Beautiful Series: Beautiful by Christina Lauren

The last in a series of ten books and novellas, Beautiful serves as a standalone-ish contemporary romance from writing duo Christina Lauren, as well as providing visits with the five other couples in the group and wrapping all the threads up with a bow. Usually landing on the erotic end of the romance spectrum, Beautiful was pretty tame by Lauren standards, but still in keeping with the authors’ style.

Pippa is visiting Boston to see her best friend, Ruby, and take a two-week road trip with Ruby and her husband, plus another couple. Having walked in on him tupping someone else, Pippa just broke up with her boyfriend and needs a change of scene. Relaxed and fun, she has a drunken blither with a buttoned-up stranger on the plane from London and he just happens to be coming along on the road trip as well.

Jensen, brother of my favourite Beautiful series character, Hanna, had a disappointing first marriage and immersed himself since in working towards partnership in a law firm*.  He agrees to come on the trip before realising that the colourful woman whom he feigned sleep to avoid on the plane is coming with them. Things move along predictably from there. He’s formal. She’s a free spirit. He’s bland, she’s colourful. They’re made for each other.  It’s all over pretty quickly.

Rather than seeking a new romance for Christina Lauren, I really was more interested in the following up with the other characters and my favourites, Will and Hanna, are heavily featured. Jens and Pippa’s story is perfunctory, but decent. Christina Lauren has continued to get better with each outing and the improvement from Beautiful Bastard to this last entry has been consistent and appreciable; moreover, the sheen of dude-bro sexism that plagued the men’s interactions earlier in the series is gone.

  1. Beautiful Bastard
  2. Beautiful Bitch
  3. Beautiful Stranger
  4. Beautiful Bombshell
  5. Beautiful Player
  6. Beautiful Beginning
  7. Beautiful Beloved
  8. Beautiful Secret
  9. Beautiful Boss 
  10. Beautiful – presented herewith

*One of the elements of the fantasy lifestyles of the characters in the series I like is that while they get dream jobs easily and have gobs of disposable income, they do work really long hours.

Christina Lauren has a series, Wild Seasons, in the new adult romance genre which I recommend over the Beautiful books. A complete list of Christina Lauren’s catalogue 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 or my  streamlined recommendations list.

 

 

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Girl Meets Duke Series: The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

What was being a duke, if not arching a sardonic eyebrow?

[fires confetti cannon, then starts pointing and yelling, “YES!” at Tessa Dare]

Girl Meets Duke has all of Dare’s cleverness and less of her recent series’ tweeness. She’s back and I’m in! It’s not her best work, but it’s what I (and very possibly no one else as captious as I am) consider a return to form, and in some ways a step up. It’s like she unleashed her full wit and wordplay on this Regency romance.

Ash is a brooding, forbidding Duke. Manly, muscular, and scarred by cannon fire, he focuses on running his estates and wallowing in his despair. Aware of his responsibility to the duchy to provide an heir, he proposes to the first, well, second, acceptable young woman he meets. He threw over the first one when he discovered she was disgusted by his appearance which seems more than fair on his part. Emma arrives in his study to demand payment for that first fiancée’s wedding dress. Working as a seamstress, she left home when her father, a vicar no less, shamed her for a liaison with a local young man. Ash instantly proposes a marriage of convenience, Emma rightly declines, and then circumstances conspire to bring them together anyway.

The Duchess Deal continues with Dare’s tendency to make a kind of musical comedy of her romances while pulling in current cultural elements, in this case superheroes. The writing crackles and I found myself thinking this is what it might be like of P.G. Wodehouse wrote romance novels and worked blue. The book works to Dare’s strengths and I did not find myself as bothered by the overarching need to willing suspension my disbelief as I did with the Castles Ever After series. Yes, the servants love the above stairs folk, and it’s more of a family than an aristocratic household, and there were sundry other non-historical elements, but I will be buying the next Girl Meets Duke story and hope that Dare’s return to my autobuy list will be long-term.

Dare’s best works are A Week to Be Wicked , Any Duchess Will Do, and The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright . A complete summary of Tessa Dare’s catalogue, with more 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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Wait for It by Mariana Zapata

Last year, I read Mariana Zapata’s classic Kulti and both I and my kissing book cohorts have been working through her catalogue looking for more gems. It’s unreasonable to expect a classic every time, but I really enjoyed Wait for It and have returned to my favourite parts of the story more than once. No one is titled, famous, or a billionaire. Wait for It is just a really good contemporary romance that takes its time with two “ordinary” people finding love and building a new family.

Diana is  a hairstylist working at a friend’s salon. She’s just moved into a new home with her nephews, Louie and Josh. Having lost her brother and sister-in-law, Diana is in her late twenties and carrying the huge responsibility of raising their children. She is making a valiant effort to keep everyone and everything going in the face of her own doubts and pressure from her family. When Louie wakes her up with news of a mid-night altercation across the street, Diana meets her neighbour Dallas.

After ten years of service, Dallas is out of the navy and working as a contractor. He has a messed up brother who drifts in and out of this life, and is going through off-page divorce proceedings of comparable length to the marriage itself. He also happens to be the coach of the travel baseball team that Josh tries out for and joins. Diana, her boys, and Dallas start to spend a lot of time together and the grownups fall in love.

Zapata’s specialty is the slow burn and Wait for It was no exception. There’s a lovely naturalism and believability to the story and, as with Kulti, the hero and heroine are really well suited. Owing to Zapata’s inclination to draw the relationship out, there are some times when it seems that is the only reason things aren’t moving forward. There will be a conversation in which one, or both, of the characters explicitly state their feelings and/or intentions, but later, someone says, “Are you sure?” and things get dragged out a bit more. It’s worth it when they finally, finally come together, and it’s a minor quibble for a very good romance.

Also by Mariana Zapata:
Kulti – a CLASSIC, as noted above
Dear Aaron – too much slow, not enough burn

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.

When Life Happened by Jewel E. Ann

Winner of Most Interesting Romance of the year, though not the best, I recommend When Life Happened for a change of pace, especially if you can get your friends to read it too for discussion purposes.

Parker is lost and trying to figure out a way forward with her life. After her sister “stole” and proceeded to marry Parker’s fiance – and Parker ridiculously dosed her with laxatives at the wedding – she needs a change. When her new neighbour is seeking a personal assistant, Parker leaps at the chance. With her boss traveling a great deal of the time, Parker acts as her household minion (picking up dry cleaning, shopping, walking the dog etc.),  and the man of the house, Gus, catches her eye. Given her history and, you know, ethics, Parker has very strong feelings about infidelity. It’s a deal-breaker for her and the predicament she finds herself in, and the fallout of her actions, test her preconceived notions about a lot of things.

An unusual hero for obvious and pretty much unforgivable reasons, Gus is basically an honourable guy, but stuck in a marriage on its last legs. He and Parker are incredibly attracted to each other, good together, and fitfully struggle away from and towards an inappropriate relationship.  His marriage needs to be sorted out before anything can start with Parker and she needs to quit her job instead of wallowing in endless grounds for dismissal.

What makes When Life Happened interesting is a plot twist so large, it’s seismic. The narrative takes a sharp turn and moves forward from a new place. Once doing so, however, it becomes as predictable as the twist wasn’t. Life is messy and if you’re  looking for a book which acknowledges that, but also makes it quickly tidy again, When Life Happened is a good reading choice. I’m glad I read it, but since it was compelling, not necessarily because it is a novel one will want to return to. Given the twist, however surprising, I don’t need more than one book of this ilk and  won’t be looking for more from Jewel E. Ann.

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.

Accuracy Police Sidenote: Old English sheepdogs don’t shed.

Escorted by Claire Kent

Prostitution plots are the exception to my preference for marriage of convenience stories and Escorted features the first one I have read in  long time. There are some interesting ideas in this contemporary romance novel, but despite the rounds of contemplation about the oldest profession it inspired in me, Escorted wasn’t really anything special.

Lori is a bestselling romance author in her mid-twenties who, despite her facility writing about it, has never actually had sex. Eager to get her first time over with, she has gotten a recommendation for a local prostitute and Escorted opens with Lori meeting Ander (short for Alexander) in a coffee shop before making their first foray into a working relationship. Things go well enough that Lori continues to employ Ander and he provides the information book learnin’ can’t. They fall in love.

I have several things I want to bring up.  I took a lot of notes while reading Escorted and that is often not a good sign. It means the reading experience devolved into review preparation over story involvement. There will be spoilers:

  • Lori has written four best-selling romances and is financially secure enough to have given up her day job. This may be the least believable element in the novel.
  • A common prostitution dodge in romances is that the professional doesn’t spend any of the client’s payments thus negating the business transaction element. Kent uses it here.
  • Ander is BALD! That’s a first. I loved this detail. Bring on the bald dudes!
  • The writing is really on the nose.
  • The sex descriptions were repetitive and not particularly sexy.
  • There were some nice slams of Fifty Shades of Gray.

I spent a lot of time thinking about prostitution while reading Escorted, likely more than the author intended. I wanted to know about the psychological and emotional cost of it as a profession; how one breaks from it; and if there an adjustment period with the introduction of emotions into sexual encounters. Additionally, with all of my distraction while I read, I couldn’t get past the fact that every encounter Lori and Ander had was a financial transaction regardless of the emotions involved. Ander may not have spent the money and retired soon after starting to see her, but he was still contracted to service Lori. How can they get to a level relationship? The story did try to address this, but, for me, it just wasn’t enough.

Escorted does include some great points on the unrealistic expectations of sex created by the mainstreaming of erotica and pornography in our culture. Of course, Kent goes on to do all of these things with her characters, but the gesture was appreciated.

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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How lovely! Sexism dictates that a book called Escorted have a woman that looks like a prostitute on the cover even though the hero is the professional.

Fly Me to the Moon: Star Dust by Emma Barry & Genevieve Turner

Buy Star Dust and read it. Heck, it’s free on Amazon right now.

Genevieve Turner and Emma Barry have written a solid romance with great period detail and poignant moments that go with and beyond the love story Star Dust tells. The first of the Fly Me to the Moon series, each of the historical romances in the group feature an astronaut. It looks like they jump around in decades, so there are lots of period elements – the heroine os Star Dust smokes! – to enjoy. Set in Houston in 1962, I was able to picture the bungalows with their “space age” furniture as the ASD stood in for NASA and Star Dust got underway.

Moving into a brand new house in a neighbourhood still under construction, Anne-Marie’s life is in much the same state as her surroundings. Recently divorced and working to settle her two children into their new family home, she stabs herself while opening boxes and goes to the only available neighbour for help. Having seen him on the cover of Life magazine, she recognizes Commander Christopher “Kit” Campbell immediately. He bandages her hand and makes overtures for other parts of her, but she has no time for games.

Provided with a house by her parents, but taking a job outside her home to help pay her way, I very much liked that Anne-Marie is often stubborn and prickly, despite her social graces, and she does not change. Eager to prove to those around her that she was right to abandon her cheating husband, she gets her back up very easily and as a divorcee she is given a lot of opportunities to do so. Everyone is ready and willing with judgment or insinuations about her life. Even well-intended assistance is a cause for suspicion. Seeing the double-standards she is challenged with, I’m not surprised. Kit comes to understand her demeanor and the woman underneath it. It’s a nice twist on the hero being the difficult one in a romance and Kit is far from that. He’s a wonderful guy, honest, loyal, and respectful. He’s doing his best to cope with his own onslaught of attention, ambitions, and the fears he is not supposed to even acknowledge, never mind share with anyone.

One of the delights of Star Dust is that Anne-Marie is 30 and embarking on a new life with nine and seven year old children. Kit is 34 and getting ready to travel to space. Adults really were younger 50 years ago. At the age when people nowadays are often getting married for the first time, both of them are on to second stages in their lives.

I stumbled across Star Dust, and discovered that Amazon has an actual  book review site, because the magnificent Courtney Milan had provided a list of 9 Historical Romances for Those Who Want Something More Than a Little Different. I snapped up Star Dust and a couple of samples for my e-reader. I haven’t always enjoyed Courtney Milan’s recommendations, but they are always interesting and worth trying.

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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Whyborne and Griffin: Widdershins by Jordan L. Hawk

This review required a little research from me on the genre distinction between paranormal and fantasy, so I could resolve that Widdershins is the former. The first in a series, which takes its name from the main characters, this paranormal romance features a couple interacting with occult forces and things that go bump in the night. I would recommend Widdershins, even though it was not my cup of tea. It was fun, but I like significantly less violence and prefer a dearth of imaginary creatures in my kissing books as a rule.

Set in the late 19th century, a linguist working away happily in the bowels of a museum, Percival Whyborne is approached by private investigator, Griffin Flaherty, to decode/translate an encrypted text left behind by a murder victim. As they work together freaky events happen around them and in turn reveal a cult trying to end the world. Racing against time, Percival and Griffin have a grand, but occasionally creepy, adventure and fall madly in love. I was very much in favour of that last part.

Given that I prefer my romances without the paranormal elements, I’m not sure how to judge the ones here. They were fine and well portrayed, I guess; however, Widdershins was suggested first and foremost as a fun M/M romance and it did deliver. Whyborne is closeted even beyond the requirements of the time, owing to a very bad experience, but he steps out enough to let Griffin into his life and his heart. That portion of the story did not disappoint and I appreciated the historical detail, not just of the complication of being gay in a world which tells you it’s wrong or a sin, but also of the time period itself. I won’t be continuing with the series, but I can see how it would be a delightful romp for people who are interested in nightmare creatures skulking around the workaday world.

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. I have a list of LGBTQ romances, too.

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