Tag Archives: romance review

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.

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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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So You Want to Read a (Historical, Contemporary, New Adult, Paranormal) Romance …

Alternatively: The Worst Romance Novels I Have Ever Read

This recommendations list is gleaned from at least 80 authors and over 500 books.

Ten Great Romance Novellas to Get You Started

Looking for something specific? Here’s a list of authors I’ve read enough to see thematic consistencies and it’s hard to go wrong with these writers:

Tessa Dare – FUN, bring your willing suspension of disbelief, on double-secret probation right now
Laura Florand – contemporary romances set in France, great intensity
Carla Kelly – lovely Regency romances, often military-themed
Lisa Kleypas  – the gold standard, also writes contemporaries
Julie Anne Long – extremely clever and funny
Courtney Milan – The very best currently publishing, one for the pantheon.
Julia Quinn – An excellent place to launch your reading. Start with The Bridgertons.

I lovehate Jennifer Ashley’s sincere romance mired in tortured heroes and overwrought plotting.

This list is an edited version of my Complete Reading List by Author. Reviewed books are linked.

Mallory, a frequent commenter, asked me to make a personal Top 5 list. I tried. I couldn’t do it.

CLASSICS

  1. Balogh, Mary Slightly Dangerous – historical
  2. Bowen, Sarina Blonde Date  – new adult novella
  3. Chase, Loretta Lord of Scoundrelshistorical
  4. Gabaldon, Diana Outlanderhistorical
  5. Heyer, Georgette Venetia (Dameral/Venetia) – historical
  6. Jenkins, Beverly Indigo  – historical
  7. Kinsale, Laura Flowers from the Storm old school, historical
  8. Kleypas, Lisa Dreaming of Youhistorical
  9. Kleypas, Lisa The Devil in Winter  – historical
  10. Long, Julie Anne What I Did for a Duke – historical
  11. Milan, Courtney A Kiss for Midwinter – historical novella
  12. Milan, Courtney The Suffragette Scandal  – historical
  13. Montgomery, L.M. The Blue Castle – historical now, but not when published
  14. Quinn, Julia Romancing Mr. Bridgerton  Bridgerton Book 4 – historical
  15. Thorne, Sally The Hating Game – contemporary

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