BLOG REVIEW: Beguiling by Alex Lucian

21yo college-grad heroine may be the preacher's daughter & excel in her studies
but she's definitely not all sweetness and light. Not according to next-door neighbor, early-20s college-quarterback Hero anyway.
Hero doesn't know how they went from being really good friends as kids
to being distant & bitingly sarcastic since high school. 
Their moms' plan to have her drive him to and from his football practices daily this summer doesn't go over well with Hero and heroine. 
Their cold & occasionally hand-slap-filled drives together get a reprieve when she accepts his offer to go out for beer. 
The alcohol & her desire to loosen-up a bit unleashes their concealed mutual attraction. 
But her discounting their passionate night together and his summer challenge to help her check off her bucket-list of life experiences begin their push & pull relationship.
Who will be the first to break down & assert their relationship status?
My 1st Lucian read & it was more than ok. I liked how on-point these college-aged characters are in this New Adult novel. They sounded and acted like folks in their early 20s. I had to adjust my thinking accordingly & keep reminding myself of their ages. Hero and heroine had insecurities and uncertainties about their future like many 20-somethings. So, Hero's cluelessness about romance and how he affected heroine in high school wasn't because he was a selfish jerk but because he was still young and relatively inexperienced in romance. He was sexually experienced but clueless when it came to a healthy romance. Heroine was so focused on over-achieving in school that she was as clueless about romance and the average college social life. There were times though that her stickler attitude annoyed me. She really did need to loosen up and she tended to go back & forth re: enjoying life & going back to being ultra-responsible. Heroine tended to do the rejecting 1st and Hero would follow suit and do the same with her. For most of the book, we get this hot & cold behavior between the 2 of them.

What also made the book pace kinda slow for me was the long interval between their smexxing. The blurb makes it sound like they got hot & dirty a lot and, in this 200+ book, there were only about 4-5 descriptive sexual scenes (2 were full-on consummation & other 2-3 were oralling). Sex scene-wise, it tended to be piece by piece description of what was done (i.e, which part of the clothing came off 1st and in what manner/speed/comments). Don't get me wrong. It wasn't boring. But the combo of hot-cold romance and long interim between hot times seemed to drag my reading pace. So, the piecemeal sex description didn't help. Sex was still hot overall though. The pace sped up more towards 85% of the book, when 1 of them FINALLY took the risk in their relationship:
     --------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details------------ 

When their romance began, heroine had her parents' house all to herself for 6 weeks while her parents were away for her pastor dad's sabbatical vacation. While she & Hero were about to smex, heroine got a call from her mother that her dad was in the hospital due to a stroke & heart attack. Before she rushes out to the airport, she blasts Hero a comment about how she was stupid for making him distract her all summer. The discomfort of how she left jolted Hero out of his passivity. And, with the advice of his teammates & family, he follows heroine & flies out to the hospital to be a support to her. He was done with keeping silent and evasive about their relationship. He took responsibility for her goodbye comment, seeing his part in their undeclared relationship. He wanted to be direct and open about his love her now. It was exactly what she didn't know she was waiting for (they'd both been passive-aggressive about their relationship, especially her) & that did it for them.  

       -----------------------------------------------END SPOILERS-----------------------------------------
The last 15% was the best part of the book. It solidified their relationship and really showed character growth on both Hero and heroine's part. The epilogue of 2.5 years later helped solidify their way to their HEA(happy ever after).
I moderately recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: Bad Boy Valentine by Sylvia Pierce

22yo bakery owner
is shocked to see her ex-con ex-boyfriend, 24yo Hero,
She hasn't seen or talked to him since he went to prison 8 years ago
because he refused to do so. She's stuck with him as her contractor
for the renovations she desperately needs to make on her bakery, before the big public-media event coming soon. They both work on keeping it only professional between them.
But their close proximity and their unresolved feelings & memories of their past
try their limits.
Hero's guilt & regret over how he handled things with her keep him from getting too close.
Until one day, when their desires really get out of hand
But again Hero backs off right after. What's keeping him from pursuing her?**

My 1st Pierce book and it was just ok. It's a 100+ novella. The writing was good in general: sexual chemistry, emotionality, and flow. Sex scenes were explicit & steamy too. But I didn't like that heroine did the chasing & Hero was so passive.

All through the book, heroine was the one that instigated the discussions & Hero would either stall or refuse to answer. Even sexually, she did the pursuing & Hero either slowed it down or stopped it. I like my Heroes to an alpha male who pursued heroine because he wants her so much. This Hero did want her but didn't think he was worthy of her. Or maybe she wasn't  worthy enough? I don't know. His words said one thing but his actions (the lack thereof) spoke louder. I understood his reasons for feeling unworthy of her now was partly due to his regrettable actions 8 years ago:

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

On the night that got Hero in trouble, heroine sensed that something bad was going to happen & asked Hero to stay with her instead of meeting up with his trouble-making new friends. He went out and promised to be back. What she didn't know until the end of the book (because he didn't tell her & she didn't ask anyone) was that he was the driver of the car that his money-stealing & people-beating friends used to get away from their crime. The cops chased their car but Hero didn't stop until they were caught. All 4 of them went to prison, with Hero getting the least sentence since he didn't actually do the theft or the harming. Heroine found out about it from Hero's uncle, who just told her that Hero was in jail & packed up all his stuff out of his shared apartment with heroine. He and heroine had been together for 6 years (heroine was a virgin with Hero) and had been living together for months.

Hero knew his friends were trouble but got suckered in to being their driver that night due to the money he'd be paid. He needed the money to pay for their late rent & utility bills that he didn't tell heroine about. 

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

However, why refuse to talk to her? What did she do to warrant such terrible rejection? So, he made a huge mistake & hurt her & their romance in the process. I get that. What I didn't get was his passivity. Was she not worth fighting for? It annoyed me that he didn't man up & try to redeem himself. He just acted mopey & helpless. His lack of groveling showed his immaturity, pride, and more concern for himself than her. That's not my kind of Hero.

Hero really wasn't an terrible person. He's actually a decent fellow. But he needed to grow up some more. He did realize the errors of his ways 8 years ago and faced up to his real motives to doing what he did. But he was still too self-concerned in a self-effacing kind of way. If it wasn't for heroine chasing after him, he would've left her for good (again) that 1st day they saw each other again.

I pitied heroine but felt annoyed with her too. She was still very hung up on Hero. Kudos for her to move on with her life & becoming more of a success in her bakery. She also dated several men. But she remained celibate because no man turned her on enough like Hero did. I'm not sure about Hero's celibacy because there was no mention of what (or who) he did during his months out of prison. Heroine was independent and strong on 1 hand but doormatty, when it came to Hero. She was a different kind of doormat though. Hero kept on rejecting her and told her he couldn't be with her. Yet, she'd chase after him repeatedly. She wanted him so much she didn't mind crumbs he'd throw her along the way to rejecting her. A little kiss her, a little grope there before he'd stop & say “no”. I wanted her to have more self-respect but she wanted him more. Towards the end, Hero did (finally!) explain what happened to land him in prison & his reasons for doing so. He also did show up for her at the end, when she needed him on Valentine's Day. But she forgave him too easily & didn't make him work for it.

Their HEA(happily ever after)? Not sure. I believe they love each other and think they'll try to make it together, especially with heroine's efforts. But she might get tired of being the one doing the fighting for their relationship. It really depends on how much Hero will grow up and be a partner with her. His love for her, so far, has been easily swayed by life pressures. Their future conflicts will likely highlight Hero's big problem with pride. He might even run away again. But I hope he'd choose his pride over her.

I limitedly recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: I Pornstar by Zara Cox

22yo heroine is trying to keep a very low-profile in New York City.
But she applies for private porn-film job for 10 days for $1M with her unseen interviewer, the mysterious but successful pornstar "Q".

28yo hardened Hero is 2nd-gen NYC real-estate mogul & son of the city's governor. He does business by day
& his secret porn activities at night.
For the past 10 years, he's been obsessed with his need to avenge the death of his beloved mother.
And this porn film with heroine is the last part of his revenge plan before the big reveal.
He usually has no problems using & shuffling people to suit his plans. However, server-dishwasher heroine, with her unconventional attitude towards money & her ability to understand him, is distracting him from his decade-long soul-destroying plans.
She doesn't know that the owner of the office building she works at is the same mysterious masked lover "Q".
Hero is so drawn to her that he continues his double-identity ruse: dating her as the CEO's son during the times that he's not having sex with her as the masked pornstar.
Heroine starts falling for both of them yet gets disturbed at some things she's finding out.
She's also getting worried that her past will soon catch up with her. And, when it does, she learns the truth about Hero. What does she do about their relationship?

This book is not as salacious as it sounds. This Cox book(my 1st one & definitely will be reading more of hers) is emotionally deep, suspenseful, and evocative. The book title first grabbed my attention, thinking it was just smut disguised as romance. But the book blurb and the Goodread reviews made it sound captivating & mysterious. So, I went for it. Boy, did I! It's more lengthy than an average romance novel but I read it in 1 sitting(really more like lying down). I ended up staying til dawn, reading this book. Who needs sleep, when you have a really good book?

Great characterization. Heroine was forced to work as a prostitute at age 17 in a disguised brothel in central California for 5 years, before she managed to run away to NYC. You'd think she'd be a hardened character due to being a hooker. She did have grit but she also retained her caring, thoughtful, & kind side, while she played pretend to do her prostitute job. I think, spending 15 years of her life with her beloved mother, who also worked as prostitute at the same place, grounded her. As well as her big secret:

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

Heroine's mother was secretly pregnant with her sister, when she was allowed to leave the brothel with her child heroine. The biological father of both heroine and her sister was kept in the dark about the pregnancy. Because their father was the brothel owner (I call him 'the pimp"). Her pimp father also happened to be the chief sheriff of their little but corrupt town. Heroine was told that her bio father was the assistant of her real father until she found out later that her pimp was actually her bio dad, when she got hold of some documents from his office safe. It was her pimp father that sold her to the highest bidder at age 17 that began her forced life as a hooker. She was careful to relay messages and money to her younger sister, who was living with her foster parents. But her pimp father seemed to have find out about her younger sister, according to the safe's documents. Since her sister was only 17, heroine feared that her father had the same nefarious plans to pimp her out at his brothel too. Trouble was he couldn't find her sister's whereabouts since heroine had moved her & her foster parents to a secret location. Pretty much all the money she received from her prostitution job went to keeping her sister safe and sound.

The other reason why heroine ran away from the brothel was due to killing her pimp father's henchman. His henchman was blackmailing her for sex in exchange for not revealing to her father that she'd tampered with his safe. Before he could do the deed with her, she heard him reveal on the phone to her father that her father knew all along about her tampering with his safe & allowed his henchman to have his way with her. Thus, she shot him with the gun from her father's open safe and then jetted out of there.

Heroine's plan was for the $1million to buy out her sister from her gradually-bankrupted pimp father. Her sister only had a few more months before she turned 18 and legally out of being under her father's parental rights. So, she planned on giving him money each month until her sister's 18th birthday. 

NOTE: All her sex scenes with Hero are filmed privately, with just the 2 of them in the room. But with automated cameras all around the room. Hero has control of the editing & dispensing of the videos, which are bought by the highest bidder before filming even begins. One of the bidders is Hero's father, who doesn't know that Hero is pornstar Q.

NOTE2: Hero had a sexual relationship with his psychologist/psychiatrist for 10 years. She came on to him at 17 and he usually let her oral him. A few times sex. Soon after he met heroine (as in a day or 2 after), Hero let his therapist oral him because he wanted to fight the attraction to heroine that made him only want her. He couldn't get it up as vigorous as his therapist was working. It was only thinking of heroine that made him get an erection but then he quickly put a stop to therapist's BJ because it was making him physically sick. He didn't let any other woman touch him after that, aside from heroine.

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

Heroine is the kind of hidden smarts & inner strength with softness and femininity that I love in my romance heroines. She made major sacrifices for the love and protection of her young sister. She suffered but she didn't let her circumstance determine her whole identity.

Hero, on the other hand, became a victim of his circumstance (ie, mother committed suicide when he was 17 due to the manipulation of others). And he didn't need to be but he chose the road to revenge. He was actually super-obsessed with it, allowing it to colorful 10 years of his life. He became a dead man walking. It was his soul-less eyes that captivated heroine more than his looks. He was so single-minded in his plans to bring down the people involved in his mother's suicide that he deliberately ruined himself to get his desired revenge. Unlike heroine, Hero chose to let his trauma change his character for the worse. Getting to know heroine and her circumstances made him see how others with traumatic past can still have hope, joy, kindness, and laughter. It was the dichotomy of the desperation and strength that she saw in her eyes with her calmness and caring that roused his numb existence. It was beautiful to see. I loved how we got see his increasing obsession with heroine. So, by the end, he was willing to die for her. Those texts, those emails! <big sigh> So poignant and touching.

I recounted this story to my husband and he thought it would make a really good movie. Except the sex scenes. That would make it more than an NC-17 rating. Oh man, the sex scenes. Hot because of the explicitness and the emotions involved in their act. It became more than the usual porn-sex for Hero. He didn't need Viagra like he'd needed to before. Nor did he always do their deed with the cameras on. His emotions for her became more evident, when he'd have sex with her even without the cameras on them. Although he blurred the lines between his 2 identities with her, it was because she blurred the lines for him. Lines he'd always had control over before but he didn't mind crossing now. He was THAT into her.

I extraordinarily recommend this book.


BLOG REVIEW: For A Good Time Call by Jessica Gadziala

22yo heroine lives quite a financially comfortable life in a big bustling city. 
She went from homelessness at 18 to living in her nicely renovated apartment
due to her success as a phone sex operator.  
She has no problems being a loner and not being neighborly to her apartment neighbors. So, seeing her new next-door neighbor for the first time and having him make direct eye contact & talking to her was a shock. 
Late-20s Hero thought he had her pegged from the constant dirty talk and sex noises he's hearing from her apartment
as well as her nightly bar-hopping.  
But seeing evidence of her vulnerability
and uncharacteristic kindness from the skull cactus she brought him as both an apology and “thank you” is drawing him more to her. 
Her sexual reticence doesn't make sense though, considering her line of work. 
But her confession of her history didn't seem to dissuade him from being with her the way he's wanted.

However, when she returns from visiting her estranged family, the apartment he'd renovated for himself
is now completely empty. 
Except for the skull cactus she gave him. Where did he go? Why hasn't he contacted her?

I was in the mood for something new & different. So, I picked up this Gadziala book with a phone-sex operator heroine who seemed to have an unlikely background.  I usually don't like tough-as-nails & ultra-independent heroines but there was something in the blurb and the Goodreads reviews that clued me in that there was more to heroine than her tough exterior. And she did. Heroine was hiding her softer, more vulnerable side to survive being homeless, alone, and culturally-shocked in the big city she ran away to (not named but sounds a lot like New York City or Philadelphia or Boston) at age 18. What's more I liked her. 

Gadziala wrote heroine in a way that made me understand why she behaved the way she did now (i.e, unfriendly & blunt, her choice of work & clothing, her super-clean & white posh apartment, her self-cutting, her going out every night).  I liked that heroine was a survivor and turned her life around in 4-5 short years, which seemed fictional but not wholly impossible. It was tragic though how much hold her father & her past still had on her. To not be able to stand being alone in her apartment at night, no matter how light and clean she made her apartment to look. The temptation to harm herself by cutting slits on her thighs & sometimes her arms with a blade was intense. She knew herself enough to avoid temptation, even though it  would still follow her at whatever bar or club she'd go to. Thus, her tendency to drink copious amounts of alcohol but only enough numb & not get too drunk. She had so much she needed to escape from:

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

NOTE: no rape or sexual molestation involved. 

Heroine grew up in a shack inside the large estate of her wealthy grandmother. Her crazy dad built the shack himself and bought himself a meek wife, who bore him 2 kids he didn't want schooled by anyone except himself. Her father had strange religious ideologies who used to control his family. His main message was that heroine, her mother, and the rest of womankind were inferior & wicked. When she was age 10, her father took her out in the snow & carved her chest and the word “WICKED” above her pubic area with a knife for causing her 12-year-old brother to masturbate. All heroine was doing was changing from her sack clothing to her nightgown in the little area she & her older brother shared as a bedroom, with a slight curtain in between their beds. Her mother stopped worse from happening by starting a fire inside their shack & yelling “fire” to circumvent her father's attentions from hurting heroine (and her brother too but heroine didn't know until towards the end of the book that their father also carved a cross on his palms as punishment for masturbating).

Heroine ran away when she was 18, when the attentions of her grandmother and father were diverted. She only had a little money with her but she left for the city that her father deemed as the most wicked city, knowing he would never think of looking for her there. She found out her mother committed suicide in the woods a day or so after she left. Heroine knew in her heart that her mother did it to escape her miserable life with her father, only doing so when heroine had escaped herself.  Finding her mother's hidden letters to heroine at the end of the book confirmed what her heart told her.

She may have rebelled and ran away but she didn't indulge in carnalities as much as what many would expect. She only had sex twice before Hero with guys who told her (after the deed was done) that her scars were disgusting. Her carnal indulging was pretty much limited to her nightly alcohol binge-ing & drunk dancing as well as spending her money on clothes & her apartment. Although she'd escaped her father & negative upbringing, she wasn't completely free. She was being blackmailed by her guilt-tripping grandmother to call her weekly or else she would give her father and brother her home address. These phone calls would send her to a tailspin of wanting to self-harm.

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

Heroine was very experienced in her self-harming tendencies and fortunately knew her limits. She'd give in enough to cutting herself or binge-ing on alcohol at bars to feel some relief or escape. But not too much to be out of control. She also knew to not drink alcohol at home, knowing the trouble it can bring. She was a tough cookie and did her best to contain her misery.

Hero seemed to understand heroine. He had his own secrets and they were alike in that. They were both became hardened from their upbringing & were running away from it.  He also had his self-control issues, when it came to rage and violence.  But he wasn't as tortured as heroine. I think he'd been around enough tortured and damaged people in his life to be able to read heroine more easily than most. He was patient & determined and took a direct approach when the time was right.  He was the perfect match for heroine. And his phone dirty-talk floored her, causing Ms. Phone-Sex Operator to behave uncharacteristically hot and bothered. She's usually untouched on the inside, no matter how dirty and loud she gets with her phone-sex clients. With Hero, she's befuddled & aroused. Culminating in a really hot simultaneous self-pleasuring scene with an apartment wall dividing them. That was his idea of going slow with her. <whew>

My reason for not giving this a 5-star is how Hero left without contacting heroine for 3 months!  She asked him about it and gave a lame response, which showed that his reason for completely ignoring her for 3 months was to protect himself and letting her out to dry. Especially since he left her when she went to confront her father and brother and knowing her tendency to self-harm. It showed his need to mature some more. It also showed that, once again, heroine showed her incredible strength of spirit. She didn't let it(him) beat her down, although she got depressed & cried & threw the skull pot of the cactus. But she gradually began moving on with her life, with support of new friends.  And got a new pot for the cactus. Hero did eventually come back and sincerely apologized. She let him have it but she was mature enough to see his sincerity and love for her and gave him another chance.  Nice epilogue about their happy life 3 years later. 

Emotionally gripping. Good sexual chemistry. Explicit sex scenes with romantic elements. Likely HEA(happy ever after).

I recommend this book.

BLOG REVIEW: Complicated by Claire Kent

31yo proper & efficient university librarian
has been indulging in a secret affair for 3 months now with the brother of the new governor, 43yo businessman Hero.
They have a strictly-sex affair with no talk about their personal lives.

Until the day his college freshman daughter accosts heroine at her workplace. 
It jolts heroine out of her ordered life, making her face things that she'd well pushed away before. To her surprise, Hero invites her over to his house for the 1st time ever. To spend the weekend with him while his daughter's away. She surprised herself by accepting instead of limiting their relationship as she should. They spent a comfortable
and sexy time together at his home that weekend. 
Only to be cut short by his daughter's early arrival & loud accusations. Heroine realizes their personal lives have truly crossover their sexual affair so maybe they should end it. And Hero agrees. She ends up feeling heartbroken after all. 
When she sees him at her workplace again,

she doesn't know what to make of it. What does he want? And will she agree to it?

A good novella. Steamy and sexy. Emotionally-involving. I like how the main characters evolved from being so controlled & ordered in their lives to more risk-taking & able to embrace the good & bad of life. There's emotional depth in what they went through. And it's refreshing for Hero and heroine to be more mature in age than usual. This is my 1st Kent book and I'll be reading more from her.

In 70+ pages, Kent was able to show the passion and control of Hero and heroine as well as the progression of their affair.  Although the book starts with Hero and heroine towards the end of their sex-only affair, we get the gist of how it started and the nature of their restricted relationship. It seemed like both Hero and heroine were content with their arrangement but, it was when it was threatened to change, that their emotions start coming into the surface. Now that Hero's personal life via his daughter bulldozed into their secret affair they were forced to come to grip with their feelings about each other and what they wanted out of their relationship. We get heroine's POV so we see how overwrought she was that Hero's daughter seemed to hate her.  For the 1st time, they met not for sex purposes and at her personal space—her apartment. He had to console her about his daughter's immaturity and shared info and about his past with his deceased wife. It was interesting to see heroine contain her buried curiosity about him. She didn't allow herself to be curious about other parts of his life. But now that some of his life was being revealed it showed her how very interested she was in knowing more about him. Both she and Hero had experienced disappointment and hurts from their past relationships to make them agree to indulge in a limited affair. Ironically, the limits they put in their affair ended up producing more hurt than freedom. When Hero didn't put up a fight to end their affair when she brought it up, it crushed her. And she didn't even know that her feelings were that deeply involved.

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

Three weeks later, she's still depressed and blindsided by how blind she was to her feelings for Hero. Then, he shows up at her workplace to talk to her. She's curt and angry with him and wanted to know why. Her anger was her defense to keep him away but he didn't want to go away. He follows her up to the book stacks and tells her he'd changed his mind and wanted a full relationship with her. She's happy. She accepts and then they sex it up in the theology section of the library.

Epilogue shows them living together 6months later, with her daughter softening up to heroine in her dad's life. A realistic ending but I wished their romance was even more solidified (i.e, a marriage proposal, talk about marriage plans). I do believe they're on their way to their HEA (happy ever after). I just wanted it in writing.

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

I recommend this book.