Saturday, April 29, 2017

Review: Faking It

Faking It Faking It by Christine d'Abo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Riptide Publishing rarely steers me wrong when I want a little romance in my reading, and Christine d'abo's Ringside Romance series is one of my favorite Riptide discoveries. Working It, book one in the series, hooked me immediately as solid entertainment, with great characters, smooth pacing, and an engaging storyline. Those qualities continue here in book two, and Faking It is an excellent continuation of this delightful and delicious series.

Max, though only a minor character in Working It, was one of my favorites, and I was thrilled to see him get his own story. His nurturing nature, warm personality, and snarky sense of humor are all in excellent form here, and d'Abo pairs him with the perfect romantic foil -- Grady Barnes, failed reality TV star and the spoiled and troubled scion of wealth and privilege who needs an emergency fake fiancé to help escape his father's control of his life. Max needs money to help fund Ringside, and Grady's crazy offer might be the opportunity he needs to make a difference, and to escape the rut his life has become.

It definitely isn't smooth sailing to happily ever after, but the trip is a good one, with a strong storyline, fabulous protagonists, and great supporting characters (Justin, Grady's long-suffering handler, deserves his own book!) and a great blend of emotion and sexiness to keep the reader engaged and interested. Max and Grady's chemistry, both physical and emotional, is delicately crafted, and their shared legacy of troubled family relationships serves as a nuanced backdrop as both men seek to figure out themselves so they can figure out each other. Christine d'Abo is great not only at character development but at the highs and lows of relationships, and she takes her characters, and the reader, on a journey that is hilarious, sexy, and emotionally real as flawed people try to find those moments of connection that change I to we.

Zach and Nolan, the dynamic duo of Working It, both make minor appearances, reinforcing their own happily ever after, and the stage is set for the appearance of the mysterious Eli, the third member of Zach and Max's childhood boxing group, who is mentioned but as yet unseen in the series. I admit, I'm ridiculously excited for the next chapter in this series.

Advanced reader copy received from NetGalley.

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Sunday, March 5, 2017

Review: Working It

Working It Working It by Christine d'Abo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nothing can make me love a book like great characters, and Working It features two solid protagonists whose stories quickly grabbed my attention. Zach and Nolan are both seriously flawed men -- one is a self-declared ass with nonexistent people skills; the other is trying to recover from an accident that almost claimed his life and has left him with serious physical and emotional scars. It's a pairing that could easily slip into maudlin or cloying hurt/comfort tropes, but d'Abo crafts her characters with care, and she gives both men strengths and weaknesses that make them individuals, people whose stories the reader is eager to explore. Zach may indeed be an ass, but he's also a strong, driven personality with a hidden heart, an intense desire to give back to the community, and more compassion than his dragon exterior would lead one to believe. Nolan carries the scars of his past trauma, but he isn't cowed or defeated by them, even when he is overwhelmed by panic and anxiety. Their working relationship builds on a foundation of respect, one that only becomes more as they learn about each other's secrets.

Working It is well-paced, the relationship and the sexual tension builds slowly, a careful plotting of story that kept me engaged and interested to see how these two opposites would find a resolution and a happy ending in each other's arms. d'Abo builds her story well, clearly laying the foundation for this new series with solid supporting characters (please, please, let Max be the star of the next book), but there is a definite sense of resolution how Nolan and Zach's story unfolds from introduction to happily ever after. One thing I really appreciated about d'Abo's storytelling was her deft and direct approach to consent, something not always clearly addressed in stories about boss/employee relationships. While there could be an obvious power imbalance between Zach and Nolan , instead d'Abo makes consent a part of the story, one that happens after clear conversations about these potential issues, definitively establishing Nolan as a strong character who chooses how and when to engage in relationship with his boss.

Working It is a solid start to what promises to be a great series of stories featuring the men of the Ringside Gym. Strong characters, realistic conflicts, and steamy romance made this a great weekend read, one that I would definitely recommend. This was my first book by Christine d'Abo, but it is not likely to be my last.

Advance reader copy received from NetGalley.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Review: Glass Tidings

Glass Tidings Glass Tidings by Amy Jo Cousins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Heartbreakingly lovely and fragile, like the delicateness of a handmade glass Christmas bulb, might be the best possible description of the protagonists of Glass Tidings. Gray and Eddie are two lost souls, both burdened by their pasts, uncertain how to move forward, and both resistant to building relationships - romantic or platonic - for fear of being rejected again. Thrown together on Thanksgiving night by a small-town tragedy, each will have to face his own demons and overcome his own baggage to give them a chance at happily ever after.

If you're looking for a fluffy holiday read, this probably isn't the best choice. Angst and hurt abound, and the struggle to find happiness in the broken pieces of two lives causes Gray and Eddie to lash out instead of seeking to build a bridge. But, if you're looking for a contemporary romance with nuanced characters and a slow build toward resolution, then Glass Tidings might be for you. Cousins uses language well, giving Gray and Eddie distinctive voices that reflect their lives and stories, and there are some wonderful moments of humor and sweetness mixed in with the sadness. Cousins also demonstrates a great love of classic scifi that made me laugh (and note down some new to me titles). Carefully paced, well-plotted, and emotionally real, Glass Tidings was my introduction to Amy Jo Cousins, but it probably won't be my last venture into her work.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Review: Guarding Mr. Fine

Guarding Mr. Fine Guarding Mr. Fine by HelenKay Dimon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I recently read (and very much enjoyed) HelenKay Dimon's _Stranded_, so I was very eager to pick up this new title. A fabulous blend of espionage and romance, _Guarding Mr. Fine_ is a delicious read featuring excellent protagonists, clever dialogue, and enough action and steam to keep the reader engaged and interested. Rick and Seth's story is well-paced, moving from their investigations of possible weapons smuggling to figuring out their own romantic entanglements with an easy flow that keeps the story moving toward its climax and resolution. If there is anything lacking here, it's setting. Though the story is set in Munich, there is little local color to help set the reader in place; the events could be taking place nearly anywhere that has an American consular presence, and I do think that a more detailed setting would have helped root the story. Despite that minor flaw, the book is a fun and sizzling read, one that definitely made lunch hours pass more quickly.

I was unaware when I picked up this title that it is part of a series, but I have definitely added the earlier titles in the Tough Love series to my to-read pile, and Dimon has become one of my preferred writers in this genre.

ARC received from NetGalley.

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Monday, January 2, 2017

After a long hiatus...a new review!

FrostbittenFrostbitten by Charlotte Stein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love the concept of this book; it has amazing potential for both sexiness and emotional character development. I also love Stein's characters; they too have amazing potential to be more than just types or tropes. Sadly, though, I didn't love this book. It isn't bad at all, but it's very rushed; the book is really too short to do the plot idea or the characters justice. Rather than give her story time to evolve naturally, the reader is given only a brief set-up to help introduce the characters and their world, and then the story is over before I really had time to appreciate it. Given the concept and plot, it's also somewhat hesitant in its sexiness; the erotic scenes are almost detached in their descriptions, lacking the forthrightness I tend to appreciate in Riptide publications. The story isn't unsexy, though, and it has its moments of great one-liners in Cora's mental monologues, but I wish there was more to appreciate.

Reader copy received from NetGalley.

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Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Wee Taste of Holiday Spice

Hill, Daisy.  David's Selfie.  Samhain Publishing, 2014.  

As a doctor and a single dad, David doesn’t have much free time to meet people, especially datable people.  A widowed bisexual man interested in meeting a new guy, David isn’t sure he will ever manage to have sex again, let alone find another relationship or someone to help raise his daughter.  Go-go dancer and graduate student Craig meets plenty of people, but his job means that no one really takes him seriously as a potential partner.  He has plenty of dreams, goals, and plans, but it’s hard to get guys to see beyond the body and the dancing, to see him as more than a one-night stand.  Their paths are unlikely to cross, but an attempt at online dating gone wrong, a lost cell phone, and one naughty picture may be all it takes to bring this unlikely couple a Christmas gift of happily ever after.

Daisy Hill’s David’s Selfie isn’t particularly original in terms of romantic plots, but her novella is sweetly charming with plenty of sexy spice to add to the reader’s enjoyment.  Hill manages to avoid being either sappy or trite, instead offering a new twist on romance between the social classes.  David and Craig are both well-developed and interesting, and David’s daughter Maia adds a delightful twist of innocent handicap to the couple’s relationship evolution.  Even given the short nature of the story, Hill takes her time with David and Craig’s relationship, carefully guiding her characters through realistic pitfalls and relationship hiccups to a chance at forever.  If I have a complaint at all about David’s Selfie, it’s that the story is short.  Interesting sub-plots and supporting characters, including Craig’s not-quite-a-villain landlord Joachim, are only shallowly developed, though they have potential to be much more. 

If you’re looking for some holiday fluff to keep you warm during your holiday reading, David’s Selfie is a delicious dash of Christmas cheer, one that is both naughty and nice.

ARC received from NetGalley.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Happy Halloween, a little early

Roux, Abigail, Andrea Speed, Anne Tenino.  My Haunted Blender's Gay Love Affair and Other Twisted Tales.  Riptide Publishing, 2014.

Well, it’s not quite Halloween, but October seems like a fine time for this collection of paranormal romances from Riptide Publishing.  The publisher describes My Haunted Blender’s Gay Love Affair and Other Twisted Tales as “a collection of not-so-chilling tales of love and laughter from three of the genre's masters of pulp,” and indeed these novellas provide evenings of fun reading for the fan of both the supernatural and erotic romance.

“The Bone Orchard,” Roux’s contribution, is an Old West adventure, one in which not even death can stop US Marshal Ambrose Shaw and Pinkerton agent Ezra Johns from stopping a notorious serial killer, or from falling in love.   Speed’s “City of Monsters”  features the haunted blender that gives the collection its title, along with vampires, fairies, shape-shifters, and more, including a sexy were-snake photographer with a taste for danger and a disreputable investigator trying to keep himself and the hot newcomer to the city alive long enough to find out what kind of were-creature he is.  Finally, “Horny” is Anne Tenino’s take on a world in which the Greek pantheon is real, sort of, and Achilles leads a band of demigod enforcers on the trail of Zeus, who is in trouble again for sexual immorality.  Their investigation leads them to Ryan Caulfield’s bar.  A sensitive soul with a troubled past, Ryan isn’t looking for excitement or romance, but that doesn’t mean that Fate isn’t waiting to bring him both in the form of a sexy demigod and a little unknown family history.

Twisted Tales is a delightful collection of romantic misadventures -  sweet, steamy, and laugh-out-loud funny.  Brilliant characters, including a fabulous villain, and a fast-paced Wild West adventure, complete with shootouts and a hanging, combine with a sweet touch of romance and some steamy supernatural sexy times to make “The Bone Orchard” a great beginning to the set.  “City of Monsters” offers an unusual world peopled with monsters of all flavors, each with their own rules and restrictions, in a place where nearly anything is possible and nothing is quite what it appears.  And “Horny” brings a new twist on old stories, reshaping Greek myths into the modern world with a flair for drama and great sex.  Any of these tales would be fun on their own, but as a group, they provide a delightful introduction to three unique authors and to the kind of erotic fiction that Riptide embodies.   Highly recommended for a great fall weekend read.  

ARC received from NetGalley.