Tag Archives: book reviews

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.

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.

The Winston Brothers: Beard Science by Penny Reid

A friend and I have a running joke about Penny Reid that she is on probation with us, though we clearly keep reading her contemporary romances and seem to take turns actually paying for them. Reid was on secret probation, then double secret probation, then an unprecedented triple secret probation, before peeling back to regular probation and now she’s on “wait and see”status. That’s all a long walk to say that Reid’s work has been uneven, but can be very enjoyable when the elements in her books come together. The Winston Brothers series has two strong books, Beauty and the Mustache and Grin and Beard It, this decent one, and one outright disappointment in Truth or Beard.

TL:DR opening paragraph: Penny Reid can be very good, but she has just as many misses as hits.

From Amazon: Jennifer Sylvester wants one thing, and that one thing is NOT to be Tennessee’s reigning Banana Cake Queen. Ever the perpetual good girl and obedient daughter, Jennifer is buckling under the weight of her social media celebrity, her mother’s ambitions, and her father’s puritanical mandates…Cletus Winston is a puzzle wrapped in a mystery covered in conundrum sauce, and now he’s in a pickle. Despite being convinced of his own omniscience, extortion by the exalted Banana Cake Queen of Green Valley has taken him completely by surprise

The Winston men, Cletus, Beau, Billy, Jethro, Roscoe, and Duane, live in small town Tennessee and are the source of much of the hi-jinks that locally ensue. Their father was a hell-raiser, their mother a saint, and now that both have gone to their reward (jail for him, Heaven for her), the Winstons are moving on with settling down and finding love. Cletus is the family eccentric, an image he cultivates to hide both his intelligence and his sundry machinations. Unfortunately for him, Jennifer Sylvester is a people watcher who not only has Cletus’s number, but is willing to use it.

Living her life under her mother’s thumb and as a monument to what I believe is called “performative femininity”, Jennifer wants to improve her situation but isn’t necessarily seeking a complete emancipation. Looking to hone her dating skills and carve a measure of independence, she blackmails offers Cletus a marriage of convenience silence about her knowledge of his skullduggery in exchange for dating advice. He accepts, they fall in love, she frees herself, he smartens up. The End.

Neither a hit, nor really a miss, Beard Science was okay. I read it months ago and I while I’m pretty sure I liked it just fine, I have not revisited it at all, nor am I expecting to.  From what I can remember, I’m not sure I approved of Cletus’ shenanigans thwarting the local criminal element as they smacked of vigilantism. The fact that he has good intentions or knows best is no defense. There are other, better Penny Reid books out there and they are listed below.

Penny Reid’s Catalogue gives an overview of her published works , some of which I recommend and some of which I dislike intensely.

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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Sixty Five Hours by N.R. Walker

 

Sixty Five Hours was my third N.R. Walker romance in a short period of time. It’s about two gorgeous and successful people who have a short window of time to prepare an advertising campaign. As this is a contemporary kissing book with a marriage of convenience plot, virtually all of the preparation work falls to the men to complete and they undertake it at one of their homes.

A by-the-numbers romance very much in what I think of as the Harlequin vein, specifically whatever their spicy collection is called, Sixty-Five Hours was sufficiently entertaining and sexy for me to want to read more N.R. Walker books, but at the same time lacking a style punch which makes me want to pay more than $3 or$4 each, if I’m really interested. I can try to outline what I think of as harlequinesque, but it will sound like all of the standard romance tropes: Everyone is beautiful, practically perfect, and financially secure or will be soon enough; all challenges are resolved and tied up neatly with a bow; nothing seems to be at stake; and the characters move on to a white picket fence life. See? That’s many/most romances. There’s a brisk efficiency to them that I am trying and failing to capture.

Cameron and Lucas work together at a successful advertising agency owned by the latter’s father. They have a shot a landing the Lurex account (read: Durex) and, I think this may actually be realistic in advertising, the meeting is in 65 hours. The pair have a weekend alone to come up with and outline their proposal. Apparently, no one in the art department or any copy writers need to be included. What with this being a romance, Lucas is in the closet at work – and not that out of it elsewhere – and has been very interested in Cameron since he was scooped up by the agency four months ago. Lucas covets Cameron’s status as an out gay man, his charming demeanor, and his handsome form. Cameron, for his part, doesn’t know Lucas is gay and has confused his reticence with dislike.

Everything proceeds apace and as expected from the set up to the denouement. Cameron and Lucas become a couple, the pitch goes off perfectly, and Lucas comes out to his family.  Along the way, Walker generates some very nice heat between her leads and a believable, down-to-earth sexiness that is what will get me to read more of her books. We all know how romances proceed, it’s nature of the journey that makes all the difference.

Also by N.R. Walker are Learning to Feel which was much like this one and The Weight of It All which I really liked.

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 LGBTQIA romances, too.

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Would it have killed them to use a hyphen in sixty-five?

Learning to Feel by N.R.Walker

Short Version: Learning to Feel is a fairly  traditional contemporary romance that passed the time, but N.R. Walker’s plotting choices struck me as a bit much.

Long Version:

In a moment of common sense and self-preservation, sad-sack Nathan leaves his job as an ER doctor in Boston, to take a role in rural Maine. It’s a contract position that he hopes will get his life on track, help him work less, and includes free rent on a farmhouse. When Nathan arrives, he finds a painter finishing up the house and his world promptly turns to colour.

Trent is an itinerant artist working as a house painter to pay the bills. He and his loyal hound have been living at the farmhouse while he completes the effort for Nathan’s new digs. Trent is blonde, cute, and everything homophobic people fear. No, he’s not some raging stereotype, rather he is a gay man so magnetic that he has the Power of Conversion. Nathan has been hitherto not just straight, but essentially asexual. Trent’s arrival in his life is not just the gay-for-you trope, it’s I-am-born-anew-in-my-sexual-awakening! The world is transformed, my priorities have changed, I am a whole person now!

Other than the LGBTQ romance Trope of Conversion, Learning to Feel is a fairly standard story built around two nice people meeting and connecting as they do in so many kissing books. Their lives merge pretty seamlessly and Trent never seems to mind that Nathan basically takes over ownership of the dog. N.R. Walker is a decent writer who delivered a competent romance, although she has done much better work.

Question: Is the gay-for-you trope specific to romances about men falling in love that are written by and targeted to a readership made up of straight women?  Are there romance novels by and for gay men? What percentage of romance readership is male to begin with?

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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Wags Series: Good Boy by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

When the hero of Good Boy was introduced in Us, I referred to him as the World’s Largest Plot Moppet.  I was wrong, clearly he is the world’s biggest puppy. I have seen very mixed reviews of this contemporary romance as there are troubling elements at the same time as it is also frequently charming. YMMV, as the kids today say.

Blake Riley and Jessie Canning hooked up several months ago and while it was mutually satisfying, she isn’t looking for more. Brought together again for her brother’s wedding to Blake’s teammate (Wes and Jamie of Him and Us), Blake is eager to start something with Jess and willing to leverage more casual sex, if that will get things moving for them.

Jess has been a bit lost. In a career experiment she (successfully) planned her brother’s nuptials, but has decided that she actually wants to be a nurse. When she gets into university in Toronto, this contemporary New Adult sports romance moves where it just so happens that Blake is a forward for the hockey team standing in for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Returning to my puppy analogy, Blake is a big, friendly, loyal, and enthusiastic guy. He’s sincere but not terribly bright and, like your new Great Dane puppy, he tends to do things he oughtn’t and is forgiven by virtue of… I’m not sure what, because Blake does a couple of things with impunity that should be deal breakers  –

  1. After being set up to sleep on the chesterfield (that’s Canadian for couch), Blake climbs into bed with Jess while she is sleeping. She wakes up next to him and slips out of bed without immediately returning to SCREAM HIM AWAKE whilst simultaneously dousing him with ice water. He says he had asked her if it was okay he climb in with her and she said yes while she was half asleep which does not help his case.
  2. Blake sends an unsolicited photograph of his genitals to Jess after she has told him that his attentions are not welcome.

I suspect there’s more, but those two were pretty major. Blake’s interior monologue makes it clear that he’s well-intentioned and he can be a lot of fun. Were Kennedy and Bowen trying to show a hero who does all the things he shouldn’t, but succeeds anyway? Or that not every guy who crosses the line is a jerk? Is Blake the puppy that drives you crazy until one magical moment when he settles in and you realise that all of the growing pains were worth it?

Good Boy had some other story elements that I wondered about, such as the stereotypical gay friend and a truly irrational ex-fiancee, but really it all comes down to where you stand on Blake. I enjoy the occasional big lug, though not necessarily Jethro Clampett, and landed on the charmed side for Good Boy even if it wasn’t a classic.

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