fiction · romance

Book Review: The Intimacy Experiment (The Roommate #2) by Rosie Danan

I’m 100% always in the market for good Jewish representation in contemporary fiction, especially romance. There’s not a ton of it, so when I find it, I get pretty excited. That’s how The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan (Berkley Books, 2021) ended up on my TBR. But sometimes books aren’t what we hoped for, and this was one of them. And that’s fine. Not every book is for every reader. Here’s the gist of it.

Naomi Grant is a former professional sex worker, star of many, many adult films, and now head of her own company whose aim is to teach people how to have good sex. Over the years, she’s developed the tough skin necessary for people who work in such a controversial industry. She wants to move into teaching in-person crowds, but no one wants to hire someone who’s known mainly for being in pornography.

Rabbi Ethan Cohen needs to get more people into his struggling synagogue with an aging congregation. What better than to invite a former adult actress to teach a series on modern intimacy? The board will LOVE that!

While Naomi’s series grows in popularity, she and Ethan grow closer, but a rabbi and a porn star becoming a couple? Naomi wouldn’t do that to Ethan’s life and career, and Ethan is wary of placing the demands of his career on anyone. And surprise, the synagogue board isn’t happy about having a porn star teaching classes…

This really didn’t work for me. Naomi’s entire personality is brash, angry, and unpleasant. She was rude even to her friends and co-workers, and while the whole point was that she was defensive and lashed out first before other people could attack her, it made her tiresome to read and I had a hard time believing anyone would enjoy spending any kind of time with her.

Ethan was fine as a character, but I didn’t quite buy his whole, ‘Being a rabbi is too difficult for anyone to marry me!’ shtick; so far, I’ve met one single rabbi, and all the rest have been married. I understand that being married to someone who is clergy isn’t always the easiest position; the hours are constant and it’s incredibly demanding. But for Ethan to act like it’s impossible? Especially as someone who is apparently super attractive and has women throwing themselves at him constantly? Nah. Not buying it.

I liked Ethan’s open-mindedness and his sex-positive attitude (Naomi’s as well, but as she seemed so damn angry about it, it was harder to enjoy anything about her). His gentle pushing of his congregation to be more modern was entirely believable. But overall? I kind of had to push myself in order to get through this, which is a clear sign for me that this book just wasn’t the one for me. It happens. : )

Visit Rosie Danan’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · romance

Book Review: Rookie Move (Brooklyn Bruisers #1) by Sarina Bowen

I love hockey, though I haven’t been able to follow it at all during the pandemic (I have no desire to watch players and fans get COVID in real time, thank you very much). So when Smart Bitches, Trashy Books recommended Sarina Bowen as an author, I decided I wanted to read something of hers and started digging through what my library had to offer. And lo and behold, she had a hockey series! Onto my list went Rookie Move (Brooklyn Bruisers #1) (Berkley, 2016). It took me a while to get to it, though. Thanks to one of my New Year’s resolutions being to finally read all of the ebooks I’d been saving on my TBR, now was the time! (I adore my kindle; the ebooks just got pushed to the side in part because of worries about the library closing again and my needing to save something from my TBR in case that happened. No worries, though; I have a plan if that does go down!)

Georgia’s life is going pretty well these days. She’s the temporary head of PR for Brooklyn’s new hockey team, the Bruisers. She wasn’t quite planning on her father signing on as head coach, but they’re close, so it’s all good. She’s sharing a tiny apartment with a friend she loves. Sure, she hasn’t really dated much at all in the six years since she walked away from her high school love after having survived being raped while on a college tour, but everything else is perfectly fine. Georgia is finally feeling safe in her life.

Enter the team’s newest player, straight from the minor leagues: Leo Trevi, who just so happens to be Georgia’s high school boyfriend. Both are absolutely floored to see each other. Leo’s ready to pick back up where they left off; he never got over Georgia when she dumped him out of the blue six years ago. For Georgia, Leo’s reappearance in her life begins to dredge up old feelings she thought she’d moved past, and she’s not so sure about moving forward with him. But Leo’s patient, and Georgia’s feelings for him aren’t quite as over as she thought.

This is really a great, solid sports romance. Obviously there’s a content warning for rape; the subject comes up often (though never in any kind of detail) and is an integral part of the storyline, so if reading this would be difficult for you, it’s okay to choose another book. Be kind to yourself. Leo is gentle and patient at all times with Georgia; her moving on from him has nothing to do with his reaction to her attack, only her own misinterpretation. Georgia is strong and independent, but she’s lonely and still hurting, though she covers it well.

The romance in this novel absolutely sizzles! WHEW. I was rooting for the two of them the whole way, because they have some serious chemistry. And Sarina Bowen’s writing in the hockey game scenes is utterly top-notch. I was on the edge of my seat and could barely handle reading the tension. Who would win, who would score, the potential for serious injury, it was all perfectly paced and described. Ms. Bowen obviously knows hockey and has talent in spades for letting her love for the sport shine on each page.

This was a fun, fun, FUN book to read, and I’m looking forward to reading more from Sarina Bowen in the future.

Visit Sarina Bowen’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction

Book Review: Well Played (Well Met #2) by Jen DeLuca

I put both Well Met and Well Played (Berkley, 2020) by Jen DeLuca on my TBR at the same time, which is rare for me, especially since I hadn’t read her before (since Well Met was her debut. #writerjealousy). But I knew, knew, that any book that was set at a Ren Faire would have me scrambling to hop right back into that universe, and I was right. I just got really, really lucky that both were in at my library at the same time! NO WAITING!!!

Stacey, Emily’s fellow tavern wench from Well Met, has settled well into her role of slightly ditzy hometown girl. She had never meant to stay in Willow Creek, but after returning home to take care of her mother, post-heart attack, several years ago, she’s remained there, hooking up with Dex from the Ren Faire in the summers, working at a dental office, and wondering what to do with her stagnant life. After sending a drunken social media message to Dex one night, she’s horrified in the morning, then shocked to see that he’s written back. A thoughtful, heartfelt reply? That doesn’t sound like the manwhore she knows, but she likes it. A lot.

Their messages fly free and fast, and Stacey’s really loving getting to know this new side of a guy who previously only seemed interested in hooking up. As Emily and Simon’s wedding nears, she takes on a few more Faire responsibilities, and that’s when she realizes…the person communicating with her as Dex…isn’t Dex at all. Is it still possible to built a relationship with someone you’ve fallen in love with, when everything began as a lie?

This was cute. Still a great setting (Ren Faire!), still great characters (hello, Simon!!!). Stacey has a reputation for being a little ditzy, but she has a strong sense of duty and responsibility, evidenced by her commitment to caring for her mother long past the time when she’s actually needed. Fear of something happening to her mother and fear of change have kept her firmly rooted in Willow Creek, unable to imagine a path forward, until those messages from ‘Dex’ begin to add a little more color to the parts of her year that aren’t lived at the Faire.

Daniel, the male lead posing as his cousin Dex, is awkward and sweet, but lacking in confidence, having grown up in the shadow of his cousin’s swagger. He may have gone about his feelings for Stacey the entirely wrong way, but they were heartfelt and genuine. In real life, something like this would be a massive, massive red flag, but in fiction it works out just fine, and it made for a pleasant distraction of an afternoon.

I didn’t love this as much as I loved Well Met, but I loved Simon so much that I don’t think ti’s quite a fair comparison! And of course, after finishing this, I immediately put Well Matched, Jen DeLuca’s next book (due out in October!) which follows April and Mitch, onto my TBR. Two crossed off, one added right back on. I’m starting to figure out why my numbers seem to stay the same every month…

Anyway, Well Played is a cute follow to Well Met, and I can’t wait to read more from Ms. DeLuca. It’s extremely rare that an author is able to worm so deeply into my heart so quickly, but she’s done it and I’m here for whatever she writes.

Visit Jen DeLuca’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction

Book Review: Well Met (Well Met #1) by Jen DeLuca

I can’t remember exactly where I first heard about Well Met by Jen DeLuca (Berkley, 2019), but it went onto my list immediately. A romance set at a Renaissance Faire? Sign. Me. Up. I’m not that far from the Bristol Renaissance Faire and have gone many times throughout my life, starting with friends as a tween. It’s a super fun (and usually ridiculously hot) day, and we always have a fabulous time. (Although, when you think about it, any kind of history cosplaying is just…an odd thing to do, isn’t it? Can you imagine people of the future cosplaying as us???) I knew this would make a fabulous setting for a romance novel, so onto my list it went.

Emily’s life was headed nowhere fast after a crappy breakup, so when her sister needed help after breaking her leg in a car accident, it was no trouble at all to drop everything and move to Willow Creek to take care of her and her teen daughter. When Emily’s niece needs an adult with her in order to volunteer for the town’s annual Renaissance Faire, she figures why not and signs on to be a tavern wench for six weeks out of the summer. The Faire is fine- better than that, actually. Men in kilts? Fun fake accents? Fancy costumes? That’s all great (okay, maybe not the corset part). Simon, the uptight dude in charge of the Faire? Not so much. He and Emily start out on the wrong foot, and everything just goes downhill from there.

But there’s a growing attraction between Simon and Emily, something they can only explore when in character, and the more they explore, the more Emily wants. Getting to know the Simon behind his pirate Faire character deeply intrigues Emily, but can Simon learn to relax and give up control in order to fully let Emily in?

This was soooooooooooooooooo cute. The Faire setting was just as wonderful as I thought it would be. Emily is getting to know her older sister for the first time in her life and is really enjoying that. She appreciates feeling needed again after her ex dumped her after she quit college to work two jobs to put him through law school, and she’s enjoying the small town she’s ended up in. She might not know exactly what she wants for her future, but Emily is a comfortable character; she’s not struggling with multiple aspects of herself, and she’s content to take the future slow, one day at a time. I really enjoyed her.

Simon. Simon. Swoooooooooooooon. Despite the major stick up his ass and his grief over his brother, I loved Simon. Like, LURVED him. Uptight English teacher who grows out his hair and beard each year to become a pirate captain in leather pants? YOW. A few times, I wanted to tell him to take a chill pill, but overall, he was one of the most swoonworthy male leads I’ve read in a while. He’s going to be hard to get over.

I’m not a big series reader, but I do enjoy these books by the same authors, set in the same worlds, with characters that carry over into the next novel (but that can absolutely be read as stand-alone novels), so I followed this up immediately with Well Played, Ms. DeLuca’s next novel. Because more Ren Faire! I can’t go to the actual Faire this year, but honestly, this was absolutely the next best deal. I’m in kind of a ridiculous amount of pain writing this, so I feel like I’m not doing it justice. This is a super fun novel that will absolutely transport you from wherever you’re reading this into the dusty lanes of a small-town Ren Faire, and into the throes and push/pull of a new relationship that’s both sweet and steamy. If you like well-written romance, hot pirates in leather pants, and Renaissance Faires, Jen DeLuca needs to be on your TBR.

Visit Jen DeLuca’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: TREYF: My Life as an Orthodox Outlaw by Elissa Altman

Sometimes it’s hard to write a review of a memoir. The best memoirists are able to craft a narrative of their lives that centers around a theme, that has a direct story arc that continues throughout the story and wraps up in, if not a full conclusion, then an understanding that makes the whole story make sense, that shows the growth and maturity the author has experienced. This is what I hope for from every memoir I delve into (and I read a lot of them; it’s a genre I enjoy, because I appreciate the glimpse into someone else’s life), but I had a harder time with this in TREYF: My Life as an Unorthodox Outlaw by Elissa Altman (Berkley Books, 2016).

The definition of ‘treyf’ is something that is unkosher and forbidden. Ms. Altman writes a lot about what made her family treyf, and what made her treyf: her family’s departure from the religious and ritualistic aspects of Judaism; their consumption of unkosher foods; her preparation of pork products in her deceased grandmother’s kosher kitchen; the dawning realization that she’s not entirely straight (a much bigger issue in the 80’s and 90’s than today).

Despite its occasionally focus on unkosher foods, this is really a memoir of a dysfunctional family. Mom and Dad’s marriage was strained and unhealthy. Mom pushed her daughter towards seriously unhealthy eating habits. Grandma had some seriously repressed sexuality. The creepy neighbor moved away quickly after it became known that he had a thing for little girls; Ms. Altman alludes several times that she was one of those little girls, as well as being molested by a teenage neighbor (neither is written about in graphic detail, but heads up if this is a difficult topic for you). The family is close but struggles in a lot of ways, for a lot of reasons, and their struggles are common to both families from that era, and to families who have survived trauma or who have recently immigrated in the past few generations.

The memoir ends on a depressing note; Ms. Altman remarks that she is exactly the person her family made her to be, and that if you belong everywhere, you actually belong nowhere, a thought that gave me pause. Who do we become when assimilation is the end goal? Should assimilation be a goal at all? Why? Are we stronger instead as separate pieces of a mosaic?

I enjoyed this book as a story of a family with its own deep-seated difficulties, but that wasn’t what I had expected going in. The use of the phrases ‘treyf’ and ‘unorthodox outlaw’ had me expecting a memoir akin to Deborah Feldman’s Unorthodox, but instead, this was more along the lines of a random family that just happened to be Jewish and who rarely interacted with the religious aspects of it (which is fine! I’m not at all judging that, to be clear. I had just expected a memoir about a woman who had moved away from the religion she had been raised with, and instead found a story where her father fed her canned Spam as a girl).

So I didn’t dislike this, but I didn’t love it, either. Her descriptions of her grandmother’s goulash sounded incredible, however (even though I don’t eat meat!). Food is always better when it’s cooked with love, and it sounded like Ms. Altman’s grandmother packed that dish full of it. 😊

Visit Elissa Altman’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.