Monday, August 14, 2017

Illegal Contact by Santino Hassell

Rating: ★★★+.5 | 251 Pages | Intermix | Contemporary Romance | 08/15/2017

When a fight caught-on-tape lands Gavin Brawley--the notoriously hotheaded tight end for The New York Barons--on house arrest the last thing he wants to deal with is a new personal assistant. Noah Monroe is a freshly unemployed social worker who could care less about Gavin and just wants to do the job and start paying his student loans. But will Noah worm his way into Gavin's heart and bring out #DatBrawleySmile ?

This book was great, I’m just really into the way Santino Hassell  writes romance. He slowly builds sexual tension and pairs it with cutting banter. Noah, being a self proclaimed "poor kid from Queens" goes toe to toe with Gavin's surliness.  I was just waiting for a Slap Slap Kiss--although it ends up being more of a You Are Better Than You Think You Are.

Hassell  is also writing some of the most authentic portrayals of millennials I've read in romance. The pop culture references, language and world views feel modern and authentic. Like the way Noah and Gavin talk about the toxic and often problematic culture of professional football. While Gavin loves football and knows it saved his life  he’s also realizes if word got out he was bisexual and had a boyfriend his career could be over.

Authentic, heartwarming and fun Hassell’s debut football series is a touch down !

*ARC provided by Netgalley


By the way, this is so, so, so random but the fact that this book features a guy named Gavin never leaving his big house in the Hamptons reminds me of that episode of the Gavin Volure episode of 30 Rock.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Mini Reviews: Kimani Romance

To Marry A Prince by A.C. Arthur

When stylist Landry Norris  is flown  to Grand Serenity Island to dress the American fianceé of the crown prince she finds herself  in bed with the crown prince's oldest son, Prince Kristian DeSaunters. Kristian and Landry's lust-at-first-sight romance burns quickly with very little chemistry. I got whiplash at how they went from essentially  friends with benefits to marriage (although I guess...what is says on the tin).  Arthur does a great job building the scenery, culture and history of Grand Serenity Island, a Caribbean island where the descendants of slaves created the monarchy by rebelling against colonist.  There also seems to be an intrigue plot  going on in the background as mysterious break ins and murder attempts begin to happen around the island. I have a feeling the intrigue storyline is going to follow through the series as it is never resolved in the book.  -

A Pleasing Temptation by Deborah Fletcher Mello

All eyes are on Kamaya Bordeaux as she officially becomes the last of  her 9 siblings without a wedding ring.  Kamaya doesn't have time for a relationship as she's busy managing the newest addition to her portfolio of adult businesses--a male strip club franchise. Her first franchisee is Wesley Walters an up and coming business man who was once known as "Deuce" the hottest stripper in New Orleans. Kamaya and Wesley's banter and chemistry burn up the pages. Even though our hero and heroine make their living selling sex, this novel was surprisingly heartwarming and almost spiritual as faith and family play a big role in their  developing relationship. I really loved the scenes between close knit Bordeaux family, this family has it all; a billionaire, a CIA agent, a filmmaker.  I'm totally going back to read their books ! - 

I've never really read the Kimani line before but I've just been devouring them like candy lately. I think there is the idea that these books are kinda whitewashed but they really do pick up nuances of black culture. I notice this particularly in the way they use religion, family and HBCU culture. I'm kind of sad to see this line is going to be disbanded in 2018 and I hope other publisher's pick up these wonderful authors !

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Midnight Games by Elle Kennedy

Romantic Suspense |12/29/15 | 11 hours 53 minutes 


Jim Morgan and his crew of mercenaries are in crisis. Morgan has gone missing and a kill order has been ordered against the team and not everyone makes it out alive. Enemies and friends team up and begin a globe-hopping mission to find out who is behind the fatal attack, while undercover agent extraordinaire, Isabel Roma joins the team and brings her will they/won't they romance with and ex-Navy mercenary Trevor Callaghan  to a sizzling conclusion.

Kennedy always shocks me with the amazing scope and world-building in her novels that play out in addition to the main romance. I was SHOCKED that there was an steamy and intense enemies with benefits relationship between two  characters. . . who aren't even paired up with each other later in the series.  It adds a lot more dimension to the characters and not something I've see in a lot of romance. You really have to read these in order.

Midnight Alias features lots of girl power as we meet more of The Chameleons, a group of female operatives and their dark and deadly leader Noelle. (SERIOUSLY SOMETHING HAPPENED BETWEEN HER AND JIM MORGAN AND THEY HATE EACH OTHER AND I WANT TO KNOW WHAT IT IS)

Allyson Ryan is of course a treat, she gets to show off her expanse of accents though her Australian accent might have me checking out the e-book if that character gets a book.

IsAbel and Trevor's romance has been tracking since book one and it was satisfying, but while you come for the romance you stay for the secret missions, non-stop action and banter.

I feel like the ending wrapped up a little to neatly, but I think Kennedy did it in service of a much bigger story... which is her showing how BADASS all of her character are. You really feel like you know the team..

Side Note
I'm lukewarm on the book and audio book covers for this series, but this is one where I pefer the audio book cover. I remembe an old post I read on how females are positioned on promotional content and I think this is a nice subversion.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Playboy Pilot by Penelope Ward and Vi Keeland

9/21/16 | 7 Hours 35 Minutes | Narrated by Andi Arndt and Sebastian Stan

Captain Carter Clines, Triple C "Trip" (okay a big deal is made of this clever nickname but it's only used like three times)  is the playboy pilot and he has no shame about the flight attendants he's slept with or making  a suggestive comment or two to Kendall Sparks the pretty blonde heiress he meets in an airport lounge. Together they embark on an around the world vacation, but they can't outrun the real-life troubles waiting for them at home.

I think I grabbed this audiobook on sale based on the  kitsch title alone, I don't know what I was expecting but this book was surprisingly fun because it's mostly about Kendall and Carter having fun on their globe hopping vacation. I kept waiting to see where they would go next. The conflict was super soapy and there is even a  wacky Romancelandia will. I can't even explain it but involves babies and IVF.

Sure if you just barley squint this is one of those books were the heroine is introduced to the hero and he changes her life. We don't get any of Kendall's experiences or learn what makes her unique outside of Carter. I haven't read a lot of playboy books, but I like that Carter has to come to terms with the consequences of his past to get a happy ending.

Andi Arndt and Sebastian York are like the  Ben Affleck/Matt Damon or the Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks of romance audiobooks. At first I found Arndt's narration a little sleepy but it starts to pick up and she has this perfectly well matched cocky attitude when it comes to voicing Carter that I think really added something to Carter. York, as per usual, played it pretty straight

Wicked Mafia Prince by Annika Martin

 Dangerous Royals Romance #2 |  233 Pages | Suspense Romance | Release Date: 07/16/2016
The first book in the Dangerous Royals series really pulled me in with it’s grit, high stakes and constant twists and turns. I was so ready for the sequel but Wicked Mafia Prince was just….it has some odd choices. I mean…. it’s basically about a Russian mobster that saves a nun from a brothel and then competes with Jesus for her attention by doing things like….chaining her in a bedroom, throwing her clothes into a fire and forcing her to eat cake.

Okay, let me back up.

 22-year-old Russian mobster Viktor Dragusha is ready to take down Bloody Lazarus, the man that killed his parents and separated he and his brothers 20 years ago. As he and his brother begin to infiltrate Lazarus’s online virgin auction Viktor recognizes a nun up for auction as his ex-girlfriend, Tanechka. Which is odd because he’s pretty sure he killed her three years ago when the Russian mob made him push her off a gorge.

That’s right, it’s amnesia time, ya’ll !

So for most of this book Tanechka only remembers the last few years of her life when she was taken in by Eastern Orthodox nuns. She’s now extremely religious and very orthodox and Viktor comes off as a real psycho bully as he tries to make her remember the violent mob  assassin she once was.The only reason this book didn’t end up in the DNF pile is because the book itself seems to recognize how he treats her is wrong and towards the end she gets a bit of agency, but some of the earlier sections were real rough.

Speaking of choices at one point Martin gives Bloody Lazarus, the bad guy, a couple of chapters in which he...uses an online executive coach to help him... run the mob better ? It read as real odd and I didn’t feel like she captured the voice quite right, Lazarus has to be at least in his 40’s but he read much younger. I really didn’t understand why Lazarus’ POV was in there but in the back of the book she says that he’s getting his own book so I guess she was testing the waters.

Low in romance, high in suspense this book just left a bad taste in my mouth.

I looked more into Martin after reading this book and her best selling book is dubious consent novel about a woman kidnapped by a fugitive and she has a series called Taken Hostage by The Kinky Bank Robbers so I think some of my weirdness about consent in this book is YMMV. Clicking around I am learning  'kidnapped heroine falls for captor' is a genre I did not know existed...which explains a lot about these books.

I think I am going to finish this series (and not just because I already bought the last one for .99 a few months ago). I’d heard this book was the weakest of the series and I’m curious to see what she’ll do with the third brother who was abandoned in the woods as a child.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Ruled by Elle Kennedy

Rating: ★★★★| 354 Pages | Signet | Dystopian Romance | 11/1/2016

25-year-old Reese is the highly respected and enigmatic leader of the outlaw town known as Foxworth. She’s created a safe place in the lawless wasteland for herself and her people but she has grander plans for the town’s citizen. Plans that include overthrowing the global authoritarian government. As you do. Meanwhile Rylan, the smart alec playboy from an ally outlaw camp, just wants to crack her shell and get a place in her bed, but also... so does Sloan, Reese’s stoic and fiercely loyal right hand man.

Yep, this is a ménage novel. I have this habit of not reading the back of books, so I had no idea this was coming. This is the first triad I’ve finished and you know what ? I didn’t hate it. Kennedy just does a great job articulating the relationships the characters have with each other and making it work and feel believable. In the beginning the two men are extremely wary of each other and have some intense moments but but by the end of the book I was kinda on board with them having a relationship without Reese..

Can we talk about Reese though ? I don’t think I’ve ever read a female character like her. The young, broody leader with a mysterious dark past who wants nothing but vengeance is usually reserved for male MCs, especially in romantic suspense. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a female character inhabit that role without it turning into a Faux Action Girl or the character being reminded that she’s a woman every other page.

Although holy trigger warnings, Batman ! There is a lot of rape as backstory and Fridge Horror in this book. Like a lot.

Action packed and intense, Elle Kennedy’s Ruled is the searing post-apocalyptic ménage novel I didn’t know I needed.

So...even though this book hints at future pairings and doesn't resolve the overarching plot it looks like Kennedy is done with the Outlaws series and is focusing on her contemporary projects ):

Sunday, June 4, 2017

North To You by Tif Marcelo

Rating: ★★★★ | 300 Pages | Pocket Star | Contemporary | 6/5/2017
When food truck owner Camille Marino (literally) runs into her old high school crush, Army lieutenant Drew Bautista, on a wild San Francisco night their passion for each other re- ignites instantly. But when Camille’s food truck unknowingly becomes enemy number one of Drew’s father’s Filipino restaurant their relationship might just go up in flames.

Oh and Drew is about to be deployed to Iraq in 30 days...

This debut novel from Tif Marcelo is a sweet, fun and heartfelt romance that delivers on everything it promises. Hot army hero ? Check. Lot of delicious food descriptions ? Check. San Francisco regional specificity ? Check. I really appreciated that Marcelo’s 25-years-old characters read like actual 25-year-olds with their pop culture references and the way they used social media.

Fair warning this romance is in first person which was a good fit for the book,  but I know is a turn off for some romance readers. Also, while it isn’t a total fade to black situation, Marcelo doesn’t linger on details and the love scenes tend to cut out before things get really hot and heavy.

I’ve read a lot of books over my last few years of blogging and I have never read a Filipino character let alone a Filipino romantic hero.  I'm glad to see more diversity in romance and  hope we get more books like this in the future !


I did kind of side-eye how the publisher had every Filipino word or dish was in italics and had an explanatory comma. It felt awkward to have Drew’s first person narrative pause and explain, even though there is a lot of context. It’s especially an odd choice because there wasn’t the same amount of spoon feeding for military jargon.

*ARC provided by NetGalley

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Audiobook Review: Darling Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt

Rating: ★★★ | 384 Pages | Sourcebooks Casablanca | Contemporary | 9/6/2016 

Framed for triple homicide, Apollo Greaves escapes his abusive guards at Bedlam and takes refuge  in the burned down pleasure garden he is secretly financing. With his throat damaged from a beating in Bedlam, Apollo is intent to pose as a mute, “dumb” gardener working in the garden. That is until he takes the interest of Lily Stump, a blacklisted theater actress living in the remains of the garden’s burned theater with her son.

And he solves crime ?

And I guess this is supposed to be a Beauty and The Beast type story because Apollo is sups big and not traditionally handsome ?

I literally picked this book at random because I wanted to read a genre I haven’t read this year. I  guess all the historicals I’ve ever read have been  light hearted Regencies romances because I was thrown for a loop by this emotionally wrought Georgian melodrama with the angst switch turned to 11. So. Much. Angst.

That said, Darling Beast is perfectly crafted historical romance. Apollo and Lily’s story blend together with these chapter epigraphs from the Grecian Minotaur myth to create a wonderfully solid narrative with a few twists and turns I didn’t even see coming. Seriously, there were some driveway moments with this one.

The setting of this romance is so specific.  Apollo and Lily are kind of outcasts from their social circles, so their courtship takes you completely out of the ballroom and into this burned down pleasure garden that Apollo is trying to rebuild. Also, if learning about 18th century horticulture is a thing you want Elizabeth Hoyt's got you.

Now, there are some oddly racist references in this book. At one point she describes watching Apollo squatting down  like a "hulking native" and "veritable savage"  and at one point a character is described as an "Oriental potentate." While that may have been how people talked back then, it felt in poor taste  for the author to include them in her book..

Narrator Ashford McNab has this great husky, feminine voice for Lily and masters all the different British accents. Her performance of Apollo is especially noteworthy because throughout the book Apollo (spoiler alert) slowly gets his speech back and she has to change her voice as his voice heals.

A story about identity, the meaning of humanity and of course the feels.

So….why is this series called Maiden Lane ?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Addicted by Elle Kennedy (Outlaws #2)

Rating: ★★★ + .5 | 354 Pages | Signet | Dystopian  | 6/28/2016 

Time to dive back into Elle Kennedy’s post apocalyptic America where citizens live in heavily regulated cities while the rest are are outlaws, surviving as free people in the nuclear wasteland.

In this sequel a group of outlaws introduced in the first book are headed out to Foxworth, a fortified outlaw town, to train the townspeople how to fight. Included in this group are Jamie and Lennox, childhood friends who’ve survived every hardship life has thrown at them as a team. But when Lennox and Jamie start sleeping together it gets complicated.

I could go either way on Jamie and Lennox’s relationship, they had some great moments but never felt as fully fleshed as the characters in book one did.  That said, I liked how Kennedy used them to expand the world. We learn more about what it’s like to be an outlaw child and how hard it is to keep a family together.

Kennedy has also kicked up the spice level in this book, because everyone is sleeping with everyone, everywhere all the time. Although, the more I read this series the more I have to handwave that they live in a nuclear wasteland where food and fuel are scarce but for some reason there are condoms everywhere and no one has an STI or unwanted pregnancy.

Elle Kennedy delivers another dystopian scorcher with a complicated friends to lovers scenario and some intense action scenes.


There are some character deaths I did not see coming because I legit though they’d be in future books. This tweet was literally me:

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Midnight Alias by Elle Kennedy

Narrated by Allyson Ryan | 11 hrs 39 minutes | Tantor Audio

In book one Kennedy introduces Trevor Callahan, an ex-solider so deep in grief over the murder of his fiancé that he joins an undercover mission as a suicide job. While undercover he is paired with former-FBI agent turned undercover operator Isabel Roma, a former Mafia princess who can be anyone except herself.  Just when Trevor is staring death in the eye. . .Isabel saves him then walks away for the last time. Or is it ?

Midnight Alias . . . is not about them.

Nope. It’s about a Ragin' Cajun (okay, I don’t think he’s Cajun but he's from New Orleans) adrenaline junkie Luke Dubois and Olivia Taylor, a 25 year old college student taking care of her sick mother. To make ends meets Olivia works in a strip club where one night she is attacked by a customer, the strip club owner kills the customer, hides the body and pays off all her school and medical bills so she’s in debt to him. He holds this over her  and he’s like in love with and controlling  over her and she’s just playing nice until she can graduate and escape.*breathes*.

So, helpless stripper with a heart of gold being saved by a big strong man is one of my least favorite tropes,  the only reason I was reading this book is to follow the Trevor/Isabel arc. Who by the way, get just as much page-time as Luke and Olivia.

 Kennedy does provide thrilling plots and wonderful banter. I thought the portrayal of Olivia’s controlling relationship with the strip club owner was realistic and Kennedy had this great way of getting inside of her villain’s heads and giving them dimensions.  Audiobook narrator Allyson Ryan’s really intuitive and charming performance amplified the story. 

Okay, now I finally get to read Isabel and Trevor.

Side Note
I don't understand the cover for the audiobook or the book for that matter. It's just like being shirtless outside wearing a concealable holster seems  . . . beside the point.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Roadside Assistance by Marie Harte

Rating: ★★★ | 384 Pages | Sourcebooks Casablanca | Contemporary | 9/6/2016 

When business owner Cynthia Nichols stomps into Webster's Garage to tell the mechanics off for parking  cars  in her parking lot, she immediately catches the attention of all of the body shop "bad boy" mechanics. Foley Hamilton  immediately calls dibs and what starts out as a fun casual game of cat and mouse between Foley and Cyn might just be the real thing...that is if their friends and family don’t get in the way first.

Cynthia Nichols is that unconventional romance heroine they warned you about. She’s in her mid-thirties, independent, running her business and at 6 feet tall and size 24 doesn’t have the body of your typical coquettish romance heroine. She’s dealing with a traditional Italian mother who wants her to start a family and "blue collar badass" Foley isn’t exactly what her mother has in mind. I thought it was great how Harte doesn't play the I Want Grankids lightly, it shines a light on how Cyn's mother's comments about weight and her relationships are starting to  become verbal abuse.

I’m not sure if I really believed the chemistry between Cyn and Foley though. They start to implicitly trust each other and I’m not sure why especially since Foley makes some weird comments about her weight in the beginning that really upset her. Also the ending gave me whiplash, we go from the Foley in an  intense emotional situation to Cyn in an intense emotional situation and then a smash cut to a  light hearted  party that seemedto only exist to introduce the characters of Harte's new series.

That said I'm still in for the next book, which about Foley's roommate / best friend Sam. I think what draws me to this series is the sense of community, it’s subtle but this Seattle metro area  is so well developed. I love seeing how all the past characters interact with each other.


I really hate this cover...

Monday, April 24, 2017

Strong Signal by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell

Rating: ★★★★  | 229 Pages | Self Published | Contemporary | 2/15/2016 

25-year-old Kai Bannon is what you might call internet famous. Millions of adoring subscribers tune into his Twitch stream for game reviews, funny commentary….and occasional shirtless dancing. But most of his online performance is just that. A performance. IRL Kai suffers from severe anxiety and hasn’t left his Philadelphia apartment in two years. His solitary lifestyle works for him, but then he starts exchanging messages with deployed Army mechanic, Garrett Reid. When their relationship goes offline to IRL, Kai can't hide his flaws behind a screen anymore.

Kai lives in an online world that will seem realistic to anyone who, ahem like me, has dabbled into the world of internet famous people. The authors capture the culture of internet fame so well, like this bit early on when Garrett decides to Google Kai:

Kai + Twitch + Fallen World Online brought up Pinterest pages, a Tumblr called FuckYeahKaiBannon, and fan pages on various social media websites. The number of people who were using his face as an avatar on their own Twitter accounts was alarming - Erickson, Megan. Strong Signal (Cyberlove Book 1) (p. 17). Megtino Press. Kindle Edition.

See that Tumblr account ? I have seen that Tumblr account.

My biggest hurdle with this book is that I had a real hard time believing the "meet cute". It's not believable that someone like  Kai would  respond to an e-mail from another player upset over something that happened in a MMOPRG. It seems like someone with as much internet fame as Kai would have written him off as a troll and ignored him.

There is something refreshing about how down to earth the heroes in Strong Signal. One of my nitpicks about mainstream romanclandia is that it seemingly takes place in an alternate world where characters in their mid-twenties are running the world. Garrett’s not some special ops army war hero, he’s just a guy who joined the military out of high school and whose biggest fear is being unemployed once he leaves the Army.

Believe it or not this review just barely scratches the surface of this book, there is plenty of drama going on as the characters try to fit into each others lives.  Hassell and Erickson have have created complex, modern characters for a truly 21st century story that is #couplegoals.


I am mildly fascinated by mediocre white boy internet celebrity so in my head Kai is a mix between a lower level Pewdiepie, Troye Sivan and IDK maybe these one of these British guys who randomly make videos shirtless for no apparent reason.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

New Cover, Who Dis ?

One of the first things I figured out when I started reading genre romance is that romance novel covers and readers speak to each other in their own visual language. Readers can pick out their favorite subgenres just by looking at the covers.  A solid background with a single object ? Screams erotica. Adirondack chairs on a porch means it's time for a small town romance, lush gowns with that signature clutch? That means it's time to travel to Regency England.

Every now and then I'll come across a book (usually a Harlequin) with a  re-issued cover that is suddenly saying something totally different than it's previous cover . Usually this new cover  can completely change how the book is perceived and how it fits into current trends. Here are a few that caught my eye:

Maya Banks

Erotica got a big mainstream boost after the 50 Shades phenomenon. Minimalist, clean text cover became synonymous  with the genre. So  it's no wonder  Maya Banks "cheesy" Harlequin titles and covers were re-issued to reflect the trend.

Caitlin Crews and Maisey Yates

Nothing screams steamy, fun and indie romance like a black and white image with bold colorful text. I think Harlequin Presents got the message when they swapped out their signature logo and serious dudes for more a fun more contemporary look. I also noticed they play up the USA Today Bestseller, something I see on a lot of indie and small press novels.

Elle Kennedy

 You just know Kennedy's Midnight series when you see it. I'm talking  strong powerful models and bright san serif text. So in 2017 when  Harlequin re-issued Kennedy's Silhouettes  they looked  a little familiar.  Again they've minimized the Harlequin branding. 

Victoria Dahl

Victoria Dahl's original Tumble Creek  covers looked fun and flirty but when the mid 2010's rolled into town, covers were all about the abs. And not just abs. . . active abs ! This trend was probably popularized with Jaci Burton's Play by Play. When HQN re-issued this series they gave them an up close and personal ab-tastic makeover.

So what have I learned ? Well, it seems to me like romance novel covers are moving more toward minimalism. Images are simpler with no props, text is aligned with just a few key colors and so much san serif and kerning. Also the models on the cover look like they are having more fun.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Back To Your Love by Kianna Alexander

Rating: ★★★ +.5 | 352 Pages | Sourcebooks Casablanca | Contemporary  | 4/4/2017

Imani and Xavier’s high school romance felt like true love, but when Imani goes to Georgia for college they can’t hold on to their spark and drift apart. A decade later Imani is coming back home to open her dermatology practice and Xavier isn’t letting Imani get away this time. But Imani's got secrets now and if she were to say yes she could ruin Xavier's race for city council.

I’m starting to think rekindling romances are becoming my new jam. I like how the hero and heroine's shared history means we don't have to sit through the getting to know you parts. This romance isn’t clean or anything but it is just such a sweet romance. From Imani’s family to the kids Xavier counsels this books full of characters who love each other in all meanings of the word

This book takes place in Raleigh, North Carolina and just has an amazing sense of community and world building, I was not surprised to discover Alexander was a southern belle herself, like there is a scene where Xavier orders a lunch with a Cheerwine which is such a regionally specific beverage.

Oddly,  Imani and Xavier felt less like Millennials and more like Gen Xers. It's specifically stated that the characters are 10 years out from high school making them 29-30 at most, but they talk about listening to Mary J Blige at school dances, it just feels like an older reference. Also, Xavier refers to the 21-year-olds helping run his campaign as youngsters, and look I refuse to believe any Millennial trying to unseat an older incumbent wouldn't use social media to their advantage. It was just weird.

I do want to talk about how this book is being marketed. This book is without a doubt a black romance but it's not necessarily being marketed that way; it's cover blurb is by Kristin Higgins and a lot of the ad copy refers to Alexander as a mainstream author. Now, I've read both indie black romance and Kimani and I was curious how this would strike the balance and it really leans more towards the indie black romance side. This book definitely has some unapologetic blackness to it. There are no explanatory commas but I do think there are enough context clues if someone isn't familiar with everything going on.

Back To My Love is a contemporary friends to lover romance with it's share of drama and politics stirred up with a spoonful of  southern sweetness.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

MMA Romance Week: Unspoken by Jen Frederick

Welcome to day 4 of MMA Romance Week !

Ratings: ★★★ | 270 Pages | Self-Published | New Adult | Woodlands #2 | 11/13/2013

This book was close to a DNF and not because it was bad, but because some sections of this felt so long and unnecessary and I’m not even counting the extended epilogue.

Unspoken is the second in the Woodlands series, I really liked the first one so I eagerly went into book two. I started with the audio, but I didn’t like the new female narrator and decided to just read it. Our heroine is AnnMarie West, a sophomore at Central College who has basically been slut shamed off campus after sleeping with the wrong lacrosse player. When she becomes partners with Beau, the MMA fighting, stud ex-Marine in her science class (stop me if you’ve heard this one) they start a romance with a very, very slow burn.

The romance between the hero and heroine was just okay. I liked the exploration of the idea that a woman who sleeps around is called a slut while a man gets to be a stud. It was interesting to watch the couple work through this and see there relationship evolve --but oh man the daddy issues in this book. Literally everyone has daddy issues.

Much like No Limits by Lori Foster it turns out this really isn’t  much of a fighting book. Beau works out in an MMA gym, but because the owner thinks he lacks the discipline to go pro Beau fights illegally on reservations from time to time. While AnnMarie does witness one of Beau’s fight we never get any of these fights from his point of view.

I do like the way Frederick touches on some of the problematic elements of having a violent hero. It's not something that has come up in the other books.  Beau has a lot of rage issues and at one point when he admits he’s afraid he’s going to hit AnnMarie and it’s kind of reeling, but I like that Frederick examined and fully fleshed it out what that fear means.

Frederick adds a healthy dose of sprinkles on this book. AnnMarie has a black best friend, a gay male neighbor and lesbian neighbor with a black girlfriend. The reason this all really stands out to me is because the first book has a pretty much all white cast and so it felt like she was correcting some of that.

As I mentioned at the top, the version of this book on Scribd had the extended epilogue which covers the next 18 years of the characters lives. At first I thought it was odd, but then I realized it was a lead in to her YA book about AnnMarie and Beau's kids. I kind of liked seeing the future and watching characters realize their dreams. I’ve been reading more self-pub lately and this is what I like about self pub… it’s allows to do something like make your NA into a YA spinoff.

That said, it’s pretty obvious Unspoken takes place in the 2010’s so I’m curious how Frederick negotiates the YA taking place in the late 2020's.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

MMA Romance Week: Ten Signs You're In An MMA Romance

1. Muscles. Muscles are everywhere. Most importantly biceps.

2. There are suddenly a lot of blue-eyed Irish men in America and they are mad AF.

3. Hey, Ladies- All MEN (except the hero who sees you as a person...sometimes) are jerks and want to hurt you. Don’t go anywhere by yourself because you might be sexually assaulted.

4. Losing is not an option. I mean unless it leads to angst or character development or a redemption arc and being even more winning-er later.

5. Women don’t swear. It’s only men because they are bad boys. Because duh.

6. And sometimes by bad boy we really just mean "sleeps with lots of other women"--but it’s cool because its consensual. But don't you dare have sexual agency, ladies !

7.Your man will have lots of bruises he won’t explain to you, but you think it’s kind of hot.

8. Nicknames are badass AF. Torment. The Wolf. Hurricane.Savage. In fact real names are also probably badass AF. Killian. Aiden. Ryland... and Irish See #2.

9. Professional Female fighters can only exist if they are validated by male coaches or other male fighters. And they always have to work harder to be seen as equal--oh, this may be real life.

10. That guy you’re dating has a dark past. And sometimes it means he’s killed people and got away with it, but you're okay with it. Statute of limitations, amirite ?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

MMA Romance Week : Punching and Kissing by Helena Newbury

Rating: ★★★ + .5 | 6 hours 52 minutes | Tantor Media | Contemporary | Kissing #2| 7/25/2015

Strap in, this is going to be a long one !

If I made a spectrum of combat sport books it would start with books like Jeanette Murray’s Below The Belt on one end--noble military boxing team--and books like Punching and Kissing on the complete opposite. Like complete opposite

When both of their parents die Sylvie and her brother Alec do everything to survive on their own --including Alec entering The Pit--an illegal underground bareknuckle boxing club. When one of Alec’s fights leaves him in a coma, Sylvie volunteers to fight in his place. Sylvie’s never so much as swung a punch, but if she doesn’t fight the coked-out fight organizer will kill Alec. In her desperation she seeks out Aiden, an Irish dockworker who was once a deadly legend in The Pit and begs him to train her.

That synopsis is what got me into this book, I wanted to get away from the party line of MMA romances where the innocent heroine just dates a big bad fighter. I liked the idea of the heroine having to get in the ring and I wanted to see how far this book would go with her fighting….and it goes there.

This book has a lot of flaws and I mean a lot of flaws; the writing can be really cringe-y, the sex scenes were awful and the plot is over the top but overall....I still really liked this story and I feel like if it was a little bit tighter this could be a 5 star review.

MMA Romance Week: Below The Belt by Jeanette Murray

Rating: ★★★★ | 304 Pages | Berkley | Contemporary | First to Fight #1 | 4/7/2015

At 29-years-old, Brad Costa has been affectionately nicknamed the Grandpa of the Marine Corps boxing training camp. This year is Costa’s first and final shot at making the team and when he takes a bad fall on the first day of training  he does the only thing he can do--hide the injury. But he doesn't escape the eye of Marianne Cooke, the team's new athletic trainer. As Marianne and Brad get closer, his secret injury could threaten their relationship and her job.

After my speed read/ DNF of Lori Foster’s No Limits this book was so refreshing. The heroine, Marianne has this big personality and makes Parks and Rec references left and right. She’s almost the exact opposite of Brad who is all serious and Grumpy McGrumpy Grump all the time.

Brad was so fascinating to me because it’s almost like he didn’t get the memo that he is a marine
hero in a romance novel. He just wanted to do his duty and blend in with everyone else, he wasn't about being seen as a hero.

Murray really built a whole world around the day-to-day life in and around this Jacksonville military base and now that I think about it, military base romances are totally just small town romances. They both have close communities that share a small space and have residents with common ideals.

What makes this book compelling is that the stakes were always high; you don’t know if Brad is going to make the team or not. Also, NGL, when Brad reveals why joining the boxing team is so important to him it got me in the feels.

Now...there is a mystery (which I was terrified was going to lead to the heroine running from rape but didn’t) that involves someone constantly vandalizing Marianne’s training center. It’s never resolved so I assume it’s going to be an ongoing plot point in the series ?


  •  I thought the race car driving was a plethora for double entendre titles for romance novels but apparently boxing/MMA/wrestling books is where it is at.
  • Murray does a decent job of incorporating other minorities although she did kind of do the Black Dude Dies First because the only explicitly black Marine that gets a name gets cut from the team soon after he gets a personality.

Monday, March 13, 2017

MMA Romance Week : The DNFs

No Limits by Lori Foster (Ultimate #1)
This isn't a true DNF and since I skim read the last 60%. When the will of  Yvette Sweeny's grandfather brings both Yvette and successful pro MMA fighter Cannon Colter (who by the by once saved her from sexual assault) back to their hometown, they have to work together sort out her late grandfather's pawn business. Oh and he ends up protecting her from some new threat because of reasons.

When I picked up this book I must have been having author amnesia or something because this is the third Lori Foster book I’ve DNFed. We just don’t click. Her heroines always feel bland and her heroes lean a little too close to Meathead McAlphahole. All the men are big brawny protectors for all the womenfolk who always need protection from…well, rape personified usually. It's just not my thing.

In the end this book (like a few other books I read for this) really wasn’t even an MMA or fighting book. It was an alpha-dude-protects-the-pretty-lady with a side of forced seduction, which wasn’t what I was looking for. We see a lot of Cannon signing autographs and going to a gym he helped open, but he never fights on the page. What can I say, I wanted more grit.


Foster must be the queen of sequel bait because every time I pick up one of her books it always feels like I’m coming in the middle of something. I think the initial sexual assault Cannon saves Yvette from is from an earlier book in a different Foster series. Her entire catalog must be connected.

Also, what I do find interesting is that  Foster writes almost exclusively from the male POV.

Take Me On by Katie McGarry (Pushing The Limits #4)

This is a YA romance about Haley Williams, a former teen kickboxer who has it pretty tough. She's given up kickboxing after turning her back on her grandfather's gym for an abusive boyfriend.  Her Dad has been out of work for a year and her family is forced to move in with  her controlling Uncle and his family. She sees college as her only way out, but without a kickboxing scholarship it could never happen. Haley crosses paths with West Young, a rich kid  who was just kicked out by his parents and yada, yada, yada she has to train him to fight against her ex-boyfriend.

Let me back up. I met Katie McGarry at my first BEA and I remember just being really impressed with her personality and personal story. She grew up in a  town where poverty was common and friends were like family and that comes through in her books. 

I really like a lot of the themes and subjects in her books. I could see the relationships and world she was building. She seems to have the market cornered on poor white Southern communities.

All that said I just can’t get into her books and it's mainly because these books are too damn long. And so angsty. There are just pages of internal dialogue that I kept zoning out. And I know people love these books, but much like Foster, me and McGarry do not click.

I tried with this one I really did, but I could see it would take me too long to read and I had to DNF it. I think if you gave me 200 less pages I'd be all about it.

This is the fourth in the Pushing The Limits series and she has developed a very connected world of characters. The books seem to bounce off each other at times so I was a little lost.  I'd suggest reading this series in order.