#romanceclass

Review: Sweet on You by Carla de Guzman

01:09

Title: Sweet on You: A Filipino Christmas romance
Author: Carla de Guzman
Genre/Themes: Contemporary Christmas romance
Release Date: 19 Oct 2020

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Instagram / Goodreads

My rating: 4.5 Stars


Blurb

All’s fair in love and prank wars

For barista and cafĂ© owner Sari Tomas, Christmas means parols, family and no-holds-barred karaoke contests. This year, though, a new neighbor is throwing a wrench in all her best-laid plans. The baker next door—“some fancy boy from Manila”—might have cute buns, but when he tries to poach her customers with cheap coffee and cheaper tactics, the competition is officially on.

And Baker Boy better be ready, because Sari never loses.

Foodie extraordinaire Gabriel Capras wants to prove to his dad that his career choice doesn’t make him any less a man. The Laneways might not be Manila, but the close-knit community is the perfect spot to grow his bakery into a thriving business. He wasn’t expecting a gorgeous adversary in the barista next door, but flirting with her makes his heart race, and it’s not just the caffeine.

It’s winner takes all this Christmas. And more than one competitor might just lose their heart for the holidays. 
 

Review 

I have been a fan of the #romanceclass books (romances in English by Filipino authors) for some time now and I was excited to read a Christmas story set in the Philippines. This was a true holiday treat for the soul and it also made me want to try all the Philippines sweets described in this book. 

This is a funny, low-angst enemies-to-lovers romance, rather rivals of sorts, that get into some friendly competition with some pranks to the amusement to everyone in their neighbourhood. 

There is a strong feel of a close-knit community of people caring for each other. I loved reading about the Filipino food and Christmas traditions and it never felt too much. Despite all the deserts Gabriel makes, the story never felt too sweet. 

The family issues both Sari and Gabriel had to deal with made them real people to me. Neither of them was perfect, they both had fears and insecurities, moments of doubts and confusion. All this was happening while both of them were trying to build a successful career of doing the thing they loved the - baking for im, making the perfect coffee blends for her. 

We get to see a lot of meddling family and well meaning friends, and despite the love and care, there was also some family tension and past hurts. I appreciate that her mum's fatphobia got called out and that is dad's patriarchal views were examined and ultimately over-turned. 

The romance itself worked perfectly for me. It was both magical, based on strong chemistry between Sari and Gabriel and also real and tender. I liked how their intimacy developed slowly over time as they became more open with each other. His admiration for her, both her personality and her body, her learning to trust him, getting to see herself as worthy of his love and giving back that love ad support to him, it was a beautiful thing to read. 

In short, this a perfect holiday romance for me to. I highly recommend it as bit sunshine in dark times. 

CW: fatphobia, misogyny

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British

Review: Division Bells by Iona Datt Sharma

04:37

 

Title: Division Bells 
Author: Iona Datt Sharma
Genre / Themes: m/m romance, British politics 
Release date: 13 October 2020

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads

My rating: 5 Stars


Blurb

In politics, love is a stranger…

It’s a bitterly cold winter in London and Jules Elwin has no idea what he’s doing. As the newest special adviser to a government minister, he’s drowning in arcane procedures and party politics, and the civil servant who’s supposed to be helping him is doing nothing of the sort. Ari is sarcastic, intolerant and has no time for a special adviser who’s only there because his father is a peer of the realm.

Jules is only one of Ari’s many problems. As well as nursemaiding a special adviser, he’s got to get a Bill through Parliament, keep his irrepressible minister happy and stop his esteemed colleagues from hiding alcohol in their filing cabinets. And there’s something else, too: a deep, unspoken grief, that’s consuming him like frost.


But despite everything, Ari sees the world around him clearly––and Jules has been waiting all of his life to be seen.


Review

This is a contemporary m/m romance between a civil servant and a spad (special advisor). I loved everything in this novella, the exquisite writing, the richly drawn characters, both main and secondary ones. The story is heavy with political and legal jargon which I didn't mind one bit because it is very much similar to my own professional life. 

The writing is most gorgeous and it gives a strong sense of place (London, the Parliament) and time. There is certain melancholy to both MCs, for different reasons and their romance was both understated and a most tender one. It's the kind of romance I love the most, one based on caring for the other, providing support and nourishment through though times. 

I am bit wary of the main conflict related to work of the MCs but I am willing to suspense belief and feel reassured that things worked out for the best for them. 

I would be happy read more romance by this author. 

Note: For those like me, who don't know it, Division Bell is the bell that rings to call members of the relevant chamber to vote 

CW for grief 

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Alyssa Cole

Review: When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

02:18


Title: When No One Is Watching
Author: Alyssa Cole
Genre / Themes: Thriller, Racism, Gentrification 
Release date: 01 September 2020

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads

My rating: 2 Stars

Blurb 

Rear Window meets Get Out in this gripping thriller from a critically acclaimed and New York Times Notable author, in which the gentrification of a Brooklyn neighborhood takes on a sinister new meaning…

Sydney Green is Brooklyn born and raised, but her beloved neighborhood seems to change every time she blinks. Condos are sprouting like weeds, FOR SALE signs are popping up overnight, and the neighbors she’s known all her life are disappearing. To hold onto her community’s past and present, Sydney channels her frustration into a walking tour and finds an unlikely and unwanted assistant in one of the new arrivals to the block—her neighbor Theo.

But Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbors may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised.

When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other—or themselves—long enough to find out before they too disappear?

Review

I have enjoyed many of Alyssa Cole's romances and was curious to try her thriller debut but unfortunately it didn't work as well for me as I had hoped for. 

In this book Alyssa Cole has focused on topical issues in the American society - gentrification (in NY specifically), racism, police violence. It's goes in some dark places, both in present times and in history, with unflinching honesty and this is the element of the story I liked the most. 

I appreciate the premise of the book but I  felt the execution was far from perfect. The first part was too slow, too descriptive - we get to meet the MCs and see the attraction between them from the start; there are separate incidents happening in their neighbourhood but they didn't create the tension I  expect from a thriller.

We get a detailed presentation of some lesser known, even completely forgotten, history of Brooklyn and I quite like it but at the same time it felt heavy handed to me, like history lesson, not a book of genre fiction. 
 
The first half read like very much like a depressing litfic about two people going through rough times. I didn't feel a connection to either of the MCs and found their romance lackluster. Their relationship did have a prominent place in the story and as a romance reader this didn't bother me, what bothered me is that I was not convinced these two are good for each other.

The thriller aspect picked up in the final 35-40%, so much so that it went into wtf territory, too much was happening, some of it pretty unbelievable. I am willing to suspend believe in most of the romantic suspense and thrillers I read, I would have done the same here. But the first part of the book felt so realistic, more facts than fiction indeed, and then the final section of the story came completely at odds with it. 

The ending was totally anticlimactic and made no sense. We also got some loose threads that remained unresolved. Overall, it was a frustrating read for me. I would not recommend it but I have also seen lots of praise for it, so it might work better for other readers.

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Jessie Mihalik

Review of Chaos Reigning by Jessie Mihalik

02:16

Title: Chaos Reigning (Consortium Rebellion #3)
Author: Jessie Mihalik
Publication Date: 19 May 2020
Genres: Sci-Fi with Romance Elements

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads

My rating: 4 Stars


Blurb

Interplanetary intrigue and romance combine in this electrifying finale to the Consortium Rebellion series.

As the youngest member of her High House, Catarina von Hasenberg is used to being underestimated, but her youth and flighty, bubbly personality mask a clever mind and stubborn determination. Her enemies, blind to her true strength, do not suspect that Cat is a spy—which makes her the perfect candidate to go undercover at a rival House’s summer retreat to gather intelligence on their recent treachery.

Cat’s overprotective older sister reluctantly agrees, but on one condition: Cat cannot go alone. Alexander Sterling, a quiet, gorgeous bodyguard, will accompany her, posing as her lover. After Cat tries, and fails, to ditch Alex, she grudgingly agrees, confident in her ability to manage him. After all, she’s never found a person she can’t manipulate.

But Alex proves more difficult—and more desirable—than Cat anticipated. When she’s attacked and nearly killed, she and Alex are forced to work together to figure out how deep the treason goes. With rumors of widespread assaults on Serenity raging, communications down, and the rest of her family trapped off-planet, Catarina must persuade Alex to return to Earth to expose the truth and finish this deadly battle once and for all.

But Cat can’t explain why she’s the perfect person to infiltrate hostile territory without revealing secrets she’d rather keep buried. . . .

Review 

This is the final book in a series of SF stories. The series is billed SF romance but in my opinion all three books are rather SF with romantic elements. There is a HEA in every book but the romance comes second to the futuristic world and the suspense plot. I was unpleasantly surprised by this in the first book but I took up the next books with adjusted expectations with regard to the romance and I enjoyed them much more. 

This is the story of the youngest sibling, Cat, and it started with a rather unusual trope for SF, fake relationship and it did work well to create romantic tension, but it was over all too brief to add real depth to the romance. We moved to the the chase and fighting and travelling through space, trying to save the world and it was an amazing adventure till the very end. I loved how strong Cat was, how she masked her true self behind a bubbly socialite persona. She had to take the lead, to reveal her physical strength and sharp mind and was plagued by doubts and insecurities.

Alex was a great hero too. He loved Cat, saw through her mask and appreciated her strength, boosting her self-confidence, absolutely loving her for who she was. 

Ultimately this is an action-packed, fast moving story with many twists and turns galore. I liked the well drawn side characters and the cameo of the Cat's siblings. The world building worked well for me, there might be gaps here and there but overall I found it consistent and developed enough to make it easy and fun for me to follow the characters’ adventures. 

I would recommend the series with the caveat that it’s more of SF adventure with a bit of romance than proper SFR. 

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Historical Romance

Review: The Sugared Game by KJ Charles

07:14


Title: The Sugared Game (The Will Darling Adventures #2)
Author: KJ Charles
Genre/Themes: Historical, MM romance, Mystery
Release Date: 26 Aug 2020

Author's links: Website / Twitter / FB Group / Goodreads

My rating: 4.5 Stars
Blurb 

It's been two months since Will Darling saw Kim Secretan, and he doesn't expect to see him again. What do a rough and ready soldier-turned-bookseller and a disgraced shady aristocrat have to do with each other anyway?
But when Will encounters a face from the past in a disreputable nightclub, Kim turns up, as shifty, unreliable, and irresistible as ever. And before Will knows it, he's been dragged back into Kim's shadowy world of secrets, criminal conspiracies, and underhand dealings.

This time, though, things are underhanded even by Kim standards. This time, the danger is too close to home. And if Will and Kim can't find common ground against unseen enemies, they risk losing everything.

Review 

I liked the first book in the series just OK but thoroughly enjoyed this one. We get to see more character development here, both for Will and Kim but also for Phoebe and Maisie.

The suspense plot is engaging and kept me guessing to the very end. I had great fun following Will and Kim on their journey to figure out the mystery together. The final part of the story was action packed, very movie-like with a very high death toll (something that can be consider a staple of KJ Charles' romances :)

I admit I wasn't a big fan of Kim in the first book, rather,I didn't like the way he treated Will - the lack of trust and outright lies really bothered me. In this book I got to see more of the reasons for him acting the way he did and this helped me understand him better. 

Will was just great as a partner of Kim and as a friend to Maisie and Phoebe. His moments of doubts and sense of loneliness and unworthiness felt real and made me very emotional. 

I liked how Will and Kim acted like adults with regard to their relationship. It was not an easy thing for both of them to put into words what they felt/wanted, they made their fair share  of mistakes but they were open and willing to talk, to ear  each other out and ultimately they stood by each other when it mattered. 

The story ends with a HFN ending, a promise to try, a hope to make things work, to build something good together. There were no easy solutions, some hurts are too deep to heal overnight and this is OK. 

On a side note, the Bright Young Things are a big thing in this story and they are as insufferable as you can imagine (I fell down a rabbit hole reading about them in Wikipedia :).

In short, this was a lovely read on all levels and highly recommend it!

Note (16.09.2020) I have added a clarifying note to my review on GR under a spoiler tag and I encourage you to read it before picking this book.

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