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Romance / Erotica

  • The Lodger, That Summer

    by Levi Huxton

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: Erotic and honest, readers will be wrapped under the spell of the main character, who has all of the others in his grasp. The ending may or may not be a surprise, but the reader will feel the emptiness just as the characters do. The author has avoided the feeling of repetition with thorough character development and growth. Every sexual encounter in the novel feels candid but genuine.

    Prose/Style: The author is a poignant and thoughtful storyteller. Details throughout are carefully managed and allow the reader feel intimately connected to the characters.

    Originality: Each section of the book has three or four chapters which focus on different characters and their experience with the protagonist. The author capably creates emotional depth, making the conclusion especially impactful.

    Character Development/Execution: Authentic characterizations remind readers that life is frequently about letting go and embarking upon new adventures. Even the reader will be awestruck by the main character and miss him by the end.

    Blurb: Candidly written, the author reminds readers that there is more than one way to lose someone.

  • Shadow & Poison

    by J.B. Curry

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: J.B. Curry writes a fascinating novel that takes apart numerous literary conflicts, including character versus self, man versus nature, and man against man. In the same manner as Frankenstein, the book fabricates a sheer line between the natural and the manmade and cautions against an engineered society.

    Prose/Style: The author models her prose after the book’s title, where the words are as intangible as the wind—something unable to grasp yet absorbed by one’s senses. The descriptions are wispy and fleeting with a smoothness that elicits the same lulling sensation as Eliza’s fragrance.

    Originality: Curry successfully sets her story in the midst of the Prohibition Era, where there is an already established atmosphere of secrecy and crime. Just as H.H. Holmes scoured the World's Columbian Exposition, Curry devises mythical creatures to terrorize the fair’s second revival.

    Character Development/Execution: The author sympathizes with her characters, lending a similar compassion to readers. By creating a storyline about acceptance, Curry challenges the way physical appearance is often associated with humanness, in order to grant her characters dignity.

  • Alaska Inferno

    by LoLo Paige

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: In a detailed, winding storyline, Liz Harrington doesn’t expect to rekindle a romance that has been over for almost a year when she attends a wedding for a fellow Alaska firefighter. But there is Jon Silva— the man with three failed marriages to his credit — at the mic crooning a love song, and all of the old feeling come back. Later on, as Jon has been promoted to a federal fire inspector, and while Liz fights a series of devastating fires in the Alaska wilderness and Jon tries to figure out who set them, the inevitability of their relationship overcomes their reservations, the unwelcome presence of an ex-wife, and the challenge of Liz’s new role as owner of an exotic dance club in Vegas.

    Prose/Style: True to its genre, this novel is vastly rich in descriptions of the setting, the events that transpire, and the protagonists’ reactions.

    Originality: In this second book in her Blazing Hearts Wildfire Series, Paige presents an unusual setting for romance and makes Liz, as well as Jon, equal to the task of fighting wildfires, one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Fires and romance smolder in tandem here, both threatening to overcome the lovers. The story is greatly enhanced by Paige’s real-life experience as a wildland firefighter in Montana.

    Character Development/Execution: Through Paige’s detailed, explicit description of the protagonist’s thoughts and feelings, the reader gets to know Liz and John so well they feel like family friends.

    Blurb: This is no damsel-in-distress romance as wildland firefighter Liz Harrington forges a relationship with fire inspector, and one-time old flame, Jon Silva.

  • The Cracks Between Us

    by Caitlin Moss

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: Moss creates a pure yet disheartening story of the unspoken burdens of motherhood. As the book shows how a disconnected marriage is no different than neglect, The Cracks Between Us reflects the political issues of second-wave feminism—the ’60s movement that analyzed a woman’s role within their personal lives. Moss’ book is a tale of a woman who defines her existence outside the housewife role, as she challenges society’s metrics for feminine success.

    Prose/Style: Moss’ scenarios throughout her chapters thrust the reader into isolation, into the residue of a hollow marriage. Her profound yet faint interactions reveal a slow, marital dissolve, while hinting that a broken relationship happens in fragmented disappointments that lead to disinterest. The structure of the piece, which shifts from chapters entitled “Then” and “Now,” eventually trims the chapters on the past, as if to close in on all Aila has left: the present.

    Originality: Moss refuses to romanticize love the way some authors do. Instead, she shows love in its imperfect state, the beginnings and the endings. She chooses to write about the phases that follow the trite, undeniable spark and instead, creates a laborious story where a couple works to preserve their flame.

    Character Development/Execution: The novel’s initial setting, a therapy room, appropriately places the reader in a purgatory between Aila’s subconscious and conscious mind. Moss successfully composes a palette of emotions, as her character comes to terms with her silent suffering.

  • Love Stories in Africa

    by Beatrice Cayzer

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: Any novel that begins with the sentence, “My husband was murdered in Darfur three months ago,” is bound to be eventful, and this one is, involving starving orphan children, AIDS, do-gooders, racism, trafficking in stolen human organs and ova, kidnapping, a nunnery in the middle of the desert, and sex, both violent and consensual. But in the end, this is at its core a story of colonialism and implicitly of white supremacy. Cayzer is the daughter of a U.S. Ambassador-at-Large whose first mission was to Ethiopia.

    Prose/Style: The prose is compelling and accessible, although the unfortunate use of pidgin for most Black characters in the story feels distracting and not entirely successful.

    Originality: The story, set in contemporary times, is told by Ella Phelps, widow of the heartless victim at the beginning of the novel. About a quarter of the way through the book, Ella discovers a schoolgirl’s diaries and Cayzer uses that device to relate historical and invented events that occurred in Africa between 1930 and 1946.

    Character Development/Execution: Throughout the novel, Ella is a consistent character who faces myriad challenges with aplomb and an attitude of detachment.

  • Changed

    by Carrie Thorne

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: This enjoyable and steamy paranormal romance does a great job hitting all the beats of a fun, attention-grabbing adventure. The sexual tension between the leads, the vampire mythology, and the conflicts affecting the main and secondary characters are believable, well-plotted, and intriguing. The scenes move swiftly and the book could benefit from some length, but is definitely a credit to the genre.

    Prose/Style: Thorne does a great job writing quippy, realistic dialogue, especially the romantic banter between the hero and heroine and the dialogue between the members of the main cast. The action scenes are fast-paced, ratcheting up the tension and conflicts to keep the story moving at a swift but believable pace. The sex scenes are provocative without feeling cliche or gratuitous. At times, the paranormal mythology can get a bit overcrowded with characters, but the overall arc is an impressive reimagining of popular tropes of the genre.

    Originality: The second installment in Thorne's series is a sexy, inventive addition to the paranormal romance genre. This fun, steamy novel keeps readers on the edge of their seats--and rooting for the hero and heroine--from start to finish.

    Character Development/Execution: The hero and heroine are both complex, fully developed characters who have terrific chemistry, both emotionally and physically. The secondary characters, even ones who appear briefly, are distinct and engaging. One particular highlight is the main villain, who is well-developed and doesn't veer into caricature.

  • The Art of Three

    by Erin McRae & Racheline Maltese

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: The romance duo Erin McRae and Racheline Maltese normalize unconventional relationships with their modern love story, The Art of Three. The book challenges what it means to love without hidden agenda or timidity. Shedding traditional objections to sexuality, the authors dwell on how dignity is not a right to be earned—it’s intrinsically human.

    Prose/Style: In a book devoted to communication, The Art of Three busies itself with banter that feels like an intrusion on private moments. The often comical, spoken thoughts between characters give a vitality to ordinary life.

    Originality: Maltese and McRae are relatively focused on identity, and their characterization supports this. Jamie wears a charming naivety, yet Callum and Nerea reflect beings aged but not outdated. Compassion radiates between the characters, resulting in an unavoidable contagion.

    Character Development/Execution: There are many moments in The Art of Three that engage with society’s framework of “othering,” a process that has polluted history. The representation of sexuality and disability cautions against alienation, by creating characters that are perfectly unique.

  • Rachel From the Edge

    by Gregory Urbach

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: The plot here is engrossing to the point where the reader will not want to stop reading. The premise is original and gripping, and the first few pages will simply hook the audience. The plot is fast-paced and stark but works effectively.

    Prose/Style: The author is an extremely talented writer. Description here is sparse, which helps keep the story moving at a clipped pace, but at times a little more detail would be helpful.

    Originality: This work is singular and unique. The premise is intriguing and unexpected, and the reader can't help but keep reading in anticipation for the next development and final resolution of the story.

    Character Development/Execution: The author does a great job with characterization, making each come alive on the page, even Daniel who is already dead by the time the story opens. However, Daniel's ex-wife Pamela pushes the edges of extremism and could use a tiny bit more restraint in her character development.

  • Plot: Despite the complexities littered throughout this tale, Finding Faith reads like the honeymoon stage of a relationship. It’s filled with laughter, an idealized reality, and an endless craving for the story to continue. Luke’s and Mary’s love offers a temporary euphoria that shows romance is sometimes found where it is least expected.

    Prose/Style: Baker’s dialogue has the capacity to reflect the diction of a thirty-year-old and a five-year-old, encompassing a wide range of perspectives. Amy’s and Chase’s imperfect sputters and continual deviance paint an authentic picture of children's behavior.

    Originality: The Christmas setting nearly typecasts this book with all the novelistic qualities of a Hallmark movie. The honeyed beginning and equally passionate ending provide a childish delight that kindles the spirit of a hopeless romantic.

    Character Development/Execution: With an opening line that is both assertive and striking, the book begins with a strong narrator who claims her own story. As Mary tells her past, she becomes vulnerable with those in her life and her readers.

  • The Next Day

    by Carrie Thorne

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: Carrie Thorne writes her romance The Next Day as a note on survival and how others can aid that course. It is sensual, playful, and tender. With a bit of dramatic irony, the reader feels privy to the anticipated outcome, while watching the characters grasp the ending to their own stories.

    Prose/Style: The author pleasantly blends dialogue with the characters’ perspectives into a natural pacing that mimics real life. In the moments of intimacy, the language sometimes becomes stale and would benefit from fresh descriptions. However, the dialogue is short and clipped, capturing the conversational style used in everyday life.

    Originality: Despite the alternating perspectives, Thorne’s book encompasses all the qualities of women’s fiction. With the occasional critique of gender norms, it introduces subtle feminism and departs from the accepted romance trope of a female character pining for love—introducing an equal relationship where both individuals are mutually independent.

    Character Development/Execution: Guided primarily through an internal monologue, readers become voyeurs of the characters' troubled pasts. Thorne crafts characters that are emotionally guarded yet equally fierce. The book focuses on an exploration of truth, while portraying steady, personal growth.

  • Exit through Tortuga Bay

    by Alicia Crofton

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: Grace, somewhat timid and very inexperienced, is responsible for a disabled aunt. When she finds the courage to take the business trip to Costa Rica her company offered, she encounters Noah at the airport on her arrival in San José. Two hundred kilos of someone else’s coke in the back of his van, an older brother idiotic enough to get involved with a cartel and cougars persistently in his bed, 22-year-old Noah meets Grace at just the moment when he does not need any more complications in his life. But Noah is smitten, and before she knows what is happening Grace—and readers—are caught up in his mission to evade the drug cartel and get his life on a track he chooses for himself, and he is trying to help her break out of her preconceived notions of what her life must be.

    Prose/Style: Crofton delivers an extremely readable story—great for a long winter evening by the fire or a day at the beach.

    Originality: In Book Two in her Escape in Paradise series, Crofton is especially adept at capturing the conversational interplay between characters who are not sure of each other, or of themselves.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters here are well-delineated and diverse, from Grace’s boss Jane, a cougar with her eye on Noah, to Noah and his younger brother Kai who are trying to do the right thing. Noah nearly assumes the role of therapist with Grace to help her move forward.

  • Unveiling Beulah

    by Dana Wayne

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: Charming and evenly paced, the action and twists occur at the right places to keep the reader engaged in this tasteful romance. The author gives the main character a scar that affects her life in a negative way; while the author uses this device in the story, it feels forgotten about as the plot develops and the climax ensues. The reader anticipates that the scar will play a bigger role in the story; however, this does not deter from the entertainment the story provides.

    Prose/Style: Well-written and easy to read, the author has created suspense at the end of each chapter, catapulting the reader forward. The language and dynamics are true to the time period in which the story is written.

    Originality: Clearly well-researched, the characters and action stay true to the time period. The romance in the story feels simple and classy. Mixing romance with a bit of suspense is a fresh take,  as the reader gets to see the characters interact in ways other than anticipated.

    Character Development/Execution: Taking place in 1879, when women’s roles were emerging and beginning to change, the characters here are true to the time period and grow throughout the story. While the main character has a facial scar, she does not let it deter her but seems to use it to help others as she is not nearly as perfect as another character believes herself to be. This contrast between the two characters creates an interpersonal tension that is satisfying to the reader.

  • Forrest for the Trees

    by Kilby Blades

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: Starting off at a brisk pace, the story is told in alternating perspectives between the main male and female characters. While the mystery escalates at a good pace and the romance heats up, the resolution to the suspense begins to circle confusing the reader until the outcome is revealed. A heartwarming ending is satisfying and brings closure for the reader.

    Prose/Style: Well-written and rich in dialogue, the conversation between the characters feels natural with an organic tone that allows the reader to understand how the characters feel about each other. The author reflects the forest and park setting well and makes the reader feel a part of the environmental experience.

    Originality: The setting is refreshing and the readers will feel among the trees with the characters. There is no doubt that this situation could happen in a National or State park among rangers.

    Character Development/Execution: Because it is told in alternating perspectives, the characters are well-developed and their personalities shine through. Forrest starts out gruff and egotistical but softens as the book progresses and his love for Sierra grows. Sierra is no different—she too starts off guarded but is a humanitarian. She transforms as she falls for the other ranger and lets down her guard. The characters here are clever, and prove to have good problem-solving skills.

  • Freedom River

    by Claire Sanders

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: Freedom River follows two tales from different worlds: the enslaved and the oppressors. Told largely from the omniscient view of abolitionist Constance Drake, the author uses the protagonist as a force of harmless innocence, in order to teach of the atrocities in practice and not just conversation. The woman-centered narrative offers a humbling account from another class—a group that was not equally subordinated but still fighting for their own suffrage.

    Prose/Style: Readers will marvel at the figurative language in this book, where similes furnish every plain description. Intricately detailed sentences flecked with strong verbs only accentuate the engaging content. With a theme that could be critiqued as easily as Huckleberry Finn, the author is cautious about the language used to probe such a sensitive topic.

    Originality: In an article about fictional representation, Zadie Smith once said, “It’s natural that we should fear and be suspicious of representations of us by those who are not like us....But in our justified desire to level or even obliterate the old power structures…we can, sometimes, forget the mystery that lies at the heart of all selfhood.” The current #OwnVoices movement propels this notions, but Sanders does not attempt to become the voice for the oppressed. Her white protagonists may arguably steal the focus from the enslaved, by making the plot about the abolitionists’ good deeds and not the affected victims. But this focus excuses the author from misrepresentation, by sharing how that time spawned racial ignorance and injustice.

    Character Development/Execution: As characters repent for their transgressions, the plot exhibits a remorseful narrative with characters that evolve with the story. However, the book should be wary about the way it sympathizes with its characters and their acts, which some would deem unforgivable. As the narration enters the slave hunters’ minds, the book may benefit from a neutral narrator that corrects its subjects, the same way Jane Austen’s narrator offers a frank and critical description of Emma. This voice would soften the sometimes candid sentiments.

  • Lady August

    by Becky Michaels

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: This well-paced historical romance has a strong main conflict that drives the emotional and physical bonds formed by the main characters. A number of mini-conflicts that the primary and secondary characters experience take narrative time away from the main love story, while some seem introduced and too quickly resolved. Serious subjects are woven into the romantic narrative with care and help to propel and not overwhelm the main happily-ever-after.

    Prose/Style: Michaels uses the authentic language of the Regency romance period well, yet at certain points, more modern terms/phrases interrupt the prose's flow. The intimate scenes are passionately written; they do feel a bit rushed and, again, contain a few too many contemporary terms.

    Originality: Michaels's engaging historical romance mixes several popular tropes of the genre, but succeeds in adding some truly distinct (and believable) twists along the way. The addition of an excess of conflicts threatens to overwhelm the narrative, but Michaels manages to resolve them neatly, if maybe a bit too quickly.

    Character Development/Execution: The main characters have strong chemistry, which is enhanced by powerful physical and emotional connections. The heroine does, at times, feel uneven; she starts off as a strong-willed, bolder-than-usual Regency protagonist, but seems to lose some of that individuality in the second half of the novel. The hero is a complex, distinct character, reflecting a refreshing intellectual bent. The supporting characters are well-rounded and effectively help propel the main romantic narrative forward.

  • First Quiver

    by Beth C. Greenberg

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: Strong characters move the action long in this witty romp. This first installment is well-researched and fills in the gaps for the reader who is unfamiliar with Greek mythology. The main character having to choose between love and duty proves engaging and entertaining along the racy ride.

    Prose/Style: The author has a flair for keeping a quirky tone and wit throughout the story. Between intentional word choice and tone, the author has created an outlandish and creative story.

    Originality: This book presents a clever mix of romance, fantasy, and mythology that is well-researched and gives the reader enough background to understand the motivations and backstories of characters.

    Character Development/Execution: The colorful and quirky characters are witty and keep the storyline lively. Even though the main character may be unsophisticated at times, his charm and wit carry the plot.

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