Dating Dilemmas #1: The Dating Debate – Chris Cannon

Of course I had to read an actual romance novel during 💔 Achy Breaky Heart Month! 💔. Apologies to Chris Cannon in advance for choosing The Dating Debate. Chris, you may recall that I previously reviewed Boomerang Boyfriend and I’m sorry for any therapy bills you incurred as a result. I remain staunchly anti-romance yet your blurbs keep sucking me in. Excuse me while I continue one of my many arguments debates with Nina and West.

Me: Hold on. Weren’t you just having an anti-Valentine’s Day rant a few pages ago?

Nina: Yeah, but –

Me: Yet now you’re planning to go to the Valentine’s Day dance at your school with the boy next door, who is gorgeous and can speak fluent Harry Potter.

Nina: Uh-huh, but note that I’m not going with the gorgeous boy who doesn’t get Harry Potter at all.

Me: Okay, so I get the book thing but why are all of the guys gorgeous?

Nina: Well, I am one of the main characters in a romance novel.

Me: Hmm… So, West. Are all the girls in this book good looking as well?

West: Well, duh! Nina is cute, obviously. I’ll bet that even spatula makeup girl is a stunner. Romance novel, remember?

Me: Gotcha. So, West, you’re named after a direction. Are you a Kardashian offspring by any chance?

West: I dunno. Let me go ask my mother.

Nina: Whoa! You have a mother?

Me: So, Nina, back to the whole Valentine’s Day dance thing. You don’t like Valentine’s Day or Valentine’s Day dances and you don’t want to go, yet you’re going with the gorgeous next door neighbour just to be stubborn. Is that right?

Nina: That pretty much sums it up. You want some chocolate?

Me: Obviously! Thanks! [grabs the chocolate and starts munching] Why don’t you just stay at home and read a book on Valentine’s Day? That’s what I’ll be doing.

Nina: Sounds great, but unfortunately as a main character in a romance novel it’s in my contract that my decisions don’t have to make sense and if I stay at home I can’t all of a sudden fall in love with the gorgeous boy next door, then find something to cry over before we decide we’re meant to be together forever due to our mutual love of Harry Potter.

Me: Okaaaay… So, West. Any thoughts?

West: I just hope Nina doesn’t find out my secret. Any chance we can change this from a romance novel to another genre so I can keep my personal business private?

Me: Nope, but I’d love that because I’m sick of watching you two kiss and argue.

West: This is going to end in tears. I just know it.

Me: Yeah, me too, but what can you do. Romance novel, after all. Personally I think the two of you need some therapy to sort out your trust, self esteem and shame issues before you seriously consider dating. I hear Lisa’s mother is a good therapist. Hey, what’s the deal with you two juggling issues beyond your years within your respective families, yet you act like 12 year olds when you’re dating?

West: You’re asking me? I’m just doing what Chris Cannon tells me to do! You’re the one with a choice here! Why are you reading this book when you’re so anti-romance?

Me: Sucked in by Harry Potter, just like you. Chris Cannon found and exploited my weakness – again. [sigh] And she just had to go and include an adorable dog too, didn’t she.

West: Tell me about it! I’m still trying to get dog fur out of my clothes.

Nina: So, you coming to the bookstore tonight with Lisa and I?

Me: Of course! Got any more mini bars of chocolate?

So, Chris Cannon, you sucked me in again. If I can enjoy the non-romance parts of your romance novels then I can certainly understand the appeal for readers who actively seek out that genre. I really enjoy the way you write, despite the genre.

If you ever decide to write a YA book that doesn’t major on romance and holds onto the social issues themes but delves deeper into them, I’ll be front row centre of your cheer squad. Regardless, I’m definitely interested in reading your next book (sorry!).

My Nitpicking: Without giving anything away I think there was more to one person’s mental health diagnosis than what was revealed in the book and would have loved for this to have been dealt with further as they were an interesting character. Unfortunately they came across as though the wheel was spinning but the hamster was dead and I think they were actually a lot smarter than they seemed.

My Nitpicking – The Sequel: Some of the characters without much page time came across as fairly two-dimensional. However, with the length of the book and the issues raised in it, there probably wasn’t enough room to add another dimension to these characters. Their contribution wasn’t pivotal to the story anyway.

Favourite Sentence Snippet:

“then he kissed me again, a slow, deep kiss that scrambled what was left of my brain.”

Vindicated! Kissing in romance novels does cause brain damage in characters!

Content warnings include issues surrounding mental health.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Teen Crush, an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Nina Barnes thinks Valentine’s Day should be optional. That way single people like her wouldn’t be subjected to kissy Cupids all over the place. That is, until her mom moves them next door to the brooding hottie of Greenbrier High, West Smith. He’s funny, looks amazing in a black leather jacket, and he’s fluent in Harry Potter, but she’s not sure he’s boyfriend material. 

West isn’t sure what to make of Nina. She’s cute and loves to read as much as he does, but she seems to need to debate everything and she has a pathological insistence on telling the truth. And West doesn’t exactly know how to handle that, since his entire life is a carefully constructed secret. Dating the girl next door could be a ton of fun, but only if Nina never finds out the truth about his home life. It’s one secret that could bring them together or rip them apart. 

Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book is not for anyone who has to get in the last word, but it is for all book nerds, especially those who live next door to so called unapproachable gorgeous guys. There’s no debating the chemistry.

The Heartbreak Cure – Amanda Ashby

Confession time! I accidentally got sucked into wanting to read this book purely because of the brownies and then kinda sorta maybe quite enjoyed the read, despite having the best intentions to rip its romantic heart to shreds. Sure, there were some soppy sentences, mostly focused around how people smelled for some reason, but overall I really enjoyed the story. I feel like I need to apologise to myself because I don’t do romance novels so I’m more than a little disturbed that I liked the characters so much but if I enjoyed it, then the target audience are going to love it!

I’m showing my age here but I’m so glad I grew up in a world without the internet. I can’t even imagine how kidlets and teens these days navigate the awkwardness of growing up knowing the world is watching and most likely recording all of their mistakes, humiliations and heartaches for posterity. Back when I was a teen [she croaks while leaning on her walking stick and wagging her finger] you could quietly hope for the next drama to unfold in someone else’s life so you could be left in peace to pick up the pieces of your shattered heart. These days your most embarrassing moments can go viral. [shudders]

So, what is The Heartbreak Cure? Brownies!!! Baked by the 86 year old grandmother of your cute ex-neighbour boy (who is only a) friend. YUM! Hey, Alex, would you please let Birdie know I feel a heartbreak coming on? 😜

Cat and Alex share the experience of being shamed for something that wasn’t their fault. Cat has been featured in a YouTube video posted by a disgusting doofus 🤬 who enlisted her as a recruit in a summer challenge:

Ask out a loser and see how far she’ll go with you in one week before you break her heart. Bonus points if she gets a tattoo with your name on it.

Seriously, people??? I have no words.

In the slightly unbelievable but hey, it’s fiction category, this girl’s heart was broken over a guy she dated a grand total of three times in one week? And one of those dates was a group date. Maybe I’m out of touch and not the one to comment on the believability factor here, but no one is chipping away at the icicles surrounding this nerd’s heart in just three dates.

And how did doofus find his way into her heart in the first place? He used her Goodreads addiction to pretend he liked the same parts in books that she did. How dare you use a love of books as your weapon of choice, you cowardly, despicable, pathetic excuse for a human being!!

Meanwhile, Alex has been shamed by pretty much the whole community and sadly he’s internalised the seriously bad vibes. Now a lone wolf with a bad boy reputation, he thinks he deserves everything bad that comes his way yet aches to be granted a scholarship to study engineering at a college somewhere far away from the town that’s tarred him without knowing a thing about him personally. Come on, townsfolk with the pitchforks at the ready, he’s Birdie’s grandson! You know! The one who bakes brownies? How bad can he be?!

Anyway, after knowing her humiliating heartbreak made its way to internet land, Cat is feeling pretty darn sorry for herself. She’s even got the creative writing piece where the guy gets massacred by killer ants to prove it. Our Cat is a wannabe journalist on her way to fame via Oprah’s book club. So mid-massacre, who should hop over the fence but the boy with the smouldering good looks and muscles that define any item of clothing he wears, Alex. And he brings brownies that Birdie made. (Open your eyes, Cat! He’s the one!)

Cat comes up with the perfect solution to get the attention off her ugly cry heartbreak video. Why doesn’t she pretend to have a new boyfriend? Why doesn’t she choose our so hot that you could barbeque your dinner on his muscles (did we mention his clothes look wonderful draped over them?) Alex, who kinda has a thing for Cat but of course he’s not good enough for her so she can’t be ‘his’. [Ugh, men thinking of women as property.]

Throw in Cat’s take-no-crap best friend with green hair (Nikki), scary senior editor of the school paper (Mackenzie), doofus heartbreaker rubbing it in with Cat’s ex-friend (Isabel), a liberal sprinkling of adult drama, bucketloads of internal dialogue, angst-a-plenty and a serious amount of baggage following our fake couple wherever they go. What could go wrong?

Favourite sentence:

“Wow, you look like boiled crap.”

Favourite character: Birdie, brownie baker and all round sweetie.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Entangled Publishing: Teen Crush for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

How to get over a heartbreak:

Step one: Eat your body weight in brownies.

Step two: Throw yourself into your dreams of becoming a famous writer. 

Step three: Beg your (hottie) ex-neighbour to act as your fake boyfriend. 

Step four: Skip step three unless you’re ready for some serious fallout.

After being dumped and humiliated over the summer, Cat Turner does what any sane girl would do. She asks bad boy Alex Locke to be her fake boyfriend and show the world (and her editor at the school newspaper) that she’s fine. Problem is, the more time she spends with Alex, the more she risks getting her heart broken. For real this time. 

Boyfriend Chronicles #3: Boomerang Boyfriend – Chris Cannon

Horror story of the month in only one sentence … I voluntarily read a romance novel. Would someone please alert a paramedic?

Delia: I have no idea what’s going on with Aiden. Never again will I kiss a boy first. Now he’s being all weird and mysterious. I think I need to move on and find a new boy. Not that I need a male in my life to make it complete or anything. Maybe if I paint some more it’ll help. Ugh! There’s Zoe’s brother, Jack. Why is he always such a jerk?

Jack: Ever since Dad and Grandpa died in the accident I’ve been the only male in the house. Sure, I go to Trevor’s place a lot. Rocky is a great dog and he likes it when I sneak him bits of pepperoni off my pizza, even though Trevor’s mother said not to. I like being at Trevor’s place but it can’t make up for Dad and Grandpa being gone. Sometimes I feel so alone. It doesn’t help that my younger sister Zoe and Delia, her annoying best friend, are always giggling in the kitchen at home. Doesn’t Delia have a home to go to?

Delia: I really should get a job. Mum and Dad don’t have any money to spare and it’s not fair to expect them to pay for my art supplies. It’s interesting that Mum and Dad have always had money troubles and because a few things broke recently they’re sort of having to budget to afford decent groceries yet I have my own truck. Hmm … Anyway … Guess what, Zoe? I just got a job as the new Pie Princess at Betty’s Burgers. Isn’t that so exciting? That’s where Jack the Jerk works. Let’s not tell him I got the job and surprise him. That’ll be fun.

Jack: What? First she takes over my home and now I can’t escape her at work either?

Delia: Ah, art class. Nothing beats it. What do you mean another class is joining ours because their teacher went on maternity leave early?!

Jack: What? Now I can’t escape her during art class either?

Delia: I don’t want to have to draw Jack’s portrait. Hey! When did Jack get so cute?! No, wait. I can’t think about him like that. He’s like an older brother.

Jack: And now I have to draw her too … Hey! When did Delia become pretty?! No, wait. I can’t think about her like that. She’s like a little sister.

Delia: I’m so confused.

Jack: I’m so confused.

I’m so confused. I’m way outside of my comfort zone here. I’m more of a horror girl and usually avoid romances like they’re diseased. I’m much more comfy reading about people getting chopped to bits than getting kissed. That’s why I can’t believe I’m going to say this but I quite enjoyed this book. It would make a good holiday read, incorporating Thanksgiving and the lead up to Christmas. My main pet peeve, but this seems to be a fairly universal romance novel annoyance, is people trying to keep their relationship a secret and forgetting how to communicate.

Boomerang Boyfriend contains plenty of sweet and lovely bits. There’s plenty of introspection and just enough tragedy and heartache in everyone’s life (think death, grief and addiction) that ensures the romance isn’t all consuming, until near the end when I wanted to throw my Kindle across the room.

I loved that Delia stumbled upon some of her quirkiness out of necessity but then made it her own when she discovered a passion, and I enjoyed her snarky side. But girl, seriously? You don’t need to ask a boy’s permission to go out with a friend on a Friday night. Grr! And playing little word games like you don’t understand what he’s saying so he’ll kiss you? I may have just vomited in my mouth a little. Oh, and I’m so mad at her for ditching her friend date with Aiden when she knew how important it was to him after she’d already promised him she’d go.

OK, so maybe I’m more cranky with Delia than loving her but at least Chris Cannon made me care about her protagonists before I wanted to hit them over the head for annoying me. And Jack, jealous much? You and Delia only kissed for the first time, what, maybe four days ago and you’ve got your cranky pants on over her sitting with a boy at lunch she’s sat with for, let me think, the entire book? Not cool, Jack the Jerk.

I was really liking both Delia and Jack, even when they first started kissing. Then they started questioning their relationship and their stupid started showing. Is there something in ‘How to Write a Romance’ that says your protagonists’ brain cells must fall out of their ears each time they kiss? Moving on!

I adored Zoe and Jack’s grandma and wanted to hang out with her. I wanted to pull up a chair in the kitchen and chat with Zoe while she baked, and of course be her quality control test dummy for all of the yummies that came out of the oven. I definitely wanted to go to Betty’s Burgers for dinner, or maybe just dessert. Plus there are two adorable dogs in the story, Rocky and Buddy, who steal the limelight with their innate cuteness.

I can’t believe I’m going to say this but I’m actually interested in reading more of Chris Cannon’s Boyfriend Chronicles series. I just hope for my Kindle’s sake that the main characters don’t halve their IQ’s once their relationship commences. Seriously, has anyone got a thermometer? Oh, yay! She also writes paranormal novels!

Thank you very much to NetGalley and Entangled Publishing, LLC’s Teen Crush imprint, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Working with her best friend’s brother at Betty’s Burgers, free-spirited Delia starts to see Jack in a new light. Not only has Jack-the-Jerk turned into a hottie, he’s even acting like a nice guy, who rescues dogs and knows how she likes her coffee. But if Jack is into her, then why is he keeping her a secret? Of course, if her best friend doesn’t approve, Delia could lose the only family she’s ever known.

Seeing Delia in her retro waitress uniform throws Jack’s world out of whack. She’s always been just another pain in the butt little sister … not a datable female. But she’s rockin’ the Pie Princess tiara, and even her hot-pink striped hair is sexy. What’s that about? He needs to get his head on straight, because artsy, funky Delia and her nonconformist ways don’t fit in his safe and ordered world.

Black Bird of the Gallows – Meg Kassel

Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly … Sorry, I kept hearing this song each time I read the title and music does feature in the book so it’s not completely out there …

The first thing I absolutely have to address about Black Bird of the Gallows is that cover. If you want people to need to buy a book without even knowing what it’s about, then it seems like L.J. Anderson from Mayhem Cover Creations is your go to person. I simply adore the cover design and use of colour. I want a huge framed print of this cover artwork for my wall so I can constantly admire it.

Now, where was I? Oh, the book. I really enjoyed it. What was it about? The birds and the bees, but not the way you’re thinking!

Angie has had it tough, spending a large part of her upbringing living in a van or at random mens’ places with her drug addicted mother. While she’s still haunted by her past, she now lives with her father, one of the most adorably sweet fathers I’ve come across in real life or the other real life (books). She has great friends, Lacey and Deno, and her very own secret identity as Sparo, a DJ in a nightclub.

The house next door has been vacant since a tragedy made it impossible to sell. However, one day a moving truck appears and lo and behold, Angie spies (literally, through binoculars) the new cute boy moving in next door with his family. Mystery cute boy with the dark eyes isn’t what he appears to be and as Angie gets to know him, she learns he’s not quite as human as he looks, and apparently he looks really, really good.

I loved the whole premise of this story. I’m a sucker for anything mythological so naturally I was drawn in by the origin stories of the tortured harbingers and Beekeepers. I wanted to know more about them though and I definitely wanted a backstory for the Strawmen. I’d love to read something from all of their perspectives that shed more of a light on them. Plus there’s indications there are other entities/creatures/part human part something else types in this world and I want all the details about them as well.

I had two favourite characters in this book. Rafette, who we spend a considerable amount of the book running from or on the lookout for, is someone I really empathised with. I found myself seeing the story from his point of view and didn’t view him as a baddie at all. Maybe it’s partly due to the soft spot I have for bees but my heart broke for Rafette and the pain he’s endured in his life. I need to know so much more about him! And best friend Lacey … supportive, intuitive and loving, yet willing to bash her best friend over the head with a golf club if that’s what it takes to keep her safe. I loved Lacey!

Tissues Used: 0, which surprised me as I came prepared. Although my icy cold heart experienced somewhat of an earthquake, none of the cracks melted into tears.

Food craved during reading: Pancakes. Oh, they sounded so delectably droolworthy.

Something I thought would be important to remember when reading or rereading: The names and stories of those you don’t think will come back into the story. I found sections of this book to be in the ‘six degrees of separation’ category where peoples’ stories linked together like one big crow shaped jigsaw puzzle. Prepare to get halfway through the book and go ‘oh, I remember them!’

Now for the niggles:

  • A minor thing, sure, but what’s Reece’s real name?
  • The insta-love frustrated me along with the whole ‘our love is destined to be doomed and we’ll both be miserable for all of eternity or for as long as we live (whichever is applicable) so we shouldn’t be together. But first, let’s kiss some more’.
  • Reece telling Angie that he’s been in love with her since they were six. Now, this would have been worthy of an aww if not for the fact that he would’ve been about 190, give or take a few years, at that stage which kind of morphed my aww into eww!.
  • The whole thing about the big ‘event’ when loved ones are being searched for. When they all meet up at Angie’s house after being separated did Angie not wonder or bother to ask Deno if his parents were alive or dead?
  • You know the whole horror movie girl victim/heroine who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the door? I had that frustration with Angie. I kept wanting to yell at her to just leave! You can’t say she didn’t have ample warning time, yet she still managed to wind up caught up in the ‘event’ like everyone else. What use is fair warning if you don’t listen, sweetheart?

So, my rating. If I didn’t have this many niggles, the writing would’ve deserved 5 stars. The niggles and frustration I felt while I was reading would usually have made it a 3 stars but the writing was just so darn good. So I’m splitting the difference and giving this 4 stars.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Entangled Teen, an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC, for the opportunity to read this book. I will definitely read future books by Meg Kassel.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A simple but forgotten truth: Where harbingers of death appear, the morgues will soon be full.

Angie Dovage can tell there’s more to Reece Fernandez than just the tall, brooding athlete who has her classmates swooning, but she can’t imagine his presence signals a tragedy that will devastate her small town. When something supernatural tries to attack her, Angie is thrown into a battle between good and evil she never saw coming. Right in the center of it is Reece — and he’s not human.

What’s more, she knows something most don’t. That the secrets her town holds could kill them all. But that’s only half as dangerous as falling in love with a harbinger of death.