arc · review · romance

Hush, Hush by Lucia Franco

Hush, Hush
by Lucia Franco

Rating: ★
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I knew the rules:

Never reveal my true identity.
Play the game, give the illusion.
Don’t get close to the clients.


The dark and glamorous lifestyle of the rich and shameless open my eyes to a lavish world of sin and wealth, and a man I can’t have.

A man I desperately want—James Riviera.

We’re treading a fine line as we live the ultimate double life until we make a startling discovery that tests both our loyalties.

I only had to follow the rules, but rules are meant to be broken.

*ARC provided by author/publisher in exchange for an honest review*

You can also read this review on Goodreads

So, this review took me much longer than expected. Complete, utter disappointment isn’t accurate enough to describe my thoughts or feelings on this. Hush, Hush is horrendous to read. Sex workers are shamed and criticised; drugs are abused to cope with sexual situations that border sexual assault, with the acts glamourised to somehow excuse everyone’s behaviours; everyone’s emotions are belittled over and over; constant lies and secrets infiltrate every scenario because the characters are too childish to function somewhat normally for two seconds. It made me so uncomfortable to read this toxic representation of supposed romance.

I’m disheartened by this hero and heroine’s characterisation, and some low rated reviews on this “romance” because they perpetuate an enormous societal issue: slut shaming. Everyone, it’s fucking 2019 (incase you forgot), though we continue to criticise sex workers and women’s sexuality, fiction or reality. Sex workers become “others” without morals, dignity or integrity and somehow that allows us “normals” to have authority to ridicule someone’s life choices? How do sex workers differ from us, when we both effectively sell our time and bodies for labour in exchange for money and goods? Our word choice carries connotations that affect others’ understanding of messages and approaches to subjects. Calling the heroine a slut, whore or prostitute (derogatorily) almost every chapter dehumanises her and distances us “normal women” by forcing us into bad girl versus good girl contests. Referring to female sex workers as prostitutes isn’t uncommon, but this gross trend enforces a solemn reminder how terrible our understanding of this industry is.

“It’s time to pregame,” she says dropping a pill into my hand. “We’re celebrating this birthday in true New York City fashion—with a few shots and some Molly.”

Substance abuse is an issue within most societies and the author’s casual, unaffected approach to opioid reliance and glamorisation of said usage without significant commentary is distressing. Furthermore, the reliance is encouraged because the heroine isn’t comfortable with fucking strangers—there’s no dubious consent here. She doesn’t want to fuck everyone, consumed by anxiety despite her actions, but she’s forced into sitautions that push her into washing down percoset with wine because she’s desperate to earn quick money. It is more worrisome that there’s limited discussion on soft or hard limits with clients—filling in some questionnaire isn’t enough when you don’t know your client, or even meet them beforehand. I can’t even begin to explain the dangers that surround this scenario, especially as violence against sex workers is at an increase.

“The universe is cruel for putting us together, but I don’t feel bad because what I feel when I’m with you is what I’ve been wanting all along, I just never knew it until I met you.”

Aubrey Abrams is dull and vain; too self-absorbed, floating within a conceited bubble to consider how her constant lies belittle everyone’s feelings, or how her selfish actions make an impact on their lives in irrevocable, significant ways. She’s a compulsive liar, an unapologetic cheater and slut-shamer extraordinaire—a shit human really with little, if any, regret. For example, when Aubrey’s asked to be exclusive with a specific client, in exchange for millions of dollars, she accepts but without any intention of honouring the conditions: to stop dating her boyfriend and escorting. However, when the truth is unveiled, she has the audacity to accuse this client of acting unreasonable and controlling. She’s unconcerned with hurting this client and rather than feel remorse for cheating on Daniel, her boyfriend (who admitted to having been cheated on before), she’s more concerned about Natalie’s reaction. Zero self-awareness, much?

I know I should look at the dissolution of our clandestine agreement as a blessing in disguise, but it’s also undeniably heartbreaking. We were hopeless from the start.

Rude doesn’t begin to cover the horrid nature of James Riviera, an abhorrent hero with a sexist attitude used so casually, it is outright sickening. James’ unfortunate loveless marriage doesn’t condone his continuous blatant cheating, an act fuelled by an unloving wife with a hate for kink; nor does it excuse his blasé usage of sexist slurs like slut or whore to belittle Aubrey, an escort who doesn’t adhere to his conditions. I find it ironic that James reiterates the values of family, but does a shit effort at following through with said announcements of significance by cheating on his wife (she isn’t innocent in this, however it doesn’t excuse his behaviour) and lying to his daughter.

Hush, Hush could’ve delivered a narrative that dismembered misinformed criticisms of escorting created and supported by sexism. Instead, it shames women’s life choices and sexuality; glamourises substance abuse; condones cheating (there’s a massive lack of self-reflection on this) within a myriad of various other issues that makes this a backwards narrative. Sex work becomes a convenient excuse to purport a forbidden age-gap romance and create a suitable enough reason to introduce drama. Hush, Hush also had the slowest introduction between the two leading characters and was filled with useless conversations that held no plot importance whatsoever—it was boring filler. I’m sorry.

arc · review · romance

The Kiss Thief by L.J. Shen

The Kiss Thief
by L.J. Shen

Rating: ★★★★★
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They say your first kiss should be earned.

Mine was stolen by a devil in a masquerade mask under the black Chicago sky.

They say the vows you take on your wedding day are sacred.

Mine were broken before we left church.

They say your heart only beats for one man.

Mine split and bled for two rivals who fought for it until the bitter end.

I was promised to Angelo Bandini, the heir to one of the most powerful families in the Chicago Outfit.

Then taken by Senator Wolfe Keaton, who held my father’s sins over his head to force me into marriage.

They say that all great love stories have a happy ending.

I, Francesca Rossi, found myself erasing and rewriting mine until the very last chapter.

One kiss.
Two men.
Three lives.
Entwined together.

And somewhere between these two men, I had to find my forever.

*ARC provided by author/publisher in exchange for an honest review*

You can also read this review on Goodreads

A story of a Nemesis and a Villain with no chance at a happy ending. Where the prince doesn’t save the princess. He tortures her. And the beauty doesn’t sleep. She’s stuck. In a nightmare.

What a fantastic beginning to reading in 2019!

I knew I’d fall in love with this, because it is L.J. Shen. One of, if not, my favourite author. Ever. She’s a proficient and excellent writer—her sentences are carefully and beautifully constructed into gripping scenes and concise prose—who continues to astound me with every release.

She’s mastered an ability to transform cold-hearted and callous asshole heroes, who undergo an inevitable transformation of redemption, into loveable characters we can’t hate. They’re always damaged, filled with cynicism and sarcasm and hatred towards the wrongdoer, yet loaded with vengeance and countless positive qualities that make them them.

God, she was sweet, and she was all mine. Not just her body but also her words and her courage.

I thought I loved Baron “Vicious” Spencer; adored Celian Laurent, but I’m unconditionally infatuated and unquestionably besotted with Wolfe Keaton—The Kiss Thief. On the surface, he appears to be nothing beyond ruthless; however, there’s an immense amount of depth, intrigue and enigma surrounding this mean anti-hero. Without doubt, he is complex and multi-faceted, someone who appears withdrawn and detached, yet beneath the tough exterior is someone able to love. And love hard. Fierce, without shame. Wild, without restraint.

We were entwined and entangled, connected with invisible strings, each of us trying to pull away, only to create more knots that made us closer.

Francesca Rossi is my newest fictional best friend. Tangent: I was almost named Francesca. Ergo, we’re best friends. I digress. Having been raised dreadfully sheltered inside a gilded cage, oftentimes Francesca appears to be docile, unsure of herself and awfully immature. Seeming complaisant, or sometimes quiet, however, doesn’t always mean being submissive or feeble-minded—she’s quick-witted and intelligent. Torn between an older life bound in tradition and a newer life promising freedom, Francesca transforms into someone more daring, challenging and outspoken.

He turned to me, his grays on my blues, two pools of beautiful lies.

Wolfe and Francesca are explosive. Passionate enemies who slowly and quietly transform into intimate lovers. Wrapped up in an unexpected fervid romance; embraced by an intense connection.

The Kiss Thief is an engrossing, riveting narrative of an arranged marriage set within a modern Chicago. Promises of revenge shadowed by danger is abundant—you will be turning the pages faster than expected. L.J. Shen continues to astound me with the ways she illustrates love. It is always an intense fierceness of earnest affection and vicious yearning that is wretched and heart-aching however real. To be in real love is to be free. To change. To transform into someone greater than you’ve imagined. And she’s portrayed this through Wolfe and Francesca.

contemporary · review · romance

Review | Birthday Girl by Penelope Douglas

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Birthday Girl
by Penelope Douglas

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JORDAN
He took me in when I had nowhere else to go.

He doesn’t use me, hurt me, or forget about me. He doesn’t treat me like I’m nothing, take me for granted, or make me feel unsafe.

He remembers me, laughs with me, and looks at me. He listens to me, protects me, and sees me. I can feel his eyes on me over the breakfast table, and my heart pumps so hard when I hear him pull in the driveway after work.

I have to stop this. It can’t happen.

My sister once told me there are no good men, and if you find one, he’s probably unavailable.

Only Pike Lawson isn’t the unavailable one.

I am.

PIKE
I took her in, because I thought I was helping.

She’d cook a few meals and clean up a little. It was an easy arrangement.

As the days go by, though, it’s becoming anything but easy. I have to stop my mind from drifting to her and stop holding my breath every time I bump into her in the house. I can’t touch her, and I shouldn’t want to.

The more I find my path crossing hers, though, the more she’s becoming a part of me.

But we’re not free to give into this. She’s nineteen, and I’m thirty-eight.

And her boyfriend’s father.

Unfortunately, they both just moved into my house


You can also read this review on Goodreads

Birthday Girl is my first story by Penelope Douglas. I know, I’m a terrible person who takes way too long to jump into good things. We’re here now and it won’t be my last story. I couldn’t resist the cover; it is gorgeous. And the blurb? So enticing! Those two are what really propelled me into finally reading something by Ms Douglas.

I normally can’t stomach significantly older men/fathers. Often the trope is weird, creepy and cringe-worthy. However, Ms Douglas managed to succeed in delivering that trope without it turning into an awful mess. And the taboo aspect made it so much more worth it.

And that’s what I am. Her boyfriend’s father. Nothing more. But deep in my heart, the small ember growing bigger and bigger every day knows that’s a lie.

Jordan Hadley is an interesting heroine. Despite being young, she’s mature, wise beyond nineteen years. That’s what happens when your mother leaves and your father is nothing more than deadbeat, trailer trash; she was forced to grow up quick and start fending for herself.

Moving into her boyfriend’s father’s house rent free will allow Jordan plenty of opportunity to save money. But this seeming amazing chance brings more complications than she ever anticipated.

We’re victims of circumstance. At least I can feel confident that I would’ve liked him no matter what. If he were any other guy who came into my bar, sat down, and talked to me, I would’ve wanted him…

When nineteen himself, Pike Lawson became a father. Without hesitation, he started working numerous jobs, sacrificing his social life and giving up his dreams to support his son.

The romance between Jordan and Pike is explored so wonderfully. It isn’t salacious or obscene; it is dealt with tact and sensitivity. Their mutual concerns and fears of others judgements is realistic and understandable. Birthday Girl is about a taboo romance, but it is also more than that: it is about forgiveness, family appreciation, raw sensuality and working hard towards your dreams.

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