Virtuous is the first in a three-book series written by Marie Force under the name MS Force. All three books are out on audio (and I will be reviewing them all here at AudioGals), narrated by Brooke Bloomingdale and Cooper North.
While Virtuous ends on a HFN romantically, it does have something of a cliffhanger as regards the rest of the overarching plot. Essentially, this series is Marie Force’s version of the sexy (and kinky) rich dude and the ingenue. Because it is a romantic series and because it features some BDSM, the author chose to publish under a different name, thus signalling to readers that this is different.
Natalie Bryant is a third-grade teacher at a charter school in New York. She moved there from Nebraska where it is clear her life had had its traumas and struggles. Even though it is not spelled out until later in the book, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that at age 15 Natalie was sexually assaulted. The full details aren’t traversed in Virtuous but the listener understands that somehow the event led Natalie to change her name, her appearance and to separate from her parents and younger sisters. She has been alone since she was 15.
Natalie says that she won’t have sex until she’s married but that’s really more of an excuse to put any guys off who might make a move. She doesn’t believe a sexual relationship is in her future because she thinks she is “broken”.
When her dog Fluff runs away into a Manhattan park and Natalie gives chase, she literally runs smack into handsome movie star, Flynn Godfrey, who is shooting a scene there for a forthcoming blockbuster. He is instantly smitten and they end up having coffee and then dinner.
The entire book takes place in just over a week. At just over nine hours of listening time, the story is therefore very, very detailed. Every thought and move of that week is fairly thoroughly examined from both of the main characters’ points of view. At times, it became a little tedious; I wanted things to get moving a little faster. On the other hand, given where they start and where they end up, their relationship moves at light-speed. They are already using the L-word at the end of this book.
Flynn falls hard for Natalie but is worried about what their relationship will mean for his kinky side. He is a Dominant. It is described as an essential part of his sexuality. Given Natalie’s history, however, Flynn doesn’t believe she will ever want to go there with him. Most of the BDSM elements in this book occur in sexy dreams Flynn has – but I expect the hotness will ramp up further as the series progresses.
Part of what I found a little tedious was the push/pull of whether or not the pair would commit to a relationship. First Natalie says she will go out with Flynn. Then she changes her mind. Then Flynn asks her to give him a chance. Then she changes her mind again. Then Flynn thinks there can be no future between them because BDSM and then he changes his mind but then he has second thoughts and then he changes his mind again. All in a week!
I couldn’t help but feel that the book could have been a lot shorter and tighter if some of that “will they/won’t they” was cut.
As Natalie and Flynn start dating, the paparazzi (of course) takes a keen interest and the secrets Natalie thought (very naively) were well-buried come to light. And that is where Virtuous ends. I had been a little worried that they wouldn’t be together at the end, but my concerns were needless, as it happened. I certainly hope that continues and they are still together at the end of the next book also.
Even though I didn’t love the story to pieces, there was enough there to make me want to keep listening and find out what happens to Flynn and Natalie. And, the narration was very good. I recently listened to my first Brooke Bloomingdale performance in Man Candy and I was super-impressed. Not gonna lie – that she was attached to this project prompted my interest in listening. While it’s fair to say that the character she portrayed in Man Candy was far more dynamic, I still found a lot to enjoy in her depiction of Natalie in Virtuous. Natalie is shy and hesitant, fearful of relationships and very private. While those character traits aren’t necessarily attractors to me, Ms. Bloomingdale certainly embodied them and delivered a well-rounded performance which helped me have a little more patience with Natalie than I might otherwise have had.
The story is told from the alternating first person POV of both Natalie and Flynn. Flynn’s POV sections are read by Cooper North. I haven’t had much experience with Mr. North but I enjoyed his narration well enough. He has a mid-toned voice rather than a deep baritone (a la Sebastian York) but he was able to differentiate well between Natalie and Flynn and deliver the tension and emotion of the story.
I preferred the sections from Natalie’s POV purely from a narration perspective but I’m not at all displeased with the prospect of listening to more of Mr. North’s work as I continue the series.
I am hoping that both characters develop into more decisive and dynamic people; that will give each narrator an opportunity to show off even more of their skills and, perhaps more importantly (for me at least), keep my interest level high.
The verdict: A fair start with good narration – let’s see what book two brings and how much the plot moves forward – if there is more action in Valorous I will be a happy Kaetrin.
Book Content: B-
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in (but edging toward For your burning ears only)
Violence Rating: Trigger warning: (off page) rape
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: MS Force
Virtuous was provided to AudioGals by MS Force for a review.