A Tale of Two A**holes, or: What a difference female agency makes

I recently listened to a book with an asshole hero and, around the same time, read another with a similar type of male lead.  Though there were problems with both, one of the books worked much better for me than the other.     The main reason I disliked the first book was that I could not like the hero.  But in both books, the hero is  an asshole.  So: why did I like one and not other?  This post is the result of my mental ramblings on the topic.  And it all comes down to female agency.

Book 1 was Fever (Breathless #2) by Maya Banks.   This author seems like a lovely lady from what I can tell from Twitter. My opinion of this book is in no way an opinion of her.  She tends to be a hit or miss author for me.  I loved Sweet Surrender and I enjoyed Rush, the first book in the Breathless series quite a bit.  But Fever was not a success.  While lots of people loved Fever (which is fine because Vegemite), it didn’t work for me.

The second book was Tangled by Emma Chase.  Ms. Chase is a new author but I enjoyed her writing style and the humour of the book very much. (and again, just because I thought Drew was an ass, doesn’t mean I think she is. Just to be clear).
The two books are very different in tone.  But they have in common that the male protagonist is a jerk.  I discussed Drew a fair bit in my review of Tangled. As the book is told from his point of view, we are steeped in Drew from start to finish.Fever is told in third person with the POV shifting between the two main characters.  But, Fever is almost always in the male gaze so our hero, Jace Crestwell is the most prominent character in the book by a factor of about a million.

Fantasy to the (Hyper) Extreme?

aka a kind of review and a rambling justification for why I like Reaper’s Property by Joanna Wylde.
As I start this post, I’m about halfway through the book but I wanted to start getting my thoughts down before they scattered.  Reaper’s Property was recommended to me by DA’s Jane.  She said it was “hardcore” and “intense and emotional” and she clearly loved it.  Her recommendation was not without caveats however – she noted:  “Anyway, warning warning warning. Know that you are getting an over the top sexist parade of MC full of violence and wrongdoing when you read this book”.
There has been comparison with Kristen Ashley’s Motorcycle Club (MC) books – I have 1 or 2 on my TBR but haven’t read any yet – I keep hearing about engaging stories but also poor grammar and sloppy/no editing and I’m kind of torn about taking the plunge in actually reading them because the latter things mean a lot to me.   This book, a little shorter than a KA book and better edited, lured me because of the promise of engagement and curiosity did the rest.  So I bought it.
I don’t usually like my heroes to be less than heroic.  Why then am I enjoying this book, where the hero is named “Horse” (yes, it’s after the size of his dick) and is a violent criminal?  It is this question I’m trying to answer and so my rambles begin.

July Reads

on Paper/eBook
A Little More Scandal by Carrie Lofty – B+   This recently released novella is a prequel of sorts to Flawless and the just now released Starlight and features the patriarch of the Christie family.  I’ve heard good things about Ms. Lofty’s books but had never read one before. A 99c novella is a good way to test the waters with a new author.  I do think it is hard to write a complete story in such a short word count so I was especially pleased with my reading experience.  William Christie is a self made made, a large, arrogant, boorish Scot who is tolerated in Society because of his wealth and a previous advantageous marriage (he is now a widower).  Catrin Jones is a Welsh nurse who, on returning from the Crimea, was the only survivor of a shipwreck.  She realises she will have notoriety for a short time and wishes to use that time to find a suitable husband.  William wants shares in a newspaper and his part of the bargain is her story (which she has been notoriously closed mouth about).  Both have mercenary goals but both are deeply attracted.  I enjoyed the banter and the curious honesty between them.  It definitely made me want to read both Flawless and Starlight – and there are lengthy excerpts from both in the back.  Well played Ms. Lofty.
Sweet Talk by Julie Garwood – See my full review here.
Seven Day Loan by Tiffany Reisz – C-/D+  I found this hard to grade because although the story was written well, ultimately I found parts of the story distateful.  Also, it’s not so much romance as erotica. I think I may have missed something. Maybe it is something to do with The Siren (which I haven’t read yet)? I definitely got the sense that this was related to another book.  I think I would have had a better connection if I had understood the context more clearly but as it was, it felt a bit like a mid book excerpt rather than a complete story. There was something a bit unsavory and unsettling about Eleanor’s background and primary relationship. Daniel seemed nice enough but I wasn’t 100% sure about Eleanor’s ability to give consent.
**please note these next 2 reviews appeared in the July ARRA members newsletter and also on the ARRA blog on 1st August 2012**
Platinum Passion (Gods of Love #1) by Jennifer Lynne – C- Jeannie and Jake have been married for 20 years.  They still love each other but their sex life has waned with the pressure of work, family and life in general.  Pothos, one of the erotes (an aspect of the Greek god Eros) comes to them both, to reawaken their passion.  I’m glad that most of the contact between these 3 was when all three were present.  I was a little uncomfortable at first when Pothos initially appeared only to Jeannie and transported her to a moonlit beach in Port Douglas (where she and Jake had honeymooned 20 years earlier) but it was only a very short time until Jake joined them. After that, the 3 engage in a various sexytimes (no lube! ouch!) and the couple feel reconnected and determined to keep their sexual spark alive.  The story is only about 40 pages long, so there is obviously not a lot of space for character development.  It does have a happy ending but I think the story works better when viewed as erotica rather than a romance.
Aphrodite Calling (Gods of Love #2) by Jennifer Lynne – C-/D+ Himeros, one of the erotes, is called to Gina at her 15 year high school reunion.  When Gina was at school, she was Gerry.  She has since has sexual reassignment surgery.  Gina is struggling to feel desirable as a woman and is obviously pretty uncomfortable with all the stares and whispers at the reunion.  It was a very brave thing for her to attend, particularly as she went alone.  Himeros appears and very soon he whisks her off to take her “virginity” – the first time she has had sex since her surgery.  Her previous boyfriend (pre-surgery) liked having sex with her but it seemed he was a closeted gay man rather than in love with her and when she had the surgery, he rabbited.  The story is about 36 pages long so too short to fully explore all of the issues Gina was facing.  This was my first trans* story.  My impression was that some of it was unrealistic but I feel singularly unqualified to comment further in this aspect of the story.   Himeros becomes enamoured of Gina and they head off into HFN territory after some raunchy sexytimes, including some exhibitionism and some pain play (involving a stiletto heel and no lube).  I never doubted that Gina was a woman but I would have loved her story to be more fully developed.  I’m sure her journey was difficult and her path to self acceptance must surely have taken more than one night.  Again, even though there is a happy ending, I think this story is better viewed as erotica rather than romance.

Pillow Talk by Maya Banks – B-  After some less than successful erotic romance, I picked up Pillow Talk.  Originally published as part of the Four Play anthology, it has now been released separately by Penguin as an eSpecial.  While Ms. Banks’ books don’t always work super well for me, I find her a reliable read, particularly in the erotic department and this was no exception.  Zoe and Chase are a couple and share a house with Brody and Tate.  The 3 men work together as firefighters and Zoe is an ER nurse.  During some sexy post (and mid) coital discussions, Chase and Zoe discover each other’s fantasies.  Zoe gives Chase the birthday present of a lifetime and afterwards, Chase reciprocates with some group sex involving his most trusted friends.  As an erotic story it works very well. It’s pretty darn sexy and there is definite connection between all the characters (although, sadly no m/m action).  As a romance, it was a little less successful for me.  The story ends with the foursome deciding to pursue a permanent menage but the main interest in that for me is the mechanics of it beyond the sex – how do they manage the jealousy (if there is any)?  how do they each get time with Zoe?  How does Zoe not feel overwhelmed and exhausted? How do each of the guys feel, in the longer term, about having to share Zoe three ways?  How does Brody and Tate feel in that Chase has had the longer relationship?  Is there a “primacy” to Chase and Zoe’s relationship?  If not, how does Chase feel about that?  There wasn’t time in a novella for those issues to be developed, but I’d love to read a book like that which dealt with those issues.  As an erotic palate cleanser, it delivered the reliable sexy read I was after.

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller  – see my full review here.

Fire on the Mountain by PD Singer – B-   Enjoyable story about a young firefighter/ranger in the Rocky Mountains who is teamed with a hot slightly older (by 3 years) and more experienced firefighter for a 6 month stint.  Jake isn’t out and isn’t sure if Kurt is gay.  They are stuck with each other for 6 months, with only short trips to town for supplies.  If he makes a move and Kurt rejects him how will they manage to spend the rest of their season?  But, what if…?   Told from Jake’s 1st person POV, I found the will he/won’t he a bit repetitive and boring after a while.  Once the action started (they are caught in a fire) however, things picked up.  There is another section of navel gazing afterwards and then a happy ending which was, unfortunately cut a bit short for me.  There are other books in the series which I plan on reading – more of this couple together would be fun.
Worth the Wait by Lori Toland – C  Okay short story about a science nerd who invents a time travel device in a cell phone.  He travels back in time to give himself some social advice and there, runs into his hot High School science teacher.  Time travel (which I love) usually does my head in and time travel in 38 pages is that x 1000.  There’s really not enough time to develop the characters, the story or the science and I felt the sexy times at the end seemed a bit out of place with what had been a sweet story up til then. Chris liked it better than I did, so maybe I was just having a grumpy evening last night. 🙂

Safe With Me (The Beginning) by Shaina Richmond  – DNF  – I read about 20 pages in to this 50 page Kindle freebie.  The sex happened quickly, wasn’t romantic and I wasn’t enamoured of either main character.  Not my thing.  So I DNF’d it. Great cover though.

How to Tell a Lie by Delphine Dryden – B-  Cute, sexy shortish novel about two professors who meet online in a MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game – think World of Warcraft for example) and, after some mild flirting for months, realise that they are actually at the same university.  The meet and things progress fairly quickly from there.  I think the aspect of Allison self sabotaging relationships to protect herself from loss could have been explored further and the I love you will you marry me was too fast for me.  But, for the most part, I found this an enjoyable read.  As I don’t play MMORPG’s I can’t say how accurate the play depicted was, but according to my husband (who does play) and from what I told him, it seemed like it probably was (with only a few name changes, I suspect to protect from copyright breaches).

Within Reach by Sarah Mayberry – see my full review here.

Where You Hurt The Most by Anne Brooke (Riptide Rentboys Collection 2012) – B-  This is a short sweet and sexy story about a high class escort who is asked to take on a scarred and broken young man as a client and the connection they form.  Dan was badly burned in a car accident and hides his face under a red hoodie (hence the cover – which is very well done).  I loved the prose.  There was something almost hypnotic (in a good way) about the spare and lyrical way the words were on the page.  The story is short, so to believe the hook, you have to believe the instant and deep connection between the two men.  I think, with more time, I would have totally believed in them but unfortunately, I thought their interactions were insufficient for me to really buy into it.  I will be looking out for more from this author because her writing voice appeals greatly.

The 51st Thursday by Mercy Celeste – DNF I got about 41 pages into this 55 page 99c Kindle book.  The concept was good – guy goes into a bar each Thursday for 50 weeks,  on the 51st Thursday there is a hurricane – the bar-owner Deacon and Thursday are trapped in the bar and hijinks ensue.  Unfortunately, I just didn’t buy the mutual unrequited passion of the pair.  Shelby (aka Thursday) came into the bar each week yes, but they didn’t speak to each other, apart from the basics or ordering a beer.  They didnt’ exchange names or anecdotes or stories or anything.  Deacon identifies as bisexual with a leaning towards men and at the start of the book, Shelby identifies as straight – by the point I got to, he seemed to accept he was gay and no-strings Deacon seems to have fallen in love – so that’s a lot to unpack in a 55 page book.  The early sex scenes had an element of dubious consent to them which bothered me a little – it was consenual but there was… a sort of threat which lingered in the air.  In the end, it was late and I was tired and I just didn’t care enough to read to the end.  There was confusion for me too with which “him” was being referred to in sentences from time to time – it seemed to change and made parts of the story hard to follow.  And, as much as I liked the concept, I felt a bit hammered by the overuse of Thursday by page 10.  However, plenty of people like this better than I did, so YMMV.

Here Be Monsters by Meljean Brook (from Burning Up anthology) – B-/B I enjoyed this short story about Pirate Captain “Mad” Machen and Ivy Blacksmith.  On the one hand, I appreciated that there wasn’t an info dump about the world but on the other, I can’t say I truly understood about the nanoagents etc.  There were a couple of steamy scenes and overall, it was cleverly written and a very good introduction to the MB Steampunk world.  I think I’ll read The Iron Duke next.

Shifting Seas by Virginia Kantra (from Burning Up anthology) – B/B- I’ve been hearing a little about this author lately and so was inspired to try this book.  I enjoyed the story and certainly liked Ms. Kantra’s writing style.  Set in 1813, Jack Harris returns scarred from the Peninsula wars to take up his unexpectedly inherited estate in the north of England.  He meets Morwenna, a member of the “finfolk”, an immortal shapechanger who can shift to any sea creature as well as take human form.  What starts off as merely Morwenna taking her pleasure from Jack begins to be a relationship between them and then the wider town and fishing community.   It seems that for Morwenna to choose a life with Jack permanently, she must give up her ability to shape shift and her immortality – I thought those aspects were not very well explored.  It seemed that Jack didn’t know about it. And there were some little things, like when Morwenna has dinner at the estate, her hair is curled and styled but she didn’t know how to do it herself I don’t think – she’s never worn shoes before she meets Jack so I think her adaption to the human lifestyle was also a bit glossed over.  This could well be because of the limits of the format – there’s only so much you can fit in to 100 pages or less.  It did achieve the goal of making me want to try more of this author’s work so overall, the anthology was a win for me.

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook – See my full review here.

Firelight by Kristen Callihanfull review to come.  I appear to be somewhat of an outlier on this one. ETA:  Here it is.
Here Comes the Groom by Karina Bliss –  B-  Enjoyable story about a breast cancer survivor and an ex-SAS soldier suffering from survivor guilt and depression after he was sidelined from a mission which left two of his team dead and one other seriously wounded.  Some years before, the pair made a drunken agreement to marry each other if they were both single at age 33.  Guess what?  I liked this quite a but but the ending felt a bit strange to me.  I’m not sure the adventure of the last chapters fit with the rest of the book and I’m not sure that it actually solved anything. I would have liked a little more about how Jo and Dan were going to work on getting over their various emotional wounds.  This is the first in a 4 book series (only the 2nd and 3rd are out yet) and maybe we will see more of Jo and Dan as the series progresses.  I liked the New Zealand setting and the farm and small town life felt familiar to me.  There is a little bit of series bait in the book but it didn’t take up a lot of room so I give that a pass.   I did like Dan and his attitude to Jo’s mastectomy scar and the prospect of a recurrence of cancer.  I liked how Dan helped Jo feel sexy again.  I have the next 2 books lined up on my reader and I’m curious to know more about Nate and Ross.

on Audio

The Duchess of Love by Sally Mackenzie, narrated by Abby Craden –  B-  I reviewed this for AAR so watch out for it in an upcoming Speaking of Audiobooks column.
 Bedding Lord Ned by Sally Mackenzie, narrated by Abby Craden – C  I reviewed this for AAR so watch out for it in an upcoming Speaking of Audiobooks column.

Once Burned (Night Prince #1) by Jeaniene Frost, narrated by Tavia Gilbert – B Another book I reviewed for AAR.  You know the drill.


The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley, narrated by Sally Armstrong – A- see my full review here.


Sophia’s Secret by Susanna Kearsley, narrated by Carolyn Bonnyman – (This book was released in the US and renamed The Winter Sea and the US audiobook release won Rosalyn Landor an audie award this year.  I’m not a huge fan of Landor audie or not so I went with the Bonnyman option – she narrated Mariana and I enjoyed her narration very much.)   Full review to come. ETA:  Here it is.

Driving Mr. Dead by Molly Harper, narrated by Amanda Ronconi – A-   This short novel (just over 5 hours on audio) was hiliarious.  I started to laugh from the first and spent a lot of the listen with a smile on my face.  Miranda is a hiliarious screw-up klutz type person – disaster follows here wherever she goes.  Taking a job as a V-Line driver – transporting vampires safely during daylight hours, she travels to Washington state where she picks up Colin Sutherland – a finicky, uptight vampire who hasn’t left his property since 1948.  Hijinks ensue.  So funny.  And yes, there is romance with a HFN (which suited the length of the story). I’m pretty confident that these two will be in it for the long haul though (pardon the pun).    Miranda’s musing about whether “adam’s apple porn” exists was just one of the things which had me laughing.  A feel good fun romance and Ronconi nails the narration.

April Reads

on Paper/eBook
Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino – B- Brad Feller is a college student on a fraternity and athletic scholarship who, at the beginning of the book, realises there’s no hiding from himself anymore – he’s gay.  Sebastian is a TA for one of Brad’s history classes and after Brad buys a paper online to get his attention, they start a relationship.  I found the second half of the book much more enjoyable than the first.  I was really struggling to get through the first half, but persisted because Sarah at DA liked it so much.  I didn’t really get the humour in the first part of the book and I did not like the phrase “the nail in the coffin” which Brad’s dad used when he was giving an example of why he thought Brad was gay – that seemed very negative to me.   Some of the phrasing confused me and I had to read over it a few times to work out what was being said and that threw me out of the story at times.  It’s a fairly gentle story with not a lot of conflict – Brad’s coming out is fairly easy from what I could see in the book and any struggle he may have had with being gay had been resolved before the book started.
However, thes scenes when Brad came out to his friend Kyle and later, to the frat itself, were very funny and the sex was definitely hot.  It’s a short book – only 165 pages but it retailed at $6.99 which I thought was pretty pricey.  Between that and the title, I don’t think I would have picked it up at all if not for Sarah’s recommendation. It was one of those rare books where her tastes and mine didn’t quite mesh – go figure.    Am I sorry?  Well, no.  But, I wish I’d managed to buy it on special somewhere.
Marathon Cowboys by Sarah Black First off, I really like this cover. Did I like the book though?  Well, I did. But.

It was one of those books where the more I thought about it, the more things I came up with that bothered me.  The men said “I love you” too fast for me to really believe. There was a bit at the end where it took me a few pages to work out what had actually happened.  I might be a bit dense but it wasn’t obvious to me WHAT had actually happened. I thought it was a stunt at first.  The resolution (or lack of) that part of the storyline was a problem too but there wasn’t time to develop the storyline (it took a sharp right turn) or to resolve it properly.
I was uncomfortable (to say the least) with what Jessie did as regards his painting and his betrayal of Lorenzo (I’m sorry, I just can’t call him Mary – Lorenzo’s last name is Maryboy-  or zo-zo – Jesse’s “sex” name for him) by his art.  I was uncomfortable that even though he knew Lorenzo would be upset he said up front he wouldn’t change anything and then he still expected not only forgiveness but happy families too.  After I came out of the book, I thought about how Jesse needed to go to San Francisco from time to time to get the vibe and take in the art scene and how he also needed to go to Marathon to get away.  I’m not sure that where Lorenzo fits in to this was dealt with.  I don’t know that I believed that Lorenzo would be able/happy/comfortable fitting in to the San Francisco scene where I gather things were pretty frenetic.  I wondered whether he’d forever feel an outsider.
I had more sympathy for Lorenzo overall – the story is told from his 1st person POV so I got to know him much better than I did Jesse but I don’t know that I trusted that Lorenzo would be happy with Jesse forever and ever.  He just seemed too flighty to me.  The book was just over 120 pages long so it was pretty short and I’m not sure I was sold on the HEA.  That said, I did enjoy the book while I was reading it.  I liked Lorenzo and I liked the way he thought and spoke.  I enjoyed the parts of the book about his comic strip and the thought process he took to get it up and running.  I liked “The Original” too.   Jesse, I’m not so sure about.   I found this very difficult to grade.  I’m going with a C.

According to Luke (The Gospel of Love #1) by Jackie Barbosa  – B-  Sexy short story about serial monogamist Luke, who finds unexpected love with a close friend.  It moved too fast for me fromt he getting together to the falling in love to the turn around to marriage (but then again, it is a short story).  Certainly entertaining and easy to read.  There aren’t many books told entirely from the male POV and while some of it seemed to me to be more what a woman would want to hear rather than what a man might actually say, a lot of it felt pretty authentic.
At 76 pages, I think $4.99 is too pricey, but I picked it up in the St. Patrick’s day sale at ARe and got a 50% rebate so it’s all good.

Nine Tenths of the Law by LA Witt – C+ Mostly enjoyable story about two guys who were unknowingly dating the same man – one for 6 months, the other for 4 years.  As they work through the betrayal they connect with one another, but the ex (Jake) tries to come between them and jealousy and lack of trust is a continuing problem.  Nathan in particular finds it hard to trust Zach and while that formed the conflict in the story, it did get old.  While I suppose that was the point (the story is told from Zach’s POV), it meant that the end kind of fizzled for me and I’m not sure I bought into Nathan’s about face – what?  he just decides and it’s all better? Some of the sex scenes seemed a bit on the repetitive side but overall, it was an enjoyable enough story.

Sweet Addiction by Maya Banks – see my full review here.

SomebodytoLoveSomebody to Love by Kristan Higgins – B – see my full review here

IsolationIsolation by AB Gayle – C/C-  I reviewed this one for ARRA. I’ll post a link when the review goes live.

Learning from Isaac by Dev Bentham – B/B+  Nathan Kohn is a college professor.  Isaac Wolf is one of his students and 17 years his junior.  It is of course, forbidden for Nathan to have a relationship with a student but it is clear that there is mutual interest and attraction.  Isaac is due to graduate in a few months so they plan to wait to do anything about it.  After Isaac came out to his family, he was disowned and he is now weighed down by student loans and tuition fees. In order to try to get out from under this mountain of debt, he works at a gay club in the back room.  He and Nathan have an encounter there when a friend of Nathan’s takes him out to “buy him a boy”.   In the Chicago area it seems that Isaac is easily recognised and even when he quits being a rent boy, he is constantly recognised and propositioned.  The main conflict between the two men is Isaac’s sex worker past. Nathan doesn’t have a moral conflict with it, but he dislikes being confronted with it all the time.  He starts to feel that Isaac has been with almost every gay man in the Chicago area.  I liked how this was eventually resolved – with Nathan taking responsibility for his own jealousy and their practical solution made sense. I also liked how not a lot was made of the age difference between the two.  At one point Isaac says that it’s Nathan’s hang up, not his and I think Nathan realised that he would only push Isaac away if he kept on worrying at the issue.
While I was reading the story, I was engaged and enjoyed the characters and the writing but after finishing I realised there were a couple of things missing for me.  Early on in the book Isaac comes to class bruised and battered.  It isn’t made clear but I inferred he’d been beaten by a client.  Nothing was made of this in the book at all and I would have liked that explored.    The other main thing which I felt was lacking was that I didn’t see on the page the reasons that Nathan and Isaac felt so deeply for each other.  Part of this might be because it was told from Nathan’s first person POV I guess and maybe because it’s not a super long story at 99 pages.   I saw the attraction and mutual lust but not how that changed into a desire for an long term exclusive relationship.  It just kind of happened without me seeing how it had.    It’s why I’ve dithered on the grade a bit.  It was a B+ when I was reading, but a B when I thought about it later.
There has been discussion around the place recently about the portrayal of female characters in m/m romance and how they are often cardboard, eeeevil and/or absent altogether.    This is one book where that is definitely not the case.  Nathan’s flower child mother is a positive force in his life and students Jane and Sue are also positively portrayed.  The “villains” in this book are all men.
I liked this one better than Moving in Rhythm and I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.
 Bared to You (Crossfire #1) by Sylvia Day – B+  See my full review here.

Two Tickets to Paradise Anthology (Dreamspinner Press).  Full review to come. (I’m only halfway through!).

Dark Citadel by Cherise Sinclair – C.  I read this after it was recommended on the “If you Like Fifty…” thread on Dear Author.  I hadn’t read this author before and a commenter said the reader “learned” about BDSM along with the main female character so I thought I’d check it out.  First $6.99 for 146 pages?  Really?
Kari goes to the Shadowlands BDSM club for some beginner’s classes with the man she’s been (briefly) dating.  After she doesn’t like his form of “dominance”, she is offered by the boss to continue the lesson with one of the Masters there – Master Dan.  The story takes place over the course of the three beginner’s classes.
It was okay but very heavy on the erotic part of erotic romance.  I can’t really say why I didn’t connect with it super well.  I’ve read very erotic books before and enjoyed them.  But this one was okay but didn’t set my romance loving heart on fire.  As a primer on BDSM, I’m not sure it answered many questions for me, but I did appreciate the “safe, sane and consensual” message of the book.

on Audio
Born to Darkness by Suzanne Brockmann, narrated by Patrick Lawlor and Melanie Ewbank – C  See my full review here.
Ladies Man by Suzanne Brockmann, narrated by Kathe Mazur – B- This was one of Suzanne Brockmann’s earlier category books which was reissued a few years back.  Kathe Mazur does a good job narrating and I appreciated her slight New York accent for Sam and how she brought out his easygoing charm with her narration.    It’s a younger man/older woman story with limo sex!
Oracle’s Moon by Thea Harrison, narrated by Sophie Eastlake – B-  I reviewed this one for AAR.  You can find it in this column.
The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley,  narrated by Angela Dawe – B  Angela Dawe does a great job of the narration of this book.  Her Scottish burr for the Mackenzie brothers was very good and I liked the gruffness she instilled in their voices.  I did think her English accent for Beth slipped once in a while towards American, but that didn’t bother me too much.  I actually found myself enjoying the story more in this format than I did in print.  As much as the book was raved over when it was released, I couldn’t find the same enthusiasm myself.  I liked, but did not love it.  On audio however, I found myself connecting more with Ian and Beth than I had before.  For those who haven’t read the book, Lord Ian Mackenzie has some sort of Autism Spectrum Disorder (probably Aspberger’s) but of course, in Queen Victoria’s time there was no name for it.  He is regarded as “mad”.  His father had him locked in an asylum when he was little more than a boy and upon the old Duke’s death, his eldest brother Hart, immediately removed him.  When Ian meets Beth Ackerley, a beautiful widow who has recently inherited some money from a old woman to whom she had been companion, Ian is instantly smitten.   Ian is not like other heroes. He speaks very bluntly.  He doesn’t understand many social cues or  facial expressions and he doesn’t lie or prevaricate.   Beth is the perfect foil for him and I liked how she accepted him, happily and for himself very early on in the piece, never thinking of him as “less”.  Even his brothers, who love him dearly, do this.  At the end of the book Ian comments that everyone has their own madness – perhaps it is just that his is more obvious than others – and so, through Beth, Ian is able to accept himself also.
First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones, narrated by Lorelie King –  B Charley Davidson is a grim reaper – she sees ghosts and helps them cross to “the other side”.  She’s also a Private Investigator who assists her uncle, police detective Bob Davidson in solving various crimes – usually the ghost can tell her who the killer was.  She is snarky, sarcastic, tough and feisty .  There is a fine line between what is funny to me and what is annoying and Charley skipped over it and back throughout the listen.  In the end, I liked it, but I could hope that the snark will be scaled back a little in future books.   The romance aspect of the story is more along the urban fantasy line than a PNR – there is no HEA/HFN, but more of a hopeful nod.  The love interest is Reyes (pronounced Ray-Us) a gorgeous supernatural being in human form – and it is not until the very end of the book that we find out who he actually is – so I won’t spoil it here.   There is also a bounty hunter called Garrett Swopes who could potentially form part of a love triangle, but it didn’t happen in this book. I’m not really sure what he’s doing in the book to be honest.
Lorelie King is an excellent narrator.  I have listened to her narrating Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series and it was a little challenging to remember that Charley and Mercy are very different characters.  There are some similarities but Charley is way more over the top than Mercy ever could be.  Lorelie King has the ability to do male voices (a variety of them) very convincingly and she has more than one female character voice too.  I think I would have enjoyed this book less in print and I plan to continue the series in audio.  I’m pretty sure that this is the author’s debut so I’m expecting her writing to only improve with time.
Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe, narrated by Rob Lowe – B Enjoyable listening from the sexy-voiced Rob Lowe.  I would have liked a lot more detail about The West Wing, but, otherwise, a fascinating glimpse into Hollywood and the 80’s movies I grew up with.

Sweet Addiction by Maya Banks

Why I read it:  I’ve read all the other books in the series and I wanted to read Cole’s story.  Isn’t the cover pretty?
What it’s about:  (blurb from Goodreads)  He awakened a need within her…
Cole is successful beyond his dreams. He can have any woman he wants, but there’s only one he can’t stop thinking about. His childhood sweetheart, Renita. He’s never forgotten his first taste of innocent love and the desire that consumed them—or the pain he brought upon her…
But now she belongs to another…
Her long ago brush with submission awakened a longing in Ren that drove her to walk the darker edge of desire. She’s become a beautiful woman at ease with her sexuality and unapologetic about her need for a dominant man. When Cole finds her again, he’s gutted that she belongs to another. Ren’s current master agrees to give her to Cole for a short time, but then she must return to his keeping. And though Cole agrees to this bargain, he knows he will never be able to let Ren go again…
Before I start:  I follow Maya Banks on Twitter and Facebook and she seems, from her interactions there, to be a very nice lady.  A number of my Twitter friends (or, as my 9 year old calls them “Tweet Pals”) appear to actually be pretty good friends with her.    It makes it harder then, to write a review which is mostly negative.
A while ago, I decided to challenge myself to review everything I read – that way, I couldn’t, to use an Australian phrase, “pike out” (a reference to backing out due to cowardice) and only review books I liked.   As a reader myself, I appreciate reading reviews from places that have both positive and negative reviews – that way I feel I can better trust the reviewer to give me his/her honest opinion (especially important with the sock puppetry which goes on occasionally and Fiverr selling Amazon reviews).  I thought, if my goal is to be credible to my audience (however small it may be), I needed to show what I liked and what I didn’t and why.

So, this is a (mostly) negative review.  I’m sad about that because I wanted to like the book.  I could still have skated on by and written a very brief review in my monthly reads post, but I found I actually had a lot to say about this one, so I’m sucking it up and telling it how I see it.
What worked for me (and what didn’t):  There is a certain level of suspension of disbelief one willingly entertains when reading any work of fiction.  I knew going in that there would be a 24/7 D/s relationship and there would likely be at least some kind of menage scene and there would be the elite sex club (do they exist outside of fiction?).  I was prepared for that; on board even.  But, a story has to be internally consistent for me to be successful in that suspension of disbelief.  I need to understand the motivation of the character – particularly when there is something outside the norm about a character or situation.  What I found in this story is that there was a certain dissonance to the characterisation which made it difficult for me to immerse myself into the fantasy of the book.For example, Lucas likes to watch his women with someone else but he has never done so with Ren in the year they have been together. While he is not averse to “sharing his woman”  he prefers privacy and dislikes public exhibitionism.  Ren and he discuss it and she says she’s not into it either.  But then, they go to his nightclub (normal nightclub, not a sex club) and he allows/instructs her to dance with 3 men (he knows the men but to Ren they are almost strangers).  Lucas joins them on the very public dance floor and proceeds to redefine the term “dirty dancing”.  Then, while Lucas is behind her, one of the men lifts her top and fondles and licks her breasts (on instructions from Lucas) while Lucas fingers her and then the other man does that too.  Oh boy.  That seems pretty public to me.   I’ve read (and enjoyed) exhibitionist erotic romances before.  But this seemed inconsistent with what I’d understood of both characters beforehand.

Cole apparently, doesn’t like to share (although, he seemed happy enough sharing Angelina with Micah in Sweet Temptation).  But, that doesn’t stop him from doing just that on the boat.  Again, Ren is having sex with men who are strangers to her.  In fact, Cole himself only knew the Captain by way of referral from the friend who owned the boat.  Those confronting scenes, while erotic, were not romantic.  And, they made me question what I knew of Cole.

Then there’s Ren. We’re told she’s strong, self-confident and secure in herself.  But it seemed that she was only strong, self-confident and secure if she was being given direction and discipline from her Dominant.  Now, this might be on me.  I know very little about the BDSM scene but this,  I didn’t get.  I had a bit of trouble understanding her needs and motivations.  She’s only strong when someone else is telling her what to do?  While others may get this, for me, this aspect was insufficiently explained. I was told she was strong, but to me, she very often looked weak and scared and needy.

As to the BDSM itself, toward the beginning of the book there’s this:

She moaned softly.  With another man, that might have gotten her into trouble.  But Lucas loved to hear her sounds of passion.  He liked to know he pleased her even though her purpose was to please him.

but then later,

“… Even if he respects nothing else in the world, he must respect the woman in his care.  It’s his sworn duty to protect, honor and cherish his submissive.  To take care of her and provide a safe haven.  Someone who would put his own needs above his woman’s is no man.” (my emphasis)
Even though other D/s books I’ve read agree generally with the latter sentiment, I felt that there was a lack of clarity about it in this book.
And, um, sworn duty?  Really?

In print, this is a trade paperback book.  I could have bought the paper version from the Book Depository for about $16AUD (as for what it may have cost me to buy it in Australia – if I could even do so, let’s not even go there).  As it was, I bought the kindle version from Amazon for $9.69.  So, it’s not a cheap book. In any event, expected it to be of high quality, particularly as regards to editing.  Alas.

By about page 50, I was noting what I felt were clunky sentence structure and odd word choices. Some of the conversations felt like they were there more to give the reader information rather than being more organic from the characters.  Some of the characters said things that I found it difficult to accept people would actually say. It didn’t seem realistic or consistent to me in the context of the book and I found it jarring.
Here are some examples (from various parts of the book) of what I mean:


Lucas chose the meeting to happen at Cole’s offices.
(why not “Lucas decided to meet at Cole’s office”?)
“I would be lying if I said I had any confidence of knowing how she’ll choose either way.”
“You’re giving me a primer to seducing the woman you care about away from you.  You’re bitingly possessive one minute and lazily accepting the next.” (my emphasis)
It’s not all about you as a lot of people would assume a relationship where dominance is a factor would be about your needs and wants above all else.
I read this sentence 3 or 4 times before I mentally added a full stop after the first “you” to make it make sense to me.

At one point Cole says “If I have my way, you’ll have her no longer.”   Which would have been fine if he usually spoke that way.  But he didn’t.  So when he started with the formal speech, it was jarring. The phrasing may have fit well in the narrative but not so much in dialogue.

Then I started wondering if I was just being picky. Probably by then I was, but, while I was reading it, I was noticing it.  Which tells me, at the very least that I was not engaged in the story. If I’m mentally re-writing sentences, that’s not a good sign.  But then, I am a details person (Chris often tells me I’m too harsh!)
Also, there were some strange words in odd places which I think were mistakes.  Like this:
He kissed her with savagery that seemed pint up to now and was suddenly released in a violent storm.

and this

It was a hell of a note when a man’s life changed in the space of a few moments over a chance meeting.

It was a hell of a note and two days ago he’d have said that nothing on earth would keep him and Ren apart.

Because it appeared twice in the book in the same context, I actually asked on Twitter whether this was a US turn of phrase that I was just not familiar with. It seems not.

And then there was this

He could see right into the heart of her, which was why he was treating her with kids’ gloves.

It’s kid gloves.  Made of kidskin (baby goat), not belonging to children.  I’m sure Ms. Banks knows this but it was just one too many editing errors for me.

There was a scene later in the book where Ren was tied by both hands and both feet to four portable poles (we were told they were heavy but they were moved two at a time by Lucas).  It struck me as inherently unsafe – what if she flinched or jerked and pulled one of the poles down on top of her?

Partly because I don’t know much about BDSM or 24/7 D/s relationships, I let it pass that Lucas made the decision unilaterally to “give” Ren to Cole for 2 weeks.  Ordinarily I would have thought he was a bit of a tool, but hey, maybe that’s how those relationships are supposed to work (clearly I would be very bad at such a relationship!).  Later in the book though, both Cole and Lucas are having a conversation where they basically say that they’re both assholes because both of them made unilateral decisions for Ren and that the “final” decision had to be hers.  But then, they totally ignored their resolve and went ahead and sprung something on her again!!  I appreciated when Ren went off the deep end at them – I still think she let them off too easy.

Essentially this is a love triangle.  I don’t think it’s difficult to intuit what solution is arrived at, but I won’t give it away here.  Because of that, this bit might sound vague.  The resolution between Cole/Ren and Lucas/Ren had significant pitfalls.  The story acknowledged that but unfortunately I didn’t see the relevant parties (being mysterious here) working on those issues. I was told it was hard but it had been accomplished.  To be honest, that part of the story probably held the greater interest for me.  I was very interested in knowing exactly how it worked out.  Even though I was told it had, I found it difficult to picture and so I’m not sure I totally bought the “happy ending” (being mysterious again).
What else?  It wasn’t all bad.  The story was split into 3 parts, Lucas, Cole and Ren.  I felt the Lucas part was the “clunkiest” but things picked up a bit by the middle third of the book.   By the end of the book, while I was noticing some strange word placement (see above) I was actually thinking more about the characters and how things were going to work out and Ren’s safety and well being.  I guess that tells me that for the first part, I wasn’t really engaged, but by the middle third that had changed.

I did find some of the sex scenes fairly confronting.  (I did in Micah’s book too.)  I don’t think it’s romantic (it may be erotic, but not romantic, at least not to me) for a Dom to let strangers have sex with his submissive.  In Sweet Surrender (which remains my favourite of the series), Faith had specifically said to Grey that she had had a fantasy about a threesome and he gave it to her; with Micah – someone she knew and trusted.  The other thing about that book was that Faith and Grey had a clear discussion early on about to what level Faith wanted to be dominated in a relationship (it was more that she wanted to be “taken care of” and cossetted rather than dominated 24/7, although there was some D/s in their sex play).  That all made sense to me.  It was explained in the story and I understood it, in context.  I can’t say the same here.  I felt off balance when it came to the relationship dynamic between Ren/Cole and Ren/Lucas and that hindered my enjoyment of the book.   Again, that could be on me.  YMMV.

It was also nice to have a half-Korean heroine, although not very much was made of her ethnicity.

The sex scenes, particularly where no strangers were involved, were smokin’ – although there was one where Ren was basically on her head which was, um, different.

Then, there were also lines like this, which I loved:

“I can’t be the better man here because I’m only better if I’m with you.” 

 One thing I didn’t mind was that there wasn’t a lot of the “sweet girls” in the book.  They didn’t need to be there to tell this story.  I hear that there have been some complaints from people who thought that because it was a “sweet” book it would have a reunion of all the previous MC’s.    I don’t mind when a previous character appears in the story, but they have to have something to do for it to make sense to me.

And, by the way:  what happened to Ren’s collar?

Grade:  C- (and edging perilously close to D territory)

Plenty of other people liked this book better than I did.  Mandi at Smexy Books gave it a B

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