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 fiancée 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

The Bride Test By Helen Hoang

Rating: ★★★ | 320 pages | Berkley| Contemporary Romance | 05/07/19 |
For 23-year-old hotel maid, Esme what started out as just another day at work trying to support her mother and young daughter quickly turns into the proposition of a lifetime after a chance encounter with a matchmaking Vietnamese-American businesswoman looking for a bride for her son.

Esme leaves her home country behind and finds herself in close quarters with Khai, a guarded accountant on the autism spectrum. Her bubbly energetic personality is a stark contrast to Khai but if they can make it through the summer, three weddings and the search for Esme's American father ---this former maid might just ace this test and find her own American dream.

I enjoyed how unapologetic steeped in culture this book is. Hoang writes about Vietnamese and Vietmanses-American culture and cuisine in a way that doesn't stop for explanatory commas which makes it feel like you are really peeking into the lives of Khai and his family.

The Bride Test in an evenly paced, by-the-numbers romance that heats up and hits all the marks you want when you throw two total opposites together. There are a handful of silly moments that makes this a satisfying read for contemporary romance fans.

*slight spoilers*
I appreciated that this book 's epilogue had a HEA that wasn't entirely tied up in marriage and children. .Also Virgin Hero Ahoy !

*ARC received from Edelweiss

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Acting on Love by Te Russ

Rating: ★★★+.5 | 297 pages | Contemporary Romance | Self-Pub | Release Date: 4/3/2018
After a sex scandal throws a wrench in her career, actress Rocki Malone returns to her hometown with her childhood neighbor/bodyguard Seth Gardiner in tow. To keep her matchmaking mother off her back, Rocki tells her she and Seth are dating but it doesn’t take long for their fake relationship to turn into the real thing.

Something about this steamy romance that Russ builds between the down on her luck actress and her bodyguard is so wholesome and sweet. This book focuses mostly on Rocki’s journey and Seth is adoring and supportive of her as she finds herself again.

A chunk of the story is Rocki reconnecting with her crew from high school and as I was reading I felt like I was missing something going on between her friends and their significant others. I was confused why their significant others showed up so prominently at the end of the book but aren’t in the beginning. I looked into it and this book is a part of a collaborative three-book series where everything is happening concurrently, so jumping in just left me confused.

Acting on Love is a satisfying warm hug of a romance but you may want to sit down and binge the entire Lessons in Love together to get the whole story.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Rating: ★★  | 8 hours 4 min. | Sports Romance | Self-Pub | Release Date: 7/28/2015
I enjoy the occasional hockey romance even though my knowledge of hockey goes as far as this Chance The Rapper sketch on SNL and that Twitter thread where a Black guy discovered hockey. I was scrolling through Audible and just started listening to everything on my accounts and Him just fit the mood I was in for some reason.

Ryan “Wes” Wesley and Jamie Canning were inseparable during their summers at an elite Lake Placid hockey training camp, until an incident the summer before they go off college break their bond. Now it’s 4 years later and the former best friends are spending the summer in Lake Placid--this time as coaches. The former friends relitigate their past and rekindle their friendship into something with a lot more heat,

I think a big part of my enjoyment for this book came from the audio. I’ve praised Teddy Hamilton and Jacob Morgan narrations on previous books but together they give a performance that makes this story feel lived in and real. Hamilton nails Jamie’s earnest California cool and Morgan is so good at Wes’ bristly, playboy confidence. Teddy Hamilton has a fairly young voice that I think works great for NA but I have no idea how Jacob Morgan isn’t doing ALL the books.

Going in I was a little concerned this might be a Gay For You story because in the beginning Wes is gay and Jamie identifies as straight and this book came out a few years ago when that kind of thing was common. However, this book doesn’t go into that and Jamie gets a full story about discovering his sexuality and eventually identifying as bisexual.

There are a few microaggressions in this book I wish had been handled better. At one point two of the teen players are fighting and use the racial slur for Asian people and a slur for gay people. Wes reprimands the boys, but they don’t treat the racial slur as having the same gravity as the gay slur. Also, there is a glib comment about the pro hockey team being in hot water for not being diverse enough that kind of rubbed me the wrong way.

I probably don’t need to tell anyone reading this review to check out Sarina Bowen or Elle Kennedy because they are romance powerhouses, but definitely give the audiobook a listen!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Tikka Chance on Me by Suleikha Snyder

Rating: ★★★★ | 72 pages | Contemporary | Self-Pub | Release Date: 11/13/2018
Grad student Pinky Grover temporarily returns to her small Midwestern hometown to help run the family’s Indian restaurant and is surprised to discover the local biker gang has made themselves regulars. Everyone in town knows The Eagles Motorcycle club is dangerous including their enforcer Tyson “Trucker” Carrigan. But Pinky can’t keep her eyes off him and thinks there may be more to the brawler than meets the eye.

This is not your average motorcycle romance. Snyder does such a good job subverting and even calling out some of the problematic issues in MC romance without feeling preachy and still telling a compelling story.

The POV shifts did take me a little getting used to. Pinky’s POV is in first person and Trucker’s is in third person and as we get towards the end there is no delineation between when one starts and the other one stops. I’m seeing that switch up of POV in books more and it always throws  me off.

This is a super sexy, pop culture-fueled, bantery romp that balances both humor and serious issues in a satisfying way. If motorcycle romance makes you rage-y take a chance on Tikka Chance on Me.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Matchmaker's List by Sonya Lalli

Rating: ★★★ | 352 pages | Contemporary | Berkley Romance | Release Date: 2/5/2019
29-year-old Indian-Canadian Raina has met every expectation of a good Indian girl--except marriage. Raina's secretly nursing a broken heart and isn't ready for marriage but reluctantly agrees to let her grandmother start matchmaking.

Thematically I liked this book. It’s about a woman facing this giant life-changing societal expectation and at a crossroads where she has to decide whether to give in to the pressure or be true to herself and face being seen as a disappointment. I do think the pressure put on women to be married or having kids by 30 is a real thing and an interesting topic to explore but wow, the execution of it in this was so clunky and just plain weird.

This book, which originally came out in the UK last year as The Arrangements, is marketed as a rom com but I’d argue it’s not. A surprisingly large part of the book is Raina pretending to come out as a lesbian to get her grandmother off her back. Now, this could be a  type of comedy but when a scared closeted teen confides in Raina because he sees himself in her it stops being funny.

Our hero Asher is a white Canadian who is friends with Raina's best friend’s fiance only shows up in about 3-4 scenes but you could literally remove him altogether and the book would still work...which makes this book not feel like a romance to me.

The Matchmaker’s List is more of a coming of age drama than romance but the execution wasn’t a match for me.

Now, I’m going to do a rant about covers. I love illustrated covers aesthetically but most of the time they tell you nothing about what is in the book. The US cover of this book makes it look like it’s about a girl being wooed by three men when really we get through the titular “matchmaker list” in the first 20% of the book,  and the eventual love interest spends most of the book shaming her and the other half thinking she is a lesbian. He never woos her.

Also, I have yet to find an illustrated cover that tells you anything about a romance's heat level. There is no sex on the page in this book, which is what I think is the expectation of a cover like this but it is not usually the case like with The Kiss Quotient or Fix It Up.

I like Avon and Bailey but this book almost looks YA and Bailey is definitely NOT for a YA audience. 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Writing Her In by Holley Trent

Rating: ★★ | 224 pages | Carina Press | Contemporary Romance | Release Date: 03/26/2019

When bestselling mystery writer Stacia Leonard gets an unexpected DM from Adrien Valliere, her book’s cover model, the last thing she expects is an indecent proposal of sorts. Adrien's wife, Dara, doesn’t experience sexual attraction to him so they’ve agreed to open their marriage and he wants Stacia. Stacia takes him up on the offer but she soon finds herself unexpectedly drawn to  Dara--a sheltered artist raised in a strict religious family. Dara makes Stacia feel things she’d never felt before. But with 3,000 miles between them, press watching their every turn and a boatload of emotional issues a relationship between the three of them feels impossible.

Well, it's unpopular opinion time. I've seen so much praise and love for this book didn't work for me. I just found it really boring. If this wasn’t a galley I requested I might have DNF’d it. This isn’t a bad book but it’s one of those “talky books” all about internal conflict, emotional labor and communication that don’t ever work for me. I was just wanted more external conflict.

I do kind of think this would have worked better for me as a novella because as a full length book it felt like a slog. I also never felt any spark between any of the characters. I felt like Stacia had more chemistry with her publicist (the hero of the next book) than Daria or Adrien. I may give another Trent book a shot, but this one was a no for me.

I Am Justice by Diana Muñoz Stewart

Content Warning: Rape and Sexual Abuse of Minors, Human Trafficking, Infanticide

Rating: ★★★ | 359 pages | Romantic Suspense  | Sourcebooks Casablanca | 5/1/2018
As far as the public knows, Mukta Parish uses her immense wealth and power to run her foundation and an elite private school for girls. In reality, the school is a cover for the activities of The League of Warrior Women--a vigilante group made up of Parish's 28 adopted children. They’ve all been saved from abusive homes and trained by Mukta to take down human traffickers by any means necessary.

29-year-old Justice Parish has been full of rage since watching her biological sister die at the hands of their abuser. He current assignment is to take down a pair of notorious human traffickers in Jordan, but to do that she needs ex-Special Forces soldier Sandesh Ross’ humanitarian charity as a cover. Unsuspecting Sandesh finds himself inadvertently tangled up in The League's secrets and with Justice Parish herself. I feel like the words on the front cover really sum this book up; He’s done with war. She’s just getting started.

There was a discussion in Romancelandia a few months ago about content warnings and I feel this book really needed one. There is a lot of brutality in this book and while the abuse isn’t overly explicit there is a lot of it and it can be fairly upsetting. I found myself having to put the book down at times because of it.

I vibed with the overall concept and character in this book but the plot didn't work for me. Munoz creates this community of interesting and complex characters but it didn't feel like she knew what to do with them. The plot often went into circles and characters had to make nonsense choices to make things work out in a specific way. The romance between Justice and Sandesh had no real spark and it felt like it was included out of obligation to the genre.

The plot of the book takes some unexpected turns at the end, you can expect a lot of revelations and twists all at once. I don't want to get into spoilers but after some of those big reveals it is hard to believe how neatly it all ties up in the last chapter.

This book  left me with a lot of questions, namely WHY IS THE BLONDE HAIR BLUE EYED WHITE GUY NAMES SANDESH ? We get nearly every character's ethnicity (even other white characters) but never his. Okay, apparently he is named after an Egyptian family friend who was named after a Bangledeshi dessert...this feels like something they should have kept in the book because it's really confusing. it looks like Sourcebooks is re-doing some of the marketing for this series. The name of series is now Black Ops Confidential instead of Band of Sisters and book two had a title change from I Am Grace to The Price of Grace.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Cream of The Crop by Alice Clayton

Rating: ★★★+.5 | 9 hours 55 minutes| Contemporary | Galley Books| Release Date: 7/12/2016
Natalie Grayson is a lot of things; Marketing goddess. Cheese Lover. Manhattan It Girl. At size 18 she’s not afraid to take up space and is confident in everything she does ...except when it comes to Oscar Mendoza, the smoldering owner of Bailey Falls Creamery at the Union Square farmers market. Oscar represents a country girl fantasy Natalie would never admit to but when her advertising firm gets an account in Bailey Falls, Natalie exchanges her Manolo Blahniks for a pair of work boots to give small-town life a chance.

I’m so mad I’ve been sleeping on this series. Just about everything in this book worked for me. Natalie Grayson is officially one of my favorite romance heroines, I feel like I could follow her around for another whole book. Clayton developed her character perfectly and Olivia Song’s lively narration just brought it all together. I’m sad to see Song only did a handful of audiobooks and hasn’t done anything in the past few years. She is excellent.

My only gripe is how our hero Oscar was handled. These books are all first person POV from the heroine so it is harder to get a sense of the hero’s perspective but I feel like Clayton made it work in Nuts and not so much in this one. Oscar came off as an obtuse charmless jerk who didn’t seem to have any awareness of how other people's feeling but he got away with it because he was hot. Oscar has an ex and I hated how he seemed to enjoy seeing his ex go after Natalie. He made Natalie do all the emotional labor to make their relationship work. I also don’t think we got enough of Oscar’s backstory, it’s implied multiple times he’s not white and I hate that we never get specifically where he is felt a little exoticizing on Clatyon’s part because his ethnicity is focused so much on his physique.

Clayton delivers another snappy, energetic and hi-jink filled romcom but I wish she'd put more thought into her hero.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Mini Reviews: Kindle Unlimited Novellas!

Looking for some items from Kindle Unlimited? Check out these two novellas for satisfying romance quick reads!

Be Mine: A Valentine's Day Novella by Savannah J. Frierson
One of my favorite things about indie romance is that it allows authors to subvert the conventions of traditional romance and try new things. When I saw this Valentine’s Day novella with a 32-year-old heroine who finds herself the object of desire of her three roommates I decided to give it a one-click. Frierson tells a sexy, feel-good, indulgent story in under a hundred pages as Ingrid, our heroine, suddenly has three very different men eager to cherish and please her. This was a fun read but I’m not sure (for lack of a better word) reverse harems really work for me. As they say on Wicked Wallflower podcast, I like there to be some “sword crossing” and the men to be emotionally invested in each other as they are to the woman. - ★★★ + .5 

On Pointe by Shelly Ellis
I was so excited when Ellis announced these novellas about a dance studio because I took dance classes in high school and loved going to the studio. In On Pointe dance instructor Bina MacLaine finds herself falling for the school’s newest hip hop instructor---who happens to be her former student. This is my second Ellis novel and I really enjoy her writing style, she manages to build a romance, realistic internal and external conflict into a compact story that moves. There is an overarching story about the future of the dance studio going in the background so I would suggest reading these in order to get the full story.  -★★★