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Willaful Review: Serious Play by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon

Serious Play is well named, because it’s a serious kind of book.  Not that it’s at all a downer — just a mature, intelligent story about two adults falling in love amidst some real obstacles.

Paroled after five years in prison for robbery, Luke is determined to turn his life around. His chance comes through Mary, a close friend of his parole officer; Mary offers him a job at her theme bar, “my little playground for grownups.”  Working in a place where people hang out to play silly games or pretend they’re going to the prom is a revelation for Luke, whose life never included much innocent fun — and outgoing, effervescent Mary is a revelation too:

“He loved to listen to Mary talk. And talk. And talk. He never got tired of the sound of her voice or the light, frothy bubbles of her laughter. She was champagne.

He was dark, bitter beer. An awful combination that would never, ever happen, and if it did was bound to make someone puke the next morning.”

Luke doesn’t think he has much of a chance with Mary, obviously, but she’s just as attracted to him. But even while admiring Luke’s good looks and quiet intensity, it’s hard for her to let suspicion go:

“For a second she had a flash of all she’d read and heard. They insinuate themselves into your life and once they’re there, they take over. You’ll find things missing. You’ll find yourself being used.

There were no real surprises here, but I really appreciated the plausible way the story unfolded.  Serious Play gives Luke and Mary a steady, believable buildup of friendship and attraction leading to romance.  The love scenes between them are steamy and mildly graphic, but not gratuitous, and Luke’s quiet sexiness is swoon-worthy. I was happy that the story ended with me believing that, despite their very different backgrounds and personalities, they were right for each other. I give it four out of five stars.

Serious Play is scheduled to be published on April 30th, ebook format only. Thanks to netGalley for providing me with a review copy.  It can be pre-ordered from Amazon and Barnes & Noble

A Hearing Heart, by Bonnie DeeA Hearing Heart

Just shy of two hundred pages, set in a small town in Nebraska at the turn of the twentieth century, A Hearing Heart is a very moving story. From the setting to the issues it touches on, A Hearing Heart is definitely worth reading.

Here is the blurb:

The heart conveys messages beyond what ears can hear.

After the death of her fiancé, Catherine Johnson, a New York schoolteacher in 1901, travels to Nebraska to teach a one-room school and escape her sad memories. One afternoon, violence erupts in the sleepy town. Catherine saves deaf stable hand, Jim Kinney, from torture by drunken thugs.

As she takes charge of his education, teaching him to read and sign, attraction grows between them. The warmth and humor in this silent man transcends the need for speech and his eyes tell her all she needs to know about his feelings for her. But the obstacles of class difference and the stigma of his handicap are almost insurmountable barriers to their growing attachment.

Will Catherine flout society’s rules and allow herself to love again? Can Jim make his way out of poverty as a deaf man in a hearing world? And together will they beat the corrupt robber baron who has a stranglehold on the town?


“A Gypsy’s Vow”, by Bonnie Deea-gypsys-vow

I believe it is no secret that I enjoy Ms Dee’s writing very much. This short story, published by Silver Liquid Books, is no exception. Set in England in 1902, “A Gypsy’s Vow” is a sweet little tale of romance-and lust. A little warning, then: the romance is sweet, but there is graphic sex within.

Here is the blurb: (more…)

The Countess Lends a Hand, by Bonnie Dee

I believe I mentioned before that I fell in love with Ms Dee’s writing after reading The Countess Takes a Lover. My infatuation has only grown after reading Empath a few weeks ago and the short novel The Countess Lends a Hand just now.

I confess that I don’t know how much of the historical detail in the Countess’ stories* is accurate or not—I sense that some of the language may not be, at any rate—but the story telling and the characterization in each of Ms Dee’s stories that I’ve read so far has grabbed my interest from first to last page.

From the publisher, the usual warning: This title contains a Regency hero and heroine doing the library lambada, and graphic language Jane Austen wishes her editor would have let her characters use. (more…)

Empath, by Bonnie Dee

Part of Samhain’s Gifted anthology, Empath is a novella length contemporary romance, with a touch of the paranormal. It centers on Jordan, an empath who has grown to resent his ability to the point of living as a virtual hermit in order to avoid contact with others’ feelings, and Lauren, a police detective whose trust on her ability to accurately judge people’s characters—essential to her job—has been badly shaken by experience.

This is an adult story, which uses graphic language and contains explicit sex scenes, so minors shouldn’t read further—nor should people who object to either the language or the content.

And with that out of the way, this is the blurb from the publisher’s site:

How to trust him…when she can’t even trust herself?

Jordan Langley thought he could deal with his empathic “gift”—until a traumatic event drove him into seclusion. As a hermit, he can avoid a world that tears his own emotions to shreds. But now a friend needs his help to reach an autistic boy who witnessed a murder.

Detective Lauren Sadler specializes in blocking her emotions so she can do her job. She can’t deny Jordan’s ability to reach the troubled boy, but she hadn’t counted on how his touch affects her.

In the midst of the investigation, Jordan and Lauren break their own rules, sharing a night of passion that shatters all their barriers. Jordan is intrigued by the vulnerability and self-doubt he senses underneath Lauren’s tough exterior.

But Lauren isn’t sure if she’s ready to yield to the power of the most intimate exchange she has ever known. Even if it’s the only way to catch a killer.


The Countess Takes a Lover, by Bonnie Dee.

This is a very well executed short novel/long novella erotic romance from Samhain, set in London during the Regency (1800s). Ms Dee, who was a new-to-me writer, uses a few reliable tropes of the romance genre, but her excellent execution makes them feel fresh.

And for once, the blurb is nigh perfect!

Countess Meredith du Chevalier, a widow with a reputation for being sexually adventurous, is intrigued when she is approached by a gentleman who wishes her to “make a man” of his son. Sensing a passionate man beneath Christopher Whitby’s reserved exterior, Meredith takes on the challenge, inviting the botanist to her country home to revitalize her abandoned greenhouse.

Chris finds people to be a chaotic, animalistic species, and has chosen to devote his life to the study of plants. One kiss from the vivacious countess, however, and his inner animal is aroused. But lust is only a fraction of what he feels for the vulnerable woman hiding behind a brittle façade. He resolves to coax her to grow until her petals unfurl into glorious bloom.

To her surprise, Meredith finds Chris brings much more to life than just fallow soil. But just as their love begins to thrive, he learns about the secret arrangement. Meredith must risk her heart for the most dangerous lesson of all—love.

At a little over 130 pages, The Countess takes a Lover is, again, a bit shorter that most of the books I usually like, but the pacing is so well done as to make that just a minor quibble and not very noteworthy.

While having a wealthy society widow with a tarnished reputation as a heroine is not all that common, the fact that she was unhappy—and sexually unfulfilled—during her marriage is fairly common in romance novels indeed. In this case, Meredith wasn’t merely neglected or unhappy, but suffered true emotional and sexual abuse of increasing degree at the hands of her husband until his death. Further, her veiled cries for help to her family fell on deaf ears—and cold hearts—all of which left her deeply scarred emotionally.

However, she possesses a will strong enough to allow her to rise above this, and free herself—for the most part at least—from her past. She discovers her knack for business first, and the power of her sensuality soon enough after that, and creates a life for herself in which she is not accountable to anyone else. Of course, given her background so far, she equates this contentment with happiness. (more…)

I read Bonnie Dee’s Seasons of Love yesterday, and I have to say, what an unusual and delightful selection of stories.

I really love Bonnie’s voice, and I love the way she’s able to draw me into her books, and really capture my imagination. I think that she, out of all the new-to-me authors, who I’ve read in recent times, has managed to take the idea of the stereo-typical romance hero, and totally turn it on its head.

Her heroes are deliciously flawed, heart-breakingly tortured, and are generally beta males, rather than the ever popular alpha heroes. Whilst her heroines are surprisingly strong-spirited, without being painful or stupid.

Seasons of Love is a collection of stories, which represent all four of our seasons.

The first story is called Maypole Dance – This is the spring offering, and here’s the blurb from LSB:

This story moved me actually. It was very poignant and sweet, and I suspect if anybody else had attempted to write it, it just wouldn’t have worked. I’m not really into sprites, faeries, or any other cutesy other-worldly beings, so I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed this story, and the sorrow that I felt when the hero and heroine had to be parted, especially taking into consideration that I wasn’t particularly fond of the heroine in the first instance.

The next story was called Amish Paradise, and was the summer story:

Loved this one. It was very Romeo and Juliet-esque. Raging passions galore, familial differences, clash of faiths, great internal conflict, identity crisis struggles, and a hero who picked out the Plain Jane, saw beyond her plain clothes, naked face, and un-stylish hair, and fell head over heels in love with the girl beneath the white cap. What could be more romantic?

The autumn story was called Crisp Apples:

I didn’t like this one as much as the others. It was definitely the weakest of all the stories for me, mostly because I didn’t like the premise, and the hero and heroine were a little dull. But it was still beautifully written.

The winter story was A Lily For Christmas:

I’m very partial to the Maid-Having-It-Off-With-The-Lord-Of-The-Manor-type stories, (Which would probably explain my penchant for an eighties Spanish/Mexican drama called Isara The Slave Girl) and this was no exception.

I loved the ambience and the settings of each of the stories. I really did.

Whilst reading Amish Paradise, I could literally feel the heat of the sun on my skin, the flies buzzing round my head. I could see myself sitting in a car at a drive-thru movie theatre, eating pop-corn, whilst watching a surly James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause, and listening to Elvis Presley playing on the radio. Now that’s talent.

Ok, Ok, I know I was meant to review this book effing ages ago, but better late than never right?

Anyway, here’s the blurb from the Liquid Silver website again:

My Verdict

Loved. This. Freaking. Book.

It always amazes me how some publishers seem to try to pigeonhole their authors into writing ‘safe’ books, thus keeping the risks to a minimum.

This so wasn’t the case with Bone Deep.

I mean, how many romance books can you name where the hero is a tattooed freak of nature, imprisoned by a carnival owner?

Not many I’ll wager.

Originality is the one element that propels the heavyweights of the romance genre into a different stratosphere from the rest. Why do you think J.R. Ward’s vampire series, and J.D Robb’s In Death books have been so damn successful?

What impressed me most about Bone Deep was the way that this beautiful story was told. Good dialogue, and a hellaciously intriguing cast of lead and secondary characters easily solidified this book as one of my fave reads of the year.

Bone Deep is set in the late 1940’s, just after World War II, a period in history that romance writers tend to avoid, with the exception of authors such as Lavyrle Spencer.

I know that some readers believe that if you’re going to set a romance in such a contentious period, then the plot should reflect the times, but I say fuck that, I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be reminded of the number of Jews who’d died at the hands of That Crazy Dude, every two minutes.

Bone Deep starts out fairly quietly in my opinion, but I immediately liked the author’s voice, and I was compelled to read on.

For me personally, the author’s strength, lay within her fantastic characterizations, and the ability to emotionally engage the reader. I can’t imagine that anybody who reads this book, would fail to be hugely impressed with both lead characters, especially Tom.

Tom. What an utterly amazing hero he was. It’ll probably be a while before I meet another romance hero such as he, but I can tell you that I fell completely in love with him. He was just the most complex, and richly developed character, that I’ve come across in a good while.

I know that in real life, if I ever met a man who was covered in tattoos, I’d probably run a mile, so I think it was a testament to Dee’s writing ability that I was able to put my prejudices aside, and let myself fall in love with this wonderful hero.

By rights, he should have lost all of his humanity, considering the life he had led, and the way he had been treated by carnival owner, Art Reed. But he hadn’t, not at all. He was the perfect tortured hero. And then some.

Tom’s vulnerability was one of the things that I loved the most about him, but as the book went on, I was gratified to see that the author let him grow as a character.

I loved how Dee handled his innocence, without leaving the reader feeling icky, when it came to the consumation of his relationship with Sarah. I’d found myself wondering how she was going to approach the love scenes, but I needn’t have worried. She did a great job, and even managed to raise my temperature, a degree or two. (g)

Admittedly, I do love a good alpha, but somehow Dee, managed to create this somewhat beta male, without taking away his manliness. He was thoughtful, loving and conscientious, but this reader was left in no doubt that he would have laid down his life for Sarah, if he had to. As a romance reader that’s the kind of belief that I want to have in the hero. I think this is pretty much why I love Linda Howard heroes so much, even the assholic ones.

A special hero like Tom, needed a special heroine to do him justice, and I honestly believe that Sarah was that heroine.

Her first husband, John, had been killed during the war, and what impressed me about the writer was that in no way was her grief downplayed. Very often, authors fall into the trap of trying to make The Ex seem less manly, less attractive, and generally just less in comparison. Bonnie Dee didn’t do that, and for that I was very grateful, because that’s actually always been one of my pet peeves in romance.

Sarah was just lovely. She wasn’t kick-ass, but she was strong in an understated way, much like Sarah McCarty’s Jenna, in Promises Prevail.

She was a wounded woman, who didn’t think she’d ever fall in love again, but when the opportunity and the right man came along, she grabbed them with both hands and refused to let go.

One of the most spine tingling scenes in the book, is when Sarah first catches sight of Tom, and instantly feels the first threads of attraction.
When a writer is able to physically affect the reader in such a way, you know that you’ve found a keeper.

One of the things that I loved most about Sarah, was how protective she was of Tom, it was a nice change to see the heroine rescuing the hero instead of the other way round.

There was a socially conscious undertone within Bone Deep that was quite difficult to ignore or maybe it’s because I is black? (g), and I have to say that if I had one complaint about this book, it would be that the resolution at the end was just a tad too pat.

In my personal experience, bigots rarely change their minds when it comes to their various prejudices, so it was a bit of a stretch for me to imagine that Sarah and Tom’s life became a bed of roses, just because he did one good deed. But fuck it, this is a romance book, and if I can buy the whole hip-hop loving, vampires-with-spelling-issues thing, I can swallow just about anything.

Overall, Bone Deep, was a deeply satisfying read. The dialogue was well done, the plot was well executed, the love story was extremely touching, and even the villain was believable, however what I loved most about this book, was the fantastic characterisation, and the emotional impact that this story yielded.

If you want to read an original book, look no further than Bone Deep. Seriously, it was fab.

You can purchase the book here and visit the author’s website here.

What are you waiting for? Go buy dammit!