Editorial Reviews – Craved

 

5 Star Review by Anita Lock for Pacific Book Review pacific book review 5 stars

In the long-awaited sequel to Twisted, Julia and her two older sisters have left Europe and are working as exotic dancers in a Cape Town strip joint. Whatever hopes Julia has of finding a rewarding sex job in her new location are quickly dashed when she receives one client rejection after another. Convinced that she is not cut out to be a stripper, she plans to leave her sisters behind and return to Europe. An accident involving her dad changes the course of history and Julia uses her hard-earned plane ticket money toward medical expenses. But with ongoing familial problems, she has to find a way to make it work in the sex-entertainment industry since this is her only form of income. Ultimately, Julia becomes overwhelmed while desperately seeking control of her circumstances and well-being. The question remains, can she do that without the aide of her sisters as well as drugs?

To those new to Lola Smirnova’s literary style, the rising author does not mince words. Inspired by real-life events, Smirnova’s first person narrative is heavily laced in a mixture of vulgarity and sarcastic lingo to reflect the stark realities of life in the sex underworld. Spoken through Julia, Smirnova portrays her featured character and the youngest of three sisters, as beautiful and intelligent, but lacking self-esteem. And as ironic as it is to make loads of cash, Julia is often stigmatized as trash, which only magnifies her sense of worthlessness. She longs for a better life, yet she has no idea how to successfully achieve that.

Compared to hopeful moments in Twisted—the first in Smirnova’s trilogy—Craved is definitely dark and dismal. But amid the dystopian environ, Smirnova does a stellar job lightening her plot with Julia’s snarkiness, which is reflected in her running-commentary thought processes as well as through dialogue. Hilarious examples respectively are found in a work description with one of her clients (“If this is a lap dance then I am a bloody astronaut!”) and her consistent exclamations of “unf**ingbelievable”—reminiscent of Vizzini’s “inconceivable” remarks in the well-known comedy film “The Princess Bride.”

While chapters are replete with graphic scenes of Julia and a host of rather “colorful” clients amid her tumultuous personal and familial situations, unique to Smirnova’s plot is the paradoxical portrayal of Cape Town’s legal and moral mores and the corrupt sex entertainment industry, which focuses on everything erotically conceivable short of copulation. Julia compares the scandalous system to the addictive claw machine that constantly grabs for the prize, but never reaches satisfactory attainment. It creates the illusion that the client owns the toy, but then the illusion crashes “soon after the dancer hears ‘no’ to the next lap dance and moves on to another client.”

Closing with a depressing cliffhanger, Craved is a remarkably eye-opening, heartwrenching, and one-of-a-kind must read that is indubitably “meant for the open-minded readers who are not afraid of a little blood, sweat and semen.”

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5 Star Review by Amy W. for We Stole Your Book Boyfriend

As the sequel to Twisted, Craved continues the tale of Julia who is essentially a prostitute.

Author Lola Smirnova specializes in the darkness as she details Julia’s exploits in Cape Town, South Africa, continuing the disturbing themes introduced in the first story. This installment gives the reader hope that Julia just might be able to escape the sex trade. It’s a false hope.

Sex, drugs and alcohol are common themes as the story develops Julia gets a harsh introduction to Cape Town with some of the most bizarre clients. She had managed to regain control of herself by the end of the first installment. Her evolution is clearly depicted as she gets hit from all sides with drama. As secrets from the past are revealed, Julia starts to spiral out of control.

The cliffhanger ending gives me hope that the author will revisit the characters and wrap up the loose ends in a third installment. Due to the subject matter, this may not be the best choice for readers unfamiliar with erotica.

The storyline delves into challenging topics in a very frank and open manner. In spite of all that happens, Julia can always be counted on having a sense of ironic humor.

It’s a compelling story in spite of the darkness. While I’m not naïve enough to expect a happily ever after for Julia, I hope there’s more to come.

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Kelly Smith Reviews

Picking up after Twisted left off, Craved tells the tale of three sisters who want to give up a life of prostitution and drugs to make money the honest way, but are tempted to get right back into the sex trade for easy money as strippers.
This book was not as risque as the first one, but it was a very interesting read. Smirnova really knows how to write realistically tragic storylines. These girls could be anyone, in any country, but their familia bond and the setting really makes this story stand out.
Unlike the last book, I found this one to be a bit overlong. I think it could have been compacted more in the editing stage, and the dialogue could have used a bit of improvement.
That aside, this book was very engaging. You really care about the girls and want them to have happy endings.

4/5–an engaging read!

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5 Star Review by Rabia Tanveer for Readers’ Favorite 5 star review sticker readers' favorite

Craved by Lola Smirnova is the second book in a trilogy that will take you on a mind boggling journey to make you understand some hard truths about your life. The novel follows the stories of three sisters, Natalia, Lena and Julia. They are from Ukraine and they were prostitutes. They came to South Africa in the hopes of putting their prostitution days behind them, but they soon realized that they have jumped from one vice only to land in another.

Working as strippers is “easy money,” but Julia is not ready to leave her days as a prostitute behind. The temptation is too much, especially when she is rejected by clients, one after another. Planning to return to Europe, she is brought back to reality when some familial issues make her rethink things. Can she survive the harsh world of sex and stripping? Or will she cave in and plunge down the hole that is laced with drugs and danger?

I know this is something close to a suspense novel, but I would like to call this novel a psychological thriller. The way these sisters are living, the turmoil Julia is going through, makes these women super human and something out of this world. I have read the previous novel, Twisted, and I have to admit, I put it down at least three times, not because it was badly written, but because it was a little too dark and real.

It is a miracle that these women were able to hold on to their sanity for this long. Craved is a dark and dangerous tale of survival that makes you re-think your life and takes you on a journey where you are thankful for everything you have. This dark, mesmeric tale will take you on a carefully crafted and twisted journey that will make you beg for more. An amazing, thrilling suspenseful ride. I, for one, cannot wait for the next novel.

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The Reader’s Hollow Review by Isaiyan Morrison

Craved is the second book in the Twisted trilogy, written by Lola Smirnova.

Again, I’m along for the ride as the three sisters (Natalie, Julia, Lena) experience their fair share of the darker side of ‘entertainment’ in South Africa. I didn’t expect their lives to improve after reading the first book, Twisted. Unlike the first time I dived deep into the author’s world, I was prepared this time.

With the first book I felt that the idea of making easy money lured the sisters from their homeland. However, this time I felt it was clearly about survival in a sort of way. They experience different situations and their fair share of shady characters. Throughout their ordeal, the reader must keep in mind that they have to survive among all this. You’d think one near death experience would be enough for these sisters to rethink their lifestyle. No. Instead they continue to endure and this is what fascinates me. I wonder what event would actually push these sisters to seek a better life for themselves. Do they think about their future or is everything in the ‘now?’

This world is real and doesn’t hold back and that’s what I enjoy about this novel (and the first one as well.) Yes, there is explicit language and sexual themes yet it just wouldn’t be ‘Craved’ if that was all held back for the sake of the reader. It’s still hard for me to believe that this is all inspired by real life events.

I will definitely read the last book in this trilogy once it is released.

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5 Star Review by Serenity Sheild on Lovely Reads

Twisted was just that, and it left me craving for more. And now, I finally got to dive in and it was just awesome. Oh, and make sure you read the description well. You really need to be ready for anything, its not for the light hearted reader.

So the girls have decided to hang up their old life. No more selling sex. Yup, they are going to start living a normal life. But then, they are offered a lot of money. Saying no to a lot of easy money is very hard. So they take the offer and dive back into the life they tried to leave. They need to stick together and try not to let anything get in the way.

But there is temptation everywhere. Things will not be easy for these girls. They do try to be good, but its not going so well for them. This book leaves you wanting to know more. See these girls fight to better their lives. I loved this book even more. Things seemed more uneasy. But it just made you love these girls even more and want nothing but the best for them. I can’t wait to read the next book and hope these girls get what they deserve.

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Red City Review

In the second book of the Twisted series, Julia and her two sisters, Natalia and Lena, move to South Africa on a friend’s advice. There they work in a strip club, which is tame compared to their old lives as prostitutes. Julia is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic who has recently left rehab. Although she is now clean and sober, she is surrounded by temptation and haunted by painful memories of being raped. When Julia has trouble making enough money stripping, she begins to sell sex for money again. Eventually Natalia, Julia’s business-savvy and bold sister, convinces her to get breast implants, while also providing guidance that gives Julia more confidence. Julia becomes more successful at work, eventually earning a high-profile client, named Saad who buys her a luxurious apartment and car. Meanwhile, Julia’s sister Lena seems to have it all and marries a loving man, but when she has trouble getting pregnant, she blames herself turns to drugs. When the girls’ father dies, Natalia and Julia decide to go home to Ukraine, but they can’t find Lena. They call her husband and learn that she has gone missing. Eventually Lena contacts Julia, asking for money. During their meeting, Lena reveals some harsh information about Julia’s rape leaving her confused and hurt. Julia throws money at Lena and leaves, not caring about how the money is used. From then on Lena is in and out of rehab. The book then jumps forward three months. Julia is living in her apartment with Saad and feeling dissatisfied. One morning she goes to the bathroom, where she finds a bag of cocaine that must have been Lena’s. She uses the cocaine and the story ends, leaving readers to wonder what will happen next.

Craved explores the lives of sex workers without judgment, but also without concealing the less-glamorous parts of their job. It also doesn’t shy away from the dangers these women face every day. The book’s attractive and enticing cover is a perfect fit and accurately represents the story. Although the plot becomes a bit melodramatic, Craved is a fast-paced and entertaining read that will take most readers well outside of the comfort zone of their day-to-day activities and the book’s cliffhanger ending will leave you craving more.

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Intoxicated by Books

5 Star Review for Twisted/Craved:

I read both novels back to back so I am reviewing them together. Some parts of the novels were hard to follow due to the language barrier but I managed without too much effort. It wasn’t enough to throw me off them all together and I’m really glad for that.

The story that Lola Smirnova tells is extremely heart wrenching. She does an amazing job with description and detail. I felt like I was there looking in on Jul and her family the entire time. Lola did such an amazing job that I could see the scenes play out in my head like a movie.

The story is literally an emotional roller coaster. I laughed, cried, and felt like screaming throughout the novels. I really enjoyed the ride from beginning to end and can’t wait to read the rest of Julia’s story!

*WARNING*

There are some things in the books that are really hard for me to get past. One being that one of the main characters had an abortion and it was explained as being “the right thing” to do. I don’t agree with abortion for any reason but I know that many don’t share my views and I can respect that.

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Universal creativity Inc 14

Craved by Lola Smirnova is a dark and intriguing first hand glimspe into the lives of three women. These three women have gone through one bad rollercoaster ride and just when they think they can right their worlds once more, all breaks down. Readers will like how addicitve the journeys are for these characters and how hard temptation is to resist. It’s not that the women don’t try to be good. Try being good, and having life treating you like garbage. This then leads the women questioning why they ever left the lives they lived before. Making easy money seems to be the best only route for these three. Whether they come out on top or go back to plunging deep in the darkness once again, is for readers to find out. I definitely enjoyed this story of survival and addiction.

Overall, I highly recommend this novel to readers weverywhere.

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NZ Booklovers

Inspired by real life events, Craved is a brutally candid look at making a living in the sex trade. Having been to hell and back, three sisters from Ukraine – Natalia, Lena and Julia – decide to retire from selling sex and walk the straight and narrow path back home. However, an old friend convinces them they can make ‘buckets’ of east money in South Africa and they can’t turn the offer down. The trio return to the night life of the entertainment business with all the familiar temptations – drugs, alcohol and prostitution.

Firstly, this book is definitely for adults only. But don’t think of it as a wannabe 50 Shades of Grey or deserving of a ‘trashy’ read title. It is bleak, dark and terribly depressing. Told through the eyes of Julia, it details her battle with the bottle, the long lasting effects of rape and her time working the floor at a strip club.

Part of a trilogy, Craved stands on its own. While not as graphic or disturbing as the first book Twisted, it is still fairly intense. Smirnova doesn’t pull any punches and at times it is hard to read because it is so gritty and raw. Smirnova is a masterful storyteller who knows how to take readers on a real journey.

She offers a new perspective and level of understanding of the minds of young women who are lured into the sex trade. The characters, despite being far removed from most reader’s reality, are relatable and the family dynamics between the sisters are spot on. However, she manages to keep an essence of hope alive in the characters throughout the story, despite all that they go through. The cliffhanger ending is brutally depressing. It smacks you in the face and leaves you stunned for a few days.

Craved is a heart-wrenching read that will captivate readers. It will shock and delight you, with both the storyline and the literary value.

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Steph In Wonderland

Review: Twisted + Craved

My oh my, dear Darlings! These were some tough ones. I discovered this series when Smironva’s publicist so kindly sent me the books for review. The synopsis sounded so interesting, and completely unlike anything I would usually read. This series is a London Book Festival Honorable Mention, and marked as a Reader’s Favorite: Five Stars. If you look on Amazon/Goodreads, the pages are swimming with reviews. With all the raving going around, I was SO looking forward to reading it myself and seeing how good it is. But, I must admit, once these books arrived I was very hesitant to pick them up. I knew the subject matter would be heavy, and I knew that I would be left thinking about the story for days afterwards. So, once I finally got my courage and sat down – I read.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually liked this series. Though, my reasons for liking them were definitely not based off my usual mental scale. Because these were so different, I have arranged my thoughts as follows:

The Writing Style

This series was given to me as an English translation with footnotes to better explain areas that were hard to directly translate. Very easy vocabulary to digest, and just enough helpful footnotes to not distract the reader from the story. I think because I received a translated copy, the story lost some of its writing style. The vocabulary was so easy that it almost made the story feel immature. It really lacked in any kind of “voice” for the main character, and made me think that this story would have been better told in a film format.

The Characters

The series follows three sisters: Natalia, Lena, and Julia. Julia was the “main” PoV throughout the series, with added dialogue between her and her sisters. I was left feeling very unsatisfied by these characters. They felt very surface level, lacking any kind of inner monologue, voice, and internal/external thoughts that didn’t directly involve the scene at hand. From the synopsis I was expecting significantly more self aware characters. Girls who knew the implications of what they were getting into. Or, girls who didn’t realize at first, but gain some insight after a while. What we are given is three very cut and dry girls lacking any kind of conflict/resolution. Their lack of self awareness does fit well with the tone of the series, so I could see them being made out the be shallow on purpose. But, I feel like if that were the case then it could have been done in a way were you don’t lose the ability to identify with the characters in ANY way.

The Plot

I had a very hard time following what was happening throughout the duration of both books. Again: could be due to the translation, but something just felt off. We are only ever given moments of a scene. It’s as if someone felt each book was too long and decided to cut out any information that could have been deemed unnecessary to the plot. Because you get so little of each event, it feels like the story doesn’t progress naturally. Everything is as it happens, and you’re not given any of the five scenes or any thoughts about what is happening. It reminded me of something that one of my Fiction Lit professors always says during lecture: you have to show me how something happens, not tell me.

The Subject Matter

Reading the various sex scenes throughout the series was definitely difficult. This is not light subject matter, or romantic entanglements. It’s raw, heavy, and the cold hard truth of prostitution. This is what made the series for me. I liked that the author didn’t try and sugar coat these events. It was also during these scenes that we were given some rare insight into Julia’s inner thoughts. THIS is what stuck with me after reading, and this is why I think this series has won it’s awards. The sex, the drugs, and the violence are so haunting. I couldn’t put these books down because I had to know how the girls would survive each scene. From the stigma, popular culture, and news, we know that sex workers are treated abhorrently. Reading about it in detail with the added knowledge that this story was based on true events is mind numbing. It made me want to go hug my boyfriend and thank him for being such a great guy. THIS is why I think this series is worth reading. You’re left with the vast understanding that sometimes it does not get better.

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Christopher Paul Meyer

I was a big fan of the first book in this series, Twisted, moreso for the necessity of Lola’s story than the actual storytelling. While I was mildly disappointed that the book didn’t resolve my previous criticism, my respect for Lola’s life story only increases with Craved.

I didn’t think it could get much darker than Twisted; I was wrong. It is a appallingly honest and cutting look at man’s darkside and the nature of a woman that voluntarily, almost hypnotically veered towards the darkness. Your bookshelf will be richer for having Craved on it, but that doesn’t make it easier to take down and open. It pushes the boundaries of our conceptions of desire, lust, pain and tolerance and that is no mean feat. You can’t help but root for the self-deprecating, self-aware and yet demoralized Julia; watching her pinball from depression to horror to very fleeting elation along a pathway lined with neon, coke and cum is a white-knuckle-inducing, sobering rollercoaster and a blinding shot of 200-proof verbiage for the average, teetotalling reader.

Wear a cup.

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THE READING BUD

5 Star Review by Heena Rathore P. @ The Reading Bud

Before starting with this book, I had low expectations in terms of the entertaining factor of the book given that it is about the sex trade industry. I was expecting to read about 3 girls and all the injustice done to them. But this book was a spectacularly surprising!

The characterization is brilliant and the personalities of the lead character, as well as the supporting ones, are really well-established. The story is thoroughly engrossing and completely capturing. I felt a connection with all the characters in this book and realized the brutal truth about this repelling industry.

I was pulled into this book right from the start to the very end. The conflicts the girls face, each and every day, and their hard life is explained beautifully but, surprisingly enough, without burdening the reader with sorry feelings by showing the girls headstrong and ready to accept any challenge that is thrown their way.

The author’s writing is really incredible and the flow is so good that I was done with this book within a day of starting it. I was really impressed knew, as soon as I was halfway through, that I’m reading something that is very, very special.

The descriptions are vivid and the imagery is great. I felt that I was in the room with Julia all the time when she was going through her everyday life.

The book ended with a crazy cliffhanger of an ending and left me craving for more. I was like -“Seriously!?!?!?!?!” I can’t even tell you how badly I need the next part right now, just to know how all the things fare in the sequel. And in spite of the entertaining value of the book, the seriousness of the issue was never lost on me.

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J.L.LeslieLovesBooks Blog by J.L. Leslie

4.5 STARS:

Craved is the second book in the Twisted series. We delve back into Julia and her two sister’s lives as they go back into selling their bodies. I enjoyed Twisted more, but Craved was very well-written and just as page-turning. I find myself rooting for Julia and wanting her to stay clean and not let herself get caught up in her old ways. This book does have a cliffhanger ending which I was expecting based on the other reviews. What I wasn’t expecting was Lena’s behavior and some of the things that come out about Natalia and the history with Julia. I won’t spoil anything though. I will say, I was a little upset with Julia and the Freddy situation. I thought she was beginning to mature as a person, but she disappointed me here. Even still, her story is one that is hard to put down once you start reading.

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International Noir Blog by Glenn Harper

Two by Lola Smirnova

Lola Smirnova’s Twisted and Craved, the first two novels of a trilogy, apparently, offer enough crime, misery, drugs, alcohol, sex, and even occasional pleasure for a dozen crime novels, but these are not really crime novels (despite the excess of crime, especially crimes against women, in them). Instead, Smirnova has constructed an episodic fictional memoir by Julia, who with her sisters Natalia and Lena, depart from a difficult life in Ukraine into an even riskier world of sex work, primarily nude dancing and sometimes prostitution. They are not being trafficked, they are entering into contracts more or less with their eyes open. And the sisters, each in her own way, are looking for a home life, with or without romance–in some ways the novels are the antithesis of romance fiction.

The story begins with an S/M scenario and then flashes back to the beginning of Julia’s story. The sisters travel first to Luxembourg and then to Turkey, encountering many, many unpleasant men, across a range from customers in a strip club to rapists. Julia descends into drug addiction, and her sisters try to save her and eventuall succeed, returning to Ukraine and decide to start a new life as entrepreneurs, starting, with their mother’s help, a beauty salon.

Craved, the second book, begins with a new temptation to leave their new life (the salon isn’t doing all that well) for Cape Town, South Africa, for a new gig as dancers. At first, they find the new situation easier than their European experience: prostitution is now assumed to be part of their job, though that practice lurks always below the surface as the underside of their work. Each sister finds a patron, even in Lena’s case a husband (something she has been searching for all along) but love is not part of the equation at any point. But while Julia finds her own patron in a seemingly kind Arab prince, things begin to spiral out of control for all three: even the truths that they had assumed about their parents and each other start to dissipate. By the end of Craved, things are very bad, and a sequel will need to dig Julia nad her sisters out of a very dark place.

There’s a lot of sex in these books, but nothing even remotely sexy. But Julia’s tale is compelling, and the story moves quickly along, pulling the reader into the net into which the sisters have themselves become entangled. This is a new kind of noir, not following any of the rules of the genre but conjuring up the true core of noir fiction’s vision of contemporary life.

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