Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors book coverI don’t think you can be a fan of romance and not also love Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (like I even needed to name the author, right?). Dev’s new standalone novel gives a big nod to that novel, without being at all derivative. First off, Dev switches the roles—in her novel, Trisha, the heroine, is the “snob” while DJ is the one she disses early on.

Trisha is a talented neurosurgeon who has to deliver very mixed news to a patient named Emma—she can remove the tumor that will save Emma’s life but not without causing her to lose her sight. This is devastating enough, but Emma’s also a visual artist, making it doubly bad. Trisha’s got an overbearing family who she feels like has shunned her (especially her father) because of something that happened a long time before. Her brother is running for a political office in California and the whole family is focused on supporting him, and Trisha is trying to get back in her family’s good graces. She attends an event at her parents’ house, where she encounters the event chef and manages to insult him.

DJ can’t believe he actually overhears this woman referring to him as “the hired help.” He’s a highly-trained (and Paris-trained, at that) chef who’s just back in San Francisco because his little sister is facing brain cancer. He doesn’t expect to see the woman again, so he and Trisha are both shocked to run into each other in Emma’s hospital room.

Unsurprisingly, they clash despite each being very attracted to the other. DJ keeps his attraction pretty under control, but Trisha struggles a bit more, constantly putting her foot in her mouth and insulting him over and over again. Then she spontaneously decides to admit her attraction to DJ, which goes over very, very badly. (It’s a great scene that perfectly captures the awkwardness and feeling of the parallel scene in Austen’s book.) And there’s a baddie named Julia Wickham who worms her way into DJ’s world, nearly disrupting everything.

The sexual tension between Trisha and DJ is great. And Dev is a talented writer, with her strong dialogue and descriptions. There was one thing that bugged me, though, that I feel like mentioning. The way Trisha’s family dealt with the situation with Julia and what she did—which isn’t revealed until later in the book—made me uncomfortable. There’s even a line about how releasing the details would set women’s rights back a hundred years—I didn’t agree with that at all. It was actually pretty messed up and Julia was clearly the bad guy there. However this line comes from one of the characters, and I don’t have to agree with everything they say or do.

Anyway, there is quite a bit going on in Trisha’s life. DJ’s busy too, but most of his non-Trisha time is spent with Emma, who also is Trisha’s concern. So this is definitely Trisha’s book. It’s also her most “American” book, with very little time spent in India (all of it’s in flashbacks, too). Still, if you’ve liked Dev’s other books or you enjoy reading about complex family dynamics, you’ll probably like this one, too.

Just Good Friends (Escape to New Zealand #2) by Rosalind James

Just Good Friends book coverI enjoyed the first book in this series so I picked this one up with high expectations. Although I felt like the pacing was a little slow at times, it’s a good story with several things going on besides the love story itself (something I expect in a good romance novel).

Kate Lamonica literally escapes to New Zealand after her stalker ex threatens to kill her. She knows he’s no joke and fortunately has a friend very far from California. That would be Hannah from the first book. So she moves to Auckland. She’s an accountant and manages to land a job at the rugby team’s office, with Hannah’s husband’s help. Through the team, she meets Koti James, a big Maori player. He’s a player in more than one sense, enjoying the women who throw themselves at him. The two of them don’t hit it off at all—she’s too prickly and he’s too full-of-himself—but end up making a bet that they can be “friends” for six weeks. This means they have to spend time together without him making a move on her.

So they start hanging out a little. He teaches her to surf and they go on a cave-exploring whitewater run. Koti makes it clear that he wouldn’t mind changing their status and losing the bet, but it’s all in what he says. He catches her checking him out too. Eventually, she does give in and they start dating (on her terms). They last a good while before crisis strikes. The thing that pulls them apart is believable. And honestly, it was hard to see how they’d get back together, but James makes it work.

Kate and Koti are both complex characters (which is an impressive feat with a guy like Koti). Kate’s problem with her stalker is very well-handled. It provides tension throughout, even if Kate’s the only one who really grasps how dangerous he is. The heat level is probably a medium—there are sex scenes and you know what’s going on, but they’re not extremely graphic.

I recommend this to fans of contemporary, particularly those who like sports romances or international settings. You should read book 1 first (it’s not a requirement but Hannah’s an important character in this book so you’d probably like knowing her story first).

A Duke by Default (Reluctant Royals #2) by Alyssa Cole

A Duke by Default book coverAlthough I’ve read Alyssa Cole before, I found out about this book because it was selected by a local library for a summer romance book club. I actually didn’t make it to the book club meeting because I didn’t manage to finish the book in time (me=busy) so I don’t know what everyone else thought of it. But I can tell you what I thought of it—it was great. Now, I love Scotland, although my taste leans more toward Glasgow, but Edinburgh will do.

American Portia Hobbs is a hot mess. At least that’s what her family would have you (and her) believe. I actually could really relate to her hotmessedness (I’m declaring that a word). She loves to learn and has flitted around the academic world and real world while soaking up experiences, none of which have given her a career as she approaches thirty. Her most recent thing is that she is going to be an apprentice to a master swordmaker in Scotland.

Tavish McKenzie is the swordmaker in question. He’s a bit on the gruff side and when she first gets there, he doesn’t like her because she’s rich and he assumes she’s pompous and all the other things that go along with being rich. Also, as it happens, he’s very attracted to her, and he blames her for this and avoids her.

This gets her apprenticeship off to a rocky start. It’s hard to learn to make a sword from someone who refuses to spend time with you. And unfortunately, this really kicks Portia’s self-doubt into high gear. This is despite the fact that she already has done a lot for the armory in terms of social media and other less metallic tasks. So when her expert skills dig up a ducal title for Tavish, things get interesting. She might know nothing about the peerage in Britain, but she does know something about behaving around rich people. It’s a start.

I really like Portia and her lack of self-confidence because it gives her a lot of room to grow (and lets me really relate to her). And Tavish is a good hero, too, because his growth from a grumpy self-described wanker to a caring person is totally believable (mostly because he was caring in the beginning and just had to learn to express himself a little better). One of my favorite quotes from the book is near the beginning, when Tavish’s younger brother says,

He’s always been like this, you know. I’m pretty sure my first words were ‘Mum, Tav is a right wanker, aye?’ And her reply was, ‘Yes, son. Su hermano is the one true wanker, the wanker to rule them all.’

The book has a lot of diversity in it, too, with Portia being black, Tavish’s mom Chilean, Tavish’s stepfather (the one he considers to be his true father) also black (if I recall, I think he was from somewhere in the Caribbean). This trend continues in the secondary characters, who aren’t as lily white as you might picture Scotland being (the book is being realistic).

Anyway, I really liked it and highly recommend it.

The Endless Beach by Jenny Colgan

The Endless Beach book coverThis is the the sequel to The Café by the Sea, which I reviewed here previously.

This one is mostly about Flora, who’s moved back to the (fictional) northern Scottish island of Mure and runs the town’s only café. She’s still in a relationship with her former boss, Joel, but he’s in New York with the island’s billionaire, Colton. One nice thing about the book is that it isn’t only about Flora—other characters feature, too, specifically Joel, Fintan and Colton, Saif, and Lorna. The characters are all well-developed and relatable.

Flora’s story revolves around Joel, mostly, but also the cafe she’s running and her relationship with her family. She and Joel are having trouble because Joel is both literally and figuratively absent. He won’t open up and share himself with Flora the way she wants. Then he’s facing some issues himself and needs to make a change for himself, not just for Flora. Saif gets some unexpected but hoped-for news that changes everything for him. Fintan and Colton’s story gets complicated near the end even though it seems anything but for most of the book. And Lorna’s story develops a little, though probably the least of all the ones mentioned here.

This is a pretty heavy book, compared to some of Colgan’s others. Still, I enjoyed it. The point of view still distracted me—jumping from one person’s head to another was jarring, but it allows her to tell multiple people’s stories efficiently. I do love the Scottish island setting—I miss Scotland and could read about it all the time. If you’ve read The Café by the Sea, you’ll want to see what happens next. If you haven’t go check that one out first.

My One and Only by Kristan Higgins

My One and Only book coverAlthough this book is printed in the larger, non-mass-market form usually reserved for non-romance novels, I feel like it qualifies as a romance, even if it’s a little different from many of Higgins’s more clearly branded romances.

Harper James is a slightly cynical divorce attorney, though she genuinely views herself as a realist. She’s not entirely wrong, but she is a little more abrasive than a typical Higgins heroine. She’s successful and tries to not think about the mistake that was her first and only marriage. She’s thirty-four now and is ready for a husband and kids. She thinks her current boyfriend, Dennis, will fit the bill.

Dennis feels otherwise. Why change a good thing? After he gives her a soft rejection (no need to break up), Harper finds out that her little sister is marrying Harper’s ex-husband’s younger brother and she’s going to have to go to the wedding. This means she’ll see Nick for the first time in twelve years. She’s not looking forward to it at all, as can be understood.

Once at the wedding, things get complicated. Harper’s still mad at Dennis for rejecting her, she’s finding the sizzle between her and Nick hasn’t exactly faded, and she’s desperate to keep her sister from marrying a man she’s known for all of four weeks. When an airport snafu leaves Harper stranded in Montana after just having amicably split from Dennis, Nick “rescues” her by offering to let her ride across the country with him in his spiffy Mustang. Thus begins an amusing road trip. Higgins captures much of the fun of driving across the northern middle states.

Harper and Nick dance around each other for a while, not really addressing the problems that drove them apart in the first place. They’re each frustrated with the other, but also enjoying the company to a degree. Eventually they make it to the east coast. And eventually they do address their issues.

As you can imagine, Harper and Nick’s romance isn’t the only storyline in the book. Of course there’s Dennis, Harper’s sister’s marriage, her gruff father and effusive stepmother, a colleague dealing with a cheating wife, and, significantly, Harper’s mother (who abandoned her at thirteen). There are a lot of funny moments in the book, though it’s still a serious enough endeavor. Harper has some major emotional baggage to take care of.

I really enjoyed the book and recommend it to anyone who likes a heavier romances, even if you need the light moments.

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne

99 Percent Mine book cover99 Percent Mine is Thorne’s followup to her very successful debut, The Hating Game. I was really looking forward to it because I quite enjoyed The Hating Game.

The book features Darcy Barrett, a tough woman with a bum heart. Darcy is very different from the heroine in The Hating Game, which I liked (a lot of authors write the same character over and over). Darcy’s a photographer and bartender with a habit of traveling the world. We don’t know why at first, but we soon learn it’s because she’s in love with her and her twin brother’s childhood friend, Tom Valeska, who she needs to get away from. Because he’s got a fiancé who’s perfect.

The setup for the book is that Darcy and her brother (Jamie) have inherited their grandmother’s cottage and have been ordered to remodel and sell it. Enter Tom, who’s a general contractor just starting out. This will be his first big job. Darcy is currently living in the cottage while she waits to head off to international locations (as soon as she can find her missing passport, that is). Jamie’s living elsewhere and he and Darcy have had some kind of falling out. Although it takes a little while, Darcy finds out Tom’s single again and she throws herself at him. He rejects her and from then on out, she thinks he’s not interested even though his behavior makes it very unclear whether that’s true or not.

Once Tom starts on the house, Darcy inserts herself as though she’s on his crew. I think the remodeling makes for an interesting backdrop for the story (this may be because I’m going through some house remodeling myself…).

Darcy isn’t necessarily easy to like. She’s definitely quirky and interesting but she exhibits some frustrating behavior, like not taking her rather serious heart condition very seriously. I’m also a little confused about the role of Jamie in the story—he comes off as a bit of a jerk and doesn’t seem to need to be there, in my humble opinion. Tom himself is interesting—he’s difficult to read. Like, he seems a little hot and cold toward Darcy but without his point of view, I can’t figure out why or what his real motivations are.

Still, this is a fun and I think unique read. I’ll be honest—I don’t think it’s as good (especially emotionally engaging) as The Hating Game was, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth checking out. I’m also very curious to see what Thorne does next.

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.