Tag Archives: Grade A

Review: Focus On Me by Megan Erickson

Karen’s Review of Focus on Me by Megan Erickson
New adult contemporary (m/m) romance released by Penguin Intermix on July 21, 2015

Focus on MeColin Hartman can now add college to his list of failures. On the coast-to-coast trek home from California, Colin stops at a gas station in the Nevada desert, and can’t help noticing the guy in tight jeans looking like he just stepped off a catwalk. When he realizes Catwalk is stranded, Colin offers a ride.

Riley only intended to take a short ride in Colin’s Jeep to the Grand Canyon. But one detour leads to another until they finally find themselves tumbling into bed together. However there are shadows in Riley’s eyes that hide a troubled past. And when those shadows threaten to bury the man whom Colin has fallen in love with, he vows to get Riley the help he needs. For once in his life, quitting isn’t an option…

The previous book in this series Trust the Focus was one of my favourite feel good reads of the year, so I was really looking forward to this, and it totally didn’t disappoint. I would say that in theme it’s darker than the previous book, but also that while it isn’t necessary to read Trust the Focus first, it does set the tone, plus its a great read.

Focus on Me, is set on a road trip, and this is used cleverly, so that the normality of the characters lives are dismissed, the focus is on the emotional journey without any mundane life issues really interfering, so that we get an intense and pure look at a relationship. I found this totally riveting, and incredibly emotional. I would also say that there are triggers here if you have issues with mental health and eating disorders.

Colin has been at college, and has left – he is on his way back home to his parents and their restaurant. Colin is a man who loves to take care of things and people. He is also at a crossroads in his life, he feel that he has always run away when things got tough.  Colin is a lovely likeable guy, his focus is on being emotionally happy, and ensuring the happiness of those that he loves. So his return home could be seen as a retrograde step, or the first step in being self aware. He is also a little clueless with a tendency to stick his head in the sand. I think that in the hands of a less accomplished write Colin could have been annoying, and potentially weak, but Erickson develops him so well that you go on his journey with him, and while there were occasions that had me shouting at my book ‘come on Colin’ I was always totally with him.

Riley, aka Runway is one of those guys that if you meet in real life, you are blown away by the colour, he is fascinating and complex, and we are drawn to him, as is Colin, knowing that he is damaged, but perhaps believing that we (read Colin) can be the one to make him better or whole. While Riley’s issues aren’t skirted over there is very delicate balance going on, between making us aware that he has issues, and keeping him attractive and sympathetic as a character. This is accomplished so well, that there are times when I felt that that he was getting better simply by being alive, and by being loved.

The relationship between Colin and Riley could easily have degenerated into cloying co-dependency, especially once the ‘I love yous’ had been said, but here the romantic relationship allows Riley to accept help, and in turn actually help himself. The balance  in this part of the book is so good, and so believable. There is no quick fix, Coin and Riley being together doesn’t magically make everything better. There is no doubt that what they have is a real and loving relationship, but they both have to learn about themselves, and make their own choices alone, before anything lasting can happen for them.

One of Riley’s issues is extremely close to my heart, and the way that Erickson dealt with it was extremely real, and for me that is the strength of this book, it deals with some very serious shit, one of which is not seen as generally affecting men , and deals with them sympathetically and with humanity.

This is totally a love story and there are a few supporting characters, Justin and Landry from Trust the Focus make an appearance, as do the families of Colin and Riley,  but ultimately this is a book about making the right choices for your self, growing up a little.

Because of the subject matter, I found this a difficult read at times, but also found it rewarding and satisfying. Highly recommended.

Grade : A

You can buy a copy here.

 

Review: Opening Up by Lauren Dane

Deb’s Review of Opening Up (Ink and Chrome Book 1) by Lauren Dane
Contemporary erotic romance released by Forever on June 16, 2015

Opening Up

The men of the Twisted Steel custom hot rod and motorcycle shop are great with their hands…and they’re not afraid to get dirty.
PJ is exactly the kind of woman Twisted Steel owner Asa Barrons doesn’t need. The last thing he wants to do is mix business with pleasure, and PJ has some of the best custom detailing he’s ever seen. But the chemistry between them won’t be denied, and soon he’s introducing her to a whole new world in the bedroom, pushing her far beyond anything she’s ever experienced. PJ finds she can’t get enough, but how far is too far before he consumes her completely?

Lauren Dane owes me a new Nook. Fine, I’ll take a Kindle but it had better be fire-proof because it’s all her fault my Nook began overheating in Chapter ONE. By Chapter Three, I was using oven mitts and I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but the darn thing eventually melted in my lap.

Alright, alright, I’m exaggerating about the Nook. But I’m not exaggerating about the incredible chemistry that ignites when Penelope Jean (PJ) Coleman and Asa Barrons collide in this first book of Lauren Dane’s new Ink & Chrome series, that centers around Twisted Steel, a custom build bike and hot rod shop owned by Asa and his buddy, Duke. I’m not a gearhead but I do appreciate great art and the artists who create it. The men at Twisted Steel are definitely artists and Dane successfully conveys the love, enthusiasm, and pride these guys have for their work which is a big turn on, indeed. PJ’s character intrigued me, she is a woman working her way into the macho world of custom car painting. That takes talent and spunk, both of which PJ has boatloads of. And maybe I was a tad bit interested in Asa as well. *smirk*

If I was given the chance to choose a new identity, it would hands down be Penelope Jean. She is passionate as hell about life and knows what she wants. She sports piercings, tattoos, and you never know what color her hair may be on any given day; but she owns it and makes it beautiful. A true artist, PJ is able to look at a car, talk to the owner, and know just how to paint and detail it to perfection. She has given her all to Coleman Enterprises, the family business, and tried to remain loyal. But when her ideas to expand the business are repeatedly shot down by her father, PJ walks away. And straight into Asa’s life. She’s admired Twisted Steel’s work and is set on convincing Asa he needs her not only in his business, but in his life as well. She knows he’s older and could most likely eat her alive but she’s willing to take her chances. She’s been fantasizing about this beautiful hunk of man ever since they locked eyes and touched hands at a recent industry party. PJ does in fact hold her own against Asa without being a whiny snit. I loved that she called him on his shit but never held a grudge. Their chemistry permeated the pages, and the looks they give each other… Whew! Almost as erotic as the kinky sex Asa introduces PJ to. For being a mere 25 years old, PJ has an incredibly mature outlook on relationships, which I found refreshing as well as a relief. She may have been emotional at times over her father’s undisguised disappointment in her; however, she held her head up and continued on.

Asa Barrons is the perfect compliment to PJ. He’s tall, tattooed, and pierced. His cut body and tough-as-nails attitude is irresistible. I adored Asa’s fierce love and loyalty to his mom, sisters, his friends and his former military buddies. His early childhood was terrifying, but rather than turn him hard and bitter, the experience humbled him. He has scruples. As a matter of fact, his intense attraction to PJ made him uncomfortable because he felt she was too young. But after being coerced to participate in a photo shoot at Twisted Steel where he is paired up with a very sexy PJ, his resolve begins to shatter. (Yes, people, this was the first Oh, My! Nook melting scene) She evoked raw feelings of lust and desire he was ultimately unable to deny. When they get together to talk business, Asa is even more smitten by her business savvy and maturity. At this point, he’s a goner. As if all this wasn’t enough, Asa actually admits when he’s wrong and makes endearing efforts to right things when he’s screwed up with PJ. *swoon*

In addition to PJ and Asa, the secondary characters are so well written that I found myself excited to know more about them as well. They are all family in every sense of the word, related or not. I love this dynamic. Quick, witty, and very clever dialogue had me laughing out loud. Ms. Dane knows her characters inside out and stays true to them throughout the story. All of this combines into a very fun, hot-as-hell, page turner that I couldn’t put down.
And guess what? Duke’s book is next up in August!

Grade: A-

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

Review: For Real by Alexis Hall

Karen’s Review of For Real by Alexis Hall
Contemporary romance released by Riptide Publishing on June 1, 2015

For RealLaurence Dalziel, a thirty-seven year old trauma surgeon, is worn down and washed up. And for him the BDSM scene especially is all played out. He’s tired of pantomiming submission, and he’s long since given up looking for more than hollow release.

Then he meets Toby Finch. Nineteen years old. Fearless, fierce, and vulnerable. Everything Laurie can’t remember being.

Toby doesn’t know who he wants to be or what he wants to do. He doesn’t know how he ended up where he is or where he’s meant to be going. But he knows, with all the terrible certainty of youth, that he wants Laurie.

He wants Laurie on his knees. He wants to make him hurt, he wants to make him beg, he wants to make him fall in love. But while Laurie will surrender his body to Toby’s desires, he won’t surrender his heart. Because whatever they have, however right it feels, he knows it can’t last. Toby has to live his own life, and Laurie has to let him.

It can’t be for real.

I will make no secret that I love the writing of Alexis Hall, I really do, and the previous book in the Spires Universe, Waiting for the Flood, is easily one of my favourite reads this year.

So when I read that this was an age difference, social difference kinky romance, set in my home city of London I begged and badgered to get an early copy, which I rarely do. (In the spirit of full disclosure I know Alexis Hall, but in no way has that coloured my review). I hoped that that For Real would be a different take on a trope that seems incredibly popular at the moment, BDSM, and I was not disappointed. Plus the cover is gorgeous. The book is narrated in alternate first person , and it’s a joy to read.

Toby Finch, our Dom, is 19 years old, prone to acne, skinny -and he knows that he’s a Dom, but he is terribly inexperienced. On one level he is a typical 19 year old, unsure of where he is going in terms of his career, treading water working in a dead end job living with his bohemian mother.. On the other he is sure of who he is emotionally, in a really clear and distinct way. At no stage does Toby hesitate or second guess either his sexuality, or his emotional connection to Laurie. I found this incredibly refreshing; most authors dealing with younger protagonists would lather on the angst, or the lack of life experience. Hall, like Toby, is brave; so while you recognise his youth and inexperience most of the time, to me, he felt like the more mature of the two MC’s. His love and quoting of poetry resonated with me, and I could totally understand that while academically he hasn’t soared; his emotional intelligence was incredibly high. Toby is hope, the future and light.

Laurie, our Sub, is knocking on 40, he has an incredible job, and on paper a fantastic life style, but he is lost. Laurie was once in love, and this relationship has defined his life, while it’s clear that the relationship is over, they move in some of the same social circles, and so it’s like a wound that has never really healed. Initially I found the character of Laurie so incredibly sad, he is a frozen man, caught in the Amber of regret and what should have been. As the older MC he knows where he is going in his professional life, but emotionally he is lost. Laurie’s character starts almost as a dead man walking.

From the moment that Toby and Laurie meet you know that this is something special, these are not flawless beautiful people, but they have a kind of complementary beauty that is way better than that. And as each man grows and develops ,or discards ,levels of behaviour it was incredibly romantic.

Hall takes the obvious – age difference, kink, top and bottom and subverts then all, but he does it subtly and with humour and kindness, the relationship between Toby and Laurie is beautiful to read, their immediate sexual attraction and kink is used to explore the incredible need that they have for each other; so that at no way does the sex (and there is quite a lot) ever feel like JUST sex. I have read a few BDSM books where the objective seems to be to spew as much kink and sex on the page for total titillation. This is so not that kind of book, these guys recognise that they fulfil not just each other’s sexual but their emotional needs as well, and watching them work towards this was special. There were some fun side characters—the bisexual best friends with an obviously open relationship, Angel with the purposefully vague gender, Dominic the Dom (who played the alto-sax and seemed to be an unbearably nice guy), the free-love mother, and the academics. and Toby’s granddad. All written with affection, and the dual POV is fantastic, both men have very distinct and different voices.

My gripes with this were slight, its long, and I think that maybe it could have been trimmed a little. Toby, a 19 year old British man, uses the expression Dude, a lot, and it didn’t ring true for me.

I have read everything by Alexis Hall, and For Real is one of the best that he has written. There are common themes that run through his work, the loss of love, the emotional wasteland that happens without it and the joy and hope in finding love again, and they are present here in spades. If you don’t normally read m/m I would urge you to give this a try. I rarely re read romance novels, but I will totally be making an exception for this book.

Grade: A- (for the over dude-ness)

You can buy a copy here.

Guest Review: Trust In Me by Dee Tenorio

James’s review of Trust in Me by Dee Tenorio
Contemporary Romance released by Samhain Publishing July on July 23, 2013​

Trust In MeSometimes falling in love is the easy part…

A Rancho del Cielo Romance

Locke Jackman is single, childless…and he has a bad case of empty nest syndrome. For years, as he fought tooth and nail to keep his brothers and sisters together after his parents died, his entire life was focused on his responsibilities.

Now his siblings have all moved on with their lives, and there’s no one around to distract him from his overpowering attraction to his sister’s best friend. Their mutual desire is stunning…but then again, so are the secrets keeping them apart.

Susie Packard’s nightmarish marriage taught her what happens when she gives in to her weakness for powerful men. Too bad the big, stoic frowner across the street—the one who sets her bells jangling just by breathing—has her in his sights.

Try as she might to keep her emotional distance, Locke is determinedly knocking down all her walls. But as much as she wants to be the woman he needs, she knows better than most—passion may have its rewards, but every secret has its price.

Warning: This book contains a hot, modern-day Viking seducing his way to the heart of his woman, a stubborn lingerie designer with a world of secrets and a very deep bathtub… Enjoy!

Dee Tenorio is one of my personal favorite authors, so I jumped at the chance to review this one. I’m happy I did because this turned out to be my favorite romance of the year.

Susie Packard had only been in Rancho del Cielo a short time before meeting Locke. He is a refreshingly straight forward/hardworking guy. Locke has a big Victorian all to himself after raising his siblings. He supported them by working his fingers to the bone building high end row boats. His home can’t be filled with even his large frame. Needing someone in his life, he is drawn to the new girl in town Susie.

Susie is trying to wake up from a horrible nightmare. She has tried to keep out of the reach of her violent and powerful husband. She is hiding from him in Rancho del Cielo. Worn out from the early months of pregnancy, she has to be carried into her small apartment by Locke. Desperately she tries to push him off with bittersweet sarcasm and false disinterest. She can’t resist him for long, and brings him into her undersized bed. He provides her some unselfish relief with his large strong hands.

Discovering her pregnancy he convinces her to stay with him for a weekend that lasts 5 days. They spend their time mostly in bed enjoying each other. Still Susie’s instinct to run away from him is strong. She continually pulls away from him. It’s not for not wanting to be with him. She would do no happier thing in her life than be with him in his large house. Locke is steadfast in his desire for her. A troubled past and a baby on the way does nothing to dissuade him from loving her.

Locke does make a serious mistake. He tries to get Susie out of the hooks of her ex, but instead gives away where she is. It freaks her out. She had worked so hard and given up so much to get away. Before coming to Rancho del Cielo there was no second thinking when she wanted to run. Susie could leave most of her things behind and it didn’t bother her one bit. Now she struggles with the thought of running. She has built herself a life in this town. She has set down roots. That and she never felt more safe and loved than in the big strong arms of Locke.

Dee Tenorio is great at writing scenes that sizzle and spark. The friction between Susie and Locke is never overplayed. It makes perfect sense why she would not want to put her problems on him. The way he thinks of her is genuine and never lovelorn. The story has the right mixture of intrigue and steaminess to keep your attention throughout.

My favorite lines:

That’s when she knew her decision was made. Undeniably. Irrevocably. Whatever came next, she wouldn’t face it alone. Whether he knew it or not, this man had her trust and her heart. Forever.

Grade: A+

You can read an excerpt here (scroll down) or buy a copy here.

Review: Never Judge a Lady by her Cover by Sarah MacLean

Never Judge a Lady by her Cover: The Fourth Rule of Scoundrels by Sarah MacLean
Historical Romance released by Avon on November 25, 2014

Never Judge a Lady by Her CoverBy day, she is Lady Georgiana, sister to a duke, ruined before her first season in the worst kind of scandal. But the truth is far more shocking—in London’s darkest corners, she is Chase, the mysterious, unknown founder of the city’s most legendary gaming hell. For years, her double identity has gone undiscovered . . . until now.

Brilliant, driven, handsome-as-sin Duncan West is intrigued by the beautiful, ruined woman who is somehow connected to a world of darkness and sin. He knows she is more than she seems, and he vows to uncover all of Georgiana’s secrets, laying bare her past, threatening her present, and risking all she holds dear . . . including her heart.

Ten years after her ruination, Lady Georgiana has re-entered society in hopes of finding a suitable husband. Not that she really wants to be married. Instead, Georgiana wishes to marry a titled gentleman to secure her daughter’s future and the life she might someday want.

Duncan West, the powerful owner of five London papers, knows a great story when he sees one and Georgiana’s search for a husband is bound to be great copy. But after innocently discovering one of Georgiana’s identities, Duncan sees an opportunity to finally escape his own buried secrets from his past. In exchange, his publications are at her disposal while searching for a husband.

Their bargain is dangerous, yet necessary. Duncan is considered to be the most powerful man in all of London, second only to the mysterious owner of the Fallen Angel, Chase. One slip in this game of cat and mouse could reveal too much and result in each losing everything. For Duncan, it is his empire of publications. For Georgina, her gaming hell.

Their relationship is one of mutual respect and admiration. Their conversations are witty and intelligent and sexy. And the chemistry between the two is straight up combustible.

But as with any good romance, smart people aren’t always so smart, so of course her fellow scoundrels recognize they’ve each found their perfect match long before our hero and heroine. Even better, her business partners have no problem with teasing Georgiana mercilessly about it.

She looked down at her cards, cheeks hot. “I hate you.”

Which one of us?” Temple asked, playing a card.

All of you.”

It’s a pity, as we are your only friends,” Bourne said.

It was true. “And asses every one of you.”

They say you can tell a man by his friends,” he replied.

It is a good thing I am a woman,” she said, discarding.

MacLean manages to fill in all the gaps and wrap up all the loose ends of not only this series, but that of her Love by Numbers series. All those characters readers have come to know and love have their happy ending. With one exception – Caroline. And I have faith MacLean will remedy that situation in the future.

Grade: A

You can buy a copy here.

TBR Challenge Review: Rise by Karina Bliss

​I really wanted to review a romance written by, or featuring African American character(s) for SBHM but … it just didn’t happen. I feel really guilty about that, but it just didn’t pan out.​ Alas. That being said … ​

Rise by Karina Bliss
Contemporary romance released by Karina Bliss on January 28, 2015

RiseRise – The redemption story of a rock star going straight(er) through the love of a good(ish) woman.

Acclaimed literary biographer Elizabeth Winston writes about long-dead heroes.
So bad-boy rock icon Zander Freedman couldn’t possibly tempt her to write his memoir.
Except the man is a mass of fascinating contradictions–manipulative, honest, gifted, charismatic and morally ambiguous.
In short, everything she seeks in a biography subject.
When in her life will she get another chance to work with a living legend? But saying yes to one temptation soon leads to another.
Suddenly she’s having heated fantasies about her subject, fantasies this blue-eyed devil is only too willing to stoke.
She thought self-control was in her DNA; after all, she grew up a minister’s daughter.
She thought wrong.

Rock star Zander Freedman has been an outlier–many would say an outcast–for most of his life.
But there’s no disaster he can’t overcome, from the breakup of his band to the inevitable damage to his reputation.
His Resurrection Tour is shaping up to be his greatest triumph–if his golden voice holds out.
Contracting a respected biographer is simply about creating more buzz. Elizabeth’s integrity is the key to consolidating his legacy as one of rock’s greats.
All the damn woman has to do is write down what he tells her. Not force him to think.
Or encourage the good guy struggling to get out.
And certainly not make him fall in love for the first time in his life.
Turns out he is scared of something: being known.

​I’d seen a lot of buzz for Rise, and most notably (to me) was Nalini Singh recommending it. She also touted Laura Florand and Sonali Dev, so I figured there was a good chance I’d enjoy it. I quickly figured out this was the connected book to What the Librarian Did (which I still need to read :X). Rise was more easily found in my digital library though, and who doesn’t like a rock star hero? Honestly a prevalent reflection was Rise is reminiscent of a Susan Elizabeth Phillips novel. SEP updated, we’ll say.

I really liked the heroine Elizabeth. Elizabeth Winston is so very relatable. She’s normal, staid, reliable, the under appreciated responsible family member. She’s a professor and while at the top of her game, still “regular.” I liked that she kept her sense of self and agency throughout. And what makes her special, though, is that you get why Zander is so intrigued, and then smitten. Let me explain. Elizabeth is regular in that she’s “one of us.” She could be someone you know – a star young professor at a university. But her person – her character, personality, wit, mischievousness, all set her apart. Elizabeth is a prime example of still waters run deep. She’s someone you want to know, and someone you want to be. She’s also kind. A peacemaker, but someone who stands in her own truth. She doesn’t preach at you or belittle you, but she doesn’t let people run all over her either. And that’s exactly what Zander needs.

Zander Freedman. Rock God. Bad Boy. Darling of … nobody? What saves him from being an ass is first, his actual physical concern(s). But next, the fact that he’s already on his journey to bettering himself. His willingness to be self deprecating. I think Zander’s sobering up is a split between the wake up call ” ” from his brother/the original band falling apart, and his health – but it makes him take a long hard look at himself. I won’t spoil you, but the very end, when Zander reveals his deepest darkest secret, you understand why he’s acted how he has for the past twenty or so years. He’s damaged but ignoring it – and being a rockstar has allowed him to do so. Of course he’s insanely hot and talented, but what makes him dynamic [as a character] is how he’s kind to his ex, and immediately sees Elizabeth’s worth. He appreciates her, and is indignant on her behalf. Zandar has depth but he doesn’t want you to see it.

The intricacy of the characters is the biggest draw of Rise. I don’t even have enough space to mention the great cast of secondary characters. The relationship between Zandar and Elizabeth develops slowly and subtly. I like that both of them have push and pull at different times. And I really appreciate there aren’t any over the top or too stupid to live moments. Sure, Zander and Elizabeth both might have moments of idiocy or bad behavior. They’re human. Overcoming their problems is what makes the story special. Living is hard enough – especially with such different people, and one constantly in the public eye. The story is organic, and doesn’t rely on outside factor to make things more exciting. I might be making the story sound boring (I don’t see how though) – but it isn’t. It’s wonderful and draws you in. You’ll start reading, and make sure you have time, because you won’t want to stop.

Oh and I didn’t even mention how the fact that both their professions are an integral part of the story. Much of Zander’s conflict has to deal precisely with him being the lead singer of Rage, and her of course “the biographer.” It’s refreshing (although I wish it was more commonplace) when the character’s profession matters to the story. The grueling tours, the physical demands, the professional responsibility and reputation to maintain – all of that is addressed nicely. Ms. Bliss touches on all that in a realistic manner that adds to the complexity of the story without making it dull or pedantic. Tricky stuff.

I really don’t have any complaints. I think I like and respect Elizabeth and Zander as much as I do because they were sure of themselves before they get physical. (Also different from so many books out there, especially rockstar romances.) Oh – one thing – I wanted more from the ending. It’s good, but just … a tiny bit more oomph would have made it perfect. I think it’s left the way it is though, because this is the first in a series, and we all know we’ll be seeing more of Zander and Elizabeth in the various band member’s romances. (And I’m good with that.)

So in short, not only is this one of the best romances I’ve read this year, it’s one of the best I’ve read in a long time. (I mean come on – reminiscent of old school SEP! And if you don’t know what I mean … who are you?!) Rise is a beautifully crafted and written contemporary romance. I recommend it to anyone. Even if you don’t like rockstar romances, or contemporaries, I think you should give it a try.

Grade: A –

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

Review: Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare

Cheryl’s Review of Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare
Historical Romance released by Avon on December 30, 2014

Book CoverAfter eight years of waiting for Piers Brandon, the wandering Marquess of Granville, to set a wedding date, Clio Whitmore has had enough. She’s inherited a castle, scraped together some pride, and made plans to break her engagement.

Not if Rafe Brandon can help it. A ruthless prizefighter and notorious rake, Rafe is determined that Clio will marry his brother–even if he has to plan the dratted wedding himself.

So how does a hardened fighter cure a reluctant bride’s cold feet?

• He starts with flowers. A wedding can’t have too many flowers. Or harps. Or cakes.
• He lets her know she’ll make a beautiful, desirable bride–and tries not to picture her as his.
• He doesn’t kiss her.
• If he kisses her, he definitely doesn’t kiss her again.
• When all else fails, he puts her in a stunning gown. And vows not to be nearby when the gown comes off.
• And no matter what–he doesn’t fall in disastrous, hopeless love with the one woman he can never call his own.

Clio Whitmore was a patient woman. Engaged at the tender age of 17 to Lord Piers Brandon, the future Marquess of Granville, she agreed a long engagement would be for the best since she had no knowledge of how to run a diplomat’s household. She was content to be the dutiful bride-to-be. But as the years passed, she went from belle of the ball to a running joke, having bets placed on potential wedding dates and being referred to as Ms. “Waitmore”. When she inherits a castle of her very own from her Uncle Humphrey, Clio decides she’s done waiting. Only one thing stands in the way of her moving on with her life– her engagement. With Piers out of the country, she has to convince his younger brother, Rafe, to sign the dissolution papers.

Rafe Brandon turned his back on polite society at the age of twenty-one to become a champion prizefighter. Years later, he lost his title and his father. With his brother still out of the country, the management of the Granville properties falls on his massive shoulders. Rafe wants nothing more than to make a comeback and reclaim the prizefighting title he lost, but he can’t do that until Piers returns to England. When Clio arrives in his warehouse wanting him to sign dissolution papers on his brother’s behalf, Rafe refuses and takes it upon himself to plan her wedding in the hopes she will change her mind.

When Rafe arrives at her castle, they come to an agreement: Clio must participate in the wedding plans, selecting flowers, dresses, cakes and music. In return, if at the end of the week she still does not want to marry Piers, he will sign the dissolution papers. But the more time Rafe spends with Clio, the more he is reminded of the girl he once knew.

The girl needs finishing.

That had been the common wisdom, back when the engagement was first announced. While Piers sailed for India to launch his diplomatic career, Clio was meant to remain in London for “finishing.” Rafe didn’t know what the devil “finishing” meant, but he knew he didn’t like it. Within a few years, she’d been finished indeed. Everything remotely unique or spirited about her had been scrubbed off, pinned back, or drill straight out of her demeanor.

So he’d thought.

But apparently, the old Clio was still in there somewhere—the Clio he’d rather liked, before the dragons had taken her in their clutches and stifled her with ten coats of lacquer.

The Clio he had no right to be admiring now.

Without a doubt, Rafe is perhaps one of the most swoon-worthy heroes I’ve read in quite some time. The man takes romantic gestures to a whole new level. Of course, it’s under the guise of wedding planning, but at the end of the day, he wants Clio to be happy. And if his brother is the man to make her happy, then so be it. Clio is just as fantastic. Knowing the castle will be expensive to maintain and her money will last only so long, she plans to turn her castle into a brewery. She’s a proper Englishwoman who knows her beer! Throw in a bulldog who likes wedding cake, a socially awkward, yet brilliant younger sister and a fight promoter with a quizzing glass, you have in my opinion the greatest cast of supporting characters that I’ve read in any of Tessa Dare’s novels. Add to that a lot of laughs, a few tears and some steamy love scenes with our dirty talking hero, and you end up with what I consider to be my absolute favorite of all of Tessa Dare’s books.

Grade: A

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