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review 2017-06-16 01:59
Release Day ARC Review: Romancing The Ugly Duckling by Clare London
Romancing the Ugly Duckling (Dreamspun Desires Book 36) - Clare London

On the isolated island of North Uist, which is apparently off the coast of Scotland, there lives a man all by himself in a smallish house after running away from his assholish brothers and his neglectful parents to paint, dive for scallops, and be mostly a recluse, keeping to himself.

His four brothers, one of whom I hated on sight, all somewhat famous for some reason or other, hope to make a deal with a TV company to create a reality show a la Kardashians, but they can only get the deal if the 5th brother appears as well. Greg Ventura, gentle, kind giant, wants nothing to do with them or the TV show.

Poor Perry Goodwood (lulz at that last name), ambitious and fashionable, is sent by his boss to the island to convince Greg to come to London to participate. After a make-over, of course. He flies to Scotland and catches a boat to the island, and is then stranded at the port before being fortuitously delivered to Greg's doorstop, looking like a drowned rat. The team that was supposed to meet him to convince Greg to come to London is nowhere to be found, and Perry's boss is giving him a bunch of excuses.

Great start, amirite? City slicker meets backwoods grump, and opposites attract - excellent trope!

This book is full of cute and sweet and quirky, and as Perry slowly falls in love with the island and Greg, so does Greg fall for Perry. The setting is perfect, and rather well described, so much so that I felt like I was right there on the small island. There be heather and bogs and cold, cold lochs, and beautiful nature all around.

I really liked both Perry and Greg. Perry impressed me because despite his city roots, he really tried hard to fit in on the island, and he seemed so appreciative of everyone who gave a helping hand. He wanted to learn from Greg and experience island life for himself. Greg is a bit rough around the edges, and grumps a lot, but I could tell that this was mostly to protect himself. He was kind and gentle, if somewhat clueless on occasion. The chemistry between the two men was there from the start and truly believable. There are certain parameters for this series as far as on-page sexy times are concerned, and the author delivered within those parameters, but also managed to infuse a lot of emotional bonding outside of the bedroom scenes.

The locals on the island play a huge role in this book as well, and I just loved how the author gave them all unique personalities and characteristics. Dougie, Bridie, and Louisa were perfect in their roles, and I enjoyed especially Bridie's easy banter with Perry, and how she was ultimately... well, you read this for yourself.

The Scottish brogue comes across well in the writing, and I had no trouble reading the dialect.

Quirky. Cute. And utterly adorable. A perfect addition to the Dreamspun Desires series. I had a grand time reading it. The author did a fantastic job with the characters, the setting, and the pacing, giving us a really emotional romance between two men who are complete opposites at first sight, but turn out to both want the same thing after all.

Fabulous!!


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

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review 2017-06-01 03:14
Release Day ARC Review: Breaking Bonds by Ari McKay
Breaking Bonds (Dreamspun Desires Book 35) - Ari McKay

It's no secret that I have loved almost all the books in the Dreamspun Desires series, having read devoured every single one, and this latest by Ari McKay was no exception.

Liam Walker, almost-famous NYC celebrity chef, cousin to Beau (from Striking Sparks), is in a resort/hotel near Asheville, NC, licking his wounds from a bad review he got that prompted him to punch the reviewer, in public, in the face. Served a less than mediocre meal at the resort, Liam doesn't hold back in his disgust with the frozen and clearly not fresh shrimp he's being served, and demands to talk to the manager.

Enter Carter Galloway, owner/manager of the resort, having distanced himself from his overbearing father and mother, barely holding it together, what with bills and old appliances and needing to succeed so he can finally break away completely from his father's demands and expectations.

Sparks fly at first sight. This is also right about the time where the reader needs to suspend all disbelief, as Liam offers his services to Carter to help out in the kitchen and train the young chef currently employed. For free. Because that's what a celebrity chef would do, right?

Whatever, I went with it. Because at that point, I was already invested in the characters and needed to find out what would happen next.

So the sparks are definitely there, but Liam is planning to return to NYC and Carter isn't interested in a fling. Liam cooks and teaches and longs for Carter, and Carter longs and watches and shares pieces of himself with Liam.

I liked both characters, despite Liam's initial arrogance, and I enjoyed how both of them had personal struggles to overcome. The title is apt - both of them have to break free of their bonds to others before they can have their HEA.

It's low steam, which I don't mind at all, but the UST just jumps off the pages, and when they finally, finally get together, it was well-fought for and ever so awesome. Liam at times seems a bit more sophisticated than Carter, but I think that was also part of Carter's charm - he's not a simpleton, for sure, but more laid-back, kind and generous, with a lot of respect and fairness in his heart.

There's a lot of talk about food, naturally, which often made me salivate, and I thought that the food choices worked well for the type of location represented here. This wasn't a hot spot NYC restaurant catering to celebs, but a resort-style place that catered to locals and tourists alike.

I liked quite a bit that Carter seemed to find his backbone in this story, and the courage to stand up to his parents, not allowing them to continue to berate him and demean his choices. He did so a little quicker than Liam, for whom the moment of clarity arrives at a later time, but bolstered by what he might have waiting for him in the mountains of NC. Their romance was believable within the setting of this book and worked well within the tropes employed here.

The requisite villains in this story, in the form of Carter's father and Liam's boss/mentor, were somewhat one-dimensional, but served their purpose. I thought that Marco, Liam's boss, was smarmy, self-serving, and rude, and Carter's father (and mother by extension) was nothing more than a stereotypical homophobic control freak who decided what his son would be and was then belligerent and condescending when his son chooses his own path.

The book utilizes the expected tropes rather well, and I thought it was a perfect addition to this harlequin-like series. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and if you like the sweet, fluffy, and easy-read romances, this is definitely a book for you.

Recommended.


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

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review 2017-05-16 02:25
Release Day ARC Review: Two For Trust by Elle Brownlee
Two for Trust (Dreamspun Desires Book 34) - Elle Brownlee

Well, that was mostly lovely. No steam but a few hot kisses and a lot of longing, and a super slow burn romance between an American nurse/tourist in England and the well-off owner of a manor. Finch is utterly adorable and exactly what the somewhat stuffy Benedict needed in his life.

Finch Mason, young, single, and a nurse, is on the trip of a lifetime - two weeks in jolly olde England, armed with a National Trust pass, that turns out to be a pass for two for one week, instead of a pass for one for two weeks. No matter, because why not offer the 2nd entry to the old mill he's visiting to the handsome Brit who shows up ever so fortuitously. And then Finch and Benedict meet time and again, and share a week of visiting historical sites in that particular area of Britain.

Over the course of the week, Finch rescues a puppy from a hole in the ground, has tea and crumpets with Benedict, and starts to have feelings for the handsome older man. He's quit his job in the States because they wouldn't grant him the vacation time, and he is not looking forward to returning stateside because of that pesky job search he'll have to undertake.

His funds are limited, but he's optimistic and a bit of a history geek, and admires Benedict and his charms.

I could see how Finch would look to the older Benedict as someone to admire, but I just didn't really buy the developing relationship. More often than not, Benedict comes across as a cold fish - I'm not sure whether that was his personality or if he acted this way because he thought it was expected.

After the first week, Benedict plans to move on to the next hostel, but his plans are dashed when he returns to his room and discovers someone has ransacked it and stolen nearly everything. And Benedict rushes to the rescue.

I had already figured at their first meeting that Benedict wasn't quite who Finch assumed him to be, so the reveal wasn't a big surprise to me. I also at that point became a little bit uncomfortable with the manner in which Benedict takes over control, and starts telling Finch what to do. It could be said that he was doing this only because he too had started to look at the young man with something like desire and longing, and possibly even love, but it wasn't well explained and not really shown.

At about 2/3 in, Benedict asks Finch to take his grandmother across the Channel to visit her sister in The Netherlands, for payment, and Finch agrees to play nursemaid for the trip across and a few days in the Dutch countryside, and then catching a flight to London and get there in time for his return to the US. There's an unexpected kiss at the dock. Except things don't exactly go as planned once they've made it across, and Grandma gets herself into a spot of trouble, and then Finch... well, you read this for yourself.

Finch ends up staying longer than initially planned - not that he has a job to go home to - and then there's a bit of a misunderstanding, and an impetuous Finch runs off, thinking he's unwanted.

As this is a romance, we get a happy ending, of course.

I quite adored Finch. He had a really bad relationship experience prior to getting to England, and I don't think he saw himself as someone who was worthy of Benedict, or anyone else, for that matter. He's unfailingly polite, gracious, and always very grateful to everyone who helps him, but also not a complete doormat. He loves animals, he's kind and optimistic, and he doesn't let life get him down. I do believe he was good for Benedict, and helped to loosen the chap up a bit, and maybe pull the stick out of his arse.

Benedict - well, I guess he grew on me by the end, but I didn't like it when he said things that sounded a bit too much like scolding Finch for my taste, or giving me the impression that he was bothered by the young man's presence in his home. Sure, we're told that he doesn't feel that way at all, but it doesn't really come across that way in his actions. I guess I was missing the chemistry here - there just didn't seem to be much passion at all - and while I don't need steam in my romance books, I found it strange that the two men would share nothing but a few hot kisses before the grandiose ending, not even off-page.

YMMV.


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

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review 2017-05-01 22:17
Release Day ARC Review: Stage Two by Ariel Tachna
Stage Two (Dreamspun Desires Book 33) - Ariel Tachna

This is the 3rd book in the Lexington Lovers series, as well as an installment of the Dreamspun Desires titles.

I liked this a lot. A whole lot. It's about family, second chances, learning to trust, and learning how to stand up for what you believe, even if it hurts you. It's about how sometimes teenagers are smarter than you are, and maybe you ought to listen to them.

Blake Barnes is a high school assistant principal and charged with the sophomores. Two of his newest students, two brothers who've recently lost their mother after losing their father when they were much younger, are being harassed by their classmates. When the bullying escalates and the two boys, Kit and Phillip, end up in his office, he comes face to face with Thane Dalton, the boys' guardian/uncle and Blake's teenage crush.

Thane is every bit the badass Blake remembers, but the attraction still burns brightly. Once he unravels his tied tongue after seeing Thane again, Blake goes full assistant principal mode and lays out his plan.

What follows is at once a humorous and poignant romance between two men who are trying to build a relationship against the odds and against many obstacles in their way, the least of which are the two teenage boys Thane has inherited from his late sister.

The book touches on important topics, such as high school bullying, homophobia, bad assumptions, and making rash judgments without having all the information. Yes, Thane - I'm definitely looking at you with that last one. And good for Blake for having a backbone.

As with all the books in the Dreamspun Desires series, there's little steam, but there's plenty of UST, and one mustn't forget that it's kind of difficult to get it on when you have two teenagers living in the same house. The romance between the two men was totally believable and relatable. Neither has had any kind of long-term relationship before meeting again (which is something only Blake really remembers since he didn't actually interact with Thane back in his high school days), but they're both all in pretty much right away, especially Thane. Which made it so very painful when he did that stupid thing he did. Sure, I could to some extent understand his rash reaction, but to not even give the guy he professed to want to keep a chance to explain - yeah, you were dumb, Thane. And your boys suffered for it just the same as you did.

Speaking of Kit and Phillip - I really liked those two. They were grieving their mother, of course, but they stuck by each other and were fiercely loyal to their uncle and Mr. B. I loved seeing the relationships between the boys and Mr. B. develop through the course of the book and watch him go from Mr. B. to Uncle Blake. In fact, the boys really rounded out the plot in this book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it whenever they were on page.

This was a really sweet read, and it met all my expectations, and surpassed them in some instances. For example, Blake's idea of giving the boys a place on the theater stage crew was brilliant, with sound reasoning, even if Thane doesn't buy it at first. The boys plotting to get Blake and Thane into the same room at the end - hahaha, that was fun, and it worked!

I very much enjoyed reading this book, and I think you will too. Recommended.


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

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review 2017-04-16 00:25
ARC Review: Forgotten Paradise by Shira Anthony
Forgotten Paradise (Dreamspun Desires Book 32) - Shira Anthony

This book made lovely use of the amnesia trope - with a twist, albeit one that was (un)intentionally revealed fairly early on.

Adam Preston is a programmer by heart and a computer business owner by trade. Having taken over the company his father built after Dad's untimely demise, he now has Entech, a giant, ruthless company, after his business and his brains. At odds with his younger brother, and stressed from having to deal with a merger he doesn't want, Adam takes his sister's advice and take a week's vacation in the Dominican Republic.

Where he meets Jonah James, who's lived on the island for the last 10 years after washing up on its shore without any memory of his former life. He's managed to become a Diving Instructor, and now leads groups of or individuals tourists on dives around the island. Any time he tries to remember his past, he's hit by massive headaches and mostly doesn't even try anymore. Except spending time with Adam seems to lift the murky veils that cover his past, and Jonah starts to get glimpses of events of who he might have been before.

The first half of the story describes what they presume is just a vacation fling - picnics on the beach, diving, spending time together as much as possible, talking to each other about whatever comes to mind, and realizing that the feelings they're developing may be more than just a fling. On Adam's last night, they finally fall into bed together and burn up the sheets.

The second half of the book deals with the fallout of Jonah regaining his memory (nothing like a night of great sex to get that clarity, amirite), and that changes the dynamic completely.

Adam finds out on the news that what they had joked about during an evening at the beach is actually true, and (view spoiler).

Which brings us to the second trope utilized in this book - getting a second chance. Jonah, upon regaining his memories, and reliving the event that caused him to ultimately wash up on the beach, uses this as a turning point in his life and begins to make amends, realizing that chasing success ruthlessly isn't all that life's about. There's a subplot here too with his business partner that for a while there causes Adam and Jonah's romance to fully derail.

Adam too has a chance to change - especially the relationship he has with his brother - and look at things differently. He's heartbroken, of course, thinking that he's lost Jonah, but deals with the pain as best as he can.

The author did a fabulous job realizing fully fleshed-out, three-dimensional characters in this book and allowed them to grow as well. Set against a gorgeous backdrop, the romance was absolutely believable, even if Jonah's background story is pretty unrealistic, but I expect that from the books in this series. I very much enjoyed reading this, especially as the author seamlessly weaves in fun facts about diving as well.

Obviously, this has a HEA - it wouldn't be a Dreamspun Desires title without. Recommended.


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

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