Saturday, January 20, 2018

Stay Close (For You) by Alexa Riley

Rating: unrated | 46 pages | Carina Press | Contemporary | 7/17/2017 | Buy Now !

Stay Close  is spin-off series featuring the daughter of the hero/heroine in , His Alone, book two of Alexa Riley's For Her series. I've heard a lot about Alex Riley from the Scandalicous and The Nerd Herd  podcast and I was curious to give her a go. . . also this was free. Going in I understood that the age gap between high school senior Penelope and the Russian bodyguard, Ivan, hired to protect her wasn't going to be my thing. But when I began to understand that Alexa Riley is about "insta-love, over-the-top, sweet, and cheesy love stories that don’t take all year to read" I got what they were doing here.

I can see why the characters went from meeting to insta-love in like a week, but I wasn't expecting it to  veer towards extreme heteronormativity where the hero is the dark and brooding strong protector (who does pull ups on a metal pole cause he's a MAN) and the heroine's best quality is that she is pure and innocent. Penelope cooking and serving Ivan breakfast (and technically lunch, why yes he joins her for lunch AT HER HIGH SCHOOL) endears her to him. She's pretty, smart and eventually decides to become a stay at home mom. It's not my type of romance, but I get it.

But see there is this one scene.

To set it up, Ivan is bringing Penelope and her twin sister back home after they snuck out. Ivan and Penelope sleep together for the first time (Ivan lives in the  guest house out back), Ivan wakes up super early, asks Penelope's mom for permission to marry her, then buys an engagement ring.

So, after all that they all go to breakfast and tell the dad about the engagement

[Dad's] attention goes straight to my finger. I make no move to cover the ring.
“Penelope,” my dad says, and I stand at attention.
“Watch your tone,” Ivan says.

I almost threw my iPad across the train. The dad gave Ivan a job, let Ivan live in his guest house and this man sleeps with his high school daughter (who still lives under his roof) and has the nerve to talk to him like this ? In his own kitchen ? Fear not, it just takes a few paragraphs for the dad to get on board but I don't know.

So yeah, this genre of book is not for me but I will say all the insta-love and  crazy-saucenes of it did keep me entertained while traveling.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The King's Man (Welsh Blades #1) by Elizabeth Kingston

Rating: ★★+.5 | 326 pages | Self-Published | Medieval Romance | 1/1/2015 | Buy Now !

After almost two years of reading romance there are still a ton of sub-genre and tropes I've yet to explore and with The King's Man I got my first taste of Medieval romance and the Girl Dressed As Boy trope. This book was recc'd on Twitter for being a good example of this trope and on that aspect it totally delivered.

Years ago when Gwenallian's fiance was killed by Ranulf Ombrier, she was set free from her marriage contract and was able to pursue her own desires; she found passion in the world of men where she dons armor, fights and leads a company of soldiers.  When she and her men come across  Ranulf,--who is on the run from King Edward and looking for redemption--they drag him back to the to win favor with the Emglish king.

I liked the unkempt nature and wildness of the Medieval time period. Gwenallian is a fierce warrior and she is doing the Girl Dressed As A Boy trope to protect her from the strict rules of English society yet all of her men follow and respect her knowing full well she is female; her sword skills even rival Ranulf who is an expert marksman

When the king forces Ranulf and Gwenllian to marry, she finds herself torn between  the non-traditional role she chose and the traditional role as lady and wife forced upon her. She finds her place in Ranulf's household and the two begin to fall in love. Some of the best parts of this book are when  Gwenllian and Ranulf are on equal footing; whether they are sword fighting or  running from thieves.

But there is a big BUT.

So, slight spoiler

In the king's court, Gwenllian struggles to mold herself into the role of a wife and lady. I gather some of what Elizabeth Kingston  is trying to do is have Gwenllian embrace female values and find them as worthy as male ones... but to me it felt like  Gwenllian never found that balance. In the end she resigns herself to being a proper lady and literally leaves  her armor behind to be Ranulf's wife. It left a bad taste in my mouth because she never seemed content with this female role. She kept wanting to hide or run when it came to domestic tasks. Yes, I get it . She's making a sacrifice for love and family, and there are hints that  Rannaulf doesn't expect her to be "like the other girls" but I don't know.

It just reminded me of Flowers From The Storm where Maddy has to leave the religion that defines her to be with Christian. It just doesn't seem fair that these heroines have to give up these very specific things that defined them to earn thier HEA and assist the hero in his redemption.

I find it an odd coincidence that HedgeHog Inc, who produced the audiobook, is Laura Kinsale's audio production company. Maybe Kinsale saw they shared the same sensibility of sacrifice in their heroines ?

Saturday, January 13, 2018

22 Of Our Favorite Punny Romance Titles

Some readers might pick up a romance novel because it has an amazing cover image, but sometimes it's hard to resist a title that's having a little pun.

Song Titles

TV Shows/Movie

Earl, Please

  • The Earl Is Mine  -  A lady escapes am arranged marriage with the help of an old friend.
  • Good Earl Gone Bad - An earl takes a gamble on his new wife who is charged with murder.
  • My Brown-Eyed Earl - a reformed earl falls for a governess with a tragic past.
  • I Kissed An Earl - A mischievous lady seeks out non-traditional earl to help find her brother.
  • Kiss The Earl -  A modern day comic book artist  is transported to Regency England.
  • This Earl Is On Fire - A sheltered woman is drawn to a mysterious man with a lost memory.

I See What You Did There

Which one is your favorite ?

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Romance and Sensibility By The Numbers 2017

All year long we track our reviews in a spreadsheet so at the end of the year we can crunch some numbers and take a look at our stats. We track info you can't find on Goodreads like diversity , format and retailers;  then pull the most interesting stats  in a handy infographic. This year made it with Canva !

If you'd like a copy of our infographic template feel free to e-mail us at ! If you are looking to track your own stats you can download or make a copy of our basic Romance Reader Spreadsheet. Feel free to edit and or add formulas to it, we'd love to see what you can come up with.

(click to enlarge)
2015 Numbers for comparison

Jess's Thoughts
For me, nothing about the numbers is really that surprising. Although I am shocked at how much we relied on  subscription services (which in this case means Scribd, The Audible Romance Package and Kindle Unlimited). I feel like "Netflix" for books services are always struggling to hit the mark but I bet if they just narrowed in more on romance, like Audible did, they'd find a ton of consumers !

K.E.'s Thoughts
Our diversity numbers have been steadily growing and I'm glad 1 in 4 books reviewed was written by an author or color and I hope we only increase with more diverse titles coming out. That 11% of print books doesn't include any of the  (likely hundreds) of used romance novels I've purchased over the years and stuffed in my closet. I'd like to spend more time next year reading the used books I already own.

Here are some numbers that didn't make the infographic
  • 29%  of book were self published
  • 22% published by Penguin (various imprints)
  • 19%  published by Harlequin (various imprints)
  • 12.5 %  published by Sourcebooks Casablanca
  • 8%  published by Harper Collins (all Avon)
  • 4.1% published by Kensington
  • 4 .7% published by  Hachette
  • 6% of the books read were M/M romance, however they were all written by Santino Hassell

Lose Time Reading's How To Organize Your Reviews using Excel (2013)

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Keepsake by Sarina Bowen (True North #3)

Rating: | 10 hours 8 minutes | Self Published (Blackstone Audio) | Contemporary | True North #3 | 01/03/2017

Keepsake is a slow burn romance between 23-year-old Zachariah Holtz, a former cult member turned farmhand and 24-year-old Lark Wainwright who has come to the Shipley family farm for a respite after escaping a kidnapping in Guatemala. Lark suffers from PTSD and Zach seems to be the only one on the farm who can soothe her night terrors. Between picking apples, traveling to farmer’s markets and pressing cider they bond over their shared past trauma and fall in love.

Sarina Bowen was one of the first romance authors I ever read but she’s fallen off my radar lately. This book caught my attention because I wanted to read a virgin hero and this book was rec’d on of SBTB virgin heroes Rec League and it did not disappoint.

You guys, I didn’t know we were allowed to have heroes this beta in romance. Not only is Zach a virgin but because he was raised in such a strict fundamentalist cult  he doesn’t fit a lot of the traditionally masculine coded spaces of romance heroes. All he knows is physical labor and following orders and doesn’t have money, education, security or connections to support the heroine and it’s such an interesting change in dynamic. A big part of his character arc involves him learning he doesn’t have to always be doing something for someone else to have value and be loved and something about that for a hero feels subversive.

I kinda hate this beautiful cinnamon roll meme but Zach is a beautiful cinnamon roll too good for what happens in this book. Like, in his introductory scene he’s voluntarily washing dishes after the Shipley family dinner and then gets excited about  getting the 6th Harry Potter book off hold from the library.

My big issue with the book is Lark. I try not to be one of those readers who is harder on female characters but Lark just didn’t sit right with me….she is just such a Becky. And the weird part is the book acknowledges her extreme privilege but it didn’t make it any better. Lark comes from a well off Bostonian family and just decides to come to the farm because she thinks it will help her feel better and it felt like that thing when rich people doing a thing poor people do because it’s relaxing. Also, she has PTSD from her kidnapping that makes her scream in the middle of the night but doesn’t warn anyone that this happens and just expects them to deal with her screaming bloody murder in the middle of the night even though other people in the house have to get up early to milk cows and stuff!

And speaking of PTSD we find out pretty early she was kidnapped because she's such a "wild child" and was walking around Guatemala by herself at night even though she was told not to do that by the nonprofit she was working for. Also, also, she gets a guy killed during her kidnapping. Like I hate to look too much into this book but basically her white privilege gets someone murdered and I just really wanted Zach to end up with another character. Any character.I think Bowen does an admirable trying to make Lark full circle but I was just too out on her to care

These two audiobook narrators were great and worked well off of each other, Teddy Hamilton’s Zach is so earnest and has this slight country drawl and Erin Spencer’s voice is bright and youthful. I’m definitely adding them to my go to narrators list, although they must read pretty slow because this book is only 217 pages on Kindle but the audio is 10 hours long. Also, I find it interesting that none of the books in this series have the same narrator.

The Shipley family and all the residents of this Vermont farm town sound awesome. Also, yes, yes a keepsake is a breed of apple that looks bruised and imperfect on the outside when it's actually perfectly  good on the inside.

So, apparently the cult Zack leaves is the setting of Bowen’s first romance ever that she re-titled and republished as Goodbye, Paradise and I’m so curious to read this to see how she turns a fundamentalist cult into a setting for a m/m romance.

Also these covers aren't my faves but I love that Bowen left the bulging man chest off this cover. The rest of the series has the Muscle McMuscle dudes (especially the first one, WTF is going on there ?) and this one could have easily been that too but I think making it something softer is more true to the books.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Our Favorite Romance Novels of 2017

The verdict is in we have a list of our favorite romance novels from 2017
With equal parts Halloween hijinks and swoony romance this book has one of my favorite heroines !
Kamaya and Wesley's banter and chemistry burn up the pages in this romance between two adult entertainment entrepreneurs

Hot army hero ? Yummy  food writing ? San Francisco regional specificity ? Check, check check ! 

With equal parts passion and banter this a heartwarming boxing romance with as many hard hits (both literally and metaphorically) as super sweet moments.
This is how you do a ballroom   !

Emotions run high in this enemies-to-lovers football romance

What are some of your best romances novels of 2017 ?

Mini Reviews: KE's Last Books Of The Year

These books have nothing in common except that they were my last reads of 2017 !

Hard Wired by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell (Cyberlove #3)

Chat moderator Jesse Garv is can't wait to be on his first panel at FallenCon and finally meet his happy-go-lucky co-moderator Cherrycakes. But first he takes a stroll down Artist Alley and hooks up with the sardonic, brooding, late stage emo fan-artist Cerise. Only it turns out Cerise is also the plucky Cherrycakes who is also Ian Larsen an introverted graphic designer from  who created the Cerise persona as a foster teen.

Ian/Cherrycakes/Cerise has had a crush on Jesse for years, and as much as he wants to be himself he’s not sure he’s ready to leave his personas behind. This book runs parallel last book and it was cool to see how some scenes played out from different perspectives. This book really could have  been a novella because after a while it started to feel  tedious as Ian tries to get Jesse to understand his personas.

Erickson and Hassell have a subplot that involves Ian applying to grad school and I noticed that of the 6 heroes in this series, Ian is the only one that went  to college. I appreciate how they write characters who have full lives and livelihoods but didn’t go to college.- ★★★ +.5

Holiday Wishes by Jill Shalvis (Heartbreaker Bay #4.5)

Sean O’Riley is taking the Heartbreaker Bay gang out of San Francisco and to Napa Valley for a joint bachelor/bachelorette party. He's planned everything for an unforgettable weekend but he didn't plan on the owner of the bed and breakfast to be Lotti Hartford--his  high school ex- girlfriend, or for them all to be trapped at by a storm. That's right, it's  "snowed in"  second chance romance time ! Sean is a great hero, he tries not only to make everything right with Lotti but also make everything right for his brother and his fiance. I’ve never read this series and this was a great taste of the world, I loved the rom-com vibe and the friendships between the other characters. Shalvis' website described this series as Friends meets Sex and The City and I am here for it.  I was kind of tickled about how scrappy the characters have to be at several points in this book. This book was over too soon and I finished it in one sitting. IDK why I haven’t read more novellas ! ★★★ +.5

 Holiday Wishes received as part of the Avon Addicts Programs