Tag Archives: Contemporary Romance

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: 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.

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.