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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.

September Reads

on Paper/eBook

**NB this review first appeared in the September ARRA members newsletter and at the ARRA blog**

What a Girl Wants by Selena Robins – C- Maddie Saunders is a daredevil travel reporter who decides she needs a “sexual boot camp” and she’s nominated her best friend Alex Donovan to be her “Sergeant”.  Alex is one of those reporters who goes into war zones and writes about the serious issues.  When they are both sent on assignment to Hawaii (I should be so lucky) Maddie decides her time has come.
I don’t know a lot about reporting but it seemed odd to me that Maddie and Alex were to spend weeks on the (fictional) island of Makana for their story – Alex was to interview reclusive billionaire Maxwell Hollister and Maddie was to take in the tourism spots.  It seemed like a long time spend on an assignment.
I was expecting a fun, flirty, friends-to-lovers story and at the beginning, that’s exactly what it was.  Except that Alex turned Maddie down quite a few times and she came off as desperate and a bit pathetic after a while.  Just when she’d decided to bow out gracefully, Alex decides that resisting temptation isn’t worth it and they begin to steam up the sheets.  I found the sexual euphemisms somewhat surprising, considering this is a book from Samhain, a publisher very comfortable with the erotic.  Would a man really refer to his penis as “my hardness”?  Some of the terminology made me roll my eyes.  I would have preferred the characters “call a spade a spade” but YMMV.
Maddie is also searching for the identity of her father – her mother has never told her who he is so she’s hired a private investigator to find out for her.  For much of the book it appears that the mysterious Maxwell Hollister is Maddie’s father (I won’t spoil it by telling you whether that’s true or not).  There’s also Maddie’s attempt to reconnect with her flighty mother, her relationship with Alex and something about a former IRA getaway driver.  If that’s not busy enough, add in that Alex has accepted a position in London (and wants Maddie to move with him), an ex-girlfriend with a grudge and a BMX accident for good measure.
I did like that Maddie had very good reasons for not wanting to drop everything and follow Alex to London and the way it was eventually resolved.
Alex and Maddie certainly had chemistry but I was ultimately a little confused about what the book was trying to be – chick lit or a sexy contemporary romance.  But, if you like contemporaries with a hearty dash of women’s fiction, this might be a book for you.

Master Class by Rachel Haimowitz – C After a smallish cameo by Devon and Nicky in Power Play:  Awakening, I was curious to read their story. I already had SUBlime on my TBR having won it in a blog giveaway a while back but I wanted to start at number 1, so I went and bought Master Class.  At only 55 pages, it is a quick read.  Unfortunately, the characterisation you can savor in a 290 page book such as either of the Power Play books cannot be found in anywhere the same degree in a novella.  I found myself dissatisfied because I didn’t get to know either character well enough.  I wanted to.  I found both men fascinating and as with the Power Play books,  I liked the writing style.  But it was really just the beginning of their story and there seemed a lot more to tell.  Nicky is a Broadway actor/singer and submissive/masochist who has come from money and feels guilty for things having come so easily to him.  Devon is a big time movie star  and Dom/sadist  but we really learn very little about him.  In fact, I felt I knew them better from their scenes in Power Play.

SUBlime – Collected Shorts (Master Class #2)  by Rachel Haimowitz – C/C- This is a short (45 pages) collection of even shorter “scenes”.  Many of the scenes felt incomplete in that they sometimes stop in the middle of the action.  There were, for me, hints of character growth, but only hints.  While the stories themselves were interesting and well written, they didn’t satisfy my craving to get to know these two men better. The grades for these 2 stories reflect that I’m a romance reader first and foremost and the emotional depth was a bit lacking for me here.  I’d happily read a full story about them – I know they are married by the time the events of Power Play occur and I know that they don’t live “the lifestyle” 24/7 but I don’t know really how that works (at least for them) and I don’t know how Nicky’s career fits in (in Awakening he said that Devon “let him out” to play occasionally – I thought that meant Nicky doesn’t work much?) and I don’t know how they came to get married.  I would love to read that story.

Keeping House by Lee Brazil – D I wasn’t sure what to read next so I went for something short.  I was still in a m/m mood, so I started on this one – a book I bought a while back but could remember nothing about when I got started.   It is just over 50 pages.  It made me grumpy.  The more I think about it, the grumpier I am.  A trust fund baby, 20 year old Mischa accepts a dare from his 3 older brothers to support himself for one year.  He gets a job working as a live-in housekeeper for Donovan Holloway, a 40 year old advertising exec who has just bought a house but is too busy to do anything in it.  Leave aside for the moment that no-one in their right mind would give Mischa this job ( he has no experience and has to Google how to make coffee).  Donovan falls instantly into lust with Mischa (which is the ONLY explanation as to why he gives him the job) and within 1 or 2 DAYS they are both expressing undying love for each other.  By the end of the book, 2 months have gone past and they are picking up the baby they’ve just adopted.   Add into the mix, Mischa has friends, Dex and Trick who are twins and who are gettin’ it on.  I do not like the twincest and really, why was it in this story?   The basic concept of the story interested me.  But there was nothing for me here apart from that.  The 20 year age difference between the two men wasn’t addressed and the whole thing was just silly.

 

Mina Wentworth and the Invisible City by Meljean Brook – B  Originally included free in the MMP version of The Iron Duke, for those of us who bought the trade paperback or were able to get it as an ebook, it is now available as an eSpecial from Penguin.  Set 8 months after The Iron Duke, Rhys is having difficulty coming to grips with his fear for Mina as she investigates murder and both of them are learning about family and how to parent Anne the Tinker.  When a Viscount is murdered, Mina is called in to investigate.  It seems Redditch was a target because he opposed automation in factories and, because Rhys met with Redditch the night before his murder, he is also at risk.  There is plenty of “happy ever after sex” and romance and it works well as a kind of extended epilogue to The Iron Duke.  You don’t have to have read any of the other books in the series (except for The Iron Duke) to enjoy the novella and it’s a fun way to pass an evening.  I recommend.

Men of Smithfield: Max and Finn by LB Gregg – B- Slightly less humourous than the first book in the series, this book is about Finn, a prep school teacher who first meets Max, an ex-marine security expert when he’s tutoring Max’s much younger brother. After a hot sweaty encounter over Max’s desk, Finn is fired and they don’t see each other again for some months.  When Hemmi (short for Hemmingway), the son of a movie star is a potential target of a stalker, Max is hired to provide security.  Hemmi lives in Finn’s dorm and has the lead in the school play which Finn is supervising, so Max and Finn are thrown together and the sparks fly.  I didn’t quite understand why Max jumped to so many erroneous conclusions about Finn in the first place – the set up wasn’t quite there for me, so I didn’t warm to Max straight away and I still think Finn let him off too easy.  The stalker plot is very serious and the issues between Max and Finn are too so there is less of the quirky humour in this one than other LB Gregg stories I’ve read.  Less, but not none.  It is only in an LB Gregg story that you will find lines like this:

It was two a.m. How many nights in a row since I slept? Let’s see…the night of the sneak out. The night of the condom. The night of the toaster. Yup. Three nights. Sleep was imperative.

I love the combination of humour and heat and I’m looking forward to reading more about the Men of Smithfield.

All He Ever Needed by Shannon Stacey – see my review here.

Crux (Southern Arcana #1) by Moira Rogers – C I am a sucker for a damsel in distress story – I know it’s probably not very politically correct, but there you go.  I was initially very impressed by this book, but the plot took a right turn for me and the book ended up not quite living up to its promise.  Mackenzie Brooks has been on the run for a month.  She is terrified and confused when she ends up in New Orleans and takes a job tending bar at Mahalia’s.  Nick Peyton (who is a girl: this is not obvious by the spelling of her name and I got confused often by it throughout the story) asks her friend, PI Jackson Holt, to follow her to make sure she has a safe place to stay.  Jackson and Kenzie have an instant attraction and I liked the way he was instantly very protective of her, without being overpowering.  It turns out that Mackenzie is a shapeshifter, something she had no idea about, and she is being hunted by a very powerful shifter who wants to have special babies with his adopted son.  At first, it seems that the son (Marcus) is a bad guy – he was certainly presented that way, but he takes a turn into potential hero territory during the course of the book.  There is interesting world building and lots of secondary characters I would like to read more about – which is why I plan on picking up the other books in the series – but in this book, Mackenzie and Jackson spent too much time apart for me to be truly satisfied by the romance.  And, as much as I liked the secondary characters, there were a lot of them and unfortunately, they tended to shift the focus from the main romantic thread.  I picked this up as a Kindle freebie – which is a great way to suck me into a new series.

Almost Like Being in Love by Steve Kluger – B-/C+  First off, thank you to Chris for sending me this book to read.  Even though my grade is lower than hers, I did enjoy it and I’m very glad to have read it.  In a nutshell, this is the story of Craig and Travis who meet in high school when they are 17.  They fall in love but college separates them.  20 years later, Travis decides Craig was the love of his life and he was foolish to let him go.  He tracks Craig down (hilariously), journeys across country to do so and, in the end, we have a HEA.  The book is told via a series of checklists, memos, journal entries, a little narrative, some emails and various other types of communication.  Because of this, it is one of those stories which does work better in print – most ereaders wouldn’t cope with the image heavy book (even if those images are copies of memos) and I imagine the resizing would cause major formatting problems.   It’s also very funny.  Travis’s best friend Gordo is hilarious and even gets a romance of his own, as does Charleen, Craig’s law partner and close friend.   I knew going in there was a HEA.  What I didn’t know however was that there is a love triangle. Craig isn’t single when Travis finds him.  Part of what worked so well for me in the book also made the ending more problematic for me.  Each of the characters, including Clayton, ended up being people I cared about.  I wasn’t actually sure how I wanted the book to end but as it progressed, I knew that I was going to be somewhat disappointed one way or the other.  Right at the end, Travis has a (for me) confusing conversation with Craig and then we skip forward 6 years.  The skip was a little too much for me.  On the one hand, it made the ending easier to be happy with because so much time had passed but on the other, in terms of reading, no time at all had passed and I had to grapple with a whole pile of things all at once which I didn’t feel were adequately fleshed out – particularly considering the joyous detail of the earlier parts of the book.  Sean Kennedy commented in his review that the style of the book, using memos, email, checklists etc, was somewhat distancing and I have to agree.  I found it was a book which was addictive to read – “it’s only one more memo, I can stay up a little later”  but also (and conversely) one that was easy to leave once I’d put it down.   If the ending had’ve satisfied me better, I think I would have graded this a B+ but the end did disappoint me a little.  It’s the author’s own fault really – he made me care too much.

Temptation by Karen Ann Hopkins – C  I reviewed this one for ARRA. I’ll post a link when the review is up. I think I was a bit too old for this book.  They were so young!! And I didn’t find a lot of charm in the Amish way of life, particularly for girls.

Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar – see my review here.

Addicted To You by Bethany Kane – B- I won this on a blog giveaway some time ago.  When I decided I was in the mood for a hot sexy contemporary, I picked it up off my shelf.  I certainly got what I wanted, with the hot and sexy arriving by page 9 (!).  Katie has been in love with Rill Pierce for years but she was the little sister of his best friend and best friend to his wife so she never let it go anywhere.  After the death of Rill’s wife, he hides away in Vulture’s Canyon, Illinois, drinking heavily and spurning all human contact.  Katie decides she needs to rescue Rill and arrives in Vulture’s Canyon on a mission. It didn’t initially include having hot sex with Rill, but, hey – she’s nothing if not adaptable.   Rill’s real problem is that he thinks his sexual needs are too dark for anyone.  He put his wife on a pedestal and this ended up being unsuccessful – they weren’t happy before she died.  There was a suspense-y plot which kind of popped out of nowhere at the end which I thought was largely unnecessary, but I enjoyed the relationship between Katie and Rill quite a bit.  And, the sex was plentiful (without being too much) and hot.

Seven Sexy Sins by Serenity Woods  – See my review here.

Stronger Where It Counts by JL Merrow – B- Enjoyable (but very short – 22 pages) story about Michael, an IT guy who gets dragged to a strip club with a client who doesn’t know he’s gay. Things look up when he spots a hot, well-muscled bartender who seems vaguely familiar.  It turns out the bartender (Kyle) and he went to school together.  When the Michael was beaten by homophobic school bullies, Kyle didn’t step in. I’d be very happy to read a longer story about these two.

Dead Shot by JL Merrow – B Cute funny story about a guy who’s looking after his nephew for the day when said nephew shoots cute guy in the butt with a homemade bow and arrow.  When the nephew says his uncle should kiss it better, Uncle Peter thinks that’s a great idea.  Another very short story at about 20 pages – try and get it on special because it’s usual price is $2.99 which is too much for such a short story IMO.  Still, JL Merrow manages to write fun and entertaining characters in a very short space and does it very well.    Like the previous JL Merrow book above, I would be happy to read more about this couple.

Favourite Quote: 
Superficially, you could say Edward and I were dressed the same—jeans and a shirt, with a jacket over the top. Except Edward’s jeans managed to scream ‘designer’ without actually doing anything as common as raising their voice, whereas mine were just moaning tiredly ‘do we really have to do the painting again?’

Two Tickets to Paradise anthology by Dreamspinner PressI finally finished it – not that it was difficult – it’s just that I put it down and got distracted by the shiny.  My review of all the stories is here.

Keeping Pace by Dee Carney – B-  Sexy older woman/younger man story.  I would have liked to have seen more of them dealing with the conflict that the age difference meant – and it was significant.  She’s 41, he’s 26.  The epilogue glosses over a lot of the problems which was a bit unfortunate.  I would rather the book had been a bit longer and those things been more fully fleshed out.   Josh had been quite conflicted with what he was going to do with his doctorate, so I would have liked to have known what job he ended up taking but that’s probably my OCD talking.  It’s sexy and fun but the age difference meant there were real issues – the scene when they went on their first date to a baseball game showed just how immature Josh could be and it did make me pause a little.   Still, it wasn’t like she was an old hag, 45 is the new 30 – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

The Match Before Christmas by Eden Winters  B- – cute short story about a guy who signs up for an internet dating site with the goal of having a boyfriend by Christmas.  Cameo’s by Chaos and Mayhem lookalikes 🙂






FanningtheFlames
Fanning the Flames by Eden Winters – B  For me, this short story was the pick of the bunch.  Barry and Adam have been dating for about 2 months and Valentine’s Day is coming up. Barry’s efforts to find the perfect V-Day present for Adam lead to plenty of happiness for other couples but it looks like his romantic plans are doomed.  It’s fun and sweet and gives the HEA promised in the first book. 
ALieICanLiveWith
A Lie I Can Live With by Eden Winters – B-  This is Otis and Garrett’s story – in The Match Before Christmas, Barry helps 2 other couples get together before he gets his own match.  Otis is one of them.  He’s “comfortably plump” and hairy (complete with unibrow) and an IT geek to boot.  Garrett is drop dead gorgeous but he has a thing for big, cuddly hairy nerds.  It was refreshing to see the non-gorgeous geek get his own HEA and the story was cute and fun and sexy.  It’s around 50 pages, so an easy evening’s read. 
I’d recommend getting the trilogy from Fictionwise with one of their coupons (I got it for 55% off) which made the price much more palatable.  The usual price was $2.99 (one of the books was $3.99) which seems a lot for such short books, but at less than half, it felt it was a bargain.
DoubleExposure
Double Exposure by Charmaine Ross – C-/D+  I’m sad to say that I didn’t enjoy this debut novel from Ms. Ross, part of Penguin Australia’s new Destiny imprint. When I read the blurb – holidaying photographer snaps sexy photos of gorgeous man swimming in lake, said gorgeous man is an undercover cop so needs to know whether she’s on the side of the angels or not  – it sounded like a lot of fun. Unfortunately, for me, the reality didn’t live up to it’s promise.  From very early on when Adam starts referring to Eden by her first name (when she hadn’t told it to him), to the idea that Adam had been undercover for 2 years in relation to a marijuana crop (which just seemed excessive to me) to his very sad backstory (“I don’t have any family, I had nothing to miss.  Other police had wives, husbands, children and there was no telling how long this might take.”), I felt the story didn’t gel.  It seemed like a lot of popular tropes in a mixed bag but I didn’t feel engaged by the characters or the writing style.  Eden and Adam both did some pretty stupid things, which felt like they needed to be there only to drive the plot (he needs to be on his own at this point so…, she’s “allowed” to come on the police raid because she needs to be…, etc.) and did not make me feel they were as smart and resourceful as they were probably intended to be.  As I said, this is the author’s debut and it’s a big thing to write a book and have it published, so kudos for that.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a success for me – a great idea which fell down in the execution sadly.
HotFloor
The Hot Floor by Josephine Myles – review to come.  Very sexy m/m/m where they actually talk!
LeanOnMe
Lean on Me by HelenKay Dimon – review to come. I think if you like Shannon Stacey’s Kowalski series, you will probably like this one.  I did. (Oh, I’ve just seen that this is #2 in the series so I will have to check out the first one…) ETA: The first in the series was a novella (It’s Not Christmas Without You) contained in the Carina Holiday Kisses anthology last year – so I have already read it.  I liked this one better.  ETA review us up:  here
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Men of Smithfield:  Seth and David – B+ – this is my favourite of the series so far.  Seth is, frankly, a bit of an asshole, especially at the beginning, but he’s had it rough the past year or so – his twin sister died of cancer, he has guardianship of his niece, 6 year old Molly and his lover moved out because he didn’t want to deal with Seth’s family problems – which cost Seth a bundle.  When his regular masseur isn’t available for his weekly appointment, he’s not very nice to David.  When David’s touch causes Seth to become unbearably aroused, Seth doesn’t much care about how inappropriate it is for him to rub one out on the massage table.  Because the story is told from Seth’s POV, I was able to still find him a sympathetic character and when his ex comes sniffing around and Molly’s deadbeat dad starts making threatening calls, I felt for him.  David is very likeable and there’s a whole lot more story there that I only got glimpses of (sadly).   The chemistry between Seth and David is off the charts and it soon becomes clear that even though Seth is the aggressor in the relationship, David has been crushing on him for years.  Also, David is much more emotionally in touch and so their relationship felt equal to me by the end and the 10 year age difference was unimportant. I liked the straightforward way Seth and David dealt with their various issues.  I would have liked a longer story and more about David and Katie but I did love the story and scarfed it down in one sitting.  Also, niiice cover.
 
on Audio 

600 Hours of Edward by Craig Lancaster, narrated by Luke Daniels – B This delightful audiobook was a lucky and spontaneous purchase after I saw it featured on my Audible homepage.  Edward has Aspberger’s Syndrome and OCD. He’s 39 and lives alone after his father kicked him out of the house after the “Garth Brooks incident”.  His father (who is filthy rich) bought the house and pays Edward’s bills but their communication is mostly by letter – and those letters are often from the family lawyer.  Edward (as is completely understandable) is upset that his father cannot just talk to him and feels he has to communicate via lawyers).  Edward has strict routines:  he records his waking time each day and the maximum and minimum weather forecast as well as the day before’s actual temperatures.  Once recorded, his “data is complete”.   He sees psychologist, Dr. Buckley (“a very logical woman”) each Tuesday at 10.00 am (the one time they tried an 11.00 am appointment was a disaster) and he watches 1 episode of Dragnet (but only the 4 seasons of colour episodes which aired between 1967 and 1970) every night at 10.00 pm.  The story is told from Edward’s first person POV.  He is never an object of fun or scorn, rather he is a delight and very funny.  This is not a romance.  I didn’t know one way or another when I bought it, but after listening to the 4 minute audio sample, I smiled, then laughed, and fell a little in love with Edward and had to buy it.    The story tracks 600 hours of Edward’s life and tracks the changes which occur as a result of meeting the lady across the street and her 9 year old son Kyle and his ongoing frustration with his father.    My romantic soul would have liked the story to be a little bit longer and a little bit happier at the end (not necessarily with actual romance, but just more upbeat) and so it wasn’t as wonderful as I had hoped.  But, it was very nearly so.  It’s gorgeous and funny and sweet and touching.  I recommend.

Strangers in Death by JD Robb, narrated by Susan Ericksen – B- Another enjoyable instalment but the focus is more on the police procedural side of things rather than the relational.  Although, there are some developments in the Charles/Louise romantic thread.  I’ve read this in print so when I remembered very early on the basic plot, I was a little ho hum about listening.  But, the story sucked me in and I ended up enjoying it a little more than I expected to.  Not my favourite in the series, but still a very enjoyable listen.

NoOneLeftToTell

No One Left to Tell by Karen Rose, narrated by Marguerite Gavin – C  Watch out for my review in an upcoming Speaking of Audiobooks column at AAR.

Promises in Death by JD Robb, narrated by Susan Ericksen – B  Poor Morris.  This is the one where Morris’ girlfriend is murdered and Louise and Charles have their wedding shower/bachelor party.

Favourite Quote:
Eve:  “I have to go shopping!”
Roarke:  “Excuse me, I think I must have had a small stroke.  What did you say?”

Nice Girls Don’t Bite Their Neighbours by Molly Harper, narrated by Amanda Ronconi – B+ Possibly I should have listened to this one before Driving Mr. Dead and The Care and Feeding of Stray Vampires (I had been wondering who the heck Jamie was!) but there wasn’t all that much which crossed over between the books.  Gabriel and Jane get married in this instalment.  For once, it it not Jane who is in trouble and, to my delight, she and Gabriel are happy and work together throughout the book – their conflict is all external.  Plenty of laugh out loud moments, excellently voiced by Amanda Ronconi.  This is a great series and it works so very well on audio.

Catch of the Day by Kristen Higgins, narrated by Xe Sands – B+ I read the print version some time ago and now that it’s been released on audio, I was keen to revisit the story.  It’s really a cross between a romance and “women’s fiction” because the romance is a bit light on – Malone, our hero barely speaks (part of his charm) and given that the story is told from Maggie’s 1st person POV,  there isn’t very much of him in the story.  It was my main problem with the book as well.  But, if you go in knowing that it’s more a light comedy of a woman’s search for Mr. Right with some romance (bedroom door closed sadly) rather than a big epic love story, I think it works better.   Maggie is lonely and desperate to find a man to love, marry and have babies with. I’ve seen reviews which criticise Maggie for wanting this – a woman shouldn’t need a man to make her happy right? – but I find the storyline very believable.  It could have been me – well, without the farcical dates (and, my husband actually speaks, unlike Malone).  Sure, if a girl doesn’t want marriage and babies, that’s perfectly fine.  But, if she does, I don’t think it’s wrong to want it and be a little sad if you don’t have it. YMMV.  Maggie has a beloved dog (Colonel) who is quite old and – well, let’s just say you might need some tissues during the listen.   For the most part however, the story is light and fun and Xe Sands does a great job of the narration.  I hadn’t heard the Maine accent before – “Ayuh” is quite different in print than on audio (it sounds much more subtle than it reads). I know Xe does a lot of research to get accents right, so I felt safe believing in her portrayal of the native accent.  Malone’s voice (when we got to hear it) was deep and sexy and Father Tim (who I didn’t like any better on audio than in print frankly – he took shameless advantage IMO) had the lovely Irish lilt.  I really enjoyed this one and it reminded me why I like Kristan Higgins books so much (even if the romance is a little light on). I will say that the bits of Malone we see on the cover don’t suit my mental picture of him at all.  He’s not a relaxed and casual kind of guy.  The dog however, is just right.

The Duke’s Perfect Wife by Jennifer Ashley, narrated by Angela Dawe – C+/B-  The story kept taking unexpected turns for me but unfortunately those turns weren’t super interesting to me.  Points deducted for hymen misplacement also.   Angela Dawe did a very good job of the narration but the story didn’t excite me.  It was better than okay but not as good as the other audiobooks I’ve been listening too lately.

The Cinderella Deal by Jennifer Crusie, narrated by Susan Boyce – B   Vintage Crusie with a new-to-me narrator who gets her.  Much fun.

Power Play by Rachel Haimowitz & Cat Grant

Why I read it: My very first foray into m/m romance was with Anah Crowe’s Uneven, a book recommended by Sarah Frantz, former Dear Author reviewer (and, as it happens, current Riptide Publishing editor who, I understand, had a hand in editing either the second or both of the Power Play books).  Uneven was a book which didn’t work for me that well, because I didn’t “get” BDSM and especially the pain side of things.  Plus, there was blood.  One MC kept hitting the other and making him bleed and I just didn’t understand why that would be fun for anyone. Since then, I’ve read a bit more and have learned a little more about it, although I can’t say that I’m any kind of expert or that I really understand it.  Still, I’m a curious and adventurous reader.  I heard that this book/series “explained” BDSM in a way that made it accessible without being boring.    I downloaded it (as well as Power Play: Awakening) from NetGalley but I’ll admit it took me a while to be brave enough to open it, especially after reading the advisory:  
Reader discretion advised. This title contains heavy kink. While consent is clearly established and frequently reaffirmed, some moments in Power Play push hard against the outer edges of consent.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Give me six months, and I’ll give you the world.

Brandon McKinney has scraped and sacrificed for what little in life he’s ever had. Though it’s been fifteen years since he escaped his father’s abuse, the damage remains. Trust seems as far out of reach as his dream of becoming an architect, and though he’s come to accept being gay, he can’t deny the shame and confusion he feels at other urges–the deeply repressed desire to submit.

Jonathan Watkins is a self-made Silicon Valley billionaire whose ex-wife took half his money and even more of his faith. Comfortable as a Dominant but wary of being hurt again, he resorts to anonymous pickups and occasional six-month contracts with subs seeking only a master, not a lover.

When a sizzling back-alley encounter cues Jonathan in to Brandon’s deep-seated submissive side, he makes the man an offer: Give me six months of your life, and I’ll open your eyes to a whole new world. Brandon doesn’t care about that; all he wants is the three million dollars Jonathan’s offering so he can buy the construction company he works for. But he soon learns that six months on his knees is no easy feat, and shame and pride may keep him from all he ever wanted-and all he never dreamed he had any right to have.

What worked for me (and what didn’t): Well, my “innocent” eyes were certainly confronted by some of the pain play in this book.  I can’t say that I honestly understand why anyone would consent to having a taser to their intimate parts (makes my eyes tear just thinking about it) but, it was clear that Bran’s consent was present at all times.  Jonathan and Bran agree on rules at the outset and Jonathan sticks to them.  He responds immediately to Bran’s use of safewords and always makes sure he has the ability to “say” it – sometimes by use of a panic button or a red bandanna if he’s gagged.  
Even though they set up the rules, it becomes clear over the course of the story, that Bran really didn’t know what he was getting into – yes he consents but he doesn’t understand at all the reasoning behind the actions Jonathan is taking.  And, it’s clear (particularly at the beginning of the second book) that Jonathan realises that his initial approach was in error. 
The writing is smooth and compelling – even when I was reading about things which made me uncomfortable as a reader, the story flowed so well and the characters were so interesting that I found the book very difficult to put down.  And, it wasn’t the voyeuristic horror of a car wreck which made me not want to look away either.  I surprised myself actually that I didn’t look upon it like that at all.  I was still querying why? at the end of the book, but I didn’t feel that Jonathan crossed into villain/serial torturer territory.  The parts of the book from his perspective, particularly toward the end, made it clear that he wasn’t getting much out of it because of Bran’s resistance and was using the more severe punishment as a way to make Bran give up and leave – to put them both out of their misery.  Because, despite Bran’s resistance to what Jonathan is trying to do (and again, I can’t say I was anymore clued in on this than Bran), he will not quit.  This idea of resisted consent intrigued me.  The things Jonathan required of Bran were things he almost universally resisted – he wasn’t happy about kneeling naked on a cushion and keeping still for long stretches, being hand-fed,  he wasn’t happy about daily enemas (Twitter tells me this could lead to lazy bowel so I did worry for Bran a little on this), he certainly wasn’t happy about being beaten, slapped or whipped.  But, he did consent.  He had the ability to make it all stop on a word (or a gesture if he was gagged) and he was free to leave at any time.  And, I don’t think staying had as much to do with the $3 million as Bran perhaps thought.  It seemed more about pride, a “you WILL NOT break me” kind of thing.

Of course, everyone has their breaking point.

One character I did not like was the housekeeper Sabrina.  I didn’t really understand why she had so much power and authority over Bran.  Jonathon I could understand (if I squinted a little) but Sabrina?  No,  And, I didn’t like her smugness about it either.  It’s quite possible that there is something (else) about this total power exchange business that I’m missing when it comes to other people however.

What else? I started reading Awakening as soon as I finished ResistanceAwakening is a complete story with a distinct beginning, middle and end, but it is not their complete story.  At the beginning of Awakening, Brandon tells Jonathan that he broke him and now he has to fix him and I felt the same way in my reading experience.  Resistance is all about breaking down and Awakening (I hope) is about the rebuilding. I really don’t feel you can read one without the other and so I decided that the reviews had to be concurrent also.
I don’t expect that I will ever completely understand BDSM  and I don’t think it’s for me outside of fiction but right now (and as I’m writing this, I am only a couple of chapters into the second book) I do feel like I just might be able to “get” it in a way I never have before, or at least almost – like something which is on the tip of your tongue.   Also, now I think I need to read Master Class.
I couldn’t grade Resistance until after I finished Awakening either.  For me, they are 2 essential halves with how much I enjoyed this book ultimately depending on what happens at the end of their story.  (You might want to not give that last too much thought, as it doesn’t make a great deal of sense.  Just go with it).
Grade: B
What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Brandon McKinney is a man reborn. Newly awakened to the notion of consensual power exchange and the submissive urges inside him, he begs for a second chance from the man who opened his eyes to this world: Silicon Valley superstar Jonathan Watkins. But no birth is absent pain, and Brandon’s is no exception. He fears he’s not strong enough to see it through.

Jonathan knows better. He’s seen the iron core inside his new submissive, and the wounded heart inside him too. He means to teach Brandon to heal the one with the other. They have five months left on their contract, after all, and Jonathan has done more with less before.

It’s tough to stay objective, though, when you’re falling in love. Shame Brandon doesn’t feel the same. He’s only there for the three-million-dollar payout at contract’s end—a fact that Jonathan, nursing his own wounded heart, reminds himself of each day. For even as Brandon’s barriers break and his mind expands, even as he grows to love his place at Jonathan’s feet, he’ll never love life with a sadist—especially one who cannot escape the public eye.

What worked for me (and what didn’t): There is something about these characters which compels me.  I can’t say that it’s the power exchange, although that may be part of it.   I really think that is more of an adjunct than the reason however.  I find myself thinking about them, pondering the how and the why like I do with any book whose characters blow me away.  Even when they are confronting me, I want to spend more time with them.

This book is more about Jonathan and Bran’s emotional relationship than Resistance and the emphasis isn’t so much on the S/M part of proceedings, although there is some of that (clothes pegs – ouch!).  The focus is much more on Bran’s growing ease and peace and acceptance – of himself and of what he shares with Jonathan.

Ultimately, I felt Awakening was somewhat less satisfying than the promise of the first book – while I preferred the emphasis on the emotional side of things in this book, the ending felt a little underdone to me and somewhere along the way, I lost my tenuous grasp on the “why” of it all.  It’s quite possible (even probable) that I’ll never “get” it and certainly, these 2 books had me closer to understanding than I had been before, so there is that.

I understood that Bran found a great deal of peace and freedom in his relationship with Jonathan but I would have liked a little more of the how of their relationship once Bran has resumed his life outside of their one-on-one relationship.  I think I fell down a little there in my understanding of how it all works.

There were a couple of things about which I was left curious by the end and, because I’m the type of reader who does like things tied up in a neat bow, I found myself niggled by the questions.    For example, what happened with the swear jar?  Was it re-set to 0 or did Bran take his punishment?

I also wondered whether Jonathan understood that Bran’s reaction to Solange was jealousy and if so, what he thought of it.  That wasn’t addressed in the story and I would have liked to have known.  It is apparent that Jonathan is bisexual – he was married to Susan for 5 years and he says he still has feelings of love for her; he obviously had some kind of sexual relationship with Solange.  But he also said that when he was quite young, he realised that he preferred men.  I wondered if Bran ever worried about this.  If he did, it wasn’t mentioned in the story.

The biggest thing which felt somewhat undeveloped to me, was that Jonathan comes to the overt realisation about halfway through this book, that  he and Bran are not compatible sexually – Bran is NOT a masochist – he does NOT like pain.  Jonathan IS a sadist.  He DOES like (other people’s) pain.  He reflects that they cannot be for each other what each other needs.  Obviously, he changes his mind and I admit I wanted him to do so, but I did not see enough of the how of that change in the text.

What else? I am glad I read these 2 books.  I liked Jonathan and Bran and I enjoyed reading about their emotional journey, even though some of the physical aspects of the trip had me squinting my eyes a bit.   I would happily have stayed in their world and learned more about them and how they manage their lives together.  I enjoyed the writing style and the characters and – while I can’t say I “get” BDSM completely, if there is a continuum, then I think I have moved along it.  The books took me outside my comfort zone in some ways but ultimately, at its heart, the story of Jonathan and Bran is a romance – a story of love, acceptance, courage and faith.   If only there had’ve been a little more closure…. but perhaps it is a story I will re-read and perhaps in doing so, there will be gleanings I missed the first time around.  I certainly hope to meet up with these characters again in the future.
Grade: B

Even though I found Awakening a little less satisfying than Resistance in some ways (but not in others – Awakening was definitely the more “romantic” of the two), I ended up with the same grade for both – the stories are so interdependent on one another, I felt I needed to grade Power Play as a whole.
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