Hold Me (Cyclone #2) by Courtney Milan

I apologize to readers and the author for the delay in this review; I was a little distracted with the WORLD CHAMPION CHICAGO CUBS!!! (Sorry, I’ve waited all my life to say that and I’m going to use every opportunity to get it out there. WORLD CHAMPIONS! CUBS! THESE WORDS GO TOGETHER AT LAST!

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Ahem. Okay, I will get focused—at least for a bit.

Hold Me is the second full-length book in Courtney Milan’s contemporary “Cyclone” series. We met Tina’s roommate Maria Lopez in Book 1, Trade Me (previously reviewed here).

Hold Me front cover

Hold Me front cover

THE PLOT: Maria Lopez leads a double life. By day, she’s a college student with a rough family history. By night, she runs a popular website discussing statistical data of theoretical apocalyptic events. She keeps this identity hidden, but a lot of professors and really smart people love her blog and beg to meet her and possibly hire her astonishingly smart self for projects. (Although they assume she’s probably a guy.) One fan she comes to know as Actual Physicist has, only through texting and email, become a best friend and maybe even more. But they’ve agreed to keep their identities secret and not meet, so the relationship hasn’t progressed to the next level.

When Maria and her brother’s friend, Professor Jay Thalang, meet for the first time, they immediately hate each other. Jay assumes he knows everything about Maria just from her appearance and dismisses her. Maria understandably bristles at this and doesn’t hesitate to tear him apart. There’s a physical attraction, but so much animosity that they’d probably never get past it…if they weren’t already in love as Em and Actual Physicist. Of course, they don’t know this yet.

What follows is a complex love story between two people with a lot of baggage between them. Even if they find out who the other is, is there any way to work through A) the way they met; B) Jay’s issues with his past, and C) Maria’s abandonment issues?

MY TWO CENTS: I should just talk about how much I LOVE THIS BOOK and leave it at that, but I have to say something else first. I’ll try to keep it brief.

This is the first romance I’ve read with a transgender person as one of the leads. When I realized we were getting a book about Maria, I had a split second of, “Do I want to read this?” I’m sorry for even that split second. I consider myself an LGBTQ ally, but it took Courtney Milan writing this book to make me understand that claiming that title takes more than just accepting that all people have human rights. People also deserve representation and inclusion. They don’t deserve me wondering if should dare read a book about them, like they’re some sort of forbidden element, or the mysterious “other.” Am I afraid that reading book will change my gender identity or sexual orientation? No. Do I enjoy books that represent the extreme complexities of human emotions in relationships? Yes. Do I believe that all people everywhere, regardless of gender, orientation, race, size, ethnicity, or religion, experience these emotions? Yes. Therefore, it would be ridiculous to turn away from a book from a favorite author when she’s representing a group of people that doesn’t include me.

And here’s the thing: this is a romance with problems you would find in any other romance. The conflict in the story doesn’t come from Maria being transgender or Jay being bisexual. Those things help create the characters, but they’re not the point. It’s more like the transitive process in interfering with the relationship development. For example, Maria is terribly skittish of love because her parents threw her out when she was 12. This tends to throw a roadblock into believing others can love and accept you unconditionally. There are no roadblocks involving her gender identity specifically.

As far as the story goes: it’s not just that I didn’t want to put it down; I didn’t even want to be bothered with going to work if I could be reading this instead. It’s enthralling. The reader is caught up in, “WHEN will they figure out who the other is? Will Maria and Jay make up in person before they find out they’re already in an online relationship? Who figures it out first? How will they react?” And then, actually making a relationship work is like a whole other (equally complicated) story.

One more thing: I love how the world of the Cyclone series was getting more fleshed out in this book. Adam and Blake Reynolds only make brief appearances, but Tina has a meatier role. So does Angela Choi, who will be a main character in the upcoming book Show Me.

COVER NOTES: Once again, the author had photos taken to represent the characters accurately. So we see representations that are the correct ethnicities (imagine that!) plus Jay and his tattoos, and Maria being gorgeous. Too bad her awesome shoes aren’t on the cover, too, but one can’t demand everything.

BOTTOM LINE: Are you hesitating in reading this book? Please don’t. It’s a fantastic love story. You will love it, you will love the characters, and you will learn something—about statistics, or human nature, or both.

TEACUP RATING: Five plus out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: Find Me, about Tina and Blake (again), should be out sometime in 2017. The description is on Courtney Milan’s website now. Also coming soonish is After the Wedding, the next book in Milan’s historical Worth saga.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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The Year of the Crocodile (Cyclone 2.5) by Courtney Milan

This short story is a follow-up to Trade me, previously reviewed here.

The Year of the Crocodile Front Cover

The Year of the Crocodile Front Cover

SPOILER WARNING: There will be some spoilers for the first book in the series.

THE PLOT: Blake and Tina have been dating for a year, and so far Tina has successfully kept her parents from meeting Blake’s father. It’s not just that Adam Reynolds is a profane, self-centered jackass. It’s not just that Adam is a multi-billionaire while the Chens are poor. There’s also politics…the Chens had to escape communist China, while Adam exploits workers there.

When Adam realizes that Tina is deliberately keeping this meeting from taking place, he takes matters into his own hands. He storms the Wal-Mart (his very first trip there) where Tina’s mother Hong Mei works as a cake decorator. Hong Mei is more than a match for Adam, and they spar while she (ahem) decorates a cake for him.

Will the Reynolds and Chen families spend Chinese New Year together in the Chens’ tiny apartment? Will anyone die? Will Tina’s head actually blow off in a mushroom cloud?

MY TWO CENTS: This is a hysterical, laugh-out-loud (several times!) story. It only takes about 40 minutes to read, maybe less, but it’s well worth it. The cake scene is roll-on-the-floor funny. Okay, fine, if you don’t like bad language (like Captain America), then you probably won’t like Adam Reynolds or this story. Remember, his employees refer to him as “AFR” and the F does not stand for “fantastic.” He f-bombs a few times per sentence, but it’s not just for shock value. It’s his very character, and it’s pretty funny. Consider this jewel:

These two items of personal history go abso****inglutely great together, like bananas and asphalt. Like marshmallows and the ****ing swamp thing.

This story is narrated in turns by Tina, Blake and Adam. Adam’s internal monologue gives us more insight into his character and motivations. Hmmm, that well runs deep. Can’t wait to explore it more. Oh yeah, Tina and Blake get a steamy scene, but frankly, they took back seat to Adam for me in this story.

Note that this is numbered as 2.5 in the series. According to the author, that’s because this story actually takes place sometime during the setting of book 2.

COVER NOTES: Many cheers to the author for setting up photo shoots of models who actually represent the characters.

BOTTOM LINE: Short but hilarious, and also moves Adam’s character forward a bit. When I’m down, I’m pulling this back out and rereading the cake scene.

TEACUP RATING: Five+ out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: Hold Me, the second full-length book in the series, is planned for October 2016.

Note: Review is based on a free product received from the author.

The Girl from Summer Hill (Summer Hill #1, Montgomery-Taggerts) by Jude Deveraux

The Girl from Summer Hill is Jude Deveraux’s answer to the question: Does the world really need another Pride and Prejudice retelling? And that answer is: YES! YES! YES!

The Girl from Summer Hill Front Cover (Ballantine Books/Random House)

The Girl from Summer Hill Front Cover (Ballantine Books/Random House)

THE PLOT: In the small Virginia town of Summer Hill, Kit Montgomery is putting on a stage version of Pride and Prejudice. He’s enlisted one of his relatives, Hollywood star Tate Landers, to come and play Darcy. Through a misunderstanding, he gets off to a rocky start with chef Casey Reddick. (Well, she was watching him shower outdoors when he thought no one was looking, but she was also in her own house, so…) With all the town ladies mooning over Tate, no one can play a convincingly disdainful Elizabeth to his Darcy, except the girl on whom he made a really bad impression.

In the meantime, Tate’s ex-brother-in-law, TV actor Devlin Haines, shows up to play Wickham, and Casey finds his company preferable to Tate’s. But as she and Tate are thrown together, they begin to bond despite themselves. But Devlin’s lies and manipulations might drive Tate and Casey apart for good.

MY TWO CENTS: There are really three layers of Pride and Prejudice going on here. First, there’s the knowledge of the original that’s in the reader’s mind. (And seriously, if you don’t know the original story, just get off my blog.) Second, there’s the stage version the characters are practicing, which reminds readers of the nuances of the story and underlines the echoes of what’s going on with the characters in Summer Hill. Finally, there’s the version that the book characters are fulfilling throughout the course of the book.

It wasn’t long before I was grinning ear to ear. I LOVE Pride and Prejudice. I did my high school senior thesis on Mr. Collins many a long year ago, I love the definitive version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, and liked the Keira Knightley version well enough (she was too giggly as Lizzie, but Matthew MacFadyen…tolerably dreamy). This novel does a fine job of retelling the story and capturing the essence in a modern way. (Yet it never overlaps into Bridget Jones territory, at all.)

The secondary characters are also interesting. Casey’s sister Gizzy and Tate’s friend Jack are a cute Jane and Bingley. Hopefully Casey’s family will be explored further in the next books. Then there’s Olivia, Kit’s lost love, who has a secret connection with the Montgomerys.

Finally, while this is a Montgomery book, it’s not overwhelmingly Montgomerys. You have Kit, who you met during Ever After (previously reviewed here), and whose back story is uncovered here. Tate is a Montgomery from his mother’s side, but there’s not a lot of explanation of how he connects to the family tree. Which is kind of nice; just opens the door for all kinds of Montgomerys and Taggerts to pop up in Summer Hill in the future.

BOTTOM LINE: A cleverly written retelling of Pride and Prejudice that still seems fresh and compelling. Lizzie is spunky, Darcy is hot and misunderstood, and Wickham is more deluded and devious than ever. Jude Deveraux continues the modern renaissance she started with the “Nantucket Brides” series.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Now available in hardcover and e-formats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ever After (Nantucket Brides #3) by Jude Deveraux

The final book in Jude Deveraux’s fantastic “Nantucket Brides” series is a Taggert-focused book, and it’s another keeper! (The first two books were True Love, reviewed here, and For All Time, reviewed here.)

ever after

Ever After Front Cover (Random House)


THE PLOT:
 Hallie, a physical therapist, has sacrificed over and over for her beautiful, manipulative stepsister Shelly. Her father and stepmother conditioned her to always put Shelly’s many needs first. But Hallie finally reaches her breaking point when she finds out Shelly was impersonating her, poised to steal a house on Nantucket that Hallie didn’t know she’d inherited, and ready to masquerade as a physical therapist for an attractive client. As soon as she learns the truth, Hallie is whisked away to Nantucket by Jared Montgomery Kingsley, who’s hired her to care for his cousin.

Jamie Taggert claims to have been injured in a skiing accident, which immediately makes Hallie think he’s a just a rich playboy. In reality, Jamie is hiding his war experiences while also coping with PTSD. His family is making things worse by tiptoeing around him instead of treating him like they always do. Tons of Montgomerys and Taggerts have flocked to Nantucket for the wedding of Jilly Taggert, so with housespace limited, Jamie stays with Hallie in her “new” house. She begins to help him heal, mentally and physically, while also realizing the power of her own self-worth, with the help of some friendly ghosts.

MY TWO CENTS: This is a sweet story involving the less-refined Montgomery cousins, the Taggerts. If you’re a Montgomery-Taggert expert, you already know Jamie and his twin, Todd, who are the sons of Kane Taggert and the nephews of Mike Taggert. In typical Taggert fashion, this story is more earthy than royal, and it’s a good change in tone for the series.

Jude delivers her typical ultimate wish fulfillment in the form of “ghost food,” which the main characters gorge on constantly for weeks only to find that they’re losing weight instead of gaining. Don’t think too closely about this; just enjoy it in the vein of the shopping spree of Sweet Liar.

I do think that the reader will get more out of this book by reading the first two books in the series first. (There’s no explanation of Caleb’s background, for example, or how he’d know the ghosts.) It will also make fore a more complete reading experience of the reader already knows the supporting characters, like Jared and Jilly, and what events have led to Jilly’s wedding and the televised royal wedding.

I wish the ghosts and supernatural element had been a little more pronounced. I feel like they only touched the story instead of were ingrained as an important part of it. I like that in this book, “the one who can tell the twins apart” is more implied than hammered home once again. It’s a nice wink-wink for knowing readers, but isn’t explained again in detail.

If you’re not familiar with the Montgomery-Taggerts, I also recommend the following to enhance this reading experience: “Matchmakers,” the story of Jamie’s dad Kane and his stepmother Cale, which is found in The Invitation; Sweet Liar, the story of Jamie’s uncle Mike (and an awesome book), Twin of Ice, the story of the original Kane Taggert (one of my favorites) and its companion, Twin of Fire, and of course, the story that brought the Montgomerys and Taggerts together, The Raider.

BOTTOM LINE: A good romance made even better if you read the first two in the series first. Not as magical as For All Time, but still a winner. Hope we get a book about Jamie’s twin Todd, who was pretty grumpy in this novel!

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available June 23, 2015, in hardcover and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Once and Always by Elizabeth Hoyt (writing as Julia Harper)

I apologize to my readers for the lack of posts lately; I had a huge work project going through and taking all my time. But now I’m back to reading and reviewing!

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I tend to pass on contemporary romances, but took a chance on a couple being released by my favorite historical romance authors. Once and Always, by Elizabeth Hoyt (writing as Julia Harper), is one of those books.

Once and Always Front Cover

Once and Always Front Cover (Forever/Hachette)

THE PLOT: Maisa Burnsey’s uncle was a member of the Russian Mafiya, but he gave evidence against a boss and has been in hiding in small-town Coot Lake, Minnesota, for years. May comes occasionally to visit him and has been stopped for speeding multiple times by Coot Lake cop Sam West. She also had a one-night stand with Sam some months ago. Now he wants an actual relationship, but May doesn’t want the police getting any closer to her and her uncle. As the town becomes snowed in, an old cohort of her uncle’s shows up with a suitcase full of diamonds. Suitcases are switched, the Mafiya shows up, and May, Sam, and most of the town are dragged into the mess. No outside help can reach them through the snowstorm, so it’s up to Sam to defend his town while trying to convince May they can make a romance work.

MY TWO CENTS: One of the main reasons I usually don’t care for contemporary romance is that I feel they often use sex to get couples together. After all, many of the circumstances that work in historical romances can’t work in contemporary. Not that I’d enjoy being forced into an arranged marriage that MIGHT work out, or caught in compromising circumstances that were actually very innocent and forced to marry a man who MIGHT become my true love. But these old-fashioned rules often work well in historical romances.

Here, I felt that the couple already had one strike against them for the one-night stand that took place prior to the book. Immediately, sex is what brings them together. Then we get a very intriguing story about diamonds and mobsters and shootouts and snowmobiles, but in between the action, we have Sam dragging May to his conveniently secluded cabin for sex. Really? Okay, I know most action movies have some sort of romantic element thrown in, but in this case, the love scenes seem to completely stop the main story and divorce those scenes from the rest of the plot. It seems like an awkward fit, like puzzle pieces that don’t really fit together.

Having said that, I did really enjoy the action part. I just think the romance would have worked better if May and Sam were just meeting and getting to know each other.

BOTTOM LINE: An interesting story, but I would have enjoyed it more if I didn’t feel that the “required” steamy sex scenes had been shoehorned in. I’ll probably stick with Elizabeth Hoyt’s historical romances, which I absolutely love and highly recommend. If you usually like contemporary romances, though, this may be your cup of tea, so give it a try.

TEACUP RATING: Three out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Trade Me (Cyclone #1) by Courtney Milan

As a rule, I generally don’t care for contemporary romance. I much prefer historical settings, and I usually feel like contemporaries end up being much more about sex than romance. (Jude Deveraux is my exception.) But I have recently chosen to read two contemporaries  written by two of my favorite historical romance authors. The first is Trade Me, a New Adult by Courtney Milan and the first in her new Cyclone series.

Trade Me Front Cover (Femtopress)

Trade Me Front Cover (Femtopress)

THE PLOT: Tina Chen is a really poor, struggling college student. She lives on rice in order to send money to her family…and then her mother gives it all away to other people. Tina is pretty fed up when she loses it over comments made by classmate Blake Reynolds, the pampered son of the super-wealthy owner of Cyclone, a Fortune-500 technology company. Blake has been interested in Tina for a long time, but he’s been dealing with a lot of issues…including how to avoid taking over the company from his father. For him, college is a deflection, NOT the only way to a better life like it is for Tina.

After the blow-up, Blake starts bonding with Tina. As her learns about her, he offers to trade lives with her for a short time. She can write the script for the reveal of Blake’s incredible new Cyclone product, live in his house, drive his car, and earn his salary. He’ll live in the garage she calls home, washing dishes for a job and living on Tina’s meager salary. Tina agrees under the condition that when time’s up, they have no relationship whatsoever…no friendship, no romantic involvement. Mutual attraction will play havoc with this plan, though.

MY TWO CENTS: I couldn’t stop reading this book. Yes, it requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but that didn’t bother me. Blake is a likable character, and he wrestles with a problem you don’t usually see with male characters. Tina and her family are so well-written that they might actually exist. I could feel Tina’s anguish in dealing with her mother, as well as her sense of responsibility for the family.

As usual, Courtney Milan makes the reader believe a real relationship is developing between two characters. It’s never just, “Poof, we’re in love. Ta da!” It grows gradually throughout the story.

BOTTOM LINE: I really enjoyed this story and both main characters. I’m definitely looking forward to Book 2 in the series, Hold Me, which will include a transgender character (Tina’s best friend and roommate).

TEACUP RATING: Four-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The book is available now in paperback and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Change of Heart (Montgomery-Taggert/Edilean) by Jude Deveraux

Ooooh, Jude Deveraux, you sneaky little devil. I see what you did here. You’ve combined the worlds of Edilean with the monolith known as the Montgomery-Taggerts, and now those series are joined forever. For those of us afraid we’d never see our favorite Edilean characters again, it looks like we’ve been granted a reprieve…plus, the M-Ts are moving into Edilean. (And why not? I don’t think they had a major presence in Virginia. Maine, Colorado, California, Washington State, Florida, Nantucket, England, and Lanconia, but not Virginia. Unless I’m drawing a blank, which is always possible.)

Change of Heart Front Cover (Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster)

Change of Heart Front Cover (Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster)

THE PLOT: Once upon a time in 1994, a Taggert novella called “Change of Heart” was published in an anthology of romance stories. This story featured a duo of precocious children: Eli, a super genius, and Chelsea, who was rich and spunky and smart enough to hang out a with genius. They worked to solve various social injustices, including the problem of Eli’s mother, a soft-hearted pushover who let anyone and everyone walk all over her. The plot was to hook her up with Eli’s hero, Frank Taggert, a cold-hearted businessman (who also happened to be the brother of super-Taggert Michael, of Sweet Liar, and his twin brother Kane, of the novella “Just Curious”). And of course even though it took Michael, his wife Sam, and the kids to give them a push to an isolated mountain cabin, Miranda and Frank figured it out in the end. Got all that? Mother + Taggert = happily every after.

A Holiday of Love,  copyright 1994

A Holiday of Love, copyright 1994

Fast forward 20 years to find out what happened to Eli and Chelsea. And here’s where things begin to fall apart for me.

Turns out that Chelsea’s family moved out of town when she was a teenager…but not before she went batcrap crazy with her raging hormones, dating every pretty football player she could find, and treating skinny nerd Eli like…well…her best girlfriend. So Chelsea leaves town, stops writing to or even emailing Eli, becomes a supermodel, and basically abandons Eli to bloom under his new Taggert relatives and their endless trips to the gym.

Now a bulked-up Eli works for the government, and he’s never lost hope of getting back in touch with Chelsea. He writes to her and invites her to his biological father’s hometown of Edilean (yep, he’s one of THOSE Harcourts, check the Edilean family tree!) and Chelsea is bullied into going by her parents. What follows includes shenanigans such as mistaken identity, switching identities, attempts to catch a criminal, the realization that eating junk food solves everything, and friending a brand-new generation of Robin and Marian Les Jeunes (hopefully preventing them from following the mistakes of Eli and Chelsea).

MY TWO CENTS: For those who are wondering: the original novella takes up about 40% of the book and the new story is the other 60%. You’re getting more than half new book. One of the only two changes I can find from my old battered book is that Miranda, poor Miranda, was called “Randy” back in the day, and we’re all thankful that’s no longer the case. When I hear Randy now, all I get is this:

No Taggert anywhere ever looked like this.

No Taggert anywhere ever looked like this.

The other “major”change is that in the original, Chelsea was a brunette; now she’s blonde.  And I’m not even going to question why anyone thought that change was a good idea. I’ll just say I think it was completely unnecessary.

As far as the story goes, is it realistic to believe that the Chelsea we knew as a child, the one who worked to fix social injustice and punish bad people, became a self-centered, shallow airhead who only cared about looks? I had a VERY hard time with this. I’ve seen Jude Deveraux post that readers complain when a hero or heroine isn’t perfectly chiseled, perfectly skinny, perfectly buff, perfectly coiffed. And she certainly makes sure not to anger these readers here. We hear often about Chelsea’s long, slim legs and her perfectly golden hair. We see Chelsea’s interest perk up when a mega-hot guy walks into the room, and she’s stunned to eventually realize he’s Eli, who may now be worthy of her attention. We’re treated to great detail on Eli’s transformation to muscled hunk.

To answer my earlier question: Maybe it IS realistic to think that the hot girl discarded her geeky friend, and then only pays attention again once he’s built some muscle. But that doesn’t make her an appealing character. I can’t identify with her. I didn’t root for her. In fact, I pretty much disliked her and hoped she spent a lot of time throwing up from all the bread Eli made her eat. I’m sad that she couldn’t have loved Eli for what he already was, instead of what he had to become (really, she couldn’t even stay his friend? She was just too beautiful?) And I’m glad that two other geeky guys were able to snare their dream girls without first spending quality time at the Edilean gym.

BOTTOM LINE: A must-read for fans of Jude, Taggerts, and Edliean, but be warned: the characters became physically attractive but emotionally shallow. It leaves me feeling sorry for readers who honestly think that only pretty people deserve romance. After all, gentle reader, how long and slim are YOUR legs?

TEACUP RATING: Lukewarm tea, maybe three out of five teacups. The original novella is on the higher end of the grading scale, the new portion on the lower.

ON SALE DATE: Available in paperback and e-formats on October 21, 2014.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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