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Midweek Minis

AAR staffers are such avid readers that, in addition to our regularly schedule programme of daily new reviews, we’re able to bring you another in our series of mini-reviews. Here Alex, Heather, Melanie and Maria Rose share their thoughts on some of their recent reads.

Alex’s Reads:

Once Upon a Marquess by Courtney Milan

I took this book with me on a recent trip abroad, and I must say it made the 14-hour plane ride go by faster. Judith Worth and Christian Trent, the Marquess of Ashford, are a delicious pair. They knew each other well growing up, as Christian was close to Judith’s brother Anthony, and they fell more than a little bit in love. Then Christianhad to testify when Anthony and Judith’s father were tried for treason, ultimately inciting Judith’s father to commit suicide and forcing Anthony to flee England. Now Judith has to raise her younger siblings on her own, eking out a living making clockwork designs. She’s recently amassed enough money to distribute some to her sisters’ accounts for dowries, but needs help to do it anonymously. Although she’s hesitant, Judith asks Christian for help, and abruptly finds him on her doorstep offering support, in spite of their estrangement.

Both Christian and Judith have clearly been suffering over the last few years, and it’s a pleasure to see how they bring each other back to life. Although seemingly straight-laced, more time in Christian’s presence allows Judith to loosen up and be herself without pretence. Christian, too, is obviously more relaxed around Judith. He seems to struggle with something along the lines of obsessive-compulsive disorder,about which he is clearly very uncomfortable and which forces him to stay guarded around most people. As they work together to deal with Judith’s family issues, Christian and Judith remember just how and why they suited each other in the past.There is truly a sense of puzzle pieces fitting back into place, the romance develops so naturally. Yet again, Courtney Milan has delivered a stellar romance.

Grade: A              Sensuality: Warm

Sweet Ruin by Kresley Cole

Josephine Doe had a more difficult childhood than most. Her earliest memories are of her adolescence, when she was homeless and trying desperately to take care of her baby brother. When she’s murdered and abruptly turned into some sort of ghoul, then forced out of her brother’s life, Jo allows herself to almost vanish from existence. She’s convinced she is a monster and wanders aimlessly around the U.S., until one late night in Louisiana she bumps into Rune, a half-fey “Baneblood” whose poison blood can kill anyone else from the Lore. Josephine is ecstatic to have found someone who might be able to tell her something about herself, while Rune is incredulous to realize she isn’t poisoned by drinking his blood. Although initially wary of trusting each other, the two end up bound by curiosity and a common goal of defeating Nïx, setting out to travel the world together.

Although Josephine and Rune aren’t my favorite of Ms. Cole’s couples, I had a wonderful time reading about them. They mirror each other with their tough veneers masking serious vulnerabilities. In their own way, they each struggle with a lack of family and poor self-image. Jo’s only family member cried out in fear the last time he saw her, causing her to view herself as an unlovable monster. Rune, raised in a hostile environment and cursed with the knowledge of how lethal he can be to his loved ones, sees himself as basically worthless. These issues made the characters much more interesting and developed, but unfortunately resulted in an ending conflict which was a bit too routine for me. Josephine keeps doubting Rune’s ability to be faithful, while he does his best to live up to her bad opinion of him. Apart from this overused ending conflict, there’s a lot to love about Sweet Ruin.

Grade: B              Sensuality: Hot

Heather’s Read:

Not a Mistake by Amber Belldene

This is a different sort of romance, featuring an Episcopal priest and her former professor from when she was at seminary. It’s the sort of different that I’ve been craving, one with the kind of quiet drama I find utterly compelling.

When she graduates from seminary, Jordan Sykes celebrates and ends up in bed with her former ethics professor Dominic Lawrence. Two months later, as she is beginning to settle in with her new congregation, the consequences of that night become clear. Jordan is expecting and must make some difficult decisions. Further complications ensue when Dominic arrives at her parish on an unrelated matter and Jordan is unable to hide her condition.

I really enjoyed this non-inspie story of faith, passion, and love and what happens when all three converge. The characters are well-drawn and consistent, the conflict strong, and the style engaging. Stories in which the characters’ spirituality, regardless of religion, is a component are always intriguing to me and this is no exception. The message of love and grace, both from God and toward one another, is present without overshadowing the story being told. I’m anxiously awaiting the second book in this new series following female Episcopal priests, which is set for release in July.

Grade: B          Sensuality: Warm

Maria Rose’s Reads:

Out of Bounds by A.R.Barley

This sexy m/m new adult romance is the story of Nick and Jesse. When Jesse ends up in a bad way on campus after a vicious attack, he’s put with a new roommate, Nick. Nick is a few years older and wiser, a part time student and a bouncer who works at a local gay nightclub a few nights a week. He’s got a temper on him, but his new roommate brings out a lot of tender and protective feelings. To make Jesse feel safe, they’ve put up some rules and made it clear what sorts of things are out of bounds. But Nick and Jesse feel a strong attraction to each other. Will crossing the lines end in disaster or be the start of something worth pursuing?

This is a well written new adult college romance and A.R Barley does a great job of getting into the heads of these two young men. Nick’s the brawnier of the pair, known for his quick fists and tough demeanor. Having been basically kicked out of his home at fifteen, he’s made his way on his own, doing what he needed to do to survive, and managing to get himself into college all on his own. But he’s got a tender and sweet side too, and this comes out when he realizes that Jesse needs at least one place to feel safe and at home, and that place is their dorm room. Jesse is a 19 year old, quiet and somewhat reserved gay male, whose crush on his last roommate ended in disaster. Although he is at first wary of Nick who is bigger and stronger than him, he soon comes to realize that Nick has a soft heart. It’s not long before he’s feeling comfortable enough with him to consider becoming more than just roommates when Nick makes it clear that he’s quite willing to see where things between them might lead. Nick is the more sexually experienced of the pair, and things start out slowly but quickly heat up, leading to some steamy scenes. And despite their physical sizes, they are equal players in the bedroom. I like that this is a low angst story despite the circumstances that bring the pair together and it moves at a smooth pace, with a believable happy ending for them both. It’s a fairly predictable but enjoyable read.

Grade:              Sensuality: Warm

Truly, Madly Sweetly by Kira Archer

I really loved the last book by Kira Archer that I read, Loving Her Crazy, so I was looking forward to reading this first one in her new series. It revolves around Natalie and Eric inheriting a combined piece of property from Eric’s aunt who happened to have been Natalie’s landlord. Natalie’s portion is a parking space that is perfect for her food truck from which she sells gourmet cupcakes. Eric’s part is the building that housed an old bakery. They strike a bargain, wherein Natalie can use the kitchen in Eric’s building in return for helping him learn how to cook as he plans to start his own business. It doesn’t hurt that they share an attraction to each other too. But can they take a business deal and turn it into something more?

The setup of the story is an interesting premise, but the execution falls flat. I have a hard time believing that Eric would just decide that he was going to start his own restaurant/catering business simply because he’s inherited an old bakery, having had no experience in this field. Also, Eric and I didn’t start off on the right foot when he showed up an hour late for his first official date with Natalie with the excuse that he couldn’t make time to call or text her because he was in a meeting with his parents and some investors. Really? He couldn’t excuse himself for 2 minutes and text that he was going to be late? In this day and age, that just doesn’t fly with me. And it doesn’t get any better, as Eric caters to his parents too much for my tastes. He and Natalie share some good chemistry and there are some steamy scenes between them, but ultimately it takes too long for Eric to wise up and prove to Natalie that he’s the man for her. I hope the next book by this author works better for me.

Grade: C              Sensuality: Warm

Melanie’s Reads:

Recklessly Royal by Nichole Chase

A while ago, I reviewed a book by Nichole Chase, Suddenly Royal. It was basically The Prince and Me mixed with The Princess Diaries, both of which I am pretty fond of. I enjoyed the first one a lot, and figured why not, let’s give the sequel a chance, right?

Recklessly Royal follows Catherine, who has been the perfect princess her whole life. When she meets David, friend of the newly minted Princess Samantha from the first book, it doesn’t really help that she’s drunk and thinking she might have ordered a stripper for Sam’s bachelorette party after all. Luckily, throwing up on his shoes doesn’t turn him off altogether.

As cute as the romance was, though, it’s all fluff and not much substance. There’s a bit of an issue with reporters and how public Cathy’s life is, but David has no problems with it. It kinda feels drawn out past the point of effectiveness.

In the end, it was cute and fluffy, and I enjoyed it, but it’s not something I’m going to read and re-read.

Grade: C+        Sensuality: Warm

The Accidental Assassin by Nicole Chase

When I’m in the mood for something kinda fluffy, Nichole Chase is a new fun author for me. When I finished Recklessly Royal I decided to try something new. I wasn’t ready to read the next book in the Royals, but I did find this one. The story follows Ava McKenzie, newly transplanted to London from the States, who ends up first accidentally running over someone, who apparently has a contract kill out on them, and then falling into a much larger plot. Owen Walker, actual assassin, manages to get her out alive and together they both have to stay that way, find out who is after them, and solve a much larger mystery. So, needless to say, there’s a whole lot going on.

Luckily, the story was able to work with all these different pieces, and the end result was a road-trip mixed with a romance mixed with a thriller. It still feels pretty light-hearted.

Grade: B+       Sensuality: Warm

The Nobleman and the Spy by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon

I’ve definitely been in a M/M historical kick recently. I blame K.J. Charles. But I’ve already finished all (but one!) of those, so I was looking to branch out a bit. And then I found this one. Jonathan Reese, hero number one, is a former soldier and now a spy for England. Hero number two is one Karl von Binder, son of a count and, in the past at least, an enemy fighter. But Jonathan remembers when Karl spared his life, and spying on his one-time savior turns pretty quickly from a regular mission to constant contact. And Karl knows about it.

I really enjoyed both Karl and Jonathan, and how their past influenced their relationship. Jonathan starts out a spy but quickly becomes Karl’s bodyguard. I love how open Karl is with his life and sexuality, especially in a country, during a time, where homosexuality was illegal.

The illegality of their sexuality, however, wasn’t really handled or mentioned much at all, and the end was a bit rushed with how the political intrigue parts were handled, but other than that I enjoyed it overall.

Grade: B+       Sensuality: Hot

Grunt: the Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach

I love Mary Roach. Go read her books. End of review. Nothing else needed.

Okay, well, maybe a bit more.

Grunt is about all those other pieces of military science. Starting with Kevlar underpants and moving through topics like the science of smells (and, more specifically, stinks) to penile reconstruction to what snipers do with the runs (ignore the effects, apparently. And just deal. With dirty pants), Roach brings her sense of humor and conversational writing style to a lot of difficult topics.

And don’t forget to read the footnotes!

Grade: A-        Sensuality: N/A


Have you read anything recently you want to shout about?  Do stop by and let us know in the comments.




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06/23/2016 5:23 am

I think Courtney Milan is an exceptional writer and was really looking forward to Once upon a Marquis. Though I enjoyed the romance between Judith and Christian and liked them I was annoyed by some other aspects to the story. E.g.1 the youngest sister’s behaviour and e.g.2 surely Christian would have found some way to secretly provide help for Judith from behind the scenes after the scandal left her homeless, virtually penniless and responsible for caring for younger siblings. Plus the estrangement between Judith and the second sister seemed more a plot device than believable behaviour when the two sisters had so obviously previously been close. In the end I was disappointed and am wondering if I am being unfair. Because Courtney Milan is such a good writer I probably set the bar higher for her than I do for some other writers.

Reply to  Frances
06/23/2016 3:42 pm

I thought the younger sister might have been somewhere on the autism spectrum. I’m curious to see what she’ll be like as a main character in her own book. I would think that Milan would handle that well.

Dabney Grinnan
Dabney Grinnan
06/22/2016 2:52 pm

I recently read and loved Charlotte Stein’s Never Sweeter. It’s the story of a girl who re-encounters the guy who bullied her in high school at college. Letty can’t believe Tate is here of all places. College was supposed to be a safe place and a vast improvement from her previous school hell. She’s sure Tate is going to be an uber dick but instead he’s lovely. The two slowly, and with great trepidation on Letty’s part, become friends… first. I’ve enjoyed other works by Ms. Stein and this is my favorite. It’s everything a romance should be. I’d give it an A.

06/22/2016 1:59 am

I’ve only read Milan’s _Once Upon a Marquess_ but agree with the above review. Stellar romance and a great start to what looks to be an excellent series.