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Posted by Guest Reviewer


Strawberry Summer

by Melissa Brayden
April 18, 2017 · Bold Stroke Books
GLBTRomanceContemporary Romance

NB: Please welcome Tara Scot with another squee-worthy review! Check out her previous squees of The Liberators of Willow Run and Courting the Countess.

Tara reads a lot of lesbian romances. You can catch her regularly reviewing at The Lesbian Review and Curve Magazine and hear her talk about lesbian fiction (including romance) on her podcast Les Do Books. You can also hit her up for recommendations on Twitter (@taramdscott).

If you were to ask me for a good place to start reading lesbian romance, Melissa Brayden would be at or near the top of my list. With almost 10 novels and novellas, her backlist is totally glommable without being daunting, and it’s full of fun, flirty dialogue, amazing kissing, and just enough angst to keep things interesting. Her book Kiss the Girl has been one of my very favourite romances since it came out a few years ago, and her latest offering, Strawberry Summer, is so damn good that it blows that whole backlist out of the water.

Margaret Beringer is so not one of the cool kids in her high school. If she can just stay unnoticed by her classmates and make it a few more weeks until summer break, she’ll only have one year left before she can take off for college. Courtney Carrington comes to her history class for the first time just as Margaret is about to give a presentation (the most terrifying of endeavors for a kid striving for invisibility) and somehow notices her. Courtney doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal to jump the popularity divide between Margaret and her classmates, and never cares that Margaret’s a farm kid and not one of the elite.

Courtney is quickly moved back out of town by her mother before she and Margaret can do more than kiss, but she gives her the parting gift of the new name, Maggie, and the promise of friendship with some of those previously unreachable classmates. When Courtney comes back the next summer, their chemistry is stronger than ever and they fall into a relationship so beautiful that it manages to survive each year as they part for separate colleges, only to meet up again in the summers. But their breakup and its circumstances leave Maggie closed off, with scars that she isn’t willing to examine too closely as she trudges ahead with the rest of her life. Five years later, the last thing she expects or wants is to see Courtney back in Tanner Peak, especially when it turns out that there’s something still there—no matter how hard she tries to push those feelings aside.

Strawberry Summer is told in the first person from Maggie’s perspective, which I know isn’t everyone’s favourite, but is a perfect narrative choice for this book. When Maggie and Courtney are in high school, it feels like a YA story. When they’re in their college years, it feels like a new adult romance with all the sexiness and freshness of young love that can be expected from that genre. And when they reunite for that second chance in their late twenties, it feels like a contemporary romance between two fully formed adults. And yet, because Maggie is guiding us through all of it, the story never feels disjointed. We’re just seeing the style adjust naturally alongside Maggie as she matures and grows from that lonely, awkward girl to the successful, confident, and eventually even happy woman she becomes. The only drawback is that we never get Courtney’s perspective and everything she does is interpreted through Maggie’s eyes. Even that didn’t bother me too much because Courtney is demonstrative and shares enough of what she’s thinking and feeling that we can have a complete idea of who she is as a person and a partner.

Second chance romances are also a bit of a mixed bag for me, especially when we’re taken all the way through the original romance. I find them to be much angstier than many other romances, often even unpleasant, because the whole point is to join a couple as they reunite after a painful separation and a whole bunch of time apart. Knowing all of that, I kind of went into this book with a hand over my eyes and that turned out to be totally unnecessary. The second chance aspect worked for me because, when those painful circumstances happened, they didn’t feel gratuitous and they made sense. Being taken from first meeting to friendship to lovers to breakup to reuniting and (finally!) makeup isn’t just about the romance between Maggie and Courtney. It’s also about them coming of age, figuring out who they are as adults, and becoming those people in a way that makes sense for themselves, rather than each molding to become the right person for the other.

Strawberry Summer is the perfect book to pick up as we’re looking forward to the longer, hotter days ahead. It’s a tribute to first love and soulmates and growing into the person you’re meant to be. I feel like I say this each time I read a new Melissa Brayden offering, but I loved this book so much that I cannot wait to see what she delivers next. This is a book I will read over and over again, enjoying each stage of their lives just as much every time.


Jul. 25th, 2017 09:59 pm
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Posted by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

I have been accused, more than a few times in my life, of being overly optimistic. You wouldn’t think that such a thing could be a negative, but it works against me from time to time, as I persist (usually in the face of terrible odds) in thinking that most things will work out just fine if I apply myself to the problem.  If something is properly doomed, this can occasionally spell heartbreak, and that’s what I’m thinking about as I sit here writing to you with an icepack on my left arse, chock full of pain meds, and pondering my week.  The Rally begins on Sunday morning,  and while I’m sure I’ll be able to ride, I’m not sure I won’t be able to do it without some suffering, and I’m reaching for my optimism a bit.

I’ve done everything I can think of for the last few weeks to try and clear this up. Apparently it’s my SI joint (didn’t even know I had one, but there you go) and I’ve had a bike fit, seen a sports medicine doctor (I know! I laughed all the way there. Me! At a sports clinic. I kept thinking they’d look at me like a sloth that had wandered into the gazelle pen at the zoo, but it turns out that when I told them how much I was riding, they wrote down that I was a “serious cyclist.” I almost had to bite myself to keep from laughing out loud.)  The doctor prescribed physiotherapy, and I’ve been doing that, and all my exercises, and I felt like maybe things were getting better, but Sundays’ ride has left me whinging and limping around – and it’s hard for even me to be optimistic under these circumstances. Today after the gym I thought about having a bit of a weep.

I can’t tell you how disappointing it is to prepare for this for months and months, and then get a small but miserable injury right at the end. The whole reason I train is to prevent suffering. This week I’ve been prescribed rest, ice, baths, sleep, massage, anti-inflammatory stuff and… no bike. We’re going for maximum healing before Sunday, when everyone agrees that the worst thing that can happen is pain. I won’t do any permanent harm, and the great thing about going to a sports medicine clinic is that nobody has suggested I don’t do my sport, which is pretty reassuring.  (I believe them too, the dude who has the appointment before mine is an Olympian. They must know what they’re doing if he’s there.) I’m going to pack, eat well, do as I’m told, reach for that optimism, and hope for the very best. I’m also going to keep my eyes on the prize, and that’s fundraising. Me on my bike doesn’t help PWA- it’s the donations that give it power, and they’re behind in the money department this year. I’ll heal, but a lot of the people that look to the agency for important help won’t have a the same chance, so – I’m going to focus on why I do this, and not let the circumstances get me down.  I want to thank you all for your support and donations over the last while. It makes a huge difference, and I’m so grateful.

Enough of that, want to see some spinning? Sure you do. It’s way more interesting than my arse.  Remember this?

braid 2017-07-25

It’s that gorgeous braid of Fiber Optic Yarns merino/silk.  I sat down at the wheel with it when I had that devastatingly tiny cut on my finger, and worked at it a few hours a day.  I wanted to preserve the gradient, and I tossed around the idea of spinning it all into one long single, and then chain plying it, but I was really hoping to get decent yardage, and a laceweight.  I decided I’d split the whole braid down the middle, lengthwise, and then spin each half as it was, and ply them together afterwards.  This sometimes works, and sometimes not so much, but I was (see above) optimistic. I launched.

onespun 2017-07-25

When I was done, I had two bobbins full that I hoped were more of less equal, and then started to ply.

singlesspun 2017-07-25

This is where the whole thing can go sideways.  If I hadn’t split the roving equally, I’d have more of one of the other, and it wouldn’t match up as I went along. That happened a little bit, but as I plied, if it started to not match up, I’d break the single from the offending bobbin, pull out a metre or two until they matched again, and then rejoin and keep plying.  (I had to do that three times, which is pretty good, considering that I’m human. One bobbin was about 10 metres longer than the other.) When I was done, voila.

skeindone 2017-07-25

It’s about 450 metres (492 yards) of a really lovely laceweight. Well, it’s a little heavy for laceweight, but it’s quite light for fingering, so I’m going with the former.  It’s the tiniest bit wonky, like all handspun, but I’m totally in love with it. It is soft, and strong and pretty, and it’s going to make a beautiful… something.

skeindonebushes 2017-07-25

I don’t know what it will be though – because I’m not going to knit it.  You can, if you want. If it calls to your heart, let me know, and let me know what it would be worth to you. The knitter who makes the best offer of a donation gets it. Email me at stephanie@yarnharlot.ca (subject line “that yarn” please) and tell me what you’d be willing to donate to my fundraising, and the highest bid gets it mailed to their house.  (I’ll choose tomorrow afternoon. I’ve got to babysit in the morning.)

ballonfence 2017-07-25

Happy Tuesday everyone. See you tomorrow, and I’m sure everything is going to be just fine.

Three Sweet Nothings by Nikki Sloane

Jul. 25th, 2017 06:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Reviewer


Three Sweet Nothings

by Nikki Sloane
December 12, 2016 · Shady Creek Publishing
GLBTRomanceContemporary Romance

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Nerdalisque. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Erotic Romance category.

The summary:

Five years ago, we’d been together and on fire, but the flames burned us both. Now she’s back in my life and is all my wildest fantasies in the flesh.

I want her. The desire is too powerful to argue against, but I’m not interested in what we had. This is an arrangement about pleasure and finding out who we are behind closed doors. There won’t be talk of love or any sweet nothings whispered by either of us.

This time, I’ll control the heat between us and make sure neither of our hearts get too close to the flames.

Here is Nerdalisque's review:

Three Sweet Nothings opens with Kyle getting himself off to a memory of his ex, Ruby (because she’s SO much better than porn). Specifically, he’s recalling a time when he and drunk Ruby fooled around with another girl. This has been his go-to image for five years since their ugly breakup. And based on this single memory, Kyle is absolutely certain that “a filthy freak hid behind that deceptive, good girl front.” (Yes, Ruby’s curious about kink, but thinks her interest is “dirty” and “wrong.”)

Lo and behold, Kyle and Ruby, both lawyers, end up on opposite sides of a high-profile divorce case. She’s still angry with him, and crashes a New Year’s Eve party to confront him. They go off to the hotel’s rooftop pool to talk. Turns out, if they had just used their words five years ago, they wouldn’t have wasted all that energy hating each other. So, Ruby – who’s just “slammed” some wine (#drinking again) – decides to kiss Kyle. Like you do. And (surprise), they end up (fully clothed) in the pool having rough sex and the best orgasms EVER!!!

A few days later, wannabe Dom Kyle contacts Ruby and uses sex to manipulate her into signing a contract agreeing to a purely sexual relationship – no love, no emotions. Because that always works. The rest of the book is them having various kinds of porny sex in various places with various props and even another couple (*gasp*). Then there’s another misunderstanding because they fail to use their words again. But, twue wuv prevails and there’s an HEA. Sort of.

(BTW, there may have been some character growth, but honestly, I didn’t care enough to pay that close attention.)

This book didn’t work for me for a number of reasons. First, it’s written in alternating first-person POV. Not only does that make it all tell, not show, but I didn’t like the characters’ voices. For example, Ruby, at one of her meetings with Kyle, thinks: “A handshake? For real? I gave his dick a handshake with my vagina just a week ago.” Ew.

Second, Kyle, is a conceited, manipulative alpha-hole with a big red flag in his history. In the five years post-Ruby, he’s had a relationship with one woman – his boss. When he tried some do-it-yourself bondage with her, she freaked out about his “stupid fetish.” She wanted a commitment, and when he turned her down, she black-balled him. Kyle then did something to retaliate (just what isn’t spelled out) that was bad enough that she paid him “hush money,” and he left the city. Um, what? Worst of all, he won’t tell Ruby the whole story. And that is just one example of a third, and major, problem – their lack of honesty. Both of them enter into the sex-only partnership because they want to make the other fall (back) in love with them. That’s especially ironic because the only contract clause Ruby insists on adding is “Total honesty between partners.”

I could go on and on about other problems. They forego using condoms based only on each other’s word that they’re clean. Kyle uses his finger for “full-out [anal] fucking” without any lube. There’s some laughable writing: “violated with frigid winter air,” “the song of my approaching orgasm” (#lolololol). An offensive overuse of ellipses, e.g., “It was . . . erotic” (#facepalm) “She unleased [sic] all these . . . feelings.” (#lmfao) Like so many other things in this book, it was . . . annoying.

So let’s get to the sex. Kyle’s idea of being dominant is doing what he wants all the time – because, of course, he knows what Ruby needs (not “likes,” but needs). For example, when they’re in the pool – their first time together after not speaking for five years – he spanks her in a way he calls “aggressive and backed by a dark desire to punish.” Wow. That’s not healthy. Granted, Ruby apparently likes it, because she tells him to do it again, but he did NOT have her consent.

Again, shortly after Ruby has specifically said, “No thank you. I’m not interested in your partnership offer,” this happens:

I was spun around before I understood what was happening.

My hands flew out and I braced myself on the desktop as he bent me over with a shove. “What are you –“

He was faster than lightning. The sides of my skirt were jerked up over my hips . . .

I tried to right myself and push the skirt down, but . . . his open palm smacked hard against my ass.

I just . . . No. She was trying to stop him. And just because his fingers and dick are magic, and she ends up having an orgasm, that doesn’t make it okay.

If two people have spent five years hating each other, even if they still have pants feelings, they shouldn’t play at D/s. Especially if they haven’t communicated beyond filling out a checklist of things they’d like to try. (Kyle: “Dear God, please check anal.” #eyeroll) (BTW, Kyle lies when he fills his list out.) Supposedly Kyle gets a crash course from an experienced Dom, but it happens off the page. Since Ruby is conflicted about her desires, wouldn’t it have been good for her to talk to a sub? Maybe then she’d have known that the moment before someone penetrates you anally isn’t actually when you should decide on your safe word.

Obviously, this book didn’t work for me. I would have DNF’d it if I hadn’t signed up to review it. (I kind of did anyway, because I skimmed the last few chapters.) But I paid enough attention to identify its problems, some of which – issues of consent, the depiction of a “dominant” male – were really troubling.

I have to give it . . . an F.

Three Sweet Nothings by Nikki Sloane received a B- in a previous RITA Reader Challenge Review.

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Posted by Elyse

Elyse Watches The Bachelorette with Kraken Rum and Coke with a big rose at the bottomToday’s delayed recap is brought to you by Fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia: because pain doesn’t care that you have shit to do.

I actually slept though The Bachelorette last night, but I’ve got it DVR’d and I’m home today with a giant-ass coffee and muscle relaxers.

You think me recapping while drunk was interesting–just wait till the meds kick in.

A woman drinks out of a giant cup of coffee--like bigger than her head

We’re down to three men: Eric, Bryan and Peter. Last week Rachel met everyone’s family, Dean went through the pain of meeting his estranged father on camera after two years separation, and then Rachel let him go.

Last week was pretty fucking depressing.

I’m hoping this week is full of WTFery because I’ll be honest, this season has been kind of a downer.

Now, on with the show!

It’s time for the remaining dudes to meet Rachel’s family. Her sister is eight months pregnant so they are meeting in her hometown of Dallas, rather than the usual practice of flying to an exotic locale.

First up is Peter, who has definitely been more reserved than the other dudes. I personally think Rachel likes him best, but he’s more closed off emotionally than Eric or Bryan. Peter and Rachel shop for a baby gift for her sister and a present for her nephew Allister.

The best part is when Peter picks something out and Rachel gives him the “Um, no” eyes. He’s smart enough to defer to her choice. Good man.

Baby clothes are so friggin adorable you guys. I don’t want kids but I could shop for baby stuff all day long. I’m probably one more muscle relaxer away from knitting Dewey a little baby sweater and hat.

A close up of Peter and Rachel shopping for baby clothes.

Anyway, before they meet her family, Peter pulls her aside and tells Rachel that’s he falling in love with her.


While speaking with Rachel’s mom, Kathy, Peter admits that he’s not sure he’s ready to propose yet because he and Rachel have basically only spent a few weeks together. He still wants to pursue a relationship with her, but he doesn’t know if he would feel right proposing at the end of the show.

While on the one hand I think this is a totally reasonable approach to their relationship, it’s also not what the show is about, so it’s kind of weird to see him say that. The dudes know when they sign up that the show ends with a proposal (usually).

You aren’t following the process–er, journey–Peter! The Rose God will not pleased! Chris Harrison just sat up in his coffin filled with rose petals, his eyes blazing in fury.

Kathy actually likes Peter’s answer, though. She does tell him that she hopes he takes their dating very seriously, though.

Then in what is literally the best shot of the night, we cut away to Rachel and little Allister playing with her dog, Copper.

Copper is a noble floof and I love him.

Copper, a big fluffy orange dog, sits in a chair . He looks like a chow-mix to me and I'd kiss his face a million times.

At one point Peter sits on the floor and colors with Allister and my remaining ovary explodes.

Peter sits on the floor with Allister while Rachel and Copper watch.

The next day it’s Eric’s turn to meet the Lindsays. Eric admits that he’s never been in love and is last serious relationship was two years ago. Rachel’s sister, Constance, is skeptical that Eric is ready for marriage.

Eric tells Constance that he loves Rachel unconditionally, but isn’t in love yet.

Later Eric asks Kathy if he can have her blessing to propose to Rachel.

But…wait? You just said you weren’t in love yet!

Kathy gives him her blessing anyway.

Rachel, her cousin Andrea, and Eric sit on a couch. Eric and Andrea do a little chair dancing.

Lastly it’s Bryan’s turn. Rachel takes him to brunch with a couple of her girlfriends then on to meet her family.

Almost immediately Bryan tells them that his mom is the most important woman in life, which is not all concerning… Like how is that the first thing you say to new people!? “Hi, I’m Bryan and I love my mom more than  anybody else.” Cue the Starbucks barista trying to write that all on a cup.

Kathy asks who would get his priority, his wife or his mom. Bryan kind of stumbles during his answer and it’s clear Kathy isn’t impressed.

Right away there’s some tension between Bryan and Rachel’s family. He’s charming, but in a superficial way. They ask him some pretty direct questions, and when they are skeptical of his answers (like when he says he knew Rachel was the one after just a week), Bryan freaks out and leaves the dinner table.

Rachel is irritated that her family seems to be questioning Bryan more intensely than they did Eric or Peter.

Rachel looks at her mom and says "I am, like, really low-key annoyed."

Bryan tells Constance that he already loves the family and she’s like, “dude, it’s been an hour.”

Bryan apparently loves everything immediately. But not as much as his mom.

Steve Carell from Anchorman says "I love lamp."

Despite all that, Kathy does give Bryan her blessing to propose to Rachel.

So just to recap: we’ve gone from Peter who isn’t sure of his feelings and is playing this close to the vest, to Eric who has never been in love, to Bryan who loves everyone within five minutes of knowing them.


Anyway, the family stuff is over and we can move on to the best part of the episode–Fantasy Suites. This is when Chris Harrison gives the contestants a hand written letter inviting them to sleep with each other.

I did not make that up. It’s a thing that happens.

So they all fly to La Rioja, Spain. We get a shot of Rachel sipping wine THAT SHE DOES NOT FINISH BEFORE LEAVING HER TABLE. Rachel! We never leave a wine behind! Not ever!

The first date goes to Eric. They take a helicopter to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe where they sip champagne.  Later they have dinner, and  Eric tells Rachel he’s in love with her.

They open the handwritten Invitation to Bone from Chris Harrison and head over to the Fantasy Suite. There are a lot of candles in the Fantasy Suite. A LOT. I wonder if some unpaid intern has to go around re-lighting the damn things.

After a commercial break we get the token “morning after” scene where the camera pans to an unmade bed, thereby making sure everyone knows the smexing happened. Then Rachel kisses Eric goodbye so she can go on a date with one of the other dudes and probably sleep with him.

I can’t get over how awkward that must be.

“Great job with the sex! I’m going to go have more of it with people who aren’t you. See you Tuesday!”

The next date is with Peter. They go to a vineyard where they actually finish their wine this time. Once again Peter tells her he’s not ready to propose.

This seems  like  a pretty important conversation, but they are interrupted by a little girl bringing Rachel flowers. I assume Peter planned the whole thing.

A little girl brings Rachel flowers while Peter looks at them with a smile

“She’s asking about commitment! Operation Shirley Temple is a go! I repeat, Operation Shirley Temple is a go!”

He doesn’t get off that easily, though. Over dinner Rachel tells Peter that she didn’t sign up for the show in order to find a boyfriend, she’s looking for a husband. Peter tells her that he considers engagement as seriously as marriage–he wants to be 100% certain he’s ready to be married before he gets engaged.

Rachel is more okay with their engagement still being a “getting to know each other” stage of their relationship.

The episode ends with Rachel tearing up. She feels like they aren’t at the same place and she says, “Tonight, for the first time ever, I’m thinking Peter and I might not work out.”

Then we get the dramatic TO BE CONTINUED

Do you think Peter can come back from this? Are you still watching?

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Posted by Amanda

AppSumo has a sale on Stencil, an image editing program! Lifetime access to Stencil is available for $49.

You can make headers and images for social media and promotional graphics, plus it includes a Facebook 20% text checker to make sure what you make will fly with the FB lords.

There’s also a Chrome extension to easily share links with customized images.

Let Us Dream

Let Us Dream by Alyssa Cole is 99c! This was Redheadedgirl’s favorite story in the Daughters of a Nation anthology. It’s also nominated for a RITA® this year in the Romance Novella category. Ppyajunebug wrote a guest review for our Reader Challenge and here’s what she had to say:

Cole is one of the few authors on my instabuy list – I will buy anything she writes, regardless of genre, pairing, or length. She writes interesting, fully-realized characters with an eye towards how society shapes their experiences and personalities. “Let Us Dream” is no exception to that rule and I, and everyone else who reads it, should be thankful for that.

*This novella originally appeared in Daughters of A Nation: A Black Suffragette Historical Romance Anthology*

Harlem, 1917

After spending half her life pretending to be something she’s not, performance is second nature for cabaret owner Bertha Hines. With the election drawing near and women’s voting rights on the ballot, Bertha decides to use her persuasive skills to push the men of New York City in the right direction.

Chef Amir Chowdhury jumped ship in New York to get a taste of the American Dream, only to discover he’s an unwanted ingredient. When ornery Amir reluctantly takes a job at The Cashmere, he thinks he’s hit the bottom of the barrel; however, working at the club reignites his dream of being a force for change. His boss, Bertha, ignites something else in him.

Bertha and Amir clash from the start, but her knowledge of politics and his knowledge of dance force them into a detente that fans the flames of latent desire. But Bertha has the vice squad on her tail, and news from home may end Amir’s dream before it comes to fruition. With their pasts and futures stacked against them, can Amir and Bertha hold on to their growing love?

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

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Waking the Bear

Waking the Bear by Kerry Adrienne is 99c! This is a Kindle Daily Deal and the second book, Pursuing the Bear, is a 99c KDD as well. Readers loved the park ranger/bear shifter hero, but others found the dialogue a bit…corny. Trigger warning as well, as the heroine is rebuilding her life following an abusive relationship. It has a 3.7-star rating on Goodreads.

Sexy shifter passion is awakened when two unlikely lovers are challenged by secrets, danger and an unstoppable need to claim one’s mate…

For human Amy Francis, the secluded cabin in Deep Creek is the haven she needs to map out a fresh new start. She never expected her heart to be reawakened by a distraction like Griff Martin, commanding yet gentle, too ferociously sensual to ignore. It’s clear that patrolling the forest is more than a job to Griff—it’s a means of survival. But what Amy doesn’t realize is she’s reawakened the beast within him.

Griff’s dormant hunger is stirred by this intoxicating woman…and threatened by the secret she must never learn. Duty-bound to defend his bear clan against an avenging pride of lion shifters, Griff’s entire world is upended when he meets Amy. His animal need to claim his mate has taken hold, but that very desire could seal her fate as an unwitting pawn in battle.

Now, as a shifter war looms, Griff must decide between letting Amy go or following his most carnal instincts. To have her would change his life…but risk everything he knows and was born to protect.

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Madame X

RECOMMENDED: Madame X by Jasinda Wilder is $2.99! I read this book and while it’s not quite a romance, I really enjoyed it. It’s a unique, dark, and twisted start to a trilogy. I gave it a B+:

Madame X isn’t going to be for everyone…. It’s written in first person. It does end on a cliffhanger. It deals with abuse (trigger warning) – physically, financially, and psychologically. There’s no HEA in this book as it’s an ongoing series following the same heroine. And there are also themes of infidelity.

But, if you’re still with me, it’s also one of the most unique books I’ve read in a while. It sucked me in and broke my heart. The next book cannot come soon enough.

Madame X invites you to test the limits of control in this provocative new
novel from New York Times bestselling author Jasinda Wilder.

My name is Madame X.
I’m the best at what I do.
And you’d do well to follow my rules…

Hired to transform the uncultured, inept sons of the wealthy and powerful into decisive, confident men, Madame X is a master of the art of control. With a single glance she can cut you down to nothing, or make you feel like a king.

But there is only one man who can claim her body—and her soul.

Undone time and again by his exquisite dominance, X craves and fears his desire in equal measure. And while she longs for a different path, X has never known anything or anyone else—until now…

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The Invisible Library

RECOMMENDED: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman is $2.99! This is a fantasy novel that Carrie really enjoyed. She graded it a B+:

While I genuinely loved the characters and concepts of the book, it’s played strictly for fun adventure. This isn’t a philosophical book. There’s some character development, but it’s not huge. It’s basically just an excuse to have smart people fight cyborg alligators in a ballroom and werewolves in a museum. Luckily during the week that I read this book I was stressed out so it was just what I needed. It’s smart, well-written fluff and I ate it up with a spoon. I am avidly waiting for the sequel.

Collecting books can be a dangerous prospect in this fun, time-traveling, fantasy adventure from a spectacular debut author.
One thing any Librarian will tell you: the truth is much stranger than fiction…

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all of the different realities. Most recently, she and her enigmatic assistant Kai have been sent to an alternative London. Their mission: Retrieve a particularly dangerous book. The problem: By the time they arrive, it’s already been stolen.

London’s underground factions are prepared to fight to the death to find the tome before Irene and Kai do, a problem compounded by the fact that this world is chaos-infested—the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic to run rampant. To make matters worse, Kai is hiding something—secrets that could be just as volatile as the chaos-filled world itself.

Now Irene is caught in a puzzling web of deadly danger, conflicting clues, and sinister secret societies. And failure is not an option—because it isn’t just Irene’s reputation at stake, it’s the nature of reality itself…

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Posted by Amanda

This HaBO is from E.D., who has been searching for this book for at least a decade:

I’ve been looking for this book for over 10 years.

All I remember is:

  • The cover had a swan I think, not sure if it was part of the cover or a publishers logo.
  • I know the characters wore corsets and lace up petticoats, but I’m not sure about the time frame of the book just that it was set in the past. Pre-1900s I think.
  • The main character has freckles and at one point is using some sort of cucumber cream when she falls from the barn loft right in front of the main guy.
  • She’s kind of tomboyish, and the dress she’s wearing when she’s with the main guy to visit someone is too big for her. The person they visit points it out and says the dress is ugly, might have been yellow in color.
  • The guy is kind of mean/rude to her at first and sees her as a bother.
  • Something about horses. I think the guy rides them and she wants to, but since she’s a girl she isn’t allowed.
  • They end up in a compromising situation so they have to get married, but they were set up by his and her family.
  • After she thinks they have sex for the first time, she wonders why she isn’t walking funny, like she’s seen the mares do after they are mounted by a male.
  • She ends up pregnant, and they both are very in love.
  • Near the end, I think she’s sitting cross legged on the bed pregnant and naked with her long hair covering her breasts, and her husband thinks she’s beautiful.

That’s a lot of detail! Someone knows this book.


Jul. 25th, 2017 01:00 pm
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Posted by Jen

Remember how we all loved the game "Telephone" in kindergarten? Well, add in a cake, and the fun never stops!

This order was for a "black high heel":

(It's a hill, people. Get it?)


Specifying punctuation is always tricky:

Although I suppose if Aunt flashed Mom that would liven up the party, and it's certainly preferable to Aunt slashing Mom.

(Ok, this one is tricky, I know: the order was for Aunt/Mom - a slash, in other words.)


Here we have a beautifully done blue horse. Unfortunately, it was supposed to be a blue house.


If your message is "Philip...Woohoo!", and you actually have to say the words "dot dot dot", be prepared for just about anything.


And of course these never get old:

Although interestingly enough, I think that icing IS light pink. I guess the decorator was covering all her bases.


Thanks to Danielle M., Stefanie D., Rachel S., Michael T., and Chandra.


Thank you for using our Amazon links to shop! USA, UK, Canada.

The Master by Tara Sue Me

Jul. 24th, 2017 06:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Reviewer


The Master

by Tara Sue Me
February 2, 2016 · Berkley
RomanceErotica/Erotic Romance

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by garlicknitter. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Erotic Romance category.

The summary:

Tara Sue Me’s New York Times bestselling Submissive series continues with a delicious new story that explores the thin line between pleasure and pain. . . .
She’s ready to try again. . . .

Sasha Blake is scarred from a BDSM session gone wrong, but she can’t deny how much a strong Master turns her on. Determined to overcome her fears and rejoin the Partners in Play community, she asks Abby and Nathaniel West to set her up with a Dom who can help her feel safe again as a sub. They know the very experienced Cole is exactly the kind of man who can push all of Sasha’s buttons—and she soon wants to go much faster than she had planned. . . .

Cole knows that Sasha is not the kind of submissive he needs. He wants someone who will serve him 24-7, not a part-time partner. Still, the further they go into their play, the more Cole begins to wish he could make Sasha his all the time. . . .

When forbidden desires turn into scorching action, Sasha and Cole come face-to-face with their demons—and realize their scorching relationship might be too dangerous to last. . . .

Here is garlicknitter's review:

I initially had a hard time getting into this story, but once I did, I enjoyed it very much. I think the initial problem was because this is book eight in a series, none of which I have previously read. The story started off with a meeting of a lot of characters who would be well known to fans of the series, but of course for me it was like being dumped into a group of strangers. I had trouble remembering names and kept mixing people up until I had hung out with them long enough to have some idea of their individual personalities.

So, basic story: Pretty much everyone in this book is into BDSM to various degrees. All the named characters are or have been members of the same play group. Some of them have already formed long-term relationships (presumably in earlier books). Sasha, the heroine, is a submissive, but (TRIGGER WARNING for abuse) she was hurt badly by her previous Dom in a scene where he had her bound and gagged and they had not set up a safe signal. (He ends up being permanently kicked out of the group because of this incident and his behavior afterward.) Sasha still wants to be a sub because that’s what turns her on, but now she’s prone to panic attacks when asked to do some things. She asks for help from the play group, and they pick out a Dom to retrain her, someone they know has the experience to really help her reestablish trust. (At first I was like, uh, does she get any say in who retrains her? But within the first few chapters it is clearly stated that if she doesn’t want to work with their choice she can ask for someone else.)

The Dom the group chooses is Cole. Not everyone thinks he’s a good choice, because he’s apparently really intense when he plays. (I don’t feel like this really came out in the book – it’s stated repeatedly that he’s so intense, but the described scenes didn’t seem especially intense to me – I kind of assume any kind of BDSM play would be intense to the participants, and the scenes read about like I would expect, given that.) However, intense or not, Cole is really good at taking care of subs and keeping them safe, which is exactly what Sasha needs. He starts off carefully with her – one of the first things he tells her is he won’t be having sex with her. He’s just going to retrain her in being a submissive. I wasn’t initially sure what he meant by that, since (like most non-participants, I imagine) I tend to think of BDSM relationships as being about kinky sex, so taking the sex out doesn’t seem to leave much to do.

Of course that’s an oversimplification. Sasha needs to get past her trust issues, and for that she needs someone utterly trustworthy – Cole can be that guy for her. He’s very clear what behavior he expects from her and very strict about enforcing his rules, but he makes it clear that even when he punishes her for breaking his rules, he will always make her as safe as he can. For one thing, every time she uses a safe word, he praises her lavishly. Also, when he tells her what he expects from her before they play, he always asks her if she has any questions. He doesn’t assume he always knows what’s best for her, he checks with her, and when he thinks she has concerns she’s not being open about he uses his Dom powers to push her to be more candid.

Of course the no-sex thing doesn’t last. As Sasha progresses in her retraining, as she becomes stronger, she wants more domination. She genuinely enjoys submission. Serving a Dom turns her on, being bound turns her on, being flogged turns her on, etc. She knows Cole is good at all those things, and she also finds him incredibly hot, so naturally she comes to want more from him. She knows he was previously in a 24/7 Master/slave relationship, and she’s intrigued and wants to try a taste of that, but he spends the first half of the book explaining why she’s not ready. He’s explaining to himself as much as her; he also finds her incredibly hot and likes her submissive style. Eventually, at the end of her initial retraining, they do have sex, and once that happens he gives in to what they both want and agrees to a temporary Master/slave relationship, which is a resounding success. The rest of the conflict is a typical “I love him/her, but he/she deserves better/isn’t ready/wants something other than what I have to offer,” which is neatly resolved with friends of each pointing out that they seem to be stupid in love with the other and maybe they should follow up on that.

Without being a BDSM aficionado, I’d say this book does a good job demonstrating the principle that being a Dom is not just about ordering subs around and using them to get off – job number one is taking care of the sub, keeping them safe, giving pleasure as well as taking it, and making sure that even if some of the play hurts, it doesn’t actually harm.

Grade? I’m going with a B+. The writing was clear and didn’t get in the way of the story. This is a big deal for me – clunky writing can make it impossible for me to engage with a story. The characterizations were reasonably believable – or at least I was able to ignore potential issues like how does a journalist (Cole) have this much money? As stated above, I found the final emotional conflict pretty typical, but it was handled nicely and I was happy for everyone at the end.

The Master by Tara Sue Me received an A in a previous RITA Reader Challenge Review.

Fantasy, Erotica, & More on Sale!

Jul. 24th, 2017 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

Attention all magazine readers! The Texture Premium app is on sale for Amazon Prime members.

Prime exclusive deal for 1 year: $4.99 per month for the first year of Texture, which means you get unlimited access to 200+ magazines in one app. It automatically renews at $9.99/month after the first 12 months. Cancel anytime.

Truth or Beard

Truth or Beard by Penny Reid is $2.99 at Amazon! This is part of today’s Kindle Daily Deals. I know Reid is an auto-buy author for many of you and this one has an enemies to lovers feel to it, judging by the description. Readers say it has Reid’s trademark humor and quirkiness, but warn there’s a scene where the hero is with another woman. I know that’s an off button for some.

Beards, brothers, and bikers! Oh my!

Identical twins Beau and Duane Winston might share the same devastatingly handsome face, but where Beau is outgoing and sociable, Duane is broody and reserved. This is why Jessica James, recent college graduate and perpetual level-headed good girl, has been in naïve and unhealthy infatuation with Beau Winston for most of her life.

His friendly smiles make her tongue-tied and weak-kneed, and she’s never been able to move beyond her childhood crush. Whereas Duane and Jessica have always been adversaries. She can’t stand him, and she’s pretty sure he can’t stand the sight of her…

But after a case of mistaken identity, Jessica finds herself in a massive confusion kerfuffle. Jessica James has spent her whole life paralyzed by the fantasy of Beau and her assumptions of Duane’s disdain; therefore she’s unprepared for the reality that is Duane’s insatiable interest, as well as his hot hands and hot mouth and hotter looks. Not helping Jessica’s muddled mind and good girl sensibilities, Duane seems to have gotten himself in trouble with the local biker gang, the Iron Order.

Certainly, Beau’s magic spell is broken. Yet when Jessica finds herself drawn to the man who was always her adversary, now more dangerous than ever, how much of her level-head heart is she willing to risk?

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:





A Desperate Fortune

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley is $1.99 for TODAY ONLY as a Kindle Daily Deal! It’s also being price-matched. Like Kearsley’s other books, which are very popular and rarely discounted, it has strong romantic elements and dual timelines. Many readers loved Sara, a woman who’s been diagnosed with Asperger’s and takes a job as a codebreaker, but other readers found the book took a while to get going. And, in case you missed it, check out Susanna Kearsley on our podcast!

The highly anticipated, brand-new timeslip romance from New York Times bestselling author Susanna Kearsley

For nearly 300 years, the mysterious journal of Jacobite exile Mary Dundas has lain unread-its secrets safe from prying eyes. Now, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas has been hired by a once-famous historian to crack the journal’s cipher.

But when she arrives in Paris, Sara finds herself besieged by complications from all sides: the journal’s reclusive owner, her charming Parisian neighbor, and Mary, whose journal doesn’t hold the secrets Sara expects. As Mary’s tale grows more and more dire, Sara, too, must carefully choose which turning to take… to find the road that will lead her safely home.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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Crash Into You

Crash Into You by Roni Loren is $2.99! This is an erotic romance with BDSM and suspense elements. Oh, and a second chance romance! There is a menage scene which some readers wished there was a warning about. So…menage warning, ahoy! It’s the first book in the Loving on the Edge series, doesn’t have a cliffhanger, and has a 3.9-star rating on Goodreads.

Brynn LeBreck has dedicated herself to helping women in crisis, but she never imagined how personal her work would get, or where it would take her. Her younger sister is missing, suspected to be hiding from cops and criminals alike at a highly secretive BDSM retreat-a place where the elite escape to play out their most extreme sexual fantasies. To find her, Brynn must go undercover as a sexual submissive. Unfortunately, The Ranch is invitation only. And the one master who can get her in is from the darkest corner of Brynn’s past.

Brynn knows what attorney Reid Jamison is like once stripped of his conservative suit and tie. Years ago she left herself vulnerable only to have him crush her heart. Now she needs him again. Back on top. And he’s all too willing to engage. But as their primal desires and old wounds are exposed, the sexual games escalate-and so does the danger. Their hearts aren’t the only things at risk. Someone else is watching, playing by his own rules. And his game could be murder.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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Vengeance Born

Vengeance Born by Kylie Griffin is $2.99! This is a fantasy romance and the first in a series. Readers commended Griffin’s original world-building. However, others found that the pace of the book dragged in certain spots because of said world-building. Ah, such is often the crux of fantasy romances.

There is no mercy in the demon realm. No escape. In this place of desperation and conflict, anyone who is not pure bred is virtually powerless. Until an unlikely champion is born…

Annika, half-blood daughter of the Na’Reish King, longs for more than her tormented life among her father’s people. Conceived in hatred and bred as a tool of retribution, she’s gifted with a special talent that can heal as well as destroy…

With the Na’Reish vastly outnumbering them, Kalan, a Light Blade warrior, knows the future of humankind depends on him alone. Incursions into human territory and raids for blood-slaves by the Na’Reish Horde have increased. As Chosen-leader, he faces the task of stopping the demons-and convincing the Council of aging Light Blade warriors that change is necessary for survival.

When Annika learns Kalan is a prisoner in her father’s dungeon, her dream of escape seems within reach. She agrees to free him in exchange for his protection once they reach human territory. Now, marked for death for helping him, Annika must learn to trust Kalan as they face not only the perilous journey to the border but enemies within the Council-and discover a shocking truth that could throw the human race into civil war…

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This book is on sale at:

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Pool Wars

Jul. 24th, 2017 01:00 pm
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Posted by Jen

"If you only knew the POWER [squeak] of the Dark Side. JOIN ME [squeak] and we can [squeeeeak] RULE the... [squeaksqueaksqueakSPLASH!]


"I find your lack of balance...disturbing.



Thanks to Angel K. for the splishin' and the splashin'.


Thank you for using our Amazon links to shop! USA, UK, Canada.

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Posted by Elyse

Wonder Woman has been my favorite film so far this year, and it’s clearly resonated with a lot of romance readers (and women in general). For this edition of Stuff You Should Be Stitching, I’m focusing on Wonder Woman-themed awesomeness.

Now, you might have noticed that this column title changed from Stuff You Should Be Knitting. That’s because I’m going to try and focus more on cross stitch, needlepoint, sewing, and crochet as well. I’ll try to feature as many free patterns as possible too.

Stitchy Bitches unite!

First up, look at this beauty:

A modified triangular shawl with a red background and the Wonder Woman logo in gold.

This is the Wonder Woman Wrap by Carissa Browning and it’s free on Ravelry!

I literally gasped when I saw this. I have a lot of knitting planned–like 6 shawls by Christmas. I just bought yarn for a Find Your Fade. I still really, really need to make this for me.

Can you imagine wrapping up in this in the office, fighting professional injustice?

Also free is the Wonder Woman sweater by Natalie Bursztyn.

A woman models a pullover sweater designed to look like Wonder Woman's bodice against a blue backdrop with stars.

This is a seamed sweater, with a raglan sleeve and requires knowledge of colorwork.

If these projects are too large, there are smaller ones available too!

The Wonder Woman Scarf by Konchan Ie Me is also free on Ravelry! Once again this pattern involves some level of colorwork. It’s also reversible!

A long scarf with tassled ends. On one side is the Wonder Woman logo against a red backdrop. The other side is blue with white stars.

Lastly for knitters,  we have Wonder Woman Fingerless Gloves by Ducky Dame. This pattern is available for $4 on Etsy and could be a great stash-buster.

A pair of red fingerless gloves with the Wonder Woman logo across the back of the hands.

There are a TON of awesome Wonder Woman cross stitch patterns out there–don’t believe me? Just Google. Here are a few of my favorites.

This pattern by Hall Stitch is available on Esty for $3.75 and I love how it features just the shadow of Wonder Woman, her logo blazing through in white. It requires five floss colors and is available as a PDF download.

A dark blue shadow of Wonder Woman stands fiercely, her logo, the stars on her outift and her headband glow white. Her logo and name are stitched next to her in blue and red.

Susan Owenby of The Bored Zombie is offering this awesome cross stitch pattern for free! I especially love the 3-D detail of the Lasso of Hestia hanging on Diana’s belt.

Wonder Woman stands with her arms raised up against a blue and white striped background. Her lasso is a small braid that's looped and stitched onto her belt.

If you’re looking for a smaller project, there’s always this Wonder Woman logo available on Etsy for $2.75.  It’s a digital file and requires five colors of floss.

The wonder woman logo in a round shield. The interior of the shield is blue and the edge is red with white stars.

If you are happiest hooking, then you’ll be delighted by some of these awesome Wonder Woman crochet patterns.

My personal favorite is this gorgeous throw. I love how bold the colors are, and the black outline really makes the image pop. It’s designed by Nicole Pellegrino and is available for $8. The difficulty level is listed as easy, so it could be a fun project for beginners.

A throw blanket draped across a sofa. The Wonder Woman logo is in the center, with red above and white stars on a blue field below. There are red and blue borders.

Fans of arugami (crocheting small stuffed dolls or animals) should check out this free pattern. This adorable Wonder Woman doll would be great to give as a gift to an adult or child, or just to keep on your desk.


A small crocheted Wonder Woman doll.

Another amazing free pattern is this Wonder Woman headband with Diana’s long raven locks. Look at how adorable it is! The designer lists it as a beginner pattern too! I may have just died from the cute!

A super adorable baby wears a hat that is crocheted to look like Wonder Woman's headband with her long black curls flowing out from over it.

Last but not least is a sewing pattern for this Wonder Woman inspired apron. It’s available for $8 on Etsy and comes as a PDF download. I can’t sew or cook, but I have serious apron envy.

An apron on a dress form. The skirt is blue with stars and the bodice is red. There is gold trim along the bust and waist.

I’m going to a new Little Yarn Store this week and I may just have to get some yarn for that first shawl pattern.

I know so many of you are knitters, stitchers, hookers, and crafty crafters, so I want to make sure you know about the SBTB Ravelry Group! Come join us!

Did Wonder Woman inspire your crafting? What are you stitching?

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

Jul. 24th, 2017 07:00 am
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Posted by Redheadedgirl


Hate to Want You

by Alisha Rai
July 25, 2017 · Avon
RomanceContemporary RomanceErotica/Erotic Romance

This is the book that I was most excited to get at RT. When people saw that it was out in the wild, the most inhuman noises were made, and it was worth all of those noises.


So much angst. So much pathos. EVERYTHING HAPPENS SO MUCH.

Nicholas and Livvy are the scions of a grocery store partnership dynasty, started by their grandfathers after World War II. Ten years before the book began, Nicholas’ mother and Livvy’s father died in car accident, and Nicholas’ father bought Livvy’s mother’s share of the company for pennies on the dollar, leading to a schism the likes of which the grocery world had never seen. Livvy and Nicholas were a very happy couple until that point. Then Nicholas dumped her, Livvy left town, and in the intervening ten years, Livvy would text Nick to come to her on her birthday, where they would bang in the ancient and honorable tradition of “only one night, no one needs to know.”

Everyone has this idea that there is no way this plan could go wrong for them, but then it always does.

But her last birthday, Livvy didn’t summon Nick, and Nick was like, “Welp, I’m gonna wash the girl right out of my hair” but then her mother has a medical crisis. Livvy comes back to town and finally, it’s time to deal with all the festering crap. Will Nick and Livvy figure their shit out? Or even make a decision that they even could figure their shit out?

What I loved about this story is that here were two families who let themselves be defined by one event…but they were different events.  For Nick’s family, and specifically his father, it was the car accident. For Livvy’s family, it was the fact that Nick’s father cheated her mother out of their share of the company. Everything all of these people have done in the intervening ten years all lead back to those two moments in time.

Rai has described this as, “Romeo and Juliet without all the sexism crap and with an HEA” and….kind of? I mean, feuding families, yes, but it’s missing a bunch of the other elements that make up R&J. Children of feuding families falling in love is not exactly a trope that Shakespeare made up, and I know I’m being a bit snobby right here.

I very much liked how Rai worked in the history of the Japanese Internment Camps during WWII. Livvy’s grandfather was a child of Japanese immigrants, and when they were sentenced to a camp, they gave most of their belongings and assets to Nick’s family. Luckily, Nick’s family held them in trust for Livvy’s family and didn’t steal them (that was a thing that happened), and the two families were inseparable…until they were separated by a series of TERRIBLE CHOICES.

There’s a lovely through line about tattoos and the art people put on their bodies and the reasons for the art they choose. We’ve had a post or two about the book-related tattoos some of our delightful Bitchery have, and I know how deeply personal tattoos are for people, and that’s no less true here.

Often in books (not romance, I mean books in general) side characters can feel under-developed. They just sort of exist to nudge the plot along while the main characters get all the character development. One of things Rai has taken the time to do is make sure she knows what the motivations are for all of the supporting characters. They all have their own inner lives. We don’t spend a lot of time dealing with the needs and wants of Livvy’s sister-in-law (as an example), but I believe that Rai knows what they are, and that made her breathe on the page. Nick’s sister, Livvy’s mother, Nick’s father… all of these people are full characters in their own right.

In certain moods, I love me some angst, and this had SO MUCH ANGST. SO MUCH. Nick and Livvy were SO DAMAGED by the actions of their parents. Because families that have a fuck ton of money have the ability to use that money to bully younger generations, they both felt like they could not simply walk away from the mess together. (Please note: Livvy’s family no longer has their fuck ton of money, and Livvy is the one who walks away.) It’s so complicated, and so messy. I highly suggest reading this with a big glass of wine or a pint of ice cream (or both, don’t let me limit your experience).

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Posted by Guest Reviewer


No Mistress of Mine

by Laura Lee Guhrke
August 30, 2016 · Avon
RomanceContemporary Romance

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by ReneeG. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Long Historical category.

The summary:

USA Today bestselling author Laura Lee Guhrke is back with the latest in her dazzling An American Heiress in London series, in which a reformed rogue finds all his honorable resolutions tested by the only woman who ever broke his heart…

After spending his youth as one of the wildest rakes in the ton, Lord Denys Somerton has devoted the past six years to putting his past behind him. He is determined to fulfill his duties, find a suitable wife, and start a family, but that plan changes when Lola Valentine—the red-haired temptress from his past—returns to London, sparking the same irresistible desires that almost ruined his life once before.

Lola is a woman with no romantic illusions. She knew love would never be enough for a British lord and an American girl from the wrong side of the tracks. For Denys’s sake, she walked away from him and the glittering life he offered. But when an unexpected inheritance brings her back to London, Lola discovers the passion between them is as hot as ever. Can they vanquish it, or will it burn out of control again and destroy them both?

Here is ReneeG's review:

No Mistress of Mine is the fourth book in the An American Heiress in London series and is second-chance-at-love catnip with competence porn sprinkles on top. It isn’t necessary to read the other books in the series in order to follow and enjoy this one. And, unusually, this book takes place in 1892 – shout-out to late Victorian industry!

Our stars, Denys (a British lord) and Lola (an American cancan/music hall star) have quite the past. They met in Paris when Denys was a young and irresponsible lordling and Lola was dancing said cancan. Lola moved to London with Denys, where he set her up in a little house in St. John’s Wood after she gave in to his mistress request. He mortgaged his property to finance her star turn in a play that quickly closed due to her poor acting abilities, so Lola ran away, back to Paris and dancing, where Denys followed her and proposed. Lola broke Denys’ heart when she turned him down, implying she was choosing an American investor as her next conquest and returning to America with him. Whew, that’s the backstory.

Our story opens with Lola’s American investor dying suddenly and leaving her his half ownership interest in a London theatre along with a nice chunk of change; the other half of the theatre is owned by Denys’ dad, Lord Conyers. After his wild, passionate, and expensive (failed theatre runs are not cheap) fling with Lola, and subsequent return from Paris after the failed proposal, Denys settled down and took over the family’s business concerns, including the theatre, and discovered he enjoys working for a living. Of course, Denys is a fabulous businessman and has done a tremendous job becoming wealthy and boring, but now he is toying with the idea of settling down with a childhood friend to start producing the next heir. But Lola’s back in town and she has a plan to both fulfill her dream of becoming a serious actress and to ditch the music hall singer/dancer persona once and for all – and she needs Denys’ help to do it.

What I enjoyed the most about the book was the competence porn and the “using of the words.” First, Lola had studied very hard to become a dramatic actress while performing in her own one-woman show in New York (which she had devised and updated, according to the limits placed upon her by her backers). It seemed realistic, based solely on my love of Hollywood and Broadway musicals, that Lola’s backers would want her to keep doing the type of show that was making them money (the old “wink and jiggle, song and dance” act), regardless of Lola’s desire for Shakespeare. It took the death of her “American protector” to free her to pursue her dream in London.

While realizing that the only way she would have a chance at a serious dramatic role involves using her inherited half of the theatre, Lola is also very aware that she will cause Denys pain when she comes back into his life. She apologizes for what happened in the past and spends much time trying to explain about her past (and thinking naked thoughts about Denys). Denys, practicing advanced therapeutic techniques not often seen in Late Victorian London, gradually hears her and comes to understand why she acted the way she did (while also thinking naked thoughts about Lola). Witty banter and genuine communication happen. It doesn’t occur overnight, but over time harsh feelings are softened. Real naked-times happen, not as a weapon from the past but as a gift for the present. The pacing of this was well done – Lola didn’t blurt out what happened to her all at once, but placed pieces of herself before Denys to help him understand her better; they didn’t hop into bed for revenge or old-time memories but because they had hot pants for each other now.

The part which let me down was the ending. Spoilers ahoy!

After killing it onstage in her first role (which she earned through an audition, not because she half-owned the theatre, BTW), Lola decides to toss it all aside when Lord Conyers threatens to tell Denys and the world about her first lover. I just didn’t believe Lola would tuck her tail and run away – again – not after the growth she went through to take her career back into her own hands. After all, she came back to London, where she had flopped like a dying fish, to realize her dream, a dream that sustained her through all the bad in her life. This giant Gong Show plot device was a clumsy way of dragging Lola off the stage so she would be free marry Denys.

After Lola says that society will always see her as trash, Denys sets up a Surprise! proposal to show Lola that he knows best, and uses his friends and their American wives to persuade Lola to stay.

This was a step too far for me. None of the wives had met Lola personally, but they all agree to stand with her against the ton. But let’s take a moment and think about this – wouldn’t you want to meet the woman who was the heartbreaking ex-cancan-dancer-actress-mistress of your husband’s friend and make up your own mind? Wouldn’t that seem rather necessary, especially if you were a just-married American heiress being called upon to use your new social clout to protect said heartbreaker from the slings and arrows of London Society? Do these wives have any ability to say “nope, not gonna ‘til we do tea” to their husbands?

In Romancelandia, an ex-cancan-dancer-actress-mistress (especially if she reforms into a serious actress who does Shakespeare) can grab a happy ending with a lord and get to be part of the ton by jumping through some hoops to make herself respectable. And when you have to reform a shady lady so she is fit for said society, you sometimes have to stretch the story to make it fit that HEA. It just seems a bit much to take away poor Lola’s strength and purpose to make that stretch.

Because the ending seemed so rushed and pulled out of the ether, especially after all the work establishing Lola as a strong, successful woman and the effort Lola and Denys put into their relationship, I had to lower my initial grade. Still, No Mistress of Mine was a mostly enjoyable story, despite how personally disappointing the ending was.

I’d like to thank everyone at SBTB for the opportunity to write these reviews. It is great fun to contribute to a site I love so much!

No Mistress of Mine by Laura Lee Guhrke received a B- in a previous RITA Reader Challenge Review.

Movie Review: Dunkirk

Jul. 23rd, 2017 05:00 pm
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Posted by Redheadedgirl

This is a movie that starts tense, stays tense, and ends… still pretty tense. It’s also a masterclass in film structure, and I would put it up there with Hell or High Water as one of the best constructed movies of the modern age.

It also had one of the most effective teaser trailers I’ve ever seen.

Dunkirk tells the story of the Miracle at Dunkirk, a week at the end of May and beginning of June, 1940 where the bulk of the British Expeditionary Forces and the remaining French army were surrounded by the German army on all sides. A superhuman effort to get as many of the 400,000 troops out of France was more successful than expected, due to the use of the Little Ships of Dunkirk: civilian fishing boats, ferries, pleasure yachts, and lifeboats that were shallow enough to come up to the beaches and gather up as many people as they could. When Churchill put Operation Dynamo, the evacuation plan, in motion, he expected to evacuate around 35,000 troops. In the end, the number was over 338,000.

It’s one of those turning points in history: if the BEF had been crushed by the German army in that week, that probably would have been it for the Allied forces. Stuff You Missed in History Class did an excellent two part episode covering the events leading up to the Dunkirk evacuation, and the evacuation itself, and I highly recommend it.

Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar) got the idea for this movie over 20 years ago, but realized that he wasn’t a good enough filmmaker yet to make the movie he had in his head, so he shelved it, and worked on movies with big scopes and big budgets and played around with narrative and made himself into the filmmaker that could make this movie the way he wanted to.

The movie is structured around three POVs: land, sea, and air. On land, he tells the story of the men on the beach – it takes about a week in their time. On sea, the story is one of the little ships, and we’re with them for one day. In the air, there’s three Spitfires providing air support to the  operation, and we’re with them for an hour. The narratives cut back and forth between POVs, until they overlap and eventually end with all the narratives ending at the same place.

It’s basically the movie version of the Golden Ratio. I can’t stress enough how much I liked how well put together each storyline was and how well they wove together. Nolan has talked about how he used a mathematical structure to put things together, and what this does is it makes the entire film extremely atmospheric and claustrophobic.

In the land section (it’s referred to as The Mole, because of the breakwater that was used as a dock, since most of the harbor at Dunkirk was destroyed), most of the action is experienced through the eyes of a young soldier, Tommy (FIonn Whitehead, aka Not Harry Styles), as he makes it through the town of Dunkirk to the beach, and onto various ships as he tries to get home. He hooks up with Alex (Harry Styles) and some other people, while the officers (Kenneth Branagh and James D’arcy) manage the evacuation.

On the sea, Mark Rylance plays a man who owns a pleasure yacht, and when the call goes out that the Navy is activating the civilian fleet go to Dunkirk and help, he chooses to pilot his own ship, instead of letting the Navy commandeer her (in general, most of the Little Ships were piloted by the Navy). With him is his son and another kid from their town, and they pick up Cillian Murphy from a wreck along the way.  Cillian Murphy is only credited as “shivering soldier” and is completely traumatized by his experiences.

In the air, Tom Hardy flies a Spitfire and shoots down German planes. We get to see his face once, and most of his scenes are just him, in his cockpit.

There are a bunch of things that make this movie so effective. One is that the Germans are mostly a completely unseen threat. You never see them, except in planes. You don’t know where they are or where they’re coming from. The movie starts almost in media res: all Nolan needs you to know is that the bulk of the British army is on this beach, and there’s no way out but across the Channel.  You don’t need to know anyone’s backstory, or motivation, except for what is immediately important: get off the beach, get as many people on the boat as possible, shoot down those planes.

Another thing is the music. Hans Zimmer did the score, and his partnerships with Nolan has been REALLY good. I like Zimmer’s music a lot, but he has a tendency toward sameness, except when a director can really get him to focus. Most of the score involves a low drone in the background, reminiscent of the sounds of a diving plane, or an air raid siren. It adds to sense of dread and urgency. (I like using Zimmer’s music as a writing sound track. I’m wondering how well this will work added to my “writing” playlist.)

My main criticism is that I wish that either Fionn Whitehead or Harry Styles had blonde hair. They looked a LOT alike so it was hard to keep them straight. That’s kind of the point- the swirling mass of humanity was supposed to be faceless, but I spent a lot of time going “Is that… which kid is that?”

Also, yes, it’s a dude heavy movie – there were women involved at Dunkirk, mostly as nurses on the ships (the heroine in The Secrets of Nanreath Hall was a Dunkirk nurse), and they are seen, but not really involved in the main thrust of the narrative. Honestly, I’m okay with this particular facet. Others might feel differently.

It’s also an exclusively white movie, and there were four companies from the Indian Army Service Corps at Dunkirk.  (I could not find quickly any concrete information on other soldiers of color in the BEF, other than a forum that said “Well, there wasn’t really a color bar for the British army” so if anyone has more solid sources, please do post them.) (Edited to add: Slate has a good article on accuracy in the movie, and they do address the Indian Army Service Corps issue – that it would have been good to see them, even though yeah, it would have been less than a thousand among hundreds of thousands. And there were French soldiers of North African ancestry who were also part of the evacuation.)

What I liked best was what I can learn about storytelling: what are different ways to tell a story that makes the point the creator wants? Take risks! Trust your audience! And if you have an idea for an art, but you think you might not be ready to make it yet so it works in the way you want it to, it’s okay to shelve it and develop your skills until you’re the creator you need to be for this piece of art to match your vision.

I am not gonna lie. I cried when those Little Ships came across the horizon. In the Imperial War Museum in London, the Tamzine, the littlest of the Little Ships, stands next to a Spitfire and other vehicles of war. And she’s just as important. She had a job to do, and she did it.

Dunkirk is in theaters now. Tickets (US) are available at Fandango and Moviefone.

Librarians, Cowboys, & More!

Jul. 23rd, 2017 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

For 100 Days

For 100 Days by Lara Adrian is 99c! This is a contemporary erotic romance and the first in a trilogy, so there MAY be some cliffhanger action going on, but I didn’t see anything about that in any reviews. Readers also recommend this book for fans of alpha heroes, so if that isn’t you bag, you may want to reconsider!

Struggling artist Avery Ross is barely scraping by. Bartending at a trendy New York City restaurant for an overbearing boss and two weeks away from losing her apartment to a condo developer, she’s desperate for a break. So when she’s offered a temporary housesitting job, she takes it.

Living at one of the poshest addresses in Manhattan is like entering a new world–one that catapults her into the orbit of billionaire Dominic Baine, the darkly handsome, arrogantly alpha resident of the building’s penthouse. What begins as a powerful attraction soon explodes into a white-hot passion neither can deny.

Yet as scorching as their need for each other is, Avery doesn’t expect Nick’s interest in her to last. Nor does she dare to dream that the desire she feels for this scarred, emotionally remote man could deepen into something real. For Avery has secrets of her own–and a past that could destroy her . . . and shatter everything she and Nick share.

FOR 100 DAYS is the first novel in a passionate new contemporary romance trilogy from New York Times and #1 international bestselling author Lara Adrian.

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Broken Resolutions

Broken Resolutions by Olivia Dade is $1.99! Readers thought the book was missing a lot of the romance, while others loved the pairing of a shy librarian and a reclusive author. However, readers also say it’s a series that gets better and better. Have you read this one?

Romance has never had a happy ending for librarian Penny Callahan, who could write the book on cheating, heartbreaking liars. So she’s made a resolution: no men for the next twelve months. If she can just get through the library’s New Year’s Eve singles night, she can return home to her pajamas and a good book. But when she finds herself checking out a hot hunk with an irresistible smile, an evening in the stacks becomes a lot more tempting…

Reclusive author Jack Williamson never should have trusted his mother. Even though he’s trying to avoid being recognized, she guilts him into attending a dating meet-and-greet—where an adorable librarian makes him question his lonely lifestyle. Is this just a fleeting, flirty scene? Or could love be the next chapter for them both?

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Dangerous in Diamonds

Dangerous in Diamonds by Madeline Hunter is $1.99! This is the fourth book in the Rarest Blooms series, but it can be read as a standalone. Readers loved the “bad boy” duke hero, but some say there’s a big reveal or twist at the end that caught them off guard. It has a 3.9-star rating on Goodreads.

There is only one man who can shake Daphne’s composure.
And there is only one woman who can resist Castleford’s outrageous brand of seduction.

The Duke of Castleford has been so bad for so long that scandal can’t be bothered to rise up around him anymore. To alleviate the boredom of his privileged life, he occupies himself with drinking and whoring, not to mention the occasional duel. When something piques his interest, however, he has been known to emerge from his ennui and employ his considerable mental faculties to finding answers to the questions that fascinate him.

When Daphne Joyes rejects this notorious hedonist’s seduction, she assumes that he will forget about her and continue on his path to hell. Instead her beauty, grace and formidable composure captivate him, and she becomes one of those fascinations to him. That he intends to have her, and soon, is actually the least of the dangers that his pursuit of her presents. More troublesome is his interest in her past and her history, and the way he keeps poking his nose into the secrets behind the distant relative’s bequest that gave him ownership of the property where she lives.

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Rope ‘Em

Rope ‘Em by Delphine Dryden is 99c! This is an erotic romance with cowboys! It’s also the second in the Giddyup series and the first book is also on sale! There is a trigger warning for this book for attempted sexual assault. However, readers loved the chemistry between the hero and heroine, as well as the BDSM elements.

Returning home to help out with his brother’s dude ranch is cool with Ethan. After all, he’s as comfortable in the saddle as he is roping a calf. But what’s really jangling his spurs is a chance to indulge his kink in the ranch’s monthly Giddyup event. Did someone say suspension bondage? Yee-Haw!

When Victoria realizes her family’s number one goal in sending her to college is to get her hitched to a husband, she drops out one semester shy of graduation. But paying her own way turns out to be the hardest lesson of all. Thankfully she’s found her way to the Hilltop Ranch. A place to get away and refocus. And get herself all tied up. . .

Sure, Ethan’s pretty handy with that length of rope. But it turns out the expensive design school wasn’t a total waste for Victoria. Bringing an “academic” approach to their play—and Ethan’s hobby—is opening up new possibilities. Like maybe the chemistry between them is something more than a game. . .

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Always a Bridesmaid by Lizzie Shane

Jul. 23rd, 2017 02:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Reviewer


Always a Bridesmaid

by Lizzie Shane
September 13, 2016 · Lizzie Shane
RomanceHistorical: European

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Jillian Boyd. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Long Contemporary category.

The summary:

She’s all heart. He’s all business.

Parvati Jai knows better than to pin any romantic hopes on Max Dewitt. She may have had a crush on her best friend’s older brother since she figured out what boys were good for, but she’s looking for Mister Forever – not a workaholic entrepreneur with a romantic attention span that tops out at two weeks. Yet with her business failing, her newly-engaged best friend vanishing into a love bubble, and even her teenage niece announcing she’s getting married, Max becomes the one person she can rely on – and the idea of a little fling with him becomes even more tempting.

Max knows his little sister’s best friend is off-limits…until Parvati confesses she once had a crush on him and he can’t help seeing her in a new – and very intriguing – light. He’s never been good at letting people past his charming facade, but something about Parvati makes him want to let down his defenses.

But even if he lets himself fall for her, how can he convince a woman who knows all about his love-’em-and-leave-’em ways that he finally wants forever?

Here is Jillian Boyd's review:

Even though Always a Bridesmaid is a spin-off from Lizzie Shane’s Reality Romance series, this one works perfectly fine if you haven’t read that series. This book gives you just the right amount of context. Our heroine, Parvati Jai – lifelong besties with Sidney Dewitt, the protagonist from Planning on Prince Charming – is the owner of a little indie coffee house in Eden, California. She’s single, which makes her the odd one out among her sisters and cause for a lot of gentle familial concern.

But the being single thing is the least of Parv’s worries – her business is failing, and fast, and she’s run out of ideas to keep the coffee house going. In addition to that, her 18-year-old niece announces her engagement at Parv’s parents’ wedding anniversary party, and her bff Sidney is caught up in her own wedding planning business (not to mention the reality show she hosts, where she’s responsible for planning fairytale weddings for deserving brides). For Parv, the feeling of loneliness is an ever-creeping menace.

There’s one bright spot in her life though – Sidney’s brother, Max. Loyal customer at her coffee shop, in her life since she was six years old, the object of a very long-standing crush.

Max Dewitt was tall and muscular enough that he should have looked like a wrestler in a monkey suit, but instead he looked like James Bond – a sexy, super ripped James Bond with perfectly styled dark brown hair and steely grey eyes that somehow managed to be warm when he smiled at her. Which he did now, revealing perfectly straight, perfectly white teeth. And the dimple… really, the dimple was just unfair. Sex appeal overkill.

It’s… not hard to see why, is it?

A big theme in the book, apart from friends-to-lovers (and if this is your catnip, delve right in) is the expectations familial legacies bring with them. Parvati’s folks have been together since they were both nineteen. Her father is a retired and highly respected pharmaceutical researcher – who used to work for Max and Sidney’s mother. Her mother was a developmental psychologist and educational adviser to the governor of California, and has a best-selling book and a career as a motivational speaker.

Add to that four fiercely intelligent career women as older sisters, all of them married and with kids, all of them with CV’s which are… well, impressive does not begin to cover it. Max and Sidney, meanwhile, are the children of two steely-eyed career people. As mentioned earlier, their mother owned a pharmaceutical company, and their father is a powerful business mogul who has based himself mostly in Switzerland. There are some pretty messed-up dynamics between the Dewitts and their kids, who both own their own businesses but continue to operate under the shadow of their own upbringing.

It’s a lot to live up to, and Parv spends a lot of the book feeling like she’s failed at life because she isn’t more like her sisters and parents. Which, at points, does make you feel like you want to take her aside and tell her everything will be fine, love, you walk your own path and other stuff to that tune. But Parv feels so relatable – whether you’re at a cross-roads with your working life, or you’re a bit deflated because everyone around you seems to be settling down. Sure, everything’s drawn in broad strokes, but there will be moments where you go… “ah, yes, it me, just a little bit.”

“And I never once felt like I could relax. Five years of stress, Max. The only place I felt like myself was in my stainless steel palace of a kitchen. Which was too big, really, for a coffee house, but I indulged because it was the only place I could breathe.”

Max – the owner of a security agency – can get annoyingly protective. There’s a lot of mention of Parv being “off limits,” to the point where it’ll make you roll your eyes. There are a few bits of plot that get brushed over and not given a satisfying ending. And the tension between Parvati and Sidney goes on for far too long. But this is, by and large, a good book which reads at a zippy pace. It made me want to delve into the series it’s been spun off from – which revolves around a The Bachelor-style reality show called Marrying Mr. Perfect – and makes me want to read the books in this new series as well. Especially the next book, tackling the relationship between Max’s tech guru Candy and bodyguard Pretty Boy (oh my Christ, Candy is proper heart-eyes material).

If you’ve been feeling a bit low, Always a Bridesmaid does the business as a pick-me-up read and does it very well. Fair warning though – it will make you want cake. Like, a lot.

Always a Bridesmaid by Lizzie Shane received a B- in a previous RITA Reader Challenge Review.

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Posted by SB Sarah

Organization AcademyWelcome back to Stuff We Like, a regular column where we shop and share items we think you’ll love.

By reader request, I’m building a Stuff We Like series on one-bag packing and tools to help you organize and travel light. My goal is to show how I travel with one bag, and since my next trip is to RWA in Florida, I have plenty of examples to share.

So far, here’s what we’ve got:

Today? Packing everything else! We’re going to talk about packing cubes and luggage options for quicker, lower-stress travel.

There are three ways I’ve tried packing clothing and shoes for trips, both by car for a weekend or by plane for nearly a month.

  1. Rolling clothes into tubes and packing them into a suitcase or bag
  2. Rolling clothes into tubes then putting them inside an airtight compression bag, which goes in my suitcase
  3. Rolling clothes into tubes then putting them inside a packing cube, which goes in my suitcase

Obviously, I roll up my clothes. This isn’t earth shattering but it makes it a lot easier for me to see what I have, and keeps most of my clothing low on wrinkles.

To be completely honest, I love compression bags. I love how they squish everything down to a smaller size, and I can fit a lot into my bag when I use them. But there’s a serious flaw: when they spring a leak, and they do, they’re useless.

Compression bags work by loading up all your clothing items into a giant zip-top bag with a one-way air valve, usually at the bottom. You close the bag, then roll up the bag, forcing the air out of the valve, leaving your clothes extremely squished and flat.

It’s like the clothing version of a vacuum sealer removing air from around food you’re going to store in the freezer for awhile.

Compression cube bag in action
Travelon Compression Bag 2 Pack – $20

Note: that’s not me. I can’t wear a watch that big.

There are a few kinds of travel compression bags I’ve used, including some from Travelon ($20) and from Eagle Creek ($30). I loved them – especially when packing bulky things for colder weather. I could squish down anything and everything and fit more in my bag.

But like I said, leaks end the joy real fast, and they’re difficult if not impossible for me to effectively repair, especially in a hotel. Just about all the bags I’ve purchased eventually started to leak.

So now I use packing cubes, and while they don’t squish as much as compression bags, I can pack a lot in them, and everything is very organized.

Packing cubes come in a bunch of different sizes, but for the most part, they’re nylon bags, often square (hence “cube”) with a zipper closure. There are big ones for sweaters and jeans, and small ones for undergarments or socks.

I have two sets from two different places. eBags’ packing cubes have been all over the world with me. 

eBags six piece packing cube set $50 - $75 (depending on sale)
eBags six piece packing cube set $50 – $75 (depending on sale)

The eBags six piece packing cube set is currently about $50, though the full price is nearer to $75 (eBags frequently has sales, however, so keep checking back if there isn’t a discount code at present).

I can usually fit my clothing in the medium and small sized ones, and then socks, undergarments and extras go in one of the long narrow rectangles. The tops are a mesh fabric so you can press a lot of air out, but they don’t stay compressed, obviously.

Tip: the easiest way to load a packing cube I’ve found is to place large items in first, rolled up if possible. When it’s about 3/4 filled, zip the top closed on two out of the three sides, and turn the cube so it’s like a bag with the unzipped part at the top. I can usually fit a few more items in that way before I close it.

eBags also makes a new ultra-light packing cube, which looks very cool, but the thing with cubes like these? They last for such a long time in such good condition I don’t need to replace mine (though there are some tempting options, including these from Eagle Creek which combine packing cubes AND compression!).

Plus, Amazon has a bunch of packing cube choices, too – including some from their own Amazon Basics line for $16-$25.

Amazon Basics Packing Cubes

And I just found this, should you be looking to equip yourself or need a gift for someone who is traveling: there’s an eBag value pack that includes packing cubes, shoe sleeves, and the eBags toiletery kit (which I use and love) for $70-80 (depending on sales).

ebags toiletry kit, shoe bags and packing cubes in titanium grey


The other packing cubes I have are from Tom Bihn, and I’m going to cover the cubes and the Bihn luggage I use in a moment. (I have to apologize in advance if this is your introduction to the Bihn items, as they can be very addictive.)

Packing cubes help you stay organized once you arrive, too. I tend to group like items together, and for things like workout clothing or garments I don’t need to hang in the closet, I can drop the unzipped cube into the dresser drawer at a hotel. It’s pretty handy.

So, on to the next part, which is where you put the packing cubes once they’re carrying your excellent, cultivated wardrobe for your trip:


There are so many suitcase options out there, and they change almost as fast as color trends do. Backpacks in different shapes, roller bags with two wheels – or ultralight hard shell roller bags with four wheels! I saw a bunch of those when I traveled recently. You have a lot of choices.

I’m not going to cover all of them, but I am going to show what bags we use most often, and why.

For one bag travel, I’m not a fan of roller bags. Roller bags can be great great if you have mobility challenges, or if wearing a backpack isn’t an option for you – above all, do what works best and easiest (and safest!) for you.

The problem with roller bags is that the wheels and the handle do two things: they take up a lot of space, and they make the shape of the bag itself rigid and fixed. With overhead spaces (and airplanes as well) getting smaller and smaller, and with bag checking fees getting higher and higher, I want to know that the bag I’m carrying won’t need to be gate checked, or checked into the cargo bay for me to claim at the baggage area at my destination.

Backpack style bags work very well for me, especially because there is very little space used by the bag itself. No wheels, no handle, no structure. It’s soft sided and very handy.

I do use a roller style bag (from Costco! It’s indestructible, that thing) when I have to carry extra stuff with me, like bulky swag or larger items like notebooks and paperback books to give away at RT. But my goal with 90% of my travel is to use my backpack-style bag.

There are two we love (and I’ll show a few other options, too):

eBags Mother Lode Weekender

The eBags Mother Lode Weekender Convertible ($129)

My husband usually uses this one and he loves it. We recently traveled for a week with stops in Zurich, Greece, and France, and fit clothing and toiletries, plus two changes of shoes for two adults for 8 days in this bag. You can fit a lot in this bag (which does make it heavy at times, I won’t lie).

This bag opens like a suitcase and has a large main compartment and a bunch of pockets. He’s so familiar with using it that if he packs it for the two of us, or for us plus the kids, we have assigned areas for different items so everyone knows where key things are like charging cables (pocket at the top) or keys (side zipper). When we traveled to Australia in 2014, which was when I became addicted to one-bag travel, he carried this for the three of them.

The benefit to a soft sided backpack style like this one: it fits almost anywhere, including itty bitty overheads (if it’s not stuffed silly). We’ve traveled on a few very restrictive budget airlines, like EasyJet and the like, and the bag has always fit in the overhead with no problems. And while these are not backpacks designed to be worn constantly for hours on end, like the ones you’d wear for trail hiking, they are comfortable enough and manageable for travel to and from the airplane and airport.

Another benefit: there have been a few times I’ve traveled and put my backpack bag under the seat in front of me when there was no overhead space, and it fit just fine. I also have very short legs and my feet never touch the floor on any airplane seat or chair I sit in, so having the bag under me meant I could rest my feet on it, and I was pretty comfortable for once.

There are other soft-sided one-bag options that have cult followings online, such as the Red Oxx Air Boss and Mini Boss ($265 and $245 respectively). Doug Dyment, the writer and host of OneBag.com, a site devoted to one-bag travel tips, helped design the Air Boss, and recommends it. Wirecutter recommended the Tortuga Outbreaker ($249), which is designed to be comfortable while wearing the bag for extended periods. And if you search “one bag travel” there are so many recommendations and suggestions. You could go down a rabbit hole for weeks researching everything (ASK ME HOW I KNOW THIS).

I’m highlighting a good number of options because the one I ultimately went with is on the more expensive side – I ended up haunting eBay for weeks until I won an auction for the bag I wanted in my price range. This meant I couldn’t be picky about the color, but I wasn’t too bothered about that.

Tom Bihn Aeronaut

Tom Bihn is a Seattle-based company that makes luggage and bags out of superbly strong materials, and it has a cult following much like… just about anything on the internet.

Tom Bihn Aeronaut soft sided bag in grey
Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45, $295

I like the Aeronaut (45, or original recipe – there’s a new, smaller one, the Aeronaut 30) over the eBags one for a couple of reasons. One, I’m pretty short, and the size and shape of the Aeronaut makes it easier for me to manage.

Two, the backpack straps tuck inside the bag so it can be carried like a suitcase or worn on my back:

Bihn backpack straps showing

And three, it has one large main compartment, two smaller ones on the side, and a zipper pocket on one short side as well. I’ve gotten very used to packing it. This is the bag I took with me for three-plus weeks all over Australia, and I’ve carried it almost everywhere since then.

I also have a few packing cubes designed specifically for the Aeronaut that fit the two side pockets that work great for shoes. With the Aeronaut, I can carry clothing for a week-long conference or vacation and have room left over for gifts I might pick up. At RWA, this is likely what I’ll be carrying, and it’ll hold my clothing, workout gear, toiletries, swag, and podcast recording equipment, too.

If you enjoyed this series, you can get more from the Organization Academy newsletter, where I share early content, exclusive tips, plus news on the development of the course series I’m building about using Google Calendar (and other tools!) to make your life easier:

With this series, I’ve covered packing list organization, toiletries, and luggage based on the research I’ve done for my own one-bag travel quest. What do you use for your own travel? Is there a topic I’ve missed that you’d like me to elaborate on? 

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Posted by Amanda

Sarah: For all the fond memories I have of this movie, they’re collectively rather vague. I clearly remember two scenes: the one with the scarf and the sword, and the one where she’s got a tin foil hat on. So this will be an interesting rewatch to see if my fond romantic memories of what probably amounts of 2 minutes of screen time match the full feature-length film however many years later.

Carrie: I have to confess that I have never had any desire to watch this movie.

Elyse: I have sooo many childhood memories about this movie. It will be interesting to see if it holds up. Back when this movie came out the dreamiest dudes were: Kevin Costner, Patrick Swayze and Mel Gibson. This movie featured at many sleepovers. RIP Patrick. Costner still holds up. Fuck you, Mel.

RHG: I have not seen this movie since the early 90s, and boy, do those titles and the style take me back. I feel like I’m not experiencing this correctly by watching it on streaming and not VHS.

Carrie: Also I miss Whitney.

Sarah: She does imperious very well. And she’s surrounded by chaos. Have fun with that, Frank.

Carrie: I see that someone watched some Steve McQueen to prep for this. And some Michael Keaton.



Carrie: Hey, according to IMBD, Costner said he based his performance on McQueen (you, sir, are no McQueen). So I was right!

Sarah: I remain shocked that I can remember things from that many years ago and yet forget things that happened a few minutes ago. My brain is a weird place.

The gunshot opening scared the hell out of me. And the cat.

Elyse: Cue Elyse jumping because she didn’t remember there was a silent opening and then gunshots.

I forgot Rachel’s sister knits!

Sarah: The opening is a little noir. He’s a sensitive man in tight pants who cooks and reads and eats out of the stainless steel pot, and leaves his knives in the grass.

Elyse: Ah yes the “someone broke in and masturbated on the bed” scene. Many sleepover giggles were had.

Carrie: May we pause for a moment to contemplate Client #1’s ponytail.


Carrie: That business with the intercom was great.

Sarah: HE DRIVES AN EL CAMINO. Why my brain didn’t hold on to THAT piece of info I do NOT know. “The front is like a car and the back is like a truck….”

Carrie: People always forget that kids have ears.

Sarah: And hey, adorable young dude. There’s Frank’s reason for working. Why is that little dude alone by the pool?! Children + pool + quiet is NOT OK. Oh, great, nanny reading a magazine. That’s not much better.

Carrie: I like that Frank cares about the chauffeur when everyone else is all “whatever”. I think I ship them.

RHG: “Maybe a tough guy?”

“This is my disguise.”

HA. Look, I do not blame Frank for wanting to tap out of this shit right away. It’s a hot mess.

SECURITY UPGRADE MONTAGE. I like how Frank takes Henry the driver under his wing. I remember thinking the evasive driving lessons were BADASS, and I WAS RIGHT.

Carrie: I miss music videos but my God that “Run to You” video is heinous.

Sarah: I don’t believe entirely that Stoic Frank would be emotionally moved by her music video but what do I know?

I have to ask y’all. Did you have the soundtrack? I’m pretty sure I did. Oh, yeah, I definitely did. I remember all the words to the songs, including “Queen of the Night.” Wow, brain, you do hold on to weird things. Nice job.

Elyse: I may be downloading the soundtrack to this movie tonight.

RHG: Other hilarious memories from the 1993 Oscars: Two songs were nominated, and Whitney performed them as a medley. I remember Billy Crystal introducing them as “‘Run to You’ and “I Have Nothing.”


Elyse: The concert scene is what I remember the most. Whitney in a cape. ROCKING A FUCKING CAPE.

The scene where she drops the cape and is wearing her techno-metal outfit holds up to all my memories.

Whitney Houston taking off a cape to reveal a metallic warrior-esque outfit

Carrie: It’s so weird that she’s all, “Someone sent me a nasty letter? What? How could that possibly be?” Even pre-internet people got those letters. In the age of twitter they seem positively tame. That doesn’t mean it’s not awful, just that her naivete is surprising.

RHG: Hold up, you fuckers, you’re telling her not to get hysterical when she just found out that somebody walked into her house. You really think that’s a good idea?

Carrie: There’s so much about this movie I don’t get. Have they never had a similar situation with crowds like in the club? How do they usually handle it? That’s not stalker stuff, that’s standard how to manage a concert stuff, and she’s not new, she’s a megastar. So what the hell?

Sarah: How is it she’s that famous and he can take her to random places without her being recognized? Like, because they’re in a country music bar, no one would spot her? That’s very strange.

Elyse: One of the things that’s interesting about this film is how the ideas of wealth and success and celebrity hold up over time. When you compare Rachel’s house to the houses featured in celebrity magazines today (or hell, Johnny Depp’s private island) it doesn’t seem incredibly opulent. Frank makes about $104,000 annually which isn’t anything to sneeze at, but remember, he gets shot at for a living and is the best in his field.

Is this a reflection of an increasingly celebrity-obsessed culture? Conspicuous consumption? I’m not sure.

Sarah: “Politics and showbiz is the same thing these days, Frank.” This was in 1992. Dude.

Elyse: And then comes the scene that launched Elyse’s love of romantic suspense. Frank carries Rachel in his arms to safety.

Carrie: I’m impervious to him carrying her out of the club but him tucking her in is super sweet.

Elyse: Frank tucking Rachel in is the classic romantic suspense flip of “look how gentle I can be when I want to even though I am a hardened bodyguard/ detective/ mob boss/ were-hedgehog MC gang leader.”

Sarah: Ok. Hotel staff would not be cleaning a star’s suite while she’s still in it, especially while she’s sleeping. There’s no way.

Frank eats apples weirdly. Or is that peach? Either way.

RHG: Tony wants to swing his dick around, fine. But a paring knife isn’t balanced for throwing and… you know what, never mind.

Sarah: OK, Frank’s “Did you seriously pull a knife on me” face is my favorite.

Kevin Costner as Frank looking incredulous.

RHG: THAT IS GIBBS’ BASEMENT (and aw, she makes sword swooshing noises when she’s playing with the katana WHICH YES IS ACCURATE)

Elyse: “I don’t want to talk about this again.” Because the romantic suspense hero communicates through knife throwing and boning. Is a fact. It has been written.

RHG: I used to like Kevin Costner a LOT. But Frank, my dude, maybe you could get a real spoon? Just one for your sad lonely life? (Also throwing knives works better for me if I hold it by the tip of the blade, not the hilt, but anyway.)

Sarah: Here’s a thing I learned:

This film was originally proposed in the mid-’70s, starring Diana Ross and Steve McQueen, but was rejected as “too controversial”. The film concept was to be attempted again in the late 1970s, with Ryan O’Neal and Diana Ross cast as the leads. The project fell through after only a few months because of irreconcilable differences between O’Neal and Ross, who had been dating.

Carrie: Sy is an asshole but he has a point when he says that Frank has a job to do but so does Rachel.

Aw, Rachel is adorable. How much time did you spend coming up with that approach, Rachel? Cause it’s super cute.

Sarah: And Whitney asking him on a date is so cute.

Carrie: Also their date is super cute.

Sarah: I’m wondering if I’m going to believe the romance. I like how the mystery is built, and I like the angles of the obsessive fan vs. the predatory insider.

Elyse: We have now reached the point in the romantic suspense plot where the heroine realizes that resisting the hero’s protective instincts is futile.

Also Rachel wants to bone Frank. Which is fair. He did carry her offstage in a shower of sparks.

Carrie: I realize that every romance novel in this genre depends on sleeping with the client but it’s a terrible and unethical idea to sleep with the client.

Elyse: I love how they display Frank’s rage by having him literally walk through steam. THANKS MOVIE!

Sarah: Kevin has man feels. And kicks the shit out of someone. Dude. Seriously not cool.

Wow, did that damage my opinion of Frank. My brain didn’t remember that part.

Kevin Costner slowly removing a scarf from Whitney Houston's neck

Elyse: The scene where Frank beats up a guy purely because he’s pissed off doesn’t translate well. I don’t remember how I felt about it as a kid, but as an adult it’s upsetting and it makes me like his character a lot less. It’s also super lazy writing.

Carrie: DUDE beating up random restaurant workers is NOT COOL DUDE.

I strongly urge him to press charges.

The sequel: “For Once, The White Guy Does Jail Time”

Elyse: Soooooooo… Frank’s emotional trauma stems from the fact that he was busy burying his mom when the president was shot? Okay…

Sarah: Scarf scene! Yup, still holds up. He illustrates how delicate her life is, how much danger is right in front of her. Subtle and obvious and pretty good tension. I can see the awkwardness between them but I think there’s pretty good chemistry, too.

Elyse: Another romantic suspense trope: hero displays his virility (check out my sword/boner that’s sharp enough to cut a scarf) which immediately seugues into sexytimes.

RHG: Okay, the transition from her singing to the piano at the afterparty was MASTERFUL. Also this is a hell of an Oscar campaign.

Elyse: Back to the money thing: $1000 a plate to see a super famous singer in a private concert?

Carrie: If performers cancelled show dates because of threats no shows would ever happen. I mean, she’s right to cancel them but also this is a speculative fiction version of stardom.

Sarah: I also like how Rachel doesn’t let him decide everything for her, particularly as pertains to their relationship. I might be building more into this film than is there, but there’s a bunch of tensions I find compelling – that he works for her, that he’s supposed to protect her, she’s setting limits with him, he’s setting boundaries for her that she doesn’t like, he’s getting paid a lot of money and struggles with that… there’s a lot going on.

The part where she has a job to do to, that’s kind of the point. There has to be a balance between her doing her job, and setting boundaries.

Carrie: If things are so awful that she’s cancelling concert dates wouldn’t they bring her dog to the cabin too? Stalkers love hurting dogs. Did they just leave the big dog at the mansion? NO ONE BETTER HURT THE DOGGIE!

Sarah: Hold up, is that Chekhov’s toy boat?

A motorized toy boat

Carrie: For a professional Frank knows jack shit about gun safety.

Sarah: Mr. Frank, put a lifejacket on that child. Between water safety and gun safety you’re pretty terribly trained.

RHG: Why doesn’t Fletch know how to swim? There’s, like, multiple pools.

Sarah: Costner really needs a gun safety course. I know dickall about firearms and I know better than than to point a loaded gun at someone’s face as a gesture.

Carrie: Why are we spending all this time on his angst when it’s her sister that got shot?

RHG: So, the “You pay a flat fee, and the hitman goes until the target is dead” isn’t like, the WORST payment model (after all, most targets are going to go down quickly), but you have to think that in the case of Rachel, where it’s taken several attempts, which all involve at least some overhead, there’s a point where he has to go “this is more work than expected, please pony up more cash or I’m not doing it.” Right? At some point your hourly gets REALLY low. You know, for a hitman.

Elyse: I also hate that the sisters are in opposition rather than supportive of each other. I don’t need more women tearing each other down.

Sarah: “You know you’re white!”

I think that chess conversation might be the only reference to race in the whole movie.

That’s just fascinating and kind of incredible then and now. Like, the whole film’s attitude is, “We aren’t acknowledging this facet of the story. Are you? Why?”

Chekhov’s boat indeed.

Carrie: I like the idea of a community of bodyguards. Like they all meet at a bar once or twice a year and bitch about their jobs and how bad their blood pressure has gotten. Not Portman, though because I’m pretty sure he’s the villain.

Sarah: I have a fair amount of respect for the increasing tension, that the hired killer won’t stop, that it’s not over, and she has to keep going, and so does he. They sort of work out their own balance – kind of. Their relationship is largely unresolved.

I also want to say how much I love this woman in gold with hair like hair has rarely haired since the early 90s.

Carrie: Also I ship Frank and Tony. Frank, Tony, and the chauffeur whose name I keep forgetting. I would watch that movie.

RHG: Oh, Debbie! Hi Debbie.

Carrie: Oh dear, hello Debbie Reynolds, we all miss you. I was not prepared.

Elyse: There are so many shiney bolero jackets at the 1992 Oscars…

Sarah: Robert Wuhl! Hosting the Oscar’s! Making sexist jokes! Oh, Lord.

RHG: Ugh, sexist Oscar Host jokes. Ugh. Who do you think you are, Seth MacFarlane?

Elyse: Robert Wuhl is hosting The Oscars?

RHG: Check the envelope! Make sure it’s the right award! (Too soon?)

Carrie: In conclusion I’m super invested in all of the relationships EXCEPT the romantic one. They needed more date time and less mutually douchey and inconsistent behaviour. They don’t have much chemistry except on their date, and that’s mostly because she makes him laugh. Fletcher and Tony and the chauffeur all had more meaningful relationships with Frank than Rachel did.

Sarah: So I had to stop just after Rachel ran off the stage at the Oscars, and come back to the movie the next morning, which gave me a lot of time to think whether it was working for me. With one glaring, inexcusable exception, this is totally working for me. There’s a mystery. There’s Kevin Costner, who seems to think he’s in a noir movie. There’s Whitney Houston, who seems to be embracing the idea that she’s in a romance. The two of them already have enough conflict through the plot and their respective characters, so the additional “what genre are we in?” conflict really works for me.

The exception: Farmer loses control of himself and beats the shit out of some poor dude (in the credits as “Cuban Husband” played by Joseph Hess) who was having a smoke. The idea that this other man is the disposable outlet for Frank’s manpain and feelings of loss of control really makes me angry. Like, How do we show up upset Frank is since Kevin Costner doesn’t move his face a whole lot? Let’s have him use the considerable deadly force of his training against some dude having a smoke. He’s perfectly in control of himself, aware of how much damage he can do to another person, and then he’s not – because of Rachel – and… surely there were better ways to demonstrate that turmoil.

The major elements are totally working for me. The storytelling decisions in that scene do not. Elyse is totally right – it’s lazy.

Elyse: And once again a woman is expected to be embarrassed for “inconveniencing” others over concerns for her safety.

Sarah: Also, a question: if the assassin of stupid was the one hired by her sister, who jacked off and left a note on the bed? The blonde obsessive guy? That’s kind of a crime, too, right?

OK, a note on the ending from teenage Sarah watching this movie: the scarf and glasses at the end? I thought that was the absolute height of glamourous. Ridiculous levels of chic. I’ll be honest, though, that plane looks kinda crappy.

Can there be a sequel about Fletcher, please?

RHG: One last song before parting forever.

Sarah: Also: seeing Whitney’s face saying goodbye to Frank is making my eyes sting.

Whitney Houston lovingly looking at Frank as she says goodbye

And then the Casablanca ending – I was totally sniffing a little except they move their heads around a LOT while kissing. WHAT THE HELL.

Elyse: And on to the bittersweet ending. I think they kept it fairly ambiguous as to whether they wind up together and I’m okay with that. (My husband says they are definitely not together but I disagree. He’s just in IA working, ok?!)

RHG: Ending on the freeze frame is a bit much, movie.

Carrie: I did like how well Whitney conveyed that 90% of her life is performance – not just the onstage parts but dealing with her team, the public, other professionals, etc etc. I know people will say that she’s just playing herself, but she was so good at turning that “Benevolent Star” smile on and off.

Sarah: Does this hold up for me? Yes, for the most part. The demonstration of Frank’s fractured emotions through inexcusable violence is terrible. The ways in which the genres Costner and Houston are playing plus the plot conflicts was a lot of my catnip, even if their acting, particularly Costner, didn’t give me much to work with. Actually, now that I say so, I’m wrong – he’s so blank I can embellish a lot onto his performance.

Also: I want a remake of this movie with Rihanna in the lead. As I said in a text conversation, she’d act with one eyebrow and win an Oscar. Not sure who should play the Costner role, but Rihanna would be brilliant in a remake. I’ve already written a good third of the script. With all my (zero nonexistent) screenwriting experience.

My grade: B+.

RHG: Does this hold up? I don’t…. Think so? I got kinda bored there in the middle. And it’s one of those things that especially now, the amount of work that went into those letters is completely unrelatable. Not when you can just make a Twitter bot.

Elyse: I’d give the movie a B.

RHG: But Whitney is at her best here, and she wasn’t even 30. So what have I been doing with MY life?

Did you watch The Bodyguard along with us? What’d you think? Are you a fan of the scarf & sunglasses pairing?

Three Sweet Nothings by Nikki Sloane

Jul. 22nd, 2017 06:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Reviewer


Three Sweet Nothings

by Nikki Sloane
December 12, 2016 · Shady Creek Publishing
RomanceContemporary Romance

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by VeronicaMcD. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Erotic Romance category.

The summary:

Five years ago, we’d been together and on fire, but the flames burned us both. Now she’s back in my life and is all my wildest fantasies in the flesh.

I want her. The desire is too powerful to argue against, but I’m not interested in what we had. This is an arrangement about pleasure and finding out who we are behind closed doors. There won’t be talk of love or any sweet nothings whispered by either of us.

This time, I’ll control the heat between us and make sure neither of our hearts get too close to the flames.

Here is VeronicaMcD's review:

I have to start this review by admitting that erotic romances are not my usual cup of tea, and when I looked at the sign up sheet, I did not expect to pick the category for my review. However, I changed my mind when I saw that there was a Nikki Sloane book nominated, and that it was one from her Blindfold Club series that I didn’t realize had been published. I read the rest of the Blindfold Club books last year after reading a SBTB guest review of a prior book. Three Sweet Nothings is the fifth book in the series.

The main characters are Kyle, an attorney and the brother of a previous book’s heroine, and Ruby, also an attorney, and Kyle’s law school girlfriend with whom he endured a terrible break up after law school because of a giant misunderstanding. Both those statements might be a turnoff for some readers, so it’s important to highlight this from the start: this is a second chance romance, and much of the conflict comes from two lawyers not being able to use their words (the ultimate irony, in my humble opinion).

Kyle and Ruby are an interesting pair, because she has trust issues and he has commitment issues. Kyle was raised by two parents that are shown to be very narcissistic and cold, and he lacks the ability to be emotive, especially when that emotion is love. Because of Ruby and Kyle’s previous relationship, Ruby has trouble trusting anyone. However, rather than talking through their issues like adults with professional background in rhetoric, Kyle draws up a sex contract. Basically, the premise of the book is that Ruby and Kyle agree to bone as much as possible, but not to be in a relationship. Kyle somehow thinks this arrangement will fix all of their trust issues and make it possible for them to have a “real” relationship. Um, okay.

The erotic portion of the romance comes in with the contract, which includes willing lists. I found this book interesting because neither Kyle nor Ruby is very into kink at the start of the novel. A lot of the sex scenes involve Ruby and Kyle trying something new to them, which was both refreshing for an erotic romance and, frankly, pretty cute. I tend to enjoy Nikki Sloane’s writing for two reasons: she writes realistic dialogue and phenomenal sex scenes. I felt that this particular story was enough of a departure from previous books that it didn’t feel formulaic. Unlike prior books in this series, the characters aren’t directly involved in the sex club as employees or clients, which I actually liked.

Despite enjoying the book for the most part, there were some problems. During the last few chapters, there was another major conflict, and I wanted to bang my head against the wall. Ruby and Kyle argue and are in a situation similar to the one that caused their original break up, and they basically behave as though they have learned nothing! They are no more trusting, and no better at just talking about their feelings! I was so frustrated, and I was curious to see how the situation got resolved. The resolution actually happened very quickly, and to me, it was out of nowhere and the mutual groveling was not proportional to how bad the argument was.

Another problem I had was that one of the most enjoyable parts of the novel were the cameos of characters from previous books. I liked Kyle and Ruby, but I think that this speaks to the fact that there wasn’t enough development of them that they were not the most memorable part of their story. Sloane also used quite a bit of this book to set up for the next book in the series. This is fairly typical of the books in this series, but there wasn’t any build up for Kyle and Ruby in previous books, so for me, the book lacked balance between the main couple and the secondary characters.

I think that this book would be an A- or B+ as a stand alone novel; however, in the context of the series, I give it a B-. I just didn’t see the same level of character development and plot just didn’t meet my expectations for a Nikki Sloane title. I would still recommend the book, as it’s a good read, and if this sounds like your style, the other books in the series are also great.

Off the Clock by Roni Loren

Jul. 22nd, 2017 02:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Reviewer


Off the Clock

by Roni Loren
January 5, 2016 · Berkley
RomanceErotica/Erotic Romance

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Meg. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Erotic Romance category.

The summary:

Overtime has never felt so good…

Marin Rush loves studying sex. Doing it? That’s another story. In the research lab, Marin’s lack of practical knowledge didn’t matter, but now that she’s landed a job at The Grove, a high-end, experimental sex therapy institute, she can’t ignore the fact that the person most in need of sexual healing may be her.

Dr. Donovan West, her new hotshot colleague, couldn’t agree more. Donovan knows that Marin’s clients are going to eat her alive unless she gets some hands-on experience. And if she fails at the job, he can say goodbye to a promotion, so he assigns her a list of R-rated tasks to prepare her for the wild clientele of The Grove’s X-wing.

But some of those tasks are built for two, and when he finds Marin searching for a candidate to help her check off her list, Donovan decides there’s only one man for the job—him. As long as they keep their erotic, off-the-clock activities strictly confidential and without strings, no one will get fired—or worse, get attached…

Here is Meg's review:

When I read through the preview of Off the Clock, what struck me initially about the story were the paragraphs of exquisitely written smut being written by one of the characters — then the author of those sentences groaning and pitching the draft of his script away. It was the perfect depiction of every person ever who has tried to write a sex scene.

I’m not sure when I last bought an erotic romance so fast.

The book centers around two sex therapists who once attended school together. During a week of spring break when Marin is 18 and Donovan is a grad student, Marin winds up helping Donovan develop a series of audio fantasies that will be used in sex therapy. It culminates in them coming together for one magical encounter before Marin’s life implodes in a heartbreaking way that you’re not expecting.

Leap to eight years later. As full-time guardian of her teenage brother, Marin is now a sex psychologist specializing in research but with barely any practical experience in dealing with patients or her own sexuality. As Amanda noted in her review, this tends to be a common trope for heroines in this area. But the book sells me on it given what Marin goes through in the years between encounters with Donovan.

She takes a job as a therapist, way outside her comfort zone, at celebrity rehabilitation complex The Grove to afford her brother the chance to attend the school of his dreams. There, she literally runs into Donovan, who has become world-famous as the Orgasm Whisperer for the work that she largely helped him with. The chemistry between them is stronger than ever, and despite them recognizing it is a VERY BAD IDEA ™, they can’t keep their hands off each other.

The book is pleasant subversive in a lot of ways. A lot of the erotic romances I have read tend to lean more on the side of tons of sex scenes with a loose plot weaving the story together. Off the Clock is the opposite. There is a lot of time and care taken into developing Marin and Donovan, and they don’t frequently bump uglies until more than halfway through the book. It treads the line of being a BDSM story, but I wouldn’t say it entirely goes there. Almost every sex scene served a purpose in furthering Marin and Donovan’s relationship or their own personal growth. This serves to make the already hot acts nearly scorching, because of how invested you get in Marin and Donovan as actual people and not characters merely there to insert tab A into slot B repeatedly.

And you’ll never see a bottle of wine the same way ever again.

The natural friction points you would expect between Marin and Donovan aren’t there. Marin doesn’t mind she’s uncredited for being a big inspiration for the work that made Donovan famous. I was fully expecting Donovan to hold Marin’s evasion about her age over her, but he doesn’t. He’s surprised and shocked, but never mean about it. It’s obvious the two respect each other immensely.

I had a tough time with the grade of this book, because as much as I love Marin and Donovan, I hated the cliche way that Donovan’s fuckbuddy, Elle, is written. Even though I know she’s the star of the sequel, along with the utterly adorable and seriously hot Lane, there was nothing in this book that made me want to read her story.

Most of the cast surrounding Donovan and Marin are lovingly fleshed out, especially Marin’s brother, Nathan. Marin’s true allyship of her brother is so lovely to read. The patients at The Grove range from heartbreaking to hilarious, with one of my favorite scenes being Marin literally walking in on some quite naughty action going down … on her desk.

That’s why Elle’s actions are so jarring. While I know she will be fleshed out in her own story, the cartoonish way she is depicted in Off the Clock is jarring compared with the way pretty much every major character (and most minor ones) are shown. It reminds me of Paris Gellar of Gilmore Girls before she became one of the best characters in the series. If Elle goes the Paris route of awful to awesome in her own book, sign me up.

Speaking of Lane, I’m normally not into threesomes, but I would had totally gone for one with Marin, him, and Donovan. Just saying.

The other thing that threw me off is the last sexual act depicted in the book – when Marin and Donovan have anal sex. It’s half personal preference (I am just not into that sort of thing) and half the wrong tonal note. Even though it’s shown that Donovan has taken care to prepare Marin, it seems like they went from zero to 10 very fast in that area and I found myself wincing. A lot. It’s dismissed with a line that Marin used the sex toys available to her to explore in that area. I wish the subject had been introduced earlier in the book during the part where Marin was experimenting with said sex toys prior to being with Donovan. Maybe I wouldn’t had been wincing so much on Marin’s behalf there at the end.

Neither of these ruined my overall enjoyment of the book, and I loved the ending and how it showed the characters continuing to grow even after the hookup. Marin’s personal victories made me nearly stand up and cheer, especially.

If you enjoy your erotic romance with a hefty dose of meaty plot, some angst, and some frankly fantastic characters, then Off the Clock is the book for you. This is my first from Roni Loren, but it won’t be the last.

Off the Clock by Roni Loren received a B+ in a previous review by Amanda.