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February 2015

Guilty Pleasure & The Pleasure Principle by Jane O'Reilly

Cover58621-mediumI read these two novellas last month. I didn't review them right away because I needed to think about how I felt about them. I liked a lot of what Ms. O’Reilly was doing in these novellas, and I found them undeniably hot but I struggled a bit with some of the choices made by the characters. Both the novellas center on women rebounding and reclaiming their sexuality in the face of misogyny, and unexpectedly falling in love not just in lust with their sexual partners.

In Guilty Pleasure, Tasha is the lone female architect her company. She has a sexist boss and sexually harassing clients. Always a hard worker, she is spurred into ridiculous levels of work-alcoholism when a new male architect, Ethan Hall is hired. She finds emotional release by masturbating at her desk long after everyone else has gone home. She knows it is dangerous for to her career if she were caught, but the fear doesn't stop her, and instead drives her on, till the night that Ethan walks in on her.

Ethan it turns out it is not the repressed workaholic automaton she has imagined him to be. Ethan becomes her sexual partner-in-crime. They drive each other into greater and greater risks in the office and more exploration outside the office.

I wanted to reach in the book and shake Tasha, and say “honey no!” to her self-destructive short-sighted choices. I have a hard time with books with lots of workplace conflict and I just wanted to get her out of that situation. Her sexual explorations with Ethan were certainly pleasurable, but so ill-timed I seriously worried for her. But in the end she gets herself out of her work conflict herself in completely satisfactory way.

I felt that Ethan and Tasha’s relationship was one dimensional. They are clearly sexually compatible, but little else was developed on the page, and I wished we could have seen them not just be told that they related to each other in other ways.


Cover58622-mediumThe Pleasure Principle:

When Verity discovers that her ex-boyfriend has negatively rated her sexual performance on a website, Verity breaks down at work. In response her boss & secret crush, Cal Bailey, an unapologetic playboy and rumored host of sex parties, invites her to his house for one of those fabled parties. At the party Cal takes a special interest in her but she is quickly overwhelmed by all the public sexuality only to run into her ex on the way out. Cal steps in, deflects her ex and walks Verity home where he confronts her. Cal is distressed to discover that Verity has internalized her ex’s ugly and hateful assertions that she is frigid, and decides it is his responsibility to show her that she is not bad at sex and that she can enjoy it. Cal has to work very hard to build up her confidence, earn her trust and help her feel less exposed.

When I read it, I enjoyed Pleasure Principle more than I did Guilty Pleasure, because I wasn't nearly as stressed for Verity as I was for Tasha. The trajectory of the story was comforting as Cal is essentially a jaded Rake who find meaning and intimacy while mentoring an in experience woman about the joys of sex, and I know how those kind of stories turn out. Verity however almost upsets the plan, because she is determined not get attached to Cal, it is only after she realizes how and why Cal has become invested in this project that she can see his hurts and needs. In the end the more they interact, the more they have sex, the more private they get. They move away from Cal’s voyeurism & exhibitionism withdrawing to private spaces, where they don’t need or want anyone else. Verity comes accept that this isn't a sacrifice for Cal, because what they have together means more to him. In this novella I felt we had more development of the relationship outside the bedroom but it still was not robust.

There were moments in these stories that I really loved, so I am open to reading more from Ms. O’Reilly, as I found her voice was very compelling and immediate.

 I was invited to consider these books for review by Ms.O'Reilly and received review copies from UK Carina via NetGalley

Sleeping with Her Enemy (49th Floor #2) by Jenny Holiday

Cover60480-mediumOn what was supposed to be her wedding day, Amy Morrison is seeking refuge at her empty office on the 49th Floor of a swanky office building in downtown Toronto. Everyone she knows is at her wedding, but there won't be a wedding because her fiance and boyfriend of seven years, Mason has just told her he doesn't love her anymore. Amy is embarrassed, shocked and disappointed. She is then mortified when she is discovered sobbing by her office enemy Dax Harris. Dax is the CEO of the software/app development firm that shares the floor with the real-estate development company where she is vice-president. He isn't at her wedding because she didn't invite the jerk. But Dax doesn't act like a jerk. He takes her out for drinks, listens to her vent, keeps her from going home drunk with the bar vultures and helps her avoid the family and friends  till she is ready to face them.  In the midst of it all Dax and Amy start seeing each other in a new light, and start realizing that underneath their long-standing irritation and annoyance with each other, they are very attracted to each other.

I really enjoyed following Dax and Amy as the moved from annoyance & denial to lust & friendship and finally to love. I loved that Holiday didn't rush the journey, allowing hesitations and second thoughts. Amy and Dax can't seem to stop kissing, but they take the time to become friends before they finally have sex.

I love that Amy can realize she is grieving the loss of the future she had planned to have with Mason, not Mason himself,  re-evaluates all of her life, not just her love life and still come out liking herself & not feeling like she needs to have a personality transplant. She starts investing in making her own friends (beyond Dax), exploring new hobbies and changing livelong hurtful patterns of relating with her family while never abandoning who she really is. 

"Keeping it casual" and "enemies to lovers"  are some of my favorite tropes and I really liked how Holiday executed a story blending the two.  While Amy and Dax had serious misgiving about each other, and have been truly antagonistic in the past, they are never hateful to each other. Both Amy and Dax struggle with the boundaries they have set,  often crossing them emotionally and physically but  their caution & wariness feels natural and not contrived.  I loved that when  Amy develops an interest in Tinder and she goes on dates with other men, even though it makes Dax feel confused and jealous, Amy is never made to feel bad about it.  Dax's frustration and confusion are his to deal with, not Amy's responsibility.

I thought the ways their friends and family meddled or didn't in their love life was perfect.  Their friends tease & nudge but in the way friends would. They express concern in the aftermath of Amy's break-up,  and give advice and encouragement when they see Amy is ready to date again.   I especially loved how Holiday used Dax's English/Chinese-Canadian family in the story. They clearly have lives that extend beyond Dax and Amy. I loved how they immediately like and  want to latch on to Amy but are well  aware of Dax's commitment issues, so they don't try to overtly match-make even as they encourage him to pursue Amy as something more than a friend. When Amy and Dax's conspire to persuade Dax's mother Lin to consider moving to a condo with less upkeep and better amenities, by convincing her to help Amy  do market research for a potential real-estate project,  it is clear that Mrs. Harris knows how much Dax likes Amy and is playing them as much as they are playing her.  

Jenny Holiday is the author behind the often hilarious @TropeHeroine twitter account, where she lovingly satirizing some of the more ridiculous premises romance heroines endure. This twitter account introduced me to Holiday's sense of humor, which is funny without being mean or condescending, and inspired me to request a review copy of this novel. I was delighted to see that same of sense of humor in her novels.  I will be going back to find the first book in this series, and look forward to reading many more books from Ms. Holiday.


A review copy of this book was provided by Entangled Publishing: Indulgence via NetGalley.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley #TBR Challenge Book

Last year I was talking about Canadian authors on Twitter with one my favorite bloggers and twitters friends, Kay from Miss Bates Reads Romance. She confessed to not liking Margaret Atwood, and I asked her what Canadian authors she loved. She recommended I read some Susanna Kearsley, and suggested I start with the Winter Sea. Not long after that, I saw The Winter Sea on sale, and I snatched it up. While Kay and I don't always like the same tropes, I trust her to know a good book. Due to the often overwhelming number of ARCs on my kindle, and review commitments, I often don't get around to reading books I actually bought for months and months. Thankfully Wendy's TBR challenge gives me a monthly "excuse" to read those books.


I absolutely loved The Winter Sea. It stood out in so many ways from the kinds of books I usually read, that it was felt like a vacation. The book is about wandering away from the prescribed paths and pacing was unlike any romance I've read recently.


The Winter Sea is the story of Carrie McClellands, a nomadic Canadian writer of historical fiction. She has just spent a month in France trying to start writing her newest novel. She hoped to write about one of the failed Jacobean invasion of Scotland in 1708. On her drive north to visit her agent, she takes a detour along the Scottish coast and come up to a ruined castle, which turns out to be one of the places her protagonist was supposed to be visit.


Slains Castle remains in her thoughts all through her visit with her agent and friend, so Jane encourages her to visit it again. Together they go back and explore, and soon Carrie has decided to take a cottage close to Slains as her winter writing quarters.


The novel is really two interconnected love stories. Kearsley moves the narrative back and forth in time, alternating between Carrie in present day Slains and Sophia, a distant ancestor of Carrie, and the new heroine of Carrie's book in the early 18th century. In the current day Carrie wrestle with her novel, that feels less and less like a work of her imagination, as the little details & additions she has guessed at keep being confirmed by historical documents. Sophia meanwhile falls in love with a wanted man and is soon deep in a conspiracy to return King James II to the Scottish throne.

Early on I preferred the present day chapters because I so enjoyed Carrie and her struggled to understand where her books was coming from while the historical chapters were so full of tension and uncertainty I wanted to skip to the end to see what happened. I was drawn in to Sophia's story, as she blossomed at Slains frist as she falls in love and then as she grows when her lover has to leave her behind. I loved the contrast between Carrie's and Sophia's romances. Carrie's is gentle, patient and comfortable while Sophia's is dangerous, passionate and fraught. I loved how different Carrie & Sophia were as women, which gave such richness to the story.

I think The Winter Sea is a excellent book to recommend to non-romance readers, as it has strong crossover potential, and I think the rich historical and political detail would appeal to readers of historical fiction. But I would highly recommend this book to all romance readers. Thank you Kay, for suggesting I read such a great book.


On concern trolling & the policing of reading or why I’m not talking about that book with you

I love reading, I love books and I usually love talking about books.  But right now I am tired.  I am tired of hitting “hide post” or scrolling furiously past yet another concern trolling article.

It seems to me that every few years whenever some new book takes the world by storm we get another spate of these kinds of articles. Some articles are written to point out the problems with the popular book du jour’s writing, content or genre and conclude with a dark vision about the death of literature, or with worry about the future of writing because of the overwhelming popularity of a particular genre or book of the moment.  Whether it is Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses (one of the first books I remember being discussed in hushed judgmental voices by adults during my childhood), or Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Twilight, Hunger Games or, most recently, Fifty Shades of Grey, the tone, content and audience of these articles in essence remains the same.

These posts are often shared by well-meaning folks who have never read the book but are amazed people would buy and read such trash or who want to warn folks away from buying such corrupting filth.  In some instances there is true intellectual curiosity about why that particular book could ever be so popular, but those are the exception.  Over the years I have given up talking about popular problematic books with people who are talking out of a position of ignorance.  A person doesn’t have to read a book or watch a particular movie to form an opinion but they are not satisfying conversational partners. More often than not these conversations degenerate into negative and ignorant comments that assign moral and ethical characteristics to the readers of the “problem” book.

As a librarian, I wish people were more willing to trust readers.   Readers can be discerning and appreciative of a book’s flaws and still enjoy the experience the book gave them.  Readers are able to distinguish between reality and fantasy.  In my long experience reading genre fiction (Sci-Fi, Mystery, Fantasy and Romance), readers are by and large able to recognize risky, dangerous and bad behavior for what it is, even when that behavior is performed by the protagonists.   As long as there have been stories, we’ve had problematic ones. Personally I think it is preferable for people to explore dark topics & dangerous fantasies through fiction. 

I personally read and enjoy reading critical articles and posts that call out problematic aspects of books I’ve read. Reading critiques of story structure, writing style or content help me become a better reader but I am just not going to get on board for another round of “Bash this Book” by those who haven’t read it because too often it turns into “Bash its Readers.”  So if you want to talk books with me right now, tell me about books you are reading and loving.  Tell me why you love them, I would love to know. But trust me to make my own reading choices. 

Rise by Karina Bliss

Rise-KarinaBliss-1600x2400I read a handful of Karina Bliss’s Harlequin SuperRomance titles when I first started reading contemporary romance. I found them emotional without being manipulative, engaging and fun.  Which is why was very interested in reading Rise.

Rise is the story of Zander Freedman  who appeared as a supporting character in a several of the SuperRomances  I read (What the Librarian Did, A Prior Engagement & Bring Him Home).  Apparently fans have been lobbying Bliss for a happy ending for this charismatic and interesting villain.

Zander Freedman is the front man for a legendary rock band, Rage. When his original band mates jumped ship after his brother Devin collapsed on stage due to alcohol abuse, he refused  to stop touring.  Zander re-populated the band with younger and up-and-coming musicians through a reality show competition.   To some of his former band mates this is just another cash grab and betrayal, but the truth is not as simple.

Zander is incredibly ambitious and driven.  His career is his whole life. And he has gambled his whole future on his newest tour. He is playing a dangerous game of denial with his voice. Warned by doctors to cut the tour short or risk permanent damage, he refuses to consider stopping because it will leave him financial ruined.

Elizabeth Winston is a Pulitzer prize-winning biographer and celebrated historian. She lives a quite life, baby-sitting her nieces and nephews, teaching at a local university, sharing a whiskey at the end of her day with her elderly neighbor. She thinks it is a prank when Zander comes calling. She writes biographies of complex dead people, not megalomaniac rock stars. But it is no mistake or prank, after firing his second ghost-writing biographer, Zander wants to recruit Elizabeth to help him write his memoir. He wants her to lend credibility to the project & he makes all the right promises, and his charisma eventually overcomes all of Elizabeth’s objections.

Before long Elizabeth isn’t just prying into Zander’s past with probing questions, she is interfering in his everyday life and not letting him get away with ignoring the consequences of his actions have on others.

I loved Zander’s slow & determined pursuit of Elizabeth. It was nice to see them develop a friendship, to cultivate a somewhat adversarial working relationship, before Zander is finally able to lure Elizabeth to his bed. And I loved that sleeping together didn’t resolve their relationship issues, but instead complicated them.

I particularly liked that Elizabeth is not some sexual innocent looking to be debauched by a rock sex god or a prude in need of liberation. She might live a quiet life in Auckland, but she isn’t sexually inexperienced. She has lived a little more life than her siblings think she has, she just prizes her privacy and independence.

I thought Bliss did a good job over-all with her portrayal of the complicated repercussions of being a pastor’s kid. Elizabeth’s familiarity with life in a fish-bowl, her caution about her personal & professional reputation, and the complicated role faith plays in her life were very well drawn. There was one odd moment, where early in the book Elizabeth mentions Chakras, but it isn't followed up again, so we don’t get to explore if she has if has added any other unconventional religious beliefs to her traditional religious practice and without any kind of follow up or further mention it feels like remnant from a discarded plot line.

Bliss did a wonderful job building a redemption story for Zander that did not excuse his prior bad actions, or try to minimize the cost of those actions on others. The dark moments in Zander and Elizabeth’s relationship are well executed. I felt the weight of their choices and was really happy with the resolution.

4 stars

Rise has been  available at the usual e-book retailers since Jan 28, 2015

I received a review copy of Rise from Karina Bliss via Julie Brazeal at AToMR Promotions.

Once Upon a Rose (La Vie en Roses #1) by Laura Florand

Once upon a time in a rose-filled valley in southern France, Layla Dubois, lost and stranded, walks into a stranger’s house and is nearly mauled by the big resident bear. Matthieu Rosier, heir to that rose-filled valley is the blushing, growling, sweetly fumbling but very drunk bear of a man, she encounters.  Having drunk much too much wine with his cousins, while celebrating his 30th birthday, Matt really wants to pick up and kiss the beautiful “Bouclettes” who walked in his house and keep her. Thankfully Matthieu’s friends and family intervene before any harm is done except to his pride. The following morning Matt wakes to a huge hangover, a great deal of embarrassment and the discovery that Layla is unexpectedly his new neighbor.  He soon is torn between wanting to scare Layla “Bouclettes” Dubois away from his valley, and wanting her to stay forever.

Layla, has just finished the last gig on her European tour supporting her first hit album as Belle Woods. She has three weeks till she is due back in the studio to start work on her second, but she hasn't written any new songs. She is running away from the crushing weight of the studio’s expectations and her own fears that she won’t be able to match her first album’s success by retreating to the small house she has recently inherited in the middle of the Rosier Valley. The little house Layla has inherited was supposed to be Matthieu’s and it is right in the middle of his family’s rose fields, in lands central to his family’s perfume business.

This romance was delightful. Layla and Matthieu set up to be opponents, as she has something he wants and she doesn't want to give it up.I loved their flirtation, how Matt’s burning blushes make Layla bolder and saucier and how Matt's sweetly romantic gestures, surprise and unbalance her.

I loved that they can’t quite trust each other’s intentions even if they can’t deny their attraction. Is Matt trying to seduce her to get her little piece of the valley back? Is Layla simply playing with Matt to build her own confidence?  

 At first glance they seem to opposites that can’t help but be attracted to each other. Matthieu  a farmer so tied to his land it is his whole identity, and Layla a nomadic musician, running away from expectations,and unencumbered by family but that is not the whole story. Matt and Layla have huge vulnerable hearts, that they  handle very differently. Those hearts and how they respond to hurt and vulnerability come into play when they come close to having “Big Misunderstanding” moments. Twice their relationship comes close to dissolution but the fights don’t quite work out the way they usually do in Big Misunderstanding books.  I loved that they work out their anger before confronting each other or stay to figure out what they misunderstood.  Layla lays out her feelings and emotions for all to see, and Matt does his best to hid his gentle heart but neither can hold a grudge. That they are unwilling to tear each other when they are feeling extremely vulnerable and exposed is what most convinced me of their HEA despite the obstacles they will have to surmount to make their lives one.

I loved the way Florand depicted the family relationships in this book and how it forms and affects the way Layla and Matthieu respond to each other. The Rosiers are complicated, prickly and full of history.  Tante Colette & Pépé Rosier both deeply love their shared family, have sacrificed much for it but have long ago stop listening & speaking to each other. Despite their missteps and machinations they have raised a band of Rosier cousins who are in turns playful, loving and infuriating. I loved how much the cousins tease Matt,  while loving and protecting him.  I loved that their love & camaraderie  doesn't erase family rivalries and true tensions exist.

Florand gives Layla a very different upbringing & family relationships to contrast with the Rosier's without casting one as better than the other. Layla knows little of her family history, almost nothing about her absent father’s family and has few ties to any particular place in the world. She has her mother, and her grand-parents, Lebanese-refugees torn from their homeland by war. They are physically far away in the US, but always a close as phone-call. The closeness and love they share is never in doubt even if they are world's apart.

In the end, Matt and Layla's love and the machinations of Tante Colette & Pépé Rosier work to push the Rosier's to redefine their ideas about roots & belonging opening up doors for HEAs for all of them.

4.5 Stars 

I received a review copy of "Once Upon a Rose" from Ms. Florand.

Radio Silence by Alyssa Cole


When the news turns ugly and I can't read anymore I often retreat to books. One of the books that has provided me with solace in the past month was Radio Silence. Radio Silence is an post-apocalyptic NA with diverse cast, set in Western New York. Arden, who is African American and her best friend and roommate John (Gay & Korean American) live in Rochester, NY (my current hometown). One day, with no warning an unknown event takes down the power grid and all communications devices & services. At first people are calm, waiting for some official response, for FEMA, or the Military to roll in. But no news is not good news. While at the beginning they shared their fridge food with neighbors, and joked about their shared plumbing issues,  soon the post-event calm dissipated, and people started seeking refuge behind locked doors, as suspicion and paranoia spread through the community. Cries, and fearsome sounds of looters or other raiders started filling the night. Convinced that whatever has happened isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon, John and Arden pack up their remaining food stuffs and choose to hike out of Rochester and head to John’s family cabin, 100 or so miles away which they know is better provisioned and likely safer than their city apartment. They are only miles from the cabin, with Arden taking a turn at navigating when they are attacked by desperate strangers and only survive due to Gabe’s John’s brother miraculous intervention.

Gabe hauls the unconscious John to the cabin, and does what he can to make him comfortable (Gabe was an emergency room doctor). Arden is torn. She has reached the destination they were fixed on but it doesn't really feel like a safe haven, as life in the cabin is not without fear and tension. Gabe and John’s parents are missing and Gabe has been unable to track them down and keep his teenage sister Maggie safe. Gabe is relieved to have John arrive but he takes an immediate dislike of Arden, who he blames for leading John off-track which lead to him being attacked on their way to the family cabin. While John recuperates from his head injury, Arden and Gabe frequently butt heads over big and small decisions. It is clear to everyone else that Gabe and Arden’s conflicts have a strong undercurrent of unspoken attraction and sexual tension. Gabe and Arden have to resolve their feelings for each other so they can survive in the cabin’s close-quarters.


“The better I got to know him, the more I wanted him. That wasn’t usually how things worked out for me, and it was new and frightening territory”


I really liked that Arden, while head-strong & bold in lots of way, is also vulnerable. She sometimes feels like an intruder in the Seong’s home. She feels deep guilt for being on the other side of the country from her aging and ailing parents. Guilt is something Gabe and Arden have in common. Gabe feels responsible for failing to protect or find his missing parents. He is trying to do too much & carry too much to compensate. I liked how Cole developed Arden and Gabe’s relationship, from their high-tension encounters, to the gradual thawing and eventual recognition of that they can depend on each other. I really liked that neither Arden or Gabe are perfect. They misjudge each other, they screw up. Neither of them is as competent or together as they want others to think they are.

My only real criticism of the book is that I felt some of the post-apocalyptic details were only lightly sketched in. Limited as we are by Arden’s deep POV, we only know as much as she does about what is happening in the rest of the world. It chafes that we know so little about what is happening. At a certain point I just had to admit to myself that I wasn't going to get satisfactory answers to all my questions at least in this book, and had choose to read on anyway for the sake of the characters and  romance, which I was enjoying immensely.  

 Also as a resident of Western NY, I also had to give up trying to figure out where exactly the Seong’s cabin was located, eventually deciding it must be some where up in the Adirondacks or Thousand Islands area (both areas that border Canada but not the Canadian border we first think of in this side of the state).  Maybe I am completely wrong with my guess, but once I mentally settled on a location I could relax and enjoy the book.

I am very eager to read the next book in the series. The excerpt in the back was great, and I can’t wait to read about John and the man he tackles raiding their garden, especially because he seems to have some knowledge about what did happen.

It was wonderful to read a interracial romance, where both the main characters were people of color in a mainstream line. I liked that Cole didn't shy away from the racial tensions but dealt with them honestly but in a non-exploitative manner.  I hope we see much more of that in the future.


A digital review copy of Radio Silence was provided by Carina Press via NetGalley.