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Have Mercy by Shelley Ann Clark

8fbb66fc9fbcc672639515b648926320Emme is on the cusp of stardom in the Alt-music scene, which is much better than being caught in the middle of the scandal that ended the last band she was in. Emme is focused on breaking through, and walking the straight and narrow so she can put it all behind her. If she forgets she has two of her oldest friends on tour with her ready to stare her down.

Tom took over running his dad’s bar when he died, and has been looking out for his little sister since his mom ran off. He keeps things running but his heart isn’t in it. When Emme’s band plays a pre-tour gig at his bar and he hears from his friend Andy that they are going to need a new bassist for the tour, Tom for the first time in a long time start thinking a little selfishly. Can he have this? Can he do this one thing he loves, for just a little while. Once on tour Tom isn’t the only one getting a little greedy. Emme knows she shouldn’t but she can’t keep herself from thinking of and wanting Tom. And Tom would do anything for her.

Have Mercy is a story of wants and needs. Tom has never wanted anything more in his life. He needs to give himself permission to not be responsible for everything and everyone anymore. Emme wants people to stop judging her the scandal and to see her for who she is, not what the tabloids made her out to be. What she needs is someone who simply believes her and in her. Emme wants to sing, and she wants Tom. Tom wants Emme and to be happy doing what he loves. They just need to let each other reach for that.

 

What worked for me:

Both Emme and Tom have heavy burdens to carry and I thought depiction of the escapist power and secret joy of a forbidden infatuation was really well done. While I was initially surprised by the BDSM-flavor to Tom and Emme’s encounters, I was won over. This was not billionaire sex-club BDSM, but rather two people who have played around just a little bit, know they like it, but haven’t gone out and bought fancy toys and declared themselves to be in a lifestyle. Emme is simply starting to own herself, including her desire to tease and dominate, and Tom likes and accepts the part of himself that loves to be submissive in bed. Playfulness and vulnerability characterize their relationship and I was rooting for them even as I dreaded knowing the conflict and push back they were bound to encounter eventually. The most important part of their relationship however is that they give each other permission to be themselves, to want the best for each other, even if that means letting go of long-standing relationships.

What didn’t work for me:

The level of vitriol/hate/suspicion Emme faces from strangers and regular people like her neighbors. It seemed a bit hyperbolic. That her parents or industry folk judged her harshly and unfairly made sense for me but not that Jane Doe neighbor would consider her husband-stealing threat. Thankfully this was just a tiny part of the book.

What really did work was Emme just owning her truth. She has a choice late in the novel to do something expedient and instead makes a risky choice that means an incredible amount to those around her.

 

4 out 5 stars, and having the special distinction of being the first book about musicians that I have actually enjoyed.

 

A e-copy of Have Mercy was provided by Random House Publishing Group — Loveswept for review purposes.

(Disclaimer: I follow Shelley Ann Clark on Twitter, and I always root for librarian/writers).

 

Publication Date July 1st.

 

 


Summer Rain Anthology with stories by Ruthie Knox, Molly O'Keefe, Charlotte Stein and more.

SummerRain-500x750(2)Summer Rain: Love in the Rain Series's nine story collection is the first of two  short story collections edited by Sarah Frantz. The proceeds from the sales of this anthology will got to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN).

This was a strong collection and I enjoyed the wonderful variety of style, setting and types of stories. I came to this  collection already knowing the work of  Ruthie Knox, Mary Ann Rivers, Charlotte Stein and  Audra North  but I loved having the opportunity to read stories by both newer authors like Amy Jo Cousins, Shari Slade and Alexandra Haughton and new-to-me authors like Cecilia Tan and Molly O’Keefe, whose work I had not yet enjoyed. While not every story worked for me, I thought the anthology as whole deserved 4 out 5 stars. I look forward to reading the next volume Winter Rain when it comes out in November.

 

Redemption by Ruthie Knox: Mike Kaminsky a divorced Green Bay handy-man and former roofer  and Jessie Bellin,a owner of a failing cheese shop have a very limited relationship.  Both know the rules and limitation of it and  all they ask from each other is sex. Sex that takes them away from their troubles, distracts them just a little and gives them enough pleasure to get through the hardest days. This was a sad story about making a go at relationships even when everything else has fallen apart. The story is about potential and expectations and how we can fail to put our trust in the right things and how the choice to stay and chance something might be the most important you can make. While I admire how truly weighed down these two are  and the message of the story I wish we had just a little more resolution as the ending barely qualifies as a HFN but instead is simply the possibility of one .

3.5 out of 5

 

The Heart of It by Molly O’Keefe: Outwardly a successful author Gabe Peterson is not at home in his own skin and is unable to have a satisfying sexual encounter without being drunk. Sober he is petrified of being touched in a sexual way due to childhood sexual abuse. Elena is a very expensive escort hired by Peterson to try to help him find a way to enjoy sex without getting drunk. After several failed attempts  Elena has grown invested in Gabe’s struggle. She won’t let him give up and pushes him past his panic to help him confront his hidden anger and shame to a breakthrough. However the person most affected by their encounter is Elena, who is unsettled enough by the truths she disclosed to Gabe and her own dark memories dreged up in their conversations to start making changes in her life. This was the first Molly O’Keefe story to capture my attention as I have tried several of her novels, but not been able to get past the first few chapters. Elena and Gabe’s conversations felt genuine, as did the decisions they've made along the way. There was also a marked lack of self-pity which was refreshing. I enjoyed this story enough that I will probably give O’Keefe's novels another try.

4 out 5 stars

 

Sacrifice by Cecilia Tan: A demigod in ancient Greece is trapped by the bargain he struck with the residents of  his valley. When they deliver him a virgin sacrifice  he must work magic that guarantees the fertility and fecundity for their crops. Over the years he come to hate this bargain, traumatized by the toll his bargain has taken on the young women brought to him as sacrifice. He now wishes for nothing more than to be left alone and forgotten. His solitude is interrupted when  a young Chinese woman sold into slavery by her trader father is presented to him as sacrifice. He is torn by the duty to his bargain, and  his need for her to be capable of consent so that she might come to want him without him without it destroying her. I was very skeptical coming into this story, not sure it could provide a satisfying romantic resolution to the conflicts in it, but the alternating POV chapters allowed the attraction to believably develop while not glossing over their fears and motivations.

4 out of 5 stars

 

Real Feelings by Charlotte Stein: A woman orders AI companion made to her specifications, meant to fulfill all aspects of her relationship needs without any of the risks (a walking-talking sex toy). When faced with him, in his nearly life-like glory she is unable to surrender to the fantasy of having a lover made to order, interested in pleasing her in every way. She feels shamed by her desires, her fears and loneliness and is horrified by the realization of how much it matters to her that he can’t choose whether he wants to fulfill her desires or not. Told exclusively from Moira’s point of view, I loved how much uncertainty and tension remains for the reader as Moira falls for her AI lover Michael, especially as Moira questions her sanity whenever she sees sparks of awareness, consciousness, and wanting in him. Another gem from Charlotte Stein.

 5 out 5 stars.

 

Rainy Season by Mary Ann Rivers:  Lisa Shirek is a barista who can sense the clouds of sadness and hurts enveloping her customers, and thrives on giving the comfort that they need but can’t ask for. Mark is a regular at the cafe, his presence is so bright and dazzling that Lisa can only admire him from out of the corner of her eye. I was so distracted by the high-concept atmospheric imagery and mathematical/metaphorical banter I didn’t really connect to the story till about half-way through when the descriptions became more grounded in the physical world focusing in on the textures of the lovers exploring of each other. Rivers was still able to move me tears however just not over the main couple.

3 out of 5 stars

 

The Rain in Spain by Amy Jo Cousins: Javi and Magda met in India, and married on impulse after spending only a sun-kissed week together, before Magda headed off to another travel assigment. It has been of year of tentative reunions and short times together at home in Chicago, and now on their belated honeymoon trip to Spain  Magda is questioning if they have  anything to hold them together. I really believed in Javier and Magda, with their unvoiced insecurities and their fear of speaking of them. As someone who has traveled a lot, I know how the tensions and small irritations of travel can reveal the fractures in a relationship.

4 out of 5 stars

 

Fitting In by Audra North: Stas Petrovich has a lot riding on the results of the upcoming college election. Son of poor gay immigrant parents, he has never known easy social acceptance, and want nothing more than to have the confirmation that he finally fits in by being elected class president. Leila dos Santos, doesn’t fit in, and doesn’t seem to care. When she is the only person to show up to Stas’s rained out paintball excursion, she rattles Stas. His certainty that he was right to change himself to be  accepted is shaken as they get to know each other over beers at her apartment. I really liked Leila, particularly her bravery in reaching out to Stas, letting herself being vulnerable when it has cost her so much.

4 out 5 stars.

 

Private Study by Shari Slade: After years of doing and studying only what her father wanted her to, Tess has escaped to a college far from home. She relishing  the opportunity to study what she wants and is trying to define who she is and what she likes. What she wants to learn more than anything else is sex. When a classmate find her sex vlog, and makes lewd entitled comments she realizes just how much she has exposed herself in her quest to learn more about herself. Seeing how upset she is Jameson , another classmate intervenes. Tess is torn between being grateful and embarrassed by his intervention. Tess is full of righteous indignation and inexperience and doesn’t really know what to do about Jameson’s interest in her and whether they can or should explore things together. Tess is at times unfair and jumps to conclusions too quickly and Jameson is  all at once curious,  tentative and wary which made them  both feel authentically young and inexperienced. I thought Slade did a great job capturing the the uncertainty, curiosity of young men and women just starting to figure themselves out.

4 out 5 stars

 

Storm Warning by Alexandra Haughton: Amy Collier had known Tom Wilson all her life. Seemingly inseparable, their friendship fell apart when Amy chose to go off to L.A. after college to become an event planner. After five years in LA, coming home with only the what she could stuff in her car, a pile of debt and broken dreams, the last person Amy wants to see is Tom. Tom isn’t waiting to kick her while she is down, but wants give her a job, and to find a way convince her to let him back into her life. I liked a lot of this story, particularly how Amy and Tom struggle to reconnect, and acknowledge the sexual tension that wedged them apart. However one of the other conflicts they have to overcome is Amy’s debt and her feelings of failure and desire to dig herself out it on her own. While interesting it seemed like one conflict too many in a story that already had plenty of internal conflict.

4 out 5 stars

A review digital ARC of Summer Rain was provided by Audra North one of the writers and organizers of the anthology.

 Summer Rain will be available starting  June 9, 2014


The Kraken King by Meljean Brook

Krakenkingpart1-184x300Meljean Brook and Nalini Singh were my gateway drugs into Romance. Back in early 2012, I started watching Felicia Day’s Vaginal Fantasy Book Club. One of the early bookclub selections was the Iron Duke, which I was lucky enough to get from my local library. I was sucked into the her Steampunk/alternate history world, The Iron Seas, where the Horde (Genghis Khan’s mighty empire) had overrun Asia and Europe and had enslaved great swaths of the world through nanobots hidden in sugar.

 

Meljean Brook hooked me with her fantastic world-building and in every book, novella and short since she has expanded the world a little further. We have traveled to the zombie infested European interior, infiltrated the New World settlements, discovered hidden Scandinavian villages, traveled to remote African trading posts, and met colorful characters from up-tight New Worlders, rebel sultans, imposing blacksmiths, pirate queens and outlandish archaeologists. From the most powerful of English Dukes to orphan gutter rats, Meljean Brook has populated the world with fascinatingly diverse characters.

 

Krakenkingpart2-184x300In the Kraken King, the focus shifts from the west to Australia and the eastern fringes of the Golden Empire. Zenobia Fox is a writer used observing and never participating in the adventures she chronicles, even though she is also the daughter of notorious traitor and brother to trouble-making adventurer. Her connection to Archimedes Fox, the star of her serials and brother is no longer a secret and she can no longer hide out in her quiet North Sea village. Too many ransom seeking kidnappers have come bursting through her door, so she decides it is time stop being a sitting duck and to venture forth and see the world for herself. When her friend Helene needs a companion for a urgent trip to the Red City, she leaps at the opportunity. However she is soon leaping from the wreckage of her airship when it come under attack by marauders off the coast of Australia. She leaps right into the arms of one of the most dangerous men in the world, the former rebel Ariq the Kraken King.

 

The first two parts of this serial were fantastic. Great character development and tension as Arriq and Zenobia try to figure each other while trying to keep their own secrets and those of the one they love. I don’t usually sign up for serials usually waiting for the collected edition to come out as I did with Ruthie Knox’s Roman Holiday but this is one I would happily recommend. Each part has it own arc within the larger Kraken King story arc and are long enough to be satisfying. Zenobia, Ariq and the Eastern fringes of the empire hold lots of surprises for the reader and I can’t wait to learn more about them all.

 

The Kraken King and the Scribbling Spinster published April 15, 2014

The Kraken King and the Abominable Worm will be published April 22, 2014

The Kraken King and the Fox’s Den will be published April 29, 2014

The Kraken King and the Inevitable Abduction will published May 6, 2014

The Kraken King and the Iron Hear will be published May 13, 2014

The Kraken King and the Crumbling Walls will be published May 20, 2014

The Kraken King and the Empress’s Eyes will be published May 27, 2014

The Kraken King and the Greatest Adventure will be published June 3, 2014

 

The serial will be republished in a collected edition sometime after Aug 2014.

 

A review copy of The Kraken King, Part 1 & 2 were provided by Penguin/Intermix for review purposes


Reviewing Romantic Suspense: Against the Dark & Off the Edge (The Associates) by Carolyn Crane

Download (1)As teen and young adult I read a tons of mysteries and thrillers but since I started reading romance I have for the most part ignored Romantic Suspense. I picked up a couple via the library, but I didn’t have good experiences. Sometimes I didn’t buy into the premise of the book, or I couldn’t stand the ultra-macho protagonists, but I DNFed nearly every single one I tried. The closest thing to Romantic Suspense titles that I had any success with are the Kristen Ashley novels or Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series. Like anyone else when I tried enough books that didn’t work for me I start thinking that it was the whole genre that I didn’t care for. However when Carolyn Crane’s Off the Edge was released, I saw a lot positive reviews and recommendations for it on my twitter feed. I was intrigued by the idea of linguist hero (I loved my linguistics class in college) but I still hesitated to one-click because it was Romantic Suspense.

Then a few weeks ago, I found myself in the middle of big book shopping splurge thanks to the 90% off coupon from Kobo. I bought all books on wishlist that were eligible for the coupon, buying well over 50 books to add to TBR pile. Riding that 90% off high, I decided I could spend a few pennies to try a books outside my safe zone.

I decided to purchase both of of Carolyn Crane’s The Associates series books, based on the positive buzz for Off The Edge. I read them out of series order, so I will review them in the order I read them.

Off the Edge by Carolyn Crane ( The Associates Book 2):

The book opens with Laney, a young singer on the run, hiding out in Thai hotel, venturing out for a lonely celebratory birthday lunch, only to suspect her ex-husband’s men have finally tracked her down. She trusts her instincts and makes to flee put ends up trapped in storage closet paralyzed by uncertainty, till her best friend Rajini’s is able to retrieve her and bring her back to their hotel, downplaying her fears of discovery while at the same time warning her not leave the hotel without the say-so of her gangster/hotelier brothers. The incident wakes up Laney to the fact that she needs to move on soon, she is starting to realize how ill-prepared she is to do so, with her money tied up in Rajini’s bank accounts, unable to withdraw the funds by herself and her fake passport long expired. Unable to shake off the feeling of dangers but trying not to upset Rajini and her brothers, Laney starts making plans to improve her readiness while continuing her daily routines including her evening singing in the hotel lounge.

The hotel is crawling with unsavory people, and among them is a Associate, Macmillan, there to track down a dangerous but as of yet un-identified arms trafficker only known as the Jazzman, who is set to auction off a powerful stolen weapon. Macmillan specializes in tracking down un-traceable people through their words, and their vocal tics. He and his partner Rio set themselves up at the Hotel’s lounge to observe as representatives from arms dealers, and other organized crime groups gather to mingle in advance of the auction hoping to overhear something that will give them a lead on the Jazzman’s identity. Macmillan is however unexpected distracted much to his partner Rio’s amusement by Laney’s act. Macmillan ends up decoding her songs, identifying her poet heart and deducing she is in hiding and on the run. He is able to use this information to his advantage when he realizes that Laney has been making recording of her shows and on her computer might the data Macmillan needs to track down the Jazzman and the easiest way to get to it to seduce her, using his Linguistics Professor Peter Maxwell persona.

In his mind, he went back over her songs, flipping through them like a Rolodex of her heart.

As Prof. Peter Maxwell he is able to charm her into going out with him, even as he hesitates when he realizes how much he would have liked a girl just like when Peter Maxwell wasn’t just a persona, but his actual self. Despite his claim of not doing damsels in distress before long Peter’s agenda has shifted from using Laney in order to identify & stopping the Jazzman and retrieving the stolen weapon, to ensuring Laney escapes Bangkok unharmed.

What I loved: Macmillan is jaded and cold, having closed himself off to emotion in reaction to a tragic events that launched his covert-operative career. While Macmillan can break part language into analyzable data for a living, Laney is that one who is able to puzzle out the whole man from the pieces he has broken himself into. There is some wonderful word play in the book, great flirtatious banter and fantastic action. I felt the suspense was very well paced, allowing the characters to form believable connections and develop intimacy while building up the danger.

The villain in the story was also genuinely terrifying. Some of the plans he has for Laney made my hair stand on end.

What I didn’t: While I can understand how Laney was manipulated into staying in Thailand with Rajini and her brothers long after she should have left, her loyalty borders on recklessness, especially when she continued to dismiss her own instincts. I understood her to be a naturally passive person, whose years with her husband trained her to avoid conflict, but it drove me a bit nuts.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

AgainstsLGAgainst the Dark by Carolyn Crane (The Associates Book 1)

Angel Ramirez is retired safe-cracker whose childhood friends and former partners have recruited to do one a job in order to ransom one of their loved ones. They pose as prostitutes to inflitrate the home of Walter Borgola, a perverted and cagey criminal kingpin whose diamond collection they are after. It is a very dangerous job, because Borgola is known to be paranoid about security and has surrounded himself with a violent and cruel crew. While doing the job, Angel attracts the attention of Cole Hawkins, one of the Association’s agents, who is undercover in Borgola’s organization and has risen to be one his top security men.

“Have you spotted bad boyfriend material? White Jenny asked. “Imagine that. At a party like this!”

Cole is a logistical expert, who specializes on putting together seemingly unconnected information together to take down criminal organizations. Cole needs information stored in one of Borgola’s safes to avert a tragedy and Angel’s heist is both a complication and opportunity. He tracks Angel down and use White Jenny & Macy as leverage to get her to agree to return to Borgola’s mansion posing as his girlfriend and help him locate and crack Borgola’s second secret safe.

Angel knew he would be dangerous to her from the moment she spotted him at the party, not because he was on Borgola’s security team but because she was drawn to him and she had uncanny ability to find herself attracted to doomed men she can never save.

Macy smiled. “So says the Jane Goodall of the self-destructive man.”

Cole devoted to his job and mission has no problem blackmailing Angel into helping, and throwing her under the bus if it all goes wrong, until he doesn’t. He grows in admiration of her covert skills, and courage, getting to know her as person, figuring out her secrets, until he realizes he can’t sacrifice her, but keeps that information to himself because he can’t let himself get entangled with her and the best way to avoid it that is to push her away.

He wanted to tell her that, suddenly. He wanted to be alone with her and hold her and tell her about how if you felt scared of a thing and did it anyway, it mean you were brave and strong.

What I loved:  I am sucker for stories where people try to deny their attraction for each other, and fight their love tooth and nail. I loved how complex Angel and Cole’s relationship becomes as they both zig and zag to try to avoid revealing vulnerabilities to each other. They lie to themselves and to each other, while at same time learning to depend on each other.

I loved being able compare and contrast Cole and Angel’s reasons for being drawn to dangerous covert work and the way the work has built up some relationships and damaged others. I particularly liked how you could see in their relationships with their associates the foundations of what Angel and Cole could give each other. Angel’s heist was daring and exciting, feeding her need for thrills and it revealed her friendship with White Jenny & Macy was genuine and believable. She never loses sight of them even as Angel is drawn into working with Cole. Cole’s associates enter the picture late in the book, but they are also shown to have bonds deeper and truer than they would ever acknowledge, but it shows in the little things they know about each other. It was also ton of fun to see Rio and Macmillan show up to help, after having met them in the second book.

4.5 out 5 Stars

 

I actually liked Against the Dark slightly more than Off the Edge despite having a more conventional premise because I liked how competent Angel was. While Laney’s is the kind of partner Peter needs, her skill set is essentially limited to her emotional and verbal ability and agility and Angel is the whole package. While Peter is the more interesting hero, Cole is still fascinating, and I was happy with their respective HEA. I am looking forward to other books in this series, and excited to realize that I do like Romantic Suspense after all. 


Roman Holiday: The Complete Adventures by Ruthie Knox

9780345547071.225x225-75When Ruthie Knox announced that she would be following up the serialization of her upcoming novel “Truly” on Wattpad with a truly serialized novel I was intimidated by the commitment. I used to read dozens of serialized stories a month when I was reading comic books regularly instead of romance novels. But as grew to know myself as reader I started letting those comics books pile up till I had 6 or more and read them all in one shot. In my Romance and YA reading I am resolutely a binge reader. I like to read books in sizable chunks that give me chance to just lose myself in a story, so I decided to “trade-wait” Roman Holiday to borrow a term from the comic book world, and I am glad I did. While the story was structure to be read in four to seven chapter chunks, with their own distinct story-arcs, I was happy that I could read one chunk after another.

In “Roman Holiday” Ashley Bowman torn by grief and betrayal, impulsively chains herself to a palm tree on her late-grandmother’s former Florida Key beach-front apartments, to stop Roman Diaz’s bulldozers from flattening them to the ground. To Roman, Ashley is first an inconvenience, an unscheduled delay, an irritation to be dealt with. But from her vulnerable exposed position Ashley is able to bluff her way into power position.

 

“She threw him a smile that showed small uneven teeth. He imagined two rows of them sharp and deadly as a shark’s.”

 

Ashley and Roman hate and fear each other, and initially I didn’t like either of them very much, because we see them as they see each other and every description is tinged with their aggressive negativity. But this love story, is not a simple story of overcoming first impressions, because in truth Ashley and Roman see each other more clearly than they see themselves. It is a story of self-acceptance, and not defining yourself by what others want to see in you.

Ashley ends up blackmailing Roman into postponing the planned demolition, and embarking on improvised road trip to introduce him to the winter residents of Sunnyvale and convince him of the value  of saving her childhood refuge. Nothing is straightforward as Ashley has to confront her grief, and the complicated motivations and personalities of her friends, while all the while poking at Roman trying to crack his untouchable plasticized shell of perfection. Ruthie inserts a great deal of humor, even slapstick into their interactions. While Roman might be dripping in dignity, Ashley has none.

 

“She smiled. She loved dragging him down to her level. There was something subversively hot about flustering a man who tried so hard not to be flusterable.

 

This story took me places I didn’t expect, going beyond its enemies-to-lovers structure, to address questions of identity, family legacy, forgiveness, reconciliation and belonging. 

It is a long road to travel, and a couple of detours didn’t work for me as well as others but in the end I was deeply satisfied with Ruthie’s story. I also admired the way she was able to slowly reveal Roman’s back-story.

 

4.5 out of 5 Stars for Roman Holiday: The Complete Adventures (2 Book Bundle).

 

A review copy of Roman Holiday: The Complete Adventures was provided by Random House: Loveswept via NetGalley for review purposes.


One Night in Santiago by Audra North

Audra is twitter acquaintance of mine, who I first started following after seeing her tweets on diversity in romances. I ended up missing her first novel, (Falling for the CEO) probably because it had CEO in the title and my eyes just skate over that word in romance novel titles (along with baby, sheik or billionaire) but based on the strengths of this story I just went back and ordered it. This is her second novella in the Stanton family series for Flaunt.

Lily Stanton is hardworking consultant getting over a horrible fiancé (cheated with her best friend, while encouraging her to work longer hours to suport his art career). She is stranded in Santiago, Chile on the eve of her younger sister's college graduation. All she needs is warm room and her flight to take off on time tomorrow. The last thing she needs to find herself in is a competition for the last room at Santiago Ritz with a handsome stranger. Bruno Komarov is a Chilean-American businessman, trying to get back to California in time for the arrival of the first shipment of the season, a very important event for his family's import-export business. Bruno is wary yet fascinated by Lily whose beauty he admires, and whose hard-nose negotiation tactics delight and surprise him.

He cedes the last room to Lily who impulsively invites him to share it. Almost immediately regretting her decision her pride keeps her from recinding her offer of the suite's couch. Lily and Bruno's interactions are thick with sexual tension and they see-saw on whether acknowledging that would be a good thing or not.

Audra does a great job with the hesitant flirtation, and the building attraction while at the same time allowing Bruno and Lily to get to know each other beyond the superficial throught some great interactions and conversations. One night romances are usually a tough sell for me, but in the end I was left feeling that Bruno and Lily have chance at making a bi-costal relationship work. They are both career driven professionals who extremely family orientated but whose work lives led them to either stay in relationships longer than they should have or gave them excuses to keep them superficial and both are ready to make changes.

What I loved: Bruno was believably Chilean-American avoiding Latino clichés, and his family's backstory made sense. Lily's interest in a hot night in Santiago with Bruno makes great story sense, but it not without emotional complications.

This was really enjoyable sexy novella. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Digital ARC provided by the author in exchange for a fair review.

Publication date Dec 30, 2013

 


Cara McKenna's Unbound

Merry is on a journey, hiking through the wilds of the Scottish highlands, when she was falls sudden ill. She pushes herself back to last occupied building she saw on her way, nearly braining herself in the process. In that rustic cottage lives Rob. Rob has exiled himself from civilization to keep himself from killing himself with drink. Cranky, prickly and barely civil, he cares for Merry. Rob is deeply disturbed by her presence as it exposes his loneliness and remind him of needs and desires he has suppressed.

This is a story about letting yourself want what you want, to accept yourself for who you are. Rob is very specifically kinky, in a way that has long made him feel isolated and ashamed. He used alcohol as crutch till it took over his life. Merry overate habitually, and recently lost a hundred pounds, but not yet at ease or satisfied with her body. She struggles with the reality of how differently people treat her now. She too is trying to claim what she desires. Having internalized that she couldn't be both fat and bitch, she projected a jolly non-threatening persona. People-pleasing and self-abasing she has stuck around in unsatisfactory jobs, friendships and relationships. With Rob, she trusts herself to reach for something, and not just wish it happen.

Why I enjoyed reading it: I love the hesitant false starts. The witty and down-right mean inner voices Rob and Merry hear in their heads. I loved the tension as they try to let themselves be more exposed than they have ever before.

Cara McKenna leaves us in a place of hope that doesn't betray the real serious obstacles they face.

 


Kiss the Bride (Amour et Chocolat 0.5) by Deirdre Martin, Christie Ridgway, Laura Florand

I Read this anthology for Laura Florand's "All's Fair in Love and Chocolate", which I would rate 4.5. I have ended up reading her Amour et Chocolat series all out of order and that has worked out just fine, since all the couples are so interesting and charming. Her writing makes me hungry and jealous but her fantasies are so satisfying.

In this story Elle is a artsy food blogger that has moved to Paris in part because she has become obsessed with the artistry of Simon Casset's chocolate confections despite never having tasted them. Simon is obsessive and intense, who channels his energy into his precise and detailed work, is completely charmed and disarmed by her flustered reaction at meeting him. She makes up a fiancé as part of impulsive cover story for her interest in him a fiction he sees through immediately even though he chooses not to challenge it directly. Both characters revel in the intense interest and focus they have for each other but eventually Simon must find a way to convince Elle to drop her fictions and trust him with her heart.


All the stories feature women is some way scared to commit. Ridgway's short story felt compressed at times, but was touching. I didn't care at all for Martin's "Early Bird Special".