Tag Archives: reading romance

Review: Looking for Trouble by Victoria Dahl

22 Jun

Looking for Trouble V Dahl

Description
A good reason to be bad…

Librarian Sophie Heyer has walked the straight and narrow her entire life to make up for her mother’s mistakes. But in tiny Jackson Hole, Wyoming, juicy gossip doesn’t just fade away. Falling hard for the sexiest biker who’s ever ridden into town would undo everything she’s worked for. And to add insult to injury, the alluring stranger is none other than Alex Bishop—the son of the man Sophie’s mother abandoned her family for. He may be temptation on wheels, but Sophie’s not looking for trouble!

Maybe Sophie’s buttoned-up facade fools some, but Alex knows a naughty smile when he sees one. Despite their parents’ checkered pasts, he’s willing to take some risks to find out the truth about the town librarian. He figures a little fling might be just the ticket to get his mind off his own family drama. But what he finds underneath Sophie’s prim demeanor might change his world in ways he never expected.

I’ve been reading romance novels since I was 12. There’s not much in the genre that will surprise me ( I think my shock gene was killed when I read the series about the time travelling, magician Vikings) so when I DO read something that I haven’t read before I am very pleasantly surprised. Although there were no Vikings or magicians in this story, it does deal with the mental illness of a secondary character and how profoundly it affected the leading man’s life.

I think a lot of people automatically imagine Gotham’s asylum when mental illness is discussed in fiction and it was refreshing to see this decidedly UN-sexy subject covered subtly in a romance novel. There are a lot of psychopaths and sociopaths in fiction, but particularly in romance novels, there’s not a lot of stories (at least not that I have read) that deal with the other mental illnesses- the ones where patients don’t necessarily need to be institutionalised but where the illness still has a real effect on the patient and their family.

Alex Bishop is back in town for a memorial for his father. He hasn’t been back in years mainly because his mother has a borderline personality disorder and is obsessed with the memory of his father. Alex’s father disappeared 25 years ago and he spent his childhood being dragged to the ends of the continent while his mother searched for father dearest. So as soon as he could get out of town he did and is only back now very reluctantly as they found the body of his father and are having a memorial service for him. Turns out he didn’t run away all those years ago, rather he and his mistress got into a bad car accident on their way to a tryst and died in a secluded ravine.

The mistress of Papa Bishop turns out to be Sophie Heyer’s mother- Sophie being the heroine of the story- can anyone say AWKWARD? Both Alex’s and Sophie’s lives were shaped so profoundly by their parent’s affair with Alex getting the hell out of dodge and Sophie suppressing her inner wild child to become the picture of decorum. In spite of this very unfortunate family history, they are drawn to each other. They both know that getting together would be a bad idea but can’t seem to help themselves. Their chemistry is combustible. If you like your books hot then definitely give this one a read as the sex scenes were habanero spicy and very well written.

While the sexy times happened often and quite early on in the story it took a while for them to realise they were falling in love and I really like that slow build into real affection. I’m a little over the whole sleeping together and great sex equals undying love trope that I’ve been reading so much of lately. It was nice seeing the two fall in love in spite of themselves and their families.

Another point in the book that I found equally infuriating and interesting was how differently the town viewed Papa Bishop and Mama Heyer and as a result how they viewed Alex and Sophie. While the males remained largely unscathed by the affair, poor Sophie grew up being labelled the daughter of THAT woman who was of loose morals etc etc. While Mama Heyer DID do wrong, it was frustrating that everyone shrugged off Papa Bishop’s part in the affair in a well, boys will be boys manner while she was pretty much thought of as the town harlot. There was a definite imbalance and double standard there and I’m glad Victoria Dahl addressed it in the story.

If you like your contemporary romance with a lot of emotional angst and some very spicy love scenes then definitely give this book a try. It will be published on July 29, 2014 but I did take a peek on Amazon and it is already available for pre-order.

I received this book as an advanced reader’s copy (ARC) from the publisher via Netgalley

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Review: Suddenly Last Summer by Sarah Morgan

20 May

Suddenly Last Summer
Fiery French chef Élise Philippe is having a seriously bad day. Not only have the grand opening plans for her beloved café fallen apart, but Sean O’Neil is back in town and looking more delectable than ever. Memories of the electrifying night they shared last summer leave Élise very tempted, but she knows all too well that eventually Sean will be leaving…again.

Being back in Vermont—even temporarily—is surgeon Sean O’Neil’s worst nightmare. Returning home to the Snow Crystal Resort means confronting the guilt he feels about rejecting his family’s lifestyle years ago. But discovering that Élise is still in Vermont and still sets his blood racing is a very welcome distraction! Remembering last summer and how good they were together is going to make walking away more difficult than he could imagine….

This is book 2 of Sarah Morgan’s O’Neill brothers series and is set in a family resort in Vermont. I haven’t read the first book, and although it was apparent to me while reading this book that there was a previous book in the series, it was easy to start with this book as all the back story was very well explained. As mentioned above, this is the story of Elise, the French chef who works for the O’Neil family at Snow Crystal Resort and Sean O’Neil, a very respected surgeon.

This was a lovely book about relationships. The relationship between Elise and Sean starts off as all fire and burn and sexual tension and develops slowly into something deeper. I have to say though that as beautiful as the romance was, just as beautiful were all the other relationships in the story such as the one between Sean and his grandfather, between the three brothers, between the women in the family – all the people in the book were so wonderfully interconnected.

The dialogue between the brothers in particular was a lot of fun to read- the affection very apparent in a “Hey, look at knucklehead over here” way that only men seem to do. The tension between Sean and his grandfather as a result of his grandfather’s all encompassing love for the resort and Sean’s passion for surgery was also very well navigated and I felt in the end that the two resolved their differences really well. I love small town and big family romances because of how connected everyone is with each other (whether they want to be or not) and feel that Sarah Morgan did a really good job of it in this story.

While there were funny moments in the book, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a light contemporary in the vein of Jill Shalvis or Susan Mallery. There is a lot of emotional angst in this book and some pretty serious emotional issues particularly with Elise’s back story. I really liked how individually they had to work through their own problems before they could get together. I did feel that Sean’s personal development was better described and resolved in the story than Elise’s but was happy with how things worked out for her in the end. I also really like how Sean had to really put himself out there and work for the girl instead of the other way around.

All in all it was a very good contemporary romance with likeable characters and interesting interpersonal dynamics. It will be published on 24 June 2014.

I received this ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

RFG Recommends: Until We Touch by Susan Mallery

14 May

Until we Touch Susan Mallery

I received this ARC from the publisher via NetGalley

After a family tragedy, former football hero Jack McGarry keeps the world at arm’s length—a challenge now that his PR firm has moved to neighborly Fool’s Gold, California.

Larissa Owens knows where she stands—Jack sees her as just another one of the guys. No matter what her heart wishes, Jack’s her boss, not her boyfriend. But then Larissa’s big secret is revealed…by her mother!

When Jack discovers the truth about Larissa’s feelings, her touch suddenly becomes tantalizing, and he’s not sure he wants to resist. But if he gives in to desire, heartache is sure to follow. Friendship or true love—will Jack go for the ultimate play?

I am a big Susan Mallery fan girl. Her Fool’s Gold series in particular is a comfort read for me. I love small town contemporary romance. In one corner of my mind, Fool’s Gold is alive and well three hours out of San Francisco and next time I visit one of my favourite cities in the world I will simply take a weekend to drive out and visit some of my favourite characters. Her stories are warm, heart-felt, funny and make you feel like you had some really good champagne afterwards- all bubbly and effervescent.

This is the story of Larissa and Jack, who we met in the previous books in this series. It’s an interesting dynamic between the two of them as they are best friends and have an employer/employee relationship as well since Larissa is Jack’s personal assistant (PA). She is also a trained masseuse and provides massage services for all the management team at Score, the PR firm that Jack part owns and Larissa works for.

While I am talking about their work backgrounds let me get the stuff that I DIDN’T like out of the way as it is almost all related to the work part of the book. I was a PA for 2 years when I first moved to Australia so I found the fact that Jack was Larissa’s boss AND best friend interesting as the dynamic between a PA and her direct report is very different to that of say a junior marketing executive and the marketing director of the company. The job of a PA is ALL about making the life of your boss easier. Your entire existence at the company pretty much revolves around him or her. While I have been very friendly with my supervisors in the past, that line between employer/employee is a pretty firm one in that particular role and makes the balance of power in that relationship very uneven. It was interesting that it wasn’t more of an issue, but I was able to brush that aside as it is a small town and a small company so things may have been more informal.

I DID have a problem with her being their masseuse AND Jack’s PA. Seeing her boss naked on a regular basis? Seeing all the other partners naked and having her hands all over them? Having one regularly get erect when she massaged him? Don’t get me wrong it was actually fodder for a lot of very interesting and funny scenes but it took me out of the story a little bit as I found it very strange and something I NEVER would experience in normal corporate life. Again, this is just my opinion and I think it is largely due to the fact that I WAS a PA and couldn’t imagine seeing any of my previous employers naked (Ugh).

Now onto the things that I DID like- and there were quite a lot of them. The story of Jack and Larissa is a best friends to lovers story which is one of my all time favourite tropes. I LOVE the shared history, the friendship, the knowing all the bits (even the unattractive ones) about each other. I felt that there was a genuine affection between the two of them and could believe their happily ever after at the end because of the way they interacted before they fell in love.

The opening scene of the book where Larissa’s mom interferes and talks to Jack and then blithely announces that Larissa is in love with him made me laugh and cringe at the same time. It was also, I thought, a really good way to not only start the book with a good laugh, but also a great way to move the two of them from friends to a couple. It worked for me because really, while they both protesteth their love for each other too much it did get the two of them thinking about it ALL the time. I think of it as similar to telling yourself NO I don’t want that chocolate bar, I DON’T want that chocolate bar, I don’t NEED that chocolate bar and… mmm, DAMN that chocolate bar was GOOOOOOD  Except in this case it was all sexual tension and love and longing and it was a lot of fun to read. Oh, and some really sharp and funny dialogue. I loved how the two of them would talk to each other.

The conflict in this book was largely internal and had to do with both Larissa and Jack distancing themselves others and the different ways they do it. There were no explosions or hold ups or kidnappings just a lot of rescued animals and mixed dog breeds (chiweenies, who knew?). I liked that they both had to work on and realise things about themselves before they could be together.
Jack, was a very likeable hero all the way until he hit that wall of all his past issues and boy, when he started burning his bridges he did it in a BIG way. I winced through that whole section of the book, but it did make the ending all that much sweeter and heartfelt in the end.

I already recommend this series to everyone I know who loves contemporaries and this addition to it is another one I would wholeheartedly recommend.

Review: Dragons Don’t Cry by D’Elen McClain

10 Apr

Dragons Don't Cry

Summary at the back of the book:
One pint sized human female who’s had too much to drink, not enough sleep, and absolutely no patience meets one stubborn dragon shifter with an attitude.

Bastian claims Acasia, his unwilling bride, after she spends the night carousing with friends. She’s not happy, he’s pissed off, and with a curse from a goddess thrown in, you’ll see Bastian breathe fire.

Add secrets, treasure, and unimaginable heartbreak for an emotionally humorous read and discover why Dragons Don’t Cry.

I had never heard of this author before but have a particular soft spot for dragons (Thank you, Anne McCaffrey) so decided to ask for this book on Netgalley. I like that the back blurb made the book sound like a GA Aiken style humorous paranormal. It didn’t quite get there for me but I did enjoy reading the story.

The story starts with a little background setting of how and why the dragons are cursed. One of their kin killed a daughter of Hera and as punishment she cursed them to live alone until they find their true mate- which will happen only once in a hundred years. There’s a bit about another goddess who is sympathetic to the dragons and vows to help them… but I found that she had a much smaller role than what it seemed in the prologue. I wasn’t sure the prologue was needed at all actually as the story gets explained again later in the book. Anyhoo, on to the main story…

Acasia is offered up as one of the maidens in a virgin sacrifice ceremony to the dragons. This ceremony happens once every 25 years and is met with dread and weeping and tears as you can imagine. She is of course picked by Bastian, the red dragon and carried away to his lair where she thinks he’s going to eat her- only he doesn’t. Their relationship slowly progresses after a rocky start and they fall in love (as you do in romance novels of course).

One of the more interesting parts of the book was the whole virgin bride sacrifice. It seemed that everyone in this world saw the dragons as these big, hungry beasts and their “brides” as poor victims who are never seen again because they are eaten or something as equally terrifying. The reality of course was that the dragons loved their brides and enjoyed their company and had to live with their brides becoming old and dying on them over and over again since only a true mate could become an immortal dragon. The author portrayed how painful that was by introducing the other 3 dragons, one who had just lost a bride and was mad with grief, one with a very elderly bride and one with a middle aged one.

In spite of this, the author was able to imbue a fun sense of ridiculousness to the story. It wasn’t quite over-the-top crazy sauce but there were fun, humorous bits that were enjoyable. I DID get confused when in the beginning of the book Bastian in human form was described as wearing jeans as the realm the dragons lived in was decidedly not Earth or modern times as we know it but that was later on explained when Bastian and Acasia would travel to Earth to save dying humans. These humans would then be brought back to the dragon realm in order to save their lives but would never be able to speak again. I found the whole back and forth through realms and humans not being able to speak a little weird. I know weird is expected in paranormal/fantasy books but I didn’t see the point in it except as a plot device to add friction to Bastian and Acasia’s relationship.

If I had to highlight a negative aspect of this book it was that the world building was weak. As I mentioned before the prologue didn’t seem needed, there was the tried and true virgin bride sacrifice trope and then there was jumping between realms which I think could have been fleshed out a little more.

However, I did enjoy the humour in the book. The ending in particular startled a giggle out of me. The romance was sweet and I liked how the hero and heroine got to know each other before falling in love.

I didn’t LOVE this book enough to recommend it but I didn’t hate it either. I would definitely buy another book from this author as I’m curious to see how her other stories turn out.

Review: Tamed by Rebecca Zanetti

2 Apr

tamed-ebook

Caleb Donovan was never meant to be a prophet. At heart he’s a conqueror, his appetites far more carnal than spiritual. He’s not inclined to repress his passions and surrender to fate. After all, that’s what cost him Lily–three centuries ago. She married another, because it was ordained. Now that he’s in the same benighted calling–and forced into proximity with her–all the old desires are roaring back to life. . .

After widowhood and centuries of celibacy, Lily is eager to explore the wild side of life, except now she’s vulnerable to another forced relationship, with an enemy. But this time she’s determined to choose her own path. And if hot, furious Caleb comes charging to the rescue, it might just change both their destinies. . .

Rebecca Zanetti has become one of my autobuy authors and this novella reminds me of all the wonderfully wicked and funny reasons why. Even though I love all her books, I have a special fondness for her Dark Protector Series as they were the books that introduced me to her.

For those of you familiar with the series, Tamed is the story where we finally see Lily and Caleb get together after hundreds of years of unrequited love (squee!). For those of you who haven’t read the Dark Protector books, I strongly suggest you read the previous books first (start with Fated). This novella is not a good point to jump into the series as there is a LOT of back story that would be difficult to understand if you are not already a reader and besides, the previous books are seriously awesome and I highly recommend them.

I’m not a big fan of novellas as a lot of authors tend to go for the love at first sight or insta-love trope to try and fit the romance into a relatively small word count. One of the things I really liked about this novella was the way RZ seeded bits of their relationship through the other books. As a reader, I knew that Lily and Caleb have known each other for 300 years and were in love way back when but Lily felt she was forced to choose duty over love and married someone else. The reason why this is not a good book to start the series with is the reason this is such a good novella- the love story between Lily and Caleb was very believable because there is such a back story there.

The dialogue in this story was sharp and downright funny- two things I really enjoy. Lily, who I always pictured as somewhat overly proper and mousy comes into her own in this story. She learns to let go of her image and duty and lets herself just BE. I do think that Caleb forgave her marrying someone else a little too easily as that must have really hurt at the time. In spite of this, I was rooting for them to get back together and ended the novella believing that they could have a happily ever after -in spite of all the mayhem and war and destruction around them.

I found it interesting that the time in this world has moved forward considerably in the last two books. The overarching plot line is finally coming to a resolution and I CANNOT wait. I would highly recommend this book to those readers who love alpha men, strong women and dry humour.

Disclaimer: I received this book as an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley

RFG Recommends: Uncommon Passion by Anne Calhoun

11 Mar

Uncommon Passion A Calhoun

I was listening to the DBSA (Dear Bitches Smart Authors) Podcast recently, going through all of their old podcasts hoping that I would find a book or books to break this reading slump that I’ve been on lately. One of the books that Sarah from Smart Bitches Trashy Books recommended was Uncommon Passion by Anne Calhoun.
The thing that made me want to read it was the description of the heroine. Her name is Rachel Hill and she is described in the summary as someone who has recently left a fundamentalist commune called Elysian Field. Having grown up in this very restrictive environment, she is a 25 year old virgin. Wanting to rid herself of her aforementioned virginity she buys the hero, Ben, at a bachelor auction thinking that he looks like the kind of guys who could do the job and walk away. Ben, at first, seems to be nothing more than a really hot adrenaline junkie police officer with too many notches on his bedpost.
One of the things that I really LOVED about this book was how thoughtful it was. There were no stereotypes to be found anywhere in the story. A lazier writer could have easily portrayed Rachel as an uber innocent (verging on too stupid to live) traumatised young thing and her father and everyone in the commune as evil and mean. What we do get is one of the strongest heroines I have read in a good long time.
Rachel’s strength is quite different from the outwardly tough, I will kick your ass to the moon and back strength of the urban fantasy/paranormal heroine, but by the end of the book I thought: wow that is one strong, self-aware woman. Anne Calhoun was able to write a character of such quiet inner strength and grace, I finished the book with an incredible amount of respect for the character and for AC as a writer for not turning Rachel into a caricature of what people think “escapees” from cults or communes should be like.
It also would have been easy to just vilify Rachel’s father as this oppressive man and in some ways, he was because of his beliefs. At the same time, he was also the man who baked cookies with her and read her stories and all these other things that show that he was a very loving father. There’s a scene where Ben and Rachel are talking about her life in Elysian Field and she says that people think she left because of the lack of fashion or long skirts but that’s not why she left at all. She left because she wanted to decide things for herself without her father or one of the elders telling her what to think or feel. I found it fascinating that she wasn’t even supposed to be mad or grumpy as this was being ungrateful to God so she had to be serene or cheerful all day.
Ben as a hero seems really simple in the beginning but is actually a really complicated character. I LOVE that he had to work through his issues and come to realizations about himself before he felt he had anything to give in terms of a relationship. I love how the romance developed slowly, completely apart from the steamy sex which would have been about an 8 or 9 in the steamy charts. I LOVE how the heroine , even being inexperienced knew to stand up for herself after a raunchy sex sesh and say you know what? You didn’t treat me right that time, buh-bye. I love how AC made Rachel brave enough to fully accept and experience all emotions even negative ones.
I know I may be repeating myself but it has to be said again; this was a very well-written and thoughtful romance that I will remember in the jumble of all the other meh books that I have read lately. My only criticism is that I didn’t get that ‘chest hurts oh my God this book is ripping my heart out’ feeling that I get with the some really good books. It’s a solid B+ for me though, hope you like it.

Meh books and Alphaholes

25 Feb

Reaper's Legacy Knight

I’ve been really disappointed with all the books that I’ve read in the past few weeks. It’s been a good long while since I’ve read any that made me want to write about it squeeing in delight… and I want to squee my way through a book, dammit.
I think the problem with me this past month is that I have gone for the free books and the .99 cent (or so) books on Amazon thinking to save myself some money. What HAS happened is that I have bought heaps of books that I then skimmed and then promptly forgot about or simply did not finish (DNF). This resulted in me spending more than I would have if I had just bought a few really good books at a higher price point that I could really enjoy. It’s like when you’re eating at a buffet with a lot of not-so-good food and you keep eating and eating and eating looking for that taste you’re looking for, not finding it and then feeling slightly ill afterwards. That is how the past few weeks have been for me in terms of reading- too much meh stuff that has left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied.
(This is not to say that you can’t find some really amazing books out there for free or cheap, I’ve just had really crappy luck with them these past few weeks)
The other thing that I am seeing with some of the books that I am reading is the emergence of a breed of heroes I call the alphahole. I know that the whole imperfect, grittier hero is a hot trend at the moment but I find myself getting exasperated with it. What the heck is so wrong about a nice guy? You know, one who does NOT have a stable of prostitutes that he makes his money with or one that does NOT call women bitches or whores?
I’m a HUGE fan of alpha heroes. I love their take charge attitude, absolute belief in themselves and their need to take care of their women. LOVE. THEM. However, lately I’ve found that some authors disturbingly blur the line between an alpha and an alphahole (which is basically an alpha asshole). I get that there is this movement towards realism and angst. I get that they’re trying to portray heroes that are in stark contrast to sickeningly perfect, gorgeous, intelligent, billionaire, philanthropist heroes of the past. For me though, there’s imperfect and tortured and there’s just being an abusive, misogynistic pig.
I’m learning that there are certain things that I just will not accept in a hero. Salty language and dirty talk? No problem. Being derogatory to a woman and calling her a whore, slut etc and then justifying it to the heroine saying it’s okay because I’d never do that to YOU? Not okay. A man hitting a woman? Never okay.
I read a book recently where the hero was absolutely APPALLING to women. He had no respect for them aside from them being receptacles for his magic wang. He would call them bitch and forcibly evict them from his house, throwing their clothes out- after taking them home with him the night before! How in the world is a man like that hero material? This hero THEN goes on to say that yes he would hit a woman if she was “asking for it”. Arrrgh. Just typing that made me so mad! And it makes me even more mad because he then says he would never treat the heroine like that because she wasn’t a slut like all the other sluts he slept with. Given that he actively participated in the aforementioned activity this would make him a hypocrite of the highest level.
Being imperfect, sleeping around, having a tragic past, being surly and not too good with social situations- these are all fine and I can live with those. Being in any way abusive even if that abusive behaviour is not targeted towards the heroine, I’m sorry I simply cannot stomach. As a psychology major the whole “Oh baby I treat OTHER people like shit but I would never treat YOU like that” really pisses me off. I get that some of the romance heroes of old may have been a little too perfect but do I really want to read about a hero who is a pimp? Uh, NO.
There are authors who push the envelope of the alpha male but manage to pull them back right before they cross over that invisible line for me into alphahole. A really good example of this would be Kristen Ashley’s Chaos MC boys who are really rough around the edges but never cross over this line for me versus those in her Unfinished Hero series (Knight, ugh!) and Joanna Wylde’s Reaper’s Legacy which was a good book overall, but there were moments with the hero that left a really bad taste in my mouth. He is SO never going to be one of my book boyfriends. Although that cover is admittedly really nice to look at.
What do you think about this new trend in alphahole heroes?