Live by Mary Ann Rivers – an epistolary review by Kelly and Kim

So, here’s the deal. When I finish a book that I loved, that managed to snuggle up to my soul in all the best ways, to entertain me and help me believe for another day that there is love (and beauty) in this world, sometimes I have a hard time writing about it.  And I recognize that it’s completely ridiculous that the books that I absolutely loved tend not to get as much love on my blog, because I loved them so much that I just don’t know what to say about them.

Anyway, I was talking to Kim (from Reflections of a Book Addict) about this phenomenon and beating myself up because I read Live, and I loved it, and I had this profound writer’s block about it.  Anyway, it turns out that Kim did, too, so we decided to join forces and battle our writers’ block together.  And we decided to get creative about it.

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

If there’s an upside to unemployment, Destiny Burnside may have found it. Job searching at her local library in Lakefield, Ohio, gives her plenty of time to ogle the hottest man she has ever laid eyes on: the sexy wood-carver who’s restoring the building. But as the rejection letters pile up, Destiny finds an unexpected shoulder to cry on. With his rich Welsh accent, Hefin Thomas stirs Destiny so completely that, even though he’s leaving soon, she lets herself believe the memory of his scorching kisses will be enough.

Hefin can’t help but notice the slender, confident woman with ginger hair who returns each day, so hopeful and determined. So when the tears start to fall, his silence—penance for a failed marriage—finally cracks. Once he’s touched her, what Hefin wants is to take her back to Wales and hold her forever. But Destiny’s roots run too deep. What they both need is each other—to learn how to live and love again.

Kim: Somehow our reviews of Mary Ann’s books always include us writing a letter to her about her characters or the story or asking her to write ALL THE THINGS.

Kelly: Well, let’s face it. All the things would be better if they were written by Mary Ann. I want her to follow me around my daily life, narrating it and (thereby) making it more interesting.  So when we were trying to figure out how to start our review for Live — what we could say besides the obvious — we decided to just start out with the obvious.

Kim: Dear Mary Ann,

I have to hate you after reading Live. You’ve (once again) raised the standards I’ve set for my literary boyfriends because of how awesome Hefin is.

Love, Kim

Kelly: Dear Mary Ann,

Please write me some fanfiction of your own book. I want Hefin doing laundry; Hefin putting together furniture from IKEA with a teeny, tiny Allen wrench; Hefin reading poetry.

Love, Kelly.

Kim: Dear Mary Ann,

I, too, want you to write fanfiction with Hefin putting together furniture. However, I want you to write me Hefin building me bookcases that he carves his face into. I also wouldn’t mind a fanfiction with him taking care of lots of little redheaded babies.

Love, Kim

Kelly: Dear Mary Ann,

What Kim said.  Also, is there a way to write Hefin into reality? Because I really want to come home after a long day at work and have Hefin wrap a blanket around me and make me a cup of tea.  Anyway, if you could just work on that, I’d be much obliged.

Love, Kelly.

Kim: Dear Mary Ann,

Your male heroes are always great. But you truly broke the mold when you created Hefin. Welsh? Wood-carver?

Kelly:  Caretaker? Goose person?!

Kim: YES. He is truly the best of men. And Kelly and I truly demand that we have more of him. Whether you write us secret fanfiction or publish another story about Hefin and Des, we demand you write ALL THE THINGS ABOUT HEFIN.

Love, Kim

Kelly: and Kelly.

Kim: Dear Mary Ann,

We don’t want you to think that we didn’t like Des. Therefore we would like to thank you for writing a character that doesn’t have all her shit together. A character who puts the care of her family before care of herself. In reality, a character that puts the needs of EVERYONE before the care of herself. She’s good-natured, kind, and selfless. OH. I almost forgot the best part. She’s a ginger.

Love, Kim

Kelly: Dear Mary Ann,

Thank you also for rendering Des’s selfless love so well, for showing how dangerous that kind of love is, for bringing Des to the knife’s edge of sacrificing her own happiness in order to demonstrate not only the unhealthiness of that kind of sacrifice but also the emotional cost of loving more healthily, the cost of self-care.  These are important lessons, particularly in a genre that is forever focusing on sacrificial heroines who give up everything for love (because of magical penis, mostly).

Love, Kelly

Kim: P.S. That lesson taught me much in my own life, so, seriously Mary Ann, thank you for writing this lesson. Realizing that seeing to your own needs isn’t selfish, but necessary, can be difficult. And thank you also for Des’s siblings, who in a way each act as a foil to Des.

Sarah is all dark, selfish, and full of angst, thanks to her injuries. (Her injuries stem from a biking accident.) Her selfishness plays off of Des’s goodness and selflessness. PJ’s aloofness works as a foil for Des’s obsession with taking care of the entire family.

Kelly: Dear Mary Ann,

 Thank you for writing a real, believable family that I both want to be part of and want to run from (you know, like all the good families). Thank you for making Sam appear to be such an asshole, when in reality he just loves too much, too hard, so much that his love shifts a little bit into hate.

Love, Kelly

Kim: Dear Mary Ann,

Thanks for writing a (real) family that shows us even though we may fight, drive each other crazy, etc – we’re never better than when we help each other, listen to each other, and most importantly love each other.

Love, Kim

Kelly: Dear Mary Ann,

Thank you for demonstrating just how difficult it is to uproot your life for someone else.  That cost — all those relationships that you need to find new ways to keep, all those habits that need to change (finding new grocery stores to shop at, finding a new bookstore, finding new people to get coffee with), all the innumerable compromises you make to your life and your self to make it work — is limitless, immeasurable.  That choice is considered with all of the weight it deserves, and your book is the better for it.  Thank you.

Love, Kelly

Kim: P.S. Thank you for writing characters that are fully aware of these costs. And, because of that knowledge, the characters are more worried about how the cost affects their partner’s heart, than their own.

Kim’s Final Thoughts: Kelly and I could honestly write letters for days about this book. There are so many poignant things written, expressed, and felt within its pages. It’s an experience everyone should have, and I’m so glad that Mary Ann came into the writing world to give us these characters, these experiences, and these lessons.

Kelly’s final thoughts: Thank you.  This book felt like a gift to me when I read it, and it’s an extra special gift because I got to share it with Kim.

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Some thoughts on romance novels and female friendship

I read Tawny Weber’s A SEAL’s Salvation last week.  I liked a lot of things about the book, but I found its depiction of female friendship rather problematic.  I’m hoping it’s just me.

 Here’s the blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Where navy SEAL “Bad Ass” Brody Lane goes, trouble follows. Being run out of his hometown years ago for misbehaving with Genna Reilly—the sheriff’s daughter—was one thing. Now Brody is about to step into real danger. Not the suggestive letters he’s been exchanging with Genna, but the kind of trouble that can send a soldier home injured and broken inside…

Genna’s entire life has been orchestrated by her family. The right job. The right friends. Enough! Brody’s return offers the promise of lust-filled pleasures. Of flesh teased and tasted. She’s not expecting to find a soldier with distant eyes who has secluded himself from the world. But this good girl knows exactly how to bring a bad boy back to life….

Some of you probably know already why I wanted to read this book.  It’s that injured hero trope, calling out to my soul and promising compelling and emotionally satisfying entertainment.  And the blurb also hinted at one of my favorite heroine tropes: the heroine who gets her shit together and embraces her true self.  It was a foregone conclusion that I’d enjoy the story, considering the elements it’s composed of, and I did.

I loved Genna’s penchant for baking, for example, and her moxie and entrepreneurship.  I loved Brody’s Grandma.  I loved Brody.  And those letters Genna and Brody exchanged before his injury were absolutely my favorite part of the book.

In fact, I liked pretty much every element of the story except one: Genna’s friends.  Maybe I’m just the luckiest damn person on the planet for having truly awesome women as friends (I totally am), and maybe that extreme good luck skews my perception of reality, but I really find it jarring when female friends in romance novels are depicted as crazy bitches or just as bad friends.

At the beginning of A SEAL’s Salvation, Genna’s best friend Macy is living with her while planning all the last-minute details before her epic, but ultimately rather sad, wedding.  Macy spends a lot of time trying to convince Genna to date this guy whom Genna doesn’t like, doesn’t find attractive, and who kind of creeped her out on their first and only date (he collects troll dolls.).  When Genna points out all the reasons that she doesn’t want to date troll-collecting Stewart, Macy suggests that maybe Genna should go out with Stewart anyway, because it would make Genna’s parents so happy.

Later on, Macy — who thinks Brody is a Very Bad Guy — threatens to tell Genna’s outrageously overprotective parents about their relationship because… ?? Genna is 27 years old.  And this is Genna’s best friend.  In every appearance in the book, Macy is critical of Genna and dismissive of Brody (and not even because she’s genuinely concerned for Genna).  In Genna’s darkest hour towards the end of the book (between conflict and resolution), her last wish is to call her friends.  She’d rather be alone, and that makes perfect sense. Her friends suck.

Now… I’m sorry, but that’s just not friendship, and it makes me feel ragey.  And, again, maybe I’m just the luckiest woman alive to have such super awesome lady friends (and a few dudes, as well) — none of my friends would ever try to push me into dating any dude who didn’t light my fire (it’s moot, but whatever) and none of them would ever EVAR so disrespect my judgment as to tattle on me, a grown woman!, to my parents.  Come the fuck on — but I doubt I’m the only woman with fantastic friends, and it drives me wonky when this real friendship, often the most important thing in a woman’s life, doesn’t show up in the romance novels I read.

So, last week I wrote on Book Bloggers International about romance novels as entertainment, catharsis, and activism, and I paid particular attention to Courtney Milan’s entire body of work (but I highlighted her most recent release, The Countess Conspiracy), Tessa Dare’s latest, Romancing the Duke, and Robin York’s New Adult release, Deeper.  Do you know what else those three books have in common?  Awesome depictions of friendship.

The Countess Conspiracy is the latest in Courtney Milan’s Brothers Sinister series, and it tackles some pretty hefty subjects, most of which are best discovered while reading the book.  (As an aside, one of my favorite things about Milan’s writing is that she respects her characters’ privacy and allows them to reveal themselves to readers over the course of the book.)  This book so beautifully depicts female friendship.  Between Jane, Minnie, and Violet, there develops a true friendship based on mutual appreciation and respect (Jane and Minnie are the heroines of the first two full novels in this series.).  Between Violet and Alice there develops a friendship between equals and colleagues that is a wonder to behold because of its resemblance to friendship among male colleagues, and yet it is uniquely feminine and the more powerful because of that femininity.  I wish we got to see more of it (but I understand that it’s sort of beside the point, as far as the narrative is concerned.)

Kim (from Reflections of a Book Addict) and I wrote another of our dueling reviews (this one with an actual disagreement in it!) about Romancing the Duke, Tessa Dare’s latest, that discusses the important role friendship plays in the book.  I’m not going to bother reiterating our arguments here… so go check it out!  It’s pretty great, I think.

Finally, there’s Robin York’s Deeper, wherein heroine Caroline (I just had to put those three words together. Sorry.) finds herself the victim of revenge porn attacks started by her slimeball of an ex-boyfriend and picked up by a cadre of trolls who use images of her naked body to shame and dehumanize her.  In the wake of all these revenge porn attacks — that occur not just once and done but again and again and again — Caroline and West forge a cautious not-quite-friendship that is the focus of this book told in shifting-perspective, first-person-present narration.  But it is through Caroline’s friendships with her roommate, the members of the rugby team she joins, and, to an extent, with West’s roommate (Sorry — I’m awful with remembering character names, and I don’t have my copy of the book with me) that Caroline discovers her strength and begins to heal.

So, there you go.  If you find yourself interested in any of these books, just click on their cover images to be transported to their page on Goodreads.  A SEAL’s Salvation was released on January 21, 2014 by Harlequin.  For more information about Tawny Weber, check out her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of A SEAL’s Salvation from Harlequin via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I purchased the other books.*

Review – The Initiation of Ms. Holly by K. D. Grace

Earlier in the week, author K. D. Grace stopped by to share some insights about the relevance of erotica, and today I’m happy to share my review of The Initiation of Ms. Holly, her latest erotica release.  I was initially reticent to give the book a try, because “initiation” calls to mind ingenue characters who are coaxed from a virginal (or effectively virginal) state of innocence to a sexual awakening and flowering.  But a four star RT review of this book gave me the hope and courage I wanted to give it a try. I’m glad I did.

Here’s the blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Sex with a mysterious stranger aboard a train leads Rita Holly to an initiation into the exclusive and secretive Mount Club. Sophisticated and deviant rituals await Rita, as do the endless intrigues and power struggles deep within the heart of the organization. Rita learns that membership in the Mount Club is not for the sexually repressed. During her initiation, sex with her new lover from the train, Edward, is forbidden, but Alex the dance instructor is happy to take his place, and Leo the zoo keeper is happy to encourage Rita’s animal instincts. With more and more titillating punishments in store and the club’s sexy head, Vivienne, intent on her failing, will Rita succeed in her lengthy and lurid initiation?

May I just say — again — how much I hate blurbs?  Why would anyone ever want to read a book that self-identifies as “lengthy and lurid”?  Lucky for me, I tend to ignore blurbs, else I would never have read this book.

I’ll start with the obvious: there is a lot of sex in this book.  Yes — DUH, it’s erotica — but even knowing the genre, I was a little surprised at the sheer quantity of sexual encounters.  What was more surprising, though, was how inventive all those encounters managed to be, and that helped avoid the “Oh, my God, they’re getting naked again…” fatigue.

Before I get into the few things that bugged and confused me about this book, I want to talk about the two things I liked best.

  1. The word initiation connotes a certain scenario… the initiate starts out inexperienced and then grows in experience throughout the course of various trials until the end, when full membership (in whatever) is achieved.  Rita Holly, though, approaches her initiation with enthusiasm and self-possession, and — even in cases when she’s a little bit out of her element — she finds a way to be present in each situation, to participate fully. She’s never passive.  Rita’s active enthusiasm made the reading experience a lot less squicky for me, even when the encounters veered into the strange and slightly uncomfortable.  Rita manages to own all of the challenging encounters in the book, and the result is empowering rather than degrading.
  2. I was a little surprised to find metaphor in an erotic novel, but it’s there.  Rita Holly is a woman who cannot bear to be constrained.  Her claustrophobia, rather than proceeding from some childhood trauma, is a physical manifestation of her fear of being repressed, unable to express and explore her sexuality.  That’s what she’s looking for, after all: sexual freedom.  So, yeah, she’s freaked out by dark, close spaces, but she’s also made uncomfortable by restrictive clothing, particularly any restriction around her lady areas.  There’s also a motif about blindness (not being able to see her true love until she completes all the steps of her initiation), but I don’t think it was handled as well as the claustrophobia/sexual repression thing.

There were a number of things about the book that I enjoyed but did not consider as standout as the above two things.  I didn’t approach this book with the expectation that it would have a great story, so I was pleasantly surprised to encounter some elements of mystery.  I found myself wondering why Rita was running from her past, what was up with Edward’s situation, and whether Rita and Edward would ever be able to make a go of it.  (I also wondered why such a big deal was made about Rita not seeing Edward’s face until her initiation was complete and about Rita and Edward not being able to enjoy a tab A, slot B-type encounter during the course of Rita’s initiation.  Frankly, both things seemed a bit overblown to me.)

And now, on to the things that baffled me.

  1. Condoms.  I am in favor of safe sex in erotica (and romance), because it reinforces our cultural reality and could — perhaps — help contribute to the idea that the only sexy sex is safe sex.  So I noticed right away that there weren’t any condoms present during any of the crazy sexual encounters in this book.  I noticed, was annoyed, and then decided that this book operates in a world in which there is no disease and also no fear of pregnancy.  Everything was tracking along OK, until one scene about two-thirds into the book when a dude is about to have sex with a lady, and he puts on a condom and remarks in his inner monologue that he doesn’t know where she’s been.  Hold up.  No one in this book knows where anyone else has been, either, so… And that was the only condom in the book!  It made all the other scenes — especially the pet sequences — seem incredibly questionable and more than a little disturbing.
  2. Language.  I am not normally the type to clutch my pearls at the language I find in either romance or erotica, but I could totally have done without some of the phrasing in this book.  There were so many references to male characters shooting their wads or loads, jizzing, and spouting jizz that I totally did… I clutched my pearls and laughed my ass off.

While those two things are pretty damn ridiculous, they are outweighed by the amount of things the book did right.  So, there you have it.  This book is definitely not for everyone — not for the faint of heart or those who are easily annoyed by OTT erotic encounters — but it is utterly fun and interesting.  I liked it.

The Initiation of Ms. Holly was released on February 4, 2014 as a paperback and e-book by Sourcebooks Casablanca.  For more information about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit its page on Goodreads.  For more information about the author, please check out her website (or view her guest post for more links).

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley from Sourcebooks via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Romance as entertainment, catharsis, and activism – my guest post at Book Bloggers International

Hello friends! I’ve been throwing a lot of words around this week, but I wanted to direct your attention to a guest post I wrote for Book Bloggers International.  I wrote about some of the reasons I’ve been a reader of romance fiction for over twenty years and highlighted some authors and books who are doing a stellar job writing romance novels that incorporate social issues into their narratives and take an activist stance on those issues (sometimes in very subtle ways… sometimes not so subtle.)  Anyway, the question I ask is whether there is a tradeoff in a novel’s entertainment or cathartic value when it embraces activism.  Read the post to find out my answer (should be super obvious) and let me know what you think in the comments or on Twitter.

Also, I stayed within the romance genre, but I think the question could easily be applied to other genres, including literature.  So, even if you don’t read romance fiction, feel free to join in!

Also, check out this video of an armadillo gathering leaves with awesome rhythm. It dances much better than I.

The relevance of erotica to readers – a guest post by K D Grace

You know how sometimes when you finish a book, you think, my God, I just want to crawl into that person’s brain and hang out for a while?  (It’s not just me, right?)  Well, that’s what I thought when I finished The Initiation of Ms. Holly by K D Grace.  So when an email appeared inviting me to participate in a blog tour promoting the book and offering the opportunity to host a guest post by K D, I was all over it like ants on honey.  Bonus: we all get to crawl into her brain for about 800 words.  Read on, friends.

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First of all, I’d like to say how much I appreciate being invited over to Reading with Analysis to talk about one of my very favorite topics, the relevance of erotica to readers.

Writing about sex is writing about human connectedness on a very visceral level. The need to be intimate with another human being is the driving force behind romance, and sex is the tool that gives the writer, as well as the reader, a point of contact and a level of intimacy and understanding with the character that can be achieved in no other way. Sex in story is always a revelatory act. It exposes the character at his or her most vulnerable, and those vulnerabilities are the places where story is born.

Sex in story is the fictional equivalent of finger-printing the characters. How characters approach sex, how they think about sex, what neuroses they bring into the bedroom with them, all of these elements mark the character as unique. And once the character has had sex, for the rest of the story, that character will always be viewed through the filter of his or her sexuality. If I want to expose the very essence of my characters, I write them having sex, and then I know who they are, and so will my readers.

Good stories involve characters being acted upon by events, situations, circumstances beyond their control and the chaos that results. There are few parts of our human nature we struggle more fiercely to control than sexuality. Ultimately, sex makes people uncomfortable, and anything that makes people uncomfortable is a fabulous tool for fiction. Sex can be the driving force behind a story or it can be the catalyst that breaks through and changes everything. It can be the nagging little push, it can be the shining revelation, it can be the dark hidden secret. But what it will always do is shake things up, even if it’s just a little bit. What it will always do is reveal our characters in ways we’ve never seen them before. What it will always do is give us startling glimpses into the psyche of the human animal, into what drives us, what frightens us, what makes us happy, what makes us love, what makes us hate. It will do all of these things because it’s almost impossible for our characters to keep their defences in place when they’re naked, hormone drunk, and fucking.

It’s not just the sex act itself that helps create the loss of control and gives us intimate insights into characters. A whole new world of chaos and voyeuristic excitement for our reader happens when we writers get inside our characters’ heads and see what they think about sex. Do they feel guilty, do they feel driven, do they feel lust, do they feel romantic, do they feel desperation, do they feel joy, do they feel anger? What does their sexual baggage look like, and what acts does it drive them to?

What separates human sexuality from the sexuality of our animal cousins is that we spend so damn much time thinking about sex. So much of human sexuality takes place in the mind, and so much of a good story comes from knowing what’s going on in the heads of the characters. We think about sex, we reflect on sex, we look forward to sex, we speculate about sex. We repent of sex, we rejoice in sex, we scheme and plan to get sex. For the structure of the story, thoughts of sex, a character’s attitudes toward sex, a character’s responses to sex and the consequences created by sex are like ripples on a pond, having far reaching implications and creating endless opportunities for little whirlpools of chaos to erupt, even in a story that has relatively little sex in it.

That we find it necessary to have a separate genre for stories that we deem too sexual says a lot about the neurotic relationship Western culture has with the human body and with sex. No other human drive in literature is separated out as its own genre nor is any other genre so highly policed. But then again, no other human drive defines humanity quite like sexuality does.

We are sexual animals. There’s no getting round that fact. It’s biology. Therefore to write a story without sex is like writing a story in which people never eat, never sleep, never talk, never interact with each other. Sex is a part of who we are, and if we want our characters to be well-rounded, if we want our readers to have truly intimate views of them, then sex will be there, even if it’s only lurking in the background waiting to sneak out, catch a character with her defences down and cause a little chaos.

Excerpt from The Initiation of Ms. Holly:

In one of the more intimate dining rooms the woman guided Rita to a lushly upholstered booth near the back away from the dance floor and the few other diners who occupied the room.

‘Edward will join you shortly.’ With that, the woman turned on you-could-only-afford-to-fuck-me-in-your-dreams stilettos and retreated back through the maze of rooms.

Before she was out of sight, a server approached Rita’s table with two glasses and a bottle of Moët et Chandon on ice. ‘I’m Aurora.’ She sat her burden down on the table.  ‘Edward has instructed me to apologize for his small delay.’ It was only her name and a slight feminine pout that assured Rita Aurora was actually a woman. Her androgynous features were accentuated by white blond hair cropped short. She was dressed in a black suit, waist coat and tie, completely camouflaging the swell of her small breasts. When she spoke, even her voice was deep, and gravelly. ‘There is one other thing Edward asked me to give you.’ From her pocket, the waitress produced a black velvet blindfold. ‘He asks that you wear this. He said you would understand.’

A frisson of anticipation laced with the tiniest hint of fear ran up Rita’s spine and accumulated at the tips of her nipples as the waitress stepped behind her and secured the blindfold. That done, she filled a glass and placed it in Rita’s hand. ‘Enjoy the fizz,’ she said. Then she left.

The scent of oregano and basil and other more subtle seasonings blended with the smell of expensive perfume. Glasses clinked, people laughed, and somewhere in the background the melodic strains of String of Pearls wafted on the air. She had only just tasted the champagne when a warm body scooted into the booth next to her. She recognize Edward’s scent a split second before his hand cupped her cheek and his mouth covered hers, familiar territory, she thought, as her tongue became reacquainted with his.

‘I hope you don’t mind the blindfold,’ he said when he came up for air. He slid warm fingers under the spaghetti straps and caressing her left shoulder. ‘Being in the dark was so much fun last time.’

She ran a hand over his cheek, raking a thumb lightly over a fluttering eyelid. ‘What about you? You’re not wearing a blindfold. That’s hardly fair.’

He chuckled, and she felt his warm breath against her earlobe. ‘I never said I play fair. I was right though. You are exquisite, but I wouldn’t have imagined your hair to be chestnut’ He caressed her tresses, pushing a strand back behind her shoulders to fondle her nape. ‘For some reason I was certain that cascade of silk would be strawberry blonde.’ He ran his other hand up the outside of her thigh, toying with the exposed edge of her garter belt, making her squirm. ‘Guess in some cases, there’s just no substitute for the sense of sight.’

‘But I want to see you too. I want to know what you look like.’

‘You will in good time. That is if you want to play my little game. Of course you could take off the blindfold. I can’t stop you, but admit it, it’s fun not knowing. A bit of an adventure, an initiation almost.’

‘An initiation?’

‘Yeah, you know, at the beginning, when a man and a woman are just getting to know each other, it’s like an initiation, don’t you think?’

‘I never thought of it like that, kind of like a hazing?’

He chuckled. ‘Can be. Could be, if you want it to be.’ He nipped her earlobe, ‘Or maybe like an induction into some secret cult with secret rituals of wild, kinky sex.’

‘Mmm. Sounds good. Where do I sign up?’

Another chuckle. ‘All you have to do is keep the blindfold on until I say you can take it off. Let your other senses do the work.’ His finger slipped beneath the suspender to stroke her thigh, making concentration next to impossible.

‘I’ve always wanted to be a member of a secret sex cult.’ Breathing was becoming more of an effort as his touch became more insistent. ‘Okay then. I’m in. Have your way with me.’

There was a long moment of silence, and for a split second Rita wondered if she had said something wrong, if she been too forward, too quick with her answer. But just when she was about to back track, he leaned in and kissed her softly on the mouth. She could almost hear his heart beating in his words when at last he spoke. ‘Then welcome to your new playground.’ His hand slipped underneath the spaghetti straps to cup her breast and stroke her engorged areola. ‘Expensive dress?’

‘What?’ Intimidation knotted her stomach. ‘Does it matter?’

‘Not really.’ She could hear him filling the champagne flute. ‘I’ll buy you a new one.’ He lifted the glass to her lips. Just as the taste hit her tongue he pulled it away and she felt a cold wet splash over her left breast. She stifled a yelp, but not before his lips clamped down tight on her drenched nipple, and the friction of tongue and teeth on wet silk caused delicious shock waves down her belly and below.

‘You know,’ he said between sucklings, ‘at the command of Louis 15th, the original champagne glass was said to have been shaped like the breasts of his mistress, Madame Pompadour. I can understand why. Once you’ve suckled champagne from a beautiful breast champagne alone, no matter how expensive, isn’t nearly as nice.’

Another cold splash across both breasts and down her cleavage. She gasped and held him to her as he shoved down the spaghetti straps and freed her into his hungry mouth. ‘What if people are watching?’ she whispered.

‘Don’t worry. I know the owner,’ he whispered. ‘There’s one cup even more perfect than Louis’s design.’

About K D Grace:

K D Grace believes Freud was right. In the end, it really IS all about sex, well sex and love. And nobody’s happier about that than she is, otherwise, what would she write about?

When she’s not writing, K D is veg gardening. When she’s not gardening, she’s walking. She walks her stories, and she’s serious about it. She and her husband have walked Coast to Coast across England, along with several other long-distance routes. For her, inspiration is directly proportionate to how quickly she wears out a pair of walking boots. She also enjoys martial arts, reading, watching the birds and anything that gets her outdoors.

K D has erotica published with SourceBooks, Xcite Books, Harper Collins Mischief Books, Mammoth, Cleis Press, Black Lace, Erotic Review, Ravenous Romance, Sweetmeats Press and others.

K D’s critically acclaimed erotic romance novels include, The Initiation of Ms Holly, The Pet Shop. Her paranormal erotic novel, Body Temperature and Rising, the first book of her Lakeland Heatwave trilogy, was listed as honorable mention on Violet Blue’s Top 12 Sex Books for 2011. Books two and three, Riding the Ether, and Elemental Fire, are now also available. She was nominated for ETO’s Best Erotic Author 2013.

K D Grace also writes hot romance as Grace Marshall. An Executive Decision, Identity Crisis, The Exhibition are all available.

Find K D Here:                                                                  

Websites: http://kdgrace.co.uk/ and http://gracemarshallromance.co.uk/

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The ultimate in defies description – Blood Mate by Kitty Thomas

Most of the time, I find genre classifications very helpful.  On a certain level, I enjoy knowing what to expect when I approach a book.  It makes for an easier reading experience, right?  When you’re in the mood for a story with equal parts love and adventure, you might be happiest with a romp. When you’re in the mood for an adventure that pushes the boundaries of the known world, you might be happiest with some science fiction.  When you’re in the mood for a story that explores sexuality, you might enjoy some erotica.  Genres make it easier to match books to your reading mood, and that can make for happier reading.

But sometimes I wonder if it also produces more complacent reading.  If you know what to expect going into a book and if your expectations are usually met, isn’t it easy to start reading to your expectations, finding in your reading only what you expect to find?  And when that method of reading becomes your comfortable habit — it’s so easy — what’s going to make you break free?

When I started reading Blood Mate, I had no idea what to expect.  Was it paranormal? Yeah, I guess… I mean, it’s about a vampire, so I guess it qualifies.  Was it a romance? No, not really. Was it erotica? Ish? Was it dark erotica?  Sort of, but it’s not actually as dark as you’d expect.  So what is it?  It’s exactly what it says it is: a dark fairy tale.

Here’s the blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Blood Mate, a dark fairy tale…

Nicole has been happily married to big shot attorney, Dominic Rose for ten years, but soon after their anniversary he grows cold—as if she doesn’t exist. Meanwhile, another man has been pursuing her far too intently for comfort.

August Corinth is a six-hundred-year-old vampire, cursed to kill and suffer the pain of his victims each night until he can find the one woman who can resist his thrall, his blood mate. Once he’s found her, there are no lines he won’t cross to claim the promised salvation even if it means taking away everything and everyone she loves.

I found, reading it, that when I took it at literal face value, I didn’t really get what was going on, and I didn’t like it much.  But I took an Olympics-induced break about halfway through and spent a few days thinking about the story, about my expectations, and about whether I was reading it properly.  I kept going back to that subtitle, a dark fairy tale.

Subtitles are important.

When I started reading Blood Mate as a fairy tale, it transformed.  So I went back to the beginning and started it again, approaching it the way I would a myth or epic poem.  August is full of that classic, epic arrogance and selfishness, character traits that seem out of place in a modern story but fit right in an epic tale.

(Epics are full of these douchey dude characters who manipulate and destroy — often specifically destroying the lady characters — and then bitch and moan when everything doesn’t turn out perfectly for them.  Often, it takes the intervention of the gods to rework the human ending and pitch it in favor of the douchey dude.  Hey, Odysseus, I’m looking at you.)

From his first appearance in Blood Mate, August Corinth typifies the epic douchebag.  He is remarkably self-centered, and his response to every hint of adversity is self-pity and a fundamental expectation that his happiness trumps everything.  He is, then, in addition to being an actual vampire with the fangs and the blood sucking, an emotional vampire, toxic in his selfishness, forever taking, demanding everything out of life.  The emotional vampirism goes one further as August uses his bond with Nicole to remove her painful emotions after the various traumas she experiences at his hands.

He’s not a damn romantic hero, and I don’t think he’s cast as one.

On the flip side, there’s Nicole, who’s kind of a cipher, clinging to seemingly insignificant pieces of identity as she lives in the shadow of first one then another man who claims her as mate.  With her husband, Nicole clings to her unnecessary job and preference for sweet coffee drinks.  With August, Nicole clings to her identity as Dominic’s beloved and struggles to maintain her sense of self as all her emotions are leeched away.

If you try to read the story in a straightforward and modern way, expecting the kinds of things you usually expect, you’ll probably be disappointed.  There isn’t really a resolution for August, Nicole, or Dominic.  August doesn’t exactly grow in self-awareness, and Nicole doesn’t achieve any clear peace or positive reward for all her sacrifice and struggle.  And Dominic… I think maybe that guy’s more of a winner than either August or Corinth.

But, if you abandon your expectations — more than that, if you actively question why you even have those expectations in the first place — you’re in for an interesting read and an even more interesting period of reflection after the reading is done.  Who is the hero in this book? Who is the victim? Whose path is righteous? Who wins at the end? And, honestly, why do we approach books expecting a clear winner or loser?

I’ll be honest… I’m not really sure what the ending of Blood Mate is all about.  I’m a reasonably intelligent human being, but the ending — kind of like the last scene of The Sopranos — leaves a big question mark for readers and refuses to make it easy on us.  So what happened and what does it all mean? That’s for you to decide. And isn’t it fucking awesome that you have that kind of power as a reader?

Blood Mate was released by the author on January 30, 2014.  For more information about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  If you’re curious about Kitty Thomas, check out her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley from the author in exchange for an honest review.*

What I’ve been reading lately – you know, when I’m not watching the Olympics

99% of the time, I am not a sports fan.  I don’t care about any of the big sports in my country, I don’t play any sports myself, and I live in a kind of expectant terror that my daughters will develop an interest in soccer or softball or — God help me — basketball.  But then the Olympics come around, winter or summer, and all of that changes.

I don’t like sports, but goddamn: I love the Olympics.  So I’ve been glued to the TV and mobile app, mesmerized by the snowboarding (the men’s and women’s slopestyle events were AWESOME!), the skiing (who knew alpine skiing was so damn exciting? And the moguls? Holy crap!), the figure skating (Yulia Lipinitskaya and Yevgeny Plushenko: ’nuff said), the short-track speed skating (I could write some fan fiction about that Canadian guy who won gold in the 1500), the luge, the ski jumping… And I am beyond thrilled that women’s ski jumping will debut at this Olympics.

So, yeah… I haven’t been reading so much, but I did manage to spare some attention for a pair of books that made me laugh out loud on multiple occasions and had enough draw to capture (and hold) my attention away from men’s biathlon and men’s alpine downhill, respectively.

First up is Maisey Yates’s Crazy, Stupid Sex. 

The blurb, according to Goodreads:

How to Land the Hot Guy 1.0

A multimillionaire by the age of 27, app developer Evie James is clueless when it comes to hooking up. So she does what any self-respecting geek-girl looking to get laid would do: she programs her own app for landing a hot guy. After a few failed attempts at making contact, beta testing leads her to Caleb Anderson.

Caleb is used to female attention, but finds himself attracted to Evie because of her unique brand of awkward. A master of one-night stands, he’s more than happy to show her what she’s been missing in the bedroom. But he quickly discovers that one night with a woman like Evie will never be enough for him.

So, yeah. Crazy, Stupid Sex is basically Ryan Gosling + geek girl = LURVE fanfic, and it’s enormously entertaining.  Here’s a quick list of the things I loved about this book:

  1. Believably successful lady character.
  2. Excellent dialogue that incorporates ubiquitous geek references (the Doctor, LOTR paraphernalia, gaming enthusiasm, social awkwardness) with snappy wit.
  3. A unicorn burrito.
  4. References to a sex tip list, which is pretty much the only thing that comes to mind when I think of Cosmo.  Thankfully, Yates opted not to explore some of the more strange Cosmo sex tip offerings, such as using your feet instead of your hands and smearing food all over yourself and your partner.

I could have handled a slightly less angsty hero, a lot more sucking up at the end, a female friend for Evie, and a smidge more showing than telling, but I would still be happy to read this book a few more times just for the sheer fun of it.  Besides… it was more interesting than the men’s biathlon, and that’s really saying something.

And then there’s Misbehaving by Tiffany Reisz.

The blurb, according to Goodreads:

Wanted: Adventurous, open-minded man willing to try anything…
As a popular sex blogger, Beatriz gets paid to have orgasms. So being on deadline the week of her sister’s wedding isn’t as rough as it sounds. There’s just one hitch: Bea’s assignment is to write a review of a sex position manual, but she doesn’t have a plus one to play with.

The good news: Ben, the one who got away back in college, is also attending stag–and he’s as temptingly gorgeous as ever.  The bad news: Ben turned down Bea’s offer of graduation night sex five years ago.  The best news: He’s not planning on making the same mistake twice.

A red-hot retelling of Much Ado About Nothing for people who love Shakespeare but thought his plays could use a few more sex scenes.

So, when I say, “Erotic retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing,” you probably don’t think, “Awesome!” But you should, because, in the hands of Tiffany Reisz, it is.  Misbehaving translates the comedy of errors as a contemporary erotic romance and shines with wit and clever plotting.  As much an adaptation as a retelling, the book draws together elements from the original and creates something new that feels both authentic and original.

And it’s damn funny.

The sex scenes are classic Tiffany Reisz.  You won’t find any dripping petals or creaming or turgid manhood here.  Reisz acknowledges the awkwardness and the sexiness of real sex and calls attendant parts by their real names.  Personally, I prefer that approach to literary sex, because if I have to be reading about people getting it on, I’d rather do so without the distraction of strange euphemisms, the linguistic tip-toeing that transfers a feeling of junior high prurience onto my reading experience.

The bottom line is that this book is so much more interesting than men’s downhill alpine skiing, and that’s really saying something.  (For reals: incredibly fit men wearing spandex suits and skiing down a mountain at 80 mph is pretty damn interesting.)  So, when I say, “erotic retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing,” you should really say, “Hell yes.”

Crazy, Stupid Sex and Misbehaving were both released on Feb. 11, 2014 by Cosmo Hot Reads, an imprint of Harlequin.  For more information about the books, click on the cover images above to visit their respective pages on Goodreads.  For more information on the authors, check out Maisey Yates’s and Tiffany Reisz’s websites.  And, if you’re on the Twitter, you should seriously be following these two.  They are hilarious.  (For the lazy, here are the links for Maisey and Tiffany.)

*FTC Disclosure – I received e-galleys of these books from Cosmo Hot Reads from Harlequin via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My gushing about Olympic awesomeness was a bonus.*