Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Besieged by Charlotte Lamb


Charlotte Lamb is one of my favorite Harlequin romance authors but sometimes she churns out a miss rather than a hit. BESIEGED is the first book in the Barbary Wharf series, which seems to be about the contested ownership of a popular newspaper and its adjoining property. Gina, the heroine of this book, is the daughter-in-law of the current owner, but is now newly widowed. Nick, the hero, is a sort of corporate raider who would like to ownership of the paper/building by force, if necessary. And since this is an older Harlequin, that's his approach to courtship, as well.

There were some things I enjoyed about this book. I'm a toxic sucker for forceful kisses and "little fools!" in romance, and Nick is definitely an old skool kind of hero. You have to read these books pretending you wouldn't know exactly who they'd vote for in a political election and whether or not they have a not-so-dusty copy of Ayn Rand on their bookshelf, though. The kissing/steamy scenes were hot, although they don't actually get to banging. In fact the book ends on a cliffhanger.

The set up of this series is actually weird because unlike series where each book leads you to another couple, it appears that Gina and Nick continue to have their relationship evolve in each subsequent book, but their relationship becomes the secondary romance, as each new couple in the series spins out in the foreground. Points for creativity, I guess, but it was a little distracting. Especially since the secondary characters in this book, Piet and Hazel, were not that likeable and didn't have much chemistry. They were kind of thrown in as an afterthought.

For a workplace romance, this is great, though. Lamb does a good job making romances feel businessy without bogging down the plot. And y'all know I have a soft spot for heroes named Nick. I didn't love it and I probably won't read further into the series but it was an interesting (if slow) ride. Thanks so much to Heather for buddy-reading this with me. I'm sorry I took forever to finish it!

2.5 out of 5 stars

The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill


Monster fucking but make it literary??

THE CRANE HUSBAND is such a bizarre book. When I was young, I had a book of fairytales from all over the world and this story could have been ripped from its pages. Even though it's set in contemporary times, there's something chillingly timeless and old-fashioned about it, outside of those modern references. It seems to float in its own bubble.

The story is about a small family: a teenage girl and her younger brother, who both live with their self-absorbed artist mother on a farm. Their dad is dead and their bohemian mother has entertained affairs with people of all genders, but one day, she brings home a crane. And the crane is kind of a huge douchebag. All of the farm animals are afraid of him, and when he and the mom spend the night together, she comes down the stairs covered in blood. Obviously, the crane has to go.

But the mother insists she loves him.

I feel like this is an allegory for how abuse transforms people, and how people who commit violence against others are like animals. I have read other stories that turn abuse into metaphor, which simultaneously makes it more chilling and more palatable. Fantasy can be a vehicle to explore trauma with a remove that makes it feel safer, psychologically. I feel like THE CRANE HUSBAND does this.

The story was a little too weird and disjointed for me to fully love it, and the anachronism was tonally jarring, but I thought the writing was gorgeous and I really appreciated what the author was trying to do. At times, it almost gave me a Boy and the Heron vibe. If you like Angela Carter, you'll probably enjoy this. I'll definitely be checking out more of her work.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, February 26, 2024

It Takes Monsters by Mandy McHugh


There's a Little Free Library near me that, I kid you not, is owned by someone with the best taste in books. I'll go there a couple times a week to do drop offs of my own cast-offs, and I'll find some really amazing thrillers and romance novels in there to take home. IT TAKES MONSTERS is one of those.

The premise intrigued me-- because who doesn't love the revenge fantasy of a fed-up woman who decides her husband must die for taking away her agency and turning her into a baby-maker-- and the cover seemed to promise some sort of sexy menage action... or maybe another man or woman, who maybe, idk, helps the heroine hide the body? (Or bodies? *wiggles eyebrows*) But no.

I don't want to say too much about this book because less is definitely more and I also don't want to spoil the ending (which I TOTALLY predicted, by the way, ugh). So first, here's what the book did well. This had a fun, almost retro, 90s horror/thriller vibe to it, and I liked that. The banter was also fun and sometimes quotable, and you know me, I love a female antiheroine (even if she's pretty stupid and is a little too attached to her emotional support murder tarp). Victoria was hilarious and fun.

IT TAKES MONSTERS didn't work for me in a couple ways. I feel like the premise and the cover promise smut, or at least some spice. This book had no spice. What KILLS me is that it would have been so easy to include some too, since one of the scenes literally takes place at a masked sex party, which the heroine goes to and does not have sex. RUDE. I also felt like the motive for the murders didn't make sense, and for me, that's the whole point of a murder mystery. Having it make sense.

This wasn't a bad book by any means and even though I kinda sorta skimmed the end a little bit, I would read more from this author. It's too gory to be a cozy mystery but if you are looking for thrillers that don't have spice or romance, but do feature female protagonists and a bit of a scare, this will definitely be your cup of tea. Thanks so much to Corvina for reading it with me! <3

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The Eclipse Ritual: A Taboo Cult Romance by Kate Rivenhall


This book was absolutely insane, like FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC meets Midsommar. I wasn't expecting to enjoy it as much as I did, because this is some of the most depraved shit I've read in a while. Without going into spoilers, THE ECLIPSE RITUAL is the story of Obedience and Ronan, and a society that oppresses women and forces them to be brides against their will if they are chosen.

I liked Obedience's gradual questioning of her faith. I thought it was really well done and appropriately terrifying. Any book where one of the bad guys gets a piece of his dick nailed to a wall is going to be pretty fucked up. I also liked that all of the characters were 18+ and that as psychotic as the hero was, he had his own internal logic that he was following to try to prove his twisted love to the heroine.

Aspirational this is fucking NOT, but I loved it.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, February 18, 2024

For Your Consideration: Keanu Reeves by Larissa Zageris


Well, the book certainly lives up to the title in the sense that it made me consider Keanu Reeves. I had actually forgotten how many movies he was in, including offbeat titles like Dangerous Liaisons and Little Buddha. This is sort of a biography (a very lite one), but it's also a fan letter to Reeves as an actor and a human being.

I enjoyed this book but parts of it were too silly. At times it felt like the authors knew they were running out of material and were scrambling for more filler, case in point: the quizzes, and the bizarre little Keanu fanfiction short story they randomly crammed in here.

Would recommend this to fans of Keanu Reeves, but anyone else probably shouldn't read this book. At the very least, it might prompt you to revisit some cheesy old movies, though.

3 out of 5 stars

Friday, February 16, 2024

The Crow: Special Edition by James O'Barr


I'm not crying, you're crying.

If you're unfamiliar with the premise of THE CROW, it's the story of a young man named Eric who defies the laws of death itself for the sake of his vengeance, hunting down the criminals who murdered him, and then SA'd and murdered his fiancee as well. It's pretty horrifying, and very violent, and the story is incredibly dark and bleak.

Apparently the author's own fiancee was killed by a drunk driver when he was very young (eighteen, I think), and this graphic novel was an attempt to channel his feelings into a cathartic medium. You can really feel the raw anguish and hatred seeping through the pages, and at times, that can be very hard. The criminals are also horrible people who do horrible things, and we see them do some of them, which is also hard to read. Reading THE CROW gives you the idea that the world is a rather joyless and terrible place, where happiness is only fleeting, and evil basically runs rampantly unchecked.

It's hard not to fall in love with Eric, though. Even though he's pretentious and weird and violent, he's a 6'5" undead goth who is nice to cats and children and simps hard for his wife. So what if he wears bullets in his hair and carves a crown of thorns in his own chest? The only people who fall victim to his murder-sprees are Bad People Who Are Not Good(TM). He's better than most dark romance heroes.

I think the movie was better than the comic book, but the comic book isn't bad. If you're into gritty-looking art and very dark noir with goth overtones, you'll really enjoy THE CROW.

3.5 out of 5 stars

For Holly by Tanya Byrne


After reading and loving FOLLOW ME DOWN by this author, I knew I immediately had to read more of her books. What better to start with, I thought, than FOR HOLLY? If you know me, you know I love step-drama (haha, boy do I), and a sort of thriller about a troubled messy girl who hates her stepmother and is willing to punish her over some kind of sinister (is it sinister???) secret sounded too good to pass up.

Full disclosure, I only read to about 40-50% before skipping ahead to the last couple chapters, which had a promised twist. I wanted to see if the twist made wading through the book worth it. It did not. FOR HOLLY is beautifully written and really brings Paris to life. I also thought the character of Lola, the French-Barbadian heroine, was really well done. She's "unlikable" but in a way that feels relatable rather than entirely off-putting. The problem is that there isn't really enough story or drama to make wading through the (lack of) narrative worth it for me. FOLLOW ME DOWN gripped me from the get-go because of the dual timeline that made it clear that something terrible had happened.

FOR HOLLY tries to do the same (and actually employs a similar "gotcha" kind of twist) but I don't think the author teased enough details to make this as suspenseful as she could have done. Maybe this would work for readers who can happily enjoy a story whose focus is less on plot and story and more on character development and setting, but that is not of particular interest to me. I want drama, suspense, and sordid affairs. I'm sorry to say that I agree with the other reviewers who seem to think that this is the weakest of Ms. Byrne's books. 

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Follow Me Down by Tanya Byrne


I'd recommend this to the dark academia girlies who are fans of Donna Tartt's SECRET HISTORY and Kate Moretti's THE SPIRES, as it kind of reads like a YA version of that. Set in an English boarding school, this is about Adamma, a Nigerian student, and her close and somewhat toxic friendship with the school golden girl, Scarlett. It's told in dual timeline, starting from Adamma's first day at school and ending after their friendship does... and something terrible happens.

I don't want to say too much about this book because less is more going in (I feel like I say this a lot??) but it's so full of surprises. Tonally, it's quite dark for a YA and deals with a lot of unsavory and mature topics. I actually like it when I find YA that is clearly meant to appeal to the college-age and/or college-bound youths, because I think there should be books for every maturity level of teens. Byrne always knew when to pull back and not provide too much detail, but this is definitely sensual and terrifying by turns, and often left me feeling desolate and hollow.

Loved the Nigerian protagonist and the little snippets of her culture. I also think that this author did the best job depicting the intimate push-pull relationship of vicious teen girl relationships in a way that puts her on par with Megan Abbott (who's famously good at it). The ending made me gasp, and was appropriately gutting. I feel like maybe part of the reason this book doesn't have more of a following is because it's ridiculously slow burn for a thriller. The character portraits are just as important if not more so than who did the bad things. That said, I'm absolutely obsessed. Do I wish the ending was happier and the pacing had been a little neater? Yes. But I'm still gonna read everything she writes.

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Vampire Academy: The Graphic Novel by Richelle Mead


This was purely an impulse buy but I still think it's the best Vampire Academy adaptation out there, based on the original books. They managed to cram the entire first novel into a comic book that's under 200 pages, and they honestly did a pretty decent job. I mean, it's still basically the Reader's Digest of a YA novel, but I liked it.

Also, every time Dimitri tells Rose he'd throw himself in front of her during a Strigoi attack instead of Lissa, I swoon a little.

It hits just the same in this graphic novel.

(Though gosh, I forgot how edgelord 2000s this book was-- cutting and self-harm, slut-shaming, mean girls, and everyone obsessed with who's sleeping with whom. I loved it. It was toxic BUT I LOVED IT. I was still a teenager myself when I was reading these books, okay?? Everyone needs a YA 'ho phase.)

Also this is literally the only student x teacher romance I'll allow.

Don't read this if you don't love the original series, but if you love the original series, this will basically cement your love for it even further, I think. Just, you know, don't get *too* attached. Apparently they stopped making the graphic novels after book three because they weren't selling well. I guess other people didn't find the uncanny valley manga look of these comics as charming as I did. But some people just don't have taste.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Erik's Tale by Jessica Mason


I have been going through some shit lately, and haven't wanted to read anything too dark or disturbing. Which hurts me in my soul because I am a dark romance girlie at heart, and dark romance novels and thrillers are basically my favorite things to read. ERIK'S TALE was the perfect antidote to my quandary because even though it's dark (very dark), it's the prequel to a book I already read, so I know everything turns out OK. (And trust me, with a book like this, you're going to want that guarantee.)

This book chronicles Erik's very dark past as a child who was the product of rape, and who grew up in a highly abusive home with a mentally ill mother who literally tried to cut his face off, and an alcoholic father (not the rapist in question, FYI) who resented his "cold" wife and bastard/disfigured son. This whole portion was very hard to read and I basically wanted to give Erik the biggest hug. The circus/freak show portion is also very hard to read, but these two sections are the worst (in terms of content) parts of the book. Once you get past them, you'll be good to go for the rest of the story.

That's because from here, the book basically catapults into the globe-trotting WTFest of one of those old skool 70s bodice-rippers, where the protagonist is hurdled towards misfortune after misfortune, somehow managing to survive despite all odds. I thought specifically of Natasha Peters's DANGEROUS OBSESSION and SAVAGE SURRENDER. Especially with the role Erik played in various royal courts, and his wandering journeys with the Roma people. The retro vibes of this book played quite well with the many references to the original Leroux story (which I've read). One of my favorite OTT elements of the original book was Erik's nightmare torture forest made of metal. So many retellings omit this detail (and I've always wondered if the Nome king's metal forest in the Oz series was inspired by Phantom!). It's such a cool detail and I'm glad Ms. Mason made use of it.

I really enjoyed ERIK'S TALE and that says a lot about me because I'm notoriously not a fan of novellas. I feel like it takes a talented author to make a story come full circle in a limited amount of pages, and usually characterization and story suffer. Neither of those things is the case in this book. I also loved how beautifully queer it was, with asexual, trans, gay, and sapphic characters all given representation. Also, I stan our Strangle King-- some of the people he murdered were in defense of said trans character. We love a spicy cinnamon roll vigilante, don't we? Also it's written in first person, so you really get a feel for all of his arrogance, vulnerabilities, and intelligence, all firsthand. (Hey guys, welcome back to my YouTube channel...)

My only real qualm is that everything was moving so fast that sometimes it felt very boom-boom-boom and I almost wished it was bodice-ripper saga length just so we could have time to soak into some of these settings. There were also more typos in here than in ANGEL'S MASK, but apparently I have a first edition (collectible! SUCK IT BITCHES) so I'm guessing some of these have been fixed (this didn't factor into my rating, btw, but some people get weird about typos-- w/e it's indie). It's also my understanding that this author has started putting TWs into her books. This edition didn't have one inside, but I believe she has them on her website if you're nervous about anything specific.

Overall, though, this was a win, and exactly the thing to get me out of a pretty bad funk. And I'm very grateful for that. Can't wait to read the next in the series. :)

Thanks to the author for sending me a review copy!

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars 

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Moshi Moshi: A Travelogue: A Colorful Journey of Japan through Culture, Food, Fashion, and More by Winnie Liu


I bought this impulsively because it was on sale. MOSHI MOSHI is absolutely adorable. Winnie Liu is an illustrator who was lucky enough to have the chance to study abroad in Japan when she was in college. In this heavily illustrated travelogue and memoir(?) she details some of her adventures, gives recommendations, and spotlights a few of the many cultural differences between Japan and other parts of the world.

I was lucky enough to go to Japan a few years ago and I've been to several of the places she talked about here. It made me incredibly nostalgic for my trip. Would definitely recommend this to anyone who is looking for vacation ideas. Especially if they love cute art.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

The Deep by Rivers Solomon


The comps for this book are a little off, imo, because this doesn't really have much in common with Black Panther at all. To me, it kind of feels like Octavia Butler decided to do her own take on The Giver, except with mermaid-like creatures who are descended from slaves.

THE DEEP is a highly speculative and experimental work. I interpreted it as an allegory for how Black people still carry the legacy of pain inflicted upon them during slavery, and the emotional burden that comes from being oppressed by that same societal infrastructure, not to mention being forced to continually justify their existence as well as explain their history to the ignorant-- either to teach, or to further that justification.

Reading this reminded me a lot of my experience reading Akwaeke Emezi's FRESHWATER, another book where I liked the premise more than I liked the actual execution, and which I felt got buried by its experimental nature. AN UNKINDNESS OF GHOSTS and SORROWLAND seem more up my alley by this author, because I really did like their writing if not the story (it felt more focused on the allegorical nature of the story than the world-building or plot). But if you're into stories that are all about the vibes, you might enjoy this more than I did!

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

The Shadow Sister by Lily Meade


THE SHADOW SISTER is one of those "trust the process" books because it takes a while to get going, and until about 10% from the end, I had no idea how it was going to end. If you're a fan of YA folk horror, and books like LOVELY BONES and HOUSE OF HOLLOW, you're going to love SHADOW SISTER, plain and simple.

This story is about two sisters, Sutton and Casey. Sutton is the pretty, popular sister. Casey is the weird, introverted, prickly sister. One day, Sutton goes missing and it basically tears their little family apart, especially since Sutton was her mother's not-so-secret favorite. Casey feels torn about her sister's disappearance because their relationship was so fraught-- Sutton terrorized her and basically treated her like shit, in the way that sisters sometimes do, so she's not exactly sorry that she's gone, even though she still loves her at some level.

It's a shock to everyone when Sutton comes back, but when she does, she's not exactly the same. She's lost all her memories, the family dog is suspicious of her, and she is fucking obsessed with Casey in a way that she never was before, to the extent that she wants to be around her all the time. Casey is suspicious that it's all just a clever ruse. But it might actually be worse.

This is a great book. It rocks at being a thriller, horror, and magical-realism, but it also offers great commentary on slavery, biraciality, family favoritism, colorism, religious abuse, and the bias in the way that police investigate the disappearances of white girls versus black girls. Despite all these pretty heavy topics, it doesn't feel oppressive, and I thought the author did a fantastic job writing about such dark content so delicately. Also, we stan morally grey characters who get a redemption arc. I even teared up a little at the end (although if you pressed me on it, I'd never admit it).

I seem to be in my YA folk horror era and I don't think I want to leave anytime soon.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Monday, February 5, 2024

Wild, Beautiful, and Free by Sophfronia Scott


I have an ongoing project where I try to read every Jane Eyre retelling I can get my hands on. WILD, BEAUTIFUL, AND FREE is a very unique retelling as it is set in the antebellum South and the heroine is the biracial daughter of a slave and a plantation owner, whose doting father has left her a parcel of land as her inheritance. However, his wife doesn't truck with this, and sells the heroine, Jeannette, into slavery, where she is sent first to a plantation and then, when she escapes, to a school devoted to setting Black women up for employment, which is how she meets the intense Mr. Colchester.

WILD, BEAUTIFUL, AND FREE is a very empowering story that instills all of its flawed female characters with agency. I didn't feel like it took any easy ways out, and I feel like I learned a lot of interesting historical facts about the Civil War. As a Jane Eyre retelling, I thought this was very artfully done, although the characters of Blanche and Bertha have been combined into one person, and the antagonistic "wife in the attic" has been relegated to an entirely separate role.

This is more historical fiction than it is romance, although it has elements of both. I was also happy that in this adaptation, the author made the choice not to scar and injure "Rochester," and Jane is given a reason other than infidelity/adultery for fleeing. I love the original but both of those things were very hard for me to read, so this retelling felt way "safer" in that regard.

Overall, I really enjoyed this Jane Eyre retelling with a cast of mostly Black characters and I would say that it's a great pick for both Black History Month and for fans of Jane Eyre.

4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, February 4, 2024

When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole


Whoa. This was great. There seems to be a challenge to compare every Black horror and Black thriller novel to Get Out but this is one of the few cases where the comparison is totally on point. Sydney lives in a small Brooklyn neighborhood filled with beautiful brownstones that is slowly becoming gentrified. Her newer white neighbors are the yuppies you love to hate, and a biotech company is buying up property, ostensibly to be used as campuses for their employees.

Sydney, who grew up in this neighborhood, is suspicious of this so-called progress. Especially when long-time residents of the area begin to sell their homes in a panic and/or disappear. Theo, a white man in a tempestuous relationship with his not-quite wife, is one of the new buyers. However the house and his girlfriend are both proving to be unexpected nightmares, especially when he learns that Kim is a little too comfortable wearing her privilege like it's a new Anthropologie sweater. He's way more interested in Sydney, who is down to earth and real in a way that his girlfriend never was. When she asks for his help on a Black tourism project, it seems innocent.

But something dark is lurking in their small, idyllic neighborhood.

I don't want to say too much else, but I REALLY enjoyed WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING a lot. The plotting is tight, the suspense is amazing, and it tells you so much about Black American history and redlining that really aren't taught in schools. Also, while not explicitly stated, there are certain events in this book that seem to be a direct reference to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. I know I saw some critics saying that the white people seemed too evil but honestly, I didn't think so. History says otherwise.

Get Out examined the literal commodification of Black bodies for coolness and clout. The Other Black Girl examined tokenism in the workplace and the weaponization of white guilt and "diversity" hires. NO ONE IS WATCHING, meanwhile, is an intense, no-holds barred call-out of gentrification and the literal erasure of Black people in history, both recent and distant.

I've been reading Cole's books since she was doing indie stuff and I just knew she was going to be big. She might actually be even better at thrillers than she is at romance, and when I saw that she had a gothic murder mystery as her up and coming effort, I nearly screamed.

This was so, so good.

4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, February 3, 2024

The Adults by Alison Espach


DNF @ p.200

Okay, so if there's one element in this book that will tell you whether or not this book is for you, it's this: there's a scene in a biology class where the kids are ruthlessly bullying this girl for her big nose, so she hops on the lab table and dares one of the boys to give her a nose job with a scalpel, and he makes the first cut until the heroine suffers a pang of conscience for being a passive observer to all this and sets the guy on fire with the scalpel.

THE ADULTS was on a list of books for people who liked MY DARK VANESSA and it certainly has the fucked-up girl getting predated on by older men themes right, as well as the fucked-up coming of age story elements. I was prepared for both of those things. I think the problem is that it felt like the author didn't really know where she was going with all of this bad stuff. The whole book felt like a big trauma dump with one thing happening after another, and it also felt like neither I nor the main character were given any time to process any of it.

The writing is not bad and in fact the beginning of the book is very good, but I did not like the story and all of the characters were kind of awful, and reading this book just gave me a very terrible, claustrophobic feeling that was not at all engaging or fun. If that was the purpose of this book, to whip the tablecloth off the ugliness of a small New England town, she achieved her purpose. But I think a closer comparison for this book would be Rick Moody's THE ICE STORM than MY DARK VANESSA, or PREP and ELECTION, as the two latter were comped in the blurb.

2 out of 5 stars

The Night in Question: A Novel by Nic Joseph


The moment I heard the hook for this book, I knew I had to have it. It's told in dual POV. The first is Paula, a woman who blackmails a pop star for the return of his cell phone after finding out that he's having an affair. The second is Claire, a cop investigating a murder that occurs at a party where both Paula and the other woman were present.

Who died? And why??? The answer may surprise you.

So THE NIGHT IN QUESTION was super fun. I didn't guess whodunnit right away and I liked the two timelines. It was artfully done and kept me in suspense, wanting to find out what happened. The juciness of the murder and adultery plots was also quite fun. This had the vibes of a limited series, and I really enjoyed that.

Points off for a little bit of a lackluster ending and characters who occasionally fell flat. But overall, I'd say that if you like "beach read" style mysteries and morally gray FMCs, you'll probably love this!

3.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, February 2, 2024

Quietly Hostile: Essays by Samantha Irby


DNF @ 27%

Ugh, I have historically really enjoyed Samantha Irby's work but this one was such a disappointment. It kind of felt like she was just writing about whatever and it didn't have the level of humor or care that I was expecting based on her previous books.

I will say that I did love her "I like it" essay and I will 100% be using that to flip the bird to the haters. I also liked her description of herself as "quietly hostile," because same. But this was a disappointment.

2 out of 5 stars

Degrees of Control by Eve Dangerfield


Eve does it again! She's fast becoming one of my favorite erotic romance authors because I love the focus she places on her heroines. One of the criticisms that a lot of romance novels face is that the heroine often feels like a placeholder for the reader and doesn't have a lot of personality, but hers always do, and I love that.

Charlie is a yoga teacher who just got out of an emotionally abusive relationship with an ex-boyfriend. Her friends want to hook her up with a rebound, especially since the ex was very vanilla and Charlie thinks she might be looking for a guy who can be dominant and a little mean (but only in bed).

Enter James: a Southern corporate pencil-pusher and a sadist. When he and Charlie talk, sparks fly (and so do other things heehee). But then a misunderstanding results in them both going home alone. James isn't able to get her out of his system, though, and is desperate to see her again, and when they hammer out the terms for their relationship of convenience, it seems like it's just gonna be a quick and easy thing.

But this is a romance novel so OBVIOUSLY it is neither of those things.

I really enjoyed this book. The banter was top-tier and I loved how Charlie was portrayed as soft and feminine, but also, you know, capable of setting boundaries and standing up for herself. She was flawed and multi-dimensional and I thought she was really funny and sweet. It's always fun for me to see a heroine at work, who loves what she does, and I felt like her passion for yoga really shone through. Also, yay, a vegan character who isn't an asshole about being vegan *stares in Ali Hazelwood*.

James was a pretty solid hero too, although not really my type. (1) he's blonde and (2) he's kinda a bit caveman-y, although at least he's self-aware enough to know it. I do appreciate Dangerfield for writing a fuckboy character who doesn't come across as too toxic or assholish, though. Sometimes, I see characters like these and I'm like, "What do people see in him?" but here, it's definitely easy to see what the appeal is. Also, his backstory made my heart hurt and was handled so well. Poor guy.

I guess my only qualms about this book is that it felt like Dangerfield was setting the book up with some last act drama that never happened. Like, James had that pushy woman in his office who was constantly needling him for sex, and there was that creep who kept hitting on Charlie. I kept expecting them to have to work together against some dick who wanted to keep them apart, which would have solidified their relationship for a long haul, but no. So that definitely made this book feel like maybe it leaned more towards erotica than romance, just because it felt like its goal was more on creating a fantasy than being a fully-rounded story that wrapped up all of its loose ends.

Still, this was a debut (can you BELIEVE it?) and I think a lot can be forgiven in a debut. Having read some of her later books (ACT YOUR AGE is the bestttt), I can confirm that Dangerfield has only gotten better at fleshing out her stories and writing sexy characters exploring their desires sexily.

3.5 out of 5 stars