Tag Archives: contemporary romance

The Weight of It All by N.R. Walker

The Weight of It All was one of those quietly enjoyable reads that are hard to review. It was wonderfully simple and just plain nice. In this contemporary romance set in Sydney Australia, two sweet people fall in love in a funny and engaging romance short on drama and long on kindness.

Freshly dumped and taking his ex’s parting salvo of “old and fat” to heart, Henry Beckett and picks himself up and ventures to the local gym to see what he can do about the jerk’s evaluation. Assigned Reed Henske as his personal trainer, and motivational Thor, the two men instantly hit it off and proceed in an orderly and realistic manner towards a loving, long-term relationship.

Henry is very funny and self-deprecating in that way all those of us who don’t have the best filters have learned to be. Reed appreciates him and is able to play along as he quietly pursues Henry and waits for him to notice. Both he and Reed just want to be seen and accepted for their true selves. The supporting players were strong and I appreciated that they represented parallels in the men’s lives.

I have no real complaints about The Weight of It All other than that it didn’t really feel like anything was at stake. Given that it’s a genre with strictly prescribed outcomes, it’s safe to say that nothing ever is, but conveying a sense of urgency in the story is part of the writer’s obligation, but even that sounds far more critical than I mean it to. It’s a lovely story and it made me excited in a fluttery and goofy way for Henry and Reed when things went well and that is something I look for in the romance novels and don’t often get.

N.R. Walker has a large back catalogue, so I have already downloaded several more free e-books and, depending on how those go, I will be glad to make my way through her published works. Most of her novels are about gay couples and I sincerely hope they follow the same path as The Weight of It All by avoiding the LGBTQ “gay for you”romance  trope in which a story element is the exploration of sexual orientation as opposed to just two people falling in love.

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.

the-weight-of-it-all

Scoring Chances: Power Play by Avon Gale

My quest for good romance continues with a book recommended to me on Pajiba my online home away from home.

Max Ashford’s career in the NHL was cut short when a checking accident on the ice left him with compromised peripheral vision. Working on a career behind the bench, he joins head coach Misha Samarin with the Spartanburg Spitfires in South Carolina. It’s an ECHL team – meaning a double A hockey franchise that acts as a feeder to the minors and, with any luck for the players, to the NHL itself. The pay isn’t great, but Max is paying his dues and Misha is financially secure after a long career playing for the NHL. He also happens to be the opponent who was involved in Max’s career ending injury.

Chosen for the potential publicity resulting from their NHL encounter, the Spitfire’s unscrupulous  owner hires them for  the losingest team in the league. Neither man is thrilled and only Misha is still carrying any baggage from the accident, but he and Max slowly pull the players into a solid team. Along the way they, of course, fall in love.

Overall, I enjoyed Power Play. The lead characters were both interesting and likeable, Max in particular is adorable, and Gale alternated between their perspectives really well, including Misha’s excellent, but not perfect English. For drama, the story had Misha’s angst over many elements in his past including what he had to do to get away from his monster of a father and safely out of Russia. A gay man who has largely closeted himself, he has some issues to work through and is a brooder. Cheerful, easygoing Max, on the other hand, has recently realised he is bisexual and while the attraction to Misha surprises him, he’s not fighting any battles against it, or anything else.

With Power Play, I am again wondering where I can find a romance in which both leads are just, if you’ll excuse the pun, straight up bisexual or gay. Why does this kind of relationship have to be new to one or both of the men involved? Why can’t they both have have comfortably dated men in the past? I don’t need sexual initiation scenes. I just want to read a love story about two people finding their match without drama surrounding their orientation. Having looked at other books in the series, it seems each pairing suffers from this same syndrome so I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of them. Fortunately, the same lovely person who suggested this book provided me with a long list of other LBGTQ romances to try, so I will be moving on to another novel soon.

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.

41aiyilwwsl

Brooklyn Bruisers: Hard Hitter by Sarina Bowen

Sarina Bowen burst into my romance reading life in 2015 with her Ivy Years series and my discovery happily coincided with her career taking off. This has provided me with lots of reading material. Though none of her more recent books have captured the magic of those first ones I read (Blonde Date is a perfect novella), I am continuing to buy her books; however as the prices have gone up, my interest is going down. It’s one thing to be a $5 author, it’s another to be an $8 or $10 one. At this point, only Laura Florand, Lisa Kleypas, and Courtney Milan are in the latter category. I don’t want them to be lonely, I really don’t, though, to be fair, I used to have a job where I earned scads of AmEx points and consequently didn’t have to actually pay for a book for several years. It’s made me spoiled and cantankerous, but I digress.

Patrick O’Doul is the captain and enforcer on the new NHL franchise team the Brooklyn Bruisers. Purchased by a tech billionaire as a hobby, the young team is getting its skates under itself and the assorted employees are falling in love as the book series grows. Patrick’s love interest is a massage therapist for the team (I can’t remember, but I’m assuming that there is more than one for all those men) and he has been reluctant to let her, or anyone for that matter, lay hands on him.

Ari Bettini is devoted to her job with the hockey team, traveling and training with them as necessary, and it provides focus away from her long-term relationship that recently went completely sideways before crashing into a wall and bursting into flames. When she finally gets Patrick on her massage table to address his hip issue, sparks quickly fly. The two become involved and complications naturally ensue which lead, as well they ought, to a happily ever after for the couple.

Patrick  worships the ground Ari walks on and I while I love an unapologetically besotted hero, it wasn’t enough to make up for the fact that many elements of Hard Hitter felt under-explored or oversimplified. Patrick was a bit of a cipher with a cursory backstory insufficiently fleshed out to give his portrayal true heft. It was the “that poor man has secret pain” approach to character development which Bowen has fallen back on in other books as well. Ari suffers from the opposite problem.  She has been given too much baggage, but the result is similarly underplayed. He ex-boyfriend’s behavior changed greatly towards the close of their relationship and the escalation to threats of violence not only from him but from thugs he is associated with should have been a lot more traumatic for her. If either Ari or Patrick’s experiences had been more thoroughly addressed, it would have benefited the story.

After Hard Hitter and even with my qualms, I will still read the next Sarina Bowen book, but on sale or from my library. I just won’t be paying full price again until she writes a more satisfying book.

Sarina Bowen’s Catalogue gives an overview of her published works . 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.

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.

21694032

 

FBI/US Attorney Series: It Happened One Wedding by Julie James

Julie James writes reliably enjoyable contemporary romances that never quite rise to greatness, but are a good go-to for fun, sizzle, and a bit of excitement. It Happened One Wedding is the most recent entry in her FBI/US Attorney novels and in this case it’s the hero who meets the series requirement. The leads in all of these books are well-to-do, sexy professionals who have established their careers and are ready to pay attention to their personal lives.

Investment banker Sidney Sinclair has moved back to Chicago following a mortifying breakup shortly before her wedding. She found out her fiance had been cheating on her and had to call it off at the last minute. Back home with a new job, she wants find a good man, settle down, and assuage her biological clock.

Vaughn Roberts spots Sidney on an ill-fated coffee date and makes his move when her companion leaves. Sidney hands Vaughn his ass when he  hits on her and they go their separate ways … for about thirty minutes until they learn that his brother is marrying her sister and Vaughn and Sidney will be in the wedding party. Thrown together for the next several weeks as the couple rushes to the altar (they want to get there before her surprise pregnancy becomes apparent), Sidney and Vaughn banter their way into bed and, eventually, a relationship.

The FBI/US Attorney books aren’t particularly long on character development and It Happened One Wedding has a tough woman/confirmed bachelor plot that wasn’t resolved so much as the whole thing suddenly came to a halt when Vaughn decides he is ready for a serious relationship after all. I was actually surprised when the story ended with a thump.

Dwelling mostly in tropes and types, James’ writing is generally fresh and sexy enough to balance out any shortcomings in her plots. I don’t eagerly await her new releases, but I read them when they are available either at the library or for a good price for my Kindle. Her novels are a pleasant diversion between autobuy author releases and taking chances with new writers.

Also by Julie James:
Love Irresistibly
Something About You – best of the group
About That Night

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

51i5tcdagyl

Thin Love by Eden Butler

I still, despite all the inconsistencies, go to online reviews to help choose books to read. Thin Love was strongly recommended, cheap, and had the added appeal of a lead character who was a person of colour which is always welcome. Unfortunately, much of the romance between Keira and Kona is centered around the kind of relationship chaos that passes for passion with teenagers and in badly written novels, and resulted in it being my first DNF (did not finish) novel of the year. I read most of it, but resorted to skimming once its bumptiousness became truly annoying. Eden Butler’s writing was trite and the viewpoint sophomoric.

“And I wouldn’t use a situation like this to take advantage of a girl.”
“I never said…”
“I don’t have to Keira.”
He hoped she caught his meaning.

Bully for you, Kona! I’m delighted to learn you don’t have to use force to get laid. What  would happen if you did “have to”? He is truly a treasure:

“Don’t fish, Tonya. It makes you look common.” And Kona realized that’s what he didn’t like about girls like her. They were common. They were all the same, clones of each other trying to stick out, each one mimicking the other until their faces were indistinguishable.”

I assume these are the same women Kona doesn’t have to take advantage of since he has just slept with Tonya owing to sexual frustration in his relationship with Keira. Kona is in love with someone else, sleeps with Tonya, and then belittles her for acting exactly the same way he has.

“He got Tonya with little effort. He got her because that morning while he ran before class, she followed, trailed behind him like a prowling cat. He gave the kitty her cream, and now? Well. he felt like shit about it.”

Oink.

You aren’t telling the reader who Tonya is, Eden Butler, intentionally or not, you are telling the reader who your hero is. I wish there weren’t so many romances saying that  sexually active women who aren’t the heroine are desperate, vapid whores, or that there’s nothing wrong with a man who sleeps with whomever he wants but regards those women as beneath his contempt as well as his body. She was good enough to be inside of, but not seen as a person.

The relationship between the hero and heroine in Thin Love is filled with jealousy, violent gestures, breakups and makeups until they truly splinter apart… only to find each other again years later for one last round of chaos before they make their way to happily ever after. I finished enough of Thin Love to be appalled by it and skimmed the rest to meet my review obligations, vexed that once again melodrama and havoc has been presented as a love story.

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

51fnd8tfznl

The cover is the best part of the book.