Review, TBR Challenge

TBR Challenge: Festive

December’s theme prompt for Super Wendy’s #TBRChallenge 2022 was “Festive.” Here are the books we chose to tackle our TBRs this month.

Holly Read: One Hot December by Tiffany Reisz (2016)

Men at Work, Book #3

Why was this book on your TBR? 

I read the second book in the series for Thanksgiving and liked it. 

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

It’s a category Christmas romance, but extra sexy. (Because Tiffany Reisz’s books are extra sexy.)

What are your thoughts on the book?

Holy Schamoly this book is sexy. I guess it’s been a minute since I read a high-heat romance (though I would call this a lotsa-sex romance rather than an erotic romance, based on the work that the sex scenes are doing) because I was legit fanning myself. There’s also some BDSM content here, though it’s all dominance play, rather than the heavier S/M stuff that Reisz fans might expect from her work. 

Flash has been in love with her boss for six months, ever since they had a one-night stand and her crush moved from the realm of “never gonna happen silly crush” to “oh it’s happening.” However, Ian immediately told her it could go no further because “he was her superior.” Ouch. Erin the HR maven would rejoice. Now, however, Flash has quit her job, Ian is no longer her boss, and he still really really wants her—in his bed and in his life.

While this book is definitely sex heavy, there’s also great character work. Flash is a bad-ass female welder (yes, her nickname is a reference to Flashdance, though she works nights as a metal sculptor rather than a stripper) who is sharp and snarky and does things like weld truck nuts to Ian’s car after he dumps her. Ian definitely thinks that she is too cool for him. Ian is the VP of a construction company—owned by his father—who comes from money and lives in a ski chalet. (Though the cover model has a mustache, I don’t recall any mention of Ian having one; sorry stache fans.) Flash definitely thinks that Ian is too good for her, but she also really gets off on him bossing her around in bed. They have *great* banter and their journey from mutual pining to love and support is lovely to read.

Since we’re doing mini-reviews here I won’t keep on and on, but I really liked this book.

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop

Erin Read: The Remaking of Corbin Wale by Roan Parrish (2017)

Why was this book on your TBR?

I saw it on…probably Twitter? Back in, like, 2019, and I was intrigued.

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

As I recall, it’s a Hanukkah romance that is also a retelling of Practical Magic.

What are your thoughts on the book?

My thought as I was reading was that I probably would have enjoyed it more if it had followed the Practical Magic narrative a little more closely? Also, it’s not Hanukkah until Part III, and Part IV is mostly sex and relationship stuff, so I’m not sure this really qualifies as a festive book, but they do have a fancy dinner party to celebrate the holiday. 

Also also, my sense of “festive” is generally bright and happy, and I do not think that’s a mood that Roan Parrish does. This is my third book by her—one of the other two being co-written, so it’s a bit different, but still not particularly upbeat—and something just does not work for me. I’ve asked Ingrid and Holly to do a buddy read with me to analyze this further, so maybe I’ll have an answer in the future. My current thought generally is that there is nothing that is actually keeping these characters apart—in this case they’re both attracted to each other immediately, and Alex slowly and gently pursues a relationship (starting with friendship) while Corbin struggles (and fails) to resist the pull of Alex even though he knows he’s cursed and can’t risk falling in love. And that is all. It’s more interesting than that because the writing is evocative (as my child would say, “It has SO MANY SIMILES.”), but really, that’s all. 

More specifically, and tying into my comment that this book would have been significantly more fun if it had included murder a la the original, Alex is written as such an exceptionally good guy. Exceptionally. Even when Alex issues his bestie (the Nicole Kidman analog) a warning that “I’ll fuck him up if he hurts you,” Parrish just really wants us to know that he doesn’t mean it by adding, “and they both knew Alex wouldn’t hurt Orin.” Like. Obviously. Exceptionally good guys are, sadly, not exceptionally interesting. And then when they have sex the first time (BTW this is a very slow burn), Corbin says “no touching,” but at the very end Alex just can’t resist some small caresses. After everything, I thought it was kind of a weird choice to have the dom-role guy not respect a boundary, but what do I know?

Then there’s Corbin, who is almost childlike in his presentation, floating between lucidity and fancy constantly, and relating back to his aunts’ dictums without question. Alex wants to protect Corbin, even though he does not, strictly speaking, need protection. He wants to be told what to do. He likes that Alex stands up for him after feeling so alone for so long. Corbin’s characterization and upbringing make for an interesting story, but his naive whimsicality was also a curious choice in view of his dynamic with Alex. Not that Corbin is actually naive—he truly believes in the magic he’s been taught, and we have inklings that it might not be only in his head—but the way he’s written feels that way.

I would say if you’re into quiet romance with a realistic relationship arc, this might work for you as long as you also buy into Corbin’s sense of magic and unclear representation of either neurodiversity or simply uniqueness. It definitely kept my mind busy, all of Corbin’s thinky thoughts and Alex’s drive to understand them, but the romance itself was not particularly thrilling for me. 

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop

Ingrid Read: A Holly Jolly Diwali by Sonya Lalli (2021)

Why was this book on your TBR?

It looked adorable and sweet, and I felt like I needed that this holiday season.

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

I just honestly looked and said, “that”.

What are your thoughts on the book?

So, this one was deeply adorable. Niki loses her job and goes on a date set up by her parents, and her date convinces her to fly to her best friend’s wedding in Mumbai. She immediately meets her best friend’s childhood friend (who grew up and boy did he), and attempts to have a fling. 

It does not work, because Sam is handsome, a bass guitarist and songwriter in a band, has an incredible mother who surrounds Niki with warmth and acceptance immediately, and they have crackling chemistry. But Sam lives in London and Niki lives in Seattle, Sam is a passionate artist and Niki is an obedient woman who doesn’t seem to know exactly what she wants, just that something is missing.

Throughout the book, Niki works to balance her desire for freedom and self-expression with her fear of disappointing her family. The author does a really interesting job of diving back into Niki’s past in flashbacks to explain why she hesitates, overthinks, and sort of martyrs herself for her family. So when Niki starts to take steps she feels comfortable with in order to open herself up to living her life, things get really interesting. 

If you like grand gestures, this one’s a great one—I do have to say that I kind of felt like Niki had a bit of a blind spot when it came to her own role in their dark moment, but it wasn’t horribly off-putting. (Just, like, you can’t get mad people let you go when you tell them to let you leave??) But the end was absolutely charming and I did close the book with a big old swell in my chest, so I’m going to go ahead and call this one a win.

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop

That’s a wrap on this year’s TBR challenge! We had a blast pretending that our to-read piles were getting smaller, and plan on playing along again next year. If you want to join us in tackling your TBR in 2023, here’s a list of next year’s prompts. January’s theme is Starting Over.

3 thoughts on “TBR Challenge: Festive”

  1. We had a blast pretending that our to-read piles were getting smaller,

    Laughing out loud as I add Holly Jolly Diwali to tbr.
    Happy to see you all returning next year!

    Liked by 3 people

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