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Currently Browsing: contemporary romance
Nov
9

Review: Rule Breaker by Kat Bastion with Stone Bastion

Review: Rule Breaker by Kat Bastion with Stone Bastion Rule Breaker Author: Kat & Stone Bastion Reviewer: VampBard Rating: A+ What I’m Talking About: Touted as a modern day Romeo and Juliet story, I was intrigued. I’ve always been a huge sucker for Shakespearean redux. An earlier story, modeled on the Bard’s R&J was West Side Story.  Here endeth your literature lesson. I promise. I did see a few parallels to these other stories, but what I never expected was two stories of personal growth and personal acceptance. What a message to convey to readers. While Mase and Leilani both come from vastly different worlds, the racial bias, and familial expectations are something we all struggle to overcome. It’s a real thing today. We’re all guilted into fulfilling a dream someone else has for us. Becoming someone that’s out to chase the almighty dollar. Our worth as people is measured by our bank accounts. And that’s a sad, sad state. I was so uplifted by Mase’s journey, as well as Leilani’s, I took time to journal and review some previous entries. And part of the reason I had to go back was because of these six words, strung into three sentences: Good thoughts. Good words. Good deeds. I really love reading stories like this, because they’re uplifting and help me walk my own journey. But it wasn’t just a really awesome, feel-good book. The Bastions bring us damaged characters. Their personal demons are larger than anything I’ve had to deal with, fortunately. But what hope! If Mase and Leilani can overcome their challenges, surely lil ol’ me is perfectly capable. I skimmed through one section. There’s a cancer-related death, and that’s my hard-limit, folks. I don’t care how it’s framed or gift-wrapped. So, I missed a little of Leilani there. I’m pretty pleased even without that aspect, though. And what I’m even more impressed with is the description. Rich. Description. I’m not even kidding. I felt like I was riding a wave a couple times. I felt as though I was sitting on a beach looking at stars. I was living a little of the island life on a dreary fall day in Michigan. Pick up Rule Breaker It’s the second title in the Unbreakable series. If you read the No Weddings series, you’ll recognize Mase. Kinda. He’s a more introspective and less jokester. I still totally adore him, though. My Rating: A+ Personal Favorite About the Book: Leilani Kealoha wants to be set free. Of family expectations....
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Nov
7

Review: Take Me Home by Lorelie Brown

Review: Take Me Home by Lorelie Brown Take Me Home Author: Lorelie Brown Reviewer: B. Rating: B+ What I’m Talking About: Lorelie Brown is a new author for me, so I was excited to read her newest addition to the Belladonna Ink series. Keighley is a twenty-three-year-old accountant who isn’t exactly looking forward to Thanksgiving with the family. Though her mother is very supportive, her Christian fundamentalist aunt gives them both a lot of grief because Keighley is a lesbian. Fed up with the whole situation, the solution quickly becomes clear: bring a date to dinner. A Craigslist ad then leads her to the perfect “girlfriend” for the occasion. In contrast, Brooke is a twenty-four-year-old tattooist with no real family ties whatsoever. With her bright pink hair, tattoos, and rapid-fire snark, she quickly became my favorite character in the story. Solitary in the extreme, Brooke’s independence cloaks a heartfelt longing for acceptance that she never had growing up, and she thinks that being invited to share Keighley’s will satisfy that need just a little. She also loves dogs, which completely sealed the deal for me. While I liked this story a great deal, there were a couple of issues that niggled at me during the course of the novella. Keighley’s mother, who seems completely wonderful in many ways, consistently tolerates the antagonistic aunt, but is then fine with Keighley’s plans to stir things up during Thanksgiving dinner. It appears to be a case of “keeping the peace,” and it was a well-written scene, but I just couldn’t easily reconcile the disparity. Later on, Brooke says that Keighley’s desire for a tattoo is sudden, but Keighley begins pondering getting one before they even meet. There were a few others as well, but, overall, these discrepancies were small, and didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story. Having said that, there was a lot to like about Take Me Home. Keighley’s mind is a very busy place, which is kind of funny much of the time, particularly when she’s trying to make a good impression on Brooke. Though they’re only a year apart in age, Brooke seems more mature and complex, while still clearly searching for something to fill the absence of really belonging. There are plenty of other great moments, care of Keighley’s sister and the neighbors, and, especially, Bennet the dog, who is my other favorite character in the story. The intimate scenes between Keighley and Brooke occupy a significant portion of the novella, and I think...
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Nov
2

Review: A Sure Thing by Marie Harte

Review: A Sure Thing by Marie Harte A Sure Thing Author: Marie Harte Reviewer: Nima Rating: B- What I’m Talking About: A Sure Thing is two stories.  One is the love story of medically retired Major Landon Donnigan and psychologist Ava Rosenthal. The other, unlike most erotic contemporary romances, is the story of their families.  In this instance, they are not just periphery characters that come and go to support the main storyline.  They are loud, messy, and interject themselves all over the place. They become integral to the way in which the love story develops. And like most families, they have issues. The Donnigans series is preceded by the four book series The McCauley’s—their cousins.  Ava is a cross-over character loosely connecting them, but none of the Mccauleys actually make an appearance in this first book of the series.  Author Marie Harte served in the U.S. Marine Corps and worked for Fortune 500 companies before becoming a full time writer.  She seems to blend those experiences together in Landon’s character.  He’s a born leader, total alpha male, and intended a military career through to retirement.  A bullet to the knee forced him out of that life path and he’s been making his way in the business world since coming home.  He maintains his fitness at a gym where his brother Gavin works.  It’s here that he meets Ava.  In that fateful first meeting, he corrects her form.  He will then spend the rest of the book pushing her to do better and be better at everything she does. Ava is an independent woman and doesn’t particularly like being told what to do.  She cannot, however, deny their combustible chemistry.  Her character submits and pushes back through every scene and every chapter. Landon is good at letting her make her own choices, but works very hard at persuading her to his point of view.  As both a mental health professional and a woman, she over thinks everything.  Being guilty of that myself a time or two, *coughcough* it was fun to be outside of it and watch the mental gymnastics she puts herself through in trying to reconcile her idea of what the man in her life should be with the one she’s actually attracted to. That she has a list comes as no surprise, but without being completely aware of it, she begins to adjust the list to fit Landon rather than requiring the opposite. Their sex scenes are unmistakably steamy as Ava makes the...
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Oct
24

Review + Blog Tour: Interborough by Santino Hassell

Review + Blog Tour: Interborough by Santino Hassell Interborough Author: Santino Hassell Reviewer: B. Rating: A+ What I’m Talking About: I wasn’t sure what to expect when I read that Interborough would be a follow-up to Raymond and David’s first story in the series, Sunset Park. While the latter ended well, this new narrative is even more complicated and beautiful, sometimes ruthlessly illustrating the fact that finding happiness and keeping it are two very different things. As was the case in Sunset Park, I found Raymond impossible not to love. Instead of the traditional trope of the wayward son failing to live up to the expectations of others, Ray never had anyone in his life to believe in what he could be in the first place—until David. Now that he and David have been together for a year and a half, however, he’s working two full-time jobs as well as attending college classes. He’s definitely got his mind on the future, but he’s worn himself down to the bone, leaving little to no time to focus on his relationship with David. Regardless, Raymond is a truly wonderful character, and I couldn’t help becoming thoroughly invested in him all over again. While I still had a harder time settling into David’s corner, I thought the feelings that fueled his actions were clearer in Interborough, especially later in the story. David’s desperate need to avoid feeling insubstantial in his own life does not manifest itself well at all, and when an abundance of alcohol was involved, I actually had to set the book aside and pace for a little while. As much as I wished I could have intervened on occasion, David’s own desire to stop himself, along with his inability to do so, made me feel completely awful for them both. I don’t often dwell on the sex scenes in a story, but in the case of Interborough, they were about far more than just the act itself. Even the most intimate moments between Raymond and David have layers of meaning—love, desperation, remembrance, and regret—and the shadow of loss is almost always present, creeping in at the edges. Oftentimes, it seemed that the literal, physical connection was only thing keeping them from flying apart altogether. While the relationship between Ray and David is the main focus of the narrative, Interborough unflinchingly examines several contributing factors that are undeniably relevant in our world every day. The fact that Ray is Puerto Rican and David is a “preppy white boy”...
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Oct
21

Review + Blog Tour: Bluewater Blues by G.B. Gordon

Review + Blog Tour: Bluewater Blues by G.B. Gordon Bluewater Blues Author: G.B. Gordon Reviewer: B. Rating: A- What I’m Talking About: Jack Daley is a man with secrets. After living on the run for years with his sister, Margaret, they’ve finally found a place to call their own in Bluewater Bay. But, hiding out is lonely business, and Jack just can’t help feeling drawn to the tall, gorgeous stranger who seems more familiar than he should. Though her autism is both a complication and a gift, Jack must learn to accept that Margaret is plenty capable when it comes to her own life, and that, with a little trust and faith, they both find happiness in the refuge that has become a real home. Having learned to cope remarkably well with his autism over the years, Mark Keao keeps the details of his life, and his diagnoses, to himself. He’s fantastic at his job, is involved in activities that make him happy, and isn’t remotely interested in anyone’s pity. Still, pride is a complicated thing, especially on the set of a demanding TV show like Wolf’s Landing. It doesn’t help that the one man who might finally be able to understand and care about him, is keeping things from him. But, Mark’s no quitter, and he’s not about to let Jack go without a fight. Without question, autism plays a tremendous role in Bluewater Blues, easily rivaling, if not surpassing, the romance that develops between the two main characters. Margaret and Mark represent very different manifestations of the spectrum, yet both are independent and manage their lives well. I believe the author approached the subject thoughtfully, and it seemed that a great deal of consideration was given with regard to research and dignity during the writing process. It was also nice to see Mark and Jack engage in, and eventually maintain, a successful and intimate relationship with such a sense of normalcy, as it should be. Whatever difficulties they did have were the result of Jack and Margaret’s past—and Jack’s habitual protectiveness—rather than Mark’s autism and SPD. Many of the things that could have been used as a means of dividing them actually serve to make them complimentary instead. In fact, Jack’s obligation to exercise that much discipline and responsibility for so long makes his handing control over to Mark seem like an enjoyably viable, yet mutually beneficial, solution. Although it’s not always an effective tactic, the author’s use of dual POV’s works fairly well in Bluewater...
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Oct
19

Review: When Snowflakes Fall & Like Fresh Fallen Snow by Tara Wyatt

Review: When Snowflakes Fall & Like Fresh Fallen Snow by Tara Wyatt When Snowflakes Fall (#1) Like Fresh Fallen Snow (#2) Author: Tara Wyatt Reviewer: Nima Ratings: B+ and B What I’m Talking About: I have a soft spot for novellas, especially holiday ones.  They are these little mini escapes in the midst of chaos; something I can start and finish while juggling shopping, baking, and obligations. They are a little reminder that sweets are not just cookies from the neighborhood exchange. Both of these holiday offerings are wonderfully sweet and fat-free. When Snowflakes Fall is the first of two stories about the twin Grayson brothers, Luke and Matt. I preferred Luke’s story over Matt’s, Like Fresh Fallen Snow, probably because there were more characters, more family, and that feels more like the holidays to me.  Both stories are hot and steamy with plenty of sexual tension.  Both have happy, tidy endings. I liked the threads of music throughout both stories, one at a New Year’s party and the other with Christmas songs leading up to the big day.  I could mentally hear it in the background of different scenes.  Subtly, it added a mood and some depth that would otherwise necessitate a higher word count.  Unfortunately, in their brevity, Wyatt relied a little too much on the clichés that seem to be forever hitching a ride on insta-love’s sleigh.  Frankly, I could do without another reference to exploding ovaries.  It’s actually kinda gross when you think about it. Wyatt is not alone in this, multiple contemporary authors need to find a new metaphor.  It’s not a deal-breaker though.  Grab a cup of hot chocolate, one of those delicious cookies, and curl up next to the fire with one of these sweet novellas as a holiday gift to yourself. My Ratings: B+ Liked It A Lot  &  B, Liked It About the Books: When Snowflakes Fall: When Dr. Christie Harmon up and moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming to escape a vicious scandal, she expected a quiet, lonely Christmas on-call as a pediatrician at the local hospital. But when she’s treating a little boy with a bump on the head, she doesn’t expect his dad to be so distractingly handsome…or single. In the wake of his ex-wife’s abandonment five years ago, Luke Grayson has been focused on raising his son Ethan. The scars from the split run deep, and Luke hasn’t trusted another woman to come into their lives. But there’s something about the sweet—and sexy—Christie that has him wondering if something’s been missing....
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Oct
13

Listen Up! #Audiobook Review: All I Want by Jill Shalvis

Listen Up! #Audiobook Review: All I Want by Jill Shalvis Welcome to my weekly feature that focuses on audiobooks. It’s time to… Audiobook review: All I Want Author: Jill Shalvis Narrator: Karen White Audio Speed: 1.5x Series: Animal Magnetism #7 Genre: Contemporary Romance Source: Library Loan After a delay (library hold list), I was finally able to listen to All I Want, the final title in Jill Shalvis’s wonderful Animal Magnetism series. This time around, we get the romantic story for Zoe Stone, the eldest Stone sibling. Now that her younger brother (Wyatt) and sister (Darcy) have found love and moved out of the ancestral home they shared, Zoe is feeling a bit lonely, although she would NEVER admit that to anyone. Determined to make her own way, she’s decided to try a few blind dates to find some one-night companionship. When one of Wyatt’s best friends needed an off-the-grid place to relax and recover from a work injury, Wyatt suggested he rent a room from Zoe. And now that he’s staying with her, he can’t stop thinking about how much he wants to get her into his bed. But Parker is hiding a number of secrets, like the fact that he’s not really a park ranger on vacation. The truth is far more dangerous, and Parker knows his stay is only temporary, so he can’t give into his feelings for Zoe. Even though this is the seventh title in the series, Ms. Shalvis has done a good job of keeping each story fresh and unique, while sticking with the small town romance formula that works. All I Want had a bit more edge and suspense to it that previous titles due to the nature of Parker’s undercover work. I enjoyed the added action and mystery solving along side the romance. As for the romance, I really liked Parker and Zoe. They shared an honesty that was touching and much appreciated. In a couple scenes, the raw dialogue was utterly heartbreaking. The author could have easily used Parker’s job and Zoe’s past to keep the pair apart, but the couple works through each bump in the road as friends fighting a strong attraction. In fact, the couple didn’t really hook up until about two-thirds through the book. It created strong sexual tension and gave me a emotional connection to the pair. I liked that the couple got to know one another and build the much needed trust before that acted fully on their lust. It works well for the pair and the story. However, I did...
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Oct
10

Blog Tour + Review: Pansies by Alexis Hall

Blog Tour + Review: Pansies by Alexis Hall Pansies Author: Alexis Hall Reviewer: B. Rating: A+ What I’m Talking About: As has been the case with every story I’ve read by Alexis Hall, I find myself unable to write this review without a great deal of regard and admiration for both story and author. Mr. Hall is as thorough in Pansies as ever, writing in layers that are at once complex, philosophical, and literary, yet which are presented through the reassuring familiarity of sensation, sound, and color. I don’t think that there is a single, exclusionary truth within the narrative, but, rather, a unique kind of acceptance that is difficult to explain. I don’t believe it’s exactly right to say that Pansies is the story of two people with a shared past, because it is so disparate in the experience of the main characters. The setting is the same, as are many of the key players, but the summation of its pieces has wildly different effects on Fen and Alfie. What I took from their respective histories is that the past is never a singular, weightless construct. It is as fractured as the lens of a kaleidoscope, each contributor’s perspective unique to every other. And as long as a single person’s shoulders are bowed under the weight of it, all are indefinitely accountable. Perspective, in general, is another important component of the story, and how the same quantity of time can be experienced in entirely different ways by two (or more) people. Fen and Alfie both left South Shields, but there’s a significant distinction between “having to” and “wanting to.” Change is presented similarly, and might be viewed as the crumbling of foundations vs. the awareness of possibility. One of my favorite things about Pansies is the enticement of the senses that seems to be present in all of Mr. Hall’s books. The smell of flowers and sex. The taste of wine and the salt spray of the ocean. A warmth strong enough to touch the chill that has nothing to do with the weather. And there are constant bursts of color—the red-black of butterfly wings, purple silk, and sea glass green—flung with all the moments they attend against grey skies. These are magical stories. While Pansies does have its share of serious themes coursing through it, it is also fairly packed with humor—side-splitting, tears-streaming, cackling-out-loud humor. Alfie is a mess. There’s not much about him that isn’t a mess, and occasionally that manifests in truly bizarre...
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Oct
10

Review: It Must Be Christmas Anthology

Review: It Must Be Christmas Anthology It Must be Christmas Authors: Jennifer Crusie, Donna Alward, and Mandy Baxter Reviewer: Una Rating: A- What I’m Talking About: It may seem a little early for Christmas.  I mean we haven’t even had Halloween.  But, it is certainly not too early for some fun, romantic tales set within the Christmas season.  I thoroughly enjoyed these three holiday novellas. Jennifer Crusie’s title, Hot Toy was my favorite.  I loved the humor and absurdity of it all.  The snarkiness and contrasting elements reminded me of one of my favorite Jennifer Crusie stories, Agnes and the Hitman.  Blend together hectic last minute holiday shopping with romantic pitfalls, and add a dash of espionage and action and you’ll have this laugh-out-loud holiday romp.  I picked up this anthology for this story and it was better than I anticipated.  I hope there is more to come in this world or at least with these sarcastically witty characters.  I absolutely LOVED Trudy and the amount of abuse that poor Nolan could take.  This story alone is a must read! Christmas at Seashell Cottage was a beautifully emotional tale.  Though humorous in places, Charlie and Dave’s slowly burning romance was heartfelt and honest.  I really enjoyed the nature of the story and the bit of magic (or fate) that played out.  Both Charlie and Dave had a personal, reflective journey, and I enjoyed how they handled it.  It was a stark contrast to the previous novella but was just as emotionally fulfilling.  I found myself lost in this small town, and rooting for this unlikely couple. This story’s magic truly touched my heart. The final story, Christmas with the Billionaire Rancher was sizzling and passionate.  Though Chloe and Nate start out as a one night stand, it was fascinating to watch how it expanded into being more.  I really liked Chloe’s character and her sense of honor.  When Nate and Chloe had their falling out – it really surprised me even though it shouldn’t have.  Nate’s reaction, once you learn the truth of his past, was understandable. However, I felt Chloe was justified in never speaking to him again.  That being said, I like how Nate doesn’t just say he is sorry.  He proves how sorry he is and how much she means to him.  I love how he redeems himself in time for a happy Christmas evening. All in all, three wonderful stories with the Christmas season as the backdrop.  I really enjoyed them...
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Sep
28

Review: School Ties by Tamsen Parker

Review: School Ties by Tamsen Parker School Ties Author: Tamsen Parker Reviewer: VampBard Rating: A What I’m Talking About: When I started reading School Ties by Tamsen Parker, I thought I was going to have to tap out about halfway through. Erin is a math teacher at a private boys’ school. She has the hots for one of her students, but does nothing about it (good girl, Erin). Since it’s a dual POV story, we find out Shep (nickname) is seriously crushing on her, too. And **something** happens almost immediately after Shep graduates. But I didn’t tap out. I did have the heebies (um, hello?!? Teacher), but got over them pretty quickly once I hit the second half of the book. I’m glad I trusted Ms. Parker to be sure her readers knew if there was something with extra squick factor. Readers also need to be aware of a miscarriage. Both Shep and Erin had HUGE phases of growth through the title. I was impressed at how realistic things were and ended up cheering for them to get together. Erin is a bit like me, I’ll admit. She has this huge sense of propriety while she’s working, and hides a curiosity for BDSM—in a collection of novels underneath her bed. Her positive outlook—although it gets a workout during the story—seems to be one of her strengths. Her responsibilities are to herself and to Hawthorne, the school where she teaches. Her memories of being on campus keep her rooted there, as she grew up the gypsy lifestyle. She endures several situations during the story to get her HEA. And OMG! I was totally cheering her on in several places. I adored her strength and her ability to move on. However, she does allow past experiences to cloud her vision when it comes to Shep a few times. Shep is pretty much the polar opposite of Erin. He’s heaped with self-placed responsibility from the get-go due to his family and financial situation. Also, at school, he’s a leader in both the academic and athletic communities, and needs to live up to those expectations. When he graduates and goes off to college, we end up seeing the real Shep in brief glimpses. He’s the perpetual do-gooder. Seriously. He manages to fall into an experience that helps define his life, and readers are only treated to glimpses and shadows of his three years of college—but it’s enough. Broody, and Alpha, Shep has a plan. Oh. Did I mention he’s...
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