Book Reviews Have Moved!

I’ve been posting book reviews here at my personal blog, but I’ve decided to start a dedicated blog for book reviews.

readalltheromance.com

Hope you’ll follow me over there. 🙂 All my reviews from this site have been copied over and all new reviews will be posted there going forward.

This blog will remain open and will be solely personal from now on (life, knitting, random musings, etc.).

Book Review: Stuck-Up Suit by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward

Stuck-Up Suit by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward

Stuck-Up Suit by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward
Rating: 3stars
Amazon :: Barnes & Noble :: Goodreads

This would have been a 4- or 5-star review if the story had ended halfway through. But then the plot took a huge twist, so it’s a 3-star review from me.

Graham is an arrogant jerk. He’s also a successful businessman. When he takes the subway one morning, he accidentally leaves behind his phone, which is found by Soraya. Soraya has a fiery, feisty, tell-it-like-it-is personality. I liked her character a lot (more so in the beginning of the book).

Soraya pokes around Graham’s phone to try to figure out who he is so that she can return his phone to him. She eventually ends up at his fancy office building. Via the intercom on his receptionist’s desk, Graham refuses to come out and see Soraya because she doesn’t have an appointment, he doesn’t know who she is, he’s soooo busy, and as I mentioned, he’s a huge jerk. As revenge, Soraya takes a few sexy pics of herself with his phone and adds herself to his contacts under the name, “You’re Welcome, Asshole,” and leaves the phone with his receptionist. When Graham discovers what she’s done, he’s intrigued. Soon, he and Soraya have a flirtatious exchange going via text and phone.

I loved this first part of the book. There’s a lot of sexual tension before they officially meet and their banter is really funny. But aside from the comedy, there are some tender moments, too. We get to see Graham’s softer side whenever his grandmother is around. Likewise, Soraya’s not as tough as she always seems. She’s sensitive when it comes to family issues because her dad didn’t do the greatest job of being available when she was growing up. I loved seeing these facets of Graham’s and Soraya’s personalities.

I think I would have been happy if the book had ended at 50%. Unfortunately, there’s a doozy of a plot twist in the second half of the book involving Graham’s past and some serious drama. This part of the story was so frustrating to read. I will say, though, that the authors did a fabulous job of making Graham’s ex a conniving character who I had no trouble hating. But I really wish that the book had focused more on Graham and Soraya, rather than becoming this love triangle with huge complications plot. Also, I thought that the resolution at the end, along with the epilogue, wrapped things up a little too easily.

I wish the plot summary would have been a bit more descriptive because I doubt I would have read this if I had known ahead of time that there would be crazy drama. Nevertheless, I was glad that everything worked out in the end, so I’ll say that I still enjoyed the book, but I have mixed feelings about recommending it.

The DNF List

The DNF List
This week’s additions to the Did Not Finish shelf are surprising, at least to me:

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach

I’ve heard so many good things about Mary Roach’s books, but this just didn’t hold my interest. I didn’t get very far before abandoning it. The worst thing about this was that the narrator put on a really bad Indian accent at one point and I found it rather offensive, frankly. I had the audiobook checked out from my library, so at least I didn’t purchase this one.

One With You by Sylvia Day

The final book in the Crossfire series. I couldn’t even finish it. This one was long overdue and so overhyped. I remember being sucked in to the first book in the series and really enjoying it, but with each subsequent book, my enjoyment has diminished. I feel like Gideon and Eva didn’t show much character growth. They fight, they have sex and make up, they fight some more…blah. I looked up spoilers about how the series ends and I’m so glad I didn’t bother finishing. There was some random WTFery thrown in at the end. Additionally, I had the audio version and didn’t like the narrators. The female narrator had a habit of trying to make her voice sound really, really deep whenever Gideon was speaking and it was comical to me.

The SEAL’s Secret Lover by Anne Calhoun

It pains me to admit that I didn’t finish this! I love Anne Calhoun so, so much, but I could not get into this story. The characters have a serious case of insta-lust, which I normally don’t mind at all, but it seemed especially unbelievable for some reason. I tried to forge on since it’s a novella, but I gave up. I have the follow-up book on my Kindle, so hopefully that one will be more engaging.

Book Review: Must Love Cowboys by Cheryl Brooks

Must Love Cowboys by Cheryl Brooks
Must Love Cowboys by Cheryl Brooks
Rating: 2stars
Amazon :: Barnes & Noble :: Goodreads

I had a lot of trouble finishing this book. If I hadn’t read the previous books in the series, I probably would have abandoned this and not finished. But since I had read the others and liked them, I figured I’d stick with this one. I finished it, but didn’t love it at all.

Tina is an IT specialist who travels to the Circle Bar K ranch in Wyoming after her grandfather dies. She’s there to meet her grandfather’s good friend and deliver some personal items to him. Even though Tina works in IT, she’s a whiz in the kitchen and really derives joy from cooking. She’s super shy, introverted, and a virgin. She’s always had a thing for firefighters, not cowboys, but that changes when she meets Wyatt, who works on the ranch.

Coincidentally, Wyatt is not just a cowboy, but also a former firefighter. I’m not sure why this detail was included (other than to relate to Tina’s fantasies), because not very much is said about his firefighting days. Wyatt has a traumatic past and that drama just seemed really unnecessary to me.

At first, Tina hooks up with one of the other ranch hands–not Wyatt–but she doesn’t have sex with him. Then things change and she stops seeing the other guy and immediately hooks up with Wyatt and does have sex with him. Now, I don’t always mind when the plot moves along quickly, but this whole book takes place over the course of a week or so, if I’m remembering correctly. That’s just insane! Declarations of love and marriage proposals after a few days? Really?

Not to mention how quickly Tina’s sex life moves along. A week ago, she was a shy virgin, but once she meets Wyatt, it’s a sexual free-for-all, basically. I’m not buying it.

I’m bummed writing this review because I really liked the first book in the series, Cowboy Heaven. That one was SO raunchy and blatantly over-the-top. It was complete smutty fun. The other one, Cowboy Delight (book 0.5, a novella), was okay too even though I didn’t love it. Must Love Cowboys, though, is definitely missing that fun, crazy vibe of the first book. There’s a mystery subplot that was so random to me and I honestly didn’t care about the resolution.

I had been looking forward to reading this book, but I was disappointed by it and truly had trouble finishing. I recommend books 1 and 0.5 in the series, but unfortunately not this one.

Book Review: Taking It Off by Claire Kent

Taking It Off by Claire Kent

Taking It Off by Claire Kent
Rating: 5stars
Amazon :: Barnes & Noble :: Goodreads

I started reading Taking It Off with the expectation that it would be definitely sexy, and maybe light, fun, and sort of fluffy. It’s marketed as a romance for fans of Magic Mike, after all. What I got from this book was so much more. Taking It Off turned out to be a deeply emotional surprise that I just loved.

Matt (who I’m so tempted to call Magic Matt, but it’s just Matt) owns a male strip club called Bare Assets. While he’s a former stripper himself, he doesn’t get out on stage much anymore. Until he meets Elizabeth.

“You wear the ice princess like a costume, and the very first time I saw you, I wanted to take it off.”

Elizabeth is an art therapy teacher at a prestigious preschool. She makes a good living and is independent. Her father is seriously considering running for governor. Although Elizabeth would eventually like to meet a nice guy who’s marriage material, she doesn’t necessarily need a man right now.

Elizabeth’s upbringing has always been very ordered and polite. Maybe a little too polite and even forced. So when Elizabeth accompanies her friends to a bachelorette party at Bare Assets, she’s noticeably uncomfortable. She doesn’t understand the appeal of the dancers or the over-the-top atmosphere. Matt takes notice of her and issues a challenge: if Elizabeth will agree to come to the club twice a week for the next month, Matt is convinced that he can help her loosen up and let down her defenses.

Challenge accepted.

At first, Elizabeth is super hesitant and skeptical about the strip club experience. She sees that it’s fun for the other women, but she writes it off as just not being her thing. Slowly but surely, Matt convinces her that she doesn’t need to have her emotional guard up all the time, the way that she has her whole life. She can let go, let loose, have fun, and be free. He helps her with that and along the way, he and Elizabeth start to fall for each other.

Elizabeth felt like someone else–someone more fun, more spontaneous, less vanilla–had taken possession of her body. She liked herself this way.

Meanwhile, Matt’s got some secrets that he’s not keen on sharing with Elizabeth. Matt’s mother is a drug addict. He tries to help her, but she refuses to help herself. Matt’s almost ready to give up hope with regard to his mother when he meets Elizabeth. Elizabeth gives Matt new perspective. She helps him see that some things aren’t hopeless and encourages him to keep trying with his mother.

Matt had long ago given up hope about the important things in life, so it was a nice change to feel a spark of it about anything at all.

In the midst of all this–the juxtaposition of the fun club scenes and the heavy family stuff–there are some seriously smoking scenes between Elizabeth and Matt. We’re talking 5 out of 5 jalapenos, people. My ebook is highlighted within an inch of its life and I’m not complaining.

There’s some additional drama with regard to Elizabeth’s family, which I’ll avoid spoiling here. I’ll just say that it helped put the story in perspective, seeing how swept away both Elizabeth and Matt were with their new relationship. When this incident occurs, they realize they need to step back and decide who they each want to be–as well as what the future holds for them, separately or together.

As I mentioned, I really adored this book and have no hesitations giving it 5 enthusiastic stars. In Taking It Off, the author took a subject that I initially expected would be fun and lighthearted, and she created an intense story that’s incredibly satisfying on an emotional level. Claire Kent is a new author to me, but I’ve already bought a couple of her other books and I’m excited to read those.

Note: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my review. I’m slowly working through my NetGalley backlog and this book has since been published. My review is for the published version of the book.

Book Review: Texas Kissing by Helena Newbury

Texas Kissing by Helena Newbury

Texas Kissing by Helena Newbury
Rating: 4stars
Amazon :: Goodreads

Tessa is on the run.

Raised by her mob-boss uncle, she’s seen things–awful things–and has to get away from that life. She flees to Texas, where she starts going by the name Lily. She makes a living as an underground forger, creating counterfeit passports and the like.

On her way to meet a client at a rodeo arena, Lily has an unfortunate run-in with a pissed-off bull. Luckily, Lily is rescued by a cowboy named Bull (yes, that’s his actual name). Bull is something else. He’s hilarious, but I didn’t like him much at first because he’s such a manwhore. However, once he sets his sights on Lily, he’s determined to make her his.

The writing in this book cracked me up. I read the audio version and Bull’s internal dialogue, read by narrator Christian Fox, had me laughing out loud. Lily is read by Lucy Rivers, who also did a great job with the narration.

Bull is such a huge lug at times; not stupid by any means, just a little too confident for his own good. As I mentioned, I didn’t like him at first since he’s such a womanizer, but that changes quickly after Lily comes into the picture.

Lily is a smart, capable character, but she has no close relationships because she’s afraid that someone will discover her secrets about her uncle and his connections. She doesn’t want to put anyone in danger. Lily also struggles with insecurity, which Bull helps with once their relationship turns physical. I LOVED how sweet Bull is toward her. Whenever Lily feels self-conscious about her larger size, Bull instills confidence in her and never says a critical word about her appearance. Swoon.

Part contemporary romance, part romantic suspense, a more appropriate title for this book would be Texas Sexytimes because there’s definitely an abundance of that.

Texas Kissing is book #3 in Helena Newbury’s Kissing series, but each book is a standalone. I plan on going back to read the others in the series since I enjoyed this one so much.

Book Review: In His Corner by Vina Arno

In His Corner by Vina Arno

In His Corner by Vina Arno
Rating: 3stars
Amazon :: Barnes & Noble :: Goodreads

They call him “The Juggernaut.”

At age 22, Tommy Raines is an Olympic gold-winning middleweight boxer. He’s got a promising career ahead of him and has sworn off women while he focuses on his training and preparations for turning pro.

Then he meets Dr. Siena Carr.

When Tommy walks into Siena’s emergency room in need of stitches, the physical attraction between them is strong. But they are the epitome of opposites attract. Siena is a 26-year-old ER physician with a blue blood upbringing. Her family owns three houses and frequently vacations in the Hamptons. Siena’s crowd consists of other successful doctors, of the same Ivy League caliber as herself.

Conversely, Tommy’s upbringing was the definition of working class. His father was a former Marine who taught him how to box when Tommy was just a young child. His dad would walk out on the family when Tommy was still a kid, leaving Tommy’s mom to raise him as a single parent. Despite these personal struggles, Tommy has become a successful boxer, making it to the London Olympics and taking home the gold.

She healed people. He knocked them out. They were opposites.

Despite their surface differences, Tommy and Siena pursue a romantic relationship. But it’s not easy for either of them. Although Tommy has an impressive list of accomplishments as a boxer, he feels somewhat unworthy of Siena. She’s cultured, high class, and refined. He refers to his friends as his crew/homies, and he knows nothing about the fancy food/wine/art that Siena’s so familiar with. On top of this, Siena’s ex, a fellow doctor, raises Tommy’s hackles and incites his jealousy, causing him to go a bit caveman and stake his claim on Siena.

A central theme of the book is that both Tommy and Siena feel that the other is trying to change them. Given that they’re such polar opposites, it’s human nature to want to try to please the other person, even if it means stepping outside of their comfort zone and doing things they wouldn’t normally do–whether it’s the way they dress, the way they talk, the places they hang out, the music they listen to, or the movies they watch. But at what cost? Eventually, resentments start to form. Tommy starts to believe that Siena’s too much of a snob to lower herself to his level. In turn, Siena feels that she’s compromising who she is as a doctor and healer because Tommy’s job as a boxer is, by nature, a violent profession. She doesn’t think she can support his career because she’s so uncomfortable with its violence and how it makes her feel.

I know I’m a novelty to you. But I didn’t realize that’s all I am to you.

I love a good opposites attract story. In many ways, Tommy and Siena are star-crossed lovers. They come from such different worlds and backgrounds–but their emotional and physical connection to each other is very real. On paper, it makes no sense for them to be together. The boxer and the doctor: no one saw this coming. Can they find a way to be together? Can they learn to truly negotiate and mesh their lives together? It’s a struggle for sure, but in the end, the reward is sweet. I cheered for Tommy and Siena to figure things out because even though it doesn’t make sense for them to be a couple, it’s clear that they’re both happiest when they’re together.

They were transforming each other. What was love but a continuous tide of change? What mattered was that it made them closer and stronger.

While I read a lot of sports romances, I don’t read many with boxer heroes, so I wasn’t sure if my interest would be held with regard to the boxing details. Surprisingly, I felt quite a bit of suspense during Tommy’s first big fight as a pro. The writing held my interest without being too technical or gory.

Something else that surprised me was how much the characters grew on me during the duration of the book. Initially, Tommy comes across as a bit crass and crude, but over time he becomes endearing and actually very, very sweet. I had trouble warming up to Siena since she’s so uptight, but as she learns to loosen up, I grew to like her a little more. She’s still a bit snobby at the end of the book, but at least she’s more aware of it and hopefully intent on reining in that personality trait.

Overall, I enjoyed In His Corner and recommend it.

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my review.

Book Review: Off Limits by Kelly Jamieson

Off Limits by Kelly Jamieson

Off Limits by Kelly Jamieson
Rating: 2stars
Amazon :: Barnes & Noble :: Goodreads

Off Limits is a holiday novella in the Aces Hockey series. Goodreads lists it as #1.5 in the series. I haven’t read book #1 and had no trouble following the storyline, so it’s safe to say that this can be read as a standalone. The couple from the first book makes just a brief appearance in this story.

When the book opens, it’s the holidays and Jenna is bringing her boyfriend home to meet her parents and two brothers. I was a little puzzled by Jenna’s relationship with her boyfriend. Neither of them seemed terribly committed to each other. And even though she’s excited to see her family, Jenna is most excited to see Andrew again.

Andrew’s a hockey player with the NHL now, but life hasn’t always been great for him. He had a rough life with his biological parents, so Jenna’s parents took him in when Andrew was a teenager. So, he’s technically not Jenna’s brother, but he’s best friends with her actual brothers, so growing up he was kind of like a brother, but not, because Jenna’s always had a crush on Andrew. And there was that one weekend in college that Jenna and Andrew spent together, some years ago…

Needless to say, there’s sexual tension galore between Jenna and Andrew. I liked their easy camaraderie. What I didn’t fully understand is why they both think that they can’t pursue a relationship because it would be forbidden somehow. As I said, they knew each other growing up, but they’re not related and it wasn’t clear to me whether Jenna’s parents officially adopted Andrew, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t. Also, the blurb says that Jenna’s dad and brothers wouldn’t approve of the relationship, but I beg to differ. Everyone in Jenna’s family, especially her parents, has a really close relationship with Andrew. Someone even mentioned that he was “Saint Andrew” growing up because he never wanted to disappoint them.

There’s low angst in this story. Jenna’s boyfriend isn’t in the picture for very long, which enables Jenna and Andrew to pursue the thing they’ve been running from for years.

For a book that has a hockey player hero, there’s very little actual hockey in the story, which was fine with me. I read sports romances, but my eyes always glaze over when there’s literal play-by-play descriptions of the sports action.

While the book is fine, I kept feeling that something was missing. I loved the interactions between Jenna, her parents, and her brothers. I think there could have been more banter and lighthearted moments. Also, while I understand the need to introduce additional characters in order to set up the next book in the series, this type of epilogue took something away from the resolution of Jenna and Andrew’s story.

In summary, I didn’t hate the book, but I didn’t enjoy it enough to want to read the rest of the series.

Note: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my review. I’m slowly working through my NetGalley backlog and this book has since been published. My review is for the published version of the book, specifically the audio edition.

The DNF List

The DNF List

I read quite a bit, but for every book that I finish, there’s another that I quit reading and shelved on Goodreads as DNF (did not finish). This past week or so has an interesting selection:

Sins of Sevin by Penelope Ward

I borrowed the audiobook from my library on a whim. I didn’t care for the cover (yes, this is a big part of how I choose my books), but the description got me. Forbidden love! Religious subplot! Sounded like it was right up my alley. I read about half of this book before giving up. Unfortunately, some completely unexpected plot twists combined with a huge dose of drama led me to quit this one. It was for the best, though–I read some spoilers about what happens in the second half and there’s no way I would have liked the rest of the book.

Calendar Girl: Volume One by Audrey Carlan

This one is kind of weird because it was originally published as a 12-volume serial on Amazon (one for each of the months). For quite a while, I kept seeing the series on the romance bestseller list, but since I’m not a big fan of serials, I stayed away from it. My library ordered the print version, which has been published in four volumes, so I figured I’d see what all the hype was about. I didn’t get very far. The plot moves very quickly, but without much character establishment or back story. Also, something else that bothered me quite a bit were the editing issues, especially with grammar. These things distracted me to the point where I didn’t bother finishing. Obviously, this series is very successful and has many positive reviews, but personally I didn’t see the appeal.

Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running from Madness by Suzy Favor Hamilton

If you’re not familiar with the author (as I wasn’t prior to reading this book), she’s a former runner who has competed in the Olympics. A few years ago, it was reported that she had been working as a high-price escort in Las Vegas. Hamilton has bipolar disorder and attributed her decision to go into prostitution as being related to her mental illness, combined with the medication she was on at the time. I really wanted to like this book because I thought her story sounded fascinating. Also, I had read some reviews that seemed quite negative and harsh, so my curiosity led me to find out for myself. Unfortunately, the tone of Hamilton’s writing was insufferable at best. I got as far as her college life and Olympic competition before quitting. She comes across as extremely self-absorbed and narcissistic. I can only assume that she used a ghostwriter on this book, but they didn’t do her story justice.

 

Book Review: All Chained Up by Sophie Jordan

All Chained Up by Sophie Jordan

All Chained Up by Sophie Jordan
Rating: 5stars
Amazon :: Barnes & Noble :: Goodreads

This book is SO good, I cannot even deal.

All Chained Up first caught my attention when I saw that it takes place in a prison.

Prison romance, you say? What? Why?!
Hear me out.

One of my favorite romance novels ever is Hard Time by Cara McKenna, which is also set in a prison: the hero is an inmate (who gets paroled) and the heroine is a prison librarian. In All Chained Up, the hero is an inmate who also gets paroled during the story, and the heroine is a nurse. Needless to say, this plot sounded like my perfect catnip.

Knox is an inmate at Devil’s Rock. He has been there for eight years, along with his brother North, for a crime that they committed together: they killed their cousin’s rapist. While I know I should be appalled at their crime, I’m just…not, to be honest. I mean, I’m not fully okay with it either, but it’s…understandable, in a way. Briar is a nurse at the prison, volunteering there temporarily while they’re short on medical staff. That’s how she meets Knox.

Although Briar is immediately attracted to Knox physically, she gives herself a reality check and remembers that he’s an inmate–the very definition of off-limits. The epitome of No Future Together. Nevertheless, she can’t deny their attraction to each other. So when a traumatic incident and series of events lead to Knox being granted parole and released from Devil’s Rock, he and Briar are suddenly free to pursue their mutual interest.

Things escalate rather quickly. From this point on, the method through which they communicate with each other is sex. In that aspect, they’re on the same page and speaking the same language. But whenever Briar tries to connect with Knox on deeper levels–i.e., emotionally–his instinct is to retreat. He backs off. After being imprisoned for eight years, it’s self-preservation for him not to show emotion or be vulnerable. But if he wants a future with Briar, he has to learn how to let himself be free to love.

This book hit every high note with me. There’s the forbidden romance aspect initially, but even after Knox is released, he and Briar have to reconcile what little they know about each other with their growing desire to be together. Their physical chemistry is undeniable (and amazingly hot), but do they have something that’s worth pursuing? Can this last? Can they really have a relationship on the outside? How on earth do you handle the logistics of dating a convicted felon? I think that the author portrayed their interactions realistically, especially with regard to how people treat Knox after he’s released.

I read the audio version, which has an excellent narrator (Christian Fox). But I fully intend on buying the ebook too because there are so many passages that I LOVED. Seriously, I want to own the ebook just so that I can highlight the crap out of it. Plus, I know that this is something I’ll want to re-read in the future–and I hardly ever do re-reads.

All Chained Up is the first book in the new Devil’s Rock series. I highly recommend it and I’m so excited about the next book, Hell Breaks Loose, which I’ll definitely be reading.