Review 49: Six Pack Ranch

I will admit straight up that I read this series because it’s set in my home province of Alberta (Canada) and I was able to borrow it from the library. These are firmly three star reads – good, basic stories with reasonable writing, solid characters, and decent plots. But there isn’t much that sets them apart from the very massive world of available romance books.

They could benefit from more specific descriptions of the environment, which is lovely in the Rocky Mountain area, but rarely gets more than a mention as being beautiful. The different characters come from quite a range of backgrounds and histories, but they didn’t suck me in. I will say that reading all about life on the ranch was quite detailed and interesting and does a lot to establish that it’s hard work and uncertainty. If you want a sweet, easy read with a moderate amount of heat and a tiny bit of kink, these are a good choice.

Review 48: Love in Due Time

There is a growing trend of authors opening up their worlds for other authors to play in. I have to admit that it makes me nervous, because you can only hope that someone else will be able to respect and add to a universe you love without mucking it up. I console myself with the thought that if I don’t like a particular book, I don’t have to consider it canon.

It was in this mindset that I somewhat delayed starting to read LB Dunbar’s Love in Due Time, the first book in the Green Valley Library series. I also have several LB Dunbar books in my TBR that I haven’t got to yet, so I had no idea what I thought of her as author. But I adore Penny Reid’s work, so I told myself that she wouldn’t let something horrible through and I started in.

I’m glad I did! This is a second chance romance, which can be hit or miss for me. I did find Naomi’s response to her first meeting with Nathan to be pretty exaggerated. But for me to wish that characters had and used access to counselling is not rare. I often think it about people in real life too. Once I came to terms with that, I enjoyed the rest of the book. There are lots of entertaining moments, chances to see some growth on the part of Naomi and Nathan, and lots of time in the library, which any reader should love.

Review 47: Knitting in the City

I was able to hunt down the full series of Penny Reid’s Knitting in the City and I tore through them. I’ve yet to be disappointed by any of her books. Obviously, some of the couples appealed to me more than others, but overall, they are robust characters with strengths, weaknesses, foibles, and traumas. Watching them work through their issues to reach their happily ever afters is enthralling.

I love how Ms. Reid includes characters who are “outside the norm” – and does it with a deft touch and attention to detail. Some of her characters are neurodivergent, some are in the genius or prodigy pool, but she never presents them as the cardboard cutout stereotype or uses them purely as a plot point. I also like that for the most part, the characters don’t do stupid or out of character things just to create drama for the plot. Which isn’t to say that they don’t do stupid things or things triggered by their personal histories, because that’s what human do.

These books aren’t perfect, but they are highly enjoyable.

Review 46: Hart Series

Book 5 in this series, Matters to You, was released in January and I was lucky enough to win a copy in an author give away. I’d read Book 1, and I had most of the rest on my ereader, but hadn’t read them yet. So since I like to try and get reviews up when people are nice enough to gift me books, it was time to binge the series.

I found the first three books in the series to be deep, emotional, cathartic reads. I read them back-to-back and then had to take a break. They each tackle an difficult subject (cheating and unresolved relationships, childhood illness, rape) and drag the protagonists through a lot of personal growth before they reach their HEA. By contrast, Books 4 and 5 seemed to be a little lighter. Matters to Me features a heroine, Lauren, who suffers from anxiety. However, I found this aspect of her personality to be a bit too much something that she tells us about-a lot-but we don’t just see in her thoughts and actions. It dragged me out of the story every time and makes it my least favourite of the series.

Matters to You is the story of Paul and Kiersten and the trope is single parenthood. I don’t have kids, so I can’t reliably comment on the challenges of raising them-either alone or with a partner. But for me, this book lacked the angst of the earlier ones for several reasons. First, and probably biggest, single parenthood has become much more normalized; it’s no longer the scandal that it used to be. On top of that, while no one would call Kiersten’s life easy, she does have an eager support network, so that “one pay cheque away from disaster” terror isn’t there. This was still a fun story to read, and watching the back and forth between Paul and Kiersten was entertaining. But I’d say that this book turns the series from a deep, heart-rending experience to more of a sweet one.

Review 45: Her Hollywood Heroes

This was a book I got free through Bookbub. If the blurb seems at all interesting to me, I tend to snap these up as a way to explore new-to-me authors. Sometimes you hit a goldmine and sometimes you find a dud.

Sadly, this was a dud, but at least it was a quick read. The writing was straightforward, verging on simplistic; although to give it it’s due, it had at least been pretty well edited. That was about the only real high point though. The story was predictable, the characters were basic and for a reverse harem story, the sex was downright bland. I really can’t recommend this one.

Review 44: Bro Code and Copper Valley Fireballs

Pippa Grant is a fabulous comedic author and I love reading her stuff. But I’m cranky because she *only* retails her books through the ‘Zon. I’m not sure if I’ve discussed this here, but I do my level best not to buy books through Kindle, because I really do not want to support their censorship or their appalling treatment of authors. Given the option, I will choose to buy directly from the author’s website, directly from the publisher (for example: Baen), through Edenbooks.org for romance, or through Kobo. However, with a bit of patience and the help of giveaways and Bookbub, I managed to put together the currently published books in the Bro Code and related Copper Valley Fireballs series to binge through.

Pippa Grant excels at creating scenarios that are wildly unlikely-although not completely impossible-and outrageously funny. The Bro Code is a former boy band, the members of which have now gone on to new careers. They reminisce quite a bit about the adventures of their touring days and the stories are just as wild as one could hope. But, either by accident or design, none of them have really left the craziness behind, just refined it a little. Since they are all just regular kids who grew up in the same city, they have a shared base of friends and acquaintances which includes members of the Copper Valley Fireballs, the Copper Valley Thrusters, and citizens of Shipwreck-including a certain Master Baker.

The latest release, The Hot Mess and The Heartthrob is probably my favourite. I’m not a mom of little humans, but I have nieces and nephews, I did my share of babysitting and even I can recognize that the madness of all the kids in this series is in no way exaggeration. Kids be cray-cray and they definitely drag you along for the ride. My least favourite was Master Baker, which is surprising because I expected to love it. I mean-baked goods! However, I felt like the fake rivalry dragged on for about four more chapters than it really needed. We all get it, we all know where it’s going to end up, let’s get there already.

The thing that makes these books great is the moments that she creates. The plots, when you strip off all the madness, are pretty basic and the relationships don’t really develop per se, more like survive the obstacles. The moments, however, can be sweet, sexy, ab-stressingly funny and sometimes a combination thereof. They are escapism of the highest pinnacle, designed to give you a memorable ride, not to teach you anything about humanity. But we all need those types of experiences and Pippa Grant will likely remain in my favourites pile for a long while.

Especially if she expands her distribution options.

Review 43: Roommate

I was super, duper excited to read this one, but I’d already committed to reviewing some of the earlier books, so I had to wait-nearly a whole week! It was 100% worth the wait though, and I already feel like I’m just gonna go read it again.

A couple of details to set the stage. First, this is a M/M HEA, so if that isn’t your bag, then do yourself a favour and skip it. Next, this is the transition novel between Sarina’s True North series and a new shared world series called Vino & Veritas. V&V is the new gay bar/bookshop (and boy, does the world need more of those!) in the Vermont town where True North is centered. You do not need to have read True North to enjoy Roommate, but many of the secondary characters in this book get their HEAs in that series.

I loved this book for so many reasons. Kieran and Roderick have a mixed set of baggage when they encounter each other again and they get off to a bit of a rocky start. But even given that, they mostly manage to act like adults and even better-when they don’t, they recognize it and take responsibility for their actions. In the romance world, where too many books model acting like a cranky two year old as acceptable behaviour, I can’t get enough of reading about characters who are emotionally robust.

As a couple, they are freakin’ adorable and watching Kieran come out of his shell just gave me all the “awwwwww’s.” I spent most of the book wanting to just hug him and tell him it’ll all be ok. The only time they aren’t adorable is when they are hot as hell. M\M books, at least the ones aimed at women, often make a point of the physicality of sex between two men. And I certainly admit that part of the appeal is definitely the idea of men being comfortable to get rougher with each other than they usually are with women. But, although, Keiran and Roderick are both sturdy guys, that isn’t emphasized here-instead, there’s a lot of exploration and play. Sure, some of that stems from Kieran’s lack of experience, but there is more focus on the emotional connection, which can sometimes be lacking from M/M.

Given that the Shipleys are a huge family that’s connected to most of the town one way or another, fans of True North will be happy that they still feature prominently. There are even a few surprises from them. And we get to see more into the dynamics of their cousins’ Kieran and Kyle’s family, which we didn’t in the earlier series.

I was excited when Sarina announced that she was opening up the True North world to other writers and that there were going to be several spin-off series. This book is both another fabulous read from her and a fantastic set-up to the first of those series to launch. I can’t recommend it enough.

Review 42: Only Human

After I binged the Rolling Thunder series, I started following Candace Blevins on social media. My timing was excellent, as she was looking for people who were interested in a copy of Only Human in exchange for posting reviews. I’ve decided to avoid ARCs, since there is some conflict of interest, but this book was released in 2015 so I’m comfortable with it.

This book is the first release in the Kirsten O’Shea universe; it introduces us to the eponymous character and starts the world building. Since I’ve read the other series, some of it was familiar to me already, but coming to it from the perspective of a human and learning some more background was great. Candace’s world-building skills are fabulous, which is one of my favourite things about reading sci fi and fantasy. She has the ability to take the world we know and blend in a whole other level of species and rules that are outside of our experience, but also consistent and rational.

I also continue to be impressed by how complex the characters are, even though the books feature a huge cast. Kirsten is a psychologist, an adoptive mother, a sexual submissive, a monster fighter, and a strong, independent woman. It’s clear though, that she’s worked hard to develop the skills and characteristics that she values, she’s not just a magically perfect person. The supernatural individuals all have differing viewpoints about how they live and interact with the world, they aren’t homogeneous within their species.

In many ways, this book is like a very long prologue. Although there is definitely action, it also has a lot of world-building, character introduction, and set up for what we know, at this point, is going to be a very long main plot arc. It doesn’t drag or lose interest though; this was a book that I’d look at the counter and think “I’m only 45% in? So much has happened, I was sure I was farther along!” I doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, but it is more of a pause in the action than a definitive ending. I am very much looking forward to the opportunity to read more.

Review 41: The Cardwell Family

I’m motivated today to talk about genres for a bit, I hope you bear with me. I’ve always been predominantly a fan of adventure, sci fi, and fantasy stories. This is because most contemporary novels are about people living their lives and hopefully experiencing some personal growth-I’ve never been sure why I should spend my time doing the same thing reading about other people doing it. Far too meta for me to consider entertainment.

For the most part, this holds true when considering these sub-genres in romance as well. I find that a lot of contemporary romance depends on the H and h being immature or spawning drama for drama’s sake in order to have any kind of suspense. I have a very limited tolerance for that kind of behaviour, in real life or fiction. Some authors, Jewel E. Ann springs to mind, create very damaged characters and set them up in unlikely circumstances designed to trip their triggers to create heartbreaking, cathartic reads. I can appreciate the work it takes to put these stories together, but they aren’t my favourite fare.

When I think about the contemporary romances that I’ve especially enjoyed, the common denominator is that they focus on the development of the relationship between characters. There is growth on both parts, there is challenge and compromise, and there may be disagreement, but they learn from it. Which leads me into the first two books of the Cardwell Family by Christy Pastore.

She wasn’t an author on my radar at all, until Edenbooks.org highlighted her as their January spotlight. So, I took the opportunity to support them both and bought Beautiful March and Sweet Agony. Unfortunately, I found them to be disappointing. Christy sets up circumstances that could potentially lead to a Jewel E. Ann level of drama in both books, but they both sort of fizzle out. There is sex, but it’s of the “we know it’s good because they tell us it is” variety, not because the description sucks you in. The plots are pretty basic. The writing is pretty basic. There is nothing terrible in these books, but there isn’t anything that drew me in or stuck in my mind. Even though I just read them back-to-back, I had to make an effort to remember that details of Beautiful March before I sat down to write this.

Sometimes, I re-read a book later and enjoy it more, just because I’m in a different head space, but I don’t think that will be the case here. These books are the equivalent of cotton candy: sweet and light, but you get tired of it quickly.

Review 40: Montgomery Ink: Boulder

I said I wasn’t going to read any more of the Montgomery Ink books and I should have stuck to that. However, they had the Boulder series at my library so I decided to give them a try.

I still love the original Montgomery Ink series, but all these spin-offs have definitely nuked the fridge. The characters, the learning curves, the Montgomery family chutzpah…it’s all become very repetitive and familiar and, dare I say it?, boring. I love to see Carrie Ann Ryan retire this world and focus 100% on something new.