#BlogTour: When Sparks Fly by Kristen Zimmer

For this blog tour we’re looking at a solid young adult/ new adult tale of lesbian love in high school. For this blog tour we’re looking at When Sparks Fly by Kristen Zimmer.

First, here’s what I had to say on Goodreads:

Solid Lesbian High School Romance. This one has the metric shit-ton of angst one would expect from teenage girls – you’ve got the foster kid trying to fit in. You’ve got the spoiled rich kid hating herself over something the foster kid knows nothing about (but finds out about eventually) who leads one group of friends. You’ve got the spoiled rich kid’s ex-girlfriend who shared in the tragedy and the guilt… and who leads the other group of friends. You’ve got the foster kid trying to fit in with both sets. And along the way, you get all kinds of will-they/ won’t-they teasing between the three… which *also* leads to quite a bit of angst. ๐Ÿ˜€ But yes, somewhere along the way it becomes a bit like Sky High’s *awesome* final line, and you do in fact get an actual romance as it does so. Zimmer also did an excellent job of making this a shared universe with her first book, but while making it effectively a standalone book rather than a true “series” book. So if you’re into high school and/ or LGBT/lesbian romances, give this one a try. Even if you’re not, this one is a good book to experiment with. As is typical of many high school based romances, there is less sex than many/ most older adult romances and more kissing. Though there is an eventual rounding of the bases. Or several. It just primarily happens “off screen”. Not for the “clean”/ “sweet” romance crowd, though I’ve seen little evidence of that crowd looking to the LGBT romance arena anyway. Very much recommended.

Below the jump, the publisher information, including the book description, a bit about the author, and some direct buy links.
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Featured New Release Of The Week: Anchored Hearts by Priscilla Oliveras

Solid Slow Burn Second Chance Finding Yourself Prodigal Son Story. Think I got enough tropes in that title? ๐Ÿ˜‰ But seriously, this was the second book in Oliveras’ hyper-sensual stories of established adults finding love in the Florida Keys (Key West, specifically) while being bound by their Cuban immigrant parents and siblings. Here, we get the sister of our male lead from Book 1 (Island Affair) and the boy we already know she let go a decade ago from that story. Now, we get a lot more details of what happened according to each of them – and they don’t exactly remember things the same way. Oliveras executes this dynamic well, with having the meddling mothers (seemingly a commonality among *many* cultures, let’s face it ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) conniving to get the two together when the now-man finds himself stranded at home with a shattered leg. As they help each other with their respective issues in their current lives, old wounds get reexamined, sparks begin to fly, etc etc etc… this *is* a romance novel, y’all. That alone tells you where this thing is going. ๐Ÿ™‚

But Oliveras also executes the Prodigal Son angle particularly well, at least from the son’s side. Which I know at least a bit about, having lived my adult life hundreds of miles away from my own parents. (Somewhat interestingly as it relates to this book, while Alejandro grew up in Key West and fled to Atlanta as an adult, this reviewer grew up outside of Atlanta and currently finds himself in Florida – Jacksonville – in what will this year become the longest single place he’s stayed since leaving Atlanta. :D) To be clear, I don’t have *exactly* the same issues Ale does – my dad (and entire immediate family) and I actually get along great. But I know the general feelings and disappointments pretty damn well, well enough to truly sing Oliveras’ praises on this particular storyline.

Finally, to address one criticism that seems common in the lower starred reviews: saying something in Spanish and then explaining it in English: I’m a native American that grew up in land still literally scarred by the American Civil War. While I took a few Spanish classes in high school, I was never even truly conversant, much less fluent. But I’ve studied a lot about a lot, and it is my understanding that such mixtures of languages are common in second generation Americans, as both Annamaria and Alejandro are here. Further, from a “real world” perspective of trying to sell as many copies of a book as possible, English is the most commonly spoken language in the world, for better or for worse. While Spanish is frequent and indeed dominant in certain regions, even many in those regions *also* speak English to some degree or another. And in most of the globe, more people are more familiar with English than Spanish. These are also simple, stone cold, undeniable *facts* – whether or not you like them or the reason they came to be. Thus, from a *business* side, explaining the Spanish in English – and in particular the way Oliveras does it in this series, more as a natural storytelling technique than a “Habla Espanol?” “Do you speak Spanish?” style common in at least some books I’ve read over the years, it makes complete sense. And for this reader that barely knows Spanish at all – the above sentence was a decent part of what I can easily recall, though there is likely a fair amount beyond that that I could comprehend in a situation where I’m surrounded by the language – it is helpful, appreciated, and *necessary*, as there would be large segments of the tale that would be completely unintelligible without the translation. Indeed, from a business side Oliveras’ only other real options would be to 1) limit herself to only Spanish speakers and thus lose overall sales or 2) eliminate the Spanish completely and lose at least a fair degree of the authenticity she really excels in bringing out here.

And as others have noted, this reader too is hoping that the one female character introduced late in the book is truly the fit for the one remaining single Navarro sibling – and that we get to read that tale as well. Given the year spacing between Island Affair and this book, perhaps this time 2022? Until then…

Very much recommended.

#BlogTour: Up In Smoke by Annabeth Albert

For this blog tour we’re looking at the latest book in Annabeth Albert’s year-long tale of MM romances set in the hyper-macho world of “hotshot” firefighters. For this blog tour, we’re looking at Up In Smoke by Annabeth Albert.

Here’s what I had to say about it on Goodreads:

Another Solid Entry In Series. This is another solid entry in the series Albert has created over the last year featuring MM romances set in the hyper-macho world of western US “hotshot” firefighters and smoke jumpers – the front lines of any wildfire containment efforts. Here, we finally get smokejumper Brandt’s story, and it is at least as good from the romance angle as any of the other entries in this series. Maybe even better, since it runs a bit smoother with lower angst, minimal separation, both equally hoping for the other’s success, etc. Has an almost A Star Is Born vibe to it at times, though without the more depressing elements of that tale. But the biggest thing that will be hit or miss depending on exactly what you feel about it is the baby stuff in particular. Even as a childfree married male who generally doesn’t like babies (older kids are much cooler, though I’m always grateful that I can leave when I need to :D), I didn’t find the baby aspects *too* detracting, even for my tastes. Because the story really did focus on the interactions of the adults, with the baby providing the realistic distractions that adults having to care for a baby would actually provide. But if you’re particularly opposed to anything remotely baby related… well, you were told in the description that this one had one. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Overall a truly solid story, and very much recommended.

Below the jump, about a page long excerpt from the very first scene of the book, when Brandt and Shane first meet. Followed by the publisher information. ๐Ÿ™‚
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#BookReview: The Shell Collector by Nancy Naigle

Solid, Maybe Not ‘Real’ For Everyone. This is one of those Hallmarkie type books – from an author who apparently has had a few of her books become Hallmark movies – that goes a bit deep into the whole pro-military, pro-say-your-prayers portrayal of a “small town” that many will love and many others will find doesn’t exactly reflect their own experiences with small towns. But working within that Hallmarkie / conservative Christian / Christian Fiction type niche, this is one that will likely be beloved. And don’t get me wrong, as an overall story it is genuinely solid for *anyone*. It does a great job as it explores some deep issues – including loss of a spouse, second chance romance, unrequited love, and other issues – that many experience well outside of the *exact* target demo for this effort, and thus it opens itself to a much wider audience… as long as you can stomach the not-*quite*-constant rah rah Go Military! type. There is nothing objectively here to hang any star reduction on, as, again, it is a solid story well told. Thus, it is very much recommended.

This review of The Shell Collector by Nancy Naigle was originally written on April 21, 2021.

#BookReview: Hennessey’s Handler by Pandora Pine

Hairy Harmony. Another solid entrant into this series, this time featuring the one natural child of the unifying parents of all five brothers this series revolves around. As with every other entrant here, if you don’t mind minor (and sometimes not quite so minor) spoilers about previous books, this one is perfectly fine as an entry point into the series. Solid MM romance with a rather shocking ending given how this series has been built to this point, and as with every other book in this series introduces the next brother and features him fairly prominently. (Including a rather interesting revelation about that particular brother’s mysterious past.) Very much recommended.

This review of Hennessey’s Handler by Pandora Pine was originally written on April 15, 2021.

#BookReview: Before I Saw You by Emily Houghton

Interesting Premise. Perfect Execution. Apparently I’m a bit different than the smattering of the current 300+ Goodreads reviews I’ve read of this book so far (just over a month prior to publication, so kudos to the Gallery Books/ Simon and Schuster marketing team – which is where I got my own copy from).

Why?

Because I thought this was a challenging premise for *any* author to work from, much less a debut author… and yet Houghton *nails* it, to my thinking.

The entire central conceit here is that you’ve got two people who are badly broken and trying to heal, who happen to randomly find themselves forced to be next to each other in a rehabilitation ward for weeks on end, and somehow fall in love – despite one of them insisting on keeping their curtain closed, thus precluding both from ever seeing the other’s face.

This was a great tale that had light and heart where it needed to, forced the tears to come pouring out of your eyes in others, told convincing tales of the disparate injuries and recoveries, and wrapped all of this up in a standard Hallmarkie type finish. (Yes, this *is* billed as a romance, so noting that the couple does end up together is no spoiler here. :D)

If this is what we can expect from Houghton, this reader for one is very much looking forward to seeing what else she has. Very much recommended.

This review of Before I Saw You by Emily Houghton was originally written on April 2, 2021.

#BookReview: Incense and Sensibility by Sonali Dev

Solid Romance. Tainted By Politics and Racism. First off, let me be absolutely crystal clear on one point: This was a truly solid romance featuring a man and woman who both know who they are – and the man finally realizing what he actually wants. Were that the be-all, end-all of this book, this is an absolute 5*, much like its predecessor. And because its predecessor *was* 5*, I requested this book the instant I saw it. I couldn’t *wait* to dive back into this world.

Unfortunately, that *wasn’t* the be-all, end-all of this book. Instead, the author’s own personal politics pore through the page here and indeed are quite preachy virtually every time she has most any character speak to political things. And considering the male lead here is running for Governor… this is quite often. But if it was just the preachy politics, this would have been a 4* review. It was heavy and pervasive and detracting from the actual story, and that merits the star deduction. (California politics. If Gavin Newsome and Nancy Pelosi are some of your favorite politicians, you’re gonna love this book. If not… you’re not. ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

But even the pervasive preachy politics wasn’t enough to deduct *two* stars and get us down to a three star review from my default of 5 – which again, without the pervasive preachy politics and this next issue, this book would have absolutely gotten.

Unfortunately, that issue is blatant racism. Now, do I think that the author is an active racist? No, I don’t. I’ve interacted with her from time to time online, and I know she is as kind and generous as most any other author I’ve met in similar circles. But I *do* think that, in an extreme bit of irony, her own unconscious biases were so blatant that had nearly this exact same text been written with an all white, rather than an all-POC cast, and with the very things said of POCs that are said of white people in this text, the “woke” crowd would absolutely eviscerate this book as blatantly racist and would have called for the author to be fully “cancelled”. Every single time a white person or anyone that isn’t 110% in lockstep with the leftist agenda is mentioned, they are mentioned with some form of derision, casting them as some form of stupid or evil. Again, I do not think that this is an active thing with the author at all. As best I can tell, she is simply putting her own real world politics and thoughts into the text of this book without considering that perhaps others aren’t as evil or unintelligent as she seems to think they are because they disagree with those politics or have lighter shades of melanin in their skin.

And again, this is truly, truly a shame. Because if you write this same book in largely the same way, but edit out the racism and the pervasive preachy politics, this is *easily* a 5* romance tale. And, perhaps, if you agree with the racism in question and/ or the politics at hand, you may still feel it is 5*.

My reviews speak for themselves. I have a strong record of striving very hard to be as balanced and objective as possible within them, and therefore I hope the author and others take what I have written here as being from someone who genuinely wanted the book to be as strong as possible. Everyone in publishing knows that others are not always so balanced, and at minimum I hope I can at least prevent a few … shall we say, “more vitriolic”… reviews due to pointing out these issues in this review. And maybe even add a few sales, for those that happen to like the author’s perspectives here. ๐Ÿ™‚

I can’t go with a 3 word or less “recommended or not” status like I normally do, so I’ll end with this: Read this book. It truly deserves to be read, and outside of the issues noted here it is genuinely a strong book. But for me, and potentially many others, the issues noted here are major problems with what would otherwise be a truly great romance tale.

This review of Incense and Sensibility by Sonali Dev was originally written on March 29, 2021.

#BookReview: His Mistake by Pandora Pine

Opens With A Bang. Ends With Promise. If you read MM romance virtually at all, you pretty well know that porn level sex is almost a requirement of the genre. Even then, I’ve rarely if ever seen a book actually open in the middle of a sex scene… and yet, this one does. ๐Ÿ™‚ So you know up front what you’re literarily “walking in on”. ๐Ÿ™‚ Beyond that, this works well to set up a series that can in theory run as long as Pine wants it to. There *seem* to be a couple of (possible) connections that more trivia-minded readers might know the specifics of – the Inn in Vermont where half of the couple works for a time seems to be tied into the Valentine’s Inc stories that Pine has taken part in, and another scene takes place in Salem, MA – home to Pine’s long-running Cold Case Psychic world, though it could also be a tie in to her less-paranormal oriented Protect and Serve series. One character in particular seems particularly well set up for Book 2, but Pine may choose instead to continue letting that particular storyline simmer in the background a bit longer – even though that particular character has one of the more interesting ideas I’ve seen in my (admittedly scant) reading of paranormal books over the years. In other words, truly solid story here that has a lot to carry – and manages to pull it off. Very much recommended.

This review of His Mistake by Pandora Pine was originally written on March 6, 2021.

#BookReview: Island Affair by Priscilla Oliveras

Very Vivid And Vibrant. This is one of those hyper-descriptive books that wants you to know the exact color of the dresser in the room where the lead couple first “gets together”. That wants you to be able to smell the exact scents around them as they first open up to each other. That wants you to be able to hear the various island sounds all around them as they go from secluded beach to downtown party. That wants you to be able to taste the Cuban inspired flavors of Key West. In other words, this is one of the most sensual – as in, the literal dictionary definition meaning “devoted to or preoccupied with the senses or appetites” – books I’ve ever read. Oh, and there is a solid romance in here too. Yes, one that perhaps wraps up a bit too tidily a bit too quickly, but eh, that is a common feature of many RWA-strict romance books. As the introduction to a new series, it introduces at least two characters what are obvious targets of subsequent books – without being overly obvious as to which is in the *next* book. And it seems to indicate that it will be a series with call it “medium” ties between the books – characters from each book will show up in other books, but you’ll still be able to read any book in any order (provided you’re not averse to hearing that a lead couple in one romance book actually wound up together – shocker, I know ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). So there really was a lot to like here overall, and only minor quibbles ultimately as far as anything at all to nitpick on. Very much recommended.

This review of Island Affair by Priscilla Oliveras was originally written on March 1, 2021.

#BlogTour: Best Laid Plans by Roan Parrish

For this blog tour, we’re looking at another Book 2 of a series that again can be read as a standalone and again features a pair of brothers. This week we’re looking at Best Laid Plans by Roan Parrish.

Here’s what I had to say about it on Goodreads:

Solid Romance, Animals Again Nearly Steal The Show. This was a solid romance featuring one guy that never really had a chance to find himself, and another that perhaps had too much time to find himself. The connection to the prior book is fairly loose, in the way that many romance series are these days, with Charlie of our primary couple here being introduced in Book 1 (Better Than People) as the brother of one half of that book’s couple. We get a touch of his back ground in that book, mostly as it relates to the brother, but here we get even more. And yes, the brother and his boyfriend from Book 1 show up a few times, even to the point of the new guy in this book befriending the boyfriend of Book 1 – which apparently is common when dating siblings. (At least according to what I’ve observed of my wife and sisters-in-law.) But in addition to the new guy, we are also introduced to a new *cat* in Chapter 1… and this cat damn near steals every scene it is in. Even moreso than the cats and dogs (including Charlie’s own cat) of the first book. For me, this book completely worked. There were far less issues reading it than the first book, as while I identified with different elements here, it wasn’t to the point of knowing all too well what certain … sometimes “debilitating”… issues are like. But, yeah, blog tour – I also knew I had to finish this thing soon no matter what, anyway. ๐Ÿ˜€ Still, truly at least as strong as Book 1 (I could see a strong debate on which tale is “stronger”, and I could probably argue either side of it), and at least for this cat-lover, with its emphasis on cats over dogs, I’ll give this one a *slight* edge on the first one. ๐Ÿ˜€ Very much recommended.

After the jump, about a page or so from Chapter 2 (IIRC), courtesy of the publisher, Carina Adores. And then the book information from the publisher.
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