Triskelion Security, Book #1
Heat Factor: It’s a well-seasoned pot of sex chili
Character Chemistry: They’re immediately heavily into each other and it’s everything but dessert until marriage for these two.
Plot: Riona is working at a coffee shop at the airport when she meets Hardin, a mercenary whose actual job is “confidential”. When Ree and Hardin spark up a heated romance, they end up going into business together, too—and Hardin’s enemies start to come out of the shadows.
Overall: This was a fun read—suspenseful/romantic/entertaining.
My First Smut is a recurring feature where we talk about our formative smut experiences. These short confessionals may include such details as: What book did you read? How old were you? Were there other people involved? What made the experience special? What role does smut play in your life?
This week, romance novelist Sara Ohlin talks about romance getting her through high school. We can relate.
First romance novel you read:
I was always lost in a good book growing up so it’s hard for me to remember my first romance exactly, but it was either a Danielle Steel or The Heir by Johanna Lindsey. Nora Roberts books and Rosamunde Pilcher quickly followed.
How old were you?
I was around 16 or 17. My family had just moved from our beautiful life in Colorado to Ohio. I started a new high school as a sophomore and I was miserable! I was also used to reading classics and horribly sad books with unhappy endings. Discovering romance books was so much fun!
How’d you get your hands on the book?
I got them all from the library. Thank goodness for libraries!
What was the reading experience like?
All of these authors swept me away with their emotions and sometimes over the top plot and I loved all of it. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover characters in books could have a happy ending. And they were great escape from my real life full of family tension and secrets and a high school I hated going to.
What made the experience special?
It was definitely lovely for me to read about women discovering their strengths, finding themselves, falling in love, and getting their happy ever after. It was also a way for me to learn about sex because we never talked about sex growing up. Ever. Not even the emotional component to sex, which is just as important in my humble opinion. And to discover that women deserved love, deserved sex, deserved to enjoy sex and to be treated wonderfully, it was eye-opening.
What role does smut play in your life?
I’m happily immersed in the romance genre, from writing it to reading it, to trying to get other people to appreciate it. I love romance books and am usually reading several books at once, mostly on my Kindle because I can make the font bigger, but if I love a book to pieces, I’ll buy the print copy as well.
I still adore the library and have often discovered new to me romance writers at the different libraries in the different cities I’ve lived in. When I was first married, my husband and I moved to a small town in Georgia and I devoured every Brenda Jackson, Nora Roberts and Johanna Lindsey novel the library had. For such a small town, they had an amazing romance section.
After my mom died of cancer ten years ago, I found I mostly only had the stomach to read romance novels. I wanted to be swept away with great emotion, great love and great sex, and I wanted a guaranteed happy ending.
Today I still mostly read romance, and I love all the categories, from contemporary to paranormal to monster, to historical. And I love finding so much more diversity in romance! Some of my favorites, and I know I’ll forget some, are Talia Hibbert, Kristen Ashley, April White, Naima Simone, Tasha L. Harrison, Penny Reid, Olivia Dade, Fiona Quinn, R.M. Virtues, Kennedy Ryan…so many! So many great books, never enough time!
Bio & Links
Puget Sound based writer, Sara Ohlin is a mom, wannabe photographer, obsessive reader, ridiculous foodie, and the author of the contemporary romance novels, Handling the Rancher, Salvaging Love, Seducing the Dragonfly, Igniting Love and Flirting with Forever. She has over sixteen years of creative non-fiction and memoir writing experience, and you can find her essays at Anderbo.com, Feminine Collective, Mothers Always Write, Her View from Home, and in anthologies such as Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women Speak about Healthcare in America, Take Care: Tales, Tips, & Love from Women Caregivers, and Chicken Soup for the Soul.
Although she’s the author of many essays about life, grief, motherhood and the connections we make through delicious food and shared meals, Sara loves creating imaginary worlds with tight-knit communities in her romance novels. She credits her mother, Mary, Nora Roberts and Rosamunde Pilcher for her love of romance.
If she’s not reading or writing, you will most likely find her in the kitchen creating scrumptious meals with her kids and husband, or perhaps cooking up her next love story. She once met a person who both “didn’t read books” and wasn’t “that into food” and it nearly broke her heart.
You can learn more on her website.
Thanks Sara! Sara’s latest book, Flirting with Forever, just released on Tuesday, and we’re excited to give it a read! Watch this space for a review coming soon.
Nordic Royals, Book #3
Heat Factor: They like to get into that boss/nanny kink dynamic in the bedroom
Character Chemistry: With the tension of the forbidden in the mix, the chemistry was great
Plot: Nanny with secrets “Mary Poppinses” Danish King’s family, but he has secrets of his own…
Overall: Totally hit the spot
Ash and Juliana, Book #1
Heat Factor: One kiss
Character Chemistry: Solid
Plot: Juliana wakes up after her (traumatizing) wedding night in a pool of her husband’s blood. Naturally, she is the prime suspect. She enlists the help of lawyer/investigator Ash to save herself from the gallows.
*Content Warning for violent sexual assault before the book opens. It’s never described, but it is frequently referred to, and enough details are included throughout the text for the reader to get a pretty good idea of how bad it was.
Romance retellings are fun and offer endless variety. The fun comes from seeing a recognizable frame—and then going along for the ride as the author takes the base story in a new direction. And there are so many ways you can take retellings! And so many stories out there to retell! We had a group chat just about Cinderella romances last fall, and even that one story offers a host of possibilities. When the original and the new material really play off each other, it’s magic.
Holly is our local Austen Retelling Expert, and Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors remains her gold standard for Pride and Prejudice retellings. Dev captures the ethos of the original in her contemporary retelling but gives Tricia and DJ depth such that their arc from antagonism to love is believable in and of itself, and not just because they are Lizzie and Darcy and have to fall in love. (Read Holly’s full review.)
Content Notes: racism, medical stuff, past sexual assault (secondary character)
On the surface, this Taming of the Shrew retelling follows a women’s rights activist and a buffoonish aristocrat who’s trying to do right by her after inadvertently compromising her. But Cassandra “tames” Ashmont (as it were), not vice versa, because as she explains why she won’t marry him, doesn’t respect him, and doesn’t trust him, she makes Ashmont see his privilege and how his past behavior had harmed her (and others) and made her feel invisible. Chase did some really awesome things with this retelling, and the character development was fabulous. (Read Erin’s full review.)
Content Notes: emotional abuse, misogyny
This Cinderella retelling manages to evoke the Cinderella ethos without making Amanda a helpless victim. With Amanda’s employer being cast in the role of the step-sister, it’s easy to understand why Amanda chooses to tread carefully – she’s got a dream to reach for, after all! But even without meaning to, Oscar-winning actor Sam Pleasant churns up some drama when Amanda comes into his orbit. The natural tension of the Cinderella plot works for this story, so if you’re looking for a not-so-angsty read with some solid natural tension and awesome checking in and consent between the protagonists, this here’s a great retelling for you!
Content Notes: verbal/emotional abuse (in the workplace)
Garton’s reimagining of the Arthurian legend is set in rural Kentucky, and it is a wild ride. Lance, as a trans man dealing with some self-esteem struggles and body dysphoria and living back in his hometown where people don’t hesitate to deadname him, is working on some emotionally weighty stuff. But also he, his sister Gwen, his friends Mordy and Morgan, and his best friend–>boyfriend Arthur have to destroy the evil necromancer, save the girls/young women in their community, and pull themselves out of the eons old reincarnation loop that they’ve been dealing with since being cursed by Morgana. (Read Erin’s full review.)
Content Notes: transphobia, deadnaming, abuse, violence
This super-sexy retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth leans in to the dysfunctional side of Olympus. Like, of course Persephone and Demeter have a fraught relationship! Where this book really shines, however, is in the bantery grumpy-sunshine dynamic that develops between Persephone and Hades, as they go from exhibitionist sex pact to true love. Bonus points for Hades doing that thing where he is all domineering because that’s how he shows he cares.
Content Notes: public sex, violence
Whether or not you agree with me about including this book probably depends on how you take your happy endings, but I’m going for it because 1. It is a reimagining of the Victorian pulp romance The Prisoner of Zenda, 2. It clearly demonstrates that retellings or reimaginings are everywhere and 3. It is totally awesome. The original is OTT in true Victorian pulp fashion, but with her “let’s tell this story from the perspective of the bad guys, and also they’re totally into each other” twist, Charles makes it even better! Jasper is a cheeky anti-hero narrator, and he and Rupert are a clever team with some stellar on-page sizzle.
Content Notes: violence, homophobia, abduction, discussion of sexual assault
Honorable Mention: Peter Darling by Austin Chant
This book is the rare retelling that makes you rethink the source material—and not just because Chant reimagines Wendy/Peter as the same person, but also because of the way he portrays Neverland and the nature of reality there. Plus, everyone can agree that Captain Hook is the sexiest. So why is this incredible book listed as a bonus? Because it’s not currently available for sale anywhere. (Holly was lucky enough to find a copy at her local library; you might get lucky too!)
Content Notes: transphobia, violence