A Fare to Remember by Opal Carew

29939400Stevie has given up on love and just wants a simple life driving her taxi. But her plans are turned upside down when gorgeous billionaire Reid Jacobs steps into the back of her cab. Commanding and mysterious, he’s a temptation she can’t resist—and soon their torrid one night stand leads to an intoxicating affair.

In Reid’s strong arms, Stevie finds herself falling harder than she ever imagined. But is she ready to trust again? And when his business partner falls for Stevie, will it change everything? One thing is clear: she’s about to take the ride of her life….

Review:

There are so many problems here but first,

The good-ish:

  • The rich/poor trope gets circumvented, releasing some oh-no-this-can’t-work tension.
  • The writing holds its own.

The not-so-good:

  • Cab driver picks up a hot fare, drives to a deserted alley, and has unprotected sex with him.  In the entirety of the book there isn’t a single mention of condoms, birth control, or health status, even when a third is brought into the relationship.  When a book is set in the modern day real world completely ignoring STDs and pregnancy is at best unreasonable, and at worst irresponsible.  I’m not asking for a lot – a mention of a clean test, a wrapper crinkle – but give me something.
  • Amazing sex equals instant love.  Never mind that getting to know you stuff or talking about your childhood – love is transmitted from the penis to the vagina, apparently.
  • …and not from penis to penis.  A second man is brought in and is sexual with both Stevie and Reid, but his feelings are never considered.  He’s treated like a human sex toy – nice to have around, but not a member of the relationship.  Not cool.
  • BDSM elements are brought in carelessly, without a warning or a safe word.  And not just light bondage – a ball gag, people. No.  No no.
  • While the sex is hot some of it defies physics.  At one point I thought, “no way is all of that fitting in there that easily.”
  • The Big Misunderstanding is a product of the heroine being idiotic.

All in all – grah.

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Trade Me by Courtney Milan (Cyclone #1)

24600366Tina Chen just wants a degree and a job, so her parents never have to worry about making rent again. She has no time for Blake Reynolds, the sexy billionaire who stands to inherit Cyclone Systems. But when he makes an offhand comment about what it means to be poor, she loses her cool and tells him he couldn’t last a month living her life.

To her shock, Blake offers her a trade: She’ll get his income, his house, his car. In exchange, he’ll work her hours and send money home to her family. No expectations; no future obligations.

But before long, they’re trading not just lives, but secrets, kisses, and heated nights together. No expectations might break Tina’s heart…but Blake’s secrets could ruin her life.

Review:

I gotta be honest – I wasn’t exactly looking forward to reading this book.  Contemporary romance isn’t a wheelhouse for me so I’m picky about tropes, and rich buy/poor gal is pretty low down my list.

But I really want to read the second book in the series so I sucked it up and I’m glad I did.

The good:

  • The romance is both interracial and intercultural, and as someone in such a relationship myself I appreciate the representation.
  • Tina’s roommate is a trans woman and while she doesn’t play a huge role in this book she’s the heroine of the next.  Mixing LGBTQIA* couples with cis couples in a series is awesome and I cannot wait to start book two.
  • Blake is a good guy and he models good behavior in a heartwarming way.  When Tina says that she’s scared she’ll be come attached to him he respects that.  He doesn’t say “don’t be scared, baby” or “trust me,” but comes back with the ideal:

    Is there anything I can do to make you feel safe?

    People need to hear this to know it’s the right thing to say. So glad it’s here.

  • The rich/poor thing doesn’t get overly crazy or annoying.
  • I also liked the small flipped trope that I’m not going to go into because spoilers.
  • Tina’s mom is hilarious.

    Good thing he’s not your boyfriend, though, Tina.  He’s so skinny, I think a condom would pop right off.

The not-so-good:

  • There’s a part near the end where I could see exactly what was coming and the dread nearly did me in.
  • I started to lose interest when rich people problems came up, especially near the end.

A solid romance that overcomes some of the limitations of its tropes.  I may just have to start book two about… now.

Filthy Beautiful Love by Kendall Ryan (Filthy Beautiful Lies #2)

22673915I never expected to watch Sophie walk away. She was mine. I would own her. She just didn’t know it yet. New goal: Seal the deal and rock her world so thoroughly she never wanted to leave again.

Highly sexual and emotionally charged, Filthy Beautiful Love is the provocative conclusion to Filthy Beautiful Lies.

Review:

So, all the stuff that I was afraid would go wrong in book one? It all went wrong here in book two.

Every female character is a threat to Sophie – she’s wearing a lot of make up to our casual party, she must want to steal away my man! That other woman made a weird comment… she must have been intimate with him in the past! Sophie is possessive in the worst, paranoid way.

The way protection is handled is plain awful. To be clear – I don’t mind it when the couple decides not to use a condom when there’s trust and birth control on board. I don’t even mind the ‘crap, I didn’t use a condom’ if it’s recognized and addressed. But this, this I cannot stand:

“No, no condom. I want to feel you. Please, Colton.”
His gaze snaps to mine and I can read the indecision in his eyes. “Are you sure?”
I nod. “Yes, just take me.”
I’m sure he knows I’m not on any birth control, but I can see the exact moment he decides it doesn’t matter.

I could even forgive that if the chance of pregnancy is owned later, but it’s blithely ignored. GRAH. Other rage-inducing lines:

“I want your virginity, sweetness. I want total claim over you. It’s the only way to show me that you’re really here for me.”

And because English:

I see the vein throb at the base of his throat. “Good girl,” he admonishes.

Secondary characters are just as thin as before, including the presumptive hero for the next book. The plot starts off okay – a couple getting back together by overcoming trust issues – but at the end we’re pinballed from one happening to another. It’s not conflict, it’s a sad thing and a cute thing and a grief thing with sex scenes liberally interspersed.

All in all the book is spare and petty and made me mad. I had much hope after the unconventional opening of Filthy Beautiful Lies but Ryan didn’t follow through. At least it reads quickly. ~sigh~

Filthy Beautiful Lies by Kendall Ryan (Filthy Beautiful Lies #1)

The jacket copy is misleading (the hero is not that cold or calculating), but here goes:

29412025I have no idea why she auctioned off her virginity for a cool mill. Regardless, I’m now the proud new owner of a perfectly intact hymen. A lot of good that will do me. I have certain tastes, certain sexual proclivities. My cock is a bit more discriminatory than most. And training a virgin takes finesse and patience – both of which I lack.

Sophie Evans has been backed into a corner. With her sister’s life hanging in the balance, the only choice is to claw her way out, even if that means selling her virginity to the highest bidder at an exclusive erotic club. When Colton Drake takes her home, she quickly learns nothing is as it seems with this beautifully troubled man. Being with him poses challenges she never expected, and pushes her to want things she never anticipated.

First things first – this is not a 300 page book. Sure, the print copy has that many pages, but the margins are generous to say the least.  On my ereader it felt like 150 pages. And to top it off, this is only half a story, ending in a cliffhanger. Not a ‘oo, one problem solved, another arises’ cliffhanger, but a ‘oo, things are finally getting interesting… whad’ya mean I’m at 100%?!?’ cliffhanger. Gah.

I originally picked it up because I like romance that pushes the envelope, and I wanted to see how a hero and heroine who “meet” at an auction can fall in love. I thought it would be heavy with BDSM but there are only overtones of power exchange. Sophie has good reasons to sell her virginity (to pay for sister’s cancer treatment), and Drake has reasons of his own for hiring her for six months. While the setup is a recipe for non-con or dubious consent sex the couple takes things slow, and Drake is loathe to take something that is not freely given. In that way the avant garde-ness of the plot fades out rather quickly.

The emotional arc is realistic, especially with Sophie. She’s understandably timid to start and takes time to get used to the situation, and when she does she’s good about asking for things she wants and communicating with Drake. He’s a bit more cagey, especially where past relationships are concerned, but there is no Big Misunderstanding.

Most of the action takes places in LA, with the secondary characters being shallow people in designer clothes whose only worries involve who is dating whom. The only way I can tell Drake’s brothers apart is that one is more explicit about the tail he chases, and the other women with speaking lines are his former or wannabe paramours. I didn’t notice a single person of color or other minority character.

So, is the book enjoyable? Hard to say, seeing that this volume only covers half of the story. ~fume~ I will be reading on, if only to see what happens to the main couple, so we’ll see.

Managed by Kristen Callihan (VIP #2)

30325011I thought I’d hit the jackpot when I was upgraded to first class on my flight to London.

That is until HE sat next to me. Gabriel Scott: handsome as sin, cold as ice. Nothing and no one gets to him. Ever. He’s a legend in his own right, the manager of the biggest rock band in the world, and an arrogant ass who looks down his nose at me.

I thought I’d give him hell for one, long flight. I didn’t expect to like him. I didn’t expect to want him. But the biggest surprise? He wants me too. Only in a way I didn’t see coming.

Review:

Much like the previous book Idol, the romance in Managed is sweet and comforting. It wraps you in a big fluffy blanket, brings you a cup of tea, and says yes, love is this awesome. Go ahead, roll around in it. Enjoy the warm fuzzies.

One of the many things I love is that the relationship between Gabriel and Sophie is stripped down to its core. They’re attracted to each other, but for a variety of (good!) reasons, they’re not acting on it. Instead of the common “I can’t love you because I’m damaged!” it’s “I think I’m falling in love with you but that doesn’t work well considering the situation we’re in, and I respect you too much to force myself on you.” As a result what could easily be an instalust storyline fits into a friends-to-lovers paradigm. It’s also the longest and perhaps most delicious slow burn I’ve ever read.

Callihan keeps that burn going by masterfully playing with the tension, using small events as release valves to both blow off steam and show us that these two people are hot for each other and the status quo won’t last forever.

And the banter! Gabriel’s British-ness highlights his dry and wry humor, and the American Sophie gives as good as she gets.

“Seriously, you look grumpy even for you. Who pissed you off?” I grin at him. “Do I have to break some skulls?”

He finally huffs out a small laugh, his shoulders easing a fraction. “I can see it now, you nipping at someone’s ankle like an angry Pomeranian.”

“So you’re familiar with my methods.”

There are bigger themes beyond the romance – found family, loyalty, and what it means to be wealthy not only with money but also with friends and time. There is so much to love here. The first 85% of the book was a solid four star read for me.

But then. An ex introduced earlier stirs up trouble, just as you expected. Then there’s a Big Misunderstanding that drives me bonkers. I know that the couple needs some adversity to reach a satisfying happily ever after, but does it have to be so inane? I pushed through but it killed off all those warm fuzzies.

A moment of silence for the fuzzies.

While the ending is unfortunate I truly loved the vast majority of this book, and it will be a go-to comfort read when I need a literary hug. A big recommend to lovers of slow burns.

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

31447601It’s the start of Jordan Sun’s junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts. Unfortunately, she’s an Alto 2, which—in the musical theatre world—is sort of like being a vulture in the wild: She has a spot in the ecosystem, but nobody’s falling over themselves to express their appreciation. So it’s no surprise when she gets shut out of the fall musical for the third year straight.

Then the school gets a mass email: A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshiped … revered … all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

Review:

Holy cow, I love this book.

The good:

  • First and foremost, everything rings true, from the overarching issues (race, gender, class, identity) to small details (what it’s like to be part of a music group, theatre department politics).  Some of it is from the author’s own experience, some of it is from careful research and consideration, and all of it is appreciated.
  • The intersectionality is real.  In the first chapter Jordan doesn’t get cast in the school musical and asks the director why.  All the options run through her head – is it because I’m not white?  Or because I’m taller than the prospective leading men?  This feeling, this ‘what’s the strike against me this time’, is real for many and I’m so happy to see it addressed on the page.
  • Likewise all the gender issues are thoughtfully and thoroughly considered.  I won’t go into detail for fear of spoiling things, so here’s a quote after Jordan starts dressing as a guy:

    I’d set down the burdens of being a girl, unstrapped them one by one and left them on the roadside, but my shoulders didn’t feel any lighter.  They were carrying different, unfamiliar weights now.  As I stood there in that derelict husk of a theater, I felt like I’d gotten lost in between my lives, and the road ahead looked long and strange and poorly lit.

  • There are subtle pokes at the reader to check in with themselves and see how they’re doing regarding these issues.

    With so many queer kids at Kensington, people sometimes got weirdly comfortable, like they had a free pass to say anything they wanted about sexuality.  I guess it was tempting to stick a rainbow-colored “Ally” pin on your backpack and call it a day, as if that were the endpoint, not the starting line.

    Word.

  • Redgate name drops songs – this is a book about a cappella, after all – but none of them are real.  It’s genius.  The story will never date itself by the cultural references within, ensuring that people reading it even twenty years from now will feel a minimal amount of generational whiplash.
  • The plot never stops moving, the banter is fun, you can feel the found family that forms within the Sharps, and you watch Jordan discover who they are.  It’s a delightful journey that I look forward to revisiting.

The only not-so-good thing I can think of is that I was shipping a different couple.  That’s it.  So minor.

In sum, Noteworthy is a diverse, inclusive YA novel that’s compulsively readable and a whole lot of fun.  And it’s full of a cappella!  What more could you want?

Thanks to Amulet Books and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

Coffee Boy by Austin Chant

32146161After graduation, Kieran expected to go straight into a career of flipping burgers—only to be offered the internship of his dreams at a political campaign. But the pressure of being an out trans man in the workplace quickly sucks the joy out of things, as does Seth, the humorless campaign strategist who watches his every move.

Soon, the only upside to the job is that Seth has a painful crush on their painfully straight boss, and Kieran has a front row seat to the drama. But when Seth proves to be as respectful and supportive as he is prickly, Kieran develops an awkward crush of his own—one which Seth is far too prim and proper to ever reciprocate.

Review:

With this book I realized I have a new wheelhouse, a genre I can’t get enough of.  I’m still testing the edges to see how broad this love goes but for now I’m calling it own voices BTQIA* romance, as in LGBTQIA* without the L and G.  Don’t get me wrong, I like lesbian and gay romance! It just doesn’t thrill me as much as the rest of the acronym and who knows, I may be adding or dropping parts as I read more widely.  Let’s break it down as it stands:

own voices – fiction “about diverse characters written by authors from that same diverse group” (definition by the person who started the hashtag, Corinne Duyvis)
B – bisexual
T – trans
Q – (gender)queer
I – intersex
A – asexual
* – other gender and sexual identities not covered above

Coffee Boy is own voices, trans romance.  Kieran is an out trans man that runs into difficulties because he doesn’t quite pass.  His hair is long and curly, and his looks scramble the brains of his new coworkers.

“Kieran, you are the administrative intern, aren’t you?”

“That’s me.”

“Oh, that’s so funny.” Marie beams.  “Marcus thought you were a boy.”…

“He wasn’t wrong.”

We watch Kieran as he manages this new space and crushes on his boss, Seth.  Seth’s heart belongs to another, though, and the romance is watching the pair realize that love is right there in front of them.  The plot and page count match wonderfully, and while I was sad to see the story end it’s a sweet finish that left me smiling.

Along the way we see what it’s like to move through the world as someone that’s transgender.  Kiernan faces different issues depending on where he is and what the world expects of him.  We see how hurtful clueless people can be, as well as how allies can misplace their efforts.  We also see what good communication regarding gender looks like, often from Seth.  He asks the right questions, respectful questions, and accepts the answers calmly and completely.  Because when someone tells you who he is, you listen, you know?

While reading I thought the narrative would have been better served in the first person, with Kiernan being the I.  But then I realized – doing that would strip the text of the all important pronouns.  The reader needs to hear Kiernan being called he and him so the misplaced ‘she’ has all the impact it should.

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed Coffee Boy and in the process found a writer and publisher (NineStar Press) to follow in my new-found wheelhouse.  Huzzah!

Love and Gravity by Samantha Sotto

31564042Andrea Louviere is seven years old the first time he appears. While she’s alone in her bedroom, practicing her beloved cello, the light shivers and a crack forms in the wall. Through the crack, she sees a candle, a window, a desk—and a boy. Though no sound travels through the wall, the boy clearly sees Andrea, too. And then, just as quickly as it opened, the crack closes, and he vanishes.

Over the years, summoning the bright, magnetic boy becomes something of an obsession for Andrea. Then, on her seventeenth birthday, she receives a three-hundred-year-old love letter from Isaac Newton. Andrea knows that Isaac will change the world with his groundbreaking discoveries; the letter tells Andrea that she will change him.

As Isaac’s letters intensify in passion and intimacy, Andrea grows determined to follow his clues to their shared destiny—despite a burgeoning romance in the present. Only when she discovers the way into Isaac’s time does Andrea realize that she faces a heartbreaking decision: between what was . . . and what might be.

Review:

I loved and was flummoxed by this book in turns but it always, always kept me reading.  I finished it in less than 24 hours so while I have Things to say know that Love and Gravity is hard to put down.

Also be rest assured that I’m not going to spoil anything… here.  If you’d like to read a more detailed, spoiler-filled version of this review head over to the goodreads version where I give those spoiler tags a run for their money.

Now that that’s out of the way…

~takes a deep breath~

Wow.  What a book.

The good:

  • Time travel and time slip plots can get hairy as far as sequence of events go, but Sotto keeps events mostly on the rails. (Caveats below.)  Each chapter starts by telling us which character we’re following, Andrea or Issac, and places them in time by date and/or age.  In the narrative we’re reminded which years are important, so even when the chronology jumps around we can keep things basically straight.
  • The cast is small so there aren’t too many people to keep track of.  We watch them all grow over time in strikingly realistic ways.
  • Yea for epistolary (ish) novels!
  • If you don’t know much about Issac Newton’s life you’ll find yourself going down delightful wikipedia rabbit holes out of curiosity.
  • Even when things are crazy, even when you’re yelling “What?” and “How?!” at the pages, you will be compelled to read on.
  • Do you need a cathartic cry?  I hope you need a cathartic cry.

The neither-good-nor-bad:

  • This is a novel with a romance, not a romance novel.  If you know what that means then you know what I mean.

The not-so-good:

  • Anachronisms, we haz them.  Spoken British English in 1666 sounds a bit too close to modern American speech for my liking.  There are others but they have to go in the spoiler-ful review.
  • The curse of working in medicine is finding medical goofs in novels.  Won’t bother everyone, I’m sure, but I had to put down the book and vent to my partner before continuing.
  • Events and sequencing get more complicated by the end and I have the feeling that if I looked I would find something that doesn’t check out.  Sotto earned just enough of my trust for me to gloss over inconsistencies, and man there are a lot of balls in the air, but the nagging feeling that something is wrong won’t go away.
  • The whole book stemmed from a plot bunny in a chest, and at times it feels like revisionist history. Andrea is can be seen as a wish-fulfillment Mary Sue – Newton was a great guy and never got married, so let’s go back and put a woman in his life!
  • An apple or gravity reference is cute once or twice but there are so. many. I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes.

In sum my reading experience went like this:

Beginning – Ooo, interesting!  Tell me more.
Third of the way through – I’m not sure I’m on board but I want to see how you manage this…
Halfway point – Hello, anachronism.
Middle-ish – I saw this coming but what the hell was that?!
Last few chapters – ~sob~ No, I’m fine, it’s just that… ~sob~
End – ~runs to write review posthaste~

Idol by Kristen Callihan (VIP #1)

30288788I found Killian drunk and sprawled out on my lawn like some lost prince. With the face of a god and the arrogance to match, the pest won’t leave. Sexy, charming, and just a little bit dirty, he’s slowly wearing me down, making me crave more.

He could be mine if I dare to claim him. Problem is, the world thinks he’s theirs. How do you keep an idol when everyone is intent on taking him away?

As lead singer for the biggest rock band in the world, I lived a life of dreams. It all fell apart with one fateful decision. Now everything is in shambles.

Until Liberty. She’s grouchy, a recluse —and kind of cute. Scratch that. When I get my hands on her, she is scorching hot and more addictive than all the fans who’ve screamed my name.

The world is clamoring for me to get back on stage, but I’m not willing to leave her. I’ve got to find a way to coax the hermit from her shell and keep her with me. Because, with Libby, everything has changed. Everything.

Review:

Just what I needed, right when I needed it.

The good:

  • This novel is comforting, which I wasn’t expecting from a rock star novel.  Both leads are getting over something that happened earlier in the novel and they help each other through it with friendship and a healthy dose of comfort food.
  • I love the characters as people.  The cast list is small so we really get to know the minor characters, and every now and then a nugget of casually dropped information hints at awesomeness in future books.

    Suddenly I remember that the press has called Jax a devil in an angel’s body, and Killian an angel disguised as the devil.

  • There are some nice insights, too.

    I’m comfortable, but I don’t feel sexy.  That’s the thing no one ever tells you.  Sexy can be both a weapon and a wall of defense.

  • Liberty is unabashedly feminist and calls people on their bullshit – it’s glorious.
  • The sexual tension starts right away but is kept in check for a long time.  Feel the slow burn.  Love the slow burn.
  • We see what Killian’s celebrity means to Liberty, and how it could totally derail the relationship if they let it.  It may be a “fantasy” romance but reality still checks in.
  • The band is getting back together and the changes this time around are explored and embraced.
  • …which is a long-winded way to say awesome characterization all around.

The not-so-good:

  • The plot is highly predictable. There’s also some time jumps in the last quarter that feel too short for all the stuff that happens.
  • The sense of place is lacking, with Callihan leaning on famous locales so we fill in the details ourselves.

Idol is a big, warm hug of a romance when I needed exactly that.  Brava.

Her Halloween Treat by Tiffany Reisz (Men at Work #1)

29095423It was a devastating dirty trick—Joey Silvia just found out her boyfriend of two years is married. What. A. Dick. Joey knows her best chance to get over one guy is to get under another. Of course, heading home to her family’s remote cabin in Oregon poses some challenges in the “available men” department…until she discovers this cabin comes with its own hot handyman!

Holy crap, Chris Steffensen. When did her brother’s best friend turn into a hard-bodied pile of blond-bearded hotness? He’s the perfect Halloween treat—and a surprisingly dirty rebound guy. For a couple of weeks, anyway. Except that Chris has other ideas…like proving to Joey that this blast from the past is a whole lot more than a naughty Halloween hookup.

Review:

Reisz is one of my go-to authors and she delivers again with this category romance. Categories are shorter romances that are part of a line, a niche that is dominated by Harlequin.  They tend to be shorter, rarely topping 250 pages, and the lack of real estate means the story is concentrated on the couple and their developing love story.  Wendy the Super Librarian does a great job explaining the appeal over at Heroes and Heartbreakers.  Personally I like that they’re conveniently packaged, perfect for when my brain has scattered to the winds. (2016 – good riddance.)

Shorter books are a natural fit for Reisz, who has a habit of breaking up anything over 300 pages into smaller chunks.  The plot is tight, the characters are fully realized, and the sex is oh-so-hot.  I love that there are LGBT characters whose past struggles and current joys ring true.  Sometimes categories give me emotional whiplash when a character’s development is cut short but Reisz has all the beats covered.  Joey acts more rashly than I would at times, but given her circumstances it’s completely understandable.

I also like that Joey’s best friend is real-world wise, not parent-y or moral authority-y wise.  Here’s Kira when Joey laments that the last two years of her life have gone “down the toilet”.

“Look, I know breakups are hard.  And they’re ten times harder when somebody lies or cheats.  I know.  I’ve been there.  But Ben was not your whole life. You have a job you love that you kick ass at… You have friends – me, for example – and what more do you need than me?  And you live in fucking Honolulu, Hawaii, so close to the beach you can see actual whales from your apartment window.  Can you really tell me that’s all down the toilet?  Really?  Go look.  Go look in the toilet and tell me if you see any whales in it.”

“Kira…”

“Go. Look. For. Whales. In. Your. Toilet. Right. Now.”

All in all a hot, satisfying, quick hit of romance from the incomparable Reisz.