Luck of the Draw (CBR12 #7)

Luck of the Draw (Chance of a Lifetime #2)

I’m going to have such a tough time telling you why I like this book so much.

This is my second Fake Relationship Romance Novels in recent days. Jackie Lau’s A Fake Girlfriend for Chinese New Year handled the trope well with friends who agree to be in a short term fake relationship for the sake of familial peace. It was well executed and well plotted and I happily gave it three stars. This one shares a trope, and that’s about where the comparison ends.

I should mention that this book is a 4.5 for me, easily.

Clayborn has really impressed me with her dexterity with this one, and I was quite pleased with Beginner’s Luck and how Clayborn wasn’t afraid of complexity so I was inclined to trust her with the premise of Luck of the Draw. Winning the lottery gave Zoe Ferris the freedom to quit her job as a corporate attorney, but it didn’t clear her conscience about the way her firm earned its money. After spending months hiding behind her lottery night pledge to use her winnings for an adventure Zoe finally allows herself to put name to what she is feeling – a soul deep guilt that she desperately wants to put right. She writes down all the things she feels guilty about and put them in a jar (okay, really a vase) and pulls one out at random to make right.

Which leads her to Aiden O’Leary who is so deep in his own guilt and grieving that he isn’t interested in Zoe or her apology. But when she faints in his driveway his paramedic training kicks in and he is forced to interact with her and despite his desire to be rid of her, he finds himself asking Zoe to pretend to be his fake fiancée in order to help him secure the winning bid on the campground he wants to purchase as part of his brother’s legacy and the money that Zoe handled for the law firm in his brother’s wrongful death settlement.

That’s all in the first chapter. The *first* chapter. Clayborn then spends her time unspooling the nature of each’s guilt and grief, and their relationship to each other and the project that Aiden is undertaking.  There are no easy answers, no magic forces from outside to make everything okay, just two people doing the work and deciding if they have it in themselves to be open, to be known, and to be loved. Aiden and Zoe are going to stay with me for a long time. I must now buy this book since the library will be expecting their copy back. I foresee many rereads in my future with this one.  

It's Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too) (CBR12 #6)

It's Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too)

Other than knowing I had initially picked this book out to be my Far and Away CBR Bingo square I have no idea how this book got on my radar. I didn’t read this before Bingo ended, so this book has been hanging around my house since late October (thanks library extensions!) waiting for me to get to it. Its due back in two days, so now is the time.

Since this was my Far and Away square it was picked because its so different from my own life experience. Nora McInerny and I are the same age and are both Irish Catholic but that is where the similarities end. It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too) is McInerny’s memoir about the worst imaginable six weeks where she lost a pregnancy and both her father and husband died after battling cancers. Its an unimaginable amount of grief, compounded by the fact that Aaron Purmort’s brain tumor haunted their entire marriage.

The book is a series of essays brought together under the umbrella of McInerny’s beginning to process her losses. She tells the story of her childhood, of deciding to marry and have a family with Aaron knowing that they were doing it against a clock, and what the first few months after November 2014 looked and felt like. I’ve never been married, I don’t have children nor have I ever been pregnant, but I have lost loved ones and battled grief and there were passages in this book that resonated as true deep in me, ones that brought me to tears, and also ones that made me laugh – the contents live up to the title.

A Fake Girlfriend for Chinese New Year (CBR12 #5)

A Fake Girlfriend for Chinese New Year (Holidays with the Wongs, #3)

I continue to love the conceit of these novellas; there are four Wong children, all unattached, and their parents and grandparents hatch a plan to set them up with potential partners at Canadian Thanksgiving based on the tropes in the romance novels that their mother and grandmother read. The initial matches go terribly, but as the holidays progress each Wong sibling finds love in different romantic tropey ways. For A Fake Girlfriend for Chinese New Year Lau combined the friends to lovers and fake relationship tropes for the third Wong sibling Zach’s book.

In A Fake Girlfriend for Chinese New Year Zach is afraid of a repeat performance from Thanksgiving and now that his two brothers are in relationships he knows he is the likely target for a second try at blind date setups (I appreciate how Lau makes this his fear, not the plans his mom and grandmother have). To keep that from happening he approaches his friend Jo with a favor – would she be willing to pretend to be his girlfriend for a few weeks to keep the pressure off from his family. The both live in Mosquito Bay and have a friendship built on broken engagements and hobbies, so Zach thinks this is safe for both of them. What he doesn’t know if that Jo has secretly been falling for him for the past two years of their four-year friendship and that he has some feelings for her that he is being dumb about.

As emmalita said in her review of the ARC people “will be dumb about their feelings” and as someone who is often dumb about her feelings I enjoyed reading along as two people were dumb about their feelings, got less dumb about those feelings but at different rates, and then finally stopped being completely dumb about their feelings for each other. Like in Second Chance the obstacle is resolved much closer to the ending, which makes sense for a novella clocking it at 90 pages, but still left me a smidge unsatisfied so I’m rating this one 3.5. That said, this still had what I’m looking for in a romance at the end of the day – to care about the characters and enjoy spending time with them which I’m continuing to discover is Lau’s gift.

Red, White, & Royal Blue (CBR12 #4)

Red, White & Royal Blue

Next up on my Diverse Romance reads is Red, White, & Royal Blue. McQuiston wrote Red, White, & Royal Blue with the intention of making it queer, and making it queer in the way she wished she had read for herself as she was finding her own identity. Her care shows in every step of the novel and its going to be tough for another book to be better than this one this year.

Red, White, & Royal Blue has a great premise – what if the son of the first female president of the United States fell in love with the grandson of the sitting Queen of England? Better yet, what if they go from enemies to friends to lovers. What’s more is that we have one coming to the realization that he is bisexual and the other living deeply in the closet.

“Straight people, he thinks, probably don’t spend this much time convincing themselves they’re straight.”

This book leans into being a political, queer, new adult romantic comedy. McQuiston finds room in her story for all of it, the realities of the American political system aren’t obliterated by her changed 2016 election, a wide variety of queer characters exist in the depths of this story because while its very specifically the story of Alex and Henry, their world is fully fleshed out with a variety of people, and is just downright funny. Basically any scene with Alex’s mom elicited a laugh from me – she’s absolutely brutal in her brand of mom humor and this book contains the single greatest use of PowerPoint ever.

The characters are infused with hope and joy, even when battling depression and addiction. We get to watch as McQuiston unpacks what they see in each other and why would this person love that one through their emails and texts, spending large portions of the back half of the book creating a modern epistolary novel. I loved watching them fall in love and deal with the weight of what their choice to choose love meant to their realities. I’m not doing a great job reviewing it, but this is really a great book.

“The phrase “see attached bibliography” is the single sexiest thing you have ever written to me.”

The Wallflower Wager (CBR12 #3)

The Wallflower Wager (Girl Meets Duke, #3)

This was not the book I was going to read next, but after the bummer of Royal Holiday I knew I needed a sure thing and a Tessa Dare book will always be a book that I quite enjoy. I pulled up the one I’d been saving, book three in the Girl Meets Duke series, and spent the afternoon and evening absorbed in Dare’s kooky version of Regency England. I love a fun, feminist, anachronistic romance novel and that is something that Tessa Dare delivers regularly.

The Wallflower Wager is good. Its easily four stars possibly sneaking into four and a half star good (although I still think the first in the series The Duchess Deal is my favorite of these books, but only a reread would tell me for sure). The Wallflower Wager focuses on Lady Penelope Campion and Gabriel Duke, known around the ton as the Duke of Ruin for the way he has amassed his fortune. Penelope has spent the best part of ten years as a reclusive wallflower, but the impending arrival of her brother to return her to the family estate – a place she firmly does not want to return to – causes her to strike a deal (or a wager as Aunt Caroline puts it) that she will make a concerted effort to get out there into society in an attempt to get Aunt Caroline to side with her so she may remain living on her own in the city. Gabriel is renovating the house next door in order to resell it at a large profit but part of his profit margin requires the presence of a Lady as a neighbor. He decides to help Penny live up to her portion of the wager, for his own reasons, but their physical attraction to each other keeps rearing its ugly head into their plans.

Dare’s cleverness in wordplay and character development, and a bit of poking at modern social commentary are on full display. The interactions between Penny and Gabriel as they begin and continue their sexual relationship are focused on consent and equity. Dare also delivers on sincere emotion and great emotional chemistry. What I appreciated most about this pairing is that Gabriel was concerned with not letting Penny be ruined, not because he thought it mattered, but that he knew it mattered to the society she was a part of, he had made a rule for himself years before to never ruin a woman and this was a believable component of the way they negotiate their growing relationship, particularly as it grows from lust to love.

Blessedly there is no instalove, instead we follow along with two people in lust with one another who act on it. As they continue to spend time together both in and out of bed their deeper emotions build, and they grow to know each other for who they are at their core. Gabriel always sees Penny’s courage and strength, even when her friends who love her dearly infantilize and underestimate her. Gabriel treats her like an intelligent, adult woman who should take charge of her own life and puts his actions where his words are. Until he has an alpha meltdown in the final part of the book, but even as the reader you are with him as he takes on Penny’s abuser (this book does come with a content advisory for heroine with a history of child sexual abuse, confronting her abuser, and a hero with a history of abandonment and extreme poverty in childhood).

Even with the heaviness that the content advisory is covering, there’s still Dare’s patented humor and ridiculous pets here. One of which is goat whom Penny swears is not pregnant (she’s not that kind of girl) and Gabriel is proven right in a particularly amusing scene involving all three very manly heroes from the series trying to figure out what to do when faced with a goat in labor.

This book also expertly weaves in the fourth and final installment’s introduction as Nicola spots her fiancé that none of her friends knew about at the ball at the end, and the epilogue refers to her married with children. Book four The Bride Bet is set to publish this summer and I’m looking forward to it immensely.

Royal Holiday (CBR12 #2)

Royal Holiday (The Wedding Date, #4)

I was going to read this one in the week after Christmas but having taken a look at this year’s Read Harder Challenge I decided to wait until New Years since this is Guillory’s book featuring Maddie’s mom Vivian, who raised her by herself – take that task 14: Read a romance starring a single parent.

I just wish this was better.

Jasmine Guillory launched onto the Romance scene two years ago with The Wedding Date and has released four novels in that time. The second of the bunch, The Proposal, is my favorite, and I think the most well written, but both 2019 releases, The Wedding Party and Royal Holiday are each a dramatic step down in quality from the first two books.

My main concern with Royal Holiday is that the characters could be anyone. We meet Vivian in The Wedding Party as she and Maddie have a close relationship born of a life of just the two of them, and while Vivian travels with Maddie to England for the set p of the book, we rarely see them interact and once Vivian is away from Maddie she loses any sense of who we have learned her to be. On the whole the writing is bland and the characters are underdeveloped. Which leads into my secondary complaint – this is basically an excuse to dump characters into a Duke and Duchess of Sussex fanfic that got expanded to a full size novel for no good reason. The premise that Maddie is flown in to fill in for a friend as the Duchess of Sussex’s dresser for the holidays and is able to bring her mother to stay with the couple is pushing even my credulity limit for romance, but having Vivian bump into the Queen and have it not be a big deal for the staff made me put the book down and take a break.

This one should have been a novella, there’s a good story here hiding beneath the bloat. I worry that the publishing schedule is starting to show in Guillory’s writing, I’m sure she probably had her first two books written when she got her book deal (or nearly there) but that still means that she is writing five books in the course of three or four years, and the past two also doing press and touring to support the releases every six months. Romancelandia can require a lot of its new “IT” authors, and this book might be the cost of that.

Here’s hoping book five in the series Party of Two which releases in June is a step back to form.

Beginner's Luck (CBR12 #1)

Beginner's Luck (Chance of a Lifetime, #1)

I had decided a couple weeks ago that my New Years Day plan was to hang out in comfy clothes while reading and reviewing a book. I have managed to achieve that goal, and all before dinner time! What I didn’t originally know was that with the Romance Writers of America deciding to implode over Christmas week I would be frontloading a lot of Romance books by authors who were out on the frontlines (Kate Clayborn) and/or with new works coming out (her latest Love Lettering published 12/31) because I have a problem with authority figures cheapening the good work being done in genre writing.

So, I decided to try Clayborn’s Beginner’s Luck based on emmalita’s recommendation since it sounded up my alley and just the kind of romance I was in the mood for (while Love Lettering sounds great and I’m sure I’ll get there it wasn’t what I was up for right now). Beginner’s Luck is part of a trilogy which tracks the lives of three friends after they win the lottery after impulsively deciding to buy a ticket one drunken night after sharing their hopes for the winnings. Beginner’s Luck focuses on Kit who wanted a house, but what she desperately wanted was home.

In the way of romance novels Kit meets Ben when he comes to recruit her for a job out of state. Their would be meet cute goes disastrously as Ben’s head isn’t in the game – he’s in town taking care of his injured father after an accident – and he’s doing this as a favor to his partner. From the very beginning these two are attracted to each other, but are operating at cross-purposes. Clayborn sets up a long simmer on this one as each deals with what they’re experiencing before they cross the line from acquaintances to something more. But even when that happens, it is still a tangle of expectations and misunderstandings.

While there was something about Clayborn’s mechanics that didn’t quite sit right with me (it’s the tense/tone with the narration and I can’t explain it, it just felt off) this was still an incredibly enjoyable read. Clayborn builds these characters with depth and layers, hinting at things and slowly building to reveals as to why each is reacting the way that they are and we as he reader get to watch them get it right, and also get it so very wrong. What I appreciated most about Beginner’s Luck is that Clayborn didn’t sit back on genre shorthand, she unpacked how that shorthand isn’t always healthy depending on the character motivations and built in the time and space for honest to goodness growth. The next two books focus on Kit’s best friends Greer and Zoe and Zoe’s book is already requested from my library, but I’m secretly hoping we see more of the background characters from this one in those because I LOVE Ben’s dad.