REVIEW: Candy Hearts by Erin McLellan

Very edge of a the body and upper legs of a hot young white guy wearing only lacy boy shorts and holding a pair of pink boxer briefs from one upraised fingerWhy I read it:  I saw some buzz about this one on Twitter so I bought it.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Mechanic Benji Holiday is so over Valentine’s Day and men who don’t get him. A weekend getaway with friends to escape the holiday hubbub is exactly what he needs. But William O’Dare—a stern and silent nightclub owner with “Be My Valentine” practically stamped on his forehead—throws a wrench into Benji’s plans.

William has spent years focused on his career, and it has cost him friendships and love. Inexperienced in the business of romance, he’s on the hunt for the perfect partner, and he’s armed with specific criteria to guide him. But William didn’t expect a hunky mechanic wrapped in satin and lace to show up on his doorstep.

Unable to resist their attraction, Benji and William agree to be secret fake valentines for the weekend, but secrets have a way of getting out. William gets struck by Cupid’s arrow, and as the weekend winds down, he doesn’t want fake or secret. He wants Benji to be his valentine for real and for keeps.

What worked for me (and what didn’t): What a charming delight this novella was! Benji was funny and sweet and he won my heart as he was winning William’s. And William was fabulous too in his own way. Benji is more out there, very emotionally open and a little messy. William is more controlled and reserved but the perfect foil for Benji. Both of them are emotionally vulnerable and very brave as they find their way toward one another and I loved how the dynamic shifted from one to the other in that regard.

The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller

Picture showing the middle portion of a woman in a dress (dark red and black bodice, black wide skirt). She has her hands crossed over her front and she's holding a key on a red ribbonWhy I read it:  It was recommended to me by my friend Brie who always gives good rec.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  A young widow restores a dilapidated mansion with the assistance of a charming, eccentric genius, only to find the house is full of dangerous secrets in this effervescent Gilded Age debut novel

It’s 1875, and Alva Webster has perfected her stiff upper lip after three years of being pilloried in the presses of two continents over fleeing her abusive husband. Now his sudden death allows her to return to New York to make a fresh start, restoring Liefdehuis, a dilapidated Hyde Park mansion, and hopefully her reputation at the same time. However, fresh starts aren’t as easy as they seem, as Alva discovers when stories of a haunting at Liefdehuis begin to reach her. But Alva doesn’t believe in ghosts. So when the eccentric and brilliant professor, Samuel Moore, appears and informs her that he can get to the bottom of the mystery that surrounds Liefdehuis, she turns him down flat. She doesn’t need any more complications in her life―especially not a handsome, convention-flouting, scandal-raising one like Sam.

Unfortunately, though Alva is loath to admit it, Sam, a pioneer in electric lighting and a member of the nationally-adored Moore family of scientists, is the only one who can help. Together, the two delve into the tragic secrets wreathing Alva’s new home while Sam attempts to unlock Alva’s history―and her heart.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  I loved this book. I’ve been recommending it all over Twitter.  My Twitter summary is:

There’s a ghost and the most wonderful eccentric cinnamon roll hero and a fantastic heroine, resilient and clever, fragile and brave. It’s funny and sweet and charming and sexy.

Under Currents by Nora Roberts, narrated by January LaVoy

A small rowboat is tied up at a wooden dock surrounded by reeds, on a lake at sunset, the colours are purples and redsWhy I read it:  I pre-ordered this one.

CW: Family violence, domestic abuse

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Within the walls of a tasteful, perfectly kept house in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, young Zane Bigelow feels like a prisoner of war. Strangers—and even Zane’s own aunt across the lake—see his parents as a successful surgeon and his stylish wife, making appearances at their children’s ballet recitals and baseball games. Zane and his sister know the truth: There is something terribly wrong.

As his father’s violent, controlling rages—and his mother’s complicity—become more and more oppressive, Zane counts the years, months, days until he can escape. He looks out for little Britt, warning her Be smart. Be careful. In fear for his very life, he plays along with the insidious lie that everything is fine, while scribbling his real thoughts in a secret journal he must carefully hide away.

When one brutal, shattering night finally reveals cracks in the façade, Zane begins to understand that some people are willing to face the truth, even when it hurts. As he grows into manhood and builds a new kind of family, he will find that while the darkness of his past may always shadow him, it will also show him what is necessary for good to triumph—and give him strength to draw on when he once again must stand up and defend himself and the ones he loves.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  Every year I eagerly await the new stand-alone Nora Roberts romantic suspense. Sometimes they miss more than they hit, but when they work for me they really work for me. Under Currents worked.

While I found it a little predictable at the end, I enjoyed the listen so much. The subject matter, dealing as it does with family violence (including spousal abuse, sexual, emotional and physical and child abuse, emotional and physical) is pretty brutal so it won’t be a book for everyone. But at various points throughout the story I was so tense and fearful about what was going to happen, as well as just plain happy as the romance blossomed. There are a few little romances in the book actually – more than one HEA is always a good thing.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary, narrated by Carrie Hope Fletcher and Kwaku Fortune

cartoon type cover with a red-haired white girl on the left and a brown-skinned guy in a blue shirt on the right with a wall in between where the titles are written as on the spine of a bookWhy I read it:  I received a review copy from the publisher.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  What if your roommate is your soul mate? A joyful, quirky romantic comedy, Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare is a feel-good audiobook about finding love in the most unexpected of ways.

Tiffy and Leon share an apartment. Tiffy and Leon have never met.

After a bad breakup, Tiffy Moore needs a place to live. Fast. And cheap. But the apartments in her budget have her wondering if astonishingly colored mold on the walls counts as art.

Desperation makes her open minded, so she answers an ad for a flatshare. Leon, a night shift worker, will take the apartment during the day, and Tiffy can have it nights and weekends. He’ll only ever be there when she’s at the office. In fact, they’ll never even have to meet.

Tiffy and Leon start writing each other notes – first about what day is garbage day, and politely establishing what leftovers are up for grabs, and the evergreen question of whether the toilet seat should stay up or down. Even though they are opposites, they soon become friends. And then maybe more.

But falling in love with your roommate is probably a terrible idea…especially if you’ve never met.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  I’d had my eye on this book ever since a friend recommended it on Goodreads. I listened to a sample of the audiobook before agreeing though because new-to-me narrators can be a bit dicey and it’s not fun to slog through a bad audio and it’s not fun to write a review about it. I didn’t get to hear any of the male narrator, Kwaku Fortune, on the Audible sample but Carrie Hope Fletcher’s voice was enough to have me signing up. As it happened, both narrators were very good – although I do have a couple of quibbles which I’ll talk about later – and I’ll happily listen to each of them again.

Told in the alternating (but not always evenly) point of view of Tiffy Moore and Leon Twomey, both twenty-something Londoners. Leon needs some extra money and works as a palliative care nurse on night shifts at a hospice. He spends weekends with his girlfriend, so he rents out his one bedroom flat for the nights and weekends for £350 per month. He gets the flat between 9am and 6pm Monday to Friday. Tiffy rents the flat for the rest of the time.

Teach Me by Olivia Dade

cartoon cover of a scowling/smirking fat white woman in a black dress and a slim white man in a grey cardigan and a blue tie against an aqua background with the tagline "even ice queens can melt"Why I read it:  I have enjoyed the author’s earlier books. Spoiler alert: this one is her best yet.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Their lesson plans didn’t include love. But that’s about to change…

When Martin Krause arrives at Rose Owens’s high school, she’s determined to remain chilly with her new colleague. Unfriendly? Maybe. Understandable? Yes, since a loathsome administrator gave Rose’s beloved world history classes to Martin, knowing it would hurt her.

But keeping her distance from a man as warm and kind as Martin will prove challenging, even for a stubborn, guarded ice queen. Especially when she begins to see him for what he truly is: a man who’s never been taught his own value. Martin could use a good teacher–and luckily, Rose is the best.

Rose has her own lessons–about trust, about vulnerability, about her past–to learn. And over the course of a single school year, the two of them will find out just how hot it can get when an ice queen melts.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  I’m going to try not to gush but it’s going to be difficult. From the first page, I settled in to happily enjoying Teach Me. The characterisations are rich and layered, the messaging is strong without being preachy, the inclusivity is just there without it having to be a thing, an analog to the real world we live in.

As a hero-centric reader, I fell almost immediately for Martin who is a gorgeous cinnamon roll of a hero with his own vulnerabilities and pain points. He is ever and always respectful of Rose, of her desires and wishes and needs, of women in general in fact.

Not a single word from her mouth was objectionable. Not a single word from her mouth was personal, either. She didn’t ask him about himself. She didn’t tell him about herself. She didn’t smile. She didn’t do anything but give him necessary, job-related information.

And that was absolutely, unequivocally her choice. She didn’t owe him, a near-stranger, smiles or warmth or personal information or interest.

He’d told his daughter Bea the same thing many, many times over the years. Being a woman didn’t obligate her to make men—or anyone—comfortable in her presence. People who said otherwise could contemplate their terrible life choices while she shoved their arrogant presumption somewhere exceedingly painful.

Rose’s chilliness didn’t offend him. Not at all.

It did worry him, though.

November Round Up

Monthly Mini Review

face and upper chest of a hot rock star wearing dark sunglasses and a leather jacket but no shirt, his visible chest tattooedInfamous by Jenny Holiday, narrated by Michael Fell – A- On the face of it, Infamous isn’t a particularly revolutionary story: slow burn romance between an out gay guy and a bisexual rock star whose image is decidedly straight. But what it does it does very very well. It delivers all the feels and kept me glued to my earbuds.

Rocker Jesse Jamison has made a deal with the manager of his dreams to tow the line and stay away from liaisons with men in order to project the ideal image for superstardom. After meeting Dr. Hunter Wyatt, a paediatric hospitalist on the way to Toronto one day, the pair strike up a somewhat unlikely friendship. The book skips forward two years after that initial meeting and the bulk of the story takes place as the pair become buddies and when Jesse’s career has really taken off. Hunter left a relationship with a closet case in Montreal and moved to Toronto for a fresh start. He won’t go back in the closet for anyone – not even Jesse.

It’s not really a surprise what happens but this is one of those cases where the what isn’t as important as the how. The characterisations are strong, the connection between the two men is built up over a long period of time and is based on a solid friendship that is completely believable notwithstanding their differences. While I was dismayed by the predictable black moment I was pleased that Jesse’s decision to come out was about being himself and not “for” anyone and it was a book where the grand gesture had appropriate context and worked really well.

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