Writing Update

I haven’t posted in a while because I’m so busy with classes I’m taking for a Master’s in applied statistics (it’s relevant to my day job). I’m too tired after doing math all night to read, which is a bummer. I’m totally behind on my Goodreads reading challenge.

However, I do have some news: a short story called “The Lie That Binds” that I wrote for a contest is going to be published in the contest anthology mid-March, 2020. The contest involved an assignment—in my case, a kindergarten teacher named Joy and a bouncer named Russ had to get together while spending most of their together time in a dive bar called Mojo’s. It wasn’t easy for me to write a kindergarten teacher, let me just tell you that. It’s super-low on the heat scale, which is different from what I normally write. This is an American Idol-style contest, with readers voting for the winners of the contest based on those in the anthology. It will be available in print and ebook. I’ll post more info here when I have it.

I was also able to attend a writing conference a couple weekends ago. The Pacific Northwest Writers Conference is one I go to every year. This year was a little disappointing, somehow. I think the sessions were all good, but my pitch sessions (I had two) left me feeling a little meh. I did pitch Programmed for Love and got a full request for it. I’m debating on sending it in, though I think I will, because it’s the first of a series and I’m afraid I won’t be able to finish the next two in time to make the publisher happy. Based on what the editor told me, I’d probably be able to negotiate one book a year, which might be doable. But it would mean I’d have to be writing the second one while completing the MFA (in case you were observant and wondering, the stats program would be on hold until I finish the MFA, which will happen January of 2021). I probably can do it but it will be hard.

Anyway, that’s it for now. I am reading a romance at the moment (Alisha Rai’s The Right Swipe) so I’m hoping to get a review up in the next week or two.

Good Luck with That by Kristan Higgins

Good Luck with That book coverThis is another of Higgins’ more recent non-romance novels. Of course, there is romance in it—two in fact—but it isn’t the focus of the book. Instead, the novel deals with how incredibly difficult it is to accept yourself and be happy when you’re a woman in America who didn’t win the gene lottery in the body size department.

The book is mostly about Georgia and Marley and their relationship each other, their weight, and their friend Emerson, who dies at the beginning after becoming so large she’s housebound. The three of them met at weight-loss camp when they were teenagers and became best friends, but their lives took Emerson a different direction while Marley and Georgia actually share a house (Marley rents an apartment from Georgia in the same house).

Georgia is a pre-school teacher now, but went to Yale Law and used to be a successful New York lawyer. She also was previously married to the perfect man, Rafe, but basically ruined that marriage with her low self-confidence and eating issues. Marley is a professional she who runs her own business, delivering meals to people who don’t have time to cook. She has never been on a date, despite being a charming and happy person. She had a twin who died at four and she and her whole family have never gotten over it.

Georgia and Marley are both very likable and I definitely could empathize with their weight and food issues. Georgia has actually lost a bunch of weight but she’s having some stomach issues that she’s ignoring despite knowing better. Marley is half in love with a firefighter named Camden she knows through her brother. He sleeps with her occasionally but wants to keep it on the down low.

When Emerson dies, she leaves them with a task: carry out all the activities on a list they made when they were teens. The list was basically what they all wanted to do once they were skinny enough.

  1. Hold hands with a cute guy in public.
  2. Go running in tight clothes and a sports bra.
  3. Get a piggyback ride from a guy.
  4. Be in a photo shoot.
  5. Eat dessert in public.
  6. Tuck in a shirt.
  7. Shop at a store for regular people.
  8. Have a cute stranger buy you a drink at a bar.
  9. Go home to meet his parents.
  10. Tell off the people who judged us when we were fat.

Most of these I’ve personally never done and never will and a lot of fat women will feel the same (I have guiltily eaten dessert in public, knowing I’m being judged, and I did a photo shoot for my author photos, which was very, very uncomfortable for me).

Although she’s dead, Emerson appears throughout the story through her journals (which the two other women eventually get, so it works). She’s got a great voice even while she’s self-destructing. She makes meaningful observations like the following:

Sometimes I see girls running in their sports bras and tiny pairs of shorts, their stomachs flat, their breasts high and snug, and it’s like they’re another species.

I know what she means. Fat women are treated like a third gender.

So there’s a lot going on in this book, which is balanced pretty evenly between Marley and Georgia with a little Emerson thrown in. It takes place almost exclusively in the present. There are some other great characters in the story, too. I particularly love Georgia’s nephew Mason, who is actually believable as a sweet and oblivious 14-year-old. And Mason’s father, Georgia’s brother, is also great as a positively horrible human being. Georgia’s other family is good too, and Marley’s from a big, loving Italian family full of different personalities.

Higgins successfully pulls at the heartstrings again with this one. Fans of hers will like it, but I think it would also resonate with a lot of fat women who may not have read her yet.

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

The Bride Test book coverThis is a followup to Hoang’s first book, The Kiss Quotient, which I liked and reviewed. The Bride Test feature’s Khai, the cousin of Michael from The Kiss Quotient. Khai’s the other character from that book who’s on the autism spectrum.

I liked Esme, the heroine, from the beginning—she’s hardworking and unpretentious, unlike all the other women Khai’s mother is trying to pick from to be his future bride. That’s the setup—she’s gone to Vietnam to find a wife for him, unbeknownst to him. Esme’s cleaning the hotel bathroom across from the room Khai’s mom has reserved for interviewing the candidates. After not finding anyone, she “interviews” Esme and finds her suitable. Esme’s current life isn’t amazing and she thinks that if she could get to America, she’d have a greater chance of making it that way. So she agrees to a trial run over the summer and leaves behind her mom, grandma, and young daughter. (I have to say that if I hadn’t known it was real, I would have been screaming, “No! Don’t do it! It’s a trap!” But that’s the comfort of reading a romance—nothing truly awful happens, at least not to the main characters in the course of the novel.)

I have to admit that Khai was harder to like. Now, I’m sure this is partly to do with the fact that I couldn’t really connect with him emotionally, perhaps due to his slightly stunted (but not entirely absent) emotions. But as the story proceeded, I found him more sympathetic. And by the end it was clear that he had grown at least a little (though it did take some time).

Khai’s mom moves Esme into Khai’s house with little warning, basically. She does explain the situation to him and he vows to stay away from whoever this girl is. But of course, once he sees her, she’s beautiful and he can’t stop thinking about her. For her part, Esme likes Khai despite his often odd behavior. She works in Khai’s mom’s restaurant and starts taking adult education classes. That storyline actually becomes important later, which I appreciated. Esme turns out to have a lot more to her than anyone (including Khai’s mom) expected.

If you liked the first book, you’ll probably like this one. As a side note, if you like reading about weddings, you’ll like it, as well—Khai and Esme go to a bunch. If you like heroes you have to warm up to, and admirable heroines, you should give it a try.

Superfan (Brooklyn Bruisers #6) by Sarina Bowen

Superfan book coverHere’s another installment in a great series by a great author. I’ve always loved Bowen’s work, and this book reminds me of why. I think it’s one of her “voiciest” yet. Her strength has always been in conveying emotional depth so well, often with characters who are in serious situations and have real issues to deal with. This one is a little more fun. The characters are still dealing with real things, but it’s less somber.

Superfan features Silas Kelly, the goalie of the Brooklyn Bruisers, and Delilah Spark, the famous pop star Silas is famous for being a big fan of. Although he’s never told his friends, he met her three years earlier, before she made it big. They connected even though he never managed to get her number despite asking every day she came into the bar where he worked. For her part, she figured what was the point since she was only in town for a music festival.

The book opens with Delilah attending her first hockey game. Silas finds out she’s there and after a little goofing around on Twitter, she agrees to go on a date with him if the L.A. team beats Dallas. She has no idea who he is. It doesn’t look promising for Silas but then things turn around and soon enough they have a date scheduled.

It doesn’t go quite to plan and Silas has to get creative in order to see her again. But he manages it by getting her publicist on his side. When he sees Delilah again, he has to convince her he’s not a bad guy for standing her up three years earlier—he’d been called up to a hockey team and had to leave right away.

One thing that makes this different from a lot of romances is that they never really seem driven apart by anything. I didn’t find this a problem, though, because I still wondered how they’d make it work and how they’d deal with the problems they have—Delilah has an issue with a stalker and her ex holding her last album hostage and Silas's old enemy is threatening the safety of his mother.

As I implied above, the voices of each character are really well done. Delilah is a little timid in some ways, but her snarkiness overcomes it all. And Silas is a really straightforward and likable guy.

Perfect for all fans of contemporary romance, especially if you like the backdrop of sports and/or the music industry.

A Princess in Theory (Reluctant Royals #1) by Alyssa Cole

A Princess in Theory book coverI reviewed A Duke by Default—the first in this series—a couple months ago, and now I’ve read the first. It was great to get to know Portia as she was Before, since in Duke we learned she was trying to improve herself, but we never saw exactly from what. This book shows us what Ledi has to put up with in Portia. Not that that’s the focus of the book, but the dark moment is sort of enabled by Portia (though of course it’s the hero’s fault).

Ledi is a grad student in epidemiology who works very hard (probably harder than everyone around her since she’s both female and black…). Because she was a foster kid after her parents died when she was very young, she has no family and no money. So she also has to work as a waitress to bring in some cash. She’s been getting these stupid scam emails from someone named Likotsi from Thesolo, a supposed small country in Africa, that insist she return to Thesolo and take her rightful place as the prince’s wife.

Thabiso is the prince in the email and he and Thesolo are as real as can be. He’s kind of an ass in the beginning, with his personal assistant, Likotsi (writer of the emails), sort of acting as his conscience. He’s not evil or anything extreme, but he’s absolutely rich and entitled. When he finds Ledi at work, he spontaneously decides to take the place of a new hire she is supposed to train, in order to get to know her a little. Anyone who’s ever worked in a restaurant will know that this won’t go well (a guy who’s never lifted a finger serving people… yeah, right). It goes even worse than you’d expect, which makes for even better reading. So then he moves into the apartment across from her (Likotsi rightly points out that this is stalkery behavior, but he doesn’t care).

With him across the hall from her, he gradually breaks down her defenses and they become friends and more than friends until everything comes crashing down, leaving Ledi feeling like the biggest fool and Thabiso like a real asshole (deserved).

Ledi is an awesome character—I love how hardworking she is, but more importantly she’s very smart. Of course she has trust issues, since she aged out of the foster system without being adopted. So this is her primary growth—learning to trust people. Thabiso’s not a bad guy, even in the beginning, but especially by the end. He’s been enlightened about how real people live and he realizes how badly he damaged Ledi by lying to her for so long.

The only little quibble I had with the book was that when Thabiso convinces Ledi to go to Thesolo with the promise of an epidemiology practicum, I don’t think she would have gone without Portia knowing about it because I don’t think she’d trust him to not be tricking her into going. A small thing.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this book. Cole’s a great writer and she actually has real knowledge about science—enough to make authentic references to Ledi’s work and even crack a joke here and there. Good stuff.

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.