Review: Truly by Ruthie Knox

truly by ruthie knoxFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, mass market paperback
Genre: contemporary romance
Series: New York, #1
Length: 304 pages
Publisher: Loveswept
Date Released: August 5, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

May Fredericks hates New York. Which is fair enough, since New York seems to hate her back. After relocating to Manhattan from the Midwest to be with her long-distance boyfriend, NFL quarterback Thor Einarsson, May receives the world’s worst marriage proposal, stabs the jerk with a shrimp fork, and storms off alone—only to get mugged. Now she’s got no phone, no cash, and no friends. How’s a nice girl supposed to get back to safe, sensible Wisconsin?

Frankly, Ben Hausman couldn’t care less. Sure, it’s not every day he meets a genuine, down-to-earth woman like May—especially in a dive in the Village—but he’s recovering from an ugly divorce that cost him his restaurant. He wants to be left alone to start over and become a better man. Then again, playing the white knight to May’s sexy damsel in distress would be an excellent place to start—if only he can give her one very good reason to love New York.

My Review:

Truly was originally released as an e-serial last year through Wattpad, but I decided to wait for the complete book to come out. While the Wattpad readers loved it, I’m glad I waited until I could get the whole story. I love Ruthie’s work (see review of About Last Night for just how much) but I hate being teased.

Truly is definitely one of Ruthie’s trademark romances. By that, I mean that the hero, the heroine and the situation are believable, or at least identifiable-with, and that the tensions in the situation are part of real-life, and not ridiculously invented.

I hate stories where the stress break-up in the relationship is the result of a grand misunderstandammit that could have been fixed with a simple conversation. Ruthie doesn’t do that.

So, what we have is two people who meet very cute, but need to work at discovering that they are perfect for each other. Also two people who, just like most of us, need a bit of work. Not that either of them is planning to fix the other, but that each of them acknowledges individually that they have some stuff to take care of in order to be their best selves at least some of the time.

And in this particular case, they both have the realistic but difficult problem of needing to shake off the destructive messages that their parents have implanted in their brains, whether their parents intended well, or poorly, or anything at all.

Wisconsinite May Fredericks is stuck in New York City with no cell phone, no ID, and $5 to her name. Not because she’s a deadbeat, but because she finally broke up with her NFL quarterback boyfriend after he delivered the most ham-fisted marriage proposal ever, in front of a crowd on ESPN. Her entirely justified reaction went viral on YouTube. It’s not every day that you see an NFL star get stabbed in the hand with a shrimp fork.

It’s never wise to say that the reason you’re marrying someone is because they are just so plain and unexciting. He deserved that fork.

May got mugged by the paparazzi on her way out. Not just ambushed by the lights and microphones, but literally mugged by one enterprising reporter who wanted to mine her cell phone for juicy info.

Being a pretty rabid Green Bay Packers fan, May takes refuge in a Greenwich Village Packers bar, hoping that someone will take pity on her plight.

Ben Hausman is looking for redemption. Or at least a way of lowering his blood pressure and calming his ever-present anger. He decides, very much on a whim, that playing white knight to May’s obvious damsel in distress will help make him a better person.
He’s both very, very right and very wrong, sometimes within the same 5 minute interval. May makes him laugh. She also makes him re-examine the assumptions that cost him both his marriage and his restaurant career.

His intervention gives May the freedom to explore that still, small voice in her head (the one that sounds remarkably like her mother) that tells her that the real May is wilder, sexier and way more confident and capable than she has ever allowed herself to be.

The more time they spend together, the harder they fall. Until May has to go back home and face all of her benevolent demons, and everything falls apart. Including Ben. Only May isn’t willing to let him, or her new self, go. No matter how angry she has to get.

Escape Rating A+: Truly is a big story, one that was definitely worth staying up after midnight to finish.

I love May. She’s spent most of her life squeezed into the role of “good sister” and “family peacemaker”, and doesn’t really know how to get out. Her well-meaning mother has also spent May’s whole life trying to squash May into a future that she believes will be safe and secure, whether its right for May or not.

She’s also given May a metric butt-load of negative body images, because both mom and sister Allie are petite little waifs, and May is 6 feet tall and built like an Amazon. An absolutely gorgeous and sexy Amazon, but that’s not the way her mother sees her. May’s spent her whole life trying to disappear, and it’s not working.

Breaking out of her safe and boring relationship with the quarterback was the only way for May to rescue herself from a life of complete self-effacement. And she does rescue herself. Ben helps with some of the practicalities, but that option only opens because May first takes charge of her own life.

Ben is interesting because he’s not a typical romantic hero. He may be handsome, but he’s also a complete mess who doesn’t know what to do with himself or his life. He’s totally screwed up once, and is afraid he’ll do it again. He’s also so angry with himself that he inflicts that anger on everyone around him at the drop of a hat.

May takes him out of himself, and makes him view the world around him with fresh eyes. As part of that freshness, he shows her the city that he has come to love.

The other part of the story focuses on their family relationships. We see a lot of May’s family, but only a little, and very telling, glimpse of Ben’s. But they are definitely facing some of the same demons. I’ve always said that the reason it is so easy for family to push your buttons is because they’re the ones who installed them. Both Ben and May really show how that works, and so often doesn’t.

I’m gushing, so I have to stop. If you enjoy contemporary romance, you have to pick up Ruthie Knox. Truly would truly be a great place to start. Me, I’m waiting for the next book in the series, Madly. Madly counting the days, that is.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Harder by Robin York

harder by robin yorkFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: new adult romance
Series: Caroline & West, #2
Length: 353 pages
Publisher: Bantam
Date Released: July 1, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Caroline still dreams about West. His warm skin, his taut muscles, his hand sliding down her stomach. Then she wakes up and she’s back to reality: West is gone. And before he left, he broke her heart.

Then, out of the blue, West calls in crisis. A tragedy has hit his family—a family that’s already a fractured mess. Caroline knows what she has to do. Without discussion, without stopping to think, she’s on a plane, flying to his side to support him in any way he needs.

They’re together again, but things are totally different. West looks edgy, angry at the world. Caroline doesn’t fit in. She should be back in Iowa, finalizing her civil suit against the ex-boyfriend who posted their explicit pictures on a revenge porn website. But here she is. Deeply into West, wrapped up in him, in love with him. Still.

They fought the odds once. Losing each other was hard. But finding their way back to each other couldn’t be harder.

My Review:

deeper by robin yorkIf you have not read the first part of Caroline and West’s story, go back and pick up the monumentally awesome Deeper (reviewed here). The story in Harder is so much deeper if you read where they are coming from.

This pair of stories is exactly what “new adult romance” is supposed to be about: people in that first stage of adulthood who are making decisions that will echo through the rest of their lives, no matter what happens.

In the case of Harder, the story is about whether these two college students will not just face their very adult problems, but also find a way to go beyond survival into thriving in the future.

This story is “harder” because it is both more difficult for Caroline and West to find a way back to each other, and because the theme goes to the question of the ways in which we make our lives harder for ourselves, by closing off options that we think might be hard, instead of striving and finding out.

At the end of Deeper, West leaves both Caroline and college in order to go back to his depressing and depressed home town of Silt, Oregon. It’s not just that his sister needs him, but that West has never believed that he was entitled to a life and happiness of his own. He expected to have to go back, and when it happens, he’s resigned rather than surprised.

He’s always been sure that Caroline deserved better than him, never acknowledging that what Caroline did or did not deserve was not a decision that was his to make.

West tries to push her away, but she’s the only light in his darkness. That he’s made his world darker than it needs to be, all on his own, is not something that he ever considers. But in the middle of too many nights, he calls her just to hear her voice.

And when his mother’s ex-boyfriend shoots his deadbeat father, West calls Caroline. He doesn’t ask for her help, but she gets on the first plane to Oregon. She wants to help. He wants someone to take care of his kid sister Frankie. Caroline wants West back.

West does his worst to make sure she leaves him. And she does, but not before making him think about what he’s doing; to her, to himself, and to his sister.

It’s the hardest thing in his life to realize that every single thing Caroline told him was right. It’s the second hardest to take his sister and his screwed up self back to college. It’s the third hardest to let Caroline all the way back into his life.

It takes him forever to figure out that the best way he can give his sister the good life that he wants for her is to live it with her, with Caroline. Frankie can only learn how to be her authentic self if West can learn it first.

Escape Rating A+: The first half of this story is a hard read. Absolutely excellent, but painfully hard. Deeper ended at the point where Caroline and West separate. It was the right ending for the story, but devastating to read.

Harder picks up where Deeper emotionally left off. Caroline and West are hundreds of miles apart and they have no future together. And neither of them can get over that fact, or move past each other to build a new life.

Of course, West feels that he doesn’t have a life, and isn’t entitled to one. As far as he’s concerned, his only purpose in this world is to protect his sister Frankie. He’s willing to sacrifice himself and everything he might ever be just to keep Frankie safe.

Then the situation hits rock bottom, and the best way for West to keep Frankie safe is to get her out of Silt and away from their neglectful mother. And West only has one place to go; back to Iowa and college. Back to Caroline. Except not.

Deeper was Caroline’s story. West made her see that she was something beyond the terrible pictures, and that if she wasn’t “fine” there was a way to get better.

Harder is West’s story. Caroline refuses to take “fine” for an answer, and refuses to stay out of his and Frankie’s life. Just as he made her think, helped her to get stronger, in Deeper, she does the same thing for him in Harder. But the journey is harder, because they both know what they’ve lost, and because West has so little faith in himself.

If you like contemporary romances featuring real, believable characters facing real problems and coming out strong and together, you’ll love Harder, very, very hard indeed.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Deeper by Robin York

deeper by robin yorkFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: New Adult romance, Contemporary romance
Series: Caroline and West #1
Length: 400 pages
Publisher: Bantam
Date Released: January 28, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

When Caroline Piasecki’s ex-boyfriend posts their sex pictures on the Internet, it destroys her reputation as a nice college girl. Suddenly her once-promising future doesn’t look so bright. Caroline tries to make the pictures disappear, hoping time will bury her shame. Then a guy she barely knows rises to her defense and punches her ex to the ground.

West Leavitt is the last person Caroline needs in her life. Everyone knows he’s shady. Still, Caroline is drawn to his confidence and swagger—even after promising her dad she’ll keep her distance. On late, sleepless nights, Caroline starts wandering into the bakery where West works.

They hang out, they talk, they listen. Though Caroline and West tell each other they’re “just friends,” their feelings intensify until it becomes impossible to pretend. The more complicated her relationship with West gets, the harder Caroline has to struggle to discover what she wants for herself—and the easier it becomes to find the courage she needs to fight back against the people who would judge her.

When all seems lost, sometimes the only place to go is deeper.

My Review:

Deeper wraps a heart stoppingly beautiful love story around a life-shattering problem, and shows the strength of spirit of a young woman who grows up stronger for her broken places.

But the problem that begins the story nearly breaks Caroline’s soul and spirit, and is unfortunately all too real in the 21st century combination of constant connectivity, cyberbullying and sexting, mixed with the age-old issues of sexual harrassment and sexual abuse, usually by males over females.

The resultant nasty cocktail is revenge porn, where someone takes what society considers “dirty” pictures of a young woman and bombs them all over the internet without her consent. Because the woman is a legal adult, even though she is photographed without her consent, posting the pictures online is legal. Anything that happens to her afterwards is considered her problem.

And that’s what happens to Caroline Piasecki. Her ex-boyfriend snapped a picture of her giving him a blowjob with his cellphone. When they broke up, he posted the picture everywhere he could think of. Then, of course, he denied having posted it. As if it could have been anyone else.

The damage was done. The scumbag didn’t just post the picture, he posted her name and the name of the college they attended. He wanted to make sure that he trashed her reputation. That everyone who saw her on campus, that anyone who ever Googled her name, saw that picture first.

It was one hell of a spiteful revenge for breaking up with him. Especially since Caroline was planning to go to law school, and that picture is not going to make getting recommendations for internships at law firms any easier.

Caroline is someone who has always had a perfectly orderly life, and now everything is completely out of order. Her plans are ruined. She has tried so very hard to be good. To be careful.

Her universe is shattered. The whispers follow her everywhere. And she can’t help but start to feel them reach inside of her.

It takes Caroline a long time, and a lot of help from her friends, to start to live her life again. A life that is not defined by the whispers and lies.

There is one hell of a lot of strength involved on her part. Also pretty much of a “two-steps forward-one step back” approach to dealing with moving on from the very huge problem.

But the biggest assist she gets is from West Leavitt. He represents a different choice in life. Lots of different choices. West is a young man who seems to be living in the moment, but actually isn’t. Where Caroline plans everything, West looks spontaneous.

But he’s not. What he is, is someone from an entirely different life who has grabbed this brief moment of time for himself, because he’s sure it will be taken away any second. What he doesn’t reveal is much about himself.

At first, West gives Caroline something that no one else does; a space with no BS. He may not disclose much, but he also doesn’t expect her to filter what she’s feeling. She doesn’t have to pretend to be okay.

And out of that lack of pretense, comes everything.

Escape Rating A+: Deeper is a story that will haunt you long after you turn the final page. This is a book that lives up to the promise of the genre tag New Adult; it delivers a deeper, richer story than a young adult novel. In New Adult the protagonist is supposed to have a problem to solve that will have an impact on their adult life. There are no easy answers in this book, only hard questions and tough solutions.

Deeper is Caroline’s journey. She starts the story in the midst of a meltdown of epic proportions, and she’s melting down for reasons that are big and real. She treats the “porn attack” as a problem to be solved, or hidden from, and can’t face people’s scorn. So she hides. She feels as dirty as if she deserved the comments people, mostly men, fling at her everywhere.

The story is her transformation from the young woman who is victimized to the one who stands up for herself. In the beginning, she feels like she IS the pictures. She feels abused. In the end, the pictures are the pictures, but they are not herself. This does not mean she is not being attacked, because she still is, but she is owning her defense.

West’s story is told in counterpoint to Caroline’s. He comes from such a different place than she does, and he conceals everything about who he really is until nearly the end of their relationship. Their love story is very slow building, and that’s a terrific thing. Caroline isn’t ready to love someone until she stops being a victim and starts taking control of her life. And part of that control is telling West that they can’t have a real relationship until he is willing to admit that what they have is actually a relationship.

He wants to protect her, but part of the point of the story is that Caroline has gotten strong enough that she doesn’t need his protection any more. She needs to make her own decisions, and for that to work, she needs his trust, and his truth.

The ending of Deeper will make you reach for the kleenex, because it concludes, exactly where it should, but not where you want it to.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Once More with Feeling: The Best Ebook Romances of 2013

LJ 2013 Best BooksIn spite of what the opening paragraph of the article at Library Journal says, this is actually the third year that I’ve been asked to choose the Best Ebook Romances of the Year for Library Journal.

Just check the archives, if you’re terribly curious, here are the links to the 2011 and 2012 lists. This is one of the most fun things I get to do all year that can be more or less labeled as work, even though, as what I call reverse full-disclosure, Library Journal does not pay for the writing of this particular article or for the book reviewing I do for them.

Creating this list is always personal for me. These are books or series that I read or am in the middle of. They are the books that I gave either A ratings or 4.5 or 5 star ratings to, depending on where I did the review. Or in a few cases, B+ reviews of books I absolutely couldn’t get out of my head.

The first year, I was told to list 5 books. Last year, 5-ish. This year, my editor said 10 from the start. I think she figured out that I cheat and list series. I did again this year and went over the limit.

skies of gold by zoe archerArcher, Zoë. Skies of Gold. Avon Impulse. (Ether Chronicles, Bk. 5). ebk. ISBN 9780062241443. STEAMPUNK ROMANCE (4.5 star review)

The first four books in the Ether Chronicles (Skies of Fire, Night of Fire, Skies of Steel, Night of Steel) were on my 2012 list for good reason; this series is simply awesome steampunk worldbuilding. Also we have all the story possibilities inherent in a world war, but with airships and “ether” power. While Skies of Gold is a more than worthy successor to the first four books in the series, it is unfortunately the last book in the series. If you love steampunk romance, you’ll be enthralled. And then sad that it’s over.

forged in blood 1 by Lindsay BurokerBuroker, Lindsay. Forged in Blood I. ebk. ISBN 9781301493357. Forged in Blood II. ebk. ISBN 9781301349876. ea. vol: Lindsay Buroker. (Emperor’s Edge). FANTASY ROMANCE
I’ve adored the first five volumes of The Emperor’s Edge series (The Emperor’s Edge, Dark Currents, Deadly Games, Conspiracy, Blood and Betrayal) so much that I haven’t wanted to see it end. So I’ll confess that I put the entire series on the list even though only the last two books were published in 2013, and I’ve been saving reading the ending for a treat for myself. LJ was slightly puristic about things and only put the 2013 titles as the main entry on the list. The Emperor’s Edge is Epic Fantasy with a touch of Steampunk. The primary story isn’t a romance, but, and it’s a truly lovely but, there is a romantic subplot. Or maybe that’s sub-subplot. Our heroine convinces the best assassin not to kill her, and keeps on convincing him to help her, even though everyone tells her he’s just a heartless killing machine. Of course he’s not. Well, not completely.

[Bittersweet Blood by Nina Croft]Croft, Nina. Bittersweet Blood. Entangled. (Order, Bk. 1). ebk. ISBN 9781622669592. PARANORMAL ROMANCE (A- Review)
What a difference just a few days makes! At the time I wrote the article, I was just about to read the second book in Croft’s Order series, Bittersweet Magic (B+ Review). I didn’t want to jinx things by listing it, but I shouldn’t have worried. What’s so much fun about this paranormal romance series is that the standard definitions don’t really apply; the vampires maintain the Order of the Shadow Accords on Earth to prevent the Fae and the Demons from repeating their use of Earth as the battleground in the long-running Fae/Demon war. The contemporary fallout seems to be over the descendants of the Fae Juliet and the Demon Romeo of that war. But Demons are immortal, so Romeo isn’t dead. But his half blood daughter is ground zero for armageddon, and only the vampires can protect her. Make that one vampire with a personal “stake” in the result. The world-building in this just keeps getting better, and the love stories more complex.

black dog blues by rhys fordFord, Rhys. Black Dog Blues. Coffee Squirrel. (Kai Gracen, Bk. 1). ebk. ISBN 9781301668625. M/M PARANORMAL ROMANCE (4.5 Star Review)
This is a dark and gritty post-apocalyptic urban fantasy much more than it is a paranormal romance. There are several characters in this story who care a great deal for the elfin Kai Gracen, but Kai doesn’t even like himself enough to be ready for more than friendship with anyone else. He’ll get there, but he isn’t there yet. The story drops us into Kai’s world as it is; we know what he knows. We don’t know why or how the sidhe suddenly merged with what used to be our normal, just that Kai has to endure whatever crap gets thrown his way. It’s the person who emerges from the endurance that makes the story. That and dodging the dragons mating over the Mojave Desert.

Take What You Want by Jeanette GreyGrey, Jeanette. Take What You Want. Samhain. ebk. ISBN 9781619213746.
Ignore the New Adult label. Take What You Want is an absolutely marvelous contemporary romance that just so happens to be about two people in college. Ellen can’t go away for Spring Break, so she takes a vacation from herself. Just for a few days, she tries to be someone a bit different; instead of being shy and retreating into her books, Ellen buys sexy clothes on sale, goes to a townie bar and picks up the hottest guy in the place. She pretends to be “New Ellen” for just one night. Josh thinks no-strings-attached sex with a girl that he’s had a crush on since freshman year is a fantastic idea, but he knows exactly who she is. Ellen really doesn’t recognize him without his glasses. The next night is where pretense starts butting up against reality, because he wants to turn their one-night-stand into something more and New Ellen and regular Ellen have a difficult time deciding the difference between what they should want and what they do want.

armies of heaven by jane kindredKindred, Jane. The Armies of Heaven. Entangled. (House of Arkhangel’sk). ebk. ISBN 9781620611067. FANTASY ROMANCE (4.5 star review)
The fall of the House of Arkangel’sk is a deliciously complicated blend of the historic fall of the Russian Imperial House of Romanov with Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen with more than few tablespoons of the deviance, decadence and twisted political machinations of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart. There is love to be found, but the path to reach it leads through dark places, and our preconceived notions of good and evil, right and wrong, do not apply in Kindred’s Courts of Heaven. The best man in the entire series is a demon, although he would never think of himself as good. The biggest fool is a certainly an angel, and he would definitely label himself as such. The series begins with The Fallen Queen (4.5 star review) and continues with The Midnight Court (A Review) before the conclusion in The Armies of Heaven. Prepare to be enthralled.

how to misbehave by ruthie knoxKnox, Ruthie. How To Misbehave. ebk. ISBN 9780345545305. (4 star review)
Knox, Ruthie. Along Came Trouble. ebk. ISBN 9780345541611. (5 star review)
Knox, Ruthie. Flirting with Disaster. ebk. ISBN 9780345541703. (A- Review)
Knox, Ruthie. Making It Last. ebk. ISBN 9780345549297.
ea. vol: Loveswept: Random. (Camelot). 4-vol. set. ebk. ISBN 9780804180436. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
This small town romance series set in central Ohio is all about the Clark siblings, Amber, Katie and Caleb. Knox specializes in contemporary romances where real people solve very real problems while going through major life experiences. The tension in her stories comes from the kind of situations that cause stress in ordinary life; trying to reinvent yourself, trying to maintain a marriage, dealing with grief, not dealing with grief, returning home, being part of the sandwich generation, financial stress. The difference is that Knox makes her characters people that we all identify with and lets them have a fantastically steamy romance while they resolve their problems. Her stories pull at your heartstrings and make you smile. Every single time.

case of the displaced detective omnibus edition by stephanie osbornOsborn, Stephanie. The Case of the Displaced Detective Omnibus. Twilight Times. SF ROMANCE
I adore Sherlock Holmes re-imaginings, with the exception of the whatever-it-is that Guy Ritchie birthed with Robert Downey Jr. (who should stick to Iron Man). But I seriously digress. I read, and reviewed, Stephanie Osborn’s Case of the Displaced Detective somewhat in its originally published parts: The Arrival (A- Review), At Speed (B+ Review) and The Case of the Cosmological Killer (B Review). In the case of Stephanie Osborn’s continuing opus, I very much admire her concept of a Holmes who is not quite our Holmes and has an excuse for being so. She has used theories of quantum physics to create not just a possible universe where Holmes would have been a flesh-and-blood person, but to create causality that would bring that person into our 21st century. He is not quite the “thinking machine” of Conan Doyle’s fiction because he is not supposed to be, and that opens up a world of possibilities. Real human beings, after all, feel real emotions as they solve mysteries. Sometimes they even fall in love.

The Story Guy by Mary Ann RiversRivers, Mary Ann. The Story Guy. Loveswept: Random. ebk. ISBN 9780345548740. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE (A- Review)
There was only one thing wrong with this story. It was too short, and at the time it was written, it was the only thing available by Mary Ann Rivers. The story is absolutely awesome, I wanted more by this author, and there just wasn’t anything else, yet.
What’s a “story guy”? A story guy is someone who may or may not be long-term relationship material, but who will, sometime in the future after the heartache is over, make a terrific story. Librarian Carrie West answers a personal ad from a very hot guy for one hour of kissing in the park every week. The answers to the questions about why this unattached and gorgeous man is willing to settle for so little for himself, and to make sure that no one is able to get attached to him, make for one marvelous and nearly heartbreaking love story. (And if you fall in love with The Story Guy you’ll probably also love Ruthie Knox’ Big Boy.)

Anything for You book coverScott, Jessica. Anything for You. Loveswept: Random. (Coming Home, Bk. 2.5). ebk. ISBN 9781301165766. (A+ Review)
Scott, Jessica. I’ll Be Home for Christmas. Forever Yours: Grand Central. (Coming Home, Bk. 2.6). ebk. ISBN 9781455554249. (A Review) MILITARY ROMANCE
Jessica Scott’s Coming Home series, which began in 2011’s Because of You (A Review) and continued in 2012 with Until There Was You (A- Review), is a military romance series that gets to the heart of what it means to love someone who serves in the military, because author Scott is herself a career army officer and is married to a career NCO. So instead of writing about the glory of the battlefield, she writes about the toll that deployments take on a family with inside knowledge of what it’s like to wonder if someone is coming home, and how hard it is to wait and worry. She’s able to convey the emotional cost to a soldier with a career-ending injury, not just because his body is messed-up, but because he’s lost his purpose and he’s worried about the people he’s left behind. If you want to read a military romance with real heart, read Jessica Scott.

That’s it for this list. The specific requirements for the Library Journal list were that they all had to be ebooks, either ebook-only or ebook-first, or ebook-mostly. In some cases, there is a print available on demand, but the ebook looks like the primary format, or it did at the time. Also, for this list, there had to be a romance in the story. Yes, a couple of times you have to be looking for the romance, it’s not the primary plot. But there had to at least be a romantic element.

I used to be able to put this list in preference order, but it’s gotten too big. And there’s kind of an apples/bananas problem. How do you compare a steampunk romance to a paranormal romance when they are both at the top of their respective trees?

I will do a “best of the year” list next week (which includes a few contributions from my friend Cass!) These type of lists are loads of fun. It’s great to look back and see what I’ve read and which books stick in the mind by the end of the year.

Stacking the Shelves (65)

Stacking the Shelves

In this week’s stack I want to make a few shout-outs.

I’m always overjoyed to see a new book by Ruthie Knox. I’ve been absolutely tickled to death by every single thing she’s written, so I’m always thrilled when Library Journal sends me one of her books to review. YAY!

Dating a Cougar by Donna McDonaldAnd even though I haven’t reviewed them (yet), I adore Donna McDonald’s Never Too Late series. Her Dating a Cougar is one of the best older woman/younger man romances I’ve ever read. She does a great job of making it realistic and dealing with the issues while not making a joke of the trope. I’m looking forward to this one.

Last but certainly not least, I want to give a big “THANK YOU” to Decadent Publishing and their recent Happy Birthday 1Night Stand Giveaway. Their 1Night Stand series is one of my not so secret vices, so it was definitely a wow to win 2 ebooks of my choice in their birthday giveaway.

For Review:
The Accident by Chris Pavone
Bittersweet Magic (The Order #2) by Nina Croft
Blue Lines (Assassins #4) by Toni Aleo
Cold Comfort (Ian Rutledge #0.5) by Charles Todd
The Emperor’s Blades (Unhewn Throne #1) by Brian Staveley
Roman Holiday 1: Chained by Ruthie Knox
The Seduction of Miriam Cross by W.A. Tyson
Seductive Powers (Capes #1) by Rebecca Royce
Serafina and the Leprechaun’s Shoe (Serafina’s #3) by Marie Treanor
The Spirit Keeper by K.B. Laugheed
Take Me, Cowboy (Copper Mountain Rodeo #4) by Jane Porter (review)
Thrown by Colette Auclair
Wild Hearts (Justiss Aliance #0.5) by Tina Wainscott

Won from Decadent Publishing:
Cinderella Dreams (1Night Stand) by Cate Masters
Escape to Me (1Night Stand) by Diane Alberts

Dating a Cougar II (Never Too Late #6) by Donna McDonald


Review: Flirting With Disaster by Ruthie Knox

Flirting With Disaster by Ruthie KnoxFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, mass market paperback
Genre: Contemporary romance
Series: Camelot, #3
Length: 448 pages
Publisher: Loveswept
Date Released: June 11, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Fresh out of a fiasco of a marriage, Katie Clark has retreated to her hometown to start over. The new Katie is sophisticated, cavalier, and hell-bent on kicking butt at her job in her brother’s security firm. But on her first assignment—digging up the truth about the stalker threatening a world-famous singer-songwriter—Katie must endure the silent treatment from a stern but sexy partner who doesn’t want her help . . . or her company.

Sean Owens knows that if he opens his mouth around Katie, she’ll instantly remember him as the geeky kid who sat behind her in high school. Silence is golden, but he can’t keep quiet forever, not with Katie stampeding through their investigation. It’s time for Sean to step up and take control of the case, and his decade-old crush. If he can break through Katie’s newfound independence, they just might find they make a perfect team—on the road, on the job, and in bed.

My Review:

Flirting with Disaster is the response to that age-old cliche that says you can’t go home again. Or maybe you can, but only by reverting to whoever you were in high school. Which explains a whole lot of what goes on at high school reunions, and the disaster that Sean Owens is flirting with.

Katie Clark came home pretty much with her tail between her legs. The marriage that took her to Alaska and stole a lot of her self-esteem left her sadder and wiser and needing to start over because her ex took their combined savings on her way out the door.

The new Katie is finally divorced and determined not to get caught up in fixing other people’s problems again. That’s how she got trapped the first time.

But Sean Owens needs Katie’s special brand of fixing. He came home to Camelot to wind up his mother’s estate, and just got stuck. He can’t get past all the reasons he left Camelot and his mother behind ten years ago, but he also can’t make himself leave. So he’s keeping himself busy by working for Caleb Clark’s personal security company in Camelot.

Meanwhile, his own high-tech security company in Silicon Valley is crashing without him.

In California, Sean Owens is self-confident and in control of everything around him. In Camelot, he’s the stuttering mess he was back in school, all over again. Not just because Camelot brings out all the worst crap his mother put him through, but because he’s had a crush on Katie since, well, forever.

Working together is torture. Not working together is even worse. Because Katie wants to become an investigator, and Sean needs to keep her safe. Even from himself.

Escape Rating A-: At first, the story seems so simple, Katie is finally getting her act together after the divorce from her loser ex. I’m amazed her brother doesn’t go find him and punch his lights out, but that’s just a daydream scene.

Katie needs a self-confidence boost, and after you read about her ex, it’s understandable. So when she wants to be more than just her brother’s office manager, it makes sense. But the case pretty much goes pear-shaped in a crazy way, and that’s where the story really kicks in.

The case is to protect a rock singer with a career that isn’t what it used to be. But he’s got a stalker. And a weird thing about Katie’s aura. Sean comes along to protect Katie more than the rock singer, and that’s where the fun starts. Rock singer making a play for Katie is the kick in the pants that Sean needs to go after the woman he’s always wanted.

But what makes this story shine is the depth of the characters. Sean and Katie are hot together, Ruthie Knox writes great sexual tension leading to marvelously yummy sex scenes, but that’s never all there is.

Katie has to figure out who she wants to be when she grows up. And that she is going to help Sean deal with the reason he can’t manage to make himself leave Camelot, even if it means letting him go. Because helping people to fix themselves is her best self.

She even figures out who the stalker is, with a little bit of techno razzle-dazzle from Sean. The characters make this story sing, even when the rock star isn’t on stage.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Big Boy by Ruthie Knox

Format read: ebook provided by the publisher
Big Boy by Ruthie KnoxFormats available: ebook
Genre: contemporary romance
Series: Strangers on a Train
Length: 57 pages
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Date Released: April 2, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Meet me at the train museum after dark. Dress for 1957.

When Mandy joins an online dating service, she keeps her expectations low. All she wants is a distraction from the drudgery of single parenthood and full-time work. But the invitation she receives from a handsome man who won’t share his real name promises an adventure–and a chance to pretend she’s someone else for a few hours.
She doesn’t want romance to complicate her life, but Mandy’s monthly role-playing dates with her stranger on a train–each to a different time period–become the erotic escape she desperately needs. And a soul connection she never expected.
Yet when she tries to draw her lover out of the shadows, Mandy has a fight on her hands…to convince him there’s a place for their fantasy love in the light of day.

Warning: Contains sexy role-playing, theatrical application of coal dust, and a hero who can rock a pair of brown polyester pants.

My Review:

For a relatively short story, Big Boy lives up to its name. It packs in a surprisingly large amount of storytelling in very few pages.

Mandy is an accidental single parent and the accident wasn’t even hers. Her sister and brother-in-law were killed, leaving Mandy as the single parent of their baby son just as Mandy took her first job as a history professor in Green Bay Wisconsin.

Being the lowest person on the academic food chain in a small college is the dictionary definition of overworked and underpaid, along with insecure into the bargain. Added to that Mandy has the need to cobble together child-care and the added expense of a baby. But she loves her son and feels blessed. Also exhausted.

She signs up for the online dating service with incredibly low expectations. But instead of normal, or even the usual run of whatever, she finds a man who has multiple, costumed profiles on the service.

Mandy picks the guy who will give her a vacation from reality. One night a month. Because that’s all the time that she can manage to slice out of her life with her son, and sometimes she feels guilty about that.

It takes a lot of those “one night a month” dates before she starts to want something more, and to wonder why her stranger on the train is willing to settle for so little. Can something that starts out as a vacation from reality be a bridge to a better real life?

Escape Rating A: We see this story from Mandy’s perspective, her exhaustion, her slight desperation, her need to carve out just a tiny slice of life for herself, but at the same time, her knowledge that she loves her son and that this unplanned life is terribly fulfilling, no matter how it came about. It’s just also isolating.

Her interludes with Tyler start out as escapes. At first there’s a little fear along with the excitement; who is this guy really and why does he have access to the train museum at night? Is this dangerous? Why the costumes? But the role-playing adds to the escapism, and she needs that. Who Tyler really is, or isn’t, doesn’t even matter at first.

But as the months roll by, she starts to want something real. Her grief at the loss of her sister lessens, and she gets used to her routine. This is her life now. Tyler is fun, but what about the rest of her life? Who is he and why can’t they have a relationship? Then they meet in the real world and she starts to wonder why he needs the escape. Then she finds out.

The length of the story is just right. Normally I think that stories this short are either too surface or end too abruptly. This one is just right. All the way around.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s On My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 4-7-13

Sunday Post

This weekend is part of the Reading Reality Blogo-Birthday Celebration. Sunday’s part of the celebration is that I get to tell you, one more time, all the chances that you have to win one of the bookish prizes!

About Last Night by Ruthie KnoxFrom the Blogoversary part, you have a chance to win a copy of either Ruthie Knox’ RITA nominated About Last Night, or her brand new Strangers on a Train story, Big Boy (review on Tuesday) or a $10 Amazon Giftcard.

From the Birthday part, you have a chance to win a copy of the entire (and entirely yummy) Devil DeVere series by Victoria Vane. Or another $10 Amazon Giftcard.

And, just for extras, there is also a chance to win a print copy of the first book in Robyn Carr’s new Thunder Point series, The Wanderer.

You have until April 13 to put your hat into the rings, or your entry into the rafflecopters, for all the prizes.

BTW, Mikki D. won the ebook copy of Temptation by Kathryn Barrett from Kathryn and Entangled Publishing.

Eternally Devoted by Stacey KennedyNow for the complete recap of last week’s posts:

B+ Review: Mystically Bound by Stacey Kennedy
B Review: And Then She Fell by Stephanie Laurens
A- Review: Eternally Devoted by Stacey Kennedy
Blogo-Birthday Celebration and Giveaway Day 1
Blogo-Birthday Celebration and Giveaway Day 2
B+ Review: The Wanderer by Robyn Carr
Guest Post: Q&A with Robyn Carr + Giveaway!

The Blogo-Birthday won’t come around for another year. Boo-hoo. But there are still more good things ahead!

This week I’ll have reviews of Ruthie Knox’ Big Boy and Victoria Vane’s The Trouble with Sin. It’s only fair after dropping hints about both stories last week in the giveaways. They are both definitely worth getting!

What She Wants by Sheila RobertsAnd in the middle, Sheila Roberts will be back to talk about the theme of friendship that runs through her stories, and she’ll be giving away a copy of her latest book, What She Wants. I’ll also have a review of this story of poker buddies turning to romance novels to figure out what women want. Does it work? Come and find out!

Blogo-Birthday Celebration and Giveaway Day 1


Welcome to day one of Reading Reality’s Second Annual Blogo-Birthday Celebration!

“What’s a Blogo-Birthday?” I can hear you asking from here.

April 4 is the blogiversary, or is that blogoversary, of Reading Reality. On April 4, 2011, this blog was born. Woohoo!

April 5 is my own birthday. My mom told me that it was a Friday, but I’m not going to say which Friday. Some things must remain mysterious.

But to commemorate these occasions, I’m giving away some bookish prizes. (Think of them as a kind of Hobbit birthday. I have a party and give away presents!) Since it’s my party, I’m giving away things that I like. And I like books.

About Last Night by Ruthie KnoxOne of my favorite books last year was Ruthie Knox’s About Last Night. I loved it so much it ended up on my Best of 2012 list and on my Best Ebook Romances list at Library Journal. I wasn’t alone in thinking it was marvelous, it’s just been nominated for a RITA Award for Best Contemporary Single Title of 2012, and it’s not Ruthie’s only RITA nom this year either.

Ruthie has very graciouslyBig Boy by Ruthie Knox given me a copy of About Last Night to give to one lucky reader in celebration of my Blogo-Birthday. And, and, and, she’s also letting me give away a copy of her hot new story, Big Boy, part of the Strangers on a Train series. (I finished it this weekend, it’s hot and it packs a big storytelling punch).

I also want to share my joy of reading, so there will be also be an Amazon gift card giveaway today. That’s right, three great prizes to win!

Come back and party with me again tomorrow! I’ll be giving away more books and another gift card!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

ARC Review: Along Came Trouble by Ruthie Knox

Along Came Trouble book coverFormat Read: ebook provided by the publisher
Number of Pages: 350 pages
Release Date: March 11, 2013
Publisher: Loveswept (Random House)
Series: Camelot #2
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Formats Available: ebook
Purchasing Info: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Author’s Website | Publisher’s Website | Goodreads

Book Blurb:

Ruthie Knox’s Camelot series continues in this sizzling eBook original novel, featuring two headstrong souls who bump heads—and bodies—as temptation and lust bring nothing but delicious trouble.

An accomplished lawyer and driven single mother, Ellen Callahan isn’t looking for any help. She’s doing just fine on her own. So Ellen’s more than a little peeved when her brother, an international pop star, hires a security guard to protect her from a prying press that will stop at nothing to dig up dirt on him. But when the tanned and toned Caleb Clark shows up at her door, Ellen might just have to plead the fifth.

Back home after a deployment in Iraq and looking for work as a civilian, Caleb signs on as Ellen’s bodyguard. After combat in the hot desert sun, this job should be a breeze. But guarding the willful beauty is harder than he imagined—and Caleb can’t resist the temptation to mix business with pleasure. With their desires growing more undeniable by the day, Ellen and Caleb give in to an evening of steamy passion. But will they ever be able to share more than just a one-night stand?

My Thoughts:

I love a good bodyguard romance. And Ruthie Knox’ Along Came Trouble does fit into that category, even though the main characters spend a good chunk of the book denying that Caleb Clark really is Ellen’s bodyguard.

But if the role fits…(and does it ever!)

It also fits Ruthie Knox’ own pattern of one character who needs to forgive themselves (in this case Ellen) and one character being way too good for their own good (in this case the yummy almost-bodyguard, Caleb) 

How to Misbehave book coverFor more Ruthie Knox yummyness, take a look at the first Camelot story, How to Misbehave (reviewed here at BLI) or my personal fave, About Last Night, reviewed at BLI and at Reading Reality.

The secondary plot involving Ellen’s brother Jamie, the Justin Timberlake-alike singing sensation and the pregnant girl he loves and left (he’s not the one who got her pregnant) just adds to fun and games, but also provides the reason for bodyguard to be involved in the first place.

Jamie is the hotttest star that ever came out of Camelot, Ohio. His on again/off again relationship with Carly has brought the paparazzi out in packs. Carly lives next door to his sister Ellen.

Jamie’s people hire a local security firm to manage the chaos that ensues. Enter Caleb, head of security for that local firm.

Caleb starts out just wanting to make sure both women are safe. He knows that somewhere in the pack of photographers is someone who will do something really wrong, like break into one of their houses to steal something juicy. Or even just to get a sneak-attack type interview or picture.

What he doesn’t count on is seeing Ellen attack a trespassing photographer with a glass of iced tea. It turns him on. He goes over to back her play. For a few precious minutes, they are on the same side.

Caleb doesn’t know about Ellen’s serious problems with boundary issues. All she sees is a man who wants to change the house that is her sanctuary. No matter what his reasons, he’s an invader. She’s sure Caleb just wants to manage her.

She’s been down that road with her ex-husband. Ellen feels like she can’t depend on anyone, because the last man she depended on turned out to be an alcoholic and an emotional abuser. It took her a long time to find her own self-worth.

Now she can’t give an inch. Not even when it seems reasonable.

Verdict:  There are two stories, and they both absolutely rock! Ellen has so much angst about her former marriage, that she can’t quite manage to pull down the walls. And she’s spent her whole life being Jamie Callahan’s sister, taking care of his career, she doesn’t even know how to put herself first. Or even a good second. Then there’s Caleb, he quit the MPs to come home and help his folks out, but he gets nothing but resentment and back-handed undermining of his efforts.

Falling for each other wasn’t in either of their plans. It also makes the whole situation more combustible, when Jamie Callahan comes home to un-screw up his own love life. Except he can’t help but bring the paparazzi with him. Spectacularly.

All the reader can do is hang on for the absolutely glorious ride.

I give Along Came Trouble by Ruthie Knox 5 spangled stars!


***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.