Multiple Winters of Discontent

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday, or maybe Wednesday? This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

Scrolling through my TBR, I found two books, published a week apart, about protagonists named Winter. And, since in a previous life I was apparently one of those people who drive behind ambulances to avoid traffic jams, every book on my Kindle is dark romance these days. So which book beats up and molests an innocent woman better: Winter’s Storm by Deja Brown, or Hunting Winter by Ivy Thorn?

At the start of Winter’s Storm, Winter is working a dead-end job when she gets an invitation to her step family reunion. Her alarmingly well-informed coworker insists that she should go, since she’s probably over wanting to bone her step brother. The rest of the first chapter is a whirlwind flashback that progresses from the image of her parents being killed in a car accident when she’s seven, to making out with hot, blue-eyed Kyle. There are butterflies from the beginning, but the crescendo is the classic trope of rescuing a girl from getting raped by Chad on prom night. Naturally Kyle is furious about what almost happened to his sister, and emotional, so he expresses this by kissing his Bun Buns. Oh, right, he calls his kid sister Bun Buns.

Meanwhile, in Hunting Winter, Winter wakes up tied to a smelly, dead-end mattress, in pain and with a bad case of amnesia. A man walks in, and through the blood and panic Winter instantly notices that he is drop dead gorgeous. At no point does she describe any of this man’s actions without prefacing it with a fawning account of his piercing blue eyes. He looks down at her and says simply “you’re mine.” It turns out that Gabriel is in a biker gang, caught up in some dicey local politics. There’s been a bloody coup, and Winter lost her memory as she was dragged from the burning aftermath. Once stuck up and too good for a man like Gabriel, now she is scraps to be snatched up by anyone with hot enough desire and blue enough eyes. But of course Winter doesn’t remember any of this, so Gabriel decides to Overboard her. The story is, he rescued her from a bad accident, which of course explains the restraints and lack of proper medical attention.

Now firmly rooted in the present day, we learn that Kyle has been obsessed with Winter his whole life, to the point that other women are basically Fleshlights to him. As he puts it, “I need my Bun Buns.” At the reunion, the sexual tension is immediate, to the delight and frustration of both parties. They sneak a few make out sessions under their parents’ noses, have a few jealous fights, and just generally act like any young lovers in a romance novel. Deja Brown really takes her time with oral sex scenes, which I feel is unusual in these kinds of books, but that might be my imagination. But all is not well. I mean, obviously, but even less is well than I’ve already described. In addition to being bummed that his love for Winter can never lead to a real family with marriage and kids, Kyle has (an additional) deep, dark secret. The shadowy cabal he works for is looking for him, and they are not happy, despite all the buckets of cash he’s made for and from them. The rebellious bad boy with a money market account, truly the distaff version of the Madonna/whore complex. I don’t want to spoil too much of the later chapters of Winter’s Storm, but it does eventually get pretty crazy once the cartel gets involved. This is a dark romance, so you know there’s gonna be miscarriages, immediate replacement pregnancies, people getting shot and dying, people getting shot and not dying, this Winter even gets tied down at one point, like her biker slave counterpart.

The vibe of Hunting Winter follows a similar track of domestic melodrama punctuated by criminal activity. Winter and Gabriel are constantly fight-fucking, with the narration always careful to remind us that any time Winter is putting up some token tee-hee resistance, she is re-enacting the Vajont dam collapse in her pants. “Everything about him screams predator,” muses Winter, but he is “dangerously hot.” Sometimes she fears his anger, but blames herself for provoking him. After all, he never hurts her in a way she doesn’t like. While her friends are insisting that if she loves him, it will all be worth it, the various biker gangs are playing a massive chess game with Winter as a pawn. Gabrielle defends her from danger, primarily because she makes his dick twitch. In every scene. Winter will say something he likes, and we’re told that this caused an immediate kinetic reaction in the man’s penis. This guy’s dick is more expressive than a pair of boobs in a Game of Thrones book. It could have a whole conversation in semaphore. It could play jazz drums like that kid from Whiplash.

So how do we compare these two books? Since the content is nearly identical, I think it comes down to style. Winter’s Storm was slightly more fun to read, because the writing was less polished. Let me be more specific, because you might read that and think “Oh, Madeline’s poking fun at someone who’s trying, because she’s such a failure herself.” Well, that’s mostly accurate, but while I did find it amusing when the characters call a psychotic jerk “you psychic jerk,” that’s not what I mean. It’s a common pitfall for new authors to write every character in the same register, and the same dialect, whatever he or she finds most natural. I don’t want to assume too much about Deja Brown, but somehow Winter’s rural white step family all speak exclusively in AAVE. They say “She mad” instead of “she is mad,” “he favorite” instead of “his favorite,” and they’re all really excited about Teyana Taylor. For some reason, I found this delightful. More redneck erasure in my dark romances, please.

The writing in Hunting Winter is more deliberate. Ivy Thorn knows exactly how penises operate, how unhealthy relationships form, and how generic middle class white people talk, and she tells you succinctly, so she can make room for more dubiously consensual finger banging in a bathtub. Eventually Winter’s memories come flooding back to her, and although I had been pretty checked out (and even started to forget that Gabriel was still Overboarding her twenty chapters in), that last chapter where she recalls how she came to be tied down and injured is some of the most effective sequel bait I’ve seen in the first installment of a series lately. Overall, though, it just wasn’t fun. Maybe it’s better if you’re looking for efficient ratios of “you belong to me, now get spanked” per page. Or if you’re looking for a good deal; Winter’s Storm is ten dollars on Kindle, and Hunting Winter is only five dollars at nearly twice the length.

He penised down the hall, penisly, his penis penising up a penis.

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