Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory (The Wedding Date #3)

42599067Summary from Goodreads:
Maddie and Theo have two things in common:

1. Alexa is their best friend
2. They hate each other

After an “oops, we made a mistake” night together, neither one can stop thinking about the other. With Alexa’s wedding rapidly approaching, Maddie and Theo both share bridal party responsibilities that require more interaction with each other than they’re comfortable with. Underneath the sharp barbs they toss at each other is a simmering attraction that won’t fade. It builds until they find themselves sneaking off together to release some tension when Alexa isn’t looking.

But as with any engagement with a nemesis, there are unspoken rules that must be abided by. First and foremost, don’t fall in love.

Now you know why I had to get The Proposal finished ASAP – The Wedding Party galleys went live! LOL.

We met Maddie (Alexa’s best friend) and Theo (Alexa’s work husband) in The Wedding Date and they don’t like each other, even though they’re Alexa’s attendants at her wedding. It’s bit Pride and Prejudice – Theo thinks being a stylist is a waste, Maddie thinks Theo is a stuck-up snob. They have a little one-night stand at the beginning of The Wedding Party – and intend to never speak of it again – but since they have to interact because of “bridal party” duties they keep finding themselves alone together. Soon, Maddie and Theo are hanging out (I had a really bad pun here but I am going to spare you) outside of wedding duties.

4 stars overall: The beginning of the book felt rushed but I liked how Theo and Maddie found themselves caught in the trap of “we said this was a fling but how do we admit this is more” because God forbid you show anyone your softer bits or give ground first. I loved Maddie’s idea of creating a way to help low income women with style tips was aces and how she remembered what her mother went through as a single parent without a large income or support. I read this book while I was on vacation in San Francisco – it was really neat to be able to put the geography from the book together with the real streets and neighborhoods (and the climate – even though it was late May it sure as heck wasn’t very warm at night!).

5 great big stars for Alexa: She makes a big appearance here as Maddie and Theo’s bestie (and sets up the “I love you” scene SO WELL) and I ❤️ her.

Now, if having a great story for Maddie isn’t enough, Maddie’s awesome mom Vivian is going to get her own HEA in November! Christmas romance! In England! Royals!

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

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Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

40514431Summary from Goodreads:
In a small town in Maine, recently widowed Eveleth “Evvie” Drake rarely leaves her house. Everyone in town, including her best friend, Andy, thinks grief keeps her locked inside, and she doesn’t correct them. In New York, Dean Tenney, former major-league pitcher and Andy’s childhood friend, is struggling with a case of the “yips”: he can’t throw straight anymore, and he can’t figure out why. An invitation from Andy to stay in Maine for a few months seems like the perfect chance to hit the reset button.

When Dean moves into an apartment at the back of Evvie’s house, the two make a deal: Dean won’t ask about Evvie’s late husband, and Evvie won’t ask about Dean’s baseball career. Rules, though, have a funny way of being broken–and what starts as an unexpected friendship soon turns into something more. But before they can find out what might lie ahead, they’ll have to wrestle a few demons: the bonds they’ve broken, the plans they’ve changed, and the secrets they’ve kept. They’ll need a lot of help, but in life, as in baseball, there’s always a chance–right up until the last out.

Evvie Drake Starts Over opens as the titular Evvie is getting ready to leave the house – and her husband. She’s saved up some money and loaded her luggage into the car. All she has to do is get in, start the motor, and leave. But then the phone rings. Her husband has been in an accident, she needs to come to the hospital immediately.

One year later, Evvie is performing the role of grieving widow – she is stuck in her house she shared with her now-deceased husband in the same small Maine town and unable to process either grief or guilt at the idea of telling anyone she was actually in the process of leaving her husband. Even her best friend has no idea. But she’s in financial straights with the expense of the house. When Andy suggests renting the mother-in-law apartment to a friend of his who needs some quiet time, Evvie agrees.

Dean Tenney got “the yips” and it ended his career as a major league pitcher. The media frenzy just makes everything worse. So he could definitely use a quiet place to try and figure out some next steps. He and Evvie develop a tentative friendship – with some rules about what kinds of questions or topics that must be avoided – and start to develop something much deeper…but they each have to deal with their own baggage, secrets, and broken dreams first.

Evvie Drake is For the Love of the Game and Catch and Release and a good cry all rolled into one. This a story that starts in a bad life place for two people and lets them work through all their stuff over the course of a year. And boy-howdy do they have STUFF. We find out why Evvie was going to leave her husband and why it was such a risky step for her; she also has to grieve for the man she used to love, even if that love has been gone for years. Dean has to learn to grieve for a dream career that he may not be able to return to. Evvie and Andy have to renegotiate their friendship when he starts a serious romantic relationship (we have all been there when a Best Friend gets a romantic partner and suddenly is no longer available to us). You just want to cheer and sigh (because that is the finishing touch for a romance right there, the HEA sigh) for Evvie and Dean. This is Linda’s first novel and I sincerely hope it won’t be her last. (I’ve been a Linda stan for years, ever since she was writing for Television Without Pity).

Evvie Drake Starts Over is out today!!!! Go get a copy of this book that is perfectly made for summer reading.

Dear FTC: I begged/borrowed/stole my way into a digital galley (jk, no stealing) and I’m picking up a hardcover copy today.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Austen Playbook by Lucy Parker (London Celebrities #4)

40957180

Summary from Goodreads:
In which experienced West End actress Freddy Carlton takes on an Austen-inspired play, a scandal at a country estate, an enthusiastic search for a passion outside of acting…and the (some people might say icy*) heart of London’s most feared theater critic.

*if those people were being nice

Freddy Carlton knows she should be focusing on her lines for The Austen Playbook, a live-action TV event where viewers choose the outcome of each scene, but her concentration’s been blown. The palatial estate housing the endeavor is now run by the rude (brilliant) critic who’s consistently slammed her performances of late. James “Griff” Ford-Griffin has a penchant for sarcasm, a majestic nose and all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer.

She can’t take her eyes off him.

Griff can hardly focus with a contagious joy fairy flitting about near him, especially when Freddy looks at him like that. His only concern right now should be on shutting down his younger brother’s well-intentioned (disastrous) schemes—or at the very least on the production (not this one) that might save his family home from the banks.

Instead all he can think of is soft skin and vibrant curls.

As he’s reluctantly dragged into her quest to rediscover her passion for the stage and Freddy is drawn into his research on a legendary theater star, the adage about appearances being deceiving proves abundantly true. It’s the unlikely start of something enormous…but a single revelation about the past could derail it all.

The Austen Playbook is a super-cute contemporary romance between a frosty, Jason Isaacs-as-Lucius Malfoy look-alike theatre critic (who, due to descriptions of his nose, actually resembles a blonde Richard Armitage in my head #sorrynotsorry) and a bubbly, musical-theatre actress at a career crossroads. I really liked how Griff and Freddy worked out the mystery, worked toward each other (Freddy needling Griff about how much of a feared theatre critic he is is hilarious), and that what looked vaguely like a love-triangle in the making did NOT go there. However, the resolution of the novel is a bit overstuffed with extra side-plots, especially the one about the sister and her hideous boyfriend. It was one too many layers and not necessary to the set-up for the next book, in my opinion.

Now, I had been hoping that we would see more of this actual “Jane Austen characters smashed together in a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure whodunnit” but wound up disappointed (although I’d fire the casting director of that fictional TV production because holy cats was those were some bad choices). The whole idea sounded really genius, though, and I’m surprised some TV showrunner hasn’t actually done something like this. (Jasper Fforde toyed with it at the end of First Among Sequels.)

Even though this is book four in the London Celebrities series, you can read it without having read the previous three. I hadn’t. But I’m definitely going to check them out now.

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

Austenesque · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev (The Rajes #1)

41154302Summary from Goodreads:
Award-winning author Sonali Dev launches a new series about the Rajes, an immigrant Indian family descended from royalty, who have built their lives in San Francisco…

It is a truth universally acknowledged that only in an overachieving Indian American family can a genius daughter be considered a black sheep.

Dr. Trisha Raje is San Francisco’s most acclaimed neurosurgeon. But that’s not enough for the Rajes, her influential immigrant family who’s achieved power by making its own non-negotiable rules:
· Never trust an outsider
· Never do anything to jeopardize your brother’s political aspirations
· And never, ever, defy your family
Trisha is guilty of breaking all three rules. But now she has a chance to redeem herself. So long as she doesn’t repeat old mistakes.

Up-and-coming chef DJ Caine has known people like Trisha before, people who judge him by his rough beginnings and place pedigree above character. He needs the lucrative job the Rajes offer, but he values his pride too much to indulge Trisha’s arrogance. And then he discovers that she’s the only surgeon who can save his sister’s life.

As the two clash, their assumptions crumble like the spun sugar on one of DJ’s stunning desserts. But before a future can be savored there’s a past to be reckoned with…
A family trying to build home in a new land.
A man who has never felt at home anywhere.
And a choice to be made between the two.

‘Tis a year of Austen re-tellings – Unmarriageable was out a little earlier this year (that I haven’t got to, yet, because I didn’t have a galley), Ayesha at Last is finally publishing States-side in June, an adaptation of Emma coming in August, and this month we have Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors.

In this version of Pride and Prejudice, we don’t have strict analogues for each original Austen character. Fitzwilliam Darcy is now Dr. Trisha Raje, a brilliant neurosurgeon and the younger child in a privileged Indian-American family. In undergrad she met and befriended Julia Wickham, who later almost destroyed the life and political career of Trisha’s brother Yash; Trisha has been on the outskirts of her family ever since. Feisty Lizzie is now DJ Caine (Darcy James, just to be tricky), a talented French-trained chef who moves to the Bay Area to support his sister Emma as she seeks treatment for a brain tumor that can only be removed by Trisha Raje. But removing the tumor will destroy Emma’s sight, the worst result for a visual artist. Trisha and DJ get off on the wrong foot at a Raje family ‘do he’s hired to cater and then Julia Wickham (in full hippie-white-lady-with-dreds mode) returns to town and lends an ear to Emma and DJ….

I had a little trouble getting into this book, which annoyed me as an Austen fan. I think it’s because Dev introduces SO MANY characters at once, so we’re trying to sort out who’s who and what they do and who has history, etc because it’s very expansive instead of insular. There are a lot of B-plots (Yash, older sister Nisha and her husband, Emma’s decision regarding surgery and her art, the cousin with visions who is the obvious Mary stand-in) that create a lot of extra stuff Trisha and DJ have to work around aside from the obvious “pride” and “prejudice” themes imported from the Austen original. But once I got past the first 40 pages (i.e. I put on my giant headphones in the airport terminal) and got a basic handle on who-was-who, I was able to sink right in. I really liked how Dev did a “remix” of the characters and shook everything up a bit (Julia Wickham is the only character who performs exactly the same function in this book as George Wickham does in the original).

There are two things I have issues with in this book. First, many characters in this book – Trisha first among them – violate HIPAA repeatedly and cavalierly. This is plainly irresponsible. Tangential to this is a lack of support from social work or patient advocacy for Emma (although this is what allows the Wickham character to get close to Emma and DJ, so plot bunny). Second, there is an explanation of what Julia Wickham did to Yash that draws from #metoo and gets part of it very wrong. [I’m going to do some minor spoiling – it’s not a secret that Original Wickham is a sexual predator and has a thing for teenagers so it stands to reason that Julia Wickham is a predator, too – but skip the rest of this paragraph if you want to stay un-spoiled.] Julia roofies Yash, among other things, and assaults him (this is the “incident” Trisha feels she is being punished for). When this is finally revealed to the reader, we are given the scene between Trisha and Yash talking it over from Trisha’s point-of-view – and Trisha thinks that if this came to light, that even if Yash was the victim it would set back progress women were making with #metoo (I’m paraphrasing). This is a misreading of #metoo – we don’t fight that fight just for women who are assaulted by men, but also for men assaulted by women, and so on. It’s a very tone-deaf couple of paragraphs.  Which is unfortunate because Sonali Dev gets so much of the classism, racism (DJ is biracial – Anglo-Indian and Rwandan – and he experiences racism from both his paternal family in London and from the police in the US), privilege, and misogyny right in setting her Pride and Prejudice in 2019 California.

But those things aside, I did like it a lot. An excellent vacation book to read in the airport/on the plane.

Appetite warning: This book will make you VERY hungry because DJ is an amazing chef. All food described in this book is drool-inducing.

Dear FTC: I had a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss but I also bought a paper copy after I came back from vacation.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Game Plan by Kristen Callihan (Game On #3)

27412436._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
A beard-related dare and one hot-as-hell kiss changes everything.

NFL center Ethan Dexter’s focus has always been on playing football and little else. Except when it comes to one particular woman. The lovely Fiona Mackenzie might not care about his fame, but she’s also never looked at him as anything more than one of her brother-in-law’s best friend. That ends now.

Fi doesn’t know what to make of Dex. The bearded, tattooed, mountain of man-muscle looks more like a biker than a football player. Rumor has it he’s a virgin, but she finds that hard to believe. Because from the moment he decides to turn his quiet intensity on her she’s left weak at the knees and aching to see his famous control fully unleashed.

Dex is looking for a forever girl, but they live vastly different lives in separate cities. Fi ought to guard her heart and walk away. But Dex has upped his game and is using all his considerable charm to convince Fi he’s her forever man.

Y’all. Sarah MacLean’s romance recommendations are like weaponized book fumes. She did a series of stories where people told her what tropes, etc. they loved and she did a rec based off them. And someone asked for an alpha virgin hero. So Sarah recommended Kristen Callihan’s The Game Plan – a virgin NFL center (who has his junk pierced) and a more-experienced younger sister of a friend.

This was not on my vacation TBR but SIGN ME UP.

Well-plotted and very steamy. I liked the sports star/virgin + experienced woman/friend’s younger sister combo really fun. The author also did good work on the toxic nature of celebrity media and how it just tears apart lives. It was also interesting seeing how Ethan and Fi work out a long-distance relationship. A few things didn’t work for me. I didn’t quite buy how spectacular he was in the sack from the word go or the MAJOR decision Fi makes late in the book (plot spoiler, sorry, so I won’t be specific here) was made without even considering how it would screw Ethan up and maybe she should talk to him first? I, uh, also have question about how a dude with piercings plays professional sports where the pads would rub on said piercings and no one appeared to say anything about them, even at a nude calendar shoot.

But very fun and a quick vacation read.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book on my Nook and read it immediately.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Reverb by Anna Zabo (Twisted Wishes #3)

43198518._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
The tougher they are, the harder they fall.

Twisted Wishes bass player Mish Sullivan is a rock goddess—gorgeous, sexy and comfortable in the spotlight. With fame comes unwanted attention, though: a stalker is desperate to get close. Mish can fend for herself, just as she always has. But after an attack lands her in the hospital, the band reacts, sticking her with a bodyguard she doesn’t need or want.

David Altet has an instant connection with Mish. A certified badass, this ex-army martial arts expert can take down a man twice his size. But nothing—not living as a trans man, not his intensive military training—prepared him for the challenge of Mish. Sex with her is a distraction neither of them can afford, yet the hot, kink-filled nights keep coming.

When Mish’s stalker ups his game, David must make a choice—lover or bodyguard. He’d rather have Mish alive than in his bed. But Mish wants David, and no one, especially not a stalker, will force her to give him up.

This book is approximately 105,000 words.

Reverb is a lovely wrap-up to the Twisted Wishes series, with the band back on the road for a new tour and album. The story starts in media res, in the aftermath of an attack on Mish by a stalker who obtained a lock of her hair. As much as Mish fights it, saying she doesn’t need protection, lead singer Ray hires a bodyguard for her. Ostensibly, David will be running security for the whole band and crew but since the only identifiable threat is targeting Mish, he’s really for her. Mish is pissed the decision to hire David was made without her input. David, for his part, is used to being security for celebrities and he is ex-military, after all, so he knows what he’s doing. But neither of them are quite prepared for the mutual attraction that flares between them. The tough-as-nails, six-foot-tall, bass-playing rock goddess and the tough-as-nails, ex-Army veteran trans man are going to have to come to some sort of agreement both about maybe David guarding Mish (professionally) out in public and definitely David blowing Mish’s mind – and vice versa – in private.

Of all three Twisted Wishes members, Mish was the hardest member to get a grasp on in the previous two books. She came across as a very older-sister-will-kick-the-crap-out-of-anyone-who-hurts-my-boys type and a talented musician, but beyond that Zabo played Mish’s personal life very close to the chest. Mish came across as pansexual so the possibilities of her romantic partner (or even partners, since that also might have been on the table?) in Reverb were myriad. David is an excellent counterpoint to the fiery Mish – level-headed, logical, and prepared for anything except, perhaps, falling in love. He struggles so beautifully with the whole “I am a professional doing a job but I have fallen in love with the client now what do I do” problem in his conscience.

The dynamic between all the characters is great, a true “found family”, and one that David desperately wants to remain a part of but doesn’t know how to accept (when you pride yourself on being able to handle “being alone” for so long it’s really, REALLY hard to break that habit and change). Mish is wonderfully fabulous, which we already knew. There was a shade too much Instalust for my taste, on both sides, but that’s definitely a YMMV situation.

Also: MUCH STEAMINESS, but a lot less kink than then the previous two books (although not much could have been kinkier than any of the D/s scenes in Syncopation or rope+pie in Counterpoint 😉).

If you liked The Bodyguard but wanted a different (read: better, happier ending rather than her leaving on a jet plane, literally) get Reverb – it’s out TODAY. (I do wish that Twisted Wishes was a real band, because the idea of their songs/setlists is amazing.)

Addendum: If you need them, the author has listed some content warnings on the “review” of their book at Goodreads. It is a very comprehensive list, and very thoughtful, but if you’re worried if David is ever deadnamed, to quote Zabo: “FYI, no one is deadnamed. Don’t even ask, ’cause I don’t know.”

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the author via Netgalley.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole (Reluctant Royals #3)

38622940Summary from Goodreads:
The Reluctant Royals series returns with a good girl searching for the life that’s not too big, and not too small, and the bad boy prince who might be just right for her…

Nya Jerami fled Thesolo for the glitz and glamour of NYC but discovered that her Prince Charming only exists in her virtual dating games. When Nya returns home for a royal wedding, she accidentally finds herself up close and personal—in bed—with the real-life celebrity prince who she loves to hate.

For Johan von Braustein, the red-headed step-prince of Liechtienbourg, acting as paparazzi bait is a ruse that protects his brother—the heir to the throne—and his own heart. When a royal referendum threatens his brother’s future, a fake engagement is the perfect way to keep the cameras on him.

Nya and Johan both have good reasons to avoid love, but as desires are laid bare behind palace doors, they must decide if their fake romance will lead to a happily-ever-after.

We were first introduced to Nya in A Princess in Theory as a chronically ill-seeming, fragile young woman under her domineering father’s thumb. She came out of her shell a little in A Duke by Default via group chat – and we get our first good look at Johan in that book, too, as an attention-grabbing, rich playboy (iirc, he pops up in A Princess on Theory but isn’t quite as memorable). Alyssa Cole puts them together as our heroine and hero in A Prince on Paper and, come to find out, these two characters aren’t so very different from one another.

Both have spent most of their lives without their mothers. Both have had to hide their authentic selves for reasons (Nya because her father was gaslighting her, Johan because he wanted to let his younger sibling grow up with less of a spotlight on them). And both really wish to share their lives with someone and put some good back into the world.

Nya and Johan provided us (via Alyssa’s brain) with a lovely ending to the Reluctant Royals Trilogy. I very much liked that the “villain” of the book wasn’t someone out to do physical harm, etc., but instead our own human fears and prejudices – of having our softer bits exposed for others to see and perhaps ridicule. Johan is so used to being the naughty, crass Jo-Jo that it becomes his default persona and hurts Nya without meaning to but he is also an incredibly decent person underneath it; his genuine ability to take care of people is written into the very bedrock of his character. Nya has spent her whole life being put down – and now feels reviled as the daughter of a traitor – and she hasn’t quite determined who she wants to be as a whole person.

I could have done without the ongoing subplot of Nya’s dating game (it got weird/overlong after a while) but the subplot of Johan’s sibling, step-dad, and the referendum on whether a hereditary, patriarchal system like a monarchy even has a place in modern democracy was stellar. Alyssa has also used her books in this series to hit back hard at racism, classism, ableism, and post-colonialism. So well-done. A Prince on Paper also delves into the dangers of our obsession with celebrity culture and the pressure it puts on individuals to conform or act out.

For anyone wondering, yes, we get to see Portia+Tav and Likotski+Fab during Ledi+Thabiso’s wedding but no, not nearly enough 😉 (omg, they’re all so adorable here but good goddamn I so want a longer epilogue or something for Portia and Tav! (unfortunately, no Reggie+Gus on the page)

A Prince on Paper is available today!

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory (The Wedding Date #2)

37584991._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
The author of The Wedding Date serves up a novel about what happens when a public proposal doesn’t turn into a happy ending, thanks to a woman who knows exactly how to make one on her own…

When someone asks you to spend your life with him, it shouldn’t come as a surprise–or happen in front of 45,000 people.

When freelance writer Nikole Paterson goes to a Dodgers game with her actor boyfriend, his man bun, and his bros, the last thing she expects is a scoreboard proposal. Saying no isn’t the hard part–they’ve only been dating for five months, and he can’t even spell her name correctly. The hard part is having to face a stadium full of disappointed fans…

At the game with his sister, Carlos Ibarra comes to Nik’s rescue and rushes her away from a camera crew. He’s even there for her when the video goes viral and Nik’s social media blows up–in a bad way. Nik knows that in the wilds of LA, a handsome doctor like Carlos can’t be looking for anything serious, so she embarks on an epic rebound with him, filled with food, fun, and fantastic sex. But when their glorified hookups start breaking the rules, one of them has to be smart enough to put on the brakes…

I had a galley for The Proposal but it expired early (booo technology) and didn’t get back to until now. (Weekend of finishing half-read books, yay!) I loved The Wedding Date, and was entirely charmed by pediatrician Carlos and his love of food, so I was happy to see him get his own story. Nik was a great introduction to the series as the heroine – a freelance writer with a squad of awesome besties who is also into good food (prepare to be hungry most of this book, I am not kidding). The only hitch with this book, for me, was the conflict. I get that both Carlos and Nik had baggage (Nik with both the shitty actor ex-boyfriend and a shitty doctor ex-boyfriend and Carlos with his father dying young) but the length of time both characters protested about not wanted a serious relationship…the lady doth protest too much. The late-book “conflict” between Nik and Carlos needed more teeth, some of the lines juvenile as if they were two kids in their first relationship instead of successful adults in their late twenties-early thirties. But aside from that, so much of Carlos and Nik getting together was how good they were as friends. I’m coming to find that I love romances where the central couple enjoys just hanging out together and being with each other, it’s so fun to read on the page (yes, I like the sexy-times, too, but it’s so cozy when the characters are getting pizza and watching a movie on the couch).

Dear FTC: I had a digital galley but it expired so I bought a paper copy.