Review: Half Empty by Catherine Bybee

**3.5**

Why hasn’t Catherine Bybee written a high octane Hollywood movie script yet? I think this would make a great summer blockbuster. Half Empty started out as a sweet, slow-burn novel and ended with way more action and adventure than I was expecting. The heroine, Trina, was coming back from an open ended Italian vacation after her husband killed himself a year earlier. While meandering home to Texas, Trina hits up a hotel bar in Miami and meets handsome country superstar Wade Thomas. To Wade’s chagrin, Trina doesn’t have any idea who he is.

Trina and Wade’s romantic connection was very sweet but I wish I could understand why Wade was so drawn to Trina. She did nothing to encourage his pursuit and seemed really sad and lost for much of the book. She was even avoiding her girlfriends back home.

Trina’s conflicted feelings and grief over her late husband was very understandable and well explored. Her cast of supportive friends was beautiful and made her seem much more relatable and human. As much as I enjoyed Trina, she really didn’t have much direction in her personal or professional life. That was a main character point which wasn’t truly resolved by the end of the book. I would have liked more concrete answers but maybe we will get them in subsequent books.

Besides the overarching murder mystery plot, there was very little conflict between Wade and Trina. Wade was (unrealistically) all in right from the beginning and Trina didn’t put up much of a fight when it came to her feelings. I think one of the reasons is because Ms. Bybee spent a lot of time developing the supporting cast and a rather complicated cast of characters. I enjoyed learning about all of them but I felt that Wade and Trina were pushed to the side occasionally.

Part rock star romance, part romantic thriller, I really enjoyed this book. There were a few holes that prevented a full four stars but I absolutely enjoyed this book overall. I would recommend it as an easy, fun read with a kick.

**I received an ARC of this book in order to provide an honest review**

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Review: Fight for You by Nina Crespo

When I think second chance romance, I go in expecting wrenching emotions and young love torn asunder. From the summary we are told that Aiden betrayed his first love, Delanie and they meet by chance through a work negotiation. I was excited to see how these workaholic enemies would overcome their tumultuous past.

Unfortunately, the chemistry in this book was off. The only time I really felt the main characters connected was when they were physically intimate (those scenes were great). I think the main problem was that Delaine and Aiden were building off a connection they had five years before. As a reader, we didn’t hear much about their previous time as a couple besides the betrayal so they didn’t seem to be building off of anything substantial.

The majority of this book, the only one who is fighting for anything is Aiden. Yes, he was “the betrayer” all those years before but even once he apologized, proved with his actions that he was sorry, AND they talked it out, Delaine still pushed him away. Her reasoning was weak for such a smart and successful business woman; it made her seem petty and kind of mean.

There was also very little meaningful discussion between the characters for the last 20% of the book. When a tragedy strikes, Delaine goes to everyone else besides Aiden for comfort and advice. Again this led me to think that their connection wasn’t really there. Even Delaine seemed to question it often.

On the positive side, Aiden was a great character. A little bit of a beta hero and a genuinely nice guy. He is the mediator of the family and has never forgotten his first love. They way he cares for Delaine is very sweet, it just was very one sided.

This book wasn’t terrible by any means and I would consider reading more by Nina Crespo in the future. Fighting for You just missed the mark for me.

**I received an ARC of this book in order to provide an honest review**

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Review: I Think I Love You by Lauren Layne

You can’t see my goofy grin through the screen, but trust me it’s there. Reading a Lauren Layne novel is like eating a truly rich dessert with a whipped cream topping. Her books are decedent with a touch of whimsy.

I Think I Love You is Ms. Layne’s finale to the Oxford series and really the Stiletto series too. It was the best friends to lovers romance I’ve read in years! I was delighted by the end and in tears after the epilogue.

Brit and Hunter have been friends as well as boss/subordinate for more than six years. Brit is the classic, friendly blonde next door. She’s every man’s best friend but never their girlfriend or wife and she’s sick of it. Hunter is her very best friend. She’s met his family, they know everything about each other… so who better to teach her how to appeal to the opposite sex?

I honestly can’t say enough about this book. Hunter and Brit lived the friends to lovers trope which I have seen done a million times, the difference? I believed them. They were weird and quirky with muffin tops and insecurities but they both saw the very best in each other. At the end of the day, they were each other’s very best friend. I felt their natural progression to a romantic relationship and any roadblocks in their relationship felt valid and honest.

This book was low on angst and high on sweet and sexy romance. I absolutely adored this novel. I need to go back and reread both the Stiletto and Oxford series because I am not ready to say goodbye! Brava Lauren Layne!

**I received an ARC of this book in order to provide an honest review**

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Review: Off the Grid by Monica McCarty

I wanted to love this book. One of my favorite summer subgenres is romantic suspense and this book seemed like it would hit all my favorite buttons: best friend’s sister, sexy SEALs, suspenseful plot line. Unfortunately, the relationships fell a little flat for me.

I didn’t hate this book. It had some real potential. Ms. McCarty is an excellent writer she just tried to do a little too much. The SEAL slang and military talk wasn’t overdone and seemed believable. I liked the international culture aspect and McCarty handled the many locations and shifting plot lines with ease.

Going into this book, I was expecting a part second chance love story, part best friend’s sister story. What I didn’t expect was two parallel relationships with almost equal page time. While I usually enjoy a good romance between sub characters, Kate and Colt, a divorced couple who have to work together to try to solve the over arching mystery, almost stole the show from Brittany and John.

Brittany is an investigative reporter investigating her SEAL brother’s mysterious disappearance. John is Brittany’s brother’s best friend on a secret SEAL team. He is tasked with trying to stop Brittany from reporting while still living in deep cover.

Just putting this out there, both Colt and John did and said some unforgivable things. I really disliked them. John’s immature, scared of commitment, continually hot and cold attitude made Brittany look weak for loving him. Kate was the only character I really connected with. She was strong and professional even in the face of Colt’s open hatred.

I don’t feel like this book moved the over arching plot forward at all. If anything, it seemed like a prequel for Colt and Kate’s book. John and Brittany’s relationship was almost completely secondary.

While this book is a page turner, I was left with conflicted feelings at the end. I am intrigued enough to read on in this series, especially because I am completely invested in Kate getting an HEA. Let me just say, if Colt is going to be her “hero” he had better grovel A LOT.

**I received an ARC of this book in order to provide an honest review**

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Review: Devoted to Pleasure by Shayla Black

I didn’t know I was waiting on the perfect sweet, yet sexy bodyguard romance but then I picked up Devoted to Pleasure and it was everything I needed. I’ve only read a few Shayla Black novels and they were all deeply erotic. Devoted to Pleasure is a turn to the more tradition contemporary but in true Shayla style, this book is seriously sensuous. It’s gripping from page one and sets up exciting characters for a great new series.

Shealyn is a successful actress being blackmailed by an unknown threat. Cutter is brought on to protect her. Their chemistry is immediate but both Shealyn and Cutter have many challenges to work through before they can really be together.

I loved this book. I have no idea how Shayla made her main characters so deeply relateable but she pulled it off. Shealyn was sweet if a little naive but I was rooting for her the whole time. Cutter… where do I start with that hunk of alpha/beta hotness? Cutter was protective, possessive, sweet, consent might have been his middle name. I could feel their connection together both sexually and emotionally.

Cutter’s problems back home kept this read from being five stars. I was distracted way too often by the problems of the supporting characters. This book was trying to do too much at times, a common problem while trying to set up a series.

Overall, I highly recommend this book! Suspense, drama, sexy times, I cannot wait for the next book in the series.

**I received an ARC of this book in order to provide an honest review**

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Review: Tempting the Laird by Julia London

This was my first Julia London book and I can’t say it will be my last, but I was disappointed by the execution of this romance. Immediately I was intrigued by a heroine in her 30s and a hero in his 40s. I enjoy reading about mature main characters especially historical romance.

Our hero, Hamlin, a mysterious or “dark” duke as he was described many times is rumored to have killed his first wife. Catriona or Cat is an independent and strong minded woman with a passion for helping prostitutes and displaced single mothers. Hamlin is a beta hero to the extreme. He is often steamrolled by the people in his life and comes across as weak and indecisive. Cat is a better character but her strong will and constant laughter (I swear the woman laughed more than she talked) were buried in this story.

There were too many subplots and erroneous characters detracting from the Cat and Hamlin’s relationship. At the beginning of the book we meet Cat’s large and extended family who we never discuss again besides her mother and her aunt. She spends the majority of the book at the worst house party ever. With the sole exception in her jovial uncle, the cast of supporting characters lends almost nothing to the plot and seemed like page fillers. Along with that, the supporting characters were awful people. I had no interest in reading about them.

Off the top of my head, there were 4-5 subplots throughout the novel. Many of them were relatively unexplored or too simplistically solved for the amount of attention that was paid to them. My head was spinning trying to keep track of the people and problems Cat and Hamlin were dealing with.

Overall, I think the writing was good and as I mentioned I liked the mature ages. Hamlin and Cat were low-drama characters emotionally and their love story made sense to me. Hopefully the next book in this series is a little more focused.

**I received an ARC of this book in order to provide an honest review**

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Buddy Read: The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Check-In at the ~Midpoint (43%)

Teresa: OK So I was really nervous to start this book. The hype was real!

Juliana: I actually hadn’t heard that much about it when I decided to order it; someone had posted on Bookstagram and the summary immediately intrigued me. But you’re right—after already purchasing it, I saw it’s even one of the June Book of the Month selections!

T: I heard about it when Berkley announced a new author because I am always looking for diverse reads and I loved that the author also has Autism. I work with people with disabilities so I knew this would be up my alley

J: That is also what immediately drew me in when I read the summary; very unusual to have a hero or heroine on the Autism spectrum and I thought that, if done well, this could be a truly insightful and touching read. I also loved the premise—that Stella is taking control of her sexuality and her romance life (or lack thereof) by embarking on this venture and hiring an escort.

T: I agree! I think she is SO brave and extremely relatable. I know that a lot of women have a hard time in the bedroom, especially with a one night stand. I was as mad as Michael about her previous sexual experiences but I don’t think they’re all that uncommon even for people without disabilities

J: Very true, which as you said, makes it so relatable. I was actually just talking with my friends the other day about this topic and one of them told me about what a novel experience it was recently being with a guy who kept checking in with her and was so clearly attuned to her needs and desires. I also love how Hoang has been able to mix such steamy and sexy times with some truly laugh out loud moments—can we just talk about the lesson plans for a second?!

T: I was dying!!! The miscommunication was priceless. I was cracking up when he realized she had no idea he was upset or hurt by her clinical list. The performance reviews at the end of every task!

J: Right, to her, it seemed so logical and well-planned, whereas to him, that made it cold and unfeeling. Which I get: “Hand Job Lecture and Demonstration” and “Hand Job Practice,” followed by a “Performance Review” could definitely be a mood killer and given that he is already somewhat emotionally invested in their relationship, it’s a big reminder that this is a transaction and she hired him.

T: Yup he doesn’t like to be reminded of their transactional relationship anymore. ALSO, can we talk about how Hoang made Michael likable? Because I don’t like manwhores as a rule and prostitution is pretty much the ultimate in that category AND he talked about how he had a bunch of sex when he was younger. Yet… I love him so much! I love the way he relates and understands Stella. Also, I looked up the actor he supposedly looks like (Daniel Henney) and he’s so damn sexy.

J: LOL I looked him up immediately too!! And YES, Michael is so gentle and sweet, and really attuned to Stella. Hoang was smart in making his cousin, Khai, whom he grew up with, be on the autism spectrum; even though he doesn’t know that Stella is also, it makes sense that he’s able to be intuitively more patient and kind with what he just sees as her social awkwardness.

T: So, shit had hit the fan, Stella and Michael need to talk immediately for my peace of mind. I am so excited to see what happens next!

J: I know—we chose the worst cliffhanger chapter to pause on!! Back to reading … can’t wait!

Final Wrap-Up

Juliana: So: wow. This was such a fantastic book, I kind of don’t even know where to start. I finished it with one of those stupid-silly grins on my face that I couldn’t get rid of and I think I fell asleep that way. After our mid-point check-in I had to read the rest straight through and stayed up until I finished; it was just so good!

Teresa: Agreed! If we hadn’t had a mid-point check-in this would have been a one sitting read for me. Honestly, I am a little surprised I loved the book as much as I did. The premise isn’t one I am big on, as I mentioned before, prostitution is usually a romance no-go for me, and the hype about this book was a little overwhelming so I had sky-high expectations. Luckily, Hoang is a genius and this book checked all of my romance reader boxes. Ditto on the silly smile!

J: I didn’t have the potential-disappointment factor, since I didn’t really have any expectations, but what I was unsure of going in was how much of a romance it was. It’s not a mass market paperback and so I didn’t know what mindset I should have. Fortunately, it delivered on all fronts on the romance side, but I also think it could attract mainstream non-romance readers … granted, it has more sexy times than the average “mainstream” fiction, but I’m definitely not going to complain about that (the chemistry was SIZZLING!!).

T: The chemistry and sexual timing was perfect. I agree that this was a lot of sex for a mainstream audience. I loved it. I think each sexual encounter (idk what else to call it!) furthered the character’s emotional connection or furthered the plot in some way and that is what I look for in a great romance novel. I worry that a mainstream reader would get caught up in the graphic parts and not see the beauty of the character’s sexual connection.

J: I think you hit the nail on the head—I completely agree with the progression, and “regular” readers could be caught off guard if they’re not used to it. I think that’s why it’s all the more fascinating that it was chosen as one of the Book of the Month selections; I doubt they’ve ever chosen one of our types of romance books before, and I’m curious to see what the reaction will be. For me, The Kiss Quotient delivered on all romance fronts: fantastic leading pair, real character development for both, laugh-out-loud moments, great supporting cast, really sweet and romantic exchanges, and terrific chemistry. I honestly don’t think there’s a single thing I would change about this book.

T: I hope people go into this book with open minds because that is what a book of this caliber deserves. Hoang tapped into so many important aspects of the human condition with both Michael and Stella. The fact that she was able to portrayed such beautifully flawed characters and a well constructed and believable happily ever after was awe inspiring. I was overjoyed, charmed, and delighted by The Kiss Quotient and the fact that I have to wait until May of 2019 for the next book is cruel and unusual punishment. I loved this book and I want to recommend it to all my friends regardless of genre preference.

J: [Stepped aside for a moment to do just that!] I completely second that; I feel like this could be one of those romance books that challenges people’s (horrible and unfair) impressions about the genre. And I love that it’s being done through such a strong heroine who is on the Autism spectrum. I cannot WAIT for Khai’s story next year, where we’ll get to see some of the same struggles, but through the male perspective. All I can say to everyone is: read this book!

T: I second that statement! Hoang is an instant favorite author and I know she will do the topic justice. Also, dibs on Quan!

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Review: Ocean Light by Nalini Singh

Fans of the Psy/Changeling Series have been waiting for the isolated water changeling clan BlackSea to give up their secrets for YEARS. Finally, finally Ms. Singh gives us what we want in Ocean Light. Of course, BlackSea doesn’t just reveal all its secrets, you learn more and more throughout the book and every new detail is delightful and well-researched.

Bowen Knight, head of the Human Alliance was not a hero I was particularly enamored with. I was mildly intrigued to read his story, but I was more excited to find out about BlackSea. Of course, Ms. Singh changes my mind almost immediately. I fell in love with the gruff but deeply caring Bowen and his devotion to the maternal water changeling Kaia. Kaia is fierce but damaged and watching Bowen hold on to her with both hands was the highlight of the story. He changes and grows as a person to be worthy of his generous and loving mate. She, in turn, faces her deepest fears for her alpha lover.

Throughout the story, we learn more about the Human Alliance and meet many new characters I am hoping will have an impact further in the series arc. The balance between fun everyday life activities, high octane adventure, and sweet yet sexy romance was absolutely perfect. Every time I open a new Nalini Singh book I know to expect breathtaking world building and a delightful story that leaves me on the edge of my seat. Ms. Singh never fails to surprise and delight me. Now, as always, I wait with bated breath for the next couple to be revealed.

**I received an ARC of this book in order to provide an honest review**

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Review: Ain’t She a Peach by Molly Harper

Molly Harper is a new to me author but I absolutely could not resist the bright cover and fun synopsis. Diving into the book, I was super excited because I was instantly in love with Ms. Harper’s writing style. The characters were funny, the town was quaint, the accents were great. I was especially enamored with the quirky, rainbow-haired, Frankie. She shined as a coroner who talks with her dead people and loves her job. When the surly new sheriff and apparent former one night stand of Frankie’s enters the picture, I was all in.

Unfortunately, the book veered off course with me from there. I was disappointed that Frankie’s relationship with Eric seemed like more of an afterthought in the story arc. Not by choice, I was more invested in Frankie’s relationships/dynamics with everyone else in her family and town than I was with her romantic relationship with Eric.

Frankie was a multidimensional character with flaws, a weird dynamic with her parents, and lots of baggage. I am glad she worked through many of them through the course of the novel and grew personally. I wish there had more of a happily ever after with Eric than a happy for now. I am sure we will get more of her story in the next book because we got lots of information about her cousin Margot, the heroine of the first novel.

I am now fully invested in the town and the characters so I will probably read the rest of the series. The dialogue was witty and I laughed at the antics and banter many times. I wish there had been much more romance and a more focused story line.

**I received an ARC of this book in order to provide an honest review**

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Review: The Gunslinger’s Vow by Amy Sandas

I personally believe there isn’t enough western historical romance being published right now. I miss the days of Johanna Lindsey characters exploring a young American west. Ms. Sandas is filling a huge void with her new series and I could not be happier with the results.

The pros: Ms. Sandas is really good at writing truly heroic heroes. Allow me to explain. Malcom was a single man and a gunslinger at that but at his heart, he was a good man. In my opinion, he went above and beyond for Alexandra. After his initial crustiness, Malcom is unconditional in his support of Alexandra. Alex is bold, fun, and confident. She followed her heart back to Montana and I was with her the whole way.

The cons: Alexandra did have some TSTL moments (too stupid to live) which are off putting. I realize we needed some of those plot points to move the story forward and create a situation Malcom couldn’t grouch his way out of. But honestly, running away without telling her fiance? Getting stranded without any money or clothes? She should have probably been a little more concerned than she was. Luckily, Alexandra more than made up for it in other ways.

Overall, this is everything you want in a western. It was light enough to read easily, but had heart and soul. I wish we had learned more about her friends! I’m excited to read more about their stories heading west.

**I received an ARC of this book in order to provide an honest review**

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