Contemporary Romance

Review: Undercover by Rebecca Crowley


Title: Undercover (London Phoenix #2)
Author: Rebecca Crowley
Genre /Tropes: Contemporary romance, journalist investigation
Release Date: 17 September 2019

Author's links:

My rating: 4 Stars


The assignment has a deadline, but does their relationship?

After almost ten years dodging bullets as a foreign correspondent, Asher Brody is struggling to find his place back in the U.K. – and in his family-run newspaper, the London Phoenix. He’s intent on proving he’s as committed as his brothers, even if it means putting on a suit and posh accent to investigate a high-ranking executive at an upscale retreat.

Ada Hunter wasted years trailing her ex-boyfriend, only for him to turn his back when her documentary career finally took off. Now she’s beating her own path, and it’s taking her all over the world. To secure funding for her next project, she takes a risky job with the Phoenix posing as broody-sexy Asher’s fake girlfriend – too good to be true.

They plan to spend a few days pretending to be a couple at a country estate before going their separate ways. But when bad weather strands them in the countryside, temptation develops into something more and the line between fantasy and reality becomes dangerously blurred. 


This is the second book in the London Phoenix series and I enjoyed it much more than the first book. I found the conflict more believable and really liked both MCs.

It starts pretty similarly to book 1 but this time the accidental hook-up was interrupted before it actually happened and led to some fake dating and surprise, surprise, love. 

There is an element of forced proximity in the romance and it worked really well for me. I liked how the MCs worked to get their goals and in the process helped each other.

Ada was pretty certain who she was, she had reasons not to want a relationship and to focus on her career at that time. Asher seemed to be at a different stage in his life, he wanted stability and permanence after years being a reporter in the field and after a painful break up with his ex. 

There was a reversal of the traditional roles here - the woman was confident and self-assured and didn't want a relationship; the man was having his doubts about who he was and what he wanted (a serious committed relationship, being settled in one place). He had to repeatedly remind himself that it was a fake relationship and they had a specific goal in mind, there was no room for feelings. 

The story reached a point where I knew one of them had to make a compromise and I wasn't sure who it would be and honestly, I didn't know whom I was rooting for to do it. I'm very happy with the ending where they found the right balance for things between them to work out in the long term. 

I liked the relationship between the three brothers, how they worked together in the newspaper and all the glimpses we got of them trying to be closer to each other, sticking together after the death of their mother, continuing some family traditions and establishing new ones of their own. 

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Alexis Hall

Review: Arden St. Ives series by Alexis Hall



I got an ARC of the final book in the series, so I binge read all three books in a week. What an emotional journey this has been. As usual I find myself lost for words when it comes to reviewing Alexis Hall’s books, so this won't be a very eloquent or coherent review, I'm afraid. I tend to have a very emotional reaction to his stories which makes my reviews more personal than usual.

On the surface and judging by the titles ans covers this is a billionaire m/m romance but the more I read the more I saw it as a story about two people with troubled pasts find their ways to each other. A bildungsromans of sorts for Ardy in particular, but very much for Caspian too.

The story is told exclusively from Ardy's POV and I loved the easy flow and multitude of things going on that made me eager to keep reading in order to find out how it will end.

Something, Alexis Hall does really, really well in my opinion is the creation of characters who feel real, human, with flaws and strengths. And this was very much the case here. It's not just Ardy and Caspian but almost every minor character was interesting and I got engaged in their stories. 

I found Ardy so easy to relate to - we see him navigating University, graduation, first serious job, making new friendships and keeping close the old ones, first attempt at a serious relationship. And the pressure there was not because Caspian was a billionaire, it was because of who Caspian is- a trauma survivour riddled with guilt and shame, refusing to accept his past, desperately trying to be someone different than who he is. 

It's a very emotional story both for Ardy and Caspian. Lots of mistakes get made and it's one of the things I particularly liked int he story. The way none of the characters are perfect and they don't always know the right thing to do/say but Ardy is very keen to listen and to learn, Caspian is more reluctant but still ready to make sincere apologies and amends for his mistakes. Even Nathaniel whom I got hate at some point despite understanding the terrible position he found himself to be, so even he is not malicious and only had the best intentions and is ready to admit he has been wrong/misguided in his approach to everything. 

I want to say a few words how trauma is handled in this series. It's not there for shock value or for tragedy p0rn, it's presented a complex issue that needs professional handling, one that affects the deepest corners of one's soul. There is no easy way to deal with it and no magic peen can cure it.

On that note, I am very happy to say that despite the heavy emoptional content of the books none of it due to queerphobia. The issues the characters deal with have nothing to do with them being gay. And the books are so effortlessly queer, it's a joy to read. No token marginalisation, no fetishising, lots of queer characters interacting in multitude of ways - as friends, lovers, in professional capacity. 

I also want to mention how much I loved Ardy's family and how important I found the episode with his biological father. It was disturbing but also very much needed to show a different aspect of Ardy's personality. We get a first-hand look at how powerful manipulation can be, how dangerous people like Ardy's father can be and how Ardy is noting like that.

Caspian and Ardy spent most of book 3 apart, they are both involved with other people, they cheat on them. It was a wild ride, I cried and laughed and wanted to hug them and make it all better for everyone. But I also see how they needed that time apart, how it was important for them to work through their issues on their own before trying to be together. Because we know they can be good together, we saw that already in the previous book.

All in all, I love how Alexis Hall takes apart the conventions of the romance genre and re-arranges them to come up with an unforgettable romance. It's nothing like I have read before, yet it's very much a tropey, swoon-worthy romance.

Just a couple of words on the supporting characters, Ellery, Bellerose, Nik, Nathaniel, George - they are all colourful and unique and give this richness and depth to the world of the books. The romance between Caspian and Ardy doesn't happen in isolation, like real people they are busy doing other things while falling in love.

One of the most loving episodes in the series for me involves Ardy taking care of Bellerose. It encapsulates everything good in this world (together with so much of the bad in it). It's about love and care in its purest form.

The trilogy ends with the sweetest epilogue, full of tenderness and promise. It's the beginning of a long process for Ardy and Caspian of learning how to be together and be happy. And it's why I read romance, for this ultimate moment of hope - love is possible, happiness is possible, the darkness can be defeated.

CW: Assault, sexual abuse (in the past). attempted rape, death of a parent (in the past), stalking and manipulation, drug use, car accident (secondary character), cheating, panic attacks, unprocessed trauma 

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Alix E. Harrow

First Paragraph Monday


This is not a regular feature but I just started a book with an awesome first paragraph that I just need to share. Here is the start of Ten Thousand Doors of January, debut fantasy with a dash of romance from what I hear, by Alix E. Harrow. And that cover, it's stunning, isn't it? 

When I was seven, I fond a door. I suspect I should capitalize that word, so you understand I'm not talking about garden-or common-variety door that leads reliably to a white-tiles kitchen or a bedroom closet. 

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Review: Playing House by Ruby Lang


Author: Ruby Lang
Genre/Themes: Contemporary romance, architects/city planners
Release Date: 12 Aug 2019

Author links: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads

My rating: 4 Stars


Romance blossoms between two city planners posing as newlyweds in this first in a bright new series by acclaimed author Ruby Lang

The last thing Oliver Huang expects to see on the historic Mount Morris home tour is longtime acquaintance Fay Liu bustling up and kissing him hello. He’s happy to playact being a couple to save her from a pushy admirer. Fay’s beautiful, successful and smart, and if he’s being honest, Oliver has always had a bit of a thing for her.

Maybe more than a bit.

Geeking out over architectural details is Oliver and Fay’s shared love language, and soon they’re touring pricey real estate across Upper Manhattan as the terribly faux but terribly charming couple Darling and Olly.

For the first time since being laid off from the job he loved, Oliver has something to look forward to. And for the first time since her divorce, Fay’s having fun.

Somewhere between the light-filled living rooms and spacious closets they’ve explored, this faux relationship just may have sparked some very real feelings. For Oliver and Fay, home truly is where their hearts are.


This s a delightful novella about two city planners re-building their lives and falling in love in the meantime. I have read the previous series by this author, Practice Perfect, and I really enjoy her voice and writing style - direct, somewhat abrupt but really fitting to the characters and the stories she tells. 

I liked both MCs here quite a lot. Fay had all the professional success but her personal life was in shambles as she was trying to navigate her it as a new divorcee. Oliver was in more fraught situation than her since he had neither personal, nor professional success (in his own eyes, at least). 

I liked how they got together, the pretense which gave them the freedom to be themselves and to do the things they wanted but under normal circumstances would be hesitant to try. I also love the personal growth they undergo, on their own and while being together. The conflict felt real and it forced them to re-evaluate a lot of things about themselves and what they want their lives to be in the future. 

The story had great secondary characters, Oliver's brother really stood out and I'd love to read his story some day. hey both have complicated relationships with their families.

As a minor drawback, the story was too short and last quarter felt rushed, I would have loved to see more of Fay and Oliver together, adjusting their lives to the new direction they chose for themselves. It feels especially relevant for him because he did make profound changes to his life/future plans.

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Things I Liked This Week


It's been a long, albeit slow week at work but we are experiencing a prolonged summer heat wave, that feels never-ending, so I have been all sweaty and irritable and it doesn't look like things will improve any time soon. 

Amidst the scorching heat that kills my ability to enjoy anything, I have found two videos I want to share with you in my semi-regular Things I Liked This Week post. 

First is this video of making mirrors, it' pretty mundane but for someone like me with not very good understanding of physics and chemistry, it looks fascinating, like a magic trick almost. I found it on pace Explorer make account on Twitter which is dedicate to space exploration and science. I don't don't know that much about either but find them interesting and a nice diversion from the pressure of everyday life, so I immediately followed that account, as one does :)

How Mirrors are Made

This video reminded me about another one which I saw last month, before I started this, and I wanted to share it here because it absolutely deserves it. It's a video of the Italian jewellery artist Pablo Cimadevilla making a gold ring. For those of my readers, my husband is a jeweller, and I have always loved jewellery but because of him I have become more interested in the hows and whys of making jewellery. It turns out that it's much more complicated than it appears on the surface. 

Making a gold butterfly ring: 

You can follow the artist on Facebook or Instagram for more of his work. 

Contemporary Romance

Review: Insider by Rebecca Crowley


Title: Insider (London Phoenix #1)
Author: Rebecca Crowley
Genre /Tropes: Contemporary romance, journalist investigation
Release Date: 22 August 2019

Author's links:

My rating: 3 Stars


ER doctor Grace Reilly thrives on patching up her patients, propping them back on their feet and sending them home healthier, yet emotionally she feels flat on her back after being deceived by her ex-boyfriend. She’s shelved her malfunctioning romantic radar, possibly forever. But she’s not opposed to no strings attached sex, especially when she meets the brooding and enigmatic Oren Brody. Even better? After giving her a mind-blowing orgasm with no reciprocal expectations, he vanishes as mysteriously as he appeared.

Six months ago Oren Brody and his brothers, Asher and Ebon, bought the London Phoenix newspaper to save the esteemed daily from bankruptcy. They need a big scoop or a budget shortfall could shut them down. A confidential tip about corruption and potential medical malfeasance points Oren toward St. Hilda’s Hospital – the same hospital where his mother unexpectedly died after a visit to the ER for a pounding headache. He needs answers, and Grace seems to be the key. He’d tracked her down hoping she could be a source. Seducing her was accidental, but he finds himself unable to ignore their zinging chemistry and he doesn’t really want to.

Oren needs to earn Grace’s trust, but that’s a big ask since their first meeting began with a lie and ended with sexual fireworks. Grace has already been deceived by one lover, can she forgive and forget and give Oren a chance? 


This is the first book in a new series, the heroine is an ER doctor, the hero - a journalist working to uncover corruption in the hospital where she works.

I would describe this as an explosive start of a new series. I love this author's football series (Atlanta Skyline), one of my favourite contemporary romances of all time. I had high expectations of this series but sadly, they were not quite met. This was a nice romance but ultimately unremarkable. I felt it lacked depth, the characters were underdeveloped and some of the conflict felt forced to me. it could be just that I have come to expect so much more from Rebecca Crowley, it all appeared  lackluster to me. 

Things start off with an off-the-charts anonymous hook up between the MCs which leads to initial distrust by both of them - neither being sure the other isn’t pursuing a hidden agenda. 

They each had their baggage and were reluctant to start a relationship but it all felt forced to me. There is an irresistible chemistry between them but I didn’t particularly like the vibe ‘not-like-other girls/guys’ I got throughout the story. There attraction and deep connection happened right away and I didn’t really buy it, there was nothing to show why they were so attracted to each. I could understand his reasons to some extend but felt she was overreacting and projecting her fears onto him till the very end.

The conflict of him lying/withholding information from her was quickly overcome and then when the black moment of their break-up happened, it felt completely out of place for me. Her reaction to something he did (rather didn’t do) seemed over-the-top and completely illogical. I never got fully invested in the characters and their issues. Both of them seemed melodramatic and their reactions didn’t appear genuine to me.

I was not really convinced their relationship will work out. There was nothing major wrong in their story, it was all minor details which didn’t work for me and in the end I was not sold on their HEA.

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Things I liked this week


Ok, I am back with Things I Liked This Week. Today I'm sharing two things which I saw on Twitter and both of which brightened my day. 

The first is the Salmon Cannon which I found totally fascinating, helping fish move over vast expanses of land. I did some reading on it and it turns out it has been around since 2014 but it passed my Twitter TL this week and put a smile on my face. I'm sharing a link to an article in The Guardian showing the viral video and explaining how the cannon works. 

The second thing I liked this week in a trailer of a romcom starring Christina Millian and Adam Demos, to be shown on Netflix on August 29. It was shared by author Nalini Singh and it's a romance set in New Zealand and it involves some home renovation project and more ... It looks really cute and I'd love to see it. 

Falling Inn Love trailer:

What did you like this week? Feel free to share the things you liked in the comments :)

Book recs

Some Less Popular Sports Featured in Romance


This list of compiled of recommendations I received on Twitter during this year #rombklove event. I have grouped together romances featuring sports that are not very popular and some rather popular in real life but conspicuously missing from romance novels.

My personal recommendations for romance romances presenting less popular sports or offering an unusual take on a popular sport, are listed in this earlier post.

Note 1: The inclusion of books/authors on the list here is not an endorsement on my part unless explicitly stated otherwise.

Note 2: The titles link to the Goodreads page for the book. The Amazon links are affiliate.

Water sports 

Diving Deep by KA Mitchell, contemporary m/m romance, diving. Currently not available for purchase

Lake Lovelace series by Vanessa North, competitive wakeboarding. Amazon

Love by the Bay series by Stephanie Kay, rec-league-Coast-Guard rescue swimmers. Amazon

Level Hands / Love Me Like a Rock / Hard Candy by Amy Jo Cousins, m/m romances, rowing. Amazon - Read and Loved

Stroke to His Cox, m/m romance short story by JL Merrow, rowing. Amazon

Swift River
series by Kristina Mathews, whitewater raft guides. Amazon

Wavehouse by Alice Kaltman, YA, surfing. Amazon

Hot Holiday Nights by Jaci Burton, m/f romance, surfing. Amazon

Pacific Blue
series by Lorelie Brown, m/f romance, surfing. Amazon

Sparks Like Ours by Melissa Brayden, f/f romance, surfing. Amazon

Extreme sports

Renegades series by Rebecca Yarros, m/f romances with X Games athletes. Amazon

Lessons in Gravity and Leaving Everest by Megan Westfield, m/f romances, rock climbing. Amazon

Gravity series by Sarina Bowen, skiers/snowboarders. Amazon - Read and enjoyed

Heartstruck by Angeli E. Dumatol. Arnis (Filipino martial art), YA contemporary m/f. Both MC and LI train and compete in the sport. Amazon

Boxing / Wrestling / MMA

A Fighting Chance by Shannon Stacey (novella). Amazon

Knock Out by Michele Mannon, m/m contemporary. Amazon

Dirty Boxing by Harper St George and Tara Waytt, m/f erotic romance, MMA.  Amazon

Showing Him the Ropes by Christa Tomlinson (m/m professional wrestling). Amazon

The Secret Heart by Erin Satie. This historical has a hero that is a bare-knuckle boxer. Amazon (It's free at the time of posting)

Submission Moves by Camilla Sisco is set in the US with an MMA fighter for a hero. Amazon

Below the Belt by Sarah Mayberry, m/f romance, heroine is a boxer. Amazon

Making Him Sweat, Taking Him Down, Driving Her Wild by by Cara McKenna writing as Meg Maguire about boxers. Amazon 

Willing Victim by Cara McKenna, m/f romance, hero is an MMA fighter. Amazon

Bad Neighbor by Molly O'Keefe, m/f romance. Amazon - Read and enjoyed

In Her Corner by Vicki Essex, m/f romance with MMA fighter heroine and her coach is the hero. Amazon

Memphis by Ginger Scott's is about a boxer who trains at the heroine's dad's gym. Amazon

Champion’s Heart by Piper Huguley is a Great Depression Era historical romance with black characters, including a boxer hero. Amazon

Let It Shine by Alyssa Cole, m/f historical set in 1960s, hero is a boxer. Amazon - ($0.99 at the time of posting)

Field and Track

Love on the Run by Zuri Day, female track and field Olympic & collegiate athlete and  male sports management agent. Amazon

Winning Ruby Heart by Jennifer Lohmann. Heroine is a disgraced Olympic athlete who takes up running ultra marathons. Amazon

Love at First Run by Angel C. Aquino, m/f romance, #romanceclass. Amazon

The University of Gatica series by Lexy Timms, track and field heroines. Amazon (Free at the time of posting)

There's Something About Sweetie by Sandyha Menon. Sweetie is a fat girl who runs track, her LI Ashish plays basketball. Amazon

Cars and bikes

Fast Track series by Erin McCarthy, m/f romances, MCs are NASCAR drivers. Amazon

Ride with Me by Ruthie Knox m/f romance about a long distance cyclist. Amazon - currently not available for purchase

Holeshot by M.A. Parker, m/f romance, motocross. Amazon

Cat by Freya North about a sports reporter covering Le Tour de France. Amazon - only used copies

Hard Driving series by Audra North, race car drivers. Amazon


Clang by E. Davies, m/m contemporary romance. Amazon

The Master Will Appear by L.A. Witt, m/m romance. Amazon

Introducing Mr. Winterbourn by Joanna Chambers, m/m historical romance, both MCs are fencers. Amazon

Lord Carew's Bride by Mary Balogh, m/f historical romance. Amazon - only used copies available

Heart Duel by Robin D. Owens, m/f paranormal romance. Amazon

A Rational Arrangement by L. Rowyn, fantasy polyamory mmf romance. Amazon


Game of Love by Ara Gregorian, m/f romance. Amazon

After Wimbledon by Jennifer Gilby Roberts, m/f romance . Amazon

Courting Carlyn by Melissa Chambers, m/f romance. Amazon


Once Upon a Player by Agay Llanera, m/f romance, college volleyball. Amazon

Playing with Seduction by Reese Ryan, heroine is a volleyball player. Amazon

The Cowboy Meets His Match by Sarah Mayberry, which features a female saddle bronc rider.  Amazon

Act Your Age by Eve Dangerfied. The heroine’s on a roller derby team. Amazon

Pride, Prejudice, and Curling Rocks by Andrea Brokaw, YA retelling of Pride and Prejudice, curling. Amazon

Settle the Score / Hustle Play by Tara Frejas is a duology of two short stories featuring a female basketball player & a male cheer squad member. Amazon

Settling the Score by R.S. Gray, m/f romance, heroine is a football player, hero is a swimmer adn they meet at the summer Olympics. Amazon

Romancing the Kicker by Catherine Lane, f/f romance about the first female kicker in NFL. Amazon

Ainslie Paton

Review: The Mysterious Stranger by Ainslie Paton


Title: The Mysterious Stranger
Author: Ainslie Paton
Genre: Contemporary romance, Doomsday cult, Con artists
Release Date: 27 Aug 2019

Author's links:

My rating: 5 Stars


For Rory Archer, going deep under cover with her best friend Zeke Sherwood to bust a doomsday cult was a way of making up for her unprofessional behavior after a relationship breakup with her boss, Zeke's older brother.

All she had to do was act her part, find the evidence they needed to tear down the cult and help the people who'd been gaslit into joining to start new lives.

It was a far cry from the usual work she did, conning arrogant mega-rich men out of ill-gotten money to spend on deserving causes. And with Zeke by her side, it would be a blast.

For Zeke Sherwood, busting the cult was the easy part, even if it meant no way to feed his addiction to Frappuccinos, but surviving months, partnering the woman he'd been in love with forever would be the toughest job he'd ever signed on for. He and Rory had never been anything more than sidekicks and Zeke had given up thinking they ever would be.

But inside the cult, the truth is stranger than fiction, drawing them closer until uncertainty strips away old patterns of behavior and longing and lust bloom, bringing with them the danger of discovery and the fear that none of the new love they feel for each other is real.


This is the final book in a trilogy about a family (actually, there are more than one family involved) of con artists. I loved the previous two books but this one is by far the best for me. It blew my mind,  it's so unlike any romance I have read before.

There is an intense suspense plot, the hero and heroine go undercover into a doomsday cult in order to dismantle it. We get to see in detail the brutal abuse both psychological and physical the leader used to try to break them (and everyone else in that cult) - him through heavy labour and physical discomfort, her - through singling her out and ostracizing her. The misogyny, the manipulation and gaslighting in the cult was difficult to read at times. It was challenged by the hero and the heroine at every step, still it hit me right in the heart pretty strongly. Seeing how Zeke and Rory fought and resisted the manipulations of the cult was fascinating. I loved the strength both of them showed. And it brought them together, made them admit their attraction and ultimately act on it.

I loved the complexity and layers of the romantic relationship. Zeke's been in love with Rory forever, but she has always seen him as her best friend though she was vaguely aware of his feelings for her and stubbornly ignored them.

They way they cared for each other is what completely undid me - not the lust and physical attraction (we never get a detail physical description of them, other than both being fit and active in sports) but the care, the desire to make the other feel safe and comfortable, the constant worry of how the other one is doing when they were separated.

Zeke is a wonderful character, a master con artist who has a soft side and I loved that the author showed it to us. He needed his frappucinos and a comfy bed and was not ashamed to admit it. I liked Rory a lot too. On top of everything she is a romance reader and it showed in little details throughout the whole story.

They both were certain of their feeling but had doubts about the feelings of the other. They got together while isolated from the outside world and put under enormous pressure and this affected the very foundation of their relationship. There is a lot of exploration of self-doubt and confidence and sabotaging oneself because things seem to good to be true.

The references to Nalini Singh’s PNR series totally killed me, I didn’t catch the first one but I was right there for the next one and recognizing them made me giddy, they fitted so well into the story.

I loved some of the secondary characters as well. I read Candance as on the ace spectrum and I was scared she will be forced into a relationship/sex. The way Rory and Zeke treated her, it melted my heart.

The story also gives a poignant commentary on women’s rights and bodily autonomy, without sounding preachy. 

There was a major plot twist towards the end re the romantic relationship, I didn't expect it but it made sense seeing both Zeke and Rory voice their fears and hopes and dreams. The fine line between wishful thinking and bad timing, learning to trust yourself and the person you love/who loves you.

Overall, it's a remarkable romance and I highly recommend it.

CWs: attempted murder with drugs, physical violence, misogyny, abuse, gaslighting, manipulation

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#NotRWA19 Recap


Over the past week I got together with some friends we organised #NotRWA19, a virtual conference on Twitter for the romance fans who couldn’t attend the RWA conference held in New York at the same time. 

It was a bit spur-of-the-moment decision on my part but with the support of the online romance community we managed to organise a 5-day event which I hope was fun and beneficial for everyone. We had a mix of romance readers, bloggers and authors participating with short/longer presentation of various topics.

In this post I have compiled the links to all the presentations made during #NotRWA19 for easy access. I will put it in my pinned tweet on Twitter for those who follow me there. 

Day 1

Ellie Reads - Tips on Book Blogging and Reviewing

Nicola Davidson - Pleasure Clubs in Victorian Englan

B.andherbooks - Most Anticipated Releases of Fall/Winter 2020

Day 2

Ekaterine Xia - SFFR and World Building as Diaspora

Ami - mini thread on HEA without Children

Dani Collins - How to Build Your Newsletter

Jennifer Carole Lewis - Body Language and Spotting Deception

Day 3

Mina V. Esguerra - Romanceclass - how it came to be and how it supports authors

Chachic - Tips for Bookstragramming

Charlotte - Depictions of Wealth and Critique of Capitalism in Contemporary Romance

Day 4

Sandra Schwab - Victorians Like You and Me

Fiona West - On Writing Cross-Culturally

Alex - Trans Romance

Day 5

Agata Weronika - on the Healing Power of Romance Novels

Rose Backlin - the Joys and Challenges of Owning a Romance Bookstore

Helen Kord - on Making GReat Rec Lists

Alisha Rai

Review: The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai


Title: The Right Swipe (Modern Love #1)
Author: Alisha Rai
Genre/Themes: Contemporary romance, Sports, Online dating  
Release Date: 6 Aug 2019 

Author links: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads

My Rating: 3 Stars


Alisha Rai returns with the first book in her sizzling new Modern Love series, in which two rival dating app creators find themselves at odds in the boardroom but in sync in the bedroom.

Rhiannon Hunter may have revolutionized romance in the digital world, but in real life she only swipes right on her career—and the occasional hookup. The cynical dating app creator controls her love life with a few key rules: 

- Nude pics are by invitation only 

- If someone stands you up, block them with extreme prejudice 

- Protect your heart 

Only there aren't any rules to govern her attraction to her newest match, former pro-football player Samson Lima. The sexy and seemingly sweet hunk woos her one magical night... and disappears. 

Rhi thought she'd buried her hurt over Samson ghosting her, until he suddenly surfaces months later, still big, still beautiful—and in league with a business rival. He says he won't fumble their second chance, but she's wary. A temporary physical partnership is one thing, but a merger of hearts? Surely that’s too high a risk…


I had such high expectations about this book and while I enjoyed it, I'd say they were only partially met.

I appreciate the different take on sports romance - a retired football player and the whole CTE thing and how it affected his own family and his sports career. I'd love to see more of that side of professional sports reflected in romance.

The heroine runs an online dating app and the hero is temporarily working for her rival (the company she wants to buy). The insight we get into online dating was interesting but also a bit too US-centric for me. I understand the message behind the discussions of "ghosting" and "dick pics" but it came off as distant and preachy at times.

I liked the hero - patient, caring, respectful, never pushy. The heroine was pretty jaded, disappointed by men and unwilling to trust (again). While the story gives convincing reasons for her stance but then I couldn't see why she held on the her distrust of Samson for long. It all seemed excessive to me. Her refusal to hear him out, to believe even for a bit in his innocence, it didn't sit well with me. I am all for being independent and making your own decisions but she was unfair towards Samson one too many times in my opinion. I was annoyed by how stubborn and entrenched in her views the heroine was. She was meant to be strong, with a take-charge attitude and in control of her professional and personal life but she to me she read more like stuck in the past, refusing to deal with the trauma she suffered, acting judgmental towards Samson.

It an interesting read, with some interesting takes on sport and family relationships. smashing the stereotypes of women being weak and fragile and men, especially ones who are big, strong professional athletes, being leader types in life. Yet, I was not fully sold on the romance and didn't understand the heroine very well. 

CW: abuse in the past, head injuries/CTE, death of a close relative, blackmail, sexual abuse, workplace harassment

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Contemporary Romance

Review: Applied Electromagnetism by Susannah Nix


Title: Applied Electromagnetism (Chemistry Lessons #4)
Author: Susannah Nix
Genre/Themes: STEM MCs, forced proximity 
Release Date: 2 July 2019 

Author links: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads

My Rating: 3 Stars


A business trip with the office hottie turns into a road trip from hell. 

Adam Cortinas may be gorgeous, but he’s made it clear he can’t stand Olivia—and the feeling is one hundred percent mutual. Too bad, because in order to bring the company’s new power plant online, they’re stuck with each other for the next week. 

When their travel plans go horribly awry, Olivia finds herself stranded in the middle of nowhere with Adam, AKA the bane of her existence. 

He’s in her space and in her head. All the forced proximity is driving Olivia insane. That’s the only explanation for these FEELINGS she’s suddenly having. 

But it doesn’t change anything. They still hate each other. 


Applied Electromagnetism is the fourth full-length novel in a series of standalone rom-coms about women in STEM fields.


This is a new-to-me author and while I enjoyed some the story, my overall evaluation is just nice but not great. The hero and heroine are colleagues in a company running power plants. I was excited for the STEM heroine but in the end we didn’t get as much details of her work as I was hoping for.

The hero was a real jerk to the heroine at the beginning and for quite some time into the story. We do see him change and grow, making mistakes in the process but ultimately learning to be a better person. I appreciated his growth but it took me a while to forgive him for some of the things he said and did.

I hated that Olivia had to educate Adam on a lot of things about women and personal/workplace relationships. She had to spell out things for him and I felt some of these messages about empowerment and women'ts rights sounded heavy handed to me.

Adam's backstory and the reasons to avoid relationships rang true to me and appreciate seeing this gentler side of him. He is ambitious and competitive in his work life, highly qualified and respected, even a little feared by his colleagues and his bosses, yet he hid vulnerability in his personal relationships and some deep emotional wounds.

I'm sad to say I had a harder time relating to the heroine. We see less growth and development in her, she was pretty much perfect from the start. She was attracted to him, kept thinking of him in sexual terms, even while she hated him for treating her really badly and I had a hard time with that.

That said, I found the HEA convincing and fitting to their story. I appreciate the way the way they found to build a relationship and how they dealt with being in a office romance.

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First paragraph

First Paragraph Monday


Trying yet another new thing - First Paragraph Monday it's exactly what the title says - I want to share the beginning of romances that I have found striking, unusual, memorable for various reasons.

The first excerpt I will share is from Artistic License by Elle Pierson (Lucy Parker). I've had the book on my Kindle since 2014, before I even knew who the author was. I only got to read it last week after a Twitter convo reminded me about it and I was just looking for what to read next. The story is lovely and I highly enjoyed it but the beginning just blew my mind. Here it is:

Picasso would have loved his face. It was all brutal planes: the long blade of nose, the sharp jut of bone in cheek and jaw, the thin slashes of brows and lips. No angle of which sympathised with another, as if he's been at the end of the line when features were assembled and forced to scramble together what was left. Sophy had never in her life seen a walking, breathing human quite so like a Cubist painting. 

His face was wonderful.

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Things I liked This Week


I'm trying to get back into blogging, so here is a new thing I want to test out. I'd like to add a more personal touch to my blog and will be doing hopefully a weekly, more likely a bi-weekly post with things I enjoyed during the week. I'm taking this idea (with permission :) from Alexis Hall's whose monthly posts on things he liked the previous author I enjoy reading and look forward to every month. 

Without further prelude, here a a couple of things that caught my attention this past week and brought me joy. 

1. Nike’s ad honouring the win of the USWNT at the World Cup football! I couldn't follow the tournament directly, none of the TV channels here showed it, to my utter disappointment it went mostly ignored in the sports sections of the news as well. Anyway, as a football fan and a woman, I have strong feelings about the women's football and it's place in the world of sports. The more positive ones are captured in this Nike's commercial brilliantly. While I acknowledge the US's focus in the ad, it's still awe-inspiring and very much thought-provoking re women's rights in general. 

2. Staying on the topic of beautiful, strong women fighting for their rights, being gorgeous and an inspiration to me. Gwendoline Christie submits herself and wins an Emmy nomination after the producers of the show ignore her. Sometimes one has to take matters in your hands and not wait on the arbitrary judgement of others to acknowledge your worth and achievements.  As a fan of the series and the books even more, seeing my all my favourite female characters in the series nominated, is deeply satisfying. 

I bow to thee, Ser Brienne of Tarth, a Knight of the Seven Kingdoms :)

3. The final thing I liked this week is a Bored Panda list with photos of nature reclaiming its place against civilization. The photos range from funny, through serious to harrowing and they are well worth a look if nature or photography is your thing. 


Review: The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall


Title: The Affair of the Mysterious Letter
Author: Alexis Hall
Genre/Themes: Queer SFF take on Sherlock Holmes
Release Date: 18 June 2019

Author links: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads

My Rating: 5 Stars


In this charming, witty, and weird fantasy novel, Alexis Hall pays homage to Sherlock Holmes with a new twist on those renowned characters. 

Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms. Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation.

When Ms. Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham finds himself drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark. 

But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Ms. Haas' stock-in-trade.


I have read almost everything Alexis Hall has published/shared in his newsletter. I was really excited for his latest release even though it's not romance. I rarely step out of my comfort genre but I'm always ready to do it with my faviourite authors. 

This queer SFF take on Sherlock Holmes was just brilliant. It was such a glorious adventure story with some dark elements, wildly imaginative and the beautiful, moving writing I have come to expect from the author.

I won’t go into details of the plot, suffice it to say it’s a Sherlock Holmes type of investigation led by the sorceress Shaharazad Hass and her reluctant assistant John Wyndham. They go on solving the mystery in an exquisitely built fantasy world.

It’s a queer story with a pansexual heroine and a gay trans hero featuring a side f/f romance. There is some flirting and romance vibes the focus of the story is the friendship between Shaharazad and John, built of mutual respect and caring for the other. Shaharazad is real and honest, with a bunch of character flaws, unapologetic, confident and self-indulgent. She doesn’t grow or change, she is what she is and is comfortable in her skin, owning her good and bad sides.

We get the story from John’s POV and I loved how consistently puritanical it was, I loved the formality of his POV, his rigidity and strong sense of right and wrong coming through all the text. john and Shaharazad were opposites in almost all aspects and it was pure joy seeing them work together, starting from being reluctant roommates, becoming partners-in-crime and building a tentative friendship that becomes something really important for both of them.

I liked the adventure and fantasy elements a lot – they were engaging and in some ways too real in their reflection of the cruelties of the present days. The chapters in Carcosa were really hard to read for me as they were a poignant presentation of what a totalitarian regime looks like.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot. It's a delightful, whimsical SFF multi-layered story. The meta commentary on writing and storytelling brought me pure joy. The book made me think and feel and laugh and cringe in horror and left a lasting impression in my mind. 

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Contemporary Romance

Review: Trashed by Mia Hopkins


Title: Trashed (Eastside Brewery #2)
Author: Mia Hopkins 
Genre/Themes: Contemporary romance, Gangsters 
Release Date: 16 July 2019

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

My rating: 4 Stars


He burns for her. Lucky for him, she likes to play with fire. . .

My name is Eddie Rosas, but everyone calls me Trouble. Since I got out of prison six months ago, I’ve had one goal: find my father, whatever the cost. My older brother says I need to move on. He also wants me to leave our gang, East Side Hollenbeck, and go straight, but I can’t—not until I uncover the truth about our family and its missing piece.

One problem? I’m distracted. My distraction’s name is Carmen Centeno. Smart, passionate, and tough as hell, Carmen is a woman from the neighborhood who’s built her career as one of the city’s top chefs. She’s a master of creating pleasure both in and out of bed. But when our connection deepens, how can I show her I’m not the trash everyone says I am?

The pressure’s rising. Carmen deserves a man she can depend on. And when the ghosts of my past rise up, I’ll have to outsmart them—or lose my shot at a future with the only woman who believes in me.


I loved the first book in the series, Thirsty and made the mistake of reading the first chapter of this one at the end of it and have been waiting for Eddie's story for over a year. I was so excited for it tat I read it as soon as I got the ARC, a couple of months before the actual release which is something I usually avoid doing. 

This story was both everything I was hoping for it to be and also not quite what I expected. It's intense, powerful, very moving with strong emphasis on family besides the romance itself. 

I knew the heroine is a chef and kind of expected she will be a chef throughout the story while he struggled to find his place after prison/gang life. As it happens this was not the central conflict but still liked the way the story progressed. 

What I love the most about this series is the sense of realness they give me. There is no glorification of gang life and the easy money it can bring but there is also of Eddie and his brother for the choices they had to make. We see Eddie trying to leave the gangster life and find a new direction for himeself but no easy solutions for someone with no education and a prison record. There is also the very personal aspect of his family's past and present in all  its complexity - the obligation, the sense of loyalty and guilt, mixed with love and hope. 

Like Thirsty, Trash is told in first person present tense, only from Eddie's POV. It worked well for presenting his inner turmoil which was the focus of the story in my opinion, but I missed seeing Carmen, outside of his version of her. We get bits about her own choices in life, her family situation is was not perfect but we don't see much of how she felt about Eddie and most importantly why she got the love him. 

Eddie is lost and confused and struggling for most of the story but Carmen sees the good in him and appreciate that her support for him never wavers, her belief in him is strong but she also doesn't hesitate to call him out when he acts stupid/overbearing.

I wanted more of their connection, not just the physical stuff, they kind of used the intense chemistry between them as a substitute for talking about their issues.

I liked the epilogue - no magic solution, just gradual progress, hopeful, happy

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Review: The Queen's Game and Stealing Luna by Carla de Guzman


Title: The Queen's Game
Author: Carla de Guzman
Genre/Themes: Contemporary royal romance
Release Date: 1 August 2017

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

My rating: 4 Stars


There are only two reasons why Nina would come back home to Cincamarre--one, if Auntie Delia promises to stop butting into her business, two, if her father died and she was made to ascend the throne to be queen. 

Unfortunately for her, it was the second thing that brought her home. 

As a princess who's sunk a yacht and been caught kissing popstars, it's easy for her aunt, the regent, to think she's ill prepared for the throne. But Nina doesn't think that having to fake date Felipe, the handsome, squeaky clean Prince of Concordia was the best solution for that. 

Nina's ready to learn the ropes of her new role and make it hers, and reconnecting with Felipe only makes her want to be a better queen. But is the monarchy ready for Queen Nina?


This is a duology of fictional royal romances but can work as standalones. I loved the first book and had some issues with the second one.

The Queen's Game is just wonderful - a spoiled heiress who has become a world famous celebrity is on her path to take the throne without losing herself. Childhood friends to lovers, great hero - supporting and caring and encouraging, giving the heroine the freedom and the back-up/sense of security she needs. Things start with a fake relationships which quickly becomes real. He is a prince himself but was never intimated by her position, I loved how much he respected her and how proud he was of her achievement. 

The plot involved some court intrigue and backstabbling and was full of details of the everyday life/economy of the imaginary kingdom all of which made the story very relatable and real.

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Title: The Queen's Game
Author: Carla de Guzman
Genre/Themes: Contemporary royal romance
Release Date: 26 April 2019

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Instagram Goodreads

My rating: 3 Stars


Cora Justa Dumagat has had enough. 

She is tired of watching the corrupt, fat cats of the council override the monarchy and risk the people’s lives in exchange for a payday. Despite advice from her Queen, Cora has decided to take matters into her own hands and hit the Joaquins where it hurts—to steal their precious Juan Luna painting right from under their noses in Barcelona. 

The job shouldn’t be too difficult. If only Luis Ang, her ex-boyfriend, wasn't hired to be her bodyguard. 

Luis knows that Cora is up to something, and will stop at nothing to make sure she’s safe, even at the cost of Cora’s plans. 

As Luis and Cora become more and more deeply entangled into each other, the more dangerous the situation becomes. Will Cora have her revenge? Or will stealing Luna be the last thing she ever does?


Stealing Luna is a second chance romance between an art thief the her best friend/crush from college who is hired as her bodyguard. There is a lot I enjoyed in this story - evocative writng, strong sense of place - the imaginably kingdom of Cincamarre and then Barcelona, Spain. The glimpses we get into the whole con of stealing a famous painting (a real one!) and replacing it with the perfect forged one, it was fascinating to see it on the page. There is a lovely secondary f/f romance which I greatly enjoyed. 

I liked how the story progressed, him making amends for rejecting her years ago, her trying to trust him again. The romance was swoon worthy but I had an issue with some of the behaviour of the heroine that I just couldn't accept. I feel she violated his privacy and betrayed his trust and they never properly addressed this. I felt her apology was too weak and she didn't try hard enough to make amends for her behaviour. I don't want to sound as hating on a difficult heroine, I liked a lot about her and could see she acted the way she did (she was prickly and angry but she needed to protect herself and she had her reasons to he guarded). Still, I feel the hero deserved more honesty from her. 

Overall, it's a lovely story and I loved a lot about it and despite my issues with it, I still recommend the whole series as a fun, mostly light-hearted contemporary royal romance. 

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