Amazon discontinued the ability to create images using their SiteStripe feature and in their infinite wisdom broke all previously created images on 12/31/23. Many blogs used this feature, including this one. Expect my archives to be a hot mess of broken book cover images until I can slowly comb through 20 years of archives to make corrections.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

#TBRChallenge 2020: His Secret and Their Secret

Admittedly I had an entirely different book picked out for this month's Challenge, but when I still hadn't read a single word of it as of Monday I knew 2020 had struck again. With my concentration continuing to be shot I knew I was going to have to leave my print TBR in favor for my digital TBR and find a novella that fit this month's Series theme. What I found was the Secret Pleasures quartet by Portia Da Costa and just to be an overachiever for a change - I read the first two.

The Book: His Secret by Portia Da Costa

The Particular: Erotic romance novella, originally published as The Retreat 2009, self-published edition 2014, eBook only, book 1 in series

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: Da Costa has been an autobuy for me for as long as I've been reading erotic romance. Um, that's a long time y'all!

The Review: Sarah met Ben at work, and they've been quietly dating for a while. Truly, he's the perfect boyfriend: dashing, charming, considerate, and good in bed.  Really, what more could a girl want?  But Sarah can't help having this feeling like something is missing.  And she finds out what it is when Ben whisks her away on a weekend getaway at the posh boutique hotel, The Retreat.  Because wouldn't you know it?  The Retreat is one of those quietly naughty hotels that cater to their guests every need (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). And perfect boyfriend Ben is, well, kinky. This turns out to be OK because Sarah discovers she likes it very much indeed when Ben is, well, kinky.

This is a short read, only clocking in around 50 pages. Even at that page count I wasn't disappointed in things like character development. Do you get to crawl around in the dark, deep recesses of their minds?  No. But they're an established couple and I got enough internal musings to not feel like the marriage proposal at the end of the story was a huge rush.  The erotic elements are what I would classify as light BDSM. There's spanking, there's a blindfold, there's some sex toys. I'm read tamer, I've read kinkier. 

Did this story change my life? Well, no. That's Wendy speak for "It was fine." But it was a quick read that made me feel like I managed to accomplish something.  Also, I wasn't upset that I had the next 3 novellas in  my TBR.

Final Grade = C+

The Book: Their Secret by Portia Da Costa

The Particulars: Erotic romance novella, originally part of Mastered box set (no longer available), self-published edition 2014, eBook only, book 2 in series

The Review: Maggie Jenkins has met a man she only knows as "Mr. Jones" in a kink chat room. The online correspondence has been going on for a while, long enough for them to float the idea of actually meeting in person. Maggie works, and is friends, with Sarah from the first book and she recommends Maggie meet her mystery man at The Retreat. Between their reputation and their security, it's the safe bet.  Maggie almost chickens out, but decides she has to know - so she heads for the rendezvous.  What she gets is the surprise of her life when she finds out who "Mr. Jones" really is.

This is slightly longer, at around 80 pages, and I think the story is better for it.  It's obvious who Mr. Jones is going to turn out to be once Da Costa tips her hand - but given the short word count that's expected.  This is, once again, light BDSM with spanking, blindfolds, and some outdoor sex to round out the shenanigans.  What keeps this from being a retread of book 1, just with different characters, is that Da Costa gives readers a glimpse of the fall-out afterward.  Once our couple leaves the secluded hideaway of The Retreat, having explored their kinky desires, how will that translate once they're back to "their real world."  Especially given who Mr. Jones turns out to be.

This was another quick, sexy read and the final chapters really tie it all together.

Final Grade = B


Jill said...

Interesting. I'm not a big erotic romance reader, but I could see myself reading these.
Wendy, I hope you don't mind I keep coming back month after month with my review/comments. I just don't do social media anymore ;-)

I picked ONLY WHEN IT'S US by Chloe Liese which was a New Adult(ish) romance about a young woman who is working hard to make it as soccer star and her grumpy lumberjack classmate. This is one of those books where it's so hard to know how to review it b/c I could totally see its flaws and yet it worked for me completely b/c of the Jill catnip sprinkled through.

The big things that I could see being a turn off for readers is a lot of the their conflict is based on not talking to each other and misuderstandings (use your words, people!). It's explained it universe, but still frustrating. The other thing - the hero is deaf (something that happened to him recently and he's still dealing with) and there was lots of importance placed on him getting cochlear implants and speaking "normally" again. I realize that's just one character's experience (and not meant to speak for everyone) but from my limited understanding of Deaf culture, neither of those choices are devoid of controversy. So I could see the way the author didn't even really explore any other options (in a positive way) as being a possible major turnoff to people.

So why did it work for me personally? The big one, and maybe this was b/c it was NA, is that the hero was a regular guy. Yes, he was a former athlete and buff, but he was not a billionaire/Navy Seal/prince/vampire. When I read single title contemporary romance, that's what I want and it feels like I need to celebrate each one I find. High school teachers! Male nurses! Male librarians! Security guards! I want all of the above. A lot of romance heroes have started to feel to me like an author's lazy checklist of what's "hot" rather than an individual with a personality. Let's normalize regular people being worthy of love and finding it. The other thing that was very much Jill catnip is that it was a slow burn, where the characters would get very close to consummating the relationship and back off. Which was maybe a good thing considering their lack of communication skills, but it worked for me.

Anyways, I will definitely read more by this author b/c I enjoyed this and the rest of the series (about a big Swedish American family) looks intriguing.

Jen Twimom said...

Well, it's good you had some backup stories... I understand the "oh no, I have to do that by tomorrow?" feeling.

I'm not familiar with the author, but I never read a lot of erotic romance and now find I'm past it and on to other genres that are light and fluffy. But I do enjoy a good story, especially when the author can give us the emotional satisfaction of a full-length book in a shorter format. It's not easy to do.

Wendy said...

Jill: Of course I don't mind! I enjoy seeing your comments and hearing about what you read for the Challenge. I know exactly what you mean - I've also had those books that I can see the flaws but for whatever "magical" reasons the story ends up working for me. And "Let's normalize regular people being worthy of love and finding it" hear, hear!

Jen: Da Costa's early backlist veers more erotica but she's always toed the line on "erotic romance" - even back in the early days when that sub genre was finding it's footing. What I like about her stories is that she tends to write "playful." There's not a lot of broody angst about butt-hurt heroes whose Mommies didn't love them and I generally want to be BFFs with her heroines.

Dorine said...

Good points, Jill, about normalizing the heroes. I like that a lot, too. Just real people - nothing fantasy or over-the-top.

I'm not normally an erotic reader anymore, Wendy, but I once was, so there are still some authors who will draw me in with a good story. This one sounds playful with a good black moment to twist things up a bit. Glad you found a good one!

I dropped the ball entirely this month. We had some major renovations to repair minor water damage at our home, and as usual, I had to make myself crazy and clean out the house like I'm moving. Well, they did remove three rooms full of furniture, so I sort of did move. LOL AND, I read a wonderful book last month, wrote the review and failed to publish it. I'm hopeful winter will get me back on track. Looking forward to 2021 :)

Wendy said...

Dorine: My back hurts just reading about your cleaning out project. 2020 has not been the greatest reading year for me (let's be honest - it hasn't been the greatest year period!). These two novellas did a good job of kicking starting my flagging mojo and I ended up burning through the final two books in the quartet this week.