Tag Archives: Christina Lauren

My Favourite/Favorite Romance Novel Heroes and Heroines

There are books and novellas that I recommend. There are novels I loathed.

Inspired by a commenter’s request, these are my favourite romance novel heroes and heroines, and I have a separate post for my couples. Ranking them would take too long, so I haven’t.

If you’re uncertain, I suggest leaning towards the couples list for a starting point.

Favourite Heroes

Ashley, Jennifer Many Sins of Lord Cameron  – GUILTY PLEASURE
Ashley, Jennifer The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie
Balogh, Mary Only Enchanting
Bowen, Sarina The Understatement of the Year M/M clarification: Graham
Callihan, Kristen The Game Plan
Dare, Tessa Three Nights with a Scoundrel
Dare, Tessa A Week to Be Wicked
Enoch, Suzanne The Rake
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Touch
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Temptation
Gabaldon, Diana Outlander  OBVIOUSLY, plus the series
Kelly, Carla Libby’s London Merchant
Kelly, Carla The Surgeon’s Lady
Kleypas, Lisa Where Dreams Begin
Kleypas, Lisa Lady Sophia’s Lover
Kleypas, Lisa Secrets of a Summer Night – Top 5 Hero
Kleypas, Lisa The Devil in Winter 
Kleypas, Lisa Tempt Me at Twilight  TWO REVIEWS
Kleypas, Lisa Smooth Talking Stranger
Lauren, Christina Wicked Sexy Liar
Linden, Caroline Blame It on Bath
Long, Julie Anne What I Did for a Duke  CLASSIC
Milan, Courtney Unveiled – I’d marry him.
Milan, Courtney Unraveled FAVE
Milan, Courtney A Kiss for Midwinter  CLASSIC
Quinn, Julia An Offer from a Gentleman
Zapata, Mariana Kulti 

My Favourite Heroines

Bryce, Megan To Tame a Dragon
Chase, Loretta Lord of Scoundrels  CLASSIC
Dare, Tessa One Dance with a Duke
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Touch
Gabaldon, Diana Outlander  OBVIOUSLY, plus the series
Heyer, Georgette Venetia
Jenkins, Beverly Indigo She’s amazing.
Kleypas, Lisa The Devil in Winter 
Kleypas, Lisa Scandal in the Spring 
Kleypas, Lisa Mine till Midnight – I’d marry her.
Lauren, Christina Beautiful Player
Milan, Courtney This Wicked Gift
Milan, Courtney The Countess Conspiracy
Milan, Courtney The Suffragette ScandalI want to be her.
Quinn, Julia Romancing Mr. Bridgerton 
Quinn, Julia It’s In His Kiss
Reid, Penny Neanderthal Seeks Human
Thorne, Sally The Hating Game CLASSIC

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.

Florand

My Favourite/Favorite Romance Novel Couples

There are books and novellas that I recommend. There are novels I loathed.

This list is my favourite romance novel couples and there is a separate one for my favourite heroes and heroines as individual characters. If I put them in order, I’d never get this list published, so they aren’t.

If you’re uncertain, I suggest leaning towards the couples list for a starting point.

Balogh, Mary Slightly Dangerous CLASSIC
Bowen, Sarina Blonde Date novella  CLASSIC
Bowen, Sarina and Elle Kennedy Him
Bryce, Megan To Tame a Dragon
Chase, Loretta Dukes Prefer Blondes  – LOVE THEM
Cole, Kresley Dark Desires After Duska guilty pleasure THUNDER SEX™!
Dare, Tessa One Dance with a Duke
Dare, Tessa Any Duchess Will Do
Duran, Meredith Fool Me Twice
Florand, Laura All’s Fair in Love and Chocolate
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Kiss
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Touch – Top 5 romance and couple
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Heart Whoops! One of my least favourite couples.
Florand, Laura Chase Me
Gabaldon, Diana Outlander  OBVIOUSLY, plus the series
Garwood, Julie The Gift – Old School
Hoyt, Elizabeth The Ice Princess
Kelly, Carla The Lady’s Companion
Kelly, Carla Marrying the Captain
Kennedy, Elle The Deal
Kinsale, Laura Flowers from the Storm
Kleypas, Lisa Dreaming of You
Kleypas, Lisa Where Dreams Begin
Kleypas, Lisa Again the Magic
Kleypas, Lisa Secrets of a Summer Night
Kleypas, Lisa The Devil in Winter 
Kleypas, Lisa Love in the Afternoon
Lauren, Christina Beautiful Player
Lauren, Christina Dirty Rowdy Thing
Linden, Caroline One Night in London
Long, Julie Anne Like No Other Lover
Long, Julie Anne What I Did for a Duke  CLASSIC
Long, Julie Anne A Notorious Countess Confesses 
MacLean, Sarah One Good Earl Deserves a Lover
McNaught, Judith Almost Heaven  OLD SCHOOL
Milan, Courtney The Duchess War
Milan, Courtney The Suffragette Scandal  IF YOU READ ONLY ONE…
Parker, Lucy Act Like It
Phillips, Susan Elizabeth Natural Born Charmer
Quinn, Julia An Offer from a Gentleman
Quinn, Julia Romancing Mr. Bridgerton
Quinn, Julia It’s In His Kiss
Reid, Penny Neanderthal Seeks Human
Reid, Penny Beauty and the Mustache
Spencer, LaVyrle Vows
Thorne, Sally The Hating Game CLASSIC
Willig, Lauren The Seduction of the Crimson Rose 

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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So You Want to Read a (Historical, Contemporary, New Adult, Paranormal) Romance …

Alternatively: The Worst Romance Novels I Have Ever Read

This recommendations list is gleaned from at least 80 authors and over 500 books.

Ten Great Romance Novellas to Get You Started

Looking for something specific? Here’s a list of authors I’ve read enough to see thematic consistencies and it’s hard to go wrong with these writers:

Tessa Dare – FUN, bring your willing suspension of disbelief, on double-secret probation right now
Laura Florand – contemporary romances set in France, great intensity
Carla Kelly – lovely Regency romances, often military-themed
Lisa Kleypas  – the gold standard, also writes contemporaries
Julie Anne Long – extremely clever and funny
Courtney Milan – The very best currently publishing, one for the pantheon.
Julia Quinn – An excellent place to launch your reading. Start with The Bridgertons.

I lovehate Jennifer Ashley’s sincere romance mired in tortured heroes and overwrought plotting.

This list is an edited version of my Complete Reading List by Author. Reviewed books are linked.

Mallory, a frequent commenter, asked me to make a personal Top 5 list. I tried. I couldn’t do it.

CLASSICS

  1. Balogh, Mary Slightly Dangerous – historical
  2. Bowen, Sarina Blonde Date  – new adult novella
  3. Chase, Loretta Lord of Scoundrelshistorical
  4. Gabaldon, Diana Outlanderhistorical
  5. Heyer, Georgette Venetia (Dameral/Venetia) – historical
  6. Jenkins, Beverly Indigo  – historical
  7. Kinsale, Laura Flowers from the Storm old school, historical
  8. Kleypas, Lisa Dreaming of Youhistorical
  9. Kleypas, Lisa The Devil in Winter  – historical
  10. Long, Julie Anne What I Did for a Duke – historical
  11. Milan, Courtney A Kiss for Midwinter – historical novella
  12. Milan, Courtney The Suffragette Scandal  – historical
  13. Montgomery, L.M. The Blue Castle – historical now, but not when published
  14. Quinn, Julia Romancing Mr. Bridgerton  Bridgerton Book 4 – historical
  15. Thorne, Sally The Hating Game – contemporary

Continue reading

New Adult Romances

I’m not sure I had heard of the New Adult subsection of the romance genre this time last year, but I have embraced it wholeheartedly.

Based on what constitutes a grown up in different historical periods, this list by default includes only contemporary settings and is somewhat subjective. The novels often feature folks who are in university, have just finished university, or are athletes.

Recommended books are in bold, reviewed books are linked.

Sarina Bowen’s Ivy Years Series – Recommended, except where noted.
The Year We Fell Down (Hartley/Corey) – start with this, buy the set
The Year We Hid Away (Bridger/Scarlet)
Blonde Date novella (Andy/Katie) CLASSIC
The Understatement of the Year (Graham/Rikker) – LGBTQ
The Shameless Hour (Rafe/Bella)
The Fifteenth Minute (DJ/Lianne) – skip this one, seriously

Kristen Callihan’s Game On Series:
The Hook Up (Drew/Anna)
The Friend Zone (Gray/Ivy)
The Game Plan (Ethan/Fiona) – wonderful

Christina Lauren’s Wild Seasons Series:
Sweet Filthy Boy (Ansel/Mia)
Dirty Rowdy Thing (Finn/Harlow)
Dark Wild Night (Oliver/Lola)
Wicked Sexy Liar (Luke/London) – best of the series
A Not-Joe Not-So-Short Short (Not-Joe/Perry)

Elle Kennedy’s Off Campus Series:
The Deal (Garrett/Hannah)
The Mistake (Logan/Grace)
The Score (Dean/Allie)
The Goal (Tuck/Sabrina)

Everyone else, series or no:
Banner, Darryl Dog Tags (Brandon/Jesse)
Bowen, Sarina and Elle Kennedy Him (Wes/Jamie)
Bowen, Sarina and Elle Kennedy Us (Wes/Jamie) 
Butler, Eden Thin Love (Kona/Keira) – 1st DNF of 2017
Falkner, Tammy Tall, Tatted, and Tempting (Logan/Kit)
Falkner, Tammy Smart, Sexy, and Secretive (Logan/Emily)
Grace, Aria More Than Friends (Ryan/Zach) – LGBTQ
Harber, Cristin Sweet Girl (Cash/Nicola)
Ivy, Alyssa Rose The Hazards of Skinny Dipping (Reed/Juliet)
Lyons, Kathy Two Week Seduction (John/Alea)
March, Meghan Beneath This Mask (Simon/Charlie)
Milan, Courtney Trade Me (Blake/Tina)
Milan, Courtney Hold Me (Jay/Maria) LGBTQ
Roberts, Holly S. Play: New Adult Sports Romance (Killian/Rebecca)
Schurig, Rachel Ransom (Daltrey/Daisy)
Ward, Tracy Rookie Mistake  (Trey/Sloane)

LGBT romance recommendations, including New Adults, can be found here.

As always, recommendations are welcome.

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

Romance Authors and Their Themes

The link in the author’s name will take you to either a summary of their catalogue or a relevant review.

Carla Kelly – People are inherently good and their kindness will surprise you.

Caroline Linden – Fortune favours the bold.

Cecilia Grant  – Live life on your own terms and be willing to accept the consequences.

Christina Lauren – Find someone with whom you can be your true self and who calls you on your bullshit.

Courtney Milan – Only you get to decide who you are. Fear is a waste of energy.

Jennifer Ashley – Love heals all wounds.

Julia Quinn – Marry your best friend.

Julie Anne Long – You must be willing to be emotionally vulnerable to find a true partner.

Kresley Cole – Misogynists need love, too, baby. He only hurts you because he loves you so.

Laura Florand – Sincere love gives you the courage and freedom to embrace your true self and someone else’s. You are braver than you know.

Lisa Kleypas – Make your own life and your own luck. Hard work is rewarded. To find a true partner, you will need to leave your comfort zone.

Lorraine Heath – Damaged people finding strength in each other and themselves to persevere and succeed. B-list author.

Loretta Chase – Find someone who challenges you and life will never be dull.

Mary Balogh – Broken people finding someone to fit their pieces to and moving forward with their lives.

Tessa Dare – Life is an adventure! Be bold.

Suggestions are always welcome.

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

 

 

 

 

Christina Lauren’s Catalogue

Themes: In Christina’s Lauren’s world, the person who lets you be your true self and calls you on your bullshit is your best match.

The Wild Seasons Series:
Sweet Filthy Boy – liked it
Dirty Rowdy Thing – really liked it, the sex was distracting
Dark Wild Night – good
Wicked Sexy Liarfantastic, my favourite of the group and their books
A Not-Joe Not-So-Short Short – for completists only

The Beautiful Series:
Beautiful Bastard – lots of ihateyou sex
Beautiful Bitch – more ihateyou sex
Beautiful Stranger – surprisingly romantic exhibitionists
Beautiful Bombshell – ihateyou sex bachelor and bachelorette parties
Beautiful Player – A Rake Is Reformed by a Girl with No Filter – GUILTY PLEASURE
Beautiful Beginning -ihate you sex, we’re getting married
Beautiful Beloved – exhibitionists getting back on track after having a baby
Beautiful Secret – quiet guys need love, too
Beautiful Boss – Meh.
Beautiful – only makes sense if read as a series finale

Dating You/Hating You – very good
Roomies – It’s $8 and the story doesn’t appeal to me.
Autoboyography – two dudes, will likely buy it

The Wild Seasons Series: Sweet Filthy Boy, Dirty Rowdy Thing, and Dark Wild Night by Christina Lauren

With the Wild Seasons series, the writing team known as Christina Lauren is hitting its stride. Stronger than the Beautiful series, each of these books features one of three childhood friends who have just finished university and are figuring out where their lives will go next. When a weekend in Vegas turns into three impulsive marriages, Mia, Harlow, and Lola react differently by staying married, getting it on then getting it annulled, and getting started on the annulment immediately. Lauren’s fun female friendships are included here, as well as the delicious men they write so well. As erotic romance, the Wild Series does not shy away from sex, but they strike a good balance with the sincere emotion necessary to make the stories work. As with the Beautiful Series, each couple has bedroom predilections that feature heavily in their sex life.

Sweet Filthy Boy (Ansel/Mia)

Mia spots Ansel across a crowded room and is instantly smitten, as is he. She had been on track for a dancing career before a terrible car accident, and having graduated with her Bachelors’ degree is staring down an MBA program she doesn’t want to attend, but has been cowed into by her domineering father. Her last hurrah weekend turns into a summer in Paris when she marries Ansel on impulse when their friends marry each other as well. “Half Adonis, half puppy,” and French, Ansel is absolutely adorable. Fun and impulsive, he encourages Mia to be with him for the summer; in fact, she made him promise not to get an annulment when they got married which he remembers, but she does not. A sensible woman, if a little lost, Mia rejects the suggestion of a summer in Paris before coming to her senses and showing up at the airport before the flight. They have a wonderful time, even if he is working constantly, until Ansel makes a big mess of things. Luckily, stupidity can be fixed with apologies and lessons learned, so these two crazy kids work things out.

Ansel was my favourite of the heroes, but this was not the best book in the series. Mia and Ansel’s courtship includes evenings of roleplay, but, while fun, they could have used more regular relationship building time. Sweet Filthy Boy is still very much a recommended read, as is the whole series, including my anticipated purchases of the entries that haven’t been published yet.

Dirty Rowdy Thing (Finn/Harlow)

This book as B and some light D, but neither S, nor M. Frankly, I found the love scenes boring. I get it. There was rope.  They both like it. Moving on.

Finn and Harlow married impulsively just like their friends, but after enjoying their wedding night, they sensibly divorced. There followed one more weekend together on Vancouver Island (when Finn resides) before Finn makes a trip to San Diego (Harlow’s stomping grounds) for business purposes. They reconnect at a party and find that they really enjoy each other. As with their friends Mia and Ansel (who pop up on the regular), they each have some information that should have been shared sooner rather than later and this causes the schism that leads to their inevitable reconciliation.

Dirty Rowdy Thing features great banter and Harlow is a take-no-prisoners pip.

Dark Wild Night (Oliver/Lola)

I’d say that Lola and Oliver are they sensible ones of the group of friends, but everyone is pretty grounded. Let’s say they are the quiet ones, stalwart and self-contained with a private wild edge. Oliver is Australian, Lola American, but, unlike their counterparts, they live in the same city.

Oliver is the protector type  – gentleman on the streets, wild man between the sheets – as well as the quintessential sexy nerd. He’s tall, he’s handsome and fit, he has floppy hair, he wears glasses, and he has just opened a comic book store. That sound you just heard is the sigh of a thousand fangirls finding their perfect romance hero. Sorry ladies, he’s taken. Oliver may have married Lola on a dare, but he started to fall for her immediately thereafter, so when Dark Wild Night opens, he is an absolute goner. She is oblivious to his affections, but not immune to his charms. Lola is very caught up in having her first graphic novel not only being published, but optioned for a movie as well. She’s flustered and overwhelmed and, in the way that life has of throwing everything at one all at once, this is when she decides to act on her Oliver crush. Things move fast and she gets overwhelmed, leading to a very awkward situation. Breaking up with your best friend and within a tight-knit circle of friends is the opposite of fun. Don’t worry, sweet, steady, surprisingly-loud-in-the-sack Oliver will help her figure things out as she finds the balance she needs.

I have pre-ordered the next Wild Seasons book Wicked Sexy Liar.

Sidebar: What is with all the slapping, bruising, and biting during coitus in these books? Do the authors realise how HARD one has to hit, squeeze, or bite to leave marks hours later? Ouch. Also, why does everyone have to SCREAM in ecstasy and do so loudly enough they can be heard from a great distance? What is up with that? We GET it. They are having sex, really hot, intense, mind-blowing sex. Pipe down.

Reviews of Christina Lauren’s Beautiful Series can be found here and here. 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.

The Beautiful Series: Beautiful Secret by Christina Lauren

I have reviewed the rest of the Beautiful series by writing duo Christina Lauren in an ongoing post, but since the tone of this latest entry was something different, I decided to review it by itself. To get caught up, this is the series thus far (9 books, 4 couples):

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

Ruby is an engineering intern at a London firm. An American living abroad, she is a very ambitious and capable young woman working to augment her experience before applying to a prestigious Masters program. Her boss is one of those quietly harassing, sexist douchelords so many of us have encountered; however, once a week, she attends a team meeting in which dreamy dreamboat Niall Stella will be present and that helps considerably. When the douchelord can’t participate in a month-long work project in New York, Ruby is nominated to attend with Niall.

The beautiful Series is on the erotica end of the romance continuum. Each of the previous books in the series featured characters who quickly got busy, or stayed busy in the case of the novellas. Beautiful Secret is a bit of a right turn in that the consummation is delayed, although Niall and Ruby still have fun. Niall is recently divorced and, while not particularly upset about it, he is a tightly wound guy with very little romantic experience. His closed-off demeanor alternately entices and creates problems for Ruby. They suffer from communication problems – both of the over and under-share varieties – and need to adjust their expectations and behavior to get themselves moving in the right direction.

Beautiful Secret was pleasant and occasionally sweet, but it would be disingenuous of me to be too critical because, for better or worse, I have purchased and read every book in the series and will likely continue to do so. I did find the juxtaposition of Lauren’s usual raunchiness with a more traditional approach to the relationship a bit jarring, but this indicates more about my romance tastes and the point at which they intersect with erotica than about the novel itself.

Having taken 3.7 seconds to ponder it, I generally do not find the “uptight in public/wild man between the sheets” type terribly attractive. Niall is a really great guy, sincere and patient, but he has a long way to go and a lot to learn before he is ready for a relationship with Ruby. To his credit, he realises he needs to grow and give her the space and she is, of course, able to help him with his buttoned-up demeanour. Also around are Niall’s brother, Max, and friends Bennett and Will who appear in previous books in the series. For some strange reason, only one of the women, Chloe, also has a guest starring role. This was a disappointment as I like the other female characters better than her.

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 which includes the aforementioned observations.

 

The Complete Reading List by Author

Short Version: Recommended books are in bold, reviewed books are linked, these are ruthlessly streamlined recommendations lists –

So You Want to Read a (Historical) Romance
Ten Great Romance Novellas to Get You Started
Plus just for funsies: The Worst Romance Novels I Have Ever Read

I have more content based lists over there on the right  –>

Annual Reading Tallies & Author Commentary 2012 – 2017
On reading romance: Emotional Version and Pseudo-Intellectual Version.

My AUTOBUY List (Links Will Take You to a Summary of the Author’s Catalogue)
Tessa Dare (on probation right now actually)
Laura Florand
Lisa Kleypas
Julie Anne Long
Courtney Milan – The. Very. Best.

-A-
Albert, Annabeth Waiting for Clark (Bryce/Clark)
Albert, Annabeth Save the Date (Randall/Hunter)
Alexander, R.G. Ravenous novella (Declan/Trick/Jennifer)
Alexander, Victoria Love with the Proper Husband (Marcus/Gwen)
Alexander, Victoria Lady Amelia’s Secret Lover novella (Robert/Amelia)
Alexander, Victoria The Prince’s Bride (Rand/Jocelyn)
Alexander, Victoria The Importance of Being Wicked (Winfield/Miranda)
Alexander, Victoria Lord Stillwell’s Excellent Engagements novella (Winfield/ Felicia&Lucy&Caroline)
Alvarez, Tracey In Too Deep (West/Piper)
Andre, Bella The Way You Look Tonight (Rafe/Brooke)
Ann, Jewel E. When Life Happened (Gus/Parker)
Ashe, Katharine In the Arms of a Marquess (Ben)
Ashley, Jennifer The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie (Ian, not surprisingly/Beth) – GENRE OUTLINE
Continue reading

The Beautiful Series: Beautiful Bastard, Beautiful Bitch, Beautiful Stranger, Beautiful Bombshell, Beautiful Player, Beautiful Beginning, Beautiful Beloved, & Beautiful Boss by Christina Lauren

The Beautiful series is reasonably inept romance and reasonably ept erotica, although I don’t really know where the rumple in the sheet lies between the two. I would have thought that the main difference was in courtship by coitus and the point at which emotions become involved, but there are plenty of romances where sex precedes love, so it really just comes down to the level of detail. The Beautiful series love scenes were not much more explicit than a fairly typical romance other than greater frequency and the use of rougher language than I am used to. Not shocked but surprised, I am unaccustomed to certain words being bandied about, nor do I necessarily like it when they are. In an interesting twist, the books alternate between the hero and heroine as first person narrator which gives a perspective that was new and fun.

Plot Summary (All): Casual but proclivity compatible and intense sex leads to love.

Characters (All): Hardworking and successful, everyone is lithe and gorgeous.

  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

Beautiful Bastard (novel)

Finishing her MBA, Chloe Mills has worked for the Ryan family for several years, but only for six months as an intern to the eponymous bastard Bennett Ryan. They have a politely hostile relationship that breaks down when they start having The Angry Sex then spar and copulate their way to togetherness. The alternating narration gives a good and necessary insight into Bennett and just how crazy he is about Chloe. He may be a bastard, but Chloe is equal to the task and he is besotted.  Despite the underwear rending (every single time) role Bennett takes in The Angry Sex, there is never, in any of these books, any suggestion that the women are anything but equal partners and the men find it exhilarating.

Beautiful Bitch

A short novella, Beautiful Bitch was simply more of Chloe and Bennett picking up one year later and then flashing back and forth to their reunion and ongoing relationship. More sex. Engagement.

Beautiful Stranger (novel)

Mercifully, the stranger of the title is singular and not plural because that’s not so romantic, but this novel is about an indulgence in anonymous sex that leads to love and a secure, sexually compatible relationship. Sara Dillon has just moved to New York City to start a new life for away from her cheating ex. Celebrating Chloe’s engagement, she meets a very tall, handsome stranger who propositions her. She turns him down, but later notices him watching her dancing and decides she likes it. They have sex against a wall of the club, then Sara walks away. No names were exchanged, but her stranger, Max Stella, is captivated. Through a series of friendship coincidences, Max finds Sara and agrees to a strictly sexual relationship with her. Their specific proclivity is exhibitionism, including photography in media res, so they indulge in a number of increasingly risky scenarios as they expand their indulgences and fall in love. Apparently.  I’m not sure exactly where the falling in love part came in, but they do and the relationship moves to the next level which, in this case, means a bed in a private home. It was rather sweet.

Beautiful Bombshell (novella)

Another novella shoehorned into the series and the one in which things veered toward farce. Bennett and Max are in Las Vegas with friends for the former’s bachelor weekend. Chloe and Sara happen to be there as well and the couples find ways to have The Angry Sex and The Public Sex in and around the party events and hoping to evade detection. It was quick, and fun, but also ridiculous.

Beautiful Player (novel)

Don’t let the hep language of the title fool you. This is the story of a rake and a wallflower, a trope I particularly enjoy. Delicious player Will Sumner is bored with hot and cold running sex. When his best friend asks him to help his younger sister get out more, Will accepts. Hanna Bergstrom is straightforward and has no filter. After their first meeting, Will spends several chapters falling in love in slow motion. His friends delight in his smitten state. A PhD student who has long been too distracted to have a social life, Hanna gets a quick makeover [eye roll] and she revels in the company of the man who was the object of her first crush.

So how do you cure a player? You go back to basics. Although not yet in love, Will and Hanna’s relationship builds slowly from reasonably tame foreplay to consummation. This book had the most relatable characters and she was a pip.

Beautiful Beginning (novella)

More “I hate you, do it HARDER!” and promises of post-coital ambulatory issues in this novella about Bennett and Chloe’s destination wedding. The travel element allows all the characters to be in close proximity and, like other final get together novels of this type, the current story is irrelevant. Max, Sara, Hanna, and Will make appearances, although I would have liked more of them. Chloe and Bennett have vowed not to have sex for FOUR WHOLE DAYS and gradually build up a head of steam for some epic The Angry Sex on their wedding night. Sometimes funny, they have skirmishes and make vulgar displays in front of their family and I was both a bit bored by it and a bit put off.

Beautiful Beloved (novella)

The central characters from Beautiful Stranger, Max and Sara, are back as well as the supporting cast. Sara was pregnant in the previous two books and this story picks up when their daughter is four months old. (Aside: Thank goodness, it’s not Chloe and Bennett having children because neither of them are parent material.) Max and Sara are as blissfully happy as ever, but their perfect union is sullied – lightly sprinkled with dust motes, really – by the lack of violently intense (hopefully public) sex in their lives. Not a lack of sex, mind you, but a lack of amazeballs sex. What follows are unsuccessful attempts to rekindle the fire of their pre-baby state with failed nights out. Gay-assistant-stereotype-George spends a night caring for the little one, then the adorable Will and Hanna, and finally Max’s brother Niall whose presence foreshadows his novel coming out in April.

I know that these books are escapist, but speaking as someone with very little money and alone on the prairie in terms of help when we had a newborn, I confess my bitterness interfered with my enjoyment of Beautiful Beloved. Max and Sara are wealthy and surrounded by potential caregivers. The only thing really stopping them from leaving the house alone is the baby quicksand all new parents fall into. There is something in Beautiful Beloved about society not wanting to see mothers as sexual creatures, as well as the conflict between the desire to go back to work and notions of being a good parent, but honestly the series just unravels its gossamer tether to reality a little more with each entry, so thematic discussions seem kind of pointless; moreover, it had a climax that left me cringing and saying, “Ew! Really? How many fetishes do these people have? Ew. WHAT? EW!” regardless of what points the authors might have been trying to make.

Beautiful Secret goes here in the reading order.

Beautiful Boss (novella)

As a quick follow up to Beautiful Player, I do wonder how many of these latter series novellas are just cashing in. I don’t begrudge the authors that, by the way, I just wish it had more of what made Will and Hanna’s full length book fun. Instead her enjoyable cluelessness turned into a stumbling block for the couple.

Beautiful Boss picks up on the eve of Will and Hanna’s wedding, trips lightly through their nuptials, and moves on to the more urgent details of their life together. Hanna has just completed a post-doc year and is crushed under the weight of offers to either teach or run a lab for prestigious universities. When was the last time, do you suppose, even the most gifted graduate had such a plethora of opportunities? She waffles through the book as Will is fantastically accommodating, but grows increasingly frustrated with her unwillingness to discuss where she thinks she’d like to end up. Sometimes, they take a break to get it on. They fight. They make a decision. Life goes on

Sidebar with a detail I LOVED: Will Sumner and Hanna Bergstrom both change their last name to the Sumner-Bergstrom. It’s unwieldly, but who cares?

The two woman writing team of the books, working under the pseudonym Christina Lauren, are pumping out these and more novels with alacrity. Like many genre writers, they have found a successful niche and know what their audience wants: lots of interesting sex which acknowledges that women have the same urges as men and enough of a plot to string things along and keep them interesting. The challenges faced by the couples are all Big Misunderstandings easily remedied, but the same can be said of many romances. The main complaint I have about the series is the constant low hum of dudebro sexism. The male characters interactions focus on insults of feminization and loss of manliness: They are whipped, their “girls” have taken possession of their testes, emotions are female and weak. The otherwise powerful women take it all in stride.  It’s the kind of casual sexism that surrounds us every day and which I hope to escape when reading these books.

Sidebar: Chloe has a gay admin who fills the “sassy gay assistant ” stereotype that the books could have done without.

Christina Lauren has a series, Wild Seasons, in the new adult romance genre which I recommend over the Beautiful books. Their writing just keeps getting better. 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.

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