Reading Fanatic Reviews

Contemporary Romance

Finding Tony by Jodie Esch

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Finding Tony*

More About Pregnancy than Romance

In terms of contemporary romance, this is one of the more unusual that I’ve read lately. Not quite sure how to describe it all for this review. The heroine has come to a small island in the Pacific Northwest to lick her wounds and try to fashion a new life. She is fixated on becoming a mother, and she doesn’t mind that she would have to do so a single mother as she feels done with men. The hero is returning to the island as well. He grew up there, and after some serious business reverses on the other side of the country, he’s come to regroup. They literally run into each other, and he actually breaks his foot. They strike up a casual friendship that soon turns into more, even as she is grappling with whether or not to go through with her plan for fertilization. I’ll stop here with the description because I don’t want to give too much away. But much of the book was actually about the pregnancy, birth, and a little after. There were romance elements for sure, but it felt more like it was about the journey to decide on the fertility treatments and then the subsequent pregnancy. I like the hero. Even though he’s got professional issues, he’s still a decent guy.

Pride & Prejudicial by Danica Dawn

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Pride & Prejudicial*

Bold Liza and Bad English

I am a huge fan of Jane Austen fanfiction, though I will admit that I do not usually enjoy contemporary retellings. I prefer the Regency variations. But I was intrigued by the legal aspect of this one, so I thought I would pick it up. There were parts of this story that were quite amusing. This Liza Bennet has a super sharp wit and a certain level of audacity that is definitely greater they more proper original Elizabeth Bennet. I love the scene where she first challenged Will. Actually, that whole dance number was a bit of a surprise! Unfortunately, my enjoyment of the story was completely hampered by the fact that this book was either not professionally edited or was edited by someone who does not know the craft and art. There were issues with tenses and an inordinate number of missing commas, so much so that it actually created problems with understanding. For all of these numerous mistakes, I found this a tedious read.

Josie by Beth Gildersleeve

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Info Dumps and Distance

This is the first book that I have read by this author. I had some issues with it. Even though the book is of decent length, the author chose to do several information dumps in the beginning, both on the hero’s side and on the heroine’s side. One of the heroine’s actually happened while she and the hero were in the midst of their initial conversation in the book! It just seemed odd to have her thinking about her troubled romantic past in great detail while she is supposedly sitting and chatting with the hero, who happens to be her brother’s boss. I didn’t like the blackmail aspect of the story. After their marriage of convenience, they didn’t spend enough time together for it to truly feel like a romance. How can the relationship change and grow if they aren’t together? And, no, the texts don’t cut it. I know that work and distance were supposed to be at the crux of their conflict, but to me, the hero and the heroine have to be together more to make it a romance. So, I find myself a little disappointed in this book.

Diamond in the Dust by Mel A. Rowe

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Diamond in the Dust*

Take an Armchair Trip to the Outback

This is the second or third book that I have read by this Australian author. I remember so enjoying the first one because she really has a way of depicting what life is like in the outback with such clarity that you feel like you are there. This book is the same. From the first scene where the heroine is nearly run down by the hero while he’s driving a big truck, I swear I could taste the grit in my mouth and feel it in my nose just like the heroine. I think it’s really cool that the author was able to portray life so vividly as to make it seem real. Outside of the wonderful descriptions, this is a sweet and beautiful love story between two very complicated individuals. The heroine, we slowly learn, is still recovering mentally and physically from a traumatic accident that nearly took her life. While his backstory is not quite so life-and-death, the hero also is experiencing shifts and changes in his life. He has some grand aspirations that he pursues even though he knows his father would not approve. The hero and heroine, as you might imagine from my description of the first scene, don’t quite get off on the right foot, but they do have a fairly instant attraction to each other. This does evolve and become more profound, and it is a lovely process to watch unfold. I am glad that my Kindle has the attached vocabulary definition function as I had to look up quite a few Australian colloquialisms. But the author’s use of the uniquely Australian termed added flavor to the book. I recommend this book.

Give Me a Christmas by Zoe Ann Wood

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Give Me a Christmas*

Too Much Emphasis on Heroine’s Side Story

WARNING: Some spoilers

I am not quite sure what I think about this book. I liked the hero and the heroine as characters. But the romantic story felt disjointed and rushed to me, almost as if it were two or more different stories that weren’t quite interwoven as well as they should have been. This is a second-chance-at-romance book. I didn’t feel like the romantic aspect was given enough time to grow and evolve in a natural fashion. I also had a hard time buying the heroine’s choice at about the two-thirds mark; she had worked so hard to have Christmas away from her toxic parents, why wouldn’t she try to convince Finn to stay on in Switzerland rather than them both go back because he had a plane to catch? Given all that we had learned about her family dynamic, I found it to be a surprising and nonsensical choice. and she didn’t even discuss options with Finn. Then, of course, once they were back Stateside, the story shifted to being more about the parents than the romance. The story just did not gel for me.

The Novelist’s Rake by Ava Douglan

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The Novelist's Rake*

Not Enough Conflict and Tension

I so enjoyed the first book that I read by this team of authors who goes by the name of Ava Douglan, The Soldier’s Poem. So when I found this book at my favorite book review site, I snapped it up immediately. I found the other book to be such a different and compelling spin on time-travel romance; I truly enjoyed the unique characters. Unfortunately, this book didn’t give me the compelling read that I was hoping for. It disappointed me on a couple of different fronts. For one thing, I didn’t think it accurately reflected the way that publishing works on several levels that I won’t detail here. Since this is so integral to the story and how Catherine reacts, I think it is actually important to get right. Another thing that I didn’t like was that it felt like there was no true tension or conflict. It felt like we were just shown scene after scene of slice of life moments in the heroine’s studio apartment or out and about in New York. I felt like I kept waiting for something to happen. Things got more interesting as it got to the end, but by then, it felt a little too late. So while I would definitely recommend the previous book that I talked about, I don’t feel like I can really recommend this one.

A Royal Christmas Wish by Lizzie Shane

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A Royal Christmas Wish*

A Surprisingly Lovely Fairy Tale Romance

If you are one who enjoys those Christmas TV romances that involve fake royalty but are just delightfully sweet, this book from an imprint that puts out those kinds of movies may very well pull you away from the TV and into a book. I found this novel to be that kind of sweet and charming. You do have to accept, especially at the beginning, that there is perhaps a little more melodrama in this story compared to more realistic Christmas romances. This has a strong Cinderella fairy tale vibe all over it, yet it also does speak to some of the concepts that are buzzwords these days in the self-help field, like confidence and empowerment.

The heroine, who sometimes calls herself Just Jenny, is a klutzy, directionless, but good-hearted young woman who has issues with valuing herself. A chance, head-on crash into a man in a park while walking a dog changes her life forever. In their first conversations at that meeting, she reveals much about herself, and he is intrigued by her candor and other qualities. She finds out later that he is a prince of a small European nation. Then things get even more fairytale-like when a fairy godmother of sorts grants her one wish that will expire at the end of the holiday season. Just Jenny becomes a princess.

So will these two stay married beyond the wish’s allotted time? It was interesting to watch Jenny transform into a princess, to watch her confidence and self-awareness blossom. It is certainly not a perfect or easy transformation. Dom, the hero, is perfectly swoon-worthy. He sees Jenny’s value far earlier than she does. He not only transforms her life; she has an effect on him and his outlook as well. They are both better versions of themselves because of the other. It is all very sweet and magical. So long as you’re able to suspend disbelief about something so fantastical, you may find yourself as charmed by this sweet little tale as I was.

The Cornish Village School: Christmas Wishes by Kitty Wilson

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The Cornish Village School: Christmas Wishes*

Delightful English Christmas Romance

What a charming and well-done Christmas romance! This is the fourth book of the series, but the first book that I have read by this author. It’s a delight to find a writer who knows how to compose both very funny scenes and extremely poignant ones. That’s all too rare to find an author who does both well, unfortunately. The first scene, when we discover what is in octogenarian Ethel’s basement, had me laughing out loud. The scene near the end—where Granny Annie helps Dan, the hero, put his life into perspective in the way that only a loving relative with long experience in life can—definitely brought the feels. If only we were all so blessed to have someone like her in our lives. I really enjoyed the dialogue in this book, and the book had a lot of dialogue. I particularly liked the conversations between Dan and Alice. They were so humorous at the beginning but became so much more complex and character revealing as the novel went on. Let’s just say that both Alice and Dan have issues to be resolved if they are to become a couple, moving beyond their obvious friendship. They do have a chemistry that comes off the page. They are definitely a romance couple you can root for. I enjoyed the other community members in the story. I usually associate good, quirky, and believable characters with cozy mysteries, so it is lovely to see that in a small-town romance. If you’re looking for a good and immersive Christmas romance read, this one may do the trick.

Beyond the Pale by Jennifer Millikin

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Beyond the Pale*

Potentially Good Story Ruined by Excess Profanity and Abrupt End

I enjoy a lot of different types of romance novels. I will admit that it took me a little longer to warm up to the contemporary romance field, especially as it is written today in this wide-open, anyone-can-publish book marketplace created by Amazon and perpetuated with other online booksellers. I actually love that new authors have a chance to publish as they never could have before. An unfortunate side effect is that indie books aren’t always of the same quality as traditionally published works. The bar is lowered because there are no gatekeepers.

Anyway, back to this book. I don’t mind angsty romance. I usually like a second chance romances and don’t mind love triangles if they are well written. Unfortunately, in the case of this book, I found myself completely turned off by the profanity. That is one of my problems with contemporary romance and other modern novels; I just do not believe that heavy profanity is needed in any book, and it is a major turnoff for in any novel. I found myself very distracted by it. I wish the author had stated in the book description that this level of profanity was used (over 50 F-bombs), and I would have skipped the book completely.

The story itself had some twists and turns, some expected and some not, but the author did not reveal who the woman would choose until the very literal end of the book. Honestly, I just dislike that about a book, too. Something needs to follow the answer to the primary question besides just a tease about the next book in the series. The story needs time to breathe and wind down for it to feel like the promise of the book has been fulfilled.

I think this book had potential because the characters and their story were interesting. I did enjoy the weaving back and forth between the present time and when they were younger. I just couldn’t get beyond their profanity and the unsatisfying ending.

Twelve Dates of Christmas by M. T. Knights

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Twelve Dates of Christmas*

Second Chance During the Holiday Season

I have been reading quite a few Christmas romances lately because, as soon as the weather gets colder, I like to dig into holiday books! Unfortunately, so many have fallen shy of the mark of the types that I like. I want a Christmas romance to actually reflect the holiday season. Surprisingly, quite a few don’t integrate Christmas well enough into the storyline to make it feel like a true holiday romance. I also don’t really like ones that are too heavy. They can be a little serious if needed, but that Christmas spirit should lift a slightly serious story into something that is heartwarming. And yes, I do like a holiday romance that tugs just a little (or more) at the heartstrings.

Luckily, this book filled all of my requirements for what a good Christmas romance should be. It is written in the alternating perspectives of the hero and heroine, Derick and Ivy, who are six months into their trial separation. We first meet Ivy as she is scrambling to start her morning after waking up too late after not setting her alarms. On top of getting the kids to school, her best friend calls in a panic because the party planning firm in charge of the big town holiday events, starting with that night’s Christmas tree lighting and parade, has quit at the last moment. She desperately wants Ivy’s help to pull it off. Ivy is a party planner who wasn’t chosen by the city to organize the events. The author did an excellent job writing this initial scene, showing how frantic Ivy was and how she was struggling to keep it together on all fronts. I also loved the breakfast meeting scene, as the author slowly doled out bits of information that let us in on some of the reasons why Ivy and Derick had separated.

The main impetus for the plot is that Ivy’s estranged husband wants a second chance. He proposes to use the time before Christmas Eve to show her that he’s changed and that they can start again. I thought the author did a good job showing how the couple had problems in the past; it seemed believable and realistic. Both have grown and changed during their separation so that they could both better appreciate each other and bring more to their marriage—if only they can forgive the past and find their way back to each other. The way the children were written was excellent as well. Mallory in particular, the oldest, definitely acted realistically–both in her reactions and taking on more responsibility with her younger siblings—for a child in such a difficult situation with her parent’s marriage.

This book definitely brought the holiday romance feels with such nuanced, believable, and decent people at its heart. I particularly enjoyed the setup for all that this small town did during the Christmas holidays. Ten years ago, I lived in just such a small town that kicked off its Christmas season with a tree lighting and lighted truck parade, quite similar to what happened in this book. If you’re looking for an enjoyable holiday romance, this one fills the bill.


The asterisks (*) by the book title denote the source of the book copy.

One star = I received it as a free advance/review copy or directly from the author.

Two stars = I borrowed it through my Kindle Unlimited subscription.

Three stars = I purchased the book outright (sometimes for free).

The Amazon book links on this site are affiliate links, which means I make a tiny percentage if you choose to buy a book linked from this site.

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