Kim and Kelly’s Review Of Book Lovers: Sexy Stories from Under the Covers Edited by Shawna Kenney

blskSeveral months ago I received a pitch for a book that featured “a unique collection of toe-curling tales that satisfy the need for well-written erotica with substance.” That hooked me. So I emailed reading BFF Kelly and got her involved in the review too. We both read a lot of romance/erotica books that wind up being trite, lackluster, and frankly seem written for shock value. The idea that a group of writers got together to write erotica that would appeal to our minds as well as our bodies? Yes please!

From Goodreads:

Forget poorly written prose and clichéd love scenes: Book Lovers answers the call for sexy literature with substance. This collection of toe-curling tales written by and for word-worshipers offers well-crafted fiction and creative nonfiction that connects literature to libido. From a Vonnegut-inspired tryst to an imaginary ménage à trois with Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin, the book encompasses a veritable buffet of literary fantasies.

Whether they’re conjuring Junot Díaz between the sheets or dreaming of a modern-day enactment of Wuthering Heights—this time refusing Edgar in favor of lusty, bodice-ripping nights with Heathcliff—the stories in Book Lovers are designed for readers’ brains and bodies.

Kelly: Honestly, it should have been a warning sign that the book was being pitched as “intelligent” erotica. Any time you have to tell people that you’re smart, well… It’s either evident or it isn’t.

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Anyway, we were intrigued by the promise of erotica heavy on the literary references and did not give sufficient side-eye to a blurb that begins with a clichéd attack on the genre.

Kim: Since this is a book of short stories, Kelly and I figured we’d discuss a few separately.

First up was my favorite (and possibly Kelly’s too) A to Z by Kristina Wright.

Kelly: It’s the first story in the collection, and it’s definitely the best of the bunch.

Kim: Quick synopsis: two women, Amy and Zoe, meet in a library. Every two weeks Zoe gives Amy a new book to read. The authors’ names take her through the entire alphabet (A is for  Austen, B is for Bronte, etc.)

Kelly: All lady authors, too. It’s actually a really neat trip down the alley of women’s literature.

Kim: By the time they hit “N” Amy is craving more from Zoe than just her literary recommendations.

Kelly: Because “N” is for “Nin.”

Kim: I loved this story not only for its women’s literature suggestions, but for the fact that the women get turned on by literature. It’s completely cliché to say, but reading is so sexy. Hearing (or being part of) conversations about books is so hot. It doesn’t matter the genre, the author, the story – just hearing someone’s passion for a book is stimulating and sensual.

Kelly: Yes, that part of this story was just lovely. Mainly, though, I loved the story because it worked so well as a short story. It gave me enough information about the characters for me to care about them, but was mysterious enough that I was perfectly content to leave them be after 12 pages. The story also does a great job of balancing fantasy (meeting a sexy stranger in the library and bonding over a yearlong course in women’s literature) and reality (the end). And, although this story was a little bit strange (all short stories are, right?), it was perhaps the least strange of the bunch.

Kim: Strange was definitely the overarching theme of this collection. The closing story of the collection, The Wolf by Amy Halloran, takes the cake for “strangest thing I’ve ever read.”

Kelly: Yeah, that one is special. Kim was texting me while she read the stories (she got to it before I did), and when she hit that one… Well, let’s just say those were some fancy texts. I’ll let her tell you about it.

Kim: I could not formulate words to even express how odd the story was. Think of the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. Basically in this version, Red has to write the beginning and middle of multiple stories for the Wolf, who has eaten her grandmother (literally.) They then finish the stories together. He waits for her in grandma’s nightgown, all fur and paws. What she has written will determine how he pleases her. As she gets to Granny’s house and begins telling her story, Wolf begins transforming from beast to man. Once he’s transformed she has to feed him her mother’s soup….also known as “the cure.”

Kelly: I’m pretty sure that’s a euphemism.

Kim: Once the cure is given and he can touch her, they begin their sexual coupling. All the while feeling guilty because grandma is in his stomach. After the Wolf comes, Grandma explodes out of him and the Wolf leaves Granny’s house. WHUT?

Kelly: I’m going to start using the term “sexual coupling” on the regular. That’s my favorite, ever. Especially because the wolf is wearing grandma’s nightgown.

Kim: I’m glad you enjoyed that term. 😉

I’d like to say that strange stories don’t always bother me. I’m ok when authors take risks and it pays off. But this story….well there isn’t a payoff. What is the point of it? Maybe in a full length novel these characters and their relationship could be explored more, but for a short story…there is just no point.

Kelly: Oh, god. No. Please no full-length novels exploring the sexuality of Little Red and the Wolf (and Grandma).

Kim: Oh I’m not asking for one by any means. Just trying to figure out HOW this story could have ever worked.

Kelly: OK, OK. I had a little panic, there. *breathing*

Kim: I think the whole Grandma in Wolf’s belly while he has sex with Red was the strangest part. The fact that it’s actively discussed is what’s SO weird. Here, some excerpts about Granny:

“We have been here before, at the corner of want and tell. I write as if I’ll change things while Grandma sits in his belly, dissolving, grinding inside him, an achy, ouchy thing.”

“In his belly she kind of smiles. She does not hate our intersections. Though brittle, she has loved. I think she likes to be near us.”

“Inside him, Granny is swimming laps in soup. She likes this, too.”

Kelly: So effing strange… but, then, I found many of the stories in the collection very strange. And the ones that weren’t (with the exception of the first story, which I really did like and  Inked, which was also rather good) they were straight up forgettable. That’s not to say that I didn’t like some of the strange stories…  The Thrillhammer Orgasmatron (for reals) was interesting and funny in addition to being incredibly strange.

Kim: I’ll give the book credit for all the literary love. There were stories that were inspired by Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Ulysses by James Joyce, and The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe. Stories that revolved around love for authors Junot Diaz, Anais Nin, e.e. cummings, Henry Miller, and Oscar Wilde to name a few. There was definitely a variety of inspiration to say the least. If this book inspires other readers to read new authors (alive or dead) then I have to pat it on the back.

Kelly: But keep in mind that it’s fucking strange.

Kim: SUPER strange.

Kim’s Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

Kelly’s Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

Book Lovers: Sexy Stories from Under the Covers Edited by Shawna Kenney
Avalon Publishing Group (2014)
Paperback: 240 pages
ISBN: 9781580055291

Special thanks to Seal Press for our review copies!

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Playing Catch Up…

As you know from Sunday’s post my blogging has not been up to par recently. In an attempt to catch up on all the reviews I need to write I’ve penned several “catch up” reviews below. Hopefully some of the books spark your interest and make you want to read further!

ucmUnbound by Cara McKenna

Plot from Goodreads:

She set out to find herself, and discovered the darker side of desire.

Merry’s lost a lot recently—first her mother, then close to a hundred pounds. Feeling adrift, she strikes out in search of perspective. A three-week hike through the Scottish Highlands was supposed to challenge her new body and refocus her priorities, but when disaster strikes, she’s forced to seek refuge in the remote home of a brooding, handsome stranger…

Rob exiled himself to the Highlands years ago, desperate to escape his own self-destruction. Haunted by regrets, he avoids human contact at all costs…but when Merry turns up injured, he can’t very well run her off. And as he nurses her back to health, Rob can’t resist his guest’s sweet demeanor—or her flirtatious advances. The igniting passion between them rouses a secret appetite Rob has long struggled to keep hidden. But Merry craves nothing more than to help Rob surrender to his desires, and the journey draws the lovers into an entirely different kind of wilderness.

Reading BFF Kelly recently told me she had a new author I needed to start reading: Cara McKenna. When we discussed what book I should read first she immediately recommended Unbound. I’m really glad she did because it’s about two really odd but really fascinating characters.

Merry is a woman undergoing huge physical, emotional, and mental changes.  Her physical changes have led to her being a bit more adventurous and aggressive sexually, while also giving her new confidence in herself as a woman and as a person. This new-found confidence (and the unfortunate loss of her mother) forces her to reevaluate the track her life seems to be on – her job, the friends she’s surrounded herself with, and the man she’s been giving her attention to.

Rob, on the other hand, has been struggling to keep the person he is all tucked away inside. Due to his checkered past, he decides to leave society, his friends, and his job to live in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. No indoor plumbing, no electricity, no modern conveniences, and most importantly – no people. There in that cabin he hides what he believes is his most shameful secret – his masochist fetish.

Final Thoughts: If you’re ok with reading about sexual relationships that are Dominant/submissive and include bondage, then definitely check this one out. McKenna’s story about two people rediscovering themselves sexually and personally is really well done. I truly enjoyed Merry and Rob’s quirks and watching them get their shit together.

4 out of 5 Stars

Unbound by Cara McKenna
Penguin Group (2013)
eBook: 268 pages
ISBN: 9781101621998

tahdgThe American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

Plot from Goodreads:

Traveling abroad with her mother at the turn of the twentieth century to seek a titled husband, beautiful, vivacious Cora Cash, whose family mansion in Newport dwarfs the Vanderbilts’, suddenly finds herself Duchess of Wareham, married to Ivo, the most eligible bachelor in England. Nothing is quite as it seems, however: Ivo is withdrawn and secretive, and the English social scene is full of traps and betrayals. Money, Cora soon learns, cannot buy everything, as she must decide what is truly worth the price in her life and her marriage.

This book frustrated the hell out of me. Nothing about any of the main characters endeared me to them at all. Cora is totally naive and aloof, Ivo has a bi-polar personality, Bertha has no mind of her own, and the whole story takes WAY too long to come to a resolution. When I finished the book I scratched my head and wondered what the point of it all was. The last chapter gave me a small amount of insight into Ivo’s head, but at that point it was too little too late. Every time he affected Cora in a negative manner there was never a resolution. For example, he leaves her for most of her pregnancy to go to India, returns to England many months later but doesn’t tell Cora, which angers her. Nothing is ever said between Cora and Ivo about this or about him not showing up until the birth of their child. Their relationship is so dysfunctional because of the lack of communication, and by the end of the novel that problem still isn’t really resolved.

Final Thoughts: The character development is so poor that you can’t appreciate any of the “world” that’s built (when I say “world” I mean the setting: the estates, the art, the fashions, etc.) It’s a shame because Goodwin’s writing had promise. The story she created had a great premise, it was just poorly executed.

2 out of 5 Stars

The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin
St. Martin’s Press (2011)
eBook: 480 pages
ISBN: 9781429987080

bemBelieve (True Believers #3) by Erin McCarthy

Plot from Goodreads:

Robin used to be a party girl… until she got black out drunk and woke up in bed with her best friend’s boyfriend. Now she’s faced with being THAT girl, and couldn’t be more disgusted with herself. She can’t even tell her friends the reason for her sudden sobriety and she avoids everyone until she meets Phoenix—quiet, tattooed, and different in every way that’s good and oh, so bad…

Phoenix is two days out of jail when he meets Robin at his cousin’s house, and he knows that he has no business talking to her, but he’s drawn to her quiet demeanor, sweet smile, and artistic talent. She doesn’t care that he’s done time, or that he only has five bucks to his name, and she supports his goal to be a tattoo artist.

But Phoenix knows Robin has a secret, and that it’s a naïve dream to believe that his record won’t catch up with them at some point. Though neither is prepared for the explosive result when the past collides with the present…

Having previously read the first two books in McCarthy’s True Believers series (True and SweetI jumped at the chance to continue by reading book three, Believe.

To be honest I wasn’t a fan of how fast things moved between Robin and Phoenix. Robin has basically become a new person after her major screw up – and as such I wanted her to find herself and become independent before jumping into a super serious relationship with Phoenix. Phoenix is also changing. He’s adapting to a new life and new surroundings. The two of them are going through so many personal changes that their relationship with each other makes sense, I just wish they had more time to get comfortable in their own skin. It makes me wonder what they would be like if their relationship suddenly failed. Would they be able to continue making the healthy decisions they had started making in their new lives? Or would they both fall back to their old habits?

What I did think was great was the evolution of Robin, and the focus on drinking till you black out/binge drinking. It’s a serious issue for many college aged kids, and one I think McCarthy is smart for bringing attention to.

Final Thoughts: I’m glad I’ve stuck with the series this long. I’m excited to see how it’ll all come together in book four, Shatter, due out this fall!

3 out of 5 Stars

Believe by Erin McCarthy
Penguin (2014)
eBook: 232 pages
ISBN: 9780698148710

Special thanks to Penguin Group for my review copy via Netgalley!

mtrMisbehaving by Tiffany Reisz

Plot from Goodreads:

Wanted: Adventurous, open-minded man willing to try anything…

As a popular sex blogger, Beatriz gets paid to have orgasms. So being on deadline the week of her sister’s wedding isn’t as rough as it sounds. There’s just one hitch: Bea’s assignment is to write a review of a sex position manual, but she doesn’t have a plus one to play with.

The good news: Ben, the one who got away back in college, is also attending stag–and he’s as temptingly gorgeous as ever.

The bad news: Ben turned down Bea’s offer of graduation night sex five years ago.

The best news: He’s not planning on making the same mistake twice. 

I really enjoyed Reisz’s Original Sinners series and was excited to read something else that strayed from that world. Not that anything is wrong with the Original Sinners world, I was just eager for some new characters from her. I was definitely not disappointed. (Note: Misbehaving is a contemporary erotic retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.)

Bea is this badass sex education blogger who is completely confident in herself, except when it comes to Ben. He’s been the one guy to turn her down. The one guy she really wanted to give her heart to. And Ben knows that turning her down all those years ago was one of the biggest mistakes of his life. When the two are thrown together again at a wedding they realize they have the perfect opportunity to try again.

Misbehaving is a smart erotic novella about two individuals who are interesting, smart, kinky, and unafraid to explore their sexual appetites with each other. It is exactly what we’ve come to expect from Reisz – a story that explores human emotion with witty banter, hot (at times awkward) boundary-pushing sex, and extremely likable characters.

Final Thoughts: READ IT.

4 out of 5 Stars

Misbehaving by Tiffany Reisz
Harlequin (2014)
eBook: 108 pages
ISBN: 9781460326404

Special thanks to Harlequin for my review copy via Netgalley!!

rnacRusty Nailed (Cocktail #2) by Alice Clayton

Plot from Goodreads:

In this sequel to Wallbanger, the second book in the Cocktail series, fan favorites Caroline and Simon negotiate the rollercoaster of their new relationship while house-sitting in San Francisco.

Playing house was never so much fun—or so confusing. With her boss on her honeymoon, Caroline’s working crazy long hours to keep the interior design company running—especially since she’s also the lead designer for the renovation of a gorgeous old hotel on Sausalito. So with her hotshot photographer boyfriend gallivanting all over the world for his job, she and Simon are heavy-duty into “absence makes the heart grow fonder” mode. Neither has any complaints about the great reunion sex, though! Then Simon decides he’s tired of so much travelling, and he’s suddenly home more. A lot more. And wanting Caroline home more, too. Though their friends’ romantic lives provide plenty of welcome distraction, eventually Caroline and Simon have to sort their relationship out. Neither wants “out of sight, out of mind,” but can they create their own happy mid-ground cliché?

Rusty Nailed is the second in Alice Clayton’s Cocktail series, and is a direct follow-up to Wallbanger. When I read Wallbanger a year or so ago I remember laughing out loud SO hard. Clayton has this writing voice that you can’t help but get sucked in by. Rusty Nailed tackles the challenges involved with a relationship becoming more serious and more permanent. As such, the writing grows a bit more serious and reflective, but still includes the signature humor. Rusty Nailed chronicles this relationship growth excellently. I love all the characters and the situations into which Clayton throws them. I think she excellently illustrated the stress that comes with moving in and settling down with your partner.

Final Thoughts: Clayton introduces us to who will be the heroine of book three in the Cocktail series, Screwdrivered. It’s safe to say that I’ll be reading it, and that you should be reading Wallbanger and Rusty Nailed in preparation.

4 out of 5 Stars

Rusty Nailed by Alice Clayton
Gallery Books (2014)
Paperback: 320 pages
ISBN: 9781476766669

Kim and Kelly’s Review of The Mistress (The Original Sinners #4) by Tiffany Reisz

tmtrI’m always sad when it’s time to say goodbye to a book series that I love.  Today’s review of Tiffany Reisz’s The Mistress is bittersweet for this reason.  While it’s the fourth and final book in her Original Sinners series (read my reviews of books 1, 2, & 3) it’s far from the last time we’ll see these characters.  You see, Reisz is planning on publishing a further four books on these characters, just in the prequel form.  The Priest, The King, The White Queen, and The Red Queen are all slated for release sometime towards the end of 2013.  So while this seems like a goodbye….it’s really, a see you later.  Joining me in reviewing The Mistress is super bestest reading friend Kelly from Reading With Analysis!

From Goodreads:

There’s punishment-and then there’s vengeance.

Nora Sutherlin is being held, bound and naked. Under different circumstances, she would enjoy the situation immensely, but her captor isn’t interested in play. Or pity.

As the reality of her impending peril unfolds, Nora becomes Scheherazade, buying each hour of her life with stories-sensual tales of Søren, Kingsley and Wesley, each of whom has tempted and tested and tortured her in his own way. This, Nora realizes, is her life: nothing so simple, so vanilla, as a mere love triangle for her. It’s a knot in a silken cord, a tangled mass of longings of the body and the heart and the mind. And it may unravel at any moment.

But in Nora’s world, no one is ever truly powerless-a cadre of her friends, protectors and lovers stands ready to do anything to save her, even when the only certainty seems to be sacrifice and heartbreak….

PLEASE NOTE: WE’RE HEADED INTO MAJOR SPOILER TERRITORY. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Kim: So I guess the beginning is always a good place to start.  With the cliffhanger Reisz ended The Prince with, I was anxious as hell starting this book.  (I don’t do well with cliffhangers…..can you tell?)  That anxiety only increased as I read the first five chapters, which just packed wallop after wallop.  Reisz’s masterful writing skills were exquisitely showcased as each character and the role they would fill began unraveling, piece by piece.  Giving each character a chess piece that matched them? Genius.  It truly did feel as though I was reading/watching a chess master setting up what would turn out to be an epic match.

Kelly: And how. My favorite thing about the beginning was the chess reference, because it clued me in to the level of attention I was going to need to devote to this book while reading it.  This wasn’t a story I could just sit back and watch, so to speak; I needed to engage more of my brain to notice the details, catch the references, and enjoy the book on a deeper level.  That said, the pacing at the beginning was problematic for me.  With each character’s introduction to the drama, overlapping pieces of the backstory were shared again and again.  I remarked in my review on The Angel that the beginning was a little slow to build, a little oddly idyllic, considering, and I felt a repeat of that at the beginning of The Mistress. I, and probably most other readers, approached this book with some level of anxiety or anticipation — I mean, come on — but the early chapters are methodical, a little repetitive, and a bit slow, and the result was a trifle unpleasant to experience.  Until I got about halfway through the book, I felt like I was on the freeway, late for work, and stuck in a traffic jam.  I really wanted to get there, but I could only go as fast as the book would let me, and it was frustrating and stressful.

Kim: I can definitely understand the pacing issues.  It did feel as though there was A LOT of repetition (not just in the beginning, but in the entire book overall.) I get that books in a series need to go back and reference scenes/characters/plot elements from previous books.   That’s fine.  But when you’re more than a quarter of the way into the book, the repetition needs to be coming to a close.  If I wanted to read the same things over and over I could have just picked up the earlier books and reread them.  Even beyond the first quarter of the book there were pacing issues.  At one point everything was happening so quickly I had to stop, back it up, and reread chapters.  This was then followed by chapters of time that felt either super slow or way revved up again.

Pacing aside, Reisz’s writing still shines.  She’s got a unique way of making you re-evaluate everything you thought you knew.  And the loyalties you thought you had? She blows that shit out of the water.  It’s no secret that I’ve disliked Søren from the start.  He’s (in my eyes) been this cold character that I never warmed to.  I was a Wes girl from the start until Kingsley stole my damn heart in The Prince (King had slowly been worming his way into my heart from the start, but it was Prince that did me in.)  Anyway – back to Søren.  ::deep breath:: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but after reading The Mistress……..I like Søren. In fact…I deeply respect him.

Kelly: Yeah, Søren became my favorite character.  I warmed up to him a lot earlier than Kim — The Angel started me down that road, and I absolutely fell for him during The Prince (and discovered a whole world of hate for Wes, but more on that later).  In The Mistress he shines.  I suppose it makes sense.  In The Siren, we see Søren through Nora’s memory, but it’s kind of tainted through her association with Wes, and through Zach’s eyes, but Zach totally does not understand Søren and what he’s about.  I suspect that more than a few  readers ended up holding on to a bias against Søren without even realizing they were doing it.  In The Mistress, Søren shows his true colors, and they’re far different from what you’re taught to expect in The Siren.  In a way, it’s one of the fun things about Reisz’s writing… just because something appears a certain way doesn’t mean it actually is that way.  Readers do well not to form value judgments based on what they’re shown.  There’s always more to the story.

Kim: And that’s probably why Reisz’s writing is so damn good.  You think you know, but you have no idea.  Yet upon finishing Mistress it ALL makes sense.  It’s been there for us from the start, you just had to pick up all the clues along the way.

One other thing I really enjoyed about The Mistress is the way she brought back all of her characters.  It felt like a reunion tour for all of the men that were part of Nora’s life.  Yet for as many male characters that entered the story it was still about Nora and how she’s impacted and changed (good and bad) each one of them.  I think I was most excited for Daniel’s return (if you haven’t read Seven Day Loan I highly recommend it.)

Kelly: Is it awful if I admit that I didn’t like Seven Day Loan?  Well, to be fair, I think I’d like it if I read it again, but I didn’t like it when I read it, because I was carrying around so much dislike for Søren.

Kim: I loved it because I disliked him so much! Daniel gave Søren a run for his money, and I LOVED that.

Kelly: Yeah, but she doesn’t stay with Daniel, so I just felt like I’d been jerked around emotionally for nothing.

Kim: I think it gave us insight into the beginning of “Nora.” We see her discovering that maybe the rest of her life doesn’t have to be tied to Søren.

Kelly: I LOVED that Søren referenced that time in The Mistress and had the balls to feel bad about it.  If he were real, I would have high-fived him for that.

Kim: He should have felt bad about that shit. I’d have high-fived him for finally having some common sense too.

Moving on to something we DON’T agree with – the ending.

Kelly: Yep… I loved it.. Kim…. not so much.

Kim: Understatement of the century. 🙂

Kelly:  So I got to the end, read the last sentence, and then I clapped my hands like a little girl and laughed and laughed and laughed.  It was so damn funny.  I’d been expecting something god-awful, because I got all these texts from Kim (who finished the book before I did) about the end and how it was crazy, and — while I totally understand what she was talking about — the end didn’t bother me at all.  In fact, I loved it.  I expected Reisz to get us in the end, and she did.

Kim: So newsflash – I’m an extremely monogamous person.  I’ve been open throughout this whole series with the way characters have slept with each other, then with other partners, sharing partners, etc.  However, the end of Mistress just pushed me too hard.  Let’s back up for a second.

Nora and Søren are held at gunpoint by Kingsley’s INSANE sister who (SURPRISE) isn’t dead like they all thought.  Søren has gone into this situation with the intent of sacrificing himself to keep Nora and Kingsley safe.  The two people he loves more than anything in the entire world. (See why I like him now?)  Anyway – throughout this scene Søren and Nora reveal the very deepest parts of their souls to the other.

We’re going to fast forward now to the conclusion.  Everyone is safe. Together. Alive.  We find Nora feeling the physical effects of her entrapment to Søren’s dismay.  He’s horny and chooses to take his frustrations out on the pavement….running.  Grace (Zach’s wife) is still feeling the effects of her conversations with Søren from the night before (she walked to his sacrifice with him.)  Nora decides to let Grace have Søren for a night, if she can have Zach for a week later on.  All is agreed upon and while Grace is with Søren, Nora goes to Kingsley (I should also mention that Wes and Nora have broken up at this point, and he’s sleeping with Søren’s niece Laila.)

Now here is where my frustration lies.

A.) Grace is happily married to Zach.  They’ve worked through their issues and are desperately trying to start a family.  Zach gives Grace permission to go to the Eighth Circle and have her own erotic experience (as he did during their separation.) Alright – I’m with you there – an eye for an eye. But to give Nora a week with Zach? Maybe I’m too close-minded to understand it, but I’m not sharing my husband with anyone, for anything.

B.) Sticking with Grace for a second.  Søren sleeps with her. We’ve learned since becoming a priest he’s only shared his body with Nora and Kingsley.  That makes a statement to me. For him to suddenly share his body with Grace because she walked him to what he thought would be his sacrifice…..I don’t know. I “get” that he’s rewarding her, but I don’t see her being rewarded with something of that magnitude.

Kelly:  I’m just going to butt in here, because that’s what I do.  It’s true that Søren  doesn’t share his body of

ten, but I wonder if that’s because so few people earn a place on that very short list rather than that he’s interested in keeping the list super short.  Do you know what I mean?  It didn’t bother me that he shared himself with Grace, because she earned it.  Her walking with him to his sacrifice is huge.  It’s like the women following behind Christ as he heads to Golgotha.  It’s kind of sacrifice in itself… those women — and Grace — don’t try to stop the sacrifice from taking place, but they recognize it, understand it, appreciate it, and then provide much-needed comfort so that the one to be sacrificed can endure it.  If I read it correctly (and if my theology is right), Søren  might not have gotten to the house if Grace hadn’t gone with him, or it would have been a hell of a lot more difficult for him to go alone.  In addition to that journey, Grace gives Søren her faith, trusting implicitly that Nora was right when she called him the best of men.  She doesn’t place qualifiers on what he can do with her, she just gives him herself, knowing what it means.  For that kind of… the only word I can think of is faithfulness, Grace gets a mighty reward, and there’s really only one thing she wants (and sex with Søren is kind of a means to an end, if you know what I mean.)

Kim: I probably have such a huge problem understanding the magnitude of the statement because I’m not a believer in faith.  Sure I believe in helping your fellow man and spreading kindness, but grand gestures of blind faith are lost on me.  Maybe this makes me a lost soul, but I live my life trying to spread kindness and love.  If it makes me a bad person for not having faith, so be it.  But back to the point, the whole doing it for faith and receiving faith — I just don’t get it.

Kelly:  Most of what I thought was so amazing about this book (about the whole series, really) is the way that it incorporates all these Biblical references and elements into a story that is otherwise about a bunch of kinky people.  I love the unexpectedness, the funky juxtaposition.  But I wonder if folk who aren’t familiar with those references will enjoy the stories as much as I did (or maybe they’ll enjoy them as much, but for very different reasons?)

Kim:  That’s a really good question.  The more I talk with you about the book the more I see I’ve missed “deeper meanings.”  It’s a good thing I’ve read this series with you.  You’ve become my faith guru – haha.

Back in Mistress land….While Grace is with Søren, Nora skips off to be with Kingsley.  I can understand this coupling.  Together they have the weight of Søren’s love, and in some way it’s always been the three of them in that relationship.  I LOVED the final scene of the three of them together. So perfect.  After everything Kingsley has gone through (prior books and this one) it was fantastic to see him finally get the recognition and love he deserved and craved.  His status as my favorite sinner was firmly cemented by the end.

Kelly: For the rest of it, the polyamory, for want of a better word, Reisz gives us a clue to the theology that supports these books and characters.  During a conversation between Marie-Laure (Kingsley’s sister) and Nora, Nora says, “One person for your entire life? One? Ridiculous. Who needs that kind of pressure? Expecting someone to fulfill all your needs is blasphemy. You’re expecting a human to be God for you.”  That quote resonated with me, and I agree with it (to a point).  While I practice monogamy, I do think it’s foolish to expect one relationship, one person, to fill every gaping need I have.  I’ve seen marriages fall apart because the individuals weren’t adequately supported.  Anyway, for a bunch of kinky characters in a book written by a kinky lady, it makes sense to me (I wonder if this paragraph will make my husband nervous…)

Kim: That quote – I can understand how some people would feel that way.  And I definitely agree with you that our life is filled with relationships that support us and fill our needs.  No one person fills our needs, but in sexual relationship/marriage I’d hope one person can come close to it.

My next irritation was definitely the Laila/Wes storyline.  I kid you not, the MINUTE we were introduced to Laila I knew her purpose.  I’m over the fact that Wes and Nora aren’t together – they didn’t fit – but for him to move on to Laila 5 minutes after his breakup with Nora? The kid has been pining for her for forever.  I don’t see him getting over it in 5 minutes. And he hadn’t even lost his virginity a month prior.  Suddenly he’s sleeping with the next thing with legs to show him attention? Had they gotten together for the first time in the epilogue I would have been 100% fine with it.  But to have Wes go from the role of panicked fiancée to Laila’s sex god? I had difficulty making that jump.

Kelly:  I think that by the time Wes and Nora have their official breakup conversation, Wes has already moved on.  He has this giant conversation with Søren  wherein he learns to see Nora a little more clearly (and to realize that he’s kind of in love with an imaginary version of her), and then he has a similar reckoning with Kingsley.  Then it becomes pretty damn obvious that Søren is a significantly better dude than Wes thought,  that Nora is a significantly better woman than he thought, and also that Nora doesn’t really need him (at all).  After all of that, he talks to Nora.  And then he has comfortable vanilla sex with Laila.  I dunno… it just didn’t feel that abrupt to me (also, he’s a 20-year-old boy/man…)  I think if I had liked Wes better as a character, I would have been irritated when he got relegated to the background, but I didn’t, and it felt like justice.

I hated Wes so much in The Prince.  I was like, this fucking kid… he’s so privileged and innocently arrogant that he thinks he can swoop in and save Nora. From what? From Søren? From herself? He doesn’t even try to understand her — just makes value judgments based on his own ignorance and privilege — and assumes that because he can give her a life that he doesn’t even realize she doesn’t want or need, he deserves her?  No. Fuck that.

Kim: Kel and I could debate Wes for weeks.  He’s definitely a character that people react to strongly.

In closing, were there things that bothered us about this book? Yes. But Reisz’s writing, characters, and masterful storytelling abilities make all the problems fade into the background.  I think I can speak for both Kelly and I when I say Reisz has found fans for life in us.

Kelly: Exactly.  Anywhere Reisz wants to take me as a reader, I want to go.

Kim’s Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Kelly’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars, pacing issues notwithstanding.

The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz
Harlequin (2013)
Paperback: 458 pages
ISBN: 9780778315704

Special thanks to Harlequin for our review copies via Netgalley!

Kim’s Guest Review of Spank Me, Mr. Darcy by Lissa Trevor

smmdltMy super-bestest reading buddy Kelly (from Reading with Analysis) and I decided to take a walk on the wild side and read Spank Me, Mr. Darcy by Lissa Trevor.  I know what you’re already thinking, “WHAT?” Yeah. I hear you.

Anyhoo, we dual-reviewed the book honestly (and hysterically I might add) just as you’ve come to expect from us. There’s even a fun pros and cons list! You can find our review here.  Leave us some love. We love love.

This is my seventh completed review for the Pride and  Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge.

Kim’s Guest Review of Maya Banks’ Sweet Series (1-3) with Kelly

So when I tell you that I’ve written a dueling review with my bestest reading buddy Kelly, from Reading with Analysis, you should automatically know two things about the post:

1. It is going to be HILARIOUS

2. It is going to be epic in its length (that’s what she said)

Back in March Kelly and I read and duel reviewed Maya Banks’ Rush. We weren’t fans. Being the nice readers we are though, we didn’t write Banks and her books off completely.  We’d heard from several sources that her Sweet series was much better. So, on we went to read the first three books in the series: Sweet Surrender, Sweet Persuasion, and Sweet Seduction.  

To find out what we thought, head over to Kelly’s blog. Our post is here

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As an aside – if anyone can explain the significance of the fruit for each of the books I’ll love you forever.  Honestly….I really don’t understand the grapes and their significance in book three.

Kim and Kelly’s Review of Rush (Breathless #1) by Maya Banks

rmbJoining me on the blog today is my best reading buddy Kelly, of Reading With Analysis.  Our last dueling review, on Tessa Dare’s Stud Club Trilogy, showcased how romance novels could have depth (in case you didn’t read it, we love deep romance novels).  When we heard about a new erotica trilogy by author Maya Banks called The Breathless Trilogy we figured we had our next book to duel over.  We both read Rush (book one) and had similar feelings about the characters and story overall.  We decided that we wanted to write an open letter to women who are thinking of entering into a relationship similar to the one showcased in Rush.  First, the plot!

From Goodreads: Gabe, Jace, and Ash: three of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the country. They’re accustomed to getting anything they want. Anything at all. For Gabe, it’s making one particular fantasy come true with a woman who was forbidden fruit. Now she’s ripe for the picking…

When Gabe Hamilton saw Mia Crestwell walk into the ballroom for his hotel’s grand opening, he knew he was going to hell for what he had planned. After all, Mia is his best friend’s little sister. Except she’s not so little anymore. And Gabe has waited a long time to act on his desires.

Gabe has starred in Mia’s fantasies more than once, ever since she was a teenager with a huge crush on her brother’s best friend. So what if Gabe’s fourteen years older? Mia knows he’s way out of her league, but her attraction has only grown stronger with time. She’s an adult now, and there’s no reason not to act on her most secret desires.

As Gabe pulls her into his provocative world, she realizes there’s a lot she doesn’t know about him or how exacting his demands can be. Their relationship is intense and obsessive, but as they cross the line from secret sexual odyssey to something deeper, their affair runs the risk of being exposed—and vulnerable to a betrayal far more intimate than either expected.

Dear Woman Who Deserves Better Than What She’s Signing Up For,

We really want to see you with a man who deserves you.  Therefore you should know that if any of the following statements ring true for your relationship, something’s wrong.

  • Did you have to sign a contract with your new “significant other?”
    • If part of the negotiations require you getting him to agree to fidelity to just you…..something’s wrong (especially when there is a whole paragraph about your fidelity to him!)
    • If you need your “significant other’s” permission to hang out with your friends, something’s wrong.
      • If you’re not allowed to speak to your friends about your relationship, something’s wrong.
      • If you get permission to hang out with your friends, and your “significant other” still gets upset because alcohol is involved, something’s wrong.  You’re in your twenties. Live it the fuck up.
    • If your contract stipulates that all your physical and financial needs will be met in return for your ceding all control over yourself and your functions, but said contract makes no mention at all of your emotional well-being, something’s wrong.
    • If your contract states that it’s totally OK for your “significant other” to share you, occasionally, with other people, and you’re not quite sure what that means, so you have to ask about it, something’s wrong.
      • If you might be on the positive side of ambivalent, once it’s explained, that’s cool. But if, when the sharing happens, you aren’t in possession of the full facts, and it’s awful, and it happens anyway, something’s wrong.
        • If your “significant other” shares you without your permission and you get upset, and his response is to just take you on a shopping spree….something’s wrong.
  • So, you’re having sex with your “significant other.”  If he’s constantly shouting at you to give him your eyes, something’s wrong. I mean really, those are your eyes! Why should you give them up?
  • While at the office, if your “significant other” says, “Hey, come over here. I’m going to put this butt plug in you, and you’re going to wear it all day,” something’s wrong. Seriously girl, that’s your butt. What if it’s Mexican lunch day in the office? You gotta say no to that chili because he wants those plugs in you all day? Hells no.
  • If your “significant other” says “I’m looking forward to f**king this sweet ass” more than once (and that once is only if there’s a lot of alcohol involved), something’s wrong.
  • If your “significant other” starts hitting on his dad’s girlfriend, like right in front of you, and you’re like, “What?!” and you leave, and then your “significant other” gets all kinds of angry at you for leaving that shit, something’s wrong.
  • If your “significant other” basically rapes your mouth because he’s too impatient to let you go at your own pace, something’s wrong.
  • If your “significant other” constantly asks you, “Did you eat?” GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE. Your fast metabolism won’t last forever and you’ll just end up obese with the amount of food he keeps plying you with.
  • If your “significant other” wants to pay you an outrageous sum of money so that you’ll be his beck and call girl (and butt-plug recipient), something’s wrong. You’re not a prostitute. You shouldn’t be treated as such.
  • If you have to pay the piper for all the stupid shit your “significant other’s” ex-wife did, something’s wrong.  That’s his baggage, girl, and it shouldn’t have anything to do with you.

As we said earlier, something’s wrong if these statements describe your relationship.  We’d be more than happy to help you get out and find someone much more worthy of you.

With sincere love,

Kelly & Kim

Kim: Now Kelly and I aren’t here to tear the WHOLE book up.  We both thought that Banks’ writing wasn’t terrible. I personally felt that there was a lot of repetition in the story.  Many of the same character traits are repeated over and over and over. Gabe is divorced. Gabe had a divorce. Gabe felt bad that he was rough with Mia. Mia couldn’t believe Gabe was so unrestrained with her. Gabe thinks about how Mia’s brother would feel if he knew how rough he was with her. On and on the repetition went.

Kelly: It’s true.  Banks wrote in complete sentences at a mostly upper-grade reading level, but the sentences were stilted and awkward.  Mia had liked Gabe in the past.  She had spent a lot of time thinking about him.  He had been attracted to her for a long time.  That kind of phrasing is present throughout the entire book, and after awhile, it got a little exhausting to read it.  I longed for a simple, clear, direct, active sentence. Probably, what I most longed for was another round of editing to make the prose more pleasant to read.

Kim: Besides the stilted and repetitive prose, I had a really hard time connecting with the characters (both main and side ones).  First and foremost, Gabe is supposed to be this hot domineering character.  Instead he comes off as a HUGE ass. He’s cold, hard, unyielding, and does what’s in his best interest ALWAYS.  I won’t tell you what happened in Paris, but suffice it to say those events solidified my dislike of the novel more than anything else.

Kelly: Yeah, it was really hard to take Gabriel seriously as the hero in this one, because he’s not remotely heroic.  He doesn’t even do a great job of being all smoldery in his alpha maleness, because he’s too busy making sure that he comes across as an alpha male (when, in actuality, he’s too caught up being wounded about how his marriage didn’t work out).  For example: “‘So impatient,’ he said, amusement in his voice.  ‘We do this my way, Mia. You forget so easily. I want….you as badly as you want me there, but I’m enjoying every second of having you tied up and in my bed. As soon as I get….inside you, I’m not going to last long, so I’m going to savor every second.’”  Isn’t that romantic?  I’ve always fantasized about having a man who won’t last long in the sack.

Mia was also a bit difficult to connect with, mostly because Gabriel was such an asshole. It’s hard to feel admiration for anyone who’d put up with his shit.  She’s not nearly as spineless as some female characters in erotic novels (coughAnacough), but I certainly wouldn’t call her a strong character. I mean, honestly… she signs that damn contract and enters into a “something” with Gabe knowing that it’s not really a relationship, and there isn’t a satisfactory reason given for that.  I don’t know a lot of ladies who would put themselves in that kind of situation without any kind of security at all, and I just couldn’t comprehend Mia’s motivations.

Kim: Yes! I definitely don’t see Mia as a strong willed woman.  She seemed extremely spineless to me and was willing to let Gabe walk all over her just so she could be with him.  I’m sorry, but to me that’s pathetic and desperate.  You’ve been pining over this guy for a long time, get the chance to be with him, and he acts like a jerk! Are you really so obsessed with having a relationship with him that you’re willing to sacrifice any and all self-respect?

Kelly: I also had a few problems with the secondary characters.  I totally get that Banks had to set up the next few books in the series, but there were a lot of references (repetitive ones) to Jace’s and Ash’s backgrounds that were completely distracting in this story.  I was like, “Great, so Ash doesn’t like his family. Fantastic. What does that have to do with whether or not Mia gets fucked in her sweet ass during this encounter with Gabe?”

Kim: TRUE STORY. I too understand about setting up a series, but even the storylines with Mia’s stalker and Gabe’s ex-wife went absolutely nowhere.  They created conflict where none was needed.  I truly felt that with a bit more editing and some cuts to the storyline here and there, the book would have appealed to me more. I can’t say that I would have loved it, because I can’t love a book if I don’t love its characters. And I definitely didn’t love Gabe and Mia.

Kelly: I’d like to bring up one of the weirdest things about this book: the difference (sometimes huge) between what the reader knows (or is thinking) and what the characters know (or are feeling).  For example, there’s a scene in the second half of the book where the reader is privy to Gabe’s thoughts and motivations (both pretty awful), but Mia isn’t.  When the situation blows up all over everything, Mia’s rather quick to forgive Gabe, because she doesn’t actually know how awful it really was, but the reader does.  And the reader is like, dude… that guy is SUCH an asshole… (and he never tells Mia, so the reader goes into the super sappy happy ending knowing he’s a dick, but to Mia, he’s a great catch. Yuck.)  Also, during all the butt plug moments, the characters are both pretty caught up in how awesome and super sexy it is that Gabe keeps shoving things up Mia’s ass.  As a reader, though, I couldn’t get past this thought: “What if she has to poo?”  It completely pulled me out of the story.

Kim: YES TO ALL OF THIS. I think that’s the main reason I couldn’t cheer for this couple.  We know WAY more about Gabe than Mia does.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) we’ve both opted out of continuing with this series.  We have heard from several fans of Bank’s works that this isn’t her best.  Being the open-minded individuals that we are, we’ve decided to try her Sweet Series out.  We’ll be dueling book one in the series, Sweet Surrender, within the next few weeks, so keep an eye out. (Remember, it’s your eyes. You don’t have to give them up!)

Kim: 1 out of 5 Stars
Kelly: 2 out of 5 Stars

Rush by Maya Banks
Penguin Group (2013)
eBook 416 pages
ISBN: 9781101620366

#114 A Review of The Prince (The Original Sinners #3) by Tiffany Reisz

princeBy now most of you know that I’ve loved the first two novels in Tiffany Reisz’s Original Sinners series The Siren and The Angel.  I’ve loved Reisz’s signature writing style and her ability to take erotic stories and turn them instead into discussions on art, life, religion, and love.  There is so much depth to her novels and to her characters that when book three of the series, The Prince, came out I jumped to get a copy and dig in.

Please proceed with caution when reading my review .  There may be some spoilers that could ruin the first two books or this book for you.  

From Goodreads: 

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer…preferably in bed. That’s always been Kingsley Edge’s strategy with his associate, the notorious New York dominatrix Nora Sutherlin. But with Nora away in Kentucky, now it’s Kingsley’s chance to take her place at the feet of the only man he’s ever wanted — Søren, Nora’s on-again, off-again lover — until a new threat from an old enemy forces him to confront his past.

Wes Railey is still the object of Nora’s tamest yet most maddening fantasies, and the one man she can’t forget. He’s young. He’s wonderful. He’s also thoroughbred royalty and she’s in “his” world now. But Nora is no simpering Southern belle, and her dream of fitting into Wesley’s world is perpetually at odds with her dear Søren’s relentlessly seductive pull.

Two worlds of wealth and passion call to her and whichever one Nora chooses, it will be the hardest decision she will ever have to make… unless someone makes it for her….

My first realization about The Prince was that it read much darker than the first two novels in the series.  Going in I knew from other advance readers that the story takes a very different road, a more mysterious road complete with a narrative that shifts from the past to the present extremely rapidly.  From dropped hints in The Angel I knew a good portion of this book would be focused on my favorite character in the series, Kingsley.  King is certainly a character with a hidden deck.  We’ve learned tidbits of his past throughout the first two books, but he did a great job of hiding his trump card from us; the depth of his complete and utter undying love for Søren.  I knew from The Angel that they had a past relationship, but it’s in The Prince that we truly learn the details.

As I said earlier there were darker parts to this novel.  One of them in particular is the first coupling between Søren and Kingsley.  For me personally it was difficult to read and I had to put the book down and walk away for a bit.  Unlike the first two novels, I was unable to read it straight through.  The darkness and sometimes abruptness of the scenes between Kingsley and Søren were difficult to read and forced me to read it in pieces here and there.  Now this is not to say that Reisz’s writing was poor or anything negative on her part.  What we have are two teenage boys who are exploring the world of kink.  One is filled with rage while the other (I think) is filled with an intense need to love and be loved.  Without any knowledge of how far is too far and what rules and limitations should be set down, you can expect their couplings to at first be incredibly brutal.  They do however both understand what is happening and proceed at the other’s wishes, so I want to make clear that what is occurring isn’t rape.  It’s just the brutality of their love was at times a bit too much for me to read.  I was thankful for the interludes of the story in which Wes and Nora’s continuing saga were interjected.  There was no brutality to their love, and as such it helped create pockets of light in the otherwise dark story that Søren and Kingsley’s love can be.

Speaking of Wes and Nora, I was happy that Reisz began expressively showcasing the inner conflict that Nora was going through in terms of her growing feelings for Wes.  We’ve seen her battle her feelings for two books and successfully tell herself that Wes could never understand her world, while she could never understand his.  That theory is put to the absolute test and it’s left Nora extremely unsure of her previous conclusions.  We begin to see a Nora that sees a “normal” life with Wes might not be as bad or as impossible as she previously thought.  She finds that there is a simpleness to their relationship, one that lets her be able to be her true self.  There is a point in the novel that she discusses how when she’s around Kingsley and the club folk she’s Mistress.  Around Søren she’s his “little one” or Eleanor.  Yet around Wes, she’s just plain Nora.  Nora who writes in her pajamas all day, watches movies, and lives a fairly normal life.  I thought that this was an interesting and poignant comparison to make: her need to play roles with everyone BUT Wes (I truly hope that this bodes well for the future of their relationship!)

I won’t even bother discussing Reisz’s writing skills.  I say the same thing in every review I write about her books. Her writing is exquisite, flawless, intelligent, poignant, full of depth, emotionally moving, and so much more.  There truly aren’t enough words in the English language to express how much I enjoy her works.  With The Prince we get to see how masterful she is at not only continuing her exploration of the human condition  but her incredible ability to weave a mystery! Even though I had an inkling as to who the culprit would be before the big reveal at the end, I still count Reisz’s attempt at writing a mystery a successful one!  You need to pick up this series.  I beg you. Please.  Go.  Ask someone for it for Christmas.  For your birthday.  Anything!  Just go pick up this series.  If you don’t you’re missing out on an amazing ride.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Prince by Tiffany Reisz
Harlequin (2012)
Paperback: 416 pages
ISBN: 9780778314103

Special thanks to Harlequin for giving me my review copy through netgalley!

#92 A Review of The Angel (The Original Sinners #2) by Tiffany Reisz + GIVEAWAY

A quick note before I start writing about The Angel by Tiffany Reisz.  This is the second book in her Original Sinners series.  If you have NOT read book one, The Siren (review here) then I would opt out of reading the rest of my review.  There are things that are revealed at the end of Siren that would be ruined if you read my review of Angel.

With that out-of-the-way let me first begin this review by saying that The Angel WILL be on my list of best books of 2012.  After reading The Siren I was amazed that a book marketed in the erotica genre could be such a discussion in art, literature, life, and the human condition.  It amazed me how poignant Reisz’s writing was and how no matter what your sexual lifestyle preference is, her characters and their stories were still relatable and approachable.  I expected nothing less when delving into The Angel and I can tell you that I was completely blown away for the unexpected way that Reisz raised her own bar.

Reisz picks up several months after the end of The Siren, with Nora in quite a difficult position.  Søren has been selected for a major promotion within the Church, and as such will have much of his life scrutinized and vetted in the months leading up to the promotion.  Additionally, a journalist with ulterior motives is intent on uncovering Søren’s secrets.  Of course, if his life with Nora was ever uncovered, he would be ruined, so he sends her to the country estate of Griffin Fiske, another member of the underground BDSM club that Nora and Søren belong to.  Griffin is more than excited to see Nora, especially since she isn’t alone: she’s traveled with Michael, a submissive-in-training whom she is teaching the ways of the BDSM lifestyle to while she is away from Søren.  Michael is young and physically beautiful, and completely selfless and ready to dive in to this new role.  Nora is ready and willing to take on her new role, but still has part of her heart stuck  in the rectory with Søren and down south with Wes.  What will become of their relationship?  How will Michael take to this new phase of his life?

My heart was constantly at war with itself as to whose story I wanted to know more about.  Soren’s past? Nora’s love for Wesley? Griffin and Michael? It’s a sign of how deeply layered Reisz’s characters are in that here we are 3 novellas, 2 books, and several short stories published later, still learning several new things about each character’s lives, pasts, dreams, hopes, etc.  None of these characters have “clean” lives, they’re all flawed and trying to figure out what they each want.    That’s what I love about Reisz’s characters.  They all screw up and move on, learning from their experiences.  Nobody has a magical transformation. Nobody is suddenly perfect with their whole life figured out.  Michael and Griffin exude this pattern the most.  In The Siren we’re introduced to Michael as a suicidal teen who believes that there is something wrong with him because of his joy in pain.  Meeting Søren and Nora and finding out that there is a world of people like him essentially saves his life.  In The Angel we continue this journey with him, watching him learn the art of submission and more importantly self-acceptance.  His transformation is a messy one, but is ultimately the most beautiful thing about this book.  Consequently, Nora, has begun questioning everything.  She claims to be happy, returning to “her rightful place” as Søren’s submissive, but her heart is absolutely aching for Wes.  Søren can see her inner struggles and tells her that during their time apart she must deal with the Wes conundrum.  There is a quote I would like to share, that Nora says that I think perfectly expresses the night and day differences between Søren and Wes:

“”Winter,” she finally said, “can be so beautiful and cruel. Cruel and cold. And if you live in the presence of winter you can never have summer.”……”You smell like summer. Like clean laundry hanging out in the sun. That’s an amazing smell too.”

I made no secret of the fact that I was not Søren’s biggest fan after reading The Siren.  I want to tell you that after finishing The Angel, and getting a HEAVY dose of his past…I like him.  There. I said it. I like Søren.  He has one of the most insane pasts of any character I can ever remember reading about.  I cried for the entire chapter about his past.  My heart was ripped out of my chest and I just sat there raw.  This is a testament to how AMAZING Reisz’s writing is.  She can literally take someone like me, who despised Søren, and turn me into someone who has a ton of empathy and sympathy for him.  He had a messed up life, and was mistreated in a very wrong way by the people who should have been the ones protecting him.  That leaves scars.  Scars I cannot wait to explore in Reisz’s third book The Prince.  

Reisz continues to write exquisitely and out-of-the-box. Who would have thought they’d find discussions on theology, art, and history among other things in an erotica novel?  That’s because it’s not an erotica novel.  No matter what kind of marketing it receives, or the shelf we add it to on Goodreads, this book will refuse to fit in that mold.  The sex in the books (while good) is not what keeps people coming back for more.  It’s the deeply layered, rich character creations that only Reisz could write.  I’m eagerly waiting for The Prince to become available.  My heart aches to revisit these characters; that’s how much they’ve become a part of me.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Angel by Tiffany Reisz
Harlequin (2012)
Paperback: 416 pages
ISBN: 9780778313991

Special thanks to Harlequin for giving me my review copy through netgalley!

Giveaway
One lucky winner will have the opportunity to win a copy of The Angel by Tiffany Reisz.  For your chance to win simply leave a comment in the thread below.  Comments will be accepted through midnight of Sunday, September 23, 2012.  Winner will be picked at random and announced on Monday, September 24, 2012.  Open to US residents only.  Good luck!

Playing Catch Up: Novella Edition

Continuing on with my trend of catching up on reviews, I present the novella edition!  A lot of the books/series I’ve been reading lately have had novellas attached to them, helping me increase my total reads for the year.  Even though they’re shorter in length I still believe they deserve to be counted towards my total goal.  (Some of them are really freaking good!) So, without further ado….

#70 Once Upon A Winter’s Eve (Spindle Cove #1.5) by Tessa Dare – summary from Goodreads:

Violet Winterbottom is a quiet girl. She speaks six languages, but seldom raises her voice. She endured bitter heartbreak in perfect silence. The gentlemen aren’t beating down her door.  Until the night of the Spindle Cove Christmas ball, when a mysterious stranger crashes into the ballroom and collapses at Violet’s feet. His coarse attire and near-criminal good looks would put any sensible young lady on her guard. He’s wet, chilled, bleeding, and speaking in an unfamiliar tongue.   Only Violet understands him. And she knows he’s not what he seems.  She has one night to draw forth the secrets of this dangerously handsome rogue. Is he a smuggler? A fugitive? An enemy spy? She needs answers by sunrise, but her captive would rather seduce than confess. To learn his secrets, Violet must reveal hers—and open herself to adventure, passion, and the unthinkable… Love.

The amazing thing about Tessa Dare’s Spindle Cove series are the heroines.  At first glance they are a mish-mosh of odd women.  They’re shy wallflowers and women interested in science; they’re the women that don’t fit into “normal” society.  Dare gives these women a safe place (Spindle Cove) to come into their own, heal from the pain of being outsiders from society, etc.  It’s her use of the unusual heroine and their creative backstories that make this series so special.  Dare’s superb writing style is also something to note here.  This novella runs at an extremely fast pace, but Violet’s story is so enchanting that you don’t mind.  I can’t tell you about the hero of the story, as it’ll ruin the surprise, but suffice it to say he’s proof that the cards life deals to us aren’t always what we expect.  But, with time and an open mind and heart, we can learn lessons from each instance and grow.

Final thoughts: Add this novella AND this series to your to-read list. (Book one is A Night to Surrender and book two is A Week To Be Wicked)

5 out of 5 Stars

Once Upon A Winter’s Eve by Tessa Dare
Samhain Publishing, Ltd (2011)
eBook: 233 pages
ISBN: 9781609288822

#71 Forevermore (Jewel Trilogy #2.5) by Lauren Royal – summary from Goodreads:

England, 1667

Sensible Clarice Bradford is content in her widowhood. She has a pretty one-room cottage and a lovely little daughter, and the last thing she wants is another husband. Until one fairytale evening when she’s invited to a wedding at a castle…

Scottish gentleman Sir Cameron Leslie is smitten with the shy, English beauty at first sight. He’s fiercely drawn to the very strength and independence that make her unwilling to throw caution to the wind and bestow her heart on a younger man. Though passion flares between them, it will take everything Cameron can muster to reawaken Clarice’s long-forgotten dreams of true love…

Forevermore is part of Lauren Royal’s Jewel Trilogy.  The events take place after books one and two (Amethyst and Emerald) but before book three (Amber). Royal, as we’ve come to expect from her, gives us amazingly tortured characters that we can’t help but fall in love with.  

Clarice is a woman who was dealt difficult blows in her life.  She was married at the tender age of 15 to a man who was almost three times her age.  Not only was he much older than her, but you’re lead to believe he was physically and verbally abusive.  Years after his death Lord Cainewood (of Emerald) brings her a little girl who is need of a home.  Having always wished for children she takes the little girl in, vowing it will be the start to a happier life for herself.  It’s been a year since she adopted Mary and her life has never seemed happier.  Cameron, on the other hand, has led a sort of charmed life, living in Scotland and caring for his family’s ancestral lands.  Until seeing Clarice at his cousin’s wedding he realizes he’s never been in love (how sad!!).  Watching him try to win Clarice’s heart and squash her fears with his tenderness and kindness was joyful.  His scenes with little Mary were beautiful and made me love him even more!

Final Thoughts: If you haven’t yet added this series to your to-read pile you’re seriously missing out.

4 out of 5 Stars

Forevermore by Lauren Royal
Novelty Books (2012)
Paperback: 185 pages
ISBN: 2940014071192

#72 Darcy and Elizabeth: The Language of the Fan by Mary Lydon Simonsen – summary from Goodreads:

While Jane Bennet is recuperating at Netherfield Park, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are frequently thrown into each other’s company. Despite initial resistance, the pair find that their first impressions are changing, especially after Lizzy overhears a conversation between Darcy and Charles Bingley using the language of the fan. Darcy and Elizabeth: The Language of the Fan is a short story showing how two people come together through a series of comical miscues.

Those following the blog are well aware of the fact that I’m a huge fan of Simonsen’s writing.  She always comes up with new and creative ways to make us fall in love with Darcy and Elizabeth’s story.  Having read many Regency novels that employ the use of fans by ladies of respectable status, I’ve been curious about what all the motions of these fans meant.  It was really fascinating to have the “rules of the fan” interjected throughout the story as a plot device.

Once Darcy and Elizabeth become “friends”, they get on a conversation about tombstone markers.  Elizabeth tells him that Mr. Bennet enjoys walking through cemeteries looking for the most unique ones.  Reading the tombstone markers (that Simonsen later told me actually exist) were really funny, and they added a quirky humor to the story.

Final thoughts: Simonsen always leaves me wanting more, and that’s exactly how I felt upon completing The Language of the Fan.  Click here for more of my reviews of Simonsen’s books!

4 out of 5 Stars

Darcy and Elizabeth: The Language of the Fan by Mary Lydon Simonsen
Quail Creek Publishing (2011)
eBook: 25 pages
ISBN: 2940012938916

#73 Seven Day Loan (The Original Sinners #.5)  by Tiffany Reisz – summary from Goodreads:

A trained submissive, Eleanor will do whatever her master commands…even spend a week with a stranger. Daniel has been a recluse since his wife’s death, and Eleanor’s lover thinks spending time with her will be therapeutic–especially since Daniel is also a Dom.  Despite her defiant streak, Eleanor can’t resist giving in to Daniel’s erotic demands. But while she’ll let him have her body, she’s determined to keep a guard around her heart. Even if Daniel wants to make Eleanor his permanently….

Seven Day Loan is a prequel to Reisz’s The Siren , a prequel that I of course would read AFTER reading The Siren (oh well).  The biggest OMG” moment of The Siren is when you find out what Soren’s profession is.  His profession is discussed in Seven Day Loan hence why I suggest reading it after, making the reveal in The Siren more of a surprise.

ANYWAY – Seriously, you must read this. Daniel is heavenly.  The time he and Nora spend together is HOT and it definitely helps us get to know Nora just a bit more.  She is an enigma of a character, one that I’m anxious to keep learning about.

As expected Reisz’s writing style is exquisite and leaves the reader wanting more.  I can’t get enough of her stories and am greatly looking forward to the publication of book two in The Original Sinners series, The Angel, in September.  Reisz has a number of sequels to Seven Day Loan, as well as The Siren posted for FREE on her website.  Click here to read them!

Final thoughts: Read it. No, seriously. Read it.

5 out of 5 Stars

Seven Day Loan by Tiffany Reisz
Harlequin (2010)
eBook: 34 pages
ISBN: 9781426851599

#74 Bargain with the Devil by Enid Wilson – summary from Goodreads:

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Fitzwilliam Darcy learns of the debacle involving Elizabeth Bennet’s sister several months after he was rejected by Elizabeth, and volunteers to help find her sister, of his own accord.  But what if Miss Elizabeth had requested Mr. Darcy’s aid in just a few days after the disastrous proposal at Hunsford, and he was still very angry with her refusal? What if he decided to be ungentlemanly, and demanded a very particular reward from her in exchange for his assistance?  This steamy, funny Pride and Prejudice what-if short story explores that scenario with wit, emotion and intriguing plot twists that take this perennial favorite to another direction.

Oh man. Where are Austen’s characters that I fell so in love with? Elizabeth? Darcy? Hello? Are you out there? I ask because they were definitely not present in this novella.  For example, there was the inclusion of Elizabeth dressing up as a man to follow Darcy, who teaches her how to “scratch” herself like a man. The entire situation was odd and awkward.  Not only that, but the storyline with Caroline Bingley and black magic was off the wall.

The back and forth between first person and third person narrative made for choppy and somewhat confusing reading.  The actual writing has potential, with the help of some strong editing.  I kept wanting to break out my red pen, but that wouldn’t really help on a nook.

Final thoughts: Skip it.  Try reading Wilson’s Fire and Cross instead.

1 out of 5 Stars

Bargain With The Devil by Enid Wilson
Lulu Press (2011)
eBook: 73 pages
ISBN: 9781447530657

So, there you have it.  The second installment in my “playing catch up” posts.  I hope you enjoy reading these blurbs as much as I enjoy writing them!  Reading and reviewing these novellas has definitely expanded the variety of my reviews this year.  They are fun ways to experience a quick story that is great for those who don’t have the time for a full novel.  I definitely recommend that you add some of these to your “to read” piles at home.

As always, happy reading!

#59 A Review of The Siren (The Original Sinners #1) by Tiffany Reisz

Y’all know that I read and pretty much hated the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.  My friend, Jeanne (@einfach_mich on Twitter) and I started discussing the Erotica/BDSM genre and soon became fast friends over it.  Her being the pro and me the newbie began discussing what it meant to read about what I call abusive relationships.  She promised me that she’d scour her mind and the web and find me a series that depicts what a true BDSM relationship is like, with two consenting adults that are 100% into that lifestyle.  (Ana from Fifty Shades is a “vanilla” sex character and never delves into the BDSM world as deep as Christian has)  First came the recommendation of the Sleeping Beauty trilogy by Anne Rice, written under her pen name A.N Roquelaure.  Let’s just say that it’s one of the few books in my history I couldn’t complete.  I made it about 60-65 pages in before it became entirely too much to handle.  Jeanne promised me she’d keep looking and I promised I’d keep an open mind.  Yesterday, (yes you’re reading that right. I read a book and am reviewing it in under 24 hours) Jeanne contacted me RAVING about Tiffany Reisz’s book The Siren.  Remembering our deal I pulled open my nook, purchased The Siren and began my exploration back into the world of BDSM.

The Siren begins by introducing us to the author Nora Sutherlin.  A famous erotica writer, Sutherlin’s books are becoming more and more popular, but she hasn’t quite reached the point where she’ll be a full-time writer.  She needs a critical bestseller, something that will shake up the traditional fare in bookstores and make her a household name.  Fortunately, she thinks she has something in her latest book.  Unfortunately, she needs a good amount of help to finish and publish it.  Enter Zachary Easton, the well-to-do British editor who agrees to take on Sutherlin’s project before he leaves on a promotion to the US in six weeks.  He only agrees to this if he has complete (and I mean complete) control of the writing process.  This is something completely new to Nora, and her writing sessions with Easton are something that she’s never experienced before.  They are in fact so new and exciting that she even finds them arousing despite how long and grueling they increasingly become.  What will Nora do with this new submission she is experiencing?  What sparks will fly between her and Easton?  Will she be able to handle this new lifestyle?

Guys. For real I finished this book and was speechless.  It blew me away and tore away any preconceived notions I had about the BDSM/Erotica genre of writing.  Hell, frig that. This book doesn’t even belong in that genre!  This is a work of literary fiction.  All throughout my reading I kept highlighting whole passages that literally made me just stop and think.  Case in point:

“I know people think erotica is just a romance novel with rougher sex.  It’s not.  If it’s a subgenre of anything, it’s horror.”

“Horror? Really?”

“Romance is sex plus love.  Erotica is sex plus fear.”

Mind blown. I’ve never thought of erotica (both literally and literary) in this light.  The entire book changed my view on so many things, not just those related to erotica.  When a book forces you to step back and acknowledge that there could be another angle to something besides your opinion, it’s just amazing.  This is what books are all about.  They change your views, your opinions, your thoughts.  They make you think. They open your mind.  Challenge you. Excite you. Frighten you.  The Siren is ALL of these things and more.  It’s about so much more than a woman who writes about and participates in a BDSM lifestyle.  It’s about being you in all aspects of your life.  Being you even if that means giving up what you want and what you think you need.  There is a great quote that sums this all up:

…sacrifice can only get you so far.  And although two people can love each other deeply, sometimes love alone doesn’t cut it.  We can only sacrifice so much of ourselves in a relationship before there’s nothing left to love or be loved.

Reisz is so freaking astute.  This idea: how much can you change before you’re not you anymore, is the main theme strung throughout the novel.  This is why I say this book breaks the mold in selecting a genre.  With the turning of each page you are continually bombarded with thought-provoking statements that make you forget you’re reading “erotica.”  There are even large passages in this novel about art, music, and religion that all continue this rapid attack on your brain, forcing you to re-think everything.  My favorite quote, which I view as the most poignant of the novel is:

“Tell me something boss.  What do you think is the highest form of art?”

“Literature,” he answered without hesitation.  “Painters and sculptors require elaborate supplies and tools.  Dancers must have music.  Musicians must have instruments.  Literature needs nothing but a voice to speak it or sand to scrawl it in.”

(Can we all just cheer for literature here for a second?)

Another fabulous aspect of this novel is its use of sex in a non gratuitous way.  One thing about Fifty Shades that bothered me were the CONSTANT sex scenes. (Literally every sixth page was a sex scene just because).  The Siren uses sex to unravel character layers and to ignite plot movement.  There was nothing grotesque and abusive about these scenes even though they’re done in an erotic format.  One thing I couldn’t get over in Fifty Shades was how abusive the sex scenes felt.  As an outsider of this lifestyle I couldn’t understand why people chose this pain and abuse.  The Siren was written so well, and gave such insight to this lifestyle, that I felt like I get it now.  Maybe not 100%, but I have Jeanne to keep choosing new books for me to read and explore this topic.

The Siren will take you on a tumultuous and heartbreaking story.  It will beat you, bruise you, and make you love it with each exquisitely written page.  When it’s over you’ll feel torn apart yet sated, aching for the next chapter in Nora’s life.  For those of you who are interested in this undertaking, I can assure you that it will be a journey you won’t forget.  Comment below and let me know what you think!

5 out of 5 Stars

The Siren by Tiffany Reisz
Harlequin (2012)
eBook: 400 pages
ISBN: 9781459234499