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Romance / Erotica

  • Never Say Duke

    by Erica Ridley

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: This historical romance’s plot moves quickly but still hits each plot point at an enjoyable pace. The distinct predicaments of the main characters--especially the heroine’s struggle with autism--give the story an emotional weight that mixes perfectly with the threads of humor and romance.

    Prose/Style: This novel’s prose has it all: strong dialogue, engaging description, charming humor, and swoon-worthy romance. The English dialect particular to the Regency Era adds a realistic flavor, without being too dense to be understood.

    Originality: Two thoroughly compelling main characters with their own unique complexities grow as individuals as their emotional connection deepens from caretaker/patient to romantic couple. The romance is sweet, inspirational, romantic, and resonant, elevating this story above other historical romances.

    Character Development: Theodore, the hero, is an engaging example of the brooding alpha male. His personality is never overbearing and, given his unique predicament, evolves in a reasonable way. The heroine, Miss Virginia, is the star. Her autism is explored realistically and with care, creating a truly unique character and story.

    Blurb: Never Say Duke enthralls with an enamoring romance between a damaged hero who quickly realizes the strong-willed, resourceful heroine is exactly the balm he needs. This novel charms with romance, humor, inspiration, and heart.

  • The Shadows of Stormclyffe Hall

    by Lauren Smith

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: This gothic romance thrills with evocative description, strong characterizations, and a thoroughly compelling plot. The enticing mix of historical and modern romances is expertly enhanced by the whodunit/gothic mystery storyline.

    Prose/Style: Realistic dialogue, authentic emotions, and provocative foreplay drive the intoxicating push-and-pull between the hero and heroine. The sex scenes are conveyed using passionate and emotional prose, never veering into treacly melodrama. Eerie, pulse-pounding descriptions of the supernatural elements simultaneously spook and titillate.

    Originality: Smith’s novel uses many romantic tropes, but the author puts them all to excellent use. This wonderful gothic romance gives the beloved genre of yore a modern, engaging, and sensual spin.

    Character Development: The hero is the just-right amount of alluring playboy and compassionate leading man, while the heroine is a refreshing modern take on the historical concept of “bluestocking.” She’s smart, strong-willed, and the perfect intellectual and emotional match for the hero.

    Blurb: A sexy, smart modern gothic romance that will entice both historical and contemporary romance fans with a compelling mystery and a main couple that oozes chemistry.

  • Chasing Hope

    by Dana Wayne

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: The well-paced plot moves smoothly through the various characters' emotional struggles, with small-town conflicts ultimately taking center stage. These larger stories are enhanced by plot points that realistically characterize the main couple’s emotional growth, both individually and as a unit.

    Prose/Style: The prose is clear and effective, and flows well. The dialogue is realistic, particularly those lines spoken by Maddie. The intimate scenes are passionate and warm, yet at times exhibit an overabundance of purple prose.

    Originality: Distinct voices and genuine chemistry enhance Max and Skylar and their individual and joint struggles. The secondary characters, particularly young Maddie, are realistic and multi-dimensional without being caricatures.

    Character Development: Chasing Hope employs the tropes of a heartwarming, small-town romance to enjoyable effect. Strong characters, a sweet romance, and a hopeful examination of real-world issues help it to elevate the genre.

  • Life in the Chastity Zone

    by Holly Brandon

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: While amusing, engaging, and suspenseful all at the same time, the distinct storyline of this contemporary romance is often slowed down by an excess of plot points and scenes. The zany trials and tribulations of the main character are entertaining and fun, yet certain plot elements become too odd to be believable.

    Prose/Style: Humorous self-deprecation and an oddball charm propel the strong, original voice of the main character as she deals with one madcap adventure after another in her quest for love and self-fulfillment. Funny, realistic dialogue enhances the comedic undertones of this narrative.

    Originality: This fun, engaging story has all the hallmarks of a romantic comedy, with a strong main character, funny scenarios, and a compelling plot. However, the extra-long length threatens to decrease reader engagement in the novel.

    Character Development: An eccentric but intriguing main character carries this story well, encouraging the reader to be invested in how she grows throughout the narrative, her search for love, and the mystery she confronts. The supporting characters range in strength and depth, some memorable and enjoyable, while others seem superfluous and drag down the pace of the narrative.

  • Dark Descent into Desire

    by J. J. Sorel

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: The well-paced plot of Dark Descent into Desire mixes the mystery and erotic romance genres to entertaining effect. The mystery plot points are complex and fresh, and lead to a busy but strong conclusion. While the romantic elements can be dominated by the passionate nature of the characters, the couple’s happily-ever-after does feel earned.

    Prose/Style: The prose flows well, with authentic dialogue and vivid description propelling the story. While passionate and explicit, the sex scenes get repetitive, in both language and frequency.

    Originality: Sorel’s Dark Descent into Desire is engaging and passionate, yet overused tropes and genre-popular plot points lend the story a familiar feel.

    Character Development: The main hero and heroine have complex personalities with engaging backstories. While their powerful chemistry propels the erotic parts of the narrative, their emotional connection lacks a strong base. Strong secondary characters, including several antagonists, flesh out the mystery well.

  • The Return of the Scoundrel

    by Amethyst Creek

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: With the vibrant American West as its setting and cultural foundation, this historical romance moves at a consistent pace, enhanced by intriguing chronological details. The storyline features a tepid main romance that is eclipsed by the more engaging supporting characters and subplots based on actual historical events.

    Prose/Style: Realistic dialogue and the vivid description of the sights and sounds of the American West draw readers into the narrative. The occasional use of textbook-type prose to relay historical details disrupts cohesion with the fictional narrative.

    Originality: Creek’s The Return of the Scoundrel is more historical fiction than romance. The time-related details are so interesting and strong, they leave little room for an equally compelling main romance.

    Character Development: The titular scoundrel is a compelling character with genuine conflict. In contrast, the main hero and heroine lack emotional complexity, particularly a strong enough conflict between them to encourage readers to root for their happily-ever-after. The stable of supporting characters are plentiful and add depth to the main narrative.

  • A Wilderness Within

    by Emma Castle

    Rating: 6.25

    Plot: Reminiscent of the novel Contagion, the medieval plague, and the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic, this gripping novel is stirringly relevant. References to China backed by conspiracy theory supercharge the plot with frightening reality.

    Prose/Style: The ability to harness attention with explosive descriptive phrases catapults every terrifying scene into a surreal catastrophic realm. A tad overdone but implemented with precision, each word strives for heightened emotion and maximum impact.

    Originality: A blatant allusion to the havoc of the 2020 coronavirus places parts of this novel in a blurry faction zone—a fictionalized account of real events combined with a fabricated plot line. An intriguing but familiar scenario, it is not original, nor is it taking strides beyond other literary works triggered by the concept of or the actual occurrence of widespread diseases.

    Character Development: Amid the book’s riveting action is a sweet romance and tender introspection that allow for character development beyond the shallow cardboard figures that often appear in thrillers. Set against a life-altering global event followed by an apocalyptic aftermath, the protagonists step forward with empathetic human traits.

  • Seducing an Heiress on a Train

    by Lauren Smith

    Rating: 5.75

    Plot: Set during the Victorian era, this story of seduction and money depicts a common practice of the period, a transactional love affair agreeable to both parties. Historically authentic, and at times interesting, the romance is infused with dated expectations and archaic perceptions.

    Prose/Style: Sound editing and a coquettish way with words may be the novel’s best qualities, along with an undeniable talent for subtle humor that will clearly appeal to aficionados of Victorian fiction. Appropriate pacing and descriptive enhancement of a predictable scenario provide sufficient entertainment for an escapade into social mayhem.

    Originality: Suspected duplicity in a somewhat contrived plot detracts from the originality of a popular, though structured, romance sub-genre. Filled with tenderness and sincerity beneath the ulterior motive, the book sparkles yet fails to shine bright.

    Character Development: Heavy on sultry passion, light on substance, this ebullient narrative adapts to the time in which the protagonists are living, allowing their choices and preferences—no matter how contradictory—to guide their actions. Lighthearted moments reveal deep emotion, while the obligatory resolution of problems and fulfillment of societal expectations threatens to override natural expression.

  • The Cowboy & the Cheerleader

    by Mary Allen Redd

    Rating: 5.00

    Plot: Although this book has an engaging premise, Redd’s execution of the main character’s journey – from country-dwelling cheerleader to worldly city slicker to contented rancher’s wife – lacks a consistent focus, due to less engaging subplots and an overall narrative that expands on inconsequential scenes and condenses ones that offer the opportunity for emotional growth.

    Prose/Style: Redd’s talent at landscape description, authentic dialogue, time-period characterization, and sweet humor are strong. Yet the main character’s voice, while distinct, projects a naivete that seems inconsistent with the changing of times and her personal/world experiences.

    Originality: The Cowboy and the Cheerleader mixes tropes of both women’s fiction and conventional romance to varying degrees. The overall imbalance creates a story that’s compelling in pieces but not overall.

    Character Development: While the heroine’s development ticks the necessary narrative boxes when it comes to experiences/action, a lack of internal dialogue and unsophisticated social commentary lend a sense of inauthenticity to her growth. Also, the majority of the narrative focuses on the heroine with less space given to the titular cowboy. This imbalance lessens the reader’s emotional investment in the relationship and the happily-ever-after of the main couple.

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