Reviews

Review: Fireworks by Sarina Bowen

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Title: Firework (True North #6) 
Author: Sarina Bowen
Genre/Themes: Contemporary romance
Release Date: 13 Nov 2018

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

My rating: 4 Stars


Blurb

Skye Copeland is on paid leave from her broadcasting job after accidentally drawing a pecker on the traffic map.

Let that sink in. Like it’s her fault the traffic pattern created a perfect schlong?

Skye isn’t laughing. She needs this job. And that’s the only reason she’s willing to chase down a story in her least favorite place—that hell on earth known as Vermont.

A quick trip. In and out. Much like - never mind. She can sneak into the town that once tried to break her, get the story and slide back into the good graces of her producer. Easy peasy.

But things go sideways the moment she steps over the county line. Her stepsister is running from a violent drug dealer. And the cop on the case is none other than Benito Rossi, the man who broke Skye’s teenage heart.

His dark brown eyes still tear her apart. And even as she steels herself to finally tell him off after twelve years, the old fireworks are still there.

Things are about to go boom.

Review

This is the next installment in the True North series and it's a small town romance mixed with second chance at love with heroine returning to her hometown.
Benito and Skye's story has an easy, natural flow, though I was not a fan of the childhood/young adulthood flashbacks. The felt the narration style and the omniscient 3rd person POV clashed with the rest of the story. I liked the perspective their added to the present-day relations between the MCs (the supporting cast) but not the way it was presented. 
Benito is close to perfect as any romance hero can be in my eyes – caring, loving, fighting the good fight (a police officer going after drug dealers), loyal to his friends and family.
The heroine was more complex, there a bigger internal conflict with Skye –  having to do with her past, her job, her future as a whole. I’m conflicted about her view of her own sexuality but I would say is demisexual, just doesn’t know the word for it. Either way, he is patient and supportive and I love him for standing by her but also giving her time/space to figure things out.
Overall it's a light-hearted, easy read despite touching on some heavy subjects as poverty, abuse, broken families, drugs
Loved catching up on the Rossis and the Shipleys, loved the small town sense of community and support. It could be just wishful thinking of everyone running a successful business in a small town without a single financial care in the world, but it’s a wishful thinking that makes feel good and happy and that’s why I read romance. Sometimes I am all about the darkness and drama, other times good people getting good things works perfectly for me.
CW for crooked cop, verbal (sexual) abuse

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Ainslie Paton

Mini Reviews and Reading Recap #12

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Tinsel in a Tangle by Ainslie Paton

This is a sweet low-heat holiday novella. Nice but I expected more. I liked the cinnamon roll kind of hero – a geek with a bit of rough exterior but with the most caring heart. A lively, bubbly sort of heroine who tries to please everyone and needs help going after what she wants for herself. One office Christmas party gone wrong. It’s perfectly nice story but too low on conflict, too tame and just skimming the surface of a potential love connection.

I really enjoy this author’s voice and writing style but this was not one of my favourite books of hers. 3 stars


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Sin and Ink by Naima Simone


I had great expectations but this story didn’t quite work for me. I’m here for all the angst and they can’t be together because heroine was married to hero’s brother who died but wanted more depth of the story and more character development. There were lots and lots and lots intense erotic scenes, a bit much for me, and not enough other things. I understood the lust and pining but wasn’t on board with the animalistic comparisons all the time. It really bothered me the way her love/sex life with her dead husband was presented as lacking in comparison with her time with the hero. Why make her discover her wild side when she was happy and satisfied with her first lover/romantic partner/husband? 

I didn't like his family for their lack of support, his mother came off a caricature image of evil and hate and I didn’t appreciate that at all.

There was little character/plot development for most of the story – just lust and lots of regrets and guilt. Things picked up in the last quarter of the story but it was not enough to save the story for me. They got their HEA but I wanted to see how their relationship will affect those around them. 2 stars


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Never Sweeter by Charlotte Stein


I was reluctant to pick this up despite all my friends really loving because it’s a former bully redemption story and I wasn’t sure the author can pull it off. And she did in a spectacular way! I don’t think I have seen another male character do so much, including emotional labour, to make amends and redemption.

The story is very emotionally intense, the physical violence the heroine suffered from the bullies in her past is truly horrific. The story worked for me because I saw the former bully is a cinnamon roll hero at heart who truly regrets his behaviour and wants to be and do better. The author managed to convince me of the sincerity of his regret and I could understand the heroine forgiving him.e

Emotionally charged, painful, story but ultimately hopeful which what I value the most in romance. High heat level. Multidimensional characters. The hero’s vulnerability, his insecurity about his body, her own view of herself being fat really stood out for me. It was all about building trust and both characters moving from their past selves and getting to feel comfortable about who they are now and about the happiness and satisfaction they feel when they are together. 

The dark moment was terribly dark, for a moment I was worried they won’t be able to come back from it but the HFN was perfectly fitting for their relationship. 5 stars
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I also finished Fireworks, next book in the True North series by Sarina Bowen. I quite liked it despite some minor issues. And we got to catch up on the rest of the Shipleys and Rossis siblings, so that was fun too. I will review it closer to release in November.

Currently reading A Summer for Scandal by Lydia san Andres, historical m/f romance set on a fictional Caribbean island. Heroine writes naughty serial under a pen name, hero is a writer too. I'm only a couple of chapters in and it grabbed me from the start.

Historical Romance

Review: Band Sinister by KJ Charles

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Title: Band Sinister 
Author: KJ Charles
Genre/Themes: Historical, MM romance
Release Date: 11 Oct 2018

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

My rating: 5 Stars


Blurb

Sir Philip Rookwood is the disgrace of the county. He’s a rake and an atheist, and the rumours about his hellfire club, the Murder, can only be spoken in whispers. (Orgies. It’s orgies.)

Guy Frisby and his sister Amanda live in rural seclusion after a family scandal. But when Amanda breaks her leg in a riding accident, she’s forced to recuperate at Rookwood Hall, where Sir Philip is hosting the Murder. 

Guy rushes to protect her, but the Murder aren’t what he expects. They’re educated, fascinating people, and the notorious Sir Philip turns out to be charming, kind—and dangerously attractive. 

In this private space where anything goes, the longings Guy has stifled all his life are impossible to resist...and so is Philip. But all too soon the rural rumour mill threatens both Guy and Amanda. The innocent country gentleman has lost his heart to the bastard baronet—but does he dare lose his reputation too?

Review 


This story is such a delightful queer historical romp made up of fun and fluff and gorgeous writing. There are none of the murders and gore we have come to expect in KJ Charles' romances, just a nasty broken legs and some alluded beating in the past. What we get is the same wonderfully complex and morally dubious characters . 

It's the story of Guy and his sister Amanda, both discovering the hellfire club Murder and falling in love. I loved the MCs, as well the supporting cast of diverse characters. Amanda was awesome, often eclipsing even Guy and Philip and she is the kind of female representation in m/m romance that I want to see more often, not to say always. 

I won't be going into details of the story because the plot is suspenseful and dramatic and I feel would work better to go into it blind. I found the first part really funny, light-hearted while things a more serious turn in the second half. 

Guy is a virgin hero discovering the possibility for love, affection, friendship, in a way he is having his whole world turned upside down and his journey of self-discovery and world-discovery is a pleasure to follow. He is the embodiment of quiet strength and resilience, appearing meek and bland on the surface but full of fire and life and curiosity. 

Philip is basically noble bastard hero who becomes aware of his own position of privilege and falls for the least likely man. He gets to teach Guy a lot of things, to open his eyes and turn upside down his beliefs and principle but he also learns a lot from Guy. His relationship with Guy makes him re-examine and re-evaluate his own position and principles in life. I'd say they both bring out the best in each other and that is what makes their relationship so special in my eyes. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the secondary plot with Guy’s sister – she did steal the show in the early pages of the book and was a delight to read throughout. She is his opposite – outgoing, adventurous, taking risks, not a virgin! And I loved seeing the beauty in their difference and how being one or the other doesn’t make you less deserving of HEA. 

There are many discussions on social norms and propriety and how false all this can be and how much more satisfying it can be to follow your own counsel and not public opinion. At the same time there is a dose of reality with all the hardships lack of money and the possibility for earning one’s living. It’s a theme common of KJ’s books – a privileged character comes to realise their own privilege and respectively see the marginalised/underprivileged situation of the other MC(s). 

In short, this a very entertaining diverse queer romance with great MCs and fascinating supporting characters. It has a similar feel to The Henchmen of Zenda - fun and light-hearted while still tackling serious social and moral issues under the guise of adventures and humour. 

Highly recommended!

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Carla de Guzman

Mini Reviews and Reading Recap #11

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Rebel Hard by Nalini Singh

I love her Psy-Changeling series but her contemporaries have been a hit or miss for me. This one was on the hit side, I'm happy to say. It’s modern arrange marriage romance of sorts set in the Indian community in New Zealand. The story is full of cultural and everyday details about the community and the tension between tradition and modern values/desire for freedom which cause the main conflict in the story. I’d say it’s a kind of an epic love story, one about choice and freedom, loyalty to oneself and one's family. I liked seeing how immersed in the community/their families both MCs are. And I absolutely loved them both. 

Nalini Singh tells a moving story about how one’s dreams can change because one’s circumstances change. It’s about finding a way to make things work, about trust and compromise which are at the centre of any relationship. Breaking free is not a goal in itself, it's a means to achieve happiness and when being with another person is what makes you happy, you two work to give each other that freedom and that connection and support.

It’s a past paced story, rich in details and ultimately one big celebration of love (it features multiple wedding, mostly Indian style ones but also one non-Indian beach wedding). And it has a fabulous ending full of love and quiet happiness. 

Highly recommended read! 5 stars

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How She likes It by Carla de Guzman

This a romanceclass title (a community of Filipino authors who write romance in English, and also the readers of these books) and my first by this author. It was absolutely lovely. I enjoyed everything about it - older successful CEO heroine, younger single dad hero, one night stand and then he ends up working as her assistant. Great fat rep in the heroine, awkward, a bit clumsy giant of a hero. It's practically my catnip and I loved the romance arc, the way they dealt with the power imbalance between them, them being at different stage sin their lives and yet, complimenting each other. Tense, dynamic story, lots of reflections on family/friendship dynamics. 

A bit of the evil ex trope which I didn't particularly like. I could understand his resentment and conflicting emotions re the mother of his child, yet she was continuously presented in negative light and judged for her (non-traditional) choices. Unlike the heroine who made her own non-traditional choices and was applauded, admired by the hero for them. 

Still, this is a very intense, compelling but also down-to-earth contemporary romance. I loved that it allowed for the heroine to be determined, business savvy, in control and professionally successful while the hero was still finding his way professionally, happy and satisfied to be a father, not focused on professional success so much. 4 stars

I already have If the Dress Fits, an earlier romance in the same setting, and I want to read it as soon as possible.

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I just finished Best of Luck by Kate Clayborn and I’m lost for words to express how much I loved it. It’s the perfect ending to a great series of contemporary romance. It releases in November and I will be reviewing it in detail closer to release date. For now, I will only say that Kate broke my heart with these books and put it back together in a most delicious way. I just can't recommend this series enough.

Currently reading: Band Sinister by KJ Charles and it’s such a fun, feel-good historical romance, a romcom, I dare say and I’m having so much fun with it. It releases on Oct 11 and I will review it properly soon.


Historical Romance

Mini Reviews and Reading Recap #10

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I finished two historicals by Joanna Shupe in the past few weeks - A Daring Arrangement and an ARC of A Notorious Vow (out on Sept 25) - books 1 and 3 in her new Gilded Age series.

A Notorious Vow
A historical romance with a deaf reclusive hero, and a virgin noble heroine as MCs. I liked the disability rep (I have no experience with deafness myself, so I'm speaking from the position of an outsider), we see the deaf hero in a position of privilege and how the support and the good financial situation helped him and provided him with opportunities to succeed despite being deaf. Still, there was a poignant plot element revealing the vulnerability (in legal and purely personal sense) of deaf people at the time.

I loved the hero but I was not the biggest fan of the heroine. He was interesting, smart, caring, loving and I enjoyed following his character journey. She, on the other had, she was very much the meek, clueless virgin heroine we so often see in historical romance. It took a while for her to stand up for herself and to act with more confidence and determination and by the end of the book I had much more respect for her.

My main complaint was that the villains felt like caricatures of evilness rather than real people. Her her parents, his cousin, they were over the top in their villainy and lacked nuanced and character development. 3.5 stars

CW for scenes of violence and abuse in mental hospital, ableist language (that got challenged on page). 

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A Daring Arrangement
I loved this fun fake engagement romance. And it was all because of the heroine who was, bubbly and energetic, doing everything for love, daring, spontaneous while also having moments of self doubt and insecurity. 

The hero was rather interesting too - successful and smart, bon vivant, not ashamed of how much money he makes and he spends freely and with abandon. He does everything to help the heroine while trying in vain not to fall for her.

Like book 3, I found the villain here to be too villainous though there was more background and motivation to his actions.

The story gives us interesting reflections on the change of morel values, with the heroine coming to realise that there might not be just one and only true love.

There was a lot of action and plot twists towards the end which I quite enjoyed. I loved seeing the excess and glamour of the Gilded Age all through the story.

Overall, this was an interesting and very engaging historical romance with a wonderful heroine and a most caring hero. 4 stars

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I'm finally giving up on Stripped by Zoey Castile. I left it at 60% a couple of weeks ago and I'm not motivated to finish it. I was drawn to the premise of a Latina school teacher and a male stripper getting together but the book didn't deliver. It's told in dual POV first person present tense and it felt juvenile and flat. Both characters were in their late 20s and were going through some sort of of early mid-life crisis. While we got some insight as to why he was starting to feel dissatisfied with his job and his life in general, her total loss of control over life was never properly explained. I needed to see more of their motivation.

I hated the subplot with her school principal, it was silly and didn't add anything important to the story. On the plus side, I liked the hero, his band of stripper brothers and their interactions were quite entertaining, I also found the relationship between the heroine and her best friend interesting but that was not enough to save this for me. 

Currently reading: Rebel Hard by Nalini Singh, contemporary m/f romance with Indian MCs, arranged marriage. I have some minor quibbles but it's mostly good so far, very romantic.


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