HomeReviewsInterviewsStoreABlogsOn Writing
Willaful Review: The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers

storySensuality Rating: Steamy

Rivers is a debut author, one I first encountered through her incredible blog posts at Wonkomance. I find that choosing authors based on their online writing rarely steers me wrong, and it sure didn’t this time.

At an emotional low ebb in her usually pleasant life, librarian Carrie comes across an intriguing personal ad: one Wednesday lunchtime meeting a week for kissing only, no dating, no hookups. Carrie is as struck with the man’s photo as his ad — handsome, dimpled, yet curiously self-protective — and starts to weave a fantasy around him:

“Of course, maybe it isn’t just Wednesdays. I have the sudden fanciful notion that maybe on Mondays he meets a stranger to just chat. Tuesdays, he meets another for hand-holding, then Wednesday he meets one for kissing, and so on, until Saturday. Saturdays he meets a woman for fucking only, completing the entire mating dance with six different women, with an excruciatingly prolonged bout of foreplay. Sundays, of course, are his day of rest.”

(This is completely wrong, of course, yet there’s a small element of truth to it. The writer of the ad, Carrie will discover, has had to compartmentalize his life very strictly.)

Carrie answers the ad, and her first kissing date with Brian confirms her strong attraction to him. (And I have to say, he worked just fine for me, as well):

“‘You have a librarian fetish?’ I don’t mind. Not at all.

‘Who doesn’t?’ He laughs again, and for the first time, there’s a little blush, right under where his eyeglasses kiss his cheekbones.”


But Carrie is startled to discover just how firm Brian is about holding onto his rules, despite how well they hit it off. Her friend Justin suggests that he sounds like “a story guy” — “a good guy with a bad story doing something stupid.” He doesn’t see that as a negative thing though: “Story guys are like life highlighters. Your life is all these big blocks of gray text, and then a story guy comes in with a big ol’ paragraph of neon pink so that when you flip back through your life, you can stop and remember all the important and interesting places.”

Brian is a good guy and he does have a bad story. But what he’s doing is wrenching and painful and beautiful. Or as Justin puts it, “When I said you should go for Story Boy I didn’t realize he was a Russian novel.”

I was happy that Carrie puts a lot of thought into this complex, messed up relationship. She decides at the beginning that because her life is so good, it’s a risk she can afford to take: “If I’m broken, the break will be clean and easily mended. If he breaks, I’m not sure if there will be enough pieces to approximate. I can afford to go along with what he thinks will protect him.” But it’s harder than she expected. After a kissing date, her small apartment seems lonely instead of cozy. “No real food, no wine. No cats. No plants. No good music, no housekeeping. It’s like the saddest version of Goodnight Moon ever.” And no matter how hard she tries to stick to the rules, she keeps asking for more.

And when Carries realize how truly difficult maintaining a relationship with Brian will be, she ponders again, and once more gets advice from Justin: “Carrie, would you like to know this part of yourself? … The part that opens herself up to a man based on nothing but a little intuition… Because you don’t have to. Your life is a nice one — there are no guarantees, but it’s on the right path to stay a nice one. Brian is not on this path.” A nice path indeed, Carrie realizes, a path that “will never lead to a man whose hands shake when he holds my face for a kiss that feels like falling.”

The plot of The Story Guy allows — demands — a slow physical build-up with delicious anticipation, making it an incredibly sexy read. The love scenes are fresh and exciting and intensely emotional.

This was an intensely emotional read all around, for me. It probably won’t make every reader burst into tears, but it has a lot to offer anyone. 5 stars. It is only available digitally; you can pre-order it here.

Published by Loveswept. Review copy provided by NetGalley.

Willaful Review: Untamed by Anna Cowan

untamedSensuality Rating: Gorgeously Steamy

The intricate plotting and exquisite writing of this debut evokes comparisons to Julia Ross, one of my favorite authors of historical romance. Cowan doesn’t fit everything together as seamlessly as Ross’s best work, but she certainly creates a rich, vivid story.

Kit Sutherland is desperate to end The Duke of Darlington’s affair with her married sister Lydia, but the price he asks is a strange one: he’ll accompany her to her country home… and he’ll do so in the guise of a woman. “Lady Rose” is as beguiling as the Duke himself, and soon has the entire family eating out of her hand; Kit is the only one who knows him as a man — and also the only one who sees the fears and traumas that haunt him. Raised to be so far above anyone else he is literally untouchable, the irresistibly charming Jude is deeply troubled and lonely.

“He couldn’t think of a single person he could call to his side. A single person he didn’t lie to, or use, or mislead. A single person who would look at him and really see him.”

I had trouble getting into this at first, because it’s the sort of book I find intimidating – one in which there are many complicated plots and undercurrents, and everyone seems to understands them except me. But I kept at it, and as I got increasingly interested in the characters, the threads started to come together.  Jude is one of those fascinating, charismatic game players that are so intriguing to read about — “the man who is always five steps ahead” Kit calls him — and he more than meets his match in the fiercely intelligent, fiercely determined, just plain fierce Kit, who is as strong as he is vulnerable. Jude’s cross-dressing is more than a disguise; the story deliberately plays with traditional romance gender roles in scenes like this: “She had never imagined it would feel like this with a man — this meeting of two bodies, each holding and being held. They were the same height, equally strong. Her eyes drank in the sight of her rough skin against his flawless white.” Without spoilers, I love where Cowan eventually takes this play, which becomes as much about Kit as it is about Jude.

This might be a five star read, but the ethics of Jude and Kit’s behavior troubled me somewhat, and I found the plotting still a little uneven. Four stars for the memorable characters, passion, and originality. It is currently only available as an ebook; you can buy it here.

(Published by Penguin. Review copy provided by NetGalley)