Free On KU

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Free On KU

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Free On KU

Maid for You by Mariah R. Embry


An age-gap, rich-girl-poor-girl romance with a borderline romcom storyline set in the surreal 2020 lockdown context.

Twenty-four year old Octavia is an undocumented immigrant in the USA from Mexico. She’s already had a rough life and nothing has got easier because of her immigration status which compels her to work as a maid for a barely living wage. The latest posting that her agency gives her is as a live-in maid in celebrity rockstar, Jay Firefly’s home. Forty-two year old Jay is not only a famous rockstar but lives the quintessential 70s rockstar life indulging voraciously in women and drugs. Jay has a roster of ‘girlfriends’, basically models whom she pays to be her girlfriends. She doesn’t particularly do relationships. Or emotions.

There are rules of working with Jay. One big one being never to make eye contact with the rockstar or talk to her. Maids are supposed to be invisible. Octavia is acutely aware of this and does her best to disappear, but something keeps pulling the two women in each other’s orbit and blurring out every line in Jay’s rules for maids.

When the state declares shelter in place, the two women are locked in the house together and there is no putting a lid on their irresistible attraction towards each other. And surprisingly, the attraction is much more than mere sexual attraction. There is a lot of tenderness and caring between them and they find themselves sharing their pasts, their deepest selves.

But post-lockdown, the real world enters bringing along outside attitudes, judgements and problems which the new couple must find a way of dealing with.

Embry writes Octavia and Jay excellently. Octavia with her past, her experiences and the fact that she is completely alone in the world quickly evokes protectiveness. But she is also hardworking, feisty and fearless about her rights (for example, her right to a day off). She doesn’t back off, make herself a doormat or become pitiable in any way, at any point. Thus she becomes an entirely enjoyable character.

Jay Firefly is introduced as almost a Harold Robbins-esque character. Living life large and on the wild side. But despite her philandering ways, her lack of respect for everyone and her generally piggish behaviour, she always remains very human. There is a vulnerability in her that is visible in every interaction with Octavia. As their relationship progresses and they peel of layers, Jay as a person is explained so well that all her behaviour makes sense.

There is an age gap and it was nice to read about the small ways in which it shows. However, the ways that the age gap manifests are too small to impact their relationship. We love the way Jay commits to Octavia in every way possible and protects her steadfastly. We also liked that Octavia remains fallibly human enough to want to assert herself and her power unambiguously with anyone disrespecting her.

The chemistry between Octavia and Jay is so, so, so hot. All the burn, all the inexplicably out-of-character behaviour that culminates into really great sex scenes. And plenty of them – which is always a good thing.

Embry brings in all types of safety factors smoothly into the narrative including tools for safe sex and safety in the times of covid-19. There is a lot of use of drugs but it is never particularly glamourized. In fact, it is mostly used to show degenerate behaviour.

This is a light, slightly escapist and thoroughly enjoyable read.

PS: We do wish one of the minor characters, Vivica had been given a better deal because she was unexpectedly quite a tragic character. For everything that she was and she had been, she should’ve been more successful, had more love in her live and been happier. Guess we just want utopia for all pen-people that we like.     


You Should See Me in a Crown By Leah Johnson


This is a cute, cute, cute high school contemporary story.

Liz Lighty feels she doesn't fit. Tall, black, queer in a largely white environment, Liz has her escape plan hinging on Pennington, the best private college. With excellent grades and a talent in music, only the scholarship needs to come through for her better tomorrow to become a reality. So when her scholarship is rejected, Liz is crushed. She knows that if her grandparents get a whiff of this they'll sell their house to make it happen for her and she totally doesn't want that. The one slim chance is to enter Campbell's prom queen drama since part of the winner kitty is a scholarship. Her intrepid friends, led by childhood best friend, Gabi, rally around her to make it happen.

This is a feel-good story with a cute sapphic romance thrown in. All the typical high school elements are nicely mixed -- staunch friends, misunderstandings, an old friend who'd rejected her returning, unexpected peer support, a stereotypical mean girl, challenges in the family (disease in this case). The pacing and writing is excellent -- humour, banter, well-etched characters, sweet, sweet relationships (siblings, friends, romantic relationship).

Somehow, YA books cover a huge gamut of emotions and this one does it exceptionally well. Johnson sweeps you with the highs, the lows, the ability to feel with abandon, and overall just, you know, living, that is the life of a teenager.

This book is utterly and completely enjoyable.


Fitting In by Amanda Radley


Writing convincing love stories with non-typical characters is tricky. Radley more than measures up to the challenge with this truly heartwarming romance.

Heather Bailey is the manger of Silver Arches a high-end mall in London. She's been in this position for seven years and in the company for nineteen. Retail is not quite the same as it used to be and The Arches Group is feeling the impact. As a strategic move, The Arches Group has got an investor, Intrex, headed by the redoubtable Leo Flynn. Heather is uncertain about what this could mean for her and for her beloved centre but continues her work with the same dedication that she's always had.

Leo Flynn has an unsettling penchant for dropping in to Heather's office without warning, but Heather quickly learns to deal with this without either cowing down, letting it affect her work day or being rude. But what surprises her is when Leo Flynn tells her to find a job for his daughter, Scarlett, with just a cryptic comment that Scarlett is difficult.

Heather overthinks the reasons why the daughter of her new boss would be a part of her team but has to comply. Scarlett arrives in Silver Arches and as per Leo's diktat, she is placed in Facilities. The going is not good. However, there is something about Scarlett that intrigues Heather. With a background in the army, Heather decides to shift Scarlett to Security.

Slowly and painstakingly, Heather starts unravelling the mystery that Scarlett is.

The world of Silver Arches that Radley builds is entirely convincing. There are a number of character peopling this book and all of them are completely believable.

Heather and Scarlett are wonderfully written and detailed. Radley has achieve success in writing Scarlett on the autism spectrum and maintaining the trajectory without slipping. Heather's attraction and sensitivity towards Scarlett are beautiful. The only slightly weird thing is that despite being a textbook model of autism, no one except Scarlett herself recognises this about her. The only person who suspects it is Scarlett's stepmother.

Being in a long term relationship with someone on the spectrum wouldn't be easy, but the way Radley has written the relationship between Heather and Scarlett with so many small but important exchanges of mutual respect and accommodation, makes us firmly believe that theirs is going to be happily ever after.

This is a real touching romance.


Her Magic Touch by Christine L’Amour


Jamie has been given a spa tears as a birthday gift by her friends. When she arrives at the spa, she learns that it is for s full body massage. She's about to chicken out and run when the masseuse, Courtney Meadows, calls for her. Jamie goes in with misgivings and when she feels herself getting uncontrollably turned on, she hurriedly leaves the place. But then she bumps into Courtney again and they agree that the massage will be completed in the privacy of Jamie's home.

As straight as Jamie thinks she is, her want to do more with Courtney cannot be ignored or denied.

This is much more erotica than romance, though there is a lot (lot in capitals) of conversation. In fact the emotional reactions seems a tad excessive, especially in the beginning. Jamie is not awfully likeable, especially in her behaviour with her friend, which is a good indicator of the person she is. Courtney is also just average. But what she lacks in the romance and character-creation departments, L'Amour makes up in the sexy times.

This is a quick read which is not completely unpleasant.


44 Hours by Donna Jay


Truths and lies; self-searching and self-assurance; prejudices and support -- this book covers a lot of ground hinging on 44 hours that the two leading ladies spend terrifyingly lost in a dense forest.

Jennifer Andrews has no love lost for her new colleague, Ellaine Baxter, for the simple reason that Ellaine broke Jennifer's best friend's heart. Their mutual dislike doesn't go unnoticed and the company sends the two off for a team building conference. An hour away from their destination, Jennifer's need to pee is uncontrollable and they stop. Ellaine snarks that if Jennifer doesn't hurry back, she'll leave without her. Jennifer takes away the car keys and decides to mess with Ellaine a bit by pretending to be lost. Ellaine falls for the prank and before too long the two realise that they're really lost.

They end up spending 44 hours without food and water with just each other for company. Despite being scared and tired, they learn a lot about each other and their relationship undergoes a sea change. A change which not everyone in their lives is happy about or can even accept.

Jennifer and Ellaine are thoroughly engaging ladies. During their sojourn in the forest, Ellaine emerges as completely charming, considerate, cheerful and dauntless. Jennifer proves to be a peron who is willing to listen with open-mindedness and rolls with the punches. When they're back in the 'real world' Jennifer shapes up to be brave and Ellaine is her perfect complement.

The dialogues, secondary cast and conflict are believable. The sex scenes, par for course with Jay, are excellent. Jennifer's sister, Angela, is definitely a person we'd love to have in our lives on our side. Maternal homophobia is a recurring theme in Jay's books and in this one too that is the entire source of conflict.

We enjoyed this one.


Darkness Past by Sheryl D. Hancock


This series is like a long-running TV show which has on-going storylines of many of the characters and new plot lines and characters keep getting added.

The series is about a bunch of people in law and law enforcement. So there are all these extremely chivalrous, awfully attractive, mostly butch women and their gorgeously femme partners. The main characters and relationships in this one from previous books are Kana-Palani and Cat-Elizabeth. Kashena-Sierra are the new couple.

Women trapped in bad marriages and cheat their spouse with one of the irresistible law enforcement officers of the group is a recurring theme which continues in this one. Somehow, we get the feeling that Hancock is not particularly fond of Elizabeth since some of the most awful things happen to her. For the record, we think Elizabeth is one of the most vulnerable people in the series and our heart really goes out to her.

You can read them as standalone since enough backstory about the main ongoing couples is woven in. But that may not be completely capture the texture of the relationships. We admire the author for achieving this TV-serial-like effect in her writing.

Escort by Emily Hayes


Sometimes romances surprise you with more than expected erotic content and sometimes, a book with 'erotic' in the title surprises you by being closer to a romance -- albeit with plenty of steamy scenes.

Ashley Davidson is a successful businesswoman and a happy no-strings-attached-one-night-stand camper. Except that nosy clients and possible-clients wanting to chatter about her single status make schmoozing for work a pain. At the advise of her friend, Ashley decides to engage the service of an escort agency and get herself a fake girlfriend for the parties she needs to attend.

Vienna Rhodes Is the best in the escort business. Educated, gorgeous and completely professional, Vienna thoroughly enjoys her job. Since Ashley's asked for the best, Vienna is the girl for her.

Though Ashley had no intention of having sex with her fake girlfriend, she'd not accounted for how charismatic Vienna would be. Or how alluring. Or how irresistible.

The book has a little bit of everything -- some burn, so can't-hold-backness, some romance, some drama, some angst and lots of sexy times. The fact that Vienna is an escort (who loves her job) is treated with normalcy by most every character (who knows this fact) in the book. The easy acceptance is nice. The defined and definite plot surprised us in a very good way.

Ashley doesn't create much of an impression but Vienna packs a punch. She not only bewitches everyone she meets in the books, but cast a spell on us too.

This is a quick, enjoyable read.


Finding Home by Jamey Moody


If there was ever a romance that made us want to join a gym and get active, this one it is.

Olivia King's last relationship ended badly and she took refuge in food. The break-up shook her confidence and the new weight and shape earned by eating her grief has broken her self-image. Low on confidence now, Olivia decides to join a gym. 

Frankie Dean is one-third owner of a popular gym, Your Way. The three partners, Framkie, Desi and Stella firmly believe that exercising is not only to lose weight but that the benefits of exercises encompass even mental and emotional well being. Frankie has been dumped by her last girlfriend, Laura, who is about to get married to a man now. As a result of being dumped more tan once, Frankie has serious self doubts about her ability to choose a partner.

When Olivia walks into the gym, Frankie is immediately attracted to her and vice versa. But the complexes each one is carrying prove to be hurdles. And when they finally reach out to each other with a life-altering kiss ending a perfect date, Laura returns.

This is clearly the start of a series set in this wonderful world where every single character is gay. We'd like to live there -- but that is irrelevant.

The characters. Dumped Frankie being non-bitchy about her ex is so likeable. And then, through her therapy and conversations with Laura when she returns reveal that the fault of the break-up lay with Frankie. Then, not so likeable any more. In fact, this was one book where we were rooting for Frankie and Laura to get together instead of Frankie and Olivia.

Which brings us to Olivia. She is so, so appealing and engaging. On a business trip, she has a one night stand with Jenna and that is the couple we wanted to happen. So in our ideal version of this book, the HEAs would be for Frankie-Laura and Olivia-Jenna. But Moody stuck with getting Olivia and Frankie together and we're feeling like a tantrums-y, sulky, pouty child about it.

The moments between Olivia and Frankie were nice but the chemistry was just okay. The oddest thing is that we felt Oliva had chemistry all by herself. She just sizzled with every single character in the book. Even in the Olivia-Frankie scenes, Olivia had fantastic chemistry but Frankie didn't -- therefore the median became just okay. So the reason this is odd is because chemistry is between people, right? We thought so too till we read this one.

There is drama in the circumstances but the ladies are not dramatic. So there's a smooth calm in interactions and relationships. Which was rather interesting. From the Easter eggs and the trajectory, we expect Stella and Jenna to become a couple in the series. 

One the whole, this is a rather smooth, easy read with just enough crossed connections, angst and drama. 

PS: We're still not happy with what happened with Laura. She deserved love and her own HEA.


Captive Hearts by Natasha West


This book has Natasha West taking baby steps out of her comfort zone with excellent results.

Ashley Quick is a TV reporter with an ambition to do investigative stories for the biggest channels. But she is stuck in a small-time local channel for three years with little hope and possibility of making a big jump. Intense and Type A, she is rather bereft of social filters and emotional niceties. She knows her personality failings and also realises that they are stopping her from realising her ambition. But she is who she is. No camera operator lasts with her because of her rather abrasive behaviour. When the latest camera o quits, her boss reaches out to Gina Tucker, a totally chill and laid back cam op who just happens to be in-between jobs. Regular pay, and good pay at that, makes Gina agree to work with the reporter no one else is willing to work with.

Off on their first story -- a thrilling bring-and-buy sale in the local church -- Ashley catches hint of a real story happening somewhere in town. She manages to convince Gina and they rush away from the church to a closed pizza place with police cars standing in front of it. When she tries to find out what's happening, she's brusquely shooed away. But Ashley is not faint hearted and hangs around long enough to find out that there's a hostage situation inside. She's excited. Being the only news people around, this could well become her big break into national television. But that hope doesn't last too long as the police cordon off the area and the two are sent packing away beyond the cordon.

After hanging around a while, when it seems that there is no possibility of getting a piece of the action, Ashley is about to do her concluding piece to camera when things change. The police come to them and say that the man holding hostages is willing to release one but only if the news people are around and will interview him. 

But things change entirely again when instead of an interview, the perpetrator releases one hostage but takes Ashley and Gina as hostages.

Unwittingly, Ashley becomes the point of contact with the police and finds herself handling the borderline crazy man trying to get more and more hostages released.

While West is undoubtedly good at romcom, in this one she creates an unusual circumstance which she spices up with her fun dialogues and whimsical characters, but is at heart a more serious and layered book than usual.

Ashley and Gina are appealing right from the start. Despite her single-minded ambition and social ineptitude, there is something heartrendingly fragile and delicate about Ashley. Gina is the perfect support for her. 

Initially both find the other attractive but there's no common ground between them. Their relationship really develops in the heightened intensity of the situation. The surreal circumstance also speeds up revelations and observations about each other's true characters which makes the fact that they choose each other completely convincing despite the short period that they've known each other.

The villain is rather an over the top caricaturish character but that helps is keeping the story light enough. There is a whole cast of people and West's talent shows in the fact she manages to create personalities for most of them in their very brief appearances. 

The fast moving, easy-to-read book is still in the realm of romcom but a few inches closer to the serious fiction line than most of West's books and thoroughly entertains.


Nights of Lily Ann: Redemption of Carly by L. L. Shelton and T. A. Williams


Carly Hutch used to be a fisherman and a very good one at that. However, in her early twenties she developed an illness that left her blind within a year. Her gold digger of a girlfriend promptly left her. Now in her mid-twenties, Carly lives on her beloved boat, Feeling Desire, has a lifeline in her loyal friend Jewel Roberts, and has unusual friendships with a devoted pelican, Scully, and an equally devoted mouse, Cheddar.

Avery Johnson has lived her life being shuffled from one foster home to another. She's new in town and has taken up a job of running a mobile bait store. 

Lily Ann Bailey, oldest of four siblings, became responsible for her younger sister and two younger brothers when their parents died in an accident. To provide for her family, Lily Ann works as an 'escort' at nights in addition to a day job as a secretary in a law firm. She suspects her sister, Suzy, knows about her night job, but they don't speak about it.

These different lives intersect in this lovely book. 

The relationship between Carly and Avery is sweet and tender. It was beautiful the way Avery doesn't ever see Carly disability but treats her absolutely normally while ensuring she is sensitive and accommodating of the limitations. She flirts, she teases, she banters in ways that make us want to hug her. 

Carly is a likeable character. We liked that she hires an escort to bring someone into her world -- i. e. spend time blindfolded and experience the world as she does -- only to realise that her true feeling of fullness comes from what Avery gives her.

Lily Ann and her struggles with being responsible for her siblings are so empathiseable. We were warmed by the realness of the relationship between all four Baileys and their individual arcs.

Honesty and communication between all the characters was also one of the many plusses in this book. Another plus, not too much of drawn out angst.

 For what promises to be one more instalment, there is a developing relationship between Lily Ann and Jewel, who just happens to be Lily Ann's youngest brother, Bobby's teacher (Bobby's reaction on seeing his sister and teacher kiss -- “Eww! Teacher girl cooties!” -- totally cracked us up).

And the fierce friendship and protectiveness from a pelican and mouse? Yep, totally wishful and totally adorable.

The book is as much a romance as it is the story of a family. Shelton and Williams have created a soft, pleasant world in this ongoing peek into Lily Ann's life and we look forward to the next part.


Royal Ugly Duckling by Clara Reese


When Odette's mom married a billionaire, she and her twin sister, Bella, moved to Lathonia, became heiresses, and subject of news articles. Chubby, plain, saddled with braces, Odette is a stark counterpoint to her twin's golden gorgeousness and is quickly dubbed 'ugly duckling' by the media. A moniker that the mean girls of the super-exclusive school she attends are quick to adopt to bully her. 

Odette finds sanctuary in books and a secret crush on the athletic Ashley, who is also the princess of the kingdom. One afternoon, a stray kick of the football hits Odette in her face, and Ashley quickly comes to her rescue carrying her to the infirmary and caring for her in multiple ways. Surprisingly, it seems that Ashley has more than noticed Odette and a tentative friendship stars between them with exchange of favourite books.

Things escalate and the two girls have one exquisite night together after which Ashley pulls away.

Devastated, Odette goes ahead to transforms herself into a shallow bitch. Five years later she is all gorgeousness, known as a bed-and-leave-'em heartless bitch, closed off from her family. 

But then, Ashley re-enters her life and the same teen cycles seems to be repeating.

This is a completely superficial escapist book. Odette, the narrator, is far from likeable even before her heart is broken. She is never completely involved with her consistently supportive mother and sister, and obviously disinterested in her three adorable step-sisters. She is so shallow that her response to being dumped is to become 'beautiful'. And all she seems to be really doing with her life five years later is being vain and being cold. When the lead leaves you cold, the book cannot make much of an impression. 

Ashley is never fully sketched out, but from what little is there, she is quite appealing. Though, strangely, for being a bona fide princess, Ashley doesn't seem to have much clout in the school pecking order. 

The best part of the story was the exchange of books between Odette and Ashley and the continual reference to said books all through.

This is a read-and-forget book that is in the strictly okay-with-a-shrug category. 


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Matters of the Heart
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