Book Review: Texas Kissing by Helena Newbury

Texas Kissing by Helena Newbury

Texas Kissing by Helena Newbury
Rating: 4stars
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Tessa is on the run.

Raised by her mob-boss uncle, she’s seen things–awful things–and has to get away from that life. She flees to Texas, where she starts going by the name Lily. She makes a living as an underground forger, creating counterfeit passports and the like.

On her way to meet a client at a rodeo arena, Lily has an unfortunate run-in with a pissed-off bull. Luckily, Lily is rescued by a cowboy named Bull (yes, that’s his actual name). Bull is something else. He’s hilarious, but I didn’t like him much at first because he’s such a manwhore. However, once he sets his sights on Lily, he’s determined to make her his.

The writing in this book cracked me up. I read the audio version and Bull’s internal dialogue, read by narrator Christian Fox, had me laughing out loud. Lily is read by Lucy Rivers, who also did a great job with the narration.

Bull is such a huge lug at times; not stupid by any means, just a little too confident for his own good. As I mentioned, I didn’t like him at first since he’s such a womanizer, but that changes quickly after Lily comes into the picture.

Lily is a smart, capable character, but she has no close relationships because she’s afraid that someone will discover her secrets about her uncle and his connections. She doesn’t want to put anyone in danger. Lily also struggles with insecurity, which Bull helps with once their relationship turns physical. I LOVED how sweet Bull is toward her. Whenever Lily feels self-conscious about her larger size, Bull instills confidence in her and never says a critical word about her appearance. Swoon.

Part contemporary romance, part romantic suspense, a more appropriate title for this book would be Texas Sexytimes because there’s definitely an abundance of that.

Texas Kissing is book #3 in Helena Newbury’s Kissing series, but each book is a standalone. I plan on going back to read the others in the series since I enjoyed this one so much.

Book Review: Broken Resolutions by Olivia Dade

Broken Resolutions by Olivia Dade
Broken Resolutions by Olivia Dade
Rating: 4stars
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Broken Resolutions is a fun novella that kicks off a new series, Lovestruck Librarians. It takes place during New Year’s Eve and introduces an entertaining set of characters. Since I work in a public library, I appreciated all the library references and jokes and sympathized with the characters appropriately.

Penelope (aka Penny) is a librarian in a rural Maryland branch. While her character comes across as a bit cliche at first–she’s the shy, introverted librarian type–the cause of her hesitance in matters of love is soon revealed. Penny has had her heart broken in the past by not just one, but two cheating ex-boyfriends. Needless to say, she’s eager to take a break from men. So she’s made a New Year’s resolution to give up men during the upcoming year.

It’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m not wearing makeup, a tight dress, or uncomfortable heels. I’m not feeling awkward in a crowd. I’m not worrying about what’s going to happen at midnight. I’m not evaluating whether or not to kiss some guy I barely know. Right now I’m sitting on my couch at home, wearing my pajamas. I’m eating my burger and fries in front of the television. This is basically a dream come true for me. Please don’t ruin it.

Penny, you are my spirit animal.

Jack is a successful but reclusive author. He’s also a divorced dad to Casey, his four-year-old daughter. When he and his wife divorced, he wanted to keep his daughter out of the media spotlight, so he shies away from publicity whenever possible.

So when Jack’s widowed mom drags him to a New Year’s Eve dating program at the library, he feels duped and tricked. But he doesn’t have the heart to abandon his mom there, so he stays. His attention is quickly drawn to Penny, who also takes mutual notice of Jack. As the night goes on, the two are thrown together during a series of games and activities that Penny’s coworker created for the event.

I enjoyed this book so much! There’s quite of bit of comedy and I highlighted dozens of lines that made me laugh, like this one:

Looks respectable enough. Then again, so do most serial killers, right before they make you put the lotion in the bucket.

The cast of characters is hilarious, especially Jack’s mom, Brenda, along with Penny’s friend and coworker, Angie. The next book in the series focuses on Angie and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Since this is a novella, the story moves along at a very quick pace and I got a strong sense of insta-love from Jack and Penny. I would have preferred a longer passage of time prior to declarations of love, but overall I didn’t mind the fast pace too much.

There’s some mild drama, but as a whole, this is a lighthearted romance that I recommend. As I mentioned, I plan on reading the next title in the series and I hope it’s just as enjoyable.

Book Review: Hot Holiday Nights by Jaci Burton

Hot Holiday Nights by Jaci BurtonHot Holiday Nights by Jaci Burton
Rating: 4stars
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Hot Holiday Nights is book #10.5 in Jaci Burton’s Play-by-Play series. It’s a novella (hence the .5) and although it’s part of the series, it can be read out of order and as a standalone. This is also the first ménage story in the series, which I didn’t realize until after I had read a few chapters. As always, Burton’s writing is consistently good and I enjoyed this latest Play-by-Play book.

Victoria Baldwin is a sports agent who has appeared throughout Play-by-Play as a supporting character. She’s on Christmas vacation in Hawaii when she meets Alex, a professional surfer. It’s insta-lust and they hook up pretty quickly.

Alex is traveling with his best friend/manager, Ben, whom Victoria meets and also feels an instant attraction to, despite having an interest in Alex. Victoria is not the type of woman to freak out or run off when confronting her emotions. In fact, although she has just met both men, she admits her attraction to both of them.

She felt safe with them, which made her want to explore and see just what would happen with them.

Even though she’s never done something like this before, Victoria has been curious about ménage in the past. When she shares her desires with Alex and Ben, they’re all for it. They’ve actually shared women previously, which is convenient for Victoria (and much easier in the long run for everyone involved).

The sex is mind-blowing and everyone is happy. Initially, Victoria is looking at the physical relationship as a holiday fling and nothing more. Additionally, she’s based in New York, while Alex and Ben travel extensively for their jobs. So that makes it easier for her to see them as just a fling.

But the more that Victoria spends time with Alex and Ben, the more emotionally attached she becomes to both of them. Pretty soon, it becomes clear that the feeling is mutual. The three then have to decide if they can make their relationship work.

She did not get emotionally attached to men. She never had. Before now.

I think that the book could have worked well as a full-length novel, with room to develop the characters more deeply, but I still enjoyed the story. It’s also nice to venture away from the standard football or baseball players that are typically featured in the series. The plot is a bit rushed due to the shorter length of the novella, but Burton makes up for this with likable characters and super hot scenes.

I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my review.

Book Review: Never Loved by Charlotte Stein

Never Loved by Charlotte SteinNever Loved by Charlotte Stein
Rating: 4stars
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If I sound like a broken record about Charlotte Stein’s books at this point, it’s because her writing is consistently good. I’ve realized that Stein has become one of my desert island authors, hands down.

There’s a theme in Never Loved that can be found elsewhere in Stein’s books–that of a heroine who has grown up with an abusive father. In Sheltered, the father is a religious zealot. In Never Loved, religion is not the motivator, but the abuse is no less regimented and sinister in nature.

Beatrix is a college student who has spent her life knowing what it means to fear. She has also spent that time trying to protect her younger brother, Tommy. Throughout their lives, following the death of their mother, their father regularly locked them in the basement as punishment, on top of inflicting physical and mental abuse every day.

When Tommy gets into trouble with the wrong people, Bea meets Serge, an imposing kind of guy who she probably should be afraid of. But when Serge offers to help Tommy with his troubles, Bea sees through Serge’s intimidating physical appearance into his goodness and kind heart.

Once, a guy helped me. He helped me without any expectations. Without demanding that I be grateful, or not frightened, or anything other than exactly what I was. He just did it, as though that is the way things are meant to be. People are meant to help people.

Bea has absolutely zero experience with men, but she is instinctively drawn to Serge. After an initial misunderstanding about Serge’s identity, she gets to know him better and finds herself intensely attracted to him, sexual inexperience be damned.

Even after Serge reveals how he makes a living–through underground fighting–Bea is not scared off. On the contrary, she only wants to know more. It’s through this curiosity that Bea learns about Serge’s past and discovers that the two of them have much more in common than she ever could have guessed.

Bea learns to trust her instincts about Serge even before their relationship becomes physical. Serge intentionally holds back in the beginning, especially since he’s aware of Bea’s inexperience. But the more she explores her desires, the greater her confidence grows, to the point where she becomes the initiator.

When I finally manage to speak, my voice is shaking. And they are not the words I ever imagined myself saying. They are the words of the person I am becoming.

Also present in Never Loved is Stein’s distinctive narrative voice. Serge and Bea fall for each other pretty early on in the story. I think I’ve said this before about Stein’s characters–even when they fall in love quickly, it’s written in such a way that, to me, doesn’t feel like insta-love. Because the writing is so deeply introspective, the emotions feel very credible. I know that first person, deep POV doesn’t work for all readers. However, I find it effective and genuine.

Something also worth mentioning is that this book probably falls into the New Adult category since Bea is in college (even though Serge is almost thirty). I’ve struggled with NA in the past, but honestly, while I was reading, the book didn’t strike me as a typical NA novel. I was too busy being emotionally invested in the relationship to slap labels on the book in general.

I loved seeing Bea’s transformation over the course of the story. Together with Serge, she discovers who she really is–and finds that she’s no longer a scared victim. She’s a survivor who welcomes risks in life, rather than running from them.

You have no idea how badly I want some kindness, and if you had never shown me any I would have stopped thinking about you the very day, the very minute, the very second, we met. But you know that isn’t true. You know that no one has ever been kinder to me than you.

Now that I’ve thoroughly gushed about what I liked, I think the only thing I didn’t like is that the resolution felt a bit rushed to me. On one hand, I was glad that the conflict wasn’t dragged out unnecessarily, but I think it could have been fleshed out a bit more. That’s probably the only complaint that I have and it’s a small one.

Ultimately, the writing here is a mix of brutal honesty about the characters’ traumatic pasts combined with wild hope for their future. I think that might be the thing that I love most: that although the characters have gone through their respective hells, they’ve found redemption through love. That’s a crazily optimistic and euphoric experience for me, as a reader.

In case it isn’t obvious at this point, I loved this book and highly recommend it.

I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my review.

Book Review: Priest by Sierra Simone

Priest by Sierra SimonePriest by Sierra Simone
Rating: 4stars
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This book is wildly inappropriate and sacrilegious and I absolutely loved it.

I should start by saying that if you’re easily offended by religious themes used in an erotic context, you probably shouldn’t read this. And if you’re an observant Catholic, you definitely shouldn’t read this.

The sex in this book is crazy super extra dirty filthy hot. So if you’re offended by extremely explicit sex scenes, you also should not read this. (Sidenote: I’ve seen this book categorized on Amazon and Goodreads as BDSM. While there are faint elements of this in the sex scenes and Tyler is certainly dominant, I personally didn’t consider it heavy on the BDSM.)

Now that I’ve told you why you potentially shouldn’t read this, let me explain why I loved it so, so much.

Father Tyler Bell is a 29-year-old Catholic priest who took his vows three years ago following the suicide of his sister. In many ways, her death was the catalyst for Tyler wanting to find meaning and purpose in his life. Tyler is certainly not a conventional priest. When not tending to his congregation, in his off-time he listens to Britney Spears and peruses The Walking Dead reddit. He sincerely loves his parish and throws himself into his ministry through various forms of community outreach to dull the grief left behind by his sister’s death. He also does this as a form of penance because he blames himself, in part, for her suicide.

So when a stranger enters his confessional one day, the last thing Tyler expects is to be drawn to this woman. Her confession is filled with sordid detail but also anguish, and as a priest, Tyler’s first instinct is to want to comfort her and help her find peace. But in another sense, Tyler finds himself drawn to her in far more inappropriate ways.

I was supposed to be a shepherd of the flock, not the wolf.

Poppy Danforth’s family life growing up is the definition of American blue blood. But immediately upon her graduation from Dartmouth with her MBA in hand, she walks away from her family’s privileged life. She knows what’s expected of her, but she wants more than marrying someone as a business transaction and ultimately becoming the requisite trophy wife.

So Poppy moves from city to city. She is a classically trained dancer but somehow finds herself working at an extremely high-class, exclusive strip club. She ends up in Weston, Missouri, where Tyler lives. She feels directionless and in an effort to find clarity, enters Tyler’s church and confessional.

Thus begins Tyler and Poppy’s relationship. She’s not Catholic, yet she finds comfort in the act of confession and Tyler is increasingly pulled in by Poppy’s magnetic personality. He also sees how hopeless she feels and wants to help her find her way. But from the beginning, their relationship is anything but appropriate. Tyler continues to hear her confessions, even though he knows he should step aside and refer her to someone else because he’s undeniably attracted to Poppy on a sexual level. Tyler has an interesting way of justifying his decisions. I’d say that he’s not a very good priest, but in some ways that doesn’t feel entirely accurate. In terms of his love for the community–and God Himself–Tyler actually is a very good priest.

The voice in my dreams that had comforted me, enlightened me, guided me. The voice that had told me what I needed to do with my life, where I needed to go to find peace. And the worst thing was that I knew He wasn’t angry with me. He’d forgiven me before it had even happened, and I didn’t deserve it.

Tyler is a good priest in many ways–he’s just not good at the celibacy part. Which, by the way, doesn’t last long. As you can imagine, Tyler breaks his vow of celibacy with Poppy early on and at times it’s almost comical how he splits hairs in efforts to justify his sins. Although he confesses them to God and prays for forgiveness, he also continues doing the same things over and over again, so obviously he’s not really interested in ending his sexual relationship with Poppy–despite the fact that they both know they should. In addition to this, by necessity they have to sneak around to spend time with each other, so there’s a constant shadow of secrecy and shame whenever they’re together.

However, although he spends a great deal of time justifying his actions, I don’t want to make light of Tyler’s struggles. He actually is tormented by his guilt, along with conflicted about his faith and his future as a priest. He not only has to reconcile who he is with who he wants to be, but also he has to figure out where Poppy fits into all of this as well. These issues become even more complicated when Tyler realizes that he’s not merely in lust with Poppy; he’s falling deeply in love with her.

Ultimately, Tyler has to make a choice. As a Catholic priest, he obviously can’t be with Poppy and remain in his spiritual position. However, he’s so conflicted by his feelings and how they just won’t reconcile with the vows he has made to God. As much as he tries to avoid making a choice, he has to decide whether he wants to follow what he thinks God wants, or what he knows his heart wants.

“Si vis amari, ama,” you tell me. If you wish to be loved, love.

One of the only things I didn’t like is Poppy’s ex, Sterling, and how prominent he is in the second half of the book. I wanted more of the focus to be on Poppy and Tyler, and the conflict necessarily involves Sterling, so unfortunately he’s in the book quite a bit. I also thought that the resolution is a little rushed, but the ending is satisfying.

For obvious reasons that I’ve already mentioned, this book is not for everyone–not even for every romance reader. But for me, it worked on pretty much every level and I loved it. There are passages throughout that are so beautifully written that I had to go back and reread them. There’s a poetic quality at times that’s so lyrical as to be Biblical in nature. The author did an amazing job of showing the dichotomy of Tyler the man of God versus Tyler the man in love. I just loved the author’s writing style and really want to read more from her.

Book Review: Sweet Agony by Charlotte Stein

Sweet Agony by Charlotte SteinSweet Agony by Charlotte Stein
Rating: 4stars
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This book is basically the super dirty version of a modern-day gothic romance and I loved every word.

Molly begins a new job as a live-in housekeeper. She soon learns that her employer, Cyrian Harcroft, is extremely odd and aloof. He tells her not to look at him, not to interact with him, and never ever to touch him. Despite this, she finds herself drawn to him, weird as he is. And strangely enough, he cannot keep himself away from her either. The two engage regularly in what feels like conversational fencing: they’re both exceedingly quick, precise, and skilled.

Then allow me to disillusion you immediately. Your technique is that of a sixteen-year-old boy fumbling at the underwear of my mind.

Indeed, their conversations soon turn into verbal foreplay and it’s just a matter of time before things turn sexual. This is a Charlotte Stein book, after all. But there’s that whole “Cyrian hates physical touch” thing. As he and Molly become more involved, he’s still terrified of physical closeness. When he finally shares the reason for his fear, it’s one of the only moments when I felt some sympathy for his character. The majority of the time, he’s just an ass, but we don’t really know why. Once it’s explained, his character becomes more likable–but it’s difficult before that, since he is so constantly aloof.

He wants to be the evil wizard who has somehow imprisoned a princess. But he has to know he can never be. My life before was the prison: this is the escape.

Molly also shares a troubled past, particularly involving her family life. So when she and Cyrian bond over their similar experiences, it makes their physical interactions that much more meaningful.

This is a super dirty book and I mean that in the best way. It’s also Charlotte Stein at her finest: deeply introspective, at moments both hilarious yet heartbreaking, and with a witty quickness that I rarely find elsewhere. She remains, as always, one of the best voices in romance.

I received an advance copy from NetGalley and the author in exchange for my review.

Book Review: Captivated by Megan Hart and Tiffany Reisz

Captivated by Megan Hart and Tiffany Reisz
Captivated by Megan Hart and Tiffany Reisz
Overall Rating: 4stars
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I’ve mentioned before how much I love Cosmo Red-Hot Reads from Harlequin and this book did not disappoint me.

Letting Go by Megan Hart
Rating: 4stars

It had been a while since I’d read something by Megan Hart and I’d forgotten how much I love her writing. Letting Go is about Colleen, a divorcee whose ex has really worked her over emotionally. He left her feeling like nothing but a controlling bitch, even though in reality, she’s a smart, capable woman who knows what she wants. And even though they’re no longer married, he somehow manages to slither into her life regularly.

Colleen frequents a bar weekly where she keeps to herself and makes the acquaintance of the bartender, Jesse. One night, a snowstorm hits and the two get snowed in together. They hook up and even though it’s meant to be temporary, they wind up seeing each other again.

Jesse is a single dad but he’s on civil terms with his child’s mother. As he and Colleen fall for each other, they have to rearrange their respective lives to make the other fit. Jesse’s child is his priority, but he wants Colleen in his life. And in turn, Colleen has to learn to let go of the power that her ex still holds over her and eliminate him from her life completely.

Spoiler alert:
It turns out that Colleen and Jesse are a really good match sexually because she likes to be in control and he likes to be commanded. That’s serendipitous, and maybe a little too convenient, but it works for the story. It’s explored in an interesting way because Colleen is still dealing with the mental abuse from her ex. He made her feel shame for wanting to have a certain level of control in her life, so when she’s able to explore that with Jesse, it’s incredibly freeing for her.

I really appreciate the way that Hart conveys emotion in her books. In this story, her characters are normal people with emotional hurdles to overcome. They both want to get to a better place. Eventually, they realize that it will be so much better if they do that together.

Seize the Night by Tiffany Reisz
Rating: 4stars

This is the first time I’ve read anything by Tiffany Reisz and I’m definitely a fan now. Seize the Night is a re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet. Several years ago, Remi and Julien did something that accidentally started a feud between their families and they’ve been forbidden to associate with each other ever since.

Their respective sets of parents own horse-racing farms and things in the present take an interesting turn when Remi discovers a potentially disastrous secret. To obtain additional information, Remi seeks help from Julien, for whom she’s always held a torch over the past several years.

The feeling turns out to be mutual and Remi and Julien fall for each other again. With the help of Remi’s employee/friend Merrick, they plot to destroy the feud between their families. Merrick is both ridiculous and hilarious and probably my favorite character from the story.

I wasn’t sure if this retelling would work, but it just does. There are several scenes where Reisz takes elements from Shakespeare and turns them upside down. For example, at one point Remi visits Julien in secret, in the middle of the night, showing up beneath his window. And in this story, it’s the male who’s much more innocent and inexperienced, rather than the female.

The story is smart, funny, and somehow manages to be both sweet and incredibly sexy. I loved the combination of wit and romance. As I mentioned, I’m new to reading Reisz but I’m looking forward to reading more from her.

I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my review.

Book Review: Talking After Midnight by Dakota Cassidy

Talking After Midnight by Dakota CassidyTalking After Midnight by Dakota Cassidy
Rating: 4stars
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Talking After Midnight is the third book in Dakota Cassidy’s Plum Orchard series. Cassidy has mentioned that her inspiration for this series was the TV show “Hart of Dixie.” That influence is definitely apparent, from the small-town atmosphere to the group of mean girl characters to the heartfelt relationships that the people of the town have with each other.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first two Plum Orchard books. While it took me a little longer to warm up to Marybell, the heroine of this book, overall I enjoyed this latest installment as well. I should note that it’s much more enjoyable if you read the books in series order. The supporting characters are especially prominent in this plot.

Marybell is a woman of mystery who stands out like a sore thumb in the town of Plum Orchard. Her style is pure rebel, complete with colorful mohawk, multiple piercings and tattoos, and goth makeup. But don’t make assumptions from her appearance, because she’s an utter sweetheart, as her fellow Call Girls (of Plum Orchard’s phone sex company) know well.

But even though Marybell and the other Call Girls have become dear friends, there’s a huge secret that she has been keeping from them and everyone in the town. So things get really complicated when Marybell and handyman Tag Hawthorne start seeing each other. The relationship starts out casual (as relationships so often do in romance!) but the closer Marybell and Tag get, the more they both start to confide in each other. There are also elements of Marybell’s past and upbringing that she slowly reveals to Tag. In turn, Tag shares his past failures with Marybell. But even after they’re exclusive, Marybell is still holding back from fully trusting Tag.

This part of the story left me conflicted. On one hand, I understood why Marybell is so hesitant to reveal herself, to her friends but especially to Tag. Once the secret was finally revealed, I was pretty stunned. I listened to this on audio and at the big reveal, I gasped loudly while driving in my car. Maybe I should’ve seen the twist coming, but it was a surprise for me.

On the other hand, I just wanted Marybell to take a chance and be fully honest with Tag already, especially after he told her about his awful mistakes. So I could see both perspectives and while I was frustrated at first, I understood Marybell’s motivation later and this made me warm up to her more as a character.

Lastly, the ending was positively swoonworthy and I loved it so much.

I don’t listen to romance on audio very frequently because I’m super picky about narrators, but the narrator for this book, Scarlet Chase, does an excellent job. She uses distinct voices for each of the characters and has a very pleasant, expressive narrating voice.

As I mentioned, the supporting characters are a huge part of this story and I’m hoping that the third Hawthorne brother will get his own book. If so, I’ll definitely be continuing the series since I love Cassidy’s writing style.

Book Review: The Tornado by Missy Blue

The Tornado by Missy BlueThe Tornado by Missy Blue
Rating: 4stars
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I have to start by admitting that I struggle with the New Adult genre. It seems to me that books in this genre are so filled with angst, melodrama, and stupid characters that I just don’t want to bother reading them. I like my romance novels with their Happily Ever Afters firmly in place (but I’ll also accept a Happy For Now). I don’t want to suffer through ridiculous, outlandish drama to get there, though. Thankfully, The Tornado by Missy Blue is an example of a really well done New Adult novel.

The Tornado features Jewel, a ballerina with an extremely traumatic past. When the story begins, she’s working three jobs in hopes of opening her own dance studio one day. In her spare time, she frequents a local gym and practices boxing by herself. Here, she meets the co-owner of the gym, Asher “The Tornado” Prince, a former Marine turned MMA fighter (and rising celebrity).

At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of Asher. He’s this strange dichotomy: exceedingly violent in the ring–which makes him one of the best at what he does–yet also extraordinarily kind to Jewel, even when she turns out to be someone different from the person she originally portrays herself to be. (I’m being purposely vague here. The book opens with a case of mistaken identity, of sorts, that I wasn’t expecting and I think it’s more enjoyable if it’s a surprise.)

As Jewel and Asher get to know each other over time, they become good friends. But even as Jewel allows Asher into her life, he is fully aware that she’s holding him at arm’s length. It’s obvious that Jewel is hiding some kind of secret, some kind of pain from her past that she isn’t ready to share. Asher sees this and respects it. He grew up in an abusive home and knows that Jewel will open up to him when she is ready.

There was an oppressive heaviness that clung to her. Somewhere in the depths of her brown eyes was a sadness, almost a hopelessness. I could see it, but I couldn’t understand it. And Christ, I wanted to understand it.

That’s another thing about Asher: he’s extraordinarily patient with and respectful of Jewel. I have to say that Asher is probably one of my favorite romance heroes that I’ve read in a while. It’s not that he’s perfect; it’s more that he knows who he is as a person and it’s not who the media portrays him to be. He’s also not a typical damaged/tortured NA hero. He’s disciplined, both in his work and as a person. His upbringing had a lot to do with this because he didn’t want to end up like his alcoholic father. Also, his military training only reinforced that structured, regimented aspect of his personality. But above all this, he is so sweet with Jewel. There are so many sigh-worthy moments in this book.

They called him The Tornado. But he was proving to be the shelter to my storm.

Which brings me to the really tough parts of the story.

Spoiler alert and trigger warning:

This book deals with themes of rape and various forms of sexual assault. I had a feeling that this was part of Jewel’s secret, but when it’s revealed, it’s much more brutal than I expected. The narrative is handled well–it doesn’t feel gratuitous in any way–but I think it’s really important to mention.

As Jewel and Asher’s relationship deepens, Jewel really starts to evolve as a person. In the beginning of the book, she still sees herself as a victim and deals with constant anxiety over what happened to her. But throughout the course of the story, she becomes stronger, to the point where she’s no longer the victim; she’s a survivor and a fighter. Asher is part of that growth. He instills confidence in her, encourages her, and is there for her when she needs him to be.

One of my only complaints about the book requires another spoiler alert and trigger warning:

Initially, Jewel deals with her trauma through cutting. Asher learns about this and discusses it with her, but other than those few mentions, it’s not really explored that closely for the rest of the book. It’s mentioned that she stops after Asher discovers it, but I think that the issue could have been dealt with in more detail. As a plot device, its inclusion feels more like an afterthought rather than an important aspect of the plot. That being said, the overall examination of Jewel’s rape and its aftermath are handled really well, so again, this complaint is a small one but something I thought I’d mention anyway.

The book is written in dual point of view, which doesn’t always work effectively but does in this case. Jewel’s voice is very distinct from Asher’s. When Jewel is narrating, I understand that uncertainty and shame that she initially feels. As the book goes on, I feel the strength and playfulness that’s evident in her personality. When Asher is narrating, the voice is rougher, more crass at times, but believably so. The author did a great job of creating distinct voices for each of the main characters, as well as the supporting characters such as family members and friends.

So if, like me, you’re a little skittish about the New Adult genre and tend to avoid it, I can’t recommend The Tornado highly enough. If you like angst, it’s got some of that, but not to the point where I wanted to smack the characters. There are some frustrating moments brought on by other characters, but Jewel and Asher are not stupid people; they’re just trying to figure things out together in a messed-up world. There’s also romance galore–I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say that my constant demand for a Happily Ever After was pleased. And the romance was my favorite part, obviously, largely because of the fact that both the hero and heroine are characters you like and truly want to root for. So when the end comes, it’s a genuinely satisfying one.