by Kiersten Hallie Krum
The holiday season is in full swing. I swear, the emails in my inbox inbreed when I’m not looking given how many more I’m getting per day from the same vendors.
Everyone dig deep. We’ll make it through this together. Even if, like me, the only shopping you do is online, we all need a break from the hustle and bustle. Here are two books that can entertain you along the way with a pair of heroines who will knock your thigh-highs off.
Roulette by Megan Mulry
Safe and secure in academia, finance professor Miki Durant has never enjoyed the limelight that surrounds her flashy movie-star mother and Russian mogul father. But when her father unexpectedly dies, Miki finds herself alone in St. Petersburg juggling the myriad and complex workings of his international empire, which includes negotiating with a notorious French playboy, corporate rival Jérôme Michel de Villiers, or Rome as he’s known among the glitterati. Rome is everything Miki avoids and yet their sizzling attraction keeps knocking her sideways. The work too is challenging and enlivens her professional side more than any tenure track. Will she risk it all on such a gamble, or retreat to her safe if uncomplicated life in L.A.?
I loved Miki. She’s so unashamedly smart and capable. Her upbringing and history are unique and yet grounded in believability. Her grief for her father, despite their complicated relationship, particularly resonates for its lack of emotional hysterics, as deep mourning often presents itself in real life. Into this tumultuous state enters Rome, like a David Gandy advert come to life but with a French accent. All of Rome’s story comes filtered through Miki’s perception as Roulette is written in first-person present, but that just makes his impact all the more strong. He and Miki are instantly kindred spirits, their attraction forming first sight unseen as they spar over the phone. He gives Miki one perfect fantasy night…a night that is romantic and sexy and that haunts Miki even as she turns down Rome’s offer for more. While naturally a risk-taker, her aversion to her parent’s dramatic and very public lives has made her resist impulse and live as risk-free a life as she can manage. Rome is the biggest risk she’s taken in a long time, personally and professionally, and their night together sets loose a chain of events that can transform her life if she’s willing to take the biggest risk of all: trust.
My favorite parts of Roulette are when Miki is in France for her friend’s wedding. It made me think of the movie Stealing Beauty where, in search of the true identity of her father, a young Liv Tyler goes to Tuscany to stay with artist friends of her mother who recently died. Friends hanging out drinking wine and creating things, whether art or, in the case of Roulette, cutting-edge, international finance deals, are my idea of a happy place. But Roulette also seeps with international glamour. St. Petersburg comes to life under Ms. Mulry’s deft pen, all the romanticism of its old world allure brushed up for new world adventures. Roulette kept me up reading until 4 AM. On a weeknight. I know no better recommendation than that.
A Gentleman in the Street by Alisha Rai.
Like Roulette, I bought A Gentleman in the Street because of its gorgeous cover and buzz on The Twitter. Never let anyone tell you The Twitter doesn’t sell books. Also like Roulette, I was not disappointed.
Bitch. Slut. Whore. Akira Mori has been called them all, often right to her face and frequently by her own parents. Long inured to the slander, Akira takes delight in fulfilling people’s low expectations, secure in the knowledge that she answers only to herself. Known for being shameless and ruthless with an impenetrable heart, in life and in business, she can and does have anyone she wants. Except author Jacob Campbell, the man she’s lusted after for more than a decade since her mother married his father for a New York minute. Believing Jacob will never give in to her considerable charms, Akira instead needles him verbally, taunting him with their not-quite-related status as a defense against how much she longs for him…and how deeply his opinion, out of all of them, matters.
It’s not that Jacob’s not interested, though Akira doesn’t know that. Since having a feckless father left Jacob to raise his three siblings, he takes that responsibility to such serious degrees that he’s been denying his desire for Akira all these years. That hasn’t stop him from featuring her in some deliciously filthy fantasies, but so long as he doesn’t actually touch her, he can hold himself in check. Until the one day Akira pursues him to his writing retreat with a deeply personal request. With just one touch of her hand on his arm years of restraint break free. Now the lines between fantasy and reality are blurring with Jacob only too willing to let Akira show him her brand of shameless pleasure.
Akira is a compelling heroine with all the eroticism of her private life and all the balls-out, barracuda personae of her public one. People say they don’t care what others say or think about them, but Akira really doesn’t care and that is refreshing at the same time that it’s a little sad because of why she doesn’t care. Her parent’s casual cruelty to Akira is shocking. She’s been neglected and emotionally abused by them for so long, she believes she’s actually unlovable but has convinced herself it doesn’t matter. And it truly doesn’t…except for when she perceives Jacob has that same attitude.
As much as Akira is driven to fulfill the bad opinions held of her by society and her horrible parents, Jacob is compelled not to become his father, feckless and shameless to the point of neglecting his children. Jacob’s been lusting after Akira for 10 years, but he’s afraid to give into his erotic imaginings for fear of being so caught up in her, he’ll forget his responsibilities. Forget the people he loves.
There’s so much I like about how this book is written. Rather than dragged out beyond bearing, the big misunderstanding between Jacob and Akira is resolved within the first third of the book and we get right on with the courting. It’s also really, really sexy, especially when Akira initiates Jacob into her notorious house parties. But really, it’s Akira’s characterization that makes me the most happy. She is so confident, so sure of herself even in her extremes. She absolutely does not care what people think of her. She doesn’t back down and she doesn’t apologize. She can be utter unlikable and that’s perfectly okay with her (and, clearly, with Ms. Rai). I’m a big believer in claiming who you are and screw anyone who doesn’t like it, but in actually, it’s incredibly difficult for most of us not to still be affected by the opinions and reactions of people, right or wrong, to our behavior. Akira lives such an ideal full throttle and without apology. She’s got baggage, sure, and while she takes pride in the names people call her, she’s let them convince her she deserves it, that she’s unlovable. But she also knows who she is and does not apologize.
Jacob is a hero worthy of Akira because he doesn’t expect her to apologize. He doesn’t love her in spite of her mouth or her sexual proclivities or her aggressive behavior; he falls for the whole package. When she calls him on blaming her for his shit, he realizes she’s right not in some character-changing epiphany but in contemplative agreement because he’s already that guy, he just had to be reminded of it. Jacob is a total sweetheart, big and rough but gentle and sexy. Really, any man who can manage The Talk with his teenage sister and later discipline her for callously calling another woman “slut” is one to grab hold of.
Years of holding his desires in check has taken its toll, but when Jacob lets loose, he’s completely comfortable in Akira’s world. He never expects her to change, never asks her to tone down her behavior, doesn’t think for one second that he has any influence over how she conducts her life except whether or not he joins her in it. Akira doesn’t have to lose her agency to have Jacob and Jacob doesn’t have to be less manly to be with Akira. The absence of those expectations, even only as a hurdle to be overcome in the story, is vastly refreshing.
Sexy, bittersweet, and with a truly unique heroine, A Gentleman in the Street is an entertaining, must-read.
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