The Dating Detox by Gemma Burgess

The Dating Detox
Simone Elkeles

The Dating Detox was an impulse buy on Bookcloseouts (OK self, get real, what’s not an impulse buy from you at that website?).   I’ve really enjoyed the British chick lit/ contemporary romances I’ve read this year, and I want to read more. This looked like a good candidate, and a quick search said that my go-to-girl on this topic, (Sabrina of About Happy Books), liked it, so in the cart it went!

 
The Premise: Sass is a twenty-something girl, living in London and struggling with her love life. After getting dumped six times in a row, the latest the most humiliating (walking in on her boyfriend Rick and some other woman going at it at a Halloween party), she decides that she’s not going to date at all – why go through all the trouble, only to be severely disappointed in the end? The solution is to cut herself off dating for a little while. Go on a sabbatical, if you will. Sass and her friend draw up some rules to live by (“3. Obvious flirting is not allowed”) that Sass decides to follow for three months. Suddenly her life is looking up. Men are interested.  Work is going great. Sass is more confident and happy than she has been in a long time. Three months begins to look too short. Maybe she should extend the Sabbatical to six months. Or indefinitely. The problem is, Sass keeps running into A New Guy, who seems like a great guy. Is he too good to be true and not worth breaking the sabbatical over, or is Sass cutting herself off from a good thing?
 
My Thoughts: This is a story narrated by Sass herself, and she has a very casual voice that is fun and full of the pop culture references you’d expect of someone who grew up in the eighties and nineties.  Sass is also a girl who doesn’t lack for friends. She has a tightknit relationship with her girlfriends Bloomie and Kate (calling and emailing them to keep in touch throughout the work day), and then there’s a gaggle of other friends that she’s known since university, and satellite friends-of-friends that she sees at parties and nights on the town. For someone as social as Sass is, she is a girl surprisingly loathe to rock the boat. As a result, while she has a great relationship with her friends, when it comes to work and love, Sass has let others take the reins. This has led to disastrous relationships, a bully at work, and a salary that forces her to be extremely strict with her finances.
 
The premise of a dating sabbatical is very simple, but Sass’ active life provides plenty of meat. She’s someone who more social than anyone I personally know, but it’s fun to read about someone who goes out and sees her friends a lot. And there are plenty of amusing anecdotes, from the disasters that were her past six relationships, to the mental adjustment Sass has to go through to keep herself from going back to old habits. I found Sass to be a regular kind of girl – one who is a little creative (every morning she dresses in an outfit, which she names), a little dorky (she likes to get a little silly with her humor sometimes), and one who goes out A LOT (doesn’t she get tired?), but otherwise, she has a good head on her shoulders. I liked her. When the sabbatical gives her the excuse to say no and stay firm to her convictions, I cheered at the positive effect it had on her life, from learning how to be firm while still being polite, to getting to know the men she meets before becoming involved with them.
 
So when new men entered the story, knowing that Sass is on a dating sabbatical was kind of delicious. I knew that I would get a romance that was a slower moving one.  The new contenders could make her laugh or seemed nice, but with Sass’s new rules, she actually gets to know the guys before moving forward. She meets a few of the same men over again on different occasions and It was nice that by the time Sass was ready, her choice was clear, not because the only man standing, but because he is the best fit for her. And because Sass had her rules and had to abide by them, the romance was about an emotional connection, and is pretty cute. I adored the banter involved in this story with the guy she ends up with. Particularly adorable was a shared sense of humor, to the point where they were the only two laughing at their own jokes, while everyone else stared at them.
 
The only thing I would warn readers about ( I personally liked it but I could see others finding it draggy), is that the narrative goes into a lot of detail about things like Sass’s clothes and blow-by-blow accounts of the parties and nights out Sass enjoys. There is one section where a weekend party probably takes about 100 pages of the book. I LOVED that through dialogue and significant looks, I learned a lot about Sass’s friends and their relationships with each other. I’d say there was something like 15 people to keep track of at this party, and the book manages to make their personalities and general reputation within the group very clear. There are secondary and tertiary (and quaternary, quinary, senary?) relationships as Sass’s friends fall in and out of love around her, and the weekend party is a turning point in a lot of these. It was refreshing that it wasn’t all about Sass. And I laughed a lot.
 
Overall: This was a British chick lit that falls on the fun side of things, but at the same time is a dense story with plenty of characters. Sass’s social lifestyle is pretty removed from mine, but I loved the glimpse I got. It was a nice change to laugh at (and with) Sass and her friends: a mostly single group unfettered by life’s responsibilities, who spend their free time out drinking and having fun, but are for the most part, very likable. Sass fits right in as a working girl with a string of bad relationships under her belt and trying to break the cycle of disappointment. Her trials and tribulations are fun to follow, but I cheered for her as she overcame her ‘pleaser’ tendencies. I liked that she became stronger and happier (and got the guy), because she stuck to her guns.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository | Bookcloseouts
 
Other reviews:
About Happy Books – positive
 
Book Trailer:
This is one of the best book trailers I’ve seen in a while – it feels like I’m watching a RomCom movie clip:

Love Story by Jennifer Echols

Love Story
Jennifer Echols
This is a review of an ARC copy I got in a contemporary romance spending spree (won from the author at a charity auction).
 
The Premise: Erin grew up in a wealthy environment. She was raised by her grandmother who wanted Erin to major in business so she could take over the family’s racehorse farm one day. When Erin decides instead to follow her dream of being a writer, she’s summarily cut off. Hunter Allen, the son of the stable hand is given Erin’s inheritance and her tuition, while Erin has to work her way through school. Knowing that Hunter will be going to the same New York university is on Erin’s mind, and so for her first assignment in her honors creative writing class she writes a romance between a horse farm heiress and a stable boy. She’s mortified when Hunter joins her class at the last minute and reads her story.  Then he writes his own story, “responding” to hers.  Thus begins a game where the two begin to communicate to one another through their class assignments.
 
My Thoughts: I loved the premise of the story. It seemed like this was a “boy and girl act like they hate each other but they really like each other” story. What I ended up getting in Love Story was much more complicated than that. I like complexity and depth in my stories, but something here didn’t quite work and I’m having trouble saying what it was. I’m writing this review as I’m sorting through what that missed connection was.
 
First of all, I am not sure if it was my expectations getting in the way, but I found Erin and Hunter’s interactions a little strange from the get go. When Erin’s story is presented to the creative writing class Erin expects Hunter to make fun of her, but instead she can tell that Hunter is angry and hiding it from the class. His reason for this anger? That either she’s making fun of him, an idea he quickly dismisses since she wouldn’t know he was going to be in her class, or that she must have liked him in middle and high school, but still let the kids there call him her “stable boy”.  It wasn’t easy to follow the jump from secret crush to ‘if you liked me you have should have stopped other kids from making fun of me’ (I’m paraphrasing here) and then actually being angry about this, but I held on. Similarly, Erin’s response to that is that if Hunter can come up with only two explanations for her story, then he is oversimplifying her and this is to make things easier for him to steal her entire life. Another wild jump that I found difficult to follow, and again, I accepted it and continued on.
 
So I moved on, but I think these hang-ups that Erin and Hunter had about each other clouded the story quite a bit. On one hand I think that we’re seeing the obstacles between Erin and Hunter and the baggage each has from their past, and this baggage must be overcome for them to be together, but on the other hand, I don’t really know about their past history. When they react to each other, as a reader without the history to draw on and having to infer it based on what’s being said, it’s difficult. I don’t have a clue why Erin didn’t talk to Hunter throughout their school years or why Erin is so convinced that Hunter is stealing her life rather than being angry with her grandmother for giving it to him. So when I read their conversations, there’s several times where I’m not sure if the logic is off or I’m just not following a jump the characters have made because of their past history.
 
I much preferred their relationship when it is not overshadowed by the past. Their tentative relationship that stems from their belonging to the same circle of friends and live in the same dorm is much easier to follow. Everyone else is forming new relationships so when Erin and Hunter aren’t alone, but surrounded by Jørdis, Summer, Manohar, and Brian, things flowed extremely well.  The setting of New York City and dorm life was extremely vivid and believable, and in this setting and restricted to reacting to the present (at least amongst their friends), I liked how things were moving along. Hunter and Erin circle one another within their group of friends, and communicate as if they’re across enemy lines. One of the ways they communicate is through their class assignments and once it becomes known amongst a select few that Hunter and Erin knew each other growing up, their little skirmishes gets an audience that sometimes noses it’s way in.
 
When Hunter and Erin finally seem to hit a truce, I had high hopes. It seemed like these two were finally admitting their feelings for each other to one another and that they were communicating this. Then one last obstacle gets in the way. Suddenly the story that I thought was ending very satisfactorily was going down the tubes. I think that what aggravated me most about this final misunderstanding and how the main couple acted was the believability factor.  I just couldn’t believe how Erin would react the way she did when it jeopardized what she said over and over was her fervent goal. The drama soured the end of the story for me, and it left me with a feeling of disconnect from the relationship. I wish the book continued a little further past the point it stopped so I could move on from the sour taste, but it does not.
 
Overall: I feel like I went on a journey with this book. I started with high expectations, had a bit of a bumpy ride while reading it for various reasons, started to love the ending, then did not love the ending. I wanted to love this story and there are many things I liked about it including excellent sense of place (both in New York City and on the horse farm), and an extremely readable writing style, but in the end there were too many things that left me with my feathers ruffled.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
christina_reads – rocky start, ended up enjoying it
chachic’s book nook – didn’t fall in love with it
the reading date – 3.5 out of 5 stars
La Femme Readers – 4 out of 5 flowers

You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me by Sarra Manning

I didn’t even look at what the blurb for You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sarra Manning was about – I was so pleased with Unstickythat I went and bought it. It wasn’t until I started reading that I realized that this was a story with a heroine with weight issues – not my favorite trope, but I kept reading, and I wasn’t disappointed. It managed to not offend me by treating the heroine’s problem with a lot more thought than I usually see when this trope is involved.
 
The Premise: Neve Slater was once morbidly obese, and weighed 358 pounds. She’s been working hard and is half the size she used to be, but she’d still like to shed some more weight and be a magical size 10 (US size 6). That way, when William, the man she’s been in love with since university, comes back from his three years overseas, she can surprise him with her improved self. The problem is that Neve has never been in a relationship, and this is where Max, her sister Celia’s co-worker at fashion magazine Skirt comes in. Max is a total man-slut, and willing to be her partner in a “fake” relationship, where she can learn what it’s like to be part of a couple. With Neve and Max knowing that this is a throw-away, pancake relationship from the outset, there’s no danger of hurt feelings or becoming too involved. Right?
 
My Thoughts:  Neve Slater is a heroine who is very different from that of Unsticky. She’s a good girl; more of a reader and thinker. She’s not much for partying (and has to be dragged out by her sister Celia), and works at a literary archive. And she’s got a romantic idea of what she wants in a relationship, as exemplified by her crush on William and her dream that when he gets back from the U.S., they can be together. Towards this end, Neve has been improving her body, writing him letters, sending him care packages and generally obsessing about his return. William’s arrival back in England is six months away when Neve realizes that she may changed outwardly, but inwardly, she’s still just as inexperienced as she was when he left. Luckily there is Max, her sister Celia’s co-worker and general womanizer who Neve went a little too far with one night when she was a little drunk. When she explains how she’s holding out for William but needs practice in being in a relationship, Max is completely fine with volunteering for the position as a fake boyfriend to figure out the ropes and then bowing out when William gets back.
 
This premise sounds a little hokey, yet it seems to be perfectly reasonable the way it’s presented in this story. Neve is not an idiot and this is not a set up for comedic effect. Instead the pancake relationship is taken seriously and has it’s strict ground rules. With his reputation as a shallow man-whore, Max could have been a big jerk (and Neve’s friends and family are concerned about how he would treat their sweet Neevy), but Max turns out to be a rather nice guy. For all his flirting and easy charms, Max is surprisingly caring and perceptive. It’s just that he has his way of keeping people at arm’s length, the way that Neve has hers. That’s why the “pancake relationship” arrangement is so good for the both of them. With Neve’s declaration that William is the man she’s in love with, there’s no pressure for Max and Neve to be anyone but themselves around each other. Things start off awkwardly between them, yet they soon settle into an easy understanding. Before long they’re sharing things with one another and Neve is surprised to find herself getting a thrill from seeing Max’s name on her caller ID instead of William’s.
 
When I compare this story with Unsticky, it felt less dark than that one. It felt sweeter and more open. I think that although the characters had their share of problems (particularly Neve with her body image issues), they don’t feel as broken as Vaughn and Grace felt to me. They’re very different couples, but both these stories share the characteristic of really well plotted relationships, where small moments build upon each other to give us a satisfying window into a love story. (Speaking of Vaughn and Grace – I was eager to see any update on those two, but they’re mentioned obliquely and separately – not as a couple, but fans of Unsticky will recognize Neve’s trainer, Gustav).
 
The only thing I was bothered by was how fixated Neve was about becoming a certain size, but I was eventually satisfied by how this was handled. And perhaps the only reason I was bothered at all is that I’m very close to someone with an eating disorder, and let’s just say it has colored my view of certain things. I believe that offhand comments that imply what a person should look like can be damaging, and that you can be gorgeous and still be a miserable, miserable person. I don’t have much patience for stories that feature some character who sound like they have an average body size whine about wanting to lose 5 to 10 pounds (*coughBridgetJonescough*), and I’m also not fond of reading about characters who go from overweight and miserable, to svelte and have their self-confidence issues solved. Blergh I tell you.
 
Anyway, with these hot buttons of mine, when I read about Neve’s concerns about her stomach and her body while at a club with her sister, I was full of trepidation, but I soldiered on based on my love of Unsticky. I am so relieved that You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me has a character who has weight problems that felt realistic.  I could believe in a character like Neve, who is incredibly smart and bookish and very likable, but who still has issues with how she looks, despite how much weight she’s lost. This is because the story doesn’t dismiss the path Neve had to take to where she is now. She may be thinner and have much healthier habits, and physically she’s doing well, but mentally she’s also still dealing her recent past, like a bully from her school days who torments her even into adulthood, and to a family member she won’t speak to because of what they said about her weight.
 
I liked how supportive and protective Neve’s family was of her, particularly her sister, Celia. Actually I found many secondary characters reacted wonderfully to Neve’s weight problems, including Max. He still managed to be something of a guy, but I loved how he dealt with Neve’s hang-ups. Alternatively, I love how she dealt with his.
 
Overall: I want chocolate right now so I’m going to go for a chocolate analogy. I feel like You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is milk chocolate and nougat to Unsticky‘s 80% cocoa dark chocolate bar: less edgy; complicated in a different way; still rich and satisfying. After reading this story, I have that same experience of having pieces of the story stuck in my head for days afterward, but the couple is very distinct and separate from that of my previous read by this author. This is good. Also good: a heroine with weight issues that were thoughtfully done and a story that addresses a serious topic without becoming depressing. Yes, Neve’s body issues are a part of Neve’s life, but it’s not all the Neve is and not all that this book is about.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
About Happy Books – positive
Dot Scribbles – positive

Unsticky by Sarra Manning

Unsticky
Sarra Manning

(Reason for the quiet over here: I’m SO ludicrously swamped at work – we’re talking 15 hour days. Weekends too. I’m behind on blog email, but trying to keep up with comments when I can. This review is a result of my brain needing a break from work to save my sanity).

Usually when I hear about a book these days, I’ll wait for news in the ether, let my awareness build and then this percolates into a desire to read the book. Very rarely do I read one review and I HAVE to get the book right away, but this is what happened when I read the review for Unsticky at Angieville (the ‘Bibliocrack’ in the post’s title had my book lover sense’s tingling). I’m so, so glad I for my impulse buy.

The Premise: Grace Reeves is a twenty-something working for a pittance at the fashion magazine Skirt, and massively in debt. Her relationships with a string of grungy rock-band boys never seem to last, but it’s still a surprise when her latest boyfriend dumps her on her birthday – in the middle of her favorite high-end store. When Grace refuses to take the break-up quietly, she’s rescued by bystander Vaughn. This chance encounter becomes something more when Grace and Vaughn meet again and Vaughn proposes an arrangement. Grace has to follow specific rules and cater to Vaughn’s demands in return for thousands of pounds and exposure to the jet-set she’d never meet otherwise.

My Thoughts: Yep, this is sort of a Pretty Woman scenario, and I have to admit having qualms about how this would be portrayed. Thankfully, the story does not sugarcoat things – it’s pretty messed up, but on the other hand, so are Vaughn and Grace. At first Grace is horrified by the idea of being under contract to have a relationship with a man (which includes sex), in return for gifts and money, but she also has no idea how things work in Vaughn’s world and he makes it seem like the most reasonable thing. After some time to think about her ridiculously high debt and the rationalization that she wanted to have sex with Vaughn before he made his offer, she enters into a contract.

It’s a case of mutually using one another. Vaughn demands all Grace’s free time outside of work, and expects her to make him look good. This means weekends socializing in places like New York, Paris, or Beunos Aires, and weekdays preparing for these parties with spa treatments and shopping for new designer clothes, on top of her job at Skirt.  Grace gets cash which she uses to try to pay off her credit cards, and a new luxurious lifestyle.

In a typical romantic comedy, this would be all conveyed in a fun, frivolous way, but in Unsticky, this is not the case. The narration feels grounded (and very British), and it has a gritty underside – there’s drinking, swearing and sex, and questionable actions from the characters. Vaughn is an obnoxious dictator, a hard man, and he’s eighteen years older than Grace is. Grace has to deal with his demands as well as those of her equally scary, bordering on abusive, boss at Skirt.

I have to admit that part of the pleasure of reading this book is the ‘Did they really just do that?’ factor and wondering if I was watching a train wreck about to happen or not. There were things that Grace does that I can’t see myself doing, but it fit her character to make the decisions she did. And I rooted for her. She’s passionate about fashion and I sympathized with her issues with money and the way she bought things to make herself feel better, only to make herself sick at the thought of more debt. She goes through a culture shock at Vaughn’s world but her determination rise to the occasion was very endearing. At the same time, Vaughn has his own demons. Clearly a man who insists on having his mistress sign a contract has issues, and he has them in spades. He’s aware of what a obnoxious bastard he is, and that’s part of why he wants to pay Grace.

“Despite their differences, because of their differences, they were a perfect mismatched set. Two sides of the same tarnished penny. An out-of-step Fred and Ginger. Vaughn was just as fucked up as she was – he was just so much better at hiding it.”

Vaughn’s childhood and Grace’s have left them both with scars. The story works because despite the scars they each bear, there’s something lovely between them.  I loved how their broken pieces fit each other, but it’s not an easy relationship at all. These two may have excellent chemistry, but their understanding of each other and of themselves is sorely lacking. I think they both want to cross the divide, but the mercenary aspects of the relationship and their own hangups with love get in the way. They may be dropping their walls despite themselves, but there are also setbacks.  Parts of this story put me on the verge of heartbreak, but somehow despair becomes hope. I loved that both these characters have dark sides to them, but I loved more that they found each other and were better for it.

Overall: I am blown away. This book may be classified as chick lit, but I think I’d call it dark chick lit. It has such deliciously complex characters that it stands apart from the frothy, light reads that people associate with this genre, but it is ultimately not a dark story.  I felt like I’d fallen for Grace and Vaughn myself when I read this book, vicariously lived through their heartache and self-discovery, and came out the other side feeling like I had a good cathartic cry without having had one at all. I am seriously hooked.

I’m currently reading Manning’s other adult title You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me which I bought before I even finished Unsticky.

(I’m putting lots of buy options today because it’s only available in the UK right now, so may be hard to find)
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository | Awesome Books | bookcloseouts

Other reviews:
Angieville – positive
Emily’s Little Pink Notes – 4/5
About Happy Books – positive
Book Harbinger – positive

A Lot Like Love by Julie James

A Lot Like Love
Julie James

Julie James is on my auto-buy list now. I had a friend say it’s surprising how much I like these books because they seem more fluffy than what I usually go for. Tsk, people.  Sometimes I need the light and fluffy.  I like to mix it up. (Although I don’t necessarily consider these books fluffy).

 

The Premise: FBI agent Nick McCall is used to going undercover and pretending to be someone else for months at a time, but his latest assignment starts off short and simple. He has to pretend to be the date of billionaire heiress and wine store owner Jordan Rhodes at the annual wine tasting and fundraiser at Bordeaux restaurant. All he needs to do is plant a few bugs in the office of Bordeaux’s owner and suspected mob money launderer, Xander Eckhart, and that will be that. Unfortunately, an unforeseen circumstance turns a one day job into one with no end in sight.
 
Read an Excerpt of A Lot Like Love here
 
My Thoughts: The plot is in the same ballpark as James’ earlier book, Something About You (which I reviewed here: https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg), we watch as an FBI agent falls in love with the woman he’s supposed to protect. This was a straightforward contemporary suspense romance: boy meets girl; there’s some friction and banter, but sparks fly; bad guy gets in the way;  love prevails. It’s not a overly complex plot, but it’s oh so much fun. A Lot Like Love reads like a nice romantic comedy that is perfect for a rainy day.
 
This story begins with Nick finishing up another long stint undercover and ready to spend a few days off to visit his family, when he’s called in by his boss to consult on another case. An agent new to the undercover business needs Nick as backup as he takes heiress Jordan Rhodes to the exclusive, 5000 dollar a head charity fundraiser at Bordeaux. Jordan is well known within Chicago because of her very rich, billionaire father, not to mention her infamous twin brother who is in jail for a computer-related crime. Nick expects a spoiled rich girl, but Jordan really doesn’t live off her father’s money — she makes her own money via her wine store.  I loved that Jordan is a business owner and her knowledge of fine wine is a large part of the book (she may not be a lawyer like past Julie James heroines, but her job is still very important to the story). When Nick first meets Jordan, he has his initial assumptions, and neither is happy that Nick has to replace the original agent assigned to be her date. Nick learns very quickly though that Jordan is not a snob. I liked that Jordan really is unpretentious. Her friends aren’t all wealthy socialites and she owns a wine shop because she loves wine, not for the prestige. She treats wine as something she wants people to feel comfortable with and to try, and that she’s geeky about, not as some way to flaunt her wealth and privilege. It was fascinating as a non-wine expert to read about it, and It was nicely done how Jordan’s open approach was so different from Eckhart’s: he wanted to show off, and it is a competition to him. His snobbery extends to the rest of his character, and this is shown in the book in many little ways.
 
The romance in A Lot Like Love was just right. Sweet, but not too sweet, steamy (there is sex), but not too steamy. And there’s plenty of sarcasm from everyone which adds a nice touch of humor to the romance. Nick is a guy through and through, and Jordan brings out an introspective side of him that he isn’t used to. Jordan is perfect for him because she’s just as unused to saying how she feels. In her family, they deal with things through sarcastic humor. So when Nick and Jordan are together, they are on the same sort of wavelength. Nick calls her Rhodes, and Jordan tries to expand his comfort zone. I liked that they both realize how they feel and it’s not hard for them to be honest with themselves (being honest with each other is another story). They had their bumps but they were relatively easily resolved along with the investigation.
 
I also liked the other relationships in this book. Jordan had good relationships with her store assistant, Martin and with her twin brother. She also has a tight-knit set of friends. Although they were on the page too quickly for me to get individual impressions of them, I could tell that they were important to Jordan. Nick too has family that he is close to, and his relationships with his brothers and with the guys at the FBI are full of the friendly ribbing that Jordan gives her brother.  It was also nice to see some familiar characters from Something About You show up here, and bonus points for a couple of Pride and Prejudice references (as well as Lost and Dancing with the Stars).
 
Overall: I liked this one just about as much as I liked Something About You. They’re both romantic suspense, is a subgenre I don’t really go for, and I prefer her straight contemporaries without the suspense plots, but Julie James writes comfort food for my soul, and that trumps my romance reading preferences. It’s an uncomplicated story, but it hits the spot. A Lot Like Love was the right read for me this past rainy weekend.
 
I’m already looking forward to her fifth book, which will have Jordan’s twin brother, Kyle, as its hero, and has been tentatively titled About That Night (via trueromance).
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook – positive
Dear Author – B
Babbling About Books, and More – A
Smexy Books (guest post) – A
The Book Binge – A
The Book Smugglers – 7 (Very Good)
 
Book Trailer:

The Kiss Test by Shannon McKelden

The Kiss Test
Shannon McKelden

I requested and received an eARC of this book through Netgalley  

The Premise: Margo Gentry is happy with her life as a award-winning DJ of Manhattan’s only Country Music station, and her relationship with Kevin, a man who doesn’t want to take things to the next level. Then everything falls apart – Margo is laid off when her station changes format to Korean radio, and Kevin wants to get married. When she balks at marriage, Kevin reveals that he doesn’t think much of her job or collection of weird Elvis memorabilia. With no where else to go, Margo moves in with her best friend Chris Treem, a known womanizer. To top it all off, Margo’s mother is getting married for the 11th time, and wants Margo to be her maid of honor — the last thing Margo wants to do, but without a job, she has no excuse to skip it, particularly when Chris wants to drive cross-country to be there.

Read an excerpt of The Kiss Test here

My Thoughts: I read this book in one sitting on the plane trip from NY to AZ (visiting the family for the holidays). I’ve always liked romances in which long time friends realize they feel more for each other than friendship, and with the promise in the blurb for a long road trip between Margo and Chris, kept me glued to the pages in anticipation of their relationship heating up.

Margo seems like the last person I’d expect to fall in love. She’s the narrator, and she makes it very clear that she’s happy to never get married and to make the same mistakes her mother did. In fact, she has been known to break up with a guy just for falling in love with her. Then we have Chris. An extreme sports enthusiast and store owner, he’s good looking, dangerous, and a magnet to females. He often administers his “Kiss Test”, not minding if Margo is nearby, and has been Margo’s best friend since she was eleven. It didn’t seem like these two were anything but really good buddies, and neither is saving themselves for the other by any means (on the contrary), but as the book continued, I began to see that Chris may be the perfect guy for Margo and that she may have been in love with Chris, and vice versa, all along. With his willingness to let her indulge in a trip as an homage to Elvis, despite not being a fan, and forgiving and taking care of Margo when she repeatedly gets herself in (very funny) trouble throughout the trip, Chris showed his acceptance of Margo as she was. In the meantime, the trip teaches Margo that honesty may be the best policy, and when she’s finally honest with herself, she makes some rather scary discoveries.

I liked that the story delves into Margo and Chris’s past to explain who they are today, although the explanation comes a little after the fact. I found myself judging Margo based on her actions, then learning the details behind those actions afterward.  For the most part, the past history does explain a lot of things, even if I wish some of these revelations were explained earlier. The ending however, had one minor story element that felt a little tacked on, but maybe that’s just me.

There’s lots of sexual tension but only one sex scene in this story, so this fell into what I look for in romance – slow burn and not all about the lust.

Overall: This felt like a modern-day contemporary romance — where the hero and heroine are both flawed and no one is an angel. Even if I disagreed with how these two conducted their relationships (which could be a problem for other readers), I wanted an HEA for both of them. The relaxed chemistry between best friends that becomes surprisingly more is rather refreshing and sometimes funny, and if this book came out in print form, I’d buy it to have a hard copy.

Buy: Amazon | Carina Press

Other reviews:
Smexy Books – 3 out of 5

Something About You by Julie James

I’ve been looking forward to this book for a while because Julie James is now on my autobuy list. I won an ARC of this book through sheer luck in logging onto twitter just was @DearAuthor was giving away some copies. See.. twitter isn’t just a time suck.

The Premise: Cameron Lynde is an Assistant U.S. Attorney who decided to give herself a little break by staying overnight at the Peninsula Hotel in San Francisco while she waited for her hardwood floors to be sealed. Unfortunately she has a very bad night when her neighbors in room 1308 engage in a loud sex marathon until 3am. Noises cease for about half an hour and then loud banging and squealing start up again and she calls the front desk. Things get worse when hotel security finds a dead woman in the room and Cameron is the only person to have caught a glimpse of the murderer through her peephole. After that the FBI arrives and Cameron discovers that Jack Pallas is in charge- and he blames her for being disciplined and shipped off to Nebraska three years ago.

Link to excerpt of Something about you

My Thoughts: Julie James’ style of writing has a lot of focus on dialog. It feels like I am reading something that I can picture in my minds eye as a romantic comedy on the big screen, with a lot of banter and cute situations. I had a good couple of chuckles over some of the talks among the men (cops and FBI agents) discussing Cameron’s “Meet-Cute” with Max, her date, or telling Jack that he “glowers”. I think after reading three of her books I trust this author to deliver a contemporary romance of a certain level of writing and she doesn’t disappoint in giving me something that I know I’ll enjoy.

As in her last two books, Practice Makes Perfect and Just the Sexiest Man Alive, the heroines are lawyers and the author writes about the profession with authority. Jack’s job as an FBI agent seems realistic as well although I feel like the author took some liberties with it because I had to suspend my disbelief a couple of times in the book (especially when their relationship became more heated and no one admonished Jack for his behavior). I think the liberties were taken to push the couple closer, and it wasn’t something I thought that jeopardized Cameron’s safety, so I was able to accept it that way.

I think it’s a matter of taste whether you’d prefer this over the more relationship conflicted earlier books. I think I prefer less sexiness in my stories, and this book feels a lot more “sexy” than the other two. There’s more focus on each other’s bodies and in the sexual tension between Jack and Cameron than on the conflict keeping the two apart romantically like in the last two books. I felt like the conflict was lower here because the couple were more concerned about the killer who may be coming for Cameron.

The suspense is a big part of the story. We know early on who the killer is and what his motivations are. Cameron and Jack both do smart things in handling the situation – Cameron listening to the FBI and doing what they tell her, Jack covering all bases in protecting his witness and investigating leads. Despite this, the killer is pretty smart too, and he did some things I found unexpected that made the story more exciting to read. I was particularly impressed by the big finale.

Overall: This is a sexier book with more suspense in it than the last two, and these are things I don’t necessarily prefer in my contemporary romance, but it has the Julie James level of quality and overall I enjoyed it although it’s not my favorite one.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews:
Bookbinge – 4.75 out of 5
Babbling about Books and More! – B
The Book Smugglers – 7 (Very Good)
Angieville – positive review:”You can count on a good time with a Julie James book and that’s what I love about them. ”
Dear Author – A-
Tempting Persephone – “There wasn’t really anything I didn’t enjoy about this book.”
Read, React, Review – positive review
Christina Reads – postive review

Can’t Stand the Heat by Louisa Edwards

The Premise: It all starts the opening night of Adam Temple’s restaurant, Market. In a room full of press, foodies, and society people, licieux food critic Miranda Wake, tipsy on the alcohol in ready supply and impatient to be served, interrupts Adam’s opening speech with quick judgments about the food.  He responds rashly and a challenge is thrown down: “You wouldn’t last ten minutes in my kitchen.” To Adam’s horror, Miranda accepts (with visions of a book deal dancing in her head).

Read an excerpt of Can’t Stand the Heat

My Thoughts: From a food lover’s point of view, this book is a lot of fun. The author really puts you there in a busy kitchen in New York City. Her writing has an exciting flavor – it feels very modern to me, maybe because it doesn’t try to make things more refined than they are. The kitchen is full of characters, people who are rough and loud, but very close knit and fit into the restaurant life. Details about the stations, the pecking order, the bustle, and the cooking seem well researched but presented in an exciting package.  The food is a large part of the courtship: Adam shows Miranda how to make poached eggs and waffles with bacon, and despite his initial misgivings, Miranda’s unfiltered appreciation for Adam’s food wins him over.

I really liked Adam. He has passion for Market and he’s alive when he’s there – the center of the hurricane of activity, he seems really happy with his life: his new restaurant, a well-tuned crew, doing what he loves. Adam’s intensity of focus as the head chef is heady stuff to Miranda, who likes her job, but sees it as a job, not as a passion. Miranda’s ambitions are a result of her responsibility in raising her younger brother, while Adam loves making food for itself. Despite Miranda quickly annoying Adam with her plans to “expose” his restaurant with a book and interviewing everyone with that goal in mind, Adam doesn’t stay mad very long. He doesn’t dwell on Miranda’s mistakes, and focuses his energies on noticing how pretty and smart he finds her. It was surprising how quickly he was willing to forget that he was angry with her, but his quickly dissolving temper and zest for life is a consistent part of his character so I let it go. This is a good thing in this relationship, because Miranda is constantly doing things I considered low.  She has her reasons, but they were tenuous, and I found myself on the edge of disliking her throughout the book because of her willingness to exploit others.  On the other hand, I felt for Miranda because of her older sister protectiveness of her younger brother, and I liked her persistence in the face of adversity. Unfortunately, this didn’t really excuse how Miranda kept messing up just when I’d gotten over the last thing she had done. The conflict between the hero and heroine never lasts long, mostly due to Adam’s easygoing nature, but it propels the story along to it’s movie-style ending.

There are a lot of strong supporting characters in this book. The people in Adam’s kitchen were drawn very well, and there is hint of sequel bait with Devon Sparks, a TV personality whose restaurant Adam once worked in (confirmed with an excerpt for the next installment of Recipe for Love series).  In particular Adam’s maître d’, Grant, his best friend (and sous chef) Frankie, and Miranda’s college-aged brother Jess. There is a side romance between Jess and  Frankie that affects the main one. Their romance is one of opposites attracting – the shy young college student and the brash, punk-rocking, Cockney cook – it works, although at times I found it over-romanticized.

Overall: I loved the writing style and the way New York restaurant life was represented, and I liked the vivacious hero, but the heroine walked a really fine line for me. Despite this flaw, I would gladly read the next one in this series.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews:
Smexy books – 8 out of 10
Monkey Bear reviews – C
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books – B-
Racy Romance Reviews – “Overall, I really enjoyed Can’t Stand the Heat.”

Links:
Louisa Edwards on the trueromance blog

Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas

Blue-Eyed Devil
Lisa Kleypas

This is an author highly recommended by a friend of mine so I picked this book up when I saw it at a library book sale last month. I think the cover is quite awesome, love the blue sky and the shirtless man silhouetted against it.

**** Minor spoiler: I can’t really talk about what I thought about the book without mentioning why Haven’s marriage failed. Also spoiler for the love triangle in Sugar Daddy. ****

The Premise: Haven Travis is a heiress from a powerful Houston family. Haven wants to prove her independence and marries her boyfriend despite her father’s threat to cut her off and his warnings that Nick is only interested in her wealth. When her marriage falls apart spectacularly, Haven comes back to Houston a changed person. She is starting to get back on her feet again when she runs into Hardy Cates, a brother’s rival, and not one of her family’s favorite people.

Thoughts: I was really engaged (I think the word I used was “raw”) with what Haven had to go through in her marriage to Nick during the first part of the book. Kleypas obviously researched narcissistic personalities and domestic abuse and I felt like I was learning some things about boundaries and the way they are pushed in these situations. I hadn’t considered the boundaries people trying to help also crossed, but I felt a lot of sympathy for some of Haven’s family members when she told them not to get involved.

It felt quite believable that at first Nick was very attentive and loving, but as time went by and things did not go his way, he slowly changed and started blaming Haven for everything. The way he twisted things in his mind was disturbing and I hated his character, but I never felt annoyed at Haven for putting up with it because I also saw how he manipulated her.

Kleypas also does a good job in highlighting the narcissistic personality in the workplace as Haven is unlucky enough to meet another person with this type of personality there.

Then Haven and Hardy meet again, and in my mind it doesn’t feel very long before they get pretty hot and heavy.  Maybe I’m being very prim and proper here, but I think the book suffers because the physical is a large part of Hardy and Haven’s relationship.  Which conflicted with what I’d seen before: Haven flinching at her own brother’s touches because she subconsciously associated men with her abuse. Not that it was easy for her to get physical with Hardy, but I would have found a longer courtship before the physical intimacy more believable. These two characters fit together well, with both their pasts making them flawed in just the right way for each other, but this discovery feels overshadowed by the sex. Of course, I prefer my romances to be slow moving anyway, and I haven’t seen anyone else complain, so make of this what you will.

The secondary characters are mostly people from Haven’s family, and we see a lot of her brother Gage and his wife Liberty, who have their own book, Sugar Daddy, but both books stand on their own. Usually I don’t like seeing gratuitous visits from characters in past books, but in Blue-Eyed Devil it worked because they seemed to have a place in the plot and had meaningful interactions with the main couple. It’s Gage and Liberty’s wedding where Haven and Hardy first meet and they also help Haven when she wants to leave Nick, then with supporting her emotionally afterwards. Another brother, Jack, helps Haven out a lot too. He gets his book next (Smooth Talking Stranger), but there are also another brother who looks to be primed for his own book after that.

Overall: This is fiction that also tries to do some educating about narcissistic personalities and domestic abuse, and in this aspect the book does very well. In my mind however, it set up Haven’s character in a way that the sex scenes brought the story down for me, but I am suspect I’m in the minority on this and in skimming past them. Otherwise, it was very well-written (particularly the first part. I was heavily involved with Haven’s experiences in her marriage), had engaging characters so all in all, I thought it was very good.

Other reviews: Let’s just say this book swept the board.

Book Binge gave it a 4.75 out of 5
The Book Smugglers – It got a 10
Ramblings on Romance – 5 out of 5, must read book of 2008

Just The Sexiest Man Alive by Julie James

I read and enjoyed Practice Makes Perfect by Julie James earlier this month, and I liked it enough to get her other book, Just the Sexiest Man Alive at Borders the weekend before last (40% off Memorial Day coupon!)

The Premise: Just The Sexiest Man Alive also has a lawyer for the heroine – Taylor Donovon is an associate at Gray & Dallas who has been sent to the Los Angeles office for a few months to work on a sexual harassment case for a large client. Everything is going well, until Taylor is asked to do one of the partners a “favor” (which she can’t turn down) – meet with super-mega-movie star Jason Andrews to help him prepare for his part as a lawyer in an upcoming movie. Taylor is unhappy enough that Jason is adding to her already busy schedule, but when Jason blows off their initial meeting he ticks Taylor off with his movie-star attitude. It doesn’t help matters that Jason has been voted People’s Sexiest Man Alive three times and has been linked to a long line of female celebrities. Taylor has just broken off her engagement to her cheating fiance and is wary of womanizers. Jason expects Taylor to be instantly smitten and let him have his way like everyone else does, but when Taylor proves impervious to his charms, it only intrigues Jason more.

Excerpt of Chapter 1

My Thoughts: As with Practice Makes Perfect I think you can tell that someone with experience in the law profession wrote this book – there’s a lot of references that even as a layperson, I felt that James is an author who knew her stuff. And I don’t know if I mentioned it in my review of Practice Makes Perfect (livejournal / vox / wordpress) but I really liked that the heroines in both books were GOOD at their jobs – really good. It wasn’t just an arbitrary career which gets mentioned once or twice then you see the heroine hardly doing any work; it’s a big part of the plot.

The romance here is pretty sweet. Jason is at first a little too cocky and Taylor puts him in his place. As they get to know each other Jason realizes that Taylor isn’t like the usual woman who runs after him. Fame and publicity isn’t what she wants. Taylor, on the other hand, feels attracted to Jason but she’s wary of men who are known players after dealing with her ex-fiance, and she refuses to fall for another man like that. Of course the two keep seeing each other and feelings begin to develop. Pretty soon the press is all aflame with rumors of Jason Andrews’ Mystery Woman.

Taylor’s introduction to Jason’s life is pretty fun –  the paparazzi, and ensuing office gossip, the celebrity parties and Jason’s “people”, but what I really liked was their interactions with their best friends. Jason has his sarcastic best friend, Jeremy, who he’s known since college, and Taylor has her two friends from Chicago, Kate and Valerie. I think my favorite parts involved these secondary characters meeting Jason and Taylor. The scene where Jason tries to butt into the girl-talk about Taylor’s other dates (with another celebrity who made me think of Orlando Bloom as Legolas) was priceless.

Jason does do something mildly stupid in this book (besides starting off on the wrong foot by thinking he can use his star power on Taylor), but it was not enough to turn me off. In this regard I felt I liked him better as a hero than J.D. from Practice Makes Perfect, but he’s not perfect. The way Jason treats women until he meets Taylor was rather jerkish, but somehow he seems pull off not annoying me when I read about it. And whenever he used his charm, it never feels like he’s using others as much as they are delighted to fawn all over him and he lets them.

The ending was quite Hollywood – I can imagine the scene in the end of a romantic comedy, but I was ok with that. The only problem I’d say I have is the cynic in me not really believing a womanizing superstar would be able to settle down, but that’s not the books fault. There is no book that I could read with a famous player and ordinary person falling in love where a small part of me wouldn’t question it. The other thing was Taylor – she’s a size two, never lost a case, amazing at everything – at least she sounded human when she spoke, but the woman is a little mythical sounding.

Overall: A fun book. I enjoyed it and I think this author goes on the auto-buy list, both this book and Practice Makes Perfect were satisfying enough that I trust the author to keep at that level. There is not a lot of sex in this book: most of it is relationship buildup, which I personally prefer in my romance, so I was happy. I recommend this for those in the mood for an enjoyable contemporary romance.

Other reviews:

Gossamer Obsessions (gave it an A). She also has a related post about Sex In Romance (which I found I agreed with!)
The Book Binge (4.25 out of 5)
Dear Author (gave it a B-)
Katiebabs (B+) & The Book Smugglers (7 – very good) Power Puff review