BLOG REVIEW: Keeping Her Up All Night by Anna Cleary

26 y.o. ballerina-turned-florist is stressed from keeping her recently-deceased mother’s flower shop afloat and dances in her apartment to help her get some needed sleep.
However, the loud band practice next door is keeping her awake and she holds flirtatious songwriter Hero responsible. 
Her protests lead to reciprocated flirting, which quickly turns into mutual passion. 
Hero’s standoffish behavior after their intimacy causes her to retreat from him as well. His charming seduction and help in saving her flower shop softens her up. 
However, his negative reaction to weddings and his reticence about his past makes her wonder about their future together. How long will she be content with their current relationship?

I found Cleary’s writing similar to Bridget Jones’ Diary but with 3rd-person POV(point of view), with meandering descriptions of thoughts, people, and the like. It didn’t work for me and I found the first few pages hard to engage with. I actually was going to DNF(did not finish) it but gave it another try a few weeks later. I made it past the first chapter and, after Hero and heroine met again the 2nd time, the book became more engaging. It’s probably because the writing became focused on Hero and heroine’s romance. It zeroed in their sexual chemistry and the sex scenes occurring very soon helped spark the pace of the book.

Hero’s fluctuating behaviors towards heroine conveyed his lack of interest towards her. He seemed much more affected by thought of his ex-fiance than heroine. Unless it was about sex. I understood his allergic reaction to all things to do with weddings. Being stood up at the altar by the love of your life in front of all your family, friends, and employees would be highly humiliating. But he was so concerned about how others remembered his humiliation that he was a jerk to heroine and wouldn’t tell her why he was behaving that way. He didn’t want her to know he was a loser yet displaced his anger about it on to her. His jerk behavior reached it’s zenith when he was confronted with his ex-fiance.

           ---SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details-------------------

Hero was happily dancing with heroine at the club he took her to and which he used to frequent with his ex-fiance. As soon as he spotted his ex-fiance there, he completely forgot about heroine and immediately abandoned her on the dance floor to go to his ex. Heroine was clueless for a few minutes that he was gone so she was dancing all by herself before she finally realized her dance partner left her without notice. She found him talking to another woman whom she surmised was his ex. And she watched them argue, kiss, and leave to go outside.  As far as the kiss, his ex initiated it but Hero stayed with it, looking like he was enjoying it from heroine’s viewpoint. He enjoyed the kiss a bit before he pushed his ex away. This was all public. In the club. With heroine around. And he either forgot about her or didn’t care.

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Hero was a jerk at times but heroine was his matching doormat. He only needed to soften her with his charm, some help with her business, and seduce her a bit before she’d drop her defenses from being hurt by him and give him another chance. When Hero shooed her from his place after having sex the first time, I was so proud of her for confronting him over his jerk behavior and literally shutting the door on his face with some terse words. But 1 day later, she took him back in. She was a sensual woman but, come on!. Was having more orgasms more valuable than her self-respect?  In her case, yes. She became his booty call, if you will. Their ‘accidental’ meetings in the apartment building and excuses for helping her with her business would invariably lead to sex. She couldn’t even consider herself his girlfriend until he mentioned it in passing, when they were on their way to the club where he saw his ex again. She wanted to be his girlfriend but wouldn’t discuss it for fear of making him shutdown again.  She’s already had a history of being a doormat with an ex-boyfriend and she was behaving the same way with Hero.

She didn’t confront him about his rude behaviors at the club, after he saw his ex-fiance. She instead pitied him for being jilted at the altar by her. She placed the blame even for his rude behaviors at the club on his ex-fiance. It was her fault for making Hero immediately approach her at the club. It was her fault for making Hero kiss her back.

I was unconvinced of Hero’s love for heroine. He was definitely more in love with his ex-fiance than heroine, based on the behaviors he exhibited between the two. Heroine’s only saving grace is that Hero loved his ego more. His pride wouldn’t let him take his ex-fiance back. It would be too humiliating to do so, after she jilted him at the altar 2 years ago. Heroine served his ego well since she pandered to his needs and desires and easily softened up to his charm and excuses. So, it’s possible that they could have a HEA(happily ever after) but of the dysfunctional kind, if they continued on with their harmonizing dysfunctions. But if heroine wised up later and no longer swayed by his ego and charm, I foresee some romance trouble. 

I minimally recommend this book.
2-star

BLOG REVIEW: Don't Ask Me Now by Emma Darcy

22y.o. heroine is torn between her unresolved feelings for her ex-boyfriend and her gratitude towards her current boyfriend.  
Five years ago, she moved to Sydney after she was rejected by her own family and humiliated and abandoned by her ex-boyfriend and his snobbish family.
It’s driven her to succeed in her business and in Sydney society. She finally achieved them with the help of her current boyfriend 
who invested in her business 4 years ago and introduced her to the right people. Her life was finally in the right place and she's finally considering more serious matters with her boyfriend.
But, at the eve of her acceptance in Sydney society, she encounters her ex-boyfriend again. 
He is not only pleased to see her but wants her back in his life. She accepts his offer for her and her boyfriend to visit his family ranch for the weekend, mostly to sort out her feelings. But matters become messier instead, when her current boyfriend catches her in the arms of her ex.
And things turn out to be different than what she expected. Who does heroine end up with?

I was impressed at this 1987 Darcy book. I’m not a fan of love triangles but this one was so upredictable and different than the standard HP(Harlequin Presents) I was loving its uniqueness. I didn’t know who the Hero was until past the halfway point of the book. Both men were written with both good and bad, with heroine feeling mixed emotions about them. I was kept guessing. The emotionality of the writing kept me swinging back and forth based on what heroine was going through at that moment. Heroine was still heavily influenced by her past feelings and memories. She was emotionally beaten down 5 years ago from being rejected by her own parents, belittled by her boyfriend’s parents, and abandoned by her boyfriend.  And her motivation to succeed in the past 4 years was due to those experiences. It made her disregard her current boyfriend and view him more as a tool to avenge her past by being successful now. She appreciated his constant encouragement and support in her and her business but she couldn’t see him for the man that he was. She was admittedly selfish and so caught up in her insecurities. It’s what caused her to easily succumb to her old feelings for her ex-boyfriend when she saw him the first time in 5 years and almost forget her current boyfriend next to her. Spending the weekend in her ex-boyfriend’s family home helped her sort out her feelings and prod her to make some important decisions. It became the turning point of the book. And  the Hero gets revealed.

      -------------SPOILERS: Don’t read below if you don't want to know the book's details------------

The weekend at her ex-boyfriend’s ranch gave her the time she needed to reconcile her past with her present. Rehashing the past with her ex clarified that he never loved her but saw her as a prize for playing so hard to get. The time they spent together was sexually focused and Hero wasn’t interested in getting to know her in any other way. It highlighted his emotional manipulation of her then and now.  It also revealed that her deep feelings for him was due to her inexperience and immaturity as a 17-year-old and her being easily manipulated by him. He easily chose the family ranch over her. Although he didn’t reveal it then, he confessed to agreeing with his parents that heroine at 17 wasn’t the type of woman he wanted as his partner in their family ranch. But now that she was more sophisticated and stylish at 22, she was worthy enough for his family ranch.

Heroine’s current boyfriend may have started out as peripheral in her life. But he came out as the Hero of this book. He was peripheral in the beginning of the book because that was how she viewed him. He was the financial and emotional support she needed for her business the last 4 years. He was patient with her and never pushed her for anything she wasn’t ready for.  She didn’t really see him as a man or a potential lover. He wasn’t even her friend because it was a one-sided relationship, with her at the receiving end. She viewed him mostly as her investor & her business sidekick. And he was willing to wait for her to reciprocate his feelings for him. Until he caught her in the embrace of her ex. Then, Hero hit his limit with her & broke off their relationship.

Breaking up with her made her realize how vital Hero was to her life. She needed him and wanted him in her life. His quiet but constant presence fell under her radar all those years, compared to the more dramatic feelings she had over her ex-boyfriend.  Yet, when this steady but solid presence was about to be removed, its absence mattered to her more than the big, loud dramatics from her ex-boyfriend. It showed how much heroine had grown up and changed to want stability and peace instead of empty passion and drama.  Hero’s value in her life became her focus at the same time she was closing off the final chapter with her ex-boyfriend.  It was a reversal of the beginning.

Heroine’s process of choosing between her ex and Hero exposed the type of relationship she had with Hero. She had the upperhand. When Hero broke up with her and she tried to reconcile with him, that was the brief time where Hero had the upper hand in their relationship. But it didn’t last long because Hero took her back after she confessed her love for him a day after he caught her kissing her ex. Their relationship approached some balance but Hero still was clearly more in love than heroine was with him. Hero was the giver and heroine was the receiver. She loved him back but just not to the devoted and focused degree that he did for her. She kind of settled for him because of the good he was doing for her. She felt sexual passion for him but it took 4 long years for it to happen. She had instant sexual passion and chemistry towards her ex but, when she realized that was all there was to it, she became turned off by him. So she became sexually attracted to Hero, not because he turned her on sexually, but because she needed him emotionally. She settled for a better man than her ex. Not very romantic or sexy. But they’ll likely have a stable marriage, mostly fired up by Hero’s strong feelings for heroine.

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I recommend this book.
4-star

BLOG REVIEW: Marriage Made of Secrets by Maya Blake

Documentary photographer finally accepts the demise of her 5-year marriage to busy Italian businessman Hero. 
Although their whirlwind romance began happily, 
Hero became increasingly distant since her pregnancy with their daughter. 
Causing their marriage to be remote and detached. Attempting to live together for the sake of their daughter for a few weeks make them face their overwhelming passion for each other
and unsettled secrets.  Her confrontation with him about it yields answers that drive the hurt even deeper and she demands a divorce. 
But finally revealing his secrets open Hero up to possibilities like never before, including another chance at making their marriage work. But is it a little too late for them?

I didn’t know how to rate this book. I’ve never read Blake before so I was both impressed at how her writing gripped me from the get-go and disappointed at the way things unraveled for the main characters. The greatest strength of this book was the emotional engagement of the writing. It was focused, simply stated, and emotionally gripping. I read the first 12 pages twice just because I wasn’t at a good reading spot the first time and I wanted to make sure I got the full effect of the book the 2nd time around because I was so riveted by what I read so far. Both Hero and heroine were strong people and their feelings were intense. They butted heads because heroine wasn’t going to play the doormat anymore and wait for Hero to want to be in the marriage any longer. I loved how she gave as good as he did in their confrontations. They were as equally intense in their sexual chemistry, both fighting its’ almost-uncontrollable and wild impulse. I loved it.

Where the book unraveled for me was Hero’s secrets and how it affected their relationship. It’s been hinted all along that Hero’s change from a willingly passionate lover to an emotionally and physically withdrawing husband of 5 years had to do with big secrets he withheld from heroine. I was expecting his secrets to be big and angsty for him to be so cold and uninvolved not only with heroine but with their daughter as well. I was more confused than disappointed at the nature of his big secrets.

        -------------SPOILERS: Don’t read below if you don’t want to know the book’s details----------

The main reason why Hero distanced himself from heroine and their young daughter was the heavy guilt he was feeling for ruining his brother’s life. His brother blamed him for destroying his relationship with his pregnant girlfriend who worked for Hero and who later committed suicide while still pregnant. As a result, his brother condemned him as unfit for marriage and children. It seems that Hero took this to heart, which didn’t make sense to me.  He wasn’t close to his brother or parents at all, being sent to boarding school at age 12 so that his parents could devote their care on to his sickly brother. Nothing had changed since then. So, emotionally he wasn’t that attached to his brother. And the only times he was involved between his brother’s romance with his girlfriend was when his brother would call him and accused him of sleeping with his girlfriend who Hero hired before even knowing she was his brother’s girlfriend.  For Hero to take responsibility of his brother’s bad breakup with his girlfriend and accept his brother’s judgment of his future marriage and family was very out of character for Hero. It was so odd and so disconnected from Hero’s character that I was confused. How could Hero punish heroine and himself for something  out of left field like that? Maybe I’m totally missing something. Maybe somebody can explain this to me in the Comment section of this review. I just don’t get it.  Why would he let his brother’s life drama affect his romance with heroine to that extent? And why keep that a big secret from heroine? Why not bring it up before he married her? And why marry her at all? It’s the 21st century and they could’ve both dealt with being parents to their daughter without marriage. If marriage for the sake of protecting their daughter and giving her his name was important, then why not state this and have a marriage of convenience instead, if heroine accepted it.

Hero’s other big secret was the Tay-Sach’s disease his brother has suffered from and recently died of.  His abrupt change towards heroine started when she found out she was pregnant.  He must’ve feared that their baby would be a genetic carrier of Tay Sachs like he and his brother were.  It’s only in hindsight that I put his abrupt change, the pregnancy, and the disease together. I wish these were more clearly linked in the book as to arouse some sympathy and understanding for Hero about this at the time of his explanation. It seemed more like information that was relevant to their daughter’s health now and in the future instead of another valuable piece to the puzzle of Hero’s withdrawal from heroine in the last 5 years.

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As much as I loved the focused and emotionally-engaging writing of the beginning chapters, the middle to the end chapters where Hero’s secrets get revealed didn’t seem as focused. And, emotionally, it was more disorienting. The connection between his secrets and his choices for their romance seemed disjointed. His growing indifference towards heroine was the most worrisome sign for me. I could understand his resistances to their wild attraction, his hiding or suppressing his feelings for her, and his physical avoidance of her through work.  But there were instances when he could care less what she thought and what she felt. He was deliberately cold, cruel, and indifferent to her and it didn’t bother him to see her struggle so much to put a spark in their marriage. He really didn’t love her in their 5 years together. The good thing, though, was that he was honorable enough to be faithful to her, even when they'd stop having sex within the last year. He began to love her when she threatened to divorce him and he told her his secrets. This was different.

Interestingly, I believe that they could actually have a HEA(happy ever after) together. Hero did change and became serious about being there for heroine and their daughter. Spilling his secrets and the recent traumas from his brother’s death and from almost losing their daughter from an earthquake produced a change in him. Something clicked that made Hero assess his life.  And heroine was someone who’s part in his life he re-assessed. Her standing up to him and telling him how he was as a husband and a father helped him face the truth and work on being different. There was no grovel from Hero, unfortunately. And heroine was ok with that. She could see that he had changed and was genuinely changing towards her and their daughter. She bought it. I bought it. I think they have a better chance at lasting love now.

I moderately recommend this book
3.5-star

BLOG REVIEW: Serviced (Volume 1) by Allie Burrow et al

10 military romance short-stories about:

A steamy 2-night-stand followed by 7 months of long-distance romance via writing letters between heroine and Corporal Hero. 
What will their reunion be like? --  For One Night Only by Allie A Burrow (4.5-star)

Chief Petty Officer Hero regrets walking away from his romance with forensic investigator heroine 5 years ago. Will his incidental involvement in a murder which heroine is investigating the opening he needs to get close to her again? – Over A Dead Body by Leona Bushman (2-star)

Coast Guard Hero can’t quite believe how sexually carefree young hippie heroine is being with him, when they just met. 
Will he ever consider her seriously? -- Red, Whites, and Blues by Mickey J Corrigan (3.5-star)

Hero is on military leave after being gone for 6 months and surprises his wife of 10 years. How will she take it?  -- Leave Taking by Angelica Dawson (3-star)

British au pair is hot for Air Force colonel Hero at first glance but he seems hot and cold towards her. 
What will it take to get him as into her? -- First Date: The Italian Colonel by Jesabelle Jones (2-star)

Major Hero is considering marriage to his best friend’s younger sister. But will marrying her mean the end of his lascivious lifestyle?  -- Major’s Minah by Raven McAllan (2.5-star)

The serious martial-arts sparring matches Warrant Officer Hero and Corporal heroine had for weeks ends up in an unexpected passionate kiss one day.
How will the strict non-fraternizing policy affect their potential romance?  -- Knock Out by Natalia Petrovskii (4-star)

Heroine is embarrassed at having used Corporal Hero sexually for comfort after he informed her of her soldier brother’s death. Can they forget about what happened between them and merely focus on getting her brother’s funeral sorted out?  -- A Chance at Love by Shelli Rosewarne (3-star)

Heroine plans to convince her twin brothers’ best friend, UK Special Forces Hero, to give in to their long-held mutual attraction, which they briefly succumbed to 6 months ago but Hero soon halted. 
Will she be convincing enough to counter his resistance? -- Taking Command by Zara Stoneley (4.5-star)

A tryst while taking shelter from a snow in a barn during a navigation exercise. What more can Corporal heroine and Lieutenant Hero have?   -- Riding Out the Storm by Natalia Petrovskii (4-star)

These short stories may be a mixed rating for me but they were all such brief reads (less than 25 pages per story) that even the not-so-good ones didn't really bother me. The stories I enjoyed the most were the ones where Hero and heroine were deeply emotionally connected and love was the drive to their steamy sex scenes. Burrow's Hero and heroine may have only spent 2 days together physically but their emotional connection heightened through 7 months worth of letter correspondence. So, their reunion was not only hot but touching. I loved how their goodbye turned the heat on their emotion and romance. There was some poignancy that added a depth to this shorty story. It was such an emotionally focused and engaging read that I couldn't believe it was already over. The emotional connection between Hero and heroine in Stoneley's story had been simmering over many years but forbidden due to Hero being the best friend of her twin brothers. Six months ago, they crossed over the forbidden for a 2-day tryst but Hero reverted back to the forbidden line due to his fears. Heroine's seduction drove him past his fears again and she made sure that they dealt with it together this time around. Heroine's maturity since the 6 months she was with Hero and her resolve to push past her usual agreeable tendencies were admirable. The emotional vulnerability of the main characters in both these stories and the emotional grip of the writing made these 2 stories the best of the bunch.

My second bunch of faves were both of Petrovskii's stories. They share the forbidden no-fraternizing theme in their romance. I liked the complication these held for both sets of Heroes and heroines, their attempts to resist their attraction, and the inevitable surrender to the overwhelming desire they had for the other. I just thought that a more solid resolution to their romance problem would've helped solidify their future more. There were definitely hints that both Hero and heroine were interested in continuing their romance but there were no clues to how. Also, their emotional connection was present but it was unclear what their draw was. Neither of the characters knew each other aside from a limited professional capacity. 

I thought the stories of Dawson, Rosewarne, and Corrigan in the average range. Corrigan's was a special case though. Initially, I sensed no connection aside from some convenient lust between Hero and heroine. They were young, it was the 60s, and they were in an almost-secluded beach together. The sex was immediate, easy, and done with. I thought it was just erotica but I was surprised by how it ended.

    ------------- SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details-------------

They only spent maybe an hour or two together and that included sex. It was told in Hero's POV(point of view) and, according to him, that was that for them. Until he read the note heroine left him about the possibility for more. What made it touching for me was Hero reading the note 40 years later and finding out that they've been together all those years since. It was such a delightfully sweet surprise to know that they did connect deeply after all. I loved the 40-year epilogue. 

    ----------------------------------------------END SPOILERS---------------------------------------------------------

It increased it to an above-average read for me.

I didn't care for the rest. I considered Bushman's, McAllan's, and Jones stories. They were erotica and not the erotic romance the other stories appear to be. And I don't read erotica because it lacks the romantic element I look for in my fiction reads. These 3 stories were just sex with maybe some other non-emotional interests in each other. In Bushman's case, it was the readiness for commitment for Hero.  Hero and heroine had a relationship 5 years ago.

   ------------- SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details-------------

Hero broke it off with heroine because he wasn't interested enough in committing to her. He dated and even had some serious relationships with other women but he was realizing that heroine set the standard. His regret seemed like a process that unfolded over the years and not a big moment of realization. And it wasn't pressing enough either to have him look her up and pursue her again.


    ----------------------------------------------END SPOILERS---------------------------------------------------------

Seeing her again triggered his regret and gave him the opportunity to get with her again. She was fortunate that it happened because he likely would never have taken the effort to see her again. I wasn't convinced he was in love with her even at the present time, while she'd been dealing with his rejection and still loving him all those years. She conveniently came back into his life when he was ready to be in a committed relationship.

McAllan's story is the only historical romance of the contemporary bunch. Heroine had an unrequited love for her brother's best friend, Hero, and was assertive in proposing marriage of convenience with him. She wasn't missish but was willing to take what she could from him and prove her sexually flexible she can be, even as a virgin. She was that into him and he accommodated her because she seemed fitting enough for the kind of marriage he sought. He definitely had the power in the relationship and I didn't see it changing.  Jones' story was pure sex. They saw, they conquered, and they came. It was a mutually-desired hook-up. No love but definite interests in future hook-ups. They were sexually compatible and I don't foresee a monogamous relationship. 

Overall, I partially recommend this book.
3-star

BLOG REVIEW: His Bought Mistress by Emma Darcy

30y.o. interior-designer gets dumped by her barrister boyfriend of 3 years for the accidental posting of her picture on a dating billboard ad.
She is more relieved than regretful about it.
It makes taking the offer to accompany 38y.o. self-made billionaire businessman Hero to his business trip to Tokyo easier to agree to. 
However, she starts vacillating about sleeping with Hero when they arrive in Tokyo. But getting to know each other more put their affair back on track.
And it extended past the weekend with Hero wanting more of heroine. She has some doubts, however, of his motives for being with her and his plans for a long-term commitment with her. What happens when she finds out about the secret he’s been keeping from her?

Some good and bad about this book. The worst thing about it was probably the book title and second to that was the description of Hero in seductive mode. The rest wasn’t so much bad but average. Let’s start with the title. It was inaccurate. Heroine was neither Hero’s mistress nor was she bought.  He did pay for their trip to Tokyo (i.e., airfare, their shared hotel room, meals) but that‘s pretty much all she let him pay for. She was very adamant about not getting expensive gifts from him and clarified that she wasn’t into him for his money and could pay her way. In fact, she refused the expensive jewelry he was about to buy her and bought him an expensive gift instead. I liked her sense of independence and her will to no longer be another man’s arm candy.  She had a successful business and was sufficiently established at age 30. Wasting her time and emotions on her snobbish and socially-conscious ex-boyfriend for 3 years taught her to value herself more and not settle for less than a man who loved her enough to marry her. So, although she got involved with Hero straightaway from her breakup with her ex-boyfriend, she was carefully assessing him and their relationship. She let herself be swept away by their sexual chemistry but she kept her emotions and expectations in check. Her emotional reticence compelled Hero to treat her well, since he could sense at times that she was about to bolt from their relationship. It actually increased his attraction towards her & caused a change in his expectations of their romance. He was used to women who were with him for sexual and financial gain and none sparked the emotional interest that heroine did.

Hero showed his interest in heroine immediately. It was sexual at first and then emotional later. Either way,  the frequent “purring” of Hero and liking his maneuvers to a jungle cat got on my nerves! After the 20th use of the word “purr” as Hero’s way of talking to heroine, I asked my husband to purr while talking to me. And I laughed my head off!  Maybe I should’ve made him stare and move around me like a jungle cat too. LOL! Anyway, these seductive descriptions of Hero really got in the way of their sexy moments. I’m just glad there were none of those jungle cat behaviors during their sex scenes. And, thank God, Darcy’s other books don’t have these repeated wild-animal analogies of Hero.

Hero’s sexual interest in her was obvious but his emotional one wasn’t always clear. There were times I wondered how true Hero’s interests in heroine really were. Other factors that made me question it.

     -------------SPOILERS: Don’t read below if you don’t want to know the book’s details-------------

First, Hero’s change of expectations and behaviors towards heroine, after she wavered in her decision to sleep with him in the beginning of their Tokyo trip, seemed really quick. They didn’t have much emotional connection then and he was quite clear that his interest in her was sexual. So his immediate softening to her and catering to her needs seemed out of place. I don’t know why he suddenly changed since she didn’t emotionally mean much to him at that time. Maybe her reticence to him was a novelty. He did admit to never having had to seduce a woman before. Maybe it was the novelty of a woman changing her mind about sleeping with him when they’ve already taken some major steps into that direction.

Second, Hero kept a major secret from heroine and set his revenge plans in action weeks before she found out. His big secret was that heroine’s recent ex-boyfriend was his teenage nemesis who stole his girlfriend & exulted his family’s wealth over him.  It was what motivated Hero to work hard at becoming rich and successful all those years.  And he wanted to throw it at heroine’s ex-boyfriend and his snooty parents’ face, during the planned social event he was taking her to. His anticipation at avenging himself towards her ex-boyfriend was more important than heroine’s well-being. He hadn’t thought of heroine’s feelings and desires at all. She called him on it and broke up with him over it. Luckily, he was able to do some apologizing with a marriage proposal. And that worked for her.

    ------------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS-----------------------------------------------    
Hero and heroine lacked the emotional intensity for and connection with each other that I like to see in the main characters. Theirs was average. I think part of it was due to their stage in life. Both were in their 30s and were ready for marriage and kids. Marriage was definitely top priority for heroine. She hung on to a mild relationship with her ex-boyfriend for 3 years, hoping he’d finally propose. Before he dumped her, she was already cluing into his lack of interest in marrying her. It wasn’t all too surprising for her to plunge into a romance with Hero straight away after being dumped. She was conscious of her age and she wanted to get married. So, Hero came at the right time and did some right things, like propose marriage. Their physical attraction was the strongest connection they had. They had to do some work to incite their emotional intimacy. It did develop but it was average.

I moderately recommend this book.
3-star

BLOG REVIEW: Christmas is Cancelled by Aurelia B Rowl

Her train ride being cancelled is just one of the things going wrong with the Christmas Eve of recently homeless and unemployed heroine. 
Her day is capped off her with her falling on the ground at the train station and having her old crush 31y.o. Hero, whom she last saw about 10 years, witness it. 
His invitation to his home turned into a chance to enact their long-held attraction to each other. 
But his unexplained reservations keep them from the very thing they both want. Her displeased brother’s unexpected arrival puts extra pressure on Hero. 
How much of his secrets are linked to her brother?  Will her brother succeed in keeping them away from each other again?

This novella was put together well and was smoothly-paced.  It was funny, sexy, dramatic, and sweet.  The characterization mixed with their heartfelt emotions and forbidden romance made it an engaging read. Heroine believed her love for her brother’s best friend Hero was unrequited. Something happened between her and Hero that that made her feel embarrassed and rejected and caused her to leave home. I wished we knew the details of what exactly happened between her and Hero 10 years ago to have a better understanding of and have some angst for what went wrong. It seemed to influence her transformation, where she dulled her appearance and dated emotionally-safe men.  

Hero couldn’t do anything about his love for heroine 10 years ago and now.

        --------------SPOILERS: Don’t read below if you don’t want to know the book’s details---------

Heroine’s brother made Hero promise that he wouldn’t romance his younger sister. Although Hero was his best friend, her brother partly believed the rumors that Hero was a murderer and, all in all, a bad boy.  I guess, her brother never asked Hero about the truth of the rumors but it influenced their later relationship. At the present time, Hero and her brother didn’t seem to be in contact with each other.  This should have made a difference in Hero’s romantic pursuit of heroine now but a major characteristic of Hero was his sense of honor.

The high-school rumors about Hero being a murderer was indirectly true. At age 15, the punch he delivered to his mother’s abusive boyfriend exposed the problematic vein problem he didn’t know he had and caused his immediate death. Being incarcerated in a juvenile facility for months, losing his mother to suicide, and being later acquitted of criminal murder charges incited him to improve his life. Being an honorable person was important to distinguish himself from his negative past. He had to honor his difficult promise to heroine’s brother to not touch her. So, even at the present time, he could not get himself to fully yield to their consensual attraction. Added to that was his secret and shameful past that he hasn’t told her about yet and was afraid will turn her away from him. He didn’t want to dishonor her choice to not be with him when she knew the full truth about him by having sex with her beforehand.

       ----------------------------------------------END SPOILERS-------------------------------------------------------

Hero went on with his life after heroine left, making a success of his construction skills. He dated other women because he never thought heroine would ever be in his life again. None of them matched what he felt for and what he loved about heroine.  His annual Christmas journal gave us a peek of what his life was like without her. Seeing her again and spending time alone with her was bittersweet. It was particularly hard because heroine was so forthright about her desire for him yet he was anguished by how his secret past would affect her.

It only took them less than a week to meet again and begin their HEA(happy ever after). It was quick but not unbelievable. They had 10 years worth of separation, where they figured out what they really wanted and matured. So 6 more days is not much.  Their openness and deep love for each other  made for a sweet and romantic ending.

I recommend this book.
4-star

BLOG REVIEW: Man Hunt by Charlotte Lamb

25y.o. jazz singer is shocked when her niece confesses about falsely accusing Hero. 
Three years ago, heroine didn’t give Hero a chance to defend himself and rejected him immediately after hearing her niece’s accusations. 
She immediately seeks him out after her niece's guilty confession and apologizes to him. But he’s still bitter and angry over her betrayal of him and spurns her. His father’s assumptions that Hero still loves her
is all the encouragement she needs to take the singing job in Venice his father offered her 
so she can confirm if Hero still has feelings for her. But Hero's distance and cold resentment doesn't make things easy on her.
What will it take for him to give her a second chance?


The best part about this Lamb book was the local tour guide of Venice.  There’s something in how Lamb weaves the location description in the story that doesn’t distract from the plot and makes the place come alive and makes me want to visit it. Heroine’s pursuing forgiveness from Hero and a second-chance with him was distinctive from the standard HP(Harlequin Presents). But, overall, this book was an average read. It’s missing the emotional pull and intensity of Hero and heroine’s love. Both of them gave up on their relationship too easily. Hero was justifiably hurt and angry that heroine didn’t even bother asking or confronting him about what her niece accused him of.

     -----------SPOILERS: Don't read below if you don't want to know the book's details---------------

Heroine's niece who was age 16 at that time bragged to her friend that she and Hero slept together. Word got to heroine and the rest of the family about it via her friend's mother. And her niece stuck to her story because she didn't want to get in trouble and be humiliated for lying about Hero. It was at her now 19-year-old niece's wedding day that her niece finally confessed that she made it all up. Hero never seduced her and they never slept together.

     -------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS------------------------------------------------------

She immediately judged him guilty and rejected him along with her family. But Hero neither stood up for himself nor confront heroine either to make sure that she listened to his defense. He just slunk away in hurt pride and quiet rage.  After heroine knew the truth of his niece’s false accusations of Hero, she was driven to make things right with Hero. What she needed to do was to apologize and atone for her betraying him. Instead, she responded to Hero’s coldness and unforgiveness towards her simple apology with offense, hurt, and impatience. As if he was the one who owed her!

Heroine never did grovel. She thought about it but never did anything about it. She chose to manipulate his forgiveness and a second chance with him. She did, in effect, "hunt" him by persistently inserting herself in his life after his father told her that Hero may still have feelings for her. I admire perseverance in romance but it was how she did it. She was sly and passive-aggressive about it. She made the choice to pursue him yet, when he resisted her efforts, she’d get mad at him and blame him for hurting her. She couldn’t take the heat and got out of the kitchen a few times, murmuring about how unfair things were but with 1 foot still inside the door. Then she’d remember that she hurt him 3 years ago and needed to atone. So she’d go back in and risk the heat again. This passive-aggressive cycle occurred quite often.

Hero’s love for heroine was no match to her manipulation of his feelings. The only reason why she pursued Hero and took the job in his Venice hotel was his father’s reassurance that Hero still loved her. Her knowledge of his secret feelings for her gave her power. And she used it to seduce him, soften his hardness towards her, and make him desperate for her. She was clever and ruthless in her aims with him. He was a goner.

I modestly recommend this book.
3-star

BLOG REVIEW: Heating Up the Holidays by Lisa Renee Jones et al

Play with Me by Lisa Renee Jones
24y.o. heroine accepts the temp job she desperately needs since she lost her new journalism job in las Vegas in route from Texas.  
Her attraction to her Vegas-hotel CEO boss Hero is instant
but she doesn’t have much time to deal with it due to his exacting work demands. It doesn’t help that she senses his mutual attraction and efforts to resist it.
A long security lockdown at work and rumors of his career treachery was enough to shortly make her change her mind about working with him. It turns out that her quitting was all they needed to succumb to their intensifying attraction to each other. 
But Hero wants her to continue working for him. What will she risk in doing so?



Snowfall by Mary Ann Rivers
Microbiologist postdoc maybe isolating herself and fearful of going progressively blind. 
But she has two men whom she shares bit and pieces of herself. She has an online relationship with a mystery man whom she shares stories of her past and engages in some cybersex. 
She shows her resistant and angry side to her occupational therapist whom she’s becoming attracted to. 
As she reconciles herself to her visual disability, it changes how she relates to the two men. Who does she choose?


After Midnight by Serena Bell
Non-profit organizer Hero flies to Boston from Cleveland at his friend's request to join him at a New Year's Eve party, hoping to lift his desolate spirits after being on forced job leave due to embezzlement accusations. 
At their first eye contact, middle-school teacher set her sights on him as her rebound guy at a New Year’s Eve party. 
But he disappeared soon after things were heating up between them. She looks for him, even through social media, to no avail. 
Until 11 months later when she gets a text informing her of Hero’s name and whereabouts and encouraging her to contact him. It doesn’t take long for their quick rapport to end up in an affair. He is, however, unsure of how she’ll respond to allegations of his embezzlement. 
What happens when he tells her?


I’ve read my share of bundled holiday romances but this one had substance.  Jones’ Thanksgiving romance had good characterization of Hero and heroine’s strong personalities that both clashed and complemented each other in their boss-assistant relationship. Their chemistry and relationship change was speedy yet believable. The heavy emotional undertones between Hero and heroine set their connection and made their insta-romance convincing. River’s Christmas romance was a unique blend of the scientific and artistic-poetic. It took me a while to get used to the author’s language and writing style but it fit academically-minded Hero and heroine. They got each other’s brainy language and overall esoteric geekiness.  Neither were the height of attractiveness: heroine with her clumsy, plus-sized body clothed by her mother’s clothing choices and Hero with his tall and lanky build and oddly-featured face. But they turned each other on. The romance triangle was an interesting complication and was somewhat predictable.

    -----------SPOILERS:  Don’t read below if you don't want to know the book's details---------------

Heroine’s online sex buddy was actually occupational therapist Hero, unbeknownst to both of them. They had already planned on finally meeting in person. Mostly to find some closure in their online relationship and help finalize their decision to fully pursue their “other” relationship. They’d built some intimacy in their online relationship and they were both ready to reveal themselves to each other in real life. It just so happen that Hero saw a picture of his which he shared with heroine online on her desk.  And that’s what clued him in that she was his mysterious online sex buddy.

     -----------------------------------------------------END SPOILERS--------------------------------------------------

The resolution hinged on heroine’s figuring herself out first before she can fully commit to a romance with Hero.  There  was a chick-lit feel to this book but it didn’t override the romance. So that was good.

Bell’s New Year’s Eve romance was sexy with some depth. Hero was undergoing some major career and emotional changes. It primarily guided the course of their romance, which was to avoid it. Thus, we have Hero disappearing from heroine without their exchanging general info like their names. He doesn’t attempt to find her and it’s his best friend that finds and contacts heroine 11 months later. Heroine was the pursuer of the romance and tried her best to look for Hero after their botched meeting. She wasn’t pushy. She was just very interested in him and didn’t want to lose the strong connection they had. She felt something for him and she was the type of person who lived and loved fully. So she fully looked for him and, when she finally found him 11 months later, she contacted him right away. I liked that she wasn’t a sulking or whiny person. She unhinged Hero with her openness and willingness to take a risk. He learned to live and love like her but not before he made some major mistakes & drove her away from him. He had his insecurities but he still retained his sexy alpha-maleness.

I recommend this book.
4-star

BLOG REVIEW: Hard As It Gets by Laura Kaye

Nurse heroine is desperate for help with her missing younger brother. He's all the family she has left since her military father's recent death in Afghanistan.
She asks part-time tattoo artist and former Army Special Forces Hero for help since her brother named him in his cryptic message.
Hero initially rejects her when he found out who she was. But he can't stop thinking about her due to a nagging feeling that she's in danger. And he's very attracted to her.
Rescuing her from her house intruder convinces him that there's much more involved with her missing brother and has her move in with him and his brother for her safety. Their close proximity enables them to get to know each other more and fires up their shared attraction.
However, Hero becomes more unsettled by the secret he's keeping from her. And it becomes increasingly evident when his former Special Forces teammates join him in helping locate her brother. Which side will she take when she finds out his secret? How does his secret connect to her brother's disappearance?

The best part of this book was the first quarter. The beginning was exciting, sexy, and well-paced. It established heroine's desperate search for her brother and the reason why she was so anguished by it. Her daring approach for help from Hero was rooted on this vein and was emotionally engaging. Their sexual chemistry was instant and compelling as was his automatic resentment towards her mixed with some guilt over slamming down her genuine request for his help. The first 1/4 of the book was well-paced & made me eager to read more. Then, it slowed down a bit after that and hit a plateau all the way til the end. The story became more concentrated on everyday details of their lives, mostly centered on their plan to find her brother and why they keep on targeting heroine. The initial action-suspense excitement and emotional pull subsided. 

Hero and heroine's emotional connection developed but the book became more action-suspense oriented that their romance got pushed towards the side. Their sexual chemistry was still evident but it got prolonged and distracted by the aforementioned everyday details. When they finally had sex, it was steamy but my overall interest in the book had waned at that point. I skipped some pages just so I can finally get to the sex scenes.  Even my interest in heroine's reaction to Hero's big secret dissipated. There were many characters (including a 3-legged dog) introduced by the second half of the book and that only added to the emotional and romance distraction. When the big-secret reveal occurred, heroine's sense of betrayal and Hero's guilt failed to engage me. Hero's teammates plus the dog was there at the reveal and the whole thing felt contrived and was resolved pretty quickly. Hero and heroine's love confessions were predictable and lacked the intensity and drama that I like when they occur.

Aside from the excitement of the initial part of the book, the action-suspense part was involved but failed to engage my interest. It wasn't predictable per se because there were some parts that were creative. The problem was that the writing wasn't suspenseful & didn't grab me.

I limitedly recommend this book.
2.5-star