Nicole Reads A Lot

so many books, so little time

Believe in Me by Alexandria House

Title:Believe in Me (Strickland Sisters 2)
Author:Alexandria House
PublisherPink Cashmere Publishing
Publication Date:July 10, 2017
Publisher's DescriptionMore than a year after leaving her unfaithful husband, Renee Mattison is ready to move on, but how can she move on from someone who refuses to let go?

Lorenzo Higgs is handsome and magnetic with a past that would send most women running, not to mention a little emotional baggage. Renee knows she should be afraid of Lorenzo, but the only thing that frightens her is the possibility of another broken heart.

The two share an electric attraction and a smoldering chemistry, but will they learn to truly believe in each other enough to build a lasting love?
My rating:****

Believe in Me is another enjoyable Strickland sister novel, although I didn’t love it as much as I did Ryan and Angie’s story. Renee was a fun protagonist and while she was definitely wishy-washy, her motives were understandable. Zo was a great character, too. At times he seemed too perfect, and I enjoyed him most when he felt a little more human to me.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about this is how Ms. House uses the sisters’ family dynamics to contextualize their beliefs about romantic relationships. All of the Stricklands have been impacted by the way that the father and mother’s marriage unfolded, and it’s interesting to watch three intelligent women of means and resources try to understand relationships that are so different from their original frame of reference. On the one hand, I almost (almost) feel sorry for the men who have to prove themselves different from those who came before them, but on the other hand, it makes for a really good read.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

As usual, the secondary characters added a lot to this story. Nicky is still a total mess who I somehow like, regardless of her awful behavior; still, I simultaneously have no respect for her and yet can’t wait to see how she is redeemed in her own story. I already feel bad for poor Damon. I’d also feel bad for Travis but I feel pretty sure that there’s something off about him so I’ll save my sympathies until I have a better idea of whether they’re deserved. Mom and Dad Strickland are outchea wildin. For the love of god, nobody explain to me about the feathers. Ever. I’ve feel like they’ve already ventured beyond the pale, and I can’t even guess what kind of shenanigans they’ll get up to in the third outing in this series, but I look forward to reading it. I definitely recommend this series and suggest that you read these novels in order for maximum enjoyment.

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Stay with Me (Strickland Sisters 1) by Alexandria House 

Title:Stay with Me (Strickland Sisters 1)
Author:Alexandria House
PublisherPink Cashmere Publishing
Publication Date:May 16, 2017
Publisher's DescriptionTwice unlucky in love, natural hair vlogger, Angela Strickland, has settled into a life centered around avoiding men and relationships like the plague. Unwilling to risk another broken heart, she resigns herself to being a perpetually single woman.

Corporate man and self-professed womanizer, Ryan Boyé, doesn’t believe in relationships or love and thinks anyone who does is a fool. But there’s just something about Angela Strickland he can’t shake…

When these two cross paths, their attraction to one another is undeniable. Will they find that the love they’ve both evaded is exactly what they both need?
My rating:*****

I’ve now read several books by Ms. House and have enjoyed each one more than the book that came before it. I found her previous works to be greater than the sum of their parts, and this book was no exception. The combination of a female protagonist who has been hurt before and has since sworn off relationships and a male protagonist who goes through women like a sick person through tissues is familiar, but the depth that the author gave Angie and Ryan are what make this book stand out from a crowded field.
I was particularly impressed with the richness of the secondary characters. I know that some table-setting was in order, as both of Angie’s sisters will get books of their own further down the line, but Renee and Nicky were interesting on their own merits. Angie’s parents’ dynamic explained a lot about the choices that the sisters made in their lives, and I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for the older Stricklands, as well. Ms. House did an excellent job of revealing her characters’ backstories in a believable way; it never came off as being overly expository but still managed to provide a welcome glimpse into the events and people who shaped them.
This book satisfied my soul. As much as I enjoyed watching Ryan realize how much he liked Angie, I liked seeing Angie turn him down even more. She didn’t come off as being too cool for school, because she’d liked Ryan from Day 1, but she also didn’t abandon her common sense the first time a hot guy approached her. Angie felt like the antidote to every too stupid to live heroine who abandons all her principles and common sense at the sight of a hot guy. It was fun to watch a cautious thinker fall in love with the type of guy she was sure would hurt her worse than her previous boyfriends had. I appreciated Ryan’s evolution over the course of the book. It wasn’t rushed, and it felt like a believable progression. There’s no instalove here, thank goodness.
I loved LOVED LOVED LOVED (did I mention I LOVED) that Angie was a vlogger who’d started out doing hair videos. I will watch a twist out tutorial or wig review YouTube video at the drop of a hat, and that being Angie’s job felt like a shoutout. Moreover, I loved that Angie had 4C hair. As a black woman who wears her hair natural, or under a wig if I’m feeling lazy (so you know that my hair is almost always under a wig), I appreciated that Ms. House gave her character what seems to me to be the least celebrated hair texture.
If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read this book for free. Then, once you’ve read and loved it as much as I did, you should buy it because it’s only $2.99 and people need to support good writers so they can keep writing us enjoyable books.

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Lasting Kind of Love by Jen A. Durand

Title:Lasting Kind of Love
Author:Jen A. Durand
PublisherDurand Publishing
Publication Date:October 31, 2016
Publisher's DescriptionFive years ago, Luca left Ashton with a broken heart and Olisa stayed behind determined to not regret her decision.

Now the mother of a four-year-old boy and working as a neonatal nurse practitioner, Olisa wasn’t looking for love. She had a good life.

When Luca returns to care for his dying father, the two reconnect. The bond between the two hasn’t faded.

Both wiser and older, they needed to discover whether they had a lasting kind of love.
My rating:**.5

Luca and Olisa dated throughout high school and college. Luca, who craved the approval of his distant single father, joined the military after they graduated from college. Olisa felt blindsided by her fiance’s decision and worried about him and their future. She decided that she didn’t want to feel that way and eventually broke up with him when he was deployed. Although they were no longer dating, they remained in contact after their breakup. Not over the dissolution of their relationship, Olisa had a one night stand and ended up pregnant with her son Cam, now four years old. It took some time for Luca to get over Olisa being pregnant by another man, but they resumed their friendship, and when Luca returned to town to take care of his ailing father, it was Olisa he asked to get him from the airport.

This book tells the story of how Luca and Olisa found their way back to each other, but I have to be honest, it was basically the shortest journey ever. These two characters still loved each other, and from their flashbacks and present scenes, it was clear that they each viewed the other as The One. As refreshing as it was to read a book where the protagonists weren’t constantly getting in their own way with needless distractions, there’s something to be said for the satisfaction that one feels when characters separated by circumstance successfully bridge a gap and come together. This book had none of that. The characters faced challenges that the author never believably tied to their relationship with each other. Gregory, Cam’s father, popped into the book past the 50% mark, but why? He wasn’t a viable romantic interest for Olisa and Luca never really viewed him as a rival. He didn’t even make much of an effort to actually see his son, considering the legal avenues he could have used, if he’d chosen to do so. The Gregory subplot seemed pointless and added nothing to the story as a whole.

I spent a lot of time thinking about how to review this book. It’s not bad, but it is incomplete and requires editing. It has a clear focus, namely getting Luca and Olisa together, but lacks any sense of genuine conflict. The only part of this book that seems fleshed out (pardon the pun) is the sex scenes. At $2.99, I expect more from a book. As it is now, Lasting Kind of Love reads to me more like a $.99 book. If the author can introduce a believable source of conflict (internal or external: what must the protagonists overcome to be together?) and make Luca and Olisa’s coming together feel more like a triumph and less like a foregone conclusion, I can see it being worth the higher price tag.

I received this book from the author for free, in exchange for an honest review.

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Billionaire’s Perfect Bride by Ajei Novua and Jen A. Durand

Title:Billionaire's Perfect Bride (True Match Arrangements Book 1)
Author:Ajei Novua and Jen A. Durand
PublisherDurand Publishing
Publication Date:January 15, 2017
Publisher's DescriptionJay’s heart had been stomped on by the one he trusted the most. Love wasn’t reliable. It was an illusion. In that moment he decided he would rather have a partner who valued loyalty and didn’t subscribe to the pipe dream that is love.

Bianca was desperate. Debt was slowly swallowing her whole and her mother needed more medical care than she could afford. True Match was her long shot and she’d hit the target.

Jay didn’t want love and Bianca couldn’t help how her heart felt. Can their arrangement become a true match?
My rating:***.5

I enjoyed this book, but it read more like a second draft than a finished product. It’s a shorter novel, and while I felt that the story unfolded well, I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of the development of Jay and Bianca’s relationship. It was clear that they started out attracted to each other both physically and personality-wise, but I would have preferred to see this story start at some point prior to their wedding day. Overall, there was more telling than showing, in the form of overly expository dialogue and too-frequent flashbacks.

The book’s characters seemed more like archetypes than well-realized individuals (this is particularly true of Dalia and Imogene). Jay was the orphaned, wounded billionaire who’d been wronged by the woman he’d thought he would spend his life with. Bianca was the selfless, hardworking daughter who’d given up her own promising future to care for the single immigrant mother who’d raised her. But we never even learned where her mother was from or why Bianca’s father wasn’t in the picture. Also, how did Bianca learn of True Match Arrangements? In the midst of the mess that his personal life had devolved into the year before this novel took place, was there a single precipitating incident that made Jay decide to use the service? Fleshing out the reasons the behaved as they did would have made me feel more invested in both their separate lives and journey together.

This book would have benefitted from more careful editing. There were several instances of missing words and misspelled homophones, but there were also grammar and copyediting issues that a more careful eye might have uncovered. These mistakes didn’t ruin the experience of reading this book for me, but I certainly noticed them.

I enjoyed these authors’ work and I would certainly read the next book in this series.

I received this novel from one of the authors for free, in exchange for an honest review.

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Manna Tree by Savannah J. Frierson

Title:Manna Tree
Author:Savannah J. Frierson
PublisherSJF Books LLC
Publication Date:November 15, 2016
Publisher's DescriptionA night of celebration ends in tragedy, shocking Cole Patterson to his core. Cole's brother breaks his promise not drink and drive and causes a fatal accident with three casualties. Guilt compels Cole to stay and greet the victims’ family, shouldering his brother’s guilt since his brother was no longer there to do it himself. Yet when he sees Margot Reed, something other than grief and guilt fills his soul.

If Margot never sees the inside of a hospital emergency room again, it will be too soon. She barely registers the haggard, yet expensively tailored man trying to give his condolences, her attention completely on the sole survivor of the wreck—her brother. The hospital machines are too loud in her ears, and she nearly collapses under the weight of her sorrow. But Cole is there to support her that night, and he doesn’t seem inclined to ever stop. Margot can’t bring herself to mind, either.

Can people brought together by mutual sadness find their way to happiness and joy, or will grief and guilt be too much for them to bear?
My rating:****.5

I enjoyed this book quite a lot. Ms. Frierson is a new author to me, but I saw the blurb on Amazon and was happy to find out that this book is available through Scribd. I read it in one night and was only sad that I finished it. I really liked seeing how the romance Margot and Cole’s romance unfolded. Sometimes, when authors have characters get together in the wake of traumatic events, I find the stories hard to connect to. That wasn’t the case here; I appreciated that Ms. Frierson never went for easy answers or cheap melodrama, and clearly gave careful consideration to her characters’ situations. It was refreshing to me, how much depth the characters had, even those who one might be predisposed to love or hate upon first mention or appearance.

Margot, being both black and several years older than him, didn’t initially believe that Cole could be interested in her. I loved how much Cole appreciated Margot’s differences and life experiences and made a place for himself in her life and heart. Aaaah!!! I’m swooning just thinking about it. This was one of the most satisfying interracial books that I’ve read. I didn’t come out of it feeling like either character was fetishized, and appreciated that they could have frank conversations about their differences without harping on them to an unbelievable degree.

I now want to read everything that Ms. Frierson has ever written! This is just the book to get me out of a rut caused by reading too many terminally silly books in too short a timespan.

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