It's May book reviews time and the #PHSBookReviews team had another great collection of reads to enjoy while the sun shone down on the UK over Easter!
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That Kind of Guy by Talia Hibbert
She wants a fake relationship. He needs something real.
If there’s one thing Rae can’t stand, it’s pity. She’s forty, frazzled, and fed up—so attending an awards ceremony alone while her ex swans about with his new wife? Not an option. To avoid total humiliation, Rae needs a date of her own. And her young, hot-as-hell new best friend is the perfect candidate…
Zach Davis, king of casual hookups, has a secret: the notorious womaniser craves emotional connection, and anonymous encounters leave him feeling hollow. After years of performance, Zach’s desperate to be himself. So why does he agree to play Rae’s fake boyfriend? And why does it feel so easy?
When the line between pretence and desire blurs, Zach’s forced to face an unexpected truth: there’s nothing phoney about his need for Rae. But the jaded divorcée’s been hurt by playboy men before. Can a weekend of faking it prove that Zach’s for real?
Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Ali
I'm obsessed with Talia Hibbert's books. Obsessed I tell you. They are funny and sexy and full of heart in a way that delights me. And That Kind of Guy is the final book in her Ravenswood series - the first small town romance series I read by a Black British author. So we already know Zach and we already know of Rae - or do we?
The truth is we only know them on a surface level, and in That Kind of Guy Hibbert does what she always does so well, which is to take us deep into her characters' psyche, where we learn the truths about them that they are afraid of showing to the world. Zach is demisexual, and Hibbert's exploration of what that means for him and his character development is dealt with sensitively; and Rae’s previous relationship, and the impact that it’s had on her confidence and who she is around her former friends and colleagues is beautifully drawn.
Also, there’s the two of them. I love their descent into full blown head-over-heels-for-each-other-ness, and they’re a couple who become so comfortable within themselves when they’re together. It makes me melt. Plus there’s a dog. And ONLY ONE BED. Oh yes. Outstanding.
In Another Country by Kellum Jeffries
Declan Kelly’s a closeted bisexual cop in a Southern military town, still reeling from his recent divorce. When he’s assigned to work undercover at a gay bar, he meets a gorgeous guy who seems like a likely suspect in the recent robberies of club-goers—but who instead turns out to be a Canadian Mountie named Tupper, temporarily stationed at nearby Fort Bragg for anti-terrorism training.
Dec and Tupper have a steamy evening together, and Tupper wants more, but Dec’s afraid of needing anyone again—especially someone who’s only going to be around for a short time. As they get closer and their nights together get even hotter, Dec has to choose between safe loneliness and the risky possibility of love.
Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Mercy
Dec and Tupper have taken over my dreams. I may have even prayed to the book gods for a sequel. I NEED to know what happens next with these two.
I know it is obvious, I adored this book. It has my favorite combination; characters I can relate to, a relationship I am rooting for, and moving intimacy. I really enjoyed that the set-up was grounded in a real-world problem that impacts many of us. Jeffries gave Dec and Tupper perfectly unique and fitting personalities that worked amazingly together. Both men felt authentic from the first page to the last. I also found the way Dec’s backstory was peppered throughout to be perfect.
There were moments of vulnerability that really clawed at my heart. Jeffries nailed the ebb and flow of tension in new relationships. I must also mention the great use of consent and safe sex practices as well. High five for that! I will be recommending this book the next time I’m asked for something unique and full of the feels.
The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, not big, important emotions - like grief. And love. He thinks he's defective. His family knows better - that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly refuses to consider a relationship, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.
As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. So when the opportunity arises to go to America and meet a potential husband, she can't turn it down. This could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn't go quite as planned. Esme's lessons in love seem to be working... but only on herself. She's hopelessly smitten with a man who's convinced he can never return her affection.
As Esme's time in the United States dwindles, will Khai let his head catch up with his heart? Will he find the strength to let go, and let love in?
Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Ali
The long awaited sequel to last year’s breakout novel The Kiss Quotient, The Bride Test introduces us to Khai who is the cousin of Michael from the first book. Like Stella in The Kiss Quotient, Khai is autistic, and Helen Hoang’s depiction of his character is true to form – well-rounded, with plenty of depth and character. He’s kind and geeky in the best kind of way and we fall in love with him far sooner than he falls in love with himself.
His love interest, Esme, is a Vietnamese single mother who has the opportunity to come to the US as a prospective bride for Khai. She is hard working and determined and brings light and love into his life. Their Happy Ever After is one that is earned, and seeing them working so hard to try and make each other happy was a delight to read.
Also, make sure to read the author’s note, which gives insight into Hoang’s familial inspiration for the character of Esme and her journey!
New Ink on Life by Jennie Davids
Quiet does not equal weak…
Leaving a dependable job to apprentice as a tattoo artist was a drastic step after surviving breast cancer, but Cassie Whiteaker is nearly five years cancer-free. Nearly. She’s not ready to go out on her own until she clears that all-important hurdle. Also off-limits are relationships and sex—something Cassie is sure she’ll never want again.
Struggling tattoo shop owner MJ Flores doesn’t give a damn what people think, but losing Thorn & Thistle would mean losing everything. When her former mentor’s protégé arrives at her door, MJ hires her out of obligation…at first. Cross-stitching goody-goodies are not her type, but Cassie’s business background might just get the shop back on solid footing. They strike a bargain: Cassie will enact new marketing plans and MJ will teach her to find her inner bitch.
Only when clients request to see Cassie—having learned of the beautiful, compassionate tattoos she creates for survivors and their families—does MJ realize all Cassie has endured. And as Cassie’s fears fade, she finds it harder to keep her admiration for her bad-girl boss from reawakening all she’d feared was lost.
Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Ali
I couldn’t be happier with the number of f/f romances hitting mainstream romance. Keep ‘em coming if you please! Especially if they’re as well written as this one.
Jennie Davids’ New Ink on Life is the first in what promises to be a wonderful series about a tattoo shop, and this first book follows owner MJ and new apprentice Cassie. I found both characters engaging, and the blossoming romance between them was funny and navigated the mentor-mentee line well. Cassie’s strength and determination to do something that really matters to her was pretty damn inspiring, and I also loved the fact she brought her previous marketing experience to the table and made MJ sit up and take notice of her in a way other than just an apprentice tattoo artists.
There’s angst in this book – Cassie is a cancer survivor after all, and MJ’s been crushed by the actions of her previous business partner – but it’s the kind of angst which elevates a book and makes the Happy Ever After ending that much more satisfying. Read for strong women, bossing life, and falling in love..
Unlaced by the Duke by Lara Temple
A plain Regency governess...
...In bed with the Duke!
Unceremoniously packed off to Scotland to care for the Duke of Lochmore’s young son, practical widow Joane Langdale fears she will be ignored―as always. But the deep connection and heated passion that develops between her and Benneit is far more dangerous! When Benneit is expected to propose to another, how can Jo dream of becoming his duchess?
Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Megan
Widowed with a young child, Benneit Lochmore knows he needs to remarry. He's decided in a plan that will get him a wife, lucrative business opportunity, and mother to his son.
Joane Langdale needs to get away. After becoming a widow and being shuffled from different cousin's home and taking care of their children she is willing to accompany Benneit and Jamie to Scotland to attend to Jamie but as sparks fly and feelings deepen can she leave after all?
While the story line is predictable, Lara Temple tells an excellent tale. With the perfect details and emotions it is easy to start reading and not put it down. Between Jo’s discovery of Scotland and independence, it's clear to herself to see how happy she can be and that Scotland is home to her. Add in her relationship with Benneit and there's no reason to leave except for his upcoming wedding to another woman. Benneit knows he can't go through with the wedding when he is clearly in love with Jo but he needs to break things off before him, Jo, and Jamie can find happiness.
The moment of truth comes at the perfect time in the perfect location, to be in the stones and rain in the carriage where it all began completes the tale. Benneit and Jo's characters, as well as several others, really come to life so that it's easy to imagine being there and watching these acquaintances fall in love. It also has you cheering for some of the other characters to find love themselves! A perfect read to enjoy and believe in happily ever after again!
Under His Protection by LaQuette
They can escape their enemies, but not the desire between them.
Prosecutor Camden Warren is on the fast track to professional nirvana. With his charm, his sharp legal mind, and his father as chief judge in the highest court in NY, he can’t fail. Nothing can derail his rise to the top… until an attempt on his life forces him to accept the help of a man he walked out on five years ago.
Wounded in the line of duty, Lieutenant Elijah Stephenson wants to ride his new desk job until retirement—not take a glorified babysitting gig with more risk than it’s worth… especially not protecting the entitled lawyer who disappeared after the best sex of their lives.
The threat against Camden’s life is real, but their passion for each other might prove the greatest danger they’ve yet to face.
Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Ali
I love this book. I’m not always a romantic suspense kind of girl, finding the storylines sometimes a little too frenetic or stressful for when I want to curl up with a romance, but LaQuette’s Under His Protection is not one of these. She takes some cracking tropes and plays with them: there’s the second chance romance, where their connection after a one night stand five years ago scared Camden so much he left without ever looking back; there’s the forced proximity trope, with them both holed up together in Elijah’s house whilst Camden’s life is in danger; and then there’s what I call the wider family trope, where one character gets enveloped into the other’s family.
This book delivers all three perfectly.
It’s funny and heartwarming, with the two of them alternately frustrated with, and a sucker for, the other. There’s Elijah’s family who turn up for a visit he’d forgotten about, who are warm and funny and seem to cook the most delicious sounding food – I had to go make myself multiple snacks whilst reading this book! A thoroughly enjoyable read, with emotional sex scenes and the best kind of payoff.
One for the keeper shelf.
Spacer's Cinderella by Adria Rose
She comes from nothing. He has everything.
Born on an abandoned colony barely held together by sealant tape and hope, Aurora Sato is at the very bottom of the social pecking order. Hard work and brains got her into a coveted spot in the quadrant’s top university… But her new supervisor is a woman who's not about to let an upstart like Aurora get anything close to a break.
And a break is exactly what Aurora needs right now. Her home colony is dying and nobody is in any rush to save it or her family. Aurora’s research project is their last hope, but only if she can complete it in time — an impossible task.
One night out is all she’ll allow herself. One night to forget her troubles. She never expects to meet a man who dazzles all her senses. Magnus Thorne is a battle-hardened, ruthless cyborg. Rich, respected and powerful, he’s too much for innocent Aurora. For one magical night he makes her feel like a princess, awakening a longing she doesn’t know how to quell.
But Aurora is in more danger than she realizes. And Magnus isn’t about to let her face it alone, no matter how hard she tries to shut him out.He's determined to break every rule to save her from ruin. But will she trust him enough to let him?
Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Ali
I love an academic heroine. I love a science fiction romance. So seeing the two together in Adria Rose’s Spacer’s Cinderella? Perfection.
Rose gets the world building just right in this novel that manages to balance its heroine’s smarts with a shy nature that’s been influenced by her upbringing on one of the poorer planets. Hero Magnus is alpha af, without being a dickhead, though there are some delicious moments when he just wants to push through and make everything in Aurora’s life better; those moments are made all the more satisfying through his restraint and acknowledgement of his privilege.
There’s a suspense element to the narrative, as there often is in speculative romance, but it’s balanced well with the key romance plot, and also the science. The science. This is competency porn at its best; with characters who know what they’re talking about and a world of science and technology that is so well thought out, I completely bought in.
So much fun and a delight to read.
In a Badger Way by Shelly Laurenston
Petite, kind, brilliant, and young, Stevie is nothing like the usual women bodyguard Shen Li is interested in. Even more surprising, the youngest of the lethal, ball-busting, and beautiful MacKilligan sisters is terrified of bears. But she’s not terrified of pandas. She loves pandas.
Which means that whether Shen wants her to or not, she simply won’t stop cuddling him. He isn’t some stuffed Giant Panda, ya know! He is a Giant Panda shifter. He deserves respect and personal space. Something that little hybrid is completely ignoring.
But Stevie has a way of finding trouble. Like going undercover to take down a scientist experimenting on other shifters. For what, Shen doesn’t want to know, but they’d better find out. And fast. Stevie might be the least violent of the honey badger sisters, but she’s the most dangerous to Shen’s peace of mind. Because she has absolutely no idea how much trouble they’re in . . . or just how damn adorable she is.
Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Ali
I read both this and the first book in this series in less than 24 hours, which gives a clue about how much I loved this. Laurenston’s done something really interesting, by having multiple povs, so you get to know all three of the MacKilligan sisters really well, whilst still managing to focus in on one central romance in each book. And in In a Badger Way, it’s youngest sister Stevie’s turn.
Stevie, part-Honey Badger, part-Siberian Tiger, is a genius. That’s not hyperbole, she genuinely is a genius. Internationally famous composer at 10, and now working with the top scientists in her field. All that fame, though, has an impact on a person, and Stevie suffers from acute panic. Some of the funniest moments are where she gets startled by the bears who live in the houses near her and her sisters, and she clambers onto the ceiling, or hides behind Shen.
Oh Shen. The Wild Panda shifter I didn’t know I needed in my life. He is funny and constantly calm in a way that offsets Stevie’s frenetic energy perfectly, and I love the fact she just decides this is it for the two of them. Watching them fall in love, whilst surrounded by the chaos that is Stevie’s family, is both heartwarming and hilarious.
A really unique way of engaging with a larger cast, I cannot wait for Max’s book!.
The Doctor's Secret by Heidi Cullinan
Dr. Hong-Wei Wu has come to Copper Point, Wisconsin, after the pressures of a high-powered residency burned him out of his career before he started. Ashamed of letting his family down after all they’ve done for him, he plans to live a quiet life as a simple surgeon in this tiny northern town. His plans, however, don’t include his outgoing, kind, and attractive surgical nurse, Simon Lane.
Simon wasn’t ready for the new surgeon to be a handsome charmer who keeps asking him for help getting settled and who woos him with amazing Taiwanese dishes. There’s no question—Dr. Wu is flirting with him, and Simon is flirting back. The problem is, St. Ann’s has a strict no-dating policy between staff, which means their romance is off the table… unless they bend the rules.
But a romance that keeps them—literally—in the closet can’t lead to happy ever after. Simon doesn’t want to stay a secret, and Hong-Wei doesn’t want to keep himself removed from life, not anymore. To secure their happiness, they’ll have to change the administration’s mind. But what other secrets will they uncover along the way, about Copper Point… and about each other?
Rated: 4.5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Ali
This is one of the best medical romances I’ve read in a long while, and that’s probably because of Hong-Wei. I love a burned out character, mainly because I’ve been through it enough times myself, so when it’s dealt with the right way, it resonates with me. And boy did this resonate. Cullinan’s exploration of his reasons for moving, and his own fears about whether or not he’s made the right decision, is nuanced and sensitive. And then he meets Sam.
Sam is sweet and outgoing and definitely not dateable in a hospital where colleagues aren’t supposed to date, but love will out – of course. This is another romance that engages well with the politics of dating within the workplace, and it was interesting to see this as something that was explicitly forbidden, how they worked around the administrative policy. Utterly charming with a well deserved HEA.
Reverb by Anna Zabo
The tougher they are, the harder they fall.
Twisted Wishes bass player Mish Sullivan is a rock goddess—gorgeous, sexy and comfortable in the spotlight. With fame comes unwanted attention, though: a stalker is desperate to get close. Mish can fend for herself, just as she always has. But after an attack lands her in the hospital, the band reacts, sticking her with a bodyguard she doesn’t need or want.
David Altet has an instant connection with Mish. A certified badass, this ex-army martial arts expert can take down a man twice his size. But nothing—not living as a trans man, not his intensive military training—prepared him for the challenge of Mish. Sex with her is a distraction neither of them can afford, yet the hot, kink-filled nights keep coming.
When Mish’s stalker ups his game, David must make a choice—lover or bodyguard. He’d rather have Mish alive than in his bed. But Mish wants David, and no one, especially not a stalker, will force her to give him up.
Rated: 4 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Imogen
If you think you are ready for the most raucous, riotous, rock and roll romance you’ve ever read that proudly flies every color of the rainbow flag, well, you're right. We are all ready for this. Reverb is book three in Zabo’s Twisted Wishes series, focusing on the hottest, queerest, sexiest punk rock band you WISH was on your spotify playlist. The first two books saw the rest of the band end up in the most brilliant M/M relationships, leaving only bi bass playing Rock Goddess Mish. Well, Mish and her stalker…Enter ex-soldier, now bodyguard David. He’s there to guard Mish’s body; too bad he’s also obsessed with watching it, touching it, kissing it. Whelp.
The characters in Reverb fought hard to get where they are, and be who they want to be. Mish has dragged herself from poverty to be the strong woman she is today, just as capable of owning the stage in her kick ass heels as punching anyone who tries to touch her without permission. David on the other hand, had a very different journey. 12 years as a soldier was one thing. Transitioning into the man he always knew he was, that was something else. He fought to be who he is, and finding a woman who wants every part of him is more than he ever dreamed. Except, can he give up everything he has fought so hard for to be with her?
Reverb is not just sexy, down and dirty, a little bit kinky and deliciously queer. It’s also brilliantly open and healthy. Consent can be and is sensual. With Mish and David, tearing yourself away from kissing your lover to discuss where and how you want to be touched is HOT.
4 outta 5, due to over expositioning. A little less repetition and a little more editing would have tightened the narrative.
(BTW Mish totally looks like Halestorm's Lzzy Hale in my head)
Lost in You by Lauren Dane
Getting lost in the arms of a bad boy never felt so good...
Time—and the military— have made Joe Harris a better man than he was when he left Petal, GA ten years ago. Now that he’s back, all is wants is to take care of his dad, get his garage up and running and spend time with his dog. He has no plans for a relationship, especially one with his best friend’s kid sister, no matter how much she tempts him. And boy does she ever.
Rated: 4 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Tamara
Joe is an ex bad boy, but has learned life lessons in the army, and has finally come home after ten years of absence. The minute he shows his face in small town Petal, Beth sets her eyes on him. Their chemistry is sizzling, but they both have troubled pasts and Joe is not sure if he wants to put more burden on Beth. But love will conquer all, with the same obstacles of course!
There are a lot of other characters - including our beloved Buck! - but in some ways, they made the narrative even easier to follow. I enjoyed every minute of this book, as both main characters are really interesting. Beth, in particular, is a special kind of girl and has a great sense of humor; she made me laugh throughout the book, and also made me cry.
This is a perfect book for relaxing, preferably on the beach with a cocktail in hand. Easy to read and I would recommend it for your summer vacation.
American Fairytale by Adriana Herrera
Fairy-tale endings don’t just happen; they have to be fought for.
New York City social worker Camilo Santiago Briggs grew up surrounded by survivors who taught him to never rely on anything you didn’t earn yourself. He’s always dreamed of his own happily-ever-after, but he lives in the real world. Men who seem too good to be true…usually are. And Milo never ever mixes business with pleasure…until the mysterious man he had an unforgettable hookup with turns out to be the wealthy donor behind his agency’s new, next-level funding.
Thomas Hughes built a billion-dollar business from nothing: he knows what he wants and isn’t shy about going after it. When the enthralling stranger who blew his mind at a black-tie gala reappears, Tom’s more than ready to be his Prince Charming. Showering Milo with the very best of everything is how Tom shows his affection.
Trouble is, Milo’s not interested in any of it. The only thing Milo wants is Tom.
Fairy-tale endings take work as well as love. For Milo, that means learning to let someone take care of him, for a change. And for Tom, it’s figuring out that real love is the one thing you can’t buy.
Rated: 3 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Frankie
This is pretty much a modern day fairytale; you have charming, charismatic millionaire Thomas who believes everything in life can be achieved as long as you throw enough money at it – how wrong he is! The you have the down-to-earth, caring social worker Milo who knows the true value of money and of people. I think you can see where this is going! It is literally love – or should that be lust -- at first sight with Thomas and Milo. Thomas being the typical millionaire likes to show off his wealth and then Milo – who out of the whole book is my favorite character – who would much rather pay his own way in life, even though he hasn’t got two dimes to rub together. The story does like to play on their financial differences, which I found at times a little patronizing, especially where Milo was concerned.
This is the first book I have read by Ms Herrera and to be perfectly honestly I wasn’t taken with it; I liked the sound of it from the blurb, it intrigued me. But, alas the story didn’t live up to my expectation.
Don’t get me wrong, this has all the makings of a really good, sweet romance. The plot is a simple but likeable love story and the characters were well developed. But for me, there was just something missing. It felt like all the ingredients for a great cake were in the bowl but it wasn’t mixed properly, ending up sunken in the middle. Can you tell I’ve been baking, again? However, with it's traditional trope, sweet romance and the expected happy ending, it could be considered the ideal starting point for readers who want to try a M/M romance for the first time.
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