Tag Archives: romance

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!

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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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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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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