Tag: I actually laughed

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuistonRed, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on 14th May 2019
Pages: 432
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three-half-stars

A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends...

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

‘Red, White and Royal Blue’ is an indulgent afternoon fix, really, but so unique in its application of the British royals and American ‘royalty’ in romantic fiction. Enemies-to-lovers, diversity in politics (or diversity full-stop), bisexuality, blended-families and the problems that come with divorced parents (top political figures aren’t’ exempt)…well, there’s representation everywhere here in the form of all the characters, protagonists and secondary ones alike. In fact, it tries very hard to be as inclusive as possible as and Casey McQuiston gives it all in spades, though at times it does feel it’s more like a defiant stance of portraying diversity for the sake of it, or at least, to relentlessly pound home the point that the world isn’t as binary as many make it out to be.

In some alternate world where the timeline splits after Obama exits stage left, Alex Claremont-Diaz—the flamboyant First Son—and Prince Henry of Wales dance towards each other in a myriad of ways that are filled with uber-sass, pseudo-hostility, snarky quirk and everything in between that you could think of. It’s the theatrical kind of drama across the Atlantic and back again, where characters larger than life strut through the pages always making themselves seen and felt, where you sometimes feel your own mouth quirking upwards in amusement. And it’s hard not to be riveted as Alex and Henry navigate the complicated journey that’s made of thorns, double-crossings, back-stabbings and traditions that really, should be considered outdated at best.

Still, some parts made me snort and giggle; other parts made me skim. I did enjoy this overall, but it took me longer than I thought it would and perhaps this does factor into the final rating I’m giving this read nonetheless.

Good writing however, is indisputable and McQuiston’s extremely confident and assured writing carries the whole book through: there’s a certain breathless quality to it as a crazy whirlwind of thoughts and activities come in a huge, long stream of commas, and prove to be as hysterical as much as it’s irreverent and weird in a way that can only happen in fiction.

three-half-stars

The Wedding Deal by Cindi Madsen

The Wedding Deal by Cindi MadsenThe Wedding Deal by Cindi Madsen
Published by Entangled Publishing. LLC (Amara) on 25th March 2019
Pages: 241
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three-half-stars

Former quarterback Lance Quaid just inherited the most losing team in the NFL. He’s got only a few weeks until draft day to turn things around, and after firing more than half his staff, he can’t do it alone. Thankfully, his HR manager is more than capable, if only she’d stop focusing on “due diligence” and stop looking so sexy while she’s yelling at him.

Charlotte James has made a life out of following the rules. But nothing could have prepared her for Lance Quaid––he’s a human resources nightmare. The man is brash, has no filter, and, as her new boss, is constantly relying on her to cover his ass. Which is admittedly quite nice.

When Lance begs her to join him on a trip down the coast for his brother’s wedding so they can finalize details––on a strictly business basis––she agrees...after they fill out the necessary forms, of course. Away from the office, though, sparks start flying as the team starts coming together. But both of them know anything more than the weekend would be a colossally bad idea––after all, the extra paperwork would be a nightmare.

Funny and light-hearted, ‘The Wedding Deal’ is an easy and entertaining read, even for those who don’t particularly follow sports or even like it. Who can, after all, resist a woman who gives as good as she gets when it comes to sports statistics?

Cindi Madsen’s witty portrayal of both Charlotte and Lance tickled my funny bone and I had more than a few snort-giggles at Charlotte’s by-the-book behaviour and Lance’s hilarious unfiltered thoughts and words from the start. What follows isn’t quite the fake date to a wedding but a work-related one (it’s written down in black and white, much to Lance’s exasperation and Charlotte’s buttoned-up insistence) though the path to happiness is rocky and filled with rule-book arguments about why boss and subordinate shouldn’t be together.

Part of the story’s sports-related and the other half is wedding-party-stuff related—neither of which I could fully get into when I got into the middle—but despite getting lost a little in the football details and the sudden influx of secondary characters, there’s enough cuteness, fluff and rom-com type vibes to pull the whole deal through especially for the chick-lit reader.

three-half-stars

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

The Unhoneymooners by Christina LaurenThe Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
Published by Gallery Books on 14th May 2019
Pages: 416
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three-half-stars

Olive is always unlucky: in her career, in love, in…well, everything. Her identical twin sister Amy, on the other hand, is probably the luckiest person in the world. Her meet-cute with her fiancé is something out of a romantic comedy (gag) and she’s managed to finance her entire wedding by winning a series of Internet contests (double gag). Worst of all, she’s forcing Olive to spend the day with her sworn enemy, Ethan, who just happens to be the best man.

Olive braces herself to get through 24 hours of wedding hell before she can return to her comfortable, unlucky life. But when the entire wedding party gets food poisoning from eating bad shellfish, the only people who aren’t affected are Olive and Ethan. And now there’s an all-expenses-paid honeymoon in Hawaii up for grabs.

Putting their mutual hatred aside for the sake of a free vacation, Olive and Ethan head for paradise, determined to avoid each other at all costs. But when Olive runs into her future boss, the little white lie she tells him is suddenly at risk to become a whole lot bigger. She and Ethan now have to pretend to be loving newlyweds, and her luck seems worse than ever. But the weird thing is that she doesn’t mind playing pretend. In fact, she feels kind of... lucky.

Christina Lauren’s pitch-perfect rom-com tickles the funny bone, not in the gut-busting way but it garners more than a few smirks. Even if ‘The Unhoneymoners’ leans towards more of women’s fiction—the kind that celebrates a female character’s growth and achievements, and catalogues her mistakes, no matter how many baby steps it might take.

Olive Torres, the queen of bad lack, rules the entire show, with a sometimes hysterical voice determined to win every argument and be cynical/negative about everything that passes her in life. Except that her sister and the new husband—along with the other wedding guests—start spontaneously throwing up on the wedding itself and this hands her a free pass to Maui, with the groom’s brother and her supposed nemesis, Ethan Thomas.

The journey from here is more of less predictable even if the fake-marriage, enemies-to-lovers-tropes aren’t: there’re tons of awkward moments, moments of unexpected bonding and heartfelt conversations between Ethan and Olive and moments when they discover neither of them are what they appear to each other.

And by and large, it was a fun, sometimes cheesy, eye-rolling and cringy ride, and it made me think this warrants a close-to 4-star rating. Still, I didn’t have to put down the book and wonder if it’s taking a large chunk of my day and fret about it. Told in a way that made the pages fly by, there’s plenty of quirk, lip-pursing and amusing times to make it one of the most lighthearted reads I’ve had in a while.

three-half-stars

The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker

The Simple Wild by K.A. TuckerThe Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker
Published by Atria Books on 7th August 2018
Pages: 388
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Calla Fletcher wasn't even two when her mother took her and fled the Alaskan wild, unable to handle the isolation of the extreme, rural lifestyle, leaving behind Calla’s father, Wren Fletcher, in the process. Calla never looked back, and at twenty-six, a busy life in Toronto is all she knows. But when Calla learns that Wren’s days may be numbered, she knows that it’s time to make the long trip back to the remote frontier town where she was born.

She braves the roaming wildlife, the odd daylight hours, the exorbitant prices, and even the occasional—dear God—outhouse, all for the chance to connect with her father: a man who, despite his many faults, she can’t help but care for. While she struggles to adjust to this rugged environment, Jonah—the unkempt, obnoxious, and proud Alaskan pilot who helps keep her father’s charter plane company operational—can’t imagine calling anywhere else home. And he’s clearly waiting with one hand on the throttle to fly this city girl back to where she belongs, convinced that she’s too pampered to handle the wild.

Jonah is probably right, but Calla is determined to prove him wrong. Soon, she finds herself forming an unexpected bond with the burly pilot. As his undercurrent of disapproval dwindles, it’s replaced by friendship—or perhaps something deeper? But Calla is not in Alaska to stay and Jonah will never leave. It would be foolish of her to kindle a romance, to take the same path her parents tried—and failed at—years ago. It’s a simple truth that turns out to be not so simple after all.

I’ve always wondered if ‘The Simple Wild’ was meant to be an angsty ‘growing-up’ New Adult type book or a smart-alecky rom-com story. But the truth is that it probably falls somewhere in between and had me sniffing a mite bit by the end of it.

From the urban bustle of Toronto to the wilds of Alaska, Calla Fletcher’s reluctant visit to pay her sick father a visit is in essence, a tale of a city girl—horrified by the shit-all to do in a small, small town—forced to relook her own ideas on love and life. In a case of schadenfreude (#iregretnothing), I gleefully relished and cackled my way through every fish-out-of-water moment that Calla had as she learned to operate in a place so out of sync with her own rhythm, liking Jonah even more when he simply came out and accused her of being the shallow, self-absorbed and empty woman that I felt she was. I didn’t quite feel any affinity with her from the beginning and her awkward moments kept me cackling for a while longer, until some kind of character growth happened as Calla finally (and slowly) started to shed that flighty exterior.

That Jonah helped in his caustic, cutting way just gave me extra laughs in the process. Or it could be that I liked his straight, no-nonsense talk, his directness with everything, including his feelings, without the typical games that many characters tend to play.

The loss of the father-figure is a theme that started to dominate more and more as I got into the book, and along with the weight of regrets, resentment and missed chances, ‘The Simple Wild’ suddenly became an incredibly emotional and absorbing read by the time I was halfway through. I gobbled every bit of Tucker’s descriptions of life in the tundra and the day-to-day operation of a flight charter company, revelled in the small-town characters she’d drawn up so sharply, then wanted to cry ugly tears when it all came to a difficult end.

My only quibble is the lack of a concluding, firm-in-the-ground HEA by the time Calla and Jonah met again. Given Tucker’s emphasis on history repeating itself, Calla/Jonah felt like a couple headed for a HFN ending instead as ‘The Simple Wild’ left me loudly protesting that I needed more.

Down by Contact by Santino Hassell

Down by Contact by Santino HassellDown by Contact by Santino Hassell
Series: The Barons, #2
Published by Intermix on January 16th 2018
Pages: 124
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four-stars

Simeon Boudreaux, the New York Barons’ golden-armed quarterback, is blessed with irresistible New Orleans charm and a face to melt your mama’s heart. He’s universally adored by fans and the media. Coming out as gay in solidarity with his teammate hasn’t harmed his reputation in the least—except for some social media taunting from rival linebacker Adrián Bravo.

Though they were once teammates, Adrián views Simeon as a traitor and the number-one name on the New Jersey Predators’ shit list. When animosity between the two NFL players reaches a boiling point on the field, culminating in a dirty fist fight, they’re both benched for six games and sentenced to joint community service teaching sullen, Brooklyn teens how to play ball.

At first, they can barely stand to be in the same room, but running the camp forces them to shape up. With no choice but to work together, Simeon realizes Adrián is more than his alpha-jerk persona, and Adrián begins to question why he’s always had such strong feelings for the gorgeous QB…

The ultimate enemies-to-lovers showdown begins during a pre-season football game with cutting words and ends in an injury, fights that spread even to the fans and a stint doing community service for several weeks. I loved the explosive conflict right from the start—it had me laughing yet tingling with anticipation as I wondered how Santino Hassell was going to navigate the tricky waters of coming out, bisexuality and parental pressure, particularly as top level athletes.

But Hassell manages remarkably well. I didn’t think that Simeon and Adrian could get past their hot, heavy but difficult history, but Hassell’s slow revelation of Adrian’s sullen, vindictive nitpicking at Simeon’s sexuality is a perceptive one, as is his writing of Simeon as someone who isn’t the typical dumb jock/joker unable to see what Adrian is trying to do. And like the men they are, their behaviour is spot on: not terribly heavy on the emotions or the angst. There’s the typical deflection, roundabout admissions and the finality of the acceptance that I’ve come to expect, up to the last few pages when it’s simply breathtaking just to read the complete turnaround that Adrian makes.

There are subtle differences that distinguish Hassell’s writing from the rest of the (rather few M/M) sports romances I’ve read so far, but it’s a style I can easily get used to. It’s stylishly done, perfectly paced, with dialogue that’s unexpectedly edgy, harder and unpredictable—not to mention, the excellent way both Simeon and Adrian are set up that I’m always left guessing how both might react in the situation they find themselves in.

Even as a non-fan of American football, ‘Down By Contact’ is a fantastic read. Hassell has made it more about the protagonists than about the sport (I don’t thankfully, get lost in the details) and way before after Simeon and Adrian ride happily into their sunset, I’m already wondering how Hassell is going to top this.

four-stars

Her Perfect Mate by Paige Tyler

Her Perfect Mate by Paige TylerHer Perfect Mate (X-Ops, #1) by Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on May 6th 2014
Pages: 316
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three-stars

He's a High-Octane Special Ops Pro
When Special Forces Captain Landon Donovan is pulled from an op in Afghanistan, he is surprised to discover he's been hand-picked for a special assignment with the Department of Covert Operations (DCO), a secret division he's never heard of. Terrorists are kidnapping biologists and he and his partner have to stop them. But his new partner is a beautiful, sexy woman who looks like she couldn't hurt a fly-never mind take down a terrorist.

She's Not Your Average Covert Operative
Ivy Halliwell is no kitten. She's a feline shifter, and more dangerous than she looks. She's worked with a string of hotheaded military guys who've underestimated her special skills in the past. But when she's partnered with special agent Donovan, a man sexy enough to make any girl purr, things begin to heat up...

Shapeshifter mythology isn’t a new one to me, but the queasy thought of having a menagerie of animals (when I’d previously been selective of the type of shifter romances I’ve been reading) squawking around was probably the sole reason held me back from going into Paige Tyler’s X-ops series. But I’m glad I dived in nonetheless—even if this is to be considered my personal, baby step into expanding my idea of a shifter universe.

That said, the first book of a series can be a hard one to rate: there’s the introduction of a multitude of characters (all of whom you know will get a story of their own), a backstory, context and world-building, all of which, if not handled properly, can probably cause the book to go down quite spectacularly even before it has even begun. ‘Her Perfect Mate’ is a ‘soft’ introduction so to speak, with a feline shapeshifter paired with a military alpha hero who thankfully doesn’t mansplain or behave in a way that makes you want to swing a block of concrete in his face. By and large, I did buy into Landon’s and Ivy’s romance, though I think I’m probably looking forward to the other pairings that have already been hinted at here.

As with romantic suspense however, villainy and heroism tend to be juxtaposed as extremes—bad is bad, good is good—with no in-betweens. Here, it does get laughable at times, where the cliché is stretched so far that I started to wonder if the bad guys should start wearing faux moustaches and announce their arrivals with evil-sounding snickers. Tyler however, does inject some bits with her trademark, understated humour and that went a long way in making the story a lot more enjoyable.

That said, the good part of getting into a series so late is that there isn’t a wait between books and yes, I’m already diving into the next one.

three-stars

Dangerous Moves by Karen Rock

Dangerous Moves by Karen RockDangerous Moves by Karen Rock
Series: Dallas After Dark #1
Published by Kensington - Lyrical Press on February 13th 2018
Pages: 385
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three-stars

Pounding music. Sculpted men. And a conspiracy that could cost far more than a few dollar bills . . .

HOT COP

Detective Blake Knight has been undercover before. But an assignment to bust a steroid ring running out of Dallas’s elite male strip club means his new cover will be nothing but his own taut muscles and oiled skin. It’s one thing for the tough, by-the-books agent to take down bad guys with his gun. Facing a rowdy crowd in only a G-string is another story . . . especially in front of his new boss, gorgeous, mysterious Reese Landon.

Her father’s club and shady business practices bring back terrible memories for Reese. But when he’s shot and goes into a coma, she vows to protect him the way he never did for her. That means keeping the police at a distance—especially sexy, driven Detective Knight. If she has to give him a cover job, it would be a crime not to put that glorious ass on stage. But no matter how good he looks in a Velcro uniform, she can't trust him, or give into the undeniable heat between them. They're both chasing the truth. And it might expose more than either wants to show . . .

Having a cop going undercover in a male stripper club is is something new and I’ll admit readily that this played a huge part in wanting to read ‘Dangerous Moves’. Marvellous premise, after all and I’ll not say no to this. Romantic Suspense or not, that does start off rather hilariously, as Blake Knight takes on one of the dodgiest cases and had the (good?) fortune of meeting the owner’s daughter.

But with the strip club as a front for illegal activities amid the red-hot male routines, Blake and Reese find themselves on the opposite sides of the law, and that proves to be the rift that this pairing is built on despite the helpless pull of attraction that both have for each other.

Both Blake and Reese clearly have some sort of character-growth arc throughout: Blake for seeing the world in black and white and having his moral code flipping on its head when he learns about dirty activities involving cops and steroids were happening under his nose. On the other hand, Reese’s blind, naive loyalty to her father gets her close to obstructing justice, as is her refusal to see family as anything but culpable. However, it isn’t one that’s realised early on enough until it’s nearly too late, having her come across as naive and a bit TSTL, and possibly a bit selfish, to the point where she thinks that Blake doing his job means not putting her first.

That said, Karen Rock writes the suspense excellently and the pacing during these action scenes is well done. Yet it got predictable—the villain’s identity seemed as obvious as daylight—and there were parts in the middle of a scene or chapter transitions that felt awkward with several odd phrases that stood out during the sex scenes for instance. But there were also bits that had me laughing, particularly in the beginning. I did want to know more about another secondary character however (and was slightly mollified that there will be a book on him) and was disappointed when he merely flitted in and out of the pages like a passing ship in the night.

‘Dangerous Moves’ is nonetheless a decent read, albeit not a perfect one. Rock however, teases the blurb of the next book in here and that’s making me look forward to it already.

three-stars