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Amanda Ryan

Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James

Redonk Nutshell: An intense physical attraction between a shy woman and an indulgent man leads to a deep and complicated attachment

I came across this book through browsing around the Kindle store.  After reading the premise and the reviews I was intrigued enough to add it to my library.  I sped through it like a woman starved, incredibly grateful I had come across it.  I knew nothing of this author or her previous work, and had no idea what the history of this series was.  I’m excited to share it with you all, because I bet many of you will enjoy it.A quick synopsis:  Anastasia Steele is a few weeks away from earning her degree at Washington State University. When her roommate Kate gets sick with the flu, Ana volunteers to take her place to do an interview with the illustrious Seattle CEO Christian Grey.  When Ana meets Christian she immediately senses a spark, an attraction so intense she finds herself struggling to keep her cool. When Christian shows up a few days later at her part time job, Ana entertains the notion he may share the attraction, though she’s completely stunned that a man like Christian would have any interest in someone like her.Christian is a very private man.  Rich, brilliant and ambitious, Christan has no qualms about going after what he wants.  And what he wants is Anastasia.  The problem, however, is that she is completely ignorant of his lifestyle, a dark and secretive need to dominate.  He tries to warn her away from him, but neither can resist the pull of their attraction.  When he presents her with a legal contract detailing the depths of his expectations in their BDSM relationship, Ana is shocked.  She’s never partaken in any sort of physical relationship let alone a Dom and Sub one.  But her feelings for Christian overule her worries, and she agrees to give it a try.

What we get is an emotional rollercoaster of sensual awakening.  The attraction between these two is like gasoline to a raging fire.  What really makes this story shine, however, is watching these two struggle with the emotional ramifacations of their blooming emotional attachment.  It goes beyond physical, beyond the need to possess or dominate.  And neither or them know how to handle it.  It’s dark, addictingly so.  It’s a character driven story where our hero and heroine get way in over their heads.

I really loved this story.  I found myself drawing comparisons to Twilight a few chapters in – really, it’s impossible not to.  It’s set in Washington state, our hero and heroine are mirror images to Bella and Edward, and the intense emotional and physical attraction to one another is remarkably similar.  Some might be disappointed by this.  I personally didn’t mind.  In fact, I found myself reveling in it.   Afterall, how many of you out there are like me when reading the Twilight series and can’t help but feel disappointed at the lac of erotic description.  Yeah, well, I’m Raunchy Ryan – I have NEEDS.  Fifty Shades of Grey reads almost like an super adult version of Twilight, minus the whole supernatural aspect.

After finishing this (and book two) I did some research into this author – because I had to know who this person was and why I was only just now finding her – and it turns out Ms. James got her start writing Fanfiction for….get ready for it…Twilight.  HA!  Suddenly it all made sense.  I personally thought this was fantastic.  I don’t mind fan fiction – in fact I like it.  What really made it for me, though, was the fact that Ms. James writes  just as well, if not better, than Stephanie Meyer.  The ridiculous teenage angst is replaced with brutally intense sensuality.  The stalker-esque mannerisms of Edward are addressed by our Ana, and it’s done in a way that had me laughing and giggling like a moron.  I loved it.

So…a few things to bear in mind should you opt to pick this baby up.  It’s a series:  Book one is a major cliffhanger, so don’t expect any HEA’s.  Book two has something of an ending but we’re definitely left wondering what’s in store for book three, which has yet to be given a date of release.  Be prepared for Twilight XXX.  Whether or not you see this as s good or bad thing is most definitley subjective.  I myself enjoyed it immensely.  In fact, I’m earmarking this as one of my favorites for 2011.  Fo realz.  Hot, feisty, dark yet funny, and crazy emotional, Fifty Shades of Grey is fifty shades of fantastic.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James
(currently only availble through Amazon or The Writer’s Coffee Shop or iTunes)

Rating: B

Romance: 3/5         Raunch: 5/5

Flawless by Carrie Lofty

Redonk Nutshell: Jaded spouses reunite to revive a recently inherited crumbling diamond dynasty

I fell in love with this cover. Ain’t it purty? Then I fell for the premise – a regency romance set in…wait for it…SOUTH AFRICA?  Score.  What I got was a gritty and at times uncomfortable not-so-fluffy romance story between a husband and wife that reluctantly come together for somewhat nefarious reasons.  Though of course, things don’t go quite the way they plan.  I very much enjoyed this book.  It had a realistic emotional toil for me that rang true.

The characters are as flawed as the stones they pull from the ground.  Miles Durham, our hero, is, to be blunt, an overindulgent nihilistic ass.  His wife of an arranged marriage, Vivienne, left him a year prior, and Miles takes it upon himself to get her back so he can rebuild their relationship.  And then leave her.  You know how it goes – a typical revenge scheme, eh?  Vivienne, on the other hand, has grown up in the year of her separation from her husband.  She’s resolved not to fall prey to his baited retorts and actions, and she’s committed to finding herself stability at just about any cost.  When Vivienne’s father bequeaths her the task of rescuing his struggling diamond firm in South Africa, she accepts the challenge.  She’s stunned when upon arriving she’s faced with her estranged husband.  Miles has taken it upon himself to get a head start on Viv’s family legacy and his own personal goals.  They come to something of an agreement.  After all, they both benefit if Vivienne can make her father’s firm successful.  What neither of them count on is genuinely falling in love with one another.

Miles and Viv’s story isn’t pretty.  They both have some pretty serious emotional baggage to sort through.  Miles’s behavior and treatment is a constant haunt to Vivienne, which gives her some pretty serious trust issues.  But then again, Miles really is an ass.  Or at least was.  It’s a joy to watch Miles find a purpose to his life, and with it a reason to stick with his resolution to avoid gambling and drinking.

I very much enjoyed these two’s story.  The setting of South Africa is a breath of breath of fresh air in a regency romance, though it isn’t necessarily pretty.  In fact, it’s at times downright brutal.  I personally appreciated it.

If you’re considering checking out regency romance and are looking for something with more substance than fluff, I’d recommend Flawless by Carrie Lofty.

Flawless by Carrie Lofty, 416 pgs, 9/27/11

Rating: B-

Romance: 3/5               Raunch: 3/5

The Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa

 

Redonk Nutshell: Banished fairy prince vows to find a way to become human in order to be with the woman he loves

The Iron Knight is the epic conclusion to Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series.  Go here if you’re not familiar with this series before reading on for a quick catch-me-up.

Let it be known that I am Team Ash, all the way.  I was psyched to get my grubby paws on this book because more than anything I wanted Ash to have his happy ending.  Does he get it?  *evil cackle* Like I’m gonna tell you.

I will say this much: The Iron Knight will leave you satisfied, feeling like a fat kid at a cake buffet.  We  delve deeper into Ash and his past, and along the way we get more Puck-isms, more Grimalkin, and a surprise appearance of new characters.   Let’s not forget adventure – a healthy dose of what we’ve come to expect from Ms. Kagawa.

We learn why Ash is so tormented, and on his journey to become human, the fairy prince finally learns what sacrifices he must make in order to fulfill his wish to be reunited with Meghan.  The question then becomes whether or not this is what he truly desires.

The Iron Knight is a wonderful conclusion to The Iron Fey series.  From what I understand, there will be additional books in the same world but featuring Meghan’s little bro.

The Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa, 386 pgs, 10/25/11

Rating: B

Romance: 3/5              Raunch: 0/5

Real Men Will by Victoria Dahl

Redonk Nutshell: Upstanding older brother gets in over his head with a woman he can’t seem to shake from his past

I love it when a series comes to a conclusion with an epic BANG! And in this case it’s safe to say that in a raunchy way because this book has some serious smoke.

The third book in Dah’ls Donovan Brother’s Brewery series gives us Eric’s story.  Poor Eric. He’s gotten a lot of crap from his younger siblings in the first two books. He’s the eldest, the brother that kept (and continues to keep) things running somewhat smoothly.  He assumes the parental role when their parents tragically die, a role Eric carries with heavy burden. While his sister and brother flail and falter their way to finding true contentment, Eric stands stoically by and offers his support in a way only an older brother can.

Well, it’s always the quiet ones you gotta watch. *snort*

Eric can’t seem to shake the memory of the woman from his one night stand several months ago. “One night stand,” you say? “Eric?”  Yup. Well, he’s met his match in Beth, the quiet yet independent woman who runs the classy erotic adult boutique in his hometown. When these two inadvertently crash into one another the sparks start flying once again, and they gradually give in to the temptation to have another night together.  When one night turns into two, they realize their attraction to one another can’t be ignored.  But in order to make their relationship work, they both have their own issues to work through.

This is my favorite in the Donovan series, which is funny because I wasn’t a big Eric fan until this book.  Beth is a wonderful watch for him, and the crazy-intense sparks that fly between them will really make you grin and blush.  You want nothing more than for these two to figure out their baggage so they can just quit the crap and be together.  And when they do get together?  Ah, yes. It’s magical.

I consumed this book in a day.  It’s a lovely fluffy yet steamy read.  I could have done without the drama of Eric’s siblings (can someone just smack Tessa? Please?), but Eric and Beth rise above it to shine as the stars of this book.

Real Men Will by Victoria Dahl, 10/25/11

Rating: B-

Romance: 2/5            Raunch: 4.5/5

 

Seduction of a Highland Lass by Maya Banks

Redonk Nutshell: Forbidden attracting ensues after a Highlander falls in love with the woman who nurses him from a near mortal wound

Book two in Maya Banks’ McCabe trilogy.  Alaric McCabe is on his way to the neighboring clan to court his politically matched fiancee.  He’s waylaid when an attack along the journey nearly kills him.  When Keeley McDonald finds a half dead warrior at her door she quickly takes him in and works to nurse him back to health.  Keeley is a trained healer who lives on her own at the farthest edge of her clan’s borders.  Banished by her laird, Keeley has made it fine on her own…until Alaric tumbles to her door.  When Alaric’s older brother and laird of the McCabe clan tracks him down to Keeley’s home, they’re both escorted back to McCabe land – so Alaric can heal and so Keeley can see to the birth of the laird’s child.  Keeley and Alaric battle a forbidden attraction.

I thought book one was a good time, and book two was no different.  I didn’t know anything about it except that this was Alaric’s story.  I started it figuring this would be a tale of a husband wooing a reluctant wife – boy was I surprised.  I liked Keeley as a heroine, but she didn’t really rock my world.  One thing she does have going for her – she’s stubborn without being abrasive.  I was a fan of Alaric from book two, so I was looking forward to seeing more of him this time around.  I have to admit, though, my admiration has been saved mostly for the younger McCabe, Caelon, who has some dark and broody moments.  Ya’ll know how I like mah dark and broody men.  *snort*

I enjoyed Seduction of a Highland Lass.  I feel confident in recommending Banks’ Scottish series to fans of the genre who are looking for something with a brogue but  not over the top.  Banks is skilled a writing a story that’s intriguing, sexy and heartwarming.  Overall, a lovely fluff read.  In trews.

Seduction of a Highland Lass by Maya Banks, 352 pgs, 9/27/11

Rating: C+

Romance: 3/5          Raunch: 3.5/5

 

 

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Redonk Nutshell: Young woman struggles to find her purpose amid a political marriage and a predestined expectation of greatness

I had heard some interesting buzz about this YA fantasy novel by newcomer Rae Carson, so I was excited to pick it up.  The Girl of Fire and Thorns is the story of Princess Elisa, the chosen carrier of The Godstone: a literal magic stone embedded into her abdomen, and her path to maturity.  I liked Elisa because she is a flawed heroine – she has some serious self image and confidence issues.  She’s a big girl, a result of finding comfort in binge eating.  She is described as dark skinned and having beautiful eyes, but Elise doesn’t see much when she views herself.  Which is why, when she weds the King of her neighboring homeland, she has doubts.  Her husband, Alejandro,ends up being a very nice gentleman, though as Elisa matures she comes to see how his character flaws have hindered his rule.  Elise wades through the murky waters of learning about her Godstone and ultimately is forced to figure out what her true purpose is.  Her faith is put to the test.

What I really liked about this book is it isn’t comfortable.  Elise is forced to confront her own insecurities as well as a slew of events that will forever shape the woman she is turning out to be.  There are several moments where I mentally cringed – like how Elise thinks of herself, and how Elise loses close friends to her – but I enjoyed the raw and edgy feel of the story.  In fact, I was engrossed.  I really wanted to know how Elise’s first installment of her story was going to resolve itself.  More importantly, I look forward to seeing how she continues to grow as a character.

I thought Fire & Thorns was a great first book in what I think will be a fun yet gritty YA fantasy series.  It’s obvious Carson has no qualms about tackling touchy issues – faith, self image, murder, loss, etc. – and I genuinely look forward to reading the next book, if only to know how Elise will shape the fate of her people.  I’m glad I picked this up.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, 432 pgs, 9/20/11

Rating: B

Romance: 2/5          Raunch: 0/5

The Queen’s Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner

Book One: The Thief – In which we first meet Gen, a notoriously talented thief who is pulled from prison and tasked to steal an impossible artifact

“I want you to steal something.” 
I smiled. “Do you want the king’s seal? I can get it for you.” 
If I were you,” said the magus, “I’d stop bragging about that.” His voice grated. 
My smile grew. The gold ring with the engraved ruby had been in his safekeeping when I had stolen it away.” 

This award winning YA novel has a distinctive sarcastic tone because it is told from the point of view of our hero, Gen.  He is a clever and conniving young man with plans of his own he doesn’t always share with those around him (or even those of us in his head).  I had heard great things about this book, so I was excited to read it.  It was a fun adventure, and Gen will have you shaking your head at several page turns.  When all was said and done, however, I found myself feeling just sort of so-so about it.  I had a hard time believing certain aspects of it toward the end.  Regardless, I picked up the next in the series.

 

Book Two: The Queen of Attolia – In which the Queen and The Thief begin their elaborate game of strategy

“She was the stone-faced queen, then and ever after. She had needed the mask to rule, and she had been glad to have it. She wondered if The Thief was glad of his.”

The Queen of Attolia is what sealed my admiration for this series.  Unfortunately I believe in spoiler-free reviews, so I can’t really reveal too much here.  But I can tell you this – this complex and ridiculously intense series will not disappoint you.  Book Two picks up not far off from book one, and this time we get more perspective from The Queen, and the aftermath of The Thief’s thievery.  If we’ve learned anything so far from Book One it’s that things aren’t always what they seem.

Book Three: The King of Attolia – In which we meet Costis, the guard assigned to the new King of Attolia amid brewing curiosity over the Queen’s choice of husband

“Oh, that,” said the king with a shrug. “That isn’t your honor, Costis. That’s the public perception of your honor. It has nothing to do with anything important, except perhaps for manipulating fools who mistake honor for its bright, shiny trappings. You can always change the perceptions of fools.” 

Book Three is told from the perspective of a guard in Attolia’s court.  Costis is assigned close to the new King, and he quickly learns of the complex nature of his monarchs and the dangerous game of deception they play to keep control over their realm.

I loved this book.  Book Two lured me back and Book Three completely seduced me.

There are additional books in The Queen’s Thief series, but I’ve personally only read the first three so far.  If you’re looking for a fantastic fantasy series with humor and complex adventure, I’d highly recommend checking out Megan Whalen Turner’s series.

The Queen’s Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

Redonk Nutshell: Damaged woman assumes role as food tester and begins to learn the secrets of her captors and herself

The Study series by Maria V. Snyder is a personal favorite of mine, and Poison Study holds a special place in my heart.

Yelena Zaltana is in prison and awaiting death after murdering the son of the leader of her General. When she is dragged from her cell and placed before Valek, the notorious right hand man to the Commander, she is given a choice – accept her death sentence or accept the position as the Commander’s food tester.  Yelena takes her chances and accept the position, taking tutelage from Valek on how to detect poisons.  As Yelena beings her new position, she comes to realize several things: 1) she has latent magical powers 2) someone is trying to kill her 3)she may be an integral part in a plot to overthrow the Commander

I love Poison Study because Maria V. Snyder creates such a vividly stoic yet vibrant world.  Yelena is a strong heroine, a phoenix that rises from her ashes to capture the hearts to those around her all while kicking some serious arse.  You can’t help but be fascinated by the magical hierarchy and the history of Yelena’s world as she begins to make her mark.  Another big reason for my love of Poison Study? I love Valek. He’s probably one of my favorite heroes, one I like returning to time and time again.  He’s a lethally trained assassin, a man of marble who softens only to Yelena’s hard headed resolve:

Valek was liquid in motion.  As I watched him, one word came to mind: beautiful.  His movements had the speed and cadence of a complex dance performance.  In comparison, his adversary resembled a newborn colt, lurching and jerking his arms and legs as if this were his first time on his feet.  Valek’s smooth lunges and graceful parries disarmed his opponent in no time.

Poison Study is an excellent magical fantasy that is guaranteed to sweep you away.  Magic Study and Fire Study follow and are great additions onto Yelena’s story and growth as a character, though personally Poison Study reigns supreme in my world.

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder, 416 pgs, 3/1/07

Rating: A

Romance: 3/5            Raunch: 2/5

Provoke Me by Cari Quinn

Redonk Nutshell: Sexual tension explodes between a bookstore employee and the straight-laced manager

I picked this up on a whim after hearing some chatter on Twitter over its hawtness.  Glad I did – I really enjoyed it.

Provoke Me is the story of Kelly and Spencer, two people that are constants in each other’s lives as employer (Spencer) and employee (Kelly) at a small family owned bookstore.  Their relationship has always been professional and friendly, though they’ve both secretly shared a mutual attraction to each other.  When Kelly’s friend encourages her to along on a trip to a sex club, Kelly is surprised to see Spencer’s familiar face.  The sparks fly, and before long these two end up forging onward.  They each consider their relationship to be a physical one, nothing too permanent or emotional.  But of course, things don’t go the way the initially planned, leaving them both to sort out their emotional baggage and make decisions that could make or break their relationship.

Provoke Me is some seriously spicy fun. Spencer and Kelly practically burn up between the pages, making this book probably one of the best erotic novels I’ve read this year. Some people will be turned off by it – Spencer can be a bit of a…well..a dick.  Kelly is pretty headstrong and outspoken.  A lot of the plot starts and circulates around a sex club.  So, it’s probably not for everyone.  But I enjoyed it.  Immensely.  The chemistry between these two is phenomenal.

Provoke Me by Cari Quinn, 7/22/11

Rating: B

Romance: 2/5            Raunch: 5/5

In Bed with a Highlander by Maya Banks

Redonk Nutshell: Laird marries an entangled heiress to protect her and inherit her dowry

Said with horrible Scottish accent: Isna’ luvleh covah! *snorts at self* Yeah, yeah.  I can actually do a decent Scottish accent but only after a few glasses of wine.

I was excited to read this for a few reasons. 1) it’s Maya Banks 2) it’s her first stab at a historical 3) it’s about highlanders 4) my fellow rom bloggers liked it   So, I picked this up and devoured it.

Mairin Stuart is the illegitimate daughter of the Scottish dynasty, hidden away at a convent for her safety until said convent is ambushed by men looking to secure her for their laird, Duncan Cameron. Cameron attempts to force her to marry him, but she refuses, earning herself a nice beat down.  With the help of servants, Mairin manages to escape, along with a fellow child-captive.  The two are eventually found by the child’s clan, The McCabes, and they’re taken back to their homeland. The McCable laird, Ewan, eventually discovers who she is and he offers to marry her.  Knowing her options couldn’t really get any easier or better, she accepts.  And of course, she they gradually begin to fall in love with each other amid a scheme by nasty Cameron to get her and her dowry back.

I enjoyed this book.  It was spirited and fun with a nice Highlander touch.  We meet the McCabe brothers, three men who are each getting their own book, and who each have their own distinct personality.  Ewan is a hardworking and earnest man, a man who is hard but compassionate.  He’s exactly what Mairin, flighty and hard headed as she is, needs.  They fit together perfectly, and it’s lovely to watch them realize it.

Overall, I thought the Banks’ first foray into historical romance a success.  I’ll definitely be picking up the rest as they’re released.

In Bed with a Highlander by Maya Banks, 352 pgs, Aug 2011

Rating: C+

Romance: 3/5       Raunch: 3/5

Enslaved by Virginia Henley

Redonk Nutshell: Woman is transported back in time to Roman-occupied Britain where she gets lessons in ancient history and passion

I’ve recently been on a time-traveling kick.  I found myself searching GoodReads for romance books that featured a time-traveling hero or heroine and I came across Enslaved by Virginia Henley.  I’ve not yet read anything by her, though I’ve come across her name several times in my travels through romance-land.

Lady Diana Davenport lives in 18th century London and is on the cusp of inheriting her father’ s legacy.  Her guardians have other plans for the money, and are anxious to make a match for Diana so she can be married off.  Diana, however, has other ideas.  She’s smart and opinionated, and most of the men in her life are dandies.  She daydreams about times long past, how knights rode to defend the honor of their ladies, blah blah blah.  When Diana comes across an old roman helmet in an antiques shop she can’t keep herself from putting it on her head. And WOOSH! She’ whisked back through time.

Figuring the strangely dressed woman as a Druid priestess and spy, Marcus Magnus instructs the woman to be enslaved.  When he recognizes her light hair and pale skin as strangely beautiful, he takes her as his personal consort.  Diana, once again, has other ideas.  But she struggles to keep herself from becoming enraptured with the Roman who has taken charge of her.

My experience with this book was mixed.  I’d say for the first half I was really intrigued and really into it, especially because we get a lot of set-up featuring Diana in her time period.  Her guardians are odious people, and Diana’s small ways of rebelling against them are lovely. We are also introduced to a blackguard of an earl who sets his sights on Diana, and their exchange are feisty as well.

When Diana is thrown back in time, we the reader quickly realize that the Roman Marcus Magnus is a distant relative of the aforementioned earl, so identical to a point where Diana can barely see a difference between the two.  I found myself wondering if Diana was perhaps experiences a Dorothy Gale moment and wasn’t actually transported back in time but rather having a delirious hallucination.  But alas, no, she was in fact really back in that time period.

The parallels between Marcus and Mark Hardwick, the earl, really turned me off.  I don’t typically dig reincarnation stories, and this one really spoiled that story for me. When Diana is returned to her time she has to convince those around her that she had, in fact, been back in roman times.  When Mark starts to remember things is about when my head started to hurt from rolling my eyes so many times.

There’s nothing wrong with a bodice-ripping cheese fest of a romance novel, but I at least like a good hearty story behind it.  Unfortunately, Enslaved fell short for me.  The first half was fun, spirited and rich, but the second half fell flat with cliched predictability.  A plus? It was pretty raunchy to which I say, “ohhhh…those Romans!”

Enslaved by Virginia Henley, 436 pgs, 1/1/95

Rating: C-

Romance: 2/5             Raunch: 4/5

Second Grave on the Left by Darynda Jones

Redonk Nutshell: Snarky Grim Reaper works to solve a mystery on behalf of her friend all while trying to track down her elusive dark lover

“His gaze slid over me like a veil of fire. He could ignite my deepest desires with a single glance. I decided right then and there no more reading romance novels by candelight.” 

Book two in Darynda Jones’ Charlie Davidson series, Second Grave on the Left picks up right where it’s predecessor leaves off.  Charlie, our resident Grim Reaper that helps the recently deceased pass into the afterlife, is woken by her friend Cookie at an ungodly time in the morning and dragged out to meet her supposedly missing close friend. When the aforementioned friend doesn’t show, Charlie & Cookie take it upon themselves to start investigating. One person’s disappearance snowballs into a major case, and before long Charlie is juggling several balls at once.

There’s quite a bit going on in this book, much of it I don’t want to give away because of spoilers.  There are two major plot points – the investigation of Cookie’s friend’s disappearance, and Charlie trying to locate Reyes, her lover/supernatural entity.  There are a few other subplots going on as well, and at times I found my mind whirling to keep up.

The snark continues on from book one, Charlie having some pretty hilarious one-liners that will have you snickering to yourself while reading.  Yet for some reason, I had a heck of a problem getting through this book.  It didn’t hook me like the first, and I found myself wandering off mid-sentence quite a few times.  I’d say about at the halfway point I finally was invested enough to really want to finish the book.  That said, I still enjoyed it.  It just didn’t enrapture me like the first one.  Regardless, I’ll be picking up the third due out next year.

Rating: C+

Romance: 0/5              Raunch: 2/5

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