Second Chances- Lauren Dane

Hey, remember when I got sick a few weeks ago? Would you believe I’m STILL sick???

I had to go back to the doctor this week to get stronger antibiotics because the Amoxicillan wasn’t cutting and had left me with some serious ear/jaw/face pain, and I’m *still* not feeling great (coughing, runny/stuffy nose, ear/jaw pain and lack of hearing in my left ear, which is weird). I’ve got a message into my doctor this morning; she wanted me to call if I still wasn’t feeling great by Friday, so…we’ll see.

All that is to say that the other night, I was feeling like hot boiled crap and could barely move. I desperately needed something to read that I could just get lost in, something that I could enjoy but not have to work for. I’ve been wanting to read Lauren Dane for ages (seriously, she’s straight fire on Twitter), and her Second Chances (Carina Press, 2010) was available as an ebook at my library. Onto my kindle it went, and I crawled into bed and started reading.

After ten years of living in Paris and traveling the world, Rori Simon has returned to her small hometown of Oakley, TN for good. Her ex’s cheating was more than she could take, and she’s glad to be back near her family, especially her sister, even if their mother is more than a little judgmental and overbearing. It doesn’t take long before Rori, a late bloomer who definitely blossomed during her time away, begins attracting all the hot hometown hunks, including Jude, local libidinous Lothario and the half-brother of Rori’s sister’s husband. Jude is spicy hot and everything Rori’s ever wanted, but when Jude’s immaturity rears its ugly head, Rori finds comfort and long-term happiness in the arms of Zach, an old friend’s younger brother.

But remember the title: Second Chances has a lot of twists and turns, situations that you might not see coming, and impressive character growth. It’s romance at a fairly high heat level, including quite a bit of BDSM and D/s (I’m not opposed to reading that, but I hadn’t noticed the allusion to it in the Goodreads blurb and so it surprised me a little when it showed up), so if that’s not your bag, baby, there are plenty of other great books in the sea!

Rori was a little too perfect for me to really enjoy her as a character. I did like that she was a writer, and apparently a successful one at that, making a living off of her novels. Characters who are involved in any aspect of writing and publishing always make my reader heart happy. And Zach…he was a giant teddy bear of a character who was beyond sweet and sexy. I had his character arc pegged from the start, but Jude… Jude was a serious prick of a character in the beginning. I really liked his redemption arc and how much he changed by the end. It’s rare for my feelings to shift so dramatically about a character, so Lauren Dane really worked some magic here.

While I do have to suspend my disbelief a little for novels like these- small hometowns that are *that* overrun with searingly hot, single men who are instantly drawn to the heroine like cat hair to black pants? I mean, I’ve seen the dudes from my hometown and yikes– this book was exactly what I needed when I needed it: something light, fluffy, easy to read, a book that I didn’t need to think about but could just fall into and enjoy. There’s not a huge, overarching plot, no novel-length goal that Rori’s aiming for; Second Chances is more the story of trying to build- and rebuild- a life upon one’s return home, and it’s been interesting to look back on the novel and see exactly how many second chances really were in this book. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of what Lauren Dane can do in the future.

A side effect of reading this book was making the song Second Chance by .38 Special, one of the WORST APOLOGY SONGS EVER, run through my head constantly. The song is about a dude who cheated on his girlfriend and is trying to woo her back, with such horrifying lines as,

I never loved her
I never needed her
She was willing and that’s all there is to say

Like…bro…you’re not helping your case one bit by framing it like that. Maybe don’t do that?

Are you a Lauren Dane fan? Care to recommend any of her other books to me? My TBR list awaits!

Visit Lauren Dane’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

romance · romantic comedy

Big Rock- Lauren Blakely

Sometimes, you see a book’s cover and read the blurb and it’s so unbelievably over-the-top that you can’t even, and it goes straight onto your Goodreads TBR. That’s what happened with Big Rock by Lauren Blakely. Her name was one that kept coming up over and over again in the things I’ve been reading online and listening to, and so I figured I’d check her out. Off to my library website I went. Big Rock was one of two of her books that they had on the shelves, and after reading the premise, I snickered. Loudly. (For real, go read the Goodreads blurb. I’ll wait.) Apparently, the whole story started when, according to the acknowledgements, Ms. Blakely asked a friend if they could make a C look like an R, and…well, that’s some pretty clever graphic design, if you ask me. *snort*

Spencer is, to put it lightly, extremely well endowed. He knows how to use what he’s got, and the ladies about town appreciate his playboy ways. His life thus far is pretty sweet- son of the owner of one of the country’s most successful and well-known jewelry store chains, creator of the uber-profitable Boyfriend Material dating app (known for featuring absolutely zero dick pics), and now, with his best friend Charlotte, co-owner of The Lucky Spot, one of New York City’s hippest bars. With all that and a handsome face to boot, you’d think Spencer would be an insufferable asshole, but…he’s not. When his father decides he’s ready to retire and sail the seven seas with his wife, the man looking to buy his jewelry business is eyeing the WHOLE family before he makes his final decision, and this includes on-the-prowl Spencer. What’s a man about town to do but convince his best friend that a fake engagement will help Dad seal the deal?

But as we all know, when it comes to romance novels, best friends and fake engagements don’t stay fake for long, and within days, Spencer and Charlotte are seriously burning it down. Spencer can’t believe all of this was sitting right under his nose for so long. Just as he’s come to terms with the fact that he’s feeling something he never expected to feel, it all heads south, and Spencer’s got to make things right, FAST, before he hurts and maybe even loses everyone he loves.

First off, I’m usually not at all a fan of the whole ‘fake dating/engagement/marriage’ trope. I don’t like lying in fiction and usually find the premise so unlikely that it kind of throws the whole rest of the story off. That didn’t really change here; I’m definitely not a convert to the trope and you won’t catch me singing its praises anytime soon. But Lauren Blakely made the story work well for me. Spencer is a fantastic character, carefully crafted in order to not stray into chauvinistic territory. He’s confident without being smug, alluring without being cocky, self-assured without being irritating. That’s no simple feat for a writer and I very much appreciate her hard work in that area. He may have had a different woman on his arm most nights before his agreement with Charlotte, but there were never any hurt feelings, and Spencer was not only respectful to women- all women- he routinely stepped in when other men were letting their misogynist flag fly. As both a narrator and the hero, Spencer gets an A+ and two enthusiastic thumbs up from me.

If you’re more in the market for a chaste romance, you can probably guess from the cover that Big Rock isn’t the book for you. This book is a five-alarm habanero bouquet with extra ghost pepper sauce. Have your fans and fainting couches at the ready, readers, because Lauren Blakely leaves scorch marks on every page, and you’ll find yourself panting, “I’ll have what she’s having!” after every smoking scene with Spencer and Charlotte.

Phew. I’m glad I picked this up. Spencer’s definitely more alpha male than what I typically enjoy, but having the story narrated by him and having his every thought accessible made him such a sympathetic character that it absolutely made this story. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more Lauren Blakely in the future! *dons fireproof suit*

Check out Lauren Blakely’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.