Tag Archive for: book reviews

Reviews: THIS MAY END BADLY & GO HEX YOURSELF

 

I hope everyone who was celebrating this weekend had a wonderful holiday weekend. Huge apologies from me for not blog hopping most of last week.  I think busy season at work finally caught up to me and I pretty much crashed and burned every evening after I signed off from work and even though I planned to play catch up with blogging on Saturday, I ended up napping most of that day as well.  Today is deadline day though so hopefully I’ll be back to my normal blogging habits this week.  I will try my best to play catch up but may end up having to just start fresh this week since I’ve just missed so many posts.  Anyway, I’m back today with a couple of reads I managed to fit in last week in spite of the crazy busy schedule.  These were mostly read while sitting in the parking lot at my son’s soccer practices, lol.

 

Reviews:  THIS MAY END BADLY & GO HEX YOURSELFThis May End Badly Goodreads

Author: Samantha Markum

Publication Date: April 12, 2022

Publisher:  Wednesday Books

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

I love a good boarding school story so I couldn’t resist requesting Samantha Markum’s debut YA contemporary novel, This May End Badly, which is set at Weston, a prestigious all girls boarding school.  I was especially intrigued by the premise that there is an equally prestigious all boys boarding school, Winfield Academy right across the street and that the two schools have a century-long rivalry that is ongoing.  I was hooked on the story from the opening pages, which centers on epic beginning-of-the-school year pranks the students from each school play on each other.

As entertaining as I found the pranks, however, I will admit that I got off to a very rough start with the protagonist, Doe.  She’s the prank mastermind at Weston and she is also obsessed with Three, a boy at Winfield that she considers to be her arch nemesis.  Even though she’s a senior and should be applying to colleges and preparing for her future, she is completely obsessed with escalating the prank wars between the schools and even more obsessed with getting under Three’s skin in any way she can, especially once it’s announced that the two schools will be merging into one next year and Doe suspects that Three’s family had something to do with it.  I could understand her frustration that Weston, which has been her safe haven since her parents divorced, would basically cease to exist after the merger, but in the early chapters of the book, she just came off as immature and obnoxious.  I read a couple of reviews on Goodreads that advised being patient with Doe, that she would eventually grow and learn from her mistakes, and I was glad I stuck it out because there really is tremendous character growth with Doe.

Even though I struggled a bit with Doe in the beginning, the same cannot be said of her friend group. I adored these young women.  They were so much fun when it came to helping Doe with the pranks, but it wasn’t all fun and games for them either. They truly cared about Doe and were not afraid to step in and give her tough love when she needed it, when it was clear she had lost her way and was crossing lines she shouldn’t be crossing.  These girls are friendship goals!

I’m also a big fan of the fake dating trope so I was really into the plot line where Doe fake-dates Three’s cousin and fellow Winfield Academy student, Wells.  I did think it was a bit odd that Doe chose to fake date Wells just to annoy Three, but the reason aside, Wells and Doe were so cute and sweet together.  I loved their banter and loved it even more when their feelings for one another started to change so that it became more about them and less about annoying Three.

The ending of the novel is also fabulous, particularly in the way it brings those rival schools and their pranking super powers together for a very worthy cause.  I found myself very proud of all of these kids by the time I finished reading.  If you’re interested in reading a book about friendship, falling in love, and standing up for what you believe in, you should give This May End Badly a try.  3.5 STARS

 

Reviews:  THIS MAY END BADLY & GO HEX YOURSELFGo Hex Yourself Goodreads

Author: Jessica Clare

Publication Date: April 19, 2022

Publisher: Berkley Books

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

I’ve been enjoying all of the witchy rom-coms that have come out recently and Go Hex Yourself by Jessica Clare is the latest addition to this fun trend.  It features two of my favorite romance tropes, enemies to lovers and grumpy/sunshine so I hoped it would be a perfect fit for me.  I’m thrilled to report I was not disappointed!

The story follows Reggie Johnson, a young woman who answers a newspaper ad and thinks she’s going to be working as a design assistant for Spellcraft: The Magicking, her favorite card game.  When she is led into a lab instead of an office and her new employer, an elderly woman named Dru, starts talking about casting spells and creating potions, Reggie begins to suspect that her new job might not be exactly what she thought it was.  Reggie is skeptical that magic is real, that is until someone curses Dru with a sleeping spell.  Reggie is forced to work with Dru’s nephew, Ben, a sexy but surly warlock who has been nothing but rude to her ever since she first arrived on the job.

I really adored Reggie right from the start.  She’s very much an underdog character and those always have my heart.  She’s in debt up to her ears, thanks to her awful parents, who do shady things like sign up for endless credit cards in Reggie’s name and then not paying the bills, ruining Reggie’s credit in the process. Reggie has a big heart and loves them anyway, but at the same time, is disheartened that they keep taking advantage of her.  Overall, Reggie is a spunky and resilient character but I did like seeing this more vulnerable side of her when it came to her parents.

I also really enjoyed both Dru and Ben. Dru comes across as a bit silly and possibly senile when Reggie first meets her, but it soon becomes clear that she’s quite a character and that there’s way more than meets the eye when it comes to her.  Every time Reggie and Dru interacted, I could practically picture Dru with a little twinkle of mischief in her eyes.  She’s a pretty lovable character. Ben, while not quite as lovable early on in the book, grew on me quickly as we started to get more chapters from his perspective.  It becomes clear that he is not nearly as surly and grumpy as he first seems and that he is mostly misunderstood.  Like Reggie, he has also been shaped by heartbreaking experiences with his parents.

While I found the witchy aspect of the book entertaining and intriguing, especially the curses and the fact the witches in the book were inspired by Roman times, and then of course, the hilarious magical cast of secondary characters, what really kept me thoroughly invested in the story was watching Reggie and Ben finally start to bond and open up to one another while they’re working to uncurse Dru.  What develops between them is special and it was just lovely to watch.  Fans who like a bit of steam in their romance reads will also not be disappointed.

If you’re enjoying the witchy rom-com trend as much as I am, you’ll definitely want to check out Go Hex Yourself.  4 STARS.

Romance Reviews: HOOK, LINE AND SINKER & MR. WRONG NUMBER

 

Happy Friday!  I’m back today to share reviews for two of my most anticipated romance reads of the year.  I actually have a couple more February ARCs to read and review, but my inner mood reader just wouldn’t wait for these two any longer.  So happy to report that both of these reads lived up to my very high expectations, which is always nice.  🙂

 

Romance Reviews:  HOOK, LINE AND SINKER & MR. WRONG NUMBERHook, Line, and Sinker (Bellinger Sisters, #2) Goodreads

Author: Tessa Bailey

Publication Date: March 1, 2022

Publisher:  Avon Books

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

Tessa Bailey’s new novel Hook, Line and Sinker is the follow-up to last year’s popular romance, It Happened One Summer. The main characters of this installment are Hannah Bellinger and Fox Thornton, who we met in the first book.  It was pretty clear in that first book that the two of them were attracted to one another, and I loved both characters so I was very excited to head back to the small coastal town of Westport, Washington to see what, if anything, might develop between them. I was also hoping for a few glimpses of Hannah’s sister, Piper, and her significant other, Brendan, our sunshine/grumpy duo from the first book and was not disappointed.

What I found most intriguing about Hannah and Fox is how truly vulnerable they both are.  On the surface, Fox seemingly prides himself on being a ladies’ man and his reputation precedes him everywhere he goes.  The more we get to know Fox though, the more we see that Fox is actually quite uncomfortable with his reputation.  It has almost beaten him down to the point that he feels like he has nothing to offer any woman he actually cares about.  He’s also attracted to Hannah but has been warned by pretty much everyone in Westport to stay away from her, that’s she’s too sweet for a player like him. He therefore settles for a friendship with her.

Hannah also has some insecurities.  She is passionate about music and would love to pursue a career putting together soundtracks for films, but she just doesn’t feel she has what it takes.  As she tells Fox, she’s just not “leading lady” material and will always be in the background.  Fox knows about her passion for music because it was at a vinyl album convention that the two of them first bonded and he makes it his mission to get her to see that she can do anything she puts her mind to.  Hannah treasures his friendship and support, and they grow even closer when Hannah, who is planning to stay with her sister when she comes to Westport, ends up staying with Fox instead due to some logistical issues.  Temporarily living together is all it takes for their friendship to grow into something more and I enjoyed watching them navigate the waters between friendship and more than friendship.

It takes a while for Fox and Hannah to get to where I wanted them to be, but I found their friendship to be very endearing so the slow burn didn’t bother me at all.  They always have a great time together, but they are also there for each other when it counts, offering emotional and moral support as they each set out to figure themselves out and what they’re actually capable of. Just as Fox makes it his mission to give Hannah the boost she needs, she does the same for him, making it her mission to prove to him that he is so much more than just a ladies’ man with a handsome face.

Bottom line, Hook, Line, and Sinker is a slow burn romance that is worth the wait.  4 STARS

 

Romance Reviews:  HOOK, LINE AND SINKER & MR. WRONG NUMBERMr. Wrong Number Goodreads

Author: Lynn Painter

Publication Date: March 1, 2022

Publisher: Berkley

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

Lynn Painter’s novel Better Than the Movies was one of my favorite YA reads last year, but I think she has really outdone herself with Mr. Wrong Number, her new adult rom-com.

The story follows Olivia Marshall, a young woman who has a streak of bad luck a mile long.  She was cheated on and then dumped by her longtime boyfriend, she loses her job, and in a freak accident involving a bucket of burning love letters and a runaway possum, she manages to burn her apartment down and has to temporarily move in with her brother and his roommate, whom she loathes.  Olivia feels like she has pretty much hit rock bottom, but then life throws an unexpected twist at her in the form of a steamy text from a random wrong number.  With nothing else better to do, Olivia strikes up a conversation with Mr. Wrong Number and their exchanges form the basis of the hottest, most entertaining relationship she has ever had.

I adored Olivia. She’s hilarious, sarcastic, down to earth, and just so relatable. I love that she’s able to laugh at herself even when she’s dealt a terrible hand and that she’s even able to take her bad luck and spin it into a writing gig for herself.  Her text exchanges with Mr. Wrong Number also kept me in stitches. Without even having met, the two of them obviously had major chemistry.

I also quite enjoyed the relationship between Olivia and Colin Beck, the roommate she loathes.  Olivia’s hatred of him springs from a childhood of him mocking and teasing her.  Olivia soon realizes that Colin isn’t that obnoxious boy anymore. He has in fact grown up into a sexy beast with abs to die for, and he’s actually quite thoughtful and kind-hearted.  I loved watching the two of them realize they’re attracted to one another and then proceed to fight that attraction every step of the way.  Colin, in particular, tries hard to fight his growing attraction to her because she’s his best friend’s little sister, but then everything goes off the rails for him, when to his horror, he spots Olivia’s phone one night and realizes she’s the Miss Misdial he has been sexting with for weeks!  What’s he supposed to do now?!

I don’t want to give anything away but what a ride! The shenanigans, the miscommunication, it’s the perfect blend of high drama and humor as we journey to the end to see if there’s the possibility of a happy ending for Mr. Wrong Number and Miss Misdial.  I loved every page of this book and devoured it in a day. I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve laughed out loud so many times while reading a book – Mr. Wrong Number was pure joy for me and left me all the more eager to read more from Lynn Painter. 5 STARS

Reviews: ONE NIGHT ON THE ISLAND & THE UNSINKABLE GRETA JAMES

 

Hey everyone!  I hope you all had a nice weekend. Did anyone watch the Super Bowl?  I had it on as background noise while I was blogging but wasn’t really rooting for anyone this year.  It’s hard to believe that we’re already halfway through February and that Valentine’s Day is upon us, but here we are.  Today I’m sharing reviews for two outstanding books that I was fortunate enough to read last week.  I was having a busy, draining week because of work so it was lovely to have two 5 star reads round out my week for the better.  One Night on the Island is the third novel I’ve read from Josie Silver, and Jennifer E. Smith is a new-to-me author.

 

Reviews:  ONE NIGHT ON THE ISLAND & THE UNSINKABLE GRETA JAMESOne Night on the Island Goodreads

Author: Josie Silver

Publication Date: February 15, 2022

Publisher:  Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine

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

Josie Silver is the queen of writing beautiful, heartfelt stories and her latest novel, One Night on the Island, is exactly that.  It features a young woman named Cleo, who writes a popular dating column for a British publication.  Her column follows her as she searches for her soulmate. Thus far her journey has been entertaining but unsuccessful, and now that she is about to turn 30, her boss thinks now would be a great time for Cleo to do something special for her column to mark the occasion.  The boss’ idea of something special is to send Cleo to Salvation, a remote island in Ireland, on a mini sabbatical of sorts, where she can relax, re-energize, and basically fall in love with herself. The culmination of this journey would be a self-coupling ceremony where she marries herself, to signify that she’s at peace with herself and happy she’s single.

Cleo isn’t completely sold on the self-coupling idea but decides time for self-care in a remote location might not be such a bad thing.  That is, until she discovers that the cabin she is supposed to be staying in has been double-booked and there’s no where else to stay on the tiny island.  Great…how is she supposed to embark on a journey of self-reflection and self-love with an unwanted roommate, especially when that roommate is a handsome American photographer named Mac who gets under Cleo’s skin from the first moment they meet?

I really loved the chemistry between Cleo and Mac.  There are some hilarious moments between them as they verbally sparred over who was most entitled to stay in the cabin and when they resort to drawing a chalk line through the center of the cabin to carve out space for themselves.  But it’s not all humor between these two.  Mac is separated from his wife, on the verge of divorce, and is missing his kids like crazy.  He’s pretty heartbroken and has no idea what his future is going to look like. He has, on the surface, come to Salvation to photograph the island for an exhibit, but he’s also there to do some soul searching.  In spite of their initial animosity toward one another, Cleo and Mac begin to talk and realize that their reasons for being on the island aren’t so different.  I really loved once they made it to this part of their relationship and began to grow closer.

While Cleo and Mac and their growing relationship definitely stole my heart, I was also completely enamored with all of the residents of Salvation.  They’re basically one big extended family and they welcomed Mac and Cleo with open arms.  The sense of community and how they were all there for one another just made my heart swell.

I have to admit that I was a little nervous that the self-coupling aspect of the story would be a little hokey, but Silver pulls it off flawlessly and it ended up being one of the most moving and magical moments of the whole book for me.  The rugged terrain of Ireland didn’t hurt either, adding so much atmosphere and beauty to the moment.

If you enjoy heartwarming books that feature both a romance as well as an intimate personal journey for its characters, I highly recommend One Night on the Island5 STARS

 

Reviews:  ONE NIGHT ON THE ISLAND & THE UNSINKABLE GRETA JAMESThe Unsinkable Greta James Goodreads

Author: Jennifer E. Smith

Publication Date: March 1, 2022

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine

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

The Unsinkable Greta James is the first novel I’ve read from Jennifer E. Smith and boy does it pack an emotional punch!  It follows successful indie musician Greta James as she takes a week-long Alaskan cruise with her estranged father.  The cruise was meant to be a 40th wedding anniversary trip for Greta’s parents, but Greta’s mom passed away unexpectedly.  When her father announced he was going on the cruise anyway because the trip meant so much to his wife, Greta reluctantly agrees to accompany him so that he won’t be alone with his grief.

The complicated dynamics of the relationship between Greta and her dad captivated me from the start.  It’s clear that they love each other immensely and would do anything for each other, as is evidenced by Greta agreeing to be stuck on a ship with her dad for a week. But, that said, it’s equally clear that the relationship is very strained and that much of the strain is due to Greta’s dad not approving of her career in music. I immediately became invested in them mending their relationship, especially seeing how much they were both hurting over the loss of Greta’s mom.  Whether they realize it or not, they need each other more than ever before.

Greta’s journey in this book isn’t just about repairing her relationship with her dad though. It’s also a journey of healing for herself.  Her mom was her biggest fan, attending her rock concerts and holding up a sign that read “Greta’s Mom” on it.  Knowing that she would never again see her mom’s face and sign in the crowd again emotionally wrecked her and she actually breaks down on stage in the middle of her first performance after her mom’s death.  The moment went viral and she received a lot of bad press over it, to the point where she doesn’t even know if she has a career anymore.  She’s at a crossroads and trying to figure out how she can move forward.

I adored Greta and was 100% in her corner as she navigates her way through the minefield of pain and grief that surrounds her. I became especially enamored with her when a teenage girl recognizes her on the ship and tells her that she plays guitar like Greta and wants to be just like her.  They share several scenes throughout the book and it’s so sweet to see Greta take the time to mentor this girl even with the weight of the world on her shoulders.

The Unsinkable Greta James is one of the most moving books I’ve read in a while.  It’s a sad but hopeful story and it really made me think a lot about the importance of family and the power of healing. I will also freely admit that I cried my eyes out several times, especially as I approached the final heartwarming moments of this beautiful story. It’s one that is going to stick with me for a while, no doubt about it.  5 STARS

Reviews: WITH LOVE FROM LONDON & COUNT YOUR LUCKY STARS

 

Happy Monday all!  I hope everyone had a nice weekend.  Mine was pretty quiet.  I did a few chores, read a little, and took a least a couple of accidental naps, lol.  Work has had me super busy so I guess my body was telling me it needed to recharge. Anyway, I’ll be blog hopping today to catch up on what I missed while I was napping.  Today I’m sharing two wonderful reads that I enjoyed this week.  One came out last week and the other comes out this week so if they sound good to you, you won’t have long to wait to pick up a copy. 🙂

 

Reviews:  WITH LOVE FROM LONDON & COUNT YOUR LUCKY STARSWith Love from London Goodreads

Author:  Sarah Jio

Publication Date: February 8, 2022

Publisher:  Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine

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

Based on the number of tears I cried by the time I got to the end of Sarah Jio’s new novel, With Love from London, I think it’s safe to say this book is going to end up on my Best of 2022 list. Happy tears, sad tears, angry tears – I cried them all.

The story follows Valentina Baker, a librarian who is at a crossroads in her life.  She is recently divorced and has inherited a bookshop in London from her estranged mother, Eloise.  Valentina hasn’t seen her mother since she was 12 and her mother abandoned her to move to London, so it’s bittersweet news to hear that her mother is gone and there’s no chance for a reconciliation or even an explanation as to why she left her child and never tried to contact her again. As Valentina heads to London to settle her mother’s affairs and decide what to do about the bookshop, she also decides it’s time to learn more about who her mother was and why she left. Unbeknownst to Valentina, Eloise has put together a special scavenger hunt for her that will allow her to learn everything she wants to know.

What I especially adored about this book is that we are given both Valentina’s and Eloise’s perspective. Even though I started out thinking what an awful, coldhearted woman Eloise must have been, as soon as I started learning her story and why she did what she did, my heart just broke for her and I just felt so angry on her behalf. We learn the truth about why Eloise left before Valentina does and that lends a sense of urgency. I desperately wanted Valentina to hurry up and solve all the clues so that she knew the truth about her mother and how much she truly did love her.  In that sense, both Eloise’s and Valentina’s stories were equally compelling and engaging.

It was a given that I would love the quaint London bookshop setting and I just knew that Valentina would have second thoughts about selling the building as soon as she laid eyes on what her mother had created. The bookshop is also where the scavenger hunt begins and what a special hunt it is.  It takes Valentina all around the local community so that she meets and befriends so many wonderful people who knew and loved her mother. I’m a sucker for books that feature found families and that’s exactly what Valentina finds in London.  All of the characters she meets are great too – from her mom’s stern but loveable best friend Millie, to the fun and quirky tenant who lives above the bookshop, and so many more.  They all immediately treat her like the family she never really had, which really makes her question whether or not she really even wants to return to her old life, where she was just lonely and unhappy.

There is a bit of romance in the book, but for me, With Love from London is more about Valentina’s journey to know her mother than anything else.  It’s a beautifully written story about the unbreakable bond that is mother-daughter love. 5 STARS

 

Reviews:  WITH LOVE FROM LONDON & COUNT YOUR LUCKY STARSCount Your Lucky Stars (Written in the Stars, #3) Goodreads

Author: Alexandria Bellefleur

Publication Date: February 1, 2022

Publisher:  Avon and Harper Voyager

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

Nothing makes my heart sing more than a second chance romance so I couldn’t resist requesting Alexandria Bellefleur’s latest novel, Count Your Lucky Stars, as soon as I saw that it’s a contemporary romance about two former best friends who might be the key to each other’s second chance at love.  I’m so glad I did too!  To sum it up in 3 words, this book was sweet, swoony, and steamy!

Margot Cooper has sworn off relationships. Casual hookups are great, but no thanks to anything that involves love and a commitment. Margot has been fine with that for a while, but now that everyone in her friend group seems to have found their special someone, she feels more and more like she’s on the outside looking in.  Those feelings intensify as the wedding plans for her friends Brendan and Annie are in full swing and love and romance are in the air 24/7.

When Margot comes face to face with Brendan’s wedding planner, however, her world gets turned upside down.  The wedding planner is none other than Olivia Grant, Margot’s childhood best friend and first love.  They haven’t seen each other in a decade, but the moment their eyes meet, it’s clear the feelings and the chemistry are still there. The only question is whether Margot will be brave enough to give love another chance.

I really loved watching Margot and Olivia rediscover each other.  They’ve been out of touch for so long, and Olivia is recently divorced so, like Margot, she’s feeling vulnerable when it comes to love. The progression of their relationship felt very natural as we learn about their history together and watch them get reacquainted.  I especially loved the change in Margot, who we meet in the earlier books in the series.  She typically comes across as snarky, blunt, and downright hilarious so it was fun to finally see her softer side come out with Olivia.

While Count Your Lucky Stars could probably be read as a standalone, I highly recommend reading the first two books in the series before diving into this latest installment as those books introduce everyone in Margot’s friend group and how each of them ended up with their special someone.  Reading the books in order had me completely invested in every character in the friend group, which made Count Your Lucky Stars all the more special for me. The writing is wonderful, the characters are lovable and their romances are all so moving. I flew through all three books in less than a week.  I don’t know if there will be more books in the Written in the Stars series, but if not, I think Count Your Lucky Stars is a very satisfying conclusion. 4 STARS

Reviews: FINLAY DONOVAN KNOCKS ‘EM DEAD & GOOD GIRL COMPLEX

 

I’m back today with some of my final January reads.  I don’t know about you all, but my 2022 reading year is off to a great start.  So far I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read and have no DNFs.  Today’s review post is unofficially the “Elle” edition since both author’s first names are Elle (I didn’t even notice that until I started putting this together, lol).

 

Reviews:  FINLAY DONOVAN KNOCKS ‘EM DEAD & GOOD GIRL COMPLEXFinlay Donovan Knocks 'Em Dead (Finlay Donovan, #2) Goodreads

Author:  Elle Cosimano

Publication Date: February 1, 2022

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books

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

Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead is the second book in Elle Cosimano’s new series “Finlay Donovan” which follows the misadventures of author and divorced single mother, Finlay Donovan.  For those who haven’t read the first book yet, Finlay finds herself accidentally hired as an assassin when a woman overhears her and her agent discussing the plot of the thriller she is writing.  The woman thinks Finlay is the perfect person to “off” her husband and practically starts throwing money at her.  Finlay could really use the cash, and thus begins a surprisingly hilarious journey into murder-for-hire, organized crime, and all the while, Finlay is still trying to write her book.

This latest book opens with Finlay learning that someone out there actually wants to murder her ex-husband. As much as she hates Stephen, she doesn’t want her kids to lose their Dad and so she makes it her mission to find out who is responsible and convince them to call off the hit.  This sends her on a dangerous yet surprisingly comical adventure, full of twists and turns, that takes her, amongst other places, way closer to the Russian mob than she would ever wish to be.

It’s hard to talk about details from the story without spoilers and I definitely don’t want to spoil the plot as it pertains to her ex-husband.  I’ll just say that I adore Finlay. She’s sarcastic and funny, quirky as heck and very resourceful, and she has clearly learned a lot from writing her crime thrillers.  It impresses me how she and her roommate/nanny, Vero, constantly get themselves into dangerous and often ridiculous predicaments, but somehow always manage to get themselves right back out of trouble.   I’m also a big fan of Vero and was pleased that we got to learn a bit more about her in this book.

Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead is well-plotted and fast-paced, so much so that I flew through the book in just a couple of sittings.  The Finlay Donovan series may involve serious topics like murder-for-hire and organized crime, but it’s truly one of the funniest and most entertaining series I’ve ever read.  I really hope there will be more books in this series because I need more of Finlay and Vero. What a team they are!  4.5 STARS

 

Reviews:  FINLAY DONOVAN KNOCKS ‘EM DEAD & GOOD GIRL COMPLEXGood Girl Complex Goodreads

Author: Elle Kennedy

Publication Date: February 1, 2022

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press/St. Martin’s Griffin

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

Good Girl Complex is the first installment in a new contemporary romance series by Elle Kennedy. I tend to gravitate to books with small town and/or university settings and this book has both.  I also typically enjoy romances that feature the good girl/bad boy dynamic so Good Girl Complex just seemed like it would be a great fit for me.

Local bad boy Cooper Hartley is tired of the rich “clones” who invade Avalon Bay to attend college every year and act like they own the community and everyone in it.  One night, at the bar where he works, he witnesses one of them forcing himself on a waitress. When the clone won’t take no for an answer, Cooper intervenes and ends up punching the guy. Rich boy whines to the owner and gets Cooper fired, which only fuels Cooper’s hatred of this guy and everyone like him. Cooper learns the guy has a girlfriend and decides he’s going to steal her right out from under the guy’s nose. Cooper’s quest for revenge doesn’t go exactly as planned, however, because when he meets the girlfriend, whose name is Mackenzie (Mac), he realizes that she’s not at all like her boyfriend and his kind, and Cooper wants to be friends, maybe even more than friends, with her.  But can any kind of relationship survive between them if the truth about his revenge plot comes out?

I loved both Mac and Cooper right away so it was very easy to become invested in their journey.  Both characters are flawed and come across as very realistic and relatable because of those flaws. Yes, Mac comes from money, but she is also an entrepreneur and a self-made millionaire.  It’s an impressive accomplishment, particularly for someone her age, so it shocked me to learn that neither her parents nor her boyfriend Preston support her in this endeavor. They have her life mapped out for her and there’s no room on that map for anything that doesn’t revolve around her mother’s charity work and becoming Preston’s wife. Mac has always just gone along with what they’ve dictated, not wanting to upset anyone.  But when she meets Cooper and they start talking, Mac suddenly realizes there’s more to life than pleasing everyone else. It’s a true awakening for her.

I also loved that as much as Cooper teaches Mac about being her own person and not letting anyone hold her back, Cooper also learns a lot along the way, particularly about passing judgment on an entire group of people just because he has had a few bad experiences.  I also love that there’s so much more to him than his bad boy reputation and that he and Mac aren’t very different from one another, despite their different backgrounds.  I enjoyed watching them interact – whether they’re being sassy, supportive, or sexy, their chemistry was off the charts.  They made such a great couple that I was truly on the edge of my seat waiting for the truth about the revenge plot to smack them both in the face and hoping that they could survive it when it did.

Good Girl Complex is a great start to Elle Kennedy’s new series and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys watching characters figure out who they’re meant to be as well as who they’re meant to be with.  4 STARS

Reviews: SOMETHING FABULOUS & GETTING HIS GAME BACK

 

Happy Friday all!  I’m so ready for the weekend but first I want to share reviews for a couple of romances that come out this week that you’re going to want to add to your TBR.  One is from a recent favorite author of mine, while this other is a wonderful debut.

 

Reviews:  SOMETHING FABULOUS & GETTING HIS GAME BACKSomething Fabulous Goodreads

Author:  Alexis Hall

Publication Date: January 25, 2022

Publisher:  Montlake

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

I’m a relatively new fan of Alexis Hall’s, having read and loved two of his most recent novels, Boyfriend Material and Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake.  He has such a knack for creating lovable characters and putting them in hilarious predicaments that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on his latest book, Something FabulousSomething Fabulous is a Regency romance but it’s not like any Regency romance I’ve ever read.  I honestly don’t know that I’ve ever laughed so hard while reading a book. On Goodreads, Hall describes the book as such: “It’s a big gay regency romp about an overly dramatic beautiful rainbow sunshine unicorn and an overly dramatic demisexual grumpy duke, going on a cross-country chase.”  That description is spot-on and I can’t improve upon it.

I’m all about a good grumpy-sunshine romance so I was enamored with the two main characters as soon as they were introduced. Valentine Layton is an ultra-reserved Duke who is intent on doing his duty at all costs, even if it means marrying Arabella Tarleton, a woman he really has no romantic interest in, just to carry out his father’s wishes.  Valentine comes across as a stuffed shirt who could really use a good roll in the hay, and it becomes obvious early on that it’s not Arabella who gets under Valentine’s skin, it’s her twin brother, Bonaventure or “Bonny,” who is just as much of a ray of sunshine as his nickname makes him sound and who pretty obviously has a massive crush on Valentine.  Valentine initially thinks Bonny is a pain in the rear but the two of them are forced to work together to find Arabella, who is so repulsed by the idea of a marriage of convenience with a man she doesn’t love, she runs away in the middle of the night.

I don’t want to spoil what happens when Bonny and Valentine embark on this cross-country chase, but let me just tell you, hilarity ensues. Basically, they’re one step behind Arabella throughout the chase and she plants outrageous lies about Valentine everywhere she has been, so that trouble is waiting for him every time he stops somewhere she stopped and inquires about her. There were a couple of times I laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes.

There are also some tender moments and some super steamy ones as Bonny and Valentine finally start to acknowledge their feelings for one another.  I loved watching the two of them grow closer.  The banter is still there so most of these scenes are still quite funny, but they’re also pretty touching as well. There are also a few more serious moments as Valentine reflects on his own sexuality, what is socially expected of a man in his position versus what he realizes he actually wants for his life.

Something Fabulous is not exactly what I was expecting going in, but I still thought it was a very entertaining read.  The humor is silly and over the top at times, think Monty Python or The Princess Bride when you start reading and you’ll have a pretty good feel for the overall tone of the book. If you’re looking for a read that is pure escapism in its silliest form, grab yourself a copy of Something Fabulous4 STARS

 

Reviews:  SOMETHING FABULOUS & GETTING HIS GAME BACKGetting His Game Back Goodreads

Author: Gia de Cadenet

Publication Date: January 25, 2022

Publisher:  Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Dell

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

Getting His Game Back is a contemporary romance and it’s also Gia de Cadenet’s debut novel.  Based on the cover, I was expecting a rom-com, but while it does have some humorous moments, this is a more serious love story that tackles some pretty big topics, like mental health, the challenges interracial couples can face, and even gender stereotypes.

It follows Khalil Sarda, a young man who has been dealing with depression and seeing a therapist.  He’s feeling much better than he did a year ago and is hoping to leave his depression in the past as he focuses on his chain of barbershops and thinks about dating again.  A self-professed ladies’ man, Khalil thinks the dating will be the easiest part of his recovery, that is, until Vanessa Noble walks into his shop and sets his heart aflutter.  Vanessa is a career-driven Black woman working in the male-dominated tech industry.  She has no time for romance because she’s too busy stomping on every stereotype that gets thrown at her.  That is, until fate and a fire at her favorite hair salon, sends her running to Khalil’s shop because she desperately needs her hair done prior to a huge presentation. Vanessa has no interest in dating anyone who isn’t Black because of some bad past experiences, but after chatting with Khalil, she has to admit the temptation is there.

I really enjoyed watching Khalil and Vanessa get to know one another.  Both characters are so likeable and they’ve both been burned by past relationships, so I liked that hint of vulnerability we see as they consider the possibility of romance with one another.  I especially liked the frank discussions they have with one another about interracial couples.  Even though he looks white, Khalil is actually French-Algerian and the product of an interracial relationship himself so he knows firsthand the challenges Vanessa speaks of and the microaggressions that have been directed toward her.  I also thought the author did a wonderful job exploring Khalil’s depression and the impact depression can have on a person and on all their relationships.  I loved the respect and support Vanessa and Khalil showed one another, and I especially loved that Vanessa doesn’t let Khalil push her away when his depression resurfaces and threatens their relationship. They’re a team in every sense of the word, and I was 100% invested in their relationship and hoping they would find their way to a happy ending together.

While not the rom-com I was expecting, Getting His Game Back is still a satisfying read and a wonderful love story that I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys romances that explore weightier topics.  4 STARS.

Reviews: THE MAID & RECKLESS GIRLS

 

I’m not Sharon and it’s not Thriller Thursday, but today I have two mystery/thriller reviews to share.  One is in the vein of a cozy mystery, while the other is somewhat of a locked door mystery that reminds me a lot of the TV show Lost.  I read both of these while I was on vacation the week after Christmas and quite enjoyed them.

 

Reviews:  THE MAID & RECKLESS GIRLSThe Maid Goodreads

Author:  Nita Prose

Publication Date: January 4, 2022

Publisher:  Ballatine Books

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

The Maid by Nita Prose follows a lovable, quirky maid named Molly who discovers a dead man in one of the hotel rooms she cleans and then ends up wrongfully accused of the man’s murder.

Molly is such a unique and charming character that I fell in love with her right away.  She may only be 25 but she has somewhat of an old soul, probably because she was raised by her recently-deceased grandmother.  Molly is all about cleanliness and order, and so she loves working as a maid to help bring a sense of order to the lives of others.  It was actually adorable listening to her describe her work with such pride and passion.  She reminded me a bit of Mary Poppins! Although she comes across as this old soul, Molly is also quite naïve and innocent in the ways of the world.  When someone befriends her, she immediately trusts that their motives are sincere.  Her trusting nature, endearing as it is, is unfortunately what lands her in hot water regarding Mr. Black, the murdered hotel guest.

The bulk of the story follows Molly as she sets out to prove her innocence and to figure out what really happened to Mr. Black. I don’t want to give away too many details about the plot itself since it is a murder mystery, but I did want to share that what made this such a special read for me was that the entire story comes to us from Molly’s perspective.  As you can imagine based on what I’ve shared about Molly and the way she views the world, it’s quite an interesting and unique perspective.

Molly stole my heart and had me cheering her on to prove her innocence, but there were also several other fantastic characters in the story, a number of whom come to Molly’s aid because they believe in her and because they know she has no one else in her corner now that her grandmother has passed away.  There’s a definite “found family” vibe with these characters and I loved that for Molly.  It’s not often that I think of a murder mystery as having a heart-warming element, but this one definitely does.

The Maid is an engaging mystery that is filled with twists and turns and features a heroine that you can’t help rooting for.  I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys mysteries, especially cozies. 4.5 STARS

 

Reviews:  THE MAID & RECKLESS GIRLSReckless Girls Goodreads

Author: Rachel Hawkins

Publication Date: January 4, 2022

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press

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

Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins is advertised as being perfect for fans of Lucy Foley and Ruth Ware and I agree wholeheartedly as those two authors immediately came to mind once I started reading this book. Reckless Girls is a variation on the locked door mystery in the sense that it takes place on an isolated island in the Pacific Ocean and the characters in the book end up stranded there.  We all know that no good can come from that and as the story unfolds, we get to see firsthand just how bad things can get.

The novel’s main character is Lux, a young woman who has recently been fired from her job and is temporarily crashing at a friend’s place with her boyfriend.  In need of cash and eager for an adventure, Lux and her boyfriend accept an offer to earn a tremendous amount of money by sailing two women, Amma and Britney, out to a remote island in the South Pacific that they keep hearing about.  What they don’t realize is that they’re about to get way more adventure than they had planned on, starting with a treacherous storm that nearly capsizes their boat before they even get to the island.  When they finally make it to the island, they realize they won’t be alone because another man and woman apparently had the same idea they did.  No worries though. The more the merrier, right?  That is, until yet another stranger shows up and things take an ominous turn.  Missing people, disappearing boats, sabotaged radio equipment, the list goes on and on. If they’re alone on the island, who is responsible?

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I will say that the most fascinating part of the book for me were the backstories we get on each of the other characters who are on the island with Lux.  As their stories unfold, it becomes clear that no one is as they seem and there are definitely some hidden agendas as to why they have all converged on this island at the same time.  I enjoyed watching all of their threads come together to give a complete picture, especially as we follow Lux who is trying to put all of the same pieces together we are.  Hawkins definitely kept me guessing the truth about all of them until the very end.

Aside from the twisty mystery itself, I also really loved how atmospheric the story is. The island itself has an ominous, creepy history that we learn about as the story progresses.  It reminded me a lot of the TV show, Lost.  The story also has a Gothic, almost supernatural vibe to it at times.

One element that surprised me was that I didn’t really like any of the characters in the book. I guess Lux is probably the one I cared about the most, but even then, I wasn’t overly attached to her. Normally I don’t like books where I don’t feel like I’m rooting for anyone, but with this book, I was so curious about what bad things would happen next and whether or not they would all make it off the island alive, that not liking them didn’t really bother me.

 If twisty thrillers, locked door mysteries, and Gothic settings are your jam, be sure to check out Reckless Girls.  3.5 STARS

Reviews: IF THIS GETS OUT & HOW NOT TO FALL IN LOVE

 

Here we are, another week closer to the end of 2021.  This week I’ll be wrapping up the last of my 2021 review books and then will be getting a jump on my January 2022 books.  I thought I had been cutting back on the number of review books I requested but somehow have 13 for January. Oops.  Anyway, I’m sharing my thoughts on two very different books today. The first takes a hard behind-the-scenes look at the music industry, while the second is a heartwarming story about love, family, and friendship.

 

Reviews:  IF THIS GETS OUT & HOW NOT TO FALL IN LOVEIf This Gets Out Goodreads

Author:  Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich

Publication Date: December 7, 2021

Publisher:  Wednesday Books

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

If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich is one of those books that wasn’t exactly what I was expecting it to be. I knew going in that there was a romance between two members of a boy-band, but it’s so much more than that.  It’s also an in-depth exploration of what goes on behind-the-scenes of the music industry, where apparently there’s not much of the good but a lot of the bad and ugly.

The story follows Ruben and Zach, two members of the ultra popular boy-band, Saturday.  Ruben and Zach, along with the other two members, Jon and Angel, all became best friends years ago in music camp and eventually decided to form a band together.  Over the years, as they have all grown closer, Ruben realizes that he has developed more than just friendly feelings toward Zach and is elated to learn that Zach feels the same way.  Both boys want to come out publicly as queer and tell the world that they are in love with one another, but to their utter dismay, the record company management just isn’t having it for fear of alienating the band’s female fans and the parents who ultimately buy the band’s albums for their children.

I adored all four of the boys in the band and my heart also broke for them all on so many levels.  It becomes clear that even though they are mega celebrities, they have no control over their own lives or even of their own personalities and sexual identities.  Management decides how each of them will look and dress, often creating personas for them that in no way match up with what each boy is really like.  When they go to Europe on tour, they are practically kept like animals in cages, not allowed to even go out and see the sights.

The strain on each boy’s mental health is intense, and it was this raw and dark look at the music industry that really made If This Gets Out such a powerful and compelling read for me.  It was horrifying to think the mental health and well-being of these boys fell a distant second to exploiting them and doing whatever was necessary to keep the money rolling in. All I kept thinking while I was reading was thank goodness these boys have each other to turn to. I loved their friendship; in so many ways, they’re truly like brothers, always there for each other no matter how hard things get.  Those friendships and the love between Zach and Ruben nicely balance out what would otherwise be a very dark story.  4 STARS

 

Reviews:  IF THIS GETS OUT & HOW NOT TO FALL IN LOVEHow Not to Fall in Love Goodreads

Author: Jacqueline Firkins

Publication Date: December 21, 2021

Publisher:  Clarion Books

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

How Not to Fall in Love by Jacqueline Firkins is an absolutely delightful YA contemporary romance.  It follows Theo and Harper who have been best friends since they were toddlers and who are now trying to navigate the often treacherous waters of teenage love and romance.  Harper is actually completely off love at the moment after recently getting her heart broken by a boy she thought was the one.  It also doesn’t help her thoughts on love that she works at her mom’s bridal shop and is surrounded by Bridezillas all day.  But when she sees Theo, a hopeless romantic, getting his heart broken time and time again because he just tries too hard, Harper vows that she’s going to help Theo by teaching him how to tone down his approach to dating.

I adored the friendship between Harper and Theo.  They have such an easy banter and a wonderful chemistry, and I especially loved how Harper found endearing every quality about Theo that all of his potential girlfriends found weird or too nerdy.  She truly appreciates what a special and unique person he is.  I also had such heart eyes for Theo because he’s so soft and he just loves everything about love.  He was adorable and nerdy in the cutest possible way, and it was so frustrating that girls didn’t appreciate him.  I thought Harper was great too and I especially loved how badly she wanted to help Theo even though she herself wanted nothing to do with love and was still hurting from her own failed relationship.  I also found Harper’s overall journey in this book to be quite compelling, especially because even though she’s the teacher in their arrangement, Harper also learns a lot from Theo as well, which gives her the nudge she needs to open her heart again.

I also loved all the scenes that took place at the bridal shop.  Harper and her mom made such a great team, and Pippa, the fun and quirky shop girl who is a great friend to Harper and who also appreciates Theo and all of his nerdy goodness, is a fabulous secondary character.  There were also several wonderful scenes where Harper gets to interact with non-Bridezilla clients who help make her a little less jaded when it comes to love and realize that once you’ve found the right person, nothing else matters.

If you’re in the mood for a heartfelt story of love, friendship, and family, be sure to check out How Not to Fall in Love4 STARS

 

Reviews: ALL OF US VILLAINS and ROXY

 

Apologies for my sporadic posting and commenting.  Work is still kicking my butt right now so my free time is limited.  I was so tired by the weekend that I mostly just vegged on the couch, watching Hallmark movies.  I also got my COVID booster, which made me even more sleepy.  Aside from the need to nap, a sore arm and a mild headache, no real side effects from that third shot.  Definitely worth it to feel better protected going into the holiday season. Anyway, I’m back today with two new reviews.  These reads are a bit darker than most of what I’ve been reading lately but I just couldn’t resist them.  Check out those covers!

 

Reviews:  ALL OF US VILLAINS and ROXYAll of Us Villains (All of Us Villains, #1) Goodreads

Author:  Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman

Publication Date: November 9, 2021

Publisher:  Tor Teen

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

If you are a fan of The Hunger Games, All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman is the start of an exciting new fantasy series that you are going to want to check out.  It follows seven magical families, each of whom is vying for control over their city’s High Magick.  Every generation, there is a tournament to determine control, with each family selecting a teen champion to represent them in this fight-to-the-death magical competition.

I was a little worried at first that seven families would be too hard to keep track of, but the story ends up being presented from four of the champion’s perspectives, each of which is so distinctive that it makes it very easy to follow along.  There’s Alistair, who is representing the Lowe family.  The Lowes have traditionally dominated the competition and appear to have no qualms whatsoever about annihilating the competition. Alistair himself has quite the reputation for being a monster and goes into the tournament with every intention of living up to his reputation.  As the tournament wears on, however, it becomes clear there’s more to Alistair than meets the eye.

Then there’s Isobel who doesn’t really want to fight in the tournament in the first place, but who would love to finally bring some glory to her family, who are considered trash by most others in the city.

Gavin Grieve is the third voice, and he’s the underdog with something to prove.  His family has never won, their spell casting abilities are believed to be mediocre at best, and he would love to just shut people up once and for all for always underestimating the Grieves.

Lastly there’s Briony.  Briony believes that the tournament itself is a curse and that there must be a way to break it so that no one ever has to die again.  She’s so determined to stop the curse that when her sister is chosen to be their family’s champion instead of her, she chops her sister’s finger off to get the champion ring and take her place.

While I found each of these characters fascinating to follow and especially to get inside their thoughts while they’re engaging in this tournament, the most exciting part of All of Us Villains was the tournament itself and the worldbuilding.  The magical system is so intricate and well thought out, and I thought the whole idea of a high stakes tournament where the participants cast spells and curses at one another was fascinating. Everything about the story kept me engaged, from the curses themselves, to the tentative alliances formed by various champions, the creative strategies employed by all participants, and especially Briony’s movements as she sets out to dismantle the curse and free them all, all while fighting for her own survival since no one else believes her theory.

All of Us Villains reads like a mash-up of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter and yet still feels like a unique and original fantasy.  If you enjoy dark reads that feature high stakes competition and magic, I definitely recommend All of Us Villains4 STARS

 

Reviews:  ALL OF US VILLAINS and ROXYRoxy Goodreads

Author: Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

Publication Date: November 9, 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.

Roxy by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman is one of the most unique books I’ve read this year.  It’s a dark and all too timely read about the opioid crisis that has ravaged so much of rural America.  While the topic itself might not be new, the authors’ approach to it sure is.

Roxy follows teens Isaac and Ivy Ramey, siblings who are both on prescription medication.  Ivy is taking Adderall to help with her ADHD, and Isaac is taking oxycodone for pain after suffering an injury during a fight and then further exacerbating it out on the soccer field.  The story tragically begins with first responders at the scene of an apparent drug overdose.  We learn that the victim is deceased and that it’s I. Ramey. Which I. Ramey though? We then back up and follow each teen through what led to their being prescribed the medications in the first place and then continue forward until we learn which Ramey sibling has died. The authors do a wonderful job of making the readers invested in the lives of both Ivy and Isaac.  They’re both good kids who come from a good family, and what happens is just so sad and preventable.

While this story is a dark and tragic one, it’s also a very creative one in that two of the other main characters are actually the drugs themselves personified. Roxy is oxycodone and Addy is Adderall.  Each of these drugs is given a distinct personality, and they behave as rivals throughout the story as if it’s a competition to see which can get more people hooked. I could see this being potentially offensive for a reader who takes either of these prescription medications, but I think the Shustermans do a fantastic job of handling the topic with sensitivity.  They make it very clear throughout Roxy that both medications have medicinal value and that people use them for legit reasons.  Isaac and Ivy only start heading down the dangerous path to addiction and overdose when they choose to veer from their prescribed dosages.

There were also some interesting interludes throughout the story that featured drugs who used to be in the spotlight the way Oxy and Adderall are these days.  There’s Mary Jane who has now gone legit, and we also see Lucy who is just kind of floating around doing her own thing.

Roxy is a compelling story that definitely kept me turning the pages.  It was a heartbreaking read, knowing that it would end in the death of a young person and I shed tears as soon as I learned which sibling it was, but it’s also a powerful read that left me with so much to think about, particularly with respect to how it’s all too easy for anyone to fall victim to addiction.  4 STARS

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