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.