Tag Archives: TBR Challenge Review

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

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: The Italian’s Suitable Wife by Lucy Monroe

The Italian’s Suitable Wife by Lucy Monroe
Contemporary romance released by Harlequin Presents on October 1, 2004

The Italian's Suitable WifeEnrico DiRinaldi wants a wife and children, even though an accident has left him unable to walk. So he proposes a marriage of convenience to Gianna Lakewood. Having always longed for a baby herself — and having secretly loved Enrico since she was a teenager — Gianna can’t say no.

The passion Enrico ignites in his innocent bride leaves her breathless. But when she realizes that his full recovery is imminent, and his beautiful ex-fiancée is waiting in the wings, Gianna is sure he won’t want her any more. So why is Enrico so intent on keeping his convenient wife by his side?

It’s TBR Challenge Time and I’m a day late and a dollar short, as usual. This month we were supposed to read a “RITA book” – whether it be a winner, or a nominee I believe. I have to be honest, I’ve never had much luck with RITA books, and aside from being happy for authors with their nominations and/or wins, I don’t take them into consideration. Accordingly, I went with a comfort read. I want to say I first read this book right around the time it was published, and have re-read it numerous times since.

Gianna is something of an atypical Harlequin Presents heroine, especially for 2004. She’s not a total doormat, and although she’s a total emotional pushover when it comes to Rico, she does get some of her own back. Gianna is warm, loving, uncertain, and passionate. I found her character and age realistic, especially as someone who had been pining for a man since ~girlhood. It was nice that Gianna gets along so well with the DiRinaldi family and already has an established relationship with all of them. It saved her from being too put-upon, and gave her the support and confidence she needed.

Enrico DiRinaldi is your typical Harlequin Presents hero. A take charge tycoon, Latin Lover, and something of an asshole. I liked that we got his perspective at time, and a look into his uncertainties. It was also nice that he admitted them to Gianna in the end, which really cements the fact that they have a real, believable relationship, not just something that happened because it’s the formula of the book/publisher line. Rico experiences all sorts of new emotions, and realizes he’s fallen in love in typical emotionally stunted male fashion. Lucy Monroe is a really great writer that digs into your emotions, and you really feel for Rico, even when he’s being a jerk outwardly.

There were a few things that I didn’t find believable – that she was an assistant  professor at age 23. I found that unrealistic even in 2004. Also the evil model ex-fiancée was borderline evil mustache twirling villain, but what mostly makes up for it is that Rico takes care of things in the end. The first intimate scene(s) are a bit extreme, but I’d put that down mostly to the Harlequin category format. (And the year.)

If you enjoy category and/or Harlequin romances, I definitely recommend this one. It made me tear up on the metro when I read it this most recent time. Yes, even knowing what was coming and on public transport. It might be a little bit of nostalgia and emotional attachment for me, but I really like The Italian’s Suitable Wife. I think it’s how Rico comes around and his character growth that forms his relationship with Gianna that does it for me.

Grade: B+

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

TBR Challenge Review: It Must Be Your Love by Bella Andre

It Must Be Your Love by Bella Andre
Contemporary romance released by Oak Press, LLC on November 20, 2013

It Must Be Your LoveSuccessful Seattle Realtor Mia Sullivan is nobody’s fool…apart from that one week five years ago when she gave her heart to a sexy musician who gave her nothing in return but a few sinfully perfect days—and nights—in his bed. Though she swears she never wants to see him again, he’s the one man she’s never been able to forget.

One of the hottest rock stars in the world, Ford Vincent can have any woman he wants…except Mia Sullivan. But he knows millions of strangers singing along with his songs can’t fill the hole inside him. Only Mia’s love has the power to do that—so he vows to do anything and everything it takes to win her heart again.

From the first moment they see each other again, intense sparks of attraction fly. But can Mia and Ford finally rediscover a love strong enough to last forever?

I’ve wanted to read the Sullivan books for quite some time. I’ve started a few, but life always happened, so I’m really happy I made the effort to read It Must Be Your Love.​ I want to say this is the first time I’ve intentionally broke TBR review challenge “protocol.” I did initially plan on reading a book that was published 10 years ago. I got a lot of great suggestions and decided to read one that is basically universally loved. … I couldn’t get into it. I’m not going to say which book because I don’t want to be pilloried and run out of the community. I decided to read It Must Be Your Love because it’s basically hit all my reader buttons. Successful heroine, rockstar hero, hero that is desperately in love, and lots of hero grovel. Yes please. It also is perfect (in my mind) because it’s also APAHM, and Bella Andre was the first guest of the month.

I usually talk about the character individually, but today I want to address another aspect first. Mia Sullivan ​is the youngest sibling with four older brothers. I think that really helped build her character. It gave her a great backstory, support network, and explained how she’s so strong and independent. As someone who wanted to tag along with her older brothers and as a girl she always had to work that much harder to keep up, and be kept in the fun. It’s a contributing factor to what drove her in childhood and stayed with her, making her an incredibly successful realtor with her own business at age 28. (I’m sure her family and their connections helped too, but the book doesn’t focus on that.) Mia knows who she is and what she wants. I liked that she made Ford work for it, but she didn’t act to her (or their) detriment out of pride. Mia’s a great girl and she’s someone you want as your best friend. In fact it wouldn’t hurt being her either.

Ford Vincent was an interesting twist in my opinion, with his “poor little rich boy” back story. I liked that he didn’t let it damage or define him though. Sure it affected him, but didn’t let that hold him back. Mia and Ford have their history from five years back, and while he was an asshole, I don’t think his childhood was the deciding factor. In fact I think any guy around 25 (the book actually never says Ford’s current age) with the world at his feet would have made the same demands and assumptions that he as the rockstar should have his way. Full stop. I like that from the beginning of the book once he makes up his mind to see Mia he is all in. All the way. He’s willing to make the same “sacrifices” he asked Mia to make five years ago. It’s quite the gesture.

Breaking more protocol, no real character analysis this time because while I think Mia and Ford are great, it’s the usual suspect of adjectives thrown out there. Definitely they’re people that you’ll enjoy reading about – and would want to know in real life too. They’re friendly, fun, loving, and grounded. Throw in the massive success and wealth? What’s not to love.

The romance picks up pretty much as soon as Mia and Ford meet again. It’s as if they never spent five years apart, which I found interesting. Mia makes noises and some lip service about resisting at first but in actuality does nothing of the sort. That, and the fact that (in her mind) the relationship was so “all or nothing” bothered me. Those were the only two things. On Ford’s part, it made sense, because he has to show that he’s willing to make the grand gesture by “giving up everything” – the lifestyle he’s had since ~highschool, and has changed. On Mia’s part … I wondered where her basic problem solving skills went.

The writing and characterization in It Must Be Your Love are of course excellent. Bella Andre is a wonderful writer and story teller, and everything fits in so seamlessly you don’t even think about how many little details there are that all work together. I liked fact that Ms. Andre paints a vivid picture of each character’s life, but doesn’t get bogged down in the descriptions. You get the feel of how much Mia loves houses and her jobs. How Ford commands a stadium when playing a show. Their families and the love – or lack thereof. It was a good balance I think of Mia and Ford, and with Mia as the one dragging her feet it was nice to see her family encouraging her. (Or her brothers acting like … hilarious awesome stereotypical big brothers.)

I definitely recommend It Must Be Your Love to anyone who enjoys contemporary romances, and I’m glad there’s such a backlist for me to go through. The Sullivans are a really large family, and there’s something for everyone, with a variety of characters and professions, I’m sure there’s “reader catnip” for all in this series.
Grade: B
You can buy a copy here.