Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Virgin Sacrifice by L.M. Ramirez


This scratched the dark academia itch I've been touting since starting the Zodiac Academy series: girls with cut-out hearts, creepy cults, and town founders with too much time and power on their hands, Hollow Oak is not a safe place for the unwary. Luckily, Luz, a half-Puerto Rican wunderkind who speaks four languages and has a whole J. Crew-inspired closet full of dark secrets, is hardly unwary.

Why Choose? is not normally a genre I gravitate too, but I just loved the academia setting so much. I also liked all the Blackwells, especially Locke (he gives major Lance Orion vibes, so if you stan Blue x Orion, you'll probably love this book). Allister, Nixon, and Everest were all interesting too and I'm excited to learn more about them.

For some reason, I was expecting a supernatural element, but this feels more like a horror movie pastiche. I was reminded of Wednesday, Happy Death Day, Trick 'R Treat, and Scream, in particular. Most of the gore is on the DL, although there's one pretty gory torture scene towards the middle that was very hard to read. It's not integral to the plot, though, so if gore is hard for you to handle, you can totally skip over it without missing anything.

The book ends on a major cliffhanger, with a potentially large twist. I still have so many questions and I'm very excited to have them answered when I read more from this author. What a stellar debut.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Monday, April 29, 2024

Assume Nothing: A Story of Intimate Violence by Tanya Selvaratnam


This a memoir written by the ex-girlfriend of ex-District Attorney, Eric Schneiderman, who was later accused of abuse by several of his exes, including the author of this book, Tanya Selvaratnam. In this memoir, she writes about how they met, and how his abuse escalated, and what her experiences of living with intimate partner violence were like. Apparently this made pretty big news. Trevor Noah even included a joke about it on his show, because it was considered pretty scandalous that a high-up political official forced his brown girlfriend to participate in master/slave play. She obviously found the joke very distasteful and wrote in to complain, for which she received an apology.

I loved this book a lot. I think she did a great job showing how you can enter a relationship with wide eyes and not realize that your partner is an abusive person until it's too late, because of course we want to forgive the people we love when they hurt us in the hopes that they won't do it again. It was wonderful to hear about the people in her life who worked hard to validate and support her, and get her story out there when she needed it. I also loved that she made the effort to point out that some of the behaviors that happen in abusive relationships can be totally fine in a consensual kinky relationship, but the difference is consent, respect of boundaries, and mutual enthusiasm. That's a distinction that not all memoirs like these bother to make.

Some people complained about her privilege but I think it just goes to show how even with a huge support network, money to spare, and an established career, you can still get suckered in by master manipulators and they can still make it very hard to get away. The racial component is also a valid one, too, and she does point out that brown and Black women have good reason to be leery of law enforcement officials when it comes to making reports of abuse.

4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Prisoner by Annika Martin


PRISONER is an excellent dark romance. There's an almost Hannibal Lecter x Clarice vibe to it, and I love that cat and mouse dynamic. Grayson is in prison for being a cop killer. Abigail teaches creative writing to the prisoners as a graduate student. Grayson is attracted to Abby right away but he also sees her as a means to an end: by being in his program, there's a way for him to escape and get back to his men.

This is a book about two damaged souls finding each other in the most dire of circumstances. I think there are a lot of triggers in here for potential readers because one of the characters was a victim of CSA and there's also somnophilia and non-con. PRISONER handled these subjects really well, though, and didn't languish on the details, which I really appreciated. 

The first half of the book moved faster than the second, which dragged just a tiny bit. I also agree with other reviewers that the bad guy should have got more of a comeuppance and the ending felt abrupt. But apart from that, this was a well crafted, highly emotional story and I'll be thinking about it for a while. One of the best captivity romances I've read in ages, with an FMC that I liked just as much as the MMC.

4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Toxic: Women, Fame, and the Tabloid 2000s by Sarah Ditum


The intersection of feminism and pop-culture is one of my favorite topics because so often, when we see popular opinion pieces about pop-culture, the story is told from and about the cisgendered (and mostly white) male perspective. TOXIC was of particular interest to me because I came of age in the late 90s/early 00s, and that shit was toxic as fuck. I am still to this day unpacking some of the harmful messages that I ended up internalizing during that time period. And I don't think anything shows those unattainable and shameful standards for women quite as well as how the media talked about certain celebrities, who either couldn't or didn't want to follow the "rules."

I have mixed feelings about TOXIC because while the subject matter was interesting, the way the author talked about some of these women left a bad taste in my mouth. Take the Britney chapter, which dates itself because it came out pre-Britney memoir: the tone of the essay, while sympathetic, feels patronizing; and in retrospect, some of her remarks about Britney feel quite callous and at times even cruel, such as her analysis of the music video "Everytime." Ditum seems to take it as a mournful song about a breakup, but now we know that it's a heart rending ballad about the abortion Justin made her get that she wasn't allowed to talk about.

The section about Paris reads more positively, but suffers the same limitations because it also came out pre-memoir (her most recent one, I mean; she has two). I liked this chapter a lot because I really like Paris Hilton and I think the author, to her credit, really manages to capture how clever and self-effacing Paris is. However, the essay about Aaliyah was painful to read. Mostly because the focus of the essay is not so much about Aaliyah herself but how she was a victim of grooming. R. Kelly is more prominently discussed in this essay than she is, and the way Ditum talks about her, like a helpless martyred waif who was frozen in time like a bug trapped in amber, made me so upset. 

I don't feel like the Amy Winehouse and Kim Kardashian chapters were very well done at all. Neither of those essays really capture how dynamic and conflicting those women are. Kim Kardashian seems to be a celebrity that people really struggle to write about because I've noticed this is a theme in other celebrity-focused books I've read. I think it's really difficult to juggle the fact that while she portrays herself as a selfish and vapid celebutante, she is an expert deflector, and she and her mom have turned their name into both a brand and empire. She also is the recipient of a metric ton of shit talk. The way people talk about her and her body (particularly during pregnancy) can be so traumatic that I am honestly in awe that she can leave her house without crying (because that is what I would be doing if it were me). Amy Winehouse was a similar recipient of that level of hate, especially in the late aughts and early 2010s. And, like, I really don't think this essay captures how she was basically destroyed by her fame; addiction almost felt like her way of self-medicating from the stress she received from being in the public eye and that is devastating. It feels very Valley of the Dolls, which basically had the message that the standards are women are such that to make do, you have to be drugged up... or perish trying.

I didn't really care about the two essays on Jennifer Anniston and Chyna, so I skimmed those.

TOXIC said some interesting things and reminded me of some very disturbing aughts trends that I'd half-forgotten (like Tila Tequila), but I'm not sure I'd recommend it unless you are just really interested in 2000s celebrity culture and want to read about it in a book that almost seems to emulate the same gossipy tabloid formula that it sets out to criticize.

3 out of 5 stars

Summerstorm by Anastasia Cleaver


Easily one of the best gothic romance novels I've ever read. What made this even more of a fun read was that I got to buddy read it with Sarah. Seriously, what didn't I love about this? It's got a dynamic heroine who is slowly corrupted by the band of libertines she's married into. When her bond with one of them goes awry and she's left for dead, she decides to seek her revenge (and this isn't a spoiler, it's literally the blurb on the cover). The Apollonians are cold and cruel, like a troupe of theater kids from hell, and honestly-- this scratched THE SECRET HISTORY itch I've been longing to scratch for years.

I'm simply devastated that this isn't in print. It deserves a reissue because I think everyone should reread it. People who like sympathetic heroines, secret societies, dark academia, and the idea of tortured artists throwing themselves on the pyre of their art will eat this up.

I could say so much more but I don't want to spoil anything for potential readers. But what a keeper. Anastasia Cleaver/Natasha Peters never disappoints.

5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Vivia by Tanith Lee


The first half of this book was very good, a solid medieval-inspired gothic fantasy with insane kings, mysterious plagues, religious corruption, and sexy basements. I also liked the selfish and vain heroine, the eponymous Vivia. She reminded me a lot of some of the early 1970s bodice-ripper epics I've read, that follow the heroine's journey from childhood to adulthood, as she grows into a flawed and real person.

VIVIA is an interesting story because it tries to do so many things. I feel like that also becomes its weakness towards the end, but I did enjoy most of it. Vivia ends up becoming a vampire, as her kingdom falls into a slow ruin, and her hero's journey occurs after she is transformed. She marries a really weird and creepy dude who performs Island of Doctor Moreau experiments on his people, and falls under suspicion from superstitious peasants who exercise their own sort of witch hunt when girls go missing.

This is a dark and ugly story, about dark and ugly souls. The writing is beautiful and the world-building is so creative, but like I said before, the first half and the last half end up feeling very disparate, almost like separate books. I wouldn't read this again but I did like it.

Thank you to my friend Caro for buddy-reading this with me!

3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Dark Surrender by Laurel Collins


I was SO psyched to get my hands on a copy of DARK SURRENDER by Laurel Collins because I love gothic novels, especially the smutty ones, and this clinch cover promised shenanigans of the naughty variety, maybe even outside, in the waning light of the moon-dark moors. BUT NO.

First of all, thank you to usedbookin for buddy reading this book with me on Instagram. No shade to her because I had so much fun comparing notes and dothing the goth with her over DM. But DARK SURRENDER actually kind of ended up being a watery, middling read for me. I think it's comparable to some of Victoria Holt's less memorable work, and I would suspect that Holt was probably an inspiration for this author.

The vibes were on point and there were a couple genuinely creepy scenes, like the weird dead mom and the mysterious carousel music box, but apart from that, I wasn't actually all that into this book. That was surprising to me because BMI (which I believe is an imprint of Dorchester) is usually a bit more salacious and fun. 

Would recommend only to die-hard Victoria Holt fans. Or to people who just want it for the cover (i.e. me).

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, April 19, 2024

Crave by Sierra Cartwright


This is a second chance BDSM romance. The plot is fairly unique, I thought. Sarah and Reece were engaged, but then she found more than a ring in his bedroom drawer: she found a collar. That scared her enough that she ran away and cut all contact, but after years of missing him and not finding anyone to fill the void, she wants to meet up again, explain herself, and maybe win him back-- or at least get closure.

A mutual friend arranges their meeting and Reece is still angry. But even though he hates her a little, he's attracted to her, too, and is more than willing to use her body and whatever else she offers to get off during the weekend they're spending on a tropical getaway for a friend's birthday.

There's not a lot to say about this one. The plot is literally the smut. But it's pretty good smut and unlike some dark romances, this one is fully consensual and all about being safe and sane. I do think she went a little too hard on the banter and sometimes it felt a little forced, but I thought the story was great. Sarah was a great heroine too. People were being hard on her in the reviews but I have a soft spot for flighty heroines and thought her fears in this case were totally valid.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Nicky the Driver by Cate C. Wells


I'm honestly shocked this has such middling ratings because I thought it was FANTASTIC. I actually liked it even more than RUN POSY RUN. Nicky Biancolli might be one of my favorite obsessive romance heroes of all time, and I really loved Zita, too.

Zita's dad is in the mob, but when he pisses off the wrong people, he gets killed in the family kitchen. Lucca Corso is more than willing to kill the rest of her family, one right after the other, including her brothers, unless she agrees to marry Nicky, his driver.

It's kind of like an arranged marriage romance, but with a blackmail element. Despite that, Nicky is a total consent king. What makes this more like a traditional dark romance is that Nicky has been stalking Zita since they were children. She actually had one of her brother's friends beat him up for being a creep. But that didn't stop him. My man is OBSESSED with a capital O, and Zita isn't sure how to deal with that kind of force in her life.

Zita is also a really great heroine. She kind of reminded me of Keeley from Ted Lasso, or Gianna from THE MADDEST OBSESSION. I love a damaged girly-girl. She has an eating disorder, which I know might be triggering for some to read about because it's portrayed in pretty explicit detail, but it's not done for show. The way it ties into her trauma and emotions is so well done. So is the lasting damage she's got from her mother's sexism and her father's abuse. Zita also has a trans sister that she would do anything for, and her coming out was done in a really beautiful and loving way. This is the first mafia romance I've ever read with trans rep and that was awesome.

This was almost a perfect read for me. It was SO CLOSE to being five stars. There were just a couple things I didn't like. Like, the drama in the last act felt a little out of character, and I don't like how Nicky's character kind of changed abruptly at the end, before the resolution. I also agree with other reviewers that the climax and the ending felt kind of rushed. Also, and this is just a nitpicky thing, but I hate the word "cream" in sex scenes. Like, it's gag reflex-worthy. I literally cannot stand it. Apart from that, the sex scenes were SO well done and the tension was off the charts, but I had to glaze my own eyes over and skim every time I saw that word. Big nope.

Apart from that, though, NICKY THE DRIVER was fabulous. I've read three Cate C. Wells's books and I've loved them all. She's such a talented author and I love the detail that goes into her characters and their worlds. Some books have side characters that feel like afterthoughts but that definitely wasn't the case with any of hers. She even made me love some tropes that I HATE, like marriage in crisis and secret baby. If you're a fan of stalker romances but don't want a hero who brutalizes the heroine, this is totally your jam. Nicky is the perfect blend of fucked up and sweet and I stan.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Return to Monte Carlo by Cate C. Wells


Loved how this managed to capture the vibe of an old skool HP in the vein of Charlotte Lamb, but with a modern feminist twist and way more smut. RETURN TO MONTE CARLO also made me enjoy several tropes I hate, including secret baby and marriage in crisis. PLEASE let this be a series she's planning, I beg of you. I love the retro vibe without the stranglehold of dated sexism.

I'm honestly surprised at how many people were hating on Diane as the heroine (JK, no I'm not). People were saying she was immature but she was young. She's twenty. I was a hot mess when I was twenty. She's married and mostly has her shit together. She's basically a beautiful rube who got lucky and married way above her head to an older man with weird kinks she doesn't quite understand but (mostly) get her off. So in this case, the marriage in crisis element works because they literally come from two very different worlds.

Marco, her husband, is an Italian business tycoon. Lately, he's been neglecting her and Diane is afraid he's cheating. He's a hard man to read, the pinnacle of the strong and silent type with BDE Daddy energy. When their anniversary dinner goes to shit and results in a broken heirloom and a telenovela-style slap, Diane is disgraced and ends up leaving Marco and his family to return back to her hometown in Oklahoma.

I don't want to spoil too much but I thought the misunderstandings between them were really well done. I loved the dual POV, loved both narrators, and thought it was great to see Marco fall in love with his wife all over again: this time, not as a pretty doll he placed on a pedestal, but as the real flesh and blood article behind the painted face. We also STAN a grovel that has the man on his knees in front of his entire family begging her not to leave (YAS). Speaking of the family, they were interesting too. Even the villains of this story had interesting little twists to their characters, and I loved Rosanella.

Cate C. Wells was a new to me author who made me love mafia (another genre I usually don't like). At this point, I think I'm probably going to read everything she writes, regardless of whether it's a trope I enjoy or not. She is so fucking talented and I just love her characters and her worlds.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, April 15, 2024

Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith


This book made me miss the dystopian boom. I liked the creativeness of the story. It kind of reminds me of both HOLES and the Alex Rider series, but way grungier and creepier. Escape from Furnace is a series about a dystopian society where boys are slapped into a maximum security prison for even the smallest of crimes. But it seems like maybe there aren't enough criminals to fill quota because boys like our main character, Alex, are being framed.

If you like modern-day steampunk horror, like the Bioshock franchise, you'll love this. It definitely feels like a book that's marketed to teen boys first and foremost but I think that there's a lot in here that would appeal to adult readers of horror, too. I know it's the first book in the series but I had SO MANY QUESTIONS that weren't answered, and that was frustrating. Like, I know, I know, first in a series. But give me something! And it ends on a wicked cliffhanger, too. I can't imagine being a teen reading this in 2009 and being like where's the rest.

3 out of 5 stars

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Follow Me to the Yew Tree by Desirée M. Niccoli


FOLLOW ME TO THE YEW TREE is a short, sweet, and surprisingly spicy story about soulmates who are forced to fight for each other against the looming specter of death. I don't want to say too much more, but there's a little bit of death and the maiden, a little bit of a supernatural element, and a little bit of a fairytale twist. I'd highly recommend this book for anyone who read TUCK, EVERLASTING and thought that the heroine made the wrong choice. Eireann is a bad-ass bitch.

Also, side note: the hero of this book has pancolitis, which is an autoimmune disease that affects the colon and appears to result in gastrointestinal distress, bloating, and diarrhea. I saw some reviewers who thought this was gross but I loved seeing it. For years, an undiagnosed food sensitivity caused me to randomly vomit and, yes, shit. A couple times I almost shat my pants. This is something that is frequently played for comedy in movies, but until you have experienced bathroom anxiety and the terror of not knowing when you'll have another flare up, you'll never fully understand how satisfying it is to see someone who gets it.

So I really enjoyed this book and it sold me on the insta-love trope, which isn't usually something I enjoy (most authors can't pull it off, imo). So FOLLOW ME TO THE YEW TREE now joins Shiloh Sloane's LIKE NEON MORNINGS on the very short list of books that have me believing that people can fall in love after only one day.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, April 13, 2024

BloodAngel by Justine Musk


Elon Musk's ex-wife wrote a paranormal romance and nobody is talking about it?! When I found that out, obviously the book went right onto my list. I said when I hit 4,000 followers on Threads, I'd read it, and I did, so I read it. My expectations when I went in were honestly pretty low. I'd read her interview with Marie Claire and she had a great way of words when telling her own story but that doesn't always translate well to fiction.

Let's just say the Poppy Z. Brite blurb on the cover is well-warranted. This is a bizarre multi-POV romance that kind of reminded me of some of those old campy urban fantasy shows you used to see on the Sy-Fy channel. There's road trips, grunge music, tortured artists, slightly creepy age gaps, lots of alt and goth cultural references, and surprising amounts of smut and gore sprinkled into what's honestly a pretty decent goth fantasy story.

This feels like an adult version of Shadowhunters, which means that like Shadowhunters, sometimes there's too much going on and the story gets lost in all the edgy edgeness. But Musk has a great eye for details and morally grey characters, and even the villains have some level of nuance.

Would recommend for fans of Brite, Tanith Lee, and Stephen King (especially The Stand).

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Swindled: From Poison Sweets to Counterfeit Coffee—The Dark History of the Food Cheats by Bee Wilson


SWINDLED is a great book, especially if you're interested in ingredient transparency and food adulteration. As someone with food allergies, accuracy of food labeling is very important to my health. I have gotten very sick when people lied to me about what was in the food (either maliciously or simply negligently). One of the banes of my existence is GRAS, or generally regarded as safe, ingredients, which are sometimes excluded from ingredient lists. This is why sometimes you will just see "spice" or "spice blend" on an ingredient label, as well as "natural vegetable coloring." GRAS allows corporations to have proprietary ingredient blends that don't usually cause health problems and aren't top allergens. Sucks if you happen to have that allergy, though. BYEEE.

I found it fascinating how fraught with food cheats history is/was. But I guess it makes sense. Without regulations in place to penalize fraudsters, there's only conscience standing in the way of unscrupulous people making a quick buck. The horror stories of Victorian/early Industrial age food manufacturing were quite chilling. I learned that people boiled vegetables with brass or copper to make them green, and that lead and mercury were used to dye candy. Even more gross: how people would try to sell spoiled meat and cheese by either layering fresh meat or cheese around the spoiled bits, or pumping the meat with chemicals and basically "cauterizing" the rotten bits at the bone with white-hot iron rods. But lest you think that this sort of behavior was a product of the past, Wilson offers modern examples: the Chinese baby milk scandal where people were selling sugar and starch instead of actual formula, and the counterfeiting of specialty products like Corsican ham and Basmati rice.

You'll need a strong stomach to get through parts of this book and at times it can be a little dull, but this is one of the most informative, relevant, and interesting nonfiction books I've read in a while and I would honestly recommend it to anyone as an example of why it's so important to know what's in your food, where it comes from, and how it was really made.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, April 12, 2024

Strange Unearthly Things by Kelly Creagh


DNF @ 28%

I'm on a quest to read all the JANE EYRE retellings because that is one of my favorite books! I got to buddy read this one with my friend Allison, which was exciting! Unfortunately that was the most exciting thing about this book. This is a YA book but the teens in this book feel very inauthentic. Fake swearing, stilted dialogue, and too much internal narration clutter up a premise that had the potential to be really interesting. Some of this is on me as a reader so definitely take my opinion with a grain of salt. I do wish I'd listened to my friends and checked out some of the other reviews before buying a copy. Read the sample and see if you like the writing style before buying.

1 out of 5 stars

Thursday, April 11, 2024

In Session: A Dark Romance Novella by Vivi Sloane


I'm kind of surprised this doesn't have way more reviews because it's so good. This is like the dark romance version of B.G. Harlen's BREAK HER, in the sense that it takes a Hannibal/Clarice dynamic and turns it into erotica, but whereas BREAK HER is just erotica (which borders on horror and torture porn), IN SESSION is more of a very dark and taboo erotic romance that examines its characters in psychological depth.

Avery is a psychiatrist who sometimes handles court-ordered patients. Her newest one is a man named Nash Wyatt, a convinced serial killer. He immediately starts pushing boundaries and trying to get into her head and Avery is a little alarmed at how she responds to him-- with disgust, yes, but also in ways that go beyond clinical fascination.

Even though this is a novella, it feels like slow-burn because not much happens until the end. It's so worth it, though. From the very beginning I was fascinated with these characters and had to know how the story would end. Some of the dirty talk wasn't my cup of tea (like when he tells princess to make her asshole "wink" lol), but 99% of it, I was toooootally on board with. If you're into books with CNC, this is right up there with WILLING VICTIM and ASKING FOR IT. I'd read anything else this author writes.

4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Her Drag Barbarian by Kate Raven


You've heard of the "gay for you" trope, now let me introduce you to the first "bi for you" I've ever read.

HER DRAG BARBARIAN is about a woman named Elowyn who is an archaeologist but has a dad who's into a business conflict/rep management type of business. He doesn't think Elowyn's future as an archaeologist is all that promising and has strongarmed her into taking on one of his clients: a drag business called Heavenly Lights.

Most of the problems-- sexual misconduct, hostile work environment, things involving fire-- are being caused by Je Sweet, the drag persona of a 6'4" French man named Beau, who is basically chaos in gaff tape and too-tight shorts. 

Unfortunately for him, Elowyn is just as unhinged and psychotic as he is, and sees no problem threatening him with bodily harm or shoving his head into a table if it means keeping him from destroying the business that her very HONOR now dictates (or dicktates) that she save.

The comedy and banter in this book were honestly top-tier. I actually liked this book a lot more than THE CATCHER even though they had similar plots because it didn't feel like the heroine was as much of a victim and the breeding element made a little more sense here. I also liked that there was a little bit of a mystery, and how the pronouns of Je changed depending on whether or not she was in drag. Also, both the FMC and MMCs are chaotic bisexuals, which is a fun change in a genre where everyone tends to be so rigidly on one end of the Kinsey scale that it feels very y=mx+c y = m x + c m, if you know what I mean (did anyone else take Geometry? Lmfao).

3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, April 8, 2024

Moonshine Savage by Kate Raven


The next time I see someone asking for a cozy non-con rec, I'm suggesting them this. Did I know that non-con could even be cozy before I read MOONSHINE SAVAGE? Nope. Surprise, surprise.

Saoirse is on her way to a librarian interview that ends up going nowhere when her car breaks down. She's almost assaulted by a bunch of gang members, but luckily she's rescued by a tall blonde backwoods god of a man named Jake. Not so luckily for her, he's absolutely unhinged, horny and feral AF, and determined to make her his wife whether or not she's amenable to that.

This feels like one of those 70s pulps but in a fun, non-cringe way. Mostly because the heroine gets some licks in of her own and because it's absolutely hilarious, the lengths Jake will go to make Saoirse his woman. $1 million dollar wedding rings and tattooing her car's license plate on his arm? There's nothing this crazy man won't do. He even buys her a BLT before ripping her underwear off. Such a gentleman.

Also, she gets pie from his mom. :)

This book was insane and I liked it.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Sun Damage by Sabine Durant


My favorite kind of thriller! This was so much fun, kind of like a cross between Mr. Ripley and Apples Never Fall. Ali, the heroine, is part of a two-person con artist duo. But when a plan involving a rich British socialite goes terribly wrong, Ali steals her identity and runs away to a French chalet, where she ends up playing chef to a family of expatriates hoping to get away on holiday.

I love a morally grey "unlikable" FMC and I thought Durant did a really good job showing how a con artist could be morally flexible and still guilty, while also rationalizing their crimes. The family was also really interesting and I liked how the story peeled back the fabric of their lives to reveal some of their dark and twisty secrets. 

I will say that the build-up of this one is so slow, which I wasn't expecting because the beginning of this book moves so fast. I never wanted to put the book down because the writing was so good, but pacing did feel like it was an issue. Especially because, ultimately, the family didn't really seem all that relevant to the plot by the end?

Regardless, I really enjoyed SUN DAMAGE and wouldn't be surprised if it ends up becoming a TV mini series. I read it after reading THE CLIFF HOUSE and I think I've realized that my favorite genre of thriller is "fucked up lady goes on vacation and revels in her fucked upedness."

P.S. Thank you for actually having the heroine bang the hot, hairy-chested suspicious guy.

4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, April 6, 2024

The Catcher by Kate Raven


I don't normally like breeding or sports romances, and even though this was both of those things, I really enjoyed it. The premise is great. Emrys is a PR agent turned art therapy teacher who is called in for one last big project: Tanner Courtenay is dragging his team down to the dirt with bad press due to poor conduct and criminal behavior. If she can redeem his image, she'll get the motherlode of all bonuses.

Tanner is one of the most unhinged heroes I've ever read. When he meets the heroine, he bashes out the lights with his emotional support baseball bat, covering her in broken glass. He literally has a business meeting with the heroine while he's getting blown by another woman; he gives zero shits. By the time he gets into a relationship of sorts with the heroine, he gets even crazier. He buys a microscope to see if she's ovulating (SCIENCE) and when he fucks up, he gets her some apology tortoises.

I understand that this is an erotic fantasy novella, so we're supposed to suspend our disbelief, but I was a little confused about why the hero suddenly got so into ~breeding~ and how/when the heroine fell in love with him. I love a toxic "I can fix him!" moment as much as the next girlie, but I wish there had been a little more development there. This was also marketed as being a grovel romance and it didn't really have a grovel. He was just a gloriously unapologetic asshole and she sort of went along with it, which is fine, but a totally different kink.

If you enjoy old skool Harlequin romance novels with brutal and crazy heroes, you will enjoy this book. Very similar vibe, but with a lot more sex. I'm probably going to hell for laughing at this as much as I did. Emrys is a soft and passive heroine but she manages to push back against Tanner in a way that was really satisfying, and I thought her name was so pretty.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, April 4, 2024

A Friend in the Dark by Samantha M. Bailey


This is a strange, short, faced-paced thriller that kind of reminded me of some of the erotic thrillers from the 90s. Especially with the whole, "ooooh, BDSM is so fringe and weird" subplot that entered briefly.

I liked the writing style a lot. Eden and Olivia were both distinct narrators with flaws and quirks. I thought Eden was better rounded than Olivia, who fell into a literary stereotype trap that was a little hard to swallow. The first half of this book was great and one twist actually made me gasp out loud, although it didn't pan out the way I had hoped it would.

The second half of the book was a bit anticlimactic by comparison. I thought I knew what was going to happen and then when what I thought was going to happen didn't happen, I realized that I didn't like the actual ending better lol. It almost felt like the author wasn't sure how she wanted to end this book and drew random endings out of a hat.

I would read more from this author but man, this family needs a TON of therapy.

3 out of 5 stars