Tag Archives: romance review

The Holidays Series: The Stocking Was Hung, Cupid Has a Heart-On, The Firework Exploded, & The Bunny is Coming by Tara Sivec

Tara Sivec caught my eye on a romance newsletter with a book called Zed Had to Die. I started with a sample and got sucked into buying the entirety of The Stocking Was Hung because I am a sucker for fabulously cheesy titles* and I had no idea what the writing would sink to. Sivec’s bailiwick looks to be romps and I’ll just say that I’m glad I got the rest of the books in the series on loan from Amazon Unlimited (or whatever it’s called). There were sufficient cheap laughs and just enough sincere romance to hold my attention for the first two books before I resorted to sliding through the last two.

The Holiday Series Set Up: A thirty-three year old woman, Noel (Noelle) Holiday, has run screaming from her boyfriend’s pre-Christmas proposal, lost her job, and is en route to Ohio for the holidays. Having to face her loving, intrusive, and judge-y family in her current state of disaster is something she dreads. Sitting in an airport bar feeling sorry for herself, she spills her beer on the man sitting next to her and discovers he is hot with a hotness that is hot and, since he, Sam Stocking, feels the same way about her, he agrees to pretend to be her boyfriend for Christmas. A marriage of convenience ensues which is, I admit, my favourite romance trope. They end up engaged by the end of book one, The Stocking Was Hung, officially engaged at the end of book two, Cupid Has a Heart-On, get married in book three, The Firework Exploded, and you can guess what happens with the fertility symbol in book four, The Bunny is Coming.

The four books progress from the marriage of convenience in The Stocking Was Hung through Big Understandings in the last three books. Noel’s family is much more than promised in the set up and the forced frivolity gets ramped up and progressively more ridiculous. There’s a lot of literal and metaphorical flouncing and door slamming. When I started the series, I told myself to lean in to the farce. It’s not like the books took themselves seriously, so it wasn’t my job to either, but there was just so much nonsense; such as,

  1. Noel’s deranged, over sexed transgender aunt who immediately grabs the junk and then continues to sexually harasses every man she meets, offers everyone drugs, or provides unsolicited sex advice.
  2. Noel’s judgemental and over sexed mother who is either criticizing Noel or providing unsolicited bedroom antic advice and details about her own love life.
  3. Noel’s overprotective father who takes that old chestnut about not buying the cow when you can get the milk for free and turns it into a litany of dairy-based “keep your hands off my daughter” threats.
  4. Noel’s parents obsession with their daughter’s sex life and their own with a bizarre level of detail. It’s not romp-y, it’s creepy.
  5. Sam’s dudebro sexism and gay paranoia.
  6. Noel’s dudebro sexism and generally high-strung nature.

There was too much over-reaction from protagonists in their mid-thirties and her obnoxious family in order to drive the plot and it descended into ridiculousness that became painful. Or I’m a humourless cow. One of the two. Given the titles, I may have been expecting too much .

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 review of Scrooge McFu*k is still pending.

The Stocking Was Hung (The Holidays #1) by [Sivec, Tara]

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Castles Ever After Series: Do You Want to Start a Scandal? by Tessa Dare

Tessa Dare’s latest Regency romance series is called The Duchess Deal and I would recommend its first book, Girl Meets Duke, over Do You Want to Start a Scandal? This crossover story between Dare’s Spindle Cove and Castles Ever After novels, features the youngest of the Highwood sisters and longtime troublemaker, Charlotte, who has both eldest sibling Diana’s desire for a loving home and intellectual Minerva‘s sense of adventure.

Piers Brandon, Lord Granville is an agent of the crown performing reconnaissance at a two-week house party in the English countryside. Devoted to his duty to King and country, he is caught off guard when Charlotte Highwood presents herself to him with a warning: Her mother will be trying to force a match between them and they must be careful to avoid it. Before you can say “in flagrante delicto”, Charlotte and Piers are caught alone together and giving the appearance of having crossed several lines. Their betrothal now imminent, they agree to the appearance of an understanding to get through the remainder of the estate. Kissing book plotting has other plans for them. After all,  it is a romance novel truth universally acknowledged that a peer must be in want of an heir.

Autocratic and closed off Piers is drawn to Charlotte’s intelligence and charm, while she soon learns that below the surface and behind his protective walls is a loving and passionate man. As they wend their way through plot machinations, they discover they are mad for each other and all that’s left is the genre’s forgone conclusion. I didn’t buy it for a second.

I tried reading Do You Want to Start a Scandal twice –  once in my original attempt and again for this review. It’s amazing how much of my time was taken up with wondering “How old is Piers exactly?” in the midst of skipping forward to find a more interesting part of the story. Charlotte is “not yet twenty-one” and while Piers’ age is never specifically stated, he must be at least 32. A twelve (or more) year age gap is not unheard of, but it didn’t work here. While I’d like an older heroine, the problem is not actually her age. I just don’t see what she has to offer Piers. What could they possibly find as common ground to build a relationship on? All of her youthful exuberance serves to remind me that he is a person of much greater experience in life and of the world and the writing failed to convince me that they were on the same page.

With the lack of well-matched characters overshadowing the story, I wasn’t especially worried about Dare’s usual requirement that I bludgeon and sequester my willing suspension of disbelief or that the revelation of the true goings on by the supporting characters was preposterous. I require somewhat more Regency and somewhat less modern farce in my historical romances.

Julie Anne Long’s classic historical romance What I Did for a Duke features a large age gap convincingly rendered. She’s twenty years old to his thirty-nine.

A complete summary of Tessa Dare’s catalogue, with recommendations, 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.

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The Winston Brothers: Beard in Mind by Penny Reid

Buying all of Penny Reid’s Winston Brothers and Knitting in the City books means that I have ridden the roller coaster of her uneven stories. The writing is always fine, and often much better than that, but she hits more rough patches than smooth and doesn’t always manage her plot complications well. Those issues are dealt with, mostly, in Beard in Mind and along the way, the reader gets to see couples from previous books, including Quinn and (my favourite) Janie.

One of Reid’s best efforts, Beard in Mind is a strong entry to the Winston Brothers series with its tortured heroine and the world’s most affable hero. Beau Winston is a sincere charmer. Helpful, well-intentioned, and self-possessed, he does not know what to make of the extraordinarily prickly new mechanic in the family auto repair shop. Shelly Sullivan, sister of Neanderthal Seeks Human’s Quinn, is irascible and difficult. Her habit of cutting people off at the knees perplexes and fascinates Beau. Shelly gets under his skin and her obstreperousness doesn’t stop him from falling for her as he comes to understand the reasons behind it and respect the person she is.

So often in romances, the hero is exasperating and the love of the heroine is traditionally redemptive. It’s nice to see the trope switched here. Shelly, however, doesn’t require of fixing/redeeming. She has OCD and what she needs is someone who sees her as whole, has expectations of her, and understands that sometimes she is at war with her own mind. Beau, while going through his own issues, is the right man for her. Each is responsible for managing their challenges or “fixing their own refrigerator” as it is described in this story. You root for Shelly to find what she needs and to be given/take the opportunity to participate fully in life and relationships.

I would recommend Beard in Mind not just because it’s Reid’s strongest book in a while, but because it contains a sublimely romantic moment. Given the genre and the number of books I read, you’d think these would occur more often, but they simply don’t and this one was the equal of the very short list of those I keep in my head and can track on the fingers of one hand.

I need to make a Penny Reid catalogue page, but in the meantime…

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

Winston Brothers Series:
Truth or Beard – too much comeheregoaway
Grin and Beard It – pretty darn good
Beard Science – decent
Beard in Mind – please see above
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.

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A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh

“I don’t think anything inspired me except the necessity of coming up with a story so that I could fulfill my obligation to a contract I had agreed to! I had to dream up a story, and this one popped into my head.” Mary Balogh in the interview following A Matter of Class. Nonetheless, as an experienced, and clearly honest, professional writer, she delivered a sincerely charming  historical romance novella.

Reggie and Annabelle are lifelong neighbours divided by a waterway as well as the barriers of class levels in so-called polite society. Their estates may be next to each other and they may go to the same church, but his self-made father and her top-lofty, though cash poor,  sire have been at odds for Reggie and Annabelle’s entire lives.

Told in present day and flashbacks, the reader learns that Reggie has become a dissolute spendthrift more interested in the tassels on his new Hoby boots than settling down. He’s a minor scandal compared to the fact that Annabelle has recently been recovered from an unsuccessful, but nonetheless scandalous, elopement with a family servant. Disgraced, impecunious, and in need of being advantageously foisted off on a man of means, the fathers make a plan for their children to marry. Reggie and Annabelle have plans of their own.

Light and quick, A Matter of Class moves entertainingly towards its resolution with some clever twists along the way. I recommend it as and strongly suspect I will be revisiting it when in need of a lift.

My favourite Balogh novels:
The Survivors’ Club:Only Enchanting – great book and wonderful hero
The Slightly Series: Slightly Dangerous – this one is a classic

For more Mary Balogh book reviews you can go 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 or my  streamlined recommendations list.

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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Girl Meets Duke Series: The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

What was being a duke, if not arching a sardonic eyebrow?

[fires confetti cannon, then starts pointing and yelling, “YES!” at Tessa Dare]

Girl Meets Duke has all of Dare’s cleverness and less of her recent series’ tweeness. She’s back and I’m in! It’s not her best work, but it’s what I (and very possibly no one else as captious as I am) consider a return to form, and in some ways a step up. It’s like she unleashed her full wit and wordplay on this Regency romance.

Ash is a brooding, forbidding Duke. Manly, muscular, and scarred by cannon fire, he focuses on running his estates and wallowing in his despair. Aware of his responsibility to the duchy to provide an heir, he proposes to the first, well, second, acceptable young woman he meets. He threw over the first one when he discovered she was disgusted by his appearance which seems more than fair on his part. Emma arrives in his study to demand payment for that first fiancée’s wedding dress. Working as a seamstress, she left home when her father, a vicar no less, shamed her for a liaison with a local young man. Ash instantly proposes a marriage of convenience, Emma rightly declines, and then circumstances conspire to bring them together anyway.

The Duchess Deal continues with Dare’s tendency to make a kind of musical comedy of her romances while pulling in current cultural elements, in this case superheroes. The writing crackles and I found myself thinking this is what it might be like of P.G. Wodehouse wrote romance novels and worked blue. The book works to Dare’s strengths and I did not find myself as bothered by the overarching need to willing suspension my disbelief as I did with the Castles Ever After series. Yes, the servants love the above stairs folk, and it’s more of a family than an aristocratic household, and there were sundry other non-historical elements, but I will be buying the next Girl Meets Duke story and hope that Dare’s return to my autobuy list will be long-term.

Dare’s best works are A Week to Be Wicked , Any Duchess Will Do, and The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright . A complete summary of Tessa Dare’s catalogue, with more recommendations, 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.

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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.