Tag Archives: contemporary romance

Imago by N.R. Walker

Look at these two nice people falling in love! It’s so sweet. They’re both so lovely. They match so well. Everyone is down-to-earth and sensible. It’s so realistic. Is it maybe just a little bit dull?

Recently, I have been reading a lot of N.R. Walker contemporary M/M romances because they are very pleasant and occasionally delightful, the Australian settings lend a certain subtle exoticism, and they were almost all free for my e-reader. Of the six or so I’ve read, I’d recommend Imago and The Weight of It All most highly. Both feature men finding wonderful partners and looking to build a future together.

Lepidopterist, bow-tie wearer, and “Hottest Fucking Nerd on the Planet” Lawson Gale is in Tasmania for a week of hunting for a possibly non-existent species of butterfly. On the way there, he runs into Jack Brighton who just happens to be attractive; attracted to Lawson, hence the Hottest Nerd designation; and a Parks and Wildlife Officer in the region Lawson is conducting research in. When Lawson’s car rental falls through, Jack is more than happy to provide a lift to his meeting and, hopefully, the rest of their lives.

Lawson and Jack spark to each other instantly and move through a series of charming dates and days in the field being nice, adorable, and compatible. They are enormously attracted to each other – Jack tall, friendly, and easygoing; Lawson stylish, introverted, and slight  – and it doesn’t take long for them to be a couple. It only takes a week in point of fact.

Everything in Imago worked, but while it was a solid and engaging romance, it lacked a certain something that I can’t quite put my finger on. All of the Walker books I’ve read so far are short on drama, usually there is only one incident, but the novels also don’t spark or sizzle quite as much as I feel like they should – which leads me to  wonder what I look to these books for and how it is provided successfully. I don’t have an answer though, just the quibble.

Also by N.R. Walker:
Learning to Feel
Sixty Five Hours
The Weight of It All
Imago – please see above
Red Dirt Heart – review to come
Twelfth of Never – follow-up short story from Walker’s Blind Faith series
His Grandfather’s Watch – in my TBR pile

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.

34342184

That is a WORLD CLASS cover, artistic and appropriate!

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:

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

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

beard

Man Candy by Melanie Harlow

I have friends, PattyKates, who write fabulous romance reviews as a team. They coined the term “raisin sex” to describe sexual activity in novels that is simply not to one’s taste, i.e. when your cookie has raisins in it, but you prefer chocolate chips. Man Candy was just such a book for me. A contemporary romance with some charm, flashes of humour, and a fairly paint by numbers story delivery, Harlow delivered raisin sex when I wanted chocolate chip sex.  Raisin sex, I might add, is in a lot of books these days. I can’t tell if that’s the influence of Fifty Shades or my immersion in the genre came at a time when such things became more mainstream.

Quinn and Jamie have known each other all their lives. She crushed on him in high school and was rebuffed. After a career as a model, he has just moved back to their hometown, specifically the lower half of her duplex. He’s hot AF, as the story lovingly tells us over and over again, and he’s also really into Jamie, but she only wants to hook up. Embarking on a strictly sexual relationship based on compatible proclivities, he wants more. Jamie is jaded and unconvinced. He’s pretty much perfect and she knows he’s a good guy since he’s a close friend of her brother’s. Quinn slowly wears her down by loving her up and waiting for her to surrender to the inevitable.

While nothing special, there was enough fun in the writing style to keep me mostly interested, but the raisin sex disrupted the flow. Unlike some abominations or awful novels, Man Candy wasn’t that out there in terms of the sex scenes, just some shaming and domination, but it made me uncomfortable.  Any intimate contact which smacks of belittlement or pleasure in humiliation or pain really puts me off. Not just preferring chocolate chips over raisins, I also want vanilla.

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.

41TYqTkSGQL

The Afterward contains an interview with the cover model (above ) Quinn was based on.

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.

65hourscoverebook1328x2000

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.

123

 

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.

Continue reading

London Celebrities Series: Pretty Face by Lucy Parker

Lucy Parker is TWO for TWO! Buy this one!

Pretty Face follows the contemporary romance that I hope you’ve already read, Act Like It, in Parker’s London Celebrities series and she continues to mix clever writing and emotional sincerity to gain engaging, recommendable results. Herewith the only note I took while reading, “wonderfully sarcastic”; although, I highlighted several passages, such as, “It’s a lost art, condescension. Most workplaces are so PC these days that you just don’t get patronized in quite the same way.” and “The house looked like an interplanetary prison.”

Set in London’s theatre sub-culture, Pretty Face is the marriage of convenience story of a lauded and difficult director, Luc Savage, and a classical actor trapped in the body, and specifically the sex kitten voice, of a successful soap opera performer. Convinced to let Lily Lamprey audition to play Elizabeth I in the production of a new play at a theatre he owns and has renovated, Luc learns that despite her vocal challenges which are, of course, addressable, Lily is a very good actor who wants to live up to her potential and have a more serious career.

[starter pistol fires]

Luc and Lily are both caught off guard by their instant connection and the sense of rightness in it what they each feel. He’s older, 40, and recently out of a long-term relationship he has realised he wasn’t really all that invested in. She’s 26 and trying to get her future on the right track. A romantic entanglement (gossip) might help the box office, but the press is already setting her up for failure and sleeping with her boss is not going to help her reputation. It doesn’t matter. They belong together. Of course, they do.

As Lily, Luc, and the rest of the theatre company work towards opening night, things go awry on and off stage providing professional and personal challenges, and sometimes both. It’s a deftly written, witty ride and Parker combines bright, prickly people with a sincere romanticism that works really well. The reality in romances might be heightened but when the emotions are grounded, it brings these novels to the level I think most readers hope for.

Enjoyable isn’t really the right word for Parker’s portrayal of the relentless sexism that Lily puts up with in her life as a goddess often assumed to have the brain of a beetroot, but the way she endures the constant onslaught was a fantastic character detail. Women are accustomed to being patronized, Lily is used to rising above the constant disrespect that is amplified by being a public/tabloid figure with a beautiful, voluptuous appearance.

Please buy this book and help make sure Lucy Parker gets to keep writing.

Wait.

WAIT!

I lied.

I did make one other note while reading: “Jesus!” when I read the description of the hero, “Luc Savage looked like Gregory Peck, circa some dapper time between Roman Holiday and To Kill a Mockingbird. There was more bulk in the shoulders, silver in the hair and darkness in the soul; otherwise, the resemblance was uncanny.” These are all very good things.

I spoke English for a living for several years, as an adult ESL teacher, and watched Roman Holiday with a few of my classes. Once or twice, or every time, my students may have heard a “Good lord,” from my place at the back of the classroom while watching. I’m not made of stone.

giphy

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author and Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful, or on my  streamlined recommendations list to which I will be adding Pretty Face soon after clicking “Publish”.

32613865