Continuing with books I really enjoyed in December, here are a few more mini-reviews.
The One That Got Away by Kelly Hunter (2013, Harlequin/KISS)
Nath, this category romance has a bit more of a bite, or edge than I expected, particularly since it's from Harlequin's KISS brand and from my previous experience so far, there is nothing edgy about KISS romances. What provides the edge in this romance? The relationship that develops between the main couple is based on the exploration of sexual pleasure/pain through dominant/submissive roles. Much of it is effectively addressed and implied without resorting to overly graphic scenes. In this case, the prologue is key in establishing the background for the sexual relationship and focus for the story to come.
Logan is a tortured man, and Evie is a strong woman who knows her mind and what she wants. I really liked her. The conflict between them worked for me. The passion that runs beneath the surface when they are together and apart and explodes in the bedroom, and the fact that both realize that they are meant to go through with an adult sexual relationship is a plus. The fact that neither gives up successful careers for the other, instead coming to a mutual, workable arrangement that benefits both is refreshing. And, I believe that the story gains depth through the exploration of Logan's childhood and background story. This is a well-done and necessary aspect of the story. What does not work for me has to do with Max, Logan's half brother and his very sudden transformation and romantic feelings for a certain co-worker.
Overall, The One That Got Away felt like a much longer, meaty book because it is so well executed. It's a different type of read from Harlequin, very modern and up to the moment, yet still fits within their guidelines of not going over the top. It walks a fine line that I enjoyed. It is without a doubt my favorite read of the year by Kelly Hunter.
Category: Contemporary Romance
Love a Little Sideways (Kowalski #7) by Shannon Stacey (2013, Harlequin)
Liz Kowalski is moving back home from New Mexico. The first person she meets is Sheriff Drew Miller, her brother Mitch's best friend and a man who has been a part of her family since childhood. That wouldn't be a problem except that the two of them had a passionate one night stand on the night of Mitch's wedding (All He Ever Desired #5) while they were both on the rebound from other relationships, and now they are both feeling awkward about it. Drew because Liz is his best friend's sister and there are rules between guys about that! And, he never told Mitch. And, Liz because she's not interested in anything long term, but she's really attracted to Drew. Of course regardless of concerns or guilt, Liz and Drew are pulled into a lusty affair.
Stacey uses loads of sexual tension and the encounters between Drew and Liz are smoking hot. The conflicts between them are not insurmountable. Telling Mitch becomes a problem for Drew, as does Liz's inability to commit. I like that she's the one who wants to take her time before making a commitment to the relationship, while Drew is the one who craves it. Of course the whole family gets involved and interfere in their love lives and decision-making. And, this is were my problems came in with this romance. As much as I love the Kowalski's there were just too many hands in the pie in this one. It's to the point that there are so many Kowalski couples and children and extraneous family members that after a while, I had a tough time keeping up with them.
Overall, however, this is a solid contemporary romance with a fine couple, loads of good times, and plenty of great moments. I enjoyed it.
Category: Contemporary Romance
Christmas Kitsch by Amy Lane (2013, Riple Publishing)
Rusty is a slow learner whose wealthy parents push him to excel and perform above his learning abilities. He and Oliver strike up a friendship because they like each other, but yes, Oliver helps him to get through high school until Rusty goes to Berkeley where he becomes deeply disturbed and unhappy when he can't make it. Rusty is also going through a sexual identity crisis triggered by feelings for Oliver, which places even more pressure on him. Meanwhile, even when apart, Oliver is Rusty's sounding board for everything -- his daily struggles with school work, feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem, sexual frustrations and confusion, and overall fear of failure. There's good reason for Rusty's fears. His parents have never been supportive, and when push comes to shove, let him down. Self-confident Oliver, however, with his great family and strong sense of self, is up to the task and takes up the slack. When Rusty finds himself out of school, homeless, and jobless after his mother sees him kissing Oliver, Oliver and his family come to the rescue, and by Christmas, Rusty learns the real meaning of friendship, family, and home.
In this holiday story, Amy Lane throws a little bit of everything into the mix, including emotion, a little angst, and a couple of adorable characters. Rusty is particularly lovable. Oliver is typically impatient. He wants what he wants, now! And what he wants is Rusty. But, he's supportive, understanding and loving. Oliver's family, Rusty's sister, and his college roommate Felix make excellent secondary characters. Christmas Kitsch is not an overtly angsty piece, but it does have that emotional holiday kick and sweetness that makes it highly enjoyable during the holiday season.
Category: M/M Romance/Christmas
Sweet and Sour by Astrid Amara (2013, Loose Id)
I absolutely love Miles's internal monologue, as well as his dry wit. The combination of humor in the dialogue with sad and hopeful plot points are just right. It is always sad when a relationship that was once important comes to an end, and Miles and Itai's is unraveling, badly. Amara captures Miles's reluctance to accept the inevitable while knowing the end is coming, as well as Itai's ambivalence and total self-absorption. Most importantly, Amara simultaneously weaves in the romance between Nic and Miles with just the right touch by making them an unlikely, compatible pair. There's real attraction, sexual tension, and later passionate moments between them, although I personally fell in love with the cooking scenes. They were so personal and intimate. The evolution of Miles and Nic's romance is filled with those small moments and details that make it truly lovely. Oh, and by the way, Nic and his crew do catch that pesky drug dealer…
So, you can save this wonderful romance for the upcoming Hanukkah or Thanksgiving holiday seasons, or you can read it any time of the year. Either way, Sweet and Sour is worth it!
Category: M/M Romance/Hanukkah/Thanksgiving