Natalie Porter is a Ph.d student of history who has been working two restaurant jobs to help pay for private investigators in Russia, searching for he...moreNatalie Porter is a Ph.d student of history who has been working two restaurant jobs to help pay for private investigators in Russia, searching for her father, whom she's never met. She's lost contact with the latest investigator, Zironoff, but hasn't given up hope of tracking down her dad.
While out one night at a bar with her friends, Nat sees a man who steals her breath. Everything about him screams "danger", from his dark looks, brooding glare and tattoos. But he's far more interesting than all the jocks in the place, with that sexy Russian accent, so she makes an approach only to be shut-down swiftly. It's a shock, then, to find him in her apartment later that night.
Aleksandr Sevastyan - nicknamed "The Siberian" - is in America to guard Natalie from her father's enemies; only now does he make his presence known because his orders are to get her on a plane to Russia immediately. Her father, Pavel Kovalev - known as the Clockmaker in his own circle - is high up in the Mafia and his enemies, having discovered the existence of a daughter through Nat's last PI, are closing in on her. Sevastyan is Pavel's right-hand man, an orphan he took in when just a boy and raised like his own. Pavel's excited to learn that he has a daughter, and trusts no one but The Siberian to bring her "home".
I'm a major fan of Kresley Cole, but I have to admit I wasn't sure about this one when I first heard about it - or even when I started reading it. It's all so ... outlandish. But then I remembered: it's romance. It's almost always outlandish, especially the good ones. Unless there are really noticeable flaws and plotholes and stupid decisions in the story, it's easy to go with it and enjoy. And I need not have worried in this case: this is Kresley Cole, after all. She writes so well, she can overcome even the most outlandish of premises (I mean, since when did the Russian Mafia become sexy?!).
I'll put aside my real thoughts on learning that Pavel, Natalie's father, is a lovely man who became a crime boss in order to protect people from the other crime bosses - he's a little bit too good to be true. He lives in a real palace, centuries old, one rescued and renovated, on a vast estate outside Moscow. His nephew and Nat's cousin, the incredibly handsome Filip Liukin, is living there as well - he seems to have a gambling problem as well as a flirtatious eye for Nat. There's also the slight implausibility of Nat being okay with her father being a crime lord, though granted she didn't have much choice in relocating. But she's certainly putting aside any ethics (or morals, for that matter) and getting on board with the whole thing.
But like I said, I put all that aside and just went with it, and as a result got a highly enjoyable story full of steamy scenes and fraught with sexual tension (and I'll admit, the Russian Mob angle is very exciting and a nice change for me). Cole's skill at writing stories you can really immerse yourself in, and characters who don't drive you nuts, comes to the fore. Her trademark humour is present, though not quite so much as in her excellent Immortals After Dark series. There's enough detail for realism but the pace is tight, smooth and fast ("that's what she said" - sorry, couldn't resist!). There's a hint of danger and tension - not from without, as we haven't seen it yet, but from within; I'm much more alert than Nat, clearly, and am picking up on something suspicious in the air. I'm expecting betrayal any moment, though not from Sevastyan.
Mmm and isn't he a dish? Certain descriptors may sound a bit cliched - the tats, the leather clothes, the dark brooding glare - but somehow Cole makes it all feel fresh and exciting. Nat, despite being a virgin, is sexually experienced in every other way and doesn't resist her attraction to him. This is erotic romance (not erotica, that's a different kettle of fish entirely and not half so fun as erotic romance), so the sex scenes are steamy and edgy; Sevastyan likes it a bit rough and intense, and Nat's learning that how much it turns her on, as well. Another trait of erotic romance (as opposed to other forms of romance) is the proclivity of sex scenes, or steamy scenes - even within this novella, there are plenty to keep you satisfied. And it's only just getting going.
Where the story will go from here I don't know, but I can't wait to find out with Part 2. I'm not a big fan of serialising romance stories, but it does seem to be the new "thing" for e-books, and I can understand the appeal to publishers. It's hard for readers, though, to get so far in a story only to have to wait to keep reading the same story. But once all the e-book parts are out, the complete novel should be printed. That's how it worked with Beth Kery, another erotic romance writer I love reading, so I hope that's how it will go here as well.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book via Netgalley.(less)
Devadas is a warrior and the younger prince of Catiscal, but when he is captured by neighbouring Horvald, he is put in The Pit, there to fight Horvald...moreDevadas is a warrior and the younger prince of Catiscal, but when he is captured by neighbouring Horvald, he is put in The Pit, there to fight Horvald's warriors-in-training until he dies. No one knows he's a prince, and as far as Devada is concerned, he is dead to his country and his parents as soon as he was captured. He maintains his own code of honour in a warring country that he sees as wanton: they keep slaves, the women walk around practically naked, and the people have an open attitude towards sex and sharing partners.
When Lissa, the young princess of Horvald and the king's only child, takes an interest in Devadas, he took the opportunity hoping to find a way to escape or somehow exploit the situation. But Lissa wants only a fit man to train her in the arts of love making, and Devadas has a month, at first, before she's married off. Those plans don't eventuate, and instead the two explore each other in depth, Devadas learning as much about how to pleasure a woman as Lissa learns from him.
When her father, the king of Horvald, takes Devadas along with the other warrior slaves to join his army in his latest venture, Lissa is distraught. From long exposure to Devadas, her attitude towards her people's cavalier slave keeping has changed, and when a storm comes through with her father absent, she ditches forever her luxury and her frivolous clothes and joins the people in rebuilding the town and planting new crops, negotiating with neighbouring Catiscal which also suffered in the storm. When her father returns and tells her he killed Devedas along with a number of other slaves who attempted to escape, she grieves deeply then locks her heart away, planning to stay chaste forever.
Ten years later, the growing empire has decimated her father's army and killed him; its leader, a general who calls himself Lord Death, comes for Lissa. In shock, she recognises Devadas, but he has changed - and worse, he plans on exacting revenge on Lissa for the long months she took advantage of him, rather than finding a way to free him and the other slaves. His demands of her are terrible, and she is humiliated by the finely made gold chains he makes her wear - and especially by the leash - but bargains the safety of her people and their fields in exchange.
When the new king of Catiscal, Devadas' older brother Anton, arrives in Horvald, thinking to take it for his own and Lissa for his bride, Devadas decides to marry her himself. But Anton plays dirty, and it takes seeing how he treats Lissa for Devadas to realise just what she means to him, and how abominable his behaviour towards her was.
Between the new Harlequin/Mills & Boon romance e-book imprint, Escape Publishing, and Penguin Australia's new romance e-book imprint, Destiny Romance, my Kindle is suddenly chokkas with great new romance fiction. I picked this one from Escape because it combines erotic romance with fantasy, two of my favourite genres, though I didn't realise until I started reading it that it's actually a fairly short novella. I like novellas, but I think in this case, as well written as it was, it would have been a more satisfying novel if it had been, well, novel length.
Everything that needed to be there was there, from some general world-building (put together in your head from minor details and bits of info scattered throughout), to character motivations and some good plot developments. But it's the characters that you want to read romance for, in whatever form it comes in, and in the case of Chains of Revenge it skimmed along a bit too lightly, without really delving deeply into their psyches. Individually, I felt like I understood and could sympathise with the characters, no problem, but together, I wanted a bit more chemistry, especially in the beginning. It rushed through those months and then told us they were falling in love with each other, without really showing it (or showing them holding back, since their positions - mistress/princess and slave - is a perfect relationship obstacle).
Things heated up considerably when they meet again ten years later, and the story became more interesting too, but the problem of developing things between the characters remained a bit stunted. They just never quite built up momentum, and that was disappointing. I don't mind the lightly sketched in world-building, for a novella, and I don't mind a fairly uneventful plot - but the most important thing in a romance story is the romance, right? and building up chemistry between the characters. Developing that more deeply at the beginning would have given the rest of the story a really solid footing, and strong past history that would have added mouth-watering tension and gut-clenching sexual chemistry.
Otherwise, I enjoyed it and found parts of it particularly fun and juicy to read. The chain harness was a nice erotic touch, but one of the things that stood out for me was how much I liked Lissa. She grew and matured and changed quite a bit, rising to a new challenge and coming to realise that, much like in a democratic system, a leader is nothing without healthy, happy people to lead, and so she puts them first, over her own wants and needs. Devadas has a lot to learn, too, and is not a straight-forward character. So while I didn't find that their chemistry sizzled as much as it could have, the potential for it was there, and I could believe in them as people and lovers.(less)
Jessica Randall is an accountant with several disappointing and unsatisfying relationships in her past. Returning home from a trip to Tampa for a date...moreJessica Randall is an accountant with several disappointing and unsatisfying relationships in her past. Returning home from a trip to Tampa for a date with a man she'll never see again, her car hits an armadillo in the rain and goes into the ditch. Alone on the dark country road, the only signs of life is a house she passed further down the road. It's a mansion with a formidable giant of a man at the door, who seems reluctant to assist when she asks for help. Returning with the handsome Master Z, the door guard, Ben, lets her in.
But this is a private club, and before she can be allowed any further than the entrance she has to read and sign the rules. Tired, freezing and dripping, Jessica can barely make out the words, but how bad can it be? It's just a rich person's club in the country. So she signs without understanding just what kind of club it is.
Her introduction to Club Shadowlands, a very private and select club for those who enjoy practicing BDSM, is a bit of a shock to gentle Jessica's system. But Master Z takes her under his wing to show her around and teach her the rules - and hopes for something more from her. After a night of opening her senses to a new world, and the desires she's always had but never realised, will Jessica ever return? Would Master Z want more than a brief D/s relationship?
This short introductory novel into the world of Club Shadowlands, the first in a series, is fun in a distinctly titillating way. It doesn't waste time with filler or too much dithering introspection, which I could really appreciate. It is romantically inclined - the Dominant men we're introduced to don't want just another sub, but something more long-lasting and meaningful: love, and whatever comes with it.
That said, we don't really get to know Jessica or Master Z - Zach - in depth, but we do get a good sense of their characters, and come to like them, from their interactions. The Doms aren't sadists, they're more romantically inclined, patient and follow the idea that bondage and whipping etc. is for the sub, not the Dom. Pleasure in pain, that kind of thing. Jessica's not into the pain, but she learns that she enjoys being dominated and tied up. In her tour of the club, she sees that there are many different ways of exploring BDSM, and learns that the subs, whether they're women or men, are willing participants. Doms who go from giving what the subs need to actually being abusive or violent with them, are quickly kicked out and banned from the club. For readers curious about the lifestyle, this is a good guide, though for readers like me who've read plenty of BDSM stories already, it's a bit too familiar.
There is an added element to the series: some of the characters have paranormal abilities. Master Z can read people's emotions, which puts him in an excellent position of running a club like this - and being a popular Dom. This gives him an edge and is what enables things to move quite fast between him and Jessica. Especially considering Jessica is almost as naive as Anastasia Steele from Fifty Shades. Almost, but thankfully not that bad.
Being short, the novel does lack a deeper level of emotional involvement and tensity, leaving it almost a bit too cute and simplistic. But I did enjoy it, and wouldn't mind reading more in the series.(less)
Rae Jackson has turned her back on the mistakes of her past and reinvented herself - and her father's construction company - as The Fix-it Lady, speci...moreRae Jackson has turned her back on the mistakes of her past and reinvented herself - and her father's construction company - as The Fix-it Lady, specialising in renovating the old historic homes of Missouri. She's excited about the new job coming up, working on an old plantation house that the owner, an old lady known as Miss Belle, plans to open as a Bed & Breakfast. The one thing that makes her nervous is that five years ago, Miss Belle's grandson, Conn, once bent her over her desk and spanked her to orgasm. He was her English professor, and she never went back to university after that, using the excuse of her father's near-death accident and consequent paralysis to stay home.
Two years after that came her second big mistake: marrying Richard, who had worked for her father and was running the business - into the ground, as it turned out. The relationship was abusive and when it reached a peak Rae kicked him out and divorced him, but the damage to her psyche was done. Now she's working for Miss Belle, it takes no time at all for Conn to discover her presence there, and he's determined not to let her run from him again.
Conn - he hates his first name, Verrill, which Miss Belle wields like a weapon - never got the letter Rae wrote him after that day in his office, because he never opens his email - a fact Rae was well aware of. And he never read any of her other letters to him, because she never sent them. Conn has a lot of lost time to make up for, but Rae is skittish and struggles to see her preference for the dominating Texan as anything other than a weakness. Determined not to be a doormat ever again, it's going to take more than soothing words and sheer determination on Conn's part to get her to trust him - and be with him, permanently. Because that's his plan, and it's only a matter of time according to Miss Belle, who has a bet going with her ghostly husband, Colonel Healy.
This was a surprising amount of fun, especially with a warning on the back cover like this one: "Explicit sex, spanking, light bondage, a crazy lady who talks to ghost, and one lethal pink parasol." On the "explicit sex" side of things, this is very light in comparison to other erotic romances I've read - it takes quite some time to even get to the sex, and it's not as detailed (and certainly not as heavy) as in other books. It reminded me more of Maya Banks' Sweet Surrender; if you've read that book, you'll have a good idea of what this one is like. Also, you can read the short, 59-page prequel, "Letters", online (click the link for the pdf), which tells the story of Rae and Conn five years before. I didn't read it (because I didn't know about it until now), but I reckon it'd add a good meaty layer to the tension and Rae's initial reaction on seeing Conn again after five years.
Burkhart also pays close attention to her setting, and while I don't know much (at all) about Missouri or the American South in general, I got a pretty good idea of the area from reading this. It definitely has a real flavour of the South, from the cooking to the architecture to the ghosts. The ghost side of the story was a lot of fun, and you have to love crazy Miss Belle who's really not as crazy as she seems - nor so formidable.
The plot follows fairly typical lines for the genre, but I really enjoyed the time spent building up the sexual tension. There's a lot of anticipation here, a focus on the chemistry between Conn and Rae, which is something I love reading. Sex is merely sex unless there's chemistry, tension, and a slow, burning build-up, yeah? Well there's plenty of that, less sex though.
In the beginning, I liked Rae a lot, and throughout the novel I could certainly sympathise with her. But she did start to annoy me with her scared-little-girl thing, it got stale and tired pretty fast. Again, it reminded me of that Maya Banks book I mentioned before, making me wonder whether this kind of woman actually exists or whether she's a romance trope that's becoming more entrenched in romance set in the American South? Only I have never met a woman who's anything at all like Rae, though I'm hardly looking to Romance for realism, that would be rather hilarious.
Conn was certainly appealing, an English professor from Texas who loves poetry and hates the internet, he's a dom at heart and a genuine, loving kind of man. I did find it hard to get a grasp of him though. I had trouble understanding his character, which almost seemed too fluid, too inconsistent. And speaking of him being an English professor, what's with Rae saying that the "normal everyday sort of English professor" is a man who wears a tweed jacket and has a pipe? Ouch for that dated stereotype! I'm pretty sure that kind of English professor hasn't existed for a good century! The closest I can think of is one of my History lecturers, the head of the department, who did wear a jacket that might have had elbow patches, but he was from the UK so he has an excuse.
I have to speak to a quibble I have, though, one that could have been easily fixed at the editing or copy-editing stage. Conn likes to fence, and we witness him practicing with a friend from the maths department. Only, it's not fencing. You don't use "wooden practice swords" and take part in a kind of medieval times or renaissance fair thing, in full costume, when you fence. Not in the sense of fencing as the art of fencing, with a fine blade called a foil (there are a few kinds of blades), turned sideways to present less body to your opponent, and so on. You know what I mean, think The Princess Bride. I've never heard sword-fighting - with great big swords and brute strength - called fencing before.
As a story exploring domestic abuse and women's rather fragile psyche especially in relation to the sense of shame many women experience in relation to their sexual desires (and their bodies), Burkhart does a good job of creating a scenario and a character who speaks to this issue. The kind of abuse Rae received from Richard was mostly emotional and psychological, and hugely damaging. Add to that her confusion, guilt and shame regarding her enjoyment of that interlude in Conn's office and what it says about her, and you've got someone a bit messed up, but understandably so. Conn is reassuring, patient, loving and instructive - clearly all things Rae needs. Yet how many Conn's are there, for women like Rae, really? How many women continue to be abused or have a dangerously low opinion of themselves because of their society, their community, their environment and their relationships? It's tragic to think of it.
Overall, a quick light read full of amusing in-jokes, brimming with sexual tension and a satisfying resolution - not to mention a running theme of making it clear that men who take advantage of women are worthless, pathetic, insecure and definitely not worth staying with (Richard wasn't the only arrogant chauvinist in the story). I would have rated this higher but in the end Rae was just too annoying for me. Fans of Maya Banks' Sweet series would find much to enjoy with Burkhart's Connagher boys. I know I want to read the next book in the series now, about Conn's brother, Victor.(less)
When Caroline's father, Isaac Clemens, kills himself after losing all his money on the stock exchange, he leaves his five children penniless orphans....moreWhen Caroline's father, Isaac Clemens, kills himself after losing all his money on the stock exchange, he leaves his five children penniless orphans. With their house and all their possessions up for auction to cover his debts, Caroline has few choices. She had kept faith in her suitor, Captain Bellamy, that he would still marry her and thus save her and her siblings - Emily, Louisa, Beatrice, Dorothea and Teddy - but his new proposal makes her feelings for him sour. He tells her he must marry for money, and has his sights set on Kitty Earnshaw, but that he'll give her two hundred pounds a year to live in a little cottage and be his mistress instead.
Her hopes of saving her family dashed, Caroline knows she must take them all to the workhouse, a place that might just kill them, or put an end to things herself. She knows where her father's gun is, and there should hopefully be enough bullets left for Isaac's children too - if she has the courage to do it. With this plan in mind, there is only one regret: she would have liked to have known what it feels like to be with a man.
Dominic Savage is a man used to pursuing his pleasures. Recently arrived in England from India, Caroline Clemens has caught his eye. Believing her to be Isaac's widow, he feels no compunction seducing her in the conservatory of their host's house the same evening Captain Bellamy showed his true colours, and Caroline, her new conviction fresh in her heart, eagerly responds.
One encounter merely whets his appetite for young Caroline, but after that party he can't find her again. Caroline, after failing to follow through with her plan to save her siblings and herself from a life of destitution or worse, has taken them, on foot across country, to the workhouse. They are allowed in for the week, at the end of which time the board of governors will meet and decide whether they can stay. Grateful for somewhere to sleep and something to eat, the Clemens children are split up and put to work.
One week is all it takes to diminish their spirits considerably. After hearing that the board has refused them admittance and they must leave, they are rescued by Dominic who, having finally found Caroline, offers her a proposal not unlike Captain Bellamy's, but one which is imminently preferable: to be his mistress for five hundred pounds a year, and his help in procuring employment, apprenticeships or schooling for her siblings. With her sisters and brother taken care of, Caroline puts all her willing energy into pleasing Dominic - and learning about the arts of pleasure for her own sake.
But she knows her place: she is only a mistress, and he will soon grow tired of her - or, as an investor, he may lose all his money just like her father did and be unable to keep her. She must protect her heart against him, be a professional, and learn all she can from him. If only it were that simple.
This is the first book I've read by Kiwi husband-and-wife team Brent and Cathy, who use the pen name Leda Swann (as in, Leda and the Swan, the story of Zeus disguising himself as a swan to seduce Leda). It is similar in style and setting and plot to the works of Jess Michaels, but not as long and intense as Charlotte Featherstone's historicals. It's a short, fast read that has some excellent detail - for instance, the Clemens children's trek to the workhouse and their stay there - but is also light on description with a focus on building chemistry between the main characters and moving their relationship along. As such, it works very well. I tend to be one of those readers who loves detail and taking the time to really flesh things out, so while a zippy story is fun and you get your "instant gratification" from a book read so fast, I was left with the feeling of having held something insubstantial in my hands.
I liked the main characters, Caroline and Dominic, a lot. Caroline is strong and independent and never annoying or foolish or dramatic. She was a woman I felt like I could be friends with, so it was easy to care for her. She takes her future in her own hands and never suffers from guilt or shame at her new occupation or the pleasure she derives from it. She's generous, kind, calm, level-headed and confident, and stays true to her character.
Dominic was a bit messier. When we first meet him, at the party, he's very much like a dark, brooding historical romance hero, with the air of a rogue and the captivating eyes. But that first impression disappears fairly soon and we meet a different kind of Dominic, one who's actually quite ordinary - as far as historical romance heroes go. I'm not saying this as a complaint, but I do like some consistency. I had to scramble to adjust my mental image of him and my understanding of his personality, his character. We learn little things about him - like that he had a wife in India whom he loved, but she died a few years before; that he is rich and successful and owns a lot of railway in England; and that he's had plenty of lovers in the past and cared for them all. But he remains a tad thin as a character.
The characters are held together by the sex scenes, of which there are quite a few (this being erotic romance), and while they have the plain language common to the sub-genre (no flowery nonsense, which I like), they're not what you would call risque or kinky. There's just a lot more of it, and it's not described in the language of metaphors and weird analogies (such language always makes me either want to giggle or snort derisively).
This was a well-written, well-researched story set in Victorian England, about a young woman who takes life into her own hands and lives it on her own terms - and enjoys doing it. For fans of authors like Jess Michaels, this is well worth reading.(less)