Release Date: September 24, 2018
Received From: Review copy as part of Rose & Thorns review team
By day, Natalie Marshall is the Thorns Ladies’ Social Club’s perfect concierge: resourceful, observant, immaculate. But she turns her phone off when the night concierge arrives, and then she’s Nat: the raunchy lead singer of Vertical Smile—notorious for lewd lyrics and sexually-charged performances.
Rebecca Horvath isn’t used to asking twice—for anything. As the scion of one of Hollywood’s most powerful film dynasties, she’s waited on, pampered, fawned over—spoiled. So when she asks the cute front person of her favorite queer punk band to be her date to a charity auction, she isn’t expecting the whispered “no,” or for the singer to disappear without even thanking her for the martini.
For Natalie, two worlds colliding spells professional catastrophe–her on-stage antics definitely violate the club employees’ standards clause. For it to be Bex Horvath—a perennial gossip-pages feature—who discovers her secret is terrifying.
When the focus of a criminal investigation at work brings Nat’s double life to the attention of her employer, everything spins out of control. Bex is there to prove there’s more to this party girl than meets the eye. Nat might have to trust her with her secrets, but her heart? That’s off limits.
SEXUALITY: lesbian, bisexual
ROMANTIC ORIENTATION: homoromantic, biromantic
TROPES: opposites attract, secret identity, instalust, class disparity
TAGS: adult, contemporary, romance, queer romance, queer characters, fat character, autistic character (secondary character), butch character
WARNINGS: slurs, gendered slurs, dieting mention, exercise/fitness mention, anti-fat language, anti-queer language, drug usage, cheating mention, binary language, self-harm mention, suicide mention, homophobic family mention, alcohol, mental illness (anxiety, panic attack), embezzlement, theft, police/law enforcement, ableism, (semi) public play, suicide attempt mention (explicit description), hospitalization, vomiting mention
With OFF LIMITS, Vanessa North opens the ROSE & THORNS series with a bang! The novel is a lovely mixture of sexy fun and realistic angst, introducing the reader to a world of amazing characters without feeling as most First of a Series novels do. Which is to say it didn’t read as a something that relies too heavily on worldbuilding but instead finds the perfect balance of immersing the reader in the environment around the exclusive club while being heavily character driven.
And speaking of the characters, they are all so exciting to read about! Both the main characters–Nat and Bex–are complex and driven and a little bit broken in their own ways, and they put a lot of importance on family, particularly chosen family. Happy, lovely Bex is driven by a need to take care of the people she loves, which sometimes backfires on her, but she always does what she can to make things right and apologize in any instance where she’s overstepped. Nat lives in a constant state of anxiety–fearing that someone at her day job will discover the punk rock band she sings in with her friends, despite the fact that it’s a violation of the day job’s rules. She tries so hard to balance everything but just fails so miserably that it’s heartbreaking, and so difficult to read her struggling (alongside the intense struggles of her friends and bandmates).
In addition to the two of them, there’s a wonderful cast of characters. Jacks, Ritchie, and Teri–Nat’s bandmates–were dynamic characters in and of themselves, and it was impossible not to become invested in their lives and relationships, as well as that of Nat and Bex. Teri, Farrah, and Bex’s friend Angie were all really well developed female characters, not overshadowing the main two, but still worming their way into your heart, and I am dying to get their books sooner rather than later! And, my favorite character was Karina–an autistic actress, a few years younger than Bex and marrying her father. Karina was so lovely and fun, and I loved how honest she was in all situations. I would absolutely read a prequel story about her and Ben because I love her so much!
One thing I also liked was that, at the beginning, Bex used gender neutral pronouns to refer to Nat until she learned the correct ones, instead of making assumptions about Nat’s gender and potentially applying incorrect–and potentially harmful–pronouns to her.
It’s a great start to the series and I cannot wait for more from North and the other authors writing within the ROSE & THORNS world!
Author of over a dozen novels, novellas, and short stories, Vanessa North delights in giving happy-ever-afters to characters who don’t think they deserve them. Relentless curiosity led her to take up knitting and run a few marathons “just to see if she could.” She started writing for the same reason. Her very patient husband pretends not to notice when her hobbies take over the house. Living and writing in Northwest Georgia, she finds her attempts to keep a quiet home are frequently thwarted by twin boy-children and a very, very large dog.