For August, Bella is releasing three summer-themed books that should provide a nice distraction while we savour the last few days of vacations, sun and relaxation. Just looking at the cover of All the Reasons I Need makes me want to find a beach (and a hammock) and puts me firmly in the holiday vibe. Sadly, me in a hammock would not look quite so attractive as shown on that cover (I’d likely be sprawled on the sand, ensnared by the hammock netting).
I ended up skipping one of Bella’s new releases – Summer Desires by Emily King – as it just didn’t engage me. Instead, I ended up reading Three Reasons to Say Yes before starting All the Reasons I Need (please remember my OCD about reading things in order). So I’m sneaking in a review of Jaime Clevenger’s first book in the Paradise Romance Series which was released in 2018 and (drum roll please) is a winner of the 2019 GCLS award for Contemporary Romance – Long.
After reading Three Reasons to Say Yes (see below for a review) I was pretty sure that there was going to be a follow on book for Mo and Kate. The two characters and their complex relationship were introduced and woven into the first book; but, things were left decidedly unresolved (for them). It was actually a nice way to set things up as Mo and Kate were such strong secondary characters in the first book, they are pretty well established and developed by the time that All the Reasons I Need hit the virtual book stand. I would strongly recommend reading the first book as it lays the groundwork for Mo and Kate and also because it was a great book in its own right.
This is a friends to lovers romance that is sixteen years in the making – so expect a slow burn. Spending a week sharing a resort room (with only one bed) isn’t going to be enough to resolve a decade and a half of unrequited love (on both Kate and Mo’s part). We start off the story with another trip to paradise – Mexico this time, basically picking up from the end of Three Reasons to Say Yes. Although Julia and Reed (and the Tasmanian Devil twins) are in the book, they are relegated to secondary characters who are there more as the bastions of rationale thinking. Although I really like Julia and Reed – they are obviously happy and we really don’t need to revisit how happy they are together. This book is all about Kate and Mo.
The story is told in third person POV from Kate’s perspective so you gain a tremendous amount of insight into a rather complex character. Mo is developed primarily through Kate’s viewpoint, with her own actions and words providing a clearer picture of her motivations. There’s a bit of flashbacks to fill in some gaps in Mo and Kate’s relationship that weren’t covered in the last book and provide a larger context of the friendship between Julia, Kate and Mo.
The tension that is hinted at during Three Reasons to Say Yes becomes the focal point of this book – in the first book there’s a strong undercurrent of attraction and mixed messages between Kate and Mo. Kate also comes out in Three Reasons to Say Yes, which just exacerbates the unspoken issues between the two.
This is a character driven romance – Kate has a lot of internal conflict as she struggles to define herself. The secrets she has kept from Mo and Julia have eaten away at her self-confidence and self-esteem and has created a seemingly inescapable cycle of never thinking she’s good enough or that anyone will want her for who she is, but has to fit other’s expectations. She spends most of the book pushing Mo away despite the deep emotions she feels for her friend – she struggles with what is right for Mo versus what is right for her.
Mo, for her part, is just as much to blame. She’s obviously head over heels in love with Kate but won’t take the chance. She seems to convince herself that she should move on, and not wait for Kate to come to her senses, but never really does. Instead she bounces from relationship to relationship with women who are obviously not good for her and self-sabotages any relationship before it can succeed.
At points I found myself rolling my eyes at Kate and Mo – they have spent the last sixteen dancing around each other, both too cautious, unsure or afraid to upset their friendship by admitting to the rather obvious deep feelings. Never in my life have I wanted two characters to get blindingly drunk, screw and get on with it already. Like Nike says – Just Do It!
There’s a lot more angst and baggage in this book and is definitely a more introspective story. There’s a number of issues being dealt with in this book (mostly by Kate) and they are not exploited or overwrought – Clevenger deftly weaves them in as part of the overall story and the impacts that they have had on the characters. If you aren’t a fan of slow burn type romance that is driven by lack of communication and unspoken longing/love, this may not be the best book for you.
Clevenger does do a great job with the characters and it’s a strong follow up, that isn’t a formulaic repeat, to Three Reasons to Say Yes.
I can easily seeing a third installment in the Paradise Series focusing on Terri, an early on potential love interest for Kate who developed into a strong supporting character in the early part of the book.
Counting on Love is a workplace romance story set in an Australian financial firm.
Both characters are well developed beyond the bounds of the workplace. Zoe is pretty well established and comfortable with the life that she has built – she has a group of rowdy friends, is a sports enthusiast (the muddier the better) and her own background has given her a more altruistic view of finance as she develops a series of financial planning workshops for the general public. She’s upbeat and likable as well as being particularly good at her job. Reyna, as the owner of a national financial firm, has the pressures of a growing company with 300 employees. At first I though she was going to fit the ice queen trope, but she’s more business focused than cold or aloof. She also is also struggling to deal with the recent death of her sister and brother in law and now is raising her 8 year old nephew. She has a strong support system with friends and her parents, but you can see her struggles with how to cope with the increasing levels of responsibility.
From a romance standpoint, Zoe has been harbouring a crush on Reyna for some time and Reyna is also attracted to Zoe – but they don’t seem to have a lot of interactions that build on that attraction or the romantic tension. There is a push and pull between the two once they are at the conference in Alice Springs, where Reyna seems to struggle with her attraction to Zoe and the fact that Zoe is an employee. Add to this a slightly predatory (and gorgeous) financial consultant that seems to be intent on hooking up with Zoe. Ah .. that my financial adviser looked that good in a bikini. Unfortunately, there seems to be more build up of the characters than the romance between the two so that once things start rolling, it heats up fast, hits the skids even faster and then ends up with a pretty quick HEA resolution.
Overall, a nice romance that I had hoped would have had more of a build up but is still a good read. The writing and dialogue is well done and the descriptions of sunrise make me want to book a ticket.
From the cover and the blurb, you may be expecting that Three Reasons to Say Yes will be a light and airy vacation fling story but it goes beyond the initial set up to weave a more in-depth romance. This is a great read – just the right enough amount of sun, sand, humor, chemistry, real life and likable characters to suck you right into Julia and Reed’s story.
The relationships that Clevenger builds stand out – they are real and authentic and you are able to easily connect with both the primary characters of Julia and Reed as well as with Mo, Kate and the kids. The deep connection between Julia, Mo and Kate is wonderfully demonstrated on the plane where they joke, tease and snipe but there’s an obvious great love between them, but they still annoy and have their foibles which they all accept. There’s also a great subplot that focuses on Mo and Kate – their friendship is obvious, but there’s a level of tension there that simmers nicely in the background, setting things up for the next book in the series. This subplot is subtle and provides a bit of realism that, although they are the main characters, stuff is happening outside of Julia and Reed.
This isn’t a slow burn, but is also not an insta-love. I think its more of a “get your head out of your ass and make it work” kind of romance. 🙂 Reed is a bit of a mystery at first – nerdy buff butch with twins, she is a nice bit of eye candy for Julia. Although things start as a fling, it’s obvious that neither one of them is comfortable with the idea but at the same time, the attraction is there. There’s a nice build up and definitely chemistry, but even more apparent is the level of comfort they have with one another – spending time with one another and with the kids. They are kind of perfect for each other – which becomes more apparent as the story progresses – if only Reed could get her head out of her ass and get out of her own way.
Once the vacation is over, they try the friends with benefits route and you can see the bonds growing deeper despite their insistence that this is not a dating thing. Although Julia seems to be more willing to try for more in the relationship, Reed is cautious – her focus and attention is primarily on the kids, and her utter devotion to them leaves her very little left for a romantic relationship. It’s interesting to see that Julia, who’s self-confidence was pretty much null due to some rather shitty exes telling her what a crappy partner she was , is the more self-aware one in the pairing. She feels herself getting more invested in Reed and the kids and pulls herself back in order to protect herself, but still tries to reach beyond Reed’s fierce and stubborn insistence on shouldering all her responsibilities alone. Reed seems to accept the chaos and mess that twins bring to life, she has an underlying need for control and order and she seems to struggle with wanting more with Julia but at the same time establishing an artificial distance. It’s a interesting dynamic and level of melodrama, but it is not overwrought – just more of a realistic portrayal of two people trying to figure out how to make things work.
I must say that Reed’s children, Bryn and Carly, are probably the most realistic children I’ve come across in a lesfic romance. They are cute as hell – but are also little Tasmanian devils, especially Bryn. They are running, fighting, screaming, giggling and cuddling fools and at times I couldn’t figure out why Julia didn’t run during Bryn’s many meltdowns. But even in that, the obvious love, patience and just pure joy that Reed demonstrates with them solidifies her character. She’s obviously devoted parent that manages to wrangle and control two messy chaos demons on her own, and they truly are the complete focus of her life. Cute factor – yes. Would I run in the opposite direction if I met them – yes. 🙂
Three Reasons to Say Yes is a lovely romance that is more than what you would expect – funny, sweet, romantic with some really great characters.
Bella’s August 2019 Releases not reviewed:
Summery Desires by Emily King – Started this one but it just didn’t engage me.