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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.

 

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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 – 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 – Eight Simple Rules for Dating a Dragon

Eight Simple Rules for Dating a Dragon, Romantic Fantasy by Kerrelyn Sparks

My rating: ⭐️⭐️

I thought this would be a fun, quirky story with light-hearted romance, and Fantasy is almost always a good fit for me. Unfortunately, this was very not for me. Not because it’s the third in a series. It can be read as a standalone, as is often the case in Romance series.

Gwennore is an intimate of the previous two heroines. While at a massive birthday party (seriously, the way the Embraced get their magic means that everyone has the same birthday), she and her friend’s three-year-old daughter are abducted by dragons. Gwennore fights for the child’s return and in doing so makes a bargain to help General “Gorgeous” Silas Dravenko investigate the madness and intrigue infesting his kingdom’s court.

The romance is refreshingly based on mutual admiration and time spent together as well as lust. To be fair, the time they spend together isn’t nominally very much because the pacing is such that the entire story takes place over a short time and they do need to be in love by the end. A great deal of the novel harkens back to Old School Romance. The heroine is virginal, has a youthful lack of self esteem despite a strong support system of other women, and there is a strong focus on purity, easily scandalised society, and marriage and children. The Fantasy elements are also rooted in older tropes.

That was the first of my two problems. This book does not work very hard to be Fantasy. There are basic cookie cutter ideas like elves with pointy ears, murderous trolls, dragons that breathe fire, and royal courts based on the most rudimentary understanding of a Western monarchy. None of these things meld together well, nor do they hold up under logic or examination.

Sad to say, my second problem was with the writing. The voice is oddly juvenile. With the sexual references removed, this could easily be for a younger audience. The vocabulary is limited, overly modern for a Fantasy setting with Western historical influences, and childish. For example, iterations of the phrase “fall for” appear twenty times, and the curse is referred to as “so-called curse” fourteen times. This phrase is also the only use of the word “so-called” in the text. A great deal of time is wasted in repetition and perpetuating misunderstandings or deceit that a child could see through. Ironically, the child character in the beginning doesn’t behave or speak like a real child.

I like this genre. I love Mark of the Tala and the other books in that series. I’ve read a lot more of it in YA, and I’ve liked most of that too. I suppose I just want better commitment to and execution of the Fantasy elements. The romance is fine. He convinces her that she was Beautiful All Along and their banter over the rules for dating dragons is quite cute. And the madness subplot was interesting. It simply wasn’t enough to engage me.

Less picky readers will enjoy the banter between the two romantic leads, the large cast is a lot of fun (I loved Dimitri), and Gwennore’s innocence can be charming.

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

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Review – The Bollywood Bride

The Bollywood Bride, Contemporary Romance by Sonali Dev

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

I can’t remember the last time I’ve had such a hard time reading a book. Not because of density of language or being bored. The emotions in this one hit me incredibly hard, for personal reasons.

Ria is a Bollywood actress of significant fame and an abundance of painful secrets. She’s forced to go home to Chicago and face some of her past when her beloved cousin Nikhil begs her to come to his wedding. When she faces her first, failed loved Vikram, she’s caught up in a storm of constant emotional onslaught.

Hot damn does Ria have the feels. She has to be the single most passionate character I have ever seen. Unfortunately for her, it isn’t the kind of passion that people use to sell romance novels and art supplies. It’s the biblical rent your garments kind of passion. She feels so much and so intensely that I wonder if someone ought to have warned me. I’m in a vulnerable place right now.

I love it and hate it at the same time. Ria is terrified of hereditary insanity, to the degree that she’s helplessly self-destructive. Helplessness defines a goodly portion of her character. I don’t mean that she’s passive and badly written. I mean she is like a genuinely real person struggling with helplessness that ruins her life.

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Always Kinda Emo by paperbeatsscissors on DeviantArt

As a romance, it takes steamy to a new level–maybe a bit further than some people like–and it’s definitely heartfelt. However, her love for Vikram is one of the millstones she collects about her neck. Hell, it comes in a matching set of related issues. This is more the story of Ria learning to be okay than it is a romance, and yet it’s romantic and their relationship is absolutely key to most of what’s going on.

Of course, there is a large supportive family whom I adored, as well as lots of description of food and wedding traditions. Sonali Dev has a gift for supporting characters. They’re varied and full of life. Nikhil and Jen, the happy couple planning their wedding, are sketched with such loving detail that I want to read the book about how they met. There’s so much hope and many kinds of love in Dev’s books.

But if you’re going through a bad patch, maybe read this for a cathartic cry or wait until you’re feeling better. It’s powerful.