Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Act Like It, Pretty Face, and Making Up by Lucy Parker (London Celebrities #1-3)

28208878._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
A sharp-witted heroine and an infuriating-but-swoon-worthy leading man bring down the house in this utterly charming contemporary romance debut from Lucy Parker

This just in: romance takes center stage as West End theatre’s Richard Troy steps out with none other than castmate Elaine Graham

Richard Troy used to be the hottest actor in London, but the only thing firing up lately is his temper. We all love to love a bad boy, but Richard’s antics have made him Enemy Number One, breaking the hearts of fans across the city.

Have the tides turned? Has English rose Lainie Graham made him into a new man?

Sources say the mismatched pair has been spotted at multiple events, arm in arm and hip to hip. From fits of jealousy to longing looks and heated whispers, onlookers are stunned by this blooming romance.

Could the rumors be right? Could this unlikely romance be the real thing? Or are these gifted stage actors playing us all?

After starting with book 4 in the London Celebrities series (oops) I hopped back to the beginning to start with Act Like It. I really enjoyed this fake relationship plot between a good-natured, publicly-minded actress (Lainie) and a grouchy, patrician, git of an actor (Richard) who have to start appearing to be an item so ticket sales for the play they’re in won’t tank. So much good banter and a look inside the theatre world of West End London. I really liked how Richard softens, but doesn’t entirely lose his “people are insufferable” vibe while Lainie gets a little bit of an edge to her. Also, bro actors are the worst. (I kept imagining Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as the main characters. 😻)

30631124._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Highly acclaimed, award-winning author of Act Like It Lucy Parker returns readers to the London stage with laugh-out-loud wit and plenty of drama

The play’s the fling

It’s not actress Lily Lamprey’s fault that she’s all curves and has the kind of voice that can fog up a camera lens. She wants to prove where her real talents lie—and that’s not on a casting couch, thank you. When she hears esteemed director Luc Savage is renovating a legendary West End theater for a lofty new production, she knows it could be her chance—if only Luc wasn’t so dictatorial, so bad-tempered and so incredibly sexy.

Luc Savage has respect, integrity and experience. He also has it bad for Lily. He’d be willing to dismiss it as a midlife crisis, but this exasperating, irresistible woman is actually a very talented actress. Unfortunately, their romance is not only raising questions about Lily’s suddenly rising career, it’s threatening Luc’s professional reputation. The course of true love never did run smooth. But if they’re not careful, it could bring down the curtain on both their careers…

I polished off Pretty Face as my second book in the July 2019 24in48 readathon!

I really loved this second book in the London Celebrities series. Lucy Parker takes aim at the shit actresses have to deal in the acting profession. Lily Lamprey, because she plays a sexy, sultry, somewhat loosely-moraled star of a Raging Twenties television show, is almost summarily dismissed out of hand by demanding theatre director Luc Savage for his groundbreaking new play about the Tudor queens. Breathy floozies (which is a kind paraphrase) should not portray Queen Elizabeth I. Lily can hold her own, though, and she nails her audition – and Luc’s attraction. Which is a problem when you are the much-older boss. And then you have to hire your recently-married ex-girlfriend to play Bloody Mary due to a casting change. Cue headaches.

Luc and Lily are great characters. I’ll admit to being a bit nervous about the age difference – Luc is in his early forties and Lily her mid-twenties – but it is handled so well on the page. Lucy Parker writes such wonderful adults in her books, who have jobs and careers and stakes but who also learn to deal with their emotional crap in very real ways. Pretty Face is probably my favorite in this series and I would love to see the actual play described in this book as a real production. Great to see an early version of Freddy from The Austen Playbook and Lainie and Richard back in a short scene (Richard gives great advice when he remembers to not be an actual git).

36533218._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Once upon a time, circus artist Trix Lane was the best around. Her spark vanished with her confidence, though, and reclaiming either has proved… difficult. So when the star of The Festival of Masks is nixed and Trix is unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight, it’s exactly the push she needs. But the joy over her sudden elevation in status is cut short by a new hire on the makeup team.

Leo Magasiva: disgraced wizard of special effects. He of the beautiful voice and impressive beard. Complete dickhead and—in an unexpected twist—an enragingly good kisser.

To Leo, something about Trix is… different. Lovely. Beautiful, even though the pint-size, pink-haired former bane of his existence still spends most of her waking hours working to annoy him. They’ve barely been able to spend two minutes together for years, and now he can’t get enough of her. On stage. At home. In his bed.

When it comes to commitment, Trix has been there, done that, never wants to do it again. Leo’s this close to the job of a lifetime, which would take him away from London — and from Trix. Their past is a constant barrier between them.

It seems hopeless.

Utterly impossible.

And yet…

I had a weirdly hard time getting into Making Up. I think I was initially put off by the animosity between Leo and Trix at the beginning of the book, since we met them both in the previous book Pretty Face and they were both likeable characters. It’s uncomfortable for a bit plus Trix’s boss (and Leo’s, since he joins the makeup team) at The Festival of Masks is such a shit that it’s very grimace-inducing. I put the book aside for a while. But once Leo and Trix clear the air (that was a hot scene by the end *fans self*) the plot loosened up and I really came to like this couple. Plus, this is a very different aspect of stagecraft, with an aerial Cirque du Soleil-like show compared to the other three books in the series that are more oriented around playacting.

I’m going to give a brief trigger warning for this book – Trix has experienced psychlogical abuse in a previous relationship and that manifests on the page in vivid panic attacks.

And now I’m all caught up and ready for Headliners (book 5, due out January 2020, I lucked into a digital galley approval on Netgalley, but I am contemplating a re-read of The Austen Playbook to get ready for Sabs and Nick).

Dear FTC: I bought all my copies of this series on my Nook.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai (Modern Love #1)

39863092Summary from Goodreads:
Alisha Rai returns with the first book in her sizzling new Modern Love series, in which two rival dating app creators find themselves at odds in the boardroom but in sync in the bedroom.

Rhiannon Hunter may have revolutionized romance in the digital world, but in real life she only swipes right on her career—and the occasional hookup. The cynical dating app creator controls her love life with a few key rules:
– Nude pics are by invitation only
– If someone stands you up, block them with extreme prejudice
– Protect your heart
Only there aren’t any rules to govern her attraction to her newest match, former pro-football player Samson Lima. The sexy and seemingly sweet hunk woos her one magical night… and disappears.

Rhi thought she’d buried her hurt over Samson ghosting her, until he suddenly surfaces months later, still big, still beautiful—and in league with a business rival. He says he won’t fumble their second chance, but she’s wary. A temporary physical partnership is one thing, but a merger of hearts? Surely that’s too high a risk…

Coming off of Rai’s Forbidden Hearts series, I was ready for some angsty, dating sexytimes in the new Modern Love series. However, Rai changed up the dynamics of this book.

Rhiannon (sister to Gabe from Hurts to Love You) has launched her dating app and is gearing up to acquire an old-school rival matchmaking service. However, their new spokesman? A hookup who ghosted her for their second date. Nerp! She’s been scalded by toxic dudes before. Blocked!

Samson didn’t mean to ghost his sexy, intriguing match but a family emergency happened – by the time Samson remembered his date he’d been blocked. Plus, it turns out she didn’t even use her own name! They’re thrown together by chance in a live interview at an industry event and have to make nice for the camera. Once Rhiannon and Samson clear the air, Rhiannon still wants to acquire his aunt’s matchmaking company and Samson needs help actually using a dating service for work purposes. So they agree to a series of advice-giving “dates” under the guise of helping Samson navigate the dating scene.

And, oh yes, there’s still a spark. A great, big, forest fire-level spark.

The Right Swipe is a second-chance, slow-burn-but-very-hot romance between Rhiannon and Samson. They are two capable professionals approaching 40 so if you like competence *pr0n* (it me!!!), get yourselves this book. I was 100% here for the emotional work the couple does to overcome their own baggage because it’s baggage that we all have: how do you trust again, how do you navigate a C-level position with the unrealistic expectations we put on women at that level, how do you make a life after walking away from something you love. Rai also has excellent commentary on the effect of the #metoo movement and the CTE controversy in professional sports. This is also an incredibly diverse romance – almost all major characters are people of color – and you’ll get some serious style envy from Rhiannon’s personal assistant Lakshmi, who is a serious fashionista and makeup genius. (I’ve already asked Rai if Lakshmi is going to meet Sadia’s Influencer sister….apparently maybe, but not as a couple?)

The Right Swipe is out today!!!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss and bought it on my nook.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean (The Bareknuckle Bastards #2)

40221961._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
The Lady’s Plan

When Lady Henrietta Sedley declares her twenty-ninth year her own, she has plans to inherit her father’s business, to make her own fortune, and to live her own life. But first, she intends to experience a taste of the pleasure she’ll forgo as a confirmed spinster. Everything is going perfectly…until she discovers the most beautiful man she’s ever seen tied up in her carriage and threatening to ruin the Year of Hattie before it’s even begun.

The Bastard’s Proposal

When he wakes in a carriage at Hattie’s feet, Whit, a king of Covent Garden known to all the world as Beast, can’t help but wonder about the strange woman who frees him—especially when he discovers she’s headed for a night of pleasure . . . on his turf. He is more than happy to offer Hattie all she desires…for a price.

An Unexpected Passion

Soon, Hattie and Whit find themselves rivals in business and pleasure. She won’t give up her plans; he won’t give up his power . . . and neither of them sees that if they’re not careful, they’ll have no choice but to give up everything . . . including their hearts.

Sarah MacLean is an auto-buy for me. Please to have, I will cram it into my brain immediately (which stinks for recommending books to people because I get to read the galley then have to remember every time I talk about it that it’s not out yet, gah). So, while I read this back in May on vacation, today is release day for a new book in the Bareknuckle Bastards series, Brazen and the BeastHuzzah!

Here’s what you need to know. Hattie, who is quite good at the family business but gets relegated to the side because “female,” decides that for her twenty-ninth year she’s just going to prove that she’s meant to inherit the family business instead of her twerpy brother rather than just get married and pop out babies. First order of business: enlist carriage-driving bestie Nora to drive her to a lady-catering brothel to rid herself of her v-card. Problem: there’s a very attractive, unconscious man tied up in the carriage they need to use.

That’s Beast. He can throw knives. Is very dangerous. Of course you know how this is going to go.

Turns out Hattie’s brother Auggie is mixed up in bad (read: likely to get him killed) business dealings and has got himself on the wrong side of the Bareknuckle Bastards. Beast wants retribution for hurts to himself, both personal and business-wise. Hattie won’t give up her brother, but wants to make Beast a deal. And what a deal they make….*fans self*. Lurking at the edges of this love story is the darker tale of Beast’s childhood, shared with Devil and Grace, and the third brother Ewan who wants Grace back at any cost.

I didn’t think it would be possible to make a better hero and heroine couple than Pippa and Cross but omg Hattie and Beast. The climax of this book was amazing. I also really appreciate how Sarah has seeded in some more of Ewan and Grace’s history – enough to understand some of what happened – but left the complete tale for the third book.

Things I require post-haste:
1. Sesily’s story. OMG she’s been waiting forever.
2. Nik and Nora need their own damn book (spoiler, sorrrrryyyyy, but it’s so adorable). Also, Nora is such a great bestie.

Brazen and the Beast is out today!!!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss. Also, it’s been preordered on my nook since forever.

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 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.