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Review–Decoy Date by Mira Lyn Kelly

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4/5*

Published December 2018

I got this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Gwen has been in love with Ted since she was a little girl. He was her first kiss, her first sexual experience, and more. But it’s always been hot and cold. She’s never been his girlfriend. She watches him hit on women and take them home. But she just can’t get over him.

Brody had no idea what Gwen sees in Ted, who’s just jerking her around in his opinion. But he has a thing for Gwen, and if she really wants Ted, he’ll help her do it. The key, he tells her, is to make Ted jealous. And how better to do that than to pretend to date him?

This is a slow burn romance between Gwen and Brody, and the book does contain sex scenes. What starts off as a fake relationship begins to slowly turn real. Both Gwen and Brody try to write off their feelings, but they’re real. They’ve just settled into a relationship when Ted declares his love for Gwen.

I thought this was a great romance. It kept my interest, and I was rooting for Gwen and Brody. When their plan worked a little too well, I got really engrossed, needing to know how it ends. The sex scenes are well done–very steamy.

The characters are well done, with unique voices. I like that Gwen is curvy, and not some stick thin supermodel type. My favorite romances are the ones where women are done more realistically–which means different skin colors, orientations, sizes, etc. Brody is hot, and has a really sweet heart.

My issue with the book is that at times motivations are murky. I would have given it 5* but at times it felt like Brody was manipulating Gwen.

This is book four in The Wedding Date series, but works as a stand alone. I haven’t read the other books in the series, and while it was clear that there were previous romances in the series it wasn’t hard to step in and start with this book. I don’t feel the need to run out and buy the other books in the series, but I’ll probably add them to my Goodreads want to read queue.

 

Review-Big Fat Bitch by Ginger Voight

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5/5*

Published September 2018

 

I received a free copy of Big Fat Bitch from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

CW/TW–there is a scene with a graphic sexual assault in the book. It is part of a larger #metoo subplot, but could prove hard for victims of sexual assault.

Sofie Vincent has clawed her way to the top, and is now Queen Iron Britches, showrunner and writer of Vindication, the hottest show on television. Everyone jumps to do what she says out of fear of what will happen if they don’t.

Fletcher Sullivan is a divorced single dad of Ava (12) and a hospice nurse. Together, he and Ava read to the residents of the hospice. One day, they read to a new patient with dementia, Rose, and she calls Ava “Pudgie.” When Fletcher mentions it to Rose’s nurse, she tells him that Rose is the author of a famous series of books about a girl named Pudgie. Fletcher decides to find Pudgie–her daughter.

Sofie ensures that Fletcher gets fired. Then ends up hiring him herself out of fear that he might spill her secret.

Big Fat Bitch is a romance, but it’s a slow, slow, slow burn. There are no sex scenes.

I had considered giving Big Fat Bitch a 4/5*, but the complexity and slow changes that Fletcher inspires in Sofie earned it the 5/5. Sofie is smart, successful, and scared. So scared of being found out to be Pudgie–who she views as her mother’s favorite child, the one who succeeded where she, Sofie, failed. Sofie has a huge mansion, a fat bank account, and very little else.

As a plus-sized woman, it meant a lot for me to see her be all of those complex things, and also a size fourteen. She doesn’t lose weight to be happy and that’s a big deal.

Fletcher is a less complex character–he wants to provide for Ava, and he wants to make the world kinder. He could have outed Sofie for revenge, but doesn’t. He only takes the job Sofie offers because his ex-wife is threatening to take away more of his time with Ava. But being Sofie’s assistant, and respecting her an employer doesn’t mean he isn’t going to go toe to toe with her.

This is a story of mothers and daughters, and of the kind of love that never dies.

I think the love story that really twisted my heartstrings, though, isn’t the one between Fletcher and Sofie. It’s the one between Sofie’s parents. Her father has lived on a boat since her parents divorced when she was a tween. When Fletcher can’t find Pudgie, he does manage to track down Rose’s former husband. Rose and Vincent had a hell of a love story, and the end of it made me sob.

In another author’s hands, Fletcher and Sofie would’ve sparked off each other and it would’ve been a concussive explosion. Which is what I kept expecting. But by keeping it slow, Voight gives us more time to get to know the characters and see why we should want them together beyond “the plot demands it.” It means there’s no magic kiss to wake the Beast from her slumber–instead, she has to make the changes herself. The changes are slow and there are several steps backward.

I invoke Beauty and the Beast because at its heart, this is a retelling of that story where Sofie is the beast and Fletcher the beauty. Which isn’t an obvious retelling, but there are just enough breadcrumbs for the reader.

I think this is a great romance that subverts the expectations of what a reader might think a romance “should” be. I can’t wait to read more by this author.

Review–Kissing Frogs by Tori Turnbull

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5/5*

Published June 2018

 

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Twenty-nine year old Kate is “riding the euphoric wave of successful shoe shopping” when she is exiting the Tube. Until the escalator reaches the top, and Kate is faced with an incredibly unflattering picture of Kate captioned “Date my daughter.” Yes, her mother has used her pension to pay for the humiliating digital posters. Worse, after Kate is arrested for trying to damage the posters, she is picked up by her childhood nemesis Mark who eggs her mother on. Kate agrees to date for two months to get her mother off her back. Even more worse, it turns out Mark is going to be sharing her flat in exchange for doing home improvements for her mother, who owns the building.

Things go about as well as expected. There’s the stalker. The one who flees. The one on the cover who won’t let go of her legs even as she’s beating him with carnations.

I couldn’t put the book down. Between the hilariously bad dates and the growing sexual tension between Kate and Mark it was irresistible. It’s obvious to the reader that they belong together and that Mark is trying to pursue her. The end result is a sleek, funny romance.

Written in the first person voice, Kate comes through loud and clear. At first I thought it was a bit of a riff on the whole Bridget Jones thing, especially with an antagonist she’s known since childhood named Mark, but Bridget and Kate are very distinct and different voices, although fans of Bridget Jones should check this book out..

Even though you don’t get Mark’s inner voice, he’s well written. His personality comes across clearly, as does his interest in Kate. The secondary characters are developed enough. If there was more side story for them, I think it would take away from Kate and Mark’s story and make it flabby.

There are only a few sex scenes, but they’re worth the wait. Turnbull builds the tension so well that the reader is plenty turned on and ready to go by the time Kate and Mark are. From the moment Kate sees Mark coming out of the shower in just a towel, the chemistry sparks. When Mark begins to date someone, Turnbull ensures that we’re just as irritated by it as Kate, although she’s blind as to why she’s so jealous.

Turnbull has another book, and the highest compliment I can give her is that I’ve already bought her other book.

 

 

 

Review–Mating the Huntress by Talia Hibbert

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5/5*

Pub October 2018

 

This hot Halloween erotic romance can be devoured in one bite (pun intended).

Chastity identifies the hot stranger who keeps coming into her family’s coffee shop as a werewolf right away. But she doesn’t warn her family of huntresses, or even any of the men in her family. When he finally asks her out, she says yes. If she can kill him, she’ll prove to her family that she can be a huntress, too. The problem is that he’s not a mindless beast, like she’d been warned. He seems like a….a guy. An artist, even. Can a monster make art? Worse, can a monster inspire feelings other than hate….like lust?

Luke is a werewolf. But like most weres, he’s a solitary creature who likes his meat raw–and the forest behind his house keeps him perfectly happy via plenty of rabbits and such. But on a full moon, he’s chased by a group of huntresses…only to catch the scent of something primal. His mate. But the woman wearing the sweatshirt isn’t her. Instead she’s this shy, sweet girl who works in a coffee shop. Or so he thinks…until she tries to kill him.

Luke and Chas have chemistry that sparks right off the page. They’re easy to root for because it’s blindingly obvious that they should be together. Their banter is hot, and their fighting even more so. When they finally get together, I was squirming.

I love the idea of huntresses being obsessed with killing mindless monsters versus the very civilized but solitary werewolf who just wants to meet and commit to his mate for life. The dichotomy makes their story sparkle.

Luke is very much an alpha character. He doesn’t hesitate to take control or make a move. But he’s also committed to consent, which is really sexy. There’s an instance where the consent is blurry and he pulls away immediately. This only makes him hotter.

I wish it were longer, but I always wish a Talia Hibbert book were longer–she’s such a talented writer that I am always sorry when the story finishes. There’s such a great glimpse into the world of the huntresses and the world of werewolves. She has a unique take on what can be a really tiresome trope. Kudos, Talia!

It’s October 1, which means it’s on sale TODAY!

ARC review–The Sheriff’s Little Matchmaker by Carrie Nichols

The Sheriff’s Little Matchmaker

4/5*

Publication date–October 11, 2018

I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I am cross posting this review to my author blog as it’s a romance title.

Do you like sweet romance? Sexy lawmen? A Cajun accent? I have a book you’ll love.

The Sheriff’s Little Matchmaker by Carrie Nichols is a lovely sweet romance. Sasha is tired of being that poor widow after her husband was killed in the line of duty, so she moves to Rose Creek, Texas. Remy is the town’s sheriff, and a single father. Evie is his daughter and Sasha’s student–who knows what she wants. Evie orchestrates a meeting between Sasha and Remy, without knowing that Remy was the stranger Sasha had been dared into kissing on a girl’s trip to New Orleans. When Remy sees the mysterious woman who disappeared after a blazing kiss in his daughter’s classroom, he’s thrown. Sasha is torn between shock and embarassment–things like torrid kisses were supposed to stay on vacation where they belong. Sasha and Remy can’t really stay away from each other. Sasha determinedly holds the line of “I’m your daughter’s teacher, I can’t date a parent,” although it’s a losing battle. But step by step, the sexy sheriff breaks down her walls. Which leaves the question of whether Sasha can bear to give her heart to another lawman, and if Remy wants more than just a mother for his daughter.

The sexual chemistry between Sasha and Remy is electric. There is a steady build, and in any other book they would’ve fallen into bed within the first quarter of the book given that chemistry. I kept rooting for sex, and (spoiler) there is one sex scene, but it’s all off page, which is a bit of a disappointment. The way the sex scene is handled is a bit disappointing because it’s quite rushed, and not just because they’re lusting for each other and the sex happens off stage. There could’ve been a longer scene there to rebuild the tension that had deflated in the time since their last encounter.

We get to see the events through both Sasha and Remy’s points of view. Unfortunately there were time when I got a bit confused who’s point of view we were in.

The judicious use of Evie, Remy’s daughter/Sasha’s student is well done. Too often kids speak in inauthentic ways, but I think Evie is just about right (I have a daughter who is older than Evie and one who’s a bit younger). She’s obsessed with Sasha’s cat, loves Eloise, and is very interested in Sasha becoming her new mom. (Remy and her mom divorced when she was young.)

My only real complaint is that Sasha keeps saying she won’t let a dominant personality dictate her actions, but that isn’t quite what happens. Remy is very much an alpha/in charge kind of character and for the most part Sasha gives in. I would have liked a little more spine.

 

Review– Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

Buy Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

4/5*

Published August 2018

 

Michael’s family just moved for his dad’s work. Again. After his dad promised that the last move was going to be the final move. Worse, atheist Michael is being sent to Catholic School, with its stupid uniforms and religion and rules. He’s sure he’s not going to make any friends and will be trapped in his own perception of hell (assuming he believed in hell, which he doesn’t) for the next two years until he graduates. Then, in Theology class, a girl starts arguing with the nun over saints. Here, Michael realizes, is someone he can be friends with. He chases the girl down after class and Lucy invites Michael to sit with her friends.

Eventually he is asked to join their secret club, Heretics Anonymous. Lucy is actually Catholic, and believes in it, except for the part where women can’t hold any real power. She’d want to be a priest, but it will never happen, and she’s upset over it. Avi is Jewish and gay. Eden is the youngest in a very Catholic family, but is a practicing Celtic Reconstructionist Polytheist. Max is a Unitarian who loves cloaks and hates the dress code.

At first all H.A. does is sit around and discuss what’s wrong with the school. Then Michael suggests that they start doing things. Things like subverting the dress code by leaving pairs of neon shoelaces around the school. Or when they print a paper to counter the overly censored school paper.

But is H.A. making the school better? Or worse?

But one day Michael takes it all too far.

I thought that the book was really well written. The story was engaging with really good pacing. I didn’t realize how long I’d read for, and I immediately wanted to go back to reading it. I wish there was already a sequel! (On the other hand, no sequel because it’s perfect as it is.) It was highlighted in Buzzfeed’s YA books to read this summer and it’s easy to see why.

The evolution of Michael’s relationships, including his romance with Lucy were engaging and, again, well paced. Avi is distrustful of him at first, and doesn’t want Lucy to invite Michael to join H.A. Lucy falls for him, but slowly. Michael is closer to some members than others, and he never hangs out with Eden alone, for example, but she’s a friend in his circle. So it’s more realistic than if they were all the bestest buddies ever.

I don’t think the reader will find any shocking reveals, but even if they’re predictable, they’re well done.

I really liked that the characters were quite diverse. There are Latinas, Asians, and Black students, and it’s nice to see that their race is not a defining characteristic a la The Baby-Sitters Club where Jessi was Black and did ballet and that was all of her character development. Avi being gay is also not a defining characteristic but when it’s used, it’s used well.

Henry does a good job of presenting what’s wrong with that sort of school environment, including the abstinence assembly and the teacher’s morality clauses and how they’re enforced. But through Michael’s eyes, we also see a softening toward the church and things that are good within it. Both believers and non-believers can enjoy the book.

I thought that the “villain” of the story–Theresa, a soldier of Christ with no ability to see beyond that into the gray areas–is something of a cardboard cutout. I sort of get why she cares so much, but she’s still a flimsy villain. I wish she were a little more developed and three dimensional. Some of the secondary characters, like almost all of the teachers are also less defined than they could be.

Overall, a great book if you like realistic fiction and YA.

Book Review: Dark Witch (Cousins O’Dwyer #1) by Nora Roberts

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 10.16.42 PMDark Witch by Nora Roberts (Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy #1)

4/5 stars

Nora Roberts has written over 200 books.  I have read at least 100 of those.  I suspect that if I were to sit down with a list and start checking off titles, it’s closer to 150 or more.  One of my closest friends, Brandy, introduced me to Roberts in 1996 with the Dream Trilogy (still a favorite today, if a bit dated).  I immediately devoured as much of her back catalog as I could get my hands on, and read every new release and out of stock re-release for the next 10 or so years.

I’m still a huge fan of her “in death” series written as JD Robb, and read those the day/week they are released.  However, over the past five to eight years, I’ve hit a wall with Roberts.  Her work is still solid…it’s just that as a fan of her work for almost (gulp) two decades it’s also predictable.

While I’m not gasping in shock over a plot twist, Roberts does still pull off an enjoyable read.

While Roberts typically opens a paranormal with a glimpse into the mythology she’s weaving, Dark Witch breaks that with an extended view (2 chapters) into the origins of the Dark Witch and why we’re now dealing with a trio rather than a single descendant of Sorcha.  Part of this is because she’s setting up a fairly  complex backstory between Sorcha (and her descendents) and Cabhan (and his), but it also makes for a nice change of pace.

We then flip forward to modern day Ireland, where Iona-our token American-has arrived in Ireland.  One of the unique twists on this series is that while Iona is new to her powers, she’s known the family legends her entire life.  There is no shocking reveal.  More refreshing is that the entire town knows–there’s no need for subterfuge amongst the magick working characters and the non magickal characters (to use Robert’s preferred spelling).  Because there isn’t, it’s also not a major plot point either way and therefore is easily dispensed with.

Iona is welcomed into the family by her cousins Branna and Connor.  She secures a job at a local stable headed by her assigned love interest Boyle.  The stable is owned by Branna’s (obvious) former lover Fin.  Connor’s (obvious) eventual love interest Meara also works there.

While the who’s going to end up with who is obvious, I enjoyed the path of seeing how Iona and Boyle would end up together, what would push them apart and so forth. I get the feeling that Roberts might well have pushed the resolution of the couple back into the second book, but couldn’t because of genre conventions and that the next book won’t be telling the Iona/Boyle story.  Without going into spoilers, I will say that the wrap of the I/B relationship was rushed and bit dissatisfying.

There is no hint at the Connor/Meara relationship in this book, but without reading it, I can tell you that in book 2 there will be a reveal that at least one of them has pined for the other and the other will be shocked by it.  I will be less interested in this relationship than the other two.  This is a pattern of her trilogies and I know what I’m in for.

Most interesting by far, and why she’s also saving it for book 3 (note, I haven’t actually read the flap copy or anything relating to the other two books, I just know the Roberts pattern) is the Branna/Fin relationship.  They are the former lovers who have broken it off.  That reason is that just as I/C/B are Sorcha’s descendents, Fin is Cabhan’s descendent–something he didn’t find out until after they were a couple.  He has chosen to align himself with the O’Dwyer cousins, but he and Branna are not buddies, and they’re not over one another.  His choice to align with the good side rather than the bad feels like a new (or newer) plot point for her, and one I appreciated.

The pacing of the book is fairly solid.  I didn’t get distracted by other books in my reading queue.  However, I didn’t feel the need to stay up half the night to finish it, either.  Apart from the rushed ending with regards to the I/B romantic relationship, I was happy with the backstory we’ve gotten in this books, the growing friendship/familial relationships that grew in this books and where the plot will go over the next two books.  I’m not running out to read book #2 before I read anything else, and there’s no rush–book #3 isn’t out until Nov 2014–but I’ll buy it and keep it on my kindle as my next “palate cleanser” book.

If you’re an established Roberts fan, you’ll find it fairly standard Roberts paranormal fare.  Worth noting–as with anytime Roberts feels compelled to write “spells” you will sigh at the often bad rhymes.  It’s not her strong point.

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 10.57.25 PM

The bigger question is what does this book/trilogy have to offer someone new to the genre/new to Roberts?

Do you like paranormals?  Do you enjoy witches and magick being thrown about not just in a fantasy/historical setting but in modern day Ireland?  If not, move along.

The reasons that I like Roberts as a Romance novelist are that she writes good characters.  She doesn’t write one dimensional stock characters (although read enough work and you do see patterns).  Her women are complex, and they are active participants in the story and in their love life.  Iona goes over Boyle, rather than wait for him to come a knocking and notice her.  Obviously this is a romance book, but the relationship between I/B is A plot rather than the entirety of the plot.  The paranormal side isn’t just filler–it’s a genuinely interesting story on its own.

Roberts takes the time to research to the point where she can write convincing jewel thieves (Honest Illusions among others), cattle ranchers (Montana Sky), homicide police officers (In Death series of 30+ books and others) or a horse riding instructor (as in this book).  I appreciate that Roberts doesn’t phone it in.

The sex scenes are okay.  I’m not the best barometer because as an erotica author, I tend to read (and write) far more explicit scenes.  That said, they’re not boring or trite either.

I don’t know that this is the first Roberts book I’d hand a new reader of hers, but that’s about personal bias rather than the quality of this book versus another. For the record, my favorites include the Dream Trilogy, The McKade Brothers, The Quinn Brothers, The MacGregor Family, and the In Death series.  Individual title recommendations are Honest Illusions and Sweet Revenge (incidentally both feature jewel thieves).