Tag Archive for: romance

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: 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: WEATHER GIRL & MADE IN MANHATTAN

 

Hey everyone, hope your week is off to a great start.  It snowed 14 inches here last week and since we don’t really do snow well here in central Virginia, the whole area was pretty much shut down all week.  I work from home so it didn’t impact me too much, plus it made for a great excuse to cozy up in front of the fire with some wonderful books, two of which I’m sharing reviews for today.

 

Reviews:  WEATHER GIRL & MADE IN MANHATTANWeather Girl Goodreads

Author:  Rachel Lynn Solomon

Publication Date: January 11, 2022

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

Rachel Lynn Solomon’s latest contemporary romance, Weather Girl, follows Ari Abrams, a young Jewish woman whose lifelong fascination with the weather has landed her a dream job as a TV meteorologist.  Working alongside her longtime idol, legendary Seattle weatherwoman, Torrance Hale, Ari’s job is everything she ever hoped it would be.  That is, with one exception:  the unbearable tension in the workplace between Torrance and Seth, who happens to be the news director at the station as well as Torrance’s ex-husband.  The two of them are constantly at each other’s throats, making everyone around them feel awkward and uncomfortable, including one of Ari’s coworkers, sports reporter Russell Barringer.  Unable to take it anymore, Ari and Russell cook up a scheme to get Torrance and Seth back together.  Adult version of The Parent Trap, anyone?

I had a lot of fun with this story.  Ari and Russell are both such likeable characters and I enjoyed their attempts at nudging Torrance and Seth back together, especially since it became clear that the two of them were also growing closer along the way.

I also just loved how realistic and relatable Ari came across, particularly when it came to her struggles with mental health.  Ari suffers from depression but has also struggled with the fear that no one would like her if they knew of her depression.  Her way of coping with that has been to keep her depression and therapy a secret, put on a happy face and be a walking ray of sunshine to everyone around her.  It was clearly not healthy and in fact, was downright exhausting at times, because all Ari really wanted was to feel like she could be herself.  Could Russell finally be the one who gets her to let her guard down?

Speaking of Russell, I really loved this guy and honestly found him to be more realistic than most of the male leads I’ve read about in romance novels.  He’s a Jewish single dad and he hasn’t been on a date in at least five years.  Russell also struggles with his weight and so doesn’t really think of himself as a “catch” for any woman. I liked that sense of vulnerability about him, and I also liked that the more he and Ari hung out together, the more it was clear what a great match they could be because, even though their matchmaking schemes weren’t exactly professional, they really did bring out the best in each other.

If matchmaking a la The Parent Trap, a realistic exploration of a person coping with depression, excellent Jewish representation, and a friends-to-lovers romance appeal to you, Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon needs to be on your must-read list. It’s the fourth novel I’ve read from Solomon, and it’s definitely another winner for me.  4 STARS.

 

Reviews:  WEATHER GIRL & MADE IN MANHATTANMade in Manhattan Goodreads

Author: Lauren Layne

Publication Date: January 18, 2022

Publisher:  Gallery Books

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

As soon as I saw that Lauren Layne’s new contemporary romance, Made in Manhattan, was being advertised as a modern-day reverse My Fair Lady, I knew I had to read it.  I’m a huge fan of My Fair Lady, the musical and the film, so I’m always up for a fresh take on an old favorite.

Made in Manhattan follows Violet Townsend, a young woman born and raised in the wealthy, privileged Upper East Side of Manhattan.  Violet is an expert when it comes to knowing what to say, how to act, and what to wear in all elite social settings.  Violet also loves to make people happy, especially Edith, who while not a blood relative, has practically raised her since Violet’s parents and grandparents all died when she was much younger.  Edith runs a successful international corporation and has been troubled by the fact that she has no living family to take over the business when she retires, that is until she learns that she has a grandson named Cain Stone she never knew about.  Edith is determined to groom Cain to take over the business, but there’s just one problem: Cain, who hails from New Orleans, is about as rough around the edges as they come.  With his long hair, scuffed boots, faded jeans, and a vocabulary that consists largely of the four-letter ‘f’ word, Cain doesn’t exactly fit in with NYC’s elite. Edith enlists Violet to help give Cain a Manhattan makeover.  Less than thrilled at the prospect, Violet reluctantly agrees because she just can’t say no to Edith. Unfortunately for Violet, Cain is even less thrilled at the prospect.

As with the original My Fair Lady, there are just sparks flying everywhere between Violet and Cain as soon as the makeover commences.  Cain is impossible, fighting Violet every step of the way, and Violet becomes more and more frustrated. She can’t understand why he even bothered to come to New York if he’s not willing to do whatever it takes to become CEO of the company that is pretty much being handed to him.  Cain, on the other hand, can’t understand why Violet, or Duchess as he refers to her, has nothing else better to do with her time than treat him as a human mannequin.  While I found all the awkward, snarky banter at the beginning of their relationship quite entertaining, what I really enjoyed was watching their relationship evolve as they got to know each other better and could look past their initial impressions of one another. It becomes all too clear that the two of them have the hots for each other, whether they want to admit it or not.

The only thing better than watching their relationship evolve was watching Violet herself evolve.  She really does start to question what she is even doing with her life and why she feels the need to be such a people pleaser all the time, even if it makes her miserable in the process. The more time she spends with Cain, the more she finds herself willing to step out of her lifelong comfort zone and try new things.  It’s as if she’s undergoing just as much of a transformation as Cain is, and I loved to see it.

Made in Manhattan was everything I could have wanted from a My Fair Lady-inspired book and then some. I flew through the pages in less than a day and was sad when the story was over, even though the ending was immensely satisfying.  4 STARS.

Romance Reviews: THE LOVE CON & THE ONE NIGHT

 

Happy Monday all!  Just a few more days until Christmas and I’m thrilled to finally be able to say that I have made through the last big work deadline of the year and can now relax and enjoy myself until January.  And of course, read more books. 🙂  Later in the week, if I have time, I’ll probably be posting some quick reactions to the holiday novels that I’ve read so far this season, and then next week I plan to do a quick wrap up of the books from my own shelves that I’ve managed to read this year since that has been such a big goal of mine.  Today though, I’m sharing my thoughts on my last two December review books, both of which I enjoyed immensely.

 

Romance Reviews:  THE LOVE CON & THE ONE NIGHTThe Love Con Goodreads

Author:  Seressia Glass

Publication Date: December 14, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

The Love Con by Seressia Glass is a delightful new rom-com that follows Kenya Davenport, a young woman whose passion is creating intricate cosplay costumes.  While it’s just a hobby now, Kenya is determined to win the reality contest, Cosplay or No Way, and turn her hobby into a career.

When the book opens, the contest is well under way and Kenya has just been named as a finalist.  She thinks she has the contest in the bag until the final challenge is announced and she learns that she is supposed to work in tandem with her significant other to create costumes for an iconic duo.  There’s just one problem – Kenya is single and so has no significant other.  When asked for the name of who she’ll be working with, Kenya panics and blurts out the first name that comes to mind, Cameron Lassiter (Cam), her roommate and longtime best friend.

Kenya and Cam were of course my favorite part of The Love Con.  I loved Kenya’s strength, her determination, and her passion. She’s also funny and sassy, and just a joy to follow as she follows her dreams.  I also loved Cam from the moment we meet him.  He’s such a sweetheart and I adored how supportive he was of Kenya and how protective he was of her. Even though Kenya was beloved by most of the TV audience, for example, she still had her share of online trolls who didn’t seem to like that she was a strong, independent black woman and they frequently made disparaging comments about everything from her appearance to her personality. Cam gets so upset by this that he creates an anonymous account so that he could defend her honor.  Not that she couldn’t defend herself if she felt the need to, but I just thought it was sweet that he cared so much.

I also enjoyed watching the two of them work together throughout the last round of the contest.  Even though they were supposed to be pretending to be a couple, they hardly had to pretend at all because they had such amazing chemistry.  What we learn early on though is that some of Cam’s chemistry with Kenya is because he has secretly been in love with her for ages and he’s hoping that this whole fake dating scenario can finally help him make the move with Kenya from friends to lovers.  The author did a lovely job of not only showing us how Cam and Kenya’s relationship changes as they work in close quarters for the contest, but also giving us some really cute glimpses into how they first became friends in high school.

The actual contest was entertaining to read about as well.  I don’t know much about cosplaying or costume design so it was pretty fascinating to see just how much work goes into designing and constructing a costume.

If reality TV contests, fake dating, and friends-to-lovers romances are your catnip like they are mine, The Love Con is a book you’re going to want to add to your reading list. 4 STARS.

 

Romance Reviews:  THE LOVE CON & THE ONE NIGHTThe One Night Goodreads

Author: Meghan Quinn

Publication Date: December 14, 2021

Publisher:  Montlake

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

The One Night by Meghan Quinn is a fun holiday-themed novella that centers on the lead-up to a one night stand between a recently divorced man and his ex-wife’s best friend.  And while it might just be a novella, it’s still packed full of what I love most about Meghan Quinn’s novels, namely laugh out loud humor and steamy romantic scenes.

The story follows Cooper Chance (Coop), a recently divorced man, whose parents are so determined to get him to move on and find a new love, that they dress up in their most festive Christmas attire and take their son barhopping.  Their philosophy is that if their son won’t go looking for love, then they’ll act as his wingmen and bring love to him. Coop’s parents are hilarious, steal every scene they’re in, and I just adored them.

The bar they end up in brings Coop face-to-face with someone he wasn’t expecting to see, Nora McHale, the best friend of Coop’s ex-wife.  Nora has come to the bar, not looking for love, but rather to just have a drink and relax alone after an exhausting day of work. But not even Nora can resist the charms of Coop’s parents and soon she finds herself chatting with Coop and enjoying it way more than she expected to. Neither Nora nor Coop can believe how well matched they seem to be, but both wonder if they would be crossing a line they shouldn’t if they act on their attraction.

I loved the chemistry between Nora and Coop.  Their flirty banter was so cute and I really enjoyed watching them each see the other in a whole new light.  I also thought Quinn did a wonderful job of combining their increasingly steamy attraction to one another with very realistic internal monologues of doubt about whether or not they’re doing the right thing, if a relationship between them could even feasibly be possible.

The one thing I didn’t like about The One Night is that it actually ends on a cliffhanger.  I practically screamed when I got to the end because I wanted so much more of Nora and Coop.  Thankfully I soon learned that The One Night is also a prequel to Quinn’s upcoming novel, The Reunion, which focuses on Coop’s parents and their fiftieth wedding anniversary party.  So not only will I get to see what’s going on with Nora and Coop, but I’ll get to see more of Coop’s adorable parents. Win, win!

If you’re in the mood for a fun, flirty holiday-themed rom-com and don’t mind a little cliffhanger at the end, I highly recommend The One Night4 STARS.

 

Romance Reviews: THE SINGLES TABLE & LOVE AND LET BARK

 

Is it me or are the weeks just flying by?  It feels like I’m going to blink and it will be 2022. Thankfully my last work deadlines of the year are fast approaching and then I’ll be able to enjoy some downtime over the holidays.  Today I’m reviewing two more fabulous romance novels, both from Berkley.  I’ve had such wonderful luck with Berkley’s romances this year (I think almost my entire Best of 2021 list is from them)  and today’s books continue that trend.

 

Romance Reviews:  THE SINGLES TABLE & LOVE AND LET BARKThe Singles Table Goodreads

Author:  Sara Desai

Publication Date: November 16, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

I don’t know if a free-spirited lawyer shooting an obnoxious former military security specialist in the rear end with a paintball technically counts as a meet cute, but it was definitely enough to have me fully entertained and invested in seeing what happens between the protagonists of Sara Desai’s latest romance, The Singles Table.

After a bad break up, attorney Zara Patel has decided she’s done with trying to find love for herself. Instead, she’s going to focus on her career and on what she believes is her special gift, matchmaking. She plans to help her friends find romance during the wedding season and prides herself on her success record when it comes to matching guests at the singles table.  That is, until she meets sexy but surly Jay Donovan, a security specialist with no time or interest in finding romance.  Jay, a former military guy, is all about order, staying focused and working hard on his business.  He has no idea that a paintball to his rear end during a pre-wedding paintball match is about to turn his world upside down.  When Zara and Jay keep finding themselves at the singles table at wedding after wedding and Zara brags to Jay about her matchmaking prowess and confesses that she’s a little obsessed with celebrities, they end up making a little wager.  If Zara can find Jay a match, he’ll introduce her to some of his celebrity clients.

Zara has this vibrant, larger than life personality that Jay can’t help but be captivated by, no matter how much he tries to tell himself she’s just annoying and too chaotic for him.  And even though Jay comes across as rigid and gruff when she first meets him, Zara finds herself seeking him out at every wedding.  I’m a sucker for a grumpy/sunshine romance so Jay and Zara’s often hilarious interactions were like catnip for me and I loved watching their relationship evolve, especially since they have such amazing chemistry and the more Zara interacts with Jay, the more she starts thinking maybe she doesn’t want to match him up with someone else.

Sara Desai’s The Singles Table was such a fun read. Jay and Zara’s journey, the festive wedding celebrations, and the meddling aunties who hound Zara throughout the wedding season, all made for such a delightfully entertaining and heartwarming read.  If you’re in the mood for a grumpy/sunshine romance, The Singles Table is the perfect match for you.  4 STARS

 

Romance Reviews:  THE SINGLES TABLE & LOVE AND LET BARKLove and Let Bark (Hearts of Alaska #3) Goodreads

Author: Alanna Martin

Publication Date: November 30, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

Love and Let Bark by Alanna Martin is the third book in her contemporary romance series, Hearts of Alaska.  I’m freely going to admit that I was drawn to this book by the adorable husky puppies on the cover and the promise of a snowy Alaskan setting.  I didn’t even realize it was part of a series, but thankfully not having read the first two books in the series didn’t hamper my enjoyment of this latest installment at all.

When they were younger, Lydia Lipin and Nate Porter were secretly friends in spite of their families’ century-long feud. They soon developed more than friendly feelings for one another, but frustrated that he would never be able to have Lydia openly in his life because of their families’ dislike for one another, Nate decides he needs to leave town.  Years later, Nate comes back to his hometown, and as soon as he sees Lydia again, he realizes that time apart has done nothing to dull his feelings for her.

Lydia has always played the role of the responsible and reliable daughter.  She dutifully takes over the family business when it’s time, and she always puts the needs of others above herself, including her sister, who decides she’s in love with and wants to marry a Porter and doesn’t care about the feud.  Even though it’s incredibly stressful, Lydia spends much of her time running interference between the two families so as to spare her sister the stress.  When she sees Nate again, however, Lydia realizes she still has feelings for him and becomes frustrated with the state of their families and the peacemaking role she has been forced into.

Lydia and Nate were both such sweet, likeable and sympathetic characters.  It was so obvious how much they love each other and that they were both heartbroken when it didn’t work out the first time.  They were stuck in such a horrible and awkward situation that wasn’t even of their making.  I loved that they have the opportunity for a second chance at love and was really rooting for them to just tell off their families and run away together.

The husky puppies were of course adorable little scene stealers and the snowy Alaska setting was the picture perfect background for this delightful, feel-good story.  If you’re a fan of second chance romances, I highly recommend Love and Let Bark. 4 STARS.

 

Reviews: HEARD IT IN A LOVE SONG & LOVE, LISTS AND FANCY SHIPS

 

Happy Monday all!  I hope everyone who was celebrating Thanksgiving this past week had a lovely holiday.  We kept our celebration small but I did get to spend some time with my mom and sister so that was really nice.  I worked off and on the rest of the weekend and painted a room in my house yesterday, which is why I was mostly offline.  I’ll be catching up on blog visits over the next few days.  Today I’m sharing reviews for two excellent books I’ve read recently, one from a favorite author, Tracey Garvis Graves, and one from a new-to-me author, Sarah Grunder Ruiz, who is sure to become a favorite if this first book is any indication.  And apparently my accidental theme this week, which I didn’t notice until I made the above graphic, is sunglasses with images reflected in them, lol.

 

Reviews:  HEARD IT IN A LOVE SONG & LOVE, LISTS AND FANCY SHIPSHeard It in a Love Song Goodreads

Author:  Tracey Garvis Graves

Publication Date: November 9, 2021

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press

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

Heard It in a Love Song by Tracey Garvis Graves is a beautiful story about finding love again after having your heart broken. What I loved about this story is that although it focuses on two characters who are coming out of toxic relationships and trying to start over, there isn’t a lot of heavy drama filling the pages.  Instead, the story focuses more on each character’s inner journey to find themselves again.  There’s a lot of looking back and reflecting on what went wrong with their previous relationships, but it’s looking back so as to be able to move forward and I really enjoyed that angle.

Heard It in a Love Song follows Layla Hilding, a 35-year old elementary school music teacher.  Layla is recently divorced after her 10-year marriage to Liam ended.  When we first meet Layla, we learn that although she has a passion for music, her dream was not to become a music teacher.  Instead, her dream was actually to be a professional musician and, prior to getting married, she was actually the lead singer in a band.  Although Liam was initially enamored by watching Layla perform, once they were in a relationship, he became quite toxic, often belittling her performances and her musical skills.  He basically sucked the life right out of her dream.  One of the first things Layla purchases once she is on her own again is a guitar, and it’s with that guitar that her journey to self-rediscovery begins.

Although being a music teacher wasn’t her first choice, it is at her elementary school that Layla first meets Josh Summers, a 35 year old electrician with a 5 year old daughter who is in Layla’s class.  Josh is coming out of a failed relationship.  He had married his high school sweetheart, but after 20 years together, it was like living with a stranger and so they had separated.  Like Layla, Josh is trying to move forward and figure out what’s next for him.  When Layla and Josh meet, it’s obvious that they have major chemistry, but they’re both still reeling from their previous relationships and hesitant to start a new one.

I had tremendous sympathy for both Layla and Josh, who are both very likable and vulnerable characters.  It was easy to understand why they were both so cautious about getting involved with someone new, but at the same time, it was also obvious that they would be so great together so I was definitely rooting for them to open their hearts to each other.

I also loved how Graves chose to present Layla and Josh’s journey. Although the story mostly stays focused on their paths forward, Graves gives her readers several flashbacks as Layla and Josh reflect on the highs and lows of their previous relationships.  Seeing some of the more painful moments from their pasts had me rooting for these two all the more because they both deserve so much better than what they had.

Heard It in a Love Song is a poignant story about love, second chances, and about finding yourself.  4 STARS

 

Reviews:  HEARD IT IN A LOVE SONG & LOVE, LISTS AND FANCY SHIPSLove, Lists, and Fancy Ships Goodreads

Author: Sarah Grunder Ruiz

Publication Date: November 23, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

Love, Lists, and Fancy Ships by Sarah Grunder Ruiz is a contemporary romance that follows Jo Walker, a soon-to-be 30 year old yacht stewardess.  As a way to commemorate the last year of her 20s, Jo decides to come up with a bucket list of 30 things she wants to do by the time she turns 30.  It’s a list that really focuses on stepping out of her comfort zone – get a tattoo, go skinny dipping, run a marathon, visit ten foreign countries, etc.  For the past year, Jo has been completing her list and humorously documenting her efforts on her blog.

It is when Jo works up the nerve to complete item number 5 on her list – kissing a stranger – that Jo’s life takes an unexpected turn.  After she kisses a handsome stranger at the local bar, she’s mortified to learn that said stranger, whose name is Alex, is actually her new neighbor, which she learns when he accidentally comes across her late one night in the community pool, checking off another item on her bucket list, skinny dipping.  As if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, it turns out Alex is also the new chef on the yacht where she works so, as much as Jo would like to forget about their previous encounters, there’s just no avoiding him, which leads to some awkward but entertaining moments.  Even though Jo swears she isn’t interested in starting a relationship with anyone, Alex is pretty irresistible to her so the temptation is definitely there.  I loved their scenes together, both the fun, flirty ones and then later, the more serious ones when they discuss their families, etc.  I really enjoyed the romantic aspect of this story because Jo and Alex have amazing chemistry and could be so good together if Jo would just let herself take another big step out of that comfort zone of hers.

While Jo’s blog and her adventures with Alex as they got to know each other provided lots of fun moments, what really made this a special read for me was the more emotional and personal journey that Jo faces.  Because while there is definitely a potential romance, this is also a story about grief and loss.  In Jo’s case, it’s the loss of her beloved nephew, who was killed when he was hit by a car while riding his bike.  Jo has been repressing her grief by trying to stay busy and not think about it, but when her two nieces come to spend the summer with her and she realizes they are struggling with the loss of their little brother too, it brings all of Jo’s grief to a head.  I found this part of the story so incredibly moving and well written and my heart just ached for Jo and the girls as they try to process such a devastating loss.

As much as I enjoy a good rom-com, a contemporary romance that makes me feel all the feels is what I’m really a sucker for and Love, Lists, and Fancy Ships by Sarah Grunder Ruiz really delivers in that department.  4 STARS

 

Romance Review: DONUT FALL IN LOVE by Jackie Lau

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

four-stars

About Jackie Lau

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

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

Reviews: THE PARTY CRASHER & WELL MATCHED

 

Hey everyone, I hope you all had a wonderful weekend.  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on two contemporary reads that are perfect if you’re looking to escape your troubles for a few hours.

 

Reviews:  THE PARTY CRASHER & WELL MATCHEDThe Party Crasher Goodreads

Author:  Sophie Kinsella

Publication Date: October 12, 2021

Publisher:  Random House Publishing Group – The Dial Press

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

If you’re familiar with Sophie Kinsella’s books, you know she’s the queen of heartwarming, humorous reads and The Party Crasher is no exception.

The novel follows Effie, a young woman who has been struggling with the news of her parents’ divorce.  The fact that she thought they were blissfully happy and didn’t see the divorce coming has really tarnished Effie’s view of what she had always thought of as a happy, loving childhood.  It comes as even more of a blow when Effie’s father suddenly has a new, and much younger, girlfriend, Krista, and that he and Krista have decided to sell Greenoaks, the quirky old country house that Effie and her family grew up in.

Effie and Krista have butt heads so often over the selling of the house that even Effie’s relationship with her dad has suffered, so when Krista decides to throw a “house cooling” party so the family can say goodbye to Greenoaks, she doesn’t even send Effie an invitation.  Effie doesn’t want to go anyway, that is, until she remembers that she had hidden a beloved childhood toy somewhere in the house and becomes determined to retrieve it without Krista or her father knowing she has returned to Greenoaks.  She decides the perfect time is the night of the house cooling party since everyone will be distracted by the festivities.  What could possibly go wrong?

What I always love about Kinsella’s novels is the balance between family or personal drama and laugh out loud hilarious moments.  The drama in this story is obviously Effie struggling to deal with all of these changes in her life, and her antics as she tries to stealthily crash the house cooling party provide endless comical moments since pretty much anything that can go wrong, absolutely does.  I found Effie to be an incredibly sympathetic character, even if she did occasionally have some juvenile reactions to her potential new stepmother. Haven’t we all had some family drama that makes such reactions easy to relate to?

I also loved the dynamic of Effie’s relationship with her sister, Bean, who is stuck in the middle of Effie’s feud with Krista. Bean is just so pure, like a golden retriever in human form. She just wants everyone to be happy, especially Effie, and she tries her hardest to make that happen, even if it means helping Effie with her crazy scheme to crash the party.  Another unexpected source of help in Effie’s scheme comes in the form of Effie’s ex-boyfriend, Joe.  Plenty of awkward, hilarious, and heartwarming moments ensue.

I’ve been going through a rough time lately so I was really in the mood for a funny and heartwarming read. The Party Crasher was exactly what I needed.  4.5 STARS

 

 

Reviews:  THE PARTY CRASHER & WELL MATCHEDWell Matched (Well Met, #3) Goodreads

Author: Jen DeLuca

Publication Date: October 19, 2021

Publisher:  Berkley Books

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

With its wonderful characters and magical Renaissance Faire backdrop, I’ve been enjoying Jen Deluca’s contemporary romance series, Well Met, so much. April and Mitch, two of my favorite secondary characters from the previous books, have undeniable chemistry, so I was beyond excited to learn that Well Matched, the third book in the series, would bring them center stage and that the fake dating trope would be involved.

April is such a fantastic character. She’s a forty-year old, single mom who is used to doing everything herself.  I really admired her sense of independence.  As she says, it has always been just her and her daughter, Caitlyn, against the world and she likes it that way.  She has big plans too, now that Caitlyn is heading off to college.  It’s time to sell the house, leave Willow Creek, and have a fresh start somewhere else.

Even though she has no plans to stay in town and no interest in romance, she can’t help but admire Mitch Malone, the high school gym teacher.  Mitch has a reputation for being a lady’s man and also for wearing a kilt every year at the Ren Faire that shows off his attributes.  April can’t deny he’s easy on the eyes, so when he asks her to be his fake girlfriend at a family function to appease his grandmother, who thinks he’s never going to settle down, April agrees in exchange for him helping her with some work on her house.

April and Mitch’s journey together is a bit of a slow burn.  It’s clear they are attracted to one another but April fights her attraction every step of the way, in part because of Mitch’s reputation and in part because she’s leaving anyway.  Friends with benefits, yes, but an actual future together, nope.  I loved watching their relationship evolve, especially as they get to know each other better and April realizes there’s a lot more to Mitch than she had previously given him credit for and finds it harder to fight her attraction to him.  I thought DeLuca did a wonderful job of portraying April’s struggle over whether to follow her head or her heart and couldn’t wait to find out which path April would decide to follow.

I also had a great time being back in Willow Creek.  I’m always captivated by the magic and charm of the Ren Faire setting and loved that I got to see beloved characters from the first two books in the series and see what they’re up to. I became so invested in these characters that it was like visiting with old friends and I truly loved that feeling.

If Ren Faires, sexy men in kilts, single mom protagonists, and fake dating are your jam, then you definitely want to check out Well Matched4.5 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