Well friends, I am back in the reviewing game and I have an EPIC all-romance reviews post for you! These are some of the most anticipated books of the spring/summer (like The Bride Test, whee!), so do take a look and let me know what you are dying to read and what’s next on your romance radar!The Bride Test
From the critically acclaimed author of The Kiss Quotient comes a romantic novel about love that crosses international borders and all boundaries of the heart...
Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he's defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.
As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can't turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn't go as planned. Esme's lessons in love seem to be working...but only on herself. She's hopelessly smitten with a man who's convinced he can never return her affection.
With Esme's time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he's been wrong all along. And there's more than one way to love.
Review: The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
Unputdownable like her first novel The Kiss Quotient, Helen Hoang is doing some of the best, most diverse, intersectional work in romance that I’ve seen. The Bride Test features Khai Diep, the autistic cousin of Michael from The Kiss Quotient. Ever since he was young, Khai has known that his feelings work differently from others. He’s stone hearted, emotionless, and doesn’t feel like he can love. This is exacerbated by the fact that his best friend died when he was a kid and he didn’t have an external reaction like people normally do. People wondered why he was so cold, and he’s convinced himself that he doesn’t know how to love because of it. As a result, he’s never had any female companionship in his life….until now.
Khai’s mother is worried about him, so she devises a plan: go to Vietnam, find a girl who will suit Khai, and bring her back to live with Khai. She meets My, a janitor/cleaner in the hotel where she’s interviewing potential wives. She can’t find one suitable, but she quickly comes to like My’s spunk. My, for her part, is a mixed (American-Vietnamese) girl who has never known her father. She has a baby daughter, a mom, and a grandmother that she takes care of with her very small salary – and the potential of making a better life for them in America has her agreeing to try with Khai.
While the arrangement seems totally outdated and wacky to Khai, he can’t say no to his mother, so he agrees to meet My, to live with her for a few months and to treat her like a fiancée. If he doesn’t fall in love, My goes home and no harm is done. But if he does, his mother expects a wedding.
What follows is a love story that is uplifting and hopeful. Khai and My’s first impressions are promising, but there’s a lot to overcome. Cultural barriers, class and poverty issues, and Khai’s autism are all challenges, but My (or Esme, as she’s renamed herself) is up to the challenge, fueled by her desire for more for her daughter and her gut feeling that Khai is good and safe.
Esme believes that she’s in a lower class than Khai, with his great education. Khai doesn’t really get a lot of Esme’s interests in food or taking care of his house, and he’s used to living alone with a routine. But Esme is such a strong, fierce character, someone who keeps getting up after every failure. She tackles learning English, being a newcomer, working in Khai’s mother’s restaurant, and taking care of Khai and his house with so much bravery and grace. It’s not hard to see why Khai takes to her, and why he’s willing to try to let her into his world.
For his part, Khai is in deep almost before he even realizes it. Not only is he deeply attracted to Esme, but her consideration for him has him opening up more than he ever has. Even through their initial physical issues (Khai has problems with soft touch, and his lack of experience and misunderstanding of social cues make for some awkward encounters), the two of them have so much respect for each other that it actually makes for a very honest love story.
This is a book that is about so much more than just the romance. It’s less sexy than The Kiss Quotient, and for good reason. While it is a romance, The Bride Test is really about Esme’s struggle to find her way in America, to work through culture shock and immigration issues, to make a better life for herself and her family. Even though Khai and Esme get equal weight in the story, with alternating POVs, I was so struck by Esme’s journey that Khai’s story almost seemed secondary. And it was right for this story.
The Final Word:
If I’m being honest, I loved the sexiness of The Kiss Quotient, and the concept of that book more than I did The Bride Test. But I also recognize that these are two different books with different goals. The Bride Test is a book about rising above your station, doing the work, and making the hard choices for love and family. It’s an extraordinary narrative of courage that is diverse and intersectional and fearless. Highly enjoyable and recommended for people who like tamer romances about characters overcoming adversity.Top Secret
Author: Sarina Bowen, Elle Kennedy
Also by this author: , The Fifteenth Minute, The Year We Fell Down, The Year We Hid Away, Blonde Date, The Understatement of the Year, The Shameless Hour, The Fifteenth Minute, Rookie Move, Hard Hitter, Bittersweet, Steadfast, Keepsake (True North, #3), Him, Us, Untitled, Hard Hitter, Good Boy, Keepsake (True North, #3), Goodbye Paradise, Pipe Dreams, Stay (WAGs, #2), Pipe Dreams, Temporary, Man Hands (Man Hands, #1), Man Card, Brooklynaire (Brooklyn Bruisers #4), Speakeasy, The Accidentals, Overnight Sensation, Superfan (Brooklyn, #3), The Deal, The Deal
Publication date: May 7, 2019
Source: Author's publicist (thank you!)
Buy It: Indigo.ca | Amazon.com | iBooks
Bestselling authors Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy return with their first Male / Male romance in 3 years.
Jock. Secretly a science geek. Hot AF.
LobsterShorts: So. Here goes. For her birthday, my girlfriend wants…a threesome.
SinnerThree: Then you’ve come to the right hookup app.
LobsterShorts: Have you done this sort of thing before? With another guy?
SinnerThree: All the time. I’m an equal opportunity player. You?
Finance major. Secretly a male dancer. Hot AF.
SinnerThree: Well, I’m down if you are. My life is kind of a mess right now. School, work, family stress. Oh, and I live next door to the most annoying dude in the world. I need the distraction. Are you sure you want this?
LobsterShorts: I might want it a little more than I’m willing to admit.
SinnerThree: Hey, nothing wrong with pushing your boundaries...
LobsterShorts: Tell that to my control-freak father. Anyway. What if this threesome is awkward?
SinnerThree: Then it’s awkward. It’s not like we’ll ever have to see each other again. Right? Just promise you won’t fall in love with me.
LobsterShorts: Now wouldn’t that be life-changing...
Q&A about Top Secret:
Q: Have we met these characters before in another book?
A: No! These guys are brand new, and we can’t wait for you to meet them.
Q: Is this story MM? Or is it a MMF / MFM / menage?
A: This book is MM.
Q: Is this a love triangle story?
A: Not really. You’ll see.
Review: Top Secret by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy
Top Secret by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy kept me up way too late for two nights. The first male/male romance in several years for these two authors, this book did not disappoint with feels, sexytimes, and fulsome characters with a lot of backstory. Trust me when I say that if you like m/m, you will love this story.
Keaton Hayworth III (yes, for real) is a frat boy with a lot to live up to. He’s the legacy of two presidents of his fraternity, Alpha Delt, and the son of a large pharmaceutical company owner. He’s also the longtime boyfriend of a girl who wants – surprise!- a threesome for her upcoming birthday. Keaton is up for anything so he places an ad on Kink, a Tinder-like website for hookups, and meets “SinnerThree”, a guy who has done quite a few threesomes and isn’t afraid to help.
Little does Keaton know that his nemesis, Luke Bailey, also an Alpha Delt member and also running for president, is the one who ends up answering his ad. Luke is no stranger to hookups – he’s a townie from a broken home, so he doesn’t like strings. He’s bi and interested, and what starts as assisting “Lobstershorts” with trying to figure out what he wants from a threesome ends up with them spilling more of their souls to each other than they thought.
Along the way, Keaton and Luke will have to deal with Keaton’s legacy, Luke’s financial troubles in trying to balance work, school and money, and a whole wack of other things.
This sounds like a downer of a story, but it’s not. It just feels honest to two university dudes who are trying to deal with their own issues. I loved how naturally their backstories unfolded – both with each other on the app, and in real life. Both Luke and Keaton are dealing with enormous pressure, and frankly, they kinda hate each other at first. It’s unsurprising, because Keaton is pretty privileged, even if he is a nice guy, and it’s hard for Luke, who comes from very little, to see past that. Luke has had to battle for a lot in life, so he’s got a mouth and a real chip on his shoulder. Nevertheless, sparks fly when they talk, and it feels true to a bunch of horny guys exploring their sexuality.
Honestly, I don’t have much to say other than that. Top Secret is an addictive new adult read with just enough angst and sexiness that ratchets up with each chapter. I loved how far the characters needed to travel to even meet halfway, and how much they grew from their relationship. The secondary characters were interesting and necessary. Top Secret needs to be experienced with the least amount of knowledge going in – it’s tight and fun and emotional and I really liked it. Highly recommended if you like Sarina and Elle’s other work, or if you like any m/m.Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors
Author: Sonali Dev
Publication date: May 7, 2019
Format: eARC from publisher (thank you!)
Buy It: Indigo.ca | Amazon.com | The Book Depository | iBooks
Award-winning author Sonali Dev launches a new series about the Rajes, an immigrant Indian family descended from royalty, who have built their lives in San Francisco...
It is a truth universally acknowledged that only in an overachieving Indian American family can a genius daughter be considered a black sheep.
Dr. Trisha Raje is San Francisco’s most acclaimed neurosurgeon. But that’s not enough for the Rajes, her influential immigrant family who’s achieved power by making its own non-negotiable rules:
· Never trust an outsider
· Never do anything to jeopardize your brother’s political aspirations
· And never, ever, defy your family
Trisha is guilty of breaking all three rules. But now she has a chance to redeem herself. So long as she doesn’t repeat old mistakes.
Up-and-coming chef DJ Caine has known people like Trisha before, people who judge him by his rough beginnings and place pedigree above character. He needs the lucrative job the Rajes offer, but he values his pride too much to indulge Trisha’s arrogance. And then he discovers that she’s the only surgeon who can save his sister’s life.
As the two clash, their assumptions crumble like the spun sugar on one of DJ’s stunning desserts. But before a future can be savored there’s a past to be reckoned with...
A family trying to build home in a new land.
A man who has never felt at home anywhere.
And a choice to be made between the two.
Review: Pride, Prejudice & Other Flavors by Sonali Dev
Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors started off quite slow for me, but then quickly had me eating out of its Austen-obsessed hand. It’s a gender-flipped version of Pride & Prejudice, with Dr Trisha Raje from the celebrated, rich family whose pride gets the better of her, and DJ Caine as the poor British chef who can’t see past his own prejudice against the Rajes.
Both the main characters have a bit of Elizabeth and Darcy in them. Trisha is a genius neurosurgeon who is doing breakthrough research that could save DJ’s sister’s life. However, it’s very clear right from the get-go that she’s basically a social disaster – she’s focused so much of her life on her career that she’s awkward and can’t deal with social situations, she rarely eats, and she tends to come off pretty brash. She’s also been ostracised from her large Indian family because of a past misjudgment with, yes, a Wickham. Now, on the cusp of her brother Yash becoming governor of California, she’s back in her family’s life…and as a result, in DJ’s as well.
DJ only has one sister, Emma, who is a talented artist who has a brain tumour that is all but inoperable. Of course, Trisha is the one who is treating her, and she has a solution, but it’s one that is dealing a blow to him and Emma, so he’s already a bit prejudiced against Trisha. At the same time, he needs to ingratiate himself to the Raje family because, as a private chef, he needs their business. Luckily, DJ is an absolutely phenomenal chef, and a genuinely nice person. He will do anything and everything for his sister, including leave his position in Paris at a Michelin-starred restaurant so that he can be there for Emma.
The initial meeting between DJ and Trisha is as much of a disaster as you can expect, and honestly, I couldn’t see how these two would ever get to the point of romance. But you know what? I felt the same way the first time I ever read the original P&P as well, and Sonali Dev did an amazing job bringing us there.
What I loved about this book is that it didn’t shy away from class politics or the very real issue of DJ being a black man in America and Trisha’s own ignorance of her own privilege. Those were definitely huge issues that Dev had to bridge, and she did it deftly and sensitively without losing the thread of the characters or their motivations. There are layers and multitudes to both Trisha’s and DJ’s histories, from Trisha’s Indian royal family coming to America and working their way up to become an influential political family, to DJ’s own upbringing as a poor kid in London who got in with the wrong crowd for a short time. These are fully fleshed out, complicated characters.
I also loved how amazingly Dev described the work that Trisha did, and the food that DJ cooked. Both characters are obsessed with their work, but in a good way. This was a true marriage of, as Robert Frost says, “avocation with vocation”, and I was so here for it. The food descriptions were SO scrumptious.
While I definitely got a slow start on Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors, it quickly drew me in. There’s just so much in it, and Dev handles all the storylines deftly, from Trisha and DJ’s attraction, to Trisha’s sister’s issues with her husband, to the cultural nuances, filial piety and professional duty. It took a lot to bring all of the characters to natural conclusions, but it worked. And the more I think about Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, the more I liked it. This is definitely a book that makes you work for it’s conclusions, but it earns them. Recommended for people who like full family dramas and a lot of angst.The Flatshare
Author: Beth O'Leary
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication date: May 28, 2019
Source: Raincoast Books
Format: eARC from publisher (thank you!)
Buy It: Indigo.ca | Amazon.com | The Book Depository | iBooks
What if your roommate is your soul mate? A joyful, quirky romantic comedy, Beth O'Leary's The Flatshare is a feel-good novel about finding love in the most unexpected of ways.
Tiffy and Leon share an apartment. Tiffy and Leon have never met.
After a bad breakup, Tiffy Moore needs a place to live. Fast. And cheap. But the apartments in her budget have her wondering if astonishingly colored mold on the walls counts as art.
Desperation makes her open minded, so she answers an ad for a flatshare. Leon, a night shift worker, will take the apartment during the day, and Tiffy can have it nights and weekends. He’ll only ever be there when she’s at the office. In fact, they’ll never even have to meet.
Tiffy and Leon start writing each other notes – first about what day is garbage day, and politely establishing what leftovers are up for grabs, and the evergreen question of whether the toilet seat should stay up or down. Even though they are opposites, they soon become friends. And then maybe more.
But falling in love with your roommate is probably a terrible idea...especially if you've never met.
Review: The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
The Flatshare had an addictive concept and an equally addictive way of drawing you into the lives of its protagonists.
Tiffy Moore is a crafty, eclectic assistant book editor for DIY books who is coming off a really bad relationship. She’s been staying in a flat that her ex owns, but after he comes in and surprises her with the woman he left her for, Tiffy knows she has to get out. Cash-strapped and desperate, she answers an ad for a flat share – literally a bed share. The deal? She will get the flat from 6pm to 9am on weekdays and weekends, and her “flatmate” will get the place during the day. This includes sharing a bed since there’s only space for one. Even though this seems incredibly intimate, Tiffy decides to go for it since the place is so centrally located and cheap.
Her flatmate, Leon Twomey, is a palliative care nurse who works evenings and spends his weekends with his girlfriend. He’s also desperate for extra cash to help pay for lawyer fees for his brother, who’s in prison. His girlfriend Kay is initially miffed about the flatmate situation but agrees to it as long as she gets to meet and assess Tiffy, and they are never in the place at the same time.
This all works out dandily at first – Tiffy and Leon end up getting to know each other through Post-It notes left throughout the house and shared leftovers. It’s cute and sweet, and as a reader, you can’t help but be pulled into their quirky lives. Tiffy has amazingly supportive friends (Mo the counselor and Gerty the lawyer are both super memorable) and a job that encourages her to be a bit wacky. Meanwhile Leon is just the sort of stalwart support that his youngest and oldest patients need, and he ends up helping them even outside of work. They’re opposites, but you can really tell how the two of them complement each other.
The Flatshare also deals greatly with the issue of gaslighting and emotional abuse. I won’t go into details on this as I think it unfolds really well in the story – it’s a great firsthand look at how strong women can be weakened by manipulative jerks. I really appreciated this part of the book.
It’s not all sadness, though. There are a lot of zany moments in this book, between the random things that Leon and Tiffy say to each other, and the weirdness of Tiffy’s work with a crochet expert. I enjoyed this one, it’s a super fast read, but ultimately it didn’t completely wow me with the writing. I think I needed a little bit more from Leon in the end.
Recommended for people who loved Christina Lauren’s Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating – I feel like the characters are really similar.The Austen Playbook
Author: Lucy Parker
Find the author: Website, Twitter, Amazon
Also by this author: Act Like It, Act Like It, Pretty Face
Publisher: Carina Press
Publication date: April 22, 2019
Format: eARC from publisher (thank you!)
Buy It: Indigo.ca | Amazon.com | The Book Depository | iBooks
“The London Celebrities series—some of the wittiest, smartest dialogue to come down the romance pike in years.”—Kirkus Reviews
In which experienced West End actress Freddy Carlton takes on an Austen-inspired play, a scandal at a country estate, an enthusiastic search for a passion outside of acting…and the (some people might say icy*) heart of London’s most feared theater critic.
*if those people were being nice
Freddy Carlton knows she should be focusing on her lines for The Austen Playbook, a live-action TV event where viewers choose the outcome of each scene, but her concentration’s been blown. The palatial estate housing the endeavor is now run by the rude (brilliant) critic who’s consistently slammed her performances of late. James “Griff” Ford-Griffin has a penchant for sarcasm, a majestic nose and all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer.
She can’t take her eyes off him.
Griff can hardly focus with a contagious joy fairy flitting about near him, especially when Freddy looks at him like that. His only concern right now should be on shutting down his younger brother’s well-intentioned (disastrous) schemes—or at the very least on the production (not this one) that might save his family home from the banks.
Instead all he can think of is soft skin and vibrant curls.
As he’s reluctantly dragged into her quest to rediscover her passion for the stage and Freddy is drawn into his research on a legendary theater star, the adage about appearances being deceiving proves abundantly true. It’s the unlikely start of something enormous…but a single revelation about the past could derail it all.
Don’t miss the London Celebrities series by Lucy Parker! Order your copy of Act Like It, Pretty Face & Making Up today!
This book is approximately 99,000 words
One-click with confidence. This title is part of the Carina Press Romance Promise: all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!
Review: The Austen Playbook by Lucy Parker
I’ve been looking forward to The Austen Playbook, the fourth book in Lucy Parker’s London Celebrities series, for ages. This one features actress Frederica Carlton, who has done an admirable job in a lot of serious dramas and made a name for herself – but the lighthearted Freddy is tired of being in stuff that her dad deems worthy. She misses doing fun musicals and lighter comedic roles – but she feels she owes it to her legacy West End family to continue doing serious drama. This is exacerbated by the fact that Freddy’s grandmother has written one of the most celebrated serious dramas in England, and Freddy’s guilt that an accident that she was involved in caused her father’s acting career to end prematurely.
Meanwhile, J. Ford-Griffin or “Griff”, is a theatre critic whose family is spending way beyond their means. He’s trying to save the family estate, Highbrook, where Freddy’s grandmother famously wrote her celebrated play. To do so, Griff’s brother Charlie hatches a plan to have The Austen Playbook, an interactive play, put on and broadcast from Highbrook’s theatre. Of course, this brings Freddy into Griff’s home and they’re both surprised and delighted by their feelings towards each other.
Normally, I adore Lucy Parker’s romances and eat them up like candy. But The Austen Playbook left me baffled with its insta-love between Freddy and Griff. It felt like hate-to-love, but immediately transitioned into love, and it happened so fast I basically had whiplash. I even went back and reread the beginning to see if I saw the natural progression of when the characters’ feelings changed and…nope.
Because of that insta-love, I felt like I was off-balance and confused by a lot of the characters’ actions. The relationship was very quickly intense and seemed sort of lost in the drama between Freddy and her father, her sister’s relationship, Griff’s family income woes, the actual show being rehearsed, and oh yeah, there’s a scandal in there, too. Like, whoa. There was way, WAY too much going on in this book, and it left me feeling like there was lack of character development and just not invested in the characters. I feel like this needed a major edit, a lot less drama, and a lot more in the way of romance. I’m sad to say I was disappointed by this one. I will still be reading Lucy Parker’s next book, because I still like her writing, but MAN. I needed more from this one and it didn’t deliver.
Guys. THE BRIDE TEST by Helen Hoang, PRIDE, PREJUDICE & OTHER FLAVORS by Sonali Dev, and TOP SECRET by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy are out today! THE FLATSHARE by Beth O’Leary and THE AUSTEN PLAYBOOK by Lucy Parker are both out in bookstores now. Which ones are you dying to read? What have you read recently that’s amazing in the romance genre? Who are your favorite authors – give me recs!
Recently in Romance is Mostly YA Lit’s mini-review feature for all of you who like the X-rated books!