Tag Archives: Grade A

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.

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: A Fashionable Indulgence by KJ Charles

Karen’s review of A Fashionable Indulgence by KJ Charles
Historical M/M released by Loveswept on August 11, 2015
A Fashioanble Indulgence

When he learns that he could be the heir to an unexpected fortune, Harry Vane rejects his past as a Radical fighting for government reform and sets about wooing his lovely cousin. But his heart is captured instead by the most beautiful, chic man he’s ever met: the dandy tasked with instructing him in the manners and style of the ton. Harry’s new station demands conformity—and yet the one thing he desires is a taste of the wrong pair of lips.
After witnessing firsthand the horrors of Waterloo, Julius Norreys sought refuge behind the luxurious facade of the upper crust. Now he concerns himself exclusively with the cut of his coat and the quality of his boots. And yet his protégé is so unblemished by cynicism that he inspires the first flare of genuine desire Julius has felt in years. He cannot protect Harry from the worst excesses of society. But together they can withstand the high price of passion.

I got a copy of this book from the author, because she is great. As at the time I wasn’t sure if I was reviewing or not, I found that very generous.

A Fashionable Indulgence is a classic case of right book, right time, because I actually read it twice. The first time I was so fixated on the detail in the clothing, and some of the customs that I couldn’t actually see anything else, it was just before I went on holiday. I was quite tense. The second time was just after I came back from holiday, a little more relaxed and what a different experience.

KJ Charles is a clever writer, initially I felt that this was a homage to the Heyer school of historical novel, the language and the setting, and the very ordered and formal descriptions of clothing and situations. Plus there is quite a large cast of characters to contend with, almost from the off. Then I started noticing political parallels, with the treatment of the poor, the resistance to the government, and the sedition. And that really sucked me in. I think that the best and most memorable romance books have more than just a relationship in them. They can, and should make you think.

The main characters Harry and Julius are such good counterpoints to each other, physically dark and light and emotionally light and dark. Harry is a very open, heart on his sleeve character, and it appears that the job of Julius is to tamp that enthusiasm down, so that Harry becomes a Gentleman. Yet as Harry becomes more a part of Society, he looses that spark that makes him unique and there is this glorious internal conflict, mirrored in the defrosting of Julius, the balance between these two is excellent.

Harry should be, if this were even vaguely traditional, the innocent virgin, and Julius the man of the world, but this is KJC and nothing is that straightforward. There are many writers who would simply swap the characteristics over, but not here. Harry IS more sexually experienced than Julius, but the balance is the Julius understands society, in many ways Julius is the more innocent.

There is also a rather wonderful Sleeping Beauty feel about A Fashionable Indulgence, and for me quite a literal feel.

I found A Fashionable Indulgence so multi layered, a great read.

Grade: A

You can buy a copy here.

Review: Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Deb’s Review of Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy
New Adult (M/M) Contemporary Romance released by Rennie Road Books on July 28, 2015

HimThey don’t play for the same team. Or do they?

Jamie Canning has never been able to figure out how he lost his closest friend. Four years ago, his tattooed, wise-cracking, rule-breaking roommate cut him off without an explanation. So what if things got a little weird on the last night of hockey camp the summer they were eighteen? It was just a little drunken foolishness. Nobody died.

Ryan Wesley’s biggest regret is coaxing his very straight friend into a bet that pushed the boundaries of their relationship. Now, with their college teams set to face off at the national championship, he’ll finally get a chance to apologize. But all it takes is one look at his longtime crush, and the ache is stronger than ever.

Jamie has waited a long time for answers, but walks away with only more questions—can one night of sex ruin a friendship? If not, how about six more weeks of it? When Wesley turns up to coach alongside Jamie for one more hot summer at camp, Jamie has a few things to discover about his old friend…and a big one to learn about himself.

Warning: contains sexual situations, skinnydipping, shenanigans in an SUV and proof that coming out to your family on social media is a dicey proposition. (less)

Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy have blended their unique voices and amazing writing talents to create an unforgettable love story. I have always had a weakness for M/M novels since reading Mary Renault’s series about Alexander the Great. It’s a relic, and quite tame by today’s standards, but Ms. Renault blew my mind with her tender love story of Alexander and his best friend. Their’s was also a friends to lovers story; both students of Aristotle, then warriors in battle together, their love had no limits and held no fears. I’ve never forgotten Ms. Renault’s magnificent and moving novel. Him has these same beautiful qualities that will have me remembering these characters for a long time.

Friendship, crazy challenges, and playing the best sport in the world – ice hockey. That’s what Jamie Canning and Ryan “Wes” Wesley share every summer for six years at Elites hockey training camp in Lake Placid. Roommates from the start, their friendship grows stronger each year. Until the final summer before college, when one last challenge on the ice results in a bet that changes everything between them.

Have you ever been fired by a friend?

Jamie has no idea why Wes suddenly cut off all communication at the end of hockey camp four years ago. He’s almost forgotten how much it hurt. Now that both of their college teams are in the Frozen Four championship and he may come face to face with Wes, that hurt suddenly slaps him in the face. Jamie isn’t quite sure what to do about it: he only knows the loss of their friendship left a huge hole in his heart. And isn’t that one confusing admission? Because the feelings he’s had for Wes all these years just might go beyond friendship.

How do you apologize to someone for cutting them out of your life without so much as an explanation?

Wes has spend four long years trying to forget the day he took advantage of his best friend. At least, that’s what he believes he did with that crazy bet. Now, being thrown together for the Frozen Four is a wake up call. Wes realizes he’s been the only one harboring all these ridiculous feels for a man he has no chance with. He’s certain his very straight friend chalked it up to a big fat drunken mistake and hasn’t put an ounce of importance on it. Which is why Wes needs to man up, apologize after all these years, and make like it wasn’t the most memorable night of his life. He wants Jamie back in his life and will take whatever he can get. So he signs up for one last summer at hockey camp, this time as a fellow counselor.

Once again roommates, Wes and Jamie ease back into the friendship they’d abandoned. Both about to embark on careers in pro hockey, this is one last hurrah before the real world becomes all too real. This is their chance to explore what might be much more than a friendship. With seemingly nothing to lose, both allow themselves to give in to desires bottled up for years. The chemistry between these two is staggering. The sex intense. The banter funny and real.

The alternating chapters between Wes and Jamie wonderfully illustrate their distinct personalities. I anticipated each man’s version of the story as it unfolds seamlessly. The most refreshing aspect of Him is what it is not. It’s not about Wes’ struggle with being gay. He accepts it. It’s not about Jamie freaking out over Wes’ attraction to him or his own attraction to Wes. And it’s not about either one of them caring what others think, including Wes’ douchecanoe (love that, Ms Kennedy & Ms. Bowen!) of a dad.

Him is about being true to oneself, loving with abandon, and offering your heart without fear. I fell in love with Wes, Jamie, and Jamie’s  northern California hippie-ish family. Everyone should be so lucky to have one. In short, I loved everything about this amazing novel. Brava, Ms. Kennedy and Ms. Bowen.

Grade: A

You can buy a copy here.

 

Review: Sutphin Boulevard by Santino Hassell

Karen’s Review of Sutphin Boulevard by Santino Hassell
Contemporary (M/M) romance released by Dreamspinner Press on July 31, 2015

Sutphin BoulevardMichael Rodriguez and Nunzio Medici have been friends for two decades. From escaping their dysfunctional families in the working-class neighborhood of South Jamaica, Queens to teaching in one of the city’s most queer friendly schools in Brooklyn, the two men have shared everything. Or so they thought until a sweltering night of dancing leads to an unexpected encounter that forever changes their friendship.

Now, casual touches and lingering looks are packed with sexual tension, and Michael can’t forget the feel of his best friend’s hands on him. Once problems rear up at work and home, Michael finds himself seeking constant escape in the effortless intimacy and mind-blowing sex he has with Nunzio. But things don’t stay easy for long.

When Michael’s world begins to crumble in a sea of tragedy and complications, he knows he has to make a choice: find solace in a path of self-destruction or accept the love of the man who has been by his side for twenty years.

Occasionally you read a book that blindsides you.

You expect that you will get what you read on the blurb, but actually get much more, this was one of those books for me. And while at times it wasn’t an easy read, it was always completely a worthwhile and fulfilling one.

The premise is simple, friends to lovers. Micheal and Nunzio have grown up together, and they are the best of friends, loving, supportive, sarcastic and bitchy. Michaeal is the narrator and his family life, is a mess. Nunzio is his go to, his rock. It seems such a simple premise really, and on one level it is – Micheal gradually begins to realise how Nunzio has felt about him for most of their adult lives. Running in parallel is Michael’s relationship with his family, especially his alcoholic father . The book is set in New York City, and the flavour of the place is incredibly strong, in many ways the potency of the location was almost as much of a pull to me as the relationships.

Micheal is one of those love to hate characters, you read his life literally falling apart on the page and you want to shake him. Micheal’s coping mechanism is booze – he’s happy he drinks, he’s sad, he drinks and before long the party boy starts to become someone he and his friends can barely recognize. Anyone who has an obsessive type of personality can relate to Micheal, that desire to escape from the sound of your own thoughts, for most of us it’s manageable to degrees until bam… in this case family tragedy.

His descent into self -hatred and destruction is pretty swift, and heart breaking.

Nunzio in theory should be ‘less’ of pull, and also he has a lot less page time. However as we see him through Micheal’s eyes he is wonderful, not perfect by any stretch, but in fact perfect for Micheal. Nunzio supports Micheal with every fibre,  I don’t think I have read such a strong depiction of friendship in a long time, and all the time it’s bitter sweet because you know that he also loves Micheal. But he’s not a selfless doormat, he calls Micheal on his poor life choices but ultimately he is there for him all the time. There were times I shouted at my book with frustration on their relationship, but at no time did it feel stilted or false.

All this makes Sutphin Boulevard sound like the book you don’t want to read when you’re sad, but that’s not the case. The location, New York, is wonderfully depicted in it’s callous multicultural vibrancy. I have lived in SE London almost all my adult life, and that feeling of community and family that you can get from people who are very dissimilar to you culturally is wonderful, and is beautifully done here. The initial romance between Micheal and Nunzio is heart warming and funny as well

However for me the strength isn’t in the things that I can relate directly to, but to the ability of Santino Hassell create a book that made a Puerto Rican man a kind of Everyman, so that even where there are differences I felt him, I felt his happiness and pain, and ultimately I wanted him to have his happy ending.

I haven’t read a book that moved me quite so much in a very long time, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Grade: A+

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

Review: Taking the Heat by Victoria Dahl

Deb’s Review of Taking the Heat by Victoria Dahl
Contemporary Romance released by Harlequin on July 28, 2015

Taking the HeatPassion this hot can’t be faked…

All revved up for bright lights and steamy nights, writer Veronica Chandler chased her dreams to New York City. When she hit a dead end, reality sent her back home to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Saving her pride and her new gig—writing a relationship advice column!—requires some faking. No one can know the truth about her big-city flop or her nonexistent sex life. But the town’s irresistibly rugged librarian is determined to figure her out…and give her hands-on lessons in every wicked thing she wants to know.

Gabe MacKenzie’s heart might be in Wyoming, but secretly his future’s tied up in his family’s Manhattan legacy. Getting down and dirty with Veronica is supposed to give him a few memorable nights—not complicate his plans. But the thing about heat this scorching is there’s just no going back…and it might be too hot for either of them to take.

Taking the Heat is a deliciously fun and sexy novel I guarantee you’ll want to devour in one sitting. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books (Looking for Trouble and Flirting with Disaster), plus the novella (Fanning the Flames), in Ms. Dahl’s Girl’s Night Out series. This one just may be my favorite. To be fair, I say that after each of her books. Her female characters are smart, talented, and independent in a subtle way that knocks the wind out of the alpha men who pursue them and eventually win their hearts. It’s never an easy ride, because where would be the fun in that? But it’s a gleefully good ride full of steamy encounters (sex), giggle and sigh inducing banter, and characters who ultimately learn quite a lot about themselves.

Veronica. Dear Veronica! I loved her. As a matter of fact, many of her quirks and insecurities are strikingly similar to mine so I immediately appointed her a kindred spirit. She felt like a loser in high school, and developed the absolute worst opinion of herself. Running off to NYC after graduation didn’t change anything as she’d hoped. (It never does, does it?) She didn’t make those close friends or fall in love or take chances and do crazy things like she’d dreamt of doing. It’s five years later, and she’s returned home to Wyoming dragging along the same dismal opinion of herself. To make matters worse, her disapproving father, the town judge, uses his influence to get her a job; as Dear Veronica, no less, the local paper’s advice columnist. What the heck qualifies her to be an advice columnist? At 27, she still hasn’t found her own identity! Veronica is scared to pieces she will be found out as the fraud she believes she is. But she’s done with being ruled by insecurities. I fist pumped Veronica and the Post-it note affirmations she slaps on the fridge. I cheered as, one by one, she kicks her insecurities to the curb with an f-you to everyone who thinks she’s weird.

I loved the way Ms. Dahl played this out with Veronica’s amazing talent for giving advice. Through cleverly crafted letters and answers for Dear Veronica, we see Veronica’s instinctive grasp of her reader’s troubles and how to solve them. She may not have a wealth of life experience, especially in the sex department, but she darn well knows first hand how doubt and a lack of self confidence can hold you hostage. Dear Veronica’s bold, sassy, and jaw dropping advice is priceless and funny, resulting in overwhelming popularity. Advising her readers to go after what they want and stand up for themselves pushes Veronica to follow her own advice, especially with the hot new librarian. He makes her feel like the person she always hoped she’d be. Their chemistry was so hot it gave me delicious butterflies in the tummy. Watching her let loose her inner vixen and boldly flirt is so much fun!

Gabe MacKenzie is….adorable. I wish you could hear my sigh. Admittedly, I love my guys to be alpha, grouchy, sexy talking Neanderthals who take charge and are kind of clueless until someone knocks them over the head. So when I heard that the hero of this novel was a librarian, I cringed. But I knew if anyone could pull this off it would be Ms. Dahl. And boy, did she pull it off. Gabe is somewhat of a Renaissance man. He’s a librarian, but of the techie variety, in Jackson for one year to get the library up to speed with digital books and all the accoutrement that accompany. Even though he’s from NYC, Gabe is an outdoorsman at heart. He chose this job in Jackson so he could pursue his rock climbing passion. In other words, Gabe is no Pillsbury doughboy. He’s built; major upper body strength, muscled thighs, strong hands. He plays basketball with the firefighters at the station and trains with Search & Rescue. He’s all rugged good looks; beard and floppy hair included. He’s got the kind of sexy that sneaks up on you. And he’s crushing hard on Veronica. Mr. MacKenzie loves to whisper sweet somethings in Veronica’s ear and he’s a verra dirty talker, telling her exactly what he wants to do to her. As if that’s not enough, his dirty talking tongue has other talents, if you know what I mean. I loved Gabe’s maturity and honesty with Veronica. He truly cares about her and loves her crazy mixture of shy, quirky, unsure of herself, and goofy.

Of course, this story wouldn’t be complete without a dilemma that may tear Gabe and Veronica apart. It’s the perfect amount of uncertainty and drama. No dragging it out or making it ridiculous. Best of all, Veronica proves to be stronger than even we thought her to be. I loved this book for so many reasons! Not the least of which being Ms. Dahl’s subtle alpha hero who is thoroughly sexy, sincere, and all man. Plus, he’s a really good dirty talker.

​G​rade: A

You can buy a copy here.