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REVIEW:  My Liege of Dark Haven by Cherise Sinclair

REVIEW: My Liege of Dark Haven by Cherise Sinclair

Dear Ms. Sinclair,

I’m pretty sure I’ve not read anything by you before. I saw Angela James talking about your book on Twitter and clicked over to Amazon to see whether the book might appeal to me.

 Threatened by university cutbacks, Professor Abigail Bern’s only hope is to publish a provocative research paper–soon. Planning to covertly observe behavior in the notorious Dark Haven BDSM club, she takes a receptionist job. When the owner calls upon her to assist in a demonstration, she’s appalled. Then fascinated. Under the unyielding hands of the master known as my Liege, she discovers a need to be more than an observer.

His late wife had been the center of his life, and Xavier Leduc wants no other. But when his new receptionist does her utmost to keep an emotional distance from him, he’s intrigued and digs deeper. She’s adorable. Intriguingly intelligent, beautifully submissive, sweetly vulnerable. He soon realizes her defenses are keeping her on the fringe of her sexuality–and her life. As he draws her into fuller participation, she unconsciously does the same for him. She begins to fill his world.

Ever since the night she met my Liege Xavier, Abby has questioned everything she believes about herself. She’s falling for the stern owner of Dark Haven and thinks he’s beginning to care for her…until the day he learns why she’s in his club.  – Goodreads Description

The blurb itself was enough to peak my interest, but it was the cover, showing a man’s back and long braid that really intrigued me. For some reason, I’m a sucker for a man with a long braid.

As the blurb says, Abby is facing losing her job at the university if she doesn’t live up to the maxim, “Publish or perish”. She needs something provocative to write about.  After being unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend, Nathan, who really wanted her to explore the D/s lifestyle with her, Abby decides to face her fear and goes to Dark Haven, a local BDSM club. There she hopes to covertly observe and then write a paper about the social interactions and hierarchy within the club. When she arrives, she discovers that the club has just lost its receptionist. Given that she definitely cannot afford the dues to the club, she decides to take the job. One of the perks of the club is being allowed to play. Abby has absolutely no intention of playing; she’s there to study the behavior of the members. That is, until she meets the club’s intriguing owner, Xavier Leduc.

Xavier has been mourning his wife, Catherine, since she died five years ago. In the time since her sudden and unexpected death, he’s become known as a player. He generally has a few women he dates, a slave who lives at home with him and a play partner at the club. But he’s committed to no one, knowing that he’d never be able to duplicate his relationship with Catherine. But when he meets Abby, he notes immediately that she’s both a born submissive and has absolutely no idea what that means. He decides that he’ll begin her training by having her assist him in a demonstration with a younger Dom who needs some guidance. After the exercise, Xavier collars Abby indicating to club members that they’ll need to seek his permission before playing with her. He also tells her in no uncertain terms that she will not be permitted to just observe what goes on in the club, rather she must participate.

Abby is wholly disconcerted to find that Xavier is insistent that she join in the activities of the club. But in order to complete her research, she decides to give it a try. As she and Xavier begin to play, she finds that he demands her full attention, asks invasive questions, and is constantly putting her body, which she’s terribly self-conscious about, on display. And then there is the connection that she is beginning to feel with him. She’s very clear that Xavier doesn’t “do” relationships, but the insight he shows into her personality and foibles and his insistence that she never put him off with a lie or evasion is building her trust and her feelings for him. After they have sex for the first time, Xavier unceremoniously leaves Abby, realizing that he didn’t think of his wife once – something that’s never happened before. But Xavier can’t seem to stay away from Abby. She’s a gentle soul, one who he feels both responsible for and connected to. He continues to see her, and his feelings continue to build. As Abby tries desperately not to fall for Xavier, he’s busy falling deeply for her.

I really enjoyed this book. I formed an emotional bond with Abby almost immediately, even if I did question her motivation for joining the club. I felt like her reaction to the intimacy that Xavier was forcing on her, her body issues and her bewilderment that someone like Xavier would be interested in her was something I could really relate to. Her consternation at being told she needed to wear less at the club was exactly how I’d feel, and I appreciated her thought process behind taking off her top or bottom — it felt very real to me. I also like Xavier. He was domineering at times, but tempered that with a lovely need to take care of Abby, making him a Caregiving Alpha, my very favorite hero-type. He showed emotional awareness and thoughtful care, and I fully understood his reluctance to becoming entangled with Abby, and more, how she fell head over heels in love with him.

If I had any complaint about the book it would be that Abby’s stepsister, Janae, who played a small but crucial role in the climax of the story, was straight out of central casting. I would have liked to have understood more about her, why she behaved the way she did. Instead, she was just written EEEVIL, which was a bit much for me. Otherwise, this is a well written, deeply enjoyable romance featuring truly likeable characters and some very spicy sex scenes that build the connection and intensity of emotion between the characters. I give My Liege of Dark Haven a solid B.

Kind regards,

Kati

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REVIEW:  Giving It Up by Amber Lin

REVIEW: Giving It Up by Amber Lin

Dear Ms. Lin:

Trigger: Rape

Your book came highly recommended by author Ruthie Knox. Knox did admit that her view may be somewhat colored by the fact that the two of you are friends. There are moments of incredible loveliness in the writing and I appreciated the challenging characterization you were trying to bring to life, but the story got bogged down by an unnecessary suspense plot and lacked depth for the other individuals in the book. Telling a story in the first person can create immediate intimacy with the reader, but it also requires a deft hand in making the other characters of the book fully realized.

Giving It Up Amber LinAllison was raped by her best friend. She has a number of confusing feelings that arise out of the rape including how it was her fault, that she could have done more, and how she still loves her rapist. Her lack of self esteem, her trouble finding release in anything but the most degrading sex, were heartbreaking and I wanted to find out more about her life and her redemption.

Allison seeks out anonymous and rough release from club pickups approximately once a month.  One night she spies a brawny tough in her favorite pickup spot and after she spies at least one gorgeous woman getting shot down, she thinks that it is unlikely the tall silent man would have an interest in her.  Yet he does.  Not only does he have an interest, but the taciturn man seeks something from Allison that she doesn’t really believe that she has in her to give – tenderness and intimacy.

The man is Colin and he’s an enigma.  We don’t find out why he is pursuing Allison; and, more importantly, why he’s so understanding of Allison’s personal issues.  The latter is a fairly big issue in the book because Allison’s treatment of Colin provides a certain tension in the romance and unfortunately, the resolution simply limps toward the end.  The two have significant emotional issues; Colin maneuvers Allison into moving in with him against her will; Allison’s supposed search for independence disappears; she resigns herself to Colin’s safe keeping only to have her peace of mind threatened by a romantic suspense subplot and the confrontation with her rapist.

I felt like you were trying to tell an anti romance story, pushing against genre norms and I wanted to appreciate it more. Colin was into organized crime but he was a white knight for Allison. Allison’s best friend was a prostitute.

As the story unspools, I came to believe that this was not a story about Allison’s redemption, but simply one about her imperfect life and her struggle to cope and if that was the story I was being given, I would have been on board.  Yet genre norms kept creeping in such as random couplings of secondary characters (i.e., the prostitute hooking up with Colin’s brother) done for no other purpose that to what? provide sequel bait?

There are so many improbabilities in the book that wear down the realism of the story. Allison’s rape trauma and her subsequent demoralized self esteem was diminished by having her raped by a cop in the hospital room after the rape kit is taken because it appeared over the top and ridiculous. Why not have him come to her house later and do the deed? Placing his aggression at the hospital scene places a surrealness to the story and detracts from the impact of Allison’s suffering. It was as if you were trying to pile on extra victimization so we really really understood that there was no one she could trust. A little subtlety could have gone a long way here.

The voice of the writing was quite nice and I felt like there was a really amazing story somewhere in amongst the messed up plot and the crazy romantic suspense thread. Unfortunately, the emotional arc is never really fully realized, either by having Allison just realize there is no healing or by having her achieve peace in her situation or actually coming into a better place emotionally.

The idea that this ephemeral feeling of “love” that she feels for Colin (although why it is love, I’m not sure) can heal her or somehow make the sexual experience different for her was completely disappointing. C-

Best regards,

Jane

 

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