I hadn’t read a romantic suspense novel in a long time and I wasn’t sure I really wanted to. Calhoun’s Turn Me Loose has a naked-chest-and-dog-tags cover that always turns me off. But, Calhoun: I’d heard a lot of good about her in the Twitterverse and wanted to give a new-to-me author a fighting chance. Turn Me Loose‘s introduction didn’t cover itself with glory and I came a hair’s-breath away from DNF-ing. But the writing was good, darn good, though I disliked the flash-back routine to the hero and heroine’s past. I recognized its necessity because it made it easier for Calhoun to segue into the present, but those, albeit not significant, parts of the novel never won me over. So, what did?
Let’s begin with basic premise and characterization. Seven years before the present scene, undercover cop Ian Hawthorn arrested eighteen-year-old college student and petty drug-dealer, Riva Henneman. In exchange for her freedom, Riva agreed to act as Ian’s “confidential informant”. Ian and Riva spent a lot of time together in stake-out and/or drug busts, with Riva entering dangerous situations as her CI-drug-dealer-self to help Ian and the Lancaster Police Department make arrests. A resentful attraction seethes between them, but ethical lines and power differentials are not crossed. Seven years pass and Ian walks into Riva’s business, a farm-to-table restaurant operation, Oasis, that takes teens and young adults from food-impoverished neighbourhoods and gives them a chance at fair and engaging labour. The food is delicious, Riva is beautiful, and the attraction between them still sizzles and seethes. Continue reading
Miss Bates’s first reading of a Mira Lyn Kelly romance (from the defunct KISS line) left her murmuring “meh, meh, meh”. Her recent Kelly read, May the Best Man Win, The Best Men #1, was a different experience. Miss B’s pre-reading prejudice was wary to say the least, especially in light of that rom-com cover. She side-eyed May the Best Man Win for several days before taking the plunge.
There are several ways you capture Miss B’s reading respect and enjoyment: you make her laugh; you do something tropish-ly clever or twisty; or, you write well. Kelly did all three. Premise-wise, May the Best Man Win is run-of-the-mill. Built around four wise-cracking late-twenties buddies who play best man to a groom-buddy, find love and make their way, bruised and battered (there be reasons) to the altar. The novel uses a clever framing device (Miss Bates LOVES a good frame), opening with hero Jase Foster, staunch bachelorhood in place, playing best man to buddy Dean Skolnic, as only a best man can, by holding a trash can as Dean vomits. The other three male friends the series will be built around show up as groomsmen. Jase is caring, but feeling pretty superior as he looks down at the nervous-as-wreck groom. At the end of the novel, with Jase’s own wedding-HEA, we round off with a torn sleeve and cut lip.
Miss Bates starts her fourth reviewing year (woo hoo!) with a new-to-her author, Sonali Dev, and the second novel in her “Bollywood” series, The Bollywood Bride. Ria Parkar is the eponymous bride, a Bollywood star with a past to hide and secrets to protect. When the novel opens, Ria struggles with painful memories of a childhood gone awry because of her mother’s mental illness and father’s grief. She struggles with the memory of betraying and abandoning Vikram Jathar, the great love of her life. She struggles with the sexual exploitation she endured to “make it” in Bollywood. Ria is a tormented figure; she’s on edge, unraveling, losing control. When a paparazzo takes a picture of her attempting suicide (she didn’t, she was reaching for a dropped cell phone), she flees to Nikhil’s, her cousin’s, Chicago wedding to avoid the publicity. As we soon learn, Ria doesn’t care what India’s papers say about her; her fears are deeper and more personal. In Chicago, amidst elaborate Indian-wedding traditions (the Bride‘s fun part), she encounters the young love she cast aside. Vikram is bigger, meaner, and angrier (at her) than his loving, optimistic twenty-one year old self ever suggested he’d be and it’s Ria’s fault. Keeping a cool distance, though as vulnerable to him as she was ten years ago at eighteen, Ria wants to ensure she won’t hurt “Viky” as she did then. Continue reading