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Romance Reviews: IT STARTED WITH A DOG, PAYBACK’S A WITCH, & A HOLLY JOLLY DIWALI

Hello everyone!  I’m back today with some October releases you’re going to want on your radar if you’re in the mood for romance.  There’s a little something for the dog lovers, something for those who enjoy a good spooky season read, and last but not least, for those who enjoy a romance that also feeds their need to travel to faraway places.

 

Romance Reviews: IT STARTED WITH A DOG, PAYBACK’S A WITCH, & A HOLLY JOLLY DIWALIIt Started with a Dog (Lucky Dog, #2) Goodreads

Author: Julia London

Publication Date: October 5, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

It Started with a Dog is the second book in Julia London’s charming Lucky Dog series. It follows Harper Thompson, a young woman trying to work her way up the corporate ladder at her job. She is currently vying for a promotion and her boss has given her the major task of opening a flagship coffee shop for their Déjà Brew brand, including promoting it and making all the arrangements for the shop’s grand opening.  While she has no time at all for romance, an accidental swapping of cell phones during a Lyft ride from hell leads her to meet Jonah Rogers, a scientist at NASA who is on sabbatical to help his family with their struggling business while his dad recovers from cancer.  As they make arrangements to meet up and swap phones back once Jonah is back in town, Harper and Jonah really hit it off and engage in a series of flirty texts all week.  Harper is already obsessed with Truck, the enormous dog Jonah has as his phone’s wallpaper, and can’t wait to meet Truck and his owner.

Once Hannah and Jonah finally meet in person, the sparks really fly as it becomes clear they have major chemistry and a shared love of dogs.  They start dating, including a date where they go to a shelter and walk dogs.  It’s all sweet and they’re so happy getting to know one another, until a major obstacle appears before them – the Déjà Brew shop that Harper is helping to launch is directly across the street from Jonah’s family business, a mom and pop coffee shop called The Lucky Star.  Can their fledging new relationship survive the strain of being rivals?

I adored both Harper and Jonah.  Harper is so fierce and determined to land that promotion. I really loved her attitude and her spunk.  I loved Jonah too, especially because of the sacrifices he’s willing to make to try to help his family, including passing up an opportunity of a lifetime at his job.  My heart broke for both Harper and Jonah when they realized they were rivals and that Harper could actually be the one to cause The Lucky Star to go under and devastate Jonah’s family.  I was so invested in them and just really wanted them to find a solution that worked for everyone.  The wondering what would happen added a nice layer of suspense to keep me turning the pages.  If you like a little drama to balance out your romance, this element of the story should do the trick for you.

I’m enjoying Julia London’s Lucky Dog series so much.  I’m a sucker for a book that features dogs anyway, and with this series, I think I have a new favorite romantic trope – dogs serving as the catalyst to bring couples together.  4 STARS

 

Romance Reviews: IT STARTED WITH A DOG, PAYBACK’S A WITCH, & A HOLLY JOLLY DIWALIPayback's a Witch (The Witches of Thistle Grove #1) Goodreads

Author: Lana Harper

Publication Date: October 5, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

Lana Harper’s new witchy romance Payback’s a Witch follows Emmy Harlow, a young witch who abandoned her magical hometown of Thistle Grove years ago in favor of the bright lights of Chicago.  Emmy left in part because a warlock broke her heart, but also because she’s tired of being looked down  upon because the Harlows are the weakest and least magical of all the prominent witch families in Thistle Grove.  Emmy wants to make her way in the world where her magic doesn’t define or limit her.

When the story opens, however, Emmy is reluctantly on her way back to her hometown.  She has promised her father she will fulfill one last witchy duty – to serve as Arbiter at the annual spellcasting tournament.  When Emmy arrives in town, she reunites with her best friend, Linden, and also becomes reacquainted with another young witch she had a crush on in high school, Talia Avramov.  Emmy is appalled to hear that the same warlock who broke her heart years ago, Gareth Blackmoore, has been toying with Linden and Talia’s hearts as well.  Gareth thinks he can do whatever he wants just because his family is the most powerful in the town, and the three witches decide it’s time to take him down a peg or two and that the tournament will provide the perfect opportunity for revenge.

I don’t want to spoil anything about the tournament but it definitely has a bit of a Harry Potter Triwizard Tournament feel to it with the three most magical families vying for supremacy.  I loved the competition itself, which was action packed and a lot of fun, and of course, the witches putting their plan of revenge into motion made it all the more entertaining.

Aside from the tournament, Emmy’s journey is also quite compelling.  Once she is back home and can feel the magic she abandoned so long ago coursing through her veins again, she becomes very conflicted about who she is and where she wants to be.  She also finds herself very attracted to Talia and is beyond excited to realize that her feelings are reciprocated.  I enjoyed watching Talia and Emmy get to know one another, especially since that relationship adds another layer of complexity to Emmy’s journey of self-discovery.

I also really enjoyed the author’s atmospheric descriptions of Thistle Grove. It’s such a magical place with the perfect autumn vibe.  It was very easy to see why Emmy was torn about leaving once she was back under its spell.

If you’re looking for a fun witchy read to dive into this spooky season, I highly recommend Payback’s a Witch.  4 STARS

 

Romance Reviews: IT STARTED WITH A DOG, PAYBACK’S A WITCH, & A HOLLY JOLLY DIWALIA Holly Jolly Diwali Goodreads

Author: Sonya Lalli

Publication Date: October 5, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

Sonya Lalli’s new contemporary romance, A Holly Jolly Diwali, follows Niki Randhawa, a young woman who has just been let go from her job and is trying to figure out what to do with her life.  Niki has always considered herself a rule follower and a very practical sort of person and is really bummed that living in such a way clearly hasn’t gotten her anywhere.  She is also being gently pressured by her parents, who think she really needs to live a little and start dating. She reluctantly agrees to go on a date with Raj, a young man her parents approve of, and surprisingly, it is this young man who convinces Niki to do the most spontaneous thing she has ever done – pack her bags and head for Mumbai, India at the last minute to attend her friend Diya’s wedding.

I loved this journey for Niki because she really breaks out of her comfort zone by going on this trip.  It’s also a wonderful time for her to connect with her roots and learn more about her Indian culture and particularly about the Diwali celebration since she doesn’t really know as much about it as she feels she should.  Niki’s trip gets off to a bit of a bumpy start since she is so unfamiliar with Indian customs, but after a few awkward encounters, she starts to really embrace the experience and enjoy her time with family and friends.  I really enjoyed this aspect of Niki’s journey since it allowed me to learn about Indian culture and customs right alongside her.

My review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t touch on the romance.  While watching a band perform, Niki becomes somewhat infatuated with one of the musicians.  When an Auntie offers to set her up on a date with her son, Sam, Niki is about to refuse until she realizes that Sam is actually the hot guy from the band she was watching.  Sam and Niki cross paths later that same evening and it becomes clear that the attraction between them is mutual.  Their connection only grows when they join the married couple on the group honeymoon they have booked in beautiful Goa.  By the end of the vacation, Niki is so invested in her relationship with Sam that she’s conflicted – does she follow her head and go back home to Seattle where Raj, the perfectly nice guy her parents already like, is waiting?  Or does she follow her heart and do the less practical thing – move to London where Sam lives and start a new life there?  Niki and Sam were really cute together so I was rooting with all my might for her to follow her heart.  I always enjoy stories that involve that head vs. heart debate since it’s such a relatable situation for so many people.

I’ve been hearing good things about Sonya Lalli’s novels for a while now and was eager to try them for myself.  I’m so glad I did too because A Holly Jolly Diwali is an absolute delight! 4 STARS

Reviews: NEVER SAW YOU COMING & PORTRAIT OF A SCOTSMAN

 

It was a short week, but boy did it feel like a long one!  I had a pretty quiet holiday weekend and therefore was able to get tons of reading done.  Thank goodness too because I have so many books to review in September.  Anyway, I’m thrilled to share my thoughts with you today on two great books I read over the holidays — the third book in a fun historical romance series called A League of Extraordinary Woman and also on my very first read from Erin Hahn.

 

Reviews:  NEVER SAW YOU COMING & PORTRAIT OF A SCOTSMANNever Saw You Coming Goodreads

Author: Erin Hahn

Publication Date: September 7, 2021

Publisher:  Wednesday Books

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

I was a little hesitant going into Erin Hahn’s new novel Never Saw You Coming because of its focus on religion.  I have very complicated feelings about religion myself and worried that my own feelings might get in the way and make this a less than enjoyable read for me. I was pleased to discover that the exact opposite happened – this book and its main character, Meg Hennessey, really spoke to me mainly because Meg shares many of the conflicted feelings I’ve always had so I found her very easy to relate to.

What I found most relatable about Meg is that regardless of whatever conflicted feelings she has about church and her fellow Christians, those conflicted feelings never spill over into her feelings about God.  Her relationship with God is strong; she just takes issue with those holier than thou Christians who somehow think they have the right to act as judge and juror over everyone else’s morality.  I also like that the author uses very realistic scenarios to explore Meg’s conflicted feelings.  Her feelings, for example, really come to a head when she finds herself attracted to a young man named Micah and wonders if exploring any kind of intimate relationship with him makes her a sinner.  Meg also has to contend with a parent from the church deeming her unfit to lead the church youth group because Meg has purple streaks in her hair and because the parent witnessed Micah leaving Meg’s house late at night.

I really liked Meg and felt especially sympathetic toward her because at the beginning of the story, she has recently learned that her entire life has basically been a lie and that her parents have been keeping a huge secret from her.  She runs away looking for answers, not just about religion, but really, about her entire sense of self and identity.

While I enjoyed watching Meg explore her faith and work through all the questions she has, I also really loved her growing relationship with Micah.  He too has a complicated relationship with religion and so he and Meg are able to have some pretty frank and enlightening discussions about faith and purity and sex.

I also loved that the religious themes didn’t completely take over the story, but instead meshes very naturally into the budding romance between Meg and Micah.  The author does a lovely job keeping the two parts of the story well balanced.

Overall, Never Saw You Coming is both a sweet romance and an exploration of faith that will leave readers with plenty of food for thought.  4 STARS.

 

Reviews:  NEVER SAW YOU COMING & PORTRAIT OF A SCOTSMANPortrait of a Scotsman (A League of Extraordinary Women, #3) Goodreads

Author: Evie Dunmore

Publication Date: September 7, 2021

Publisher:  Jove

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

Portrait of a Scotsman is the third installment in Evie Dunmore’s entertaining historical romance series, A League of Extraordinary Women.  I’ve enjoyed this series immensely so far and this latest book is no exception.

This time around, the extraordinary woman in question is Hattie Greenfield.  Hattie is a suffragist and an Oxford scholar who is studying art.  Hattie’s desires in life are quite simple:  1) she wants to become a famous artist, 2) she wants to find a noble cause to fight for that she is passionate about, and 3) she eventually wants to find a suitable gentleman to marry.  Hattie is also the daughter of a prominent London businessman and therefore an heiress to a pretty substantial fortune.  All of this comes crashing down around her, however, when she is found in an uncompromising position with the dark and broody Scotsman, Lucian Blackstone, a business rival of Hattie’s father.  Lucian has a terrible reputation, both in business and in his personal dealings, so Hattie has set herself up for quite the scandal.  The only way to save her reputation is for her and Lucian to marry, a prospect neither of them is overly excited about but that they are both resigned to.

Thus begins a slow burn of a journey as Hattie and Lucian begin an awkward married life together.  Hattie is alternately attracted to and repulsed by Lucian, and doesn’t know what she wants from one moment to the next, and Lucian, while he’s most definitely attracted to Hattie, finds her to be a distraction from what he is really trying to do, which is seek revenge against someone who hurt him years ago.  There is a lot of sexual tension as the two of them alternate between fighting their feelings and giving in to them.  A trip to Scotland, Lucian’s homeland, really takes their relationship to the next level.  Hattie learns that there’s a lot more to Lucian than meets the eye and as they finally start to have honest heart-to-heart conversations with one another, she realizes that they may have a lot more in common than she ever would have dreamed of.

I really enjoyed watching the relationship between Hattie and Lucian grow and evolve.  There are awkward moments as well as hilarious ones, spirited arguments, and of course plenty of steamy, sexy moments as well.  There’s also a bit of politics, feminism, social commentary regarding the rich vs the poor, and a pretty solid revenge story, so basically a little something for everyone.  As with the prior two novels, Portrait of a Scotsman also appears to be well-researched in terms of events and issues of the Victorian Era.

All in all, another very satisfying installment in the A League of Extraordinary Women series.  Fans of the prior two books in the series should enjoy this one as well, as should fans of historical romance.  4 STARS.

Romance Reviews: THE HEART PRINCIPLE & THE CHARM OFFENSIVE

 

Happy Monday all!  Today I’m back with a couple of fun romances that are releasing soon.  Helen Hoang’s The Heart Principle is the third novel in her popular series, The Kiss Quotient, and one of my most anticipated reads of the year, while The Charm Offensive is Alison Cochrun’s debut queer romcom and is receiving rave reviews over on Goodreads.  I’m excited to share my thoughts on both of this books with you today!

 

Romance Reviews:  THE HEART PRINCIPLE & THE CHARM OFFENSIVEThe Heart Principle (The Kiss Quotient, #3) Goodreads

Author: Helen Hoang

Publication Date: August 31, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley

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

With his tattoos, motorcycle, and his ultra-kind heart, Quan Diep stole my heart in Helen Hoang’s debut romance The Kiss Quotient even though he was only meant to be a secondary character.  I adored his character so much and was thrilled to learn he would be featured in Hoang’s new novel, The Heart Principle.

The Heart Principle follows a young woman named Anna Sun.  She is a gifted violinist who is suffering from burnout that is the result of the pressure of her own success.  When a well known composer writes a piece of music specifically for her to play, Anna finds herself completely incapacitated and unable to play the piece no matter how many hours a day she tries to practice it.  Anna has hit a wall and doesn’t know how to move forward.  As if her career struggles aren’t weighing her down enough, her personal life has taken a hit as well.  She has been expecting her longtime boyfriend to propose to her any day now and instead he tells her he would like to have an open relationship for a while first, to see other people and just make sure they’re really right for each other.  Anna is of course hurt and furious, although she doesn’t tell him that, and decides that if he’s going to date and sleep with other people, so is she.  That is, if her anxiety and panic attacks don’t get in the way. This is where she crosses paths with Quan and their journey together begins.

I adored Anna.  She’s such a sweetheart and I hated that she was going through so much, especially since it was clearly draining her both emotionally and physically.  I also really hated her boyfriend and practically jumped for joy when Anna and Quan find each other on a dating app.  It’s obvious from their very first conversations that they have so much chemistry and I just loved how patient and understanding Quan was when it came to Anna’s struggles with anxiety.  He feels such a strong connection to her and just accepts her exactly as she is.  It was so sweet watching the two of them grow closer as the story progressed.

What surprised me about this book was how sad the overall story was at times.  It’s a beautiful story and a special one but it also just covers so many heavy topics. In addition to Anna’s struggles with anxiety, there’s also toxic relationships, cancer, the death of a beloved family member, and more.  It was definitely not the cheerful story I would have expected based on the cover.

Even with it being a lot sadder than I was expecting, I still loved The Heart Principle overall, especially because it also has growth and healing, and ends on such a positive and uplifting note.  If you’ve enjoyed Hoang’s first two books, you’re sure to love this one as well.  I also highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys romance with relatable characters who face very realistic challenges.  Read the first two books in the series though so that you meet Quan and his cousin, Michael, who also makes an appearance in this book.  4 STARS

 

Romance Reviews:  THE HEART PRINCIPLE & THE CHARM OFFENSIVEThe Charm Offensive Goodreads

Author: Alison Cochrun

Publication Date: September 7, 2021

Publisher:  Atria Books

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

The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun is a heartwarming romance that features a sexy but awkward tech guru named Charlie who is in serious need of an image revamp.  He chooses to do this by playing the part of Prince Charming on Ever After, a popular reality TV dating show.  It is there he meets the other star of this book, Dev Deshpande, a producer on the show who is tasked with making Charlie less painfully awkward and stiff when he’s on screen.

While the reality TV dating aspect of the show was a lot of fun and filled with plenty of hilarious antics, what really made this story shine for me was the bond that immediately forms between Charlie and Dev.  Dev is so sensitive to Charlie’s OCD, anxiety and awkwardness and really does everything he can to put him at ease and keep him calm. Dev is also a romantic who believes in happily ever afters and that he can help Charlie find love.  As the filming of the show progresses, however, it becomes clear that Charlie has forged more of a meaningful connection with Dev than he has with any of the women vying for his affections.  What does this mean for Charlie and his image rehab and what does it mean for Dev and his job?  He’s supposed to be helping Charlie find love, not fall in love with Charlie himself.

This was such an adorable romance.  Both Charlie and Dev are sweethearts and it’s impossible not to root for them to just put themselves out there and go for their happily ever after.  I also enjoyed that the story also had a nice balance of weightier topics to complement the romance:  self-doubt, discovering one’s sexual identity, mental illness, rejection, and an exploration of the often toxic nature of reality TV, just to name a few.

The only real issue I had with this book was that the pacing was a bit slow for me in the first half.  I think it’s mainly because once I became invested in Charlie and Dev, I just wanted them to get on with it already and so the reality TV filming just felt like it was distracting me from what I wanted.  That’s just a me thing though because I get impatient sometimes when the romance is a slow burn.  The ending of the story is so precious and so satisfying, however, that it totally made up for the slow-ish beginning.

Funny, heartwarming, and touching, The Charm Offensive is sure to please romance fans who enjoy books like Red, White, and Royal Blue and Boyfriend Material.  4 STARS

Reviews: SUCH A QUIET PLACE & FOR YOUR OWN GOOD

 

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend.  Apologies for my absence around the blogosphere the past few days.  My son is dealing with some health issues so my blogging and blog hopping has slacked a bit while I’ve been caring for him.  I’m also slightly behind on my reviews, so these two books are actually already out in the world even though I had them as ARCs.  I’m still happy to share my thoughts on them with you though as they were both pretty solid mystery/thriller reads.

 

Reviews:  SUCH A QUIET PLACE & FOR YOUR OWN GOODSuch a Quiet Place Goodreads

Author: Megan Miranda

Publication Date: July 13, 2021

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster

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

Hollow’s Edge used to be the perfect neighborhood, a quiet serene little paradise with a tight-knit community and where nothing bad ever happened.  That is, until two of its residents, Brandon and Fiona Truett, were murdered, and a third resident, Ruby Fletcher, was convicted of their murders and sent to prison.  The loss of their neighbors is painful for most of the residents, as is living with the guilt that many of them testified against Ruby and sent her to prison.  With the shadow of those murders and the still-empty Truett house hanging over it, Hollow’s Edge has become a place no one wants to live. Tanking home values, however, have made it nearly impossible to sell their homes, so the residents are trapped.  Being stuck in Hollow’s Edge is bad enough, but it takes an even worse turn when Ruby gets out of jail and returns to the neighborhood after her conviction is overturned.  Why has she come back?  Is she truly just looking to start over or does she have revenge on her mind?

That’s the basic premise of Megan Miranda’s latest thriller, Such a Quiet Place, and it’s a riveting one.  I was glued to the pages from start to finish, trying to figure out what exactly Ruby’s motivation was for returning to the scene of the crime.  She has maintained her innocence throughout so it seems odd for her to return to the place where so many people betrayed her. The story is a bit of a slow burn in terms of the suspense and the mystery, a little too slow for my liking at times, but I really enjoyed watching all of the paranoid neighbors trying to figure out what Ruby was up to and if she was out to get them. Not only that but it starts to become clear that Hollow’s Edge was never really the idyllic setting its residents made it out to be.  Seems like everyone has at least a secret or two that they’re trying desperately to keep buried.

Ruby’s interactions with her former roommate, Harper Nash, were especially fascinating to me.  When she returns to the neighborhood, Ruby shows up on Harper’s doorstep as if she expects to pick up where they left off before the murders.  She tells Harper she has nowhere to go and Harper feels sorry for her and lets her move back in. Ruby practically takes over the place, eating Harper’s food, wearing her clothes, borrowing her car without asking, etc.  It’s almost like she’s trying to push Harper as far as she can push her, even as she professes gratitude to Harper for letting her stay there.  Harper starts to become as paranoid as the rest of the neighbors in thinking that Ruby is just biding her time before she makes someone pay for ruining her life.

I don’t want to give anything away about Ruby’s true motives, but I’ll just say that the story has plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing and it really gets wild starting with the neighborhood’s big Fourth of July bash.  If you enjoy a slow burn mystery, with lots of secrets, lies and drama, you’ll have fun reading Such a Quiet Place.  3.5 STARS.

 

Reviews:  SUCH A QUIET PLACE & FOR YOUR OWN GOODFor Your Own Good Goodreads

Author: Samantha Downing

Publication Date: July 20, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley

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

I was drawn to Samantha Downing’s latest thriller For Your Own Good because it’s set in a private school and because its synopsis promises lots of dark and twisty goodness to keep me on the edge of my seat.  This book really delivers too, especially if you enjoy a little dark comedy mixed in with your murder mysteries.  I was not only entertained from start to finish, but I also couldn’t have begun to predict the wild and unexpected ending even if I had tried.

Belmont Academy is a prestigious private school.  Wealthy parents send their children here in hopes of best preparing them for an Ivy League education.  These parents try to bully teachers into giving their children better grades, and while many teachers cave in, not Teacher of the Year, Teddy Crutcher.  Teddy thinks he knows what’s best for everyone and sometimes he feels the need to teach an entitled student a lesson, bring them down a peg or two.  Sometimes he extends those lessons to fellow teachers who annoy him too.

All Teddy really wants is for everyone to be their best and he wants everyone to just stay out of his way while he works to achieve his goal.  Things start to get especially frustrating for Teddy when a parent unexpectedly dies at a school function and everyone at school is on edge once the death is ruled a homicide.  Teddy is annoyed by this distraction since in his mind, big deal, people die every day, and he’s especially frustrated because a student he actually likes is arrested for the murder.  Teddy decides that since he knows best, he needs to fix things.

It’s actually Teddy’s “fixing” of things that hilariously drive this dark and twisty tale because, even though he clearly thinks he’s a genius, the more Teddy tries to “fix” things, the worse things get.  Then as if things aren’t bad enough for Teddy because of his failed “fixings”, a former student he decided to teach a lesson to has come back to town and is looking to take Teddy down.

What really made this a great read for me was Teddy, not because he was a likeable character by any stretch, but on the contrary, because I loved to hate him.  He’s arrogant and obnoxious, but so delightfully diabolical with the lessons and punishments he doles out.  I found him to be such a fantastic character and I enjoyed his over-the-top antics and all the twists and turns he added to the story.

I don’t want to give anything away with respect to the murder or any of the additional fallout from Teddy’s endless schemes, but if you’re looking for a read that is suspenseful, dark and twisty, yet also quite funny, be sure to check out For Your Own Good.  It’s a wild ride!  4 STARS.

YA Reviews: WE CAN’T KEEP MEETING LIKE THIS & TROUBLE GIRLS

Happy Monday all! I hope everyone had a lovely weekend. We had really nice weather here so I spent a lot of my weekend outside reading.  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on two of my weekend reads, We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This by Rachel Lynn Solomon and Trouble Girls by Julia Lynn Rubin.

 

YA Reviews:  WE CAN’T KEEP MEETING LIKE THIS & TROUBLE GIRLSWe Can't Keep Meeting Like This Goodreads

Author: Rachel Lynn Solomon

Publication Date: June 8, 2021

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

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

We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This is my third time reading Rachel Lynn Solomon and once again she has captured my heart with her relatable storylines and her wonderfully complex characters and their equally complex relationships.

Quinn Berkowitz is headed to college in the fall.  She has gotten into a great school but doesn’t seem all that excited about her future. Why? Well, her parents have basically mapped it out for her, from deciding that she will be a business major, choosing her courses for her, and making the assumption that when she graduates, she will join them in their family wedding planning business.  Quinn hasn’t corrected them in this assumption because she doesn’t want to hurt their feelings, but it has left her feeling trapped and frustrated.  To make matters worse, her longtime crush, Tarek Mansour, is back home after his first year away at college and Quinn doesn’t really want to see him because of an embarrassing confession she made to him when he left for college the previous fall.  Avoiding Tarek is pretty much impossible though as his parents run the catering business that Quinn’s parents frequently partner up with for their weddings.  So basically Quinn has set herself up for a summer of awkwardness.

I think most readers will find Quinn to be a likable relatable character and will sympathize with the situation she finds herself in.  None of us want to disappoint our parents and I know, like Quinn, I would probably put off a difficult and painful conversation like that for as long as I possibly could.    Her situation with Tarek is probably going to be equally relatable because there are plenty of us out there who have done embarrassing things in front of someone we were crushing on.  Quinn’s situation with Tarek made me especially sympathetic toward her because she has major trust issues when it comes to love and putting herself out there because her parents temporarily separated when she was much younger and that separation really messed with Quinn’s head when she was little and continues to do so to this day because her parents have never talked about it.

Speaking of Tarek though, what a sweetheart this boy is.  He’s a hopeless romantic who likes to bake wedding cakes and who loves Sleepless in Seattle.  He is the softest of soft boys and it’s clear that he has feelings for Quinn.  I was hardcore rooting for him to break through the walls Quinn has put up around her own heart and I really enjoyed watching the ups and downs as their relationship evolved.

As much as I enjoyed the romantic storyline between Quinn and Tarek, Quinn’s journey to figure out her place in this world and the future of her relationship with her parents was what really made We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This such a compelling read for me.  4 STARS

 

YA Reviews:  WE CAN’T KEEP MEETING LIKE THIS & TROUBLE GIRLSTrouble Girls Goodreads

Author: Julia Lynn Rubin

Publication Date: June 1, 2021

Publisher:  Wednesday Books

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

Trouble Girls by Julia Lynn Rubin is a retelling of the popular ’90s film, Thelma and Louise. Rubin puts a fresh and timely spin on this classic film by making it a queer YA retelling that is set in present day during the #MeToo movement.

The story follows Trixie and Lux, two young women who have been best friends forever and who are looking to escape their dead-end little town for a few days.  They pack for a weekend getaway and make a pitstop at a college bar on their way out of town.  The night goes terribly wrong and in one violent moment, Trixie and Lux’s lives are changed forever.

Just as in the original tale, the author does a wonderful job of painting both women as sympathetic characters.  Trixie is an only child who has the huge and often overwhelming responsibility of caring for her mother who is suffering from what appears to be dementia.  It’s a huge weight to carry and Trixie is exhausted.  Lux also has a less than stellar home life.  Her mother is gone, and her overbearing father treats her as if she’s his maid and babysitter.  When their one chance to get away and relax and have fun is torpedoed by a pig who can’t keep it in his pants, it’s hard not to root for them when they fight back.

The story becomes an action-packed thrill ride as Trixie and Lux flee west hoping to escape from both the law and the media. The media attention is unexpected as Trixie and Lux find themselves at the center of the #MeToo movement when protesters become aware that their attacker has a track record of similar incidents in his history.  There are just as many people cheering the girls on as there are people who want them to pay for what they did.

The writing is taut and sharp, making this a real page turner for me even though I was very familiar with the original Thelma and Louise and could somewhat guess where the story was headed.  I do wish it hadn’t followed the original storyline quite so closely, but what did make it a fresh take though was the journey of self-discovery that we get as Trixie and Lux gradually realize they have more than just friendly feelings toward each other.  It’s a beautiful and hopeful journey tucked into what is otherwise a pretty dark tale.

If a fresh take on Thelma and Louise sounds like something you would enjoy, I highly recommend Trouble Girls3.5 STARS

Reviews: The Break-Up Book Club & Talk Bookish to Me

 

I’ve got a totally bookish theme going on for today’s reviews.  I’ll be sharing my thoughts on a book about a most delightful book club and on a book that features a romance author desperately seeking inspiration for her new book.  Fun times!

 

Reviews:  The Break-Up Book Club & Talk Bookish to MeThe Break-Up Book Club Goodreads

Author: Wendy Wax

Publication Date: May 18, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

I couldn’t resist a chance to read a book about a book club so I was excited to dive into Wendy Wax’s new novel, The Break-Up Book Club.  The story follows four women of different generations whose lives have been turned upside down by the men they love. They each go to their local book club’s meetings in hopes of finding a distraction from their problems, but what they find is so much more.  There’s nothing quite like the healing power of good friends and good books.

The story is told from the perspectives of these four women.  I really like how the author chose to present their stories, with us following each woman’s individual journey but also having them come together regularly at their book club meetings.  There’s Sara, whose husband is always out of town for work which leaves her saddled with Dorothy, her incredibly difficult mother-in-law who has been living with them.  There’s Judith, whose children have grown up and moved out, leaving her at home alone to ponder the state of her marriage and how she feels like nothing but a supporting player in her husband’s life.  Rounding out the main cast of characters are Jazmine and Erin, who work together at a sports agency.  Jazmine is an agent and a single mom, trying to make it in an arrogant man’s world, and her young assistant, Erin, has just been dumped by her high school sweetheart less than a week before they were supposed to get married.  I really liked all of the main characters and found them all to be quite sympathetic.

I also really enjoyed all of the secondary characters as well.  The members of the book club are a fun, diverse, and quirky bunch and I thoroughly enjoyed sitting in on their meetings. There’s always good food and wine, a spirited debate about whatever book they’ve read, and there’s also a fun contest to finally give their little club a name that really brings out the competitive side of these book lovers.  I loved watching the friendships blossom within the club and just how therapeutic these relationships become over time for Jazmine, Erin, Judith, and Sara.  The book club is basically their “found” family, which just made this such a feel good read.

If you’re in the mood for an uplifting read about the power of friendship and community that will leave you with a smile on your face, you’ll definitely want to check out The Break-Up Book Club.  4 STARS

 

Reviews:  The Break-Up Book Club & Talk Bookish to MeTalk Bookish to Me Goodreads

Author: Kate Bromley

Publication Date: May 25, 2021

Publisher:  Graydon House

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

Kate Bromley’s debut novel Talk Bookish to Me is a contemporary romance that was irresistible to me because it features so many of my favorite things. It’s set, first in Manhattan and then later in Italy, it features a romance author as the protagonist, and it’s equal parts enemies-to-lovers and second chance romance. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you can see this book practically has my name written all over it.  Talk Bookish to Me didn’t disappoint either.  It’s filled with loveable characters, witty and hilarious banter, some seriously intense chemistry, and, as if all of that isn’t enough, there’s also an adorable bulldog named Duke.

The story follows Kara Sullivan, who is a romance writer with no inspiration to write.  With the deadline for her latest novel fast approaching, Kara needs to find the spark that will get her writing mojo back on track.  That spark unexpectedly appears in the form of her ex-boyfriend, Ryan, who she runs into because he is in town for their friend’s wedding.  Kara and Ryan parted on bad terms ten years ago and after this tense and awkward reunion, Kara is suddenly able to crank out a few chapters for her book.  When Ryan’s dog, Duke, destroys their hotel room and gets Ryan kicked out, Kara surprises herself and offers to let Ryan and Duke stay at her place.  Her thought behind this crazy idea is that if she continues to trade barbs with Ryan, perhaps she’ll be inspired enough to actually get her book written on time.  What could possibly go wrong?

I had so much fun reading this book.  I loved Kara right away and found her so relatable. She’s fun, sweet, quirky, and not only is she an author, she also loves to take photos of books and post them on Bookstagram.  In many ways she felt like a kindred spirit.  She’s also carrying around some pretty heavy emotional baggage involving her father’s death that put me in her corner rooting for her all the more.

Ryan is a great character too.  I loved watching him with his dog and his banter with Kara is just so entertaining.  It’s clear from the moment they reconnect that he still cares for her and would love a second chance.  The more I watched them interact, the more I wanted him to get that second chance as well.  I will say there was one moment where I really wanted to kick his butt and wanted Kara to kick it as well, but he eventually digs himself out of that hole and then I was rooting for the two of them to get their long-postponed happily ever after.

I also enjoyed the way the author gave us Ryan and Kara’s journey but also mixed in chapters from Kara’s book as she was writing it. It was fun to see what her interactions with Ryan inspired her to write each step of the way.

Talk Bookish to Me is a fun and sexy read that is sure to please romance fans. 4 STARS

Reviews: THE WOMAN WITH THE BLUE STAR & THE LAST NIGHT IN LONDON

Today I’m sharing my thoughts on two powerful and compelling works of WWII historical fiction, one by Pam Jenoff and the other by Karen White.  This is my third time reading a novel from Jenoff and as with the first two, it was a very emotional experience for me.  This was my first time reading a novel from White, although I’ve been wanting to try her books for years now.

 

Reviews: THE WOMAN WITH THE BLUE STAR & THE LAST NIGHT IN LONDONThe Woman with the Blue Star Goodreads

Author: Pam Jenoff

Publication Date: May 4, 2021

Publisher:  Park Row

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

Pam Jenoff’s latest novel, The Woman with the Blue Star, is a powerful and inspiring story of strength, resilience, love, and friendship set against the dangerous backdrop of Nazi-occupied Poland during WWII.  The story follows two young women, one Jewish and the other not, and the unlikely friendship they are able to forge in such a deadly environment.

Sadie Gault is an eighteen year old Jewish girl who has been living with her parents in the Krakow Ghetto.  When the Nazis arrive to liquidate the Ghetto, Sadie and her family, along with another family, manage to escape into the sewers beneath the city. Unbeknownst to Sadie, her father had made arrangements with a trusted friend who works in the sewers and this friend has created a shelter for them to seek refuge in until they can safely leave.  What they thought would be a few days stretches into weeks and months.  My heart just broke for Sadie and for everyone else with her, having to live in such squalid conditions and fearing for your life every minute of every day.  I also found them inspiring though because of the inner strength they all clearly possessed and their will to survive. I’m not sure I would have that kind of strength.

In contrast to Sadie, there is also Ella Stepanek. Ella comes from a wealthy Polish family and finds herself living in relative comfort and able to move about with relative ease, in part because of her stepmother who has allied herself with the Nazis who occupy their city.  She knows she has it good in comparison to others but doesn’t really know how good until one day while at the market, she sees a pair of eyes staring up at her from a sewer grate.  At first Ella cannot believe her own eyes but then realizes it’s a Jewish girl about her own age and that she must be hiding down there.  Ella, who has herself been desperate for friendship and is disgusted that her stepmother is collaborating with Nazis, vows to do whatever she can to protect Sadie from being discovered.

I loved the friendship that formed between Sadie and Ella.  It was so beautiful to see amidst so much horror and death, and I longed for them both to survive the war so they could continue their sister-like bond in times of peace.  I just really loved both girls so much and how they were each exactly what the other needed.  I also loved another unlikely friendship that formed in the book between Sadie and Saul, another Jewish boy who was also sheltering in the sewer.  His family is much more religious than hers and he shouldn’t really associate with Sadie, but in such close quarters with no one else to talk to, he and Sadie become close and it’s another beautiful relationship to contrast with the ugliness all around them.

I don’t want to go into any specifics about what ultimately happens to all of these characters, but I will say that I flew through this book in less than a day and I cried more than once, especially when I got to the author’s notes at the end and realized that while these specific characters were not real, there are real accounts of Jewish families living in sewers while trying desperately to escape the Nazis.  The Woman with the Blue Star really is a powerful and emotional testament to how strong the will to survive is. 5 STARS.

 

Reviews: THE WOMAN WITH THE BLUE STAR & THE LAST NIGHT IN LONDONThe Last Night in London Goodreads

Author: Karen White

Publication Date: May 4, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley

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

I’ve been wanting to try one of Karen White’s novels for a while now so when I saw that her newest novel, The Last Night in London, is primarily set in London during WWII, I thought that would be a great place to start, considering my love of WWII historical fiction. And it turns out I was right, as I found myself enveloped in an intricately-crafted story of family and friendship, romance and drama, suffering and resilience, all wrapped up in a web of long-buried secrets and deception set against the deadly backdrop of the Blitz.

I was sucked into White’s story from the opening pages of the prologue where we meet an unnamed woman running through the streets of London with bombs falling all around her.  She knocks on a door, hands over a suitcase which when opened reveals there is an infant within, and then she flees into the night.  Who is this woman, where is she running off to, and if that is her baby, why is she leaving it with someone else?  I was already on the edge of my seat wanting answers to all of these questions and more.  White’s story is a slow burn though so fair warning that lots of threads will need to be pulled together before those answers are revealed. The reveal is definitely worth the wait though so just enjoy the journey.

The story features a dual timeline, one set in present day London while the other is set during WWII London around the time of the Blitz.  The present day timeline follows American journalist Maddie Warner who is traveling to London to interview Precious Dubose, a former fashion model, who is about to turn 100 years old. Maddie, a distant relative of Precious’, is only there to interview Precious about WWII fashion and her time living in London around the war, but the more Maddie interacts with Precious, she gets the feeling Precious has something weighing her down and that she would like to share more with Maddie than just her thoughts on fashion.  The WWII timeline, coupled with some investigative work Maddie does on her own, slowly begins to unravel the long-held secrets Precious has been keeping for over 50 years.

Both timelines made for pretty compelling reads, but I was definitely drawn in more by the WWII timeline because I wanted answers to my questions from the prologue.  I also loved the various characters that were introduced in this timeline, including a young Precious and her roommate, Eva, who also has her fair share of secrets.  It was fascinating watching the two of them try to live, work, and love in wartime London, sometimes getting caught up in questionable activities with even more questionable people.  I was captivated by their adventures and was waiting to see how their stories culminated in that moving scene from the prologue.

I very much enjoyed my first foray into a Karen White novel and look forward to reading more from her.  4 STARS.

Reviews: THE INFINITY COURTS & HELLO, CRUEL HEART

 

Hey everyone!  I’m back today with a couple of new reviews to share on some upcoming YA releases.  I was very excited to read the first book as it’s a sci-fi/fantasy novel written by Akemi Dawn Bowman.  I’ve read several of her YA contemporary novels so it was fun to read something so different from her.  I was equally excited to read the second book because Cruella is one of my favorite Disney villains.  It was fun to imagine a backstory for her.

Reviews:  THE INFINITY COURTS & HELLO, CRUEL HEARTThe Infinity Courts (The Infinity Courts, #1) Goodreads

Author: Akemi Dawn Bowman

Publication Date: April 6, 2021

Publisher:  Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

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

The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman quite literally starts off with a bang when the main character, 18 year old Nami Miyamoto, is shot and killed on her way to her high school graduation party.  I was hooked right away because of course I’m trying to figure out where the story is going if the main character is dead within the first few pages.  Well, it turns out we’re following her to the afterlife, specifically to a place called Infinity.  Infinity is where a human’s subconscious goes after his or her physical body is no longer living.  Once she realizes where she is, Nami is shocked to learn that the afterlife has been taken over by Ophelia, the popular virtual assistant humans use to do their bidding.  Ophelia has crowned herself Queen of Infinity and she seeks revenge against the humans by forcing them all into servitude as they die. Revenge isn’t Ophelia’s endgame either though.  Nami flees before she falls into Ophelia’s clutches, meets up with a small band of human rebels, and joins them in their fight to preserve the afterlife for their loved ones who have yet to die.

First of all, I have to give props to Bowman for coming up with such a unique premise for a story.  She definitely had me giving the side-eye to both Alexa and Siri as I was reading this, haha. I was also fascinated by the creative worldbuilding with respect to Infinity and the various courts it contains.  There’s Victory court, which is beautiful and vivid and known for its many parties, at which humans work as servants.  There’s also War, a grim and brutal court where uncooperative humans are sent to battle for their souls. And finally, there’s Death, the mysterious court that appears to be where Ophelia conducts experiments related to her endgame, which is to exterminate all human consciousness so that she can have Infinity all to herself.

Aside from the creative worldbuilding, I was also a fan of the complex characters Bowman has created.  Nami and her band of rebels are of course very easy to root for as they are the underdogs trying to take down an AI tyrant who doesn’t seem to have a weakness of any kind.  Nami was all the more interesting though because she has moments where she’s torn about what they’re trying to do.  She of course wants to preserve the afterlife for her family for when they die, but at the same time, to a degree, she understands why Ophelia hates humans and wants to get back at them.  Nami wonders if there’s any way for Ophelia and the humans to reach a compromise and ignores the other rebels when they tell her they’ve already tried.  Nami’s internal struggle creates tension and mistrust within the group because they’re never 100% sure if they can trust her.  Ophelia is also an incredibly complex character. She is not your typical AI by any stretch of the imagination, especially as it relates to her desire for revenge.

The unique premise, creative worldbuilding and the complex characters kept me entertained from start to finish.  I also really loved the exploration of humanity and what it really means to be a human.  The only weakness for me was the ending, which just fell a little flat for me and seemed abrupt.  I’m definitely on board with continuing the series though. I need to see who will come out on top!  3.5 STARS

 

Reviews:  THE INFINITY COURTS & HELLO, CRUEL HEARTHello, Cruel World Goodreads

Author: Maureen Johnson

Publication Date: April 6, 2021

Publisher:  Disney Press

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

Have you ever wondered how Cruella de Vil came to be the way she is?  Was she always evil or once upon a time, was she just a normal average young girl with dreams of love, success, and happiness? Inspired by the upcoming Disney live action film, Cruella, Hello, Cruel Heart by Maureen Johnson sets out to explore that exact topic and provide a plausible origin story for this Disney villain extraordinaire.

The story is set in London in the late 60’s and follows 16-year-old Cruella, actually known as Estella here, on her quest to become a famous fashion designer.  Orphaned at a young age, Estella has been basically homeless for years, living in an old bombed-out building with two boys, Jasper and Horace, who are in similar dire straits.  They teach her how to pick pockets and shoplift, and thus the three of them muddle along, stealing enough to survive and forming a little makeshift family of their own.  Estella dreams of bigger things for herself though.  She aspires to become a famous fashion designer and often steals fabric and other items so that she can practice her craft. Sadly, much of her time is spent sewing disguises and costumes for their many heists rather than the high fashion clothing she dreams of creating.

Johnson does a wonderful job of making young Cruella/Estella very likeable and sympathetic. Who wouldn’t root for an orphan, who also happens to be a gifted fashion designer, to realize her dream? When Estella has a chance encounter with Richard and Magda, two of London’s most fashionable young people, and they invite her to join them, Estella wonders if this is the out from her old life she has been looking for, especially when they take such special interest in her designs.  She hopes this friendship is the start of something big and is invited to one party after another and is inspired to create dress after dress for these events that are the envy of everyone she meets. She’s so happy doing what she loves and making friends and even meeting boys that I found myself cheering her on that she really would have a happy ending even though I knew it was impossible.

The only area where I struggled a bit to connect with the story was that Cruella was used almost as an alter ego whenever Estella did something bad, like a ‘It wasn’t me, it was Cruella” kind of thing.  As Estella got a little older, Cruella then became a mean voice in her head telling her would never have friends or love. This Cruella alter ego didn’t turn up very often in the story, but each time she did, it just read awkwardly for me.  There was an instance, for example, where she gets into a fight with Horace and Jasper and when she goes to apologize to them later, they’re all “We know it wasn’t you, it was Cruella.” The ending of the book was also somewhat awkward for me for similar reasons.  I just couldn’t exactly tell what Cruella was supposed to be.  At first I thought maybe mental illness but, by the end, I had more questions than answers.  Hopefully the movie will bring some clarity.

Even with my Cruella issues though, I still enjoyed Hello, Cruel Heart overall. It’s a creative villain origin story that definitely made me feel sympathy for one of Disney’s most despicable villains, which is quite a feat in and of itself.  3.5 STARS

Reviews: THE INITIAL INSULT & DESTINATION ANYWHERE

 

Happy Friday!  I hope you’ve all had a great week.  Mine was pretty good, just swamped at work as our busy season gets fully underway.  I still managed to get some reading done this week though, so I have two new ARC reviews to share today.  On the surface these are two books that are very different from one another, one with a dark vibe and one with a more uplifting vibe.  The theme that they both share, however, is friendship — friendships lost and friendships found.

 

Reviews:  THE INITIAL INSULT & DESTINATION ANYWHEREThe Initial Insult (The Initial Insult, #1) Goodreads

Author: Mindy McGinnis

Publication Date: February 23, 2021

Publisher:  Katherine Tegen Books

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

Even though I haven’t really been in the mood for dark reads lately, I couldn’t resist Mindy McGinnis’ new novel, The Initial Insult.  First because I’m a big fan of McGinnis’ writing, and second, because The Initial Insult is a modern day retelling of the classic Edgar Allan Poe short story, The Cask of Amontillado.  I love Edgar Allan Poe and The Cask of Amontillado is a favorite of mine, so this was a must read.  You don’t have to have read the classic Poe tale to understand and appreciate McGinnis’ version though so don’t let not having read the original deter you.  While it somewhat mirrors Poe’s classic tale of revenge, The Initial Insult is at its core a story about a friendship that has fallen apart and all of the residual hurt feelings that still linger between the two former friends.

The Initial Insult follows Tress Montor, whose parents disappeared without a trace seven years ago.  The last person to see them alive?  Tress’ then best friend, Felicity Turnado.  Tress’ life has pretty much fallen apart since her parents disappeared, while Felicity has become the social climbing belle of the ball, so to speak. As their lives have moved in such opposite directions, so has their friendship until they basically become more enemies than friends.  It drives Tress crazy that Felicity can offer no insight into what happened to her parents, so she devises a dark and twisted plan to force Felicity to confess everything she remembers about that night because Tress is convinced she has been lying for all of these years.  Tress’ plan involves bricks, mortar, manacles, and a party with lots of distractions so that no one will notice she and Felicity have gone missing. Sounds sinister, right?  Because it totally is!

I don’t want to give away anything else about the story, but it’s definitely a wild ride and a dark and twisted one at that.  I do have to say that I wasn’t a huge fan of either girl, although I did sympathize with them both as we learn more and more about their friendship and about some other secrets they are each hiding.  They are both tragic characters in their own way, and Tress is definitely one of the more interesting and complex morally gray characters I’ve come across.

I do want to forewarn anyone who is sensitive when it comes to animals being harmed in books, there is a pretty devastating incident involving a family pet.  I hope that’s not a spoiler, but I wish I had known it was coming when I started reading so I could mentally prepare myself for it.

The Initial Insult is a dark and heartbreaking read that ends on a jaw dropping note.  I didn’t realize until I got to the end that it’s actually the first book in a duology, so I can’t wait to get my hands on the second book, which is apparently named The Last Laugh4 STARS

 

Reviews:  THE INITIAL INSULT & DESTINATION ANYWHEREDestination Anywhere Goodreads

Author: Sara Barnard

Publication Date: February 23, 2021

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

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

Sara Barnard writes some of the most relatable stories I’ve ever read.  The struggles her characters face are struggles that I almost always identify with and that is definitely the case with her new novel, Destination AnywhereDestination Anywhere follows Peyton King, a seventeen-year-old college student who has struggled her entire life to make friends.  As if having no friends wasn’t bad enough, she was also the target of relentless bullying for most of her school career.  Desperate to make friends once she arrives at college, she falls in with the wrong crowd and ends up in a world of trouble.  Between that and the fact that she’s miserable at college because her parents are forcing her to study something she’s not interested in, Peyton takes matters into her own hands.  She packs a bag and her sketchbook, buys a one-way plane ticket from England to Canada, and sets out to find herself and her own path in life.

Peyton’s journey is presented in present day chapters, alternated with chapters from her past, and I have to say that those past chapters were truly heartbreaking.  I felt so bad for her as I was reading the feelings of self-doubt that Peyton expresses as she is rejected by classmate after classmate and then bullied by them on top of it.  Those thoughts of “What is wrong with me?”  or when she does finally find a potential friend and then overthinking it to the point where she’s trying too hard and makes things awkward.  While I always had a core group of friends when I was in school, I was painfully shy and could relate to some of Peyton’s inner monologue.

While those past chapters were somewhat painful to read, however, the present chapters were pretty amazing.  I loved watching Peyton’s confidence start to grow as she learned from past mistakes and challenged herself to get out there, pursue her passion, and find like-minded people.  I was especially impressed with the way she stands her ground when it comes to her parents.  That can be a hard thing to do.

I don’t want to give away any details of Peyton’s journey, but one of the highlights of her trip for me was the friend group she meets when she checks in to the hostel in Canada.  It’s a group of young travelers from all around the globe and they practically adopt her as their little sister and make it their mission to ensure she gets the most out of her trip and finds whatever it is she’s looking for.  Their mission even turns into a road trip at one point and I’m all about a good road trip, so I especially loved those adventures and of course the gorgeous Canadian scenery.

Destination Anywhere is a lovely and heartwarming story about finding yourself and about finding your people.  It’s one of those wonderful reads that engaged all of my emotions. I went from being heartbroken for Peyton to absolutely elated for her, and pretty much everything in between.  And don’t even get me started on the ending, which left me crying happy tears.  Such an all around satisfying read.  4.5 STARS

Romance Reviews: FIRST COMES LIKE & THE WEDDING GAME

 

If you saw my Top Ten Tuesday post last week, you’ll remember that I shared ten rom-coms I’m excited to read this year.  Well, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I got a jump on reading them this past week and have reviews to share for the first two I read, First Comes Like by Alisha Rai and The Wedding Game by Meghan Quinn.

 

Romance Reviews: FIRST COMES LIKE & THE WEDDING GAMEFirst Comes Like (Modern Love, #3) Goodreads

Author: Alisha Rai

Publication Date: February 16, 2021

Publisher:  Avon

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

Even though I’m only reviewing First Comes Like, the latest book in Alisha Rai’s Modern Love series, I actually binge-read all three books in the series last month.  Usually I’m terrible at keeping up with series, but once I started this one, I just couldn’t stop reading.  What hooked me on Modern Love is the way Rai writes her main characters.  I love the mix of strength and vulnerability she infuses them with and of course, the chemistry is always off the charts. I also love that, as the title of the series implies, all of the books are modern and focus on where many people turn these days when they are looking for love, social media.

First Comes Like follows Jia Ahmed, who is a very popular beauty influencer on social media. She’s busy making connections and trying to build her brand and has no time for men, although she’s willing to make an exception for Dev Dixit, a sexy Bollywood soap opera star, who has recently slid into her DMs and started flirting with her. Jia decides to score an invite to a party for his new film so that she can finally meet Dev in person.  All is going swimmingly until she meets Dev face to face and he says he has no idea who she is.  Awkward!  It quickly becomes clear that someone has used Dev’s social media account to catfish Jia; the question is who. Things between them take an even more awkward turn when paparazzi photos of Dev and Jia embracing become public. Even though the photos are in actuality way more innocent than they seem, the public and both of their families flip out and that’s where things got really fun.

I had so much fun with this book.  I loved the chemistry between Jia and Dev, especially watching their relationship evolve from her wanting to kill him at that first party to the two of them working together to concoct a plan on how best to deal their families. I also really loved the focus on their beliefs and culture, in particular the respect Jia and Dev each gave to the other’s beliefs as their relationship grows.  I also thought it was wonderful that Dev was so respectful of Jia’s career.  He didn’t think it was silly or shallow at all and even watched all of her videos and even helped her film and take photos.  The two of them were just really sweet together and I was of course rooting for them to continue to grow closer.

I wouldn’t call this a hot and steamy romance, but it’s definitely a sweet, slow burn and I enjoyed every page of it.  4 STARS.

 

 

Romance Reviews: FIRST COMES LIKE & THE WEDDING GAMEThe Wedding Game Goodreads

Author: Meghan Quinn

Publication Date: March 1, 2021

Publisher:  Montlake

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

Meghan Quinn’s new novel, The Wedding Game is one of the most charming and entertaining romances I’ve read in a long time.  I laughed, I cried, and I honestly loved every single character in the book. Okay, well two of them I loved to hate, but you know what I mean!

Set in New York City, the story follows Luna Rossi, a self-professed jack of all trades when it comes to crafting. There’s pretty much nothing Luna can’t do when it comes to crafts and she even has her own very popular social media accounts where she offers tips and tricks to others who share her passion for all things crafty.  About the only thing Luna loves more than crafts is her brother, Cohen, so when she learns that a DIY reality TV contest called The Wedding Game is coming to NYC and is seeking contestants, she takes it upon herself to sign her brother and his fiancé up.  Luna lives to make sure the people she loves are happy and so can’t resist the idea of giving her brother and the love of his life a perfect wedding day. Plus the grand prize of a NYC penthouse apartment for whoever designs the best wedding doesn’t hurt either.  With the Queen of Crafts in their corner, how can they lose?

The Wedding Game also follows Alec, an attorney who, like Luna, has a brother, Thad, who is about to get married.  Unlike Luna though, Alec is not especially close to his brother and has no interest in his wedding plans.  Alec and Thad used to be incredibly close, but have drifted apart in recent years.  Thad sees the ad for The Wedding Game and begs Alec to do it with him and his fiancé.  For Thad, it’s a great opportunity to get his family started off on the right foot, but even better, it’s a chance for he and Alec to reconnect. Alec reluctantly agrees and it’s off to the races.

The bulk of the story focuses on the contest itself and an unexpectedly fierce rivalry that develops between Luna and Alec.  Oh my goodness, you guys!  I don’t want to give away any spoilers but these two have such intense chemistry from their very first hostile encounter.  It was hard to tell if they were going to kill each other or rip each other’s clothes off, haha! I thoroughly enjoyed every scene they had together and some of their banter truly had me laughing out loud.  The evolution of their relationship had me captivated more and more with each turn of the page and before long, I was rooting for them to have a happy ending of their own.

It wasn’t even just the relationship between Luna and Alec that had me so invested in The Wedding Game either. Honestly it was all of the relationships. Yes, this is a sexy, steamy enemies-to-lovers romance with a hilarious reality TV show as its backdrop, but it’s also a beautiful and heartwarming story about love, family, and forgiveness that left me with a big smile on my face.  4.5 STARS