Title: Feel-Good True Romance Bundle
Author: Rick R. Reed
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 705 Pages
Category: Contemporary, New Adult
At a Glance: I love Reed’s writing. He creates strong, character driven stories, and these are no exception.
Reviewed By: Carrie
Blurb: Delve into some of Rick R. Reed’s classic feel-good romances with this bundle. In Chaser, self-proclaimed chubby chaser Caden DeSarro finds in the perfect man in stocky, bearded Kevin Dodge, and a one-night stand leads into the relationship they’ve both dreamed off. But when Caden returns from a business trip to find Kevin with a new body makeover, is this really the same man he fell in love with? In Hungry for Love, Nate Tippie’s curious sister Hannah and kooky best friend Marilyn set up an online profile on a gay dating site, with Nate as the model. When Brandon Wilde falls in love with the man he’s been chatting with, Nate and Brandon just might have a chance at the love they’ve been searching for—if they can find their way out of the mess Hannah and Marilyn have made!
When the state of Washington finally makes gay marriage legal, Duncan Taylor proposes to his boyfriend, and doesn’t get the answer he’d been hoping for, in Legally Wed. Giving up on love, Duncan determines to marry gay-man-loving Marilyn instead, but wedding planner Peter Dalrymple may be just the solution Duncan has been yearning for. And in Dinner at Fiorello’s, Henry Appleby’s family has his life all planned out for him, but he takes a chance at living a bit of his dream with a summer job at Fiorello’s. Vito Carelli, a chef at Fiorello’s, has a tragic past, but when these two cooks collide in the kitchen, they might just find what they need to break free.
Review: Be aware, this is a grouping (or bundle) of full length novels. It is not a collection of novellas or short stories. Well written, they all end in an HEA. There is a story for each of the stages of love: attraction, openness and honesty, marriage, and second chances. There are books which are offshoots of several of these, so if you like what you read here, look for the crossovers and/or continuations in Rick Reed’s other works. I love Reed’s writing. He creates strong, character driven stories, and these are no exception.
Chaser is the story of Caden and Kevin. This book is maybe a little more serious than you would be expecting, and the twists and turns it takes were a little surprising. This book begs the question, what are you really attracted to in someone, their physical appearance or their inner spirit? It brings to the foreground the argument that you cannot just love someone because of what they look like, as those things will always be fluid, but it is the inner person, their soul and their heart that we truly fall in love with. Unfortunately for most, it is that outward beauty, or lack thereof, that is our starting point. For Caden, he prefers his men on the chubbier side. Large bear-like guys really get him going. Because of this fact, he has always prided himself on the fact that appearances didn’t really matter to him; he was picking the guys no one else seemed to want. This gets flipped around when his new love interest, Kevin, loses a lot of weight and becomes physically fit while Caden is away caring for his ailing mother. Kevin is so proud of his new look, and all of a sudden, he’s more popular. The problem is now that he’s changed his outward appearance, the man he most wanted to impress won’t have anything to do with him anymore. Caden is torn. What happened to the Kevin he fell for? Suddenly Caden is faced with the knowledge that looks mean more to him than he thought they did, and what that tells him about himself isn’t very flattering.
I loved Caden; then I didn’t love Caden; then I settled for a lukewarm fuzzy. Kevin I loved from the get-go, and that never changed. No, his actions were not always spot-on, but his purpose and his feelings were always straightforward and honest. I identified with Kevin, whereas Caden I tended to just shake my head at. There was miscommunication, angst, and frustration galore in the back half of this book. Reed loves to overlap his characters, to a degree, and the book Raining Men is Caden’s “friend” Bobby’s story. Hopefully Bobby gets redeemed in that story, because he is a first class all around asshat in this one. On another side note kudos to Reed for once again being locationally correct in his writings. The places and atmospheres of the settings Reed writes about are always spot on and are landmarks that if you have a mind to, you can visit in real life. This is a feel-good romance, as these two men learn a lot about themselves and the hidden prejudices that we all carry. Caden, of course, realizes that Kevin didn’t change who he was on the inside, and the two cement their HEA.
Hungry for Love is the story of Nate and Brandon. Or is it Hannah and Brandon? Oh wait, yeah, its Nate and Brandon. A good portion of this book is told through Hannah’s eyes, with her narration or voice on the page, and I have to tell you, I didn’t hate her, but whew, it was close. I did feel very sorry for her, her loneliness leaps from the page, but that really doesn’t excuse her actions. I understand now how some in this genre don’t want a female voice on the page, because I needed Hannah and her friend Marilyn to go away so that I could enjoy the relationship and explore the dynamic between our main men. It can be hard when there are so many MCs in a story.
Hannah and her friend Marilyn are playing around on dating sites, specifically, gay male dating sites. They use Hannah’s brother, Nate, as their guinea pig, setting him up a profile so that they can access the site and ogle all the men. When Brandon takes a chance on an online submission, and messages “Nate”, he doesn’t realize that he is really talking to Hannah. The adage “oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive” is the perfect one for this story. Hannah is lonely, and if she could conjure a perfect man for herself, it would be Brandon. Too bad he’s gay, and thinks she is her brother. Frankly, Hannah and Marilyn are supposed to be in their forties, and their actions didn’t support the profiles drawn for them. I didn’t like either female (this really proved hard with book three in this bundle).
I wanted more page time with Nate and Brandon. I felt their connection and their loss when faced with the deception the two ladies purported, plus a little extra from Nate himself. The spark between these two was immediate and strong, and I NEEDED more of this book to be about them and those lovely walks in the rainy mists of Seattle. When it comes down to it, this book was about loving someone, flaws and all, and the happy, smushy, warm feelings I got when the book was finally about Nate and Brandon almost made up for all that other stuff.
Legally Wed is a crossover book from Hungry for Love. It is another book with a decidedly female perspective for a good portion of the book. Unfortunately, that female perspective was Marilyn, and I developed such a strong dislike for her from the previous book that it took me awhile to warm to this story. Yes, there are women out there in the world who act the way Marilyn acts towards gay men, but frankly, she is everything I try very hard to stay away from. Her behavior is atrocious for a good portion of both books, and while some might call her snarkiness cute, there is a reason women like her are lonely when their bitterness is directed at everyone and everything besides their own selfishness. Whew. Moving on. Marilyn is a stereotype, a well written stereotype, as she elicited strong feelings from me. Reed does know how to write characters with personalities we meet every day in our lives, and put them in convoluted, emotional stories. His ability to make me CARE so much is what makes him such a great writer.
Duncan has given up. Asking his long-term boyfriend to marry him, and having the man say “no,” broke his heart, and it seems there just isn’t anyone out there on the gay dating scene that wants him for more than a casual hookup. Disgusted and at his wits end, he places an ad on Craigslist for “Gay man seeks straight woman for marriage”. Duncan figures that if he can’t find a decent gay man to marry, maybe if he finds a woman who is as lonely as he is, they can console each other and live some semblance of a happily-ever-after. Enter Marilyn. The friendship that develops between these two can at times be simple and sweet but those times are rare. Mostly, I feel Duncan is a saint to put up with the quips and abrasiveness Marilyn unleashes on the world. Eventually these two do balance each other out, and they enlist Peter Dalrymple to be their wedding planner. I loved Peter. I loved his persona, his relationship with his father, his love of the wedding business, and his viewpoints on life in general. The chemistry between Duncan and Peter is amazing, even when they spend the majority of the story trying to ignore the sparks between them. In the end, true love wins when Duncan and Peter stop fighting the attraction, and even Marilyn finds another beau she can be happy with. The overarching plot point is, don’t give up on love. That marriage should be between two people who love each other; gender doesn’t matter, love does.
Dinner at Fiorello’s is an amazing book. It made the perfect ending to this bundle, reminding me up front and personal why I love Rick Reed’s books. This story is Reed at his finest. The coming of age, gay self-awareness that Henry goes through is realism personified. The overwhelming brutal heartbreak and a second chance at true love that Vito experiences all draw you into this book and grip your insides.
Henry is from a wealthy family. His life is planned out for him to follow in the footsteps of his father and be a lawyer. He’s been accepted into a prestigious university and is looking at a long summer of internship at his father’s firm. He has never wanted for anything. Except, for someone to ask him what he wants out of his own life. Reed paints a picture of a young man coming of age and standing on the precipice of the future. Henry is well rounded, he has layers, and Reed does an excellent job of fleshing out the character of Henry. He is not just eighteen. He is not just spoiled and neglected, spurned by his best friend and loved by only the housekeeper. There is a depth to him that makes him believable. What he goes through, the life lessons he learns in this story, make him more than two dimensional and convinces you that Henry can be the man that can stand up to Vito’s demons. Henry is not just any boy. That said, there are times when he acts sooooo eighteen. The lost boy comes through, and Henry bleeds loneliness.
Vito’s story is tragic. It was once beautiful, full of life with the ending written in the stars. But that all changed and now he exists to cook, to breathe, to put one foot in front of the other. He didn’t think Henry would last a week in the restaurant, none of the employees did. Wondering and fantasizing about this attractive kid who brings such vibrancy and life back into his kitchen is not something he wants to do. When had he lost his love of cooking? When did the simple joy of creating become a chore? He used to revel in the nourishment he gave and received from the dishes he conceptualized. But that all changed one fateful day, and Vito isn’t sure he would survive a second time. But Vito needs Henry, and Henry needs Vito; they feed each other’s souls and the pathway to love isn’t easy, but they make it.
From the food to the characters, Dinner at Fiorello’s is a 5 star read.
You can buy Feel-Good True Romance Bundle here: