It’s always dicey to write a formal review of a friend’s book because for me at least, I expect really amazing work from my friends. Yes, I hold them to a higher standard than I do an author I’ve never met, and I’ll admit it. No freebies from me, even when it hurts me to not hand them out.

And when Michelle Hazen writes passages like

“My eyes are as round as greedy gold coins. I have no idea why he just told me that, and I don’t care. I want that collection, want to shoot it into my veins and roll naked in it and drown in the gorgeous, classic sound of song after song brought to life by the needle of my beloved antique turntable.” (Chapter 6)

about what happens when our heroine, Jera, finds out that our hero, Jacob, is a music junkie with an amazing vinyl collection, well, I know I don’t need to try not to offend. This is a display of some serious writing chops.

But she wanted my opinion on her latest novel, A Cruel Kind of Beautiful, because Michelle wanted my opinion as an expert in Rock Fiction. So let’s start there.

First off, this is a romance. Here’s where I can launch into a discussion of category (Rock Fiction) versus genre (Romance), but I won’t. You need to know this is a romance so you know that this is a book of two people who want to come together but have obstacles to overcome, including one so severe, it’s called a Black Moment and it rips them apart. And you need to know there will be a Happily Ever After when all’s said and done. And there, I’ve told you the plot.

Of course, there’s more to it than that (and the more to it is what makes romance so delicious), so let’s look at it in the context of Rock Fiction, as I said above I would.

Jera is in a band. She’s the drummer, content to, as she acknowledges, let her singer and bassist be the buffer between herself and the audience. This is an interesting point and an important one for the overall themes of the novel, one of which is that she’s the daughter of a musician, someone who almost made it big and regrets the decisions he made in his career. He understandably doesn’t want to see his daughter make the same mistakes.

And that’s one of the (too) many subplots: Jera’s band plays a showcase. They go from warming up an empty room to finishing up in front of a packed house, which seems unbelievable enough, but then they are offered a record deal, too.

Oh, and Jacob turns up late to the show but loves every single second of it.

This is after the two had a date that included listening to his record collection—really, who has vinyl collections anymore? Which makes this an amazing pairing right there—and some of the previously mentioned gorgeous writing.
And then the novel spins into agonizing over what the record company wants to change about Jera’s band until some sage words from Jacob allow Jera to make the executive decision for the entire band and call it off.

Viewing this from the angle of Rock Fiction, it’s not quite enough to tip us over a line the novel toes. The music isn’t carried through the novel—in the second chapter, we see Jera tormented by lyrics she needs to write and music she needs to let pour out of her. And it’s amazing, it’s great… and it’s dropped. We are told other songs torment and torture her, but we don’t see that cruel kind of beautiful again.

This hurts the continuity of the story, the idea that themes and subplots are woven through the story as a whole. And there are so many gorgeous opportunities in this novel for music to play the important role it does early on, I just ache at what this novel could have been: deeply textured and layered. Instead, it feels not quite episodic but definitely as if it has ADD, as it flits from one idea (Jacob and his family issues, Jacob and his jobs, Jacob and his friend’s art show which features nude sketches of our hero, Jacob fixing cars, Jacob and his baseball scholarship… and that’s just Jacob! Jera’s got her own set) to the next, without that gorgeous weaving and building that a writer as strong as Michelle ought to be giving us.

I have toggled back and forth on this one. Can romance be this richly textured? Can it address the very serious issues that are present, everything from body image (compare and contrast Jera and Jacob!) to family pressures, to music and how differently Jacob and Jera view it even while it’s a lifeline for them both, to the value and importance of friendship—Jacob’s relationship with his baseball teammates versus Jera’s with her band, for instance. There really is so much to mine here, and I’m genuinely sad more of it didn’t make it onto the page.

Yes, I believe a romance can support these weighty topics—in fact, I think it should, especially when it could have been done relatively easily. And yes, by a writer of this caliber. Check this passage, one of my favorites:

“He murmurs the words against my forehead and they lose none of their strength for his lack of volume. Instead, I feel like he’s tattooing them on my skin, ripping me open and dropping the ink inside so I can never forget what he said. (Chapter 21)”

So despite my reservation, I’d encourage you to not skip this one, and not just because Michelle is, as I said, a friend. Pick it up. Give it a read. Be like me and eye your water heater longingly—you’ll understand when you read it—and write your own review. Tell me if you’re satisfied to flit from idea to idea, or if you’re like me and you want more.

I want more from Michelle, I’ll tell you that. I want to see what sort of excellence is going to come out of her as she grows as a writer. I would wager that this texturing that I’m missing now is going to show up sooner or later (hopefully sooner). She’s too good to keep it inside—and like I said, it’s 90% of the way there now.

“He grabs my hand before I finish the sentence, squeezing it tight like he’s afraid, even though he still stares straight forward. I glory in the pressure, hopeful goosebumps appearing all up my arms. This is what I was missing, all those other times. In every relationship, you fall short or they do… until the last one. And then you’re stretching so far there’s no going back and you can feel the wind whistling against your face as you fall. But if you’re both reaching, you catch each other’s hands at the very last minute and it makes the perfect bridge.” (Chapter 28)

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First in a series alert! Although it looks like another series I’m late to the party of, since this was published in 2016 and that was like, forever ago.

Everything is finally falling into place for Trey Cooper: his band has been accepted into one of the biggest music competitions in the country…too bad their drummer just quit to play with XYZ, their biggest rival. When Trey has a mind-blowingly hot hookup with a mysterious violinist, Trey definitely plans to see him again – just not on stage as a member XYZ.

Dominic Bounds’ time to make his musical dreams come true is running out. If something doesn’t happen fast, he has to head home to find a real job. This competition is his last chance, and Dom needs to come out on top – but he never expected to fall for his rival. As Dom and Trey risk everything to begin a secret affair, there’s no denying their chemistry is off the charts – but could their band rivalry turn their romance into a one-hit wonder?

So two rivalries happening here? Rival bands and rivals in the competition?

Am I reading this wrong, or is it confusing?

Only one way to find out, even though it’s M/M and you guys know that’s not my favorite. Anyone prepped with a guest review they’d like us to post?

Unfortunately, the listing at GoodReads doesn’t have a separate link on the series name so I can’t easily check to see if this is part of the same series I’d blogged about a couple months ago.

Ha. I went digging, and it is. So let’s see what this one’s about.

A rock band. A reality show. A recipe for disaster.

Falling in love with your best friend is one thing. Falling in love with a rock star is entirely another. Put those two things together, add in airing your new relationship on reality TV, and you’ve got one volatile mix just waiting to explode.

Lily Montgomery’s life has veered in a direction she never expected. She’s struggling to find her balance after her romance with rock star Dane Archer propelled her into the latest headlines. Her dreams of a successful writing career are fading in the bright lights of unwanted fame. She needs to figure out how to help Dane and his band achieve their goals without losing sight of her own.

Easier said than done…

As The Void’s tour continues, Lily faces family drama, relationship trials, dangerously dedicated fans, and zealous paparazzi. Between that and figuring out how to spin the tabloid-worthy relationship developing between the band’s brooding bassist, Keith Connors, and her conservative roommate, Sydney Ward, Lily has more weight on her shoulders than she ever imagined.

But her choice has been made. For the sake of love and her own reputation, she will have to find her rhythm and rise to each challenge. If she doesn’t, she’ll lose everything…and the whole world will be watching.

Lots going on here! Is this an extension of the first book? Sounds like it might be, but I’m not up for going digging AGAIN on the same series. (Really. Authors, make it easy. Tell your publishers to make it easy. That separate link for a series? Priceless! Make use of it!)

So if it’s a continuation of the first, then that means you gotta read the first before this one will make any sense. And I still need to do that, of course. So many Rock Fiction novels…

I’ve coveted Michelle Mankin’s books a time or two here, and it’s time to add a third before any of her books have crossed my radar. This one’s a new release, too, which is kinda nice. It definitely breaks a taboo or two with that title! And the description?

This ain’t for the faint-hearted.

10 cities in two weeks 10 famous rockstars. On my knees. Against the wall. On my tits
I don’t care. As long as I get the evidence to prove it. Why? Because I caught my former prick of a boyfriend from Heavy Metal Enthusiasts doing a groupie doggie style backstage on the night we were supposed to be celebrating our 1 year anniversary.

He told me I was too uptight. Too vanilla. Too boring. So I got drunk with my bestie, Marsha West, the aspiring videographer. I ranted. I raved. I came up with a crazy idea. What I didn’t know was that my best friend recorded me. Marsha put the video up on YouTube. It went viral with 10 million hits. Now I’ve got fans and sponsors offering me big bucks.

Rockstars are volunteering to be my f*ck buddy.
Hollywood is calling.
I get to choose which rockstars I want.
The stakes are high.
This sh*t just got real.
What could go wrong?

I don’t think I’ve seen anyone since Susan sent me Pamela DesBarres books enjoy being a groupie quite this much, and I gotta read the book just to find out what those fateful last four words are all about. Because we all know that once they get uttered, it all goes to hell.

Bring it.

I pick up every book intending to love it. I really do. That’s why this review saddens me. I don’t want to have to write reviews like this.

There is often a fine line between alpha male and abuser. Maybe it’s not that fine a line, come to think of it. After all, the sexiest alpha males have respect for their women or partners. Abusers? Not even close.

In Sweet as Sin, narrator Kat tells us she’s been in abusive relationships before and she knows what they look like. Yet she lets Nico manhandle her and even use non-consensual sex as a punishment. In fact, it turns her on.

This isn’t a character who is sincere that she’s done being abused. This is a character who gets off on it.

And so Nico pays off her mortgage without discussing it with Kat. He shows up uninvited. He ignores her when she says no.

And Kat loves it.

This is a kind of depravity that’s not for me. It’s not love; it’s abuse.

There’s nothing that can ever convince me that a story about an abusive man and the woman who loves to be abused is worth my time. Abuse shouldn’t be normed like this; the carnage left in its wake is too expansive and runs too deep. Of course, that’s not on the page. Carnage isn’t romantic.

But apparently, according to some, the abuse itself is.

First in a series alert!

Chad McLoughlin is the lead guitarist for Reckless. He wants his best friend in his band as well as in his bed. Achieving this is no easy task, but he’s determined to succeed.

Crystal Atkinson is ecstatic when the band welcomes her as more than just a groupie. It brings her closer to Chad, who doesn’t hide his feelings. She cannot see him as a potential boyfriend or lover, no matter what he says or does.

An unforeseen betrayal strikes both Chad and Crystal. They continue on alone until Paulie walks into their lives. He is exactly what Crystal and Reckless need. He takes the band and Crystal’s heart for a ride none of them will ever forget.

Reckless, the band that started it all.

So what’s she doing with the band? It never says. Maybe she’s just there to form the threesome?

In fact, this whole description is kinda vague. What sort of betrayal? Why are they alone? Where’s the rest of the band? Where are they continuing?

Lots of questions. Only one way to get an answer.

Bring it.

On the one hand, this one is off the beaten path for Rock Fiction, so that rules. But is it too much like Chick Lit in its heyday to be unique and different?

Single. Inept at flirting. But at least she’s got talent and a sense of humor. The problem is, she’s often the punch line. Despite her difficulties, Ellen Blum is proud of the cred she has earned serenading brides down the aisle with her harp. Doesn’t being 27 and paying her rent on time prove she’s a grown-up?

Not so much, according to her personal chorus of critics. As she dodges the barbs and petty crimes of her bosses and copes with a family crisis, she feels more like a child than ever. She has her heart set on silencing her critics and teaching them — and maybe herself — a new tune. But becoming more than the person described on her business card is even trickier than moving her harp.

Either way, this sounds like fun, and I’m always up for fun. I’m definitely always up for Rock Fiction being used in different styles of writing and subjects, so it’s kinda nice to take a break from all that romance to let Ellen find herself. Because let’s face it: romance goes a lot better when we know who we are before we start looking for a good person to love.

Here’s a series that’s not too old; I know I’ve been finding a lot of gems that have slipped past our careful watch. But this one came out in November, it looks like the second is already out, and there are two more scheduled, although as I’m writing this, there’s not a lot of detail about them.

The first in the series is called All the Ways You Saved Me, and other than guitar-roughened fingers, I’m not sure how much Rock Fiction this really is. But I’m curious to read it and find out! Here’s why:

Bianca Easton is the perfect senator’s daughter.

Law school? Check.

Camera-ready smile? Check.

A dull and boring existence? Double check.

But that was before. Before she lost her best and only friend in a tragic accident. Before she found that friend’s unfinished bucket list. Definitely before she turned her life upside-down by deciding to stay in New York for six months to finish it.

It’s while she’s checking off her first item on the list–buy coffee for a stranger–that she meets Ian Mathis. Between the tattoo sleeve curling up his right arm, his guitar-roughened fingertips, and the secrets shadowing his past, he’s a complication Bianca doesn’t need but desperately wants.

With every item they cross off the list together, Bianca uncovers a piece of herself that she’s buried under what’s expected, all the while breaking her own rules by falling hard for Ian. But when her six months run out, Bianca has to decide if she’s willing to risk her empty but picture-perfect life for a chance at real, messy love.

I like the idea of the friend’s list, and the need to finish it, and how it pulls Bianca out of her staid life. And I’m curious about this Ian dude, too.

This is the fourth in a series, but hey, who said we had to start at the beginning? Besides, this is the required Rock Fiction entry into a series about brothers, so why NOT start in the middle? After all, we do Rock Fiction over here, not series fiction.

Here’s what This Is Our Song is about:

She knows him by reputation
Riley Shaughnessy knew that to stand out in his large family, he’d have to go big. Making a name for himself as a musician wasn’t easy, but he followed his dreams to rock-star success. But the relentless expectations of fans is not helping the slump he’s in now. So of course the person who attracts him is the woman who is not impressed by fame.

Which gives Riley Shaughnessy a lot to prove
Entertainment reporter Savannah Daly is completely unfazed by pretty-boy rock stars. She’s just here to get her interview and write her story. But spending an entire month with the Shaughnessys is going to show Savannah a side of Riley she never could have guessed.

On the surface, this is familiar stuff. Guy finds inspiration. She’s not interested. She’s a reporter, sent to get her story.

So what’s the attraction? HOW it’s done, of course. And this series has good reviews — I looked at numbers but didn’t read any — so you’d think the execution’s going to be good.

Bring it on.

Here’s the Rock Fiction entry into an otherwise not-Rock Fiction series. It’s the third in the series, and I don’t think you have to have read the earlier books to pick this one up. The descriptions seem, from a quick glance, to all be about different people.

Can a love built on secrets survive?

Rugged, hot, and rock hard, Dred Zander is exactly the type of man that normally sends Pixie running. Not dreaming about running her hands down his washboard abs…and lower. The lead singer and guitarist for the band Preload embodies trouble behind his quick smile and guarded eyes, and Pixie left trouble behind her years ago along with the name Sarah Jane Travers and the pathetic trailer her mom called home. With her abusive past in her past, she has a new life, a new family at Second Circle, and a dream of opening her own business. She needs capital and time. What she doesn’t need is a tempting long-haired rocker or the paparazzi that follow him around.

But Dred has other ideas. Pixie’s sweet hazel eyes, purple hair and kaleidoscopic tattoo of exotic flowers that swirl up her arm haunt his dreams, and he knows she wants him too. He just has to convince her. But as a juicy exposé threatens to expose their pasts, and a blackmailer terrorizes their present, Pixie and Dred have to decide what really matters and fight like hell to keep it.

This one’s gonna come down to how well the characters are drawn, so… let’s see how well the characters are drawn. Bring it on!