Review of ‘Code of conduct’ by Cheyenne Blue.

Top ten tennis player Viva Jones had a heated disagreement with lineswoman Gabriela Mendaro about a contentious fault that allegedly cost her US Open title defence. Fifteen months later, they meet by chance on a deserted road and eventually the initial argument turns into attraction. The problem is that under the tennis association code of conduct, players and officials shouldn’t fraternise, let alone date. Will their budding relationship have any future?

I have read a couple of books by this author which, in my opinion, were average. So I didn’t have great expectations about this one but, as I love tennis I decided to read it. I’m so glad I did because I think she surpassed her previous books. Surely it helped that her editor was Sandra Gerth, better known as her pen name Jae. I hope they keep this association in the future.

There are two apparently contradictory paces of the plot. The romance is slow burn while the tennis scenes are fast paced. The main characters’ relationship evolve from antagonists to love interests in an exquisite slow discovery of their attraction and even slower decision to act on it. Their conflict, a strict code of conduct that keeps players and officials in separate worlds, is believable and original. As a matter of fact, the ITF Code of conduct is real and very strict with respect of the behaviour of the officials. The relationship between the main characters is spot on, the ‘will she, won’t she’ is realistic, their chemistry is sizzling and the sex scenes are hot.

In my opinion, what really makes this book so original is how tennis is in the plot’s driving seat. This is a sports’ book as much as a romance. I’d go as far as calling it a ‘tennis thriller’. The descriptions of the matches are accurate, in a way it’s like watching a tennis game in which we support one of the players and we suffer point by point. Tennis is a mental game as much as physical and the author captures this fact perfectly. The mantra ‘this point matters, only this one’ repeated tirelessly by Viva showcases the tension, the competitiveness and the demands of playing tennis at top level. My only doubt about this book is if a person who isn’t a tennis aficionado will enjoy it as much as I did.

The character building is another great aspect of this book. Both leads are very well conceived with their different personalities, their strengths and failures. Fictional and real tennis players mix in the plot providing more realism. It’s interesting to find out more about the umpires’ job, less glamorous than the players but essential to the game. Gabriela is a charming character and I wonder if it’s an homage to former world number three Gabriela Sabatini, my namesake and compatriot, a worldwide beloved and respected tennis player. On the other hand, Alina, the arrogant and distant nemesis of Viva is described perfectly in her cut throat, competitive attitude but with an unexpected final twist.

Overall, a very good read that mixes a slow burn romance with a fast paced tennis environment. A must read for tennis fans. 4.5 stars.

ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of ‘Sparks like ours’ by Melissa Brayden.

This is book 3 of the ‘Seven shores’ series featuring four friends living in Venice beach, California which I recommend to read chronologically. ‘Sparks like ours’ is the story of Gia Malone, a professional surfer, and Elle Britton, world champion surfer and Gia’s fiercest competitor. As number two in the world, Gia is determined to beat Elle whom she considers superficial and too perky. But when an advertising campaign brings them working together, Gia starts reconsidering her opinion about Elle and Elle begins to question her own sexuality. Will they act on their growing attraction or will their budding relationship be destroyed by the extreme competition between them?

This is by far my favourite book in this series, as now the four friends and the secondary characters’ personalities are well defined. The ‘Soho loft’ series is still my favourite but I suppose it’s a matter of taste. ‘Sparks like ours’ is one of Ms. Brayden’s books with less angst or drama I’ve read. The characters’ conflict is more due to career challenges than serious disputes or misunderstandings. It makes the conflict realistic and sad at the same time. The rest is pure Brayden’s usual style: witty dialogues, hot chemistry, well crafted plots. As always, Brayden uses the perfect balance between show and tell. In her books, we are observers as the events unfold and we experience the characters’ emotions which stir our feelings and trigger our imaginations. The author leaves the descriptions to her trademark intimate scenes. And, oh boy, how she excels at that. Ms. Brayden has the lesfic romance formula perfected and us readers cannot get enough. Her books are lesfic heaven.

As a bonus to her fans, there are a few cameo appearances or references to some of her most beloved characters: Molly and Jordan from ‘How sweet it is’, Mallory and Hunter from the ‘Soho loft’ series and Spencer from the forthcoming ‘Love like ours’.

Overall, another winner by Melissa Brayden which will make her readers happy. 4.5 stars.

ARC provided by Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of ‘In development’ by Rachel Spangler.

Cobie Galloway, America’s sweetheart, is tired of playing the straight girl-next-door beauty in teenage movies. She desperately wants to play a badass lesbian action heroine but needs a complete makeover, along with a super famous fake girlfriend. So, who’d be better to play that role than straight pop star Lila Wilder who’s edgy, fiercely independent, bossy but dangerously attractive? Cobie soon finds herself in a moral dilemma: is she prepared to lie her way to get the acting part of her dreams? And what if it’s not so fake after all?

There’s been quite a few lesfic books about fake relationships, sham marriages or ‘fauxmance’ as it’s called in this book. ‘In development’ combines A-list celebrities, a temperamental ice queen and a fake romance all in one package. Even though a part of the plot shows the luxurious life of the rich and famous, this book goes beyond the superficial, dealing with the characters’ search for true happiness and meaningful relationships. Written from both main characters point of view (with the peculiar addition of Cobie and Lila’s agents’ point of views), the author gives the reader full disclosure on their actions though their feelings remain a mystery. At a slow teasing pace, both women start revealing their emotions, contradictions and fears to the reader and to themselves. Their chemistry is perfectly crafted: sizzling, undeniableable and irresistible. The secondary characters play a substantial role in making the story realistic and showcasing different facets of the mains’ personalities. Kudos to Ms. Spangler to raise the issue of conversion therapy which is still allowed in many parts of America.

Overall, a compelling, emotional and engaging story. 4.5 stars.

ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of ‘An outsider inside’ by R. J. Samuel.

In the run-up to Ireland’s referendum on same-sex marriage, Irish-Indian lesbian activist Jaya Dillon has to confront her unresolved issues on bisexualty and her mixed-race origin. When she discovers a manuscript while tidying a rental house, she finds herself emotionally invested in search for its disappeared author.

This is not a typical romance and definitely not an easy read as it touches difficult identity issues such as race, gender and sexuality. On top of that, the author deals with politics, feminism and arranged marriages as well. Some of the real events described in this book are close to my heart as I live in Ireland and witnessed the process of the referendum vote on same sex marriage which was a great advancement for the LGBT community. The myriad of characters – mains or secondary, heroes or villains – are well rounded and realistic and for once I’ve found a set of credible Irish characters in lesfic. There is a book inside this book and Ms. Samuel works well to set each different writing styles. Regarding the mystery disappearance that Jaya tries to solve, the author keeps the reader guessing how events are going to develop including an unexpected twist at the end. It is a testing read, not always pleasant but surely worth it.

Overall, a very well written book. Highly recommended if you are in the mood for a challenging read. 4.5 stars.

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Review of ‘Breakthrough’ by Kris Bryant.

Romance story with the beautiful setting of Alaska. Kennedy Wells is an LA based showbiz journalist sent to Alaska to write an article on fishing after a scandal almost finished her career. Feeling completely out of her comfort zone, she gets into trouble almost immediately and is saved by sexy ranger Brynn Coleman who introduces Kennedy to the vibrant wildlife and breathtaking landscape of the 49th state. Kennedy slowly falls for both Brynn and Alaska but her home and career are back in LA. Will they have a happily ever after?

Written in first person from the point of view of Kennedy, Brynn appears as the epitome of the stoic butch and enigmatic knight in shining armour ready to save Kennedy from her blunders but at the same time, unwilling to open up to her. Ms. Bryant plays well with a few contrasts such as butch – femme, outdoors girl – city girl, hot LA – cold Alaska, all done with wittiness, humour and sizzling chemistry. Nature takes a big role in this book sometimes acting as a beautiful background of the romance, other times at the forefront raising issues such as illegal hunting, wildlife conservation or environment protection. Even though this is mainly a romance novel, there is a mystery subplot that adds a bit of fast-paced action that keeps the reader turning pages. Add a cute atypical “puppy” to the mix and the result is a very enjoyable story.

Overall, a very entertaining romance with a bit of fast-paced action. 4.5 stars.

ARC provided by Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of ‘Outside the law’ by Carsen Taite.

This is the fourth and last book of the ‘Lone Star Law’ series. According to the author, she’s been inspired by watching the tv series Dallas and decided to write something similar but with lesbian main characters. There are loads of plots, subplots and several different characters in the series so it’s easy to get lost. Despite that the author presents here a good catch up with the previous books stories, now that the full series is available I suggest that you read them one after the other.

This is by far the best book of the series and Ms. Taite has saved the best for last. Each book features a romance and the main characters, Tanner Cohen and Sydney Braswell are well rounded, lovable and their chemistry is sizzling. The author follows her usual romance formula between a hot, stoic butch (FBI Special Agent Tanner) and a beautiful but strong-minded femme (Prosecutor Braswell). The twist is that they’ve been a couple during college which didn’t end well so trying to work together and trust each other is a main issue. The author takes the reader between their past and present relationship fluidly. The book found the perfect balance between romance and thriller with a surprising twist at the end. Very entertaining read.

Overall, a very good end of this series. Recommended for both romance and thriller fans. 4.5 stars.

ARC provided by Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of ‘Dangerous waters’ by Radclyffe.

This is book number 7 of Radclyffe’s ‘First responders’ series which can be read as a stand alone novel. According to the author, she got inspiration from the tropical storms that caused havoc and devastation in 2017 in South Florida and Texas. Fusing real events with fiction, several stories run parallel and provide different perspectives of the same event. Among those stories is the romance between National Guard Colonel Sawyer Kincaid and Chief of Emergency service at Miami Memorial Dr Dara Sims who have to relinquish their initial antagonism and work together in order to help evacuation and provide medical services during the storm. As danger approaches and pressure goes high, so does their emotional involvement. Will there be a happily ever after?

This is not a typical Radclyffe romance. It’s true that some of her characteristic elements are present, such as the dark, handsome and stoic butch and the gorgeous but strong femme. However, the main character in this novel is Leo. The storm sets the pace, presents the tension and delivers all the punches in this book. I think it’d be unfair to review this novel as a typical romance because love is in the background letting the storm take precedence. Even the ubiquitous steamy sex scenes so typical of this author are watered down or relegated to a secondary role. Despite that, this is a very good effort by Radclyffe. ‘Dangerous waters’ presents a compelling, emotional, nail biting page-turner about the power of nature and the extraordinary efforts of the first responders who put their lives on the line in order to help others.

Overall, an action packed page-turner by Radclyffe. Highly recommended even though romance is a bit in the background. 4.5 stars.

ARC provided by Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.