Review: It Stings So Sweet by Stephanie Draven

Tuesday, February 12

Title: It Stings So Sweet*
Author: Stephanie Draven      
Series: n/a
Genre: Historical Erotic Romance w/ BDSM elements
Publisher: Berkley Heat
Format: Trade paperback & E-book
Date/Year: February 5, 2013
Reviewed by: Michele

*This book was provided to the reviewer by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary from the publisher:

They vibrated with incendiary Jazz. They teemed with sexual abandon.

The Twenties were roaring and the women--young, open, rebellious, and willing--set the pace and pushed the limits with every man they met... In the aftermath of a wild, liquor-soaked party, three women from very different social classes are about to live out their forbidden desires.

Society girl, Nora Richardson's passionate nature has always been a challenge to her ever-patient husband. Now he wants out of the marriage and she has just this one night to win him back. The catch? He wants to "punish" her for her bad behavior. Nora is offended by her husband's increasingly depraved demands, but as the night unfolds, she discovers her own true nature and that the line between pain and pleasure is very thin indeed.

Meanwhile, Clara Cartwright, sultry siren of the silent screen, is introduced to a mysterious WWI Flying Ace. If Clara, darling of the scandal sheets, knows anything, it's men. And she's known plenty. But none of them push her boundaries like the aviator, who lures her into a menage with a stranger in a darkened cinema then steals her jaded heart.

Working class girl Sophie O'Brien has more important things on her mind than pleasures of the flesh. But when her playboy boss, the wealthy heir to the Aster family fortune, confronts her with her diary of secret sex fantasies, she could die of shame. To her surprise, he doesn't fire her; instead, he dares her to re-enact her boldest fantasies and Sophie is utterly seduced.

One party serves as a catalyst of sexual awakening. And in an age when anything goes, three women discover that anything is possible...

My Musings:

Stephanie Draven is a new author for me, but after reading It Stings So Sweet, I know I’ll be seeking out more books by her. She writes so beautifully and sets the scene so precisely that I was captivated by the opening pages before anything had actually happened. What did happen after those opening pages was told so well that I actually went back and read the whole book through again the next day, just so I could be a part of that world one more time.

Each story in It Stings So Sweet features a non-traditional couple who meet in an unconventional way to find that they are supremely sexually compatible by daring means. These adjectives are fitting, since they also describe the Roaring Twenties era itself: non-traditional, unconventional, daring. Social and sexual barriers were being tested and those with the courage to go after the happiness they sought were the most daring of them all.

"With his dark hair slicked back and the lightest hint of a mustache over his full, brooding lips, he is the most striking man in this or any room. He is also my husband, or at least he will be, until morning."

In the first story, Nora and Jonathan Richardson have been married for over a year, but not happily. They had married under duress and he was well beneath her social class, which never bothered her but bothered him every single day. Jonathan tried changing himself entirely to be the husband he thought she should have, not realizing that what she wanted was what he had been. When Nora finally provokes him into action, the results upset more than just the fancy Hollywood party they attend together the night before Jonathan has promised to walk out on her for good. What happens after they return home may be extremely difficult for some to read, but to me it worked perfectly for their characters and made their final decision even more deliciously emotional.

“I don’t fall in love, Mr. Vanderberg. When I take a man to bed, it’s got everything to do with the size of his bank account and what he’s got between his legs.”

In the second story, Clara Cartwright is the biggest silent film star in Hollywood and temporary mistress of a man guaranteed not to fall in love with her. After her movie premiere party is nearly ruined by another couple’s marital upset, she is introduced to Leo Vanderberg, a genuine World War One flying ace and compellingly attractive man with definite plans for Clara.  Clara prefers to keep her relationships light, financially rewarding and temporary. Leo intends to be the man who breaks all three of her rules. The provocative ways he breaks through her walls of cynicism and doubt belie the deep emotions he hides from her until she’s ready to admit to hers.

"The sudden brutal exposure of my forbidden thoughts cuts me open with desire. I’m bleeding embarrassment and arousal in equal measure."

The final story is about how a slight but tenacious Irish shopgirl not only manages to organize her fellow workers into taking on the fancy hotel’s management for better treatment while at the same time catching the eye and ultimately, the heart of the hotel chain’s heir. If only Sophie hadn’t left her journal of extreme sexual fantasies in the same work locker with her incendiary unionizing materials, that man would have never been able to get her naked...and worse! But both she and he have denied their true sexual natures long enough, and it’s time they realized what they can do for themselves and each other, social classes and expectations be damned.

What makes It Stings So Sweet different from so many other romances I’ve read isn’t just the quality of the author’s writing, but the decisions she’s made on when to set the story and how to structure the plot. I can’t recall having read any other historical erotic romances set in the Roaring Twenties, let alone those with any noticeable elements of BDSM in them. And although there have been a few anthologies out lately where three authors collaborate to provide an interlocking story arc between three or more segments, this book features the same type of story structure from a single author. All three couples either appear or are mentioned in each of the three stories, with one notable individual appearing in all three. I don’t want to be more specific than that because I know I enjoyed the surprise and I wouldn’t want to ruin that for anyone else.

Each couple faces more than just their own weaknesses and misunderstandings to get to their happy ending. They have to rise beyond an antiquated but still constrictive social class structure, as well as regressive ideas of how men and women should behave - most especially women - and what society thinks of people who live and love outside their predestined boxes. Ultimately love is what brings each of the couples together and each happy ending is all the sweeter for the trouble they went through to get there.

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to read It Stings So Sweet and I hope that Stephanie Draven will continue to choose the unconventional settings and non-traditional storylines for her daring characters. This was easily the best book I’ve read so far this year.


Overall: 5
Sensuality level: 5
(domestic discipline, public sex, M/F/M menage, one F/F scene)

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Jenese L February 13, 2013 at 12:32 PM  

I totally loved this book. :-)

Alexa February 13, 2013 at 11:42 PM  

Darn I was so interested until you said it was multiple stories. I really don't like a bunch of shorter relationships being shoved into one book

Thanks for the great review, I'm glad that you enjoyed the stories

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