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Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Edelweiss/ Erotica/ Reviews 29th September 2017
Wrong to Need You by Alisha RaiWrong to Need You by Alisha Rai
Series: Forbidden Hearts #2
Published by Avon on November 28th 2017
Pages: 384
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three-stars

He wasn’t supposed to fall in love with his brother’s widow…

Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Jackson Kane fled his home, his name, and his family. Ten years later, he’s come back to town: older, wiser, richer, tougher—and still helpless to turn away the one woman he could never stop loving, even after she married his brother.

Sadia Ahmed can’t deal with the feelings her mysterious former brother-in-law stirs, but she also can’t turn down his offer of help with the cafe she’s inherited. While he heats up her kitchen, she slowly discovers that the boy she adored has grown into a man she’s simply unable to resist.

An affair is unthinkable, but their desire is undeniable. As secrets and lies are stripped away, Sadia and Jackson must decide if they’re strong enough to face the past...and step into a future together.

‘Wrong to Need You’, like its predecessor, thrusts you straight back into a soap opera whose edges have already been sharply defined: family feuds, circles of friends and boundaries of rifts that have been established ‘off-stage’, leaving only forbidden relationships within this framework that need to be worked out. There’s a bit of a repetitive go over with the previous story (close family-rifts tend to do that) as it deals with lost, damaged individuals who have barely managed to hold it together, almost as if proving that time barely has an effect on closing up wounds, let alone healing them.

Sadia Ahmed’s and Jackson Kane’s relationship is wrong on so many levels, as it soon becomes apparent, not least because Sadia used to be married to Jackson’s brother. Sadia’s family beliefs, the apparent screwup she has made of her own life, her bisexuality, her dead husband versus Jackson’s deliberate unfeeling rootlessness, his unrequited love and the injustice that had been done to him—if these aren’t issues that will break the donkey’s back, I don’t know what will.

It’s admittedly difficult to write a pairing like this, with everything riding against the wave of approval. But the lure of the forbidden is always strong and Alisha Rai certainly thrives on teasing out every nuance of Sadia/Jackson’s emotional angst and fraught feelings. Forbidden doesn’t just describe Jackson and Sadie however; the story does skirt the edge of voyeurism, and some sexual deviant behaviours that might be triggers for some readers though there’s the gratuitous bit of illicit (and explicit) feeling running throughout the story that makes ‘Wong to Need You’ the complete package.

Yet throughout, I’ve found myself asking the question: is it possible to like a book but not exactly be invested in the pairing? This sounds more so unforgivable, considering romance really is about 2 protagonists getting together though there isn’t a rule—unspoken or otherwise—that states a pairing has to be the be-all or end-all in it. I wasn’t exactly rooting for Jackson or Sadie that much, but the unfolding drama itself is compelling and that alone propelled me to want to know how things would work out.

That said, Rai’s writing is easy to get lost in and I for one, can’t wait for Eve/Gabe’s story.

three-stars

After Hours by Lynda Aicher

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ Reviews 21st September 2017
After Hours by Lynda AicherAfter Hours by Lynda Aicher
Series: The Boardroom #1
Published by Carina Press on January 22nd 2018
Pages: 218
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three-stars

The Boardroom. After hours, it’s where Bay Area moguls indulge their fantasies. Ties are loosened. Inhibitions, too.

Assistant Avery Fast watched from a distance, mouth gaping, blood roaring wildly in her ears as she stared at the naked woman on the table before her. At executive Carson Taggert ordering a man to pleasure her. It made her feel guilty, embarrassed…and hot.

Carson watched and waited. Waited for Avery to notice him in the Boardroom. Waited for her to like what she saw. Waited to see what she’d do the next day. And the next. He couldn't let her go—not when she'd seen what goes on in the Boardroom. He couldn't stop thinking about the desire in her eyes, the flush on her cheeks, her obvious arousal.

Getting her to join was easy. But now Carson wants Avery all to himself.

‘After Hours’ is a curious read. It’s clearly erotica, where sexual exploration of any kind—where voyeurism initially plays a large part—is done in a boardroom, spearheaded by none other than the chief technology officer, under very strict rules that we aren’t exactly privy to until further on in the book.

It’s seedy and fascinating at the same time to see how something else darker and seductive comes out to play (and the upper echelon of the prestigious office do get busy) when the lights go out after the work day. At the heart of it all, the characters seem to lead double lives that are only unveiled as Avery Fast finally gains access by accident into this hedonistic playground where the garden of delights so to speak, is finally revealed to her. Part glamorous retro porn movie (or at least it seems that way in technicolor) and part noir-ish sensuality, I struggled to find my footing with the characters who seem more enigmatic than relatable.

I didn’t get the entire picture of what the Boardroom was supposed to be at first, though a lot of it seemed to be about commands, control and boundaries, which is probably the paradox of such sexual play just like in ‘Eyes Wide Shut’: freeing yet binding, open but secretive as hell, exploratory yet reined in, highly sexualised but devoid of intimacy. Bottom-line is, it still demands trust, more on one side than the other, until emotions suddenly get into play and rips apart the detachment required in the Boardroom as Avery goes on that twisty journey of sexual awakening.

Does love then, have a part to play in this, considering romance is supposed to underscore the entire story? At the very least, it’s about the various contradictions that Avery has about her own conservative brand of sexuality: the shame of not being able to be the person other than she’s brought up to be even though she’s far from virginal, yet wanting more than just sex with no limits through experimentation in the Boardroom that nonetheless, tethers her with its strict parameters. I don’t feel as though I know Avery or Carson very well by the end of it but the story does lapse more comfortably into the ‘romance category’ when it’s made clear that the Avery still wants the family and the picket fence as the very non-committal Carson finally falls prey to it.

As a result, Avery’s and Carson’s liaison is so far beyond the typical office romance that I’m unclear how to classify it, or rather, I’m still not sure how I feel about the book simply because erotica always keeps me unbalanced no matter how many times I delve into it. ‘After Hours’ does crystallise at the end with a very strong (and perhaps prescriptive) message, almost like the moral of the story that proclaims to all female readers who’ve always complained about the double standards in romance, that women shouldn’t be embarrassed about what they liked about their sexual preferences as Avery comes out of that experience unapologetic and supposedly more enlightened about her sexual self—thanks to Carson.

Stylistically speaking, ‘After Hours’ is well-written, well-paced and done with a deftness that I can appreciate. Lynda Aicher’s a new author to me, but as uncertain as I am about the subject matter and that defiant, feminist message that got me straight in the face thanks to Avery and a secondary character, Aicher makes a huge impression with her prose. It got me past my comfort zone in dealing with open relationships and it’s handled in a way that kept me off-centre the whole time.

three-stars

Act Your Age by Eve Dangerfield

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Reviews 18th September 2017
Act Your Age by Eve DangerfieldAct your Age by Eve Dangerfield
Published by Eve Dangerfield on September 27th 2017
Pages: 356
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three-stars

Just because Kate ‘Middleton’ McGrath, wants a man to call ‘daddy’ in bed doesn’t mean—
Oh, you stopped reading. Cool.
Kate gets it. Kinks aren’t for everyone. Hell, they’re probably not for Mr. Henderson, her grumpaholic boss. She really shouldn’t have crush on him, but the man is just so goddamn stern. Sure, a lot of that comes down to ‘being her boss,’ but still, it feels like there might be something there.
Tyler Henderson is a golden boy who’s lost his shine. He’s old, his dream career is over, his fiancée’s left him. Now all the former firefighter is to try and bury his troubles in paperwork and hard liquor. He says ‘try’ because he can’t get Middleton out of his head long enough to wallow properly. He’s not going anywhere near the girl. HR issues aside, he’s done with sweetness and things don’t come sweeter than a cupcake-baking engineer who knits her own hats.
A case of mistaken identity causes Kate and Ty’s attraction to give way to blistering sex. They have more in common—and more to lose—than either of them realized. When it comes to unreasonable attraction you can rarely change your mind but can you act your age?

I’d initially thought ‘Act Your Age’ was more of an age-gap story from the blurb—with some doling out of kink—though to my pleasant surprise, it turned out to be more than just a young woman’s crush on her much older, broken boss who’s a pale shadow of himself after his ex-fiancée walked away years ago. Instead, this turned out to be a twisty tale of navigating personality quirks, kinks and broken pasts with issues so huge that ‘Act Your Age’ feels too nebulous to be classified as either just erotica or romance.

Details matter in a story like this and Dangerfield admirably fully unravels both Kate and Ty in what can sometimes be a rambly narrative, though it does present a kind of clarity into both their screwed up histories. Nothing is as it seems on the surface at all and that’s what you learn early on—that there’s quite a bit of depth and complexity in Eve Dangerfield’s characters and why they act the way they do. I especially like the complexity of Kate, whose odd strangeness, Lolita-esque background, daddy-issues and seemingly flighty exterior because of her disorder, can also hide a burning need for a measure of sexual deviancy that somehow fully matches Tyler Henderson’s. Kate’s infatuation or crush is well-documented and as a sub, pretty much gives Ty the keys to go whatever the hell he wants where she is herself, on unstable ground. At the same time however, it was much easier to feel for Kate throughout it all—I couldn’t shake the feeling that Ty was a prick for most of the book—than root for both of them as a pairing when a protagonist generally behaves more honourably than the other.

It does seem inevitable though, that Tyler and Kate step into a world where they explore and slake this side of their sexuality, seeing as Dangerfield fleshes Tyler out to be the unmistakable Dom to Kate’s sub with his own ‘alpha’ kinks to work out. Their role play is strangely compelling, steamy and alarming, crossing so many boundaries here that would normally make me uncomfortable but Dangerfield does (through her characters) clearly lay out the parameters and the limits to their role play through Kate and that made it infinitely easier to go along for the ride.

The long and short of it is, ‘Act Your Age’ challenged me at every turn. I had to get used to the idea that kinky sex (with degradation and humiliation as part of the play) actually shows vulnerability in all its ugly glory, which in turn, allows Dangerfield to delve into what strips people bare past the lust and the brutal sex. And all credit to her here, because Dangerfield doesn’t shy away from the rawness of it all, like skin scrubbed pink until it scabs over, barely healing before another blow comes. By the end of the book, I realised that I actually loved Kate (but stayed somewhat belligerently negative about Ty), wished she’d gotten someone who deserved her and pretty much cheered a heroine who has grown so much since page one.

three-stars

Broken Rebel by Sherilee Gray

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 16th September 2017
Broken Rebel by Sherilee GrayBroken Rebel by Sherilee Gray
Series: Lawless Kings #2
Published by Swerve on October 10th 2017
Pages: 244
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one-star

They used to be best friends...but now, all they do is fight each other at every turn. She's loved him since he saved her from her evil stepmother all those years ago. He's sworn to never love her for fear of tainting her innocence with his criminal past.

What do you do when the one person you love is the one person you can’t have?

I’ll say from the start that I love Sherilee Gray’s writing, which is probably even harder to admit that the Lawless Kings series has been a sore disappointment so far. Gray’s prose is always easy to get through and her stories are decently plotted, so it was a huge surprise (or shock even) when I ended up with the problem of trying to get behind the protagonists and failing miserably.

‘Broken Rebel’ is in essence for me, a version of a toxic relationship—of enabling and needing—that presents a different definition of love that I find myself struggling to subscribe to. It’s something that the protagonists do acknowledge as well, which forms the basis for the screwed up relationship that they’ve always had. Having known each other all their lives and coming from broken pasts, Neco has always assumed the role as protector when she needed him. The years pass and Ruby appears to yearn for that status-quo, doing everything she can to get his attention back on her, which he rebuffs by doing every cruel and vile thing possible (including screwing a woman so that Ruby could see it) in the attempts to wean her off him.

I found it immensely difficult to even get on Neco’s side as he gives the (rather hypocritical and unbelievable) rationale that he is not good for her—having done unsavoury things—and is protecting her even from himself and his shady criminal past. With the idea that she’s forbidden goods, Neco’s repetitive justification of keeping her at a distance, saying hurtful things and screwing women while pretending it’s Ruby just didn’t sit with me at all. I got unhappier with page after page of the injustice he’d done to her, then suddenly turning up to ‘claim’ her as her man after she gets hurt badly and he wasn’t there to respond because he was preparing to get a blowjob in a strip club.

There were parts where I felt sorry for Ruby for enduring all that she had to endure just to get Neco’s attention, though her desperation for him made me cringe at times. Taking him back so easily after her short, albeit failed attempt to be the strong independent woman free of him meant she got him after all this time (with him reciprocating), though his obnoxious, protective and controlling behaviour even after this finally made me give up on the story.

Truth is, I’m conflicted about rating this book the way I have, all the more so because I know Gray has written books that I love. But the long and short of it is, ‘Broken Rebel’ doesn’t quite feel like a romance to me. Instead the ingredients for a ‘darker’ type of erotica are there, like the scorching sex, the alpha posturing, the overprotective ‘claiming’, but with Neco/Ruby having been caught in the game of hurtful push-pull for ages, the chest-heaving, angsty emotions that bled off the page merely convinced me that both these broken rebels might have really been better off without each other.

one-star

All About the D by Lex Martin and Leslie McAdam

Posted in Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ New Adult/ Reviews 6th September 2017
All About the D by Lex Martin and Leslie McAdamAll About the D by Leslie McAdam, Lex Martin
Published by Lex Martin on May 19th 2017
Pages: 382
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three-stars

I'm known for being formal. Meticulous. Professional.

So you’d never suspect I spend my nights photographing my impressive junk for a NSFW blog. Don’t roll your eyes. I’m not bragging. I have millions of followers who’ll tell you they live for my posts.

I’m like a superhero, saving humanity one dick pic at a time.

Except leading a double life means I need someone to help me protect my anonymity, so that no one, especially my family, ever discovers my online celebrity.

When I call one of the most respected law firms in town, I expect quality legal advice and confidentiality. Not a sinfully sexy attorney whose dangerous curves and soul-piercing gray eyes make me want to personally demonstrate my particular skill set.

I shouldn’t be tempted.

Especially when she knows all of my best-kept secrets. But everyone has a breaking point. And I’ve met mine.

What starts off as a bet turns into a porn blog with too much at stake, particularly when a longstanding family reputation must be upheld. Put a lawyer in the mix where unexpected sparks fly and I’m sold. ‘All about the D’ can’t get any more explicit about pornography, though it’s done in a rather hilarious, sweet way with a fantastic male protagonist at its helm that I knew at once that Josh Cartwright was going to be a character to remember and love.

And Josh was indeed, a breath of fresh air, despite being an internet sensation for his dick. He’s a loyal, determined, perceptive and just an all-round decent top bloke who’s juggling his attraction to his lawyer while respecting her career, his constantly-drunk deadbeat best friend and the pressures of his family. Not too sure what I really feel about his dick blog though and I can certainly understand the angst that Evie feels about having a partner who’s famous amongst thousands of women because of his dick (though he actually isn’t into hookups at all), which by the end, translated into the longstanding question of women’s inability to handle it in the long run when men watch porn.

But Evie/Josh is a pairing I can generally buy into as it is a solid one—they laugh and love easily together and I did like their chemistry. That said, I did think Evie had some immature spurts in the story, where her constant, glaring insecurities (showing up ad nauseum) about her body size overshadowed my enjoyment of their relationship, to the extent where I wondered if her narrative voice during such moments, belonged better to a teenager than a grown woman.

‘All about the D’ however, is one of those stories that’s akin to watching a train wreck about to happen. With Evie/Josh’s secret relationship riding on the secrecy on his blog, you just know this is not without consequences, which simply leaves the question of just how bad the fallout would be. Needless to say, the mess shreds everything that Josh and Evie know about themselves and their friends/family, with a revelation that’s sort of a set up for the next book of two very unlikely characters, with 1 more in dire need of redemption than ever.

I’m already waiting impatiently for it.

three-stars

Shocking the Medic by Elizabeth Otto

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Chick Lit/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ Reviews 30th August 2017
Shocking the Medic by Elizabeth OttoShocking the Medic by Elizabeth Otto
Published by Entangled Publishing: Brazen on September 25th 2017
Pages: 198
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three-stars

Paramedic Luke Almeda can't believe he's working with his best friend, Greer. She was supposed to go off and be a hot shot lawyer like the rest of her family. He has to keep reminding himself that no matter how beautiful, sweet and caring she is, there is no way they can ever be together. Even if it weren't prohibited at work, they are from two different worlds.

Greer is determined to prove herself to Luke and her family. Luke sees her as some goody-two-shoes, and she's determined to prove she's anything but. After a devastating 911 call, Greer ends up in Luke's bed, and it's more than she could have ever dreamed it would be. Too bad one night is all it can be. Because trying to have more could cost them everything....

Let’s face it—the blurb was enticing—enticing enough that a one-click request was the only way to go, despite my reservations about this particular trope.

I’ll readily admit that the friends-to-lovers romance is a tricky one for me and mostly that’s because all too often one party has been secretly pining—while watching the other merrily playing the field for years either obliviously or deliberately keeping a distance—for years before something finally snaps and calls that change. ‘Shocking the Medic’ does follow this pattern, though Elizabeth Otto does take the pain to show how the solid base of friendship is enriched when sex and intimacy are thrown into the equation.

And by and large, the pacing was good, the smexy times copious as with the Brazen imprint and Otto moves the story along in a way that I had no problem finishing it in record time.

I liked Greer lots. Her gumption to walk away from law, from the usual expectations to get into paramedicine yet with a compassion that spills over for the people she helps. I only wished that she’d come to expect more from the manwhore who’s also her best friend, wished she hadn’t pined for him no matter how far she thought she’d buried that hope. That she was willing to settle for scraps, to take what he would offer until he tired of her made me wonder at her self-esteem where he was concerned, though the way she put herself out there for Luke and for everything she wanted was admirable.

But where do I start with Luke? I think at the heart of it, I couldn’t get over the way he thought despite him being a good friend to Greer. I didn’t like the idea that he’d always loved her, always wanted her (that sentiment was reciprocated) but never felt good enough for her, so instead, whored around with other women openly because he believed that he’d never rise above his station. For me, that just read like emotional betrayal, especially since Greer had always been holding on for him (for 17 years?!) which was massively unfair in the least.

Overall though, I wasn’t quite convinced of Luke’s frustrating chip on his shoulder which contributed to the huge end conflict and climax; his supposed grovelling didn’t seem sufficient for what Greer had put on the line for him after his blowing hot and cold on her. As their HEA came too quickly and conveniently along with an epilogue that was just as abrupt, all I could really say was that I was happy Greer got what she wanted, though I did wish it’d been with someone way more deserving of her.

three-stars

Demolished by Cathryn Fox

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Erotica/ Netgalley/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Romantic Suspense 21st August 2017
Demolished by Cathryn FoxDemolished by Cathryn Fox
Series: Blue Bay Crew #1
Published by Swerve on August 29th 2017
Pages: 250
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one-star

Summer Wheeler is on the run. Hiding from the men who killed her father, Summer is on her way to her childhood cottage in Blue Bay when she runs into Sean Owens, the forbidden bad boy from her past. After giving him a fake name, she gives in to one steamy night with him, never expecting to see him again.

Sean isn’t sure why Summer is pretending to be someone she’s not, but he’ll play her game if that means he can indulge in one of his oldest fantasies – a night with Summer. He’s shocked to see her when he returns to Blue Bay, and even more surprised when Summer offers him a job renovating her old family cottage. Hot workdays turn into hotter nights, but when Summer’s secret catches up with her, she’ll have to decide if she can trust Sean with her heart—and her life.

This is a rather tough one to write. I requested for the book because I do like romantic suspense and it did appear as though Cathryn Fox was starting a series with just that….so I was sold.

But it was disappointing to find ‘Demolished’ more sex than plot, and that’s something that I think you’ve got to have your eyes open to before you get into any of Fox’s stories. Her characters live and breathe sex, with every seemingly innocent action capable of stirring arousal and making each other sex-crazed at any given time of the day, no matter how inappropriate it can get. There’s always heat and passion and many times the characters can’t help themselves (especially the men who are never the one-woman sort until the heroine comes along), and that typically takes priority over any suspense or mystery that Fox does try to write into the story.

Sean and Summer go straight into a one night stand after a quick meeting at a bar, and banking on the idea that she has been away a long time, tries to slip into someone else’s identity just as she tries to investigate what exactly went wrong with her father. This was the bit I couldn’t get over; it seemed astoundingly stupid though and unbelievable hat she was able to continue pretending she was someone else when it was clear this delusion was pretty much in her own head, especially after Sean recognised her early on yet went on with that ridiculous charade. This pretence continued for a long time, as did the sleeping together, and Summer pretty much ended up with egg on her face when the game was up.

In short, I did come into the story knowing this, yet I found myself getting tired of reading about Sean/Summer getting it on on every available surface. I did want to know what sort of mystery Summer would uncover, which was only revealed towards the very abrupt end. Unfortunately, I lost interest past the halfway mark and I skimmed the rest just to find out what happened to Summer’s father and the clues he left her. ‘Demolished’ was more of a miss for me and if the rest of the books are going to be written in a similar vein, I’ll probably not continue this series at all.

one-star
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