Saturday, June 22, 2013

Come Alive (The CItyscape Series) (Volume 2)

Come Undone (The Cityscape Series) (Volume 2)
by Jessica Hawkins
Published by Kinshaw Press
270 pages
Genre: erotica, romance
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5

Olivia Germaine thought she made the right decision. She abandoned David Dylan - hot, gorgeous, sexually satisfying, mesmerizing, successful, wealthy, and HOT (it bears repeating, trust me) David Dylan - for her reliable, staid, and even keeled husband Bill.

But Olivia, darling. Surely you realize you can't do that, right?

We first met Olivia, David, and Bill in Come Undone, the first of what appears to be (yet another) trilogy. Olivia and David's coupling was feral and passionate, and she quickly realized she cannot bear to be apart from him. But Olivia has Issues, largely relating to her parents, and she could not forsake her marriage vows. So she left David and tried to make the most of her passionless marriage.

Not so fast. And thank goodness for that.

In Part 2, Olivia and David continue their push and pull. They want each other, but Olivia cannot bear the thought of breaking her commitment to Bill. What can she do? What will she do? Believe me, you will find out, because she walks you through every step of her thought process. Sometimes to a fault. Sometimes repetitively. Sometimes maddeningly. The good thing is, though, when she and David are together, BAM. They are together.

For those of us who wonder what on earth David sees in Olivia, you do get an answer. She asks him for us, bless her. It seems that she's as baffled as we are. It isn't that Olivia fails in some way; she's actually pretty interesting. She has flaws, she admits to David that she struggles with the "blackness" in her soul, and her conflicts over her marriage are somewhat admirable.

Poor Bill, though. He seems like a decent chap, although you know that at some point he will need to be demonized to a certain degree. If he stays decent and loving, Olivia will look like a monster for dumping him. If we want her with David, we need to justify her choice. To do that, Bill needs to be less than honorable. Fortunately, his negatives are revealed in a believable way.

Because it's Part 2, you know there will be a Part 3. That's just the way these things go, apparently. I wish I could say to Jessica Hawkins, though, that she can stop now and everything will be fine. The ending works, and it works well. We don't need a whole lot of closure. We have enough. Don't give in to publisher demands for a third one, Jessica. Trilogies are predictable and almost nonsensical. In fact, combine your two parts into one. You have a good, entertaining, and super hot book here.

Then again, if we don't have the third one, we must say goodbye to David and his amazing lovemaking skills.

So forget what I said. Give us that third book.

All the Summer Girls

All the Summer Girls
by Meg Donohue
Published by William Morrow
288 pages
Genre: chick lit; women's fiction
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
3.5 / 5

Threesomes can be awkward.

There are risks involved. Someone may feel left out, two may gang up on one, the balance is off. When they work, they work gloriously. But when they don't, well, that's where we get interesting ideas for books.

Kate, Vanessa, and Dani have been friends since high school, and although the three have gone their separate ways, the chord between them still pulls tightly. Their closeness may not be what it once was, but they are the sort of friends who, even after months or years apart, can reunite and slip back into "normalcy." Or what accounts for normalcy for the three of them.

They last were together at Vanessa's wedding to the son of a famous newscaster. Vanessa and Dani got into a vicious argument, the particulars of which we do not learn about till later. The same goes for secrets the three women hold regarding a tragedy that befell them the last summer they spent together at the Jersey Shore: the death of Kate's twin brother, Colin. Life for none of them has been the same since.

When Kate's fiancé dumps her three months prior to their wedding, she calls upon Dani and Vanessa to join her at the Shore. Secrets will be revealed, relationships tested, and friendships elasticized to embrace the changes that the three have undergone since Colin's death. Can they find their way back to each other, back to their closeness? Each needs the other desperately, as each woman faces upheavals in her life.

The story lines are interesting, if not a little predictable. Happily married Vanessa may not be so happy after all, Kate needs to feel attractive to men, and Dani needs to find herself. We've seen this before. But Donohue puts a fresh spin on the tales by unfolding her stories in a way that keeps us engaged and reading. The mystery of Colin's death directs the book, and we becomes as invested in finding out what happened as the friends do. Each thinks she knows the full story, but none do.

When you have three "heroines," the worry is that one will get short shrift. Again, the problem of threesomes. That is here to some degree. Kate is the most fully realized in that we see her not just through her own eyes but through Dani's and Vanessa's as well. She's a neat freak with OCD tendencies, a bad driver, the daughter of two loving parents, a twin without a twin. When we see her through her friend's perspectives, we feel we know her. We can't say the same for Dani and Vanessa, who appear more cookie cutter than Kate, more predictable. What we learn about them from their friends is what we expect to learn. Unfortunately, there are no surprises.

There is a little romance here, but the real romance isn't between the women and any men. It's between the friends themselves. They care about each other, and although they betray one another in various ways, their love and loyalty binds them as strongly as any romance or marriage would.

It's a good summer read. Enjoy.

The Silent Wife

The Silent Wife
by A. S. A. Harrison
Published by Penguin Books
323 pages
Genre: literature
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
5 / 5

I read once, perhaps in a college psychology class, that marriages go through seven-year cycles. Hence the seven year itch. Supposedly, every seven years, couples face their biggest struggles. It has something to do with boredom and complacency.

Jodi and Todd have been together for twenty years, and like most couples with long marriages, they have a reasonable idea of what to expect from each other. Todd knows that Jodi will keep a nice home for him, make sure his laundry is done, and prepare him delicious meals. Jodi knows Todd will cheat on her, but always return to her.

If only it were that simple, kids.

As they approach a multiple of seven, their relationship hits its roughest patch. Jodi accepts Todd's dalliances and even justifies them somewhat. So long as he does not embarrass her or their marriage, he can cheat. Todd tacitly agrees and tends to abide by this. Sure, there have been slip ups, but for the most part, he's behaved accordingly. But he has a new girlfriend. Young, a bit more demanding of his time, and far more willing to give him something Jodi refuses to do. The price of that gift, though, is the bulls eye on the dartboard of his marriage.

The problem for Todd is that Jodi doesn't want to give in or give up. She likes what she has.

This book has been compared to Gone Girl in its exploration of a marriage that has disintegrated into bitterness on both sides. It's an unfair comparison, I think, because The Silent Wife is not similar to its genre companion. Yes, it's told from both points-of-view, and, yes, Jodi's willingness to play for keeps is quite ... um ... intense. She means to keep Todd at all costs. This differs greatly from Gone Girl, in which the happy couple will resort to any measures necessary to stay apart.

A. S. A. Harrison crafts a delicious tale, Her ability to switch from Todd's to Jodi's perspective is one thing, but the way she capably shifts in tone and mood between the two is impressive. Both characters are fully developed and not at all predictable. Todd, for all of his apparent mold-ability, surprises us more than once. Despite the philandering, he seems to be more of a victim than Jodi, who clearly holds the greater power in their relationship. Again, Todd deceptively appears to do so, but it's all Jodi.

That Todd cedes power over his life to the women in it also surprises us. He doesn't appear to mind in the least; in fact, on the few occasions he could determine his own fate, someone else jumps in and does it for him before he even realizes what's happened. That's perhaps what bothers Jodi more than Todd's cheating: she no longer controls him. Yes, he cheats, but he did so within parameters that Jodi established. When he breaks from their arrangement, Jodi is outraged. The cheating she can live with; his abandonment of their carefully choreographed dance she cannot.

There are a few holes here and there, and the ending feels a bit too tidy. (That was the "BOOYAH!" card with Gone Girl - the ending. Oh, that ending.) But this is a terrific story, told in a way that will keep you turning pages in shock, anger, curiosity, and concern.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Rules of You and Me

The Rules of You and Me
by Shana Norris
Published by Amazon Creative Services
Genre: young adult
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5

I am a sucker for Young Adult lit. I believe it gets short shrift from most readers, who consider themselves above it (for some reason) or that it is inferior to "literature." Well, you go ahead and read Megan McCafferty's Jessica Darling series and get back to me on your misconceptions, okay?

In The Rules of You and Me, we get to know Hannah Cohen, a seventeen-year-old whose life has been sunk to near lifelessness by the floods beset on her by her parents. Her father, a banker, is struggling to right his ship (if I may continue with the metaphor) after his coping skills turn out to be less than successful. As awful as his current predicament may be, he looks like Parent of the Year next to Mother Cohen, whose attempts to drown her troubles does nothing but forestall the inevitable. When she heads off to Paris rather than support her husband - or her only child - Hannah is forced to spend the summer with Aunt Lydia, whom Hannah used to love and revere. Aunt Lydia decamped from eastern North Carolina to Asheville, right when Hannah needed her most, and Hannah has some forgiving to do.

Of course a boy is involved. Jude Westmore. And, yes, someone does say, "Hey" to Jude. (Those of you too young to understand why this is humorous need to listen to this. And you also need to seriously revisit your lack of music history knowledge.) Jude has his own abandonment issues: his father left the family, his brother died while in the military, and his mother, much like Hannah's, chooses to self-medicate her way through her grief. Jude's way of surviving is to hang one of his brother's shirts on the tree in front of his home, as well as retreat away from his friends.

Like two fractured magnets, Jude and Hannah find each other. The two become close, quite emotionally close. But Jude doesn't fit with Hannah's rules, the strictures set forth by her parents. There are thirty of them, and their control over her life provides her with structure in which she can function. But they also control her to such a degree that she has no idea who she is.

A teenager's relationship with control is faced realistically here. Teens like rules - they really do - but yet they want them on their terms. Rules are comforting to some degree, even as teens chafe against them as they strive to exert their individuality. Hannah holds her parents' rules like a security blanket, although when she begins to look at how the rules served Mom and Dad, she begins to realize that she is her own person.

This is not a great book, but it's entertaining and interesting. It's hard not to like Hannah, whose flaws are on full display. She means well, and her earnestness is kind of sweet. She becomes focused on "fixing" Jude, perhaps because she thinks that if she can fix him, she can fix herself. It's always easier to obsess over someone else's problems than your own, and Hannah is no different.

There are some plot holes (Jude is accused of doing something, but we never know the full story), and the ending is very neat and tidy. Too neat and tidy, which is a disappointment after such a realistic approach. You hope things can turn out like that, especially for Hannah, who needs a happy ending, yet you know better.

Teens will enjoy this one, and those of us who kicked out teen years to the curb quite a while ago will too.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Abomination: Book One in the Carnivia Trilogy

The Abomination: Book One in the Carnivia Trilogy
by Jonathan Holt
Published by Harper
448 pages
Genre: fiction; mystery
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
5 / 5

Jonathan Holt, where have you been all my life? And when are you going to write another book?

First, I suppose, we should discuss your debut novel. I really enjoyed it, every intricate, detailed page. I love the characters you created, although I will tell you that I have some - shall I say - questions pertaining to Aldo Piola. I'm sure you understand what they are.

But I've gotten ahead of myself.

I like the setting you chose. Venice. So rich with possibility, so ripe for crime, secrecy, and passion, right? You don't just have Venice around, you use Venice. She is as much a character as Kat, Holly, or Daniele. Or Aldo ... You also educate us a little about the city. I found it interesting that you so rarely allude to gondolas or the canals; instead, you focus on the water as a source - or conduit - of death and crime. The canals that are so breathlessly romanticized in film and literature are here stripped of that sheen and examined with a dispassionate eye.

Your story is gripping, fast-paced, entertaining, and even educational. I like how it starts off with a fisherman fearing for his life, then moves into a murder investigation of a woman dressed as a priest, and then morphs into an investigation into a prostitution ring filtering from Croatia into Italy. Against these big issues, though, you have small, personal stories. Kat and Aldo's pursuit of truth in the face of corruption. Holly's fears of being branded a whistle blower combating with her inability to ignore crimes potentially committed by her own country. And Daniele. I liked him so much. His website, Carnivia, is a fascinating creation, especially given his background of having been kidnapped as a young child and his need to solve puzzles. I like how Carnivia, with its absolute secrecy, is the piece that brings Kat, Holly, and Daniele together. There is a murder to be solved, yes, but there are other puzzles to be solved. What role does the Mafia play? What about the American government?

In fact, I'm glad this is the first of a series, because I'm not ready to say good-bye to Daniele. I like how Holly saw through him and accurately pinpointed his motivation for creating Carnivia. It's little personal details like that that make this such a superb novel. Or Kat's reaction to seeing what anonymous people say about her online. I like how she questions it based not on a "this is how it's done in Italy" position but rather "this is how it shouldn't be done to women." I like how she and Holly stood up for themselves, each in her own way.

For a novel packed with so many characters and so much detail and action, you might assume it would feel unwieldy. It should be difficult to know the characters as well as we do. But neither is the case. The story is far more straightforward than it appears, largely because you stick to the principal that we cannot stop future crimes until we account for those from the past. You do an excellent job of presenting fully realized characters. The only stereotype or flat character is Avvocato Morcello, right down to his greasy hair.

I hope people read this book, I truly do. It's an excellent mystery, fast-paced and loaded with action and characters we enjoy.

Now, about the next installment in the trilogy. When can we expect that?

Lingerie Wars

Lingerie Wars
by Janet Elizabeth Henderson
Amazon Digital Services
Genre: romance; chick lit
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5

It's cute. Predictable, but cute.

Former model Kristy Campbell has not had an easy time of it. She was in a horrific auto accident that left her scarred and without a fiancé, so she returned home to Invertary, Scotland, to start over. She opens a lingerie shop and attempts to begin again.

But then Army vet Lake Benson shows up. His wacky sister bought a competing - and financially disastrous - lingerie store, and Lake has had to come help her with the business. He and Kristy are immediately attracted to each other, but they're at war, at least in terms of lingerie sales. It doesn't help that Lake is an Englishman. All good Scots know the English are rubbish, even if they do have a certain James Bond panache to them.

This is a book that is all in good fun, and there is considerable fun to be had. Kristy and Lake like each other, and even their battles are shaded with humor and affection. Kristy has to overcome trust issues and diminished self-worth, and Lake has to decide whether he's ready to settle down. Together, they have to figure out how to build lingerie businesses in Invertary.

There is a small mystery, easily solved by astute readers, but the focus here is on fun and romance. The sex scenes are reasonably hot, if not wildly detailed. Lake and Kristy are so darn likable, as are their fellow townspeople, that you will not read this without a smile on your face.

Good, fun summer fare.

Bedding the Wrong Brother

Bedding the Wrong Brother
by Virna DePaul
Published by Create Space
210 pages
Genre: erotica, romance
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
2 / 5

Well, as premises go for books, I suppose there are worse out there. That isn't quite a glowing endorsement, I know. But seriously? A woman wants to learn how to improve her sexual performance so she asks her friend - the identical twin brother of the man she really loves - to teach her?


Melina has always loved Rhys, not Rhys's twin Max. But after the latest in a string of lovers condemns her lovemaking skills, she asks Max for help. He agrees, but then he implements the old switcheroo. Hence, the wrong brother.

Now that I think about it, the title is the cleverest part of this experience. Is Rhys the wrong brother because Melina intends it to be Max, or is Max the wrong brother because she loves Rhys?

A point to ponder, no doubt.

Okay, back to the book.

Not that I want to return to it.

The sex scenes are hot. There you go. They have just the right amount of detail, just the right amount of action, to be solidly written. Then again, Rhys has had a lot of practice. Granted, it's been loveless practice born of need more than connection. But he knows what he's doing.

As for Rhys and Melina, well, you need to read it to find out what happens between them. Suffice it to say that theirs is not an easy path, and both of them face trust and commitment issues.

Read it for the sex. That's why it was written, after all.

The Unexpected Wedding Guest

The Unexpected Wedding Guest
by Aimee Carson
Published by Harlequin Kiss
224 pages
Genre: chick lit
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3 / 5

Poor Reese. She got married at nineteen, and that lasted a year. Now, ten years later, she's due to marry the staid, respectful, responsible Dylan. There she is, trying on her big pouffy wedding gown, and who should walk in, but that ex-husband of hers.

Mason is freshly returned from his third stint in Afghanistan with the Marines, but his difficulty sleeping and adjusting led a therapist to suggest he make peace with Reese. Mason also has other, um, performance issues (wink wink), and those concern him as well.

Sure. You know what's going to happen, and you are correct. First Dylan postpones the wedding, and then Mason decides to stick around to "help" Reese. And by "help," I think we all know he particularly intends to rock his naughty bits and hers against the headboard.

We are told - time and again - that under Mason's tutelage, Reese unleashed her inner vixen. Mason recalls how dirty she would get, how insatiable. Never in detail, though, and that's unfortunate. We get detail on Reese's wedding dress and some frozen ice sculptures, but aside from a couple faints mention of their past, we don't know a whole lot. We know what caused their marriage to end, and that undoubtedly is important, but aside from their sexual connection, what did these two have together?

Now, sexually, they are quite copacetic. Mason's manly appendage may not have been responsive prior to him showing up for Reese's wedding, but it sure is now. And it doesn't take long for Reese to crave the sexual intensity she shared with him. But again I ask: what else is there between them?

The sex scenes are hot, and the book is a quick, fun read. If it ends a little too neatly and easily, I wonder if I expected too much from it. The point here is to show a romance, dabble in some sexy times, and end on a happy note. This book accomplishes those three directives.

Island Girls

Island Girls
by Nancy Thayer
Published by Ballantine
320 pages
Genre: chick lit
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
3 / 5

Rory Randall was quite the ladies' man when he was alive. He wound up with three wives and three daughters, one from each marriage. When he died, the three daughters discover that his will has one important stipulation: if you want your inheritance, you will spend the summer together in his Cape Cod home.

If this sounds similar to The Summer Girls, that's because they share a similar premise. But that's where the likenesses end.

Arden, the eldest daughter, is a New York based hostess of a television show about simplifying your life. Oh, the irony. She is unattached, and not too bothered by it. What does rankle is a young woman hired to co-host the show with her. Paging All About Eve! She gamely heads to the Cape, certain that she will secure future segments for the show and thus prove her worth.

A community college professor, Meg looks forward to spending the summer on the island, believing that the relative isolation will help her complete a manuscript on the life of May Alcott, Louisa's younger sister. She's also hoping for some clarity regarding a potential romance with a fellow faculty member.

The baby of the family, Jenny, has lived in the home that her sisters come to visit. She never truly felt a part of them, even though she and Meg are the same age. Rory left Meg's mother for Jenny's and adopted Jenny, making her not biologically his. It did not affect his feelings for her, though; it's clear that Rory loved Jenny as much as he loved his other two daughters.

Arden and Meg are returning to the Cape after the summer they refer to as The Exile, during which they were banished from the summer home thanks to a transgression Arden is accused of committing. Both women harbor some resentment, against Jenny and each other. The three sisters require considerable healing in order to broach a rapprochement.

The premise here is very solid. Three women, three different mothers - all of whom are very much alive - coming to terms with a father two of them did not know all that well and who had no role in the life of the third until she was nearly ten. There is quite a bit of accumulated animosity between the three, and each has a lot of work to do on herself.

At various times, none of them are all that fabulous. Arden is bitchy, Meg judgmental, and Jenny defensive. And then sometimes they switch, with Meg defensive, Arden judgmental, and Jenny bitchy. Like I said - there is a lot of work to be done.

While the sisters are interesting and intriguing, we also get in the heads of Jenny's mother, and that's where the story becomes muddled. You wonder why only Jenny's mother and not the other two, yet you also wonder why we need Jenny's mother at all. Another issue is that introducing this fourth point of view reveals the central weakness of the book: we don't really get to know Rory or his wives. We see all of them through the sisters' eyes, and perhaps that's the point. No one's recollection is entirely reliable, which ought to tell the sisters that they should not necessarily trust their own version of events. But you are left wondering about those four people, and you sense that knowing them better would enhance your understanding of the sisters.

The plot resolutions come too easily, especially given the complexities at play. You feel a bit cheated, especially since this is not a very lengthy book. It would have been better served by more background on the mothers and Rory and certainly by tougher struggles for the sisters to work things out.

Still, though, it's entertaining. Perhaps its lightness is a good thing, actually. Its lack of depth makes it a fine summer beach read.

Time Flies

Time Flies
by Claire Cook
Published by Touchstone
320 pages
Genre: women's lit; chick lit
Thanks to edelweiss and NetGalley for the previews
5 / 5

I am a big fan of Claire Cook, having enjoyed Wallflower in Bloom tremendously. I was excited to get my hands on Time Flies and discovered that I had been looking forward to another book from her more than I realized.

I was not disappointed in the least.

High school reunions are similar to dentist appointments in that we know we need to go get checked out, but we dread the process entailed. Afterwards, though, we're glad we were cleansed.

So it is for Melanie, who moved away from her small Massachusetts town years earlier. She and husband Kurt headed south to Atlanta, where they raised two sons. Now Kurt has left her for another woman and the sons are grown, leading their own lives. But when the invitation to her reunion shows up, Melanie is determined not to attend.

Her BFF B.J., though, has other plans. She cajoles, begs, bribes, and attempts to blackmail Melanie into going. For all of B.J.'s force of nature personality, however, it's the prospect of meeting up with a former flame that truly nudges Melanie to show up.

Kurt's betrayal aside, Melanie has other issues she needs to face. She has a crippling phobia of highways and will drive as far out of her way as necessary to avoid them. This becomes the symbol for Melanie's literal and metaphorical journey: she needs to overcome her fears, whether of highways or of being alone or rejection.

Be prepared to laugh out loud. B.J. is the friend we all want to have. She is relentlessly on your side, but she isn't afraid of calling you on your crap, either. She and Melanie adorn their conversations with cultural references to everything from Romy and Michelle to Thelma and Louise. We are never told just which reunion this is, but given the song titles, shows, and movies, it appears to be around 35 years, putting the two women in their fifties, an age where we know better but that still doesn't stop us.

The two women meet up with high school friends, discovering just how starkly out of touch they are with each other. Yet Claire Cook also wants us to know that those childhood, teenage bonds are some of the strongest of our lives, because for all of the distance between them, the friends rediscover and reclaim their connections. Melanie also has to reconnect with her sister, from whom she has been estranged throughout adulthood.

Melanie's fears are realistic and relatable. The older we get, the more conscious we are of mortality, of time running out. We become a little more fearful. Does that twinge signify something serious, or is it minor? We worry about our children, our spouses, our parents. We worry. We have fears. For Melanie, those fears are exacerbated by Kurt's departure. Now she has added fears: will she be alone? Will she be able to support herself? Will she be a burden?

The reunion proves to be cathartic in ways Melanie (and B.J.) could not have expected, nor in ways we expect. We grow to care about those two women, and that's thanks to Claire Cook's ability to write a story and create dynamic characters.

I can't wait to read her next novel.

Binding Agreement (Just One Night 3)

Binding Agreement: Just One Night Part 3
by Kyra Davis
Published by Pocket Star
Genre: erotica
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
3.5 / 5

And so another trilogy comes to an end.

Kasie and Robert met in Las Vegas and enjoyed some steamy headboard rockin', despite her having a live-in boyfriend. When she gets back to Los Angeles, she discovers that Robert is a new client of the firm for which she works and he requested her to be his point person. They continue to see each other, Kasie gets engaged and then breaks it off, and she leaves Robert, only to come back.

When this book begins, Kasie and Robert are settling into their romance. While she lost a fiancé, she gained power at work, thanks to Robert. He tells her to adopt a "take no prisoners" attitude and to feel the power course through her. Kasie finds she likes the sensation, even if she is a bit uneasy with it. Needing power - needing to defeat others - is not who she is. Or is it? Has Robert helped her discover something about herself?

When she isn't putting on her alpha female self, she is clawing up the sheets with Robert. Sex is where the two truly connect, where Robert shows her his brand of power. She likes it, and she comes to need and rely on it.

At some point, however, Kasie will need to come to terms with the new her. Is this how she truly wants to live? Is this the person she wants to be?

You spend a LOT of time in Kasie's head in this book. A whooooole lot. She ruminates over everything, to the point of frustration for us readers. There were times when I thought, "Shut up, already, and go rock the headboard with Robert." Yes, she needs to figure things out, but her thinking is so circuitous and repetitious that you start to wonder what on earth Robert sees in her?

We do get to know Robert a little better. We begin to understand why he is the way he is and why he values power to such an extreme. He's gorgeous, powerful, and wealthy, but it isn't until he meets Kasie that he discovers that he doesn't have it all.

I'm glad I read it, if for no other reason than I wanted to know how things would work out for our lovebirds. I just wish we had a little less of Kasie's thoughts and a little more Robert. Preferably naked. Preferable in bed.

Enraptured: Book 3 in the Enslaved Trilogy

Enraptured: Book 3 in the Enslaved Trilogy
by Shoshanna Evers
Published by Pocket Star
Genre: erotica; BDSM
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
3.5 / 5

We've gotten to know Trevor and know that he's happily married to Elisabeth. We became friends with Marc and know that he and Mistress Lauren are cozily in love. It's time to turn our attention to the baddest of the BAD Boys, Roman.

As a Dom, Roman has a reputation for lethal skill. Whereas Trevor and Marc are jovial and friendly, Roman is cold, forbidding, and ruthlessly focused on inflicting pain as a means of pleasure and punishment. He thought he found his dream sub in Elisabeth but had to watch helplessly as she married Trevor. And "helpless" is not something Roman knows or does well.

He tries to numb himself with nameless, virtually faceless women, but he knows that any relief is temporary. He needs a sub, and he needs one he enjoys on more than a physical level.

Enter Jessica, a twenty-year-old college student who works at the club Roman co-owns with Marc and Trevor. She appears servile enough, and she admits to curiosity. She's also attractive, and Roman feels drawn to her, even as he knows this will not be an easy relationship to undertake. The age difference, for one thing, will cause issues, and then there is the little matter of Roman's heart. Does he have it to give, or does Elisabeth still own it?

Getting Jessica to agree to be his sub is the first hurdle. Roman takes Marc's approach and begins with a bet with Mistress Lauren as to whether she can dominate Jessica. But we all know who wants to Dom whom, and it doesn't take long for Jessica and Roman to connect.

This one is a bit different from the first two installments in the trilogy in that we get to know a character's family when Jessica's parents come to visit. The real world also factors stronger here, as Roman and Jessica have to confront the challenges that their age gap will bring. But don't worry. The sexy times are very present.

I didn't enjoy this one as much as the first two, and I think it's because Roman was such a disappointment. I already was ambivalent about him because he seemed a bit emasculated after the whole Elisabeth thing. I wanted him to come out charging and never stop; the former occurred, but not the latter. He becomes domesticated by Jessica. One of the mandates in his home is that the blinds are always shut, keeping darkness in and light at bay. I realize this is a metaphor for Roman, but he caves in far too quickly to Jessica's request to raise the blinds. I expected him to be stronger, to make her pay for her cheeky request. I know he wants to feel love, but come on. This all happens too quickly, even for him.

The sex scenes also seem a bit redundant. I feel like we read very similar scenes in the first two books. Roman's thing is that he really likes inflicting pain, but with Jessica, he doesn't seem as passionate about it. I know she's young and lively and attractive, but it doesn't work. Roman just doesn't work, and I was disappointed by that.

If you read the first two, you need to read this one so you can close out the series. Just don't expect it to be as good as its predecessors.

Finding Colin Firth

Finding Colin Firth
by Mia March
Published by Gallery Books
336 pages
Genre: women's lit; chick lit
Thanks to edelweiss and NetGalley for the previews
3.5 / 5

I adore Colin Firth. In fact, I like to think of him as my former future husband. He's tall, elegant, witty, snarky, and of course there is the whole Mr. Darcy thing. So can I understand a woman's obsession with him? Yes. Yes, I can.

Boothbay Harbor, Maine, is about to get a whole lot more exciting, because Colin Firth is coming to town to film a movie. His arrival will impact three women in particular: Gemma, Bea, and Veronica.

Gemma lives in New York City, is in her twenties, and married. She adores her husband, even if she feels as if they are becoming estranged. When they got married, they had the same goals, the same ideals. They wanted the city life, were ambivalent about a timetable for having children, wanted to pursue their careers. But her husband wants to speed up their "somedays" and make them today. He wants a house in the suburb and children, and he wants Gemma to tone down her career. The latter appears to happen when she loses her job, but Gemma does not capitulate quite so readily. When the opportunity comes to visit a friend in Boothbay Harbor, she takes it, and her visit becomes an extended one when she lands a freelance job writing about a local home for unwed pregnant women.

Shortly after her mother dies, Bea receives a letter from her. The contents are a bombshell: the people Bea knew as her parents are not, in fact, biologically connected to her. They adopted her as an infant. Bea becomes curious; who is her birth mother? Who are her biological parents? She discovers that her birth mother was once in a home for unwed pregnant girls up in Boothbay Harbor, so she heads north to investigate her background.

Having given up her daughter for adoption after a surprise teenage pregnancy, Veronica found herself without a clear path. She dabbled in cooking and moved around to different states. Now she's back in Boothbay, hoping to meet her daughter some day, and still feeling unsettled. She can't seem to have a lasting relationship with any man other than Colin Firth, whose movies provide a salve to her struggles.

Obviously, these three women will connect, with that Colin Firth production in the background.

This is a sweet story. In fact, that's the best word to describe it: sweet. The three women are not perfect; they make mistakes, they mishandle situations, and they can't seem to find a way to be happy. We like them, though, because of those flaws, and we cheer them toward the happiness they deserve. If Colin Firth can help, all the better.

This is the second in a series - The Meryl Streep Movie Club came first - but you don't need to have read the first installment. I didn't, and I had no trouble picking up the story lines in this book. As someone who was adopted, I found Bea and Veronica's stories the most compelling, but I think any working woman will relate to Gemma. They are three very likable characters, fully written and rounded. The same can't be said for some of the other characters, and there are times the pacing slows down. Still, though, it's a pleasant read.

The Summer Girls

The Summer Girls
by Mary Alice Monroe
Published by Gallery Books
400 pages
Genre: women's lit
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
3.5 / 5

Sometimes a grandma has to do what a grandma has to do, and if stooping to a little emotional blackmail is required, what's the harm?

Sea Breeze, a South Carolina island home, has been in the Muir family for generations, although lately the only people enjoying it are Marietta (Mamaw) and her maid. Mamaw's son, a somewhat pathetic drunk of a charmer, is dead, and his three daughters - by three different baby mamas - are spread out across the country. With Sea Breeze increasingly becoming more work than it's worth, Mamaw decides to sell it and head off to a retirement home, but not before trying to get her three granddaughters together one last time. She invites them ostensibly for a weekend to celebrate her birthday, but when they get there, she demands they stay the summer. If they want their inheritance, they will.

The eldest, Dora, lives in South Carolina with her autistic son Nate, and has recently been left by her husband. Carson is out in California, where she works as a set photographer, and the youngest, Harper, is in New York, where she works for her frosty British mother. The three girls agree to stay, and we readers rub our hands together, knowing that secrets will be revealed, relationships discovered, and drama entailed.

The first of a planned trilogy, this one focuses primarily on Carson. She's the first to the island, but not out of any burning desire to see Mamaw. She lost her job and has no money, so she's hoping that the sale of Sea Breeze will give her a financial boost. But not so fast, Carson. First, she needs to get a j-o-b. She becomes a waitress at a local pub, where she meets a handsome marine biologist focused on saving dolphins. This connection becomes important, because while out surfing, Carson comes under potential attack by a shark and is rescued by a dolphin. You learn a lot about dolphins in this book, but in a good way. It's interesting stuff.

Dora and Nate arrive, as does Harper, and the three girls attempt to forge a relationship. They learn more details about their shared father, as well as about each other. Their burgeoning closeness does not feel forced or unnatural; it proceeds the way you think it would, slowly and in fits and starts.

Sea Breeze is a silent character throughout, as are the South Carolina waters. If this book doesn't make you ache to take off your shoes and dig your toes in the sand, nothing will. There are times you think you can smell the ocean and feel the dolphin's skin.

As stories go, Monroe writes a fairly interesting one. The characters occasionally seem cookie-cutter, but I expect that will change once we get to know Dora and Harper. With Carson fully fleshed out, you can see potential for the other two. Mamaw is entirely predictable and straight out of Central Casting, but her purpose here is to operate as a conduit to get to know her "summer girls." If it occasionally gets too focused on dolphins, that's okay, because Monroe wants us to understand them better. Perhaps if we are more conscious of what harms them, we will take better care of them.

The Pleasures of Summer

The Pleasures of Summer 
by Evie Hunter
Published by Penguin
448 pages
Genre: erotica; BDSM
Thanks to the publisher for the preview
4 / 5

Earlier this year, I read Evie Hunter's The Pleasures of Winter and enjoyed it a whole lot. Well, I enjoyed the sex scenes a whole lot. The plot? Fine, serviceable, whatever. Those sex scenes, though. Yum.

The Pleasures of Summer is not a sequel, so don't go into thinking you'll learn what happens next in Abbie's and Jack's saga. This one is more of a variation on a theme, specifically sexual domination.

Our hero is Flynn Grant, a burly Scottish soldier now working in private security. He is somewhat atypical for literary Doms in that he is not wildly wealthy and does not appear to live in grand splendor. He receives a job order: he must protect bratty society girl Summer (yep ... you're going to read about her pleasures) O'Sullivan from threats to her safety. Summer's dad owns an airline that has been targeted for revenge after a crash, and fears run amok that Summer will be used. Someone clearly is out to get her; she receives several threats and there was a kidnapping attempt.

Summer doesn't want a bodyguard, even if it is masculine ball of testosterone Flynn, largely because she has a secret interest she wants to pursue. Summer is drawn to the submissive lifestyle, even though she knows very little about it. She's trying to sneak off to an exclusive club so she can learn more and discover if this is what she truly wants.

Well, guess what, Summer. Good old Flynn here is a Dom! And he'd like to show you the ropes, as it were.

The two wind up in an isolated cabin in the north of Scotland, and, well. When you've got a man oozing sexual promise and a woman tense with sexual curiosity, you know there will be some serious headboard rocking.

Sure, Flynn is conflicted. Summer is a job, and he's not one to mix his personal and professional lives. She's just so darn attractive though, and so willing, and so open to instruction. In one particularly squish-inducing (and you know exactly what I'm talking about, girls) scene, Flynn guides Summer through the oral pleasure process.

The story gets occasionally repetitious, but that's because it's somewhat too flimsy to stretch over 400+ pages. The sexy times, though, are outstanding. Evie Hunter knows her way around describing headboard rocking, and she will leave you panting. As for Summer and Flynn, they are capably written. Summer is a rich girl with brains, and we understand her frustration with being treated like an imbecile, just as we recognize (as does Summer) that some of her problems are of her own making. Flynn is not as well rounded; Hunter gives us an occasional glimpse into his military background, but we know very little about his path to becoming a Dom. What we do know is that he's a very good bodyguard in every sense of the word.

I look forward to the next installment. Will our pleasures be Spring or Fall?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Come Undone

Come Undone, Vol. 1 (The Cityscape Series)
by Jessica Hawkins
Published by Kinshaw
288 pages
Genre: erotica; new adult lit; romance
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5

What happens when a happily married woman locks eyes with a gorgeous, riveting man and feels herself drawn to him?

Nothing but trouble. That's what happens. Trouble and passion.

Olivia Germaine has found the love of her life and married him already. So why, when she sees David Dylan across the room at a party, does she feel as if she belongs to him? The allure is sexual, no doubt. We learn that Olivia's marriage, while reasonable and happy, lacks the excitement and passion that she feels for David. Sex with her husband is pleasant; sex with David, Olivia fantasizes, would be mind blowing.

The two come together and then move apart in a seductive sort of dance. David does not want to hurt her marriage, but he wants her so, so badly. He's never felt desire this strong, and neither has she. Can they deny it, or will they succumb to it?

I have to say that I really enjoyed this book. The sex scenes ... oh dear mother of Gideon Cross. The sex scenes are infernos of hotness. Olivia and David are flawed souls, although we do not yet know the extent of their Issues. At one point, Olivia wails to David that she is "black inside," calling David "beautiful." But he replies with his own pleas of imperfections and challenges, and, um, his dangly bits. Which don't dangle a whole lot around Olivia, if you know what I mean.

This is the first of a series (probably a trilogy - they're all trilogies these days), and I can't wait to read the next one. What will come of Olivia and David? Will she stay married, or will she follow her passion?

Reality Ends Here

Reality Ends Here
by Alison Gaylin
Published by Pocket Star
Genre: young adult lit
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 / 5 

What hell hath reality television wrought?

Seriously. That is not a rhetorical question.

Do you ever ask yourself what the world would be like without Kardashians and that Honey Boo Boo person? Without dance moms and wife swapping? It might be kind of nice, right?

The thing about the oxymoron that is reality television is that the more we learn about it, the less real it becomes. That certainly is the case here, as Estella Blanchard knows only too well. She is the older sister of sextuplets, and given that multiples make for interested television audiences, Estella's mother and stepfather gladly parade their family in front of the cameras. Estella gamely goes along, knowing that the fame and money are important to her mother. She's that kind of kid.

When Christmas rolls around, Estella's carefully crafted life on camera begins to unravel. She receives a gift from her father. While this would be celebrated under normal circumstances, these are anything but normal. Estella's father died years earlier, so he can't possibly have sent this gift - which is the very thing he had with him the night he died.

Estella's mother and stepfather are convinced that she planted the gift, surmising that Estella is jealous of the attention her siblings receive. We know better, however, and we are as anxious as Estella to solve the mystery. Her parents ship her off to group therapy populated by struggling child stars. She meets Jake, a boy band member, and the two hit it off. Estella likes him and is disheartened, to say the least, to discover that he's dating a bitchy blonde star who also happens to be in the support group.Estella doesn't understand what Jake sees in his girlfriend, a confusion that only increases when the girlfriend sets up Estella to get hounded by the paparazzi.

Threaded throughout is the mystery: who sent Estella that gift? Could it be that her father is still alive?

This is one of those books where parts of it are sooo good, and parts are somewhat disappointing. Estella is a solid character. She adores her younger siblings, but not so much that she can't see their flaws, and she is loyal to her mother, even if she is desperate to spend time with the "real" woman and not the one parading on television. Estella is not a publicity hound, she is uncomfortable on camera, and she yearns for a truly real life. You can't help but like her.

She's a typical teenager in that she does contradict herself. She professes to abhor people who are interested in her for her popularity, yet what turns her off most about Jake is not his devotion to the bitchy girlfriend, but rather the whole boy band thing. She also occasionally slips and lets us see that she, too, is concerned with appearances. She judges people based on their looks, whether she'll admit to it or not. Perhaps this is Alison Gaylin's understated commentary on celebrity culture, or perhaps its to show that we are all drawn to looks no matter how we may protest to the contrary. Who knows.

Aside from Estella, though, most of the characters are under developed. The lone exception is Dylan, another member of the support group. Intended to provide a sort of comic relief, he also turns out to be more multifaceted than the rest of his fellow friends.

The book's detail about the production process is interesting and likely to make you think twice the next time you want to believe that reality television really is reality. The mystery is intriguing and you want to know the story behind the gift. As a sum of its parts, this is an above average novel that could have been stronger. A weak supporting cast hurts it, and for a book about a television show, that is a mistake indeed.

The Perfume Collector

The Perfume Collector
by Kathleen Tessaro
Published by Harper
464 pages
Genre: women's fiction
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
4.5 / 5

Grace Monroe has a stable, if unexciting and unfulfilling, life. It's post WWII London, and Grace and her husband are trying to determine the course of their marriage now that Grace has been pronounced unable to bear a child. She knows her husband is disappointed, but to what degree? What does this mean for them?

Into this uncertainty arrives a letter from Paris. Grace has an inheritance waiting for her, but she knows nothing of the woman who bequeathed it to her. To receive it, she must travel to Paris, alone, and meet with the solicitor. Grace greedily accepts the challenge, and off she goes.

Alternating with Grace's story is that of Eva D'Orsey, the woman who leaves her estate for Grace. Eva came to the United States as a young teen, at which she was discovered by a perfumer and her assistant. Eva's travels take her to England and France, where she leads a dynamic, eventful life. But why does she leave everything to Grace?

Tessaro peppers her story with clues, and astute readers will solve the mystery fairly quickly. The good news is that even with the questions answered, you still want to keep reading. You want to know more about Eva, about how she ended up where she did. Why did she choose those particular paths? You also want to know more about Grace. What will come of her marriage? Will she find Paris as healing a location as Eva did?

This is a lovely, atmospheric novel populated by intriguing characters and a good, solid story. You feel a kinship with Grace right from the start, and you side with her against those trying to derail her. If Eva is not as lovable, then so be it. Grace is the heart of the novel.

The fact that Eva is involved in perfumery is interesting itself, operating as a sort of metaphor for the women's paths of self-discovery. Your senses must be acutely attuned in order to be successful in that line of work. You must be able to discern different nuances and flavors, different contributors and detractors. Eva understands what comprises an attractive scent, something Grace must learn for herself.

The men in the book are not as interesting as the women, but they serve their purposes well. Grace's husband is just a loathsome man, and we anxiously wish her to bid him good riddance. The Parisian solicitor, though, much like some of the unexpected oils in Eva's perfumes, enhances Grace's world, making it more vivid and more alluring. But does Grace see that, or does she more highly value marital commitment?

Tessaro's story is told evocatively and lovingly. This is a delightful novel with an enchanting story and lovely characters.

A Taste of You (The Epicurean Series)

A Taste of You (The Epicurean Series)
by Sorcha Grace
Published by Premier Digital Services
234 pages
Genre: chick lit; romance
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3.5 / 5

Aaaaaand here we go again. Wealthy, good looking man with tortured past meets fragile woman, falls in love, and events conspire to try to tear them asunder. Along the way, many hot sexy times take place.

In this case, we have Catherine, a young widow who recently relocated from California to Chicago in an attempt to start over. She's a food photographer, and opportunities beckon in the Windy City, thanks in large part to her pal Beckett. One day en route from a job, she slams into a grey-eyed mystery man to whom she feels a fierce, immediate connection. When she later sees him again while at work, she wonders. Is it fate? Something else? And what is it about him that holds such a powerful allure?

William Lambourne is a walking fantasy. Tall, gorgeous, wealthy, and mysterious. He also likes Cat and wants to make her his. His dogged pursuit pays off, and the two begin their courtship. Each has Issues, however. There is the death of Cat's husband, for one, and then there is William. What really happened to his family?

There is a slight mystery here, but the drawing force is the relationship between William and Cat. When they hit the sheets, they leave scorched skid marks in their wake. Cat's reluctance to get involved with him is intended to be logical, yet it makes her look like an idiot. We understand that she went through a rough time and that her husband's death affected her terribly, but come on. COME ON. William? He's pretty spectacular.

Now, the sex scenes. They're solid. William is the sort of lover we enjoy reading about, and Cat is game for his headboard rocking. As she should be, quite frankly. They aren't the hottest or most graphic I've read, but they're good.

The book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, so there is more to come in Cat and Williams's story. Should you read it? Yes, if you're in the mood for something fun and escapist.

In Search of a Love Story

In Search of a Love Story
by Rachel Schurig
Published by Create Space
240 pages
Genre: chick lit
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
2 / 5

When you want to learn how to do something, you consult experts, right? That's the advice that Emily's friends give her when they diagnose her as being clinically unromantic. She needs to immerse herself in romance novels and find herself a man.

Emily gamely - albeit a tad reluctantly - agrees. She reads books and watches chick flicks, and along the way attempts to apply what she learned to her love life. In a "meet cute" sort of set up, she runs into Greg, a handsome, successful prospect who adores her. Emily's friends think SCORE, but part of Emily wonders. Is he the one? Were the novels and movies right? Then there is her friend Elliott, who seems quite unimpressed with Greg. What's up with him?

If you already know how this ends, bravo. Then again, the ending is trumped so loudly and clearly as to render the reading of the novel fairly useless. I've read lots of books that give away their endings early on, but they make up for it by being entertaining, by having characters I like and wish I could get to know.

That is not the case here.

Faithful readers, I was bored. Bored, I tell you. There is so little about this book to recommend that I'm hard pressed to justify the two stars. It's cute, I suppose, and the premise is also cute. But it's just so transparent. That's what turns me off more than anything. There is no mystery or pull to keep reading.

If you want a mindless book with a cute little gimmick, then you could do worse than this. I guess I just wanted more.

Somebody to Love

Somebody to Love
by Kristan Higgins
Published by Harlequin
432 pages
Genre: chick lit, romance
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
4 / 5

So I love Kristan Higgins' books. I love them so much that I push them on my students (the girls ... the boys could not care less), encouraging them to read my girl crush. Every time I read a new one, though, I find myself a little nervous. Will she disappoint? Will I still love her?

I can report that my adoration continues unabated.

Somebody to Love reunites us with Parker Welles, whom we met in The Next Best Thing. We also get to check in on Ethan and Lucy, as well as Maggie and Malone from Catch of the Day. Malone, by the way, has some things to say, which may surprise those of you who recall him from his previous outing.

A children's book author with writer's block, Parker discovers she has bigger issues at stake. Her father, reminiscent of Bernie Madoff, has been convicted for insider trading and is headed off to jail, leaving Parker virtually penniless. All of those book royalties? She donated those to charity. Daddy Welles did leave his daughter one bit of help: his attorney James Cahill, or Thing One as Parker thinks of him. James has some handyman skills, so when he shows up to help Parker rehabilitate a seaside shack she was bequeathed by a deceased aunt, Parker reluctantly accepts his help.

She also accepts his kisses. Which, really, she should, because he is totally adorable.

As happens in Higgins' books, there is no clear path to true love. Parker has trust issues. Big ones, thanks to her father. She also doesn't quite trust herself, and given that a child is involved, she is all the more reluctant to embark on a romance with James. For his part, James is a bit too enamored of Parker, but he sees through her bluster to the woman who's really there.

Parker is a bit different from Higgins' typical heroines, though. She's prickly, snobby, and not always entirely likable. Even when Lucy bumbled, you liked her. But Parker occasionally is so bitchy as to turn us off. I liked that, though. She's flawed, and she knows she's flawed. She wants to be a better person, but she doesn't know how.

It's a cute story, one that entertains and that you will enjoy. If you're a fan of Higgins' books, you need to read this.

The Submissive

The Submissive: The Submissive Trilogy
by Tara Sue Me
Published by NAL Trade
304 pages
Genre: erotica; BDSM
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
3 / 5

I am starting to develop a Pavlovian response to BDSM-tinged trilogies. That response is a throat scarring, "PLEASE STOP." Why are erotica writers like lemmings? Why must they follow a trend? Good grief, people. Just write a damn book. Don't make it about the trilogy. Make it about the characters and the story.

Okay. I'm through. On with the review.

Unlike others of its ilk, the happy couple in this book meets when she approaches him. That right there makes it different, in a good way.

Abby King has long suspected that she has submissive yearnings, even if she wasn't quite sure what it meant. She knows she needs a Dom to guide her through the lifestyle, so she quite literally interviews with the one she hand picks: Nathaniel West. He's hot, he's rich, he's successful. (Apparently those three qualities are necessary in a Dom because every one of the literary variety has them.) He also is very attracted to Abby.

Did I mention that Abby is a librarian? Yep.

She and Nathaniel decide to give this arrangement a weekend-long test drive, and if after that Abby wants to continue, she can sign on the dotted line.

Well, of COURSE she will want to continue, because HELLO, Nathaniel is HOT. And he knows how to please a woman. And he knows how to give the spanky panky in a way that elicits certain responses. Certain delicious responses.


Yeah, it's predictable. Yeah, you've read it before. In fact, supposedly this series sprang from the same fan fic site as Christian Grey. So, yippee for that.

Is it good? Ehhhhhh .... well .... the sex scenes sure are. Tara Sue Me (I'm sure it's a pen name) can write about some headboard rockin', faithful readers. She will have you either reaching for a fan or a man, depending on what's available. Will I read the next one? Of course I will! I am weak and powerless against these books.

I'll give it this much: what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in writing. Tara Sue Me is a far stronger writer than E. L. James.

Exotic Music of the Belly Dancer

Exotic Music of the Belly Dancer
by Brian Sweany
Published by The Writer's Coffee Shop
254 pages
Genre: literature; coming of age
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
5 / 5

Yeah, the title. I hear what you're saying, and I had a similar reaction. Huh? That was the best they could do?

The thing is, it works. Everything in this book works.

Welcome to the 1980s, complete with occasional cultural references, and the life of Hank Fitzpatrick. As Hank tells us his story, he takes us back through his life, never flinching from the ugly or unseemly. The fun begins with the opening words:
My morning gets off to its usual start. I wake up. Masturbate. Eat some bacon and eggs. Drink a cup of heavily creamed and sugared coffee. Have a frank discussion with my father about his testicles …
Go ahead. Pretend you didn't laugh. We both know you're lying.

Hank takes off from there, recalling a godfather whose legacy is dirty and cruel, a mother whose delight in her family is offset by her reaction to a tragedy, and a father. Oh, a father. Hank's dad is the dad we all want, a man whose devotion to his family is beyond compare, who teaches his son by example and by proclamation, and whose presence in his family's life is vital and dynamic.

Hank doesn't so much aspire to be his father, or even to live up to him, as he does to have as much fun as he can. This includes copious amounts of alcohol and sex. In high school, Hank falls in love, and his devotion to this girl is as intense as that he shares with his friends and, yes, family. Hank's coterie of chums does not vary; his boyhood friends are his friends into adulthood. He may all but set up a turnstile into his bedroom, but he's actually a pretty devoted man. The high school girlfriend comes and goes in his life, perhaps because Hank is averse to change. As he says at the start of the book, his days take a predictable turn. He finds comfort in that.

But life is about as predictable as a horse race. You absolutely cannot rely on anything except change, and that's where Hank struggles to adapt. He copes by indulging in booze and broads, leaning on his friends for help. Many times while reading this, I wish I had a Hank in my life. He gives as good as he gets, even if there were times I wanted to shake him. He made me laugh and he made me cry, he made me cringe and he made me fist pump with joy. His voyage from boy to man takes him all over the place emotionally, and he takes us right along with him.

You will need to fortify yourself with a box of tissues, because there will be times you cry. You also may find yourself gobsmacked with shock at some of the things that happen. But isn't that what happens in life?

Read this book. Then come back and thank me for telling you about it.

Claim Me (Stark Trilogy 2)

Claim Me (Stark Trilogy 2)
by J. L. Kenner
Published by Headline Pb
Genre: erotica, BDSM
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
4 / 5

Picking up right where Release Me left off, we return to Nikki Fairchild and Damien Stark, two BDSM-crossed lovebirds who just want to be happy. And have tsunami-causing sexy times.

Nikki, she of the former beauty pageants, and Damien, he of the former tennis championships, each know something about pretending to be what you aren't. Nikki can paint a smile on her face, pirouette, and appear to look happy. Damien can conquer and vanquish and appear to be satisfied. What they see in each other is a kindred soul, someone who has ceded control to others and chafes against it.

Their relationship, begun in Release Me, continues here. You don't need to have read the first one to pick up this one, thanks largely to Kenner's occasional summaries. I do suggest reading the predecessor because of the sex scenes, if for no other reason. Nikki and Damien continue to chart the course of their relationship, each trying to establish autonomy while also relying on the other. They crave independence, but they crave each other more.

The first book hinted at some of Damien's past struggles, and here they are laid to bare, so to speak. He confides everything (or apparently everything) to Nikki, which further cements her affections. Not that all goes smoothly. Of course it doesn't. They get angry with each other, she leaves, they reunite, rinse, repeat. When she heads home, even she knows it isn't permanent. She needs to be apart from him to find her bearings, but just as a compass always points north, so does Nikki's vagina point to Damien.

For reals.

And it should, because MY GOODNESS, Damien Stark can please a woman. There is some BDSM here, but nothing as extreme as what Christian Grey, Nora Sutherlin, or Gideon Cross enjoy. The headboard rocking with Nikki and Damien is, however, extremely passionate and extremely luscious. You will want a Damien of your own.

There is a third installment, due out later in July. I can't say that Damien and Nikki stick with me the way Gideon Cross or Nora Sutherlin do, but I look forward to continuing to read about them.

Levitating Las Vegas

Levitating Las Vegas
by Jennifer Echols
Published by Pocket Star
326 pages
Genre: young adult; new adult; romance; adventure
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
3 / 5

A few years ago, I happened upon a book written by Jennifer Echols. Going Too Far was its name, and I enjoyed it a great deal. Since then I've gobbled up Love Story, Forget You, and Such a Rush. She creates real characters, puts them in real situations, and then helps them get out with some dignity. In fact, I think that's what I like most about how she writes: her characters may be teens and college kids, but she treats them with respect and dignity.

I love her books.

But I did not love this one.

Holly and Elijah have known each other since they were kids. At one point, they tried to date, but their parents intervened, claiming that each had an illness that could cause harm to the other. They take the same medication to "cure" them, and so far it appears to have worked. The two believe their parents. After all, it can't be normal to be able to levitate things, as Holly can do, or read minds, like Elijah.

When they are twenty-one, their paths cross again. They try to avoid each other, but they can't. Elijah has a greater urgency for connecting with her because his medication - their medication - has run out. If there isn't any more for him, there won't be any more for Holly. What horrible calamities will they cause? What havoc will be wreaked upon them?

Oh, and all the while, they are being chased by some bad guys.

The story is far-fetched, but that isn't the problem with it. As I read this book, I kept asking myself why I didn't like it. Holly is interesting. Elijah is sweet and adorable. They can do nifty things (I'd sure love to be able to lift a broom just by thinking about it) and they seem like good kids. So what's the problem? The bad guys? The chase sequence that comes later in the book?

I decided that there is just too much going on here, and at times it feels as if Jennifer Echols herself couldn't decide what book she wanted to write. A young adult romance? Believe me, this one is a bit more adult than not, largely because her characters are older. Is it a spy caper? An examination of the dangerous patina of Las Vegas? The disconnect that kids feel with their parents? The struggle we face for independence when we're in our early twenties?

I'm not sure. And worse, I don't think Jennifer Echols is, either. All of those things go on in this book, and none of them very effectively. Just when it starts to get its footing and find its identify, off it heads in a different direction. Perhaps that's by design, because it mirrors Holly's and Elijah's experiences. And do not even get me started on the "ending." Clearly there will be another one, to which I want to say to Echols, "Please. No."

I gave this three stars because when it's good, it's good. I really wish I could have given it five. I certainly expected to do so, based on its author alone.

Enamored: Book II in the Enslaved Trilogy

Enamored: Book II in the Enslaved Trilogy
by Shoshanna Evers
Published by Pocket Star
Genre: erotica, BDSM, romance
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
4 / 5

When last we saw the BAD Boys, Trevor was happily engaged to Elisabeth, Roman was brokenhearted, and Marc was ... uh ... where was Marc again?

Oh, yeah. Marc was there, aiding and abetting his friends. But in Enamored, Marc gets to aid and abed (GET IT?) Mistress Lauren, whom he has lusted over for quite some time.

Marc and Lauren are besties, and, as two Doms, they understand each other. But Marc has a secret wish: he wants to dominate Lauren, and he wants to take their little friendship and escalate it a bit. A really big bit. When the opportunity arises to become romantically involved with her, Marc jumps at it. Granted, the "opportunity" is one he manufactures to his own advantage, but if he didn't, he wouldn't be a BAD Boy, now, would he.

Whereas Enslaved occasionally made too much of Elisabeth's background, Enamored plays all the right notes with Lauren's. The more we get to know her, the more we like her, and the more we want her with Marc. I didn't see Trevor's attraction to Elisabeth, but I sure can see Marc's to Lauren. She's hot, he's hot, and together they claw, rip, snarl, bite, scratch, and bed each other with roaring hot passion.

The sex scenes ... they are goooood. Also good is the story. It doesn't feel as forced as it did with Trevor and Elisabeth, perhaps because Marc and Lauren are far more kindred souls than their friends. Roman's still around and still brooding (WHY? Elisabeth is NOT THAT FABULOUS, Roman!), and we'll get to him in the third installment.

This is the sort of book that you read for its hotness, and it provides quiet nicely. With characters you enjoy and an entertaining story line, it's a good book.

The Longings of Wayward Girls

The Longings of Wayward Girls
by Karen Brown
Published by Washington Square Press
336 pages
Genre: women's fiction; mystery
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
4 / 5

Children can be cruel, cruel beings whose meanness knows no bounds. We realize this, of course, those of us who emerged from our childhoods without inflicting too much damage on others or ourselves. But sometimes, we merely think we survived. All it takes is something that trips our memory to remind us that our suffering continues.

Such is the case with Sadie, a beautiful blonde daughter of a beautiful blonde mother. Sadie knows she is prettier than other kids, and she uses this as a weapon against them. She does have some friends, but we quickly realize that they are friends because they fear her more than out of any true affection. When Sadie begins picking on an unfortunate classmate, her friends follow along. One day, Sadie decides to play what appears to be a harmless prank on the girl, but it quickly turns dangerous when the girl disappears.

Twenty years later, Sadie remains gloriously blonde and gloriously aloof, still living in her hometown, married to a handsome man and mother to two beautiful children. From all appearances, Sadie is happy and has achieved something, although she currently is beset with grief over a miscarriage. But that awful day still lurks in her mind, try as she does to make it disappear.

Also involved in Sadie's childhood was Ray Filley, a neighbor boy on whom Sadie had a fierce crush. Ray moved away years earlier, but his reappearance triggers Sadie's memories. It also triggers the teenage lust she felt for him, and the two begin circling each other.

The mystery hooks you: what happened to that missing girl? But there are so many layers to this novel that the mystery almost becomes secondary. In fact, there are three different story lines taking place in three different time periods. There is the modern-day Sadie, the wife and grieving mother who watches her nicely constructed life disintegrate in a cloud of dis-fulfillment and dissatisfaction. There is twelve-year-old Sadie in 1979, perched on the edge of her teenage years, trying to understand her mother and her feelings about Ray. Then there is Sadie in 1972, the year the little girl went missing. What role did Sadie play? How did that Sadie set up 1979 Sadie? How did her past create the woman she is now?

You need to be patient with this book because it does not unfold quickly. In fact, the 1979 thread seems superfluous at first. What's so important about this year? As Brown begins to reveal secrets, the three stories come together, and Sadie becomes fully realized, fully developed, and very human. We become entangled in her travails and trajectories. We want to protect her even as we want to hold her accountable. She shocks us, but she does not repel us.

One thing Brown does very well is create mood and atmosphere. We are right back in 1972, feeling shag carpeting under our toes. We are in the small Connecticut town with Sadie and her friends, and we find ourselves as drawn to Ray as Sadie is. We also join her in the present, reacting with her to Ray's reappearance and her sadness over the miscarriage. Brown's writing latches onto us like quicksand, pulling us deeper and deeper into the story.

Give this one a chance. Don't expect it to be resolved quickly or neatly. Roll along with it, enjoy it, and experience it.