Hearts Alight – Elliot Cooper

heartsalight.jpg

Hearts Alight – A

Dave Cunningham hates the rampant consumerism that’s come to dominate his family’s Hanukkah celebrations. But a chance to bring a bit of a holiday happiness to his long-time crush, Amit Cohen, helps put him in a more festive mood.

In the quest to craft the perfect gift, Dave tries to urge a few personal details out of stoic Amit. Unintentionally, he learns the Cohen family’s secret: Amit is a golem. But Amit has a problem that runs deeper than his magical origin, and a Hanukkah miracle might be the only thing that will keep the budding flame between him and Dave from going out.

I finally found it!! A holiday romance that’s holiday and romance! Hearts Alight is a “sweet” romance that hit the perfect warm fuzzy note for me. Dave is grappling with wanting Hanukkah to be more about family, but the Hanukkah his family wants isn’t what he wants from the season. His love life has never taken off, and he’s not unhappy but he wishes he had more in life. He strikes up a friendship with Amit, and they find their way through family and Hanukkah together.

This is not really paranormal. Yes, Amit is a golem, but it’s just kind of…part of who he is? Which I really liked. It kept the story feeling really relatable and normal. Dave and Amit’s families are minor characters, but still fleshed out enough to keep the story grounded. My only quibble was Taylor, a one dimensional jock who shows up and is dismissed equally quickly, didn’t really have a point – but even he’s kind of sweet. It’s not a story with a bad guy.

I know Hanukkah just ended this year, but at the risk of sounding SUPER cheesy – a story like this is timeless. It’s real cute, and I really enjoyed it!

Hearts Alight on Amazon

How the Dukes Stole Christmas

HTDSC How the Dukes Stole Christmas by Tessa Dare, Sarah MacLean, Sophie Jordan, and Joanna Shupe

Rating: B

This anthology is basically like someone put together an all-star team of historical romance novelists and said, “Hey, can you guys write Christmas hugs?” And they all said, “YEP!!!!” And thus, my streak of not being interested in Christmas THEMED books fell to pieces. Cause let me tell you, order this freakin’ anthology and order it NOW.

Meet Me in Mayfair by Tessa Dare

I’m not saying the basic premise of Meet Me in Mayfair sounds like Pride & Prejudice, if it was set at Christmas, and Mr. Darcy was set to receive Netherfield instead of Mr. Collins and no one had to die and — Okay. Louisa Ward’s family purchased a home on Mayfair from the Duke of Thorndale on credit. Louisa’s father being such good friends with the Duke meant that the Duke kind of…ignored some of the payments and amounts and…well. Then the Duke dies and his son inherits and his son is a big jerkface that demands payments or he will seize the property once again.

This leaves our heroine with one last ball to snag a husband and save the family, as unlikely as that seems. So when HAPPENSTANCE HAPPENS and she ends up in the arms of the dreaded new Duke of Thorndale — well, you can fill in the blanks. Or you can read this delightful, satisfying story. When you get to the last page if you don’t let out a dreamy sigh, then we clearly have very different tastes.

The Duke of Christmas Present by Sarah MacLean

While you’re still riding the high of the perfect sweetness that is Meet Me in Mayfair, float into the bathroom or the office or just your side table and get some tissues because HOO BOY. Hoooooo boy. Is this a story.

Eben, Duke of Allryd is a grinch! A scrooge! A miserable bastard. Eben also lost the love of his life, Lady Jacqueline Mosby whens he took off to see the world and be her own person. I would be snarky about that, except that this tale, told partially through flashbacks (BECAUSE THIS ANTHOLOGY WANTS to ruin me?) completely destroyed me before piecing me back together.

It’s an extremely effective tale of lost love, found love, grief that consumes you, and letting go of the past. And it made me cry. Almost uncontrollably. BUT IN A GOOD WAY.

Heiress Alone by Sophie Jordan 

To Scotland! Where things get a little steamier to save you from the amount of crying you just did. Here we find our heroine stranded in a Scottish highlands snowstorm. But who should come to her rescue but the reclusive next-door neighbor, the Duke of Sinclair.

If you don’t love insta-lust, you may have some slight issues with this. But it’s also one where the reader is ALSO rather in insta-lust with the hero so it all works together. And be prepared to all in love with the busybody matchmaking staff helping our lovebirds get horizontal with one another. Fun, frothy, sexy, and a lovely respite from the first two in the anthology.

Christmas in Central Park by Joanna Shupe

Rose Walker is a lying liar who lies. Namely, she writes a column as Mrs. Walker, the advice columnist. The only problem is, she’s a bit of a fraud. She has no home-making capabilities, is woefully single, and gets all of her domestic advice from her servant mother and her friends.

This only truly becomes a problem when Duke Havermeyer III, president of the newspaper, needs Mrs. Walker, domestic goddess extraordinaire, to throw a dinner party to impress the board after a dirty scandal involving lying reporters — oops? Now Rose has to scramble to find a house, servants, and…oh right, a husband. And to make matters worse, now Duke is keeping a sharp eye on everyone and he’s beginning to suspect Mrs. Walker isn’t all that she appears.

 

Seriously, while I obviously have my favorites, this was an all around solid collection of novellas that will certainly put you in the Christmas spirit.

A Chance at Christmas – Beppie Harrison

36391280.jpg

A Chance at Christmas – B

Christmas is coming, and Catherine Woodsleigh and her disabled brother John have no hope of celebration until an invitation to spend Christmas with an old friend and her family arrives. But after the holiday, worse misfortune looms before them. Living on the diminishing number of coins drawn from a jar left by their dead father and mother, a dire future seems inevitable. Will this chance to share a wondrous sparkling Christmas not only provide a glorious holiday but a new turn in their futures and the astonishing possibility of romance?

This is a “sweet” romance in the nothing-more-than-a-kiss genre label sense. And it is nice, on the whole. I asked for an ARC (but the book was published a year ago so…just a review copy I guess?) on my quest for cozy Christmas romances after my first try failed so spectacularly and it does feature a lot of general Christmas-y festive stuff, which I liked! And the set up is a good one – a genteel girl facing destitution gets a week in an Earl’s manor house before her fate is sealed.

However, I was also hoping for a Christmas romance, and there’s just not that much romance in this book. For most of the book, the only tension is Catherine worrying about the future of her brother John, who was injured in a horse accident several years ago. There’s a viscount (the brother of her old friend), and you can tell he’s the supposed love interest, but really Catherine hardly spares him a moment’s thought, because she’s so worried for her brother. The whole romance happens in the last quarter of the book, when due to a not-what-it-looks-like situation, viscount Montjoy agrees to marry Catherine, and by then there’s just not many words left in the book to explore it.

So it’s fine, as books go. If you like the parts of Sense and Sensibility where Eleanor is worrying about supporting the Dashwood women on their meager income but also with Christmas, then this book could be for you. But my quest for the perfect cozy holiday romance novel continues.

A Chance at Christmas on Amazon

Death of a Bachelor – M.A. Hinkle

42278607.jpg

Death of a Bachelor – C

cw: terminal illness

Cathal Kinnery is an arrogant, overeducated jerk, and Damon Eglamore is not afraid to tell him so. But Damon married Cathal’s best friend, so they have an uneasy truce. Then she passes away. Now they’re stuck together in close quarters, trying to honor her memory without shouting at each other all the time.

At first, they have no idea how to move forward. Damon is a chef, but all his favorite recipes remind him of his late wife. Cathal would love to start tomcatting around town again, except for that annoying promise he made to his best friend about looking after Damon.

Can they trust each other long enough to make it last, or will they fall into old bad habits again?

Welp, this book just wasn’t my jam. I picked it up* because a friend suggested it to me, as she had really enjoyed it. And it’s not bad, I can see why someone who likes what it does would like this book.

This is basically 300 pages of bickering, bantering, enemies-to-lovers** fic. And I know someone reading this just made grabby hands and got excited and my friend THIS BOOK IS FOR YOU. Stop reading this, go buy it, you’ll like it more than I did.

But for me, it was missing something. There’s not much substance to the book’s world outside this little found-family bubble. There’s no money trouble (even though Damon’s wife just died of an unspecified but serious illness and he’s not working for any of the book). His son’s biggest problem is he has a crush he doesn’t know what to do with (even though his mom died). Cathal’s on sabbatical or something – it’s unclear, but doesn’t really matter anyway. These characters just kind of float around, occasionally mentioning they miss Era (Damon’s late wife), and bickering about what counts as weird food until they realize they don’t actually hate each other.

That’s the other thing – in the first few pages we see Damon meet Cathal, we see Damon and Era together, and then we learn she’s dying, and dead. All in what’s labeled the prologue, all to kick off Damon and Cathal’s romance. It hit me right in the “fridged woman” trope and left a bruise that didn’t stop hurting for the rest of the novel. Was it, in this instance, handled in a particularly bad way? Not at all. But it’s pattern I’m tired of and nothing later in the book redeemed it for me.

*as an ARC, full disclosure
**there’s no on screen sex in this book – I knew that going in, and want to pass on that caveat to set expectations for erotica seekers.

Death of a Bachelor at Ninestar Press | Amazon | Kobo |

Tikka Chance on Me – Suleikha Snyder

51wIhIoMQnL Tikka Chance on Me – Suleikha Snyder – B

Pinky Grover has moved back to her literally-middle-of-nowhere Indiana hometown to help out at the family restaurant after her mother’s cancer diagnosis. Her mother may be doing well, but Pinky is back in a routine and the draw and pressures of family life have kept her in town rather than going back to school in Chicago.

There’s another thing, person, that’s keeping her attention in Eastville. 6’3″ of muscled, leather-clad biker gang leader Trucker Carrigan. Pinky’s not naive, she knows what the biker gang does. She knows they tried to strong-arm her family into paying ridiculous prices for protection, that they’re associated with other heinous crimes. But she finds herself drawn to Trucker like a magnet anyway — and she just can’t reconcile the Trucker she knew growing up, the man she still sees in front of her, who flirts with her and loves Marvel Comics with what she knows his gang is capable of.

And no amount of knowing better and being a well-behaved girl is going to keep Pinky out of Trucker’s bed, even if they both know it’s a disaster in the making.

This is the first modern-day, biker club, novella I’ve read in a minute and it was SO good. For once, I appreciate the realistic approach to what the motorcycle club is doing. This isn’t the motorcycle club that’s fighting the bad guys from the inside.

As I always find with novellas, I crave a deeper dive. Though, this novel, for me, is missing nothing that other novellas lack when it comes to believing a relationship and believing feelings. Snyder’s able to convey the connection the two have before we’re dropped into their relationship as readers, which saves the feeling of Love at First Sight that is pervasive in other novellas.

 

Also.

 

The sex is REALLY hot.

PREORDER on Amazon.

Something Human – A.J. Demas

41100024.jpg

Something Human – A+

Adares wakes trapped in wreakage on a battlefield, knowing he’ll die there. One of the Luth men who he’d been fighting finds him and instead of a mercy killing, lets him go. But if Adares leaves, the Luth will die of a poisoned arrow wound – and Adares knows where to find the antidote.

They save each other, and in the three days they have apart from anything else in the world, they fall in love. But that’s the easy part. Adares needs to get back to the besieged city of Tios he was fighting for. And the Luth will be outlawed by his people if he’s seen in the arms of another man. What if these three days together are all they’ll ever have?

Guys. Guuuyyyys.

I wrote my own back matter up there ’cause I’ll be honest, I don’t think the Goodreads blurb does it justice. Based on what I read on GR I was expecting some basic romance beats strung along an enemies-to-lovers trope but this book is way more than that. There are some delicious tropes, don’t get me wrong (there’s only one bed!!) but this read much more like a fantasy-historical-fiction book to me (think The Eagle, or The Thief, in some ways), than a straight up romance.

The romance itself is wonderfully done. The falling in love is so easy and gentle. It’s super hot, especially if you like first times (yesss) and any kind of forbidden lovers stories. But this book really stands out with its setting. The complications and predicaments all feel excruciating because the world is built up with such effortless skill, I never questioned any of the circumstances that pull and push the characters.

Also, this book is genuinely funny as heck. Bad jokes about standing stones indeed. I loved the story, I loved the characters. I would especially recommend it for readers who aren’t wholly on board the romance train but want their historical-fiction-fantasy genres with more kissing (and sex, just to be clear. This book does not fade to black!)

In Luth poetry, there was a formula used to indicate a very beautiful woman : you would fall off your horse trying to keep looking at her, as you rode past

Guys, I would fall off my horse for this book.

Something Human on Amazon

Supporting Own Voices

While you’re out there rocking the vote (does that date me too much?), I want to use my tiny blog space to support authors of color, queer authors, and other Own Voices of marginalized groups who have found themselves threatened in a very pointed way of late. While donating and voting and volunteering are obviously the best ways to help support making this country a safe space for all, it couldn’t hurt to also uplift and support own voices within the romance writing community. For all of the recs below either myself, or my fellow blogger Em, have read and loved these authors and highly recommend them.  Please take some time to purchase books or check one our from your library and support authors as you are able so that they can continue to give us safe spaces to escape to.

Continue reading

Band Sinister – KJ Charles

39345944.jpg

Band Sinister – A+

Sir Philip Rookwood is the disgrace of the county. He’s a rake and an atheist, and the rumours about his hellfire club, the Murder, can only be spoken in whispers. (Orgies. It’s orgies.)

Guy Frisby and his sister Amanda live in rural seclusion after a family scandal. But when Amanda breaks her leg in a riding accident, she’s forced to recuperate at Rookwood Hall, where Sir Philip is hosting the Murder.

Guy rushes to protect her, but the Murder aren’t what he expects. They’re educated, fascinating people, and the notorious Sir Philip turns out to be charming, kind—and dangerously attractive.

In this private space where anything goes, the longings Guy has stifled all his life are impossible to resist…and so is Philip. But all too soon the rural rumour mill threatens both Guy and Amanda. The innocent country gentleman has lost his heart to the bastard baronet—but does he dare lose his reputation too?

YES. YES HE DOES AND IT’S FANTASTIC.

I have been a huge fan of KJ Charles for a while now, and I had this one preordered as soon as it was announced. The more that was released about it the more excited I got and even with an incredibly high bar, this book was perfect for me.

This is, in some ways, a departure for KJ Charles. It is a very character driven romance. There’s nary a plot in sight, no paranormal hijinks, and not even a little bit of murder outside Philip’s tongue-in-cheek name of his club. The entire novel hinges on Guy and Phillip’s developing feelings (the slow burn in this one is real), and, once their feelings are established, what they can possibly do when it seems like there’s no way for them to stay together as a couple.

I feel like I could write a whole essay on how this book executes the platonic ideal of the romance novel. There’s no conflict made up by forcing miscommunication, no protestations just to drag out a story. Instead it’s two people meeting, falling in love, and dealing with the very realistic tragedy that we can’t always stay with those who make us the happiest. That your happy ending may not include my happy ending, even if we truly care for each other.

Of course, being a romance novel, I’m very pleased to say they do get their happy ending, with each other. Not to mention some of the best sexy consent I’ve ever read – a good idea that too often turns didactic here seems perfectly natural.

If you like rakes teaching virgins about making love, virgins teaching rakes about Latin declension, and also that moment in a Jane Austen movie where Darcy holds Elizabeth’s hand for the first time and everyone combusts from the pent-up sexual tension, then please pick up this book. I loved every minute of it.

Band Sinister at most ebookstores

Wicked and the Wallflower – Sarah MacLean

35695972  Wicked and the Wallflower (The Bareknuckle Bastards, Book I) – Sarah MacLean  – B+

When a mysterious stranger finds his way into her bedchamber and offers his help in landing a duke, Lady Felicity Faircloth agrees—on one condition. She’s seen enough of the world to believe in passion, and won’t accept a marriage without it.

Sarah MacLean is an old favorite of mine, so whenever I get into slumps or need a surefire bet, she’s one of my go-tos and this entree to a new series The Bareknuckle Bastards is far from a disappointment.

The eponymous bareknuckle bastards are the bastard sons of the Duke of Marwick. The sire of these half-brothers is now dead and the eldest bastard seated as the new Duke of Marwick. Sadly, none of his brothers seem terribly happy about this and are hellbent on preventing the continuing of the family line. Thus, we are introduced to the… hero? of this story Devon, the Devil. Devon, in attempting to contact his brother happens upon Felicity Faircloth, a once lauded catch, now resigned to spinsterhood.

Felicity, in a fit of pique, after being bullied by former friends states that she is engaged to the Duke of Marwick —  one problem. She’s never met the Duke of Marwick. Devil offers to be an Angel  — but not all is as it seems, and best laid plans never go the way we expect in a romance novel.

The first half of this book was a bit drawn out and I felt myself getting antsy for SOMETHING to get GOING. But once this novel found it’s rhythm, it was like getting walloped right in the feels.

With that in mind, I leave you with this quote that left me flailing around my couch like a fool:

“I wish to make you burn until you’ve made the stars jealous of your heat.”

If I Loved You Less – Tamsen Parker

26347550._SY540_.jpg

If I Loved You Less – A

Matchmaking? Check. Surfing? Check. Falling in love? As if.

Sunny, striking, and satisfied with her life in paradise, Theodosia Sullivan sees no need for marriage. She does, however, relish serving as matchmaker for everyone who crosses her path. As the manager of her family’s surf shop in Hanalei Bay, that includes locals and tourists alike.

One person she won’t be playing Cupid for is the equally happy bachelorette down the street, Baker Kini ʻŌpūnui.

I am SO HAPPY to report that this book is charming as heck.

This is a f/f, contemporary retelling of Jane Auten’s Emma with a healthy dollop of Clueless on top. Theo Sullivan, happy and popular in her small town on Kauai, takes it upon herself to set up new friends and old alike, and it’s romantic disaster after romantic disaster until Theo realizes she doesn’t even have a clue what her own feelings are, never mind anyone else’s.

It follows Austen’s outline faithfully, but the characters feel fresh and the pacing is snappy. It’s a light, fun read and I loved how the ending was handled – it really felt earned. And it’s pretty PG for a romance novel, which I liked in this very Austen-cum-teen-movie inspired context.

I read a lot of crap this month, and this was a nice change of pace.

If I Loved You Less on Amazon | iBooks | Kobo | Google