Guest Review: Sworn to Forget by Maria Imbalzano

Guest Review: Sworn to Forget by Maria ImbalzanoSworn to Forget by Maria Imbalzano
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Sworn Sisters #1
Pages: 340
Published by Wild Rose Press on July 18th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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By all appearances, Nicki Reading is a star. PR director at a major music label, Nicki is sharp, successful, independent, and confidently calls the shots. She dates whom she wants, when she wants, with no strings attached. But beneath that shine, loneliness flickers. Events from her past prove love leads only to pain. Commitment is not an option.

Until Dex Hanover, a classy, principled, and prosperous CPA, enters the picture. Undeterred by his unhappy childhood, he has an amazing capacity to be both caring and generous, giving his free time as a mentor for a child from the projects. Dex wears his paternal yearnings on his sleeve, and he is at a point in his life where commitment is the only option.

Despite their opposing views, Nicki and Dex ignite each other. But will events from their pasts ruin their challenging relationship and prevent them from experiencing everlasting love?

Guest review by Amy:

I’m in the habit of saying nice things about books, even books that other reviewers might find questionable; sometimes, however…well, this time, about the nicest things I can say about this one is that I didn’t spot many typos, and I feel accomplished from actually getting to the end. Reader beware: I’m gonna bring the snark out for this one.

Nicki Reading is on a cruise with her soon-to-be-ex, and meets Dex Hanover, also on the cruise with his soon-to-be-ex. Okay, that sounds like nice spicy fare from the get-go, although both of them are happy to explain at tedious length why they are on a cruise with this other person, and their reasons for dumping their exes are perfectly viable. Because they don’t have any real private space, they hold off on the steamy bits until they return home – convenient, isn’t it, that the two lovebirds live in the same city, not at all far from each other? This would have been a short story, otherwise. Come to think of it, that might have been a mercy, really.

They start seeing each other, the sex is magnificent, things are ticking along pretty well, until abruptly, they aren’t. Dex proposes, and she turns him down flat. You see, Dex wants kids, and Nicki just doesn’t.

Escape Rating: D+: We spend fully half of a way-too-long book exploring why there is this disconnect–Dex wants a big family, and to be the father of several kids, because his father abandoned him and his family when Dex was a youngling (huh?). Nicki was a teen parent, who gave her baby up for adoption, and cannot – CANNOT, I TELLS YA – tolerate being around kids, knowing what a crappy parent she was to her own child by giving him up (again, I say, “huh?”)  I mean, I get why those things in their past hurt them, I really do. But both of them are letting it drive their personalities in weird directions, and they’re not even bothering to tell each other. If they would just communicate with each other, so they could understand each other better, but no, both of these folks are way, way too self-centered, almost to the point of narcissism, and way too determined to make themselves miserable over something that happened ages ago. At many points in the front half of the book, I almost gave up. These characters are nothing at all that I can identify with.

52% in (according to my book reader app), we hit on something resembling some plot:  Turns out that the child Nicki gave up fourteen years ago is not all that far away after all. He was adopted by one of her best gal-pal Denise’s brother-in-law and his wife, who were raising him fine until they were killed in an auto accident. The gal-pal and her husband now have Bobby with them, and are looking to adopt him.  But (PLOT TWIST!) he turns up with leukemia. So another gal-pal, Sam, an attorney, works to get at the real birth records, so they can maybe find a bone marrow donor for the boy.

You can probably write the next chapter or two, can’t you? Sam shows up at Nicki’s office to break the news to her, there’s a fit pitched, drama drama drama. And we know who the father is – Michael, who was “just a friend” to Nicki way back when (grin grin wink wink nudge nudge), and disappeared right as they got out of high school, never to be seen again (my eyes are rolling up in my head here) until recently…when he’s involved with Sam.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Through this whole hot mess, Nicki is still pining over Dex, but nope-not-havin’-kids-and-that’s-what-he-wants…until she starts to come around to the idea of maybe possibly…so she hits him up.  Yep, he’s still interested. (PLOT TWIST!) and she gets pregnant.  So they’re gonna get married, happily-ever-after, gosh I’ll try my best even though I’m not keen on kids, all for you, baby.

(PLOT TWIST!) Until she miscarries.  And dumps poor Dex, right before the wedding.  It takes us a couple more really contrived twists and turns to get to a happy ending. But for me, the happy ending was not the honeymoon in Bermuda, but simply finishing this one and seeing THE END.

Other people have given this book good reviews, in several venues, and I had truly hoped for better.  It’s the first in a series about these four friends, the Sworn Sisters, but right now, I just can’t wrap my head around reading the second one (Sworn to Remember), which was recently released.

Review: Duchess by Deception by Marie Force

Review: Duchess by Deception by Marie ForceDuchess by Deception (Gilded, #1) by Marie Force
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Gilded #1
Pages: 320
Published by Zebra on January 29, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In New York Times bestselling author Marie Force's dazzling historical romance debut, the clock is ticking for a wealthy Duke who must marry by his thirtieth birthday—or lose his title...

Derek Egan, the dashing Duke of Westwood, is well aware of his looming deadline. But weary of tiresome debutantes, he seeks a respite at his country home in Essex—and encounters a man digging on his property. Except he's not a man. He's a very lovely woman. Who suddenly faints at his feet.

Catherine McCabe's disdain for the aristocracy has already led her to flee an arranged marriage with a boorish Viscount. The last thing she wants is to be waylaid in a Duke's home. Yet, she is compelled to stay by the handsome, thoughtful man who introduces himself as the Duke's estate manager.

Derek realizes two things immediately: he is captivated by her delicate beauty, and to figure out what she was up to, Catherine must not know he is the Duke. But as they fall passionately in love, Derek's lie spins out of control. Will their bond survive his deception, not to mention the scorned Viscount's pursuit? Most important, can Catherine fall in love all over again—this time with the Duke?

My Review:

I finished Duchess by Deception feeling sadly disappointed. I wondered if it might be me, that this might be a genre that just didn’t work for me anymore. Because I expected a whole lot better from the author of the Fatal romantic suspense series.

Then I looked at some of the other reviews on Goodreads and discovered that I am far from alone in my feelings. Which leaves me feeling better about the other historical romances in my virtually towering TBR pile – but somewhat at a loss for words about this book.

Duchess by Deception is a historical romance that includes an extended ride on the “Troperville Trolley”. There are enough all-too-common tropes and cliches packed into this book for three stories – and it might have been better if it had been three separate stories.

Because there are three stories here. The first is the one about the Duke of Westwood and his nuptial deadline. If he doesn’t marry by the day of his 30th birthday he’ll be forced to relinquish the title in favor of his nasty, greedy, grasping uncle. And his birthday is at the end of the week as the story begins.

So of course he runs off to his country estate instead of staying in London to find a bride. He discovers a young man digging holes at his estate who is immediately revealed to be not merely female but actually a damsel in distress who is on the run from a fate worse than death.

Yes, my eyes are rolling.

That they fall instantly in love is, of course, a given.

Then the misunderstandammits start rolling in. Because he doesn’t tell her he’s a duke since she hates the aristocracy, even though she is part of it. And he doesn’t tell her he has to marry by the end of the week because, well, he’s already lying to her about being the duke’s estate manager instead of the duke himself.

So when the dastardly villain her father has literally sold her to starts investigating the area around the duke’s estate, he whisks her away to Gretna Green for a hasty marriage over the anvil.

Then the same thing nearly happens to her sister. And that’s not the half of it.

Escape Rating D+: I haven’t dragged the D+ out in a while. I didn’t so much finish this book as skim it to see how it ended. Because there is a third plot thread that is even crazier than the first two.

There’s a whole lot of insta-love going on here, well past the point where it’s believable or even plausible. Not only does the duke fall instantly for his future duchess when she faints in his arms, but then his cousin falls equally precipitously for her sister across a crowded ballroom.

Really? The family seems prone to falling sickness, or possibly insanity.

We don’t have a chance to see either relationship actually develop. What we do get is a lot of sex scenes substituting for the development of the romance. I like a good sex scene as much as the next romance reader, but porn-without-plot is not a substitute for an actual plot. YMMV.

The villains of the piece were both caricatures, and yes, there are two. One is a leering pig of a villain, and the other is a greedy, grasping, murderous villain. Who have no relationship to each other. Which stretches the long arm of coincidence a bit too long for a single book.

And both women forgive their father for selling them to the leering pig WAY too easily.

This story had promise. Actually, it had multiple promises. It just didn’t live up to any of them.

Review: Want Me Cowboy by Maisey Yates

Review: Want Me Cowboy by Maisey YatesWant Me, Cowboy (Copper Ridge: Desire, #5) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Copper Ridge: Desire #5
Pages: 217
Published by Harlequin Desire on November 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Her rancher boss is looking for the perfect wife...and she wants the job!

Poppy Sinclair kept her feelings for Isaiah Grayson secret for a decade. When her infuriatingly gorgeous Stetson-wearing boss enlists her help in finding him a convenient wife, she threatens to quit. Until Isaiah counters with an interesting proposal: Why doesn't she marry him? Can she say yes to sharing his life and his bed, but not his heart?

My Review:

As much as I usually love this author, this particular book reminded me why I generally leave the category romance reviews in the hands of my friend and (not nearly frequent enough) guest reviewer Amy Daltry. (She loved Hold Me, Cowboy, a previous book in this very series)

Because as much as I usually love this author, this particular book made me want to throw it against the wall. I don’t have this reaction often because my iPad is just too damn expensive to treat that way.

Let’s just say that Want Me Cowboy is not exactly a contemporary romance for the #MeToo era.

And that’s just for starters.

Except that, for starters, I really liked the setup of the story. I like a good friends to lovers romance. I also like a good lusting after the boss romance. And the opening of the story was hilarious – it reminded me of all those fake ads for a wife or a husband where the previous candidate had an impossible condition – or at least impossible for most respondents. You know the kind, the ones that usually end with the woman keeping her cats or the man keeping his cabin. Or in the case of this particular ad, Isaiah Grayson starts out by saying he’s keeping his beard.

And telling the assistant who has been in love with him for a decade that she’s the one who will be interviewing any prospective candidates. The possibilities for humor are endless. And I wish the story had gone there. Or pretty much anywhere else instead of where it actually went.

Not that I didn’t hope that they would get together, because I initially did. Until I didn’t.

Let me explain…

The first thing to understand about Isaiah Grayson is that he seems to be somewhere on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. Not that it has ever been officially diagnosed, but both he and his family are more than aware that Isaiah has never had any skills in processing what other people are thinking or feeling. And he uses that lack of awareness as an excuse to be an asshole.

He’s usually not mean, or at least not mean per se. But he has decided that he is usually right, and when someone tells him something that he doesn’t want to hear or that he thinks is wrong, he overrides everything they say and everything they do, leaving them no choice but to either go along or walk away – and he makes it incredibly difficult to walk away.

As he finally realizes late (too late) in the story, he did give Poppy a choice. However, he has the financial power to restrict that choice to the point where the least bad option is the one that he wants. It’s not necessarily that she wants what he has decided is best, just that all of the other choices are so horrible that it might as well be no choice at all.

Things in this story begin going pear-shaped when Poppy Sinclair finally snaps back at Isaiah about giving her the job of interviewing his wife candidates. She’s fed up with his hunt for a convenient wife who will be the equivalent of her, just at home. And with sex. Otherwise, he IS looking for her clone.

He gets the bright idea that he can have his cake and eat it too by just marrying Poppy. This could have been a great story, but the problem is the way that Isaiah goes about it. Once he’s kissed her and discovered that they have AMAZING chemistry together, he decides that no one else by Poppy will do, takes over her life and NEVER listens to any of her objections or concerns.

Including the concern she never gets a chance to raise. Their sexual relationship has the definite aura of him pushing her boundaries until she “realizes” that she really didn’t want to say no in the first place. The way this feeds into the whole narrative of “no means yes” that men fall back on when consent is forced or withdrawn made me grit my teeth.

That he, in spite of his own internal dialog about his sexual experiences, can’t be bothered to use a condom is just plain wrong. She’s a virgin, so the idea that she wasn’t remotely prepared to have sex with anyone isn’t surprising. That he doesn’t seem to even think about protecting her from either pregnancy or any consequences of his past is selfish and thoughtless, to say the least..

That she becomes pregnant from her first sexual experience is part of the story. Because it becomes yet another way that he takes her choices away from her.

You’re thinking that she can raise the child alone, that in the 21st century pregnancy does not equal a choice between marriage and eternal shame and damnation. And you’re right.

But, and in this case it is a huge gigantic butt, he has decided that marriage between them is the right thing to do. Because for him, it provides him with the perfect, stable family that he has decided that he needs.

So when Poppy tries to back out of the engagement he has pretty much coerced her into, he informs her that if she doesn’t marry him he will fight her for full custody, and that with his money and his resources, he will win. And he’s right about that. So when she won’t do what he wants, he makes all her other choices so horrible that she has no real choice.

For me the whole story was like that. He has decided what he wants, so he takes over her life. She has doubts and tries to back away, or at least to slow things down. He rides roughshod over her. Over and over again.

Her answer to his behavior is to just love him more. And to give him more. His mother convinces her that a successful marriage is one where she gives everything and eventually he will see what’s right in front of him. This sounds like the kind of advice that abused spouses receive.

Ironically, it is not the kind of marriage his parents actually have, so there’s an element of “do as I say and not as I do” involved along with the guilt trip.

He does eventually figure out just how big an asshole he’s been, and he does seem to learn just a bit of his lesson. But I’m not nearly convinced that he’s learned enough of a lesson, or grovelled nearly enough, to get past the “if you don’t marry me I’ll take your child away” threat.

Escape Rating D+: It’s been a long time since I’ve dragged out the D+ rating, and this book wasn’t nearly as much fun as the last time I did. But I did finish the damn thing, and that’s what puts it into this category. There was the germ of a good story in here, but it just derailed for me into questionably consenting assholishness.

I could go on (and on and ON) but I’ve ranted long enough.

I still love this author, and will pick up her next book that is NOT a category romance. (In fact, I already have an ARC) But if there are any future books in the Copper Ridge: Desire category series, I’ll leave them to Amy.