Tag Archives: romance reviews

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.

No Better Angels Series: The Secret Heart by Erin Satie

I received The Secret Heart in a gift exchange for the Cannonball Read which is an online book club I belong to. It was selected for me by my “romance twin“, the fellow reader with whom I most often agree on books. It was interesting.

From Amazon: Adam, Earl of Bexley, lives to work. His only relief is the sordid savagery of bare-knuckle boxing. Not women, and definitely not a disreputable, scheming woman who dances in secret with such passion…Caro Small is desperate to escape her selfish family. Her only chance is a good marriage, and she intends to marry Adam—whether he likes it or not. But the more she schemes to entrap him, the more she risks trapping her own heart.

Despite that description, and having read hundreds of romances, The Secret Heart was a change of pace. The tropes and expected genre twists were still present, but Erin Satie balanced historical reality and choices that skewed a bit differently from most. Starting with a hero who is of less than average height and leads whose private pursuits are unusual, but understandable and give personality insight, it was the character elements I enjoyed most.

“Don’t look down, little bird.”

In terms of types, romance heroines are victims of circumstance or a wallflower, sometimes both. Caro needs to make an advantageous match to save her mostly undeserving family from financial ruin. She is very young, 17, and was raised by her father’s mistress whom he had planted in their household as a governess. This combination of family dysfunction and the older woman’s grooming have resulted in Caro being naturally calculating in her pursuits. Often, the victim of circumstance type is reduced to “poor thing”, but I really enjoyed the notion that Caro had been shaped into a basically well-intentioned, but crafty, quietly scheming individual.

Almost equally as compelling as Caro’s character is Adam’s. Eking out what freedom he can in his (exalted) lot in life, he may fall into the Protector hero type, but he is a Victim of Circumstance as much as Caro is. With an aggressively autocratic father, Adam is still young enough at 19 to be figuring out how to secure his own independence and to make good as much of an escape as is possible for someone in his world. In this, Adam and Caro fit together well, but their respective thorns make it far from comfortable despite their attraction and sincerity.

Satie writes well and with style, but the Adam and Caro’s story never really caught me emotionally. Their youth, while likely realistically in keeping with the setting, was a distraction to me as I considered both of them, especially Caro, children and I don’t want to read about sexually active characters that young. Written with both high stakes and a healthy dose of melodrama, The Secret Heart caught my attention more as an engaging experiment in romance than as an involving read. I’m not planning to follow up with the other novels in the No Better Angels series.

Sidebar with [SPOILER]: In the story’s final act, Adam asks Caro to be his mistress and he will reject his familial obligations in favour of their relationship. I have long wanted this to happen in a romance and Satie’s writing had been interesting enough that I hoped the plot would resolve itself in this way, but the ending took a turn for the traditional. It’s a shame since their lives will be a gilded cage and it would have been lovely for Adam and Caro to achieve genuine autonomy.

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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My Favourite/Favorite Romance Novel Heroes and Heroines

There are books and novellas that I recommend. There are novels I loathed.

Inspired by a commenter’s request, these are my favourite romance novel heroes and heroines, and I have a separate post for my couples. Ranking them would take too long, so I haven’t.

If you’re uncertain, I suggest leaning towards the couples list for a starting point.

Favourite Heroes

Ashley, Jennifer Many Sins of Lord Cameron  – GUILTY PLEASURE
Ashley, Jennifer The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie
Balogh, Mary Only Enchanting
Bowen, Sarina The Understatement of the Year M/M clarification: Graham
Callihan, Kristen The Game Plan
Dare, Tessa Three Nights with a Scoundrel
Dare, Tessa A Week to Be Wicked
Enoch, Suzanne The Rake
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Touch
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Temptation
Gabaldon, Diana Outlander  OBVIOUSLY, plus the series
Kelly, Carla Libby’s London Merchant
Kelly, Carla The Surgeon’s Lady
Kleypas, Lisa Where Dreams Begin
Kleypas, Lisa Lady Sophia’s Lover
Kleypas, Lisa Secrets of a Summer Night – Top 5 Hero
Kleypas, Lisa The Devil in Winter 
Kleypas, Lisa Tempt Me at Twilight  TWO REVIEWS
Kleypas, Lisa Smooth Talking Stranger
Lauren, Christina Wicked Sexy Liar
Linden, Caroline Blame It on Bath
Long, Julie Anne What I Did for a Duke  CLASSIC
Milan, Courtney Unveiled – I’d marry him.
Milan, Courtney Unraveled FAVE
Milan, Courtney A Kiss for Midwinter  CLASSIC
Quinn, Julia An Offer from a Gentleman
Zapata, Mariana Kulti 

My Favourite Heroines

Bryce, Megan To Tame a Dragon
Chase, Loretta Lord of Scoundrels  CLASSIC
Dare, Tessa One Dance with a Duke
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Touch
Gabaldon, Diana Outlander  OBVIOUSLY, plus the series
Heyer, Georgette Venetia
Jenkins, Beverly Indigo She’s amazing.
Kleypas, Lisa The Devil in Winter 
Kleypas, Lisa Scandal in the Spring 
Kleypas, Lisa Mine till Midnight – I’d marry her.
Lauren, Christina Beautiful Player
Milan, Courtney This Wicked Gift
Milan, Courtney The Countess Conspiracy
Milan, Courtney The Suffragette ScandalI want to be her.
Quinn, Julia Romancing Mr. Bridgerton 
Quinn, Julia It’s In His Kiss
Reid, Penny Neanderthal Seeks Human
Thorne, Sally The Hating Game CLASSIC

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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My Favourite/Favorite Romance Novel Couples

There are books and novellas that I recommend. There are novels I loathed.

This list is my favourite romance novel couples and there is a separate one for my favourite heroes and heroines as individual characters. If I put them in order, I’d never get this list published, so they aren’t.

If you’re uncertain, I suggest leaning towards the couples list for a starting point.

Balogh, Mary Slightly Dangerous CLASSIC
Bowen, Sarina Blonde Date novella  CLASSIC
Bowen, Sarina and Elle Kennedy Him
Bryce, Megan To Tame a Dragon
Chase, Loretta Dukes Prefer Blondes  – LOVE THEM
Cole, Kresley Dark Desires After Duska guilty pleasure THUNDER SEX™!
Dare, Tessa One Dance with a Duke
Dare, Tessa Any Duchess Will Do
Duran, Meredith Fool Me Twice
Florand, Laura All’s Fair in Love and Chocolate
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Kiss
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Touch – Top 5 romance and couple
Florand, Laura The Chocolate Heart Whoops! One of my least favourite couples.
Florand, Laura Chase Me
Gabaldon, Diana Outlander  OBVIOUSLY, plus the series
Garwood, Julie The Gift – Old School
Hoyt, Elizabeth The Ice Princess
Kelly, Carla The Lady’s Companion
Kelly, Carla Marrying the Captain
Kennedy, Elle The Deal
Kinsale, Laura Flowers from the Storm
Kleypas, Lisa Dreaming of You
Kleypas, Lisa Where Dreams Begin
Kleypas, Lisa Again the Magic
Kleypas, Lisa Secrets of a Summer Night
Kleypas, Lisa The Devil in Winter 
Kleypas, Lisa Love in the Afternoon
Lauren, Christina Beautiful Player
Lauren, Christina Dirty Rowdy Thing
Linden, Caroline One Night in London
Long, Julie Anne Like No Other Lover
Long, Julie Anne What I Did for a Duke  CLASSIC
Long, Julie Anne A Notorious Countess Confesses 
MacLean, Sarah One Good Earl Deserves a Lover
McNaught, Judith Almost Heaven  OLD SCHOOL
Milan, Courtney The Duchess War
Milan, Courtney The Suffragette Scandal  IF YOU READ ONLY ONE…
Parker, Lucy Act Like It
Phillips, Susan Elizabeth Natural Born Charmer
Quinn, Julia An Offer from a Gentleman
Quinn, Julia Romancing Mr. Bridgerton
Quinn, Julia It’s In His Kiss
Reid, Penny Neanderthal Seeks Human
Reid, Penny Beauty and the Mustache
Spencer, LaVyrle Vows
Thorne, Sally The Hating Game CLASSIC
Willig, Lauren The Seduction of the Crimson Rose 

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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FBI/US Attorney Series: It Happened One Wedding by Julie James

Julie James writes reliably enjoyable contemporary romances that never quite rise to greatness, but are a good go-to for fun, sizzle, and a bit of excitement. It Happened One Wedding is the most recent entry in her FBI/US Attorney novels and in this case it’s the hero who meets the series requirement. The leads in all of these books are well-to-do, sexy professionals who have established their careers and are ready to pay attention to their personal lives.

Investment banker Sidney Sinclair has moved back to Chicago following a mortifying breakup shortly before her wedding. She found out her fiance had been cheating on her and had to call it off at the last minute. Back home with a new job, she wants find a good man, settle down, and assuage her biological clock.

Vaughn Roberts spots Sidney on an ill-fated coffee date and makes his move when her companion leaves. Sidney hands Vaughn his ass when he  hits on her and they go their separate ways … for about thirty minutes until they learn that his brother is marrying her sister and Vaughn and Sidney will be in the wedding party. Thrown together for the next several weeks as the couple rushes to the altar (they want to get there before her surprise pregnancy becomes apparent), Sidney and Vaughn banter their way into bed and, eventually, a relationship.

The FBI/US Attorney books aren’t particularly long on character development and It Happened One Wedding has a tough woman/confirmed bachelor plot that wasn’t resolved so much as the whole thing suddenly came to a halt when Vaughn decides he is ready for a serious relationship after all. I was actually surprised when the story ended with a thump.

Dwelling mostly in tropes and types, James’ writing is generally fresh and sexy enough to balance out any shortcomings in her plots. I don’t eagerly await her new releases, but I read them when they are available either at the library or for a good price for my Kindle. Her novels are a pleasant diversion between autobuy author releases and taking chances with new writers.

Also by Julie James:
Love Irresistibly
Something About You – best of the group
About That Night

Links to my other reviews (including books worth reading) 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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Thin Love by Eden Butler

I still, despite all the inconsistencies, go to online reviews to help choose books to read. Thin Love was strongly recommended, cheap, and had the added appeal of a lead character who was a person of colour which is always welcome. Unfortunately, much of the romance between Keira and Kona is centered around the kind of relationship chaos that passes for passion with teenagers and in badly written novels, and resulted in it being my first DNF (did not finish) novel of the year. I read most of it, but resorted to skimming once its bumptiousness became truly annoying. Eden Butler’s writing was trite and the viewpoint sophomoric.

“And I wouldn’t use a situation like this to take advantage of a girl.”
“I never said…”
“I don’t have to Keira.”
He hoped she caught his meaning.

Bully for you, Kona! I’m delighted to learn you don’t have to use force to get laid. What  would happen if you did “have to”? He is truly a treasure:

“Don’t fish, Tonya. It makes you look common.” And Kona realized that’s what he didn’t like about girls like her. They were common. They were all the same, clones of each other trying to stick out, each one mimicking the other until their faces were indistinguishable.”

I assume these are the same women Kona doesn’t have to take advantage of since he has just slept with Tonya owing to sexual frustration in his relationship with Keira. Kona is in love with someone else, sleeps with Tonya, and then belittles her for acting exactly the same way he has.

“He got Tonya with little effort. He got her because that morning while he ran before class, she followed, trailed behind him like a prowling cat. He gave the kitty her cream, and now? Well. he felt like shit about it.”

Oink.

You aren’t telling the reader who Tonya is, Eden Butler, intentionally or not, you are telling the reader who your hero is. I wish there weren’t so many romances saying that  sexually active women who aren’t the heroine are desperate, vapid whores, or that there’s nothing wrong with a man who sleeps with whomever he wants but regards those women as beneath his contempt as well as his body. She was good enough to be inside of, but not seen as a person.

The relationship between the hero and heroine in Thin Love is filled with jealousy, violent gestures, breakups and makeups until they truly splinter apart… only to find each other again years later for one last round of chaos before they make their way to happily ever after. I finished enough of Thin Love to be appalled by it and skimmed the rest to meet my review obligations, vexed that once again melodrama and havoc has been presented as a love story.

Links to my other reviews (including books worth reading) 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 cover is the best part of the book.

Kulti by Mariana Zapata

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When I wrote “barring a dark horse in December, I am quite sure this is going to be the best romance I read all year,” about The Hating Game, I didn’t honestly expect there to be challenger. What a pleasure it is to be rounding out the year with Kulti which is a fantastic contemporary romance and one that is on theme for 2016 with a difficult hero, c.f. Dukes Prefer Blondes, Hold Me (review to come), and Act Like It.

Correctly described to me as “terrible and magnificent” by my friend and fellow reviewer, the hero of the book is the eponymous Reiner “King” Kulti, a world-renowned, retired soccer superstar. Arriving in Houston as an assistant coach for the Women’s Professional League franchise, he’s ambivalent about his presence there and soon so is everyone else. Kulti was Sal Castillo’s childhood hero and teenage crush, the man who helped inspire her to relentlessly pursue her goal to play soccer for a living and to excel at her chosen sport.

Told from Sal’s perspective, Kulti is a longer than average romance that moves really well and is also a slow burn. Practicing in the morning, and running her small landscaping business in the afternoon to make ends meet on her meager player salary, Sal is perplexed by her brooding and silent coach whom she often refers to simply as “the German”. When she does finally get a better sense of him, it’s not a good start, but the two stumble towards friendship. Thirty-nine to her twenty-seven, Rey is terse, tough, uncompromising, and frequently tactless. What to some extent, but not completely, balances out Rey’s tendency towards being difficult is the decorum with which he treats their budding relationship out of respect for their professional roles and the fact that, while often frustrating, he is generous and willing to learn from his mistakes.

There aren’t a lot of romances in which both the hero and heroine are elite athletes. Sal and Rey are very physical people and complete jocks. They eat, sleep, live, and breath sports. Neither one was secretly bookish or nerdy.  I loved it. She just wants to play and be the best she can. Rey, retired and perhaps a little lost, is well aware of Sal’s potential and wants to help her fulfill it. He knows she could be one of the greats of their sport, despite the recognition limitations for women.

Rey can be a hard person to like at times, but the glee and directness with which Sal stands up to him compensates for a lot. He may not be the nicest man in the world, but, honestly, very few men in these books are. Steadfast and honourable, yes, but arrogance is a frequent element in romantic heroes and Zapata has the integrity to write one who remains true to himself throughout. What Kulti lacks in a soft touch, he makes up for in fierce loyalty, devotion, and willingness to have his faults brought to his attention.

Kulti is one of the best romances I’ve read this year and I’ve added it to my romance recommendations list. I will be keeping an eye on Mariana Zapata for more stories that take their time and have beautifully paced character development.

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

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