BLOG REVIEW: Explicit Instruction by Scarlett Finn

27y.o. library research assistant never thought her usually lackluster life could change in 1 night.
By just walking into a bar in a seedy neighborhood to use a phone in order to call a cab, not heeding the firm advice of an attractive stranger Hero outside the bar warning her not to enter.
Heroine is captured by a group of depraved men in the bar,
led by grim and forbidding Hero,
and taken to a remote cabin to await instructions.
Hero seems as rough and mercenary as the other men in the cabin.
And she's shocked at herself for not being too bothered by his interest in her.
But what shocks her more
is her own unbridled response to him,
even to his crude and unmistakable possessiveness of her.
The other men find a way to get to her at some point.
Hero helps her escape
but she's brought back in.
He's not pleased to see her again.
She soon realizes the danger she's in when she sees what's inside his boss' mansion.
And Hero's reactions drive her uncertainty about how she can survive all this.

My first book by Finn & it's a dark captive-heroine romance book that stays within my dark-romance boundaries. So there's no non-consensual sex, no physical or sexual violence/violation against heroine, & 1 other major requirement of mine which I have under my SPOILERS since it might spoil the book for you. And the character development is in the positive direction, meaning neither Hero or heroine become more anti-social or darker by the end. Their romance built very quickly in such a trying circumstance. It was believable for the most part. The only parts I questioned was the perfect timing of Hero saving heroine from several attempts of other kidnappers' sexually molesting heroine. I'm just glad he did arrive there just in time. I couldn't have stomached anymore than their touching attempts. This book was dark & gritty in the sense that for most of the book heroine is imprisoned but the light & hope came from Hero's successful attempts to free her. But she'd be captured again and/or came back to help save Hero. I appreciated these moments of relief in this dark captive romance book. Hero and heroine's romance plays a central part in this book. Sure, it had its explicitly sexual moments. But their relationship was driven primarily by their emotional connection to each other that had nothing to do with Stockholm Syndrome.  Heroine made a clear point about this to ward off Hero's concerns about her attachment to him. 

Heroine may have been a captive but she didn't allow her circumstance to push her down. I liked her instropection and her realistic perspective on her situation. She chose the stronger and higher road, resisting her other captors with her wit. It was as if she developed street smarts during her time there. She would not allow herself to be broken by these men, even though she was scared & trapped. We saw her getting the better of her captors as the book developed, earning her some slaps & hits but not breaking her spirit & earning her more time from being raped.  Her constant barrage of verbals insults were like cold showers to her captors. Her tumultuous time being kidnapped improved her character. She was an average citizen who worked & lived by herself. She was a plain Jane that everybody in her wealthy overlooked.  She'd only been on her own for a year after being kicked out from her family's mansion, ekking out an independent life by barely getting by with her finances. But she made it. That year was good practice for the strengthening she'd need during her capture. She accepted her sexually submissive role with Hero.  The rough sexual play & dirty-name calling on his part were all acceptable to her.  Hero made sure she consented to everything they did in their sexual relationship. I liked the emotional equality between Hero and heroine in this book. Heroine 

As rough, tough, & cold Hero was, he was the main attraction for me in this book. He tried to resist his attachment towards heroine but failed. Time and time again. He tried to keep it only sex or scare her with rough sex but he couldn't go all the way through it. He'd surrender his attempts at emotional detachment with her fairly quickly. What was great was how heroine would go along with his resistances, trusting that Hero wouldn't succeed in truly hurting her. It was quite ironic how Mr. Mercenary didn't scare Ms. Librarian and was amazed at her trust in someone with his rough and broken history.  Hero was the kind of hero I like. An alpha-male who gets all possessive and protective of heroine when he doesn't ever act like that with anyone else & tries to resist it but ends succumbing to his protective-possessive tendency wit her because her well-being is so valuable to him. There was a part in the book that had me wringing my finger because I thought he was going to compromise her to prove his loyalty to his crime boss:

     ---------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details----------------

His boss was suspicious of Hero's involvement, wondering if he may be an undercover cop. He also wanted to get an edge on him, believing that Hero was soft on heroine. So, he ordered his men to do as they please with heroine. And he ordered Hero to have sex with his seductive assistant. This got my heart thudding a bit since the main characters having sex with another while their still together (legally or by choice) is a huge no-no for me. A wallbanger, DNF deal-breaker thing for me in my romance novels. Hero was known to have indiscriminate sex with women, including doing so for team loyalty. The good news was that heroine's rape attempts were again thwarted and Hero ended up being locked up for not obeying orders. He didn't have sex with the sexy naked assistant because he couldn't get an erection with her! He'd never had that problem before. He only wanted heroine & this other woman just would not do.  

The one thing that spoiled Hero's sexual-inclination-for-heroine only was at the end, when heroine was giving him suggestions of what he can do in the future. I did not like that heroine was ok with Hero having sex for job-purposes. She told him to just think of her if he had erection problems in the future. She was supportive of his continuing on with his undercover security-investigation work but I would rather her want to exclude having sex with other women as part of his job. I think Hero would've had no problems with that. He was sold on heroine & didn't want any other woman. He'd prove his devotion to her, going so far as compromising his life and work for her.  I think he would've found ways to still do his kind of work but without compromising for sex. Her "it's ok if you have sex with other women as long as you come back to me" comment sabotaged his efforts to show his devotion to only her. So, that's a 1-star off for her comment.

     --------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS--------------------------------------------------

Overall, Hero's actions showed his unfailing attachment to heroine, putting her welfare above his without completely botching his job. He's my kind of hero. I just wished heroine took it to heart a little bit more than she did at the end.

I recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: Stranger in the Night by Charlotte Lamb

27y.o. popular British actress is known for her cool professionalism.
She was more carefree and trusting years ago.
Her attraction to a charming stranger she met at a party when she was 18
ended in a night that changed her forever. 
She now devotes all her time to her career and avoids any romantic dealings with men.
She may go to social functions and vacations with her best friend
but it's only ever been platonic for her. 
He wants more but he accepts what he doesn't understand in order to keep their friendship.
The accidental meeting with the stranger she spent the night with 9 years ago shook their status quo.
She can no longer remain detached.
And her friend suspects that the other man is involved.
It drives him to act on his long-held unrequited feelings for her,

clarifying her feelings for the other man.
Which man does she allow in her life?
What happens to the man she doesn't choose?

Be warned that this Lamb book contains forced seduction and date-rape scenes. This book was written in 1980, part of an era in romance novels where forced seduction & rape of heroine were common.  At least the scenes were not explicitly detailed in this book but the point was apparent. The heroine was involved in sexual incidents that she didn't want. She made clear verbal and physical efforts to resist the sexual advances towards her and she was met with resistance. Twice, she was berated and called a "bitch" for saying "no". Her verbal limits were not enough and she had to physically resist to make her "no" firmer. Only once did it amount to rape. Other times they were interrupted or the man stopped. And a couple kissing scenes, heroine's resistance changed into willing submission. There's probably about 6 total kissing/sexual scenes in the book and Lamb portrayed them all differently.

Lamb's books often keeps me on my toes.  There's usually a twist or a touch of unpredictability in her stories. This book had me guessing as to the Hero's identity for a while. Hero was either the man who date-raped heroine or heroine's long-time friend. It wasn't until about 50% into the book that we got a better picture of who the Hero was.

     ---------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details---------------

Date-rape guy (OM1):
When heroine was 18 and new in London, she met an older man at a New Year's Eve party her friend took her to. Her instant attraction to him and the amount of alcohol she drank made her susceptible to his charms, leading her to go to his apartment with him that night. The kissing led to more but her realization of what they were doing broke through her alcoholic fuzziness and she told him to stop. He heard her and got mad at her for teasing him and didn't stop. He affected her life greatly, especially when it came to her male relationships, the next 9 years.

Her best friend (OM2):
Heroine met her friend in drama school when she was 20. He asked her out on dates in the beginning but she turned him down. She only wanted his friendship so they became good friends through the years. They supported each other through their film and theatre careers. They often hung out together and were each others dates at parties and vacations, when he wasn't involved in his short-lived affairs. 

The Hero's identity became clearer when heroine meets OM1 again. Her reactions to kissing him and then later OM2 were both strong and only differentiated by its quality. Her responses to being with and kissing OM1 again were ones of distaste and disgust. Whatever attraction she had for him previously were now changed into revulsion and aggravation. Her responses to kissing OM2, on the other hand, surprised her because he'd kissed her a few times before and she'd only viewed him "asexual(ly)" like a brother-friend. Now his kisses and touches were making her very aware of him as a sexy man and making her body alive and sexually excited for the first time in 9 years. So, seeing OM1 again was the catalyst she needed to finally view OM2 as her romantic Hero.

Hero has been secretly in love with heroine for 7 years. He tried to get over her by dating & smexxing other women but none of them could substitute for her. He ended up missing her or thinking about her and needed his "fix" so would end up calling her or finding someway of seeing her again. He'd accepted that she would likely never reciprocate his love/desire for her and had settled for her friendship if that was the only way he could be with her. It was quite poignant and endearing of him to settle for that because he was so in love with her and had surrendered to that being his fate. So, his strong reaction to her visible reaction to OM1 pushed him to assert his desire for her. There was no excusing his forcible physical display of his desire for her but I did understand where he was coming from. And that forced seduction was the 80s romance-novel excuse of a trope of showing the hero's strong desire for the heroine. Seeing heroine finally thaw out emotionally and it involving another man set him on a tailspin of possessiveness and jealousy. His finding out about her rape experience with OM1 pushed his protectiveness of her and desire to love her with care. I wished with we got more of him in the story and his romance with heroine. But Lamb did do a sufficient job getting the point across about his long-held love for heroine and his frenzy in getting her to finally notice him as a man when she finally woke up emotionally and sexually. 

    ------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS-----------------------------------------------------

The question of Hero's identity caused me to switch gears about heroine's feelings and the potential outcome of the romance.  Heroine's varied feelings and views about both men gradually untangled per each subsequent interactions with them and her evaluation of herself. Once her mind was made up, the romance quickly progressed and the other man faded away.

Heroine's character played a central part in the story. We saw her transform from a trusting and innocent 18y.o. new-adult to a controlled, wary, and sophisticated workaholic woman. Her rape experience changed her view of the world and she sublimated all that negative energy into obsession with her work as an actor. She rose to success in the film and theatre world and made it known that she did so only because of her talents & work ethic and not sexual favors. She became a hardened woman, numb to emotional closeness. She'd close herself off to the sexual part of herself so she was also sexually numb. Her sexual awareness with Hero came about quickly and flooded her, scaring her off. It didn't take her long to figure out what was going on with her and her maturity level made her rapid change of outlook and emotions believable. A big part of that was also Hero's confrontation of her mixed reactions and giving her time to sort things out. I liked her firm resolve so that, when she makes a decision, she gets things done. Thus, her and Hero's love confessions at the end was true to their character. I wish we got at least one sex scene instead of a closed-door hint that they're gonna get busy at the end. A peek at how heroine responds to lovemaking with Hero after her various forced-seduction experiences would've given their story a more complete resolution.

I moderately recommend this book.