Author: Naima Simone

Sin and Ink by Naima Simone

Sin and Ink by Naima SimoneSin and Ink by Naima Simone
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC (Scorched) on 15th October 2018
Pages: 187
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three-stars

There’s sin. And then there’s condemned-to-hell sin.

Being in lust with my dead brother’s wife pretty much guarantees that one day I’ll be the devil’s bitch. I promised my family—no, I promised him—I'd keep away.

My days as an MMA champion are behind me. But whenever I see Eden Gordon, with her wicked curves and that mouth created for dirty acts, it's a knock-down, drag-out fight to maintain my distance. "Hard Knox" becomes more than just the name of my tattoo shop.

There’s no woman more off-limits than my brother's strong-but-scarred widow. But she works with me, so it's getting harder and harder to stay away. She’s terrified of risking her heart again; I can tell. But when she looks at me like she wants my rough hands on that sexy body, I can’t think. I can barely breathe.

Surrendering to the forbidden might be worth losing everything...

‘Sin and Ink’ is somewhat different from Naima Simone’s previous offerings, but considering this is categorised clearly as erotica with several sides of forbidden/pseudo-incest/the tortured hero who wants what he can’t have, I knew what I was in for the moment I requested for this ARC. But every forbidden-type thing in romance is my kind of catnip, so I did expect quite a bit of push-pull and pretty much the soul-hollowing kind of angst that typically accompanies such tropes.

It isn’t to say that it can’t get painfully exhausting. Simone’s writing is drawn up with descriptions of every minute detail that strangely heightens emotion, yet still feel like page filler at times—from interior décor to every small movement that the characters make, to the relentless unravelling of every emotion they have. Both ride the waves of guilt and regret, all through the simmering sexual tension that underlies all of it, though there are parts that feel stifling as well as both Knox/Eden do the one-step-forward-two-steps-back routine until something finally, finally gives.

Essentially, a lot of ‘Sin and Ink’ is a long, long journey of angst and emotional overload of wanting to cross a line; this is however, repeated ad nauseam when Knox keeps swimming in guilt as he rehashes all the reasons why Eden is forbidden goods while the latter tries to decide whom she really loves, with the constant fixation on body parts that leads to imagining how each other would be like in bed. There is the use of a trope that I absolutely detest nonetheless, (Eden watching Knox hook up with another woman in the past and then getting aroused by it ) though this is a clearly personal preference, which in a way, becomes a disturbing part in how Eden—spurred on by this memory—finally decides to do the same to Knox later.

But is this nitpicking on my part? Maybe. I’m well aware of the expectations that I have to manage considering this has been published under Entangled’s Scorched Imprint.

’Sin and Ink’ is after all, primarily erotica and a decently-written one at that if you take into account what this story is supposed to be heavy on sex and lighter on plot. In that, it delivers. The sexy times are abundant and scorching, despite the dead spouse whom Eden can’t seem to let go of and Knox’s constant self-flagellation and the subsequent uncertainty surrounding their forbidden relationship. So if this is exactly what rocks your boat, then ‘Sin and Ink’ does exactly what it promises.

three-stars

Scoring with the Wrong Twin by Naima Simone

Scoring with the Wrong Twin by Naima SimoneScoring With the Wrong Twin by Naima Simone
Series: WAGS #1
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC (Brazen) on January 15th 2018
Pages: 236
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one-star

Shy, awkward Sophia Cruz has a hard time telling her vivacious identical twin “no.” But when her sister begs her to swap places for a modeling shoot, she caves … again. Then Zephirin Black walks onto the set. The brooding, aloof, and gorgeous tight end for the Washington Warriors. But she can keep it professional… She has to. Because the adorkable Cruz twin has no luck with guys once they compare her to her sister.

After a bad break-up, Zeph hasn’t been big on second chances—and even less with trust. But he finds himself giving please-call-me-by-my-middle-name-Sophia both. The woman he’d dismissed as a spoiled cover model is different from the first time he met her. Quirkier. Funnier. Definitely sexier. What started as one night turns into another…and another…and another…

Still, Sophia can’t go on keeping her secret from him. But telling Zeph the truth will mean losing him for good.

Giving a 1-star review to a Naima Simone book is shocking even for me, particularly because I do like Simone’s writing and her play of emotions that tends to jump out at every turn of the page.

Where do I even start?

I went into ‘Scoring with the Wrong Twin’ knowing that deception was going to play a part in this story, though I’d hoped it wouldn’t be the primary source of the conflict that carried the plot. Or that the story would have taken a different turn after their one-night stand, where Sophia admitted early on that she simply wasn’t who she was.

Unfortunately, this turned out exactly the way I wish it didn’t, as Sophia allowed her identity deception to continue for a multitude of reasons, all of which that had to do with her supposed inability to be comfortable in her own skin and her low esteem that badly needed bolstering by a celebrity football player who would apparently, otherwise, have never turn her way. If I’d initially felt sorry for her, as the girl who’d been left in the shadow of her more glamorous model sister, my sympathy turned into irritation when she deliberately led Zephirin on, without having the courage to face up to her lie. Having the self-awareness of her own guilt, then ignoring it just made matters worse for me.

Too many times have such ‘heroines’ given such excuses and as time goes on, I’ve found myself getting more and more intolerant of behaviour that was simply too irksome to ignore. In fact, Sophia irked me so much that I couldn’t continue reading, leaving me sputtering at not just her delaying telling him the truth, but also her justification of her behaviour after her apologies, even after finding out that what she’d done was to strike precisely at Zeph’s achilles heel.

I stopped reading there and then; how Zeph and Sophia finally patched things up simply didn’t interest me anymore, especially not with a ‘heroine’ I merely thought of as cowardly and defensive.

one-star

A Millionaire at Midnight

A Millionaire at MidnightA Millionaire at Midnight by Naima Simone
Published by Entangled Publishing on February 13th 2017
Pages: 244
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four-stars

Boston socialite Morgan Lett is having a run of bad luck. Her fiancé just dumped her for her stepsister, the charity foundation she’s given her life to is in danger of folding, and now, the gorgeous man she bid on and won at a masquerade bachelor auction turns out to be a cold-hearted jerk…and her new employer.
Millionaire Alexander Bishop needs the best wife money can buy. In order to inherit his family business, he must get engaged—fast. And Morgan, with her beauty and pedigree, is the perfect candidate. Her sharp tongue may drive him crazy, but she needs money to save the foundation she loves, and he needs a fiancée. It’s a flawless arrangement—no strings, no love. But soon she has him craving more, and cursing the platonic terms of their agreement.
Still, he won’t allow need—no matter how hot it burns—to threaten everything he’s built.

Fresh off a heartbreak and on an anti-men tirade after her fiancé leaves her for her step-sister, the bachelor auction that has snared women their millionaires in Naima Simone’s world is about to work its own magic on Morgan Lett.

And as it typically goes, it always gets worse before it gets better, just like the screwed-up version of the fairy tale that’s given at the very start of the book. Morgan wins a man at an auction, but first impressions have dictated that he merely sees her as gold digger while he’s the most aloof, distant person she’d ever met…and to make matters worse, he’s her temporary boss too. A brashly-made decision forces them into a pretend-engagement which then, predictably, goes awry when attraction enters the picture.

I’m not always a fan of millionaire-type books—they do seem mostly removed from the reality of day to day life—but it’s near impossible to give up the chance to read whatever Simone writes. I cringed at the title, the crazy family drama and sometimes contrived, over-the-top sort of descriptions aside (especially when it comes to how hot or beautiful a character can be), yet the sharp emotions do jump off the page and Simone’s lead characters are multifaceted enough to get lost in for a few hours.

Generally though, “A Millionaire at Midnight” is quite a satisfying read, even with the usual, rocky road that the couple in question needs to walk before the climax, the customary grovel and the resulting HEA.

four-stars

Only For You by Naima Simone

Only For You by Naima SimoneOnly For You by Naima Simone
Series: Lick #3
on December 12th 2016
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three-stars

It’s been five years since I’ve seen her.
Five years since Gabriella James damn near destroyed me with her betrayal, sending me to hell in a cage.
I’ve crawled free, escaped the mob, opened a night club, and continue to battle my demons through underground fighting and sex. But now Gabriella’s back, begging for absolution, wanting my forgiveness. All I want is what she’s denied me for all these years — her body.
Sex. That’s all we’ll ever have.
Because Gabriella is still keeping secrets. I see it in her eyes.
I don’t trust her, and I’ll never forgive her betrayal.
But that won’t stop me from taking her.
Over...and over...and over...

Killian Vincent seeks punishment and absolution: it’s found in the fights and the pain he doles out and takes, and later, in a heavy, BDSM encounter with Gabriella James, the woman who betrayed him five years ago and left him to the dogs. As a wronged party who needs closure, he finds it in dominating and punishing sex when she turns up one night long after he thinks he has escaped his tortured past.

Naima Simone can write a deliciously dark romance—now that I know exactly what to expect from the Lick series—but it ends too quickly as it begins, closing on the implication that betrayal can after all, be forgiven and forgotten by a night of domination, spanking and submission. It’s not for the faint-hearted who want only hearts, flowers and angst, because ‘Only For You’, as with all the Lick series books, delves into anything but vanilla sex and sits on the knife-edge of humiliation and torture. By the end of it however, I remained sceptical, expecting Gabriella to make some grand gesture which never materialised and wondered why Killian was the one who had to make amends in the end when the onus was on her to make that first step.

But with this particular imprint, perhaps the sexual encounter is the point rather than the focus on forgiveness and moving ahead. As much as I do like Simone’s writing, I would have loved a more drawn-out book where both Gabby and Killian could have taken their issues out of the bedroom—only so that the HEA and the epilogue would feel richer and somehow, more worth it.

three-stars

Only For Your Touch by Naima Simone

Only For Your Touch by Naima SimoneOnly For Your Touch by Naima Simone
Series: Lick #2
Published by Entangled Publishing on October 10th 2016
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three-stars

The Boston press calls her the Mob Princess. I call her trouble.
Discretion is my business, and the reporters dogging her every step are bad news. She’s looking to rebel, to tarnish her naïve “good girl” image by getting dirty with me. I gave up a career as a thief, but Corrine Salvaggi’s wide eyes and sinful mouth damn near begs me to steal her innocence. To corrupt her.
Lucky for her, I deal in sex.
Whatever your fantasy, I deliver. Voyeurism. Threesomes. A little slap and tickle.…
If it’s your kink, I can fulfill it.
So yeah, life is good. Simple.
Until she enters my club.
Still…
It’s just sex. Our little secret.
For now...

After Naima Simone opened the doors of ‘Lick’, I’ve come to appreciate the brand of erotica that she writes with elements of BDSM, voyeurism and every other type of sexual play for what it is: titillating and boldly explicit for the sake of pushing sexual boundaries. Throw in mob connections, violent histories and the shade of smut gets darker. Which isn’t to say I don’t miss her romantic suspense novels, because I do, but reading the Scorched imprint means that some expectations have to be adjusted.

Sasha Merchant intrigued me from the first book and it seems fitting that he’ll get his own temptation in the form of the head honcho’s daughter when she walks through the door of his sex club asking for something that he never thought he’d be able to give: control and his submission. But Corinne Salvaggi represents more than just willing female body; it’s her close connections and the dangerous life he’s addicted to that she brings within touching distance which Sasha finds irresistible. In this way, Simone brings another layer of understanding and conflict between them which I liked, because it moves beyond the sex games they both play.

I did hope for more though, apart from sex they’ve been having, having been given a glimpse of the type of mob conflict could have brought but this novella pretty much offers what this imprint is meant to be: a slice of momentary bliss (pun not quite intended) and a happy-for-now ending aimed at satisfying more carnal appetites than anything else.

three-stars

The Bachelor’s Promise by Naima Simone

The Bachelor’s Promise by Naima SimoneThe Bachelor's Promise by Naima Simone
Series: Bachelor Auction #3
Published by Entangled: Indulgence on August 29th 2016
Pages: 251
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four-stars

Aiden Kent never expected to see Noelle Rana again. He’s determined to keep his distance from the beautiful enigma wrapped in denim and leather. He can’t trust anyone with the last name Rana. But he made a promise to his dying mother, and it isn't long before Noelle invades his personal space. He can't stop thinking about the exotic beauty's alluring curves.
He wants the daughter of his enemy, and he’s determined to have her…if only for one night.
If Noelle wants to move forward with her life, she must make a deal with the devastatingly gorgeous, broody millionaire Aiden. He made a promise years ago, and she’s come to collect—even if it means facing down the only man who ever broke her heart. And there's a really good chance he'll do it again.

There are too many shades of a Judith McNaught romance that accompanied me throughout this read: the dark, tortured hero screwed over by those he’d trusted and the virgin heroine who’d become the scourge of his existence, the simmering tension, the fraught history and the huge climax that typically involves a screw-up and massive grovelling.

But I do think Naima Simone does pull it off, in what feels like a regency romance superimposed on contemporary Boston as the whole drama between impoverished woman and self-made millionaire plays out.

We caught a glimpse of Aiden in the first Bachelor Auction book (and this starts with one yet again) and his story is almost a mirror-image of Lucas’s one, where a woman from his past comes and asks for money years after he’d cut her out of his life. It’s not quite a rags-to-riches story; neither is it one where a rich guy takes in a street urchin, but one where domestic troubles have led to the estrangement of two people who’d once been close.

Simone has a way of writing into the heart of her characters and I found myself liking Noelle in fact (a lot more than Aiden at least), whose only crime is her last name and the godawful family that she’s associated with. That Aiden continued to paint her into a corner with that paintbrush was fully on him; I liked how Noelle hadn’t manipulated her way into his life again, nor had she done anything that hadn’t already played into his suspicion with a family that had betrayed him in every way.

The share of the blame lies on Aiden’s shoulders, which is a typical ending scenario of his own doing and personally, gratifying to read especially after that sort of self-righteous behaviour he’d displayed through most of the story. My only complaint is the very quick resolution and Noelle’s even quicker forgiveness – especially for someone who’d constantly tagged her as guilty until proven innocent – which seemed to have short-changed that tumultuous relationship which I felt needed more than a simple apology, a declaration of love from Aiden and a session of body painting.

four-stars

Only for One Night by Naima Simone

Only for One Night by Naima SimoneOnly For A Night by Naima Simone
Series: Lick, #1
Published by Entangled: Scorched on May 30th 2016
Pages: 120
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three-stars

Rion Ward fought hard to be free of the Irish mob life. Now, as the co-owner of Boston’s hottest aphrodisiac club, he’s traded crime for the ultimate sexual fantasy. But when the “good girl” from his past walks through Lick’s doors, he discovers that his unconsummated hunger for her never abated.
Widowed for two years from a man who felt that anything besides the missionary position was dirty, Harper Shaw is ready to move on. The first step to feeling alive again is sex. Hot, dirty, black-out-from-orgasm sex. And who better to provide it than the brooding, sexy, tatted bad boy-turned-man she’s known for years?
Rion, however, has one stipulation: He’ll be hers only for one night. One night to explore her every fantasy. One night to push her limits. One night to introduce her to a passion that makes both doubt if it will be enough…

There’re always a million shades of smut and I hadn’t realised ‘Only for One Night’ offered less of plot and more of sex in this newer Scorched imprint than in the previous Brazen ones. It’s dirtier, hotter, filled with pages of behaviour that some might find objectionable.

And if ‘Only for One Night’ is a representation of the new imprint, I’d be the first to say that it isn’t for everyone, unlike Brazen’s more…inclusive set of stories.

Rion and Harper play out their second-chance sex-drunk romance mostly in bed and in a variety of positions. Considering how their reunion mostly takes place in a sex club where everything is mostly permitted, there are obviously instances of ménage(s), anal play and other sorts of kink (I’d appreciate some warning here) for those who prefer the down and dirty – and are done as soon as the couple in question finish up.

I’m not exactly a die-hard fan of erotica and with a preference for a little more plot to frame the steamy moments, ‘Only for One Night’ disappointed in this particular aspect. It’s hard though, to resist most things that Naima Simone writes, not because her characters or plot are beyond reproach, but the lingering geek in me has realised that her style – fluid, sometimes cocky and a little overboard – is in fact, my guilty pleasure, ever since I caught onto her Sins and Secrets series. My scepticism about following an author into the bowels of sex-fuelled tales nonetheless remains.

If I loved Ms. Simone’s romantic suspense writing, her foray into erotica left me flailing a little. With the setup of three men who are trying to flee their own demons of their tortured pasts – somehow, indulging in vices seem to be the only way they dig themselves deeper in their own misery through the ownership of a sex club. ‘Lick’ is starting to shape out to be a series that would veer towards fully exploring sins and sinners with a thin veneer of a happy ending for the couple in question.

three-stars