The Dark Space by Mary Ann Rivers & Ruthie Knox

DarkSpace-500x750I've read all of Mary Ann Rivers and Ruthie Knox's previous books, but I really didn't know what to expect from The Dark Space. I particularly didn't know if Brain Mill Press's "love books for humans" could actually satisfy my romance loving heart.

The Dark Space is the story of Cal and Winnie, college seniors at a nameless smallish midwestern liberal arts college. Winnie is a wallflower, quietly observing but not belonging, bitter that all the things she wanted to happen and expected to happen to her at college never have.

Cal is a skinny, pushy professor's kid, too at home on campus, killing time till graduation and his dream of aimless slacker life in California. For their last semester they are both taking an extremely popular elective open only to seniors, Contact Improv, colloquially known around campus as "the Make-out class". Cal is eager, obnoxiously so, for the opportunities this class might give him. Winnie is reluctant and skeptical. The class is and is not what they expect it to be but it transforms them. The story takes a metaphysical/woo turn, when Cal and Winnie's energies collide and they become somewhat psychically linked, able to transmit their desires to each other. This bond, that Winnie terms The Dark Space, draws them toward each other, and other people. Their exploration of that magic, of its boundaries, its mutability, its permanence becomes the spark of their love story.


I'm in love with Cal Darling, and my love isn't beautiful or good in itself, but our love will lead us to beauty and truth. Our love will be the helper of our better natures.

Plato said it.

Professor Darling said it.

But what matters is that when I said it, Calvin Darling said yes.

The Dark Space veered off well-trod romance paths to become a different kind of story but I still enjoyed it for the most part. Although the story has a romantic arc, it did not feel like a romance, even if the climax of the story was a climax. It was really a story about self-discovery and self-love fueled by a love affair.

While Cal and Winnie are together happily at the end of the story, that was not the HEA. The HEA is the transformation they have experienced, the assurance Cal and Winnie have within themselves about how to move through life & the joy they have chosen to experience together.

The Dark Space occasionally got too woo and abstract for me, with its talk of energies, and inner lights and reflections on the nature of love. I was turned off by how privileged Winnie and Cal are in their college experience and how little acknowledgement of that is given by Rivers and Knox even when Cal and Winnie continually reflect on their college experience.

The Dark Space does captures well the fantasy of the final college semester, of a time that is supposed to be both the ending something and the beginning something and people search for ways to make it meaningful.

My favorite part of the whole book was Becky Mailer Darling. Becky is Cal's mom, who tells somewhat uncomfortable, somewhat awkward yet tender comforting stories. No one in the book really deserves how much she loves them, and I was a little heartbroken when she breezily summarizes her somewhat painful life, into brief paragraph. I wanted to pick her up out of this story and give her a better one.

In the end The Dark Space was an interesting, somewhat challenging book that had a stronger romantic arc than I expected.

I received a review copy of The Dark Space from Brain Mill Press.


The Lady Taken, part 1 by Vivienne Thorne

Lady Killane is a widowed countess. Since her husband's death she has concentrated on two things, building up her wealth through shrewed investments in factories and pursuing pleasure. She is on her way to a scandalous house party with her soon to be ex-lover when a group of highwaymen stop her carriage. 

Wolf, the lead highway man, is tall, dark and powerful. He is intrigued by Lady Killane, enjoying her witty, cutting banter and her efforts to shock him rather than cower. Not satisfied with the jewelry and petty cash they found in the carriage,  Wolf and his men take Lady Killane hostage. He is happy to enjoy Lady Killane's attentions while he waits to see if someone will pay ransom for her.

It was an intriguing introduction.  I liked the heroine because she seemed like a female version of classic romance Rake, wealthy, jaded & sexually experienced. Like most Rakes, she has a dark past. Her late wealthy older husband saved her from exploitative family members but now she must make her own way in the world without his protection. She is fiercely protective of her financial independence and sensitive to any man's efforts to exploit her financially.

Told exclusively from Lady Killane's POV, Wolf's motivations and his intentions toward Lady Killane beyond sexual interest are obscure.

I have only read the 1st of the 5 planned installments I don't feel like I have enough of the story to judge it fully, only its promise. It was an enjoyable read with potential.  If you are looking for the adventures of Victorian female industrialist and the man who captured her each installment of The Lady Taken  is currently priced at .99 cents. 

I received a review copy of The Lady Taken Part 1 from the author, Vivienne Thorne.


Christmas Eve: A Love Story by Molly O'Keefe

Sometime in late May, Molly O'Keefe sent me a copy of the Sweet Talk Boxed Set  (still available for only $2.99) she was participating in.  I immediately jumped to the back to read O'Keefe's story. I meant to go back and read the rest of the novels included in this charity boxed set (proceeds from the set go to the Diabetes Research Institute via Brenda Novak’s Online Auction for Diabetes Research), because a lot of the names were familiar but I got sidetracked reading other more ARCs and I am sorry about that because I still haven't had time to go back and read the rest. So I'm just going to give up and review the one story I read because it was really great.

Christmas Eve: A Love Story by Molly O'Keefe

Trina and Dean have known each other all their lives.  When they were younger their parents were friends, and they were always in each other's houses but over the years their parents' friendship fractured painfully and dramatically.  Dean and Trina's story is told through a series of Christmas Eve encounters over a 12 year period, where they circle around each other as they grow into adults, leave home & come back ,all while trying to negotiate their broken relationships with their parents. Theirs is a story of growing up & owning up. The difficult and painful pairing of repentance and forgiveness is at the heart of their love story. 

I loved seeing Trina and Dean grown up, grow apart and then find their way back to each other again.  O'Keefe deals frankly with the frustrating and difficult work of dealing with parents who have hurt and disappointed.  The way Trina and Dean come together, fall apart and come back together was beautiful and believable.  I will definitely be revisiting this story when the Christmas holidays roll around again. 

 

 


Serving Pleasure by Alisha Rai

DownloadRana Malik is a new woman. After her little sister Devi found love with not just one man but two (Glutton for Pleasure, book one in the Pleasure series and currently free), she decided it was time to make some changes in her life.  No more impulsive dates or casual affairs with "unsuitable" men, she is dating with a purpose. While she doesn't want  to date any of her mother's handpicked candidates from Indian matrimonial sites, she is determinedly looking to date the right kind of man, the kind you marry. However she is supplementing her diet of boring dates and a year of celibacy with some voyeuristic perving on her new artist neighbor. Every night she settles in to her bed darkened room to watch him paint in his curtain-less studio. She know it is wrong, but she can't stop doing it.

Micah Hale feels shredded. It has been two years since an attack stole his appetite for life and quite possibly his art. He has moved an ocean away from his friends and parents to escape their watchful wary gazes. But there is one person's gaze he inexplicably doesn't mind.   He spotted her watching him weeks ago and instead of outraging him it arouses him. Instead of buying curtains or confronting her, he decides to provoke her.

When Micah and Rana finally meet face to face, they are combustible, fueled by naked, raw desire. They know that they have crossed lines, they have inflamed each other's lusts, and they can't turn away from each other. I love the " we are all wrong for each other, so this is just a fling" stories, because they tend to be stories of discovery.  Micah and Rana think they know what they want, what they need and what they can give but as they spend time with each other they discover they might have been all wrong.

Alisha Rai writes fun, emotional and scalding erotic romance that explore themes of identity, perception and acceptance. In Serving Pleasure, Rai takes a couple from a lustful collision to burning love. They build intimate emotional bonds with each other despite their determination not to.  They have to confront and evaluate the way they think about themselves and how they have let how  they think others see them define and control how they behave.  She unpacks these complex relationships with humor, wit and  sexiness.   I love that two people who thought they brought the worst in each other are pushed to become their better selves.  

I received a review copy of Serving Pleasure from Alisha Rai via NetGalley.


The Brightest Day: A Juneteenth Historical Romance Anthology with stories by Lena Hart, Kianna Alexander, Piper Hugley & Alyssa Cole

The stories in this historical romance anthology move forward through American history from 1866, post-Civil War New York City through to 1961, Civil Rights Era Virginia. They are stories about finding and nurturing love in the face of adversity and oppression. The stories in The Brightest Day are tied together by references to celebrations of Juneteenth.  Juneteeth celebrations commemorate July 19th, 1865, the last of the Freedom days, when slaves in Galveston, TX finally received their freedom. The celebration of that day spread beyond Texas to different black communities around the United States.  The stories express the diversity of African American experience in the United States and get better and better as you move through the anthology. 

Amazing Grace by Lena Hart:  In post-Civil War New York a young black woman, Grace Shaw, agrees to an arranged marriage to a wealthy Montana miner she has never met in order to provide for her family. On her way West, she falls in love with the last person she expects. Logan Foley is looking to start over for the second time in his life. Once the half-Mexican bastard son of white plantation owner, he reinvented himself as teenager, when he father claimed him as a heir. Now he is starting over again, moving West to Colorado to homestead, abandoning his father's ruined plantation and his slave owning past. Logan and Grace meet by chance but are tied together in ways they don't expect.

The romance centers on identity and intentions.  Both Grace and Logan must both come to terms with the choices they have made in order to secure their futures and please their families. These choices turned into bad ones that place them in difficult situations with lasting life consequences. Logan has the most to overcome as his slave owning past nearly cost him Grace's love. I enjoyed this story even though it felt compressed. There was certainly enough material & conflict to justify more pages. I didn't feel we spent enough time with Grace and Logan to fully develop why they fell for one another beyond their instant awareness and attraction but I still believe that they have what it takes to make a life together.

Drifting to You by Kianna Alexander: A prominent black Fayetteville family inaugurates their new boat with a celebratory Juneteeth Cruise of Cape Fear,NC in 1875. The family contracts Rosaline Rhodes a successful and hard-working baker to provide her famed spice cake for the outing. Having Rosaline on board all day provides Will Pruett, the local shipbuilder with the opportunity to finally let Rosaline know of his feelings for her. But Will Pruett is not the only one interested in courting Rosaline and soon Rosaline will have to choose.

I thought this books did a very good job addressing the social tensions within the black community post-Civil War. There is stigma to having been born a slave, and Rosaline for however much she has raised herself up, still faces that. I did feel however that I was dropped into the middle of a story, as Rosaline and Will have been denying their attraction for good long while and are only really getting started by the end of the story. There was also several interesting secondary characters who seem ripe for stories of their own.

A Sweet Way to Freedom by Piper Hugley: It is 1910 and Missouri "Missy" Baxter the pride of Milford and the first black teacher in Winslow, GA can no longer hide she is in "a family way". Arlo Tucker is the sweet-talking good-time man responsible for her condition.  Missy is determined not succumb to his charms again, less she be disappointed again. Arlo has always been able to evade responsibilities and emotional entanglements but for the first time he doesn't want to be let off the hook.  He wants Missy and wants to do right by her, and he needs to figure out away to convince her to give him another chance.

I just loved this story. I was crying for Missy and Arlo after the first few pages.  I strongly felt their conflicted emotions.  Arlo is full of fear, sure that he will only bring Missy pain, and Missy is hurt, determined not to be a fool again. Despite the fear and hurt they do truly love one another and I loved how they come to show each other forgiveness and grace. Hugely is fantastically skilled at characterization.  The large cast of secondary characters making up the Winslow community are all distinct and well developed without stealing focus from Arlo and Missy. I already have a one of Hugley's novels in my TBR, and will been pushing it toward the top of the queue.

Let it Shine by Alyssa Cole: Sofronia "Sofie" Wallis has done her best since her mother's death to be the good girl her father desperately wants her to be. She quieted her voice, she has lowered her eyes and done her best not to run into trouble. As the struggle of the Civil Rights movement is brought close to home, she longer feels that being quiet and meek is going to protect her and she is motivated to go against her father's wishes and join the non-violent protest movement.  Ivan Friedman has never forgotten Sofronia, he remembers vividly the hours they spent together at children.  To him she shines as brightly as always and he doesn't want leave her side again even if the whole world looks at them with derision. 

This story had great internal and external conflict and the way Sofie and Ivan interact was fantastic. I believed the intensity of their attraction, their awareness of the tension and danger they face by reconnecting.  I had previously read the epilogue to this story (it has been published on Cole's blog as part of a Hanukkah blog hop this past winter) but it was even more meaningful and beautiful after reading the rest of their story.

While I think the last two stories in the Anthology are certainly the strongest, the anthology as whole was enjoyable and worth reading. It was well balanced, and provided a great journey and I will be on the lookout for more books by these authors .

 


The Girl Next Door (Bend or Break #3) by Amy Jo Cousins

811EYqcZ1iL._SL1500_This is book three of Amy Jo Cousins's mixed/crossover NA series Bend or Break for Samhain. I have not read the first two books which were M/M, and while some past conflicts and events are referenced the book stands well on it own. 

Cash is a former rich/jock/party boy who has radically remade his life. He left a job at his dad's firm, leaving the fancy car and downtown condo behind, to go work his dream job. He has been working in the inner city coaching kids for little more than minimum wage for two years and generally just working very hard at doing things the right way.  He has never felt like the smartest kid in the room, but is very aware of how massively privileged he has been in life, so he is doing his best to do something worthwhile and real.  But his life is complicated by the surprise arrival of his runaway gay teen cousin.  He doesn't want to screw things up further for his cousin, so he calls on his best friends Tom and Reese  for help. Tom and Reese urge him to call Steph. 

Steph is the reason for Cash's life change only she doesn't know it. She broke his heart when she ended their friends with benefits arrangement, to pursue a relationship with a closeted Muslim girl their last year of college together.  Although it has been two years since Cash and Steph have had any real contact when Cash needs help she drops everything to help him. 

I liked how quickly Steph and Cash fell back into their old habits of sexual flirtation and interest and how that was both very good (in bed) and very bad (emotionally) for them.  Their sexual compatibility and interest has never been an issue, but falling into bed together easily just masks their inability to honestly confront and talk about their feelings for one another. They are both playing the same game, hoping not to be hurt if they don't push for more and if they don't define what they are doing together.  The what-are-we-doing-but-I-want-more conversation between Steph and Cash gets pushed back into the background for a very long time, but once they do have it is spectacular. I loved how big and out of control their conversation became.  It felt like just the kind of friendship-splitting fight that could and would happen if a couple have been dancing around each other emotionally for months.

I liked the book as a whole a lot, particularly the exploration of the complicated ways friendship/relationships rules develop. There was an incredibly hot threesome (mentioned in the blurb) that I thought was fantastically executed but that I struggled somewhat to make sense of story wise. In talking to a friend about it I  realized that I might have been carrying some Erom expectations into this book as I don't usually read NA.  I had expected the threesome to serve as challenge or confirmation for Cash and Stephany and their relationship. But they were at the same place emotionally at the end of the threesome as they were at the beginning.  Cash trusts Steph and is blown away by her sexual adventurousness.  And it did not turn into a relationship test. What we do see is what a loving, tender and all around good guy Cash is by the way he treats Varun through out. We also see a continued exploration of Cash's straight but not narrow sexuality. However the threesome might have been pivotal for Varun and I'm curious if it will be revisited in Varun's book.  

Despite the story being told exclusively from Cash's point of view the story sometimes felt crowded. While Steph is first and foremost in  Cash's mind, his life is complicated. He is trying to figure out how to make his budget balance, how to take care of his cousin, how to do well at his job, how to be a good friend and at the same time figure out how to keep Steph in his life however much distance and artificial obstacles she wants to put between them. I thought his realization of how to finally achieve that was wonderful and true to his character and I can only wish Cash and Steph many many years of happiness.

I received a review copy of The Girl Next Door from the author, Amy Jo Cousins.


Joint Review of Darling Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt: A conversation with Elisabeth J Lane

Today, I am over at Cooking up Romance talking about Darling Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt with Elisabeth. Elisabeth is big Hoyt fan but had fallen behind in her reading of the Maiden Lane series.  I  have read most Hoyt's Prince books but had never read any of the Maiden Lane books. Together we talk about what worked and didn't work for us.

After reading Darling Beast with Elisabeth, I went on to read Elizabeth Hoyt's Dearest Rogue. I can't wait to hear with Elisabeth has to say when she read that one!

 

 


Recent Reads: Nalini Singh, Carolyn Crane, Joanna Bourne & Julie James

Shards of Hope by Nalini Singh:  This is the 14th novel in Singh's sprawling Psy-Changeling series.  In this installment Singh is laying the groundwork for new threats to the stability of the Psy-Changeling world while tying off loose ends from the first fall of the silence story-arc .  However the romance between the two long-time Arrows partners is always center stage. I loved the friends to lovers dynamic been Zaira and Aden.  I loved the over-the-top deeply possessive, blunt, fierce and unfiltered dialogue she gave to Zaira. Both Aden and Zaira have blood on their hands, guilty consciences but deeply love one another.   I am very eager to see where Singh goes next in the Psy-Changeling universe.

Aden was groomed by his parents to be the perfect rebel, but he surpassed their meager expectations to become the undisputed leader of the Arrows, winning their total loyalty by freeing  them from those who sought to use them as a disposable & mindless killing squad.  But Aden also wants to lead them to a new future where the group created to be the guardians of Silence, learn to live full lives and truly become a family. Many fear this change and are uncertain how to move forward.  He must make plans for a new future while facing new threats from within and without.

Aden know he can't forge a new future for the Arrows without  Zaira at his side. Their friendship was forged when he reached out to care for her feral, dangerous, abused child abandoned to the cruel hands of the Arrow trainers.  Zaira survived and pledged herself to always proetect Aden but she questions her sanity and fitness to live in a post-Silence world.  Aden must work to convince Zaira that she is precious and the only person he wants as his partner and mate, despite her wounded soul. 

Behind the Mask by Carolyn Crane: When her twin sister is traded to the head of a drug cartel, Zelda, a retired CIA agent reluctantly returns to the field to take her sister's place & infiltrate the cartel. The assignment does not go as planned when she is traded to El Gorrion. Zelda is then unexpectedly rescued & taken captive by Hugo Martinez. Zelda suspects Hugo to be Kabakas, a mythical vigilante she once obsessively hunted. Hugo and Zelda must overcome mutual suspicion and compromising attraction to protect the town of Buena Vista from El Gorrion. 

Carolyn Crane continues to impress in her 4th Undercover Associates book.  Crane delivers pulse-pounding action and suspense while skillfully developing a complex & intensely erotic romance that packs an emotional punch.  Crane clearly communicates character motivations and vulnerabilities. Her dark, emotionally and physically wounded heroes and heroines act believably in extreme circumstances, even while falling in love with the wrong people at worst time.

The Spymaster's Lady by Joanna Bourne: Annique "The Fox's cub" is a legendary French spy facing an impossible choice when she becomes guardian to ruinous war plans coveted by everyone. Trapped and facing torture from one her despicable superiors, she teams up with Grey, an English spymaster  imprisoned in the same dungeon.  Their alliance is brief and fraught, and they develop deeply intimate but impossible relationship.   Both Grey and Annique are passionate, patriotic professionals who are nearly torn apart by their dangerous game of cat and mouse.

I had heard very good things about this series, but I was still blown away.  The layers and layers of subterfuge, betrayal and  pain Annique uncovered took my breath away. Bourne set up fantastic internal and external conflicts for this couple to overcome and I was a sucker for their star-crossed, enemies to lovers story. The supporting cast was fascinating too so  I will definitely be reading the rest of this series.

Suddenly One Summer by Julie James:  Victoria Slade, a highly successful but cynical divorce lawyer needs a new place to live when panic attacks triggered by a recent unsuccessful home invasion start interfering with her sleep and everyday routines.  Ford Dixon is doing his best to keep busy, diving deep into his investigative reporting work and remodeling his apartment to avoid dealing with his grief over his recently deceased alcoholic father. When Victoria temporarily moves in next door to Ford, sparks fly but they get off on the wrong foot. However they end up teaming up to help Ford's sister with a sensitive issue that requires both their skill sets. 

I love Julie James's Chicago based FBI/US Marshall series.  The series has been one big breezy ball of banter-y competence porn. Her heroes and heroines work hard, play hard and look good doing it. But while they look like they have everything together they are missing something crucial in their lives.  In some ways Ford and Victoria are no different.  Both are highly successful in their chosen careers, are surrounded by supportive friends and both are doing their best to not let their vulnerabilities show. However I really connected with the reasons behind Victoria's and Ford's commitment issues and they what they had to do to overcome them.  I particularly appreciated the positive depiction of therapy. I also thought that James did a great job presenting Victoria estrangement from her Cuban American family and indirectly from her Cuban American heritage. It rang very true, as I have seen it in my own family.


Venetia by Georgette Heyer

Ever since I started reading romance, I've been hearing people talk about Heyer. Georgette Heyer was a prolific writer of historical romances and she is frequently named checked by many current romance novelists and fans. I found it intimidating to even approach her booklist because of the sheer number of books on it. I kept postponing trying them. But recently I listened to Kat Mayo interview a Heyer scholar Jennifer Kloester, and it intrigued me enough to start actively thinking of reading one. The opportunity came last week as several of her novels were discounted for Kindle. I asked my Heyer-loving friends about a different Heyer novel and I was encouraged to read Venetia instead. I took that $1.99 plunge and bought a copy.

Venetia is the story of rake on the road to reformation and a sheltered miss that is not all shy, finding love against the wishes and good opinion of most everyone.

This is both a familiar and favorite plot for me. 

First of all the characters were fantastic.

Venetia is at 25 convinced  that she is very much on the shelf. All but buried in the countryside by her reclusive father, she has not enjoyed much in the way of company. She might be provincial in the sense that she has never traveled but she is bright, educated and curious. She has been raising her younger brother and managing the household from a very young age. She is confident, independent and self assured. She doesn't much worry about the inherent selfishness of her siblings or other trying people in her life, but she longs for affection and the joy of conversation with kindred spirit.

Lord Damerel is a confirmed rake. He threw away his reputation and family connections as very young man, eloping with a married woman several years his senior. He has lived in an exile of excess abroad for the majority of his life. Mounting debts and a decaying estate has finally brought him home. He takes refuge at his neglected country estate when his aunts set out restore his reputation when they pick out dowdiest woman of unimpeachable reputation in their circle for him to marry. While he is pleased to discover their is an avenue for his reputation to be restored he is not ready to commit to a loveless marriage to an "antidote". He is cynical, calculating, effortlessly charming and dangerously attractive.

Venetia's first encounter with Damerel is shocking. Picking blackberries on his land, unaware that he is in the neighborhood, Venetia is accosted by Damerel who doesn't realize she is a lady of good family. They have a fantastic argument about his advances, and the hypocrisy of his excuse. Venetia holds her own, sparring with him and he is deeply diverted. I'm a sucker for the rake who loves a challenge so I was immediately intrigued even if I was horrified by his non-consensual rakishness (the book was very accepting of this and other sexist behavior).

I very much enjoyed the lightly ironic tone of the narration. Everyone in the book is exposed to it, their foibles gently mocked. I found myself snickering along with Heyer over Damerel and Venetia's infatuation and loved how fate messed with their expectations. 

The supporting cast was large and amusing. I found myself loving Aubrey. Aubrey is Venetia's little brother. He is 18 or 17, on the verge of going off to Cambridge and obsessed with the classics. He has been lame since childhood, and is very sensitive about it. He hates the coddling and patronizing attitudes people have toward him. Like Venetia, he has a contrarian steak, and little regard for the opinions of others. If I wrote romance, I would love to write his story. He felt so real, and genuine, and not a plot device, even when it is his injury that serves to throw Venetia and Damerel together. I loved that he was a fully rounded character. Heyer really excelled in this  as no one, including the villains were one dimensional. Too often supporting characters are simply written as sequel bait, but these people felt legitimately interesting and I just wanted to see more of them.

One thing that I did find surprising was how passive Damerel is in this story. The story is centered on Venetia, and despite his rakish past, and his early exploits, Damerel almost entirely disappeared from the story about 2/3 of the way through the book. Even though Damerel is always the one calling out Venetia for her martyr tendencies, it is he that attempts to patronizingly conspire to sacrifice their future happiness. If not for Venetia's determination, he would have eventually simply drank himself (or whored) his way to oblivion after sending her away. I loved how clear-eye Venetia was about that. She loves him and is sure he loves her, but is not about to sit back at home hoping it will work out because she sees exactly how it won't work out. 

I was also surprised how messy the ending was. Although Venetia is able to resolve the conflicts necessary to ensure her HEA, many plot lines raised during the novel were left unresolved. I was left deeply curious about how other people's lives turned out.

I'll definitely be reading more Heyer in the future.

 


Sweet Agony by Charlotte Stein

71CjSOZuQbL._SL1500_Gothic in setting and naughty in tone, Sweet Agony was a delight. While Sweet Agony was clearly inspired by Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of Sherlock, Sweet Agony is much more. 

Molly Parker is a young but very determined woman.  She bluffs and retorts her way in to Cyrian Hanford's house to become his housekeeper, despite the many physical and emotional obstacles he puts in her way. The Gothic dark house, with it dark paneled rooms and odd corners is a refuge, its library a wonderland.

Cyrian Hanford is a reclusive repressed eccentric who is both awkwardly handsome and possessing of a cutting wit. He is secretive, deceptive but also generous and perceptive. Mr. Hanford at turns avoids Molly or baits her, seeking a way to push her out his life.  Molly persists however not only to see through his bluster but to recognize his goodness, kindness and his desire. 

Sweet Agony was incredibly funny and sexy. I found myself startling my family with my laughter and struggling to find a polite/family friendly way to explain it (there is really no good way to explain why a read-out-loud of pornographic Victorian text is hilarious, without mentioning that it was a pornographic Victorian text). Stein's trademark first person magic is used to great effect in this novel.  Limited as we are by Molly's knowledge we are held in supsense and discover along with her Cyrian's secrets.

While Cyrian and Molly are both sexually inexperienced they make up for it through curiosity and hunger. Their halting but scorching sexual encounters were great.  Molly and Cyrian might be mismatched in many ways with the vast gaps in their social class, education and personal wealth, but they value and treasure each other like no else would. They have both been horrifically hurt through neglect and abuse by their families of origin but in each other find kindred spirits, play and love.

 As with almost all my previous Stein books, I'm left wanting more, but I trust Cyrian and Molly to have a HEA that pleases them even if it confounds others.

 

Disclosure: I am friendly with Charlotte Stein on twitter/FB, and just love her distinctive voice. I received a review copy pf Sweet Agony from Ms. Stein.