Posts Tagged contemporary romance

Erin Moore’s “Awakened by the Minotaur” Is a Steamy, Fun, R-rated Read

Before I get into tonight’s review, I’d like to offer an apology. The last month or so, I’ve been working hard at other things (namely writing and editing), so I haven’t been able to do much in the way of reviewing.

That said, I hope that long-time readers of Shiny Book Review will enjoy the last week-plus of December, as I plan to review at least three more books before the end of the year.

Now, onto tonight’s review!

PictureErin Moore’s AWAKENED BY THE MINOTAUR is a fun, steamy novella set on the island of Crete. Lara Castille, a woman from North Carolina, has gone to Crete in search of adventure — or, if she’s honest, in search of a hot young man to spend some time with (and not just for his assistance in checking out the local ruins). She meets Theseus “Teo” Poulos — her guide and driver — and is immediately attracted, but as in most contemporary romances, Lara does not get down and dirty with him right away.

Even though Ms. Moore’s novella is unabashedly an erotic romance, there are still some romantic conventions that must needs be followed. So Lara goes to dinner with Teo, makes out with him, and then wants to get down to business…

Only for him to walk away.

Why? Well, it has to do with the “minotaur” part of the title. Teo, you see, is a shapeshifter; at certain phases of the moon, he shifts into a minotaur. And as a minotaur, it’s rumored that he killed his previous girlfriend, something Teo can’t really deny because Teo doesn’t truly remember what he does in minotaur form.

So Teo is deeply attracted to Lara, and she feels the same way about him. But Teo feels he cannot do anything with Lara — not because she’s a tourist (though that doesn’t exactly help), but because he’s a shapeshifter and she isn’t.

Anyway, Teo leaves Lara sitting in the restaurant he’d brought her to, all hot and bothered. She has several shots of ouzo, and quickly becomes drunk. She then gets lost trying to find her way back to the “pension” (where she’s staying), and stumbles upon, of all things, an outdoor orgy.

Now, Lara is a good girl. She’s never been into orgies. But everything feels dreamlike, and she’s somehow pulled to the man/minotaur. She’s fascinated rather than repelled, and as you might expect in an erotic novella, has herself one whale of a good time.

Of course, the morning after is a mess as they don’t wake up with one another, so they have no idea what truly happened. Worse, Teo doesn’t remember who he slept with while he was in the form of the minotaur, so he’s awkward with Lara (he truly wants to be with her, but is carrying all of the same baggage as before). Meanwhile, Lara clearly remembers sleeping with the minotaur, but doesn’t know who he was. So she’s awkward with Teo, because he’s the guy she truly wants to be with…besides, even though she doesn’t owe Teo anything, she’s not sure she should be so pleased she succumbed to the minotaur in that precise way.

At any rate, what will Teo do once he realizes Lara was the one he slept with? And what will Lara do once she realizes Teo is the shapeshifter? (Further reviewer sayeth not, but do remember that this is a romance, OK?)

Sometimes reducing a story to its basic plot makes it sound far less plausible and far less fun than it actually is. And such is the case with AWAKENED BY THE MINOTAUR. I enjoyed this little novella, and believed in the “shapeshifter with a haunted past” twist.

Simply put, AWAKENED BY THE MINOTAUR is a fun, fast, steamy, R-rated read with a strong story underlying all of the sex. (Which, by the way, was only between two people. Lara may have witnessed the orgy, but she only had sex with Teo.) Lara’s been unlucky in love and been looking in the wrong places, while Teo thought because of his shapeshifting ability that he’d never in a million years be able to find someone who’d love him for who he is.

And in the nature of all good romances, erotic or not, they find out that they’re both wrong.

Along the way, there’s a healthy dose of scenic, sunny Crete, there’s some interesting and plausible mythology thrown in there, and a nice fantasy twist that held my interest through several re-reads. (Only to make sure I caught everything…a reviewer must be thorough, after all!)

Bottom line? AWAKENED BY THE MINOTAUR will entrance you providing you enjoy fantasy romance and can handle an R-rated plotline and extremely frank, sexual language. I enjoyed this novella immensely, and look forward to more work by Ms. Moore.

Grade: A.

–reviewed by Barb

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Romance Saturday Returns with Aaron Paul Lazar’s “The Seacrest”

Folks, it’s Saturday night . . . and long-term readers of Shiny Book Review know exactly what that means.

Yes, it’s time — and past time — for a romance.  Which is why I turned to Aaron Paul Lazar’s THE SEACREST, a sensual contemporary romance with a rather interesting hook.  THE SEACREST features Finn McGraw, an artist-turned-handyman, and Libby Vanderhorn, a wealthy horsewoman whose family he works for . . . who also happens to be his first love, who spurned Finn years earlier, reasons unknown.

At the beginning of THE SEACREST, Finn’s working at Libby’s family’s horse ranch, The Seacrest.  He’s flat broke, tired, has no time for his art work, and his marriage to Cora seems a bit off . . . then he gets shocking news: his wife has been found dead, and his estranged brother Jaxson with her — the two being passengers in Jaxson’s car at the time it went over a cliff.  Jaxson was drunk at the time, so their deaths are quickly ruled “death by misadventure.”

Finn, of course, is absolutely devastated.  He and Cora weren’t really getting along, no, but she was his wife and he sincerely loved her, even though it wasn’t the passionate love he’d felt years earlier with Libby.  And the circumstances of her death make no sense to him; as far as he knew, Cora and Jaxson didn’t even know each other, so what were they doing together?

Then, Finn finds out that despite being estranged from Jaxson, Finn is Jaxson’s sole heir — the rest of their family having died in a house fire years ago.  (It’s because of that house fire that neither brother has spoken to one another for years, as Finn believes that Jaxson had something to do with it.)  And Jaxson was extremely well-off due to a number of investments, to the point that Jaxson has restored the old family home (yes, the same one that had been damaged in the house fire) to its previous dimensions.

Finn debates a little, but decides he’s going to accept Jaxson’s inheritance.  (This makes sense considering how angry Finn is with Jaxson, who was having an affair with Finn’s wife.)  But because Libby and her family still need help at The Seacrest, he continues to help them while slowly adjusting to his new life — and his twin losses.

But that’s not all that’s going on here, as Libby’s soldier husband has been missing in action and presumed dead for three years in the Middle East for over three years.  But “presumed dead” is not nearly the same thing as actually dead . . . so what happens after Libby’s husband shows back up again?

I’ll stop there with the plot summary, as I really don’t want to spoil your reading.  (Granted, I’ve gone a bit further than most reviewers as it is.)

So there’s plenty here to keep you riveted, if you’re a romance reader.  There’s Finn, a deeply honorable man who never, but never, cheated on his wife, finding out that his wife was not as faithful as he by a mile.  There’s Libby, who’s been mistaken for years about Finn and Finn’s motivations, which is why she spurned him in the first place.  And there’s all the stuff going on about their families — Libby’s is enormously wealthy, and that’s one reason Finn wasn’t immediately welcomed as a sixteen-year-old suitor, while Finn’s is deceased in the present day, but vitally alive in the many flashback chapters.

Speaking of that, the dual setup of “present day/past actions” works nicely in THE SEACREST, to the point that I didn’t skip any of the sections — not even once, which is quite rare in my experience as I usually am quite impatient with numerous flashback sequences.

You see, the reason I didn’t skip anything — and the reason I didn’t even want to skip over anything — is because of Aaron Paul Lazar’s effortless prose.  I cared about Finn from the very first chapter, you see.  I cared about him in the present, wounded heart and all . . . and I cared about him in the past when he was a virginal, lovestruck teen.

More to the point, there wasn’t a character here I wasn’t interested in reading about — not the odious Jaxson, nor the rather shallow and spoiled Cora, nor complex and tormented Libby, and not even Libby’s nasty husband, Ian.  Because all of them worked in the context of this novel, and all of them held my interest.

That, my friends, is the power of a truly great romance writer.  Which is what Aaron Paul Lazar is — this being his first-ever romance novel notwithstanding.  (Mind, he’s written many, many other books, almost all of them mysteries of one description or other, which is one reason his characterization and plot are so assured.)

Now, as far as what I thought of the plot?  It’s what you’d expect, really, of a good-to-better sensual contemporary romance.  You have two lovers, Finn and Libby, who’ve been parted for far too long with reasons that don’t stand up under the weight of adult examination — and when they try to get back together, all sorts of adult obligations get in the way.  But the power of love has the ability to conquer all obstacles if you let it . . . which means that if you give THE SEACREST time to work its magic, you’ll almost assuredly enjoy it as much as I did.

The only minor drawback is this — the ending wrapped up a little too quickly and a little too neatly for my liking.  (Then again, romance readers want a HEA — happily ever after — and Lazar delivered, so that’s why it’s a minor issue.)  I would’ve liked to see another ten pages to fully flesh out the last plot complication, and I definitely would’ve liked to see these two actually marrying.  (Which really shouldn‘t be considered a spoiler — it’s how they get there that I tried hard not to spoil!)

Bottom line?  THE SEACREST is a winning romance full of heart and soul.  I enjoyed it immensely, and hope it won’t be Lazar’s last foray into the romance genre.

Grade: A-minus.

— reviewed by Barb

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