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REVIEW: Deep Desires by Charlotte Stein

REVIEW: Deep Desires by Charlotte Stein

Dear Charlotte Stein:

I picked up your novella, Deep Desires, after Mandi at Smexy Books recommended it. Mandi was very enthusiastic about this book, and it sounded different, so even though I hadn’t read any of your previous works, I went for it.

Deep-Desires1Abbie, the narrator of the story, is a survivor of an abusive relationship. She is living in an apartment complex called The Courtyard and working at a grocery store partly in order to keep a low profile. She is afraid of getting into another relationship because the last one turned out so badly.

One night, Abbie sees a male neighbor strip and masturbate facing the window which looks directly into hers. He does it slowly, and Abbie is drawn to the sight, even as she feels guilty about her voyeurism.

She doesn’t believe the neighbor knows she watched him, but she is still troubled by her action when she sees him collect his mail one day. Another neighbor has nicknamed him “The Serial Killer,” because he is a loner and little is known about him.

Almost against her will, Abbie watches to see if he’ll masturbate within view of her again. One night she see a message written in lipstick on his window: Your turn now. Abbie doesn’t do it, not right then, but then he masturbates again, going further this time. An aroused Abbie eventually takes his dare.

She learns the man’s name, Ivan Orlinsky, from his mailbox. And in her own mailbox, she finds a package from him. It is a puzzle box containing an ingenious sex toy. Abbie knows Ivan could, indeed, be dangerous, but he always makes her feel she has a choice about how far to go, and since they don’t share the same space except when they briefly pass each other by in the hallway, she feels safe exploring her sexuality with him.

The trouble is that in some ways, Ivan feels more vulnerable than Abbie. In addition to having OCD tendencies, he is also afraid to leave his apartment – or even to let Abbie into it. Can these two damaged people heal each other?

Deep Desires is a hot and emotional read but in some ways, it was tough to suspend my disbelief in this story. I didn’t, for example, understand why Abbie felt safe watching Ivan when he masturbated in front of his window. It takes some suspension of disbelief to buy that she, an abuse survivor, would not feel more uncomfortable with his weirdness when I sometimes did.

At the same time, I wondered what attracted Ivan to Abbie, beyond the damage they had both sustained. It isn’t clear since he has so little opportunity to know her when the attraction begins.

Deep Desires is definitely steamy – and I liked Abbie and wanted to like Ivan. They were both characters with some complexity and did not fit the usual hero/heroine types. I think they would have been more real to me had I seen more of their lives, more of their story.

Instead, the novella was limited to the apartment complex. For me, the characters’ worlds needed to be expanded, and questions about them needed answering. Was it just the history of abuse that led Abbie to work as a supermarket cashier? Could she afford her apartment on those wages or was she struggling financially? And what about Ivan? Did he ever leave his apartment to run errands, or were the things he needed always delivered to him?

When Ivan and Abbie declare their love for each other, I didn’t buy it. The novella was sexy, even haunting, in its depiction of their attraction to each other and their need for each other. I could buy that they filled each other’s empty spaces to some degree, but not that this was necessarily a healthy attraction or genuine love.

I say this because outside of one briefly summarized phone conversation about poetry and the dramatic final scene, I never saw them spend any time with one another that wasn’t sexual, and I don’t equate sex with love.

Without seeing these two interact outside the bedroom and outside the building, it was hard to fully believe in this relationship. And perhaps if they hadn’t declared their feelings so emphatically by the end of the story, I would not need to believe it. This novella is billed as erotica rather than erotic romance, and I don’t expect more than an HFN from the erotica genre. So the issue here is more that I felt I was meant to see this relationship as healthy and even as True Love.

[spoiler]Also, I didn’t understand what happened to the villain at the end of the story.[/spoiler]

If only for the haunting attraction, moody atmosphere, and hot sex, this novella was worth my time. But because of its flaws, I can’t see myself rereading it. C.



REVIEW: Hellbent by Cherie Priest

REVIEW: Hellbent by Cherie Priest

Dear Ms. Priest,

I was first introduced to your work with Four and Twenty Blackbirds, your Southern gothic debut. I remember liking it but for some reason, I never picked up another book by you again. It happens. So when I saw this book pop up on NetGalley, I glanced at your backlist and was shocked to discover how extensive it was! Time passes fast. Upon realizing that Hellbent was the second book in a series, I tracked down the first book Bloodshot (which I talked about briefly here) and liked it enough to give this one a go.

 Hellbent	Cherie PriestRaylene Pendle is a vampire who makes a living as the thief known as Cheshire Red. She’s lived a long time and is good at what she does — so good that many people think Cheshire Red is actually a man. After the events of Bloodshot, the normally solitary Raylene has picked up some friends: the blind vampire Ian Stott and the ex-Navy SEAL turned drag queen Adrian deJesus.

In Hellbent, Raylene is recruited to steal a very strange set of magical artifacts. Unfortunately, a brilliant but mentally unstable sorceress also wants them for her own purposes. And when she gets them first, Raylene will have to contend with the woman’s greatly amplified powers to get them back.

At the same time, Ian has a political problem on his hands. Vampires normally belong to Houses. Raylene left hers decades ago after a falling out with the head of the Chicago house. (The head wanted Raylene to die for her, and Raylene disagreed.) Ian, however, never actually left. He went into hiding after losing his sight because as one of the potential heirs, such a perceived weakness would put him at a disadvantage and make him a walking target. But now the San Francisco head has died and people are looking for Ian. And because of her feelings for him, Raylene will do anything to dissuade him from leaving, even if that means dealing with the San Francisco vampire house instead.

I’ll be the first person to say that urban fantasy is a crowded subgenre. Adult, young adult, blending with paranormal romance, traditional fantasy with urban fantasy trappings, it’s everywhere despite the fact that I think the subgenre’s heyday is behind us. But despite all that, I found Raylene’s voice very refreshing. Anyone who’s read urban fantasy is used to the tough loner heroine with attitude and a chip on her shoulder.

And while Raylene started out a loner in the previous book, Bloodshot, she’s a different take on that archetype. She’s a loner because of necessity. While she can be tough, it has more to do with living a long time on her own without a vampire house to back her up and being competent at what she does. It’s not a front. In fact, the only lies she tells involve her valuing her solitary life and disliking all these people barging in on it. That’s obviously not true since she collects people and takes them in, just like the valuables and artifacts she steals.

The biggest thing that sets her apart, however, is her personality. Raylene is neurotic and has OCD. I liked that this played on the traditional folklore about vampires where to distract them, you throw rice at them because that makes them stop and have to count each individual grain. (Like how The Count on Sesame Street teaches counting?) It makes for an interesting character because Raylene is simultaneously overprepared and reckless. She likes planning for contingencies but ends up taking risks when faced with the actual situation.

I think it’s this trait of Raylene’s that made her interactions with the sorceress Elizabeth interesting. Once she realized Elizabeth had schizophrenia, she stopped being the rival Raylene needed to eliminate. Instead she became someone Raylene wanted to help. And if there’s something Raylene suffers from, it’s this unacknowledged desire to help.

For me, though, the main flaw of Hellbent is that the plot is divided between the stolen artifact storyline and Ian’s vampire house storyline. A part of me originally thought they would converge and I read on, interested in seeing how they would. Because that didn’t happen, I was left with a scattered impression. I liked the vampire house storyline because plots involving political intrigue are a favorite of mine. But Raylene jumping back and forth between that and the stolen artifact storyline weakened it for me.

I was surprised by the conclusion to the subplot involving Adrian’s missing sister. Maybe neverending series have conditioned me to expect mysteries to be drawn out for several books. That the question was answered in this installment was refreshing. Unfortunately, it also struck me as a little too convenient.

As for the relationship between Raylene and Ian, I still have problems wrapping my mind around it. I think I just never bought it in Bloodshot, so while I can see Raylene doing all this because he’s a friend, I have a harder time thinking of them in a romantic way. I don’t know if that’s intentional but I admit I find their interactions to be emotionally unsatisfying.

Adrian, on the other hand, I can’t get enough of. I don’t care what he does. I just want more of him. I am interested in seeing how his new connection to Raylene will impact their relationship in the future.

Overall, I do think Hellbent was a worthwhile read. Maybe not so much about the events that take up the majority of the book but rather the fallout and what it means for the future. I am curious to see how Raylene proceeds from here. C+

My regards,

Previous book in this series: Bloodshot

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