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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