Tag Archives: romance

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.

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Fly Me to the Moon: Star Dust by Emma Barry & Genevieve Turner

Buy Star Dust and read it. Heck, it’s free on Amazon right now.

Genevieve Turner and Emma Barry have written a solid romance with great period detail and poignant moments that go with and beyond the love story Star Dust tells. The first of the Fly Me to the Moon series, each of the historical romances in the group feature an astronaut. It looks like they jump around in decades, so there are lots of period elements – the heroine os Star Dust smokes! – to enjoy. Set in Houston in 1962, I was able to picture the bungalows with their “space age” furniture as the ASD stood in for NASA and Star Dust got underway.

Moving into a brand new house in a neighbourhood still under construction, Anne-Marie’s life is in much the same state as her surroundings. Recently divorced and working to settle her two children into their new family home, she stabs herself while opening boxes and goes to the only available neighbour for help. Having seen him on the cover of Life magazine, she recognizes Commander Christopher “Kit” Campbell immediately. He bandages her hand and makes overtures for other parts of her, but she has no time for games.

Provided with a house by her parents, but taking a job outside her home to help pay her way, I very much liked that Anne-Marie is often stubborn and prickly, despite her social graces, and she does not change. Eager to prove to those around her that she was right to abandon her cheating husband, she gets her back up very easily and as a divorcee she is given a lot of opportunities to do so. Everyone is ready and willing with judgment or insinuations about her life. Even well-intended assistance is a cause for suspicion. Seeing the double-standards she is challenged with, I’m not surprised. Kit comes to understand her demeanor and the woman underneath it. It’s a nice twist on the hero being the difficult one in a romance and Kit is far from that. He’s a wonderful guy, honest, loyal, and respectful. He’s doing his best to cope with his own onslaught of attention, ambitions, and the fears he is not supposed to even acknowledge, never mind share with anyone.

One of the delights of Star Dust is that Anne-Marie is 30 and embarking on a new life with nine and seven year old children. Kit is 34 and getting ready to travel to space. Adults really were younger 50 years ago. At the age when people nowadays are often getting married for the first time, both of them are on to second stages in their lives.

I stumbled across Star Dust, and discovered that Amazon has an actual  book review site, because the magnificent Courtney Milan had provided a list of 9 Historical Romances for Those Who Want Something More Than a Little Different. I snapped up Star Dust and a couple of samples for my e-reader. I haven’t always enjoyed Courtney Milan’s recommendations, but they are always interesting and worth trying.

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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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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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!

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!
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 – please see above
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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Learning to Feel by N.R.Walker

Short Version: Learning to Feel is a fairly  traditional contemporary romance that passed the time, but N.R. Walker’s plotting choices struck me as a bit much.

Long Version:

In a moment of common sense and self-preservation, sad-sack Nathan leaves his job as an ER doctor in Boston, to take a role in rural Maine. It’s a contract position that he hopes will get his life on track, help him work less, and includes free rent on a farmhouse. When Nathan arrives, he finds a painter finishing up the house and his world promptly turns to colour.

Trent is an itinerant artist working as a house painter to pay the bills. He and his loyal hound have been living at the farmhouse while he completes the effort for Nathan’s new digs. Trent is blonde, cute, and everything homophobic people fear. No, he’s not some raging stereotype, rather he is a gay man so magnetic that he has the Power of Conversion. Nathan has been hitherto not just straight, but essentially asexual. Trent’s arrival in his life is not just the gay-for-you trope, it’s I-am-born-anew-in-my-sexual-awakening! The world is transformed, my priorities have changed, I am a whole person now!

Other than the LGBTQ romance Trope of Conversion, Learning to Feel is a fairly standard story built around two nice people meeting and connecting as they do in so many kissing books. Their lives merge pretty seamlessly and Trent never seems to mind that Nathan basically takes over ownership of the dog. N.R. Walker is a decent writer who delivered a competent romance, although she has done much better work.

Question: Is the gay-for-you trope specific to romances about men falling in love that are written by and targeted to a readership made up of straight women?  Are there romance novels by and for gay men? What percentage of romance readership is male to begin with?

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 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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