Beach Read by Emily Henry

Beach Read book coverI was recommended this book by a friend who doesn’t generally read romance—but she said it was smart and interesting. And she was right. It was very good, definitely right up my alley.

January Andrews is a romance writer who’s gone through quite the rough patch and is currently in need of a completed book manuscript. What she’s got is nothing. She inherited her father’s illicit love nest when he died and she discovered he’d had a mistress. She wants to sell it, so she thinks she’ll accomplish both her goals at once: she’ll head out to the house on a Michigan lake for the summer and get it ready to sell, and hole up and write her manuscript.

January’s old college rival and crush, Augustus Everett, is a famous literary writer also experiencing a bout of mild writer’s block. He’s also her new next-door neighbor at the lake. When the two are reunited at the local bookstore/coffeeshop, it doesn’t go well. He is dismissive of her genre and offends her right away, and then, to my great amusement, she asks him:

What’s it like writing Hemingway circle-jerk fan fiction?

He doesn’t really know what to say to that.

They really don’t get along. But after they both get tricked into attending a book club that is about neither of their books, he drives her home and they warm up just a tiny bit. Then they decide to challenge each other with an odd deal: she will teach him how to write romantic fiction and he will help her lose the happy ending so she can write bleak literary fiction. They’ll help each other with lessons. January will go with Gus to his interviews with survivors of a local cult whose encampment was burned down by its leader. And she will educate him in the ways of rom-coms. What these little lessons amount to are some weird almost-dates, but they relax around each other and start really making progress on their books.

They also get closer. Each of them is damaged, though January is a little oblivious to Gus’s situation for a while (and Gus is just a little oblivious in general). But eventually all comes to light and they finally see each other clearly, leading to another satisfying conclusion.

Like my friend said, this is a smart romance with characters with great depth. It’s well-plotted and should make any fan of feminist contemporary romance happy.

Vegas Baby (Howler Sports Talent Agency #1) by Anne Shaw

Vegas Baby book coverThis series is unusual in sports romances because what ties the books together is a sports talent agency rather than a sports team of some type, but I think it works because you get exposed to different aspects of the sports world, which is interesting.

It’s appropriate that the first book is about Howler himself, the agency’s founder. Xavier Hamilton—better known as Howler for something he did in his childhood—is a successful agent in Seattle. But the book opens with him and Raina—the lawyer for the Seattle Pioneers football team—entertaining a football player named Veer and his fiancé in Vegas, Anaya. And Raina is acting like a party girl, something which surprises and amuses Howler because she’s normally uptight. Raina, Howler, Veer, and Anaya make a complicated agreement that involves Raina and Howler pretending to be happily married in order to help convince Anaya’s father that Veer going into professional football isn’t a bad idea. One thing leads to another and they end up getting married (as you do...). The opening is entirely in Howler’s point of view, which makes sense when we switch to Raina’s. Because the next morning, she has no recollection of any of it, since she’d taken a sleeping pill and gone out afterward.

The next chapters of the book are pretty entertaining, with Raina and Howler taking part in Veer and Anaya’s wedding celebration and acting happily married when they actually sort of hate each other. The background of the Indian wedding is also fun. Raina and Howler of course agree to get a divorce as soon as they’ve gotten back to Seattle after Veer has signed with the Pioneers. Once they’re back, things get complicated by something unexpected. Then we get to see them try to work through everything, which true-to-form they do with a legal contract. There are some heart-wrenching moments in the story like you’d expect in a good book, and it’s great to see how they manage to work through their differences. Both characters are deeply developed and their conflict is real but ultimately surmountable.

If you like sports romances but want something a little different than going through a team’s roster, try this one.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown (The Brown Sisters #1) by Talia Hibbert

Get a Life, Chloe Brown book coverThere's a lot of deserved buzz around this enemies-to-lovers story. It's set in England and features a black woman suffering from chronic pain and white troubled artist working as a building superintendent, and it's definitely interesting and different.

Chloe is a web designer who comes from a rich family and has just moved out of her parents mansion as part of a life-improvement venture. After a near-death experience, she made a list of all the things she should do to make her life better. Things like riding a motorcycle, having a fun, drunken night out, and traveling the world with nothing but hand luggage.

Although she and Red, the building's superintendent, constantly butt heads, she has sneakily admired him painting while shirtless. After he helps her down from an ill-advised rescue of a cat in a tree, she discovers that he needs a website for his art. She decides he can help her with some of her list, so they agree to a trade: she'll do the site for free if he helps her "get a life" via her list.

Gradually they get to know each other and discover their mutual attraction, and things go from there. Red is a really nice guy, even though I didn't find him as appealing as Chloe did, but that's fine for the story. Chloe finds him very attractive, and their antics show he feels quite the same.

Overall, this is a good story featuring at least one character who's typically underrepresented in romance (though things are starting to change). If you're looking for a different but hot story, try this one out.

Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev

This is a followup to last year’s Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, featuring Trisha’s cousin, Ashna.

Recipe for Persuasion book coverAshna wants to save the restaurant she inherited from her father, Curried Dreams. Her friend is in TV and convinces her to be on a cooking-with-celebrities show. She has no idea who she’ll be paired with, but it turns out to be Rico, who is both her ex-boyfriend (from high school) and a world-renowned, just-retired soccer player. Unbeknownst to Ashna, Rico arranged to be her partner in an attempt to provide some closure to their relationship and prove to himself (and her) that he’s over her. Instead, they become fan favorites and the sexual tension between them is strong throughout the book, despite the fact that Ashna pretends to not know him, which annoys Rico. The further they get in the competition, the tenser things get between them, in all ways.

Ashna has a lot of other stuff going on, too. She’s still trying to manage the restaurant, and then her somewhat estranged mom shows back up. The two of them have a very complicated relationship due to the fact that her mom, Shobi, basically left her behind with Ashna’s aunt and uncle to take care of her, while she spent her time in India working on women’s rights. She is about to receive the Padma Shri, which is an Indian national medal given for distinguished service. Shobi is an important character in the book and has a few point of view chapters, even though it’s mostly Ashna’s story. Ashna’s never forgiven Shobi for abandoning her, but she learns that there is more to that complicated story.

The story is told mostly in present time, though there are several important flashbacks to Ashna and Rico’s early days and to Shobi’s, as well. It’s told from three points of view: Ashna, Rico, and a little from Shobi. Despite the intense sexual tension throughout the book, the heat level is lower than I expected, given Dev’s previous books.

Overall, this was a good novel with lots of angst and false beliefs to overcome. If you’ve enjoyed Dev’s earlier novels, you’ll definitely like this one.

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy (Reluctant Royals) by Alyssa Cole

Once Ghosted, Twice ShyThis novella features Likotsi, Prince Thabiso’s no-nonsense assistant, who we met in A Princess in Theory. The implication in that book was that she was maybe a bit of a player, but we also know something happened to/with her while she and Thabiso were in New York City. This book tells us what, as well as rights thing.

At the beginning of the book, Likotsi is in New York and on vacation and has a plan for the day, in the form of a list. She’s going to visit all the places she visited last spring with Fab, a woman who she’d fallen hard for in just a few dates. A woman who abruptly and without explanation cut off contact. Likotsi's hope is that by visiting these places, she can form new memories that will replace those she had involving Fab, and can move on.

When they run into each other on the subway, that plan is foiled. Fab invites her to go for tea. Likotsi barely says yes, but she thinks maybe she can find out why she was unceremoniously dumped months earlier. They hang out and begin making new memories in new places, which is driving Likotsi crazy, even though she can’t step away. And then, Fab reveals to the reader why she ended things. It’s a while longer before she tells Likotsi, but when she does, they are finally able to come to an understanding. And a plan for the future.

This was my first true ff romance, but I think I picked a good one—I love Cole because she writes great characters, and this one met those expectations perfectly.

The Matchmaker’s List by Sonya Lalli

The Matchmaker's List book coverThe premise of this book is simple: Raina, a half-Indian 29-year-old Canadian, has promised her (Indian) grandmother, who raised her, that she will agree to be set up on dates if she isn’t married by 30. Everyone remotely familiar with Indian culture will understand that this is a typical situation for women in their late 20s. Raina’s grandmother, Nani, jumps the gun a bit and starts harassing her early, giving her a list of suitable Indian men for her to contact and even setting up a meeting herself. Raina wants to find someone on her own, but meets some of these men, leading to some pretty funny scenes. To make matters worse, Raina’s best friend is engaged to a perfect guy, and she doesn’t seem to understand Raina’s situation.

There is actually a lot going on in the book. It shows how Indian culture operates, even in Canada, and how much unfair pressure gets put on women. Raina tries to be a dutiful granddaughter but she’s a strong, modern woman who doesn’t think that the only thing she’s good for is marrying and reproducing. She has a successful career in banking and works hard and a lot, and in many ways she doesn’t have time to date. But even more significant is her ex-boyfriend, who she’s very hung-up on. She thinks they might have a chance and doesn’t want to throw that away by settling for someone just for the sake of getting married. So the book deals a lot with the psychology of trying to please one conservative (but evolving) culture while living in an ostensibly more modern one.

I really liked the story, although there are some things that happen in the second half that I didn’t love. Raina allows Nani to think something about her that isn’t true, and Raina lets that little lie go on long enough that it hurts people. That kind of bugged me. This isn’t a romance even though it is a story about love, partially because it’s impossible to tell who’ll she’ll end up with (even though any reader would guess that she’d end up with somebody). I have to admit I felt a little unmoored by this because I wasn’t sure who to care about besides Raina and her family and friends. What guy should I root for? I had no idea. And the romance with the guy she does finally end up with felt a little forced. I didn’t really see their attraction build like I would have liked. Though to be fair, I did really like the guy (much better than the ones she passed on!).

Despite having those qualms with the story, I think Raina herself is a wonderfully complex and likable character. The other main characters (primarily her friend Shay, Nani) are also interesting and well-depicted. There’s some good conflict with both of them that felt very realistic and it was satisfying to see it resolved.

In summary, if you’re curious about/interested in Indian culture in Canada and America, this will definitely educate you while keeping you entertained with a good story. I imagine it’s probably also especially popular with any second-generation+ immigrants who have to deal with two worlds the way Raina does. It can’t be easy.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine book coverI have to say that this book isn't the kind I normally review here, but I read it and loved it and thought I'd share. It is about a woman, so it's in the realm of what I review, at least.

Eleanor is thirty and has a job as a finance administration assistant at a graphic design firm, something she's been doing since finishing college. She doesn't really get along with her coworkers because she's totally socially inept and doesn't care at all to overcome that. In fact, part of her ineptness is not caring. Rightfully, her coworkers think she's weird. But when she and a coworker help an old man in the street, it sets off an interesting and unexpected chain of events. She wasn't interested in helping the guy:

Even alcoholics deserve help, I suppose, although they should get drunk at home, like I do, so they don't cause anyone else any trouble. But then, not everyone is as sensible and considerate as me.

But Raymond—her coworker—has a very different outlook on things. They help the man and Raymond convinces her to visit him in the hospital, when they meet and befriend his family, against her better sensibilities. Raymond becomes an agent of change in her life, helping her make herself a totally different person by the end.

There's also quite the mystery because we know something really bad happened to her when she was young, but we—and she herself, actually—don't know what it is. It's a pretty engaging storyline that will keep you guessing, even though once you find out, it feels fairly obvious. But in a good way.

Anyway, I really liked this book. It's very unusual because of the character so if you're looking for something quite unique, pick this one up.

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

Things You Save in a Fire book coverThere was a lot of buzz about this book—I saw it on several high-profile writers’ recommendation lists. So I finally bought it even though it’s still in hardback. I pulled it off the precarious stack of TBR books in my bedroom and cracked it open.

And I’m glad I did. Although it wasn’t at all what I expected. Let’s face it—a lot of romances (even exceptionally good ones) are a little fluffy. People have problems, but you wonder if maybe they aren’t overreacting just a little to be swearing off relationships for that particular reason. But in this book, I completely bought Cassie’s aversion to relationships, and I also completely bought (and loved) her aversion to all things girly. I also liked that she does not forsake everything she worked for to become some super-feminine flower at the end. She’s still her badass self.

Because Cassie is a badass. She’s a tough firefighter/paramedic who dives boldly into dangerous situations when it involves the opportunity to save someone. She’s only 5’5” (if I’m remembering correctly), but she works out and is very strong. I mean, she can dead-lift 200 pounds and do twenty pull-ups.

The book opens with Cassie at an awards ceremony, where she’s supposed to get an award for rescuing a bunch of kids from a schools in a river. This goes a little wonky when the guy they send out to give her the award turns out to be someone from her past who had done a great deal of damage to her (she doesn’t tell us what he’d done, exactly, but I guessed right) and then chooses that particular moment to grab her ass while they’re behind the podium. This is not a good choice on his part, because she goes ballistic and beats him over the head with the award.

Somehow she escapes punishment from this (she rightly guesses he won’t press charges). But the city wants her to apologize to him and she refuses. So her choices are to be fired, or to transfer to a fire station far, far away. As it happens, the latter works out well because her mom has requested that she go live with her in Massachusetts. So she does, but not before getting some advice from her (female) captain:

If your captain says to run a mile, run two. If he wants you to dead-lift one fifty, do one seventy-five.

Don’t even act afraid. Don’t even hesitate. Don’t ever admit when you don’t understand.

Don’t back down from a challenge, … and if you go up against somebody, make damn sure to win. No fear! If your hands start to shake, sit on them.

New rules: Never admit to being hurt. Pain is for the weak.

Don’t have feelings.

Typical. Cassie’s captain wasn’t wrong about what she’d face as the first woman firefighter in this fire station. It’s rough. A rookie starts the same day she does and they bond a little, but she keeps her distance because she finds herself attracted to him and knows that’s the biggest risk of all for a woman firefighter. But they spend a lot of time together, both getting pranked and on more productive things like training. She faces a lot of trouble, with the pranking, the actual secret harassment from one of the guys (it takes a while to figure out which one), and her new captain being a real hardass. But eventually she earns the respect of the crew, by following her old captain’s instructions—for the most part. She doesn’t manage to quite keep away from the rookie. But then everything appears to be lost when the rookie gets injured in a fire. I won’t give away how that exactly works out because it surprised me.

If you like genuinely tough characters, especially a woman trying to make it in a male-dominated profession, then you will like this. But even if you’re just looking for a tame romance (heat-wise) with some real struggles, you should also appreciate this book. I really enjoyed it and recommend it without reservation.

Moonlighter (The Company #1) by Sarina Bowen

Moonlighter book coverI know I’ve been seriously neglecting this blog. I have been busy and haven’t read a romance lately, so I’ve had nothing to review. But I think I’m over my reading slump, so I’m going to try to do a review at least every three weeks. Starting with one from my favorite author this week.

Moonlighter is the first in a new series, but it stars Eric Bayer, who you may remember from the Brooklyn Bruisers team. His brother and father run a top-notch security company (this also featured in at least one earlier book, too) that occasionally exhibits quasi-legal behavior. While he’s off from hockey, Eric gets guilted into being a fake boyfriend on a short trip to Hawaii for one of their clients.

Alex Engels is the CEO of a big cable company that is expanding into new territory (technology-wise). She’s young and she and Eric have a bit of a history. As kids, they spent a summer together and had a lot of fun, and when they ran into each other as adults, Eric tried to talk to her and she dismissed him coldly because she thought he was hitting on her and didn’t recognize him. So it’s a little awkward when they meet again in the security company office.

This book was full of unexpected twists. The reason that she needs a fake boyfriend is because she’s pregnant by her ex-boyfriend, who hit her so she had broken up with him, and he’s going to be at the conference in Hawaii. But things get more surprising from there. The technology she’s put everything into is a smart speaker called the Butler, which is smarter than any other smart speaker out there, but more importantly, it’s also got the best security on the market. Things go a bit haywire from there, in ways I didn’t expect. It actually almost turns into a romantic suspense after the first half.

The chemistry between the two is hot, and Eric is such a great guy that you can’t help but adore him, even when his first declaration of love is quite juvenile. Alex herself is very cool because she’s worked her way up (sort of—it was her dad’s company, but she didn’t exactly start off as CEO) and she regularly has to deal with the sexism of the industry and the world in general, which she does with style.

Especially if you’re a fan of Bowen’s hockey romances, check out this new series. But any contemporary fan should enjoy it.   

2019 Books in Review

I don’t know what’s going on, but I didn’t read as much as normal over the past year, so my consumption of romance and other adult contemporary is way down. Looking back on the year, I only reviewed seventeen books, when I used to read a romance every week. I’m hoping I can get back to normal. I did still manage to reach my Goodreads challenge—110 books—but a good chunk of those were nonfiction that was work-related, and the others were mostly young adult (I write YA under a different pen name).

Anyway. So I decided to pick the four books that stayed with me the most from this year’s reviews.

One of my earliest reviews, done in January, was for Catch of the Day, by Kristan Higgins. She is one of my favorite authors because she handles character emotions—and consequently reader emotions—so adeptly. It’s just hard not to be moved. In this book, the main character has an awkward and pointless crush on a priest (probably because she knows nothing will ever happen and she’s trying to keep her heart safe) when she gets to know a local and very taciturn fellow who turns out to be a pretty great guy. I’m not saying it’s not a little cliche, but the characters stuck with me.

Another book that really moved me was Superfan by Sarina Bowen, which I reviewed in July. She’s another of my favorite authors because of her masterful ability to handle emotions. When I reviewed it, I said this was one of her voiciest books yet because she does such a great job with two characters in very different places (both very successful in different careers) who of course have very different ways of speaking (and thinking). Although there are some dark things that happen, overall the book is one of her lighter ones.

The second-to-last book I reviewed, Good Luck with That by Kristan Higgins, was another of my favorites. This one isn’t a strict romance, falling into my non-genre category of contemporary adult fiction, but there are two romances that take place in the story. This is a really deep book dealing with body image in a way that I found so powerful. And it's no coincidence that Higgins makes it on the list twice—her characters experience the ups and downs of emotion that keep the reader going.

The last book I’ll mention is The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai, which was the last book I reviewed, in November. This one is kind of interesting—I didn’t really relate to the heroine, but I liked her and rooted for her. And I especially liked the hero, who was a really good guy who cared about a variety of things that made him very sympathetic.

And there you have my favorite four from the books I reviewed this year.

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai

The Right Swipe book coverOkay, so it took me a little longer than a week or two to get to this. Life is very busy at the moment. Regardless, I was looking forward to reading this one as I’ve enjoyed Rai’s other books. It didn’t disappoint. Another book with a strong heroine and a sympathetic hero.

Rhiannon runs one of America’s major dating apps. She is a pretty hard person for a variety of reasons. She’s been burned pretty bad by love, in a way that also impacted her career, so it was double-devastating. But she’s come out of it a Winner. After a hookup that was supposed to lead to a second date but instead led to her being ghosted, she’s shocked to see the contemptible ghoster himself at a large dating app conference. She vows to not give him the time of day, but then finds out he’s the unofficial face of Matchmaker, an old dating site that Rhiannon is interested in buying. Then she ends up having to share an interview spot with him.

For his part, Samson does have a very good reason for ghosting her. He tried to get in touch with her after the fact, but she’d blocked him already. So he’s excited to see her at the conference. One of his roles with Matchmaker is to “find true love” through the site by means of going on several (filmed and aired) dates with matches the site suggests. He’s not just a public face for the site, but he’s also the owner’s nephew, so he has more than a passing interest in things going well. After a terrible date, where he makes a total fool of himself, he convinces Rhiannon to do a little dating lesson series with him, also filmed. The premise is that as the owner of Crush, she knows something about dating and can teach Samson.

Their chemistry is as good as it was during their hookup and Samson does manage to tell Rhiannon why he ghosted her. She is tempted to forgive him but still isn’t ready to risk her heart. Still, they decide to have a temporary casual relationship that goes very well. Then Rhiannon gets an opportunity to make an offer for Matchmaker, along with several other potential buyers. They all have to go to Samson’s aunt’s house to make their competing offers over a couple days. Rhiannon ends up writing Samson off after making an assumption about something during the bidding process and that constitutes the dark moment that tears them apart.

There’s a lot to love about this book: characters of color, genuinely strong women, a believable nice guy, a healthy dose of feminist sensibilities, the pull on heartstrings. It’s also pretty hot, like you’d expect from Rai. The main characters were complicated and relatable. I did feel like Rhiannon overacted a teeny tiny bit regarding the assumption she made about Samson when they were at his aunt’s house. I mean, she’s set up as pretty damaged so it’s not inconceivable. But still, when they got past it, I was happy.

Overall, this is a good one for fans of steamy contemporary, especially if you like something a little different from the standard white characters. Fans of Rai will especially love it.

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.