mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Take the Lead by Alexis Daria (Dance Off #1)

35832867Summary from Goodreads:
Gina Morales wants to win. It’s her fifth season on The Dance Off, a top-rated network TV celebrity dance competition, and she’s never even made it to the finals. When she meets her latest partner, she sees her chance. He’s handsome, rippling with muscles, and he stars on the popular Alaskan wilderness reality show Living Wild. With his sexy physique and name recognition, she thinks he’s her ticket to the finals—until she realizes they’re being set up.

Stone Nielson hates Los Angeles, he hates reality TV, and he hates that fact that he had to join the cast of the The Dance Off because of family obligations. He can’t wait to get back to Alaska, but he also can’t deny his growing attraction to his bubbly Puerto Rican dance partner. Neither of them are looking for romantic entanglements, and Stone can’t risk revealing his secrets, but as they heat up the dance floor, it’s only a matter of time until he feels an overwhelming urge to take the lead.

When the tabloids catch on to their developing romance, the spotlight threatens to ruin not just their relationship, but their careers and their shot at the trophy. Gina and Stone will have to decide if their priorities lie with fame, fortune, or the chance at a future together.

In trying to read more contemporary romances, I was recommended Take the Lead since I was also a dancer.  I don’t watch a lot of reality TV competition shows (there’s a point where they all devolve into a popularity contest irregardless of competitors’ talent or ability and then I lose interest) but this did sound like a fun story.

I really enjoyed the behind-the-scenes romance set on a “Dancing with the Stars”-type reality show. I really loved Gina’s professionalism and dedication to being a dancer/performer and not just mugging for votes (the voting/showmance/b-roll stuff is why I really don’t watch reality competitions; just give me the dancing, please). The plot gets a little lost in the middle then picks back up. It’s probably due to a lot of “errrrrybody got drama” – Stone has secrets and Gina has been burned really bad before – but it got back on track once Stone and Gina finally has a good talk.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this on my Nook.

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Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Governess Game by Tessa Dare (Girl Meets Duke #2)

36111620Summary from Goodreads:
He’s been a bad, bad rake—and it takes a governess to teach him a lesson

The accidental governess.

After her livelihood slips through her fingers, Alexandra Mountbatten takes on an impossible post: transforming a pair of wild orphans into proper young ladies. However, the girls don’t need discipline. They need a loving home. Try telling that to their guardian, Chase Reynaud: duke’s heir in the streets and devil in the sheets. The ladies of London have tried—and failed—to make him settle down. Somehow, Alexandra must reach his heart… without risking her own.

The infamous rake.

Like any self-respecting libertine, Chase lives by one rule: no attachments. When a stubborn little governess tries to reform him, he decides to give her an education—in pleasure. That should prove he can’t be tamed. But Alexandra is more than he bargained for: clever, perceptive, passionate. She refuses to see him as a lost cause. Soon the walls around Chase’s heart are crumbling… and he’s in danger of falling, hard.

To do a complete romance-180 from queer 21st century rock gods, I retreated to Regency England and let Tessa Dare kill me with laughter. We met Alexandra Mountbatten in The Duchess Deal as part of a trio of unconventional young ladies befriended by Emma. Alex’s father was a ship captain, her mother a Filipina, and Alex has found it hard to fit in as an intelligent, biracial orphan in England. But she has carved out an unusual career for herself: she has a roster of clients for whom she goes around to set all their clocks to the correct time.

The Governess Game opens as Alex arrives at Chase Reynaud’s door, to ostensibly pitch her services to a newly-found duke’s heir, she finds herself at the oddest funeral service she’s ever seen: for a doll. Reynaud has mistaken her for the newest in a string of governesses for his two impossible wards.

Alex, predictably, bolts. But she loses her chronograph in an accident on the Thames and so must return (soaking wet) to Reynaud’s house to swallow her pride and take the job – it’s either figure out how to be a governess or starve.

Chase, for his part, is really at a loss. He’s just been informed he’s the heir to the title (in circumstances that make him feel responsible and guilty), he’s inherited two forlorn little girls as his wards (who are more likely cousins or even possibly his half-sisters if he can determine who their father was), and now he, most notorious rake in London, has got himself a firecracker of a governess who isn’t really a governess but turns out to be rather good at the job. (And he’s unfortunately attracted to her, particularly her mind, which is going to put a damper on that whole rake business.)

From a little girl with a Wednesday Addams-level morbid outlook to a guilt-ridden Duke’s heir (Chase) and Alexandra herself (who is brilliant), I laughed and chuckled through the whole thing. Alex’s governessing style is less Fraulein Maria and more Dread Pirate Roberts and I loved it. Chase, for all his baggage, is much more a rake in the style of Colin from A Week to be Wicked (but no dirty math jokes in this one, which seems to be a Colin special) – “He ate the sham” might be a new catchphrase for a dude who really wants to impress his lady. In addition, it is very clear that consent is important to Chase – the first time he and Alex have sex, he is adamant that she give her active consent, not just let him plow ahead.  Whoever says that “consent positive” sexytimes isn’t sexy is very wrong.

And then Ash showed back up with the most creative “you hurt my wife’s friend and I’ll [harm you permanently]” and I almost laughed myself out of my chair. I’m so looking forward to Nicola and Penny’s books.

(But where’s my 4th Castles Ever After book and when will we figure out what is up with the old dude who set up the whole castle-as-inheritance scheme?)

The Governess Game is out today!

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley of this book from the publisher and I had it pre-ordered on my nook.

mini-review · stuff I read

Sanctuary by Rebekah Weatherspoon (Beards and Bondage #2)

38883903Summary from Goodreads:
From multi award-winning author Rebekah Weatherspoon, comes book 2 in this sexy, suspenseful series…

When she needs a sanctuary…

Targeted by a sadistic former client, attorney Liz Lewis needs a place to lay low. When a friend offers her his family farm as a safe house, she eagerly accepts, unaware that she’ll have to share the farm with her friend’s brawny, beautiful brother, Silas McInroy.

…she invades his…

Weary of a world that doesn’t understand him, Silas just wants to be left alone to grow the best produce upstate New York has to offer. Still, he’s not going to toss a woman out when her safety is on the line. But the only way to explain her presence on his farm is to claim that they fell in love online…and the last thing he needs is a fake relationship that threatens to become more and more real every day.

With her world turned upside down and danger on her trail, Liz knows that this temporary refuge can’t last forever…but leaving the comfort and ease of Silas’s arms and farm to face the reality of her life may be the hardest thing she’s ever had to do.

*** WARNING: This book contains scenes of mild bondage and domination between a gorgeous lawyer and a sexy farmer who is terrible with women. And five farm dogs with varying degrees of loyalty to both the hero and heroine.***

Remember the “fake engagement” trope? It’s back but in a modern form. In the follow-up to Haven, Rebekah Weatherspoon has produced a modern romance between a smart woman hiding from what seems to be a contract on her life and a man who really likes his quiet, mostly-solitary life as a farmer. When they have to pretend to be in a relationship to explain why she’s all of a sudden at his house (because her friend is his brother), sparks fly.  And I mean fly. *whew, fans self*

Sanctuary is a less-intense or insular book than Haven, IMO. Not that there isn’t a lot going on in this book (because there is) but I felt a little less emotionally connected to Liz and Silas than I did to Claudia and Shep. And while I loved the HEA for Liz and Silas there are some dudes in this book that still need a good comeuppance and beat-down.

I’m definitely reading more Rebekah Weatherspoon, though. I like how she writes first person POV in romance.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book on my nook.

Reading Diversely · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Hurts to Love You by Alisha Rai (Forbidden Hearts #3)

35068637Summary from Goodreads:
Being bad never felt so good, in the third novel in Alisha Rai’s sexy Forbidden Hearts series!

Well-behaved women don’t lust after men who love to misbehave.

Heiress Evangeline Chandler knows how to keep a secret . . . like her life-long crush on the tattooed hottie who just happens to be her big brother’s friend. She’s a Chandler, after all, and Chandlers don’t hook up with the help. Then again, they also don’t disobey their fathers and quit their respectable jobs, so good-girl rules may no longer apply.

Gabriel Hunter hides the pain of his past behind a smile, but he can’t hide his sudden attraction to his friend’s sheltered little sister. Eve is far too sweet to accept anything less than forever and there’s no chance of a future between the son of a housekeeper and the town’s resident princess.

When a wedding party forces Eve and Gabe into tight quarters, keeping their hands off each other will be as hard as keeping their clothes on. The need that draws them together is stronger than the forces that should shove them apart . . . but their sparks may not survive the explosion when long-buried secrets are finally unearthed.

OK, so, here’s the deal.  I know that we always say that you can read parts of romance series as stand-alones, that you don’t have to always read them in order.  However, I think you will get much, much more satisfaction from reading Hurts to Love You after you’ve read the first two books in the series (Hate to Want You and Wrong to Need You). There’s some inter-family stuff that will make way more sense. Plus they are ah-mayzing. Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

Good, you’re back.  Eve and Gabe were first introduced separately in Hate to Want You, Eve is Nicholas’s little sister and Gabe is Livvy’s boss at the tattoo parlor.  There’s an age gap between them of about 10-ish years (to be honest, I didn’t stop to calculate or notice while I was tearing through this book) and Gabe hasn’t been very close with Eve’s family in about a decade. As he says, Paul (Livvy’s older brother) got him in the “divorce” when the Oka-Kane and Chandler families split (ok, this is why you have to read the whole series, I’m telling you). But Eve’s got a little secret: she’s had a secret crush on Gabe for years and goes undercover as a Ryde driver to make sure she’s the one driving him home after his nights out.  When Eve and Gabe are thrown together in the run-up to Nicholas and Livvy’s wedding, Gabe learns that Eve is not longer the kid sister of his former friend and Eve learns that opening oneself to emotional experiences is a risk, but one worth taking.

*sigh* forever. I loved, loved this concluding installment to the Forbidden Hearts series and devoured it in one sitting. Then I read it straight through again. Eve and Gabe’s story is far more like Livvy and Nicholas’s story than Jackson and Sadia’s – there’s a LOT of drama and plotting. But it’s SO GOOD. Plus allllll the family pops up and there’s a tiny matchmaking subplot (this part was adorable – please to have a short story?). The glue in this story is how having emotions and caring for others can hurt you, but it can also feel so damn good. Eve has really closed herself off emotionally after years of verbal and emotional abuse from her father and watching her work through allowing herself to not only experience emotions but also express them was so profoundly moving.

Hurts to Love You will be out on TUESDAY March 27 – get your eyeballs ready, maybe buy some Kleenex.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley and did you really think I wasn’t going to have this pre-ordered?

Readathon · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

35259631Summary from Goodreads:
A groomsman and his last-minute guest are about to discover if a fake date can go the distance in a fun and flirty debut novel.

Agreeing to go to a wedding with a guy she gets stuck with in an elevator is something Alexa Monroe wouldn’t normally do. But there’s something about Drew Nichols that’s too hard to resist.

On the eve of his ex’s wedding festivities, Drew is minus a plus one. Until a power outage strands him with the perfect candidate for a fake girlfriend…

After Alexa and Drew have more fun than they ever thought possible, Drew has to fly back to Los Angeles and his job as a pediatric surgeon, and Alexa heads home to Berkeley, where she’s the mayor’s chief of staff. Too bad they can’t stop thinking about the other…

They’re just two high-powered professionals on a collision course toward the long distance dating disaster of the century–or closing the gap between what they think they need and what they truly want…

Everyone, and I mean everyone, has been talking about Jasmine Guillory’s debut romance novel. And when Roxane Gay starts tweeting about an excellent, smart, and sexy romance novel she’s reading you put it on your TBR. During the 24in48 Readathon this weekend a needed a much lighter book to balance some unexpected heaviness (Kent Haruf, I was not planning to read your book but I needed a short audiobook and whyyyyyyy did you do that to me?) so I pulled up my galley of The Wedding Date and dove right in.

Cue all the squealing. Guillory has provided us with a super-cute contemporary romance about a smart woman who gets stuck in an elevator with a hot guy who turns out to need a date for a wedding that weekend. Which turns into a one night stand. And then turns into something else entirely unlike what Alexa and Drew expected. I was hooked almost immediately by the meet-cute. Super-hot dude gets stuck in an elevator with you and makes jokes about needing snacks? Yes, please. And then he asks you to be his hot date for a wedding? I’d be willing to over-look the “oops I panicked and said you were my girlfriend” thing, too. The plot kept me turning pages until late into the night (good thing it was Saturday). 

I loved Alexa. Sharp, decisive, and with a love of doughnuts (yes, girl, always with the sprinkles). Guillory gave her a great job and purpose that just leap right off the page; Alexa doesn’t exist within the confines of this book, she could be a real person who is a mayor’s chief of staff trying to start a program for troubled kids. I liked Drew as a character, but I had trouble finding reasons for his commitment problems outside of being a busy doctor.  He didn’t come across as a Player player, no one accused him of cheating or two-timing or anything, so I couldn’t quite figure him out.

Holding up Alexa and Drew’s relationship was whip-smart multi-layered writing, infusing the book with discussions about body positivity, race, and privilege.  When Alexa arrives at the rehearsal dinner, she asks if she’s going to be the only Black person there, letting the reader know that not only will Alexa stick out as a new face attached to Drew (who has some history with the bridal party), she will be unable to blend in with the guests at any point; later, the discussions about which parts of Berkeley are supportive of her diversion program are similarly revealing. Alexa also has some thoughts about places she wished wouldn’t jiggle quite so much while having sex, which I’m sure most women have had, but Guillory makes it clear that Drew finds Alexa’s curves very sexy (every once in a while I’ll read a romance where there’s a “hero-loves-heroine-despite-her-chubbiness” vibe and that’s a definite “ew” but totally not a thing here). Ordering food and enjoying a meal are also big parts of this story, whether the main characters are alone, together, or in a group; there’s no food-shaming. Guillory also gets a Gold Star for condom usage EVERY time one was called for in addition to writing very consent-positive sex scenes.

The Wedding Date is on sale today! Pick it up at your favorite bookstore. (And apparently there’s going to be a sequel, with Drew’s buddy Carlos.)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Reading Diversely · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai (Forbidden Hearts #2)

34217566Summary from Goodreads:
He wasn’t supposed to fall in love with his brother’s widow…

Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Jackson Kane fled his home, his name, and his family. Ten years later, he’s come back to town: older, wiser, richer, tougher—and still helpless to turn away the one woman he could never stop loving, even after she married his brother.

Sadia Ahmed can’t deal with the feelings her mysterious former brother-in-law stirs, but she also can’t turn down his offer of help with the cafe she’s inherited. While he heats up her kitchen, she slowly discovers that the boy she adored has grown into a man she’s simply unable to resist.

An affair is unthinkable, but their desire is undeniable. As secrets and lies are stripped away, Sadia and Jackson must decide if they’re strong enough to face the past…and step into a future together.

So, I won’t lie. I’ve already read this twice (once as a galley, then again after it came out), never got a review written (see also: blogger is the worst), and now that I have the galley for the next book downloaded I have to reread Wrong to Need You Again. (Also, as I’ve looked up specifics for this review I tried to read it again, lordt.)

This book is so good it basically makes me lose my mind. The story picks up almost immediately after the conclusion of Hate to Want You (y’all, you do you, but you’ll want to read the first book first for reasons and it’s also amaaaaaaazing). Wrong to Need You opens as Sadia is working a bartending shift because she needs the extra money. Over in the corner sits her Mystery Man.  He’s been there all week, sitting quietly in the dark corner. But she can see his hands, hands that would be good on her. Sadia could use a Mystery Man. While the bartending money is nice, it allows her the opportunity to discreetly find a partner for the night, one likely to only be in town on a visit (the townspeople see her as a “mom” or “widow” first, not as a woman with needs). So Sadia makes her move….

Only to find that the Mystery Man is Jackson, the younger brother to her deceased husband. Who had been one of her closest friends growing up, who left town a decade ago and hasn’t been back since. Who was condemned by rumor after a fire (I told you, you need to read the first book). Whelp, one does not put the moves on one’s former brother-in-law.

Jackson knows this. He has loved Sadia his whole life. He didn’t intend to hang around and low-key stalk her at her job. But he hasn’t seen or spoken to her in ten years. And once Sadia realizes it’s him sitting in the corner, she is pissed at him for just showing up. So Jackson leaves, intending to speed out of town on his motorcycle. Instead, he finds himself breaking into Sadia’s café (can you break into a building that belonged to your family and still has the emergency key in the same place your grandfather always left it?) to see how she’s doing. Not well. She’s in need of a chef, badly. Jackson is a chef. Jackson can do this for her, help Sadia with the business (once he talks her into letting him help) before cutting himself back off from all the painful memories of his past.

And the book takes off like a shot from here. Sadia is an amazing character – a bisexual, tough, smart, Muslim-American woman who got dealt a crap hand and is determined to make the best life possible for her son without showing any weakness. Ever. I love her. She very quickly crawled up to the top of my favorite heroines list. Jackson is the perfect foil for her, big, supportive, and quiet. Like all very big, strong men, particularly men of color like Jackson, he’s often thought to be the source of trouble no matter that he’s the gentlest man you could find. (Rai choosing to make Jackson a chef was Evil Genius Author level, because I just want to eat my way through this book.) The two of them together just burn the page down, two lonely souls who need each other so very badly if only they can get all the baggage and past history out of the way.

Wrong to Need You is a very different book from Hate to Want YouHtWY is a big, loud, dramatic book filled with great big inter-family scandals of the kind you could find in a soap opera. (It doesn’t help that Livvy isn’t exactly the quiet or shrinking violet type.) WtNY is a very close, intimate romance.  Even though there’s some family stuff with Sadia’s family (I love her sisters!) and with Jackson’s family, those don’t have the same splashy, dramatic quality. Even the biggest reveal of the book, no matter the size of the bombshell, is of the quietly heart-rending kind of twist.

I love this book. Bless Avon Romance for giving Alisha Rai her contract (I suspect she would have written this anyway) and bless Rai for creating these characters.

(ETA: Holy cannoli, that cover. This is the most amazing cover.)

And now I’m going to read Hurts to Love You.

Dear FTC: I’ve read my nook book at least twice, after reading a galley.