fiction · romance

Book Review: 40-Love (There’s Something About Marysburg #2) by Olivia Dade

When Olivia Dade is handing out copies of her new book on Twitter, you accept immediately, AMIRITE???

For real. I was lucky enough to be on Twitter at night a week or two ago when she was offering up copies of 40-Love (Hussies and Harpies Press, 2020), and I clicked that link SO hard. I’ve never read her before but I’ve enjoyed her on Twitter, and hey, free book (and free publicity for her! Win-win). I filled out the form and the book was in my email inbox that morning. Ah, life as a book blogger!

(I mean, the cat probably barfed on the floor that same morning, and I’m SURE my daughter fought me tooth and nail over doing her schoolwork, but let’s just pretend for a moment that the book blogging life is nothing but glitz and glamor, okay?)

Tess Dunn is smack in the middle of a relaxing beach vacation when the wardrobe malfunction of the century threatens to erase her years of hard work (seriously. ‘Public indecency’ is not a good charge to have on your police record when you’re gunning for that job as principal). By chance, the only nearby adult- uh, mostly an adult?- is the resort’s tennis instructor, Lucas Karlsson. The two don’t exactly get off on the right foot, but after Olivia’s best friend and vacation buddy signs her up for some of Lucas’s lessons, sparks are flying alongside those tennis balls on the court.

Sure, Lucas is younger than Tess by about thirteen years, but he knows what- more like WHO- he wants- at least in that aspect of his life. Career-wise, he’s been biding his time at the resort since injuries forced him off the professional circuit. But Tess has helped him to clarify a few things in her short time on the island. Though, as we know, vacation isn’t real life, and the two of them will have some heavy decisions to make if they’re going to make this work.

Such a cute, fun story. I opened my copy on my kindle, read the first line- “Jesus, this stupid bikini was killing her”- burst out laughing, and knew this was my pick for the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt for a book with a great first line. (Ladies, we’ve all owned some version of that swimsuit, haven’t we? UGH). Tess is a strong heroine who knows what she wants and doesn’t really hesitate to go for it. She’s confident in her abilities and her body, and she’s got a fun, funny personality.

Lucas is a thoughtful hero caught in a holding pattern, wearing the outward appearance of a bro that masks his sweet charm. He’s deeper than he looks, and probably deeper than most young men his age, possibly due to his experiences with so many injuries and so much pain throughout his tennis career. The loss of that career has caused him to doubt himself and his abilities, but he never wavers in his affection for Tess and takes every chance to express it.

What I adored most of all, though, was the setting. I don’t know if it’s the fact that we’ve all been stuck at home, or that the weather has still been a little cool here, especially when I was reading this (but now, not so much!), but a steamy, palm-tree filled island off the Florida coast? Talk about a dream vacation right now- although, to be fair, anywhere that’s not one of the rooms in my house or the residential areas within several miles of my house on my walking route sounds like a dream vacation. But really, Olivia Dade created a perfect resort with amazing weather, awesome amenities, delicious-sounding restaurants, and gorgeous beaches (including a nude beach!) that had me mentally digging my toes into the sand and relaxing in the warm waves. Ahhhhhhhhh.

The tennis stuff, I didn’t love, but that’s merely a personal thing. I’m not huge on sports in books (although hockey’s a minor exception), and I’ve never really had any interest in tennis at all, so I wasn’t personally drawn to that. It’s absolutely not overdone, though; Ms. Dade covers it just enough so that the non-sportsing reading will be able to understand, if not relate to, Lucas and his background. This is still an enjoyable read even if you can’t tell the difference between a tennis ball and a bowling ball.

If you’re looking for a fun summer romance and just want to take a mental beach vacation, 40-Love is a great choice. Don’t forget the sunscreen, and, uh, maybe secure that bikini top a little more, just to be sure, okay?

Thanks to Olivia Dade for a copy of this book!

Visit Olivia Dade’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · romance

Book review: Love Starts Here (A Morgan’s Grove Novel #1) by Traci Borum

Cozy comfort reads. So many of us are looking for those right now, and I’m no different. I enjoy a good romance novel (of any heat level, to be honest); there’s just something about a couple falling in love, the yearning, the anticipation, the sparks, that speaks to me and tugs at my heart. So when Traci Borum contacted me and offered a copy of her new novel, Love Starts Here (A Morgan’s Grove Novel #1) (Red Adept Publishing, 2020), I was intrigued by her description of the novel as having a “Hallmarky” feel. I’ve only seen a handful of Hallmark movies (no cable here), but I know plenty of people enjoy their movies and find them comforting, so I was in.

Jill McCallister, author of a popular four-book mystery series, is stuck. Writer’s block has struck hard after she finished her series, and she has no idea what to write next. Desperate for inspiration, she accepts an assigned article on genealogy from a friend’s struggling magazine, only to discover her very own ancestor founded a small Texas town called Morgan’s Grove. Figuring a change of pace could only help, Jill packs up, leaves her small Denver life behind, and heads off in search of creativity and answers about her family in the Lonestar state.

What she’s not expecting is to be pulled so deeply in by the town. Morgan’s Grove and its residents are immediately welcoming, presenting her with the friendly, charming hometown Jill’s never had. Lucille, the woman at whose house she’s staying, quickly becomes a trusted friend and surrogate grandmother, and Rick, Lucille’s handsome, quiet, somewhat distant grandson, slowly moves from mysterious to sympathetic, and then more. After having spent her childhood on the run, Jill’s finally found a home…and maybe even a home for her heart.

Ms. Borum wasn’t exaggerating in her description; Love Stars Here is all the Hallmark without the cheese. The story is set during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which qualifies this as a Christmas novel for those of you who look for those kinds of things (but it worked out just fine at the end of April, thankyouverymuch!). There’s cool weather, gingerbread cookies and a homegrown baking business (and even a yummy-looking recipe at the end of the book!), decorations, Bing Crosby crooning Christmas carols, a million mugs of cocoa…if you’re looking for cozy, you’ll absolutely find it here. The romance is a sweet, slow burn and is absolutely appropriate for the youngest of romance lovers.

(And if you like Corgis? There are Corgis in the book. As someone who has been absolutely dying over a friend’s pictures of her new Corgi puppy lately, this made me ridiculously happy.)

Jill McCallister is a delight of a heroine, and her realistic struggles with writer’s block and her difficult relationship with her almost entirely absent mother lends her an air of empathy from the start. Her giving nature with Lucille and faith that her writing mojo will return, even when it feels as though her Muse has abandoned her for good, makes her a joy to read. Rick remains enigmatic through much of the story, but the fact that their romance didn’t move from zero to one hundred immediately made that work for me.

Ms. Borum has nailed small town charm in a big way with Morgan’s Grove. The town has all the appeal of any tucked-away New England seaside village or midwestern crossroads, but without the reality of what we know small-town life can be (no gossip, no true town busybody, no dark secrets). It’s the quaint hometown of our dreams, sweet without veering into saccharine, crisp holiday weather without the glop of five day-old slush, spooky, wind-whipped storms with only minimal property damage, friendly neighbors who are always willing to pitch in and who have your back without talking behind it. If you’re looking for a cozy book-vacation destination, traveling with Jill McCallister to Morgan’s Grove, Texas needs to be on your literary map.

One of the best things about this book was that it wasn’t a high-stakes, edge-of-your-seat novel. Sometimes we as readers want that, and other times, a slow, gentle read that presents each story component wrapped in a soft, hand-knit blanket and accompanied by a steaming mug of our favorite warm beverage is more in order. Love Starts Here fits easily into that latter category and was a sweet, enjoyable read during a time when the outside world’s roar needed to be tamped down by something that felt more familiar, more palatable. Escaping into Morgan’s Grove was the literary break I needed.

Thanks to Traci Borum for sending me a copy of Love Starts Here to read and review!

Visit Traci Borum’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · romance

The Governess Game- Tessa Dare

One down off the TBR, finally! Confession, though: I added this to my TBR because I wanted to read Tessa Dare, and The Governess Game (Avon, 2018) was one my library had (so I wasn’t necessarily longing to read this book specifically). I’ve followed Tessa Dare for ages on Twitter and have adored her on there and thus felt the need to engage with her work. As luck would have it, the PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge includes a prompt for a book by an author who has written more than 20 books, and Ms. Dare fits right in with that category! I was happy to kill two birds with one store and checked this out from the library the day before it closed.

Alexandra Mountbatten is not having the best of days. The man she’s been fantasizing about for months after interacting with him (barely) at a bookstore has resurfaced in her life, and it…didn’t go well. And after losing the bag of tools she uses to set clocks in the homes of her customers, she’s forced to return to Chase Reynaud’s fancy home and accept his earlier bizarre offer to act as governess to the two ill-behaved orphan sisters left in his care. His playboy reputation, Alexandra’s schoolgirl crush, and the terrible behavior of the girls, none of it matters- Alexandra’s desperate.

But Alexandra’s sharp mind helps her to see the weak spots in both the sisters’ and Chase’s defenses, and it’s not long before everyone has come to love this unexpected addition to the household. In a one-step-forward, two-steps-back fashion, Chase and Alexandra will find their way to each other, but not without a few heart-stopping- and heart-pounding!- moments along the way.

I’m nearly aghast that Avon publishes both this absolutely wonderful, feminist, sex-positive and healthy historical romance, alongside the dumpster fire novel It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. The two books are light years apart in terms of quality, with Ms. Dare’s work the clear winner by a million miles. Alexandra is not only confident but full of self-respect as well; she takes pride in her hard work, her education, and who she is, despite a lifetime of difficult circumstances. Her friends are supportive and respectful; they cheer her on and push her to achieve her goals and grow as a person. She’s a strong heroine who can be emulated and imitated, and I knew within several pages that I’d absolutely read more of Ms. Dare’s work. The same could not be said after several pages of It Had to Be You.

Chase is a pretty decent hero. He’s a rake, for sure; he’s been around the bush more than a few times (while managing to keep himself clean and free from illegitimate children, a feat covered in the book), but for reasons that make him a bad boy with a heart of gold, one in need of healing. He’s a man with a sense of humor and not afraid to follow or let himself be bested by a strong woman, and that was exactly the hero antidote I needed at this point in time.

I’m always so impressed by well-written (and FUN!) historical romance. The research has to be daunting- I’m not sure I’d even know where to start. But included in each one of these books is a free history lesson- it’s never names or dates or battles (unless you’re reading something with a more intense historical background, like Outlander), but more of a sense of the daily life of the members of a certain class during the time period the book is set in. Dress styles, decorating trends, speech, class hierarchy, how certain professions went about their work, food choices, it’s all in there, and to be honest, I love these lighter historical romances. (When I say lighter, I’m comparing this to books like Flames of Glory by Patricia Matthews– that felt heavier to me and not as enjoyable as The Governess Game or Destiny’s Embrace by Beverly Jenkins.)

Have you read Tessa Dare? I’d love to hear any recommendations for what else I should read from her (besides everything!). Tell me about your favorites!

Visit Tessa Dare’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · romance

It Had to Be You- Susan Elizabeth Phillips

So, approximately three million years ago, when I was naively and optimistically making out my lists for this year’s reading challenges (LOLSOB), I perused the suggestions for Book Riot’s 2020 Read Harder Challenge prompt for a romance starring a single parent. I didn’t find anything there that struck my fancy, but another group suggested It Had To Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (Avon, first published 1994. Remember this). I’d never read this particular author, but I know she’s a big name in romance, so I figured sure, why not. I went into this knowing full well that romance has changed immensely since 1994 (THANK GOD), but also curious because my library copy was almost pristine. This book is still very much in print, to the point that new copies are being purchased and circulating. This is important to my review. Buckle up, folks. I don’t usually eviscerate novels, but this one deserves it.

(Disclaimer: This book, and thus this post, is chock-full of content warnings. The book contains mentions, often graphic, of molestation and rape by a family member, racism, misogyny, multiple uses of the N-word, fatphobia and comments on eating disorders that haven’t aged well, kinky sex roleplay that involves one partner pretending to be an underage girl BUT WITHOUT INFORMING THE READER THAT THIS IS ROLEPLAY UNTIL AFTERWARDS, emotional, verbal, and physical abuse, alcoholism, a mistaken abduction and sexual assault that briefly traumatizes a main character, a drunk driving death, and multiple depictions of Donald Trump where he’s portrayed true to life, being only too happy to help pull one over a main character. This is a tough time for all of us and we’ve all got far too much on our plates. I won’t be offended one bit if you’re not able to handle more and need to stop reading here. Be well, friends.)

It Had to Be You starts out with Phoebe Sommerville attending her father’s funeral in a wildly inappropriate outfit and holding her toy poodle, who then pees all over the top of the casket (yes, really), but before that unfortunate incident comes this line, which tipped me off to exactly the kind of mess this book was going to be:

Beads of perspiration from the midday heat glimmered on skin that ranged in color from a glistening blue-black to a suntanned white. Like plantation slaves, the National Football League’s Chicago Stars had come to pay homage to the man who owned them.

Uh, yikes. Followed by this super fun typo (how has no one noticed this in all the time this book has been in print?):


A Gold Coast socialite, who fancied herself an expert on small dogs, since she owned a shiatsu…

Let’s try this again.

Shih-Tsu:

Shiatsu:

Two very, very different things. If anyone’s looking for a copy editor, I’d make an awesome one! 😉

Dad, who was a disgusting Donald Trump-style blowhard misogynist creep, owned the Chicago Stars football team (located in, surprisingly, the county I live in, and about which the author makes some seriously puzzling statements about tractor pulls and religious crusades, by which I’m guessing she meant revivals? I can’t speak to those- there are sections of this county that can be pretty Christian [looking at you, Wheaton] so I can’t say what happened here in that regard in 1994- but I asked my husband, who grew up here, about tractor pulls, and he was baffled. Outside of county fairs, I can’t find any evidence of tractor pulls here in the past. So weird. We’re right next to Chicago, it’s not like we’re super rural), and has left the team to his daughter Phoebe in order to humiliate her. If she’s able to help the team win the championship, she’ll get it keep it, but if not, ownership goes to her rapey cousin Reed, her father’s clear favorite. Phoebe’s also left with custody of her standoffish half-sister Molly, who’s trotted out now and then as a plot device.

At first, Phoebe doesn’t give a crap about the team, but the head coach, Dan Calebow, a good ol’ boy from Alabama (I think) isn’t having any of that. How DARE that bimbo act this way! He’s furious, furious enough to use the word bimbo at least nineteen times throughout this book (although the actual count may be several more, because I think I started counting after having been irritated by it multiple times. And no, Ms. Phillips, tempering it by having Dan call her ‘my brainy bimbo’ doesn’t make it better). Dan is a total alphahole, a complete 90’s romance man’s man, misogyny and grossness all over the place. He and his Congresswoman ex-wife have a friends-with-benefits relationship going on, leading to an early scene where Dan picks up a teenager from a convenience store, follows her to her house, then proceeds to spank her and have sex with her in her father’s office. It’s only AFTER the chapter has ended that Ms. Phillips clues us in that it’s actually Dan and his ex-wife ROLEPLAYING here and he’s not actually engaging in statutory rape. I was DISGUSTED by this, to the point where my hands were shaking and I had to read the scene twice to make sure I was reading it right- was he SERIOUSLY having sex with a girl who told him she was 16?!!?!?!?- and should have put the book down. NOT COOL, SUSAN ELIZABETH PHILLIPS. NOT COOL AT ALL. Alas, I read on, because the world needs to know how terrible this book is.

Phoebe, who has put on a show of being a dumb blonde most of her life, and Dan are obviously on an enemies-to-lovers trajectory, but before we get to that, we have the problem of Phoebe’s hips. They’re nearly their own character in this book. I wish I were joking:

Uh….okay.

There’s a lot of weird imagery in this book as well, along with fashion that was never, ever in style (and definitely not on gay men in the 90’s, which is who was wearing this particular get-up). Consider, if you will, these following paragraphs (which have nothing to do with each other, but which both include a lot of wtf):

Blond, handsome, and bigger than life, he looked like a born troublemaker. Instead of a knit shirt and chinos, he should have been wearing a rumpled white suit and driving down some Southern dirt road in a big old Cadillac hooking beer cans over the roof. Or standing on the front lawn of an antebellum mansion with his head thrown back to bay at the moon while a young Elizabeth Taylor lay on a curly brass bed upstairs and waited for him to come home.

Ignoring the fact that a grown man is littering and howling at the moon (what even?!??), with the white suit, all I can think of is Colonel Sanders from KFC. But then there’s Phoebe’s gay male friend in this outfit:

He wore a fitted black silk T-shirt with camouflage pants, orange leather suspenders, and motorcycle boots.

I know the 90’s weren’t exactly known for great fashion, but come on!

And there’s a lot of weird, puffed-up masculinity and misogyny. For example:

“…Bobby Tom’s from Telarosa, Texas, and being forced to live in the state of Illinois for even part of the year challenges his idea of manhood.”

Viktor beamed like a proud father, fluffed Phoebe’s hair, and nudged her toward the kitchen. “Do your women’s work. We men are hungry.”

He turned to Phoebe and held out his hand. “Pass over the keys, honey lamb. There are certain things a man still does better than a woman, and driving a car is one of them.”

Dan grinned as he unlocked the driver’s door and reached inside to flip the automatic locks. “Climb inside, ladies. I’d open the doors for you, but I don’t want to be accused of holding back anybody’s liberation.”

For one, I don’t think I can take seriously any grown man who goes by the name Bobby Tom, so he can take his idea that having a penis is only valid within the state borders of Texas and cram it up his cramhole. And come on, Phoebe, you let your friends talk to you like that? Nah, girl. You can do better. Have enough self-respect to shut that shit down hard. And later on, there was this gem:

Didn’t she realize this was DuPage County? Women didn’t dress like this in DuPage County, for chrissake. They went to church and voted Republican, just as their husbands told them.

EXCUSE ME??? This is a deeply diverse area, of which I’m very proud, and we have women from all walks of life, from women who show plenty of skin in the grocery store to women who wear niqab at the library. And we’re all perfectly capable of thinking for ourselves, thank you VERY much. UGH.

At one point, Phoebe goes over to Dan’s house late at night in an attempt to confront him, only to get caught in the middle of what Dan thinks is a kinky sex game with his ex-wife. Phoebe, who has no idea what kind of weird things Dan does with his ex, thinks Dan is hauling her into the woods to rape her, and the whole scene is horrifying. And then there’s more of this:

Just…why???

Phoebe and Dan develop a physical relationship (Phoebe is, of course, playing the whore to the Madonna preschool teacher that Dan is also seeing but not touching), but their relationship is…uncomfortable to read at best. Phoebe has some serious and understandable baggage from being raped and molested by her cousin in the past, but Dan isn’t aware of this until later, and there are some disturbing sex scenes where she tells Dan not to stop no matter what she says, then freaks out when he doesn’t stop, which, as both a reader and a woman, is deeply insulting.

Phoebe works hard and inspires the football team by instructing them to picture the other team naked (which is endlessly funny to the team and pisses Dan off), and of course they start to win and win big. But at the championship game, the one that matters, the crazed father of one of Dan’s former team members kidnaps Phoebe and threatens to kill her unless Dan throws the game. What’s a coach in love to do?

To be honest, this entire book was insulting, from Phoebe’s faux pre-drugs Anna Nicole Smith act, to Dan’s toxic masculinity and misogyny, to the disgusting abuse hurled about in memories of her father, to the completely unnecessary trauma scenes. Part of this is that this book is pretty geriatric when it comes to romance. Twenty-six years ago is practically prehistoric when it comes to romance, and it’s obvious that the genre has come a long, looooooooooong way since then. But it obviously hasn’t come far enough. This book, with all its throwback, regressive attitudes, is still in print, and like I mentioned above, my library copy seemed fairly new, with no creased pages and a cover that showed no signs of wear. Meaning, of course, that…

This book is still in print, and what that tells me is that some romance publishers don’t necessarily think that women deserve better books, books where we aren’t called bimbos nineteen times throughout the pages and made to suffer rape and other forms of trauma in order to further the plot. I know that’s a bunch of crap, because I’ve read far better romance novels, where women rightfully give men who belittle them the middle finger and bestow their time and attention on men who prove themselves worthy of it. ACTUALLY worthy of it. Why should we be subjected to reading stories where women degrade themselves by falling into the arms of someone who, just pages ago, referred to them as a bimbo? Why does rape still continue to be a plot device in 2020? Why should books with abject racism and fatphobia still take up shelf space and space in our minds?

What I’m saying is that for those publishing companies still championing this kind of garbage by keeping books like this in print- you can do better, and your readers deserve that. This is one author I won’t be reading again. My time is worth more than that.

Visit Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · romance

Tangled- Emma Chase

While not something I necessarily would have picked up on my own, Tangled by Emma Chase (Gallery Books, 2013) fits a prompt in the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challege: a book with the same title as a movie or TV show but is unrelated to it.

Obviously, as you can see by the cover, this book definitely has nothing to do with the 2010 Disney retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale. Thank goodness… (Speaking of covers, this was one that I was glad that I finished solely at home, because…I don’t embarrass easily, nor do I ever really feel ashamed of reading any kind of book, but…this was a cover I wasn’t really interested in displaying while I waited outside my daughter’s school with the other parents, you know?)

Drew Evans is a playboy to the nth degree. He’s a love ’em and leave ’em kind of guy, one who has never made any promises or commitments, and he’s more than okay with that. The less tying him down, the more fun he can have in his high-powered lifestyle. That is, until he meets Kate Brooks, the sexiest woman he’s ever seen who also turns out to be his new co-worker. His engaged new co-worker, that is. But when has that ever stopped Drew?

Their relationship starts out with a little bit of a friendly (and occasionally not-so friendly) rivalry, as they both compete for the same client, but as Drew gets to know Kate, he finally starts to understand what love might be like as a long-term thing. Kate’s fiancé and her lack of confidence might present a bit of a challenge, but Drew and his massive ego are up for the fight.

Oof. So.

First off, this was well-written, and I totally see why it gets so many stars on Goodreads. It’s steamy, it’s fun (and funny), it’s cute at times, and there are a lot of great tropes at work: Drew is definitely a bad boy with a heart of gold, his rivalry with Kate over that first client tips this a little in the direction of Enemies-to-Lovers, and the book is narrated by Drew, which puts an interesting spin on the romance novel. Big Rock by Lauren Blakely is also narrated by its male hero, and I do enjoy that perspective.

My issues with this book, however, are entirely (and almost hilariously) personal, which makes this a difficult review to write. Case in point:

My husband likes to watch stuff on TV with me at night; it’s pretty much the one thing we’re able to do on our own, since my daughter is still young, we can’t really afford babysitters, and going out is something we have to really plan for (which also means less time he can spend with our daughter, and his time is already limited). For ages he’s wanted me to watch one of his favorite shows, and finally I gave in, so we’re currently on season 8 of the adult cartoon Archer. If you’re not familiar with the show, Archer is the title character, a bad boy secret agent. He does have a decent side, but he also sleeps with anything that moves, can’t commit to any woman, has an ego the size of the sun, and has the same crass vocabulary as Drew in Tangled. Can you see where this is going?

Yeah. I read the entire book narrated in Archer’s voice. It was…interesting.

There were other things that didn’t quite make this the book for me. Kate felt a little under-defined; I wish we’d gotten to know more of her personality. She seemed like a different person when she was talking with or to Billy, her fiancé. I’m not sure if that was deliberate and trying to show that she was a more actualized version of herself with Drew, or something else, but it definitely stood out to me. And there’s a lot- a LOT- of cursing in here. I don’t mind reading that or hearing it, but this seemed excessive even for me (and that’s saying a lot). It became a little tiresome reading conversations with swear words in almost every sentence (although there are a few amusing scenes where Drew’s niece follows him around with a swear jar, demanding money for each bad word, and references to her paying her way through college with the proceeds, so the author isn’t unaware of the excessiveness here).

There’s also a “We’ve only known each other for a ridiculously short period of time and have barely started a sexual relationship, but hey, I’m clean and since you say you are too, despite any kind of proof, let’s ditch condoms right now!” scene, which I am absolutely not a fan of. Nope. TEST YO’SELF, show your partner the paperwork, and then have a discussion about birth control and sexual health like mature adults. I feel like readers deserve that, and this particular “We can skip the condoms immediately, I promise!” scene never, ever works for me no matter what book it appears in.

For my own personal tastes, Drew’s a bit smarmy; I don’t find the kind of guy who sleeps with anything with a pulse attractive or trustworthy, so this wasn’t quite the book for me- which is fine! Not every book is for every reader and there are plenty of people who enjoy all the things that didn’t quite do it for me here. I never quite mind getting through a book that wasn’t right for me, because it’s taught me something more about what I like and what I don’t, what I look for in a book, and who I am as a reader, and that’s something I can always appreciate.

There are sequels, as this is a series, so if you’re into playboys finally finding the one girl with whom they can fall in love and for whom they’re willing to give up their wild ways, you might want to check out the Tangled series!

Visit Emma Chase’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · romance

The Right Swipe- Alisha Rai

Ohhhhhh you guys. This has been a terrible month for reading. 😦

So, back in the second week of October, our weather went from about 75 degrees to a low of 33, and we had a massive cold front move in. And because of that, my body FREAKED OUT. I’ve got degenerative disc disease and sacroiliac joint dysfunction (and possibly more things, but who knows, specialists are expensive), and when there are either massive pressure changes or huge temperature swings, my pain becomes utterly unbearable. And that’s what happened a few weeks ago. My entire life got put on hold and I had to cancel a few things because I had pain zinging from my neck to my toes every second of the day.

Even sitting hurt. And driving? OMG. Nope. I still had to, though, and it was enough to make me sweat.

I’m doing a little better off now- driving doesn’t hurt so much, and I can do things around the house other than merely existing and going to bed at 8:30 every night to escape the pain- but during that period of about a week and a half, I pulled out an ARC of The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai (Avon, 2019), sent to me by a longtime friend in Michigan (thanks again, Sandy!) and did my best to lose myself in the story in the brief periods where I could focus.

Rhiannon Hunter is creator of one of the most popular dating apps out there, but romance hasn’t really been in the cards for her, and her latest hook-up, someone she could’ve actually seen herself with long(er)-term, ghosted her after one unforgettable night, so she’s really not feeling this whole dating thing these days. It’s business only as she plans to grow her company by purchasing a smaller company, but it’s there she finds the ghoster himself. Samson Lima, former professional football player, is working for his kind-of aunt’s dating website as he tries to figure out his place in this world now that he’s left professional sports behind. He’s still grieving the loss of his uncle to CTE (caused by too many concussions), and he’s unsure of what the future holds for him. Having Rhiannon back in his life, once he explains the very real and very serious circumstances that led to him accidentally ghosting her, would help him feel more at ease with everything.

But it’s going to be a learning process for both of them, and Rhiannon isn’t going to have an easy time growing her business into what she knows it could be, especially not with her jackass of an ex in direct competition with her. She’s bound and determined to do this one hundred percent on her own…but as she’ll learn, all the best things in life happen when we let ourselves be vulnerable.

Rhiannon is an utter pistol of a character, nearly so driven that I had a little bit of a hard time trying to relate to her. Don’t get me wrong- she’s definitely a fabulous character, a highly motivated black businesswoman who knows her worth and refuses to settle for anything less than she knows she deserves. She’s surrounded by amazing friends and family who are supportive yet flawed (and still lovable!), and she works for what she wants with an almost pitbull-like strength. She’s basically #goals all the way. I am pretty much the exact opposite in every way and had an easier time relating to her best friend Katrina, who suffers from such terrible anxiety that she rarely leaves the house. (*nods at my blog title* If I’m not getting groceries or driving a kid or husband somewhere, I’m either at the library or at home, for real, so I feel you, Katrina…) I long for the confidence of Rhiannon Hunter and wish I could take her Master Class or sit in on her TED talk. She’s got some major trust issues to work through, but that’s not unexpected for romance novels, especially contemporaries, so it doesn’t necessarily detract from her strong personality.

Samson is an amazing hero. Principles for DAYS and he’s willing to put his money (and his professional sports career) where his mouth is. A man who stands up for his beliefs AND he’s in touch with his emotions AND he’s romantic and not at all a serial dater??? You guys, this dude is the sparkly unicorn of romance heroes! Can Samson teach a Master Class, too, one that’s required for all men to take? This could really, really work, y’all. If we can get a hologram all set up, I’m sensing a mammoth Alisha Rai enterprise…

There’s a lot going on in this book, including discussions of the #MeToo movement (so there’s a content warning there if you’re not up for that at the moment); Rhiannon’s ex-boyfriend is a blackmailing sleazebag and needs to be thrown out entirely (calling Whole Man Disposal Services…). If you’ve never read much on CTE (or Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy, the neurodegenerative disease that makes the news often these days in regards to professional sports), this is a great primer; for further reading, Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas is excellent and will give you an in-depth look at how the condition was discovered and all the NFL has done to try to bury evidence of it and research on it. High five to Ms. Rai for throwing the floodlights on a subject that needs as much coverage as possible, especially to an audience that will be majority female and who either have kids now or may have kids in the future who might play contact sports (or be in gym class and wind up with not one, but TWO concussions, one of which he received as a mere SPECTATOR, ask me how I know *stares hard at my son*). We’re the perfect audience for this kind of education, and the stories of Samson’s father and uncle and their struggles with CTE add such depth to the story.

I love a good novel that not only entertains me but educates me as well, and despite the problems I had being able to focus due to my pain, The Right Swipe made for an enjoyable read with a gloriously diverse cast, chock-full of contemporary issues, and a truly adorable love story. Ms. Rai’s next novel in the series is set to come out in April of 2020 and focuses on Katrina, Rhiannon’s anxiety-ridden friend, and you know I’m here for that!

I have to give a shoutout to the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast here; this is where I was first introduced to Ms. Rai and thus began following her on Twitter. She’s smart, funny, incredibly charming, and has such a great personality that you’ll be immediately wondering if she’ll be your new BFF upon listening to any episode with her on it (or maybe that’s just me and I desperately need to get out more and develop an actual social life instead of living vicariously through fictional characters), and her Twitter feed is the same way. Even if you’re not into romance in general, she’s such a great person that I highly recommend giving her episodes a listen and her Twitter a follow!

Visit Alisha Rai’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

romance

Icebreaker- Deirdre Martin

During the same library trip where I picked up a copy of Their Pretend Amish Courtship, I also grabbed this copy of Icebreaker by Deirdre Martin (Berkley, 2011). I don’t know that I’ve ever mentioned it here before, but I love hockey. I have a love-hate relationship with it, somewhat; I love the rush of it all, the sounds, the skaters flying down the ice, the hard-won goals, but I hate the concussions, the injuries, the lost teeth. It’s a great sport and it’s an absolute rush to watch (especially live; I’ve been lucky enough to see two NHL games and a minor league game in person), but no professional sport is worth permanent injury in my book. So hockey in books is a lot safer, although there’s no cool sounds of skate blades and sticks on the ice. Unless they have those in audiobooks on hockey, in which case I’ve been going about this all wrong.

Sinead O’Brien is as single as it’s possible to get. That’s not without its benefits; she’s worked her way up to being the only female partner at her law firm, and part of that is because work is pretty much all she does. Her newest client, Adam Perry, a professional hockey player who’s been charged with assault after a rough hit on another player, is a man of few words, so few that Sinead’s about ready to rip her hair out whenever she’s around him. He’s barely willing to say anything at all, even if it means saving his butt. It’s a good thing Sinead is as good of a lawyer as she is.

But this is a romance, so you know there’s something simmering under the surface. It takes her a while to admit it, but Sinead is attracted to Adam from the start, and the feeling is mutual. With so much to lose if her bosses find out, Sinead’s not sure how far she can let this go, but Adam’s not interested in going back to being just friends…

Icebreaker is actually the third book I’ve read in the series; all the novels work well as stand-alones and the series doesn’t need to be read in order. This was just kind of okay for me. Adam was so reticent at times that he fell more into the ‘dumb jock’ stereotype; I never saw much evidence of more going on upstairs, especially with some of his throwback, caveman-style ideas (that another character rightfully took him to task on, multiple times). Sinead was fine, although her weird obsession about not connecting with her infant nephew became tiresome. He’s a baby. You’ll get there, don’t force it. Babies are weird and scream their faces off when their parents leave; it’s probably not you. (AKA my daughter every time I did something heinous like try to take a ten minute shower while my husband held her. SCREAMED THE ENTIRE TIME. See, Sinead? NOT JUST YOU. My poor husband. He was so frustrated, haha. And lest you think I’m exaggerating:

Her onesie says ‘Princess Fussypants,’ purchased specifically because she never stopped screaming when I handed her off to Papa.)

So this was just okay, not my favorite book, nor my favorite series about hockey (I preferred Mister Hockey by Lia Riley and See Jane Score by Rachel Gibbons). Not a bad read by any means, though, for a sports romance.

Are you a sports fan at all? Hockey is pretty much the only sport I enjoy watching, other than Olympic sports (swimming, gymnastics, track and field… I could sit and watch the Olympics all day. I don’t care about teams or countries, it’s the skill that amazes me!), but we don’t have cable, so I rarely get to watch (not that the Blackhawks have played all the well recently, but let’s not discuss that…). If you’ve got any suggestions for hockey romances, I’m all ears!

Visit Deirdre Martin’s website here.

fiction · romance

Their Pretend Amish Courtship- Patricia Davids

Category romance isn’t my normal speed when it comes to romance. I’m much more into contemporary romance, single titles, and stories that go beyond what category can offer (but if category is your thing, that’s cool too! Tomato, tomahto, and all that; I’m a huge fan of Brussels sprouts, which aren’t everyone’s thing either. Takes all kinds). But while we were on vacation, I was browsing the paperbacks for sale at the Branson Walmart and came across a copy of Amish Covert Operation. Yes, that’s a real book (and it’s pretty highly rated!). Category romance has some seriously amazing titles, and I knew that when I came home, I wanted to seek out and read something with a title like that. And that, friends, is how I picked up a copy of Their Pretend Amish Courtship by Patricia Davids (2017, Love Inspired).

At twenty-two, Fannie is practically an old maid by Amish standards. All she wants is to spend her life working with horses instead of keeping house for some random man, but her parents are really starting to worry that she hasn’t settled down yet. With her sister being newly engaged, Fannie’s on the cusp of being shipped off to Florida to help her aging grandparents, ruining the plans she has to help save a friend’s business with a horse show. But with the help of next-door-neighbor Noah, who’s also unmarried and Amish and wants nothing more than to see if he has a shot at playing professional baseball, things just might work out. A fake courtship will help both of them: Fannie’s sister will go off to Florida (what she really wants!), Fannie will stay home in order to spend more time with her new beau (and those horses!), and Noah will get to spend the summer playing baseball and learning if he has what it takes to go pro. Everything will be just fine.

But of course it isn’t. Things with the horses grow more and more complicated, Noah can’t make up his mind about playing ball or giving it up forever and joining the church, and Noah and Fannie bicker like no one’s business whenever they’re within half a mile of each other. What’s worse, their families are so excited about the possibility of the two of them marrying that they start to feel terrible about their lies and deception. It’ll take- of course- a near-tragedy for things to come to a head, but everything will of course work out, Amish-style.

Oof. Cheese-fest with a religious twist right here! Fannie and Noah’s constant bickering was juvenile and irritating; there were a few times I had to reread their conversations because I wasn’t sure if they were actually being serious with the taunts and barbs they were exchanging- no one actually fights like that, do they? The language they used was as immature as they were, to be sure, but their dialogue made me roll my eyes a few times as well. I couldn’t really buy them as a couple or feel any kind of attraction between them, despite the author constantly referring to their history as childhood friends.

The faith-based aspects of the book were more than a little heavy-handed. Obviously, reading a book about the Amish is bound to contain some of that, and that’s fine, but it didn’t occur to me until later on that this was published by Harlequin’s inspirational romance line, and those do tend to be heavier on the religious messages (another reviewer on Goodreads rightly points out that Amish romances are written not by the Amish themselves, but mainly by evangelical Christians. I’ve read interviews with Amish women who refer to these books as, basically, nonsense, which is interesting). I’ve read single title inspirational romances in the past that worked well (Always the Baker, Never the Bride by Sandra D. Bricker really shines here; nowhere does it feel preachy or get weighted down by proselytizing, which is rare for this genre, from what I’ve read), but this, with the two characters quoting Bible verses back and forth on a fairly regular basis, felt more than a little forced.

Despite those flaws, and despite the fact that there’s just so. much. horse. stuff. in this book (I am NOT a horse person; heaven help me if my daughter ever goes through a horse phase because I will have ZERO clue what to do), this isn’t a terrible read. It moves along quickly and Noah’s baseball dilemma adds an intriguing aspect to the story; I don’t think I’d ever considered that an Amish man might want to leave his community and go into professional sports. I do wish Ms. Davids had gotten more into Fannie’s sister’s story; close to the end of the book, her sister, who is still in Florida, has ditched her Amish fiancé and has apparently hooked up with a local Mennonite man in her grandparents’ town. Now THAT is a story I want to hear more about!!!

Any category romance readers out there? I read a few back when I was younger, but they usually don’t turn my crank, literarily speaking. I prefer the longer, meatier romances most of the time, but I’m always willing to give a book a shot. 😉

Visit Patricia Davids’ website here.

romance · YA

I Believe in a Thing Called Love- Maurene Goo

I still love YA.

I don’t know if that will ever really change. I don’t read it quite as much as I used to, but the genre itself still calls to me. Books about the time in your life where so many roads are open, where possibility reigns and the future isn’t necessarily set it stone, what’s not to love about that? To be sure, there are a lot of YA novels that deal with extremely heavy topics- heaven knows being a teenager hasn’t ever been simple or easy, in any era- but a good light YA is a nice counter to some of the heavier nonfiction I read. The premise of I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2017) sounded adorable and exactly the kind of lighthearted YA romance I enjoy, which is how it ended up on my TBR list.

Desi Lee, first generation Korean American teenager and superstudent extraordinaire, is a mess around guys. Get her in front of one she finds cute and something terrible is bound to happen within minutes, which is why she’s never had a boyfriend. Enter Luca, the hot new artsy guy at school. Despite accidentally showing him her underwear close to immediately after their first meeting, Desi actually feels like this might work out with Luca, but just like she does for everything else in life, she needs a plan, something with concrete steps to check off so that she doesn’t screw this up. Thus Desi creates her list to achieve true love, based on the steps she’s gleaned from the K-dramas she watches with her widowed father.

But of course, while some of the steps go smoothly, life isn’t a scripted K-drama, and eventually Desi’s carefully-made plans go awry. Making things right is never easy, but even when she has to make things right, there’s a K-drama to help show her how.

There’s a lot to enjoy in this novel. While Desi’s a bit Type A and kind of a basket case from time to time, she’s also driven and goal oriented, which is admirable. Her attempts to connect with her widowed father are beyond sweet (is there a ‘dead mother trope’ trend in YA right now, or are all the dead mother books I’ve been reading lately just a coincidence? Starting to feel like I’m in a Disney movie, minus the helpful singing/housecleaning animals…), and I really, really enjoyed the peek into Korean American immigrant/first generation culture (it’s kind of funny; my husband came to the US with his family from Belgium when he was three; he grew up with one foot in both cultures, and it’s only obvious sometimes, usually in regards to things like cultural trivia, that he wasn’t born here and was raised by immigrant parents, which makes my daughter a first generation American on that side. Kind of neat to be able to wonder what her feelings will be on that and what parts of her experience will mirror Desi’s). I have friends who love K-dramas; I’ve never seen one, but this book really made me want to check some out! Ms. Goo includes a list of the K-dramas she loves in the back of the book, which is awesome and helpful.

What didn’t work for me were a few of the things on Desi’s list. ‘Making a list of the things I need to do to snag this hot guy/girl’ isn’t a unique trope, which doesn’t bother me, but Desi takes things way too far, at one point intentionally causing a car accident in order to further her plan to get Luca as her boyfriend, and that felt entirely unrealistic to me (and I’m not one to think that YA characters have to be exemplary in their behavior, but HOLY CRAP, WHAT A TERRIBLE IDEA, and no one makes as big of a deal about this as I think it warranted). Desi’s ridiculously smart, which I know doesn’t necessarily mean mature or full of good decisions, but yikes. Yikes, yikes, yikes. By the end, she’s hurt a lot of people and thrown away her interview at Stanford for Luca- granted, it was to help him during what she thought would be a difficult time, and it all ended up working out anyway (this is YA romance, of course; HEA for life!), but taking that kind of gamble on a boy when you’re seventeen isn’t the greatest idea, and it felt a little icky to me that as dedicated as she was before, Desi went down that road the moment a boy showed up. She’s the kind of character that could benefit from a year or so with a therapist, working on her self-esteem and some techniques to relax in mixed-gender social situations; having a boyfriend isn’t going to change all the problems that caused her to think she needed to make such a list in the first place.

So I liked this, but didn’t quite love it. I think I have another novel by Maurene Goo on my TBR, and as I did enjoy her writing style, I’m definitely hopeful that I’ll fall head over heels with her other books. 🙂

Do you watch K-dramas? Have you ever? Have you ever intentionally caused a car accident in order to make someone fall in love with you, and did you complete your court-ordered therapy afterwards (because that’s the only real outcome I can imagine for such a situation)?

Visit Maurene Goo’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

romance

Tikka Chance on Me- Suleikha Snyder

Is there any better feeling than the one you get when your phone signals an email, and you check it and it says, “Your library book has automatically been downloaded to your account”??? This is the second time this year that I’ve gasped, loudly, in sheer, unadulterated excitement due to one of those emails. I’d been on the waiting list for Tikka Chance on Me by Suleikha Snyder (published by Suleikha Snyder, 2018) for…probably over a month, although it was on my TBR list for longer than that. I never mind waiting for library books; it makes me happy that other people are reading and enjoying the book as well, but I was reeeeeeeeeeeeeeally looking forward to this. So when it showed up in my email, I had to squee more than a little!

Pinky Grover came home to work in her family’s middle-of-nowhere Indian restaurant when her mother got sick, but now that Mom is better, Pinky is…still there. She bides her time fantasizing bout bad boy Trucker Carrigan, head of the dangerous Eagles motorcycle gang, who comes in constantly to eat with his crew at the restaurant and make eyes at Pinky. On the surface, they’ve got nothing in common and both of them know they should stay away from the other, but the chemistry between them is incendiary. Trucker’s not quite what he seems, and after Pinky figures out his secret, she’s even more all-in, even though she knows the only destination for the two of them is heartbreak in the extreme. Trucker and Pinky ride it out (literally…) as far as their fledgling relationship can go, but when the time comes to say goodbye, how can either of them move on?

Whew, this is spicy and delicious! (Much like my favorite local Indian restaurant, which I haven’t been too in far too long and where I could eat every single day of my life. Indian food is my favorite of all the cuisines.) This is about as far away from a chaste romance as you can get, so choose something else if you prefer that genre. Pinky as a character is an absolute delight; she’s dutiful to her parents but still determined to be her own person and live her own life. Her goals are, for now, on hold, but she hasn’t abandoned them. Trucker (whose real name is Tyson), is an enigma with a surprisingly enchanting center, a not-*quite*-so-bad boy with a heart of steamy, molten-lava sexiness. They’re two people from two entirely different worlds, but Suleikha Snyder has crafted some scorching chemistry between the two of them, and Pinky and Trucker are instantly believable as a couple.

Ms. Snyder has absolutely gained another fan with Tikka Chance on Me. I’m so looking forward to reading more from her. Not only do I admire her writing, she’s so open and honest on Twitter about suffering from anxiety and depression. There have been a few conversations lately between different writers, talking about their struggles, and, as someone who has dealt with lifelong anxiety as well as bouts of major depression that started when I was thirteen (which went mostly ignored by my family, since it was 1993 and no one really knew what to do about such a problem where I lived at that time), seeing people discuss their issues so openly is still such a balm to my soul. I hate that Ms. Snyder has to deal with this, but I’m so, so grateful that she uses her voice to heighten awareness and make others, including me, feel not so alone. It really does help.

To sum it up, Tikka Chance on Me combines the sweet and the spicy in a way that will warm every last cell in your body, and leave you craving both more from the author as well as a plate or twenty of tikka masala (make mine tofu, please).

Visit Suleikha Snyder’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.