Chances for Serendipity (2021)

by Natalie Chung
ASIN/ISBN: B099X6L8R2
Publication: August 16, 2021

Chances for Serendipity begins with a meet cute. While playing tennis with her best friend Liz, Serendipity (“Sere”) accidentally hits Aiden with a tennis ball. They spend an entire day together teaching kids to play tennis, and it’s not until years later when they meet again. Serendipity means “an occurrence of an event that happens by chance in a happy way.” Playing on the concept, the chapters in-between their first and second meeting is filled with time jumps. Sere lives her life, from helping at the bakery to contemplating college, all the while mildly paying attention to Aiden’s tennis career. While I ultimately enjoyed the book, it took me a while to warm up to it.

Serendipity takes a long time to hit. Because this is a contemporary romance, I was extremely disappointed when it took nearly half of the book for Sere and Aiden to meet again. With each chapter focusing on different moments in Sere’s life, the time jumps made sense with the overall theme. The problem was I kept expecting Aiden would show up any moment, but he didn’t. When they finally see each other again, it moved too quickly for me, and I wasn’t entirely on board. There are cute moments, one or two that made me all fluttery, but the lack of relationship development and interaction in the first half prevented me from being emotionally committed to their potential HFN/HEA ending. However, the last tenth of the book ultimately bumped it up by half a star. I wish the majority of the book had been more like this.

The themes explored are relatable ones, and that’s one of the highlights of the book. Family plays a strong role in both their lives. Sere’s indecisiveness over what she wants to do while also trying to fulfill promises she’s made to her family is apparent throughout the book. It’s difficult when you want to find what’s best for you but it potentially means disappointing those around you.  While the hints are placed throughout as to her decision, I was still left somewhat perplexed because her feelings about her passion always felt subdued to me. Aiden’s predicament is also hinted at in the beginning as his relationship with his father seems to be a tumultuous one.

Overall, I liked the concept of the book and its focus on serendipity. However, the book didn’t always hit the mark for me. As a side note, there is bonus material from Aiden’s point of view if readers sign up for the author’s newsletter. I enjoyed the bonus chapter. If most of the book had been like the ending and the bonus chapter, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. It’s a good first novel, and Chung is someone I will look out for in the future.

The Children of Camelot (2021)

by Amy Bartelloni
ASIN/ISBN: B0923Q8J82
Publication: June 15, 2021
Series: The Children of Camelot #1

**I was provided a copy of the book by the author. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

At night on the island of Avalon, Arynn and Malik look toward the mainland, trying to guess the meaning of the colored fires. Unable to leave because of the ongoing war on the mainland, it’s all they can do. When Malik finds a way off the island, he asks Arynn to leave with him. Despite her concerns, Arynn agrees to go, and together they discover that they haven’t been told the entire truth about the war.

I was initially hesitant to read The Children of Camelot because while I love the magic and intrigue of the Arthurian legend, I dislike the love triangle. Bartelloni puts a twist I liked on the story and focuses on the children of Camelot. The story is told from Arynn’s point of view. She is somewhat shy and cautious, always trying to adhere to rules as best as she can. With magic forbidden and talk of other creatures not allowed, she hides her connection to dragons from everyone except her best friend Malik. Malik is Arynn’s opposite with his ability to easily charm people. He is constantly looking for adventure, willing to bend or even break the rules. Because of their close friendship, he knows Arynn will follow him if asked. Their friendship is an aspect of the story I liked, but it changed into something else too quickly and without much warning.  I wished their friendship had been better explored, building up to any hint of romance. When the romantic feeling bits do pop up, they sometimes feel out of place.

The book retains many familiar elements, including the round table and King Arthur, but it also introduces new characters along with an enchanting world. I enjoyed the world-building the most with its details and abundance of magical creatures.  It’s been so long since I’ve read a full-length book with dragons that as soon as I met Nissa and her kin, I knew I was going to enjoy it. Along with dragons, there are additional magical creatures such as fairies, dwarves, and elves. The vivid descriptions contribute to a new imagining of a familiar world.

While I liked the story, I sometimes felt like I was missing pieces of information that led up to statements being made or events occurring. The characters would jump three steps ahead, and I would be left wondering what just happened. I was also frustrated with the secrets surrounding the missing king because the secret could have been disclosed sooner. I was also curious about the magical system, which seemed unclear to me.

I generally enjoyed the retelling. As the first book in the trilogy, there is no big battle or confrontation, but it sets up what appears to be an impending fight for Camelot. I am curious to see how it all ends, so I already have the next two books lined up and ready to go. Fans of medieval fantasy and those interested in a new spin on the Arthurian legend will likely enjoy The Children of Camelot.

When Sparks Fly (2021)

by Helena Hunting
ASIN/ISBN: 9781250624703
Publication: September 21, 2021

**I received a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

With a title like When Sparks Fly, I expected sparks and passion between main characters Avery and Declan, but there were fewer than I hoped. It’s a good book, and there’s nothing inherently bad about it, we (the book and I) just didn’t have the kind of sparks I expected.

Best friends Declan and Avery navigate their changing relationship after an accident leaves Avery dependent on Declan and brings the two closer in proximity than usual. I adored their relationship right away because they were completely attuned to each other, as best friends usually are, from sharing a love of sports to knowing one another’s favorite foods. Although both have firmly friend-zoned each other, stolen glances suggest the lines aren’t as rigid as they appear to be. Had it not been for the hints of long-buried attraction, I would have been perfectly fine with their relationship remaining platonic. Avery is very much “one of the guys” and doesn’t stereotypically abhor anything feminine. Being “one of the guys” and getting one’s nails done are not mutually exclusive, so it was very much appreciated to see the stereotype rebutted here. Declan is a playboy and has never had any meaningful female relationships, his relationship with Avery being an exception. Aside from his playboy ways, he’s caring and loyal to the people in his life, except when he isn’t, and Avery gets into a car accident. Because of his immense guilt and, of course, affection for his best friend, he steps in as her caretaker. It’s the perfect setup for friends to become lovers.

The romance was a little disappointing. The sexual tension begins building after Declan becomes Avery’s caretaker, but the sparks don’t turn into fireworks. I was hoping for something fierier than what I got, which is not what I am used to with Hunting. Romances in her previous books I liked always had some amount of longing that helped to bolster the impending romance. When the couple finally got to together, there was a sigh of satisfaction. The romance here is more slow than slow burn. When they finally got together, there lacked emotional fanfare, and I produced a sigh of relief–“took long enough” as opposed to a contented “finally.” The slow nature of their relationship might be a product of their friendship and their experiences with relationships, but I don’t know if I can believe that transitioning from friends to lovers would feel as uneventful.

From a technical standpoint, all the events of the book fall in line with each other. It’s planned well with nearly flawless execution. Similar to Hunting’s other books, it all leads to a logical conclusion, even if there are surprises along the way. I’ve come to appreciate this about Hunting’s writing, and it’s one of the reasons I enjoy her books so much. From an affective standpoint, this particular book lacked the romantic tension and the emotional entanglements I often look forward to. Sometimes it was difficult to get through because the pacing varied. It took me a long time to make it halfway and once I did, I wasn’t sure if I would make it to the end. The ending itself is sweet, but it also continued far longer than I expected.

**Sidenote: I’ve never heard of hobbyhorse but I had an inkling from the description of what it might be. I watched some videos on YouTube and the individuals are agile and jump so friggin’ high! I surely would not be able to do what they do. They prance and jump these things that are nearly as tall as they are. I don’t know how these people do it.

Love Her or Lose Her (2020)

by Tessa Bailey
ASIN/ISBN: B07QN8SRR3
Publication: January 14, 2020
Series: Hot & Hammered #2

I liked the premise of the story, and it is immediately engaging as the book begins with Rosie miserable while on the job. When a customer attempts to hit on her, it’s the catalyst to a life-altering decision to leave her husband–something that has been a long time coming. What are you supposed to do when your relationship ceases to be what it used to be, nor does it seem to be growing in a positive direction? What do you do when communication halts? Rosie sees this as her only choice while Dominic feels blindsided even though it hasn’t escaped his notice that their relationship isn’t how it used to be or how it should be.

With dual points of view, Rosie describes a relationship where she’s lost herself and her dreams. Her life is monotonous, which isn’t something she necessarily seems to mind, except that the person she loves is closed off and doesn’t make her feel loved anymore. From Dominic’s perspective, Rosie is the only woman he’s ever loved, but he is withdrawn and can’t seem to fulfill the role he thinks he should be doing. Like Rosie, he is aware their relationship is different but doesn’t know how to break the cycle. In each of their chapters, it is exceedingly clear that 1) the sex remains fantastic and 2) love for the other person has never ceased. The true culprit? A lack of communication contributed to the breakdown of the relationship. Unfulfilled dreams and somewhat unwarranted self-expectations place further strains in a once passionate relationship. Being that it’s a romance novel, the question isn’t whether there will be a HEA but how they will arrive there. It’s heartbreaking on multiple levels to see a relationship break down but there’s always hope when individuals are willing to try. And that’s what Rosie and Dominic do, they try.

While I wanted to lay all the blame on Dominic, I appreciated the realistic portrayal of the relationship where the fault is not one-sided; it takes two. Because individuals become too preoccupied with their own needs, they may forget their partner’s needs. Rosie and Dominic are receptive to each other and put in the effort once they are allowed to share how they feel. The book emphasizes the theme that love can serve as a foundation, but it needs to be nurtured to remain structurally sound. I’m not sure exactly how I felt about how their relationship problems were resolved. I was disappointed with how some of their problems were resolved and how quickly they were resolved, especially their last problem and its resolution, which seemed to sweep things under the rug more than anything else.

Love Her or Lose Her is the type of story that encourages readers to reflect on their relationships and examine if they’re doing enough for their relationship and their partner. Or, it could just be me because I certainly did a lot of thinking. I like when romance novels provide me with these moments of contemplation. Bailey effectively presents a story that addresses the essential role communication plays in a relationship and how crucial it is to try to understand a relationship from the other person’s perspective. While the first half was engaging, the second half started to slip with the relationship problems solved almost too easily.

Romance Interlude 2.13

Look at me venturing into (sub)genres I don’t normally read! They’re not exactly hard hitting suspense novels, but a few months ago I probably wouldn’t have wanted to read any at all. Anyhow…on to more ranting and less actual reviewing. Sorry.


Cold Secrets (2017)
by Toni Anderson
ASIN/ISBN: B01N2GB6WQ
Publication: July 31, 2017
Goodreads Summary
Series: Cold Justice #7



One liner: FBI agent Lucas Randall falls for fellow agent Ashley Chen while they pursue an international trafficking ring but Chen may be hiding something that could affect the outcome of the case.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading Cold Secrets. The topics made me uncomfortable but thankfully there wasn’t anything overly graphic. I liked Ashley and her sense of duty to protect people. I was often annoyed with the how much they disregarded her abilities despite the fact that she was assigned to the case and not the absent genius Alex. Ashley and Lucas also had great chemistry. Her backstory was done well but I don’t know how believable some of the events related to her would be.


Blind Justice (2019)
by Gwen Hernandez
ASIN/ISBN: B07P83PC9F
Publication: November 15, 2017
Goodreads Summary
Series: Men of Steele #5

One liner: Tara becomes a target after avenging her sister’s death and she’ll need Jeff the security specialist to keep her safe.

The book started off with Tara trying to capture the guy who essentially ruined her sister’s life and led her to commit suicide. Things quickly go awry when Tara becomes a target because she’s seen things she shouldn’t have. Once Tara becomes the target, unfortunately the book also drops quickly in quality. One moment they’re just colleagues and the next they can’t keep their hands off each other and then it’s definitely love. And, it’s also very complicated. It started off pretty interesting and was okay for a quick read, but I probably won’t pick it up again.


Spirit Bound (2011)
by Christine Feehan
ASIN/ISBN: B004IYIJA2
Publication: January 1, 2011
Series: Sea Haven/ Sisters of the Heart #2
Goodreads Summary


One liner: Russian undercover agent Stefan comes to New Haven to insert himself into artist Judith’s life to find information she may be holding onto for a past lover.

**I’m a bit all over the place with this one. Sorry!**
I started reading this one in January and had to put it away after the first chapter or so because I just couldn’t get into it. The pace was a bit slow. Then Stefan and Judith have instalove-we-are-mates attraction, and I just couldn’t do it to myself. After finally deciding to give it one more try, I found it to be better than my first attempt…after I set aside the whole instalove thing. But then…Stefan and his alpha maleness got to me at times. He went to extremes to protect Judith. What does he do that bothered me? **spoiler alert** He drugs her to knock her out so he can go do some assassin hunting. You see, he has lots of secrets and some trust issues because he’s never really been with anyone before or wanted to protect anyone before. Still…WTF, right?! Feehan writes well with lots of nice details. There’s some interesting things going on here with Sea Haven and the bond between the sisters–they each have elemental abilities too. One of my favorites is when they make it rain. I enjoyed the amount of detail that went into explaining how they all contributed to creating it. Then their conversations would just not be very interesting at all to me. Blythe is one of the sisters and her story is probably one I’d like to read but the others didn’t sound as interesting.

Red Tigress (2021)

by Amélie Wen Zhao
ASIN/ISBN: 9780525707851
Publication: March 2, 2021
Series: Blood Heir Trilogy #2


Warning: There may be spoilers for Blood Heir. There are some elements from Blood Heir I couldn’t help but to comment on as well. Sorry. Please proceed with caution.

**I received a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Red Tigress picks up right after the events of Blood Heir. With a new ruler on the Cyrilian throne, Affinites are seemingly safe, except the new ruler expects loyalty from everyone. Those who refuse to submit face execution. With her people and her country in peril, Ana must seek allies to take back her throne. With Ransom Quicktongue and new friends in tow, Ana heads across the ocean for help.

Like its predecessor, Red Tigress moves along at a fast pace. Before I realized it, I was already halfway through the book. Along with the pace, I also particularly enjoyed the descriptive detail and the ending battle. Zhao’s writing is evocative, and I savored a lot of the imagery. I especially loved the descriptions of Linn taking flight and Ramson’s dip in the pool. The final conflict is detailed, a real nail-biter as the main characters fight for their lives. The ending of the book is a different story. I am not a fan of how the book concluded, and it’s made me eager to read the final book with the hope that the ending will be better.

Ana remains ruled by her emotions, impulsive and only recalling the consequences after. This leads her into a few skirmishes early on that she manages to just barely escape. Despite all she’s been through, it bothered me that she endangered her plans by not thinking ahead. This is why Ramson is crucial. He is her opposite, thinking and planning before making a move. He gives her structure and stability. Other than being the true heir to the throne and having a desire to help her people, there isn’t much to demonstrate Ana’s ability to rule. From a practical point of view, it isn’t enough that she loves her empire and the people within it, although it’s a start. While I was able to overlook it in the first book, it was difficult to do that here with so much riding on her leadership abilities. She needs to undergo a fair amount of growth before she can prove herself fit to rule. I hope the next book provides character development in this area.  

The status of Ramson and Ana’s relationship was also something I was never fully on board with mostly due to how quickly it developed. I’m a hopeless romantic (albeit often cynical and yes, I know, a conundrum) and hoped for a dash of romance, but Ramson and Ana’s feelings felt more contrived than organic to the story. The switch from enemies to allies can be explained by their circumstances, but their attraction to each other felt sudden. In Red Tigress, their attraction to each other strengthens, and there’s a fair amount of tension between the them with the will they or won’t they moments. A few moments, especially one in particular, felt out of place. As much as the particular moment made me tingly, it halted the story at an inopportune moment.

May is meant to signify hope and provide Ana a purpose, but I never thought her character in Blood Heir necessary in the first place. Some of their moments and some of the things May said made me cringe. In Red Tigress, Ana often thinks about May and the promises they made, which keep Ana moving forward. I believe Ana’s plight and experiences were more than enough to spur her into action without using May as a plot device. Unless I missed something crucial, I wasn’t sure whether Empress was aware that Ana was alive. It seems like she should know because of the fliers, but that would also mean that one of Ana’s allies should be dead and the ally is not. Maybe this will be better addressed in the last book.

Red Tigress was a slightly better than average read but I couldn’t help question many of the things the characters did or did not do. The final conflict is a highlight of the novel. I look forward to the final book.

Romance Interlude 2.12


Air (2016)
by L.B. Gilbert
ASIN/ISBN: B01LYND5D7
Publication: November 28, 2016
Goodreads Summary
Series: The Elementals #2


One liner: Werewolf Connell tracks down Air elemental Logan because he thinks she stole his ability to shift but there is more going on here than expected.

Air was completely unexpected. Gilbert presents a paranormal romance between a were and an elemental, a human imbued with the power of air. Connell is an annoying alpha male, with his whole “you’re my woman, I must claim you” deal. I liked Logan immediately for being badass. She doesn’t just get mad, she also gets even. The mate concept is present here but at least there’s some questioning of whether they’re imagining it or not. It’s also just executed a lot better. I tried to overlook it, and for the most part I did since I liked the storyline more than in the book below, but it still sat there in the back of my mind, taunting me. (Gilbert and Lereoux are the same person. Different names just signal the level of steam. I really wished Air had been the one with more steam…heh)


Eat You Up (2019)
by Lucy Lereoux
ASIN/ISBN: 9781942336635
Publication: November 15, 2019
Goodreads Summary
Series: A Shifter’s Claim #2

One liner: Werewolf Dmitri unexpectedly finds his mate Nina while they’re both on a plane to Boston.

Dmitri is another alpha male (ergh…) and he becomes a caveman around Nina. He smells Nina when she boards the plane. BAM! He knows they’re mates and meant to be. They have a one night stand almost immediately except Dmitri refuses to let it be a one night stand because they’re supposed to be together forever. A lot more things happen since Dmitri is there to steal a necklace and the job ends up being a bit more than he bargained for. Dmitri and Nina have a lot of chemistry but their relationship reminded me why I stayed away from paranormal romances for a long while–two people meet and they’re meant to be because they’re soulmates. There’s no getting to know period, it’s just we’re meant to be and end of question. This whole idea of mates and knowing immediately that they belong together is one that I enjoyed when I was younger but now I need a bit more substance to the relationship before it becomes forever. It wasn’t enough for me to stop reading the book, but it was just always there in the back of my mind. I was not a fan of how it ended.


Night Revelations
by Godiva Glenn
ASIN/ISBN: B07PN6PZYJ
Publication: January 15, 2018
Series: Night Wolves #1
Goodreads Summary

One liner: Werewolf Damon meets werewolf Charlotte during a job and brings her back to be part of his pack because she doesn’t have one.

The book is slow. Charlotte’s character is very timid and also bland. She doesn’t do much but worry about her role in the pack–makes sense since she is the newbie here–and wonder whether Damon likes her or not. Damon keeps giving mixed signals–which frustrated me–so she starts a relationship with someone else. I couldn’t blame her for trying to move on, and she seemed to genuinely like Wyatt, who had no problem making it known he was interested. I dislike these love triangles and didn’t know the book would have one. It wasn’t entirely bad but would have been fine without it. The book has a predictable storyline. It’s really just a new adult novel with a paranormal disguise. I gave it the three stars because I’m glad it ended the way it did.

The Heiress Gets A Duke (2021)

by Harper St. George
ASIN/ISBN: 9780593197202
Publication: January 26, 2021
Series: The Gilded Age Heiresses #1

Evan Sterling is the Duke of Rothschild. Along with the new title, he also inherited his father’s debt. To fix his estate and settle his debts, he will need to wed an heiress. Luckily for him, his mother has found him the perfect duchess, Violet Crenshaw. However, it isn’t Violet he wants but her older sister August. Knowing her sister is unwilling to go through with the betrothal, August sets out to rid Evan of the notion while unaware that he has his eyes set on her.

The first half is by far my favorite as the chase between Evan and August ensues, and passion sparks between them. In the second half, the book slows down a bit to provide an opportunity for August and Evan to better connect–it does drag a bit in the middle. August begins to realize she is not immune to what she believed in other girls to be the silliness of love, and Evan realizes he’s never wanted a wife until August. They are well-matched.  August is unlike many women of her time: business savvy, an independent thinker, and unafraid to speak her mind. One of my favorite parts is when she introduces herself to Evan and extends her hand for a handshake rather than offering it to him palm down for a kiss.

Evan was more, and better, than I expected. He is a pretty face with a fancy title, but he also loves a challenge, especially the one he finds in August. His dire financial needs are reason enough to bypass her wishes against an arranged marriage, but he respects her and wants her to want him too. I fell for him when he was adamant that he had no desire to change her and fully supported her endeavors. Evan and August are two characters who complement each other well. Their views are certainly ahead of their times, at least regarding the role of women.

While I did not particularly like Mr. and Mrs. Crenshaw, the love between siblings August, Violet, and Maxwell was a highlight. It’s nearly enough for me to want to read the next two books. It was refreshing to have Violet and August get along so well, both confiding and supporting each other when the suggestion of a betrothal is made. Maxwell’s role here is minor, but he made me believe in brotherly affection in historical romances again. He doesn’t just protect his sisters but value them beyond what their marriages could afford the family. Their affection for each other is clear, especially as they band together against the arranged marriages. I love when siblings all love each other.

The plot was simple with its focus on August’s attempts to dissuade Evan from pursuing a betrothal. At times it was repetitive with her constant refusal, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book with much of it due to the chemistry between August and Evan. It was well on its way to a 4-star review when the third act inserted unnecessary obstacles. Even as it appeared, I was still holding out for an ending that would make my heart explode, but instead, it fizzled, right along with that 4th star. I was disappointed in the HEA I got when I was hoping for passion and groveling. The book held so much promise, but I was left unsatisfied.

Romance Interlude 2.11

I made the “mistake” of discovering the All About Romance this year while looking at reviews of one of my favorite reads. I liked the review enough that I signed up for their Steals and Deals newsletter and have been paying ever since. (Heh…). I look forward to the newsletter daily.

Every book below was from the newsletter, which often includes reviews if the book has been reviewed on the site. With the exception of one particular book below, I’ve generally liked the books I purchased via their reviews. Check out the website for reviews!


The China Bride (2000)
by Mary Jo Putney
ASIN/ISBN: 9780345433350
Publication: August 1, 2000
Goodreads Summary
Series: The Bride Trilogy #2

One liner: Troth Montgomery makes her way to England to tell her husband’s family that he has died only to have him return from the dead.

This is my first Mary Jo Putney book but I’ve seen Putney’s name on so many novels. The book jumps between the first time Troth meets Kyle and after his death. I found myself more interested in the present timeline because I wanted to see Troth’s growth and I wanted to find out when happens when they’re reunited. While I enjoyed most of it, the ending was frustrating. Crossed wires or the lack of communication is a trope I dislike immensely and it’s rampant in the latter part of the book. Troth doesn’t know if he loves her and wants her to stay but she would like to. He doesn’t know if she loves him or wants to stay but he wants her to. They never talk to each other about it. I had to skim some of the end because I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to scream, “Just talk to each other!!”


The Marquess and I (2015)
by Stacy Reid
ASIN/ISBN: 9781676994459
Publication: June 1, 2016 (Kindle)
Goodreads Summary
Series: Forever Yours #1

One liner: Alasdair is looking for a wife but first sees revenge against Willow, who previously rejected his proposal for being a third son but is now dowry-less.

This is a book that’s short and sweet. It can be a bit dramatic at times but because it’s short, the scenes are not drawn out. It doesn’t take long for Alasdair to decide if he is still in love with Willow and an even shorter time for Willow to decide that she’d be okay with an affair but definitely not marriage. For my first Stacy Reid novel, I loved it. I just wished it had been longer. I look forward to reading more from Reid.


The Bargain
by Mary J. Putney
ASIN/ISBN: B004IWR3II
Publication: April 1, 2011 (Original: October 1, 1999)
Series: Regency series #1
Goodreads Summary

One liner: Lady Jocelyn Kendal marries wounded and dying Major David Lancaster to secure her inheritance but then he makes a miraculous recovery.

I didn’t know what to expect of Jocelyn. If she was just trying to get her inheritance and then be with the guy that she likes well enough, I was thinking a spoiled and unlikeable character but she wasn’t. I liked her a lot. She’s quite the spinster and when David makes a miraculous recovery, she still remains the nice person that she is. Because I liked her character, I also felt sympathy for her fear of love and relationships. I loved David’s patience with her. While Jocelyn and David are the main couple, the book also has a secondary couple in David’s sister Sally and his surgeon Kinlock. While Sally and Kinlock were interesting, I would have preferred the focus to stay on Jocelyn and David. I liked the book a lot more than I expected.


Cherished
by Elizabeth Thornton
ASIN/ISBN: B07NF564WL
Publication: January 25, 2015
Series: The Devereux Trilogy #3
Goodreads Summary

One liner: Forced to marry Leon Devereux after they are found alone together, Emily Five years after going to the U.S. to make his fortune, he returns to consummate their marriage.

**This will be a rant and will be spoiler-filled. There will be sarcasm.**

I needed something to cleanse my palate after reading this book, turning to recent favorites to try purge this from my mind. Thornton is a fine writer. The writing is fine. Parts of the book are as well, but I couldn’t get over the main plot even though I tried to remind myself of the time period. I’m completely over books like this but I kept on reading because I needed to know if it would get better. Spoiler: It doesn’t. When they’re forced to get married, Emily is 16. Leon is 10 years older than her. Her uncle okays the marriage. They don’t consummate the marriage but Leon returns a few years later for her, with the intention to do so. **Shudder** He abducts her with her uncle’s permission, and forces himself on her–they’re married, it’s okay. She gives into him. Her body, you know, had a mind of its own, as if it’s now completely okay that he sexually assaulted her. I sped through the rest of the book hoping it could redeem itself somehow–I don’t know if that could even be possible–and it doesn’t. Leon never apologizes for anything. Obviously as the husband, he has the right, and Emily just eventually gives into her fate. Yup, it doesn’t look like she’s getting out of the marriage. It also turns into a suspense story. But surprise, Leon has always loved Emily, and Emily didn’t realize that when she was younger she loved him too. The book made me so mad.

The Dating Dare (2021)

by Jayci Lee
ASIN/ISBN: 9781250621122
Publication: August 3, 2021
Series: A Sweet Mess #2

**I received a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

The Dating Dare is the second installment of Lee’s A Sweet Mess series, this time with Seth, Landon’s younger brother, and Tara, Aubrey’s best friend, in a variation of a dating contract. Seth and Tara are wary of relationships and, after a hefty amount of drinking, embark on a 4-date only dare with promises to not fall in love with each other. It makes a lot of sense because neither is particularly looking for anything long-term, and Seth is moving to Paris at the end of the month.

There’s a reason why the adage “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” is a familiar one. This isn’t to say that an opinion can never change–just think about Darcy’s opinion of Elizabeth and vice versa–but that first meeting can surely set the tone and mood for what’s to come.  I never overcame my first impression of Tara and Seth and how forced their first interaction appeared. The confrontation happened then jumped to the dare so quickly that I didn’t find it believable. Eventually, lust and the sexual chemistry are established–Lee infuses it well into their dates and nondates–and spices up the pages, but I couldn’t get over that first impression that something was missing from their relationship. I was never fully convinced they could fall in love with each other.

It was difficult to fully grasp what kind of individuals Tara and Seth were because most of their interactions were with each other and them thinking of each other. At first, it seemed like Tara would be outspoken and stick up for herself but beyond what happens at the beginning when Tara confronts Seth, there isn’t much follow-through. The limited conversations with her brothers try to showcase what kind of person Tara is, but it would have been more meaningful if it was action and descriptions, not just dialogue. Pieces of Tara’s and Seth’s pasts are also divulged throughout the book, explaining why they are both averse to relationships, and used to create some mystery, but I think it would have worked better to be provided the information earlier. Trying to work through one another’s past relationships would have brought more depth to their relationship, helping to illustrate why they would work well together.

The book lacks a sense of place, jumping from one scene of them together to the next scene of them together without much detail into their surroundings. I’ve never been to Weldon and would like to “see” what it’s like there, but I couldn’t envision the town through the book. For instance, Tara’s family owns Weldon Brewery, and she’s in there from time to time but I don’t learn much about it. Similarly, I don’t know much about Tara’s family or the other people residing there. I wanted to meet the residents and be an audience to conversations and interactions outside of Tara and Seth together, but people only popped in and out occasionally to serve as backboards and props as if life did not exist outside of the leads. My suspicion is the town might have a better introduction in the first book, which I haven’t read. Even if that is the case, it doesn’t negate that there should be descriptions in this second installment as well, especially when it’s written very much as a standalone.

I expected a bit more from the book, but it wasn’t a letdown.  Although Lee doesn’t include much detail about the town, there are beautiful descriptions when Seth captures images on his camera. I felt Seth’s love for his art and how important photography was to him. These moments were likely some of my favorites because there was so much detail; I could see and feel what was happening. I wish more of the book included descriptions like this. While my initial impressions of their relationship set the tone for my first reading of the book, it’s certainly possible I might have the urge to pick it up again. A second reading could make a better impression, but I’m not exactly ready to give it another go just yet.