Category Archives: book reviews

Penny Reid’s Catalogue

Knitting in the City Series:
Neanderthal Seeks Human – Strangely compelling, I’ve re-read it a few times
Friends Without Benefits – Meh
Neanderthal Marries Human – More strangely compelling, also re-read
Love Hacked – differently strangely compelling
Beauty and the Mustache – Really liked it, Winston sister, recommended
Ninja at First Sight – Cute-ish
Happily Ever Ninja – NOPE!
Dating-ish – Meh

Winston Brothers Series:
Truth or Beard – too much comeheregoaway
Grin and Beard It – pretty darn good
Beard Science – decent
Beard in Mind – very good, recommended
Dr. Strangebeard – not yet published
Beard Necessities– not yet published

Other:
Elements of Chemistry – Very frustrating, young adult romance
The Hooker and the Hermit – Loathed it, made me stabby

Links to my reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful or my  streamlined recommendations list.

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Castles Ever After Series: Do You Want to Start a Scandal? by Tessa Dare

Tessa Dare’s latest Regency romance series is The Duchess Deal and I would recommend its first book, Girl Meets Duke, over Do You Want to Start a Scandal. This crossover story between Dare’s Spindle Cove and Castles Ever After novels, features the youngest of the Highwood sisters and longtime troublemaker, Charlotte, who has both eldest sibling Diana’s desire for a loving home and intellectual Minerva‘s sense of adventure.

Piers Brandon, Lord Granville is an agent of the crown performing reconnaissance at a two-week house party in the English countryside. Devoted to his duty to King and country, he is caught off guard when Charlotte Highwood presents herself to him with a warning: Her mother will be trying to force a match between them and they must be careful to avoid it. Before you can say “in flagrante delicto”, Charlotte and Piers are caught alone together and giving the appearance of having crossed several lines. Their betrothal now imminent, they agree to the appearance of an understanding to get through the remainder of the estate. Kissing book plotting has other plans for them. After all,  it is a romance novel truth universally acknowledged that a peer must be in want of an heir.

Autocratic and closed off Piers is drawn to Charlotte’s intelligence and charm, while she soon learns that below the surface and behind his protective walls is a loving and passionate man. As they wend their way through plot machinations, they discover they are mad for each other and all that’s left is the genre’s forgone conclusion. I didn’t buy it for a second.

I tried reading Do You Want to Start a Scandal twice –  once in my original attempt and again for this review. It’s amazing how much of my time was taken up with wondering “How old is Piers exactly?” in the midst of skipping forward to find a more interesting part of the story. Charlotte is “not yet twenty-one” and while Piers’ age is never specifically stated, he must be at least 32. A twelve (or more) year age gap is not unheard of, but it didn’t work here. While I’d like an older heroine, the problem is not actually her age. I just don’t see what she has to offer Piers. What could they possibly find as common ground to build a relationship on? All of her youthful exuberance serves to remind me that he is a person of much greater experience in life and of the world and the writing failed to convince me that they were on the same page.

With the lack of well-matched characters overshadowing the story, I wasn’t especially worried about Dare’s usual requirement that I bludgeon and sequester my willing suspension of disbelief or that the revelation of the true goings on by the supporting characters was preposterous. I require somewhat more Regency and somewhat less modern farce in my historical romances.

Julie Anne Long’s classic historical romance What I Did for a Duke features a large age gap convincingly rendered. She’s twenty years old to his thirty-nine.

A complete summary of Tessa Dare’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here. Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful which includes the aforementioned observations.

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The Winston Brothers: Beard in Mind by Penny Reid

Buying all of Penny Reid’s Winston Brothers and Knitting in the City books means that I have ridden the roller coaster of her uneven stories. The writing is always fine, and often much better than that, but she hits more rough patches than smooth and doesn’t always manage her plot complications well. Those issues are dealt with, mostly, in Beard in Mind and along the way, the reader gets to see couples from previous books, including Quinn and (my favourite) Janie.

One of Reid’s best efforts, Beard in Mind is a strong entry to the Winston Brothers series with its tortured heroine and the world’s most affable hero. Beau Winston is a sincere charmer. Helpful, well-intentioned, and self-possessed, he does not know what to make of the extraordinarily prickly new mechanic in the family auto repair shop. Shelly Sullivan, sister of Neanderthal Seeks Human’s Quinn, is irascible and difficult. Her habit of cutting people off at the knees perplexes and fascinates Beau. Shelly gets under his skin and her obstreperousness doesn’t stop him from falling for her as he comes to understand the reasons behind it and respect the person she is.

So often in romances, the hero is exasperating and the love of the heroine is traditionally redemptive. It’s nice to see the trope switched here. Shelly, however, doesn’t require of fixing/redeeming. She has OCD and what she needs is someone who sees her as whole, has expectations of her, and understands that sometimes she is at war with her own mind. Beau, while going through his own issues, is the right man for her. Each is responsible for managing their challenges or “fixing their own refrigerator” as it is described in this story. You root for Shelly to find what she needs and to be given/take the opportunity to participate fully in life and relationships.

I would recommend Beard in Mind not just because it’s Reid’s strongest book in a while, but because it contains a sublimely romantic moment. Given the genre and the number of books I read, you’d think these would occur more often, but they simply don’t and this one was the equal of the very short list of those I keep in my head and can track on the fingers of one hand.

I need to make a Penny Reid catalogue page, but in the meantime…

Knitting in the City Series:
Neanderthal Seeks Human – Strangely compelling
Friends Without Benefits – Meh
Neanderthal Marries Human – More strangely compelling
Love Hacked – differently strangely compelling
Beauty and the Mustache – Really liked it, Winston sister
Ninja at First Sight – Cute-ish
Happily Ever Ninja – NOPE!
Dating-ish – Meh

Winston Brothers Series:
Truth or Beard – too much comeheregoaway
Grin and Beard It – pretty darn good
Beard Science – decent
Beard in Mind – please see above
Dr. Strangebeard – not yet published
Beard Necessities– not yet published

Other:
Elements of Chemistry – Very frustrating, young adult romance
The Hooker and the Hermit – Loathed it, made me stabby

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful or my  streamlined recommendations list.

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A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh

“I don’t think anything inspired me except the necessity of coming up with a story so that I could fulfill my obligation to a contract I had agreed to! I had to dream up a story, and this one popped into my head.” Mary Balogh in the interview following A Matter of Class. Nonetheless, as an experienced, and clearly honest, professional writer, she delivered a sincerely charming  historical romance novella.

Reggie and Annabelle are lifelong neighbours divided by a waterway as well as the barriers of class levels in so-called polite society. Their estates may be next to each other and they may go to the same church, but his self-made father and her top-lofty, though cash poor,  sire have been at odds for Reggie and Annabelle’s entire lives.

Told in present day and flashbacks, the reader learns that Reggie has become a dissolute spendthrift more interested in the tassels on his new Hoby boots than settling down. He’s a minor scandal compared to the fact that Annabelle has recently been recovered from an unsuccessful, but nonetheless scandalous, elopement with a family servant. Disgraced, impecunious, and in need of being advantageously foisted off on a man f means but  and in need of being foisted off on a man of means, the fathers make a plan for their children to marry. Reggie and Annabelle have plans of their own

Light and quick, A Matter of Class moves entertainingly towards its resolution with some clever twists along the way. I recommend it as and strongly suspect I will be revisiting it when in need of a lift.

My favourite Balogh novels:
The Survivors’ Club: Only Enchanting – great book and wonderful hero
The Slightly Series: Slightly Dangerous – this one is a classic

For more Mary Balogh book reviews you can go here.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful or my  streamlined recommendations list.

 Dear Aaron by Mariana Zapata

Mariana Zapata is very good writer who specializes in slow burn contemporary romance. She doesn’t necessarily drag out the timeline, but she takes her time building characters, especially the heroine, into well-rounded people. Her heroes then match up to these strong women really well. While the men in each of her novels may not be dreamy to the reader, they are clearly excellent partners for the women. The first book of hers I read, Kulti, is a classic and I also recommend Wait For It. My feelings are not as warm for Dear Aaron.

Ruby has volunteered to be the pen pal of a member of the military serving overseas. She gets matched up with Aaron and the two begin a long distance and progressively closer correspondence that culminates in a romantic relationship. Moving from emails to texts, they are clearly falling for each other as their communication becomes more intimate, until at last they meet, and by that point I just didn’t care. It might have worked better if I found Ruby likable. She was immature and so insecure as to be frustrating. I understand Zapata was creating an anxious, quirky character, but she just didn’t work for me.

The format of Dear Aaron also played into my disappointment with it. Since Aaron is overseas, a large portion of the book is epistolary and it’s not a format that I embrace. It’s annoyed me ever since my mother bought my sisters and me our own personal copies of A Woman of Independent Means. She bought it for me twice and I couldn’t get through it either time. With Dear Aaron, the waiting time for Ruby and Aaron to meet and come together felt endlessly drawn out and the messaging didn’t help. Zapata may write slow burn romances, but I’m surprised she didn’t run out of matches.

I haven’t tried Zapata’s The Wall of Winnipeg yet and may well do so on a quiet weekend. Either I wasn’t paying attention or her back catalogue is starting to flow out because it seemed to me she had one or two other books out when I read Kulti and now she has half a dozen or so. She may be a bit hit or miss, but I am going to keep trying.

Also by Mariana Zapata as mentioned above:
Kulti – CLASSIC!
Wait for It – Very enjoyable, recommended

Sidebar Recommendation: Anna Richland’s His Road Home is a wonderful novella about a soldier who has come home from the Middle East and is recovering from his wounds with the support and, ultimately, love of an old acquaintance. It’s lovely.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

Wags Series: Stay by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

I swear that Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy are writing romances inspired by the hashtag notallmen, thought I’m not sure even that’s correct since the men in this series, and a lot of Bowen’s solo work, often behave in a way that is unacceptable, but is supposedly meant to be forgivable because they are nice guys. As my romance twin, Beth-Ellen, said, it’s as though they are defending men and, she added, who is the audience they are doing that for? Stay was a mostly decent romance because Kennedy and Bowen don’t seem to be capable of less, but there were a variety of elements that made me uncomfortable.

Hailey runs a virtual personal assistant business with her ex-husband in Toronto. She takes care of the VIPs personally and one of them is local hockey hottie Matt Erickson. A divorced father of twins, he is a little once bitten twice shy until he meets up with Hailey. Things move on from there, a little precipitously if you ask me given that there are children involved, and soon they are moving forward in their lives together.

Now back to the #notallmen aspect. In the previous book in the series, Good Boy, the hero climbs into bed with the heroine while she is sleeping. In this one…

Hailey has a client called MrEightInches who sends the agency requests with photos such as, “naked except for a stretchy pair of bright blue briefs, barely covering his erection, which lays angled in the briefs, straining the fabric.” Are Hailey and her colleague offended? Do they call him out for this behavior and terminate his contract? No, silly, they find it funny and enjoy his hijinks. They are entertained and gleeful each time he sends them a new request. When they find out the reason behind his, apparently, joking behavior, it all makes sense. See? He’s harmless!

Matt calls Hailey “Hottie” before they even start dating, meet, or talk. Her initials are HTE and he gives her the nickname in their correspondence. She doesn’t object despite the complete lack of respect and professionalism it shows on Matt’s part. He doesn’t mean any harm, so what’s the problem? Matt is a good guy. His presumption is excused.

In an encounter with Hailey’s ex, and before their first real date, Matt establishes their relationship by smacking her ass in front of her ex. “To my disbelief, Matt smacks my butt lightly before strolling out the door. I gape after him, unsure whether to be pissed or amused.” The correct answer is, of course, pissed.

I’m not quite sure what to do with all of my annoyance. I understand that genuine, sincere guys sometimes make mistakes,  behave inappropriately, or cross the line, but I can’t comprehend why it has become a recurring theme in Sarina Bowen’s work alone and in her joint efforts with Elle Kennedy. Can we just not do this? I get enough of poorly judged behavior being excused in real life.

My last note is that I was squicked out by the love scenes in Stay. Matt and Hailey act out a power dynamic that I found creepy: he pretends to be her coach, . “Such a good girl,” he whispers. “The coach is proud of you.” No, nix, nein, nyet, non, o-nay, nope, nay, NEWP! I am extremely uncomfortable with sex with power disparities like this and in particular ones that feign involvement of students or vulnerable people. The second the phrase “good girl” comes into play, I am OUT.

Sarina Bowen’s Catalogue gives an overview of her published works . Her Ivy Years series is particularly strong and includes a classic novella, Blonde Date.

By Elle Kennedy and Sarina Bowen:
HimLGBTQ, New Adult, love it!
Us LGBTQ, New Adult, liked it a lot
Wags Series:
Good Boy – I can’t decide if I recommend it or not.
Stay – see above

By Elle Kennedy:
Off Campus Books 1 – 4
The Deal – very good, I have re-read it
The Mistake – good
The Score – Entitled, privileged guy gets everything he wants. Granted that describes a lot of romances, but it’s annoying here. He’s a dick in The Goal, too.
The Goal – good, but not my cup of tea

Adult Contemporary:
One Night of Sin – meh
One Night of Scandal – meh
Elle Kennedy and Vivien Arend: All Fired Up – skip it

 Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful or my  streamlined recommendations list.

Taken and Torn Series: Taken by Two by Sam J.D. Hunt

Sometimes I just can’t resist finding out how bad awful sounding romances can be. Taken by Two did not let me down. It’s terrible and not (just) because of the ridiculous love scenes. It’s a Cinemax movie from the 1980s with more graphic sex. I’ll let Amazon fill you in:

Taken by two enigmatic men, Penelope Sedgewick overcomes demons from the past to learn to thrive in a thrilling new dangerous world. When the missing billionaire Nathaniel Slater reappears from oblivion and kidnaps her, she’s sure his dark friend, Rex Renton, is the true one to fear. The nature of their close relationship intrigues her, and as the three are thrown together in a fight for their lives, the sizzling chemistry between them explodes with more heat than the exotic jungle Rex calls home. As each of the unlikely lovers seek redemption for past sins, the three-way love between them grows into an unbreakable bond.

Everything about Taken by Two is a cliché, facile, trite, and often all three at once – in keeping with the story. Nice hustle, Sam J.D. Hunt! The narrative, the characters, the settings, the plot, the Dallas-Dynasty details meant to evoke the trappings of wealth, it’s all just so much codswallop built to frame the love scenes with Penny and Rex, Penny and Nate, or all three of them together. And even that wasn’t enough to keep me from skipping through the story. I’m assuming it was free, I can’t possibly have paid for it.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful or my  streamlined recommendations list.

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