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REVIEW:  At Any Price by Brenna Aubrey

REVIEW: At Any Price by Brenna Aubrey

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Dear Ms. Aubrey:

I enjoyed the short story “the Love Letter,” so decided to try this debut novel, despite not being a big fan of contemporary trilogies about innocent virgins and billionaire tycoons. As it turned out, I liked it… except for the innocent virgin/billionaire tycoon parts. There might be a lesson in that.

Mia, a struggling pre-med student and online role playing games blogger, has decided to take advantage of the bizarre value society places on female virginity by auctioning hers off. With the reluctant help of her best friend Heath, a careful auction with many safeguards and stipulations is held; the winner is unbearably handsome software prodigy Adam Drake.

This is a challenging set-up for a romance, because it’s a pretty unsavory situation on both ends. Adam’s side is more readily sympathetic: it’s obvious that getting into Mia’s pants is not his primary motive, although that’s not revealed to Mia for some time. It’s harder to accept Mia’s reasoning, and justifiably so — her tendency to lie to herself makes her something of an unreliable narrator.

In many ways this was a typical New Adult story. First person by female narrator, check. Heroine with a traumatic history of sexual abuse, check. Rescue from assault by the hero, check. Gay best friend — no wait, that’s a different subgenre; New Adult male friends are supposed to be straight so you can have a love triangle. I actually really liked Heath: he’s not written as a “fabulous” or sassy stereotype, but because he’s far more forthright and clear thinking than Mia, he gets many of the book’s best lines. (When Mia tells him she’s been reading Cosmo, he retorts,  “Stop right there. If you get your sex education from Cosmo then you are in for a world of hurt—or he is.”) And another way in which the book defies stereotype: although Drake does get into a little bit of icky virginity worship, it’s overall blessedly free of obvious slut-shaming.

Since Mia deeply distrusts men — I guess being gay scores Heath a pass — the deal is supposed to be just one night and no future contact, but the story goes in some unexpected directions and creates powerful emotions as Mia and Drake try to navigate what becomes an untenable situation. I personally would have preferred it if the story hadn’t tried to do everything: the basic plot is perfectly fine without all the fantasy accoutrements of Drake buying Mia expensive clothes and makeovers, taking her on trips, and “loaning” her expensive gadgets. (Readers who are more heavily into Cinderella stories certainly might disagree with me.) Mia’s responses to this treatment are inconsistent, and I didn’t always understand her motivations. The fact that she didn’t always understand them herself wasn’t enough to make her character completely work for me.

I also didn’t get much of an authentic geek vibe from her or Adam, except that the fact that Adam used his wealth to spend time on the International Space Station rang very true. The love scenes had a certain distance to them, as did Mia’s constant harping on Adam’s perfect hotness; in both cases, she seemed to be describing more than truly reacting. The best part of the book may be the plot: its bare bones summary sounds both generic and skeevy, but (much like On the Island by Tracy Garvis-Graves) what actually happens is meaningful, and reveals a lot about both characters.

At Any Price doesn’t have the feel of a professionally edited book. There aren’t any execrable errors, but there are some continuity issues and grammar flubs that could have been cleaned up. I was still absorbed by the storytelling, and though it happily does not end on a cliffhanger, there are enough genuine complications in Mia and Drake’s relationship to make me interested in the next book. Though I was disappointed that the series turned out to be a trilogy… especially since I was hoping for a book for Heath. C



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REVIEW:  Behold the Stars by Susan Fanetti

REVIEW: Behold the Stars by Susan Fanetti

Dear Ms. Fanetti:

Both Kati D and I enjoyed your first book and we recommended it to many other readers with the caveat that the motorcycle club featured in the book helps to traffic meth throughout the St. Louis pipeline. It’s not heroic behavior but given that we are reading about an outlaw motorcycle gang, I accepted this storyline.

Behold the Stars Susan FanettiOne of the great features of Move the Son was the female protagonist, Lillie Accardo. She falls in love with the president of a motorcycle club called the Night Horde, Isaac Lunden. Their romance is the very best thing about this story. Lillie’s struggle for independence while still being part of a couple is endearing. Isaac is completely gone over her and has no trouble admitting it.  But the romance is overshadowed by the suspense portion of the book. My issues with the book can be broken down into three broad categories. There is extreme violence toward women in this book; an excessive and unlikely romanticization of the MC; and finally Lillie’s agency often seems stripped from her.

Let’s start with the romanticization of the MC. In the beginning Lillie muses that this small band of men are actually more honorable than the ordinary citizen. No, sorry. A group that decides they will run a protection ring for meth producers aren’t really that honorable no matter that they are “face to face with real consequences.” The story is book-ended, open and close, with this idea that the MC is this really cool club filled with really awesome people not withstanding the lengths that they go to achieve their selfish ends which is to run their little club and keep their town alive. Further, the whole idea that all the Night Horde does is provide protection is disproved later in the book when Isaac says that they are going to bring all the cookers in to discuss new ways to make money. So they are producing meth and protecting it. I’m irritated that I have to read about how honorable and worthwhile it is because it really isn’t.

The first 40% of the book is set up as the “villain”, a big crime boss named Lawrence Ellis, tries to take over Isaac’s town. Lawrence is a villain only because he opposes Isaac’s Night Horde group and wants to take over the Midwest meth production and sales. I guess his ambition and the lengths that he will go to achieve that makes him villainous but unfortunately I felt the Night Horde was just as villainous.

As Ellis begins to put the squeeze on Isaac and his town, they are forced to fight back and the way in which they do this was hard to swallow. There was one scene in particular where I had to put down the book and I wondered if I would ever go back. I did return but was subjected to just more violence after that. Spoiler ahead

Spoiler (spoiler): Show

There are several women that are raped in the book including one fifteen year old who is literally raped to death. The MC figure out that there is a mole and it’s a woman. One of the members of the MC has loose lips during sex and has revealed a number of details to the young woman. So they torture her, prepare to rape her and then decide at the last minute to just chop off her head. With an ax. In front of her father via Skype. Isaac says that she deserves it but where her actions really any different than his?  She was helping her father preserve their lifestyle just like Isaac did all kinds of bad deeds in order to protect his.

The book ends with a “satisfactory” ending on the relationship front and from a romance standpoint, it had an interesting dynamic. Lillie was trying to cope with being part of Isaac’s life, both his business life with the MC and his personal life. She had been alone for a long time and adjusting to being part of a team was difficult.

The writing was good and that made the disturbing scenes all the more worse because I could visualize those things happening. As I said in the beginning, one of the primary problems I had with this book was the middle portion of the book where there seemed to be non stop violence. Several women were sexually violated and some in pretty graphic terms. Lillie took back a lot of the agency lost at the end but I was too sorrowful to enjoy it at that time.

I joked with KatiD that I felt like I suffered a mild case of PTSD after reading this book. It’s very grim and while there is a romance, I almost felt resentful reading about the hearts and flowers, particularly at the end. I don’t know if I came away with a feeling that they deserved it. From a purely technical standpoint, it was a gripping read for me although after a major scene I did lose interest. Both my stomach and my heart were impaired at that point.

Maybe read it as a horror book instead of a romance. It’s decently written. There’s a strong romance. Individually I liked Lillie but after the midway point in the book, I just couldn’t like Isaac enough. I just don’t think I can read romances like this. I can’t tell you how much I would’ve liked to recommend this book to readers. I told all kinds of people about Move the Sun but this one should come with a warning. Lots of warnings. C

Best regards,


If you have any triggers for violence against women or animals, I’d advise you to be careful if you choose to read it.

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