Wrong to Need You (Forbidden Hearts #2) by Alisha Rai

Wrong to Need You book coverWrong to Need You is the second book in the Forbidden Hearts series, which deals with the Kane and the Chandler families and their tangled and troubled history. Sadia Ahmed is Paul Kane’s widow (she never changed her name—yay!), which makes Jackson Kane her brother-in-law. That makes for a slightly awkward pairing for sure, which both characters are fully aware of.

Sadia runs Kane’s, the family cafe that Paul ran before he died. She also works as a bartender for extra money, because the cafe isn’t doing great. She doesn’t love owning and running it. She’s been admiring a stranger who’s been coming into the bar for a while. He’s buff and has nice hands, which she thinks is weird of her to notice, but I don’t. So she’s shocked when she finds out it’s none other than Jackson, her long-lost brother-in-law. He disappeared ten years earlier after being cleared as a suspect in an arson incident that resulted in the Chandler’s grocery store burning down. But it turns out things are pretty complicated (as you’d expect in a Rai book).

Sadia’s long-time cook has left the cafe and she’s desperately in need of a chef. As soon as he learns that, Jackson sort of forces his way into the job (not in a bad way). She’s hesitant but agrees for one day, which turns into a longer-term-but-still-temporary situation. Turns out he’s a chef (who knew? Not any of his relatives). Then she, against her better judgment, offers to let him stay in her garage apartment so he’s not stuck in a hotel for the short time he’s in town. Given who wrote this book, you can guess what comes next—some hot scenes. But again, it’s not all that simple. When Jackson learns something shocking about Paul, he’s hurt and his family troubles get stirred up. And when Sadia learns the same secret, it freaks her out, too.

One other aspect of the book that’s important is Sadia’s six-year-old, Kareem. He quickly forms an attachment to Uncle Jackson and both Sadia and Jackson want that relationship to continue. But as far as the two of them are concerned, they’re both certain they’re wrong for each other. As it turns out, that’s not the case. They just have to deal with lots of emotional turmoil to realize it’s okay, and even that dead Paul is probably okay with it, too.

If you like lots of angst, complicated family relationships, and steamy love scenes, you will enjoy Wrong to Need You*. Check it out.

*One tiny caveat. The family thing with the Kanes and Chandlers is seriously complicated. I had forgotten most of it since reading the first book, which left me going, Who? What? Huh? sometimes, so I’d recommend reading Book 1 not long before reading this one.

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.

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.

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.

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.