Smexy Books was started in 2009 and we review all sub-genres of romance and urban fantasy. We also enjoy a hairy-chested hero.
I very recently wrote a blog post gushing my love for the Ivy Years series by Sarina Bowen, so it should be no surprise that the third book in this series gets an easy A grade from me. It’s so well done that I just want to read it over and over again. Let me set it up.
As teenagers, Graham and Rikker were best friends and as they got a bit more mature and spent more time together, their friendship turned into a romance. Still not truly understanding their feelings for each other but knowing for the time being, they should to keep it a secret, they were very careful to only turn over to their lust when completely alone. One day after they get their driver’s licenses, they go into the city, and start making out in a car. A group of guys notice this, and start attacking them. Graham is able to get up and run away, leaving Rikker alone to be beaten, badly. While Rikker does recover, he never hears from Graham again. Rikker admits to being gay and gets thrown out of his house – he ends up in Vermont and is raised by his loving grandmother. Graham goes deeply into the closet. Graham and Rikker never see or speak to each other again through high school and the beginning of college.
(omg – can you guys stand the tension??)
Fast forward to their college years. Graham is a star hockey player at Harkness college. He dates and sleeps with women. He is so deeply in the closet and has molded himself so tight that he never, ever wants to let on for a single instance that he might be gay.
Even worse, I’d made it to age twenty-one without ordering a cappuccino. Because at some point during my ignorant youth, I’d heard somebody say that it was a girly drink. And I’d crossed cappuccinos off the list without a second thought. That’s how I’d always done it. There were a thousand little decisions I made in service to hiding something big. All my clothes were blue or gray or black. (Except my hockey jacket. And there could hardly be a manlier piece of clothing.) My backpack was a plain color. My bedspread was regulation navy blue. I lived by a weird, self-imposed aesthetic, focused on never appearing gay.
But things are going to change. In his junior year, after some private photos are released, Rikker’s college finds out he is gay and throws him off the team. Harkness College welcomes him with open arms and as fate would have it, he is now on the same hockey team as Graham. The day he walks in the locker room and sees Graham for the first time since they were teens….let’s just say this was an extremely tense meeting. Graham is terrified to be associated with Rikker. They avoid each other as much as possible, Graham even going as far as to say that he has never met Rikker in his life.
But being on the same team, being forced to hang out – eventually these two have to confront what happened long ago.
The angst in this book is at a high level, but it’s realistic angst. The guilt Graham feels for leaving his friend and lover to get beaten all those years ago weighs so, so heavy on him. The terror he feels that anyone should ever know that his heart beats for men weighs heavy on him. It’s a dark journey we go on with Graham, a journey that is rewarding when all is said and done, but it’s tough.
And Bowen gives us Rikker who is not one to let the past drag him down. After moving east to live with his grandmother, he dates in high school. He has a serious boyfriend to start college. He goes to gay bars and is okay with who he is. He is still nervous to have to tell his teammates he is gay – and there are some that are truly horrible to him through the entire book (in a way, I think Bowen really shows us how cruel people can be and she doesn’t hold back any punches. The cruel teammates don’t magically change their tune and I appreciated that) , but he deals with it. He could lash out at Graham and ridicule him and spread rumors about him – but he doesn’t He respects him – he hates the fact that Graham feels like he has to hide, but he understands and gives him space.
The quietest moments in Bowen’s books are what impact me the most. There is this huge build-up in the book to where Graham and Rikker finally acknowledge and speak to one another – and it goes differently than how I anticipated. I’m not going to share a quote from this scene because I think it’s best if you let it play out as you read, but it made me pause and reread because it was so emotional.
These two re-start their romance and it’s warm, and special and sexy. And while they still have to work around Graham’s extreme fear, they start to figure things out. They work on it together and it all falls into place – there are a lot of bumps and intense and cruel moments, but it does work itself out.
Let me also note, there is a big character named Bella that at first I thought she would annoy me and be way too much for me – but I ended up loving her. I really hope she gets a book.
Highly recommend this one. I hope you all try it. (It can be read as a stand alone)
This is the first I’ve ever read of Sharon Page and I like her voice. The set-up is very Downton Abby-ish – a grand estate in England needs money. Enter our heroine, Zoe Gifford. From New York, Zoe’s mother is in some gambling debt and forged a check. Zoe has a ton of money in a trust fund, but the only way to access that fund, is if she gets married. Zoe is a very free-spirited New Yorker, who flies planes and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. One night while out, she meets a man named Sebastian and he agrees to marry Zoe as a ruse. He knows the estate and his brother, the Duke of Langford needs money, and Zoe needs a marriage to get her money. So they agree to marry, then will quietly divorce and everyone will be happy. But things aren’t that easy.
Zoe arrives in England to meet Sebastian’s family and she soon realizes marrying him may be complicated. Sebastian comes from a very rigid family steeped in old-English ways. They still dress in black-tie for dinner every night. The women are expected to marry well and become hostesses. They look upon Zoe as if she is an alien, flying planes and speaking inappropriately at dinner. The Duke of Langford aka Nigel, presents a very serious, dour character. Scarred from the war (both inside and out) he thinks Zoe is a ridiculous creature, but he is also totally intrigued. The way she speaks her mind and goes against all of his sturdy virtues.
The first half of the book deals with Zoe coming to England and falling for Nigel, and the second half is their struggle to bring a feisty New Yorker and a stodgy Englishman a happy ever after. Zoe is very, very forward, and I liked that about her for the most part. She encourages Nigel’s sister to live her own life. She brings spirit and energy into a family that is a little lost. I think at times she is a little too pushy for my taste, but overall she is a confident, independent woman. Nigel is all quiet and serious and it made for a fun opposites attract, match. There is very nice sexual tension and a build up to their relationship. While Zoe was originally supposed to marry Sebastian, his interests lead him to be attracted to men – so while he wants to do good by his family, it’s not the end of the world that Zoe ends their fake engagement.
For the most part I enjoyed this book, but I do feel like sometimes events are rushed – or maybe just the pacing was a little off as I read. There is conflict back in New York with the debts owed by Zoe’s mother that are glossed over a bit. The second half deals with how ready Zoe is to have sex every single day because she is a newlywed and how improper that is for Nigel. He gets embarrassed or doesn’t want to display too much public affection due to manners. They clash a lot. There is some other drama brought in and I just felt the entire end was rushed and a little too dramatic for my tastes. I sometimes felt Zoe was a little too selfish in her own ways and makes Nigel feel bad for not conforming to her more outlandish ways. I wanted her to be a little more patient.
Otherwise a nice read – I’ll definitely read the next by this author.
The first 20% of this book had me hooked. Rosemary (Rosie) Young is a bartender on The Lane, a poorer area where she has lived and worked her entire life. Rosie is an angry person, for good reason. Her mother has advanced cancer and it's very hard on Rosie to scrape money together to get her mother proper care. Rosie would work any job to get the money, but her mother feels guilty about Rosie giving up her life to care for her, and there is just a lot of guilt floating around. Rosie's brother also works at the bar, and Rosie is always worrying about him too. Rosie is tough, and admittedly not that nice. One night, a guy walks in who can stand up to Rosie's bad attitude. His name is Brandon and he somehow convinces Rosie to have dinner with him. After dinner, they can't keep their hands off each other. Brandon is poor as well, and makes money gambling. He lives in a crappy apartment and doesn't have great dreams of doing anything more. This is the point in the book where I started to say in my Matthew McConaughey voice: alright, alright, alright. I love that Rosie and Brandon don't have a lot of money. I love that they have attitude problems. I thought the author did a great job portraying Rosie's sick mother and her dire situation.
But then the book takes an odd turn. Rosie's boss is named Joshua King and after Brandon gets into severe financial trouble due to gambling, he owes his money to Joshua. Joshua happens to be kind of the king of The Lane. He bribes the police force, he makes the businesses pay him, he is into prostitution - lots of gray areas surrounding him. Since Brandon owes him so much money, he sends Brandon to Canada for three years to make him work to pay off his debt. Meanwhile, he turns to Rosie, and tells her if she works for him as his assistant for three years, he will take care of her mother, and basically keep everyone in her life safe and happy. If not, there are vague threats. She isn't allowed to see Brandon anymore as a result. Feeling this is her only option, she agrees.
Then the book immediately jumps ahead 33 months. The book goes from being this dark, slightly depressing tale of Rosie trying to make it in the world to Rosie working for this very rich guy - she becomes his henchman of sorts. We miss 33 months so we don't really know how her adjustment goes or anything much of what happened the past three years.
Joshua becomes a very big character in the book, and it turns more mafia-ish rather than the quaint story we started with. I really didn't like the Joshua storyline, or the fact we jump three years into the future.
Worse, the romance led nowhere! This book is in Rosie's point of view, so Brandon is more of a mystery to the reader at first. We see him during the sex scenes, but otherwise he is off page. His gambling addiction is all off page, and I did wish we had seen that more in the story. When we jump ahead three years, he comes back into the picture, but he always remains a mystery. We never get to know him enough to be anywhere invested in the romance. This is pretty much a Rosie and Joshua book with Brandon way in the background. There is sex, but not romance. And that was unfortunate. Along with the Joshua storyline in the second half of the book, I can't recommend this one,