Book Review: Never Sweeter by Charlotte Stein

I realize that not everyone is going to have my same reaction to this book, so please take what I say as my opinion and not a guarantee that you’ll feel the same. The day after I read this book, I was so emotional I could hardly stand it, not just because it stabbed me in every single feel I had, but because I didn’t want to read anything else after it. I really just wanted to go back to the beginning and read this one again.

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

One-Sentence Synopsis
A young woman is terrified to find that her high school bully is in her college class and will be her partner for a project, but she starts to find a side of him that she never expected. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

Painful Experiences
Letty was horribly bullied in high school, and she carries the effects of that with her. She’s scared of everyone when she first meets them and has a low self-esteem. Even though she’s out of high school and in college where she believes she’s now away from her bullies, what happened in high school has ingrained itself to her personality and existence.

Turning It All Around
Tate is the one that Letty always saw as the ringleader of her tormentors, so when she sees him in her cinema class, she freaks out, and rightly so. All she can think is that he’s there to harass her again, to make her life hell because he obviously didn’t get enough of it in high school. But Tate has his own reasons for being there, and those reasons are not about hurting Letty. In fact, he reaches out to her, but when she tells him she wants him to stay away, he does, going so far as to try to take their shared class from the hallway to make sure she feels at ease.

Things Change
The bullying was never made to seem less than it was or romanticized. Tate was cruel, but as Letty gets to know him, she sees the ways in which he’s changed and she starts to trust him, eventually finding herself falling for him. Even then, their past haunts them. Though Letty starts to believe she can trust him, it doesn’t take much for her to fall back into that fear and belief that he’s only trying to hurt her. As for Tate, he wants nothing more than to get close to Letty, but his actions in high school have far reaching consequences, and she’s unwilling to bend to him easily.

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Redemption
Tate never tries to justify his past actions. He knows he was horrible and messed up, but he never tries to get Letty to forget about it. I don’t even think he ever actively asks her to forgive him. Instead, he tries to treat her as well as he possibly can, showing her that he has changed and that he in no way wants to ever hurt her again. Though the story is told from Letty’s point of view, we get to know Tate right along with her and see all the things and insecurities he’s been hiding about himself. I mean, the guy has body issues, and while that’s no excuse for him teasing Letty in high school about her weight, there is that subtle insinuation that everything mean he ever did or said to her was an internalization of what he didn’t like or was trying to hide about himself.

Emotions All Over the Place
Though the bullying is disturbing and depressing, the story itself isn’t necessarily sad. Yet the author writes such great emotion that I felt exhausted and wrecked at the end (in a good way, of course). I was completely satisfied, but there were tears, and I had a really hard time leaving this book.

The Romance Factor
While I hated that Tate had been mean to Letty in the past, I was completely wrapped up in the relationship they formed, mostly because almost everything Tate did screamed of earning redemption and trying not to hurt someone he had fallen in love with. He treats her with so much care, it was hard not to get emotional. There are times when Letty catches him doing something when he doesn’t know she’s watching, like keeping a scribbled note she’d written while they were studying.  It felt like every kind thing she did to him and every time she seemed to trust him a little more meant the world to him. I seriously got weepy. 6/5

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The Steam Factor
So the project they have to work on together is about sex in cinema, which means that “research” is watching steamy movies where sex plays a key role. You know what happens when two people who have an attraction for each other sit really close on a bed and watch hot movies? Stuff gets out of control in a really good way. There is a slow burn of foreplay between Letty and Tate that goes on in a way that’s sweet and highly sensual yet still extremely dirty. 6/5

Final Thoughts
The only issue I had was more of a technical issue (possibly due to this being an advanced proof of the book). There were times when the dialogue continued and I lost track of who was talking. But otherwise, I am completely in love with this book. I had to fight the urge to re-read right away, but I’ll be pulling this back out in a few months for another reading for sure.

Book Review: Naked by Gina Gordon

One of the things I strongly relate to is a heroine with self-esteem issues, maybe not so much now since I tend to have a high opinion of myself most days, but I remember when I wasn’t that confident. Probably because I’m projecting, I tend to get a little irritated with characters for not getting it together. Having said that, even with that minor annoyance, I really enjoyed this book.

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

One-Sentence Synopsis
A young woman, scarred from an accident, engages in a fling with her neighbor, determined to explore her sexuality while still hiding the “deformities” the accident left her with. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

In a Man’s World
Violet, the aforementioned heroine, is mostly awesome. She’s been raised to take over her father’s construction company and has a love for commercial construction even though it’s seen as a man’s industry. She also has a natural curiosity about sex and wants to explore her wild side, something her fiance wouldn’t do with her before he was killed in a car crash. Because it was this conversation they were having when the accident happened, Violet carries around some guilt.

Dedicated to Hiding
Sadly, Violet is also too afraid to show anyone her scars, including her family. I’m not entirely sure how realistic it is that she hid all of her scars from her family and friends for so long. I mean, I think it’s possible, sure, but that takes a lot of commitment. Then again, Violet had some major self-confidence issues, many of them from her mother who’s always hailed her beauty as her best feature and seems to disapprove of her taking over the company. I had moments where Violet’s constant belief that she was ugly…and then her need to get mad at those people who told her she was still beautiful…annoyed me.

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The Guy Next Door
The hero, Noah, is endearing from the moment he fakes a fall to get Violet’s attention. Okay, so it sounds a little extreme, but it turns out okay. Noah is carrying around his own issues. He feels like he’s letting his dad’s memory down by not going into business for himself, and he doesn’t want to get into a relationship because his last one ended with the woman deciding he wasn’t good enough for her. He has one douchecanoe moment, but otherwise, he’s a good guy.

Grrrl Power
One of the best characters in the book is one that I think will have her own story in this series later, and that’s Harper, a woman who’s not only super comfortable with herself but spends her time helping other women feel hot. She’s kind of my hero. As a side note, I read the author’s acknowledgement at the end and was surprised that she admitted to having her own self-esteem issues and had written Harper as her complete opposite. That bit of honesty rocked my world.

The Romance Factor
Class differences are things I’ve seen often in historical romances, but I liked the take on it in this contemporary novel. Violet is rich, though she keeps it a secret from Noah, and of course Noah has issues with being seen as less than by a woman he’s dating. While this doesn’t sound romantic on paper, it leads to angst and conflict. Beyond that, there are moments of sweetness that made me melt. Noah’s constant respect for Violet’s need to not expose herself was great, and even though I was annoyed with her (get naked already, woman!), he maintained pretty well. 4/5

The Steam Factor
Considering part of the plot of this book was Violet wanting to be a little more naughty, this book definitely brought the heat where the sexy times were concerned, including quite a bit of public sex. Seems Violet has a thing for it. 5/5

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Final Thoughts
For as unsure of herself as Violet is, at the end she gets pretty kick-ass. I enjoyed this book, and I liked the development of Violet coming out of her self-issues. I enjoyed the side characters and am looking forward to reading more in this series.