Wednesday, May 17, 2017

[ARC Review]: "Buns"

contemporary romance, romance novel covers, Royal Pick, Buns by Alice Clayton
Buns by Alice Clayton
Publisher: Gallery Books (May 23, 2017)
Series: Hudson Valley, 3
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Clara Morgan is living the dream, if you can call rebranding hotels that are desperate for a new life and running any kind of marathon a dream. Which she does. But the career she loves and the endurance races that keep her adrenaline pumping have kept her too busy to put down any roots. Growing up in foster care, she’s never been able to establish traditions of her own, which may be why she’s fascinated by the rituals that generations-old family resorts are known for. She’s especially interested in the Bryant Mountain House, and not just for their secret recipe for the yummy, gooey, can’t-get-enough-of Hot Cross Buns….

Archie Bryant, the man with the Buns, is fifth generation and one-day-owner of the charming yet run-down Bryant Mountain House in Bailey Falls, New York. He’s determined to save his family’s legacy from the wrecking ball the old-fashioned way—by gritting his teeth and doing what needs to be done. There’s no way Archie will be influenced by the new hotel branding expert his father brought in to turn one hundred and fifty years of tradition on its head just to attract a faster, younger, slicker crowd. But when some of Clara’s ideas start bringing in new, paying customers, Archie can’t deny that she may have just given him a shot at keeping his resort open.

It’s sticky, it’s messy, it’s sweet, it’s Buns.

Where to Buy*:
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Reviews of Clayton's Previous Novels:


Rusty Nailed (#2)

Cream of the Crop (#2)

My Review:

[Archie] "Has anyone ever told you that you're incredibly rude?"

"Everyone who's ever hired me."

"And you're proud of this track record?"

"Every one of them is now a sterling reference. I can give you their contact info whenever you like."

Clara works to rebrand businesses (hotels, inns, resorts, and the like), helps them to turn themselves around, to bring new life – and money – back into the business. She’s great at what she does. Her newest job is a big one, and if she knocks it out of the park, she might be on track to be partner at her firm very soon. She heads up to the resort a few days early, under a different name, to get a real feel for the place before she actually “arrives” and meets with the owner. She assumes that the man she first meets that night is the bellhop . . . until she finds out that he’s actually Archie, the son of the owner – and soon to be the owner when his dad steps down in the next year. And when he sees the papers that fall out of her bag, he knows that she’s not the average guest that he first thought, either: she’s the outsider his dad brought in to go through the resort. Game. On.

Like with most of her clients, Clara has to fight to show the Bryants that her plans will save their business, and the changes will be for the better, without destroying the long, beloved history of the place and its memories. But she’s determined and smart, and Archie and his father both see this and come to (slowly) accept the changes she wants to discuss. Oh, there’s still some push back at times, but it’s never because they don’t think her competent, it’s simply the knee-jerk reaction of seeing everything they’ve known torn apart to reveal the flaws, to show how some things need to change after more than 100 years in business, in order to make the place thrive for decades to come, not just struggle for a few more years.

I fully admit, the first, eh, maybe 10-15% of the book or so wasn’t my favorite. There’s nothing overtly wrong with it, it’s not terribly boring – but it also didn’t grab my attention fully, not like the rest of the book did. But once Archie and Clare started to butt heads . . . Oh, shit, it was ON!

One hand shot up and slapped at the stone behind me, while the other tugged me closer, circling his hips against mine and pressing himself farther between my thighs. 

“You’re infuriating,” he said, his voice heated steel. “And you’re too short.” And with that, he picked me up against him, my legs wrapping clumsily around his hips as he held me against the tower. 

Now eye level with him, I glared. “I’m exactly the right height.” And as he pressed his lips against my neck, his tongue darting out to lick and suck at my skin, I let my head fall back against the stone with a thud. “And you’re an asshole.” 

His hips surged forward, my legs spread wider, and as he ground into me I held his head, his mouth trailing down, pushing under the edge of my jacket, his lips dropping hot wet kisses along my collarbone. 

That little gem of a first kiss comes after she chases him up a mountain -- no, literally. Well, okay, she was both chasing him to get him to talk to her and also they were competing to see who could reach the top first. I'm going to say that they both won with that "prize". :)

These two have chemistry and then some. The tension between them is vivid and sparkling, and the banter and battles – under the disguise of “we’re fighting about the resort changes, of course” – add so much delicious buildup to what comes later. (Heh, comes later….) These two had some of the best interactions I’ve read in a long, long time, and I can’t tell you how many scenes I highlighted while reading. There’s so many, and a large portion are all BEFORE they ever fall into bed. But don’t worry, that tension and banter and clashing continues after the orgasms start. It’s not that they hate each other, oh no, they’re just both very strong and independent and they spark off of each other in the very best, most delicious way.

“Oh my God,” I moaned, my voice muffled against his neck. “Oh my God, I can’t believe we’re doing this.” 

“We’re officially not doing this,” he groaned, his hand traveling up my leg, palming my thigh. 

“It’s bad, this is so bad,” I gasped. 

“It’s the worst,” he agreed, then silenced us both with a searing kiss."

I’m sorry, I’ve said delicious a lot, haven’t I? But it’s true!

Hot damn. I loved a well-dressed man who had a filthy mouth.

Archie . . . oh, Archie. I know, I know, the name is a bit, well, not hero-like, let’s be honest. But damn, Archie might be one of my new favorite heroes, and definitely my favorite from Clayton (more on this in a bit). Archie is a very straight-laced, controlled man – and you know I love those kind of men because they are always the dirtiest fuckers. On top of that, Archie has auburn/red hair, wears glasses, AND has adorable freckles. Excuse me, sir, why must you be so goddamn sexy? He hits ALLLLL my weaknesses, basically, and I loved him. He’s also a widower, a bit older than Clara (I think? I wasn’t certain on his age compared to hers), and when he finally lets loose with her . . . Well, I needed a cold shower. Or an Archie of my own. Preferably the latter. *sigh*

Here’s what I love about Clayton’s writing, especially with Buns: her sex scenes aren’t terribly explicit (as in descriptions of the dirty-smutty-goodness), but with what she does give, she manages to convey a fuck-ton of steam and heat anyway and I love it. It’s NOT fade to black, but you don’t get pages of description, and (at least in this book) there’s no “cock” used during any of the scenes. You know by now how I love my romances – the dirtied the better – but I don’t mind the *slightly* lower filth level here because the scenes are built around their killer chemistry in such a way that it comes across just as hot as a 10 page erotica sex scene anyway.

Trust. Me.

He sat up beneath me, lips on my breast and hands on my backside as I rode him hard, rode him to another orgasm and another, anchored by those searching eyes, swirling ink and beautiful as his own powerful orgasm shook through his body. 

When his hips finally stilled, when his fingers released my skin, when the cords in his neck finally receded and the flush in his cheeks flooded in, we collapsed onto the balcony, his lips alternating between dropping tired kisses onto my neck and whispering my name. 

Clara, he said, over and over again. God, I loved hearing this man say my name.

Their first time, besides being both hot and tender, was also fun because there's a little mishap and he loses his glasses, leaving him completely blind. But don't worry, Archie still got the job done without his sight. 😏

Seriously though, I could give you pages and pages of quote examples of both their banter AND their sexy times.

“Mm-hmm.” I looked at his eggs. “So how long do they need to stay in the dye?” 


“Depends on what?” 

He looked up at me over the rims of his glasses. “On how deep you want it.” 

Ungh. I breathed. Then blushed. 

“How deep you want the color, that is.” 

I considered. “Pretty deep.” 

“I had a feeling.” He looked proud of himself. Hmm.

“Shallow has its benefits, though,” I said innocently. Not taking my eyes off my tray, I tilted my head to the side. “Sometimes just a little bit, just barely inside, like really slow? It can drive a person positively crazy, you know?” 

His tray shook slightly. 

“I mean, anyone can just thrust it right in there, but when someone can do it really slow? And shallow? Making sure that everything gets covered, not missing a single spot? That’s almost as good as when it’s really deep.” 

His tray shook again, this time more than slightly. 

I lifted my tray out of the green dye, then bobbed it lightly back under, leaning over as I did, making sure to give him a peek down my shirt. “But that’s just me.” 

“Not just you,” he grunted, and I chanced a look at him. His hands were gripping the tray, white knuckles standing out stark against the purple dye. Forearms bunched, shoulders tight, jaw clenched. 

His eyes met mine, and I drew in a breath. “I had a feeling,” I whispered.

Dear God. I need a moment after that round of innuendo banter.

Someone stop me.

His mouth was on the move again as well, back at my ear, whispering, “I want . . . I need . . .” 

“What,” I asked, “what do you want?” 

He didn’t answer with words. But he did answer. He spun me, pushing me up against one of the chimneys, wrapping one hand around the back of my knee and hitching it around his hip, opening me up to him. 

And he thrust against me. Yes. He thrust against me again, his eyes now burning down into mine. Yes, yes.

No, really. Otherwise I’ll be here all day.

The sex was hot as hell, the banter stimulating and fun. But I also loved that they had intimate, soft moments, too, as they worked their way to a HEA. What I'm saying is I really loved their romance, and while, yes, Archie does move a bit fast from “I will never look at another woman again because I loved my wife” to “But dammit, I can’t resist Clara, and that’s okay, I’m not insulting my wife’s memory by moving on”, I still believed the change. It worked for me. I could see that it’s a quick move, but it didn’t come across as annoying quick while I was reading, if that makes sense?

Which brings up what I touched on earlier, about loving Archie the most out of this trilogy of heroes. Now, I also loved book 2 (my first Clayton, btw), and while Oscar was perfect for Natalie and swoon-worthy in his own right, I never felt like I really *saw* him, you know? His character was a bit vague to me, even by the end. Book 1 is my least favorite of this series, for other reasons, but Leo was also harder for me to see and connect with. But Archie here? Oh, I got a much clearer sense of his character, of who he is and why Clara fell for him – and why I should as well. And I did, oh, I definitely did.

The book is written entirely from Clara’s POV (well, except for a few pages of an epilogue from Archie), and that’s the same way books 1 and 2 were. I’ve not read Clayton’s other books, but I assume she sticks with 1st POV, heroine only, there too (correct me if I’m wrong, of course). While I love her overall fun writing style and have enjoyed what I’ve read so far, my one complaint is I really want dual POVs, I want to really get to know BOTH characters fully. And while, yes, Clayton pulled Archie off much better here despite it being entirely Clara’s POV, giving him more depth for me to see and connect with than the previous heroes, I still wanted more, still needed his POV, too. What I got here was great – clearly, look at the rating I’m giving the book overall – but having both of their voices would have made this an even stronger book for me. Will I still read more of hers knowing that 1st POV is likely what I’ll keep getting? Yes. But I still hold out hope for dual POV in future books.

So, besides the fantastic tension and sex (and Archie, oh Archie!), I also loved seeing this resort and the community involved in it. (Though I didn’t like that Archie’s father was a fairly big part at first and then just disappeared once Clara and Archie started working together; I get that he wasn’t going to be owner for much longer, but he’s still a part of the business, of the family, of Archie’s life, and that was disappointing for him to all but left the book entirely like that.) I loved seeing Clara doing her job, and she does it so well.

“Jesus, I don’t think I’ve ever seen your guy smile that big.” I laughed, nudging Natalie. 

“I have, but usually when I’m about to sit on his—” 

“No no.” Roxie shook her head. “I’m literally begging you to not finish that sentence.”

But I also enjoyed seeing the previous couples (Clara’s friends) show up, Natalie, especially. She’s so fun, and her naughty-girl with a take-no-shit-give-no-shits attitude was still just as vivid here as it was in her own book. I ended up highlighting a lot of quotes from her, too. I think their – Roxie, Natalie, and Clara – friendship could have be a bit stronger in the course of the book, and the entire series for that matter (because I do love a good, strong friendship) but I was still quite happy with what was shown, as these three were fun together, and clearly had each other’s backs – even if Clara has such a hard time reaching out for help.

And yes, Clara’s hangup with family/relationships/commitment – all stemming from her shitty childhood growing up in the foster care system, and not with good foster families either – does play into this book, creating a few ripples between her and Archie. He never pushes her, but she lashes out anyway, not wanting to accept help, not wanting to talk about her past. On one hand, I could relate a bit to where she was coming from with said reactions, but on the other hand, I definitely had moments where I just wanted to shake her and yell “TALK TO HIM LIKE THE GROWN WOMAN YOU ARE, FUCK THE GHOSTS OF YOUR PAST”.

To put it simply: Buns was such a fun, sexy and romantic read for me. I had a blast reading it – just look at my Twitter feed and all the quotes if you don’t believe me! – and while I technically gave Cream of the Crop and Buns the same rating, Clara and Archie stole my heart just a bit more, becoming my favorite of this trio. This one, like the other two books, can be read as a standalone (I read the series out of order, 2-1-3), and I really did like all the books. But for me, you just can’t beat a strong heroine butting heads with an uptight hero, and Clayton does that dynamic so well here. #sparksfordays 

4 1/2 STARS! 

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I received an e-ARC of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley.

*Note: The quotes used belong to Alice Clayton; TBQ's Book Palace does not claim them. Any mistakes or typos in the quotes are my own fault.

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If you want to read more quotes that I highlighted, check out my Twitter! I'm not even exaggerating, I think I shared over 100 quotes from this book. I ❤ when that happens.

Remember, since this is a Royal Pick, come back on May 25th for a chance to WIN an ecopy of your own!


Until Next Time,


  *TBQ's Book Palace is a member of both the Amazon and Barnes and Nobles affiliates program. By using the links provided to buy products from either website, I receive a very small percentage of the order. To read my full disclosure on the matter, please see this post!

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