BLOG REVIEW: This Time by Marie Hall

23y.o. book editor has a hard time moving on with her life 

apart from her high-school boyfriend who still has a hold on her.
Tonight she's reached her limit with him and she goes to drummer-tattoo artist Hero to escape. 
26y.o. Hero has wanted heroine for years but didn't want to intrude on her rocky relationship with her boyfriend. He's done wanting from afar & decides to finally do something about it tonight.
They agree to a 1-night stand,
although Hero wants more with her. 
She's wracked with even more guilt than before.
Especially when she finds out that she's pregnant from her 1-night-stand with Hero. He is as shocked as she is and they deal with it together, making the most of it.
Heroine learns to be happy with Hero and their impending family together.
However, her lingering ties with her ex-boyfriend and his family don't sit well with Hero.
And, when she finally makes her choice, will it be too late for her and Hero?

This is my 3rd Hall book and I didn't like it as much as Right Now (review here) and A Moment ( review here). Firstly, I don't much care for romances with a heroine who's torn between two men.  It's palatable when it's clear early on that heroine's feelings for Hero is much more intense than the other man (OM) and most of the book is about her developing love for Hero. Well, this book had heroine struggle between her feelings for Hero and her ex-boyfriend throughout the whole book. So quite a bit of the book's content was about her love for OM: when it was strong and when it died down.  The portrayal of a losing your love for another man due to life circumstances 

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

Heroine had been with her ex-boyfriend since she was age 15. She was head over heels in love with him and they had a great relationship. They planned on getting married and starting a family after college. And she became a vital part of his family and was closer to his parents than her own. A few weeks before starting college, however, she and her boyfriend (OM) had a car accident, which caused some brain damage and consequent personality changes in OM. This was what precipitated OM's worsening drug use and serial cheating. Yet heroine hung on to their declining relationship for the next 5 years, which includes the present. She felt responsible for his welfare and had the patience of a saint, forgiving him time and time again for his drug use and cheating. What made it hard was that she knew that his personality change was due to his brain damage so she made excuses for his misbehaviors and felt guilty for not loving him as much as before. She continued to hope that with time and the right behaviors OM would revert back to the man she fell in love with. Distance from him helped her get a more realistic perspective on things. But when she'd see or hear from him again, those old feelings of love, nostalgia, hope, and guilt would push her back towards wanting her fairy-tale life with OM again. 

At the time that she met Hero, she and OM had officially broken up for a year. But they still kept in touch almost daily with each other and she basically put her life on hold for him. She hadn't even unpacked the boxes in her apartment, hoping that OM would finally get better this time around and she'll get the life she was supposed to have with him. 

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

and what happens when you find love with someone else yet still care for your old love was realistic.  I appreciated that but the almost-equal focus of her feelings for her ex-boyfriend in this book wasn't something that appealed to me. And her repetition of regretting losing her perfect life & romance with OM before the big change, despite all the years she struggled in her romance with him was disconcerting. It made it seem like Hero wouldn't even have a chance with her, if she & OM never had their major setback.

Secondly, heroine's love for Hero seem about equal to her love for her ex. I like romances with main characters who have a strong love for each other. Not just unequaled to any other lover but greatly surpasses what love or even lust they've felt for anybody else, making any previous love/lust for others seem super-miniscule in comparison. Unfortunately, I couldn't say that about this book. The amount of time, energy, and focus spent on heroine getting over OM and finally choosing Hero showed how strong her feelings were for OM, despite that she and Hero had been living together for months and were about to have a baby. Hero was near-perfect in his devotion to heroine. He verbally and behaviorally displayed his love for her. He deserved a gold-star for his understanding and patience with her waffling with OM. I believed that if she never got pregnant with his baby, she would've continued waiting on OM and let Hero go forever. OM had that kind of hold on her heart and mind. Hero had to restrain her from talking to OM and even reminiscing about her good ol' days with OM by sexing up her and romancing her with his kindness, generosity, and love. I felt sorry for Hero because he really was her 2nd choice. Since OM was pretty much a lost cause and she was fast realizing it, Hero became more and more appealing as time went on. 

Thirdly, I'm not sure if its the overall writing or the result of heroine's emotional indecision between the 2 men. But the writing didn't seem as tight as Hall's other books. I got a solid feel for the characters and their romance with her other books. With this one, I felt like I didn't know Hero as much. He had some brokenness in his past but it didn't feel angsty. His character didn't pull me in emotionally overall. He may have been too perfect of a Hero, supporting heroine, loving her and waiting for her to get a clue and choose him.  Heroine didn't interest me as much either. Her severe co-dependence with her ex and his family made her seem like she was on her ex's side (versus Hero's). It was a strange phenomena. Heroine was so enmeshed with her ex and his family that she was actually opposing her own health and happiness. When she was in contact with them, it was as if her present life with Hero could be easily forgotten. She was easily sucked into her previous life with her ex and his family that she would automatically do things that, in her own viewpoint, was not healthy. But she would do them anyway because she felt like she owed them. In many ways, this book was more like heroine's transition away from her toxic co-dependence on her destructive ex and his enmeshed family. Her unborn baby, Hero, and time and distance from OM and his family were the instruments that gave her the strength to cut ties and move on with her life.

The romance was good and developed realistically. It took months for it to build and it became more solid the further she was from her ex and his family and the more time she spent with Hero. I think they likely will have a HEA(happy ever after). The ending ensured that she wouldn't want OM in her life. Maybe for a long time. Maybe forever. 

I moderately recommend this book.
3-star


BLOG REVIEW: Since I Saw You by Beth Kery

28y.o. personal assistant is known for her devotion to her work and utmost professionalism.
She controls her unruly curls in the same way she's controlled her unrequited feelings for her boss all these years.
So being assigned to polish and assist her boss' brother Hero in marketing his biofeedback invention is just another part of her workday.
She didn't expect to be so taken by Hero at first glance. She thought he would look more like the wild and reclusive Frenchman he was described to be by his brothers and their wives.
And not this grim but more refined and attractive man she was meeting.
Their working together wasn't flawless.
But it set off more sparks between them,
making the undeniable happen.
Hero had no problems keeping their affair a secret per her request.
As he gets more involved with her
and finds her more of a match for him,
Hero becomes dissatisfied about their secret affair. Especially when he finds out about her feelings for his brother.
What does he do? How will she make her choice? 

This is the 2nd book in Beth Kery's Because You're Mine series that I've read (click here for my review of the book featuring Hero's brother/heroine's boss). This book confirms why I continue to be a Beth Kery fan. Her writing was eloquent without being stuffy. It centered on the main characters and their unfolding romance in a way that made me care about the outcome. The characters themselves were appealing. They might be the super-wealthy or super-attractive but there's something real and human about them that I found relatable. Hero and heroine both have flaws and I like that they make progress from them. Hero, for example, had lived an isolated life and shunning pretty much all societal rules that he lived by during his 10 years of schooling in London. He really was a wild and relatively unkempt man, living in a dusty old mansion for years.  He'd traveled to Chicago and became clean-shaven only for business purposes. We got the sense that he would gladly go back to his reclusive life in France. Being with heroine and wanting more out of his life enacted a change that we gradually got to see in him. By the book's end, Hero seemed more at ease with his new life. For heroine, the changes seemed more major. 

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

Heroine wasn't looking to change her life. At all. She was fine with how she'd been living her life the last 11 years: escaping being abandoned or hurt again (i.e., she still felt stung about being left by her parents who moved to Taiwan without her when she was 8 and her grandmother's death a few years ago) by immersing herself in her work. Her 11-year unrequited love for Hero's brother was really more a 17-year-old girl's fantasy that she never grew out of. Holding on to her impossible dream of being loved back by her boss was a safety net for her. It prevented her from being hurt or being really in love. She's had brief relationships and flings with other men throughout the years but none had ever shaken her out of her controlled world. Which was what she wanted. I don't think she would've known what to do if Hero's brother actually turned his sights on her.  It didn't bother her that he was content and in love with his wife. She was genuinely happy for them. She may have been disturbed by her unrequited love for Hero here and there but not enough to ruffle her controlled existence. Her feelings for Hero's brother was really more out of good friendship and respect and a girl's romantic fantasy than it was a flesh-and-blood-and-sex man and woman relationship. 

Meeting Hero brought a whirlwind of unexpected changes in heroine's life. She began feeling uneasy, uncomfortable, wanting, lusting, annoyed, and grumpy. Conditions that were unfamiliar to her. The discrepancies of her unrequited fantasy love for Hero's brother and the myriad of tangible feelings she had for Hero confused her usually calm and stable world.  Hero's in-your-face and bigger-than-life personality made it hard to ignore him and the emotions he was evoking in her. And I loved that. Because he wasn't forcing his way into her life. He was merely being himself and that was enough to bring out untapped emotions from her. His honesty and non-conforming manner made her face herself and him with the kind of honesty that was new to her.  So, what she thought was just a 1-night-stand turned out to be much more than she expected. 

Although the seeds of truth about her true feelings for Hero's brother were dropped along the way in the story, it wasn't until pretty much the end that she finally accepted and abandoned her unrequited-love fantasy for her boss/Hero's brother. It signified her willingness to embrace a life open to emotions and the unexpected. It signified her openness to adult love and whatever that may bring. What's interesting was that her initial realization that she was in love with Hero way before the end made her feel the contrast between her feelings for Hero versus her feelings for Hero's brother.  It was actually a seamless transition for her, feeling-wise, but she didn't want to think about what that meant in her head. So it was her mind that she had to come to grips with in order to make her final goodbye to her childish fantasy and fully step into her new life with Hero. I got teary-eyed when Hero took as evidence that she must really be in love with him from her disheveled appearance and obviously distressed facial expression. And her chasing after him at the airport. He loved how openly emotional she was in public with him and that he affected her that much. 

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

We saw more of the progression of her character change in the book. How she appeared to be in the beginning was a very different person than who she ended up being. What I liked about their character development was how smoothly it was portrayed. It felt like we were watching it unfold instead of being told it was unfolding. 

The romance was lovely. There's a lot of explicit sex scenes in the book. Interestingly, the emotional content of all that explicit hotness was what jumped out at me more than the positions or orgasms. The sex scenes served to highlight the growing emotional involvement between Hero and heroine. The sexual positions, orgasms, and even sex tools directed us to the openness and trust heroine had with Hero, something she's never really had with any other man. It also showed us that, as sexually experienced Hero may be, his sexual experiences with heroine surpassed any other. Not because of the sex techniques or her physical appearance but because of how she impacted his whole being. His obsession with her body parts and her whole body didn't feel lewd at all. It highlighted how much she captivated him, when you add in his obsession about being with her and breaking his usual hook-up rules with other women. The sex scenes made their love for each other feel more tangible. And, when it's paired with their non-sexual times together, cuddling, sleeping, walking, and eating together, it made for a solid romance. 

I confidently recommend this book.
4.5-star


BLOG REVIEW: Beloved Ballerina by Roberta Leigh

23y.o. ballerina doesn't think she has what it takes to be a prima ballerina and is glad to be part of the corps de ballet.
30y.o. British diplomat didn't think much of heroine either, when they first met.
Until he saw her vibrant dance performance, 
where he then proceeded to ask her out. Their months of friendship grew until love. 
An impulsive decision to marry brought 3 months of wedded bliss in Paris, where Hero was temporarily assigned.
It was also time Hero thought his mother needed to come to grips with his married status.
His mother was civil enough to heroine, when she and Hero came to stay at his family estate.
But it soon became apparent to heroine that his mother was not happy that he married her.
And that Hero's closeness to his mother wasn't something to be trifled with,
no matter what heroine felt about it and what she wanted done differently.
The seeds his mother planted about heroine's relationship with her former ballet partner became embedded as Hero sees them together now,
even though she left her career to be with him and their new baby.
After realizing that his loyalties were deeply divided,
the only thing left to do was give him the space to figure out what and who he really wanted. 
Who does he choose? 

I was impressed at the psychological nuances of this 1970 Leigh book. Like other Leigh books, there was a confrontation element in the characters actions that made this book feel jarring. Hero was a big mama's boy, as was his brother. What impressed me was how subtly conniving Hero's mother was written. She was placating yet firm and rigid. Formal yet affectionate. Caring yet cold and controlling. It all depended on who she was interacting with. You got the good and caring side of her if you were her sons and/or you were following her directives. You got the rejecting and cruel side of her if you stood in her way. Hero and his brother couldn't understand why both their wives felt unfavorably about their mother. They didn't know their own mother started the battle and played the game so well that it passed over their heads. Hero's family dysfunction was hidden under the guise of their caring but formal mother. What made this different than the other Leigh books I've read was that the dysfunction was subtle yet persistent and it was rooted mainly in Hero's enmeshed relationship with his mother. And it was displayed in an overblown way at times. At other times, it was realistic.

The romance between Hero and heroine grew gradually and was doomed from the start. There was no insta-love or even insta-lust between them. Hero didn't even think she was attractive when he first met her. Nor the 3rd time. Her looks grew on him as their friendship developed. Heroine thought he was attractive but didn't think he was all that hot at first either. Seeing each other often in the next 3 months fostered her regard for him. Their decision to marry wasn't too surprising, given the amount of time they were spending together and the feelings that evolved. But it was impulsive because, as soon as Hero declared his love for her and then proposed, they got married within the same day.  Their 3-month newlywed period helped cement their romance, which heroine had no clue they would need for Hero's mother. Hero, on the other hand, knew it was going to cause some discomfort with his mother. So, in some way, his 3 months in Paris with heroine was a temporary reprieve from the trouble he knew he incurred by marrying heroine without informing his mother nor inviting her. 

What made their marriage doomed from the start was Hero's lack of insight. Part of it is from his choice to consistently disregard the evidence around him about his mother's ultra-controlling ways. The other part was his naive hope that the 2 women who loved him will grow to love each other too. He chose to remain emotionally dependent on his mother. He really had no motivation to cut the emotional cord between them. He reveled in her doting over him and treating him like a prince. They shared similar beliefs and tastes. He understandably had no reason to change anything in their relationship. Until heroine interfered by making him aware of his enmeshed relationship with his mother and making him choose between them. And his final choice was unfortunately not driven so much by his feelings for heroine. It was from a mixture of changes in his own family structure, multiple confrontations from different people, time, and his feelings for heroine. 

I liked the heroine. She may have been bland and nondescript in her looks and character at first. But she grew to have some grit and balls. Heroine actually ended up with balls and telling Hero to grow a pair. 

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

At the ending, Hero apologized profusely for what he fool he'd been and for mistreating her and declared his loyalty to and love for heroine. I loved heroine's pragmatic and confrontational response:
       
     "You've been obsessed with your mother and you want me to believe that you're not. Well, I 
       don't think I can.  I still think there'll be times when you'll compare us, when you'll wish you
       could run away and become a little boy again. I don't believe you're a man yet, Julian,but
       if you want to be...if you're willing to fight then I'll come back and help you." (p. 148)

Wow. That's just not something I ever expected to read in a Harlequin Presents (HP) novel. And I loved it!  If Roberta Leigh was around, I would've high-fived her. I glimpsed her facetiousness in writing this book. The last sentence of the book was very tongue-in-cheek with "All the problems dissolved in the magic of the last phrase"(p. 148), which was referring to Hero mentioning having "a home of (their) own".  As if being on their own (i.e., outside of his mother's direct influence) was really going to solve all their problems. It implied how much more work Hero and heroine have to do in their marriage.  And Hero in his emotional maturity.  Heroine was right to be cautious of his promises. He wasn't separated long enough from his mother to be firm in his emotional independence. He made a good start by honestly talking to his mother about the wrongs he finally saw and what he wanted to do about it. I liked that he didn't completely reject her and was open to a new relationship with her. It would be out of character for him to do so. He had to continue to be physically separated from his mother for their marriage to have any chance of succeeding and for him to psychologically mature.  

One thing I liked about the Hero was that he wasn't a man-ho. He wasn't an alpha male. He was a nice, thoughtful, and respectful man who wanted harmony and love between his loved ones. So it didn't surprise me that he stayed celibate for the 3 years they were separated as heroine did.  He was tempted by other women but he didn't want any more romantic complications and he also missed heroine. 

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

I'd like to believe that Hero and heroine were headed towards their HEA(happy ever after). There's a lot of maturing that Hero has to do and toughness heroine must continue with for their marriage to stay a happy course. 

Heroine matured more than Hero in the book. Her initial silence and insecurity transformed into frankness and having solid limits. Fighting her mother-in-law's antagonism and being rejected by her own husband time after time drove her to be a tougher person. She forged a career she never thought to go back to and soar in. She made huge sacrifices to fight the uphill battle for her daughter's sake. But I had a big problem with how and what she sacrificed.

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

Heroine left her baby daughter's care with someone she didn't like or trust: her MIL and the stern family nurse who unquestionably followed her MIL. For 3 years. 3 years!!!  Ok, so she worked tooth and nail to become a successful ballerina so the court's wouldn't be able to question her ability to financially support her daughter. I get that. What I didn't get was why it took her 3 years to decide to finally pursue custodial matters regarding her daughter. She had the money way before that, with her luxurious apartment and expensive clothing. It seemed like she was in no rush at all to go and get her daughter from the clutches of people she deemed unsafe with her daughter.  From the time her daughter was 2 months old to 3 years old, she only saw her daughter twice. Not because she was disallowed. Hero and her MIL gave her visitation access to her daughter whenever she wanted. Heroine didn't want to visit her daughter because it might cause both of them undue stress and make her waver in her decisions re: Hero.

What's sadder was that Hero neglected their daughter too. Their daughter was 2 months old when Hero touched her again since the day she was born. Then he didn't touch her again and avoided looking at her (because she resembled heroine) until heroine came to visit their 6-month-old daughter before she left for a long dance tour. Hero did start spending some time with their daughter, when he was at home. But he tended to be gone half a year and stay at the family estate a few weeks before he was re-assigned somewhere else again. Their daughter was emotionally neglected by her nurse, her grandmother, and her parents. 

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

Heroine's sacrifices did pay off in one way but it made me wonder if it was worth it in the long run.

I moderately recommend this book.
3.5-star

BLOG REVIEW: Tasting Candy by Anne Rainey

25y.o. heroine has worked as a secretary for almost a year now.
Ever since they first met months ago, she's had a crush on her boss' brother, tall and rugged Hero.
But she hasn't done anything about it no matter how reciprocal the attraction seems to be.
Her trouble with panic attacks is part of the problem.
Construction-contractor Hero witnessing it at the gym strengthens his decision to get to know her more personally. Despite her running away from him, he doesn't waste any more time. He goes to her house immediately to get some answers.
Leading to some knowledge about her difficult past.
and their first kiss,
 
which soon spirals into more. 
Hero curtails his desires to ensure that she feels safe with him.
She, however, wants more.
And he feels too much to deny her what she wants.
She puts a limit to their relationship when it became too much for her.
Is he too much for her to handle at this point in her life?
How long will he wait for her?

I like reading novellas because they're short, to the point, & gets to the goods of the romance quickly. But this novella got to the goods and pretty much wrapped up Hero and heroine's big romance block in 2 days. Yup, 2 days. I couldn't believe it either. This book had some good plot elements and even extended Hero and heroine's instant attraction at first sight to many months until their actual getting-down-to-it moments. So, it didn't make sense why everything had to happen in 1 day. 

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

Heroine's major reason for not pursuing her mutual attraction to Hero was because of her insecurity and fears from being date-raped (her drink was laced with drugs) over 1 year ago by a co-worker. Her panic attacks from feeling cornered by men resulted from it. She'd been managing all these issues through ongoing therapy but still didn't feel ready to date anybody. She had been having erotic dreams and secretly crushing on Hero when he'd visit her workplace but never thought to do anything about it in real life. Hero himself had been staying up nights since they met months ago, having hot thoughts and dreams of heroine. He could tell from heroine's expressive face that she was attracted to him as well. Yet he didn't pursue it since she wasn't the sexually-forward and obviously experienced women he's used to dating. He finally decided to do something about their mutual attraction and soon after he arrived at the gym she was exercising at, he witnessed her have a panic attack. 

From that point on, the following happened within 24 hours (give or take a couple hours):
1. she told him about her family background and her date rape & the fears that resulted (including looking provocative to men so she hides her body in loose & frumpy clothing
2. he affirmed that her past won't stop him from being part of her life 
3. he told that he'll wait for her to be ready to be intimate with him because he assured her that  they will be intimate
4. they shared their 1st kiss
5. he asked her to be his date at his parents' cookout
6. he openly showed his affection towards her with his family
7. they make-out with clothes on per Hero's stipulation back at her house
8. pieces of clothing start coming off as their make-out session progressed
9. they went from kissing to home-base within a few hours
10. Hero was limiting their make-out session but, as heroine got sexually more turned on, he began conceding more and more to her requests/demands for more until he finally gave in to her request for sex a few hours later
11. they had intercourse at least 4 times by morning
12. he went from thinking that sex with heroine will get her out of his system while they were making out to confessing his love for her the next morning after their shower sex
13. she told him she needed space to think about their relationship and kicks him out of her place

On day 2,
1. heroine dressed in her sexiest & most figure-hugging dress when she goes to share with her therapist what all happened
2. she figured out what she wanted when talking to her therapist and decided to do a strip-tease for Hero
3. Hero's all sad and worried about what it meant that heroine kicked him out of her apartment after their wild-sex night and his love confession
4. Hero's worry and sadness didn't last long at all because in came heroine in his office and locked the door to do a striptease
5. she told him she loved him 
6. they talked about how birth control will probably not be needed since they both want kids

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

It was a lot to take in 2 days. And there really was no set timeline or emergency that necessitated them rushing into their romance that fast.  I would've liked the book more if it took place even within a week's time. It would've made it more realistic and I wouldn't have to suspend belief. It would've made it seem healthier too. Heroine's rushing into sex with Hero in less than 1 day made her responses seemed unhealthy, given her issues.  Hero was a sport to try to fight off her sexual demands. But her assertiveness and verbal and physical willingness plus his great sexual desire for her and months of celibacy on her account easily broke through his self-imposed sexual limits. He was a good guy in his rugged and frank alpha-male way, with plans on being considerate and patient with her to be ready to be intimate with him later. He didn't expect her to yield herself that fast to him. And neither did I. Maybe it was the shock of her instant willingness to have sex with him, after her panic attack that morning and months of being a blushing and shy good-girl, that paralyzed him from fighting off her sexual demands. Maybe. 

Despite their quick hook-up, I liked that they had a months-long infatuation with each other. Although they didn't really talk then, they affected each other enough to think obsessively about and dream of each other for that long. Heroine was unsophisticated and led a sheltered life with loving adopted parents who died 5 years before. We don't really know what she did before or even after that. We know she's a hard and efficient worker. I'm not sure why she hardly dated and what she did with her free time.  We know even less about Hero, except that he worked in the construction field, was close to his family, and didn't have long-term relationships. I would've like to know why he only had sexual relationships. Overall, Hero and heroine were likable characters. They seemed like a good match with a good future together.

I moderately recommend this book.
2.5-star