Making Him Sweat (by Meg Maguire)

She could lead him by the collar to her never-slept-on mattress 
and christen the hell out of it.

Making Him Sweat (by Meg Maguire)

Conflict:  So wrong, it's right!
The beloved boxing gym-owner/trainer passed away, and now the business-savy daughter, Jenna Wilinski, wants to turn the gym into Spark - a match-making/dating-service business.  Mercer Rowley, the boxer/trainer/manager, doesn't want to see the gym close, but he's being respectful of Jenna's wishes - and it doesn't hurt that he's really tempted to show her some of his grappling MMA moves (preferably naked).  Jenna's also a smidge bitter that her estranged father loved Mercer so much, but she can't resist being turned-on by Mercer's charm (and smile, and pheromones, and laugh, and hot rock-hard MMA body).  But he's not the "commitment type", right?  And she's taking his job away soon, right?   They're trying to figure out a way to keep both the gym and Spark open, however, the more they open their hearts (and their bedroom doors) - the guiltier she feels about their relationship… Too bad he makes her panties disintegrate.  (After all, it is a Harlequin Blaze.)  I was fortunate to receive a free ARC of Making Him Sweat from Harlequin via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.  And I'm so glad, because Meg Maguire has a new fan in me.

I enjoyed this one so much, I can imagine it being a re-read that I would reach for on a rainy day - or for boxing motivation.  Mercer helps Jenna with reconciling her feelings towards her dad (and a scandal that hurt the gym's reputation).  This part was the most pleasant surprise for me, and I really wasn't expecting it to be so sentimental and heartwarming.  I even got a bit choked up on the Metro commute home (but my mascara was not waterproof, so I quickly pulled it together).

Things I loved:
  • Every character in this book was "just right".  No one annoyed me and there were only about three or four supporting characters.
  • This awesome quote:  
Romances were like candles. Lust was the flame, and passion the wick… it was the practical compatibilities that made up the wax – shared goals, harmonious personalities, a healthy overlap of values and interest.  The more wax you had, the thicker and taller a pillar you could make, and keep that wick burning nice and slow, keep the flame alive years after that initial spark.
  • And this even more awesome follow-up analogy that Maguire gives us: 
If romances were candles, as Jenna’s philosophy suggested, then she and Mercer were a stick of dynamite.
  • Maguire got the MMA/boxing culture right – nutrition and exercise do become an obsession.  If you are a fan of boxing and MMA, I can't recommend this romance enough.
  • Mercer’s line about disintegrating panties.  Disintegrating panties.

Bonus/Off-topic: Meg Maguire was a penguin handler.  No, really.  (See HQ Blaze’s awesome About the Author section in the front.)

Why do I empathize with this Heroine:  I felt sad for her lack-of-relationship with her father (and basically how so many other people were closer to him, especially when he was dying, and she didn't even know he was ill).  Also, she is by no-means entitled; She saved all her money and worked her butt off, on a cruise ship (and, yes, of course I'm only thinking of the shitty Carnival disaster(s)).  Mostly, I appreciate that she has the balls to go after what she wants.  No whiny bitching.  No hanging on to past baggage.  No pointless arguing.  No "well, if you quit/changed/altered your job/plans/arrangements we could be happy".  FINALLY - a romance where the heroine doesn't give up her dreams/goals (just so the hero can have his).  So after all the drama in this book - guess what happens!  They work it out.  Like mature adults.  And everyone involved finds a clever solution to reach the HEA.  Brilliant.

Overall:  This book is right up there on my list of "insta-recommendations" - perfect for any reader looking for a hot contemporary romance with a heartwarming feel-good ending.  (And I'm definitely getting the second book in the series.  Rich's story!)


When She Said I Do (by Celeste Bradley)

I have become more than wanton.  I am decadent.

When She Said I Do (Worthington #1) (by Celeste Bradley)

Conflict: Beauty & the Beast, Insta-marriage

I have waited for this book FOREVER a little over a decade.  (No, I shit you not.)
So, this book is important to me, and be ready for immediate fan-girling.

If you are a massive fan of Celeste Bradley’s Liar’s Club series, there is no NOT reading this book.
You are picking it up because you know how important (understatement) Ren’s story is...
How big of a deal is this?  Let me put it this way:

This would be like NOT reading Zsadist’s story in the Black Dagger Brotherhood.
J.R. Ward fans would be thinking, “What’s up with this one scarred guy?” and then after waiting over a decade, we get Lover Awakened.

Yeah.  It’s that serious.

Despite inhaling When She Said I Do (WSSID), it took me too frickin’ long to even get to this post - because I had to go back into all my Liar’s Club books, and glean for ANY little Ren-bits.
I need more Ren!  (And I had to get my sleep cycle back to normal.)

Ren Porter is the “scarred hero”, except we didn't know anything about him.  Even what we learn in WSSID is still a tad limited.  The intro starts off all “Beauty and the Beast-y” where Callie and her family have to crash/squat in Ren’s massive mansion (because their carriage crashes into the stream nearby - again, awesome description and action writing from Celeste Bradley).  Callie decides to snoop through his stuff, so she tries on a bunch of jewelry, and he surprises her (yup, there’s a boob grab within the first twelve pages) - but Callie’s older brother finds them, and “don’t touch my sister”, and family honor, etc. - so Callie offers to marry Ren in order to save her brother in a duel.  Duel scene! YUSSSSS! *fist pump*

Ren and Callie get married, and they both presume that the other will be unhappy in the marriage.  The chemistry is there (dying to tear each other's clothes off in the kinkiest of ways), but they are awkward about consummating their marriage - (mostly due to Ren’s angst - very much a tortured-hero).
So he offers the following kinky bargain:  He gives her a pearl for every kinky demand/desire to fulfill (hundreds of pearls from a necklace that she tried on) and when his supply runs out, she keeps all the pearls; however, they both silently decide that she will most likely leave the house (and possibly divorce him?) with all her “pearl” money, which could easily take care of her and her modest family.  He's thinking she doesn't love him, and she's thinking that he doesn't love her.

Not only are there passionate/angsty/kinky romance scenes, but bonding friendships and hilarious flirty pranks ensue throughout the pages - with brilliant detail and narration that makes me love Celeste Bradley’s books *so* damn much!

Things I loved: (exclamation points for everything!)
  • Surprise sexy bathtub scene!  (Lots of kinky steamy scenes - again, don't let the pink pretty cover fool you.  She's smirking at us for a reason.)
  • The poison crystallized ginger plot gone awry!
  • Knowing the hero is socially awkward and then inviting the whole village over for a masquerade ball.  Awesome!
  • Button! - He’s fabulous! I knew I loved him from the previous books, but reading him in a stronger “supporting character” capacity made my heart sing so many times.  He truly is the best fairy godmother.  Button made it especially easy to drop everything after finishing a book, and return to the previous books in a series - and this was JUST to find more Button scenes (and the Ren scenes, too, which are much more rare!)... He reminds me of Simon McBurney’s somewhat flippant/flamboyant archdeacon character from the British TV show Rev.
  • A quick peek of the Liar’s Club! - in other books, I normally feel like it's just whatever - but this time, I LOVED seeing favorite characters from the previous books.
  • The Villains!  Celeste Bradley did it right.  Betrice and her goon were just suspenseful enough to keep me turning the pages, and I would freak out every time they showed up.  Betrice is like the poorer and not-as-clever version of Victoria Grayson from ABC’s Revenge - and her psychotic goon is like that ex-CIA agent guy (Frank) who was OBSESSED with Victoria - yeah, that’s what Betrice and her goon have.  Even when we first meet Betrice, we know she’s got some skeletons in her closet and she’s bitter as all hell in her miserable marriage.  It’s nail-biting to read her acting so fake towards Callie and Ren when we know she can’t be trusted.
  • Narration! - Jumping POVs with one third-person narrator = BEST!  (Think like George R.R. Martin’s Fire and Ice saga!) 
  • This line:  “She’d seen illustrations, of course, and one couldn’t live with six men without stumbling across the odd penis.”
  • Historically appropriate swearing:  “Sweet Charlotte’s arse!” and “Great George’s balls!”

Why do I empathize with the heroine:  Callie takes care of her whole family (twins, brothers, sisters, parents, etc.) - so it’s actually quite a relief that she finally gets a moment to “relax” - and not be the caretaker, maid, teacher, nurse, mother, sister, servant to everyone else.  She finally gets to be herself and pursue her own interests.  I found her family to be pretty annoying (except for her genius brother and her youngest sister) and even when Ren gets frustrated with them being SO annoying, Callie still does a good job of sticking by them.  Regarding Callie’s sexual awakening in this book, the quid-pro-quo pearl sex games work really well for the plot because Callie is so independent and happy/eager to explore her sexuality.  So well done.

Overall:  This just wraps up my Liar’s Club series so nicely.  *sigh*  That sad feeling you get when it’s all done.  I had that.  It took a while to get back to my normal reading groove, and I visiting with the rest of the Liar’s Club helped...

I marked down my calendar for the next book in the Worthington series!  And Then Comes Marriage (Worthington #2) - Castor’s story!  July 30th - so almost five months to go...

July.  Get here.


Seduction and Snacks (by Tara Sevic)

"Carter at least gave me a concerned look and did that half-sitting, half-standing thing 
like he was getting ready to vault over the table to make sure I was okay.  His concern for me was hot."

- Claire as she chokes from embarrassment 

Seduction & Snacks (Chocolate Lovers #1) (by Tara Sevic)

Bebe’s Book Club pick for February

TBR Challenge 2013 for February

Conflict: "Surprise! I had your baby!"

Surprise Baby conflict pretty much says it all.  The first three chapters are about Claire expressing her dislike/disinterest in giving birth and having kids, but then she explains how she became pregnant after a drunken frat party hook-up. She moves back home and has the baby, Gavin, who is now four years old (more on this shithead later).  This is all mixed in with slapstick hijinks, sexual tension, hot sex, supreme embarrassment, candy descriptions (I'll be looking up recipes online - good LORD there's a lot of chocolate going on) and A LOT of alcohol. ...and the dirty frat party just continues throughout the pages.

Chapter 4 is from the mystery father’s perspective, which surprised me for a moment when I first read it.  Major kudos to Tara for tackling a dual first-person POV in a contemporary romance – and still making me laugh out loud on my Metro ride into work.  Mystery-dad Carter ends up meeting Claire – and I really felt like this part was the highlight of the story.  The BEST is when he finally realizes that Gavin is his kid and Claire (whom he's been obsessing over since that drunken hook-up), is the mom.

The rest of the book stops being “truly romance-y” and becomes more of a sexy comedy about Carter and Claire resolving how to date, all while raising Gavin, being a family, and working out other awkward logistics since not knowing/seeing each other for the past four years.

Like Bebe mentioned - there is a resolution/confrontation of the exes - which mostly happens “off page”, but the reader still gets the impression that there is never going to be an opportunity for an ex to re-enter the picture.  I felt disappointed with Carter's rude behavior in front of Claire’s “ex” (if we can even truly call him that).  Claire really did not convey the message of “What you just did there was not cool.  Plus, you made yourself look like a huge jerk.”

It's no matter though, because the past is in the past, and Claire and Carter are the only future… with Gavin.  Now this little fucker… I don’t even know where to start or end.  He swears, he hits, etc., and then he gets a finger-wag scolding. (?!?)  I was at least hoping for “time-out” or taking his toys away, but no.  I can only echo Bebe’s sentiment, although I am currently not a mother, “PLEASE, do not raise your kids this way”.  Mostly, I had to remind myself, "This is fiction, this is fiction, four-year-olds don't really behave this way. This is fiction."

Why do I empathize with this heroine:  I don’t.  Yes, I feel embarrassed for her (many times) – but she goes through her own drama and just narrates it as she sees it.  Claire can take care of herself.  I never got the impression that she was “needy”.  All immaturity and fart jokes aside, she had to grow up fast since her mom ditched her at a young age.  She owns up to her “mistakes” – her word not mine.  She is not lukewarm porridge, and Claire is very opinionated – and she seems to have an attitude of not giving a shit (unless it involves Gavin and Carter).  I can see how this might turn off readers who disagree with Claire in any way.  I happened to roll with it.  It funny because Claire is a bar-tender, however, I ended up feeling like I was the one behind the bar, wiping down the counter with a soggy towel, slowly shaking my head, while Claire and Cater were the ones sitting down, dramatically telling me about all the insanity.

Overall:  Seduction and Snacks becomes my most extreme standard for “funny romance novel”.  (I would ask in my best Joe Pesci Goodfellas voice, “Funny how?  - Like Seduction and Snacks funny?  How is it funny to you?”)

This is the habanero of romance novels – some readers might be turned off right away, others might not be able to handle it after taking one bite, and others - they'll take it and they'll like it (maybe with tears in their eyes).  Because it’s that extreme.  I felt like I watched a marathon of Family Guy, while eating (I wish) amazing chocolate covered potato chips.  At the end of the day, I’ll admit to myself that none of it was healthy, but I still laughed and enjoyed myself.

Looking forward to the next two books in the Chocolate Lovers series:  Futures and Frosting (Claire and Carter 2.0!) and Trouble and Treats (Drew and Jenny's story - which intrigues me because Drew was just SUCH an asshat, and I want to read Tara work her magic and make me enjoy the story...)  Plus, I've already downloaded the FREE PDF on Goodreads of Hearts and Llamas.

Things I loved:

  • The scene where Carter thinks that Claire is dating her dad (Lots of snort-lolz from that one.)
  • Claire getting the HEA that I wanted her to have
  • The Disney Princess/Feminist debate
    (and I have the original VHS cover of The Little Mermaid with the penis on the front!)
  • The movie references (Heathers!)
  • The cover is quickly becoming one of my favorite covers of all time


Crystal Cove (by Lisa Kleypas)

Crystal Cove - Friday Harbor #4 (by Lisa Kleypas)

Conflict:  Big Secret / Past baggage issues / Soulmate salvation

Some of the past baggage issues aren’t as major to the plot:  It’s explained, and then it's mentioned a little bit, but I like that it wasn’t repetitively thrown in my face.  The soulmate salvation isn’t emphasized as strongly as some other paranormal romances - but there was a bit of magical "desperation" in this one.  I like to think of the “magic element” along the same lines of Like Water for Chocolate.  Magic is happening.  Crazy stuff is going on. The mom curses the daughter.  Just go with it.

Rundown: Justine’s mom curses her as a baby:  Justine can never fall in love.  Justine breaks the curse, and disrupts the universe - so there’s a price to pay, and someone’s gotta die.  Enter Don Draper Jason Black all hot and in charge (my mind only thinks of Don Draper, but younger, *less* of an asshole, and the kingpin of the gaming industry).  Jason and Justine fall in love, but he’s got a big secret (we figure it out relatively soon into the plot) - and he needs Justine (to “help” with part of his secret).  Of course they want HEA, but that whole part about “a price to pay”... yeah, that’s Jason.  There’s some witching clause about every witch’s true love dies - and it can’t be reversed/cancelled-out, whatever.  UGH.  That major aspect of the book irked me a bit, only because I thought it was really shitty for all the witches. I was surprised how much I enjoyed the action at the end, and I especially loved the description of the *spoilerish* (highlight -->) the curse being lifted (permanently) at the end - Yay HEA.

Crystal Cove, as I said two posts ago, is the steamiest Kleypas novel that I have read to date.  (Yes, steamier than Lady Sophia's Lover and Devil in Winter -- and even more than the raspberry scene in Suddenly You.)  After the third chapter, I found myself thinking that this romance includes everything but the kitchen sink.  (Cliché, but so true.)  Look at what’s involved:

Buddhist sense of the soul

Truth or Dare
Some Artsy talk  (I love when romances talk art appreciation...)
Boating and Kayaking - and various safety issues included
Kinbaku - the Japanese art of super-erotic bondage. Hooray for new cultural experiences! (Remember: Pinterest is your friend.)
Dark vs. Light (talked about this theme a little bit at Heroes and Heartbreakers)
Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, CA
Lesbian characters
Computer Games (and the gaming industry - w00t!!)
“Maguro” (I can never look at my favorite Sushi the same again...)
and some previous characters from the Friday Harbor series...

My Favorite:  There’s even an INCREDIBLE reference to Jason Black being so hot that he makes ovaries explode - while Seal’s Kiss from a Rose plays in the background. (Ovary essssplosion + Kiss from a Rose)

And now that your rose is in bloom...

And here’s me:

Why do I empathize with this heroine: Because I got the feeling that Justine pretty much hates being a witch (besides magical powers to do cool little things, like instantly lighting candles and spells for saving choking kids). She wants to just have her HEA and find true love. Her mom irritated me to no end, and there's a lot of BS going on that Justine can't get under control. I really liked the way she stood up to Jason's assertiveness (at first) during their getting-to-know-you kitchen scene.

Overall:  This is like the Chex Mix of romance novels: All the delicious pieces are necessary, and it makes for an excellent snack.  I will hog and devour the whole thing.  I can’t wait for Lightning Bay!

(Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for sending me an ARC of this one!)



Let's acknowledge that cover for a moment ... and now the title...

AMAZING, right?

Recommended from my romance-reading buddy Lori, who casually mentioned it in an email, and I responded:

...Seduction and Snacks...?!?!?  This sounds like a dream come true to me - WHAT IS THIS???? going over to goodreads to add this NOW.

Seduction and Snacks (I'll never get tired of saying that...) by Tara Sivec currently has 4.5 stars on Goodreads, with 8,500+ ratings (an2012 Goodreads Choice Award Nominee – Best Romance) 

Shit, even the author's photo looks completely awesome:

(Notice how the diagonals of her top, and her pointing index finger,
leads the observer's eye back to the excellent cover.)

Tara looks like an author with whom you could polish off a big plate of messy nachos and a pitcher of margaritas -- while you fall out of your chair laughing your ass off (almost pissing your pants).  Like that sore rib cage kind of laughter.

Check out the blurb of win:

Claire is a twenty-something, single mom that grudgingly helps her best friend sell sex toys while she attempts to make enough money to start her own business to give her foul-mouthed, but extremely loveable (when he’s asleep) toddler a better life. 
When Carter, the one-night-stand from her past that changed her life forever, shows up in her hometown bar without any recollection of her besides her unique chocolate scent, Claire will make it a point that he remembers her this time. 
With Carter’s undisguised shock at suddenly finding out he has a four-year-old son and Claire’s panic that her stretch marks and slim to none bedroom experience will send the man of her dreams heading for the hills, the pair will do whatever they can to get their happily ever after. 
Warning: contains explicit sex, profanity and enough sarcasm to choke a horse.

(Lols will happen.)

This will be my February book for Wendy the Super Librarian's 2013 TBR Challenge - AND - for Bebe Knight's (Reading Until I Fall Asleep) Book Club (see side button)

Seduction and Snacks is downloadable for Kindle / Kindle App for $0.99 and the Nook / Nook App for $2.99.

Posting for Bebe's Book Club on 2/15
Post for the TBR challenge on 2/20

(Oh, and Happy Groundhog Day, yo!)