Review: Heartbreaker

Review: HeartbreakerHeartbreaker (Hell's Belles, #2) by Sarah MacLean
Series: Hell's Belles #2
Published by Avon on August 23, 2022
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
three-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: Much better than the first in the series. I enjoyed the relationship between Adelaide and Henry. Much of the book is a road trip between them (only one bed at the inn!), so their relationship shines.

THE STORY: Adelaide Frampton spends her time in ballrooms watching as she pretends to be a wallflower, but she is actually the Matchbreaker who helps women avoid the altar. Adelaide has another secret; she was not born to the aristocracy but rather is the daughter of a crime lord. In her latest quest to help a young woman, Adelaide encounters Henry, Duke of Clayborn, who has tried to live the role of a duke to perfection. But Henry, too, has secrets. When Adelaide and Henry find themselves on opposite sides of stopping a wedding, the two take a journey across England, both thwarting and tantalizing one another.

OPINION: The strength of this book is the relationship between Henry and Adelaide. They spend much of the book together, which is good because there really isn’t much else to the book. The book feels like it walks through various tropes without deep emotional engagement. While the book lacks any real drama or tension between the main characters, there is a deep connection between the two — and both are very decent people.

Perhaps that is why this book is good, but not great. Because there is nothing for the two characters to confront or overcome in themselves, the story is flat. The whole Hell’s Belles series feels like superhero comics rather than romance. It feels like the book is ticking off a checklist rather than deeply rooted in the characters. While I liked Henry and Adelaide a lot, this is not a book that I would be compelled to pick up again.

This book is much better than the first in the series, but it does lack the emotional depth and angst of MacLean’s earlier — much superior — books.

WORTH MENTIONING: There are small mentions of other characters from the MacLean world, including the Wests.

CONNECTED BOOKS: HEARTBREAKER is the second book in the Hell’s Belle’s series. The romance here is self-contained so this book can be read as a standalone. There are appearances by characters in the series, however.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3.5 stars.

three-half-stars

Review: Meet You in the Middle

Review: Meet You in the MiddleMeet You in the Middle by Devon Daniels
Published by Berkley Books on February 2, 2021
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 368
Goodreads
two-stars

FINAL DECISION: I was not engaged by this book. The story was too banal and uninteresting, with the characters not well defined or interesting. The first quarter of the book was the best. Once the characters became interested in one another, I was not interested in them.

THE STORY: Senate staffer Kate Adams is trying to gain support for a piece of liberal legislation when she encounters Ben Mackenzie, who works for a conservative senator. The two strike sparks off of one another immediately. As the two continue to spar with one another, they first develop an unlikely friendship and then their relationship becomes deeper and more complicated.

OPINION: I kept reading this book, figuring that there must be something there, but I was just bored by it. The story between these two was superficial and did not really engage with their conflicts. There actually is little politics in this one. It’s more used as a device to keep the two apart, and it doesn’t grapple with the differences between these characters. Don’t have much else to write about it. Not sexy, not funny, and definitely doesn’t live up to the blurb or even the first couple of chapters.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book has only one sex scene late in the novel.

CONNECTED BOOKS: MEET YOU IN THE MIDDLE is a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book two stars.

NOTE: I received an eARC of this book via Edelweiss. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

two-stars

Review: For Real

Review: For RealFor Real (Spires, #3) by Alexis Hall
Series: Spires #3
Published by Alexis Hall on July 5, 2018
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 442
Goodreads

FINAL DECISION: Deeply emotional, this book feels like being trapped in the minds of these two characters. How they fall in love and navigate their relationship kept me enthralled throughout, even though I’m generally less interested in erotic romance, where the relationship is developed through sex. This book is definitely an exception.

THE STORY: Laurence Dalziel is emotionally worn out. The man he loved left him six years ago, and he hasn’t found a relationship that can replace his need for BDSM submission and be emotionally fulfilling. At age 37 doesn’t have any optimism about the future when he meets Toby Finch, who is 19 years old and looking to mature into his need to be a dominant in the BDSM scene. Laurie and Toby connect almost immediately, although Laurie feels the weight of his age and Toby’s youth, freshness, vulnerability, and optimism. Laurie might reluctantly accept the sexual pull between them but refuses to allow it to mean anything more.

OPINION: This book reads like a literary story. Although definitely within the romance genre, it just feels different. I thought about the story of these two characters long after finishing this book.

I tend not to be a big fan of erotic romances. I’m not as interested in the extended sexual exploits that are essential to that sub-genre as I prefer my characters to interact in other ways. Thus, I was prepared not to like this book. Admittedly, I drifted at times during the erotic scenes, but I found that this book is deeply emotional in ways I didn’t expect. I would say that despite those scenes, I really loved this book.

Laurence and Toby both travel so much in this story. The book begins with the older, worn-out man who has lost much on his life’s journey. He no longer even hopes for something more. The younger man yearns to define himself and discover his future. But the book does not maintain these stereotypes. The reader learns that each of these characters is complex and has emotional needs that the other can help assuage.

The book defies the expected. Again and again, the story turns in directions that I didn’t expect. Deeply romantic and a book that centers the connection between these two characters.

WORTH MENTIONING: The only thing that made me uncomfortable about this book is that Toby is 19. I would have found even a 20-year-old less jarring, but perhaps the uncomfortable feeling is precisely what the author intended.

CONNECTED BOOKS: FOR REAL is the third book in the Spires series. It is not necessary to read those books before this one, however. The books are connected thematically but are not otherwise related.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

Review: Archangel’s Light

Review: Archangel’s LightArchangel's Light (Guild Hunter, #14) by Nalini Singh
Series: Guild Hunter #14
Published by Berkley on October 26, 2021
Genres: Paranormal
Pages: 396
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: The book has a lot of interesting information about both Aodhan and Illium, and the two of them certainly love one another, but I didn’t buy the romantic relationship between the two. The problem for me is that the two don’t have enough tension between them to drive a romance story and the “plot story” here wasn’t compelling either. No Guild Hunter book is bad, this one is okay but disappointing.

THE STORY: Since they were children, Illium and Aodhan have been inseparable. They have been the closest of friends. Recently, however, Aodhan has struggled against Illium’s protectiveness of him. At times it feels like their friendship has broken forever. The two haven’t spoken for some time when they are asked to serve in China helping the new archangel who has taken over the territory since the ending of the evil archangel who had long ruled the area. But all is not right and Illium and Aodhen must determine what is wrong — not only in China but also with their relationship.

OPINION: I really wanted to like this one because I am a big fan of the Guild Hunter series. But the romance here (what there was of it) just didn’t work for me. Singh told readers that Illium and Aodhen were not romantically involved for quite a while, but there was pressure from certain fans to get the two together. Singh caved, and whether because her heart wasn’t in it or because of her own limitations writing m/m stories, this relationship just didn’t work for me. There is no sex in this book, and Illium and Aodhen don’t seem emotionally engaged at all with one another. The book lacks emotional tension and the plot was pretty banal. I enjoyed reading about some of the missing pieces in the history of these two, but otherwise, this book is merely okay.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book is told in varying time periods (present and the past) to inform readers about events, emotions, and thoughts of what happened before.

CONNECTED BOOKS: ARCHANGEL’S LIGHT is the fourteenth book in the Guild Hunter series. This book should be read as part of the series. The complexity of the story really requires a reader to know a great deal of background.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: It All Comes Down to This

Review: It All Comes Down to ThisIt All Comes Down to This by Therese Anne Fowler
Published by St. Martin's Press on June 7, 2022
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 352
Goodreads
two-stars

FINAL DECISION: The book is well constructed from a technical standpoint, but I think I am exhausted with these three women at a change of life women’s fiction books. Nothing about this book was exciting or extraordinary to me. Just banal from the first page to the last, with the exception that part of the story was just terrible in my estimation. If it was an attempt at a happy ending, it was entirely unbelievable and demonstrates selfishness rather than love and caring.

THE STORY: The death of their mother brings a surprise for three sisters when a provision of her will states that the family’s summer house in Maine is to be sold with each sister getting an equal share. Each sister is facing something significant in their lives. Beck, the oldest, is a journalist jolted by the news because she had a vague idea that she would use the summer house to write the novel she has been thinking of writing. She also is having trouble in her marriage. The middle sister, Claire, is a doctor who is divorced and has a thing for the wrong man. The youngest sister Sophie has a glamorous life that masks her financial woes. A stranger also comes into their lives at this same moment when things are falling apart for each sister.

OPINION: I found almost all of these characters uninteresting and unlikeable. In committing to a book like this, I like to find some people I enjoy reading about. Instead, there are a bunch of awful people who do really bad things, and somehow, the book wants to explain their bad behavior. I don’t really think that I would like to know these people and thus, I don’t really want to read about them.

Because the book can’t express the emotional depth of these characters (indeed, most of them are pretty shallow and selfish people who are quite satisfied to harm even their closest relatives), it instead tries to keep secrets from the reader from saying nevermind and putting down the book. Because to be honest, if the reader knew from the beginning how amoral and unlikeable these people are, they wouldn’t continue with the story. The story drags because it ultimately relies on a “keeping secrets from the reader” premise instead of exploring the depths of the characters.

Definitely not worth my time in reading.

WORTH MENTIONING: I read this book as part of a book club, so it wasn’t something I would have chosen myself. Judge my opinion accordingly.

CONNECTED BOOKS: IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS is a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 2 stars.

two-stars

Review: The Hating Game

Review: The Hating GameThe Hating Game by Sally Thorne
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on May 16, 2019
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 369
Goodreads

FINAL DECISION: This book isn’t what I expected from the blurb. I expected a lot of backstabbing and undermining and anger and angst. But this book was such a beautiful romance. I loved both these characters and how their relationship developed. It is a slow-burn romance but not boring — just wonderful.

THE STORY: Lucy Hutton’s nemesis is Joshua Templeman. Lucy and Joshua are executive assistants to the co-CEOs of a publishing company. Now they are both competing for the same promotion. Neither is going to back down from the competition, but at that precise moment, Lucy begins to get to know Joshua better. Perhaps neither really hates the other as much as Lucy expected — or is Joshua playing the long game in winning the competition between them?

OPINION: This book was hot several years ago. I have to admit that I wasn’t attracted to the book then. I ended up reading it recently for a book club. Unlike many “hot” books, this one was amazing.

From the first page to the end, I loved the couple and the story, even though it has many elements that aren’t my favorite — such as it is told in the first person present (by Lucy), and we never get Joshua’s perspective other than what Lucy learns. But it worked for me because it ended up being precisely what the story needed to work.

Lucy is sweet but surprisingly determined and strong when it matters. Joshua … no, I can’t say any more because it will give the story away. I can say that Lucy’s perception of Joshua is that he is a stick-in-the-mud, cold person, and a big jerk. When she finds herself attracted to him, she can’t imagine why.

What I love about this book is that it takes all the tropes of the office romance from 20-30 years ago and writes in a new and unexpected way. I’ve read stories like this many times before, but this book never gave the easy, expected answer. It is modern and funny, but it is also sweet and romantic.

It wasn’t the typical angsty and angry enemies-to-lovers story that I was expecting, but it was definitely worth the reading.

WORTH MENTIONING: THE HATING GAME was made into a movie.

CONNECTED BOOK THE HATING GAME is a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

Review: Her First Christmas Cowboy

Review: Her First Christmas CowboyHer First Christmas Cowboy (Four Corners Ranch #0.5) by Maisey Yates
Series: Four Corners Ranch #0.5
Published by HQN Books on October 1, 2021
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 55
Goodreads
three-stars

FINAL DECISION: Pleasant short story/novella. The characters are decent people and although things are tied up quickly and neatly, I enjoyed the sweet story.

THE STORY: Tala Nelson’s evening grading papers is interrupted by┬árodeo cowboy Clayton Everett coming to her home with a gunshot. Tala knows that she should stay away from this man who comes from a bad background, but she can’t help but like and care for Clayton. As Christmas approaches, two people who have unhappy pasts find something for the future in one another.

OPINION: This was a pleasant, pretty straightforward romance. Both Tala and Clayton have family problems (in really different ways) which builds understanding between them. Because of the novella’s length, there isn’t a lot of character development here. I liked the characters and thought that the story was heartwarming and sweet. Everything is tied up too neatly, but it worked as a quick read for me.

WORTH MENTIONING: This is a very short novella (about 55 pages).

CONNECTED BOOKS: HER FIRST CHRISTMAS COWBOY is book 0.5 in the Four Corners Ranch series. This is a novella prequel. The Four Corners Ranch series is a spinoff of the Copper Ridge series, but it is not necessary to read those books (I haven’t) to read this book.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3 stars.

three-stars

Review: The Return of the Duke

Review: The Return of the DukeThe Return of the Duke (Once Upon a Dukedom, #3) by Lorraine Heath
Series: Once Upon a Dukedom #3
Published by Avon on July 26, 2022
Genres: Historical
Pages: 272
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: A historical spy novel with a woman of questionable morals at the center. I loved this book because the darkness in both the main characters brings them together, yet there is something sweet and light between them. Concludes the series satisfyingly.

THE STORY: Marcus Stanwick has prepared his whole life to become the Duke of Wolfford. His future is smashed when his father is hanged for an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria, and the family’s titles and properties are stripped from them. Now Marcus is working to uncover his father’s co-conspirators. At a dead end, he goes to the person he has avoided approaching — the woman reputed to be his father’s mistress. Esme Lancaster is also looking at who else was involved in the conspiracy for her own reasons. While she doesn’t want to work with Marcus, she has no choice but to join him in searching for the conspiracy. Marcus and Esme discover that their preconceptions of the other don’t fit the reality. And the reality is that the two begin to realize that there is a strong attraction between them.

OPINION: This book was unexpected. It has more of a historical spy feel as Marcus and Esme try to determine who has been plotting to kill Queen Victoria. While adjacent to the world of ballrooms, this book takes place in the shadowy places of London. I enjoyed the different emphasis in the story as some of the historical issues of the time are explored.

And I loved Marcus and Esme. Both had their expected lives pulled out from under them and yet managed to be caring people. We finally find out what Marcus has been doing during the timeline of the other books in the series.

Marcus was more thoughtful and self-examining than I had expected. When he first met Esme, I worried he would be a total jerk to her. (Ok, honestly, he is terrible to her at the first meeting, but a reader can be assured that only lasts a moment.) Based on his obsession-laden appearances in previous books, I hadn’t expected to like him so much. I found that he is a caring person and ultimately reasonable as he quickly begins to understand Esme and even has empathy for her.

Esme is an incredible heroine. I especially liked that Heath made her more modern thinking without making her feel ahistorical (as many romance writers are wont to do these days). Esme is a trailblazer in how she lives her life and what she has chosen to do with herself. At the same time, she has soft edges, and it is clear that she is strong enough to live alone but needs someone who will love and care for her.

And that is what makes this book so good for me. Esme and Marcus have both been betrayed and have lived in darkness. In one another, they find understanding, companionship, and love. They are such a good couple who talks to one another and seek understanding rather than being immature and jumping to conclusions. Their relationship feels mature, and when their happy ending comes, I’m not surprised, and I’m assured that they will love one another forever.

My final enjoyment of this book is that appearances are made by all the main characters from the series and also from the Sins for all Seasons books.

WORTH MENTIONING: Dr. Graves from the Scoundrels of St. James series has an important (but off the page) role in this book.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE RETURN OF THE DUKE is the third book in the Once Upon a Dukedom series. The book can be read as a standalone, although there is an overarching story for the series that is resolved here. Enough information is given but there are significant appearances from characters from both this series and also from the Sins for All Seasons series. This book is also a bridge to the Chessmen series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: Storm Echo

Review: Storm EchoStorm Echo (Psy-Changeling Trinity, #6; Psy-Changeling, #21) by Nalini Singh
Published by Berkley on August 9, 2022
Genres: Paranormal
Pages: 384
Goodreads

FINAL DECISION: I loved this book. Although the emotional story between these two characters was more straightforward than others in this series, I adored Lei and Ivan and their relationship. The book didn’t go in the direction I expected so I sped through the pages and finished the last page satisfied and interested in the future.

THE STORY: Ivan Mercant has kept himself separate from his dangerous family and everyone else because he knows that his brain contains a monster that threatens others. But then he meets a changeling named Lei that changes him. But as quickly as she comes into his life, she is gone. Ivan searches unsuccessfully for her until he sees her in San Francisco. Soleil Bijoux Garcia is a healer who is alone. While on her quest to kill the DarkRiver alpha, she sees a stranger who seems familiar to her.

OPINION: I began reading this book intending to read it slowly over several days. Instead, I read it cover to cover in one rush. Singh gave new twists on the characters of the Psy assassin and the Changeling healer. I thought that the drama of their separation would be the center of the book, but instead, there is great gentleness between these two, and the real drama ends up being external factors.

I knew I would love this book once I realized that we had returned to DarkRiver. As much as I have enjoyed the expanding Psy-Changeling work, I admit that DarkRiver is a joy to see again. Appearances and updates on beloved characters increased my enjoyment of this book. The Psy-Changeling series always works best when it is grounded in the community of all the characters we have already met. Singh does community so well, and none of these appearances seem gratuitous, but each of these characters has a part to play in the world drama.

With these characters, I enjoyed that Singh did not plow the same storyline she has before with Psy and Changeling combinations. Ivan and Lei have different quirks, fears and challenges. Lei is a healer and reaches out, but she also has been deeply hurt by her past. Like many of the healers, she has a different type of strength but also great vulnerability. Her handling of Ivan is just about perfect. She’s not putting up with his BS in this book. In this relationship, she is not vulnerable and hurt but relatively intense and determined. I really adored Ivan because he is relatively vulnerable in this relationship. He needs care and tending and Lei is so wonderful in this regard. Just everything in their relationship worked for me.

WORTH MENTIONING: We get to learn more about the Architect.

CONNECTED BOOKS: STORM ECHO is the sixth book in the Psy-Changeling Trinity series. The romance is self-contained, but the overarching story goes throughout the Trinity series. Do yourself a favor and just start at the beginning of Trinity. This book is also book 21 in the Psy-Changeling series if you want to start at the real beginning.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

Review: Serving Pleasure

Review: Serving PleasureServing Pleasure (Pleasure Series, #2) by Alisha Rai
Series: Pleasure Series #2
on June 12, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Erotica
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: I really enjoyed this book, although I didn’t find it or the characters particularly deep. It reads more like a novella, but certainly a good one.

THE STORY: Rana Malik has promised her mother to find a proper possible husband rather than continue her history of sexual relationships. Just at this moment, Rana is tempted by her neighbor, who Rana watches through his uncovered windows. Micah Hale is hiding. After being a victim of violence, Micah left his home and family and has come to town intending to try to get his career as an artist back on track. He certainly doesn’t want to get involved with his sexy next-door neighbor, although he cannot help but watch her watch him.

OPINION: These characters had an interesting setup and I liked them and their relationship. They were well set for a short book. There is not much depth to them beyond their quick description: an artist suffering from PTSD and a woman who is being slut shamed by her mother attempting to be the “good girl”. Everything is a stereotype of what would be expected. We get the support of the woman — “you shouldn’t be ashamed of having many sexual partners,” and the hero gets therapy to deal with his issues. How everything worked out was banal and exactly what you would expect.

So there was nothing novel or great about this book. I really liked the relationship between Rana and Micah. I thought it was supportive and very sexy. There were some really great moments in the story that definitely were great. Because the story went so fast, I would recommend it.

WORTH MENTIONING: The book deals with post-traumatic experiences after a violent attack.

CONNECTED BOOKS: SERVING PLEASURE is the second book in the Pleasure series. It is not necessary to read the first book to enjoy this one. (I haven’t read the first book).

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars