Contemporary Romance

Review: Luck of the Draw by Kate Clayborn

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Title: Luck of the Draw (Chance of a Lifetime #2)
Author: Kate Clayborn
Date of publication: 24 April 2018
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Author's links:
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My rating: 5 stars

Blurb

Buying a lotto ticket with her two best friends didn’t change Zoe’s life. Only following her heart would do that... 

Sure, winning the lottery allows Zoe Ferris to quit her job as a cutthroat corporate attorney, but no amount of cash will clear her conscience about the way her firm treated the O’Leary family in a wrongful death case. So she sets out to make things right, only to find gruff, grieving Aiden O’Leary doesn’t need—or want—her apology. He does, however, need something else from her. Something Zoe is more than willing to give, if only to ease the pain in her heart, a sorrow she sees mirrored in his eyes...

Aiden doesn’t know what possesses him to ask his family’s enemy to be his fake fiancĂ©e. But he needs a bride if he hopes to be the winning bid on the campground he wants to purchase as part of his beloved brother’s legacy. Skilled in the art of deception, the cool beauty certainly fits the bill. Only Aiden didn’t expect all the humor and heart Zoe brings to their partnership—or the desire that runs deep between them. Now he’s struggling with his own dark truth—that he’s falling for the very woman he vowed never to forgive.


Review 

Kate Clayborn's debut romance, Beginner's Luck, which released last year, was a total delight to read and it ended up on my list of best books I read in 2017. As you can imagine it set the bar quite high for the next book and I'm so happy to say that Luck of the Draw not only met all my expectations but surpassed them.

I'd say the second book is more than the first in all aspects - there is more angst, more darkness, more complicated family dynamics. I want to include CW early on for loss of a family member, grieving and discussion of addiction.

I love the complexity of the characters the authors creates, they feel like real people with strengths and weakness, they make mistakes, they have regrets and try to do better.

I'm not a big fan of fake relationships and this one started as a sort of payback, a retribution for the wrongs done and its growth into a love relationships was brilliantly done. There were no shortcuts, not easy solutions to overcoming grief and the sense of guilt Aiden and Zoe were struggling with. It took time and strength to face the consequences of one's action and to move forward.

The romance itself was great, slow burn and all those touches that grew to mean so much. It's was very much a case of forbidden, can't never happen love and objectively it shouldn't have worked between them. But we see two people at a turning point in their lives and they manage to let go of their prejudice and established opinions and just see the other person for who they are.

Zoe is an amazing heroine, she is strong and powerful, seemingly in command, sort of the leader in her group of friends, and then boom! everything changes after her lottery win. We see her as directionless, lost, struggling to start her life anew. I loved her character's journey through the story, figuring out herself, opening up to her friends (and to Aiden), taking risks, finding what makes her happy and sticking to it.

Aiden was wonderful too. He is an introvert drowning in his grief, focused and determined to succeed in the task he had set for himself. We see him struggling to go on with his life, lost, without the friends/family support he so desperately needed. And his relationship with Zoe was not a magical solution to his issues. She was a catalyst in a way that helped me realise some things about himself and change his plans for the future, but it was him who did the work, looked in the mirror and didn't like what he saw and decided to change it.

A very strong point in the first book was the female friendship between Kit, Zoe and Greer, the three of them being more of a family than friends. There is support and comfort but also the pressure to live up to expectations, to be the strong person everyone thinks you are. I loved the complexity of their friendship. And apart from an already established close friendship we see a new friendship develop (Aiden and his co-workers) and how difficult it is for an introvert dealing with a devastating personal loss, to open up to outsiders, to let strangers in his world, to rely on them and to be able to give back support and friendship. The author goes in depth in all these aspects of human relationships and this makes for a very emotionally rich and engaging story. 

I love how the author uses the lottery win as a means for giving her heroines a chance to explore the possibility for change in their livers.

I also very much appreciate the casual queer rep we see in this story. It's just there, two newlywed lesbians in a long-distance relationship facing the same issues any two newlyweds in a long distance relationship would face.

The story ends with a great epilogue - so fitting, change is slow, no magic solution, no immediate forgiveness and moving on, some things are not easy to forget, you just learn to live with them.

Purchase links: Amazon • B&N • ITUNESBooks-a-million • Google play

Al Steward

Review: Oscar Blows a Gasket by Al Steward and Claire Davis

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Title: Oskar Blows a Gasket
Author: Al Steward and Claire Davis
Genre/Themes: YA/NA m/m romance, coming of age
Release Date: 30 March 2018

Author's links: Website / Facebook / Claire on GR /
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My rating: 5 Stars


Blurb

Oskar Braithwaite is bold, brash and gorgeous. Just ask him.

Armed with designer backpack full of make-up and retro music galore, Oskar sets off for college. And, with attitude even spikier than his heels, nothing is going to hold him back. Except maybe one thing…his past is shouting louder than the 80s songs he adores and it won't be ignored. Behind the effervescence are secrets, lies and sadness. Try as he might, not even Oskar can hide forever, and one day it isn't only pop icon Simon Le Bon who's going to catch up.

Who is writing letters? And why is a spy secretly following?

Enter Bear, with dancing eyes and secrets of his own. Bear's kindness sparkles brighter than Lycra leggings, and everyone knows Oskar loves shiny things. Like every prophecy, their fates seem inevitably linked. As the walls of Oskar's defence crumble, Bear shows his hidden strength, but will it be enough to save them?

Find out in this far-out, zany tale of fame, first love and retro DJs. 

Review

After loving Dear Mona Lisa last year and I was excited to read more by this author duo. I don't read much YA/NA these days but when I was offered an ARC of this book I jumped at the chance. And I am so happy I did, it' such a wonderful story.

What I love the most about Al and Claire's book is the writing style, so lyrical, heavy on metaphors and subtext and at the same time funny at times and it packs a punch with just a few words. I admit it took me a while to get into this story.

We are plunged into the mind of Oskar who is a very unique, whimsical character. I loved his voice though, and the reader gets to know him simultaneously with the other MC, Bear (Gareth). Oskar is special and ordinary at the same time - a young person acting out, being prickly and contrary, making up stories about himself and wearing make-up and fancy clothes as much as an expression of himself but also as an armour against the world who has been nothing but cruel to him so far.

Initially we see the most of Gareth through his letters and we get to know him in the year and half before college and meeting Oskar. WE get to read them parallel to the present-day events in his life and that only made them more poignant and moving. It's Gareth's letters that broke me and made me cry and filled me silent rage and despair for him.

The romance was really moving and tender and volatile and unpredictable, a reflection of a lot of first for both Oskar and Bear. It felt very real, somewhat close to my experiences of being 18 years old. There was lots of confusion and firsts and boldness and shyness, navigating college, new friends, a lover, complicated family dynamics and Oskar and Bear went through all this together becoming a couple that really fitted each other, helped and supported each other. I loved how they completed each other, Gareth getting to read Oskar's moods and somewhat instinctively discovering the best way react/inteact/communicate with him, at the same time Oskar was really good for Gareth boosting his self-confidence and belief in himself and giving him the much needed knowledge that he is worthy of love and affection. 

It was not all drama and angst, there were a tonne of 80s music, good humour, and pure fun. There was a moment around the middle where I was worried for a bit that Oskar was coming off as misogynistic, rather misanthropic, but I was soon proven wrong - he was really caring, too emotional, fragile which he hid behind being sort of bitchy, often quite nasty to the people around him.loved how garrett and oscar found their way to each other, it's about who you are, how you love and care for peope. being gay was a non-issue for most of the MCs and for most of the side characters.

Another concern I had was about the parents and how cruel and unredeemable they seemed initially. I'm really happy that the authors gave them a chance to act as decent human beings in the end. There was not magical forgive and forget but rather honest conversations took place giving just the tiniest hope for them acting better in the future.

In short, this is a beautifully written emotional story of growing up, dealing with some terrible events but mostly, it's hopeful in a way a find much needed in the present day. It doesn't offer a clean solutions to all of the issues Oskar and Gareth face in their lives, it's very much real regarding addiction and neglect but still, it's hopeful, opening up the possibility for better things to come and that is the best things a romance novel can be.

Purchase Links: Amazon / Smashwords

Dystopia

Review: Ivan by Kit Rocha

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Title: Ivan (Gideon's Riders #3)
Author: Kit Rocha
Genre/Themes: Dystopia, Princess-bodyguard romance
Release Date: 28 March 2018

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads
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My rating: 5 Stars

Blurb

As the sheltered princess of Sector One, Maricela’s life is defined by duty: to her people and to her family. Her wealth and influence have allowed her to build a better world, but they come with a price---the responsibility to secure political stability with a practical marriage. Maricela cherishes the idea of marrying for love, but there’s not much romance in the endless line of suitors interested only in prestige and power.

And her handsome, brooding new bodyguard isn’t helping the situation. 

Ivan is the perfect, deadly warrior, a man trained from childhood to be the ultimate protector to the Rios family. His focus on keeping her safe is intense--and a little intoxicating. When the threat of danger cracks his icy control, Maricela realizes she’s not the only one fighting against temptation.

Ivan knows that the blood on his hands makes him unworthy of the pure-hearted princess. But from the first kiss, their forbidden affair feels inevitable. He can give her a glimpse of life outside her gilded cage and a lover who wants the woman instead of the crown. The only thing he can never do is promise her forever.

Because spurning her noble suitors to marry her bodyguard wouldn’t just be a scandal. It could set off a political firestorm that would tear Sector One apart.

Review

I loved this book so much, it's my favourite in the series so far. 

This is very much a typical bodyguard-princess romance and it's beautifully and very engagingly done. I loved the complexity of the main characters and all the pining and their long and stubborn resistance to giving in into their feelings.

Unlike the previous book where I felt there was strong emphasis on the cult/religious apsect of the secovite in Sector One, here the focus was more of the court intrigues and the world of the noble families in the Sector. There was still a lot of talk of (living) saints and martyrs and self-sacrifice but it didn't bother me as much. Either I am getting more used to the world of Sector 1 or it was indeed less present as a theme than in Deacon and Ana's book. The important thing is that it all worked so much better for me.

I loved both Ivan and Maricela and found them to be wonderfully complex characters, both hiding a lot from the world, only showing a deceptively simple facade. Theirs was a slow burn with lots of hidden touches and looks and it all exploded in hot passion. They completed each other perfectly despite the seeming impossibility of a relationship between them.

It's a very character focused story but we also see a lot of the rest of the Riders and noble families which creates a very rich, vibrant world. I loved the sense of camaraderie among the riders and Maricela's female friendships were really precious to me. Ivan and Maricela became the world for each other they could never forget their obligations and responsibilities to those they loved and cared about.

There is tense suspense plot going on which too a surprising turn at the end and I can't wait for the next books to see how it will all play out. The humour and easy interactions among the Riders were a delight to read and much needed comfort from the very intense and emotionally charged relationship of Ivan and Maricela.

I absolutely love how the authors take a familiar trope (in this book and in the previous ones in the series) and explore it from all angles, presenting it as a real, easy to relate to life experience.

In short, Ivan is a bodyguard-princess romance which I loved and can recommend to everyone. It works well enough as a standalone, so if you haven't read the series yet, you can start here.

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

Al Steward

Friday Favourites with Al Steward and Claire Davis

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I'm so very excited to welcome on the blog today the writing duo of Al Steward and Claire Davis. The write queer romance (adult and YA/NA) and are the authors of Dear Mona Lisa which was one of my favourite romances I read in 2017.

Al and Claire are my guests today to celebrate the release of their latest book, Oskar Blows a Gasket. This is a YA/NA sort of coming of age m/m romance and you can learn more about the inspiration behind it in the short interview that follows. Read on to see the cover and blurb and miss the purchase links at the bottom of the post if you want to get this book. I can't recommend it enough, it's heart-breaking and funny and a wild, inspiring ride!



1. Favourite place 
Al: Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It’s an amazing place where you can see massive sculptures out in the open, along with sheep and cows. It looks like the set to a sci-fi film, yet the art also seems to belong to the trees and the fields. To me, this is creativity at its best – using the natural world around us to find inspiration, but always respecting the environment. I visit often and always go away feeling empowered and braver than when I arrived. The park appears in several of our books but what I would really love is to plonk myself there for a while and write some poetry. I always feel vulnerable there, which for me is an important requisite to writing, so maybe one day it will happen. I hope so.

2. Favourite food and drink
Claire: Any and all LOL! I’ve had an off/on relationship with food since a teen, going from one diet to another with very little dieting success. It’s true to say food has been a life theme for me one way or another and sadly it will always be tied up with negative feelings. I have hated being part of this destructive cycle but now I try to eat whatever I fancy and not worry. I like French, Spanish, Eastern European, Middle European and North African food. I haven’t travelled further afield but if I did I’d probably love that too. For drink, I’m a huge coffee fan! I spend a long time picking and choosing all the seasonal flavours but at the last minute I often have the same drink.

3. Favourite music/genre/artist/song
Al: I’m very uncool! I listen to anything, but especially classical music and also dance music. If I go somewhere with live music I will dance even if it embarrasses people. A couple of years ago I went to a Spanish club on holiday with my boyfriend. We went crazy on the dance floor but when we stopped we saw that the younger clubbers were pointing at us and laughing! Heheheheh. We danced all night and I like to think we taught the kids a thing or two.

4. Favourite movie/TV series
Al: The most recent film I watched was, God’s Own Country. OMG it was so good! I was applauding all the way through. TV series, it has to be The Walking Dead. I am pure addicted, but at the same time I don’t think I can stand another character dying and it gives me nightmares. I also loved the Game of Thrones, and I watch all the popular cop series. Strong characters are more important to me than storylines.

Claire: Comedy all the way! I watch anything funny with my son. We’ve just finished bottom and Little Britain.

5. Favourite hobby besides writing, if you consider writing a hobby
Al: Oh god, I wish I had more but there’s not much time in my life. My writing roots are writing poetry and this is where my heart will always be. I often say, I cannot write in sentences, and nobody believes me, but it’s true. I’m a poet and will always be. And cooking.

6. Favourite books 
Al: Huge fan of the sci-fi classics like H.G Wells, John Wyndam, Philip K. Dick. I’m always looking for new sci-fi like the Wool trilogy which I found by accident. I had a zombie phase but I believe I’m through. My favourite oldie author is Dickens, favorite poet is T.S. Eliot. I fall back often on the classics but probably my favourite genre is literary fiction. Many of my favourite authors are European but I also spent years reading African literature.

7. Please introduce your latest/upcoming release (what inspired you to write, what can the readers expect from it, etc.)
Al: Oskar Blows a Gasket! Weeeee! I just love the title, because it says everything you would want to know about the book, about us, and even about where we come from. It’s British, it’s unexpected, it’s powerful and it’s unique. It came from a place of wanting to explore what it’s like to come from a very different background, and how interesting that might be should a character suddenly be immersed into the world of the rich and famous.

It began with a daily word count and a wobbly idea that we wanted to write a full length novel. Many of our readers were asking for more, but for us, this was a big ask. Even now, I don’t know how we wrote that much.

The inspiration for Oskar came from us both; from our lives and childhoods, also from our day jobs. We wanted to write a book about worlds colliding, about when rich and poor meet, about people not being what they seem. It’s a book about two boys that go a long, long way, through adversity and pain. They find their ways of holding on to inspiration and in the end…. I guess we wanted to over reach, to go to places we haven’t been before. To have fun, to be bold, to experiment. The storyline will kick the ground from under your feet. Be prepared to have an experience of bodacious proportions.

I believe if you have enjoyed our other books, you will also enjoy this one. Because it’s so much longer, of course there is way more character development. The main chap—Oskar—really turns himself inside out. Something I really enjoyed was being able to explore the other characters too. I absolutely love the bus driver!

What can readers expect? A YA feel, which moves gradually into NA. There is romance with a capital R that pulses off the page, and some steam. They can expect to look into two opposite worlds, and I hope that they will also laugh. If they like the 80’s, well, they will love Oskar, because so does he. Will they feel? I think so. Will they be entertained? Yes! Will they hate the main character? Sometimes. Will they understand him? At the beginning? No. By the middle? Yes, perhaps. By the end? Yes. Yes. Yes! Readers can except to see the Davis Stewart team stretch, and stretch, and stretch. To move from the young and vulnerable to the mature and broken. To see the dreams of the young alongside the disappointments of older generations.

I guess the real question here is: do they want to get on a rollercoaster where the ride is hidden? If so, hop on board. I can’t promise you anything except to go-go-go!

Blurb

Oskar Braithwaite is bold, brash and gorgeous. Just ask him.

Armed with designer backpack full of make-up and retro music galore, Oskar sets off for college. And, with attitude even spikier than his heels, nothing is going to hold him back. Except maybe one thing…his past is shouting louder than the 80s songs he adores and it won't be ignored. Behind the effervescence are secrets, lies and sadness. Try as he might, not even Oskar can hide forever, and one day it isn't only pop icon Simon Le Bon who's going to catch up.

Who is writing letters? And why is a spy secretly following?

Enter Bear, with dancing eyes and secrets of his own. Bear's kindness sparkles brighter than Lycra leggings, and everyone knows Oskar loves shiny things. Like every prophecy, their fates seem inevitably linked. As the walls of Oskar's defence crumble, Bear shows his hidden strength, but will it be enough to save them?

Find out in this far-out, zany tale of fame, first love and retro DJs.

Purchase Links: Amazon / Smashwords 


Author Bio and Links

Claire Davis and Al Stewart are lifelong friends and writing companions. They write YA, NA, gay fiction and short stories. They also write with other people and alone. Al is a poet and Claire is good at sentences.



age gap

What to Read: Romances with older MCs

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I admit I haven' read as many romances with older MCs as I would have like. In my defence there doesn't seem to be that many out there, age gap with one MC being in their 40s-50s seems to be much more common trope in romance. I recently read two stories with older MCs which I absolutely adored and this gave me the idea to compile this list. These were Olivia Dade's Cover Me and Rube Lang's The Long Run in Rogue Anthology. As usual for my What to read posts, I asked for more recs on Twitter and not surprisingly romance twitter delivered.


My recommendations:


Romances with older MCs

Sun-Kissed (Snow Queen #2) by Laura Florand. It's part of the Amour et Chocolate series but works well on its own. it's a lovely, tender romance with MCs in their 50s. Review

The 'Burg and The Colorado Mountains series by Kristen Ashley, in fact most of her romances feature MCs in their late 30s, early 40s and older. I have love/hate relationship with KA books. They are addictive, absolutely cracktastic but also problematic on many levels. I do however appreciate her focus on older MCs, giving her men and women a chance at love/family. Review of At Peace (The 'Burg #2)

Rogue Acts, Ruby Lang's The Long Run and Olivia Dade's Cover Me, two short stories, my first by these authors but quite good, made me want to read more of their work.  

A Seditious Affair by KJ Charles. This is my favourite book by KJ Charles, together with Simon Feximal (it could also be included here, though the MCs are younger at the beginning of the book but we follow them through a couple of decades of them being together). Seditious Affair is part of the ... series and need to be read in order, BDSM romance between a seditious publisher and a man of law, frought with tension and a hard-won, at times seemingly impossible HEA. Review

Autumn by Cole McCade, mm romance, part of Crow City series but can be read as standalone. Two older MCs, one disabled who just discovers he is bi, the other - gentle, weird in love with his ex brother-in-law forever). Review

Dear Mona Lisa by Al Steward and Claire Davis- contemporary m/m, one MC has synesthesia (which the first time reading something like that for me). It's very moving and emotional, made it into my list of best reads of 2017. CW for homophobia, death of a newborn. 

Age Gap 

For Real by Alexis Hall, Rita award winning BDSM m/m romance, with young inexperienced dominant and an older, slightly jaded submissive. Review

Glitterland by Alexis Hall, older grumpy writer with bipolar disorder and depression gets together with a young "glitter pirate" model from Essex. Review

Glass Tidings by Amy Jo Cousins, holiday m/m romance, older reclusive MC falls for a travelling fairs glass artists. very moving, very real and touching. Review

Magic Mansion by Jordan Castillo Price, contemporary romance with a touch of magic. Two magicians at a reality show, one MC is over 60, the other is around 40. Review

Pretty Face by Lucy Parker, fun romcom set at the London theatre scene, she is TV series actress know for her roles of silly bombshells, he is critically acclaimed stage director looking with scorn on TV production. They are forced to work together and to everyone's surprise, including their own, they fall hard for each other. Review

Peter Darling by Austin Chant - queer retelling of Peter Pan, m/m with a trans lead. It's beautiful, imaginative and very emotional short read! One of the best books I read in 2017. Review

Recs from reader friends
Romances with Older MCs

Fast Women by Jenny Crusie, m/f romance, chicklit, divorce  female MC

Scandalous Lovers by Robin Schone, erotic m/f romance, widowed female MC

Midlife Crisis by Audra North, LAMBDA nominated m/m contemporary romance, divorced bi POC MC, 

Twice in a Lifetime by Jodie Griffin, contemporary bi f/f romance, both MCs in their 50s

Late Fall by Noelle Adams, with MCs in their 70s and an assisted living home

Soul Deep by Pamela Clare, m/f mid-40s heroine and 60s hero. Light mystery and suspense. (*insta-love)

Fanning the Flames by Victoria Dahl, MCs in 40s. Fun and flirty novella.

The Best Laid Plans by Sarah Mayberry. Hero is early 40s, heroine is a bit younger

Sweet Life by Nina Lane, m/f holiday romance

Magdalena series by Kristen Ashley, contemporary m/f romances

Faith & Fidelity by Tere Michaels, m/m romance

Silver Belles: An Over-40 Holiday Anthology - Sarah M. Anderson, Ros Clarke, Laura K. Curtis, Yasmine Galenorn, Suleikha Snyder

A Taste of Heaven by Penny Watson, mf contemporary 

Love Games by Maggie Wells - m/f sports romance, both MCs are coaches now

Age Gap

Anyone But You by Jennifer Cruise - m/f romance / chicklit with heroine in her 40s and youner hero

Team Phison by Chace Verity - m/m romance, MCs meet through online gaming, one MC is 55yo, the other - 28 yo

Tender with a Twist by Annabeth Albert - m/m BDSM romance

Sway by Lauren Dane - m/f erotic BDSM romance

A Boy Called Cin by Cecile Wilde - trans m/non-binary billionaire romance

Permanent Ink by Avon Gale and Piper Vaugh - m/m romance, older tattoo artist and his friend's son

Companion Contract by Solace Ames - m/f BDSM romance with queer characters, 

New Hand by LA Witt - m/m romance, older MC is a widower, younger MC is HIV+

The Apothecary's Garden by Julie Bozza, m/m romance with big age difference (42 years)

Series w/age gap & over 40 MC:

Sugar Baby series by Rebekah Weatherspoon - m/f erotic novellas following the same couple, billionaire romance


The Boss series by Abigail Barnett - m/f erotic DBSM series, billionaire romance


*** *** *** 
Online resources for romances with older MCs

Seasoned Romance FB Group

Goodreads list: Best older hero AND older heroine romance books (the main couple has to be over 40!)
Sandra Antonelli, author of romances with older MCs, has a bunch of recommendations made by her readers listed on her website

Flickr Images