I also really liked how Fox kept his word and didn’t question Em once she was mentally vulnerable during their first evening together. I have to admit that was one of my trepidations.
In addition to Fox and Em’s relationship I loved watching Em try to navigate friendships with other people. The way she didn’t want to hurt people’s feelings. Stumbling through the “Girl Code” especially when it involved a man of mutual interest. Teasing the owner of the cafe to get him back for his slow-pace and the truly horrendous baked goods the cafe served. As well as her on-line interactions and how they showcased the depths of her character.
Has: The supporting characters really helped to enrich the story with humour and add to the development for the main leads. I think Em’s character, especially was developed further with coming out of her shell, while she was more confident, and proactive in the virtual world under a different identity. In real life, she was just coasting and hiding until Fox’s arrival was a catalyst that helped to awaken her. I also liked that he does refer her to Sleeping Beauty because in a lot of ways she reflected that fairytale from biting a poison apple/poisonous experience from trolls and being sexually awaken to come out of her self imposed exile.
However, I wished Fox’s past was better developed or fleshed out, I found that it didn’t entirely worked for me about his father’s gambling addiction and how that affected his family. It almost felt a bit of an afterthought to add some background information and I didn’t see how this influenced him as an adult or with his previous relationships.
E: I agree with you about Fox’s past to a certain extent. It seemed to spring out of nowhere and while in some ways it explained his obsession with discovering Em’s secrets and his reaction, in others it made what he did even more repugnant. His actions could have led to serious harm for Em while he could not stand on the pedestal of pure honesty while casting stones. On the other hand, I could also see him not realizing the impact of his actions because most men never experience that particular sort of fear and therefore the possibility doesn’t occur. Regardless, when everything came out I was upset for Em and then extremely proud of what she decided to do. I thought it certainly helped those involved in the gaming company were determined not to let another episode she experienced happen.
Having said that, after the huge buildup and unwilling reveal I ended up feeling letdown a bit. I expected and wanted to see an epic groveling scene and watch Em unleash her temper on Fox for his lies and his actions. Yes, he pushed her into rejoining the world BUT… As a result I thought I could buy a potential HFN (Happily For Now) but I needed something more to fully agree or to move to a HEA (Happy Ever After). I think there is still a lot left unsaid between them and I think Fox’s betrayal should have pushed their relationship back given Em’s difficulty trusting other people.
Overall I enjoyed Going Under and I will continue to check out the upcoming installments in this series. I look forward to seeing what Kennedy comes up with next.
I give Going Under a B
Has: I definitely agree about the ending and the HEA/HFN aspects. I would love an epilogue to cement their relationship, because this was a betrayal of Em’s trust and despite the fact she lied about her identity she had good cause. I agree that Fox definitely needed to do some major grovelling to earn the pages in her good graces. I also found the ending a bit abrupt but I do have a feeling they would have HEA but it needed to be said on page because they were a perfect fit for each other and the romance was wonderful it was a bit of a let-down for an ending.
Going Under is a gem of a romance which is sexy and filled with scorching love scenes that really adds to the plot and the characters. Jeffe Kennedy has a great understanding and nuance for BDSM sex scenes and it really shined here with how each of the characters have to face inner and outer challenges about themselves. I really enjoyed how sexuality is explored especially in the context with prevailing attitudes in gaming about women’s roles and that was really refreshing as well two fingers up at sexist and misogynistic attitudes.
I give Going Under a B!