When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri

31684565Katie Daniels is a perfection-seeking 28-year-old lawyer living the New York dream. She’s engaged to charming art curator Paul Michael, has successfully made her way up the ladder at a multinational law firm, and has a hold on apartments in Soho and the West Village. Suffice it to say, she has come a long way from her Kentucky upbringing.

But the rug is swept from under Katie when she is suddenly dumped by her fiance, Paul Michael, leaving her devastated and completely lost. On a whim, she agrees to have a drink with Cassidy Price-a self-assured, sexually promiscuous woman she meets at work. The two form a newfound friendship, which soon brings into question everything Katie thought she knew about sex—and love.

Review:

While reading I kept thinking, “this is the perfect category romance, filled with LGBTQIA+ folks that make it even more awesome.”  So much to love.

Cassidy is in the mold of a Harlequin Presents hero, a high-powered New York lawyer that works hard and plays harder.  She wears exquisitely tailored suits by day and plows through a large swath through the NY lesbian scene by night. Katie, on the other hand, has become unmoored from her social network after her engagement is broken off by her cheating fiancee Paul.  She pulls herself together to do the lawyer thing and ends up in a boardroom negotiating with Cassidy, another firm’s counsel.  Their immediate connection makes Katie wonder if she’s ever truly known herself, while Cassidy wonders why she can’t toss Katie aside like her other lovers.

So we have an alpha heroine, another heroine that wants more from life, glamorous work in a stunning city, topped off with a meet-cute.  Straight-talking best friend? Check. Romantic weekend getaway? Check. Two people falling in love, both because and in spite of their best efforts? Check and check.

It reads fast, is perfectly plotted, and kept me invested in the love story throughout.  The characters are well-rounded and have fully-realized motivations, and there’s no Big Misunderstanding that makes me want to smack a heroine on the upside of the head.  Katie and Cassidy’s love is earned, and it is delicious.

The writing is good, too:

Katie had never been a fantasizer of any kind.  She was more of a planner, a doer. She was a pleaser of others – not one for exploring self-pleasure or whatever….

But Cassidy was hot. And the only other women Katie ever thought of as hot were the ones she wanted to be. Not do. Be.

She could almost see the other photos in a family album somewhere, of the two of them bullet-belted, toting rifles, flashing huge grins over some enormous dead animal. They were the kind of guys Cassidy would cross the street to avoid because her intolerance of them was palpable, yes, but also in fear they’d attack her for sport, too, if she came too close.

I love When Katie Met Cassidy and hope Perri keeps writing books in this vein – brava.

Thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

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Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag

Translated by Srinath Perur

30267604A young man’s close-knit family is nearly destitute when his uncle founds a successful spice company, changing their fortunes overnight. As they move from a cramped, ant-infested shack to a larger house on the other side of Bangalore, and try to adjust to a new way of life, the family dynamic begins to shift. Allegiances realign; marriages are arranged and begin to falter; and conflict brews ominously in the background.

Elegantly written and punctuated by moments of unexpected warmth and humor, Ghachar Ghochar is a quietly enthralling, deeply unsettling novel about the shifting meanings—and consequences—of financial gain in contemporary India.

Review:

This book has been on my radar for a while so when it was longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award I was happy to pick it up on audio.

Ghachar Ghochar may be short, clocking in at 128 pages, but it packs a punch. The history and current circumstance of a rags-to-riches family is built in layers.  Mosaic, non-linear chapters give the sense that something is going on here, and Shanbhag leaves spaces for your mind to fill with the most diabolical possibilities. I blew through the book and thought about it for days.

On one hand I’m glad I listened to the audio, as the male narrator has the accents and pronunciation firmly in hand.  The male voices are especially varied and fun to listen to. On the other hand there are times I feel the prose would pop even more on a page than in my ears, and the narrator only had one female voice that he pitched up and down for different characters.

Overall a very good read, one I may find myself returning to in print form.

To Have and to Hold by Tamryn Eradani (Enchanting Encounters #2)

 

40236108Following the success of Project: Notice Me, Kyle and Aidan are now in a three-month extension of their play. If three months wasn’t so short, then it would be everything Kyle wants.

They’ve been together long enough to meet each other’s friends and to try new things. Kyle only hopes that at the end of the three months, he isn’t the only one who wants more.

Review:

I love the first book of this series, To Seek and to Find, because it’s BDSM erotica that is grounded in reality.  Members of the club Enchanting Encounters form a loving community of kinksters and I was so happy to rejoin them.

Just as in book one we follow Kyle and Aidan, who have decided that their two week-old relationship deserves a three month extension.  They’re still figuring out what they like, visiting each other’s apartments for the first time, and passing muster with best friends and neighbors.

I really like the BDSM itself.  The meaning Kyle’s cuffs take on, conversations in the club, a rope bondage scene with Kyle’s neighbor – I’m here for all of it.  Some are carryovers from and callbacks to the first book and I like how the narrative thread isn’t being dropped.  People at the club, in particular, are being fleshed out and I hope they’ll get their own stories going forward.

The sex is sweet and scenes varied, but there’s precious little plot holding them together.  I’m glad there’s no Big Misunderstanding, but I wanted a bit more there there.  New chapters often start with a jump in time and change of place that left me at sea. And some things just didn’t make sense – Aidan lives in a duplex supplied by his employer but the neighbors have free run of his kitchen for reasons I can’t discern.

If you don’t like the third person present you may be put off but it doesn’t bother me.  Despite the more objective standpoint, though, we never get deep into Aidan’s head.  I didn’t mind it for the first book – a touch of mystery! room to grow! – but I’m having a hard time connecting to our Dom hero without it.

All in all a decent if slightly slumpy second book in the series.  That being said there’s a teaser for book three and I like the direction Eradani is headed.

Thanks to NineStar Press and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

36142487Six years ago, Moss Jefferies’ father was murdered by an Oakland police officer. Along with losing a parent, the media’s vilification of his father and lack of accountability has left Moss with near crippling panic attacks.

Now, in his sophomore year of high school, Moss and his fellow classmates find themselves increasingly treated like criminals by their own school. New rules. Random locker searches. Constant intimidation and Oakland Police Department stationed in their halls. Despite their youth, the students decide to organize and push back against the administration.

When tensions hit a fever pitch and tragedy strikes, Moss must face a difficult choice: give in to fear and hate or realize that anger can actually be a gift.

Review:

An amazing gut punch of a book.  Heads up – Oshiro faces police brutality (including murder by cop) straight on.

The good:

  • The author is queer, Latinx, and lives in Oakland where the story takes place, so all kinds of own voices representation.
  • Overall the range of rep is as wide as can be – black, brown, Latinx, queer (including bisexual, gay, lesbian, trans, ace, and nonbinary), undocumented immigrant, and adoption (specifically interracial adoption).  One character uses a wheelchair, another has a chronic invisible illness, another wears a hijab. There’s rep for anxiety and mental illness as well.
  • Specifically in regard to a nonbinary character, I love that Oshiro describes them in such a way that there is no clue what their assigned gender at birth was, or what gender people perceive them to be.  It’s pure – they are them, and that’s just how they want to be.
  • I had my heart ripped out and stomped on in the best way.  It almost seems dystopian in a “this can’t be real” sense, but then you think about news you’ve seen recently and you realize it’s happening right now.
  • The writing is solid.  I believe all of these characters as people, and even though there are a ton of secondary characters I was able to keep them straight.  Many got a turn in the sun and a chance to show their awesomeness.
  • And the themes – the power of family, the power of friends, the power of gathering, the power of women in making change, the power of teenagers, the power of love.  The power of saying their names.

My brain is still wrapping itself around this one so I’m having trouble finding more to say – just know that Anger is a Gift is amazing.

Thanks to Tor Teen and Netgalley for providing a review copy.

The Theory of Attraction by Delphine Dryden (Science of Temptation #1)

13646578Many thanks to Sarah Wendell on the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast for recommending this book as “nerd BDSM erotica”, which sets my little heart aflame.  I read it in one gulp – not hard considering it’s 136 pages, but still.  Hot.

And with rep!  It’s not explicitly stated but Ivan appears to be neuroatypical.  He’s a genius with science and computers but the ‘rules’ of human relationships are harder for him.  He has a high stakes event coming up where he needs to smooze with potential donors so he asks his next door neighbor, Camilla, for help.  She’s had a crush on him for a while now so when their get togethers start looking like dates sparks fly.

Many BDSM romance heroines know they’re submissive and are looking for scene experience and the Dom of their dreams.  That’s flipped here – Camilla has no idea what BDSM is, just that she likes what dominant Ivan does in the bedroom. His personality meshes well with being a Dom and the resulting scenes are delish.

Dryden has the plot firmly in hand and fits the novella length well but man, I wanted to see more of this couple.  It looks like the other books in the series are similarly short so I may just have to binge read them instead. 🙂

 

Undiscovered by Sara Humphreys (Amoveo Rising #1)

30612657Review:

I downloaded this on a whim after a stressful day at work – dragon romance where the hero and heroine meet in their dreams? Yes, please.

It’s a good thing I gulped Undiscovered down in 24 hours because the more you think about it the less sense it makes.  Zander and Zed are identical twins and dragon shifters who were cursed 500 years ago.  Zander, cursed to be immortal and human, is running up against a hard deadline to free Zed, cursed to remain a dragon hibernating deep in the earth.  Zander and heroine Rena meet in the dreamrealm and he realizes she is Zed’s fated mate.  Zander takes it upon himself to take her to the cave he’s sleeping in to break the curse, but ends up falling in love along the way.

In general it makes sense but the details don’t add up.  In chapter one we’re told that the curse can only be broken by “an act of pure, unselfish love” but there isn’t one.  Some things that happen in the dreamrealm carry over to the real world directly but others, like Rena dreaming she’s in a fiery inferno each night, don’t.  And the big problem that we’re told will happen when Zed awakens… doesn’t.  He literally can’t remember what happened right before the curse was placed so no harm, no foul yay.

~eye roll~

Characterization is thin on the ground, as well.  For example, I wondered why a bunch of shapeshifters at the ranch are assumed to be a completely benevolent bunch.  We don’t know these guys from Adam and Zander doesn’t trust them, so why does Rena fall in so easily?  After I finished I found out that these are HEA couples from Humphreys’ Amoveo Legend series, so I guess she didn’t feel the need to explain who they are.  It’s annoying if, like me, you’re coming at the series fresh.

So while Undiscovered was a quick, diverting read it irks the more I think about it.  It’s the only book in the series for now but I can’t imagine continuing.

 

Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls

31979077It all starts with the radio. Dorothy’s husband, Fred, has left for work, and she is at the kitchen sink washing the dishes, listening to classical music. Suddenly, the music fades out and a soft, close, dreamy voice says, “Don’t worry, Dorothy.”

A couple weeks later, there is a special interruption in regular programming. The announcer warns all listeners of an escaped sea monster. The beast—who was captured six months earlier by a team of scientists—is said to possess incredible strength and to be considered extremely dangerous.

That afternoon, the seven-foot-tall lizard man walks through Dorothy’s kitchen door. She is frightened at first, but there is something attractive about the monster. The two begin a tender, clandestine affair, and no one, not even Dorothy’s husband or her best friend, seems to notice.

Review:

This is a weird book for me to review.  Part of that is because frankly, it’s a weird book.  A six foot seven lizard man shows up in Dorothy’s life, sweeps her off her feet, and… things… start to happen.

The writing itself is wonderful.  You can get a feel for Ingalls’ satire and wit from the very first lines:

Fred forgot three things in a row before he reached the front door on his way to work… He dithered for a few more minutes, patting his pockets and wondering whether he ought to take an umbrella.  She told him the answers to all his questions and slipped in several more of her own: would he need the umbrella if he had the car, did he really think it felt like rain?  If his car had that funny noise, couldn’t he take the bus instead, and had he found the other umbrella yet?  It must be at the office somewhere; it was a nice telescoping one and she suggested that someone else had walked off with it.

The first half, with the surreal meeting of housewife and lizard man, went down easy.  The second half, on the other hand, made me uneasy.  Prior events are called into question and you’re left wondering what to believe.  That’s fine, but either way it doesn’t change my perceptions about the characters much.  So let’s chalk Mrs. Caliban up as a “…huh.”  It may be a good idea to revisit it in 10 or 20 years to see if I feel the same way.

To Seek and to Find by Tamryn Eradani

38119634“Project: Notice Me” is a win-win for Kyle. He’ll do a series of demonstrations at the club and have a good time with people he knows and the fledging Doms who are new to the scene and looking for encouragement from an experienced Sub. And maybe along the way, he’ll attract the attention of the new Dom at the club, the one with terrible taste in fashion, but who has the most intense focus Kyle has ever seen. He wants the entirety of the man’s attention on him. The clothes are optional.

Review:

A hefty chunk of BDSM erotica is wish fulfillment to the exclusion of reality.  A hot millionaire has a complete dungeon club in his basement? Sure, why not. A Dom can tell who’s a sub just by looking?  All over the place.  There’s a range from harmless to egregious but in each case reality is shoved off to the side.

To Seek and to Find, on the other hand, strikes me as utterly real.  The first BDSM scene is the lowest key public bondage I’ve read – Kyle lies down while a rope corset and halter is put on him.  No suspension, no gag, just rope on his torso.  Even this, super simple and basic compared to other erotica, makes Kyle dip deep into subspace with repercussions that last into the next day.

There are bunches of little things that make me wonder why I haven’t read them before.  For example, Kyle subs in a guided scene for a new Dom.  In many books that’d be it, but here we see the pre-scene discussion over coffee, guidance during the scene itself, and a post-mortem the next day to go over what worked and what didn’t.  These all strike me as Very Good Ideas, and give the impression that Eradani knows what she’s talking about.

Let’s not forget the romance – haltingly sweet (in a good way), with good communication, hot sex, and room to grow.  To Seek and to Find has a happily-ever-after-for-now ending and I can’t wait to see how Kyle and Aiden grow as a couple.  A great read even if it’s a little out of your sweet spot.

Arm Candy by Jessica Lemmon (Real Love #2)

34369582Davis: I’ve had my eye on Grace Buchanan for a while now. Unlike the bubbly blondes I usually date, the feisty, flame-haired bartender both intrigues and bewilders me. There’s only one problem: She hates me. But when Grace bets me that I can’t get a date with a non-blonde if my life depends on it, I’m determined to prove her wrong by landing the ultimate non-blonde: her.

Grace: I like giving Davis a hard time, and he’s kind of cute in his suit and tie—if you’re into that kind of thing. Anyway, I don’t care how many blondes he takes home . . . until one of them sidles up to him in my bar. Nuh-uh. But after my little bet with Davis backfires, our first date lands us in the sack. So does the second. And the third. Neither of us wants more than the best sex of our lives. The trouble is, it’s not a question of what I want. It’s what I need. And what I need is Davis.

Review:

I was looking for a fun contemporary romance and this fit the bill. Both the hero and heroine are serial daters who drop people before they get too attached – Davis because he was abandoned at the altar, Grace because her divorced parents have warned her away from marriage. A friendly bet turns into sparks and the couple has to decide if they’re willing to go all in on their relationship.

The good:

  • Davis is an odd mix of alpha and beta hero that I haven’t seen before.  He works in finance and makes tons of money but after work he wants nothing more than to make dinner while nursing a beer.
  • Despite a black moment near the end the story is relatively angst-free.
  • Grace knows what she wants and goes for it even if other people in her life don’t get it.
  • I wouldn’t go as far to call this romance a comedy but it is light-hearted.

The not-so-good:

  • Grace knows her own mind until a single conversation late in the book that brings on our couple’s black moment.
  • It’s totally her fault, and she realizes that, but Davis ends up apologizing anyway, even though he acted rationally and did nothing wrong.  Grah.
  • To make up for angst some drama is thrown in to move the plot forward but it doesn’t click with me.

Overall Arm Candy is light and enjoyable enough but not particularly memorable.


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24600366 Trade Me by Courtney Milan

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

33815781Agreeing to go to a wedding with a guy she gets stuck with in an elevator is something Alexa Monroe wouldn’t normally do. But there’s something about Drew Nichols that’s too hard to resist.

After Alexa and Drew have more fun than they ever thought possible, Drew has to fly back to Los Angeles and his job as a pediatric surgeon, and Alexa heads home to Berkeley, where she’s the mayor’s chief of staff. Too bad they can’t stop thinking about the other…

They’re just two high-powered professionals on a collision course toward the long distance dating disaster of the century–or closing the gap between what they think they need and what they truly want…

Review:

There’s a lot to like in the first half but as the book went on I got more annoyed and ended up disappointed.

The good:

  • Interracial romance written by a person of color – totally my thing.
  • Both the hero and heroine are awesome at their jobs, and there’s no throwing away of a career for the sake of love.
  • I love marriages of convenience in historical romance so this “date of convenience” is just the thing for me.
  • The banter is on point and we get to see it with different people from the couple, friends/co-workers, and family.
  • The fact that Alexa is black and Drew is white doesn’t matter to them, but there are parts of society that do notice.  Drew is clueless but Alexa points out troublesome stuff and offers a subtle education.

The neither-good-nor-bad:

  • The sex is shown through foreplay but fades to black once a condom comes out.  I like my novels more steamy; your mileage may vary.
  • I had medical nitpicks but most novels written by a non-doctor will have something off, so whatevs.

The not-so-good:

  • The amazing communication that kicks off the book devolves into a Big Misunderstanding that had me pulling my hair out.  How could two people who were so good at talking suddenly suck at it?  GAH.
  • While the first part of the book reads like a single title romance (better writing, more complicated story for its 300+ pages) as it wears on it devolves into a 200-page category romance.  Sure, there’s a few more characters and scenes but the resolution and Big Mis were a disappointment.

While The Wedding Date has a lot to like early on the resolution hurt my overall enjoyment.  The book has a lot of early buzz, though, so I may be an outlier!

Thanks to Berkley and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.