Review: “The Smoke Thief” by Shana Abé

Review: “The Smoke Thief” by Shana Abé

A review by Vanessa.

This book was one from my personal library of favorites purchased some time ago. Always nice to go back and read a favorite.

Rue is a very good thief. She moves with impunity throughout 18th century London, because of course, no one would suspect a woman of being able to pull off such daring jewel heists as have been attributed to the infamous “Smoke Thief.” What the world at large does not know about the thief or the lady, is that she is something even more than anyone could suspect… she is drakon. They are a race unto themselves, hiding in the world of man as aristocracy, able to Turn to a form of smoke and mist, and then to their true dragon form at will. But Rue was not born into the welcoming embrace of the full-blooded family. She was born Clarissa Rue Hawthorne, a dark haired half-blood outsider within the world of her fair-haired and inhumanly beautiful tribe, including the dashingly handsome young heir. On the morning of her 17th birthday, Rue took her own fate into her hands and faked her death so that she could leave her tribe behind and make her own life.

Christoff, the Marquess of Langford, is the Alpha. He was a bored young rake, but now he is a blindingly handsome and commanding man with his father’s title; and a real problem on his hands. The Smoke Thief is gadding about London, presenting a threat of exposure leaving stories about a thief who can transform to smoke. So he lures the thief out with a display of the Langford diamond and to his surprise he finds… Rue. A female. One who can Turn, as no other female has been able to for the last four generations. Her ability makes her the female Alpha, and by the laws of their tribe they are mates, but it’s her strength and beauty that make Kit want her for his own; before someone else can claim her. Rue doesn’t want a forced marriage of obligation based on tribe law. The Langford diamond has been taken by someone, and she knows who, so she works a plan to stay free of Lord Langford in exchange for helping to find it. But Kit has a plan of his own, and he is not above seducing Rue into his way of thinking. Can the famed Smoke Thief escape with her heart?

This book and series are one of my favorites, and I’m quite happy to have a reason to re-read. Not only because the storyline is fantastic, and the world building is impressive, but Shana Abé’s writing is just beautiful as well. Even the prologue is poetically and starkly beautiful, right from the beginning.  Her word choice and the flow of her prose is just masterful, and a great pleasure to read. Add to that her strength in creating dramatic, multi-faceted characters and you will see why I couldn’t put the book down. This series is an interesting mix of historical, and fantastical, where a race of dragons live their lives in 18th century London. The ancient history of their people comes into play as well within this book and throughout the series, and it never disappoints. Abé is amazing at weaving together all the best aspects of a great historical romantic fiction with the specific fascination that fantastic, magical, and legendary creatures bring to any story. I would highly recommend this book and the entire series to any readers. The romance is the main focus of the stories, but it is one among many great aspects, and it is utterly seductive in all the best ways. Worth the read, and the re-read.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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Review: “The Butterfly Project” by Emma Scott

Review- The Butterfly Project by Emma Scott

A review by Amanda.

Zelda Rossi is a mess. She has come to New York to meet with publishers about her graphic novel, Mother May I, but things are not going the way she had hoped. She is at her wit’s end when she stops in at Giovanni’s Italian restaurant for a last minute dinner. There, she meets Beckett Copeland, a busboy at the restaurant, who might be as much of a mess as she is. He also might be able to help her where no one else can. Both Zelda and Beckett have tragedies in their pasts. Zelda is trying to run from hers, while Beckett punishes himself, but perhaps they can help each other find some normalcy.

This is a story with an abundance of heart. Zelda is a talented artist who uses her art to heal. She has a prickly exterior that keeps everyone at a distance, but it hides a generous spirit and loving heart. She does her best to push past the fear and guilt that she’s lived with for ten years, not realizing that all she’s actually doing is making things worse. Beckett also lives with guilt and anguish over a tragic mistake, which he believes can never be forgiven. He works hard and looks out for his friends, avoiding any deeper connections. These two souls are drawn together in a serendipitous moment that could change both if their lives if they’ll let it.

The characters are well-rounded, fully developed people, including supporting characters. They have faults and virtues, they make mistakes, they freak out. The plot is well paced throughout and relies on the strength of the characters to keep readers interested, rather than fast-paced action or surprise twists. There are examples of Zelda’s art sprinkled here and there, and it adds another dimension to the story. This is a contemporary NA romance, with some salty language and steamy sex scenes. There is also some talk of drug use and criminal activity, light descriptions of traumatic events, and realistic depictions of panic attacks.

The author has several other books, which I will definitely be checking out, including the Full Tilt duet.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars.

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Review of “The Truth About Happily Ever After” by Karole Cozzo

Review of The Truth About Happily Ever After by Karole Cozzo

A review by Amanda.

Alyssa is a walking, talking stereotype. Tall, blonde, and gorgeous, the twenty year old sorority sister spends her summers working as a princess character for a popular theme park (think Disney); and not just any princess, but the most admired and beloved – Cinderella​. Alyssa loves her seasonal job. She thinks of it more as a calling; she lives and breathes princess life. The friends that she’s made while working at the park, and the smiles on children’s’ faces, make the rigorous physical standards worth it. Princesses must meet certain aesthetic requirements and have appointments (called look-overs) every two weeks to make sure they are at an appropriate weight and have a clear complexion, among other things. Alyssa holds herself to the highest standards in both her looks and her mannerisms, even when she’s off-duty. To cap it all off she’s found her fairy tale romance with Jake, a park medic, including the sweetest storybook meet cute the previous summer. They’ve struggled to make things work long-distance, and Alyssa is giddy to have the entire summer together. Only, things do not exactly go as planned, and Alyssa’s perfect princess life might be turned upside down.

This story is light and fun, with very few surprises thrown in. It is definitely a quick read. The conflicts that arise are predictable, but Alyssa’s growth throughout the book makes it worth reading. Alyssa starts out appearing sweet but shallow. As her story progresses, readers get to know her on a deeper level. She isn’t as shallow as she appears, and her kindness is generally sincere. She tends to ignore things that might stress her out, pretending that problems don’t exist until they blow up in her face. The first half of the story might be a struggle, as Alyssa is annoyingly upbeat (and that’s coming from a bubbly optimist). As readers learn more about her family history and what draws her to the princess life, they might sympathize. And as she grows as a person and figures out what she really wants, the story balances out quite nicely.

This is a contemporary YA romance with some swearing and some very light sexual talk/activity.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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BOOK TOUR PROMO: “Domme Experience: Power Exchange and the Making of a Dominatrix (Experiences Book 8)” by Simone Freier

BOOK TOUR PROMO:

Excerpt:

I finished going through my e-mail and was turning off the computer when Kelly came down to my office in the playroom. We were planning to go out to the French restaurant tonight, and it looked like Kelly was ready: She wore an emerald color sweater that contrasted nicely with her auburn hair.

“We have a slight change in plans,” Kelly bounced into the room and plopped down on one of the chairs in front of the desk. I awaited the details.

“I spoke to Linda, and it turns out that she and Matt were also planning on going to the French restaurant, tonight. So we decided to make it a Valentine double date.”

That was a surprise, but a nice one. I came around the desk, pulled Kelly up, and kissed her passionately. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

She smiled and waved her hand. “We don’t have to celebrate every holiday, and certainly not commercial ones. As far as I’m concerned, every day is ‘Valentine’s Day’.” I nodded, and kissed her again. Then, I went upstairs to get dressed for dinner.

We met Linda at the restaurant, and she introduced us to Matt. He was handsome and stylishly dressed. Linda told us that he had both legal and accounting degrees, and worked for a law firm in town, specializing in tax structuring – exactly what we needed!

Throughout the dinner, I kept thinking of questions to ask, and Kelly kicked me under the table each time I turned the conversation back to business. My shin was starting to hurt. Finally, Linda suggested that they come over for a while tonight. “Kelly and I can go in the sauna, while you and Matt work on business.”

It didn’t have to be binary – one or the other; I just wanted to give Matt an introduction, and find out whether he would be interested and able to help us. We could easily do that in the sauna.

Linda and Matt followed us back to the house, and we went down to the playroom, where I offered everyone after dinner drinks. Kelly decided to make coffee, and I took out the bottle of Kahlua, in case anyone wanted Mexican coffee.

We sat around the coffee table, and I couldn’t help but remember some of the experiences Kelly, her friends, and I had had here. As Linda’s eyes scanned the room, there was the hint of a smile that betrayed her thoughts of our past experiences, also.

Linda turned to Matt, “Sam is quite the techie. He has a huge video screen, computer-controlled lighting, and multi-channel surround sound.” Fortunately, she didn’t mention the video cameras or the ‘gadgets’ that I built.

I asked Matt, “Has Linda told you about our company, KS Biotech?”

Matt nodded, “Basically, although I don’t really understand the technology. Are you going to sell the hardware? Or license other companies? Or, develop drugs yourselves?”

I answered, “We’ve considered all those options, but it turns out that a Japanese company is interested in acquiring us. And we’ve already negotiated letters of intent with three mid-sized pharma companies to license the technology to them for their specific markets.

“It’s all based on Kelly’s technology, which could revolutionize the drug development process, especially targeting diseases which are ‘vector-borne’ – carried by or caused by other organisms.” Matt nodded, thoughtfully.

I got to the key point. “So we’re pretty close to getting paid a lot of money, and our main challenge now is minimizing the tax impact.”

Matt smiled, “That’s my specialty.”

Now, I smiled, “Yes, I’d heard that. So maybe we could hire you to help out?”

Matt shrugged, “It would have to be through the law firm that I work for. We’d probably want to have an upside in addition to our basic fee. How much money are we talking about?”

I shook my head, “As it stands now, if we can close at the valuation the Japanese have offered, it would be roughly one point three billion dollars.”

Matt choked on his coffee and sat forward on the edge of the couch, “Did you say billion dollars?” I nodded and smiled. He turned to Linda, whose mouth was hanging open.

At that point, Kelly walked in, wearing her ‘Superwoman’ robe, and sat on the loveseat, her legs folded under her. “Did I miss anything?”

Linda put her coffee down and turned to Kelly. “Are you guys really saying that you might sell the company for more than a billion dollars?” Kelly and I nodded slowly. We could see Linda trying to catch her breath.

“And I have half a percent of the company?”

Matt swung his head to her, “So you might be worth six million dollars.” He raised his brows, “Less the taxes you’ll have to pay. If it’s capital gains, you might have to pay more than a million dollars in taxes.” Linda was shaking her head in disbelief.

I summarized, “So that’s the problem. We need some good advice on how to best structure the deal.”

Kelly chimed in, “I can’t even imagine having to pay two hundred million dollars in taxes!”

Matt smiled, “Let’s meet next week. I’ll present the opportunity to the partners. I think they’ll be very interested in working with you.”

Kelly finished her coffee, “Can we please go in the sauna, now? It’s Valentine’s Day, and this discussion isn’t very romantic.”

As we got up and headed to the sauna, Linda quipped, “Well, Kelly, I think learning that I may get five million dollars is pretty romantic.”

We knew she was kidding, but there was something to it. You couldn’t equate money with happiness, but an unexpected windfall was always nice, and could be a turn-on.

About The Author

DOMME EXPERIENCE is an intimate exploration of kinks and fetishes by an unlikely couple, with thoughtful and philosophical discussion by the characters, and graphic descriptions of their erotic adventures.
Kelly takes the upper hand – in a manner of speaking – exhibiting her dominant side, and impressing her parents and Sam, as roles are reversed. Her formal training as a dominatrix leads to new and unexpected experiences for Sam. Kelly and Sam explore new cultures, and enjoy further adventures with friends, as their world travels continue. Kelly demonstrates her technical and business prowess, and the company that she and Sam founded takes off, changing their lives forever. There are a billion reasons why they should be happy. But they are unaware that a storm is brewing on the horizon.
The Experiences series is an epic love story of erotic relationships and sexual desires. Written in a ‘literary realism’ style, the series introduces Sam in the prequel, and the blossoming of his intimate relationship with Kelly as the series progresses. Fantasies and real-world adventures coalesce to mold a unique bond between unlikely lovers. Where needs are mutually satisfied in an open, creative and trusting environment. Where physical and mental boundaries are pushed. Where the concepts of love and sex are never confused, but sometimes confusing. Where openness is required and intimacy is expected. And where fair-is-fair, regarding the punishment of transgressions.
Contemporary erotic romance: Suitable for mature readers, aged 18+ years. Experiences: Book 8 is 187,000 words, 18 chapters, 621 print pages
Acclaim for Simone Freier and the EXPERIENCES series: “Fun, intense, sexually erotic” “One of my favorite series in recent memory” “Simone Freier is a sexually charged and inspired writer” “It is quite a tale and a very good read that explores an intimate topic” “The writing is well-done, engaging, and erotic” “The characters are rich & believable, while the eroticism is thick & lush” “Freier writes some incredibly powerful scenes” “I have enjoyed this whole series and don’t want it to end” “Freier holds poignant insight into the complexities of interpersonal communications and behavior” “The desire crawls out of the pages and into my mind” “The writing style is relaxed, even playful, and always fresh” “Steams up the pages – very sensual and erotic” “Simone Freier entertains her readers with a story of love, trust, respect and exploration” “Unexpectedly thoughtful and intensely passionate” “Simone Freier has an intoxicating way with words” “Fifty shades greyer in this deep look at sexual explorations” “Freier’s attention to detail in her books is awe-inspiring!” “I have enjoyed this whole series and don’t want it to end” “Fine writing from an author who knows her genre” “If you love erotica, then you’ll love this series” “Definitely a five-star series!”

WARNING! This work contains mature content, including graphic sexual descriptions and scenes, and is provided for adults only. The Experiences series contains scenes of psychological and physical submission, discipline, and medical fetish. The characters explore various fetishes, which evolve throughout the series. ALL CHARACTERS IN THE BOOK ARE 21 YEARS OLD OR OLDER, and all activities are consensual.

About The Author
Simone FreierAn adventuress and traveler, Simone is a sensual being who loves to read stories that excite her. She takes exception to authors who promote their works as ‘dirty’, ‘filthy’, or ‘smutty’: She believes that sex is wonderful in all of its incarnations, and doesn’t shy away from graphic descriptions of realistic sexual experiences, no matter how messy. Her writing is mainly in the ‘literary realism’ style – i.e., it is wild (even outrageous) … but could really happen to you! She values openness in relationships and demonstrates this through her characters.

Prior to becoming an author, Simone was a nurse. One of her pet peeves is reading erotica that gets simple anatomy wrong! She is continually bewildered by women who haven’t explored their own bodies. Another pet peeve is the mostly hung-up Victorian society prevalent in the U.S. and U.K., and she tries to do her part to change that by introducing people to new sexual and sensual experiences through her erotic writing. The activities in Simone’s books are quite realistic, as she has participated in most of these in ‘real life’, as surreal as it may seem.

Simone is currently completing the Experiences series, which will run an estimated 1,000,000 words! That is why she refers to it as an ‘epic’ romance, although each volume is intended to stand on its own, with a ‘happy for now’ ending. Experiences combine literary style and philosophical discussion by the characters with a graphic portrayal of sex in all of its kinks and fetishes. You may not like all of the things Simone’s characters do … but neither do they. Their exploration of new experiences will hopefully motivate some readers to explore their own sexuality to a greater extent.
Simone loves to hear from her readers, so feel free to contact her. In fact, she hopes you will feel ‘free’ sexually and spiritually, as well. Please follow her on social media and her blog. On her website, you may interact directly with the main characters in her books, including asking them questions in order to understand their perspectives in more depth.

You can sign up to her mailing list to learn about new releases, and take advantage of promotions. All readers on the mailing list will be sent an excerpt from each of her next novels, prior to publication.

Visit Simone’s website.
Friend Simone on her Facebook page.
Or, tweet Simone on Twitter!

Links:
Amazon

Promotional picture Domme Experience—Power Exchange and the Making of a Dominatrix (Experiences Book 8) by Simone Freier

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Review: “Losing It” by Cora Carmack

Review: "Losing It” by Cora Carmack

A review by Vanessa.

I purchased this book on Amazon after finding Cora Carmack as a New York Times Best Seller, because sometimes we have to remember that the commercially popular authors are the ones that keep us all in business.

Being a theater major is hard, stressful work. The only thing even more stressful for Bliss Edwards is explaining to her best friend Kelsey why it is that at 22 years old, she is still a virgin. Because the reality is that Bliss is a bit of a control freak, and her lack of confidence in her abilities has kept her at “not ready” status for a long time. She is not really ready to graduate in one semester. She certainly isn’t ready for Kelsey’s reaction, which is to drag Bliss out to the nearest bar and proceed with finding her someone to help her lose it, and quick. But Bliss is tired of the stress and the worry and the wondering why she hasn’t just done it, so she decides to just do it. Just find a guy, and get it over with. The only other thing she is not ready for is Garrick.

The beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed, British man reading Shakespeare in the back of the bar catches Bliss’s eye, and completely turns her on in a way she never has been before. But when it comes to crunch time, Bliss can’t go through with it. For one thing she still isn’t ready, and for another she actually really likes Garrick. Rather than explain the truth and deal with the situation, Bliss gives an awkward lie and bolts. She’s ready to pretend it never happened until she makes it to the first day of spring term the next morning. Guess who is the new professor of Senior prep class? Of course it’s the recently-finished-with-graduate-school, former alumni, gorgeous man whom Bliss had just left naked and wanting in bed. But not only is he just as sweet and charming as he had been before the debacle, he actually seems to like her. Is he worth a risk that might get them both into a lot of trouble? When other people’s hearts are thrown into the mix as well, will Bliss finally let go and make a bold choice for what she really wants?

A very engaging read, this book is satisfyingly predictable while also maintaining a status as refreshing and entertaining. Bliss is a very real character, with oodles of self doubt that any reader can relate to. Though her existence is very mainstream, in a social setting where virginity is something to be ashamed of while feminine sexuality is also something to feel shame about, Bliss finds her own way through. She uses her emotions to fuel her acting in a way that it is very easy to respect, and makes her an entirely likable character. Garrick is a very real character as well. He is completely straightforward, and very honest in his pursuit of Bliss. He does not play games, or throw around his authority over her. Their romance is tension filled, but also toe-curling. This book definitely falls on the side of cliche when it comes to the overall story as the romantic aspect dominates the story arc. There were some larger themes that I think could have been better embraced, while still paying proper tribute to the romance that was obviously the major focus of the book. A few things came a little too easily, but all in all it was still good writing and an entertainingly sexy read. I am very interested to read the next book in the series, Faking It.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J Maas

A review by Amanda.

Nineteen year old Feyre is the sole provider for her family. Her father is unable to work after losing the family’s fortune and his merchant business in a risky venture. Feyre’s two older sisters seem content to live off of what meager rations and coins her hunting brings in, while giving only bitterness and indifference in return. Feyre is accustomed to burying her hurt and anger under a mask of ice and is marking time until her sisters can be married off to become someone else’s burden. She longs to be free of her responsibilities but a vow made to her dying mother keeps her stuck in place.

Everything changes when Feyre hunts too close to the border between her human village and Prythian, a land of myth and magic ruled by faeries. Retribution comes in the form of Tamlin, a powerful faerie lord with a cold, secretive demeanor who gives Feyre a choice between death or captivity. She chooses to become his prisoner to live out her life in Prythian in hopes that escape might someday be an option. She does not expect to enjoy the beauty of Tamlin’s estate,nor to develop friendships with the faeries who reside there. She does not expect that the real danger of Prythian may be one that isn’t from the legends with which she is familiar.

A Court of Thorns and Roses is a beautiful reimagining of the classic Beauty and the Beast story. The inspiration is clear while reading, but Feyre’s story is uniquely her own. Feyre is a wonderful protagonist. She is rough around the edges, distrusting of everyone and everything, and incredibly stubborn. Her strengths and weaknesses are rounded out, making her into a whole person. At no point is she a damsel in distress, although she is put into dangerous situations, some of which require help from others for her to survive.

Romance has a natural progression in this story, and is given enough weight to feel real, but not so much that it overshadows everything else. The world-building is seamless and beautiful. The plot is character-driven, and perfectly paced. Supporting characters are well-rounded and given plenty of agency, although there is a lack of diversity in both ethnicity and sexual orientation. Future books may address this issue. There is some violence in this story but nothing terribly graphic. There are a couple of consensual sexual encounters, as well as some non-consensual touching and kissing (again, not too graphic), but without compromising the integrity of the story or the characters. Fans of the author’s other series Throne of Glass and fans of authors Cinda Williams Chima, Marissa Meyer, and Cassandra Clare may enjoy this book. Book two, A Court of Mist and Fury has been released in hardcover. The third book, A Court of Wind and Ruin, will be released on May 2nd.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “At First Blush” by Beth Ellyn Summer

Review:

A review by Amanda.

At seventeen, Lacey Robbins has her future all planned out. She has spent years developing LaceyBlushes, her makeup tutorial channel on YouTube, although her romantic life has suffered a bit because of it. Her dedication has earned Lacey a coveted summer internship at On Trend, an online magazine. The internship could help Lacey reach her goals of finding sponsors for her channel and landing a contract with Glass Cube, a marketing and talent management company for YouTube. Life is looking bright for Lacey as well as her best friend Cynth who has the chance to intern for a late night show across the street. In a bid to help Lacey let some romance into her life, Cynth makes a bargain with her – she will accept the internship with the late night show if Lacey will flirt with hot guys at On Trend. Lacey reluctantly agrees, if only to ensure that Cynth takes the job. Little does Lacey know, the hottest guy at On Trend turns out to be their surprise guest editor and cover feature, musician Tyler Lance, whose reputation as a narcissistic party boy does not impress her. Add in a sponsorship from a subpar makeup company, family stress, and the struggle to keep her fans happy, and Lacey may have to reevaluate her life plan.

At first glance, this book may appear to be superficial and silly, like just another frilly story about a teenage girl falling for the cute boy. By the end of chapter one, however, Lacey has shown her potential to be a fully realized, multidimensional character. Her passion for makeup is not borne from a desire to simply look pretty; she has a natural eye and a deep appreciation for presentation and aesthetics. Lacey has found a way to turn her love of beauty into a profitable career, and she has sacrificed other aspects of a well-rounded life to make it happen. She has a genuine enjoyment of the process as well, from choosing the tutorials, to staging the background, filming, and interacting with her subscribers. While many adults consider teenaged girls to be silly and inconsequential, Lacey showcases the reality that girls can have ambition and goals beyond dating and boys. While there is romance in this story, it doesn’t dominate the plot. It is balanced nicely with both obstacles and pleasant surprises, and serves more as a metaphor for unexpected disruptions to even the best laid plans. The supporting characters have a realistic vibe and provide both drama and relief in Lacey’s life. There are some very minor cliché aspects, mostly regarding the romantic drama, and this is not a book that is full of dramatic plot twists but that does not take away from the enjoyment of the story. This is the first book from author Beth Ellyn Summer, and I will happily read future books.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars.

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