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Book Review: The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

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Drew Nichols and Alexa Monroe meet in an elevator when it stops working. They’re strangers, but when they leave the elevator some time later, Alexa has agreed to go to a wedding as Drew’s fake girlfriend. Destined to be a one-night thing, the two find themselves drawn to each other and embark on a long-distance fling that might actually have the makings of something real.

Guillory’s debut novel is a charming and sexy look at a fake romance that becomes totally real. Fully realized characters help flesh out this at times cyclical romance, creating a captivating story. The characters in this are likable, with hopes and dreams, and their chemistry leaps off the page. Readers will root for their deserved happy ending.

While on the whole the novel is fairly light in its tone and content, it doesn’t shy away from the fact that the two main characters are in an inter-racial relationship. Alexa experiences racial aggressions throughout the book, and when she tells Drew about them, he accepts what she says as fact, which is refreshing. In this, the book is more grounded than others, and it’s an appreciated touch.

A fast-paced plot keeps the pages turning, and the genuine chemistry between the leads makes it compelling. While the two start out their relationship as a casual hookup, their connection deepens in a satisfying way, and while there are plenty of love scenes, Guillory engages in a lot of fade-to-black writing, so this doesn’t fall into the “erotica” category.

Romance readers, rejoice: this modern-day rom-com is completely engrossing and really, really fun. I loved it.

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory. Berkley: 2018. ARC received from NetGalley.

 

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Book Review: The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

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The Duke of Ashbury has not been the same since he came home from the war. Badly scarred, he spends his time brooding and being a general grouch, scaring London’s thieves at night for a bit of fun. But he also needs an heir, which means he needs a wife. Convinced he will never find a woman to fall in love with him, he convinces Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter who is working as a seamstress, to marry him. His rules are clear: there will be no love between them, and once she has given him an heir, she will move to his country house to live out her days. But he didn’t count on feeling so much for Emma, nor did she plan on falling for him.

The first in a new series by romance royalty Tessa Dare, this sneakily feminist historical romance is smart, funny, sexy, and a hell of a lot of fun. Dare has crafted two leads with enormous chemistry on the page while also allowing them to be fully formed characters with distinct personalities, wants, and desires. The dialogue is witty, the banter absolutely charming, and the sex is hot.

Dare allows Emma to form friendships with other women in the town, and she allows the Duke to be an asshole without ever making him a sexist piece of shit. The secondary characters are well-developed, and the plot moves along at a great pace. This is one that begs to be read in one sitting.

I really loved this one, and I can’t wait to see what Dare has in store for her characters next. This is a great gateway romance into the genre for novices, but it’s sure to delight seasoned romance fans as well. Highly recommended.

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare. Avon: 2017. Library copy.

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Book Review: Take Me Back by Meghan March

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Kat and Dane met on a beach and got married on one. Now they’re two years into their marriage, and they might as well be strangers to one another. Kat is obsessed with her work and married to her phone, constantly checking in with her company. Dane is drowning in his own secrets, secrets he’s never told Kat but knows he must if they can salvage their relationship. On a last-ditch effort, the two take a 10-day trip to Belize to try to reconnect and see if there’s anything left worth saving.

Meghan March’s Take Me Back is best categorized as romantic suspense. The book favors euphemisms for its sex scenes (“to the hilt” is used several times, and it is never not completely distracting), is heavy on the dialogue and unbelievably light on the character development. It’s a quick read, to be sure, and is guaranteed to attract fans of the romantic suspense genre in general, but it’s also kind of a mess as a whole.

Neither Dane nor Kat are at all developed as characters (Kat’s main trait is that she’s work obsessed, but her actual job is never mentioned, a detail I found both hilarious and weirdly upsetting), and the book jumps so quickly into the action that there’s no time to get a sense of either character, nor their relationship to one another. The other characters, the few there are, are so underdeveloped it hardly matters. The villains are one-dimensional and the plotting is obvious.

Of course, that’s not really the point of a book like this. It hooks readers from the start and keeps the pace so quick that the book flies by. Dual narration on the part of Kat and Dane allows readers insight into what little motivation each one has, and the sex scenes are plentiful. This is standard romantic suspense, with a happy ending readers will see coming from page 2.

Give this one to fans of Maya Banks and Lora Leigh.

Take Me Back by Meghan March. Red Dress Press: 2017. Library copy.

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Genre Round-Up

One of my 2017 reading goals is to read more genre fiction, since it’s generally out of my comfort zone, reading-wise.  Since January is wrapping up, this is the genre fiction I read this month:

71811Moon Called by Patricia Briggs (Urban Fantasy): I’ve been meaning to read the first book in this series for years, and I finally ended up listening to this on audiobook.  The narrator was great, and she managed to do a variety of accents for the different characters in the book without ever veering into the totally preposterous or distressingly bad.  The novel itself is a pretty decent foray into urban fantasy: Mercy Thompson is a car mechanic who mostly keeps to herself, but she’s also a shifter who turns into a coyote. Her closest neighbor is the leader of a werewolf pack, and when his daughter is kidnapped and he’s dangerously injured in a fight, Mercy gets pulled into the supernatural world in an attempt to save him and his daughter.

Briggs has created vivid characters and a world that feels lived-in and compelling. But there are so many characters elbowing in for some page time that it starts to wear down the plot. It’s possible that as the series gains traction, the plots get stronger, but this first entry into Mercy Thompson’s world was enough for me. I did like how strong she was and how capable she was of taking care of herself.

Keep Me Safe by Maya Banks (Romantic Suspense): Romantic suspense meets supernatural in this “thriller” 20910177from Maya Banks, who is a bestselling author but not one that I’ll seek out again. Psychic Ramie can find victims of serial killers by touching personal artifacts, but it comes at a great physical and emotional cost.  Connected to the victims and the killers, she experiences everything they do and it has taken a toll. Hiding from the rest of civilization, she thinks she’s as safe as she can be until Caleb Deveraux finds her and forces her to help him find his sister. Realizing the pain he’s caused her, Caleb vows to protect her in the futuer. But she’s made a connection with the would-be killer, and she can’t seem to sever it.

It might be that romantic suspense is just not my genre, or it might be that I chose very poorly when it came time to select a romantic suspense title, but this was not for me in any way, shape or form. Setting aside how problematic the general premise is, there’s no character development to speak of, no chemistry between the leads, and the plot is preposterous. I’ll have to delve into some other romantic suspense titles to get a better handle on the genre–I’m taking suggestions!

25760151Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins (Historical Romance): Beverly Jenkins’s historical romance centers on Rhine Fontaine, a man who is passing for white in Nevada not long after the end of the Civil War. He meets Eddy, an African-American woman on her way to California under unfortunate circumstances, and he finds himself inexplicably drawn to her. He knows that their romance is forbidden so long as he remains in hiding about his true race, but the repercussions of coming out are great.

There’s a lot to love about Jenkins’s historical romance featuring characters of color in the old west, and much of it is related to how much care she gives her characters. She knows them and clearly likes them, and the result is fully-realized characters with actual chemistry that leaps off the page. Jenkins also doesn’t shy away from some of the messier politics of race, either, which is a surprising–and welcome–addition to the traditional romance fare.

On the whole a very enjoyable read and recommended for lovers of historical romance.1601773

Triptych by Karin Slaughter (Mystery/Thriller/Suspense): The first in Karin Slaughter’s Will Trent series, this one is not for the faint of heart, because it is super, super violent. In Atlanta, women are being murdered by a serial killer who has a particular affinity for mutilation. Detective Michael Ormewood is on the case, but he’s pissed when they bring in FBI agents, including Will Trent, whose closing record is astronomical.  There’s also an ex-con who might know more about the murders than anyone else.

Slaughter’s books are fast-paced, compelling, and very violent. They’re definitely for the reader who likes their novels suspenseful, gritty, and gorey. I didn’t like this one as much as I thought I would, and I found it too long in parts, but on the whole it was an exciting novel that kept me guessing.

 

 

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Book Review: It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

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Lily and Ryle are young and beautiful and totally driven by their respective careers. Lily has fulfilled a childhood dream of opening her own florist shop, and Ryle is on the fast-track to becoming a world-renowned neurosurgeon. Ryle doesn’t date; he’s not a relationship guy, and he makes that clear to Lily from the first time they meet.  But then he changes his tune, and the two begin a whirlwind romance that has Lily reeling.  When her first love–Atlas–resurfaces from her past, she starts to question everything about her seemingly perfect life and realizes that her relationship with Ryle might be more fragile than she realized.

Woof.

It’s hard to be critical of something that is clearly not only a labor of love for an author but also a deeply personal book–the author’s note at the end helps expand on this–but the fact of the matter is, there are more problems here than good things, which made for a frustrating and uneven reading experience.  Fans of Hoover’s other works might devour this one and forgive its faults, but as a first-time reader of Hoover, there were too many things I couldn’t get past.

One of the book’s major weaknesses are its characters, who feel underdeveloped and often don’t speak like actual human beings.  More than once, I stumbled over something a character said because it just didn’t feel authentic in any way.  But what’s also surprising is that for a book that is largely character-driven, there’s very little investment in creating characters with fully-realized personalities. It’s not just the secondary characters, either: it’s the main stars. Lily isn’t developed. Ryle never comes off as anything other than an arrogant garbage monster, and that’s before his darker secrets are even revealed.

There’s also a lot going on in the novel, and it often feels like a bit too much. It tries to tackle a variety of serious, complex issues, and while some of the ruminations on the cycle of abuse are fairly well done, much of it feels half-baked. Maybe more editing would have helped; it’s certainly long enough.

And yet? I couldn’t stop reading, even though I knew where much of the narrative was headed. I felt compelled to finish it, even as it filled me with frustration. It’s not the character’s actions that felt frustrating: it’s the fact that in a stronger writer’s hands, this could have been something truly great.

Best for fans of Hoover’s other works, but this is not nearly as good as it could have been.

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover. Atria: 2016. Library copy.

 

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Book Review: Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger

Sonny and Amy are best friends.  Because of some family drama, Sonny’s been secretly living at Amy’s house.  Ryder, the new kid at Hamilton High, has a huge and obvious thing for Amy, but he represents everything she hates, including a snobby outlook.  When Ryder emails Amy and asks her out, Sonny thinks it’s a great opportunity to prank him.  But then she ends up talking to him online all night, and realizes that he’s kind of awesome.  The only problem is, he thinks he was talking to Amy.  Unable to come clean but also unable to stop chatting with him, Sonny gets further and further from the truth while her feelings for Ryder intensify.

Hailed as a companion novel to The DUFF, this novel by Kody Keplinger is set in the same world as her other contemporary offerings and even features appearances by the main characters of The DUFF.  Keplinger has an ear for dialogue and offers a plot heavy on the chemistry and crazy with the mistaken identities.  The result is a mostly pleasant romp through some teen mistakes, but it doesn’t have as much of the charm that some of her previous novels possess.

Even so, Keplinger crafts teen characters that are believable and authentic.  Her ability to write believable teen dialogue helps immensely as well.  She sells the somewhat silly plot by creating characters who make realistic mistakes and a plot that moves at a whip-fast pace.  There are genuinely funny moments here, as well as heartfelt ones, and there’s immense teen appeal.

Also notable is the focus on the female friendship between Sonny and Amy.  This relationship seems to control much of the book’s narrative, and it’s refreshing to see two girls who genuinely love each other and love spending time together.  Sonny’s budding romance with Ryder takes a backseat to the development of this friendship, and readers looking for complicated female friendships should be satisfied by the portrayal here.

On the whole, this will work for fans of Keplinger’s work.  There’s a lot here to like, and readers who were clamoring for more Bianca and Wesley will get at least a little fix, as the two make several appearances throughout the book.  This is a strong addition to collections that already house Keplinger’s other works.

Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger. Scholastic: 2015. Library copy.

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Book Review: Chase Me by Tessa Bailey

Roxy Cumberland is a struggling actress in New York.  She thinks she’s hit rock bottom when she takes a gig as a singing telegram, but when she shows up dressed as a giant bunny and a super hot dude answers the door, she knows she’s hit a new low.  Louis is hot, all right–hot and rich, and everything Roxy says she hates.  So why is she so drawn to him?  The feeling is mutual, especially after the two share a steamy kiss.  Louis is determined to track Roxy down, but it’s going to require quite the chase.

For readers who like their romances steamy and their dialogue witty, Tessa Bailey is an author that should be on their radar.  In this novel, one being hailed as “new adult romance,” she’s crafted vivid characters whose chemistry practically leaps off the page.  It’s fun, fast, and sexy, and it’s perfect for a day at the beach (or an hour, because this one reads very quickly).

The book’s strengths lay in its characters and their interactions.  Both Roxy and Louis are well-drawn as far as characters go, and there are some nice touches with regard to Roxy’s roommates (both girls have their own spin-off sequels) and Louis’s twin sisters.  The dialogue is genuinely funny and often very qitty, something that can be difficult to pull off without readers being able to see how hard the author is working.  It’s got a whip-fast plot (sometimes to its detriment) and the love scenes are sexy as hell.

All of this makes the incredibly abrupt ending all the more frustrating for readers looking for a bit more closure.  There’s not much practicality in how it ends, which will leave some readers scratching their heads.  Also frustrating is how predictable the book’s central conflict is, because it’s a trope so well-worn even the most forgiving reader will see it coming from a mile away.  Even so, readers will stay for the characters.  It’s still a hell of a lot of fun.

Chase Me by Tessa Bailey. Avon Impulse: 2015.  Library copy.