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REVIEW: Stripped by Tori St. Claire

Dear Ms. St. Claire:

I have a feeling that this book is going to get some bad grades because the heroine does very bad things and is hard and edgy and the redemption story is hers, not the male protagonist.  But it is because of the heroine that I enjoyed this book.   Natalya Trubachev is a CIA agent. She’s been deep undercover trying to run down all the different factions of a sex trafficking trade. At the beginning of the book, she is the procuress for one of the main players in Russia.

Stripped by Tori St ClaireHer actions are ameliorated a little by the fact that she is enabling the kidnapping and sale of beautiful strippers, but this is a chick who has been doing bad things in the name of patriotism for three years. She’s also been sleeping with the major mafia boss who thinks he is in love with her. She is sent to Las Vegas to procure a few more girls because their U.S. contact is not doing a very good job.  Let me repeat, Natalya isn’t saving these girls. She is actually sending these kidnapped women into the sex trade.  As the book opens, Natalya is on the verge of burn out:

Natalya shivered with her. This part was the worst. Three years of soothing the women should have made her immune. At one time, she had been disconnected from them. But now, each pale face, each quivering lip, curled her stomach and left her questioning things she didn’t dare consider. Things like her purpose. The state of her soul. Like why she’d ever become a Black Opal, an elite, deadly, and highly undocumented CIA operative.

When she is sent to the U.S., the person she is to recruit ends up being her fraternal twin sister.  The major flaw in this story is the number of coincidences like this one.  The sibling connection was INCREDIBLE in this story and by that I mean, totally not believable. I had to swallow this eye rolling contrivance in order to move on and enjoy the story.

Romance is replete with redemption stories about bad bad men.  I’ve seen readers complain about the wussy girl spies but this is a woman who is fucking, lying, killing, for the CIA.  It might be an impediment that some readers can’t get past.

In the Vegas club, Fantasia, Lieutenant Brandon Moretti is working undercover to catch a serial killer targeting the blonde dancers in Vegas. Of course, it isn’t a serial killer, exactly.  Moretti and his team of Vice cops are driven, in part, by the death of a female member of their team to this serial killer.

It is at Fantasia where much of this story takes place. Where Natalya grapples with her conscience and weighs the cost of her actions against the ability to live with herself.  Where Brandon struggles with his increasing attraction to Natalya, the new stripper,  his concern for her safety, and his belief that she is lying to him about something.

Natalya is not alone. Her bodyguard, Sergei, is actually another undercover agent for the CIA and has been working, in tandem with Natalya to bring down the Russian mob.  He’s only had to kill people unlike Natalya who has had to have sex with an evil man, make him fall in love with, all the while sending strippers into captivity.  Sergei and Natalya try to smoke out the cops on the take, the Russian mob connection, and destroy the Bratva once and for all.  Natalya is uncertain whether Brandon is her Russian contact or whether it is someone else.

Their attraction to each other is immediate but it worked in this book, as if the pheromone setting was on high at all times.  You couldn’t be in Fantasia and not be affected by the lust.

The dancing/stripping scenes were really well done, described as a real skill and not just for titillation.  The russian mobster really does love Natalya and his love for her provides an added dimension to the story.  Often I dislike reading scenes from the villains point of view because they seem so gratuitous. Not so in this case.

As a vision of Natalya’s green eyes leapt to life in his mind, Dmitri couldn’t help but smile. He ran a hand down the curtains, fabric she’d chosen when he’d invited her to move in. Then, he had never imagined he could come to care so much for a woman who’d once been no more than a hired gun. But her eyes, like the heavy silk between his fingers, made him think of summer, of happiness. Of life. Not the death that surrounded him.

The dark tone, the sexy story, the undercover Vice cops huge capacity to forgive the heroine for constantly lying to him (he knows she is lying to him, just doesn’t know what it is about) all worked for me.  I liked reading about a hard edged female agent who was doing dirty things because that’s what a real CIA agent would do, right? I acknowledge that this book is not for everyone and it is flawed but it’s different than I’ve read before.  B-

Best regards,

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

25 Comments

  1. Christine M.
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 10:59:15

    No digging the cover, but the story itself sounds great. I like how different it seems. :)

  2. Julie
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 11:19:55

    I was all set to purchase this book . . . but the price of $9.99 stopped me in my tracks.

  3. MaryK
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 11:21:03

    Reminds me a bit of the original La Femme Nikita TV series.

  4. Junne
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 13:04:06

    I don’t care if she’s killing or lying for the CIA, but sleeping with a mafia boss who isn’t the hero? Major romance killer for me.

  5. Angela
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 13:20:01

    I just found this book yesterday on Goodreads, and am really interested in reading it. The $9.99 cost is prohibitive though. I think I’ll wait and see if it comes down.

  6. Jane
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 13:54:09

    No question that this is expensive. I got to read it for free so it is easier for me to make the recommendation. Perhaps penguin will allow it to be borrowed in the library.

  7. Jane
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 13:57:04

    @MaryK I totally see the comparison now that you point it out.

  8. Jane
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 13:57:20

    @Christine M. I think the cover is awful.

  9. LG
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 14:54:39

    @Junne: Same here. Now, if the mafia boss were the hero I’d probably go for it. Even though many of the relationship complications would be predictable, I’d still enjoy seeing how everything played out.

  10. Dani Alexander
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 16:27:32

    I had this discussion on another book recommend about assassins being real assassins. I think it annoys me nowadays that h/h are always the good bad guy. I’m thinking I’d enjoy this story except for the erotic part. I’m much more into story than I am the erotica. I like my sex scenes to be enfolded in a story, not a story enfolded in romance/sex. Is this a true erotic? If it has more story than erotica, I’m going to buy this sucker so fast.

    I’m really ready to reward authors who take risks and make characters as realistic as possible. Loving that. LOVING it.

  11. CD
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 17:08:33

    Well, to be honest, I have a lot more problems with the killing and sex trafficking than with just screwing a guy for your job. If you’re willing to kill and traffick women into the sex industry, fucking a guy seems like rather small change morally speaking…

    However, this does sounds interesting although the erotica element sounds a bit off. The description reminds me a bit of Maureen Tan’s “AKA Jane” and “Run Jane run” books which also have a spy heroine who does what it takes to survive undercover.

  12. Jane
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 17:10:30

    @Dani Alexander: There is a lot of sexual tension and sex in the book.

  13. Lynz
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 20:47:39

    I doubt that there is any way you could have written this review to make this story appeal to me more – the opening paragraph alone sold me. There’s nothing I love more than a complicated, unconventional heroine!

  14. Ridley
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 21:45:26

    $9.99 and spies is a no go for me. Way too expensive for one and authors invariably treat spy/operative plots as carte blanche for making shit up when it’s convenient. Lord knows no one’s gonna fact check them.

    Wicked shame, though, as I love a good morally ambiguous heroine.

  15. cleo
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 21:49:35

    Is there a new trend in romances about the sex trafficking trade? It seems like an unlikely subject to me, although I’m sure it can be done well. There’s the Lori Foster series (which I’ve flipped through and found dumb and not very compelling). And in Cherise Sinclair’s Make Me Sir (which I liked), the heroine goes under cover at a BDSM club as bait for a ring kidnapping feisty submissives to be sold in some sort of sex trafficking ring.

  16. Dani Alexander
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 22:06:05

    @cleo:

    Is there a new trend in romances about the sex trafficking trade? It seems like an unlikely subject to me, although I’m sure it can be done well.

    I dunno, but that is weird because my story deals with human trafficking as well (though not just of the sex traffickers.). I’m not sure where I got the idea from, but I started writing the story around January of last year. I think I saw a Dateline (or maybe it was the Demi/Ashton campaign) or something that had to do with it. I did a lot of research on the subject. A LOT and it’s really a growing problem in the USA. Yes, the USA. I was shocked at how very big the problem is.

    For anyone wanting to help with this growing problem, you can visit UNODC.org or humantrafficking.org. The stories and information are very compelling. And, surprisingly, it’s not just the sex trades these people are being forced into.

    *steps off soapbox* Ahem… sorry. Got a little carried away =D

  17. Janine
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 11:17:30

    I am one of those who complains about wussy female spies so I’ll have to try this book. For me a spy heroine who has sex with whoever she needs to sleep with to get her job done, and who actually kills people would be welcome, a breath of fresh air. I’m not sure about the sex trafficking though. Completely agree with CD that’s a much bigger moral issue than sleeping around. So is the killing, but if no one dies, it isn’t such a convincing spy world IMO.

  18. Twila Price
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 14:26:20

    I don’t know if I’ll like this, but I figure that if I want diversity in my romance, I had better put some cash where my mouth is. So this is now on my Kindle to be read list.

    As for the price, well, since most paperbacks are getting around $8 or $9 these days, $10 is not excessive, imho. (And I recall when paperbacks were .35, yanno?)

  19. JMM
    Jan 04, 2012 @ 17:40:16

    I may try this myself; I hate it when a heroine is a spy who can’t bring herself to deceive, a businesswoman who is always weeping at having to fire someone or a cop who melts when meeting a hot suspect.

  20. job
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 11:58:45

    … She is actually sending these kidnapped women into the sex trade. …

    If the book treats the business of forced prostitution in anything approaching a realistic manner, I don’t see how the author presents the protagonist as a romance heroine.

  21. Joanna K.
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 23:50:31

    I saw the antihero tag and the review wasn’t what I expected. Granted, I tend tend to devour books where our male protagonists are the antiheroes your review of Stripped piqued my interest even though this time we’re stepping away from the norm with a female antihero.

    Debating now on whether to get the kindle or printed version(s).

  22. Mandi
    Jan 08, 2012 @ 20:30:57

    I really liked the heroine…I can’t stand it if characters have violent jobs or live in violent worlds, but then that violence is not portrayed in the books. This one worked really well for me.

    The sexual tension was super intense too.

    I agree though with the sister – an eye roll. There were a few other connections with characters that was too crazy. But otherwise, I liked.

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