Books and love: The Professor by Charlotte Stein

So, I think by now it’s clear that I love me some Charlotte Stein. I love her books. I love her Twitter feed. I have aspirational thoughts sometimes — usually when I’m in the middle of one of her books — that I’ll overcome my intense dislike of travel and just, like, show up at her house (somehow) and… ? I usually stop there. Even I can’t think, despite my being rather charming in a painfully awkward kind of way, that my turning up at someone’s house unannounced could be anything but creepy and terrible.

(By the way, I’ve just revealed a grim truth: my aspirational thoughts deflate rather quickly under the pressure of my practical mental habits. Ask me about my hopes and dreams sometime, and you’ll see just how drab my mental landscape can be.)

Anyway… I read a book:

Esther wrote down her fantasies about her tutor, but she never intended for him to read them.
Once they cross the line there’s no going back.
Esther has always been an average student. She coasts through life on a sea of Bs, until a fatal mistake jolts her out of mediocrity and into something else entirely. She accidentally leaves a story in an essay for her teacher — one that no teacher should ever see. And especially not Professor Harding.
His lectures are legendary, and he is formidable. But most of all: he is devastatingly handsome, and now he has Esther’s most private and erotic fantasies. The stage is set for humiliation. Until the Professor presents her with a choice. He offers private tuition at his home.
And at first that’s exactly what she does, sure there remains a line between teacher and student that she would never cross it and that someone like Harding never would. He is far too cold and sharp, and so invested in all of his rules that breaking them seems unthinkable.
A single touch would be too much.
A wrong word could ignite an inferno.
So what happens when both of them want to burn?

I love how books figure in Stein’s writing, how often a love of books is what draws the characters together, as though their physical attraction is largely based on their discovery (their sense, sometimes like radar) of a shared love of books. Stein’s characters love books, tend to feel detached from others, and often take refuge in each other as fellow sojourners from alien planets (perhaps planets populated by readers, that bizarre species). The Professor takes this theme of Stein’s work (present in several of my favorites, including — most recently — Taken and Sweet Agony) and gives it pride of place. Amid book-strewn habitats and a wealth of literary references, these two readers (and writers) negotiate emotional and physical intimacy.

So maybe The Professor isn’t going to end up being one of my favorites of Stein’s work (there’s not quite enough connection to the hero and his conflicts (perhaps because he keeps fleeing the scene), and it’s also not quite as neurotically funny as my favorites tend to be), but… and maybe this doesn’t make any sense, but if the entire body of Stein’s work is a symphony in three or four parts (with her various themes being the three or four movements), then this book is the bass line to one of those movements: essential to any attempt to analyze what’s going on. I certainly feel as though, having read it, I have a better understanding of all the books that came before.

As usual, I’ve been dithering on this post. (I dithered so much that I read Taken again — for the fourth time — because I was trying to figure out what it was about it that I liked so much. I mean, these two books have an awful lot in common: older, somewhat restrained, massive (possibly secret werewolf) hero matched with younger, utterly neurotic, sexually unrestrained heroine. Both books have a slight Beauty and the Beast vibe (you get a hint of it in the cover of The Professor) with the heroine somehow compelled into their company at the beginning, the attraction developing out of a shared love of books, and all the hairy (literal and figurative) issues and fears. Here’s the thing: Taken is also damn charming and funny as hell. I can’t say that it would work for every reader — some folk might not share my love of neurotica, and Taken has a double dose. I mean, really:

“Now I know you’re screwing with me. Either that or trying to flatter me to get out of this — which by the way is even worse than begging for your life. You should not have to say nice things to get out of this. It is way worse if you have to say nice things to get out of this. I will probably get beat up in prison, if I’m not somehow mysteriously killed in the squad car on the way to the station first.”
“Well, before you are, could you maybe just speak a little of it for me?”
“Speak a little of what exactly? What are we talking about here?”
“We were talking about the German that you might possibly speak”
“I thought we were talking about me holding you against your will then being arrested and murdered in a police car, after which there will be a Lifetime movie based on my life called Ugly Hairy Guy Held Me Hostage: The Whatever Your Name Is Story,” he says.

So, yeah. There’s neurotic narration and a lot of neurotic dialogue, but it worked for me. Through the rambling, ever-so-slightly crazy dialogue, you really get to know Johann, and you’re rooting for him and Rosie both, even when they’re being ridiculous.

By contrast, The Professor is a bit more serious in its tone. To an extent, that’s a good thing. I mean, Stein is dealing with some hinky territory here with the professor/student dynamic. But the book is not quite as much fun, and… I missed the fun. Also, Harding is much more remote (sometimes actually remote, like when he just picks up and leaves several times over) and thus (for me) harder to root for as a hero.

But to get back to that bass line, I would probably not have noticed that Johann and Rosie’s courtship in Taken is so deeply dependent upon books were it not for The Professor. (And in Sweet Agony when Cyrian gives Molly full access to the library and reads to her — basically one of the most romantic gestures there ever could be — isn’t it the first indication that they’re kindred souls, despite her background and his otherworldliness?) So maybe The Professor isn’t quite better than the sum of its parts (to me), but those parts — the critiques Harding offers on Esther’s writing; the gut-punch of Harding’s writing; the epistolary scenes; the literary references; and Esther’s strength at the end — are better than most other wholes.

In case you’re curious (not sure why would be, but whatever), I purchased copies of all three books, but I also received an e-ARC of Sweet Agony for review consideration.

Kelly and Kim’s discussion of Indecent…Exposure by Jane O’Reilly

So one day my buddy Kim sent me a text asking me if I’d be interested in reading Indecent…Exposure by Jane O’Reilly, which some readers said reminded them of Charlotte Stein’s writing style. I love me some Stein, so I was all over it. Read on, and Kim and I will tell you all about our thoughts.

Setting up the money shot…

Quiet, sensible Ellie Smithson is a highly respectable photographer by day – but there are only so many wedding photo-shoots you can take without your mind wandering to what happens when the blissfully happy bride is swept off her feet and straight to the honeymoon suite’s sumptuous four-poster bed…

So after dark, Ellie takes pictures of a more…intimate nature – a dirty little secret she’s kept from her accountant Tom. Until now. It seems Tom is the subject of her next racy shoot!

It isn’t just the blurring of work and personal boundaries that’s the problem; secretly Ellie has always had fantasies of a most unprofessional nature about the almost illegally gorgeous Tom. With such temptation on display, how will she ever stay behind the camera?!

The first book in the Indecent… trilogy.

Kim: Kelly had always told me how much I would love reading Charlotte Stein. I love me some dirty, filthy reads from time to time and Stein fills that box. When I heard that Jane O’Reilly could also fill that box I was indeed intrigued.

Ellie, our heroine, is what got me hooked into the story. I loved her double life so much! On one hand we have a photographer who does fantastic portraits, weddings, babies….you know the typical things a professional photographer photographs. (Say that ten times fast!)

And on the other is the Ellie who photographs deeply sexual and erotic images.  She lives vicariously through her clients and their shoots.

Kelly: I enjoyed Ellie’s double life, too. It’s kind of a parallel to the double life any erotica reader has, right? We’re probably not reading this stuff all the time. Our lives are full of standard fare: work, family, friends, weddings, funerals, etc. Sometimes we read nonfiction, mainstream fiction, romance, sci-fi.  And some of us have e-readers or bookshelves full of dirty, filthy stories that we probably don’t talk about at our book club meetings. (Unless we belong to the best kind of book club.) Anyway, I loved Ellie, because she’s totally neurotic and relatable.

Kim: And how about Tom? And his wonderful, deliciously dirty mouth? He seems all prim and proper from Ellie’s descriptions of him, but when he’s allowed to speak for himself, boy can he turn up the heat. The chemistry between the two of them is palpable at times, and I seriously wanted to cut it with a knife. But he isn’t just a dirty mouth. We learn that he needs to sometimes do outrageous things and get tattoos.

Kelly: Sometimes accountants have to, you know? It can be a boring job… unless you’re SUPER into spreadsheets and numbers…

Kim: HA! He does enjoy his spreadsheets and numbers, but also enjoys voyeurism, boxing, and Ellie’s erotic photography.

Kelly: Tom and Ellie serve as interesting foils for the other. Both are somewhat buttoned up, hidden, and repressed in their professional lives, and both fight against that repression (albeit in very different ways). Tom is much more accepting of himself and his needs; Ellie feels shame over hers. In a way, they seem to be a fairly decent example of how modern culture accepts (even assumes) the desires of men but shames those of women.

Kim: I want to delve more into what Kelly said about Tom and Ellie. Their foil-ish qualities help each other realize that what they repress doesn’t need to be considered shameful. There is nothing wrong with Tom enjoying erotic photography or adrenaline pumping activities. Look at all the people in the world who go skydiving or base jumping. His past makes his feelings of shame understandable, but thankfully Ellie helps him bring that side out. Shows him it’s ok to be himself.

Ellie meanwhile (with Tom’s help) undergoes a personal sexual awakening that makes her find beauty in the erotic photographs she takes. And Kelly’s right about society shaming women for their desires. Ellie thinks she should have to keep her business (and her enjoyment of sex) a secret. She’s unable to ask for what she wants sexually due to embarrassment over her desires. I’m glad O’Reilly added this little dig at our social norms and chose to let Ellie discover herself, effectively overcoming this stigma.

Kelly:  So Tom and Ellie are wonderful, and their scenes are interesting (and filthy), but… let’s talk about the setup for a bit. Because the plot and conflict in this story are a little strange. So Ellie’s best friend Amber has discovered that her boyfriend has not only been cheating on her, he’s gone and proposed to the other woman. So she’s like, I’ll show him! So she tells the guy in line behind her at the bank — that’s Tom, Ellie’s accountant — that Ellie takes erotic photos, and would he like a blow job (that Ellie will photograph). And he says yes, of course. (Of course.) Amber asks Ellie for this super special photo of the event, and Ellie doesn’t quite get the shot, because she’s distracted by Tom, how much she likes him, and how jealous she feels in the moment. That super special photo (more accurately the lack of it) ends up being one of the major pieces of conflict driving the story, which makes no sense to me.

Kim: Much is made about the friendship between Ellie and Amber, like how much Ellie owes Amber for keeping her “together.” I’m not really sure what she went through that Amber kept her from breaking apart, but I truly never understand their friendship.

Ellie tells nobody about her side business. Nobody but Amber. And here we have Amber taking advantage of it, telling Ellie’s accountant about it, just so she can get back at a cheating boyfriend. Which, not for nothing honey, but if he chose another woman over you chances are a picture of you blowing some other dude isn’t going to piss him off.

Kelly: Yeah, no kidding. But Amber’s obsessed with showing this money shot image to her Cheaty Mccheater boyfriend, convinced that it’ll make her feel better (how?). And Ellie — the narrator of this piece — pretty much just goes along with it (and you get the idea that that’s how their friendship goes: Amber behaves in incredibly selfish and destructive ways and Ellie just goes with it because she has few friends, anyway, and she feels a debt of gratitude to Amber, because Amber helped Ellie get through her difficult school years. Also, I suspect that Ellie is a bit of an unreliable narrator at times.). The more Amber rages about the cheater, the more Ellie capitulates. And even when Ellie and Tom act on their mutual attraction, Ellie still isn’t able to separate herself from Amber’s will. It’s very strange how Ellie sees herself as Amber’s necessary pawn. Fortunately for us readers, Tom doesn’t, and he spares us what would otherwise be a very awkward scene.

Kim: What really pissed me off was when Amber yelled at Ellie for not being honest with her about her feelings for Tom. As if she could with Amber hollering all the time about “why didn’t you get the money shot?!!?!”

AND THEN Amber’s ending (in this story at least). KGJKLGJ:KSGJLKDJKDFK

I’m so angry I can’t produce words. All that drama was for nothing!!! Amber’s selfishness knows no bounds. She truly cares for herself and her pleasure only.

Kelly: yeah.. It might have been better if the actual conflict of the story had stayed focused on Ellie and Tom and their respective drama. Of course, how would they ever have discovered the other’s inner pervert if they’d remained ever accountant and client? (I don’t know the answer, but I’m sure a lot of folks could come up with plenty of scenarios that didn’t involve revenge BJs. Just saying.) Anyway, so much page time was given to Amber and her stupid drama that the actual conflict of the story — Ellie and her issues and Tom and his and their budding romance (and boinking) — got shifted to the side a bit, and it sort of falls flat, in the end. (I thought.) I also thought they stumbled toward love — in the forever way — a little too quick.

Kim: Agreed! It was a bit magic penis if you will.

Kelly: Yeah, just a bit.

Kim’s final thoughts: Even with Amber and the magic penis bit, I still genuinely enjoyed the novella. I enjoyed seeing two people cast off the shame society made them feel and come into their own. By the end of the book Ellie and Tom know who they are and, as such, are able to bask in the newness of their relationship and (too fast) love for each other.

Kelly’s final thoughts: I liked it, too.  It’s funny, because I’d already read a bunch of Charlotte Stein’s books, and — at first — the similar style and voice threw me off. But I just re-read this novella today, and it seemed a lot more distinct and original (and un-Stein, if that makes sense) than when I first read it several months ago. It’s possible that on my first read, I paid attention to the things that seemed familiar. On the surface it seems just like it’s using a Stein trope, as though neurotic characters + dirty sex = “in the style of Charlotte Stein”.  But on a second read, that similarity seemed incidental. Or maybe I just want all erotica to be written in the style of Charlotte Stein. Whatever. I’ll be keeping an eye out in future for Jane O’Reilly.

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. *

Review – The Last Good Knight by Tiffany Reisz

The Last Good Knight Banner

So, I guess I should first mention that this post is part of the blog tour (I hope that’s obvious.) There’s a tour-wide giveaway here — check it out!

I read and loved the first four books in Tiffany Reisz’s Original Sinners series. (I say the first four books, but it’s kind of like Star Wars... the series started with the fourth (or fifth, if you count the novella) one.) So when I heard about this novella, I was pretty excited about it. Then I heard it was being released as a serial and I worried a little bit.

The Last Good Knight: An Original Sinners novella told in five parts:

Part I: Scars and Stripes

It’s lust at first sight when Mistress Nora encounters a sexy newcomer to The 8th Circle. She’s happy for the distraction, since she left her lover, Søren, but her session with Lance is cut short when her boss, Kingsley Edge, reveals they’re all in danger….

Part II: Sore Spots

With a potential stalker on the loose, Kingsley hires Lance as Nora’s bodyguard, but stipulates no sex while he’s on duty. Frustrated by the ex-SEAL’s noble chivalry, Nora is driven to seek release with the one man she’s trying to forget….

Part III: The Games Destiny Plays

Shocked to see Nora’s bruises, Lance is furious that she put herself in danger and demands to know where she got them. As Nora confesses her true nature, she’s equally shocked to learn that Lance has some secrets of his own, drawing them together despite Kingsley’s orders….

Part IV: Fit to Be Tied

With her feelings for Lance warring with her recent encounter with Søren, Nora returns to Lance’s bed and finds herself toying with the idea of…toying with him on a permanent basis. But after she gets a glimpse into his personal angst, Nora realizes she has the power to rescue this white knight….

Part V: The Last Good Night

Now that the perpetrator has been apprehended, Nora sadly acknowledges she doesn’t need a bodyguard anymore. She adores Lance and wants to keep him but is faced with a dilemma. If she uses her connections to help Lance, she’ll have to give him up forever…

The bottom line is that I liked this novella, but I have a few reservations about leaving it at that. I’ll put ’em in a list. I know you’ve been missing my lists.

  1. It’s a serial novella. That means that each $0.99 installment gives you about 25-30 pages of reading, with the expectation that you’ll purchase the other 4 installments to continue the story. Novellas are fast-paced little bites of stories anyway, and it’s slightly irritating to receive the story in this incremental format. I read them as ARCs — meaning that I had all five to start with (and I didn’t pay for them), and I was still slightly annoyed every time I had to find the next installment in my library and try to get back into the story. If you’re worried about the cost, I’ll be fair and put it in perspective… the total price for this approx. 120-page story is $4.95… the average Harlequin Presents story is about 180 pages long and costs $4.99. It’s up to you to decide whether a bit of Tiffany Reisz erotica is worth slightly more per-page than an HP.  My main irritation stems from the (admittedly ridiculous) inconvenience of having to open up five different books during one rather short reading experience. I know — I’m nit-picking — but novellas are already bite sized… do we really need to break them down further than that?
  2. Read those blurbs again… The thing is, the villain that drives most of the plot — that brings Nora and Lance together in a no-touching-allowed way — is an entirely off-page thing that never seems to be as big a deal as the characters believe. It’s like all the characters have these huge reactions to an invisible monster that turns out to be a nuisance rather than a danger.
  3. This one’s possibly just me, but it was a little weird reading a book about Nora and the other OS crew that takes place before The Siren, because OS books 2-4 so completely changed my views on Nora and Søren. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it was a little difficult for me to get into the right brain space to read this story. I suspect i’ll have the same problem with the other OS books (the prequels. Here’s hoping there aren’t any droid armies, Yoda fights or epic NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO moments in those books. I don’t think I could take it.)

So, yeah, those things were kind of strange or irritating, but I did like the novella. Once I got over the weirdness of going back in time with Nora and Søren, I loved how their dynamic played out. It’s also fantastic how you can read The Siren again after reading this novella and get another perspective on the Nora/Søren interactions. And I loved how the interludes between Nora and Lance, while necessarily short-lived, manage to be emotionally true and compelling. While the ending was a little bit heartbreaking, it was a really good kind of heartbreak.

While I’m not completely sure why this story needed to be told (maybe just to introduce Lance to the world?… Actually, that’s enough of a reason for me), I enjoyed reading it.

Amazon: (US Links)<br>Part I: http://amzn.to/1fVdUvP<br>Barnes & Noble:<br>Part I: http://bit.ly/RM6jI5

If you’re interested in more information about the author, check her out in the usual places: Twitter: @TiffanyReisz  https://twitter.com/tiffanyreisz, Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/littleredridingcrop, and Website: http://www.tiffanyreisz.com/.

Author PictureTiffany Reisz lives with her boyfriend (a reformed book reviewer) and two cats (one good, one evil). She graduated with a B.A. in English from Centre College in Danville, Kentucky and is making both her parents and her professors proud by writing BDSM erotica under her real name. She has five piercings, one tattoo, and has been arrested twice.

When not under arrest, Tiffany enjoys Latin Dance, Latin Men, and Latin Verbs. She dropped out of a conservative southern seminary in order to pursue her dream of becoming a smut peddler. Johnny Depp’s aunt was her fourth grade teacher. Her first full-length novel THE SIREN was inspired by a desire to tie up actor Jason Isaacs (on paper). She hopes someday life will imitate art (in bed).

If she couldn’t write, she would die.

*FTC Disclosure – I received e-galleys of all 5 installments from Harlequin via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Kelly and Kim discuss The Wrong Billionaire’s Bed by Jessica Clare

Oh, billionaire books…  I’ve been known to bitch about how bad they are, but my buddy Kim (from Reflections of a Book Addict) came across this series by Jessica Clare that avoids many of the pitfalls common to the subgenre.  Clare’s billionaire heroes (except Hunter) do tend to run true to type — successful at business and meaningless affairs, hopeless at relationships; inclined to fix all problems with money; etc. — but her heroines are a different breed from the ones I’ve encountered in other billionaire stories.  Clare’s heroines cannot be controlled through sex — which doesn’t mean they lack the ability to feel attraction or to respond to chemistry… it just means they aren’t bizarrely portrayed characters whose responses to objectionable behavior can be suppressed or negated by arousal — and they aren’t overly impressed by money.  In fact, Clare’s heroines think it’s really creepy when their heroes try to buy them things like clothing, lingerie, diners (you read that right), book deals, etc.

Kim finally got me to read the first book in the series, and I was impressed, even though I didn’t completely love it.  So I read the second book, Beauty and the Billionaire, and I loved it. So of course I read The Wrong Billionaire’s Bed (and you know I’ll be buying the fourth book when it comes out in a few months.).

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Audrey Petty’s always been the responsible one. The good twin.  Successful, dependable, and trustworthy–that’s Audrey. She’d be the perfect girlfriend for her childhood crush, billionaire Cade Archer…except that she’s pretty sure she’s not even on his radar. But when fate (and her chaotic twin) come together, Audrey finds out that she’ll be spending the next month with Cade at his remote cabin retreat. It’s a dream come true…

Until she meets her worst nightmare.

Billionaire playboy Reese Durham is used to seducing women to get what he wants. But when stiff, too-proper Audrey bursts into the private mountain lodge and scares his companion out the door, it’s time for a little revenge. It’s clear that Audrey’s in love with his buddy, Cade…and it’s clear to Reese that blackmailing Audrey with this information can get her to agree to just about anything. Like furtive kisses in the dark, or a secret rendezvous in the woods. Audrey may think she knows what she wants, but Reese is determined to show her what she needs.

And as Reese discovers the volatile minx behind the buttoned-up exterior, he starts to think maybe she’s just what he needs, too.

Kelly: I’m suffering from a short attention span today, so I think we should throw our thoughts into a series of pros/cons lists and then go from there.

Kim: We have enjoyed unique review formats recently, so this fits in perfectly. 🙂

The characters:

Reese

Pros

Cons

Kim: Reese worked as a perfect foil for Audrey. Audrey’s all uptight and rigid while Reese is a more “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” kind of guy.

Kelly: the ‘playboy hero who’ll fuck anything that moves’ trope is a little hard to make into a believable romance hero.

Kelly: I liked that Reese wasn’t exactly a billionaire. He was still having to work for his outrageous fortune, and it gave him a vulnerability that I didn’t expect to find in a billionaire romance.  Reese, like Clare’s other billionaire heroes, is actually shown actively working on his business, and that’s a refreshing change from other billionaire heroes that are purportedly serious about making money but are never shown doing anything besides stalking the heroine or having all the sex. Businessmen actually doing business? REMARKABLE.

Kelly: It was also a little awkward that Reese was OK with being Audrey’s ticket to hot sex while she was waiting around for Cade to fall in love with her.  Like, I get that he’s characterized as a man hoor who’ll sleep with anything — so it would be weird for him to turn her down — but, honestly…

Kim: I liked that Reese stood up for Audrey when her twin sister Daphne was being an asshole. Everyone else (even in the 2nd book in this series) babies Daphne and allows her to do and say whatever she wants. Reese sees how upset Audrey gets and gives Daphne a taste of her own medicine back. I totally respected him for that.

Kelly: Reese can cook.

Kelly: But it was strange that Reese would cook up some awesome food and then tell everyone that Audrey made it, because he was trying to help her land Cade.  On the one hand you could go, aww, that’s sweet that he was helping the woman he was boinking to land another man, but… you really do have to step back and ponder (1) why you’d associate that wacky behavior with sweetness and (2) why Audrey’s ability (or not) to cook would have any bearing on whether or not Cade recognized her as a legitimate love interest.  What is this, 1950?

Audrey

Pros

Cons

Kelly: Audrey isn’t shy about her sexuality.  I expected her to be a bit reticent, to allow Reese to take the lead (I mean, seriously, one of the tropes of billionaire romances is that all those guys are Doms, right?), but Audrey is an initiator and isn’t about to be ashamed of it.

Kelly: But Audrey doesn’t feel confident in her sexuality around Cade, the dude she’s convinced she loves.  In a way, that was the hardest part to swallow about her character, for me, that she so firmly believed in her love for Cade and so openly accepted her own sexuality (as far as its expression with the guys in her past and with Reese was concerned), but could not connect that sexuality with Cade.  How could she possibly believe she was in love with him? She’s not actually dumb.  ???

Kim: Audrey is constantly thinking about others. Trying to take care of her sister, being the perfect assistant for Logan, cooking for the cabin (even though she knows she’s a terrible cook). She is constantly putting the needs of others before her own needs, illustrating her generous nature.

Kim: Audrey is constantly thinking about others. (It’s a catch 22) It’s great to think about others, but at what detriment to yourself? The scene in which she asks Logan for time off to take care of her sister – it saddened me to see how timid she was and kept offering concessions for her actions. (As if an employee taking time off was a terrible thing) She never expects anyone to reciprocate kindness back to her in the amounts she gives.

Kelly: Audrey reads romance novels!!

Kim: Audrey’s obsession with being a “good twin” got old after a while. What exactly does it mean to be “good?” Your twin sister is a drug addict. Honestly, not doing drugs automatically makes you “good one.”

Kim: Audrey’s vulnerable and insecure. This made her seem normal and relatable to me as a reader. She’s insecure about her weight (what woman isn’t?), she finds flaws within her character, etc. She isn’t perfect and she recognizes her limitations. (A respectable trait in my opinion)

Kelly: I loved how Audrey was willing (and able) to be the strong one, to (FINALLY) give Daphne the tough love she needed.  It broke my heart that her strength was so isolating, that she had to lock her heart up to achieve it, but it was a lovely piece of character work.

The secondary characters (Daphne & Cade)

Pros

Cons

Kelly: As secondary characters, Daphne and Cade are both a little light on characterization… So Cade’s basically the perfect man, and Daphne is beautiful and bright but also self-absorbed and suffering from addiction.  I KNOW, that sounds like a con, but it was actually nice to have them in the story because they’re lovely foils for Audrey and Reese.  Cade/Audrey cling so hard to the ‘good’ role, and Reese/Daphne suffer from low expectations — their own and others’.  That was neat.

Kim: I touched upon this above, but DAPHNE IS ATROCIOUS. I get that she’s going through a detox from insane amounts of drugs but she takes absolutely no responsibility for her actions or for the decisions that led her to her current predicament. I have difficulty feeling anything but annoyance for selfish characters like that.

Kim: I found it hard to believe that someone who is as successful as Cade could be as naive as he was written. We’re shown in a flashback scene that Cade has a rags-to-riches story. Maybe I’m not informed enough in the business world, but I don’t see someone becoming a billionaire in that short an amount of time by being a doormat.

The story

Pros

Cons

Kelly: The chemistry between Reese and Audrey was fantastic, and I thought the sex scenes were really well done, magic penis/vagina notwithstanding.

Kim: Reese and Audrey both have “magic sex organ” syndrome and, as a result, are not written with a lot of emotional development. They develop intimacy through magic sex instead of actual character development.

Kim: I really enjoyed the dares that Reese kept giving Audrey. He recognizes her sexuality and gives her multiple opportunities to own up to it. (And to prove her feelings for Cade)

Kelly: But I could have done without anal sex being the constant joke of all those dares.  I mean, it was nice that Reese never once said something like, “I can’t wait to get in your butt; here, why don’t you just walk around with this buttplug shoved up your ass all day.”  It’s always refreshing not to encounter that kind of dialogue. But it was a trifle irritating that instead the story fetishized anal sex, like it’s the craziest thing these two kids could possibly do.

Kelly: In order to save his business, Reese has to tap into the Power of Friendship.  I liked that, even though his friendships with the other five billionaires actually represent a hinky legal issue with all the insider trading shenanigans… But whatever! It’s FRIENDSHIP.

Kim: AND WHAT’S BETTER THAN FRIENDSHIP!?!?!?!??!?!??!?

SPOILER ALERT:

Kim: The secret baby and the reasons that the baby is kept a secret from Reese. The last time I checked, it took two people to make a baby. When neither person worries about birth control precautions they are equally responsible for that pregnancy. Why Audrey felt Reese would consider her pregnancy an attempt at securing him for marriage I’ll never understand. He kept asking her and asking her to get engaged PRIOR to knowing she was pregnant. As Kelly mentioned above, Audrey isn’t stupid.

Kelly: Except when she is.

Kelly: The ending was a little rough on my suspension of belief.  So legendary man hoor Reese, having experienced the glories of Audrey’s magic vagina, is suddenly all about commitment.  He who has never actually dated (just fucked) moves with maddening speed from “Hey girl, I miss you. Let’s try to date,” to “Hey girl, let’s get married tomorrow.”  For reals: he makes that jump in a matter of minutes.  Even Audrey was like, “ummm… you crazy. Let’s slow it down a bit…” Then there’s a secret baby epilogue.  WHY?!?!?!

Kim: It’s obvious that the author meant to have Audrey be Reese’s wake-up call for life and make him want to commit. It’s unfortunate that it wasn’t written in a way illustrating that, which is where our issues lie.

Kelly’s final thoughts:  To be honest, I think I would have been fine with this book — even with all the oddities — if not for the secret baby ending and the way it was handled.  But that bit just left a foul taste in my mouth.  Other readers might not have a problem with it (I mean, for reals, it’s The Billionaire’s Secret Baby.  That’s fantastic!), but I took mighty exception to Audrey’s notion that her pregnancy was her fault because Reese started riding bareback too soon after she got on the pill.  Fuck that.  It’s his penis.  It’s not as though he didn’t have enough money for condoms.  I didn’t hate this book, but I didn’t love it, either.

Kim’s Final Thoughts: I’m with Kelly. Didn’t hate it but didn’t love it, either. As you can tell from all our lists, it walks a fine line. And even though my feelings are “meh” about it, I’d recommend it for 3 reasons. 1) The great sexual chemistry between Audrey and Reese. 2) Towards the end of the book Gretchen (our heroine from book two Beauty and the Billionaire) bursts into the men’s poker game. The scene that follows is one of the funniest in the series to-date. Totally worth the read for that scene alone. And finally, 3) If you are a tired of reading romance books that have billionaires buying their way into the heroine’s hearts, then read this series. In each one Clare showcases women who aren’t impressed by money. This, in my humble opinion, makes this billionaire series better than any of the others out there.

Kelly’s final thoughts (for reals this time): Oh, I forgot about that scene!  Kim’s right… the bit where Gretchen crashes the poker night is absolutely the most entertaining scene in the book and one of the funniest bits of dialogue I’ve ever read (and served to remind me just how much I loved the second book in this series).

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.*

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.

___________________________________________

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/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/KDGraceAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KD_Grace and http://twitter.com/GM_Romance

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/kdgraceauthor/

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.*

Ménage à review – Kelly, Kim and Tasha take on Secrets and Lords by Justine Elyot

Joining me on the blog today are my buddies Kim from Reflections of a Book Addict and Tasha from Truth, Freedom, Beauty and Books.  We had a lot of fun reading this book together and discussing it on Twitter, and we had even more fun writing this review together.  But enough introduction…the title says it all, honestly.

Cover image, Secrets and Lords by Justine Elyot

Summary, courtesy of Goodreads:

The summer of 1920 brings illicit liaisons to stately home Deverell Hall. Lords, ladies, butler and maids all succumb to the spirit of the roaring 1920s as sex and scandal take over.

From the author of bestselling Mischief titles ‘Kinky’ and ‘Game’, Justine Elyot’s ‘Secrets and Lords’ is a historical erotic novel that will seduce anyone who loves period drama Downton Abbey and delight fans of The Great Gatsby.

Lord Deverell’s new wife has the house in thrall to her theatrical glamour. His womanising son, Sir Charles, has his eye on anything female that moves while his beautiful daughter, Mary, is feeling more than a little restless. And why does his younger son, Sir Thomas, spend so much time in the company of the second footman?

Into this simmering tension comes new parlour maid, Edie, with a secret of her own – a secret that could blow the Deverell family dynamic to smithereens.

Kelly: So why did three seemingly normal women decide to read a book based on that description? Are we so far gone that we’ll read anything?  

Tasha: Yes.

Kelly: Good point.  Anyway, it was either this or Office Toy.

Kim: Or Forced By Bears.

Tasha: Or a reread of Spank Me Mr. Darcy?

Kim: Dear God we’ve read a gauntlet of bad books recently. You’d think we’re masochists or something.

Tasha: We read them so others don’t have to.

Kim: Good point. We’re like book reading heroes in some way!

Tasha: We provide a valuable public service!

Kelly: Speak for yourselves… sometimes I encourage people to read the awful books, just so I can talk about them with people who share my horror.  That said, I’m not encouraging anyone to read this one.

Tasha: Aw come on. It was definitely one of weirdest historicals I’ve come across in a long time. It had an identity crisis.

Kim: That it did.  It was at times trying to be an erotica novel, other times trying to be some type of book that made a stance on issues (it failed here terribly), I got a feel of Downton Abbey fan fiction, as well as an attempt at historical satire.  I’m not sure it succeeded in any of these things….

Tasha: Yeah, the satire part was weird. I felt like I was reading The Perils of Pauline sometimes.

Kelly: Yes, and that tone really clashed with the attempted erotica.  I didn’t know whether I was supposed to take a prurient interest or be disgusted by it all. (I opted for the latter.)  You know, my least favorite thing about it, identity crisis notwithstanding, was the writing. For a book without a clear idea of what it wanted to be, the writing was consistent and consistently bad.

Kim: Just to give you an example of the bad writing – I’d like to provide my favorite passage: “….before arriving at the well-named Green Drawing Room.  It was very green, and very golden, and very velvety, and very cold – in style rather than temperature.”  Seriously?

Or, you can have this quote “…flexing her hips in shameless come-hither.  Although, she thought half-coherently, he already was hither.  Could she beg him to come more hither?”  Umm…really?

Tasha: “The act of love. The thing she despised and feared, and yet was fascinated by.” LOL

Kelly: See what I mean? I liked the made up words, myself.

Kim: “Her bare shoulders were treated to the featheriest of kisses up to her neck and she shivered, looking at the bed through half-closed eyes.”

Kelly:“She shut her eyes tight when he discovered her nipples, undisguisably hard and swollen. ‘Mmm, how’s that?’ he whispered, and her answer came by way of her bottom…” Yeah. Featheriest and undisguisably. Just… No.

Tasha: You are undisguisably upset by this featheriest description. lol

Kelly: It’s true. After I finished that scene, I started skipping around. The combination of undisguisably dull prose describing every detail of the maids cleaning or setting up for the dinner service and uncomfortably detailed purple prose during the sex scenes just grossed me out and bored me, in turns.

Kim: Not only was the writing bad, but the characterizations were horrendous as well. Edie, the main heroine, is supposed to be this woman who’s all about women’s rights.  There is no evidence supporting this beyond the sentence that told us she was big with women’s rights.  That’s how the characterizations go with most of the characters.  A sentence about them is written and that’s it. I’m a reader that enjoys being shown things, not told.

Tasha: The thing with Edie was, none of her actions ever made sense. She wants to know her mom, so instead of like, writing her a letter or something Edie’s going to pretend to be a servant in her mansion? Makes perfect sense! Not. And then she sneaks around and spies on her employers at night–through actual key holes! I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a character so stupid before whom I was actually expected to root for.

Kelly: I wanted awful things to happen to her.  Let’s talk about women’s issues for just a second. Part of what bothered me so much about this book (or, to have full disclosure, the parts of this book that I read) was that Edie was ostensibly all for women’s rights but actually she ends up perpetuating all of the awful stereotypes.  TSTL, unable to think around Charles’ manly charms, utterly controlled by her (bizarre) desire for a douchebag…

Tasha: …saying no when she means yes…

Kim: YES! Not only that but she’s boring as hell.  I’m not sure what anyone saw in her.  Her personality is so whiney and uppity. She thinks she knows what is best for EVERYONE and tries to force everyone into actions that she approves of for them.  It got hella annoying after awhile.

Kelly: Edie isn’t the only unsavory character (actually, all of the characters are rather awful).  Charles is basically a douche-canoe.  He has no redeeming qualities (other than his ability to bone, I suppose).  

Tasha: Hey, never underestimate an ability to bone.

Kelly: I don’t know… I’m usually skeptical of anyone who’s basically a walking penis. Anyway, he’s set up in the narrative as a dilettante who seduces (and impregnates) all the pretty maids. Edie is repeatedly warned to stay the hell away from him. Then she (very creepily) spies on him having sex with his own stepmother….

Kim: Creepy!

Kelly: For reals…. and that’s when the shit gets awkward.  You see, Charles’ stepmother is Edie’s mom.

Kim: Oh snap!

Kelly: And Edie doesn’t think it’s right that Charles and her mother are doing the horizontal nasty, so she — and I’m not fucking kidding — offers herself to Charles if he promises to stop fucking her mom, and, because she doesn’t want to tell anyone that she’s Lady D’s daughter (and not just a housemaid), she explains her objection as a moral one. It’s wrong that Charles is fucking his stepmother, so instead he should fuck Edie. Makes perfect sense, right?

Kim: She’s totes a martyr.

Tasha: Well, someone has to sleep with him or he’ll go blind.

Kelly: True story. And then they have all kinds of awkward sexual encounters.  Just how awkward could it be, you ask?  Well… take it away, Kim!

Kim: Let’s just say after Charles spends an evening pleasuring Edie, he decides to stake his claim and shove his fingers in the step-mother/mother’s face.  She proceeds to lose her mind with jealousy.  Edie’s all pissed and Charles is like “BABY I DID IT FOR YOU” and Edie’s like “aww yeah you did. It’s coo”

Kelly: Yeah.  See? Awkward!

Kim: Did anyone else feel that this book was misogynistic?

Kelly: It was dripping with misogyny.

Tasha: Among other things. LOL I was more creeped out by the mother/daughter dynamic and how Charles was modeling Edie in her mother’s image, honestly. But it’s true that all the female characters are either catty (or murderous) bitches or stupid. Or both.

Kim: Oh God the whole Edie/Mom dress up thing. Tasha, I’m leaving that fabulous Freudian scene in your lap.

Tasha: Thank you, I think… So it doesn’t take Charles–or the reader–long to figure out Edie is actually Lady D’s daughter, since they look EXACTLY ALIKE. And seeing as how Edie’s hard-to-get routine has captivated him, soon they’re sleeping together and then he’s like, Hey! While your mom’s out you should try on some of her clothes. And once Edie’s dolled up like her mom Charles is all, “HOT.” But things become even more awkward when he suggests they have a little fun bump-and-grind in her mom’s bed. NOT FREUDIAN, not Freudian AT ALL.

Kim: “Come on babe. Put on your mom’s clothes!” “No, Charles! What would she say if I put them on?” “BABE. IT’S HOT.” “Aww yeah…I guess. It’s coo”

Tasha: Oh! And then he takes her, a servant, to dinner with the family dressed in her mom’s clothes. Awesome idea.

Kim: Not only are there creepy parts like that, but the ending of the book could literally make your head explode with all the craziness.  

Kelly: And how. Actually, I’m OK with everyone I know slogging through this book just to get to the end. It’s pretty dang awesome.  Ready for a spoiler?  Good.  

So Lady D (Edie’s mom) takes the crazy train to murder land because Edie stole her man and because Lady D thinks Edie tried to sabotage Lady D’s marriage , and so she tries to kill Edie after rather creepily spying on Edie and Charles getting it on outside, in full view of anyone, by a pond.  But Lady D is really bad at murder. Her best plan consists of saying to Edie, once Charles has left, Hey girl, you need a bath. Oh look! Let’s swim in this pond! So Edie is all, LOL, k.  So they get nekkid–and that’s not weird at all, right?–and then Lady D tries to drown Edie. But Charles comes back (for no stated reason) and knocks out Lady D, then gives Edie mouth to mouth. Then they go back to the house to take a bath.

Why? Who knows.

After their bath, Charles sends a footman after Lady D, but she’s already dead by the time the footman finds her (suicide? Who knows.). Then Charles and Edie take off in his car to get the magistrate, but instead the car crashes and rolls breaking their legs or something.  

Tasha: LOL And like, the next day they’re fine.

Kim: Even though a car legit crushed Charles’ legs.

Tasha: My favorite thing about the ending was where Edie was like, “Oh, I just realized I couldn’t possibly live a mansion and be rich–even though that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing for the whole book–so I’m going back to London. And if you want me, you have to give up your inheritance and your title, Charles!” And then he totally does it. Like, What?

Kim: “CHARLES. WHY DOES ANYONE WANT MONEY!? GIVE IT UP! I’m worth so much more than a warm home, servants, and the best of everything.” “But babe I love money. And cars. And women. And your mom.” “But I still need you to give up everything. Penniless existences are so much better.” “Ok babe…it’s coo.”

Tasha: AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

Kim: Aww yeah they did. OH – have we mentioned that there is also an obligatory gay character? Who’s having a relationship with the footman? OH OH and that the chauffeur runs away with Charles’ sister? Any of these storylines sound familiar?  That’s right….it’s straight out of Downton Abbey.

Tasha: So would you two read another Justine Elyot book?

Kelly: Oh HELL no. (Unless it was once again a choice between that book and Office Toy or Forced by Bears.  Then… maybe.)  (Or if y’all read it first and pinky swore that it was more interesting.)

Kim: I’m going with HELL YEAH. I laughed SO HARD through SO MUCH of this book.

Tasha: LOL I think I would, too. If she narrowed down what she wanted to do with the novel it would be good. Or better. Or less bad.

Kelly: Or maybe just more boring?

Tasha: That’s a possibility, too. I guess if it wasn’t for the trainwreckiness this novel would have been undisguisably boring.

Kim: I’ve looked at her other books and nothing sounded as humorous as this one. Whomp whomp.

Kelly: Either way, if you guys end up deciding to read another of hers, I’ll join in, too.

Kim: Simply for the made-up words, right?

Tasha: It’s creativity!

Kim: All in all I was totally entertained by this book. Because it was funny. Even though it didn’t mean to be. And was crazy. And weird. And velvety.

Tasha: And green. And there were secrets. Also, lords.

Kelly: And highly detailed ormolu cleaning.  But my favorite part was when Edie and Charles got their legs crushed. It felt like justice.

Tasha: True. My favorite part was when Charles stuck his smelly fingers in Lady D’s face. Or when Edie actually looked through a keyhole, I can’t decide. So many memorable moments and we learned how to clean on top of it!

Kim: It takes a lot of scrubbing. While on your knees. With your ass in the air. Scrubbing. And scrubbing. Followed by some more scrubbing.

Kelly: While a douche-canoe looks on.

Kim: Thank God we read this book. Apparently I’ve been cleaning all wrong.

Tasha: It just wasn’t hard enough. HAHA

Secrets and Lords was released on May 30, 2013 by Mischief, a division of HarperCollins UK.  If you’re curious, click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.

Kim, Tasha, and I send our thanks to the publisher for sending us copies through NetGalley.

Review – The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz with bonus Q and A

the-mistress-banner

See, I told you you’d be hearing more from me about this book.  I love all four books of The Original Sinners: The Red Years, and I love them differently.  If you’re interested in hopping on this bandwagon (and you should be), please check out The SirenThe Angeland The Prince.  A warning, though… once you read one of Tiffany Reisz’s books, other authors’ attempts at bdsm erotica will seem a bit lame.  Honestly, that’s not a bad thing.

There’s punishment – and then there’s vengeance.

Nora Sutherlin is being held, bound and naked. Under different circumstances, she would enjoy the situation immensely, but her captor isn’t interested in play. Or pity.

As the reality of her impending peril unfolds, Nora becomes Scheherazade, buying each hour of her life with stories-sensual tales of Søren, Kingsley and Wesley, each of whom has tempted and tested and tortured her in his own way. This, Nora realizes, is her life: nothing so simple, so vanilla, as a mere love triangle for her. It’s a knot in a silken cord, a tangled mass of longings of the body and the heart and the mind. And it may unravel at any moment.

But in Nora’s world, no one is ever truly powerless – a cadre of her friends, protectors and lovers stands ready to do anything to save her, even when the only certainty seems to be sacrifice and heartbreak…

My Review

The Mistress is an excellent conclusion to the Original Sinners: The Red Years quartet. No matter how you approach these books as a reader — whether you’re looking for a hot story to light your fire or a nuanced and intricate tale you can really sink into — there is plenty to love and enjoy. Though I noticed some pacing issues throughout the first half (that may or may not have been committed on purpose), the second half of the book more than made up for it. And the ending — so perfect and fantastic and funny and (a little bit) sadistic… I really can’t recommend this series highly enough. Anywhere Reisz wants to take me as a reader, I want to go.

If you’re into spoilers or you’ve already read The Mistress and are hankering for a discussion about it, my book buddy Kim and I discussed The Mistress at length over at Reflections of a Book Addict. I’m not kidding about the spoilers, though… Proceed with caution.

Q&A with Tiffany Reisz

1.  RwA: What is your favorite thing about The Mistress or, if you prefer, about the entire series?

Reisz: My favorite part of The Mistress is Grace Easton’s character. Her purpose in the books is allegorical (read The Gospel of Luke if you want to see how), but her character is very real and was an absolute joy to write. I wanted to bring in an outsider to see Søren with new eyes, eyes of faith and an open-heart. Suzanne in The Angel viewed him with a jaundiced suspicious eye. Grace’s eyes were much more enjoyable to see through. And she sees the real Søren. Her view of him is the purest in all the books.

2.  RwA: Was there anything about The Mistress that took you by surprise or pulled you in a new direction while you were writing it?

Reisz: I was surprised by how much I cried writing it. Just sobbed like a baby. I knew how it would end but I was so moved by how much Nora loves. It caught me off-guard. I knew it intellectually but it wasn’t until she faced losing her loved ones that I discovered (and maybe her too) how much she loved them.

3.  RwA: I caught some of the literary/Biblical references sprinkled throughout The Mistress, but I’m sure I missed just as many or more.  What are some of the references readers might discover in this or the other Original Sinners books?

Reisz: In The Mistress, Grace is one big reference to the Gospel of Luke. The last line of the book is an allusion to a famous verse in the Gospel of John AND a reference to Sarah in the Old Testament. Kingsley and Søren have a David and Jonathan relationship. And the three of them—Nora, Søren, and Kingsley—are my unholy Trinity.

4.  RwA: What is the significance of the Jabberwocky as a monster, a safe word, and/or a tie that binds Eleanor and Søren?

Reisz: The Jabberwocky is a nonsense poem and yet it isn’t. The Jabberwocky is a monster and a knight in shining armor comes and cuts his head off. Personally I’d rather have Jabberwockies in the world than men with swords. It’s emblematic of misunderstood monsters who the world thinks need slayed but really should just be written about.

5.  RwA: How does writing The White Years compare to writing The Red Years?

Reisz: Writing the first book of The White Years, The Priest, was ridiculously fun. Nora Sutherlin as a teenage girl? It was a blast. I think The Priest is the most fun I’ve ever had writing. I hope readers find it equally fun to read!

Thank you, Tiffany, for answering my random questions!  I’m looking forward to reading anything you care to write.

Blog Tour Giveaway

Tour-wide Giveaway: **Open to US ONLY**  (1) Kindle 6” E-reader, (10) Signed copy of The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz, (3) e-book of The Mistress, (4) e-book of The Mistress Files, (1) 10 minute phone call with Tiffany Reisz, (1) Swag Bag containing: 4 signed bookplates, bookmarks, 1 Original Sinner button, and 1 Original Sinner pen.

Follow this link to a Rafflecopter giveaway to participate. All winners will be drawn on August 11th and notified by The Novel Tease via email provided.

Author Picture

Tiffany Reisz lives in Lexington, Kentucky with her boyfriend (a reformed book reviewer) and two cats (one good, one evil). She graduated with a B.A. in English from Centre College in Danville, Kentucky and is making both her parents and her professors proud by writing BDSM erotica under her real name. She has five piercings, one tattoo, and has been arrested twice.

When not under arrest, Tiffany enjoys Latin Dance, Latin Men, and Latin Verbs. She dropped out of a conservative southern seminary in order to pursue her dream of becoming a smut peddler. Johnny Depp’s aunt was her fourth grade teacher. Her first full-length novel THE SIREN was inspired by a desire to tie up actor Jason Isaacs (on paper). She hopes someday life will imitate art (in bed).

If she couldn’t write, she would die.

Twitter: @TiffanyReisz  https://twitter.com/tiffanyreisz

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/littleredridingcrop

Website: http://www.tiffanyreisz.com/

The Mistress was released on July 30, 2013 as a paperback and e-book by Harlequin MIRA.  If you like, you can buy this book on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or you can find out more about it on Goodreads.

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