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Review: Hot Under the Collar by Jackie Barbosa

Readers: This review was written some time ago, but I’m participating in an effort to promote Jackie Barbosa’s books while she is unable to do so herself.  If you would like to help Jackie in a difficult time, please consider contributing to her son’s memorial fund.


collarSensuality rating: Steamy

What a fresh, memorable novella! I was a little disappointed at first to realize that the hero is not a starchy vicar with a calling but one by default — as a viscount’s son with an unfortunate army experience, there’s no other respectable profession open to him. Then I decided it could be interesting to read about such a situation, which presumably happened fairly often. It was indeed.

When Walter sees Artemisia Finch waiting to collect a member of his congregation, he feels both desire and a strange sense of recognition. In fact, he has seen her before — when she was known just by her first name, as one of society’s most sought after courtesans. Now she’s home looking after her ailing father, and staying correctly away from condemning society. Being an unapologetically flawed human instead of a properly pious vicar, Walter feels no compunction about pursuing Artemisia — and since she’s passionate, lonely and has nothing to lose, she feels no compunction about pursuing him right back.

This story doesn’t go the way you’d expect, because it’s not Artemisia’s journey; the focus is on Walter’s growth as his conscientious efforts to be a good vicar become more. Faced with such interesting issues as pre-marital sex, post-partum depression, and death with dignity (in appropriate Regency terminology, of course,) it turns out that his worldly attitude and experience may be more valuable than “the qualities he’d thought a good vicar should possess — piety, religious conviction, and a strong sense of  ‘vocation’.” Indeed, it seems that “people didn’t need help negotiating the spiritual world; they needed help negotiating this one.”

As Walter’s sympathy and live-and-let-live attitude help his parishioners, he begins to have a revolutionary thought: perhaps he can convince them to forgive and accept their resident outcast sinner, Artemisia.

This is a really charming story of a leader finding his calling on the job. I found the romance a little bit less satisfying, because the two don’t spend that much non-sexual time together, but it’s nicely mature, straightforward, and guilt-free. The happy ending may not seem plausible to all readers, but I thought Barbosa set it up so well, I could believe it could happen. I give the book 4 stars; you can buy it here.

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.