Review of ‘Pretending in paradise’ by M. Ullrich.

Caroline Beckett is a PR specialist hired by travelwisdom.com to save them from a possible defamation lawsuit caused by the reckless actions of travel blogger Emma Morgan. When Emma is invited to travel to Miami to review a couples retreat, she jumps at the opportunity to redeem herself. But that chance comes with the condition that her travel companion has to be Caroline and they have to pose as a couple. Pretending to be in a relationship can be a hardship when they cannot stand each other but, as time goes by, both women discover that their early dislike for each other is turning into the complete opposite. Will they have a chance to make their fake relationship real?

This is a sweet slow-burn romance combining the fake romance and the enemies to lovers trope. Ms. Ullrich did a great work in building the relationship between the main characters from dislike to attraction. Both leads are well rounded with very distinctive personalities and in this case opposites attract. While Caroline is self conscious and introvert, Emma is extrovert and sociable. As the story progresses, both women – alongside with the reader – discover that there is more than meets the eye about the other. The chemistry is built slowly but surely and the sex scenes are well written, original and hot.

My only criticism is that I felt that the main premise on why they go on a trip together is a bit hard to believe but once that’s sorted the rest of the book feels credible, as are their interactions with other people and conversations. There is a good balance between funny and more serious moments and the conflict and resolution have everything that a romance novel needs. As a bonus, the epilogue set a few years later provides a neat conclusion to the story.

Overall, a sweet slow-burn romance with well written characters and great chemistry. 4.5 stars.

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

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Review of ‘The do-over’ by Georgia Beers.

Bella Hunt is a successful therapist who, as a teenager, struggled to deal with her sexuality and was bullied by her classmates. Fifteen years later Easton Evans, one of her high school bullies, ends up in her conflict resolution class. Soon Bella discovers that grown-up Easton is friendlier and kinder than her teenage self but still very beautiful. As their mutual attraction develops, their shared past is eventually going to catch up with them…

This is a second-chance romance by Ms. Beers in which she draws on her own high school experience, showing how difficult a time that could be but also how people can change in adulthood. The story is mainly set in the present but it introduces a few flashbacks of some high-school moments that marked Bella’s life. Past and present are woven seamlessly and the flashbacks make the reader understand the present better.

It’s no news that Ms. Beers is an accomplished writer but, still, it really amazed me how well she built the chemistry between the main characters. The dialogues are perfect, their body language is depicted perfectly and the sexual tension is exquisite. This is undoubtedly Georgia Beers at her best. However, it’s disappointing that both sex scenes felt a bit rushed and didn’t reflect the intimacy that the author created so well.

The secondary characters are also very well-rounded. Shondra, Easton’s best friend, plays a great role in showcasing Easton’s goodness, compared to her past self. If there are any doubts of her transformation, motherhood completely redeems her. Emma, Easton’s daugther, is another convincing character though it’s a pity there wasn’t so much interaction with Bella.

Heather and Amy, Bella’s best friends, act like a sounding board and show how far she has overcome her own demons. Her two dogs are lovable fur characters. Somehow the author managed to balance the apparent fierceness¬†of a pitbull with the gentleness of their temperaments. Also, kudos to Ms. Beers to portray their distinct personalities so well.

My major criticism and the reason why my rating dropped is that the main conflict, that is, Bella keeping her real identity a secret from Easton, seems a bit forced into the plot. I understand why Bella was hesitant to reveal who she was but, for me, it dragged for too long and it didn’t flow naturally in the story. Maybe letting the conflict develop earlier in the book would have made it more believable and the ending wouldn’t have felt so rushed. Despite this, because of the lovable leads, their amazing chemistry and the fantastic secondary characters, this is a very recommended read.

Overall, a very good second-chances romance with an amazing chemistry that only a few lesfic authors can create. 4 stars.

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

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Review of ‘Thorn’ by Anna Burke.

Rowan is the daughter of a merchant who unknowingly gives her a cursed rose taken during an ill-fated hunting trip. The rose was in a land of eternal winter inhabited by a mysterious woman called the Huntress. Furious at the merchant for killing her wolves and stealing her rose, the Huntress irrupts into the merchant’s house and takes the rose back along with Rowan. Trapped in the Huntress’s realm of eternal winter and curse, Rowan will have to choose between her family loyalties and her growing feelings for the Huntress.

Following my new year resolution to read more books out of my comfort zone, I chose a genre that I seldom read: fantasy. ‘Thorn’ is a retelling of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. In this novel, according to the author, bravery and not beauty defines Beauty. As in her previous book ‘Compass Rose’ Ms. Burke is very poetic in her metaphors, this time changing naval comparisons for winter ones. Her depiction of the freezing landscape with its vast gamut of whites, menacing beasts and dimmed sunlight acts as an ideal backdrop to this beautiful story.

This novel is written in first person from the point of view of Rowan except for a few short sections written in third person point of view from the Huntress. Both main characters are well-rounded and believable and the reader cannot help but feel the pain of both: the Huntress as a victim of her own arrogance and Rowan as a casualty of her father’s weakness. Underneath lies a heavy criticism to the patriarchal system, in which women are traded as goods in the name of their fathers’ interests, and the confict between family loyalties and a woman’s search for true love.

‘A rose for a rose, a thorn for a thorn’. With each repetition of this mantra, the reader sees this phrase in a different light. The tone of this novel shifts back-and-forth from poetic and romantic as a rose, to hurting and heartbreaking as a thorn. Similarly, the pace changes from slow-burn romance to fast paced thriller. This book has been a pleasure to read and shows that Anna Burke is quickly becoming more than a promising writer.

Overall, a very good lesfic retelling of the classic ‘Beauty and the Beast’. A tale of suffering, bravery and love conquering all. 5 stars.

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

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Review of ‘Major surgery’ by Lola Keeley.

Veronica Mallick is the head of the Acute Medical Unit in a London hospital. She’s both an accomplished surgeon and an efficient administrator. Major Cassie Taylor, a former army doctor, is the new Head of Trauma. Her preference for action rather than becoming entangled in the hospital’s bureaucracy grates on Veronica’s nerves. But when they both realise that there is a colleague defrauding the hospital, they join forces to prove him guilty. Will the investigation fuel their budding attraction or make their initial antagonism worse?

I have to admit that I had big expectations about this book after Ms. Keeley’s debut novel ‘The music and the mirror’ made into my list of Best Lesfic Books of 2018. Even though I liked ‘Major surgery’, it didn’t blow my mind as her previous one.

Having said that, Ms. Keeley, who comes from an IT background, has the impressive ability to write about dispariging worlds with insider knowledge, first in ballet and now medicine. This novel provides a good insight to UK’s health system, its strengths and shortcomings.

Written in third person from the point of view of both main characters, this is an interracial, ‘enemies to lovers’ romance. Even though their initial antagonism and their eventual relationship is credible, I didn’t feel that their chemistry was off the charts. However, it might be me comparing this couple to Victoria and Anna in ‘The music and the mirror’ or Eden and Simone in ‘And the bells are ringing’, her short story in ‘Language of love’. Ms. Keeley knows how to write damn hot couples.

The story has an investigation side, with someone embezzling hospital funds and trying to frame Cassie, and a minor issue in Veronica’s family. Both conflicts are solved relatively easy which agrees with the light tone of the novel.

Overall, a very good medical romance with the ‘enemies to lovers’ trope. 4 stars.

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

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Review of ‘The Goodmans’ by Clare Ashton.

Dr. Abby Hart lives in a little town in England secretly in love with her straight best friend Jude Goodman. Her mother, Maggie Goodman, is like a parent to Abby. But Abby isn’t the only one hiding secrets and they could surface any time with enormous consequences for everyone involved.

What an incredible read. Ms. Ashton has done it again. The first impression is that this is a ‘best friends to lovers’ romance but it’s so much more. This book has it all: love, romance, family drama, angst, quirky humour, sex, social criticism, redemption and deep insights in motherhood and ageing. It even has unexpected twists and turns.

‘The Goodmans’ is written in third person from the point of view of the three main characters Abby, Jude and Maggie. The author finds a distinctive voice for each one respecting their personalities and ages. Maggie is described in all her complexity and Abby in her insecure but honest self. The dialogues are engaging and the descriptions of a small town in middle England are realistic and evocative. The social critique is current but universal at the same time. As she did in her previous novel ‘Poppy Jenkins’, Ms. Ashton builds the mains’ chemistry and pent up attraction to superlative levels and delivers the intimate scenes beautifully.

This book can be at times funny, heartbreaking, feel-good, inspiring, surprising or shocking. It raises the level of lesfic novels to its highest standard. Ms. Ashton delivered a tale that transcends lesbianism and England to describe humanity in general. Highly recommended.

Overall, an excellent novel recommended to anyone who enjoys romance and family drama. 5+ stars.

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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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