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review 2017-11-21 23:56
ARC Review: All Of The Above by Quinn Anderson
All Of The Above - Quinn Anderson

I quite liked this book once I pushed past the first 30% or so. Brendon, one of our MCs, works what's basically dead-end job as a salesperson for hair straighteners and other beauty products in a local mall, while also going to school to become a hair stylist/make-up artist. He's friends with a married couple running the sales stand next to his.

Brendon also comes across as a bit lonely, though he's described as someone who doesn't usually finish what he starts, a bit flaky, a bit effeminate. He's gay and there's no hiding it. His hair frequently changes color. He can't seem to hold on to a boyfriend, looking for perfect and never finding it. He felt real enough to me, and definitely likable, and I hoped he would find what he was looking for.

Then he comes across a quiz in a local magazine asking "Who's Your Perfect Man?" And it appears as if the author of the quiz, one Matthew Kingston, is just perfect for Brendon.

The meet-cute is fake, obviously, as Brendon sort of stalks Matthew online, finds his pictures and his usual hangouts, realizes that what he sees he definitely likes, and begins hanging out at those places, hoping to run into Matthew.

Which he does, after a while.

They have an awesome first date, and they seem to have a lot in common, considering how much Brendon knows about Matthew's preferences, which he uses to his advantage. And then Brendon realizes he has to come clean, knowing Matthew abhors liars, and what might have been turns into heartache.

I didn't actually like Matthew all that much for most of the book, to be honest. He came across as a bit of a judgmental dickhead. Even after he supposedly forgives Brendon for the initial deception, and they're on their 2nd date, something Matthew apparently spent some time setting up, he keeps making snarky remarks about Brendon's lie, until Brendon, suddenly finding his backbone, calls him on that shit real quick. I cheered in my head when that happened, because I was getting quite irritated with Matthew at that point. His behavior was, while certainly understandable, not something someone with forgiveness in his heart would likely do.

I did warm up to him eventually, when he makes an about-face and the two of them really talk things through. I really liked that Brendon who, despite feeling guilty about his earlier deception, held Matthew's feet to the fire when his words of forgiveness didn't match his actions.

The feelings between them grow quickly, but believably, and I had no issues with the time frame here. I do believe that Brendon and Matthew were well-matched, and thus the rapidity with which they developed into a full-blown relationship was perfectly fine with me. 

This is the kind of easy, happy reading that I need every so often. It's a bit quirky, on the sweet and fluffy side for sure, and definitely worth your time.


** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher via Netgalley. A review was not promised in return. **

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review 2017-11-21 23:53
ARC Review: The Secret Of The Sheikh's Betrothed by Felicitas Ivey
The Secret of the Sheikh’s Betrothed (Dreamspun Desires Book 46) - Felicitas Ivey

First off, I had no issues whatsoever with the writing style of this author, or the writing itself. The story flowed along well, and I wasn't bored at all while reading. That is one of the two reasons this book got two stars instead of just one.

The other one is that I was super enraged for most of the book at the treatment Ikraam had to endure at the hands of her sister.

Moving on.... 

After I mulled it over for a while, I realized I had massive issues with some of the characters, the plot, and the setting, as well as the social aspects of this book. The messages within are really problematic for me. 

I mentioned in my status update when I finished the book that "this was different". It sure is. The book is set in a country in the Middle East, where sheikhs and Bedouin tribes are still aplenty. Goat herding is mentioned. Grazing grounds. Filthy rich sheikhs. Camels. Donkeys. Lots of goats. Women are second class, at best, required to hide their faces and their bodies in hijabs, niqabs and veils. 

The basic premise is that rich billionaire sheikh Fathi, who's secretly gay, has been told by his grandfather that he's been betrothed to a Bedouin girl named Ikraam, sight unseen, before the girl was even born, due to some debt the grandfather owed to the girl's father many many years ago.

That's basically believable, right? 

The rest of this? Not so much. 

Ikraam is actually not a girl. Ikraam is a young man who was born to the 2nd wife of a Bedouin tribe chief/leader who thus far only fathered girls. He's been raised as a girl in a large harem because his oldest sister didn't want him to be the heir and remove her from her position of power after their father died. She basically forced Ikraam's mother, and then Ikraam as he grew up, to keep his gender a secret and raise him as female. This was continued after the mother died. The oldest sister married a weak man who became the new tribe leader, but it's really been her in charge. She then set out to marry off all her sisters to other tribes so she could be HBIC. 

I had some issues right there. Not only is this plot point unrealistic, but even if it were believable, the psychological repercussions of Ikraam being raised as a female, and eventually realizing he's not female, are never even addressed. Can you imagine being raised this way? And noticing at some point that, hey, I have a penis, and, hey, the others girls do not? And, hey, I could be killed at any time if someone finds out? And, hey, my oldest sister abuses me daily and I have absolutely no way out of this situation other than death? Wouldn't YOU have some serious psychological issues? Can you imagine how fucked up that is? The suffering? The constant fear? Knowing you will die on your wedding night? Feeling that you have to go along with this plan so you can possibly save your niece from a fate worse than death? 

Additionally, Ikraam has been raised without ever learning to read, without knowing anything about the modern world (which I guess is expected when one grows up in a tent in the desert, weaving cloth and hiding underneath a niqab). And yet, this is never addressed even when Ikraam marries Fathi. The difference between Fathi, who was raised with money and educated in the US, and the poor Bedouin woman/man, who's never even been to a city, who's never read a book, who has no idea how the world works outside of goat farming and weaving cloth and hiding behind a veil - how could they possibly be compatible? And to top this off, when the secret does come out, Ikraam suggests living as a female in public, and as a male in the privacy of their bedroom, and NO ONE questions the feasibility of this and its possible repercussions. Fathi thinks it's a great idea. Is Ikraam identifying as gender-queer, made so by how he was raised? Are we supposed to believe that gender identity is thus nurture instead of nature? What message is the author sending here? 

We are introduced to Fathi and his twin brother early on. Fathi has a secretary whose only apparent purpose was to be a contrast to Ikraam as this secretary is educated and modernized, but then used only to be shamed and ridiculed for her aspirations. There's a scene at the very end that had me cringe in second-hand embarrassment that the way this particular scene played out made it past the editor. What was that, even? This is a young, modern, educated woman, someone who did a good job in the position for which she was hired, and yet, she's shamed for being interested in her boss, and the uneducated, unworldly, MALE-pretending-to-be-female Ikraam is held up as a "better" example of being female than this young woman, going so far as showing up on the arm of his new husband, dressed in traditional FEMALE finery and given an opportunity to announce to the secretary that her boss is now married and she needs to take a hike. How did this make it past the editor? What message is this sending to the reader? Readers who are primarily women? 

Don't get me started on Ikraam's oldest sister and the mother of his niece. The woman was pure evil but basically gets away with it. Not only is she perfectly willing to let Ikraam die for her subterfuge, which his husband would then obviously discover, but she's also willing to get rid of her own daughter by attempting to marry her off to a disgusting and violent man at least twice her age, who will likely break not only her spirit but also her body. Evil sister/mother don't care. And even when all of these things come out, she's not punished for her behavior. Ikraam is safe, and so is his niece, but the evil sister never gets a real punishment for not only the deception but also the cruelty and suffering she inflicted. 

Fathi is secretly gay, as I mentioned. His grandfather, described as a very traditional and old-fashioned man set in his ways, then doesn't even really blink when a) Fathi admits to being gay, and b) Ikraam's secret is revealed, and c) they want to get married anyway. Say WHAT? You're trying to tell me that an old man from the Middle East doesn't care that his heir is gay? Embraces it? Is fine with the Bedouin girl being really a man? And you explain it away by stating that he's not super religious and THAT'S IT?? I'm sorry, but I didn't buy what the author was trying to sell here. 

The secondary men in this book, namely the tribe leader and the niece's potential groom, are either weak or evil. Both were one-dimensional characters and used to provide a specific plot point or two, then discarded. 

I usually like the titles in this very tropey series, but this was a complete miss for me. The gender identity issue could have been handled in a much healthier way here, and I would have expected more conflict and pushback from the grandfather based on his portrayal. I would have liked to see some psychological help for Ikraam, and some education as well. 

This book didn't work for me. YMMV.


** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher. A review was not promised in return. **

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review 2017-11-07 00:54
Book Review: PS by Caraway Carter
PS - Caraway Carter

This book was given to me by the author at GRL 2017 in hopes that I'd read and enjoy it, and write up a review. 

I read it and enjoyed it, and here's my review:

Gus, our protagonist, is in his early 40s and decides to change his whole life for Sam, including buying an old train depot up in Vermont, sight unseen, to restore and open a bookstore/cafe. 

Except Gus is the victim of catfishing, and Sam isn't who he claims he is. Which Gus doesn't find out until he's already in the air on his way to the small Vermont town.

PS stands for Post-Sam here, and Gus jumps headlong into the adventure. The premise is cute, even if the beginning is horrid (for Gus), and I enjoyed myself reading this book. Slightly unbelievable that folks in this small Vermont town would drop everything to help a guy out, and even more unbelievable that they'd be okay with deferred payment for renovating/rehabbing the old train station. Or offering Gus a place to stay. Then again, I haven't been to Vermont so I really couldn't say how realistic this actually is. 

I had some issues with the characters, and those are the main reason for the lower rating. The author's word choices were mostly fine, even if dialogue tended to be a little awkwardly phrased on occasion, but there are some plot points that didn't work for me.
- Sam the catfish supposedly being a 21 year old creative writing student, yet the relationship is supposed to have gone for 4 years - am I supposed to believe that Sam was 17 when he/she first started playing WoW with Gus? 
- the relationship between Gus and James was a little too quick for my taste, and it felt as if Gus was able to move on from Sam just a little too rapidly. Also, the history between James and Sam felt too convenient. 
- Sam being a real person - so weird, that part. Also, Sam's behavior in general. Pretty odd for the most part, and gross on one occasion. What the fuck was that? Sam felt to me like someone who really really really could have used some serious therapy. 

My biggest issue was the lack of depth. I needed more, especially for Gus and James. I never got a real good feel for either of them - what made them tick, what drove their actions. I also didn't really get a spark between them, so their relationship progression didn't work for me.

Caraway Carter spins a decent tale, and the writing itself is likable and enjoyable. I'm interested in reading more by this author.


** I received a free copy of this book from the author. **

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review 2017-10-14 01:20
ARC Review: His Convenient Husband by Robin Covington
His Convenient Husband (Love and Sports) - Robin Covington

This was my first foray into this author's writing, but hopefully not my last. 

I found this to be an excellent use of the "marriage of convenience" trope, showcasing a romance between a still-grieving widowed football player and a somewhat effeminate Russian ballet dancer seeking and being denied asylum in the US, who get married avoid deportation and potential death in the homophobic climate of Mother Russia. 

I adored Viktor, the ballet dancer and activist, who's not afraid to use his fame position to shine a light on homophobia and the persecution of LGBTQ people everywhere. He was loud in his advocacy, but also thoughtful and kind and generous and loving. And very insightful, too.

Isaiah on the other hand is much more reserved and chooses to live his life much more quietly, afraid to rock the boat, even though everyone knows he's gay, considering he was married to a man before his husband's untimely death. He's unwilling to confront homophobia in others, and prefers to focus on his football career and on raising the teenage son he and his late husband adopted. He's also still grieving and unwilling to open his heart to a second chance at love, thinking that it would diminish what he had before. 

Viktor and Isaiah meet, spend a hot night together, but decide to part as friends. When Viktor's asylum request is denied and he's faced with having to return to Russia, Isaiah steps in and offers marriage and the subsequent Green Card, but takes sex completely off the table.

Isaiah is an interesting character. I was wondering many times whether his reluctance to live his life "out loud" was because of his career choice and the still rampant homophobia among NFL players/teams/coaches/owners, or because of his skin color, or because of his need to keep his son Evan safe and protected, or just because that's who he is - quiet, introverted, and perhaps just a little spineless. 

Obviously, Isaiah's desire to keep a lid on Viktor's activism backfires spectacularly. But that's not the only thing that backfires - his plan to keep his hands off Viktor and not fall for the man crumbles just the same. For a lot of the book, there's a ton of tension in the relationship, and more often than not, I was angry with Isaiah for making Viktor feel like he had to walk on eggshells. There's clearly a power imbalance at play as well, what with Viktor dependent on keeping the marriage "alive" for as long as he has to until he's no longer in danger of losing his immigration status. 

The two men have zero issues getting along in the bedroom, and there were plenty of steamy scenes inside. And still, Isaiah is reluctant to examine what he's feeling for Viktor, and ends up pushing the other man to his breaking point. 

Of course, this being a romance, a HEA is expected and was delivered, in a grand romantic fashion when Isaiah pulls his head out of his ass, listens to his son, and runs after Viktor to grovel. While I loved the romantic conclusion, I was a little irked for two reasons. One, Isaiah's change of heart came way too quick for my taste, and two, he didn't have to grovel nearly long enough before Viktor took him back. Yes, yes, I know - the grand romantic gesture - but that didn't excuse the hurt Isaiah inflicted on Viktor before that. 

Still, all's well that ends well, right?

I'm definitely interested in reading the next book in this series. The story flowed well, there were no massive time jumps or lulls in the plot, and the writing was not overly purple. The characters' actions and reactions were, for the most part, reasonable and realistic, and the dialogue felt organic as well. 



** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. **

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review 2017-10-09 01:12
ARC Review: Safe And Sound by Caitlin Ricci
Safe and Sound - Caitlin Ricci

Oh dear, I'm afraid this book didn't work for me at all. First of all, it was over before I knew it. Secondly, there was no real romance. Thirdly, the characters were flat, and in some cases, completely one-dimensional.

Mason is 21, but still lives with his mother and her boyfriend in his mother's house. He volunteers at an equine rescue, though only part time, and works part time as well, hoping to save up enough money to get his own apartment to get away from mom's boyfriend who is creepy and possibly a sexual predator.

Mason sounded like someone much younger and did not come across as someone who's 21. His mother didn't believe him when he told her of the sexual abuse perpetrated by his uncle when Mason was little, so he doesn't see any point in telling her about the unwanted advances her boyfriend has been making. Which - what? 

When he sees an ad for modeling, Mason thinks this might be an opportunity for him to earn the money he still needs, so he calls the number and agrees to go to someone's house. By bus, because he doesn't have a car either. Again - what? 

Oliver is a photographer and described as in his 30s and having an open relationship with his boyfriend/friend Chester, meaning they do stuff together and have sex with each other. Like a friends with benefits arrangement, though Chester also hangs with others and has sex with them too. Clearly, they're not a love match, and aren't looking for exclusivity. Fine with me - if it works for you. 

There was no relationship development; no steam except a few kisses which is fine; I'm not hung up on on-page sex, but there has to be some kind of connection between the MCs for me to believe the romance. And this just wasn't believable. 

I didn't connect with Mason, I didn't connect with Oliver, and I didn't connect with any of the supporting characters either. The big scene toward the end, where mom's boyfriend is being set up to reveal himself as the creep he is, ending with Mason coming clean to his mom, Mom meeting Oliver and Mason moving in with Oliver - again, WHAT????

And then it was over. I wouldn't even call this a HFN. I wouldn't call this a romance. I was confused for a moment, questioning whether this was a prequel to another book, but apparently that's not the case. As a standalone, this just didn't cut it for me. 

The writing isn't great either - it felt clinical and almost robotic to me. This was my 2nd book by this author, and the other one I read didn't work for me either, so I think this author just isn't for me. YMMV. 


** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher. A review was not promised in return. **

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