mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie

8880488Summary from Goodreads:
This is New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Crusie’s novel about long shots, risk management, true love, and great shoes. . . .

Minerva Dobbs knows how to work the odds.
Calvin Morrisey always plays to win.

But when they face off, neither one is prepared.
Because when real life meets true love, all bets are off. . . .

Minerva Dobbs knows that happily-ever-after is a fairy tale, especially with a man who asked her to dinner to win a bet, even if he is gorgeous and successful Calvin Morrisey. Cal knows commitment is impossible, especially with a woman as cranky as Min Dobbs, even if she does wear great shoes and keep him on his toes. When they say good-bye at the end of their evening, they cut their losses and agree never to see each other again.

But fate has other plans, and it’s not long before Min and Cal meet again. Soon they’re dealing with a jealous ex-boyfriend, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, a determined psychologist, chaos theory, a freakishly intelligent cat, Chicken Marsala, and more risky propositions than either of them ever dreamed of. Including the biggest gamble of all—true love.

Bet Me has been on my very long Romance TBR forever but Sarah and Jen at Fated Mates finally tipped me over the edge. I loved it. Cal and Min are fantastic and their surrounding group of friends are just a hoot. It’s basically a fairy-tale disguised as a rom-com so that’s a solid intersection of my interests – plus many, many little tidbits in this book have direct correlations to 90s rom-com movies starting with the Julia Roberts Movie Playlist for Diana’s wedding. Even the ending to “the bet” turns out in an extremely screwball rom-com fashion.

I would have been forced to poison all the parents tho, YIKES. Min’s mom is EXTREMELY fatphobic and the heroine has internalized a lot of negative body image so if those things are triggering for you this may be one to skip. But Cal is basically “you’re attractive as fuck just as you are also we should eat good food because eating is pleasure” so I’m down with him. (I also read a review that was really critical about how much chicken marsala is eaten by the characters, especially Min, and clearly that person has never found their absolute favorite food or had their favorite dish at a favorite restaurant ever.)

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this on my Nook because the library is closed to the public and they didn’t have a copy on Overdrive. (Which, by the way, WHAT ARE YOU DOING ST. MARTIN’S – the ebook is $11.99 and the paperback is $25.99, for a book first published in 2004. This is how you price a book out of circulation. I’m a bookseller – if I get a trade paperback (and the current cover is awful, yo) into the store to sell and it’s priced $25.99 and NOT 1500 pages long or an academic title it won’t sell. Because a romance reader can buy 2-4 books for that price.)

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Say No to the Duke by Eloisa James (The Wildes of Lindow Castle #4)

40220892Summary from Goodreads:
One little wager will determine their fate—a daring escape or falling into temptation with a rakish lord.

Lady Betsy Wilde’s first season was triumphant by any measure, and a duke has proposed—but before marriage, she longs for one last adventure.

No gentleman would agree to her scandalous plan—but Lord Jeremy Roden is no gentleman. He offers a wager. If she wins a billiards game, he’ll provide the breeches.

If he wins…she is his, for one wild night.

But what happens when Jeremy realizes that one night will never be enough? In the most important battle of his life, he’ll have to convince Betsy to say no to the duke.

I started reading Say No to the Duke as a galley last year and just couldn’t get into it. So I put it aside. I’m glad I did because I think it was a case of “it’s not the book, it’s me” – for whatever reason, it just wasn’t grabbing me and since I don’t get paid to review, I hit pause.

Since Eloisa’s next Wilde installment Say Yes to the Duke is due out this month, I picked this back up. I really liked it. The plot is mostly internal, with both Betsy and Jeremy having to deal with some mental stuff before they can truly come together (Betsy, the internalized misogyny that sexual desire means she’s going to abandon her family like her mother did; Jeremy, his guilt over the deaths of his men in battle and his ongoing struggle with PTSD). They bicker delightfully, especially at the beginning. There is some external plot that feels shoehorned in to tie-up a plotbunny at the end but that’s minimal. The auction scene is a treat.

I would definitely like a book for Aunt Knowe (ok, so her first name is Louisa and the family last name is Wilde and she’s the duke’s twin sister….so if she hadn’t ever married (or married a commoner) she would be Lady Louisa or (at a stretch) Lady Wilde, not Aunt or Lady Knowe. Am I missing something??? She’s a fun character and there’s definitely a story there!!)

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley sent to my store by the publisher but I also had a copy I preordered on my Nook last year (so I could have read that, too, I guess).

mini-review · stuff I read

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang (The Kiss Quotient #2)

39338454._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love.

It’s taken multiple attempts to get through The Bride Test. It was very hard to get past how Khai, who has autism spectrum disorder, is treated by his family – as someone who needs to be “fixed” (I think his brother Quan and cousin Michael, who was the hero of The Kiss Quotient, might be the only two close family members who don’t treat Khai like that). And the way his mom decides to “fix” him is to get him a bride from Vietnam. It’s really, really awkward and not in a good way. I liked Khai and Esme a lot as characters, particularly how Esme is so determined to get herself and her daughter a better life, but a lot of the stuff around them was hard to read.

Dear FTC: I had a galley but it expired so I had to buy a copy.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai (Modern Love #2)

44148565Summary from Goodreads:
In Alisha Rai’s second novel in her Modern Love series, a live-tweet event goes viral for a camera-shy ex-model, shoving her into the spotlight—and into the arms of the bodyguard she’d been pining for.

OMG! Wouldn’t it be adorable if he’s her soulmate???

I don’t see any wedding rings [eyes emoji]

Breaking: #CafeBae and #CuteCafeGirl went to the bathroom AT THE SAME TIME!!!

One minute, Katrina King’s enjoying an innocent conversation with a hot guy at a coffee shop; the next, a stranger has live-tweeted the entire episode with a romantic meet-cute spin and #CafeBae is the new hashtag-du-jour. The problem? Katrina craves a low-profile life, and going viral threatens the peaceful world she’s painstakingly built. Besides, #CafeBae isn’t the man she’s hungry for…

He’s got a [peach emoji] to die for.

With the internet on the hunt for the identity of #CuteCafeGirl, Jas Singh, bodyguard, friend, and possessor of the most beautiful eyebrows Katrina’s ever seen, comes to the rescue and whisks her away to his family’s home. Alone in a remote setting with the object of her affections? It’s a recipe for romance. But after a long dating dry spell, Katrina isn’t sure she can trust her instincts when it comes to love—even if Jas’ every look says he wants to be more than just her bodyguard…

Welcome to The Bodyguard: Extreme Pining Edition.

Seriously, this book needs a Whitney Houston soundtrack.

Girl Gone Viral is a very (very) slow-burn romance with much mutual pining between a woman with severe anxiety/panic disorder (with maybe a little agoraphobia/PTSD) and her bodyguard/head of security (who is ex-military and definitely has PTSD). So much pining. All the pining – and that possibly awkward she’s-been-his-boss-for-years thing. Kat and Jas are two of the nicest, sweetest cinnamon-rolliest people (even though Jas could probably break you in half) who totally deserve each other. What I really liked in this book is that Rai gave them each some personal issues that couldn’t be solved by talking about their feelings and tackling the #cafebae issue. Kat has an awful, awful dad while an incident from Jas’s military past comes back to haunt him. That makes their romance very true-to-life. You don’t get to deal with one issue at a time, you have to juggle it all at once, the good and the bad.

Now, if you’ve read a lot of Rai’s previous books, Girl Gone Viral has a much lower “steam” level by comparison. No sexytimes until about 60% through the book and even those are much less in-depth, shall we say. It fits with Kat and Jas, though. They’re sweet and thoughtful and very private characters. They are not Livy and Nicholas from Hate to Want You, secretly hooking up once a year for ten years and having raw, can’t-get-you-out-of-my-system sex, or even Jackson and Sadia from Wrong to Need You who are also “extreme pining edition” but real dirty-talkers. If you like shagging early and often in your romances, be prepared this one’s going to be mild.

Girl Gone Viral is out today!

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

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Duke Darcy’s Castle by Syrie James (Dare to Defy #3) – a blog tour review with Austenprose!

Duke Darcy Castle by Syrie James 2020

Lance Granville, the Tenth Duke of Darcy, was none too happy to give up his career in the Royal Navy to inherit the family title, complete with an ancient castle he needs to renovate. When an architect arrives on his doorstep, Darcy is astonished to discover that she’s a woman.

Kathryn Atherton has one goal: to become the first woman architect in Britain. Marriage doesn’t figure in her plans. Despite the odds, her schooling is behind her. Now she needs experience. When she’s sent to a small tidal island in Cornwall to remodel a castle, the last thing Kathryn wants is to be attracted to its roguishly handsome owner.

Kathryn is determined to keep things professional, but the sizzling attraction between her and the duke quickly blazes out of control. When Darcy learns that Kathryn is an heiress whose fortune would save St. Gabriel’s Mount, he wages the most important battle of his life: to woo and win the woman who’s captured his heart. But (in an homage to Austen), the Duke’s first proposal is so Darcyesque, he is refused. In any case, duchesses can’t be architects. And Kathryn has worked too long and too hard to give up her career for anyone….

Kathryn Atherton, architect, is sent in her boss’s stead to a tidal island off Cornwall to consult on the renovation of…a castle! She’s almost a licensed architect, almost, the first in Britain, and this will certainly be a boost in her career. She arrives at St. Gabriel’s Mount to meet the Duke of Darcy, who not only answers his own front door but also mistakes her for the new schoolteacher in the village.

Lance Granville has been the Duke of Darcy for only a few weeks after the sudden death of his elder brother. The duchy is drowning in debt, the estate drastically reduced and mortgaged, and Lance really doesn’t have the time (or money) for an architect to renovate the castle. Especially if said architect is a woman. He would much rather escape back to his Navy command. But Miss Atherton is talented and persuasive so Lance agrees to let her remain for the agreed three weeks to develop the renovation plans (although he really has no intention of putted the scheme in to action).

Soon enough, Lance learns that Kathryn is a richer-than-rich American heiress, with a proposed dowry to the tune of seven figures in American dollars. If he marries her, her dowry will not only save the duchy but put the village to rights. So Lance proposes – badly. Kathryn a) does not intend to give up her career to swan around as a duchess and b) she will only marry for love. Lance is chastened – his grandmother puts it in perspective for me – but determined not to give up. Although he isn’t exactly forthcoming about the duchy’s financial woes, an omission that will come back to haunt him later.

Duke Darcy’s Castle is a very sweet romance between an architect and Modern Woman and a brand-new duke (he used to be in the Navy). The romance is medium-steamy, with a lot of good, feminist sentiment about working women and women’s roles (I did love Lance’s grandmother quite a lot who is in Kathryn’s corner from the get-go). The plot trips along very neatly – with a couple of fun interludes where the couple gets to interact with each other – and ties up nicely, but the tension between hero and heroine didn’t quite pay off to my satisfaction. It felt unbalanced in a way – he had to prove he wasn’t a twerp or out for her money (which, lets be honest, would this love story have happened had he not learned she was worth seven figures?) while she had to decide that adding a ranking title to her fortune would unlock many doors for her as an architect who also happened to be woman. Lance’s first “Darcy-esque” proposal was excellent. The setting of a castle on a tidal island – based on the real-life St. Michael’s Mout – was quite unique.

Duke Darcy’s Castle is the third book in the Dare to Defy series, which follows three unconventional American heiress sisters. I haven’t read the first two books, Runaway Heiress and Summer of Scandal, but I was able to get the gist of the connections easily enough so don’t worry about getting caught up before reading this one. The sisters do make an appearance in Duke Darcy’s Castle but the plot doesn’t spoil any of the particulars of their books.

Dare to Defy series James

AUTHOR BIO:

Syrie JamesAuthorPhoto2012SYRIE JAMES is the USA TODAY and Amazon bestselling author of thirteen novels of historical, contemporary, and young adult fiction and romance. Her books have hit many Best of the Year lists, been designated as Library Journal Editor’s Picks, and won numerous accolades and awards, including Best New Fiction by Regency World Magazine (the international bestseller “The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen”), and the national Audiobook Audie for Romance (“The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte”, also named a Great Group Read by the Women’s National Book Association). Los Angeles Magazine dubbed Syrie the “queen of nineteenth century re-imaginings,” and her books have been published in twenty languages. A member of the Writer’s Guild of America, Syrie is also an established screenwriter and playwright who makes her home in Los Angeles. An admitted Anglophile, Syrie has addressed audiences across the U.S., Canada, and the British Isles.

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM | GOODREADS | BOOKBUB

Duke Darcy’s Castle was released on ebook from Avon Impulse on February 25 – the mass market paperback will be released March 24, 2020.

I’m participating in a blog tour with Laurel Ann at Austenprose! See the Austenprose review and a schedule for other features and reviews.

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

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Hot and Badgered by Shelly Laurenston (Honey Badger Chronicles #1)

35603257._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
It’s not every day that a beautiful naked woman falls out of the sky and lands face-first on grizzly shifter Berg Dunn’s hotel balcony. Definitely they don’t usually hop up and demand his best gun. Berg gives the lady a grizzly-sized t-shirt and his cell phone, too, just on style points. And then she’s gone, taking his XXXL heart with her. By the time he figures out she’s a honey badger shifter, it’s too late.

Honey badgers are survivors. Brutal, vicious, ill-tempered survivors. Or maybe Charlie Taylor-MacKilligan is just pissed that her useless father is trying to get them all killed again, and won’t even tell her how. Protecting her little sisters has always been her job, and she’s not about to let some pesky giant grizzly protection specialist with a network of every shifter in Manhattan get in her way. Wait. He’s trying to help? Why would he want to do that? He’s cute enough that she just might let him tag along—that is, if he can keep up . . .

I started Hot and Badgered back in January and had a hard time getting into the book. The plot is very over-the-top (VERY) and just kept adding more characters and more and more different types of shifters (so. many. shifters, good lord.). I really needed multiple family trees to keep it all straight. But the plot didn’t really seem to be going anywhere for a long time. Plus, the sexytimes do not appear until very late in the book. I don’t require banging on the first page, but for a “sexy shifter romance” this was very much a family novel about two sets of siblings caught in a revenge plot and far less a paranormal romantic suspense, imo.

All that said, Hot and Badgered was a very funny book in places (there is a scene where the two older sisters use the youngest’s shifter ability to get them out of a tight spot and it is both weird/icky and an absolute HOOT). Laurenston can write a humdinger of a one-liner. Also, stress baking which becomes a minor plot point in its own right. I might try one of Laurenston’s Crow novels next.

Dear FTC: I purchased my copy of this book.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Headliners by Lucy Parker (London Celebrities #5)

47826382Summary from Goodreads:
Sparks fly when two feuding TV presenters are thrown together to host a live morning show in Lucy Parker’s latest enemies-to-lovers contemporary romance.

He might be the sexiest man in London, according to his fan site (which he definitely writes himself), but he’s also the most arrogant man she’s ever met.

She might have the longest legs he’s ever seen, but she also has the sharpest tongue.

For years, rival TV presenters Sabrina Carlton and Nick Davenport have traded barbs on their respective shows. The public can’t get enough of their feud, but after Nick airs Sabrina’s family scandals to all of Britain, the gloves are off. They can barely be in the same room together—but these longtime enemies are about to become the unlikeliest of cohosts.

With their reputations on the rocks, Sabrina and Nick have one last chance to save their careers. If they can resurrect a sinking morning show, they’ll still have a future in television. But with ratings at an all-time low and a Christmas Eve deadline to win back the nation’s favor, the clock is ticking—and someone on their staff doesn’t want them to succeed.

Small mishaps on set start adding up, and Sabrina and Nick find themselves—quelle horreur—working together to hunt down the saboteur…and discovering they might have more in common than they thought. When a fiery encounter is caught on camera, the public is convinced that the reluctant cohosts are secretly lusting after one another.

The public might not be wrong.

Their chemistry has always been explosive, but with hate turning to love, the stakes are rising and everything is on the line. Neither is sure if they can trust these new feelings…or if they’ll still have a job in the New Year.

Now, if you haven’t read London Celebrities book 4, The Austen Playbook, you can read Headliners without it but I suggest you just go read it (and the rest of the series) because it’s really flipping good. And the big climax of that book leads directly into Sabs’ and Nick’s story here (you are hereby warned about spoilers…). 

Sabrina Carlton and Nick Davenport have been professional rivals and competitors for years with competing evening news shows. Their separate networks have recently combined in a merger – so there’s only one spot at the top. But Nick displayed questionable ethics and broke a massive story about Sabs’ family that ruined one of his closest friendships and almost cost her sister Freddy her career (The Austen Playbook), not to mention tanking Sabrina’s credit with the network. On top of that, Nick got caught on camera in a dressing room rant about the network’s shady new boss. So he’s doubly in the doghouse and what was going to be a professional dogfight is now a knives-out grudge-match. But they’re each given one more chance: work together to rehab the network’s flagging morning chat show in one month and maybe they won’t be out on their asses in the New Year. Nick and Sabrina have to make nice for the camera but then doing it for the camera leads to perhaps making nice IRL…and then something more (knitting is involved, it’s adorable). And when a saboteur starts causing strange accidents – a misprogrammed child’s toy, salt in the sugar in a baking segment, a rogue boom mike – Nick and Sabs are in a race against time to save their careers and find time to come together (SPARKS DO SOME FLYING, OH YEAH). 

Headliners is an absolutely smashing enemies-to-lovers contemporary. This is an excellent addition to books that rehab the “bad guy” (Devil in Winter, Duke of Sin, Loving Rose) except rather than a rakish nobleman who kidnapped the previous book’s heroine or tried to kill the hero the stakes are much more realistic. Nick is a reporter who made a very ill-considered decision with professional and personal consequences. The fallout cost him friendships and integrity. The incident was also connected to Sabs discovering her boyfriend had been cheating on her (again) while on air which contributed to her bad press. Parker really gets into how one has to adult up after making a such a huge mistake, how trust has to be rebuilt. 

It’s also another in a recent string of contemporaries where everyone refreshingly is an adult and has adult problems. Nick and Sabs, despite their seemingly glamorous television presenter jobs, get up every morning – too damn early for normal humans, in my opinion – and do the daily grind. They have family to deal with, former lovers, surprise job opportunities. They are eventually able to talk about what happened, about all the hurt that Nick’s decision caused. And, to top it off, when Sabs gets her period and rotten cramps and the whole nine yards, and needs supplies, Nick goes out and gets them for her from the store, no whining, no acting like an nincompoop about it. Seeing characters on the page who aren’t jerks about menstrual cycles is such a great step forward. (If you were wondering if the infamous Sadie Foster, instigator of all the problems in The Austen Playbook, is still around, you best read this book.)

The Austen Playbook is out today, January 20, in ebook formats! (Paperbacks are out next week.)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Netgalley and I bought a copy on my Nook.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh (The Union of the Rakes #1)

42872108Summary from Goodreads:
In the first book in Eva Leigh’s new Union of the Rakes series, a bluestocking hires a faux suitor to help her land an ideal husband only to be blindsided by real desire…

Lady Grace Wyatt is content as a wallflower, focusing on scientific pursuits rather than the complications of society matches. But when a handsome, celebrated naturalist returns from abroad, Grace wishes, for once, to be noticed. Her solution: to “build” the perfect man, who will court her publicly and help her catch his eye. Grace’s colleague, anthropologist Sebastian Holloway, is just the blank slate she requires.

In exchange for funding his passage on an expedition leaving London in a few months, Sebastian allows Grace to transform him from a bespectacled, bookish academic into a dashing—albeit fake—rake. Between secret lessons on how to be a rogue and exaggerated public flirtations, Grace’s feelings for Sebastian grow from friendship into undeniable, inconvenient, real attraction. If only she hadn’t hired him to help her marry someone else…

Sebastian is in love with brilliant, beautiful Grace, but their bargain is complete, and she desires another. Yet when he’s faced with losing her forever, Sebastian will do whatever it takes to tell her the truth, even if it means risking his own future—and his heart.

I missed a few of Eva Leigh’s recent releases so I perked up when I heard that she had a new series starting – The Union of the Rakes. (omg, what) My Fake Rake is the first offering and it has one of my favorite tropes – friends to lovers! – AND the hero and heroine are total library nerds. Oh, my research dork babies. How I love them.

SO.

My Fake Rake is a reverse My Fair Lady plot, with a few nods to Pretty Woman thrown in for good measure (ahhh, the boat scene at the end! No spoilers!). Herpetologist Lady Grace Wyatt has had a long-standing, unrequited crush on a famous naturalist. When the wandering gent returns to Town, he mentions in passing to Grace (omg, he doesn’t deserve her, what a dense twerp) that he is in the market for a wife before he leaves on his expedition to Greenland in about a month. Grace is determined to make the drip notice her so she enlists her friend Sebastian, a bespectacled social scientist with social anxiety, to help her. And, what is the best way to get a guy to notice you? Get courted by a sexy rake, of course!

Cue what is the funniest thing I have read in forever: Grace and Sebastian do library research in forty year old conduct books to make Sebastian over into a rake. It is hi-larious. Luckily, Sebastian’s best friend from school is the Duke of Rotherby, the rakiest rake to ever rake, who catches them trying out some (ill-advised) rake-moves and saves them from embarrassing themselves. It’s delicious.

There is a wrinkle in the plan: Sebastian has been nursing an unrequited love for Grace. But he won’t ruin his friendship by getting in the way of Grace’s goals. But then Grace suddenly sees Sebastian in a new light as Rotherby’s Rake Lessons progress (the “goodness he’s hot without his spectacles” scene *sigh*). She, also, doesn’t want to ruin their friendship. The tension. You can cut it with a knife.

I love this book so much. Leigh really presents how fear of rejection and fear that you’ll ruin your best relationship can derail the best laid plans. Leigh also cleverly seeded in little bits of the other four heroes in this series – The Union of the Rakes – and I would like the rest of the books now please. (If you are not a Prologue reader, you will want to read this Prologue because it is a real Prologue, not just a mislabeled Chapter 1.)

My Fake Rake is out today, November 26!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss and you can bet I pre-ordered this on my Nook immediately after finishing it.