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

Virgin Territory by Lia Riley (Hellions Angels #3)

35665820Summary from Goodreads:
Practice Makes Perfect

Patrick “Patch” Donnelly has what it takes to be the best goalie in the NHL…if only he could learn to control his temper. When Coach orders him to get his head in the game with private yoga classes, Patch isn’t having it. There’s no way this tough Boston guy would be caught dead downward dog-ing his way to inner peace. But if he refuses, he risks his starting position and the dream he sacrificed everything for, including joining the priesthood.

Yoga instructor Margot Kowalski is over men. After yet another toxic relationship, she’s eager to forget love and focus on growing her business. Doing the Hellions head coach a favor by helping out a troubled player can’t hurt, and it might give her career a high-profile boost. But free-spirited Margot is soon charming the pants off Patch. Literally. Her sassy combination of sweet and sexy proves irresistible to the goalie. Before Patch can give into temptation though, he’ll have to confess his biggest secret:

He’s a virgin.

But Patch is hiding more than sexual inexperience, and his dark past soon threatens to destroy his shot at true love.

Sports romances really aren’t my jam. (Eh, sportsball.) However, the pitch for Virgin Territory – pro hockey player with anger problems who was once set to join the priest hood and is still a virgin who hasn’t made it to second base is ordered to have private yoga sessions and romance ensues – had me hooked. I’m here for the contrasts in that hero’s description.

This was a pretty middle-of-the-road book for me. I really liked the idea of the book (see above) but there was a lot of Instalust and a very compressed timeline. Patch wigs out on a lawyer (who you find out deserved it in the end), we’re introduced to Margot, Patch is ordered to see Margo about some yoga, there are some breathing exercises/maybe a massage, he gets aroused, he freaks out and leaves, then comes back about 10 minutes later to intimidate her stalker ex, apologizes, and then proposes to have some sexytimes with Margot. I would have preferred a few months’ worth of chapters between “let me show you some breathing exercises” and “may I blow your mind with my virgin tongue” instead of about 10 minutes. Also, maybe have some actual yoga training before showing up to acro yoga? Because I really did like Patch and Margot as characters and where their relationship ended – it was just hard to believe the ZERO TO ONE HUNDRED MPH relationship. I did appreciate what Riley was doing with the anti slut-shaming/toxic masculinity themes. I’ll always be here for that.

Virgin Territory is out now in ebook from Avon Impulse. It is number three in the series, but I didn’t read the previous two so if you’re a series purist do not fret.

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.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare (Girl Meets Duke #1)

33296129

Since his return from war, the Duke of Ashbury’s to-do list has been short and anything but sweet: brooding, glowering, menacing London ne’er-do-wells by night. Now there’s a new item on the list. He needs an heir—which means he needs a wife. When Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter turned seamstress, appears in his library wearing a wedding gown, he decides on the spot that she’ll do.

His terms are simple:
– They will be husband and wife by night only.
– No lights, no kissing.
– No questions about his battle scars.
– Last, and most importantly… Once she’s pregnant with his heir, they need never share a bed again.

But Emma is no pushover. She has a few rules of her own:
– They will have dinner together every evening.
– With conversation.
– And unlimited teasing.
– Last, and most importantly… Once she’s seen the man beneath the scars, he can’t stop her from falling in love…

When a new Tessa Dare romance is in the offing there is an expectation that:

  1. There will be banter, lots of it
  2. There will be hilarious jokes and puns
  3. The meet-cute will be unusual (cf. being chosen as a future Duchess while covered in sugar when one is the barmaid, writing letters to a fake fiancé who turns out to be a real person, inheriting a castle with a grumpy Duke still living in it, proposing that the local rake accompany you on a road-trip to a scientific conference with a dinosaur fossil in tow (that one has the drrrrtiest math jokes), etc.)

The Duchess Deal delivers on all three. And turns the Beauty and the Beast story on its head.

The Duke of Ashbury (Ash), sporting horrific facial scars from Napoleonic battle wounds and freshly jilted by his fiancé, finds himself bearded in his den by a seamstress in a wedding dress. Despite his growling, and insistence that the garment in question is so awful it belongs on a bawdy-house chandelier (among other insults), Emma Gladstone stands her ground and demands to be paid for the work done on his ex-fiancé’s wedding dress. Ash, who was recently reminded that he’ll need a male heir to prevent something untoward happening to the dukedom, decides to kill two birds with one stone – he offers to marry Emma instead.

Emma, with infinite good sense, does not agree to this immediately. (Yes, I am here for a romance heroine to take at least a few days to consider whether getting yourself permanently hitched to a dude one does not know well, in an era where divorce was almost never granted and then never to the woman’s benefit, is a good idea.) But in the end Emma agrees, with a few conditions of her own.

I loved this book. So good, I read it through twice over before marking it as “read.” Emma is one of the best romance heroines, with a solid moral center that feels natural as opposed to contrived. Her gift is knowing how to make someone look and feel good in their own skin; she covers Ash in it and loves him even when he can’t figure out how to love himself as he is now. Ash is another in Tessa Dare’s lineup of heroes physically and mentally damaged by war. His psychological reaction to having burn wounds is so real and true (though, maybe not the “Menace” bit, but you have to love that, too). The secondary characters are all wonderful. Khan, Penny, Alex, and Nicola are the best and while Penny, Alex, and Nicola are all set up as the next heroines in the series, I do wish that Khan could have had a relationship of his own. (Maybe in a novella? Please?) Breeches’s introduction to the story was a hoot and the servants’ plotting to get Emma and Ash to fall in love so Ash won’t be an insufferable pain-in-the-ass forever was my favorite B-plot.

(Props to the cover designer who at least put the male model in profile so we don’t have the mismatch of a totally unscarred dude on the cover.)

The Duchess Deal is out today!  Go get it!  Happy reading!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, twice, and I have a copy pre-ordered, too.

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.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian (The Turner Series #3)

Summary from Goodreads:
Rogue. Libertine. Rake. Lord Courtenay has been called many things and has never much cared. But after the publication of a salacious novel supposedly based on his exploits, he finds himself shunned from society. Unable to see his nephew, he is willing to do anything to improve his reputation, even if that means spending time with the most proper man in London.

Julian Medlock has spent years becoming the epitome of correct behavior. As far as he cares, if Courtenay finds himself in hot water, it’s his own fault for behaving so badly—and being so blasted irresistible. But when Julian’s sister asks him to rehabilitate Courtenay’s image, Julian is forced to spend time with the man he loathes—and lusts after—most.

As Courtenay begins to yearn for a love he fears he doesn’t deserve, Julian starts to understand how desire can drive a man to abandon all sense of propriety. But he has secrets he’s determined to keep, because if the truth came out, it would ruin everyone he loves. Together, they must decide what they’re willing to risk for love.

Since his introduction in the previous installment in this series (The Lawrence Browne Affair), Lord Courtenay has been desperately in need of a redemption arc.

He doesn’t really do all the things that scandalous novel purportedly based upon his life says he does. He’s a hedonist, not a rake. He’s happy with ladies, or gentlemen, and as long as everyone is happy and down for pleasuring the other party it’s all good. But since that wretched novel came out, he’s not been allowed to see his nephew, had trouble with his income, and largely spending time with (i.e. making sure she’s eating and the house hasn’t become overrun with cats) his friend Eleanor.

Now Eleanor’s brother, Julian, is the most correct of all correct gentlemen whoever tried to break into the upper echelons of the ton.  He’s also had a crush on Lord Courtenay forever (but he would never act on it, because correctness). When Eleanor asks Julian to rehab Courtnay’s reputation the plot takes off like a shot.

The Ruin of a Rake is an excellent conclusion to this series. It’s also very different because so much of the conflict between Courtenay and Julian is internal rather than external (no one’s sneaking about investigating blackmailers, no one’s hiding out from murderous criminals) and very rooted in How One Behaves in Society. Medlock and Courtnay make a compelling couple, the straight-laced social climber and the reckless hedonist. Plus cats. (Dear Author: I’d like to know what’s up with Lady Montbray and her companion, and Oliver and Georgie’s sister needs a HEA, too.)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss then I bought a copy on my nook because of course.