Historical Romance

The Earl I Ruined by Scarlett Pekham

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Title: The Earl I Ruined
(Secret of Charlotte Street #2)
Author: Scarlett Peckham
Date of publication: 11 Dec 2018
Genre: Historical Romance

Author's links:

My rating: 2.5 Stars


Blurb

She’s beautiful, rich, and reckless… 

When Lady Constance Stonewell accidentally ruins the Earl of Apthorp’s entire future with her gossip column, she does what any honorable young lady must: offer her hand in marriage. Or, at the very least, stage a whirlwind fake engagement to repair his reputation. Never mind that it means spending a month with the dullest man in England. Or the fact that he disapproves of everything she holds dear. 

He’s supposedly the most boring politician in the House of Lords... 

Julian Haywood, the Earl of Apthorp, is on the cusp of finally proving himself to be the man he’s always wanted to be when his future is destroyed in a single afternoon. When the woman he’s secretly in love confesses she’s at fault, it isn’t just his life that is shattered: it’s his heart. 

They have a month to clear his name and convince society they are madly in love… 

But when Constance discovers her faux-intended is decidedly more than meets the eye—not to mention adept at shocking forms of wickedness—she finds herself falling for him. 

There’s only one problem: he can’t forgive her for breaking his heart.


Review 

This is the second book in the series but can be read as a standalone. I requested an ARC following the glowing praise for the debut book of Ms Peckham and first in the series, The Duke I Tempted.

I expected a diverse historical with interesting characters, exploring the emotional and physical connection between them but I got a messy, superficial story that left me disappointed.

I know female readers of romance often come as much more unforgiving of the heroine than of the heroes and while I try hard not to be that kind of reader, i really, really disliked the heroine here. My problem is not that she started as spoilt, well-meaning but careless, oblivious to her privilege. She is really young and acted in an attempt to help other women, protecting them from men who could use/abuse them. My problem is that I didn't really see her grow into a better person through the story. I don't feel she became a more sympathetic and understating person. Yes, there is some journey exploring her sexuality and desires which I liked though I think it could have used more depth and detail.

I didn't get a good reading of the hero either. He was presenting as strict and adhering to laws and conventions, while he was completely different on the inside. He acted so to protect himself and those he cared for. Yet, we didn't see much of his real self, moments when he was himself were few and far between and left me wanting more. For most of the story, both MCs kept their pretense even when they were together making the whole story feel more like a comedy comedy of manners of sorts. The plot relied too much of gossip, pretense and disguise. I wanted more honest and open discussions between the MCs, exploring their desires.

I had other issues with the plot as well, it was overcrowded, there was too much going on with side character and their stories, much of it not adding adding significant. I felt there was not enough depth and detail. The hero's past as a dom for hire, his whole secret life in the illegal sex club was vaguely alluded too, we never got to see him (or both of them) there. It was just something in the background while it was central to the character's personality.

In short, the story had the potential to be something new and refreshing but instead it felt messy, superficial and not as good as expected it to be.


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Contemporary Romance

Review: Three Little Words by Jenny Holiday

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Title: Three Little Words 
(Bridesmaids Behaving Badly #3)
Author: Jenny Holiday
Date of publication: 29 Jan 2019
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Author's links:

My rating: 5 Stars


Blurb

Gia Gallo is officially in bridesmaid hell. Stranded in New York with her best friend's wedding dress, Gia has six days to make it to Florida in time for the ceremony. And oh-so-charming best man Bennett Buchanan has taken the last available rental car. Looks like she's in for one long road trip with the sexiest - and most irritating - Southern gentleman she's ever met...

Bennett's pretty sure that if there was ever a woman to break his "no flings" rule, Gia would be it. Sure, she's stubborn. She's also funny, smart, and the attraction between them is getting hotter with every state line they cross. While Bennett doesn't do casual, Gia doesn't do "relationships." But if they break the rules, this unlikely pair might discover that their impromptu road trip could turn out to be the best ride of their lives.

Review 

I absolutely loved this book  - it's fun and happy-making but with serious edges and some darkness to it which make it the perfect kind of contemporary romance for me.

Gia is an awesome heroine, a fashion model at the end of her career - no bitchness, no aloofness but also no fake modesty regarding her looks. I found her stress of having to start something new/unfamiliar, the uncertainty, the sense of lacking (academic smarts, experience outside the world of modelling) very relatable.

She is also not looking for a relationship after being burnt before, one-night stands, or at best, a repeat performance, is her thing. And then she meets Bennett who turns her life absolutely upside down, rather helps her see other possibilities both in her personal and in her professional life.

Gia is battling an eating disorder and she is not quite ready to admit it. And Bennett is a chef, a top chef at that. I loved how this aspect of their relationship was handled, he didn't pressure her, his delicious cooking and his love for her didn't cure her, they helped her admit the problem and start looking for professional help to cope with it.

He is wonderful overall, caring and patient with Gia while dealing with his own demons, and they were some pretty dark demons. She was an unexpected source of solutions for a number of his issues. She literally made him face his past and move on from it.

They started are reluctant strangers, forced by the circumstances on a road trip that lead to unexpected and scary for them both intimacy and openness. 

The story ends with the sweetest, mushiest epilogue - perfect end to the series. We see all the previous couples and glimpses at their lives down the line were heart-warming.

The whole series shows great female (and male!) friendships. I liked how the family relations were presented in the story - re-establishing contact with one's family without forgiving and forgetting, some hurts are too deep to heal. Still, this was a hopeful aspect of the story for me. I also loved all the food, the idea of a community restaurant was new to me and found it really intriguing.

The writing was what I have come to expect from Jenny Holiday, lovely, engaging writing, real, down-to-earth characters, nuance both in the presentation of the good guys and the bad ones.

I highly recommend the whole series! (this book can be read as as standalone but it would be work even better if you have read the previous books)

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2018

My Favourite Reads of 2018

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2018 was a rough year in many ways but I had romance books to save me in the darkest times. Here is the list of the books that I enjoyed the most in 2018 - some backlist titles, some latest releases, some queer, some not, all around all of them affected me deeply.

Hurts to Love You by Alisha Rai is the final book in the Forbidden Hearts series and it completes this family saga kind of romance in a most moving and beautiful way. It's closely knit series working best if read in order - lots of drama and secrets, forbidden love and ultimately, carving one's own happiness despite the circumstances in a complex mix of family and friendship dynamics.. I loved the MCs and the side characters and appreciate the incidental queer rep. Goodreads / Amazon

Band Sinister by KJ Charles - historical m/m romance done in the style of Georgette Heyer's romances but queer. Light-hearted, fun, pure joy to read. Great side characters, an awesome female character in m/m novel which is still rare and I loved it. Review / Amazon

Tikka Chance on Me by Suleikha Snyder - a biker novella of sorts. Desi heroine. Cinnamon roll hero in disguise. High heat level with so much heart. It packs a punch in just a few pages. Review / Amazon


Never Sweeter by Charlotte Stein - backlist title, former bully hero, the girl he bullied is the heroine. Not an easy read but it worked for me. He does so much emotional labour and I bought his redemption. There was softness and unexpected vulnerability to this big man. it was the heroine who set the tone, who made teh decisions about them. Review / Amazon


Best of Luck and Luck of the Draw by Kate Clayborn, I just can't pick a favourite book in this series, they are all amazing, wonderful contemporary romance that deal with variety of issues - difficult family dynamics, close-knit female friendship, mental health and chronic illness, professional success and failure, grief, addiction, forgiveness. Review / Amazon


The Wolf at Bay by Charlie Adhara - debut murder mystery shifter m/m romance. This is not my typical subgenre but I found it very well written and engaging. Human MC with anxiety, his werewolf partner and lover. A gripping suspense/mystery plot, tender and heart-felt romance and interesting family dynamics. Review / Amazon


A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole. Portia and Tavish are everything in this contemporary royal romance. Heroine with ADHD, older divorced hero (maintaining a friendly relationship with his ex!) who turns out to be the heir of a duke. Brilliant, fun with a serious edge. Wonderful heroine who is allowed to make mistakes, to act out, to be imperfect. Review / Amazon


A Conspiracy of Whispers by Ada Harper - dystopian sci-fi m/f romance. The prickliest assassin heroine, most caring aristocratic warrior, great incidental queer rep. Interesting world-building, some issues re fertility/reproduction came as a surprise for me but in the end, I'd say they were handled well. Review / Amazon


Thirsty by Mia Hopkins - first person present tense POV story of a ex-gang member is the romance I didn't know I needed in my life. Hero with anxiety, trying to get his life back on track. Single mother heroine working to get back to her dreams that somehow got derailed. Review / Amazon

Make Me Fall by Sara Rider - m/f contemporary with cinnamon roll hero and a heroine recovering from a break up upending her life. I felt so deeply her struggles to make new friends, to start anew both personally and professionally. Review / Amazon

Object of Desire by Dal Maclean - murder mystery m/m where romance is not front and central but the story ends with a strong HEA, so I'm definitely counting it as romance. Review / Amazon

Rebel Hard by Nalini Singh - m/f romance set in the Indian community in Australia, a sort of modern arranged marriage, only with real feelings. Review / Amazon



Saving Hearts by Rebecca Crowley - m/f football romance. hero is a goal keeper at the end of his career, using gambling to deal with anxiety and mental health issues. Heroine is former football player herself, now working the professional football association, also battling gambling addiction. They are as mismatched as they can be. Review / Amazon (on sale for $2.99 at the time of posting)


A Daring Arrangement by Joanna Shupe - gilded age historical set in New York. I love this time period with its inventions and changing moral code and ridiculous, over-the-top spending. Review / Amazon
The Henchmen of Zenda by KJ Charles - This is a wonderful adventure romance in the vein of Dumas's The Three Musketeers but queer. It's based on the Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope (1894). It's fun and full of court intrigue and treason and sword fighting and an engaging romance between an older experienced gay man and a charming younger bi man. Review / Amazon

Contemporary Romance

Review: The One You Fight For by Roni Loren

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Title: The One You Fight For 
(The Ones Who Got Away #3)
Author: Roni Loren
Date of publication: 1 Jan 2019
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Author's links:

My rating: 5 Stars


Blurb
 
How hard would you fight for the one you love?
Taryn Landry was there that awful night fourteen years ago when Long Acre changed from the name of a town to the title of a national tragedy. Everyone knows she lost her younger sister. No one knows it was her fault. Since then, psychology professor Taryn has dedicated her life's work to preventing something like that from ever happening again. Falling in love was never part of the plan...

Shaw Miller has spent more than a decade dealing with the fallout of his brother's horrific actions. After losing everything―his chance at Olympic gold, his family, almost his sanity―he's changed his name, his look, and he's finally starting a new life. As long as he keeps a low profile and his identity secret, everything will be okay, right?

When the world and everyone you know defines you by one catastrophic tragedy...
How do you find your happy ending?

Review

This is the third book in the series but I read it first and loved it so much that it made me go back and read book 1 asap (spoiler, I loved that one too).

This series deals with a heavy subject matter (CWs are at the end of this review). I liked how the MCs' trauma was handled and the story showed them as human beings with complex emotions. The author managed to tell a moving tale of two traumatised people falling in love without making it into tragedy porn.

I loved both MCs, she is the school shooting surviour who lost her younger sister and dedicated her  life and her work as a psychology professor to help put an end to school violence. He is the shooter's older brother. Based on their past, they are two people most unlikely to ever get together. But they are more that the trauma they share, they have their flaws and strengths, their dreams and nightmares and ambitions and hopes.  

Their love is passionate, angsty, they both carry lots of regrets ad very much live in the past. Strange as it may seem, they help each other move on from the tragedy. I appreciate the hopefulness of the story. The support they got from their friends (hers were also survivours of the shooting) is something I loved in the story. They were dealing with their demons on their own and together but they also had people by their side who supported them unconditionally (unlike their families).

I think it is a great series of contemporary romance, I haven't read book 2 yet but I'm planning on doing it soon. I can heartily recommend the series but only if you can handle the subject matter

CW: violence, school shooting (flashbacks), panic attacks, grief

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Christmas

Review: A Wedding One Christmas by Therese Beharrie

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Title: A Wedding One Christmas 
Author: Therese Beharrie
Genre/Themes: Holiday romance
Release Date: 19 Nov 2018

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

My rating: 4 Stars


Blurb

Of all the weddings in all the world, Angie Roux had to be mistaken for a bridesmaid in this one.

Caledon, South Africa, is supposed to be just a stop on the way to Christmas in Cape Town, part of Angie’s long-avoided homecoming. She never expected to star in a bizarre comedy of errors, but here she is: convincing a handsome stranger to be her fake boyfriend for the day. 

Ezra Johnson, the handsome stranger in question, turns out to be a pleasant distraction from both the wedding and thoughts of her first family Christmas without her father. And he seems to loathe weddings just as much as she does. He’s the perfect temporary companion.

But a lot can happen in twenty-four hours. Including a connection so strong it tempts them both into thinking of something more permanent

Review 

This is my second book by this author and just like the first one, I found it very enjoyable and lovely, overall. This one is, as you can guess by the title, a Christmas romance and as such it's full of feels and holidays spirit.

The hero and heroine are two people running from their past who meet by chance at a Christmas wedding and form a strong connection based on sharing secrets they haven't told anyone about before.

This is s quiet, introverted story, very much focused on inner conflict. I have to admit it felt a bit heavy at times - the guilt and self-recriminations both MCs feel are not easy to swallow but they both need to work through their emotions before trying to be with someone, start something romantically. There was lots and lots of inner turmoil and I had to put down the book a few times but it was fitting for characters. They are two ordinary people, albeit rather sensitive and caring about the others, who carry a lot of baggage from their past mistakes. WE see them  trying to stay optimistic, to take a chance and trust their hearts and go after that HEA they both want so much.

The story has the loveliest, epilogues, one full of holidays warmth and happiness.

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