Advent reads part one – three holiday novellas

I love pretty much everything about Advent.  The kitschy calendars, the weather, the music, the expectation.  Let me be clear about the music, though.  I’m not keen on listening to Christmas music before Christmas (Eve).  Nope — it’s Advent music that I love.

Well, really, you can’t go wrong with the Choir of Kings College, Cambridge, especially when they’re singing my favorite Advent anthem.

I have read (and am reading) a bunch of holiday-themed novellas so far this season, and I thought it might be fun to do a short series of Advent posts featuring these books and doing mini reviews.  I hope it’s fun for you, too.

Cover image, Heating up the Holidays novella anthology

When I heard that Mary Ann Rivers had a holiday novella coming out, I was all aflutter.  Heating up the Holidays is a 3-novella bundle featuring Play with Me by Lisa Renee Jones, Snowfall by Mary Ann Rivers, and After Midnight by Serena Bell.  My buddy Kim from Reflections of a Book Addict and I discussed all three novellas on her blog recently.  Check out our post.  While I wasn’t at all impressed by Play with Me (which I did finally finish after Kim and I wrote our review of it… and… wow. Underwhelming doesn’t even begin to describe it.), Snowfall and After Midnight are fantastic.  Snowfall is a Christmas novella about love, loss, fear, change, and stressed out E.coli bacteria.  After Midnight is a New Year’s novella about love, fresh starts, change, trust, and amazing first kisses.

Cover image, Matzoh and Mistletoe by Jodie Griffin

Matzoh and Mistletoe, a holiday novella with BDSM elements, grabbed my interest right from the blurb.  Every December twenty-fifth, Rebeccah Rickman volunteers through her synagogue so that others can celebrate Christmas. Her usual mitzvah, or good deed, is assisting police officer Jeremy Kohler. But this year is different: this year, Becca is free to act on the attraction that has long simmered between her and the sexy cop.  Jeremy couldn’t have asked for a better gift than discovering the woman he’s fantasized about for five long years is single. But when he learns about the violence that broke up Becca’s marriage, he’s hesitant to pursue her. He fears his desires will scare her away—but can’t deny his own need for control in the bedroom. Or his longing to instruct her in the fine art of submission… Becca is shocked to learn that Jeremy is a sexual dominant. And despite her past, she’s also aroused. But before she can explore what that means, she’s going to have to put her trust in Jeremy—and her own fledgling desires.  While Matzoh and Mistletoe was by no means perfect — the story line involving Becca’s ex didn’t quite resolve, and it felt a little bit as though Becca’s past abuse existed in the narrative only so the author could explore all the ways in which a D/s relationship is not abuse — it was still a charming read that I found very enjoyable, and it tells an interesting story.

Cover image, Once Upon a Highland Christmas by Sue-Ellen Welfonder

Earlier in the year, I read and enjoyed a book by Sue-Ellen Welfonder, so when I saw Once Upon a Highland Christmas (Scandalous Scots #0.5) come up on NetGalley, I wasted no time in requesting it.  I wish I had taken just a bit more time to think about it, because it turns out this story really was not up my alley.  Here’s my take on the blurb: This guy named Archie has decided that Christmas celebrations are for suckers, so he decrees that no one in his clan may be even remotely festive.  But this other guy named Grim and this lady named Breena are super festive, and they decide to invite all the neighbors to a Yuletide feast and thereby to rekindle the Christmas spirit in Archie. Along the way they fall in love.  Fans of Highland romance fiction or of Christmas stories that have a Scrooge-like character who finds redemption will probably enjoy this one, because it’s full of Highland charm and magic and definitely offers a strong theme of redemption and good cheer.  I felt that the romance elements were overshadowed by the festive themes and that there was not enough conflict in the romance story line to keep my interest as a reader.  That’s not to say that there isn’t any conflict at all, but it’s all external and seems to exist in the story more for the sake of there being some conflict than because there is any element that truly needs to be overcome in order for these characters to make a happy ending of it.

So there you go… three holiday novellas.  Stay tuned for more mini-reviews of holiday-themed novellas.  (I didn’t realize how many I had read until I started making a list… I read many!)  Have any of you been reading holiday-themed books this year?

Heating up the Holidays was released on October 28, 2013 as an e-book anthology by Loveswept.    Matzoh and Mistletoe was released on November 21, 2013 as an e-book by Carina Press.  Once Upon a Highland Christmas was released as an e-book on December 3, 2013 by Forever.  For more information about these books, please click on their cover images above to visit their Goodreads pages.

*FTC disclosure – I received e-galleys of all three books from their publishers via NetGalley in exchange for honest reviews.*

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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.*

Review and Author Interview – Wuthering Nights by I.J. Miller (and Emily Brontë)

Cover image, Wuthering Nights by Emily Bronte and I.J. Miller

The blurb, courtesy of the publisher:

Romantics everywhere have been enthralled by Emily Bronte’s classic novel of the tragic love between beautiful, spirited Catherine Earnshaw and dark, brooding Heathcliff. The restrained desire between these two star-crossed lovers has always smoldered on the page. And now it ignites into an uncontrollable blaze. In WUTHERING NIGHTS (Grand Central Publishing; On-Sale: January 29, 2013; $3.99; ISBN: 978-1-455-57301-1), writer I.J. Miller reimagines this timeless story to reveal the passion between Catherine and Heathcliff—in all its forbidden glory.

Interview with I.J. Miller

Wuthering Nights is an interesting take on a classic book, and there is plenty of fodder for discussion.  I am very pleased and thankful that I.J. Miller agreed to participate in an author interview.

1.  RwA: Who is the target audience for this book, readers familiar with Wuthering Heights or readers just discovering that story?
Miller: WUTHERING NIGHTS targets fans of the original as well as those looking for an intense erotic romance.  Those familiar with Bronte’s Wuthering Heights will hopefully appreciate the effort put in to stay true to the original language, themes, and characters, but will understand the nuances of this interpretation and how the plot was altered or developed to make the erotic scenes organic and heighten the romance.  For both old and new fans it is a novel with more layers peeled back, new dimensions added, that make it a story that stands on its own, even if one never read the original.
 
2.  RwA: Why did you choose Wuthering Heights as the background material for your erotic novel?
Miller: It’s a natural choice. Since it was written it has carried the aura of one of the greatest love stories every told and Heathcliff is the original, tragic, alpha-male literary hero, a model for so many others, including Edward in Twilight and Christian in Fifty Shades.  In addition, I was particularly attracted to both Heathcliff and Catherine because they are flawed, not your stereotypical perfect hero and heroine.
 
3.  RwA: What do you think about the recent mainstreaming of erotic literature?
Miller: It’s wonderful that it’s out of the closet.  Perhaps not fully exposed in the mall bookstores and libraries, but certainly going strong with Kindles and Nooks.  As the popularity increases, there is more demand not just to produce a sexy book, but write one that is hot and tells a good story, which is good news for my work, which has always had an emphasis on being literary erotica. 
 
4.   RwA: In your story, Heathcliff is remarkably well-endowed; why?  Does this physical trait have an application to his character, or is it just fairly standard for a leading male in erotic stories to be so endowed?
Miller: So you noticed! The answer is “yes” and “yes.”  Heathcliff has always had a sort of mythical status of inner strength, passion, and even brutality.  It seemed natural that when interpreting him erotically, making him well-endowed would serve this myth well.  And when you are dealing with the heightened emotions of an erotic romance, ample endowment can certainly help contribute to the fantasy aspects of the story.
 
5.  RwA: What is it like being a man writing for a primarily female audience?
Miller: Lots of fun!  It’s certainly a challenge.  Since most of my readers are women, it is essential that I get the female protagonist right.  I enjoy writing strong female characters and as dominant as Heathcliff is, especially with other women, Catherine is more than his equal.  When writing an erotic romance I am looking for the voice that will appeal to women, one that expresses both strength and vulnerability, one that appreciates the full flowering of a beautiful romance.  It helps to be in touch with my feminine side to understand this complexity.  But perhaps I also have an advantage when it comes to the male’s point of view and revealing to women what makes a tragic hero tick.

 RwA:  Thank you, I.J., for agreeing to participate in this interview and for your candor.  I wish you great success with this and future books!

My Review

I love mashups.  So when given the opportunity to check out a mashup between the erotica genre and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, I was curious.  The notion of taking a classic work of literature and mashing it up with an unexpected element… I love it.  I used to be a purist, but, honestly, isn’t it wonderful that these literary worlds, instead of dying from neglect, can be explored by new audiences and illuminated by new contexts?

I love song mashups, too.

My quirky mashup-joy notwithstanding, I don’t think I’m the target audience for this book, even though I enjoy literary erotica as a genre.  For starters, I’m not a fan of Wuthering Heights.  Heathcliff is an asshole, and Catherine is a crazy bitch, and as much as I enjoy the Cathy/Linton/Hareton story line, it isn’t enough of an inducement to get me through a few hundred pages of Heathcliff and Catherine being crazy asshats to each other and everyone else.  So, there you go.  I have a bias in favor of and a bias against Wuthering Nights: An Erotic Retelling of Wuthering Heights.

There were some things that I quite liked about this retelling, specifically:

  1. The erotic elements are very cleverly woven into the story.  How does Heathcliff convince Nelly to help him?  Well…. let’s just say it involves a dungeon.  How does Heathcliff morally destroy Isabella?  Well… let’s just say it involves a good deal of AP (and a dungeon).
  2. Catherine.  Batshit crazy she may be, but Miller did an excellent job blending the characterization provided by Brontë with the new elements he brought to bear on the story.  Actually, I thought Miller did a great job with all the characters, and I want to give him a high-five for excising most of Joseph’s role in the book (dude is soooo annoying in the original.).
  3. The ending between Cathy and Hareton is lovely, and I appreciated the deviation from Emily Brontë’s version of events.
  4. Wuthering Nights is told in a fairly straightforward third-person narrative, excepting the prologue and epilogue.  I appreciated the simplicity of the storytelling, because one of the things that I like least about the original is the shifting first-person narrative between Mr. Lockwood (a tenant and stranger) and Nelly (who tells him the whole sordid tale).

My primary objection to this book is its depiction of female sexuality, especially in Nelly and Isabella. (As an aside, though, I really do need to throw in that I could have happily lived my entire life without being exposed to the three (THREE!!) episodes of butt-licking contained in this one story.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I thoroughly enjoyed my underexposure to anilingus… Sadly, that ship has now sailed.)  As an erotic retelling of the story, I assumed that certain scenes were meant to be titillating to me, the reader, but I was far more often confused than moved by the actions and descriptions that are original to this work, mostly because I was alienated by the female characters’ responses to sexual stimuli.

  • Heathcliff is a domineering, brutal asshole who smells bad (or, at least, has a strong smell), is super hairy, sweats profusely, has bad breath, and has a capacity for rape (I’m never super keen on rape, and that continued to be the case throughout this book), yet Catherine, Nelly, and Isabella are powerless to resist his wiles whenever he flashes his giant dong in their general direction.  
  • There’s a scene about halfway through the book wherein Heathcliff, spurning Catherine’s advances, instead chooses to go outside and build a lattice.  While he hammers rhythmically, the three ladies in the house get hysterical with arousal and, each in her own room, proceed to take care of business.  Thence comes my favorite passage in the book: “Each with their own rhythm, all three might have orgasmed at different times, if Heathcliff hadn’t stopped suddenly, unbuttoned his fly, pulled out his stallion of a cock, and urinated all over the standing wood frame.  The sight of his outrageously massive member — golden liquid arcing in the sunlight, fully drenching the lattice — caused a simultaneous, feminine shudder throughout the home at Thrushcross Grange.”  That’s a lot of pee.
  • The prose used to describe Heathcliff’s manly man-ness is often just a bit over-the-top, but I can kind of go along with the profuse and worshipful descriptions of his shoulders (so broad and manly) and chest (“…the almost pear-shaped, iron arc of each pectoral…”) and how sexy the ladies found those parts to be.  Armpits, however, are not generally considered a super-sexy body part; however: “…revealing a glimpse at the full, dark thicket under his armpit, causing a quick intake of breath in the ladies,” and “[s]he leaned forward, by his armpit, and inhaled deeply the scent of his masculine fineness.”

So, there you have it.  A man may be stinky, both of breath and body, possess whole thickets of body hair, act with domineering brutality, and be bent on destroying a lady, but if he has a giant penis and he shows it to her, she will be powerless to resist it and him.  As long as Heathcliff (and his penis) is virile, forceful, and dominant, no lady can resist him.  The instant he displays “…deep vulnerability and humanness…,” however, “…she was able to see him for the ugly brute he was: sour breath, snoring at night like a windstorm, cruel to every human he came in contact with…”  This is such an intriguing (but also awful, in a way) view of masculinity and femininity.  In Heathcliff, there is masculinity that cannot soften, boundless strength available only through forced rigidity.  In Nelly, Isabella, and Catherine there is an instant, unthinking response to that strength, an instinctive yielding beyond the power of thought or reason.

I should point out that the story achieves something of a middle ground through the romance between Hareton and Cathy.  Hareton treads the territory between brute strength and gentleness, and Cathy is capable of using her brain on occasion. Their section of the book, though lovely, comprises only fifteen percent of the whole, and the rest is such an odd mix of disgusting behavior and worshipful response that I find myself on the negative side of ambivalence.  Although I could not exactly like the book because of its sheer implausibility (and the butt-licking), I’m not sorry I read it.  It is interesting, and I hope more people read it.

Wuthering Nights was released as an e-book on January 29, 2013 and will be released as a trade paperback on April 23, 2013 by Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of Hachette Books.  To find out more about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  For more information about I.J. Miller, please check out his website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Review – The Prince by Tiffany Reisz

This review was seriously delayed by an attack of evil migraines (yes, plural).  The next time you see a migraine, punch it in the face for me.  Don’t worry: that migraine totally deserves it.

Cover image, The Prince by Tiffany Reisz

I adore that cover.  Anyway, as always, I begin with the plot summary courtesy of Goodreads:

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer…preferably in bed. That’s always been Kingsley Edge’s strategy with his associate, the notorious New York dominatrix Nora Sutherlin. But with Nora away in Kentucky, now it’s Kingsley’s chance to take her place at the feet of the only man he’s ever wanted — Søren, Nora’s on-again, off-again lover — until a new threat from an old enemy forces him to confront his past.

Wes Railey is still the object of Nora’s tamest yet most maddening fantasies, and the one man she can’t forget. He’s young. He’s wonderful. He’s also thoroughbred royalty and she’s in “his” world now. But Nora is no simpering Southern belle, and her dream of fitting into Wesley’s world is perpetually at odds with her dear Søren’s relentlessly seductive pull.

Two worlds of wealth and passion call to her and whichever one Nora chooses, it will be the hardest decision she will ever have to make… unless someone makes it for her…

Tangent: Perhaps the reason I hate plot summaries so very much is that I am consumed by a powerful jealousy – I want that job.  I want to write teasers like “…it will be the hardest decision she will ever have to make… unless someone makes it for her…” that hint at ominous doings.  But I don’t./tangent

Anyway.  I am attempting a thematic review of this book (in keeping with my previous Original Sinners series reviews).  I’m fairly certain I can write the review without including any spoilers, but if you’re itching to read The Prince and just haven’t gotten to it yet, it’s probably a good idea to read the book first and then come back to read my review (just in cases).

I unequivocally loved The Siren and The Angel.  I also loved The Prince, but not unequivocally.  Don’t get me wrong–it still earned the 5-star review it will get from me on Goodreads–but there were a few random elements that sort of poked me in a not entirely good way.  I figured I would get them out of the way before I delve into a discussion of some of the book’s themes.

  1. Zoolander.  There’s this moment towards the middle of the book wherein Kingsley ruminates about how folk think he’s handsome, and Søren definitely is handsome, and Eleanor is beautiful, but another character is just stunningly gorgeous.  And I’m sure I’m completely ridiculous, but when I read that line, this is what played in my head:
  2. I really hate cliffhangers, and this book ends with a big one.  Of course, my personal dislike of cliffhangers (I hated ’em in Harry Potter, too) has nothing to do with the book, but this is my review, and I’ll bitch about cliffhangers if I want to.
  3. Super-duper unsexy sexy sexy times.  (I think Anachronist at Books as Portable Pieces of Thoughts really has the best commentary on the unbelievably unsexy sex in certain parts of this book.)  Overall, I liked the book, but I was still shocked and slightly embarrassed to encounter explody spuge and seriously awkward conversation.  I get that those scenes had to be at least a trifle awkward (they would have been unrealistic, otherwise), but that doesn’t mean that all the awkwardness was even slightly pleasant.  Goodness.

So, caveats aside, The Prince is dark.  It is arranged in two parallel story lines that are intercut, with the “North” story (past and present) following Kingsley and Søren and the “South” story following Nora and Wes.  I enjoyed the intercutting because it helped the pacing throughout the story and gave me time to recover from some of the book’s darker moments.  I’ve seen some comments from other readers that read all of the “South” sections first and then all of the “North” sections, and I thought it was funny (not really ha ha, but a little) that those readers turned Reisz into Tolkien, just a bit.  On the whole, I thought the “North” segments were stronger than the “South” ones.  Kingsley absolutely shines in this book, and Wes seemed a trifle flat, especially by comparison.

If Søren bore a resemblance to the God of the Old Testament in The Angelhe seems to be the spittin’ image in this book, when he appears as a teen.  As an adult, Søren still bears a resemblance to God but it’s to the God of the New Testament (I think).  He makes sacrifices and has to deal with their consequences.  He loves, and he has to watch his loved ones battle it out and make mistakes, and he can’t really know how it will all end.  He’s a God who went from being in complete control to having to wait and hope that his people (person, really) will come back to him.  Uncertainty does not sit well with the Almighty, and neither does Søren handle it without considerable friction.  I loved every one of Søren’s scenes, even the brutal ones.

I am not sure if it is just a case of contrast, but I really disliked Wes in this book, and I was confused by Nora.  While Søren and Kingsley are confronting and, to an extent, reliving the past, Wes and Nora spend their time building an incongruous fantasy dream world and exploring the brutality of the thoroughbred racing world.  (I should point out that I enjoyed the latter explorations as they provided insights to both Wes’ and Nora’s view of her world in the underground.)  Perhaps this issue is just that a lot of the “South” scenes were written from Wes’ point of view, and I didn’t enjoy being in his head nearly as much as I enjoy Nora’s.  She’s funny; he’s sappy.

I recommend this book to anyone who read and enjoyed The Siren and The Angel and is tolerant of very dark subject matter.  There are some extremely intense scenes, and sensitive readers should approach with caution.  I am one of those sensitive readers, actually, but I found enough interesting material and often starkly beautiful writing to compensate me for the few panic attacks this book brought on.  Speaking of starkly beautiful writing, this book contains one of my favorite sentences of all time.  For that one sentence alone, I would give this book a 5-star review; but, of course, I found many more reasons for that rating.

The Prince was released on November 20 by Harlequin MIRA in both e-book and print format, I believe.  For more information about the author (including a selection of free bedtime stories that are well worth a read–but read The Siren first–check out the author’s website http://tiffanyreisz.com.  If you click on the cover image above, you can visit the book’s page on Goodreads and follow links to purchase through Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Harlequin through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Review – The Angel by Tiffany Reisz

Cover image, The Angel by Tiffany Reisz

I was afraid to read The Angel, and I put it off for several weeks.  My fear was a little bit ridiculous, because I loved The Siren, and I was confident that The Angel would be just as good, but I worried that it would break my heart the way The Siren did, and I wasn’t eager to put myself in the path of that kind of pain.  I needn’t have worried.  Tiffany Reisz is that excellent variety of sadist who never offers the same pain twice.

The blurb:

No safe word can protect the heart. Infamous erotica author and accomplished dominatrix Nora Sutherlin is doing something utterly out of character: hiding. While her longtime lover, Søren—whose fetishes, if exposed, would be his ruin—is under scrutiny pending a major promotion, Nora’s lying low and away from temptation in the lap of luxury.

Her host, the wealthy and uninhibited Griffin Fiske, is thrilled to have Nora stay at his country estate, especially once he meets her traveling companion. Young, inexperienced and angelically beautiful, Michael has become Nora’s protégé, and this summer with Griffin is going to be his training, where the hazing never ends.

But while her flesh is willing, Nora’s mind is wandering. To thoughts of Søren, her master, under investigation by a journalist with an ax to grind. And to another man from Nora’s past, whose hold on her is less bruising, but whose secrets are no less painful. It’s a summer that will prove the old adage: love hurts.

Unless you’re accustomed to the vagaries of erotica (and few of my readers are), you might read that blurb and think, wow… that sounds kinda lame.  But it’s just a case of badblurbitis.  Everything that is brilliant about Reisz’ writing cannot be adequately summed up or even hinted at in a traditionally plot-focused publishers’ blurb.  I am convinced that Reisz could drop her characters into a room and give them nothing to do except react to each other, and the result would still be beautiful, but what would the blurb say?

As with The Siren, the main theme in The Angel seems to be love (seems to me, anyway… other folks might think the theme is BDSM erotica, but I happen to think all that stuff is just the byproduct of a story about these characters).  The Angel begins with an idyllic glimpse of Nora’s life with Søren.  Through a mysterious plot device, Nora and Michael (if you haven’t read The Siren, you won’t know who he is.  I didn’t bother mentioning him in my post about The Siren because I was so distracted by other things.  Just read The Siren, and all will be explained.) hie off to Griffin’s estate (that place where the hazing never ends, if the publisher’s blurb is to be believed).  At the estate, new love blossoms, and it’s beautiful and tender.  It is also a foil for the more complicated love that exists between Nora and Søren (and Nora and Wes and Suzanne and Patrick) and, maybe, contains a little seed that might help us to understand what drew Nora to Søren in the first place.  Let me add a quick warning to those who may not be quite ready for m/m scenes. They happen, but I thought they were handled really well.  I enjoyed the side-by-side comparison of new love and old love, acknowledged love and hidden love, easy love and difficult love.

Given the state of their relationship in The Siren, it is surprising how innocently happy Nora and Søren seem at the start of The Angel, but readers of Tiffany Reisz should know that everything is not always what it seems.  For example, I was repulsed by Søren when I read The Siren and, especially, Seven Day Loan.  I thought him the least sympathetic character in The Siren, though I didn’t like Zach all that much, either.  His arrogance and blatant manipulation seemed despicable, and I judged him harshly as a result.  But after reading The Angel, I have to reflect back on The Siren and admit that Søren doesn’t appear in the best light throughout that book, and most of what we see of him is through Nora’s memory colored by her relationship with Wes.  Søren could not possibly have won me over in such circumstances, and I began to wonder if he was such a bad fellow as he seemed.

I had a conversation with Tiffany Reisz on Twitter recently, and she pointed out that she based Søren’s character on the God of the Old Testament, who, depending on how you look at it, is kind of sadistic and manages to balance love and a need for blood offerings, who is feared and loved simultaneously by his people, who is implacable and just, who is jealous.  When you consider a character like Søren paired with Nora, who feels the strong desire and inclination to submit to him (naturally enough) and an inclination to be independent, to be his equal even though no one can equal an Almighty, you know that the rest of the story Reisz is building will be epic.  This is not a story of tawdry sex; it is a tale of human nature and a human understanding of the divine.

I jotted down some rough notes immediately after I finished The Angel: Love is like a coral reef – I should explain this.  Two people grow together and fill in the spaces with shared experiences and new growth in each.  This is good, because it makes them stronger, but if something/someone/some event comes in and breaks off a piece, there are these sharp edges left behind.  The Angel is very cool as a book, because you get to view the very beginning of that reef-growing process–the falling in love–and you get to compare it to the full-grown and many-times broken and tested reef that both unites and divides Nora and Søren.

My favorite moment in The Angel is a little bit silly, compared to all the epic stuff I’ve alluded to elsewhere in this post (and in the one on The Siren).  There’s a moment, towards the end of the book, when a new character meets Nora for the first time, and it’s a little bit shocking to see Nora once again as someone new.  After all the stuff that happens in The Siren and The Angel, the reader really knows Nora and is accustomed to her quirks and her strength and, at least in my case, sees her as charming rather than scary.  Then all of a sudden you get to see her through the eyes of a stranger, and you know that she’s actually been scary all this time.  That’s good writing, because it was so subtle that I almost didn’t notice it, and it made me think back and wonder why I didn’t have a similar reaction at the end of The Siren when Grace meets Nora for the first time.

I do have to be honest and admit that I felt the beginning of The Angel was a little slow to build.  At first I thought it just hadn’t been edited tightly enough, but now I’m not convinced.  I am inclined to suspect that the pacing, lightness, and idyll of the first quarter of the book are actually a clever trap designed to lull readers into complacency before hitting them with the rest of the story.  Shortly after Nora and Michael arrive at Griffin’s, the story hits its stride, and from that moment on it wends its inexorable way through heaven and hell, dragging you along with it.

Reisz writes great stories, stories without boundaries, but the best thing about them is that they are entirely open to interpretation.  Søren can be a hero or a villain, and it’s entirely up to the reader to decide what she thinks about him.  The true benefit of that style of writing is that readers can discuss the ideas that are introduced in the book and help each other along in the process of achieving a better understanding not only of the books but also of themselves and their lives.  It takes courage to write a story that can and will be interpreted in so many different ways, and I’m right glad that Reisz has that courage along with a strong sadistic streak.  Wherever she takes us, I’m along for the ride.

The Angel is scheduled to be released on September 25 by Harlequin MIRA in both e-book and print format, I believe.  For more information about the author (including a selection of free bedtime stories that are well worth a read–but read The Siren first–check out the author’s website http://tiffanyreisz.com.  If you click on the cover image above, you can visit the book’s page on Goodreads and follow links to purchase through Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Harlequin through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

BDSM – tie me up, tie me down

Usually I wait a few days after I finish a book before I even think about writing about it, but in this case, I think it will be a good idea for me to record my initial responses, and maybe I’ll do a follow-up post later to log any further reflections I may have.

Did the title freak you out a little bit?  Don’t worry, I still haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey, and I’m fairly certain that I never will.  I read The Siren by Tiffany Reisz, thanks to a recommendation from Kim over at Reflections of a Book Addict.  I’m not really reviewing this book, per se, but if you’re looking for a fabulous review of the book, please check out Kim’s post here.  It’s a fabulous post, and I see no reason to attempt to re-create that wheel.  It done been did.

Cover image, The Siren by Tiffany Reisz

This book is amazing, straight up.  How amazing?  Well, let me count the ways.  1. I honestly did not have a single snarky thought while I was reading the book.  2. When posting updates on my progress on Goodreads, I couldn’t think of any punchy quips that summed up my feelings – I was reduced to quoting Keanu: “Whoah.”  3.  It’s erotica and cerebral literature, and I honestly didn’t think that combination could exist.  4.  It’s BDSM erotica, but it doesn’t glorify the lifestyle; instead, it cuts a cross-section of that life and lets you form your own conclusions about it.  5.  No topic is off-limits to this book–I went into it expecting fairly good erotica and I got discussions of the Trinity (the Trinity!!!) and art history and literary theory and the nature of love.  6.  The ending may not be what you want, but it is what you need.

Let me start off by saying that I am vanilla through and through.  I do not understand the BDSM lifestyle.  I don’t understand why anyone would be turned on by hurting or being hurt.  That is not to say that I think BDSM is sick or twisted–for those people who actually enjoy the combination of pain and pleasure, it’s what the doctor ordered–but it isn’t for me.  So when I read The Siren, although I kept an open mind about all the…interesting…stuff that happens in it, I found it more disturbing than titillating.  What was most disturbing to me was the idea that the millions of people who have read, are reading, or will read 50 Shades of Grey might be inspired to dabble in a lifestyle that is really not for the faint of heart and might end up harming themselves or others in the process.  So my starting and ending position on this whole cha is: if BDSM gets you off, awesome, but if it doesn’t, there’s really no need for you to be buying this stuff:

Hey, it’s the Bondage Seductions board game!

I’m not saying you shouldn’t try new things to heat up your sex life, but I think that fooling around with BDSM is either silly or dangerous, unless you’re actually into it, and if you are, you won’t be buying these kinds of products–you’ll buy the real thing.  Not that your sex life is any of my business (it isn’t, and please don’t tell me about it).

Back to the book.  My favorite thing about The Siren is that it lets you form your own conclusions.  It doesn’t glamorize BDSM.  Reisz isn’t a charlatan proclaiming that a little bondage and dominance is going to save your sex life.  However strange it might seem, the book actually takes a very neutral stance on both BDSM and vanilla sex (that latter term refers to the more straightforward sex practices of the majority. I hesitate to call it normal, because that would imply that BDSM is abnormal, and I don’t want to make that kind of value judgment.)  Essentially, the book’s stance is that there are vanilla sex people and BDSM people, and both types are good in their own ways, but they shouldn’t mix.

I think the central theme of this book is love and all the ways that love can be/need to be expressed.  There are a lot of relationships – Nora and Søren, Nora and Wes, Zach and Grace, Zach and Nora, Nora and Kingsley, Nora and Sherridan, etc. – and each involves some sort of love, whether expressed or unexpressed, friendly or passionate, and every relationship is complex.  I enjoyed the complexity available in this book.  Human emotions and relationships are messy, and that messiness is given free rein in this book.

It instinctively bothers me that love could be the motivation for one person causing another person pain and humiliation, but maybe that’s how some people need to love/feel love.  It seemed to me, though, that while much ado was made of how much Søren loves Eleanor, considerably less ado was made about how much Eleanor/Nora loves Søren.  She belonged to him, was utterly submissive to him, was his, but he was never hers. Doesn’t love require either an equal or dominant position in order to exist as love?  It seems to me that a submissive can feel devotion, but when all control and decision-making power in a relationship is given over to one party, love is given over also.

This is all my opinion, of course, and it’s worth what you’re paying for it.  Love is something you choose.  I love my husband not because I am in awe of him but because, his faults notwithstanding, I choose to love him, to accept him as he is and as he will be.  I am not sure that the choice to love is possible unless one has the independence from which to choose.  To put it another way, I love my children, but I don’t think they love me because they are not yet mentally or emotionally independent and able to choose to love me.  (As an aside, the 3-year-old always repeats after me: “I love you Allie.” “I love you too, Mom-mom.”)  To put it yet another way, I believe that God loves me, but I am not so arrogant that I think myself capable of loving God; I may feel devotion and awe, but that’s not the same thing as love.

I’m a fan of Paulo Coelho, and his Eleven Minutes is one of the most thought-provoking and arresting books I’ve ever read.  I kept thinking about a couple of scenes from Eleven Minutes while I was reading The Siren, and I think the two books dovetail wonderfully, even though they are very different.

He slapped her again and again, whether she deserved it or not, and she felt the pain and felt the humiliation–which was more intense and more potent than the pain–and she felt as if she were in another world, in which nothing existed, and it was an almost religious feeling: self-annihilation, subjection, and a complete loss of any sense of Ego, desire or self-will.

And later (the “you” below is the “she” above, by the way):

“You experienced pain yesterday and you discovered that it led to pleasure.  You experienced it today and found peace.  That’s what I’m telling you: don’t get used to it, because it’s very easy to become habituated; it’s a very powerful drug.  It’s in our daily lives, in our hidden suffering, in the sacrifices we make, blaming love for the destruction of our dreams.  Pain is frightening when it shows its real face, but it’s seductive when it comes disguised as sacrifice or self-denial.  Or cowardice.  However much we may reject it, we human beings always find a way of being with pain, of flirting with it and making it part of our lives….And so it goes on: sons give up their dreams to please their parents, parents give up their lives in order to please their children; pain and suffering are used to justify the one thing that should bring only joy: love.”

I haven’t proven anything, but this is my analysis, anyway, and I don’t feel a compelling need to convince anyone.  I think that if we choose to have our immediate choices taken away from us, to enter a state where we are completely dominated (even by our choice) by another’s will, we lose the ability to feel and be and act with love for as long as we are without our will.  So, in The Siren, Søren maintains his ability to love Eleanor, but Nora can only really love Søren after she has left him.  When in his presence, Eleanor is in awe of Søren, and he holds a god-like status.  That awe is mandatory – one does not choose to be in awe of the Grand Canyon or a full-grown lion… one simply is.

Anyway… The Siren is thought-provoking in all the best ways.  You’d never expect to ruminate about the nature of God or love because you read some erotica novel, but that’s exactly what this book has in store for you.  This book is art the way James Joyce described it in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (and if you don’t know what I mean, go read that book… now).  I highly recommend it.  (And when you’re done, read Eleven Minutes.)