Category Archives: Review

Review: Troublemaker by Leah Remini

Mary’s review of Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini
Nonfiction by Ballantine Books on November 3, 2015

Leah Remini has never been the type to hold her tongue. That willingness to speak her mind, stand her ground, and rattle the occasional cage has enabled this tough-talking girl from Brooklyn to forge an enduring and successful career in Hollywood. But being a troublemaker has come at a cost.

That was never more evident than in 2013, when Remini loudly and publicly broke with the Church of Scientology. Now, in this frank, funny, poignant memoir, the former King of Queens star opens up about that experience for the first time, revealing the in-depth details of her painful split with the church and its controversial practices.

Indoctrinated into the church as a child while living with her mother and sister in New York, Remini eventually moved to Los Angeles, where her dreams of becoming an actress and advancing Scientology’s causes grew increasingly intertwined. As an adult, she found the success she’d worked so hard for, and with it a prominent place in the hierarchy of celebrity Scientologists alongside people such as Tom Cruise, Scientology’s most high-profile adherent. Remini spent time directly with Cruise and was included among the guests at his 2006 wedding to Katie Holmes.

But when she began to raise questions about some of the church’s actions, she found herself a target. In the end, she was declared by the church to be a threat to their organization and therefore a “Suppressive Person,” and as a result, all of her fellow parishioners—including members of her own family—were told to disconnect from her. Forever.

Bold, brash, and bravely confessional, Troublemaker chronicles Leah Remini’s remarkable journey toward emotional and spiritual freedom, both for herself and for her family. This is a memoir designed to reveal the hard-won truths of a life lived honestly—from an author unafraid of the consequences.

This book piqued my interest for two reasons. The first, because it deals with Scientology. It’s a religion we hear about in the news, especially in connection with some famous actors and actresses. Two, because of Leah Remini. I wasn’t a huge fan of her most famous show, King of Queens, although I did watch a time or two. It was her reality show, Leah Remini: It’s all Relative I connected with. Her family is crazy in that loving, adorable way that makes it wonderfully wacky. I’ve had this book on my TBR pile for a while and it got lost in the shuffle of my Kindle. Recently, Leah’s documentary series on Scientology came out. I watched all of the episodes and they reminded me of the book. so I dusted it off and here we are…

The rumors and confusion swirling around Scientology has always seemed a mix of fact and fiction. I’m a religious person myself but I’m not unaware that some ideas within Christianity (specifically, in my case, Catholicism) from the outside looking in would appear extremely odd. (I mean, we literally believe the Eucharist becomes the body and blood of Jesus. Imagine trying to explain that. It’s not easy for other Christians to understand!) This isn’t an equation of the two religions – in fact I use religion with Scientology extremely loosely because it’s more like a cult. This is only to illustrate my openness to understanding that faith can and does require an intellectual leap. It is in fact, the very essence of belief. Leah’s experiences are from someone on the inside. She lived and believed Scientology for decades. I wanted to understand and learn about it from her point of view and went into this book with an open mind. As a result, the compassion I gained after reading this book for those who have left Scientology is overwhelming.

The descriptions of how Scientology is set up were interesting. Rarely is someone suddenly immersed in it. Scientology is something that creeps into your life until it takes over. Once it does, it’s extremely difficult to get out of it. Our ability as human beings to accept things, to live in denial, is exceptional. Even for someone as brash and bold as Leah – a natural contrarian. She experienced many instances of incomplete answers and accepted them as the truth. Much of it, in part, because she had dedicated time, money and herself to Scientology. Learning everything was a lie wasn’t something she was willing to face until, finally, it was.

Leah’s break with Scientology (by her own admission) was far easier than most. She always had friends who weren’t Scientologist. Her husband wasn’t fanatical about Scientology – he’d joined far later in life and considered it more of a tool than a full-on religion. Her extended family, including her sisters and mother, were having their own problems with the church. Plus, she had a job outside of Scientology and access to a whole host of support systems. This is not to demean the experiences Leah had, or to say that leaving Scientology wasn’t hard for her. I’m sure it was. But for others the experience is far, far worse…

Scientology aims to become your life. You dedicate yourself to studying it (at least two hours a day, seven days a week). These studies cost money – a lot. Your friends are Scientologists, you may work for a Scientologist, you are married to a Scientologist, your family members are Scientologists. And it is forbidden for you, as a member of Scientology, to have any contact with anyone labeled a SP or Suppressive Person.

Gaining the label of an SP can be very easy. Merely looking up information on the internet about Scientology can get you labeled an SP. Once that happens, you are cut off from everyone you know. Your family, your spouse, your children…it’s no wonder those within Scientology turn a blind eye and stay, even if they secretly have questions or doubts. They don’t want to run the risk of tearing their families apart. Leah didn’t begin researching Scientology until she had been a member for decades. Many of the alleged abuses committed by the church remain completely unknown to its members. Additionally, since most Scientologists are second generation, this is the only thing they have ever known. They are literally born into it. Scientology discourages school (most of the children in Scientology are home schooled) cutting off any way for the members to learn anything else. Scientology isolates the people that belong to it.

It’s easy to mock the celebrities that are a part of Scientology, but (as Leah points out) different rules apply to them. For the regular person, Scientology is their everything. I’m impressed by anyone who has left. The bravery associated with uprooting your life to such an extreme – not to mention what Scientology does to you if you are brazen enough to publicly speak out against it – is something to be celebrated. Many of those that have left lost everything, including contact with their children.

If you have a chance to read the book and/or watch Leah’s documentary, do it. The stories are both admirable and heartbreaking. They are survivors.

Grade: B

You can buy a copy of the book here.

Team ALBTALBS TBR Challenge Review: The VIP Doubles Down by Nancy Herkness

The VIP Doubles Down (Wager of Hearts Book 3) by Nancy Herkness
Contemporary romance released by Montlake Romance on April 18, 2017

In the witty, sizzling finale to award-winning author Nancy Herkness’s Wager of Hearts series, a haunted writer conquers his demons with the help of a feisty muse and a passion that doesn’t play by the book.

Gavin Miller, the billionaire author of a bestselling thriller series, struggles with a grim secret: he hasn’t written a word in more than a year.

Writer’s block is killing his spirit and jeopardizing his contracts with his publisher and his Hollywood producers. Prodded by his agent, Gavin reluctantly agrees to see Allie Nichols, a sassy physical therapist tasked with treating the novelist’s severe neck and shoulder pain—and maybe his writer’s block, too.

The tempestuous Gavin and no-nonsense Allie soon find themselves entangled in a steamy affair that sparks Gavin’s creativity again. But their manipulative ex-lovers and Gavin’s lingering childhood scars threaten their happily ever after. Can Gavin and Allie find their way to love when the stakes are high and the obstacles are overwhelming?

I love it when a book lives up to my expectations. I’ve read all the other Wager of Heart stories: The CEO Buys InThe All-Star Antes Up, and the novella which I believe technically takes places after all three books in the series world timeline, The Irishman’s Christmas Gamble. I read The VIP Doubles Down in a day, and I can see myself re-reading all the books in this series.

Allie Nichols is a terrific heroine. She’s incredibly kind and caring, and has a strong sense of self. She’ll put others first, but she’ll only take it so far. Allie understands protecting herself, and self care. I loved seeing that in a heroine. While she’s struggling, I felt she also had agency, which I appreciated. Things aren’t all going her way right now, but you know she’ll make it – with or without the hero, Gavin. (This is entirely frivolous, but I have to add this personal note. I think I read a slew of redheaded heroines, so many in fact that I automatically avoided or put down any books with a redheaded heroine. Well, Allie is a redhead, and it speaks to the quality of writing here that I read on.) Anyway, Allie is down to earth, reasonable, and fun. She’s also nice. It’s mentioned a few times she’s incredibly optimistic, and she is, but not in an annoying way. Allie is someone anyone would be lucky to have in their life, and I’d love to have a friend like her.

Gavin Miller. Now, what to say about him. Of course everyone would love to have a friend who is a billionaire. But he’s so much more than that. Gavin has always shown flashes of hidden depths in the other Wager of Hearts stories, but … seriously, he’s kind of an ass. He has a lot of reason to be one, but … he is. Gavin was so lucky to meet Allie – and thankfully, by the end, he realizes that. It isn’t an easy journey for him though. While Gavin has been insightful and brilliant, he’s walled off his emotions and pushes those he cares for away with his caustic wit. In a way, he thinks people expect that of him because he’s a brilliant and successful writer … but also to protect himself. It doesn’t help that he’s got a massive case of writer’s block, a crushing sense of responsibility, along with a lot of personal tragedy, and it’s made him terribly surly, and borderline mean.

I think it says something about Gavin though, that despite him being a jerk, he’s got good people willing to stick with him, despite his best efforts to push them away, with cutting, and sometimes hurtful remarks. To his credit, he does always apologize. Gavin is definitely dynamic and layered. It’s what makes him a great character, and great hero. Then, there’s the fact that he grovels and apologizes in what I felt to be an appropriate and proportionate manner in the end. And that’s big. I know a lot of readers are willing to forgive a hero almost anything, but if he’s an ass the whole time with no redeeming characteristics, to me, he’s not a good hero. The hero suffering or grovel is rarely enough for me. I wanted to make that note because Gavin does not fall into that category. In this case, it was good. Gavin has his bad moments, but he mans up and apologizes each time while also been caring and helpful, and the supportive friend when the time calls for it.

I enjoyed The VIP Doubles Down for a lot of reasons. It’s a realistic romance. The characters are well rounded, and developed individuals. I liked that you got a real sense of who they were, and the story organically relayed their lives, and them falling in love. The plot and events flow nicely, as does the romance and their relationship. It’s never perfect. Both are wary, and Allie definitely puts up a fight because of the possibly unethical implications. (She first meets him as his physical therapist. That relationship definitely ends prior to them getting involved physically or romantically though.)

Allie has had to learn a lot of difficult life lessons, but she’s still a positive person. She isn’t blindly or willfully naive though, thankfully. She brings light to Gavin’s life, and he adores her for who she is. He’s smart, and funny, and charming, and they just work so well together. The physical attraction is there, but the numerous conversations they have, the flashes into the hidden depths, the mystery and discovery of who not only the other person is, but who they themselves could be … It all came together in a really lovely way.

I’m a little sad to see this series end, although I also definitely appreciate a series ending when it should. As I said, I’ll be re-reading these books, and will be looking for more books by Nancy Herkness. If you like contemporary romances, I hope you’ll give this series a try.

Grade: B

You can read an excerpt here or buy a copy here.

Team ALBTALBS TBR Challenge Review: The Lonely Drop by Vanessa North

Karen’s review of The Lonely Drop by Vanessa North
Contemporary m/m romance published by Vanessa North on July 7, 2014

Ten years ago, best friends and soccer buddies Nick Hana and Kevin Dorsey were inseparable—until Kevin put the moves on virginal Nick on the eve of their college graduation. Not wanting to be just another notch in Kevin’s bedpost, Nick turned him down and “lost” his new phone number.

A chance reunion brings the two together again, and the attraction and caring are as strong as ever. Cocky, gorgeous Kevin makes it clear he still wants Nick, but Nick needs more than he thinks Kevin can give. A slow dance and a snow storm give them a chance to clear up the misunderstandings of their past, but can one night of passion bridge ten years of silence?

I was really excited when I got comfort reads in the group challenge, until I realised that I would actually have to decide on one book. For about a week on my way to work I thought about what makes a comfort read for me:

Friends to Lovers – without a doubt my favourite trope, the longer the friendship the better, people who’ve known each other for six months or less don’t qualify- that’s just foreplay.

Ideally at some stage the couple have been briefly slightly romantically entangled, so we know that they’re attracted to each other.

Distance, there has to have been some distance, ideally time and geography related between the initial attraction and the ‘real deal’ – how else will they realise that it is actually the real deal?

The Road to True Love is Paved with a Few Wrong Turns, and by this I do actually mean misunderstandings. Now, the romance classic of the great misunderstanding is not something I usually like, but in a really good friends to lovers story our couple have usually been the victims of youthful lack of communication, so there is a history of it. That is very important, our couple have been getting it wrong for a while. The misunderstanding will result on one, and occasionally both , of our couple breaking out of their learnt relationship behaviour and telling it like it is.

Those are the three main things I need to make a romance a comfort read, I also like one of my main characters to be involved with food, or teaching (I’ve not come across one yet where there is an actual cookery teacher but this would be amazing).

I do have one no go, that is no cheating- by that I mean that once the couple are on the way to being a couple they aren’t involved with other people.

There is one book in my library that ticks all these boxes ( and several more)  and it can’t be surprising that I have read it probably more than any other romance novel, certainly in recent times.

 

The Lonely Drop. And here’s my thoughts on the book:

Nick is glorious character, secure in his beliefs and sexuality. Raised by a hippy vegetarian single mum he now owns The Lonely Drop, a bar and restaurant. He’s good to his employees and in the ten years since he’s seen Kevin he’s had relationships but none of them work. Although Nick has put Kevin to the back of his mind we all know that Kevin is ‘that guy’, the one he measures everyone else against.

Kevin is less distinct, and if I have a criticism this is it, The Lonely Drop is told from Nick’s POV, and while we understand the reasons behind him not making contact for ten years, Kevin’s motivation is not totally clear. Kevin’s life has been molded by his Dad, that much we do know.

Kevin ends up in the Lonely Drop as he’s looking at a potential business venture, and while restarting their friendship, Nick gives in to his desires when Kevin asks for one night. We’re in Nick’s head, and when  he thinks “I can’t give you only one, without wanting to give you every one,” in response to Kevin’s request you can see why he feels that this is going ot be a bad idea.

At 77 pages this is a short read, but trust me when I say that there are books with three times as many pages that can’t compete with the level of emotion that The Lonely Drop delivers.

Grade: A

The Lonely Drop is  free read, and is available at Amazon UK here and US here

Review: Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas

Devil in SpringDevil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas
Historical romance released by Avon on February 21, 2017

An eccentric wallflower  . . .

Most debutantes dream of finding a husband. Lady Pandora Ravenel has different plans. The ambitious young beauty would much rather stay at home and plot out her new board game business than take part in the London Season. But one night at a glittering society ball, she’s ensnared in a scandal with a wickedly handsome stranger.

A cynical rake  . . .

After years of evading marital traps with ease, Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, has finally been caught by a rebellious girl who couldn’t be less suitable. In fact, she wants nothing to do with him. But Gabriel finds the high-spirited Pandora irresistible. He’ll do whatever it takes to possess her, even if their marriage of convenience turns out to be the devil’s own bargain.

A perilous plot  . . .

After succumbing to Gabriel’s skilled and sensuous persuasion, Pandora agrees to become his bride. But soon she discovers that her entrepreneurial endeavors have accidentally involved her in a dangerous conspiracy—and only her husband can keep her safe. As Gabriel protects her from their unknown adversaries, they realize their devil’s bargain may just turn out to be a match made in heaven . . .

​Oh. My. God. You guys. So, Devil in Winter is one of my most favorite Lisa Kleypas novels – and probably one of my favorite romances across the board. So. When I learned there was a novel about Sebastian and Evie’s son … well. The anticipation was great. I have to say, Devil in Spring lived up to the hype. I haven’t read many historical romances the past few years, but after reading this one, I think I need to get back on that horse. Definitely I need to catch up on books one and two of the Ravenels series. (Cold-Hearted Rake, and Marrying Winterborne). Reading Devil in Spring made me happy. I read it in a few hours. I picked up the book and read until I got too hungry, grudgingly ate breakfast, and then went back to reading until the end. I already know I’ll be re-reading it. In fact, I read this book in print which should tell you something, because I’m pretty sure that literally I last read a print book in 2013. (It’s also why I’m not quoting anything –  because I didn’t mark pages.)​

Lady Pandora Ravenel is a delight. Truly she’s so self-deprecating, bright, fun, and lovely. Her splendid wry sense of humor … she’s someone you want to be friends with. (I wouldn’t mind being her either, really…) I loved her indomitable spirit. A tragic incident in her past has dictated her entire life, but despite that she does her best not to let it control her. In fact, she’s been cheeky even since that event. (No spoilers!) I loved how she “gravely” informs Gabriel that she’s “barely house broken.” I loved that Pandora warns Gabriel she walks in circles, which she actually does … and then most importantly, that he finds it charming! Pandora is so much herself, but she also takes into account the wants of others. She’s caring even while fiercely independent.

Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent​ is such a good guy. (But then what else would you expect from someone who grew up with Evie as a mother? And of course we all knew that Sebastian would be a wonderful father, once Evie settled him down.) Gabriel had been certain he wanted the perfect society wife. Not to love, but to take her place at his side as the future duke and duchess. Gabriel has always been very aware of the responsibilities – both current and future. He’s blessed and knows that he’s been blessed in life. I didn’t love the (to my mind minor) “proclivity” of his – it felt a bit as if it was trend jumping in romance world, but hey, maybe. It also did fit the narrative, so that made it ultimately ok with me. ​He’s always been image and socially conscious, and has seen how his father’s past affected both his father and him. Nevertheless, Gabriel gets to know Pandora quickly, and is just so taken with her. He’s smitten, and loves her desperately. He loves her more than she loves him, and is okay with it. [And real world nod – that’s what Joe Biden says about him/his relationship with his wife Jill! <3]

​I have to say that I wasn’t sure on the marriage, initially. The meet cute, as it were, and both characters reluctance. Pandora’s reluctance carries through, but Gabriel becomes “pro-marriage” very quickly. Specifically, pro-marriage to Pandora. He’s captivated by Pandora, but the instant attraction/want/need on his part was a smidge too much for me. ​However, I did really appreciate Pandora’s resistance to the institution of marriage. She has extremely valid concerns, and Gabriel understands them. There are a few times where he wants to argue with her, but realizes he can’t because she makes extreme sound and logical points. Gabriel’s acknowledgment of that won him major points. He also works to reassure Pandora that he wants her to remain her own person – as much as he can. I also liked the host of social issues Ms. Kleypas incorporated into the story so skillfully. The setting and time period were very important.

Now, another reason I accepted Gabriel being taken so quickly is because he has ample reason to adore Pandora. Of course duty and responsibility is a big part of want to marry her – but it’s not the reason. I loved that both families gave them an out. No matter the scandal, neither family wants their loved one to suffer for the rest of his or her life. That both Gabriel and Pandora were given a choice was so important. Not only does Pandora’s cousin (and family) want the best for her, you get the sense that Sebastian and Evie would’ve put a stop to things if they felt Pandora would have been miserable. Of course their initial concern is for their son, but they also care about their future daughter-in-law. Not just for her as a potential addition to the family, but as a person in general.

The “courtship” is condensed into a weeklong visit, but it’s described in detail, and Gabriel and Pandora get to spend a lot of time together.​ I really appreciated that Gabriel and Pandora got to know each other a bit before agreeing to the marriage. I loved that Gabriel, who has never really had to work for the attention or affection of the opposite sex found himself in such a foreign situation, desperately trying to convince Pandora that she wants to marry him. Or at least should. He’s charming, sweet, and a little devious. After all, no son of Sebastian’s would be entirely good. (Or of Evie’s either, because she’s got quite the naughty streak too.)

​Speaking of Sebastian and Evie, I loved their scenes – that they open the book, but don’t dominate it. They’re the parents everyone wants … or the couple everyone wants to be. Gabriel also knows that he was lucky to have them. It was so nice to read a book populated by good characters. Ones who appreciate what they have, and thankful for it. Pandora also appreciates the love and support that she has now from her family.​ And that both characters have families that are so understanding they allow the lovebirds to have time alone, to get to know each other, and fall in love. And when Evie tells Pandora about the fox cubs. I’m pretty sure if you look carefully, you can still see where my heart was ripped out and bleeding on the floor.

​It isn’t ​all just romance and emotion spilling everywhere – there’s a lot of humor too. Pandora’s “facts” – her willingness to tease both Gabriel and herself. (Her noting she can’t marry Gabriel because people will think she’s shallow.) All of Gabriel’s antics to capture Pandora’s attention. I loved that her mind never stopped and was everywhere all at once. I can relate perfectly. Gabriel also doesn’t get angry or arrogantly demand her focus – he appreciates the challenge that is his new wife. And more than meets it.

Ms. Kleypas does a masterful job at writing dynamic, nuanced characters that are strong, but not overbearing. They stand for themselves, but don’t bulldoze others. Nor do they have to. They’re human, and caring, emotional, loving, argumentative, difficult, and perfect as characters. ​​There were scenes that almost made me cry, but in the span of a few pages, I was snort laughing. Ms. Kleypas runs you through the gamut of emotions in Devil in Spring. I’m not a “huggy” person, but when I finished the book I considered hugging it. Because it was just so wonderful. Expectations met. Mischief managed. ​I can’t wait for the next story … but in the mean time, I’m definitely re-reading Devil in Spring and catching up on the Ravenels series.

Grade: A

You can read an excerpt here or buy a copy here (the mass market paperback is currently only $4.98!) or the kindle copy here.

Team ALBTALBS TBR Challenge Review: Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

Silent in the GraveBabs’ Review of Silent in the Grave (Book One of the Lady Julia Grey series) by Deanna Raybourn
Historical fiction with romantic elements released by Harlequin on December 19,  2006

“Let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave.”

These ominous words are the last threat that the darling of London society, Sir Edward Grey, receives from his killer. Before he can show them to Nicholas Brisbane, the private inquiry agent he has retained for his protection, Sir Edward collapses and dies at his London home, in the presence of his wife, Julia, and a roomful of dinner guests.

Julia is outraged when Brisbane visits and suggests that Sir Edward has been murdered. It is a reaction she comes to regret when she discovers the damning paper for herself, and realizes the truth. Determined to bring her husband’s murderer to justice, Julia engages the enigmatic Brisbane to help her investigate Edward’s demise, following a trail of clues that lead her to even more unpleasant truths, and ever closer to a killer who waits expectantly for her arrival.

I’ve had Deanna Raybourn on my radar and to-read list for awhile. Most recently I was looking forward to her new Veronica Speedwell (adventurous heroine!) series after I heard her describing it on the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast. After checking my library, I’m on the waiting list for A Curious Beginning but Silent in the Grave was available so I started the Lady Julia Grey series. (I love Overdrive—free ebooks to read in just a few clicks!)

The book starts with the death of Lady Julia Grey’s husband (it’s in the blurb so I’m not spoiling anything!) and the introduction of Nicholas Brisbane, the hero(?). The whole story is told from Julia’s perspective. The story was pretty slow going to me for the first third to half as Julia is in the one-year mourning period for her husband, trying to figure out her next steps after her mourning ends, and fighting her natural instincts to rebel against society’s rules and misbehave.  A discovery in her husband’s office leads her back to Brisbane and chasing a murderer.

Brisbane, an investigator, is a complicated dude and reluctant to include Julia in any search. He definitely seems like he’s trying to protect Julia from himself and from trouble. Some of his background is revealed in the story as well as difficulties he’s facing. He fights his attraction to Julia and is “trying to do the right thing”.

If you’re looking for hot romance with sexy times and a HEA (happily ever after) in book 1, this isn’t for you. But I definitely sense an intense, angsty (OMG, will they or won’t they?!), budding romance in progress—just not getting there anytime soon. They don’t discuss their feelings for each other but there are some longing gazes and one interlude that’s not explicitly described.

My favorite part of the story was the secondary characters. Julia’s family, her butler Aquinas, the pets, and Monk were delightful. I love stories with big families and in addition to being big, Julia’s family is super eccentric and interesting. Her father seems incredibly unconventional for the time period and it was great how disappointed he was with his well-behaved children. He wanted more craziness! Julia’s sister Portia is awesome. I like the simultaneous acceptance of her relationship from most of her family while acknowledging challenges they faced (unfortunately similar to what they could face today).

I enjoyed this book especially as events started working towards the conclusion. The mystery was satisfactorily resolved and nice and twisty. Deanna Raybourn successfully steered me towards several possible murderers before the dramatic reveal.  I read book 2 of the series and am reading book 3, Silent on the Moor. It reminds me a lot of C.S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr series as far as the historical setting, mystery plot, and a potential romance.

Grade: B

You can read an excerpt here or buy a copy here.

Review: Love on my Mind by Tracey Livesay

Love on my Mind (Shades of Love series) by Tracey Livesay
Contemporary Romance released by Avon Impulse on July 12, 2016

Successful PR executive Chelsea Grant is one assignment away from making partner at her firm and nothing will stand in her way. Her big break? Turn a reclusive computer genius into a media darling in time for his new product launch. He may have been dubbed the “sexiest geek alive” but he has no patience for the press—and it shows. Piece of cake, right? Only problem is… his company doesn’t want him to know they hired her.

After a disastrous product launch two years ago, tech CEO Adam Bennett knows the success of his new device depends on the media’s support. When a twist of fate brings the beautiful PR specialist to his door, Adam hires Chelsea to help turn his image around. Their attraction is undeniable and the more time they spend together, the harder it becomes to keep things professional.

But when Adam discovers Chelsea’s deception, will she risk everything for her career or is love the real thing on her mind?

I really enjoy a secrets story. If done well, it can add serious tension to the relationship. So when I read this blurb, I was excited. Plus, the book features an interracial couple with a POC heroine and, let’s be honest, we don’t see enough of that from the big publishers in romance.

Chelsea Grant is determined to be successful. She’s had a rough childhood with a small stint in the foster care system. She’s fought for everything she has and is on the cusp of getting the brass ring – partnership at a prestigious PR firm. She’s smart and dedicated and, even though she feels uncomfortable with the idea of lying to Adam, she also accepts it’s the only way to make partner.

In many ways, Adam was the stereotypical nerd. A reclusive, quiet introvert with few friends and an extremely love of computers and gaming. He also has a mild form of Asperger’s. He’s regimented about his routine, blunt to the point of near rudeness and has difficulty in social situations. At the same time, he’s loyal, a hard worker and has strong ethics. Adam also struggles with the ability to tell whether or not someone is lying. He’s been betrayed and hurt by people closest to him and, as a result, values honesty to an extreme. 

So we all know where this is going, right?

There were a lot of things to love about this book. First, the fact that the couple was interracial had very little focus when it came to their relationship. There is an extremely sweet and realistic moment when Adam makes Chelsea an avatar (swoon) because the video game they are about to play has few choices with her skin tone. But other than that it is simply about two people falling in love with their own baggage and lessons to be learned. Additionally, the reasons for the secret between the couple were solid and believable. I didn’t love the fact that Chelsea kept Adam in the dark but I bought into her reasons for doing so and therefore sympathized with her. The romance between the two sparks right from the beginning and I really enjoyed being along for the ride as they became closer.  

However, I do have a minor issue with the book. Adam has developed a product which will revolutionize the way we think about technology – think of the iPod. Chelsea drops in his life, manages to help him answer a couple of interview questions for a magazine and – without even googling her – Adam hires her to help him with the rest of the launch. Sorry, this isn’t going to happen. Corporate espionage is a real thing and, even though Chelsea signs a contract, there is no way Adam wouldn’t have done some research on her. This was somewhat addressed in the book but towards the end. I really felt like it should have been dealt with earlier on, especially since Chelsea is particularly vague about what she does for a living. 

Despite my quibble, this book was enjoyable. The romance was well done, the writing smooth and the characters interesting. I will definitely try this author again.

Grade: B

You can read an except of this book here or buy it here.

TBR Challenge Review: Egomaniac by Vi Keeland

EgomaniacEgomaniac by Vi Keeland
Contemporary romance released by Vi Keeland on January 14, 2017

The night I met Drew Jagger, he’d just broken into my new Park Avenue office.
I dialed 9-1-1 before proceeding to attack him with my fancy new Krav Maga skills.
He quickly restrained me, then chuckled, finding my attempted assault amusing.

Of course, my intruder had to be arrogant.
Only, turned out, he wasn’t an intruder at all.

Drew was the rightful occupant of my new office. He’d been on vacation while his posh space was renovated.
Which was how a scammer got away with leasing me office space that wasn’t really available for rent.
I was swindled out of ten grand.

The next day, after hours at the police station, Drew took pity on me and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. In exchange for answering his phones while his secretary was out, he’d let me stay until I found a new place.
I probably should have acted grateful and kept my mouth shut when I overheard the advice he was spewing to his clients. But I couldn’t help giving him a piece of my mind.
I never expected my body to react every time we argued. Especially when that was all we seemed to be able to do.

The two of us were complete opposites. Drew was a bitter, angry, gorgeous-as-all-hell, destroyer of relationships. And my job was to help people save their marriages.
The only thing the two of us had in common was the space we were sharing.
And an attraction that was getting harder to deny by the day.

I first read Vi Keeland last year, when I got a notification that her book The Baller (which I quite enjoyed) was out – and since then I’ve had an eye on her releases. While the premise of this book had me giving it slight side eye, I was willing to go there with Ms. Keeland. I’m glad I did. It’s a story of “opposites” attract, which isn’t normally my thing, but it really worked here. The divorce lawyer and the marriage counselor. An introduction where each thinks the other is an intruder. It’s really cute.

Emerie Rose (what a romance heroine name!) is a great heroine. She’s just so nice. She’s someone you want to be friends with. Emerie is as I said, a marriage counselor. She’s from Oklahoma, but moved to New York to follow the guy she’s been half in love with for three years. I know, I know, cliche, right? But it didn’t annoy me here. He was her TA too. (Gah!) And yet Ms. Keeland wrote it in a way that makes it work and didn’t get my back up.  Pretty impressive if you ask me. Thankfully, Emerie meets Drew instead. (The TA-now Professor wasn’t worth it.) She’s well-rounded, and dynamic – she’s uncertain, a little spastic and neurotic, but grown up and does the right thing even when it’s hard. If nothing else, I thought she was a bit too nice. I understand why Drew acted as he did, but I wish that Emerie had made him sweat it out just a tiny bit more. (Or more than a tiny bit. … But then I’m mean.)

Drew Jagger is a good man. He’s got a heart of gold, but it’s buried under some tarnish, and locked down tight. His ex-wife did him dirty. Really dirty – when he was really young, so I get the bitterness. He got burned so badly he isn’t interested in any relationship anymore. It doesn’t help that he’s a divorce lawyer, often seeing the absolute worst of imploding marriages. However, that’s when it comes to relationships. For other things, he’s quite nice. He’s gorgeous – of course (classic romance hero requirement) – but he’s kind. He’s had the same best friend since sixth grade. He’s loyal and constant – just a bit gun-shy. He also was extremely generous upon meeting Emerie when he didn’t have to be, and it was so fun seeing how they clicked. Drew is a bit crass, but that’s all surface. I liked that he’s got some rough edges and contradictions to his character.

Emerie starts out a bit of a mess and adorable. Professionally, she’s set. However, she starts out in New York [City] with a lot going on. Drew helps her out – who wouldn’t when it’s a damsel in distress flailing (especially since Drew notes she’s got a great ass and rack)? Not to say Emerie doesn’t pull her own – she runs her own practice and helps Drew, keeping his office running smoothly and rearranging his schedule skillfully – and Drew needs it more than your average bear. (In fact, Drew is the one who has a lot going on through the book. Way more than Emerie, who becomes the constant steady presence.) Emerie even mentions it at one point – that when one has more going on than the other, they can lean on the other person. They’ve established a relationship and are making it work.

I don’t want to give away the plot points – I hate “book report” reviews that just offer a summary of what happens – but I found everything realistic, and quite believable. It made sense, and was one life event after the other – just as things always are. Drew and Emerie are just meant to be together. I had a lot of fun seeing the two of them develop an emotional connection. There’s a lot of humor, fun, sexy times, and healthy respect between them. It was nice to read about two characters who have a strong sense of self falling in love. I can see myself re-reading this book, and I’ll definitely look for more by Ms. Keeland. In fact, I’m hoping the best friend gets his own happy ever after too.

Grade: B-

You can buy a copy here.