Book Review: Lust is the Thorn by Jen McLaughlin

Forbidden love is a trope I have a hard time with in contemporary romance. The plot usually involves not being able to date someone because they’re the sister of a best friend or something like that (and meddling family members irritate me to no end). However, I don’t often read a story where a relationship is forbidden because the hero has decided to be a priest.

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I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

One-Sentence Synopsis
A deacon planning to take his priestly vows as penance for something he did eight years before has to fight his feelings for the only woman he’s ever loved. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

The Euphemism of a Name
I should probably mention that I had to get over a little bit of skepticism at the beginning of this book before I really sank my teeth in. First, there was a lot of Rose and Thorn stuff. Meaning the heroine’s name is Rose, the hero’s name is Thorn, and the heroine has a thing for roses with one thorn in them. Symbolism, sure, but my 12-year old brain kept wanting to say things like “I bet he’ll put his thorn in her rose” (I never claimed to be mature). Also, I kept thinking of The Thorn Birds.

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The Danger of Seclusion
Thorn has tried to take care of Rose since her brother died in a car accident they were both in. But Rose has kept parts of her life a secret, so when he’s called in as her emergency contact after she’s attacked and hospitalized, he finds out that she’s been stripping to make ends meet. Because she’s physically hurt and needs someone to take care of her for a few days, Thorn is given access to a large home owned by the priest he’s studying under.

The Barrier of Friendship & Catholicism
Rose knows she’s on her own and she does what she has to to make ends meet. She and Thorn have both grown up poor and abused, and she’s continued the trend of abuse, dating guys who beat her or treat her poorly in other ways. The truth is that Thorn is the only one she’s ever loved, but she can’t have him now that he’s going to take his priestly vows. In truth, she didn’t think she could have him anyway, since she believes he’s never seen her as anything more than his best friends little sister and a good friend.

The Power of Self Loathing
It’s pretty clear where this is going. Even though Thorn hasn’t taken his vows, he’s determined that it’s going to happen, so the guilt he has over his feelings for Rose is strong. I spent a lot of time wondering why he didn’t just say screw it and stay with her, but as the story unfolds, we find out more about his feelings of guilt and the penance he’s chosen for his past actions. It’s also hard to argue with a man who turned to God when things got rough and is now trying to pay things forward the best way he knows how. Thorn isn’t driven completely by guilt. He also wants to help others.

The Matchmaker of God
The priest Thorn studies under is a minor character, but I think he’s one of the key elements of the book. He’s the voice of reason that tells Thorn more than once that he needs to decide if he really wants to be a priest. I’m not sure if its intentional, but the priest also seems to be a bit of a matchmaker. I mean, he lets Thorn take Rose to his secluded mansion where he knows they’re going to be alone and then he makes a special call to let Thorn know they can help themselves to the wine cellar? I think the good Father was playing a little bit of matchmaker there.

The Romance Factor
The romance left me emotional. It’s so obvious how much these two love each other, yet they start out believing the other sees them only as a friend. But even when that’s no longer a barrier, there’s the whole becoming a priest thing that’s difficult to overcome. On Rose’s part, she feels like she’s not good enough to ask Thorn to stay with her, so she makes him leave her alone so she can get on with her life, even though it kills her to do so. And Thorn has a secret that he knows will make Rose hate him once its revealed. So much angst and heartbreak. I loved it! 5/5

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The Steam Factor
Talk about hot! The first naughty scene with Thorn and Rose (which involved him helping her wash because she had to keep her casted arm dry) knocked me on my butt with how erotic it was. Maybe it was the whole forbidden contact thing, but damn! And that was with no actual sex happening. The sexy times were infrequent but powerful, and for my reaction to that first scene alone, I have to rate this one high. 5/5

Final Thoughts
While I found a little bit of humor in the premise, this book is actually dark and there’s a lot of description of the abuse Thorn and Rose went through, as well as the attempted rape that put Rose in the hospital. But I loved the romance between the two characters and the passion they had to underplay with each other because of their life choices. The story quickly erased any skepticism and turned out to be a sweet and sensual read.

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