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Stephanie Julian

REVIEW:  By Private Invitation by Stephanie Julian

REVIEW: By Private Invitation by Stephanie Julian

Dear Ms. Julian:

I requested your book because I’d seen a number of favorable reviews and I love an ugly duckling story, which, at first glance is what I thought this book was. Unfortunately, while the premise was promising, I found myself disengaged from the characters and found the action made the book quite easy to put down.

By-Private-Invitation-Julian-StephanieAnnabelle Elder has decided to attend a New Year’s Eve costume party at the Haven Hotel following the discovery of her smarmy boyfriend in an extremely compromising position with his secretary. Tired of being overlooked, she and her best friend, Kate, are determined to go to the party and have a good time. Lucky for Belle, Kate is a world class seamstress and Kate has created quite the daring costume for Belle. Almost as soon as Annabelle enters the ballroom, she catches the eye of Jared Golden, who co-owns The Haven with his brother, Tyler. Jared is a gorgeous bachelor-slash-millionaire and known as a man who loves women, and he’s intrigued by Belle. Even more so when he dances with her and he discovers that she is intelligent and quick witted. He finds himself struggling with unfamiliar jealousy as other men ask Belle to dance and he’s forced to act as host for the evening. But soon he’s able to tear himself away and escort Belle to the famed private gardens of the hotel. As they explore the gardens, they engage in some heavy flirting that culminates in sex on a secluded bench in the garden. It is after the mind-blowing sex that Jared decides to invite Belle to The Salon, the private after-party that he hosts. The party goers are made up of ten close friends who sign confidentiality agreements and then engage in a night of wild sex. Belle immediately agrees, having decided that she’s going to live it up this one night before going back to her quiet life of owning an antiques shop.  The couple goes to the party, which could have been a set up for some really inventive, spicy love scenes, but instead was mostly a threesome scene and then a voyeur scene that both felt slightly forced and not that creative.

The morning after, Belle overhears Jared talking the Tyler about the fact that he noticed a pin that Belle was wearing with her costume, and he believes it might be part of a set of jewelry that was stolen from his grandmother. Belle storms off thinking that Jared was just using her to get the pin back. Of course, she leaves the pin – it’s not hers. Little does she know, Jared is bewitched by her magic vagina, and is not ready for things to end. Belle drowns herself in wine and True Blood season one, and Jared works to find her (she didn’t give him her last name). Once he finds her, he shows up at her shop under the guise of looking for a new area to put a spa  — what luck there’s a hidden castle in the area that no one is using! He insists that Belle go to dinner with him because he wants her to furnish the castle/spa. During their business meeting they also agree to have a no-strings-attached sexual relationship. But Jared has trouble on the home front with his parents, so he must leave almost immediately after he and Belle have sex, so Belle thinks he’s not very serious about her. The misunderstandings between the two continue throughout the book mostly due to the two making wild assumptions about each other and not having conversations to resolve the misunderstandings. There is also a storyline about some paintings and Belle’s past, but honestly, it felt forced into the story as a plot point, and was not something that propelled the story forward at all.

Ultimately, this book failed for me because the “ugly duckling” heroine seemed neither ugly, nor awkward, the hero was supposed to be controlling and dominant, but mostly seemed to suffer a lack of self control (the heroine literally couldn’t breathe his air without him getting an erection – what, is he 14?), and the “conflicts” never really seemed to emerge as actual problems for the couple. I also wish that the sex scenes hadn’t seemed so forced. They often felt like you were following a quota – “I’ve written 2,500 words, time for a sex scene!” as opposed to flowing organically throughout the story. Overall, By Private Invitation was a miss for me. I’m giving it a D.

Kind regards,

Kati

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REVIEW: Sex, Lies & Surveillance by Stephanie Julian

REVIEW: Sex, Lies & Surveillance by Stephanie Julian

Dear Ms. Julian:

I liked the blurb for this book.  The heroine is the daughter of famous CIA agents who have retired. Janey DeMarco works in the family agency that does everything from surveillance to retrieval of kidnapped victims.  Their agency’s services are wide ranging, almost too wide ranging in my opinion. I had a hard time getting a handle on exactly the nature of this agency as if it was deliberately opaque so that the agency would have the mutability to change according to the needs of the series.  In this book, it seemed as if there were only but a few operatives to carry off the extensive agency business.

Sex Lies Surveillance	stephanie JulianMuch is made of the DeMarco parents’ past. They are legendary in the CIA and with other government agencies but their name has appeared in conjunction with gun sales to terrorists.  Malcolm Laughlin is sent in, by himself, undercover to ferret out the DeMarco secrets by posing as a new hiree.  Mal and Janey strike sparks off each other, but given that Mal is lying to her the whole time, their relationship is premised on untruths.  Frankly, the HEA ending didn’t work for me because of the quickness of the resolution given the length and number of lies that Mal told.

I did like the emotional conflicts.  Mal was torn between his growing belief that the DeMarcos could not possibly be guilty and the need to see justice done for his now dead partner who was shot in a botched undercover gun deal. He liked all the DeMarcos, from the parents to the hard ass older brother and the mad genius young brother, not to mention his inappropriate feelings toward Janey.  Janey was frustrated with the mundane roles she played at the agency. Her parents and brothers were over protective and Janey felt stifled by their attitudes and strafed at the familial bonds.  She is being recruited by the NSA to go work in their computer division but she is reluctant to leave the firm, particularly given the recent health scare of her father.

It seems EVERYONE in this book has mad computer/hacking skills  but Janey was portrayed as nothing more than an office administrator. I know good ones are hard to find, but recruited by the NSA:

These days, Janey barely left the office. She sat in front of a computer most days, dealing with clients or various government agencies.

There were some world building details that bothered me.  Why was Janey being recruited by NSA when she was suspected of a serious crime?   I had a hard time believing that the DeMarco’s agency was very good given that Mal could root around the computers, enter a pristine tech lab, and basically steal information from the agency without any one knowing.

The main suspense offered in this story (other than Mal’s snooping) is finding the stalker of a famous movie producer.  The identity of the stalker seemed so obvious or at least the purported agency didn’t seem to do much to discover the stalker except to follow the director around.

Mal and Janey and everyone is likeable and their chemistry seemed genuine.  I’m intrigued by the other romances that are set up and would probably be interested in reading the DeMarco mom and dad’s romance. However, as much as this is a decent read, it didn’t stick with me and I was vaguely unsatisfied by the ending.  C+

Best regards,

Jane