Ashley Herring Blake

Review: Delilah Green Doesn't Care by Ashley Herring Blake

02:30

Title: Delilah Green Doesn't Care (Bright Falls #1)
Author: Ashley Herring Blake
Publication Date: 22 Feb 2022
Genres: Small town f/f romance

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Instagram

My rating: 4 Stars


Blurb

Delilah Green swore she would never go back to Bright Falls—nothing is there for her but memories of a lonely childhood where she was little more than a burden to her cold and distant stepfamily. Her life is in New York, with her photography career finally gaining steam and her bed never empty. Sure, it’s a different woman every night, but that’s just fine with her.

When Delilah’s estranged stepsister, Astrid, pressures her into photographing her wedding with a guilt trip and a five-figure check, Delilah finds herself back in the godforsaken town that she used to call home. She plans to breeze in and out, but then she sees Claire Sutherland, one of Astrid’s stuck-up besties, and decides that maybe there’s some fun (and a little retribution) to be had in Bright Falls, after all.

Having raised her eleven-year-old daughter mostly on her own while dealing with her unreliable ex and running a bookstore, Claire Sutherland depends upon a life without surprises. And Delilah Green is an unwelcome surprise…at first. Though they’ve known each other for years, they don’t really know each other—so Claire is unsettled when Delilah figures out exactly what buttons to push. When they’re forced together during a gauntlet of wedding preparations—including a plot to save Astrid from her horrible fiancĂ©—Claire isn’t sure she has the strength to resist Delilah’s charms. Even worse, she’s starting to think she doesn’t want to…

Review 

This is a debut f/f romcom by Ashley Herring Blake and I had so much with it. It's both hilarious and light-hearted while also dealing with some serious issues. It is very queer, focused a lot on finding one's place and one's community as a queer person, focus on identity and the longing to belong somewhere with someone.

I like the story's take on the city girl returning to her small hometown and finding love trope. Delilah, the big city girl in question, is not quite as successful as she wanted to be and not everyone back home is the enemy she made them to be in her mind. The love she finds back in her hometown, Claire, is gorgeous and caring but has a bunch of issues she needs to take care of. 

They start casual, making no promises, acting out on the physical attraction between them. I loved their romance - tender and sexy, moving from this is just casual sex to oops, we caught feelings and don't know what to do about them. Claire and Delilah are opposites, some grumpy / sunshine dynamic. Loved the realness of their relationship. I appreciate the complexity of Claire's - raising her daughter very much on her own, her fraught relationship with her ex. I have to mention that despite some missteps, Josh was not presented as the evil ex as we so often see in romance. 

Delilah was such an amazing character. Her longing to be loved was almost palpable, her sense of loss and loneliness were heart-breaking. She carried so much rejection and fear to open up to someone unless they hurt her again. She deserved the world (and got it in the end!).

The story focuses a lot on past wounds and family relations. There is a lot of hurt there, both present and past but the reconciliation between the step-sisters rang real to me - there is no easy solution, it takes efforts, slow and gradual change from both sides.

We also get an interesting female friendship. I like the support and sense of loyalty but was also confused why Claire and Iris couldn't speak up about their dislike of Spencer sooner. The appearance of Delilah acted like a catalyst both for Claire and Iris and for Astrid to face some hard truths.

My minor quibbles concern the shenanigans at the camp which I found juvenile and silly. I was also unpleasantly surprised how one-dimensional the villains, Spencer and Delilah's stepmother, felt to me. They struck me as really poorly developed characters especially in comparison with how real and vibrant the rest of the characters were.

That said, this is an overall fantastic romcom, celebrating found families and queer joy.  

CW: death of parents (in the past), family neglect (in the past), cheating (in the past)

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Jessie Mihalik

Review: Hunt the Stars by Jessie Mihalik

02:30

Title: Hunt the Stars (Starlight's Shadow #1)
Author: Jessie Mihalik
Publication Date: 1 Feb 2022
Genres: Sci-Fi Romance

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

My rating: 4 Stars


Blurb 

Octavia Zarola would do anything to keep her tiny, close-knit bounty hunting crew together—even if it means accepting a job from Torran Fletcher, a ruthless former general and her sworn enemy. When Torran offers her enough credits to not only keep her crew afloat but also hire someone to fix her ship, Tavi knows that she can’t refuse—no matter how much she’d like to.

With so much money on the line, Torran and his crew insist on joining the hunt. Tavi reluctantly agrees because while the handsome, stoic leader pushes all of her buttons—for both anger and desire—she’s endured worse, and the massive bonus payment he’s promised for a completed job is reason enough to shut up and deal.

But when they uncover a deeper plot that threatens the delicate peace between humans and Valoffs, Tavi suspects that Torran has been using her as the impetus for a new war. With the fate of her crew balanced on a knife’s edge, Tavi must decide where her loyalties lie—with the quiet Valoff who’s been lying to her, or with the human leaders who left her squad to die on the battlefield. And this time, she’s put her heart on the line.

Review 

This is an fun, engaging space adventure romance and enjoyed it a lot. After reading the previous space romance series by this author I have come to expect the balance to be in favour of the adventure/thriller aspect rather than the romance and going in with this knowledge I was able to enjoy this story in full measure.

It's an enemies to lovers romance. There is a new race involved, reminiscent of Nalini Singh's psy characters - humans but with psychic and telekinetic abilities who came into existence on another planet.

There is a lot that I liked in this story. The thriller/solving a kidnapping aspect was well done and complex and we will be seeing more of this big conspiracy plot in the future books in the series. The MCs were both great, similar in so many ways - both are ex-soldiers, leader who took care of their people. I absolutely loved the way they built their own families with those closest to them. Especially with Tavi and her crew, it was a beautiful found family and I loved seeing the support, the loyalty and care between. Something that really stood out to me in the way Tavi care for her people was the way she fed them, the care she took with making food everyone liked, it extended to Torran's crew when she took them on board. The routing task of cooking was shown as a sign of care, kindness, basic respect for other people and it really spoke to me because feeding my people is basically my own love languages.

We saw that with Torran as well, he didn't shy away from cooking for his crew and guests and it wasa brilliant subversion of toxic masculinity.

Slow-burn romance and lots of secrets Torran kept which I was not a big fan of. He was guided by a complicated moral code of promises/obligations and I felt it need more elaboration/better explanation. It added a layer of forbidden desire to the attraction between Tavi and Torran. It made sense in the world of the story and also put focus on consent and honesty in all relationships, not just when it comes to physical intimacy.

It is a solid 4-star read for me, fast-paced, action-packed with a slow-burn romance.

CW: child abduction, violence, injuries

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Assault

Review: What If You & I by Roni Loren

02:30

Title: What If You & Me (Say everything #2)
Author: Roni Loren
Date of publication: 6 Aug 2021
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Mental health rep

Author's links:

My rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb

The world can be a scary place. At least, that's what Andi Lockley's anxiety wants her to believe. It doesn't help that she narrowly escaped a dangerous man years ago, or that every relationship since has been colored with that lingering fear. But things are better now―she's channeling everything into her career as a horror novelist and true crime podcaster, and her next book may be the breakthrough she needs.

If only her grumpy new neighbor would stop stomping around at all hours of the night.

Former firefighter Hill Dawson can't sleep. After losing part of his leg in a rescue gone wrong, he's now stuck in limbo. He needs to figure out what he's supposed to do with his life, and he can't let himself get distracted by the pretty redhead next door. But when someone breaks into Andi's place, Hill can't stop himself from rushing in to play the hero. Soon, a tentative bond forms between the unlikely pair. But what starts out as a neighborly exchange quickly turns into the chance for so much more...if Andi can learn to put aside her fear and trust in herself―and love―again.

Review 

It's the second book in the series and I can say I enjoyed it somewhat more than book 1. Like the first book this one also deals with characters who have mental health issues, the hero has PTSD and depression following an incident where he lost his leg.; the heroine deals with childhood SA trauma that causes her to have trust issues and makes intimacy a challenge for her.

I liked them as a couple, the grumpy / sunshine is my favourite romance trope. I found both Andi and Hill very likeable and relatable. They are dealing with their own issues to the best of their abilities when they meet by chance. They start a tentative friendship over horror movies, gradually cooking is added to the mix and the friendship becomes friends-with-benefits situation.

The intimacy is slow, tentative, it's new and scary for both of them and I liked how talked about their fears and hang-ups, took breaks when needed. At the same time some of the sex scenes felt superfluous, putting focus on the physical side and leaving the emotional connection between the MCs behind. I like how their traumas don't disappear overnight. Hill is directionless, dealing with physical and mental stuff (wished we got to see him on page getting professional help, rather than just being told medical appointment and therapy take up much of his time). His relationship with Andi is tremendous help for him but does not magically cure him.

Andi is getting free counseling/advice from a therapist friend and this was not very good choice in my opinion. There is a blurring of professional/personal boundaries here that didn't feel ok for me.

I hated the third-act break-up that was basically over nothing. And on top of that Andi doesn't get a proper apology from Hill. Her insistence that she knew what he felt despite him saying otherwise really bothered me. I can see he needed that push but also I am not a fan anyone telling the other person how they feel. It's too close to gaslighting for me. He needed to come to that conclusion on his own, not having someone spell it out for him.

There is a cheating ex plotline which I was not a fan of initially but I really like how the author handled it in the end with nuance and things, as most often in real life, are not just black and white.

Like the previous book, this one is very busy plotwise, lots of things going one and some were better developed than others. I did like both Andi and Hill and felt very confident in their romance. Now, I forward to book 3 which is coming out later this year. 

CW: assault, trauma, PTSD, depression, MC with amputated leg, paranoia

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