Dubious by Charmaine Pauls Book Review

Dubious Cover

I don’t read a lot of contemporary romance/erotica simply because the escape into another time and place is as important as my enjoyment of the connection between people. However, when I saw that Charmaine Pauls’ The Loan Shark Duet took place in Johannesburg, South Africa my interest piqued. A dark story set in a uncommon locale definitely sounded like something I needed to try.

Valentina will do anything to protect her brother, Charlie, after the car accident that left him with brain damage. She just never thought she’d have to bind herself to Johannesburg’s most notorious gangster, Gabriel Louw, to pay off Charlie’s gambling debt. For nine years Valentina belongs to Gabriel to be used however he sees fit; she just never anticipated how gentle, caring, and respectful her master could be when taking what he wants…or how he makes her want to be more than just his possession.

Dubious should not have worked for me at all. The basic premise denies Valentina the ability to consent to anything Gabriel does to her, which is something I prize highly in anything focusing on sexual relationships. Frankly the idea of the heroine belonging to the hero repulsed me on a purely intellectual level, but Charmaine Pauls’ writing and careful scenario hooked me emotionally.  The deciding factor was how Gabriel proceeded with his seduction of Valentina. Given their agreement he could have forced her and called it fair; of course Valentina has no right to deny Gabriel’s desires, but he lets her set the pace. Rather than setting taking her virginity as a goal, he moves slowly to make his playtoy want his touch and crave sex (okay, Gabriel’s reasons are pretty nefarious, but I still appreciated his focus on Valentina’s pleasure), and penis in vagina sex doesn’t occur until Valentina asks/begs for it. It’s definitely not an example of How Relationships Should Be Done TM, but it transformed a dub con scenario into something palatable.

Gabriel’s kind treatment of Valentina can’t change the fact that he’s in the business of doing unethical things, and his mother and ex-wife exemplify how women generally survive in his world. Valentina is strong, but she lacks the ruthless edge necessary to play the games in mafia society, so just being in the Louw household makes her an easy target. She manages to get Gabriel’s employees on her side (some of the cast seem to magically be drawn to her), but Magda Louw, her owner’s mother, just wants an excuse to make the young woman disappear…permanently.

Magda’s desire to dispose of Valentina sets up the one point in the plot that I found nearly unforgivable. It is so pivotal to the cliffhanger and book two, Consent, that I have to vague book it, but suffice it to say that Gabriel makes a choice that enfuriates me.

At the end of the day I wanted to know if Valentina and Gabriel could make it beyond hot sex and bad decisions to form a real relationship. Despite everything I was rooting for those crazy kids and wanted some type of HEA, not just steamy erotica.

4 Snobby Teenage Daughters out of 5

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69 Million Things I Hate About You by Kira Archer Book Review

Hate About You Cover

When Kiersten Abbott gets promoted to her boss’ main personal assistant after the previous one gets fired for wanting time off  to get married, she knows it’s going to be difficult. Cole Harrington expects his assistants to be at his beck and call, no matter the time of day or night, and many of his demands cross tthe line between PA and mother. Winning 69 million dollars in the lotto allows Kiersten the freedom to walk away from her entitled boss any time she wants to, but what’s the fun in that? Why not see how far she can push him since all he can do is fire her from a job she no longer needs? Unfortunately, Cole finds his mild mannered assistant’s sudden rebellion intriguing, and he decides to fight fire with fire and make Kiersten quit.  However, the blossoming attraction between the pair hints at something more than acting out behind their game. Can they break through their misconceptions of each other and find a HEA?

Generally I prefer historical romance to contemporary, but the description of 69 Million Things I Hate About You drew me in.  I enjoy the hate to love dynamic (or I hate you so much I love you), and Kiersten promised to be a fiery heroine who wasn’t going to be a complete door mat.  Billionaires aren’t a turn on for me, but Kira Archer combined the trope with enough other intriguing elements that I was willing to give it a try.

Both Kiersten and Cole display lives outside their work relationship including close bonds with friends.  Cole has had bad experiences with women wanting to date him solely for his pocket book, but the story side steps the evil ex trope and makes Kiersten different because she’s willing to stand up to him, not because she’s super pure, sweet, and has a magic vagina that can heal the hero’s wounded ego/heart/body/etc. Admittedly, she only can show her true personality when she can afford to lose her job, but I found that incredibly relatable (some days I have opinions I have to keep to myself).  The wit and intelligence it takes to concoct her increasingly elaborate pranks made me love her, and I’m sure hanging out with a real life Kiersten would be entertaining and fun.

Cole also has enough backstory and depth to fell like a whole human being although one of the critical reveals occurred a little too late in the story for me to fully care.  He does show signs of being an alpha male (I think you have to be to reach billionaire status), but he also knows how to care for another human being deeply and allow agency.  Cole’s billionaire veneer also hides charitable causes that are close to his heart, and he doesn’t just donate because that’s what rich people do; he genuinely wants to find solutions for the problems he advocates for.

After reading so much erotica the sex scenes between Kiersten and Cole, when they finally occur (they have to work for it; the main focus in their game of pushing buttons) feel a little mild, but 69 Million Things I Hate About You is a quirky revenge to love tale not another book jumping on the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey (although there is a brief reference).  I did appreciate that Kiersten and Cole were equals in their sexual encounters, and Archer doesn’t throw in any reference to how many partners either has had.  Both have dated other people, but it’s treated as something normal for a pair of late 20 somethings.

My only major quibble is that the big conflict at the end of the book felt like it came out of no where.  There wasn’t enough set up for me to fully understand why the situation mattered so much, and while I was relieved when Kiersten and Cole worked past it to realize a full relationship, I didn’t appreciate the stakes.

Overall, 69 Million Things I Hate About You isn’t going to change your life, but it’s a fun, uplifting read that will brighten your day.  Watching Cole and Kiersten’s back and forth kept me smiling, and it did warm my heart when they finally earned their HEA.  Now I need to go buy a lottery ticket…

4 Pizza Parties with Girlfriends out of 5

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The Krinar Experiment by Charmaine Pauls Novella Review

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It has become more common for authors to invite others to play in their sandbox and create original stories based on their worlds, especially in the romance community. Charmaine Paul’s <i>The Krinar Experiment</i> steps into Anna Zaires’ sci fi world as a prequel novella to the invasion of Earth that plays a major role in the primary series. It is one of several works that are part of Amazon’s Krinar Kindle World and will be available for purchase on September 12, 2017.

Drako’s mission was to observe Earth to decide whether or not the Krinar might live peacefully along with the current inhabitants. However, when his space pod crashes in Johannesburg, he gets captured by the South African Secret Service, who don’t seem very open to the idea of meeting another sentient species or even asking reasonable questions. The only thing that goes right is the arrival of pretty human nurse, Ilse, to tend his injuries. Drako’s attraction grabs him from the moment she steps into his cell, but why is she there at all?

I have never read any of the other novels in the Krinar series, so some of the things that bothered me in <i> The Krinar Experiment</i> fall under creations by the original author. Maybe I’m just a little old fashioned but extraterrestrials that are basically vegan space vampires (except for the part where they do enjoy human blood even though they don’t need it to survive) shatters my suspension of disbelief so quickly that I can’t even buy into the world. The technology introduced by Anna Zaires intrigued me though, and I actually would have enjoyed more focus on Krina rather than Earth.

However, I mostly enjoyed the characters created by Charmaine Pauls to inhabit this world. Ilse was sweet, caring, and surprisingly tough when she needed to be (although she does stray a little close to unrealistically wonderful given that pretty much everyone wants to protect her/be with her/care for her). Drako is physically an incredible specimen, but his stubborn moral code creates a deep flaw that prevents him from being overly perfect. I’m not a huge fan of insta-lust/attraction, but Pauls plays it as a subconscious recognition of something in each party that fulfills unacknowledged needs.

Obviously, many readers coming to this novella want to know if the sex is worth the read, and I unequivocally say that it is. There is a hint of dub con (dubious consent), but overall the power dynamic didn’t bother me because I never felt that Ilse was truly in danger or threatened by Drako. I mainly felt frustrated that lack of using their words left a major misunderstanding brewing between the pair, which caused heartache, bad decisions, and almost prevented a HEA.

Overall, <i>The Krinar Experiment</I> is a nice light read that balances Chamaine Pauls’ love of her native South Africa with both sci fi and the dark side of the country. Being a novella the resolution felt a little rushed, but it is hard to develop a plot fully with a limited number of pages. I don’t know if it inspired me to check out any other books about the Krinar (I have a huge stack of things in my to be read/reviews pile), but it was a fun diversion. I’m sure fans of the universe will find this a pleasant addition to tide them over for more full length novels.

4 Bargains for Articles of Clothing out of 5

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And now Patience is alone — Miki Scaife 5/8/2000 to 7/28/2017

Four months and eight days after I lost his sister, Miki gave me the sign that he was ready to join his original pack. He was a chow hound to the end even though he struggled to sit up and happily devoured a McDonald’s cheeseburger and ice cream cone as a final treat. 

Miki was the last of my original dogs, so his death is especially hard. He is entwined with all my memories of this house and neighborhood, and he was always my very good boy. Miki loved everyone (except for my former foster dog, Stinger), and he helped many shy foster pups blossom and find new homes. 

One of my favorite Miki stories involves me accidentally locking him in my car when we were at the Austin Humane Society for training class. I was panicking, so one of the instructors convinced AFD to come out. Miki thought we were playing some sort of a game and stayed calm throughout the entire ordeal. When the firemen arrived he lit up; all these men had come to visit him (Miki loved men)! Overall, he loved the entire situation and recovered more quickly than me. 

I called my little man Miki St Francis Scaife because he loved all the little creatures. He was always trustworthy with the cats, and Gabe, my oldest cat, began cuddling with Miki a lot after he lost use of his legs. 

I’m sure our neighbors will miss seeing Miki riding around in his dog chariot (kids really adored it), but I think Gabe may inherit the chariot for a while since I can zip it shut. 

I’ll look for another dog eventually, but Patience and I will need some time to grieve plus Little Crazy needs a nice dumb boy dog who doesn’t mind her attitude. Right now my heart hurts; Miki was my heart dog, so I have a large hole he filled. I know he’ll be looking out for us for as long as we need; Miki’s love for me matched mine for him, which probably kept him going for so long. 

I love you so much, Little Man, and even when I find another bed hog to watch TV with and cuddle, I will never forget you. 

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Tangled in Sin by Lavinia Kent Book Review

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When Ruby/Madame Rouge left her brothel in the hands of her fallen half-sister Jasmine, she never could have imagined the new adventures it could bring.  Madame Blanche may be inexperienced, but she is determined to create the best life for herself and her baby daughter. Jasmine’s old compatriots aren’t ready to let her go quietly, but at least one, Cynthia “Sin” Westhope, shows curiousity rather than condemnation.

Sin doesn’t fully understand Jasmine’s determination to leave the world they grew up in, but she respects the bond between mother and child and is daring enough to love the bond she and her old friend share.  However, her bold visits to Madame Blanche’s get her kidnapped by someone who thinks he knows the best way to change Jasmine’s mind and puts her into a thoroughly compromising situation with a childhood crush who has grown into a stunning example of a man.

My favourite part of Lavinia Kent’s books is that they tend to focus on female agency, particularly in the realm of kink and BDSM.  However, I felt that Tangled in Sin made several missteps early in the plot.  Unless the hero of a BDSM romance is set up as a submissive I generally presume that he will have several domineering traits, some of which may annoy me more than others.  James rubbed me the wrong way from the start when he was (historically I’ll give him) convinced that he knew the best choice to make for Jasmine, even at the expense of separating her from her infant.  However, he pushed me over the edge when he decided to initiate a sexual encounter with a half asleep woman because a. he presumed she was a prostitute b. she was rubbing her butt against his crotch in her sleep.  I recognize that dubious consent doesn’t bother some readers, and my main disappointment was that Ms. Kent’s previous books have focused so heavily on consent and clear choice. From that point on James needed to really rebuild himself to satisfy me as a romantic hero.

Sin, on the other hand, charmed me from the moment she showed up at Madame Blanche’s to confirm whether or not the new proprietor is her old friend.  She refuses to take no for an answer and wears Jasmine down enough that she is allowed to visit regularly.  Although she has no real sexual experience Sin allows herself to explore what makes her feel good, and even though she has fantasized about James for years she won’t settle for being told what to do or dictated to just because she is a woman.  Every moment of her submission is a conscious choice, and her resistance to marrying without a few caveats of her own reveal a young woman who has learned her own mind.

James may have disappointed me some, but the sex scenes between the main couple sizzled (although they had a little less bondage/kink than I prefer).  After the first disappointing encounter Sin does have clear choices, and there is sweet sequence where they manage to sneak away from an elderly chaperone to steal an interlude.  James still hadn’t redeemed himself in my eyes, and I wasn’t completely sold by the end of the book, but I did see him make small steps to valuing Sin’s ability to make choices.

James’ personality marred a lot of my enjoyment of Tangled in Sin, as much as I adored his heroine.  I did ultimately enjoy most of the book, but I wish Sin could have gotten a hero who thought better of women.  He does grow some by the end of the story, but I had a hard time letting go of my first impression.

4 Lascivious Regency Portraits out of 5

 

 

 

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And Now Two –Suzuka Scaife — 5/8/2000 to 3/3/2017

I fell in love with Suzuka’s picture on Petfinder in the fall of 2000 when she was in a no kill shelter in Victoria, TX. She had been dubbed Nellie, and her brother, Miki, was Lance, and I wanted to adopt them desperately. When I first saw them I was still living at home, and my parents didn’t want more than the two resident dogs. I pined and kept returning to Petfinder despite knowing it was fruitless. 

I ended up purchasing a house in October 2000 although I couldn’t close until November, so my roommate and I drove to Victoria to meet Nellie and Lance. They agreed to care for them for another month if I adopted them, and my only chosen pups joined my life full time in November 2000. 

Suzu wasn’t perfect (she did kill a kitten I had during a fierce chase and was quite cat aggressive until the last few years), but she loved children cautiously and learned that new people were sources of good attention (most of the time). My little girl did have a feisty side, which is why she and Akane battled for dominance for years, and Suzu also had to be kept separated from Perdy. Overall though, Suzuka was an easy dog to live with who enjoyed visiting my parents and hosting fosters. 

I began fostering rescue dogs when Suzuka and Miki (the Twins) were nine months old. I’m sure the constantly rotating competition was hard, but generally Suzu helped acclimate shy, country dogs to life as house pets. She even formed some close friendships with longer term fosters and took some puppies under her wing. 

Suzu’s biggest challenge to me was her escape artist tendencies. She managed to squeeze through a less than six inch gap between the chainlink fence and the wall of the house on several occasions, and she spent one harrowing night missing before returning home on her own. 

My little girl had a mind of her own, and vegetables were not for eating. However, Suzu was not a picky eater most of the time. Her finicky mealtime behaviour was my first sign that something was wrong…by the end I was having to force feed her broth and NutriCal because even after a major dental Suzu had stopped eating solid food. 

Suzu lost the ability to walk two weeks ago, but since my family’s first dog was paralyzed for nine months before his death, I was ready to care for Suzu as needed. I diapered her overnight and during work, so she wouldn’t have to sit in her own pee, and I learned how to coax her bladder to work when I took her out. The dog stroller got a workout with regular strolls around the block, and Suzu would happily watch the world as she whirled past. 

I expected Suzu to give me a clear, intense sign like Aka, but she was a much gentler personality. Instead of collapse and sharp fear, Suzu softly faded until she didn’t have the energy to lift her head last night. She wasn’t curious about the world anymore, which was her sign. 

My heart is shredded right now, but Suzu basically fell asleep quickly in my arms and looked at peace. She was ready for the next stage of her journey. 

Miki and Patience seemed unsurprised that I returned without Suzu, so they sensed something that I couldn’t…or that I chose to ignore. I am just keeping them close today, and I will return to the real world tomorrow. 

Go in peace, my little girl. Akane, Perdita, and Romany are waiting for you (even if you’re only excited to see one of the three), and I’ll never forget how your love and devotion helped open me to the rescue world and brightened my personal life. 

You are always my good little girl, and Mommy loves you. 

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Fanbase Press Announces ‘Inclusivity in the Comic Book Medium’ Panel for Long Beach Comic Con 2017 with Panelists Yehudi Mercado, Sebastian Kadlecik, Kit Steinkellner, Emma Steinkellner, and Stefano Terry – Moderated by Barbra Dillon!

Fanbase Press Announces ‘Inclusivity in the Comic Book Medium’ Panel for Long Beach Comic Expo 2017

For comic book fans in the Southern California area, Long Beach Comic Expo is an annual event that showcases the exceptional works of talented writers, artists, illustrators, and creators of all pop culture genres. The convention will return once again this year, taking place from Saturday, February 18, and Sunday, February 19, 2017, with a plethora of phenomenal panels scheduled throughout the weekend. Today, Fanbase Press is honored to announce the inclusion of the Fanbase Press Presents: Inclusivity in the Comic Book Medium Panel which will take place on Saturday, February 18, at 3:30 p.m. in the Creators’ Lab S-5. With panelists Yehudi Mercado (Hero Hotel, Rocket Salvage), Kit Steinkellner (Quince, Z: The Beginning of Everything), Emma Steinkellner (Quince, Xbox), Sebastian Kadlecik (Quince, Penguins vs. Possums), and Stefano Terry (The Gamma Gals) participating, we invite you to join in on the insightful and exciting event!

The Fanbase Press Presents: Inclusivity in the Comic Book Medium panel will discuss the importance of inclusivity in the comic book medium and the ways in which the panelists are making the greatest efforts to bring diversity and inclusivity to their work.  The comic book fanbase is a diverse landscape of readers, representing all genders, nationalities, ethnicities, sexual preferences, and ages.  As the industry continues to evolve, so too should the diversity of its creators, characters, titles, and genres in order to better represent its fanbase.  The panel will be moderated by Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon.

Please visit the Long Beach Comic Expo website to purchase your tickets for this exciting event. In addition, follow Long Beach Comic Expo on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and information.

Everyone at Fanbase Press is greatly looking forward to the convention, and we hope to see you there!

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