Here’s another in our occasional series of mini-reviews.  This time round, Kristen, Lisa and Maria Rose share their thoughts – good and bad – on some of their recent reads.


Kristen:

Playing By Her Rules by Amy Andrews

Y’all, I love me some Amy Andrews books. I especially love her books that involve rugby. This one, the first in her Sydney Smoke series, is about Matilda and Tanner. Once high school sweethearts, the two suffered a traumatic break up when it was time for Matilda to head off to college. Now both back in Australia, Matilda’s been assigned to do a profile on Tanner for her magazine. She’d basically rather perform her own appendectomy with a rusty swiss army knife, but duty calls.

Tanner is a rising star on the Smoke and is a bit of a lad about town. The order to participate in the feature comes from the club’s ownership, and he begrudgingly agrees until he realizes Matilda is the writer. He shattered her heart so many years ago, but has never gotten over her. Now, poised with the chance to win her back, he is pulling out all the stops.

Sassy, sexy, emotional; this book is fantastic. It’s also short, clocking in under 200 pages, so it’s the perfect immersive read for travel or a rainy day. Also, by the way, when I say sexy I mean it. Ms. Andrews writes the hell out of a sex scene, so be prepared. While rugby does play a big part in the story, but I don’t think it would be alienating to anyone who doesn’t know the rules.

Overall, highly recommended. Highly.

Grade: A               Sensuality Rating: Hot

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Lisa:

Night Storm by Catherine Coulter

Oh, Catherine Coulter.  I have a complicated relationship with this author, in that while she was one of the first romance novelists I’d ever read, I’ve come to realize something’s lacking in her prose.  Now, as I look at what were once DIKs… I’m sorry, sixteen year old me, but it’s time to let Night Storm go.

This is the third book in the Night trilogy, and focuses on Genny Paxton, a shipbuilder who dresses up as a boy and conducts business as “Eugene” in the name of her sick father.  Society has rejected her for dressing up as a man and Genny couldn’t care less – until the appearance of Alec Carrick, whose beloved wife has conveniently died in childbirth since Night Fire leaving him a widower with an annoying daughter named Haley.  Alec wants to buy Genny’s father’s shipyard, and Genny wants nothing more than to scare him off.  Naturally, Alec sees through her disguise and tries to finesse his way into marrying her so he can have the property.

Alec goes about this in an ass-y way, trying to get Genny to quit pretending she’s a guy by exposing her to brothels and cigars, which sicken her.  His goal may be to force Genny to embrace her ‘feminine’ nature (and dear God is that an ugly concept), but the trouble with Alec is that he also mocks Genny for not instinctively knowing the way to do that when she tries to make the effort of going to balls and wearing dresses.  Alec may indeed be the first man on record to ever use negging to get what he wants.  Oh, and all the sex is entirely of the forced seduction variety. Why WOULDN’T she want to marry this joker?!!!.  But she does and has her dreams squashed, because the orgasms are that good.  Someone get this girl a dildo and a copy of The Joy of Sex.

At the very least, Alec could give us a good grovel, but Coulter ruins even this opportunity by having Genny and Alec fall in love thanks to Alec becoming amnesiac.  He gets his memory back, forcibly seduces her, and then manages to declare his love for Genny with an “And I you.”

The girl deserves better.  Like a shipyard of her own, a pair of comfortable trousers and a nice big gun to ward away alphaholes like Alec.

Grade: F                Sensuality Rating: Warm

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Imagine by Jill Barnett

As I said above, some younger DIKs don’t hold their luster years later.  But some lucky few are still fun, amazing little treats.  Imagine definitely falls into this category.

Imagine is the story of a wide variety of characters, all bottlenecked onto an island thanks to a shipwreck just before the turn of the 19th century.  First of all there’s our hero and heroine – Margaret “Smitty” Smith, a hard-working attorney who was hoping to take a refreshing cruise in the South Seas, and Hank Wyatt, a former baseball player and wrongly-convicted prisoner, who had escaped jail and was a stowaway on Maggie’s ship, posing as a priest.  It’s Hank who saves Maggie, as well as the orphans Lydia, Theodore and Annabelle.  And a goat, who happens to be Lydia’s only friend and prized possession, the last vestige of her previous life.  On the island the new family stumble upon an abandoned bottle, which happens to contain a genie named Muddy.  The group manages to form a family and Hank and Maggie’s romance blossoms beautifully.  Christmas passes, ball teams are formed, and Theodore and Muddy develop a friendship as Smitty and Hank banter.   But with the children growing and Hank’s conviction looming over their heads, they all know their temporary island paradise won’t last forever.  To return to San Francisco the children might have to give up their beloved friend, Hank might have to give up his freedom and Maggie might lose all three of the children to the legal system.

Barnett is at her best when she’s indulging in a bit of magical realism, whether it be while writing about bumbling witches or the natural magic adoring descendants of King Arthur.  Call this one a mashup of the Swiss Family Robinson, Father Goose and any genie-related tale; but somehow Barnett is careful to make sure the story retains its own integrity, sense of humor and character. Smitty and Hank’s romance is easy to root for, as they both start to grow together into their own version of domestic bliss. Barnett manages to make the children seem fully realized human beings, and Muddy is a unique addition to the fold.

The author keeps you hoping they’ll be happily rescued; that Hank will find freedom and the family will stay together.  The plot, the romance and the characterization meld together perfectly, forming the makings of a DIK.

Grade: A                Sensuality Rating: Warm

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Maria Rose

Last Dance by Jeffe Kennedy

Last Dance is the first in a sexy romance series by Jeffe Kennedy about five young women who have a set of rules that decides whether the guy they meet gets to advance with them to more intimate encounters. When stage actress Charley meets a mystery man who sweeps her off her feet at the last dance at a bar and then disappears, she can’t get him out of her mind. Her friend suggests placing an ad in ‘Missed Connections’ and it works – sort of. It gets her another meeting with him, but he insists on playing up the intrigue around their encounters by approaching a relationship one fanciful (and steamy!) meeting at a time. It’s a far cry from what Charley is used to, but that makes it all the more fun. But he’s got a secret that could damage what they are building between them.

I like the concept of this series. The rules are agreed to by all five female friends as a way to prevent bad hookups and they work, so long as they are strictly followed. There are several scenes with just the friends that show their closeness and camaraderie. Charley’s a bit of diva and she likes attention, which works perfectly for her chosen profession as an actress. But she’s also fun and friendly. Her meetings with the mystery man keep her on her toes as she never knows what to expect from him. He pushes her sexual envelope, recognizing her need for attention as a gateway to exhibitionism and in public or private, he’s got the control. They share some very steamy scenes as a result, but when she finds out who he really is, Charley has to acknowledge that her feelings for him are not just sexually motivated. There are a few ups and downs as they make their way to a happy ending. Likable characters, sexy scenes and a modern approach to dating and romance – I’m looking forward to reading more of this series.

Grade: B                Sensuality Rating: Warm

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Private Reserve by Cathryn Fox

When Olivia and Gio broke up, she never thought she’s see him again. But her friends conspire to send her on a trip to Tuscany and back into the arms of her one time lover when she ends up at his family’s villa. Gio let Olivia go thinking she’d not understand his sexual appetites, including his bisexual nature. He and his best friend Luca make hay while the sun shines (so to speak) but he hasn’t forgotten Olivia. His parents want him to marry to take over the Rossi family business, and when Olivia shows up unexpectedly he proposes (literally!) a trade; in return for a quick marriage of convenience to get his hands on the family property, he’ll help her get her dream job back home in the US. Olivia hasn’t forgotten those steamy nights in Gio’s bed, though she wishes he’d sometimes been a bit more dominant and less tender. Saying yes isn’t a hardship when it will get her what she wants, with an extra helping of  steam when Luca becomes a partner in their love match. But will the happiness Olivia finds be enough for her to consider changing her future plans and staying with Gio permanently?

Whew! There is a some hot stuff in this story, with several scenes involving this adventurous threesome in a variety of sexual combinations. Gio and Luca together are sexual dynamite, as are Gio and Olivia and when the three of them are together, it’s Gio’s dominant nature that calls the shots. While the premise of the story is a bit farfetched, it’s an interesting way to get the three of them together. The setting of Tuscany is lovely and easy to imagine. This is a lighthearted, low-angst read with plenty of heat and a happy ending for the threesome. I’m definitely going to be on the lookout for more from this author.

Grade: B                Sensuality Rating: Hot

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We’d love to hear your thoughts on any of these if you’ve read them, or about anything else you’ve read lately. Jump in to the discussion in the comments.