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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. 

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

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

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.

 

 

"Never Sweeter" by Charlotte Stein

Never Sweeter: A Dark Obsession Novel - Charlotte Stein

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

 

I wrote in my last review that if Courtney Milan published her grocery lists, I'd probably read them. Well, if Charlotte Stein published her grocery lists, they'd probably turn me on. 

 

I'm not usually a fan of New Adult, but I loved the premise of Never Sweeter. The heroine, Letty, was viciously bullied in high school, and I'm not talking simple name calling or fat shaming (though I don't mean to minimize those hurts): a truck full of jocks literally ran her off a cliff. Two years later, she's at college, recovered from her physical injuries and starting to recover from the emotional damage -- but just as her life is coming together, one of the jocks responsible for running her down shows up in her film class. 

 

I thought the way Stein addressed Letty's bullying and the long-term impact on her self-esteem and her ability to trust was brilliant. -And the way she made Tate a believable and likable hero, without minimizing his culpability for what he did in high school, was amazing. Few writers could pull that off in an authentic way, but Tate is vulnerable and remorseful and very, very appealing, and the reader falls in love with him right along with Letty, even while sharing Letty's extreme reservations (since we know what he's done). 

 

My only complaints about the book are that the end is a bit too sudden, and there's a subplot involving the mafia which felt like an unnecessary slathering of Crazysauce on top of an otherwise extremely authentic and relatable story. These are relatively minor quibbles, though. I wholeheartedly recommend this, and I'll definitely read it again. 

"Her Every Wish" by Courtney Milan

Her Every Wish - Courtney Milan

If Courtney Milan published her grocery list, I'd probably read it. She's at the tippity-top of my auto-buy list. She's smart, funny, and unabashedly feminist: totally my catnip. 

 

Her Every Wish is a novella about Daisy, who was introduced in Milan's last novel, Once Upon a Marquess. One thing I loved about this novella is that it isn't set in the glittering ballrooms of the ton at all, but rather in the seedy, working-class neighborhood where Daisy shares a room with her aging mother. This gives us a view into a part of London that the historical romance genre rarely visits, and it's refreshing.

 

Daisy works in a flower shop and dreams of opening her own mercantile, but no one takes her ambitions seriously because she's a woman. Some time ago, Daisy had a liaison with Crash, but it ended badly in a way that isn't revealed until well into this novella. Crash is initially portrayed as a flirt and a cad, but as his character is revealed, it's clear he's not that simple. Crash is descended "from a long line of sailors and dock whores" and doesn't even know what race he belongs to, which is also a refreshing contrast to the typical aristocratic lords so much more common as romantic heroes. 

 

However, this story frustrated me because it revolves around a Big Misunderstanding trope. Daisy and Crash went to bed together, then one said something the other misunderstood, and suddenly their great love was over before it began. Big Mis stories generally don't work for me because they require the main characters to be poor communicators, and when you have characters as smart as those drawn by Ms. Milan, it's frankly hard to believe they could be so thickheaded. 

 

Her Every Wish also fell a little flat because of its structure. Crash and Daisy went to bed together and had a falling out, but the reader never gets to see the buildup of their relationship -- how they met, what attracted each to the other, how Daisy put aside her maidenly modesty and decided Crash was worth her virginity, what made Crash fall in love. Without that backstory, it's hard to feel invested in the rekindling of their relationship during the novella. 

 

Finally (and this is a very minor quibble), I am not a stickler for historical accuracy by any means, but lately Milan's witty dialogue sometimes strikes me as so anachronistic that it yanks me out of the story in a way I find jarring. For example, there was a variation on the phrase, "Come to the dark side. We have cookies," that made me roll my eyes. If this sort of thing makes you crazy, this may not be the book for you. 

"Nobody but You" by Jill Shalvis

Nobody But You (Cedar Ridge) - Jill Shalvis

Jill Shalvis' contemporary romances are like your favorite junk food. Reliably satisfying, exactly what you're expecting, but often a little disappointing when you get to the end and realize you've squandered your calorie allotment and could have made better choices. 

 

Nobody but You, like most Shalvis books, features a tough alpha hero with a soft, gooey center, and a perky, quirky heroine who's down-on-her-luck at the moment. Jacob is home on leave from the military, recovering from the combat death of his best friend. Sophie is getting over an ugly divorce. They plan for their sexual relationship to be a no-pressure, no-future rebound thing, but of course they both develop Feelings. 

 

While I enjoyed this book, I was disappointed by how superficial it was (though that's pretty typical for Shalvis). Both main characters are going through a lot, but Jacob in particular, and I would have liked to see more emotional growth as he worked through his grief over his buddy's death and as he negotiated the relationships with his mother, stepmother, and siblings -- relationships he has neglected for close to a decade. Instead, the author did too much telling us what the characters felt and very little showing us. I think my disappointment was heightened because Jacob's homecoming was heavily foreshadowed in the previous books in the series (which focus on his brothers), so to have his reunion with his family so airbrushed here was anticlimactic. 

 

I also thought there were several plot twists toward the end of the book that felt inauthentic, and struck me as lazy coincidences meant to move the story along rather than something that would actually happen. Things like, when the conflict between the couple lags, Shalvis stirs it up by having them have a sudden fight that could have been avoided if they talked to each other like adults. And then when it's time to make up, she manufactures a crisis big enough to make the fight seem insignificant (which, in fact, if they'd known how to communicate, it would have been). 

 

But, you know, it's Shalvis. If she keeps writing, I'll keep reading... because she's like my favorite junk food. 

"Lust is the Thorn" by Jen McLaughlin

Lust Is the Thorn: Love Is the Rose - Jen McLaughlin

ARC courtesy of Netgalley and Loveswept in exchange for a (brutally honest) review.

I loved the theory of this book - a man on the cusp of joining the priesthood struggling with the temptation presented by his late best friend's sister - but the execution didn't work for me. The character development was very superficial and they engaged in a lot of very redundant naval gazing. The main characters are named Rose and Thorn (um, yeah. *rolls eyes*), and they just did not seem very authentic, and they seemed to be lacking emotional contours and depth. The story was very straightforward and predictable.

"Nuts" by Alice Clayton

Nuts (The Hudson Valley Series) - Alice Clayton

When Roxie moves back to upstate New York to take over her mother's diner for the summer, she doesn't plan for the move to be permanent. She spent her whole childhood trying to get out of Bailey Falls, after all. Furthermore, when she meets a gorgeous hipster farmer, Leo, she plans to keep their relationship a casual summer fling... but life doesn't work out as she planned.

 

Alice Clayton is hit-or-miss with me, but this one was mostly a hit. It was breezy and funny and the plot seemed tighter than most of the previous books I've read of hers.

"Us" by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy

Us - Sarina Bowen, Elle Kennedy

I don't read much m/m, but I love Sarina Bowen, and I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Him, because it was refreshing to see an authentic portrayal of bisexuality instead of yet another Gay-for-You trope. (Dear Straight Women Authors Writing M/M Romance: Gay-for-You? That's not really a thing. Love, a Bisexual Mama in a Same-Sex Marriage)

 

Us continues telling the story of Jamie and Wes's relationship. They've moved to Toronto; Wes is having a terrific rookie season in the NFL, and Jamie has a job he enjoys coaching gifted young goalies in a junior league. They've agreed to keep their relationship in the closet until Wes's rookie season is over, because he needs to prove his value as a player before putting his team through the media storm of his coming out -- otherwise, the team may just cut him loose.

 

The pressures of keeping their relationship under wraps strains too much, though, when one of Wes's teammates moves into their building and starts showing up at all hours of the day and night. Suddenly, Wes and Jamie can't even relax and be themselves in their own home. Add to that the stresses of Wes's demanding travel schedule and some troubles at Jamie's jobs, and both start to question whether their relationship can survive.

 

As with Him, I found Us refreshingly authentic. The pressures on Jamie and Wes are not just conflict for the sake of Plot; they are the same adjustments most people make in finding their feet in their first long-term, committed relationship and in their first adult job, complicated by the confines of the Closet. I also appreciated that Jamie and Wes were not closeted because of shame or fear; that they were both totally okay with who they are and with their relationship and they had a plan for coming out as soon as Wes proves himself a Hockey Player and not just as "the first gay guy in the NHL." I understood his need to prove himself, because he is gay but he is not only gay.

 

As with Him, my only frustration with this book was that Jamie and Wes did not always communicate as well as they should have, but they always had the necessary difficult conversations eventually -- just not as quickly as I might have liked.

 

If there's more to this series, I will definitely read on.

"The Secret Subway" by Shana Corey

The Secret Subway - Shana Corey, Red Nose Studio

Full disclosure: Shana Corey is a college friend of mine, but that's not what makes this book awesome. The illustrations are incredible and very unique. The story (which is true!) about an inventor who creates a pneumatic tunnel for a passenger train to help alleviate New York's traffic problems -- 40 years before the modern subway system was built -- is both interesting and entertaining. There's a kind of fun, steampunk feel to this book that I loved, and my sons (3 and 5) loved "The Secret Subway" because they love trains and inventions.