Tag Archives: romance reviews

Whyborne and Griffin: Widdershins by Jordan L. Hawk

This review required a little research from me on the genre distinction between paranormal and fantasy, so I could resolve that Widdershins is the former. The first in a series, which takes its name from the main characters, this paranormal romance features a couple interacting with occult forces and things that go bump in the night. I would recommend Widdershins, even though it was not my cup of tea. It was fun, but I like significantly less violence and prefer a dearth of imaginary creatures in my kissing books as a rule.

Set in the late 19th century, a linguist working away happily in the bowels of a museum, Percival Whyborne is approached by private investigator, Griffin Flaherty, to decode/translate an encrypted text left behind by a murder victim. As they work together freaky events happen around them and in turn reveal a cult trying to end the world. Racing against time, Percival and Griffin have a grand, but occasionally creepy, adventure and fall madly in love. I was very much in favour of that last part.

Given that I prefer my romances without the paranormal elements, I’m not sure how to judge the ones here. They were fine and well portrayed, I guess; however, Widdershins was suggested first and foremost as a fun M/M romance and it did deliver. Whyborne is closeted even beyond the requirements of the time, owing to a very bad experience, but he steps out enough to let Griffin into his life and his heart. That portion of the story did not disappoint and I appreciated the historical detail, not just of the complication of being gay in a world which tells you it’s wrong or a sin, but also of the time period itself. I won’t be continuing with the series, but I can see how it would be a delightful romp for people who are interested in nightmare creatures skulking around the workaday world.

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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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:

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

Winston Brothers Series:
Truth or Beard – too much comeheregoaway
Grin and Beard It – pretty darn good
Beard Science – please see above
Beard in Mind – not yet published
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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Sixty Five Hours by N.R. Walker

 

Sixty Five Hours was my third N.R. Walker romance in a short period of time. It’s about two gorgeous and successful people who have a short window of time to prepare an advertising campaign. As this is a contemporary kissing book with a marriage of convenience plot, virtually all of the preparation work falls to the men to complete and they undertake it at one of their homes.

A by-the-numbers romance very much in what I think of as the Harlequin vein, specifically whatever their spicy collection is called, Sixty-Five Hours was sufficiently entertaining and sexy for me to want to read more N.R. Walker books, but at the same time lacking a style punch which makes me want to pay more than $3 or$4 each, if I’m really interested. I can try to outline what I think of as harlequinesque, but it will sound like all of the standard romance tropes: Everyone is beautiful, practically perfect, and financially secure or will be soon enough; all challenges are resolved and tied up neatly with a bow; nothing seems to be at stake; and the characters move on to a white picket fence life. See? That’s many/most romances. There’s a brisk efficiency to them that I am trying and failing to capture.

Cameron and Lucas work together at a successful advertising agency owned by the latter’s father. They have a shot a landing the Lurex account (read: Durex) and, I think this may actually be realistic in advertising, the meeting is in 65 hours. The pair have a weekend alone to come up with and outline their proposal. Apparently, no one in the art department or any copy writers need to be included. What with this being a romance, Lucas is in the closet at work – and not that out of it elsewhere – and has been very interested in Cameron since he was scooped up by the agency four months ago. Lucas covets Cameron’s status as an out gay man, his charming demeanor, and his handsome form. Cameron, for his part, doesn’t know Lucas is gay and has confused his reticence with dislike.

Everything proceeds apace and as expected from the set up to the denouement. Cameron and Lucas become a couple, the pitch goes off perfectly, and Lucas comes out to his family.  Along the way, Walker generates some very nice heat between her leads and a believable, down-to-earth sexiness that is what will get me to read more of her books. We all know how romances proceed, it’s nature of the journey that makes all the difference.

Also by N.R. Walker are Learning to Feel which was much like this one and The Weight of It All which I really liked.

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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Would it have killed them to use a hyphen in sixty-five?

Wags Series: Good Boy by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

When the hero of Good Boy was introduced in Us, I referred to him as the World’s Largest Plot Moppet.  I was wrong, clearly he is the world’s biggest puppy. I have seen very mixed reviews of this contemporary romance as there are troubling elements at the same time as it is also frequently charming. YMMV, as the kids today say.

Blake Riley and Jessie Canning hooked up several months ago and while it was mutually satisfying, she isn’t looking for more. Brought together again for her brother’s wedding to Blake’s teammate (Wes and Jamie of Him and Us), Blake is eager to start something with Jess and willing to leverage more casual sex, if that will get things moving for them.

Jess has been a bit lost. In a career experiment she (successfully) planned her brother’s nuptials, but has decided that she actually wants to be a nurse. When she gets into university in Toronto, this contemporary New Adult sports romance moves where it just so happens that Blake is a forward for the hockey team standing in for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Returning to my puppy analogy, Blake is a big, friendly, loyal, and enthusiastic guy. He’s sincere but not terribly bright and, like your new Great Dane puppy, he tends to do things he oughtn’t and is forgiven by virtue of… I’m not sure what, because Blake does a couple of things with impunity that should be deal breakers  –

  1. After being set up to sleep on the chesterfield (that’s Canadian for couch), Blake climbs into bed with Jess while she is sleeping. She wakes up next to him and slips out of bed without immediately returning to SCREAM HIM AWAKE whilst simultaneously dousing him with ice water. He says he had asked her if it was okay he climb in with her and she said yes while she was half asleep which does not help his case.
  2. Blake sends an unsolicited photograph of his genitals to Jess after she has told him that his attentions are not welcome.

I suspect there’s more, but those two were pretty major. Blake’s interior monologue makes it clear that he’s well-intentioned and he can be a lot of fun. Were Kennedy and Bowen trying to show a hero who does all the things he shouldn’t, but succeeds anyway? Or that not every guy who crosses the line is a jerk? Is Blake the puppy that drives you crazy until one magical moment when he settles in and you realise that all of the growing pains were worth it?

Good Boy had some other story elements that I wondered about, such as the stereotypical gay friend and a truly irrational ex-fiancee, but really it all comes down to where you stand on Blake. I enjoy the occasional big lug, though not necessarily Jethro Clampett, and landed on the charmed side for Good Boy even if it wasn’t a classic.

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London Celebrities Series: Pretty Face by Lucy Parker

Lucy Parker is TWO for TWO! Buy this one!

Pretty Face follows the contemporary romance that I hope you’ve already read, Act Like It, in Parker’s London Celebrities series and she continues to mix clever writing and emotional sincerity to gain engaging, recommendable results. Herewith the only note I took while reading, “wonderfully sarcastic”; although, I highlighted several passages, such as, “It’s a lost art, condescension. Most workplaces are so PC these days that you just don’t get patronized in quite the same way.” and “The house looked like an interplanetary prison.”

Set in London’s theatre sub-culture, Pretty Face is the marriage of convenience story of a lauded and difficult director, Luc Savage, and a classical actor trapped in the body, and specifically the sex kitten voice, of a successful soap opera performer. Convinced to let Lily Lamprey audition to play Elizabeth I in the production of a new play at a theatre he owns and has renovated, Luc learns that despite her vocal challenges which are, of course, addressable, Lily is a very good actor who wants to live up to her potential and have a more serious career.

[starter pistol fires]

Luc and Lily are both caught off guard by their instant connection and the sense of rightness in it what they each feel. He’s older, 40, and recently out of a long-term relationship he has realised he wasn’t really all that invested in. She’s 26 and trying to get her future on the right track. A romantic entanglement (gossip) might help the box office, but the press is already setting her up for failure and sleeping with her boss is not going to help her reputation. It doesn’t matter. They belong together. Of course, they do.

As Lily, Luc, and the rest of the theatre company work towards opening night, things go awry on and off stage providing professional and personal challenges, and sometimes both. It’s a deftly written, witty ride and Parker combines bright, prickly people with a sincere romanticism that works really well. The reality in romances might be heightened but when the emotions are grounded, it brings these novels to the level I think most readers hope for.

Enjoyable isn’t really the right word for Parker’s portrayal of the relentless sexism that Lily puts up with in her life as a goddess often assumed to have the brain of a beetroot, but the way she endures the constant onslaught was a fantastic character detail. Women are accustomed to being patronized, Lily is used to rising above the constant disrespect that is amplified by being a public/tabloid figure with a beautiful, voluptuous appearance.

Please buy this book and help make sure Lucy Parker gets to keep writing.

Wait.

WAIT!

I lied.

I did make one other note while reading: “Jesus!” when I read the description of the hero, “Luc Savage looked like Gregory Peck, circa some dapper time between Roman Holiday and To Kill a Mockingbird. There was more bulk in the shoulders, silver in the hair and darkness in the soul; otherwise, the resemblance was uncanny.” These are all very good things.

I spoke English for a living for several years, as an adult ESL teacher, and watched Roman Holiday with a few of my classes. Once or twice, or every time, my students may have heard a “Good lord,” from my place at the back of the classroom while watching. I’m not made of stone.

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Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author and Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful, or on my  streamlined recommendations list to which I will be adding Pretty Face soon after clicking “Publish”.

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The Ravenels: Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas

“He smelled like an expensive forest.”
The goddess of romance writers, Lisa Kleypas, has not lost her clever touch.

What starts as potential ruination and scandal quickly changes into a fierce love match when Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, and Lady Pandora Ravenel are caught in a compromising position when her dress is caught in the scroll work of a settee at exactly the wrong moment. Encouraged, but not badgered, by her family, Pandora agrees to spend time with her erstwhile seducer despite her very strong and laudable resistance to marriage and her complete loss of civil rights and public identity the moment she becomes someone’s wife. She has plans for a business and doesn’t want to be subsumed by her relationship with a man. Gabriel, on the other hand, is damn sure he wants her to be his wife almost immediately and is eager and willing to accommodate her need to be her own person, if that is what she needs. Huzzah! Things proceed quickly apace with one of those nonsensically condensed romance novel timelines and they are married mere weeks later. Why a young woman who was reluctant to marry would turn around and storm the altar is beyond me, but sure.

The best of the Ravenel series so far, Devil in Spring is still not up to the standard readers are accustomed to from Lisa Kleypas. As in the preceding two books, there were some uncomfortable elements which I did not remember from her earlier works. I went so far as to check a couple of Kleypas books (one Wallflower and one Hathaway) for the patronizing and infantilizing details that caught my eye here. They were absent in those books and especially jarring in this one where so much of Pandora’s character is built around her avowed need for self-direction and independent regard; for example,

  1. “Easy child…”
  2. “Poor mite.”
  3. “…and tuck you in like a good little girl” (after a sex scene)
  4. “…good girl…”
  5. “Be a good girl today…”
  6. “her fist closing in a fold of Gabriel’s shirt like a baby’s”

It’s not just that he sometimes talks to her like a child and always seems to know best, though I don’t appreciate that, it’s that he does it in juxtaposition with their very adult sexual relationship. Additionally, there is a love scene with dubious consent. I understand that the heroes of these books are meant to be seductive and alluring, but in one particular interaction, it was very clear to me that Pandora was reluctant and unwilling to participate in a sexual act. What I had hoped it would be a moment about a completely inexperienced young woman being given time to adjust to new activities turned into a standard, “I promise you’ll like it,” and Gabriel continuning after she has pushed him away. What the hell?

On a more charming note, yes, the reader does get time with Gabriel’s parents, the incomparable Evie and Sebastian, and their family gets a last name. I am hoping that Gabriel’s sister Phoebe, last seen as a screaming infant in Mine Till Midnight, gets her own story, although I will be reluctant to pay for it at this point. The Ravenel books are 0.5 for 3  and while I keep reading and hoping, Kleypas hasn’t yet provided a consistently enjoyable read in her return to historical romance.

A complete summary of Lisa Kleypas’s catalogue, with recommendations (two classics and one of my personal favourites), 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 or my  streamlined recommendations list.

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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.