It’s time to double up on my TBR Challenge. While I’ve been keeping up with the reading, I can’t say the same for the posts. Between conferences, finishing one project and starting a new one, I’ve fallen a bit behind. But I’ve genuinely enjoyed the books I read, without further ado, here are my #TBRChallenge reads for July and August.
July #TBR RITA Finalist/Winner
Fire Me Up- Kimberly Kincaid
I chose this book because I met Kimberly Kincaid at the 2016 Barbara Vey Reader Weekend and Fire Me Up is a 2016 RITA Finalist for Best Long Contemporary.
I was drawn to the story mostly because of the bad boy chef hero.Despite the cover, the book has little to do with motorcycles, beyond the initial crash that brings together hero Adrian Holt, and EMT heroine Teagan O’Malley, and sidelines Adrian with a broken collarbone.
For Adrian, being unable to work is more than an inconvenience. An ex-convict now on parole, he moved to Pine Mountain to work in the local resort’s fine dining restaurant, and avoid any trouble that could make his hateful parole officer send him back to the big house. But the kitchen is the only place where Adrian knows control and stability, and eight weeks away from it feels one step closer to his old, chaotic life. At loose ends, he ends up a local pub one night, only to discover that the incompetent short-order cook fumbling her way through backed-up orders is Teagan.
Teagan despises the kitchen but has taken over running her father’s bar and grill after he suffers a stroke. Adrian offers his assistance that first night, and returns the next night, drawn by both Teagan and the heat of the…um…kitchen. He offers to help Teagan run the Double Shot while he’s recuperating, provided everything is on the up and up. Teagan assures him it is, only to discover that her dad is in debt to a local shark to the tune of $15,000.
Adrian and Teagan have hot chemistry, and for a bad-boy, there’s a sweet, tender side to Adrian that I loved. He’s also the first hero I think I’ve ever read with platinum hair. Teagan is the classic caretaker who has devoted her life to watching over her father, but she’s not a sheltered pushover. In fact, she’s the decision-maker everyone turns to in a crisis. She’s tough—not in a kiss-ass sense, but in a capable sense. But occasionally, she tires of all the responsibility and watching Adrian support and care for her was one of my favorite parts of the story.
Something else I loved about Fire Me Up, was that the story and central problem—how to raise $15K pronto, felt very real. There’s not a lot of glamour in Teagan and Adrian’s world, but there’s a love for family, community, a life’s business, and of course food. Fans of small-town romance, open to characters that are bit of a departure from the typical firefighter hero/sweetshop-owner heroine, should give Fire Me Up a read.
August #TBR- Kickin’ It Old School
Only In Your Arms by Tracy Cozzens
Published in 2000, this book fit the criteria for the August challenge, which was to read a book more than ten years old. I discovered it through a recent Retro Review on Super Librarian Wendy’s website and ordered a 50-cent copy of the long-out of print historical from Thriftbooks.
While I was initially wary of the mullet-ed hero on the cover, I loved Only In Your Arms.
Set in the early 1600s, this cross-class romance turns the trope upside down, as well-born Lady Judith Ashton falls for poor Shakespearean actor, Marcus Sinclair.
I won’t go into all the plot twists and turns, other than to say that there many, and they give the story something of a swashbuckling feel. While some of the dialogue sounds jarringly modern (was “okay” used in 1602?), there’s a lot of interesting historical detail in this story. Cozzens provides insight into the life of an actor, puts us in the audience at the Globe Theater. There’s even a cameo by the Bard himself.
But what’s best about this book are its vivid characters. Some are despicable, others redeemable, and three I loved from the get-go; Marcus, Judith and Judith’s gutsy ladies maid, Audrey.
Low born Marcus is kind, handsome and noble. And though he’s viewed with disdain by the nobility, his love and sacrifice for Judith prove his sterling character. Wealthy Judith knows she must honor her father’s wishes and preserve her family’s name and legacy. Though they yearn for each other, both know that a match between a noblewoman and an actor is unthinkable. Audrey is protective, brave, and willing to stand up to an earl’s son’s advances, only to fall for him—as he falls for her.
It’s through this secondary romance that Cozzens effectively shows how in this world, well-born men had all the advantages. While Lord Richard’s match with a maid leaves his snobbish mother aghast, the men in his family applaud his choice of saucy, pretty Audrey. On the other hand, loving outside her class gets Judith slapped, subjected to a humiliating physical exam to determine if her virginity is intact, and locked away in a tower. Marcus is brutally beaten on the street, only to end up in Newgate Prison. I've read few Black Moments as black as this one.
Marcus and Judith get their HEA, but not because of a plot twist that reveals him as a long-lost prince in disguise. Marcus’s station doesn’t change, but other characters do, and to me this was much more satisfying than a contrived “fairy tale” ending.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and thanks Wendy, for bringing it to my attention!