Tag Archives: romance review

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.

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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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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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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.

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