Punching and Kissing, by Helena Newbury

Punching and Kissing

Grade: B+

Doing it at: 43%

Catnip: I’m No Good For You, MMA Fighter, Johnny Castle Complex, Deep Dark Secret, Guilt, Million Dollar Baby, Irish Brogue, Public Sex, Girl With A Hard Knock Life, Gym Shorts Bulge, Dangerous Criminal Villain

Shame Scale: Medium Low. It’s standard romance fare.

Fantasy Cast:  Jai Courtney, Elizabeth Gillies

Book Description:

Unless he can teach me how to fight, I’m dead. But our feelings for each other could destroy us both.

When an illegal underground fight leaves my brother in the hospital, I make a desperate deal to save his life: I volunteer to fight in his place. In thirty days, I’ve got to walk into the ring, a woman in a man’s world…and I’ve never even thrown a punch. I have one chance to survive. I need a badass who can teach me to be as tough as him. I need Aedan O’Harra, the blue-eyed, Irish beast of a man who everyone fears.

But training together means getting close. Every touch of his hands makes it harder to control my feelings. I begin to see the man inside him, the one no one else can. Can I help him break free of the dark secrets that haunt him and can we save each other, or will we both be defeated? Because neither of us is ready for how dark and desperate this fight will become.


Confession. The whole time I was reading this, I thought it was actually by Helena Hunting, who wrote Cleone’s beloved Pucked. I kept texting C things like, “This book is so good! I can see why you love her!” I didn’t actually figure out that it’s by Helena Newbury, who is a completely different person, until about five minutes ago. Sometimes, I’m kind of a moron. BUT. This book was really good! So now there are two Helena’s on our You Can Sit With Us authors list.

Things open up with Sylvie down at The Pit, waiting to watch her brother Alec fight. He’s currently undefeated, but the fights are anything goes till someone can’t get up anymore, i.e. super scary and dangerous. They are down on their luck though, and really need the money to pay the bills.

Aedan is at The Pit to watch the fights – he’s ‘retired,’ but he still gets a rush from watching, and he rescues Sylvie when she gets into trouble with some awful dudes. He’s giant and ripped and super gorgeous, with an Irish brogue to boot, but he’s got a bit of the ol’Johnny Castle complex; firm in his belief that he’s a life-ruiner, he vows to never see her again and disappears.

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Vincent, by Sarah Brianne

vincent

Grade: D

Doing it at: 64%

Catnip: Mafia; Best Friend’s Brother; Dual Narrative; Girl with a hard knock life; Alpha Hero; Sociopath; Everything’s up-to-date in Kansas City; Red Hot Burning Shame

Shame Scale: This is the definitive shame book. The protagonists are 18. The mafia in question is the Kansas City mafia. The writing is…not good. The cover model looks like a sociopath-spoiler alert he is. Being unable to put this one down gave me a lot of red-hot shame.

Fantasy Casting: Colton Haynes and AnnaSophia Robb

Book Description: Vincent knows the glamorous side of the Mafia, being born a soldier.

Lake lives on the opposite side of the tracks, born the daughter of a soldier.
The light and dark side of him are at constant war, but he is letting his darkness reign.
She is trying to find peace, and she will soon be far enough away to find it.
Discovering that his boss owns her, showed him how little he knew her.

Knowing all about him only makes her want to hate him.I’m a fu**ing made man. 

I’m just fu**ing trailer trash.

Vincent is banana pants guys. Both the character and the book itself. It’s part of the Made Men series, and mafia MEN made me think the main characters in this would be grown ups, instead our story opens with Vincent and Lake in high school, and we only get a few months past their 18th birthdays. But don’t worry! Just because our hero is only 18 doesn’t mean he hasn’t had a lot of sex. Oh no, he’s had sex with every girl in his school AND their moms. At Vincent and Lake’s high school graduation the girls and their moms cheer loudly and unashamedly for their teen sex god. Lake at least has the good sense to be embarrassed by this and flees. She doesn’t have much in the way of good sense besides that move though. Lets get into the plot.

Lake’s father is a low-level soldier in the mafia. In Kansas City, A soldier in the Kansas City Mafia. I couldn’t stop marveling at this fact, I made Mary listen to Everything’s Up-to-Date in Kansas City from the Oklahoma soundtrack, I Googled the median population of Kansas City, I literally laughed out loud. I digress, her dad is a not quite made man, her mom has married a rich man with a mean daughter and Lake hates spending weekends there because they mentally torture her and give her the modern-day Cinderella treatment. She has to sleep in the attic, clean the house from top to bottom, and can only eat the food that is leftover on her stepfather and stepsister’s plates. It’s the taunting of her stepsister that leads Lake and her best friend Adalynn to go dancing at a teen nightclub that appears to be a hook up spot. The girls are there, grinding and avoiding the attention of grabby handed teen boys, when Vincent spots them across the floor. At first he’s all “who is that hot piece of ass”, and then he’s all “that’s my stepsister and her best friend who I’ve never found sexually attractive before but now my dick will only be satisfied by her!”. Vincent and his fellow teen mobsters, Amo and Nero, drag the girls out of the club and beat the crap out of the guys that the girls came to the club with as well as the guys who were trying to grope them. These boys really like viciously attacking people, they’re all about blood splattering and bones crunching. Once Vincent gets Lake and Adalynn home, he finds birth control pills in Lake’s purse and freaks out again. See, girls in the mafia family aren’t allowed to date or have sex until they’re 18, and Vincent is now magically obsessed with Lake, none of this will stand for him so he kisses her. This plays out as these things usually do, he pushes her away, she can’t believe how amazing he is at kissing, no one does anything else for a few weeks, etc…

We pick back up just past the high school graduation, Lake’s dad has a gambling problem and he has gotten in over his head. Far enough over his head that he calls Lake and tells her to get her college fund out of the bank and flee town. Ms. Very Little Good Sense doesn’t flee town though, she takes her 20 grand and goes straight to the mob boss (OF KANSAS CITY) and tries to square up daddy’s debt. Unfortunately he owes more than 20 grand, fortunately (?) the bosses Consigliere is on hand to propose a solution Lake can pay off the debt by working as a cocktail waitress in the mafia’s high roller, super private casino. This is where I chime in and tell you that once upon a time I was a cocktail waitress and that hanging out serving drinks in skimpy outfits is not the same as being a stripper and is super lucrative, no shame in that game. But Lake doesn’t feel that way, she’s mortified and shy and not too happy when the pit boss forces her to see the on site waxer who takes every bit of hair off her body. Admittedly that part doesn’t sound that fun.

The other person who isn’t too happy about Lake’s new assignment? Vincent (duh), he’s been assigned to watch the floor of the casino and make sure no one touches the girls who are on the “no touch” list. At first he’s all “looking at 1/2 naked girls all day and getting paid? This one will give me a blow job in the woman’s room? Best Job Ever!” but then he’s all “Hey! Lake is one of these 1/2 naked girls and she just caught me with a trashy whore in the bathroom and other people are looking at her ass VINCENT SMASH”. Vincent takes it upon himself to pay off Lake’s daddy’s debt and demand she be let free from her obligations to walk around 1/2 naked in front of men that aren’t him. The catch is that Lake’s virginal innocence has caught the eye of a high roller who is in town for a month and the boss insists that Lake keep working at the casino until Mr. Rich and Smarmy leaves town. For the month that this is happening Vincent stays at Lake’s house, he pampers her, he cooks for her (all 18-year-old junior mobster sociopath sex god’s love to cook), and he doesn’t tell her that he has paid off her debt. You can imagine how that plays when it all comes out, and so much drama happens that I can’t really recap without this turning into 4000 words.

The writing in Vincent is not good, the author does that thing where she doesn’t use contractions in what Mary and I figure is a desperate bid to seem like a Serious Writer. The male characters and some of the females seem like actual sociopaths

“Maria giggled over her screams. “I really like it when they scream.”

The next loud scream that erupted from Ashley’s throat had Vincent almost in bliss. Me, too”

Descriptive writing isn’t her forte either, this is Lake describing Vincent’s apartment:

“It was warm yet cool, inviting yet structured, and contemporary yet Victorian, all while being dark with no light”

What does ANY of that mean???

I started laughing before this book even started, Vincent is the proud owner of the best chapter titles I have ever encountered http://bit.ly/1G29RL2 And yet, I couldn’t put this down, it was so bad and funny and I just read it top speed. This book is like that pint of ice cream you eat until your stomach hurts even though you’re barely even hungry; your stomach hurts but you’re #sorrynotsorry. Vincent gets a D for not being a good book, it just isn’t. I’m still probably going to read the sequel, because it looks like there might be a mob war coming, in Kansas City. That’s can’t miss shame reading.

Hard As You Can, by Laura Kaye

Hard As You Can

Grade: C+

Doing it at: 87%

Catnip: Smoking Hot Ex-Military Guy; Tattoos; Girl With A Hard Knock Life; Stripper With A Heart Of Gold; Human Trafficking; Organized Crime; Dangerous Criminal Villain; Alpha Hero; Dual Narrative

Shame scale: Tease shame. I expected shame, I wanted shame, but in the end, I could see my dad reading this one.

Fantasy casting: Timothy Olyphant, Isla Fisher

Book Description:

Ever since hard-bodied, drop-dead-charming Shane McCallan strolled into the dance club where Crystal Dean works, he’s shown a knack for getting beneath her defenses. For her little sister’s sake, Crystal can’t get too close. Until her job and Shane’s mission intersect, and he reveals talents that go deeper than she could have guessed. 

Shane would never turn his back on a friend in need, especially a former Special Forces teammate running a dangerous, off-the-books operation. Nor can he walk away from Crystal. The gorgeous waitress is hiding secrets she doesn’t want him to uncover. Too bad. He’s exactly the man she needs to protect her sister, her life, and her heart. All he has to do is convince her that when something feels this good, you hold on as hard as you can–and never let go.

This is the second book in Laura Kaye’s Hard Ink series. There is an overarching plot to this series that should be read in order. This book picks up immediately after Hard As It Gets, from the perspective of Shane and Crystal – a stripper who helped them out during the climax of the first book. Crystal is a waitress at a strip club, with a scary abusive mobster boyfriend, who she sees as the lesser of two evils: she’s basically an indentured servant, paying off debts incurred by her late father – as a waitress at the club and Bruno’s girlfriend, rather than as a BDSM slave. She’s also shouldering the burden of this life to protect her sister, a college student with expensive epilepsy meds.

Enter Shane, who met Crystal during the rescue scene at the end of the first book. He is worried about the woman he saw, wonders if she’s alright, and decides to check up on her under the guise of seeing if she’ll help them out in their mission to solve the mystery of how he and the other Smoking Hot Ex-Military guys were all kicked out of the marines. It’s a long story. It’s basically your standard girl needs a hero, guy wants to be her hero story, with a pretty solid solve the mystery, defeat the bad guys plot.

I liked Crystal. She’s working in a strip club and staying with an abusive monster, but she’s not a victim. She’s managing an no-win situation, and methodically planning her exit strategy. With so many of my beloved Shame Books celebrating the billionaire fighter who claims his woman, slays her dragons, and pays her rent, I found this immensely refreshing:

“And Her gut told her that the man with the gray eyes was a savior. Just not hers. No, when she found a way out of this mess-and she would, for both her and Jenna-it was going to be because Crystal got them out. No such thing as white knights or Prince Charmings or caped crusaders in her life, that was for damn sure.”

And Shane. He is an Alpha Hero, who desperately wants to step in and bully Crystal and her sister to safety, but ultimately respects her autonomy, and allows her to accept or reject the help he is offering.

So here’s the rub. That cover makes you think Shameful Romance Book with so much sex. It even uses the word HARD in the title, you guys. In fact, every book in this series has a hot naked torso, entwined with a similarly clad woman, and a Hard something or other title. From the description: “Until her job and Shane’s mission intersect, and he reveals talents that go deeper than she could have guessed ….  All he has to do is convince her that when something feels this good, you hold on as hard as you can.” So obviously, one would think: this is the kind of book you don’t read in public. Aka a Shame Book. Aka Our Favorite Books.

There is no sex in this book until 87%. There is a tiny bit of outercourse at 55%, but at Mybookshame, Cleone and I are sticklers about the P in the V. So if one picked up this book hoping for a shame read, they would be sorely disappointed. It has about as much sex as the detective books my dad reads. This book is the epitome of a Tease Book. It’s the kind of book that tests our Scientific and Mathy Ratings Matrix. It screams sex on the outside but might as well be the DaVinci code. When I have to hide the cover I deserve to read something worth hiding. I deserve something that can go in the spank bank. I at least have earned something that might make a nun blush. A cover like this should deliver on the promise of a book I wouldn’t want to read aloud to my mother.

That’s really my big complaint about this book, because other than that, it’s pretty good. I enjoyed it a lot. The writing is great, I loved the characters, the plot is engaging, and other than being a big fat Tease, I don’t have anything mean to say about it. I’ll definitely be continuing to read this series, and I might even recommend it to my dad.

Amazon

Trapped, by Beverly Long

Trapped

Grade: C-

Doing it at: 64%

Catnip: Stranded; Second Chance Love; Dangerous Criminal Villain; Feelings of Inadequacy; Girl with a Hard Knock Life; Dual Narrative; WTF

Shame scale: Medium – Poorly written, not much boning, and a garage sale cover

Fantasy casting: N/A (I didn’t really care enough)

Book description: 

“Elle Vollman hadn’t expected to live when the plane went down. She never thought she’d see her daughter again or give testimony against one of the world’s worst human traffickers. But she learned never to say never because she never thought she’d see her ex-fiancé, Dr. Brody Donovan, again either. Now here he was, amongst the survivors, applying medical care to those in need. Lost in the Amazon and being hunted by more than just wildlife, it will take their combined strength to find help and rescue the others. The fierce jungle has doomed many, and trusting one another is the only way either of them will find their way back…maybe even to each other….

This book popped up in my library “recommended for you” feed (my library knows me so well!), and besides the ambitious plot, I think what really attracted me to it was that it reminded me of this book I loved in elementary school:

Trapped - kids

I’ve always had a thing for stories about people who are trapped/stranded/castaway. Maybe it was my first Catnip? Anyways, it was a library read (free), and I figured if they could possibly pull off a second chance romance with a plane crash in the Amazon, while being chased by evil South American human traffickers in only 219 pages, it was worth a shot.

Spoiler alert: this book was dumb.

Thirteen years ago, Elle and Brody were engaged. A few weeks before the wedding, Elle left a Dear John letter in the mailbox and took off. The spend the next 13 years trying to get over each other. They somehow both end up on the same tiny charter plane in the remote Brazilian Amazon, BUT THEY DON’T NOTICE EACH OTHER TILL AFTER THE PLANE HAS CRASHED. Seriously, there are only seven people on the plane, including the pilots, but they don’t notice each other. Ok. Then, the plane crashes in the jungle and nobody dies. Ok. So then then Elle and Brody decide to take off walking through the jungle with no map, compass, or clear view of the sun, based on Elle’s “If a plane left Brazil traveling North West at 200 miles per hour for 43 minutes” math. She convinces Brody that if they walk due East for two days, they’ll reach this random village where her only friend in Brazil who can be trusted to protect them from the bad guys who have limitless influence just happens to live. This village is composed of 25 thatched huts. And they walk straight to it. No. This is literally impossible. Then a bunch of stuff happens with the bad guys, and then there’s a double knee replacement (?????) and all of the sudden they wrap it up in about a chapter with a miraculous helicopter rescue by his two best friends who were supposedly in Colorado, but were able to organize an Amazon rescue in less than 24 hours (read all about them in the rest of the shitty Harlequin Intrigue series!). I could have done with a little more of the surviving in the jungle plot, less with the human traffickers hunting them plot. It was too much for a short book. And also, preposterous.

As bad as this was, I would have bumped it up to a C+ if the sex was good and there was a little humor. But despite them doing it just under the wire at 64% (just shy of the magic 65% bench mark we’ve set), they only do it two or three times, and it’s pretty bland. I always thought Harlequin books were the ones you read because they were dirty? Didn’t that used to be a thing?

Amazon

Better When He’s Bold, by Jay Crownover

Better when he's bold

Grade: Solid B+

Doing it at: 36%

Catnip: He’s basically a criminal; Overprotective men; Mysterious stalker; Strong female lead; Girl with a hard knock life; Hot car; Dual narrative

Shame scale: Medium, because it’s a sex book – but well written!, the title is kind of cringeworthy, and the cover is so goddamn awful

Fantasy casting: Logan Echols and Veronica Mars

Book description: 

There’s a difference between a bad boy and a boy who is bad. . . . Welcome to the Point.

In a dark and broken kingdom, a ruler has be fearless to control the streets and the ruthless people who run them. Race Hartman is just bold enough, just smart enough, and just lost enough to wear the crown. Places like The Point will always have bad things and bad people, but the man in control of all that badness can minimize the devastation. Race has a plan, but can he prevent total annihilation without destroying himself?

Brysen Carter has always seen the real Race—a guy too pretty, too smooth, and way too dangerous. Basking in his golden glow is very tempting, but Brysen knows she’ll eventually get burned. She has enough problems without the risky danger and mayhem that comes with a guy like Race. Too bad Brysen faces a threat close to home that might be more dangerous than anything The Point has ever produced.. And the only person interested in keeping her safe is the one man she can’t allow herself to have.

Sometimes being bold is the only way to stay alive. But can she let Race save her life . . . if it means losing herself to him?”


First thing: That cover model. Nope. I put off reading this book for a really long time because the cover model looks like such a douche, and I LOVE Jay Crownover books. Maybe not as much as Cleone does, but still. His awful backlit hair, that Travolta chin, and his ridiculous hotel bartender outfit don’t do anything for me. How about some more Nash please? If there’s an area that Crownover usually exceeds in, it’s cover models – the real reason I started reading her books.  “I came for the cover models, I stayed for the story.”

So after I got past that, I fell into this one pretty easily. It’s a fairly standard “good girl with a  hard knock life” meets “bad guy who’s really just a good guy doing bad things to survive.” But it’s Jay Crownover, so it’s intensely readable and the sex is early and super hot. Brysen (dumb name, #sorrynotsorry) is a college student from the good side of town with secret family troubles, who’s trying to hold it all together for her younger sister. She’s had a thing for Race for a while, but she does her best to outwardly hate him, because he’s BAD. Circumstances arise that allow Race to step in and save her and prove he’s really a GOOD guy, who’s helpful and trust worthy. There was really no manufactured relationship drama or breakup-we-all-know-won’t-last in this one. They acted like emotionally normal adults who want each other and treat each other with respect. All of the conflict was from outside sources – a stalker, criminal danger, bad parents etc. If anything, it almost seemed a touch boring because I’m so accustomed to the standard 85% breakup.

A solid B+. I could put it down, but I enjoyed it. The writing was good, and there were no fewer than nine sex scenes. Points deducted for use of the word weeping to describe the V.

Check it out on Amazon: