Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Scarlet Nights by Jude Deveraux

A few years ago, when I worked in a corporate office a few co-workers in the cubes around me discovered Overdrive and were listening to the Nantucket Brides series by Jude Deveraux.
As one of my co-workers was telling me about the plot of the book I was like "Yeah, Jude Deveraux has a ton of romance novels". There was a bit of awkward silence and I was then hastily corrected by them that it wasn't a romance...it was a mystery/thriller.

Ever since then I've always been curious what it was about Devereaux's contemporary books that pulled in people who didn't consider themselves big readers. So I finally sat down and listened to one on audio. I chose Scarlet Nights on Scribd because thee undercover element stuck out to me as I was skimming synopses.

 Michael Newland is a hardened undercover South Florida cop whose has been tasked by the Feds to find out what criminal Stephan aka Greg Anders and his con artist mother are doing in the small town of Edilean, Virginia and what devious plans they have for Sara Shaw, the small-town sweetheart Stephan wooed into becoming his fiancee. The small town of Edilean is Sara's world and Mike will protect it and her even if the town holds some of his darkest family secrets.

This book is what I expect from a legendary romance writer from the '90s, it's one of those super heteronormative books; the men are strong, smart and powerful while the women are beautiful, empathetic and witty. This book is smack dab in the middle of the series so Deveraux has built a strong community of characters and to populate the small town of Edilean.

The book has a pleasant flow, the constant threat of danger and hints of the mystery kept me reading. Mike comes to town with an undercover story and I liked how Sara was genre-savvy enough to poke holes in his story and help him solve the case. Because the entire town hates Stephan aka Greg Anders,  they help push Mike and Sara into a relationship while she is still engaged. IDK if this counts as cheating? I know some people aren't fans of that in their books.  There is also a dash of "not like other girls" because Sara is family-oriented and dresses in old fashioned fabrics, plush she's not one of those high-falutin' city career ladies.

This book also has a side of crazy sauce and gets a little head scratchy. For one the title of this book is so random. Scarlet Nights is the name of a sex perfume the heroine's mom (who is also the town mayor) makes for whenever she and the heroine's dad are together? I mean it had nothing to do with the plot, so when the name drop came I wasn't expecting it.

And finally, there is this really odd part where Sara and her high school nemesis (one of those high-falutin'  city career girls) rush to help the hero who has been kidnapped. To distract the bad guys the women decide to take off their clothes,  let the bad guys see them in their underwear and then give chase? WHAT? WHY ????? It's so ...silly and it of course works but they could have done that with their clothes on ??? The men chasing women in lingerie felt like a bad rape joke.

Even though this book was published in 2010 it might not 100% hold up. A lot of the mystery revolves around an old great house which--let's face it--was a plantation. Additionally, antique tarot cards play a big part in luring the bad guys out and the characters dive a little too deep into Romani stereotypes.

Also, slight spoiler for part of Mike backstory; it's revealed that his mean Grandma got drunk one night, fell off her bike and had (what everyone says she essentially asked for) sex with a man she thought was her crush but was actually the town perv. Anyway, this is not fully explored and we never learn what really happened. It felt very uncomfortable because we never learn what really happened that night, and I just didn't understand why it was added,

The small town of Edilean and its history stuck out the most to me, so I certainly want to check out the books in this series that go back to the town's origins and tell how it was settled by Highlanders in the 1600s.


Stephan aka Greg's mother is the villain that set the events in motion, she is known for swindling women out of money by emotionally manipulating them as a psychic. Unfortunately, something similar happened to Jude Deveraux and it looks like this book was a response to that.

Jude Deveraux is apart of Sara Wendell calls 'Holy Trinity of J" Julie Garwood, Johanna Lindsay, and Jude Deveraux. I still need a Johanna Lindsay so hopefully, I will get to that in 2020.

My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh

Unrated | 384 pages | Avon | Historical Romance | 11/26/2019 | 
Mason Fredericks is the man of Lady's Grace's dreams and while he might not notice her now he won't be able to look away when he sees her being wooed by her colleague Sebastian Holloway an anxious anthropologist she plans to turn into her perfect rake with the help of Sebastian's childhood friend the Duke of Rotherby. Seb and Grace's feelings for each other might be more real than they expected. Basically, this book is about everybody trying to get out of the friend zone.

I like a historical romance that doesn't take itself that seriously and Grace and Seb take their intense study of high society so seriously that it's played off as comedic while Rotherby plays the straight man.  It's not all fun and games though as Lady Grace also helps Sebastian manage his social anxiety and step outside the box.

The sort of overly academic nerdiness takes a back seat as Grace and Seb struggle with their true feelings. It's one of those books where if they just TALKED to each other it would save a lot of trouble.

Leigh adds layers to this "love triangle" I think it's easy in a romance novel to make the "not-hero" either wildly unfit for the heroine or a jerk, but Leigh humanizes both of the men in a way that was refreshing.

This is my first time reading Leigh and her style takes some liberties, (in the not so realistic but kind of realistic world of historical romance). I don't feel like Seb, Rotherby, and Grace could have really spent all that time alone together and the language felt too modern at times.

Leigh doesn't let her historical romance sit in a vacuum. She points out race and inequality in a conversational way and of course, Seb is a bit of a woke bae; he takes time out of the plot to explain why he doesn't smoke tobacco, why he only goes on missions that protect indigenous lands and he also makes sure he goes on expeditions that include lady scientist.

I feel like I learned about Zoey Archer debuting as a historical romance writer on the Smart Books, Trashy Podcast like yesterday and she has a growing backlist now. This book kicks off her 80's movie-inspired series about a set of boarding school boys who met in detention.


Kindle Unlimited Readathon Mini Reviews

White Whiskey Bargain by Jodie Slaughter

The Hawkins and Meza families have been dominating the moonshine business in the Kentucky mountains for generations. When an outside force threatens their livelihood, the families draw up a marriage of convenience between Hawkins family leader Hannah and Javier the recently divorced son of the Meza patriarch.

Javier wants to make this marriage work and as he courts his new wife this business deal turns into a sizzling romance that is outfitted with a bit of danger, intrigue, and suspense. Slaughter does a deep dive into the world of moonshine, I liked that she didn't glamourize the business and showed that success doesn't always equal opulent wealth. The Meza and Hawkins families are very down to earth and not afraid to get their hands dirty. This is one of those romances that doesn't have a "black moment" or turning point which allows the tension and conflict to come from outside the relationship.★★★+.5

Filthy Little Christmas by Nicole Falls

A late-night laundry run introduces assistant basketball coach Bryce to Yemi, a late-night radio host who isn't afraid to start an exciting affair with her neighbor. I feel like this might be apart of a series so I will have to check Falls backlist to learn more about the fun couples introduced in this novella. I have such a hard time with novellas because they feel so short and I always feel like I'm missing part of the story. ★★★

Monday, December 30, 2019

Fumbled and Blitzed by Alexa Martin (The Playbook #2 and #3)

I’ve been all about series this year and closed out 2019 by finishing up Alexa Martin’s Playbook series. While all three books exist in the same world, Fumbled and Blitzed read like companion books and both take place several years after the events of Intercepted.

In Fumbled our heroine is 27-year-old Poppy Patterson, a single mother who was kicked out after getting pregnant as a teenager. She's determined to be the best mother she can be for her son--including not telling him his absent father is TK Moore, the starting wide receiver for the Denver Mustangs, who left Poppy when she told him she was pregnant. But when TK crashes back into her life, Poppy realizes things may not have been what they seemed back in high school and she finally gets a chance to have the family she only dreamed about.

Fumbled felt more like a romance than Intercepted, which read more women’s fiction-y. The rekindled romance between TK and Poppy is the center of the story but in an interesting twist it is not the conflict. Which is unexpected for a book that has the whole secret-baby-with-an-NFL-player plot. TK actually gets over secret baby part pretty quickly and the book finds most of its conflict in Poppy adjusting to being a WAG, TK’s potential CTE and a stalker thrown in for good measure.

This is my first time listening to narrator N'Jameh Camara and I enjoyed her for the most part. When given dialogue tags she just takes it away but when there were none her performance fell flat. She did swallow some of the words and read slow so I had to up it to 2x speed for myself. - 

I immediately jumped into Blitzed, which takes place literally seconds from where Fumbled ends. Our heroine this time is Brynn Sterling, owner of HERS the female-centered sports bar where the WAGS hangout. Our hero is the Denver Mustangs defensive back Maxwell Lewis.

This book shares a lot of DNA with a Small Change by Roan Parrish, a book I read before diving back into this series. They are both from the POV of irreverent women in their 30’s who aren’t great at the “adulting” thing, run a business in a male-dominated field and fall in love with cinnamon roll heroes that provide for them. Blitzed handles the scenario a little less realistically because with the way Brynn is portrayed there is no way her bar could still be in business.  It sort of has a sitcom-y feel because she’s never at work, is hiring people left and right and is always giving away free alcohol.

Blitzed was much more pop culture fueled ride than the previous two books. I think there is a big cross-section of romance readers who love Hamilton and NBC's Parks and Recreation will feel seen in this book.

The thing that makes this a 3.5 book instead of a 4 star for me is how Maxwell is treated. Throughout the book we know he is dealing with something he can’t talk about and *mild spoiler* in the last 80% we find out it’s a #MeToo situation that also touches a little on race. It felt like whiplash to have hop to the HEA so quickly after the accusation. I wish we could have seen them work through it more as a couple, instead of the storyline about Brynn's mom. We, of course, find out he didn’t do it but IDK...a storyline about an athlete being wrongly accused of sexual assault felt tone-deaf. I wish it could have been finessed better.

I loved audiobook narrator Kristen Sieh’s voice, it has this great scratchy quality that I’ve never heard in a romance audiobook. Sullivan Jones also makes an appearance on this audiobook for the prologue--which is interesting because none of the other books have prologues. - ★ +.5

I will say Martin’s books do have this underlying cattiness between women. It’s something that falls away with each book and she does a better job building female friendships but there is still this weird undercurrent of Not Like The Other Girls that nags at me.

If you are looking for a modern, fun, female-centered, rom-com that feels like your favorite reality show mixed with a network romance sitcom you won’t find anything better than the Playbook series. I went stalking on Martin’s Instagram and I see there is 4th book called Snapped coming out this Fall 2020...

I think Berkley really dropped the ball on the cover for Blitzed. It kind of looks fine from a distance but up close the eyes on Maxwell look so odd. I wonder what was behind this choice? Especially since everyone else on these covers is wearing sunglasses.

There is ALOT of talk of the show Park and Recreation in this book and Aziz Ansari is name-checked specifically. I wonder if there was any talk about using him as a reference since he was implicated in a type of sexual assault.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Redesigning Happiness By Nita Brooks

Rating: Unrated | 292 pages | Dafina Books | Contemporary | 07/30/2019 |
Yvonne Cable, single mother and interior designer to Atlanta's elite, is ready to jumpstart her career and love life with a home renovation TV show co-starring her handsome and wholesome celebrity contractor fiance, Nate. Sparks flew when the couple met on a reality show and everyone is obsessed with their public wait-until-marriage stance. There is trouble in paradise when the network that buys her show happens to be owned by Richard Barrington--her son's estranged father whose family tore them apart. Richard is back and he's not ready to let her go just yet so...

Yvonne is an easy character to root for as she tries to take her life to the next level. She has to balance both men as they fight for a place in her and her son's. It's really complicated because both men are trying to do their best and want to be in Yvonne's life, I liked that neither of them was villainized.

 Yvonne's sister and mother also aren't afraid to put their two cents in because this family knows about drama as Yvonne has questions about her own father--a church official whose affair with her mother ruined two marriages. Speaking of family issues there is also Nate's messy step-sister and Richard's scheming ex-wife. Needless to say, there is plenty to keep the pages turning but it never goes over-the-top and stays at a level that I think will seem realistic to people with blended families.

This book is not quite a romance as Yvonne's relationship with her six-year-old son, career and work/life balance takes center stage. Redesigning Happiness is a funny, moving and sweet book with a modern southern feel and a barley simmering heat level.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Holiday Novellas Mini Reviews !

Christmas romance who? This year I read two winter holiday novellas set around New Year's Eve and Thanksgiving.

A Tale of Two Cities: A New Year's Novella by Alexandra Warren

It's New Year's Eve and professional dancer Cheyenne Foster is ready to make it official with her almost-boyfriend but is shocked to discover he has another girlfriend...and a wife. She’s in an unfamiliar city (I don’t think the city she is in is ever named) and her Uber driver, Candian Football League player Boston Reed, becomes her date for the night. I’m so glad Jess turned me on to the Girl, HaveYou Read podcast because I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read from the host Alexandra Warren and Christina C. Jones and this novella was no different. Warren delivers another sexy, energetic perfect short. Cheers! - 

Give Me Love: A Thanksgiving Novella by  B. Love

Lawyer Gratitude “Grady” Montgomery’s day is o,ff to a terrible start when a mystery woman not only hits his car but also steals his cab. When that same woman, Cherish, ends up next to him during a delayed flight --they connect and discover feelings for each other. This story really wasn't to my taste at all. The characters felt flat,, the dialogue unnatural and it is so easy to poke holes in all of the senseless coincidences. This is a Thanksgiving novella but it just never gave me any of the Thanksgiving feels I wanted. - 

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik

Rating: ★★★★ | 12 Hours 41 Minutes  | Harper Voyager | Sci-Fi | 02/25/2019 
Six years ago I watched Battlestar Galactica (the ending was awful. Come at me) and ever since then I've been trying to chase the high of a space opera with compelling female characters, fast pacing and a well put together plot...and  I think Polaris Rising managed to fill that void

Ada Von Hasenberg is a royal on the run with a bounty on her head. When one wrong move lands her in the hands of bounty hunters, she is imprisoned on a ship along with the notorious murderer and rebellion leader Marcus Loch. They discover they share a mutual enemy and plan a prison break that lands them at the center of an intergalactic trade war.

This is the kind of book that sort of hits the ground running and is non-stop action and adventure. Ada is everything you want in a strong female character; smart, cunning and knows how to fight her way out of tough situations. I will admit it rubbed me the wrong way that early on in the book male characters remind her she is constantly under threat of sexual assault because she is imprisoned in a small cell with  Loch.

Loch and Ada are constantly one-upping each other and make a good team as they planet hop, form alliances and fight for their freedom.  In addition to the romance, we are introduced to several side characters and their interwoven subplots really build out the series.

Mihalik brings everything to this debut and I can't wait for book two. I'm actually a little sad that this series follows other couples because I wanted more from Ada and Loch. It felt like their romance just started.

I hybrid read this on audio and print. I've always been on the fence about Emily Woo Zeller. I like her in non-fiction but the few YA's and romance she's done haven't really stuck with me because of her low, slightly raspy voice, but I think it really worked here. Her deep voice and sardonic tone easily mimics the confidence of Ada and the gruffness of Marcus. Her pacing was pretty moderate and I did have to bump it up to 1.5 speed

Monday, December 9, 2019

Jess' Review Long Shot by Kennedy Ryan

Rating: ★★★ | 460 pages | Contemporary | Self-Published | Release Date: 3/20/2018
TW : Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence

Okay, I knew going in that this book was going to be a tough one. Kennedy was inspired to write Long Shot after watching the leaked Baltimore Ravens Player abuse video. Long Shot takes an extremely close look at what it is like to live inside an abusive relationship.

I don't read a lot of contemporary romance and I read very few sports romances (I think this makes two)  but there is no doubt this RITA award-winning novel is a standout. Not just because of its historical win but because of how strongly it holds to the spirit of the genre which guarntees an HEA even after the most tumultuous of storms.

I think it's hard to read this book and not come away feeling like Long Shot is as much about Iris and August romance as it is about Iris's journey from hiding in the shadows to reclaiming her life. I liked that this novel put the heroine first. It's a kind of coming-of-age story that is unrelenting and heartfelt.

To honest this book was a hard read sometimes, nothing is held back about the abuse Iris endures. It is a book that is very tough to read sometimes and once you realize how far it goes you kind of brace yourself for the next scene.

This book features solid female friendships between Iris and her cousin Lotus, they have shared trauma and issues with their mothers that makes their bond stronger.

It's clear that Ryan did her research or is very well versed in domestic abuse. I've said before that I dive into a lot of true-crime podcasts, where stories of domestic abuse are discussed and broken down in a meaningful way. There were so many things mirrored in Iris' journey that we often hear about Lorena Bobbit or Nicole Brown.

I think my only criticism is that maybe August's arc didn't come as full circle, but to be honest he felt sort of secondary to Iris. Slight spoiler.  I will say I am just not a fan of workplace romance and I IDK I felt like there were moments where August bringing Iris into his company doesn't allow Iris to fully gain her independence.

Like K.E, I did think the ending was a little Lifetime Movie like but I sort of saw that ending coming.

I did pick this book up because of its buzz and RITA win, but I am curious to check out Kennedy's other books.

Kat's Review Long Shot by Kennedy Ryan

Trigger Warning: Graphic depictions of rape and physical abuse

Rating: ★★★ +.5 | 460 pages | Contemporary | Self-Published | Release Date: 3/20/2018
Iris Dupree is trapped in her own personal nightmare with her abusive and controlling NBA boyfriend. She's always had bigger dreams for herself and knows she needs to get her and her daughter away safely so they can have a better life. Maybe even one that includes pro-baller August West--the one man she's never forgotten about.

I’ve been hearing about this book for a year and its shine got even brighter when Ryan became the first Black woman to win a RITA which I think was well deserved. With this book Ryan is using the parameters of the romance genre to tell a tough story. August has to work hard as a hero to earn Iris' trust after everything she has been through and he does that without coming in and saving the day for her.

For a romance novel, this is a doorstopper of a book but the pages flew by for me, which is saying a lot because I am a slow reader. Ryan’s writing is immersive and her use of the first-person present added an immediacy to the narrative that really worked for me. I would love for more books to be written this way and it’s something I’m becoming more aware of in the books I’m reading.

Long Shot can be a tough read at times but it's ultimately a story of triumph and (of course) finding an HEA at the end of the road.

I knew this book was about domestic violence but those scenes were a lot more graphic and gut-wrenching than I was expecting. There was some talk about this book needing trigger warnings and this book definitely needs one

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Small Change by Roan Parrish (Small Change Book #1)

Rating: ★★★★ | 285 pages | Self-published | Contemporary Romance | 6/1/2017 
34-year-old tattoo artist Ginger Holtzman is intense, ambitious and a little rough around the edges--but she has to be to survive in the male-dominated tattoo culture. She's the owner of the queer-friendly Philly tattoo shop Small Change. When she meets Christopher, the sunshine-y cinnamon-rolly owner of the neighborhood’s new sandwich shop it shouldn’t work. But then....it does.

Small Change really worked for me. I found Parrish’s characters and their relationship to each other engaging and interesting, particularly the messiness of Ginger and how Christopher interacts with that. One of my favorite shows is You’re The Worst and I’ve been looking for a romance that has similar “unlikeable characters” and I think Ginger is pretty close. The story is told mostly through Ginger’s first person with Christopher’s POV coming through via letters he writes to his brother who is in the hospital after an attempted suicide.

I did find some of my engagement with the story waning as the story went on. There are a lot of subplots that felt tacked on instead of meshing into the story naturally. There are a few conflicts that are built up but instead of seeing how it plays out we just hear how it went after the fact.

It also was not at all surprising to me that Parrish currently lives Philadelphia, there is a lot of regional detail and nuance about the city that comes through. I’m already loading up book 2 on Kindle Unlimited, I can’t wait to see how she writes a HEA for Christopher's brother and the mysterious new tattoo artist Ginger hires.