Saturday, April 20, 2019

Review: The Captains' Vegas Vows

I won't tell you how long I've had an ARC of The Captains' Vegas Vows by Caro Carson languishing on my Kindle. Suffice it to say, awhile. Unfortunately, I tend to not hear the plaintive pleas from really good books once they're buried in my TBR Pile of Doom.  No, I simply need to wait until I stumble across them in a fit of dumb luck while haphazardly clicking and hoping, "Please God let this one not suck."  Reader, this one most definitely did not suck.

Captain Helen Pallas' divorce from her no-good husband Russell is finally final and she has orders to report to Fort Hood in Texas.  The ink barely dry on her divorce decree, she's driving from Seattle, why not take a slight detour for some post-divorce fun in Las Vegas?  Of course she didn't expect to end up married, to the most gorgeous hunk she's ever laid eyes on, oh and with no memory of how or why she got married.  I mean, SHE JUST GOT DIVORCED!

Captain Tom Cross met Helen in a Las Vegas casino at 11:00AM and they were married by 1:30AM the next day.  It was whirlwind. It was love at first sight.  He's head of heels, completely ga-ga, a total goner.  Then his blushing bride wakes up in a panic, declares she has no clue who he is, and can't get out the door fast enough.  Not exactly what he expected the morning after his marriage and some of the best sex he's ever had.

What happens next is coincidence, but this is a romance - so roll with it.  Turns out Tom is also stationed at Fort Hood.  So Helen keeping the whole embarrassing affair quiet until she can quietly investigate a divorce or annulment is out of the question.  Turns out that in Texas there's a cooling off period of six months and the commanding officer, once he finds out about the marriage, orders that the two will live together in Tom's quarters and attend marriage counselling sessions.  Helen is furious, mostly because she's a woman in the Army and after getting out from under Russell Fort Hood was supposed to be her fresh start, her new beginning.  Instead she ran off and eloped with a complete stranger.

As much as I love romance, there's been a trend the last few years for books to be ALL ABOUT THE FEELZ!!!!  Look, I love feels.  Who doesn't love feels?  But feels alone does not a book make.  You know what makes a book?  When an author is firing on all cylinders and the book reads like they gave a flying fig.  What we have here, ladies and gents, is a book with some actual craft to it. 

I've often said that there's magic in a really well-done category romance.  The shorter format, the hyper-aware, nearly claustrophobic emphasis on the romance, I won't come up for air between starting page one and finishing the epilogue.  A well-done category romance will literally keep you reading.  You can't stop.  Carson hits all her beats, pours in all the feels, and paces her romance to  emotional-wringing perfection.

Is this perfect?  Well, no.  There were things that annoyed me a tinch.  It's a surprise amnesia book, which there's really no indication of that by reading the back cover blurb.  I don't dislike amnesia books per se, but's a surprise.  Actually the whole back cover blurb is a mess (Tom Cross doesn't believe in love?! Whoever wrote the cover copy DID THEY READ THE BOOK?!?!) so just take my advice and ignore it. 

Also, I'm not entirely sure I buy the reason behind Helen's amnesia, but I'm also not about to research the heck out of it either - and well, stranger things and all that.  Also, Helen is...well, not always terribly nice to Tom.  She requires an empathetic reader.  Her divorce decree was literally just finalized two days prior.  Our girl is still reeling.  Russell did a number on her self-esteem and she doesn't have closure.  And now she finds herself married to a guy and no understanding of WHY she hastily married him.

Tom is a man with serious Daddy issues, although he has a big brother figure in his life.  He desperately wants to be loved and now he's got a wife he does love, who loved him enough to marry him, but has no memory of why she married him and can't seem to divorce him fast enough.  The whole thing is like pining for his father's approval all over again.

The storytelling arc in and of itself is quite clever.  It starts the morning after in the Vegas hotel room and goes to Fort Hood where our couple needs to learn to be a couple, even though they're already married.  It's like a slightly different spin on a mail-order bride or a marriage of convenience trope.

Yes, I had quibbles but it's so well written, and so well executed well...who cares about quibbles?  Now to find what other Caro Carson books may be languishing in my TBR.

Final Grade = A-

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

#TBRChallenge 2019: Going Full Spoiler on Texas Daddy
The Book: Texas Daddy by Jolene Navarro

The Particulars: Inspirational contemporary romance, Love Inspired #1085, 2017, First book in trilogy, Spin-off from previous series, Out of print, Available in digital

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: I heard the author speak on a panel about cowboys at RWA.  There were several authors on this panel but Navarro lives in Texas and touched on Mexican cowboy culture (and Mexican rodeos) and that was enough to intrigue me and pick up this book.

The Review: For this month's Something Different theme I decided to go with a New-To-Me Author and a category romance line I had never read before.  I've read Love Inspired Historicals and Love Inspired Suspense, but have never read anything from the contemporary line.  This reminded me a lot of the Special Edition line...just with more God Stuff.

This is one of those books that left me feeling disoriented and out of sorts.  There's stuff I really liked in this book and then there was stuff that enraged me to the point where my head almost exploded.  So, this should be a fun review.  Anyway, there's no way for me to talk about the problematic crap without giving spoilers so you've been warned.

Adrian De La Cruz is a single father to his 10-year-old daughter.  He got his girlfriend pregnant in high school, gave up his dreams to travel the rodeo circuit (he was pretty good) and with the help of his family got down to the business of raising Mia and starting a construction business with his twin bother.  Mia's mother, being young, sinking into addiction, and with a crappy home life, willingly gave up custody to Adrian and took off for parts unknown almost immediately after giving birth.

Nikki Bergmann is back home in Clear Water, Texas not because she wants to be, but because an accident has jacked up her knee.  Nikki is a travel guide, one of those outdoor adventure types who takes folks on tours in the Grand Canyon. Past ready to leave Texas in the dust, she decides to take her busted up knee off-road biking on her late mother's ranch, gets in an accident, jacks up her bike and knee (again) oh...and a storm has blown in.  Adrian was checking a downed fence line on the border of the property and rescues her.  He had a terrible crush on her in high school, but she was three years older (translation: out of his league) and blew out of town before he had the guts to approach her.  He hadn't heard she was back in Clear Water, which is pretty amazing since it's a small town where everybody is up in all y'alls business.

This story starts off in a very uninspirational way.  For one thing Nikki has got to be the most prickly, standoffish heroine I've read in a dog's age.  Adrian is Mr. Nice Guy who tends to let his mouth run away from him - one of those that can't seem to let a silence just linger.  So she's on her guard and he's trying to stop himself from sounding like a blithering idiot.

The small town world-building is great, the characters are well drawn, and the relationship between Nikki, her younger twin sisters, and youngest half-sister is dynamite.  Mia is just enough kid and "wise beyond her years" without being a plot moppet.  She is also recovering from a knee injury, the result of a rodeo accident that has turned up all of Adrian's over-protective instincts - so she and Nikki take to each other right away - despite Nikki's wariness and Big Secret.

And that's where this book went to Hell.  Nikki's Big Secret is that she fell for the wrong boy when she was 17 and got pregnant.  He was using her and two-timing on his girlfriend (a woman he later married and knocked around before she dumped him).  When she tells him she's pregnant he's like "get rid of it" and "if you tell anybody I'll deny it's mine and everybody will know you're a lying slut."  Things aren't great at home for Nikki at that time thanks to her stepmother so she hides the pregnancy from her Dad, her sisters and goes to live with her Mom's aunt who gets her through the pregnancy and has the baby boy adopted by distant relatives who want children but are unable to conceive.  Nikki stays away from home and builds a life in Arizona - only to have an accident and another disastrous relationship send her back to Texas to recover.

So yeah. We all know where this is going right?  Nikki knows she has to tell her family the truth of why she left home and why she hasn't been back in, like, 12 years.  Adrian does not think highly of his Baby Mama for "abandoning" Mia to his care and she, naturally, blows back into town - now sober for 3 years - and hoping to meet her daughter.  Adrian freaks his shit out, which Nikki witnesses.  So when Adrian finds out about Nikki having a baby, and giving that baby over to another family to adopt?  He freaks his shit out.

And...that's the rub.  The author may want me to think that Adrian is this dynamite, sacrificing single father but he is so blindingly insensitive that I started screaming at my Kindle screen.  He's completely incapable of looking at anything outside of his own perspective.  He doesn't "get" that his Baby Mama was scared, young, not ready to be a Mom, and had NO family support.  He thinks, "Well, she had me and my family and she left anyway so she sucks."  He doesn't think that Nikki was young, scared, her life at home was strained and the boy she thought loved her used and abandoned her.  No, Nikki just threw away her baby without so much as a by-your-leave.

By this point in the story Nikki goes from prickly to a bit too downtrodden for my tastes, but at least once the light dawns for douchecanoe Adrian and he goes running off to beg her forgiveness, she gets a few choice words in.  Not nearly as forceful as I would have liked, but frankly I felt like Adrian should have suffered mightily, crawling over broken glass through colonies of fire ants.  Mores the pity.

Since this is an inspirational, let's talk God Stuff.  On a scale of 1-10 this is probably hovering around a 6.5.  The characters believe that God has a plan for their lives.  They attend church.  They socialize with people they attend church with.  They pray.  The God Stuff is fairly light in the beginning but gets heavier starting around the halfway point.

All in all I'm left with conflicting feelings.  Navarro is a good category-length writer, hitting her beats, building an interesting world, writing interesting characters, and throwing in some good smooching scenes to build romantic tension.  But OMG, Adrian's reaction and judgmental attitude towards his Baby Mama and once Nikki's Big Secret comes to light ENRAGED me.  I have no idea how to assign one grade to encapsulate my yo-yo emotions so I'm assigning this a catch-all C grade and calling it done.

Final Grade = C

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Review: Marrying Her Viking Enemy

One of the reasons I enjoy medieval romances is that they lend themselves well to the Enemy to Lovers trope and, what I call, "high stakes conflict."  Certainly, you can find lighter medievals, but they're a rarer bird - which suits me just fine.

Marrying Her Viking Enemy by Harper St. George is an Enemy to Lovers romance for people who think they don't like the trope.  The author avoids a lot of the pitfalls, and our couple doesn't spend a lot of time needlessly bickering to the point where you want to smack them and tell them to "grow up already!"  No, these two crazy kids are pretty much attracted to each other from the get-go.  The problem lies with her family - like, isn't that always the way!

This is the first book in a duet about two sisters, but it's a spin-off from St. George's previous Viking series, with the couple from The Viking Warrior's Bride playing an integral role in this romance.  For this reason it took me a couple of chapters to get my sea legs under me, but once I did it was off to the races.

Elswyth and her younger sister Ellan have been sent by their father to serve Gwendolyn of Alvey's household (a distant relation), despite the fact that Gwendolyn married a hated Dane.  Daddy Dearest isn't the biggest fan of the invading Danes, given that his wife ran off with one.  Elswyth has spent her whole life trying to prove to everybody in their small village that she's not like her faithless mother, so when Daddy asks her to learn all she can, to spy, while he throws his lot in with the Scots to the north, she reluctantly agrees, though her heart isn't in it.  Gwendolyn has been nothing but kind to her, and while she is loyal to her father, knows she could never marry a Dane, she doesn't share the same fervent hatred that he or her brothers do.

Rolfe returns to Alvey from a skirmish in Elswyth's village.  From a distance, he's intrigued and when she is assigned to tend to his wound well...let's just say our guy is sunk.  He's captivated by her. So when Gwendolyn and her husband, Vidar, strongly suggest that he marry a Saxon woman to help promote peace among their people, Elswyth is seen as an ideal choice.  Naturally though, there are complications.  Her father is a known agitator, so there's the very real question of where Elswyth's loyalty lies.  Also, while her sister seems agreeable to entertaining a potential Dane suitor, Elswyth might as well have a No Trespassing sign emblazoned above her head.  But Rolfe is intrigued by this woman, the first woman who has managed to get under his skin since the only woman he thought he loved done him wrong.

What I really enjoyed about this story is that while Elswyth and Rolfe are enemies, they're not adversarial.  She flat-out knows she's not marrying a Dane, largely because even if she wanted to her father would never allow it.  Also she's got her mother's reputation to live down, and that's a hard habit to break yourself of when you've spent your entire life going through those motions.  For his part Rolfe is sweet, values Elswyth and her abilities (he's taken with her skill throwing a hatchet and how quickly she's become skilled as an archer) and figures out rather quickly that's the way to win her over.  Don't underestimate her, and reward her natural curiosity.   Offering to teach her sword fighting is surely the ticket.

The conflict of the story is wrapped up entirely in Elswyth's family loyalty.  She doesn't share her father's hatred, but she also doesn't trust the Danes.  Not entirely.  And how do you cut yourself off from your own father and older brother?  From some of the others in her village that she grew up with who now seem to be conspiring with the Scots?  And when it appears her younger brother is in danger?  Elswyth wrestles with what to do, even though she knows she doesn't have a lot of choice in the matter.

Rolfe's Big Secret regarding the battle in Elswyth's village, along with his past romantic betrayal do play some role in the conflict, but blessedly he isn't one of those heroes who tars and feathers all women just because he had the misfortune of falling for the wrong one.  That said, when the conflict boils to a head towards the end, when he discovers Elswyth stole something from him (she had her reasons), that past betrayal comes to the forefront.

There's some loose ends left in the end, namely involving Elswyth's various relations, and for the shadow she casts, readers don't get any real answers as to where Mommy Dearest might now be.  But, Ellan's romance is due out in September (2019), and it's likely safe to assume that some of this will be revisited then.

For an Enemy to Lovers romance, there's a gentleness to the romance that I enjoyed and the angst isn't so high drama that I felt hungover or wrung-out after finishing the final chapter.  I closed this book safe in the knowledge that this was a romantic couple well-suited for each other, despite all the outside obstacles standing in their way.

Final Grade = B

Friday, April 12, 2019

Reminder: #TBRChallenge Day is April 17!

Hey, hey, hey!  For those participating in the 2019 #TBRChallenge, a reminder that your commentary is "due"on Wednesday, April 17.  This month's theme is Something Different!

This theme can mean anything you want it to. Maybe an unusual setting? Or a new-to-you author? A sub genre you don't read very often? Or maybe even another genre other than romance?

But what if you need comfort food this month?  Hey, no problem! A reminder that, as always, the themes are completely optional.    The goal is to read something, anything, that has been languishing in your TBR.

If you're participating on social media, please remember to use the #TBRChallenge hashtag so people can follow along.

And it's not too late to sign up!  Simply leave a comment on this reminder post.

You can learn about the challenge and check out the full list of blogging participants on the information page.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Review: Seduced by the Badge

Seduced by the Badge marks Deborah Fletcher Mello's debut with the Harlequin Romantic Suspense line and the very first book in her To Serve and Seduce series about a family of Chicago civil servants (OK, so there's a private eye in there - but they're mostly cops, lawyers, council members and such).  I had a few quibbles (hello, this is me) but I ended up really enjoying this one.

Armstrong Black has been assigned a sex trafficking case and when another girl turns up dead, he finds himself getting an out-of-town partner.  Danni Winstead is Atlanta PD and is sent to Chicago when links are discovered with an Atlanta case.  That case?  Danni's sister - who was targeted by these traffickers, but managed to escape.  Danni's a good cop, but a bit of a lone wolf and with a very real score to settle. Will Armstrong's strong personality and her independent attitude spell disaster for their case and their simmering attraction to each other?

I like romantic suspense, but let's be frank - the sub genre has some fairly common pitfalls.  I am, of course, talking about the heroine who runs off half-cocked.  The heroine who doesn't listen to the hero, or disregards what he says, and puts herself in danger at every turn to the point where he has to play white knight and rescue her.  What I loved about this story is that while Danni DOES run off half-cocked, she's competent about it.  She's good at her job.  She can protect herself.  She's got some street smarts.  When things get a bit dicey she can tap-dance her way out of trouble and the author isn't slapping the reader upside the head with Macho Hero Saves The Day clap-trap.

The bulk of the plot revolves around Danni going undercover, making herself appear young, vulnerable and ingratiating herself with the main players that are orbiting the sex trafficking ring.  Danni appears younger, so can pass herself off as a vulnerable runaway.  What I loved about this is that Mello doesn't fetishize Danni's looks.  The hero doesn't "get off" on the fact that Danni looks like a teenager.  Her being able to play younger is seen as an asset for the task at hand and bringing the bad guys to justice.

Like a lot of romantic suspense novels, this one doesn't always pass the smell test.  Danni being loaned from Atlanta to Chicago and then poof! Suddenly she's undercover with nary a whisper of departmental red tape.  I have zero intimate knowledge of how police undercover works, so take this quibble for what's it worth.  I'm just saying that I feel like it's probably more complicated in Real Life.  Depending on reader baggage, this could be fine or it could annoy the stuffing out of you.

But, I'm not reading this story for Real Life.  I'm reading it for the romance and the suspense.  I will say I found the suspense thread more compelling, especially in the second half when Danni's undercover work starts to bear some fruit.  The romance is nice, but not as robust - largely because of plot constraints.  Danni's undercover.  Armstrong is handling stuff behind the scenes.  They don't spend a super ton of time together.  That being said, I will say the progression of their relationship was well thought out.  Mello takes her time getting to the first kiss and we don't get a sex scene until towards the end.  So no annoying "Oh gosh, the bad guys are chasing us - let's stop and have sex now!" moments (I seriously hate those).

I know reading about a Chicago police officer might be a non-starter for some readers right now (thank you recent-ish current events) - but I love the idea of the Black family being notable Chicago citizens, many of them having civil servant-type jobs.  When the siblings get together, that familial relationship plays well on the page.  It's a really attractive set-up for a series, and I'm definitely interested in reading future books.

This wasn't a keeper for me, but it was very good - and I enjoyed the suspense thread.  It does involve sex trafficking, and while mileage will definitely vary on this, I didn't find the descriptions overly graphic.  That said, Danni meets some of the girls and, true to form, some of them are young.  While I do think Danni and Armstrong could have been quicker on the uptake during the climactic finish, I practically inhaled this book the closer I got to the finish line.  The Big Baddies are caught and I'm sucked into wanting more Black family stories. 

Mission accomplished.

Final Grade = B

Monday, March 25, 2019

Top 5 Unusual Historicals for March 2019

If the month of March had a definition it would be “tease.” Growing up in the Midwest, March meant warmer temperatures, the snow finally starting to melt, digging out my summer clothes when the temperature hit 60°F - only to have that cruel witch Mother Nature dump a March 31 blizzard to remind us who was boss. Oh, many an Easter it was where my pretty new dress was hidden under outerwear that made me look like I was going on an Antarctic expedition. You know what I’m talking about, amirite?! So why not plan for an impending final last-gasp snow day now by pursuing some new unusual historical offerings? Here’s what caught my eye for March.

 To Tempt A Rebel CoverTo Tempt a Rebel by Shana Galen 
He’s a rebel…
It all began so well. When Tristan Chevalier joined the French revolutionaries to fight for brotherhood, equality, and liberty, he was full of hopes and dreams of what the revolution could accomplish. But after several years of serving as the bloodthirsty Robespierre’s second, Tristan is having doubts. When Tristan tries to halt Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, he inadvertently steps into a trap laid by the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel and orchestrated by the lovely Alexandra Martin. Tristan is no one’s pawn, but he thinks by playing along, he might be able to give his superiors information leading to the capture of the League. He could end the Pimpernel’s antics once and for all. There’s just one problem—no matter how much Tristan despises Alexandra, he can’t quite stop wanting her.  
She has a cause.
Alexandra Martin is an Englishwoman who’s has been playing the part of a French actress for years. It’s a clever cover for her real role as a member of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Alex usually works in the background, but when she manages to snare one of the most important men in Robespierre’s government, she’s risking it all. So begins a harrowing adventure where Alex’s most vile enemy must become her most trusted ally. The fate of a young prince hangs in the balance as two clashing rebels discover enemies sometimes make the best lovers. 
Look, light and fluffy historical romance has its place, but for my money I’m always going to go with the historical with high stakes conflict. Like, life and death stuff. And it doesn’t get much life-er and death-er than the French Revolution. This is the fourth book in a series where I somehow missed the preceding three. Never mind. I’m rectifying that now.

 Shipwrecked with the Captain cover
Shipwrecked with the Captain by Diane Gaston
All she remembers…  
…is feeling safe in his arms!  
Part of The Governess Swap: Shipwrecked governess Claire Tilson wakes in Captain Lucien Roper’s arms—with amnesia! Her handsome rescuer believes she’s a member of the aristocracy he detests, yet he risks all to see her “home,” where she learns she’s betrothed to a wealthy stranger. Claire is convinced she doesn’t belong here…and Lucien is the only man she trusts to uncover her past and claim her future! 
The second book in a duology, our amnesiac heroine finds herself mistaken for the heroine in A Lady Becomes a Governess. There are two types of readers: those who avoid amnesia plots like the plague and those who are drawn to them like a moth to flame. I tend to fall in the latter category, namely because I always have to see for myself if the author can pull it off. Gaston is a seasoned Regency pro, so I’m hopeful.

 Desire Lines cover
Desire Lines by Elizabeth Kingston
All he ever wanted was to go home.  
Leaving his life as a noble hostage behind him, Gryff has fled from one danger to another, never safe, always longing for a forbidden return to his conquered Welsh homeland. Held captive by villainous men, his unlikely savior is the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen – and the most deadly. Her silence is unnerving, her generosity unexpected, and her pointed warning that she will not be an object of lust is perfectly clear.  
Nan has no doubt the ragged Welshman she has saved from certain death was born to better things, far different from the servant’s life she’s led. Though the last thing she wants is a companion on her journey to find her cherished sister, she is compelled to help the man with haunted eyes and a mysterious past. But she feels the pull of his fascination every instant, and her own unexpected desire soon takes them places neither could have foreseen. 
OK, so how did this series fly under my radar?! 13th century and the conquest of Wales?! How did I miss this?! I like medievals. Again, high stakes conflict and one of those moments in history where loyalty was everything. And Lord help you if you were loyal to the losing side. Anyway, we routinely see English and Scottish medievals. We even see a small mattering of Irish medievals. But Welsh? And it’s a road romance. I’m a mere mortal after all. I cannot possibly resist.

 Mrs. Martin's cover
Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan
Mrs. Bertrice Martin—a widow, some seventy-three years young—has kept her youthful-ish appearance with the most powerful of home remedies: daily doses of spite, regular baths in man-tears, and refusing to give so much as a single damn about her Terrible Nephew.  
Then proper, correct Miss Violetta Beauchamps, a sprightly young thing of five and sixty, crashes into her life. The Terrible Nephew is living in her rooming house, and Violetta wants him gone.  
Mrs. Martin isn’t about to start giving damns, not even for someone as intriguing as Miss Violetta. But she hatches another plan—to make her nephew sorry, to make Miss Violetta smile, and to have the finest adventure of all time.  
If she makes Terrible Men angry and wins the hand of a lovely lady in the process? Those are just added bonuses. 
This new novella from Milan is part of the Worth Saga and sounds positively delightful! When was the last time we got not one, but TWO, heroines over the age of 60? Seriously, this just may be the first one ever. And both of them sound like they’re well past giving a damn. I’m halfway to swoon already.

 Marrying Her Viking Enemy cover
Marrying Her Viking Enemy by Harper St. George 
A Saxon maiden  
Bound to a Viking warrior  
Part of To Wed a Viking: The conquering Danes have taken everything from Elswyth—even her mother. So, despite the uneasy truce between their people, she knows where her loyalties lie. Until she meets towering Rolfe, leader of the opposing forces. Her mind knows this muscled Viking is her enemy. So why is her traitorous body so tempted by his suggestion that she become his wife? 
OK, so I have a thing for medievals and it’s probably because the time period plays so well to the Enemies to Lovers trope. When done right it’s utterly sublime. St. George has written Vikings before, but this is the first in a new series.

What Unusual Historicals are you looking forward to this month?

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Ranty Mini-Reviews: Take Me and Make Me

I've been "in-between" books for a couple of days now and feeling out of sorts since I'm not entirely sure what I'm in the mood for, so I went with two recent, short Dirty Bits by Tracy Wolff.  I've read Wolff before, and liked those books to varying degrees, and I figured reading short was a decent stop-gap in light of my wishy-washy-ness.  As they say, I chose poorly.

Take Me is the first book in a steamy shorts series centered around artists.  In this one the jackhole "hero" hires the heroine to pose for him.  He's some hot-shot iron sculptor, and she just lost her art school scholarship and needs the money.

I had to DNF this one at 28% (yes, I'm aware it's a 100 page novella...) because the hero made me feel murderous. In the first frickin' chapter, after the heroine walks into his studio, our "hero" muses to himself:
I don't have to have anything in common with the women I stick my dick in...but it doesn't hurt.
The fact that I didn't hurl my Kindle across the room just goes to show you my incredible act of restraint.  Not only that, I somehow kept reading. Why?  I don't know. I'm blaming it on the cold medicine I'm currently dosing myself with because I have a gnarly head cold.

Then we get the heroine's point of view in a following chapter and that's when a power differential comes into play that I really cannot get past:
In the end, I don't say anything - partly because I need this job and partly because there's nothing to say. Not really.  Not yet, when all I know about him is what I've read.
Yeah, no.  This sets off all sorts of warning bells for me.  But it's not the final nail in the coffin.  No, that comes when we're back to the hero's cesspool point-of-view:
It makes me want to punch that wall and keep punching it until the pain knocks out everything else - including the fact that I'm sitting here mooning after her like a little bitch right now.  Or a gigantic fucking wuss.
Conclusion: I don't think she's safe with him and he's a douchecanoe.  Excuse me while I go burn everything down.

Final Grade = DNF

Make Me is the second short in the series and I did manage to finish this one.  Oh, it's still terrible, but hey, I did finish it.

The heroine is the assistant curator at a gallery and the hero is her most favoritest photographer ever. He wants to tie her up (shibari: Japanese rope bondage) and photograph her.  She has to work in the business, so no.

The hero does fall hard and fast for the heroine, I'll give him that. But he doesn't take no for an answer which is so not cool that I want reach through my Kindle and throat punch him into next Tuesday.
"I don't want you to do anything you don't want to do. If you don't want to pose for me, then I won't ask you to. If you don't want me to tie you up -"
"You won't tie me up?"
"I won't. But on that, I won't stop asking either."
Run gurl, you're in danger.

But, of course, she relents. BECAUSE OF COURSE SHE DOES.
"Okay. I won't take any photos of you," I tell her, though it kills me to say it. So much so that I have to quantify it. "Unless you want me to."
"I won't," she assures me.
We'll see about that. But I don't say that.
So yeah.  You know when all us "precious snowflakes" talk about consent in romance and how FRICKIN' IMPORTANT IT IS!  Yeah, this is NOT consent.  This is the hero thinking that he's eventually going to get the heroine to cave and do what he wants - which, OF COURSE, she eventually does do in the final chapter of the story.  But hey, it's OK because she has a rock hard orgasm so I'm what? Just supposed to ignore the fact that HE DOESN'T LISTEN TO HER?!?!?!  I can just picture this jackhole in between chapters wheedling her incessantly until she finally just throws up her hands and caves in, just so she can get a moment's peace.

You know what's sexy?  When men actually listen to women.

I just can't with domineering heroes right now. Unless they have the page count to repent or the heroine cuts him off at the knees - and that's not going to happen in a line as short as Carina's Dirty Bits.  I still don't know what I'm in the mood to read but sure as shootin' it isn't this.

Final Grade = D