Tag Archives: romance reviews

Westcott Novels: Someone to Hold by Mary Balogh

Mary Balogh writes reliable romance about sensible and somewhat damaged people finding each other. The first in her new Westcott series, Someone to Love, wasn’t as strong as it could be, but Someone to Hold featured excellent and interesting character development. I don’t pre-order Balogh’s books or run to the library to get a look at a new release, but I am rarely let down by her writing. It sounds like I’m damning with faint praise, but I don’t mean to. When I buy a Balogh, I read a writer who knows her business.

The conceit of the Westcott Novels is a familiar one in romance. A family’s fortunes are changed by the death of a relative and the revelation of deceit.  The lives of everyone in the series are upended and quite suddenly someone who never anticipated possessing power or wealth is thrust into a new role and life. The series starts with the chief beneficiary of a gormless and absent father when Anna, in Someone to Love, finds herself lifted from the role of orphanage school teacher to duchess. Someone to Hold follows the no-longer-legitimate sister whose life is forever transformed by losing her birthright and fortune.

Virtually everything Camille thinks she knows about herself has been proven a lie, including her name, future, and sense of self. Lost and confused, she turns away from her family to create a new life and to try to understand who she truly is. That Camille is not always likeable is the main strength of Balogh’s latest romance and, with time, the reader comes to like and care for her. Moving into Anna’s old role as a teacher, she shields her insecurities and fear with a haughty manner learned from years of trying to be the perfect lady for her distant father.  What she discovers about herself allows her to move forward and, to steal a line from Douglas Adams, “She was mostly immensely relieved to think that virtually everything that anybody had ever told her was wrong.”

An unintended companion in Camille’s exile is the man who Anna Westcott left behind, Joel Cunningham. Raised in the orphanage, he is building a career for himself as a local portrait artist and still teaches art at the school a couple of afternoons each week. He doesn’t know what to make of the prickly and defensive Camille, but he is drawn to her nonetheless, and the two find often themselves having conversations and little adventures neither had planned. He’s a good man working towards success and financial independence. She’s an independent woman working towards her own goodness.

As I state in every Balogh book review, if her publishers set a lower price for her works, I would have snapped up a lot more of them by now. In the meantime, I get by on surprise sales, Someone to Hold was $1.99, library loans, and the occasional full price impulse purchase. That last item is what I am holding strong against for the next book in the series, Someone to Wed, but I have no doubt I will read it eventually.

A complete summary of Mary Balogh’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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Kissing Tolstoy by Penny Reid

Kissing Tolstoy was awful and silly. I loathed its puerile story and nonsensical plotting, so, Penny Reid: YOU WIN! I am giving up on anything your name is on except MAYBE a Winston Brothers book, and even then it had better not cost me any money. Again and again her books with younger leads have problematic elements, and while it is classified as a “new adult” romance, only one character in Kissing Tolstoy is actually a recent grown up. The heroine, Anna, is a university student and the hero is her professor. I’ll let Amazon do some of the heavy lifting:

What do you do when you discover that your super-hot blind date from months ago is now your super-hot Russian Lit professor?

You overthink everything and pray for a swift end to your misery, of course!

So does the reader.

Goodness, even the blurb for this book let me down. So here I go:

There’s a young woman who accidentally texts and then meets the wrong guy at a bar. He’s a really hot biker dude, so she freaks out because she thinks she’s not in his league. She goes back to school to take a Russian Literature course that has been, thus far, very hard to register for because the professor is just that attractive. He’s also the sexy motorcyclist from the bar. As a bonus he’s an actual Russian who specializes in the woman’s favourite author and hails from an extremely wealthy family. I can’t remember if he’s displaced royalty, but that’s the only dream-hero-fantasy-romance-guy box he doesn’t tick.

The young woman and the professor spar in class and have the hots for each other. She tries to quit the class owing to said hots, he prevents it  — showing a true lack of narrative sense — and they get together just as the book ends and sets the scene for the next installment.

With being her teacher, there are ethical implications that must be addressed in some way and aren’t. Logically, she should quit the class and therefore no longer be his student. She doesn’t even need the credit for her major, but she stays in the class. It blows up and, the next thing you know, they are Fighting for Their Love when there are simple, straightforward answers to all of their problems. It was really annoying.

A sample of the writing:

“She smells like wildflowers and quiet libraries, redolent of peace and exuberance.” I looked to my sister and found her expression sober.
“Dad wouldn’t like that.”
“No. I don’t imagine he and Anna would get along at all.” I smirked at the thought. She was far too independent, of both mind and spirit.

I tried to find a gif of Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot saying, “Nobody talks like that!”, but was unsuccessful.

I’ve created a summary of Penny Reid’s books. If you decide to take a chance, I strongly advise that you use it to make a selection. 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

 

 

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

I don’t get it. How did Hate to Want You make it onto a Best of the Year list? Granted, 2017 was a disappointing year for romance readers, but even with that in mind, this is a surprising inclusion.

Plot Synopsis: A teen romance torn apart by family rivalries and agita, leaves the two lovers years later finding what solace they can in one night a year together. When the woman, Livvy, moves home, can she and Nicholas find their way to be together in all ways and always? Yes, but only in romance fiction.

This is what I did and did not like: about this overrated romance:

  1. I brought my bias against reunion plots with me.
  2. Livvy is a tattoo artist and she likes to draw on Nicholas. That’s cool.
  3. There’s too much sex. I think I’ve only said that once before.
  4. The sex was busy being crazy-mega-earnestly passionate and kinda naughty.
  5. “This magical land of not giving a fuck was pretty cool” #lifegoals
  6. The writing was really on the nose.
  7. Their relationship shouldn’t work. They were right to break up.
  8. I don’t like the “I shall never love another” trope. You were children. Move on.
  9. It felt like an adult relationship written by a teenager.
  10. The family drama was over-the-top and I didn’t believe for a second they could overcome it and move on.

That’s all I have for now. I haven’t posted a review in such a long time, that I’m working to get my mojo back.  Hate to Want You was facile and trite and, most importantly, overrated.

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.

Penny Reid Reading List

Knitting in the City Series:
Neanderthal Seeks Human – Strangely compelling, I’ve re-read it a few times
Friends Without Benefits – Meh
Neanderthal Marries Human – More strangely compelling, also re-read
Love Hacked – differently strangely compelling
Beauty and the Mustache – Really liked it, Winston sister, recommended
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 – very good, recommended
Dr. Strangebeard – not yet published
Beard Necessities– not yet published

Dear Professor Series:
Kissing Tolstoy – Loathed it

Other:
Elements of Chemistry – Very frustrating, young adult romance
The Hooker and the Hermit – Loathed it, made me stabby

Links to my 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.

Wags Series: Stay by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

I swear that Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy are writing romances inspired by the hashtag notallmen, thought I’m not sure even that’s correct since the men in this series, and a lot of Bowen’s solo work, often behave in a way that is unacceptable, but is supposedly meant to be forgivable because they are nice guys. As my romance twin, Beth-Ellen, said, it’s as though they are defending men and, she added, who is the audience they are doing that for? Stay was a mostly decent romance because Kennedy and Bowen don’t seem to be capable of less, but there were a variety of elements that made me uncomfortable.

Hailey runs a virtual personal assistant business with her ex-husband in Toronto. She takes care of the VIPs personally and one of them is local hockey hottie Matt Erickson. A divorced father of twins, he is a little once bitten twice shy until he meets up with Hailey. Things move on from there, a little precipitously if you ask me given that there are children involved, and soon they are moving forward in their lives together.

Now back to the #notallmen aspect. In the previous book in the series, Good Boy, the hero climbs into bed with the heroine while she is sleeping. In this one…

Hailey has a client called MrEightInches who sends the agency requests with photos such as, “naked except for a stretchy pair of bright blue briefs, barely covering his erection, which lays angled in the briefs, straining the fabric.” Are Hailey and her colleague offended? Do they call him out for this behavior and terminate his contract? No, silly, they find it funny and enjoy his hijinks. They are entertained and gleeful each time he sends them a new request. When they find out the reason behind his, apparently, joking behavior, it all makes sense. See? He’s harmless!

Matt calls Hailey “Hottie” before they even start dating, meet, or talk. Her initials are HTE and he gives her the nickname in their correspondence. She doesn’t object despite the complete lack of respect and professionalism it shows on Matt’s part. He doesn’t mean any harm, so what’s the problem? Matt is a good guy. His presumption is excused.

In an encounter with Hailey’s ex, and before their first real date, Matt establishes their relationship by smacking her ass in front of her ex. “To my disbelief, Matt smacks my butt lightly before strolling out the door. I gape after him, unsure whether to be pissed or amused.” The correct answer is, of course, pissed.

I’m not quite sure what to do with all of my annoyance. I understand that genuine, sincere guys sometimes make mistakes,  behave inappropriately, or cross the line, but I can’t comprehend why it has become a recurring theme in Sarina Bowen’s work alone and in her joint efforts with Elle Kennedy. Can we just not do this? I get enough of poorly judged behavior being excused in real life.

My last note is that I was squicked out by the love scenes in Stay. Matt and Hailey act out a power dynamic that I found creepy: he pretends to be her coach, . “Such a good girl,” he whispers. “The coach is proud of you.” No, nix, nein, nyet, non, o-nay, nope, nay, NEWP! I am extremely uncomfortable with sex with power disparities like this and in particular ones that feign involvement of students or vulnerable people. The second the phrase “good girl” comes into play, I am OUT.

Sarina Bowen’s Catalogue gives an overview of her published works . Her Ivy Years series is particularly strong and includes a classic novella, Blonde Date.

By Elle Kennedy and Sarina Bowen:
HimLGBTQ, New Adult, love it!
Us LGBTQ, New Adult, liked it a lot
Wags Series:
Good Boy – I can’t decide if I recommend it or not.
Stay – see above

By Elle Kennedy:
Off Campus Books 1 – 4
The Deal – very good, I have re-read it
The Mistake – good
The Score – Entitled, privileged guy gets everything he wants. Granted that describes a lot of romances, but it’s annoying here. He’s a dick in The Goal, too.
The Goal – good, but not my cup of tea

Adult Contemporary:
One Night of Sin – meh
One Night of Scandal – meh
Elle Kennedy and Vivien Arend: All Fired Up – skip 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.

Escorted by Claire Kent

Prostitution plots are the exception to my preference for marriage of convenience stories and Escorted features the first one I have read in  long time. There are some interesting ideas in this contemporary romance novel, but despite the rounds of contemplation about the oldest profession it inspired in me, Escorted wasn’t really anything special.

Lori is a bestselling romance author in her mid-twenties who, despite her facility writing about it, has never actually had sex. Eager to get her first time over with, she has gotten a recommendation for a local prostitute and Escorted opens with Lori meeting Ander (short for Alexander) in a coffee shop before making their first foray into a working relationship. Things go well enough that Lori continues to employ Ander and he provides the information book learnin’ can’t. They fall in love.

I have several things I want to bring up.  I took a lot of notes while reading Escorted and that is often not a good sign. It means the reading experience devolved into review preparation over story involvement. There will be spoilers:

  • Lori has written four best-selling romances and is financially secure enough to have given up her day job. This may be the least believable element in the novel.
  • A common prostitution dodge in romances is that the professional doesn’t spend any of the client’s payments thus negating the business transaction element. Kent uses it here.
  • Ander is BALD! That’s a first. I loved this detail. Bring on the bald dudes!
  • The writing is really on the nose.
  • The sex descriptions were repetitive and not particularly sexy.
  • There were some nice slams of Fifty Shades of Gray.

I spent a lot of time thinking about prostitution while reading Escorted, likely more than the author intended. I wanted to know about the psychological and emotional cost of it as a profession; how one breaks from it; and if there an adjustment period with the introduction of emotions into sexual encounters. Additionally, with all of my distraction while I read, I couldn’t get past the fact that every encounter Lori and Ander had was a financial transaction regardless of the emotions involved. Ander may not have spent the money and retired soon after starting to see her, but he was still contracted to service Lori. How can they get to a level relationship? The story did try to address this, but, for me, it just wasn’t enough.

Escorted does include some great points on the unrealistic expectations of sex created by the mainstreaming of erotica and pornography in our culture. Of course, Kent goes on to do all of these things with her characters, but the gesture was appreciated.

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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How lovely! Sexism dictates that a book called Escorted have a woman that looks like a prostitute on the cover even though the hero is the professional.

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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