Friday, August 16, 2019

Sarah's Beach Vacation Binge

Today Sarah is sharing some quick thoughts on 5 romances she read while on vacation. Originally she had planned on ranking these books but in the end they were all too amazing and she just couldn't do it! Is that a fail or a win? IDK, I'd call it "Story of My Life", as I can never pick favorites or rank them.

Every year, my mom and I go to the beach for a few days, just the two of us, around our birthdays. I was born 6 days after her birthday, during the hottest part of the July. This trip is not a luxury, by this part of the summer it is a necessity. We get a barebones oceanfront hotel room, have our umbrella planted on the beach by 9am each day, walk, swim, and read until about 5pm, eat dinner, and repeat. Between the time spent on the beach and the window between dinner and bed, I have a lot of time to read! This year, right before our trip I stumbled across Book Riot’s “50 MUST-READ ROMANCES PUBLISHED IN THE 2010s” and decided to curate my vacation reading list from their recommendations. Some of the stories I had read like Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai, The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang, and Rafe by Rebekah Weatherspoon so I knew this was a well reasoned and potential gold mine of a list.

I read on my kindle and keep my NC Digital Library check outs at the max (5 at a time) so I cleared out my loans list and decided the first 5 books I could check out from the library would be my reading list for the trip. There were a few books I had to place a hold for, some that my library didn’t have (though I requested the missing ones until I had reached my digital request limit for the NCDL- 12 if anyone is interested), and ended up with:

Take the Lead by Alexis Daria
Can’t Escape Love by Alyssa Cole
Stroke of Midnight by Andie J. Christopher
The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev
Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare

This list, though driven by what was available to be from my library, is pretty representative of what I read. Mostly contemporary romances, with a dash of historical, and I am intentional about reading more WOC authors (in romance and other areas of my reading/academic life). I had read other books by Cole and Dare, so a mix of known and new-to-me authors seemed great. My plan was to read them and rank them by the end of my vacation. 5 books, 4 days- a perfect beach vacation.

I started with Take the Lead because I watch Dancing with the Stars. I am impressed by the dancing, but my grandmother loves the show. Watching it gives us something to talk about and giggle over. One chapter in and I was hooked.  Gina is a seasoned dance show pro fighting for her job and Stone is a reluctant reality star who needs to win to help his family pay off some medical debt. Their chemistry is instant, but learning how to fit into each other's lives is a lot harder. The mix of romance, dance, and a little angst was perfect for a beach read.  I was off to a great start.

Then I read Can’t Escape Love. This novella follows Reggie, Portia’s twin sister from Duke by Default (part of the Reluctant Royals series), as she seeks out man she used to listen to online to fall asleep. Her insomnia is affecting her budding pop culture social media empire and Gus’ voice is the only thing that lures her to sleep. Cole’s writing is effervescent and sprinkled with fun references like this Disney one:

“Why do you want my voice?” he [Gus] asked, demonstrating bluntness again.  
“Because I’m a sassy sea witch and I’m gonna keep it in a nautilus necklace, then use it to steal your man from right under your nose,” she [Reggie] replied drily.

Dry humor and pop references will get me every time! Reggie is the only heroine I’ve ever read who uses a wheelchair and Gus is autistic. (The only other autistic character I’ve ever read in romance is Stella from The Kiss Quotient). Cole is masterful at writing these characters as they practically jump off the page, making me want my romance world to better reflect the ways that people live in the real world.

At this point, I began to feel like I had a list full of winners and ranking them would be an exercise in futility. I just wanted to feel the ocean breeze and enjoy good books!

Third up was Stroke of Midnight. This book starts with a New Year’s Eve one night stand for our overworked heroine, Alana. She is a woman I feel a deep kinship with as Andie J. Christopher describe her as “an introvert who preferred books to people on most days.” It turns out her one night stand, Cole, is a friend of her brother’s. Alana is stressed and overworked keeping the family business alive and Cole is a happy reprieve, until he chooses to keep things from her the way her father and brother does. While the ending provides the right amount of tension, most of the book is hot time in Miami’s hot weather and I am down for it. Another excellent book!

Next, I tackled Bollywood Bride. This story has the most angst and you know it is going to be good when the author thanks a therapist who helped her to understand the character. Ria and Vikram had been friends since childhood, but family history and an unbearable burden make Ria choose to become a Bollywood star and change her relationship with Viky forever. They see each other for the first time in a decade at her cousin’s wedding. They are pulled back into the easiness they felt with one another, but nothing else is easy. They don’t know each other’s full truths and building a life on shifting foundations is impossible. This book is both heartwarming and devastating at the same time.  The writing is thick and lush, with the backdrop of a lavish Indian wedding to provide texture and interest. There are times that you can smell the food and feel the fabrics. It was a change in pace from the previous three relatively low stakes/low angst books, but it broke my heart just to put it back together again.

I finished this experiment (that either went horribly wrong as I can’t rank these books or horribly right because who would want to) with Tessa Dare’s Romancing the Duke. Here we meet Izzy and Ransom. One as poor as a churchmouse with nowhere to go and the other nursing his wounds from a serious accident. Izzy has just inherited a crumbling estate to which Ransom assures her was not for sale. They, along with his valet, the vicar’s daughter, and a band of cosplayers who follow Izzy because of stories her father published in her childhood, work together to save the castle, finding friendship and love along the way. For me, historical novels can be hit or miss, but Dare’s, in general and this one in particular, are fun reads that have me laughing out loud. Part of the fun was Izzy hair reminded me painfully of my own thick, curly mop as Ransom ruminated that Izzy’s hair “wasn’t normal hair. The curly mane of hers could snare a rabbit. Perhaps a horse.” I have an unmitigated love for heroines with unruly hair.

All of these books are 5 star reads.  My experiment was a flop and vacation was a blast, but perhaps the winner was Trisha Brown who wrote Book Riot’s article!

Take the Lead by Alexis Daria
Publisher: Swerve (October 3, 2017)
Series: Dance Off, 1
Genre: Contemporary Romance (M/F)

Gina Morales wants to win. It’s her fifth season on The Dance Off, a top-rated network TV celebrity dance competition, and she’s never even made it to the finals. When she meets her latest partner, she sees her chance. He's handsome, rippling with muscles, and he stars on the popular Alaskan wilderness reality show Living Wild. With his sexy physique and name recognition, she thinks he’s her ticket to the finals—until she realizes they’re being set up.

Stone Nielson hates Los Angeles, he hates reality TV, and he hates that fact that he had to join the cast of the The Dance Off because of family obligations. He can’t wait to get back to Alaska, but he also can’t deny his growing attraction to his bubbly Puerto Rican dance partner. Neither of them are looking for romantic entanglements, and Stone can’t risk revealing his secrets, but as they heat up the dance floor, it’s only a matter of time until he feels an overwhelming urge to take the lead.

When the tabloids catch on to their developing romance, the spotlight threatens to ruin not just their relationship, but their careers and their shot at the trophy. Gina and Stone will have to decide if their priorities lie with fame, fortune, or the chance at a future together.

Where to Buy*:
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Can’t Escape Love by Alyssa Cole
Publisher: Avon Impulse (March 19, 2019)
Series: Reluctant Royals, 2.6
Genre: Contemporary Romance (M/F)

Regina Hobbs is nerdy by nature, businesswoman by nurture. She's finally taking her pop culture-centered media enterprise, Girls with Glasses, to the next level, but the stress is forcing her to face a familiar supervillain: insomnia. The only thing that helps her sleep when things get this bad is the deep, soothing voice of puzzle-obsessed live streamer Gustave Nguyen. The problem? His archive has been deleted.

Gus has been tasked with creating an escape room themed around a romance anime…except he knows nothing about romance or anime. Then mega-nerd and anime expert Reggie comes calling, and they make a trade: his voice for her knowledge. But when their online friendship has IRL chemistry, will they be able to escape love? 

Where to Buy*:
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Stroke of Midnight by Andie j. Christopher
Publisher: Lyrical Press (January 3, 2017)
Series: One Night In South Beach, 1
Genre: Contemporary Romance (M/F)

One night.
New Year’s Eve in Miami. Even workaholic Alana Hernandez can’t resist the call of the city, especially if it will get her little sister off her back. But a night of celebrating turns into a night of mischief when an alluring stranger catches her eye across the dance floor.

No names.
Former Navy Seal Cole Roberts isn’t looking for anything more than a good time in Miami. Since leaving the military and being betrayed by his former fiancĂ©e, he’s not interested in unnecessary complications. But the moment he sets eyes on the sultry beauty, Cole knows this night will be far from ordinary.

No going back .
Neither Cole nor Alana are looking for a relationship, so they strike a deal: One night. No names. No repeats. But things get complicated when their night of passion becomes something neither can walk away from.

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The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev
Publisher: Kensington Books (October 1, 2015)
Series: Bollywood, 2
Genre: Contemporary Romance (M/F)

Ria Parkar is Bollywood's favorite Ice Princess--beautiful, poised, and scandal-proof--until one impulsive act threatens to expose her destructive past. Traveling home to Chicago for her cousin's wedding offers a chance to diffuse the coming media storm and find solace in family, food, and outsized celebrations that are like one of her vibrant movies come to life. But it also means confronting Vikram Jathar.

Ria and Vikram spent childhood summers together, a world away from Ria's exclusive boarding school in Mumbai. Their friendship grew seamlessly into love--until Ria made a shattering decision. As far as Vikram is concerned, Ria sold her soul for stardom and it's taken him years to rebuild his life. But beneath his pent-up anger, their bond remains unchanged. And now, among those who know her best, Ria may find the courage to face the secrets she's been guarding for everyone else's benefit--and a chance to stop acting and start living.

Rich with details of modern Indian-American life, here is a warm, sexy, and witty story of love, family, and the difficult choices that arise in the name of both.

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Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare
Publisher: Avon (January 28, 2014)
Series: Castles Ever After, 1
Genre: Historical Romance (M/F)

In the first in Tessa Dare's captivating Castles Ever After series, a mysterious fortress is the setting for an unlikely love . . .

As the daughter of a famed author, Isolde Ophelia Goodnight grew up on tales of brave knights and fair maidens. She never doubted romance would be in her future, too. The storybooks offered endless possibilities.

And as she grew older, Izzy crossed them off. One by one by one.

Ugly duckling turned swan?
Abducted by handsome highwayman?
Rescued from drudgery by charming prince?

No, no, and… Heh.

Now Izzy’s given up yearning for romance. She’ll settle for a roof over her head. What fairy tales are left over for an impoverished twenty-six year-old woman who’s never even been kissed?

This one.

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Thanks for the reviews, Sarah! I'm glad you had a great time on vacation and happy belated birthday to both of you!


Until Next Time,

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