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