Sunday, November 3, 2019

Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

Rating: ★★★ | 384 pages | Contemporary | Berkley | Release Date: 11/5/2019

This is the hardest kind of review to write because Get A Life, Chloe Brown was a lukewarm read for me. It’s not rant inspiring bad, I just don’t really have a lot to say about. Talia Hibbert is a romance writing dynamo who self-published her first book two years ago and has been amassing a dedicated fan base ever since. I have so much respect for her but this is my second Hibbert and I’ve come to the conclusion that her books are just not for me.

In Get A Life, Chloe Brown the titular Chloe Brown is a 31-year-old web designer who has a wake up call after almost getting hit by a car. She moves out of her parents' house for the first time and into an apartment building that is currently being managed by Redford Morgan, a tattooed-leather jacket-wearing-motorcycle-riding artist. A lot of reviews of this book get into Red’s deal but it’s not fully revealed until about 80% into the book so it feels kind of like a spoiler so I won’t get into it. It does add depth to his character but it felt like it came in too late in the book.

The thing I struggle with in Hibbert’s book is they turn on internal conflict and emotional literacy. There isn’t a lot of keeping the characters apart except their own emotional baggage. One of the reasons I picked this one up is because I thought the list would drive the story more than it does. Although I do like how in the end *mildest of mild spoiler* Chloe getting a life isn’t about the list but the friends she makes along the way.

The romance overall is a sweet one once they to get over their assumptions about each other and explain their emotional baggage. This is described as a romantic comedy and there is a lot of dry banter. Chloe has fibromyalgia and the representation of chronic illness isn’t one I’ve seen before in romance and I’m sure many readers will appreciate the rep.

As I was writing this review it occurred to me that this book is a lot like the Netflix show Special where a disabled man in his 30s moves out of his parent’s house and decides to get a life after almost getting hit by a car.

This is another illustrated cover I really like. It’s one of the few I’ve seen where the illustrations encapsulate the characters perfectly!

*ARC received from Avon

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Rebel and Captured by Beverly Jenkins

When I pick up a Beverly Jenkins romance I personally go in ready to learn something new about Black history. I think romance is such a good medium for exploring the perseverance of Black people in America; because it shows that despite all the suffering it's possible to carve out your own happiness in the face of injustice. I've always been reluctant to encounter stories about Black people in American history because of all the visceral pain, I feel like Jenkins books let me confront the past while also getting a happy ending.

I've heard Jenkins make a point about how history acts like after slavery, Black people disappeared until the 1960s. Rebel and Captured filled in some of those historical gaps and opened my eyes to the varied experiences of people of color in America's past.

Rebel takes place in antebellum New Orleans, where Valinda--a Northern woman born free--has come down South to teach newly freed slaves to read and write. Her dreams are smashed when her schoolhouse is destroyed by wayward soldiers. When the soldiers come after Valinda she is rescued by Drake LeVeq, a dashing architect and son of the prominent LeVeq family.

Valinda is taken in by the upper-class LeVeq family and the book follows her as she and Drake use their resources and privilege to help former slaves adjust to freedom. Race relations are taught and there is violence and danger at every turn, Throughout the hardships, Drake and Valinda find an unbreakable bond.

Throughout the book, Drake references his family's pirate heritage and the whole time I was like..."This sounds like the synopsis of another one of Jenkins books",  so I went on her website and realized this series chronicles the ancestors of the characters in her 2009 book Captured. Once I finished Rebel I grabbed Captured from the library. I've literally always wanted to read this book, I have a vivid memory of seeing this cover in Borders and the idea of a swashbuckling Black pirate rescuing a slave woman and bring her to freedom is an intriguing premise.

When gentlemen pirate Domonic LeVeq learn his French father's family wants to illegally enslave the people of a Martinique plantation he spirts the workers away to freedom. A year later he does the same for enslaved Clare Sullivan when he steals her away from a ship taking her and her masters home. Clare is becomes immersed in Domonic's life of piracy and finds friends among his diverse crew.

Again the highlights for me in this book was the history and learning about how Black people navigated the world on the brink of the Revolutionary War. It's not always easy to handle the horrors of chattel slavery that are central to this book, but Jenkins balances it us by creating a paradise for her characters in a satisfying way.

There is one character Yves who has just a major character arc in just a few pages. Does he show up in other books? Inquiring minds.

I've been dabbling in Jenkins books for a while reading a few chapters here and there.  I feel like her older books are filled with more daring escapades (and are certainly steamier) than her more current ones. Her newer books feel more domestic.

The New Orleans Leveq family first appears in Through The Storm which came out in 1998. Seriously how do her OG fans wait so long  ???

I like the cover of Captured but the models don't really match the characters. Clare is Ethiopian and has short hair and Dominic is bi-racial with long curly hair.

I often get the rep-sweats whenever a Black character shows up in a white-centric Regency because it often feels like the author goes out of the way to make sure we understand the main characters are the "good" White people. In Captured there are a few White people in Clare's life who are sympathetic and see her as human, but there is also this understanding that no matter how well-meaning-- they are still ultimately products of their privileged and biased upbringing...making them complicit.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez

Rating: Unrated | 9hrs 32 mins | Forever Romance | Contemporary | 06/11/19
The Friend Zone is one of the first in the trade illustrated cover romances (that have sparked many a conversation on Twitter) that I've read and wow it this book a doozy. I'm not a romance genre purist, I'm open to non-traditional takes when it comes to plot, story and structure and The Friend Zone takes some devastating turns that may be off-putting for those looking for a traditional HEA.

Kristen and Josh are preparing for their best friend's wedding and they are instantly drawn to each other... too bad Kristen has a loving boyfriend overseas. Part of Josh's attraction to Kristen is that she has a huge case of  "not like other girls' (She likes Quentin Tarantino, she is brash, she loves to eat and says whatever is on her mind). It may have been a bit heavy-handed but I'm all for extroverted, crude and non-traditional heroines so I liked Kristen. Josh is a more sentimental man looking to start a family, which might be an issue because Kristen has uterine fibroids that have been causing her trouble her whole life and may inhibit her ability to have the family Josh wants.

Jimenez created high stakes and big obstacles for her characters to climb. However, this is one of those books where most of the issues could be solved if the characters just TALKED TO EACH OTHER  I mean could totally see why Kristen might not want to tell someone she just meant about her health issues, but her not telling Josh is what prolongs the books a few more chapters than maybe it should have.

Slight Spoilers
Yes, this book has a complicated HEA that I found kind of shocking, but I feel like with romance trying to appeal to the "mainstream" it's okay to do something a little different. Although I do feel like this book was being a little emotionally manipulative because before the big incident happens there are all these little moments where you think something catastrophic or terrible has happened but it doesn't until readers least expect it.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Mini Reviews: Cinnamon Bun Royals, Baking Competitions and Vegas, Baby!

A Prince On Paper is the third book in Alyssa Cole's modern-day Reluctant Royals series and follows the fake engagement of Nya the sheltered daughter of a disgraced Thesolo royal family member and Johan the playboy prince who has more heart than he is willing to show. This quiet romance follows these two cinnamon bun characters as their fake engagement gives them the freedom to discover their true passions, purpose and just maybe the loves of their lives. Fans of the series will enjoy seeing the couples from the previous novels join up for the royal wedding of Naledi and Thabiso-  Jess | Unrated 

In order to compete in the Ultimate Holiday Bake-off cooking competition bakery owner Isobel Knight has to partner with ex-football player Travis Coleman--her high school enemy. The two might not get along IRL but their combined baking skills are a recipe for success in the competition….as long as they don’t kill each other first. The concept of this book is super unique and fun. A television competition show was a great way to do forced proximity for enemies to lovers. The one thing that nagged at me about this book is that it’s never made clear why Travis and Isobel didn’t get along. KE ★★★

Whenever I see a fall-themed holiday romance novel I immediately snap it up. IDK why there aren’t more Fall holiday romances with all the cultural expectations and potential conflicts involved in things like Thanksgiving and Halloween. In this simmering Halloween novella single mom and hairstylist, Savannah is enjoying a joint bachelor/ bachelorette party and unexpectedly falls for one of the charming groomsmen. Through a weekend of Vegas Halloween revelry, these two can’t ignore that they’ve found love at first sight. Warren deftly creates a satisfyingly sexy rom-com in just 75 pages. I liked that she didn’t try to wrap up every loose end and ended it as an HFN instead of a HEA. KE ★★★

Side note: I liked how when a character mentioned their own love story the e-book included a link to that character's story on Amazon. I hate when you have to scroll through an author’s backlist to figure out which story side characters are from.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

King Me by Lucy Lennox (Forever Wilde #7)

Rating: ★★★+.5  | 298 Pages | Contemporary Romance | Self-Pub | Release Date: 7/16/2019
For years FBI agent Dirk Falcon has been after notorious art thief Le Chaton, otherwise known as Kingston Wilde-- an American expat studying art in France. When a priceless crown is stolen by King’s ex-boyfriend, Falcon recruits King to steal the crown back in exchange for immunity. As the two spend time together planning the heist their attraction grows. But a relationship outside of the mission is impossible for countless reasons--including that Falcon isn’t being totally honest about the purpose of the mission.

I went back and forth on this book while reading it. Because look, if you stare at anything in it for too long the entire thing falls apart. I was also really confused by how convoluted the heist plot was getting and a little sketchy about the whole criminal/FBI agent romance. But in the end this book won me over. I think it happened for me because we got past the main “heist” and into the character development and redemption arc. One of my notes is literally “gosh darn it, it got me in the end”.  I would be down to read another book with these two character planning another heist.  There are some interesting twists, turns and character dynamics.

King Me is the latest book in Lennox’s Forever Wilde series, an m/m series about the men in the Wilde family in Hobie, Texas who--from what I can tell--tick off every stock hero in Romancelandia. With this book, it seemed like Lennox was doing something different by focusing it not in Texas and doing more of a suspense-like plot. It’s clear by her author note she put a lot of research into art history and security. Nobody knows Kingston in an art thief, so I ’m curious how she’s been building up his character in the background of the other books.

I found this book by browsing through KU, so if you’re looking for a new KU reads check this one out!

Multiple times in the story Kingston pretends to be asleep to get out of things and it made me think of Troy from Community.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Wallflower Wager by Tessa Dare

Content Warning: Mentions of sexual abuse of a teen

Rating: ★★★ +.5 | 7 hours 8 minutes | Historical Romance | Avon | 8/13/2019
26-year-old Lady Penelope Campion has successfully avoided her season for a decade by sequestering herself in her home and committing to the care of abandoned animals. But her family has finally had enough! No one in her family thinks she can turn her social life around but it’s a wager this wallflower is ready to take. Luckily, her new neighbor, notorious businessman Gabriel Duke (heh, get it ? Duke), has an interest in helping to keep her in the London. 

We’ve reviewed quite a few of Dare's books on this blog and after binging the first two books in the Girl Meets Duke series last year I was super excited for this one. The Wallflower Wager has all of Dare’s signature Regency rom-com sensibilities and while I enjoyed listening to it something just didn’t hit the same for me. I think it was just a little too wacky for my taste?

I think part of my barrier to entry is that I am not an animal person so I was immune to all the animal shenans and cutsie-ness. The audiobook narrator Mary Jane Wells also chose a very young sounding voice for Penelope so she came off as kind of immature and infantilized for most of the book.

My media sweet spot is anything with a core friend group that gets built out ith each book. The bantering between our previous heroes was fun and they felt like they fit naturally into the narrative instead of like Easter Egg cameos. I also thought it was clever that Gabriel’s last name is Duke so he’s not a literal duke. As the world of romance writing is shifting I’m noticing many of the top historical authors are going beyond the Dukes, Earls and Marquess’ for potential hero material.

I also don’t know if this is the best way to say this, but there is a #MeToo plot that shows up in the last ⅓ of the books that I think may turn off some readers who aren’t expecting that in their romance. On the other hand, I think some might find as a type of catharsis in the way justice is dolled out

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Fluffy by Julia Kent

Rating: | 7 hours 4 minutes | Contemporary Romance | Prosaic Press | 4/30/2019
I heard the beginning of Fluffy on The Story Bites podcast --a podcast that plays and discusses audiobook snippets. In the Fluffy snippet Mallory, a recently unemployed house stager, is answering a Craigslist ad for a fluffer--assuming they mean a house fluffer. There is sort of a comedy of errors as she misinterprets everything the client is saying over the phone and the clip ended with her heading to the job. I thought the narration was good and I wanted to see where it went so I was super excited to pick it up and….Whooo, this book left a bad taste in my mouth. 

I’ll start with the two things I liked; the cover and the narration. This series uses some of my favorite romance cover motifs. The models are realistic and standing in a real-world environment, the handwritten font is fun and I like the addition of the feather on the cover. I did this on audio and narrator Erin Mallon is fantastic. I enjoyed her delivery, she really goes all-in on her characters.

Unfortunately, absolutely nothing else in this book worked for me. I could spend paragraphs complaining about it but I won't. Every scene in this book felt like it went on for way too long, the  entire plot is nonsensical, Mallory is oblivious about things for longer than seems realistic, and the hero--Mallory’s high school crush who sweeps into shut down the unsanctioned porn shoot-- has the personality of a piece of white bread in a suit.

And then there are my nitpicks. I think it was extremely tone deaf for Kent to make all of the characters of color either service workers (one who even has gang tattoos because of course) or pornstar grotesques. The book goes out of its way to remind us twice that Mallory was scarred by seeing Saw 3 when she was six. BUT THIS BOOK EXPLICITLY TAKES PLACE IN 2019 AND SHE IS EXPLICITLY 28 SO SHE WOULD HAVE BEEN 15 in 2006 when Saw III came out!!! How did Kent not fact check that ?

A lot of the extended scenes in this book involve Mallory and her friends giggling and asking random people if they know what a fluffer is and I'll admit I didn't actually know the term until I saw that episode of New Girl.