Book Review: Stuck-Up Suit by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward

Stuck-Up Suit by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward

Stuck-Up Suit by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward
Rating: 3stars
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This would have been a 4- or 5-star review if the story had ended halfway through. But then the plot took a huge twist, so it’s a 3-star review from me.

Graham is an arrogant jerk. He’s also a successful businessman. When he takes the subway one morning, he accidentally leaves behind his phone, which is found by Soraya. Soraya has a fiery, feisty, tell-it-like-it-is personality. I liked her character a lot (more so in the beginning of the book).

Soraya pokes around Graham’s phone to try to figure out who he is so that she can return his phone to him. She eventually ends up at his fancy office building. Via the intercom on his receptionist’s desk, Graham refuses to come out and see Soraya because she doesn’t have an appointment, he doesn’t know who she is, he’s soooo busy, and as I mentioned, he’s a huge jerk. As revenge, Soraya takes a few sexy pics of herself with his phone and adds herself to his contacts under the name, “You’re Welcome, Asshole,” and leaves the phone with his receptionist. When Graham discovers what she’s done, he’s intrigued. Soon, he and Soraya have a flirtatious exchange going via text and phone.

I loved this first part of the book. There’s a lot of sexual tension before they officially meet and their banter is really funny. But aside from the comedy, there are some tender moments, too. We get to see Graham’s softer side whenever his grandmother is around. Likewise, Soraya’s not as tough as she always seems. She’s sensitive when it comes to family issues because her dad didn’t do the greatest job of being available when she was growing up. I loved seeing these facets of Graham’s and Soraya’s personalities.

I think I would have been happy if the book had ended at 50%. Unfortunately, there’s a doozy of a plot twist in the second half of the book involving Graham’s past and some serious drama. This part of the story was so frustrating to read. I will say, though, that the authors did a fabulous job of making Graham’s ex a conniving character who I had no trouble hating. But I really wish that the book had focused more on Graham and Soraya, rather than becoming this love triangle with huge complications plot. Also, I thought that the resolution at the end, along with the epilogue, wrapped things up a little too easily.

I wish the plot summary would have been a bit more descriptive because I doubt I would have read this if I had known ahead of time that there would be crazy drama. Nevertheless, I was glad that everything worked out in the end, so I’ll say that I still enjoyed the book, but I have mixed feelings about recommending it.

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: Archer’s Voice by Mia Sheridan

Archer's Voice by Mia SheridanArcher’s Voice by Mia Sheridan
Rating: 5stars
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I’ve had Archer’s Voice on my Kindle for eight months and just finally read it. (Yes, it has really been eight months; I just checked. My TBR is monstrous.) My good friend Lennis, a fellow romance reader, recommended it to me. She said the hero is a mute hermit, so at that point I was pretty much sold.

At the beginning of the story, Bree arrives in the town of Pelion, Maine, with hopes that she can escape her troubled past. Back in Ohio, her father was killed in front of her during a robbery and Bree was almost raped. Although it has been months since the incident, she suffers from traumatic flashbacks and nightmares. Bree’s mother died when Bree was young, and although she has a few close friends in Ohio, she feels the need to get away from her life for a while.

I never felt entirely safe. Would I again?

Archer is the town loner of Pelion. He lives by himself on an isolated plot of land, rarely venturing into town for food and supplies. On Bree’s first day there, she runs into Archer and their meeting is simultaneously sweet, confusing, and comical. It turns out that Archer is mute, which Bree doesn’t learn until later, but which explains why he doesn’t respond when she rambles on during their initial meeting. Some of the residents of Pelion think that he’s either deaf or just not right in the head, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Bree discovers that Archer can hear her when she speaks to him, then finds out that he knows sign language, just as she does. (Bree’s father was deaf, so they communicated through sign.)

Sometimes an understanding silence was better than a bunch of meaningless words.

Initially, Archer is extremely reticent to let Bree into his life–and understandably so. He has lived alone for so many years and hasn’t really communicated with anyone during that time. So when Bree blows into his life, he doesn’t know how to react at first. But as Bree begins sharing her secrets with him, the more he learns to do the same, little by little. They communicate primarily through sign language, though sometimes Bree uses her voice.

They wind up becoming good friends, much to the confusion of Archer’s cousin Travis, who has been pursuing Bree since she showed up in town. Although Bree appreciates the attention from Travis, she doesn’t feel a constant pull toward him, the way that she feels with Archer. From the moment that they meet and she treats him with kindness, rather than treating him as a freak, they connect and only get closer.

Bree’s relationship with Archer progresses and eventually becomes romantic. Archer is such a wildly endearing character. He’s utterly inexperienced and he’s also probably the most beta hero I’ve ever read. I just loved his character. How could I not love a character whose favorite book is Ethan Frome? (Although he’s right: it really is one of the most depressing books ever.)

He was going to kill me with sweetness overload. He simply nodded as if it had been nothing.

Bree moves to Pelion with the intent that it’s only temporary. But the more attached she becomes to the people of the town, most especially to Archer, the more connected she feels with the concept of living again. Following the tragedy of her father’s death, all she wants is peace and to feel more like herself. In Pelion, she’s discovering that.

There’s a lot of family drama in this story, especially with regard to physical abuse and domestic violence. However, I didn’t find it gratuitous or too difficult to read. Bree is still working through her past traumas and as it turns out, Archer has a devastating family history as well. It’s the reason he has isolated himself, both physically and emotionally. But together, Bree and Archer learn to trust each other and open themselves up to the possibility of being seen–really seen–and understood by another person. It’s a struggle to let go of their respective fears, but over time, love heals them both.

I wanted him just as he was. I’d never hear his chuckle, but that was okay. I had his heart, and his thoughts, and him. And it was more than enough. In fact, it was everything.

Probably one of the only slightly critical things I have to say about the book is that Bree’s descriptions of Archer get a bit repetitive after a while. She goes on about his physical appearance quite a bit–which I didn’t mind!–but she uses a lot of the same descriptors and phrases over and over.

When I finished the book, I had that euphoric feeling I get when I’ve read something I really loved. In this case, I sent my friend Lennis a bunch of frantic all-caps messages, both during my reading (PLEASE TELL ME THIS WORKS OUT OKAY) and immediately after (OMG LOVED IT 500 STARS). I’ll summarize by saying that this is one of the best New Adult books I’ve read. When I bought my copy of the book, I had been aware of its popularity, but I’m always a little skittish with some bestsellers because sometimes I don’t see what all the hype is about. In this case, it’s absolutely deserved. I’m so excited to read more from Mia Sheridan and I’ve already added several of her other books to my TBR list.

Book Review: Working with Heat by Anne Calhoun

Working with Heat by Anne CalhounWorking with Heat by Anne Calhoun
Rating: 3stars
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I had trouble with this book for a few reasons. First, while I’m a huge fan of Anne Calhoun’s work, this book is a departure from her normal material. Working with Heat feels like a New Adult novel, which is not one of my favorite genres or what Calhoun normally writes. Also, since this is a Cosmo Red-Hot Read, I went into the story expecting it to be more lighthearted and not so angsty, but there are definite moments of drama in this one. However, all that being said, it’s really well-written, which is why I’m giving it three stars.

Milla is an American who lives in London. She works in an art gallery but her real passion is her social media presence. She writes a travel blog and is constantly updating her various accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube). And when I say she’s constantly updating them, I mean she is posting things ALL the time. Because of this, I really struggled to like Milla. She’s not a bad character, but her obsession with social media drove me nuts. I’ll admit, I’m pretty addicted to my phone too and always have it close by, but Milla can hardly set aside her phone for five minutes at a time. It’s pretty sad. She’s so focused on building her “brand” through constant selfies and tweets that I’m kind of surprised her friends put up with her.

One of those friends, Charlie, is a painter turned glass artist and vehement Luddite. Eventually, Milla learns the reason for his anti-technology stance: he was burned by his ex via social media, which hurt him not only personally, but also professionally. So, it was really curious to me that Charlie would even consider getting involved with Milla, given how deeply she’s immersed in her online persona.

Milla meant well, but he felt more than he wanted to feel, which meant they were banging into each other like shins against furniture, hurting each other.

Granted, Milla and Charlie’s relationship starts out pretty casual and they agree to keep it a secret from their group of friends. But it’s still really odd to me that Charlie would want to get involved with her, even on a casual level. Since they’re already friends, the chemistry between them is built in from the beginning of the story, but I don’t know that it feels entirely believable. Maybe if the story had been longer and their relationship had been more developed, I would have believed it more easily.

Lastly, the ending feels a little rushed and wraps itself up pretty easily. After Charlie’s earlier hesitation, I think it should have taken him longer to adjust to Milla’s public persona.

I didn’t care much for Milla and Charlie as characters, but I enjoyed the narrative itself, if that makes sense. There’s a level of sophistication and beauty to Calhoun’s writing style that sets it apart in my mind. So, despite the fact that I didn’t love this book, I always love Calhoun’s unique voice and that’s the best part of this book for me.

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

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.