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Heidi Hart

By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general. 

"It Happened One Midnight" by Julie Anne Long

It Happened One Midnight - Julie Anne Long

I have been slowly working my way through the Pennyroyal Green series for years, and finding it extremely uneven. I've loved some of them (Perils of Pleasure, A Notorious Countess Confesses), hated some of them (Since the Surrender, Between the Devil and Ian Eversea), and been just "meh" about most of the rest. This one falls in the "Meh" category. The characters are likable enough, the dialogue is snappy, the plot moves along at a reasonable clip, but still... meh.

"Cream of the Crop" by Alice Clayton

Cream of the Crop (The Hudson Valley Series Book 2) - Alice Clayton

It's nice to read about a body-positive, sexually confident, plus sized woman for a change. The hero, Oscar, is too strong-but-silent for my tastes, but Natalie is a lot of fun. Alice Clayton is maturing as a writer: her plots are tighter and her dialogue sharper. I'm enjoying this series.

"Steadfast" by Sarina Bowen

Steadfast (True North Book 2) - Sarina Bowen

I really enjoy Sarina Bowen's books, and I loved the first in this series, Bittersweet (True North #1). The books are set in rural Vermont, where I live, and they feel authentic and genuine (unlike most small town contemporaries, which depict a more Hollywood-esque perfection of imagined small town life). I was really looking forward to Steadfast because of the premise: the hero is a recovering heroin addict who has just gotten out of jail for killing his girlfriend's brother while driving while high. I mean, that's some pretty heavy conflict, right? And I love a good redemption story.

 

Sadly, while the writing was good and the main characters were compelling, and Bowen did a really good job in depicting Jude's addiction and his daily struggle in recovery, Steadfast was a disappointment. The supporting characters were not well developed -- the main characters' parents, siblings, and friends were very two-dimensional, which made plot lines involving these characters less compelling and often less believable. Also, in an effort (I think) to make the hero more heroic, the plot took shortcuts that really disappointed me. (SPOILER HERE:

we learn in the end that Jude wasn't actually driving in the accident that killed the heroine's brother, which struck me as a cop out -- the story would have better if Jude had been redeemed rather than exonerated

(show spoiler)

.)

 

I was also distracted by some of the things Bowen got wrong about Vermont's criminal justice system, which likely wouldn't bother anyone who doesn't work in the field. The silver lining, though, is that the morning after I finished the book, I emailed Sarina Bowen (which is not something I ever do; generally I prefer not to directly interact with authors) and offered myself as a contact should she ever have research questions (I've been a prosecutor for 14 years) or need a beta reader, and she wrote back immediately and was thrilled by my offer. So, that was kind of exciting.

"Never Seduce a Scot" by Maya Banks

Never Seduce a Scot - Maya Banks

If you're looking for engrossing, well-researched, vividly detailed historical accuracy, Maya Banks is not your girl. However, if you're hoping for a quick escapist romp that's reasonably well written, with a plot that moves right along, likeable characters who don't forget to bring the feels, and a generous dash of CrazySauce to keep things interesting? Well then, this is a good bet, especially if you can pick it up on sale. 

 

The Montgomery and Armstrong clans have been feuding for decades. Determined to put a stop to the infighting, King Alexander decrees that Laird Montgomery must marry the Armstrong's only daughter. Unfortunately, Eveline Armstrong is rumored to be daft. Luckily, it turns out she's not daft, just deaf, and luckier still, she can read lips flawlessly and kinda-sorta-almost hear the hero's voice (and only his voice), so of course their happiness is assured... just as soon as they swim through the CrazySauce.

 

"Lord of Darkness" by Elizabeth Hoyt

Lord of Darkness - Elizabeth Hoyt

Kinda boring and forgettable. 2 years ago, Megs married Godric for convenience after learning she was pregnant with her dead lover's kid, but Megs lost the baby, and they've lived separately since. Now Megs wants a child and reasonably believes her lawfully wedded husband is the best man for the job. I liked that the main characters had both loved and lost before and so were gun shy about getting emotionally involved (a nice counterpoint to the Insta-love that is so prominent elsewhere), but I found my attention wandering throughout the book.Time to take a break from historicals!

"Bittersweet" by Sarina Bowen

Bittersweet (True North Book 1) - Sarina Bowen

I live in rural Vermont, where this is set, and I give "Bittersweet" major bonus points for authenticity. It's really rare to find books set in my home state, and too often what few there are portray Vermont as some kind of fairytale simulacra of what Hollywood envisions Small Town New England to be like. Bowen's Vermont is real and gloriously imperfect -- beautiful but sometimes desolate, a place where people nurture a deep sense of neighborliness and community while simultaneously experiencing profound personal loneliness, a place where outsiders are greeted with distrust (sometimes deserved) even as locals sometimes fail to look after their own.

 

I loved "Bittersweet" because it felt so authentic and familiar, and the characters felt real and relatable. I loved the message of the story about the connection of food to community, and the vital role of local agriculture to maintain that balance. However, upon reflection, I agree with the criticisms of other reviewers that there is a subtle sexism in the story -- mostly the men on the farm do manual labor, while the women work in the kitchen, and the hero of the story makes the decisions while "explaining" them to his mom, who probably as at least as much legal standing as part-owner of the farm. I wasn't bothered by this at the time, particularly since there are some exceptions -- the heroine of the story in an early scene does a kickass job of butchering a pig, for example, and the hero's sister is a law student. I also didn't love some of the too-convenient plot twists that came at the very end of the story to tie up lose ends quickly -- resolutions that the characters had designed and work toward would have been more satisfying than sudden intervention by outside forces.

 

Even though the story wasn't perfect, it got my home state so spot on that I give it a full five stars. I will definitely read on in the series to see how Bowen tackles Vermont's ongoing opiate epidemic.

"For the Win" by Sara Rider

For the Win (The Perfect Play Series Book 1) - Sara Rider

I picked this up on sale. It's a little preachy with several feminist rants about the unfairness of the treatment and compensation of women's professional soccer players versus men's, but since I'm in the choir being preached to, that didn't bother me too much. I found this a quick and entertaining read, funny and well written, well worth the $1.99 I paid for it. I plan to read on in the series.

"The Player and the Pixie" by L.H. Cosway & Penny Reid

The Player and the Pixie (Rugby Book 2) - L.H. Cosway, Penny Reid

I've read several "big brother's best friend" books, but this is one of the only "big brother's enemy" stories I can recall. That's not even the quirkiest thing about it: The heroine is a compulsive shoplifter, and the hero sucks in bed! Good, good fun.

"Chase Me" by Laura Florand

Chase Me (Paris Nights) - Laura Florand

Special ops heroes aren't usually my thing, but this guy (Chase) is funny and emotionally available. The plot involves an international special ops crew investigating suspected terrorist activity in Paris, so it strikes a little close to home given the recent terror attacks in Paris and Brussels.

"Mad for Love" by Elizabeth Essex

Mad For Love - Elizabeth Essex

Novella involving art forgery and mistaken identity. Kind of insta-lovey, but that's probably a function of the novella (as opposed to full length novel) format.

"Mister O" by Lauren Blakely

Mister O - Lauren Blakely

These are going to be quicky mini-reviews while I try to catch up on the last month's untracked reading.

 

This was very entertaining and sexy. First person POV from male protagonist (who is not a douche or manwhore, for all he's been around the block). Best friends' little sister trope. Some miscommunication toward the end diminished my enjoyment.

"Giving it Up" by Audra North

Giving It Up (Pushing the Boundaries) - Audra North

Since the abomination that is the Fifty Shades phenomenon, the romance genre has been glutted with BDSM, and it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. I liked this book about two novices exploring kink together. Beatrice overhears the cop she's crushing on on the phone with a professional dominatrix service, and decides to offer her services instead. Neither of them know what they're doing, but they find their way together by going slowly and by paying attention to each other. If you're looking for hardcore, this is likely to be too sweet and too vanilla for you, but this story has enough spice to please more casual readers.

 

My one frustration with the story, which is somewhat ironic given how well the lovers communicated and checked in with each other while navigating their mutual intro to kink, is that outside of the bedroom Beatrice and Warren are terrible communicators. They make wrongheaded assumptions about each other and expect the other to know things they've never discussed, and the resulting mistakes and hurt feelings were just as annoying here as these sorts of plots always are.

 

"Getting it Back" by Elizabeth Harmon

Getting It Back - Elizabeth  Harmon

I liked the first book in this series, "Pairing Off," but I found "Getting it Back" to be a total snoozefest. I had to force myself to finish. The plot is very slow and detailed, and I never warmed up to the characters, who don't communicate very well. The ending was a total cliche. Ugh!

"Never Loved" by Charlotte Stein

Never Loved - Charlotte Stein

I usually love Charlotte Stein, but Never Loved didn't really work for me. If you've read Stein before, you know her "voice" tends toward stream of consciousness. I've never had a problem with that before, but here for some reason I just found it tiresome and hard to follow. I also found the plot of this book was full of holes. The heroine and her brother were abused by their dad, but got away from him somehow, came to America for some reason, have tons of money for reasons that were either not explained or which I may have skipped in my impatience with the afore-mentioned rambling stream of consciousness, plus there's some gangster/loanshark types that threaten the HEA. Because reasons.

 

But, as usual, Stein writes hawt smex.

"Losing It" by Cora Carmack

Losing It - Cora Carmack

I picked this up on sale at the recommendation of a friend, but I was only moderately impressed. The writing is okay, the characters are likable, the pacing is good and the ending is satisfying... but there's also a fair bit of insta-love and unnecessary melodrama and poor communication between the lovers. 

 

The title and the blurb make it seem like the whole point of this story is Bliss losing her virginity, but that's an oversimplification of what is actually a reasonably interesting conflict. Bliss almost hooks up with a guy at a bar, only to learn that he's her neighbor and, later, that he's her professor. Their relationship is therefore forbidden -- but they can't turn off their feelings. Around the same time, Bliss realizes that one of her best friends is in love with her, which is a complication she doesn't need. 

 

If forbidden love stories are your catnip, and you don't mind a first-person narrative (by a really naive and unsophisticated narrator), you might like this book a lot. 

"Off the Hook" by Laura Drewry

Off the Hook (Fishing for Trouble) - Laura Drewry

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

 

Years ago, Kate and Liam met in Vegas and had a quickie wedding, followed by an only slightly less quickie divorce. When Kate's hotel-magnate boss sends her to scope out the prospects of a struggling fishing resort on a remote island off of Canada's west coast, she is alarmed to discover Liam and his family own the place. 

 

This one was a slow burner -- too slow, for my tastes -- but I liked the setting. I liked Kate but never really connected with Liam, who is not a good communicator and tends toward flash judgments.