You know, I took one look at that cover and thought, "Hmm, gee, this looks a lot like THE KISS QUOTIENT and THE HATING GAME." I thought it might just be me, but it looks like someone on Goodreads actually went ahead and compiled a list of all these pastel book covers with cartoonish characters on the front, so I feel totes validated. #NotAllBookCovers #InvasionOfTheChicklit
Chicklit was my gateway into the romance genre, so you could say that I have a real soft spot for it. For a few years, though, it seemed to go out of fashion, but now it's back with a vengeance and I'm so glad-- especially since a lot of the more recent offerings are much more empowering than some of the overworked/underpaid/self-hating women characters that graced many a page in the early noughties, along with way too many cocktail drinks and a ring of supportive girlfriends including -sigh- the obligatory "gay bff." My, how far we've come.
On the surface, WOULD LIKE TO MEET is pretty similar to its early noughtiess forebears. Evie is overworked and underpaid. She works as an assistant to an ungrateful and comically incompetent agent and his childish and irresponsible author, Ezra, who Evie has nicknamed "N.O.B." (number one boychild). She has a supportive group of girlfriends, including, -sigh- the obligatory gay bff, and there are several scenes involving cocktails, something called a "hen do" (which I guess is a bachelorette party in Brit-speak), and, of course, a wedding. What sets this book aside from the rest is a little something called self-awareness. The concept really allows the book to wink at the audience while acknowledging certain tropes as toxic. You see, Ezra/N.O.B. is supposed to write a rom-com, and Evie's totally chaotic dating life has inspired him-- if she sends him IRL meet-cutes to prove that love at first sight is real, he will agree to work in earnest and stop flaking. Evie agrees and proceeds to copy the oh-so-quirky and oh-so-coincidental meet-cutes from various famous rom-coms, with disastrous results.
Evie's group of friends is more developed than a lot of the cast of friends I've read about historically. Each of them have their own personalities, and they call Evie out when she acts irresponsibly (something that will appeal to readers frustrated with authors like Sophie Kinsella, whose heroines act in super psychologically dysfunctional ways and are never called out on it in earnest). And her gay BFF actually gets to have a personality and problems of his own, and isn't reduced to a stereotype. So you know what, okay book, I see you. I also adored one of the friends she makes at a soured meet-cute that involves spilled protein drink and projectile vomiting. Ben and his young daughter Annette are great characters, and end up becoming the peanut gallery at many of Evie's ill-conceived schemes, as well as her biggest cheerleaders when the going gets rough.
I'll be the first to admit that the concept is totally outlandish and not at all plausible, but it was so much fun I didn't care. It's been a while since I read a romance that told me it would be a total laff-riot (note: not the actual words) and ACTUALLY DELIVERED. I laughed so many times while reading this book. I actually started cackling in the middle of the night at 3AM and then had to try to calm myself down while looking around guiltily to make sure I hadn't woken anyone else up. Evie is such a great character and you find yourself buying into her adventures, while rooting for her to find success and/or a happy ending. It's never completely obvious who she's going to end up with, and the author deliciously turns a lot of tropes on their heads in her attempt to show that a happy ending isn't always enough if you don't feel validated for being who you are and doing what you love.
This is one of the best chicklit books I've read recently and I can't wait for you all to read it, too!
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
So, a caveat: this is a christian romance and I am not a christian. I'm reading these as a secular reader, and if you're a religious person looking for christian reads, I might not be the best person to come to for an opinion. However, I do read a lot of romance novels, so if you're looking for the opinion of a seasoned (and secular) romance reader gauging the quality of the story, characterization, and writing, come sit next to me, friends.
The heroine, Delia, is the widower of a smuggler, and his whole family hates her because they basically think she's a narc. (She is.) She becomes the governess to a wealthy man, but then he dies in an accident, leaving his children orphaned. The whole lot of them are shipped off to the wealthy man's estranged brother, Jac, which causes a whole slew of tension because the wealthy man has ranted and railed about how Jac's house should have been his, and how their father changed the will at the last minute, etc. etc.
Delia has the children to worry about and also her late husband's sinister relatives who are coming back into the picture because they think she's keeping some of her hubby's merch to himself. Jac, meanwhile, is a bachelor who never really planned on children and now has 5+ to contend with, and he's decided to invest on apples, and his whole livelihood basically depends on the finicky apple orchard on his estate.
Did I like this book? No. The heroine is such a weenie and spends so much of this book crying. CRY ME A FLIPPING RIVER, DELIA. I mean, really. Have some fortitude. I don't expect every heroine to be Rosie the Riveter, but I do want them to have a backbone. This heroine's got lost under her masses of tears and frippery. As with a lot of christian books, this also is "passionless" as another reviewer described it. Of course, you can have romantic chemistry without any physicality, but this book has none. The only thing that got hugged and stroked in this book was a bible (no, seriously).
As for the mystery and danger element, that was a miss too. I actually got all these christian romances because I read another one by Thomas Nelson that I really enjoyed. Like, that author was Victoria Holt redux, it was so good. This one had Jane Eyre vibes and I liked the promise of mystery and danger, but the smuggling was so lame and filled with cartoonish villainy and the matters of inheritance were not that thrilling either. I skimmed for closure but didn't enjoy this at all.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
SHADOW AMONG SHEAVES is a retelling of the biblical story of Ruth and Boaz. How good a retelling of that this is, I have no idea, seeing as how I am not religious and never have been. Why am I reading christian fiction? Well, I got a copy of this from the publisher to review, and I happen to love historical romance. I was also intrigued by the idea of a christian work of historical fiction that had a woman of color as the heroine. Would they do a good job, or would it be Cultural Appropriation: Take #23565?
The heroine is a woman named Rena. She is a Brahmin, which was the highest caste in the Indian class system. During the upheaval that followed in the wake of the Great Rebellion, Rena meets a British soldier named Edric. She has only known him for a few weeks before they secretly get married. Unfortunately, Edric and his father die, and instead of returning to her own heartbroken but forgiving parents, Rena goes with her mother-in-law, Nell, to return to England and wallow in poverty.
She resides in a brothel (a step-up from the alleys), the only place that will stoop to taking her after everyone turns up their nose at her, and steals grain for food. One day, the owner of the grain comes out to see her being harassed by his cousin. He sends the cousin away and says that she can have as much grain as she likes. This is the hero, Barric, an icy member of nobility and actually cousin to Rena's late husband. He finds himself entranced by the vision of the dark-haired woman in mourning wear roaming his fields, picking sheaves. He's even more fascinated by her utter conviction, her love for her dead husband, and her contrariness in virtually everything.
Must be love.
So this is the third work of christian fiction I have read in the last month. One of them was excellent and I would be willing to read more by that author, without hesitation. The other was awful, and had me rolling my eyes at the quality of the writing. This one is okay. I liked the beginning of the book better than I did the ending. I get that to an extent the characters are prisoners to the zeitgeist, but it was sad that Rena basically had to convert to get Barric to finally make a move. That's not officially why he went with her, but is it really a coincidence? Given the genre? I think not.
This book is not as preach as most and there is actually some sensuality between the romantic leads. I was half-expecting this to be a train wreck and was delighted that it was not. Would I read more by this author? Maybe-- and honestly, given the genre and my background, that's pretty high praise.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
I have been buddy-reading these books with my Goodreads pal, Sage. We started with THE DEMON OF DARKLING REACH. It's ever so much fun. Honestly, I picked it up on a whim because the summary sounded good and it was a freebie on Kindle Unlimited, and it ended up becoming a new favorite romance of mine. There's a bit of Beauty and the Beast to it, but it's so much darker, and style-wise, reminiscent of authors like Grace Draven or Tanith Lee.
Isla unwittingly agreed to a betrothal to a demon in order to spare her sister, Rowena. At the time, she did not know he was a demon, but a demon he was. Despite that, the two of them end up forging a bond that's more than just a marriage of convenience, and Rowena, initially vehemently opposed to the idea of marriage to a man she didn't choose herself, becomes bitterly jealous and vengeful over the fact that her sister ended up with the better match, after all.
This book starts off in the past, chronicling Tristan's transformation into demon. We actually get to see him as a human, and find out how he got possessed in the first place. This makes up a pretty huge chunk of the book and I wasn't prepared for it at first, but once I got used to the idea of an extended back story, I was sold and it ended up becoming my favorite part of this book because of how dark it was. After that, the book continues from where the last book ended: with Isla's impending wedding to Tristan in the rocky castle of Darkling Reach. She and her family and the rest of the wedding procession are forced to make the perilous journey alone while Tristan wraps up loose ends, and tension abounds as Isla begins to have misgivings and Rowena's vengefulness gains momentum.
I liked this book a lot but it did suffer somewhat from second book syndrome and ended up feeling a lot like filler. Once Tristan and Isla reunite, I definitely got BREAKING DAWN vibes, especially towards the end, when he begins to remake her in his own image and she becomes extra special. This is not a healthy relationship by any stretch of the imagination, but it helps that it doesn't pretend to be. You never forget for long that Tristan is not a good guy, and if you do forget, the author is quick to remind you exactly what he is. I liked that a lot-- even when the book becomes romantic, Tristan never loses his edge, and the knowledge of that always looms in the back of Isla's mind.
If you like dark romances about villains and brainy heroines, you should pick up this book. It's exceedingly well researched and while it does have a lot of info dumps, you actually learn a lot of stuff about the middle ages while reading this book. Plus, the writing is gorgeous, and the author does a great job with morally grey characters and complex side characters. It's like a Gothic soap opera, and I freaking love it. Definitely going to be checking out book three next, after a breather.
Whoa. That was one of the more difficult books I've struggled to get through in a while-- not because it was bad, but because it was so unrelentingly brutal. After finishing this, all I could think was, Game of Thrones, eat your heart out, because there's a new bad bitch on the block. Only since this is about a bisexual elf and a gay dragon, I guess you could call it Gay of Thrones. Or, my favorite alternative title: Lysander Can't Catch a Fucking Break.
IRON & FIRE continues where the first book, SILK & STEEL, left off. Humans, dragons, and elves are at war. Eroan, the elf, was captured when he tried to assassinate the dragon queen. Obviously, that failed, and he ended up as the prisoner of the royal dragons. Lysander is the young prince, and the black sheep of the family because he's gay and unbreedable and also because everyone thinks he's sniveling, weak and pathetic. He drowns his shame in alcohol, but after meeting the elf and seeing him remain unbroken, he starts to want to drown in something else... like that booty. The feeling even seems like maybe it's mutual.
Of course, this is not your mother's romance novel, and absolutely nothing works out. There is rape, slavery, torture, violence, incest, and abuse, and basically a whole entire rainbow of trigger warnings. The book ends with both leads apart and hating each other once more because of a betrayal. Eroan must return to his people as an outcast to convince them to fight the dragons, and Lysander ends up being an abused and broken plaything, only to be reborn like a phoenix from flames as a fucking death machine fueled by Kill Bill levels of revenge and rage, including a certain elf.
The plotting and the reveals in this book were really great. Second books often end up falling short because they end up as placeholders for the series finale, and have mostly expositions and padding. Not this book. There were expositions, yes, but it was an entire roller-coaster of W-T-F getting there, and if you thought the first book was dark, this one is where Nash really snuffs out all the lights.
Knowing what I know now about the dragons, I'm dying to see what happens in the last book. I can't wait for the epic showdown I know is going to happen. I keep hoping Lysander will catch a break, or six, and that Eroan will get his head out of his ass long enough to realize that he doesn't really know everything. Also, I actually don't want Akiem to die. He's a psycho dragon, but he's my psycho dragon, and he's one sexy mother-fucker (literally, yikes) of a villain and I'm kind of obsessed. You should see his fight scenes and read some of his one-liners if you don't believe me, damn. He's fire. ...more
Christian fiction is not usually a genre of books I usually read because I am not religious, and tend to find the overwhelmingly sanctimonious and preachy messages of some of these books troubling at best and extremely uncomfortable at worst. But there's one thing I can't say no to, and that's a Gothic romance novel. MIDNIGHT ON THE RIVER GREY had a great cover and concept, and it had a plus-size model on the front cover. YAAASS
To my surprise, MIDNIGHT ON THE RIVER GREY was not all that religious. I think God was only mentioned in the epilogue, and there weren't any random prayer sessions or recitations of scripture, as many historical christian romances tend to have. Instead, what I got was a fantastic gothic romance with atmosphere and suspense, that managed to pay homage to the squeaky-clean romances of Phyllis A. Whitney and Victoria Holt, while also giving nods to much older favorites, like Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre.
Rebecca Hunter is a scrappy young heroine who is a bit of a feminist-- she doesn't want to get married, and she's incredibly smart. When her older brother dies under mysterious circumstances, she decides to investigate his death. Especially when her guardian, a cousin named Lewis Browning, takes her to the reclusive and sinister Greybourne Hall. Lewis is a darkly attractive and intense man, and as with many Gothic romances, there's a suggestion that he might be guilty of murder. When more bodies turn up, and reports of sinister happenings stir among the nearby village, Rebecca is forced to wonder: who might want her brother dead-- and why?
I enjoyed every second of this book. The writing is gorgeous and fits the time period, and given some of the references, was obviously well-researched. I loved the dynamic between Rebecca and her Aunt Jo; they reminded me of Sabrina and Aunt Hilda from The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Aunt Jo had that bumbling but capable act down pat, and I was pleased that she got a side-romance of her own. The murder mystery element was also really well done-- I didn't even guess what happened! The final confrontation was suspenseful, and everybody (well, everyone good) gets a happy ending.
Honestly, if you're a secular reader and saw this cover and wanted, but had second thoughts, fear not. Anyone can enjoy this book, and as long as you're not looking for something really racy, I think you'll enjoy it if you're into regency romances and Gothic romances. I certainly did, and think it really captures the essence of its 1960s and 1970s forebears. Definitely recommend!
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
Victoria Holt might be the most famous Gothic romance novelist but in terms of consistently good output, I think Phyllis A. Whitney is by far the best. POINCIANA, with its twists and turns of family drama, inheritance, Japanese art, and revenge, reminded me why I love these books so much. If you ever read those Point Horror middle grade novels as a kid, the effect of these is much the same, only with more sex and scandal, and with adult characters instead of kid ones.
Sharon is the newly orphaned daughter of a famous stage actress and her admiring husband. After her parents died in a terrible accident, she ended up marrying one of her parents' friends, a man named Ross many years her senior. He takes care of her and appreciates art as much as she did, particularly Japanese netsuke (kimono decorations), which he collects. She doesn't mind the age gap and thinks herself incredibly fortunate-- until he takes her to his family estate in Palm Beach, Poinciana. There, his mood takes a dark and sinister turn. He's no longer the man she's married, and every single one of his relatives and staff seems to hate her and want her to leave.
Jarrett, her husband's executive assistant, is sullen and resentful, and though attractive, Sharon can't help but feel hurt and annoyed that he appears to regard her as a gold-digging trophy wife. Ross's daughter, Gretchen, is similarly suspicious and resentful, and drops many hints that Ross's dark side might not be as hidden as he'd like his new wife to think. Gretchen's husband, Vasily, an easy-going European playboy, is the only one who's even remotely friendly, but it's obvious he's got something to hide. Allegra, Ross's mother, helped build the house, but now she's got dementia and is living in a lonely cottage off the property under the care of a servant named Myra while heavily sedated. And then there's Ross himself-- Ross, who's obsessed with her dead mother, keeps a portrait of her in a locked room, and even plays recordings of her singing while they make love. What's wrong with Ross? What is he, and his family, hiding? And why do they desperately want her to leave?
This was just so deliciously creepy. I was never 100% sure who was responsible for the murders and attempted murders, which is always a good sign. Whitney is so good at conjuring up this slow and creeping sense of doom, and while many Gothic romances have the atmosphere down, most of them can't quite manage the mystery. Some of Whitney's books toe the line between Gothic romance and romantic suspense, and I think you could say that this is one of these, although the ramshackle house, secretive family, and mysterious artwork definitely make this more like a traditional Gothic. I can't recommend these books enough to anyone who loves a good mystery-- they're so atmospheric and fun.
I was ambivalent about Alyssa Cole's earliest novellas, but I liked the concept of them. Shorter stories did not really seem to be her forte, and in my review of one of her earliest works, I wrote that she was an author I'd want to revisit if she ever did a full length novel. Well, she did, and that was a while ago, and I've been coming back over and over again, ever since. Alyssa Cole is walking proof that it pays to be an author who is receptive to feedback and works tirelessly to write fresh and engaging stories with developed and diverse characters-- especially strong women.
The Loyal League series is about a secret group of people during the time of the Civil War who go undercover to infiltrate and stymie the Confederacy. The first book in this series, AN EXTRAORDINARY UNION, which is about a woman who poses as a slave and ends up finding romance and wild success as a spy, was good, but this book, AN UNCONDITIONAL FREEDOM, is even better. Part of that is due to the heroine, Janeta, who is one of my favorite recent romance heroines.
Janeta is Cuban, and the daughter of a plantation owner and a freed slave. All her life, she has been told that she is better than those working in the fields. She has a white lover who is a Confederate supporter, and when her father is imprisoned, this lover encourages her to gather intelligence on the North so she can name names and give information in exchange for her father's freedom.
Daniel is a friend of Elle from the first book. He is a free man and had studied to be a lawyer, only to be caught and sold into slavery by two evil men posing as abolitionists. Now he is free again and hungry for revenge. When the Loyal League assigns Janeta to him as his partner, he's skeptical of her and her motivations, and unwilling to trust her. But despite his suspicions, he ends up falling for her because of her strong will and their shared pain brought on by slavery and the war; both of them have been caught between their own desires and what society wants for them their whole lives, and in working to save a Nation and its people, they end up finding the agency to also save themselves.
I. Loved. This. Book. First, I love that Janeta was allowed to be so flawed, and that she had to figure out her own privileges and biases. I love that she did that without help. Daniel didn't have to "teach" her; she was canny enough to figure out that she'd been fed a pack of harmful lies her whole life. The double-agent angle provided so much tension, and it was so well done. Plus, there were no big misunderstandings. Everything had a sound reason and I never felt like Cole was playing things up for drama. The action scenes were intense, and there were some fantastic discussions about humanity, inequality, and privilege that fit the scenes and didn't come across as heavy-handed.
Here are some of my favorite quotes:
"We can be intelligent, we can accrue wealth, we can strive to make this country better, and lose everything at the whim of some pale sir or madam. It doesn't even require much effort on their part. That's the worst of it. They don't even have to try hard to ruin us" (61).
"I care because as long as slavery is sanctioned in this world, either directly or tacitly, we are a doomed species. There is no hope for progress, no hope for a world of peace and prosperity, if some men are allowed dominion over others for as arbitrary a reason as skin color" (190).
Then there's Daniel-- the textbook example of a tortured hero. I loved him so very much. He was kind and noble, but also selfish in his own ways; he had taken his suffering and made his pain into a selfish drive for revenge, even at the cost of his personal relationships and self-love. The love-hate relationship between him and Janeta in the beginning was catnip for my fangirl self. I'm a sucker for the tsundere model of shipping (read: cranky character pretends not to care, but secretly does-- a lot), and he and Janeta were such an easy couple to root for, and an HEA that was easy to smile about.
If you enjoy historical fiction and want to read one that's empowering for and stars people of color in roles of agency, replete with excellent character development, The Loyal League is the way to go.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
I'm speeding through these Harlequin manga. They're like potato chips-- it's impossible to stop at just one. I know they're the trashiest of trash, but I like them anyway. THE GREEK'S PREGNANT BRIDE is one of those Harlequin novels where the title of the book can also double as the summary. Alessandra has had a crush on billionaire Christian since she was in high school and is deliriously happy when they have a one-night stand. She thinks that the icy playboy will be tickled pink when she tells him she's pregnant, and is surprised when he whips out his daddy issues card and reluctantly agrees to marry her but then tells her that he is unable to feel love.
Hmm, that sounds like another Christian I know...
Shion Hanyu is a fairly prolific mangaka adapter of Harlequin romance novels, and I've read a number of her books at this point. She has more of a shoujo style than some artists, with everything very rounded, with thick lines, and lots of sparkles and light, like you'd get from the dodge tool. I'm not mad at her art style but it's definitely a look, and one that might not appeal universally to everyone.
The story was OK. When I rate Harlequin manga, I take art, story, and readability all into account. As I mentioned before, I do like Hanyu's art. She's not my favorite, but she does a good job and her style is consistent and doesn't do anything too trippy. The story is also OK, but got on my nerves. I don't really like pregnancy as an excuse for marriage, because two people getting together who aren't in love with each other trying to make it work for the sake of a child seems like a recipe for disaster. I'm also not a fan of the "jerk dude with mommy/daddy issues" trope. Either grow up and put your big boy pants on, or don't have relationships with women. Women don't want to deal with that trash.
THE GREEK'S PREGNANT BRIDE falls snugly in the middle of my Harlequin manga rating system. It's inoffensive and entertains, but has too many annoying things going on in the story to really get me invested in the characters' love story. Shion Hanyu seems to go for stories with really rich alpha guys who have toxic family dynamics, though, so that might be something to keep in mind. Some of them do it better than others, and this one was a little bit less so.
Some of these Harlequin romances have the most eye-roll worthy titles, and THEIR SPECIAL-CARE BABY is no exception. Even though it was almost 99-cents, I almost didn't buy it, because the title was so ridiculous. I loved that cover art, though-- just look at those soft, crayon-like colors. How could I resist? Plus, the summary for this book was too enticing to pass up: doctor love interest, amnesia, estranged brothers. Oh yes.
To my happy surprise, this was actually an incredibly serious effort and-- unlike some Harlequin manga I have read-- the art inside the book is just as good as what's on the cover. The plot is also good, too. Desiree was in a terrible train accident, covered in blood. When Dr. Stewart, the first responder, arrives on the scene, he is struck by the sight of Desiree, heavily pregnant and clutching another baby, with her will for the two of them to survive burning bright in her eyes.
Desiree is able to make a full recovery but she has amnesia. Stewart tells her that she was identified as Desiree Kramer, the wife of his estranged brother who he was going to meet for the first time. Her baby is named Sophie, and the baby she was pregnant with, Simone, is currently in the NICU. As if that weren't enough bad news to swallow, Stewart tells her that her husband, Sean, is dead-- he died in a car wreck.
Desiree comes to stay with Stewart, his mother, and his mother's caregiver. They all really like Desiree because she's quiet and cheerful and caring, but Desiree is haunted by the thought that something is wrong-- not just with her, but also with Sophie. Even as she finds herself becoming attracted to Stewart, and he to her, Desiree must come to terms with the secrets revealed by her gradually-returning memory, and Stewart with his enmity with his now-deceased brother.
This is a quiet book-- the romance in it sneaks up on you, but in a pleasant way. Desiree is such a calm heroine, and much more mature than most heroines I encounter in these romances. Stewart is a beta hero who is devoted and loving. He never treats the heroine ill or condescends to her. Their romance flows very naturally and feels believable. Why wouldn't two nice people fall in love? Even though it happened fast, I didn't question it-- it made sense, because they were both so decent.
If you, like me, were put off by the silly title, don't be. I actually enjoyed this romance quite a bit.Toko Naose is a new mangaka to me, but she's one I'm going to keep an eye out for-- I really enjoyed her careful adaptation of this work, and her art style is absolutely gorgeous.
It occurred to me the other day, after finishing a travel memoir about China, that I haven't reviewed a romance novel in a while-- and it's very important that I stay on brand. Luckily for me, a whole bunch of Harlequin romance manga went on sale in the Kindle store for 99-cents. What a great way to make up for lost time! Harlequin manga are like the 100 Calorie Packs of romance novels-- Japanese artists "adapt" Harlequin romance novels into bite-sized shoujo and josei versions of the books, condensing the story down to bare bones and then pairing it with art. I know it sounds ridiculous, but there are a lot of ridiculous things in the world and at least these are fun.
I don't believe I've ever encountered a work by Nina Hatori before and I'm sorry to say that I really don't like her art style. The way she draws women is fine, although the art on the cover is better than the frail, overly flowery way that her ladies look in the books. But the way she draws dudes-- especially the hero, Sergio-- is freaky. Super boxy, super muscular, with, like, ripped Ken doll style anatomy. I really did not like it. At all.
The story doesn't really stack up, either. I saw one of the other reviewers say that this story was creepy-- and yeah, a lot of romances can be creepy, so that's a criticism I always take with a grain of salt. But no, I 100% agree with that reviewer. Sergio is creepy. He's ten years older than the heroine, and a billionaire, so the power dynamic between them is unequal in virtually every way. When they meet, she's accidentally trespassing on his property (she wanted to dance by the beach). Of course, she's an Olympian dancer, so he's utterly captivated, and he manages to persuade her to his bed.
He calls her all these weird and objectifying endearments (like "kitten," which I find really unattractive), even when she protests. Then he tells her that he wants to make her his mistress, and that he doesn't do "love" or "families." Later on, we find out that he has major mommy issues because his mother was abusive, but the heroine doesn't know that, and she absconds. Then this book turns into a "secret baby" story, because in the three years that pass, it turns out that she had a kid, now a toddler, and she is struggling to raise him in poverty as a single parent (athleticism didn't work out).
When she sees her old fling on the cover of a tabloid announcing his impending engagement, she is furious (and jealous), and marches to his "engagement party" to demand money or support or answers (not really clear). He recognizes her and traps her in his mansion, tells her the engagement was just a rumor, and then they spend the night together. He then finds out that she has a kid, knows immediately that it's his, and just magically decides that fatherhood is for him because he must support his legacy. Which is all well and good, except when he sees that the kid has bruises, he jumps to conclusions and KIDNAPS the kid on a plane, leaving behind his lawyer to explain to poor, frantic Kristen that if she wants answers, she'll have to take a plane ticket to see him in person. LOL what.*
*Side note: if your spouse takes the kids because they think you're abusive, it's probably not wise to march right up to them and slap them-- in front of witness-- when you confront them about what they did.
Spoiler: Everything works out, there's a happily ever after, the hero is forthcoming about his mother issues, there's a twin brother for some reason, and the book ends in precisely what the hero said wouldn't happen in the beginning of the story: marriage and family.
I wish I could have liked this book-- I do like the cover art-- but the art style and the bad story totally put me off. I can be a fan of alpha heroes, but not when they're approaching used car salesman levels of sleaziness. YMMV, but trust me when I say that there are much better HQ manga out there.
SHOOT THE MESSENGER is like a crate box of all the tropes I adore in fiction - strong female heroines, sexy but utterly depraved villains, hot guys, space opera elements, faeries, court intrigue, and espionage. Like a crate box, all of these great things come wrapped in amazing packaging. Take a moment, please, to appreciate that beautiful cover and the imposing-looking woman wielding the magic whip. That's our heroine, Kesh.
The story is a bit difficult to explain because it's so complicated. It takes place in a world that's super high tech but magic also exists here, too. Humans were originally created to be the playthings of the fae, but then they rebelled - as humanity is wont to do - and created technology (or, "tek") to repel them. Now, the faeries are angry and want to put humanity back in their place.
Kesh is a messenger who runs her delivers through the unsavory parts of town, and she ends up getting involved in the fae vs. human situation against her will when a job goes bad. It's not a great job, but it becomes worse when one of her messages ends up killing someone. Worse, she's a witness, and someone witnesses her being a witness, and a bounty goes on her head. Then an evil fae kidnaps her robot, because the robot has dangerous footage, and when she goes to retrieve it, she ends up heading straight into a deadly plan to facilitate the return of the fae and their prince - one that she wants to prevent, at all costs.
This is a reverse-harem romance, so it has two male love interests. One is Kellee, who is a sort of policeman. The other is Talen, a faerie with his figurative claws cut. Both of them end up aiding her against her fight with Eladen, a truly evil fae, and one of the best villains I've encountered in fiction in a while. Seriously, this dude is SCARY. What he does to the heroine is absolutely terrifying, and about fifty different kinds of messed-up. He's also hot and messed-up, which doesn't help matters.
--Especially not me, with my questionable attraction to such characters. #Yikes
Reading this gave me strong anime vibes, and I kept thinking about other surreal and dystopian shows I've watched, like Metropolis, Ghost in the Shell, or Aeon Flux. The action and fight scenes in this book are so well done, and I really think that this would translate well to the screen if the author ever becomes big enough where that's a viable option (I hope so). It's funny, because I'd read one of this author's other books, BEYOND THE VEIL, and while I couldn't really get into it, I did like the author's ability to write and characterize and said in my review that I'd check out her other works. Well, I kept my word, and man, has this author grown up. She's improved her craft so much, and this book is leaps and bounds better than her debut. I'm so impressed. Maraya, you were so right.
Whoa. That was the most addictive, fast-paced fun I've had in a while. Ever since I finished Ilona Andrews's Hidden Legacy series, I've been trying to find the next Big Thing to fill the paranormal void in my life. When I saw SHADES OF WICKED pop up as the deal of the day, replete with a sexy vampire hero who's basically a salacious playboy of the nth degree, I thought that might be it.
Ian is a master vampire who spends a lot of his time slutting it up or hanging out in brothels - that's actually where the heroine finds him in the beginning of the book, wearing a ringmaster's jacket and nothing else. Our heroine is named Veritas and she's also a vampire, but she's the face of the law and intent on using Ian as bait to capture a very evil demon who she has her own personal history with. As it turns out, Ian has a bone to reckon with this demon himself, and ends up as an unwilling pawn to help her catch him.
The sexual tension between these two is totally off the charts, and even though they come from opposite sides of the law and have about one hundred reasons to hate each other, they're more similar than either of them realize because of their dark and tortured pasts. I honestly didn't think that SHADES OF WICKED would get so dark, but some of the big reveals about Ian and Veritas hit hard. That was a pleasant surprise, settling in for just another paranormal romance and ending up with something deep. And speaking of deep, brace yourself for some of the hottest vampire sex ever.
I almost feel that SHADES OF WICKED shouldn't work, because despite the darker elements (and there are many), there is also a lot of humor, including some spiffy one-liners that actually made me laugh, and comic relief coming in the form of a fluffy flying demon dog. I didn't realize that I needed a fluffy flying demon dog in my life until reading this book, but I do. I do. Rather than dragging the book down, the inconsistent tone actually worked and made the pages just fly by. SHADES OF WICKED is my first book by this author, but it won't be my last - it's everything I love about the paranormal romance genre, wrapped up in a tidy package and tied off with a crimson bow.
In high school, I was the biggest anime nerd ever. There was no way I couldn't read this book, with the many comparisons to Ouran Host Club, Kill Me, Kiss Me,and Hana Yori Dango. I went into THE SECRET GIRL with high expectations, as I had downloaded it as soon as I got Kindle Unlimited. Reading it now, though, I must say that my reaction is one of disappointment.
First, the writing isn't that great. Charlotte is a huge jerk, and comes across as way younger than an older teenager with all her eye-rolling and sarcastic "humor." It made me wonder what the target audience for this books is, because the tone is juvenile, but it also spends a lot of time talking about the "hunky" teenage boys who are as swole as adult men in their prime. What gives?
Second, I did not really buy the whole "girl dressing as boy" premise as it was presented here. I'm a sucker for cross-dressing plots, but it has to be done well. I felt like the portrayal of sexuality was not done super well in these books and suffers from the same problem as many of the GFY M/M novels in that it inadvertently contributes to bisexual erasure by suggesting that people just have gaydar, and know instinctively that the girl is cross-dressing because they're not gay or bisexual, dammit! Ugh.
Third, why was her father on board with this scheme? And why didn't he care that his daughter was being bullied? Also... the bullying was kind of lame? Charlotte was so mean that it was hard to feel sorry for her, and the bullying just didn't escalate to the point where it was interesting to read about. I was SO bored, and eventually decided to throw in the towel since it didn't look to be getting better.
I'm kind of obsessed with Mina V. Esguerra's romances. They have the steamy, romantic vibe of something you would find in Avon's line-up, only most of her books are set in the Philippines and feature Asian heroes and heroines. I first found out about this author through one of my friends who saw me reading a Six de Los Reyes book and told me about #romanceclass, and the circle of Filipino writers who wrote romances under this hashtag.
The Chic Manila series is a chatty, modern set of romances featuring progressively-minded women who work, who are trying to navigate the obstacle-laden field of relationships in addition to figuring out who they are as people and what they want out of life. The best way to describe these books is as a coming-of-age story for adults in their late-twenties/early-thirties.
BETTER AT WEDDINGS THAN YOU features a hero and a heroine who are both wedding planners. Aaron is pretty small potatoes and gets most of his clients through his sister. His current job is with his childhood friend, Helen, but her husband-to-be, Greg, is firing Aaron because he's afraid Helen is in love with him. Daphne is Aaron's replacement, and one of Greg's friends. She's a little leery of the whole situation, and also of Aaron, but because Aaron has all of the details up to this point, they end up deciding to collaborate and save the wedding.
Obviously, this being a romance, the two of them end up falling for each other. This leads to some very sexy scenes; this is definitely one of the steamier Esguerra books I have read - not that I'm complaining. But Esguerra romances are fraught with last act crises, and Aaron's and Daphne's burgeoning romance isn't exempt from this. Daphne's been burned too many times before and isn't very interested in romantic relationships. Aaron is an ex-playboy who's starting to realize that he wants to settle down, but he isn't quite sure what to do with a girl like Daphne. And then there's Helen - Helen, who is a total piece of work and deserves a whole subreddit of her own on r/Nicegirls.
Screw you, Helen.
I really enjoyed BETTER AT WEDDINGS than you. I've liked all of the Esguerra books I've read to varying degrees, but this was definitely one of her best. I love reading romances when the heroines have jobs, and are good at their jobs, and it was so great to read about Daphne being as passionate about her work as she later becomes about her love life. And it's also really cool to see a hero with a job that wouldn't be traditionally considered macho or manly (i.e. wedding planning). He was also very nice and 100% not about that cad life. I was able to ship the two of them without any guilt.
If you like sweet romances with strong women and positive messages about work, sex, and love, I really do recommend these books.
Normally, I give books I don't finish a one star review, because my logic there is if it's too awful to finish, it's a bad book. There are some special circumstances surrounding THE MISTRESS OF TREVELYAN, though-- I started reading it before I left for Portugal and then never picked it up again when I got back because I had a gigantic stack of ARCs that had come to my house through the post, and few books can stack up against travel or brand new shinies, let alone an old Gothic novel that you're feeling ambivalent about.
Second, THE MISTRESS OF TREVELYAN is leaps and bounds better than the other book I read by Jennifer St. Giles, which was TOUCH A DARK WOLF, a book so bad that it almost takes badness to an artform. Like, I seriously considered deleting THE MISTRESS from my Kindle along with all the author's other books, because I wasn't sure she could possibly write something good. That's how bad TOUCH A DARK WOLF was.
THE MISTRESS OF TREVELYAN is actually okay and starts off pretty good. It's a Gothic novel written in the same style as the ones that were so popular in the 60s and 70s (before bodice-rippers came on the scene to steal the show). Ann Lowell is living in 19th century San Francisco, and takes on the position of governess to have a place to stay and money to burn. In addition to growing attached to her charges, she finds herself (incredibly, furiously, passionately) obsessed with their father, who might or might not have murdered his wife.
This actually is pretty similar in style to some Victoria Holt novels I've read, bar the heroine's lusty persona. Holt was pretty prudish in her writing and kept the bedroom door firmly shut, but man, all that sexual tension you had to read between the lines for in the real things are laid out explicitly before you, as brazenly as, well, Victoria's Secret-- only the secret's out. The problem is it drags forever. Gothic novels are supposed to be slow-paced, but this is really slow-paced, and by 68% in, I wanted more spooky goings-on to tide me over and the idea that closure was on the horizon.
I'm giving this a two-star rating because I was planning on giving this 2-3 stars depending on what the ending was like, but I'm docking a star because it was so boring that I never really got around to finishing the book in the first place although it wasn't quite terrible enough to earn a solid 1-star rating.
Pull up several seats, my friends, because I have a lot of thoughts on THE SHEIK RETOLD. This book first caught my attention during the summer of 2013. It's an erotic "retelling" of E.M. Hull's bodice-ripper precursor, THE SHEIK, which was initially published in 1919. Unlike many of the people reviewing this, I've actually read the original. It was written in 1919, so it doesn't have much in the way of sexual content, although there is a lot of sexual tension. And violence. And racism. And smoking. It's basically everything good and bad about 1919, while bursting at the seams with repressed sexuality. It desperately wishes it was born sixty years later, so it could be the bodice-ripper it so badly wants to be.
I think the Smart Bitches ladies hit the nail on the head with their review, but I'll tell you what I think, as well. THE SHEIK RETOLD peppers its pages with the sexual scenes that were not in the original. It's an erotic romance, and initially I was really excited, because I thought to myself, "Finally! This is going to be Rosemary Rogers levels of fucked up bodice-rippery! I can't wait!" The author also rewrote it to be in the first person (I believe the original was written in the third person), which makes it much more intimate and personal. Also a win.
The problem is that when the author was rewriting the book, she took out a lot of the things that made it so much fun. I'm not sorry at all to see the racist slurs removed, because, you know, racist slurs. But trying to take a book that would have been non-con and making it into a "no-no-yes-yes-yes!" style dub-con with the heroine deciding that she's going to take ownership of her abuse and make herself like it because feminism really isn't much better. Honestly, keeping the scenes as rape would have been better than these weird, self-hating mental gymnastics the heroine puts herself through.It also messes with his character, because the sheik is a cruel and brutal man, so removing these scenes, as well as the violence, really lessons the impact of a story that, in the original, uses the allegory of horse-breaking and horse-killing to allude to his method's of "taming" a woman.
The beginning of this book was great, but after the sex scenes, things kind of fell apart for me. What a disappointment. In some ways, this is more readable than the original and it's certainly less offensive, but I'm really not certain that the author ended up making this a better story. I'm not sure I'd read anything else by this author in the near future. This smacks of 90s bodice-ripper hypocrisy (and you KNOW how I feel about the wishy-washy sex scenes of 90s bodice-rippers). That said, I'm totally in favor of authors taking and rewriting the classics to fill them with the smut that we all deserve. I know the purists may disagree, but I am a trash can and will never say no to well-written smut.
Ever since I read C.S. Pacat's CAPTIVE PRINCE, I've been looking for other dark fantasy books that have that same fantasy bodice-ripper vibe. SILK & STEEL comes the closest of all the other books I've read to capturing that same balance of unapologetic smut and court intrigue, kind of like if GAME OF THRONES was written for the female gaze. Honestly, though, it had me at angsty dragon prince and arrogant warrior elf.
Prince Lysander is the younger son of a sadistic dragon queen who has physically and sexually abused him his whole life. He's treated as "broken" because of his attraction to men, and now she's trying to sell him and breed him with one of the other dragon clans, one that revels in violent orgies. Oh, boy. Eroan, on the other hand, is an elven assassin charged with the murder of Lysander's mother; he would have succeeded were it not for Lysander himself, who was the only one able to cut him down in battle. Now he's a prisoner in the dragons' tower, and finds himself perplexed by the silent, brooding dragon prince who has taken it upon himself to be his gaoler.
I think the most crucial point to mention for this book is that it is NOT for the faint of heart. It has all of the same triggers that CAPTIVE PRINCE did, and a lot of the world-building centers around rape or sexual violence. I didn't feel like the rape was romanticized, and the relationship between the two heroes isn't based on rape, but it is very much present in this book and committed by both men and women alike. There's also incest, which is gross. Nash also doesn't shy away from violence-- the fight scenes in this book are really well done, but part of what makes them so is no small amount of gore.
One thing I really liked is that this isn't GFY; Eroan is bisexual and has had relationships with women. Lysander, on the other hand, is gay and identifies as such; it's a huge problem for him as a prince in a homophobic dragon court that keeps trying to breed him with women. He's subjected to a lot of abuse because of that-- not just from his mother, but also from one of the other dragon clans that ends up drugging him into a stupor so that he'll be too blitzed out of his mind to realize that he's having sex with a woman. I think these scenes might be really hard for some people to read.
On the other hand, I liked that this book was so dark and didn't shy away from getting down and dirty in order to tell the story the way the author intended. It really did remind me of a bodice-ripper, not just because of the darkness, but also because of the globe-trotting adventures, alliances, betrayals, and fight scenes that made a lot of those 1970s bodice-rippers so much fun to read. This book is decently long, and yet the pages just flew by. I was never bored and was always wondering what happened next, and I wasn't even too mad when the cliffhanger I totally predicted happened because I had the other book in the series on stand-by, which I'm going to be buddy-reading with a friend.
If you enjoy dark fantasy novels or bodice-rippers and don't mind books with lots of trigger-warnings, I think you'll really, really like this-- especially if you're familiar with Pippa DaCosta's other work and want to see her try her hand at something different. ON TO BOOK TWO.
Last year, I found out that there's a whole bunch of #OwnVoices Filipinx romance novels floating around out there as part of a writing group headed by Mina V. Esguerra, called #romanceclass. A whole bunch of them went cheap or free last August, so of course, I checked obsessively every day, totally abusing that 1-click button.
THE QUEEN'S GAME is one of these #romanceclass novellas. I've read some of Carla de Guzman's work before, a friends-to-lovers romance with a plus-sized heroine called IF THE DRESS FITS. THE QUEEN'S GAME is also a friends-to-lovers romance, but it's about royalty instead of the common folk. Nina is an estranged princess of Cincamarre, returned home after the death of her father requires both mourning and acknowledgement of her succession.
Her aunt, Dita, doesn't approve of her at all. Nina is a wild child, wearing racy clothing, making out with Korean pop stars, and going to parties whenever she feels like it. Dita wants her to clean up her scandals and make a good name for herself. The best way to do that in her opinion is a fake relationship with neighboring prince, Felipe.
Fake relationship??? Ahhhh, be still, my heart!
This could have worked out so well. Felipe was a great hero, and an unusual one. He was kind, sensitive, silly, self-effacing, and fond of farming. I actually learned some interesting things in this book, like how tomato and basil complement each other when planted together, and that there's a type of vegan leather made out of pineapples (it's called Piñatex). Felipe's family actually agrees to the fake marriage because Dita trades Nina to them for pineapples. So much for the 30 pieces of silver.
The problem for me was that the writing wasn't very good - there were a lot of mistakes and the author told instead of showed way too often. Sometimes this works, but sometimes it feels like lazy writing - and sadly, this was the latter for me. I also think that the story was way too short. I could have used more angst, more development of their relationship, more conflict. We don't see too many sexually precocious party children who aren't dragged down for their sexuality by the love interest and I would have loved to have seen more of that side to Nina, and to see Felipe come out of his shell. I liked what both of them represented, but at the end of the story they were still strangers.
I definitely recommend that you guys jump on board with the #romanceclass books because so many of them are good, but sadly this was one of the weaker books I've read in the line-up.
I scored this book as a Kindle freebie several years ago and it's been languishing in The Library of Purgatory and Laziness
for years. Lest you get confused by the name in the Kindle store, it was originally published as THE BLACK ROSE, but the author republished it as SEVEN NIGHTS WITH A PIRATE along with some apparent revisions. Comparing the reviews for those who read the original with those who read the updated digital version, it seems like some rapey scenes were removed and some sexy scenes were added. To what effect, I'm not sure, as this was still pretty rapey.
Our heroine is a woman named Tess, who masquerades as a local smuggler called The Fox. (She also works with the real Fox, but dresses up like him when he is busy.) When she's not smuggling, she operates the inn that also serves as their base of operations/hideout. Tess is haunted by her abusive father, who appears to have locked her in the seller and also sold her out as a prostitute to equally abusive and opportunistic men. When he died, he left her with debts as a last "Eff you." She's still trying to pay them off.
Our "hero" is a viscount named Dane St. Pierre, Lord Ravenhurst. He's a viscount and a veteran of the still-ongoing Napoleonic Wars, and haunted by the deaths of his friends and his own close brush with death aboard his ship. He was a childhood friend of Tess's, and when his superiors draw him back into military business to investigate a smuggling operation in the town of Rye where a traitor might be feeding secret intel to the French, he is shocked to see the child he knew all grown up.
Until about 50% of the way in, I thought for sure that this was going to be a 4- or 5-star read. Tess was such a great heroine- in fact, she was everything I love in a heroine: no-nonsense, smart, and brave. Dane was the perfect dangerous hero, and the unresolved sexual tension between him and Tess was off the charts. I also loved the cat and mouse between them, when she did her smuggling and he did his investigating; you couldn't help but wonder - what would happen when he found out??
40% of the way in, Dane finds out that Tess is involved with smuggling and thinks she's the lover of the Fox and he, like, loses his sh*t. I think in the original he rapes her, but in the update, the author tones it down to a "civil" sexual assault *eye roll*. She flees and ends up hitting her head, and her head injury makes her blind. When she wakes up, she's in the care of love interest #2, Andre, an equally rapey pirate, who definitely takes advantage of her in her incapacitated state.
The last act of the book was so crazy that I honestly didn't know what to expect. Which love interest, if any, would Tess end up with? And what would happen to the redundant one? Who was the traitor, after all? What was the dealio with Tess's dad? And how on Earth would this story end?
The ending, in all fairness, was actually pretty good. There was a twist I wasn't expecting (although in retrospect, I probably should have expected). We find out who the villain was, and I wasn't expecting that either, so that was cool, too. The heroine even manages to get in a duel with Dane, and I am very much pro lady duel. I would rate this book much higher if not for the fact that Tess's character development really suffered when she entered the "care" of Andre. I loved how strong she was in the beginning, but she really wimped out when that pirate dude did his misogynistic flexes.
I'm torn between feeling okay about this book and guiltily liking it because I am trash, so my feelings are floating between a 2.5 and a 3. It was action-packed, filled with swashbuckling, smuggling goodness and some twists that really caught me off-guard. If you like vintage romances and want to be part of the 90s Bodice Ripper Experience
™, you could do worse than to pick this book up.
This book is so good and honestly, it's a crime that it doesn't have ten times the reviews that it has. THE DEMON OF DARKLING REACH is an incredible story, with amazing world-building, set in a faux medieval world where demons and sorcery exist. The story kicks off with Isla's father announcing her younger sister, Rowena's, betrothal to a sinister and sinfully handsome duke named Tristan. Rowena is in love with a local lordling and throws a hideous temper tantrum; she's too shallow to consider the more sinister implications of her engagement-- that the duke does not seem to be quite human, and there are rumors of dark sorcery and cannibalism.
Isla volunteers to marry the duke in her sister's place, freeing her sister from the engagement and putting herself in mortal peril. At first, he seems coolly amused and condescending about everything she says and does, but after a while, he seems to warm to her. And Isla, always the awkward elder child, begins to find a voice to express her many frustrations with the oppression and cruelty inherent in their society's rules and religion, as well as finding the words to express her own feminist principles and concerns.
If you're a fan of Grace Draven's work, I think you'll find this to be a similar story. The romance is slow-burn, and Isla and Tristan discover each other as people before they discover each other as lovers. Tristan is not a misunderstood figure who has earned his reputation unfairly; he is every inch the monster Isla thinks he is, and his ability to hide that is like a bejeweled sheath around a lethal blade. Sometimes this book seems slow because of many info-dumps that are clearly the products of extensive historical research, but couched in those long descriptions are some insightful meditations on religion, philosophy, love, and gender roles; and in between all of the comedy of manners and the gritty and yet still charming rendition of a medieval village, there are some truly horrific scenes.
THE DEMON OF DARKLING REACH is a book that will appeal most to a specific audience: people who don't mind waiting for a good payoff, who like literary romances that are smartly written and dabble in TED talk-like bursts of information and trivia, and dark anti-heroes who don't fit the typical cookie-cutter mold of the derring-do hero with the chiseled jaw and innately good heart. I can honestly say that this is one of my new favorite romances and I can't wait to read the other books in the series. It's free if you have Kindle Unlimited, but even if you don't, it's worth the price tag.
SPICE AND SMOKE is 1980s-style glitter trash set in Bollywood, filled with smut, relationship drama, and celebrities. If that's not reason enough to read this, I don't know what is. Another reviewer compared this book to Jackie Collins and that is a fairly apt comparison, as both deal with celebrity life, drug use, and promiscuity with a rather stark and admirable frankness.
The first book I read by this author was TIKKA CHANCE ON ME, which I didn't like for a variety of reasons. However, there were elements of the book I did like, and whenever that happens I usually don't write the author off completely, giving another one of their books in a different series/universe a try, because YMMV.
SPICE AND SMOKE is definitely a much different book than TIKKA. TIKKA was smut with a tiny side of plot, and read like an Alexa Riley quickie, whereas SPICE is a full-fledged story told in a very unusual and slightly surreal format which some readers may find disorienting but I found quite enjoyable and unique.
Avinash, Trishna, Michael, and Harsh are all Bollywood actors working on a big movie with their director, Joshi. Avinash and Trishna are married, but Trishna has been carrying a torch since her teen years for the heartthrob, goody-goody actor she worked with on her first movie as a teenager, Harsh. Avinash is bisexual and appears to prefer men, even though he's married to Trishna. They have an "open" relationship (although that openness appears to apply more to him than Trishna), and the current object of his desire is Michael, a biracial (white/Indian) actor who is openly gay.
Their sexual fantasies about each of their love interests upon encountering them are very surreal, and very Bollywood (which I imagine was the intent), and so are the scenes they're filming from the actual movie, which are interspersed between the romantic plotlines and often mirror the actors' own lives to highlight their emotional tension (which is cheesy, but I like it). Some readers have said that the relationship is polyamorous, but it feels more like cheating with permission (and in the beginning, in Trishna's case, cheating without permission). I also didn't really like that the "open" relationship only applied to Avi, and that he was actually quite jealous and angry when Trishna hooked up with Harsh in the beginning, until he realized that the arrangement could work to his advantage.
I liked the two main couples a lot, and reading about their interactions and their relationships as they changed and developed was really fun, and I liked it the best towards the end when they all became friends as they played musical beds - that part, more than anything, was totally Jackie Collins. What I didn't like was the addition of a third random couple towards the end, Vikram and Sam. Sam was very obnoxious and even though he had real problems, like drug abuse and not coming to terms with his sexuality, I felt like he was introduced too late to really explore that to its full potential.
SPICE AND SMOKE is a quick, light read with tons of drama, leads of color, and lots of hot sex involving people of a variety of sexual orientations. I'm surprised more people aren't reading these, because well-written smut is few and far between, and this was really quite dramatic and fun.
WHAT YOU WANTED is the story of a one-night-stand turned romance. Andrea is the sister of Julie, from THAT KIND OF GUY, only whereas Julie was a goody two-shoes, motherly character, Andrea is a world-weary "free spirit" who has a lot of sex with different partners and doesn't really dig commitment. Her heart gets broken when she falls for someone, Thad, finally - only he breaks up with her for another girl named Naomi, leaving her in the dust.
The hero in this book, Damon, is in a similar boat. He's also been in love with another girl for a while, a prissy, high maintenance girl named Geraldine who is Andrea's total opposite in every way. When they meet up again, sparks fly, and Andrea suggests hooking up and going out on double-date-like situations with Thad and Geraldine, along with people from their extended circle of friends, in order to make their ex-lovers jealous.
If you think this plan doesn't work out, you would be right. Both of them start to fall for each other for real, but are still afraid of getting hurt and still not quite 100% over their past love interests. Pretty soon, it's not clear what is a game anymore, and what is real. Andrea has a shot at happiness but this time, her "free spirit" might end up shooting her in the foot and costing her the love of her life.
The first book I read by Mina V. Esguerra was her first book in the Chic Manila series, MY IMAGINARY EX. It had such a classic 2000s chick-lit vibe, and I loved it so much, I recommend it to all of my romance-loving friends and sent the link to coworker friends when it was free on Amazon. THAT KIND OF GUY, my second Esguerra read, was an okay read, but it lacked the charm of MY IMAGINARY, which had a better romance and a lot of focus on friendships.
WHAT YOU WANTED goes back to the formula I loved so much in MY IMAGINARY EX. I love how sex positive this book is, and how Andrea wasn't shamed for having multiple partners. I also like how there's always a twist with the other woman in these books, and that she's never as evil or nefarious as you originally think she might be. There are so many great discussions about sex and relationships and honesty and intimacy in these books, and even though they sometimes take a while to get rolling, by the end I'm always squirming with anxiety and hoping hard for that happy ending.
When I was a young teen, I used to go on this website called Quizilla. In many ways, it was a lot like a cross between Wattpad and BuzzFeed's quiz section, only since this was during the early 2000s, people were writing self-insert fics w/ Gerard Way and My Chemical Romance instead of Harry Styles and One Direction or BTS, and instead of Twilight, it was Louis and Lestat from Interview with the Vampire and they all spoke in butchered French. If vampires and emo boys weren't your cup of tea, no problem, you could read anime fanfic, anime-inspired fic, take quizzes, or read original fiction with titles like Lust for a Young Girl's Blood; Help I'm a Girl in an All-Boys' Boarding School; or Would an Angel, a Demon, or Vampire Fall for You?
Quizilla is now defunct but my memories of it are not, and I'm always delighted when I come across a story that captures the zeitgeist of my Quizilla days. I was thinking, while reading THE KISS OF DEATH, that I'd never read a reverse-harem story, but that's not quite true. In my Quizilla Days, there was a veritable pantheon of fratty immortal cadres falling for human girls.
THE KISS OF DEATH stars Sienna, a human girl putting herself for college while working at a bar. She also has a jerk boyfriend named Aaron (Aaron is such a jerk name). On her first day of classes, she runs into not one, not two, but three hot guys in all her classes (hi, obligatory nod to TWILIGHT) and then they all show up coincidentally at her job later, where they all leave her really big tips. It turns out that these guys - Sam, Luke, and Nick - are Samyaza, Lucifer, and Sataniel, demons who are looking for her because their enemies, the angels, are looking for her, too. Because Sienna isn't a human girl, after all. She's a Muse, with the power to manipulate aether, the substance that souls are made of, and that borders and gates the many worlds. And people want her - or want her dead.
So, yes, it's a little bit Mary Sue-ish. A little bit. Normally this is something that bothers me, but I honestly loved it here. It's pure escapist fantasy. Sienna has cool powers, magic art skills, and a whole harem of immortal hot guys who treat her nicely and are willing to die for her. What really saves this story is the smart writing and the science and philosophy the author imbues the story with. Hadley really tries to make this more than just romance with plot, and it's damned creative.
It's also... well, some might say it's blasphemous. If you thought the movie Dogma (1999) was funny, you'll be fine, but that should be your litmus test. Can you stomach the thought of angels and, yes, even Jesus, being the bad guys? I look at Christian theology the way most Christians probably look at Greek mythology, in that I'm like, "Oh, how interesting, how dramatic, how antiquated - I'd like to learn more about this maybe, and read some books about it, but I would never believe in this." I thought the book was great, but I noticed some religious people in the reviews weren't happy with the content. So if you are very religious, and can't laugh at your doctrines, maybe you should stay away.
I honestly can't remember the last time I had such mindless fun reading something. THE KISS OF DEATH was so compulsively readable that I finished it in just over a day, even though it's long. I'm new to the burgeoning reverse-harem craze happening on Goodreads, and I don't think I'll be a stranger from now on. Not if this book is any indication of what I've been missing out on.
Box sets are always tough to rate. Do you rate based on your feelings of the series as a whole? Or do you take the scientific approach and average out your ratings of all the other books in the box set? I personally take the scientific approach, which means that sometimes my rating for the box sets is lower than my ratings for various books in the series. Such is the case with Dirty Angels, as there were some books I liked, and other books I thought were really lame. The quality of these stories can be highly variable.
Dirty Angels is a spin-off series about Javier Bernal from the author's other Artists series. Javier is a crime boss who deals in drugs and power. The first book is about how he meets his love interest, Luisa. The second book is a secondary romance about Javier's sister, Alana, hooking up with one of Javier's ex-mercenaries-turned-traitor. The third book is about Javier and Luisa again, only now they're married and it's on the rocks, and Javier is on the verge of losing everything due to his ignorance and pride, when one of his associates decides to stage a coup.
Honestly, this book was close to perfect. I loved the romance between Javier and Luisa, and that it grows from such a dark place. He was cruel but still human, and even though he did terrible things to her as his captive, I thought that Luisa's vulnerability and isolation were really well-portrayed. She was already a survivor of abuse and strife, so it made sense that she'd find his strength appealing. It's got a lot of violence, but it's used as a spice and not a sauce, so even though the scenes were unpleasant, the book never felt drenched with it. DIRTY ANGELS is mostly an edgy erotic romance.
I kind of hated this short story. It felt pointless and did not match the tone of the other books. Esteban is a bad man, and I did not want to read about his meet-cute with some lame artist in Hawaii indulging in cultural tourism as an attempt to cure her artistic ennui and suicidal ideation. After reading about Esteban in DIRTY PROMISES, I actually wanted to go back and deduct the half-star I'd added in my original rating to round up because I was so mad to see him romanticized. Yuck.
This was another story I didn't like. It has nothing to do with the first book - instead it's about a mercenary who's mentioned a handful of times in Artists and Dirty Angels and one of Javier's sisters, Alana. Derek is supposed to kill Alana but falls in lust with her at first sight and changes his mind literally while he's on the job. It felt way too fluffy, which was jarring after the dark tone set by DIRTY ANGELS. There's a chase scene and fight scene at the end that have more of the action I was expecting, but most of this book was pretty boring and I didn't care about either character very much.
** In between the second book and the third book, there are two excerpts for books written by the author's fellow author friends. I didn't care for either excerpt, and I thought it was kind of sneaky to put them in between the two books, as opposed to the back of the book. It felt like Halle was forcing us to page through these excerpts, which I didn't appreciate. Ads should go in the back, and we should be able to choose to read them if we want instead of having them forced upon us. #JustSaying
The most violent book in the bunch, by far. Any trigger warning you can think of, this book probably has it. The violence fits the tone of the first book and is probably realistic for this kind of setting, but it's definitely hard to read and people who are sensitive to content involving rape and gore should exercise caution when picking up DIRTY PROMISES. I was actually not displeased with how this ended the series, and thought it struck the right balance between hopeful and depraved.
Also, it addresses the events in DIRTY DEEDS, which is that Alana isn't actually dead. (I don't think this is a spoiler, since she's in the second book and people are saying it has an HEA - I mean, duh.) That was a thread I was afraid the author was going to forget about, but she didn't. Only continuity error I actually spied was that she spells Derek's name as "Derrick" in the end of this book. Whoops.
Overall, the Dirty Angels series is a pretty good set of books to read if you like dark and edgy romances that feel borderline-realistic and don't try to be too neat. The first book is the best, and I think you could honestly get away with just reading the first book or, if you're not afraid of violence, maybe the first and the third, as one of my friends advised me. The second book feels kind of unnecessary, and along with the short story, drags down the quality of the series as a whole.
"The real cartel life is not pretty, not easy and certainly NOT romantic and that is more than reflected in Dirty Promises."
You know, I kept coming back and looking at the Goodreads blurb while reading this book, and thinking about those words, "The real cartel life is not [...] romantic and that is more than reflected in [these books]." I asked myself, "Is it, though? Is it?" I mean, the Dirty Angels series are romances, they're tagged as romances on Amazon, and they (sort of) have HEAs. Worse still, she wrote a meet-cute story for Esteban, which is included in the box set version of these books. Esteban, who ends up being such an Evil McBad that he could double as a Bond villain, or land a supporting role in American Psycho as Serial Murderer #2.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about the last book in the Dirty Angels series. A lot of my friends didn't like it, and some of them even came onto my reviews and status updates of DIRTY DEEDS and DIRTY PROMISES to warn me about what I was getting into. Ultimately, I think I ended up liking the book more than they did, but I think that was partially due to the warning, and I assumed the worst as a result.
DIRTY PROMISES is a disgusting, evil little book that jumps the shark fifty times before diving back into a sea of blood, torture, and rape. The progression of this series is truly odd. DIRTY ANGELS was a pretty straightforward captor/captive romance with a few gruesome scenes at critical points to drive home certain character elements or plot points, but it's like the author looked at the reviews where people took issue with that violence, and thought to herself, "OK, I need to tone it down." So she wrote DIRTY DEEDS, a romance about two secondary characters only peripherally related to the series and not really about Javier at all. Apart from the hero originally having the heroine on his hit list, it's basically your ordinary new adult romance about a muscular bad boy who hooks up with a good girl from a bad family, and all the people trying to keep them apart. But then, again, it's like the author looked at the reviews saying it was too fluffy, and thought to herself, "OK, I need to make the series a total horrorshow and throw in lots of rape, because that's what the people want!" And then she wrote, DIRTY PROMISES, I guess, to show that she keeps her promises.
DIRTY PROMISES is about Javier and Luisa again, which makes the first and last book a duology if you cut out the middleman. After the "loss" of his sister, Javier has gone a little crazy. In books .5-2 of The Artists trilogy, he was a smooth criminal. In book 3 of The Artists trilogy, he comes off as an incompetent coward. In book 1 of Dirty Angels, he comes off as a suave sociopath. In this book, I don't know what he is, but I didn't like it. He's constantly cheating on Luisa, which doesn't really feel realistic, seeing as how he gave up some of his ways to be with her in the first book. Now, he's decided that he needs to push her away. In the meantime, he's torturing people for the fun of it because he says it gets him off. In case that wasn't bad enough, there's Esteban, who is planning on staging a power coup and taking the cartel - and Luisa - away from Javier.
Anyone who tells you to be careful with this series is right. The first book was pretty tolerable except for an abuse scene that was pretty bad and a torture scene that was worse. This book has multiple rape scenes and very, very, very graphic torture scenes. The sex scenes that are consensual are disturbing, with blood play, weapons being used as sex toys (as in DARK PARADISE), and at one point, a threesome that is used much like Hamlet's play was: to force a confession of infidelity. Readers may also take issue with the fake that one of the villains is coded as being bisexual, even if he says he isn't gay. The way it's written kind of feels like his sexuality is being used for shock value, and while that's the status quo with most of these characters and their bizarre fetishes, it can get into shady territory when orientation is involved. Anne Stuart's INTO THE FIRE does something similar.
DIRTY PROMISES ends the series in a much better way than BOLD TRICKS did, and I do think it brings both closure to the series and Javier's character arc full circle. I understand why people liked this book and I understand also why people didn't like it; both groups have their points, and it really depends on which side of the whole "sexual and physical violence used for titillation" fence you fall on. I read a lot of bodice-rippers and horror, so the scenes didn't bother me as much, but there were still several parts where I decided to put the book down and take a break because it was getting too dark. Ultimately, I did like this book, I think, but I probably wouldn't read it again...
The short story, DARK PARADISE, which is about Javier's evil henchman Esteban, is proof that not every side character needs a story. DIRTY DEEDS is also proof of that, only in longer form. Derek Conway is a character I only vaguely remembered from The Artists and, I think, once or twice in Dirty Angels. He's a fixer for hire, ex-military, kind of boring. So of course he gets a book.
The heroine in this book is one of Javier's remaining sisters, Alana. Alana was actually an all right heroine, until one very stupid decision she made at the very end which I'll get to later. I liked that she had a normal job (flight attendant). I liked that she was sex positive and had a normal group of friends who looked out for her. She's just a good looking and ordinary girl in her early twenties... but since she also happens to be the sister of a crime boss, she's got a major price tag on her head. And Derek, the hero, is the man who's taken the job to kill Alana Bernal for pay.
The enemies-to-lovers or assassins-to-lovers trope is a huge favorite of mine. In fact, it might be one of my top 5 (apart from villainous heroes and morally bankrupt vampire romances). When it's done well, it can really spin out the tension and create a lot of emotionally fraught scenes. The problem here is, Derek decides from the very moment he sees her that he's not going to kill her. In fact, somebody else tries to kill her while he's on the job and he literally abandons his post to hunt the guy down and shoot him in the head.
DIRTY DEEDS feels more like a typical by-the-numbers new adult book about two people who shouldn't be together because of their tragic pasts. It almost feels like it's trying to be cute. DARK PARADISE was like that, too. If you know Esteban and what he does, it doesn't really feel realistic to have him doing meet-cutes in Hawaii. The same goes here. Derek should not be trying to act out 500 Days of Summer with a crime boss's sister. He's stupid about it, too. Lies to her about his identity when the smart move would be to tell her what he is. When she does inevitably find out about it - by accident, because he's a coward - she flounces out and gets captured by the bad guys! Of course.
The first book in this series, DIRTY ANGELS, is the best book by Halle that I have read. It's got crime, drama, forbidden love, and tight pacing. DIRTY DEEDS, on the other hand, has a couple that goes on dates and has lots of boring sex while a few not-so-scary threats keep pouring in, culminating in a chase scene that is resolved way too quickly and neatly, and with a cheesy HEA to boot. I didn't realize HEAs came so cheap. Hopefully DIRTY PROMISES brings this series back full circle, because I'll be upset if it's another BOLD TRICKS fiasco and the ending totally sucks.