Take Me by Bella Andre

I’ve read a few Bella Andre books prior to this one. They’re fun, easy reads; something you can curl up with and get lost in for a few entertaining hours. It was exactly what I was looking for when I picked up Take Me. (And by “picked up” I mean downloaded to my phone.)

“Lily Ellis has curves — soft, beautiful curves. The kind of voluptuous body she fears Travis Carson, the man she’s always loved from afar, would never crave. But Lily is about to be proven wrong. Her adventure begins when the demure San Francisco interior decorator agrees to model a plus-size dress for her fashion designer sister. Watching this sensual beauty move down the runway, Travis can’t believe it’s the same Lily he’s always known — and always rejected. In a whirlwind of electric attraction, Lily is soon moaning Travis’s name in his bed, not just in her wild fantasies. But Lily is all too aware that she’s nothing like his past lovers. Determined to beat Travis at his own game by guarding her true feelings, Lily partners with him on a business deal that takes them all the way to Italy. In the seductive warmth of the Tuscan sun, Lily plays a game of desire with the hot-blooded Travis. Will she be burned by an all-consuming ecstasy or will Travis open his heart to the sexy, exciting, and lasting love she has to offer?”

Books like this one are what keep me up until all hours of the morning. While I anticipated a fun, easy read, I got so much more than that. There was so much emotion and a depth to the characters I wasn’t expecting. My hands and feet were twitching all over the place.

(I should explain that, shouldn’t I? But how when I don’t even understand it myself? When I get really sucked into the emotion of a book, I get these not-quite-painful twinges in my hands and feet. I know. It’s weird. Whatev.)

We’ve touched on plus-sized heroines briefly in the past and while I was a little apprehensive when I realized Lily was just that, Ms. Andre pulled it off. It was lovely to watch Lily come out of her shell, stop dressing down, and finally take pride in her appearance. I know from first hand experience how easy it is to cover up when you’re feeling less than attractive. But there are pretty, flattering clothes for all body types and it’s amazing how wearing something pretty can make you feel pretty. And when you realize how much you like to feel pretty, you’ll want to keep feeling pretty. And, oh, it’s the start of all these wonderful habits! (Obviously, this is a topic more near and dear to my heart than I realized.)

And then there was Travis. That asshole. Well, only at first. Some of the best heartwrenching and emotional moments came while Travis was coming to terms with the loss of his parents, how it had made him lash out at Lily and keep everyone at arms length. (Men. They can be such dummies.) I admit, Travis caused me more than one wistful sigh while reading.

(Oh, and by the way, yes it is weird to read an erotic romance with a character that shares the same name as your kid brother. Shudder.)

While I did feel that the book was a teeny, tiny bit rushed at times, I was glad to not be left with any loose threads. It was a good book; fun, entertaining, totally sweet, and hot. And isn’t it the best when you read a book that, while maybe not totally perfect, is exactly what you wanted at the time? I just love that.

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I’ve really fucked up this time. A letter to my best friend.

Dear Jason,

I’ve been blogging for years but never about you. You and I… we share way too much history. Every time I tried to write about you, it turned into this really loooong, booooring post. I knew you’d hate that. Can’t I just say “he was my best friend” and expect people to understand? I mean, surely people know what that title entails. I could say “he’s been there for me through thick and thin” but, my God, that sounds horribly cheesy. I could say “we know each other so well we finish each other’s sentences” but that, too, is terribly lacking. It certainly doesn’t do our friendship justice.

Was there more than just friendship? I’m not sure I’ll ever know. Earlier, after telling my sister about all the drama, she asked me, “are you sure you were just friends?” After repeating the question 23 times, I finally sat back and really thought about it. I was unable to come up with answer. I finally looked at her and said, “I hope to God I’m not in love with him.”

I don’t think that passionate, all-consuming, happily-ever-after kind of love is what I feel for you. But God knows I can’t place you strictly in the “friend” category, either.

I’ve wanted to kiss you for years. WHAT THE HELL IS THAT ALL ABOUT?

But do I want more than that? I don’t think so. (Giant question mark.)

Do I want us to be friends for the rest of our lives? God, yes. More than anything. I can’t imagine a life without you in it. Who will I exchange terribly inappropriate insults with? Who will I complain to? Who will know what I’m trying to say even before I do?

Friday was just supposed to be about you… friends getting together to celebrate a new chapter in your life. A new job. A great job. One you’ve been deserving of for a very long time. Of course, there were drinks involved. I mean, that’s how we do it, right? In hindsight, there may have been too many drinks involved.

Everything was going great. Everyone was having a good time. The doorman of the bar was hitting on me. I didn’t get a chance to tell you about that. It was totally flattering. He asked for my number. Well, he asked me to ask him for his number. Or something like that. It’s been so long, I have no idea how people pick up on each other anymore. But he was 36. Yes, I asked. And while that’s so not old… I’m really hesitant about getting involved with anyone more than five years older than me. (You know better than anyone. That totally backfired on me last time.)

I don’t remember what time it was. I know it was getting late. The bar would be closing soon. We were standing next to each other, on the fringe of our group. Maybe we were about to say our goodbyes? We’ve worked together for so long… saying goodbye, watching you transfer to another property, it was really difficult for me. (I’ve never liked change and this one least of all.) Although, at the time, I believed our friendship would continue, despite you moving on. Oh, if only I had known…

I wish I would have said no to a couple of those drinks. I can’t remember a damn thing we said to each other. It’s all just a vague blur… a rough image in my head of where we standing… what we were saying. Did we confess to having feelings for each other? Feelings stronger than our several-years-long friendship?

I remember looking at your mouth. I wanted to kiss you. But then… I’ve wanted that for a long, very inappropriate amount of time. I never understood it… I never acted on it… but it was there. You’ve known.

Then… from what I can remember through the tequila haze… you said, “but nothing will ever happen.” And before I could stop them, twin tears coursed down my cheeks. How embarrassing. I am not, repeat NOT, an emotional drunk. It is something I take great pride in. Everyone who’s ever had drinks with me knows it. I am fun when I drink. I don’t get angry… and I certainly do not get emotional. Ugh. Emotional drunks are the absolute worst.

But, despite all that, the tears escaped. I retreated to the ladies room. I didn’t want witnesses, for crying out loud. I composed myself, wiped away the evidence. I blew my nose, fluffed my hair, applied lip gloss. Maybe I’d go flirt with the doorman some more.

When I rejoined the group, you were saying your goodbyes. We missed our chance at our own farewell. Your girlfriend… the one you’ve been living with for the last few years?… she approached me with a smile on her face, her arms wide open. As we hugged, she said, “If you tell my boyfriend you have feelings for him again, I’ll fuck you up.” (No, really, she said that.) (And despite having nearly a foot on her in height, I believe it.)

No one seems to recall what happened after I went into the bathroom. No one knows what you said to her. As inebriated as you were, I can only imagine.

You left the bar. We never said goodbye. Our friendship ended that night and I’m just as much to blame. I continued to cry. Kosta? He hugged me. No… he held me. I don’t know the last time I let someone hold me while I cried. But Kosta did. And then he kissed my cheek and took away my cell phone. I guess he knows me better than I gave him credit for.

It’s been two days since that night. We’ve exchanged a few awkward text messages. Earlier today, our friendship ended for good. And I get it. I do. For the sake of your relationship, you need to stop talking to me. If I was in her shoes, I’d demand the same thing. In fact, I’ve been in her shoes before… it isn’t a fun place to be and I can’t even begin to aptly describe how utterly sorry I am to have contributed to any sort of disharmony in your relationship. It’s something I’ll regret for, well, ever.

But, the selfish side of me… maybe the same one that acted Friday night… is more upset to have lost my best friend. We fucked up. I’m not taking all the blame and I certainly won’t place it all on your shoulders… What’s done is done. The only thing left to do is move on. But my heart aches. My birthday is in two weeks… where will you be? Your 30th is just a few weeks later. How is it possible we won’t be there to celebrate with each other?

Earlier today I deleted your number from my cell. It was the smart thing to do. I didn’t want to be tempted with contacting you later. While I was, let’s face it, most likely inebriated. Unfortunately, yours is one of two numbers I actually have memorized. I’m fucked.

I love you, Jason. I am forever grateful for the years we shared as friends. And, trite though it may be, I wish you nothing but the best.

Love,
Stephanie

Posted in Stephanie Harsh | 4 Comments

Book of the Month: The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

So, Z and I have grand ideas of having these wonderfully witty and insightful discussions about each Book of the Month selection. Eventually, we’d love to have people submit their picks and then have everyone vote. Until these grand ideas take off, we’re left choosing.

For August, I’ve chosen The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. (Even if you don’t read the book, at least click over to his GoodReads page. I’ve been wistfully sighing over his photo for an embarrassing amount of time.)

Several months ago, an internet friend of mine recommended the book and since then, he’s been hounding me and hounding me. I’m a third of the way through… and stuck. Don’t get me wrong! It’s good! But as you can see by my wall o’ porn to the right there, this book just doesn’t quite have what I can’t seem to get enough of lately. (I’ll give you one guess.)

Maybe if I know there are people actually reading along with me and anticipating a discussion in just a few weeks time, I’ll finally get my shit together and finish it. That would sure make at least one person happy. (Well, two if you include me. I hate not finishing books.)

Read it with me, won’t you? Pretty, pretty please?

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Five. Two weeks worth.

So, here we are. August. Just one short month until my birthday. The big two-nine. And before you pssht me, that is too a big birthday. And I’m determined to go out and celebrate it WITHOUT MY HUSBAND. Who, yes, is still my husband. But only legally.

Let’s recap the last two weeks, shall we?

1. It didn’t take me long after my last post to embrace the solitude of an empty apartment. I pretty much spent the last week of my dog-sitting duties reading, eating, and sleeping in the nude. (I kid! People, please. That’d just be weird.) Despite initial loneliness, living alone is something I could totally get behind.

2. However, then I succumbed to the iPad and, well, that purchase isn’t exactly promoting the saving of monies required for one to move out on their own. Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either.

3. So, now I’m playing a lot of Scrabble. I have, like, 15 games going at any given time. It’s even taken place of Cafe World! I play on Facebook in case you, you know, wanna challenge me. (Go ahead, I dare you.) (But please go easy on me.)

4. I’m still reading. (Gasp! I bet you didn’t see that one coming.) More than ever. It’s gotten bad, peeps. Like, I can’t sleep without having a book to read. A couple nights ago, I started a new book as I got in bed. Four hours later, I finished it. And despite the fact that if I had just closed my eyes and curled up into my normal fetal position I’d have knocked out, I found it physically impossible to do so. Noooo. I had to stay up and look for, download, and start a brand new book. (Of course I was half asleep by this point and remembered nothing of what I’d read the next day.)

And, what’s worse! I’ve started thinking I don’t ever want to get married again if it means I can’t spend as much time reading! Can you say THERAPY?

5. Most recently, I’ve been going to the gym. But I don’t want to tell you about it in case I jinx myself. (Please do not confuse going to the gym for losing weight. One has been much easier than the other.)

The end.

Posted in Stephanie Harsh | Tagged | 3 Comments

Reno’s Chance, a Tempting SEALs novella by Lora Leigh

I firmly believe no one writes an alpha male better than Lora Leigh. And Reno Chavez? No exception.

I made the mistake of getting the Tempting SEALs series and the Elite Ops series mixed up. Technically (and I am a technical kind of girl), the Tempting SEALs came first. And while you could absolutely read each series separately and still be totally satisfied, if you’re like me and plan on reading them all anyway, you may as well start appropriately with Reno’s Chance, which is book one in the Tempting SEALs series.

I started with book one of the Elite Ops, then moved on to book two of Tempting SEALs, and somewhere along the way realized I was ass backwards. Now, I’m halfway through both series and hardly confused at all!

I would in no way, shape or form call myself a writer. Have I dabbled in it? Sure. (I have tons of saved incomplete rough drafts.) Have a dreamed of one day being the next Judith McNaught? Of course. And during said attempts at writing, most of what came out was inspired by my own life and fantasies. When I was 18, I wrote stories about first and everlasting love. Ten years later, when I separated from my husband, I wrote about lovers torn apart to be reunited later with a love that was stronger than ever. Who knows what crazy shenanigans I’ll be writing about in the future.

So many of Leigh’s leading characters meet when they’re very young, usually teenagers. There’s a strong awareness of each other, but, of course, nothing romantic happens until much later. I wonder if Ms. Leigh is also writing from personal experience. The idea just makes my little heart go pitter pat.

In Reno’s Chance, Reno and Raven are two such characters. They practically grew up together. Raven’s brother, Clint, is in the Navy with Reno. And Reno’s sister, Morganna, is Raven’s best friend. (Clint and Morganna do some very naughty things together in book two.) Reno has wanted Raven for years and, as the wonderfully confident and dominant alpha male that he is, has known he would one day have her.

Unfortunately, Raven is dealing with some issues from her past, especially after having spent her childhood watching her mom and dad (also a Navy SEAL) fight every time he has to leave on another mission. It’s after one especially bitter goodbye, that her father is killed in battle and doesn’t return home. Despite her feelings for Reno, Raven has grown up swearing to not follow in her mother’s footsteps. (I think I’ve done the same thing myself a time or two.)

Luckily, Reno wears her down, Raven finds her strength, and after one heart-wrenching declaration, which includes a pitiful whimpering puppy, all is right with the world. The only thing that could have possibly made this book any better is if it had been full length.

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The Dom’s Dungeon by Cherise Sinclair

I absolutely love Cherise Sinclair’s books. And that’s saying something because, to be quite honest, I don’t think the whole BDSM thing is for me.

(Oh, and FYI… BDSM is bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism. Capicé?)

I assumed, when I started with Master of the Mountain, that there was a pretty good chance I wouldn’t like it. I was wrong. I totally enjoyed it. And, while even now I’m still a bit iffy on all the spankings and floggings and Yes, Sir‘s, I’ve read and loved several of her novels. (The Masters of the Shadowlands series? So very, very good.)

Maybe it’s my inner control freak that finds the idea of someone taking away said control somehow intriguing. Or it could just be that I find the whole BDSM lifestyle so very fascinating. I find myself thinking does this stuff really happen? and do these people really exist? constantly. And maybe that wouldn’t be enough to keep me buying her books, however Ms. Sinclair’s characters are all so… well… wonderful. These men are alpha males at their finest. Strong, confident, sexy. Of course, they’re also perfectly adoring. (Again: do these people really exist?)

“Ex-foster care child, ex-teenaged-whore, MacKensie has turned her life around. Well, mostly. She reserves her affection for the animals she cares for as a veterinarian — animals never judge her or look down on her like the people in her hometown in Iowa.

Ready to start a new life in Seattle where no one knows her past, she sets up a vacation exchange so she can job-hunt. The house in Seattle is lovely but one room is locked. Her years in foster care have left her with a neurosis about locked doors — and the ability to open them. When she gets the door open, she’s appalled…and intrigued. Chains and manacles, whips and paddles, odd benches with straps.

While waiting for his plane out of Seattle, Alex Fontaine intervenes in a mugging and gets knifed in the process. By the time he’s been stitched up, his plane has left, taking his luggage with it. Hoping the woman he’d swapped houses with won’t be too upset, he returns home. He finds her in his dungeon, trying on a spanking bench for size, her little round ass up in the air.

Now what’s a Dom to do?”

Oh, yeah. He spanks her but good. And he spanks her butt good. So this might not be the type of book for you if you find that sort of behavior at all disagreeable. I do not. At least, not in books. If someone tries to spank me in real life, they might lose a hand. Then again, the right kinda guy might be able to pull it off. (This post is getting away from me.)

I really enjoyed the book. (Spankings and all.) Mac might just be one of my new favorite heroines. She was sweet and smart… and I like that she No, Sir‘d Alex a time or two. (Does that mean I wouldn’t make a good submissive? Something to ponder.)

So, how do you feel about spankings?

Posted in Books Before Boys | 2 Comments

Backstage Pass by Olivia Cunning

So, earlier this year, I got sucked into the genre of erotic romance. Blame it on my friend Michelle. She said, “oh, you just have to read something by Lora Leigh” and I was all, “meh” but then decided to give it a try when I found myself intrigued by Tempting the Beast. Peeps, I’ve never felt my face burn so hot ever before in my life. It pretty much spiraled down hill from there. (Of course, I mean that in the best possible way.)

Now let me just say this: erotica and erotic romance? TWO TOTALLY DIFFERENT THINGS. Erotica is basically like watching Cinemax. Lots of bump and grind with a really dumb plot line trying (and failing) to tie it all together.

Erotic romance has everything I love about romance novels… the emotional tumble into love, the heartbreaking conflict… plus the aforementioned bump and grind. HOW CAN YOU GO WRONG?

Since January, I’ve been making up for lost time. I’ve read all sorts of new authors in this very fun new (to me) genre and I’m having a ridiculously good time.

Backstage Pass, book one in the Sinners on Tour series by Olivia Cunning, has been one of my absolute favorites. It was so fun and sexy and the guys are all so wonderful who could resist wanting to be a groupie? (Obviously, I’m not the only one who feels this way as there’s a whole site dedicated to the Sinners including their pictures and bios, tour dates, a place to chat, etc.) (Great if you’re not ready to leave the hot fantasy world that Ms. Cunning has created.)

I loved the band and their relationship with each other; I loved how Myrna fit in with them (the smart, classy babe who can hold her own). Brian, while totally sweet, wasn’t quite the alpha I prefer, but still. Loved. (Although I will say he should have stood up to Sed at some point.)

Even though I only read this book two months ago, I found myself reading it again last week. It’s an easy read, fun, entertaining, sexy… but maybe not for the faint of heart as it does include, gasp!, a menage with borderline male on male action (which I must confess I’m not entirely a fan of, but I’ll save that debate for another time).

Backstage Pass: highly recommend. (I also totally recommend Rock Hard, book two in the series. Also very, very good.)

And, in case you couldn’t tell, I absolutely cannot wait for the rest of this series to be released.

Posted in Books Before Boys | 2 Comments