mini-review · Reading Diversely · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Counterpoint by Anna Zabo (Twisted Wishes #2)

41808799Summary from Goodreads:
Twisted Wishes lead guitarist Dominic “Domino” Bradley is an animal onstage. But behind his tight leather pants and skull-crusher boots lies a different man entirely, one who needs his stage persona not only to perform, but to have the anonymity he craves. A self-imposed exile makes it impossible to get close to anyone outside the band, so he’s forced to get his sexual fix through a few hot nights with a stranger.

When computer programmer Adrian Doran meets Dominic, he’s drawn to the other man’s quiet voice and shy smile. But after a few dirty, demanding nights exploring Dominic’s need to be dominated, Adrian wants more than a casual distraction. He has no idea he’s fallen for Domino Grinder—the outlandish, larger-than-life rock god.

Dominic is reluctant to trust Adrian with his true identity. But when the truth is revealed prematurely, Dominic is forced to reevaluate both his need for Adrian and everything he believes about himself.

One-click with confidence. This title is part of the Carina Press Romance Promise: all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!

Carina Press acknowledges the editorial services of Mackenzie Walton

The Netgalley gods smiled upon me and granted me access to Counterpoint – and just in time since I was tearing through the end of Syncopation.

I was really intrigued by the character of Dom in the first book – a quiet, bookish guy who has created a “public” stage persona to handle the social pressure of being an emerging rock guitarist. I imagine that this is a problem that rears its head for a lot of musicians – how public is too public is you are a naturally private person or have social anxiety? I mean, I probably wouldn’t handle “getting photographed by paparazzi or randos while buying toilet paper at the store” levels of celebrity well. I can only imagine how intrusive that is and understand why the Lady Gagas of the world have such out-sized stage personalities.

Counterpoint opens as Dom is out at dinner, enjoying a book, when he makes the acquaintance of an attractive man, Adrian, who turns out to be a computer programmer for a bank and also has an interest in the book Dom is reading (vintage gay literature). A conversation leads to dinner, leads to a future date, leads to a very, very hot night of bondage and sex. Dom eventually decides to tell Adrian who he is, particularly that he’s an over-the-top Goth-ish killer guitarist for the hottest new rock band on the charts as opposed to the bookish, glasses-wearing twink he’s shown Adrian thus far. And this leads to a lot of soul searching on both their parts, how to be both private and public with their sexual preferences (both have suffered homophobia and Adrian, as a pansexual, has received some awful garbage from his family), and where they want this new relationship to go.

This is a fabulously well-crafted, kinky, queer romance. I do love quieter romances (plot-wise), ones where the tension in the relationship doesn’t come from outside forces like murder, shady dealings, society, etc. but from the stuff that each person brings to the relationship. A good relationship brings out the best of each person, and I think Zabo shows an absolutely lovely couple on the page.

Zabo lists some content warnings on her Goodreads “review” (covering specifics that I didn’t peg during my reading, but some readers might need to know about).

I do hope Zabo has a book planned for Mish, the last but certainly not least member of Twisted Wishes and the only woman, who really plays her sexuality close to her chest in Syncopation and Counterpoint so I look forward to seeing where she goes. (Mish is the bassist, she’s awesome.)

Counterpoint is out today.

Dear FTC: I received a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Netgalley and I plan to buy it when it’s available.

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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.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Syncopation by Anna Zabo (Twisted Wishes #1)

untitledSummary from Goodreads:

There’s no resisting the thrum of temptation in this male/male rock-star romance from genre-favorite author Anna Zabo!

Twisted Wishes front man Ray Van Zeller is in one hell of a tight spot. After a heated confrontation with his bandmate goes viral, Ray is hit with a PR nightmare the fledgling band so doesn’t need. But his problems only multiply when they snag a talented new drummer—insufferably sexy Zavier Demos, the high school crush Ray barely survived.

Zavier’s kept a casual eye on Twisted Wishes for years, and lately, he likes what he sees. What he doesn’t like is how out of control Ray seems—something Zavier’s aching to correct after their first pulse-pounding encounter. If Ray’s up for the challenge.

Despite the prospect of a glorious sexual encore, Ray is reluctant to trust Zavier with his band—or his heart. And Zavier has always had big dreams; this gig was supposed to be temporary. But touring together has opened their eyes to new passions and new possibilities, making them rethink their commitments, both to the band and to each other.

One-click with confidence. This title is part of the Carina Press Romance Promise: all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!

Carina Press acknowledges the editorial services of Mackenzie Walton

I got pitched the second book in this series (Counterpoint, coming out in September, so keep your eyes peeled) and it sounded so damn good that I immediately bought Syncopation and inhaled it.

This novel is So. Good. It starts with an emerging rock band, Twisted Wishes, on the edge of stardom (think Fun. or a harder-edged version of Family Crest – this is kind of a music subgenre where I’m not super-up on what’s new) when a) their drummer quits/gets kicked out due to substance abuse and b) footage of the blowup ends up on the internet. They need a new drummer ASAP and none of the applicants do well until Zav shows up. Zav was a few years ahead of Ray and Dom, lead singer and guitarist respectively, in high school and in the intervening years has been a tympanist and the enfant terrible of the classical music scene. Except he’s now been fired from his gig due to an (ill-advised, in my opinion) relationship with his conductor and persona non grata in the symphonic community. Zav nails the audition and hits the ground running with the group’s upcoming tour.

Zabo captures the life of a an up-and-coming touring musician so well: the decidedly unglamorous tour bus life (no matter how swanky a bus), living out of hotels, the groupies, the shitty media and paparazzi presence that only increases as Twisted Wishes climbs the music charts. And speaking of things that increase…the sexual tension gets tighter and tighter. It is so bonkers that when Ray and Zav FINALLY get it on around the 50% mark I’m pretty sure that all the secondary characters sighed in relief right along with me. (So hot though. So hot. *fans self*) I kind of guessed the plot twist, but it was still a delicious denoument.

Definitely going to read the next book.

Update: Zabo lists some content warnings on her Goodreads “review” (covering specifics that I didn’t peg during my reading, but some readers might need to know about).

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

 

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean (The Bareknuckle Bastards #1)

35695972Summary from Goodreads:
When Wicked Comes Calling…

When a mysterious stranger finds his way into her bedchamber and offers his help in landing a duke, Lady Felicity Faircloth agrees—on one condition. She’s seen enough of the world to believe in passion, and won’t accept a marriage without it.

The Wallflower Makes a Dangerous Bargain…

Bastard son of a duke and king of London’s dark streets, Devil has spent a lifetime wielding power and seizing opportunity, and the spinster wallflower is everything he needs to exact a revenge years in the making. All he must do is turn the plain little mouse into an irresistible temptress, set his trap, and destroy his enemy.

For the Promise of Passion…

But there’s nothing plain about Felicity Faircloth, who quickly decides she’d rather have Devil than another. Soon, Devil’s carefully laid plans are in chaos, and he must choose between everything he’s ever wanted…and the only thing he’s ever desired.

Sarah MacLean has a new series! While I’ve been hoping for a book for the last, unmatched Soiled S sister Sesily (who is AMAZING in The Day of the Duchess and I love her), I will take a new trilogy about a set of illegitimate siblings who are basically made to “Hunger Games” each other to become the “legitimate” heir to a really, really awful duke. Brothers Devil and Whit, with their sister Grace, escaped with their lives to begin a secret life on the streets of Covent Garden. They are now the reigning family in that area of London, rich and untouchable, except the third brother, Euan, has come to London as the current duke to look for a bride and break the vow the brothers swore to each other: that the duchy will never have an heir.

We last saw Felicity Faircloth departing from the sham marriage mart party in The Day of the Duchess where she acquitted herself well when she found herself in a really awkward situation. In the interim, she’s been cast-off by her former frenemies and made to watch the glitter of Society from the sidelines. When she accidentally-but-was-maybe-wishing-aloud announces that she’s Euan’s fiance – which is a surprise to Euan – Felicity becomes drawn into the dangerous game Devil is laying for his treacherous brother. Devil promises he can teach Felicity to ensnare Euan while plotting to use her to bring Euan down. (This sounds really convoluted but it’s not – it makes sense when you read it, I’m just rubbish at summarizing the whole thing.)

4.5 stars. Sarah really goes in a different direction with this series. It’s still a MacLean novel, but her writing from Devil’s point-of-view is very different from her other heroes. The writing itself feels different, more stark or terse. This made me pause and re-read her Rules of Scoundrels series, which has three of her darker heroes, just for comparison. I took one for the team, y’all. jk, they’re some of my favorites, not a hardship at all. I do wish we had got more of Felicity and Devil together in Covent Garden earlier in the book for a longer amount of time. Their HEA feels a tad rushed. But I LOVED, loved, loved the climax of the story.

I’m looking forward to Whit’s book next. But I really want to know more about Nik. She’s really interesting. (Actually, I think I’d take a novel with Nik and Ses as a couple – free idea, Sarah, you may have it.)

Wicked and the Wallflower is out today!! Go get a copy!

Dear FTC: Yeah, yeah, I read a digital galley via Edelweiss, and then we got a paper galley and I re-read it, and I had a pre-order on my nook.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Glutton for Pleasure by Alisha Rai (Pleasure #1)

25444538Summary from Goodreads:
They’re craving something sweet. She likes it spicy.

Devi Malik knows how to heat things up. She does it every night as head chef in her family’s Indian restaurant. Her love life, though, is stuck in the subzero freezer. Now, with a chance to fulfill a secret fantasy with her long-time crush and his brother, it’s time to put her desire on the front two burners.

For Marcus Callahan, a love-’em-and-leave-’em attitude isn’t only a necessary evil of their kink. It’s a protective device. Lately, though, his brother Jace has been making noises about craving something more.

Jace’s dissatisfaction with their lifestyle grows with every glimpse of sweet little Devi. Yet Marcus is too haunted by the pain of their shared past to give love a chance.

Despite their reputation for vanishing with the dawn, they discover one night with Devi isn’t nearly enough. And Devi finds herself falling in love with two very different men.

It’ll take more than explosive sex to light up the shadows surrounding the Callahan brothers’ secrets. But Devi’s never been afraid of the dark…

Warning: This title contains two sizzling men for the price of one, ménage a trois, oral sex, anal sex, fun toys, great food, and creative uses for syrup and dressing rooms.

Well, I needed a book to fill the Read Harder task “Read a book in a genre you’ve never read before” – which is kind of impossible for me anymore. So I went for a sub-genre of romance that I’ve definitely never read: polyamorous or menage romance.

And since I never do anything by halves (I read Bound to Be a Groom a little bit ago), I finished Glutton for Pleasure yesterday. It’s a good “sweltering weather” book since no one can tell if you fan yourself because of the heat or because of Alisha’s writing! Win! Glutton for Pleasure definitely comes down on more on the erotica side of romance – there were some places where I felt that the relationship development was too thin.  There were also a few times where I was questioning whether Jace and Marcus were not giving Devi enough time to thoroughly consent (I’m definitely for more consent-positive sexytimes in my romance). But whoooooo-boy, can Alisha Rai write a steamy sex scene.  While poly/menage romance still isn’t high on my list of sub-genres to read – there are still too many “parts” to keep track of, sorry – I did really enjoy reading this one.  I could see where we got the Forbidden Hearts series from here.

(There was a S’mores metaphor – I am simultaneously AWWWW and DED)

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

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Too Wilde to Wed by Eloisa James (The Wildes of Lindow Castle #2)

36341200Summary from Goodreads:
The handsome, rakish heir to a dukedom, Lord Roland Northbridge Wilde—known to his friends as North—left England two years ago, after being jilted by Miss Diana Belgrave. He returns from war to find that he’s notorious: polite society has ruled him “too wild to wed.”

Diana never meant to tarnish North’s reputation, or his heart, but in her rush to save a helpless child, there was no time to consider the consequences of working as a governess in Lindow Castle. Now everyone has drawn the worst conclusions about the child’s father, and Diana is left with bittersweet regret.

When North makes it clear that he still wants her for his own, scandal or no, Diana has to fight to keep from losing her heart to the man whom she still has no intention of marrying.

Yet North is returning a hardened warrior—and this is one battle he’s determined to win.

He wants Diana, and he’ll risk everything to call her his own.

I will always get a little weepy at a good Happily Ever After.

Because at the very end of Wilde in Love, Eloisa James gave us an Epilogue, wherein North visits his ex-fiance Diana to inform her that he is going to lead a regiment of the British Army against the rebel Colonists in America….and as he is leaving, a baby cries. And that’s the end of the book!! GAH!

Too Wilde to Wed picks up two years later, when North returns home to Lindow Castle – whole in body, but broken in spirit and mind – and finds Diana installed in the nursery as the nursemaid/governess to his little sister. And a strange little boy that is not a member of the family. And a gossip mill rumor that has tagged him as the little boy’s father.

Diana has her own reasons for hiding herself away in the Wilde family nursery – most of them personal and potentially extremely embarrassing, if not actually dangerous to a member of her family. North’s return presents an annoying problem – Diana didn’t jilt him because she didn’t love him or find him attractive, she just couldn’t handle the social pressure of becoming the duchess of North’s future dukedom (not that the current Duke of Lindow was going anywhere soon – he’s a pretty healthy guy in his fifties). Plus her mom was the actual worst and Diana decided that her sister came before a fiance.

love a good second-chance romance. Like, my favorite Austen is PersuasionToo Wilde to Wed has second chances galore – but also a lot of real-world baggage. North doesn’t come sauntering back home a war hero; he’s disillusioned, haunted, and suffering from PTSD. Diana, while she is still attracted to North, is extremely averse to the social whirl surrounding the Wildes, particularly since she cannot afford to please only herself. But Diana and North have a lot of late-night talks – and snacks – and very slowly begin to find a way forward that is their own path together. And they get a lot of pushes and shoves from the rest of the Wilde clan who are absolutely in their element trying to match-make North and Diana.  I loved it.

And that cover model is welcome to get crumbs in my sheets any time. Hummina hummina.

Too Wilde to Wed is out today!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss – and I pre-ordered it because if you did, and sent Eloisa the proof, you get access to an exclusive novella about the Duke of Lindow and his third wife Ophelia.

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?