Friday, May 31, 2019

Then Came You (Laws of Attraction #3) by Kate Meader

* * * * 

Content warning listed at bottom of review

In the courtroom, they’re rivals. In the bedroom, they’re . . . divorced. But could the road trip from hell lead to a second chance at love?

Aubrey Gates is the hottest divorce lawyer in Chicago, a barb-tongued stiletto with legs that go on for miles. When her cool gray eyes meet mine across the battlefield, I want her like I’ve never wanted anyone or anything. Then I remember who she is: the woman who brought me to my knees. The woman who destroyed my faith in relationships.

The woman I used to call . . . wife.

And she needs a favor from me, Grant Lincoln.

It seems my ex forgot to mention the demise of our marriage to her dear old grammie, and now we’re both expected to attend her ninetieth birthday party. In Boston. And because it isn’t already awkward enough, Aubrey and I are driving there together from Chicago. That’s more than a thousand miles of tension, heartbreak, and barely concealed lust.

A little piece of paper might say we’re over, but this road trip is the true test. I intend to get my wife back . . . and I won’t stop until “I do.”

Source: advance e-galley provided in exchange for an honest review

Aubrey and Grant have been divorced for some time and they're still not used to it. There's familiarity that always seems to pull them together but stops just short of reconciliation. With so much unresolved anger and hurt they'd have to sort through before they can even move forward again and possibly have a genuine friendship much less a second crack at marriage. All this matters because they seriously do still love each other. They're also both divorce lawyers who work in close proximity, and they have mutual friends so there's no avoiding each other physically as they have avoided each other emotionally during their failed marriage. In the previous books, their friends speculated about the pair's breakup but no one knew what truly transpired because Aubrey and Grant chose to keep that to themselves. The reason for their separation is heartbreaking and what happened surrounding it is just as sad. It's not exactly a twist that Meader introduces but rather she took whatever assumptions we were going with and gave us something else instead. 

The drive to Aubrey's parents' on the East Coast gives them ample time in the car to talk. Their easy banter, nostalgia and jokes would make you think all was right with the world. Yes, things get physical because lust was never really lacking between them. The emotional intimacy is trickier and that's what needs to be addressed. Meader turned things around by having Aubrey be tight-lipped, steadfastly against confiding in anyone and refusing to discuss her feelings, whereas Grant is the one who's desperate to seek advice and to hash things out. When they do finally unleash on each other, reopening those wounds that are still raw, it gets ugly before any healing or forgiveness can begin.

This is a far more sensitive read that unfortunately, a lot of people are familiar with, and Meader, I think, handled it delicately by offering a reminder that everyone processes their sorrow in their own way and time. You know, I liked both Down with Love and Illegally Yours but Then Came You got me right in the gut. As my heart sank and was wrung out through the shocking truths and brutal pain, I held on to the thought that things would right themselves. The bright spot is that this is a second chance romance with an eventual happily ever after.

~ Bel

Content Warning: divorce, miscarriage, dysfunctional family, pregnancy, marriage counseling

The Bride Test (The Kiss Quotient #2) by Helen Hoang

* * * * 1/4

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love.

Source: advance e-galley provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

I, like so many readers in Romancelandia, fell so hard for The Kiss Quotient. It was one of the sweetest, sexiest and most tender novels from last year. With such high praise, The Bride Test has a lot to live up to.

First off, The Bride Test has a different feel. Where Stella wanted to experience romance in The Kiss Quotient, there's a lack of it in The Bride Test, at least initially. That's because Esme has been foisted upon Khai as a potential bride by his worried and well-meaning mother. Esme agrees to leave Vietnam for the States where she's expected to woo him and if all goes well, the family will be planning a wedding by summer's end. It's a tall order to expect of someone who's never met the potential groom-to-be and who also happens to have no interest whatsoever in getting hitched. Khai has autism which impacts his interpersonal skills so he doesn't get social cues or read people the same way someone who isn't on the autism spectrum would. The only person with whom he ever got on with and who understood him was his cousin. Khai's convinced himself that he's this dark, broken person unworthy of anything good. So he'd rather stick to his routine and be content with the way things are.

I'm a bit confused by Esme. She's sweet and stronger than I could've imagined. You'd have to be if you're going to uproot yourself for a mad plan like this. But she has a lot at stake back home so she can't turn down the offer Khai's mom puts in front of her. She doesn't understand Khai's behaviour and is unaware of his condition. All she can think to do is try to make his very bland bachelor lifestyle less bachelor-y and more home-y. She tries to introduce a little bit of home by introducing traditional Vietnamese things she likes in hopes that they'll catch his attention. I certainly was not expecting some of the other stuff she winds up doing such as assimilating herself into American culture and going to school. This is what I mean about how strong she is. She has no family here and misses those she left behind, but she's making the most while she's in America. And for all his complaining about her, Khai does get used to having her around and wouldn't you know, starts developing feelings though they feel pretty alien to him. Esme not only baffles him and tests him, she's also patient with him which is something that he's not accustomed to.

The Bride Test is like continuing education for me about autism, at least through the lens of Khai's character. Once again, simple interactions that we take for granted are significant for him. As Khai finds his orderly life changing, he's forced to learn to interact in ways he's never had to before. I felt as if I was also learning something new from a different perspective as well. This is what I love so much about Hoang's writing - that she takes these seemingly banal moments and brings deeper meaning to them. There's a scene where Esme gently touches Khai and his reaction is of pain. He can't tolerate soft touches and when he explains what that sensation feels like to her, he brings context to it and with that empathy.

I admire Helen Hoang's honesty in writing about how autism affects daily interactions. Any time an author can break down and illustrate human behaviour into different parts to make us see it in fresh light, is an accomplishment worthy of all the praise. I am so grateful to be able to read a romance that comes with its own set of unique circumstances. It's a bit of a slowburn that gradually gains traction as they start to click. The Bride Test is warm, funny, empowering and ultimately, a gem of a book. 

~ Bel

Monday, May 13, 2019

Crazy Cupid Love (Let's Get Mythical #1) by Amanda Heger

* * * 1/2

Eliza Herman has spent years avoiding her calling as a Descendant of Eros. After all, happily-ever-afters are a myth. But when a family crisis requires her to fill in at her family's Cupid-for-hire shop, Eliza finds herself enchanting couples under the watchful eye of her mentor, Jake Sanders.

After Eliza accidentally enchants Jake instead, they set rules to keep his arrow-struck desire at bay. But some rules are meant to be broken, and before long Eliza is rethinking her stance on true love...until they discover a conspiracy that could destroy thousands of relationships--including their own.

Source: purchased

Eliza has come to accept that she's a bungling cupid, and she's tried for the most part to stay away from the family business. They're cupids for hire if you need to introduce a little romantic sizzle into your life. So why is she staying away? Because she's kind of a liability. She's so accident-prone that the wrong move would literally mess up a job and could have someone declaring their undying love for her for weeks. Her clumsiness is demonstrated within the first few chapters reiterating the fact that she's better off doing something else. However, when her father suffers a heart attack and her twin brother Elijah (seriously, Eliza and Elijah, so cute and so confusing) needs help running the business, she reluctantly steps in. She gets a little help from Jake, her friend since forever who's also been her eternal crush for just as long. Jake coming on board is a good thing because he knows Eliza best and can guide her. At the same time, his presence makes her all wobbly inside. 

Part of Eliza's problem is confidence. She's severely lacking in it and it isn't helped by her mother's random comments and nitpicking. But Eliza's devotion to her father pushes her beyond her comfort zone to work past the mental blocks she's erected in her mind. With Jake encouraging her it should be a breeze, but no. The few enchantments that she's cast for clients initially work well. Then something goes horribly wrong with each of them. At first she thinks she's botched the jobs but after further investigation she and Jake suspect something sinister's afoot. 

I usually have issues with characters who are "clumsy" because it feels like a lot of the examples wind up being gratuitous which in turn make me annoyed and embarrassed for the character. I was so relieved when that gradually abated and Eliza got to shine and show what a smart and talented person she is. She's such a genuine sweetheart who'd love to give the world to anyone. There are also tons of laugh-out-loud instances that had me in giggling fits. A prime example of the humor and how much fun Heger had with the book: a governing entity named "The Department of Affection, Seduction and Shellfish", or as the author pointed out to me, The Department of A.S.S. Tell me that doesn't make you laugh!

While Eliza's spells going haywire is a predictable part of the plotline, Heger's addition of quirky clients and their bizarre problems keeps things unusual and interesting, as does the mystery that pops up halfway through. I had so much fun reading this and think this goofy, joyous read makes it perfect for your summer reading list.

~ Bel

Friday, May 10, 2019

Bred Review Tour

We're celebrating the release of BRED by Ginger Scott! It's a coming-of-age romance inspired by Great Expectations that you won't want to miss!

A coming-of-age romance inspired by Great Expectations

My life was irrevocably changed the moment I stepped foot inside Elena Alderman’s grand front doors. A lifeless tomb on the edge of Chicago’s Southside, the Alderman home sat in one of the city’s oldest and wealthiest neighborhoods, and Elena Alderman was the queen. 

She was also mad. 

Not the kind of madness that’s readily apparent. No, her psychopathy was far more surgical—more…insidious. She was surrounded by beautiful things—most notably her grand piano and her adopted son, Henry.

I fell in love with both. 

My gift blossomed when my fingers touched her black and white keys. But my life began when I became haunted by the boy. Henry Alderman was a handsome blend of arrogance and seduction, and as we grew up together, I found it more and more impossible to separate him from my thoughts. I envied his life. I imagined how my name—Lily—would look with his. I became his closest friend…and more. I gave him my kiss, locked away his secrets, and loved him even when it was hard to.

But we were just a game. Elena Alderman made the rules. And when she decided to change them, she broke everything. 



* * * *
I've read so many books by Ginger Scott that I've experienced highs, lows and the in betweens with her. She's given us youthful innocence, gritty personalities, wounded souls and generous hearts, but Bred is something different entirely. If I had to describe it with one word, I'd borrow it from Scott's acknowledgements: bleak. It's the perfect summation of this story about two teenagers who feel rather like misfits in their worlds and find a strange sort of solace in each other's company.

When Lily and Henry first meet they're mere children and Lily can already tell that Henry and his adoptive mother, Elena are different. Henry remained somber through the years as Lily continued her piano lessons with Elena who so generously offered her time and piano so that the naturally talented Lily could learn. Despite Henry's often aloofness, Lily became enamoured with him and they formed a tenuous bond that was so unusual and unique to anything I think either of them had. Elena's home life is a far cry form Henry's who has money and wants for nothing. Hers is strained. When Lily's parents died, she went to live with her mother's distant cousin, Alice and her husband. Neither were ready to be parents and were already struggling financially. Lily was basically counting down the days when she could be on her own so it's come as a blessing when she's accepted into the elite boarding school that Henry attends. She hopes that now that they're at the same school they'll see more of each other and even hang out. Much to her disappointment and confusion Henry continues to remain a mystery to her. 

Ginger Scott took on quite the project with her retelling of Great Expectations. I'm unfamiliar with the original and have no way of comparing the two but I was none the less captivated by the story even if there were only a few moments of joy. Much like the book's cover I saw everything as mostly gray or muted colours, including the people. The bright spots came during some unexpected moments such as Lily singing in front of a crowd, a night club scene; basically anytime when it wasn't just Lily and Henry stuck in their bubble. There's also this underlying sinister feeling that comes across, and thanks to Scott's enthralling writing I wanted to get to the bottom of Henry's behaviour and Elena's motives. She's a devious one that Elena.

Ginger Scott takes risks with the stories she wants to share with us. I like that Bred was unlike anything of hers I'd read before and it would be a perfect read for you if you're in the mood for a retelling of a classic.

~ Bel


(Copyright Ginger Scott, 2019)

“You know this stuff…” he starts, but I interrupt with an emphatic shake of my head. When his fingers splay out over my back I freeze. I follow the path my book takes back to the place it started in front of me as Henry slides it in place, flipping open to the chapter I’m trying to memorize. Knelt down next to me, he leans closer, resting his right arm next to my left one—we are touching.

I swallow. I’m going to fail. I cannot memorize something like the varied historical degrees of differences between a Protestant hell and a Lutheran one while the master of all hotness is sharing a desktop with me. My arm hairs are literally electric, standing up and reaching to plant themselves in his skin. I’ve gone completely primal—my body convinced that I am the gatherer in need of this hunter.

“Look,” he says, leaning in even closer and reaching to flip the pages. I barely register the movement of his thumb under a bold section of words. When his eyes catch mine still stuck on his face, I jump in my seat a little.

“Sorry,” I say, clearing my throat. “I’m just overwhelmed. Maybe a little slow, too, from being in here so long.”

It’s partly true, but I’m also just crushing. Crushing—that’s what Nicki calls it. She rolls her eyes every time she catches me doing it too, then labels it with that word. I crush in the dining area. I crush between classes when Henry pokes my arm with his index finger as we pass in the halls. I crush when I watch him sprint across the lawn every day at three in the afternoon, late for rowing. It’s literally become how I know it’s three o’clock! My body just instinctually glides toward my window at exactly 2:59. Pathetic!

At this point, we should just say that I’m crushed rather than crushing. Crushed and utterly destroyed of all pride.

I am gatherer.

“What you need to do is make up a rhyme. Something that will help you keep all of the key words in your brain so when it comes time to write them down in order, you’ll have them there.”

I draw in my lips and let the acid climb up my throat.

“I don’t even understand that. Ugg, I’m hopeless,” I say, letting my head fall flat against the book. I bounce my forehead there lightly while I eke out a desperate laugh at my own expense.

“You aren’t hopeless.” I feel the warm breath from his chuckle and smell the mint of his gum, and it’s intoxicating enough without his touch, so when the warm hand slides the hair from my cheek I go full hypnosis. His fingers trace my jaw, and my head lifts from the light pressure of his hold. For a moment, I believe in myself just because of the look in his eyes when our stares meet. He’s dead serious—and God, the way he’s looking at me, hair all tousled, smile soft and true, cheeks lifted as if they’re glad to see me.

Like a drunk, I lean closer, my lips parting and ready—my mind imagining everything I’m about to feel—Henry’s mouth on mine, the graze of teeth against my lips, us standing as his arms sweep around my back before his hands rush up my spine into my own messy hair.

None of that happens.

I get an inch away from his mouth, my eyelids fluttering with nerves and uncertainty whether they should close or remain open, and Henry turns a few inches to his left, stiffening and backing away just enough to keep me from making this worse—as if I can make this worse somehow. The rush of heat that coats me isn’t from passion—it’s from humiliation. My eyes remain open just long enough to see the movement in his neck as he clears his throat. His soft smile is replaced with a hard line, drawn under the pity that slants his eyes.

I think I understand hell a little better now. It helps that I’m in it.

“I’m just tired. I…” Why I try to speak, I don’t know.

“It’s fine.” His voice is laced with discomfort. In one blink I erased everything that was easy between us. All because of my damn fantasies.

Fine. That word—so short, so four-lettered. Such a lie. I ruined everything.

About the Author

Ginger Scott is an Amazon-bestselling and Goodreads Choice Award-nominated author of several young and new adult romances, including Waiting on the Sidelines, Going Long, Blindness, How We Deal With Gravity, This Is Falling, You and Everything After, The Girl I Was Before, Wild Reckless, Wicked Restless, In Your Dreams, The Hard Count, Hold My Breath, and A Boy Like You.

A sucker for a good romance, Ginger’s other passion is sports, and she often blends the two in her stories. (She’s also a sucker for a hot quarterback, catcher, pitcher, point guard…the list goes on.) Ginger has been writing and editing for newspapers, magazines and blogs for more than 15 years. She has told the stories of Olympians, politicians, actors, scientists, cowboys, criminals and towns. For more on her and her work, visit her website at

When she's not writing, the odds are high that she's somewhere near a baseball diamond, either watching her son field pop flies like Bryce Harper or cheering on her favorite baseball team, the Arizona Diamondbacks. Ginger lives in Arizona and is married to her college sweetheart whom she met at ASU (fork 'em, Devils).

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