Book Review: To Have and to Hold by Lauren Layne

It’s been so fun watching Lauren Layne’s writing evolve. This latest series, The Wedding Belles, feels new and different from her older stuff but is still fun and brings the awesome dialogue and banter that she’s so good at.

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I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

One-Sentence Synopsis
A wedding planner goes head to head with the brother of her latest bride, a control freak who wants her help exposing his sister’s fiance as a fraud. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

The Client Is Not Always Right
Brooke is making a fresh start in New York. She’s always been a great wedding planner, but when her ex-fiance was arrested for being a con man, her reputation and her heart took a huge hit. New York is giving her the chance to get away from that by working with the city’s premier wedding planning agency, The Wedding Belles. She’s thrown directly into her first assignment and finds herself instantly attracted to the brother of the bride, who holds the purse strings and has major control issues.

Let’s Make a Deal
Seth knows his sister’s fiance is shady, and it doesn’t sit well with him that he didn’t even know she was serious about someone much less ready to marry him. So he decides to get the wedding planner in on his micromanaging, asking her to give him details of everything she discusses with his sister. Brooke is willing to make this deal as long as he keeps his distance from the planning itself. His presence puts the bride on edge, and Brooke’s goal is to make the bride as happy as possible.

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Hard-Headed, Yet Entertaining
The two of them butt heads in the way that stubborn characters so often do, and the sexual tension between them doesn’t help. It doesn’t help that Seth has sworn off relationships since he was burned by a woman he thought he wanted to marry and Brooke has both professional and trust issues with dating him.

Seth and Brooke were fun to read, and they brought that whole “I want you but I’m not ready to be with you” conflict to the max. Their personal demons definitely played into it. Seth can’t handle what he can’t control and Brooke pretends to be happy go lucky all the time but still has a lot of pain regarding the blindside she received at her own wedding. It was a nice dose of reality that even though she knew her ex had swindled people and lied to her, she still had feelings for him when the story began, despite her anger and hurt, and that played into all the things she had to work through.

Sides and Quirks
I’m also a fan of side stories and side characters. Not only did I really like Seth’s sister, I loved the subplot of his best friend being into her. Another quirk I thought was fun? There sees to be a bit of a theme with food being thrown whenever Brooke pisses Seth off.

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The Romance Factor
There is such great angst between Seth and Brooke that it breaks the heart a little bit when they have their break-up. They both have to deal with their own personal issues before they can be together, and the way that Seth tries to get her back definitely falls under the category of “go big or go home.” 4/5

The Steam Factor
Though not overly steamy or explicit, there were a few really sensual moments. 3/5

Final Thoughts
Layne does a fine job of giving us a great story while still setting the stage for future books and allowing is to start getting to know the other wedding planners in the series. I’m excited to keep reading this series and love that each Belle has a different personality and brings something different to the business.

Book Review: Surrender to You by Shawntelle Madison

This series hooked me with the BDSM theme and the fact that the story does not in any way present it as anything shameful. The second book continues that trend with conflict that has nothing to do with what the characters like in the bedroom and everything to do with the fact that they have emotional trust issues.

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I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

One-Sentence Synopsis
A concierge and a hotel mogul meet when convenient for sex, ignoring the fact that they have stronger feelings they’re too scared to pursue. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

Time and Distance
Tomas and Carlie have known each other for years, ever since Carlie and her friends were young and struggling to make ends meet. Their relationship was intense and they cared for each other, but a family emergency and miscommunication took Tomas away from Carlie, leaving her feel abandoned and causing her to shut off all emotions towards him, other than those that dictated they get together when they’re in the same area to let off some sexual steam.

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Girl’s Gotta Hustle
After running her concierge business in the UK, Carlie has come back to the states temporarily to see her old friends. At the same time, Tomas is in the area overseeing a deal on a new hotel. Since Carlie needs money, she takes a temp job as a concierge for that same hotel, determined to stay away from Tomas despite the fact that he’s always around.

Less Romance, More Personal Drama
This book read differently for me, and I don’t know if that’s because it was the book or because of the mental space I was in when reading it. I really enjoyed it, but the romance didn’t seem to be the story’s priority. I didn’t always feel like I was reading a romance novel.

Until the end, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of interaction between Carlie and Tomas. They start the book out by hooking up, and then a lot of the narrative is getting to know them through their differing points of view and seeing how they feel about the other. Carlie is definitely walled off emotionally, and she has this thing about not wanting to owe Tomas anything. Tomas on the other hand, is in love with Carlie and wants to give her things with no strings attached.

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There’s also a lot of plot surrounding Carlie getting to know her birth mother and dealing with Celiac Disease. Gluten intolerance isn’t something you see every day in romance novels, but I thought the whole subject was well done and fit into the story rather well.

The Romance Factor
For the most part, this felt like a story about Carlie that Tomas just happened to play a role in. But the most romance showed when we saw the story through Tomas’ point of view, where we catch glimpses of how much he truly cares for her and how he regrets having left her behind all those years ago. He also does so many nice things for her, like finding out she’s gluten intolerant on the sly and making sure she’s well fed and cared for by having her meals delivered to her. 3/5

The Steam Factor
The sexy times were intense and hot, but they weren’t as frequent as I was expecting, partially because Carlie spends a lot of time not wanting to be that close to Tomas in order to guard her feelings. However, it should be noted that the BDSM vibe is still there, as Tomas is definitely dominant over Carlie when they get together. Also, there’s a hidden floor in his new hotel that indulges special guests in BDSM play. Which seems odd, but was presented as completely normal in the course of the story. 4/5

Final Thoughts
Though it started out a little slow, I eventually got hooked into Carlie’s story and kind of fell in love with Tomas. There are some really sad parts to the story, so I ran the whole range of emotions while reading it. Love the sex positivity in this world and the history of the main characters that unfolds within the story.

Book Review: The Billionaire and the Virgin by Jessica Clare

I recently celebrated my wedding anniversary in a way fitting for a couple of nerdy book lovers: spending the day chilling and reading. It was perfect for us, and rather than worry about reading from my list or trying to get blog posts and writing done, I just went with it, no guilt involved. In doing so, I managed to finish all three of the currently released Billionaires and Bridesmaids series, a spinoff of my fave Billionaire Boys Club series. If you had told me a few years back that billionaire romances would be one of my favorite subgenres, I’d have rolled my eyes. But this is one of my guilty pleasures that I have absolutely no guilt about.

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One-Sentence Synopsis
A self-conscious woman doesn’t believe it when a good looking business man showers her with attention while she’s on vacation, not recognizing him as the brains behind a popular but misogynistic TV channel. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

Cashing in the V-Card
Marjorie is the epitome of naive. She’s a virgin (not a spoiler, it’s in the title of the book), she’s never had a boyfriend, and she tends to think and do like the older generation. She loves bingo, knitting, quilting circles, and generally spending time with the elderly, who she relates to better than she does her peers. She also has a huge hang up about her height and has been made fun of in the past for being an “Amazon.”

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Misogyny at Its Finest
Rob Cannon is Marjorie’s complete opposite. He’s jaded by the television industry and the fact that women want him for his money and the fame they think he can bring them. He’s not a good guy. Rob makes his money off a TV show that has women show their breasts for money. And while he’s at the point where he actually wants respect in the industry, he’s having a hard time getting it, especially because his timing in talking with Logan Hawkings (Stranded With a Billionaire) sucks. Logan is on the island for his wedding and wants nothing to do with smut peddling Rob. So Rob decides to leave…until he falls hard for Marjorie.

Beautiful to Me
There were times that Marjorie’s naivete was a little annoying. How sheltered can one woman be? But other times, she was charming and sweet and overall, I really liked her. Rob is a major douchecanoe in general, but I loved that he had no problem with Marjorie’s height and did everything he could to make her feel beautiful. This is one of my favorite themes of all of Jessica Clare’s books: the heroine with a “flaw” and the hero who could care less about it and spends his time making her feel sexy and pretty.

Don’t Mess With Bingo Players
Their first couple dates are hilarious and disastrous. Marjorie doesn’t handle her alcohol well, but Rob isn’t one to be put off by a little end-of-the-evening vomit. Marjorie also has a habit of taking bad advice from well-meaning friends, so their second date involves some weirdness, tears, and a posse of elderly Bingo players who seem likely to take Rob out and beat him like a senior mob hit. Which would have been a pretty funny scene, actually.

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I See Where This is Going…
It’s pretty clear from the beginning where the conflict is going to happen, but that doesn’t make the journey to get there any less fun. While Marjorie develops a little bit, mostly because she discovers “the sex,” Rob is the one who really changes, changing his whole outlook on things because of Marjorie and making a big, awesome gesture to show her how much he loves her.

Timey Whimey
I will say that the timeline threw me off a bit. I expected these books to happen after the final book in the Billionaire Boys Club series, and because I don’t retain details after a time, I couldn’t remember what time markers were in One Night with a Billionaire. Cade makes an appearance in this one, single because his date stood him up. My first thought was that something happened with Kylie, but then I remembered that this is romance, and things like that don’t happen. I realized that this one took place before that, when Cade was still hung up on Daphne.

The Romance Factor
Marjorie and Rob are sweet, and it’s fun to watch Rob go from being a general dick to being a kinder person because of Marjorie’s influence. He treats her well for the most part, and his own emotions and hurt during their conflict made me want to give him a hug. 4/5

The Steam Factor
I’m not sure if there’s much I can really say about how hot these books are. Anyone who’s read Clare knows that she writes them spicy and that dirty talk makes up about a good chunk of the naughtiness. Even though Marjorie is a virgin and Rob takes his time with her, it’s still all kinds of dirty fun. 5/5

Final Thoughts
Besides being a fun read, this was a chance to revisit characters from the first set of books, as it takes place at Logan and Bronte’s wedding. While the verdict is still out on if I’m going to like these ones as much as I liked the original books, there’s no doubt that I’m still going to like them, and I’m thrilled to be able to stay in this world for a bit longer.

Stranded With a Billionaire by Jessica Clare

When Fifty Shades of Grey came out…and I was less than thrilled with it…I was kind of put off of billionaire books. Sure, I know that not all billionaires are douche canoes like Christian Grey, but it just didn’t seem like my thing.

Then I heard a conversation on Dear Bitches, Smart Authors podcast about Jessica Clare’s billionaire books. The thing that stood out to me was that the second in the series was a Beauty and the Beast trope. Which pretty much trumps any dislike of billionaires I may have had. However, I decided I would read the whole series. There are 6 books in the Billionaire Boys Club series and it kicks off with this one.

Stranded

One-Sentence Synopsis
A waitress and a billionaire find themselves stranded, alone, and mostly naked at an island resort after it’s hit by a hurricane. For a full synopsis, see this book’s Goodreads page.

The Good Stuff
This was such a fun read. Clare is on my list of top authors and I’m now crediting her with making me look at billionaires in a whole new way. Being stranded on an island with a good looking rich man? You know this someone’s fantasy…even if the heroine doesn’t know he’s rich until later. There was some Blue Lagoon nostalgia, though Logan and Bronte are adults and I wasn’t super uncomfortable.

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I loved that even though Bronte was attracted to Logan, she still wanted to be her own person and demanded that she be treated with respect.

The story is paced well, and even though one might argue the premise is fantastical, it’s actually believable. There’s angst, there’s feels, and there are hints of the other books in the series. I love when you get glimpses of future main characters. It leaves me wanting more.

Things That Made Me Go Hmmm
Even though I’m really good at suspending disbelief, I was slightly distracted by the fact that when they’re on the island and getting intimate that they’re doing it without having showered or brushed their teeth. It was like they were immune to body odor and morning breath.

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Even though I liked both characters, there were times when Logan made me facepalm. There’s one scene in particular where Bronte has made it clear she needs to be wooed, so they have a nice date, some really nice sexy times…and then he’s like “Well, guess you’re moving in with me!” Dude, seriously? It cracked me up, so much so that in the 2nd book, when the hero of that story goes to Logan for advice, I was like “No! Don’t ask him for advice. He’ll lead you astray!”

The Romance Factor
Though he had his moments, there was something romantic about Logan going to extremes to have Bronte with him, and though the potential was there for some of his actions to be creepy, I completely bought into the fact that he just wanted to be with her. They definitely had chemistry and conflict. 3/5.

The Steam Factor
I appreciate a book that brings the erotica, brings it frequently, and yet doesn’t detract from the story itself. This is a good example of that. There were so many full detailed sexy times, but they fit perfectly with the story and contained some sweet moments. 5/5

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Final Thoughts
Island breath aside, I really enjoyed this book, especially when it started the story in book 2. For not being a fan of billionaire stories previously, this one sucked me in and now I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.