Review: BEND TOWARD THE SUN by Jen Devon

Review:  BEND TOWARD THE SUN by Jen DevonBend Toward the Sun by Jen Devon
five-stars
Published by Griffin, St. Martin's Griffin on August 9, 2022
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository | Bookshop
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

Bend Toward the Sun by Jen Devon is one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve read in a long time. It’s a moving story about two people, both of whom have been broken by events from their pasts, who unexpectedly connect with one another.

Rowan McKinnon is a botanist who doesn’t believe in love.  Rowan finds solace in plants and in academia, and has no interest in emotional entanglements of any kind.  She’s a one-night stand girl all the way.  Little does she know, but Harry Brady is about to try to change that.  Harry is a doctor who has taken a leave of absence from his job.  His self-confidence is shattered after losing a patient, and he has come home to work on his family’s new vineyard and to hopefully heal and recover his self-confidence.  A surprisingly intense encounter with Rowan at a family game of hide and seek turns Harry’s world upside down.

I was fully invested in Rowan and Harry from that intense first encounter.  The sparks between them were insane and it was clear they were attracted to one another in spite of themselves.  The sexual tension between them only continues to grow when Rowan accepts a job at the vineyard and spends months there getting the grounds into shape.  I’m a sucker for watching two people grow closer after they’ve gotten off to an initial rocky start, so I just soaked up every scene that brought Rowan and Harry together since it was so obvious that they really needed each other. Rowan, in particular, has built walls around herself, and I loved watching Harry try to break them down.  It was truly an emotional tug of war between them at times.

Watching to see what would happen between Rowan and Harry was captivating on its own, but I also just absolutely loved the author’s writing style.  Every sentence is lush and beautiful without feeling overdone, and I loved how vividly she brings the setting to life.  I could practically smell the grapes and reach out and touch the vines, and that sensation just immersed me in the story all the more.

Equal parts heart-wrenching and heartwarming, Bend Toward the Sun is an intensely emotional story about love, family, grief, and healing that will ultimately leave you with a smile on your face.  This one’s a gem that romance fans won’t want to miss!  5 STARS

five-stars

About Jen Devon

Jen Devon writes steamy, cinematic contemporary romances about imperfect people finding their perfect match. A former ecology academic and university lecturer, she currently works in the tech industry and dreams of writing full-time. She’s an avid gardener, photographer, and boardgamer, a thrift store enthusiast and unapologetic nerd. She’s a mom of five (three kids, two rescue mutts) and lives in central Ohio with her engineer husband.

Her debut novel BEND TOWARD THE SUN will be available from St. Martin’s / Griffin on August 9, 2022, wherever books are sold.

Review: LOVE ON THE BRAIN by Ali Hazelwood

Review:  LOVE ON THE BRAIN by Ali HazelwoodLove on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood
Also by this author: The Love Hypothesis
four-half-stars
Published by Berkley Books on August 23, 2022
Genres: Chick Lit, Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository | Bookshop
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

Ali Hazelwood’s debut novel The Love Hypothesis was one of my favorite reads from last year, and I’m happy to report that her latest “STEMinist” rom-com, Love on the Brain is just as hilarious and steamy as its predecessor.  I devoured the book in less than a day and closed it with a satisfied smile on my face.

Love on the Brain follows Bee Königswasser, an up-and-coming neuroscientist whose hero is Marie Curie, the mother of modern physics.  When NASA offers Bee the chance of a lifetime, to lead a huge neuroengineering project, she of course says yes, without hesitation.  But then she learns who she will be working with – her archnemesis from grad school, Levi Ward.  After years of loathing Levi and knowing he feels the same way, Bee can’t imagine a worst case scenario than being stuck working with him for three months.  But at the same time, it’s her dream project so she reluctantly packs her bags and heads to NASA Headquarters in Houston.

I absolutely adored Bee.  She’s brilliant, quirky, and just flat out hilarious. She’s also tough and independent, which I loved, but at the same time, there’s a vulnerability to her that made her especially appealing and relatable.  Her parents died when she was very young, and she and her twin sister were bounced around from one extended family member to another throughout their childhood.  Bee never stayed in one place and has grown up craving stability and a place where she can put down roots.  A horrible fiancé who left her at the altar has also put her off romance of any kind.

Levi was also a wonderful character, even though I kind of wanted to punch him in the face when Bee recounts her horribly awkward first encounter with him when they were in grad school and how it became the start of their mutual hatred of one another.  As we get to know Levi though, it becomes clear that while he may be the King of Awkward when it comes to Bee, it is not his hatred of Bee that makes him act so cold and aloof around her.

I’m not sure if I would call this enemies-to-lovers or more of a miscommunication trope, but either way, I was here for it.  I loved watching Bee and Levi slowly get to know each other better, and especially for Bee to realize that her initial perception of Levi was completely wrong.  They work together well professionally, the banter between them is hilarious and flirty, and the sexual chemistry between them is off the charts.  I flew through the pages just waiting for the moment when they finally couldn’t resist each other any longer.

Love on the Brain is also filled with some pretty great side characters as well.  I adored Bee’s research assistant, Rocio, who is just as quirky as Bee but with a darker sense of humor.  Bee’s twin sister, Reike, is also a fun, free-spirited counterpoint to Bee and often brings levity to the conversation when Bee is mid existential crisis.

If you like quirky STEM heroines, witty banter, and plenty of steam in your rom-coms, you’ll definitely want to check out Love on the Brain4.5 STARS

four-half-stars

About Ali Hazelwood

Ali Hazelwood is a multi-published author–alas, of peer-reviewed articles about brain science, in which no one makes out and the ever after is not always happy. Originally from Italy, she lived in Germany and Japan before moving to the U.S. to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience. She recently became a professor, which absolutely terrifies her. When Ali is not at work, she can be found running, eating cake pops, or watching sci-fi movies with her two feline overlords (and her slightly-less-feline husband).

Review: THE BODYGUARD by Katherine Center

Review:  THE BODYGUARD by Katherine CenterThe Bodyguard by Katherine Center
Also by this author: Things You Save in a Fire, What You Wish For
five-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on July 19, 2022
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Women's Fiction, Romance
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

I’m a huge fan of Katherine Center’s books and will read absolutely everything she writes. I love the emotional journeys she takes her characters on and even though she sometimes puts my emotions through the wringer, I’m always left with a smile on my face by the end of the book.  The Bodyguard was a bit lighter of a read than I’ve come to expect from Center, with more of a romcom vibe at times, but let me tell you, I was here for it every step of the way and it’s my new favorite Katherine Center novel.

Hannah Brooks is a professional bodyguard and she’s at the top of her field.  Lately though, she has been having a rough time. Her mother has recently passed away, and her boyfriend (who also happens to be her coworker) abruptly dumps her the day of her mom’s funeral.  Hannah is dying for a change of scenery to get away from all the awkwardness and so her boss assigns her as the lead bodyguard for a huge new client who is coming to town, Hollywood mega star Jack Stapleton.  Hannah is torn.  She kind of wants to quit because she really wanted an assignment out of town, the farther away the better, but at the same time, she has had a crush on Jack Stapleton for ages so the opportunity to protect his rather stellar body definitely has its appeal.

Jack is back in Texas because his mother is sick. Coming home is painful for Jack because he is still reeling from a tragic accident that killed his younger brother.  Because of this, he has been out of the spotlight for a while now and therefore doesn’t think he really needs a bodyguard.  His agent feels otherwise though because he does have some stalkerish fans, and so Hannah shows up on his doorstep ready to protect him.

Once Jack and Hannah meet, I flew through the rest of this book. I loved that they were both such messy and complicated characters, each dealing with their own issues, but who also just really pushed each other’s buttons when they are first forced to start spending time together.  Their banter is downright hilarious and had me laughing out loud more than once as I read.  It was easy to see how good they could be together if they would both let their guard down a bit and let the other in and I was rooting for this to happen all the way.

As much as I adored the forced proximity trope in this story, I actually loved the use of the fake dating trope even more.  Jack doesn’t want to worry his mom about stalkers and why he has a bodyguard following him everywhere, so he lies and tells his family that Hannah is his girlfriend.  Jack’s parents are so adorable and I loved watching them bond with Hannah.  They were so good to her that it had me all the more invested in Jack and Hannah hopefully becoming a real couple.

I don’t think what I’ve written has done justice to how wonderful The Bodyguard really is.  It has a little something for everyone – romance, an emotional journey of personal growth for both Hannah and Jack, a found family, humor, and even a bit of action and suspense.  The Bodyguard was everything I’ve come to expect from a Katherine Center novel and more.

five-stars

About Katherine Center

Katherine Center is the New York Times bestselling author of How to Walk Away, the upcoming Things You Save in a Fire (August 2019), and five other bittersweet comic novels. Six Foot Pictures is currently adapting her fourth novel, The Lost Husband, into a feature film starring Josh Duhamel, Leslie Bibb, and Nora Dunn. Katherine has been compared to both Nora Ephron and Jane Austen, and the Dallas Morning News calls her stories, “satisfying in the most soul-nourishing way.” Katherine recently gave a TEDx talk on how stories teach us empathy, and her work has appeared in USA Today, InStyle, Redbook, People, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Real Simple, Southern Living, and InTouch, among others. Katherine lives in her hometown of Houston, Texas, with her fun husband, two sweet kids, and fluffy-but-fierce dog.

Review: SET ON YOU by Amy Lea

Review:  SET ON YOU by Amy LeaSet on You by Amy Lea
four-stars
Published by Berkley Books on May 10, 2022
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Romance
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

SET ON YOU is Amy Lea’s debut novel and it is a delight!  It’s a contemporary romance that focuses on fitness, features a plus size heroine and her sexy gym rival, but that also shines a light on the unfair standards our society has when it comes to beauty and anyone who isn’t a size zero.

The protagonist Crystal Chen is a biracial curvy fitness influencer.  The gym is her happy place and she doesn’t go there to lose weight.  She goes there because she loves to lift weights.  Being strong and healthy is her goal.  Her social media channels are devoted to supporting others like her who aren’t a size zero but who are looking to improve their overall fitness. She posts workout tutorials and lots of support and encouragement.  Crystal is such a fabulous character.  I loved that she embraced her curves and that she worked so hard to inspire others and keep them motivated to achieve their goals.  I also liked that even though she’s so inspirational, she also comes across as a realistic and relatable character, and sometimes she’s a downright hot mess.

The romantic element of the story is fresh and fun too, as it centers on Crystal and her gym nemesis.  Crystal is meticulous and regimented when it comes to her gym workouts.  For that reason, she doesn’t take too kindly to Scott, the new guy at the gym, a sexy firefighter who seems to be going out of his way to be annoying, even taking equipment that she is clearly about to use.  Now I’ll admit that some of Scott’s antics were a little juvenile, but it was hilarious watching him get under her skin, especially when she starts referring to him as Squat Rack Thief.  It’s pretty obvious that Scott is attracted to Crystal and trying to get her attention, and it’s equally obvious that no matter how mad Crystal gets at the Squat Rack Thief, she is pretty obsessed with him.

The evolution of their relationship is adorable too.  Crystal and Scott are forced to relate to each other as something other than rivals when they realize that Crystal’s grandmother has been dating and wants to marry Scott’s grandfather.  Getting to see each other outside of the competitive gym environment really helped take their relationship to the next level.  Crystal begins to think of Scott in ways she never would have imagined, while Scott becomes one of Crystal’s biggest supporters when it comes to both her career and her fitness, working out with her and even helping her film workouts for her social media account.  Both of their families are great too, and I especially enjoyed watching the grandparents embrace a second chance for love. They were so sweet together!

Aside from the fun rivals to lovers romance, Set On You also does a lot to tackle those unfair perceptions about size and beauty and it offers some interesting commentary on the body positivity movement and the effect internet trolls and haters can have on a person’s self esteem. As much as I enjoyed the romance between Crystal and Scott, Crystal’s work to inspire others and to honestly talk about her struggles with her own perception of her curvy body really made this a powerful read in addition to being a super fun one. If you’re looking for an entertaining and timely read to toss in your beach bag this summer, definitely check out Set On You!

four-stars

About Amy Lea

Amy Lea is a Canadian bureaucrat by day and contemporary romance author by night (and weekends). She writes laugh out loud romantic comedies featuring strong heroines, witty banter, mid-2000s pop culture references, and happily ever afters.

When Amy is not writing, she can be found fan-girling over other romance books on Instagram (@amyleabooks), eating potato chips with reckless abandon, and snuggling with her husband and goldendoodle.

Her Spring 2022 debut romantic comedy SET ON YOU from Berkley Romance at Penguin Random House is now available.

Review: BOOK LOVERS by Emily Henry

Review:  BOOK LOVERS by Emily HenryBook Lovers by Emily Henry
Also by this author: Beach Read
five-stars
Published by BERKLEY on May 3, 2022
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

Emily Henry’s new novel Book Lovers follows Nora Stephens, a top notch literary agent in Manhattan. She’s great at what she does, has a take no prisoners attitude, and thus has earned herself a reputation as a shark in the industry.  Nora also has a softer side though, when it comes to her younger sister, Libby.  They lost their mom when they were young and so Nora has practically raised Libby.  Even though Libby is a grown, married woman with baby number three on the way, Nora still deems herself Libby’s protector and the person who fixes things so that Libby is always happy and safe.  So when Libby announces she and Nora are going to get away from New York for an adventure before the new baby arrives, of course Nora drops everything and follows Libby, to of all random places, Sunshine Falls, North Carolina, the tiny town that inspired one of Nora’s client’s most famous novels.

I really adored Nora and liked that we got to see both that tough, driven workaholic side of her personality as well as the softer, more vulnerable, yet ultra-protective side that comes out whenever she’s with her sister. You can just tell that Nora and Libby have been through a lot together and their close bond is very moving to witness. I also loved that as part of their trip to Sunshine Falls, Libby has created a “bucket list” of sorts for her and Nora to complete – wear flannel, date a local, go skinny dipping, etc.  Libby’s list lends itself to many entertaining, often laugh out loud moments as it forces Nora way outside of her comfort zone.

Watching the sisters interact was definitely a highlight of Book Lovers for me, but that’s not to say the romantic element was any less satisfying.  In fact, it was pretty spectacular, particularly if you’re into romance of the slow-burn variety with witty banter that moves from sharp and cutting to increasingly flirtatious the closer the characters become to one another.  Even though Nora wasn’t a fan at first, I really loved Charlie Lastra from the first moment we meet him, mainly because he really gives Nora a run for her money in the shark department.  He’s a broody editor type who is not impressed by Nora showing up late for their meeting and isn’t bashful about telling her this.  The fireworks between them are immediate, and even though Nora swears she can’t stand the guy, she also can’t stop thinking about him.  When he also shows up in Sunshine Falls unexpectedly and runs into Nora, the sparks just keep flying.  I loved watching their relationship grow once they each get past their initial impressions of one another.  It turns out that Charlie is actually from Sunshine Falls and is home dealing with some complicated family issues.  Henry excels at writing realistic characters with messy lives, and both Nora and Charlie fit the bill.  As the older sibling in my family, I could relate to many of the things each character was trying to work their way through.  That said, I was also very much rooting for them to team up and face life’s challenges together.

I love Emily Henry’s books anyway, but Book Lovers truly felt like it was custom-made for me.  I love New York and I love small town settings, and I get both with this book.  I also adore book loving characters and the enemies-to-lovers romance trope, and again, I get both here. Lastly and perhaps the biggest draw of all, the sisterly bond between Nora and Libby, and all of the complicated family issues facing both Nora and Charlie.  If you’re familiar with my blog and the types of books I tend to gush over, you already know that Book Lovers checked pretty much all the boxes for me. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and it ultimately left me with a smile on my face.  I think Emily Henry has another winner on her hands with Book Lovers.

five-stars

About Emily Henry

Emily Henry writes stories about love and family for both teens and adults. She studied creative writing at Hope College and the now-defunct New York Center for Art & Media Studies. Find her on Instagram @EmilyHenryWrites.

Blog Tour Review: Ramón and Julieta by Alana Quintana Albertson

Blog Tour Review:  Ramón and Julieta by Alana Quintana AlbertsonRamón and Julieta by Alana Albertson, Alana Quintana Albertson
four-stars
Published by Berkley Books on February 1, 2022
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Retelling
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

As you can probably tell from its name, Ramón and Julieta by Alana Quintana Albertson is a retelling of the Shakespearean tragedy Romeo and Juliet.  Julieta Campos is a gifted chef who specializes in seafood based Mexican dishes.  She and her mother own a restaurant in Barrios Logan.  They have both sacrificed a lot to keep their restaurant open, but when Ramón Montez and his father, who own the Taco King fast food chain, buys up the entire street their restaurant is located on, they know their days as restaurant owners are numbered.  It stings all the more because the fish taco recipe Ramón’s father used to build his Taco King empire is one he stole from Julieta’s mother years ago. Needless to say, the Campos hate the Montez.

Ramón and Julieta have no idea their families hate each other when they first meet at the local Dia de los Muertos celebration. Ramón helps Julieta properly honor her recently deceased father after she misses the official procession to the cemetery.  Then he proceeds to serenade Julieta with romantic Mexican ballads.  The chemistry between them is undeniable and they can’t wait to see each other again.  That is, until Julieta realizes who Ramón is. Even though she has very strong feelings for Ramón and he feels the same attraction, how can they possibly be together when his father betrayed her mother? Not to mention the fact that he’s now her landlord and wants to turn her beautiful little restaurant and the other Mexican-American owned businesses on the block into Taco Kings and Starbucks.

I really loved Albertson’s contemporary romantic spin on the original Romeo and Juliet.  The obstacles that threaten to tear Ramón and Julieta apart, while modern in nature, are still essentially the same obstacles Romeo and Juliet faced. If Ramón wants to be with Julieta, he cannot strip her beloved community of its culture, which means he must stand up to his father.  If Julieta wants to be with Ramón, she has to convince her mother that Ramón is not like his father, but she also has to face the fact that she may lose her business because of his family, as well as the love of her community since they will brand her a traitor if she chooses him.  They both have very tough decisions to make.  Do they choose each other or do they remain loyal to their families?

What I also loved about this take on Romeo and Juliet was that aside from the drama surrounding the star-crossed lovers, there’s also a much lighter element to the story and that involves the Mexican food and the infusion of Mexican culture.  I loved the author’s vivid descriptions of both the incredible sounding fish tacos Julieta was known for, and of the Dia de los Muertos festivities and costumes.  She brought it to life in such a way that I felt like I was there and a part of the wonderful community vibe.  She also had me seriously craving beer battered fish tacos, haha!

The big question though is that even though Ramón and Julieta is technically a contemporary romance, can a contemporary romance that is inspired by a Shakespearean tragedy have a happily ever after?  You’ll have to pick up a copy of Ramón and Julieta if you want to find out!

four-stars

About Alana Quintana Albertson

Alana Albertson is a multi-award winning author, current President of Romance Writers of America’s Contemporary Romance Chapter and the former President of both Romance Writers of America’s Young Adult and Chick Lit chapters. Alana Albertson holds a Masters of Education from Harvard University and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Stanford University. A recovering professional ballroom dancer, Alana currently writes contemporary romance, new adult and young adult fiction. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, two young sons, and four dogs. When she’s not spending her time playing with her sons, dancing, or saving dogs from high kill shelters through Pugs N Roses, the rescue she founded, she can be found watching episodes Homeland, Devious Maids, or Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team.

Review: THE ROUGHEST DRAFT by Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka

Review:  THE ROUGHEST DRAFT by Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-BrokaThe Roughest Draft by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka
four-half-stars
Published by Berkley Books on January 25, 2022
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

The Roughest Draft is a slow-burn contemporary romance from co-authors Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka. It follows another pair of cowriters, Katrina and Nathan, who, after penning a best-selling novel together, had a major falling out and haven’t spoken to each other in three years.

Neither Katrina nor Nathan have any desire to work together again, but unfortunately for them, their book deal was for two books so unless they want to pay back the advance, they need to make peace and write together one more time. Reluctantly, the pair agrees to move in together for a few months and get this second book written.  They actually move into the same house they used the last time they wrote together so they are both surrounded by memories, both good and bad, and  it’s all fireworks from there!

I will say up front that it does take a few chapters to really get a feel for just how much bad blood and hurt feelings there are between Katrina and Nathan.  At first I was just sitting there like “OMG, why are they feeling so hostile toward one another?  What could have possibly been so bad?” As the story begins to unfold, I became completely engrossed in learning the details about what happened and in seeing if they would be able to move forward and write together again without killing one another. Both characters are immensely likeable and their chemistry is undeniable, even when they’re sniping at one another. Think Emily Henry’s Beach Read but way angstier and that should give you a pretty good feel for this book.

The Roughest Draft was such a wonderful read for me.  It just checked so many boxes.  It’s filled with romance tropes I love like enemies to lovers (actually more like friends to enemies to lovers), second chance romance, and forced proximity.  The story is presented to us from both Nathan and Katrina’s perspectives and through the use of dual timelines, which I always love when they’re used well.  In this case, they are used to perfection:  the present-day cowriting experience is presented parallel to the cowriting journey that went so wrong.  I loved watching Nathan and Katrina trying to navigate in the present while simultaneously learning what happened in their past to create the present-day angst and awkwardness.

I also tend to really enjoy books that give us an inside look at writers and their process, and The Roughest Draft gives us that sneak peek at Nathan and Katrina’s cowriting process because while the two of them are unable to really talk about what happened between them, everything they’re feeling comes pouring out onto the pages as they write together.  There’s so much passion and emotion flying between them I’m surprised they didn’t melt their keyboards!

If you’re in the mood for a slow-burn, angsty contemporary romance, you’re definitely going to want to add The Roughest Draft to your must-read list.

four-half-stars

About Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka

Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka met and fell in love in high school. Austin went on to graduate magna cum laude from Harvard, while Emily graduated magna cum laude from Princeton. Together, they are the authors of Always Never Yours, If I’m Being Honest, Time of Our Lives, and What’s Not to Love. Now married, they live in Los Angeles, where they continue to take daily inspiration from their own love story.

Review: THE WEDDING RINGER by Kerry Rea

Review:  THE WEDDING RINGER by Kerry ReaThe Wedding Ringer by Kerry Rea
five-stars
Published by Berkley Books on November 9, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

The Wedding Ringer by Kerry Rea is a hilarious and heartwarming story about finding love and friendship when you least expect it.  It’s Kerry Rea’s debut novel and she really knocks it out of the park with this gem of a story.  It has that perfect balance of humor and weightier topics.  I laughed a lot but then there were also some sadder moments that made me want to wrap up these characters in a big hug.

After finding her fiancé and her best friend in bed together, Willa Callister has decided that she is done with both love and friendship and would rather just be alone.  This betrayal hasn’t just dampened Willa’s enthusiasm for companionship, however. It has also killed her writing mojo, which is problematic since she makes her living as a blogger. What Willa really wants to do is make enough money to move away and get a fresh start, but until that happens, she finds herself living with her sister, licking her wounds, and occasionally playing Princess Sparkle Fairy at children’s parties for a little cash.

I adored Willa from the moment we meet her at a disastrous children’s party where she accidentally drops the birthday cake after coming face to face with her cheating ex-bff.  Humiliated, Willa storms out of the party, flings her plastic throne to the ground, and dubs her character Princess Effing Sparkle Fairy.  Although it’s clearly a comical scene, I’m a sucker for an underdog and I could easily relate to and sympathize with Willa’s extreme frustration.  She’s lost her best friend and the love of her life in one fell swoop, betrayed by the two people she cares about most in the world.  The author does a wonderful job of creating a scenario that immediately had me rooting for Willa to get the fresh start she so desperately needs.

Willa’s chance comes in the form of another character I fell in love with, Maisie Mitchell.  Maisie is getting married and unexpectedly finds herself down a bridesmaid.  Rather than rearranging everything with an uneven number of people, she decides to hire a professional bridesmaid.  A chance encounter with Willa at a coffeeshop convinces Maisie that Willa is the perfect person for the job.  Even though Willa doesn’t really want to do it, Maisie offers her a sum of money that is too big to refuse.  What neither Willa nor Maisie realizes is that this business arrangement is actually the start of a beautiful, potentially life-changing friendship.  Even though Willa is determined that she doesn’t need anyone, there’s just something about Maisie that makes her heart open no matter how hard she tries to distance herself and keep it from happening.  I especially adored how protective Willa becomes of Maisie when it becomes apparent that she’s marrying into a family that looks down on her.

There is also a lovely side romance for Willa, featuring a sexy pediatrician named Liam. While I loved this relationship and thought Liam was perfect for Willa in every way and that they had tremendous chemistry, it’s truly the friendship between Willa and Maisie that makes The Wedding Ringer such a special book.

five-stars

About Kerry Rea

Kerry Rea lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband and their small army of dogs. She grew up in Youngstown, Ohio and graduated from The University of Notre Dame. She believes that a happy ending is always possible. Visit her at authorkerryrea.com and on Instagram at @authorkerryrea, and on Twitter at @kerrymrea.

Romance Review: DONUT FALL IN LOVE by Jackie Lau

Romance Review:  DONUT FALL IN LOVE by Jackie LauDonut Fall in Love by Jackie Lau
four-stars
Published by BERKLEY on October 26, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

I seem to have developed a sweet tooth for romantic comedies that feature food, especially baked goods. As soon as I saw the title of Jackie Lau’s new book, Donut Fall in Love, with its promise of a swoony romance and delicious desserts, I knew I had to read it.

Set in Toronto, Canada, Donut Fall in Love follows Ryan Kwok, a popular Asian actor whose career has stalled a bit thanks to the less than stellar reviews his latest film has received.  Ryan decides to take some time off to spend time with his sister, who is a new mom, and with his dad, who has recently become a widower.  He figures he can help both of them while he also works through his own grief.

Lindsay McLeod is a talented baker who is known for her innovative and tasty cupcake flavors.  She and her best friend run a very successful bakery together.  Life is pretty good for Lindsay, although she is still dealing with the death of her father and the fact that her mom is now actively dating again. Ryan and Lindsay first cross paths when Ryan literally crashes into her, ruining an entire tray of gourmet cupcakes.  Even though she wants to murder him, Lindsay has to admit that Ryan is pretty hot.

I thought both Lindsay and Ryan were just so adorable and likable right from the start.  I was thrilled when Ryan is asked to appear on a celebrity edition of a popular cooking show called Baking Fail, and he decides to approach Lindsay to hire her to give him baking lessons. I knew it was the perfect recipe for an entertaining romcom.  From the moment of their first lesson, I flew through the pages, enjoying every moment of their initial awkwardness, the increasingly cute and flirty banter and the steamy scenes as they get to know each other better and realize their attraction to one another, and of course the often hilarious moments as Ryan tries to recreate the desserts Lindsay instructs him on.

I also really enjoyed their more personal moments with their own families and friends. Ryan is trying so hard to have a relationship with his father and it’s incredibly awkward between them.  I had already thought Ryan was precious, but his refusal to give up on his dad, no matter how difficult and stubborn he was being, just made me love him all the more.  I also very much enjoyed the relationship between Lindsay and her new roommate. It starts off incredibly awkward and the two barely speak, but like Ryan, Lindsay is a person who refuses to give up.  She keeps trying and trying until she can find something she and the awkward roommate can bond over, and I just really enjoyed the progression of that friendship.

Donut Fall in Love is exactly the kind of book I’m looking for when I’m in the mood for a rom-com.  It’s the perfect blend of sweet and steamy and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who enjoys rom-coms, reality TV baking shows, and of course the hate-to-love trope.

four-stars

About Jackie Lau

Jackie Lau decided she wanted to be a writer when she was in grade two, sometime between writing “The Heart That Got Lost” and “The Land of Shapes.” She later studied engineering and worked as a geophysicist before turning to writing romance novels.

Jackie lives in Toronto with her husband, and despite living in Canada her whole life, she hates winter. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking, hiking, eating too much gelato, and reading on the balcony when it’s raining.

Review: THE LOVE HYPOTHESIS by Ali Hazelwood

Review:  THE LOVE HYPOTHESIS by Ali HazelwoodThe Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
Also by this author: Love on the Brain
five-stars
Published by Berkley Books on September 14, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood is quite possibly the sweetest, most adorable romance novel I’ve ever read.  It checked so many boxes for me (a STEM heroine, the fake dating trope, hilarious banter, and so much more) and it just had me grinning from ear to ear pretty much the entire time I was reading.

The story follows Olive Smith, a third-year Ph.D. candidate at Stanford.  Olive has just learned that her best friend, Anh, is attracted to Jeremy, a guy Olive used to date.  Anh and this guy have major chemistry but Anh doesn’t want to hurt Olive by dating him.  Olive thinks that’s sweet and is grateful to have such a loyal friend but she also knows that Anh and Jeremy would actually be perfect together.  Olive decides to also be a great friend and let Anh think she is head over heels in love with a new guy so that Anh will go for it with Jeremy.  The next time she sees Anh, Olive panics, grabs the first guy she sees and plants a kiss on him.  There’s just one problem – the guy she kisses is none other than Adam Carlsen, a rock star of a professor who also happens to have a reputation for being an ass and making his students cry.  Not exactly who Olive had in mind, to say the least, but to her utter shock, once she explains to Adam why she did what she did, he agrees to fake-date her so that Anh and Jeremy can get together.

I honestly can’t even get over how much I adored both Olive and Adam.  As we’ve established, Olive is such a lovely friend who would clearly do anything to help a friend find happiness.  I also just found her overall personality delightful. She’s smart, determined, resilient, and she’s also hilarious. Once she gets comfortable fake dating Adam, he repeatedly calls her a pain in his rear because she’s always gently mocking and teasing him about his awful reputation and of course tormenting him with her love of all things pumpkin spice, lol.  After hanging out with him just a few times, Olive has picked up on the fact that Adam is anything but an ass. He’s actually quite sweet and surprisingly soft, and she can really open up to him in ways she never has with anyone else. I loved watching the two of them interact because they really did bring out the best in each other and I loved the slight tension as they each began to realize that their feelings for each other weren’t fake at all.

Aside from the romance, the author also tackles some more serious topics, such as the challenges women face in academia, particularly in STEM.  She explores sexism, bias, and what happens when a professor grossly abuses his power. The romance definitely takes center stage and makes up the bulk of the story, but I liked having these “meatier” topics to add some depth to the overall story.

I could go on and on about how much I adored the book. If you’re looking for a charming and heartwarming romance that features lovable characters, witty banter, and fake dating, be sure to check out The Love Hypothesis.  It’s an absolute gem of a book that I will be recommending to every romance reader I know.

five-stars

About Ali Hazelwood

Ali Hazelwood is a multi-published author–alas, of peer-reviewed articles about brain science, in which no one makes out and the ever after is not always happy. Originally from Italy, she lived in Germany and Japan before moving to the U.S. to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience. She recently became a professor, which absolutely terrifies her. When Ali is not at work, she can be found running, eating cake pops, or watching sci-fi movies with her two feline overlords (and her slightly-less-feline husband).