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Michelle Reviews: Happily Even After Lena Matthews

happily even after


Sensuality Level: Steamy

Multicultural Contemporary: BW/WM

I must confess, this book has been in my TBR pile FOREVER. I like Matthews, but I had no idea how in the living hell she was going to pull this one off. The H/h are divorced, but they get back together WHILE she’s pregnant by somebody else. Despite my misgivings, she manages to pull it off, with some caveats. Dean is a fabulous hero. I love Matthew’s blue-collar heroes and Dean typifies them. In a Romancelandia awash in billionaires Dean is just a regular guy who works in a factory, and I love him for that. Creigh is more problematic. The motives for some of her behavior is questionable. And that’s my main problem with the book, why on earth did she divorce this guy in the first place? Dean didn’t want the divorce. He’s still in love with Creigh and wants his wife and kids back. Creigh wanted to leave Dean, but we really never understand why. There are some vague reflections on neglect, but nothing really concrete. And I understand that, the biggies, adultery or battery are definite no-nos in a romance, but I wish I’d had a firmer foundation. Either way, it’s still a very good story. I enjoyed it tremendously. It would be an A book despite the ambiguity about the divorce, but Creigh does something else that is so incredibly baffling that the book loses an entire grade for me. So now it’s a solid B.

Published by Loose Id

Purchased by me. 


Pope's Relationship Anatomy: Olivia, Cyrus & Mellie

Olivia, Cyrus, Mellie

I find it interesting that many fans constantly berate Olivia for never calling out the people close to her who regularly cause her headaches and get in her face. Cyrus is the worst offender when it comes to this.

I find it interesting because we’ve seen from the beginning that really, the only people Olivia goes off on are Fitz, for obvious reasons (if those reasons aren’t obvious to you, then you’ve probably never been in a relationship), and those who threaten the people she loves.

Fans including myself would love to see her go off on Mellie and Cyrus in particular, because they’re the ones who are constantly causing her grief one way or the other, but she has an incredibly complex relationship with both of those people. I also wish she’d read Verna the riot act, but only because I felt so strongly about her betraying Huck. Up until this point, Verna seems to have fulfilled some sort of maternal role for Olivia though, so I’m not sure that that smackdown will ever happen. Unless Verna turns out to be the mastermind behind the shooting of course.

Anyway, what I want to do is to examine the dynamics of the relationship that Olivia has with Mellie and Cyrus, the key aggravators in her life.

Olivia and Cyrus

Olivia definitely has the most complex relationship with Cyrus, and although in Season One, they engaged in a war of words regarding the whole Amanda Tanner mess, since then, we’ve seen Cyrus go at Olivia, and her blatant refusal to fight back. I have a few theories about the reasons behind Olivia’s passiveness.

One of the few things that we know about Olivia is that she was Cyrus’ protégé at college, and I think this plays a big part in why she rarely attempts to deliver a verbal smack down to him. I think back to my favourite lecturers at university and the respect I had for them, and honestly, even today as a grown woman, if they were to berate me the way that Cyrus often does Olivia, I’d probably just stand there and take it. That willingness to be used as a punching bag, comes from a place of respect, and sometimes the patterns that we’ve always followed when it comes to our mentors stay with us.


The other reason I think that Olivia takes the crap that she does is because Cyrus is one of only two people who knows all of her secrets. This is a huge thing for somebody as secretive as she is. It means that he’s the only person that she can – not only be herself with – but can put aside all sense of guilt with. To some degree, that has got to be a liberating feeling for her. Of course she can be herself with Fitz, but he is also the greatest source of her guilt for so many reasons. First of all, he’s married, and that must weigh on her somewhat, regardless of the state of his marriage to Mellie. But more than that, the fact that she’s very aware that the life he currently leads is one that was orchestrated and provided for him in the most treasonous of ways, must impact her greatly.
Because Olivia doesn’t have many people in her life who know her as well as Cyrus, their twisted friendship is something that she seems unwilling to let go, no matter how often he double-crosses her. Also, quite frankly, he’s also her gateway to Fitz.

The other thing is, Olivia knows that Cyrus has Fitz’s back. When all’s said and done, he’s the one person that she can trust with Fitz’s well being, and we all know how important that is to her.

Olivia and Mellie

A few people have scratched their heads over why Olivia consistently plays a submissive role, when it comes to Mellie. There have indeed been times when even I’ve scratched my head and thought that she should really tell Mellie to go screw herself, but you know what, I get it.
Olivia, at the end of the day, is having an affair with the woman’s husband. It doesn’t matter what we think about the state of Fitz and Mellie’s marriage, or even of Mellie herself, at the end of the day, if you’re even a half-way decent person, you will feel some sense of guilt. And quite honestly, in order for her to be a character that I can pull for, she needs to be able to feel that guilt, otherwise, she just becomes another unconscionable home-wrecker.

For me, the complexity of Olivia’s relationship with Mellie also stems from the fact that at one point, Mellie considered Olivia a friend. A friend who was the reason why her husband took his first major step towards becoming president. And not forgetting, Olivia is the reason why Mellie and Fitz’s marriage was brought back to life (in a manner of speaking). Let’s face it, when we meet Fitz and Mellie in 1.06, they had been trapped in a dead marriage for at least a couple of years, and it had come to that point in their relationship, where their only method of communication was yelling very loudly at each other. Olivia changed that. Mellie was probably thankful to Olivia for bringing about that status quo.


Also, ironically enough, Mellie is the only other person who’s aware of Olivia’s darkest secrets, but unlike with Cyrus, where this brings a certain sense of relief and openness to their interactions, it puts her in a precarious position. Mellie knowing what she does about Olivia, probably makes her relationship with Fitz seem brazen, and perhaps somewhat tawdry, and this is something that would definitely unsettle Olivia.

As the mistress, Olivia can’t help but feel that on some level, she is the one who is at fault here, and that is something somebody who talks about white hats would feel very uncomfortable about. So, she’s not likely to exacerbate those feelings of being the other woman, by letting loose on Mellie. She just doesn’t feel that she has the right. I think she absolutely has the right, but I’m not the one engaged in an extramarital affair.


Also, last, but not least, when all’s said and done, Mellie is the First Lady of The United States, and there’s a certain respect that that title affords her. You can’t just go screaming and yelling at the FLOTUS, no matter how much you may want to.

As we saw though, in episode 2.10, Olivia is pretty much done with appeasing Mellie, but this was because Mellie had risked Fitz’s presidency by doing something utterly bonkers. We’re all aware that Fitz is the one person who Olivia is willing to engage in a showdown for.

On a broader plane, I do think Olivia understands better than most that actions speak louder than words. If we think about how self-contained she usually is, even in her dealings with her OPA team, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that she prefers to maintain a stoic silence rather than totally losing control. I really never want to see her break down in front of Cyrus and the snakes on the plane the way she did in 211 again. I have a feeling that that whole experience may have taught her a lesson or two, when it comes to showing weakness in front of others, hence the Olivia we see in the present.

I understand that fans want Olivia to deliver verbal smackdowns to Mellie and Cyrus on a regular basis, but if Shonda Rhimes stays true to the Olivia Pope that we think we know, (what am I saying, it’s not like she has so far!) it wont happen often. Which is a shame, but there you have it.

KarenS Scandal Review: Episode 2x11, “A Criminal, A Whore, An Idiot, and a Liar”


Hey guys, following on from yesterday’s introduction to ABC’s Scandal, I’m going to start reviewing each episode after it airs (well not straight after, you guys know how much I love reviewing these days), so of course if you haven’t seen any of the episodes, but you plan on watching them, do not read this review, I repeat, do not read this review, as there will be spoilers galore.

The episode starts with Liv walking through her door to find Edison sat ever so casually In. Her. Lounge.
I’m pretty sure they broke up last week, when Olivia basically told him to fuck-off after he threatened to prosecute her for allegedly lying about the president’s real condition. Apparently though, Edison, the thick bastard didn’t get the message, because he asks Liv what’s going on with them. I can’t lie, I was desperate for Olivia to stab him in his eye and put him out of my misery. To my ever lasting sorrow, she didn’t do that. Dammit.

Anyway, because basically Edison’s a ratchet mother fucker, he accuses Olivia of being the President’s mistress. As you can imagine, this didn’t go down too well with Olivia, who read him her rather special five-point riot act. It was impressive, and if I could find the exact words, I’d post it. Anyway Olivia eventually throws Edison and his Bill Cosby looking ass out, but not before he tells her that Sally Langston is planning to shaft Fitz by throwing shade on the letter that Mellie forged asking for Fitz to be reinstated.

Once Edison is literally shown the door, Olivia calls Cyrus, warning him of Sally’s plans.

After this, we flashback to a presidential debate where Fitz is doing almost as well as Obama did in his first presidential debate last year. Remember how uncomfortable we all felt watching him fuck things up against the world’s most stupidest man, Mitt Romney? *shudder* Basically, Fitz is not doing well against his opponent Governor Reston (the geezer who murdered his wife’s lover and got away with it), either in the debates, or indeed in the polling. He’s way behind his rival, and it’ll take a miracle to get his numbers up at this rate.

We cut to Olivia, Cyrus and Hollis discussing campaign strategy, and out of the blue, Hollis very casually mentions the possibility of rigging the election. Apparently he has some people in low places who can orchestrate the whole thing. Cyrus is initially appalled, and both he and Olivia dismiss the idea. Mellie joins them with some bad news about the polling numbers, and suggests that they invite Fitz’s father Big Jerry to help with the campaign. It’s clear that this is something that Fitz has avoided doing up till now. With good cause as it turns out.

Fitz is not happy about the idea at all, and we cut to him and Mellie arguing about it in the corridors of their hotel. Olivia catches up with them and suggests that they keep their voices down. Mellie frustrated by Fitz’s refusal to bring his father in, tells Olivia to talk to him, as he clearly doesn’t give a shit about her opinion. Ya think?

After Mellie shuts the door on both of them, Fitz takes Olivia by the hand and drags her to her room so that he can work off some of his frustrations out by getting her horizontal. While he’s trying his best to have his wicked way with her, Olivia is trying to persuade him that now’s the time to bring in his father to help energise the base. Fitz eventually agrees as long as she doesn’t talk about the campaign for the next twenty minutes.

We then flash forward to the present, and Fitz is in the hospital, with Mellie looking all wifely by his side. The doctor is in with them, and she’s telling them that Fitz should be able to get back to work in about three weeks, but in the mean time, may experience dizziness, fatigue and some frontal lobe issues. Because of Mellie’s fuckup however, Fitz can’t afford to be inactive for three weeks, as Sally is just about dancing on his grave, with his job description pinned to her forehead.

Speaking of Sally, we cut to the White House, where she’s having a briefing with the executive team (including Edison The Bell-End). She basically tells them that Fitz is fucked, and is not fit enough to return to work. While she’s spreading her venom, Fitz walks in and apologises for being late. AND THE CROWD WENT WILD!! HALLELUJAH!!! Oh the look on Sally’s face was priceless. Suck it bitch!

Anyway, the meeting has obviously gone well, because Cyrus and Mellie run into the exec team coming out of Fitz’s office, and Sally is looking massively pissed off. This pleases Cyrus no end, who takes delight in baiting Sally as she’s exiting the office. He’s gleeful because he has his president and job back. When they get into the office, Fitz is obviously struggling and demands a clean shirt. The man should not be out of the hospital, and he sarcastically thanks Mellie for screwing him over, so that he has to leave his sickbed three weeks earlier than he should in order to save her ass and his presidency. Yeah Mellie, thanks for that. Power grabbing bint.

We flashback to the campaign trail, where we finally meet Fitz’s father. And he’s a massive fucking bell-end. Sheesh. He proceeds to humiliate Fitz in front of the campaign team, and even Mellie turns into a giggling school girl in front of him. Now this is the guy she wishes she’d married. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he’d seduced her twenty years ago, then passed her along to Fitz. Jerry cuts an impressive figure, and he has the charm and swagger that one would expect in a seasoned politician, but it’s fairly clear at this point that Fitz was raised by a wolf. I felt as sick as Fitz looked, and I could tell that his father’s presence was negatively impacting him. Olivia noticed his discomfort, and at one point looked pityingly at him.

At dinner that evening, Fitz gets drunk, and manages to throw shade at his father every time he speaks. I particularly liked Fitz reminding his father that the reason he didn’t even run for president was because men who get caught shagging prostitutes usually aren’t suitable candidates for presidency. I confess, I laughed out loud. Jerry leaves the table prematurely, after Fitz continues to slag him off. I know Fitz is behaving like a recalcitrant child at this point, but personally I loved it. Jerry was a twat, and he needed a good beat down. Erm…not that I condone violence against old people. That’s just barbaric…right?
Erm, anyway, where was I? Oh that’s right, Mellie drags her behind after Jerry to apologise for Fitz’s behaviour, and perhaps to offer him a blow job or two. I jest. I think. (more…)

Scandal - Introduction to The Scandalous World Of Olivia Pope and Associates...


Hey Guys! How are you all doing? Happy New Year by the way.

I’m aware that I haven’t posted on here since the beginning of December, but honestly, I couldn’t be arsed. Sorry.
I’m grateful for those of you who still check in, and I’m definitely grateful to Michelle and Willa for keeping things going.

Anyway, my latest obsession, is a show called Scandal, and quite frankly, apart from the shady political crap that’s going on in the world, that’s pretty much all I ever want to talk about these days, and I’m not even sorry.

You’ll be pleased to know that watching Scandal has revived my love for romance books again. I’d been in a massive reading slump, but lately, things have gotten better. Honourable mentions go out to Shiloh Walker, for her amazing friends-to-lovers book Wrecked due out in April. LOVED that book so damned much. Go pre-order, I promise you wont be sorry.

This week, the latest episode of Scandal left me emotionally wrecked, but I’ll talk about that episode in a separate post. Today I want to introduce those of you who aren’t familiar with the series to Scandal, and all of its colourful characters.

The main protagonist of the show is a a woman called Olivia Pope, played by the divine Kerry Washington, (I have such a massive girl crush on her). Olivia is a crisis manager, and the overall premise of the show is based on an actual crisis manager, Judy Smith, who worked for the first George Bush. Judy currently runs her own crisis management firm, and dealt with the whole Monica Lewinski/Bill Clinton mess, and the Michael Vick scandal. I imagine as we speak, General Petraeus has her on speed dial. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that she was behind the Lance Armstrong/Oprah interview. (Isn’t Armstrong an unconscionable bell-end?)

Anyway, so Olivia’s firm is aptly named Olivia Pope and Associates, and her associates are as follows:

Harrison Wright – Good looking, fast-talking, charming man-meat, who’s also a lawyer. I looove Harrison because he always has Olivia’s back. And he’s hot y’all!

Abby Whelan – Abby is a sometimes annoying, sometimes sanctimonious, but usually amusing, bitchy redhead. Abby is the firm’s main investigator, and the moral compass for the team.

Huck – We don’t know his last name, he’s former black ops, and he’s particularly skilled in the art of torture. Huck is their tech guy, he can hack into anything, including uber secure government systems. I love Huck, he’s my favourite associate, mostly because I want to take him home, and hug him every five minutes. I think my love for him stems from his absolute loyalty and devotion to Olivia.

Quinn Perkins – The newest recruit to OPA, she’s the bambi of the group, has been described as a chickenhead by some, but she’s mostly naive and a little wide-eyed. She will probably be the associate who annoys you the most. Especially in the seventh episode of the first season. Seriously Quinn?

Stephen Finch – Stephen is Olivia’s long time lawyer friend, and in season one he’s the person she confides in the most, and the person who knows her the best. Stephen eventually leaves to go and find his normal with his fiancee, Georgia. Stephen has nice hair. He could be in one of those Just For Men adverts his hair is so nice.

They all have shady pasts and have had to be rescued by Olivia at one point or another in their lives, and they all have their own secrets, some more surprising and shocking than others.

Back to Olivia, she has a pretty massive scandalous secret of her own. She had an affair with the president of the United States, which started when she was brought on as his campaign fixer by Cyrus (now chief-of-staff). When the affair became too much for her, she left the White House and started her own firm. The irony is, Olivia is amazing at solving the problems of her clients, but her own life is just a mess. When I watched the first episode, I didn’t have a clue what the actual premise of the show was, I was just watching because I’m such a Kerry Washington fan girl, so I was shocked when we discovered that her and the president – played by the enormously charismatic Tony Goldwyn – had been in a relationship.

Anyway, let me introduce you to the White House Crew:

President Fitzgerald Grant III – Republican president, married to Mellie Grant, has two children (who we’ve yet to see), and had an affair with Olivia Pope, his former campaign fixer. We assume that Fitz is a total sleazebag, because after all, only a snake would cheat on his wife, surely? It’s amazing how one’s perspective changes after watching this show. Nobody is who you think they are. I love Fitz, he’s a wonderfully flawed character who constantly pulls at my loins heartstrings. He wants to be with the love of his life, but that can’t happen while he’s the leader of the free world.

Cyrus Beene – Cyrus is a self-confessed monster who you will love and hate in equal measure. He’s Fitz’s chief-of-staff, and he will literally do anything for his president. I go back and forth with Cyrus, but I mostly love him, and he’s done some heinous shit.

Mellie Grant – Married to the president, Mellie is an ambitious faux Stepford Wife who will do anything she has to in order to keep her husband in power, thus keeping her as the First Lady of The United States. I love Mellie’s character, she’s the most uncomplicated person on the show, she’s highly manipulative, and her motivations are clear as day. She loves power, and she has political ambitions beyond her husband.

Sally Langston – Sally is Fitz’s uber Right-wing Vice President. She’s the Sarah Palin of the show. Sally is cold, and I wouldn’t trust her as far as I could throw her.

Hollis Doyle – A major contributor to Fitz’s election campaign, who seems to have free reign of the White House. He shows up in season two. Hollis is a snake. I’ll leave it there.

I’ll be upfront and tell you that for me, the main attraction to this show is Olivia and Fitz. I’d ask you not to judge me, but actually I don’t care. I checked my real life morals at the door, and quite frankly, I was happy to do so. If you’re even a little bit puritanical, take the door marked exit, because this show is not for you.

“One minute”

They have the most deliciously complicated relationship. A relationship, that I initially questioned (due to the fact that he’s married and all) until about the third episode, then I was all in. Of course I’m going to hell, because there’s nothing admirable about infidelity, but it’s a TV show, so I’m happy to root for this particular couple. It’s not the worst thing that I’ve been ok about in the show either. There are some truly scandalous goings-ons, and it’s remarkable how you end up shrugging your shoulders at some of the questionable things perpetrated by the main protagonists.

Liv and Fitz can’t be together, because not only is he married, he’s also the president, so divorce isn’t really a viable option for him. He tries, but both Olivia and Mellie (his wife) aren’t having any of it. Olivia because she knows he can’t just be an ordinary person, and Mellie, because she covets the FLOTUS title too much.

I think that the reason that I’m able to be ok, with Fitz and Olivia’s relationship is down to the on-screen chemistry between Goldwyn and Washington. They literally sizzle together, sexually, emotionally, and intellectually. Fitz and Olivia are my Eve and Roarke of television, without the affair part of course:) (more…)

Michelle Reviews: Billy London Italian Knights Series

Sensuality Level: Steamy

Multicultural Contemporary: BW/WM

I know it seems like forever since I’ve posted, but this past holiday season was insane. Oddly enough I read quite a bit, but never seemed to have time to do reviews. I promise I’ll do better. I’ve been on a bit of a glom of late. There seems to be an insane number of Mafia books in the multicultural genre, and I’ve been checking them out. Billy London is one of the most popular and I can see why. Her books are at times laugh-out-loud funny. And the title “knight” is appropriate as these guys will literally kill for their lady-love. Let me start with a caveat, these books do contain a good bit of violence, they’re not exactly Goodfellas, or actually they are. They’re Goodfellas, if Goodfellas had been directed by Ben Stiller.

These books take place in London, and that’s somewhat nostalgic for me as I grew up reading categories from Harlequin and they were all based in London too. I haven’t read a contemporary in  a London setting in probably a couple of decades and it was very heartwarming for me. Okay, on to the books.


Pay absolutely no attention to the title of this book. A friend lent it to me and it expired on my Kindle account because I assumed it had something to do with exhibitionism or voyeurism. Why it has this title I have no idea. It is one of my fave tropes, friends into lovers. And Ms. London handles that aspect of the story very well. Nick and Gina have been friends for ten years since meeting in college. They have been secretly in love with one another, but since Nick had a girlfriend when they first met Gina pretty much put him in the “friends” category. Though they’ve shared everything over the years, except of course, their mutual hots for one another and the fact that Nick is a mob boss. All this comes to a head when Gina finds herself indebted to a loan shark who decides to rough her up in order to shake his money loose. Nick takes the situation in hand and we’re off onto a crazy roller coaster of mob intrigue, family intrigue and some really steamy sex. I liked both characters and their relationship was believable and at times charming. The secondary characters were vivid and interesting and I loved the pacing of the story. There is a good bit of violence, but then this is a Mafia story. The only flaw I found is in the resolution of the situation with the villain. There’s a good deal of info-dumping I could’ve lived without. The villain’s scheme was so unbearably convoluted that I had to read it a couple of times to get it fixed in my head. But really that was the only serious flaw. I liked this book a lot, and enjoyed the re-read I did before I wrote this review. I’d say a good solid B.

On Caristo’s Watch

This title makes a good bit more sense. Tony is Nick’s close friend and all-around enforcer/right hand man. He and Lydia meet at the hospital where she is a nurse. He is there frequently bringing friends who’ve been injured. He’s there so frequently she asks if he’s a plainclothes EMT. This is probably the funniest of the four books so far as Tony is definitely the class clown of the group. I laughed out loud when he asked Lydia, “What is in my balls,” because the only time she talks sensibly (at least from his viewpoint) is after they’ve had sex. Lydia has an ex-boyfriend who has turned stalker and is making threats against her brother. She goes to Nick for help and he assigns Tony to her for protection. I would give this book a low A, primarily because it was very funny and I enjoyed the interaction between these two characters very much.

The Claim

For me, this one is the weak link of the four Italian Knights books thus far. Rocco is the attorney and fixer for the daCanaveze family. Anna is his long-lost love. This is another favorite trope of mine, but London doesn’t handle it as well as she did the friends into the lovers. Gina and Rocco were dating. She broke up with him when she discovered he was sleeping with one of her friends. He wasn’t sleeping with her friend, but for a very convoluted reason involving law enforcement and his dad screwing up and winding up in prison he’s not able to tell Anna the truth. So here’s the thing, she breaks up with him, but resumes the friendship with the friend! This made no sense to me, and I found the whole scenario unbearably annoying. The only thing that saved this story for me is Rocco’s grandmother, Nonna. Oh my God she’s a hoot. Rocco uses a lawsuit she wants to file as an excuse to get Anna back into his life and just when his charm offensive is working their relationship is nearly derailed by a vengeful cop. Without the girlfriend issue, this would be an A story, but because of it I have to give it a low B, probably in all fairness it should be a C.

Best Laid Plans

Another in the series whereas the title makes no sense, but whatever. This one is my favorite, probably because the hero Gianluca, who is Tony’s cousin,  is such a sweetie-pie. He’s a murdering enforcer for the daCavaneze family. Francesca is a cop. You’d think this would present insurmountable obstacles to the relationship, but fortunately, by the time they meet Gianluca has already sworn off the life. Gianluca believes he dreamed her while he was in jail and he swore if he could have her he’d never raise his knife in violence again. In fact they’d met previously in a convenience store, but he doesn’t remember because of a head injury. When he meets her again he’s a chef and working diligently to keep his nose clean after a really nasty encounter with his psycho-bitch of an ex-girlfriends which landed him in jail dreaming about Francesca. I love the way Francesca handles herself when psycho ex-girlfriend puts in an appearance. This is an A story for me, primarily based on the strength of the characters.

I borrowed the first book from a friend, the rest I bought.



Willaful Review: Unforgivable by Joanna Chambers

It can be difficult for me to read a book or write a review objectively when I have a bias towards the author. Oddly enough, in this case, the bias might be working the other way. I like the author very much online, and I loved her first book, The Lady’s Secret. I have to ask myself, if this had been a book written ten years ago, from an author I had fewer expectations of, would I have found it so disappointing?

First, the good. The story was riveting, and I hated to put it down to go to bed. As far as my favorite romance gut-punch goes, it delivered in spades. Tears even prickled in my eyes a few times. Basically, this was a classic old skool romance, but with a kindler, gentler asshole — i.e. he punches the wall instead of her. (To be fair, only once — he is not violent overall.) Gil has a grievance — he felt forced to marry the very young, plain Rose, instead of the woman he wanted — and he not only holds onto that grievance with both hands, he adds to it whenever possible. He’s one of those frustrating Diana Palmer-ish heroes who turns any understanding of his own faults into anger at the person he wronged. And he does this and does it and does it… it’s psychologically interesting and understandable, I suppose, but it sure made it hard to like him, or to believe he could ever truly change.

I felt that Rose was always the one who had to reach out, always the one who had to give. Although she did make some mistakes, she was largely, as another reviewer pointed out, an innocent bystander in her marriage. I enjoy vicarious suffering in romance, but I need more of a balance and a payoff than I got here. I was also disappointed that the story’s dark moment comes from a very obvious, conventional place that punishes Rose even more than it punishes Gil. Perhaps most disappointing of all, although Gil also learns to appreciate Rose’s fine character, he initially falls for her as the beautiful woman she grew into. Not enough balance, not enough payoff.

I want to reiterate that I was totally caught up and emotionally involved in the story, and that’s why I’m giving it the relatively high rating of 3 1/2 stars, rounded up to 4 when I must. It might well work better for fans of angsty romance who didn’t come in with high expectations, or with strong desires for originality. You can buy it for Kindle here or from Samhain in all popular ebook formats here. (30% off for new releases til 1/22/13.) I’m guessing they’ll have a print version at Samhain eventually.

Published by Samhain. Review copy purchased by me.

TBR Challenge: The Guy Most Likely To...

Sensuality Rating: Tending Towards Torrid

The Theme: We Love Short Shorts! (Short stories, novellas, or category romance.)

Why This One?: My personal rule is that all books have to come from my print TBR. I was pleased to find a book there that fit the theme so well — short stories and category romance — plus, I won it at Wendy’s blog.

The Word: I’m not a big fan of either romance short stories or the Blaze line, and putting them together did not improve them.

This anthology includes three unrelated stories, two of which link to other books by their authors. All three are about couples whose past relationships were thwarted by the guy, for various reasons. Now the couples are meeting again at their 10 year high school reunions.

“Underneath it All” by Leslie Kelly. Lauren was devastated and humiliated when her boyfriend Seth skipped town right before prom, leaving her a Prom Queen without a King. She only agreed to go to the reunion because Seth wasn’t supposed to be there. But Seth turns up anyway, hoping to finally make things right with the girl he could never forget.

I had trouble with both characters in this story. Lauren’s devastation is understandable, but it’s quite obvious that something major happened to Seth and his family, which makes her long-time hatred towards him seem self-absorbed and immature.  And if Seth had pined for Lauren all these years, why didn’t he make more of an effort to get in touch with her? The ending was cute, but then it got spoiled by going way, way over the top.

“Can’t Get You Out of My Head” by Janelle Denison. I loved the premise of this story. Geeky Will’s dreams had come true when gorgeous cheerleader Ali agreed to go on a date with him, but a beating and threats from a guy on the football team forced him to cancel. Now he’s hoping for a second chance.

I was disappointed that Will shows up for the reunion devastatingly handsome and super successful. Ali had liked him the way he was — why did he have to become like every other romance hero? The rest of the story plays out as you’d expect, and in a very bland manner.  Props for being the only story in the collection featuring safe sex. (Dudes, “I’m clean” does not constitute safe sex!)

“A Moment Like This” by Julie Leto. Bad boy Rip refused to get involved with good girl Erica when they were in Catholic school together — but they’re adults now, and things are very different, especially Erica. I think this story could have been good if it weren’t squeezed into too small a space — with some of that limited space given over to sequel baiting. It needed more backstory.

Overall, a meh collection. If you enjoy Blazes, you’ll probably like it more than I did. You can buy it from Amazon in print or for Kindle here.

Published by Harlequin. Review copy won from a blog contest.

New Years Resolutions -- I'm Not Late, I'm Taking My Time

Lately I’ve been realizing that when it comes to books, I have a terrible case of Attention Deficit — ooo, shiny! It seems to be a fairly common condition amongst book lovers who spend a lot of time on social media.  We buy — and borrow, if we’re moderately sane — massive numbers of books, all of which we genuinely want to read. And then someone dangles a tempting new book in front of us, and we’re off on the hunt again. The books we already have fade away, sometimes so much that we accidentally buy them again.

Weirdly, the problem is self-perpetuating. The more pressure I feel from too many unread books, the more likely I am to be restless and unable to concentrate, which sends me off looking for more books to acquire instead of actually reading. Perhaps it makes me feel like I’m actually accomplishing something.

Forget trying to read more books  — my only reading goal for this year is to break the cycle. I want to slow down, stop trying to stay on top of an exploding genre, and focus on books which I know I genuinely want to read, not books that everyone else is reading. To finish series I enjoy instead of starting new ones other people enjoy. To read books outside the romance genre, or to reread, without feeling like I’m wasting time. And perhaps most importantly, to stop acquiring new ones on a whim.

I’m off to a great start — the fourteen books I’ve read this year include nonfiction, science fiction, a book from my long neglected “reread before tossing” pile, some series catch up, and an old favorite. (I always seem to start the new year with a reread, for some reason.) And, because social media is still fun, one book that everyone else was reading, so we could talk about it.

Here’s to a more peaceful reading year.


Willaful Review: Back to the Good Fortune Diner by Vicki Essex

Sensuality Rating: Steamy

Peer pressure! SuperRomance isn’t my line, but all the cool kids are reading this one. I wasn’t sorry I jumped off the cliff with them.

This is a romance featuring a Chinese-American heroine and written by a Chinese-Canadian writer, both rare enough scenarios to catch the attention of the romance community. Thirty-two year old Tiffany has returned home in disgrace: unemployed, in debt, and feeling like she wasted the English degree she fought so hard for. Now she’s once again stuck in a small town, with a family that’s disappointed in her (as always) and no place to work except her family’s restaurant. Things look up a bit when the football player she once tutored (and madly crushed on) hires her to tutor his teenage son.

One of the things I liked about this story was that both Tiffany and her love interest Chris, who is white, turn out to have essentially the same issues: both are dealing with pressure and expectations from family, and both are struggling with their places in the world. That made Tiffany’s situation seem less based on cultural types. And realistically, their problems aren’t entirely the same: Tiffany also has to deal with the overt racism of Chris’s father, and to begin to understand how the discomfort of growing up in an otherwise entirely white community affected the way she relates to people.

The part of the story that most interested me was actually a subplot involving Tiffany’s brother, Daniel; although he has an MBA, he’s been working at the family restaurant and living with his parents while Tiffany was an assistant editor in New York. (He’s also the town driving instructor, an amusing thumb of the nose to the “bad drivers” stereotype.) Daniel’s in love with a white doctor he met online, but has been too worried about his family’s reaction to her to fully commit. When Tiffany points out how disparate their circumstances are — wealthy city doctor, small-town fry-cook — it creates a crisis of confidence for him.

I would have loved it if Daniel had been the central character of the book, and it would have made a more challenging story. A hunky blonde white guy and a petite, beautiful Asian woman fit so much more neatly into Western standards of appropriate attractiveness, to say nothing of the gender standards of appropriate success. But since romances with non-white characters seem to still be such a hard sell, I can’t really blame anyone for taking the easier route.

I also enjoyed Chris and Tiffany’s gentle romance, which has some plausible bumps in the road, many involving Chris’s difficult father and his different but equally difficult son. But their main conflict is Tiffany’s need to get back to the city and her editing work. I wasn’t entirely happy with how this resolved. The general message that the societal idea of success isn’t as important as doing what make you happy is a good one (again, this is a place where I preferred Daniel’s story to Tiffany’s.) But there was too much of a Small Town Good, Big City Bad message, especially in a genre that is overflowing with that already.

That aspect makes me a bit torn on my rating but I’m going with 4 stars, because of the good writing and the many things the book does right. You can buy it in paperback or for Kindle here. (Incidentally, while looking up the info, I saw that the paperback is almost out of stock, which I hope is a good sign of success!) Though January 21st, the secure epub format is also available with a 50% rebate at All Romance, with the code SBTBARE. (Keep in mind that the rebate process at All Romance is kind of complicated, though a good deal if you buy from them frequently.)

There are currently two online discussion of this book planned: if you’d like to join in, check out Something More on January 11th, and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books on January 31st.

Published by Harlequin. Review copy provided by netGalley