Book Review: Deeper By Robin York


Although it’s a wonderful Palate Cleanser, the narrative catalyst of Robin York’s engrossing, sexy, thought-provoking Deeper is something that may well leave a nasty taste in the mouth. Metaphorically, I mean. But perhaps that’s an awkward choice of phrase, given that the event that sets the story in motion is pictures of our heroine, Caroline, in flagrante being released on the Internet… So, use your imagination. Though in fact, what is fantastic about York’s story is that she does not shy away from the graphic, difficult nature of non-consensual pornography, and the consequences it can have for the individual upon whom so-called revenge is being sought.

In Deeper, Caroline believed she was sharing a private, intimate moment with her boyfriend, but when they break up and sexual images of her are disseminated across the Internet, she has a choice to make. The mortification, fear and shame that she feels are dealt with well – but then Caroline makes a decision, slowly, carefully, to abandon the feelings of negativity and ‘fault’ that are heaped upon her, and that she heaps upon herself. Instead she is learns that sex is not something to be ashamed of, and the hateful actions of others need to be separated from the sense of her own sexuality and strength. That’s where West comes in. Excellent name, for starters. He’s dangerous, cocky (ahem), intelligent, flirtatious, moody, imperfect (drug dealer, anyone?) – he’s a great foil for Caroline’s strong-willed but somewhat sheltered heroine. Plus, he works in a bakery. Free baked goods. Win-win. The narrative alternates in chunks between Caroline and West’s point-of-view, but never in a repetitive or contrived way, and it’s great to explore both of these characters and the totally convincing complexities that York allows each of them to inhabit. Their relationship plays out tantalisingly, with palpable sexual tension, and believable reasons, both internal and external, for the obstacles they face on the path to love. As they begin a sexual relationship, York manages to make their explorations seem both realistic and smoking hot, as well as allowing Caroline to reclaim her sexual – and personal – power through her relationship with West.

Little Spoiler Alert here, but I have to say: their bittersweet goodbye at the end of the book is totally credible and utterly heart-wrenching. It’s quite rare that I feel compelled to read on in a series – it always feels like a law of diminishing returns exploring past the initial stages of a romance in such stories. But with Caroline and West, I genuinely want to know what’s going to happen to them, how they will come back together. You want those kids to make it, gosh darn it. Robin York is here confronting an important issue facing young women today: who owns their sexuality, their image, who owns their body, who gets to tell them what is acceptable and what is not. (Clue: they do.) It’s refreshing to see an author allowing her heroine to make strong, positive decisions about her sexuality and her ownership of it, and York’s engrossing, beautifully written prose makes it all the more compelling. Like Caroline and West, you should get “deep and then deeper” into this one. Mmm. Sexy yet emosh. Do it.

Amazon Link:

Cringe Factor                                   1/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             4/5

For the Love of Feminism!          4.5/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                4/5

Book Review: Spiral By Mila Ferrera


There’s a huge amount going for Mila Ferrera’s fresh and absorbing novel Spiral. But, shallow thought it may be to admit, chief among them is the fact that the love-interest is glaringly based on the tall hunk of man-candy that is True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgard. Yes. Shhh. I don’t want to know if it’s not meant to be him. Our heroine’s guy, Dr Aron Lindstrom, is tall, he’s slender, he’s sexy, he’s Swedish. Now I’m not usually one to fangirl out and start posting pictures of who would, like, totally be cast in the movie of an NA novel. But – A-Skars. I once saw him striding, Adonis-like down a street in New York, turned to my companion to exclaim ‘OMFG, did you just see—’ Then realised I was with my lov-er-ly boyfriend. Love you boo. You’re my A-Skars. Etc etc. Phew. Anyway. Back to Spiral

Nessa Cavenaugh is on her way to becoming a fully-qualified psychologist, interning in a busy city hospital – a refreshingly intelligent, busy, motivated central character for an NA book – when she meets slightly-cute with aforementioned Viking-with-a-PHD, Aron. They begin a sexy but tentative relationship that is, at first, mildly plagued by gratifyingly plausible issues such as ‘I’m waay too busy to get into a relationship’ and ‘I’m scared of getting hurt’, rather than the artificial obstacles that can so often be forced into stories like this.

But where Spiral really comes into it’s own is in Ferrera’s exploration of the mind as an unsafe space – something that can turn on you, medically, emotionally. Can you trust love to be real? Can you trust your partner’s feelings, when you can’t walk around inside their mind? What if it’s a dangerous place? I found the intrusion of these difficulties on Nessa and Aron’s relationship was sensitively and persuasively handled. They gave a certain dark, bitter-sweetness to their love and their sexual relationship that added complexities to an already captivating story. In addition to this, the hospital setting allows for emotional subplots – with Aron being a paediatric oncologist, and Nessa working a psych rotation on that ward, there are bound to be some heartstrings tugged. It all feels genuine and well-researched, which surely belies some experience in these matters on Ferrera’s part. A highly recommended, well-written, hearty one for the gut.

Plus – A-Skars.

Amazon Link:

Cringe Factor                                   2/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             3.5/5

For the Love of Feminism!             4/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                4/5

Book Review: Losing It By Cora Carmack

A slight, zippy comedic confection to start off the New Year – Cora Carmack’s Losing It is perhaps less of a palate cleanser and more like eating all of the mints left on the restaurant tip plate, even the one you should leave for your friend, because they’re in the loo and you really like that particular type of mint. Like, in the scheme of things, it’s mints, but at the same time, mints are pretty enjoyable while they last. And fresh breath is good.

Anyway. Losing It’s heroine labours under the tooth-grindingly annoying name Bliss Edwards: a twenty-two-year-old virgin whose aim is to pop her cherry ASAP. We pretty much leap straight into her dilemma, and she doesn’t waste any time meeting the man that will, inevitably, do said cherry-popping. (Err, spoiler alert? Nah.) The object of her affections is ‘British’, so there is some rather obligatory ‘OMG, he’s British, ooh accent, ooh he says stuff that’s different to how we stay stuff’ stuff – and he’s called Garrick, ugh – but he’s drawn charmingly, and Bliss’ initial panicked reaction to them getting almost to the point of no return is quite funny. But when Carmack starts throwing more obstacles in the way of the two vexingly-monikered potential lovebirds getting together, things get a touch predictable. Except perhaps for the incidence of debauched Spin the Bottle spit-swapping causing an epidemic of what Garrick would surely know as glandular fever (though those gosh-darn, crazy-accented Yanks call it mono). Cormack does give us a fairly evocative description of exactly how crappy one might feel while in the grip of said illness, while also managing to make it seem quite romantic – impressive!

I also quite liked the fact that Bliss is an actor – her thespian endeavours gave a nice ‘backstage’ feel to the action in the story. Bliss and Garrick’s (yeah, still annoying) chemistry is quite sweet, and it’s nice to have some NA fiction with a bit of com in its rom. Overall, a nicely-written, whipped confection to chomp down in one sitting.

Cringe Factor                                   3/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             3/5

For the Love of Feminism!           2.5/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                3/5

Book Review: Wait for You By J. Lynn

Do you ever get that sinking feeling? You know the kind that settles right down in the pit of the stomach – you feel duped, taken for a fool, sold a pup? Like it’s 1985 and you guiltily decided to buy a dodgy VCR machine at a stop light, and you get home and it’s actually just a box full of bricks? OK, I don’t know where that came from… But anyway, Wait for You gave me that same feeling. Perhaps it’s a little ‘the pot calling the kettle black’ to talk about cynicism here, but wow – the ultimate feeling I got from this one was that it was cynically composed to hit every trope of other popular, successful New Adult titles. The lonely, vulnerable, but sort-of-spunky girl, the unbelievably hot, arrogant guy who swoops into her life and pursues her relentlessly, the ‘dark secret’ that both of them have, that they each must overcome in order to be together… Sigh. The thing is, these things can often work. And the actual act of reading Wait for You isn’t a terrible experience – it clips along, some of Lynn’s dialogue is sparky and entertaining, lead chick Avery’s voice feels natural, it has a comforting predictability to it that can be welcome sometimes, and the sexy scenes aren’t terrible for the most part. But it felt empty and ill-thought-through, to the point that I couldn’t shake the feeling that the author was glugging on gallons of cynical juice as she wrote.

Avery has moved a million miles away to attend university, in order to escape the dark, dark secret in her past. She literally bumps into ridiculously handsome player Cam, and he immediately begins a relentless pursuit of her, forsaking all others – Avery, of course, being ‘different’ from all the other girls he used to fool around with. Oh, and he might have a little secret of his own… Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the idea of cliché if the characters are compelling enough. Ahem. I did enjoy the feel of Avery and Cam living across the hall from one another, bumping into each other in their apartment building and flirting, and some of Avery’s moments alone at home, trying to navigate life in a new place, were fairly well handled. You feel the ‘but’ coming, right?

Avery befriends ditzy blonde Brittany, and painfully stereotypical gay BF, Jacob. Let the cringing commence. When Cam finally lets Avery know what it is he’s been keeping from her, the moment is glossed over so swiftly that there may as well have been a disclaimer before the chapter saying ‘Yeah… his secret’s kiiiind of just there to give him, like, an air of mystery or whatever.’ That, however, is nothing compared to when the full secret of Avery’s past is revealed. Forget sinking feeling – I think I actually got queasy. *SPOILER ALERT* here, though it’s not a crashing surprise if you get a chapter or so into Wait for You. Avery was the victim of rape five years prior to the start of the story, aged fourteen; an event that her crushingly one-dimensional super-rich parents forced her to cover up so that they could continue going to the local country club. (Cameron’s family are, naturally, warm and loving and his mum would be played by Diane Weist and his dad by, like, Kevin Kline. Yep. Random.) She signed non-disclosure agreements, then was ostracised, and attempted suicide. The unravelling of this, and the supposed catharsis Avery gains by finally confronting these events, with, of course, the love of Cam to guide her and spur her on, felt entirely inauthentic and lacking in nuance. But the icing on the icky cake was the manner of her rape – described in such a way that it meant she ‘was still a virgin’. I cannot even begin to deal with how awfully this is handled. And then towards the end of the story, during a love-making scene, these sentences occur: “He always hesitated and asked before we did it like this. Something about that always warmed me; the thoughtfulness of it all…” Seriously?!? I just… I can’t. I found the manner in which this issue was dealt with, frankly, insulting.

What it boils down to is that, for me, Wait for You entirely lacked the emotional connection with the characters and general sense of authenticity necessary if a writer is going to allow their characters to have these experiences, or deal with this kind of subject matter.

That, and stereotypically ‘hot’ as Cam was described to be, he constantly called Avery “sweetheart”. Uh, smarm alert! Yuck. All in all, I’m afraid I wouldn’t wait for this one.

OK, that was bad.

Cringe Factor                                   4.5/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             3/5

For the Love of Feminism!           0/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                1.5/5

 FYI: J. Lynn is a pen name used by YA author Jennifer L. Armentrout.

Novella Review: All I Want for Christmas By Esme Taylor

Iiiiit’s beginning to look a lot like… Yeah, yeah, OK fine. It’s still over a month away. Slushy-snow on my parade, why don’t you? But the launch of Hot Key Books’ new digital novella imprint, Unlocked, has brought a rather welcome Crimble glow with its first few publications, one of which is Esme Taylor’s delightful All I Want for Christmas.

It’s refreshing to get an NA story with a UK slant, and Taylor’s Yuletide tale has a great British (arf!) edge, evocatively set in a snowy, modern Manchester. It has the feel of a classic rom-com in its humour and heart, but with an original backdrop – I love that Ella works for a company that does Movie Karaoke. Movieoke! I have wanted to try that ever since I saw that in the States some enterprising folk have invented ‘Point Break Live!’,  in which you can act out bits of that legendary movie. “I’m gonna learn to surf or break my neck!” Awesome. Heeenyhoo, I digress. Ella’s job brings her into contact with Joe, they meet-cute in the tradition of all good rom-coms, and of course, the sparks fly. But not in an unrealistic tooth-rotting display of montages and sunsets – Taylor makes this feel like a real-life couple finding one another at just the right time. There’s a seam of sadness to Ella, having recently lost both her parents in an accident abroad, but she’s relatable and funny, and Joe is a real sweetheart. He may not set the reader’s heart a-pounding in the way that some NA heroes are constructed, but he feels like the guy for Ella, and that’s part of what makes the story so warm and romantic – no mean feat for a novella-length story. He makes her feel good (in all senses), but has his own daddy-issue-based flaws too.

As the start of their relationship unfolds, their chemistry is believable, Ella’s reservations feel like those of a real young woman, and the first flushes of sexual attraction are really nicely handled – it’s not a full on f-fest, but it’s hot enough to allow you enjoying leaving elements to your imagination. I loved that Ella had a load of crap on her bed that she worried about clearing before they do the do for the first time. And hello? Getting snowed in? Classic rom-com move! Love it! All I Want for Christmas is in many ways the perfect Palate Cleanser – short, sweet, warm, cosy. And Christmassy! But not in a way that leaves you hideously over-bloated on the sofa with meat sweats like an Xmas dinner. So dig in and enjoy!

Cringe Factor                                  1.5/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             2/5

For the Love of Feminism!           4/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                4/5

Fun fact: Esme Taylor is the nom-de-plume of YA author Keris Stainton

Book Review: Easy By Tammara Webber

A sense of victimhood can be found in many of the female central characters in novels ostensibly aimed at women, and I find it a worrying trend – particularly when such books can be so influential on young women readers. So when Tammara Webber’s Easy begins with our heroine Jacqueline being brutally attacked, almost raped, but then rescued by the guy who will soon become her love interest, there’s the potential concern that this will be the ultimate in victim-y romance stories. Thankfully, that’s not the case in this well-considered love story. Yes, Lucas rescues Jacqueline that night, but – if it’s not too Double Gloucester to say so – as the story progresses, she rescues him as well.

Webber has created a mysterious, sexy, tattooed, pierced, brooding, artistic, super-intelligent dream-guy in Lucas, but if he seems like a fantasy, it’s not in the sense of being distractingly unrealistic, but instead he’s a character that you can feel leaping out off the page, and into your— Well, you get the picture. He’s hot. His seduction techniques involve a sketchbook. It’s very… persuasive. But he also has secrets, and he may not be the person he claims to be. This all feeds tantalisingly into the story’s twists and turns, as we learn along with Jacqueline that guys don’t get all sexy and broody without something fairly significant to brood over. And, like, genetics, for the sexy part. Or something.

In any case, Jacqueline is also a relatable central character, one who you pull for – yes, she’s vulnerable, at college having just broken up with her boyfriend, feeling a little at sea, not to mention the whole brutal attack and all, but she’s never icky or eye-roll inducing. She finds her way to fighting victimhood, with Lucas’ help and her own strength, and through her you can feel every emotion, every high and low – and there are plenty of those in Easy. The mystery of what’s making Lucas that enigmatic, serious, ooh-wanna-mother-him-but-hmm-not-really-cause-then-all-the-other-sexy-stuff-would-be-kinda-gross-and-possibly-illegal guy is very cleverly handled, and with each reveal, the balance of who’s keeping secrets from whom makes for a compelling read. You really want Jacqueline and Lucas’ relationship to succeed, and it’s so refreshing to have a sense of the guy being protective but not patronising – he seeks to empower women, and so does this story. So much so, it actually made me want to take self-defence classes. Must get on that…

Cringe Factor                                  1.5/5

Is it Hot in Here?                            3/5

For the Love of Feminism!            5/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                4/5

Book Review: UNTEACHABLE By Leah Raeder

This should be an obvious one. Forbidden love, hot-for-teacher, “oops, I dropped my text book, could you help me, Sir?” But this is not that. You can almost taste, smell, feel this book, such is its evocative nature. It manages to be startlingly real, but also gorgeously, lyrically told from the point of view of a believable, self-destructive but tough protagonist, Maise. And equally, as her relationship with Evan, the man she discovers to be her high school teacher, unfurls – or unravels – we’re not given an unrealistically perfect God but a flawed, impulsive, real guy.

Raeder also explores the awkward issues surrounding one-sided, platonic friendship, and how messed-up people navigate their messed-up relationships, in such a way that you can feel every painful mis-step, every euphoric high. As Maise and Evan attempt to steer their way through the course of something they know is viewed as ‘wrong’ (though no need to feel too dirty for going with it – she’s legal and all), we’re not just given the titillation of ‘gosh, this is naughty’ – there are real consequences to their choice to throw caution to the wind. But when they do, hoo boy. It’s a smoke show. Raeder doesn’t shy away from the sex scenes, but she also manages not to make it clichéd or drag it away from the emotions of Maise as a character.

I suppose my only issue might be that, with the beautiful, lyrical writing, I sometimes found myself a little distant from the central relationship, from that feeling that you’re living each and every emotion with the character. But then again, when your characters are guarded and imperfect, perhaps that’s not really the point. Unteachable is truly unique, poetic and unexpected.

Cringe Factor                                   1/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             4.5/5

For the Love of Feminism!              4/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                   4/5

Unteachable is also available in actual, touchy-feely, paperback format!

Book Review: THOUGHTLESS By S.C Stephens

Having your cake and eating it too – that phrase always seems like a bit of a weird one. If I’ve got cake, why am I not eating it? Cake is awesome. What am I, a masochist? Unfortunately, at times I felt a little bit like a masochist while reading Thoughtless – it is, at times, fairly frustrating. But you still feel oddly sated by the end. Like gorging on a big-ass birthday cake. Kind of sickly, but hey, you’ve eaten it now. And it tasted pretty good. I’m labouring this.

Anyway, technically having her cake and eating it too is what the main chick in this story, Kiera, is trying to do. She’s moved to Seattle with her Australian boyfriend, Denny, while he starts a much-sought internship and she finishes up at uni. (We are not allowed to forget this guy is Australian. Kiera lets us know about his accent and how it “slides over” things constantly. Yuck.) But over the course of the story, she starts an affair with broody local rocker – and new housemate – Kellan Kyle. Yes, that’s actually his name. Kellan is, of course, impossibly hot and generally causes panties to drop wherever he goes, but Kiera convinces herself that their increasingly tactile behaviour, especially once Denny conveniently has to go out of town for a while, is purely platonic. Until, of course, things go too far…

This has all the ingredients of a great guilty-pleasure read, and to an extent it is that, but I did find it rather incredible that the storyline was dragged out as much as it was – Kiera belabours the should-I-stay-or-should-I-go-with-the-sexy-rockstar debate for what feels… like… an… eternity. It’s a no-brainer, honey! Your boyfriend’s accent slides over stuff! Ew! Overall, she did not feel like a chick I wanted to spend too much time with. Willfully naïve, sappy and boring, it often felt like a wonder two blokes were so doolaly over her at all.

And yet… I have to admit. Some of the scenes, some of Kiera and Kellan’s hand-wringing over what they’re doing, and yes, some of the sexy-time, was pretty compelling, in spite of all that. When Stephens allows the characters some time to just get down to some good ol’ fashioned guilty boning, the story does work. It had a lot of potential, but I found a lot of the characterisation and narrative distractingly unrealistic. You might feel a little queasy after devouring this one.

Cringe Factor                                   4/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             4/5

For the Love of Feminism!             2/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                2.5/5

 If you’re so-inclined, Kiera & Kellan’s story continues in the sequels Effortless and Reckless…

Book Review: HOPELESS By Colleen Hoover


It’s not often that you encounter a book in which the storyline genuinely surprises you with its direction, and you can’t predict how the characters will react in any given situation. But Hopeless really is one such book. I honestly found myself thinking I knew where something was going, only to be happily and often heart-breakingly wrong-footed by Colleen Hoover’s wonderful, romantic and compelling storytelling. Considering that our heroine, Sky, and her soon-to-be-boyfriend Holder, are in their last year of high-school – perhaps a shade young for what would typically classed as NA material – we’re dealing with some seriously dark subject matter in this book. However, these topics come to light only as the mystery of Sky’s past unfolds, and they’re navigated with such humanity and truth that the potentially-hardcore issues only draw you deeper into the relationship between Sky and Holder. I mean, romantically, this guy is pretty close to perfection, which is something that ordinarily would jar with me as a reader. But his other flaws mean that when Holder comes out with the perfect thing to say at the perfect time – as Sky often points out – it’s heart-melting stuff. And it’s also excellent that, while she’s relatable, Sky’s also witty, strong and no push-over. Plus her best friend is called Six. Hello, Blossom flashback! Anyone? 90s TV show Blossom? Anyhoo… The dialogue is great. The development of the relationship between Sky and Holder is believable but hugely compelling. Their chemistry is palpable. Now, there are things about Hopeless that are perhaps a liiiittle on the unlikely side – particularly Sky’s parentally-imposed restrictions with the internet, TV, mobile phones etc. I mean, really – the library, at Six’s house, you never Googled yourself? As a kid I would chew bubble gum until the cows came home (not literally) at my best friend’s house just because I knew my mum wouldn’t let me. But to be honest, the story is so well constructed that you’re willing to overlook any little thoughts of ‘Wait, but—‘ or ‘Hmmm, so how come—?’ The love story that develops between Sky and Holder make any coincidences or conveniences gut-wrenching rather than stomach-churning. And, not to give anything away, but who knew a description of what amounts to dry-humping could be so hot? That sounds wrong. Anyway, even the ‘love scenes’ aren’t just there to titillate – they really mean something to the characters, and therefore to the reader. Oh, stop reading this blog, go and read Hopeless. It’s definitely one you won’t regret.

Amazon Link:

Cringe Factor                                   0/5

Is it Hot in Here?                             3.5/5

For the Love of Feminism!              4.5/5

Overall Tasty Goodness                  4.5/5   

If you like Hopeless, you can also read the story from Holder’s point-of-view in Losing Hope…!