Reviews: Whitley: Romance Roundup

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title: Hold Me, Cowboy
author: Maisey Yates
pages: 215
format: eARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 4/5
A young woman going through a relationship dry spell decides to break things up with some no-strings sex with a casual partner. Alas, her friend doesn't make it to their mountain retreat due to a snow storm, and a lack of power makes her go next door to find the brooding guy she's been butting heads with for years. But hey, what's more no-strings than someone you already know you can't stand?

Gah, I love the trope of 'let's just do this once, okay just one more, okay ONE more but this is REALLY the last time,' and this is a fine example, so I was thoroughly pleased. Both Sam and Madison had personal issues to worth through, but Madison's was...largely already dealt with before the story opened. She was very self-aware and put together and basically only had to sort out a few social consequences, whereas Sam's problems were 100% internal and undealt with. The result had a very 'dude and his quasi-therapist' feel, but with banter and nice hot sex.

There were a lot of references to the rest of the series, as the characters are related to past hero/heroines, but they're not so integral that a newcomer wouldn't be able to enjoy the novella on its own.


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title: The Risk of Rogues
author: Sabrina Jeffries
pages: 95
format: eARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 3/5
Risk of Rogues follows two past lovers who wind up at the same house party and have to navigate sharing that social space while trying to figure out what went wrong in the past and if they want to resume courtship. Well. SHE has to figure that out, he's pretty much gung-ho straight from the word go.

It's a nice set up and also allows us to catch up on other characters from the series, but the past history of the hero and heroine put me off slightly. The novella is only 95 pages, so there's no room for a whole big thing, but at the same time both characters had...just really weak reasons for why they broke things off in the past. To the point where even a mere 95 pages seemed like an overly long time for her to get on board.

The hero's groveling/big act to prove his love at the end was nice, and very fitting, and as always with Sabrina Jeffries I loved their chemistry and banter. It's a sweet enough story, but I wouldn't recommend it for anyone not already invested in the series.

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title: Seeking Mr. Wrong
author: Tamara Morgan
pages: 386
format: eARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 4/5
So, my love for this series was a surprise even unto me, when I picked up the first book almost totally at random. It's about a jewel thief married to an FBI agent and all the wacky shenanigans they get up to and I'm going to give you minireviews of all three, here we go.

Stealing Mr. Right opens with Penelope and Grant already married, but (supposedly) keeping a lot of secrets. Pen doesn't tell Grant she's a thief, but she suspects he knows, Grant doesn't tell her he does know or what his motivations are, there's just a lot of "he doesn't know that I know that he knows that I don't know" etc going on, which is hard to keep track of but also half the fun. I think my favorite part of the book is Pen rather frantically trying to convince her heist team that she only married Grant out of calculated manipulation when, haha, no, honey, everyone can tell. It was extremely campy and convoluted, but it was high energy and had a lot of fun.

Saving Mr. Perfect had Pen retired from thievery and trying to make a go of being a housewife, but utterly bored out of her skull. But when a string of thefts gets blamed on Pen, she has to go back into the jewel thief world in order to clear her name. This one took an issue that I had in the first book, but blew it up to a much larger scale - the unequal power balance between Pen and Grant. Both characters are extremely stubborn and the book tries to present them as balanced and using various social forces/manipulation to get their way, but...no, Grant has all the power. He's physically stronger, he has the law enforcement job, and scenarios are usually set up in a way that gives him the higher social standing. There's things Pen could use in the power play, but she just...doesn't. The end result has Grant steamrolling over her for most of the book. It's irritating, but the humor and camp from the first book is still present, and the couple still has chemistry when they do work together, so I still had fun.

And finally, Seeking Mr. Wrong is possibly the best in the whole trilogy. Grant takes a job undercover on a cruise ship full of notorious thieves to try and locate a mysterious informant, and Pen and all her friends come along because they think he's being reckless and needs backup. The setting and the setup allow for the tightest story yet here, and we get to keep our focus on what this series does best - humor and Pen and Grant making googly and suspicious eyes at each other simultaneously. It also fixes a lot of the power imbalance problems I had from the second one by putting Pen in a situation where she's got a lot of social capital and competence, compared to Grant as the relative outsider. It's silly and sexy and fun, the secondary characters really shine, and the conclusion was both surprising and satisfying. Really the only problem I had was the virulent gendered hate against a minor female character, all done for the sake of a red herring. Arguably one could say it was in keeping with the over-the-top tone of the rest of the book but...extremely unnecessary.


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title: Unsportsmanlike Conduct
author: Sophia Henry
pages: 386
format: eARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 3/5
A young woman goes on a singles cruise after her parents purchase her ticket as a graduation gift. Unbeknownst to her, her parents want her to make a match with the son of a family friend who is also on the trip. To avoid this unwanted beau's attention, she fake-dates this really hot guy who is very, very down with the idea. Too bad Pasha has a past and he's pretty sure Kristen is going to dump him when she finds out about it.

It's a great set up, and I am a sucker for fake dating stories. I also liked the way the 'got a past' plot played off the fact that this is part of a series - Pasha and Kristen haven't met before, but their friends have met, and Pasha was a jerk to her friend during a pretty dark period in his life. So, all cool, should be great, right?

Except that 'fake dating' is just...actual dating. Pasha and Kristen date. I don't know why either of them think it's fake, when they're just dating. Dating with an expiration date, but still. A good 2/3rds of the book are just two attractive people sailing around the Caribbean doing tourist things and being attracted to each other. There's no conflict and no stakes. It's good fluff if that's what you want. There's a subplot where Kristen is worried about telling Pasha she's chronically ill, but he takes it with complete aplomb and support, and I can imagine that being pretty affirming and comforting. (Just guessing, though. As to the chronic illness rep, I can't really say, outside my lane.)

Once they get off the cruise ship and Kristen finds out who Pasha is, she's pretty rightly mad and the book just takes a complete left turn into a fairly different story, and that's where it loses me. It doesn't have a lot of satisfying conflict, as there's nothing keeping our two leads together, so the chapters just drag on and get pretty contrived, and it loses the fluff aspect if that was your draw to the first part.


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title: The Secret Life of Royals
author: Shalini Dua
pages: 218
format: eARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: DNF
Olivia leads a pretty average early-20-something's life but is deeply put off by that until one day she gets invited to a secret society of people descendant from royalty and suddenly all of her dreams come true. Snazzy job that's way above her skill level, hot guys, extravagant vacations, the works. I don't know what happens after that because I bailed.

I picked this one up for two reasons - I had a lot of world questions I wanted the answer to, and that crown/chandelier thing on the cover. What, it's clever, don't look at me like that. But when Olivia finally gets to the secret society and I think I've finally found what I came for...nope. And I don't mean things that might be a twist, I mean some basic shit that really should be covered. Like...wtf does 'descendant from royalty' cover? And how is that secret? We've got wikipedia pages for England's royal family all the way out to like fourth cousins or something, so how descendant are we talking here? There's mention made of some some minimum heritage standard, but not what that standard is. And they secretly rule the world, like to micromanaging Illuminati levels. That's...at once really boring and raises so many questions.

So, yeah, to get to this point I had to wade through a lot of really dense, boring summaries of Olivia's life, during which there was little dialogue or development. It was literally just 'summaries of what Olivia did today.' And summaries of a 20-something just randomly being handed her every wish are kind of dull. I get the wish-fulfillment aspect,  but at least give me some engagement to read about. And then to realize my pressing questions weren't the book's pressing questions? Yeah, that makes it more of a personality mismatch than a problem, but I'm still outie.

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