The Practitioner by Ronica Black is the angsty sort of romance that I can easily get lost in. I wanted to fill a tub and bathe in all the feelings. Hell, if I had one of those fancy, waterproof Kindles, I just might have.
Johnnie Hamilton is a successful artist despite a very difficult past. She lost her business to her unscrupulous father, lived on the streets, and she still struggles with an anxiety disorder. Unfortunately, she is finding it hard to tap into any inspiration to paint. She spends her days sitting in a dive bar, nursing one beer and staring at her sketchpad.
Elaine Taylor is a psychologist. She left a conventional practice to become a “creative practitioner”. She is known for her ability to awaken a client’s creative side using sensual and sexual approaches when necessary. She prefers working with male clients during the day and having one night stands with women on her off hours. She isn’t interested in anything more serious with a woman because she has already lost the most perfect woman she has ever known, her wife Barb.
Johnnie is terrified that she has lost her creativity and may face homelessness again. She takes the advice of a friend and calls an anonymous phone number on a business card. When she steps into Elaine’s office, Johnnie gets a lot more than she bargained for. Can these complicated, complex women find common ground let alone a future together?
These main characters have more baggage than Los Angeles International Airport and I LOVE it. They are both exquisitely damaged souls. They are beautiful because they have overcome terrible adversity and still struggle with the after effects every day. They are forever marked with emotional scars that could either cripple them or become resolute foundations for a new and honest future.
I immediately fell in love with Johnnie. Much of her life has been spent with people who have treated her poorly so it is no wonder that she seems resigned to it. I don’t like female characters that wallow in their melancholy and wait for something external to change their circumstances. Johnnie is no victim. She has struggled every day for what she has. She fought her way out of homelessness to a thriving art career and she forces herself to interact with the world when her anxiety tells her that she is not worthy of a place in it. Her strength is in her willingness to take action to save her career. Following through and meeting with her practitioner, answering the hard questions, and taking a risk with her heart are courageous and defiant acts. Watching Johnnie take the necessary steps to take control of her life was triumphant.
Elaine is a beautiful study in the meaning of cool, confident, and aloof. She can get into a person’s head and zero in on their most hidden insecurities. I have to say; I thought she was equal parts sexy and frightening. Elaine is suffering both literally and figuratively from a broken heart. In an almost primal fashion, she has completely cut herself off from any relationship that would require an iota of emotional investment. The biggest thing standing in her way is the guilt she feels over the prospect of opening her heart to another woman. She sees her feelings for Johnnie as a betrayal of her love for her dead wife, Barb. Her journey is no less daunting than Johnnie’s. I wasn’t sure if this woman could overcome the emotional barricades she built around her heart.
The Writing Style
This story is definitely a slow burn or rather a slow scorch. The chemistry between Johnnie and Elaine is past the boiling point soon after Johnnie walks into Elaine’s office and Black continues to ratchet it up even after I thought it couldn’t get any higher. I liked the language the characters use. It gets pretty coarse at times, but it matches the gritty frustration they each feel when they think they have been misunderstood or slighted. I thought it was a nice touch that Johnnie refers to Elaine as “the woman” for the first third of the book as Elaine’s raw sexuality and commanding personality is so overwhelming, Johnnie can’t even ask what her name is.
Brittni Pope did a great job with the narration. She is one of my favorite narrators. The honey soaked timber of her voice was a perfect fit for this sexy novel. She added just a hint of rawness to Johnnie’s voice, which brought out the vulnerability and exhaustion felt by her character and Pope’s Elaine was voiced with just the right amount of cool detachment. I never got confused between which characters were speaking and even the men in the audiobook had their own unique voice that fit their character.
I liked everything about this book. There are several very emotionally charged side characters that play significant roles in Johnnie’s past. Watching Johnnie outgrow and discard the harmful relationships was an added plus to the romance.
As an extra bonus, part of the book takes place in Sedona, Arizona, which is a Southwestern art mecca. There are sacred Native American Indian places and traditions weaved into the plot that touch each woman and help them in their healing.
I think I should caution would-be listeners that both Elaine and Johnnie have problems with sexual boundaries. They both have one-night stands with side characters even after they have fallen in love. This wasn’t a problem for me as I saw it as part of their character arcs.
I am really persnickety about audiobooks. I hear everything. The sound editing and mixing on this audiobook left a lot to be desired. I found that by listening to it at 1.25 speed covered up most of the noticeable problems while not affecting the performance of the narrator. But, if you are as sensitive to these issues as I am, I would still recommend reading the book.
At the top of the review, I said I loved angst and this book really delivered on that point. I enjoyed this book because of Black’s excellent character work. The backstories for each of the women were compelling and had me 100% invested in them and their story. I ping-ponged back and forth between which character was my one true love.
And, the sex scenes are Sex-y. I’m not going to pretend that I’m above that and don’t you do it either. There were times I could hear my heartbeat thudding in my ears and hoped nobody I work with could tell what I was reading during my lunch break.
Excerpt from The Practitioner by Ronica Black
“What if I don’t grow?”
“You already have. You’re here aren’t you? Sitting with me…talking…experiencing.”
Johnnie closed her eyes. She had no control. Her body was reacting and her mind reigniting like a pilot light that had long been out.
“How do you know?”
“It isn’t difficult to know.”
Johnnie knew it was true. She was electrified and it had taken so little. She opened her eyes and focused on the door. It wasn’t locked. Anyone could walk in. What if someone did? What if someone saw her?
“You’re worrying again,” the woman said.
Johnnie nearly turned to argue. But she stilled and swallowed at the observation, owning it.
“You find it very hard to relax, don’t you? Intensity buzzing through you night and day. I bet you dream. Vividly. And the nightmares…” She took a breath and Johnnie sat with her heart racing and her head cracked open, oozing out all her secrets.
“Your art is your outlet. Without it you are…lost.”
The last comment hit a nerve, and Johnnie grew angry at feeling so exposed. “How do you know so goddamned much about me?”
The woman shifted and laughed a little. “It makes you uncomfortable.”
“How can I help you if I don’t know you?”
Johnnie shrugged. “I don’t know. I thought sex was sex.”
“I know you don’t believe that.”
“Maybe I do.”
“And why don’t I?’
“Because it’s written all over you. You’re an artist, a creator, a sensitive soul. You feel and sense what others cannot or refuse to feel and see. You take everything in and digest it whether it’s good for you or not. You feel. It’s what you do. It’s what makes you who you are. It’s what makes you such a good artist.”
Johnnie clenched her jay against the rapid thumping of her heart. “I just want sex. I need sex.”
“I’m paying you, right?”
“You are, but you don’t have to. You can leave at any time.”
‘You’ll give me my money back and I can just walk out that door?”
Johnnie stared at the doorknob. She wanted to stand and reach out for the motherfucker, but she sat nailed to the chair. The woman had her wide open, and she was verbally teasing her with long strokes of a feather.
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781626399488
- Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
- Audiobook Publisher: Bold Strokes
- Narrator: Brittni Pope
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