Ainslie Paton

Review: Love Coupon by Ainslie Paton

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Title: The Love Coupon (Stubborn Hearts #2)
Author: Ainslie Paton 
Genre: Contemporary romance, Roommates 

Release Date: 2 Oct 2017 

Author's links:


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My rating: 3 Stars

Blurb

How many coupons does it take to fall in love?

Flick Dalgetty knows what she wants and how to get it, which is why she’s about to start her dream job in Washington. Until then, she needs somewhere to crash, and Tom O’Connell’s place is her sole option. He’s a repressed, antisocial ogre…but man can he kiss.

For Tom, being around Flick is like being too close to the sun. Her untamed energy is overwhelming, and he’d spontaneously combust if he had to live with her long-term. Housemates with benefits—and an expiration date—suits him just fine. 

Then Flick gives Tom thirty coupons, each entitling him to one obligation-free activity, from bowling and bubble-bathing to morning delight, removing all the guesswork from being incompatible partners and shifting their fling into high gear.

Now the problem is their arrangement is drawing to a close, and they might be falling in love—and there wasn’t a coupon for that. 

Review

I loved the first book in the series and after a somewhat shaky start and ended up enjoying this one  too.

It's a forced proximity, opposites attract kind of romance. She is impulsive, messy and a whirlwind of emotions while he is restrained, reserved, a stickler for order and planning.

It was she who took all the initiative - pushed to become his roommate, then offered a roommates with benefits type of arrangement. Flick leaving for a job of her dreams in two months and Tom having professional plan firmly set where he is, put an expiration date on their affair. And while they were fine with it initially, slowly both get to want more from each other

My main issue is that I felt she was too pushy at the beginning,  and while I do see how it was a game they both willingly played, still it made me uncomfortable at times, her insistence for him to let go emotionally and physically when they were together might have been what he needed but I also read it as she knew better than him what would make him happy, it appeared like she was ignoring his limits, the restraints he had imposed on himself. I think his consent in a couple of sexual situation early in their relationship was not as explicit and clear as it should have been and this put me on edge.

I quite liked Tom, he was caring, and considerate. He followed the rules and expected the others to do so too but in his personal and in his professional life. Becoming a bit more spontaneous, adaptive to changing circumstances was god for him in the end though I'm not fully convinced Flick's approach to this was the right one.

In a way they both helped each other become better - he taught her a much needed control and distance in her relationship with her family, while she showed him it's ok to trust your heart and not have everything planned.

The  coupon game was fun but it did come a bit late in the story, after 50%. It gave them the safe distance to work through their feelings and allowed them to really get to know each other and fall in love.

The ending was sweet and very romantic but a bit rushed and I felt it was slightly out of character for them both. I have no doubt is was the right decision and a well deserved HEA but I wanted it to be  more fitting to their personalities as I saw them in the rest of the story. I would have loved an epilogue showing them after a couple of months living together.

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / Kobo / iBooks

#rombklove

#RomBkLove day 14: Family

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Family is really important for me in real life and I appreciate seeing different family dynamics in my romances. Sometimes the family is that pillar of unwavering support and strength that the hero and heroine need, in others - the family is what causes the tension between the MCs. Give me real, vibrant families who mess up but also learn and grow and change in the same way the main characters in the story. 

I will list some romances where the family and how it was presented/its role in the story has stuck with me. The families in them function in different ways but for me they are all memorable and they added a lot to the main romantic arc in the story.

I'm starting with Laura Florand's La Vie en Rose series where she explores a wide variety of family dynamics - a single (distant) parent, big loving families, sibling rivalry but also support and encouragement. She entwines her characters' stories in the larger historical context of descendants of WWII heroes (and traitors). Seeing the way the past has shaped the present and and how it affects the next generation adds a whole new layer in these romances. 

In her novella Snow-Kissed she examines a marriage in trouble which is rarely found in romance and the other novella in the series, Sun-Kissed has two older characters with grown-up falling in love. 

Alisha Rai's series, Forbidden Hearts, is a family saga type of romance. It's the complex and volatile relations between two families that lay at the center of the stories. We see revenge, guilt, childhood friends and enemies all making the romances between the MCs more than a challenge. 

Penny Reid's Winston Brothers is a series of romcoms about a a family of 6 brothers and 1 sister. I very much like how the author plays with stereotypes and readers' expectations in these books. 

Jill Shalvis also writes great families in her contemporary small-town romances. I love the banter, the true friendship, being always there for each other and at the same time not hesitating to call the other person out on their mistakes. Wilder series focuses on three brothers running a company organising mountain adventures, Cedar Ridge is another series centred around siblings which I greatly enjoyed. 

Next I want to share some of my favourite romances with  found families. I'd say found families are by far more common in queer romance but they also happen in m/f romances. 

One such example for me would be the three heroines in Kate Calyborn's Chance of a Lifetime series. They are more than close friends, they are each other's family (their relationships with their bio families are complicated and the women give each other the love and support they need and lack from their bio families). 

I also think of the queer characters in KJ Charles's Society of Gentlemen and Sins of the Cities series form their own families. Most of them are not completely rejected by their bio families but they have to hide their true selves and who they love. They can only be themselves with their friends and can fully rely on them and this makes them a found family in my eyes. 

Nathan Burgoine creates a remarkable found family in his Christmas novella, Handmade Holidays. It's during the holidays that the lack of family hurts the most and having close friends to share your joy (and sorrow) with again and again through the years is a remarkable, precious thing. 

My last recommendation is a romance with a mix of bio and found family which I consider absolutely amazing. This is Dear Mona Lisa by Al Steward and Claire Davis, contemporary m/m romance with two older men finding love, one of them facing coming out as gay to his college-aged daughter. We see different family connections at play in this longish novella, there is hurt and pain caused by homophobic parents, but also love and support by colleagues and friends. It's very moving, both heart-breaking and heart-warming. 

I could continue with more recommendations but I'm curious to see what your favoruite romances with memorable families are. What kind of family dynamics do you enjoy reading the most?


Author Interview

Friday Favourites with Lynn Turner

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It's Friday Favourites time again and release day for Pas de Deux, my guest's Lynn Turner, second book. Read on to learn more about Lynn and her book which is ownvoices contemporary romance starring a Black ballerina and the dancer-turned-choreographer who fell for her. It's a brilliant romance which I enjoyed very much and will be reviewing on the blog next week. So, go read this book and see some mesmerising dance performances put into words. 



Meet Lynn

1. Favourite place

Big Island, Hawaii. Black sand. Giant sea turtles. Tons of little pockets of space to get lost in. 

2. Favourite food and drink 

Chocolate and wine go together like me and my pillow.

3. Favourite music/genre/artist/song

Oh my gosh, I swear this changes every day. Spotify is my happy place. Lately, I’m obsessed with anything by Banks, Labrinth, Kehlani, Alessia Cara, Andrew Belle and Alina Baraz.

4. Favourite movie/TV series 

Pride & Prejudice! The movie from 2005, the series from 1995 (hello, Colin Firth). No matter what new show or movie I fall in love with, it never seems to top P&P.

5. Favourite hobby besides writing, if you consider writing a hobby 

I’ve been drawing a lot more lately, and my proportions when drawing faces are improving. I fancy myself an artiste now. 😉 

6. Favourite books 

Oh God, this gives me anxiety in the best way, hahaha. ::takes deep breath::

Romantic comedy: 
Anything by Emma Hart, Talia Hibbert, Lucy Parker, or Penny Reid. Their stories make a fool of me in public places, laughing aloud and talking to the characters. I’m looking forward to reading A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole.

Emotional terrorism:
Kennedy Ryan, Brittainy Cherry and Jessica Hawkins. I have to take breaks as I read their stories because I drown in my feelings.

Classics:
The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer, Pride & Prejudice (SHOCKER, I know), historicals by Kathleen Woodiwiss and Beverly Jenkins. Octavia Butler’s world building in her science fiction novels makes me weep.

7. Please introduce your latest/upcoming release (what inspired you to write, what can the readers expect from it, etc.)

I am so excited to introduce Pas De Deux to readers! As the subtitle suggests, “pas de deux” means “a dance for two.” I’ve wanted to write a ballet romance for a long time but didn’t out of sheer terror because I’ve never danced and the choreography and lifestyle, while intriguing, felt so intimidating. Then one day, I watched Misty Copeland’s “A Ballerina’s Tale” on Netflix and a story slowly started to take shape in my mind. I was so moved by Misty’s journey to success, and her unique experiences as a black ballerina, that writing a black ballerina became like air for me: I needed to do it. I was also inspired by the movie, “The Cutting Edge,” because of the amazing sparring and sexual chemistry between the leads. 

Readers can expect a journey of two damaged souls brought together by love for their art. Mina and Zack bump heads a lot, but their story is peppered with humor and little moments of recognition that were so fulfilling to write.

Blurb

It's said the artist is born of a damaged soul…

Wilhelmina Allende is a prima ballerina. When tragedy turns her beloved Paris into a gilded cage, she jumps at the chance to work with one of the most prolific choreographers she’s ever seen. But Zack’s style is way out of her comfort zone. So is his teaching method. And his humor. And his everything. He’s a charming little connard. It’s hard not to like him. Merde. What has she gotten herself into?

Zachary Coen’s first musical is opening on Broadway. Much like his life, it’s anything but conventional, so hiring Mina is simply out of the question. She’s too…classical. Too perfect. She’s all wrong for the role. Then he meets her in person and sees her cracks. Her broken pieces. How unique and beautiful each one is. And he can’t help but notice how her edges seem to fit his…perfectly.

Just when teaming up seems to be working, the monsters they’ve kept hidden threaten to rip it all apart.

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Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / iBooks 


Author Bio and Links

Lynn Turner is dedicated to writing inclusive stories that explore what it means to be imperfectly human. She is convinced she would have made a great Gilmore Girl, that writing about herself in third-person is weird, and that Colin Firth is the best Mr. Darcy (don’t fight her on this). When she isn’t writing and adulting, she’s tackling her monstrous TBR list, TV-binging, traveling, or watching old Samantha Brown travelogue videos and wishing she had her job. She and her husband share their home in California with their two extraordinary children and their sometimes cat, Bowie.


Historical Romance

Review: The Henchmen of Zenda by KJ Charles

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Title: The Henchmen of Zenda
Author: K. J. Charles
Genre/Themes: Historical, MM romance
Release Date: 15 May 2018

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Facebook Group / Goodreads
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My rating: 4 Stars

Blurb

Swordfights, lust, betrayal, murder: just another day for a henchman.

Jasper Detchard is a disgraced British officer, now selling his blade to the highest bidder. Currently that's Michael Elphberg, half-brother to the King of Ruritania. Michael wants the throne for himself, and Jasper is one of the scoundrels he hires to help him take it. But when Michael makes his move, things don’t go entirely to plan—and the penalty for treason is death.

Rupert of Hentzau is Michael's newest addition to his sinister band of henchmen. Charming, lethal, and intolerably handsome, Rupert is out for his own ends—which seem to include getting Jasper into bed. But Jasper needs to work out what Rupert’s really up to amid a maelstrom of plots, swordfights, scheming, impersonation, desire, betrayal, and murder.

Nobody can be trusted. Everyone has a secret. And love is the worst mistake you can make.

A retelling of the swashbuckling classic The Prisoner of Zendafrom a very different point of view.

Review 

This is a wonderful adventure romance in the veins of Dumas's The Three Musketeers but queer. 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

This story is a wild ride from the start. It's told form Jasper's POV, a jaded and disillusioned henchman who is loyal to his friends and the people he cares about. He is comfortable with who he is, absolutely unashamed and unrepentant about his life choices.

Rupert is dashing, vibrant, full of life and dreaming of having all the adventures. I loved how his bisexuality was very much present in the story and it was not an issue for anyone. He was a flamboyant flirt, yet he lacked experience with men and was willing to learn everything from Jasper.

I won't be going into details about the mystery plot of the story in order to avoid spoilers. All I can say it was very engaging and full of twists and turns and just when I thought I had an idea where things would go, the author took them in a completely different direction.

I find the theme of kindness and loyalty a recurring idea in KJ Charles's books and it had a central place here too. Jasper and Rupert are mercenaries yet they both value kindness and try not to do excessive harm, they don't enjoy violence for its own sake, but view it as a means to an end. They are both happy and comfortable with the lifestyle they have chosen for themselves (another common theme in KJ's books - the free to choose and shape your own life regardless of family obligations and other people's expectations of you).

And the story ends with the most perfect epilogue - love comes in various forms and the only thing that matter is for everyone involved to feel happy and satisfied, then all can be right in their own little world, and to some extend in the larger world too.

#rombklove

#rombklove Day 2: Betas

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#rombklove Day 2: Betas - Alphas may rule the world but betas know the way to my heart!
What makes a character beta? Why are they so irresistible? Who are some of your favourite beta heroes in romance?  


I have a soft spot for romances with beta heroes and I'm always looking to read more of those since it seems they are still outnumbered by far by the alpha heroes. In this post I want to share what makes a beta hero irresistible for me and also to recommend some of my favourite romances with beta heroes as part of the #rombklove event on Twitter this May.

There was an interesting discussion a while back on Twitter re the terms alpha, beta, gamma heroes and their possible alternatives. Romance author Olivia Dade came up with the term cinnamon rolls for sweet, kind beta heroes and I really like it. She has compiled two pretty extensive lists of romances with cinnamon heroes on her website which I greatly recommend (List #1 and List #2). While I like the term 'cinnamon hero', I'm still using 'beta' in this post because I think it is a bit broader than 'cinnamon roll', at least, in my mind not every bet hero is a cinnamon roll.

It makes me happy to see beta heroes appearing in all subgenres of romance, not just contemporary. They are precious to me, the kind of people I want to have around me in real life. Sadly, I see many readers who don't appreciate beta heroes and seen them as weak, indecisive, not manly enough. This all is connected to the issue of what we as society see as suitable masculine behaviour - any men showing an emotional side, treating their partners with respect and admiration, experiencing self-doubt, lack of confidence in certain situation, being tender and fragile, needing and enjoying touches and cuddles and quiet intimacy - are very often scorned at, even by romance readers. 

As I counterpoint to this toxic view of masculinity, I very much want to see such heroes in romance. They feel most real, nuanced and easily relatable to me. They represent the kind of people I would enjoy having in my life, so I go around recommending romances with beta heroes all the time.

I want to start with a couple of sports romances where the heroes were successful sports stars and the same time, loving and caring beta heroes.

Saving Hearts by Rebecca Crowley - a goalkeeper en route to retirement, dealing with anxiety and mental health issues by gambling (rather doing complex football games scores predictions). It was the heroine who drove the romantic relationship forward - she proposed a no-strings sex arrangement, she was the more experienced, she pursued him while he wooed her by taking care of her, helping her with her own issues, supporting her. There was so much tenderness and fragility about him and I found that really moving. 

Irresistible You by Kate Meader - Remy is a retiring hockey player who wanted to start a family, was ready to be a stay-at-home dad while his wife pursued her professional career. I loved the way he cared for her, his attentiveness and his admiration for her as professional, his full support for her pursuing her career made me admire him. 

Beat heroes in m/m romance

An Unseen Attraction by KJ Charles - I'd say both Clem and Rowley are beta heroes in a way. Clem was socially anxious due to his dyspraxia but he was much more in control in his personal life. He was the one who initiated and led things in their romantic relationship. Rowley was gentle and kind, enjoying all the care and support Clem gave him. I appreciate that the author allowed him to be afraid and distressed when his life was in danger. 

I would also say that most of Alexis Hall's heroes fall in the category of non-alpha, Edwin in Waiting for the Flood in particular strikes me as a true beta - gentle, somewhat introverted, grieving the loss of love in his life, feeling lonely, melancholic, longing for a close, intimate connection with another person.

The next I want to move to historical romance and I just have to mention Malcolm from An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole. He was competent at his job but also admitted how much better Elle was. He was not only not intimidated by how smart she was, he admired her for that, her intelligence and competence were a turn on for him. He was in awe of her and did his best to support her, stand by her without taking over her life/her mission. He did his best to prove he was worthy of her love and he openly admitted how little he knew of her life, how difficult, nearly impossible it wax for him to step in her shoes (because of all the privilege he had as a white man) but he was ready to listen, to learn and that made him irresistible in my mind.

Under Her Skin by Adriana Anders has a very interesting beta hero. He is a giant of a man with some anger management issues and violent outbursts in his past but he was also taking care of all the stray animals around and he was most tender and supporting of the heroine who was dealing with the aftermath of horrific abuse. Their relationship was a first for both them in many respects. being together they discovered new aspects of their personality and sexuality. He felt comfortable showing a gentler, softer side of him, one that he had always kept hidden because everyone expected/wanted him to be big and strong and rough, no one looked for gentleness and tenderness and surrender from him. It was a very moving, emotionally charged romance.

The last beta hero I want to mention is Ben from Beginner's Luck by Kate Clayborn. On top of being gentle and caring and supporting and admiring the heroine, he was also kind with his family and friends. I loved the way he cared about the important people in his life - his father, the troubled disabled teen he took under his wing, trying his best with his mother and step-father, being loyal to his friend.

I could continue with more beta heroes that I loved but I'm also looking to discover new ones and would appreciate any recommendations you want to share.  


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