BOOK REVIEW (31): The Truth About De Campo (The Delicious De Campos #3)

The Truth About De Campo
Since finishing my 30 book 2014 reading challenge I have awarded three books worthy enough of five stars (or a perfect score), and by perfect I mean “OMAGAHREALLY GREAT BOOKS”.
The Truth About De Campo is one of those reads this year.
The third (and final) story in the Delicious De Campos trilogy by Jennifer Hayward, this one follows the baby of the De Campo brothers, Matteo De Campo (who actually isn’t really a baby, but a full-grown, hunky-ass man in his mid-30s xD).
So yeah Matty finally finds his match. The little playboy who kept poking in and out of the other two stories is tamed by a larger-than-life Quinn Davis. As far as heroines go Quinn is my hands-down favourite of the two other ladies starring in this trilogy.
Which works because Matteo is my favourite of the De Campo guys—win-win!
What I liked about this book kinda matches with what I enjoyed about the second story (Gab/Alex) and what I felt lacked in the first story (Riccardo/Lilly).
There was more substance to this tale, and although the Harlequin Presents/Mills&Book Modern Romance line is the home of over-the-top financial fantasies complete with wealthy alpha males I still felt that Quinn and Matteo’s story wasn’t overwhelmed by all that…fantasy.
Like sometimes it could be too much and Ms. Hayward really avoided that by doing a number of things:
1)      Quinn isn’t useless. She isn’t a damsel-in-distress and she actually has a history and problems and dreams and a LIFE outside of the romance. Matteo doesn’t just come in like a (effin hot) fairy god…father and sex away all her problems.
2)    The internal conflict was totally plausible. I’m not going to ruin it because these category romances are pretty short (think ~50K), but trust me—some great conflict building! Taking away the wealth and the power of this couple, you’d still be left with a story that can be held together by the tantalizing pull-and-push of H/h’s motivation and goals.
3)     Usually I’m wary of the alpha male heroes of this particular category of Harlequin’s romances, and it was a huge problem with Riccardo from the first book. Matteo, unlike his older brother, is not an alpha a-hole. Ms. Hayward pulled off confidence without toeing the fine line into A-holelandia. Matteo knew his stuff, but he also knew how to shut his mouth. His flattery wasn’t cheesy and he wasn’t a sneak. The guy knows what he wants and he knows how to get it (and keep it).
Of course I could sit here on my comp and go Hulk-like on my keyboard gushing praises about Matty, but I’ll let you all read the story and prove me wrong…you know if you can.
And though at this point it seems redundant…
My verdict:

(5 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (30): Sense & Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility
All right, I’ll preface this review by saying I had no plans to read Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. And to be fair to Ms. Austen, I didn’t plan to read any books at all. I was deep in the throes of starting my NoWriMo August project and after that first grueling week where things were new and I really dreaded opening the word doc I was glad to be able to take a break from my story world and jump into another’s.
So it was a blind choice from the book shelf. I just grabbed something from my TBR pile and it happened to be this book—yay!
From that enthusiastic exclamation you can probably tell which direction this review is heading…
I had no regrets reading Sense and Sensibility.
I watched the British miniseries 3 years ago and after reading the book I don’t feel like it ruined it. I definitely liked the book more than the show, but for those who don’t want to read the book then the show is another medium to be entertained by the dramatic plot.

Can you guess which is Elinor? Think stern, stiff, and no-nonsense.


Anyways I enjoyed my time with the two Dashwood sisters and their beaus. I figured out perhaps why people like reading Austen’s stories. She’s got a knack for capturing people’s social quirks. The situations minus the social milieu could, IMO, fit quite easily in our modern North American context.

I had a huge crush on Colonel Brandon, but he was really a broody sop and his choice of love interest kinda killed that crush early. Mrs. Jennings was hilarious and she was really a good part of the reason I’d keep coming back. And I did cry once–so I wasn’t resistant to the plot and conflict entirely. I won’t say where or why, just know that I cried.

However I didn’t give it a full five rating because it didn’t exude the ‘wow’ factor from me. There were some things I didn’t like, and I warn for SPOILERS here:
1)      Elinor Dashwood: one of the main characters in Sense and Sensibility was annoying to follow. The theme—or one thematic thread—in the novel is senses and sensibility and the difference between engaging these two approaches in life, but more particularly in the social world. Elinor uses her head, and her sister, Marianne, in contrast uses her heart. “Sense” v.s. “sensibility” and in the end sense seems to have won, but there’s a bit of leeway towards sensibility. It took a painfully long time for Elinor to kind of really want what she wanted, but it’s never really expressed in the pages. Essentially I don’t feel like she deserved her ending. She was spoon-fed really and though I’m not sure whether Austen herself might to comment on her character, I think Elinor is kinda 2d, flat and throughout the story to the end she doesn’t develop as a character.
2)    The whole Edward-Lucy engagement: stupid, stupid, stupid. I mean I wanted to chuck the book and walk away, but the whole story of these two was unravelled in the third last chapter and I kinda just wanted to finish the story. But it was just dumb. REALLY contrived resolution. And this point connects back to what I said about Elinor’s personality. How could she accept Edward’s excuse?!
3)     The romantic ending. Ugh, ahh—but I don’t know what I expected. Nothing else, yet it was awful to read. I cringed. Everything was in apple pie order. I can’t say much about this because the plot was building towards this resolution, and it would have been spectacularly weird if the author had just killed off all her characters or something.
To be honest though, I would have loved if Marianne had died. How might have the story changed?
FUN FACT: Author Stephenie Meyer referenced Edward Ferrars as being one of the reasons supporting her choice to name Twilight’s vampire hero.
My verdict:

(3.5 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (29): Falling for the Cowboy

Falling for the Cowboy
I read this near the end of July and now I’m posting this at the end of August—haha! But I really loved this story, and it resonated with me so much that I couldn’t possibly forget WHY I liked it.
Falling for the Cowboy is my third Harlequin American Romance, and by far my favourite! Author Mary Leo takes the fish-out-of-water trope sets it in a small country town with Western charm and adds a dash of opposites attract—the product is amazingly well done.
The story narrates the chemistry between heroine Maggie Daniels, a city girl and Doc Blake, a small town dentist/cowboy. Unlike his brothers, Blake Granger, or “Doc Blake” organizes children teeth and doesn’t spend his time wrangling horses on his family ranch.
Maggie has had a troubled childhood and the city life and its driven ambition is all she’s known… then fate lands her in Blake’ town and she begins to wear her ‘country heart” on her sleeve. Briggs, Idaho grows on her right when a perfect job offer comes her way. The only catch: she has to move back to L.A.
There’s also a kid in the story. Blake has a five-year-old daughter who doesn’t play matchmaker as much as she plays an important role in her father’s decision-making. Particularly where Maggie and their sometimes steamy, but more sweet relationship
So what do you need to know? Well, there’s one sex scene. Not too explicit, but not too sweet either—more of a “best of both” or “can’t decide so a bit of both” type scenario.
Secondly the relationship moves pretty quickly. Blake does NOT pussyfoot around his feelings for Maggie. If anything she’s the one who pulls back well he charges towards her and searches to bring out her love and passion for all things country.
I also liked that the book is set up to give stories to the other brothers. Doc Blake/Blake has two brothers, Colt and umm, I think the other one was called Travis. Anyways, Colt got more page space than the other brother did who was single and super quiet! So, you’ll fall in love with Colt more quickly…which sets up for a series for these two other Grangers. And win! Series are always win!
Why did I love this story?
Maggie has to make a choice between country and city, love and work, family and singlehood…
And it’s so much deeper than that plain black and white choice. She finds herself in the town of Briggs—Blake just helped her, but she’s also had her best childhood memories in a small town. I think that’s why I kept coming back to this particular category romance series from Harlequin.
American Romance explores the family as much as it does a romance between a hero and heroine. IMO the title of this book could just as easily have been called Falling for Home. Or something like that because Blake is a package deal that includes his daughter and the town he won’t ever leave.
Of course Blake makes his sacrifice, too. He’s willing to let Maggie go and make her own choice. No pressure from him. And he’s as devoted a father as he is a lover.
So if you’re interested in the other books in the Fatherhood series—yes, for once I think I started this series early!
Book #2: Aiming forthe Cowboy (March 4th, 2014)
Book #3: Christmaswith the Rancher (December 2nd, 2014) *I don’t believe there is a kid in this last one!
My verdict:


5 stars

BOOK REVIEW (28): Storybook Dad

Storybook Dad
So this past summer I’ve taken a family psych course and we briefly touched on single fatherhood among other modern family-related issues. I like to think single fatherhood always existed since we could…you know, procreate, but it’s transformed into a more acknowledged scenario in North America particularly.
Why am I blabbing about single fathers?
Well I’ve already read one book with a single father lead and I was able to dig around my monstrous TBR book shelf to find another romance touching on the subject of male, single parenthood and the difficulties associated with parenting in general (raising kids are hard, go figure).
That find was Laura Bradford’s Storybook Dad, and like the title suggests fairy tales and unfulfilled childhood dreams are a motif in the story.
Our lead this time around is more average. An accountant single dad raising his son, and of course because I assume accounting is boring(sorry mum and dad!) hero Mark Reynolds needs some action in his life. And what better way than to join heroine Emily’s entrepreneurial classes offering a range of daredevil hobbies, like rapids rafting, survival camping and rock climbing?
On a more serious note Mark is there for other personal reasoning. His wife died and he’s trying to regain something of equilibrium, and he joins Emily’s class because he wants to try something new.
In a similar conflict Emily started her company offering these classes because she wanted to prove something to herself. AND this isn’t a spoiler she’s been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. That was a tough one to swallow for me as a reader. I’ve never read a book where the heroine was sick. I think there might have been one book where the heroine was on remission from cancer, but that was it.
I actually set the book aside for a couple hours before I convinced myself that it was a romance and something GOOD had to happen—I mean it’s Harlequin—and I wasn’t even setting myself up for a HEA, just cautious of making myself cry and wondering how I would cheer myself up if I did.
I didn’t cry. Okay, maybe once if you count getting misty-eyed. There is one scene that will make you definitely sniffle at the least, or smile, or react in some normal human way.
In her opening letter to readers the author discusses her own journey and the spark of inspiration for the cast and conflicts for the book after she was diagnosed with MS.
Of course there is a child involved, and like the only other romance with a child character, Mark’s preschool-aged son Seth Reynolds makes a splash and rocks the starting waves of a companionate-type love between the couple on top of the separate sexual attraction.
There is a sex scene that is moderately explicit, as in there are some details mentioned. But it’s more tender need than flip-your-hair, brandish-your-feather dusters steamy bedroom peeping.
I had no regrets reading the book. The dialogue surrounding the MS, and there was a lot because it was the main source of conflict, had me questioning my level of empathy. I think I came the closest to evoking empathy in the moments Emily openly discussed her MS.
Does that make me sound like a heartless monster?
I mean I got a bunch of sympathy, but the sympathy gave way and instead I just kind of started stepping into Emily’s shoes, rather than reading the book like an audience.
All right enough of my defending myself, and I just might be a heartless monster.
Anyways my rating is based on a couple of misses for me.
1)      No small-town community feeling. The other Harlequin American Romance had a vibe of more community than this book. There weren’t a lot of secondary characters introduced and none I felt a strong attachment and/or curiosity towards… Yeah. It’s more a personal flavouring, but I would have liked to see how the community as a whole reacted to Emily’s MS. Though it was made clear that Emily flied solo and only the handful of her close friends and family members knew of her condition. She also isn’t living near family, so all of that kinda made the “community feel” factor nearly impossible.
2)    Disconnect with hero’s logic. I felt that Mark was all over the place in his reasoning for holding up his conflict to keep Emily away. I mean I get that he doesn’t want to hurt his son and all, and you have to read the book to find out why he believes he wants to hurt his son, but come on! Emily’s rational spoke more volumes. I think he handled a lot of things very stupidly.
3)     Ending felt clichéd and rushed. My gawd that ending was pretty bland. Like I was reading a fairy tale, like those children’s book fairy tales sans the weird pedo and horror elements. I don’t know what I expected, but it was cheese. Another topic is brought up at the end of the novel, too. The decision of child-bearing and disease (in this case of the neurological variety), and Emily and Mark make a decision.
Now go read the book and find out what that decision is.
My verdict:


(3.5 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (27): Immortal Hearts (Vampire Kisses #9)

Immortal Hearts

This review was a long time coming. Frankly I didn’t think I’d be writing this until the end of the year, especially since I kinda went on a dry spell reading-wise last month.
But with CampNaNo revising going bust and picking up a reading challenge I managed to squeeze the final books of the Vampire Kissesseries in my schedule. And voila, the conclusion to the series after nearly a decade with these books…
RECAP. In a former post I mentioned I stumbled across Ellen Screiber’s YA PNR series in 2005. Back then I didn’t know Twilight existed (that came at the close of 2007) and I got to that point in the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series were I wanted to burn all the then-existing books (I think Micah was slated for a release then.)
I broke away from the VK series purely because I hate waiting. I’m not a patient person when it comes to the traditional book schedule of a year. I just can’t do it. So usually I’m a late band wagoner waiting until the final book in a series’ releases before I dive in and rush to catch up by that final publication date.
Case in point with Immortal Hearts: this 9th and final installment of the Vampire Kissesseries released in May 2012. Holy crud! More than 2 years ago, and I remember stalking Ms. Schreiber’s twitter to catch the title reveal. Also learned back then that there was to be a book 10 called Stormy Nights, but I think it was pulled and Immortal Hearts was announced to be the final book. Fun fact! Although there is no book 10 (and to be honest, I don’t even know whether to be sad or happy about this) Stormy Nights made it as a chapter title in Immortal Hearts.
So here we are with the review. What can I say after this long-ass journey?
Yay! First of all to me for getting through these books—
You see Immortal Hearts follows the same trajectory as every one of its eight predecessors. There’s a mini recap. Night life seems swell until Raven begins pestering Alexander to bite her AGAIN. Alexander—and we’re reminded he’s a gentleman vampire unlike that ruffian Jagger who’ll stick his fangs anywhere—denies his instinct for blood and mating (yeah…apparently he really wants to make Raven his vampire-mate which sounds like a sophisticated form of healthy teenage curiosity to me). Some family member (or acquaintance), in this case family, from Alexander’s world makes a cross-Atlantic trip to drop in on Dullsville, U.S.A. This visitor is Alexander’s little sister, Athena Sterling, also affectionately known as Stormy. Visitor causes indirect (and/or direct) problems to Raven and Alexander’s nocturnal love and there is a recapitalization of the series’ overarching internal conflict in which Raven doubts her wish to become a vampire and Alexander confesses his desire to bite Raven and make her wishes come true despite totally thinking he’s going to ruin her life as a human.
Now that doesn’t sound like I like this book? Well although that’s true, it’s kinda half true. Overall the series is like average. Decent. I didn’t come away thinking I wasted my time, but I sure as hell will never read these books again if I can help it.
What I liked:
1)      Athena “Stormy” Sterling – I’ve realized I like most of the visitors to Dullsville, because they give me a break from Raven + Alexander action. Athena makes it on both my lists, but right here I’ll mention what I did like about her. I liked that she wasn’t all over Raven immediately. And even when she was it wasn’t solely a Raven thing. She was friendly to everybody.
2)    The sibling scenes – there are more scenes with Raven and her little brother, Billy/Billy Boy/Nerd Boy. And I usually find the author does exceptionally well capturing the sibling rivalry. Also learned author had two brothers and that she might be drawing from her own experiences possibly? Mhm. That would be interesting to confirm. But Billy plays more of a role in this novel. His name pops up a lot and not just in casual mention. Like he’s there again since he kinda took a back seat after a large mention in book 4, Dance with a Vampire.
3)     Not everyone get a HEA! What? Why am I excited about that? Mostly because I was steeling myself to a really sickening happily-ever-after where all teen lovers in the book get together and spin yarn about how they’ll spend their mortality or immortality together.
What I disliked:
1)      Athena “Stormy” Sterling – told you she makes it on my other list. What I disliked about Stormy was how she came off. She’s a wish-washy character and, though she’s much stronger at the beginning, by the end she is a caricature. There’s a scene where she confronts Jagger and the rest of the Maxwell siblings about something (I won’t say what due to spoilers) and she manages to tidy up what appears to be an eternal feud between the Maxwell and Sterling dynasties. I mean, wth. She’s twelve. C’mon. Was I to believe that all it took was a wrist-slap for everyone to get along?
2)    The cheesy dialogue and constructed actions of the characters. I was jarred out of the story so much times. Particularly every time Raven says something I wouldn’t expect came out of the mouth of a seventeen-year-old. And then there’s the back-and-forth ping-pong debate about turning Raven into a vampire were excuses to inject the novel with thematic messages. Like they felt like lectures amounting into vast pages.
3)     Usually I’m not complaining about a book’s pace, but MAHGAH this book was fast. As in nothing-happened-but-everything-fell-into-place fast. I already mentioned the backstory to Immortal Hearts and the Vampire Kissesseries and how there was to be a book 10, but I guess the contract came in for only one more book and not two. So this final installment also happens to be the longest book in the series at 58K. Books 1-7 averaged at 36-40K so there’s a pretty big word leap. My theory is, and this is because it felt like this reading the book, this story is an amalgam of a would-be other story in the series. Like books 9 and 10 were mashed up and the mash-up result is Immortal Hearts. I say this because there seems to be two plots going on. You have the Stormy-arriving and vampire-secret discovery thing and then the Raven-wanting-to-get-bitten plot.
Just read the book and you’ll understand what I mean. It feels very disjointed and comes off as a helter-skelter read.
Okay. So it’s obvious I’m pretty divided with the series’ concluding novel,  but also with the series as a whole. I started and continued reading the books because I enjoyed Ellen Schreiber’s humorous approach to the whole teen paranormal wangst. Which BTW was pre-Twilight folks!
But by the end I’m no longer seeing this as a comedy (maybe even a satire) on YA PNR and romantic comedy film genre. Like suddenly the author took herself way too seriously and got sucked in by the whole crappy romance.
Speaking of romantic comedies, there’s actually a rain scene, too.
You know the reunion scene after the black moment in romantic comedies. Lovers chase after each other in the rain and confess their wrongdoings and proclaim their eternal love for one another, hug and kiss in the rain yadda yadda blah bleck!
Yet I still can’t find that regret in me. I don’t hate the books, and I don’t love them. But I DO recommend them as a great summer/leisure read. They’re light-hearted at the very least and escapism when the plot gets good, which is rare… And if you’re not much of a YA PNR reader, use the Vampire Kisses series to test the waters as it will do either of two things: 1) have you running for the hills from all PNR things, or 2) ease you through to more mature writing—not to say the immaturity of these books were a bad thing. I enjoyed them whenever I enjoyed them.

And that’s why with sincerity I say, thanks for the read, Vampire Kisses, I’ll miss you.
My verdict:


(3 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (26): The Billionaire’s Baby SOS (The Larkville Legacy #8)

The Billionaire’s Baby SOS
I’ll preface this review by saying I’ve had an exciting month reading-wise. I’m expanding to test out what kind of romances I enjoy, so I’ve been reading a lot of romances outside the Vampire Kisses series, which is a YA PNR.
This next book is another Harlequin and another first read from a category romance series of theirs called Harlequin Romance. Fun fact! Harlequin Romance was the first series published by the romance publishing giant. Cool, huh?
If the title isn’t self-explanatory The Billionaire’s Baby SOS has a baby trope in it. And the blurb at the back of the book will also give away another trope, often closely associated with the babies, the nanny trope. Oh, yeah, and there’s also a billionaire. Yup. That’s what the title will surmise. Luckily this review isn’t a title review, so let’s go beyond the title shall we?
Before we dive into the review though, I’d like to give you the warning I wish I had. As far as I can see the hard cover version of The Billionaire’s Baby SOS does not state it is part of an 8-book series and with my crap luck this is the eighth and final story of that miniseries. Personally I don’t think that this book is a spoiler at all. The other characters from the 7 other stories are all mentioned and/or make appearances at the end of the book, but nothing is given away as to how the couples met or any major plot details shared from the rest of the series.
But if that kinda thing bothers you, there’s your warning. Cherish it! J
Okay, first I really found myself enjoying the baby thing! It’s a new thing for me. I know some people either A) have tried reading romances with babies, but hated it, or B) never bothered to try because it’s a turn off. In my case it was neither. I haven’t read one prior to this novel and it’s not my style to judge a book entirely by the cover. (All right. Sometimes I judge by the cover…and title, oddly enough.)
I’m glad I didn’t though. Baby Bella was adorable! And she wasn’t really either a prop or such a significant distraction from the story that I forgot it was a romance. Let me emphasize that. I never forgot it was a romance. Author Susan Meier doesn’t allow you with all the scenes wrought with sexual tension between heroine Claire and hero Matt.
Claire isn’t actually a nanny, but I’ll let you read and find out what I mean by that. What I liked about Claire is her interaction with Bella and Matt in the book, both together and separately. I realize I really I’m a sucker for these sorts of books were romance is tinged with family elements, so it’s not entirely the H/h in a bubble of their own, oblivious to the world around them. Not as romantic as it sounds when you’re actually reading 190+ pages.
Claire has her problems, too. Her backstory made me cry…well, almost cry. It definitely made me uncomfortable with sorrow. The gist of that story is she’s learned to hold onto the good/positivity in her life, and Matt and Bella are the upside in her life right now.
I didn’t like that her compassion came off fake. I mean she did a lot of over-and-beyond tasks for Matt that seemed unnatural considering they’re virtual strangers even with the lust. Then there was the conversations with her boss that came off really fake.
But for better or worse our story’s billionaire falls for this “little slip of a woman” (p.200)—which btw is the strangest saying and entirely out of context with this time period.
Yeah. So Matt falls for Claire hard, and first it’s just the usual physical attraction, but then that unnatural compassion of hers is what tugs and thaws this Wall Street Ice Man’s heart. I liked Matt, too. He had such a complex childhood and he isn’t alpha, like at all. And I think the nickname he’s given “the Ice Man” doesn’t’ do his character in action much justice.
He’s not an A-hole, and he isn’t cold-hearted and constantly shrugging off Claire. He doesn’t hover whenever she’s taking care of Bella either. I guess I’m coming off of reading some alpha males in romances and I’ve decided I’m thoroughly disenchanted by the magic of the weirdly possessive, controlling alpha hero.
And since the book is talking babies and it’s all about fatherhood and the challenges associated with this half of parenting, let’s talk Matt and his new status as daddy. IRL I find it funny when a guy (or girl for that matter) who isn’t really experienced with children is forced to interact with them. I don’t have wicked baby skills/experience myself, but I’m always ready to learn. (Yes. I dolove infants.)
I was expecting a romanticized version of fatherhood, and I got it—like there was no messy poop stain smearing an expensive tie—but I only got half of it.
Unlike Claire’s freaky-sized compassion, Matt takes the fatherhood slowly and his progress is natural. I mean, near the end it’s rushed a bit, but he isn’t like SUPERDAD suddenly.
Same goes for Claire and Matt’s relationship. The story takes place over the course of, I think, one week. Or one week and a bit, but Claire and Matt jump in the bandwagon of love and rush into their relationship and “I love yous” much, much quicker. And I’m not an insta-love fan at all, but after spending a week caring for a child together with all that crazy sexual tension I totally get where they’re coming from. (Not entirely, but we’re all cool.) Also by sexual tension, I mean just that. Lots of hot and broody looks, awkward silences, lip biting and stroking, kissing and caressing. But no sex.

I wouldn’t call the story a SWEET romance. But I would say that it is entirely devoid of a sex scene, closed door or open. Claire is adamant to hold onto her panties a little longer, and Matt is totally cool with that. It’s hinted that there’s plans for sex at the end of the book, but it isn’t explored more than one line of a mention of roses and champagne awaiting their shared bedroom.

Anyways by the book’s closure I figured there would be some life hurdles awaiting Claire and Matt. And Bella too. You know besides the conflicts wrapped up in the story in the HEA.
Not a baby-romance fan? I’m not going to convert you, but I hope you’ll consider reading about this trio’s story.
My verdict:


(4.5 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (25): An Exquisite Challenge (The Delicious De Campos #2)

An Exquisite Challenge

For some strange reason I ordered books 1 & 2 of The Delicious De Campos trilogy, but forgot the 3rd story.
Well, that’s for another day I suppose. Right now I DO have book 2 and I’ve read it soooo that means another review! Yay.
Now that Lilly and Riccardo De Campo got their HEA, Alexandra and Gabriele get their own stab at ‘The End”. A quick refresher is an order at this point, and it’s totally spoiler-free: Alex is the twin sister of Lilly. And Gabe is Riccardo’s younger brother, or the middle child mediator of the three De Campo men.
-End Refresher-
In An Exquisite Challenge Alex and Gabe are forced together because of dents in their career paths. You see, they’re both actually really admirably dedicated to their jobs. Despite the fact that we’re reminded Alex is an Iowa farm girl-turned-extraordinaire entrepreneur and Gabe’s fortune allowed him to be born into a wealthy family, but of course privilege doesn’t buy talent, skill and hard work.
I have to admit, Jennifer Hayward comes a long way with characterization in her sophomore novel. I really loved Gabe much more than Riccardo. The alpha male thing doesn’t always work for me…which is odd because Harlequin Presents/M&B Modern Romance lives for the alpha. But I do believe it takes a lot of skill to pull off an alpha character without making him come off as a jackass.
There was more layer to the story as well. Gabe actually—surprise!—had an on-screen passion. With Riccardo there was racing, but he never got behind the wheel on a racetrack. Gabe loves his wine-making and the wine industry and you can hear it, feel it, see it—and I guess it helped that I learned stuff about wine-making. I mean, who knew you had to actually air wine? I thought people did that in movies and shows for the “suave appearance”… Haha. Can you tell I’m totally alcohol abstinent?
But it was the same betweent he twin sisters! Lilly was just…there.
Alex actually HAD a job. Like she did stuff. Important money-making stuff. What I mean is that Lilly had a job, yes. She was actually a successful physiotherapist. But we never got to see her in action. The first story’s plot and word count of the category romance didn’t allow for it.
Because Alex’s job as a public relation specialist/person is a key factor in the external conflict of this story, readers get to see more of the heroine’s life outside the romance.
And speaking of the romance, let’s talk Gabe + Alex, you know, together.
They have a history. A short, but tumultuous history kicking the book off from page 1, but you need to read the story to find out what that is.
They’re also fire-water, hot-cold, black-white, -insert other opposites to get point across that there is an opposites attract trope here-.
But like all reallydifferent people on the outside, on the inside they’re both nursing broken hearts from previous love slights, so the internal conflict is born! Dun dun.
But on a more serious note, I loved this novel because it touched on an important topic. One I’m going to go ahead and assume that the average person doesn’t expect a romance novel to dwell into: the extramarital affair/cheating.
I mentioned this already in my review for the first book in Ms. Hayward’s trilogy because Lilly and Riccardo’s story touched on it a bit, but it also kinda left it hanging.
An Exquisite Challenge doesn’t. At least not nearly as much as its predecessor does, and I’m glad for it. It was hard to read, but I had this internal dialogue and it made me more involved in the character’s decision-making process and the consequences of their actions.
Trust me when I say it isn’t a black and white decision here. There’s a lot to swallow in this book, and it’ll make you question where you stand as of now on the issue of cheating.
And I’ve said all I’m going to say about that. Now go out and buy the book! Read it and enjoy! Just one final note as well, this trilogy contains three companions not sequels.
You can read An Exquisite Challenge (book 2) without having read The Divorce Party (book 1). There isn’t a lot of know-how from book 1 that can’t be readily understood in book 2.
My verdict:


(5 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (24): The Texas Ranger’s Reward (Undercover Heroes #3)

The Texas Ranger’s Reward
Earlier this month I kicked off my reading challenge with a Harlequin Superromance, which was then a new category line for me. So when I had a choice between reading another Superromance and Harlequin’s American Romance series—yet another new Harlequin line, I decided to go with the American Romance.
Thankfully more than a year ago I subscribed to the Harlequin’s Reading Services and I got 2 free American Romance books. I eenie’d and found my head burrowed in Rebecca Winters’ The Texas Ranger’s Reward.
Now I was at least halfway through the book before I decided to search the author up on the interwebs and I found out the book is actually part of a trilogy. Yes. What is with all the trilogies right?
Naw. That wasn’t what I was thinking. I was thinking ‘please let this be the first in the trilogy’. Unfortunately it wasn’t, AND I’m warning you now. The end ruins a heckuva lot of the plot of the first story in the trilogy. I mean, A LOT, as in the mystery subplot of that novel is completely blown away.
Which is fine because I don’t blame the author. I blame myself for ignoring the shiny badge on the cover with the overarching trilogy name. Shoulda known what that was… -sigh-.
Thankfully I really had no regrets reading The Texas Ranger’s Reward.
Set in my fourth favourite state—yes, I have favourite states—the novel follows the story of orthopedic therapist Melissa Dalton and former Texas Ranger-now-P.I.
When I read the back of this book I thought it was a twin trope. As in the heroine, Melissa, was Travis’ late wife’s identical twin sister.
BTW I’m not spoiling anything. It’s all in the back cover blurb. Go. Read it.
And spoiler! It’s not a twin trope story. Melissa isn’t related to Travis’ wife, so no extra melodrama. Phew.
But she looks like her, and that’s what makes this story really cool to read.
“Have you ever been told you looked like someone else or that someone else looked like you? Do you like being compared?”
The author, Rebecca Winters, asks this question in her ‘Dear Reader’* section at the front of the novel. My answer is “yes” and “it depends”. If we’re talking celebrity look-a-like—I’m kidding.
But it does depend. For instance I’ve been compared to my mom before by her friends. Sometimes I look like her and other times I sound like her, or it is other little nuances I share with her.
Looking at it this way I don’t mind. But if I’m being compared to a really nasty-piece-of-work human, I’m better off not knowing what you think. Thank you. Don’t come again.
Veering back from my tangent into the review, we get Melissa’s response to this question in the novel when Travis tells her early on and in a very up front manner I enjoyed that Melissa looked like his deceased wife and mother to his seven-year-old son.
Naturally Melissa is totally freaked out, and it doesn’t help that she’s attracted to Travis. Especially when she can’t bring herself to ask him: So is it lust/love on your side, too? Or is it that I’m your type—as in your dead wife-type?
Big, big questions. And Travis better answer them right or no nookie! In all seriousness he’s a single father though, and it isn’t entirely about how he feels about Melissa. See this is how single parenting works. At least good and healthy single parenting works. Disclaimer: I’m not from a one parent family. My parents have been happily married for more years than I’ve been born, and hopefully many more years at that. BUT I do understand that for a moment if I put myself in Travis’ pants I would be considering how my child felt about a possible love interest.
And like a good father Travis worries if his son sees his mother in Melissa. Which is a prime concern—a perfect seat of main romantic conflict if I do say so myself, and I say “oh yeah”!
Besides that main conflict there is a mystery/suspense subplot. Actually 2 kinda. One is more overarching and that’s the mystery one, and the other is a short suspense ride filling the hole that the mystery subplot left.
What I didn’t like was everything was wrapped up in a neat bow. All tucked in and tidy presentation that was gag-worthy fake. Really? There was some ridiculous melodrama at the end of this novel.
BTW coming out of having just read/reviewed a sexier romance, I’ve learned through experience that American Romance is behind-doors sexy time. As in scene-blank and couple is laying in each other’s arms after the deed. I’m cool with that, but for those of you looking for on-screen nookie this book is not your friend.
Still it’s a great read. A fun couple of days spent avoiding studying for finals, and what more could I ask for, right?
My verdict:


(4 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (23): Cryptic Cravings (Vampire Kisses #8)

Cryptic Cravings

And here we are with the penultimate book in the Vampire Kisses series. I started reading VK1-3 during my 2013 winter holiday break, so this was a LONG time in coming. I broke off from the series after book 6 (Royal Blood) released, but I had been following the release of the series throughout the next few years. And I’ve always been dying to find out whether Raven was turned into a vampire or not.
Sadly this book doesn’t answer that HUGE mystery/romance conflict just yet.
Still we have a lot going on in VK8, at least enough to tie up a couple points.
Cryptic Cravings picks up a year after Alexander Sterling moves into the Mansion on Benson Hill and Raven’s dull and bloodless existence in her small town, Dullsville suddenly brightens—or is that darkens?—with this fated meeting between our series’ couple.
Now that a year has passed Raven realizes that her relationship with Alexander is culminating to something…but just what, Cryptic Cravings doesn’t say. I mean, that title is a dead giveaway. There are a lot of cravings, mostly of the blood and teen sexual wangst variety, and even more secrets—some revealed at the end, some still remain hidden.
We get more teen male vampy heartthrob scenes in this one, too. I have a crush on Sebastian and Jagger, so we get to see a whole lot more of them both! –squee-
Raven’s bully-slash-secret admirer Trevor Mitchell’s kinda growing on me, too. I always liked how author Ellen Schreiber writes the witty, cute banter between Raven and her “nemesis” (btw, every time I read that name for Trevor all I think about is Resident Evil. And I srsly doubt that’s what the author was intending. Just throwing that image out there to pollute your mind, too.)
And here. Why don’t you take a picture too?
Meet Nemesis. He isn’t a “blonde jock” as you can see…
So this book didn’t fare any better than its predecessors. As far as I’m concerned the series is just a bunch of “okay, they’re fine but they ain’t gonna get better than this” reads.
My problems with Cryptic Cravings are problems I found in the other books, but some that I haven’t mentioned yet.
One: Raven isn’t a normal teen.
What 16/17-year-old uses the word “nefarious”? Hell. What grown-ass 21st century adult uses the word “nefarious”? And it isn’t even this book. I haven’t really mentioned it much, mostly cause I figure I’ve been trying to suppress it but Raven doesn’t sound like a regular, red-blooded teenager. I mean, especially since we’re supposed to believe she doesn’t care about school all that much and she’s not very book-savvy. This isn’t the first time either—just in the last book there was a scene where her best friend, Becky gets injured scrapping her knee or something and Raven asks for a tourniquet. Okay. If that doesn’t make you stop reading I salute you.
A frickin’ tourniquet.
What? When did asking for a Band-Aid or bandage go out of vogue?
And even if she was, it would still make me suspicious if anyone IRL convo used the word “nefarious” in ways like this (I only started documenting the use of Schreiber’s pet word from p. 65 onwards. Who knows how many times she used it earlier?):
“I’m sorry—I didn’t mean that about you. I meant nefarious vampires,” I said… (p.65)
“You know I mean nefarious, unknown vampires.” (p.76)
“…But if they get wind of anything nefarious, then they will want to shut down…” (p.77)
Alexander kept a watchful eye on the incoming boxes, making sure that there were no nefarious items or clues… (p.82)
Jagger sidled up to Becky. I was ready to pounce if he did anything nefarious to my best friend. (p.89)
Lol. Personally I think Becky could use something nefarious done to her… xD Dirty mind is very dirty.
At least it wouldn’t have been caused by Jagger and his nefarious plans. (p.119)
It was worse. Far worse than opening the present to find an empty box. What I saw was by far more nefarious and cunning. Trevor really got me this time. (p.161)
Got her a birthday gift! Yeah! And a really pretty one, you guys, I mean—this girl I swear, Raven needs to be killed like for good.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, or do both to save time. I was so frustrated I’m glad I got a good night’s sleep before I decided to write this review. I mean, WHAT. Anyways, after this my brain shut down.
Also, Raven is starting to piss me off. Unfortunately this story is told in first-person from her perspective so I’m forced to stick it out if I wanna see this series through to the final book—we’re one away now!
Which brings me to point two: Raven’s love triangle FAIL..
Now if you haven’t read the series, and to be honest I don’t know how clear I’ve been in these impromptu reviews of these books thus far, but the romance mostly goes like this: Alexander + Raven. And then there’s really a bunch of Raven admirers that don’t really get the full access to Raven’s midnight lip lock sessions: Trevor and Jagger, some random vamp guys from Book 5 (Coffin Club) and very briefly Sebastian.
Then in Cryptic Cravings Raven decides she’s bothered that Trevor is seeing a new girl, one of her vampire friends, so she throws down like a jealous hog. For reals.
Like she doesn’t want the so-called preppy snob, WANT want him—but she won’t let him be with someone else who does?
Forget turning into a bat, Raven, because you’re already a beyotch!
The problem is that the whole Trevor-Raven thing is SO ridiculously forced, like I can almost hear the author’s cogs working post-Twilight and jumping on the love triangle crap—sure it was pretty obvious reading it that Trevor does have a thing for Raven despite subjecting her to torture BUT Raven never fell for it before. Especially since having met Alexander and they hit it off which was a redeeming quality of hers—her devotion to Alexander and their love and her dream to be a vampire and successfully combine her aspirations for teen romance w/ immortality.
And I could go on and on about the problems with this book. I did enjoy the fast pace. Definitely something I can’t complain about with the Vampire Kisses series. I don’t ever get bogged down.
I really love that cover.
I also like the hook at the end that kinda really works in forcing me to read the final book in the series, and not only because it’s the final book and then I’m forever/eternally/immortally free from Raven and her craziness!
My verdict:


(2.5 stars)

BOOK REVIEW (22): The Divorce Party (The Delicious De Campos #1)

The Divorce Party

Taking a breather from vampires and their vampy world, I decided my next read would remain romance but that I’d move into the contemporary domain.
So although the next read lacks rapidly and often inexplicable eye colour changing—eyes do “darken” a lot, and there’s a lot of the same angsty melodrama: overall, we’re good.
First off to clear the air the title of this book needs to be explored a bit.
I mean who knew there were things called divorce parties? You think I would know considering I’ve heard of weirder things, but I guess you wouldn’t really think divorce = PARTAY OVER HERE!… But in a way I would.
Like if a couple really hated each other and finally sealed the deal with a legal document than logically a party with friends and family, you know, separately makes total sense. Or at least a silent hurray over those papers.
And I guess that’s what makes this one unique: author Jennifer Hayward has her hero inviting, yes you heard right, invitinghis soon-to-be (and in her opinion if he’d given her the asked for divorce his shoulda-been) former wife to their joint divorce party.
If this wasn’t a M&B Modern/Harlequin Presents—a line known for their financial fantasy contemp romances—then I would have thought hero Riccardo De Campo and heroine Lilly were trying to combine their parties to save on expenses.
Then I find out their house was a purchase of 35 million dollars! As Riccardo put it so often in the novel: Dio! Out goes the ‘expense’ theory, so what could possibly be a good enough reason to invite your not quite ex-wife to a divorce party? I’d tell you but then there wouldn’t be a point to get you to read it, now would there?
Okay, enough divorce celebratory talk. For anyone interested in more filler on the topic of divorce parties, this recent article might be of interest:
Back to the review!
I really enjoyed Ms. Hayward’s debut. She’s a fellow Canadian so I’m totally biased—I joke!—but seriously, this book is a fast-paced, emotional read. You’ll laugh, maybe cry, maybe rage, maybe roll your eyes, but you’ll like it enough to not regret reading it.
The story follows Lilly De Campo neé Anderson as she actually arrives to her husband’s divorce party shindig. Yah! Girl got guts…or a heck load of curiosity and tbh, I don’t blame her. I’d probably go, too. Though totally incognito.
And she goes and crazy crap happens involving a verbal contract/promises and the divorce is postponed until the end of a six-month deal. And once again you gotta read to find out what the funny fine print entails.
But of course they still party enough for Lilly to pass out (I joke she passes out for migraine-related reasons) and Riccardo to get her back into their marriage bed.
There are twists and turns and the book, like most short contemporary romances particularly of this publisher’s line focuses on the couple and their internal conflicts. Essentially what secrets and actions keep them apart?
This being said then don’t expect an external antagonist. If there is one he’s relatively minor and not really an “antagonist” at all—I said there were twists, right?
As far as sex scenes go this had pretty racy descriptions. Hot, hot for sure so if you’re not into that thing but cool with skimming through they don’t take up huge amounts of space in the book—like 2-5 pages tops of a total of ~182.
What I didn’t like was few and far between. Before I read this book a lot of reviewers who gave it 2 stars below complained about the heroine and how she was SO WRONG for cheating on her husband during the year they were separated. These same reviewers apparently read the whole book and as I read those last pages myself I began wondering if we had read the same book.


(“Hello fellow reviewers, we are all reading The Divorce Party by Jennifer Hayward right? RIGHT? DIO!”)
Seriously weird stuff considering I didn’t find Lilly in the wrong at all. Personally Riccardo was slightly more at fault, and I wished the whole debacle with the doctored photos (read it and you’ll know what I speak of!) was just brushed under the rug. But I don’t know what the heck I really expected—for the story to info-dump techy info on me while the photos were traced back to the source.
Though I definitely don’t want that*shudders* that hardly excuses the way this major source of long-ass conflict was handled.
Re-enactment (not actual textual event):
setting some really expensive island villa or something
Riccardo: I swear those are doctored, you gots to believe me Lilly!
Lilly:Uhh…fine. I guess. I mean it’s not like you and all.

Riccardo:Yeah totally. No where were we mi caro?

Now as for the whole cheating crime blackening Lilly against readers/reviewers let me put it this way: say you’re married and your partner refuses to offer you a divorce on w/e messed up grounds–why the eff wouldn’t you try to move on anyways? I mean, and this is no spoiler, Lilly is trying to divorce Riccardo for a year. The party doesn’t take place the morning she decides to leave his ass–it takes place a friggin’ whole year after she choose to separate their living situation.

If anyone refuses you a divorce then THEY’RE in the wrong. And if you have decided to enter the dating scene then why the eff shouldn’t you be able to? Technically, yes technically it’s extramarital relations, but I think a marriage ends the moment one party decides it ain’t a mutual affair anymore.  And no, I won’t get into a cultural or religious debate about it.

These are my opinions, okay?

But read the book and maybe post your own thoughts in the form of a review.
I do tip my proverbial hat off to Ms. Hayward for tapping into a sensitive subject. I’m currently in the middle of playing catch up with ABC’s The Mistresses and this whole extramarital affair and divorce topics are just buzzing through my head as of late.
Regardless of what you think, please enjoy The Divorce Party for yourself and don’t let a review sway you from reading it and making your own conclusions about it. Cool?
My verdict:


(4 stars)