Review | Big, Bad Cowboy, Carly Bloom

40205749In Big Bad CowboyMaggie and Travis had a memorable sexy encounter in a shed during a masquerade ball where Maggie dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood and Travis was the Big Bad Wolf. After the masquerade, they continue sexting, the Big Bad Wolf ordering Little Red Riding Hood to do fun, naughty things over text. The kicker is that while Travis recognized Maggie behind the mask, Maggie has no idea who the Big Bad Wolf is, and assumes he’s a stranger.

Beyond the masks, Maggie runs the top landscape architect business in town, and resents Travis for taking away jobs from her company. Travis mostly just needs the money — his family owes a lot of back taxes on their ranch, and he also needs to support his five year old nephew. When a wealthy woman hires both of them to work together to renovate her estate, Maggie hates having to split the job, but also can’t help her growing attraction to Travis.

Okay, Big, Bad Cowboy was off-the-charts hot. And funny! I absolutely love Carly Bloom’s writing. She manages to inject the most mundane moments with so much sexual chemistry that even discussing the weather can have lots of unintentional double entendres when you’re doing it with a hot cowboy.

I especially love the light touch of BDSM in this book. The scenes where Maggie and Travis take on their Little Red Riding Hood and Big Bad Wolf personas are super sexy. I also often find in romance novels that books tend to have almost no BDSM at all, or they go hardcore BDSM, but Bloom manages to maintain a wonderfully delicate balance here where the sex scenes are just on the naughtier side of vanilla.

Beyond the heat factor, the humour really makes these characters feel real, and makes even some of the sexier scenes very endearing. In one of my favourite scenes, for example, Travis does a Magic Mike-type striptease, and we know how hot he is and how turned on Maggie is getting. But Bloom shows us this scene from Travis’ point of view, and so we also know how vulnerable he’s feeling as he strips. At one point, he glances over at Maggie with the thought that if he sees her laughing, the moment would be all over, but then sees that while she’s amused and teasing him throughout, he can see she’s not actually laughing at him, and so that he feels comfortable with continuing. It’s a beautifully written, very relatable moment, and a striking contrast to the freedom he and Maggie feel when behind their Wolf / Red Riding Hood masks.

In another favourite scene, Travis jokingly asks Maggie to demonstrate a seemingly impossible move from an erotica book she’s reading. Somehow, Bloom manages to make this one super hilarious, super sweet and super sexy all at the same time, and it’s simply fantastic.

I also really enjoyed the stories beyond the romance and the sex. Bloom has created a loveable cast of characters. I especially, absolutely love the JD subplot. Like the Travis and Maggie plot, JD’s subplot was just really sweet and felt very true to life. I also really enjoyed the whole drama Travis faced with his brother as it escalated the stakes beyond his relationship with Maggie, and made him an even more likeable character.

Big Bad Cowboy is sexy, sweet, funny and real. It’s a wonderful romance, and a nice, slightly naughty, bookish treat for the holidays.

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Thank you to Forever Romance for an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Girl, Stop Apologizing, Rachel Hollis

40591267Sometimes, the perfect book comes along at just the right time, and all you can do is thank the universe for giving you that book exactly when you needed it. For me, that book was Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis. I happened to be working on a personal goal when I decided to pick up this particular ARC, and next thing I knew, I was taking this book around everywhere I went, dipping into it whenever I needed a break or an energy boost to work on my goal, and thinking about all the people in my life to whom I wanted to gift this book for Christmas. I took a pen around with me wherever I went, just so I could underline passages that really spoke to me. Now, my copy is somewhat weather-worn, scribbled on and coffee-stained, but it’s all so worth it, and I’m sure I’ll end up adding more marks to it every time I re-read.

Rachel Hollis’ premise is simple: women spend too much time apologizing for our dreams. She gives the all-too-relatable example of how she used to minimize her own passion project — her website and social media work to inspire women to live their best life — as just a hobby when the reality was that she was already tracking thousands of followers and generating a lot of income. As women, we’re brought up to believe our worth lies in our value to other people — as a mother, daughter, sister, employee and so on — and Hollis says we need to own our dreams and assert our right to our own happiness.

It doesn’t seem like a super radical concept. Lots of self-help books cover similar themes. But Hollis’ writing style really spoke to me — she sounds conversational and excited, as if we’re just really good friends having coffee and she’s encouraging me to pursue the goals I’ve always dreamed of but kept pushing off to the side in favour of ‘real life’.

I also love that Hollis acknowledges that reality doesn’t always make it easy to follow your dreams. Possibly your reality is that you’re working three jobs to make ends meet. Or that you’re dealing with a screaming newborn baby and can’t just take time when you feel like it to train for that marathon. Hollis acknowledges these potential barriers, and encourages us to carve out whatever me-time we can, in a way that works for us. She also reminds us that we are worth a little me-time, and more importantly, that we do have the right to prioritize ourselves.

I’ve also come across a lot of self-help techniques on goal-setting, and I must say that again, Hollis’ version really resonated with me. She suggests setting a routine for yourself to focus on achieving your goal, whatever that may be, and then thinking of that routine like having a coffee date with Chris Hemsworth. If you had such a coffee date, you likely would keep it come hell or high water, and only a major emergency would drag you kicking and screaming away. Even if you’re tired or feeling lazy, you’ll likely still drag yourself out of bed to keep that date. And even if someone asks you for a last minute favour that conflicts with that date, you will likely say no unless circumstances are extremely dire. At least, that’s Hollis’ premise, and I can definitely attest it works for me. While working on my personal goal, I did experience moments where I was tired and wanted to put it off, or when I just wanted to stay in bed and cuddle with my cats. In those moments, thinking “coffee with Chris Hemsworth” actually did help me get out of bed and focus. Not because I manage to fool myself into thinking I actually did have a date with Chris Hemsworth, but because it is a tangible, concrete reminder of how important my goal — or rather, my commitment to myself — is to me.

Hollis’ approach isn’t perfect. The rah-rah-balls-to-the-wall approach, for example, won’t work if you’re going through a mental health experience, or if because of everything in your life, you physically don’t have the energy to work on your goal. And if you aren’t sure what you want to accomplish for yourself, you may want to take a moment to reflect on that before jumping in full throttle. But for me, the most important takeaway from this book is that, as women, we spend so much time and energy prioritizing other people’s needs, when we have every right — and in fact, every obligation — to prioritize ourselves and our hopes, dreams, secret wishes, every bit as much, if not more.

Unfortunately, Girl, Stop Apologizing doesn’t come out until March 2019 — I was so excited I couldn’t wait to post this — but Hollis does have a book out now Girl, Wash Your Face. I haven’t read that one yet, but if it’s anywhere as good as this one, I’d highly recommend checking it out. And just to get you in the mood to go forth and live the life you want without apology, here’s a video I love, of Keala Settle singing “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman.

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Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Once a King, Erin Summerhill

37570601Lirra is a Channeler – a woman with the power to control the elements, in Lirra’s case the wind. Aodren is a young king whose father persecuted Channelers and created fear and hatred against these women’s magic. During a tournament that brings many kingdoms together, Aodren and Lirra learn of a drug that mimics Channeler magic, but ends up killing its users. Together, they must track down the source of the drug, and figure out how to overturn the decades of hatred Aodren’s father had cultivated.

In Once a KingErin Summerhill has created a fascinating world — magical women, fearful non-magical people, a young king trying to heal the divide, a deadly drug masked as a specialized magical elixir. It’s the third in a series, and I haven’t read the first two books, but I didn’t have a hard time keeping up.

I also really love the sweet romance in this book, and both Aodren and Lirra are compelling characters. I love how Lirra dreams of being an inventor, using her Channeler gifts to build a glider that gives non-magical people the ability to fly without magic, and I also love that she is constrained by her need to support her family and earn her father’s approval by helping him out on dangerous missions. I also love how Aodren has to live very much under the shadow of his father’s actions, how he wants to do good for his kingdom but is also uncertain of his own abilities to bring forth change. Both of them complement each other well, and I like the friendship that grounds their romance.

The last few chapters were especially strong, and I love the way the book ended. But most of the book felt slow, partly because of the political machinations, but also some of the twists and action sequences felt repetitive. For such an action-packed plot concept, I felt the book was twice as long as it had to be, and while I loved the concept and am glad I finished it, I almost gave up on it several times.

Still, overall I enjoyed the story, and I like how a fantasy about magic in a far-off kingdom touched on some important real life issues (discrimination, fear-mongering, drug addiction, drug trade, political maneuvering, claustrophobia and anxiety).

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Thanks to Raincoast Books for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.