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.

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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 Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian (Regency Imposters #2)

39009917Summary from Goodreads:
One reluctant heir
If anyone else had asked for his help publishing a naughty novel, Ash would have had the sense to say no. But he’s never been able to deny Verity Plum. Now he has his hands full illustrating a book and trying his damnedest not to fall in love with his best friend. The last thing he needs is to discover he’s a duke’s lost heir. Without a family or a proper education, he’s had to fight for his place in the world, and the idea of it—and Verity—being taken away from him chills him to the bone.

One radical bookseller
All Verity wants is to keep her brother out of prison, her business afloat, and her hands off Ash. Lately it seems she’s not getting anything she wants. She knows from bitter experience that she isn’t cut out for romance, but the more time she spends with Ash, the more she wonders if maybe she’s been wrong about herself.

One disaster waiting to happen
Ash has a month before his identity is exposed, and he plans to spend it with Verity. As they explore their long-buried passion, it becomes harder for Ash to face the music. Can Verity accept who Ash must become or will he turn away the only woman he’s ever loved?

Alrighty, NEW CAT SEBASTIAN NOVEL!!!! *sends alert* A Duke in Disguise drops tomorrow on ebook, mass market May 28.

This is the second book in her Regency Impostors series, but the timing of the book puts it during Unmasked by the Marquess rather than following it. So if you’re hoping for a little Pembroke-and-Robin action, like I was, they don’t appear as characters here *womp womp*. However, Mrs Allenby and Amelia appear as wonderful additions to this story, Mrs. Allenby specifically as an ex-lover of our heroine, Verity. 

So Verity Plum is a printer, with her brother, who is pushing the boundaries of the sedition and freedom of speech (or lack thereof) at the time. Her best friend Ash, an engraver, returns to rent their upstairs room after Ash’s mentor leaves England for a warmer climate due to his health. When her brother has to hide out in the Americas after publishing a pamphlet that would definitely get him arrested, Ash promises to look out for Verity. Ash has been in love with Verity for as long as he can remember, but Verity is hesitant to potentially ruin their friendship. What actually throws a wrench into their plans comes in the form of a duke’s sister who wishes to have engravings made of her botanical specimens….

She turns out to be Ash’s aunt, meaning Ash has the opportunity to have a family and save a lot of people, but he might lose Verity, who is very much in the sans culottes camp regarding the need for class reform. (Meanwhile, there is a hilarious B-plot involving Verity printing a Perkin Warbeck historical novel – now there’s a deep cut – in parts and it turns out to be an erotic novel.)

I loved this friends to lovers romance – it’s one of my favorite tropes – with a wee bit of sedition and Perkin Warbeck slash-fic. Verity and Ash have such good conversations and Cat Sebastian brings in so much about the problems of the aristocracy, the 1 Percenters who use up the lives and resources of the lower classes and give nothing back. Also cheese. What’s not to love?

(To the cover designer: Verity would NEVER wear that gown. That’s for aristos, not seditious printers.)

(Also: Cat has said she’s thinking about finishing the Warbeck slash-fic – which is hilariously gothic and kind of terrible in an overblown way – and I hope she does. Would totally read it.)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss and I had a copy pre-ordered on my Nook.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Takeover Effect by Nisha Sharma (The Singh Family #1)

36544616._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Hemdeep Singh knows exactly what he wants. With his intelligence and determination, he has what it takes to build his own legacy away from Bharat, Inc. and the empire his father created. But when his brother calls him home, Hem puts his dreams on hold once again to help save the company he walked away from. That’s when he encounters the devastating Mina Kohli in the Bharat boardroom, and he realizes he’s in for more than he had bargained.

Mina will do whatever it takes to regain control of her mother’s law firm, even if it means agreeing to an arranged marriage. Her newest case assignment is to assist Bharat in the midst of a potential takeover. It could be the key to finally achieving her goal while preventing her marriage to a man she doesn’t love—as long as her explosive attraction to Hem doesn’t get in the way.

As Mina and Hem work to save Bharat, they not only uncover secrets that could threaten the existence of the company, but they also learn that in a winner-takes-all game, love always comes out on top.

Avon Impulse is putting out some really fun romances right now (petition to get them into the main Avon line, yo!) and The Takeover Effect by Nisha Sharma is the newest. Hemdeep is called home to save his family’s company while his father recovers from an unexpected illness; Mina is a whip-smart lawyer who will anything to regain control of her late mother’s law firm (from her creepy uncle, ick). When Mina starts doing discovery with Hem during a corporate merger, they find some oddities in the company records and a strong attraction between the two of them.

The Takeover Effect is a super fast-paced and steamy corporate espionage romance with a Punjabi desi couple (and their families, because these are family businesses, even at the corporate billionaire level). Lawyers abound in this book, extremely smart ones. The only thing that needled me was that Hem was really possessive of Mina and wasn’t excellent at respecting all her boundaries, so ymmv there. Nisha recently tried to murder me by saying her physical model for Hem was Ranveer Singh (which, if you think about this novel/plot in Bollywood terms, YES YES ABSOLUTELY CORRECT IS MINA PLAYED BY DEEPIKA PADUKONE OR PRIYANKA CHOPRA???).

The Takeover Effect is out now in ebook, the mass market will be out April 30.

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

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Truth or Beard by Penny Reid (Winston Brothers #1)

23314731Summary from Goodreads:
Beards, brothers, and bikers! Oh my!

Identical twins Beau and Duane Winston might share the same devastatingly handsome face, but where Beau is outgoing and sociable, Duane is broody and reserved. This is why Jessica James, recent college graduate and perpetual level-headed good girl, has been in naïve and unhealthy infatuation with Beau Winston for most of her life.

His friendly smiles make her tongue-tied and weak-kneed, and she’s never been able to move beyond her childhood crush. Whereas Duane and Jessica have always been adversaries. She can’t stand him, and she’s pretty sure he can’t stand the sight of her…

But after a case of mistaken identity, Jessica finds herself in a massive confusion kerfuffle. Jessica James has spent her whole life paralyzed by the fantasy of Beau and her assumptions of Duane’s disdain; therefore she’s unprepared for the reality that is Duane’s insatiable interest, as well as his hot hands and hot mouth and hotter looks. Not helping Jessica’s muddled mind and good girl sensibilities, Duane seems to have gotten himself in trouble with the local biker gang, the Iron Order.

Certainly, Beau’s magic spell is broken. Yet when Jessica finds herself drawn to the man who was always her adversary, now more dangerous than ever, how much of her level-head heart is she willing to risk?

This is…fine. I had Truth or Beard hanging around on my Nook and had heard good things so I decided to see if it could help get me out of my reading slump. Plus I like the kitschy cover. Well, Duane and Jessica are cute enough together but a) this romance was written in alternating 1st person POV and it wasn’t working so well for me and b) there were about four too many tropes in the plot. It was super-awkward at the beginning where Jessica thinks that the dude she’s hitting on/letting get to second base with her is Beau yet we the readers can tell that Duane knows she’s thinks he’s Beau. So consent is a little hazy. Plus the biker-gang thing was weird.

So it was an OK story, but I’m not exactly rushing to immediately buy and read the rest of the series.

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

Readathon · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Wrong Highlander by Lynsay Sands (Highland Brides #7)

37868552Summary from Goodreads:
A laird’s daughter kidnaps a Highlander—and loses her heart… in New York Times bestselling author Lynsay Sands’ new historical romance…

Lady Evina Maclean has heard much about Rory Buchanan’s skill as a healer. What she hasn’t heard is how good the brawny Highlander looks bathing in a waterfall. But Evina can’t afford the distraction, for her ailing father urgently needs care. Only when she’s rendered Buchanan unconscious and dragged him back to her family’s castle does the truth emerge—it’s not Rory she’s kidnapped but his brother Conran.

Other ladies try to ensnare Conran with flattery. Evina hits him over the head with the hilt of her sword to save her kin—and Conran likes the spirited redhead all the more for it. He’s learned enough from his brother to heal Evina’s father, but there are other dangers swirling around the Maclean clan. And while the beautiful, independent lady has sworn not to marry, this wrong Highlander may be just the right man for her.

I cannot quit this series. It’s ridiculous, historically off-the-rails, full of moments of questionable consent, a high number of attempted murders (to the point that the characters joke about them), and some of my least favorite tropes. This one has a virgin widow (at least it’s not another amnesia book).

So Evina needs Rory Buchanan and his legendary skills to come and heal her father. Except…rather than invite Rory to come to MacLean she sees a Highlander wearing Buchanan plaid gathering herbs then bathing, clobbers him on the head and drags him off to MacLean. Which is how she winds up with Conran instead.

Cool, cool. Kidnap wrong dude. Luckily, Conran isn’t a dummy and has absorbed some of Rory’s knowledge over the years and gets the MacLean on the mend. Only to find that he’s attracted to Evina – like, VERY attracted – and they wind up having to have a hasty marriage because they got way too into the sexytimes and Evina’s still a virgin. Oh, and come clean about not being Rory. So all the Buchanans and their spouses show up at MacLean in time to help Conran foil a murderer. Standard Sands fare.

But the series is ridiculous and fun and OF COURSE I’ll line up to read the next one. I can’t quit before all the brothers have been paired off. Especially Rory – poor guy is the only one who wants to fall in love and get married and at this point I’m sure that Sands is going to leave him for last.

The Wrong Highlander was released yesterday, January 29, in the US.

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

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.

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.