Review: The Red

tl;dr: completely insane but satisfying erotica fantasy

The Story:

If you are unfamiliar with Tiffany Reisz, you may want to mentally prepare yourself. This book is bananas, but in the best possible way. The Red is about a young woman named Mona, who comes from scandalous beginnings (her mother was a free love kinda gal, and invited a man to impregnate her without any strings because she wanted a child) and is now faced with a arduous task of saving her late mother’s gallery from financial ruin. She’s gone over the books, and the prognosis in grim. Right at the moment she decides she can’t fight it any longer and needs to sell it, a mysterious man shows up, and offers her the money it will take to bring the gallery back from its debts IF she agrees to submit to his sexual appetites with a carte blanche agreement.

Mona is intrigued by the man, and really doesn’t want to sell the gallery, so she agrees. They embark on a year-long steamy affair, where she is given hints about their encounters from a variety of paintings. He shows up every few months for many hours of debauchery, which begin to become strange and twisted, and nearly unbelievable. She wonders if her imagination is that good, or if he’s drugging her somehow.

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Review: The Cartographer

tl;dr: start from the beginning of this series for a wallop of a finish

The Story:

I have found that even when a series of romance novels tends to be a collection of “standalones”, reading previous books is an asset to the enjoyment of all followups. The books build on each other, creating a universe of world-building in a small section of the world, introducing people, places, and a sensibility that carries through to the rest of the books.

So while The Cartographer is a fantastic book, with a solid arc for both characters, a rich world, and sexy smut, there’s something missing for someone that begins reading a series from the final book. However, this book is simply fantastic, and I will be going back to read the previous 5.

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Review: Pregnant by the Billionaire

tl;dr: quick and cheesy read that’s fairly light hearted and sexy

The Story:

When Sawyer Locke experiences multitudes of setbacks trying to restore a hotel that’s been in his family for generations, likely due to his own father’s sabotage, he decides it’s time to hire a new PR team. It so happens to be the employer of a one-night stand he had that was apparently pretty great, but not so great that he called her after their night together. When they meet up again, he is game to go for another round, but Kendall is not so keen. Particularly when one of her colleagues just got fired for messing around with a client.

She doesn’t put up much of a fuss though, because she’s been really tired and horny lately. They end up embarking on a secret affair, and then Kendall finds out she’s actually pregnant from their tryst of two months before. Sawyer doesn’t think he’s dad material, of course, and Kendall is already on thin ice when her boss discovers she’s been banging their high profile client, and so Kendall cuts him off from her. In a series of sweeping gestures, they come together and decide to get engaged and have a real relationship.

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Review: My Roommate’s Girl

tl;dr: interesting twist on a ‘Jesse’s Girl’ type plot

The Story:

The plot of this book surprised me, because I envisioned that the chase would be the bulk of it, and while that’s sort of true, it’s not really. Aiden is your average asshole, who sees a pretty girl and decides he has to have her. He sets in motion a pretty awful plan to get a hooker to seduce her boyfriend, who happens to be his roommate. But this plot only covers the first few chapters. Once he finally seems to be making inroads into getting into her pants, Aster stuns him by revealing that she spoke to the hooker and she knows everything.

But before this big revelation, Aiden has been trying harder than he’s ever tried to get a girl. He remarks to himself a few times how strange it is that he can’t seem to let go of the chase, even if she doesn’t seem totally interested. Normally, he doesn’t continue chasing a girl that doesn’t seem interested in his advances, but something about Aster spurs him on. The flip side to that is that he actually begins to see her as a person instead of an object, and then, well, there’s feelings involved.

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Quick Reviews Edition #1

Apparently once I am on kid-duty 24/7, my time to review books goes completely out the window. But luckily I am still able to get some reading done, so here’s a quick recap of what I’ve been reading lately.

By The Hour by Roni Loren

The second book in the Pleasure Principle series, I didn’t love it as much as the first one but still very much enjoyed it. Elle is a very complex character and it was interesting to see her arc from bitter and cold shrew into vulnerable woman in love. Many times, I see these “woman betrayed and now don’t believe in love” stories and think, really? Some time and distance from that would probably make it not that big of a deal – but Elle’s past makes her present seem wholly justified. Geez. Plus, Lane was sexy as hell.

Readers Advisory: You would think sex workers in romance fiction would be more common, but the only example that comes to mind is Thorny from Tiffany Reisz’s The Queen, which is excellent.

Fool Me Once by Katee Robert

I had high hopes going into this one because the story involves a heroine that is a gamer and has a crippling social anxiety disorder, but despite how hot and sexy the smut was, I felt like the writing was a little amateur. Part of it was that clearly some establishing plot had taken place in the previous book in the series and was not well integrated into this one. Second, the opening scenes were rough and it was hard to get a good reading on the characters until the story was well along. The hero was a bit of an enigma, and I didn’t really get his character except that he was apparently very muscled and cocky, and also hated his parents.

Readers Advisory: For more ladies that enjoy stereotypically male things that are on the geeky side, check out Forever Mine by Erin Nicholas.

Sugar Bowl 1-3 by Sawyer Bennett

I was blown away by the first book in the series, and I have to review them all at once because none of these works as a standalone. I will say, heavy content warnings apply for this series because it begins with a horrific rape flashback, includes suicide attempts, and there is a revenge murder plot. But holy hell, it was intriguing and I was hooked from the first page. The chemistry between the hero and heroine is also topnotch and their reluctant romance is well plotted. There are few times I’m rooting for the bad guy to be killed dead, but this time, I wanted that sucker to go down.

Readers Advisory: This is an unusual pairing, but I just finished listening to You Must Remember This podcast‘s series on Dead Blondes. Highly recommend, particularly for the last episode in the series, on Dorothy Stratten, where the commoditization of beauty is a theme of the series.

Under Her Skin by Adriana Anders

Continuing in my deep, dark romance reads, this book was incredible. Content warning for domestic abuse and rape, and very brutal at that. The thing that I most loved about this story was how the hero was physically large, but she was able to use their romance as a way to begin her own healing, as she took on a more sexually dominant role in order to take back her power. Yes, their encounters were sexy, but there was also a lot of both characters doing some personal discovery, about how they could overcome destructive cycles and move forward.

Readers Advisory: There are two other books in this series which may be a good place to start (the third comes out this summer and I have the advanced copy — EEE!)

Too Hard To Forget by Tessa Bailey

I’d had this book on hold for quite awhile after reading some early reviews that stated the sex starts off right at the beginning. That’s not exactly true, in that there is at least one chapter of set up, but while it takes awhile for the hero and heroine to move forward with their relationship, there are plenty of flashbacks to tide you over. It’s a bit of a May/December romance, with a bit of single dad thrown in. This book obviously builds from the previous 2 that came before it, but in a way that doesn’t detract from the story at all.

Readers Advisory: When it comes to a coach and a buxom blonde, is there anything else to recommend other than the classic Susan Elizabeth Phillips novel It Had To Be You?

The Undateable by Sarah Title

Is there a more perfect feminist heroine than a librarian? They have the smarts, and can be either fully comfortable in their sexuality or maybe need a little coaxing to bloom. Now, if you’re looking for hot sexy times, this book doesn’t have it, but it was a very sweet and funny story that I enjoyed. It has fake dating, librarians, and memes. What more can you ask for? I know, you can ask for more smut. Sorry. You can’t have it all.

Readers Advisory: For a sexier version of fake dating with librarians, check out Sweet Surrender by Nina Lane. Plus, the librarian is the guy and he also builds cars.

I also have a couple of full length reviews coming up for Netgalley and Author-provided reviews, so stayed tuned for those!

Review: Heat

tl;dr: save yourself some pain and stay far away from this garbage fire

The Story:

I picked up this book because I got a publisher email. If you’ll recall, I also reviewed the author’s last release, A Fare To Remember. I didn’t think it could honestly get worse than that one. I figured it would be a quick read, a few laughs, and then I’d write a review that was essentially a rehashing of the last.

This book was so much worse than the one before it. I don’t even want to review it. First, the review copy that they sent me was barely readable. The formatting was awful and random words and numbers were inserted throughout the book. I had the worst time following it because of those things. And not only that, but the story itself was the most bored I’ve ever been while reading erotica. The prose was infantile and awful. The characters were worse than paper dolls.

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Review: The Wedding Date Bargain

tl;dr: sweet and sexy chemistry overrides the few technical faults

The story:

When reading the title of a book, a reader generally has some expectations about what’s to follow. But when it comes to this book, toss them. I have no idea why the book is titled ‘The Wedding Date Bargain’. The wedding is a 3 page non-event, and I don’t even know where the bargain comes from.

This is the actual story: college friends Max and Sarah reconnect after 8 years, and then reconnect AGAIN one week later. Sarah has always had the hots for Max, and the feeling is mutual. She threw herself at him in college, but apparently he has a White Knight complex and refused to tarnish her virtue, so they spend 8 years mooning over the one that got away. When Sarah ends up working for his friend Sean’s chain of hotels, she AGAIN tries to seduce him and he AGAIN says he can’t be the guy to pop her cherry, because it would give her the wrong impression or something. But when Sarah agrees, and decides she’ll find someone else to fix her ‘problem’, Max goes 110% caveman and offers himself as tribute, because he can’t stand the idea of anyone else touching her.

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Review: While The Duke Was Sleeping

tl;dr: sexier than the movie it’s based on, but consent is iffy

The Story:

This book is literally the very first historical romance novel that I’ve ever read. I don’t enjoy historical anything. I don’t watch period dramas. I don’t get the appeal of Mr. Darcy. Fancy dresses with breeches or corsets or petticoats and layers of whatnot does not appeal to me. My preferred romances feature lots of angst, sex, and pain (with a HEA!). I like a romance that makes me feel deeply, where I get invested in the characters and their misery, and feel elated when everything turns out in the end. The harder the fight to the HEA, the better. And I don’t want any thees and thous and “I dare says” getting in the way.

And I probably chose the wrong book for my first historical, because  I can’t muster up more than an underwhelmed “meh” about this one. I was excited about the idea because it’s a play on one of my favorite romantic comedies, While You Were Sleeping. The story is not identical, and I think a lot of the changes were good choices for the genre, but in general, I wasn’t a huge fan of the setting.

Poppy Fairchurch has admired the Duke of Autenberry from afar for a very long time. She works as a shopgirl in a flower shop, one that the Duke frequents quite a bit. Poppy isn’t stupid, she knows that he’s sending flowers to loads of different women, and he still seems dashing and sentimental regardless. But when she sees him get into a street brawl with another man, she dashes out of the shop to try and protect him, which seems a little misguided and rash. Anyway, it turns out that the other man is his half-brother and they do not get along because Struan Mackenzie reminds the Duke that his father was actually a pretty horrible person. Punches are thrown and then Poppy shoves the Duke out of the way of an errant carriage, which ends up with a bump to his head that knocks him out cold.

As with the movie, someone overhears Poppy lamenting jokingly that she and the Duke were supposed to be married, and they all take it at face value, except Struan and Lord Strickland, who happens to be the Duke’s best friend. Poppy is about to tell everyone the truth, but Lord Strickland asks her to wait, to keep the family’s spirits up. Struan makes it his goal to seduce Poppy, and they get up to some very not-PG-like activities in the meantime that definitely were missing from the movie.

Technical Elements:

Overall, the writing was fine. I feel like I can’t judge this sub-genre very well since I don’t read historical. There didn’t appear to be any sort of time frame that this story landed in, and I’m not even sure I know what country they were in. Struan was Scottish or Irish or something other, and they were somewhere else, presumably England. I felt like the sexual tension was pretty well drawn out, and the smutty scenes were pretty hot, although I’m a little meh on the dubious consent. Contemporary romances have a lot more free reign to be sex-positive since that’s the culture that we live in. (At least, women losing their virginity isn’t publicly referred to as ruination, although that may still be the secret belief.)

I should probably explain the consent portion. I don’t know if that’s the way with historical romances, if it’s a given that the heroine will say no no no but mean yes yes yes (which is awful and makes me cringe), but that’s essentially what kept happening here. And the hero frequently thinks about how he just needs to ‘have her’ once, get this lust out of his system, so he can discard her and move on with his life. And any time they start to get sexy together, he pushes her beyond what she says she wants although her body ‘responds’ to him. I just really didn’t like that aspect. He does kind of pull back and doesn’t completely go through with ‘ruining’ her until she begs him to, but I can’t help feeling that if he’d listened to her before she was too aroused to think straight, she may have made another decision? Is this the type of romance people want to read?

Final Thoughts:

As far as romances go, this one was pretty light. There are several other stories in the series, and I believe the next book picks up with Lord Strickland and the Dowager Duchess (the Duke’s stepmother), but honestly, I don’t think I can read any more about comely maidens or carriages.

Find it at your local library! I can’t recommend another historical romance because I haven’t read any others, but I’ve got some enemies-to-lovers to recommend!

First, Act Like It was phenomenal, and one of the best of the trope in my opinion. I also highly enjoyed The Love Potion despite its silliness, or you can always go old school with Pride and Prejudice.

Review: Off The Clock

tl;dr: two sex therapists that have a lot to learn about love

The Story:

I don’t normally read back-of-the-book blurbs, but in this case, I did. It seemed interesting enough, and so I checked it out from the library, mostly because the blurb to the follow-up book, By The Hour, looked even more intriguing. Unfortunately, the library didn’t have that book, so, wary to purchase a book without knowing if I would like the author’s style, I borrowed this one first. And I’m so glad that I did, for a variety of reasons, least of which is that the most interesting part of the story was a complete surprise.

The first few chapters are a bit of an extended prologue where we get to know Marin and Donovan. Donovan is a doctoral student working on his thesis about aural methods of female arousal, by recording himself dictating fantasies that are supposed to be coming from the female gaze, or at least, more arousing for women than pornography, which tends to work better for men. After a week of working together on the scripts for the audio recordings, Marin and Donovan have passion sex on one of the desks in the lab. Marin doesn’t give him her real name, and she doesn’t even plan to see him again, ever. Due to a family crisis, she ends up dropping out of school and thinks that she’ll never see him again…

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Review: The F Word

tl;dr: formerly overweight woman is plagued by high school broken heart

The Story:

Finishing this book was a struggle.

I’m not totally sure if it’s because the ‘women’s fiction but not romance’ genre, otherwise known as chick lit, is just not for me anymore, or if the book is actually not that good. I didn’t connect with any of it, and not because the gist of the story wasn’t interesting. It’s because the actual story fell very flat for me, mostly because I kept getting pulled out of it by visceral disgust or general disagreement with some of the things that were plied off as truth.

The F Word is apparently a follow-up to Conversations with a Fat Girl, which I didn’t read. That story is about Olivia’s friend, and while Olivia is a character in that book, the friend at the center of the first book is barely even mentioned in this one, which is what it is. This book takes place ten years after the first one. Olivia has been living in her Hollywood life with her doctor husband and working in a PR firm for celebrities. We are supposed to be making parallels between Caroline Lang, Olivia’s actress client going through a divorce, and Olivia herself. They both maintain an icy I’m-better-than-you demeanor, although it’s hard to tell from Caroline whether she means it or if it’s just a coping mechanism left over from her lonely childhood. Olivia, on the other hand, is just mean. She’s mean to her socialite couple friends, and makes very little effort to have friends of her own. She seems closer to her mom and her mom’s friends, although she doesn’t bare herself to anyone. Literally. She’s been married ten years and her husband has never seen her naked.

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