Tag Archives: romance

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.

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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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 You  historical
  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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Rock Kiss Series : Rock Addiction by Nalini Singh

Inspiring a list of The Worst Romance Novels I Have Ever Read, I think sums up my opinion of the first book in Nalini Singh’s Rock Kiss series, but the long version is below anyway.

From Amazon: Molly Webster has always followed the rules. After an ugly scandal tore apart her childhood and made her the focus of the media’s harsh spotlight, she vowed to live an ordinary life. No fame. No impropriety. No pain. Then she meets Zachary Fox, a tattooed bad boy rocker with a voice like whiskey and sin, and a touch that could become an addiction… Fox promises scorching heat and dangerous pleasure, coaxing Molly to extend their one-night stand into a one-month fling. After that, he’ll be gone forever, his life never again intersecting with her own.

There are a lot of hackneyed, poorly written elements in Rock Addiction, such as telling instead of showing us how the leads feel, the hero thinking of the heroine like a child that needs to be trained, but do you know what really bothered me? The hero uses his hand on the back of the heroine’s neck to steer her, and this…

“Gripping her jaw, he said, “You don’t get to treat me as disposable.””

“He gripped her chin to turn her back toward him.”

“He watched her close the door, then imprisoned her against it by slamming his hands palms-down on either side of her body.”

“Grabbing her wrists, he pinned her arms above her head with one big hand. He gripped her chin with the other, the green of his irises violent and his breath hot against her skin…His fingers tightened on her wrists, his other hand curling around her throat…”

GET YOUR FUCKING HANDS OFF HER!

It’s not sexy, it’s not passionate, it’s not romantic. The hero uses his physical strength to control and intimidate the heroine.  Take your rock star clichés, your trite writing, and your “BUT EVEN IN HIS ANGER, HE HADN’T HURT HER” and never darken my Kindle again, Nalini Singh.

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.

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The Worst Romance Novels I Have Ever Read

I just hated them so much! I recommend none of them.

There can be no doubt, Kresley Cole would have more entries had I had continued reading her novels.

Sarina Bowen, Penny Reid, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips have the dubious distinction of being both on this list AND my recommendations list.

  1. Andre, Bella The Way You Look Tonight (Rafe/Brooke)
  2. Barrett, Jo Nothing to Commend Her (Magnus/Agatha)
  3. Bennett, Sawyer Alex: A Cold Fury Hockey Novel (Alex/Sutton)
  4. Berg, J.L. When You’re Ready (Logan/Clare)
  5. Blair, Annette Jacob’s Return (Jacob/Rachel)
  6. Blake, Jennifer The Tuscan’s Revenge Wedding (Nico/Amanda)
  7. Bliss, Chelle Throttle Me – Men of Inked Book 1 (“City” Joey/Suzy)
  8. Bowen, Sarina The Fifteenth Minute (DJ/Lianne)
  9. Boyce, Elizabeth Once a Duchess (Marshall/Isabelle)
  10. Brogan, Tracy Highland Surrender  (Myles/Fiona)
  11. Butler, Eden Thin Love (Kona/Keira)
  12. Callihan, Kristen Idol (Killian/Libby)
  13. Cole, Kresley A Hunger Like No Other  (Lachlain/Emma) VILE
  14. Cole, Kresley Macrieve  (Uilliam/Chloe) VILER
  15. Darcy, Norma The Bluestocking and the Rake (Robert/Georgiana)
  16. Dee, Cara Noah (Noah/Julian)
  17. DiPasqua, Lila Undone (Simon/Angelica) *Worst of 2013*
  18. Dune, Lyla Low Tide Bikini (Brock/Sam)
  19. Ford, Rhys Sinner’s Gin (Kane/Miki)
  20. Foster, Melissa Sisters in Love (Blake/Danica) a. God b. Awful
  21. Garvis Graves, Tracey Heart-Shaped Hack (Ian/Kate) – Worst of 2016 Contender
  22. Goodger, Jane When a Duke Says I Do (Alexander/Elsie)
  23. Harber, Cristin Sweet Girl (Cash/Nicola)
  24. Hawkins, J.D. Insatiable 1 and 2 (Jax/Lizzie)
  25. Jackson, A.L. A Stone in the Sea (Sebastian “Baz”/Shea)
  26. Johnson, Julie Not You, It’s Me (Chase/Gemma)
  27. Kell, Amber Attracting Anthony (Silver/Anthony)
  28. Lee, Jade Wedded in Scandal (Robert/Helaine)
  29. Lilley, R.K. In Flight (James/Bianca)
  30. Long, Andie M. The Alphabet Game (Gabe/Stella)
  31. Mabie, M. Bait (Casey/Blake)
  32. Malone, M. Tank (“Tank” Tanner/Emma)
  33. McNaught, Judith Once and Always (Jason/Victoria)
  34. Merrow, J.L Muscling Through (Al/Larry)
  35. Michaels, Jess An Introduction to Pleasure: Mistress Matchmaker (Andrew/Lysandra!)
  36. Novark, Anna Marie The Doctor Wears a Stetson (Cameron/Jessie)
  37. Pamfiloff, Mimi Jean fugly (Maxwell/Lily)
  38. Phillips, Susan Elizabeth This Heart of Mine (Kevin/Molly) WORST HEROINE OF 2014
  39. Reid, Penny Elements of Chemistry (Martin/Kaitlyn)
  40. Reid, Penny & L.H. Cosway The Hooker and the Hermit (Ronan/Annie)
  41. Roberts, Holly S. Play: New Adult Sports Romance (Killian/Rebecca)
  42. Schone, Robin The Lady’s Tutor (Ramiel, The Bastard Sheikh/Elizabeth)
  43. Singh, Nalini Rock Addiction (Fox/Molly)
  44. Stewart, Nicole Home for Three (Selwyn/Jack/Kess)
  45. Vale, Vanessa Their Kidnapped Bride (Kane, Ian, Emma) Worst of the Year 2016
  46. Ward, JR Dark Lover (Wrath/Beth)
  47. Wylde, Anya Penelope (Charles/Penelope) *Most Inept of 2013*

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Paris Hearts: Chase Me by Laura Florand

Relentless, determined, good with knives, and the hero is no slouch either. In this Laura Florand contemporary romance, she proves again why she’s one of my favourite authors by having two badass leads instead of the usual one.

Violette Lenoir meets Chase Smith when he breaks into her Michelin two-star restaurant right before she leaves for the night. He’s some kind of former SEAL government operative – though he claims to work in private security –  but she doesn’t know that when she starts throwing knives at him. Instead of being cowed, Chase realises that this leather clad, no-nonsense chef is the woman of his dreams. A rather delightful round of insouciant banter follows and the two embark on a relationship by assignation.

Vi and Chase are the most playful of all the Florand’s leads which is quite a feat given the counter-terrorism elements and that, by the author’s own post script admission, she had reworked the story following the horrifying November 2015 Paris attacks.  They add reality and motivation to Chase’s professional zeal and grounding to the overall plot, not in an overwhelming way but as a dose of reality against the brightness of tone and an especially condensed timeline.

I really enjoyed Chase Me and was pleased to discover that several more stories were clearly being set up for Chase and Vi’s counterparts. Mostly, I reveled in how strong and tough Vi was. Having two tough as nails, protector types going toe-to-toe, and with each savouring the other’s inherent badassery , was a lovely change of pace. Strong heroine’s are not unusual in romance, but Vi was more explicitly tough than most women in these books.

Laura Florand’s Catalogue gives an overview of her published works of which I recommend many. I adore her particular brand of romance. 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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Westcott Novels: Someone to Love by Mary Balogh

This first book in Mary Balogh’s new Regency romance Westcott series got off to a good start with a great heroine, a play on a familiar romance plot, and a somewhat inscrutable hero. About halfway through, the story lost steam and fell prey to a trope whose day has past.

Once again, a toad of an aristocrat has had the temerity to die and leave his estate in disarray as he failed to disclose a rightful heir to his fortune and rendered his own children illegitimate and impecunious. The Earl of Riverdale took the trouble to make Avery, Duke of Netherby the ward of his underage son, but not to mention that he was married as a callow youth, had a daughter, and remarried to begin another family. Avery keeps an eye on the boy, but finds himself very intrigued by the buttoned up heiress who has landed on the family doorstep.

Anna Snow has lived in an orphanage for 21 years, from the age of four as a resident and as a teacher since reaching maturity. When she is summoned to London and informed that she is now a Lady, and an obscenely wealthy one at that, the most her mind can encompass is to ask if there is enough money to cover her return fare to Bath. Her father’s sisters and mother welcome Anna, his now superfluous wife and three children are much less friendly.

As heroine’s go, Anna is a good one. Magnificently self-possessed simply by virtue of not thinking anyone is better – or of less value – than her, her personality lends itself to poise and dignity as a defense mechanism. Avery is fascinated and takes an immediate interest in her. For his part, Avery is an unusual hero. Shorter than average and slight, his physical description is that he is beautiful, but not necessarily the kind of testosterone triumph of so many of the men in these books. His part of the story is the one that falls down when the plot loses its way. Much is made of his ability in a non-specified martial art and its attendant lifestyle which he learned after a chance encounter with an Asian gentleman. This convenient exoticism struck me as a dated trope. Avery met one person from a foreign culture and that one person just happened to be a master of a form of combat perfectly suited to the hero and took the time to make Avery an expert? Codswallop. He’s a duke. Couldn’t he at least have gone abroad for a couple of years to educate himself? Balogh already portrays him up with an interesting, effete steeliness and wouldn’t having been AWOL for a couple of years doing god-knows-what have added to his air of mystery?

Another element of the book and common trope that bothered me was the portrayal of the wedding night: Anna ends up stark naked in the middle of the bedroom during the afternoon while Avery is still fully dressed. She’s been kissed exactly twice in her life, has consciously repressed her sexual impulses, and she’s in a house without central heating. I don’t care how much willing suspension of disbelief I bring to my reading, Balogh is better than this. Why can’t people in these books ever start out under the covers and dressed for bed? I think it would be sweet to read about the participants’ increasing comfort with intimate activities and each other.

As the first book in the Westcott series, Someone to Love lays a lot of groundwork for heroes and heroines to come. I had a bit of trouble keeping everyone straight at first and couldn’t tell if it was partly intentional to mimic Anna’s experience or just the introduction of the cast. Having paid full price for the novel and being disappointed, I will go back to my “library first” policy for Balogh’s romances and only buy the ones I’m sure I like such as the following:

The Survivors’ Club: Only Enchanting – great book and wonderful hero
The Slightly Series: Slightly Dangerous – this one is a classic

For more Mary Balogh 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.

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