Review, TBR Challenge

TBR Challenge: Baggage

March’s theme prompt for Super Wendy’s #TBRChallenge 2023 was “Baggage.” Here are the books we chose to tackle our TBRs this month.

Erin Read: Rookie Move by Sarina Bowen

Brooklyn Bruisers, Book #1

Why was this book on your TBR? 

It’s a hockey romance.

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

It’s a second chance romance for former high school sweethearts unexpectedly pushed together in the workplace again. Sounds like baggage to me!

What are your thoughts on the book?

I have many thoughts, and most of them are displeased. 

This is an old book in Bowen’s backlist, but it’s not her debut, so I don’t understand why there’s not more editorial accountability in this book. Why are we getting dialogue from the yoga trainer running through the routine? It’s taking up space and doing nothing else for the story. There are some other editorial mistakes as well (continuity errors, POV errors, etc), and I was surprised by them. That said, it is possible to still enjoy a story, even when there are editorial errors.

Georgia is the type of character who hasn’t really come to terms with the trauma of her past or the decisions she made in the wake of that trauma, so she ends up dealing with the reappearance of her ex by telling herself just about any story she can imagine to keep kicking the can down the road. And then she gets mad at Leo when the actions she set in motion come back to cause trouble. It was infuriating to see her blame Leo for problems that she ultimately created, but it was also infuriating to see Leo mostly just take it. Why is Leo such a doormat? He’s supposed to be this loving, dedicated, cinnamon roll guy, but that kinda also doesn’t work when he impulsively kisses Georgia at a gala after a scene with his ex, so what’s his deal exactly? Tsk.

I was going to DNF this book, but then I went to the grocery store and didn’t have anything else downloaded, so I kept listening and got to the point where I had to rage finish…and I actually liked the ending. Georgia, Leo, and Georgia’s dad (the coach) are all M-E-S-S-Y, but the way they’re all finally forced to confront the trauma that messed them up years before was much more big-picture than I expected it to be. And that is how a book can go from hate to …like, I suppose. I have a couple other books in this series, but now I’m a bit leery. Maybe I’ll give it another shot and see what happens with different characters.

CW: Georgia was raped during her senior year of high school, and it’s not described on page, but the repercussions of it forms a large part of the story.

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop

Holly Read: You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi

Why was this book on your TBR? 

This book got a lot of buzz last year, and some people who I trust about romance novels liked it, so I figured—why not? Also the cover is gorgeous.

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

Well. This might not be obvious from just the blurb, but the heroine falls for her sorta-boyfriend’s dad. And is also carrying a lot of grief about her dead husband. And is also hanging out on a sexy tropical island. All of those things include baggage of one kind or another.

What are your thoughts on the book?

Do you like mess? Because these characters are very very messy. Also messy? The Goodreads reviews. Hoo boy is this book divisive. (The fact that the marketing does not make it clear that this is a DILF book did the book absolutely no favors.)

I thought it succeeded as a romance. I must admit that for the first third of the book, I wasn’t sure where we were going, but once Feyi and Alim started bouncing off each other, I could see it. Forbidden pining? Check. Explosive connection that’s so powerful that we’re totally fine blowing up other relationships to make it happen? Check. Heart-wrenching declaration of love right at the end? Check. Some might be squicked out by the power differential between our protagonists, but frankly, if you’re reading a DILF book, that’s part of the fun.

In terms of the non-romance components of the book: I really appreciated that Feyi isn’t subject to narrative punishment for daring to have casual sex (in chapter 1, with a stranger in a bathroom at a bar, who does not end up being the love interest). I thought her relationship with her BFF felt really real.

However, I didn’t much enjoy reading it. I found it overwritten and overwrought. Some might find the prose lush or sensual, but I was mostly like, “Well, that’s a weird metaphor, ok.” Honestly, I just don’t have the patience for “literary” writing these days. 

Also, Feyi was weirdly aware of her pierced nipples way more often than I would assume most women think about their breasts. 

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop

Ingrid Read: What She Wants by Lynsay Sands

Why was this book on your TBR? 

I bought a whole stack of books from the used book store and scored a couple Highlander books (I’m into those right now).

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

This one features Willa, a woman who saw her best friend murdered as a child and never had any friends, and whose mother died and thus she was raised by a servant in a ramshackle cabin (because someone wanted her dead and so was hidden from the world) and I don’t know about you but I felt strongly that someone of that background would be carrying some amount of baggage.

What are your thoughts on the book?

This book was pretty cute. Hugh (MMC) is kind of ridiculous and bumbling in the beginning and I had a hard time thinking I would ever be really into him as a hero (although I LOVED that he was bumbling, more of that please) but color me corrected. 

Willa and Hugh end up engaged when Willa’s secret guardian arranges that she must be married to his heir and nephew. Said heir/nephew is not interested. So he insults her and then immediately realizes that that would be both a strategic and perhaps emotional mistake, so he works hard to get her to agree to the arrangement again. Willa’s surrogate mother, a witch, tells her that she can’t accept his suit until he crawls on his hands and knees or he’ll die in less than a month, so that situation is pretty hilarious. Then he moves Willa into the castle, which leads to the person who wanted her dead to start up attempting again. It’s part thrilling and part funny, a combination that I found enjoyable.

I will say that both Willa and Hugh are at times truly lacking in sense, but they somehow manage to take turns…so they get by. And luckily they do end up catching the murderer, because I truly do not know how they managed to avoid death with how much they bumbled.

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop

Want to join us in tackling your TBR? April’s theme is “Unusual Historical.”

TBR Challenge

TBR Challenge: Blue Collar

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

Erin Read: Steadfast by Sarina Bowen (2016)

True North, Book #2

Why was this book on your TBR?  I’d been reading a lot of Sarina Bowen and I think it was a freebie?

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge? Apparently the hero’s working at his dad’s mechanic shop because he was just released from prison and no one else will employ him. I am agog.

What are your thoughts on the book?

I read a couple SB books and thought she trended angsty. Then I went on a new adult sportsball bender and most of those books from her were so sweet! So now that my head is all unicorns and butterflies, we go PURE ANGST with Steadfast. EveRyTHinG iS TerRiBLe. I mean, in fairness to these characters, they’re in their early 20s and he killed her brother while driving under the influence, and they have NO family support network, so yeah, that’s terrible. But uff da. It’s heavy.

Let me just get all the content notes I can think of out there: Emotional abuse by a parent, emotional neglect by a parent, abandonment by a parent, assault, death of a sibling, alcoholism, narcotics addiction, job insecurity, housing insecurity, financial insecurity, police abuse of power, description of a car crash involving no safety restraint… I’m sure there’s more but that’s probably the big stuff. So it’s a lot. 

Broadly speaking, I enjoyed the structure and writing of this book, though I’m not often one for angsty reads. The angst in this one didn’t really get me in the feels, but it also wasn’t emotionally stressful—could just be my headspace when I was reading. The romance didn’t quite hit for me, though I really liked how supportive they were of each other, especially in the second half of the book. My struggle primarily stemmed from the fact that this is a second chance romance in which they’ve both never stopped loving each other but they both agree he’s no good for her on account of he’s a convicted felon with a really serious drug addiction and uncertain employment/housing prospects, and yet they also rapidly shift from emotionally fraught to together again. It’s like they had sex again, and that flipped a switch to “yeah it’s complicated but feelings-wise we’re fine now,” meaning all the tension after that stemmed from them being discovered. Which segues into what I enjoyed more: the way Sophie tenaciously digs into the mystery of why her brother was in the car with a guy he hated in the first place.

Buy Now: Amazon

Holly Read: Renovation of Love by Meka James (20

Love on Madison Island, Book #1

Why was this book on your TBR?

I bought this book around the time when it came out, because I’d read another book by the author (and liked it) and was feeling excited about people finding love in their 40s. 

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

The hero owns a construction company and is renovating the heroine’s home.

What are your thoughts on the book?

Part of the middle were slow, but the payoff is worth it. This is, hands down, the best reasoning behind a second chance romance I’ve read. Ever. So even though I was feeling a little meh in the middle, I’m so glad I picked this book up.

I kind of don’t want to recap the backstory because it would ruin the payoff. It’s not that there are spoilers, exactly, because nothing that comes out is a surprise (even if it’s not explicit til the end), but the book talks around things and talks around things and talks around things—so much so that I was getting antsy—and then all of a sudden things are made explicit and everything pops into place and it just all makes sense. 

Let’s just say that when they were young, Marcel and Cynthia had different dreams for their lives. By breaking up when they were young, they were both able to pursue their dreams, and now, having lived full lives, are ready to come back together to shape a new chapter together. Just beautiful. 

Bonus points: abortion rep (in the past, not regretted) and a hero who has had a vasectomy. More vasectomies in romance, please and thank you.

Buy Now: Amazon

Ingrid Read: Love in a Small Town by Zoe York

Pine Harbour, Book #1

Why was this book on your TBR?

I’m a sucker for a series, what can I say?

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

I read very few books involving second chance romance that don’t revolve around a very silly mistake being blown out of proportion, and this looked meaty.

What are your thoughts on the book?

So this one did knock my socks off. It opens with Olivia serving breakfast at the restaurant she waitresses at…to her ex husband and the woman who slept at his house last night. Turns out he didn’t hanky panky with her, but it really set some juicy wheels in motion and I was here for it.

Essentially, Rafe is still in love with his ex, and never really wanted to divorce her. But they were young and didn’t have the relationship skills to make things work, and their marriage imploded. But he’s always wanted her back.  He’s tried being suave, he’s tried being sugary, and kind of settles on waiting her out by eating at her places of employment constantly. Olivia is hurting, too—she married Rafe quickly and moved to his tiny hometown, only for him to become a workaholic and leave her on her own. So when he brings what sure looks like a one night stand into her place of employment for walk of shame breakfast, Olivia decides she’s finished and tells Rafe she’s selling the house and moving away. 

What’s super sexy is that Rafe really reflects on his behavior and takes the time to journal and write Olivia letters addressing their issues. They’re like, REALLY self aware, and it’s very attractive. 

This is one where the author throws in a sort of surprise black moment and it works beautifully. Their reunion was…amazing. Both characters grew into really complex, interesting people (who are obviously meant to be together now that they’re not so young and stupid) and the ending was so satisfying.

Buy Now: Amazon

Want to join us in tackling your TBR? Next month’s theme is Animals.

Recommended Read, Series Review

Series Review: WAGs by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy (2017)

Heat Factor: These folks like sex. A lot. 

Character Chemistry: “I like you, and I really like sex with you, but…a relationship?”

Plot: There’s just a lot of stuff getting in the way of happily ever afters for these folks. The good news is, it’s not insurmountable.

Overall: Absolutely zero regrets about purchasing these books.

Continue reading “Series Review: WAGs by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy (2017)”

Review: Lies & Lullabies by Sarina Bowen (2020)

Hush Note, Book #1

Heat Factor: They have very gentle loving sex because of Kira’s past

Character Chemistry: I got sucked in by all their drama, so I guess it worked

Plot: “OMG I am SO happy to see you again!” → “WTF I have a CHILD?!” → “Let’s be together forever, I promise that me being a rock star who tours for months every year will not be a problem.”

Overall: I was expecting to get bent out of shape about the secret baby drama, but I got some bonus annoyance as well.

Continue reading “Review: Lies & Lullabies by Sarina Bowen (2020)”