Headmaster by Tara Sue Me
Series: Lessons From the Rack, #2
January 16, 2018
Reviewed by Sheena
Favorite Quote: “Let’s face it,” she said. “I work at a BDSM academy. Most scenes I’m in, I’m working with newbie Doms who wouldn’t know they were being topped from the bottom if I told them that’s what I was doing.”
Mariela is a submissive dance teacher and student adviser at an exclusive academy that educates and trains Doms and Subs in the art of BDSM. The new semester is approaching and she is at her wit’s end and desperate to romantically connect with the man she’s had a crush on for several years, the school Headmaster, Lennox. Only, romantic entanglements are far from Lennox’s mind, he is perpetually preoccupied with immense guilt and feelings of inadequacy, blaming himself mercilessly for the death of his ex-girlfriend and sub, Winnie.
Winnie died in a horrible accident 2-3 years prior and Lennox has been unable to heal from her passing or participate in any BDSM scenes. He has non-committal sex with professional subs but is a shadow of his former self. Mariela watches him from afar and is no longer able or willing to ignore the connection she feels toward Lennox. Mariela’s long harbored love for him is illicit, not only because he is her employer, but because his beloved dead Winnie, was also her best friend. Closer than sisters even. But what’s a girl to do when the man she loves is within her grasp, only his reluctance to let go of the past standing on her way?
I’m still not sure what to think about this one. I enjoyed reading it, the author has a very accessible style and I felt drawn to this story, but it absolutely perplexed me and I didn’t like many of the authors decisions for these characters. My biggest challenge with the novel was the ubiquitous Winnie. Threaded throughout the novel and at the most inopportune times, there were interjections from Winnie by way of diary entries revealing her spectrum of emotions, everything from her giddy excitement when first meeting Lennox, to her piqued interest and anticipation to move from his girlfriend to his sub and then her concern that the lifestyle wasn’t for her.
The Winnie-from-the-grave diary updates were complete and utter buzzkills. I hate when dead ex’s loom so heavily and the ghost of Winnie crowded this novel. I was ready to exorcise her once and for all after her first few entries. I also think it was kind of skanky that Mariela lusted so heavily for her “BFF’s” boyfriend pre- and post Winnie’s demise and I specifically didn’t like how the diary entries were later used as a weak ploy to absolve Mariela/Lennox hooking up. I’d much rather the women were casual acquaintances, than this Ya Ya Sisterhood farce.
“I should have let Marie have him—she’s into that kinky shit. And she’s totally into him. He would be a better fit for her than he would be for me. I should have stepped aside. I know that would have been the right thing to do. The best thing for everyone involved. But then he asked me out. Me. Not Marie.”
“I think I spent the entire night watching him do one thing or the other.” …. “I went to every play party after that first one. Just hoping to get a good look at [Lennox]. He went to several of the meetings, but never with the same submissive. He had his choice of partners vying for his attention…“But all that stopped after he met Winnie. They hit it off right away and that was all she wrote. From then on it was Winnie and Lennox.”
“Did she know how you felt about him?”
“I don’t know. I never told her that I had admired him from afar or that I had a crush on him. Besides, he never looked at me the way he looked at Winnie. And that hasn’t changed.”
So why hadn’t she given up? Why was she still half in love with him after all these years? Why had she jumped at the chance to work at his academy…? Because some part of her held on to the hope that someday he would want her, that he might desire her in that same way.
Oh Marie. *face palm* Not only did you covet thy BFF’s boyfriend, you pathetically pine for him and then later plot to win him over. Stay classy!
Even though Lennox had his emotional self-flagellation issues going on, Mariela was the most problematic character by far. She was exceedingly unreliable. She obsessed over Lennox, yet she nagged and snipped at him relentlessly- and this was before she had the idea to goad the dom in him, pushing him into reacting to her. She wasn’t very likable and I didn’t root for her, not only because of the jonesing after off-limits Lennox, but she just wasn’t very nice. She seemed more eager to jump Lennox’s bones than support him through his obvious trauma. She said she was falling for him and in love- but all I saw was a greedy little sub who wanted the biggest, baddest dom in town to scene with her.
God, they were both so fucked up. Both of them, and she doubted there was anything, anywhere that could make either of them normal again.
The main plot: Sub meets dom, dom likes friend, friend dies, dom blames self, sub waits for dom to want her, dom, likes sub too, sub and dom do sub and dom sh*t, dom pushes sub away, sub, goes all sub and dom leaves sub after an accident and ah ha moment, sub finds dom again and dom and sub have their HEA.
There were a couple of weird and misplaced subplots that were head scratchers and ended as abruptly as they started.
A lesser point, but it bears mentioning is that time and age is very ambiguous and even confusing. The school has only been open a couple years, Lennox of course starting The RACK academy out of guilt over Winnie. But in conversations, Lennox and unreliable Mariela reference and lament the “many years” he put into the school- like dude- it practically just opened? It is still considered a new business? Then there are a few references made regarding Lennox’s age that made me question just how old he was to begin with. Definitely not grandpa-dom vibes but I couldn’t settle on if he was anywhere between late thirties to late fifties.
Aside from opaque time and age distractions, there were some ultra contrived moments mixed in with a little kink and a semblance of some sort of romance. The only time I was really turned off enough to give pause was the single most peculiar scene where Mariela connects with the ghost of Winnie and . I was all- Wha? No. Nope. Nuh-unh. Recalculate.
“First of all,” Winnie said. “You have got to cut Lennox some slack.”
“He’s grieving. I’m hard to get over.”
“I don’t mean any disrespect, but seriously? You’ve been gone for three years.”
Winnie laughed. “You still have it, I see. He hasn’t killed your spirit yet.
S.e.r.i.o.u.s.l.y This is how she speaks to the spirit of her “was like a sister to me” friend? Not to mention sexing Lennox all over Winnie’s prized home and solace, pausing mid stroke to think maybe she shouldn’t be messing around with Lennox afterall- and by the down stroke, rationalizing it away because, duh, you are here in the flesh and have always wanted him anyway and dead ass Winnie can go haunt her ass elsewhere.
Again, with the class!
Headmaster’s redemption? Interesting secondary characters. The other prominent couple in the book also work as an instructor and chef at the RACK and are funny and commanded a lot of positive attention. I’m going to go back and read their book, I liked them so much. It is always a tell when secondary couples upstage the main couple. It could also be that I was in desperate need of an escape from the mess that was Lennox/Mariela so Andie and Fulton were the perfect lifeline. In any case, their scenes and commentary were just the relief I needed and I found them absolutely vital.
Though this is billed as a BDSM erotic romance….it wasn’t very much of either. I was underwhelmed by the BDSM content. Besides a safe word, some bossy, sexy talk, some kneeling and casting eyes downward with a little spanking and orgasm control- it wasn’t particularly graphic. Even the most skittish BDSM reader can read this and not be taken out of any comfort zone. Hardcore BDSM readers will likely think the BDSM content is “cute”, so if you are at all intimidated by the idea of BDSM, you are 100% safe with this one.
It is stand alone-ish. You don’t have to have read book 1, though I recommend doing so. There is a lot that has to be inferred or assumed about the RACK academy that I presume would have been world built-in the first novel.
I have such mixed feelings about this one. I didn’t like almost everything about it, yet I was intrigued enough to see it through and I really enjoyed the secondary characters. If I am being exclusively critical of the novel on its own merit, it is not a good bet. Few things make sense, characters are inconsistent and there are sub plots to nowhere that did nothing for the story. But if I am considering how I felt reading it and being honest, regardless of the hot mess between the pages, It didn’t make me gag- it was a hot mess that went down easy.