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ARC Review–The Gem Thief by Sian Ann Bessey


The Gem Thief by Sian Ann Bessey

4/5*

Pub Nov 1, 201

I received The Gem Thief from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Gem Thief is a sweet, clean romance (no sex, only a few chaste kisses) between Gracie, a jewelry designer, and Quinn, the nephew of Dorcas. Dorcas is the widow of a Greek Cruise Line magnate, who enjoys treating herself to jewelry every so often. The story begins when one of Dorcas’s rings is found to be a fake, which leads to the discovery that other pieces are also fakes.

Quinn and his friend Steve at the FBI hatch a plan. Dorcas will go to the Venetian Jewelry Show as she always does, and go on the cruise that she always does–this time accompanied by her nephew and his fake fiancee, Gracie.

The characters are likeable, especially Dorcas. The romance between Quinn and Gracie proceeds slowly—a bit too slowly for me, as I’m someone who likes racier books—but in a way that is believable for the reader. With one exception–Gracie believes that Quinn is in a relationship and, at several points, makes the decision to ignore that knowledge. That was a little hard to buy given what the author tells us about her character.

That said, none of the characters is particularly well fleshed out. We only know a few details about Gracie’s personal life, and what motivates her. Same for Quinn. Ultimately, I think Dorcas is the most well-developed character in the book, which is perhaps why I was drawn to her so much.

The settings are well done. The book goes from New York to Italy to Greece and I felt like there was enough description that I was transported and added my own vision of what those places would be like.

The plot was satisfying, if very predictable. I knew who the villains were long before the main characters did, not because of breadcrumbs, but because given everything about the genre and the beats the author was hitting told me so. But it was enjoyable to watch the characters get there, too.

I probably won’t read any other books by the author, not because this wasn’t well written–it is–but because sweet romance just isn’t my thing.

ARC review–The Fearless King by Katee Robert

The Fearless King by Katee Robert

4.5/5*

Publication date–Feb 5, 2019

I received The Fearless King from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I wanted to start my new year’s reading off with a bang, and after two sweet romances without any sex, I was ready for some scorching romance. The Fearless King did not disappoint.

The Fearless King is the second book in the King series by Robert. I had not read book one prior to reading this book, but The Fearless King works as a stand-alone. Having finished it, I did go back and buy book one because I want to read the story that informed this one.

Journey King is the COO of Kingdom Corp, a family business. Her mother was forced out of town (this is the story in book 1) but she and her older brother have taken over the company. Things are going along well…until her father returns to town, hell bent on taking over the company. As it turns out, their father’s family had given their mother the cash to start Kingdom Corp and are now the main shareholders.

But it’s so much worse than her father coming back into her life at work. He abused her and her siblings as children, and he’s playing the same psychological games, and Journey feels like everything is slipping away. So she turns to the only person who might be able help.

Frank Evans is not Journey’s friend. He helped run her mother out of town. He won’t sell her real estate she wants. He’s ruthless, and trusting him with her secrets and asking him to help her oust her father is possibly a step too far, but he’s her last resort.

Frank knows that he shouldn’t care about Journey. Shouldn’t want her. But, against his better judgment, he does. When he agrees to help her, his condition is that they pretend to have a relationship so he can get closer to her family and her company. Things turn real very quickly when her father makes it clear that he’ll take the company–at any price.

I read the first two chapters, turned to my spouse, and said “now that’s how you start a book!” I was sucked in until the next thing I knew, it was four a.m.!

Journey is well written, both in her moments of strength and her moments of terror. She is vulnerable, sassy, strong, and even when her demons are riding her, she is compelling. Frank is more of an enigma, but his jagged pieces fit Journey’s. You see the struggle within him to From the moment he summons her to his office in the nightclub to the first bout of oral sex to the incredibly suspenseful ending, you don’t just want them to be together, you need it.

The sex is scorching. Incredibly satisfying, captures the mood and tone perfectly, as well as capturing the personalities involved.

I liked that it is an interracial romance, and that race was actually discussed. People harass Journey over her relationship with Frank on a number of levels, but race is absolutely one of them. For his part, Frank is also pragmatic and realistic about his skin color and the impact that has on him being one of the richest developers in Houston. The racial dynamics were also well done–there’s no fetishizing skin tone, but you don’t forget it either.

My only real complaint is that the fake relationship (one of my top three favorite tropes) doesn’t really go anywhere. It never really gains enough steam, or has enough emphasis on it in the way I usually see the trope done. I would call this erotic romance, or maybe suspenseful romance, but I wouldn’t immediately think of it and go “oh, yeah, a fake relationship book.” But this is a minor complaint–for all that it was a big part of why I chose it on Netgalley, I was happy enough with the story that I don’t care that the fake relationship was such a minor component.

4.5 stars, which I’ll round to 5 when reviewing. Pre-order it here.

Book Review–Dirty Series by Jaine Diamond

Dirty Series, Book 1

Today I’m going to do something a little different. Rather than review a specific book, I’m going to talk about a series. In the last weeks of December, I somehow stumbled upon Dirty Like Me by Jane Diamond. I read it, and then devoured the rest of the series. I’m going to try to keep the review spoiler free, but I’ll have some general comments about each book.

The Dirty series centers around the insanely popular Canadian rock band, Dirty. There are five band members, a manager, and the head of security who get books. Brody, Zane, Jude, and Jesse have known each other since at least their teens, and there’s a lot of history there. The other members of the band are newer, with new being a relative term. But the band’s makeup was static until just after the first world tour. Seth’s drug addiction went so far that he needed to be kicked out of the band. When the series starts, we’re in the lead-up to the tenth anniversary of that first album. The books take place from that lead-up through the tenth anniversary tour–roughly just over a year.

Book 1 is Dirty Like Me. It centers around Jesse, Dirty’s lead guitarist, and Katie. Katie’s best friend works in the entertainment industry, and because Katie stumbles into a meeting, she’s asked to be the girl next door in Jesse’s first video as a solo act. When the video goes viral, everyone is hungry for Jesse and Katie. He asks her to come with him on a six week tour, posing as his girlfriend

I fucking love the fake relationship trope. LOVE. IT. It’s what caught my attention about book one, which is what led me down the rabbit hole of the whole world/series.

The next story–Dirty Like US–is technically 0.5 in the series, but Diamond recommends reading it second, I’m guessing to ensure that readers know and are a little invested in Maggie and Zane. This story is free when you sign up for Diamond’s mailing list. It’s a fast read, but very important to a secret that gets exposed in the real book 2. Can you live without it? Yes, but why would you want to?

Book 2 is Dirty Like Brody. This one takes place leading up to/during Jesse and Katie’s wedding. (Which, if you’re shocked by the news that the fake relationship turned real? Welcome to Romancelandia.) The couple is Brody, Dirty’s manager, and Jessa Mayes, Jesse’s little sister. She used to write music for the band, but ran away to model. She never really comes around anymore because dark secret. He’s been in love with her forever, and it’s always been mutual but things never worked out that way. Until now?

Book 2.5 is A Dirty Wedding Night. Diamond warns you that short stories/novellas aren’t necessarily HEA (Happily Ever After), and I’m going to second that warning. However, we see several important dynamics and connections at play in four different couples. Just know going in that not everyone is getting out with an intact heart, and read it. You’ll be happy you did, especially as those dynamics become really important in future books. Don’t skip it or go back to read it later–I strongly encourage you to read it in this order.

Book 3 is Dirty like Seth. The couple in this book are Elle, the bassist, and Seth, the disgraced former rhythm guitarist. This is my least favorite book because the pairing didn’t quite click for me in the same way that the others did. I also think Seth’s redemption is too easy. But the book has a five star rating on amazon with over 50 reviews, so what do I know?

Book 4 is Dirty like Dylan. It’s a threesome romance between Dylan, Dirty’s drummer, Ash, the lead singer of another band who usually tours with Dirty, and Amber, a photographer. While Seth’s book is my least favorite, Dirty like Dylan replaced Dirty Like Me as my favorite book. I read the series on Kindle Unlimited, but thus far have only bought this book. The sex is insanely hot. It totally changes the way you see a character who primarily shows up in A Dirty Wedding Night and Dirty Like Seth, and when his heart gets broken (again) it sort of destroyed me a little.

I find that triad sex is a tricky needle to thread. I say this as a writer who has largely avoided writing threesomes because I’m intimidated by the prospect of doing so. I also say it as a romance reader who has seen it go wrong…a lot. I was really happy right up until X’s heart gets broken. I generally prefer my triads to still be together by the end of the book, and Diamond goes the route of having the heroine “pick.” In this case there are a lot of reasons it happens and everything is very complicated and shades of gray. Ultimately, though, I have to cede the fact that Diamond gets it right given the characters involved. But it’s not 100% an HEA, as she hurts the character I want to hug/fuck the most. Thank god he’s getting his own book/series in 2019.

Book 5 is Dirty Like Jude. Up to this point, Jude is a bit of an enigma. He’s best friends with Jesse, is head of security for Dirty, and has known Jesse and some of the others since they were young. He’s involved with a Motorycycle Club (MC). Because of that, I walked into the book very interested in him. The thing that didn’t quite work for me, though, was the heroine. I don’t know if I just didn’t see enough of her to get invested in her, but I wasn’t. Not like the other couples–I wanted to know what happened with Jude. Roni is Jessa Maye’s (book 2) best friend since childhood. Roni has been in love with Jude since she was a teen, but she ruined it by boasting how much she wanted to fuck his brother when she didn’t know he could hear her. Her nickname is “Wildcard,” and while she has growth and an arc, I’m just more invested in Jude.

Book 6 is Dirty Like Zane. I know I speak for many fans when I say that I was D.Y.I.N.G. to read this fucking book by the time I got to it. I read fast, so it was within ten days of starting the first book, but it wasn’t fast enough. We learn a huge secret about Zane and Maggie in book 2 (or if you read book 0.5, you’ll learn it then) and since that moment, as a reader you will be so so so so ready to read their story. To avoid a spoiler, I will just say that they have a complicated history and I was salivating to see how it would play out.

Zane is the lead singer of Dirty, a brash womanizer and reformed alcoholic. Maggie is the co-manager of Dirty. They have so much chemistry together, and watching them come together is just so fucking great. It’s a fantastic end to the series.

I strongly recommend reading the whole thing, start to finish (and even if I didn’t love book 3, it still moves the plot forward in ways that are important in the following books).

The big pros of the series

  • The sex is outstanding. I’ve revisited some of the sex scenes a few times since I read the books initially. I am especially a fan of the threesomes in book five, Dirty like Dylan.
  • The characters and the world are compelling. Part of why I burned through the series without stopping was because of how invested I became in them. There are lots of breadcrumbs along the way that make you need to know what happens in the following books.
  • Diamond turned an archetype that I’d never been attracted to before–the rockstar–and made me hungry for more.
  • There are short stories and novellas in the series. They aren’t necessarily Happy Ever Afters (HEA’s), but they add color and richness to the world and the relationships within it.

The big cons of the series–I can’t do it spoiler free. Skip this if you want to avoid the spoilers.

  • At times, the books don’t seem as thought through in advance as I’d expected. In book two, Seth is made out to be a pretty serious threat to the heroine’s emotional safety and there is a lot of bad history. In book three, he gets a “redemption” that I just found hard to swallow or believe. But kudos for making me care so much that it actually bothers me weeks after I read the book.
  • I’ll to keep this bullet as vague as possible. There is a male bisexual character, and he hates that he has sex with men and is in love with another man. The self-loathing queer is a toxic stereotype, and I was disappointed to see it. Not so disappointed that I didn’t keep reading my favorite book in the series, but I did ding my Goodreads rating by a star because of it.

I definitely recommend the Dirty series as a whole. The world building is compelling, the characters are interesting, the sex is hot, and I now want to hear one of Dirty’s albums, so that makes me officially a fan.

There is a spin-off series coming in 2019 and I can’t wait to read it!

Best Books of 2018

According to Goodreads, I’ve read one hundred fifty books this year.

Having read so many books, which were the best ones? The ones that stuck with me, that I want to grab you and tell you to read this book now. Here are ten, in no particular order.

Buy Hamilton’s Battalion here

This is an anthology of three novellas perfect for the Hamilton fan in your family. All the stories touch upon Alexander Hamilton, but they are not about him. Rather he serves to act as the connecting thread through three very different stories.

My favorite is Promised Land by Courtney Milan. It’s the story of Rachel, a woman serving in the continental army as a man and Nathan, who she tackles, thinking him a British spy. Reasonable, given his sympathies when they last spoke. Awkward, given that her husband thought she’d died of yellow fever. Rachel and Nathan are both great characters, and they have issues to work through (even putting aside the failed her own death thing) that make the story compelling.

Buy A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole here

A Princess in Theory is the first book in the Reluctant Royals series by Alyssa Cole. I couldn’t put this book down. Ledi and Thabiso’s story is part modern fairy-tale (a prince in disguise) part secret identity exposed (prince? Or fuckboy?) and a hell of a lot of fun. I love that the heroine is a scientist and completely dismissive of Prince Thabiso, who has never been treated that way before. When an unknown disease hits Thesolo, Thabiso convinces Ledi to go there with him and help find a cure. Oh, and they’ll need to pretend their childhood engagement is back on. (I love the fake relationship trope)

Book 2 in the series was great, and I’ve pre-ordered book 3 (April 2019) and the novella that will act as book 2.5 (Jan 2019).

Buy Rosemary and Rue here

So I’m actually going to use this space to encourage you to read the entire October Daye series–I devoured the first twelve books in only a few weeks. I will say that books 1 and 2 are good but a little shaky, but once they take off in book 3 they only get better and better. October Daye is a half-human half-fae in this urban fantasy series.

It opens with her on a case as a private detective–but instead of recovering the missing people, she is turned into a fish for fourteen years. That loss of time informs the rest of the series because her partner moved on, and her daughter wants nothing to do with her. She turns her back on the world of Fae until she’s dragged back into that life by a binding spell. The secondary characters are compelling, Toby is a flawed but awesome heroine who anchors the series. I love Seanan McGuire’s books almost without exception and I’m already dying for book thirteen.

Buy Puddin here

If you’ve read or seen Dumplin’ (and you SHOULD), you’ll want to read the sequel, Puddin’. If you haven’t, Puddin’ works as a solo book, but Dumplin’ is so good, I encourage you to read both. Puddin’ is the story of Millie Michalchuck, who has gone to fat camp every year, but is determined to go to a journalism camp this year instead. Callie Reyes is in line to be the next dance captain until she leads an act of vandalism, and Millie identifies her. Callie has to work with Millie at her uncle’s gym as her punishment. An unlikely friendship forms…until Callie finds out that Millie is the one who turned her in. Millie has to battle her mother and the world’s expectations of fat girls to follow her dreams. Julie Murphy is great.

Buy Me Talk Pretty One Day here

This is actually a recommendation for the audiobook rather than the physical book. While reading the essays can give you a giggle, it’s hearing David Sedaris’s voice with all of its inflections as he reads his work that will make you die of laughter. I recommend all of his books, and just finished Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls on audiobook about a month ago.

Buy Heretics Anonymous here

When an atheist is enrolled at a Catholic school, how will he ever make friends or fit in? How will he survive any day without his eyes rolling out of his head? This is a great YA novel about faith, falling in love, and growing up. Definitely worth a re-read.

Buy Big Fat Bitch here

I gave a rave review to Big Fat Bitch here, but my fast review is that this slow burn romance is a great take on Beauty and the Beast. I love that the “beast” in this book is the woman. But it’s so much more than a romance. If you like deeply complex narratives, love stories, and books making you cry, pick this one up.

Buy Media Darling here

I reviewed Media Darling here, but my fast pitch is that this f/f romance between a movie star and a media writer is possibly my favorite romance of the past year, period. Both Emerson and Haley are well written, three-dimensional characters. They make mistakes, make love, and while it’s hard fought, they get their happy ending.

Buy The Autumn Bride here

I got this book from The Ripped Bodice (indie romance bookstore–buy from them!) as a “blind date with a book.” I haven’t read much Regency era romance, but it was my blind date, so I decided to give it a chance. Abigail and her three closest friends are practically starving. So Abby does something she’d never imagined–she goes over some rooftops and breaks into a house, desperate to find something to buy–or eat. Instead she finds Lady Beatrice, an old woman being abused by her servants. Abigail and her friends save Lady Beatrice from her servants and are promptly adopted as her “nieces”–the Chance sisters.

When her real nephew, Max, returns from abroad, he’s certain that the girls are gold diggers at best. Sparks fly between him and Abigail, and the rest is history. Each of the four books (Autumn Bride, Winter Bride, Spring Bride, and Summer books) works as a stand alone, but they’re better read back to back as a series.

Buy Nate Expectations here

Nate Expectations is actually the third book in Tim Federles’ series about Nate, a small town boy who becomes a Broadway Actor. In this book, Nate’s show closes down and he has to go back to small town life. When he’s assigned a project on the book Great Expectations, he decides to put on a musical. The book centers around this. There’s great secondary characters and Nate continues on his journey to figuring out who he really is.

You don’t need to read the first two books in the series, but if this book appeals to you, read them first.

What was/were your favorite book/s of 2018? If you want to see what I’m reading in 2019, keep up with me on Goodreads.

ARC review–A Season to Dance by Rebecca Heflin

Order A Season to Dance Here

4/5*

Publication date–Dec 2018

 

I received this book as an Advanced Reader Copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

After Olivia’s mom dies, Olivia must return to her hometown. The prima ballerina is recovering from a torn Achilles heel, and might never dance again, which is ironic because her mother leaves Olivia her dance studio. Olivia decides to stay on through the annual recital, and then plans to sell the studio after.

Zach returned home to keep an eye on his father. After years on the Atlanta PD, he’s become the chief of police in his hometown. When Olivia returns to deal with her mother’s estate, it’s like a knife to his heart.

Olivia and Zach were in love in high school, but Olivia left to pursue her dream of becoming a professional ballerina, which broke Zach’s heart. He’s still in love with her. And she has never gotten over him.

Watching the two of them long for each other, but pulling apart so that they can guard their hearts is a great read. You root for them from the beginning, and when they finally come together, it’s very satisfying.

There is a subplot about vandalism, and Olivia is targeted. Unfortunately, for the reader it’s beyond obvious who is behind the attacks on Olivia’s dance school.

The sex is well done.

I recommend this book if you like the tropes of rekindling love with an ex or hometown romance.

Two Book Reviews—Touch and Sight by Kait Gamble

I’ll be reviewing both Touch and Sight in this review. Kait gave me a free copy of both books, but I liked them so much I bought them.

 

Buy Touch here

4/5*

Published April 2018

Dr. Lily Cole is a Scientist at the Antarctic research station. She’s happy to immerse herself in work, and even though many of the researchers have gone home, she’s still there, devoted to her research. That is until she’s asked to show Kiernan King around the station in hopes of opening his wallet to fund more of their research. Lily is not interested in showing him around, but her boss makes her. But she can’t help but warm to him when Kiernan proves he’s not just another playboy looking to throw some money around. But can a scientist and a philanthropist live happily ever after?

One of the reasons I’m happy to review a Kait Gamble book is that she never lets me down. Her characters are well drawn, her settings are unique and interesting, and the sex is scorching. It’s a great take on the dislike to love trope, and Kait keeps you rooting for her couple. It’s fairly short, so you can burn through it fairly fast, although you’ll want to slow down and prevent the story from ending.

 

Buy Sight here

5/5*

Published October 2018

Of the two novellas, Sight is my favorite.

Chloe has moved from London to Paris to make it on her own and to get away from a persistent ex. Worn out from work, she glances across the way to see an erotic encounter between a man and his lover. Mason is living in Paris, and doesn’t want complications. When he sees the woman across the way, he wants her. Together they start a purely voyeuristic relationship without knowing so much as each other’s names. But after a while, the distance is too much to take, and it’s time to take the relationship out of the windows and into real life.

I like the way Kait uses the passage of time to move the story along while still creating compelling characters and some burning hot sex scenes. The transition from voyeur to real life is handled deftly. Chloe and Mason are both well-fleshed out characters with complex inner lives. But I think the thing that sets this book apart from Touch is that secondary plot of Chloe’s ex, Charles. He’s not willing to take no for an answer.

Without giving too much away, I have to encourage everyone to read Sight. It’s H-O-T.

 

ARC review–Unforgettable by Elle Spencer

Buy Unforgettable here

4/5*

Published 11.13.18

 

I received a copy of Unforgettable from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Unforgettable is actually two novellas bundled together. I’ll be reviewing each separately below.

 

In Forget Her Not, Samantha King queen of the one night stand with men, has woken up next to Mia Rossi—and she can’t remember a thing about their night, only that it changed something within her. But the obstacle to their relationship isn’t that Sam can’t quite remember what happened, or even that they live far away from each other–the biggest two are that Sam thinks she’s a huge fuck-up and that Mia is her ex-boyfriend’s little sister.

That the love interest is the little sister of the man she dated for quite a long time, even to the point of him proposing to her, is a new twist on the dating someone who is known very well by the protagonist. That part is done well, including a showdown between Samantha and her ex.

However, the thing that slows down the book is that Samantha has only one method of coping–self sabotage. There’s a point, though, after which I thought Mia was crazy to keep running after her. But I was rooting on each of the women individually–for Sam to see that she deserves love, and for Mia to kick ass, but it was hard to root for them as a couple. But I suppose that’s the point–love isn’t always logical

***

In Forget Her Never Abby hooks up with the incomparable Kendall and they have an amazing night together. Only for Abby to find out that Kendall is married. Worse, she’s Kendall Squires, half of the lesbian power couple that’s changing New York’s skyline, and Abby is an architect. When Kendall’s wife finds out, she threatens Abby’s job.

Abby tries so hard to do the right thing, but is miserable. Kendall, on the other hand, is tired of living in a loveless marriage, and can’t get Abby out of her mind. When Abby and Kendall try to be just friends, their chemistry makes it impossible.

Of the two novellas, I think I bought into this one better. Kendall and Abby have the kind of raw chemistry that drags you in. I was rooting much more for them as a couple, even when the way forward seemed impossible.

***

Spencer does a good job of providing two very distinct stories, both in the “a night so amazing you’ll never forget it” trope. All four women involved have distinct voices and motivations. Each love has its unique barriers.

But for me, the biggest test is whether the book holds my interest. While there were moments when the stories dragged, it was never so much that I started to consider looking at another book instead.