The Complete Reading List by Author

Author Commentary & Tallies Shameful 2012 – 2015

On reading romance: Emotional Version and Pseudo-Intellectual Version.

I buy everything these writers publish. Click on their name to be taken to a summary of their catalogue: Tessa Dare;  Laura Florand; Lisa Kleypas; Julie Anne Long; Sarah MacLean; Courtney Milan (Milan is The. Very. Best.)

Recommended books are in bold and reviewed books are linked below, but here is a ruthlessly streamlined recommendations list: So You Want to Read a (Historical) Romance…, and these are Things That Occur to Me While Reading Historical Romance Novels.

-A-
Alexander, Victoria Love with the Proper Husband (Marcus/Gwen)
Alexander, Victoria Lady Amelia’s Secret Lover novella (Robert/Amelia)
Alexander, Victoria The Prince’s Bride (Rand/Jocelyn)
Alexander, Victoria The Importance of Being Wicked (Winfield/Miranda)
Alexander, Victoria Lord Stillwell’s Excellent Engagements novella (Winfield/Felicia&Lucy&Caroline)
Ashe, Katharine In the Arms of a Marquess (Ben)
Ashley, Jennifer The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie (Ian, not surprisingly/Beth) – GENRE OUTLINE
Ashley, Jennifer Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage (Mac/Isabella)
Ashley, Jennifer Many Sins of Lord Cameron (Cameron/Ainsley) – GUILTY PLEASURE
Ashley, Jennifer The Duke’s Perfect Wife (Hart/Eleanor)
Ashley, Jennifer Mackenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift (Ian, Mac, Cam, Hart)
Ashley, Jennifer The Seduction of Elliott McBride (Elliott/Juliana)
Ashley, Jennifer The Untamed Mackenzie novella (Lloyd/Louisa)
Ashley, Jennifer The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (Daniel/Violet)
Ashley, Jennifer Scandal and the Duchess novella (Steven/Rose)
Ashley, Jennifer Rules for a Proper Governess (Sinclair/Roberta “Bertie”)
Ashley, Jennifer Bodyguard (Shifters Unbound) novella (Ronan/Elizabeth)

The list has gotten SO VERY LONG, please click on the jump.

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Author Commentary & Tallies Shameful

Shortcuts: A ruthlessly streamlined recommendations list So You Want to Read a (Historical) Romance; an ALPHABETICAL READING LIST SORTED BY AUTHOR; and these are Things That Occur to Me While Reading Historical Romance Novels.

My Autobuy List (with Links That Will Take You to a Summary of the Author’s Catalogue)

Tessa Dare
Laura Florand
Lisa Kleypas
Julie Anne Long
Sarah MacLean
Courtney Milan – The. Very. Best.

2015 READING LISTS: Recommended books are in bold.

The (Shamefree) Tally 2015

  1. Gabaldon, Diana The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel  Illustrated by Hoang Nguyen

The (Shameful) Tally 2015

  1. Balogh, Mary The Proposal (Hugo/Gwen)
  2. Balogh, Mary Only Enchanting (Flavian/Agnes)
  3. Bennett, Sawyer Alex: A Cold Fury Hockey Novel (Alex/Sutton)
  4. Berg, J.L When You’re Ready (Logan/Clare)
  5. Bowen, Sarina Coming In from the Cold (Dane/Willow)
  6. Bowen, Sarina The Year We Fell Down (Hartley/Corey)
  7. Bowen, Sarina The Year We Hid Away (Bridger/Scarlet)
  8. Bowen, Sarina Blonde Date novella (Andy/Katie)
  9. Bowen, Sarina The Understatement of the Year (Graham/Rikker)
  10. Bowen, Sarina The Shameless Hour (Rafe/Bella)
  11. Bowen, Sarina and Elle Kennedy Him (Wes/Jamie)
  12. Burrows, Grace Douglas, Lord of Heartache (Douglas/Guinevere)
  13. Callihan, Kristen The Hook Up (Drew/Anna)
  14. Callihan, Kristen The Friend Zone (Gray/Ivy)
  15. Darcy, Norma The Bluestocking and the Rake (Robert/Georgiana)
  16. Dev, Sonali A Bollywood Affair (Samir/Mili)
  17. Dune, Lyla Low Tide Bikini (Brock/Sam)
  18. Falkner, Tammy Tall, Tatted, and Tempting (Logan/Kit)
  19. Falkner, Tammy Smart, Sexy, and Secretive (Logan/Emily)
  20. Florand, Laure A Rose in Winter novella (Raoul/Allegra)
  21. Florand, Laura Once Upon a Rose (Matthieu/Layla)
  22. Florand, Laura All’s Fair in Love and Chocolate novella (Simon/Ellie)
  23. Florand, Laura All for You (Joss/Celie) read The Chocolate Touch first
  24. Grant, Cecilia A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong  novella (Andrew/Lucy)
  25. Guhrke, Laura Lee Catch a Falling Heiress (Jack/Linnet)
  26. James, Eloisa Desperate Duchesses (Damon/Roberta)
  27. James, Eloisa An Affair Before Christmas (Fletcher/Poppy)
  28. James, Eloisa Duchess by Night (Jem/Harriet)
  29. James, Eloisa This Duchess of Mine (Elijah/Jemma)
  30. James, Eloisa A Duke of Her Own ( Leopold/Eleanor)
  31. James, Eloisa The Duke Is Mine (Quin/Olivia)
  32. James, Eloisa The Ugly Duchess (James/Theo)
  33. James, Eloisa Three Weeks with Lady X (Thorn/India)
  34. Jaymes, River Brad’s Bachelor Party (Brad/Cole)
  35. Jaymes, River The Backup Boyfriend (Alec/Dylan)
  36. Jaymes, River The Boyfriend Mandate (Memphis/Tyler)
  37. Kennedy, Elle One Night of Sin (Gage/Skylar)
  38. Kennedy, Elle One Night of Scandal (Reed/Darcy)
  39. Kennedy, Elle The Deal (Garrett/Hannah)
  40. Kennedy, Elle The Mistake (Logan/Grace)
  41. Kelly, Carla With the Ring (Sam/Lydia)
  42. Kelly, Carla Marrying the Captain (Oliver/Nana)
  43. Kelly, Carla The Surgeon’s Lady (Philemon/Laura)
  44. Kelly, Carla Marrying the Royal Marine (Hugh/Polly)
  45. Kelly, Carla The Admiral’s Penniless Bride (Charles/Sophia)
  46. Kelly, Carla The Wedding Journey (Jesse/Nell)
  47. Lauren, Christina Beautiful Beloved novella (Max/Sara)
  48. Lauren, Christina Beautiful Secret (Niall/Ruby)
  49. Lerner, Rose Sweet Disorder (Nick/Phoebe)
  50. Linden, Caroline When I Met My Duchess novella (Gareth/Cleo)
  51. Linden, Caroline All’s Fair in Love and Scandal novella (Douglas/Madeline)
  52. Long, Julie Anne It Started with a Scandal (Phillipe/Elise)
  53. Lund, S.E. The Agreement (Drake/Kate)
  54. Merrow, J.L Muscling Through (Al/Larry)
  55. Montgomery, L.M. The Blue Castle (Valancy/Barney)
  56. Milan, Courtney Trade Me (Blake/Tina)
  57. Quinn, Julia The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy Smythe-Smith Book 4 (Richard/Iris)
  58. Phillips, Susan Elizabeth Heroes Are My Weakness (Theo/Annie)
  59. Reid, Penny Friends Without Benefits (Nico/Elizabeth)
  60. Reid, Penny Beauty and the Mustache (Drew/Ashley)
  61. Reid, Penny Scenes from the City: A Knitting in the City Surprise
  62. Reid, Penny Truth or Beard (Duane/Jessica)
  63. Reid, Penny Elements of Chemistry (Martin/Kaitlyn)
  64. Reid, Penny & L.H. Cosway The Hooker and the Hermit (Ronan/Annie)
  65. Simonson, Sheilia Bar Sinister (Richard/Emily)
  66. Ward, JR Dark Lover (Wrath/Beth) – WORST OF THE YEAR

Reviews of Pre-2015 Reads:

  1. Ashley, Jennifer Rules for a Proper Governess (Sinclair/Roberta “Bertie”)
  2. Dare, Tessa How to Catch a Wild Viscount (Luke/Cecily)
  3. Dare, Tessa Say Yes to the Marquess (Rafe/Clio)
  4. Donati, Sara Into the Wilderness  (Nathaniel/Elizabeth)
  5. Florand, Laura Shadowed Heart (Luc/Summer)
  6. Milan, Courtney Talk Sweetly to Me (Stephen/Rose)
  7. Quinn, Julia Romancing Mr. Bridgerton (Colin/Penelope)
  8. Quinn, Julia It’s in His Kiss (Gareth/Hyacinth)

Name Tally June 27, 2015: Simon (9); Alec/Alex (8); James (8); Michael (8); Sebastian (7); William (7); Robert (6); Daniel (5); Jack (5); Benedict, Charles, Colin, Duncan, Edward, Gareth, Harry, Ian, John (4); Andrew, Blake, Gabriel, Jackson, Julian, Lucien, Marcus, Phillip, Phin/Finn, Rhys, Richard, Stephen, Tristan (3); and only one David.

To Be Read Pile/More Author Commentary… Continue reading

A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev

I have read so very many historical romances set in 19th century England which is, admittedly, totally my jam. Trying to broaden my choices, and after being sent a fantastic NPR program link by a friend called Pop Culture Happy Hour: The Romance Novel Special, I was ready to expand my horizons. A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev was $2.99 on Amazon and gave me a window to a culture (Indian) different from my own in a contemporary setting.

That was a good start, but it’s two months later and I don’t really remember much about the book except some vague impressions. I’ll let Amazon help me out with the plot:

Mili Rathod hasn’t seen her husband in twenty years–not since she was promised to him at the age of four. Yet marriage has allowed Mili a freedom rarely given to girls in her village. Her grandmother has even allowed her to leave India and study in America for eight months, all to make her the perfect modern wife. Which is exactly what Mili longs to be–if her husband would just come and claim her. Bollywood’s favorite director, Samir Rathod, has come to Michigan to secure a divorce for his older brother. Persuading a naïve village girl to sign the papers should be easy for someone with Samir’s tabloid-famous charm. But Mili is neither a fool nor a gold-digger. Open-hearted yet complex, she’s trying to reconcile her independence with cherished traditions. And before he can stop himself, Samir is immersed in Mili’s life–cooking her dal and rotis, escorting her to her roommate’s elaborate Indian wedding, and wondering where his loyalties and happiness lie.

Amazon is bringing it’s A-game, even if I’m not.

I wanted to like Dev’s book and I enjoyed A Bollywood Affair  while reading it, quite a lot as I recall since Mili’s a pip, but it hasn’t left a lasting impression leading me to revisit it. Going back soon after my initial reading has been a pretty accurate litmus test for me of how much I genuinely appreciated a novel. Here’s what I remember about A Bollywood Affair: Mili is hurt early in the story and as Samir is the only one around, so he helps take care of her. She’s petite, he’s tall. She’s clumsy, he catches her.  She’s a victim of circumstance, he’s a tortured hero masquerading as a rake. He is smoking hot as is the way of romance – to which I say, “Brava” – and finds Mili irresistible. The action was a hodge-podge which is consistent with my extremely limited and therefore entirely invalid impression of Indian cinema based on one movie on an overnight flight to London, plus that kind of plotting is fairly typical for a lot of contemporary romances. So any guess that I make about Dev intentionally structuring it like a Bollywood film is likely wildly inaccurate, not to mention presumptuous, and I should remove it, but I want to keep it as review padding just in case I’m right.

That’s all I’ve got for now EXCEPT to say that if you know of any great romances featuring more diverse characters and cultures than one ordinarily finds in the genre, I welcome all recommendations. I’ve been looking and I will gladly l take suggestions for a starting point.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

 

Truth or Beard by Penny Reid

Truth or Beard is the first book in the Winston Brothers contemporary romance series, but the Winston sister already had her turn in a book I liked better, Beauty and the Mustache.

Jessica: If I said the sky was blue you would say it was purple.
Duane: Sometimes the sky is purple. Right now it’s indigo, almost black. You can’t just make a unilateral statement that the sky is blue.

Ah, that’s the stuff. Banter gives me life. Penny Reid writes great banter, friendships, and familial relationships; unfortunately, in Truth or Beard, the romantic relationship didn’t really work. It got off to great and steamy start, but fizzled under the weight of comeheregoaway. Penny Reid writes great heroines and the men are so smitten, so I did want to like this book. I wanted to like it so much. This hero has a beard. Do you have any idea how much I love beards? Plus, every hero in this series has one. Heaven, I tell you. HEAVEN. Or it would be, if the narrative had held up.

The six  bearded Winston brothers, and their beardless sister have just lost their mother. Duane and Beau, the twins, run an automotive shop with Cletus, the unfortunately named, zen one. Duane has long had a hankering for the sheriff’s daughter, Jessica. She, in turn, has always had a crush on Beau. When Jessica moves back to her parents home in rural Tennessee to teach at the local high school and save money on rent in anticipation of setting out on a life of travel, Duane makes his long-awaited move and the two of them start to date, then take turns deciding the relationship can’t work. By the time they reached a consensus, I didn’t care any more. I even went off and read something else for a while when I lost interest in the story.

This makes the second Penny Reid book in a row I haven’t really liked and had too much vacillation on the part of the leads. The price will have to be right for me to read any more of her novels.

Penny Reid Books:

Knitting in the City Series
Neanderthal Seeks Human – Strangely compelling
Friends Without Benefits – Meh
Neanderthal Marries Human – More strangely compelling
Love Hacked – Pretty darn good
Beauty and the Mustache – Really liked it

Elements of Chemistry – Frustrating

The Hooker and the Hermit – Loathed it

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

Alex: A Cold Fury Hockey Novel by Sawyer Bennett

Sawyer Bennett ‘s contemporary romance Alex: A Cold Fury Hockey Novel (Carolina Cold Fury Hockey Book 1) may deserve more of a review, but I didn’t like the novel and was, in fact, frequently vexed by it, so it’s getting the cursory treatment which, being honest, takes about the same amount of time, but it’s less taxing. To sum up: Laziness.

From Amazon: Hockey star Alexander Crossman has a reputation as a cold-hearted player on and off the rink. Pushed into the sport by an alcoholic father, Alex isn’t afraid to give fans the proverbial middle finger, relishing his role as the MVP they love to hate. Management, however, isn’t so amused. Now Alex has a choice: fix his public image through community service or ride the bench. As a social worker, Sutton Price is accustomed to difficult people—like Alex, who’s been assigned to help her create a drug-abuse awareness program for at-risk youth as part of the team’s effort to clean up his image. What she doesn’t expect is the arrogant smirk from his perfect lips to stir her most heated fantasies.

Dear Alex,

I don’t care about your private pain, if you are a public bastard.

Yours truly,
Me

Also –

1. Alex has an awful back-story, as is the way of both romance novels and life, but I don’t care. An explanation for your conduct is not an excuse. Alex is not a tortured hero, he is not a rake, he is a self-indulgent jerk. When the novel opens, he actually has a woman who shows up to service him and she is supposed to be pathetic because she wants a relationship with him. I don’t mind puck bunnies, I mind heroes who use people.

2. I may be over-thinking the maguffin, but can a hockey team’s management really force extremely successful and non-problematic (beyond a severe case of Head-Up-Tush) players into community service?

3. The characters were types more than people. Sutton’s type is Angel, Alex’s type is Poohead.

4. As the story progresses and Alex grows a soul, everyone has the world’s most painfully on-the-nose conversations about their relationships.

5. I didn’t find the character development believable, nor did I care about anybody.

6. I have no interest in the rest of this series. Pity.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

Tall, Tatted, and Tempting and Smart, Sexy, and Secretive by Tammy Falkner

Um. Almost? The first book in the Reed Brothers new adult romance series got me to buy the second, but I did not continue to the third. For those who like the type, the men in this family own a tattoo parlor and aren’t afraid of working out. They decorate people by day and work as bar bouncers by night.

This review will show a blatant disregard for spoiler etiquette.

Tall, Tatted, and Tempting

Kit (real name: Emily) is a subway busker in New York. Living in a homeless shelter, she meets Logan (again with the Logan) and he takes an instant shine to her. Missing her chance for a bed that night, she ends up crashing at his house with his 4 brothers first for just the one night and then staying for several more. As a thank you, she ingratiates herself by snow-whiting her way through their apartment. Logan and Kit fall for each other, she has a secret, and love wins, but at a distance thus requiring a follow-up novella.

One of five orphaned brothers living and running a business together, Logan has been deaf since the age of 13, but can speak, although he has refused to for years. Meeting Kit, he decides to start speaking when he realises that she is illiterate and can’t read the notes he would otherwise write. Kit is the runaway daughter of billionaires who think she is stupid because of a learning disability. Her father is insisting she marry a loathsome douchecanoe to help the family business hence Kit’s life on the lam.

Living under an assumed name lest her parents find her and drag her to the altar, Kit is unable to spend her family’s money, which, if I may? Fu*k off. First of all, an arranged marriage for business interests in 2014? No. Secondly, a wealthy young woman who is not a victim of abuse choosing to live on the streets is offensive to those fleeing abuse and impoverished people everywhere, especially given the epic turnaround her parents make in the story. Third, all that money and NO ONE could either help Kit with her learning disability or has given her any kind of support or counseling to deal with it? I don’t buy that for a second. Isn’t that what money is for? To throw at problems?  Despite Kit’s “challenges”, readers need not to worry as she’s a musical prodigy who plays guitar and sings. Her dreams are to win her father over and to attend Julliard – which is where she lands in book two and gives a performance to impress her father (OF COURSE) and leads me to one last question: I get that there are books on tape for her course work, but would someone with severe dyslexia be able to read music?

Kit and Logan’s family issues get in the way of their togetherness for a while. Kit sacrifices herself for Logan, a favour he returns in the next book, and they are on opposite coasts, but a couple, when the story closes with a reunion in sight.

Smart, Sexy, and Secretive

Facile, obvious, and trite.

The novella was shoehorned in for reasons I don’t understand, other than the cliffhanger at the end of book one trying to generate revenue.  The reader does get to meet the Kit’s parents, the aforementioned loathsome douchecanoe fiance who lives up to the hype, and several implausible things happen.

Follow up Reed Brothers stories are teased for The Brother with a Child, The Brother Who Wound Up in Jail, The Other Brother About Whom I Don’t Remember Much, and The Brother with Cancer, but I wasn’t really interested beyond Logan and Kit, and even that interest waned by the end of book two, so imagine how I feel about the rest of the series.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

When You’re Ready by J.L Berg

I’m pretty sure that this story is what people who don’t read Harlequin Romances think they are like. For all I know, they may be right. When You’re Ready was a neat and tidy package tied up with a bow and never really caught my interest. Part of that may be because I prefer my romances without plot moppets, but, more importantly, there was nothing new, fresh, or special in J.L. Berg’s story.

Clare Murray has been widowed for three years and is raising her daughter alone. When her child has a bad fall, a trip to the Emergency Room brings Logan into her life. He’s a doctor without a personal life, thinking himself incapable of love. He takes one look at Clare and her moppet and his soul awakens and he falls hard for the potential ready-made family. They start to date. He wants to go slowly, Clare wants forever.  When their love is challenged, will they find the courage to risk it all for a stolen chance at happiness? Barf.

Logan is the son of a billionaire. I have mentioned this before, but I am sick of billionaires in these books. Can’t he just be really well off or comfortable? Is extreme wealth really so important? It’s like we don’t even understand what rich means anymore. If you have a few million dollars, you are rich. You don’t need $1,000,000,000 to provide financial security; moreover, I suspect that for most people, even the one’s with enough money, moving into the world of billionaires would be like moving to another country complete with culture shock. In When You’re Ready’s defense, Logan lives a fairly regular life, but that alien world is still on the periphery and it annoys me and this is my chance to mention it.

Logan, either used as a sur- or given name is proving to be very popular in contemporary romance. I am starting to think it will replace Simon as the number one romance novel hero name. The standings as of June 27, 2015 and for over 300 romances read are: Simon (9); Alec/Alex (8); James (8); Michael (8); Sebastian (7); William (7); Robert (6); Daniel (5); Jack (5); Benedict, Charles, Colin, Duncan, Edward, Gareth, Harry, Ian, John (4); Andrew, Blake, Gabriel, Jackson, Julian, Lucien, Marcus, Phillip, Phin/Finn, Rhys, Richard, Stephen, Tristan (3); and only one David.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

Coming In from the Cold by Sarina Bowen

I gave this book a try because I enjoyed Sarina Bowen’s excellent new adult romance series, The Ivy Years, but lightning did not strike twice. Coming In from the Cold was enjoyable enough and Bowen is great at setting a mood and the scene, but the story never quite came together for me and I felt that the resolution was achieved too easily.

Summary from Amazon: Ski racer Dane “Danger” Hollister does not do relationships, though he keeps his reason a secret. The real-life curse he’s inherited from his mother will eventually cost him everything. Reluctant country girl Willow Reade meets Dane by accident. Literally. Her skidding truck forces him off the road during a blizzard. Stranded together in his Jeep as night falls, the two loneliest people in Vermont find themselves sharing more than they’d planned. And not just conversation.

That’s an excellent summary, Amazon. Well done, you!

Willow and Dane are both struggling with being grown ups and, despite their seemingly adult lives,  it isn’t going so well for either of them. Dane has lots of professional success, but his personal life is a morass. Willow is struggling financially and is stuck in a situation that puts her life on hold. When they get trapped together in a snowstorm, they are able to connect physically, but their emotional connection is more troublesome. Frankly, Dane is a bit of an ass and handles just about everything badly. Just as meteorological events forced them together for a night, life events force them together for the longer term and create a less comfortable connection. Things get sorted out and Dane’s realization of his manifest failure to act like a decent person was very satisfying, but I’m not sure he earned his transformation; conversely, Willow was practically perfect in every way even though self-esteem issues were thrown in to flesh out her character. Coming In from the Cold just felt too neat in the end.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

The Ivy Years Series by Sarina Bowen

So many “new adult” romances, so little time. I recommend The Ivy Years series by Sarina Bowen and will be looking into her back catalogue. Taking place at a New England college, Harkness, the stories are not light and yet avoid melodrama. These are young people coming into their own and figuring out who they want to be. Each story features at least one character who is an athlete, mostly they are involved in hockey, but there are also soccer and basketball team members, and the football players are the villains. My experience of university may not have matched this jock heavy world, but since the beauty of a large student body is in creating its own neighbourhoods, I don’t mind all the sports, plus it justifies the ripped heroes.

Quick Overview:

  1. The Year We Fell Down – BAM! This book got me right in the feels.
  2. The Year We Hid Away – That’s a lot for two such young people to have going on.
  3. Blonde Date novella – YAY! Short and sweet and adorable.
  4. The Understatement of the Year – Surrender. Lying to yourself is exhausting.
  5. The Shameless Hour – “You don’t get to tell me who I am.”

The Year We Fell Down

Corey was a star athlete until a career ending and life-changing injury transformed her plans. She has arrived as a freshman at the school she was meant to play hockey for, but now she is living in the wheelchair accessible part of the dorm. The upside is that she gets a bigger room and has a great roommate. The up-upside is that Hartley, a dreamy member of the mens’ hockey team, has a badly broken leg and is living in his own accessible room across the hall. The downside is that he has a long distance girlfriend.

There is very little self-pity in Corey and whatever sadness she does feel is entirely deserved. While Hartley is mending from a break, she is never going to walk unaided or have sensation in her leg and feet again. It’s a tough road and she is making the best of it, showing remarkable resilience, but not in an unrealistic way or one that is free of emotional upset.  I think many of us have experience with life taking at 180 degree turn and having to change our expectations, so Corey was easy to relate to.

But what about her beloved (Adam) Hartley? He’s a mensch. He’s got issues of his own informing his life decisions, but whatever Corey has got going on, he’s ready to be part of it. They made a sweet couple and a sensible one.

The Year We Fell Down did make me cry, but I can’t judge whether that has to do with the writing or because I have dealt with a potentially debilitating health issue and it affected my reading experience.

The Year We Hid Away

Bridger MacCaulley and Scarlet Crowley have their parents to thank for the ocean liner’s worth of baggage they have between them, but what is university for if not getting out from under one’s childhood? Scarlet has found herself a pariah after her father is accused of genuinely heinous crimes and Bridger has been saddled with more responsibility than someone his age should have to deal with. While his burden is visible, Scarlet’s promises years of pain. She has changed her name and is trying to start a new life.

For a book with so much agita, I found it remarkably melodrama free. There were extreme story elements and responses, but in proportion to the events taking place. Bridger and Scarlet’s responses to their individual pressures are mature to the best of their abilities, but if the characters’ problems had been lesser or limited to just one of them, the story’s construction would have worked better instead of being really good despite this limitation.

Blonde Date novella

Oh, thank GOD! A quick, reasonably light, sweet novella. One of Scarlet’s roommates – Blonde Katie as opposed to Ponytail Katie – needs a date for a sorority event. To complicate matters, their brother frat members, and specifically her douchelord former boyfriend, will be in attendance. Scarlet volunteers Bridger’s neighbour, a young man she knows from high school. Andy Baschnagel is tall and he gangles (H/T Douglas Adams), and he is a genuinely nice and sincere guy. He has been smitten with Katie from the first time he saw her and desperately wants to make a good impression on this date.

The entirety of Blonde Date takes place over one evening and it’s just lovely. Admittedly, I am sucker for a novella and this is the best example of stripping a love story down to its basics I can think of. Katie has recently been shamed by the frat boys and with Andy’s calm kindness starts to figure out who she is and that who she wants to be may be different from what she thought, AND the affable guy gets the girl. HUZZAH!

The Understatement of the Year

In high school, (Mike) Graham and (John) Rikker were embarking on a relationship and were attacked the first time they showed affection in public. Rikker was badly hurt, Graham fled. Several years later, Rikker has transferred to Harkness and joined the hockey team (with Hartley and Bridger up there) after being outed and subsequently mistreated at his original college. It isn’t fun being a publicly gay athlete, but it beats the closet Graham has himself both locked and barricaded inside.

Rikker and Graham fight their way to togetherness, one step forward two steps back, but end up where they need to be. Rikker’s family has failed him, Mike won’t give his a chance to succeed. With patience and  forgiveness, the guys become a couple. They were both extremely likeable and had great chemistry.

The Shameless Hour

This is the novel in which Sarina Bowen took the slut shaming undercurrents in the previous stories and directed kleig lights on them. Bella is the men’s hockey team manager and she has worked hard and had a great time off the ice as well. When she meets a dejected Rafe, freshly dumped and drinking champagne alone on his birthday, the two hook up. He would actually like to date, but Bella is the rake in this romance and she is on the move.

A couple of weeks later, early in the morning, Rafe finds Bella stumbling out of a frat house in very shaky condition. I want to stress in case it is a big NOPE for you when choosing a book, that she has not been assaulted sexually; however, she has been traumatized. It was very hard to read and I admit to jumping ahead several chapters and then going back to catch up with the story. The devastating effect of her mistreatment and the public attempt at shaming her is the dramatic momentum of the story. Bella is incredibly strong and surrounded by who love her, but she is not invincible and it takes her time to come back to herself and act on behalf of all women who have been victims of sexual double standards.

But what about the boy? Rafe is in many ways the wallflower in this book and in keeping with that role, he is wonderful and waiting patiently to be noticed. He is a great friend to Bella and ready to support her regardless of the outcome of their relationship, though he has a clear preference.

The power of The Shameless Hour’s reversal is that, of course, Bella has acted like legions of romance novel heroes, but unlike the ones who tomcat their way through stories, our culture likes to tell her that being a good woman requires a different standard of conduct. Bella has made her peace with this B.S., but that doesn’t mean it is easy for her to live on her own terms.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

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