MINI-REVIEW: Shannon Stacey’s THEIR CHRISTMAS BABY CONTRACT (Blackberry Bay #2)

Their_Christmas_Baby_ContractWhen I started reading romance after 30 years away, one of the first romances I read was Sarah Mayberry’s Best Laid Plans. Introduced to the genre with The Flame and the Flower, Mayberry’s romance was revelatory. It told me how much the genre had changed and how wonderful those changes were. I’d never have believed when The Flame and the Flower was the norm to read about an older heroine and hero, professionals both, disappointed by past relationships, agreeing to share a child (and, hey, it’s a romance, so they also fall in love along the way). I was attracted to Stacey’s Their Christmas Baby Contract because I was nostalgic for Mayberry’s romance and because, foolish as this is becoming, I yearn for a wonderful category romance (two attempts with previously beloved authors left me cold). Stacey’s premise captured me. The blurb will set it up for us:

Brady Nash is handsome and anti marriage. And with IVF completely out of her financial reach, Reyna Bishop is running out of time to have the child she so very much wants. Theirs is a practical baby-making deal: no emotion, no expectation, no ever-after. They’ll even “date” through Christmas to silence their hometown gossips. It’s foolproof…till the time she spends with Brady and his warm, loving family leaves Reyna wanting more than a baby…

Brady isn’t anti-marriage, nor a commitment-phobe: he has a reputation, completely unjustified, as a ladies man. Reyna too has an unjustified reputation as a man-killer. Neither of them live up to either and the town, cutesy-Christmas-parade-Hallmark-decorated is unkind in its assessment. But bargain they do and we’re off to the baby races by chapter three, with two calm, responsible introverts falling in love and ever denying it, uncertain of the other’s feelings, hesitant about their own.  Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Jenny Holiday’s A PRINCESS FOR CHRISTMAS (Royal Christmas #1)

A_Princess_for_ChristmasI’m not a fan of the holiday Hallmark movie, but I am a Holiday fan *snigger* Despite my worst imaginings: will it be insipid? Will it read like a first-person voice-over? *gasp* Might it be written in the first-person present-tense … *runs away screaming* … nope, nope, nope, Holiday’s foray into Hallmark territory was tongue-in-cheek funny and carried her sexy brand of tender, funny love to a tee. More Roman-Holiday riff than Hallmark, add cussing and sexy times, the most interesting convention-breaking that Holiday does is actually in the reverse-Cinderella-ing. Cue a genuine cross-class contemporary romance, with a financially-strapped, Bronx-born-n-bred cab driver falling in love with an honest-to-God blue-blooded European princess. The publisher’s blurb will give you the details I’m too lazy a reviewer to outline:

Leo Ricci’s already handling all he can, between taking care of his little sister Gabby, driving a cab, and being the super of his apartment building in the Bronx. But when Gabby spots a “princess” in a gown outside of the UN trying to hail a cab, she begs her brother to stop and help. Before he knows it, he’s got a real-life damsel in distress in the backseat of his car.

Princess Marie of Eldovia shouldn’t be hailing a cab, or even be out and about. But after her mother’s death, her father has plunged into a devastating depression and the fate of her small Alpine country has fallen on Marie’s shoulders. She’s taken aback by the gruff but devastatingly handsome driver who shows her more kindness than she’s seen in a long time.

When Marie asks Leo to be her driver for the rest of her trip, he agrees, thinking he’ll squire a rich miss around for a while and make more money than he has in months. He doesn’t expect to like and start longing for the unpredictable Marie. And when he and Gabby end up in Eldovia for Christmas, he discovers the princess who is all wrong for him is also the woman who is his perfect match.

The romance is easily divided into terrific first-half in Manhattan and less-belivable-more-Hallmark-y-thank-the-romance-gods-for-the-love-scenes second half. Continue reading

REVIEW: Sonali Dev’s RECIPE FOR PERSUASION (The Rajes #2)

Recipe_For_PersuasionI admit I was super-pumped to read Dev’s second “Rajes” romance because I adored Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavours. Moreover, though I can never quite come to a conclusion, it’s possible Persuasion, with its older, melancholic hero and heroine and their second-chance-at-love romance, may be my favourite Austen. And Recipe For had that rom-com publisher designation and a compellingly-Bollywood-ish storyline, signature Dev. From the back cover blurb:

Chef Ashna Raje desperately needs a new strategy. How else can she save her beloved restaurant and prove to her estranged, overachieving mother that she isn’t a complete screw up? When she’s asked to join the cast of Cooking with the Stars, the latest hit reality show teaming chefs with celebrities, it seems like just the leap of faith she needs to put her restaurant back on the map. She’s a chef, what’s the worst that could happen? Rico Silva, that’s what. Being paired with a celebrity who was her first love, the man who ghosted her at the worst possible time in her life, only proves what Ashna has always believed: leaps of faith are a recipe for disaster.

FIFA winning soccer star Rico Silva isn’t too happy to be paired up with Ashna either. Losing Ashna years ago almost destroyed him. The only silver lining to this bizarre situation is that he can finally prove to Ashna that he’s definitely over her. But when their catastrophic first meeting goes viral, social media becomes obsessed with their chemistry. The competition on the show is fierce…and so is the simmering desire between Ashna and Rico.  Every minute they spend together rekindles feelings that pull them toward their disastrous past. Will letting go again be another recipe for heartbreak—or a recipe for persuasion…?

This “rom-com” publisher hint may drive me batty. Hear this, fellow readers, Dev’s novel is light on rom and zilch on com. I had issues with Recipe for Persuasion, but I don’t fault the author on how publisher’s choose to market books. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Cara Bastone’s CAN’T HELP FALLING (Forever Yours #2)

Bastone is as much at the top of her romance-game in Can’t Help Falling as she was in Just a Heartbeat Away. I may have enjoyed the latter a smidgen more than the former, but it doesn’t stop Can’t Help Falling from being one of the best romances I’ve read this year.

Falling picks up where Heartbeat leaves off and includes lovely cameos from the first romance’s hero and heroine, hero’s son and pooch, Seb, Via, Matty, and Crabby. While Heartbeat tells Seb and Via’s romance, Falling is about the road to love and commitment for Seb’s and Via’s best friends, Tyler Leshuski and Serafine “Fin” St. Romain:

Serafine St. Romain doesn’t need her psychic powers to know she’s no longer in Tyler Leshuski’s good graces. True, she did tear him to pieces when he asked her out, accusing him of being shallow and selfish. Despite the energy crackling between them, the gorgeous sports writer is a no-strings, no-kids kind of guy. And Serafine, raised in the foster system, intends to be a foster parent herself. She won’t compromise that dream, even for a man as annoyingly appealing as Tyler.

In a simpler world, Tyler would already have gotten Serafine out of his system. For him, women equal fun. Not this kind of bone-deep, disconcerting desire. Life gets even more complicated when he becomes the guardian of his much younger sister. Suddenly, he’s way out of his depth. Serafine’s the only person who can connect with Kylie. He can’t jeopardize that for a fling. But maybe…just maybe…he’s finally ready to risk everything on forever.

The blurb, however, makes the romance more lighthearted than it is. While Bastone can write great comic scenes and with great wit, neither Tyler, nor Fin start the narrative in a particularly good place and they experience anguish, doubt, and heartache. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Jackie Ashenden’s HOME TO DEEP RIVER

We can add Jackie Ashenden to the queendom of the small-town contemporary romance duo of Maisey Yates and Caitlin Crews/Megan Crane to make a triumvirate. Which means you get more of the same if you’re a fan of Yates, or Crews-Crane. I’m not a fan anymore. I’m tired of the formula: former military heroes are now suspect, small-towns are scary “off the grid” loony-territory, and tough-talking heroines hiding lonely vulnerabilities aren’t quite believable when “they doth protest too much”. If these characters turn your crank, then you’re the reader for Ashenden’s first “Deep River, Alaska” romance, Home to Deep River.

Ashenden establishes her series setting with a romance that sees hero Silas Quinn return home when his best friend, RIP Caleb West, the town owner, bequeaths him, well, the town. It’s been thirteen years of bad memories of Deep River, except for Silas’s love for Hope Dawson:

Deep River, Alaska, boasts a fiercely independent though small population. The people who live here love it, and they don’t much care what anyone else thinks. Until the day Silas Quinn comes back and tells them an oil reserve has been found below the town and now it’s neighbor vs. neighbor. Some want to take the money and run, while others want to tell the oil company to put its rigs where the sun don’t shine.

Hope Dawson never expected to leave Deep River. Her mom needs her. Her grandfather died and left her the local hangout to run. Her dreams of college and adventure died long ago. Until Silas comes back to town, holding the key to set her free. But freedom means she loses him again, and he’s the one she’s really always wanted.

As a matter of fact, no oil company shows up, there’s no neighbour vs. neighbour and the oil reserve is a minor plot point in this day and age of climate change and alternative energy to bring Silas and Hope together. Does it matter? Not really. Because the town shenanigans and oil reserves and what the town will decide are the background to Ashenden’s purpose: her protagonists waffling on about their tormented feelings while having a lot of sex, lotso’ sex and lotso’ internal distress and denial.  Continue reading

Mini-Review: Kaki Warner’s ROUGH CREEK

Rough_CreekIf you are looking to read great historical Western romance, you’re in for a treat with Kaki Warner’s Blood Rose Trilogy. Because I’d loved it and despaired of seeing more from Warner, I was delighted to see she was back with contemporary Western romance. I’m not keen on cowboys and I hate horsey stories, but, hey, Warner! And I happily plunged into Rough Creek. The blurb made me nervous there would be too many horsey details and I was right, but the protagonists are always what’s best in Warner. The blurb was encouraging:

 
I do love me some simmering “heart-pounding tension”. Sadly, it’s not what I got: instead, a story about two careful, caring people who hadn’t exercised their heart muscles, or any others for that matter, in ages, a drawn-out dance of closeness, then distance, and a halting pace to the HEA.

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Mini-Review: Roni Loren’s YES & I LOVE YOU

yes_&_i-love_youRoni Loren’s series, The Ones Who Got Away, about the grown-up heroes and heroines who share a high school shooting, is one of the best contemporary romance series I’ve read; therefore, any new Loren series comes with anticipation and high expectations. This latest “Say Everything” series sees Loren pull deep from her counsellor background in creating her protagonists. Her heroine, the lovable Hollyn Tate, has Tourette’s, and her hero, the less lovable Jasper Deares, ADHD. Their portrayal, Hollyn’s in particular, is sensitive and knowledgeable. The premise is a tad ludicrous, but aren’t many in romance fiction? The blurb will give you an idea of it:

Everyone knows Miz Poppy, the vibrant reviewer whose commentary brightens the New Orleans nightlife. But no one knows Hollyn, the real face behind the media star…or the fear that keeps her isolated. When her boss tells her she needs to add video to her blog or lose her job, she’s forced to rely on an unexpected source to help her face her fears.

When aspiring actor Jasper Deares finds out the shy woman who orders coffee every day is actually Miz Poppy, he realizes he has a golden opportunity to get the media attention his acting career needs. All he has to do is help Hollyn come out of her shell…and through their growing connection, finally find her voice.

Hmm, this doesn’t quite honour the novel’s attempted complexity: Jasper is the barista in Hollyn’s work co-op. When she learns his acting expertise is improv, they strike a deal to help her prepare to do video using improv games and help him get his theatre troupe off the ground with a Miz Poppy review. In some muddled and muddy way, they also end up agreeing to a pretend-relationship/affair: something about helping Hallyn emerge from her sexual naïveté and give her amorous wings? But the heart will do what the heart will do and Hallyn’s heart, and eventually, I guess, Jasper’s, falls in love. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Jenny Holiday’s PARADISE COVE

Paradise_CoveParadise Cove is Holiday’s second Matchmaker Bay romance, after Mermaid Inn, and, on some level, it may be even better, its theme more complex, though its romance, weaker. As far as tropish goodness is concerned, Holiday moves from reunited-high-school-sweethearts to friends-with-benefits and what makes for Paradise Cove‘s strength, the “friendship” component, weakens the romance. Even the protagonists agree, early on, and maintain the agreement that romance doesn’t enter their relationship. This, for me, skirts women’s fic territory and that’s one country I don’t enjoy visiting. Nevertheless, there is much to love about Paradise Cove. The synopsis-blurb doesn’t give much of the novel’s essence, but it’s a good starting point to learn about Jake Ramsey and Dr. Nora Walsh:

Dr. Nora Walsh has just been dumped in spectacular fashion, making it the perfect time for a major life change. She figures taking over the medical practice in tiny Matchmaker Bay for a couple of years will help her get over her broken heart, and then she can head back to the big city. But when the first man she sees looks like a superhero god, she wonders if maybe there’s something to small-town living after all.

Jake Ramsey also has a broken heart — one he never expects to heal. He doesn’t need people anyway and is content hiding out in his secluded cottage on the beach. But after helping Nora with a medical emergency, he finds himself opening up to the witty, warmhearted doctor. Soon the local matchmakers are working overtime to pair them off, and Jake begins to wonder if his campaign to get Nora to stay is for the town or because he can’t bear the thought of her leaving.

This romance novel’s uniqueness lies in the source of Jake’s “broken heart”; while Nora’s is your standard a-hole, cheating, selfish BF, fellow-doctor, Rufus (I wonder if this is a nod to Rufus Sewell’s a-hole character in The Holiday?), Jake’s is viscerally difficult to read about, his baby son’s death, of the flu, at nine months. (Let this also serve as a CW.) Continue reading

Mini-Review: Marion Lennox’s PREGNANT MIDWIFE ON HIS DOORSTEP

Pregnant_Midwife_on_His_DoorstepMarion Lennox’s Pregnant Midwife on His Doorstep should have, could have, and on some level, probably was a fine romance. It contains many love-worthy elements: forced-proximity, one-bed, puppies, a super-nice hero, and likeable heroine. And yet.

Here is, verbatim, Pregnant Midwife‘s blurb-summary:

Neurosurgeon Josh O’Connor’s isolated island hideaway is on lockdown, but nothing will stop him entering a raging cyclone to rescue mom-to-be midwife Hannah Byrne. Hannah hasn’t found happiness since leaving her beloved Irish village. Yet stepping into Josh’s warm house, she starts to feel she might finally have found a home—for her and her unborn baby. Might Josh’s rescuing Hannah from the storm change both their lives for the better?

It doesn’t do justice to Lennox’s fine writing, her ability to capture landscape and stormy weather, to draw the reader in with a knight-in-shining-armor, breath-holding rescue scene, one of Lennox’s favourite openings. Put the heroine in danger, match her with a knight-hero, have her be rescued and then, have her, in turn, emotionally rescue the hero. It’s a lovely theme and it should have appealed more than it did. Together, Josh and Hannah are lovely. They’re not given to sentimental dialogue, nor do they snap and banter their way to a reluctant liking and truce. They’re gently humourous, no-nonsense, and good at their work. They make a great team when they have to rescue another family stranded in the storm on the other side of the island. So, what made this a desultory read? Continue reading

Mini-Review: Megan Crane’s DELTA FORCE DEFENDER

Delta_Force_DefenderThere is much to abhor in the former-military, “band of special ops” brothers romance, but I also cannot take away how compellingly satisfying Crane’s fourth Alaska Force romantic suspense novel, Delta Force Defender, was, the long-awaited story of the Force’s leader, Isaac Gentry, and the curmudgeonly owner of Grizzly Harbor’s restaurant, the shadows-in-her-eyes-and-scowl-on-her-face Caradine Scott. My reading experience alternated between eye-rolling annoyance and page-tapping eagerness, I’m embarrassed to say, but there you have it. There is absolutely nothing terribly original about the premise and, if it were not for Crane’s writing chops, this nears the Kristen-Ashley-badness territory.

Caradine Scott’s past catches up with her one night in her Alaskan-anonymity town, peopled by your run-of-the-mill small town “characters” and the ice-men that make up Alaska Force, a security service solving the world’s ills from their isolated state-of-the-art compound. Her restaurant is bombed and ne-er may be found of her except footprints leading to the water. What can I say, there are monitors. (Given the zip-tie horror of the America Capitol attack, no zip-tie carrying hero can ever be that heroic again. The former-military hero romance, with a protective, San-Andreas-fault-sized man-handling protective streak of said hero incites shivers of anxiety rather than frissons of excitement.) Leader of the he-man pack, Isaac Gentry, who does carry zip-ties, former marine, occasional-Caradine lover, is, atypically, emotionally affected by Caradine’s disappearance, terrified, though he’d never show it to his ribbing mates. Has she been kidnapped, or left for dead, or will soon be? Isaac follows her trail as Caradine takes a round-about driving route from Seattle to Maine, throwing off her pursuers but never losing Isaac, though she doesn’t know it … because he’s that good, better than anybody in the world. 
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