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REVIEW:  Beautiful Stranger by Christina Lauren

REVIEW: Beautiful Stranger by Christina Lauren

Beautiful Stranger (Beautiful Bastard #2) by Christina Lauren Dear Ms. Lauren:

Elyssa Patrick, my twinsie in book reading, and reviewer Kati D loved Sweet Filthy Boy and both urged me to try it. I confess I was turned off by both the cover and the title and shunned the book for some time. I’d read Beautiful Bastard when it first came out and while it was entertaining, it didn’t move me to read more of the series.

But one day I was going through my old ARC pile and came across Sweet Filthy Boy and opened it up…and didn’t put it down until I’d read the last printed word. The pile of abandoned books became my pillow as I laid down to read the story of Ansel and Mia, two young people trying to make an impulsive marriage work. It was nothing like Beautiful Bastard where the couple spent most of their time hate fucking. And I even acknowledged with some reluctance that the title was apt. Ansel was a sweet filthy boy, emphasis on the sweet.

I went and bought Beautiful Stranger to discover whether the true voice of Christina Lauren was hate fucking Chloe and Bennett or sweet, confused lovers Ansel and Mia. Most of the books are more in the tone of Ansel and Mia than the Beautiful Bastard, to my relief. There’s nothing wrong with a good hatefuck, it’s just that sort of drama can be wearying whereas I can spend hours and days reading about sweet heroes who are befuddled by their newfound love feelings. Kind of like a puppy who discovers his own tail and can’t stop chasing that magnificent thing around and around.

Beautiful Stranger is a hookup story between Max Stella, a British ex-pat, who runs a venture capital business with his friend Will. He sees Sara Dillon dancing at a night club and is turned on. With her permission, he drags her onto a balcony and proceeds to stranger fuck her in the club. Sara loves this but she also believes that the one night stand is all she’s interested in. She just moved to New York City to work as a financial officer for Bennett’s family firm. And she’s put a painful relationship behind her.

For Max’s part, he’s stunned by his obsession for the petite dancer from the bar. When he discovers her identity, he convinces her to give him a chance but all Sara is interested in is a hook up. One night a week, on her terms. Max agrees. The two then explore Sara’s proclivities for voyeurism and exhibitionism. She likes the feeling of being watched, she likes the danger of being caught, and Max is happy to plan new activities whether it’s in the dusty stacks of the library or in an empty apartment building.

The one drawback in this book is that Sara’s intense need for privacy and her desire for sexual exhibitionism isn’t well explored from her point of view. Max thinks the dichotomy is endlessly fascinating but I would’ve liked to have had Sara give me some insight as to how she balanced the two. Her relationship conflict (I only like hookups) didn’t mesh with the external conflict (I like my privacy but will I get caught?!). For someone as photo shy as she was, she certainly seemed to enjoy being filmed endlessly by her hook up.

Sara seemed like a complex character but her parts were never fully explored. Max Stella was a dear, the kind of sweet, tender alpha male that I’ve always loved in my books. But to some extent, he too, was rather flat. He liked Sara. He liked sex. That seemed to be about it. But because the characters were so likeable and because the romance was sweet and because the sex was so very hot, I picked up the next book immediately. And it’s a book I’d recommend to others with caveats. B-

Best regards,

Jane

 

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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.

~Janine

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