Book Review

Review: Full Throttle by Erin McCarthy

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Title: Full Throttle
Author: Erin McCarthy
Publication Info: Berkeley Sensation 2013
ISBN: 978-0-425-261745-3
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Book Full Throttle - shirtless guy leaning against a car with woman in shorts Erin McCarthy is one of those writers who can get me to read things I might otherwise pass over.  She writes steamy contemporary about race car drivers, which is pretty far from my usual fare of science fiction, fantasy, and historical.  But I love McCarthy’s strong sense of place, character, and family and she’s on my auto-buy list.  Full Throttle is not her strongest work but it's still a fun read.

Full Throttle is the latest in a series of loosely connected NASCAR romances (the Fast Track series).  This book involves Shawn, a racetrack owner, and Rhett, who is on a pit crew (Erin McCarthy fans will note that he’s on the crew of Eve, from the last book in the series, Jacked Up).  Shawn is supposed to inherit the track she manages from her grandfather, but when her grandfather dies he leaves a clause in the will that says that Shawn can only have the track if she gets married.  Cue secret marriage of convenience, as Shawn pays Rhett, a cute guy she meets in a bar, to marry her.  It turns out that not only does Rhett work for Eve, but he is also Eve’s husband’s brother, and Shawn is Eve’s best friend.  Cue funny moments with family and friends.  Plus, Rhett is looking for a woman who will be submissive during sex.  Cue sexy times.

Full Throttle was an odd book for me because it involves a dominate/submissive relationship, and that’s a dynamic that tends to make me uncomfortable.  Although I absolutely respect the rights of people to engage in consensual BDSM, I have a lot of hang ups about it and a high level of ignorance – please accept my pre-emptive apologies if I offend anyone in this review, and feel free to recommend books in the comments that would be helpful to me in developing a more nuanced understanding of BDSM issues.  I had a hard time untangling my own hang-ups about Dom/sub dynamics from the actual quality of the book. 

Erin McCarthy goes out of her way to establish that Rhett is not controlling in general – only in the bedroom and only with consent. I understand that BDSM does not equal sexism, and the book goes to great lengths to explain that Rhett is not sexist (showing that he respects Shawn and her boundaries as he and Shawn define them, showing him washing dishes and just generally being a decent guy who pulls his weight around the house). 

But I felt that this book was actually a little sexist for reasons that had nothing to do with Dom/sub dynamics.  The overall tone of the book, beyond the D/s thing, is one of condescension towards Shawn, and that has nothing to do with my personal discomfort with Dom/sub stuff and everything to do with how the characters are written.  Rhett says he thinks that in an ideal relationship both partners take turns taking the lead depending on the situation, but the reality of the book is that Rhett is always the one who calls the shots.  He is portrayed as mature (although he’s much younger than Shawn), considerate, good at his job, a good communicator (usually), and levelheaded.  Even Shawn refers to Rhett as being more mature than she is.  Shawn is portrayed as manipulative (although her motives are explained very well), insecure, inept at communicating, ignorant and inexperienced at sex (she worries that having daily sex might be bad for her vagina), possibly not being great at her job (the track is in trouble although that’s not necessarily her fault), and not smart enough to ask a lawyer for a second opinion before getting drunk and promising $100,000 to a stranger from a bar.

SPOILER (Highlight to read): Also there’s a totally weird babies-ever-after thing.  Look, in my personal life, I like babies.  But this is way out of left field.  It’s just – ta-da, random baby.  I’m actually really concerned about this baby’s welfare since she or he apparently is going to be raised by impulsive idiots.

The thing that kept me reading was the high quality of the writing overall in terms of dialogue, characterization, and story structure.  Shawn and Rhett really do seem to belong together – they are so comfortable with each other when they aren't being stupid, and Shawn does a great job of defending Rhett when his family misunderstands or patronizes him.  

The supporting cast kept this book afloat even when the main characters floundered.  McCarthy has a talent for creating real, flawed, fun people.  They interact like what they are supposed to be – a flawed, slightly insane, loving family.   I also appreciate that McCarthy’s characters tend to defy stereotypes and tropes.  Her books are light and fun and entertaining, but they also remind me not to make assumptions about what people are like based on age, gender, profession, or any other external marker. 

The series has encompassed a lot of personalities and surprises.  McCarthy’s characters touch me and make me laugh and challenge my assumptions.  Whenever I pick up a McCarthy book, I know that while I might like some of her books more than others, all of them will be fun to read.  This is not her best book because it has some writing flaws (the sudden baby thing, Shawn’s general ineptness) and it’s not my personal favorite because of personal triggers, but it’s still a fun, solid book.


This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo | All Romance eBooks.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    pet says:

    I am like you with dom/sub stuff. It makes me feel uncomfortable most of the times.
    For me sex and relationship are all about love,partnership,mutual understanding and sometimes one of the partners is more dominant than the other but thats how life is.It seem natural to me.
    In many books with BDSM it looks like is all about power.I cant understand it.I cant feel it.Where is the love?Maybe BDSM is not my cup of coffee and I tend to stay away from it.On the other hand I am curious and really like to understand how,why others like it so much .Most of the times when I put myself in heroine shoes I felt threatened.
    But I really liked Kinked and Night owl.Maybe Im weird.

  2. 2
    Sarita says:

    D/s doesn’t do a lot for me, but also doesn’t bother me.

    But the thing where a character (usually female, who woulda guessed) is made out to be ‘equal’ or even just ‘competent’ except for the part where in practice no, no she isn’t…
    That one’s a big pet peeve.

    So I’ll probably avoid this title, but maybe I’ll check out something else by the author. Well drawn places and good characterization do make me very happy.

  3. 3
    Dora says:

    I think the problem with a lot of BDSM books is that they most likely aren’t written by someone who’s done more than a Google search about it. It’s not my cup of tea myself, but from what I understand, BDSM is SUPPOSED to be all about love, trust, respect, and the exchange of power (yes, between both parties), and most books just use it as a kink and as a result represent it poorly. It’s the sort of thing I imagine must really frustrate people who ARE into BDSM because it’s often presented as little more than the urge to hold your partner down and do whatever you want with them. (From what I hear, 50 Shades of Grey was also poorly received by the BDSM community because it presented a D/s relationship as the result of psychological damage and something that needed to be fixed.)

    To touch on what pet said, from my understanding it IS all about love, and it sounds like this novel failed to understand or communicate that… for the Dom it’s about understanding that you’re being given this tremendous gift of trust and so forth, and for the sub it’s about having someone who loves you and gives you the freedom to enjoy everything about yourself without shame or judgement. There used to be a show I watched back in Canada called Kink that would feature a different sexual activity each episode (no, not in visual detail), and tended to focus on the mental and psychological aspects of why people enjoy the things they do and what they get out of it. It was always fascinating to hear what people had to say about what they liked in the bedroom and why, and I think because sex and love go hand in hand for so many people, ESPECIALLY when you’re writing a romance, it’s important to think about that.

    I’m not saying you have to present every “kink” as something much deeper and delve into all of the psychological nuances behind it, but I think there does need to be an understanding from the author about the reasons why more people get into something like this other than “I like having power over people”, and a responsibility to convey that.

  4. 4
    SB Sarah says:

    Yes. Jane at DA called BDSM in romance “the kink of the broken” which is pretty far from the truth given the individuals who are active practitioners that I’ve met.

    From what I can tell in my limited research, the BDSM relationships between partners is one of a great deal of respect, trust, and rules. A lot of rules. There are requirements and pieces of the sequence that are extremely important (aftercare, hard limits, safe words, etc) that require communication and discussion before and after. It may not be the sexiest part (paperwork! checklists! detailed conversations!) but it’s important to both parties for safety and security.

    So when I see the dominance played out in romances where the hero says he’s going to be in charge and she’s going to like it, with no discussion of what that MEANS, it makes me very irritable, because I know it is wrong. And unsafe. And really, anyone being blithely unsafe makes me head straight for level 11 rage very quickly.

    I have a tremendous amount of respect for those who portray BDSM in a manner I can understand (Del Dryden’s books, for example – http://bit.ly/1kEqR1l) because even though I know it’s not for me, I can comprehend why a character or set of characters would wish to engage, and why it’s important to them. I’ve also learned a great deal from reading various sex-focused Tumblrs, especially those belonging to people who are into BDSM, role play, etc. They answer questions from anonymous users that illustrate why the necessary pre- and post-scene (I think that’s the right word) care is required. If I learned about BDSM from reading solely all the different romances about them, I’d have an entirely different (and largely inaccurate, I believe) understanding.

    @Dora said:

    I’m not saying you have to present every “kink” as something much deeper and delve into all of the psychological nuances behind it, but I think there does need to be an understanding from the author about the reasons why more people get into something like this other than “I like having power over people”, and a responsibility to convey that.

    YES. The lack of discussion and explanation (and setting of boundaries) makes it seem like all control rests with the dominant, and that’s not the case. The sub gets to define boundaries, set up limits, and within the confines of the BDSM world and the rules, nothing happens if the sub doesn’t willingly and knowledgeably consent. That’s the part that is so often missing.

  5. 5
    CarrieS says:

    Re: boundaries, Yes, Rhett takes great care to make sure Shawn consents, but what she consents to is “you’ll let me do anything I want and you’ll like it”.  Cue my triggers, cue me running screaming from the room – even though part of me can totally understand the allure of surrendering your control completely and the allure of begin trusted with control completely.

    The first person who tried to educate me about BDSM was a writer who was into very hard core BDSM part of both a personal practice and a sub-culture.  She was adamant that you could be a switch, but only with different people.  She maintained that you couldn’t maintain the dynamic of utter power/surrender of power in a couple unless the roles were always the same (oh, there I go, screaming, AGAIN).  She was really into the idea of grooming people to be “slaves” which term again sets me screaming from the room, and your slave is submissive to you all the time, even out of the bedroom (you wear a collar everywhere, you refer to you Dom as “Master” at all times, you do non-sexual tasks like cleaning and cooking to show your level of services, etc).  This Person (we’ll call her Person A) thought that I was repelled by her literary descriptions of things like branding and cutting, but what bothered me wasn’t the pain and injury, it was what seemed to me like a relationship built on systematic, albeit consensual, humiliation.  Yet the community seemed, from my limited exposure to it, to be one of people who cared about and supported each other, and these relationships were filling some vital need for people that I don’t understand.

    Incidentally, Person A called me “little girl” when she met me and it wasn’t until I read her books that I went , “Ooooh, that’s why she kept calling me that”.  And it wasn’t until much later when I was talking to some other people in that community that they explained that for Person A to persist in calling me “little girl” even after I specifically and repeatedly told her not to was a breach of consent right there.  And it sure pissed me off a ton.  So I didn’t get off on the right foot with BDSM issues since my right to consent was being subtly violated constantly by the same person who kept telling me that everything is OK with consent.

    The power dynamic in this book is much more vanilla – they confine all BDSM relationships to the bedroom.  I am eager to read some Dryden to get a different perspective from the ultra-specific world of Person A that just isn’t my thing and from the vague world of Full Throttle where anything goes.  BDSM is so common now in fiction and among people I meet that I feel like I really need to understand it better.  I don’t think it needs to be something I participate in, but I find it fascinating that many people seem to feel so liberated by something that looks to me, from the outside, as so confining.

  6. 6
    EC Spurlock says:

    I’m sorry, I’m probably not understanding BDSM at all, but as a 70’s feminist, I perceive the proliferation of BDSM in literature a means of propaganda to convince women it’s a good thing to give up our rights to our own bodies and self-respect as long as it’s “consensual”. “Consensual” being the key word as it’s a question of whether the woman is knowingly consenting to everything involved or whether there is “fine print” that doesn’t get examined until it happens, and then it’s too late, you’ve already “agreed” to it.

    With so many real women being abused and humiliated on a daily basis, and all the rights we spent years fighting for being eroded daily in the real world, I can’t understand why any woman with any sense of self would agree to this.

  7. 7
    garlicknitter says:

    @EC Spurlock:  Keep in mind, the woman is not always the one being dominated.  For example, Natural Law by Joey Hill.

  8. 8
    Dora says:

    The problem with that, EC Spurlock, is that BDSM is not strictly dominant male, submissive female. :) It may be the most well-known and endorsed for people who prefer to read about “alpha males”, but there are just as many women who are the big D in the D/s relationship with men playing the submissive. Since it’s less popular or even acceptable for a man to display himself as anything less than dominant, however, you just don’t hear about it as much.

    I think the proliferation of modern erotica and pornography has probably greatly exaggerated what actual BDSM probably is to the people who are into it, and of course you also run into the issue of people only wanting to talk about the bad and the sensationalized. It’s human nature, and it’s why you see people more galvanized to post a bad review about something than a good experience. People are more inclined to spread the stories about abusive relationships to the point where everyone accepts that that’s the norm, and any man (or woman) who says otherwise is either lying or degrading themselves and therefore somehow incapable of having an opinion. It infantilizes and trivializes someone because it implies they aren’t capable of making their own decisions.

    Are there irresponsible and abusive people in the BDSM community? I’m sure of it, and Carrie S’s example of the woman who repeatedly ignored her comfort level and requests is a good one. But I think it’s too easy to simply point to terms and fictional examples we have no experience with personally as shameful and wrong simply because they don’t fall within our comfort level, and it’s wrong to lay a blanket with a single label over every person in a community simply because of the actions of some. That would be like implying all straight white men are abusive racists, or that all women who enjoy shaving their bodies are encouraging pedophiles, or that a woman who enjoys the “alpha male” in a romance novel does so solely because she has daddy issues. And this sort of negative mentality is probably why you DON’T get a lot of people talking openly about what they get out of activities like BDSM… why would you want to talk to someone about something so personal and intimate when they have already told you they think it’s shameful and disgusting?

  9. 9
    Not signing my name, heh says:

    My husband and I have an egalitarian, feminist, normal-urban-middle-class-people marriage that is kind of BDSMy in the bedroom. I am totally not “into BDSM” (no judgment on people who are) in general, not into it as a lifestyle (for whatever that means) or into leather or whips or going to clubs or talking to other people about it or anything. It is a totally private sexual dynamic that doesn’t really bleed over into other things.

    Okay, in case it’s helpful, what this actually looks like in my marriage is that we are totally garden-variety married people 99% of the time, but when we’re having sex, my husband is basically in charge. Which doesn’t mean that he is doing things I don’t like, for us. It just means that I am not making decisions. It just means that we start from an agreement that he is making the minute-to-minute choices and I am agreeing to go along with them. (Don’t imagine anything too thrilling here. There are no accessories in our bedroom.) And here is the thing I feel a lot of BDSM literature gets wrong about this, from my own experience: I am a super anxious person. I mean, I control it. I don’t seem like a basketcase. But my brain is constantly churning. Is that a lion? Am I late for that meeting? Why are those two people looking at each other like that, is a fight about to break out in this Starbucks? And so on.

    My secret guess is that a lot of people who are into the submissive part of D/s sexuality are that way because it is a way to circumvent anxiety. Anxiety, for me, absolutely kills sex drive dead. I can go through the motions, but my brain isn’t in it, let alone my libido. I can’t relax, so it becomes a chore, so then I’m even more aware of and worried about my inability to relax, and so on. (I don’t know if this makes sense. I just remember dating other people and feeling so unsexy and so weirdly stressed, and like “Okay, is now the time when I try to take off my pants in a sexy way? How about now? Maybe now I am supposed to be making more sounds like I really like what’s going on, even though I don’t really like it that much.”)

    But when the dynamic is D/s, I can relax. I can stop thinking and get out of my head and into my body. And I no longer feel that I am in some way supposed to be performing a specific type of sexy person thing: that isn’t my job, someone else is in charge of that (or not.) So for me this isn’t about bondage, or someone telling me what I can wear, or elaborate pain scenarios or anything like that. I am into being controlled in this one narrow segment of my life, because not having to make choices for half an hour is so profoundly relaxing to me, I can’t explain it. I am able to have fun married-person sex in a way I am just not when I am all tense and my brain is whirling.

    I also think that in real life I have a sort of high-tension, intellectually sharp, slightly forceful personality, which creates weird internal stress where I used to date men who would sort of let that happen, and then I would feel resentful that I felt that I was constantly making all of the choices about everything, and sort of providing excellent girlfriend services, and being responsible for whether or not they were having a good time. Which is also a libido-destroying thing for me, just the feeling constantly “on”, I guess. It’s hard to explain to people who don’t have this type of personality, maybe. Anyway, I have always, since I became aware of these things, had sort of fluttery feelings about stern, competent men, but I didn’t understand what that was about for a long time. And I am still not into being told what to do in general, or into bossy men in general, particularly. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that perhaps I am okay with bossy people telling me what to do, but the bar for trusting someone’s moral code and competence – to trust that they are worthy of my obedience – is extremely high. I suppose after this epic comment, it comes down to me needing to experience profound trust with my partner before the sex is awesome, and I suppose the D/s variety of sex is really just an outward marker of the internal trust.

    I don’t feel like a lot of the BDSM romance books really talk about the dynamic I experience. There’s a lot of stuff set in sex clubs, which I don’t relate to at all. Something I recently read that came emotionally really close to what I recognize was “After Hours” by Cara McKenna. It’s about two people navigating a D/s relationship while also being peers at work.

    Anyway, FWIW, there are my thoughts. I’m not saying that any of the things I have said here are universally true or ought to be or feel right for other people. Just sharing my personal subjective experience.

  10. 10
    miaohdeux says:

    Not signing my name, I totally have that personality. ;) I wouldn’t consider myself especially into BDSM, but I do often let a sexual partner take charge behind closed doors. I tend to be pretty picky as to whom I let into my bed (or whose bed I go into!), so by the time we sleep together there’s been some kind of friendship/romance with a healthy dose of trust. In other words, it’s always a person I feel okay “submitting” to. And yes, I agree, this type of sex helps me live in the moment and in my body, and not worry about being “on”. It’s not always part of a romantic relationship – one of the best experiences I ever had was with a former coworker, and we never dated in any sense of the word. But I liked him, I trusted him, and we kept the communication open the entire time. He wasn’t telling me what to do every second, but I sort of let him take the lead, and I was very happy with the results. :)

  11. 11
    EC Spurlock says:

    Not condemning anybody’s lifestyle choices or saying it is “bad” or “wrong”; if it works for you it is all good.

    Just personally, after a lifetime of being sexually harassed in various jobs, and being told what I can/can’t do, what jobs I can/can’t have, that my opinion doesn’t count, that my 146 IQ doesn’t count, that I am less valuable as a person, because I am female, it’s a real hot button for me. And I worry that young people reading things like Twilight and 50 Shades and the (admittedly skewed) behaviour there are going to be conditioned to think that this is what a relationship is supposed to be like, and that to say “I’m not comfortable with this” makes THEM the odd ones.

    If adults find that this kind of play spices up their sex lives and makes it more enjoyable, that’s a very good thing. But if an inexperienced young girl is being put in uncomfortable situations and is afraid to speak up because “maybe that’s the way it’s SUPPOSED to be because that’s the way it is in all the books and I’m just being weird for not liking it”, that’s something else entirely.

  12. 12
    Nessa says:

    I just have to say, I really like this conversation where we’re talking about normal everyday D/s without the high protocol and leather and whip stuff so prevalent in fiction. I also totally identify with the other poster with anxiety and bedroom D/s – I’ve totally been there, but never been able to trust enough to let go. In theory, it sounds amazing though so I hope it does work out like that someday.

  13. 13
    chacha1 says:

    I tell ya … I love my husband very much and never fail to get off with him, but OMG I wish he would take a little more control here and there.

    So I can totally relate to the “always being on” thing.  I am the driver, in many senses, in our relationship … and it would be utter luxury to have the decisionmaking rest with someone else for a while.

    That said, romances that hinge on any kind of BDSM thing are a huge turnoff for me because the few that I have read were 100% sexually oriented in their treatment of BDSM (what you said about it never coming out of the bedroom, and I know that ain’t right) and the rest of the relationship never got satisfactorily developed.

  14. 14
    jane says:

    I really felt that she just threw in the BDSM into the book because the 50 shades books became so popular. McCarthy had never written that into a storyline and I felt this book came out much later than the other ones, plus I didn’t really feel it matched the storyline. In the last book, I thought Rhett was going to be gay—that he was struggling with that. Then, she threw the BDSM in and I just didn’t feel it. I also feel like she kind of dropped that angle once she got into the storyline as well. I really enjoyed the first three books of this series but the last couple of ones have been hit or miss. I was really disappointed by Eve’s story- I know there always has to be some big block towards the end so they can have the big reunion but that really came out of leftfield for these specific characters. I think it’s time for her to start a new series because this one is getting stale.

  15. 15
    Bosun says:

    Commenting under a different name than usual.

    I am a lady-type person who’s researched BDSM for a while, has a lot of friends who take part in the ‘scene’ to greater or lesser degrees, and is just starting to explore it for themselves. I am a switch, but when my partner and I play I usually take the dominant role, because that’s what works for us.

    I hate the way BDSM is portrayed in a lot of romances. Like, hate it. There are exceptions – Joey Hill’s ‘Natural Law’ is one, although I thought that book had some issues of its own, and Delphine Dryden’s ‘The Seduction Hypothesis’ does a decent job of exploring the dynamic although some bits of even that made me squirm in a not-good way – but a lot of books do, as other commenters have said, take the approach that the role of the Dom is to do whatever they like, and the role of the sub is to take it.

    There probably are relationships that work like that, although mine will likely never be one, and as you build up trust with someone and figure out how your dynamic works then you get a better sense of what’s going to work out and what’s not, and you spend less time talking and more time doing – just like with anything else. But you can’t just dive in with “right, on your knees, I’m calling the shots and you’re gonna like it”. You need to actually have some discussion around which shots it is okay for you to call. And even without taking the BDSM outside of the bedroom, I read way too many romances in which the dominant partner just assumes all control in all aspects of the sex life, and – well, yes, that does happen too, but I feel like it sends an uncomfortable message about BDSM somehow changing the default setting of a sexual relationship from ‘partnership’ to ‘benevolent dictatorship’. Not all the sex in a kinky relationship is kinky sex, and you can’t just assume that because you’ve done one D/s scene you can take control of every sexual activity that happens between the two of you.

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