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Willaful Review: Restraint by Charlotte Stein

Sensuality Rating: Blistering

I’m so glad I loved this, because now I don’t have to feel bad about the fact that I bought it — after the CyberMonday sales! — and then discovered I had just checked it out of the library. (I know, I know, it was only $.99 — but I have bought a serious number of books in the last few days!)

This is the second Charlotte Stein book in a row I’ve given a five star rating, but it’s very different from Deep Desires — probably the only thing they have in common is they’re both narrated in the first person by women. Our narrator here is Mallory, a sharp, funny young woman whose observations often had me laughing, as she tells the story of how her friend James ruined their vacation plans by inviting her worst enemy Artie. For some unknown reason, Artie just seems to loath her.

“He looked at you weird one time. He probably had something in his eye!”

“Yeah, I think it’s called ‘extreme contempt.'”

Things come to a head one night when Mallory and Artie wind up in a hot tub together.

It’s beautiful, and the air is crisp and just a little cold… Nothing could be lovelier. So why doesn’t he look like it’s lovely at all? All he does is stare off at some indeterminate point, as though some indeterminate point annoys him an incredible amount. I can even make out that little frown-y crinkle between his brows, because of course the trees are such a pain in the ass. The softly falling night is such an inconvenience.

When Mallory attempts to clear the air between them, Artie responds so nastily that she can’t help crying… which sends him into a frantic apology and an unexpected, very heated embrace.  And Mallory discovers that Artie has a very proper past, including a stint in Bible college, and that his unpleasantness has been hiding a painfully repressed fascination.

“Are you really going to make me say it?” he asks, and it’s like I’m being cruel. He sounds almost tortured now, and that hand in his hair is making a fist – but I still can’t help him. Even after he’s said the words, I’m at a loss. “You know. Your bosom.”

I wonder if that Bible college he went to was in 1955.

It takes some work to get Artie to let go… and both of them enjoy it thoroughly. I did too. I love large heroes and Artie is described in such a way that you know he really is large all over, not just the typical massive shoulders-trim waist-hung you get in virtually every romance.  And that cool, quiet demeanor that hides seething desires… woof!

This is a fairly short story and takes place within just a week’s time, so it’s not a full fledged romance ending with wedding bells. But the ending feels happy and right.

Restraint is available only in ebook format. You can buy it from Amazon here, Barnes and Noble here, or at All Romance here. All currently offer it for $.99.

Published by Xcite. Review copy purchased by me.

Willaful Review: Tempting the Beast by Lora Leigh

Sensuality Rating: Blistering, i.e. the one time I tried to read a Lora Leigh book in public, I almost had a stroke.

This was my choice for SuperWendy’s “TBR Challenge,” steamy reads category.  I’m kind of over the Breeds series, but I got this one because I was curious about the beginning of the saga. I should have known better: in Leigh’s most Diana Palmerish fashion (and sometimes I could swear they’re the same writer on different drugs) even the book that starts the series begins after the story has already started. We don’t get to experience any surprise or mystery in the discovery of the existence of the genetically engineered human/animal breeds, or even to see our hero and heroine meet for the first time.  At the end of chapter one, an obsessed Merinus Tyler has set out to track down lion breed Callan Lyons to get his story (and perhaps a little somethin’ somethin’…), and at the beginning of chapter two, they have “been playing an amusing little game for over a week, now. She pretended not to know him, who he was, where he could be found, and he pretended she wasn’t snooping around town asking questions about him and his deceased mother and where he lived.”

There isn’t much plot: Merinus’s family has found out about the Breeds, and Merinus hopes to convince Callan to go public and testify against the scientists and government officials who engineered them to be killing machines.  The two meet and are instantly overwhelmingly hot for one another, which turns out to be a hormonally induced “mating heat” that will only subside with pregnancy. They fight it for awhile because… well, I was going to say, because that’s what Leigh characters do, but it actually does make sense considering the tenuousness of the situation. And there’s some betrayal, and an unexpected bit of history between Merinus’s brother and another Breed, and a whole lot of sexxing. (more…)

Michelle Reviews: Wheels of Steel by Pepper Pace

Wheels of Steel 1-3 by Pepper Pace

Heat Level: Torrid

Multicultural: Black Woman, White Man

This author is one of several I discovered on Literotica, and like many of them, she’s a very talented storyteller, but she drives me batshit crazy and here’s why. She needs an editor, BADLY. Not just for typos, which are legion, but she desperately needs someone to go back and cut the living hell out of this series. At nearly 250k, it’s too damned long. There are actually three books, and you have to read all three to get the whole story. The first book is significantly better than the other two. In addition to the issues mentioned, there’s head-hopping galore, and I lost count of the POVs. In my opinion, given the age of the characters and the fact that many of their struggles are parent related, I think Pace should’ve cut out the erotic aspect and made this a YA book. Despite all these flaws and many more, I.Couldn’t.Put.It.Down. Pace has created some of the most interesting characters I’ve read in a long time.

I bought this book because someone (Ridley?) mentioned on another blog that they’d never read a romance featuring a handicapped person that didn’t read like an After School Special. Even worse, most of them have a miraculous cure at the end. I realized that I hadn’t either, and given the number of years I’ve been reading the genre, that’s a shame. In this story, the hero does get better, but it’s at great risk to his health, and it’s certainly no miracle cure. I also like books that feature music, and in this one I learned probably far too much about making hip hop mixes.

This story details the rather convoluted romance between Jason, a 19-year- old college student/DJ who has cerebral palsy. Robin who is 21 starts out as his aide and eventually becomes his girlfriend. Jason has seizures and sometimes chokes when he eats. In addition he occasionally needs assistance with toileting. Despite this, he is an absolutely awesome hero. Jason is loving and protective, and very frustrated with the limits his disorder places on his body. You can all but feel his passion, both for Robin, and for music, leaping off the page. He’s strong and resourceful and uses his ingenuity to protect Robin. Believe it or not, Robin, the heroine is far more messed up in the head than Jason is, though neither would win any medals in that regard. They both have overbearing mothers, and Robin is struggling with some residual grief/guilt from the death of her father. She is almost pathologically shy, suffers from anxiety and recurrent episodes of IBS. Yes, both the cerebral palsy and her gastrointestinal difficulties are discussed in fairly graphic detail.

Robin’s father recently died, and she’s decided not to go to college because she struggles with her shyness and seems to have some type of learning disability. Because of this, her mother threatens to take back the car she received for high school graduation. Desperately wanting to keep the car she gets a job at a fast food restaurant so she can pay the note herself, then takes on a second job as a home health aide when she was still coming up short financially. After a couple of miscues with the home health agency she is hired to assist Jason who initially is an absolute jerk. Gradually she is pulled into his entire life, including his friends who are members, of his band, Wheels of Steel.

The band consists of three other characters, Peter, who is also wheelchair bound, Amberly, who also has cerebral palsy, but can walk, and Belinda, who, as far as I can tell doesn’t have any disabilities, though she certainly has issues. All these characters have stories of their own, especially Amberly, who is in love with Jason. Robin has a hard time even making eye contact with others, and has never really made any friends before, so it takes her while to warm up to all these new experiences. She is an incredibly giving person, and it’s easy to see why Jason falls so passionately in love with her.

Jason has moved out into his own apartment to get away from his overbearing mother. He was once able to walk, but lost that ability due an aide neglecting him when he was a child. He can take medication that will help him, but it’s dangerous and his mother refuses to give him the money for the treatment. Pace does an excellent job showing us the two of them falling in love, and the forces that threaten to pull them apart. The only sour note in their relationship to me is what I see as Robin’s overreaction to a mistake Jason makes at the end of the story. But I am incredibly biased because I’m half in love with the guy myself, so you can take that with a grain of salt. So here is my quandary; how can I recommend what is by all measures a poorly written book? The only thing I can say is, if you can get past all the issues I mentioned that the beginning of this review, you will definitely enjoy this story.

Pepper Pace is one of the Young Turks in the multicultural niche. She deliberately chooses unconventional characters, and it usually works. In one of my favorites the hero is a homeless man who is mentally ill. The younger writers seem to come at the genre from a different angle. For one thing I think many of them are fans are soap operas, as their stories have a great deal of drama in them. This type of storytelling is probably very popular with a generation that was raised on reality TV and the likes of Jerry Springer. It’s a different outlook, but I think I like it. Certainly it makes for great story-telling.

You can buy Wheels of Steel 1 here. (I’m too lazy to link all three.)

Willaful Review: The Theory of Attraction

The Theory of Attraction by Delphine Dryden. Published by Carina Press.  Sensuality rating: Blistering

Dryden did something really interesting here — created a hero who is clearly somewhere on the autism spectrum, with the accompanying literalness, rigidity, anxiety, and lack of social skills, but who’s also the world’s best Dom.

Camilla has been attracted to her geeky neighbor Ivan ever since she saw him respond calmly during an emergency; the hot bod he shows while running past her window — “6:30 in the morning, out for a run each and every day” — doesn’t hurt either. When Ivan enlists her help in learning how to behave appropriately at an important social event. Camilla is happy to have the chance to get closer to him. What she discovers when she does is quite a shock — far from the inexperienced virgin she envisioned, Ivan is an extremely adept Dom. And he has a lot to teach her, as well. (more…)

Azteclady reviews, Maya Banks' Colters' Woman

Colters’ Woman, by Maya Banks

So it has taken me years but I finally got around to grabbing a copy of this earlier title of Ms Banks’ (the version in my hands is the extended version, published in 2010—the original publication date is October 2006).

Before the review—or indeed, the blurb—a warning: this is an erotic novel, with very graphic sex scenes. Not only that, but it involves a ménage à quatre. If you are a minor or have problems with sex and unconventional relationships, do everyone a favor and read no further.

So, on to the review. (more…)

“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…)

What happens in Vegas, anthology by Jodi Lynn Copeland, Anya Bast, Lauren Dane and Kit Tunstall.

The universe seems to be determined to show me how wrong I’ve been in avoiding short stories, by shoving some really good ones in front of me. Mind you, no complaints from this corner. What happens in Vegas is the first erotic stories anthology from Spice Books.

Behind closed doors, the real games begin…
Winning it big. That’s the name of the game at Las Vegas’ Liege Hotel and Casino, where the hottest fantasies hinge on a roll of the dice… and the tantalizing knowledge that anything could happen before sunrise.

Each story is around a hundred pages long—well under my usual comfort zone—and while some missed the mark with me, a couple hit it dead center. Bear in mind, as always, that what bothered me may very well be what other readers like best about each story. So, without further ado, here are the reviews. (I included the short blurbs from the back cover for each story in its review.)

“Hot for you” by Jodi Lynn Copeland

Cocktail waitress Carinna wants a man to tie her up, not tie her down. Little does she know that her most willing partner yet has something else planned for this fiery Latina bombshell.

A quick summary: Carinna and Jake have been best friends since childhood, until one fateful night four months prior to the story, when they fall in bed. Jake panics and leaves, Carinna is more upset about it that she’d like to be, since she a) is commitment phobic, and b) only wants to have her close friendship with him back.

Ms Copeland uses a new-to-me technique for this story: first person voice from both protagonists, alternating the point of views from both hero and heroine while moving the plot along seemed very fresh and interesting to me. Furthermore, the underlying story felt rather sweet to me—he knows he wants forever with her, she only wants friendship (perhaps with some fringe *cough* benefits) and doesn’t want to hurt him.

I had three issues with this story, though. First, the word choices through most of the intimate scenes put me off as being a bit too crude. I don’t consider myself to be prudish and, with one marked exception, it’s not the (sexual) actions described that bothered me, but the words used to describe them. Second, the exception: there is one particular incident, near the end, that yanked me even further out of the story. For me, it crossed the line between consent and violence, and completely colored my take of the story as a whole. Third and last, much is made of Carinna’s issues with relationships and trust, yet it would seem that she overcomes them pretty much from one moment to the next in the ending.

All in all, this one missed me completely—without that one scene, the grade would have been considerable higher. This one is 4 out of 10 for me.

“Stripped” by Lauren Dane

Dahlia is a burlesque dancer with a brain for business and a bod for sin. Her latest admirer may be a sweet-talking Casanova, but despite what he thinks she’s not giving anything away free.

Dahlia is a working class, small town girl with ambition and the determination to go places. In business, she has confidence and a sense of self-worth. In her personal life, though, she is insecure, marked by experiences with men who have thought her nothing more than a trophy.

Nash comes from a wealthy family; both his brother and his mother are quite the snobs, fixated on social class and financial worth. He is the exception, working hard at earning his own money, instead of living off a trust fund. While his attraction to Dahlia seems very natural to him, it’s his feelings for her that surprise him—and his inner dialogue endeared him to me. At one point, he and Dahlia exchange presents:

“Good God, she’d made him a shirt. Made it with her own hands and creativity. Crap, his presents didn’t even compare to her thought and effort. He was a fortunate man.”

I really liked the fact that, despite the short page count (just over a hundred) this story covered several months in the protagonists’ relationship. Since the hero and heroine meet on the first couple of pages, it made it that much easier for me to believe that they would be able to work on their issues enough that, by the end of the story, a future together was not only possible, but very much likely. (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.