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.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Six Fall Romances To Cozy Up With By The Fire

Fall is the perfect time of year to settle into a romance novel! These heart-racing, steamy and opulent romances will be the perfect companion for any pumpkin spice latte.

The Spitfire by Christi Caldwell (Sept. 17)
A former courtesan and madame strikes out on her own and stumbles across as Earl.

Lush Money by Angelina M. Lopez (Oct. 14 )
A Mexican-American billionaire businesswoman strikes a baby-making deal with a prince in need of money. This book seems to take all your favorite romance tropes and flips them on their heads!

Awaken The Dragon by AC Arthur (Nov. 4th)
A royal dragon shifter teams up with an African woman who must face an unknown danger.  I've read some of this author's contemporary romance and I can't wait to see what she does with paranormal.

Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert (Nov. 19)
When Chloe Brown decides it's time to go out and "get a life" she recruits a motorcycled, tattooed handyman to help her out.

Back To September by Melissa Brayden (Nov. 1)
A down-on-her-luck introverted bookstore owner needs the help of a world-famous romance novelist to save her bookshop.

My Fake Rake (Nov. 26)
First book in Eva Leigh's new Union Of The Rakes series inspired by classic 80's movies. Each book follows a group of heroes who met in detention. In this one, Weird Science gets s Regency twist when a scientist turns a man into her fake suitor.

What are you looking forward to this fall?

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Tropes and Sensibility: Fake Relationships

Welcome to a new feature where we talk about and give romance recommendations based on a much-loved a romance trope.
I love a good fake relationship because it adds a dose of dramatic irony to the story and leaves room for some Three's Company style hijinks! Fake Relationships work best for me when there are real stakes involved with the deception-- which usually means money.  Here are some of my favorite fake relationship books:

 Paid Companion by Nia Forrester
A $10,000 payout to be the fake date for a socialite's family vacation is an opportunity to good for struggling artist Lia to pass up. This is a fun subversion on the fake relationship trope because the man our heroine agrees to be in the fake relationship with isn't the hero--it's his brother!

Mr. Trouble by Nana Malone
Playboy heir Jarred Maloney needs a suitable fiancĂ©e to prove to his father he’s responsible enough for his trust fund. Graduate student Kinsley Wells needs money to buy her apartment that is being turned into a condo. The two decide to play engaged and when Jarred gets his trust fund he'll give Kinsley the down payment for her condo. I thought this one was interesting because Kinsley and Jarred knew of each other but didn't catch feelings until they were really pretending.

Full Throttle by Erin McCarthy
This book probably has a real loose-goosey excuse for a fake marriage but I think the story McCarthy tells is so good. According to her grandfather's will 32-year-old Shawn Hamby can't inherit her family dirt racing track unless she’s married. So she arranges to marry her best friend's 25-year-old brother-in-law. What I really like about this book is that it reckons with the character guilt involved with lying about a fake relationship. Also, mild spoiler alert: At the end of the book her lawyer is just like "lol, you know we can't really enforce that marriage thing."

Let me know some of your favorite fake relationship books below!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

KE's Get To Know The Romance Reader Tag

Today, I'm doing the Get To Know The Romance Reader Tag created by Bree at Falling for  Romance.

What is your romance origin story? (How you came to read your first romance novel)
I didn't start reading romance until my early 20s. The used bookstore I went to had shelves and shelves of them but none of the ones I chose at random quite piqued my interest. I didn't really start reading romance  regularly until I binged the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast in 2014 and got ALL the recs. This podcast is also what made me want to start a romance blog and be apart of romancelandia.

If you could be the heroine in a romance novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?

I'd want my author to be Erin McCarthy because I like the world she created in her Fast Track series and I'd love to be apart of it. She writes really witty and  fun female friend groups and hardworking heroes/heroines with close family ties and complex lives. The race car drivers are just famous enough they get to do fun and interesting things but not so famous they can't just be normal people. My favorite trope is fake relationship so I'd want that in there!

What is a romance you’ve read this year, that you want more people to read?:
Most of my reads have been pretty mainstream books so I'll say the Mixtape anthology. There are a few 1-star stories in it but overall it has some good stories and it was fun to see how different authors tackled the prompt. I also liked listening to the songs as I was reading.

What is your favorite romance subgenre? What subgenre have you not read much from?:

My favorite subgenre is contemporary romance, I just sort of gravitated to it. I haven't read much paranormal romance, I think in 5 years of blogging I've only reviewed two so if you have recs leave them below!

Who is one of your auto-buy romance authors?:
Alexa Martin is my most recent. She doesn't have many books out but I like her voice and I hope she gets more attention.

How do you typically find romance recommendations? (Goodreads, Youtube, Podcasts, Instagram..):
I mostly get them from Twitter, podcasts and blog hopping

What is an upcoming romance release you’re excited for?
The Wallflower Wager by Tessa Dare

What is one misconception about romance you would like to lay to rest?:
The idea that they are trashy.

Look, is some romance trashy ridiculousness? Yes.
Do I read that stuff? Also, yes.

But romance authors tell such a broad range of stories with an HEA at the center.  Romance as a genre is so complex and interesting and I hate how it is dismissed or constantly having to be defended.  I feel like the illustrated cover resurgence has changed some of this misconception. But I wish the  man chest or clinch covers had the same chance to be seen as books worthy of being on mainstream summer reading lists.

Who is the most recent romance reading content creator you came across that you’d like to shoutout?

I am just getting into Booktube and recently found romance Booktuber  Steph's Romance Book Talk

If someone had never read a romance before and asked you to recommend the first 3 romances that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?

This is fun! Okay, my picks are:

 Hints of Spice by Christina C. Jones

I like this book because it's a novella that hits all the romance beats without feeling like a truncated story. I also think novellas are great for people dipping their toes in the genre. Romance gets called feminist a lot but not all of it is.  I think the sex-positivity in this story (the heroine is a former stripper who doesn't get shamed for it) is a good example of feminism baked into the genre.

Forever Your Earl by Eva Leigh 

Regency historical is a big part of the genre and I chose this one because I like how subversive it is. The heroine is in her 30's and owns her own newspaper.  Phaeton racing.  Leigh steers completely clear of the ballroom culture and I think that makes this more accessible for a reader with no context for the intricacies of the ton that is often presented in Regency romances.

Ruled by Elle Kennedy. 

This is a weird rec because it's the third book in a canceled series but it does a few things I like. It's a post-apocalyptic M/F/M and I like how it shows romance can exist with more than two people and how you can have an HEA without the marriage/baby epilogue.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Clean Breaks by Ruby Lang (Practice Perfect #3)

Rating: Unrated  | Crimson Romance | Contemporary  Romance | 2/20/2017 
Clean Breaks by Ruby is book three in Lang's Practice Perfect series, which centers around a group of close-knit friends in their thirties whose struggles lead to a lasting romance.

 After battling cancer with the support of her friends Sara Soon is ready to take back her life and dive into new experiences. One new experience she doesn't want is Jake Li. Li is new in town and her brother's childhood best friend who reminds her way too much of the small town and family she left behind. But there is just something about Jake, who is fresh from a divorce and still trying to make sense of being single, that pulls her in.

Clean Breaks is one of those deep emotion-driven novels that is a little tough for readers like me who prefer bigger external plots in their contemporary romance. A lot of this book is Sara and Jake diving into their emotional baggage and finding that elusive work-life balance, it's a slow burn that focuses on healing and confronting the past.

Can I say this book cover doesn't really capture the feel of the book ? I love this cover but the bright sunny colors and sweet smiles give the impression this is a fun rom-com instead of an emotional character-driven book set in the Pacific Northwest.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Mini Reviews: Royal Blue, Summer Blues and Union Blues

These books have nothing in common except they're what I've been reading this summer but I think they really show the variety in the romance genre!

This New Adult debut about a fake friendship turned pond jumping romance between the Prince of Wales and First Son of The United States has taken the book world by storm. And yes, this book is totally an NA. I love a good NA romance because it fits right into my wheelhouse between the YA and contemporary romance genre. That said I did find the characters a little cloyingly earnest and parts of it really dragged. I’m glad to see that with the right marketing NA can do well. Debut author McQuiston weaves a whirlwind romance into an energetic coming of age story about politics, ambition and hope into something for everyone but especially LGBTQ people. ★★★ +.5

He’s an investigative journalist. She’s a divorce lawyer. These next-door neighbors don’t start off on the right foot but they’ll need each other to solve a civil paternity case. A lot of Julie James books boil down to 'fake dating to solve a crime and oops we fell in love' and I am always here for it. This, however, wasn’t my favorite James. It didn’t have the same thriller aspects as the other books and didn’t capture me.  It’s mostly the hero and heroine throwing their emotional baggage at each other.  This book does have the heroine doing a grovel which was an interesting subversion. I did part of this on audio and while Karen White’s voice has never been my favorite the enthusiasm she puts into her performance is a lot of fun.

The beach cover of this books feels super misleading.  Sure, the book takes place during the summer but never once do they leave downtown Chicago and the heroine spends most of her time in pantsuits and heels. - ★★★

It’s Reconstruction in New Orleans and schoolteacher Valinda Lacy heads down south to help educates the newly freed slaves. After a daring save from the dashing former Union Captain/architect Drake LaVeq, Valinda is taken in by the close-knit and loving LeVeq family. As she and Drake grow closer Valinda discovers passion and starts to imagine a better future she can build with Drake….unfortunately, she’s already engaged to another man

This was my first Beverly Jenkins and I enjoyed it. I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the historical aspects present in the book and I feel like I learned a lot without it feeling didactic. The wealthy LaVeq family and the rich New Orleans setting were fascinating. I found Drake a little annoying with all his "piracy in my blood" talk and constantly referring to himself as a pirate when his lifestyle seemed pretty un-pirate like. I can’t wait to see who the next daring woman will be and I’ll have to check out Through The Storm to see how the LeVeq family saga all began! - ★★★ +.5