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Edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel Published by: Cleis Press (December 5, 2013) Reviewed by: Melissa “I am taking her, even when she is taking me.” Rachel Kramer Bussel has assembled

THE GOLDEN LOCKET (Unbreakable Trilogy Book 2) by: Primula Bond

Published by: Mischief (November 21, 2013) Reviewed by: Melissa “‘Never say never’ could be a risky adage.  Risky is where the fun is, don’t you agree?” The Golden Locket, book

THE DARK PATH: A MEMOIR by David Schickler

Published by:  Riverhead Books (September 12, 2013) Reviewed by: Melissa “When I swallow the wafer, I wait for God to bloom to life in my stomach, to give me muscles

NOW OR NEVER (A Last Chance Romance) by: Logan Belle

  Written by: Logan Belle Published by: Moxie Books (October 1, 2013) Reviewed by: Melissa Claire is a devoted single mother who consistently put her son’s needs ahead of her

Interview with L. Marie Adeline, author of S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared

S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared author L. Marie Adeline              Romance and erotica, as well as their hybrid erotic romance, are based in fantasies—fantasies about love, sex, desire,


Edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel

Published by: Cleis Press (December 5, 2013)

Reviewed by: Melissa

“I am taking her, even when she is taking me.”

Rachel Kramer Bussel has assembled a tome of orgasmic delight in her scorching anthology, The Big Book of Orgasms. Filled to the brim with 69 sexy stories penned by the creme de la creme of erotic authors, there is a story for everyone that is sure to insight, excite and enflame. Ranging from sweet to a wee bit kinky to downright dirty these voyeuristic silhouettes of men and women (not necessarily in that order or combination) in the throes of toe-curling passion.  The Literary Vixens suggest you don’t keep all the pleasure for yourself…be a generous lover and share a bit of the action with your special someone, there’s always room for seconds;)

THE GOLDEN LOCKET (Unbreakable Trilogy Book 2) by: Primula Bond

Published by: Mischief (November 21, 2013)

Reviewed by: Melissa

“‘Never say never’ could be a risky adage.  Risky is where the fun is, don’t you agree?”

The Golden Locket, book two of Primula Bond’s Unbreakable Trilogy, picks up right where The Silver Chain concluded, with Gustav and Serena leaving London for Manhattan in search of new opportunities for their professional and personal lives.  Now committed to making his relationship with Serena flourish and deepen, Gustav is equally committed to supporting her budding career as a talented photographer.  Ever the sexual adventurist, Gustav encourages Serena to “explore” her sexual wants, desires and needs by introducing her to well-heeled socialites who become clients, friends and seductive encounters.  Gustav’s younger, troubled brother Pierre adds tension, plot twists and drama to the story as his machinations and obsessions threaten Gustav and his relationship with Serena.  Will Gustav and Serena’s relationship survive the outside forces conspiring against them?

Once again Primula hooked me with her sensually descriptive atmosphere, complex characters and tightly woven plot.  Gustav and Serena’s relationship continues to deepen and evolve in The Golden Locket and I found myself racing through the pages to find out what would happen next.  The story line is laced with sultry encounters that steam up the pages while adding depth to the characters.  Gustav, committed to assuring that Serena fulfills her erotic fantasies, is a mysterious, thoughtful and sexy alpha hero and Serena comes into her own as the self assured artist who is not afraid to take what (or who) she wants. The Golden Locket ramps up the tension as Gustav and his brother Pierre try to renew their relationship, but when Pierre takes his obsessions with Margot and Serena too far new seeds of deceit are planted adding tension and intrigue.  Left with a startling cliff hanger, I can’t wait to read the final installment to see how the the series concludes.

THE DARK PATH: A MEMOIR by David Schickler

Published by:  Riverhead Books (September 12, 2013)

Reviewed by: Melissa

“When I swallow the wafer, I wait for God to bloom to life in my stomach, to give me muscles or wisdom.  God doesn’t seem to do this, but I’m hoping that one day He will.”

David Schickler’s memoir, The Dark Path, candidly outlines his very personal inner struggle between his love of God and his lust for women with comical, poignant and sometimes uncomfortably bracing honesty.  With sharp wit, keen insight and poetic detachment, Schickler retells his most revealing life experiences as only a man who has walked the walk can.  His light tone seems to effortlessly capture the essence of an introspective gentleman who, while obviously talented and intelligent, is just a regular guy who doesn’t appear to take himself too seriously in spite of the very serious nature of his spiritual dilemma.  Schickler is a master storyteller who weaves his dark, stumbling path to enlightenment with suspense, light-hearted grace and humility.

Schickler unapologetically chronicles the most personal and moving experiences of his life in vivid detail. I found myself cringing, teary-eyed, but also laughing at his matter-of-fact reenactments of pivotal life lessons which have brought him to where he is today.  He keeps you riveted to your seat as he escorts you through his awkward young adulthood when his true doubts about himself and his Maker unfold and the seeds of his rebellion against God’s calling are planted, to his eventual realization that he is man with wants, needs and desires he cannot deny.  He lets it all hang out – from his first sexual encounters to his crazy days of beer, booze and Karate kicking, I can’t imagine Schickler has any skeletons left in his closet.

I absolutely loved this memoir and confess that David Schickler warmed my soul with his humble openness; his charming narration is clever and seductively engaging.  As a mother of two young boys I was touched by his youthful innocence and later his jaded rebellion; and through his highs, lows and every misstep along the way I couldn’t help but cheer him on.  A central theme in the book, do what makes you happy rather than what you feel is expected, resonated with me as a mother, a wife and a Catholic, but it appeals to all people struggling to find their place in the world.  This uplifting story left me feeling it’s OK to be who I am, whoever that may be, as long as I do it with grace and authenticity.  Bravo David, I can’t wait for your encore.

NOW OR NEVER (A Last Chance Romance) by: Logan Belle


Written by: Logan Belle

Published by: Moxie Books (October 1, 2013)

Reviewed by: Melissa

Claire is a devoted single mother who consistently put her son’s needs ahead of her own; but when her son Max packs up and heads off to college she realizes she has a lot of catching up to do.  Unfortunately, just when Claire is ready to start living and loving again, she is hit with a devastating diagnosis of breast cancer.  While Claire believes she’s handling her situation well, her best friend Patti disagrees and urges her to join a survivor support group.  Things get interesting when she unwittingly sits in on an erotic reading group where she meets the devilishly good looking Justin who takes her under his sexy wing.  Together they create a “sexual bucket list” to get her out of her slump and help her make up for lost time.  Can these two collaborators of sexual fantasy stay “just friends?”

Logan Belle’s Now or Never struck a sensitive nerve with me.  As a 40 something wife and mother of two, I often find myself last on the list.  I know, I know, we’re supposed to put ourselves first so we can better care for our families, but really?  I don’t know many women who can do that.  As working mothers we are constantly on the go, constantly satisfying someone else’s need, but rarely our own.  Unfortunately, as luck would have it, when the time comes that our little ones are grown and head off to start wonderful lives of their own, we are left behind to pick up the pieces of lives we barely remember.  At this point some women find their marriages are over (and may have been for some time) or may receive a bad health diagnosis.  It is here that Now or Never gains its strength.

This book has a sexy and light-hearted way of showing women of a certain age (or any age really) that life is what you make it.  Forget the age, the crow’s feet, the cheating husband or even the breast cancer and live in the NOW.  Claire shows us the importance of fulfilling one’s dreams, desires and truths, even in the face of crisis.  Now or Never got me to evaluate my own life’s journey and it was an eye opening experience.  This book motivated me to start a bucket list of my own…I can only hope hubby has been taking his vitamins;)


Interview with L. Marie Adeline, author of S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared

Lisa Gabriele
S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared author L. Marie Adeline

Romance and erotica, as well as their hybrid erotic romance, are based in fantasies—fantasies about love, sex, desire, and the combination of the three, but that doesn’t always mean that women’s erotic fantasies are dealt with head on. In the case of the S.E.C.R.E.T. trilogy by L. Marie Adeline, the pen name of novelist Lisa Gabriele, sexual fantasies are front and center in this series about a private New Orleans group whose very purpose is to safely fulfill the most risqué, over-the-top, outrageous fantasies of women who are down on their luck. In the first novel, S.E.C.R.E.T., it’s widow Cassie Robichaud who needs the group’s help, and her erotic adventures are ones that made my head spin (in a good way). I’ve rarely read an erotic novel that so perfectly captures the headiness of sexual encounters in this way; Adeline gives Cassie some incredibly hot hookups, like sex with someone famous, and makes them both raw and intimate. Even if we are pretty sure Cassie will never see the man again (and with S.E.C.R.E.T., you can’t be too sure of anything), their connection is powerful both during their sex scenes and, often, afterwards.

The second novel in the series, S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared, ups the ante, with Cassie now a guide, helping usher Dauphine Mason into a long-overdue exploration of what can happen when she lets her guard down. Instead of listing her fantasies one by one, Dauphine gives the group free reign to cook up adventures they think she’ll enjoy—and boy, does she ever. At the same time, though, Adeline makes it clear that S.E.C.R.E.T. isn’t only about nonstop sex. It’s about getting women to listen to their instincts, to trust themselves to know when enough is enough, and to never let themselves be shamed for their sexual prowess. The second book also gives readers a behind the scenes of S.E.C.R.E.T., including its training sessions for male recruits. I asked Adeline about her inspiration for S.E.C.R.E.T., the allure of New Orleans, and the connection between sexual fulfillment and a happy life.

by Rachel Kramer Bussel

How did you get the idea for the S.E.C.R.E.T. series, and did you have it fully plotted out when you started to write the first book?

It was one of those things that came to me in an instant—the concept, the idea of taking baby steps towards sexual ecstasy—though not the plot. Once I put the steps down, Cassie showed up, and as you know, writers follow their characters around, taking notes. Cassie just moved at the pace at which she was most comfortable and I chronicled it. The idea was born from the notion that most women, especially if they’d been celibate for a time, were single and over a certain age, wouldn’t even begin to know how to explore the outer reaches of their sexuality. So S.E.C.R.E.T. started as a “What if…” What if other women helped you? What if they took amazing risks, and told you you’d be okay if you did? What if they arranged everything? And I went from there.

S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared features both Cassie, from the first book, and Dauphine, a new recruit, with Cassie guiding Dauphine. Why is this role of guide important for Cassie’s growth?

Helping others can pull you out of a rut or a depression—certain kinds of depression, not the clinical kind. I’m taking more about that awful melancholy of the heartbroken; it can turn in on itself and isolate you. Sitting across a table listening to Dauphine’s sad story has a palliative affect on Cassie; it gives her perspective, it inflames her altruism. Also, guiding creates allegiance. I think a lot of women treat men like dwindling, precious commodities that we have to fight over. What I love about S.E.C.R.E.T. is the women cooperate and support each other. They don’t tear each other down. They treat each other like women, like adults, like comrades on this journey. They have each other’s backs. Guiding is part of their “job.”

I liked getting a look at the inner workings of S.E.C.R.E.T., which is actually very organized and methodical. How does the business of running S.E.C.R.E.T. mix with the more fun side of the group as they fulfill women’s sexual fantasies?

You can’t have one without the other; you have to be methodical to be spontaneous and book three delves deeper into the way fantasies are super organized and planned….so that they don’t seem super organized or planned. And there’s a sense of safety in the fact there is someone (usually Matilda) in charge. A sexual free-for-all sounds good on paper, but you have to pay taxes, you have to cover your overhead, you have to have charts and graphs to keep track of fantasies and schedules. And once that structure is in place, then, hell yeah, the women can have at it.

One of the themes of S.E.C.R.E.T. is female empowerment—it’s only women who have gone through tough times who are sought out for the group, and in S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared, the group raises money for women’s charities, and Dauphine learns to overcome major fears, such as flying. How do you see women’s sexuality connected to other parts of their lives?

I approached S.E.C.R.E.T. and S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared as an exercise in empowerment, for sure. But sex is just one aspect of growth and change; it’s part of the physical realm. There’s also the mental and the spiritual realms. S.E.C.R.E.T. only deals with the physical. Still, healing just that aspect of your life can have a palliative affect on your mental and spiritual life. I believe if you pick the most vexing aspect of your life and try to heal and change it, it will have a cascade affect. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced aspects of that myself. When I take better care of my body, my mind and soul align. When I meditate, my body and mind calm down. I’m treating sex as part of that body, mind, soul triangle.

In the books, women are selected for S.E.C.R.E.T. who’ve been through tough times, whether in Cassie’s case, having been married to an alcoholic, or for Dauphine, having her ex-boyfriend betray her and write a novel based on her. Do you think that “regular” women (ones who don’t have such obvious problems as Cassie or Dauphine) would, if the group existed in real life, benefit from S.E.C.R.E.T.?

Probably. How could they not? But I find that to take such a dramatic leap (to join a group that’s about to grant you your sexual fantasies) you have to crave real change. But for dramatic purposes, I like my characters to start in a darker place than where they end up. Dauphine doesn’t have the crippling self-esteem from which Cassie suffered, but she is a control freak. She needs to let go. And I think her problems fall in the realm of “normal,” whatever that is. A lot of women tell me they really relate to Cassie and I suspect they will also see some of their own doubts and anxieties in Dauphine.

I’ve been impressed with both books that while power and money have played a role in the heroines’ finding a man attractive, it is not the be-all and end-all, and in fact one of the richest men around comes off as one of the most offensive. What do you see as the connection between money and sexual attraction within the world of S.E.C.R.E.T.?

I remember the “dirty” books of my youth; they weren’t all populated by rich men overpowering ingénues. Remember The Thorn Birds? Wifey? Fear of Flying? D.H. Lawrence’s entire oeuvre? Pierre is kind of a stand-in for this current obsession we have for rich men in erotica, but in my books, Pierre isn’t ideal. What is also intentional is my female characters not only work, they take their jobs seriously; they love their careers, they make their own money. It’s important to me that women find their work important, empowering, sexy, even. My women take care of themselves financially. They don’t choose men based on how well the men can take care of them. That “financial rescue” fantasy might even be as damaging as slut-shaming, in the long run. When you take away, limit or interfere with a woman’s ability to be self-sufficient you take away her power.

New Orleans plays such a big role in the books; can you tell us more about why you chose New Orleans? It comes across as both a city with a somewhat small town, intimate feel to it, versus a bigger, more impersonal city.

New Orleans is a small town. That’s its magic! You can walk from Audubon Park, across the French Quarter to the Marigny in a couple of hours, and see much of the city. It’s so walkable and temperate; there’s just this sexy vibe. Every time I go there, the first place I stop into is Mike’s on Frenchmen, to rent a bike. It’s the only way to get around New Orleans. In my books, I’ve tried to avoid the really touristy parts of the city, the French Quarter, the Jazz Fest, etc., focusing instead on neighborhoods and commercial stretches where locals really work, live and gather. Why New Orleans? I used to date a guy from Louisiana and I spent some time there back in the 90’s and fell in love. And it’s just a damn sensual place, the kind of place where you’d believe a group like S.E.C.R.E.T. would exist.

I know you’ve spent lots of time in New Orleans and once lived in Buenos Aires, the cities where S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared is set. Did you do any research for the books? I’m thinking particularly of one of my favorite moments, the airplane scene, with Dauphine.

Glad to hear you have a favorite. No, I have not had airplane sex, in particular, I have not had airplane cockpit sex with a pilot that looks like Idris Elba. But oh to have cockpit sex with Idris Elba. What’s great about writing about sexual fantasies is that you don’t really have to experience then to render them. I do canvass my friends though. Mostly I really listen to my characters, to what they want and they crave. And Buenos Aires is a haunting, gorgeous city. I lived there while working on a human rights fellowship in 1998. It was so fun to write about it finally.

I loved the fact that slut-shaming comes up in S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared, and it’s made clear that women shouldn’t feel ashamed of their sexuality, no matter who’s judging them. It’s such a double-edged sword, one that Cassie in particular faces explicitly. We seem to be at a point in our culture (in North America) where women are sexually free, but the specter of being called a slut remains. Was this something you specifically sought to address, and where do you see that duality of sexual freedom vs. slut-shaming going?

Yes, I did deliberately want to address this head on. To ignore it in a book where women have multiple sex partners would be odd. It’s part of why S.E.C.R.E.T. remains secret, or rather, anonymous, and why the candidates hesitate to join. And it’s why S.E.C.R.E.T. consists of women. It’s almost like they have to give each other permission to let go and have lots of sex. They aren’t going to shame each other. This isn’t going to come back and haunt them or bite them. They are safe, not just physically, but psychologically, and socially. It’s hurtful when men slut-shame women, certainly, but the scars run deeper, I think, when women tear each other down. Because that’s a betrayal. That’s just my opinion.

The S.E.C.R.E.T. books have now been published in many countries; have the reactions been different in different countries?

It’s been absolutely fascinating to watch where it’s big (Canada! Turkey! Brazil!) and where it’s growing slowly. The U.S. has been a tough market. It’s done well, but there is a real appetite for the “Happily Ever After” here, and Cassie’s is going to be hard won. Holland and France seems to really get it, and like that it isn’t “All About The Guy,” but again, I’m generalizing. It’s still early days. The first book only came out about six months ago. Two’s coming out now, and three will be in Spring of 2014. We shall see how this evolves.

Do you have a favorite scene from S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared?

I love the scene with Matilda and Cassie in Audubon Park, not just the slut shaming discussion, but the recruiting of Dominic (who is put to very good “use” in book three!). I loved writing a confident sexy woman nearing sixty who can turn heads with her strut, her décolleté, and her dress. Why is that such a shocker? A woman who takes care of herself, dresses well for her body, and is comfortable in her skin is a sexy beast, without exception, at any age.

How has your life changed since S.E.C.R.E.T. came out?

Well, it’s funny to be referred to as some kind of expert on sex or erotica. If people only knew how boring my life really was. I mean, I love my life, but it’s all about the writing right now. You know what I mean. You get a little feral. But the success of the books has given me my freedom. I can write. Just write. For a while anyway. That’s the kind of dream you never think will come true. And it did. That said, my former job, my “day job” was writing for, producing and directing television. I was very lucky. I miss it. I miss the camaraderie.

What’s next for you and for S.E.C.R.E.T.?

I have an idea for a novel I want to tackle right after I complete the S.E.C.R.E.T. trilogy, under my name, Lisa Gabriele. It’s funny and weird. I’m also developing a number of TV projects, which are at various stages of development, including S.E.C.R.E.T. and another series based on my first novel, for Canadian television. That’s getting some traction. So stuff…lots of work. I’m really, really, really blessed. I truly am someone who wakes up every day feeling indescribably grateful.

S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared is out now. Find out more about the series at secretnovels.com, where you can read samples from S.E.C.R.E.T. and S.E.C.R.E.T. Shared.

SUGAR by: Hope Tarr & Jenna Jameson: A REVIEW

By: Hope Tarr & Jenna Jameson

Published by: Skyhorse Publishing (October 21, 2013)

Reviewed by: Melissa

“Single scoop, plain vanilla, huh?  I wouldn’t have figured you for a vanilla girl.”

Sarah Halliday is beautiful, has a smokin’ body and a keen mind for business;  she is also known as “Sugar,” the most adored woman in porn.  With a sizable bank account, a successful production company and a stack of threatening fan mail, she’s ready to hang up her thong for a taste of normalcy and a chance to help her friend who is battling breast cancer.  However, when sexy, rich playboy Cole Canning eyes her perfectly sculpted derriere in the frozen foods aisle of a local convenience store, life becomes anything but simple, or ordinary…for both of them.  When Cole realizes the sultry siren’s true identity, they strike up a no strings attached arrangement in which they will reenact each of Sugar’s porn flicks and then walk away.  It’s a win/win for both of them in which they can enjoy her past sexual escapades without the light and cameras…but all of the action.  However, when two people share a sexual chemistry that sets the bed on fire, it becomes increasingly difficult to remain unaffected.  Will love get in the way of this seemingly perfect relationship of sex and lust or will love get in the way?

I was really excited to read Sugar, a fictionalized account of some of Jenna’s real life exploits, and happily I got more than I expected.  It’s a well-written, steamy story with great characters, a strong plot and a whole lot of scorching hot, sexy scenes that morph into something more along the way.  All I can say is, “Lucky Jenna;)”

I loved that Sarah isn’t “just” a porn star; she is smart, strong, loyal and compassionate and a great interpretation of how a woman can successfully use her body AND her mind while maintaining her dignity and self-respect.  You don’t have to be a porn star to appreciate that… we’re women, we get it.  Cole is a delicious morsel of alpha male who can be sexy and strong, as well as sweet.  The chemistry between these two is explosive and the scenes are *ahem* shall I say, “creative?”  The subplot between Sarah and her friend Liz provides a welcome bit of the warmth of sisterhood and mysterious death threats add edge.  If you’re looking for a hot read that doesn’t fizzle, Sugar is a fine example of sex with substance.  October 21st can’t come soon enough;-D



YOU KNEW ME WHEN by Emily Liebert: A Review

Published by: Penguin Group (September 3, 2013)

Reviewed by: Melissa

Set in the 90s, You Knew Me When begins when long estranged friends Katherine and Laney are requested to attend the reading of their beloved friend Luella’s will.  Torn apart by guilt and stubborn pride these women have barely spoken in twelve years, harboring grudges despite the love they share as dear friends. The narrative shifts from past to present highlighting their innocent, youthful friendship and their present day animosity.  The reader slowly learns the turn of events that break hearts and sever trust.  Can these friends work through their insecurities and hurt feelings to find their way back to each other?

I enjoyed the differences in Kitty, Laney and Luella’s characters and found glimpses of myself in each of them.  I particularly enjoyed how Kitty and Laney’s personas changed in adulthood yet many of their childhood traits remained.  The timid, insecure Kitty leaves small town life for New York City where she recreates herself as Katherine, the independent, high-powered cosmetics empire mogul and Laney, whose dreams of escaping her sleepy home town in search of the glamor of big city life are traded for motherhood.  Luella however remained a constant and steady source of wisdom and support that was comforting until the end despite her well-intentioned mistakes along the way.

You Knew Me When is an engaging story about the friendship and love that exists among women and will warm your heart as only your BFF can.  Happily, it is also a tale of mended bridges and the rekindling of lost love; but is it also a cautionary tale of how friendships can be broken through miscommunication and misunderstanding. It’s a feel good book that soothes the soul.  You Knew Me When is a light, easy read that will make you yearn for the friendships of youth when life was relatively untroubled, the possibilities were endless and you were comforted by the naive belief that people never grow apart.

I couldn’t help but think of my best friend from high school and wondered where she is today; it’s a melancholy type of feeling that I think only women can understand and appreciate and I was left with the comforting feeling that it’s never to late to go home.  You Knew Me When is an empowering, feel-good story that illustrates the strength, love and wisdom that women share and made me glad to be part of the club.  If you’re looking for a little “girl time” You Knew Me When is the book for you.


THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND by Jojo Moyes: A Review

By: Jojo Moyes

Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books (August 20,2013)

Reviewed by: Melissa

“I stood and gazed at her, and, for a few seconds, I remembered how it had felt to be that girl, free of hunger, of fear, consumed only by idle thoughts of what private moments I might spend with Edouard.  She reminded me that the world is capable of beauty, and that there were once things -art, joy, love- that filled my world, instead of fear and nettle soup and curfews.  I saw him in my expression.  And then I realized what I had just done.  He had reminded me of my own strength, of how much I had left in me with which to fight.”

The Girl You Left Behind is a poignant story of love, loss and war that adeptly illustrates how the power of the human spirt can transcend tyranny, oppression and even misguided hatred and distrust of those you know and love.  It is the story of a provincial shopgirl, Sophie, and a charming artist , Edouard, who astutely identifies the hidden strength and sensuality below Sophie’s modest demeanor and pursues her with a charmingly romantic innocence.  Sophie is captivated, and to some extent intimidated, by his joie de vivre, his artistic passion and masculine strength.  When Sophie begins to accept their attraction she lets her walls down and the sensual woman Edouard long envisioned is brought to glorious light in his painting, “The Girl You Left Behind.”  This painting becomes the embodiment of their passion, love and commitment and is so powerful it transcends time and place.

The narrative fluctuates between Sophie and Edouard, torn apart by the ravages of WW I and 100 years later when a lonely widow, Liv, owns the mysterious portrait The Girl You Left Behind, which has become her lifeline after the sudden, tragic death of her husband.  The reader slowly learns the mysterious fate of Edouard and Sophia, when a coincidental series of events unites Liv with a handsome stranger, Paul, who ironically, is searching for the painting. Liv’s reluctance to give up the painting to its seemingly “rightful” owners leads her on a quest for the provenance of the portrait.  Believing the painting had been stolen by the Germans during the war Paul is hired to reclaim it, putting him in the unenviable position of hurting Liv, who he has become emotionally attached to, or returning it to the supposedly rightful party.

As the history of the portrait and Sophie’s story unfolds “The Girl You Left Behind” becomes yet another character in the plot, evoking the same passionate emotions as any living, breathing soul.  Unfortunately, as desperately as Liv wants to cling to the painting and her past, the rest of the world is clamoring for her to right the wrongs of the war and return the painting to Edouard’s descendants.    Liv’s attempts to prove she is the rightful owner of the portrait brings her closer to Sophie’s truth, as well as her own.  Sophie and Liv are identifiable through the evocative portrait as enlightened women acting with the strong moral code of their own conscience, regardless of the social outcry to do “the right thing.”  Will these women find their happy endings?

I have been quoted as saying Moyes has a distinct talent for weaving poignantly romantic stories with moral dilemma and The Girl You Left Behind is yet another moving example of her beautiful, yet thought provoking story telling.  I loved the determination of Sophie and Liv, as well as the painting itself.  For me, Sophie’s portrait took on an array of human qualities with its haunting, empowering gaze and reiterated the importance of art, creativity and passion.

Moyes creates a stirring emotional journey which slowly unfolds as Liv researches the portrait’s origins and I was captivated by Sophie and Edouard’s romance and tragic separation.  I also cheered for Liv, the lonely widow afraid to leave her beautiful past behind, but is also longing to start living and loving again. I loved Paul for his solid interpretation of right and wrong, and hoped he would find happiness.

Can we do the wrong thing for the right reasons?  Moyes brilliantly poises moral ambiguity within the context of what one might do to save herself or the ones she loves. The Girl You Left Behind poses this question with passionate depth and left me comforted with a satisfyingly conclusion in which good intentions are rewarded. Treat yourself to this touching story of love, loss and loving again, your soul will be glad you did.

THE GIN LOVERS by Jamie Brenner: A Review

Published by: St. Martin’s Press (February 12. 2013)

Reviewed by: Melissa

The Gin Lovers is a sexy romp with the aristocrats of Prohibition Era NYC that boldly looks at the plight of women who one day discover that the life they lead is not the life they want.  Set amongst the glitz and glamor of New York City’s elite in 1925, this racy tale smartly examines the struggles of women who were ahead of their time and dared to want more than society was willing to allow.

This soap opera-like story begins with the star studded funeral of socialite, Geraldine Delacorte.  The creme de la creme of NYC are out in droves to pay their respects to the matriarch of the Delacorte empire and you are swept into a world of luxury and privilege filled with excess and splendor.  But is that what really matters?  The story of Geraldine’s overbearing, pompous son, William, and his naive bride Charlotte is the perfect luxe backdrop to emphasize the point that there is no price that can be put on one’s happiness, heart, or soul.  Pathologically desperate to keep his family’s name in pristine standing, William pushes Charlotte into the spotlight as the new head of the Delacorte clan, while hiding away his “embarrassment” of a sister, Mae.  Charlotte is charged with the responsibility of redirecting rebellious young Mae from her current lifestyle which involves flapper fashions, speakeasies and an unquenchable attraction to a particular young woman.

Real drama ensues when Charlotte follows Mae into the exotic underground world of the flapper revolution and she begins to realize just how unfulfilled she is in her rigid, loveless marriage.  Charlotte is swept away by the allure of a handsome stranger who lives his life according to his own rules, a true luxury she can only imagine.  Charlotte is now faced with the moral dilemma of choosing between the golden handcuffs of her stifling marriage and her dreams of freedom to live and love on her own terms.

I love Brenner’s descriptive style; she has a gift for transporting the reader to the time and place of her choosing and I for one am always obliged to take the ride.  The Gin Lovers is no exception.  She immerses you in the decadence of NYC high society and pulls out all the stops. I could almost hear the clinking of champagne flutes, the clatter of sterling silver utensils on fine bone china and the swoosh of lavish couture gowns.

However, The Gin Lovers is more than a showcase of pretty clothes and finery.  Themes of self acceptance, class structure, honesty, trust, love and lust, infidelity and redemption are all examined within the complex relationships of this book about “keeping up appearances.” I encourage you to read The Gin Lovers not only for the sexy scenes and pretty clothes, but for its interesting depth of character and darn good plot.  What are you waiting for?  A Gatsby-like ride is just one click away!


Welcome back Jamie!  We’re so glad to have you with us today to talk about your steamy smart book, The Gin Lovers.  I enjoyed this book for its high-society drama, lush atmosphere and complex characters and I’m looking forward to learning more about your thought process while writing this book!

MELISSA:  Firstly, let me tell you I was swept away by the luxurious setting you created in The Gin Lovers.  The clothes, the jewels, the name dropping…you transported me to one of the most glamorous times in American history, the 1920s. What type of research did you do in preparation for the writing of this novel?

JAMIE:  Thanks so much, Melissa. First of all, I really appreciate you taking the time to read this book when I know the Literary Vixens are inundated with fabulous novels.  As for the The Gin Lovers, the era itself was truly my first character.  One nonfiction book that really inspired me was Flapper: A Madcap  of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern by Joshua Zeitz. I’d always been fascinated with the era, but this book really brought the women to life to me: Zelda Fitzgerald, Louise Brooks, Dorothy Parker, Coco Chanel. I realized I probably admire more women from that ten year period than any other in American history. I love their style, I love their courage, I love their madness. Once I had these women in mind, I took a closer look at the things that were happening around them in the society at large.  I read the Richard Zacks book Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Doomed Quest to CleanUp Sin-Loving New York. This book gave me a lot of insight into the big business of prostitution, and how corrupt the system was, rife with police and politicians getting paid off – the people cracking down on the prostitutes were the ones frequenting these brothels half the time.  There are a lot of parallels to what we’re seeing today. The morality police becomes big business, and there is a ton of hypocrisy. Another really great book on the darker side of nightlife during that era is Nightclub City: Politics and Amusement in Manhattan by Burton W. Peretti. And I was lucky that while I was writing this novel, the Ken Burns documentary Prohibition aired on PBS. Reading and watching all of this stuff was great for inspiration, but also a little daunting because I realized that when it comes to the 1920s, fact is truly stranger than fiction.  For the fashion and style aspect, I found an illustrated book called Fashions of the Roaring ‘20s by Ellie Laubner. It was my bible while writing The Gin Lovers.  And I found some great blogs on Tumblr that gave me visual inspiration. It amazes and thrills me how many people share my fascination and passion for this time period.

MELISSA:  OK.  So.  Apart from the amazing atmosphere you’ve created in The Gin Lovers, you have also succeeded in creating a cast of characters that are rich and complex.  Particularly, I loved Charlotte and Mae’s inner conflicts.  You managed to weave important themes into the story relating to women born before their time and who dare to dream of “more.”  They were eventually brave enough pursue their personal happiness regardless of  society’s backlash.  You chose very specific controversial topics to explore with these women, infidelity and same sex relationships.  What do you hope your readers take away with them after reading about these brave, strong women?  Do you use their circumstances as metaphors for a woman’s need to seek personal fulfillment whatever the cost?

JAMIE:  There’s that saying ‘The more things change, the more things stay the same.” I had that in mind when I wrote this book. While the external conflicts in the lives of Charlotte and her sister-in-law Mae and the other women in The Gin Lovers are obviously very specific to the time period, their inner struggles – their passions, their disappointments, their fears – are timeless. And while the 1920s were a major decade in terms of women asserting their rights and their independence in the workplace and in fashion and in how and where they socialized, we’re almost a hundred years past that era, and it’s still very much a man’s world. I think men are rewarded for personal risk-taking, and women can be very harshly judged and punished for it.

MELISSA:  What I really enjoyed was the symbiosis between the classes.  You illustrated a clear picture of how the upper class dealt with their servants and how those of a lower station knew how to mind their place.  It was interesting to see how they saw everything but “knew” nothing.  What I found particularly intriguing was the mistress/servant/friend relationship between Charlotte and her handsome butler, Rafferty.  I felt a definite mutual attraction between them but, of course, that attraction was not acted upon.  What was your motivation for incorporating this particular relationship into the main plot?  I was very curious as to why you chose to end the story the way you did.  Poor Rafferty.  Do you imagine how his predicament played out?

JAMIE:  The heyday of servant culture was coming to an end by the mid-1920s. To me, Rafferty was the embodiment of the end of that era. He was born into “service” – even hand-picked by Charlotte’s mother-in-law for the household. But he was driven by his own independent code and broke rank to do what he thought was right. He was also driven by a very inconvenient passion for his employer’s wife. Rafferty isn’t constrained by what is allowed or expected of him, and in this way, he and Charlotte are very much alike. They are both outsiders. I chose to show him saving Charlotte because out of all the players in the story, they are the biggest risk-takers. They have the most to lose. And I imagine that as much as she loves Jake, she will come to realize this. And she will have the chance, in turn, to save Rafferty.

MELISSA:  Personal question.  I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with you a number of occasions and I have to say, I LOVE your style.  You’ve got that Chanel-like vibe combined with a bit of “siren.”  Where do you get your inspiration for dress and do you have an affinity for this time period?  Could that be what led you to write about this era?  Where did you go to research for the fashions?

JAMIE:  Wow. I don’t even know how to respond to that highest of high compliments. Chanel is my fashion idol. I think in the fashion sense, I am an “old soul.”  I’m fascinated by fashion, but I don’t really understand it. There are almost too many choices today. I love the eras when there was one “look.” And the 1920s was one of the best looks that ever existed, in my opinion – the line of the dresses, the fringe, the accessories, the chic bobbed hair, the lipstick. It’s ironic how they flappers were considered “boyish” at the time, but are now icons of feminitiy and female sexuality.

MELISSA:  I know you’ve pretty much explained this in the subtext of the story, but in your own words can you describe your views on the idea of personal happiness versus financial comfort?  We hear about so many unhappy marriages today, many women (and men) remain in unfulfilled relationships for “the kids,” fear of “failure” and often times for financial reasons (especially in today’s uncertain financial climate).  What’s your opinion?

JAMIE:  That is a tricky one. I can say that in my personal life, I have followed my heart, and risked a lot financially and otherwise to feel fulfilled creatively and in terms of romantic passion. It is the only way I know how to live, but I can’t say I haven’t shed a lot of tears over it and had many periods of doubt. I don’t think there is any painless way to go through life. Everything is a compromise. As women, we have to decide what we can live with, and what we can’t live without.  I think the worst thing is to live a lie, either by choice or by necessity.

MELISSA:  You are great at writing sensual, sexy stories without being salacious.  What are your guidelines for writing hot scenes?

JAMIE:  My general rule to be descriptive without grossing myself out. If I don’t want to write it, I assume no one is going to want to read it!

MELISSA:  I don’t mind telling you,  I did NOT like William.  You do a great job of creating a dislikable character.  How did you come with him? Is he a composite of everything that could be distasteful in a man? LOL!  Apart from creating good dramatic context, what themes where you illustrating with this character?

JAMIE:  Believe it or not, when I conceived of William, I wasn’t thinking of his failures as a lover or as a husband. I thought of him as typifying the weak scions of successful family businesses. I’m fascinated by the stories of family dynasties in which a business is built by one generation – creating a fortune –  and then run into the ground and squandered by subsequent generations. To me it represents the idea of characters and grit versus weakness. When people come to this country as immigrants, they have something to prove and they work hard. The people who earn the fortunes remember what it was like to be hungry. The kids who are born with the proverbial silver spoon can be rudderless, and history has shown time and again that while you can inherent money, you don’t necessarily inherit determination and a hard work ethic. To me, William represents the worst of this type of lazy, second generation wealth. And his weakness of character carries over to his personal life, and both combine to cause his ruin.

MELISSA:  Who would you have play your characters on the big or little screen?

JAMIE:  I love this question. I’m a big fan of the little screen. The first season of Downton Abbey aired in the U.S. just as I was in the middle of writing this, and it gave me a huge push of inspiration just when I was feeling daunted.  For Jake, I imagine Alex Pettyfer. For Rafferty, Ian Somerholder. Kiera Knightly could play Charlotte. Mae looks like Rooney Mara – severe and stylish and beautiful. Emma Stone could be Fiona. As for Boom Boom, in my mind she is the late, great actress Darlene Conley who played the role of Sally Spectra on The Bold and the Beautiful.

MELISSA:  And Lastly, I loved this story and these characters and  I’d love to see what happens with them.  Any thoughts about writing a sequel?

JAMIE:  I absolutely have a sequel in mind. It’s very much about Charlotte coming into her own financial power, and there is a love triangle between Charlotte, Jake, and Rafferty.

Well, as usual, it is a please talking with you and picking your brain.  You have a great talent for sparking your reader’s mind as well as their heart and, for lack of a better word, libido!  I will be looking forward to speaking with you again about one of your many other books.