Broken Open by Lauren Dane

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Grade: B
Hotness Level: Inferno
Kink Level: No Kink
Genre: Contemporary
Series: The Hurley Boys #2
Published: 11/25/14
Reviewed by Anne
275 pages

“If a woman could come just from being looked at, I’m pretty sure I’d be screaming your name right now.”

He locked his gaze to hers. “You will be soon enough.”  (p. 79)

Tuesday is just starting to stand on solid ground after the death of her husband five years ago.  Ezra is a member of Sweet Hollow Ranch, one of the most famous rock bands in existence.  This just means that his spectacular fall from grace due to drug addiction was a very public one.  Now he’s been clean for years and lives a simple life.  He’s a rancher on his family’s ranch, he helps with the band behind the scenes and spends time with his extended family.  When they meet each other their attraction is instant.  Then it’s just a matter of two people healing from past wounds try to find their way together.

I love, love, love low conflict romance, and this one is definitely low conflict.  However, the first half of the story was even a little slow for me.  That seemed pretty intentional, and it definitely fit with these two wounded characters, but it took me a while to get invested.  About half way through the issues these two had were clear and I didn’t want to set my reader down!

As always, Lauren Dane writes incredibly good and hot sex scenes.  Tuesday is confident in her self and her body and in her enjoyment of sex.  Ezra also knows what he likes.  At the beginning of their relationship they have to figure out if they’re going to fit together sexually.  That’s something you don’t normally see.

In your typical romance you have one partner mention they like to be in control and the response by the other partner is generally excitement and agreement with this power dynamic with no questions.  With Tuesday and Ezra it’s more complicated and more realistic.  Ezra admits he likes control and Tuesday thinks to herself,

“Sex with him?  Yes. Yes and yes again.  Control, though?  What did that mean?  Like something creepy?  Or something hot?  Sometimes people inexplicably found stuff like cell phone tracking and that sort of control to be superhot.  She was not one of them.” (p.31)

And then they go on to have an actual conversation about what they want from their sexual relationship.  How cool is that?

I also want to mention that Tuesday is African American and Ezra is white.  Their race is a factor in their relationship, but not a huge one.  I liked that it was acknowledged, but not the defining conflict in the story.

I really enjoyed Broken Open, despite its slow start.  I’ve read this series in order, including the series that came before it, but I think this one would stand on its own just fine.  In fact, I think having read the previous book actually worked against me in this case.  This story overlaps a bit with the story before it and it left me a little disoriented because it had been a while since I’d read the previous one. It was still a great read.  It wasn’t my favorite book in this series of series, but it was another solid entry.  I’d recommend it for anyone who enjoys contemporary romance, rock stars, strong women, hot sex, and internal conflict.

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Gilded Lily by Delphine Dryden

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Grade: B
Hotness Level: Blaze
Kink Level: No Kink
Genre: Steampunk
Published: 7/1/14
Reviewed by Anne
304  pages

Freddie lives two lives.  In one she’s the privileged Frederique, an unmarried young woman with a large dowry, who nonetheless sits on the sidelines of all the ballrooms and has a habit of getting in trouble.  In the other she’s Freddy Merchant, a talented tinker and aspiring makesmith who works on the bad side of town.

Barnabas has several duties – he’s a newly minted spy and who has been assigned by Freddie’s father to keep an eye on Freddie by posing as a suitor for her hand.  He’s also looking for information on his brother’s disappearance.  Since his brother also worked for Freddie’s father, this assignment suits both his purposes.

Freddie immediately realizes that Barnabas is yet another man her father has hired to spy on her, and that gets them off to a bad start.  However, they’re both surprised and intrigued by the other, and Barnabas is supposed to follow Freddie wherever she goes, so they are spending a lot of time together, and they grow more and more interested in each other.

I enjoy steampunk, but I’m pretty picky.  I love, love, love Meljean Brooks Iron Seas series!  I’ve tried a few other steampunk romances and most of them fell far short of the bar Meljean Brook set, which means after I tried those few I’ve shied away from steampunk.  But then I saw that Delphine Dryden had written a steampunk romance!  I’ve loved almost every Dryden story I’ve read – particularly her nerd stories – so I figured it was worth giving Guilded Lily a chance.  I’m so glad I did!

Freddie is an awesome character, and the kind of female lead I wish we had more of in romance.  She’s intelligent and brave.  She’s as independent as she can be, given the rules of the society she lives in.  She’s also quite adventurous!  She definitely would make a better spy than Barnabas.  The really cool thing is, Barnabas realizes that, and it doesn’t make him feel like any less of a man.  In fact, he appreciates those qualities in Freddie and enjoys the excitement she brings to his life.

Barnabas is not a take charge alpha male, so that means he’s not the typical romance hero.  I loved that!  He’s still a strong man, and he’s a perfect partner for Freddie.  I really enjoyed the two of them together.

As I mentioned, Freddie and Barnabas don’t immediately hit it off, and Delphine Dryden writes that very well!  It’s fun to watch them come to appreciate each other and then realize they are attracted to each other.  Dryden’s dialog is awesome, too!

“If that wasn’t some sort of sensor array, my name’s not Fred Merchant.”

“Your name isn’t Fred Merchant.”

“You know exactly what I mean.  The point is, there was some sort of nonstandard equipment, and that was no military vessel.  You know that instantly, and I must concur.  What’s more, I’ve consulted a map my father had handy—

“He had it handy?  Just lying about in a parlor, I suppose?”

“Don’t interrupt, please.  I have my ways.” ~p. 71

The steampunk world is also really interesting.  I enjoyed the giant squid like creatures, the submersible vehicles, and the steampunk take on the underground tunnel between England and France.  I could tell from comments that I’d missed some flying machines in previous stories, and I’d really like to go back and read them!

So with all these things I loved, why not give it an A?  Well, it had more politics in it than I enjoy.  That’s definitely a personal preference and might be an added bonus for someone else.  I got a little lost in all the who was spying for who stuff, especially concerning Barnabas’ brother.

Before I read it I looked it up on Goodreads and was surprised to see it was the third in this series.  What?!?  How did I miss the other two books?  I went ahead and read this one out of order, since I really liked the blurb, and it worked just fine for me.  There were moments where other characters who had clearly been featured in previous books jumbled up a bit in my heard, but overall I had no problems following this story.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys steampunk or is interested in giving it at try.  Freddie and Barnabas are unlike the usual heroine and hero we read in romance, and that was really fun!  Please let me know in the !comments if you have any other steampunk or sci-fi/fantasy to recommend!

The Party Girl by Tamara Morgan

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Grade: B-
Hotness Level: Blaze
Kink Level: No Kink
Genre: Contemporary
Series: Getting Physical #3
Published:2/3/14 
Reviewed by Anne
250 ebook pages

Kendra is successful, happy, and self confident.  A one night stand with Lincoln left him wanting more, but instead they’ve become friends without benefits, and it’s through Lincoln that Kendra meets Noah.  Noah and Kendra couldn’t be more opposite of each other.  Kendra enjoys luxury and material comforts.  Noah lives off the grid.  No power.  No phone.  No car.  Really, the only thing they have in common is their friendship with Lincoln and his need for their help.  Well, they’ve got that and a tremendous case of horny pants that Noah says they can’t act on because Lincoln called dibs on Kendra.  

Tamara Morgan is awesome at writing strong heroines, and she does a great job with Kendra.  A lot of times when I read a story I like the heroine because I identify with her in some way.  I didn’t feel like I had much in common with Kendra, but I really, really liked her.  She’s a woman very happy with her body and her looks.  She’s had plastic surgery (breast augmentation) and she’s proud of it.  I can’t imagine ever getting a boob job, but if I did, I hope I would own it like Kendra.  She meets life with a “This is who I am” attitude that’s admirable.

On the other hand, not only is Noah different from Kendra in outward appearance and lifestyle, he’s an emotional mess inside.  This could be a recipe for disaster, with strong stable Kendra being a martyr for Noah, but it doesn’t turn out that way, which is a very good thing.

Unfortunately the first half of this book really dragged for me.  I probably would have stopped reading if I hadn’t enjoyed books by the author before.  I’m really glad I stuck with it, though.  The second half of the book was much stronger.  My main issue with the first half of the book was that the main conflict between Kendra and Noah, the thing keeping them from pursuing a relationship they both wanted, was that Lincoln had this crush on Kendra that he was sure would evolve into the great love of his life.  Despite the fact that Kendra told both Lincoln and Noah that she was never going to be romantically involved with Lincoln, it was this bro code that kept Kendra and Noah apart.  This left a bad taste in my mouth, because I felt like they were treating Kendra like an object.  It didn’t matter what she wanted, Lincoln’s hopes for her determined Noah’s actions.  It was like she was a toy and it was still Lincoln’s turn to play with her.  That was really frustrating for me.

On top of all that, Lincoln came across as very unstable, and it seemed unrealistic to me that Kendra and Noah would enable him.  Seriously.  The book starts with Lincoln at Kendra’s house in the middle of the night with a stab wound.  He won’t go to the hospital for it because he’s in trouble with the police department *where he works*.  This whole premise is a mess.

On part of the book I really loved is one I predict others may have a problem with.  There is no slut shaming in this book.  The opening pages have Kendra at home with a younger man getting ready to have sex.  They are not in a committed relationship, but are both consenting adults.  They are interrupted by Lincoln, who is a former one night stand.  Kendra is also ok with her college aged younger sister having one night stands.  These are things some readers might not like – this kind of behavior seems reserved for only the men in romance.  I thought it was refreshing in this book to read about women so comfortable with themselves and their sexuality.

While I complained about the first half of the book was really enjoyable, and not just because Noah and Kendra were finally having sex.  It was full of relationship stuff that I love.  They’re so different, so how can they work things out?  Their path to happiness isn’t smooth, but it’s real and I loved it.

This is the third in the series, but I think it stands alone.  I remembered Lincoln and Kendra from previous books, but not very well.  I don’t know if they weren’t very developed in the first two books or if it was a memory lapse on my part, but I think it would stand on it’s own.  This wasn’t my favorite Tamara Morgan book, but it was a good one and I enjoyed it.  She’s on my short list of must-read authors.  

How about you?  Who is on your must-read list?