Vivid sex scenes with attention to the heroine’s pleasure, but characterization remains problematic.



From the Hunted series , Vol. 1

A college sophomore and her professor conduct a steamy, forbidden affair in this contemporary romance novel.

It’s a new semester, and sophomore Penny Taylor, 19, meets a handsome young man when he collides with her in a coffee shop, spilling a cold beverage on her shirt. He gives Penny his sweater in compensation. The next day, Penny—a marketing major who dreads public speaking—slides into her seat for Comm 212—Oral Communication in Business. The good-looking stranger turns out to be her professor, James Hunter. Tyler Stevens, an attractive fellow student, invites Penny to a fraternity party, where she enjoys dancing and kissing him. But when Tyler ignores her “no” to sex and holds her down, she knees him in the groin, getting called a bitch in return. Leaving the party in tears, Penny is intercepted by Hunter, who offers her a ride home; when he assumes she’s a senior, she doesn’t correct him. The two soon begin flirting, sometimes in class. As the semester goes on, the dalliance between Hunter and Penny ripens into a full-blown erotic affair, featuring rough, often semipublic sex that she loves. Trust issues and miscommunication get in the way, but as the novel ends, hope remains alive for the couple. Their story continues in three more volumes. Smoak (A Whirlwind of Color, 2018, etc.) provides evocative, well-written (avoiding twee or overly crude phrasing) sex scenes for those who appreciate male dominance and the thrill of almost getting caught. For some, these pluses will be sufficient, but the book is filled with romance-novel clichés: accidental first meeting; obstacles that a moment’s communication could clear up; the hero’s enormous wealth; his reason for liking Penny (she’s not afraid to speak her mind). The main characters have puzzling flaws: Hunter is a terrible professor, running his class like a group therapy session and announcing proudly that he’s an easy grader who wants students to think of him as a “peer.” Penny, meanwhile, easily accepts Tyler’s apologies for her near rape and comes to consider him a best friend.

Vivid sex scenes with attention to the heroine’s pleasure, but characterization remains problematic.

Pub Date: April 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5151-4688-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 5, 2018

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Another success for the publishing phenom.


An abused boy fights back, escapes, then returns as an attorney to his beloved hometown, but just as he’s falling in love with a transplanted landscaper, a series of attacks from shadowy enemies jeopardizes their happiness.

“From the outside, the house in Lakeview Terrace looked perfect.” Which of course means that it wasn't. We're introduced to the horrifying Dr. Graham Bigelow, who beats his wife and, increasingly as the boy gets older, his son, Zane. On the night of Zane’s prom, a particularly savage attack puts him and his sister in the hospital, and his father blames Zane, landing him in jail. Then his sister stands up for him, enlisting the aid of their aunt, and everything changes, mainly due to Zane’s secret diaries. Nearly 20 years later, Zane leaves a successful career as a lawyer to return to Lakeview, where his aunt and sister live with their families, deciding to hang a shingle as a small-town lawyer. Then he meets Darby McCray, the landscaper who’s recently relocated and taken the town by storm, starting with the transformation of his family’s rental bungalows. The two are instantly intrigued by each other, but they move slowly into a relationship neither is looking for. Darby has a violent past of her own, so she is more than willing to take on the risk of antagonizing a boorish local family when she and Zane help an abused wife. Suddenly Zane and Darby face one attack after another, and even as they grow ever closer under the pressure, the dangers become more insidious. Roberts’ latest title feels a little long and the story is slightly cumbersome, but her greatest strength is in making the reader feel connected to her characters, so “unnecessary details” can also charm and engage.

Another success for the publishing phenom.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-20709-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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A romantic suspense that skillfully balances both elements.


A successful businesswoman hires a smooth-talking bounty hunter to find a lead on her sister’s murder.

Kate Gallagher was the only one available to identify her younger sister Chrissy’s body after she was found dead, having run away from home two years earlier. Since Chrissy succumbed to drugs and turned to sex work to survive, her murder isn't taken seriously by the local homicide department. Kate is filled with grief and regret at not having been there for her sister, and she’s determined to find her killer as a kind of penance. Jason Maddox is the charming man Kate almost hooked up with at a local bar. He also happens to be on the payroll of the most successful investigation company in Dallas. He’s all too eager to help Kate out and spend more time getting to know the blonde he danced with at the Sagebrush Saloon. At first, Kate and Jason vow to keep things professional until the case is solved; there’s obvious attraction that they’re willing to pursue at a later date. But the increasing sense of danger mixed with Kate and Jason’s close proximity proves to be too heady of a combination. The tension never lets up as the pair visit seedy bars and interrogate unsavory characters. With a steamy romance and undeniably hot chemistry, the main characters are well matched. They’re both driven, slightly stubborn, and enjoy the adrenaline rush of catching criminals. Martin (The Conspiracy, 2019, etc.) doesn’t skimp on graphic, violent details as Chrissy’s murder leads her couple to something much bigger: human trafficking. Though not for the faint of heart given its weighty material, this is an un-put-down-able page-turner that’s sure to satisfy fans of romance and thrillers alike.

A romantic suspense that skillfully balances both elements.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-335-00769-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harlequin HQN

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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