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

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

Here’s the blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kelly: Yes, like magic penis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kelly: Thank God for e-books.

Our final thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kelly & Kim’s dueling review of Once Upon a Billionaire by Jessica Clare

My buddy Kim from Reflections of a Book Addict got me hooked on Jessica Clare’s Billionaire Boys Club series (which, just to interject, does make me think of the Babysitters Club books every single time I see the series name.) Check out our reviews of the other three books here, here, and here.

The Billionaire Boys Club is a secret society of six men who have vowed success—at any cost. Not all of them are old money, but all of them are incredibly wealthy. They’re just not always as successful when it comes to love…
As a member of the royal family in a small European country, Griffin Verdi’s presence is requested at the wedding of the century. The scholarly billionaire feels out of his depth in social situations, so a good assistant is required—especially when dealing with royal etiquette.
Unfortunately for Griffin, he’s stuck with Maylee Meriweather, a pretty, charming, and thoroughly unsuitable woman who doesn’t know a thing about high society—but she sure can kiss. Her lack of polish may sink Griffin, because after all, even his money can’t buy class. But through Maylee’s eyes, he’s starting to appreciate the simple things in life—if simple means the most complicated woman he’s ever met.
Maylee is everything Griffin isn’t—and everything he wants—if he can let down his guard and step outside his sheltered world…

Kelly: Months ago, Kim sent me a link to the blurb for this book, and I was like WHAAA?! Griffin and Maylee?!? And I was so worried that it would be terrible. I probably could have spared myself some of that worry, however, because it was pretty much predetermined that I would love the book (or force myself to love it) because I am clearly delusional and I fucking love stories about make-believe kingdoms (it might be Mr. Rogers’ fault) and rags to royalty stories and the like.

Kim: I shared Kelly’s apprehension about Once Upon A Billionaire mainly because of the heroine. We meet her in Beauty and the Billionaire as Hunter’s “hickish,” deeply Southern secretary. A woman who keeps her notes on Post-Its. Says gee-golly wizz….You get the idea.

Kelly: Don’t knock post-its! I keep my notes on them, too. In fact, I put post-its all over my monitors and desk. (And sometimes post-its end up on my butt. Don’t judge.)

Kim: HAHA I would never judge you. And Post-Its are great and all – I just don’t approve of them as your only way of schedule keeping, etc. (Especially when you’re the secretary for a man as busy as Hunter!)

Kelly: Well, maybe… but I’m an EA, too, and I’m just saying that extreme post-it usage is not necessarily a sign of workplace incompetence. I had no idea I felt so passionate about post-its. Right. Moving on (and butting out).

Kim: HA! Well Post-Its aside, I was nervous about this heroine being paired with Griffin, a Royal Viscount of a made-up country. He’s pretty particular about things and honestly has a stick up his ass most of the time. You can probably understand why Kelly and I felt nervous about reading Once Upon A Billionaire.

Kelly: To an extent, some of our fears about this book were realized. (More on that later.) But you know what? This book is so damn funny that I didn’t even care that there were some plot holes bigger than the state of Montana or that Griffin was kind of an assmunch or that Maylee is magically transformed from a hopeless, incompetent bumpkin with a penchant for informality to a stunningly efficient assistant overnight with seemingly no learning curve. You read that right: those things are all there, but they don’t matter so much once you start reading this book.

Kim: True story. The humor of this book is so strong, that it effectively allowed me as a reader to look past its flaws and just appreciate the story. The rags to riches Cinderella story should have pissed me off (Griffin buying Maylee clothes, telling her that her appearance was horrible, giving her a makeover/new hairstyle), but the humor of those situations (and probably the fact that it all backfires on Griffin) had me laughing through it, rather than raging.

Kelly: Kim and I may have mentioned a time or two that Gretchen (the heroine of Beauty and the Billionaire) is pretty much our favorite character in the history of ever. A significant portion of this book’s humor comes from Gretchen’s role in manipulating Griffin into hiring Maylee; sending vaguely abusive text messages to Griffin to remind him that he’s an asswipe; and yelling at him when he calls Hunter. Here’s a random sampling of Gretchen’s lines in this book:

“Wow, Griff, a pike up your ass and a foot in your  mouth. That’s quite a feat.”

“Hey, I know…Why don’t you take another swig of ‘Shut the Hell Up’ and let me care for my man?”

Kim: While Gretchen does offer up many comedic moments in the book, it was ultimately Malyee that had me cracking up the most. At one point in the novel, while climaxing during sex with Griffin, she yells out “LORDAMERCY.” I guffawed out loud so hard that I spit out my tea and immediately started texting Kelly. Maylee’s southern manners mixed with Griffin’s uptight personality and Gretchen’s snark really helped move the book along.

Kelly mentioned before that there were large plot holes in this book and I have to agree. The main premise of the novel is that Griffin is heading to his (made up) home country for his cousin’s royal wedding. His assistant/dresser/manservant/butler person gets sick before the trip and Griffin therefore needs a new assistant to assist him. Kelly and I are still not sure why it was possibly apocalyptic that his mother find out that his one servant was sick.

Kelly: Oh, come on, Kim. If Griffin’s mother knew that Kip had the chicken pox, she would force Griffin to hire a whole bevy of staff, and Griffin’s just not that into hovering staff. (Never mind that he’s unable to dress himself, doesn’t understand how currency works, can’t drive anywhere because he has no sense of direction and GPS is for weenies, and seemingly lacks any kind of common sense about cause and effect. For example, it doesn’t even occur to him that people who want to eat in private should probably request private dining rooms and people who don’t want to be followed by paparazzi should probably not drive in cars that advertise “ROYAL FAMILY IN THIS CAR.”) Anyway, I’m just saying that Griffin’s need to show up with his own staff totally makes sense. Because, let me tell you, it’s a slippery slope from showing up at a royal event without an assistant to living in a 10,000 room mansion with 400,000 retainers. I’m not kidding. It happens just like that. And Griffin don’t play that.

Kim: Along with all that ridiculousness – can you explain to me how one gets lost in his own hometown? If Griffin lived with 100 servants all the time his inability to care for himself would make sense. But he’s been living with one assistant for several years. A thirty-something in today’s world that can’t figure out GPS? Or ATMs? It all rang a bit unrealistic.

Kelly: I am actually a little impressed that Griffin was able to operate buttons. Those things are fucking hard to use! My three-year-old can tell you all about it. She’s like, velcro and zippers are BOSS.

Kim: HA. Your daughter is smart. Velcro and zippers are BOSS. I guess we should probably discuss something positive about the book besides the humor now.

For me, I was a big fan of how this Cinderella story got turned upside down. Griffin spends so much time and energy attempting to make Maylee his kind of “presentable,” that it’s truly a shock to him when he realizes he’s succeeded and hates the result. He begins to understand that the perfectly quaffed, elegantly dressed, well-mannered woman he turns Maylee into is not at all what he wants. He misses the way she calls him Mr. Griffin instead of Lord Viscount (insert 10 more names here). He misses her outrageously large curls. And yes, he even misses her hand knit clothing.

Kelly: Yes, that was one of the more lovely parts of the story, that Griffin realizes that (1) he’s not nearly as awesome as he thinks he is; (2) wealth and the trappings of it are not always superior to everything and (3) it’s Maylee he loves, and all the things about her that make her special and individual, and those things are diminished when he tries to make her “perfect.” ALSO, he realizes that he’s kind of an asshat for even trying to mess around with her appearance and wardrobe, like she’s not good enough for him. (Gretchen helps with that discovery.)

Kim: Thank God for Gretchen! She’s helped a lot of the characters in this series realize they’re assholes.

Kelly: I’m a tiny bit ambivalent about one of my favorite things in this book. (How can that be? Don’t worry: I’ll explain.) Maylee seemed to undergo a fairly abrupt shift about a third of the way through the story, and that shift seemed to coincide with the reveal of Griffin’s interest in her (if ya know what I mean). That shift kind of bothers me, but I like SO MUCH what she became (hence the ambivalence). At the beginning of the book, Maylee is super timid, and she’s pretty intimidated by Griffin — especially after their less than auspicious meeting when she’s experiencing a xanax/alcohol interaction, calls him “Mr. Gryffindor” and demands hugs. Then Griffin kisses her, and all of a sudden she’s confident and comfortable with her own sexuality and more than willing to take the initiative with Griffin (if ya know what I mean). And — yes — those characteristics are all wonderful to see in a lady character (especially one in a billionaire romance novel), but it would have been better if she had exhibited those traits all along. I mean, it’s just a little too coincidental that Griffin’s kiss (he used to be a Prince, you know) is the thing that spurs all this character growth. Maybe he’s magic.

Kim: I completely get what you’re talking about. She looses some of her country “bumpkinness” and does in a way become a bit more refined. Her speech isn’t as drawling, her appearance is a bit more put together – yet her confidence level has gone through the roof. So as women shouldn’t we be happy that she’s become confident in herself? BUT at the same time, I’m bothered at what instigates the changes, just like Kelly. A sexual awakening is all well and good for a woman. But a sexual awakening caused by a man who keeps trying to change you? Not so great.

Kelly: Slightly less empowering.

Kim: Exactly where I was going with that.

In conclusion, I’m not sure I see Maylee and Griffin’s relationship “going-the-distance.” Their worlds are so much more than just financially opposite. Griffin’s family (specifically his mother) is so hardened against “commoners” that I don’t see her accepting of Griffin’s choice of Maylee. An interaction with Griffin’s family post their getting together would have helped me probably. But I guess that’s what future books are for, yeah?

Kelly: Yeah, and let’s just talk about the ending for a second. There were things I liked about it… Griffin had clearly been an asshat through much of the book, and it was satisfying that he had to chase Maylee, step out of his comfort zone and get Arkansas dust on his fussy shoes (I’m just guessing he wears fussy shoes… he seems the type). I particularly liked that Maylee doesn’t fully accept his apology right away — because he hurt her, and he damaged her trust in him, and that kind of thing can’t be magically repaired — but it’s a little strange how Clare makes it happen.  I mean, I can imagine a whole host of reasonable responses to a clearly sincere, yet not quite enough, apology: “I need some time,” perhaps, or, “Let’s maybe slow this down a bit and work together to reestablish the trust that’s been lost.” Reasonable, right? Yeah, well, that’s not what happens.

Kim: Instead she agrees to come back and be his assistant, but ONLY until she can trust him. Then she’ll quit and just be with him.

Say wha?

You don’t trust the man….but you want to be financially beholden to him? And live with him? I don’t get it. Also, the way Clare writes the ending, I get the sense that Maylee is totally ok with being a trophy girlfriend/wife. It’s like as soon as her trust is earned again she’s ok with quitting her job and basically being his sex slave for life.

Kelly: And can we talk for just a second about how strange it is to agree to live with someone, to continue having sex with someone, and to insist on being employed by someone whom you don’t really trust? Like, totally strange for both parties. Why in the world would either of them be OK with that situation?  And the thing that finally earns her trust? He throws her a party and invites a newspaperman from his home country. And Maylee’s like, OMG, you’re willing to let your family know about me? I’m not a dirty secret? I LOVE YOU FOREVER AND AM TOTALLY OVER HOW YOU WERE A RIDICULOUS ASSHAT. OBVS. YOU’VE CHANGED. Also, I QUIT.

Kim:YES! Can we speak about the party for a minute also? A huge conflict in this book is Griffin’s mother and her views on his life, commoners, etc. He falls in love with a girl who is basically EVERYTHING his mother hates. He throws the party as a way to introduce her to his friends, but ALSO as a way for his family to find out about her. How is there not a scene with the mother reacting to Maylee as a future daughter-in-law? That conflict builds and builds and builds for the whole book without ever cresting and reaching a conclusion.

Also, if I were Maylee I’d be pretty pissed that my new intended didn’t have the balls to tell his family about me himself.

Kelly: Oh Lordamercy, yes! It was such a strange (and disappointing) ending to what was otherwise a fairly problematic yet incredibly fun book.

Kim’s final thoughts: So in conclusion – What made this series special to me from the beginning was how it chose to not follow the protocol for billionaire romances. They were about strong-willed women who didn’t fall for money. They fell for the men behind the wallets. Once Upon A Billionaire was the complete opposite. Griffin offers Maylee $100,000 a year salary plus another $100,000 severance package and BOOM! They’re together again as employee/boss, girlfriend/boyfriend. What makes the series special was lacking here, and not even Gretchen’s sense of humor could save it.

Kelly’s final thoughts: Kim’s 100% right. I’m not gonna lie: I had a hell of a lot of fun reading this book. I was laughing my ass off left and right, sending Kim gleeful texts, and just enjoying the hell out of it. But when I stopped to think about the book, I realized that it has a lot of problems, and that I’m better off re-reading Beauty and the Billionaire for my much-needed dose of Gretchen awesomeness. I hold out hope for the final two books in the series that they reclaim the subversive glory of the first few books and turn out to be fun, interesting, and much less problematic.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley via NetGalley from Penguin Group 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).

Dueling discussion and review with Kim – The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz

Cover image, The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz

I’ve not made my liking for Tiffany Reisz’s The Original Sinners: The Red Years series that much of a secret, so it should come as no surprise that I got my hands all over a review copy for the final book in this quartet, The Mistress, as soon as I could.  While my reading buddy Kim and I have individually read and blogged about the three previous books in the series, we decided to discuss this one together.  Why?  Well, you’ll just have to read our discussion to find out.

Also, this isn’t the last you’ll be hearing from me about The Mistress.  I’m participating in a blog tour (my first blog tour… I have a feeling it shouldn’t actually feel this exciting, but whatever. I’m stoked.) to promote the book, and I’ll have another post next week with a less spoiltastic review/brain dump as well as a Q & A with Tiffany Reisz.

Anyway, go check out Kim’s and my discussion of The Mistress, posted over at Kim’s blog, Reflections of a Book Addict.

The Mistress was released on July 30, 2013 as an e-book and paperback by Harlequin MIRA.  For more information about the entire series (which you really should read, even if you’re not interested in sex novels, as my friends like to call them), check out Tiffany Reisz’s website.

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

Kelly and Kim’s dueling review of Spank Me, Mr. Darcy by Lissa Trevor

Joining me on the blog today is my super-bestest reading buddy Kim from Reflections of a Book Addict.  Kim and I both love Jane Austen’s books, particularly Pride and Prejudice, and we’re both open to the concept of stories that take Jane’s Austen’s setting and/or characters and apply some sort of spin, whether continuing the story beyond where Miss Austen left off, or retelling the original story with a different set of circumstances.  Spank Me, Mr. Darcy definitely qualifies as that latter type of Austen re-do, but, of course, it doesn’t do it very well.  Honestly, what were you expecting?

Anyway, Kim and I were just putzing innocently around on the Internet, when we read a post on Book Riot about this book and did a collective (and individual) Whuuuuut? Then we hightailed it to NetGalley to see if we, too, could read it.

Cover image, Spank Me, Mr. Darcy by Lissa Trevor

First, the publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

After finagling an invitation to the ball, Elizabeth Bennet is introduced to the powerful and prideful Mr. Darcy, while her sister Jane has captivated the new owner, Mr. Bingley. Having contented herself with the pleasurable caresses of her best friend, Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth is intrigued with the sensuality she finds at Netherfield. But it isn’t until her sister Jane is taken ill and Elizabeth stays at Netherfield to nurse her back to health that she finds the dungeons of Netherfield and the man in the black mask who becomes her Master.

By the time she leaves Netherfield, Elizabeth will have become disenchanted with her childhood playmate and obsessed with Mr. Darcy, her Master, who has told her that she would be more marriageable as a Netherfield submissive than as a curious virgin. Elizabeth holds on to her affront at his callous regard for her until Charlotte marries Mr. Collins and Jane is discarded by Mr.Bingley. Unwilling to save herself for a man who’ll make a good match and determined not to suffer Jane’s heartbreak, when she meets Mr. Darcy again at Rosings Park, she decides to become his slave and offers him her virginity.

But when she finds out that her cruel Master has destroyed Jane’s chance at marriage with Mr. Bingley, she rejects Mr. Darcy – even as he reluctantly proposes marriage to her. It isn’t until he saves her sister Lydia’s reputation and brings Jane and Bingley together, that Elizabeth realizes that she loves him. If he still loves her, she would be most willing to take her punishment for rejecting him – and live happily ever after.

Kim: When dissecting the world of Jane Austen fan fiction (JAFF) I’ve always thought there were different fan levels.  There are those who are purists, the ones that don’t want Austen’s stories modernized or changed really in any way.  There are the inbetweeners who are ok with some changes, some modernizations, but don’t really go for the paranormal/zombie/erotic/etc changes.  Then there’s the last group (which I fall in) – the free for alls.  We’ll try ANYTHING that relates in some way to Austen and her characters.  Darcy as a werewolf, pirate, Dom, zombie, etc…..we’’ll read it.  Just because I read it doesn’t mean I’ll like it, but I’m willing to keep an open mind.  When Kelly and I decided to read Spank Me, Mr. Darcy I thought, “Hmm….this one might be pushing my limits of acceptance, but I’m trying anyway.” OMG. This fucking book.  I should start off and be totally honest and upfront and tell you all that I did NOT finish this book.  To put that in perspective, my Goodreads profile tells me that as of today I’ve read 660 books and DNF’d 10.  You do that math. I don’t DNF much, if anything. That’s how bad this book was. OY. Kelly deserves a fucking medal for finishing it. Like a gold medal that is the size of the world. Because I don’t know how she did it. I seriously BOW DOWN to her as a reader.

Kelly: I don’t know how the hell I was able to finish it.  At a certain point, I think I entered a meditative state, and part of my brain sat back to watch — very cinema verite — the rest of my consciousness grapple with the book, its flaws, everything that’s wrong with the world, etc.  Spank Me, Mr. Darcy is just awful, but it isn’t enough to say that it’s bad.  A lot of books are bad, and it’s fairly obvious from the concept that this one wasn’t going to be fantastic, but this one is a special kind of bad.  In fact, it’s the Worst Book I’ve Ever Read.  That’s right — it’s worse than Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage, and Tempted at Every Turn put together.

Go ahead and ask me: “Kelly, what’s so bad about this book?”  I mean, I could be glib and shout, “EVERYTHING. ALL THE THINGS,” but it’ll be better to do up a proper Pros and Cons list for this book.  I think you’ll get the drift fairly quickly.

Things that rocked (or at least didn’t totally suck)

Things that SUCKED

The Mr. and Mrs. Bennet scenes, while a trifle awkward, made the best use of the original material coupled (ha) with the erotic elements applied to the story.

Mrs. Phillips is a retired dominatrix that teaches her nieces oral sex.

A-W-K-W-A-R-D

…………….

Mrs. Bennet and Lady Lucas have this weird lesbian relationship that Sir William Lucas like creepily watches in secret.

Peeping Tom anyone?

………….

The editing is the worst.  There’s no sense of continuity, and it’s fairly obvious that if the author gave the thing a once over after she was done cutting and pasting the story together, she was drunk at the time.

Ummmm………

Pretty much every character has sex with every other character, whether or not it makes any sense to the story or to the characters.  Even if you try to forget that the characters are supposedly based on Austen’s P&P folk, it still doesn’t work.

The cover was interesting?

The world of the book is SUPER strange.  The servants have sex with the upper characters. (Bingleys, Jane, Hursts, etc) It’s like everyone is into orgies, BDSM, etc, and everyone knows about it.  Like Netherfield is a known sex house. Say what?

The first sentence made me laugh.

Jeweled butt plugs. Just saying.

……………………………………….

Elizabeth’s name is misspelled every other page. Lizzy on one page but Lizzie on the next.  Clearly demonstrates the lack of editing that existed.

……………

Lady Catherine as a retired dominatrix is just yucky. I felt so dirty reading the scene when Lady C, Charlotte, and Mr. Collins get it on. Honestly, I felt coated in filth. Another human being thought that exchange up, and it just made me sad to be human.

Yeah, that’s all we got.

While everyone’s focused on having as much weird sex as possible, it was super strange that Elizabeth places such a high value on maintaining her hymen for her husband to break.

There were sections of the book where a character pops into a scene suddenly and then disappears, only to reappear without explanation.  As Kelly says, drunk writing at its best.

The Wickham/Lydia plot is resolved in 1 pg. The entire Pemberley visit doesn’t even exist. Elizabeth never sees Darcy’s home and sees that he’s changed. Bit of a bizarre twist there.

It doesn’t even make sense how Darcy found out about the Wickham/Lydia bit.  It’s almost like he received a psychic message that something had happened and he went hightailing it to London to solve it.  Of course, the readers get an extremely truncated summary (in one paragraph) of how Darcy found Wickham and Lydia and saved the day… But Darcy isn’t there when Elizabeth gets the news, so how the hell did he find out about it?

Owl post, maybe?

The Elizabeth and Charlotte scenes were pretty awkward, but the worst part is that Charlotte contents herself to marrying Mr. Collins by resolving to hire a maid who looks like Elizabeth so they can both boink an Elizabeth stand-in. It’s so skeezy.

There are a few gratuitous self-pleasuring scenes, but I think Jane’s might be the worst. It’s just disconcerting to read about Jane going to town on herself while fantasizing about all the things she did with Bingley and all the things she wants still to do.  It’s Jane for fuck’s sake!

Mr. Bennet has a super creepy way of treating Mrs. Bennet’s poor nerves. It was the third creepiest part of the book. (Lady C and Charlotte’s Lizzy maid came in first and second, respectively.)

The main thing that Jane likes about Mr. Bingley is that he has sisters that she can diddle while he’s away.  In a story like this, that’s perhaps not so strange, but it is a little weird that she doesn’t do it openly.  It’s another example of the weird dynamic where everyone is utterly oversexed and also super concerned about a few seemingly insignificant aspects of purity/innocence.

The epilogue.  Subtitle: Lizzy gets a jeweled butt plug.

Kim: When I read a book that I disliked or DNF’d I normally try to find one strong thing and praise it for doing that “thing” well.  Unfortunately the only clear thing about this book is that it was not edited and written for one thing only, profit.  I hate saying this about a book, but I found nothing artistic about it.  There is no purpose to it whatsoever, except cashing in on the JAFF fandom and the popularity of publishing something with Jane Austen’s name attached to it.

Kelly: Yes, and also publishing a piece of erotica.  The thing is, even the erotic aspects of the book are terrible. I get it — everyone wants a piece of the erotic pie, but that doesn’t mean you can just throw words together and call it a day.  It’s apparent that the author was drunk or high or both when she ‘wrote’ this thing, and it’s even more apparent that she didn’t care about it at all.  I mean, honestly… I don’t even feel the slightest bit guilty about bashing it utterly, because I’m fairly certain the author won’t give two hoots or a holler about my opinion.

Kim’s final thoughts: ………… Yeah. I think that’s sufficient.

Kelly’s final thoughts: Terrible erotica + a badly edited version of P&P + a lot of tequila + the author’s ennui or self-loathing or poor sense of vocation (I’m not sure which is to blame) = The Worst Book Kelly’s Ever Read.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Riverdale Avenue Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Dueling Review – Kelly and Kim take on Maya Banks’ Sweet Series (1-3)

Joining me on the blog today is my super-bestest reading buddy Kim from Reflections of a Book Addict.  Our most recent dueling review about the first book in the new Breathless Trilogy by author Maya Banks left us a little conflicted.  On the one hand, we knew we didn’t want to continue reading the Breathless Trilogy; on the other, we weren’t positive that we wanted to write off Banks’ other books out of hand.  In the interest of fairness, then, we picked up and read the first three books in the Sweet series.  While we read, we sent text messages to each other.  Our husbands gave us a lot of side-eye at the giggling that ensued.

Cover image, Sweet Surrender by Maya Banks

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Under Faith Malone’s deceptively soft exterior lies a woman who knows exactly what she wants: a strong man who’ll take without asking – because she’s willing to give him everything…

Dallas cop Gray Montgomery is on a mission: find the guy who killed his partner and bring him to justice. So far, he’s found a link between the killer and Faith – and if Gray has to get close to her to catch the killer, so be it.

Faith is sweet and feminine, everything Gray wants and desires in a woman, but he suspects she’s playing games. No way would she allow a man to call the shots in their relationship. Or would she?

Faith sees in Gray the strong, dominant man she needs, but he seems determined to keep her at a distance. So she takes matters into her own hands to prove to him it’s no game she’s playing. She’s willing to surrender to the right man. Gray would like to be that man. But catching his partner’s killer has to be his first priority – until Faith is threatened and Gray realizes he will do anything to protect her…

Kelly: This book felt a little confused to me, as if it had an identity crisis.  The setup and all the early scenes shown in Gray’s POV are about a man on the hunt for his partner’s killer; for the first fifty pages or so, I actually expected that the book would be mostly about Gray’s quest.  It isn’t.  The entire middle section of the book and all of the scenes shown in Faith’s POV are about a woman seeking a relationship in which she can be submissive, in and out of the sack.  The entire ‘man on a hunt for his partner’s killer’ storyline is really just a ploy to get Gray from Dallas to Houston and to give Gray some reason to feel conflicted about entering into a relationship with Faith.  In the absence of any kind of point to the story, then, the real purpose is to get two people to hook up so they can do the nasty in a whole bunch of precisely-described ways.

Kim: Too true! Even though the hunt for Gray’s partner’s story is there in the background, the “main” conflict of the book (at least in my opinion) felt like Gray’s reluctance to fall for Faith.  He’s constantly fighting his attraction to her, but we never really know why.  He’s all dark and brooding about his feelings for Faith without a reason.  So you’re attracted to a hot lady. What’s the issue? The fact that you’re investigating a murder at the same time? I don’t know what the problem is….you’re a cop.  You’re always “investigating” something.

Kelly: Without any real conflict to drive the story, it seemed a bit boring to me until Banks reached the point in her story where it was time for her characters to stop biting their nails in anticipation and just get it on and on and on (this point in the story occupies about 20% of the book).  Once I reached that point, I spent the next 70 pages hooting with inappropriate laughter and sending ridiculous text messages to Kim.  They boink, they talk a bit, they boink some more, he cooks a meal and insists on cleaning up — all part of the relationship fantasy as he takes care of Faith in every imaginable way — (least realistic part of the whole book, to be honest). Then they have dinner, she falls asleep, he takes her to bed, and, the next morning, ties her to the bed. Next thing you know, a friend has joined them, and they have all kinds of crazy morning sex.  Do you know what I was thinking and texting to Kim?  Who goes that long without peeing? Who wants to have sex with two people first thing in the morning without any access to a toothbrush?  Who ARE these people?!

Kim: Gray’s attitude towards the BDSM lifestyle also bothered me a lot.  He at one point tells Faith to completely disregard safe words, that there is no place for them in their relationship. Now I’m going to be honest. I don’t live a BDSM lifestyle. Never have, probably never will. It’s just not for me personally. HOWEVER I have a ton of respect for those that do live it and respect the “rules” of it.  From everything I’ve read, safe words are a huge deal. Like super huge. Like super size it, it’s important.  So his completely cavalier attitude towards accepted notions kind of bothered me.  His background in the lifestyle is never explained, so his feelings (or lack thereof) make no sense.  At one point he totally Doms out on Faith at “The House” and as a reader you’re left sitting there going “Huh?”  One doesn’t just wake up one day and know that lifestyle.

I will say though, that there are small nuggets of sanity (as Kelly says) thrown into the book.  Gray makes the following speech to Faith:

“Faith, I’m not an asshole. I’m not going to treat you like a piece of garbage. Ever. You don’t ever need permission to speak, for God’s sake. Kneeling is just dumb. There are lots of ways to show your submission and your respect and for me to return it as well. None of those include humiliation or ill treatment.”

Like this statement is AWESOME. I’ve never understood the aspect of submissive relationships that require kneeling, permission to speak, what to eat, or even what to wear.  I understand what the word submissive means, but I don’t understand what people get off on with treating their partner like that.  Like honestly – your partner chooses that they want to eat chicken instead of beef for dinner – that shows you disrespect or something?  What is SO appealing about making every decision for someone? Mint toothpaste instead of cinnamon! Black shirt instead of a red one! No peas for dinner! IDK. I found myself respecting Gray for his statement and it was truly the first time in the book I could say that I liked him.

Kelly: But that sympathy for Gray lasts only about a few pages, and then we were back to finding him vaguely distasteful.  With this kind of book, which honestly can’t have any real purpose in existing other than to be sensational (if you know what I mean), so much of one’s enjoyment as a reader is contingent upon whether one finds the sex scenes HOT.  I didn’t… I was too busy laughing (you know, that horrified laughter that happens when you watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo) at the multiple instances of squirty ejaculate and the intensely-detailed descriptions of super-unsavory sexual congress.  Lots of people go nuts for that kind of thing, but I don’t think I’m the target audience. (I also laugh at funerals.)

Kim’s final thoughts: The only positive thing I can say is that the writing is remarkably better in Sweet Surrender than it was in Rush and it also introduced us to Damon (the hero of book two) and got us hooked and intrigued to learn the rest of his story.

Kelly’s final thoughts: This book is not really worth the read, but it was hilarious, so I actually had a blast reading it.  Other than that? not so much.

Cover image, Sweet Persuasion by Maya Banks

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

The man of her dreams would give the orders. For him, she had two words that satisfied them both…”Take me.”

For five years, Serena has run Fantasy Incorporated and has devoted her time to fulfilling her clients’ fantasies. Never her own. Until now…

Her most secret desire is to give ownership of her body to a man. Someone who will command her, pleasure her, and have complete authority over her. So she seeks out Damon Roche, owner of an exclusive sex club and a man strong enough to make her do anything he wants. Anything.

Together they’ll journey into a world she’s only dreamed of. She’s given the opportunity to immerse herself in a different life while her normal one waits for her to return whenever she wishes. Damon has no desire to let her go, however. Serena is the woman he’s long searched for, and it’s up to him to convince her to stay when the game is all over with. He wants their fantasy to become their reality and for Serena to remain his pampered, cherished submissive.

Kelly: I want to start out with the one thing that I genuinely liked about this book. About a quarter of the way through the story, Damon and Serena have a conversation about boundaries, and Damon has this gem of a line:

“‘I won’t use a word that encourages a man to disregard the word no coming from a woman’s lips. If you say no, if you’re even thinking no, then it ends for me. I won’t indulge in silly little no-means-yes games.  When that word crosses your lips? It’s over. If I ever ask of you something that you won’t give unreservedly, then all you need to say is no.’

She wasn’t even sure how to respond to that because he was absolutely, one hundred percent right. How moronic to ever discount the notion of a woman saying no.”

I am completely OK with having paid $13 for a book I otherwise disliked just to read that exchange in print, to get that concept out into the world, into our culture.  Whatever else I’ll end up saying about this book, I’m glad I read it for those two paragraphs.

Kim: I 100% agree with you.  Kelly and I texted each other back and forth the entire time we read this series and we both like freaked when we read that passage.  I think it’s sad that we got so excited about a character understanding what should be common sense. No means no. Why is this such a difficult notion to grasp in our culture?

Kelly and I were both intrigued by Damon in the first book and opted to read his story to find out more about him.  Sadly, the respect I felt for him for the above passage was possibly one of the only positive things I can say about him.  He lost a lot of points with me for being OBSESSED with feeding Serena.  Kelly knows I can’t handle books that have men obsessed with feeding their partners. Damon definitely rates higher on my list than Gray did, and him losing his heart to Serena was pleasing to read, but I never found myself attracted to him, wishing he was mine. (Aren’t you supposed to want the hero when reading a romance novel?)

Serena on the other hand…..I never connected with her because I just couldn’t relate to her.  Her needs and desires are so far from my own that there was just nothing there for me to connect with.

Kelly:  (I’m answering Kim’s earlier parenthetical question here: You pretty much have to (1) want the hero yourself or (2) at least be able to understand why the heroine does.)  I also had difficulties connecting with Serena, and I think it’s because she didn’t actually own her needs and desires until the end (the very abrupt end).  The rest of the time, the ridiculous plot device that moves this story is that Serena is only interested in a fantasy — because what modern woman would actually dream of being a submissive? — while Damon wants something deeper and more permanent.  Will these two crazy kids ever get their shit worked out?  Well, read the whole thing to find out.

OK… one of the more memorable aspects of this book is a fairly outrageous scene that occurs at a dinner party hosted by Damon.

Kim: We both agree. Our dinner parties just can’t compare to Damon’s. Also, our houses seem to be lacking some really important dungeon equipment.  We’re asking you, our readers, to please please please tell us if you’re hosting dinner parties like the ones that occur in these books. If you are can we please come and be flies on the wall? Because we don’t believe shit like this really happens.

Kelly: I’m not sure I want to know… as it is, I’m looking at all the people I work with and wondering… What do you do when you go home? Does a panel slide open in your ceiling from which a set of restraints descends into your living room? Do you have an armoire full of whips, paddles, and other necessary equipment? I mean, you definitely don’t want to start a dinner party and then find out you’re unprepared, right?  I’ve lost my innocence, thanks to this book.

Kim: I can honestly say I’ve never laughed SO HARD at a section of a book that was totally not meant for laughing.  I honestly couldn’t contain all the laughter that the dinner party scene caused.  And in Sweet Persuasion’s defense…it’s not the only book with a crazy dinner party.  It’s almost every erotica book I read! Everyone who is in this lifestyle seems surrounded by business partners or co-workers etc that are just like them.  Like how do you even broach the topic with co-workers and business partners? “Oh hey. So umm…I’m into BDSM. You? Yeah, ok let’s throw a party where we invite other kinky people and have like a gangbang. And we can totally talk business while 5 women blow us.” Like I just don’t get it.

Kelly: Exactly… I keep wondering if someone’s going to make a time capsule filled with all the crazy books that have been printed in the last five years.  In 100 years, someone will open the time capsule and be like, “Whoah…. those people from 2013… they were freaky.”  Pop culture reflects the trends and expectations of our society… so what the hell does the popularity of these books say about us?

Kim: I’m not sure i want to know the answer to that question – HA!

Kelly: Yeah, I know.  Anyway, as ridiculous as most of the book was, the ending was the real kicker to me.  I got to the last page and tried to figure out what had happened – was my Nook edition missing a chapter or something?  I’m not kidding… it goes like this.  She gets all freaked out, so she leaves, and goes completely off the deep end.  (I’m serious… it was like Bella in New Moon but just for a week…)  He worries, her friends worry. Finally, he goes to find her, and is like, “Hey… there you are.” And she’s like, “LOL… here I am… btw, I ummm… love you.” And he’s like, “Coo.” The End.  That’s it.  I was murderous.  After 250 pages of waffling about whether or not she can accept that lifestyle, and OMG, it’s just a fantasy, and OMG, I love her so much but she’ll never love me, and wah wah wah… the fucking end.  Ugh.

Kim: LMFAO.

Kim’s final thoughts: We were both blind with rage when the end came. Just one more point of contention about this book. It literally feels unfinished.  So…summing up this book…bad characters, no ending, lots of ridiculous angst….DINNER PARTIES!

Kelly’s final thoughts: Now that we quoted the two paragraphs that are worth reading in this book, we’ve spared you the effort.  I know – we’re the best.

Cover image, Sweet Seduction by Maya Banks

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

He was the stuff erotic dreams are made of

Salon owner Julie Stanford wanted Nathan Tucker ever since she gave him his first massage. Getting paid to feel every inch of his body, stripped, oiled, and spread out in front of her. Stuff dreams are made of. But the sexy guy was oblivious to the signals she was sending; until she finished off his final rub-down with something extra. In fact, the best extra he ever had. Unfortunately, he came around too late. Now Julie’s moving on.

She was everything he’d dreamed of

The woman was driving him crazy.  She lit fire to his insides then ran like a scalded cat.  And now she’s going to someone else to have all her fantasies fulfilled? Over his dead body. He’s more than willing to give her what she wants, and as soon as he pins the little minx down, he’d show her his own brand of sweet seduction.

It’s all fun and games until someone falls in love.

Kim: I know what you must all be saying.  “What the hell is wrong with the two of them for continuing on to book three when they clearly disliked the first two books?”  I 100% take the blame for that.  The heroine of book three, Julie, is introduced to us in Sweet Persuasion.  She is literally what got me through that book.  Her no-nonsense attitude, spunk, and sarcasm sold me on reading just ONE more book in the Sweet series.  After many texts back and forth with Kelly she agreed, there was something about Julie that we just had to find out about.  I’m actually really glad I convinced her to read Julie’s story.  Hers wound up becoming my favorite of the three we read.

Kelly: I was very reluctant to read this book — hence all the texts required to get me to consent to read it —  Julie shows up quite a bit in book 2, but I found her kind of annoying, pushy, and a bit desperate.  In other words, she reminded me of myself a little bit, and I wasn’t sure I was up for that much reality.  But Kim convinced me, and I’m actually glad I read the book. It almost justified having read the first two. (Very nearly).  There’s a lot that I just don’t get about these books, but it’s the general tone that annoys me most.  These characters have so much drama in their lives, and it gets a little exhausting after a while.  The drama at the end of book 2 was at a fever pitch, and I knew I couldn’t sustain another book with that level of histrionics.  Lucky for the world in general, this book has a much lighter tone with plenty of humor thrown in to offset the occasional drama.

Kim: I completely agree about the insanely high level of drama in the characters lives.  Books 1 & 2 read something like this: Angst, angst, angst, sex, sex, sex, angst, sex, fights, angry make up sex, angst, brooding, angst, sex, sex, abrupt ending. Julie’s book at least had some feminine power going on and a storyline that wasn’t just about sex.  The friendship between the three women (Faith, Serena, and Julie) gets a chance to take center stage at certain parts of the book, helping give a little more depth to Banks’ book.

One thing that did bother me a lot about this book, though, was Nathan and all his “heifer” comments.  Kelly and I both discussed how we’ve heard women use this term to discuss other women (both in good and bad ways) but have never heard men use it.  We feel it’s one of those things that doesn’t cross sex lines.  Like men should never call women heifers.  Nathan uses it thinking he’s one of the girls, but he isn’t. It’s an indicator that the editing isn’t superb here.

Kelly:  Exactly, and that’s the real problem.  Nathan’s voice isn’t quite consistent throughout the book. Sometimes he’s a little bit broody and totally besotted with Julie, sometimes he’s a lighthearted funny guy, sometimes he seems like one of the girls (and those times are really weird and totally should have been smoothed out in editing).  It’s difficult to get a proper bead on his character if you’re just going by his dialogue.  As the reader, half the time you’re like, “OK, this makes sense… I could totally see why Julie’s a bit obsessed with this fellow,” and then he morphs into the Sassy Gay Friend, and you get a bit confused.

Kim: His up and down personality did get a bit confusing.  I think reflecting back on all the books, you can find all the characters have this wavering voice.  It’s a clear indicator that the $13 these eBooks cost wasn’t exactly well spent.  To be honest, the only one I’m glad I bought was this one.  It’s the most realistic (story-wise) of the three.  Kelly and I think about random things as we read. For example, in book two Damon keeps Serena tied to the bed every night so he can do her in the morning.  Some people might find that hot. Kelly and I? We wonder – man, don’t they have to pee in the morning?  All the marathon sex sessions? We think – I hope these women have been drinking a lot of cranberry juice cause they are totes going to get a UTI. In Rush the all-day butt plugs – our thoughts? Damn – hope that girl doesn’t have to go #2. That’ll be uncomfortable.  It’s difficult for us to see reality in a lot of the ways that sex is portrayed in this series.

Kelly: Exactly – and we read these scenes and try to imagine what we’d think if we experienced something like it in real life, and our response is general hilarity.  It seems to me that the main reason these books exist is to titillate, but they didn’t really work for me.  Not when the whole time I was laughing.  The sex scenes are just over the top, too much, a little ridiculous.  It’s like that time in college when I dated a dude who thought it would be a good idea to do a weird strip tease dance in tighty whities… My response: laughter.  It’s not hot.  And all the odd sex scenes in these books just reminded me of that awkward moment…

Kim: I get that for some people these books are fantasy.  They are escapes from their real lives.  Isn’t that what women kept saying about why they loved 50 Shades?  I guess for me, I’m happy and satisfied in my own life that the sex in these books doesn’t read like a fantasy.  They read like people who revolve their lives around sex only.  How many scenes do you read in these books where the couple can have a serious conversation together that has depth and meaning without it leading to someone being horny as shit? I personally find intimacy in being able to sit with your partner and read together, or watch a movie together cuddling on the couch.  Knowing that your partner finds pleasure in your presence not just because of your body, but because of your mind and soul, too means more to me than someone who can’t keep their hands off me.

Kelly: Preach it, sister!  While there was plenty of odd and slightly awkward sex in this book, it was much more pleasant to read than the last two books, and I think that’s because the entire approach was different with this book.  Let’s talk blow jobs.  In the first two books of this series (and in Rush, the other book we read by this author), there are quite a lot of blow jobs, and they’re all pretty similar — dude grabs a lady’s head and pretty much forces his junk in her mouth, and then all the mechanics are explained in far greater detail than is necessary.  Every gag, every bit of swallowing, you name it, it’s described. Sweet Seduction breaks the mold a little bit and allows Julie to take the lead when giving head.  She’s not just some receptacle for Nathan’s junk — she knows what she wants to do, and she does it, fully knowing that she’s giving him the best head of his life.  I’m never a big fan of BJ scenes in books — really, they’re where all the awkward hides — but I was very pleased to see that Banks could envision another style of sexual encounter and could present it as equally compelling (actually, I found it more compelling).

Kim’s final thoughts: Kelly’s going to share our final thoughts mutually via the texts we shared during the reading of Sweet Persuasion.  I think it’s seriously the best way to represent our feelings on the three Sweet books we read.

Kelly’s final thoughts:  So, the obvious takeaway is that we liked this book better than the first two, but we decided to stop reading this series.  However, our in-the-moment take away was this conversation, and I really think it shows the reality of these books:

Kim: So 100% done with book three. Definitely my favorite of the ones we read so far. I really don’t understand the fruit covers. WTF did grapes have to do with that story?

Kelly: I think we can blame the publisher and 50 Shades for the fruit covers… I’m almost done. She’s just gone raring off to Serena… but now I’m hosting a dinner party, so I’ll have to finish later. Amazingly, no one is naked or likely to be whipped at this dinner… I have all these unreasonable expectations now…

Kim: I hope it’s as exciting a dinner party as Serena and Damon threw! Cause really, if you aren’t whipping someone in the middle of it…How does one even begin to throw a party like that? Like would your invite say to Kelly and slave?

Kelly:  Kelly requests the pleasure of your company at a dinner party at six of the clock. Slaves welcome. Whipping will precede the dinner.