Jacked Up by Samantha Kane (Birmingham Rebels #3)

32506423Linebacker Sam Taylor feels like a ticking time bomb. He left the army with emotional wounds as fresh as the scars on his back. Sam’s been living like a monk, but his best friend, defensive lineman King Ulupoka, wants to get him laid. Easy for him to say. The larger-than-life Samoan is a hard-bodied, tribal-tattooed fantasy. Sam agrees, under one condition: King stays to watch.

ER nurse Jane Foster is done being a good girl, and nothing says wild like picking up two of football’s sexiest players and bringing them back to your hotel room. Trouble is, she can’t decide which one she wants more. Sam is hot, sweet, and vulnerable. Jane’s more than willing to ride him into oblivion. But King’s intense gaze from across the room promises that the best is yet to come.

Sure, King has had his choice of girls and guys in the past. That doesn’t mean he’ll jeopardize his relationship with Sam over a case of locker-room lust—until a naughty nurse pushes them both out of their comfort zones. Seeing Jane and Sam together turns King on more than he ever imagined. If they’re game, he’s ready to tackle a three-way play.

This book has a lot going for it but man, its flaw is a fatal one. First,

The good:

  • The series revolves around a football team where all of the guys seem to end up in poly relationships. I am so here for this.
  • Representation is everywhere. One of the heroes is a person of color, the other is a veteran who has been scarred, literally and figuratively, by a recent deployment. In the background there’s a neurodiverse character, a female veteran in the process of recovering the ability to speak, and a couple more people of color. Excellent.
  • The sex is hot and two of the main characters are explicitly bi. It makes for a nice threesome.
  • Secondary characters are fleshed out and human, making it fun to guess who will be featured in the next book. (Nigel, please!) In fact I’d say characterization is the best thing Kane has going.

The not-good-for-me:

  • The story is much more psychological than I was expecting, especially over the first half. This isn’t a problem per ce, but part of my day job is interpreting psych counseling, so I don’t look forward to reading two full sessions in my romance. Your mileage likely varies.
  • I don’t buy all the football stuff. The wife and girlfriend dynamics don’t ring true, and some logistical things don’t quite work for me.

The no-good-at-all:

The word slut comes up over two dozen times, almost always by Jane in reference to herself. In an early scene she has a one night stand with the two heroes and, while having sex, totally enjoys it. But afterwards she cries and moans, ‘I’m a good girl, but look at what a slut I’ve become!’

It’s an understandable thought after her first experience, and another character talks her down, but Jane doesn’t let it go. Like, ever. Check out this quote from 82% in, when a friend yet again tries to talk sense into her:

“As long as everyone involved is an adult and no ones gets hurt who isn’t asking to be hurt, no harm, no foul.”

“That’s what everyone keeps saying,” Jane said miserably, turning away from Margo. “But it doesn’t feel normal. It feels like everyone is staring and pointing fingers because I’m a freakish slut who’s with two guys at the same time.”

“No one is doing that,” Margo said softly.

“I know,” Jane admitted.

She created a ton of problems by not opening her eyes to reality and continuing to believe in crazy notions without a shred of proof. ‘My job put that guy who got arrested for DUI on night shift, so heaven knows what they’re going to do to me for sleeping with two men at once!’ Seriously? Do you hear yourself?

The way this slut/bad girl language carries over into the sex also bothers me. I mean, it obviously is a triggering thought for Jane. But then there are scenes like:

He leaned over and pinned Jane’s hands above her head. “Dirty girl, you are so bad. You want to watch me get fucked? Is that what you want?”

She bit her lip and nodded with hooded eyes and flushed cheeks, looking like a sex kitten with her pretty hair spread all over the bed around her.

I just… no. No.

Despite all that I still think I’ll go back and read the previous books in the series. They’re well written, the (non-Jane) characters are interesting, and I like the direction Kane is headed in. Here’s hoping the other books are better.

Prisoner of Love by Beverly Jenkins

18898429Kansas, 1884
Abandoned by her husband, Elizabeth Franklin is struggling to keep up with the chores on her 60-acre farm. Desperate to stay in the only home she ever loved, the resourceful Elizabeth agrees to marry a prisoner, Jordan Yancey – an arrangement that will set him free while affording her the farm help that she so urgently needs. But what Elizabeth never expects is that this former prisoner will arouse the kind of passion and desire she’s only heard about and capture her instead…

Jordan Yancey would do anything to get out of prison, and the arrangement with the pretty, but prim Elizabeth seems like a good bet – his freedom for a little farm work, and a wife on paper. He never imagines that his pretend bride will become the most magnificent woman he’s ever met…and that his sensuous little ‘jailer’ will be the one to free his heart…

Review:

I needed a quick hit of romance and stumbled upon this Jenkins novella at the library. A marriage of convenience historical set in the American West? Yes, please!

Jenkins usually writes novels in the 385-page range and it shows – there’s a lot of story considering the two digit page count. The conflicts are resolved quickly and easily with a single conversation. Elizabeth warms up to Jordan quickly, which is a bit hard to swallow because he was a convict when she married him.

In fact, the plot is so minimal that the story ventures into porn-without-plot territory. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind – the love scenes are great! – it’s just not what I expected.

Her writing and historical chops are on fine display, so fans of Jenkins’ other historicals will enjoy this quick hit of romance. If you’re looking for an un-rushed story, though, you may want to try one of her longer titles like Breathless or Night Hawk.

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~

Filthy Beautiful Lies by Kendall Ryan (Filthy Beautiful Lies #1)

The jacket copy is misleading (the hero is not that cold or calculating), but here goes:

29412025I have no idea why she auctioned off her virginity for a cool mill. Regardless, I’m now the proud new owner of a perfectly intact hymen. A lot of good that will do me. I have certain tastes, certain sexual proclivities. My cock is a bit more discriminatory than most. And training a virgin takes finesse and patience – both of which I lack.

Sophie Evans has been backed into a corner. With her sister’s life hanging in the balance, the only choice is to claw her way out, even if that means selling her virginity to the highest bidder at an exclusive erotic club. When Colton Drake takes her home, she quickly learns nothing is as it seems with this beautifully troubled man. Being with him poses challenges she never expected, and pushes her to want things she never anticipated.

First things first – this is not a 300 page book. Sure, the print copy has that many pages, but the margins are generous to say the least.  On my ereader it felt like 150 pages. And to top it off, this is only half a story, ending in a cliffhanger. Not a ‘oo, one problem solved, another arises’ cliffhanger, but a ‘oo, things are finally getting interesting… whad’ya mean I’m at 100%?!?’ cliffhanger. Gah.

I originally picked it up because I like romance that pushes the envelope, and I wanted to see how a hero and heroine who “meet” at an auction can fall in love. I thought it would be heavy with BDSM but there are only overtones of power exchange. Sophie has good reasons to sell her virginity (to pay for sister’s cancer treatment), and Drake has reasons of his own for hiring her for six months. While the setup is a recipe for non-con or dubious consent sex the couple takes things slow, and Drake is loathe to take something that is not freely given. In that way the avant garde-ness of the plot fades out rather quickly.

The emotional arc is realistic, especially with Sophie. She’s understandably timid to start and takes time to get used to the situation, and when she does she’s good about asking for things she wants and communicating with Drake. He’s a bit more cagey, especially where past relationships are concerned, but there is no Big Misunderstanding.

Most of the action takes places in LA, with the secondary characters being shallow people in designer clothes whose only worries involve who is dating whom. The only way I can tell Drake’s brothers apart is that one is more explicit about the tail he chases, and the other women with speaking lines are his former or wannabe paramours. I didn’t notice a single person of color or other minority character.

So, is the book enjoyable? Hard to say, seeing that this volume only covers half of the story. ~fume~ I will be reading on, if only to see what happens to the main couple, so we’ll see.

Managed by Kristen Callihan (VIP #2)

30325011I thought I’d hit the jackpot when I was upgraded to first class on my flight to London.

That is until HE sat next to me. Gabriel Scott: handsome as sin, cold as ice. Nothing and no one gets to him. Ever. He’s a legend in his own right, the manager of the biggest rock band in the world, and an arrogant ass who looks down his nose at me.

I thought I’d give him hell for one, long flight. I didn’t expect to like him. I didn’t expect to want him. But the biggest surprise? He wants me too. Only in a way I didn’t see coming.

Review:

Much like the previous book Idol, the romance in Managed is sweet and comforting. It wraps you in a big fluffy blanket, brings you a cup of tea, and says yes, love is this awesome. Go ahead, roll around in it. Enjoy the warm fuzzies.

One of the many things I love is that the relationship between Gabriel and Sophie is stripped down to its core. They’re attracted to each other, but for a variety of (good!) reasons, they’re not acting on it. Instead of the common “I can’t love you because I’m damaged!” it’s “I think I’m falling in love with you but that doesn’t work well considering the situation we’re in, and I respect you too much to force myself on you.” As a result what could easily be an instalust storyline fits into a friends-to-lovers paradigm. It’s also the longest and perhaps most delicious slow burn I’ve ever read.

Callihan keeps that burn going by masterfully playing with the tension, using small events as release valves to both blow off steam and show us that these two people are hot for each other and the status quo won’t last forever.

And the banter! Gabriel’s British-ness highlights his dry and wry humor, and the American Sophie gives as good as she gets.

“Seriously, you look grumpy even for you. Who pissed you off?” I grin at him. “Do I have to break some skulls?”

He finally huffs out a small laugh, his shoulders easing a fraction. “I can see it now, you nipping at someone’s ankle like an angry Pomeranian.”

“So you’re familiar with my methods.”

There are bigger themes beyond the romance – found family, loyalty, and what it means to be wealthy not only with money but also with friends and time. There is so much to love here. The first 85% of the book was a solid four star read for me.

But then. An ex introduced earlier stirs up trouble, just as you expected. Then there’s a Big Misunderstanding that drives me bonkers. I know that the couple needs some adversity to reach a satisfying happily ever after, but does it have to be so inane? I pushed through but it killed off all those warm fuzzies.

A moment of silence for the fuzzies.

While the ending is unfortunate I truly loved the vast majority of this book, and it will be a go-to comfort read when I need a literary hug. A big recommend to lovers of slow burns.

Coffee Boy by Austin Chant

32146161After graduation, Kieran expected to go straight into a career of flipping burgers—only to be offered the internship of his dreams at a political campaign. But the pressure of being an out trans man in the workplace quickly sucks the joy out of things, as does Seth, the humorless campaign strategist who watches his every move.

Soon, the only upside to the job is that Seth has a painful crush on their painfully straight boss, and Kieran has a front row seat to the drama. But when Seth proves to be as respectful and supportive as he is prickly, Kieran develops an awkward crush of his own—one which Seth is far too prim and proper to ever reciprocate.

Review:

With this book I realized I have a new wheelhouse, a genre I can’t get enough of.  I’m still testing the edges to see how broad this love goes but for now I’m calling it own voices BTQIA* romance, as in LGBTQIA* without the L and G.  Don’t get me wrong, I like lesbian and gay romance! It just doesn’t thrill me as much as the rest of the acronym and who knows, I may be adding or dropping parts as I read more widely.  Let’s break it down as it stands:

own voices – fiction “about diverse characters written by authors from that same diverse group” (definition by the person who started the hashtag, Corinne Duyvis)
B – bisexual
T – trans
Q – (gender)queer
I – intersex
A – asexual
* – other gender and sexual identities not covered above

Coffee Boy is own voices, trans romance.  Kieran is an out trans man that runs into difficulties because he doesn’t quite pass.  His hair is long and curly, and his looks scramble the brains of his new coworkers.

“Kieran, you are the administrative intern, aren’t you?”

“That’s me.”

“Oh, that’s so funny.” Marie beams.  “Marcus thought you were a boy.”…

“He wasn’t wrong.”

We watch Kieran as he manages this new space and crushes on his boss, Seth.  Seth’s heart belongs to another, though, and the romance is watching the pair realize that love is right there in front of them.  The plot and page count match wonderfully, and while I was sad to see the story end it’s a sweet finish that left me smiling.

Along the way we see what it’s like to move through the world as someone that’s transgender.  Kiernan faces different issues depending on where he is and what the world expects of him.  We see how hurtful clueless people can be, as well as how allies can misplace their efforts.  We also see what good communication regarding gender looks like, often from Seth.  He asks the right questions, respectful questions, and accepts the answers calmly and completely.  Because when someone tells you who he is, you listen, you know?

While reading I thought the narrative would have been better served in the first person, with Kiernan being the I.  But then I realized – doing that would strip the text of the all important pronouns.  The reader needs to hear Kiernan being called he and him so the misplaced ‘she’ has all the impact it should.

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed Coffee Boy and in the process found a writer and publisher (NineStar Press) to follow in my new-found wheelhouse.  Huzzah!

Ecstasy by Nicole Jordan (Notorious #4)

2095417Having watched her mother languish away for a lost love, Raven Kendrick vows never to surrender her heart. But when her life erupts in scandal, she is forced to accept a marriage proposal from the wickedly sensuous owner of London’s most notorious gaming hell. Though fiercely drawn to her enigmatic rescuer, Raven battles to resist her husband, whose sensuous caresses promise ecstasy beyond her wildest fantasies.

To save the reputation of an innocent girl nearly ruined by his brother, Kell Lasseter sacrifices his freedom to wed the dazzling debutante. Long scorned for his Irish blood and dark past, Kell cannot deny that this enchanting spitfire is unlike other society misses . . . anymore than he can quell his smoldering desire for her. Torn between loyalty to his brother and his growing feelings for his rebellious bride, Kell must somehow free Raven’s reluctant heart before they can know the ecstasy of true love.

Review:

This book was decent all around, but there were a few things that bothered me.

The good:

  • The writing and characterization in general are solid. The plot also gets going right from the start, which was perfect because my brain was itching for some action.
  • I love me a marriage of convenience, and I don’t think I’ve seen a set up quite like this one before.
  • The hero and heroine’s emotional baggage is a matched set but it doesn’t grate or feel too contrived.
  • There’s more romantic suspense than I was expecting, but it doesn’t take over the whole storyline. The action is compartmentalized into certain sections and it worked well.
  • The steamy parts are indeed steamy. Ooo.

The not-so-good:

  • While there isn’t a Big Misunderstanding, as it were, the hero and heroine are awful at communicating. They just refuse to talk to each other, sometimes for days or weeks at a time. ‘I’m just doing what the other person wants’, they each think, which isn’t wrong… but isn’t right, either. It’s amazing what lengths they each self-sacrificed without being sure it was a fruitful thing to do.
  • Because they don’t talk we don’t get to watch the couple’s love grow very much.
  • The heroine gets kidnapped. Several times. And the way people cover for her first kidnapping makes no sense to me. Why would the family say ‘she’s taken ill’ instead of screaming, ‘she’s been kidnapped!’ and running to the police? I mean, what were they doing the whole time she was gone, just hoping she would turn up safe and sound? My brain does not compute.
  • While I can’t pin it on any one thing in particular, I never quite connected with the time period.

A somewhat enjoyable enh, and it did read fast, but an enh all the same.

The Angel by Tiffany Reisz (Original Sinners #2)

Synopsis:

13548075Infamous erotica author and accomplished dominatrix Nora Sutherlin is doing something utterly out of character: hiding. While her longtime lover, Søren—whose fetishes, if exposed, would be his ruin—is under scrutiny pending a major promotion, Nora’s lying low and away from temptation in the lap of luxury.

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

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

Review:

Very good, but not as amazing as the first.

Continue reading “The Angel by Tiffany Reisz (Original Sinners #2)”

I Love the Earl by Caroline Linden (The Truth About the Duke #0.5)

12025403Margaret de Lacey has accepted her unmarried state with dignity, if not delight. She had no suitors when she was young and starry-eyed, though regrettably poor, and it’s unlikely any man will court her now that she’s older, wiser, and still just as penniless. Until, that is, her brother unexpectedly inherits the dukedom of Durham and settles an enormous dowry on her, making her the most eligible heiress in town.

No gentleman in London is more in need of a wealthy bride than Rhys Corwen, Earl of Dowling. He contrives an introduction to Margaret because of her dowry, but she swiftly sets him right: no fortune hunter will win her heart or her hand. Far from put off, Rhys is intrigued. Interested. Entranced. And soon the only thing he needs more than Margaret’s fortune…is her love.

Review:

I’m not a huge novella person.  They often feel rushed, and if they’re any good I want more pages, darn it.

I Love the Earl somehow hits a sweet spot.  It’s the perfect length for the story it covers, and I didn’t find myself wishing for a subplot.  Would I enjoy it expanded out to a full-length novel?  You bet.  But it’s not necessary.

Let’s call that the first thing good.  Here’s the rest:

  • There’s no Big Misunderstanding, and all the characters respect each other.  The plot doesn’t hinge on someone being stupid or doing something rash.  It’s refreshing.
  • The hero and heroine have a couple of conversations that boil down to, “Hey, this is what it would mean to be married to me.  Are you okay with that?”  Positive relationship modeling, yea!
  • It’s a comfort read.  I read a good chunk while enjoying a lazy morning in bed – heaven.

The not-so-good:

  •  Being so short the character development is a little lacking, but it’s still a nice setup for the series.

I’m finding Linden to be a go-to author when I need a warm literary hug… with the way the world has been going lately I may be running back into her arms soon.  ~sweatdrop~

Breathless by Beverly Jenkins (Old West #2)

30166205As manager of one of the finest hotels in Arizona Territory, Portia Carmichael has respect and stability—qualities sorely missing from her harsh childhood. She refuses to jeopardize that by hitching herself to the wrong man. Suitors are plentiful, but none of them has ever looked quite as tempting as the family friend who just rode into town…and none has looked at her with such intensity and heat.

Duchess. That’s the nickname Kent Randolph gave Portia when she was a young girl. Now she’s a stunning, intelligent woman—and Kent has learned his share of hard lessons. After drifting through the West, he’s learned the value of a place to settle down, and in Portia’s arms he’s found that and more. But convincing her to trust him with her heart, not just her passion, will be the greatest challenge he’s known—and one he intends to win…

Review:

After reading five of her books I’m realizing that Beverly Jenkins is a hit or meh author for me.  I don’t think I’ve rated anything below three stars but some leave me disappointed.  Sadly, this is one of them.  But first,

The good:

  • Historical romance with protagonists of color (here African American) is always always a good thing.  Love.
  • Portia doesn’t need a man.  In fact, due to her rough childhood, she thinks she’d be better without.  Ken respects her past and proves that he’s the right person for her.
  • Jenkins is well known for her history chops and she’s true to form here.  And how many books set in the Arizona territory can you name?  It’s interesting stuff.

The not-so-good:

  • Like in Night Hawk there isn’t a big bad or an overarching plot.  Events happen but don’t feel exciting as they should – this book has a body count, for goodness sake!  There should be some kind of tension.  But…
  • Problems are wrapped up quickly so incidents feel self-contained.  Okay, that’s over, next.  Wow, that was a problem for five pages, but it’s fixed now.  Next.  There’s not much of a middle or building anything to the narrative.
  • The characters aren’t nuanced and many are typecast.  Oh hey, the guy that sounds and dresses like an arse?  Turns out he’s an arse!  And the perfect lady that keeps things running like clockwork?  Well she knows exactly what she’s doing and her only imperfection is being so perfect. ~sigh~
  • Checkered pasts are put forth as faults and character development but they’re not, not really.  ‘He had sex with a married woman!’ Yes, but we learn that her husband was cheating on her and she was actually better off after the affair.  ‘He’s had sex with lots of women, gasp!’  And now he has mad skillz to pleasure the heroine, my dear.  ‘She is way too forward!’  So she may get exactly what she wants, what a shock.
  • I feel like Jenkins doesn’t trust the reader to remember what happened a few chapters before so she retells it laboriously.

    Kent told him what he thought to be Parnell’s motive. “When Rhine introduced me as the new foreman, Parnell said Mr. Blanchard had promised him the job.  Rhine told him his mind was made up, so Parnell spit tobacco juice at Rhine’s boots.  I had to teach some manners, then made him pack up and leave.”

    All that hearsay for an event I remember as clear as day.  It makes for tedious reading.

  • Similarly,

    He kissed Eddy on her forehead, which Portia found endearing, and they left.

    I find it endearing too, even if it’s not pointed out to me. Gah.

  • Finally, I never really believed in the romance.  Kent is nice, Portia is nice, and they have a couple of nice times together.  Lust is there, for sure, but love?  I don’t buy it.

That’s a lot of griping, I know, but Breathless is still a decent read. I like the heroine for the next book of the series so I’ll be looking forward to that despite ~waves hand around~ this.