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I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting into when I picked up Beautiful Creatures. Like Twilight, it seems like the kind of YA paranormal romance that people love to hate. Somehow it managed to stay off my radar until now despite being released while I was still teaching high school English, but lately I’ve been wanting to read light, fluffy fun stuff and nothing else and I’ve had to do some targeted browsing to find more of it. Thus Beautiful Creatures appeared one day as I was tunneling deep through a rabbit hole of fantasy stories written for audiences decade(s) younger than me. When I noticed it was set in the South, I was sold. Something about the advent of summer makes me crave books about hot, sticky, swampy places, and if dark secrets and magic are involved, all the better.

And you know what? For the most part, I really enjoyed myself. Beautiful Creatures is a perfectly adequate diversion if that’s what you’re in the market for. If I put on my snobby English major hat, sure, I could pick it apart like a kid in science class armed with a scalpel and presented with a formaldehyde-soaked frog. But why would I want to do that, when I could sit back with a sweating glass of sweet tea, slide on my shades, and let the story of reclusive witches and dark magic wash over me? Which, I should note, is even easier to do if you choose the audio version, read by the silky-voiced Kevin T. Collins in a delightful southern drawl. His voices for the doddering elderly aunts had me in stitches.

I say, if you like it, don’t fight it. Beautiful Creatures is lazy summer fun that goes down like ice cream on a hot afternoon.

I don't read in the romance genre that often, but sometimes the mood strikes and I just want a light, breezy read that I know will end happily. I've read sweet romances and enjoyed them (Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie is the most recent, and it's a total delight), but I hadn't read anything with much of an edge to it.

I can't say that anymore.

I heard about A Gentleman in the Street on NPR, of all places. I'm probably exposing my latent snobbery by admitting this, but I doubt I would have given the book a chance otherwise. Somehow the NPR stamp of approval can legitimize even romance novels in my mind. The commentators gave the book the highest “all the peppers” rating for steaminess, and let me tell you, they were not playing around. It's one of the kinkiest books I've ever read.

But it was so much fun! Alisha Rai breaks the tired and trite romance novel mold in several key ways that I absolutely loved. First, the protagonist, Akira, is a Japanese-American woman. What—a romance novel featuring an interracial couple? It's almost like such couples exist in the real world or something! Secondly, Akira is an international badass businesswoman with a healthy net worth. She doesn't need to chase a man for his money because she has her own, thankyouverymuch. And finally, Rai turns slut-shaming on its head by allowing Akira a substantial sexual appetite and a man who matches her instead of judging her.

All those busted stereotypes make for an empowering and titillating read. I want to be clear, however: this is not the romance novel for your shy, retiring great-aunt Mildred. If there were a romance novel spectrum, this one wouldn't be anywhere near Nora Roberts territory. Like, stand at Nora Roberts and throw this book as far as you can towards E.L. James. But if you don't mind some bad language and even badder behavior, A Gentleman in the Street is a fast, fun fling.