Jodi Ellen Malpas’ latest novel, The Forbidden, is hella complicated. It hurts, it’s infuriating, but it’s REAL, romantic, and addictive too. Let’s discuss!
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
[For Mature Audiences; Some Major Spoilers]
Last night as I was on Twitter, one of my fave authors retweeted a “Happy book birthday” message for Jodi Ellen Malpas (JEM). I knew that her latest novel, The Forbidden was released during this week… that title and stunning book cover certainly stand out. Plus, we’d published a spotlight on The Forbidden this week too. I went to the post, and lucky for me, there was an excerpt, and it was JUICY. I didn’t know anything about these characters, but I knew the chemistry was intense, so much so that the fact that their relationship was a “no-go”, wasn’t enough to stop them (and us) from wanting more. But before I could read this book, I just *had* to know why their relationship was forbidden.
As I’ve said many times, taboo romance is my weakness. I just enjoy experiencing an attraction that’s so strong, and the moral ambiguity and secrecy only enhances my tummy flutters. But I always find that it’s much better to go in to taboo romances with your eyes WIDE open. It helps with managing expectations, and allowing you, as a reader to enjoy the novel for what it is. For this reason, my review will be a bit more spoilery than usual…
After a deep-dive through 3 star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads (not too effusive, not too critical), I learned the taboo. The hero was a married man. Now, usually romance novels predicated on cheating are a non-starter for me, but the reviews had me so intrigued. Despite being deeply anti-infidelity, these reviewers shared that, for some reason, they couldn’t put down The Forbidden once they started. The book was just that compelling.
So, again, with my eyes WIDE open, I started reading at 11pm… and when I finished the book at 5:40am, I was completely blown away, devastated, physically and emotionally exhausted, and so, so pleased. The Forbidden is controversial, that’s for sure, and JEM acknowledges in an opening note to the reader. But it’s also a potent story that embodies the reality that “the course of true love never did run smooth.” The Forbidden is hella complicated. It hurts, it’s infuriating, but it is REAL and romantic and addictive, just like that stunning, sticky web on the book cover. I love this book!
Annie Ryan is living her best life. At 29, she’s already an up-and-coming architect who’s making a name for herself in London. Annie has her own firm, she’s taking on several new clients, including her dream project. Plus, she’s just moved into her own home. Sure, romance isn’t really on her radar right now, but that’s OK. Annie is investing in herself, her work, as well as her quirky circle of family and friends. Yah, Annie is happy. Besides, if a guy is really for her, the attraction will be able to divert her attention from work. And when she crosses paths with Jack Joseph at a local bar, he completely knocks her off kilter. The chemistry is instantaneous, the physical and emotional reactions are overwhelming. She’s single, he’s not wearing a wedding band, and with tequila weakening her inhibitions, Annie goes for it. And LAWD HAVE MERCY, their encounter is red-hot:
There’s a road between us –him standing on one kerb, me on the other, cars whizzing on by between us. And when he steps into the road, having a quick check for traffic, I start backing up as he comes closer, until my back’s pressed into a brick wall. My breathing is shot to bits and my body is trembling like a flame in the breeze. When he reaches me, both of his palms land on the wall on either side of my head. I’m staring at his neck, afraid to lift my eyes to his face now that he’s this close.
‘Why didn’t I carry on walking home?’ he asks, his frustration clear and present. ‘Why the fuck didn’t I just carry on walking?’
Because you felt it too, I scream in my head, feeling dizzy from the intoxicating smell of him –his closeness, the light skim of his groin across my dress. His hard stare drills holes into me as his face slowly lowers towards mine.
I hold my breath and let him brush his lips lightly over mine, our eyes still open and locked. My breath stutters, as does his. Then he pulls away a few inches, his tongue running across his bottom lip, as if tasting what he’s just had. His chest forces against mine from his deep inhale. ‘Tell me to go,’ he whispers, the demand licking its way from the base to the top of my spine. ‘Tell me.’
‘Not a fucking chance.’
‘Ever experienced this before?’ he asks quietly. ‘The chemistry, the need?’
‘No.’ My answer is easy and it’s the truth.
‘Me neither. ’He steps forward and cages me against the window, picking up on the crazy, passionate kiss he started in the street and continued in the lift. My mind swims with pleasure. He’s naked. I’m naked. We’re touching everywhere that two people can touch, his erection wedged against my lower stomach, pulsing in time with my body. He moans around my lips, his hands sliding down to my bum and onto my thighs, squeezing constantly. I lock his wide shoulders in my arms and let him at me. A swift tug hauls me up to his waist on a whimper, his cock poised and ready to enter me. The glass behind me is becoming slippery, my back sliding across the smooth surface as a result of my dampening skin…
‘We should stop.’
He takes my hands from his shoulders and pushes them up the glass, releasing my mouth briefly to bite my lip before plunging his tongue deep again, exploring far and wide.
‘We need to stop.’
‘We do,’ I confirm through my pleasure, letting him thread his fingers with mine above my head, his lips kissing their way across my cheek and into my neck.
‘Tell me to stop,’ he demands weakly and with zero conviction, sucking and biting at my flesh.
‘Oh God!’ I breathe, slamming my head against the glass behind me, my thighs tightening around his waist again.
‘Jack, you need to stop.’
‘I will. You want me to?
He swivels his hips and enters me on a ragged shout of satisfaction, his teeth clamped lightly around the flesh of my neck. My whole world explodes into a haze of powerful pleasure as I scream to the ceiling, a long, despairing, satisfied scream…
…Against the window, on the desk, sitting on the edge of the bed, me straddling him, Jack above me. Him gazing down at me. His light chuckles as I stroked his back. His words. His kisses. And then the explosive sex all over again –in the shower, against the bathroom door, back in this bed. I reach up and feel my damp hair, then clench my thighs, wincing at the soreness.
Though Annie means for this to be a one-night stand, she can’t forget Jack and keeps reliving her evening with him. But when she least expects it, Jack slams back into her life. Jack is married and he is also the contractor on her dream project that’s just getting underway. FUUUUUUUUUUCK.
Annie promises herself she’ll stay away, she knows she deserves better, and even if Jack might be having marital issues, she knows that she has no place in his marriage, no matter what. But despite her most valiant attempts to keep things professional, Annie does get to know Jack, to witness the passion for his work, how in sync they are on this project. He wants to know her, he supports her professional success, he pursues her. Jack is Annie’s perfect man… who is married. FUUUUUUUUUUCK. Annie drives herself crazy trying to stay away. It wears her down, and when she gives in, we know that whatever joy she experiences will be tinged with guilt.
First, I need to say that JEM’s writing is so on point. I think that’s the majority of why I enjoy this book as much as I do. The writing just flows and there’s never a “down” or wasted moment. The portrayal of these characters and their hella complicated relationships is incredibly well-done. As you can imagine, there are so many back-and-forths, will they/won’t they, resisting/surrendering, but JEM illustrates this all with such depth. There are moments where I feel like I’m watching a movie because her words bring these emotional complexities to life so vividly.
For example, even though I began this book knowing that Jack is married, the reveal to Annie (and the reader) made me gasp out-loud. It was a whammy, so much so, I put my kindle down and had to take laps around my apartment, whispering “FUUUUUUUUUUCK” to myself for like 5 minutes. In fact there are several moments through the night I would repeat this. Mercy.
As you can probably tell from my summary, I am very sympathetic with Annie. Perhaps it’s because we’re both young(ish), single, professional women, out here trying to make our dreams come true in the professions we love. I understand Annie’s pseudo-aversion to relationships, which is why when she meets a man who knocks her off her feet, I want this for her. But damn it, he’s married! At the same time, being in Annie’s mind, witnessing her confusion and turmoil… it’s so compelling. I never dislike Annie, not once. There are times I want to smack sense into her, beg her to be more firm standing up to Jack’s pursuit. But I also experience the passion. Every single time (EVERY SINGLE TIME) Annie is in a room with Jack, I literally have tummy flutters, my toes tingle, and I get a little light-headed. UGH. No… I couldn’t be mad at Annie.
At the same time, I can’t say that I really like Jack. I appreciate the way he supports Annie in her professional life. And soon we learn that the circumstances he’s living under are really terrible… we’re talking abuse and manipulation. I feel for the man. But for me, I wanted more from Jack. Typically, while I like possessiveness in a hero, in this case, it feels so hypocritical. If Annie is the love of his life and he isn’t just looking to get off with another woman, she deserves honesty and full disclosure. If they’re in this affair together, a situation that’s not optimal in any way, then she can’t be left in the dark about certain things, especially if Jack wants Annie’s trust. Yet, that’s not real life.
With that said, there is something that stands out to me. Have you noticed how in romance novels, during sexy times scenes, the woman is almost always naked first? In The Forbidden, in almost every sexual encounter, Jack undresses first. It’s just something that I notice. I’m not sure if JEM does it purposefully, but I really like that detail. It feels like Jack is willing to make himself vulnerable to Annie first. Perhaps it’s a concession he makes to her to acknowledge the terrible situation he’s putting her in. Maybe…? Repeatedly Annie acknowledges that her relationship with Jack will bear a huge cost.
The Forbidden does have an HEA, but damn it, the physical and emotional sacrifices Annie and Jack make still breaks my heart. Truth be told, as I neared the end of the book, it felt like I was reading a suspense novel with some major twists and reveals. Ultimately The Forbidden depicts how messy this life can be–messy, convoluted, risky, and neurotic. But again, “the course of true love never did run smooth.” And if you’re in the mood for a novel like this, then The Forbidden is so MUSTREAD, because JEM does it like a dynamo.