Been diggin’ romances of late…review of “Gladiator: Book 1”

As most readers, I go through phases. One week I might devour a non-fiction but won’t touch another for months; or I can check-out loads of non-fiction and just plow through the pages in a matter of days. When the going gets rough, though, I read romance novels. They’re my comfort book.

I am in the middle of a big move, wondering what the heck I am doing teaching overseas and how am I going to survive the rather “catch-as-catch-can”, “communication-is-not-important” culture I find myself in. I try to remind my self of my new mantra:

Let go of all my stress, excessive material items. I just randomly sing this to myself to cheer myself up and to remind myself of all the great things to come. But I can’t let go of my books!

So, as I struggle with everything, I go looking for books. I turned to good, ol’ iBooks and searched their free books. I didn’t want a full length-novel, and I wanted something, maybe, just a little bit, naughty. Unfortunately, iBooks is littered with a lot of free crap. The topics ranged from “Breeding the Babysitter” to gangbangs (eww, to both). Not what I was looking for at all! They just stirred up a lot of resentment and women’s issues that I don’t want to tackle in this post. I eventually found several books that sounded promising. Some were very short stories, a couple novellas; paranormal, erotica, sweet love stories.

One tag I kept coming across was BBW. I feel embarrassed to tell you this, but I had to google* the term. Being a Rubenesque figure myself, I think I should have known this term, but I did not. Upon learning that BBW = Big, Beautiful Women, I was even more intrigued. I love romance novels; it’s always intriguing to read stories about women who are skinny, svelte and hot in the mainstream paradigm. It makes me laugh when characters (and hell, who am I kidding, people, too) say they love working out, and couldn’t live without it. In many a Nora Roberts’ novel, one of her go-to character pairings includes two people who adore working out and work out together.** For Roberts, this often becomes a bonding moment or a way to develop the relationship. In her Wedding series, working out actually becomes a serious flirting, turn-up-the-heat moment. And Roberts isn’t alone. However, I don’t always identify with these women. I am not skinny; I do not love working out; I struggle with identifying myself as hot. Still, I read these novels–and all romance novels–because of the love story. The progression of the relationship and how these characters identify with each other and their community. Sigh…Isn’t romance great?

But it was really exciting to think about a novel that featured women who resembled me in body shape. I’m looking for stories that embody “body love” and men who appreciate a woman with curves and cushioning. So, I found Gladiaor: Book 1 by Freya Isabel. It is part of a serial.

cover of Gladiator Book 1

courtesy of

It didn’t sound, “Wow, amazing,” when I read the blurb, but it sounded decent. The story is told in first-person (not my favorite narrative type, but not my least favorite), from the point of Denise. Now Denise has real body issues. She is New England upper class, with a mother involved in industry. I felt for her: I totally get body-image struggles. It’s hard living in “regular” society, but my perspective has always been that “upper crust” is hyper-vigilant about staying in touch with what is in vogue. The “rich ladies of leisure” are perceived, by me and the cultural expectations instilled in me by TV, as dedicated women of work-out, because they have to be. So, for Denise, it was difficult. But I quickly lost any affinity towards this character.

She was a Negative Nelly, a h8ter. She constantly referred to other women as “those skinny bitches.” Denise even refers to her friends as being skinny bitches, but they made up for it in other ways. Now, I can’t say that I am free of envy and don’t sometimes cattily refer to thin women as sticks or something else. On one part it is human nature to covet (I think that is why God has a commandment about it) but it is also instilled in us from an early age by culture. But Denise can’t seem to find redeeming value in anyone. She just hates.

Cady looking in mirror and commenting on behavior

from: Mean Girls (2004). Proof we are taught to be mean.

The book was…eh. The book itself did not get into any really saucy stuff. Part of that is because it is only the first book in a serial. And we do get some light bondage and light whipping. Titillating. And I wanted to learn more…so I, of course, downloaded the samples of the following two parts of the series. The more I read about Denise, the more I disliked her. She was such a…bad character. In one of the other book samples, Denise is actually happy that her assistant is fatter than her, because she got to feel skinny. She’s happy that to be just the figure head of her lover’s subsidiary. Poor Denise had to be in charge of everything before–because you know she’s rich and has never had a job; all those servants she had to order around–with Lover as the real power, she didn’t have to worry about it. Bleck!

And what is so intriguing, she actually tries not to be too bossy with the servants. She has a code worked out with them. When she visits the docks of her father’s company for a six-month inspection, Denise reflects upon the fact that the manager and workers seemed to like her better. She is never shown as this powerhouse who has to be in charge of it all. Boo-hiss!

*When used as a verb, do you capitalize Google? I mean, Google is a proper noun, but so is Duck Tape. When referring to the act of using Duck Tape, the action is in lower case (I duck taped his mouth shut). My poor brain just doesn’t know what to do!

**The ones I can think of off the top of my head: Holding the Dream, In Death series, Savor the Moment, Happily Ever After, Heaven and Earth. I don’t read Nora so often anymore, because I have noticed a repetition of characters and story lines.


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