✍🏻 Professor Romance's 4 1/2 ⭐️ Review: Katana Collins's Beefcakes ✍🏻

Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

What do you get when you pair a former Mr. Universe/stuntman/baker and a current uptight, “colors within the lines” town manager together with a baking reality show about exes? You get Katana Collins’s romance, Beefcakes. While I am not the most prolific romance reader, I can tell you that this story read like a fresh take on second chance romance. From its first page to its last, you find yourself rooting for this couple to move beyond their past to find an exciting future together. What is here is a reminder that living an abundant life requires moving forward instead of always looking back. 

Why should you read this book?

  1. Neil is this anomaly of a hero. He’s an amalgamation of types. And I think this is Collins’s purpose. Throughout the story, Neil has to remind Elaina “Lainey” that she can be both intelligent and “buttoned-up” and also the carefree “party girl” of her youth. She can take chances and find freedom in losing her strict control. We see Collins crafting this lesson with Neil. He’s a former ex-Mr. Universe bodybuilder who moved into the life of a stuntman before he comes back to his hometown to help his mother’s bakery. He is also an amazing baker who crafts bakery items that are healthier, yet delicious. There is clearly a traditionally masculine side to Neil (we see this also evidenced in his possessiveness around Lainey), but there is also a more compassionate, feminine side to him. We find him worried over Lainey, even when he shows her his “cocky” side. Through his creation, Neil encompasses one of the truths of Collins’s Beefcakes: we can be more than one identity. We can be whomever we want to be. This is a profound message for her readers, an admonishment to be “more” than we allow for ourselves. 
  2. This is a story of second chances that emphasizes the need to stay and work through problems. Neil and Lainey are high school best friends with benefits. As they prepare to graduate high school, they have made plans for their future; however, at the last minute, Neil leaves town without a “good-bye” to Lainey. For ten years, Lainey nurses a broken heart, even though she engages in a nine-year relationship with another man. However, no one ever really compares to Neil, yet he left her without ever looking back. Or so she thinks. Neil has always regretted leaving Lainey, but he made a choice and he lives with it until he returns home. It is then that the gravity of his interest in Lainey becomes apparent, and he wants to do everything to win her back. Unfortunately, Lainey struggles with trust, not just due to Neil’s swift departure, but for other reasons. This is the reason for her control. In order for Neil to win her over, he will need to remedy his tendency to run when problems arise. I think this lesson is a profound one for today’s romance. We see this plotline in romantic stories, but it really is something that seems prevalent in today’s relationships. Through Neil and Lainey’s reconciliation, Collins proposes that the time and energy necessary for the maintenance of relationships breeds great rewards. Staying power and facing troubles together is always better than running from problems. It’s an important admonishment that Collins develops beautifully through Neil and Lainey’s story.
  3. The contemporization of second chance romance by using a common media attribute: reality television. Collins’s use of a reality television baking show connects us to our own society where these shows are the “bread and butter” of their networks. As a plot device, it forces Neil and Elaina together, but it makes it easy for her readers to imagine. We can see the bachelor-esque beginning of this show as Neil’s exes compete against each other for the coveted spot in the baking competition. It is here where Neil and Elaina are reminded of the depth of their chemistry. It is also in those moments where the readers can enjoy the cattiness of his former ex. This adds some spice and tension to Neil and Lainey’s journey towards reconciliation. As Collins crafts the show in her story, we can see the equivalent of a Cupcake Wars-ish reality show as a means to fully unpack Neil and Lainey’s soulmate-ish chemistry and their inherent conflict. Attaching their journey with something we can “see” and understand from our own world makes this more distinct, more significant, as their happy ending becomes threatened. In my eyes, this was smart of Collins, setting her apart from most second chance romances.

There are enough differences with Beefcakes from other second chance romances that it makes for an engaging read. I found myself falling into Neil and Elaina’s story and hoping for their reconciliation while laughing at Neil and his brother, Liam’s sudden social media celebrity, empathizing with Elaina’s trust issues, and applauding the beauty of Katana Collins’s epilogue. 

I signed up for an ARC for this book simply because I hadn’t read a story like it in terms of its characterization. It intrigued me, and I wanted to read these characters developed on the page. Katana Collins did not disappoint with Beefcakes. It was engaging and thoughtful and the type of second chance romance that makes you believe in happily-ever-afters for everyone. I am INDEED excited for any forthcoming stories in this series, maybe Liam’s story? Neil and Elaina in Beefcakes are an apt reminder that we must forgive and move forward to live a rich life without fear. 

In love and romance,

Professor A

✍🏻 Professor Romance's 4 ⭐️ Read: Erin Nicholas's Sugarcoated ✍🏻

Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I guess this week finds me reading bakery-inspired romance with Katana Collins’s Beefcakes and Erin Nicholas’s Sugarcoated. This is my first foray into the literary world of Erin Nicholas, and I am finding myself hooked with the first book in her Hot Cakes series. If you don’t want to be hooked too, then you’ll want to stay away from Sugarcoated. However, you’ll want to read about the guys of Fluke, Inc, in this series because there is a hero for everyone. 

In Sugarcoated, we follow Aidan and Zoe. These two have known each other most of their lives because Aidan is Zoe’s older brother’s best friend and business partner, and his mother was best friends with her mother. Their past is deeply intertwined. As a twenty-five-year-old virgin, Zoe decides that she wants Aidan to take her virginity and prepare her for any future men in her life. She’s attracted to him, but she only wants his help, or so she thinks. When he spurns her request, it makes her feel foolish, and she believes her request is behind her…until it’s not. Five months later, Aidan is back in town, and he’s come for Zoe. See, Aidan realizes his attraction and interest in Zoe, and he’s back to claim her forever, but he has a secret. He and his partners in Fluke Inc. are also interested in purchasing her competition to her bakery. A life-long rivalry aims to derail Aidan’s plans for his future with Zoe. Will Aidan claim her heart and her virginity, or will his purchase of her competitor, Hot Cakes, burn his future?

In one word, Sugarcoated is sweet. This isn’t a “clean romance” by any means. Both Aidan and Zoe are dirty talkers, and their bedroom antics offer the spice of the story. However, their $exiness is really tertiary to this book. Instead, this is Nicholas’s story of accepting change and finding surprises in life by jumping in first and asking questions later regardless of success and failure. Aidan and Zoe are two sides of the same coin. As Nicholas develops their story, it’s clear that these two sometimes “play it safe” or do what’s “easy” to avoid failure. As the story progresses, we find Zoe taking chances and making herself vulnerable to Aidan even though the price is potential failure. Aidan encourages this in Zoe but fails to do this for himself. This conflict/double-standard becomes the tension of Nicholas’s story. As such, this contemporary romance becomes more sweet than sour. Nicholas allows you to breathe as a reader as Aidan and Zoe quickly troth themselves to each other. There is something comforting about that for this romance. You can simply sit back and be entertained by Zoe and Aidan falling deeply for each other, instead of worrying over some level of desolate angst.

If I had any criticism about Nicholas’s story, it would be its feeling of repetition. Zoe and Aidan seem to cycle around the same issues: Aidan’s want for Zoe to accept Aidan’s purchase of her “competitor” and Zoe’s worry over changes in her life and the need for “surprise” since her life is safe. There is quite a bit of reminding about how long these two have been attracted to each other. If I was a beta reader for Nicholas, I would recommend revising out these constant reminders, as they oftentimes slowed down the story progression. 

For me, Sugarcoated is a set-up for the rest of the Hot Cakes series of standalones. Yes, Nicholas has a prequel for this series on her Facebook page that introduces you to the Fluke Inc. guys. However, Nicholas has also used Sugarcoated to introduce us further to the personalities of Aidan, Cam, Ollie, Dax, and Grant. This is where she will hook you. You want to know more about the dazzling playboy Dax (his book is coming next with Forking Around), the creative, but flighty Ollie, the straight-laced Grant, and the cocky and oftentimes aggressive Cam. This is where Nicholas will grab you and help you push the button on your Amazon preorders for her books. 

If you like friends-to-lovers, brother’s best friend romances, then you will want to read Erin Nicholas’s Sugarcoated. It’s a little bit of sweet, some spice, and a lesson on letting go and accepting life as it comes your way.

In love and romance,

Professor A