Category Archives: Review

Review: One Snowy Night by Jill Shalvis

Mary’s Review of
One Snowy NightOne Snowy Night (Heartbreaker Bay series) by Jill Shalvis
Contemporary Romance released by Avon Impulse on November 8, 2016

It’s Christmas Eve and Rory Andrews is desperate to get home to the family she hasn’t seen in years. Problem is, her only ride to Lake Tahoe comes in the form of the annoyingly handsome Max Stranton, and his big, goofy, lovable dog Carl.

Hours stuck in a truck with the dead sexy Max sounds like a fate worse than death (not), but Rory’s out of options. She’s had a crush on Max since high school and she knows he’s attracted to her, too. But they have history… and Max is the only one who knows why it went south.

They’ve done a good job of ignoring their chemistry so far, but a long road trip in a massive blizzard might be just what they need to face their past… and one steamy, snowy night is all it takes to bring Max and Rory together at last.

I love a road trip romance. There’s something about two characters with loads of unresolved issues being trapped in a car together for miles and miles. With the holiday angle added in and a goofy, lovable dog…well, I just couldn’t resist picking this book up.

Rory was very interesting. She ran away from home at seventeen and hasn’t been back. She’s now 28, a little older and a little wiser. She’s tough – having survived and then thrived in San Francisco, putting herself through school and working. She wants to make amends with her family and decides to go home for Christmas. The problem: she’s told them that before and flaked every time. It’s easier for her to run away from her problems than face them and she’s working hard to change that.

Max was a lovable character. He’s protective of Rory but not in an overbearing way. He’s also smart with a good heart. Plus he has a dog and, let’s be honest, there is nothing better than a tough guy who melts like butter when it comes to his pet. Max agrees to give Rory a lift home – they are going in the same direction, after all. But what starts out as a good deed is later revealed to be far more than that. While Max likes and is attracted to Rory, he’s also very upset with her for some things she did in their shared past. He’s holding a grudge (for a good reason) and it makes his actions towards her only better because it would’ve been so easy for him to be nasty and dismissive. I really liked Max a lot.

During the ride home, the couple runs into some trouble. They end up stranded, of course, but how each of them reacts to that is what makes the book so good. Rory knows her family will believe she flaked again and she hates that. Max, knowing some of the history between Rory and her family, comforts her and does his best to make the best of a bad situation. On top of that, under pressure from Rory, Max reveals his reasons for keeping a distance. When Rory discovers what she unknowingly cost him, her reaction is very moving. It was easy to see Rory was working hard to change who she was. Max recognizes this and it made the romance between them so much sweeter.

My biggest complaint with this was the length. There was so much going on in this little novella, I think it really could have been longer. Also, if you haven’t read any of the novels in the Heartbreaker Bay series – like me – you might be a little lost in the beginning. It didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novella but I wish the author had given a touch more background on the characters.

Grade: B-

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

Review: The Man Behind the Mask by Barbara Wallace

Mary’s review of The Man Behind the Mask (Best Friends Series Book 1) by Barbara Wallace
Contemporary Romance released by Harlequin January 7, 2014

The Man Behind the MaskA weekend to change everything…

Delilah St. Germaine fell for New York’s most in-demand bachelor, Simon Cartwright, the moment she began working for him. Four years later, her heart still flutters every time he saunters into the office—much to her frustration. He’s so far out of her reach it’s embarrassing!

Thrown together with him for a working weekend, Delilah glimpses the cracks in Simon’s glittering facade. Now she’s tasted the sweetness of his kisses, she’s determined to uncover the secrets he’s hiding and learn who the real Simon Cartwright is. But will innocent Delilah’s life ever be the same once the truth is revealed?

Boss/secretary isn’t a trope I pick up often since the lawyer in me is usually screaming, “Lawsuit! Lawsuit! Don’t do it!” Occasionally, however, it finds its way onto my Kindle. The blurb caught my eye because it has an unrequited love element which is something I do enjoy. I thought this novel would be lighthearted and quick but, boy, was I mistaken. What I got was so much better!

Deliah is the stereotypical ugly duckling. She views herself to be as boring as plain yogurt. But right from the start, she’s kind, amazingly organized and a hard worker. It’s that dedication to her own professional success that has left her lonely on Saturday nights. That and the massive crush she has on her boss. She believes he’s out of her league – smart and handsome with a revolving door of beautiful socialites to keep him company. Despite her feelings, which she’s never shared with anyone – not even her closest friends – Delilah and Simon make a great team. Together, they’ve built up their advertising company with Deliah being Simon’s necessary and non-expendable right hand.

Simon is completely obvious to Deliah’s feelings for him. He’s not self-absorbed or unkind, just unobservant. He’s stuck Deliah in the “do not touch” box and automatically believes she sees him in the same way. He respects her, enormously, and appreciates her hard work. Along with his clear professional lines, he’s also uninterested in having any kind of long term relationship. He dates women who expect little from him because that is all he wants to give. Normally, this attitude would bother me but Simon reads as a really nice guy. Like a really nice guy. He’s not arrogant or conceited. He’s simply a man who knows what he wants and what he doesn’t, what he’s willing to give and what he isn’t.

The romance in this book was slow burning, but I loved every minute of it. It was also unexpected. Simon has some dark demons – darker than I thought from looking at the cover and reading the blurb. A business trip forces him to face them and he fights it every step of the way. At the same time, he and Deliah are growing closer and, as his feelings grow for her, he is terrified she will find out – and it will change how she thinks of him. For Deliah, the change isn’t as dramatic but it’s no less impactful. Once she starts to catch glimpses of the real Simon, she understands the man she had a crush on doesn’t exist. Her fantasy fades and when reality takes it place, she doesn’t run or hide. She meets the challenge head on, and for that, I loved her all the more.

I have nothing bad to say about this book. Literally nothing. It was perfect from start to finish and I’m marking as one I will re-read if I fall into a book slump. Yes, it was that good.

Grade: A

You can read an excerpt of the book here or buy it here.

 

Review: Playing with Fire by Kate Meader

Mary’s Review of Playing with Fire (Hot In Chicago Series Book 3) by Kate Meader
Contemporary Romance released by Pocket Books September 29, 2015

As the only female firefighter at Engine Co. 6, Alexandra Dempsey gets it from all sides: the male coworkers who think she can’t do the job, the wives and girlfriends who see her as a threat to their firefighter men, and her overprotective foster brothers who want to shelter their baby sister at all costs. So when she single-handedly saves the life of Eli Cooper, Chicago’s devastatingly handsome mayor, she assumes the respect she’s longed for will finally come her way. But it seems Mr. Mayor has other ideas…

Eli Cooper’s mayoral ratings are plummeting, his chances at reelection dead in the water. When a sexy, curvaceous firefighter gives him the kiss of life, she does more than bring him back to the land of the living—she also breathes vitality into his campaign. Riding the wave of their feel-good story might prop up Eli’s flagging political fortunes, but the sizzling attraction between them can go nowhere; he’s her boss, and there are rules that must be obeyed. But you know what they say about rules: they’re made to be broken…

Enemies-to-lover’s is a trope I can never get enough of. It’s also one that’s difficult to pull off well. This book (sadly) has been languishing in my TBR pile for months and months. Had I known how good it was, I would have read it much sooner!

Alexandra – called Alex by everyone except Eli – is one tough lady. She’s smart, loyal to a fault, mouthy and quick tempered. Not from lack of trying, she’s also having terrible luck in the dating department. All the frogs she’s had dinner with can’t manage to make it past the first date. To make matters worse, the one man she finds irresistible is the same one she can’t stand. When her past mistakes come back to haunt her, she’ll have to make a deal with the devil.

Eli is arrogant, domineering and has a decidedly backwards view of the world. He believes women shouldn’t be firefighters (probably also cops, Marines, etc. You get the picture). He’s a former Marine himself, a POW, and the current mayor of Chicago. With the re-election too close to call, he’s in desperate need of a ratings boost. Too bad it comes in the package of a fiery red-headed, female firefighter.

These two were perfect together. From the first chapter I was hooked and couldn’t get enough. Everything Eli gave, Alex turned it right back. The banter was fantastic, the chemistry electric. It was clear from the first page, the two of them were sniping at each other but under all that antagonism was real attraction. The pacing was well done and there was constant movement forward. As their walls started breaking down, and feelings became real, both of them didn’t shy away from addressing their different points of view.

My only complaint is with the final conflict. It felt a bit over-the-top. Alex reacted in a way I found immature and, while she apologized, she wasn’t the one groveling. Eli’s choices to get Alex back were more than what should have been required. In the end, I didn’t feel Alex grew in the way she should have but Eli did.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and will definitely pick up another by this author. And this time,  I won’t let it linger on my TBR for very long!

Grade: B

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

Review: The Asset by Anna del Mar

Mary’s Review of The Asset by Anna del Mar
Romantic suspense released by Carina Press on February 1, 2016

The AssetAsh Hunter knows what it is to run. A SEAL gravely injured in Afghanistan, he’s gone AWOL from the military hospital. Physically and mentally scarred, he returns home to his grandmother’s isolated cottage—and finds a beautiful, haunted stranger inside.

Like recognizes like.

Lia Stewart’s in hiding from the cartel she barely escaped alive, holed up in this small Rocky Mountain town. Surviving, but only just. Helping the wounded warrior on her doorstep is the right thing to do…it’s loving him that might get them both killed.

Soon, Ash realizes he’s not the only one tormented by the past. Pushing the limits of his broken body, testing the boundaries of her shattered soul, he’ll protect Lia until his last breath.

I picked this book up while it was on sale. I’m a sucker for a wounded warrior story and romantic suspense is my most loved genre, so it was an easy purchase. I didn’t read any of the reviews on this book beforehand but I probably should have. What I thought I was buying wasn’t what I ended up with.

Lia is sequestered away in a small town from someone horrible. I learned, from the blurb, that it’s the cartel but it’s not actually stated in the book until much later. She’s dealing with an extreme case of PTSD. She and the hero literally meet over the barrel of a shotgun. She’s so terrified of the stranger in front of her, Lia doesn’t even notice he’s on crutches. So yeah, her PTSD is bad. But Lia is also kind and has a soft spot for anyone in need. Once she realizes Ash is in serious pain, she does her best to help him – even while respecting his boundaries. He adamantly refuses to let her take him to the hospital and, after he passes out on her, Lia figures out a way to treat him anyway. She’s resourceful and smart, a heroine I connected with immediately.

Ash was the perfect offset to Lia. He’s grumpy and gruff, direct almost to a fault. He’s also dealing with a bad case of PTSD but has a much better handle on it than Lia. As a Navy Seal, he’s used to pushing through the pain but the raging infection in his foot is more than he can handle. The hospital isn’t an option – the doctors want to amputate and Ash knows he won’t ever be able to return to active duty if that happens. With no family left, he has no one to care for him. Accepting Lia’s help isn’t easy, but it’s better than the alternative and Ash knows it.

The first 60% of the book flows quickly but reads more like a contemporary romance than a romantic suspense. There was no indication whatsoever that anyone from the cartel was after Lia. She experiences some problems – with her neighbors, at the bar she works at – but her reactions were over-the-top and seemed directly associated to her PTSD.

So, okay. Fine. Romantic suspense is a broad genre and, depending on the author, the book can be packed full of trouble or have only a drop. In this case, the characters were great and the writing was smooth. I was invested in the story despite the fact that I originally wanted a suspense.

Then the suspense finally showed up and it ruined everything.

From the very beginning, Lia knows (even if the reader doesn’t) that a dangerous individual is hunting her down. Yet, she never, ever says a word to Ash. The entire time he’s recuperating in her home, he is in serious danger but completely unaware of it. Her decision rubbed me the wrong way when I realized the risk she’d put him in without giving him the choice – especially after he’d recovered enough to go somewhere else.

Once Lia finally shares her problems with Ash, he makes some decisions that caused me to dislike him. A lot. He repeatedly refuses to allow Lia into his plans but his actions have serious consequences for her. Lia isn’t much better. She’s so determined to protect everyone around her, she ends up making some TSTL moves. The couple I’d fallen in love with in the first half of the book never ended up working together and that was a huge disappointment. Additionally, the book takes a dive into some pretty gritty stuff that didn’t really fit with the rest of the novel. Lia’s backstory was dark – really dark –and its described in brutal detail. So be sure to check the trigger warnings on Goodreads.

Ultimately, this book didn’t work for me. I really loved the first half, however, and would be willing to try another by this author – just not another romantic suspense.

Grade: D

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

Guest Review: Shanna by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

Paige’s review of Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss
Historical romance released by Avon in 1977, republished in 2016 as part of their Diamond Anniversary

ShannaFrom New York Times bestselling author Kathleen E. Woodiwiss comes one of her most iconic and beloved romances of all time…

A pact is sealed in secret behind the foreboding walls of Newgate Prison. In return for one night of unparalleled pleasure, a dashing condemned criminal consents to wed a beautiful heiress, thereby rescuing her from an impending and abhorred arranged union.

But in the fading echoes of hollow wedding vows, a solemn promise is broken, as a sensuous free spirit takes flight to a lush Caribbean paradise, abandoning the stranger she married to face the gallows unfulfilled.

Ruark Beauchamp’s destiny is now eternally intertwined with that of the tempestuous, intoxicating Shanna. He will be free . . . and he will find her. For no iron ever forged can imprison his resolute passion. And no hangman’s noose will keep Ruark from the bride— and ecstasy—that he craves.

Originally published in 1977, Shanna tells the tale of a spoiled little rich girl and the convicted criminal turned bondsman (which is a nicer way of saying “slave who works to pay off their debt and eventually can go free but are treated like trash by anyone with a title”) whom she marries in order to gain a name. Why does she do this? To get her father off her back, because she’s so spoiled that every man she meets, she finds fault with. She even rejects one because his shirt is fraying a bit at the edges.

When I told one of my friends that I was getting ready to read a Woodiwiss novel, she got super excited and told me that Ruark (how do you pronounce that, anyway?) was her very first book boyfriend and that I was just going to love him.

I didn’t. At all.

When we first meet him, he’s rude and gruff. I suppose it’s understandable because he’s in prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit, and then after she strikes a bargain to marry him, she finds a way to screw him over (I told you she’s a spoiled brat). So, of course he’s pissed. But the thing is, he’s already calling her “my love.” How is that possible? He’s known her for what, a day? Sorry, I don’t buy instalove. Not even in historical romance. Or maybe especially in historical romance, because back then men were expected to court women for some time. Granted, this isn’t the typical HR, but still.

I was supposed to have this review to Lime by 5/28. It’s now 6/6. For that, I’m truly sorry, but it really did take me that long to read this book. Usually I can power through a novel in a single day (I read the last few Harry Potter books all on release day, making my roommate think I’m insane), but I had the worst time getting into this book. I didn’t really have much interest in the characters until about 70% into the book—after they’re captured by pirates and Shanna starts showing that she’s growing up a little bit, and she’s got some backbone.

For the life of me, I still don’t understand why Ruark loved her from the beginning. She was like a Katy Perry song. Hot one minute and cold the next. If I were him, I would’ve gladly walked away the first time she told me to sod off. I’m too old to play games. And (I know I already said it, but it bears repeating) she’s such a spoiled, childish, selfish brat! But apparently, her beauty excuses all that…or something. I swear, every single person that she came across in the book talked about how gorgeous she was. It got to the point where my eyes hurt from rolling so hard every time I read about her beauty. She was such a [expletive deleted] every time she got near Ruark that I wanted to slap the supposed pretty off her face. Every sexual encounter between Shanna and Ruark ended with her calling him names and accusing him of taking advantage of her. Um, there were quite a few times that she went to him, if I recall correctly. And she’s the one who struck the original bargain, which included them spending the night together “as husband and wife.” She screws him over, berates him, and teases him, denies him his rights as her husband even as she gets viciously jealous when he even looks at another female (though he’s so head-over-heels for her—for whatever reason—that he barely notices anyone else exists). What does he see in her?

At 672 pages, there is far too much book. I found myself skimming through the endless description of trees and landscape and clothing. I almost felt like I was reading the romantic version of Moby Dick. So. Many. Words. And it’s soooo slow.

I feel the need to draw attention to the insane amount of references to rape in the book. Performing a search on my Kindle, there are eight different instances where rape is mentioned (although that doesn’t count the times it’s referenced indirectly), most of which are Shanna afraid she’s about to be raped or Ruark talking or thinking about it. A few examples that I highlighted:

“It was all Ruark could do to hold in check the urges that flooded him and to keep himself from simple rape.”

“Madam, rape does have its rewards, even if they be one-sided.”

“She rose from the bed and sought cover, aware that she must garb herself or face the prospect of rape.”

“Perhaps she seeks from me some violence so she can have reason to hate me.” (Shanna is wearing a sexy nightgown found in the bedroom they’re essentially trapped in while they’re with the pirates.)

I was so disturbed by these casual mentions of rape that I talked about it with Lime. I also noticed that my friend who’d told me she loved Shanna was re-reading a Woodiwiss book as she took time off from her own work. I looked through the comments, and noticed that someone said the books were rather “rapey” but they still loved them. *jaw drops* Whaaaat?

If a book were written like this nowadays, the author would be slammed with hate mail and the book would receive a million one-star reviews. Long, ranty posts would appear on Facebook and on blog posts about the mistreatment of women in fiction and how rape is never okay—not even to joke about. But apparently, it was okay enough in 1977. As it stands now, Shanna has 3,536 five star reviews, 2,409 four star reviews, 1,365 three star reviews, 409 two star reviews, and 174 one star reviews. It boggles my mind that so many people loved this book so much. To each their own, I suppose, but I just can’t get behind a book that nearly bored me to death with a heroine that I wanted to stab in the throat, and a hero that was basically a doormat (who excused, if not glorified rape in his thoughts).

Going on Limecello’s grading scale, I’d give Shanna a D (can I give it a D- ?) only because the last 30% was slightly entertaining.

Grade: D

You can buy a copy here.

Review: Nuts by Alice Clayton

Babs’ review of Nuts by Alice Clayton
Contemporary romance released by Gallery Books on October 20, 2015

NutsRoxie Callahan is a private chef to some of Hollywood’s wealthiest, and nastiest, calorie-counting wives. After a dairy disaster implodes her carefully crafted career in one fell ploop, she finds herself back home in upstate New York, bailing out her hippie mother and running the family diner.

When gorgeous local farmer Leo Maxwell delivers her a lovely bunch of organic walnuts, Roxie wonders if a summer back home isn’t such a bad idea after all. Leo is heavily involved in the sustainable slow food movement, and he likes to take his time. In all things. Roxie is determined to head back to the west coast as soon as summer ends, but will the pull of lazy fireflies and her very own Almanzo Wilder be enough to keep her home for good?

Salty. Spicy. Sweet. Nuts. Go on, grab a handful.

Nuts is my first Alice Clayton read and the first book in the Hudson Valley series. I have had Alice Clayton’s Wallbanger on my to-read list for awhile now. I started seeing Nuts talked about on Twitter. Other reviewers were saying great things about it. I honed in right away on references to how funny it was. There’s no way I could not try it. Add a bearded farmer and a chef which guaranteed food references? Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner!

Roxie returns to her hometown after leaving to escape small town life and find her own way as a chef in LA. She’s promised to help her flighty mom one last time and run the family diner while her mom goes on an adventure. Roxie hasn’t been in a committed relationship with any guy—she’s strictly interested in no strings “company” when she wants it. And she thinks she’s found “company” when she sees Leo.

Leo escaped New York and his wealthy family years ago. Since then he has turned the family country home into a great local food producer and educational farm. Leo has his own secrets but doesn’t want to trust Roxie since she’s only staying in town for the summer.

As it usually does, things quickly became more than just a summer fling. I liked how Roxie was pretty quick to acknowledge it wasn’t going to be easy to go back to LA and not just because of Leo. She was finding her place in her hometown, making new friends, seeing job opportunities, and then yummy Leo. Leaving wouldn’t be so simple. I think I also like that Leo didn’t try to convince her to stay once it was clear there was more going on than sex (I’m thinking this through as I write this review:)). He would have a good life even if she left but hoped they could try to be together. This is a romance so there is a happily-ever-after. The end was great. I love the epilogue from Leo’s point of view.

So many things in this story worked for me. The instant chemistry between Leo and Roxie. The kind of cutesy clumsiness the first few times they meet in person. There’s also a running quirk of Roxie’s that made me giggle. I’ve been reading a lot of “we won’t get emotionally involved; it’s just sex that always turns into more” books lately and this one is one of the better ones.

I love to laugh so it makes sense I gravitate towards and especially enjoy books with humor. Nuts is a great example of a contemporary romance that really works for me. I’m a mood reader and I’m not into funny all the time but I definitely appreciate a well-placed joke, bit of dry humor, or snappy one liner to break up angst or tension filled stories.

I’ve read this book twice now and enjoyed it just as much the second time. I loved the humor, the romance, the characters, the setup for the next book. All of it!

The next book in the series is Leo’s neighbor and one of Roxie’s best friends. I can’t wait! Cream of the Crop is scheduled for release July 2016. I’ll also be checking out her other series. There’s a brief tie to the Redhead series. And I need to read Wallbanger and the Cocktail series.

Grade: B+

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

TBR Challenge Review: Boys and Toys by Cara Lockwood

Boys and Toys by Cara Lockwood
Contemporary romance novella released by Cosmopolitan Red-Hot Reads from Harlequin on July 15, 2014
Boys and Toys

Every girl has a goody drawer.
Sex toy party hostess Liv Tanaka has a collection. Vibrating purple rabbits, cherry-flavored edible underwear, flavored oils… Hey, wearing a leather corset and stilettos (while selling dildos) pays the bills. Just don’t tell her very conservative parents. Because if they discovered Liv’s sex-toy-selling “Asian Elvira” alter ego, her parents would disown her.
So far, Liv’s doing a bang-up job of keeping her two worlds separate…until Porter Benjamin shows up at her party. Tall and too-tasty-to-resist Porter, who works for her father. Porter, who wants Liv to host a party just for him.

And oh, she’s tempted. But getting involved with Porter means mixing those two worlds that Liv desperately needs to keep separate. And now Liv’s Naughty Toybox is starting to look a lot like Pandora’s box….

I haven’t read one of the Harlequin/Cosmo Red Hot Reads in a while … and it was good to do so again. (Yes I know this was published in 2014, that’s okay.) The premise drew my attention – well the cover is eye catching, but the “good girl gone bad” and the hero working for her father … a total mess too irresistible for this reader.

Liv Tanaka is someone I think many people can relate to. She’s trapped by her parents idea of her – and her conservative upbringing. Conservative and religious. Liv sells sex toys. Obviously her parents don’t know what she does, but she manages to make it on her own and support herself. I respect that. I also liked how she established boundaries and stood up for herself (by the end). It was nice that Liv was adaptable and she gets everything she wants (albeit in a somewhat roundabout way).

Porter Benjamin. He just sounds like a lawyer, doesn’t he? I actually didn’t want to like him (what basically amounts to blackmail is definitely a black mark in my book) – but he’s so charming. Porter is clearly into Liv, and wants a relationship with her. He’s just a bit clunky in the manner he goes about getting it. The fact that he’s willing to put himself out there for Liv, and come to the rescue (regardless of how big or small the issue) really won me over. His easy going attitude and charm help too.

The little scenes between Liv and her parents provided both humor and frustration which was an impressive mix. I liked that their interaction really developed the story and showed different facets of everyone’s character. Especially when Porter is thrown into the mix, and it’s believable because as Mr. Tanaka’s employee, he knows the whole family.

I did wish for more development on how the actual relationship developed. You have the ~blackmail and the hookup, the sex and the barbecue, and then … bam – fully committed couple. I know there are constraints with the length, but there you have it. Then also some character/language issues. (Liv’s mom is Chinese and her dad is Japanese. … If it’s going to bother you, that statement alone explains it. If not … it won’t.) That plus … her mom’s word (it bugged me so much I don’t even want to type it) clearly annoyed me.

Boys with Toys is a cute and quick read, and I’d definitely look for more books by Ms. Lockwood.

Grade: C-

You can buy a copy here.