Tag Archives: Novella

TBR Challenge Review: Boys and Toys by Cara Lockwood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: C-

You can buy a copy here.

TBR Challenge Review: Three Little Words by Maggie Wells

Three Little Words by Maggie Wells
Contemporary romance novella released by Lyrical Press on December 15, 2014

Three Little WordsIt’s never too late to make the best impulsive decision of your life.

Jo Masters isn’t the party girl she used to be, but now that she’s a woman without obligations, she’s ready to recapture a little of her misspent youth. Her niece’s wedding, with its open bar and dark dance floor, proves to be the perfect opportunity to let loose.

Gregory Stark is just trying to make it through his son’s wedding day… and make some time with the gorgeous brunette on the bride’s side of the aisle. His kid’s wedding probably isn’t the best occasion to put the moves on the sexy woman, who introduces herself only as ‘Josie’, but his best friend is closing in on her too and he has to act fast. With a couple of tequila shots under his belt, Greg propositions Josie — and neither wants to refuse.

I saw this in my library collection, and I liked the idea of an older, responsible heroine, having some fun. Also you know, I’ve been all about the novellas lately. I don’t have time necessarily to read a novel, and I have a thing about reading from cover to cover, so it just works out perfectly.

Jo – who was Josie in her party days – recently turned fifty. I wasn’t expecting that, but it was actually nice to read about older characters that are frisky and fun. (Or maybe I’m just old now? XD) It was nice that Jo is such a regular person. This could be anyone at any of the weddings you attend. (Although we should all be so lucky as to have this much fun.) Personally I also liked Jo because she has a thing for threes … and I do too. Although I’ve never had the policy of always having three tequila shots when I party. Which was also a bonus – who doesn’t want an aunt that’s willing to throw back the tequila?

Gregory Stark is a really good guy, and I loved seeing the responsible always dependable dad character let loose. Good for him! He’s got a sense of humor, and realizes how ridiculous ” ” he’s acting, but Greg knows he wants to go for Josie. This is your unusual hero. The man who was happy to settle down and take care of his family, the one who sacrifices for others and is only now going a little crazy… at his son’s wedding.

I give kudos to Ms. Wells for this not being skeevy at all. I mean, the bride is Jo’s niece, the groom is Greg’s son … but the focus is definitely on the Jo and Greg hookup. And hookup they do – complete with all the scandalous wedding behavior including a  bathroom tryst you’d expect from a character in his or her 20s. (And in real life “that trashy one.” Come on – you know you’d judge.) But instead of  it being smarmy, Ms. Wells manages to make the scenarios not only hot, but fun. The characters are self deprecating, but so into it.

I did think some things were just glossed over – Jo seems to have gotten the short stick in life. Her sibling(s) just dumped the care of her mother on her. You get that Jo’s life hasn’t turned out the way she wanted, but geez it was a lot to pack into a few glib sentences.

Another thing is the secondary character, Will. I loved him and … well you know when you kinda want to hate someone but just can’t quite do it? That. He’s Jo’s ex … and Greg’s best friend. Small world. He’s such an ass, but not. Will is a player, and not someone who ever settles down. Imagine him as … I suppose the George Clooney pre-2014. Jo even acknowledges Will is (deep down) a good guy. I liked that Will worked to get Jo and Greg together … and the pang of regret he experienced when he said Jo was “the one who got away.”

There’s so much packed into this novella. I know I’ll be re-reading it. I only wish there was more. The whole thing really just takes place in a few hours, but based on the characters and their actions, you can see it going forward. I wish I could just be sure of it. Ms. Wells implies a longstanding romantic relationship between Jo and Greg at the end … but that’s a lot to hinge on a few hours. Most of which they spent passed out. Regardless, I quite enjoyed Three Little Words and I’ll definitely be looking for more of Ms. Wells stories.

Grade: B

You can buy a copy here.

TBR Challenge Review: Unwrapping Her Perfect Match by Kat Latham

Review: Unwrapping Her Perfect Match by Kat Latham
Contemporary romance novella released by Kat Latham on November 11, 2014

Unwrapping Her Perfect Match’Twas a week before Christmas, and at the auction house…

At six foot one, Gwen Chambers has felt like a giant her whole life. She’s a calm, capable nurse saving lives in a busy London hospital, but healthy men give her heart palpitations. When larger-than-life rugby player “Little” John Sheldon convinces her to bid on him in his team’s fundraising auction, she discovers how pleasurable heart palpitations can be.

A rugby player was stirring, with desire no one could douse…

John has wanted Gwen since he first saw her, but when he’s injured in a match just before Christmas he suddenly needs her too. Not only can the sexy nurse help him recover, but she might be able to help him look after his daughter—a shy ten-year-old who speaks only French.

But will it be a Happy Christmas for all, and for all a good night?

From decorating the Christmas tree to ice skating at the Tower of London, Gwen helps father and daughter open up and bond with each other—and she bonds right along with them. But when John’s agent calls with a life-changing offer, Gwen has to decide how far she’s willing to go for her perfect match. Will their first Noël also be their last?

I’ve been meaning to read Kat Latham’s books for a while now, and this was the perfect opportunity to crack one open. I love sports romances, and Unwrapping Her Perfect Match is a really great addition to that subgenre. I do want to note it’s a novella, so there will be a difference, I’m sure, from the novels, but there’s a lot packed in.

Gwen is a really normal person, and I loved that in a heroine. She could be you – or me – and her struggles are so basic, but real. I liked that she was a regular girl. Of course, as a heroine, she’s a lovely person, and does have some quirks. Gwen is tall – 6′ 1″, which I can’t imagine is fun for anyone who isn’t a supermodel. (And even for one such person not until she’s of an age to model…) Gwen also has some hang ups that she’s let shadow her life, just as any one of us might to, despite hers and our best efforts. I liked that Gwen was so relatable, and had a great “safety net.” It’s always nice to see a heroine with a loving and supportive family.

John is such a sweetheart. Any girl would be lucky to have him – but he also knows how lucky he is to have found Gwen. I love that he’s willing to admit his mistakes, see fault with himself, and put himself out there. When John screws up (and he does just as any person would) – not only does he own up to it, he tries to fix it. That is what makes him a great hero to me. The professional athlete aspect is just frosting. (Complete with perfect ginormous body.)

I don’t know much about rugby, but I enjoyed the little peeks into the game/clubs (teams?) we’re given in the story. It’s clear Ms. Latham knows the subject, and something of how the inner workings go. However, it was nice to see a little bit of both character’s careers. John is a professional rugby player, Gwen is an ER nurse, and both are respected. Everyone knows the flash and superstardom of athletes, but I liked that Gwen’s job was given a lot of gravitas, and that Gwen stands up for herself. In fact, in Unwrapping we see more of Gwen at work than John.

Even more, however, is the nice touch of John’s daughter Agnes, who I think is really the “fairy godmother” character of the story. Agnes unknowingly brings John and Gwen together. It was really fun to see so many sweet moments between the three of them, and I especially loved how Gwen connected with Agnes so easily and immediately. My French is about as good as John’s was, but I muddled along and actually liked the untranslated dialogue.

Lest you think this is “just” a sweet romance, there are a lot of sexy scenes with John and Gwen. I don’t want to give spoilers, but I wanted to note I loved how things didn’t always happen perfectly. John  and Gwen have sex, and have fun with it.

I appreciated that Unwrapping Her Perfect Match can be read as a stand alone story. (Which was especially nice since I haven’t read the other London Legends Rugby books yet.) I’ll definitely be reading more of Ms. Latham’s books, and if you’re looking for a nice holiday romance, I suggest you read this one. I read it in one go, and I bet you’ll be going to check the other London Legend’s books upon finishing.

Grade: B-

You can buy a copy here.

Review: How to Misbehave by Ruthie Knox

Julia’s Review

How to Misbehave by Ruthie Knox
Contemporary romance novella released by Loveswept on January 28, 2013

What woman can resist a hot man in a hard hat? Beloved author Ruthie Knox kicks off her new Camelot series with this deliciously sexy original novella, in which a good girl learns how to misbehave . . . with all her heart.

As program director for the Camelot Community Center, Amber Clark knows how to keep her cool. That is, until a sudden tornado warning forces her to take shelter in a darkened basement with a hunk of man whose sex appeal green lights her every fantasy. With a voice that would melt chocolate, he asks her if she is okay. Now she’s hot all over and wondering: How does a girl make a move?

Building contractor Tony Mazzara was just looking to escape nature’s fury. Instead, he finds himself all tangled up with lovely Amber. Sweet and sexy, she’s ready to unleash her wild side. Their mutual desire reaches a fever pitch and creates a storm of its own—unexpected, powerful, and unforgettable. But is it bigger than Tony can handle? Can he let go of painful memories and let the force of this remarkable woman show him a future he never dreamed existed?

Amber is good girl. She’s just out of a religious college, where she even did a mission trip to an impoverished area. She just moved out of her parents’ home, but she’s only across the way from them and she talks to her mother very often.

Tony is a construction worker, a high school/college# dropout. He’s the far side of thirty. He has a history. He has the kind of reputation that would scare any parent.

This setup is a well-loved romance trope. An older more experienced man is loved by an innocent young girl.

But in Knox’s hands this story takes twists and turns that are as surprising as they are satisfying. Amber is a squeaky clean good girl, but she’s no virgin waiting to be seduced. Amber just, in her own words, “got used to being good.” She actively, if hesitantly, pursues Tony. She’s neither uninterested nor afraid.

Her mother Janet isn’t an evil, oppressive character. She’s hovering and maybe a little controlling, but Amber pushes back good naturedly and they have a very real and wonderful and flawed relationship. The subtlety and complexity of their relationship was one of the real joys of this book.

Tony is the one who has fears, demons chasing him. He tries to be responsible and tells Amber he’s protecting her since he’s not looking for anything permanent. Amber’s reply?

Her expression hardened as he spoke, her mouth flattening out. “That’s so insulting.”

His conflict is heart wrenching, not something easily solved in 30K words or in the compressed timeline of this story. But again Knox’s storytelling instincts are sharp. The story doesn’t resolve the conflict so much as present us with the knowledge that these two wonderful people are better off together.  Tony looks down at a smiling Amber just before their first kiss.

Nobody looked at him like that, with such open, boundless optimism.

At 30,000 How to Misbehave is a super quick read which worried me a little when I started it. As a rule, I don’t like novellas because they’re, well, short. But I love Ruthie’s stories, so I dove in. I’m so glad I did. The story is short but in no way did I feel the conflict or the character arcs were short changed. This is a full story that had me checking how much was left in the book as I was on the edge of my seat desperate that things work out for Tony and Amber.

If you’ve never read Ruthie Knox before, this is little bite of a story is a great way to check her out. The good news? The novella is the first in a new series. The next two full length novels star Amber’s siblings Caleb and Katie.

Grade: B+

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

Review: Protector by Loribelle Hunt

Liz’s Review

Protector (The Elect, Book 1) by Loribelle Hunt
Paranormal romance released by Samhain Publishing on June 26, 2012

He will protect her. No matter the threat.
The Elect. They aren’t human. They’re the next step in evolution and they’re hiding in plain sight. They’re stronger, smarter, and faster. Nature’s perfect predator.
Welcome to the top of the food chain.
Braxton Lee is the protector of the Elect and it’s a job he takes seriously. As president of the committee that governs the Elect, he overseas everything from finance to security to keeping their existence hidden. He’s driven and ruthless. The Elect will not be exposed on his watch.
Unfortunately his research chief, Zach Littman, is contacted by a former colleague who’s run a DNA analysis of a blood sample and gotten weird results. The blood isn’t human, and Dr. Esme Durand is smart enough to know it. Brax will do whatever it takes to keep her silent. Until he meets her. Because Esme has a secret. She’s one of them. Brax wants nothing more but to bring her into the fold and into his bed.

Warning: This book contains hot sex, the next evolution of mankind, hot sex, a race to find a bad guy, a hot hero trying to prove his love, and did I mention the hot sex?

As a child of the 80s, I grew up with a healthy fascination of all things sci-fi from the hilarious ALF to Alien Nation to the revival of Twilight Zone.  Protector, at its core, is a sci-fi book about a new generation of humans, in which a small number have been born with some pretty amazing psychological and physiological talents, including mind-reading and thought projection.  I haven’t read anything by Loribelle before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  What I hoped for, when I read the blurb and saw the cover (he reminds me of a young Jeremy London), was that she would be able to mix the futuristic idea of human evolution in modern times and make it work.  And she does!  After just the first chapter, I found myself wishing I had some of the talents that she mentions her characters have.  Such as, I’d love to know what my husband is really thinking when he says “whatever you want,” when I know for sure he doesn’t really mean that.  Loribelle starts the book off with a bang, and keeps the momentum going.  It’s not a novella, but it’s not a full-length book either (under 100 pages), and she manages to weave a compelling and curious world about the Elect, a secret society of advanced human beings that have been around since the 50s.

Brace yourselves, kids, because I’m about to rant about alpha-holes again.  On the surface, I like Brax.  Hot, sexy, protective, good at keeping secrets.  But under that, is a man that expects things to go his way all the time.  When he meets Esme, it’s not too long before he figures out that she’s his mate.  (As an avid reader of paranormal books, I don’t have any trouble accepting the instant-mate-attraction that most of these books contain, although usually for me, one or more of those involved gets furry once a month…but I digress.)  Brax knows that Esme has got nary a clue about what her powers really mean, the special group that she’s now part of, or that Brax is her mate.  Instead of just giving her time, he pushes.  Pushes her to accept their connection, pushes her to make decisions after a crisis that would knock anyone on their butt.  He can’t stand that she’s feeling torn about her brother and nephew, that she would choose her family over him when she’s only known him for a minute.  He’s been waiting years for his mate; she never knew that anyone besides herself and her brother had extra powers.  So the protectiveness, instead of giving me the warm-fuzzies, makes me want to tell Esme to run far away in the other direction.

Esme is a perfect heroine.  Plucky, independent, loyal, smart, and not swayed by heaven in tight pants.  When her world is flipped upside down, she wants to first protect her brother and nephew and then second, go back to work.  I love that.  I love that even when she was in Brax’s arms, she was still her own person, not carried away in a flood of hormone fueled oohs and aahs, but grounded and steadfast.  When she is rightly confused about the new world that is suddenly open to her after an attempt is made on her life, she doesn’t drown in her anxiety and reach out for the first strong pair of male arms.  She demands answers and she reasons her situation out.  As a scientist, she wants to seek the answers to questions about herself and family, find the cure to her nephew’s mysterious illness, and lastly figure out just who these Elect are and what that means for her.

The few secondary characters in the story – her fellow scientist Zach, her brother Carter, and her nephew Kaden – are not well drawn.  Zach is virtually invisible as a character, only a vehicle with which her scientific discovery of something unique in a blood sample is given to the Elect.  Carter is angry and reserved, played as a typical hardened military man who believes he and his personal resources and contacts can protect his son and sister better than the Elect.  He has no time to grow as a character; he’s just an outline, a sketch.  And little Kaden, who is so ill and no one has been able to figure out what is wrong with him…but he’s also lost in the sea of the non-memorable, half-drawn cast.

I had no trouble with the “science” of the story.  Loribelle created a world in which ordinary humans eventually began to evolve new powers, and as such they knew they needed to be kept secret to prevent the government from experimenting on them.  The way she wrote the story makes that seem not only plausible, but possible, and for me, that just makes the story.  As an avid reader of both straight sci-fi and paranormal romance, I would have preferred this story without the romantic sub-plot because it detracted from the story that needed much more fleshing out and the characters that needed more time to develop.

What bothered me most about the story, besides Brax’s arrogant behavior, was the ending.  There I was, reading along, when WHAM! it’s over.  It ended so abruptly, and with so many loose ends, that I actually thought the book had been cut off accidentally.  But I couldn’t ignore The End.  I don’t mind the occasional cliffhanger, but this ending took the cake, and in essence, ruined what had been up to that point a decent read.  The characters had some major emotional reveals in the last few paragraphs, when up to that point neither had really been given the chance to show that they were moving to those conclusions.  I can suspend disbelief about a lot of things, but the revelations coupled with the abrupt ending brought me right back to a reality in which I didn’t care for this book and I won’t be looking for any further in this series.

Grade:  D+

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

Review + Giveaway: Unlocked by Courtney Milan

[*NB I wrote this on June 24… but saved it for now. You can see when I finished the novella by my tweet. I was tempted to “!!!!” at Courtney Milan earlier, but couldn’t stop reading until the end.]

Unlocked by Courtney Milan
Historical Romance (Novella) published by Courtney Milan on May 26, 2011

A perpetual wallflower destined for spinsterhood, Lady Elaine Warren is resigned to her position in society. So when Evan Carlton, the powerful, popular Earl of Westfeld, singles her out upon his return to England, she knows what it means. Her former tormenter is up to his old tricks, and she’s his intended victim. This time, though, the earl is going to discover that wallflowers can fight back.

Evan has come to regret his cruel, callow past. At first, he only wants to make up for past wrongs. But when Elaine throws his initial apology in his face, he finds himself wanting more. And this time, what torments him might be love…

I won Unlocked as part of a twitter giveaway Jane L did a while ago. I heard a lot of hype about it, knew it recently number two in kindle sales. (Congratulations, Ms. Milan!) I wanted the story, and knew I’d read it at some point because I like Courtney Milan’s writing. Even so… even despite wanting to read the story… I remained skeptical. For a while, my bio, while tongue in cheek, yes, had some truth in it, as “I’m that bitch who didn’t like your book.” In that… while it’s not that I dislike most books, I’m just not that blown away by them. Especially the ones that are hyped. Perhaps it’s the cynic in me – and we won’t go into reasons why or theories I might have.

With Unlocked? It floored me.

Unlocked is an amazing novella. I’m really at a loss for words as to how to describe it. Courtney Milan is a great writer. I knew this, and expect good things from her. But here, she’s positively genius in conveying human emotion. I felt for the characters, and understood them perfectly. I got their pain and their struggles. I cried. The story had angst, but not for the sake of drama. It was there because it was necessary and real and how the events unfolded.

It’s a story about redemption, learning to let go, to love yourself, and move on. It’s a story about growth, and human nature, and how people can be terrible and wonderful. In fact, the following is a quote that positively slayed me. It’s Elaine speaking to Evan, after they’re “reunited.”

“But none of that matters. What I see you, I remember that you made me want to drown rather than be myself.”

And I know it doesn’t mean as much taken out of context, but another quote I bookmarked.

“When a man was nineteen, he felt invulnerable – as if nothing could touch him. That stupid belief had been the basis of a great many idiotic things that Evan had done in his life. But this notion that all the hurt he’d caused could simply disappear because he wanted it to – that had been the last childish dream he’d held on to. He let go of it now. What you did when you were young could kill you. It just might take years to do it.”

Elaine and Evan are perfectly matched, although it takes them a long time to see it. They’re both honest, but not. Vulnerable, yet determined to protect themselves. Yet they’re brave in revealing themselves. There’s no reason for me to summarize the story – the blurb does that.

I can only tell you that as I read it, I felt. The ending was lovely, of course, and we all know it’s happy. It’s the perfect mix and a blending of everything you want to see in a book. Ms. Milan even includes subtle humor.

I think what resonated with me so strongly is that Ms. Milan shows in her writing that actions have consequences, whether you mean them or intend them to or not. And a relationship isn’t just about how you perceive things, but how you as a couple view them. It’s so realistic, and things take time, yet the pacing is perfect. There’s no lag, but the story isn’t rushed either. (Although, I do have a complaint of sorts with how it ended. I wish it would have focused on Elaine and Evan, instead of Diana. Here’s the cynicism again… to some it might herald a change in someone who had been solely vicious – a high note to end a story, with human growth and a step towards betterment. To me, it was more like a hook for a next book or new series. I could be mistaken… but I think we’ll see Diana again.)

Nevertheless, the epilogue is quite sweet, and I loved how – and this is more of an aesthetic, but it matters – the cover relates so perfectly with the story. Every part of Unlocked fits together. From the characters, to the plot, to how the book starts – literally with the image on the cover.

I know this is a story I will remember for a long time, and the characters will stay with me. I definitely recommend Unlocked to everyone – even if you don’t normally read historical romances.

Courtney Milan, I have to say – tonight, you got me excited about reading again. Thank you.
Grade: A

Giveaway time! As I enjoyed it so much, one lucky commenter will win her – or his- very own kindle copy of Unlocked. Talk to me – what do you like most about romances, or historicals? Do you focus on the emotions? Is realism or pragmatism important to you?