Tag: I actually laughed

Headliners by Lucy Parker

Headliners by Lucy ParkerHeadliners by Lucy Parker
Series: London Celebrities #5
Published by Carina Press on 20th January 2020
Pages: 286
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four-half-stars

He might be the sexiest man in London, according to his fan site (which he definitely writes himself), but he’s also the most arrogant man she’s ever met.

She might have the longest legs he’s ever seen, but she also has the sharpest tongue.

For years, rival TV presenters Sabrina Carlton and Nick Davenport have traded barbs on their respective shows. The public can’t get enough of their feud, but after Nick airs Sabrina’s family scandals to all of Britain, the gloves are off. They can barely be in the same room together—but these longtime enemies are about to become the unlikeliest of cohosts.

With their reputations on the rocks, Sabrina and Nick have one last chance to save their careers. If they can resurrect a sinking morning show, they’ll still have a future in television. But with ratings at an all-time low and a Christmas Eve deadline to win back the nation’s favor, the clock is ticking—and someone on their staff doesn’t want them to succeed.

Small mishaps on set start adding up, and Sabrina and Nick find themselves—quelle horreur—working together to hunt down the saboteur…and discovering they might have more in common than they thought. When a fiery encounter is caught on camera, the public is convinced that the reluctant cohosts are secretly lusting after one another.

The public might not be wrong.

Their chemistry has always been explosive, but with hate turning to love, the stakes are rising and everything is on the line. Neither is sure if they can trust these new feelings…or if they’ll still have a job in the New Year.

Nick Davenport and Sabrina Carlton are petty rivals on and off tv, but there’s good cause for it…up until the point where both their careers are suddenly in jeopardy. A twist of events forces them to co-host the dreaded early-morning show which no one bothers with, since it’s not quite the ‘serious’ stuff compared to what they used to do, and with the list of grievances sitting between them, neither’s looking good at all. This status quo doesn’t look like it’s about to change, until mishap after mishap spring the comedy into the story and Nick/Sabrina find themselves in various compromising positions which make everyone else think that they are public enemies but secret shaggers.

I’ve never felt so rewarded by a Lucy Parker book as I have with ‘Headliners’. (To be fair, I had a good feeling about it when I read the blurb and got started.) I can’t entirely remember what transpired at the end of the last book even, but as a standalone, ‘Headliners’ functions perfectly legitimately. Characters from Parker’s previous books who have already found their HEA do flit in and out however, and if you’ve not read the rest of the books, there’s a bit of an insider-wink-wink sort of joke that you could miss out on.

Still, Parker crafts a holiday rom-com with so much panache and style and comedy—it’s hilarious to read how one thing after another befalls the ill-fated couple as they wear out the enemies-to-lovers trope to the fullest. In the previous books, I’d always found a particular sort of imbalance when it came to quirk, dialogue and characterisation, but ‘Headliners’ seemed to have perfected these somehow: not too many quirks, snappy and funny dialogue and spot-on ‘Love-Actually’ type characters. Might be a bit of a bias here, but I’m voting this as Parker’s crowning glory.

four-half-stars

Top Secret by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Top Secret by Sarina Bowen and Elle KennedyTop Secret by Elle Kennedy, Sarina Bowen
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Amazon Publishing on 7th May 2019
Pages: 267
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three-half-stars

LobsterShorts, 21Jock. Secretly a science geek. Hot AF.

LobsterShorts: So. Here goes. For her birthday, my girlfriend wants…a threesome.
SinnerThree: Then you’ve come to the right hookup app.
LobsterShorts: Have you done this sort of thing before? With another guy?
SinnerThree: All the time. I'm an equal opportunity player. You?
LobsterShorts: [crickets!]

SinnerThree, 21Finance major. Secretly a male dancer. Hot AF.

SinnerThree: Well, I’m down if you are. My life is kind of a mess right now. School, work, family stress. Oh, and I live next door to the most annoying dude in the world. I need the distraction. Are you sure you want this?
LobsterShorts: I might want it a little more than I’m willing to admit.
SinnerThree: Hey, nothing wrong with pushing your boundaries...
LobsterShorts: Tell that to my control-freak father. Anyway. What if this threesome is awkward?
SinnerThree: Then it’s awkward. It’s not like we’ll ever have to see each other again. Right? Just promise you won’t fall in love with me.
LobsterShorts: Now wouldn’t that be life-changing...

In a rivals-to-lovers frat house story, Elle Kennedy and Sarina Bowen head straight into M/M territory after ‘Him’ and ‘Us’ (one of my first few and most memorable stories) once again and I’d be lying to say that I wasn’t excited about this rushed announcement of their collaboration that took off like wildfire all those years ago.

It’s a new pairing all around this time, though the flavour and the context—the college years with all the raunchy going-ons mostly revolving around hook-up culture and to some extent, toxic behaviour regarding sexuality and gender roles—is not too different from what Kennedy and Bowen have been dipping their pens into for quite a while.

Luke Bailey (student, stripper, never commits when it comes to attachments and strapped for cash) and Keaton Hayworth II (poor, rich boy never meeting his daddy’s expectation) clash as rivals for fraternity president, though their mutual dislike stems from something far deeper than that. But they meet online, oddly when Keaton starts researching dudes for a threesome for his girlfriend’s birthday party, and things start taking a turn for the…interesting. Rivals in real life, sexting buddies online—what starts out like a rather twisted version of ‘You’ve Got Mail’ eventually becomes a mortifying discovery about each other and themselves, though it’s not without a huge amount of push-pull and settling for something neither could have ever imagined.

Kennedy and Bowen is a collaboration that does work obviously, and at times, dare I say, write better together than apart: their characters are hilarious and there’re more unexpected turns in ‘Top Secret’ than I could ever have imagined, which kept me guessing at how the story would eventually end.

I can’t help the comparison between this book and Jamie/Wes nonetheless, the latter of which stay pretty close to my heart, which probably accounts for my somewhat less enthusiastic rating for the book. There’s probably nothing more insidious than a reader upholding past characters as a standard for what authors have to meet in the future and I’m guilty here of that. Luke/Keaton were fun, but ultimately, didn’t move me as much as Jamie/Wes, for the amount of pushing away that Luke kept doing, or that Keaton had to fight for everything when Luke just couldn’t meet him halfway. I wasn’t entirely convinced as a result, that Luke would have the guts to stay committed to Keaton when his first instinct was to always run.

The minor quip aside, ‘Top Secret’ is a fun and easy read—there’s never too much angst that bogs the story down—though the writing duo of Kennedy and Bowen should be enough to make M/M readers sit up and take note.

three-half-stars

Well Met by Jen DeLuca

Well Met by Jen DeLucaWell Met by Jen DeLuca
Published by Berkley Books on 3rd September 2019
Pages: 336
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four-stars

Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The faire is Simon's family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn't have time for Emily's lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she's in her revealing wench's costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they're portraying?

This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can't seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek.

When Emily Parker moved to Willow Creek to help her sister and niece after an accident, getting roped into being a tavern wench during the summer Renaissance Faire under the disapproving eye of a buttoned-up, uptight Simon Graham—the local high school literature teacher and also the surly man in charge—wasn’t the turn she expected her life to take.

But the Faire—the make-believe and physical transformation and the layers of identities that the characters took on—and its supposed Elizabethan magic could work wonders. The friction between Emily and Simon turned into something other than constant arguing…with a slow-burn that proved to be quite rewarding by the time the sparks turn to fire, because the feisty tavern wench and the swaggering pirate can play at something in all their interactions, even if their real life personas are more riddled with confusion about the mutual attraction.

In fact, seeing Simon’s layers coming apart was perhaps, the best parts of the book.

In all, ‘Well Met’ is cute and light-hearted and honestly, thoroughly enjoyable, more so because it was an easy read that handled the sniping and the humour with quite a bit of panache with a cast of characters that were in their own ways, memorable. The heavier themes like grief, emotional healing and moving on were handled with the knowledge that these are more complicated than we always make them out to be without weighing the entire story down with angst. The only thing that I couldn’t entirely get on with was Emily’s insecurity about not being the priority in people’s lives—a point that she rued often and made it a bigger issue with Simon than it should have been—as it felt like amplified conflict when it didn’t have to be.

Still, I had loads of fun to the point where this ended up being one of the rare stories where I alternated between dreading finishing it and wanting to savour the swoon-worthy chemistry between Simon and Emily as much as I could (which mean turning the pages at a furious pace just to see how it would develop). For those who love everything about Shakespeare and his time? This book’s yours to hug close.

four-stars

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.