Thursday, March 4, 2021

Contemporary Romance Review: Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron

Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron
Published: March 2nd, 2021

Publisher: Forever

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Tropes: Forced proximity, fake engagement, friends-to-lovers

Heat rating: 🔥.5 (kissing + closed-door sex scenes)

# of pages: 384

My rating: 4 stars

Acquired this book: From the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for honest consideration

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Buy: Amazon Canada || Amazon US || Indigo

Reena Manji doesn’t love her career, her single status, and most of all, her family inserting themselves into every detail of her life. But when caring for her precious sourdough starters, Reena can drown it all out. At least until her father moves his newest employee across the hall—with hopes that Reena will marry him.

But Nadim’s not like the other Muslim bachelors-du-jour that her parents have dug up. If the Captain America body and the British accent weren’t enough, the man appears to love eating her bread creations as much as she loves making them. She sure as hell would never marry a man who works for her father, but friendship with a neighbor is okay, right? And when Reena’s career takes a nosedive, Nadim happily agrees to fake an engagement so they can enter a couples video cooking contest to win the artisan bread course of her dreams.

As cooking at home together brings them closer, things turn physical, but Reena isn’t worried. She knows Nadim is keeping secrets, but it’s fine—secrets are always on the menu where her family is concerned. And her heart is protected… she’s not marrying the man. But even secrets kept for self preservation have a way of getting out, especially when meddling parents and gossiping families are involved. 

After seeing Accidentally Engaged everywhere for months, I was excited to dive into the story of a bread-baking Indian-Canadian woman and her fake engagement to a hot, British-accented, ‘brown Captain America’. I was especially excited the book was set in nearby Toronto, a city I’ve spent countless hours in throughout my life. Accidentally Engaged was funny, touching, romantic, and dealt with a lot of relatable, real-life issues.

I liked Reena so much. She wasn’t happy with her life - she hated working in finance but wasn’t sure what else to do; her meddling family drove her crazy; she’d had a string of unsuccessful relationships; and she had struggled with her mental health in the past. The only thing she truly loved was cooking, especially bread making. I really appreciated the fact Reena was in her thirties and was still figuring things out; she felt lost and uncertain and like everyone around her had their life together, which I think a lot of people can relate to. When she began to form a connection with Nadim, she didn’t believe it could actually be that easy, so she tried to keep it light and friendly. Add in the fact her parents wanted them to be together, plus the fact she knew Nadim was keeping secrets, and she was just looking for a bit of fun with her hot neighbour. I enjoyed these two together so much - their banter was funny, they had great chemistry, and they balanced each other nicely.

I loved the cultural aspect of the book. As a white Canadian who grew up in an area with very little diversity, I love learning about other cultures, and I loved the Canadian ties in this book. I found Nadim’s history so interesting - he was originally from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, then he was sent to boarding school in England before working in London, and then he was eventually sent by his dad to Toronto to work for Reena’s dad. I loved that the pair shared a passion for food and connected over the food they grew up with. I also loved how Nadim, who had lived all over, connected home to the senses - a feeling, a scent, a taste - and he found a home in Reena.

I also really appreciated the complicated family relationships in this book and that nothing was resolved ‘neatly’. Reena’s whole family dynamic was wrapped in secrets, lies, jealousy, and resentments. Throughout the course of the book, the Manjis learned to open up and be more honest with each other - usually when forced rather than voluntarily - and instead of things being magically solved with a hug and a five-minute conversation, they learned to (mostly) accept and love each other. I liked how realistic it felt. It also helped that some of the interactions, especially when confessions were involved, were absolutely hilarious.

I loved the beginning of the book and found it compelling and fun, but the middle - and the main conflict - made me lose a bit of interest in the story. It was all so complicated and dramatic, and there were so many characters - people we never even met, only heard about - and I found it hard to keep track of all of them. The story began to drag for me and I went from loving the book to setting it aside for longer periods of time. Thankfully it picked up again and I ended up appreciating how things were resolved, and I thought the ending was really sweet and romantic.

Overall, I really enjoyed Accidentally Engaged and I know I’ll recommend it often to fellow romance lovers. 

Have you read Accidentally Engaged? Do you enjoy books about other cultures? Do you like to bake? Do you consider yourself a foodie?

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Contemporary Romance Review: The Knockout Rule by Kelly Siskind

The Knockout Rule (Showmen #4) by Kelly Siskind
Published: February 24th, 2021

Publisher: CD Books

Genre: Contemporary romance

Tropes: Forced proximity, friends to lovers, sports romance, opposites attract

Heat level: 🔥🔥🔥

# of pages: 340

Acquired this book: From the author in exchange for honest consideration

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Buy on Amazon Canada || Amazon US || Indigo

Growing up with an adoring father for a boxing legend isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It looks more like hospital visits, bloody noses, and cracked ribs.

Isla Slade now works as a physiotherapist, helping athletes heal their bodies. Except for boxers. She has no interest in reliving the stress of her teen years. Dating someone in the boxing world? She’d rather snort wasabi powder.

Until she meets Preston Church.

Preston manages heavyweight boxing darling Brick Kramarov. A brute who’s built tougher than his name, with a cocky attitude to boot. She wants nothing to do with either man, but her father begs her to help them prepare for a huge Vegas fight.

She doesn’t expect Preston to recite romantic poems and slowly break her resolve. His fascinating mind gets under her skin, even if his star athlete reminds her how much she hates boxing.

Too bad it’s Brick coaching Preston how to woo Isla, falling for her from the sidelines. Once she finds out, she’ll have to decide if she can risk loving another man who puts it all on the line for the knockout.

Kelly Siskind’s Showmen standalone series have quickly become favourites of mine. They feature unique characters, lots of heart and humour, and swoony romances. The Knockout Rule was quite different from the other three books - it was slower paced, more intense, and didn’t feature the quirkiness I’ve come to expect from Kelly’s characters - but it was a beautiful story about life, family, and love, and I know Isla and Eric will stick with me right along with all the other characters from this series.

Isla and Eric are such passionate characters who did things with their whole hearts. Their relationship started out with each of them assuming certain personas and making assumptions about each other. I loved that Eric was this big brute of a guy whose boxing persona was all brawn and no brains, but he was incredibly intelligent, sensitive, thoughtful, and loved his family more than anything. Everything he did was for them, and that made me love him so much. Isla was strong and resilient because she’d had to be; with a professional boxer for a father and a mother who found it too easy to walk away, she’d had to learn to take care of herself and do what was right for her. That meant not allowing boxers into her life because she knew how damaging the sport was and she refused to let herself get close to anyone who was willing to do that to themselves. And then Eric came along…their chemistry was undeniable (and so hot!), and I loved the connection and friendship they formed before they took things further.

There was just so much to love about this book. The characters were so deep and real, and we got to know them slowly and thoroughly. I knew next to nothing about professional boxing, so I found that interesting, along with the physiotherapy aspect from Isla’s job. The Vegas setting was fun, and I absolutely loved Eric’s dog, Whit. He had so much personality and by the end, I was as in love with him as I was with Eric and Isla. I also really appreciated the mental health rep; as someone with anxiety, I thought it was handled compassionately and realistically, and added even more depth to Isla’s character that made me connect to her on a deep level.

If you want to take a deep dive into a slow-burn romance with a ton of heart, The Knockout Rule is perfect for you. These characters are sure to leave an imprint on your heart.

Have you read The Knockout Rule or any of the other Showmen books? Do you enjoy sports romances? Have a favourite?

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Regency Romance Review: The Duke Heist by Erica Ridley

The Duke Heist (The Wild Wynchesters #1) by Erica Ridley
Published: February 9th, 2021

Publisher: Forever

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency Romance)

Heat level: 🔥🔥

# of pages: 352 

My rating: 4 stars

Acquired this book: From the publisher in exchange for honest consideration

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Buy: Amazon Canada || Amazon US || Indigo

Chloe Wynchester is completely forgettable—a curse that gives her the ability to blend into any crowd. When the only father she's ever known makes a dying wish for his adopted family of orphans to recover a missing painting, she's the first one her siblings turn to for stealing it back. No one expects that in doing so, she'll also abduct a handsome duke.

Lawrence Gosling, the Duke of Faircliffe, is tortured by his father's mistakes. To repair his estate's ruined reputation, he must wed a highborn heiress. Yet when he finds himself in a carriage being driven hell-for-leather down the cobblestone streets of London by a beautiful woman who refuses to heed his commands, he fears his heart is hers. But how can he sacrifice his family's legacy to follow true love?

Continuing on with my new-found interest in regency romance, my second foray into the genre was The Duke Heist. In this book, we’re introduced to the eclectic and eccentric Wynchester siblings - a group of orphans who were adopted by a baron. I love stories about found families and strong bonds, and the Wynchesters quickly became one of my new favourite groups of siblings. This book was highly entertaining - it was laugh-out-loud funny, had a swoonworthy romance, and a lot of heart.

Chloe Wynchester is completely forgettable - or at least that's what she thinks. This comes in handy when she needs to slip in and out of situations that require her to become a certain character - like while infiltrating a reading group to steal a painting that once belonged to her family. She’s used to being invisible and even prefers it because it means people can’t get close and she can’t get hurt. But when she accidentally kidnaps a duke, she soon finds herself in a situation she’s never been in before: Lawrence, the Duke of Faircliffe, sees her. Truly sees her. She’s no longer invisible and forgettable, and she finds herself falling for the man she once assumed was a stuck-up, pompous jerk.

This book was so much fun. I spent a good portion of it with a smile on my face and I laughed out loud often. I really felt for and identified with Chloe - feeling invisible and forgettable, longing for connection. It was so heartwarming seeing her with her siblings and watching as she learned just how much they loved, supported, and saw her in ways she never realized. Just like I love books about found families, I also love stories where people find a sense of belonging, and Chloe and Lawrence both found that from each other and from the people already in their lives. As for the romance, I loved Chloe and Lawrence’s chemistry and banter, and found it easy to root for them.

I did find the pacing of this book a bit off at times. What I assumed was the climax happened about three-quarters of the way through and wasn’t actually the climax. Also, for some reason I can’t quite pinpoint, this book often felt like a young adult novel. As I was reading, I’d frequently forget Chloe, her siblings, and Lawrence were in their twenties and thirties rather than in their teens. It’s not a bad thing, but it was a bit strange at times, especially as the romance heated up.

The Duke Heist was a delight. It was exactly the type of fun, entertaining, light-hearted yet pull-at-your-heart-strings romance I’m after these days. I can’t wait for more of the Wynchester siblings (I’m particularly excited for the second book), and I’d love to see this made into a TV series.

Have you read The Duke Heist? Do you have any recommendations for a regency romance newbie like me? Do you enjoy books about found families too and do you have any recs?

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