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.  

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.

The Austen Playbook (CBR11 #57)

Lucy Parker is an auto buy author for me, one of very few. The stories she is telling in her London Celebrities series use the extravagant backdrops of theatre, television, and movies to tell small scale, human love stories. I am an unabashed fan of Romance books – I am here for the guaranteed happy ending – and Parker is perhaps the most reliable author I’m reading right now.

There is a lot of plot packed into this one. We meet Frederica “Freddy” Carlton and James “Griff” Ford-Griffin as the latter is recounting one of his more critical analyses of the former’s current performance in London’s West End. Freddy agrees with Griff’s assessment and begins to mentally work through what would make her happy and bring back the spark to her performances. A few months later Freddy takes the role of Lydia Bennet in The Austen Playbook which is being rehearsed and performed at Griff’s family estate in the very theatre that Griff’s grandfather built for Freddy’s grandmother during their tumultuous affair.

Freddy comes from a centuries long family dynasty of actor’s and her grandmother expanded the family business into playwriting – producing one of the most studied plays of the past century. Griff’s family has fallen on a bit of tough financial times as large English estates simply eat money and Griff’s parents spend wildly, seeming not to realize that the money is coming to an end. Doing his best to help, Griff’s brother brokers a deal to host The Austen Playbook production for a cut of the profits while Griff is working diligently to bring the story of Henrietta and her play to film. However, a budding attraction that is blossoming into something more between our leads is far from the biggest problem facing them across several avenues.

The Austen Playbook has many, many things I enjoy. We’ve got a grumpy hero who never smiles, a witty heroine who is a ball of energy, so much banter, sexy times, a bit of soulful pining, two meddling troublesome families, and good old-fashioned shenanigans. While it is lacking in Austen tropes; it does have the backbone of Austen’s works in the background. Its difficult to pick a favorite of Parker’s books, but this one might be it. I think I need to revisit them to make a firm decision, but this is the only one I’ve rated five stars on Goodreads. I am now excitedly waiting for book five, Headliners, to arrive next month because after the events of the end of this book Parker gave herself quite the mountain to climb, but emmalita’s review of the ARC tells me she succeeded once again.

The Wedding Party (CBR11 #40)

Sometimes I just don’t want to write a review, but I feel the need to do it anyway, just to purge the book from my system and make room for the next. It usually happens with the mediocre books, the ones where you think “well, that was fine I suppose”. That is exactly how I feel about Jasmine Guillory’s third book The Wedding Party. It was decidedly fine.

When I read The Wedding Date last year I noted that her debut showed the possibilities of her handle on craft – that the writing was there, but that there were some hiccups, specifically an over-reliance on certain phrases. I had hoped it was something that she would grow out of as she continued but The Wedding Party was unfortunately weighed down both with repeated phrasing, but repeated situations and character reactions. Like in The Proposal (and The Wedding Date before it) Guillory built herself some very believable and nuanced characters here as she has before, each has their strengths, each has their weaknesses, and they don’t magically solve the other persons weaknesses, which makes for good reading. What made for just fine reading was that these characters have very shallow growth arcs.

Maddie and Theo start the book despising each other, barely keeping it civil as they share a best friend in Alexa. Because this is Romancelandia the characters fall into bed together after Theo’s birthday party and decide to keep up this physical relationship until Alexa’s wedding, which they are both in. Over the course of the engagement the characters fall in love as you might expect, but each – and particularly Maddie – have the same bout of mental anguish over and over and over again. By two-thirds of the way through I was getting a bit desperate for the big dramatic moment to arrive so the plot could start heading downhill.

There were some reveals I thought were handled poorly and I really don’t like that this title is so like the first in the series, but on the whole, it was a fine addition to the world of more diverse romances. I just wish these interesting characters had a more interesting story, or more dynamic inner lives.

Northern Lights (CBR11 #36)

Image result for northern lights nora roberts

I’m glad the CBR11 Bingo Square is Summer Read, not Beach Read because I have a very peculiar definition of what I read at the beach and it is not vacation “light reading”! Northern Lights might not count for some (there are a few murders and a male protagonist fighting through depression) but a Nora Roberts romance will always be a Summer Read for me.

I’ve read Northern Lights before, but its been a long time. In Northern Lights we follow Nate Burke as he moves from Baltimore, Maryland to Lunacy, Alaska to take the newly founded job as the Chief of Police. Nate is also running from the death of his partner less than a year ago. As you would expect in a town called Lunacy, it is teeming with an cast of characters rightfully called Lunatics. Amongst the Lunatics are Burke’s officers, townspeople convinced that someone from Outside should not have been brought in as the Chief, and those who doubt the need for a Police force at all.

An unexpected meet cute with the always dressed in red Meg Galloway leads to what you would expect in a romance novel, but what I love about Meg is that she is entirely self-sufficient in the world which is saying quite a lot for a character who lives in remote Alaska. She is the kind of character I’ve come to expect in 2019, but Roberts had her on the page 15 years ago. It can be easy to take hits at Roberts, her books are often formulaic, and I probably don’t need to revisit many of her trilogies. Nevertheless her standalones, and particularly those focused around some sort of mystery, are reliably good reads.

This is one of those reliable reads, in Lunacy things heat up as a former resident is discovered to have been murdered 16 years earlier. Nate suspects the killer in an unsolved murder is still in town and his investigation unearths some of the secrets that lurk beneath the frozen surface of the town, further complicating his burgeoning relationships in his new hometown, including Meg. I remembered *most* of the plot but had thankfully forgotten the identity of the killer and enjoyed this book as much on reread as I had remembered doing when I decided to request it from the library. Afterall, Roberts is the queen of romance for a reason.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.