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Search tags: I-don\'t-wanna-love-you-because-REASONS
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review 2016-04-11 13:16
"Giving it Up" by Audra North
Giving It Up (Pushing the Boundaries) - Audra North

Since the abomination that is the Fifty Shades phenomenon, the romance genre has been glutted with BDSM, and it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. I liked this book about two novices exploring kink together. Beatrice overhears the cop she's crushing on on the phone with a professional dominatrix service, and decides to offer her services instead. Neither of them know what they're doing, but they find their way together by going slowly and by paying attention to each other. If you're looking for hardcore, this is likely to be too sweet and too vanilla for you, but this story has enough spice to please more casual readers.


My one frustration with the story, which is somewhat ironic given how well the lovers communicated and checked in with each other while navigating their mutual intro to kink, is that outside of the bedroom Beatrice and Warren are terrible communicators. They make wrongheaded assumptions about each other and expect the other to know things they've never discussed, and the resulting mistakes and hurt feelings were just as annoying here as these sorts of plots always are.


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review 2015-04-27 14:11
So Much to Love About Last Night
About Last Night - Ruthie Knox

This book was my introduction to Ruthie Knox, and it was a wake-up call to me about how fresh and exciting contemporary romance can be. I re-read it this weekend because I've been in a bit of a reading slump and I wanted a reliable pick-me-up, which About Last Night definitely is. Upon this second reading, I discovered it was every bit as good as I remembered.


Mary Catherine "Cath" Talerico is a Chicago native living in London, working as an assistant curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum putting together an exhibit on historical knitwear. She's made a lot of mistakes in life, and in order not to forget, she has tattooed reminders of four of her worst mistakes on her skin: a songbird, a lit match, a closed book, and a tangled labyrinth. She has a fifth tat, as well--a phoenix rising from the ashes--symbolizing Cath's determination to reinvent herself. 



In order to stay on the straight and narrow, New Cath lives by a lot of rules. She doesn't drink. She doesn't date. She works, she exercises, she pays her bills (barely). However, when she has to go on a blind date to secure access to a prize piece for the knitting exhibit (because Plot), a combination of maudlin Patsy Cline cover songs and unexpectedly potent mixed drinks make short work of Cath's "rules", and she wakes up in banker Neville "City" Chamberlain's bed with only a sketchy memory of how she got there.


Cath has seen Nev on the train to work and exercising in the park, and she thinks she has him all figured out--immaculate suits, polished shoes and briefcase, straight-razor shave--he's a banker whose neat and orderly life cannot possibly have room for a girl as messy and disorderly as Cath. -Except that Nev is not as straight-laced as he initially appears, and the two of them have an intense and immediate physical attraction that just won't play by Cath's rules.


There is so much that I love about this book: I love the premise, the tattoos on Cath's skin and the way it takes the whole book to unravel the history of each. I love both Cath and Neville's characters, how fully realized they are, how their jobs (especially Cath's) and routines are fully drawn and relevant to the story (rather than the more typical fare where people go to the office and do vaguely office-y things all day, just because a character's gotta work). I love their sexual chemistry, which crackles off the page but advances the plot and is exciting without being gratuitous. I love the dialogue, which is sharp and funny and exactly the right amount. I love that both Cath and Nev take care of their own needs rather than counting on the other to rescue them. I love the feels this book brings. All the feels.


That's not at all to say this book is perfect. As much as I understand how important Cath's rules are to her--(she doesn't want a relationship, so she'll come over to Nev's but won't let him cook her dinner; he can bring her a treat for the train, but she won't tell him what time she'll be at the station; she won't tell him where she lives or works)--they do seem kind of gimmicky and childish sometimes, and you kind of wonder why Nev would be so tolerant of her arbitrary and selfish restrictions. (Then you remember, oh, right, because Sex.)


The plot also takes a turn toward predictable disaster when Nev brings Cath home to meet his family under a plot-advancing (but credulity-challenging) ruse in which they're feigning marriage. This section of the book goes just exactly the way you'd expect it to, which is to say not well at all. (During these chapters, Cath wins over Nev's parents entirely too easily, too, but since that's a minor plot point it didn't bother me much.)


Some people are really bothered by the ending, in which Nev (who is an artist as well as a banker) incorporates the stories of Cath's tattoos into paintings which he publicly displays. I didn't mind it because it fits so well into the narrative frame of the story -- Cath's tattoos, and what they mean to her, and what they come to mean to Nev, are such a central theme -- but I understand that outside of fantasy, it might be kind of squicky to turn someone's private body art into paintings which you display publicly and without the subject's consent.


On the whole, though, I love this book so much, I recommend it to romance-skeptics all the time.

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review 2015-04-21 13:14
Sex Detracted from Story
The Troublemaker Next Door - Marie Harte

I picked this up as a book deal earlier in the month, because I've been on the hunt for new-to-me contemporary authors for awhile. The Troublemaker Next Door started strong: I appreciated the snappy dialogue and the humorous narrative, and the characters were engaging and likeable if not entirely original. At first I enjoyed how sex-positive the main couple, Flynn and Maddie, were -- exploring their sexual limits in a way that initially felt natural and exciting. But then there was so much, very explicit sex, and toward the end of the book they seemed to be pushing their sexual boundaries in the desperate way that people who have been in a stale marriage for YEARS start to experiment (as if a pinch of BDSM can save a sinking relationship), which felt off because Flynn's and Maddie's relationship is fresh and new and they just shouldn't have to try that hard. Frankly, the sex became distracting, and the plot stopped holding my interest. I finished the book, but I skimmed the last quarter of it, and I'm not sure I'll read on in the series.

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review 2015-02-11 16:07
Fans of Blue Collar Romance, Take Note!
Animal Magnetism - Jill Shalvis

I really enjoyed this first book in Jill Shalvis' Animal Magnetism series. Like her better known Lucky Harbor series, these are small town contemporary romances full of appealing characters, snappy dialogue, fast-paced plots. Animal Magnetism is set in Sunshine, Idaho, which is a less touristy, white-picket-fency kind of place than Lucky Harbor, Washington (a good change, in my opinion).


Lilah runs an animal kennel and shelter. She's alone in the world after the death of the grandmother that raised her, but she has very good friends, including her ex-boyfriend and business partner, Cruz, and Adam and Dell, the veterinarians who run the animal center next door. Adam and Dell are brothers who invite Brady, who was their foster brother when they were teens, back to town to help them fix up an old helicopter which they intend to use for search and rescue calls and veterinary visits to Idaho's remote mountain ranches.


Brady and Lilah have instant, and believable, chemistry, but for the first part of the book they're at cross purposes because Brady doesn't plan to stick around once the helicopter is ready, and even though Lilah says she knows that and is only looking for a fling, he sees her life in the house where she grew up, working in the town where she grew up, still good friends with her few exes, and thinks that whatever she may say, nothing about Lilah is temporary. Plus, there's the fact that Adam and Dell consider Lilah an honorary little sister, and much as they love Brady, they don't take kindly to the idea that he'd mess around with her.


As time goes on, however, Brady comes to find that maybe putting down roots and making a home somewhere is not such a bad idea. It's not only his growing feelings for Lilah that change his mind, but also his brotherly affection for Dell and Adam, his respect for their business and the fact that there's a place for him in it. Also, he takes in a stray dog, an arrangement that was also supposed to be temporary, but soon comes to realize he doesn't want to give the puppy up. From there, it's only a short leap to realize he doesn't want to give Lilah and his foster brothers up, either, which paves the way for Happily Ever After.


I love blue collar heroes and heroines, and books that handle class issues in a way that is believable and empathetic without exploiting a character's poverty for tragic effect, and I really enjoyed that aspect of this book. Lilah, Dell, Brady, and Adam all grew up poor, and Lilah still struggles every month to juggle her bills and keep her house in reasonably good repair, but that's just a fact of life. It's not a source of sympathy or plot conflict, and there's no billionaire here to bail her out. Instead, she's using her smarts and her own hard work to build a successful business, with the help of friends, and maybe she'll succeed and maybe she won't -- and that, too, is just a fact of life.

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review 2015-02-09 21:45
Not My Kink, Not My Cuppa
Looking for Trouble - Victoria Dahl

Victoria Dahl has written several contemporaries that I've really enjoyed, but generally I think her books try too hard to be sexy and edgy when it doesn't really fit with the plot. I'd probably have rated this at least another star if the sex scenes hadn't turned me off.


Sophie and Alex are complete opposites. She's a good girl librarian, he's a bad boy biker. She takes care of people -- her dad, her brother, her friends -- and he runs from responsibility. She's never left Wyoming; he left and never came home again. They have only two things in common: insane sexual chemistry, and a shared childhood tragedy that happened with Alex's dad disappeared with Sophie's mother.


Sophie has grown up in the shadow of this mystery, dealing not only with her mother's abandonment, but the silent (and not so silent) judgment of the townspeople, who she feels are just waiting for her to show her true colors and turn out to be just as much a fallen woman as her mother. Consequently, she keeps her sex life very much on the down low.


Alex returns to town for the first time in ages at the urging of his brother, who needs help taking care of their mentally ill mother. He's home only reluctantly, and his presence becomes only slightly less grudging when he and Sophie discover the aforementioned sexual chemistry. 


I really like small town contemporaries (since I live in a small town myself), and I liked how this book understood how gossip really never dies in a small town and how judgey people can be. I liked the idea of Sophie and Alex sharing almost nothing except this twenty-year-old mystery. I liked Sophie's appetite for and liberated approach to sex, even as I understood why she felt the need to keep it quiet.


I didn't like Alex, and I didn't like the sex scenes. Alex has several opportunities to do the right thing -- help his mom, help his brother, stick up for Sophie -- and over and over again, he doesn't. He doesn't get a clue until the very end of the story, by which point I'd given up on him.


I didn't like the sex because I don't have a humiliation kink. I get that some people maybe like being called a slut and a whore during sex. I'm not one of them. I love a heroine who can enjoy sex, but those labels just turn me right the hell off.


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