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Currently Browsing: contemporary romance
May
8

Review: The Hookup By Erin McCarthy

Review: The Hookup By Erin McCarthy The Hookup Author: Erin McCarthy Reviewer: Nima Rating: A What I’m Talking About: Erin McCarthy is not an entirely new author to me.  I have read and enjoyed—some more than others, several of her contributions to anthologies.  So I’m not sure why I haven’t read a full length novel from her before given that she’s a solid romance writer with multiple titles and series under her belt.  From what I have read, her writing has a certain intensity about it, but that intensity totally shines in The Hookup, the first installment in the Jordan Brothers Series. In this book, McCarthy uses her intensity to accomplish the seemingly impossible in the romance genre—she writes a completely, brutally honest character who is uniquely likable and a seemingly worthless jerk who is, also, surprisingly likable.  Furthermore, there are no real bad guys as main characters.  The bad guys are peripheral, justifying certain emotions and choices, but almost without dialog.  The consequences of their choices interact with the main characters more than the people themselves. It doesn’t seem possible that an author could maintain tension under these circumstances, but McCarthy pulls it off. Sophie Bigelow is a socially awkward academic.  She loves numbers.  She likes problems she can work and solve and get a definitive “right answer.” It’s not fair to compare her to Sheldon Cooper because she’s more real than that, not just a comedic stereotype or punchline.  People are not so easy to solve.  Sophie is not adverse to relationships, but she has no filter and that much honesty can be off-putting.  As a result, she’s made it to her mid-20’s as a virgin. Sophie makes a good point, “When you reach the age of damn near twenty-five and hadn’t relinquished your V-card, the assumption is you’re waiting for Mr. Right, which basically ruins potential relationships before they even have a shot.  Or men assume you’re a freak.  I wasn’t either.” While at their family beach house in Maine for her sister Bella’s wedding, Sophie meets Cain Jordan. It felt a little obvious at the outset that the “bad one” in a set of gorgeous identical twin brothers was named “Cain.“ Even if everyone in the family has a name that starts with “C” how does “Cain” even get on the list?  His mother doesn’t come off as the brightest bulb in the bunch, but she is sincere.  Cain has just cause to be depressed about the circumstances of his life,...
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Apr
26

Listen Up! #Audiobook Review: Softhearted by Kim Law

Listen Up! #Audiobook Review: Softhearted by Kim Law Welcome to our feature that focuses on audiobooks. It’s time to… Audiobook review: Softhearted Author: Kim Law Narrator:  Natalie Ross Audio Speed: 1.5x Series: Deep in the Heart #2 Genre: Contemporary Romance Source: Brilliance Audio Heather has a history of falling hard for the wrong man, so she’s been warned to stay clear of the new ranch manager, Waylon, who is “just her type,” a sexy ginger with a shady past. Yet, Heather can’t steer clear and soon the two engage in a flirtatious friendship. Waylon has no interest in correcting the town’s opinions of him being a player who gets around and gambles his earnings away. Keeping his life private, he’s more than ready to find someone special and settle down. He thinks Heather is the one, but can he convince her? Softhearted is a gentle, slow-burn romance that straddles the line between woman’s fiction and romance. While it is the second book in the Deep in the Heart series, I had little trouble picking the book up. I only experienced a bit of confusion at the beginning, trying to figure out what may have happened in the first book and what was just general background information. The book spends equal time between the romance of Heather and Waylon, and establishing their respective lives and individual character development and growth.  What starts out a bit slow, ends up capturing my interest and heart. While Heather and Waylon’s love takes time to develop, it’s sweet and their story interesting. Although at times there is a little bit too much emotional insight that dragged scenes out, I still couldn’t help the sniffles and tears at other points. I really enjoyed watching Heather and Waylon work through and overcome demons from their pasts, learning to love and trust themselves before falling in love with one another. The narration is perfect for the story. Ms. Ross has a large range of voices. I haven’t heard another narrator perform a child so well – and I appreciate that the author wrote an age-appropriate child character. Ms. Ross hits deep masculine tones for the men and soft voices for the the females. I like how the narrator’s voice stays the same regardless of which point-of-view is presented. While some voices may be similar, each was unique and identifiable. The southern charm was quaint and sincere. She strongly portrays male and female characters from 5 to 55.  Although the story started slowly, I ended up enjoying Softhearted as...
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Apr
23

Review: Hot Response by Shannon Stacey

Review: Hot Response by Shannon Stacey Hot Response Author: Shannon Stacey Reviewer: Jen Rating: B+ What I’m Talking About: Working as an EMT in Boston keeps Cait busy. Couple that with the time spent taking care of her grieving mom and teenage half-brother, she has no time for a social life. And while she is attracted to Gavin Boudreau, he’s always gotten under her skin, especially after he referred to her as “ma’am”. But when she implies he doesn’t take his job seriously, Cait recognizes the need to make amends, offering him an olive branch in the form of breakfast. Gavin isn’t sure what he did to tick off Cait, but he’ll gladly accept a breakfast out, and then treat her to lunch. He finds Cait attractive and after spending some quality time talking, he realizes he genuinely likes her.  Hot Response is the fourth, standalone romance in the awesome Boston Fire series by Shannon Stacey. The story is a lovely mix of romance, family time, and hanging with the firefighters. The love between Gavin and Cait grows organically; it is sweet, sexy, and well-paced. There is an initial attraction that leads to physical intimacy and spending time together. The more time they spend together, the more they like each other.  Even though they have chemistry, there is room for conflict. Gavin is in a place to want more from Cait as their relationship grows. He’s frustrated with the amount of time she spends helping her family; but only because he feels she’s a crutch for her mom and brother. Meanwhile, Cait isn’t emotionally available after a certain extent. She is afraid of rocking the boat, and for good reasons, but it clouds her heart and causes problems. I like that this couple is great together, but has real problems and deals with them to get to their HEA. The story is well written and simply enjoyable.  Once again, Ms. Stacey makes big city Boston feel like small town family in Hot Response. She has created a tight-knit neighborhood filled with friends and romance. The stories are light but real, giving readers a solid love story complete with all the feels. My Rating:  B+ Liked It A Lot About the Book: Gavin Boudreau lives for the job, but he also believes in “work hard, play harder.” As the youngest guy in Ladder 37, he figures he’s got plenty of time before settling down becomes a priority. Soft, pretty women who aren’t looking for promises are...
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Apr
23

Review: Loving the Secret Billionaire by Adriana Anders

Review: Loving the Secret Billionaire by Adriana Anders Loving the Secret Billionaire Author: Adriana Anders Reviewer: B. Rating: B What I’m Talking About: Loving the Secret Billionaire is actually a retelling of the same novella previously published as “Grassroots” in the Rogue Desire anthology earlier this year. Per the author’s notes, after its initial release, she realized that there was more to Zack than was originally apparent, thereby opening the door to a richer, more thorough version of Veronica’s story. While I wasn’t able to finish the original prior to this review myself, I think that the addition of Zack’s perspective did enhance the part of Loving the Secret Billionaire that I read.  The nature of the novella typically requires the abbreviation of various aspects of the story, and Loving the Secret Billionaire is likewise subject to those constraints. Though expected, yet certainly not a deal breaker, I’d have liked to see more of Veronica and Zack’s connection outside of the “Oh, my God” sex they have. I similarly wanted to know more about Veronica’s interactions with her students and their parents amid the political turmoil that fuels her desire to run for City Council. Still, the issues presented are undeniably relevant and thought-provoking, which is a considerable success on its own. With regards to the two main characters, Loving the Secret Billionaire takes a different approach than most romances I’ve read. Veronica is a preschool teacher of Guatemalan descent, who has no political experience (nor access to the huge donations that seem to perpetuate the gross monetary imbalances that cause so many problems every election cycle), but is running for city council with the intention of representing those who would otherwise have no voice. Zack is a twenty-three-year-old financial genius who lost his sight in a car crash when he was a child, is afraid to leave his house, and is a virgin. There’s more to him than that, but more details here would take too much away from the narrative. It’s a unique pairing, which I was glad to see, and one that worked out very well in the end. In a world filled with uncertainty as well as a much-needed demand for change, Loving the Secret Billionaire is a nice addition to a genre that means so much to so many readers. While unavoidably abbreviated in places, and despite the occasionally awkward dialog during some of the most explicit scenes, I found Loving the Secret Billionaire to be a hopeful, sweet narrative that won...
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Apr
20

Listen Up! #Audiobook Review: Man Card by Tanya Eby + Sarina Bowen

Listen Up! #Audiobook Review: Man Card by Tanya Eby + Sarina Bowen Welcome to our feature that focuses on audiobooks. It’s time to… Audiobook Review: Man Card Authors:  Sarina Bowen and Tanya Eby Narrators:  Luke Daniels and Erin Mallon Audio Listening Speed: 1.25x and 1.5x Series: Man Hands #2 Genre: Contemporary Romance Source: Blunder Woman Productions Ash and Braht, frenemy coworkers competing for sales, have been partnered to sell their friend, Tom’s huge home. This sets off a series of pranks and sabotages to give one the upper hand over the other. Yet what it really does is put the pair in a position to spend more time together, something Braht wants and Ash avoids. Man Card is the delightfully entertaining follow up to Man Hands. The story features the romance of Ash and Braht, the two best friends of book one’s couple, Brynn and Tom. We witnessed their sparks and clashing chemistry in Man Hands, and it only gets more explosive in Man Card. Ash and Braht are perfect for one another. After first getting to see the prickly pair in Man Hands, I wondered how the authors would pull off the enemies-to-lovers story. It works because Braht has had a thing for Ash from the moment the pair met, even though Ash doesn’t have a clue. I love how adoring and attentive Braht is. He’s smart and recognizes the need to play his cards right to make Ash his. He plies pressure when it’s called for, is just a friend when she needs it, and teases her to bring about her sass. He gets that she’s been hurt and knows time is what is needed to win her over. He knows Ash and worships her. His constant presence ends up being just what Ash needs. “On most people you should check their pulse, but with Ash, I check for sass. If she can’t tell me to f-off, then it’s time to call the paramedics.” Ash is a work in progress. She’s mostly got her act together, but with the news of her ex’s parole, she flips a little. She’s confident to the core, but starts second guessing herself at times. Braht gives her the boost she needs to keep her head up, even if she doesn’t recognize it at first. While Braht knows his path, Ash has to find her way. She has to learn to trust her judgement again, and in doing so, we see her grow and develop.  While the book is foremost a romance, I also love...
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Apr
4

Review: Blow Down by JL Merrow

Review: Blow Down by JL Merrow Blow Down Author: JL Merrow Reviewer: B. Rating: B What I’m Talking About: Several months have passed since Tom Paretski got engaged, saw his best friend married, found out his “Dad” wasn’t really his biological father, and became the resident hero by saving a barmaid from dying in a fire. Now something of a minor celebrity thanks to news coverage exposing his psychic “gift,” he’s in demand for more than his plumbing skills—this time finding himself obligated to unearth a stolen necklace for a recently-wed, high-ranking member of the local diocese (who nobody seems to like very much). At least his life’s not boring. As was the case with the previous titles in the series, Blow Down begins with the discovery of a corpse. Poor Tom’s knack for finding dead bodies hasn’t subsided at all, and has once again placed him in the crosshairs of a murderer. With multiple suspects all capable of rampant greed, hatred of the deceased, or both, this was an interesting crime for Tom and Phil to crack. Although, in truth, I had more fun waiting to see what they, and the other returning characters would do than I did trying to puzzle out the mystery itself. One aspect of the earlier stories I wasn’t sure about, but which I thought was among the most enjoyable parts of Blow Down was Tom and Phil’s relationship. While they’re still learning about each other outside of their shared past, I found the teasing, protectiveness, and fondness that’s so evident between them to be endearing. In fact, the entire narrative is more affectionate than its predecessors, yet it maintains the familiar and comforting level of snark that has so strongly contributed to the personality of the series as a whole so far. Though I wasn’t able to get quite as wrapped up in the mystery of Blow Down as I was in the previous stories, it moved things along just fine. Despite the entirely new group of characters introduced for the purpose, there were somewhat limited options when it came to the sinister narcissism that seemed most indicative of the killer. While there’d be no story without the whodunit, it felt more like a vehicle for everything else that’s going on with Tom, rather than the objective of the narrative. Having missed the original publication of The Plumber’s Mate Mysteries, I admit that it has been nice to read them so closely together. As someone who is unfamiliar...
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Apr
3

Review: Play for Keeps by Maggie Wells

Review: Play for Keeps by Maggie Wells Play for Keeps Author: Maggie Wells Reviewer: Nima Rating: B What I’m Talking About: Play for Keeps, the second book in the Love Games series by Maggie Wells is good, but I did not like it as much as the first book, Love Game, because the relationship between public relations genius Millie Jenkins and basketball coach Ty Ransom is very messy. Their love story takes a much longer, and possibly unnecessary arc before we reach a happily ever after.  Some readers will think it’s perfect, others will be disappointed where it went. If you life is already pretty messy, you don’t necessarily want your fantasy life to be messy too.  Wells had an option; she took her characters down the harder—some might argue more interesting—path. I liked Ty.  With heroic patience, he commits himself to a course and doesn’t waver.  We like a steady guy, no matter what other characters throw at him.  He was always trying to do the right thing and Millie puts him, and herself, through the ringer.  With such a large personality, she seems to need a large obstacle to overcome before there can be a conclusion.  There is one, but it’s not the obvious one.  As is the case with stubborn personalities, she is her own worst enemy. Millie’s friends, prominent in the first book, are a little cliche’d in this installment.  There is a true Gilmore Girls moment that made me chuckle as much as roll my eyes. Wells substitutes wine for cookie dough, although I don’t know why you couldn’t have both, and does go on to justify the nod very respectably with some significant growth on Millie’s part. There is hot, steamy sex in this book.  A lot of it.  If it weren’t for the plot at the beginning, end, and tie into the first book, it might—probably would—fall over the line into erotica.  Ty goes along with all of it because even though it’s a sexist thing to say, he’s a guy with a pulse.  Ty wants Millie though, and he’ll take her any way he can get her.  My favorite quote in the book, and there were several, appeared fairly early on.  Ty says to Millie, “The first time I saw you, I recognized you.  Not your face, but you.  All I could think was, ‘Yes, there you are.’” *swoon* Millie is messed up emotionally and rather than dealing with it, she keeps it all pushed down with ludicrous...
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Apr
2

Review: Licks by Kelly Siskind

Review: Licks by Kelly Siskind Licks Author: Kelly Siskind Reviewer: Jen Rating: A+ What I’m Talking About: Growing up as neighbors, Gwen never told her best friend August that she was in love with him. And instead, stopped talking to him in high school when he started dating someone else. After a year and a half of the silent treatment, Gwen drunk texts August on her birthday, which leads to a mistake that ends their friendship for good. Fast forward nine years later. August is a full-time musician touring in Europe, and he never got over his feelings for Gwen. He returns home to see Gwen because he has an important message for her from her deceased mom. As one serendipitous event leads to another, the pair begin a 36-hour quest to discover the identity of Gwen’s father. What can I say about Licks other than it is one of the best stories I’ve read? There are so many things that are perfect about this story, it’s hard for me to capture my emotions and thoughts in a review. Right from the opening chapter, I had all the feels for Gwen and August. Their history is gutting, and so relatable. And as I read each page, every chapter, I fell hard for August and Gwen. I was flooded with emotions and the need to keep reading because I had to know they would make it. It’s always difficult for me to write a review of a book I just absolutely adored. How do I express why I liked a book that I connected with down to my very soul? But that’s just it… I found that I connected with every aspect of the story. Everything Ms. Siskind created resonated with me. The character’s emotions, from joy to despair, from heart ache to love… I’ve felt them all, and they are written so genuinely, so sincerely, that I experienced them along side Gwen and August. While the romance is utterly emotional, both tender and gritty, the plot to uncover the name of Gwen’s father is captivating. The unexpected turns shocked me, taking my breath away. There are plot twists that feel as natural as they are surprising. And the whole quest gives Gwen and August a route to emotional clarity and freedom from their past mistakes. The dual aspects of the plot—unrequited, unrealized romance and the search for Gwen’s father—played together perfectly, weaving and dancing around one another and together with sublime effect. Following the...
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Mar
26

Review: Can’t Stand the Heat by Peggy Jaeger

Review: Can’t Stand the Heat by Peggy Jaeger Can’t Stand the Heat Author: Peggy Jaeger Reviewer: Jen Rating: B+ What I’m Talking About: Stacy has successfully produced three cooking shows for the EBS network and is known for being able to get the job done. She recently pitched a new idea for her own show, one her boss is interested in, and tells her he’ll green-light it, if she’ll produce a show for him in Montana. Figuring she can deal with eight weeks on the road, Stacy agrees, only to discover after that the director is one of the best and most difficult in the business. Nikko doesn’t need anyone from the network looking over his shoulder and making changes to his program, so he was ready to hate Stacy the minute he saw her. However, she’s unlike anyone he’s worked with before and his daughter seems to like Stacy, and the more time he spends around her, Nikko realizes he needs Stacy for more than just his television show. Can’t Stand the Heat is the third, standalone story from Ms. Jaeger’s Will Cook for Love series. While characters from the first two titles make an appearance in this title, and we originally meet Stacy in the first book, having read the previous books isn’t necessary to enjoy Can’t Stand the Heat. Unlike the first two books (and much to my joy), this story is straight up contemporary romance, without any bit of suspense or danger tossed in. The story focuses on Nikko and Stacy—getting to know one another and learning how to move on from past heartache and pain. At the start, Nikko is an ass, not just to Stacy, but to all those he works with. He’s a perfectionist and master of his trade, but he’s unkind. His demeanor is in part due to his control freak nature, but also partly due to the physical pain he endures, stemming from a car crash that killed his ex-wife (the mother of his teenage daughter) less than two years prior. Worry for his daughter, whose life was completely rearranged by the death of her mom, provides additional stress, making Nikko unbearable most of the time. Yet, he is a smart man, and he recognizes the truth in Stacy’s kindness and learns how to become a better man by accepting her generosity, which allows him to grow. Meanwhile, Stacy has her own demons that drive her work ethic. However, she’s balanced, using yoga as an outlet for stress...
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Mar
14

Review: On the Brink of Passion by Tamsen Parker

Review: On the Brink of Passion by Tamsen Parker On the Brink of Passion Author: Tamsen Parker Reviewer: Jen Rating: A What I’m Talking About: Jubilee, a veteran SIGs pairs figure skater, has returned to the spotlight with new partner, Beckett. She was the SIGs four years ago with her husband as her partner, but shortly after, he suffered an untimely death. Vowing never to lose so much all at once again, Jubilee appreciates Beckett because he is hard working, dedicated, and has no desire to her friend. Beckett missed out on the SIGs four years ago, after which his then partner and lover, Sabrina, dumped him. Finding Jubilee was a godsend, and the fact that they are favored at the SIGs after only two years together is almost a miracle. Beckett is looking forward to the competition, and everything (and everyone) that comes along with the ride. Through a mistake in room assignments, Jubilee and Beckett are placed in the same suite, and neither is happy. Jubilee needs her downtime and private space. Beckett needs to get laid, but the Ice Princess won’t allow him to bring anyone back to the room. So on a dare/joke, the pair decide to sleep together. On the Brink of Passion is a wonderful, amazing story and by far my favorite of the Snow and Ice Games series. It works for several reasons, namely it punches all my yes buttons. I enjoy books where the primary couple already has a strong sense of an established, non-sexual backstory, which is especially important when characters fall deeply in love on a shortened timeline. I also love books that pull at my heartstrings, allowing me to feel the heartache and/or suffering of one/both characters, but also brings me up so high in their love. Finally, the story is well-written, lacking any side stories or distractions that detract from the ebb and flow of the book. The romantic journey begins well before the book starts – even though neither Beck nor Jubilee recognize it. The pair meshes perfectly on ice, creating an intimacy even though they aren’t friends or lovers. This gives the book a solid foundation for which their love affair can grow. The ludicrous start, being placed in the same suite and having sex on a dare, creates a forced proximity and more intimacy, once again, even though the characters attempt to keep a distance. Beckett is strong and kind, funny and determined. There were times I was laughing out loud at his...
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