TBR Challenge Review: Rise by Karina Bliss

​I really wanted to review a romance written by, or featuring African American character(s) for SBHM but … it just didn’t happen. I feel really guilty about that, but it just didn’t pan out.​ Alas. That being said … ​

Rise by Karina Bliss
Contemporary romance released by Karina Bliss on January 28, 2015

RiseRise – The redemption story of a rock star going straight(er) through the love of a good(ish) woman.

Acclaimed literary biographer Elizabeth Winston writes about long-dead heroes.
So bad-boy rock icon Zander Freedman couldn’t possibly tempt her to write his memoir.
Except the man is a mass of fascinating contradictions–manipulative, honest, gifted, charismatic and morally ambiguous.
In short, everything she seeks in a biography subject.
When in her life will she get another chance to work with a living legend? But saying yes to one temptation soon leads to another.
Suddenly she’s having heated fantasies about her subject, fantasies this blue-eyed devil is only too willing to stoke.
She thought self-control was in her DNA; after all, she grew up a minister’s daughter.
She thought wrong.

Rock star Zander Freedman has been an outlier–many would say an outcast–for most of his life.
But there’s no disaster he can’t overcome, from the breakup of his band to the inevitable damage to his reputation.
His Resurrection Tour is shaping up to be his greatest triumph–if his golden voice holds out.
Contracting a respected biographer is simply about creating more buzz. Elizabeth’s integrity is the key to consolidating his legacy as one of rock’s greats.
All the damn woman has to do is write down what he tells her. Not force him to think.
Or encourage the good guy struggling to get out.
And certainly not make him fall in love for the first time in his life.
Turns out he is scared of something: being known.

​I’d seen a lot of buzz for Rise, and most notably (to me) was Nalini Singh recommending it. She also touted Laura Florand and Sonali Dev, so I figured there was a good chance I’d enjoy it. I quickly figured out this was the connected book to What the Librarian Did (which I still need to read :X). Rise was more easily found in my digital library though, and who doesn’t like a rock star hero? Honestly a prevalent reflection was Rise is reminiscent of a Susan Elizabeth Phillips novel. SEP updated, we’ll say.

I really liked the heroine Elizabeth. Elizabeth Winston is so very relatable. She’s normal, staid, reliable, the under appreciated responsible family member. She’s a professor and while at the top of her game, still “regular.” I liked that she kept her sense of self and agency throughout. And what makes her special, though, is that you get why Zander is so intrigued, and then smitten. Let me explain. Elizabeth is regular in that she’s “one of us.” She could be someone you know – a star young professor at a university. But her person – her character, personality, wit, mischievousness, all set her apart. Elizabeth is a prime example of still waters run deep. She’s someone you want to know, and someone you want to be. She’s also kind. A peacemaker, but someone who stands in her own truth. She doesn’t preach at you or belittle you, but she doesn’t let people run all over her either. And that’s exactly what Zander needs.

Zander Freedman. Rock God. Bad Boy. Darling of … nobody? What saves him from being an ass is first, his actual physical concern(s). But next, the fact that he’s already on his journey to bettering himself. His willingness to be self deprecating. I think Zander’s sobering up is a split between the wake up call ” ” from his brother/the original band falling apart, and his health – but it makes him take a long hard look at himself. I won’t spoil you, but the very end, when Zander reveals his deepest darkest secret, you understand why he’s acted how he has for the past twenty or so years. He’s damaged but ignoring it – and being a rockstar has allowed him to do so. Of course he’s insanely hot and talented, but what makes him dynamic [as a character] is how he’s kind to his ex, and immediately sees Elizabeth’s worth. He appreciates her, and is indignant on her behalf. Zandar has depth but he doesn’t want you to see it.

The intricacy of the characters is the biggest draw of Rise. I don’t even have enough space to mention the great cast of secondary characters. The relationship between Zandar and Elizabeth develops slowly and subtly. I like that both of them have push and pull at different times. And I really appreciate there aren’t any over the top or too stupid to live moments. Sure, Zander and Elizabeth both might have moments of idiocy or bad behavior. They’re human. Overcoming their problems is what makes the story special. Living is hard enough – especially with such different people, and one constantly in the public eye. The story is organic, and doesn’t rely on outside factor to make things more exciting. I might be making the story sound boring (I don’t see how though) – but it isn’t. It’s wonderful and draws you in. You’ll start reading, and make sure you have time, because you won’t want to stop.

Oh and I didn’t even mention how the fact that both their professions are an integral part of the story. Much of Zander’s conflict has to deal precisely with him being the lead singer of Rage, and her of course “the biographer.” It’s refreshing (although I wish it was more commonplace) when the character’s profession matters to the story. The grueling tours, the physical demands, the professional responsibility and reputation to maintain – all of that is addressed nicely. Ms. Bliss touches on all that in a realistic manner that adds to the complexity of the story without making it dull or pedantic. Tricky stuff.

I really don’t have any complaints. I think I like and respect Elizabeth and Zander as much as I do because they were sure of themselves before they get physical. (Also different from so many books out there, especially rockstar romances.) Oh – one thing – I wanted more from the ending. It’s good, but just … a tiny bit more oomph would have made it perfect. I think it’s left the way it is though, because this is the first in a series, and we all know we’ll be seeing more of Zander and Elizabeth in the various band member’s romances. (And I’m good with that.)

So in short, not only is this one of the best romances I’ve read this year, it’s one of the best I’ve read in a long time. (I mean come on – reminiscent of old school SEP! And if you don’t know what I mean … who are you?!) Rise is a beautifully crafted and written contemporary romance. I recommend it to anyone. Even if you don’t like rockstar romances, or contemporaries, I think you should give it a try.

Grade: A -

You can read an excerpt here or buy a copy here.

TBR Challenge Review: Three Little Words by Maggie Wells

Three Little Words by Maggie Wells
Contemporary romance novella released by Lyrical Press on December 15, 2014

Three Little WordsIt’s never too late to make the best impulsive decision of your life.

Jo Masters isn’t the party girl she used to be, but now that she’s a woman without obligations, she’s ready to recapture a little of her misspent youth. Her niece’s wedding, with its open bar and dark dance floor, proves to be the perfect opportunity to let loose.

Gregory Stark is just trying to make it through his son’s wedding day… and make some time with the gorgeous brunette on the bride’s side of the aisle. His kid’s wedding probably isn’t the best occasion to put the moves on the sexy woman, who introduces herself only as ‘Josie’, but his best friend is closing in on her too and he has to act fast. With a couple of tequila shots under his belt, Greg propositions Josie — and neither wants to refuse.

I saw this in my library collection, and I liked the idea of an older, responsible heroine, having some fun. Also you know, I’ve been all about the novellas lately. I don’t have time necessarily to read a novel, and I have a thing about reading from cover to cover, so it just works out perfectly.

Jo – who was Josie in her party days – recently turned fifty. I wasn’t expecting that, but it was actually nice to read about older characters that are frisky and fun. (Or maybe I’m just old now? XD) It was nice that Jo is such a regular person. This could be anyone at any of the weddings you attend. (Although we should all be so lucky as to have this much fun.) Personally I also liked Jo because she has a thing for threes … and I do too. Although I’ve never had the policy of always having three tequila shots when I party. Which was also a bonus – who doesn’t want an aunt that’s willing to throw back the tequila?

Gregory Stark is a really good guy, and I loved seeing the responsible always dependable dad character let loose. Good for him! He’s got a sense of humor, and realizes how ridiculous ” ” he’s acting, but Greg knows he wants to go for Josie. This is your unusual hero. The man who was happy to settle down and take care of his family, the one who sacrifices for others and is only now going a little crazy… at his son’s wedding.

I give kudos to Ms. Wells for this not being skeevy at all. I mean, the bride is Jo’s niece, the groom is Greg’s son … but the focus is definitely on the Jo and Greg hookup. And hookup they do – complete with all the scandalous wedding behavior including a  bathroom tryst you’d expect from a character in his or her 20s. (And in real life “that trashy one.” Come on – you know you’d judge.) But instead of  it being smarmy, Ms. Wells manages to make the scenarios not only hot, but fun. The characters are self deprecating, but so into it.

I did think some things were just glossed over – Jo seems to have gotten the short stick in life. Her sibling(s) just dumped the care of her mother on her. You get that Jo’s life hasn’t turned out the way she wanted, but geez it was a lot to pack into a few glib sentences.

Another thing is the secondary character, Will. I loved him and … well you know when you kinda want to hate someone but just can’t quite do it? That. He’s Jo’s ex … and Greg’s best friend. Small world. He’s such an ass, but not. Will is a player, and not someone who ever settles down. Imagine him as … I suppose the George Clooney pre-2014. Jo even acknowledges Will is (deep down) a good guy. I liked that Will worked to get Jo and Greg together … and the pang of regret he experienced when he said Jo was “the one who got away.”

There’s so much packed into this novella. I know I’ll be re-reading it. I only wish there was more. The whole thing really just takes place in a few hours, but based on the characters and their actions, you can see it going forward. I wish I could just be sure of it. Ms. Wells implies a longstanding romantic relationship between Jo and Greg at the end … but that’s a lot to hinge on a few hours. Most of which they spent passed out. Regardless, I quite enjoyed Three Little Words and I’ll definitely be looking for more of Ms. Wells stories.

Grade: B

You can buy a copy here.

TBR Challenge Review: Unwrapping Her Perfect Match by Kat Latham

Review: Unwrapping Her Perfect Match by Kat Latham
Contemporary romance novella released by Kat Latham on November 11, 2014

Unwrapping Her Perfect Match’Twas a week before Christmas, and at the auction house…

At six foot one, Gwen Chambers has felt like a giant her whole life. She’s a calm, capable nurse saving lives in a busy London hospital, but healthy men give her heart palpitations. When larger-than-life rugby player “Little” John Sheldon convinces her to bid on him in his team’s fundraising auction, she discovers how pleasurable heart palpitations can be.

A rugby player was stirring, with desire no one could douse…

John has wanted Gwen since he first saw her, but when he’s injured in a match just before Christmas he suddenly needs her too. Not only can the sexy nurse help him recover, but she might be able to help him look after his daughter—a shy ten-year-old who speaks only French.

But will it be a Happy Christmas for all, and for all a good night?

From decorating the Christmas tree to ice skating at the Tower of London, Gwen helps father and daughter open up and bond with each other—and she bonds right along with them. But when John’s agent calls with a life-changing offer, Gwen has to decide how far she’s willing to go for her perfect match. Will their first Noël also be their last?

I’ve been meaning to read Kat Latham’s books for a while now, and this was the perfect opportunity to crack one open. I love sports romances, and Unwrapping Her Perfect Match is a really great addition to that subgenre. I do want to note it’s a novella, so there will be a difference, I’m sure, from the novels, but there’s a lot packed in.

Gwen is a really normal person, and I loved that in a heroine. She could be you – or me – and her struggles are so basic, but real. I liked that she was a regular girl. Of course, as a heroine, she’s a lovely person, and does have some quirks. Gwen is tall – 6′ 1″, which I can’t imagine is fun for anyone who isn’t a supermodel. (And even for one such person not until she’s of an age to model…) Gwen also has some hang ups that she’s let shadow her life, just as any one of us might to, despite hers and our best efforts. I liked that Gwen was so relatable, and had a great “safety net.” It’s always nice to see a heroine with a loving and supportive family.

John is such a sweetheart. Any girl would be lucky to have him – but he also knows how lucky he is to have found Gwen. I love that he’s willing to admit his mistakes, see fault with himself, and put himself out there. When John screws up (and he does just as any person would) – not only does he own up to it, he tries to fix it. That is what makes him a great hero to me. The professional athlete aspect is just frosting. (Complete with perfect ginormous body.)

I don’t know much about rugby, but I enjoyed the little peeks into the game/clubs (teams?) we’re given in the story. It’s clear Ms. Latham knows the subject, and something of how the inner workings go. However, it was nice to see a little bit of both character’s careers. John is a professional rugby player, Gwen is an ER nurse, and both are respected. Everyone knows the flash and superstardom of athletes, but I liked that Gwen’s job was given a lot of gravitas, and that Gwen stands up for herself. In fact, in Unwrapping we see more of Gwen at work than John.

Even more, however, is the nice touch of John’s daughter Agnes, who I think is really the “fairy godmother” character of the story. Agnes unknowingly brings John and Gwen together. It was really fun to see so many sweet moments between the three of them, and I especially loved how Gwen connected with Agnes so easily and immediately. My French is about as good as John’s was, but I muddled along and actually liked the untranslated dialogue.

Lest you think this is “just” a sweet romance, there are a lot of sexy scenes with John and Gwen. I don’t want to give spoilers, but I wanted to note I loved how things didn’t always happen perfectly. John  and Gwen have sex, and have fun with it.

I appreciated that Unwrapping Her Perfect Match can be read as a stand alone story. (Which was especially nice since I haven’t read the other London Legends Rugby books yet.) I’ll definitely be reading more of Ms. Latham’s books, and if you’re looking for a nice holiday romance, I suggest you read this one. I read it in one go, and I bet you’ll be going to check the other London Legend’s books upon finishing.

Grade: B-

You can buy a copy here.

Hello, November

We meet again.

This Time I Won’t Forget

Written by Johnny Kongos

Oh, I will try
But I tell you it ain’t easy using only words
And so I’ll begin
But I’ll start at the end, the day I said so long my friend

I still remember well
His smile that would not die
And the tears begin to swell
Tears I dare not fight

Cause now I’m alive
I’m taking my first breath
Oh I’m alive
And this time I won’t forget

Now as I look back
Wish I’d known that someday soon he’d long be gone
So, I will try
To remember the end, the day I said so long my friend

They go by many names
Mother, father, brother, son
And the tears begin to swell
Tears I dare not fight

Cause now I’m alive
I’m taking my first breath
Oh I’m alive
And this time I won’t forget

Oh I’m alive
And this time I won’t forget

source

SHHM is Smithsonian Hispanic Heritage Month

Hello darlings! The plan this year was to celebrate all the Smithsonian Heritage Months. We’re still in the process – and who knows, there might be a repeat. But! I just wanted to let you know what “SHHM” stands for because you’ll be seeing it in front of all the posts from September 15 – October 15. Which, actually, is when Hispanic Heritage “Month” is. (I don’t get it either.) Anyway … Yay Hispanic Heritage Month!!!

I also wanted to let you know that I’m basically coming out of a 4+ month hiatus, so fingers crossed things will finally look up and stop being so crazy!

Thanks so much for sticking with me – I miss you all! <3

TBR Read: Hard Time by Cara McKenna

Hard Time by Cara McKenna
Contemporary Romance released by Penguin InterMix on April 15, 2014

Hard TimeAnnie Goodhouse doesn’t need to be warned about bad boys; good sense and an abusive ex have given her plenty of reasons to play it safe. But when she steps into her new role as outreach librarian for Cousins Correctional Facility, no amount of good sense can keep her mind—or eyes—off inmate Eric Collier.

Eric doesn’t claim to be innocent of the crime that landed him in prison. In fact, he’d do it again if that’s what it took to keep his family safe. Loyalty and force are what he knows. But meeting Annie makes him want to know more.

When Eric begins courting Annie through letters, they embark on a reckless, secret romance—a forbidden fantasy that neither imagines could ever be real…until early parole for Eric changes everything, and forces them both to face a past they can’t forget, and a desire they can’t deny.

I got an ARC of this book, and had heard a lot of positive buzz about it, so I decided to read it. I’d read one of Cara McKenna’s [much] earlier books, so I was interested in reading this one. I also thought it was really interesting to read a book that featured a romance hero who had been (or is) a convicted felon. That’s … intense. And not your typical hero material. However, I wanted to give it a go because I’d say I know more than the average person about our criminal justice system, and how things work, or don’t work. Because of that, it’s possible I may have been more forgiving and open. (Or just that I think about these things way more than most people do.)

Like last month, this isn’t going to be a formal review for many reasons … but I do want to talk about some things.

One [totally insignificant] detail that irked me was the strip search scene Ms. McKenna wrote in when Annie first went to the Correctional Facility. With the caveat that my jurisdiction of license/practice isn’t Michigan, I believe a Correctional Facility in Michigan is a prison. I’ve only been to jails not prisons, but even so I don’t think a strip search is usual procedure. If you’re going through intake, than yes, of course. Or, if you’re a suspicious character, and the officers there suspect you of smuggling contraband. A visiting librarian/instructor I don’t think would fall under that umbrella. Unless it was a maximum security facility? (But then she wouldn’t be going there in the first place…) I could go on, but I won’t. So anyway, you see that having that right there in the beginning stuck with me. Thankfully, I gave it some time, then powered on. I’m so glad I did.

I liked Annie, and the fact that she was generally reasonable. I don’t think I’d ever be in the position she put herself in, but it was interesting to read. (And never say never, amirite? ;)) I liked that she put herself first – after a hard lesson learned well before she met Eric. Then also, that she was willing to give the relationship a try and not shut herself off just because of her past. What’s also nice is that Annie sticks up for Eric. I liked that in a way, she was his champion.

Eric, for all that he’s a felon, is probably one of the most romantic heroes I’ve read in a long time. His letters and the way he acts … I think it’s necessary to counter the automatic assumption and stigma that comes with his criminal record. However, the violence of a moment doesn’t define him – it isn’t really who he is – even though to the world he’s stamped with the label and to many people that’s all he is, or will ever be. The strength of will and resolve that Eric has to build a life on the outside really impressed me. He did the wrong thing, and I can’t say his reason or motive was right, but he felt compelled to do it. I also appreciated the fact that Eric owned up to his actions, and made no excuses for them. I almost wished that he had at first, but the story was written exactly as it should have been. I don’t agree with “Street Justice” but I think I understand it. My hat is off to Ms. McKenna for writing that in a convincing and universal way.

Of course there’s family drama, and it was an interesting (and subtle) compare/contrast of Eric and Annie’s families. I in fact like the fact that Annie took a step back and the two didn’t immediately have a romantic relationship upon Eric’s release from prison.

I can see myself reading this book again. There’s so much more that I didn’t even begin to discuss – and it all fits so well. I don’t think Hard Time is an easy read, but it’s an enjoyable one. The journey to happily ever after for Eric and Annie isn’t your typical romance, and I appreciate the hangups and extreme amount of caution Eric employs throughout the book.

I can see myself re-reading Hard Time in the future, and definitely more of Ms. McKenna’s upcoming books.

Grade: B

You can read an excerpt here (warning: it may open as a PDF), or buy a copy here.

TBR Challenge Read: Savin’ Me by Alannah Lynne

Savin’ Me by Alannah Lynne
Contemporary Romance released by Alannah Lynne on August 6, 2012

Lies. Deceit. Backstabbing friends… Welcome to the jungle known as advertising…

Kat Owens can tell you all about the snake-infested world of big-time advertising. Thanks to an ex-best friend co-worker and a gone-wrong love affair with a client, she’s forced to leave her large Charlotte agency for a small-town coastal one. It’s do-or-die time to prove she can be a success to the aging grandfather she adores. Which means she can’t afford to be distracted by a client who’s a walking, talking definition of sex… Even if he is the man who stole her heart thirteen months before in a one-night stand she can’t forget.

Erik Monteague is a handsome, charismatic, highly respected businessman who has it all. Or so it seems. Only his closest friends know the truth about the guilt and emotional scars he carries, or why, following his fiancée’s death, he invoked the twenty-four/two rule. He never spends more than twenty-four hours with a woman, he rarely dates them twice, and he never thinks about them afterward.

But Kat Owens is different. She cheated him out of twelve hours, and now he can’t forget her. At least that’s what he tells himself, because admitting the truth is too dangerous. When she suddenly appears in his hometown, he sets out to finish what they started thirteen months earlier. But while his perfectly executed seduction gets Kat back in his bed, the emotional fallout is more than he counted on. Will he face his tragic past once and for all… or spend the rest of his life running?

This isn’t going to be a formal review because I’m bad … but I did want to make note of the book I read for the March challenge of A “New to Me Author” – and there are a lot to pick from. I think I saw Savin’ Me recommended as a kindle freebie, so I went for it.

I really like the romances where the hero falls first and falls fast. It might have something to do with reading all those earlier romances where the heroine just is in love with the hero “ever since she was a little girl” and just pines and pines for him for over a decade and he’s a total asshat and she’s a doormat – and you know those books. That is not the case here.

I think Ms. Lynne wrote wonderfully developed characters. Kat has a lot of depth, and is focused on her career, but she’s also willing to see reason. Even more than that, however, she’s not willing to take, or put up with Erik’s bullshit. I liked that she lived her life, and tried to do it without having to see or interact with Erik. Erik is sneaky though, and that’s the romance in the book. We all know they’re going to get together, but the journey was quite enjoyable. I found the story reasonable and realistic.

Obviously a lot of fun, and with lots of sex and chemistry between Kat and Erik too. There were some emotional moments, and I liked the focus on introspection from both Kat and Erik.

I liked this book – it was an enjoyable read and I can see myself looking for the rest in the series. If you’re looking for a solid contemporary romance, I suggest Savin’ Me. And you know what? It’s free for kindle right now.

Grade: C+

You can read an excerpt here, or buy a copy here.