My sister begged me to nab an early copy of Nalini Singh's latest romance featuring her cast of rugby stars in New Zeeland, and I found myself pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this family sports romance.
Love Hard comes out on March 10, 2020!
Now, I know I just said my sister begged me to request this and read it on her behalf, but I was also a bit intrigued myself. Nalini Singh is the author of one of my favorite paranormal romance series, Guild Hunter, as well as her first mystery/thriller, A Madness of Sunshine (which I also read and reviewed! You can check out that review here.). So I knew I was a fan of her romances, and of her writing in general.
But, let's be honest, this series was less intriguing to me—because it's about sports. And I don't really do sports. At all.
So say "I told you so," sister of mine, because I really enjoyed Love Hard.
Jake has no time for fun or acting his age. He's an all-star rugby player in a family of all-star players, and his commitment to his family and to his young daughter, Esme, is the sole focus of his life. After losing his childhood sweetheart, Callie, shortly after the birth of their daughter, Jake has grown up cautious and overprotective.
Juliet's never had a proper family upbringing. Peddled around from family member to family member as a kid left her with scars, and the only saving grace was her best friend, Callie. When Callie passed away, Juliet forgot about Callie's jock boyfriend, Jake, and started making her way in the world—with a few notable bumps in the road, including a nasty ex-husband.
When these two former acquaintances meet at a wedding, what will they do with these brand new sparks?
I thought Love Hard was cute, to the point, and filled with warm fuzzy feelings (and some other, well, feelings too). Jake and Juliet's banter and chemistry was front and center for the entire story. I really enjoyed listening to their banter, and in particular I thought their semi "enemies to lovers" mixed with second chance vibes worked extremely well in this context. I loved how they were both respectful and honest, and miscommunication was NOT used as a plot device.
However, I did struggle quite a bit with the general pacing. Love Hard didn't take place over multiple months or a long time span, but it felt like it anyway given the copious time spent on paragraphs of explanation of the past, backstory, and internal monologue. In fact, at a few points in the story I forgot that I was still in the same scene as dozens of pages later, we were still there! This might not necessarily be a negative for some readers—the descriptions and backstory added quite a bit of character depth—but for my taste in romance, I prefer dialogue-driven scenes with lots of movement in plot.
Overall, another winner from Nalini Singh—and a steamy one too. (Wink wink!)
Thank you to Independent Publishers Group via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Henry VIII and his many wives, but modernized and given a few memorable twists. This was a joy to read as a Tudor-era fan, and it had some quirks.
Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
Wife After Wife is exactly as it's billed on the ticket: Henry VIII is Harry Rose, modern-day media mogul, and this is the story of his many wives.
Now, full disclosure, I love any and all things related to the Tudor time period, include modern retellings. So I loved this for the concept alone. But, separate from the concept, I thought the author's decision to place a Henry VIII-type male character was an interesting one in the context of the #MeToo movement. Was it executed well? That depends.
Harry Rose meets his first wife, Katie—Catherine of Aragon—when he's barely 20 and she's 25. It's the 1980s, and things are going great. Except, that is, for Harry's wandering eye and Katie's fertility issues.
Then Harry meets Merry—Mary Boleyn—when she's married to a closeted gay man and he's still with Katie. Uh oh. A little fun on the side never hurt anyone, right? ...Maybe Katie might disagree.
Ana—Anne Boleyn—is the fashion editor at Harry's company, in charge of running Harry's magazine in the 1990s. So what if she's Merry's sister? Even though Ana's not initially interested in her sister's leftovers, Harry is persistent. And Harry gets what he wants.
And so on...Harry gets what he wants.
The story of Henry VIII and his many wives is relatively popular, so I will stop there at the third famous wife, Anne Boleyn. Now on to some thoughts!
I thought Wife After Wife did a few things incredibly well, including the characterization of all of the women in Harry Rose's life. They were complex, they were products of their decades, and they struggled to maintain a life in the vortex of a supremely powerful and egotistical man.
My problem with Wife After Wife lies with Harry Rose. Harry reads just like Henry VIII to a fault. During the Tudor time period, yes, men could do what they wanted and women just had to take it—they had no agency at all. But in the 1980s? The 1990s? The 2010s? I struggled with Harry's stagnate personality as not only did it not age well with the times, it also became increasingly hard to read his sections. Harry never grew, never changed...he just kept sleeping with all of these women, cheating, lying, and then victim-blaming his wives for problems that were clearly started by him.
Wife After Wife kept this portrayal accurate to the historical reference, but I found it increasingly hard to believe that these women in the 1980s-2010s just let him get away with it, and let him continue to believe his own deluded version of himself. It works with a king, but you'd have to suspend your believe further to believe that it works seamlessly with a more modern couple. I'm not sure if it would have been possible to portray Harry in a satisfying way AND keep him historically referenced, but it did cause a sticking point in my reader enjoyment.
However, other than that this novel was a lot of fun. Let's bring back the Tudors in modern fiction some more—I love it!
Thank you to Berkley for this title in exchange for an honest review.
A marriage on the brink. A last chance effort to improve their communication before it snaps. Tension so thicc. Angst. Fluff. Humor. This romance was HOT, complex, and made me cry from happiness more than once.
Sexy times: oh mama
Character arcs: ★★★★
Oh oh oh, Tessa Bailey, this was so good. Thank you so much for writing this. The romance between these two characters was so perfect, so sweet—ok, also seriously intense and sexy—that now I don't know how to read other contemporary romances.
Maybe I'll just avoid the genre until the next one in this series comes out.
Y'all think I'm kidding, but I'm not--Love Her or Lose Her was absolutely jaw-dropping.
If you weren't a huge fan of Fix Her Up, I'd really encourage you to check this one out anyway. A lot of the things Fix Her Up did that polarized readers (ahem, the pet name being a big one, I believe) are fixed (pun intended) in this one. This isn't about two characters with undiscovered compatibility, and it doesn't feature an age gap, wage gap, or experience gap.
In fact, there are NO gaps--this is about a 10-year established relationship between two high school sweethearts who never, ever thought they'd get to this point: they're on the brink of a separation.
Years of dwindling open communication and misunderstood desires have lead Rosie and Dominic Vega to a marriage of silences. They're both unhappy, but afraid of broaching the subject because they're both worried of the conversation they'll have if they do. Will their marriage crack? Will they break it if they acknowledge the elephant in the room?
Love Her or Lose Her follows Rosie and Dominic in alternating chapters, giving us the full, 360 perspective on their feelings while they decide to pull the plug on the silence and figure out how to fix their marriage, or whether to call it quits.
I could not get enough of this story. Given the tough emotional opening, Love Her or Lose Her was surprisingly funny, uplifting, and happy. Rosie and Dominic are one of my favorite fictional romantic couples—mainly because they're so singular. I don't think I've read a duo with this much personality, and their love for each other made my heart ache in the best way.
A casual warning: This book is SEXY. If you're not a fan of graphic sexual content, I would give this a library try before taking the plunge. I loved it a lot and the plot definitely balances out the romantic/sexual moments, but when we arrive, we ARRIVE.
Thank you so much to Avon via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
What a fun, fast-paced, and surprisingly modern take on a historical romance! It definitely maintained the best guilty pleasures of the old-school Harlequin tropes, but with a modern mindset that I appreciated. If you're not a historical fiction fan, don't let this novel's premise turn you off—this is one good story.
Enjoyment: all the stars
Set in England in the late 1800s, Bringing Down the Duke follows the two perspectives of Annabelle Archer, a 25-year-old Oxford student trying to thrive in London, and the Duke of Montgomery, a 35-year-old aristocrat with close ties to Queen Victoria. (I mention the age gap as it does influence some readers. I found it tasteful in this case, and very necessary for the plot due to the time period.)
Annabelle Archer is thrilled to attend Oxford's new college program for women, and even more thrilled for the scholarship that allows her to leave her small country village for London. There's just one catch: she must be an active member of the suffragist movement—which includes lobbying members of Parliament and inserting herself into the aristocracy's sphere.
Sebastian Montgomery is the most influential duke in the realm, and a notoriously cold man. He has no time for the softer things in life—he's too busy trying to secure his dukedom's future and reclaim the ancestral home that his father gambled away.
Obviously, these two find their paths cross in a definitive way. Bringing Down the Duke brings a little bit of Pride and Prejudice, a little bit of Jane Eyre, a little bit of Harlequin romance, and a LOT of well-written narrative.
My only complaint is that I wish some of the scene-to-scene transitions had been more logical. We went from A to B to D to C, and then in order to follow the romance, we abandoned some of the slow burn fire for immediate attraction...which felt like an abrupt shift.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.