Tag Archives: contemporary romance

Taken and Torn Series: Taken by Two by Sam J.D. Hunt

Sometimes I just can’t resist finding out how bad awful sounding romances can be. Taken by Two did not let me down. It’s terrible and not (just) because of the ridiculous love scenes. It’s a Cinemax movie from the 1980s with more graphic sex. I’ll let Amazon fill you in:

Taken by two enigmatic men, Penelope Sedgewick overcomes demons from the past to learn to thrive in a thrilling new dangerous world. When the missing billionaire Nathaniel Slater reappears from oblivion and kidnaps her, she’s sure his dark friend, Rex Renton, is the true one to fear. The nature of their close relationship intrigues her, and as the three are thrown together in a fight for their lives, the sizzling chemistry between them explodes with more heat than the exotic jungle Rex calls home. As each of the unlikely lovers seek redemption for past sins, the three-way love between them grows into an unbreakable bond.

Everything about Taken by Two is a cliché, facile, trite, and often all three at once – in keeping with the story. Nice hustle, Sam J.D. Hunt! The narrative, the characters, the settings, the plot, the Dallas-Dynasty details meant to evoke the trappings of wealth, it’s all just so much codswallop built to frame the love scenes with Penny and Rex, Penny and Nate, or all three of them together. And even that wasn’t enough to keep me from skipping through the story. I’m assuming it was free, I can’t possibly have paid for 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.

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Wait for It by Mariana Zapata

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Life Happened by Jewel E. Ann

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escorted by Claire Kent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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 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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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.

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