Dirty Letters by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward

28 July 2021
Dirty Letters Book Cover Dirty Letters
Vi Keeland, Penelope Ward,
Montlake Romance
5 November 2019

From New York Times bestselling authors Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward comes an unexpected love story that starts long before the lovers meet.

I’d never forgotten him—a man I’d yet to meet.

Griffin Quinn was my childhood pen pal, the British boy who couldn’t have been more different from me. Over the years, through hundreds of letters, we became best friends, sharing our deepest, darkest secrets and forming a connection I never thought could break.

Until one day it did.

Then, out of the blue, a new letter arrived. A scathing one—one with eight years of pent-up anger. I had no choice but to finally come clean as to why I stopped writing.

Griffin forgave me, and somehow we were able to rekindle our childhood connection. Only now we were adults, and that connection had grown to a spark. Our letters quickly went from fun to flirty to downright dirty, revealing our wildest fantasies. So it only made sense that we would take our relationship to the next level and see each other in person.

Only Griff didn’t want to meet. He asked that I trust him and said it was for the best. But I wanted more—more Griff, in the flesh—so I took a big chance and went looking for him. People have done crazier things for love.

But what I found could change everything.

Hello my friends, welcome to the 2nd review of my compare and contrast series. This comparison and contrast are on the Romance Subgenres of Clean and Dirty romance. Today we do the review for the Dirty Romance. Last week was the Clean, and you can check out my review on my blog. Just search “Mrs. Y Book Reviews” in your browser, and it is there!

Today’s review is on “Dirty Letters” by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward. This is an Audible performance that I purchased with my subscription to Audible. I chose this entirely on my own. Now, a bit of a curtain back, I have read this dynamic duo of authors before in a previous book, and I liked it, so that’s partially why I chose this book. I find the title entirely to the point of why I was doing the comparison, and I liked their other novel, so here we are.

To start this review, I’m going to go into some critiques. Firstly, there was a pacing issue for me initially. This book has a slow beginning and a bit of a slow ending. There is plenty of good pacing in the 2nd act and the beginning of the third act, but that first act was entirely set up for establishment, and it dragged. I know why, and I understand why, but if you were getting into this romance thinking you’d have the target couple in your sites quickly, you are going to be in for a mistake. That said, I’m only saying this is a critique because I felt this broke from more traditional romances, both dirty and clean, and the formula was a tad different. I liked it, but if you are the type who likes your romance novel plotting to be consistent, this may jar you a bit.

Again, I didn’t find it so bad. Pro-tips to my friends who like a formulary approach to Romance or even Mystery, sometimes it’s okay now and again for a fresh take to the rhythm, in my opinion. If you struggle, don’t worry, it’s okay; the second and third acts are almost perfectly on par. The third act does have a different take to the ending of most, but it also works very well for the story, and I won’t kick it out of bed. (No pun intended.)

Let’s go to my following critique. This one has to do with a story structure issue. I’m not going to give spoilers, but essentially here is the problem I had. The letters the couple sends to each other have a very distinct tone to them. After listening to the book, I understand the letters were written first, and the story fit in around them. The reason I say this, there are times the letters feel tonally entirely different to the character who supposedly wrote them. Now, eventually, it’s smoothed over in the edit with the way the narration goes, but there are so many little things that don’t feel right to the characters. And no spoilers, but the big one for me was the Ferby discussion. It eventually becomes a mulligan needed in the plot. Still, the introduction was jarring and made no sense to the tone of the character I had just spent so much time and heartbreak with. I mean, really jarring, way out of the left field, and I had to go back and listen again to make sure I hadn’t gotten it wrong.

I’m fine if things are plotted out, but things like that specific letter and passage and some others just felt very out of place at times. I have no idea how or what the fix is for that either. It wasn’t just one thing, nor is it tied to sexual things, nor is it even oversized items. These out-of-place pieces were many little things, generally preferences that the characters had specifically for some things they enjoyed. The only spoiler one I will talk about is this. One of the characters said that due to something happening, they do not like music. Later on, the other character asks them a music question. I kept thinking, “Oh, how sad this will be when that person finds out they do not like music,” and, well, that didn’t happen. They blew past the quirk.

So it’s akin to, you meet a person, you see how they live, and then out of the blue, they tell you that they do something or like something, that doesn’t fit whom they have presented. And then the other person does that as well. And sure, we can smooth it over with “Personal preferences,” but, at the same time, the image of the person presented doesn’t make that preference make sense at times. So there you go. That’s a critique. I’m sure I cannot be the only one who found some of the letters jarring.

Now to what I did love about “Dirty Letters,” we start with the character building. These characters are believable, not cliche at all, have absolute truth to them, and come across well (except in letters at times). Yes, my critique stands, but the warmth and sadness, as well as the character depth of each specific person, resonates. No one character, not even NPC characters, is without heart and blood. I found the work done was deep and lasting. I found the relationships realistic. I found the chemistry accurate of every character in their respective relationships.

Next, the thing that sold this book for me was the honest talk about mental illness, how that could affect relationships, long-term and short-term, and how tough it can be to be a caregiver. I know this is out of the blue, but I love this aspect of the story so much. To me, there was so much depth from this aspect alone. And yes, it’s a romance novel, but I was not at all expecting to see a realistic depiction of caregiving. Fun fact, I know a lot about loving someone who has trouble trying to leave the house. No, it wasn’t an ex or the current Mr. Y., but I had a family member with troubles. Novels like this, who bring mental illness and how it affects the people with it and who love them, help destigmatize the entire problem by reaching out for help. I think that was great, and I would love to see more books be honest about topics like this. Without advertising this book as one with a mental illness aspect, they seamlessly put this topic into the writing without making it uncomfortable or awkward. Both writers are writing a book just about a real relationship that can happen.

Okay, so this is a romance novel, and thus, a dirty one by the subgenera, so the question comes up. How was the sex scene or scenes in the novel? I found the scenes were realistic, had great chemistry, had true passion behind the words, and were rather hot. I didn’t find the scenes distracting with improbable positions that break physics. Nor was Newton there shaking his head about the laws he wrote for gravity, forgotten in the manuscript. Sex scenes should be believable and hot; that’s all they need to be. I liked them for what they were. I also loved the kisses and intimate holding and touching just as much and felt that this made a realistic relationship on paper.

Lastly, I think the narration combo was sublime. Andi Arndt and Jacob Morgan worked together on this story, alternating the points of view on the story and making it a beautiful performance. Both have these vulnerabilities, and both have dynamic strengths in the story that harmoniously move together. Sometimes in a chapter, both voices are heard. It depends on if there is a letter or not, and other times it’s not that way. I loved how they worked together, and I felt that they made this entire novel very special.

So with that in mind and all the scoring that I do, I’m giving “Dirty Letters” a score of 89/100, which is a 4-star review on Goodreads, Audible, and my blog. Please stay tuned on my blog to compare and contrast this book and the Clean Romance book I reviewed last week!

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley

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