Review of "Owner of a Broken Heart" (Richardson Sisters #1) by Cheris Hodges

Hodges, Cheris. Owner of a Broken Heart. New York: Dafina Books, 2020.

eBook | $7.59 ($7.99 Print) | ISBN-13: 978-1496728840 | 384 pages | Contemporary Romance

4 stars

I received an ARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I requested Owner of a Broken Heart completely randomly, in the interest of reading more diverse authors, and the blurb sounded promising. I really enjoy family-centered series, where that is a focus just as much as the individual member’s love story, and that works very well here.

The relationship between Nina and her family is, of course, wonderful. I love how it focuses on her personality juxtaposed against theirs, with them being particularly protective of her in the midst of her continued disasters with love, and the concern she may be moving on too fast with someone new. I particularly liked the dynamic with Alex, who plays the biggest supporting role, as the sister who lives and works in the family bed-and-breakfast while the others pursue their own thing. She’s very much a mama-bear while Nina is pursuing her new relationship with Clinton, and while it takes her a while to warm up to him, it felt earned when she did.

I also found Clinton compelling, given his situation of having difficulties with his father and idolizing the Richardson girls’ father, with the question of his loyalties forming a central part of his arc for the book. While there was never really a question in my mind about what he would choose, the antagonist of his arc still presented a realistic enough challenge that the issue felt present and not something that could be overcome too easily.

However, one of the things that comes up in Clinton and Nina’s relationship a lot over the course of the book is their respective trust issues. When his connection to someone seeking to buy out the Richardson B&B is revealed, it forms a somewhat natural conflict. However, there’s also the issue of him thinking she’s still hung up on her sort-of-ex (it’ll make sense once you read the book), and they have a blowup over that, even though she’s only shown signs of wanting to be rid of him. I expected her to have issues, but him? And over something where he doesn’t even have real reason to suspect her?

This is still a promising start to a series, with plenty of hints as to what the other sisters’ stories may entail, so I’m excited to see where it goes. I recommend this to anyone looking for a contemporary romance with a strong focus both on the romance and the importance of family.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/3aFFsGP

Review of "American Fairytale" (Dreamers #2) by Adriana Herrera

Herrera, Adriana. American Fairytale. Toronto: Ontario: Carina Press, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $8.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1335215963 | 361 pages | Contemporary Romance

Adriana Herrera continues to prove herself as a rising star in diverse romance, and one with the potential for lasting staying power, with the release of American Fairytale, a second book that packs just as much of a punch as her debut. While we shift focus to Camilo “Milo” and Tom, this book also has Herrera’s hallmarks of a diverse and lovable cast and a balanced focus on both a sweet love story and weightier issues facing Latinx people, especially immigrants.

I also enjoyed the subversion of one of my least favorite tropes in this one, with Thomas being a self-made billionaire. But not only is his business rooted in his own family’s immigrant experience (he comes from a mixed White/Latinx family), he is a genuinely kind person with a focus on family, but he is for the most part self-aware of the power imbalance, even if he does have some blind spots he needs to work through later in the book due to his inattention that ruined a prior relationship.

I could understand Milo’s reservations, especially given the possibly professional implications, with Tom being a donor for his organization, and struggling to negotiate that with his feelings. But I like that, like the first book, the issues are always confronted in that moment, and it’s never something they let fester, even if it does take some bigger gestures, particularly towards the end, to truly demonstrate their commitment.

Herrera also has a great way of balancing (occasionally filthy) humor with the more serious stuff, and this one is no exception. One of my favorite bits was when Milo sent Tom a video of him participating in one of the organization’s dancing classes, complete with a text exchange showing how “excited” Tom was getting.

This a wonderful second book, and I can’t wait to check out book three and everything else to come from Adriana Herrera. And if you love diverse contemporaries with large casts of characters, and a lot of humor and heart, this book is for you.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/36czPwb

Review of “American Dreamer” (Dreamers #1) by Adriana Herrera

Herrera, Adriana. American Dreamer. Toronto: Ontario: Carina Press, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback $8.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1335006875 | 376 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

I finally picked up American Dreamer recently after seeing a lot of buzz about it over the last several months since its release. And it’s one of the most refreshing books I’ve read in a while. It provides a nuanced look at the Afro-Latinx experience in the U.S. today, highlighting both the issues and showing the way that characters triumph in the face of adversity.

Nesto and Jude are such fully realized characters, and I loved them from the moment they each apeared on the page. Each of them has their hurdles to overcome, and I love that, even though they do have issues that cause problems in their relationship, they ultimately come back together and make it up to one another each time one screws up.

Nesto’s character being a chef with dreams of expanding his food truck business led to a lot of opportunities to showcase Afro-Caribbean cuisine, and this yet another of those books that should have a warning against reading on an empty stomach. And I love that his business has its roots in family and their journey as immigrants from the Dominican Republic. He also has the most adorable relationship with his mother, and she’s probably one of my favorite characters in the book, with how much she supports him.

I was excited about Jude being a librarian, because I feel like I haven’t seen enough of them in romance (I know there’s a ton out there though…it’s just getting to them). And while the importance of his career isn’t as pronounced as Nesto’s, it does play a role, with him taking on an important project at some point in the book.

But what really struck me was how Jude’s arc revolved heavily around familial rejection for being gay, to contradict Nesto’s completely accepting environment. My heart broke when I not only read about his past of being rejected, but saw it come into play in the present when a family emergency causes him to come back into contact with them.

And the supporting cast is great, and I can’t wait to read the rest, to see how the rest of their friends find love. I took a peek at the books currently released, and the one still to come, and I’m already excited.

This is a wonderfully heartfelt book, chock-full with a great sense of culture and community, with a cast of the most endearing characters I’ve read in a while. I recommend it if you’re looking for a great diverse romance.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/2tvZUZH

Review of "Faker" by Sarah Smith

Smith, Sarah. Faker. New York: Jove, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1984805423 | 327 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

I hadn’t heard much buzz around Faker as I had some of the other 2019 trade cartoon cover books, so, on the one hand, I was happy to go in mostly blind, but on the other, I did have some doubts about why it wasn’t worth promoting…especially looking back on the books that did get promoted that I didn’t like.

And I now feel like people have been sleeping on this one. Granted, I do have some biases, when it comes to the material. While it’s not the setting, I love that the heroine, Emmie, grew up in Hawaii (although she grew up in Kona, a place I’m only marginally familiar with), and seeing discussions of the environment and the culture, not to mention the food (finally, someone who actually knows what a spam musubi is!) is always great to see in mainstream fiction published for the wider U.S. (and occasionally world) market.

And while I did have my doubts about the premise, as enemies-to-lovers could go either way for me, I ended up liking it. I liked seeing Emmie succeed in a traditionally male-dominated field and the exploration of having to “fake” a tougher persona as a result. And the way it plays into her evolving relationship with Tate, especially given some of the later revelations regarding his initial hostility, is incredibly well done.

This is a great rom-com, with a great infusion of culture and an awesome cast of characters that I hope will spawn sequels/spinoffs. I would recommend this to rom-com lovers and those looking for good Filipino-American rep in romance.

Review of "Sweet Talkin' Lover" (Girls' Trip #1) by Tracey Livesay

Livesay, Tracey. Sweet Talkin’ Lover. New York: Avon Books, 2020.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062979544 | 363 pages | Contemporary Romance

4 stars

There’s been a lot of discourse about small town/Hallmark-y romance being overwhelmingly white lately, and it’s made me realize, not knowing much about the genre, how problematic it is. However, Sweet Talkin’ Lover is a standout book that attempts to diversify the genre, doing so with great success, highlighting both the fun things (the book is set around a Harvest Festival and all the related activities that come with it) and the darker elements that tend to get ignored, like the racism the black heroine faces from some people in town.

I enjoyed the relationship building between Caila and Wyatt. While there is tension between them due to their opposing positions (and it does come to a head toward the end), I loved seeing their feelings grow for one another. The stakes behind the decisions they have to make are so important, and I loved seeing them navigate that in a way that didn’t actively seek out to hurt the other person, even prior to falling for one another.

I did feel a little let down that the relationship between Caila and her friends was more peripheral, especially given how the friendship was promoted as a big part of the series. I hope, given the glimpses we’re given, that it will be stronger element in later books, and it simply had to be sidelined because of it was necessary for the plot in this one.

I enjoyed this one, and look forward to reading more of Livesay’s work. I recommend this to someone looking for a fun interracial small-town romance that’s the perfect mix of sweet and sexy.

Holiday Novellas Wrap-Up

In honor finally getting an eReader (Nook Glowlight 3), I stocked up on a lot of eBooks, including free and discounted holiday books. I tried to get to some of the holiday themed ones, in light of not really having much holiday reading prior to Christmas. I also think it solves the issue of how to post and share my novella reviews, since most are too short to justify individual posts. Note that, while most books will be related to the holiday season, there are a few that aren’t for…reasons. 

12/25-The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky by Mackenzi Lee. (Hardcover), 3 stars: Borrowed from the library prior to receiving my Nook, it was one of the short books I squeezed in between Lady Darby 2 and 3. It’s kind of an extended epilogue taking place after The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, and as the title implies, it surrounds Monty and Percy’s first time. It’s fun, and it’s great to see those characters again, but it’s not exactly the most engaging and substantial story. But then again, I didn’t really expect it to be. 

12/25-Miss Compton’s Christmas Romance by Sophie Barnes (EBook), 4 stars: Sophie Barnes is one of my favorite authors, and, despite it being a shorter story, she still more or less shines. With her now firmly finding her feet in self-publishing, it’s nice to see her exploring the world outside the aristocracy, with both Leonora and Philip being such solid, nice working-class people, and one of many books out there that prove you don’t need pots of money to be happy ever after. 

12/26-The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan (EBook), 5 stars: An excellent an emotionally moving prequel to the Brothers Sinister series. While I understood the gist of it from The Duchess War, reading about the crimes committed against Serena by the previous Duke of Clermont was heartbreaking, as was the fact the Hugo is so sweet. Torn between trying to make something of himself through his work for the duke and his growing love for Serena, I was so deeply invested in his arc, and overjoyed when, of course, love won out. 

12/27-The Lady Always Wins by Courtney Milan (eBook), 3 stars: I couldn’t help but feel a little let done by this one, but I suppose it’s my fault for reading this one so soon after The Governess Affair. There’s nothing wrong with this story, but the emotion here is relatively lacking, and it feels like another standard historical romance. Decent for the genre, but we all know Courtney Milan can and has done better. And the fact that it is a standalone probably also does work against it, not giving me any real reason to care about the characters outside the confines of the story. 

12/28-A Kiss for Midwinter by Courtney Milan (eBook), 4.5 stars: A delightful holiday  story set in the Brothers Sinister world, and following Lydia, Minnie’s friend from The Duchess War. And while it’s still not my favorite Milan, I enjoyed this one, particularly for Jonas, the hero. I like that he’s blunt and doesn’t play games about anything, and he’s very matter-of-fact about sex. Not to mention him being in love with Lydia for years. As for her…a friend compared Lydia’s arc to that of another fictional Lydia, in Pride and Prejudice, and what she could have been, and it definitely works, with her being a relatable lead. And this is another Milan story with a lot of depth to the secondary characters as well, such as Jonas’ father who is battling an illness. 

12/29-The Lady in Red by Kelly Bowen, 4: A fun “bridge” novella between Bowen’s last two series, Season for Scandal and Devils of Dover, I enjoyed the focus on art here, with both Charlotte and Flynn having artistic ambitions, bringing them together. This novella grapples with some deep themes in spite of its length, like the risks Charlotte is taking as both a woman and an aristocrat pursuing her passion and the issues of the class divide motivating Flynn to prove himself and rise above his roots, with an additional hint of a past heartbreak with another aristocratic lady to make things interesting. 

12/30-What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? By Catherine Stein (eBook), 5 stars: A novella set in the same world as Eden’s Voice, this is a fun steampunk story set around New Year’s Eve (obviously). And while I had a few issues with EV, I liked this one overall as a nice little nugget that’s a lot less overwhelming tech-wise and plot wise. And the couple fall in love in the New York Public Library, where the hero, William, works as a librarian? This is the story I’ve been looking for my whole life (not literally…but it hits all my sweet spots). 

12/31-New York Engagement by Maida Malby (eBook), 5 stars: A novella published between Carpe Diem Chronicles novels that I missed upon first publication, I made sure to snap it up in time to ring in the New Year (and decade, depending on how you count) with. It was a blast to see Krista and Blake’s engagement and her meeting more of his family (as well as finding out the identity of her own father). Malby’s signature blend of sweetness, scrumptiousness (of course there’s food!), and steaminess is all here. 

Review of "Echo After Echo" by Amy Rose Capetta

Capetta, Amy Rose. Echo After Echo. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2017.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0763691666 | 421 pages | YA Contemporary Romance/Mystery

4 stars

While I’ve only read Amy Rose Capetta’s SFF works so far, I was intrigued by the concept of this f/f murder mystery. And for the most part Capetta is able to move between genres pretty well, with a mystery that comes together at the end (in spite of feeling a bit oddly paced at first) and a romance that’s an absolute delight to read.

Zara and Eli are such great characters, and I rooted for their romance, even though things seemed precarious at times, in a way that has nothing to do with being gay/bi, but rather the commitments of the theater. It’s refreshing to read about an LGBTQ+ relationship that isn’t so bogged down with the questions of sexuality or familial acceptance, and the hurdle is something else completely unrelated. Capetta, as a queer author, is likely aware of this, and I appreciated their commitment to diversify the types of relationships in LGBTQ+ lit.

And it’s rare these days for me to comment on the prose, unless it’s outright insufferable to get through (which is rare), but I love the stylistic choices made with POV and tense here. I was speaking with someone else about how third person, present tense reminded them of a play, and I realized that, intentional or not, this stylistic choice suited the strong presence of the play in the plot, as well as adding to the urgency of the situation.

While the mystery is a bit more understated than I believed going in, being something of an undercurrent in the larger story of Zara being involved in a play, I did enjoy seeing the payoff at the end, when all was revealed.

I really enjoyed this book, especially having a background in theater in school. I think this would be a great book for others who have some experience in the theater, as well as those looking for an engaging f/f story, with a mystery subplot.

Review of "Unbound by Celeste Bradley and Susan Donovan

Bradley, Celeste, and Susan Donovan. Unbound. 2011. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2012.

Paperback | $14.99 | ISBN-13: 978-1250032645 | 368 pages | Regency Romance/Contemporary Romance

5 stars

I read Breathless last year, completely unaware it was a sequel/spin-off of another book, because it wasn’t marked as such anywhere (although it does stand on its own). And while I was curious to read Unbound, its more salacious nature did put me off a tad.

However, upon finally picking it up when I was bored, I found myself engrossed in both arcs, although, as with Breathless, the historical arc was the stronger of the two. Given that the story revolves around the question of a how an English courtesan ended up becoming an abolitionist in America, I was on the edge of my seat with all the twists and turns as Ophelia took control of her life.

And while not initially drawn to the mysterious “Sir” (or the character who is later revealed to be him under the mask), that was by design, and I found myself awestruck when I found out his identity, especially as he ended up being a key figure from her previous life. And while you don’t get his perspective, I still found his growth from entitled aristocrat into a champion of women’s liberation and equality for all moving.

Piper’s story hits a bit closer to home in some ways, so I found myself living vicariously through her as she came to discover her own sexuality in the least likely of places. And while I also wasn’t wild about Mick initially, as his side of their past relationship came out, I began to see him as a viable partner for Piper. And I love how it’s another way that the two stories align: while the two women are finding their sexuality, the men they love must grow and evolve to become worthy of them.

This is a surprising dual-timeline romance that has a bit of everything: sweet moments and (very) sexy ones, hilarious and emotional, and of course, a good balance between the interwoven historical and contemporary arcs. I recommend it to all romance fans.

Review of “The Bromance Book Club” by Lyssa Kay Adams

Adams, Lyssa Kay. The Bromance Book Club. New York: Jove, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1984806093 | 339 pages | Contemporary Romance

4 stars

I was excited by the idea of The Bromance Book Club, because I love the idea of men reading romance and finding out not only what it is about romance that appeals to women, but how romance novels can be great instruction for real life love once you go beneath the surface.

And that aspect is incredibly well done. While I definitely wished for more “book club” interaction between the guys, I liked the way they all sat Gavin down and presented him with romance novels as an educational tool for love and also a possible way to connect with his wife. And they also discuss the stigma the genre gets, and how it relates to toxic masculinity governing the deeper issues Gavin is facing, as well as those the other men faced at previous points in their lives.

The romance was a slightly harder sell for me, at least at first. While I could understand Gavin’s deficiencies to an extent, given the way romance readers and writers talk about sexual pleasure and being able to have love and their dreams, it still seemed a bit off to me that Thea blamed Gavin for him justifuably pulling away when she found out she lied. I did warm up to her more as her “backstory” (as the guys say) was discussed, and how she came to realize her own role in the crumbling relationship.

This was ultimately a cute and fun read, and I can’t wait for the next book, because the guys are awesome, especially Mack, that book’s hero, and I can’t wait to see how Liv makes her turnaround. If you love romance, I very much recommend this book.

Review of “Get a Life, Chloe Brown” (The Brown Sisters #1) by Talia Hibbert

Hibbert, Talia. Get a Life, Chloe Brown. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062941206 | 369 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

I’ve long wanted to read Talia Hibbert, as she’s been raved about by my romance reader friends. So, I was pleased to hear about her signing with Avon, especially since Get a Life Chloe Brown sounded so good. And while the hype died a painful death once I read some other books I was eagerly anticipating this year, I’m glad to say it was not the case with this one.

One of the things that excited me, in addition seeing a black author who’d made her mark on the indie scene get mainstream attention in the midst of the difficult conversations about racial diversity in publishing, was its depiction of chronic pain. While it’s not a disability I know much about, I admire Hibbert’s decision to do her part to spread awareness about it, based on her own experience. And I found a lot to admire about Chloe, who starts the book somewhat sheltered due to her disability, but is determined to “get a life” and accomplish all the things on her to-do list.

And, Red, her partner in these escapades is also such a beautiful character. He’s such a sweet guy, in spite of what appearances might suggest (long hair, tattoos, rides a motorcycle). I also love the exploration of why it took him so long to warm up to Chloe, and while it was in essence what I expected, as the trigger warning at the beginning suggests, there is some discussion of domestic violence and how it led to his feelings of inadequacy where his artistic talents are concerned, and I felt it was delicately handled.

This is a beautiful romance: sometimes funny and sometimes emotional, sometimes sweet and sometimes steamy, but 100% great all around. I recommend this to anyone looking for a sexy contemporary romance.