The Tied Man by Tabitha McGowan

genre: dark, erotica, romance | pages: 395

My rating: ★★★★

The Tied Man is one of those books that whilst reading it I couldn’t seem to get enough, yet when I’m done, I’m left wondering why I would voluntarily traumatise myself. It was a good read—but understand that by good, I mean that while it has a gripping storyline, this book will plaster images on the back of your eyelids that will never ever rub off.

The plot centres around Lilith and Finn. Lilith whilst busy going about her (pretty enviable) artist’s existence, is cornered into a situation beyond comprehension: a long ‘vacation’ at an estate that caters to the whims of the most twisted sexual deviants I’ve ever come across.

That’s nothing, I hear you say.

Wait for it…

That’s not the part which set my mind boggling.

One of the live-in residents is a handsome but tragic Irishman. Finn. He is nothing short of a sex slave—used, abused, punished, and tortured, all under the questionable ‘contract’ he has with the estate owner, Blaine, and her many dubious clients.

I know, I know! Mentions of sex contracts these days brings forth images of Christian Grey and his whip, but Fifty Shades is like reading Enid Blyton compared to this book; and although the second Fifty Shades book (yes, shut up, I read all three) gets a little meatier in terms of actual plot (emphasis on little), The Tied Man outdoes this by a mile. Maybe five.

If this all sounds a bit far-fetched, don’t let it put you off. The plot is by no means thin, and these bizarre events have relatable circumstances. Firstly, Finn didn’t sign the contract for fun; there’s a legitimate and noble reason why he did. Secondly, Lilith didn’t just go along for the ride; she’s almost as trapped as Finn is, first because of Blaine, and then by her own unwillingness to give up on Finn. Lastly, the impressive writing and engaging protagonists keep the plot grounded, immersing the reader into the characters’ world.

I’ve read some spectacularly questionable stories before and I’m not easily shocked or repelled, and I’m definitely not easily offended by books, but this one… This one made even the likes of my warped mind cower in the corner—trembling. Yet, I’d recommend it to anyone who might enjoy torturing themselves with dark, twisted tales (fans of Comfort Food, Flawed, etc.)

I gobbled word after word, scene after gory scene because at the heart of this disturbing story there is a nugget of beauty—HOPE.

‘The momentary discomfort was nothing at all compared to the realisation that she was finding refuge in my flawed embrace.’ — Finn

 

the tied man book cover

 

Lilith Bresson, an independent, successful young artist, is forced to travel from her home in Spain to the wild borderlands of northern England, to repay her feckless father’s latest debt by painting a portrait of the enigmatic Lady Blaine Albermarle.

On her first night at Albermarle Hall she meets Finn Strachan, Blaine’s ‘companion’, a cultured and hauntingly beautiful young man who seems to have it all. But Lilith has an artist’s eye, and a gift for seeing what lies beneath the skin. She soon discovers that Blaine is more gaoler than lover, and if the price is right, depravity has no limits. As the weeks pass, Lilith finds that she too is drawn into the malign web that her patron has spun, yet against the odds she forges a strong friendship with the damaged, dysfunctional Finn. In a dark, modern twist to an age-old story, Lilith Bresson proves that sometimes it’s the princess who needs to become the rescuer.

Please note that this storyline contains depictions of drug abuse, violence and non-consensual sex.

His Witness (Vittorio Crime Family, #4) by Vanessa Waltz

GENRE: Dark, Erotica, Romance | PAGES: 380

My rating: ★★★

His Witness turned out to be a (surprisingly?) good read, full of action and grit, and more than its fair share of sex (to an almost annoying extent). (Hold up, I did say almost.)

I couldn’t connect with Tommy to begin with but he really did grow on me, as details of his introduction into the mob was revealed. Melanie, the lead female was written with sass and strength, although because of this I didn’t buy into the sudden submissiveness of her character as much as I did with other books of this nature.

Having said that perhaps this was the point – she didn’t need to or maybe couldn’t be ‘broken’ because on some level, she’d wanted Tommy all along. She submitted by choice, which given her former predicament, was for her, empowering in its own way.

I’m not a fan of mob/Mafia reads in general so won’t bother checking out any of the other related stories, but as a stand alone, this was a decent way to spend a few afternoons, and the twist at the end was a nice add-in.

The warning on the book is not just for decoration though, so would-be readers: be prepared – not only for the borderline torture BDSM scenes, but also the scenes of mobster violence, which has a disturbing Dexter-like quality.

Hats off to the writer, for making me squirm.

 

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  His Witness (Vittorio Crime Family, #4)

 

He kidnapped me.

He was charming, powerful, intoxicating. Accepting his advances might be the last mistake I’d ever make. He was a dangerous man, and the fact that he made me feel alive couldn’t hide that I danced with death.

I made my choice, and he made his.

Now I’m trapped in his basement, completely at his mercy. Day after day, he toys with me for his own amusement. Pleasure and pain, pain and pleasure. The two have are so linked now that I can barely tell them apart and I’m beginning to crave both.

Worse, I’m beginning to crave him.

The Secret Diary of a Sex Addict by Amber Stephens

GENRE: Erotica | PAGES: 352

My rating: ★★★

Not a bad read. The Secret Diary of a Sex Addict is reasonably well written, kinda witty in places, and of course, very steamy.

Each erotic scene was given from a different person’s point of view. The fact that each person was in the addict recovery group lent itself to the overall story which had a bit of an actual plot (that’s more than I can say for some erotica!)

The number of typos in the Kindle version irritated me endlessly though, and the way the ending just kind of comes out of nowhere doesn’t do the book any favours; it just felt a bit like the author ran out of people and addictions and couldn’t think of where to take us next.

Other than that, I enjoyed it. 

  The Secret Diary of a Sex Addict

 

Shelley Matthews is married to her job as a journalist at a glossy women’s magazine. Which is just as well as she hasn’t had sex for over a year. But when her editor decides a re-vamp of the magazine is needed, Shelley is forced to go undercover – as a sex addict

Fifty Shades Freed by E L James

GENRE: Erotica, Romance | PAGES: 579

My rating: ★★★

Completed Fifty Shades Freed at last. Finishing the Fifty Shades trilogy took much longer than I would have liked. Had I read it through without the long lapse between book two and three I may have enjoyed it a whole lot more.

That said, on the whole, it has been a very enjoyable read.

Fifty Shades Freed (book three) started with more than its fair share of hearts and flowers and I found myself muddling through the majority of this as opposed to hare-pacing it as with the previous books. Admittedly that’s more to do with the fact that I’m all up for angst and intensity, and given the stage in Christian and Ana’s relationship, it was, to begin with, very angst-free.

Halfway through however, it was back on track. I couldn’t put it down. The action scenes were my favourite here, even topping the smutty parts. Ana’s strength came through in this book and Christian’s puzzle of a past finally made sense. The two scenes at the end of the book were particularly intriguing, allowing us inside of his head for a while.

On the flip side, there was far too much ‘smirking’ and ‘murmuring’ for my liking–characteristic traits do have their limits, and the similarities between this plot and the plot points of the Twilight Saga were more evident here too.

That said, the series does stand its ground and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s looking for something intense on one hand yet fairly easy to read. (Note: There are several instances throughout the series which might pose a potential trigger for victims of abuse.)

Christian Grey is one of those characters you’ll find yourself rooting for one minute and loathing the next, and I can’t begin to imagine an actor that’s quite good enough to do all his Fifty Shades (of fucked up) justice.

 

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 Fifty Shades Freed

 

Romantic, liberating and totally addictive, the Fifty Shades trilogy will obsess you, possess you and stay with you for ever. When Ana Steele first encountered the driven, damaged entrepreneur Christian Grey, it sparked a sensual affair that changed both their lives irrevocably. Ana always knew that loving her Fifty Shades would not be easy, and being together poses challenges neither of them had anticipated. Ana must learn to share Grey’s opulent lifestyle without sacrificing her own integrity or independence; and Grey must overcome his compulsion to control and lay to rest the horrors that still haunt him. Now, finally together, they have love, passion, intimacy, wealth, and a world of infinite possibilities. But just when it seems that they really do have it all, tragedy and fate combine to make Ana’s worst nightmares come true …

Fifty Shades Darker by E L James

GENRE: Erotica, Romance | PAGES: 532

My rating: ★★★★

I found the second part of the Fifty Shades trilogy, Fifty Shades Darker, to be better than the first.

The writing, again, isn’t high-quality but the author’s characters are very readable and in this book they become more 3D. That development lends itself to the story; pieces of the puzzle fit into place and as a whole makes for an interesting little read.

Have just started part three which, at the moment, feels a bit predictable. That remains to be seen. Here’s hoping for a few twists. 

 

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 Fifty Shades Darker by E L James

 

Daunted by the singular sexual tastes and dark secrets of the beautiful, tormented young entrepreneur Christian Grey, Anastasia Steele has broken off their relationship to start a new career with a Seattle publishing house. But desire for Christian still dominates her every waking thought, and when he proposes a new arrangement, Anastasia cannot resist. They rekindle their searing sensual affair, and Anastasia learns more about the harrowing past of her damaged, driven, and demanding Fifty Shades. While Christian wrestles with his inner demons, Anastasia must confront her anger and envy of the women who came before her and make the most important decision of her life. Erotic, sparkling and suspenseful, Fifty Shades Darker is the irresistibly addictive second part of the Fifty Shades trilogy.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James

GENRE: Erotica, Romance | PAGES: 514

My rating: ★★★

My initial reaction on finishing Fifty Shades of Grey? In the overused words of Anastasia Steele: ‘Oh my…

If that two-word response just made you cringe, run along now, and save yourself the trouble. Because Ana says this a lot. A whole lot. Ana also constantly refers to an inner goddess and a (judgey, cranky) subconscious as a way to express her desires without using an inner monologue. Readers have reviewed this as annoying or odd, or downright ridiculous. Personally, I thought: hmm, quirky. This is a fairly unique way to demonstrate the whole ID, ego thing. But, this was an initial opinion. And like everything, moderation is key. When Ana’s inner goddess started back flipping and dancing the merengue, and the salsa, and begging on bended knee… my eyes rolled so far back in my head I lost my place on the page.

Here are several other things Ana does: she resolves to stand her ground, fails to stand her ground, signs away her right to stand her ground, becomes so infatuated with Christian and his hair and his long fingers and his helicopter (I’ll give her that one) that she FORGETS she has ground to even stand on…

You get the picture, right?

Good. Because I wasn’t sure what to expect starting this one. With all the hype, I wondered whether I’d end up disappointed. Then again I already felt disappointed that the book had gained popularity purely for the erotica element. Surely there was more to it than that?

There was!

And whilst I can’t say I LOVED it, I will say I certainly didn’t HATE it either. I’m on the reader fence.

Ultimately, what does it for me (besides the sex!) is the twisted intensity of Ana and Christian’s relationship. There are times when it is sweet, and funny–and their banter, particularly via email, is witty. The dialogue in the email exchanges is natural and easy–even more so than their face to face encounters. That’s the good side of their relationship. Then there’s that exciting wine-and-dine me phase–Christian’s mysterious allure, his power, all the bits of Mr Grey that make you swoon even when you’re trying really hard not to.

BUT the bits that REALLY intrigue me are Christian’s darker shades. Christian reads like a kinky, more fucked-up Heathcliff/Cullen hybrid; but what REALLY gets me is the reason behind it all. For me, it’s not about romanticising the borderline abuse from Christian for which the author is often slated for. It’s about WHY he is the way he is. I’m drawn to dark novels in general and this intrigue around Christian’s character is compelling enough to keep pulling you along.

So the writing isn’t phenomenal… big deal. So it started off as a Twilight fanfic… big deal.

All I want to know is what could make a human being who on one hand, is a kind, generous, hard-working man, turn out to be so fundamentally messed up on the other hand. Because let’s face it: Christian is a hot mess. And while I can read several pages and focus solely on the HOT element, sooner or later, that MESS is harder to ignore.

And yet, all I want to do is hug him. Figure him out.

Piece by piece the story reveals itself but still, it doesn’t add up. It doesn’t satisfy. Like Ana, you want more. And so, when you think no one is watching, you sneak off to get book two and silently ask that the literary gods don’t hold it against you. 

 

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Fifty Shades of Grey

 

When literature student Anastasia Steele is drafted to interview the successful young entrepreneur Christian Grey for her campus magazine, she finds him attractive, enigmatic and intimidating. Convinced their meeting went badly, she tries to put Grey out of her mind – until he happens to turn up at the out-of-town hardware store where she works part-time. The unworldly, innocent Ana is shocked to realize she wants this man, and when he warns her to keep her distance it only makes her more desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her – but on his own terms. Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success – his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving adoptive family – Grey is man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a passionate, physical and daring affair, Ana learns more about her own dark desires, as well as the Christian Grey hidden away from public scrutiny. Can their relationship transcend physical passion? Will Ana find it in herself to submit to the self-indulgent Master? And if she does, will she still love what she finds?

Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving, the Fifty Shades Trilogy is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.

Comfort Food by Kitty Thomas

GENRE: Dark, Erotica | PAGES: 192

My rating: ★★★★★

~ ‘Am I to be sane and miserable in a world of somebody else’s creation or am I to be crazy, and in my own strange way, free?’ ~

After reading a few reviews of Comfort Food, I just had to check it out, if only, at the time, to sate my curiosity. Far from regretting it, I was actually and absolutely fascinated by it.

This is the first book I’ve read based around Stockholm Syndrome (which is interesting in and of itself) and whilst I’ve delved into a couple of erotica novels, I can usually take ’em or leave ’em. This one though was amazing for the psychology within the story.

The (very readable) protagonist, Emily, is strong and smart and when she is drugged and kidnapped then broken down she knows what’s coming next. The man who stole her from the life she knew is never violent; he provides her with everything she needs but at a cost, and in such a way it makes Emily feel as though she gave him actual permission. She becomes willing to play his game, first out of necessity, then out of her own need. She knows what’s happening as it’s happening yet she’s as much a slave to it as someone who had no clue of the process. She becomes a victim of the syndrome she’s heard so much about but she comes to accept and crave both it and her captor.

Her captor, whose name we never learn, actually stirred something a bit like sympathy within me. I was so drawn in by the root of his problem (as hugely immoral as his problem was) and I really hoped for a breakthrough of some sort. There was, however, no such cliche; much like real-life cases, the sociopathic behaviour brought its own twisted reward, though I felt so connected with the story by this point, that I actually found myself hankering after the same ending as the victim, Emily, did. 

 

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Comfort Food

 

Emily Vargas has been taken captive. As part of his conditioning methods, her captor refuses to speak to her, knowing how much she craves human contact. He’s far too beautiful to be a monster. Combined with his lack of violence toward her, this has her walking a fine line at the edge of sanity. Told in the first person from Emily’s perspective, Comfort Food explores what happens when all expectations of pleasure and pain are turned upside down, as whips become comfort and chicken soup becomes punishment.