Overnight Sensation (Brooklyn Bruisers #5) by Sarina Bowen

Overnight Sensation book coverOf course I had to pick up this recently-released title from my favorite author. Due to life restrictions, I wasn’t able to actually read it until this past week, but I ate it right up.

This one is about Jason Castro, a relatively new addition to the Brooklyn Bruisers hockey team, but one who made quite a splash the previous season (where he was dubbed an “overnight sensation”). But now the coach has moved him from left wing to right wing and he’s struggling to adjust to the new position.

Heidi Pepper is the new intern for the team. She’s also the daughter of the NHL commissioner, a very rich man based in Nashville, though he lives mostly in NYC. She’s a nice southern girl who knows all the right etiquette from her charm school days. She was at Bryn Mawr College for the past three years but has decided not to return, which has enraged her father. He intervenes in her internship so that she’s placed on a rotating schedule of jobs, working the concession stand, being an Ice Girl, being a valet, and driving the Zamboni (resurfacing the ice).

But before we learn most of that, we get the opening scenario, which is Heidi and Jason and a bunch of other guys from the team having a good time at the bar. We do learn that the two of them have been making eyes at each other for a while, and Heidi has decided that this is the night she’s going to make a move. They flirt all night but then she has just a little too much tequila and has to sleep it off—in his apartment because she refuses to tell him where she lives.

After a picture of them from that night circulates, her father tells Jason to stay away from Heidi. Heidi’s humiliated about all of this, of course, but she does what she can to maintain some sense of dignity. But things get even worse when she gets swindled trying to get her first apartment. She has nowhere to go but back to her dad’s condo, and she doesn’t want to do that, so she ends up sleeping on Jason’s and Silas’s couch. She’s still trying to convince Jason she’s up for a hookup despite his “one-and-done” rule, but he’s resistant because it would make things awkward afterward.

Overall, this is another winner from Bowen. It’s not her sexiest book but it’s still got the scenes you’d expect. Jason is pretty likable even though he has been a player—his backstory makes his approach to things make some sense. And Heidi’s a lot of fun. She’s very energetic and does bold things all the time.

If you’re a Bowen fan, you won’t want to miss this one.

Just This Once (Escape to New Zealand #1) by Rosalind James

Just This Once book coverA woman at a romance writing conference recommended this series when we were talking about feminist romance. If the first book, Just This Once, is anything to go by, I’m going to enjoy the series.

Hannah is a hard-working, serious woman with the weight of the world on her shoulders. Although they’re all grown, she feels responsible for her younger brother and sister, both of whom aren’t settled in life yet. They all live in San Francisco and Hannah works in marketing at a women’s sports apparel company. She’s doing really well—except for the fact that she’s a workaholic. So she decides to take a three-week vacation to New Zealand. She’s hoping for some beach time. But on her first morning there, she goes for a swim and ends up getting caught in a rip tide.

Enter Drew. By chance, he’s out in his kayak and spots her getting launched out to sea so he swoops in and rescues her. Then he insists on seeing her back to her hotel and taking her to breakfast, all to make sure she’s really okay. They really hit it off and have a fling that lasts the rest of her trip. They agree to keep in touch after she returns, but Hannah especially isn’t holding her breath. She hasn’t had much luck romantically, after all.

All she really knows about Drew is that he plays rugby professionally. What she finds out on her journey home is that he not only plays rugby professionally, but he plays international rugby and he’s the captain. He’s a huge deal in New Zealand. She feels like a fool for not comprehending that while she was there and she’s intimidated by the situation. Still, Drew seems interested. He visits a few times and eventually convinces her to move to NZ.

Fortunately (from my perspective) she doesn’t jump at the chance to be his live-in girlfriend and nothing more—because her career matters to her and it would have annoyed me if she just abandoned it. Nope. Instead, she gets a job and a 2-year work visa and she moves there and even gets her own apartment. I like this woman a lot. But then it’s not all sunshine and roses from there, fortunately (because that would be boring).

Kudos to James for creating a sports star who I could actually believe maybe wasn’t a huge player prior to meeting The One. And I really did like and respect Hannah throughout, even if she was a bit hard-headed at times. It all worked out. One thing I should mention is that this is not a fast-paced book. It’s a slow burn. And I also have to mention, there’s head-hopping (changing point of view mid-scene), which I’ve said before I’m not a fan of. However, I liked the book enough otherwise that I looked past that. So if you’re looking for a good romance about a strong woman, check this one out. It was especially fun to hear all the dialect (done well, I should add) and see the cultural surprises.

Dating-ish (Knitting in the City #6) by Penny Reid

Dating-ish book coverDating-ish is the second-to-last book in Reid’s Knitting in the City series. It features Marie and brings back a secondary character from Happily Ever Ninja, Fiona’s neighbor Matt. The guy Fiona used to babysit.

Marie is definitely sick of online dating, especially after her latest bad date with a guy named Derek. When she encounters him at her knitting group (he’s there to go running with one of the other men), she discovers his name’s Matt, not Derek. She also learns he’s an academic focusing on creating compassionate AI in the form of a robot. Then he manages to insult her and it looks like it’s impossible they’ll ever connect. But when Marie—a journalist—thinks of a story idea that he can help her with, she effectively forces him to do so.

Thus begins a weird relationship that turns into a kind of weird friendship. Marie’s story idea is a series involving relationship-related robots as well as relationship-related personal services. There are some wild services out there, including cuddling, dry humping, and orgasmic meditation. She and another journalist work on the series, experiencing these services (including escort service but not going as far as prostitution). Meanwhile, she’s also working on the robot stories and getting to know Matt better and better. Eventually, she finds herself totally smitten with him even though he’s told her he isn’t interested. It’s definitely going to be an uphill battle.

The book is full of computer and AI jokes and banter that should make you laugh. Marie and Matt are both complex characters with their own issues to deal with. And the cast of secondary characters, which has grown as the series has progressed, is charming as usual. At the end, we also get a taste and Kat and Dan’s story that book 7 is dedicated to. Overall, Dating-ish is another successful book from Reid that I’m glad I read. Fans of hers will have to read it.

Remedial Rocket Science (Chemistry Lessons #1) by Susannah Nix

Remedial Rocket Science book coverI stumbled across this book because of the STEM-association—the main character is a freshman at MIT in the prologue and a fresh graduate at the opening of the main book. Her degree is in computer science, so I figured I’d like reading about her. And I did.

After getting stood up by her boring sometimes-date during her freshman year, Melody hooks up with Jeremy, who’s passing through visiting friends. They get along and he gives her his number in case she’s ever in LA. A few years pass and she’s looking at a few job opportunities. She interviews for one in LA and meets up with Jeremy, only to find out that he’s got a girlfriend. After she accepts the job, she learns that his mom is the CEO of the company that hired her even though he swears he didn’t intervene to get her hired. They become friends and Melody becomes even better friends with his girlfriend, Lacey. It takes a while for Jeremy to become a free agent again and even long for them to reconnect on a more meaningful level.

The book’s billed as a rom-com, and it is very funny, although you might have to be in-the-know to get all the jokes. But there’s plenty of clever and self-effacing humor to keep the less technically-informed reader amused.

Her mom says:

“Don’t be silly, baby. It’s not like it’s rocket surgery.”

When Melody’s at an fancy shindig with Jeremy, the author tells us:

It was a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman with a much wealthier and more successful boyfriend, must be an opportunist angling to marry into money.

I just loved that. And when they finally managed to get together again for the first time since MIT, it’s funny:

...he spun her around and carried her toward the bedroom.

It took them a while to get there, because they got distracted a couple times along the way. She nearly had her way with him up against the wall in the hallway. After that there was a minor collision with a lamp, but she never liked that lamp anyway, so whatever.

I have to say, this book is so tame that I struggled to really think about it as a romance. I know there’s such a thing as sweet romance, and this qualifies, but it really felt more like contemporary YA with a love story featuring older characters. I’m not saying this as a criticism, but it is a thing I felt. So. I would have liked more sexual tension, personally. You can see what I mean in that last passage—that’s about as risqué as it gets.

Anyway, I did enjoy the short book and will pick up the next two in the series. If you like nerdy heroines, check it out yourself.

Catch of the Day (Gideon’s Cove #1) by Kristan Higgins

Catch of the Day book coverThis is the first book in Higgins’ Gideon’s Cove series. This book won the RITA from the Romance Writers of America in 2008, which I think it deserved. It’s another solid Higgins emotion-fest.

Maggie hasn’t had much luck in love in her adult life, even if she is a successful diner owner. In high school, everything was great with her boyfriend Skip. But Skip turned into a jerk after college, when he came back to town with a new girlfriend in tow—all without even bothering to break up with Maggie. She was heartbroken and humiliated. Then there’s the whole falling-in-love-with-a-Catholic-priest thing. This whole tale is told in the prologue and it’s funny and you really sympathize with her and how she missed what his profession was. Totally not her fault. Of course, blabbing to everyone in town about having met someone maybe wasn’t her smartest move, but whatever. Her crush on him is still there at the beginning of the story proper and it provides awkward and amusing moments.

Maggie had a few encounters with Malone (first name unknown) and they haven't gone well. She’s sort of scared of him as he’s very gruff. But when he saves her from an awkward situation she’s been put in, she starts to look at him a little differently. And when he surprises her with a kiss—which she is surprised to enjoy tremendously—she really starts to think of him in a different light. They start hooking up, basically, and have some serious ups and downs, especially after she overhears something that makes her think he cheated on her. Naturally they get on the same page eventually, but it’s at the very end of the book. More pages of suffering than in a lot of romances (which I appreciate).

There was one thing I felt was a little unresolved. One was that Malone got really mad at her for “taking care of him” one day—cooking for him, cleaning his house up, etc.—after he’d been dragged off his boat into the sea. I never understood why he was mad at her about that specifically (I got that he was in a bad mood). I probably just missed something.

Anyway, Higgins again delivers an amusing and emotionally-drive story told entirely from Maggie’s perspective. I’m happy to report that Maggie isn’t too silly—some might think her ongoing crush on Father Tim is silly, but I get how sometimes you just can’t control who you like, so it worked for me. She’s got her requisite bad dates in there and the complicated but overall loving family. As one of Higgins’ earlier books, it’s low on the steam scale.

Overall, this is a good book that any fan of contemporary romance would enjoy. If you haven’t already read this one (I know it came out a decade ago…), go for it.

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

The Proposal book coverI was looking forward to reading this book, Guillory’s next after The Wedding Date. This one also features a black heroine, but this time the hero is Latino.

I really liked the overall story here—Nik (short for Nikole) is proposed to on the Jumbotron at a Dodgers game by her boyfriend of just a few months, who she doesn’t even like that much. In front of everyone, she turns him down. Then she’s rescued by Carlos and his sister and from there Nik and Carlos develop a relationship. I liked both of the characters and found them somewhat relatable. She’s a successful freelance writer and he’s a pediatrician. The other characters in the book were also good. Nik has two close friends and her ex (the proposer) is an amusing total loser. Carlos has a friend but his family is huge in his life.

Despite all that, I didn’t love the book. It wasn’t bad by any means and I never considered not finishing it, but some of the dialogue fell flat for me. Some of the humor did as well—I did think there were funny parts in the book but I got the feeling I didn’t find them as funny as I was supposed to. Also, in the beginning, they were each unsure if the other liked them despite what I considered blatant signs that they did, which irked me. I just feel like this book was pushed out a little before it was ready. In my humble opinion.

Despite how I felt, many people will probably enjoy this book. And it’s definitely great to see some brown characters hitting the mainstream. In this case neither of the main characters is white, which is definitely cool.

Happily Ever Ninja (Knitting in the City #5) by Penny Reid

One of the coolest things about Reid’s Knitting in the City series is that each book is very different from the others, which makes it fun to read. 

Happily Ever Ninja features Fiona and Greg, who have been married for well over ten years at the opening of the book. That is, of course, unusual for a romance. And maybe this isn’t truly a romance novel for that reason, but it still is part of the series canon and anyone who likes the series will want to read it.

Happily Ever Ninja book cover

I read the prequel, Ninja at First Sight (#4.5), first, as is recommended. So I was already familiar with Fiona and Greg’s backstory. I think the book can still be enjoyed without reading the prequel, but if you’re a series purist don’t skip it. 

In Happily Ever Ninja, Greg is always gone because he is a petroleum engineer who works for a company that goes around the world helping to clean up processes at oil rigs. At the beginning of the story, he’s in South Africa and surprises Fiona by appearing home for 24 hours one day. They go hang out with the knitting crew and their significant others and come home and crash. Because Fiona is exhausted, being effectively a single mom of two active kids. Greg leaves the next morning. 

Three days later, Fiona finds out he’s been kidnapped. She also finds out he’s been lying about where he has been working. So Fiona, who oh yeah happens to be a former CIA operative, heads off to Nigeria to rescue him, all with the help of Quinn and some of her other friends. She gets to him and then the plan falls apart because of Greg being a bit arrogant and obstinate. Now they have to figure out how to get out of Nigeria safely without Fiona getting arrested for treason since she was explicitly told not to go. 

Fortunately, things do work out. But then Fiona and Greg have to work out their issues with each other after they’re safe and sound. It’s interesting to see how that happens in a mature relationship instead of what we usually get in romance novels—brand new, honeymoon-phase relationships.

This is another winner in the series and not one you’ll want to miss. 

Hot Head by Damon Suede

I first met Damon Suede in May of 2017 at the RT Convention Writers Boot Camp, where he was on of the very involved instructors. Then recently at this year’s Emerald City Writers Conference, he taught a master class. Both times I had short conversations with him. But it’s his general presence that is so remarkable. He’s a great speaker and he’s so solid on content. When we were working on pitches and loglines at RT, he would come around to help and you’d give him your basic premise and he’d come up with something genius in like two seconds. (After you’d been struggling for minutes.) He comes from a theater background and is a modern-day entertainment polymath. So I was quite curious to see if he was as good a writer as I guessed he might be.

He is. Hot Head is a well-plotted and very emotionally demanding novel about two male firefighters who have been best friends since childhood. The book is told entirely from the perspective of Griff, who has fairly recently become very attracted to Dante. Griff grew up basically as a member of Dante’s large family, as his mother died when Griff was young and his father basically absconded. So Griff thinks his feelings are very inappropriate and would only cause all sorts of turmoil between him and Dante and in the family. 

But then Dante starts down this dangerous path. Looking for some quick money to save his house from foreclosure, he agrees to appear on a porn site. Griff tries to convince him not to but loses that battle. When Dante works on convincing Griff to go on the site, too, for some particularly lucrative “extended activities”, Griff struggles to say no. But he has a hard time saying no to Dante. 

What could go wrong? Loads of things. For one, if the fire department finds out, they’re really screwed. But even worse, what could go wrong between Griff and Dante? Everything. You’ll have to read it to see if it does. 

As I mentioned, the plot of the novel is satisfying. The secondary characters are also good (Dante’s family, an EMT, and a maybe-kind-of-slimy “businessman”). The choice of using Griff’s point-of-view only is a good one that adds to the tension throughout the book because we can only guess what Dante’s thinking based on what Griff sees. Griff is such a sympathetic character with a whole warehouse of feelings, and the mastery Suede has of the reader’s emotions is admirable. I should mention that this is a very steamy book. Also, this is the first m-m book I’ve read that was actually written by a gay man and the level of detail is interesting and very informative. If you’re looking for that kind of information, anyway. (As a romance writer, I am.) 

If you want a very authentic m-m romance, try this one out. I’ve read a few other books from this press, and this one is by far the strongest. 

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

The Kiss Quotient book coverThe Kiss Quotient is an unusual romance with its heroine being on the autism spectrum and a hero who’s half Swedish and half Vietnamese (though culturally more Vietnamese-American since his Swedish father is out of the picture and his entire extended family is through his mom). So double bonus points for diversity. But does it work?

Yep, it does. They’re both great characters, though Stella’s my favorite. The premise is that Stella’s mom is pressuring her to get married and start having kids since she’s at the ripe old age of thirty (I hate biology). Stella isn’t opposed to the idea of kids, but relationships terrify her. She has mild touch aversion and sex is nothing but torture for her. But she decides her mom is right and the only way she can possibly have a relationship is if she gets better at sex. She needs practice. So she hires an escort. Obviously.

Okay, ignoring the fact that I don’t think it’s that easy to hire one who will assume sleeping with you is the primary purpose (though maybe it is—I wouldn’t know), this is a great premise. So Stella finds Michael and she explains her situation, which weirds him out at first, but then he goes along with it. Still, he’s baffled that she can’t just find a guy the normal way because she’s beautiful. But things don’t go well on their first practice session because Stella freezes up.

Michael usually has a limit of one night with a client, but he ultimately agrees to more lessons with Stella because he’s worried about how other escorts might treat her. They might not be as gentle and understanding as he is. Because although he doesn’t know she’s on the spectrum, he instinctively senses how to deal with her due to have an autistic cousin.

Michael breaks more of his own rules with her and soon enough they’re in an actual practice relationship because that made more sense to both of them in terms of useful lessons. She meets his family and that doesn’t go well at all due to her lack of social awareness and certain other concerns she has (it’s one of those things that’s funny and sad at the same time).

The problem is that each of them knows this is practice and even though they’ve fallen for each other, they assume everything’s fake (except their own feelings, of course). Stella knows Michael will not want her when he finds out she’s autistic and he is convinced that she won’t want him when he founds out what a douche his father is (assuming she’ll guess he’ll end up being the same).

The resolution is interesting and satisfying to watch as the book is well-plotted. The characters are complex and surprise you at times, but in ways that make sense. There is quite a bit of steam (this is the point of the practice, after all), but most of the encounters go awry in ways that are again a little funny and a little sad. It’s just that you know Stella is into it but her issues keep her from letting go. Fortunately, Michael’s a good guy. And ultimately, things do get better.

Overall, I really liked this book. It’s great to see the kind of characters that don’t populate many romances presented as real, complex people. I’m looking forward to Hoang’s next book.

Fireworks (True North #6) by Sarina Bowen

Fireworks book coverEven though I’m swamped by my MFA program, I started this book (which of course I pre-ordered) as soon as it arrived on my doorstep. I’m such a Bowen fan and this is my favorite series of hers. It certainly didn’t disappoint.

This story features Benito Rossi, Zara’s and Alec’s brother. As great a character as he is, the star of the book for me was Skye, who’s a very tall and damaged from a crappy childhood, but she’s made good with her life. She got herself through college (at an elite university, no less) and has a coveted job at a news station in NYC. Things aren’t perfect though, due to an on-screen gaffe Skye made. She’s on a forced vacation and has ended up traveling to Vermont to do a favor for her slightly wild stepsister. Going back to Vermont is a bit of a nightmare for her for one primary reason: Benito.

Twelve years earlier, Skye had been sixteen and Benito eighteen when she was stuck living in a trailer with a dirty and mean cop her mom was shacking up with (Jimmy Gage). Benito was her solace and tried to keep her safe from Gage, even though he wasn’t able to do much. She spent as much time as possible outside the trailer and sitting in a clearing in the woods with Benito and his ukulele. They kept things chaste until right before prom, when he finally asked her to the dance, making her beyond happy. But then he didn’t show and Gage told her he’d abandoned her for another girl. Skye packed a bag and fled to live with her aunt in New York. But what she doesn’t know is the real reason he didn’t pick her up that night.

Benito has never been the same since the day she disappeared without explanation. For him, she was the one. But still, he’s made good with his life, too. He spent time in the military and is now a narcotics officer for the state (I think; I might not have his employer right). He’s in the middle of a case involving Gage and others that will hopefully result in a huge drug bust. And then Skye shows up, with some almost-cockamamie story about her stepsister.

Skye has to stay with Benito because she was going to stay in her stepsister’s house, but it’s been tossed. The sparks are still there. But there’s still the problem of trust on Skye’s part, given that she doesn’t know the real reason Benito didn’t show up that night—he was in jail for punching Gage after he’d threatened Zara. Nobody knows that she doesn’t know, either, so it’s an old sore that won’t go away. Benito can tell that Skye’s a little fragile, but he’s not sure why and it takes a while for him to suss it out and help her get over it.

The book has the expected sexytimes, which are good and a little different because Skye isn’t exactly (at first) an enthusiastic seductress. Benito helps bring her out of her shell and discover who she is. Overall, Bowen takes us on the emotional journey you’d expect from her. I sincerely hope this series never ends.

A must for True North fans and highly recommended for everyone who loves a good contemporary romance.

A Bogie in the Boat (Linx & Bogie Mysteries #2) by Elizabeth Hunter

A Bogie in the Boat book coverElizabeth Hunter was one of the keynote speakers at Emerald City Writers Conference a couple weeks ago. I posted previously a little about her speech, which I enjoyed, but now I’m going to review the free book we all got from her (yay, free book!). A Bogie in the Boat is the second in a series that’s not really a romance, thought there is a romance in it. (I’m still including it here because Hunter does write romance, too.) Linx is a young urban artist in the LA area (she does large murals and got in trouble in the past for graffiti). She also is a medium and has one ghost named Frank attached to her, a detective who was killed on the job in the 1950s. Her mom and grandma (nan) are both also mediums. Otherwise everything’s normal. So that’s the basic world setup.

In this book, a neighbor discovers a dead body and comes to tell Linx’s nan about it, but she’s out so Linx herself goes to see the body and call the police. This is how she ends up with another ghost attached to her, something that hasn’t happened before. It’s always just been Frank. She doesn’t particularly want this new ghost, who doesn’t remember how he died, so now she has to help solve his murder. Enter (the living) Detective Lee, who turns out to be a very attractive Korean-American guy with impressive arms. Intrigue and mild romance ensue.

I should mention that Linx’s best friend is Raul, whose grandmother is Haitian if I remember correctly. Hunter was brought to the conference this year (theme: diversity) because her books are full of people of color, just like they should be when they’re set in LA. Of course, this isn’t an issue book by any means—it’s just a fun little novella about a crime-solving medium/artist in a realistic setting.

I enjoyed it and will be looking for Hunter’s other books.

ECWC 2018

I got home a couple hours ago from this year’s Emerald City Writers Conference run by the Greater Seattle chapter of the Romance Writers of America. This year’s theme was that hot topic, diversity, which meant there were some interesting speakers. It was, like conferences are, intense.

It started Friday morning with Damon Suede’s master class on using verbs to create powerful characters. Damon’s a really great speaker and very entertaining, but he’s also very sharp, observant, and quick. (I took classes from him at the RT boot camp back in 2017). His master class focused on the idea that the traditional approach of character building by making a list of characteristics (name, height, eye color, religion, etc.) is not the right way to create vibrant and memorable characters. Since actions speak louder than words, focusing on actions (i.e. verbs) instead of other boring words to convey character attributes from the beginning leads you to deeper characterization throughout. There was a lot more to it—if you ever get a chance to do a master class or workshop with him, do it.

There were a couple of sessions Friday afternoon, but I have to guiltily admit that I skipped them because I got the results from the second of two beta reads on my most recent YA book back Thursday night and I was desperate to get started revising it. So that’s what I did Friday afternoon. I went to all four available sessions on Saturday, including one on product description (mostly back cover copy), one on neurodiversity (focusing on autism, AD(H)D, Tourette’s, and learning disabilities), one on human trafficking, and a panel on “seasoned” romance (i.e., anything with heroines/heroes over 35 (eye roll)). Sunday morning I went to a session about story structure.

All the keynotes (Damon Suede, Beverly Jenkins, and Elizabeth Hunter) praised romance as an important genre and also talked about the importance of reading and writing in the world, but especially in a country that’s as divided as ours is now. Damon talked about books that really have changed history, like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as did Beverly. He said to “write books that create the world you want to live in.” He also talked about praising and bragging about other people’s books and how that usually comes back to help you in the end, and how we have to challenge ourselves to improve as writers. He riled up the room when he told us he was once asked by an interviewer how he felt about making people want what they can’t have—and he responded that that wasn’t what he was doing—he was teaching them to ask for what they deserve. Beverly told a hilarious story about an editor who told her that “on the down low” was incorrect grammar since she clearly meant “on the lower shelf” (which she did not). She pointed out that that was reason 657 that we need more diversity in publishing. She also talked about the dismissive media, with phrases like “bodice ripper,” “nasty books,” and the question, “Do you actually do all the stuff you write?” (always say yes because that’s what they’ll assume whatever you say). Beverly also talked about being a good community member—“Karma’s only a bitch if you are.” The last keynote was Elizabeth’s. She was new to me but I’m excited to read her book (they always give everyone one) because she seems interesting. She grew up white and middle-class but when she started writing wrote a very diverse cast of characters, which got her some attention and a fan base. She pointed out that “White middle class American girls haven’t been around long enough to make much impact in the immortal world” (that’s probably not a perfect quote), which is funny and very true. She also talked about the importance of empathy in writing and gave some steps to take if you want to improve diversity in romance. Overall, they were good talks.

Saturday morning, I also had the weirdest pitching experience of my life. Mine was the first pitch session of the conference, at 8:30. I went in, introduced myself to the editor and we shook hands, then I started my pitch for my first YA book, which is pretty short (the pitch). She asked a bit more about the book, then what inspired me to write it, and some comp titles. We talked a little more and everything seemed fine. She asked what else I worked on and I mentioned that I did both romance and YA but was focusing on YA while working on the MFA. I wasn’t sure if she was interested or not, but she definitely didn’t seem disengaged. Then they gave the two-minute warning and we kept talking. I was wondering if she was going to ask for pages or what, but I thought maybe she was still trying to decide while we continued to talk. Then they called time and the editor said, “Whoop,” and looked at me without expression. Like, oops, we ran out of time, nothing we can do about that. I awkwardly stood up and left. I mean, obviously she didn’t want it, but why didn’t she say so? Was she afraid? Did I look dangerous or something? Normally they tell you they’re not interested with actual words. Later, I met someone else who’d pitched to her and had a clearer negative response, but it also lacked good closure.

Anyway, that was my weekend. Back to the real world tomorrow.

Ninja at First Sight (Knitting in the City #4.75) by Penny Reid

Ninja at First Sight book coverSince I’m having so much trouble keeping up with my romance reading (not to mention my own novels… sigh), I thought I’d pick the shortest romance on my shelf. Ninja at First Sight seemed perfect, even if it could be read after the book it’s a prequel for (which I haven’t read yet). I still prefer reading books in chronological story order.

This novella was, of course, cute and entertaining (it is Penny Reid, after all). Fiona is a college freshman with an unusual past—she was formerly an up-and-coming Olympic gymnast, had cancer at fourteen, and didn’t go to high school but is in advanced classes. Greg is a British 23-year-old who served in the US Marines (it’s complicated). They meet in the dorms and although there’s clear chemistry at first, it seems impossible—Greg’s got a girlfriend and is desired by all girls and women in his vicinity and Fiona is a totally inexperienced hermit. She wouldn’t seem to have a chance even if she was interested in him. She tells herself she’s not.

I would calibrate my smiles and interactions to friendship or acquaintance level. No big deal.

Fiona is really cool. I always like a smart heroine, but she’s also a little quirky. She’s not shy even though she spends most her time in her room. She’s just inexperienced with all social situations, not only romantic ones. Greg is less obviously appealing at first, but he’s clever and funny and the two of them engage in several loaded debates, at least one witnessed by half the floor (which she wins).

Greg’s pretty cocky but he’s adorable when he gets drunk and goes to Fiona’s door and gives her the first real clue that he’s interested in her. Knowing that she’s never been kissed, he tells her he wants to be her first everything. And he really sees her, one of the few people to do so.

“I can’t stop thinking about you. I saw you during the first week of class last semester, and, Christ, you’re gorgeous, but you’re so… different, sad… ethereal. You walked right past me for months, but I saw you every time. I see the sorrow in you… or maybe you don’t even know…”

When Fiona thinks about what she loves about him, it shows how complex they both are:

I loved his goodness and wrongness, his unwavering priorities and mulishness. I loved his patience—granted, I also hated his patience—and I loved his wit.

This book isn’t as steamy as some of Reid’s others, but that doesn’t take away from its appeal. Even though there’s just some pretty heavy-duty kissing, Fiona’s experience of it is worth reading. The story’s simple as it’s short, but the characters are multi-dimensional and compelling and dialogue is as entertaining as ever. This is a definite must for fans of Reid.

Fools Rush In by Kristan Higgins

Fools Rush In book coverFools Rush In is one of Higgins’ earlier books and it definitely feels that way to me. Still, it is a cute story overall. 

Millie has just returned to her native Cape Cod after completing all the arduous steps to become a doctor. She’s about to start a job at a summer clinic as one of two doctors and has the possibility of joining an older, more established doctor in private practice after the summer. Everything career-wise looks good, but Millie’s main concern seems to be her love life. Specifically, she has had a crush on Joe Carpenter for half her life and now that she’s back, she wants to try to get him to really see her. She’s convinced he’s a great guy with all these amazing personality traits nobody else really sees. Because she semi-stalked him while she lived there and now that she’s returned, she’s back to her old tricks. Spying on his house to see when he leaves so she can put herself in his path, stuff like that. The only problem is that he doesn’t seem to know she exists. 

There are several people in her life. One is Sam, her sister’s new ex-husband. She’s also got her nephew Danny, who’s amazingly friendly for a 17-year-old. Her best friend Katie is a supportive voice of reason. There’s the stereotypical gay couple who are there to give fashion advice. And of course there’s Joe, who does eventually see her. But then she comes to learn more about the real Joe, and he’s not exactly what she’s built him up to be in her mind over the last 15 years. But the thing is, there is a man in Millie’s life who does live up to her expectations of Joe, if only she can see him. 

The book is told entirely in first person from Millie’s point of view. It is, of course, funny. But Millie is one of Higgins’ silly girls, something that always has bothered me a little (see my earlier reviews of her books). The pseudo-stalking is the main thing. Millie’s of course self-effacing, which I generally like, but sometimes it goes too far into silliness. It’s very low on the spice scale, lower than most of Higgins’ other books. Still, she goes pretty deep into Millie’s emotional state and we can really feel her pain when she deals with heartbreak. 

There were a couple things that bugged me, one more so than the other. First, I mentioned the gay couple. They are so stereotypical it’s kind of embarrassing. But the other, more important, thing is this incident that happens at the nursing home she works at once a week. Millie is basically sexually assaulted by an old guy (he captures her and rubs himself against her until she can get away) and this is largely set up by another woman, who doesn’t warn Millie even though she knows what he’s like. And the thing is, they all totally laugh this off. Because he’s an old guy it’s presented as just funny. It bugged me. 

Anyway, die hard Higgins fans will probably have already read this one. I have sort of mixed feelings about it because of the things mentioned in the last paragraph, even if Millie is kind of cool as a successful doctor. If the other things won’t bother you, maybe give it a go. 

The Cafe by the Sea by Jenny Colgan

The Cafe by the Sea book coverFlora is a paralegal living the life in London. She’s convinced she loves it and doesn’t regret leaving where she grew up, the (fictional) island of Mure north of Scotland. She hasn’t been back for several years after leaving under a dark cloud of some sort. When a very odd work assignment sends her back—still against her wishes—she’s reacquainted with her dad and brothers. We learn pretty quick that her mom died earlier and it was after her funeral when Flora had left.

The island cast is full—there’s Flora’s gruff dad, her teasing brothers, her young niece who yells all her words, an old friend to commiserate with about men, the uber-rich American who’s bought a chunk of the island and pissed everyone off in the process, a giant and cuddly love interest. And of course Joel, Flora’s boss in London who she’s had a hopeless crush on since she started working there, visits on several occasions. There’s ceilidh dancing, mountain hiking, a thing with a whale. If you like things Scottish, all this will appeal to you.

Flora’s cool and I liked her brothers and the rich American. I wasn’t as big on Joel, but I guess a lot of women find jerky men attractive if they have some vulnerability, which he does. We eventually find out what terrible thing Flora did before she left Mure the last time. She finally really makes amends with her family in a satisfying way.

So overall, it was an enjoyable read. There were some things that bugged me about the book, however. The first was a stylistic choice that surprised me because it wasn’t there in The Little Bookshop on the Corner, another of Colgan’s novels that I really liked. Specifically, I’m talking about head-hopping—shifting points of view from one character’s to another within the same scene. Now, there are some popular authors who do this (I can think of Nora Roberts and Beverly Jenkins), but it personally drives me crazy. I like deep point of view and generally prefer only one character’s perspective, though I can handle switching between characters if we’re talking about the entire scene. She switches not only in the same scene, but sometimes in the same sentence:

Obediently they breathed, Joel thinking crossly about money, Flora enjoying the fresh air but wondering why Colton appeared to think it all belonged to him.

I know there is omniscient point of view, where the author can get in anybody’s head, but that needs to be established early on, in my view. This book is solidly in Flora’s point of view about 97% of the time.

The other thing has to do with the island culture. I understood that the island was far to the north of Scotland. At one point they make a reference to Reykjavik being closer than London, which means it’s pretty far out there. But Colgan has the island fully Gaelic, with people speaking the language and living the culture just as they do on the Western Isles. But the northern islands off Scotland aren’t Gaelic—they’re more influenced by Norwegian culture and have a language called Norn that came from Norse. So then I thought, okay, maybe it’s way to the north of the Western Isles rather than the mainland of Scotland… but then near the end of the book she mentions people speaking Norn. Gaelic and Norn don’t coexist naturally (there are efforts to bring back Gaelic all over the country, so maybe now there’s some of that).

Anyway, enough complaining. If head-hopping or weird cultural mash-ups bug you, maybe skip this one. But if they don’t, it’s a sweet story.