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Midweek minis

AAR staffers Kristen, LinnieGayl, Maria Rose, Dabney, and Sara have been hard at work reading and reviewing even more books! Here are their thoughts on some of their most recent reads in another of our occasional series of mini reviews.

Kristen’s Reads:

Semi-Scripted by Amanda Heger

Marisol Gutierrez travels to the U.S. to pitch their nonprofit at a grant conference. The competition is stiff, Marisol is not usually the organization’s spokesperson, and she is especially nervous to do it all in her second language of English, but has stepped in at the last minute and is determined to do well. The future of the organisation depends on getting this grant and the pressure overwhelms Marisol, stealing her of her usual joy and plunging her into a permanent state of panic.

Since she’s in L.A. a few days before she has to begin the conference, she decides to try to attend a taping of her favorite show, a Price is Right-esque competition show. For a whole lot of reasons and plot contrivances, she ends up at the taping and as a guest on a late night chat show instead. For whatever reason, the dude she’s interacting with, whom she knows as Wristband Boy, puts her at ease and her normal personality shines through. Overnight, she’s a viral sensation.

The rest of the book is a madcap journey back and forth from the conference to that late night show, as Marisol and Wristband Boy (real name: Evan), become Internet stars. There’s a bit of the classic fake-romance-becomes-real-romance trope in here, as well as some great catnip for process nerds like myself with behind-the-scenes stuff of both the TV show and the world of nonprofit grants.

Marisol and Evan feel like real people, making decisions that real people would make in these lives they’re living. Marisol, for example, is diabetic, and the process of checking her insulin is both central to who she is and a complete afterthought, in the way it would be for anyone who lives with diabetes. Evan’s Midwestern dreams of Hollywood stardom are a tried and tested trope, but his earnestness makes it work. I loved how their passions and skills blended at the end to save the day. Plus, if Marisol’s non-profit was real, it would get money from me for sure.

I’m not sure I buy that these kids will live happily ever after (super different worlds, both culturally and professionally), but the happily for now that happens in the epilogue was enough to make me sigh happy book noises and look forward to the next installment in this world.

Grade: B           Sensuality: Warm

The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs

I’m hesitant to say that I have an obsession or an addiction to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical masterwork Hamilton: An American Musical; I prefer to say that I have a relationship. I listen to the soundtrack obsessively, I’ve read Chernow’s source material, I’ve watched most of the #Ham4Hams, the usual. So when I wandered into my library the other week and saw this book on the New Releases shelf, I picked it up without a second thought.

A fictionalised account of Alexander Hamilton and wife Eliza Schyuler Hamilton’s love story, The Hamilton Affair covers most of the same ground as the musical, but focuses almost exclusively on Eliza. We meet her in her childhood, getting into her head and understanding her motivations more than any other work I’ve encountered. We read of her frustration with being constantly pregnant with an absent husband, but her staunch belief that his brilliance will save both America and the world. We also get to read about how physically in love with her he was – always struggling to keep his hands off of her and how his affair with Mariah Reynolds destroyed so much of his understanding of himself.

While it’s not nearly as emotive as the musical, it’s more informative and fills in blanks. I do wish it would have given us a little more of Eliza’s life after Alexander (she lived another 50 years after his assassination), and a little more of her relationship with Angelica (which is largely sidelined in this work), but overall this is a satisfying read.

Grade: B-           Sensuality: Subtle

To Love and to Cherish by Lauren Layne

I’m a sucker for wedding planning romances. Nora Robert’s Bride Quartet is one of my absolute favorites and I’ve worn out my DVD of The Wedding Planner. I love both the organization and the magic of joy, so weddings are catnip for me. When I heard Ms. Layne was writing a series about a bespoke wedding planning business, I hit pre-order quickly.

This is the final book in the series, the story of Alexis and Logan. While it’s technically a standalone, and I’m sure it’s enjoyable without having read the previous books, their story has been building throughout the series and reading the whole series is worth your time. This pair met eight years ago and have been business partners ever since, but Logan has also been in love with Alexis all that time. Afraid to trust anyone, Alexis has kept herself closed off and has not even entertained the possibility of love with Logan.

When some circumstances in both their lives convince Logan that it’s now or never, and with the encouragement of their friends, the dashing Brit steps up his game. What follows is not only the fabulous culmination of a slow-burn love story, but the conclusion of a world I was delighted to visit for several books. These characters will stay with me for a while and I already miss them.

Grade: A           Sensuality: Warm

One Good Reason by Sarah Mayberry

This Harlequin SuperRomance from 2011 is one of those books that I did not put down while I was reading it – literally. I made dinner with one hand that evening as I was so engrossed in the story of Gabby and Jon, and shushed my husband whenever he attempted to interrupt me. Ms. Mayberry is one of my favorite contemporary authors and I’m devouring her back catalogue at the moment, going through them all at a rapid pace.

Jon Adamson has come back to Australia to help settle his father’s estate. He’s been in Canada for several years and is eager to get back there as soon as he can. In the meantime, he’s helping out at his brother’s custom furniture business and mostly staying out of everyone’s way.

Everyone, that is, except for Gabby Wade, the super efficient office manager. She is skeptical of this interloper into her well organized world. She’s even more skeptical of the attraction she feels for him and the attraction he claims to feel for her. In Gabby’s world, she’s second fiddle to other women and has a trunk full of baggage to prove it. But given the fact that he’s not sticking around, maybe a fling wouldn’t be so bad?

The problem is, of course, that she makes him want to stay and his staying makes her confront all her baggage and help him deal with his – and before either of them knows it, they’re in a relationship that’s hurtling towards permanency. Written with Ms. Mayberry’s signature warmth and depth, One Good Reason is recommended for any contemporary romance fan. If you’ve been looking to try a category romance and haven’t known where to start, this is a great one.

Grade: A-            Sensuality: Warm

LinnieGayl’s Read:

A Terrible Beauty by Tasha Alexander

A Terrible Beauty, the eleventh entry in the Lady Emily series, returns to a pivotal event that occurred prior to the first book: the death of Lady Emily’s first husband Lord Philip Ashton. Over the course of the series Lady Emily has gone from being a recent widow to being a respected Greek scholar, and is a strong-minded, independent woman. She also fell in love with, and married Colin Hargreaves, Philip’s best friend, and a special agent for the government.

Colin and Emily head to Santorini with two of their friends. When they arrive at Emily’s villa, they learn Philip has returned. While there are eventually murders and other mysteries to solve, the central mystery is: Is this really Philip? Both Emily and Colin are skeptical initially, but the man knows things only the real Philip would know, and has scars matching Philip’s. Emily isn’t sure. She had only a superficial knowledge of Philip prior to their marriage, and he left almost immediately after their honeymoon to hunt in Africa.

The narrative switches back and forth between Emily’s and Philip’s perspective, with Emily’s chapters occurring in the present as she and Colin attempt to solve the mystery of Philip as well as a series of unsettling occurrences on the island. Those from Philip’s perspective provide information about where he’s been, without revealing if the man is Philip or not.

I’ve been a fan of the Lady Emily series since reading the first book, And Only to Deceive, but was nervous about the plot of A Terrible Beauty. I love Colin and Emily’s relationship.  They’re each bright and a bit stubborn, but they adore and respect each other. Their feelings never waiver, as each makes it clear they will not lose the other, no matter whether the man is Philip or not. As a side benefit, I love the author’s descriptions of 1899 Santorini, so different from the tourist-filled island of today.

If you haven’t read any in the series, I would suggest you start back at the beginning, as I believe this book will have far less impact if you do not know Emily, Colin, and Philip’s full history.

Grade: A-            Sensuality: Subtle

Maria Rose’s Read:

Make Me Stay by Rebecca Brooks

Rebecca Brooks starts off her Men of Gold Mountain romance series with this sexy tale of a retired Olympic skier and a businesswoman intent on convincing him to sell his land for further development of the ski resort where he lives and works. The tricky part comes when she meets him on the ski hill and doesn’t reveal her true identity – at least not until it could cost her the man she’s falling for.

For the most part this is an enjoyable read, with a few sticky points. I like the skiing scenes and they feel very realistic (as much as I can say that, being a non skier myself). Austin comes across as a bit of a brooding hero (for good reasons) and a loner so when he finds himself attracted to the beautiful stranger (Sam) that he meets on the ski hill, a commitment free fling seems apropos. The reason behind Sam’s decision to hide her identity is weak, since she uses her real name, and Austin doesn’t seem to clue into who she might be even with all the hints (such as her obviously being a wealthy and dedicated businesswoman who seems to be on the side of Kane developments, the company trying to buy him out). Also, I’m not a big fan of the keeping-things-secret-until-late-in-the-story plot device as a way to build conflict. I’d much rather have seen Austin and Sam hash that out in the first part of the story and then build on their relationship. But they do have chemistry, and the steamy scenes are well written and engaging. I like how the story ends, the compromises they both have to make in order to consider a long term relationship and how Sam is able to work Austin’s concerns into the development plans for the area while maintaining her own professional integrity and her father’s dreams. This is well done. I look forward to reading the next in the series!

Grade: B-            Sensuality: Warm

Sara’s Reads

Someone Like You by Jennifer Gracen

I don’t read too many sports romances but I appreciate any story where a character must come back from either personal or professional defeat. In Someone Like You, footballer Pierce Harrison has to abandon the game he loves due to a tabloid scandal in the UK that tarnishes his image with his fans and the club he plays for. Retreating back to his family’s home on Long Island, it isn’t long before his fame gets him roped into volunteering with a local youth soccer league. There he’s matched up with coach Abby McCord who is unimpressed with his celebrity. Finding fulfilment in teaching the kids and connecting with a woman who doesn’t want him for his fame is a completely new experience for Pierce. It makes him take a closer look at the man he wants to be versus the walking scandal the public believes he is.

Football (or soccer to us in the USA) plays a big part in putting Pierce and Abby together but it’s a very small part of their relationship. Pierce’s reputation as a womanizer puts Abby instantly on alert that his feelings aren’t sincere. She also has to overcome feelings of inadequacy from being dumped by her fiancé because she wasn’t enough for him. Pierce wants to rebuild his name in footballing circles but rediscovers what he loved about the game by keeping it simple with the kids he teaches. He matures by returning to his roots and making peace with his family’s expectations, in a way he never did during of the years he was away playing in Europe.

Some poor choices Abby and Pierce make late in the story hurt my final rating; however I did find enough to enjoy that I’ll be looking for more from Jennifer Gracen and this series.

Grade: B-           Sensuality: Warm

So Good by Darcy Burke

So Good is the first in new-to-me author Darcy Burke’s new Love on the Vine series but in truth it’s a spin off from her long running Ribbon Ridge series. It stands on its own but I still had a sense while reading that I was missing important connections between characters and the town in which they all live.

Cameron Wescott and his two brothers have recently opened a family winery in the tight knit community of Ribbon Ridge, OR. The town’s population quickly labels each of the men, with Cam getting a reputation as a Player and a bit of a manwhore. While his exploits might be notorious, there are reasons why he’s refused to commit to one woman and the stigma is something he’d love to lose to better serve his business. Brooke Ellis enters his sphere during a wine tasting event and they get off to a rocky start. He’s attracted to her but she’s not interested in being a notch on his bedpost. Cam realizes that her expertise as a wine distributor could be very important for growing the winery so he puts his attraction on hold to keep their relationship strictly professional. Of course their constant butting heads moves quickly to a passionate encounter that blurs the lines of their partnership.

I wanted to like both main characters but they never seem to grow past their somewhat poor introductions. Brooke is scared of opening up her heart to a man she knows will stomp it to the ground and she holds that attitude almost to the bitter end. Their constant push/pull dynamic shows the attraction that sparks between them but I was hard pressed to believe that it could transition to a lasting relationship. I’m not sure if this book was the best introduction to Ms. Burke’s style as an author; however the longevity of her Ribbon Ridge series tells me she must be doing something right.

Grade: C            Sensuality: Warm

Dabney’s Read:

Keepsake by Sarina Bowen

I wanted to love this book. I’ve liked the other two books in the series despite my normal “eh” response to most New Adult. I’ve liked the hero, Zach, in the other books and love the “virgin hero” trope.

But, it was not to be. For starters, the premise of this book didn’t work for me. The heroine, Lark (she’s the best friend of May for those who’ve read the books), comes to the farm to recover from being kidnapped for ransom while working for a non-profit in Guatemala. She’s now back, struggling with PTSD, and trying to make peace with what happened there.

But although the book is written in alternating first person, I couldn’t quite apprehend Lark. (And the way her kidnapping experience played out didn’t seem viable.) She stayed stuck in the pages for me. I didn’t know her and I found her hard to care about.

I, however, loved Zach. His voice rings true and authentic and his life, as he tells it, is engaging and unusual. I even bought his falling in love at first sight with Lark. He is a wonderful man and it was lovely to watch him discover sex and intimacy.

I am also a bit over the wondrousness of Shipley Farm and those who live there.  This book relies heavily on a reader caring about all who are a part of that community and, three books in, they are starting to seem flat to me–they aren’t evolving in interesting ways.

Lastly, a very tricky relationship issue between Lark and another member of the community (not Zach) is resolved absurdly easily. Having this happen made the Shipley crowd seem even less like flawed, complex real people.

The sex is great however! And the humor sparkles.

Grade: C            Sensuality: Warm

Those are some of our recent reads.  Have you read anything lately – good or bad – that you think we should know about?  Drop by and let us know in the comments.


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Elisabeth Lane
Elisabeth Lane
11/18/2016 12:14 pm

Interesting points about Keepsake! One of my romance-reading buddies ADORED it so I put it on my list. Y’all are not making me want to pull the trigger though…

11/11/2016 9:06 am

I was kinda bored at Keepsafe though. I switched to some of her books instead since I found Lark extreme boring. She lacks depth.

11/10/2016 4:50 pm

I want to love Sarina Bowen’s books! Unfortunately, they always leave me feeling various levels of ‘unsatisfied.’ I can’t quite put my finger on why, but it’s been the case with every Bowen book I’ve read (in each of the series she has out) – except her collaboration with Elle Kennedy on Him & Us (which I not so secretly love). She gets so many things just right (sexual tension, sex!, dialogue), but her books never seem to rise above slightly better than average on my internal review scale. I’m not going to quit reading her – like I said, I enjoy her writing, but I’m still waiting for the book that blows me away. I still think it’s out there.

11/10/2016 10:13 am

I agree about Keepsake. I’ve been making my way through it for about two weeks now, breaking off to read several other books that were more compelling at the time. I loved Zach’s combination of innocence and wisdom and I wish he had a better heroine.

Dabney Grinnan
Dabney Grinnan
Reply to  oceanjasper
11/10/2016 11:31 am

I also found her kidnapping to be–and I know this sounds crazy–a bit too good to be true. It lessened the power of her grief.