E-Originals from Colly, Hassell, and Sebastian, plus a Yuletide Trio | Xpress Reviews

Week ending December 15, 2017

Gilmore, Jessica. Their Christmas Carol. Tule. (Big Sky Hathaways, Bk. 2). Oct. 2017. 162p. ebk. ISBN 9781947636415. $2.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
O’Brien, Kathleen. His Christmas Princess. Tule. (Princess Brides, Bk. 1). Oct. 2017. 171p. ebk. ISBN 9781947636484. $3.99.
Van Hulzen, Lara. His Christmas Bride. Tule. (Marietta St. Claire’s, Bk. 3). Oct. 2017. 163p. ebk. ISBN 9781947636323. $2.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
A trio of holiday stories for the season. In O’Brien’s (His Defiant Princess) new series opener, His Christmas Princess, a prince must decide between love and duty. Emory Augustin Vicenza knows he must take his place as king. Still, marrying is more than he wants to do for his country though it is what’s expected. Willow Arden must do what is best for her little girl. She can’t let her get attached to a man who can never be part of her life. After all, she is an American and a commoner. His Christmas Bride, by Van Hulzen (Winning His Heart), is a warm holiday story of love, family, and expectations. Lucas St. Claire has found the perfect woman to fit into his upper-class world. She comes from money, the same social circles, and has lived in the public eye. Erin Tanner, on the other hand, is a farm girl who takes care of her dad, runs the ranch, and could care less about fashion and society. But she is the girl who has loved Lucas since they were kids and the one Lucas turns to when he needs a true friend. Gilmore’s second series installment (after Baking for Keeps), Their Christmas Carol introduces two former lovers who have found themselves back home for the holidays. Nat Hathaway is on his way to becoming a big music star but can’t figure out why reaching his goals is no longer fulfilling. Linnea Olsen lost her husband and has moved back home with her two girls to help her parents and start a new life. When she decides to organize a Christmas concert to help her daughter adjust, Linnea doesn’t realize that she’ll need the help of her old flame Nat.
Verdict These three Christmas stories of love and family will get readers into the holiday spirit.—Jessica M. Perovich, U.S. Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit, Washington, DC

Colly, Jen. Sheltered. Lyrical: Kensington. (Cities Below, Bk. 4). Jan. 2018. 204p. ebk ISBN 9781516106363. $3.99. VAMPIRES; PARANORMAL ROMANCE
Vampire Babette (Bette) Dautry is under “house arrest” in her rooms in the underground vampire city of Valenna. She has been starved of blood for ten years in order to force her to accept a mate, aging her prematurely. She manages to escape to the neighboring and much more welcoming underground city of Balinese—and straight into the arms of 22-year-old Rollin. After her trauma in Valenna, Bette needs a reason to live; Rollin and potential children do the trick. Rollin’s extended family are wary of Bette but accept her as she is a poised and cultured vampire. Bette and Rollin eventually sleep together in the midst of demon attacks and other high drama. When Bette learns that Rollin has been made the heir to the ruler of Balinese, she flees the city. Feeling like a cradle robber and a gold digger is too much for her. Will Rollin be able to convince her that their love is legitimate?
Verdict The gothic atmosphere of the “Cities Below” (Beneath the Night) world carries the weight of this strictly nonexplicit tale, while well-depicted characters contribute the rest. Secondary themes of combating domestic violence and accepting functional blended families are nice touches; recommended for series fans.—Henry Bankhead, San Rafael P.L., CA

Hassell, Santino. Down by Contact. InterMix: Berkley. (Barons, Bk. 2). Jan. 2018. 205p. ebk. ISBN 9780399586309. $4.99. M/M SPORTS ROMANCE
Hassell’s second “Barons” novel (after Illegal Contact) tackles the enemies-to-lovers trope with the erotically charged attraction between former teammates. Now rivals on opposite sides of the football field, Simeon Boudreaux and Adrián Bravo cause more than a reasonable ruckus in their preseason. Forced to come together for community service, the men square off at every turn, getting increasingly more personal. But for the sake of the children at the camp, Adrián and Simeon put their differences aside. Or do they? The bickering and contest besting feels more like foreplay and simmers beneath the surface for a long time. In between doing right by the Grant Street Center kids, the two find some serious smolder off the clock. The sexuality borders on erotica, and the rationalization of feelings outside of the bedroom is sincere. In navigating their respective issues, the men both have their reasons for wanting to overcome the stigma of football bravado. Hassell is expert at depicting this age of social media, intrusion, opinions, tabloids, and politics.
Verdict Hassell is proving to be a go-to name for realistic M/M romances with an honesty that matches the determination of his leads to go the distance. The “Barons” series is one to watch.—Frannie Strober Cassano, North Bellmore P.L., NY

Sebastian, Cat. It Takes Two To Tumble. Avon Impulse. (Seducing the Sedgwicks, Bk. 1). Dec. 2017. 384p. ebk. ISBN 9780062820501. $3.99. M/M REGENCY ROMANCE
Vicar Benedict Sedgwick is betrothed to his dear friend Alice, who charmingly sits on a couch propped up by a flotilla of cushions as she recovers from an unidentified illness. Benedict is assigned to mind three rambunctious children who have been blacklisted by all the tutors in the area. Capt. Phillip Dacre, their father, is expected back in Portsmouth port two weeks. Enter the similarities with The Sound of Music: adventurous children, a domineering, military father, and a fun-loving tutor with a religious calling who realizes he is falling in love with the children’s father. What follows is a page-turning story of two men who attempt to hide their attraction from observant relatives. Benedict grapples with his choices between Alice and Phillip and his vocation and spiritual values. An entertaining subplot involves Benedict’s father, Alton, a free-loving poet who finally decides to settle down.
Verdict Sebastian (The Ruin of a Rake) provides yet another sizzling romance with a robust plot that transcends time and setting. She has created a family readers will want to get to know better. [Previewed in Joyce Sparrow’s “Love Is All Around,” LJ 10/15/17.]—Joyce Sparrow, Kenneth City, FL

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