Cheer Up

I received an eARC of Cheer Up: Love and Pom Poms by Crystal Frasier, Val Wise, and Oscar Jupiter from Netgalley and Oni Press in exchange for an honest review. 

This is a light and sweet graphic novel about two cheerleaders discovering first love and learning more about themselves. Bebe is trans and the team treats her like a token or mascot. Annie is a grumpy iconoclast who needs cheerleading to pad her college applications. They used to be best friends and it’s never clear why they fell out of touch but they reconnect through cheerleading. They crush on each other and they smooch. The ending wraps up a little too quickly and nicely. The cheer team magically realizes they were treating Bebe badly and her parents suddenly accept her and give her more freedom. 

I give this four fizzy feel-good stars. I really enjoyed this graphic novel and the art was great. 

Review: Better Than People

I received an e-ARC of Better Than People by Roan Parrish from Netgalley and the publisher.

Roan Parrish is an auto-buy author for me, so I was really excited to read this book. And it did not disappoint. This is the story of Jack and Simon. Jack’s an animal lover with a broken leg, and Simon is a guy with severe anxiety, especially social anxiety, who also loves animals. They are connected through the PetShare app, which connects people who have pets with people who do not have pets but want to be around them. (This sounds like an amazing app and I need it to exist because I need puppy snuggles but there are too many loose legos in my house these days to get a dog.)

Simon lives with his grandmother, who’s allergic to animals, and he agrees to walk Jack’s “pack” (several dogs and a cat named Pirate) twice a day. Simon can’t talk to Jack at first, but eventually he can text and he starts talking more throughout the book. There’s a relationship and no drama and a satisfying as hell HEA. It’s just what I say I want in a book: Nice people falling in love and having sexy times in regular life.

This book is all about the characters. Jack is wonderful, somewhat bitter at first, patient, smitten, and passionate. I want to be his friend. Simon is…well, Simon is my favorite. I want to wrap him up in a blanket and give him butterscotch candies, and blow his nose on a used kleenex that I keep in my purse. Basically, I want to be his grandmother, which is totally unnecessary as he has an excellent grandmother, but he inspires grandmotherly feelings in me. He’s so brave, and he knows it, but he still struggles so much.

There’s excellent mental health rep in this book. Simon has accepted his anxiety as part of him and anyone who is going to be in his life needs to accept it to and not try to change him. That’s what I loved the most. I think most people wouldn’t choose to have a mental illness, but once it’s there, you have to accept it and learn to live with it. Having someone constantly trying to fix you or even fix situations for you is exhausting. And Simon gets that. Jack gets it too, eventually.

There are two side characters worth noting, Simon’s grandmother who is wholly lovely, and Jack’s brother, Charlie, who I would love to see get his own book. And Jack’s pack is like a set of secondary characters as well. They all have distinct personalities and I want to cuddle Bernard (the Saint Bernard) so bad.

I give this book five heart-eye-emoji stars, and recommend that you buy it as soon as you’re able. The Ripped Bodice is supposed to have signed copies so get on that. I know I will.

Review: Take a Hint, Dani Brown

I received the e-ARC of Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert from Netgalley in a giveaway by Avon Books.

I have to start by saying, I love Talia Hibbert. I unabashedly love everything she has written. Her heroines are the most interesting and her heroes are the swooniest. And her HEAs are the happiest and most satisfying. That being said, in this time of pandemic, I’ve mostly been reading paranormal and brief novellas so it took me a few tries to get through this one. But I’m so glad I kept trying.

It was a slow start for me because I couldn’t really identify with the heroine. Danika is confident (in most ways) and driven and a witch, like with crystals and charms and stuff. I’m not super driven and my inner monologue is variations on a theme of what a horrible, ugly person I am. (Working on it in therapy though.) So I can’t say I really “get” Dani. But I admire her for sure.

Then I got to the hero, Zafir, and he is just awesome. He’s tall and burly and has a beard. He reads romance novels and has a crush on Dani. He runs a sports club thing (Rugby, but all the sportsballs run together for me.) that teaches boys how to avoid toxic masculinity and express their emotions in healthy ways. He has anxiety and a history of depression. He gets it. He’s emotionally intelligent. And did I mention tall and burly?

They end up in a fake relationship that becomes friends with benefits that becomes a HEA. It’s funny and smart and just a joy to read. There’s a big romantic gesture and it’s just perfect.

What I loved the most was how Zaf accepted Dani and how she didn’t understand his acceptance because she’d never had anyone apart from her sisters and her BFF accept her before. She didn’t know how to deal with it. But she learned. And Zaf was patient with her.

And as always with Talia Hibbert, there were some great lines and phrases in this book. A couple of my favorites: Zaf to Dani, “I know what a chaos demon you are, and I think it’s great.” And “Maybe, before, you stumbled across people who only wanted bits and pieces of you. Never the whole package. Never enough.” And then there’s the love, “Zaf loved Dani in bold black-and-white, stark and completely unsubtle, no shades of gray to be found. He loved her absolutely and uncompromisingly.” GAH, So Perfect!

I give this book five heart-eye-emoji stars. And I can’t wait for the final Brown sister’s book, but I don’t know if a hero can get swoonier than Zaf or Red (from Get a Life, Chloe Brown). If you are waiting to read this series, get on it!

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.

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.

Review – Work for It

I received an e-ARC of this book from the author. This is an honest review.

OMG, can a book review just be one big sigh of happiness? This book was so good. I’m going to struggle to explain how good this book was. It’s the story of Olu and Griff. Olu is struggling with depression after a forced outing and Griff is the outcast of his small town. Olu goes to the small town for the elderflower harvest and meets Griff. They meet and become fast enemies. But they keep crossing paths because Griff runs the elderflower farm. There is hate-staring and pining and wishing. Olu apologizes for being a jerk when they met, and they start to become friends. Then they hold hands. Sparks!!!! It’s a slow burn, especially for this author, and it fits the story perfectly. I was dying for these two to get together already. To just freaking kiss! And then they did! And I died.

This story is told in alternating first person POV, and it suited the story perfectly. They both had unique voices. And there were moments that were so funny. They both have sarcastic inner monologues that made me laugh. I wanted to highlight something on every page. Both men fought their feelings so hard. But they fell hard too. And the HEA was so sweet.

Now for some of my favorite things about this book. One, I loved the description of Griff. Olu thinks he’s ugly at first but then sees his beauty. He’s described as huge, a bear of a man, and he has a soft belly. I am all for softer heroes in romance. Give me a dadbod any day of the week. Cuddles for days is what I’m saying.

Second, the mental health rep was spot-on. Olu has depression and Talia (I can call her by her first name because we’re totes bff’s in my imagination) writes him in the perfect tone. She captures how depression isn’t just stealing your good moods and your capacity for feeling, it steals a part of you. It changes your you-ness. And fills you with fear that no one will accept you as you are, that you don’t deserve acceptance, that you’re just a burden on everyone. Olu had those fears. Griff had experience with being there for someone in this situation, as his mom also had depression. He accepts Olu as he is and just wants to be there for him, especially when he’s feeling less than himself.

Griff is steady and true and I loved him. I didn’t really understand why he was such an outcast. I guess being a huge, scary looking dude with a scandalous mom is enough to make you the weird one in a small town. Everyone except his best friend treats him like he’s stupid, but he’s not. He’s amazing. Do not come for Griff. I will fight you.

I give this book all the stars, 5 giant, twinkling heart eye emoji stars. I already want to read it again. I want it in print and audio. I want it painted on the walls of my house.

Basically, what I’m saying is, go buy this book right now.

Review: Man vs. Durian

How adorable is this cover?
I love it.

I received an e-ARC of this book from the author for an honest review.

This book is one of my favorites of the year. It’s the third in a series that I haven’t read, and I loved the side characters. I will definitely be reading the first two books.

Valerie had a bad year. Her boyfriend cheated on her and she had to quit her job due to sexual harassment. She’s working at her best friend’s Ice Cream shop where she meets Peter. Peter is a landscaper who hates durian. Valerie spills durian ice cream all over Peter, and it was an excellent meet cute. Peter asks Valerie out and she turns him down but asks him to be her fake boyfriend. Then they both catch real feelings.

I had so many favorite things about this book: 1. The excellent communication. 2. Peter’s appreciation of Valerie — supporting her without pushing. 3. All the food! And finally, Valerie can only orgasm with certain stimulation, and she is NOT “fixed” by Peter’s magical man parts! He has to learn how to please her and what works for her, and he is a VERY eager student.

I give this book five heart-eye emoji stars! My highest rating. haha. I loved this book and I already can’t wait to read it again. Jackie Lau has such a great voice and awesome characters. I cannot recommend this book highly enough!

Flash Review – Trashed

I received an e-ARC of Trashed by Mia Hopkins from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This was the second book in The Eastside Brewery series. I have enjoyed both books. This was about the middle brother, Eddie, and how he makes a life for himself after prison, and of course, the woman he falls in love with along the way. Eddie was a great character. I don’t always like first-person Hero point of view books, but I liked his voice.

Carmen was an awesome heroine — a badass chef who sees the good in Eddie. I wanted more of her and more conversations between the two of them. There was a side story about Eddie finding out what happened to his father, who supposedly died while Eddie was in prison. It was necessary to Eddie’s story, but I really wanted more of him and Carmen.

It’s cool to read about characters who aren’t your typical romance novel main characters. Of course, they’re still above average attractiveness, but they’re not rich or privileged. Eddie struggles. Carmen struggles. They help each other.

I give this book four stars. It was so well-written. The blurb at the end from the third book in the series has me on pins and needles waiting for it. It sounds amazing. I highly recommend this entire series. It’s sexy as hell and shows a side of life not often found in romance.

Review – All Hours

I received an e-ARC of All Hours by Andie J. Christopher from the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This m/m romance was a quick, sweet read. Felix’s sister is married to Javier’s cousin so they’ve known each other for a while, but hadn’t interacted much. Javier’s grandmother tries to set up Felix and Javier, but it doesn’t really work. Javier gets injured and needs surgery so Felix takes over his restaurant while he recovers. Javier gets pants feelings for Felix pretty quickly and they decide to have a fling. They both catch feelings and there’s a dust up with an evil ex that threatens their happily-ever-after.

I don’t always enjoy chef romances because I don’t get a lot out of the food descriptions, but this book didn’t talk much about the food so I appreciated that. The sexytimes were hot and sweet and gave them both heart feelings in addition to the pants feelings. I wish it had been longer and gotten more into the heads and hearts of the main characters, but this is book 6 in a series so maybe the previous books introduced them more. I will be seeking out at least a couple of those books because I really liked both of their sisters.

This was my first book by this author, and I was excited to read it. She cracks me up on Twitter. I really enjoyed her voice and the tone of this book. I give it 4 stars.

Review: Building Up to Love

I received an e-ARC of Building Up to Love by J.V. Speyer from the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This is a second chance story between a designer/contractor, Jared, and defense lawyer, Logan, who’s being tormented by the mob. They were together in college but Logan, who is gay, broke up with Jared for being bi. There was lots of biphobic language in this book so there’s a content warning. Mostly, it was Jared remembering things Logan had said to him as well as biphobic stuff he internalized over the years. I was bothered by it, but it was Jared’s main conflict and reason for staying away from Logan after they ran into each other after 10 years apart. Logan believed all the hateful stuff his parents said about Jared back in college but during their time apart, he grew up, realized all that stuff was bullshit, and was very sorry he treated Jared that way. So when they meet up again, he immediately wants to make amends. Jared’s not into it because he can’t trust Logan, but he still wants him. They have sex a couple of times, but Jared says he doesn’t want to see Logan anymore. Then Logan confesses his love in an email.

This is where the story lost me. I just didn’t feel like the story earned the “I love you” yet. It felt like Logan was cheating, trying to skip the hard part of reconciling and just using I love you as an emotional bomb to get Jared back. This whole time, Logan is being stalked in more and more lethal ways by one of his client’s mob bosses and Jared saves his life a few times. Eventually, the mob boss gets put away and Jared decides to take a chance on Logan. But again, it just didn’t feel earned. Jared goes from “I don’t trust you and I don’t want to see you” to “I love you. Let’s have sexy times forever” without much effort. There was no grovel, no major conversation, and their relationship seemed pretty shallow. There’s another ex-boyfriend of Jared’s as a secondary character who was much more intriguing. I wanted them to work it out more than I cared about Jared/Logan.

I give this book three stars. It wasn’t bad, but I had quite a few issues with it. Also, the cover bugs me because Logan is described as having light brown skin and curly hair, not some basic white bro with straight douchebag hair.