Review: American Sweethearts

The covers on this series are fire!

I received an ARC of American Sweethearts by Adriana Herrera from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Adriana Herrera’s American Dreamers series was in my top reads of last year. I loved the stories of these immigrants finding their Happily Ever Afters. I was thrilled to get an ARC of this book. Unfortunately the arrival of the ARC coincided with the beginning of the pandemic and my brain shut down so it took me a while to be able to finish this story. But it was through no fault of the book itself.

This is a second-chance love story between Juan Pablo and Priscilla, who were on and off from their teen years. They story picks up where they are completely broken up and have been distant from each other for a long time. They meet up again at a friend’s wedding (the hero of the second book in the series, Milo), and sparks fly. More than sparks though. Priscilla can tell Juan Pablo has changed. Come to find out he’s had a lot of therapy and has been consciously working on making himself a better man — for himself and for Priscilla. He is not ready to give up on them, but he never pushes her. He’s done that in the past and everything blew up. This time, he lets her come to him and is just a supportive friend and lover. There’s a fantastic scene where he takes care of her while she’s having cramps.

Priscilla is a great character. She’s a cop who has a side hustle teaching sex classes to minorities, particularly immigrants, and she has a blog and podcast. She teaches sex-ed through a social justice lens. She’s increasingly unhappy in her day job. Juan Pablo thinks she could make it a full-time career out of it, but he doesn’t push her, much. The recovering fundamentalist in me had trouble understanding sex-ed as social justice, but I think I get it. I want to get it.

Through the book, there’s no manufactured drama or angst. It’s just two grown-ass people learning to communicate and make each other a priority while also taking care of themselves. That’s what I love about Herrera’s books. They are grown-ass people, having grown-ass relationships and sexy times together.

I give this book 4 Stars, and I highly recommend that you read it. It’s one that I can tell will grow on me with future re-reads so I might bump it up to 4.5. If you haven’t read the rest of the series, start with American Dreamer. It’s my favorite of the bunch.

Traipsing Through the Tropes: A Week to Be Wicked by Tessa Dare

Welcome to the first in a new monthly series here at HEA or GTFO: Traipsing through the Tropes, where I get my husband to read a romance novel and we discuss it via Google Chat. We’ll pick one trope and read several books from different subgenres and then go on to the next trope. We will be discussing the book in detail so spoilers abound. You’ll probably enjoy these posts more if you’ve already read the book we’re talking about. The idea was to kick things off with the One Bed trope, my personal favorite, but you’ll see where we ended up in the discussion.

We’re kicking things off with A Week to Be Wicked by Tessa Dare. It’s the first novel in her Spindle Cove series. They’re standalones, but we do discuss other couples in the series so fair warning if you’d rather be surprised.

With that said, and one last reminder that spoilers abound, let’s go!

Adam: Good evening!

Here we are. “A Week to be Wicked.”

I truly enjoyed – once I got into it.

The first time I attempted reading this one – about a year ago – I remember being thrown off my the nomenclature.

Jennifer: At what point would you say you got into it?

What nomenclature threw you off?

Adam: Really got into it? After the stuff with the brigands.

The overuse of “rake” and other such terms.

I was like, “Did people really go around calling people notorious / infamous rakes to their faces?”

Jennifer: I think it would be like calling someone a player. Or maybe a jerk. 

A jerk player

Adam: I get that. In theory.

But then, I realized it was something akin to the “technobabble” used in science fiction – especially Star Trek.

As in, this is the lingua franca of the genre.

It’s the ebb and flow of the actual style of writing / reading / creation.

Jennifer: You do have to get into the rhythm to enjoy romance. 

heh. 

Adam: Exactly!

As in, this is the part I have to take at face value if I want to appreciate the deeper story.

Rhythm joke!

First innuendo!

Jennifer: So what did you think of the characters?

Adam: Minerva was a top-notch heroine.

Jennifer: What do you think of Colin?

Adam: He was obviously written to be a jerk with a heart of gold.

Which I assume to be a common trope.

Giving him a tortured sort of backstory was nice.

Jennifer: Very common. Or jerk to everyone but the heroine. 

The only thing that keeps me from hating him is the list of M names he made. 

Adam: THE M LIST.

That was a genius revelation 3/4 through the book.

Truly a chef’s kiss detail by the author.

Jennifer: Yep. Oh, I realized on a reread, it’s not a true one bed trope romance. 

Adam: Why do you say that?

Jennifer: They negotiate sleeping together before the journey starts. One bed is usually a surprise, something they’re forced into by circumstance. 

Adam: There were a few times they had to share one bed.

Ah. Well then. I guess that’s a technicality.

But kind of a key one. 

You’re the expert.

Jennifer: What makes one bed so delicious is the forced proximity aspect. 

Adam: We could start with “Enemies into Lovers.”

Jennifer: Yes, this is definitely that. 

Adam: I found her love of science believable. She’s not a Mary Sue. She just loves geology.

Jennifer: Yeah, Minerva rocks. hahahaha

Adam: Tessa Dare is an excellent writer.

Jennifer: She is. Her stuff is always imaginative and funny. 

Adam: I was pleasantly surprised at the level of humor that runs rampant through the book.

And by surprised, I mean, “The romance novels my Mom read when I was in high school always looked laborious, cookie-cutter, and completely over the top.”

Dare imbues her characters with HEAPS of life, agency, and personality.

Jennifer: I always like her heroes even if they are a type I would usually dislike. 

Yep. It’s more than angst and doing it. 

But the doing it is integral to the progression of the story. 

Adam: Exactly. “Angst & Doin’ It” – the name of your podcast.

Jennifer: I don’t do angst. I like fluff. 

Adam: The doin’ it was VERY integral to the progression of the story.

Jennifer: You’ve read lots of literary doing it in your many travels, but what did you think of this type of writing of the doing it?

Adam: I was just thinking about that, and it’s mostly boring or faux-edgy.

Jennifer: replace literary with “literary”

Adam: This doin’ it was hot.

As in, straight white dudes can’t write sex scenes for shit.

Jennifer: That’s what I was about to ask. 

How it compares

Adam: I mean, there’s very little comparison.

This was well-written, creative, erotic, purposeful, and integral to the story.

Jennifer: Yep. The centering of women’s pleasure, the female gaze. 

Most sex in literary fiction is dry, rough, very dude-centric, and lacking creativity. Lacking vitality too. And nowhere near what sex is like in real life. Not that all romance novels are near what sex is like in real life either….

Adam: Most definitely.

This was wet in every positive sense of that word.

I really enjoyed this read. The only scene I didn’t like was getting captured by the brigands.

Jennifer: What didn’t you like about it?

Adam: I get that their conversation while walking with Francine AFTER she frees him is important, but the whole thing felt like just one MORE obstacle.

It didn’t really add much, IMHO.

Jennifer: I don’t know. I think her saving him was important. 

I think that’s why Dare didn’t waste a lot of time seeing him being captive. 

Adam: I’ll grant you that. The scene itself didn’t take up much of the book. She didn’t bother herself with overwroght descriptions of him being tortured.

It just happened, and the next morning/day, Minerva appears with Francine and saves him.

Jennifer: I don’t think they’re apart overnight. 

I think he gets captured early in the day and she rescues him at like 3pm. 

Several hours later. 

Adam:  I can see that. Obviously the timeline blurred in my head a bit.

What did you think about everything that happened in the Sex Castle BEFORE the smokin’ hot sex?

Jennifer: I thought it was hilarious. And a good setup for the Duke as a hero later in the series. 

Minerva as Melissande was great. 

Adam: Agreed. It took me a few pages to see where Dare was going, but that was probably me being unfamiliar with the genre.

Jennifer: Here’s a question. What side characters do you think get their own book(s)?

Adam: The obvious guess is Kate Taylor, since she gets her own little POV vignettes.

Jennifer: Can you guess her hero?

Adam: Again, I assume it’s the crusty Corporal Thorne.

Jennifer: Good job!

Adam: Thanks!

Jennifer: Does the guaranteed HEA detract from your reading experience at all? Like removing suspense or something?

Adam: Not at all! It was very akin to reading a Star Trek novel. I know my space friends will mostly be all A-OK by the end, but a good writer will make the trials and tribulations come alive EVEN if you know the end.

Jennifer: Oh…I have a good space alien enemies to lovers we can read.

Adam: And that’s exactly what Dare does so expertly. Just because I know Colin and Min get together in the end doesn’t mean I know exactly HOW it will happen.

Part of me wanted to see Dare make even more hay with Colin’s money (or lack thereof or lack of access to it) hanging over his head, but that’s a minor quibble.

Jennifer: Interesting. I don’t think I would have liked that. 

The first book actually talked about that more. Colin whining about not being able to leave Spindle Cove because of his money. 

Adam: I get that. It would have introduced a level of detail about his finances that could have bogged things down.

Jennifer: These are standalone but they really do build on each other. 

Adam: Him whining about it is all we really need.

Because obviously enough people know about it if Minerva can bribe him with 500 guineas.

Jennifer: I don’t think he ever cared about the 500 guineas. 

And I’m too lazy to google. Is a guinea more than a pound?

Adam: IDK. I thought about googling it while reading, but I just assumed that it WAS more than a pound.

That’s the impression the novel gives us, and that’s the hallmark of a good writer.

Dare didn’t feel it necessary to launch into a few pages of exposition about currency in Regency Era England.

Jennifer: It’s one pound and five pence. 

Adam: So – just a little MORE than a regular pound?

That system makes no sense.

Jennifer: yes. 

It’s ridiculous. This is why JK Rowling came up with her insane exchange rate. 

They do weird stuff with money in England. 

Adam: **Insert comment about creating a single global currency here**

Jennifer: And on that note…any other comments?

I think we’re wrapping it up. 

Adam: No comments at this time other than I really enjoyed the read, and I’d like to read more in the future.

The scales have been removed from my eyes.

Jennifer: More Tessa Dare or more romance or both?

Adam: Both – as long as they write as well as Tessa Dare.

I just wonder if I will prefer historical, contemporary, or fantasy/science fiction.

Jennifer: She’s hard to match for wit. 

Adam: If this novel is any indication, I’d probably enjoy everything Dare writes.

Jennifer: I could see the fantasy/science fiction annoying you for being too far from the tropes for that genre. 

Adam: As in, being too far from traditional sci/fi tropes?

Jennifer: Yes. 

tropes/conventions/whatever

Adam: That’s a fair assessment. You have a good idea of the science fiction I read – not even considering Star Trek.

This has been fun!

I look forward to doing it again next month!

Review – Candy Hearts

I received an e-ARC of Candy Hearts by Erin McLellan in exchange for an honest review.

I read the first book in this series, Stocking Stuffers, and loved it so I was super excited for the chance to review this book. I have been in a bit of a reading slump and haven’t been able to handle more than quick novellas. This hot, sexy novella was just what I needed.

This is the story of Benji, the young mechanic with a love for lingerie, and William, the older workaholic who is finally ready for a real relationship. They meet at a Valentine’s getaway weekend Benji’s sister invited him to and sparks fly. They decide to be secret, fake valentines for the weekend so they can have some fun sexytimes and move on. The more William learns about Benji, the more he wishes they were real valentines. Benji lets William in and shows him a side of himself that he always felt like he had to hide from lovers, but he’s afraid of getting hurt again. There’s a misunderstanding. There’s a disastrous date. There’s talking and working it out and discovering real feelings.

Erin McLellan is becoming an auto-buy author for me because her books are hot, hot, hot. This series heavily features the use of sex toys, and it’s so fun and playful. I laughed out loud several times while reading this.

I give this book Five Super Steamy Stars and I can’t wait for the next book in the series. I think it’s coming this summer.

My 2019 Favorites

This was a good year for reading. I read more than 250 books (includes novellas) this year. And I read some amazing stuff. Here’s my top 15 in alphabetical order with blurbs and customized superlatives.

  1. A Boy Called Cin by Cecil Wilde – A trans man and nonbinary billionaire fall in love. Superlative: Most Self Acceptance
  2. American Dreamer by Adriana Herrera – Workaholic Food Truck Owner and emotionally guarded librarian overcome their issues to be together. Superlative: Main Characters I Want to Be Best Friends With
  3. Band Sinister by KJ Charles – Gentle country guy sweetly seduced by citified atheist with excellent friend group, meanwhile his sister recuperates and falls in love with her doctor. Superlative: Best Primary and Secondary Romances
  4. Bond by Piper Scott and Virginia Kelly – Second in a bananapants crazy series about dragon shifters and mpreg egg laying. Superlative: Best Food-Based Nicknames
  5. Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean – All hail the Year of Hattie! And give me more Whit! Superlative: Most Admirable Heroine
  6. Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert – Prickly heroine living with chronic pain attacks her “get a life” list with the help of a hot ginger painter. Superlative: Best Heartbreaking Scene
  7. Heat Stroke by Tessa Bailey – Opposites attract when two lifeguards get it on and fall in love. Superlative: Best Gentle Giant Juice Maker
  8. Love Around the Corner by Sally Malcolm – Enemies IRL but a budding romance online figure out how to find love that lasts offline. Superlative: Best Internet Romance that Breaks Your Heart
  9. Man vs. Durian by Jackie Lau – In a year of amazing heroes, Peter might be my favorite. Fake boyfriend becomes super real. Superlative: Most Thoughtful and Eager to Please Hero
  10. Rafe by Rebekah Weatherspoon – Surgeon needs nanny. Sexy ginger biker comes to the rescue. Mutual attraction becomes more, and he’s also very good at the sex. Superlative: Hottest Ginger Biker Nanny
  11. Small Change by Roan Parrish – Tattoo artist and sandwich chef fall for each other. Also includes pickletinis. Superlative: Best Flirting with Sandwiches
  12. Teach Me by Olivia Dade – Over 40, plus size teacher is gently wooed by the single dad, also over-40 teacher who gets assigned her favorite class to teach. Superlative: Best Pursuit of Heroine
  13. Want Me by Neve Wilder – College housemates get it on until they fall in love. Superlative: Best Use of Sex for Plot Advancement
  14. Work For It by Talia Hibbert – Probably my favorite book of the year. I’ve already read it three times and then some. Olu and Griff are the sweetest. Superlative: Best Book with Grumpy, Sarcastic bb’s Falling in Love
  15. Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon – Marriage of convenience becomes real between bisexual teacher heroine and plus size chef hero. Superlative: Made Me Blush the Most

Flash Review – A Second Chance Road Trip for Christmas

I received an ARC of A Second Chance Road Trip for Christmas by Jackie Lau from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Jackie Lau is quickly becoming one of my favorite contemporary romance writers. Her stories are low-angst, steamy, and feature strong heroines. She deals with serious issues sometimes, but there’s never unnecessary drama between the couple. They talk about their feelings like grown ups. This was true of A Second Chance Road Trip for Christmas. It’s the second in a holiday themed series about the Wong family. Greg and Tasha were each other’s first love, first everything, high school sweethearts who broke up because of distance and immaturity. They are pushed together on a road trip and sparks fly. They get snowed in! There’s only one bed! They both feel their feelings come back and there’s a lovely grand gesture at the end before the HEA. 

A few weeks ago on Twitter, I said “I just want to read about nice people falling in love and having hot sexy times.” That’s exactly what I got with this book. Greg and Tasha are nice people. They respect each other. They appreciate each other and celebrate the things that make them different. This book was charming and sweet. I loved it. 

The only thing that hit me wrong was the way they so quickly went from “haven’t seen you in 15 years” to “I love you.” But maybe that’s realistic in this situation? I don’t know. 

I give this book four stars. I wish it had been longer. I wanted to know more about Tasha, especially. But it was a great book. You should get it. 

October Reading List

Now that I’m in grad school, while also still working full-time and parenting a busy four-year-old, I don’t have time to do the weekly round up of what I’ve been reading. I’m also not reading 7+ books a week. But I am still soaking up stories with happily ever afters so here’s what I read last month.

  • Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon – I reviewed this one and I still love it. I’ll probably reread it soon. Big ginger hero. Say no more.
  • Writing Her In by Holley Trent – I heard a lot about this book before I read it, and I enjoyed it.
  • A Match Made for Thanksgiving by Jackie Lau – Another nice people having hot sexy times book and a holiday novella. I loved the heroine in this one.
  • Let’s Get Textual by Teagan Hunter – This was a great wrong number gone right story with lots of fun texting. The hero was total book boyfriend material.
  • American Love Story by Adrianna Herrera – I was anxiously anticipating this book and it did not disappoint! I love this series. Gonna have to track down copies for my keeper shelf.
  • Happily Ever Afterlives by Olivia Waite – This was a bananapants crazy “historical”novella duo where the love interests are demons. So fun.
  • One Bed for Christmas by Jackie Lau – Super cute holiday novella with a giant t-rex costume and one bed. Do you need any other reason to one-click?
  • Stuck with You by Jay Northcote – Another one-bed, snowed-in holiday romance. I hate snow in real life but I love a good forced proximity in romance.
  • Lovers by Fiona Cole – I thought this one was going to be about a throuple but the m/m had the HEA. Apparently the girl gets her HEA in another book in the series. It was a little too cheating-adjacent for me.
  • Billionaire Unloved: Jett by J. S. Scott – I read this but I can’t really remember much about it at this point. The heroine was a ginger. I remember that.
  • Best Friend Baby Daddy by B. B. Hamel – Alpha hero quickie. Secret baby. Meh.
  • Doctor Baby Daddy by B. B. Hamel – Another alpha hero quickie. Better than the best friend one. Still nothing special.
  • The Babysitter by Jack Harbon – Quick, steamy read.
  • Rocket Science by K.M. Neuhold – Cute book with a shy, nerdy dude and best friend’s brother.
  • I Look at You and Smile by Janine Caroline – Good book, some suspense, awesome hero.
  • By the Hour by Roni Loren – Great, sexy enemies to lovers.
  • Where We Left Off by Roan Parrish – I love Roan Parrish, but this one just didn’t do it for me. Leo is so awesome and Will is such a douche. Will did not deserve him and the HFN wasn’t satisfying.
  • For Her Own Good by Tamsen Parker – Heroine has severe depression and hero was her former child psychiatrist, 15 years later. Big age gap. A little too much kink for me.
  • Safe Harbor by H. J. Welch – Cute gay/bi-for-you story

Wow, I read more than I thought I did. But a lot of these were novellas.

Flash Review: Xeni

How cute is this cover?!

I received an e-ARC of Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Xeni was an excellent side character in one of my favorite reads this year, Rafe, and I was super excited to get her story. The fact that the hero is Mason from Sanctuary was icing on the cake. I love the description of Mason. He’s a big dude, burly, soft tummy, dark hair with hints of red in his beard. Which makes him a ginger in my mind and therefore he is automatically 10 times hotter. So I was fully on board with reading more about him.

Xeni learns that her aunt has left her a fortune, and the aunt was good friends with Mason. She left him some money too, but they can only get their money if they get married. So they do. There’s immediate attraction between them, and you can just feel them click as friends right away. They book follows them as they quickly fall into bed and almost as quickly start to develop real feelings for each other. But life happens and Xeni returns to California while Mason goes to his birthplace of Scotland. But they manage to live happily ever after.

And let me tell you, Rebekah Weatherspoon can write a sex scene like nobody else. I was blushing like crazy while I read this book. Xeni and Mason are fire.

I give this book 4.5 stars. It was really great. I love this Loose Ends series.