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

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

Setting up the money shot…

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

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

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

The first book in the Indecent… trilogy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kelly: Yeah, just a bit.

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

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

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Kim and Kelly’s discussion of Salvation by Noelle Adams

Kim and I finally found some time to write together! It’s the most amazing thing ever. Anyway, this book (and maybe the review?) should come with a big ol’ trigger warning. So consider yourself warned.

You get to the point where you can just say it. There was never anything special about me, except my father is rich and important. That’s why it happened.

It was just a normal Tuesday afternoon. I was twenty-three and thinking about my new designer boots. They kidnapped me for ransom. They raped me before I was rescued. My therapist says that talking about it means I’m starting to heal.

I don’t really think I am.

It’s even harder to talk about Gideon. He couldn’t save me when it really mattered, so he keeps trying to save me now. He refuses to give up on me, and I can’t make him understand. There are some things you just can’t be saved from.

Kelly: I have a terrible memory, so Kim had to remind me why I read this book. Not kidding. It went like this: a few months ago, I got into this EPIC Twitter convo with a bunch of awesome ladies about books (and by books, I mean romance novels. You knew that, right?) that deal with taboo subjects: rape between the H/h with eventual HEA, older woman, domestic violence between the H/h with eventual HEA, etc. Our list of taboos was lengthy, but I (predictably) can’t remember all of them. Kim saw part of our convo and was like, hey, there’s this Noelle Adams book that’s about the heroine dealing with surviving a gang rape. And I thought, well. I guess I have to read that book. So I did. Once I finished it, I texted Kim and was like “KIM. KIMMMMMM. KIM. KIM!!! YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK.” So she did. Because that’s how we roll.

Kim: I knew Salvation was going to be a tough read and was hesitant to read it until Kelly gave me the green light. I was hesitant because I wasn’t interested in reading a book about a taboo subject that ended up being a story of fathomless despair. Reading taboo subjects is already hard enough on a reader’s emotions and I really wanted to know that getting through this book (and its rough subject matter) was worthwhile and offered hope. (Hope is my favorite emotion – more on that later)

Kelly: This book does deal with taboo subject matter (not necessarily a formalized taboo within the romance genre, but it’s definitely a cultural taboo), but I want to reassure you that it’s not one of the types I mentioned above. I mean, if you read the blurb, you know that, but I just wanted to make it perfectly clear that we’re not suggesting you read a book that brings an HEA to a gang-raping hero. We have some standards over here. Anyway.

Kim: We definitely have standards. I’ve DNF’d a book for having a heroine fall in love with her kidnapping hero. NOPE. Not ok to drug someone and kidnap them for your own pleasure. ANYWAY – I’m off on a tangent here. I’ll throw it back to Kelly 🙂

Kelly: Salvation opens with the kidnapping and resulting trauma and then follows the incremental, often difficult, recovery for both characters. It’s not quite a day-by-day retelling, however; in fact, it’s possible that there was actually an editor on this book.

Kim: I agree with Kelly 100%. Adams’ books can become way overzealous in the attention to monotonous details. Thankfully the details that were included in Salvation were specifically chosen (IMO) to help us understand Diana’s mindset after the rape. As someone who has never gone through what Diana has, the sparser details made me look for the importance of the details we were given.

Kelly: Well, and honestly… Adams is telling a story in this book. There is character and story development along the way, an actual narrative arc (a plot!!), and an eventual HEA that is satisfying. In some of her earlier stories, it sometimes feels as though she’s just regurgitating carefully taken notes from her research — some of it conducted through interviews, I’d guess — and it pretty much reads like that, too. (Hmm.. I didn’t intend to seem so harsh, but… there it is. I apparently get upset when I read an entire book hoping for a story and don’t end up getting one.) ANYWAY, Adams fixes all that, here, editing out all the nonsense and giving us a clear story about these characters, their recovery from trauma, and the development of their romance.

Kim: I’m thinking that maybe because rape is such a sensitive topic, she spent way more time on this book than her previous ones. I think also, this book is way more about Diana’s journey, than about her journey with Gideon. Also something that differs from her other books – the focus on an individual journey instead of the couple’s. Even though the romance wasn’t front and center it still seemed very organic.

Kelly: I think you’re right that the focus is on her story, and — though I’m a romance reader who wants her romance front and center, damn it! — it didn’t bother me during my first read of this book that the romance storyline was occasionally sidelined. But later, when I read the book a second time, I felt a bit more conflicted about it. One of the (two) hallmarks of genre romance is that the romance storyline be the central focus of the story; and that’s just not the case, here. It’s still a damn interesting book, and one that I don’t hesitate to recommend to readers who can stomach its difficult elements, but dyed-in-the-wool genre romance readers need to know that the focus of the story is on Diana’s recovery — it’s her story — and their relationship’s development (and Gideon’s story) gets much less page time.

Kim: I agree that dyed-in-the-wool genre readers might be bothered by the fact that the romance is not the central storyline, but I think Diana and her recovery journey may win them over.

Kelly: It’s true. I wonder if it’s just because the book is a first-person narration and Diana’s issues are legion. Like, of course everything else is going to take a backseat to all that in Diana’s POV.

Kim: That’s a good point. We only ever get Diana’s perspective and as such of course her journey is the most important focal point.

Kelly:OK, before we talk about anything that bothered either of us about the book (I have a few bones to pick), let’s talk about what we liked.

Kim: I absolutely loved that this book was not afraid to go to dark places. Diana’s recovery process goes through tons of ups and downs. She begins to harm herself by running on her treadmill for hours. Her feet are blistered and bloody, she sprains her ankle and continues running on it, her muscles are way overused, etc etc. Her mindset as she runs is to just run until the pain of the rape and life goes away. She also attempts suicide at one point. When she tries to go back out into society she is petrified of anyone being behind her, or of being in loud and crowded spaces.

I won’t say that I enjoyed reading about how dark of a place Diana’s mind goes, but I like that this book didn’t shy away from the tough. Recovering from being raped….I can’t even imagine how difficult of a process that is.

Kelly: Exactly; if the book hadn’t gotten that dark, it wouldn’t have felt authentic at all. One thing I worried about when I read the blurb (and when it first became clear just what horrors await our heroine) is that the romance between these survivors — the woman whose body was violated and the man who couldn’t prevent it from happening — would seem like it came from nowhere, or — to say it better — as though Gideon’s feelings developed exclusively from his case of survivor’s guilt. Although that’s a huge part of his initial impulse to reach out to Diana, the feelings he ends up developing for her come about because he genuinely enjoys spending time in her company (even though she’s all fucked up).

Kim: Authentic was the exact word I was looking for! I was also worried we’d have a case of “magic penis.”

Kelly: I know, right? Like: Gideon: hey Diana, I get that you’ve been gang raped and that you’re all traumatized about it, but… say hello to my little friend! Diana: Oh, wow! I’m all better now! That’s a beautiful penis!

Kim: Way too often everything is suddenly solved by the “magic penis.” I give Adams a lot of credit for making sex a problem between Diana and Gideon and not the solution to their issues. WAY more realistic than “We had sex, now we’re in love, I was raped, but your penis saved me!” HOORAY HEA!!!!!!

Kelly: Exactly, especially because this book could be triggering to some, and the magic solution via a penis would be… well, problematic. Instead, Diana battles through her issues, goes to therapy, creates problems for herself with all the self-harm (and the self-imposed notion that she should just be OVER it already), gets back on the wagon, and keeps healing. When the friendship with Gideon deepens into a relationship, they take it very slow. It might not sound like the most fun book in the world to read, but I actually found it very interesting as a piece on recovery from trauma and the role that love can play in all that. Honestly, it was just neat that the narrative took the whole healing process very seriously. It is a process, it takes time, and it isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of thing that works for everyone. Diana went into her trauma with her own issues, and her recovery reflects those pre-existing issues.

Kim: I loved the slowness of her recovery and how respectful Gideon was of the time she needed to heal. I LOVED Gideon. LOVEEEEEEEEDDDDDDDDDD

Gideon was just…..wonderful. He knows when to push Diana and when to let her move at her own pace. He is constantly reinforcing that she is a good person, with a good heart. That she has the ability to love and to be ok again. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to make her see that his feelings for her aren’t out of a misplaced sense of guilt, but because of the person he sees inside of her. He gets the tattoos that he had on him (for the undercover part of his job) removed knowing they might trigger bad memories for Diana.

Kelly: I’m with you — Gideon is great, and I genuinely enjoyed Diana too, even though we’re seeing her at rather a low point. These characters are both great, and they’re great once they finally get together. One thing that bothered me about the book was how long it took to get there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that Adams didn’t push Diana’s recovery or make everything pat ‘n’ perfect, but there was a little too much back and forth on how Diana wanted Gideon around but didn’t want him to ruin his life for her because she was never going to recover. Maybe one or two mentions of that would have been enough, but my memories of the first half of the book are pretty much like this:

Diana: Gideon, I love you being around, and I want to spend time with you, but I’m holding you back from living your life.
Gideon: No, you’re not. I’ve got nothing better to be doing.
Diana: Yes, I am.
Gideon: No, you’re not.
Diana: You must date other people! I demand it!
Gideon: *sigh* OK.

— time passes —

Diana, to herself: Gideon’s never around anymore. I guess he’s moved on. *weeping*
Gideon, to himself: I really wish I could go spend time with Diana, but I guess she doesn’t want me around. *manly near-weeping*

— time passes —

Diana: Gideon, I’m glad you’re spending more time with me, and I really do want to spend time with you, but I’m holding you back from living your life.
Gideon: No, you’re not. I want to be here. I don’t want to date anyone else.
Diana: Yes, I am, because I’m never going to get better.
Gideon: No, you’re not (and yes, you are!)
Diana: *weeping*
Gideon: *sigh*

I’d have been happier if the back-and-forth stuff had been edited down some because the angst of all those seemingly unrequited feelings on both sides overshadowed some of the genuine emotion of the actual story.

 Kim: The back-and-forth and back-and-forth did get a little tiresome. But set against how slowly (not judging her here) the rest of her recovery moves I get her “I’m never going to get better” mentality. And considering she withdrew from everybody she knew and nobody but Gideon made an effort to really see her and gauge her healing, I get why she thought she was ruining his life. Nobody else really found time for her struggle. Her friends try to see her, she says no, and they’re like ok! See you later. Gideon is the only one who forces his presence on her.

 Kelly: Oh, I totally get that there were those issues, but I just wish they’d taken up less space in the book. The story was moving forward, I was invested in the characters, in Diana’s journey, and then… it lost momentum for a bit while Diana and Gideon had the same conversation several times over, with no resolution in sight until one day — DING — Diana gets her hope back. I think the story managed to regain its momentum, but, for a while there, I struggled to remain in the story. It’s an example of the thing Adams struggles with in her writing (or seems to), balancing her storytelling with her obvious inclination to tell the whole truth about her characters. Sometimes her writing lacks focus.

 Kim: I think I understand where you’re going. And the only thing I can think to say is that we were both impatient for Diana to have SOME goodness and happiness in her life. The back-and-forth of her emotions was difficult to take at times, especially when it seemed like Diana had finally gotten to a good place only to spiral downward in her feelings again. It does at times feel like a lack of focus on Adams’ part.

 At the same time, I’m not sure what I would have taken out or edited down. For Diana to grow and heal she needed to go through the process she did and part of that was pushing Gideon away the way she did everyone else. I wish we didn’t have to watch it happen so many times, but somewhere in her head she rationalized pushing him away to see if he would come back.

 Kelly: Well, you’ve got a good point there. And the bottom line is that I enjoyed reading the book, and I think it’s the best edited of all the Noelle Adams books I’ve read.

 Kim: Definitely. Props to your editor Ms. Adams! (And you!)

 Kelly’s Final Thoughts: While it’s a difficult book to read in many ways, it’s also powerful and well worth the effort. After I read Salvation, I wanted to read other books that depict characters in recovery, preferably within genre romance. A few days ago, I finished Maya Rodale’s What a Wallflower Wants, the final book in her Wallflower series, and I was impressed by how Rodale handled the subject of recovery while keeping the romance (a swoony one, at that) decidedly front and center.

 Kim’s Final Thoughts: Thank you Ms. Adams for writing a book about a subject not oft discussed and illustrating that while rape is a difficult subject to read about, it doesn’t need to be a taboo one.

 If interested in reading journeys of other rape victims Kelly and Kim suggest:

  • Summer Rain – an anthology featuring Ruthie Knox, Mary Ann Rivers, Cecilia Tan, Molly O’Keefe, and others
  •  What A Wallflower Wants by Maya Rodale
  • The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  • What an Earl Wants by Kasey Michaels
  • One Week as Lovers by Victoria Dahl
  • The Fall of a Saint by Christine Merrill (with a big ol’ caveat: the hero is the rapist. I still liked it and recommend it, but…. be warned. Be very warned.)

 Hey, you at home! Are there any more books you can suggest to add to our list (or recs for me to check out? I’m a sucker for books that deal with sexual assault. 

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).

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

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

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

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

Kim: Dear Mary Ann,

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

Love, Kim

Kelly: Dear Mary Ann,

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

Love, Kelly.

Kim: Dear Mary Ann,

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

Love, Kim

Kelly: Dear Mary Ann,

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

Love, Kelly.

Kim: Dear Mary Ann,

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

Kelly:  Caretaker? Goose person?!

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

Love, Kim

Kelly: and Kelly.

Kim: Dear Mary Ann,

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

Love, Kim

Kelly: Dear Mary Ann,

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

Love, Kelly

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

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

Kelly: Dear Mary Ann,

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

Love, Kelly

Kim: Dear Mary Ann,

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

Love, Kim

Kelly: Dear Mary Ann,

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

Love, Kelly

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

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

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