No Man’s Mistress by Mary Balogh

This was a enemies-to-lovers historical with an unexpected twist and fair-to-moderate drama. I do not enjoy the enemies-first trope bc it makes me uncomfortable. I’m a fan of the chase – not the bickering.

The twist and the drama were a bit convoluted. A relatively simple storyline suddenly became bumpy. It wasn’t poorly done – but again this isn’t my favorite kind of story.

As always the characters were on-point. MB makes them lovable – warts and all. And huge props to her for a story where the heroine saves herself. Viola was every bit the badass in this story – perhaps a bit more than Ferdinand.

It had 4 star moments, and, overall was a likable read. My review is entirely subjective – and based on the fact that I mostly enjoy the sweet gushy stories.

The Secret Mistress by Mary Balogh

There’s something incredibly relaxing about a Mary Balogh book.

First and foremost, I get to trust the book. I know I won’t end up rolling my eyes or loathing a character. As a matter of fact, they generally have fantastic interesting characters (with charming idiosyncrasies) who flourish as the story progresses.

Second, there’s a rhythm to her stories that I find soothing. I’m never on the edge of my seat. But I smile. A lot. I get a sense of deep satisfaction.

This story was a lot of fun. Essentially it explains how a pair of ancillary characters from 2 other books got together. Edward and Angeline are in More Than a Mistress (which I read and enjoyed) and No Man’s Mistress (which I’m reading next). Angeline’s brothers are the heroes in those books. But Angeline (chatty and sparkly ) and Edward (very staid) deserved their story too.

When I read contemporaries I find myself bombarded by similar images and writing patterns. Sex. Angst. Strong emotions or quirky characters. Frequently I put myself in the character’s place and get frustrated. Things are bright. Quick. Flashy. Like reading hummingbirds.

Reading historicals is a break from the hustle and bustle. MB’s books and characters unfurl slowly – like flowers. The sex is limited. The stories let me breathe. And the characters are so human. She is my respite from the contemporary prison I sometimes build myself.

The Player and the Pixie by Penny Reid and LH Cosway

Lucy falls into a relationship with her brother’s rugby teammate and sworn nemesis Sean. In the previous book in this series Sean played the important bad guy role. So it was great to get to peel back his layers and see how sweet he really is. What wasn’t great was Lucy.

I label these “toxic family” books in my head. You know – where the judgmental mom says such terrible things that you learn to dislike both her and the heroine? The heroine has no boundaries, and is, thus, an amorphous glob of angst and reaction. She exists as her own reflection in other character’s eyes – while the reader is constantly reminded that she’s “spunky” and “different.” I understand that working through mommy-issues was a huge plot point – it’s just not one that I enjoy.

So Lucy was terrible to Ronan. Sort of like a cliche romance-book dude. Into him. Then running away. Leading him on. Refusing to share her feelings. Tromping all over a nice guy bc he’s hot – thus he would be okay. Apparently attractive people have less-valid feelings. Lucy’s reason for jerking Sean around was her brother’s likely disapproval. If you’re such a little kid that your brother picks your dates – maybe you aren’t mature enough to be in a relationship.

Tbh the relationship obstacles felt contrived. I never got a full picture of Lucy – she was pretty light refracting off the surfaces around her. Sean seemed like a good dude – who was treated so poorly yet kept coming back for more. I’m fairly certain after their first dinner date Lucy could have told her brother she was dating Sean and gone on about her life. End of story. Everything after that felt like unnecessary complications to fill pages.

Draw by Cora Brent

I liked the first half of this book. It was slightly dark, a lot happening without a lot of whining, interesting characters.

The second half had more drama and less of my interest. It wasn’t awful, but it danced with OTT.

The story – Saylor leaves her shitty bf and runs into our hero – a jerk from her past. Romance. Problems. The drama existed with the hero and his 2 brothers rather than the hero and heroine. So that was different. And I appreciated that when shit coulda gone super south the author took it easy on me.

Overall I didn’t feel a strong connection to anyone. I never felt like I wanted to quit reading it – but I never felt like I couldn’t put it down. At some point I’ll likely read the next book in the series, but I’m not rushing into it.

Never Stop Falling by Ashley Drew

Oh goodness. I don’t have it in me for full-snark tonight. And tbh this book doesn’t deserve me with both guns a’blazin. So I’ll give you the abbreviated version.

Is your drama-llama starved? Little guy need a big ole helping of what he loves best? This is your book.

Teenage BFFs. They discover feelings and then BAM – life happens. And instead of pulling on her big girl panties our heroine makes the first in a series of terrible and selfish decisions. She’s not likable. He’s just sort of a pining lamp post.

Fate throws them together some years later. She remains selfish and unlikable. He remains a lamp post. Near the end of the book they have one of the most pathetic, one-sided, egocentric conversations I’ve ever read. Dude shoulda found another chick.

Steam-factor = 0
Drama-factor = 900
Writing wasn’t bad – although it had some reachy poetic moments (how many sunset descriptions do I need in a book not about sunsets? Asking for a friend.)

Not a terrible book – not the book for me.

Vandal by Carian Cole

I struggled with this entire book. Despite being a bit of a dickhead I’m pretty much kittens and rainbows in my reading. A little bit of dark is okay, but too much throws me for a loop.

On top of that – I loathe loathe loathe a relationship predicated on a lie. I spend the entire time waiting for things to explode in the liar’s face. I can’t ever let myself relax.

Also – I can’t relate to a BDSM relationship. Sexual rules and restraints are anathema to me.

Those things together stopped me from connecting with Vandal or Tabi. It was like reading this book from a distance – through a spy glass. I was never involved. I never felt other than discomfort and stress.

I will say the epilogue salvaged this book for me in a big way. And I think I’ll think about it a little longer than normal. Definitely a game changer – good and bad.

Storm by Carian Cole

I think reading the series out of order made this book more enjoyable. 6 months ago I started Talon and hated it. This week I read Torn and loved it (not knowing it was the same author). So I gave Talon another chance – and fell in love. Now I’m reading the entire series. Evie and Storm play a decent-sized role in Talon so I was curious about them.

Some bads – it felt like a first book. Uneven pacing. Maybe a little too much intimacy early-on. Cheating. Slut-shaming.
Less depth than the later books in the series.

Some goods – carefully thought-out, nuanced characters who really love one another. Sex scenes that were steamy without being OTT. A relationship book rather than a sex book.

I generally get very pissy when a book involves cheating. And I hate the douchey-boyfriend excuse. I was uncomfortable with parts of this story, but never considered walking away. Is it bc I already knew and was digging on these characters? Maybe. Or was it bc I have a big ole blogger-crush on that author? Possibly that. I know some readers couldn’t get past these issues, and I don’t blame them. For me it wasn’t a problem. (On a related note – I avoid books with Torn’s plot like the plague – but really really enjoyed that book. Ms Cole makes the unpalatable go down easy for me. I’m exploring some of my hard limits with these books.)

A personal aside – I foster dogs for a national rescue. There are an insane amount of animals in this house. I’ve never read an author who incorporates animals so fully and naturally into her stories. It’s a big factor in my lurve for these characters.