Category Archives: LesRom

Review: Sweet Surprise (Jenny Frame)

I definitely haven’t had the best luck with books these past few weeks. I am certainly in the minority on some of them – like this one – so take that as you will.

One evening, Flora Buchanan is hurrying to her car when a group of men start hassling her. Mack Sharkey, enforcer for a crime family, happens to see it on one of the cameras inside the establishment and hurries out with some of her people to rescue Flora. Before Mack can check on Flora, she’s gone.

Then Mack spends a year and a half in prison, and it’s two years later. Is the prison part important? Nope. It seems to be there just to provide a gap, and to tell us how noble Mack is, by taking the rap and serving the time so her sister, who is head of the family, does not have to. Message received.

The Sharkeys have been legit for ages, it seems, but still police their territory in Glasgow. Mack, with some seed money fro the family, starts up a barber shop. And guess who has opened a candy shop right next door? Of course, it’s Flora. I’ll be honest, I was a little disappointed it wasn’t a flower shop, for obvious reasons.

We find out that Flora is a bundle of mental health issues: social anxiety (same, girl!), OCD, PTSD. This was first thing to stop and wonder about: why on earth does someone with social anxiety open a store where interactions with people are not expected, but required? Not just adults, either: kids. And kids are right little monsters sometimes. It’s never really explained what the PTSD stems from, and I guess it doesn’t make any difference anyway, but I’d have liked to have known.

In any case, Mack starts up her barbering and the word starts getting out that she’s there, so business picks up fairly quickly. Flora’s shop also starts drawing people in, including Mack, who remembers saving her from the dudes in the parking lot that night. Little by little, Mack helps Flora work on her mental health issues (and later in the book, helps convince her to get to a therapist).

A pause here, and one of my complaints about the genre (or course). Mack is an (of course) superbutch. Do they all need to have superdudenames? Mack, Ben (another I read right after this), etc. Mack’s also the enforcer for the family – but we get no sense at all of what she looks like beyond her eyes, really. How tall is she? Is she a fairly large person? I mean, I know we can fill in the blanks and assume so, but every so often, I wonder what would happen if someone wrote a superbutch character with the name Gloria, who was nicknamed Glo, an who was the enforcer for a crime family, because if you got out of line or did something to the family, she’d light you up. I’d read that. I love gangster stories. But here we have Mack, a solid, one syllable named woman who is not unused to violence, caring for the shrinking violet, Flora, and getting into savior complex territory.

Second pause, this time about Flora and the obvious codependence that was ramping up. It’s not a favorite of mine, because it’s unbalanced and also toxic in general. I also find it odd that Mack deals with the uncivilized dudes who live above Flora and their harassment of her with a small spot of violence, bu Flora seems to have no real issues with that.

Third pause: I didn’t get the romance between these two. Mack references this as what got her through prison. Really? A meeting,if you can even call it that, that lasted less than ten seconds and in which the two of you shared nothing at all? I’d buy it if Mack were some kind of philosopher-warrior type, and it was the ideal of the (perhaps) true love carrying her through, but no, it’s Flora, herself, and I didn’t buy that at all.

But on we go with the story, and somewhere before chapter ten, we get the first instance of the phrase guardian angel – a phrase I came to hate because it was repeated so very many times, and spoke to that codependence. I stopped here and searched it on my Fire: 13 times! Too many, editor! But as with the last one I read, way to go, editor, with no constant drumbeat of heads snapping up!

Mack promises to always protect Flora, but actually does not: due to another crime family wanting to expand and sell drugs in Sharkey territory, the head of that family tells some lowlife that Mack tuned up before (not in the book) to go grab Flora and Isy, who has been helping out at the candy shop. He does so, and then is stuck with the two, when the boss tells him to kill them both, something he doesn’t want to do, but he knows that his boss will kill him or Mack will when she finds him.

But Flora saves herself and Isy by distracting the thug and then whacking him in the head – nothing preventing her from doing these things with adrenaline flooding her body.

No sexytimes of note, explicit or otherwise that made a blip on the page. If you’re looking for that, it isn’t here. If you’re looking for more of a slower evolution without a bunch of sex scenes that sound like human anatomy or gyno classes, though, this could do it.

HEA, etc.

My favorite character: Mack’s dachsund, Dexter.

Two stars of five. Not my thing.

Thanks to Bold Strokes Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Expected publication date: December 14, 2021

Review: The Christmas Proposal (Lisa Moreau)

If you’re a fan of the Hallmark or Lifetime movies, you’ll probably like this. Me? Don’t like them, didn’t much care for this. If I hadn’t been told the ages of the characters, I’d have thought they were teenagers, with the constant inner monologues.

Grace (of course her name is Grace, it’s an xmas book) is a PA to her boss and is also sleeping with her boss. Bad idea all around. Of course her boss is a soulless, soul-sucking, commitment-fearing workaholic who, by the by, is also cheating on Grace. Grace finds this out after bringing yet another cup of coffee to her. With amount of coffee this woman appears to drink, it would be cheaper to just set up a coffee station in the office and get a full time barista to handle it. But I digress. Grace stumbles out of the office crying, running into Bridget, who is there to apply for a programming job. Grace convinces Bridget to go get her purse, which she has left in her boss’ office in her haste to leave. Bridget does, and that’s the extent of their first interaction. There’s the merest whiff of instalove in the atmosphere, but that’s all.

Bridget gets hired as the boss’ new PA instead of programmer, promised that she’ll get a look after the first of the year. She accepts. Tip: never do this in the real world. Terrible bosses will string you along forever, just like an MLM scammer, promising big things just around the corner if you’re patient. If you’re good at what you do – and Bridget is – you can get a job that doesn’t involve running personal errands for your boss. Like fetching coffee every ten minutes and oh yeah, planning your boss’ marriage proposal to her girlfriend. At xmas. With three weeks to prepare. This is not a good boss.

So off Bridget goes, fetching round nth of coffee, and she happens to pick up Grace’s card from the counter there. Grace is now an event planner, and she’s just done an event at that coffee shop, dressed as an elf, for some dude proposing to his fiancee. Grace’s boss is also not a good boss, although at least she isn’t running off to fetch coffee. No, instead, she’s decorating the xmas tree in their lobby, by herself, because her terrible boss has tasked all the interns with something else. On the plus side, her boss’ boss is opening a branch in Maui, and the choice to lead it is between Grace and one other person.

Bridget calls Grace, and they talk one time. Grace says it’s impossible to plan this in a short amount of time AT XMAS when everyone does events AT XMAS, which is just like another book I read recently. Apparently it is not impossible, when one is either the xmas girl (as the other book called the woman in question) or comes from one of those Hallmark/Lifetime seasonally-named towns like Mistletoe Mountain.

Off they go, total strangers, to MM, as I’m going to call it. This was just bizarre to me. There is no way I’m going off on a five hour (or however long it was) drive to the middle of nowhere with someone I just met, when I have no family (Bridget – it means strength, as the book keeps telling us many times – was surrendered anonymously by her mother, so we can get her tragic backstory of abandonment issues) and apparently, no friends, to tell. But that would have cut the story short.

On the one road that leads to the town, there’s a violent earthquake. Strong enough to shake the roadbed so much that Graces bangs her face on the steering wheel. And strong enough to cause an avalanche that is later determined to be a landslide AND avalanche. How romantic: stuck in a small town you don’t know, with a woman you don’t know and her family, for at least a few days. Side note: while Colorado, like pretty much any mountainous place, has probably hundreds of earthquakes every year, really violent ones are rare. FYI.

Naturally, the outgoing and affable Grace, who still has rampant inner monologue-ism about an as-yet unnamed tragedy with a capital T, works on the taciturn Bridget who just wants to get this thing set up (price is not an object, which is a good thing for a dying town) and get back to designing her mobile game. Clearing the one and only road leading into town will take longer than expected, which annoys Bridget’s boss, probably because she now has to fetch her own coffee.

We get the whole Grace – Bridget love thing going on after about three days, and after about five, we get Grace’s tragic story: her girlfriend, who was a figure skater, died. In an avalanche/landslide, of course. Turns out Grace was also a figure skater, and was heading to the Olympics, but all this put the kibosh to that, and Grace hasn’t skated since.

By now they’ve also had their sexytimes, neither one of them having kissed anyone like they have the other, etc. It’s a trope, so ok. There’s a very, very strange thing during this sleeping together series: one morning, Grace wakes up early, slips out of bed, and heads down to get coffee and breakfast for the two of them. When she gets back, Bridget is awake and also somewhat distant, because she thinks Grace somehow abandoned her, like everyone else. What? Where exactly is she gong to go in a small town, when you’re staying at her sister’s inn? That was bizarre.

Also by now, their time in MM is done: the proposal stuff is set, and Bridget’s even finished her game and rebuilt the town’s web site. Man, she is efficient!

Back in LA, Bridget gets an attagirl, and she and Grace act like teens again, constantly texting cutsie stuff, telling one another how much they miss each other all day when they’re supposed to be working, etc. Bridget’s boss loves her new game, gives the programming job to her, and makes her game the number one item at some upcoming thing. Bridget takes herself over to Grace’s office to tell her the good news. But the receptionist and her big mouth tells Bridget that Grace got the job in Maui (because the other person decided not to take it, for personal reasons).

As is the case in every. Single. One. Of. These. Books, instead of just hanging around, waiting for Grace and talking to her about it – as an adult would – Bridget decides that Grace doesn’t care after all, and is abandoning her, and storms out, not replying to any of Grace’s calls or texts. When Grace shows up at her apartment, Bridget is stony, kicks her out. Grace heads back to MM to be with her family at xmas, and Bridget – after the boss’ heart grows five sizes on the last day before the holiday and she tells Bridget her own little story about commitment – heads off to MM as well.

Grace has decided to skate in the xmas eve benefit, which has become a huge event, and Bridget has missed that, but finds Grace and apologizes. They have one of those touchy feely moments that are all so common these days about how they’ll always talk to one another about everything, the town is saved, Bridget proposes to Grace, they both move from LA to MM, Bridget working remotely and Grace teaching skating, and they live HEA.

It may sound like I don’t enjoy stories of strangers thrown together. There are as many romantic stories of this nature as there are more macabre ones (Strangers on a Train, And Then There Were None) and they can work. But it seems in some genres – like romance, straight or LGBTQ+ – authors are sometimes so very keen to hit the beats, or story notes/tropes, that the story is either not good, or there’s way too much of some elements that send it not quite over a cliff, but just into my not favorite pile. Bridget isn’t just abandoned, she’s abandoned by everyone. Grace wasn’t just a skater, she was set to be an Olympian. The two of them didn’t just get caught in an earthquake and stranded by an avalanche, Grace’s former girlfriend died in an avalanche. There’s pathos for your story and there is PATHOS, and sometimes – a lot of times – less is more.

Two and a half stars of five, rounded down to two. This just didn’t do it for me, sorry.

Thanks to Bold Strokes Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Expected pub date: December 14, 2021.

Review: Pathway to Love (Radclyffe)

There are times when you can parachute into a series and it will be fine, and there are times – like this – that reading the series from the beginning is almost a requirement to understand most of what is going on, who the characters are, and what their history is. The upside to a recurring cast of characters is that they do have that history, between themselves, with the community, and so forth. The downside is that in books such as this one, there are so very many characters who get page time, that even attempting to give histories would take a lot of time and bog things down. So, no real history is given for the regular characters, only the new addition, and you’re left wondering, assuming you care about all the characters.

This entry features a new addition, Bennett Anderson, an orthopedic surgeon tapped to head up the new sports medicine division at the hospital (which is populated by characters from the previous books). She has signed on for a year contract, but the book makes it sound like the job is meant to be long term. Why have a director of that department for a year if you’re just going to have to start looking for another director almost immediately? That didn’t make much sense to me. Neither does having a Trauma 1 designated hospital in the middle of nowhere, really. Also, this is yet another small town that seems to be overrun by women, or at least the hospital seems to be, and most of them seem to be lesbians. That’s unrealistic, but I let it go because that’s what the genre needs from time to time.

Bennett “call me Ben” Anderson is also a former basketball player, who briefly had a stint in the WNBA, but (her “tragic backstory”, a requirement, because no one can just live an ordinary life) is that she had to leave pro ball because her father was dying, then got better, then died for real, a result of his alcoholism. She went to med school afterwards, and was hired by the hospital.

Courtney Valentine is a resident in the general surgery department at the hospital. Apparently, she’s been a member of the community forever, given her interactions with the other characters, and has a booty call buddy who also works at the hospital. Her tragic backstory: dad was out of the picture growing up. Court first meets Ben when she is walking to the hospital for her shift and finds Ben shooting hoops solo at a playground. Court. Basketball. Get it?

They meet for real at the hospital, and each thinks the other is attractive. Court winds up as Ben’s resident that morning as various cases roll in. They keep evaluating one another as the day goes on. There are approximately a zillion characters introduced at the hospital, most of whom are women, and who a new reader (like myself) will probably have a hard time keeping track of and distinguishing from one another.

At some point, Court is on the Life Flight (or equivalent) helicopter, heading out to a bad car accident. Her cousin is seriously injured thanks to two idiots in their trucks racing (PSA: don’t be an asshole. If you want to compare dicks, just whip them out instead of potentially injuring yourself or others by street racing.) They rush Val to the hospital, and Ben and Court operate to repair Val’s leg.

There’s another subplot about a couple of teenagers working out their first date, and one of those teens is a transman (Blake) who is trying out for the men’s basketball team. There is the usual school bully getting in his face, and a bi football player who wouldn’t mind a date or three with Blake.

Most of the book – about 70% on my Fire – takes place in the 24 hour-ish period that opens Court and Ben’s story. There is no real middle to this book, and the requisite disagreement/issue between lovers/Major Thing/”dark night of the soul” that would inhabit the end of the middle and lead into the final act takes up about four pages – and once again, it’s an issue that could easily be solved by the two characters just talking to one another. The last 30% is rushed, which for some reason seems to be a trend of many of the books I’ve read lately. Ben and Court get their sexytimes on, having gone from “hey, she’s attractive and nice” to “take me to bed, you hunka hunka burning love” in next to no time. I suppose that’s a little better than instalove/instalust meet cute thing, but it’s a little jarring because all we’ve seen of their romance, such as it is, has basically been in the course of less than a week.

And suddenly, it is about a month later! We don’t know this because we get some kind of clue to that or a chapter heading that says it from the author – we only know it because there’s a surgery referenced that took place a month ago. The two mains have moved in with one another, and they’re happy, as required by the genre.

What we do not get is anything more on any of the other characters, like Blake. Given the prominence of the basketball tryouts in the book, I wanted to see how things were going, since we’ve jumped ahead a month. How did Blake’s date go? Is the hot football player still flirty? Did Blake make the team?

It may not be Cecil B. DeMille and his cast of thousands, but there are far too many characters given page time here. Maybe leaving some threads undone is common in this series, but I’m not a fan of introducing a bunch of characters and focusing on them as much as or more than the main characters and it is disappointing when toward the end, the only thing we’re really seeing is the two mains and the sexytimes that go with the nectar of new love.

No sex until the end, but it is slightly graphic in each episode if one of your metrics is that point.

Only two stars of five on this one from me. Sorry, the way the story was told and the pacing just put me off. Hats off for no snapping of necks (“her head snapped up”) in this one, though.

Thanks to Bold Strokes Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Humbug (Amanda Radley)

Humbug is both an opposites attract and an age gap romance, and I use the term “romance” loosely Ellie Pearce, statistician extraordinaire toiling away as a drone writing reports that have nothing to do with her degree at a very large, eponymous recruiting firm cofounded and run by Rosalind Caldwell, who is seen as an ice queen and who is somewhat feared by the employees who work for her. Rosalind knows Ellie only by her nickname “Christmas Girl”, so dubbed because Ellie is one of those people who keeps christmas year round, her desk a riot of decorations and her music that of the season. But just so we know it isn’t tacky, we’re told Ellie listens to choral music and that she is involved in a christmas chorus each year.

One day, Rosalind comes marching down to the second floor to tell Ellie to pack up her stuff and haul herself up to one of the higher floors. This terrifies Ellie, as she’s deathly afraid of heights. But Ellie does as she’s told, and her new job is to be Rosalind’s assistant and take over the planning for the company christmas party, a Very Big Deal each year. Ellie digs in, only to find the previous assistant has sabotaged everything: canceling all vendors, caterers, and the space they had reserved.

Those looking for instalove will be disappointed. Those looking for some kind of meaningful romance to develop through the book will likewise be disappointed. If it weren’t for Rosalind’s 12-year old daughter, the two of them would rarely speak, and only about business – and mainly about the christmas party. It’s only in the last third of the book that anything really crops up, and as with a couple of Radley’s books I’ve read, the ending feels a littler artificial and a lot rushed. As with those books, I’d have been willing to read a longer book with those threads teased out a little.

I’ll give the book points for no instacure for Ellie’s fear of heights, and points for Rosalind and Ellie’s bestie to give her the experience of the party on the roof without actually taking her to the roof.

Three out of five stars.

Publication date: December 14, 2021

Thanks to Bold Strokes Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: On the Rocks – Swizzle Stick Romance #2 (Georgia Beers)

This is the second book in the Martini book series, but it is not necessary to read the first in order to enjoy this. It stands alone just fine.

Grace Chapman is in the middle of a somewhat contentious divorce and her young son Oliver has become the epitome of the problem child. His teacher at school, Vanessa Martini, has called Grace and arranged a parent-teacher conference.

Their first meeting is, thankfully, NOT instalove. Sure, they each think the other is attractive, but Grace feels that Vanessa is judging her because she can’t control Oliver, and Vanessa….seems to actually feel that way, when she finds out the kid is caught in the middle – just as she herself was, when her father left (cue the childhood trauma bell, as now the dad is completely out of her life, even though he still lives in the same town).

Vanessa and Grace wind up in the same place quite often, just by chance, and run into one another several times at martini’s, the bar owned by Vanessa’s cousin. Once out of the parent-teacher school vibe, they realize they are attracted to one another, but Vanessa is concerned about how it would look, ethics-wise, if she started seeing the mother of one of her students. Side note here, from someone who has lived in small towns off and on: even it’s just casual, everyone is going to know. That’s just the nature of small town life.

One day, while Grace is at work at the flower shop, Vanessa pops in and asks her out for real, and Grade’s crusty old boss approves, leaving Grace astonished.

The one issue I have with this is the same I have with most: communication. Grace’s issue with her ex husband’s insensitivity about Grace’s time and possible life could have been solved sooner. After he’s had discussions with both Grace and Vanessa, he does a complete 180 that would please whichever editor at Bold Strokes is in love with peoples’ heads snapping up or around. There’s never a point where Grace has a heart to heart with Oliver, which would have been worth at least a page or so.

They’re adults about getting really involved with one another – UHaul involved -which is a breath of fresh air. They decide to wait until the end of the school year, when Oliver will no longer be in Vanessa’s class.

There are some kisses, and there is some sex, but it’s not over the top graphic if that’s a metric you use to decide what to read.

A solid four of out five stars.

Publication date: December 14, 2021

Thanks to Bold Strokes Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Protecting the Lady (Amanda Radley)

Spoilers, ho!

Katherine Lovegrove, a distant heir to the English throne – think higher than two dozen steps – and daughter of judge Michael Lovegrove receives threats from an organized crime family because the latter is about to sentence the daughter of the head of the family to a lot of time in prison.

Eve Webb is a former protection agent, resigning from her job because of a double bombing – one immediate, one shortly after in order to catch first responders to the scene -and because she not only thinks she could have done more (how??) but because of the way information is compartmentalized and she thinks the intelligence services should be sharing information about things like threats of bombings so they can all work together to address threats. I don’t have much optimism about this, no matter how this book ends. She’s living in Tokyo, teaching English here and there and basically barely making ends meet. Her former boss now runs his own show, and goes to Tokyo to get her back to protect Katherine. There’s quite a bit of money involved, so Eve says yes and they return to London. Eve knows nothing about the job, the specific threat(s), or the protectee. You can see where this is going when we find out Eve is a staunch anti-monarchist.

And of course it does: Eve threatens her boss that she’ll quit on the spot because she is opposed to protecting a royal, no matter how distant, but he pleads with her to meet with someone: the judge. After hearing him out, Eve reluctantly agrees to do the job.

Katherine, trying to have her own life, objects, of course, and then goes on to have a childlike hissy fit about Eve staying in her apartment with her. The very next day – when her father hands down the sentence – a brick is thrown through her office window. Obviously, she won’t be able to work there in person, as it puts everyone else at risk, so off they go to a very large manor (or very small castle, depending on your viewpoint): her childhood home. Where she promptly locks herself in her room. Like a child, instead of a grown woman almost 40 years old.

Eve’s unhappy as well, and gets more people from her boss to help guard the castle, which, from a protection standpoint, is not a bad place to be: clear lines of sight, thick walls, and easy coverage of access points. It’s a dream!

Except Katherine doesn’t want to be there, doesn’t want Eve and her crew on the site, and generally is petulant. She convinces Eve to allow her to attend a charity ball that she’s been organizing for a year, and where she gets people to open their wallets wide, and Eve agrees after determining not that that’s an easy place to protect Katherine but that it means so damn much to her. This would be a signal that you’re allowing your judgement to be impaired because you’re falling in love with he protectee even though there’s no real chemistry going on.

And on that note, one other item: close protection duties mean close and almost always in contact. Alas, here, Eve and Katherine are not particularly close nor in constant contact with one another, so it’s a bit mystifying how these two start falling for one another when they’re also on different sides of things, attitude and royalty-wise, and Katherine has had a stick up her hind end about the lack of need of Eve’s services in the first place.

In any case, they’re on the way back to the castle afterwards, and someone takes a shot at the car, injuring the driver and causing Eve to jump into action, telling Katherine to get down, and taking over driving duties to get them to safety. Katherine is then at the castle, and Eve is off to a briefing with her boss. One again: not close, not in contact.

There are also no questions/discussions given over to the reader about the potshot at the car. Routes are varied, and they never take the same route twice, so how did anyone know? The obvious answer, of course: there’s a mole. Either this does not occur to Eve or her boss, or the reader is left out until later. The former would be rather silly for experienced protection service people, and the latter is, I think, unfair.

Eve, deciding she’s too close to Katherine, feely-wise, decides to hand over protection to someone else, and scoots. Katherine is promptly kidnapped, courtesy of someone ramming the car – again, how does anyone know the route?

Eve and her boss finally realize there’s a mole, and there’s a showdown in Ops, with Eve taking a guy to the floor and punching staples into his back until he gives up the location.

This leads to a bunch of services working together to retrieve Katherine, and Eve is there, leading Katherine out of the warehouse where she’d been stashed (and beaten), and where the head of the organized crime family has pulled a Stupid Thing, by being there on premises so the law can catch him, because daughter for daughter something something, even though his daughter is both not beaten and is also not dead.

So Eve and Katherine are reunited, and are now totally In Love, despite barely seeing one another through the whole book, and also apparently having worked out that whole royal-anti-monarchist thing in record time. The get the HEA, naturally.

As much as I hate the instalove trope, I recognize that it’s a handy way to cut out many chapters of a book and get to the chase, so to speak. But you have to decide what the book is: is it a romance, with occasional flashes of mystery and danger? Or is it primarily a mystery/action/thriller, with occasional romance and/or sexytimes (note: there are no sexytimes in this book)? It’s also fine if it it is both in equal measures, of course. I don’t think this worked on any of the three. There isn’t enough action except at the end for me to believe Katherine is any real danger that couldn’t be averted. There is no chemistry and no romance. The only balance between the two is a distinct lack of either. I’d have read twice the number of pages to get either or both.

It sounds like I’m just pounding on this, but I’m not – I’m just demanding because I want good stories and I want them to make sense. YMMV on every point I’ve made before now, but I imagine the last one is true for everyone.

Two and a half stars out of five, sadly rounded down to two.

Thanks to Bold Stroke Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Trial by Fire (Carson Taite)

I think I may very well be in the minority on this one, but the book did not deliver for me, either on the mystery side (as it was categorized) or on the romance side (implied).

Wren Bishop is on loan from a fancy, high powered law firm to the public defender’s office. She seems overly optimistic and sunny, and is somehow blind to the fact that waltzing around in designer clothes, with designer bags, and crapping on the coffee served in the department might not win her any friends. Or maybe she doesn’t care. Either way, it isn’t a good look.

Lennox Roy is on the prosecution side and has what seems not just a chip on her shoulder because of her poor as hell childhood but a superiority complex. She also sees things in black or white, guilty or innocent, and she’s sure that any defendant – including the one Wren winds up defending – is guilty. This led to some amusement on my part that any intelligent person (as Lennox supposedly is) would look at the investigative work the police did on that case and not see the gaping holes it had. My question at this point was whether Lennox had any redeeming qualities that would get me to like her. After her declaration she’d never date anyone on the defense side of the world, as Wren is at the moment, just because a previous relationship with the woman who represented her druggie brother went down in flames, I decided that the answer was probably not.

There are some courtroom scenes, and these are the best part of the book. There are a lot of office politics, some outside politics (a judge with whom Lennox is friends is running for office) and a lot of talk about wealth inequality.

Wren winds up hiring an investigator on her own because the PD investigators are swamped with work, and ends up with evidence that points the crime away from the guy she’s defending. She goes to Lennox and convinces her to get some evidence, and Lennox finally sees it.

It was too late for me by that time. There wasn’t any real romance to speak of other than both of them thinking about the other and a kiss in someone’s garage. They didn’t spend any real time together, although Wren did break things off with her kind of girlfriend who she didn’t like that much, so there’s that sacrifice, I suppose.

The ending was rushed and the “I love you”s felt far too early, which is something I also noted in my review of Her Consigliere by the same author. This could easily have been a bit longer, with more of the romance prominent through the middle of the story to better lead to the ending. This book is apparently part of a series of books in this universe, so I wonder if these two will have cameos down the line to show that they’re still together and/or managing to work on Lennox’s brother’s case to resolve it one way or another.

Only two stars out of five for me. Sorry.

Thanks to Bold Stroke Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: The Edge of Yesterday (C.J. Birch)

As a rule, I try to avoid science fiction that involves time travel. Time travel gets very messy, and most authors don’t think enough about the implications on a character’s own timeline when moving those characters back and forth through time. Case in point: a recent movie on one of the streaming services that sent soldiers back in time to gather a group of people to come fight in the future (of those soldiers) against something. I didn’t watch it because my immediate thought was: why not just bring technology backwards or give it to the people in that time, a la Star Trek IV’s transparent aluminum?

In any case, I’m glad I took a chance on this book, because it is fantastic.

Hundreds of years into the future, people 0n Earth are living far underground to avoid detection by drones. Most live a hand to mouth existence, there is no sun, no plants, and no fun. It seems nanobot technology ran amok (Terminator-style) and humans went into hiding.

Using AI as a helper, they’ve figured out how to use time travel, and they send people back to the past with specific tasks to perform to try to avoid having this particular occur, based on percentages determined by the AI. I could see a problem with this.

Easton Gray is selected to be a level five in her department: the level fives are the people who slip into the past, perform their task, and then hit the recall option on the computer implanted in their forearm. Her sister Calla is the only family she has left: her mother died when she was 12, and her father died at some undetermined date along the way. Calla has been promoted to the survey crew – a very dangerous job in itself – but Easton doesn’t want her to take it because of the danger. They argue a bit about it, and Easton tries to deal with Calla’s boss to move her to something else, only to find someone higher on the food chain has already done this. As it turns out -and as to be expected -it isn’t just actions in the past that have consequences.

Easton makes the jump. Her task: find and kill Zach Nolan, who is deemed responsible for the nanobots raging out of control. She finds herself in a field, naked, near a farmhouse. When the residents leave, she pops in, steals some clothes, and she’s on her way. Eventually, she finds and presumably breaks into the veterinary office of Dr Tess Nolan.

It turns out Tess has come to live in this rural town after leaving Vancouver and a rather crazy woman she was dating. The local vet was retiring, so she bought the practice. Tess happens to come into the office, and patches up Easton, who refuses to go to the hospital.

They meet again around town. Easton continues gathering information, as the people coming from the future are dropped in near when their target(s) can be acquired, never an exact date. Tess and Easton get to know one another, and they’re quite taken with one another. But Easton knows that not Zach alone needs to die: his discoveries go to Tess when he dies, and she is then responsible for the dystopian nightmare in the future. Easton arranges it, then sits back.

Only to find herself dropped into the field again. Something has gone wrong, and when that happens, they’re just dropped right back into the same place to try again.

Easton goes through a few of these iterations, increasingly having issues with not wanting to kill Tess, even though she knows one death could save billions.

But then a mystery visitor shows up, and the entire mission is turned on its head. I won’t go further than that except to say: the explanation makes complete sense, and confirmed one of my suspicions. The action picks up as hunters arrive to chase them, and the outcome is…well, you’ll have to read it.

It’s a great read, even if you’re not particularly into science fiction. If you do like science fiction, like me, I think you’ll find both the technological and philosophical issues around time travel adequately explained, and better, to make sense.

Five out of five stars. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Bold Stroke Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: A Convenient Arrangement (Aurora Rey, Jaime Clevenger)

Jess, a columnist for Sapphisticate (great name!), an online mag for lesbians, writes about lifestyle stuff when her boss says she should write about cuffing. I may very well be in the minority that I know what this is and that it has nothing to do with BDSM or role-playing in the bedroom, but then again, my head is full of all sorts of things like this that make people not want to play Trivial Pursuit with me.

Cuffing just means hopping into a short term, winter relationship, with or without sex, to get through the season, with the two parties going their separate ways by spring. A way to pass those months and all the festivities that go with them with a temporary partner since a ton of things for the season are usually for couples.

Case in point (kinda) is Cody, super butch mom of one, and a professor seeking tenure. She’s told by a couple of people that it probably would be a good idea to get an in with the female president of the university, who is married to a woman. Can’t hurt, right? Cody reads the article Jess writes, and leaves her a voice mail (awkward and cute) about being her cuffing partner for the season.

It doesn’t hurt that they meet at a fall fare where Jess is dressed up as a giant pineapple and is great with all the kids who come by to take a shot at knocking stuff down.

They agree to be each other’s plus one, lay out some ground rules (no pressure for sex, but if it comes up later, they can talk about it), and we’re in business. Cody has a date to go to school functions with someone, and Jess gets content for her column. It is, to coin a phrase, a convenient arrangement.

Of course, they’re both hot, and there’s some smoldering going on. They continue on, Cody making inroads with her ultimate boss because Jess and the president’s wife get along like a house on fire. Jess adores Cody’s son Ben, and he her. There are some Moments when it looks like they will hook up only to be interrupted by Ben, or something else. Readers who are not fans of kids or interruptus will be unlikely to be happy.

Cody and Ben wind up going with Jess to her family Thanksgiving, an everyone has a blast. Jess’ family love both of them, and they are quite taken by the mob of people.

But then, oh no! People in their 30s who can’t communicate! Cody gets a call from Anastasia, her ex-wife who has shown zero interest in Cody, and the other mom wants Ben to come out at stay for two weeks. Jess agrees to go – they look forward to being in a hotel room without a kid – but Jess gets a special request to interview a politician in DC and then an interview with an outfit in Philly, where she submitted a resume. Jess doesn’t tell Cody about the Philly connection, which by this point is a no-no: I couldn’t figure out what was to be gained by Jess not telling Cody, since by now they’re in love with one another.

We all know that there is a HEA at the end, because that’s the genre and not a spoiler.

No major complaints about any of it, and Ben really steals the show. Again, if you’re not okay with a kid being one of the most important things in someone’s life, this is no the book for you. There are no drawn out, steamy sexytimes here – most are fade to black. It’s an easy read and everyone is normal.

Three and a half stars out of five, rounded up to four.

Thanks to Bold Strokes Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Meet Me in Madrid (Verity Lowell)

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…

Except it isn’t two households, ccit’s two women, and it isn’t fair Verona, it’s Madrid. And no one dies at the end, which is refreshing (looking at you, Boys on the Side and Fried Green Tomatoes).

There’s bound to be spoilery stuff here.

Charlotte, once a Yale undergrad and now (some kind of lowly curator title) and courier shepherding pieces of art to the places they’ve been loaned, is stranded in Madrid during a sudden storm. Adrianna, once a Yale lecturer, and now a lecturer on the entirely opposite coast, is in Madrid on a sabbatical, running down and transcribing the diaries of a nun. They knew one another briefly,back at Yale, but now they’ve both been focused on their life in academia, pursuing their careers. They meet up at a cafe Adrianna knows, and the writing at that point tells you what going to happen: instalove.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, ass it’s a trope of the genre. I did like the wrinkle that there is at least the fact they knew one another in some way prior to Madrid. This means they’re also a bit older than the characters who usually inhabit the gene, and they’re also both black, another departure from the genre. No young white women with blond hair, blue eyes, zero body fat and perfect abs here: the author paints both women as “buxom”, which I took to mean that both have at least something approximating a bit of middle age spread in addition to both having big chests.

After a three day marathon of sex, Charlotte heads back to New Haven, and both women have the newly-met-but-too-far-away stars in their eyes, looking forward to their next meeting, in NYC, for the new year.

There’s a brief appearance by Hadley, a slim, white, young woman with perfect everything (oops, I guess not all tropes are dead) at the beginning of the new year version of Madrid, someone Charlotte can’t stand for reasons not well explained, who invites them to a NYE party at her parents’ house, and they go, for some reason. After finishing the book, I understand why, but it was a little heavy handed.

More sex, over the next couple of days. Adrianna flies back to Madrid, and we get an encore of Emotions.

Charlotte is tasked with taking some art out to California, and Adrianna insists that she meet Esther, a dear friend of hers. Esther’s having a time with her husband, who has been having an affair with one of his students. To put the betrayal on blast, he sends the student to tell Esther about it. After getting stuck in LA by yet another freak storm, Charlotte winds up at Esther’s teaching her son Fisher to make beignets. There’s a weird, uncomfortably written conversation between Esther and Charlotte, and the “is this older woman, having been married to a shitty dude with whom she had a son, really a lesbian, or at least bi?” thing was off-putting. There’s also a connection made, thanks to networking, when Esther takes Charlotte to Piedmont, who may or may not be in the market for a half courier/half lecturer type of person.

Next up: Chicago (Adrianna’s hometown) at Valentines Day! Also, interviews, where she once again faces the dean from Piedmont, but they have to pretend they don’t know one another. Charlotte also gives a talk on race and art, and her asshole boss from the museum – “I don’t see you as a person of color, Charlotte” – is there, once again saying stupid things, this time about how Brer Rabbit and Songs of the South are not racist, I guess, and how art shouldn’t be politicized. It’s the sort of blather some overly educated jerk says when they’re trying to put down one of their own employees with a nonsensical what if. What I thought immediately, and what Adrianna actually says in the book against his crap, is that his statement itself is political.

More sexytimes. They depart from one another, again.

In between all this – and sometimes when they’re recovering from a round of sex, there’s discussion of how difficult it is in general to have a career in the arts, and in particular, how hard it is for black, gay women to have a career in the arts. This is true (not just of the arts, of course, BIPOC LGBTQAI+ folk have a hard time of it anywhere) but the way it’s written feels like it’s been copied out of a policy paper.

Later in the book, we get the Sophie’s Choice: both women get job offers, but it would mean they would swap coasts, and still have the same problem: long distance relationships, even with these two who can get horny on command via facetime, are problematic in a lot of ways. They finally have their first blowup, after Adrianna tells Charlotte abut her offer from Yale. They get snippy from one another, and then give each other the silent treatment: no texts, no calls, no facetime.

Esther tells Adrianna she’s being a jerk and to knock it off. We get the usual makeup bit, but of course, they are still apart.

Charlotte,her pal James, and three other people get the axe fro the museum thanks to Jerkface McRacistBoss. James, crafty queen that he is, has receipts: Jerkface gets fired, the five are rehired, and Charlotte is given a vague promise or promotion to Deputy Curator when the woman in charge retires.

But where we land is in Cali. Esther has hooked up with Hadley, so we have a May-September romance with the two mains, and a May-December with the secondaries. It also occurred to me that out of the four white adult guys we meet for any real time, one is gay, one is a dean of the arts college, one is a two-timing douchebag, and the last is a racist homophobe.

If you’re reading for the sex, you’ll be delighted: there’s a lot of it, and it’s very graphic, sometimes to the point of being clinical. If you’re reading for the story: it’s ok. The writing style seems to be most comfortable when the topic is academia, and the descriptions of interviews and campus visits was the best writing and the best look at getting hired in academia that I’ve read outside of nonfiction.

Three out of five stars (possibly a fiver if erotica is your thing).

Thanks to Harlequin/Carina Press/Carina Adores and NetGalley for the reading copy.

At the end of the day, it’s a HEA – how could it not be?