Beginner’s Luck by Kate Clayborn

So I thought this was an especially interesting read given my sojourn into Grovel Porn last week. This was the opposite of that. The hero did mess up here, but his efforts at fixing his mistake made the entire book empowering for the heroine.

As illustrated above, I love those dramatic books where the dick hero crawls across broken glass to make up for his multitude of mistakes. I like the swooping emotions that come with hating the hero and then loving him. I enjoy my righteous indignation on the part of the heroine. “Maybe she shouldn’t forgive him!” It’s just so delicious to even comprehend.

But those books are fantasy. As enjoyable as the action flicks I adore where everything blows up – and just about as realistic.

There is something special, and rather magnificent, about an author that can do something without the tricks and smoke-and-mirrors of unrealistic, high-drama romance. I won’t call this book “authentic” bc pretty much all stories have to have some flair injected to keep a reader’s interest. No one wants to hear about the 890 texts my husband I exchanged in the beginning of our relationship. It’s mundane.

However, this is one of the most tangible portrayals of two smart, successful, and slightly-damaged people falling in love. You know when you read those sassy, snappy, successful gal-about-town falls for the businessman with a huge penis and a giant bank account but a million relationship hang-ups? And you think “this is entertaining, but this doesn’t really happen.” These people who are perfect except one-magnified-for-the-story-hang-up aren’t substantial.

Kit and Ben were concrete. This was Cerebral Porn at it’s finest. A smart, strong heroine – not in the cheesy that authors generally think are “strong women” because they bitch and bicker with the hero or have a super power or some one dimensional simplification of feminine strength.

Kit took care of herself. She got counseling. She voiced when men were pushing their agenda under a cloak of “looking out for her well-being.” She was strong in that she put herself first and, when she needed to, she made the grand gesture. From the first page to the last Kit and her dynamic with those in her orbit was refreshing.

I don’t think I’m right or wrong in liking either of these kind of books. Or in liking any kind of books. Someone asked me what I read this week, and then instantly dismissed my answer when I said “romance.” But when I look back on what I’ve read over the last month I’m proud. Proud of our community and our diversity. Proud to be a romance reader.

Jock Rule by Sara Ney

I was so excited for this book! The first one in the series was such an unexpected treat. So I was stoked for this. And then I read the blurb. And it says the guy is all BEARDY and DIRTY. And I pretty much look like that pervy wolf from the cartoons.

I have a thing for unattractive heroes. I don’t know why. Or how. Or when. But Sara Ney’s The Learning Hours is one of my favorite contemporary romances of all time. So I was sooooooo excited to see what she’d do this time.

The book was weird. Quirky. The pacing was different. A slow-burn, friends-to-lovers romance with absolutely no drama and two strange fun characters. I read it one perfect sitting smiling from ear to ear the entire time. I wish it had lasted forever. Sara Ney, not sure how you snuck onto the teeny-tiny list of favorite-contemporary-authors, but damn I’m glad you’re here.

The Unwanted Wife by Natasha Anders

I’m impatiently waiting for Mariana Zapata’s new book to hit my kindle. So I’m reading all kinda random books. I don’t wanna be caught up in an ARC when Luna arrives. But it’s been kind of fun reading a little recklessly. And it led to this super fun read.

When I saw a post in one of my online book groups asking for a good grovel I was all over it. A groveling hero is such a THING for me. And at least 2, maybe 3, readers responded with The Unwanted Wife. It’s free on KU so I thought “what the heck” and dove in. Score!

So at first the simple writing made me uncomfortable. And then the book started to seem so familiar. I realized that it had a lot in common with The Unfaithful Wife. Like a lot a lot. I had to stop and make sure I hadn’t read this book before.

But slowly it developed its own vibe. And I was HOOKED. I’m talking sport-fishing here. Sandro was forced to marry Theresa (unbeknownst to her). She is so into him – and he isn’t into her. Then she’s over it – but he’s acting a little different…

Dude spent a good hunk of the book groveling. It literally made my toes curl. This is the best grovel I’ve read that I can remember. I’d be hard-pressed to come up with something better. Just absolutely delicious.

Kulti by Mariana Zapata

5 stars when I read it for the first time in March of 2015. 5 stars today.

The truth is most great things are worth work. And that’s why I love Zapata. Her characters make you work for it. There’s no random sex. No steamy teasy scenes. Kulti is an asshole. Sal is a tomboy with a temper. This isn’t a cutesy book. And the payoff is so totally worth it.

I don’t use the phrase “reading slump.” I’m superstitious about it. But I will say I read parts of 4 books yesterday – including reading nearly half a book. 3 of them pissed me off. The 4th book I’m still reading, but it doesn’t deserve my shitty attitude. I am not a rereader. I find that I enjoy the anticipation of what’s coming next a lot. And knowing what’s coming usually deadens the thrill. But when I couldn’t find a book I didn’t hate I thought I’d give Kulti a second read. I was nervous. I have read this book one time, and it made the short list of favorites. I was worried a second reading would expose some cracks (as recently happened with The Hating Game.) I shouldn’t have bothered worrying. Sal and Kulti were better this time around. I knew what to expect with from his psycho-ass. And my respect for Sal is just through the roof. She is truly the romantic heroine to whom I most relate (along with Elizabeth Bennett.)

From 70% on I smiled so hard my cheeks hurt. This remains one of my favorite books of all time – with a hero and heroine who own me. I’ve read about 900 books since I first read Kulti. A few of them compare – none of them outshine.

Fall By Kristen Callihan

It felt like Kristen Callihan wanted to write a book about depression so she made it happen. Jax has been a big, important and interesting character in the earlier books in this series. He deserved an organic relationship that flowed from who he was rather than a stilted romance that most heavily starred his depression.
It is admirable to write about characters that have depression or anxiety or don’t like crowds (Ahem, Min. In The Duchess War). Multi-faceted heroes and heroines are the best to read. And I want to be challenged. I want to read romance that isn’t rote or formulaic. I want my characters to address their problems and find strength together.
Jax and Stella simply didn’t have a real connection. I didn’t like either one of them – they were mostly a bundle of issues reacting rather than acting. From their silly meeting to their constant running into one another to every minute spent analyzing their shaky relationship to death – this didn’t feel like two people overcoming stumbling-blocks on their way to love. Rather it felt like a book about depression where an obligatory romance was inserted.

The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

Let’s say you work at a largish small company. Like 80 employees. And in a different division is a woman named Samantha. You bump into her in the office kitchen a couple of times as she’s making her Earl Gray. She wears cute tights. You like her bangs. You begin to look out for her – maybe see if she wants to walk to the coffee shop together. Start eating your lunches together while you talk about your favorite podcasts. This goes on for a few months. You don’t see Samantha outside of work. You don’t even have her cell phone number. One day at lunch Samantha tells you she’s met a guy – let’s call him Ed. She went to a house party last weekend and met a friend of a friend. She thinks it might be something. He’s got a schnauzer and wears suspenders.

And now you and Samantha are having lunch together most days of the week. And she’s telling you that he didn’t text her the night before. The next day she’s beaming over the flowers that showed up at the front desk with a card from him. A month later Samantha tells you she and Ed had a huge fight because he got nervous at dinner with her brother, drank too much, and threw up all over her Honda Accord. He’d embarrassed her, but you could understand his nerves over meeting her family. He likes her and wanted to make a good impression. You’ve never met Ed, but you like Samantha. And you know that Ed is a good guy. When Samantha comes back from a ski vacation the following Christmas wearing an engagement ring you gasp in delight and hug her in the break room.

That’s what this book was like for me. Celebrating the ups and downs of love with two sweet people who felt real. They had obstacles. They had fears and doubts. They had a realistic love that I relished watching flourish. There was some drama – all of it perfectly in keeping with the sensible vibe of the book and the characters. But what drove this story was the two wonderful, kind, flustered people coming together as they were intended. The world loves a love story – particularly one where the characters (even one that’s a Duke) feel like folks that could be sitting next to you eating egg salad while telling you about a little weekend away they’d just taken.

5 happy stars.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

***Updated review October 31, 2018***
This weekend Sam suggested that I try Scribd. I figured I’d do the 30 day trial and see how much reading it brought me. I am not a book-listener so I wasn’t anticipating using that Scribd service. Fast forward to Monday afternoon when I’m diagnosed with the flu. Burning up with fever. Muscles aching. Randomly dozing off at every opportunity. Both the ARC and the amazing Duran I’m reading felt like too much – for very different reasons. I looked for The Hating Game on Scribd and saw it was only there as an audiobook. What the heck? I couldn’t be any more miserable, and I was desperate for one of my favorite books of all time.
It turns out listening to The Hating Game was exactly what I needed. Oh, I’m still sick and miserable. But the time goes by faster when an incredible book is read aloud.
I’m not sure that I’ll read or listen to this book again though. It has a magic to it. But I fear that it’s a shiny veneer that would rub off upon too close an inspection. I want this book to remain the unspoiled confection that it is. So today I bid a fond adieu and say a sweet thank you to this wonderful, funny, touching, kind, and happy book.

***Original Review August 31, 2016***
Take the stars. All of them. Load them up in a wheelbarrow or cargo plane or semi-truck. Take them all! I got to the bottom of page 4 and fell so hard – I was like that skydiver with no parachute.

Honestly, I’m going to revisit this review in a month. I have to know if these feelings subside. I love this book like you’d love a person. A tiny fireball person. Or a big hulking psycho in a robin’s egg blue shirt.

I think this is the best romance I’ve ever read. I’m not sure how to get over it. It’s like someone broke up with me. I want to sip tea in the window seat while rain streams down and Radiohead plays in the background.

I want to travel back in time to a moment I haven’t read this so I can read it for the first time. Better yet – I want to curl up into a tiny ball and drop into these pages – never to be seen again.

Clever. Well-written. Light with a surprising depth. These little sentences that made me stop and grin. Vivid colors and bright funny images. A sweet funny woman and a very bottled-up man in an engaging private war with immense repercussions.