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?

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mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Haven by Rebekah Weatherspoon (Beards & Bondage #1)

34745311Summary from Goodreads:
A week-long getaway…

City girl Claudia Cade’s carefree life is plunged into chaos when a camping trip with her brother in the national forests of Northern California turns into a deadly dash for her survival.

A solitary world turned upside down…

Nature photographer Shepard Olsen has resigned himself to a quiet existence, with only his dog by his side, until a woman in need of his protection shows up on his doorstep and throws his universe into disarray.

Two lives linked by tragedy…

Claudia is desperate to heal from her traumatic loss, but can’t stop thinking about her run-in with evil….or the grizzled mountain man whose quick thinking and good aim saved her life. When she shows up on Shep’s doorstep again, she finds she isn’t the only one who can’t move on.

…saved by bliss.

The two begin an intense, passionate relationship of Dominance and submission, pleasure and pain, but with dark memories haunting them and decisions about the future rapidly approaching, Claudia can’t help but wonder…how long can they be each other’s haven?

*** WARNING: This book contains a sexual relationship between a fashionista and a cranky mountain man who are dealing with physical and emotional trauma. And a very big, cuddly dog.***

Rebekah Weatherspoon has been popping up in lists of romance authors recommended to me for a while now. And I’ve been intrigued, but her usual genres (contemporary, BDSM) aren’t always my bag. I’ve had good luck with contemporaries of late and I was told that Haven would be a good place to start so I decided to give it a whirl. (I was also tickled by the series name: Beards & Bondage.)

Haven takes off like a rocket right from the first page. Shep, a large bearded mountain man with a penchant for bondage, saves Claudia’s life when she turns up at his cabin bleeding and running for her life. When her attacker steps out of the woods, and offers to share her with Shep, Shep gives one warning and then shoots the man. On the way down the mountain to the hospital, she relates a horrific story: she was camping with her brother when they were attacked by two men. As Claudia recovers from her injuries Shep tries to give her some comfort, simply holding her so she can sleep. Although they each try to return to their previous lives, the experience has irrevocably changed both of them. Claudia soon returns to Shep’s town, to find closure and explore her attraction to the man who saved her.

I’ll probably never be a fan of 1st person POV in my romance reading, but it worked for this book. Weatherspoon would give us several chapters in one POV before switching to the other, so it wasn’t too much back and forth. Shep isn’t some sort of grizzled, nasty dude in a shack; he’s a very rugged, fit nature photographer with a modern cabin who just happens to be an introverted Dom. The conversations that Weatherspoon gives him with Claudia, where they discuss exactly what she wants from her time with Shep and what a D/s relationship with Shep would entail, were refreshing; no one does any quibbling about feelings before getting down to business. This isn’t a sweet or funny romance (although Claudia is a smartass with excellent one-liners). It’s a story about two people who work through some very, very heavy emotional stuff mixed with incredibly hot sexytimes (if you’re like me and the pain thing is really not your jam, the scenes lean into the Bondage portion of BDSM more than anything else). The only part of this book I really felt didn’t work was that the HEA didn’t seem earned. I totally got the instant emotional connection between Shep and Claudia – they both went through something traumatic and it created an instant bond worth exploring. But they’re given a week – which is eventually cut short by a plot point, so maybe 4 days – and it just doesn’t seem long enough for them together. They each work through some things separately, but I would have liked them together in one place for collectively more than a week.

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

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.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

For Real by Alexis Hall (Spires Universe)

25500803Summary from Goodreads:
Laurence Dalziel is worn down and washed up, and for him, the BDSM scene is all played out. Six years on from his last relationship, he’s pushing forty and tired of going through the motions of submission.

Then he meets Toby Finch. Nineteen years old. Fearless, fierce, and vulnerable. Everything Laurie can’t remember being.

Toby doesn’t know who he wants to be or what he wants to do. But he knows, with all the certainty of youth, that he wants Laurie. He wants him on his knees. He wants to make him hurt, he wants to make him beg, he wants to make him fall in love.

The problem is, while Laurie will surrender his body, he won’t surrender his heart. Because Toby is too young, too intense, too easy to hurt. And what they have—no matter how right it feels—can’t last. It can’t mean anything.

It can’t be real.

After whetting my appetite with M/M romances written by straight ladies (which I liked), I was casting around for M/M romances written by gay men. I got several recommendations for authors (Santino Hassell for one) but then I got a rec for For Real by Alexis Hall, which was pitched to me as the sweetest, filthiest, May-December D/s romance. BDSM, etc. are not really my bag (it’s interesting to me from a philosophical/ideological standpoint, but it doesn’t turn my crank, if you know what I mean) but I was intrigued by the sweet/filthy/age difference idea.

And it’s really good! The recommendation was spot-on. If you are looking for a sweet-but-very-very-very-hot m/m BDSM romance (edges toward erotica maybe?) this is for you. I loved the development of the relationship between Laurie and Toby. There’s a seventeen year age gap between the two, so combined with the basic romance plot are some growing pains, some old broken-heart issues, and the complications that arise when the Dom is the younger of the couple and still working out how to go about with his kink. (How do you even find your people to learn how to do that safely if that’s your thing?)

Laurie’s super-snarky inner monologue had me from page 1; the book opens as he’s trying to gain admittance to a dungeon (dungeon? private sex club? terminology?) where his friends are waiting for him, and he’s had a long day and he’s come straight from work (he’s a trauma surgeon) and he is REALLY annoyed that the doorperson won’t let him in bc he’s not wearing “the right” clothes and he’s pissed that he has to put on a costume to get his rocks off as a sub. I loved him (and he’s right – does it really matter that the D or the s is wearing leather pants?). Toby is also a good cook, so be prepared for serious foodie envy, plus there is a scene in the kitchen that gets so filthy… (I was reading that scene on break while doing an overnight shift at the bookstore and I actually had to tell one of the other booksellers not to look at me because I was sure I was about seventeen colors of “omg this is the hottest thing I’ve ever read but I’m in public and OMG” tomato red), also the trip to Oxford….

Dear FTC: I bought the copy I read on my Nook.

mini-review · stuff I read · YA all the way

The Big F by Maggie Ann Martin

S30046340ummary from Goodreads:
Danielle effed up. Big time.

Danielle’s plans for the future were all figured out… until she failed senior English and her single college acceptance was rescinded. Determined to get her life back on track, Danielle enrolls in her hometown community college with a plan: pass English and get back into Ohio State—and her mother’s good graces. Romance isn’t on her radar… until she reconnects with her childhood crush and golden boy next door, Luke.

Between family drama, first love and finding her own way, Danielle can’t help but feel a little overwhelmed. Thankfully she has her friendship with the snarky and frustratingly attractive Porter, her coworker at the campus bookstore, to push her to experience new things and help keep her afloat.

One thing’s for sure: This time, failure’s not an option.

The Big F is a really sweet, real contemporary YA romance that isn’t just about the romance (there’s a love-shape, y’all, but it’s not bad) but about learning to take responsibility for yourself. It’s about realizing that people change. It was really nice to read a teen romance where no one was a d-bag or an alpha-hole. I loved Danielle’s best friend Zoe, she’s a hoot. (Could have done without the romance genre bashing, tho.)

Read for the September Teen Book Group at my store – plus we had a signing for Maggie earlier in the month.

Genre disgression: Books like The Big F, Fangirl, and When Dimple Met Rishi hang out in this really unfortunate space where they’re tagged as YA/teen but really push farther out into the adult world because the characters are eighteen-ish or early college-aged. This is where I feel “New Adult,” as a descriptor, got hijacked early on as a tag that’s short for “here’s your romance with extra sex and maybe kink but not real erotica contemporary” when it really could have been used to signal romances or other genre fiction in either the adult or teen markets with characters that are newly out in the adult world and working out a things that happen to people learning to handle themselves. But the cat’s out of the bag and we’ll never get it back. (I’ve tagged this as “New Adult” because I’m a rebel.)

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of Maggie’s book.

mini-review · stuff I read

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry

Summary from Goodreads:
The enchanting story of a bookshop, its grieving owner, a supportive literary community, and the extraordinary power of books to heal the heart

Nightingale Books, nestled on the main street in an idyllic little village, is a dream come true for book lovers–a cozy haven and welcoming getaway for the literary-minded locals. But owner Emilia Nightingale is struggling to keep the shop open after her beloved father’s death, and the temptation to sell is getting stronger. The property developers are circling, yet Emilia’s loyal customers have become like family, and she can’t imagine breaking the promise she made to her father to keep the store alive.

There’s Sarah, owner of the stately Peasebrook Manor, who has used the bookshop as an escape in the past few years, but it now seems there’s a very specific reason for all those frequent visits. Next is roguish Jackson, who, after making a complete mess of his marriage, now looks to Emilia for advice on books for the son he misses so much. And the forever shy Thomasina, who runs a pop-up restaurant for two in her tiny cottage–she has a crush on a man she met in the cookbook section, but can hardly dream of working up the courage to admit her true feelings.

Enter the world of Nightingale Books for a serving of romance, long-held secrets, and unexpected hopes for the future–and not just within the pages on the shelves. How to Find Love in a Bookshop is the delightful story of Emilia, the unforgettable cast of customers whose lives she has touched, and the books they all cherish.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop is adorable as all get-out. If you get a kick out of the foibles of the picturesque English villages of Midsomer Murders but could do without the murdering, this is for you. When Emilia’s father dies, she inherits his bookshop – including the financial problems it has – and the array of villagers who want to help her keep it open while dealing with their own problems. There’s about one love story too many plot-wise and extreme heteronormativity among all the characters, just FYI (the laws of probability should give us at least a few people who aren’t straight, the village isn’t that small). This was just the right book for the hot days of late summer with a glass of iced tea or lemonade.

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

 

happy dance · Readathon · Reading Diversely · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai (Forbidden Hearts #1)

29422692Summary from Goodreads:
One night. No one will know.
That was the deal. Every year, Livvy Kane and Nicholas Chandler would share one perfect night of illicit pleasure. The forbidden hours let them forget the tragedy that haunted their pasts—and the last names that made them enemies.
Until the night she didn’t show up.
Now Nicholas has an empire to run. He doesn’t have time for distractions and Livvy’s sudden reappearance in town is a major distraction. She’s the one woman he shouldn’t want . . . so why can’t he forget how right she feels in his bed?
Livvy didn’t come home for Nicholas, but fate seems determined to remind her of his presence—and their past. Although the passion between them might have once run hot and deep, not even love can overcome the scandal that divided their families.
Being together might be against all the rules . . . but being apart is impossible.

*screams with delight* I saved Alisha Rai’s Avon Romance debut to read during Readathon this weekend and I inhaled the whole thing and then had to resist immediately re-reading it.  (I re-read it last night because all the heart-eyes.) Hate to Want You comes out swinging, with a second-chance-enemies-to-lovers romance with a twist: Livvy and Nicholas been having one night of HAWT sex every year for ten years since they broke up.

Until this year, when Livvy didn’t show up. But now she’s back in town because her mom got sick and ALLLLLL the drama is waiting in the wings to start up again.

Y’all, this book is extremely hot and sexy and very, very raw. Everybody’s got some problems in this book, none of them immediately solvable with a single conversation: Livvy and her mom have issues, Nicholas’s dad is a shitty piece of work, Nicholas’s sister has some stuff, Livvy’s twin Jackson has his own problems, their older brother Paul has died and his widow Sadia has financial and emotional stuff to work through (tl;dr: the town soap opera is the Kane-Chandler family feud/war/dramarama). And it’s so, so goddamn good. Big ups to Alisha Rai for writing the scene where Livvy has an honest talk with her aunt about women’s emotions and relationships (you’ll know it when you read it). Also Maile, love that woman.

Now, I know that the next book is Jackson’s but I really, really hope there’s a book planned for Eve.

Hate to Want You is out today! GO, go, go!  Why are you still here? Go buy it/borrow it (please, no stealing). And then go pre-order book 2 (can we do that yet?).

Dear FTC: I read the digital galley two times, and now my nook has a copy all for its very own.