Reading Diversely · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole (Reluctant Royals, #1)

35271238Summary from Goodreads:
From acclaimed author Alyssa Cole comes the tale of a city Cinderella and her Prince Charming in disguise . . .

Between grad school and multiple jobs, Naledi Smith doesn’t have time for fairy tales…or patience for the constant e-mails claiming she’s betrothed to an African prince. Sure. Right. Delete! As a former foster kid, she’s learned that the only things she can depend on are herself and the scientific method, and a silly e-mail won’t convince her otherwise.

Prince Thabiso is the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo, shouldering the hopes of his parents and his people. At the top of their list? His marriage. Ever dutiful, he tracks down his missing betrothed. When Naledi mistakes the prince for a pauper, Thabiso can’t resist the chance to experience life—and love—without the burden of his crown.

The chemistry between them is instant and irresistible, and flirty friendship quickly evolves into passionate nights. But when the truth is revealed, can a princess in theory become a princess ever after?

About two chapters into my galley of Alyssa Cole’s A Princess in Theory I started squealing. Ledi is a grad student in epidemiology! Specifically, infectious diseases!! *heart-eyes emoji* And she talks about the research and the writing like she knows what she’s doing!! *many more heart-eyes emojis* (Turns out Cole used to work as an editor for a science journal, yaaaaaas, girl.)

So here’s the deal: if you were looking for an update-ish of Coming to America with a stronger female main character, a prince who is concerned with doing right by his people, strong and intersectional secondary characters, science, social commentary, and excellent fashion descriptions, A Princess in Theory is for you.  If you weren’t looking for a story like this, you still want this book.  You’re welcome.

I lurved it. All of it. Ledi is a smart, streetwise heroine from the school of “no one wants a foster kid no matter how much she tries to be the Perfect Kid.” You just want to smack so many adults on her behalf, both from her childhood and from her current adult life (there’s a post-doc in her lab that deserves some Draino in his coffee). Thabiso is a literal Prince who gets his life turned upside down when he determines Ledi’s his long-lost fiancé – his plan to show her what she missed out on (chiefly, His Awesomeness as a Prince) when her parents fled Thesolo is just the most delightfully wrong-headed idea ever. Once Thabiso decides to get to know Ledi (although he does that as some dude named Jamal, so also not the best plan in the long-term), Cole brings in some great commentary about colonialism, big-government jacking around with global disease prevention funding, and the foster system. There are some steamy sexytimes, too. (What? This is still a romance novel.) My only criticism – and it’s a minor one – is that I could smell the villain coming from miles away, which is probably my own fault for having read so many Agatha Christie novels.

I know Cole probably didn’t intend the juxtaposition, but when she described Thabiso’s beard as being trimmed to accentuate his sharp jaw my brain went immediately to all the pictures of Chadwick Boseman dressed in his T’challa costumes. So if this ever gets made into a movie, they’ll have to cast Boseman. Sorry not sorry? (I mean, there are worse people you can resemble, I’m just saying. I was reading this in the two weeks prior to the release of Black Panther in theatres and Instagram just kept parking ads and trailers with Boseman’s gorgeous face all over my feed. Ledi was a little harder to headcast – Letitia Wright is obviously a good choice with her recent turn as awesome scientist-princess Shuri in Black Panther.)

I would like to ask the Romancelandia Fairy-godmother for a book for Likotsi – she quickly went from Thabiso’s enigmatic assistant to an awesomesauce lady frand and she needs a story of her own. (Also, I want all her suits, even though I do not have the body type for them, because they sounded so damn gorgeous.) But next up is a book for Ledi’s bestie Portia who goes off to Scotland for an internship in swordmaking (y’all, Portia is something else) and finds a duke along the way. PS: Avon, any time you want to park that galley on Edelweiss I’ll read the crap out of it.

A Princess in Theory is out today! Whoop whoop!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss and I had a copy pre-ordered on my nook. So hah.

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Readathon · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

35259631Summary from Goodreads:
A groomsman and his last-minute guest are about to discover if a fake date can go the distance in a fun and flirty debut novel.

Agreeing to go to a wedding with a guy she gets stuck with in an elevator is something Alexa Monroe wouldn’t normally do. But there’s something about Drew Nichols that’s too hard to resist.

On the eve of his ex’s wedding festivities, Drew is minus a plus one. Until a power outage strands him with the perfect candidate for a fake girlfriend…

After Alexa and Drew have more fun than they ever thought possible, Drew has to fly back to Los Angeles and his job as a pediatric surgeon, and Alexa heads home to Berkeley, where she’s the mayor’s chief of staff. Too bad they can’t stop thinking about the other…

They’re just two high-powered professionals on a collision course toward the long distance dating disaster of the century–or closing the gap between what they think they need and what they truly want…

Everyone, and I mean everyone, has been talking about Jasmine Guillory’s debut romance novel. And when Roxane Gay starts tweeting about an excellent, smart, and sexy romance novel she’s reading you put it on your TBR. During the 24in48 Readathon this weekend a needed a much lighter book to balance some unexpected heaviness (Kent Haruf, I was not planning to read your book but I needed a short audiobook and whyyyyyyy did you do that to me?) so I pulled up my galley of The Wedding Date and dove right in.

Cue all the squealing. Guillory has provided us with a super-cute contemporary romance about a smart woman who gets stuck in an elevator with a hot guy who turns out to need a date for a wedding that weekend. Which turns into a one night stand. And then turns into something else entirely unlike what Alexa and Drew expected. I was hooked almost immediately by the meet-cute. Super-hot dude gets stuck in an elevator with you and makes jokes about needing snacks? Yes, please. And then he asks you to be his hot date for a wedding? I’d be willing to over-look the “oops I panicked and said you were my girlfriend” thing, too. The plot kept me turning pages until late into the night (good thing it was Saturday). 

I loved Alexa. Sharp, decisive, and with a love of doughnuts (yes, girl, always with the sprinkles). Guillory gave her a great job and purpose that just leap right off the page; Alexa doesn’t exist within the confines of this book, she could be a real person who is a mayor’s chief of staff trying to start a program for troubled kids. I liked Drew as a character, but I had trouble finding reasons for his commitment problems outside of being a busy doctor.  He didn’t come across as a Player player, no one accused him of cheating or two-timing or anything, so I couldn’t quite figure him out.

Holding up Alexa and Drew’s relationship was whip-smart multi-layered writing, infusing the book with discussions about body positivity, race, and privilege.  When Alexa arrives at the rehearsal dinner, she asks if she’s going to be the only Black person there, letting the reader know that not only will Alexa stick out as a new face attached to Drew (who has some history with the bridal party), she will be unable to blend in with the guests at any point; later, the discussions about which parts of Berkeley are supportive of her diversion program are similarly revealing. Alexa also has some thoughts about places she wished wouldn’t jiggle quite so much while having sex, which I’m sure most women have had, but Guillory makes it clear that Drew finds Alexa’s curves very sexy (every once in a while I’ll read a romance where there’s a “hero-loves-heroine-despite-her-chubbiness” vibe and that’s a definite “ew” but totally not a thing here). Ordering food and enjoying a meal are also big parts of this story, whether the main characters are alone, together, or in a group; there’s no food-shaming. Guillory also gets a Gold Star for condom usage EVERY time one was called for in addition to writing very consent-positive sex scenes.

The Wedding Date is on sale today! Pick it up at your favorite bookstore. (And apparently there’s going to be a sequel, with Drew’s buddy Carlos.)

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

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Surrender to the Highlander by Lynsay Sands (Highlander #5)

34848198Summary from Goodreads:
Edith Drummond owes her life to Niels Buchanan and his brothers. Waking after an illness to a castle overrun by rugged Highlanders is disconcerting, but so is learning that she’s slowly being poisoned. Niels insists on staying by her side, and Edith soon discovers that even more dangerous is her wild attraction to the fierce warrior.

Niels has never met a more courageous—or enticing—woman than Lady Edith. The idea of such a bonny lass being forced to enter a nunnery is more than any red-blooded Scotsman could bear. He’ll gladly marry her himself. But while sweeping her off her feet is easy, it’ll take all his skill to defeat her family’s relentless enemies, and convince her to surrender to his sweet embrace.

Lynsay Sands’s Scottish romances are ridiculous, and silly, and occasionally frustrating and impossible for me to quit. The last outing in her Highlanders series was a bit of a disappointment, so I was hoping Surrender to the Highlander would be a course correction. And I did like Edith’s and Niels’s romance quite a lot. So often in a Sands romance there’s a danger to the heroine and the hero restricts her activities to the extreme and then she goes and does something stupid out of frustration. *cue eyeroll* But with Surrender to the Highlander Edith and Neils actually discuss plans of action. Edith is treated like a smart person (which she is) who knows the castle and its people better than any of the Buchanans; Neils insists on many guards, but even though they get underfoot, Edith goes along with it because she’d really prefer not to be deceased. If you’ve read a lot of Sands, then the murder poison plot feels a bit rehashed but oh well. Sands could use an editor for the language (if you take the time to pepper in “ken” and “sgian-dubh” you can do the research for a suitable Scots epithet instead of “ai yi yi”). There is one scene where Edith asks the maid how to please Neils, because she’d like to return the favor (if you know what I mean), and gets some VERY TERRIBLE BUT FUNNY advice.

I am glad to see the next book coming is for Aulay (finally) then perhaps one for Rory, since he’s actually expressed that he’d like to fall in love compared to the remaining single-guys-get-all-the-ladies attitudes of the younger brothers. Bad news for the cover designer though – tartans are the same color in one family (Dougall’s cover had a blue-ish tartan, this one is red, and Aulay’s is green for the next one – they’re all brothers).

Surrender to the Highlander is out Tuesday January 30.

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

The ending was an interesting one, but after sitting with it for a while I have a bit of a quibble. I’ll put it behind a Read More tag (trigger warning for discussion of rape and suicide).

(ETA: well, beans, I guess the Read More only works if you’re on the blog’s main page, not the post itself, so feel free to stop reading here if you wish.) Continue reading “Surrender to the Highlander by Lynsay Sands (Highlander #5)”

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

It Takes Two to Tumble by Cat Sebastian (Seducing the Sedgwicks #1)

S35230501ummary from Goodreads:
“Sebastian proves she is a new force to be reckoned with in historical romances.”–Booklist

Some of Ben Sedgwick’s favorite things:
Helping his poor parishioners
Baby animals
Shamelessly flirting with the handsome Captain Phillip Dacre

After an unconventional upbringing, Ben is perfectly content with the quiet, predictable life of a country vicar, free of strife or turmoil. When he’s asked to look after an absent naval captain’s three wild children, he reluctantly agrees, but instantly falls for the hellions. And when their stern but gloriously handsome father arrives, Ben is tempted in ways that make him doubt everything.

Some of Phillip Dacre’s favorite things:
His ship
People doing precisely as they’re told
Touching the irresistible vicar at every opportunity

Phillip can’t wait to leave England’s shores and be back on his ship, away from the grief that haunts him. But his children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors and he must set things right. The unexpected presence of the cheerful, adorable vicar sets his world on its head and now he can’t seem to live without Ben’s winning smiles or devastating kisses.

In the midst of runaway children, a plot to blackmail Ben’s family, and torturous nights of pleasure, Ben and Phillip must decide if a safe life is worth losing the one thing that makes them come alive.

Out today! Cat Sebastian kicks off her new Seducing the Sedgwicks series with It Takes Two to Tumble.

This is a charming m/m Regency loosely based off the Maria/Captain von Trapp relationship in The Sound of Music (no Nazis or whistles, thankfully). Ben is the cheerful, dedicated-to-the-parish vicar and Philip is a stern sea captain returning to his home after two years (his wife has died while he was away and his three children are running wild). Their story is sweet and loving (and I think Ben looks like James Norton from Grantchester). Sebastian sets up future books in the series well.

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

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

It’s Hard Out Here for a Duke by Maya Rodale (Keeping Up With the Cavendishes #4)

33783879Summary from Goodreads:
In the fourth novel of Maya Rodale’s tantalizing series, a newly minted duke spends one night with his perfect woman…but can he win her for a lifetime

Some Mistakes…

When American-born James Cavendish arrives in London tomorrow, he’ll become the Duke of Durham. Some might be ecstatic at the opportunity. Not James. He’s a simple man, fond of simple pleasures. And right now, nothing could be more pleasurable than spending his last night of freedom with a beautiful stranger.

Are Far Too Good…

One wild night, Meredith Green, companion to the dowager Duchess of Durham, said yes to a man she thought she’d never see again. Suddenly, they’re living under the same roof, where Meredith is expected to teach James how to be a duke—while trying not to surrender to temptation a second time.

To Be Forgotten

For a duke and a commoner, marriage would be pure scandal. Yet nothing has ever felt as right as having Meredith in his arms…and in his bed. Soon he must choose—between a duty he never desired, and a woman he longs for, body and soul…

I liked the first book in this series, Lady Bridget’s Diary, because I loved the layering of the retellings of Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones’s Diary (it was like 16 walls of meta-fiction, I loved it).  I was also intrigued by the idea of the series in general: the four books will take place more-or-less simultaneously over the same time period. Now, I haven’t read the second and third books in the series – I just didn’t get to them – so I thought that I’d squash down my “but it’s out of series order” objections and read It’s Hard Out Here for a Duke because it’s a holiday weekend and new romance galley and blah blah blah.

However, even with the intervening time since reading book one, the structure of the book felt repetitive. I’d seen the same drawing room scenes already. I knew when Bridget fell on her butt, or Claire went to the boxing match, or Amelia ran away for the day or that James danced twice with Meredith. I don’t know if I would have even made it to book four had I read two or three as well – we don’t see enough plot outside what has appeared in previous books.  Which is a shame, because I really liked Meredith as a character. The prologue between Meredith and James was very good, and set up their relationship nicely but it pottered along until we got to the expected conclusion (which I’d guessed long before, because it is an expected historical plot twist) with no surprises in between. A good romance, but I wanted more spark.

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

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Wilde in Love by Eloisa James (The Wildes of Lindow Castle #1)

34121896Summary from Goodreads:
Lord Alaric Wilde, son of the Duke of Lindow, is the most celebrated man in England, revered for his dangerous adventures and rakish good looks. Arriving home from years abroad, he has no idea of his own celebrity until his boat is met by mobs of screaming ladies. Alaric escapes to his father’s castle, but just as he grasps that he’s not only famous but notorious, he encounters the very private, very witty, Miss Willa Ffynche.

Willa presents the façade of a serene young lady to the world. Her love of books and bawdy jokes is purely for the delight of her intimate friends. She wants nothing to do with a man whose private life is splashed over every newspaper.

Alaric has never met a woman he wanted for his own . . . until he meets Willa. He’s never lost a battle.

But a spirited woman like Willa isn’t going to make it easy. . . .

The first book in Eloisa James’s dazzling new series set in the Georgian period glows with her trademark wit and sexy charm—and introduces a large, eccentric family. Readers will love the Wildes of Lindow Castle!

Eloisa James, who is basically the romance writer that got me back into reading romance with A Kiss at Midnight, has a new series!  Cue the confetti cannons!  She’s going back to the Georgian era of her Desperate Duchesses series and focusing on the romantic exploits of a single family: the Wildes, headed by the Duke of Lindow, who live in Lindow Castle on the edge of a bog.  The series doesn’t start with the Duke (more on him later).  It starts with the third son, Alaric.

Now, Alaric has become famous – infamous, really – as a globe-trotting explorer, sending back accounts of the people and places he’s seen.  There are books and broadsides and a play (which has all the worst parts of cheap Georgian melodrama) detailing his exploits. And maybe some of those exploits were embellished by someone other than Alaric?  And miniatures, that women buy and swoon over. When Alaric arrives back in England after an absence of five years he finds a horde of women ready and willing to be his next “wilde” adventure. (To use a “wilde”-ly anachronistic twenty-first century comparison, the ladies are into Alaric as if he were all the members of 1-D rolled into one.)

Except Willa. When Alaric meets Willa at his father’s castle – where a party has gathered to celebrate his older brother North’s engagement (North is something else, more on him a bit later, too) – he is immediately intrigued by the only woman in the room who isn’t trying to get into his breeches. Plus she’s a sharply intelligent women. And she has a love of good books and dirty jokes. When an emotionally disturbed young woman appears claiming to be Alaric’s long-lost would-have-been fiancée from a Christian mission in Africa, Willa agrees to be Alaric’s pretend fiancée to spike the girl’s guns. And we allllll know how long “pretend” engagements remain pretend….

It’s always so, so much fun to start a new romance series. This one has many of my favorite elements (Georgians, smart ladies, fashion, cute pets…although I feel bereft that my favorite fashionable Duke, Villiers from Desperate Duchesses, doesn’t even get a mention, le sigh, but I do agree with Eloisa that Villiers tends to just take over any narrative you allow him into). Willa and Alaric have a slow-burn romance, the kind that makes them friends first and lovers after. I love it. Eloisa James’s romances are high on my list of favorites, not just for the couples, but because they’re all so meta-textual. I enjoy the puzzles Eloisa leaves her readers with references to other books, whether within that time period or not. She also gives us excellent B-plots – North and his betrothed Diana present a unique problem of their own (and a cliff-hanger!).

I said that I would get back to the Duke of Lindow later. Actual warm, affectionate, live fathers in romance are rare (possibly rarer than mothers who aren’t terrible or dead) and the Duke is a wonderful addition to this book. There’s a scene late in the book between Alaric and his father that is just so warm and wonderful. You can also get the Duke’s romance with his third wife, Ophelia, in parts when you submit proof of your pre-order for books in the series (details are on Eloisa’s website).

(And check out the cutie on the cover!)

Wilde in Love is out Tuesday, October 31! (Just a few days!)

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

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt (Maiden Lane #12)

27240748

Refined, kind, and intelligent, Lady Iris Jordan finds herself the unlikely target of a diabolical kidnapping. Her captors are the notoriously evil Lords of Chaos. When one of the masked-and nude!-Lords spirits her away to his carriage, she shoots him . . . only to find she may have been a trifle hasty.

A DUKE IN DEEPEST DARKNESS

Cynical, scarred, and brooding, Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, has made it his personal mission to infiltrate the Lords of Chaos and destroy them. Rescuing Lady Jordan was never in his plans. But now with the Lords out to kill them both, he has but one choice: marry the lady in order to keep her safe.

CAUGHT IN A WEB OF DANGER . . . AND DESIRE

Much to Raphael’s irritation, Iris insists on being the sort of duchess who involves herself in his life-and bed. Soon he’s drawn both to her quick wit and her fiery passion. But when Iris discovers that Raphael’s past may be even more dangerous than the present, she falters. Is their love strong enough to withstand not only the Lords of Chaos but also Raphael’s own demons?

When I started reading romance again in 2011/2012, there were only three books in Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series.  And then three more…then three more.  Now, the twelfth and final book has arrived and I was really looking forward to this.  The series has evolved in a direction that I don’t think anyone expected and I really wanted to know how Hoyt was going to wrap it up. Besides, Raphael was introduced in Duke of Pleasure and that was very…intriguing.

Duke of Desire was not the book I was expecting.  It’s a good book, and I really liked it, but it felt more a conclusion to the 10-12 trilogy (Duke of SinDuke of Pleasure, and Duke of Desire) than to all twelve books as a complete entity. I suppose I had wanted a “get the whole band back together” type of ending for the series.

The timeline for the book is too compressed, in my opinion, to really allow a solid relationship between Iris and Raphael to fully develop. Also, I think Raphael’s original plan – infiltrate the evil cult to take it down from the inside – was pretty half-baked. (Because you sort of have to participate in something icky then? like when the undercover cop has to do the line of coke so no one thinks he’s the narc…only this cult deals in rape and murder, not substance abuse, so what did Raph think he was going to have to do to gain the group’s trust? I have logistics questions. He didn’t answer Iris’s questions satisfactorily.) Lucky for him Iris showed up aka was served up to him because she was kidnapped by the cult by mistake forcing him to abandon his original plan. Iris surprised me as a heroine. She may not fight with swords like Alf but she stands her ground and picks apart Raphael’s mental blocks until he is able to function as a human again. (Speaking of Alf, boooo, no Alf. Kyle shows up, but not Alf. Humph. Also, no Val…because I would have relished his appearance at the climax of the plot.)

But a big trigger warning. This book gets dark, really dark. Hoyt had been dancing around depicting what the Lords of Chaos get up to for a few books now, but she really went for it in Duke of Desire. Raphael has PTSD and I think Hoyt really gave a good depiction of what it was like to suffer from psychological trauma at a time when those issues weren’t recognized. TW for descriptions of child abuse and rape.

(1,000,000 negative points to the cover designer. Got a scarred hero? Sure, put an unscarred dude on the cover. *side-eye*)

So that is it for Maiden Lane novels (there are a few novellas in the pipeline still).  Lord of Darkness with Megs and Godric is still my absolute favorite of the series, followed by Dearest Rogue and Duke of Sin.  Can’t wait to see what Elizabeth Hoyt has up her sleeve next.

Duke of Desire is out today!

Dear FTC: I read an advance copy of this book from the publisher, but I also have it pre-order on my nook.

Reading Diversely · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Friend (With Benefits) Zone by Jennifer Brown

34857442Summary from Goodreads:
I’m ridiculously attracted to my best friend.

Today is a bad day. The worst actually. After dealing with the constant manhandling that comes with being a cocktail waitress at a dive bar and surviving a date from hell, I see an eviction notice slapped on the door of my sketchy basement apartment. Great.

When my best friend Devon shows up at my door and uses his stubborn charm (emphasis on stubborn) to get me to move in with him, I give in. We’ve had about a million sleepovers since we met in the kindergarten Deaf program, but this time it’s different because I can’t stop thinking about his hard body covering mine, every single night.

I know Devon would do anything for me, but I’m afraid what I want to happen will ruin our friendship forever. And the more time we spend together in close quarters, the harder it’ll be to resist the spark of attraction I’ve always felt. But maybe it’s possible to have the best of both worlds: keep the one relationship I can’t live without and indulge in an attraction I can’t deny.

I guess the only thing we can do is try…

Friend (With Benefits) Zone came across my radar on it’s release day (so I couldn’t get it read last week) but because it was an Avon Impulse, the ebook isn’t very much to buy right away.  So I did.

Because I jumped at the opportunity to read an #ownvoices book – this one a romance specifically about a Deaf/Hard of Hearing couple written by a Hard of Hearing author. (I believe it’s loosely connected to a previous book, Signs of Attraction, so my “must read series in order” senses are prickly.)

It’s a pretty good read. I liked the story and characters. Jas and Dev are such great characters together, with a really classic friends-to-lovers plot.  I would also characterize this as a “new adult” contemporary romance, since they are both maybe around 21/last year of college age, because not all new adult is erotica, harrumph. The secondary characters are wonderful, particularly Dev’s brother Blake and his boyfriend (who have a little B-plot), and Dev’s and Jas’s friends Nikki and Pete (who have a little C-plot!), and created a very “real” world for the main couple to inhabit. What pulled the story down, for me, was 1) alternating 1st person POV which I loathe unreservedly in almost any type of book and 2) approximately 100 pages was Jas being completely obnoxious about pushing Dev away/refusing help from anyone (because she does get dealt some really shitty crap in the beginning of this book) which was about 50 pages too many, in my opinion. But the resolution was great, and the sexy-times were appropriately sexy and occasionally hilarious (because sometimes it is).

I’ll definitely be checking out Laura Brown’s previous book.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.