Lingus by Mariana Zapata, narrated by Callie Dalton

close up of a blue plaid shirt and a laminated all access pass with the name "Robby" written on it in SharpieWhy I read it:  This is one from my own TBL.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Most people would describe Katherine Berger as a responsible girl with a big heart, a loyal friend who takes care of those close to her, and the possessor of a wicked sense of humor. There was something about her that most people didn’t know. “My name is Kat Berger, and I love porn.” 

When twenty-five-year-old Kat is dragged to a porn convention by her best friend, she’s both embarrassed and nervous. The last thing she ever expected was to meet someone who makes her laugh like no other. This is a story about acceptance and friendship, and a love born out of the most unexpected of places.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  Via some Goodreads friends, I saw that this one is apparently pulled to publish (P2P) fan fiction – apparently it was Twilight fan fiction. I don’t get bent out of shape about this kind of thing, particularly when the the story really bears little or no resemblance to the original story the author was riffing on. And apart from that Kat at one stage mentions she’s name a character in one of her books (she’s a teacher but writes murder-mysteries in her spare time) “Christian” which might have been a nod to Fifty Shades of Grey, I really couldn’t see any resemblance to Twilight in this story.

Kat Berger attends a porn convention with her good friend Nicole. There, they meet their other bestie Zoe, who is a porn star herself. Zoe specialises in girl on girl porn and is extremely popular in the industry. At the convention, while Nicole is waiting in line to get her butt autographed by her porn idol, Callum Burro, Kat encounters a gorgeous man who eventually introduces himself as Tristan King. Over the course of the day, Tristan and Kat bump into one another three times and they get along well, laughing and teasing one another like old friends almost immediately. Nicole and Callum also hit it off and it is later revealed (spoiler alert) that Tristan is also a porn star – “Robby Lingus”.

Following the convention, Nicole and Callum start seeing one another romantically and Tristan and Kat become good friends. Kat is always attracted to Tristan but he says he can’t really sustain relationships given what he does for a living and says he just wants to be friends.

Over the course of a few months, Kat and Tristan become closer and closer and it is clear to the listener that Tristan feels more for Kat than she realises. Just when the tension of it was reaching my breaking point and I was millimetres shy of “enough already!”, Tristan makes a move and the couple move into HEA mode for the next few chapters, slowly exploring a physical relationship and revealing their true feelings for one another.

I do think Lingus does show some evidence of being a first/early book from Ms. Zapata. While it does have her trademark slow burn friends-to-lovers romance, it felt a little like it was trying too hard sometimes. I’m sure I enjoyed the story as much as I did because I listened to it and I enjoy Callie Dalton’s narrations as a rule. Apart from some occasions where she paused in the wrong places, breaking up words which were contextually together or ending a sentence early and leaving a word or phrase out there on it’s own, it was a strong performance.

If that were all I had to say about it, I think I’d have rated the book at a high B or maybe even a B+ – because the narration elevated my enjoyment of the story as well. But there were problematic elements – which means I have more to say and consequently the grade is a bit lower.

Even though Kat and Tristan meet at a porn convention and even though her best friend one one point in the day stands in line to have her butt autographed by a porn star and shamelessly picks him up afterwards, porn isn’t exactly celebrated in the story. Nicole’s behaviour, because she is Kat’s friend is perfectly okay. However, any woman standing in line to have something not a body part autographed by Robby Lingus is a slut or a whore – and not just a whore but a diseased whore. While Nicole initially loves that Callum is a porn star – indeed that is the reason she propositions him, once they’re together she is decidedly unhappy about him continuing to work in the adult film industry. And Kat never likes that Tristan is in the industry. On the other hand, Zoe, who works in the porn industry is their good friend and she is still performing by the end of the book and (again, possibly because Kat likes Zoe) what Zoe is does is fine. Other porn stars who have worked with either Callum (from Nicole’s POV) or Robby (from Kat’s) are fake, trashy and also, whores. The hypocrisy here was ridiculous. Kat and her friends enjoy porn and self-love but those who are not her friends are not allowed to?  I think the book wanted to be sex-positive but didn’t quite manage it.

Kat and her three musketeers, Nicole, Zoe and Josh (their gay best friend) routinely refer to each other as “slut”, “whore” and “bitch”. I suspect I’d have had far less tolerance for this if I’d read it. But, because I listened I was able to experience those words as having genuine affection behind them. Ms. Dalton put an entirely different tone in her voice when the characters were referring to each other this way. I had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, those words are misogynistic to say the least and definitely  not sex-positive. On the other hand, could this be the group of friends reclaiming words the culture uses as slurs and using them as terms of endearment and affection? Is there a meaningful difference between Kat lovingly calling Nicole a slut and an African American man calling another African American friend the n-word?

Of course, even if the latter were the case (and I’m leaning towards it but my feelings are still mixed on the issue. I admit to discomfort) that does not excuse the other misogyny and slut-shaming in the book. Because it may be that Kat sometimes used these words as terms of endearment but there were plenty of times when she (and her friends) meant them entirely as the slur they originally were (and still are). There was altogether too much of it in the book.

What else? Even though three of the characters are porn stars, there isn’t a lot of information about porn in the book. There is no discussion of whether Zoe, Callum or Tristan like doing porn. Zoe went into it willingly, so I assumed she liked it well enough. But perhaps she liked the money she made and was meh about the method of earning it? It is inferred that Tristan went into porn because he had a lot of debt but it is only a vague inference. Porn is definitely a barrier to Kat’s and Tristan’s HEA but that is pretty much it in terms of the role of it in the story. I admit I was curious about how a relationship for an adult film actor or actress might work. If anything the book stood for the proposition that a porn star cannot have a successful relationship and still be a porn star. I guess I expected a book about a porn star would address some aspects of the adult entertainment industry – apart from a mention of regular STI testing, there really wasn’t much.

I’m sure I’d have rated Lingus lower if I hadn’t had the enjoyment of Callie Dalton’s narration. There was however, still some charm in the friendship between Kat, Josh, Zoe and Nicole and I did enjoy the development of the relationship between Kat and Tristan. The romance worked for me in spite of major flaws in the book. I was warned going in that there was misogyny and slut shaming. Maybe that helped because even with my misgivings, I can’t regret spending a credit on this one – even though I expect it is not a story I’ll revisit.

Grade: B-

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