What I’ve been reading lately – books by Charlotte Stein

So do you remember back in March when I said I was on a bit of a Charlotte Stein kick? All told, I read ten of her books over the last few months, and today I’m going to talk about two of them.

Stein writes erotica with a distinctive voice, one I like (obviously). The thing is, erotica doesn’t come naturally to me. My neurosis and overactive sense of humor work against me, and my hyper-awareness of awkward details tends to pull me out of whatever mood an author is trying to create. Further, I’m always 100% aware that I’m reading erotica, that — at some point in the not too distant future — the characters are going to get nekkid and start doing things to one another. Whenever it becomes clear that the nekkid moment is approaching, my mind starts playing a porn soundtrack loop, and nervous giggling is not far off. There is an incompatibility between my brain and most erotica.

Stein’s erotica, on the other hand, doesn’t pose the same difficulty. Even when her characters are engaging in absolutely filthy acts of depravity (says the pearl-clutcher within me), they seem just as surprised by it as I am. By acknowledging the awkwardness of human sexuality and yet embracing (with both hands) the unfettered joy of fantasy, Stein crafts erotica that is funny, touching, poignant, and, finally, beautiful, even when she surprises her characters into a foursome with a side of rimming.

When Alice Evans finds a bona fide movie star on the floor of her living room, she has no idea what to do. Ordinary men are frightening enough, never mind someone as famous and frankly gorgeous as Holden Stark.

However, once she realizes that Holden is suffering behind that famous facade, she knows she has to help. He needs someone like her to give him a taste of sweetness and desire and love. He needs normality. The only problem is—Alice is hiding a secret that is far from normal. In fact, her name isn’t even Alice at all.

And once Holden finds out, the intense connection they are just beginning to build may well be torn apart.

I read Beyond Repair in one sitting, pretty much, and I started reading it all over again the minute I finished it. After the third read, I had to force myself to move on to another book, because all I wanted to do was keep on reading this one until the end of time. Months later, I’m not sure that I can explain my reaction to the book. (Beyond Repair and I have insane chemistry together, maybe?) I mean, it has all my favorite things: neurotic heroine; story told from heroine’s POV; third-person past narrative (a narrative style that is — to me — as comfortable as cotton granny panties. Maybe it’s just me, but a first-person present narrative is about as comfortable as a cheap lace thong; you can’t ever forget it’s there, slightly abrasive, pressing up against your intimate areas. Just saying…); a mysterious back story; epic movie references; a smitten, supplicant hero; a spectacular ending. (Beyond Repair also managed to make butt-licking vaguely sexy — I didn’t think that was possible — and believable as something these characters would actually do and enjoy.) All told, the book is, to me, an exemplar of pitch-perfect erotica. And it made me cry (in a good way).

When Madison Morris decides to hire an assistant to help run her naughty bookshop, she gets a lot more than she bargained for. Aggressive Andy doesn’t quite make the grade, but continues to push her buttons in other areas, while uptight and utterly repressed Gabriel can’t quite take Madison’s training techniques. One makes her grasp control, while the other makes her lose it. But the lines are blurring and she’s no longer sure who’s leading and who’s following. In the midst of kinky threesomes and power plays, can Madison work out what she really wants?

Control is the second Stein book I read, after I begged folk on Twitter (thank you @mojitana, @LietoFine7 and @ruthieknox!!!) for recommendations. (I read Doubled first, which is awesome, hilarious, dirty as hell, surprising, and slightly disturbing, all rolled up in a glorious coming-of-age (ish) menage story involving a set of twins and their lady friend. Yeah. You read that right.) Control was completely unexpected — even though the blurb warned me — and wonderfully wrong. I mean, the book opens with a job interview/lurid encounter during which the heroine/narrator marvels — with impressive emotional distance — at its even happening. Later, Madison finds herself stumbling into a relationship with another guy, one whose issues are legion but who better suits her undefined, unexplored and mostly unacknowledged (but still accepted) wants and needs.  Actually, that’s an important point: Madison, like many of Stein’s heroines, “finds herself” doing all manner of things, and I mean that both literally and figuratively.

Madison is a slightly unreliable narrator whose emotional disconnect is explained (her father was “controlling”) but perhaps never quite understood (by me, I mean). But, even though I didn’t fully understand why Madison was so reticent to acknowledge the emotional nature of her relationship(s), I still thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading Control and have recommended it to a few people. I liked the way it discussed the power dynamics of a nontraditional workplace relationship (lady boss, man employee) and the way Gabe’s relationship with Madison freed him from some of his repression and fear. I wish it had been equally clear what Madison gained from the relationship (and all the nekkid shenanigans) — but perhaps that’s just part of a first-person narrative — and I wish that Andy had not been left swinging in the breeze. The things I loved about the book, however, more than made up for these slight reservations.

For more information on Beyond Repair and Control, click on the cover images above to visit the books’ pages on Goodreads. If you’re interested in Charlotte Stein (and you should be), check out her website and Twitter.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of Beyond Repair from the author in exchange for review consideration. I purchased my copy of Control. *

Dual Review: Tasha and I talk about The Chocolate Heart and The Chocolate Temptation by Laura Florand

When I read The Chocolate Thief, I realized Tasha (from Truth, Beauty, Freedom, & Books) just had to read it (and all the books in the Amour et Chocolate series. I mean: Paris, ’nuff said. We decided to talk about The Chocolate Heart and The Chocolate Temptation today.  Check out Tasha’s blog for the first half of our conversation and read on for the second half. (You can totally read the second half first.)

Charles Thévenin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 Happy Bastille Day!

She hated him.

Patrick Chevalier. The charming, laid-back, golden second-in-command of the Paris pastry kitchen where Sarah worked as intern, who made everything she failed at seem so easy, and who could have every woman he winked at falling for him without even trying. She hated him, but she’d risked too much for this dream to give up on it and walk out just so he wouldn’t break her heart.

But he didn’t hate her.

Sarah Lin. Patrick’s serious, dark-haired American intern, who looked at him as if she could see right through him and wasn’t so impressed with what she saw. As her boss, he knew he should leave her alone. The same way he knew better than to risk his heart and gamble on love.

But he was never good at not going after what – or who – he wanted.

He could make magic out of sugar. But could he mold hate into love?

Tasha: I kind of have an issue with this blurb. I mean, it’s a GREAT blurb in that made me really want to read the book, but it’s also totally inaccurate. It’s obvious from page one that Sarah doesn’t “hate” Patrick—totally the opposite. And I think the blurb ignores most, if not all, of the actual themes in the story, like following your dreams and how it’s a Cinderella tale.

Kelly: Except not really a Cinderella tale, because Cinderella stories suck. (That’s my favorite scene in the book, by the way, because I’m with Patrick: Cinderella stories suck.)

Tasha: Aw I like Cinderella stories. But you’re right in that both Patrick and Sarah end up being one another’s “fairy godmother,” so to speak.

Kelly: My antipathy towards Cinderella stories stems from the Disney movie and the number of times I had to watch it with my daughters. (Tangent: my eldest has issues with narrative conflict, so, for a while, we had to avoid all movies that involved any sort of conflict. Guess what that leaves? CINDERELLA. It’s got no conflict at all, really. I mean, at one point the Stepmother locks Cinderella up, sure, but it’s not really a conflict, is it? Cinderella’s such a passive character that it just rates as something that happens, another problem the mice will solve for her. UGH. /tangent) Anyway, I appreciated Patrick’s dismissal of Cinderella stories and his conclusion that his and Sarah’s story, while it might have the outward appearance of a Cinderella tale, differed in its content because he and Sarah were just not as lame as Cinderella and her Prince.

Tasha: lol I honestly don’t even remember that scene. I do agree that Cinderella is pretty passive, though, and that does pose a problem for modern readers. Florand did a good job of keeping the fairy tale elements of the story while making Sarah and Patrick act for their own self-interest in a believable way.

Kelly: Is Luc the evil step-mother?

Tasha: Haha! Obvs. Actually I would say they each have their own evil stepmothers, wouldn’t you? With Sarah it’s her mom and with Patrick it’s Luc. But they’re not straight-up evil.

Kelly: I was going to say that Sarah is her own evil stepmother…I mean, her mom definitely has things she wants for Sarah, but Sarah internalizes so much that I’d guess that most of the stuff that drives her or holds her back is actually from within.

Tasha: By the time she’s an adult, yes. At first Sarah kind of annoyed me with her obsession with perfectionism and her complexes over never being good enough.

Kelly: I loved all of that about her, because my reading crack is an insecure heroine whom the hero appreciates and who learns to appreciate herself. (Seriously. That’s the reason I liked the Twilight books the first time I read them. I was a goner at the bit about Bella just not seeing herself clearly. The books could have been ten times more crazy than they are, and I still would have been like, Gosh, this book is awesome. It’s a problem.) BUT, yes. When I struggle to ignore my madness and be reasonable about the whole thing, it is a trifle annoying that Sarah is actually super awesome at everything but has the self esteem of an utter fuckup.

Tasha: Patrick, on the other hand, I adored, even though I saw some readers complaining that he’s stalkerish. Which is actually pretty valid—he does go all Edward Cullen on Sarah (wait—is this book actually based on Twilight???).

Kelly: Maybe.

Tasha: Vampires do like their food, Kelly. ANYWAY, I agree that Patrick was a little stalkerish, but I think Florand was using that to address the power imbalance between him and Sarah directly instead of just ignoring it, which happens WAY too often in most romance novels. And I also think that the interpretation of him “courting” Sarah as opposed to stalking her was really sweet (and also probably why I have a weakness for stalky Edward Cullen heroes).

Kelly: I was OK with the “courting” bit because we got to view some of Patrick’s POV and were able to see that he was aware of the power imbalance and that he was trying to even it a bit. If the story had been told exclusively from Sarah’s POV, I might have found it creepy. You know, unless there was a bit of dialogue wherein Patrick told Sarah that she just didn’t see herself clearly. Because… *drool*

Tasha: Right. I also liked how Florand showed us the “dark side” of Patrick’s charm, and how he used it to push people away. On the inside he was SO DAMN BROODY. There was a point in the book where he literally did this:

LITERALLY. Except maybe for the signing.

Kelly: Surfer-boy Patrick with the internal brooding is pretty much my favorite thing ever. I’ve got that insane soft spot for insecure heroines, but I’ve got an even bigger one for broody, moody heroes. (If Patrick had been grumpy, to boot, he’d be my version of perfection…)

Tasha: I love me a broody hero, but a SECRETLY broody hero? *swoon*

Kelly: Yes, I’ll join you on that fainting couch. I love secretly broody heroes. (But my favorite heroes are always grumpy, grouchy, moody assholes on the outside and mushy on the inside. Like… sourdough bread.)  That said, Patrick’s internal broodiness is pretty much made of mush, so, YES, I loved him something fierce.

Tasha: If he was grumpy, too, then he would be Luc. Was there anything you didn’t like about the book?

Kelly: Yes, but Luc had that stifling sense of control, and my favorite thing ever is a hero who just can’t control himself (except, to clarify, I don’t include rapey heroes from the 80s, because, NO.). You know, like Edward not being able to control stalking Bella or Patrick not being able to keep away from Sarah.. all those feelings he just couldn’t control. Luc mushed out only in his desserts, and I want a bit more expression and passion from my favorite heroes.  Anyway, your question… I think I loved everything about the book, honestly, but I recognize that it’s because the book hit so many of my favorite buttons. Maybe I can’t be unbiased about it, you know?

Tasha: It hit a lot of my favorite buttons, too, but I also had some major problems with it. It took me a while to get into it because there was SO much internal monologuing in the first few chapters. Like I swear it took Sarah 5 paragraphs to pay for a beer because she kept thinking about why she needed to pay for the beer and not Patrick. I was like, “I get it already!” I think that’s an issue for Florand when she doesn’t have an editor riding her butt about it. I also thought the book was way too long. The ending dragged on and on and on.

Kelly: LOL. I was like a crack addict who didn’t want the high to end. I was like, “Just keep going! Explain all the things! Give me more!” because I have an illness.  But, yeah. You’re totally right.

Tasha: And I think it bothered me that much because it’s a *Laura Florand* novel, and if it had been edited down more it would have seriously been one of the best novels I’d ever read.

Kelly: Yeah, it’s true. For the record (and, also, somewhat obviously), I’m willing to overlook a whole pile of crap if an author delivers me my drug of choice, but… it is probably better if that crap isn’t there to be endured or overlooked. (Especially because we all have a slightly different drug of choice, no?) This is sort of beside the point, but I had some similar thoughts when reading Sun-Kissed recently. I would have loved the holy hell out of that book if it had been edited a little more harshly.

Tasha: Yeah, I felt the same way about Snow-Kissed, actually. So of the two, is there a better one, do you think?

Kelly: Well, I think Temptation is better than Heart, but… well, I was going to say I think that not because of my bias but because Temptation tells a clearer story and doesn’t rely on miscommunication as a plot device, but I just remembered that it totally does. (It’s there in the blurb that isn’t 100% accurate: Sarah “hates” Patrick because she loves him and she’s convinced that he’s just dallying with her. Patrick loves Sarah but has some issues and is unable to let anyone (including Sarah) know what he wants. Shenanigans ensue.) Soo.. I don’t know if one is better than the other, but I know that I’m very glad I read them both.

Tasha: I think Heart is better written than Temptation, so I’d probably recommend that one first; but I agree the story in Temptation is better. Not just clearer and with more likable characters, but more transformative and more fully-realized. I do love Persephone stories, though… In more than one way the novels balance each other out. They’re kind of a paired set of books—not a series so much as companion novels. You really do have to read both if you’re going to read one.

Thanks for recommending these books to me, Kelly!

Kelly: You are welcome. I’m just glad you liked them. :)

Remember to head on over to Tasha’s blog to check out our discussion on The Chocolate Heart. Let us know in the comments (or on Twitter) if you’ve read these books — or if you haven’t — and if you’ve ever read a book that you just loved to pieces even though it had some issues.

Kelly & Kim’s dueling review of The Chocolate Thief (Amour et Chocolate #1) by Laura Florand

So about a year ago, Ruthie Knox recommended The Chocolate Thief on one of her What-to-Read Wednesday posts, and I picked it up because leather pants ass grabbing. I’d already read (and loved) Florand’s Turning Up the Heat (La Vie En Roses # 0.5), but I’ll be honest and admit that I wasn’t sure the Amour et Chocolate books would be up my alley. I’m not super interested in either chocolate or Paris, and the cover of the book made it look like a Kinsella book about shopping and/or horrible people (totally not my thing). But the hope of leather pants ass grabbing proved irresistible. I bought the book, read it in one sitting, and then started recommending it to everyone. (Folks on Twitter, my mom, that lady in line in front of me at the cafeteria… Seriously, everyone.) And I pestered Kim about it almost incessantly until she agreed to pick it up.

Here’s the blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

The Parisian sorcerer of artisan chocolate, handsome Frenchman Sylvain Marquis, and the American empress of chocolate bars, Cade Corey, play a decadent game of seduction and subterfuge that causes them both to melt with desire.

Kim: Kelly likes to think she pestered me into reading The Chocolate Thief but she didn’t. I trust her judgment implicitly with book recommendations. She only had to tell me it was a good story and I was in. And honestly, the plot summary above was so simple and lacking specifics that the “seduction and subterfuge” line had me immediately interested. (Plus the whole leather pants ass grabbing thing…..)

Kelly: I think Florand should add a few words to the end of the blurb… It should read, “…seduction and subterfuge that causes them both to melt with desire and leather pants ass grabbing.” IMHO.

Kim: To which I add – “seduction and subterfuge that causes them both to melt with desire and leather pants ass grabbing…on the stairs.”

Kelly: “…leather pants ass grabbing… on the stairs…and on a marble countertop.”

Kim: Those two scenes. HAWT. Seriously though, the scene of foreplay UP the stairs was so well written. The heat was palpable and the sexual chemistry between Cade and Sylvain flew off the pages.

Kelly: Yes, that stairway scene is one of my favorite scenes (in any book) ever.

Kim: The only one (for me) that could top it would be the night Cade doesn’t break into Sylvain’s laboratoire. He is so heartbroken over her not showing up, that he pours his soul into making her a dark, bitter chocolate.

Kelly: Honestly, that whole section of the book is my favorite. Sylvain’s dark, bitter chocolate of unrequited love (also the first moment I realized that Sylvain meant business); the scene with Christophe the food blogger (and the unwillingness of French people to sell Cade anything, including milk); and Sylvain wandering around the city trying to find her, then going to sleep and discovering the next morning that she broke into his laboratoire again and made him a s’more. Except he doesn’t know what the fuck it is, and… he’s so right. S’mores are disgusting when you think about it — especially from the perspective of a different culture’s palate — but he still treasures it, even though it’s a sign she’s completely nuts. I love those three scenes, because they show so clearly why Cade and Sylvain love each other (and they’re funny scenes, which is always nice).

Kim: The scenes with Christophe were so funny! Sylvain getting jealous every time Christophe would talk to Cade helped me get a sense of the depth of his feelings. (If Florand hasn’t already written a book starring Christophe, may I heartily recommend that she do so soon?)

Kelly: That would be lovely. OK, switching gears real quick… can we talk about Sylvain’s family? I want to be invited to one of those parties. God… the cows!

Kim: Yes! Those parties seem wild! Their quirkiness was a perfect contrast to Sylvain’s abrupt, arrogant personality.  His dad is this super friendly guy, his sister a confident businesswoman, and his mom a stereotypical French woman of class, fashion, and arrogance.

Kelly: But you get all of them together and they throw themed parties and dress up like farmers and cows and whatever else. They are irrepressible and so fully alive, and it’s neat to see that Sylvain comes from that, from a place of love, acceptance and fun, especially because Cade has a tendency to take herself too seriously.

Kim: Do you know what I thought was the best scene that helped us as readers see that Sylvain could relax and enjoy life? I think it’s when he buys Cade the little teddy bear finger puppet. Just because it was fun. Just because it made him think of her.

Kelly: And I loved that she didn’t really understand what had possessed him to get it for her, but she took it with her as a talisman — in addition to her traditional Corey bar — when she had to leave. Anyway, I loved that Sylvain recognized that Cade was the type of person to need (or just appreciate) a token of affection.

Kim: And also, as you said, she needs talismans. She finds strength in the objects that she holds close to her heart. That Corey bar represents her family, her business, and in a way the personal identity she’s held all the years prior to meeting Sylvain.

That teddy bear finger puppet begins to represent the individual she’s becoming, as well as Sylvain himself. It represents her changing personality, her changing dreams, and a new “Cade” defined not by her family, name, or money but by her own (new) aspirations.

Kelly: I wasn’t sure what to think of Cade at first. Even though I knew the book eventually contained leather pants ass grabbing, I still thought it was about shopping and vacationing in Paris — and consuming outrageous amounts of chocolate — for much of Cade’s introduction. It’s a little stupid how tightly I held to my preconceived notions about the book. (Especially stupid given that Ruthie Knox’s recommendation specifically mentioned that the book was not as it appeared, that there was leather pants ass grabbing and general awesomeness.) My slowness to catch on really should not be held against the book.

Kim: I enjoyed Cade a lot! She was a woman with ideas. Dreams.  I also like that she was the billionaire of the story. She has financial independence (which is always nice to see in a romance) and is powerful in a business context. AND she’s ballsy.

Kelly: Yes, I agree. It’s so rare to find a book with a lady billionaire, and I thought it interesting that (1) her being a billionaire isn’t really a big thing in the story, not a defining characteristic, outside of her typically American free-market capitalist assumptions, of course; (2) she never buys Sylvain clothing; (3) Sylvain is vaguely uncomfortable about her wealth because of the cultural imbalance (his French and her American approaches do not exactly mesh) not because of a power imbalance in the relationship… The money doesn’t have anything to do with his masculinity or her femininity. Those three things were pretty damn refreshing.

Kim: Agreed! High marks for the money not mattering! I also enjoyed how passionate she was about the things that mattered to her. Cade (along with her sister Jaime) worked to change the corporate policy of Corey Chocolate to get their ingredients from farming co-ops. Cade also wanted to make Corey Chocolate better – trying to get a Parisian Chocolatier to help her make a high-end chocolate bar that appealed to the foodies out there. It was refreshing to see a character that was passionate about stuff outside of what women are “normally” passionate about.

Kelly: Yes, like magic penis.

Kim: YES. And shopping. And marriage. And finding a man.

Kelly: I think my favorite thing about Cade is that she comes from this wealthy, powerful family, but her dream is to create a (yes, mass-produced) higher quality line of chocolate that is still accessible to the masses. She enjoys Sylvain’s chocolate so much, and I think it breaks her heart a little bit that only the privileged few get to enjoy it.

I’m not sure that Sylvain quite understands Cade’s strong egalitarian streak, but I started to fall in love with him a little bit when he follows Cade’s lead and starts giving his beautiful chocolates to the homeless man in the gardens.  I needed that demonstration to fall in love with Sylvain, because I didn’t immediately connect with him. (I thought he was kind of a jerk, actually.) Maybe I needed to read a few Florand novels to adjust to her voice and characterizations — because I honestly seem to be loving them more and more with each one I read — or maybe I just needed to read The Chocolate Touch to pick up on some of Sylvain’s better character traits that I missed the first time around. I’m not sure if that means that I’m just dim or if the book was too subtle in stressing Sylvain’s fine points. Either way, on the first read-though, I thought he was kind of an arrogant ass — albeit a sexay one — and I wasn’t really sure if I wanted him to have an HEA with Cade until I reached the ending; on the second read-through, I fell in love with him (again) during his first scene.

Kim: I myself did not like Sylvain either. To be honest I’m still not his biggest fan. I think Kelly is on to something when she says that his fine points are stressed too subtly. The very few times we see the non-arrogant side, he’s great! But his constant remarks about how Corey Chocolate is ridiculous, and about American wealth, and blah blah blah – it just doesn’t leave much to see about his personality besides arrogance. He is an arrogant chocolatier first and foremost and that’s a-ok. But his other dimensions needed to be developed better.

Kelly:  Here’s something I find interesting — when he’s internally reacting to Cade, the word he uses to describe her over and over is “arrogant.” He finds her American approach to business, her unassailable confidence as a businesswoman, arrogant. At the time, I was bothered by that, because I was like, hey now. Your only character trait other than chocolate making — so far — is arrogance. Sooo…. I dunno, pot or kettle?

Kim: I think that because his arrogance is so in your face you, as a reader, are unable to see any of his other qualities. Having to read a character’s story multiple times to understand them isn’t unheard of it. (Holla any English major/minors out there!) Reading them several times over is how you analyze them. How you get to know all their nuances. But your average reader of The Chocolate Thief is not reading it to analyze it. They are reading it for fun. Or for an escape.

Kelly: Maybe… but one of the things that I like so well about Florand’s books is that they are so layered that I can enjoy them as an escapist read (that is going to make me yearn for delicious chocolate) or as a journey into the psyches of these fascinating characters, an exploration of love, what it means, and what it does.  Part of the difficulty with Thief, perhaps,is that it is a world-building book. Florand’s Paris is a distinct character in these books, and the development of the setting almost distracts from the story in Thief from time to time. (Could just be me, though. I don’t have any kind of comfort with the French language, and all the French words sprinkled in forced me to subvocalize with a terrible French accent. It was like this in my head.

It’s been a year since I first read The Chocolate Thief, a year that I spent binge reading and rereading all of the other Amour et Chocolate books. I liked Thief when I read it — certainly enough to buy and read all the other books — but it didn’t blow me away. I’ve read it three times, now, and it improves considerably on each read. (I’ve read a lot of reviews of this book saying that it doesn’t feel as strong as Florand’s other books, and I wonder if it’s because you have to read it twice. And I wonder if that’s actually a bad thing.)

Kim: Normally I’d be ok reading a book more than once. (I in fact normally do read books more than once. Like finish it and pick it right back up to read immediately.) BUT, when I’m binging on a series (read: most series’ I read) I want to read the first one, pick up the next, then the next, and so on and so on. With The Chocolate Thief I finished it then went on to the next books, still disliking Sylvain any other time I saw him in the surrounding books. And the more time I spent away from The Chocolate Thief the less I liked it. (It probably didn’t help that I absolutely fell head-over-heels in love with The Chocolate Touch and The Chocolate Rose) I found other works that stood out to me in her series and felt the need to like Sylvain lessen over time. Had I picked up Thief immediately after finishing it I may have liked Sylvain and felt the need to reread the book again down the road. As it is, you’ll be more apt to find me rereading The Chocolate Rose over and over and over and over and over again. Until the binding breaks and the pages fall out, all out-of-order.

Kelly: Thank God for e-books.

Our final thoughts

Kim: In the end, though I found the story well done, I felt that the characters were slightly underdeveloped. Upon additional reads the characters do begin to make themselves known more. While reading a book multiple times to get a sense of who the characters truly are is slightly bothersome, I can’t complain when that book takes place in a Parisian chocolate laboratoire.

Kelly: And on the stairs. To be perfectly honest, my favorite thing about this book is that it paves the way for all the Amour et Chocolate books to follow. Well, my favorite thing besides the stairs. Because, oh my God, you guys. You need to read this book just for the stair scene. And the leather pants ass grabbing. And the bitter chocolate of unrequited love. And the ending. Just… just read it, OK?

(You know you can click on the cover above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads and learn more about it, right? You can also check out Laura Florand’s website to learn more about this and other books and to get tons of recommendations for artisan chocolate. And her newsletter is fun.. just saying.)

Kim and I did a dueling review of Laugh by Mary Ann Rivers

I get excited whenever Mary Ann Rivers releases a piece of writing, whether it’s a blog post at Wonkomance or a full-length novel. I get excited about her newsletter. I was particularly excited to read Laugh, because its hero, Sam, was my favorite secondary character in the first Burnside novel, Live. I really wanted to understand what made Sam so difficult, and I got what I wanted and then some.

Kim (from Reflections of a Book Addict) and I decided to review Laugh together (because it’s just more fun to write reviews together). For tradition’s sake, we’ve called it a dueling review. I’ll be honest, though. We didn’t actually duel anything in our review. Check it out!

Dr. Sam Burnside is convinced that volunteering at an urban green-space farm in Lakefield, Ohio, is a waste of time—especially with his new health clinic about to open. He only goes to mollify his partner, suspecting she wants him to lighten up. Then Sam catches sight of Nina Paz, a woman who gives off more heat than a scorcher in July. Her easy smile and flirty, sizzling wit has him forgetting his infamous need for control.

Widowed when her husband was killed in Afghanistan, Nina has learned that life exists to take chances. As the daughter of migrant workers turned organic farmers, she’s built an exciting and successful business by valuing new opportunities and working hard to take care of her own. But when Sam pushes for a relationship that goes beyond their hotter-than-fire escapades, Nina ignores her own hard-won wisdom. She isn’t ready for a man who needs saving—even if her heart compels her to take the greatest risk of all: love.

Laugh was released on May 6, 2014 as an e-book by Loveswept. To learn more about the book, click on the cover image above to visit its page on Goodreads. To learn more about Mary Ann Rivers (and join her mailing list, so you, too, can get excited about your email), check out her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley for review consideration from the publisher via NetGallley.*

Review – A Promise of More by Bronwen Evans

HI. It’s been a while, I know. I’ve been reading, but I have not had very much time lately for writing. I am hoping that over the next few weeks I can catch up a bit on my backlog of reviews. We’ll see how that goes.

I read A Promise of More in early April, and…well, I should let this tweet speak for me.

When Beatrice Hennessey sets out to confront Lord Coldhurst, the notorious rogue who killed her brother in a duel, her intent is to save her family from destitution. She’s determined to blackmail the man into a loveless marriage. She’ll make the wealthy Lord Coldhurst pay for the rest of his life. But while greeting his ship, Beatrice takes a tumble into the Thames—only to be fished out by a pair of strong masculine arms that tempt her to stay locked in their heated embrace forever. That is, until she realizes those arms belong to Sebastian Hawkestone, Lord Coldhurst himself.
 
The little drowned mermaid has an interesting proposition indeed; one that Sebastian is surprised to find quite agreeable. Although he’s had women more beautiful, she is pleasing to the eye, and besides, it’s time he fathered an heir. Beatrice promises to be the ideal wife; a woman who hates him with an all-consuming passion is far too sensible to expect romance. However, it isn’t long before Sebastian’s plan for a marriage of convenience unravels, and he’s caught up in the exhilarating undertow of seduction.

You may remember that I read (and was ambivalent about) the first book in this series, A Kiss of LiesI had fairly high expectations for A Promise of More based on the many things I enjoyed about the first book. I expected well-wrought characters, good writing, an interesting, fast-moving plot, and a compelling romance. I hoped that it wouldn’t contain any distressing social missteps. Maybe it’s my fault for expecting so much, but I was utterly confounded by A Promise of More. The characters made no sense, the writing was frequently weak, the plot was kinda crazy, and the romance was… well… not compelling.

In fact, I felt like I was reading my 32nd Stephanie Laurens book, if Laurens had fired all her editors and lost her mind a little bit.

Sebastian reminded me of the hero of All About PassionBoth heroes are convinced that love and passion are the source of all evil in a relationship and seek to marry women for whom they feel no passion; both heroes are thwarted in their goal and end up — through pure male stupidity — married to women for whom their loins BURN (but not in an STI way, thank goodness); both heroes spend an uncomfortable amount of time trying to deny the passion and love they feel, trying to convince the heroines that they will never, ever love them. Also, both heroes are total douche ponies.

Beatrice reminded me a little bit of all of Laurens’ heroines, because her entire character arc was focused — once she realized that Sebastian wasn’t a murderer — on getting Sebastian to say the magic words, “I love you.” I’m not exaggerating.

A Promise of More also has an intrigue plot (just like every Laurens book). The thing is, when the conflict between the characters is as lame as one character saying, “I will never love you, because I am opposed to love!” and the other character saying, “I am going to get you to admit that you love me, because… reasons!” you really need a solid intrigue plot to move things along and keep people reading. This book had a mystery — who killed Doogie?! — and an obvious and rapetastic villain who would have been improved by a sinister mustache. There is also an irritating she-villain. (Further, the intrigue plot is a bit problematic. It relies heavily on violence and the threat of violence against the heroine, and there is an actual ripped bodice.)

I might not have noticed the parallels between this book and Laurens’ canon — strangely enough — if the first sex scene in A Promise of More had not included a reference to flying and stars bursting and firestorms of desire. Laurens is famous for writing OTT sex scenes that are incredibly descriptive and employ strange, celestial references. Evans seems to be following in those footsteps. After that first star burst, the other similarities just stuck out to me.

I read an ARC, so it’s possible that some of the weird stuff in the book got cleaned up in a last-minute bit of editing. (I hope so.) There are plenty of conversations wherein the characters repeat themselves, and there was one hilarious moment where the heroine — who had been hanging onto the bed during some naked gymnastics — was suddenly clinging to the “bed head.” These things are minor and easily overlooked when the rest of the book is interesting; but when the rest of the book reminds you of a Stephanie Laurens book, it’s hard not to notice and be irritated by editing issues.

So where does this leave me? Except for one thing, I enjoyed the first book in the series, and I am inclined to hope that this book’s issues are a fluke. I’m not sure what it means about me that I could spend an entire post detailing all the things I disliked about a book and then conclude that I’ll happily pony up to read the next one… but it’s true.

A Promise of More was released on April 15, 2014 as an e-book by Loveswept. If you’re curious about the book, click on the cover image above to visit its page on Goodreads. To learn more about Bronwen Evans, check out her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley for review consideration from the publisher via NetGalley.*

Let’s talk about sexism, violence, and culture

OK, so I was totally going to continue with Armchair BEA and do a post about author interaction (I’ll summarize: it’s super neat to interact with authors on Twitter), but — let’s face it — this weekend was rough, and there are some important things we need to talk about.

I woke up this morning to an awesome post on my friend’s blogs, Defies Description and Beauty in Budget Blog. She’s right: we need to talk about this stuff.

I was out of town this weekend with limited internet access, but I spent some time last night reading through a tiny portion of the #yesallwomen tweets. Many of them I found affirming, like not only are all these women speaking up about the countless ways sexual violence and the threat of danger touch every woman’s life on a daily basis but also the sheer volume of tweets, blog posts, Tumblrs, Facebook posts, etc. is having a somewhat surprising result: people are listening.

(I mean, let’s be honest, it’s not like women suddenly discovered this weekend that they have a voice and can speak up about life. We’ve been speaking up and speaking out all this time, but I don’t think we’ve been heard, or maybe it’s just been so easy to explain away individual women’s individual stories as isolated incidents. But it’s kind of overwhelming when more than a million women share eerily similar stories. Maybe we do have a pervasive cultural problem that affects not just half the population but all people.)

But I want to back up a little bit, because this conversation isn’t just about the events of last Friday evening in Isla Vista, Calif. It’s also about the epidemic of rapes that occurred at UCSB during the recent academic year. In fact, it’s also about the epidemic of rapes and sexual assaults that occurred (read: is occurring) at college campuses all over the country and how college administrations responded. It’s about how perpetrators (and alleged perpetrators) of sexual violence are viewed with sympathy while victims are shamed. It’s about how rare it is to find safe spaces within our culture for the discussion of all these things.

For example, if you hop on over to Twitter and browse through the #yesallwomen tweets, you’ll find a whole spectrum of responses to the conversation, from women sharing their stories and men responding humanely to men responding badly (and, sadly, unironically). I do have to point out that however irritated I am by some of the less-than-stellar responses out there (ranging from sympathy for a mass murderer to calls for all women to open their legs and prevent mass murders to calls for women to stop it with the #yesallwomen nonsense because not all guys are douchebags to MRA defenses), I do think these voices need to be heard. I mean, there’s an obvious reason, right, in that it might be easy to pretend that we live in an equal society with no more pesky sexism except… oh, right.

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Never mind; there’s some sexism right there. But beyond the demonstrative value of these responses, it’s vital for all of us to engage in this conversation, because the broader this conversation is, the better. I mean, just taking that one Twitter interaction as an example, we can talk about “nice guys” (and why those words often appear in ironic quotes), the overall tone of public discourse and whether or not it’s disturbing (I tend to find it very disturbing), the use of the word “mangina” to invalidate other men’s humane reactions, etc.

Let’s talk about all of it, because as long as we all stay silent, the status quo is maintained. And, I don’t know about you, but — for me — the status quo kinda sucks.

I don’t know about you, but I’m uncomfortable bringing up my daughters in a culture that turns a blind eye to street harassment, that objectifies and sexualizes women and girls and then punishes women and girls for being sexual objects, that ignores the horrifying statistics of reported sexual assaults and rapes on college campuses (to say nothing of the assaults that are not reported or are actively hushed by administrators), that perpetuates the myth that most reports of sexual violence are falsified (because, what, hell hath no fury?), that finds it easier to blame and shame victims than to talk honestly about the culture that nurtures the sexual assault epidemic.

So let’s talk about it, because this conversation is important for so many reasons. It’s important for women to share their stories and feel — maybe for the first time — that they aren’t alone, and it’s important for men to hear those stories and respond in any way they can, whether with defensive anger (stop sharing your stories, women, just shut up, because not all men do that!) or wonder (wow, I can’t believe that these things have been happening this whole time while I’ve been blithely living my life.) or compassion (my heart goes out to #yesallwomen). Let’s talk about what feminism actually means (gender equality) and maybe talk about how the word has become a pejorative byword over the past few decades. Let’s talk about all the truly awesome men in our lives and how wonderful it is to feel supported by them and by our friends, sisters, and strangers on the Internet whose experiences are so similar to our own.

Let’s talk.

Armchair BEA 2014 – Day 1 – Introduction

Design by Amber of Shelf Notes

So it’s time once again for Armchair BEA. I have a feeling my participation this year is going to be a bit spotty, because I’ll be out of town and likely without much Internet connection in the beginning of the week (read: today), and I’ve been really busy lately.  But, whatever! I’ve had a blast participating in this book blogging extravaganza the last two years, and I’m determined to participate as far as I’m able. Anyway, it begins with an introductory survey, which I answered while in a supremely neurotic mood. Enjoy!

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? Where in the world are you blogging from? 

Hi, my name is Kelly, and I read way too much. I’ve been blogging here about books and neuroses for about two years. You know how sometimes people fall into blogging, like they just meant to go out for a cup of coffee but then they ended up starting a blog? That’s sort of what happened to me. One day I was intensely aware of my age, intensely aware that creativity and brilliance used to be so easy for me, so commonplace that I thought I could count on them forever, but I realized that it had been a long time since I had intentionally created anything (much less something good). And I’m the type of person who can’t have those revelations without trying to do something about it (because the alternative is just too depressing, as though to be dying and self-aware of the dying is just too much and also too normal, if you know what I mean), so I kind of started a blog. But I was weeks and weeks into it before I realized why I’d done it. Maybe I’m still working on that realizing thing.

Oh, and I’m in California.

2. Describe your blog in just one sentence. Then, list your social details — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. — so we can connect more online. 

Neurotic woman who thinks too much reads romance novels and erotica and then has thoughts, occasionally writes about them. @darjeeling44

I think that sentence is going to become my new Twitter tag line.

3. What genre do you read the most? I love to read because ___________________ . 

See #2. I also very occasionally read nonfiction and even less often a bit of classical literature. I’m keen on ancient literature and epic poetry, but it’s been a few years since my last glut of epics.

I identify as a reader. I can’t go anywhere without a book, and I have a hard time not talking about what I’m reading. (This is problematic at work, where I have to put in extra effort.) When I got married and then had kids, I added two huge roles to my identity… now, in addition to being Kelly, that weird tall lady who reads things, I’m “wife” and “mom,” and those roles can tend to swell and overtake the landscape that was there before, like they’re some kind of strange nonnative species that just has to obliterate whatever it finds. When I read, I’m taking a stand against that obliteration; I’m standing up for me. At least, that’s how I see it. (Seriously, don’t tell my husband that I worded it this way… I don’t think he’d understand.)

4. What was your favorite book read last year? What’s your favorite book so far this year? 

I wrote a post summing up my favorite reads of 2013. So far this year… I have loved Deeper by Robin York, Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare, Neanderthal Seeks Human by Penny Reid, all the Chocolate books by Laura Florand, Control by Charlotte Stein (and, actually, all the books by Charlotte Stein), and Laugh by Mary Ann Rivers.

5. Spread the love by naming your favorite blogs/bloggers (doesn’t necessarily have to be book blogs/bloggers). 

I love a whole pile of book blogs, but I’ll confess that I spend most of my blog-reading time at Reflections of a Book Addict, Truth, Freedom, Beauty and Books, Miss Bates Reads Romance, and Badass Romance. I’m also very keen on my friend’s makeup reviews at Beauty in Budget Blog and Via Lucis, this fantastic blog about photographing Romanesque architecture.

So, there you have it. **waves**