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Review – Kiss the Girl

Kiss the Girl, a Contemporary Romance by Tara Sivec

Series: The Naughty Princess Club #3

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I love this series. Each book works as a standalone and bears repeat reading with glee and freshness. I had the roughest time of my life while reading this (obviously unrelated to the book) and ended up rereading sections rather than straight-up continuing as if it were a regular book. Simply because it resonated so deeply with me.

As presented in the previous Naught Princess books, Ariel Waters is a shit-talking, no-nonsense woman-shaped wrecking machine who drinks hard, plays hard, and doesn’t do feels. She is also a pretty damn good friend, especially if it ever came to buying bodies. She came out of a crappy marriage and lost her thriving antique business to alimony payments.

From the beginning, layers begin to pull back, revealing the softer vulnerabilities that Ariel has so far kept masterfully hidden under a thick veneer of STI jokes and liberal use of the word ‘fuck.’ She crumbles under the weight of adult responsibilities like turning in paperwork on time and behaving in a Starbucks. Due to this, she loses her house in the beginning of the book and finds herself bereft of her stuff—the antiques that give her comfort—and needs somewhere to stay. As her two best friends are not in a great place to provide that, she winds up staying on a boat provided by Eric Sailor, the co-owner of Charming’s who has shared a flirt and fuck off non-relationship with her since the first book.

It scared me how much Ariel reminded me of myself, considering I did not like her when I first read At the Stroke of Midnight. But that in itself is probably telling.

Almost more than a romance, this is a story about Ariel getting her power back, accepting those parts of herself she’s rejected, and adulting. The romance is empowering and very carefully crafted to be positive at all times, which I definitely appreciated. It could veer into over the top at times, but Ariel is over the top, so it isn’t like that’s not on theme. There are some romcom tropes in play that made it feel cinematic and nostalgic, while also addressing the kinds of things that make those tropes problematic.

In the first 25-40%, I’ll admit that the fairy tale meta humor was far less present than in the previous books. Especially when compared to In Bed with the Beast, which was employed it to great effect. The Disney adaptation of The Little Mermaid is the only reference on offer and it’s all surface-level jokes that rely heavily on ‘Member That Thing? which…meh. Ariel’s ex is named Sebastian and has French affectations for some reason—mostly the meta humor is in people having certain names The antiques stuff is consistently a good draw from the Disney movie, so I ultimately decided I was happy with this element.

Fitting for the last installment in the series, this book doubles down on the most positive things the series has to offer as a whole—the fun, the sexiness, the ridiculous antics the three friends get into while drunk, and the healthy relationships they have with each other and their significant others. I love the mix of bickering and vulgar language that is vigorously stirred together with love of every kind and trust.

I recommend this and the other books to anyone who wants to inject some positivity into their lives and is super tired of other people telling them to curse less.

Deepest thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in return for an honest review.

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Review – Don’t Look Back

Don’t Look Back, Romantic Suspense by Dawn Ryder

Series: Unbroken Heroes #6

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

The publisher provided me with an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tension, high stakes, and beautifully stylised drama. While many Romance series can be read out of order, this series has a linear plot and a lot of it. I recommend reading this one after the others.

Particularly since it starts on a note of emotional suspense that relies on some attachment to main characters and supporting ones. At the christening of Vitus and Damascus Hale’s daughter, an assassin lurks with his finger on the trigger. Political intrigue and grudges held by a powerful man drive much of the action.

Thais Sinclair and Dunn Bateson are both competent, confident, and even a bit snarky, in a political thriller style. They have excellent chemistry, although I wasn’t entirely sure what kept them apart sometimes. Thais is an interesting character—she strives to be hard as nails, but desires a softness that she feels is incompatible with her job as an intelligence agent.

Unfortunately, due to the sheer size of the cast and the fact that some investment in the plot is predicated on prior knowledge, I had trouble getting into the plot. Which is a shame, because this is a plot-heavy book. If you like crime investigation fiction and romance and have trouble picking between them, this would be a great series to pick up. I love Romance that delivers more than the usual portion of subgenre.

The writing style is rather like a score of tense music. Thumping and engaging. Not a lot of downtime though, likely because it delves into multiple viewpoints. This makes it ideal for the kind of reader who has frequent yet brief reading sessions. I read it that way mostly. Longer reading sessions felt binge-y and tired me out.

It bears repeating: This is definitely not a standalone. That isn’t a bad thing, however as I hadn’t read any of the previous books, I was often confused. There are tonnes of characters, all with not only their own motivations and relationships, but often complex histories that have bearing on things happening in the story’s present.

It’s dense, the emotions are bigger than life, and the heroes are all alphas. If that’s your thing, start with Dangerous to Know and enjoy the ride.

…okay, I can’t help adding—the names are SILLY. I read “Saxon Hale” and snort-laughed. It made me want a romance based on Saxton Hale and the Administrator.

 

yourpropertyjustgotdamagedbysaxtonhale

 

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Review – Dagger’s Edge

Dagger’s Edge, Romantic Suspense by Lora Leigh

Series: Brute Force #2

My rating: ⭐️⭐️

The publisher provided me with an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I can see the merits, but couldn’t personally enjoy it.

Journey Taite carries the scars of a hard life as a broodmare princess daughter of a crime lord. She fled and assumed the name Crimsyn Delaney, aided the daughter of her father’s enemy, and fell in with said enemy. Ivan Resnova fought his way to the top to remove his father’s bad influence and now fights to protect his people, his interests, and his daughter. Journey’s life is in danger, thanks to criminal political intrigue, and he means to protect her.

At its heart, this is a romance between a young woman and the older protective man she developed a juvenile entendre for, blossoming into mutual love. This is the kind of May/December romance that should be quite nice. There are parallels drawn to fairy tales (very lightly) and it certainly reminded me of Regency Romance where the heroine is often seventeen and the hero is over thirty.

Somehow though, it never gelled for me. Ivan is too pushy and even moments or dialogue that should have looked chivalrous just came off as vulgar. They have sex with astonishing frequency, and at least once, he initiated it in a way that I didn’t find sexy in the least. They do have some nice, sweet conversations that further their personal relationship, but by the end, I never got a feeling that they shared anything other than lust and really unhealthy possessiveness.

The plot is one of the lightest I think I’ve seen in this subgenre. The various crime families and their in-fighting mean that Journey is in danger. Ivan protects her by effecting a fake engagement. There’s some weak hand-wringing attempts to keep them apart, but they have so much sex that I don’t think industrial grade steel walls could successfully do that. Never mind the vague declaration that Ivan can’t love her or something. The happy ending is suitably happy, there’s a tiny twist that I thought was cute, and the supporting characters are just present enough and I enjoyed them.

Just not for me. Too much sex, not enough plot. It’s not irredeemable, simply not to my personal taste.

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Review – Deep Cover

Deep Cover, Romantic Suspense by Scarlett Cole

Series: Love Over Duty #3

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

The publisher provided me with an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cabe Moss is still grieving his fiancée five years after her passing, but his interest in dating is reignited when he meets Amy Murray. The two put try to put the passion on hold while they get to the bottom of a case involving both money laundering and human trafficking. But their feelings are impossible to deny.

This is the third book in a series and the men of the previous two book play rather prominent roles. I wouldn’t say that you need to read the first two to ‘get’ this one, rather that the endings are reiterated in it, so people who hate spoilers should just start at the beginning of the series.

A lot of work went into this book, and it shows. The heroine is incredibly competent and experienced in multiple areas, and it feels like Scarlett Cole wanted to deliver a story that was both well-researched and well-considered. Cabe is a difficult hero to balance–both protective and mindful of Amy’s abilities and independence. Personally, I think it a success. She has the most emotionally invested in their joint mission, which I felt made her a stronger character overall, but that doesn’t really detract from anything.

Their relationship has a few bumpy misunderstandings, however they communicate openly and rather well. I didn’t like that Amy was down on herself for having conflicting desires regarding their relationship status, though. Believe in yourself, girl! Most of what keeps them apart is the job and professionalism. They also have their own individual hangups from their respective pasts. Cabe struggles more internally, which I liked. He had a lot to deal with, and any less would have felt hand-wavy.

I won’t lie, the beginning was painfully rough for me to read. There is a plethora of information and it comes in a torrent of straight-up telling. It doesn’t lack emotion where appropriate. There’s just too much information told too quickly and some of it is unnecessary. For example, there are more named characters than are warranted. It takes attention away from names a reader actually has to know and remember. Some information is not superfluous, but it would be better served in small doses delivered organically throughout the story, rather than dumped in the first two or three chapters.

After that though, they meet and start working together and it all smooths out. The research is extensive and mostly explained but not too much, all to the point of showing that Amy knows what she’s doing. The villains are a bit simple, though not cartoonish. They make for good antagonists. Particularly when the endgame kicks in. The ending plays out at a swift, exciting pace and it’s quite good.

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Review – In Bed with the Beast

In Bed with the Beast, Contemporary Romance by Tara Sivec

Series: The Naught Princess Club #2

The first book in the Naughty Princess Club was a roller coaster ride for me. The author was new to me and I am extremely picky when it comes to Contemporary Romance. My fairy tale ending was that I adored that book and I felt really good about liking it. It’s a clever, sexy, empowering story.

In Bed with the Beast is possibly even better. I was sent an ARC by the publisher through NetGalley and invited to review it, which sent me over the moon.

Book nerd Belle Reading is determined to take charge of her life and save the library she’s worked in and loved for nine years. But she’s all too aware of the many things that hold her back. She spends most of the book fighting them. Sometimes she’s wondrously victorious. Other times, not so much. A fight with her overprotective father at the beginning is the latter. He kicks her out and she starts sleeping in the library.

For various reasons, she doesn’t want to tell her friends she’s homeless. Then, in a truly brilliant twist on the source fairy tale, she winds up living with Beast, the bouncer she met in the first book. He’s gruff and surly, however he’s also well-read and caring in his own way. As fits a Beauty and the Beast story, they become friends first. Although of course the unresolved sexual tension is a delightful undercurrent throughout.

As a story that takes inspiration from a fairy tale, it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen—and I have read a boatload of fairy tale retellings. I particularly love the way that Sivec took plot points and scenes from Disney and translated them to her setting. It’s passionate and respectful and creative AF. Beast is named Vincent Addams, a nod to the 1985 television show and the Disney animated film. When he told Belle his first name, I literally laughed out loud. I kind of wanted to applaud. Screw Ready Player One. THIS is how you do a reference. It’s subtle, clever, and funny but also sweet and lovely. All of the characters’ name references are.

There is no makeover for either character. It isn’t overplayed. Both Belle and Vincent change over the course of the story to become better people due to their own initiatives and the affection and respect they have for each other. But they expressly do not makeover or ‘fix’ each other. Ariel tries to talk Belle into contact lenses to replace her glasses—as if wearing glasses prevents Belle from being sexy or beautiful—and Cindy treats Belle as if she’s her mother, but she doesn’t put up with their shit. As for Vincent, he doesn’t have to change his attitude to be sunny or charming.

”He’s been overly polite with me during the few minutes each day we see each other, which I’m quickly realizing I don’t like one bit. I’ve actually grown to kind of like his surly, overbearing nature.”

Instead, he opens up and learns to trust Belle and communicate better.

While this was a five star book for me, there were times I shook my head a little. Stockholm Syndrome is more of a buzzword than an actual thing. It isn’t in the DSM-5. I liked that it came up, since it’s often levied against Beauty and the Beast, yet Belle with all of her factoids and reading didn’t take the opportunity to kick it in the ass. That gave me a sad face. It bothered me that virginity was used as an insult and this was not addressed. There’s nothing wrong with being a virgin. The moment passed, but I didn’t care for it. Then at the end, there’s a bit of a twist to keep Belle and Vincent apart that maybe resolves too quickly. I didn’t really mind that, but I could see how someone else might.

Overall though, I seriously loved this book. It was entertaining, the main character is funny and sweet, and the supporting cast provide plenty of humour without overstepping. The romance is absolutely perfect. Just the right blend of endearing, steamy, and mature discussion.

I do not reread hardly anything—too many unread books waiting on my TBR—but I could reread the Naughty Princess Club books any time.

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Review – Dirty-Talking Cowboy

Dirty-Talking Cowboy, Contemporary Romance by Stacey Kennedy

Series: Kinky Spurs #1

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

(I received an invitation to review this book from the publisher through NetGalley.)

Emma Monroe is dealing with a lot of heartache. Her grandmother recently died, and her boyfriend of a year broke her heart. Thanks to the legacy left to her, Emma has moved to River Rock to take care of rescued animals on Grams’s farm. Emma also works part-time at a bar called Kinky Spurs, where she meets Shep.

For the most part, Shep has it all together. He built his own house on his own land and runs a survival-training company. He rescues Emma from the start, and in turn, she ends up enriching his life and hers.

This is overall quite a sweet romance. In spite of the fact that Emma and Shep get into a physical relationship early on, they balance it out by being genuinely interested in one another as people and respectful of each other’s space. They see and admire traits in one another that have nothing to do with sex. That said, the spice level is impressively high, so I do recommend it to people who see the word ‘kinky’ in the series title and reach for their wallets. Their happy ending wraps up everything nicely and I could picture them being together forever.

Unfortunately, I can’t personally give this more than three stars. It’s too uneven. Most of the external conflict comes from Shep’s problems while all of the internal conflict is Emma’s. This robs Shep of a character arc. The writing style is often unwieldy, especially when it comes to the dialogue. Too much time is spent setting up characters for other books, which makes it seems as if there wasn’t enough going on in the romance in this book. That didn’t help my occasional impressions that their relationship was too heavily based on infatuation.

Although the story is pretty short, there’s a lot of drama to be had, particularly in the last 25% of the book. It never gets too angsty, and stays on the light and sexy side. The best balance is struck by Emma and Shep’s relationship. They’ve got attraction, sexual compatibility, fondness, and mutual understanding. And if one can say that the best part of a Romance novel is the relationship, then I would say it’s a successful Romance.

I could comfortably recommend this book to people who love Western category romance, especially if they don’t mind some old school elements like possessive alphas and nosy families.

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Review – Spectacle Vol 1

Spectacle Vol 1, Paranormal Mystery Graphic Novel by Megan Rose Gedris

Series: Spectacle, first volume

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

(I received an ARC from NetGalley in return for an honest review.)

Although her true talent lies in interpreting the data processed by the difference engine she built, Anna works as a fortune-teller in a circus. Her twin sister Kat also works in the circus, as a knife-thrower. The circus is a visual accomplishment, both in the art–which shows the reality more than the spectacle, which is fun–and the depiction of the community. People bicker, put together church services, gossip, and come together in crises. One such crisis is Kat’s sudden murder.

Anna finds the body, as well as Kat’s ghost. The two work together to catch the murderer without disrupting the circus, hoping that resolving the mystery will allow Kat to move on.

I loved all of the characters and their relationships. Anna is not a social butterfly. She’s awkward, accidentally insults people, and has difficulty accepting kindness at her sister’s funeral. In contrast (because they’re twins I guess), Kat is brash yet forges emotional connections with others. An interesting difference between the two of them is that Kat is the forgiving one. My impression was that Anna was less so because she doesn’t ‘get’ people the same way.

Art downfalls, the stupid belch, cliffhanger sudden stop

For the most part, the art is great. The chapter covers are stunning and really show the time and care taken with them. Sometimes there are things that look strange or don’t quite work. Sometimes the blood looks like finger-paint, I think because the colour saturation in those instances is too high. The text is easy to read, except when it’s white and written directly over the art.

The biggest downside to this book is the sudden jerking stop at the end. There’s no denouement, no To Be Continued caption box in the corner, not even a blank white page. Calling it a cliffhanger would be missing the mark. It looked unfinished.

There is a satisfying story arc, though. After a mysterious event gives the local acting sheriff a dubious reason to lock up the ringmaster, the performers band together to earn as much money as possible to make his $500 bail. When Anna tries to gain access to the ringmaster to get his advice on her own ghost/murder problem, she discovers the acting sheriff is corrupt and dangerous. It’s a slow burn arc, but as I said, ultimately satisfying.

I love ghosts and murder mysteries, and this combined them very well. To be fair, the abrupt ending does offer a culmination of a few very subtle clues throughout the book. There are a lot of unanswered questions, so I’m looking forward to the next volume!