An Extraordinary Union

So it’s only since starting my day job at an * internationally renowned romance imprint * just under a year ago that I really ever ran my eyeballs over historical romantic fiction – up until then it had never really been my jam, but come to find out: it’s a vibe! But thus far for me it’s been primarily a Regency reading experience, and also woefully lacking in non-white characters, especially in the central roles. But having heard umpteen positive things about Alyssa Cole’s The Loyal League series, and most especially the first book in the series, AN EXTRAORDINARY UNION, my interest was, indeed, piqued. And my interest in US history went all the way to degree level, so I’m not gonna lie – a romance between a born-free woman undercover as a slave in the South during the Civil War, and a Union detective undercover as a Confederate soldier, at first seemed likely to be… challenging.

But in the hands of a skilled, thoughtful writer such as Alyssa Cole, this pairing proved to be sexy, romantic and compelling, while never shying away from the genuine socio-political issues that will face Elle and Malcolm as they navigate their attraction to one another. Elle is, to say the very least, resistant to trusting the admittedly gorgeous, charming Scotsman as they warily work together to foil a potentially disastrous Confederate plot, and she articulates the wider concerns of falling for a man whose kinsman (at best) view her as less-than. Elle is also cognisant of the fact that Malcolm could, even in spite of his protestations, have a fetishised or skewed view of her sexually (or otherwise) as a black woman. But Cole is at pains to convince us not only of Malcolm’s genuine love and respect for Elle, but also gives our heroine absolute agency, clarity, intelligence and beauty. Elle is the star of the show for me in this story – a thoughtful and well-rounded character, wonderfully nuanced. Cole even considers how Elle’s eidetic memory, a hugely powerful tool in her undercover work, also made her a painful novelty as a young girl, serving as awkward proof of her ‘humanity’ even amongst abolitionists whose hearts were supposedly in the right place.

It’s only the very discomfort that lingers, that re-memory of which Toni Morrison so eloquently wrote, that prevented me from full-throttle love for this love story – but Ms Cole has handled a difficult premise incredibly well, giving us a clever, adventure-filled, sexy angle on forbidden love. And any writer that cites Ta-Nehisi Coates’ articles as an influence is grand in my book. Extraordinary indeed.

Cringe Factor                                   1/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             3.5/5

For the Love of Feminism!             4/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                 4/5

UNFORGIVABLE LOVE by Sophfronia Scott

Unforgivable Love

Something has been sitting guiltily on my shelf for longer than I care to remember – and no, it’s not this blog (though hi, yeah, I know, long time…). It’s my copy of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ (try saying that with a mouthful of Maltesers) epistolary classic Les Liaisons Dangereuses, about the scheming seductions of two French aristocrats, first published in 1782. Have I cracked its cover? No. But I doubt Pierre will be too perturbed to learn that, given that his story has endured through the centuries, adapted countless times – chief among them, in my mind at least, via one of my favourite films of all time, Dangerous Liaisons. Stephen Frears’ 1988 adaptation starred the glorious pairing of Glenn Close and John Malkovich, with a supporting cast equally as fantastic – Uma Thurman, Keanu My Catnip Reeves, and the luminescent Michelle Pfeiffer. Ever since I first saw it, the devious, sexy, deliciously cruel exploits of the vengeful Marquis de Merteuil and her amoral co-conspirator, playboy Vicomte de Valmont captivated me. They realise too late that love is more powerful than revenge, that they’ve manipulated their own emotions, and it all ends in powerfully romantic tragedy.

But it was another adaptation that recently grabbed my attention – this stunning retelling of the story with one genius twist. Instead of 18th Century aristocratic society, Sophfronia Scott’s Unforgivable Love is set among high-society African-Americans in late 1940s Harlem. The central characters are now transformed into the utterly charming scoundrel Valiant Jackson, and the cold-hearted beauty who is the only woman he’s yet to seduce, socialite and business doyenne Mae Malveaux. Scott immediately sinks us into the sweaty uptown streets, the black churches where it’s as much see and be seen as worship, and the Westchester retreats to which the affluent elite escape as the summer wears on. Her eye for detail and sense of character is commanding. It’s clear that this author knows and loves not only this story, but the place and the people she’s chosen to populate her version of it. While its focus is still on the schemes of the central pair, we also get glimmers of the socio-political climate (through Val’s admiration of Jackie Robinson breaking the colour barrier in baseball, for example), and the particularities of African-American society at the time.

As the story goes, Val and Mae launch their mutually beneficial plans and to challenge and conspire with one another, with Mae promising herself as the ultimate prize. Val’s intentions to win over the heart – and body – of the loyal, moral, married Elizabeth Townsend are tangled with his promise to grant Mae revenge on her former lover by seducing the man’s virginal new fiancée Cecily — who is herself enamoured of another… Scott handles the classic tangled webs of lies and love with relish, and her keen eye for the time period means you’re entirely immersed. It’s rare to find a story focused on black American characters that – especially in a period piece – are wealthy, proud and allowed to be deliciously wicked and startlingly romantic in equal measure. It’s a gorgeous book to sink your teeth into, whether you’re familiar with Laclos’ classic or not. The fact that this adaptation began life as a screenplay has me desperate to see it up on the big screen; I’m already casting it in my mind (Mahershala Ali as Val, Susan Kelechi Watson as Mae…?). But in the meantime, read Unforgivable Love and be seduced by Scott’s fantastic adaptation!

Cringe Factor                                   0/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             2.5/5

For the Love of Feminism!             3.5/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                 4.5/5

UNFORGIVABLE LOVE by Sophfronia Scott

KING’S CAPTIVE by Amber Bardan


Oh hey, miss me? Long time no post, I know, but I thought I’d get back on the Palate Cleansing review train with an unusual – for me, at least – take on the contemporary romance genre…

Now I’m not one to judge (well, hmmm). To each their own and so forth, and I don’t know, maybe it’s that whole ‘enjoying my personal liberties, striving for equality’ kind of thing, but I’ve never been drawn to the subgenre of romantic fiction that involves women being held captive. Not my cuppa, not my personal peccadillo, not a hugely attractive notion for me. However, I heard tell that King’s Captive was a bit different, and so my interest was duly piqued. But it is worth noting that I have nowt to compare it to – maybe the ‘women held captive’ genre is subverting expectations like Bardan’s intriguing narrative does all over the place, and I’ve been missing out? Let me know.

It’s difficult to review King’s Captive without ruining the well constructed drip-feed of the story that Bardan has put together, but suffice it to say, things here aren’t quite as they seem. We meet narrator Sarah when she has been held captive on a super-swanky island by tattoo’ed arms smuggler and natty dresser Julius King for three years. Her family were also deep in the organised crime game, so she’s used to brawny guys with guns. She and Julius have a strange, strained, sexually tense relationship in which he denies her freedom, but otherwise treats her with an odd type of reverence and respect. As their attraction boils over, we get treated to some fairly sexy, though thankfully not too icky, power struggles and carnal encounters. But Sarah is constantly resisting and hoping for a means of escape.

While Sarah as a character is well drawn and compelling, perhaps inevitably given the context, there are times when the book is surely testing that ‘for the love of feminism’ mark, particularly with her hopes of being rescued by a fabled badass guy (whose nickname is ‘The Pirate’ * snicker *). Yet, with admirable skill, Bardan carefully feeds us curious readers with information about how Sarah came to find herself in this stifling situation, and if there wasn’t quite Kaiser Soze levels of mind-blowing narrative unravelling, there were a few ‘well whaddaya know?’ moments, to be sure. Though one major criticism I have is that Sarah keeps describing how she is “tasting Julius’ breath” (in various metaphors and literal descriptions). Which is, like, kind of unpleasant, no? Just me? Unless he has incredibly fresh and minty breath at all times, and even then. Weird. Aaaanyhoo…

If you’re looking for a thriller-esque romance with some clever and mysterious storytelling and some sexy interludes, I’d free your mind (heh) and take a chance on this one. You may well find yourself captivated up until the very last pages. (Oof.)

Cringe Factor                                   2.5/5

Is it Hot in Here?                              3/5

For the Love of Feminism!              2.5/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                   3.5/5

Amazon Link: King’s Captive on

TRULY by Ruthie Knox


I know a book is going to be my contemporary romantic catnip when it begins “He wasn’t the kind of guy a woman wanted to pin her hopes and dreams on.” And I also know it’s going to be my contemporary romantic catnip when it’s being written by Ruthie Knox, a.k.a. NA writer Robin York, a.k.a. publisher at the awesome Brain Mill Press, a.k.a. I’m Here For Her Books.

Truly is a romantic (and delicious-food-description-filled) story set primarily in New York City. We meet May, a Wisconsin-ite who has reluctantly relocated to NYC to be with her football-playing boyfriend and short-lived fiancé – the cringe-worthy nature of his marriage proposal leads her to stab him with a fork right then and there. In trying to escape the ensuing emotional and media commotion, she’s inadvertently mugged and ends up in a bar hoping for help. Instead she gets the grouchy, dark, and only vaguely helpful Ben (YESSS for normal male names in romantic fiction!! Heheheh). An erstwhile chef in the midst of a nearly-mid-life crisis, Ben decides to try on some white knight armour with mixed results, and grudgingly takes May under his wing. The two find they have a strange sort of chemistry as they criss-cross the city, discovering each other and having New York-y experiences of the kind that make me want to go back (aaaagaiiiin!).

Truly is that perfect type of romantic story (for me anyway), with two characters thrust together and deciding to see where the wind takes them, until reality strikes again. Knox has crafted an oddly likeable romantic hero in the gruff (and often openly unpleasant) Ben, and a relatable female lead in May, who comes to embrace her height, her weight and her ability to express her real personality as the story progresses. It’s sexy, if not in your face, and achieves what you’re always looking for in romantic fiction – you’re constantly rooting for the central pair to be together. If anything, it ended too soon. If you love New York and random meetings and taking chances, you’ll love this. And if you don’t, you will by the time you’ve read Truly.

Cringe Factor                                   1/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             3/5

For the Love of Feminism!             4/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                   4/5

Amazon Link: Truly by Ruthie Knox on

SWEET FILTHY BOY by Christina Lauren

Now, I’m all for putting your cards out on the contemporary-romance-reading table, but sometimes a ‘does-what-it-says-on-the-tin’ title can do a book a disservice – as, I’m relieved to say, is the case with Sweet Filthy Boy. Ugh, just typing it makes me feel a bit queasy. It’s, err, not my favourite when it comes to the title of a book, you may gather. It is, like, one of the worst. Yuck ick no. But anyway, enough about that. The book is far better than that moniker suggests, and perhaps the joke is on me – I may have been late to the Christina Lauren party on the basis of my titular issues, but the party is raging hard. This writing duo of besties (yes, one is called Christina and the other Lauren) have their corner of the lit world sewn up, and on the basis of the start of this ‘Wild Seasons’ series, I can see why. SFB (sorry, not typing it out again) is a sexy, sweet, well-written slice of fun. I’m always amazed when people can write a book with another person. As a writer (ahem, my book is out NEXT WEEK PUKE OMG: The Nearness of You by Sareeta Domingo) I find the idea of trying to combine word-smithery with someone else stress-inducing.

However, Christina Lauren seamlessly combine their write-minds to create one believable, compelling voice in our heroine Mia, who heads out to Vegas after graduation with her two best friends, meets a sexy French bloke called Ansel and his two friends, and they all (yes, all!) end up – whoops – getting hitched to each other, in time honoured ‘what happens in Vegas’ tradition. However unlikely and weird that sounds, the writers handle the shenanigans with aplomb, and a fun way with a flashback. While her friends swiftly annul their marriages before the lights of Vegas are even in the rearview, Mia and the handsome, impulsive hottie Ansel decide to stay married for the summer for REASONS. And when Mia soon finds she needs to escape her oppressive home life for a few weeks before starting grad school, she takes a page from her new husband’s impulsiveness book and hops a plane to Paris with him.

Christina Lauren really handle(s) Mia’s combination of throwing caution to the wind and huge trepidation about her situation with an admirable degree of realism. Our heroine doesn’t immediately fall into a fairy-tale of life in Pareee with the boy of her dreams. There are money worries, concerns about navigating the city – even unsexy, vomit-heavy flu sickness and initially-awkward copulation. But the writers do an admirable job of really making that guy the title refers to come across as endearing, sexy and worth all the potential embarrassment on Mia’s part. Sure, Ansel works too hard, and keeps some fairly key secrets from her, but he really is a Labrador of a boy with skills between the sheets. He lights up the page, and the interplay between these two characters is compelling. Even when they decide to spice things up with some role-playing in the bedroom, it’s not just an excuse for super-mild kink, but a real way for these characters to get over themselves and get to know each other.

SFB is a sexy, sweet read that doesn’t insult the reader’s credulity, but playing it safe does lead to little in the way of surprises in the story. Well, sometimes crash-bang isn’t necessary. Yah, SFB is sweet and fil— well, just a bit dirty maybe, and well worth your eyeballs.

Cringe Factor                                   1/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             3.5/5

For the Love of Feminism!             3.5/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                    3.5/5 link: Sweet Filthy Boy by Christina Lauren

Love Jones: A Tribute!


In a departure from my usual reviews, this is, as you may have guessed, a (somewhat random) tribute to Love Jones, the 1997 film written and directed by Theodore Witcher – incredibly it was both his debut, and also the only film I can find credited to him as writer/director to date. A travesty. Here are 10 reasons this film is greatness.

  1. It features intelligent, creative, professional black people living normal lives, falling in love and having their hearts broken. She’s a photographer, he’s an author. They do things like go to bookshops and record stores. It’s crazy that so few films depict people of colour in this way.
  1. Said characters speak in complete, coherent and insightful sentences while never losing their cultural identity.
  1. Nia Long’s character Nina is never made to seem less than in full possession of herself as a woman, never objectified.
  1. It is romantic & sexy, without being over idealised.
  1. Larenz Tate’s character is called Darius Lovehall. Excellent name. And at one point cooks an omelette wearing only jeans. He is splendid.
  1. The soundtrack is second to none – Ellington & Coltrane, Lauryn Hill, Dionne Farris, Maxwell…
  1. It makes you want to hang out in Chicago. They do cool-seeming things like go to jazz-influenced poetry clubs, live reggae, and Chicago Stepper sets where couples wear matching outfits and dance to funk music. Where does one even go to dance as a couple any more?
  1. The weird browny-purple semi-frosted lip colour that Nia Long wears throughout is totally goals.
  1. Despite being almost 20 years old (wow, seriously?), it doesn’t feel or look especially dated, and its themes are universal dilemmas around love, trust and commitment.
  1. The friendship group depicted is funny and realistic, based on supportiveness, a lot of teasing and the occasional falling-out. Reals.

If you haven’t yet seen Love Jones, get thee to a DVD or streaming service. You won’t regret it.

CORRUPT by Penelope Douglas


And so to round out the year, who doesn’t enjoy a little nuttiness with their festive fare? You will verily get a well-written, genuinely intriguing, mysterious, sexy, and yes, somewhat crazypants ride in Penelope Douglas’ dark romance Corrupt.

Despite growing up amongst the wealthiest of families in a small but schmancy community, (E)Rika Fane has had her share of heartache – a pain exacerbated by the fact that she’s been in love with her former boyfriend’s older brother for as long as she can remember. Michael Crist is deeply sexy and very intimidating, but also harbours a secret of his own… Corrupt alternates between Rika and Michael’s perspectives, while also cleverly revealing an engrossing mystery that unfolded when their paths intimately crossed on a The Crow-style Devil’s Night outing when they were teenagers. What transpired then has lead them back to one another now, and someone –maybe more than one person – is very much out for revenge.

I haven’t read many erotic romances that also manage to pull off this level of intrigue, so much kudos to Ms Douglas. She successfully manages to ramp up the levels of mystery and confusion, while also making sure that the sexual tension – and release – between Rika and Michael remain smoking hot. As the story unfolds, admittedly, at times, the situations in which Rika finds herself are rather… unpleasant. But we never lose the sense of Rika as a character with a strong will. She’s a woman without a sense of victimhood, and that’s important in this type of story, I think.

If you’re looking to read something over the break that is gripping, engagingly written, sexy, and with a soupcon of cray like Mariah donning her Christmas Bunny ‘fit, this one is for you.

Cringe Factor                                   1/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             4/5

For the Love of Feminism!             3.5/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                     4/5

Amazon Link:

ASKING FOR IT by Lilah Pace


First of all, TRIGGER WARNINGS abound here, as the book I’m reviewing deals with fantasies of non-consensual sex (yah, check out that title). So if this is of concern to you, check out some of my other reviews.

Now. If you’re like me, then at first the very notion of fantasising sexually about – let’s not prevaricate – rape, is extremely difficult to wrap your head around. However, just because it’s not my bag does not mean that a great many people do not have this fantasy. And Lilah Pace’s Asking For It manages to deal with what could be a shocking and disturbing premise for an erotic romantic story in an admirably thorough, careful and compelling way.

Our heroine, graduate student Vivienne, holds this non-con fantasy as her deepest sexual wish, and also as a deep source of shame. This is in large part due to the fact that a rape was perpetrated upon her as a young woman. However, when she meets the mysterious and (of course) very sexy Jonah Marks, she finds someone with whom she may be able to explore her fantasies. Because when he learns of her predilection, he offers to make her dreams a reality. They agree to embark on an affair in which they will remain near-strangers and act out sexual scenarios of faked non-consent. But as their relationship begins to tread the line between acting out fantasies and falling in love, we come to learn that Jonah hides a troubled past of his own.

OK, so. This could all sound super-seriously creepy. However, Vivienne is an intelligent woman, in therapy to help her cope with and deal with her past and the issues that her fantasies (and subsequent relationship with Jonah) bring up. She questions her motivations and her choices at every turn. Jonah is careful to set very specific boundaries for their shenanigans, with Vivienne’s consent, safety, and post-“scene” well-being held in highest regard. It is a testament to Lilah Pace’s skill as a writer that ensuing story is intriguing, oddly believable, and the growing romance between Vivienne and Jonah is steadily and compellingly handled. I really warmed to these damaged characters, and to their sexual and romantic journey. My only criticism may be, perhaps, that while the attack in Vivienne’s past is sadly all-too believable, the damage inflicted upon Jonah seemed a little far-fetched.

Regardless, I very much admire Ms Pace for allowing her characters to investigate why they want to do these things, to really ask themselves questions that most right-thinking people would. This is very much in contrast to the issue I have with many of the many, many… many erotic romances that deal with (or use the tropes of) BDSM. Female submission is a difficult one to reconcile with feminism (for me at least), but Asking for It treads this line with intelligence. It’s a fascinating read that I would definitely recommend, bearing the trigger warnings in mind.

Cringe Factor                                   1/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             3.5/5

For the Love of Feminism!              Hmm/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                   4/5

BOYFRIEND by Faye McCray

BF Cover Final (Online)Hey, this review is a Palate Cleanser first, as it is part of the blog tour arranged by Diverse Book Tours for Faye McCray’s intriguing novel Boyfriend. Yes, books now go on virtual tours around the Internet. It’s a modern day!


Ms McCray’s story is perhaps not one that you would immediately turn to if you’re in search of a mega-romantic, happily-ever-after read – however, if you’re looking for an interesting story of a deeply flawed but attractive character, then look no further, my friend. The story is told from the perspective of Nate, who we first encounter as a college student who has a way with the ladies. When he meets and sweet-talks good girl Kerry, he’s set on a path to love that he cannot quite deal with. So when the opportunity arises to embark on sexy but inappropriate secret relations with Kerry’s best friend Jayna, a woman who seems to understand his troubled background better than his privileged girlfriend, it’s not hard to see that soon things are bound to implode. And implode they do, leaving Nate to barely graduate, and having to move back in with his world-weary mother and unpleasant, alcoholic father – a man after whom Nate may begin to take, much as he’d hate that to be true. He enters into a relationship with a new woman, Allison, and seems to be getting his life on track, even agreeing to start a family with her when she falls pregnant. However, when Kerry falls back into Nate’s life, he makes some questionable decisions. In short, he doesn’t know what he wants, and almost ruins everything in the process.

“Diversity” is a word that is bandied about is desirable these days with a slightly empty emphasis, but I did certainly find it refreshing to encounter a complex black man at the centre of a story such as this. While Nate’s character can be hard to like, and makes some frustratingly terrible and rather wildly fickle choices over the course of the story, Ms McCray does a good job of making us understand the underlying causes of his behaviour, and also takes us into the mind of someone who knows he’s making mistakes but often doesn’t know how to stop himself. Worth giving this one a try.

Cringe Factor                                  2/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             2/5

For the Love of Feminism!             2/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                 3/5

THE DARK SPACE by Mary Ann Rivers and Ruthie Knox


A mesmerising and beautiful exploration of the connection between two students here, in a welcome collaboration between two fantastic writers. I’m genuinely intrigued as (*cough cough*) an author myself, when two writers can collaborate on a project – particularly one as seamlessly gorgeous as The Dark Space. Maybe they participated in a magical mind-meld of the sort that seems to engulf the characters in this story? That would be some pretty intense typing. But I get ahead of myself… The story follows Winnie and Cal, two students at a prestigious university who, despite being seniors, have never really interacted (Winnie in particular not exactly being a social butterfly). That is, until they find themselves drawn to one another when they take the same Contact Improvisation class (part of the theatre department). The near-mystical attraction that these two experience is vividly depicted in Winnie and Cal’s alternating POVs. Is it real magic? Magical realism? Or simply the best way to describe something so indescribable as sexual attraction, or, indeed, falling in love? I suppose it’s up to you to decide, but it lends a wonderful, ethereal dimension to Winnie and Cal’s story. I also loved that they’re not conventionally beautiful people. He’s short, she’s shorter. He’s skinny, she’s awkward. But together, they fit. Their sexuality is beautiful, unselfish and almost tangible. Although The Dark Space is a simple story, and economic in length, I think you can probably tell that I really admired the telling of this tale. Fresh, immersive writing in a genre that can all too easily fall into cliché. Highly recommended.

Amazon Link:

Cringe Factor                                   1/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             4/5

For the Love of Feminism!             5/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                4.5/5