Dance with Me by Alexis Daria (Dance Off #2)

35832887Natasha Díaz is having a day. She’s trying to prove she can make it as a professional dancer, but when she comes home to find a hole in her ceiling and her bedroom flooded, she’s desperate enough to crash with the one guy she can’t quit.

Dimitri Kovalenko has never lived with a woman before. But when Tasha’s in need of a place to stay, he suggests she move in. Since their first dance, she’s never been far from his thoughts. Sure, she’s a pro and he’s one of her show’s judges, but they’re not currently filming, so no one needs to know.

When an injury forces Natasha to take it easy or risk her ability to dance, it’s his chance to show her that the rules have changed, and she can trust him with her heart.

Review:

In one line – “I really want to love this book because it’s so good but this particular collection of tropes is working against me, gaaaaah-”

It is good.  The storyline has much more angst than the first book, though, and that’s where you start to lose me.  If you don’t mind angst and (well explained!) miscommunication this is your jam.

The good:

  • The writing is solid and little things that sometimes fall by the wayside are perfectly in place.
  • The characterization is spun out slowly and realistically, aided by the duel points of view.
  • It’s a friends-with-benefits to lovers storyline, which I haven’t seen in quite this configuration before.
  • The baddie gets her due and ooo boy is it good.
  • Dimitri’s backstory is interesting and even fun in places.  Wait until you see what his breakout movie role was, bwahahahaha. 🙂
  • I love what Daria has to say about acceptance, the importance of friends, and the different ways one can be Latina.

The not-for-me:

  • Miscommunication is rife.  There are good reasons for it but my tolerance is pretty low.
  • One of the characters is always prepared to believe the worst and it drove me a bit nuts.  ‘This awful thing will totally happen, leading to this and that which mean ruin!’ No. Please breathe and think for a sec.
  • The reality show the series is based around is in the off season so there’s none of the associated happy crazy.  I don’t usually read contemporary romance and having something a bit outside of everyday real life makes it more interesting for me.

Even though this wasn’t the best book for me it’s still an easy recommend if your tastes run counter to mine.  I’m excited that Daria has more books planned in this universe, and a f/f relationship is teased in the prologue!  Love it.

Thanks to Swerve and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

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One Hot December by Tiffany Reisz (Men at Work #3)

29568847Never mess with a woman who carries a blowtorch in her backpack. Welder and artist Veronica “Flash” Redding’s playful sense of evil sometimes gets the better of her. Like when her insanely handsome, wealthy, suited-up boss gave her the most sensuously wicked night of her life…then dumped her. Yep, revenge is a dish best served hot.

Only Ian Asher isn’t quite letting Flash get away quite so easily. He’s not ready to forget the intensity between them. The searing heat when they touch. And the deliciously demanding control Ian wields in the bedroom. Now he has only the holidays to convince Flash that they belong together…and that even the most exquisite, broken things can be welded back together.

Review:

While I loved the first book in this series One Hot December was a so-so read for me.  The snark and fireworks I expect from Reisz are here but it’s not a solid story.

The good:

  • An own voices bisexual heroine, complete with spiky red hair and kick ass ink. Right on.
  • Flash is unapologetically strong and goes after what she wants.  As a welder at an all-male construction company she deals with a lot of crap but she gives as good as she gets.
  • The mental strain of dealing with prejudice and harassment in the workplace is explicitly covered.  Yes, Flash is doing a great job as a welder, but it saps her of the energy she needs to do her own metal art.  Changing jobs wouldn’t be giving in or giving up, it would be getting what she wants.
  • Feminism for the win.

    “He couldn’t date a professional welder when he worked as a teller at a bank.  His friends would never let him hear the end of it, he said.  He just couldn’t date a woman, no matter how hot – his words, not mine – who came off as more of a man than he did.  I said that was fine.  I didn’t want to date a guy who was less of a man than I was, either.  He called me a couple nice words after that and then he was gone.  Good riddance to him and his poor little ego.”

  • Everyone is reasonable and talks things out, from our couple to the hero’s father.  While there is a misunderstanding it’s legit and not even between the hero and heroine.
  • While Christmas is name checked and Hanukkah is a minor plot point it doesn’t feel like a “holiday romance”, which I really appreciate being agnostic myself.  And two religions mashed together in one book without feeling religious is pretty awesome.
  • Reisz’s snark is here in spades.

The not-so-good:

  • Said snark is of the shocking, no-filter variety, which isn’t everybody’s thing.
  • Flash and Ian have been lusting for each other since they met 18 months ago so we don’t see their relationship develop very much.  ‘I thought you hated me!’ ‘Nope, I love you!’ ‘Oh, good!’ ~sexy times~
  • Flash’s best friend is her downstairs neighbor, an elderly Jewish woman.  That is neat, but I don’t care for her role in the story.  Category romances often have a best friend that provides perspective and advice, but here it feels like allll advice, and of a motherly bent to boot.  I wasn’t sold on it.
  • There isn’t much of a plot.  Hero and heroine state that they’ve actually been in love all this time and… that’s about it.  I saw the misunderstanding from a hundred pages away so there was no suspense there, either.

A diverting read, but more enh than anything else.

The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay

34460584Mary Davies lives and works in Austin, Texas, as an industrial engineer. She has an orderly and productive life, a job and colleagues that she enjoys—particularly a certain adorable, intelligent, and hilarious consultant. But something is missing for Mary. When her estranged and emotionally fragile childhood friend Isabel Dwyer offers Mary a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in Bath, Mary reluctantly agrees to come along, in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways. But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes that she lives in Regency England.

Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this triangle works out their lives and hearts among a company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.

Review:

I love and respect Jane Austen as a literary figure but I have a confession to make – I haven’t read any of her books.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried! I’ve started Pride and Prejudice many times but haven’t gotten past page 30. Sigh.

That being said I love the Regency period so the idea of a “real” manor vacation is exactly my thing.  I like the way it was handled, too – technology is put into the background but not shunned all together.  A vacation spot that confiscates cell phones probably wouldn’t be popular, you know?  The days are filled with as many Regency activities as the guests can handle with chances to tap out when needed.  The pragmatism kept any nitpicking part of my brain at bay.

Even with the interesting setting the characters take center stage. People grow and change and everyone is fleshed out from the leads down to the manor maid.  While Austen is discussed a lot over the course of the story I felt like I was able to keep up.  Some references went over my head but it didn’t get in the way of the story.  Needless to say, Austen fans will have more to dig into. The writing is solid but not stylistically notable, and the plot pulled me through no problem.

The more you love (and know) Austen the more you’ll get out of The Austen Escape, but even if you’re a relative know-nothing like me you can enjoy the ride.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

Hold Me by Courtney Milan (Cyclone #2)

24348034Jay na Thalang is a demanding, driven genius. He doesn’t know how to stop or even slow down. The instant he lays eyes on Maria Lopez, he knows that she is a sexy distraction he can’t afford. He’s done his best to keep her at arm’s length, and he’s succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

Maria has always been cautious. Now that her once-tiny, apocalypse-centered blog is hitting the mainstream, she’s even more careful about preserving her online anonymity. She hasn’t sent so much as a picture to the commenter she’s interacted with for eighteen months—not even after emails, hour-long chats, and a friendship that is slowly turning into more. Maybe one day, they’ll meet and see what happens.

But unbeknownst to them both, Jay is Maria’s commenter. They’ve already met. They already hate each other. And two determined enemies are about to discover that they’ve been secretly falling in love…

Review:

I had such high hopes for this book but I didn’t like it as much as the first in the series, Trade Me. There’s still a lot to like, though!

The good:

  • The heroine is trans and that fact is not the reason for the novel existing. The focus is on the romance, as it should be.  Yea!
  • The hero is bi (or perhaps pansexual, no label is attached), there are more people of color than white, and the author is a woman of color.
  • Jay sees how he was a crappy ally of women in science and does a little work fixing that.

The not-as-good:

  • The lawyer-ly logical banter of the first book turns into science banter, and even though I grok most of it I don’t find it charming.  Your mileage may vary.
  • It’s a hate to love story, but instead of growing attraction Jay’s attitude changes on a dime depending on who he thinks he’s talking to.  It’s hard to know which Jay is real, the arse on campus or the sweet guy in chat.

I was hoping Hold Me would be in my wheelhouse, but sadly it is not.  It looks like the third book in the series will go back to the first couple… I’m curious to see how it goes but won’t be running out to get it.

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.

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.