Category: Romance


Don’t Bang the Barista

I’m still trucking along. We had a cold snap, one thing lead to another, and now the cat beast has eaten the leaves off of every bean plant I’d gotten started. So that kind of sucks. I can always start again though, and it looks like this should be the last time it gets below freezing this spring. Anyway, I have a review for you all. Not going to lie, I bought this book mostly for the title. Enjoy!

Don't Bang the Barista cover

It is a known thing that baristas are the best thing since scones for the coffee drinking public. Even better when they’re as hot as the coffee they serve. It is also known that, when one spends a lot of time at a coffee shop, there is a single massive rule to remember in order to avoid exile or at least spit in your drinks: don’t bang the barista. In the face of Hanna, gorgeous drink slinger and drummer that she is, Kate’s having a bit of trouble remembering that rule. It doesn’t help that Hanna is a glorious flirt or that her friend Cass might have ulterior motives for reminding her of it.

Leigh Matthews’ Don’t Bang the Barista is a book I have definite mixed feelings on. Where it’s good, it’s really good and I had a ton of fun. Where it’s bad, it’s nearly unreadable.

Don’t Bang the Barista has an expansive cast, which works well here, the author does a lot of solid character work. I was probably more invested in the side characters than in Kate herself. They were fun and interesting and, because the reader isn’t following them, they got to stay that way even when serious moments hit. The barista from the title is a complete sweetheart. The pre-established couple has their issues but are shown to be working on them together. Even Kate’s ex, while she’s more of a plot device than a character, is well used in the story. I found myself invested in the side characters and having a good time reading about them.

This probably doesn’t count as a spoiler, given that it’s a romance novel, but still. My big issue with the book is actually Kate’s love interest, Cass. Cass reminds me of why I stopped reading romance novels awhile back and just makes me very uncomfortable as the love interest here. I was actually waiting for the moment where it became clear that she was the antagonist and we found out who the actual love interest was going to be. She’s deeply childish with her feelings, doesn’t talk to the protagonist about said feelings, and is just super petty in how she deals with the woman she’s supposedly in love with. She won’t tell Kate that she’s into her, but then the minute Kate meets a cute girl and they start flirting Cass swoops in to break it up or she disappears and refuses to talk to Kate. This doesn’t get better as the story progresses, she’s static.

That kind of dovetails into my other issue with the book, Kate herself is sort of a wishy washy protagonist. That’s by no means a book killer for me and, given a more solid grounding on who she’s meant to be romancing and a better love interest, it might have worked out well. As is, when she’s holding a scene on her own it gets really tiring because of all the hand wringing and uncertainty. It combines with the lack of clarity on who the love interest is like a fresh summer peach and a handful of rusty tacks.

So, where does that leave us? I’m not going to lie, I really wanted to like this book, and for long stretches of it I did enjoy it. Heck, if Matthews either had excluded Cass from it or had developed her at all, I would be giving this a three or even a four. As it is, that one character takes any little problems the book has and magnifies them, leaving Don’t Bang the Barista with a two out of five.

Once, during a discussion with a fellow author (he was in his 40s) where upon discovering that he couldn’t cook, I asked, “Come on, not at all? Didn’t you ever watch your mom in the kitchen?”
                                                                                                                                                                                   .
His response shocked me. He said, “In my household, dinner consisted of two things: a can opener and a microwave.”
 
Days later, I was still thinking about it and imagining what it’d be like to live off of nuked canned food. It’s sad. As a kid, he never had the chance to discover or create a relationship with living growing fruits and vegetables in their unprocessed form, but instead ate things like canned pasta, tinned meats, fruits in syrup, and vegetables in brine.
 
This got me thinking: what if I had a YA character whose mom was like that? Perhaps it was a single income, single parent household and she worked long hours (night shift) to support her family so there was no time to learn how to cook? Okay, now how can I up the stakes?
 
What if my hero, Kevin – I’ll make him a talented athlete – thought he was eating better than his mom’s cooking, but in reality, it wasn’t much better? So I thought, what would be worse? Well, what if all he ate every day (meals and snacks) were energy bars, powdered energy drinks, and energy gels (all with artificial imitation flavours)? Themes were developing quickly and I knew I had something here I wanted to explore further. I know people whose diets consist of a lot of powdered protein. Hell, I’ve tried dehydrated/crusty or chalky/chewy protein bars and drinks that left a strange coating in my mouth. They’re disgusting. This was also when something called Soylent, a greyish-beige drink hit the market. It was known to be consumed by video gamers as it apparently meets all the nutritional daily requirements. I’ve never tried it and there’s no way you’ll get me to either.
So how do I take this YA character and his diet and make it worse? That’s when the opening chapter came to me: Kevin fails a gym class food diary assignment and to keep his grades up, so he can score a hockey scholarship, Coach makes him take the cooking component in Domestic Tech for extra credit.
 
The horror! He has to take a cooking class! If his friends knew about this, they’d tease him badly. So now Kevin’s got a secret.
 
At the same time I was thinking about this idea, I’d been watching and reading stories that happened to have overweight girls in them and they all seemed similar: depressed, bullied or the bully, comic relief, or abused. Where was the story about a confident girl who didn’t think she needed to lose weight in order to feel good about herself? #bodypositive
 
Then I wondered, what if Kevin’s got a second secret he’s keeping from his friends:
 
He likes big breasts, hips and thighs in a society that only reveres big breasts. Everywhere we look, Hollywood, corporations, books, music, fashion, etc., play a massive part in shaping society’s mindset. It’s a barrage of messages, particularly to young people, telling them what to think, act and feel. You won’t be cool unless you use a particular product or wear a certain piece of clothing (sold in X store with limited sizes), or look a certain way. And Hollywood? I was wondering the other day what would have happened in the romantic teen comedy SHE’S ALL THAT if the geeky (so called) “unattractive” artist Laney remained who she was and didn’t get the cliché makeover and it was Zach who had to change, and it ended with them as a couple, but Laney was exactly how she appeared in Act I. 
 
At times, Kevin has a hard time expressing his feelings, finding the right words or trying to process what he’s experiencing, but that’s part of who he is and his quest to understand himself. Sure, it would have been more fun to have him spout poetry like other guys in YA romances, but that would ring false. Falling in love is new to him and knowing that Claire is unacceptable to his peers places his world on shaky ground. If Kevin were an adult with a wealth of experience, I’m sure the novel would go something like this: Shut your face, I’m in love with Claire, I don’t care what you think. The End. But it’s not.
 

Writing the scenes with Kevin and Claire were a lot of fun. I really dug their energy and positivity. I have no clue if I’ll ever write another romance, but I’m glad this one happened and I hope I get to experience this much joy in the future. 

 

I’m a little late posting this, but I’ve got another giveaway for you all.

The Jock and the Fat Chick is a YA romance novel from the point of view of our title Jock, Kevin, who is forced to take domestic tech to make up for a failed assignment. To make matters worse he’s falling for his classmate Claire, something he can’t let anyone in his social circle know unless he wants the wrath of the popular crowd to come crashing down on his and, more importantly, Claire’s heads.

We’re doing things a little differently this time around, the prize is an e-book copy of the novel.

This one’s going to run from now until next Friday, October 7th, at midnight central time. I will be using random.com to choose the winner. Also, of course, you’ll need to be a follower to win.

So, question of the week is this. Since The Jock and the Fat Chick deals with body image and peer pressure, what kind of stuff did you get up to in high school because you figured your friends expected it of you?

It’s Not My Favorite

So, it’s been more than a couple of days, hasn’t it? Sorry about that. Work stress picked up again and I had to get most of my car’s air conditioning set up replaced, so that wasn’t fun. I have a review though. It is pretty spoilery, so heads up there, but here it goes.

Gwen’s life is in shambles except for her business as The Organizer, Rachel is in the process of breaking up with her girlfriend, and they have to help their parents move again. It follows that Gwen has always harbored dreams that her parents weren’t actually her parents and she would find a better more supportive family elsewhere. These dreams seem to be realized when she finds a set of pictures of a younger version of her mother that linked to a painter, Daniel Gregory, she of course leaps at the idea that he is her real father.

It’s Not My Favorite by Rue is, well, not my favorite by a long shot. It bills itself as a sort of romantic comedy featuring the Hutchinson sisters Gwen, who can organize anyone’s life but her own, and Rachel, out and proud to everyone except her parents. I admit, I was a little hesitant to buy it because Gwen’s shoddy love life got higher billing than Rachel’s anything, but it was listed as LGBT and on sale so I gave it a shot. I probably shouldn’t have.

Gwen is the focus of the book for nearly its entire run whether directly as the point of view character or indirectly as the object of another character’s concern in their chapter. This gets really old really quickly, because I didn’t start the book to read about Gwen and her running away from adult life because she didn’t get what she wanted. I didn’t want Gwen’s adventures in going half the world away from her problems and shtupping some English dude while her poor love interest tries to find her to fix things. To be honest, the whole book would be a lot more palatable if I’d started it expecting that or if her running away from everything had any notable consequences. She leaves her sister, who is dealing with relationship problems of her own, the dude who is inexplicably falling for her, and her business with next to no warning and very little prep. That bothers me, I know this is basically a romance novel, but as a retail associate I and everyone I work with has to give at least two weeks notice if we need or want to be off, so seeing a professional more or less abandon her business because she doesn’t get a new father/brother kind of pisses me off.

All of that comes down to me not liking Gwen in the least and, probably the bigger writing issue, not caring what happens to her. Not caring about, essentially, the main character means I don’t care about the romance. I really didn’t care about the romance. It was forced and badly written and just didn’t work for me. Just, yes, he’s hot and she thinks he might be her father/brother, he has feelings for her that he hasn’t felt since his wife died and she’s awkward. Then we get the trip halfway around the world where he follows her and then, when it looks like she’s with another guy, falls off the wagon. Then they agree to be friends and immediately fall into bed for a day. It’s like the book was made by throwing clichés at the wall and seeing what stuck.

But what about Rachel? She got nearly equal billing didn’t she? Well, yes she did. Her entire story arc took something like five chapters from “I think she’s cheating” to coming out to her parents. That’s it. She was interesting enough while she was the focus, but I’m not giving the book any points for barely having her in it.

So the only remaining thing is, how does the book rate? It’s Not My Favorite is very true to its name, while there were points where the writing was legitimately entertaining they were few and far between. Given that I got it because it featured a lesbian protagonist and then mostly ignored her for her sister’s relationship drama and trip across the world, I was severely disappointed. A more honest blurb would help with that a ton. It also has kind of a non-ending what with being the first in a trilogy, some stuff gets tied up but not enough and I didn’t care about the characters enough for it to feel satisfying in any meaningful way. So, yeah, while the book wasn’t unreadable It’s Not My Favorite by Rue earns a two out of five.

Broken Red

I’m back with a couple reviews for you guys. Quick thing with this one, I received the book through my job. It was printed in store at the Brookwood Books-A-Million on our Espresso Book Machine and can be found here, or by ordering it in store.

Who do you trust when the person closest to you might be a murderer? Tegan Kelly has been running from her traumatic childhood for as long as she can remember. When her mother is found murdered her life is thrown into chaos and the killer might be much closer than she thinks. As the body count rises will she be able to protect her family or will she fall prey to a mad man who knows too much.
So Heather Avello’s Broken Red is kind of a mish mash book for me. On the one hand, the blurb promises a murder mystery thriller with a heroine who can’t know who to trust because the killer is someone super close to her. On the other hand, the book gets bogged down in a romance side plot that really didn’t do anything for me and that I feel could have been cut dramatically without damaging the story. On the inexplicable third hand, I’d have probably been more into the romance side plot if the murder mystery main plot had connected it’s events better in the beginning of the book.
Where to begin, because there are a couple of big things that I think could have taken this from being okay to being pretty good. The big separation between the main and side plots is probably the easier thing to address. It actually feels in a lot of ways like this is two separate books featuring the same characters but with very different stories. In the main plot Tegan is a woman who’s had essentially every horrific back story element thrown at her, but she’s kept going despite that, and now there seems to be a murderer after her family. Her husband is a cheating jerk who isn’t there for their three kids or her and, when things start going weird for her, he immediately blames her for it. Contrasting her husband is Victor Ramirez, the knight in shining armor who’s had it bad for her since forever and who might be hiding something seriously dark. She calls him when she can’t reach her husband; he checks in on her and is there for her, often at her eldest son’s insistence. It’s pretty obvious they’re going to end the book a couple from the start. In the romance plot Tegan’s back story stuff results in a distrust of people that is mentioned, but essentially hand waved for Vic, and Vic despite thinking he’s bad for wanting Tegan is great with her kids and lavishes her with attention and stuff. There’s a distinct disconnect there for me.
The romance side plot is kind of expected since it’s telegraphed from the beginning, but rather than being entwined with the main plot it takes over a significant chunk of the book. The writing changes to match this and the mystery plot mostly disappears for this whole section, it gets brought up a couple of times, but it doesn’t do anything. That feels wrong for me on a couple of levels, the previously mentioned thing about this reading like two different books, and that while a big deal is made about her husband’s cheating being terrible and evidence of him being an awful human being it gets brought up when she and Vic are about to jump in bed but isn’t really treated as a big thing. It’s sort of like she gets a pass because he is terrible to her and the plot doesn’t really care about him, and that’s what doesn’t work for me.
Which kind of brings me back to the inexplicable third hand. See, my big thing here is that the mystery parts, especially the bits later in the book, are legit good for a first time author. They aren’t tied together as well as they deserve though, in part because the romance plot intrudes, but it’s pretty easy to see where the connections could have been made. There are bits that could have been included earlier to bolster the overall story and to tighten up the writing, things that are introduced at the last second could have been hinted at or hinted at more strongly. The biggest problem created by this is that it makes the murderer seem right out of left field and badly supported by the story itself. The lack of things being tied together does lead to a couple of hanging plot threads, but I’m thinking those were deliberate to set up a sequel.
Where does this leave me? The romance is bad and our protagonists’ characterization can be a little all over the place, but when the writing focuses on the mystery it’s pretty good. I would definitely want to see more build up to the climax in the next book and less focus on the protagonists’ love lives, definitely more foreshadowing the antagonist’s identity. It’s a good freshman effort and I think that Ms. Avello will improve greatly as she continues writing so, from me, Broken Red gets a three out of five.

Alright guys, here’s the guest post I promised you all yesterday. Here’s Krista Holle on her latest book, The Wind Whisperer, enjoy!”

We can all relate to contemporary fiction and this can be either good or bad. We all know what it’s like to ride a roller coaster, struggle through an algebra exam, or eat a greasy hamburger from McDonalds. While reading contemporary fiction, we understand the modern lingo and the reasons behind people’s behavior. To some people a contemporary setting can be “comfort food”, but for others the day to day life can be a bit mundane. I personally have always been more attracted to reading a historical setting.
Life a person doesn’t usually experience is more of an adventure to me. I would love to safely experience life on the Titanic or break free from the tower of London. I’ve yet to receive training from a Renaissance painter or swing from a vine in Africa. What I wouldn’t give to swim with the selkies in the blue waters off Scotland or experience life as a 13 year-old Bali bride. Historical fiction writers sweep you away to expected places in time!
While living on land once owned by Pocahontas, I was inspired by the natives that once roamed the forests around my home. In The Wind Whisperer, fifteen-year-old Anaii is unlike the other girls from her village. She alone can hear the constant whisperings of the wind spirits and can “see” when the enemy tribe is getting ready to attack. Because of this, Anaii is scorned by the other women and is a protected commodity to her father the chief. But getting out from her father’s nose might not be easy, especially after Anaii falls in love with an enemy warrior.
In The Wind Whisperer, the reader will experience the crowded life of a bark longhouse, and taste the syrupy stew that’s been simmering over the fire for days. They will feel the damp moss between their toes and experience a good old-fashioned “striping”—a punishment they will not soon forget. The reader may even fall in love (more than once) and have to make the excruciating decision between their soul-mate and their best friend. It’s life in primitive Virginia and far away from most people’s comfort zone. We can all relate to contemporary fiction, but as for me, I say bring the history on.

I’m working on getting my backlog of review copies reviewed and posted so the schedule may be a little wonkier than usual from now until a bit after finals. Things probably won’t get back to what passes for normal here until I’ve got a job for the summer and have gotten my computer checked out for why it’s running slow.

Ana Cordona has been left to defend the remainder of her pack since all the males were killed when someone poisoned their well.  She’s had to fight off the advances of her neighbor, Sean Taggart, another Alpha who wants both her and her land for his own.  When an old flame shows up offering protection for her and her pack it’s enough to accept his conditions and become his mate.

I started reading Katie Reus’ Alpha Instinct expecting a somewhat trashy romance novel with a tough female lead and a thoughtful, maybe a bit sorrowful male lead.  What I got instead was a trashy romance novel with a “strong” female lead and a bull headed male lead who was too wrapped up in being the Alpha and doing what was “right” for Ana to consider how she’d feel or react to his decisions.  The reader is told that Ana has been leading the remainder of her pack fairly well since her father, the previous Alpha, died.  But then Connor Armstrong shows up out of nowhere to claim his woman, his woman who he left for no apparent reason over fifty years ago, and suddenly Ana’s not only not the Alpha of her own pack anymore but she’s also relegated to being a painfully minor character while Connor and his brother go off to hunt down any and all threats.  While the boys are away, Ana stays mostly at home taking care of her sisters and being neurotic about Connor’s actions since he left all those years ago.  She also can’t do anything apparently because he’s the Alpha, this includes sitting down and figuring out what needs to be done to protect all that land that she knows better than he does and has been protecting herself for months.

There was some stuff with the shifters themselves that might have been interesting were it explained better or introduced slower.  There are Alphas, like Connor and some of his men, who are both alphas and warriors and are the one who apparently do all the actual leading.  Then there are alphas, like Ana, who are dominant to betas but aren’t warriors so they can’t lead properly because of something.  It needs to be expanded on a lot before it makes much sense.  Ana can’t complain about Taggart to the werewolves leading body because if she does it means that they’ll send her a man to take over her pack for her, not because she isn’t an Alpha mind but because she’s female, so that’s another thing that needs explaining.  Why are the human with attached animal self werewolves bound by the behaviors of wild animals by their government?

I’m not liking this world of Reus’, its logic doesn’t make all that much sense for me and its characters aren’t terribly likable.  Male wolves here apparently recognize their “destined” mates on sight and that aspect of it isn’t done well enough to keep me from having a knee jerk ick reaction to it.  The male characters take action, and the female characters just are for the most part.  I would read more about the only female in Connor’s pack, Erin, but only if she wasn’t being paired off with some dude as her main role.  I give Alpha Instinct a two out of five.  The writing was pretty average over all, I just couldn’t enjoy it because of the characters.

I want it noted now that I am no longer allowed to say I’ll have a review up in “the next couple of days” unless I’ve already got it written and ready to post.  It’s been a crazy couple of weeks and I’ve spent a lot of my non-class time half asleep.  Working on changing that, aren’t I always, but it’s slow going.  But I have a review for you guys.

Claire Edwards’ life is locked in a boring stream of day to day living.  Her teaching job isn’t terrible but it’s terribly unfulfilling.  Her love life is likewise entirely bland.  She’s also haunted by strange dreams about spaceships and has to hide her amazing ability to teleport anywhere instantly.  Then she meets Darl James who claims not only to be an alien but also her life mate and complement.  She can’t deny the soul deep attraction she feels for him.  Their species is marked for extermination by an evil empire though; can their new bond survive the battles to come?

Jessica Inclán’s Intimate Beings sounded like a light weight sci-fi romance novel from the blurb, and that’s what I was looking for when I asked to review it.  It’s a bit more than that though, yes the entire book is based around Claire and Darl getting together but the “boy loses girl” section of the book would have made an awesome book on its own.  These two aren’t just pining after each other while they’re apart; they’re trying to help save their entire race from the very beings that destroyed their parents’ generation.  Claire is connecting with a people she’s just found out she’s a part of and finding family she never dreamed she had.  It’s kind of action-y, which was great.

I’m going to admit that as a generality I don’t like destined love as the focus romance of a book.  It jolts me out of my reader immersion that this person who just happens to be perfect for the main character comes out of nowhere, tells the main character that they’re meant to be, and everything is sunshine and hot sex.  Intimate Beings gets around this for the most part.  No, I didn’t like the destined aspect of Darl and Claire getting together but at least they could stand on their own as characters.  Neither fell totally apart when away from the other.  I was a bit on the fence about some of the side characters, but they got good development for the most part and contributed to the story.  There were also a few parts that really dragged on a bit longer than it felt like they should have, these were few and mostly forgivable but did take away some from my reading.

Over all, Intimate Beings was enjoyable and I would go back and read the first book in the trilogy.  I could have used a little less of the destined love aspect, but it plays into the series and was generally down played after the initial introductions.  I’m giving Intimate Beings a four out of five.

I am spazzing about finals not at all yet.  That’s going to change in the next couple of days, but at the moment I’m fairly chill about it.  I’m looking at trying to finish my Christmas shopping tomorrow afternoon and then seeing if I can find some wrapping paper that isn’t the daily newspaper and duct tape.  I’m still stuck at about a third of the way through with the Thor scarf in all it’s ridiculously wide glory, but that just means I’ll have a project for next term too. Help me, I think I have been infected with optimism.  It’s fatal and I do not want to succumb to it.  On to the review!

Audrey Callahan is determined to escape her former life as a grifter in the Edge and live a nice, normal, legal life in the Broken.  At least until her father comes to her for one last heist with a pay off she can’t afford to pass up.  Kaldar Mar is an agent of the Mirror, a lady’s man, a scalawag, and a gambler.  His latest assignment has him searching for a powerful artifact stolen from an impenetrable fortress in an enemy country full of terrifying monsters.   Not that any of that is a problem.  No, Kaldar’s problem is Audrey, the stubborn redhead who broke into the nearly impenetrable fortress and stole the powerful artifact.  He’s going to need her to survive, but can he let her go once the mission ends?

Before Fate’s Edge I’d never read an Ilona Andrews novel.  I’d looked at their Kate Daniels novels, but any time I could find the first one I’d be too broke or too busy to get it.  That’s something I’m going to have to rectify.  Fate’s Edge made me laugh far more than I’d expected.  Audrey and Kaldar’s constant attempts at figuring out each other’s angle were just cute.   Audrey’s issues with her family were fairly well written and touched on enough to be believable without getting annoying.  Kaldar manages to strike a balance between serious business government agent and freewheeling gambler that makes him both charming and rather frightening.  The character interactions are top notch with a blend of serious moments and humorous back and forths that serve to humanize the characters.  The world is fantastic, all three of them in fact, the Edge and the Weird are every bit as thought out as the scenes in the Broken.  The only characters who weren’t terribly interesting were the villains, and that’s forgivable in the grand scheme of things.

One of my only issues with Fate’s Edge was that I’d have liked to have seen more regarding the differences in the way that Kaldar thinks of his family as compared to the way Audrey thinks of hers.  My other thing goes back to the villains; they came across as being evil for its own sake as opposed to the heroes who were out for family and country.  It would be nice to see them get more development in future books.

By the end of the book I definitely wanted to read the rest of Ilona Andrew’s bibliography and I’d definitely had a blast reading this one.  I’m giving this a four out of five because of the thing with the bad guys and some nitpicky things about characters thinking in circles, but I’m also definitely going to pick up the next in the series when it comes out.

So, today is the official release date of J.N. Duncan’s new book The Vengeful Dead.  This is awesome.  What’s even more awesome is that one of you guys is going to win a signed copy of both The Vengeful Dead and the first book in the series, Deadworld.

So, what do you guys have to do to enter?

Be an e-mail follower and leave a comment about your favorite urban fantasy or paranormal romance series.

For an extra entry follow me on Twitter @Tymp3st

The contest will run from today until next Tuesday the 11th at midnight and I’ll announce the winner on Wednesday.

Edit:  The giveaway was meant to be for the books separately rather than together, I got that mixed up while setting this up and gave you guys bad information. There are more details in the guest post. Best of luck everyone!