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Warning, this review is littered with lots of spoilers.

I have what some might describe as an irrational hatred towards J.W. McKenna’s book, Darkest Hour, and have had for a few years now.

This book is part of the reason why I started blogging in the first place. I hated it so much, I needed an outlet to rant about it, and in those days, criticism of an author’s book on a group list (especially within the e-pub lists) were tantamount to flaming.

Anyway, I realised when I was doing my Pet Peeves list the other day, that I’ve never actually sat down and tried to review this book. Well today, I’m going to attempt to correct that particular imbalance.

Here’s the official blurb for the book from Amazon:

Ellie Martinson awakes to a nightmare of terror: She is naked, chained to the floor in a dungeon, subjected to continuous torment by her silent captor. As the days and weeks pass by, it becomes clear to Ellie that she is being trained to be a sex slave! She tries to resist, but finds herself being drawn into the lifestyle.

When she is finally sold to a new master, she is conditioned to obey and allows herself to be used and degraded without question. But hope appears in the form of her new master’s son, an ex-Marine who is visiting his father. She begins to reawaken her old self and finds he’s responding to her as well. But he’s reluctant to defy his father. Can love flower under such impossible circumstances?

So basically, the book starts with our heroine, Ellie,  telling her current boyfriend that she wants out of their relationship, because he’s too laid back, and boring. The boyfriend, Frank, is obviously not happy, and lashes back at her, telling her that the relationship hasn’t been a picnic for him either, due to her dominating nature, and her ball-busting ways.

God, I wish I’d stopped reading at this point, because the clues that this book was going to push all my mega hot buttons, (and not in a good way) were there.

Check out the many references to Ellie’s ball-busting tendencies:

Outwardly, he was dismayed at the turn of events, but inside, he had to admit he was a little relieved. He knew that if they had gotten married, she’d have had his balls in a jar on on a shelf—even more so than she did now, he thought ruefully.

“Hard-charging” was the polite word for Ellie. He could think of another one.

Truth be told, he liked Ellie—and the sex was great. As long as he let her have her way, they were good together. That’s probably why they had stayed together for so long. She could be a tough broad, though.

She dreaded the upcoming conversation with her mother. Letting a doctor slip through her fingers like that! She could hear her mother’s voice now: “Men don’t like all those hard edges, Ellie—how many times have I told you that! You need to be softer, more feminine, to win the heart of a man.”

Yep, she was a ball-buster alright, even her mother thought so.

Basically, Ellie was looking for a strong man, because apparently she was a strong woman. I say apparently, because there seemed to be no clear evidence of that strength at the beginning of the book.  I certainly didn’t buy the charge, that she was a testosterone-laden, hard-ass.  Unless you count letting a client feel her up, in exchange for him signing a lucrative contract:

It was a small account—her commission would be less than three thousand. But there could be tens of thousands later. Hang in there, Ellie!
When he’d dropped his hand to her breast, she’d wanted to punch him. Instead, she’d grabbed his hand and held it to her and said: “If you sign, I’ll let you feel it.”…

Using a man’s sexual nature against him was a technique Ellie wasn’t ashamed to use to win the sale.
Ellie had sat and let Harp reach out and stroke her left breast. She hadn’t stopped him when he unbuttoned the top two buttons of her blouse and slipped his hand inside.
When he had felt her up to his satisfaction, Harp had signed.

Incidentally, she also gave him a blow job, when it looked as if the deal was in jeopardy. Yeah, a real ball-buster, that one.

Ellie’s ideal man was her very-married boss, who was a take-no-prisoners type. He was strong and controlling, and didn’t take shit from anybody. Evidenced by the way he spoke to Ellie:

“You blow this Ellie, and I’ll have your tits in a wringer,”

Yep, a man after my own heart.

Anyway, one night a stranger walks into Ellie’s apartment whilst she’s sleeping, drugs her, and kidnaps her.

The man takes her away in order to begin her training as a sex slave.

When Ellie wakes up, she finds herself bound, and naked in a dungeon. She has no idea how long she’s been out for, but she’s afraid, and she has no idea what is happening.  Eventually, a mysterious woman appears, with water for her.  Ellie realises that her nightmare has just begun, when she is made to beg for water and food.

During her first few days in the dungeon, Ellie  had to use a bucket to pee and crap in.  She was kept in the dark, damp dungeon, and basically treated like an animal.  And they say romance is dead?

The bucket was slowly filling with her wastes—since she had been given solid food, she couldn’t help but have to squat over the bucket to expel her bowels. The odor was overpowering. She was used to it by now, but she imagined it wasn’t pleasant for her keepers to come in and smell it while feeding her.

She was also made to shave her hair off. Both sets.  All in the name of submission.

Basically, Ellie’s captors were breaking her down, and what better way to do that, than by by ridding her of her humanity?

If she defied her captors in anyway, she was severely punished for her insurbordination, as this next scene demonstrates: (This excerpt is from a scene where Ellie had just refused to take her captor’s cock in her mouth)

This is it, she thought. This is where he rapes me. Instead, it was worse. She heard a whistling sound, and a bolt of tremendous pain seared her tender ass. She screamed through her open mouth, still held wide by the device. He gave her a few seconds to appreciate the pain, then he struck again. She screamed, afraid that she would die here under the whip in the next few minutes. When he struck her the third time, she passed out.

She awoke a few minutes later, but nothing had changed. As soon as her eyes opened, he struck her again, forcing another guttural cry from her abused body. She passed out again. When she returned to consciousness, he hit her again. Apparently, he was waiting until she was awake for every blow.

She knew she couldn’t take much more of this. She begged and cried through the device, which wasn’t allowing her to form coherent words.
Time after time he struck her. She lost count, but she had to guess it was eight or ten.

This scene made me so mad, that had this been an actual book, I’d have thrown it against the wall. As it was, my laptop only just survived.

Ellie was degraded on a daily basis, and if she showed any defiance, she was whipped and left without food. There was one scene where she had to give her master his daily blowjob, but he shoved his dick so far down her throat when he came, that she threw up on him. She was punished for this.

Ellie’s training was being assisted by a sex slave, called Angie (the mysterious woman) who herself had been captured by Master many moons ago. Ellie also had to give Angie oral pleasure, before she was allowed any basic privileges, like eating, and showering.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, Ellie had been captured, in order to be sold as a sex slave to the highest bidder. Her and the other women had been chosen because they were considered too independent, and too masculine in their approach to life. In the book, we were also introduced to Anna, who was the vice president of a bank, and Christine, who’s history, I can’t quite recall at the moment.

As Ellie progressed, she was introduced to new training methods. As she became more submissive, and obedient, her and the other women were rewarded in several ways, one of which included  being allowed outside in the sun, with stern warnings from Master (Ellie’s captor) that if they tried to escape, he would shoot them.

Eventually, the day came when the women’s training was completed, and they were put on display for Master’s potential buyers to sample. These scenes were truly a thing of beauty:

When a man came in to try them out, they would suck him more expertly, come more forcefully. They made sure they treated him like their own Master. If a Mistress came in, the girls would make love to each other or to her more energetically. Ellie and Christine were like orphans vying for a foster family. Please, pick me! Pick me!…

The three women stood there while bidders poked and stroked them. They were highly aroused now; they couldn’t help it. Being touched while their hands were tied behind them only made them more susceptible to an orgasm, but none of them were allowed to come. The helplessness of their situation only added to their sexual frustration…

Ellie was embarrassed to feel the fluid oozing from her slit. One dark-haired woman, in particular, found this highly amusing, and kept rubbing her finger along the edge then holding it up for Ellie to lick. “That’s a good girl, lick it for Mama,” she’d say as if talking to her dog. Ellie hoped she wouldn’t be sold to her.

Many of you will wonder why I just didn’t stop reading at this point? Well, it was because I wanted to know how the author was going to turn it around enough for Ellie to meet her hero, and fall in love with him, after everything she’d been through.

Ellie had gotten accustomed to her new life, but I thought this next bit of internal dialogue was more than stretching the boundaries of how far one could suspend disbelief:

The Old Ellie, the one who had stood up to her ex-fiancée, was gone, replaced by a truly submissive woman. Ellie hadn’t being forced into slavery as much as she had been led into it, gently sometimes and more forcefully other times, until this seemed to be the only life she had ever known.

It was comforting in many ways. She would be protected. She didn’t have to make the hard decisions that came with the life outside. All she had to do was learn her new master’s wants and needs and fill them.

It was at this point that I realised that this book must have been written by a man. Seriously. ‘Gently led’ into sex slavery?  The woman had been kidnapped, whipped, degraded, forced to shave her head, forced to perform orally on men and women, raped, starved, and basically treated like an animal during her time with Master, and the other victims, and the author expects me, the reader,  to believe that Ellie had been conditioned enough to be grateful for the pain and suffering she’d experienced?

Anyway, I’m getting too angry to write a coherent review, so I’m going to try to wrap this up quickly.

Ellie is bought at the auction by one of the men she was already familiar with, Master Paul. She’d already given him several blowjobs, and he’d played with various parts of her body. He takes her away from Master, and this is where Ellie finally meets her hero, Steve, Master Paul’s son. So on page 194, of a 302 page e-book, the heroine and hero, finally meet. Stellar.

Steve shows how attracted he is to Ellie, by tying her up, spanking her arse, and taking her by force, which incidentally, Ellie enjoys.  Yeah, whatever.

She’s also forced to go down on a jealous female guest during a formal dinner party.

It would be an understatement to say Ellie wasn’t thrilled by the turn of events. The woman she was supposed to pleasure didn’t shave. Her pussy had an odd odor. Ellie closed her eyes and concentrated on her duties.

It took an energetic ten minutes to bring the woman off. Ellie’s tongue was sore; stray hairs tainted her mouth. No sooner was she finished then another man stepped up, unzipped his pants and ordered her to suck him. For a few seconds, she resisted, her mind trying to understand why Master Paul would want to share her like this.

After this scene, Master Paul becomes angry with Ellie, so he takes her into the stables, straps her up, and severely whips her. He also leaves her naked in the stables overnight. At this point Ellie realises, that she’s gone from the frying pan, into the fire.

Anyway, Ellie and Steve eventually become close, and they have to work out a way to be together.

That’s the sum total of the romance between Ellie and Steve. And the ending was very unsatisfactory. Very unsatisfactory indeed.

As I was going through Darkest Hour, I wondered if the years would have softened my reaction to the book. Not a one. It still annoyed the ever-loving shit out of me. In my opinion, it’s pure drivel that should never have been published, and the years since I first read it, haven’t convinced me otherwise.

I know that there are plenty of BDSM books out there, which don’t exactly promote feminism, and push all my hot buttons, but surely it’s not a good thing, when a work of fiction leaves you with the feeling that the author hates women?

For me, Darkest Hour was a perfect example of why I will always prefer my romances to be written by women, because no matter how bad a female-authored romance might be, at least I’ve never come away with the impression that the author considered women to be worthless objects, whose only functions in life were fucking, sucking, and being beaten half to death.

This book was unadulterated filth, and it should have stayed locked in the author’s personal drawers at home. It was gratuitous beyond measure, and I have no idea what the bods at EC were thinking when they accepted it for publication.

I understand that many women’s fantasies may include being spanked, and dominated, but this book took all of that to another, quite unacceptable level.

I know that just because an author writes about his/her characters murdering people in their sleep, doesn’t mean that he or she is a psychotic killer, but in this case, I did wonder whether McKenna was into some of the disturbing ‘kinky’ acts, he’d described in the book. Seriously.

Had this book been labelled as gothic horror, then I don’t think I would have had grounds for complaint, (I wouldn’t have purchased it in the first place) but the fact that it was initially labelled as erotic romance, is what pissed me off the most. There was nothing remotely romantic about this book.

I hated it when I first read it three years ago, and that hasn’t changed, one iota. I still think it’s the worst book I’ve read in ten years.

I totally blame this book for my prejudice against all things BDSM. I’d rather read all of Carol Lynne’s badly edited, technically inept books, than another one by J.W. McKenna.

I’m off for a bath now. I feel like there’s coat of slime around my body, and I desperately need to scrub it off.

For the curious amongst you, (you know who you are) you can buy Darkest Hour From Amazon.com here, and Amazon UK, here.

36 Comments »

  • There are brilliant BDSM romances out there that describe a CONSENSUAL and truly romantic relationship between two people (Joey Hill). There are BDSM books out there (not romances) that show CONSENSUAL and imaginary training relationships sort of like what you describe here, except for the CONSENSUAL part (Laura Antoniou). This is just filth and reflects badly on BDSM fiction as well as on romance fiction. Yuck.

    ReplyReply

  • Sarah Frantz said it better than I ever could.

    Consent, people. That’s it.

    ReplyReply

  • There are scenes with her releaving her bowels in a bucket!??! OH no thank you!
    This sounds like a sick book.

    ReplyReply


  • Emmy
    July 10
    6:22 pm

    I haven’t read this book, and I really don’t know how you did. The scenes shown here had me screeching, “Are you fucking kidding me???!”

    I can’t read non-con…in any context, but certainly not one presented as acceptable behavior. It’s just not my bag.

    I fail to see how this was marketed as romance. Being choked by a dick and forced to eat a stinky pussy doesn’t seem terribly romantic to me.

    What’s portrayed here is absolutely not BDSM, whose main tenet is SSC….Safe, Sane, Consensual.

    ReplyReply

  • I like BDSM, but I’m not real impressed with this author’s stuff. Too ugly in most cases (for my tastes), and the romantic relationships fail to convince.

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  • Laura
    July 10
    7:37 pm

    I’ll echo what’s been said-this isn’t BDSM. I haven’t-and certainly won’t-be reading any of this author’s books, but this sounds like it’s directed more towards men with a genuine hatred of women than it is towards women looking for any type of romantic erotica.

    Once I bought a “big box of romances” at a garage sale for $1; buried in it was a book with a plot similar to this one. I put it in a bag with the used cat litter and sent it to the landfill.)

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  • Laura, I should have thought of the landfill idea before using a certain book as liner for a bird cage. Poor canary used it once and started speaking in tongues…we called in an exorcist..poor man got attacked by the flies on the wall..the walls began to bleed..popcorn popped by itself..the canary’s head spun completely around on its neck….some “little person” showed up with a Native American..and the Girl Scouts overcharged for my mint cookie order. It took a brigade of Buddhists monks and playing a Weird Al album backward to get the whole house back to normal.

    Suffice to say I’ll never buy another Margaret Daley book.
    😉

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  • I did a review at DA a while ago about at BDSM book. Since I’d never read one before, after I was finished I did some internet research and every site I went to stated the absolute need for consent for these relationships to work. It sounds like this heroine was given about as much opportunity to consent as someone who is pushed off a cliff agreeing to fall.

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  • Alice
    July 10
    10:17 pm

    Somehow, I feel sick just reading this review. This is sick. Just sick. Along the lines of BDSM, it’s actually the submissive individual with the power because once the agreed safeword (thus needs to be completely consensual) is said, everything stops.
    This isn’t even a story. This is a piece of worthless **** acid. The fact someone even thought to write this (and boy am I disappointed in EC for publishing it) makes me feel creeped out existing in the same world. Ugh.

    ReplyReply


  • Anne
    July 10
    10:18 pm

    Why do you torture yourself like this, Karen?

    ReplyReply

  • I don’t see it as BDSM. It’s slave fantasy–I’ve come across a few of them and even had to read one right through because it was a review book. Although I dropped out of that review site right afterwards.

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  • Dorothy Mantooth
    July 10
    11:55 pm

    Jeebus… I think that’s one of the most reprehensible things I’ve ever seen. Horrible, and bad writing in addition.

    I suppose there’s an audience for this stuff–it’s got a couple of great reviews on Amazon–but man, I sure ain’t it.

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  • eggs
    July 11
    2:54 am

    Even when I like the “free preview” of an erotic ebook, I’m usually too chicken to actually buy one in case it turns out to be something like this. I only buy ebooks that are recommended by honest reviewers like Karen that I know I can trust. Karen steps on the land mines for me so I don’t have to take the risk! Because of honest negative reviews like this, I know I can also trust a positive review on this site and can go ahead and buy that book without any nasty surprises.

    Ebook authors might complain about the effect of negative reviews on sales of individual books, but they don’t take into account the fact that none of them would get any sales from new readers like me without the confidence honest reviews provide.

    I also have to wonder how many people read this review and thought, “Hot damn! That’s the book for me!”

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  • Included in the print book will be “The Mom Experiment,” an incest tale, and two other short stories.

    This was taken from his/her website. “An incest tale”? After reading your review why doesn’t that surprise me? Everyone has their kink, no matter how big or small and who am I to judge them for what makes their bloat float?

    But seriously. If Karen’s review was read as a news story what would the world at larges’ reaction be? Shock, disgust, horror? It would definitely be mine.

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  • EC
    July 11
    7:14 am

    Just . . . Yuck!

    ReplyReply


  • bam
    July 11
    12:57 pm

    tits in a wringer

    see, no way a woman would have written something like that. Ugh. I feel like taking a scalding hot shower with Lava soap and steel wool.

    ReplyReply

  • I’ve been stewing over this since yesterday.

    Whatever the gender/sex of the writer, s/he is a misogynist. Based on what Karen quoted, and what I saw on this person’s website, there is an underlying assumption that all women are a) sluts, b) submissive personalities masquerading as ball-busting bitches, c) craving physical, sexual and mental abuse.

    And the most galling thing? The website touts this shit as “intelligent erotica and romance.”

    In the immortal words of SB Candy, “Bitch, please!”

    ReplyReply

  • Actually, such slave fantasies are common in erotica. I don’t believe you can judge that book by typical romance standards because it’s not a romance story, just a erotic fantasy catering to a specific set of readers.

    If you think this is “bad”, wait until you read “snuff/cannibal romance” – where the hero usually ends up cooking and eating the other hero/heroine – sometimes raw – in what is supposed to be the ultimate gesture of love. I couldn’t sleep easy for two nights after reading my first and only one. I know that there is a movie supposedly based on a real life incident where a man volunteered to be eaten by a cannibal in a “loving” relationship, so there are some folks out there who actually get off on this kind of fantasies, but nope, it’s not really my thing, thank you very much.

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  • J.W. McKenna is a man. If you look at his website you can see he writes erotica, not erotic romance. IMO, it is the publisher’s responsibility to ensure the books are cataloged properly and in this case EC slipped up.

    ReplyReply


  • Danke Smith
    July 11
    7:27 pm

    This book sounds SO vile. I’m only commenting because I read this blog entry yesterday and then had nightmares all night about it. Every time I fell asleep again some horrible version of it would creep in. I’m exhausted and want to pretend that JW Mckenna and his vile, vile writing don’t exist.

    ReplyReply

  • “Slave fantasies”. . . and brutal ones, at that. Holy jamoly. Makes a person despair of the future of the human race!

    ReplyReply


  • bam
    July 12
    9:22 am

    If you think this is “bad”, wait until you read “snuff/cannibal romance” – where the hero usually ends up cooking and eating the other hero/heroine – sometimes raw – in what is supposed to be the ultimate gesture of love.

    In one of my classes, a girl wrote this surprisingly erotic and beautiful macabre tale about a girl who makes the “ultimate sacrifice” to her boyfriend (they were trapped on a desert isle) and somehow, it… just worked. It was brilliant. It was a great metaphor for the stupid shit people do for love.

    Man… that girl’s a way better writer than me ’cause there was no way I would have been able to make that shit work.

    That said: EWWWWW!!

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  • bam
    July 12
    9:26 am

    @bam:

    of course she also wrote this one story about a girl who kept her legs crossed and raised for hours after she had sex just so she can keep the “seed” in.

    Man… she was like the bastard child of Margaret Atwood and Clive Barker.

    anyway. erm. carry on.

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  • Donna
    July 13
    10:37 am

    Man… she was like the bastard child of Margaret Atwood and Clive Barker.

    This made me LOL.

    Also, seconding your comment about the Lava soap and steel wool. >: ( I guess I’m just not hardcore enough for this stuff, or something. Bleeeeeh.

    ReplyReply


  • Miss Kitty
    July 13
    1:34 pm

    Yes, ok, alright…you´re so right.

    I agree with about everything said.
    BUT: there is a market out there for this kind of thing. A MALE market. Magazines like fansadox (hardcore nonconsensual slave stories (comics)) are bought and have their place in the world.
    Though not my world.
    That forced slave who just has to discover she´s a closet submissive is a male fantasy. *shrugs*
    Let them have it, as long as it stays a fantasy.
    >>>>>>If you think this is “bad”, wait until you read “snuff/cannibal romance” – where the hero usually ends up cooking and eating the other hero/heroine – sometimes raw – in what is supposed to be the ultimate gesture of love.<<<<<

    Happened here in Germany, The cannibal of Rothenburg is NOT a story.

    Bad judgement with this book? Totally on EC´s side. This is just no book for women.

    Btw, Karen if you want to read real good BDSM to overcome that aversion: Joey W. Hill. I adore that woman and the books she writes. Holding the Cards and Natural Law both are, though not really “BDSM light”, a good start.

    😉

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  • SusanL
    July 14
    1:18 am

    I think I read this book when I first discovered EC and HATED it.

    If it is the same book, there is an internet pay-per-view where Ellie is supposed to willingly “perform” with guests who, of course, are disguised. However, she is being kept on a “leash” out of view of the paying audience via chains linked to rings on her pierced nipples and clit. If she balks, her chains are yanked.

    This book was horrible and I don’t know why I kept reading. I do know I deleted it.

    ReplyReply

  • That’s the same book SusanL. I think I was maddest at the fact that Steve’s father and ‘Master’ never got their come-uppance for their crimes.

    AL, if this is ‘intelligent erotica’, then I’m a one-eyed fish.

    ReplyReply

  • Wow… that made me angry just reading that and I’m FLOORED that that was even published. That’s disgusting and I have to wnoder about the sanity that writes something like that (rape, non-consensual sex, etc).

    ReplyReply

  • Karen,

    I couldn’t even finish reading the review. It saddened me to read about someone being degraded in the name of titillation. The story certainly is not romance by any means. However, I think even for erotica, the story goes too far, especially the scenes of physical abuse. It’s no wonder the book set you off.

    ReplyReply

  • The thing that sets me off is that the author considers this disgusting, degrading piece of shit ‘intelligent erotic romance.’ It says so right in the website.

    I agree completely that EC should have thought twice–or sixty times–before publishing it, no question there. But someone should really set this asshat straight on what is romance and what is the unbridled sexual fantasy of an adolescent boy.

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  • Sandy
    September 23
    11:27 pm

    I haven’t read this, but just finished “Corruption of an Innocent Girl” by J.W. McKenna. It too was just awful; women being humiliated and degraded, and the “keeping a woman in a cell and making her use a bucket for a toilet” was in this book as well. It’s says a lot that “Corruption” was self-published; no respected publishing company would want any part of it. And like the previous poster, I read the “intelligent erotic romance” blurb on the author web-site and thought WHAT? WHERE? Not in this book, that’s for darn sure!

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  • assuit
    October 2
    9:36 pm

    Thank you for your review. It was posted on the Phade for me after I posted my review there. The WORST so called romance book I’ve read in years. I HATED it.

    Violence against women. Slavery, beating and torture, mental and physical and a crap awful HEA.

    ReplyReply


  • tmc
    October 30
    7:04 am

    There are some forced submission stories that totally work for me, but this is way beyond anything I find appealing.

    I’ve read a few things like this — as you said, hoping things will somehow be redeemed by the end. I didn’t enjoy them, but they were always clearly labeled as hardcore bondage porn. Calling it erotic romance is just appalling.

    Thanks fot the heads up on an author to avoid.

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  • Electrolemming
    March 7
    9:57 pm

    Thank you for sharing your perspective. I enjoy the occasional BDSM (e.g. Santa’s Elf by Qwillia Rain), non-con (e.g. On Cherry Hill by Selena Kitt) or slave fantasy (e.g. Enslaved by Sydney Somers), but I can tell from your extensive review that I wouldn’t have enjoyed Darkest Hour. You’ve performed a public service here.

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  • KS
    May 28
    9:10 pm

    Oh! I wish I read your review before I read the book. I would have saved so much time. I found the book simply disgusting. I have read quite a few BDSM books and enjoyed them. Can’t say the same for this.

    ReplyReply

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