Beauty in the Broken by Charmaine Pauls Book Review

43920557

Yet again I’ve been sucked into another contemporary erotic story by Charmaine Pauls set in the criminal underworld of South Africa since I enjoy her writing style and continue to suck up the cultural context of her plots like a vampiric tourist (Would I go to South Africa if the opportunity arose? Yes, if I had someone in the group who knew how to keep me out of more dicey situations — I am an upper middle class white woman whose extreme privilege renders me incapable of reading some situations correctly since I have no context. Do I actually want to experience the world of the powerful criminal elite in South Africa, which features in many of Ms Pauls’ books?  Definitely not — I’ll enjoy that safely from my Kindle half a world away.).  I enjoy romance and erotica with a darker twist, so the caution about torture, punishment, and power play merely whetted my interest.  However, if you find any of the above triggering or generally dislike romantic stories featuring dubiously good heroes or manipulated consent Beauty in the Broken will not be your cup of tea.  I found it beautifully intense and complex, but it is definitely more like a spicy curry (some people love it; some can’t stomach it) than a warm mug of cocoa.

Six years ago Damian Hart was arrested for a theft he didn’t commit, so diamond magnate Harold Dalton could claim the new mining information the young man intended to use to raise himself from poverty.  In a Count of Monte Cristo-like plot Hart emerges from his jail sentence with one thing in mind: revenge.  However, Damian doesn’t just want to make Dalton suffer; he wants to humiliate the older man in every way possible including marrying Dalton’s widowed daughter, Angelina.  The beautiful Angelina captured Damain’s imagination at their meeting six years prior, and even her diagnosis of insanity won’t keep him from claiming her (and her immense fortune) as part of his carefully laid plans.

I know that many readers will be taken aback by the idea that Angelina struggles with mental illness (I know I did at first) because she legally does not have any agency (she cannot have a job, handle her own money, or make any choices for herself), so any portrayal of Damian giving Angelina a choice is only an illusion.  However, Ms. Pauls carefully treads a line of her hero being harsh and controlling and trying to allow his partner some autonomy (it’s still very dub-con, but at least Damian doesn’t insist on full marital rights immediately after the wedding).  Angelina also understands her complicated situation as a ward/possession and refuses to be entirely passive about her circumstances.  I know that dubious consent/non-consent is a hard line for many readers though, so I recommend skipping this novel if this set up would hinder your enjoyment or sense of safety.

Beauty in the Broken is not a simple BDSM erotic story because Angelina is not in a position to voluntarily give up control plus Damian commands her obedience to his discipline and punishments.  I still found many of the scenes sizzling, and I appreciated that even when furious Damian restrained his responses (most of the time…).  Angelina finds small ways to rebel against her rules as well (did you know that jelly beans can be used to commit creative misdeeds?), which helped me believe she possessed more power to shape her destiny than what was laid out on paper.

In many of Charmaine Pauls’ previous books the heroine was crime adjacent but managed to be innocent/untouched by the darkness of that world.  As a result I found the romances with the criminal heroes somewhat disturbing since they smacked a bit of old school breaking in of unsullied virgins or rich debutantes slumming it with boys from the other side of the tracks.  Angelina is not an innocent, and she holds secrets that change the entire dynamic between her and Damian.  He learns the the truth of his wife’s past along with the reader, and it made a huge difference to how I saw the development of their relationship.  Damian also learns how to temper his need for absolute control with desire for someone else’s well-being, and he chooses to be less of a monster for at least one woman.

Overall, I found Beauty in the Broken to be the most enjoyable Charmaine Pauls’ novel I have read so far.  The protagonists complemented each other well with their emotional baggage, and I believed in their growth by the end of the story.  Both of them were flawed, damaged people, but they worked together in a way that convinced me they would successfully navigate life fully.  My only question is are there any other tormented young men in the South African diamond industry that we can get stories about

4.5 Stunning Black Diamond Showpiece Necklaces out of 5

Posted in reviews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton Book Review

Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful Cover

Fans of Arwen Elys Dayton’s Seeker series already know that she is not afraid to tackle difficult themes and topics while creating an engaging narrative.  However, rather than returning to a book series Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is a collection of interconnected short stories that examine various aspects of genetic manipulation and how scientific advances both hold the power to heal and harm. Starting in the near future and moving progressively beyond our realm of understanding and progress each tale shows how humanity might decide to handle genetic manipulation , and where it might lead us.

I take Faster, Stronger, and More Beautiful as a cautionary tale of how genetic manipulation  can become a crutch that humanity might rely on so heavily they no longer can survive without it.  The first story, a sobering tale of a teenage boy having his organs fused with his comatose twin sister’s to save his life, shows a reality most readers can find relatable.  However, Dayton quickly jumps to situations beyond our current understanding of gene therapy such as a boy modified to physically be like a manatee and humans merged with machines to provide nearly immortal grunt work. I struggled to comprehend the plots and find meaning in the more futuristic settings, but I also wanted to learn how the various threads tied into each other and how they worked as a whole.

I have spent several months since finishing the book to digest the material and formulate my thoughts, but when I recently described it to a co-worker I realized the impact it left on me.  Faster, Stronger, and More Beautiful is an extremely different type of work than the author’s Seeker series, but its power lies in how it makes readers analyze their feelings on a serious issue.  It has stayed with me since I turned the last page, and I suspect I will be mulling over it for a long time.

4.5 Unexpected Consequences to Tweaking a Single Gene out of 5

Posted in reviews | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Krinar’s Informant by Charmaine Pauls

The Krinar's Informant Cover

As readers of my now infrequent blog and reviews may have noticed I read a lot of Charmaine Pauls’ writing.  Due to reviewing her Loan Shark Duology I’m on her ARC reviewer list, so I get to preview her new works (insert happy dance).  Her Krinar works are original stories set in Anna Zaires’ Krinar Chronicles universe, officially sanctioned fanfiction if you will.  I don’t enjoy the Krinar stories as much as Ms. Pauls’ original stories since I’m not a fan of the original material, but I’m always game to try another entry in her oeuvre.

Liv has dedicated her life to the resistance against the Krinar invasion of Earth, but when she realizes her brothers are committing themselves to a suicide mission she would rather betray them to the enemy than watch them die.  Zavir didn’t expect the informant to be so attractive and enticing, and a series of misadventures lead him to take her back to his home base and pushed to take her as charl (wife/mate) to protect Liv.

I did not love The Krinar’s Informant, and it’s mostly because I’m not a huge fan of ridiculously alpha males.  To borrow a term I learned from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books Zavir veers dangerously into alphole territory.  As a result I judged every sexual encounter between him and Liv harshly; I never bought into why she fell in love with him, and while I can handle dub-con something about these two just never sat right with me.

But how were the sex scenes, you ask?  As always Charmaine Pauls’ does an excellent job in producing steamy sex scenes that burn up the pages.  However, I continued to be bothered about the power differential (if it had been marketed as kink I probably would have been okay with it) and how Zavir expected Liv to obey his orders just because he said so rather than giving her pertinent information.  I also didn’t feel he did enough apologizing/groveling for his HEA; I needed more to buy his change of attitude.

If I were a fan of the original Krinar Chronicles I might have been better prepared for Zavir’s domineering personality, and I might even have looked forward to Old Skool romance tropes.  Fans definitely will get something out of the tale, and it’s the type of story I probably would have loved 20 years ago when the “Me, too” movement wasn’t so enmeshed in our society.  However, if you’re a fan of Charmaine Pauls’ other works and want to try something new pick this up.  Some of my gripes may just be the perfect blend for your romance reading!

3.5 Nanotechnology Healing Devices out of 5

Posted in reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Young Enough by Charmaine Pauls Book Review

Young Enough Cover

Charmaine Pauls introduced May-December couple Jane and Brian in Old Enough, and to my surprise and joy I fell in love with her story of an older rich woman and a younger man from the wrong side of the tracks.  Somehow the first book in the duology toed the line between attraction/relationship vs boytoy extremely well, and I never felt like Brian was being used, manipulated, or otherwise faced an unequal power dynamic that kept him in Jane’s orbit.  If anything she seems more vulnerable since many aspects of their meeting and Brian’s past are hidden.  I loved Book 1.

I still enjoyed Book 2 immensely, and I ripped through the pages at an extreme pace.  However, I have to warn new readers of several potential triggers as Young Enough takes some very dark turns: rape, accusations of sexual abuse of a minor, imprisonment, assault resulting in facial trauma, drowning, and probably a few others that didn’t jump out at me. Additionally, I found one of Brian’s actions so thoughtless that it physically hurt to read.  It didn’t help at all that the action ended up having dire consequences, which really reduced my support for Jane and Brian’s relationship.

The sex scenes sizzle off the page, just like in Old Enough, so if you’re showing up mostly for the erotica this book has got you covered.  Even when Jane and Brian tread on shaky emotional ground the physical connection between them vibrates with an intensity that cannot be denied.

Despite the horrific events and traumatic revelations in the first three-quarters of the book Charmaine Pauls manages to direct her protagonists to a HEA; both Jane and Brian work to find their happiness individually and with each other, so I felt that the ending had been earned.  Additionally, it didn’t feel over the top like some of the events in epilogue of The Loan Shark duology (I felt that Valentina turned into some sort of magical creature that everyone adored instead of a human being), which I liked.

Overall, readers need Young Enough to close out Jane and Brian’s story, but it’s a much more traumatic episode in their love story than the first installment.  It ends on a positive note for all of the important characters (or at least it ends the way it should), but there’s a lot of dark events between the first and last pages, which some readers may find a little hard to handle.

4 Stolen Moments at an Engagement Party out of 5

 

Posted in reviews | Tagged | Leave a comment

And the latest oldster is gone — Gabriel Scaife October-ish 2003 to August 14, 2018

Dogs and Cats December 27 002

I did not want another cat; I’d resigned myself to keeping Namir, the feral black domestic shorthair that I had live trapped in my yard, but I really just intended to foster other kitties to keep him company during his life time.  However, when the friendly, pushy, and very vocal medium haired brown tabby showed up to eat in my front yard (I was putting cat food out for the many strays) I brought him inside since I was afraid he would venture into my backyard and get crossways of my cat aggressive dogs.  He was so social I was sure someone must be looking for their cat, right?

After a month of waiting for someone to respond to the found cat signs I’d posted around the neighborhood I realized I had better get the new kitty neutered and vaccinated, so I could try to find him a home.  During that time I’d realized that Gabe was super vocal, tomcat pee reeks like nothing else on earth, and that this cat could make noises that sounded like a human infant that made me want to punt him out the backdoor in the middle of the night (just try being woken up by a cat singing the song of his people in the middle of the night through a door and from two rooms away and see how charitable you feel).  I desperately wanted to get him cleared medically and start the task of finding him a household where he could get as much attention as he craved (at the time I was crating and rotating dogs plus I had to keep the dogs and cats mostly separate since I had three dogs with varying levels of cat aggression).

Gabriel got his name because Gabby (a synonym for chatty) is a nickname for Gabrielle, not because he reminded me of the Biblical angel.   Out of my three personal cats he was the most talkative although Rhys and Namir have both broken out of their more reserved behaviour today to solicit attention by meowing and fussing at me (Gabe was my friendly, cuddly cat…Namir, well, he’s the house feral, and while he allows some touching it’s always on his terms.  He’s a “near cat”, not a sit on your lap or dance in front of the computer to demand attention cat.  Rhys is just naturally very shy and nervous, but he loves being brushed.  I’ll need to do more of that to get my kitty petting time.).

If I planned to adopt Gabe out how did I end up with him permanently?  I got Gabe neutered through Emancipet since I couldn’t afford full cost vetting, especially not when I wanted to find him another home.  Unfortunately, I got some incredibly shocking news at his pick up: Gabe tested positive for FIV, feline immunodeficiency virus, which would make him extremely difficult to rehome.  Initially, I wasn’t sure I could take him back home; I had other cats in the house, and I didn’t want to risk exposing them (FIV is much less contagious than feline leukemia since bodily fluids have to be exchanged through bites, sex, or in utero, but it’s not risk free), and I was woefully uninformed about the virus.  I couldn’t just abandon him though, so I brought him home and vowed to educate myself about the illness.

Thanks to Gabe I became one of the most informed people I know about FIV in pet cats, and I unofficially became the FIV expert for the Austin Humane Society and Charlyne’s Pound Puppies.  I still am an advocate for adopting FIV positive cats and how to keep them healthy and safe (and look above: Gabe was almost 15 years old, so I must have been doing something right!).  Rhys actually joined my household because of Gabe: he is also FIV positive, but he was born with it while I suspect Gabe was bitten by another tomcat (he was never a fighter even before his neuter, but Gabe was extremely dumb at proper cat interactions; I suspect he pissed off the wrong tomcat by getting into his face and not backing off when warned to do so).  I’ve fostered two FIV positive cats for AHS (Pibb was a permanent foster for the last two years of his life; Pepe now Giovanni was just a short term visitor), and I may look into fostering some other FIV positive cats in the future (Namir was vaccinated against FIV before the vaccine was considered a cancer risk, so he probably is okay to be around FIV positive cats).

About a month ago I noticed that Gabe really wasn’t eating well, a concern since he was a notoriously piggy eater, but I first thought it was stress from the residing project on my house.  However, I found runny, bloody diarrhea outside the litterbox one morning and became very concerned.  All of my cats are fastidious litterbox users, so an accident outside the box meant someone was in bad shape aside from the consistency.  I began force feeding Gabe baby food/broth/anything thin enough to syringe into him to see if it was just an upset stomach, but by the next Monday I knew we needed to see a vet.  This started several vet visits to try to determine why Gabe didn’t want to eat.  He was dehydrated, but the bloodwork didn’t show anything terribly interesting.  Giving him fluids would temporarily jump start his appetite, but I could tell things weren’t right.  I convinced myself if we could get his stomach discomfort fixed Gabe would eat again, so I was dismayed when our vet said I should consider an ultrasound to make sure there wasn’t anything that bloodwork wouldn’t check.  The last ultrasound I had done on a pet was when Perdy was diagnosed with cancer three and a half years ago, so I had misgivings about it, but I also knew that that it was probably the answer to Gabe’s health problems.  Sure enough his lymph nodes were enlarged, and he had a lesion and a growth in his small intestine: probably diagnosis lymphoma.

The specialty vet suggested doing a pathology to know for sure and an oncology consult, but it wasn’t in my budget plus chemotherapy would have almost certainly killed a  14 1/2 year old FIV positive cat.  I took some meds home to see how long  I could keep him comfortable: I got a week.

I don’t know if I fully believe in ESP or a sixth sense, but with some of my pets I have known that I would have to put them down shortly: I knew with Suzu, and I knew I would probably have to let Gabe go this week.  When he escaped the house last night and tried to run off I had to accept that the universe was giving me a sign that Gabe was suffering and needed me to be strong enough to let go (bless Patience for alerting me that he was outside under the next door neighbors’ truck, so he didn’t just wander off and be gone).

Gabe was more than ready for his final journey: he sat quietly in my lap on the way to the vet (I do not recommend this with a healthy cat!), and he was so dehydrated they struggled to find a vein to place the catheter.  He went to sleep in my arms and looked relaxed and at peace for the first time in several weeks.  I stayed with his body longer than I did with my previous pets, perhaps because Gabe is the first cat I was able to be with when they passed.  I petted him and cleaned him a little because I needed the soothing sense of peace I got when I touched him.

I don’t intend to get more cats; Indi’s not super well-behaved with the current crew, and it’s harder to integrate new dogs into a mixed critter household.   However, I put a new  bowl of cat food out in the yard tonight, which I haven’t done for years.  If I can find a way to keep the ants out of it I might lure another Gabe into my life, like it or not.

Posted in Animals, update | Leave a comment

Dance of Thieves by Mary E Pearson Book Review

Dance of Thieves Cover

Kazimyrah knows what her duty is to the queen of Venda.  Her dedication to this mission goes beyond her role as a member of the Rahtan, the elite guard, and reflects her personal debt for a reckless mistake.  However, a misstep in a dark alley gets her kidnapped and chained to her target, and she’ll have to rely on him to get out of this mishap in one piece.

Jase Ballenger curses his father’s sudden death, which accelerated his ascension to leadership of his clan.  Many would love to see the young Patrei fail, so they can swoop in and claim the powerful territory, so he should be on the look out for anything.  When he gets grabbed by labour gang slavers and chained to the feisty young Rahtan who threatened to slit his throat, Jase feels life couldn’t get any worse.  A daring escape gives him hope of getting home in time for his father’s funeral, but how should he handle his new constant companion?

Dance of Thieves is the first novel in a new series set in the world of Mary E Pearson’s The Remnant Chronicles.  I had read the first book many years ago and loved it, but somehow I had never gotten the opportunity to finish the series (work and other pesky things like that got in the way of reading entirely for pleasure), so I was thrilled to find a new story available for review.  Unfortunately, I didn’t remember much of the world, but Pearson allows Dance of Thieves to stand enough on its own that it can be enjoyed by both fans of her previous work and newcomers to her writing.

Kazimyrah has been charged with a mission to infiltrate the Ballenger stronghold and track down a traitorous general who nearly cost the queen and the people of Venda everything.  With fellow warriors Wren and Synove by her side she needs to use everyone of her skills as a former thief to get into Tor’s Watch, track down her mark, and get him back to Venda to face the Queen’s Justice.  Getting captured by labour gangs and chained to the new leader of the Ballengers was never part of her plan, and finding comfort in Jase Ballenger’s arms during the long nights as they trek back to civilization definitely defies reason.  Even worse is Kazi’s realization that Jase’s motivations are as understandable as her own; they just don’t always mesh with her orders.  How can she betray a man who fights for freedom, family, and recognition as a sovereign nation, and who has slowly wormed his way into her heart?

The heart of Dance of Thieves is the growing relationship between Jase and Kazi, not just as a couple but as two individuals who respect and admire the other’s motivations.  They face significant obstacles since their goals prevent them from ever being fully truthful with the other until the very end.  However, I liked both of them immensely.  Both protagonists are loyal to a fault, protective, and painfully fair when they evaluate each other, and they regret the things they have to conceal, like normal human beings.  I believed the conflicts that Jase and Kazi faced to their relationship, primarily duty to the Rahtan/Queen vs duty to family, and I cared about how difficult it would be for them to transform their fragile alliance to stay alive in the wilderness into a lasting relationship with no major secrets.

I also enjoyed how Pearson portrayed Kazi’s relationship with Wren and Synove, the other two Rahtan in her age bracket.  All three girls carried trauma, and they supported each other and helped protect their group from more hurt.  I appreciated that while Synove is portrayed as a flirt who enjoys liaisons with different men Kazi and Wren didn’t judge her for that choice; they just chalked it up to Synove’s personality and moved on unless it affected their ability to complete a mission.

My only quibble with Dance of Thieves is that the resolution felt anti-climatic.  Suddenly, the main barrier between Jase and Kazi’s future disappeared, and they were free to be together.  Pearson hinted at some problems down the road, but they aren’t shown in the last few pages.  After so much drama and intrigue up until this point I was left a little disappointed (I think I was cynically expecting no resolution in this book and wanted them to struggle for a few more novels).  At the same time this may hint at the other two books providing Wren and Synove-centric stories, which I strongly support.

Dance of Thieves provided me with a historical fantasy setting with a nice dose of intrigue, adventure, and ballsy female characters to entertain me for a spell.  Ultimately, it didn’t have quite the bite I wanted, but it’s an enjoyable read that will give many fantasy readers, both young and old, something to devour during their downtime.

4 Sweetly Romantic Riddles out of 5

Posted in reviews | Leave a comment

Old Enough by Charmaine Pauls Book Review

Old Enough Cover

This is a review of an erotic novel featuring an older woman and a younger man as well as a hearty dose of kink.  If this isn’t your cup of tea I suggest skipping this one.

Brian Michaels sought out Jane Logan as a business transaction that would allow him to save his mother and baby sister from life on the wrong side of Johannesburg.  Sure, he’d been attracted to her photo, but he had never expected the explosive attraction between them to make him crave all of her as a permanent fixture in his life.  The last thing he wants to do is destroy her, but will his temporary employer let him get out of their deal?

Jane Logan is licking her wounds after her 12 year marriage ended unceremoniously (her husband fell in love with his secretary)  and just wants to find the space to grieve everything from her past and raise her daughter, Abby.  She doesn’t want a fling, especially not with a dominant young man who is barely out of high school…but when Jane allows her desire for Brian to turn into an intense sex session it seems clear that he’s the key to releasing her from her demons and making her whole again.

They’re two people who desperately want each other and offer something that can make the other whole, but they’re from totally different worlds, from totally different generations, and Brian’s secret will destroy everything if Jane ever finds out.

Charmaine Pauls has moved on from her previous series, The Loan Shark Duet, with a more palatable (to me) tale of a young man from the wrong side of the tracks and a rich older woman who could pick anyone to be by her side.  Brian hides how he appears in Jane’s life, but it doesn’t have the overt criminal overtones of  Loan Shark, and our hero actively is pursuing a non-mafia lifestyle.  I identified more with Brian and Jane than Gabriel and Valentina as well because while I’ve never lived in a crime-riddled city where even riding the bus could be life-threatening or had a neighborhood watch double as a gang their lives fall into a more recognizable track: Jane works in advertising, and Brian takes care of his mother and baby sister while attending classes to get his advertising degree.

Given this is erotica let me address the most important question of most readers: how are the sex scenes?  Sizzling!  Brian is extremely dominant in the bedroom, but he also values Jane’s agency and her pleasure.  The only times where he seems to push his partner beyond her limits are in specific kink related scenarios, and he advises Jane up front that it will get intense.  Brian pays attention to her reactions, and as he learns Jane’s sexual likes he also acknowledges where and when he can cross lines.  In one of the hottest scenes he even gives Jane complete control of the encounter because while he longs to be in charge he recognizes the power  of having someone you trust telling you what to do.

Some readers might be disturbed that Brian frequently shows up at Jane’s home with no prior notification, but for some reason I really didn’t mind.  They communicate regularly via text, and he is careful to never show up at times that would cause Jane problems with her ex-husband or daughter.  I mostly saw it as overly protective caring given the world our characters inhabit.

Wow…I didn’t expect to be so blown away by Jane and Brian’s story because romance with a huge age difference isn’t my catnip, but it never felt wrong (maybe because Brian was so clearly the pursuer).  If you enjoy super-hot erotica with age disparate characters in a unique setting (how many stories have you read in South Africa) pick this one up today!  You need to get hooked before the second half of the story comes out in August.

5 Incredibly Sexy But Possibly Age Inappropriate Dresses out of 5

 

Posted in reviews | Leave a comment