Ice Queen by Joey W. Hill (Nature of Desire #3)

18802544Due to a computer error, Marguerite lacks the mentoring program stipulation required of all Zone Doms, which includes spending a number of hours learning about BDSM from the submissive’s perspective. Tyler considers it an act of fate that Marguerite chooses him to be the Dom who helps her fulfill that requirement. He is convinced she is a “switch”, a closet submissive, but the truth will be even more remarkable than the theory, changing their lives in ways neither of them anticipates.

Having no equal except one another in their skills at stripping a sub’s defenses bare, these two Dominants will turn their considerable talents on each other and discover that who is Master and who is slave doesn’t matter, not when two souls have found their mate.

Review:

Trigger warnings for descriptions of abuse, including that of a child, and dubious consent.

In general I love Hill’s work but this book bothers me a ton, for reasons that can be illustrated in one scene. Background: Marguerite, a highly regarded Domme, needs to undergo sub experience training in order to keep her credentials at the club. She sets up a weekend with Tyler to complete it. She sets ground rules – no kissing, no sex (though they never clarified beyond that, which strikes me as odd), and no asking about her scars.

Tyler doesn’t hold much regard for her ground rules, kissing and performing oral sex early on. But in preparation for a sensory deprivation scene he sees cigarette burns on her back and continues, regardless. He keeps attributing her anxiety, reluctance, and defense mechanisms to the Dom/sub dynamic, that she needs to learn how to trust. Not, you know, the fact that she was very likely abused in her past and she’s being tied up, effectively gagged, and has no way to give a safe word or signal.

“How do I tell you if something is wrong, if I need to stop?”

“I’ll be watching you very closely.” Tyler knew a safe word or gesture would do her no good at this juncture because everything was panicking her.

I may have felt some extra sympathy because the situation she’s in would likely give me a panic attack, but not having a safe word because that’s somehow ‘better’, against the sub’s wishes? Oh hell no.

And to add more nope-age, the text needs editing^ , there’s careless confusion and appropriation of Japanese and other Asian cultures, and near the end there’s a literal tea party of plot moppets with Very Deep Things being said at a gathering for seven-year-olds. Considering the next book is a continuation of this one I may be out of the series, which is a shame as Natural Law, #2 in the series, is so good. Sigh. Oh well.


^ One example: “…drew her attention to a shallow square tub filled with steaming water about three feet deep.” Shallow for a pool, maybe, but not for a bathroom.

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Colters’ Woman by Maya Banks

6471687See that apostrophe in the title, telling you that several people have one woman?  That’s the basis of this romance – three brothers are waiting for a perfect, fated lady to come into their life, just as it did for their fathers and grandfathers.  They will know her when they find her, and she is going to be wife to all three.

Weird, yes, but I enjoy crazy erotica from time to time so I’m game.  Our heroine is found in a snowbank in front of the brothers’ lodge (named, wait for it, Three Brothers Hunting Lodge) so they take her in.  She looks like she’s had a rough time and she’s cagey about what might have happened to her, but that doesn’t stop all three of them from going “you’re the one OMG you’ll love all of us don’t worry trust us”.  Turns out her husband is a Bad Dude so they try to protect the heroine and a suspense-y plot ensues.

So many things pissed me off.  The brothers suspect abuse but feel her up anyway.  They ask, ‘do you trust us?’ over and over as if it’s something to be given, not earned.  Later on someone is hurt so they send the sheriff to help him while the brothers go after a kidnapper because… there are no ambulances or medical staff in this town?  And when the MedEvac helicopter comes they have it land in Duffy’s pasture when there’s three feet of snow on the ground.  What, do you think the helicopter is just going to rest on top of the white stuff, or that a pasture will be plowed and salted?

GAH.

The only good thing about this book is that the brothers were named in alphabetical order from oldest to youngest which helped me keep them straight.  Otherwise the dubious consent, bad judgement, and lack of common sense did me in.  Nope.  Nope nope.

Darkest Flame by Donna Grant (Dark Kings #1)

18169912Denae Lacroix is a beautiful MI5 agent on a deadly mission. Sent to the Scottish Highlands to spy on the mysterious Dreagan Industries, she discovers too late that she’s been set up—as human bait. She is an irresistible lure for a man who has not seen or touched a woman for centuries. He is a man with a destiny—and a desire—that could destroy them both…

It’s been twelve hundred years since Kellan has walked among humans—and there’s no denying the erotically charged attraction he feels for Denae. But as a Dragon King, he is sworn to protect his secrets. Yet the closer he gets to this smart, ravishing woman, the more her life is in danger. All it takes is one reckless kiss to unleash a flood of desire, the fury of dragons…and the fiercest enemy of all.

Review:

Trigger warning for assault.

The world has been overwhelming in a holy-crap-they’re-doing-what-now way, and at times like this I turn to romance.  And not just any romance but over the top, steamy, fantastical romance, the crazier the better.  When I’m like this I’m willing to forgive almost anything.  Instalove?  Go for it!  Poor characterization?  Whatever, bring on a pinball plot!  I’m actually more likely to knock a book for not being crazy enough. (Exhibit A: that time a cop went undercover as a slave on a BDSM planet and fell in love with an alien was a bit too tame.)

This book, though, I can’t forgive, because the heroine is sexually assaulted by the bad guy in front of the hero.  She’s tied up, stripped naked, and forced to orgasm against her will.

Oh, hell no.

She does have the feelings you would expect after being assaulted, so a point for that, but as soon as the coast is clear she and the hero have sex to clear her system or something.  Gah.

After that all of the other faults grated, including those I was inclined to overlook – instalust, bad phonetic renditions of accents, a fae deus ex machina, and three HEA couples even though this is book one (??) come immediately to mind.  Ugh.

Why Darkest Flame is so highly rated on Goodreads I do not know.  Stay far away, even if you’re in the mood for some crazy.

A Fare to Remember by Opal Carew

29939400Stevie has given up on love and just wants a simple life driving her taxi. But her plans are turned upside down when gorgeous billionaire Reid Jacobs steps into the back of her cab. Commanding and mysterious, he’s a temptation she can’t resist—and soon their torrid one night stand leads to an intoxicating affair.

In Reid’s strong arms, Stevie finds herself falling harder than she ever imagined. But is she ready to trust again? And when his business partner falls for Stevie, will it change everything? One thing is clear: she’s about to take the ride of her life….

Review:

There are so many problems here but first,

The good-ish:

  • The rich/poor trope gets circumvented, releasing some oh-no-this-can’t-work tension.
  • The writing holds its own.

The not-so-good:

  • Cab driver picks up a hot fare, drives to a deserted alley, and has unprotected sex with him.  In the entirety of the book there isn’t a single mention of condoms, birth control, or health status, even when a third is brought into the relationship.  When a book is set in the modern day real world completely ignoring STDs and pregnancy is at best unreasonable, and at worst irresponsible.  I’m not asking for a lot – a mention of a clean test, a wrapper crinkle – but give me something.
  • Amazing sex equals instant love.  Never mind that getting to know you stuff or talking about your childhood – love is transmitted from the penis to the vagina, apparently.
  • …and not from penis to penis.  A second man is brought in and is sexual with both Stevie and Reid, but his feelings are never considered.  He’s treated like a human sex toy – nice to have around, but not a member of the relationship.  Not cool.
  • BDSM elements are brought in carelessly, without a warning or a safe word.  And not just light bondage – a ball gag, people. No.  No no.
  • While the sex is hot some of it defies physics.  At one point I thought, “no way is all of that fitting in there that easily.”
  • The Big Misunderstanding is a product of the heroine being idiotic.

All in all – grah.

Filthy Beautiful Love by Kendall Ryan (Filthy Beautiful Lies #2)

22673915I never expected to watch Sophie walk away. She was mine. I would own her. She just didn’t know it yet. New goal: Seal the deal and rock her world so thoroughly she never wanted to leave again.

Highly sexual and emotionally charged, Filthy Beautiful Love is the provocative conclusion to Filthy Beautiful Lies.

Review:

So, all the stuff that I was afraid would go wrong in book one? It all went wrong here in book two.

Every female character is a threat to Sophie – she’s wearing a lot of make up to our casual party, she must want to steal away my man! That other woman made a weird comment… she must have been intimate with him in the past! Sophie is possessive in the worst, paranoid way.

The way protection is handled is plain awful. To be clear – I don’t mind it when the couple decides not to use a condom when there’s trust and birth control on board. I don’t even mind the ‘crap, I didn’t use a condom’ if it’s recognized and addressed. But this, this I cannot stand:

“No, no condom. I want to feel you. Please, Colton.”
His gaze snaps to mine and I can read the indecision in his eyes. “Are you sure?”
I nod. “Yes, just take me.”
I’m sure he knows I’m not on any birth control, but I can see the exact moment he decides it doesn’t matter.

I could even forgive that if the chance of pregnancy is owned later, but it’s blithely ignored. GRAH. Other rage-inducing lines:

“I want your virginity, sweetness. I want total claim over you. It’s the only way to show me that you’re really here for me.”

And because English:

I see the vein throb at the base of his throat. “Good girl,” he admonishes.

Secondary characters are just as thin as before, including the presumptive hero for the next book. The plot starts off okay – a couple getting back together by overcoming trust issues – but at the end we’re pinballed from one happening to another. It’s not conflict, it’s a sad thing and a cute thing and a grief thing with sex scenes liberally interspersed.

All in all the book is spare and petty and made me mad. I had much hope after the unconventional opening of Filthy Beautiful Lies but Ryan didn’t follow through. At least it reads quickly. ~sigh~

Twilight Phantasies by Maggie Shayne (Wings in the Night #1)

25582667In two centuries of living death, vampire Eric Marquand had learned to live with the cruel fate that had condemned him to walk forever in shadow, forever alone. Then he found the woman he knew was meant for him—and understood that to possess her was to destroy her.

Against all reason, Tamara Dey saw clearly that her destiny was eternally entwined with Eric’s and that she must not only accept but welcome the terror and splendor of the vampire’s kiss. She trembled at the thought of spending eternity in his arms, but was her trembling born of desire…or fear?

This book was originally published in 1993 so I was ready to give it all kids of leeway.  In the first 60% the heroine lacks agency but other lovely things are going on.  The vampire hero is the protective sort and is looking out for her.  His best vampire friend is an interesting character in his own right.  There’s an “I knew you before I met you” thing.  I’m in need of a comfort read, I was able to forgive.

But then my brain got scrambled.  Tamara gets a flat while driving home and the car doesn’t have a spare.  She is assaulted while walking to the nearest gas station, but Eric arrives in time to save her.  He then piles her into the car and drives home.

…on three tires?! I reread the scene to make sure I wasn’t missing anything and I have no idea how it worked.  Ditto her being able to put on a fancy vintage dress that laces up the back all by herself even though she needed help the first time.  Brain. Broken.

Then there’s general wtf-ery.  Tamara is 26 years old, a grown ass woman, and still lives her legal guardian.   She even says it like that.  “I can appreciate why you’re so angry with my guardian… he may be an ass, Marquand, but I love him dearly.”  Oh, and trigger warnings for assault, attempted rape, and heaps of gaslighting.  Gaaaaah.

I’m obviously not a fan… but would try another book by the author, no problem.  The first half of the book was enjoyable, even with the Old Skool issues, and I’d like to see if her more recent stuff is less objectionable.  Have you read any Maggie Shayne?  Are all of her books like this?

The Terranauts by T.C. Boyle

Synopsis:

28925208It is 1994, and in the desert near Tillman, Arizona, forty miles from Tucson, a grand experiment involving the future of humanity is underway. As climate change threatens the earth, eight scientists, four men and four women dubbed the “Terranauts,” have been selected to live under glass in E2, a prototype of a possible off-earth colony. Their sealed, three-acre compound comprises five biomes—rainforest, savanna, desert, ocean and marsh—and enough wildlife, water, and vegetation to sustain them.

In addition to their roles as medics, farmers, biologists, and survivalists, the young, strapping Terranauts must impress watchful visitors and a skeptical media curious to see if E2’s environment will somehow be compromised, forcing the Ecosphere’s seal to be broken—and ending the mission in failure. As the Terranauts face increased scrutiny and a host of disasters, both natural and of their own making, their mantra: “Nothing in, nothing out,” becomes a dangerously ferocious rallying cry.

Review:

I went into this book knowing nothing about it – great for some novels but not for this one.

The interesting:

  • The novel is about a futuristic thing that’s happening in 1994.  They’ve pushed the technology of the time but it’s more mechanical and biological instead of information age stuff.
  • That’s all I have for interesting.  Let that be a warning to you.

The interesting (to me):

  • Many of the characters, especially the narrators, are unlikable.  No one is a saint, and some people are downright slimy.  I don’t mind this kind of thing but if you don’t, now you know.

The not-so-interesting:

  • This novel is about a futuristic thing that actually happened in the early 90s.  Real events are expanded on, of course, but for the first half of the book Boyle sticks closely to reality.  Here’s the thing – life is rarely paced at novel speed.  After the first exciting intro of characters the action drops off until there’s a Happening, but by then it’s such a wreck I didn’t care what went down.
  • People can get bitchy, I know, but women’s looks come up a LOT.  It feels genuine when (the only) person of color notes that all the chosen ladies have light-colored hair, but the rest of the time it’s just petty.  And not even petty in the way women (in my experience) can be, but petty in the way men think we are. ‘Why did he sleep with her, I’m prettier’, ‘She’s not even pretty’, ‘They picked the pretty girls even though I’m smarter’.  I mean, just look at this part of the extended synopsis:

    Told through three distinct narrators—Dawn Chapman, the mission’s pretty young ecologist; Linda Ryu, her bitter, scheming best friend passed over for E2; and Ramsay Roothorp, E2’s sexually irrepressible Wildman…

  • Continuing with gender stuff, there are four women in this crazy calorie restricted environment and there’s not one joke about it being the best diet ever.  Instead, one woman (already skinny) worries about “losing her figure”.  What.
  • The science, while not insignificant, fails to satisfy. I had a lot of unanswered questions – why aren’t there more fail safes and redundant systems?  How did you expect people to survive on a 1500 calorie/day diet when they’re doing manual labor day in and day out? And why the hell would you put all single people in there?  If someone is married they would have someone to call when things get rough, a built in psychological safety valve.
  • You kinda know why people are doing this experiment, but not really.  A couple of people seem to care about the science.  Another about money and fame.  But everyone else?  Who knows.  Because:
  • Minor characters are underdeveloped.  There are eight people in the biosphere – two main characters, three characters to help with plot points, and three characters I forgot existed.
  • Most of the action reads like an overblown soap opera.  ‘He was sleeping with me but now he’s sleeping with her’, ‘so and so is cheating on that other person and I know because I followed them around all sneaky-like’, ‘you can’t do that for a Halloween costume I already called it how dare you’.  I wanted to yell “who cares?”, “grow up!”, and “move on, already!” in turns.

So yeah, not a fan.

Thanks to Ecco and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Everything to Me by Simona Taylor

Synopsis:

ea3395979891cd8547b1a9b372a93606When she jets down to the Caribbean, Dakota Merrick doesn’t expect to spend the night with Trent Walker at his luxurious island hideaway. The bad blood between the music columnist and the ultra-charming jazz producer vanishes with their first kiss. Dakota’s enchanted by the erotic atmosphere of the world-class resort and the passionate music she and Trent are making together.

Trent knows he shouldn’t trust the ambitious reporter. But living out his most sensual fantasies with Dakota is a temptation no man can refuse. Until a breaking scandal threatens their tropical idyll. Will Dakota choose ambition over a future with him? Or can Trent find the right notes to play a love riff straight into her heart?

Review:

Starting off there is so much to like about this book, a romance that takes place in the author’s native Trinidad and Tobago.  Columnist Dakota is there to cover a huge jazz festival where several of Trent’s acts are performing.  When her hotel reservation goes up in smoke he offers her the second bedroom of his cabin at Rapture, the erotic resort he’s staying at (all the normal hotel rooms were booked, natch).  They have a contentious relationship – Dakota broke a story that nearly ruined the career of one of Trent’s starlets, Shanique.

This is all fine.  Things start to go south in the details.

The story Dakota broke is perfectly legit – Shanique’s voice started to go and instead of cancelling or postponing a few dates on her tour she lipsynced to a singer backstage a la Singin’ in the Rain.  That’s a big deal.  That’s a story.  No one can blame you for covering that.

That doesn’t stop Trent from being sore, and the couple has some spirited discussions over dinner, while walking, at the cabin… pretty much all the time.  I didn’t mind it because there’s a lot of emotional stuff for these two to get through if they’re ever going to be a couple.

But then Dakota stopped thinking like a journalist. Upon hearing a newly revitalized Shanique at the festival:

…her story had brought low such a talent, almost destroyed such a star.  She felt rotten.  The standard journalist excuse the people’s right to know, felt hollow and insubstantial.  She hadn’t written that story because of anyone’s right to know.  She’d written it because it would have been a shot in the arm for her career.

Um.  Shanique and her managers were duping people, giving them something other than what they paid for.  That’s a big deal.  People do have a right to know.

Later it becomes clear that Dakota got the story because she was sleeping with a source, one of Trent’s rivals.  And now that she’s with Trent she’s, you know, sleeping with another source.  The tiny shreds of respect I still had for Dakota died right there.

Near the end, due to spoilery things I won’t go into, Dakota makes a job switch that’s supposed to be a step down from columnist – editor of a new and upcoming music magazine.  But that’s a huge step up, making her responsible for many other people’s reporting.  She who has a shaky grasp of journalistic morals has become the guiding compass for an entire publication.  Nope.  Nopenope.

Other things irked but weren’t deal breakers, like having sex in a natural hot spring.  (Don’t do it people, or in hot tubs either.  There’s nasty stuff growing in there.)  I liked reading about the island of Tobago and what life is like there, and felt safe knowing that someone from there was telling the story.  But I just can’t get over the sleeping with sources (twice! with no remorse!) thing.

Grah.

It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (Chicago Stars #1)

Synopsis:

6651365The Windy City isn’t quite ready for Phoebe Somerville—the outrageous, curvaceous New York knockout who has just inherited the Chicago Stars football team. And Phoebe is definitely not ready for the Stars’ head coach, former gridiron legend Dan Calebow, a sexist jock taskmaster with a one-track mind. Calebow is everything Phoebe abhors. And the sexy new boss is everything Dan despises—a meddling bimbo who doesn’t know a pigskin from a pitcher’s mound.

So why is Dan drawn to the shameless sexpot like a heat-seeking missile? And why does the coach’s good ol’ boy charm leave cosmopolitan Phoebe feeling awkward, tongue-tied…and ready to fight?

Review:

I can see why many people like this book but I have to wonder if it’s a generational thing. Is this one of those pre-enlightenment books I’ve heard about where the guy is an asshole, the girl is a pushover, and the plot is maddening?

Phoebe, a girl abused in her youth that has no real connections to her family, was left her father’s football team in his will. She gets to keep the team if, and only if, the league basement Chicago Stars make the AFC championships this year.

She decides the best thing to do is ignore the team completely as she knows nothing about football. Contracts need signing and she’s the only one with any legal authority, but hey, not her problem.

She finally comes around and decides to go to work. In the process she falls in love with the coach, Dan, for no reason I can possibly see. He’s quick to anger, crap at apologies, and seems to think fleeting good intentions make up for all his faults. The only person he is consistently nice to is Molly, Phoebe’s teenaged half sister, as he demands admiration above all else and she readily provides it.

Many passages made me downright mad.  Shall we have a sample?

A sprinkling of African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians, all well-dressed and prosperous looking, mingled with the crowd.

You know, instead of the shabby, poor looking minorities you’re used to. ~fume~

And in the waaaah? department:

He grinned as he pulled away from the curb. If the Russians had been smart, they’d have taken Phoebe’s radioactive body into account before they’d signed off on that nuclear proliferation agreement with the United States.

Does. not. compute.

So getting to the end of the novel was hard. While Phillips’ writing style is technically solid she leaves little for the reader to figure out herself. Even with all this explaining I find Phoebe’s emotional journey unrealistic.

Is this Old Skool?  Am I just missing something? If I didn’t need this book for a challenge I would have never made it to the end. GRAH.

Abby Cooper, Psychic Eye by Victoria Laurie (Psychic Eye Mystery #1)

Synopsis:

574955Abby Cooper is a P.I., psychic intuitive. But her insight failed her when she didn’t foresee the death of one of her clients-or that the lead investigator for the case is the gorgeous blind date she just met. Now, with the police suspicious of her abilities and a killer on the loose, Abby’s future looks more uncertain than ever.

Review:

I picked this book hoping for a quirky cozy mystery but ended up in romantic suspense hell.

Abby Cooper is a psychic intuitive that can call on her spirit guides for advice and wisdom. She uses her ability to run a successful business advising people on everything from cheating lovers to financial matters. I like the general idea of a psychic but man, she was spot on all the time. Any little tidbit Abby spit out would be verified sooner or later, allowing her an “I told you so” smile.

In this vein many times Abby would do a reading for someone she thought didn’t believe her. A simple, “…and you should get that knee checked out, the next time you lift something heavy it’s going to pop” would have sufficed but no, she had to tell them about their wives and daughters and upcoming vacations. Always right, always on the nose, often annoying. In fact, the only time she ran into trouble was when she didn’t listen to her “crew”… they’re infallible, of course.

That time she didn’t pick up the “intuitive phone”, along with any other fishy happening, felt like it had a neon sign with “THIS IS FORESHADOWING!” painted on top. Grah.

A few lines that bugged me:

“I looked at the painted decal on the back hood.” Hoods are in the front. Trunks and tailgates are in the back. Decals and stickers are usually put on by owners, insignia and logos by the maker.

“I knew immediately that I’d have to tip the mailman extra big come Christmas.” Postal workers are federal employees and are legally obligated not to accept cash tips over $20. Getting some extra nice chocolate or maybe knitting a pair of convertible mittens would be fine, but not an extra big tip.

“In my next lifetime I wanted to come back as a guy. They always seemed to get the upper hand.” No irony, no nothing.

And I haven’t even gotten into the romantic or suspense bits. Abby goes on a date with a guy she met online who happens to be a cop. Of course, Dutch ends up being the lead investigator of a case that ends up falling into her lap. If he ends up doing anything Abby perceives as less than perfect she storms off, vows she’s done with him, and screams like holy hell the next time they meet. Yet he is still attracted to her.

I don’t get it, either.

As for the mystery surrounding an apparent suicide, Abby’s leads us via one perfect hunch after another to the bad guy. I felt zero suspense because the perfect spirit guides would never let her fail. Don’t they get annoyed with her, too? Wouldn’t they want to slip her a bum piece of info about something trivial and have a good laugh? I would, but maybe that’s why I’m not a spirit guide.

Not bad enough to abandon halfway through, but also not deserving of more than one star.