Review of “You Belong With Me” (Restoring Heritage #1) by Tari Faris

Faris, Tari. You Belong With Me. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2019.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0800736477 | 360 pages | Contemporary Romance/Christian Fiction

4 stars

I received a free copy in exchange for a review, as pat of the Revell Reads Blog Tour Program. All opinions are my own.

As has been the case with the other books I’ve requested through Revell Reads, I was primarily drawn to You Belong With Me due to the promise of the blurb, with the idea of the book (and likely the series as well) about preserving the historic aspects of the small town of Heritage. And while I’m still fairly new to small-town contemporaries, this is one of the most interesting I have read thus far, given the restoration element. And while it’s not the only part of the book, I found it wasn’t the only part I enjoyed either.

Faris manages to include two romances running parallel with each other, giving them equal page time, so while the blurb did not indicate this, I was not bothered when it would divert from Hannah or Luke to focus on Hannah’s brother Thomas and his ex, Janie, who he still has feelings for. I loved the exploration into the complications that led to said breakup, which turn out to be somewhat heartbreaking, and the conversation where it all comes out that brought the two of them back together.

I found Hannah and Luke’s relationship building a little underwhelming by comparison, but I did like the arc that Luke went on to figure out who his biological parents were, and was incredibly excited when he found them.

This is a delightful, sweet small town contemporary, and given that it is a debut, I’m quite impressed to see where Tari Faris goes from here. I would recommend this to those who love contemporaries with a lot of heart, with just as much focus on family and community as there is on romance.

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Review of “Red, White & Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston (+ Rant on the Fetishism of All Things British)

McQuiston, Casey. Red, White and Royal Blue. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2019.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250316776 | 421 pages | Contemporary Romance

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Americans love all things British, to the point of fetishization, as YouTuber Dominic Noble observed on Twitter recently. And the existence of Red, White and Royal Blue confirms this is true the romance reading community, if the thousands of romances, mostly historical with a few contemporary sprinkled in, didn’t already cement it. However, while American authors do try for the most part to be accurate to at least the basic nuances of British culture (with a few notable exceptions).this book does not. This book demonstrates that the author has no awareness about the distinction between the terms of “England” and Britain. If I were a drinker who had alcohol on hand, I could have had a drinking game as to the amount of times Henry is referred to as a “Prince of England.” Not to mention the election of the “Prime Minster of England.” But then, every so often, something is described as British.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s an AU. I’m fine with fictional royals, even if I feel this story would have been better served by going the Alyssa Cole route and making up a fictional country, as the fact that Prince Henry is from Britain has little bearing on the plot, as some of the elements with Alex revealing to his mother who he’s dating lead to discussions of the ramifications don’t necessarily depend on where the prince is from. But given that it is described as “political fantasy,” but the royals within the story are stil within the House Windsor, not to mention the name-drop of a surname seeming a bit too similar to the real life Mountbatten-Windsor that many of the real life British Royals use, I wanted more explanation for how all this worked in the context of British history.

There are a few minor saving graces to this book. The relationship between Alex and Henry is great and got a lot of laughs from me, especially the flirty emails. And I think, had it been handled a little bit better, it could have made a statement about how difficult navigating one’s sexuality when you’re in such an important political family is. I know Prince William recently said he’d be accepting if his children came out as gay, but there’s no denying it would still be difficult for them if they were, as depicted here.

I also think it’s also great that McQuiston wasn’t afraid to confront American politics, especially when it’s such a polarizing topic, providing an alternative ending to the 2016 election and looking forward to what I anticipate to be an equally contentious 2020 presidential race. All art is political, and I think it’s great to see a romance author who not only recognizes that but channels that in her characters with not only a female president, but a son who is also interested in politics, even while still getting his education.

For the most part, I just feel like this book was on the whole not for me, due to the inaccuracies and inconsistencies. If the things I described are a problem for you, I would skip this book. However, given it is much beloved by other romance readers, if you are looking for an idealistic political fantasy romance and aren’t massively bothered by all the errors I mentioned, then by all means, pick it up.

Review of “Tribute” by Nora Roberts

Roberts, Nora. Tribute. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008.

Hardcover | $26.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399154911 | 451 pages | Romantic Suspense

3.5 stars

I found myself picking up Tribute after finding myself in one of those rare situations where I wasn’t one hundred percent sure what I wanted to read next, and only knew that it should have a contemporary setting. I also wanted to give Roberts’ stand-alone romantic suspense another shot, since I’m feeling some withdrawal from the In Death series, and I haven’t found a suitable series to read while I await the next book’s release and subsequent processing at the library.

In retrospect, this may have been a poor choice to start with, but it was one of a bunch I had on hand, and I think it is conceptually interesting and gets a few things right. I liked the idea of a granddaughter exploring what happened to her movie-star grandmother, especially since there’s something so fascinating about the tragic personal lives of classic Hollywood stars. And while the execution of some of the elements feels a little rough, and the reveal a little underwhelming, I enjoyed the dream-sequence moments where Cilla and Janet interact, transporting Cilla to various points in Janet’s life.

It also allowed for great development for Cilla in her relationships with other characters, particularly her relationship with her mother, given that the relationship is somewhat strained because of their differing desires where Janet’s house is concerned. But it was great that this digging into the past ultimately provided closure, as that was the root for a lot of familial issues.

I also felt like the romance was quite enjoyable for what it was. Ford is an example, along with Carter from Vision in White, of a well-written Roberts hero. I love that he’s a graphic novelist, which is a profession I don’t recall ever seeing in a romance novel before. He’s also incredibly funny and intelligent, and just all-around a great person. It also doesn’t hurt that he has an equally quirky dog, Spock, who I would argue, almost steals the show.

This is definitely not the best Roberts I’ve read, especially in terms of its advertised subgenre, but there are plenty of things it does well that will appeal to new-ish readers exploring Roberts’ backlist for the first time.

Review of “Vision in White” (Bride Quartet #1) by Nora Roberts

Roberts, Nora. Vision in White. New York: Berkley Books, 2009.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425227510 | 343 pages | Contemporary Romance

4.5 stars

Vision in White is arguably one of the best books I’ve read by Nora Roberts so far. Whether it is her best book ever is debatable, given how I haven’t read much from her due to a few negative experiences, but she is at the top of her game here, creating a story that not only has engaging leads with a compelling romance, but also the friendships that she also does incredibly well.

I mostly picked this one up because of what I heard about the hero, Carter. The book club friend who not only recommended this to me several times, but gifted me a copy among other Nora titles, noted that he’s exactly the type of hero I’d like, and she wasn’t wrong. I love that he’s more on the geeky side, and a bit awkward. While I’ve heard his type is a Roberts staple, I still felt there was something unique and likable about him, although this may be my inexperience with her work coming into play here.

I also really liked the emotional depth given to Mac, and like that Roberts tends to go against the norm (or at least what’s considered more popular) by having her heroines dealing with trauma. I really enjoyed the central focus of the series being that she comes together with her best friends to develop a wedding planning business, with the irony being that, even though she had participated in pretend weddings as a kid, her dysfunctional family has soured her to the idea of marriage. I loved seeing how her trust issues were explored, and while she isn’t always the most likable character, I could understand where she was coming from, and her development felt natural.

My one minor quibble is that this book makes extensive use of acronyms, and while they are explained in the book, some are so uncommon, it was a chore to remember them. MOH for “Maid of Honor” or MOB for “Mother of the Bride” makes some sense, particularly after being told what it means once, but there was also this weird mini-plot point that led to the best man in one of the wedding parties they’re planning for being called the CBBM, or “cheating bastard best man” (at least I think that’s what it was?), and there were a couple more that sound clever on paper, but just don’t stick out in my mind. I hope the rest of the series isn’t so bogged down with shorthand like this.

On the whole, I really enjoyed this one, and will be continuing the series and seeking out more of Roberts’ contemporaries that catch my interest, since that seems to be genre she writes in that works the best for me. I would recommend anyone new (or new-ish) to Roberts’ work pick this one up, since it really is a gem, and not to be missed.

Review of “The Doctor’s Secret” (Copper Point Medical #1) by Heidi Cullinan

Cullinan, Heidi. The Doctor’s Secret. Tallahassee, FL: Dreamspinner Press, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1641081009 | 337 pages | Contemporary Romance

4 stars

Heidi Cullinan was recommended to me back when I read another m/m contemporary and was looking for similar books, and while I didn’t have high hopes of finding anything, it so happened the library was purchasing a copy of The Doctor’s Secret, and I was immediately drawn to the hospital setting and the Asian hero.

And while I can’t say for certain if the depiction of the medical profession was done well (although a quick perusal of other reviews indicates that, it was, as well as the acknowledgment that she clearly relied on her husband for a lot of medical information), I really enjoyed the usage of culture, both in defining Hong-wei as a character and forming a bonding point for him with Simon. While I did feel like their relationship moved bizarrely fast from attraction to “I love you, I want to spend my life with you,” I found their bond quite sweet, especially once I reached the end.

I also liked that, while the issue of being LGBTQ+ in itself isn’t a problem in this fictional town, with the series clearly set up to have several LGBTQ+ characters, it subtly highlights the issue of them having to keep their relationship a secret in a different way, due to the fact that they work together, and the hospital has a policy against co-workers dating. It’s a very interesting concept to work with, especially in the era of #MeToo, with new awareness around the treatment of workplace relationships in romance, especially between people in unequal positions as Hong-wei and Simon are, and I feel like it was well-executed.

I really enjoyed this one, and will hopefully read the others in the series. I recommend this to anyone looking for a fun, yet heartwarming LGBTQ+ read.

Review of “A Prince on Paper” (Reluctant Royals #3) by Alyssa Cole

Cole, Alyssa. A Prince on Paper. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062685582 | 377 pages | Contemporary Romance

3 stars

A Prince on Paper has a lot of great ideas, but it is one of those books where it feels like the ideas all got jumbled up in execution. I found the setup appealing, with its setup that feels just slightly reminiscent of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (whether that was Cole’s intent is uncertain, since the characters first made appeared in book one of the series, A Princess in Theory, which came out in 2017, and was likely in development for a while prior).

And the characters themselves are very likable and complex. Nya is dealing with a lot with her father in prison following his traitorous actions in A Princess in Theory, and Johan, behind his playboy facade, is deeply concerned about his younger brother and also dealt with loss in his past due to his mother’s death.

However, while the two of them being thrown together provided amusement at first, I found my investment in their potential as a couple flagging as the story grew more and more confusing. Ultimately, I found myself skimming more than actually reading, because the romance, especially once it hit the Big Misunderstanding, did not feel well executed.

However, I really appreciated the subplot surrounding Johan’s sibling, Lukas coming out as non-binary, and especially the discussion around the issue of proper pronouns not just in English but in other languages too, as well as promoting awareness and compassion for non-binary people. I hope that, given that Cole has announced plans for a spinoff series set in the same world, that that means Lukas will get their own book.

In summary, this book seems to have the same issue that the other two novels in the series had, of being poor executions of promising ideas, as well as trying to do a little too much, to the point of neglecting to make the central romance convincing, a problem which did not plague the novellas, due to their shorter length. However, this series is still fun and has great characters (the strongest part of the series overall), and I would still recommend them to those looking for diverse and fun contemporaries.

Review of “There’s Something About Sweetie” (Dimple and Rishi #2) by Sandhya Menon

Menon, Sandhya. There’s Something About Sweetie. New York: Simon Pulse, 2019.

Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1534416789 | 378 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

5 stars

I was so excited to hear that Sandhya Menon was returning to the Dimple and Rishi-verse with this book, even if I wasn’t sure where she would take the world next, since it didn’t seem (at first) like there were characters with loose ends. And while I expected it to be great, since I really enjoyed Menon’s past two books, nothing really prepared me for how personally connected I’d feel with There’s Something About Sweetie. And that was because of the beautiful characterization of Sweetie herself.

As the world grapples with fat shaming, authors have tried to address it, to some extent in their books and to a greater extent in recent months on social media, to somewhat polarizing results (see: the debate surrounding Kristan Higgins’ 2018 release, Good Luck With That). But I feel like with this one, while Sweetie’s characterization still may not please everyone, I personally felt it was a wonderful depiction of body positivity, amid the wider societal stereotyping of fat people, unfortunately perpetuated in this one largely by Sweetie’s own mother. But I love that she has this confidence in herself and what she is capable of, leading to her willingness to confront any challenge, especially when it comes to showing her skill as a runner. While my own experience as a fat person is very different from hers, it’s nice to have a story that is life affirming and promoting self-love.

Despite more or less liking Ashish in his previous appearance, he didn’t immediately strike me as that compelling on meeting him again, in comparison to Sweetie, given that he’s presented at first as the standard jock character. But I liked that exploration of his character, going deeper into the fact that he was always made to feel less than Rishi, which I admit was my thought about him prior to getting know him. But there is so much that makes him the perfect counterpart for Sweetie. While their shared love for sports is a given, I love that he sees her as beautiful from the beginning, even if he isn’t sure at first about their relationship becoming something serious, since he’s still recovering from a breakup. And, like with Dimple and Rishi, I liked seeing how they each provided some sense of closure to their respective inner conflicts, with each of them being able to see and love the other for who they are, even if it’s implied that their families wish they could be someone else, or something different.

This book is absolutely amazing, and I’m so glad to see a book that, along with dealing with cultural issues of Indian American families, also tackles body image in such a refreshing and positive way. This is definitely recommended reading for uplifting fat representation.

Review of “Their Perfect Melody” (Matched to Perfection #3) by Priscilla Oliveras

Oliveras, Priscilla. Their Perfect Melody. New York: Zebra/Kensington, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $4.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1420144307 | 328 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

Priscilla Oliveras is one of the new authors who I absolutely came to adore last year, so it’s a shame I left Their Perfect Melody, her last release in her Matched to Perfection series, unread for so long. But I’m so happy to be back in her world again, following compelling family-oriented Latinx characters.

I really did not expect Lili to end up where she is now, based on the prior two books, since she always felt like something of a wild-card to me, with nothing really defining her outside the fact that she’s a part of this close-knit family. But it’s clear that experiences that took place in the years since the last two books ended have impacted her, and this conveyed well, and I really liked seeing how that translated into her growth into the victim’s advocate she is at the present time.

And she meets her match in Diego, a police officer, who shares her passion not only for helping others, but also helps to reignite the love of music that has lain dormant inside her for years. They have such a great relationship, and while it’s not without its bumps in the road, especially as Diego’s family situation isn’t nearly as idyllic as that of the Fernandez sisters’, ultimately, there is hope there too.

Oliveras handles some heavy issues with sensitivity, perfectly balancing those topics with the more lighthearted moments. And this is a can’t-miss contemporary romance for those who love multicultural romances focused on family and full of heart.

Review of “The Wedding Party” (The Wedding Date #3) by Jasmine Guillory

Guillory, Jasmine. The Wedding Party. New York: Berkley Jove, 2019.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1984802194 | 352 pages | Contemporary Romance

3 stars

I received an ARC in a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

I enjoyed Jasmine Guillory’s prior books, so I was incredibly excited to win an advance copy of The Wedding Party, even without really looking to see what it was about, beyond knowing it was Maddie and Theo’s story. The excitement was tempered slightly by the knowledge that not only was it enemies to lovers, but it was also a book that essentially starts with a one-night stand, which is one of my pet peeves in romance, as it rarely leads to a well-executed book overall.

But, for the most part, while I found the chapters with the initial one-night stand and follow-up encounter clunky in comparison to the rest of the book, especially with the time jumps before getting the “meat” of the story, once it gets there, it picks up and I feel like that’s when it really starts to work and show what compelling characters Theo and Maddie are, and the underlying feelings they have for each other, that they continue to be in denial about, a trend I have a love-hate relationship with over the course of the series so far.

But it does lend itself to some adorable moments, both humorous and heartwarming, like the time when Alexa almost walked in them, so Theo hid in Maddie’s kitchen (naked, I might add) and, out of boredom, alphapbetized her spice rack, or when he comforts her when she gets teary-eyed over an emotional episode of Say Yes to the Dress…and, in one of the pivotal moments of their relationship development, she takes care of him after he’s attacked.

However, this denial of their feelings in spite evidence to the contrary and the pretense of a casual nature to their relationship almost throughout leads to almost an echo of the Big Misunderstanding that plagued The Wedding Date, made even worse due to the initial setup that they seem to hate each other. As much as I love Jasmine Guillory’s writing style, I kind of wish her characters wouldn’t all enter into casual relationships, then get burned due to one partner’s perception of the other’s lack of commitment beyond the physical aspects, or at the very least have solid, non-cliche reasons for not wanting commitment, which is one of the things that made this setup work better in The Proposal.

On the whole, this was a mishmash of some tropes I don’t really like that were executed in a way that did not endear me to them, but redeemed slightly by the sweet moments in the middle. I think it’s still worth taking a chance on if you loved the previous books and don’t mind some of the tropes I mentioned, as the characters themselves are the best part of the book overall and that aspect alone means I’m glad to have read it. It just wasn’t entirely for me.

Review of “The Look of Love” (The Sullivans/San Francisco Sullivans #1) by Bella Andre

Andre, Bella. The Look of Love. Don Mills, Ontario: Harlequin MIRA, 2012.

Mass Market Paperback | $5.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0778315568 | 379 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

I received The Look of Love and several other of the Harlequin editions of the Bella Andre’s Sullivans books as part of a haul of books from a friend who was moving recently. And despite not knowing much about Bella Andre, I was intrigued, especially since the setup sounded a bit like a contemporary equivalent to Julia Quinn’s Bridgertons, at least in the sense of the broad setup.

And as a whole, this is a delightful start to the series, introducing or at least mentioning all of the family members, while also not taking away the spotlight from the couple of this book, Chase and Chloe, who are such well-written, compelling characters. I should warn some people that there are some moments that may feel a bit info-dump-y, sorting out who each sibling is, how old they are, and what each of them does for a living, but I quite liked this, as with such a large family, I knew I would need to make a “cheat sheet” of sorts to keep everyone straight.

While Bella Andre definitely writes alpha heroes, she writes the sort that are more protective rather than overbearing, which suits the dynamic here to a tee. Almost from page one, Chase was endearing to me, with the care he showed toward Chloe and the amount of love he clearly expressed toward his family. While he doesn’t categorize himself as a saint, and he (like all his brothers) definitely has a playboy past which comes into play in subtle ways in this one, I liked that he felt like a normal person that I would like to spend time with in real life, thus making it easier to fall in love with him as Chloe did (and him being more forward with his feelings when she was unsure doesn’t hurt either!)

Chloe is also a great character, and I love how Andre delved into the nuances of what it feels like to have been in an abusive relationship in a believable way. While her reluctance to fully commit may be an issue for some, I found it worked within the context of her situation.

This is a great introductory book by an author I’m so excited to have discovered, and I will definitely be reading more from her in the near future. I recommend this to others who love a great family-oriented romance series.