MINI REVIEWS: Contemporary Romance
It’s turning into winter here in Michigan and there is very little I love more than curling up in front of the fire with a cheesy, lighthearted contemporary romance, my dog, and a glass of wine. I am fully aware of how stereotypical and basic that sounds and I just don’t care. Here are a couple of mini reviews of some of the books I’ve read so far this season. All six of these books were new-to-me authors. There are some hits and some misses for me, but hopefully you can find something that sounds good for you.
The Wall of Winnipeg and Me
By: Mariana Zapata
The Wall of Winnipeg and Me was absolutely adorable. Vanessa is the assistant to a professional football play, Aiden Graves, but not for much longer. She’s heading on to pursue her dream of running her own graphic design business and is done catering to every whim of her silent and exacting boss. That is until he asks her to come back, but this time not as his personal assistant — as his wife so that he won’t get deported back to cold, snowy Canada. A marriage of convenience with a slow build romance? Yup, this is everything I wanted.
Vanessa was compelling, strong willed, determined, but not blind or stupid. She managed to dig herself into a few holes when she was younger, but I loved her determination and self-reliance to solve her problems. She had a nice sense of humor, but didn’t rely on self-deprecation. Aiden, on the other hand, starts off as an asshole, plain and simple. He’s oblivious to everyone and everything around him and doesn’t bother with other people because “it’s too much work”. This guy is quiet, reserved, and can take the idea focus to a whole new level. Watching Aiden transform throughout the story was even more satisfying than I would have thought.
The thing I like about slow-burn romance is that it gives both the relationship and the characters room to grow in the story. Insta-love usually relies on misunderstandings, drama, and sex for the plot, but I like to see compatible people grow in maturity and friendship before sparks fly. It makes the chemistry that much sexier!
This was my first book by Mariana Zapata and it certainly won’t be the last. I am 100% on board with “Team Graves” and would recommend that you give this story a try.
Grade: A-/4.5 stars
Recommended drink pairing: A steaming cup of green tea, sweetened with just a touch of honey.
**if you have Amazon unlimited, it’s free right now
The Love Experiment
by Ainslie Paton
I actually really liked Derelie. She’s a new lifestyle reporter for a struggling newspaper. She’s not from the city, but is really trying hard to like it. She’s tough, sexy, savvy, and also not going to put up with Jack’s crap. I teetered on the edge of being annoyed with her, but it was almost entirely because I didn’t enjoy her interactions with Jack for the first half of the book.
My main problems with Derelie were almost entirely due to repetition. I think repetition is a valuable literary tool, but it’s also easy to over play it. For example, I think if you have to instruct the readers how to pronounce a character’s name multiple times, maybe pick a new name. It was a little frustrating to read “Derelie, rhymes with merrily” about 100 times. Also the use of “dinkus” for Jack? I get that dinkus is a journalist term for the photo or symbol that accompanies a regular feature, but for me it was just annoying to have to read that word over and over again.
Jack is a hardcore investigative journalist with a bit of a batman complex, ridding the seedy underbelly of Gotham Chicago, one crooked businessman at a time. He smokes hand rolled clove cigarettes, drinks his whiskey straight, and boxes at an underground club. He could not be more of a man’s man if he tried. Despite his fame, he struggles with the approval with his father.
Derelie and Jack are paired together to write a fluff article about an experiment that takes two single people, gives them 36 questions, and then watches the fireworks happen. They have the initial attraction, Jack’s brusque manner sets Derelie on edge and makes her more determined to actually get this story. The relationship was a bit 0-60 once it got started, but that’s fine. It’s just not my preferred style. I like my slow-burns, thank you.
The setting of The Love Experiment was polarizing for me. I really liked the newsroom. The idea of putting the characters in a bullpen during an industry change made for a great story setting. I really liked the idea of trying to make Chicago almost a secondary character in the book, however that fell flat for me. Chicago didn’t feel that real to me; the town described could have been any large city from Boston to New York. He certainly didn’t feel very Chicagoan and she felt less small town, USA than him. And by that I mean, the author was NOT familiar with midwest farming communities at all. The slang, phrasing, and feel was all wrong.
I would recommend this book to those who enjoy their love stories involving co-workers or enemies to lovers.
Grade: 3 stars/C
Recommended drink pairing: Old Fashioned, poured in a heavy crystal tumbler. I’d drink it in poorly lit jazz lounge while smoking a cigarette.
Every Dog Has His Day (Bluff Point #3)
By: Jenn McKinlay
This book was provided as an ARC by Penguin Publishing’s First to Read program.
Every Dog Has His Day is a sexy, wintertime modern romance filled with love, friendship, family, and plenty of laughter. Jenn McKinlay wrote a lovely tale where not only do two lonely people find love, but they also create a full family.
While the conversational tone writing style wasn’t to my taste, I still thought that the book was fairly well-written and engaging.
The characters were charming and sweet, though I had a hard time keeping all of “The Maine Crew” straight. I had not read any of of the Bluff Point series, and I suspect this would have been easier to follow if I had. I wasn’t convinced by a few of the peripheral characters (e.g. Jessie’s father-in-law), but overall I enjoyed getting to know everyone in Bluff Pine.
If you’re in the mood for a hallmark-style winter romance with a sweet HEA, this book is sure to please.
Grade: 3 stars/C
Recommended drink pairing: Hot chocolate with a heavy dash of kahlua, topped with whipped cream and sprinkles.
Anything You Can Do
By: R.S. Grey
“I am the Annie Oakley to his Frank Butler and I firmly believe that anything he can do, I can do better.”
Anything You Can Do is an enemies-to-lovers workplace rom-com. It reminded me a much more superficial version of The Hating Game by Sally Thorne (read my review here). This book was my first R.S. Grey novel and I did enjoy her writing style. In fact, I’m sure I’ll pick up another by her.
I enjoyed this book, but I didn’t love it. Honestly, it might have been TOO slow of a slowburn. Eleven years too slow.
Daisy Bell and Lucas Thatcher were fine, though a bit wearisome. I thought that Daisy dragged the story down a lot. Despite being smart and a doctor, she was way too impulsive, immature, and hot-tempered for me. Her personality did not fit with her profession at all and her constant babbling and clumsiness seemed to be her only personality for the first half of the story. She was also a bit TSTL about Lucas. It drove me nuts the way she had to compete all the time, which I get was the point of the story, but still — how exhausting. Lucus, on the other hand, was pretty easy to like, there just wasn’t a lot there besides that he liked going to the gym and had a lifetime long crush on Daisy. The characters definitely could have been fleshed out a bit more.
Maybe I just don’t like grand gestures, but the ending was a bit painful. [SPOILER] It frustrated me that he jumped to conclusion so fast after spending ELEVEN FREAKING YEARS WAITING FOR HER. He’s either spineless or has the patience of a saint. Not sure which. [END SPOILER]
The book was fun and sexy, but there wasn’t a lot of substance to the relationship besides the physical. That thin line between hate and love could probably be crossed right back again. Overall, the story was humorous, entertaining, but ultimately too light for me.
Grade: 3 stars/C
Recommended drink pairing: Jack and Coke in a red solo cup. You should probably eat first though.
**if you have Amazon unlimited, it’s free right now
Holiday Spice (The Shaughnessy Brothers #6)
by: Samantha Chase
I haven’t read any of the other Shaughnessy books, so I can’t judge Holiday Spice in relationship to them. Each story is a standalone and I didn’t have any problems reading this one as such. Obviously, the other stories are a bit a spoiled because I now know everyone’s HEA, but that really doesn’t bother me. Ben, a reclusive artist friend of Darcy’s sister-in-law, requests some help on a project and Darcy is sent to work at his mountain cabin for a few weeks. Eventually, they are snowed in together and SPARKS FLY.
Darcy, while fine, was young and her immaturity grated on me a bit. I can’t deal with hold-and-cold mood swings and she had plenty of those. Once we got past her crazy assumptions, she was more tolerable, though it took almost half the book to get there.
Ben was great. A gruff, yet also sexy and artistic lumberjack who would rather hang out in his woodshop than anywhere else. My biggest issue was that he honestly felt a bit too old for her. He was supposed to be in his 30’s, but there seemed to be a lot larger age gap between the two, if nothing else because of their maturity differences.
I think the chemistry between Darcy and Ben was great, but their compatibility was a bit suspicious. I’m glad they have they get their HEA, but the longevity of their relationship would depend a lot if they actually finished working out some of their issues..
The characters were a little meh for me, but Samantha Chase wrote some some great tropes in this book: there’s grumpy bastard recluse/sweet who meets outgoing girl who are snowed in together during the HOLIDAYS. Glorious!
While the story was a bit forgettable and sometimes a little frustrating, it was still a charming holiday romance with a sweet HEA.
Grade: 3 stars/C
Recommended drink pairing: mulled wine, heavy on the spices, served in a tin camping mug.
The Wrong Kind of Compatible
By: Kadie Scott
Nope. Not for me. As a data analyst, I could barely get through the first 2 chapters and then skimmed the rest. There’s a huge difference between a data analyst and a programmer. Data Analysts, particularly those who focus in big data, don’t really write crazy long programs to do their bidding: they query chunks of data, run a lot of statistics and make pretty graphs. We also have to be good at communicating with other people since we interact with a lot of clients and work together in teams. I don’t know where the author got the idea that anyone who remotely programs for their career is an awkward geek who wears graphic tee’s and unwashed cargo shorts, but it was quite frankly insulting. There are plenty of programmers who are cool and “normal”, and anyway, data analysts tend to be a bit more of the “jocks” of the programming world. I couldn’t find a hacker undercover as an analyst believable. Seriously, they are not the same skill set at all.
I would have been able to ignore my complaints about programming if I had initially liked the characters or been convinced about the insta-lust they both had. Cassie was annoying and her immediate objectification of him was both off putting and kinda gross. She also felt VERY Sheldon Cooper-esque, which really bothered me as it felt like a very bad stereotype.
He was no better when it came to immediate objectification. The fact that a blow up doll was used as a comparison in the first chapter was a huge turn off. I think I could have grown to like him a lot more, but overall the rest of the story didn’t make me want to finish.
The Wrong Kind of Compatible was a hard pass for me, however if your jam is insta-love with myriad “nerdy sex jokes” and innuendo coming from two clueless stereotypes, I’d snatch it up.
Grade: 2 stars/D
Recommended drink pairing: Battery acid mixed with mountain dew.
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