Friday, July 24, 2020

Sun, Sea and Sangria by Victoria Cooke

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Escape to the palm-fringed beaches of the Canary Islands and wash your worries away.
Kat swore off dating many years ago, after her marriage ended in a catastrophic mess. Having moved to the Canary Islands for a fresh start, she has never had much time for romance, channelling all her energy into managing all-male dance troupe – the Heavenly Hunks.

With golden beaches, sparkling blue water and relaxing after work with a glass of sangria – or three – for Kat, it’s summer all year round. But despite life being postcard perfect, Kat can’t help but wonder if she is missing out on the most important thing of all… love.

The dancers are all well-known for their flirtatious antics and aren’t looking for anything serious… except Jay. Sitting by the pool, watching the sun reflecting in the water, Kat feels like she can tell him anything.

Handsome, caring and a good listener, he ignites a fire in Kat’s heart that scares her witless. But her relationship with Jay should stay strictly professional… right? There is absolutely no way that she can be his boss and his date.

As the temperature rises, will Kat be able to take the plunge, let go of her past and find romance in paradise?

Source: ARC provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Kat's history is interesting albeit sad that has made her a fighter. Through flashbacks we're shown that she was in a bad marriage where her husband spent the entire time gaslighting her. Once her marriage was over she took off for the Canary Islands to build a new life. It's here that she has found her independence, gained back her confidence and is now a stronger person. As a business woman who's responsible for one of the area's must-see entertainment attractions - Heavenly Hunks - she's done well for herself and she can be proud of that. Everything is going swimmingly until Jay joins the Hunks and provides a new kind of emotional connection that she hasn't had in years. He tests the boundaries that she's firmly set since her divorce. Being attracted to Jay is one thing - she can control how far that goes - but falling in love, being in a relationship signals giving up control which is frightening for someone who survived an abusive marriage. Then there's also the question of the Heavenly Hunks future - whether the show can go on as is on their island paradise or if they need to dream bigger.

Let's get this out of the way - Kat's a freaking warrior to get where she is today! It's taken so much out of her to achieve her independence and learn to rely on herself. Her recollections of her husband are heart-rending but they explain why she's hyper sensitive or quick to draw conclusions when she senses even a hint of the mistreatment she received in the past. I'm glad she and Jay became friends and gradually developed a level of intimacy that they were both in need of. The pair come with burdened hearts that require a lot of patience and sympathy, and most of all, trust - something that they're both attempting to be better at.

All that being said, I'm sad to admit that I didn't quite feel the story pull me in completely. Sometimes it felt like Kat was listing things she was doing or feeling. It's a bit confusing, really because the flashbacks from her marriage felt more poignant compared to what felt kind of robotic in the present. It seemed like whatever was going on with her took me to just the very surface without allowing me in any further so it felt more like I was observing the motions rather than experiencing along with her. It's odd that I felt that difference but that's how I interpreted things. 

Overall, Sun, Sea and Sangria was fine. Aspects of it were interesting like the behind-the-scenes workings of the Heavenly Hunks, their camaraderie, and of course, Kat's metamorphosis from victim to being her own heroine. The island life is an obvious draw. It's just that I wanted something more in the in between; to delve deeper into Kat's mindset but that would probably have taken the story in a different direction than what the author intended. It's still a good read for anyone looking for fun and island love.

~ Bel

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

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One (fake) boyfriend
Practically perfect in every way

Luc O'Donnell is tangentially--and reluctantly--famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he's never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad's making a comeback, Luc's back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship...and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He's a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he's never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that's when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don't ever want to let them go.

Source: ARC provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

I've been sort of done with the whole "fake relationship" trope. That is until I found out Alexis Hall was releasing Boyfriend Material and well, you know how you tend to make exceptions for authors you like/trust? I made that exception here and let me tell you, I am IN LOVE with Boyfriend Material!!


Boyfriend Material's charm has everything to do with Hall's writing. I honestly love the way he writes and phrases things and emotions and moments. Oftentimes they're amusing anecdotes and other times they're absolute gems of clarity. In Luc and Oliver, I also saw a little bit of me. Who hasn't gone through that insecure feeling that they're not worthy of love and attention? When that kindness is directed at Luc and Oliver, it's almost an alien-like feeling. Luc has learned to be super protective about himself and is highly cynical of new friendships or attention because he's been a magnet for the gossip rags. Thanks to the antics of his famous parents, and especially his neglectful father, Luc's been in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. When that spotlight threatens his job he has to find a way to clean up his image. The problem is solved somewhat when his best friend hooks him up with Oliver, a lawyer whose pedigree and refined mannerisms are the exact opposite of Luc's. But since they both could use some help with their love life, they go for it - fake dating to appease Luc's employer and Oliver's family. 

What makes this story standout for me aside from the writing is how Luc and Oliver's characters are developed. Relationship-averse Luc almost self-sabotages their arrangement a few times but it's Oliver who redirects with kindness and reassurance. In fact, I was so blown away by how he helped Luc through his more neurotic moments that I might have gotten a little jealous of Luc. Then when the table is turned and Luc is the one providing all the support and encouragement to Oliver ... it's just remarkable how much growth took place for him to even venture outside of his comfort zone to be a friend to Oliver in return. 

I've been anxious lately about a number of things so I savoured every single second I had reading Boyfriend Material. It was an entirely delightful escape that gave me several moments of laugh out loud joy. I appreciated Luc's self-deprecating humour, I loved Oliver's dry retorts to Luc's silliness. They balanced each other so well and I definitely liked how their relationship gradually deepened. I also enjoyed all the quirky side characters. They just own their quirkiness. I giggled through any scene where Luc interacted with his somewhat dimwitted co-workers because they were so far out there it was hard not to love them. 

It's truly intimidating to write a review after reading something so perfect so I hope it's sufficient to say that Boyfriend Material is one of my favourites of 2020. Top 5, for sure! It was also educational because it taught me what 'versimilitude' is 😉 And I do believe that this will be a comfort read for me, one I revisit for its amusing and enigmatic personalities, and its happily ever after!

~ Bel

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

A Reunion of Rivals - Harlequin Feature

Book description 

Sparks in the boardroom and the bedroom… She can’t let anything derail her passion project, Not even a second chance with the sexiest man alive… 

The deal that could bring Quinn Bazemore’s career back from the brink has one catch: she must partner up with her ex-lover Max Abbott. Quinn can’t forget the pleasure-filled summer they shared. But now she’s butting heads over business strategy with the mouthwatering marketing VP, even as their reawakened desire threatens to expose her deepest secrets… 
Author bio

Reese Ryan writes sexy, contemporary romance featuring a diverse cast of complex characters. She presents her characters with family and career drama, challenging love interests and life-changing secrets while treating readers to emotional love stories with unexpected twists.  Past president of her local RWA chapter and a panelist at the 2017 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Reese is an advocate of the romance genre and diversity in fiction. Visit her online at 
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“Morning, Max.” A wide smile spread across Dixon Bazemore’s face as they both rose to their feet and shook hands. The old man had been the owner of Bazemore Orchards longer than Max had been alive. “Good to see you, young man.” 

“You, too, Mr. B.” Molly’s instincts about the reason for the meeting had been right. Why else would Dixon Bazemore be here? Still, he asked, “What brings you to see us today?” 

“We’ll go over everything during the meeting,” Max’s father interjected. “We’re waiting for one more person.” 

Max glanced around the table. All of the members of the executive committee were present. His grand-father and father. His brothers Blake and Parker, the operations VP and CFO, respectively. Blake’s wife, Savannah—the company’s events manager. Zora, him and his father’s admin, Lianna, who was there to take notes. 

“Who are we—” 

“I’m sorry. I got a little turned around finding my way back here from the parking lot. But I’ve got your portfolio, Grandad.” 

Max snapped his attention in the direction of the familiar voice. He hadn’t heard it in more than a decade, but he would never, ever forget it. His mouth went dry, and his heart thudded so loudly he was sure his sister could hear it. 

“Peaches?” He scanned the brown eyes that stared back at him through narrowed slits. 

Quinn.” She was gorgeous, despite the slightly irritated flare of her nostrils and the stiff smile that barely revealed her dimples. “Hello, Max.” 

The good to see you was notably absent. But what should he expect? It was his fault they hadn’t parted on the best of terms. 

Quinn settled into the empty seat beside her grandfather. She handed the old man a worn leather portfolio, then squeezed his arm. The genuine smile that lit her brown eyes and activated those killer dimples was firmly in place again. 

Max had been the cause of that magnificent smile nearly every day that summer between his junior and senior years of college when he’d interned at Bazemore Orchards. 

Thursday, July 2, 2020

The Marriage Game by Sara Desai

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A high stakes wager pits an aspiring entrepreneur against a ruthless CEO in this sexy romantic comedy.

After her life falls apart, recruitment consultant Layla Patel returns home to her family in San Francisco. But in the eyes of her father, who runs a Michelin starred restaurant, she can do no wrong. He would do anything to see her smile again. With the best intentions in mind, he offers her the office upstairs to start her new business and creates a profile on an online dating site to find her a man. She doesn’t know he’s arranged a series of blind dates until the first one comes knocking on her door…

As CEO of a corporate downsizing company Sam Mehta is more used to conflict than calm. In search of a quiet new office, he finds the perfect space above a cozy Indian restaurant that smells like home. But when communication goes awry, he's forced to share his space with the owner's beautiful yet infuriating daughter Layla, her crazy family, and a parade of hopeful suitors, all of whom threaten to disrupt his carefully ordered life.

As they face off in close quarters, the sarcasm and sparks fly. But when the battle for the office becomes a battle of the heart, Sam and Layla have to decide if this is love or just a game.

Source: ARC provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

I wanted humour and witty repartee and it was all here in The Marriage Game. This opposites-attract, forced-proximity romance pits Layla, a whirlwind of a personality HR recruiter against Sam, a disciplined CEO. They are like fire and water but the attractive kind that you can't help to tear your eyes away from. Returning home to San Francisco after she discovered her reality tv boyfriend was cheating on her, Layla has to restart her life and her career. Her father offers her the office space above their restaurant with the intent to renege on the lease that he had agreed to with Sam. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Sam doesn't get the message so his and Layla's first meeting does not go off well. Both are insistent on the right to be there and boy do they butt heads! When a stranger shows up responding to her dad's ad, Layla thinks it's the perfect opportunity to take the guessing game out of dating and go on these dates to eventually find someone to marry. Sam thinks it's the worst idea ever but because her father is unavailable, he agrees to chaperone these dates. They have an agreement regarding the office that is dependent on the result of these dates. Shenanigans ensue.

Layla and Sam can deny up and down in front of everyone how much they detest each other but the truth is that they're not only intrigued but rather in lust. There's so much self-sabotaging of dates and crazy run ins that I was eager for the next mess they'd land in. I truly got a kick out of Sam's reactions to her dates. He had the best zingers and comebacks that I fell a little for him. Layla, though could not be suppressed. Not only did she trudge through the dates, she actually enjoyed giving Sam grief. It's been a while since I've felt two characters challenge each other the way they did and I was so into them. Honestly, these dates just gave them an excuse to be nearby but it proves to become a conundrum for Sam who's bent on achieving his own agenda which is to exact revenge on someone who hurt his family. It's an incident that's part of his past that he has purposeful left behind but continues to haunt him. Being around Layla is a reprieve from his guilt. But when the borders he's built to separate his worlds start to break down, so does he.

The only thing that's iffy to me about The Marriage Game is the initial set up where Layla wants to oust Sam from an office space that's legally his. That scenario is flimsy and let's be reasonable, rude. Anyway, it can be easily discarded as Layla and Sam's interactions pick up steam and become this ridiculous crazy train of blind dates, meddling but well-meaning aunties and constant ribbing. I live for this stuff and The Marriage Game delivers all that and the laughs brilliantly!

~ Bel