I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
Love on Lexington Avenue is an adorable tale of opposites attract turned maybe-not-so-opposites attract after all, and I love it so. It’s a feel-good story with a super romantic ending, undeniably written by that dazzling writer of (mostly) Manhattanites—Lauren Layne—and it gave me allllll the HEA feels (which we can all agree is of paramount importance these days, am I right?).
We met Claire Hayes and Scott Turner in the start of Lauren Layne’s Central Park Pact series. At the beginning of Love on Lexington Avenue, the second book in said series, Claire’s been a widow of her cheating-husband for a year, about to embark on a major house renovation with the rude but highly skilled contractor she just hired, Scott Turner.
The initial chemistry between Claire and Scott is delightful in the way of classic movies where the hero and heroine keep jabbing at one another, neither one of them afraid to be as honest and least-“charming” as possible when they are, in actuality, very likable people. But Claire seems stuffy and overly opinionated to contractor Scott, and Scott seems abrasive and needlessly generous with his abrasive opinions to Claire, and it’s all very wonderful to readers like me who thrive off those kinds of verbal foreplay.
What adds another dose of complexity to the romantic plot is that neither Claire nor Scott want anything serious (marriage is a big no no), and despite their attraction to each other, neither thinks sleeping with the other sounds like a good idea either. Until it does…
The conflicts in Love on Lexington on Lexington are believable, true to the characters, and meaningful without being too heavy on angst, and that makes me a very happy woman. Claire and Scott and their wants/fears/needs grabbed onto my heart and I ached for their HEA without feeling like I was being led through a gauntlet of emotional torture. That felt like kind of an ideal reading experience, especially on a Monday afternoon while my toddler was sleeping.
For those of you (greedy wenches like me) wondering about the steam level, Love on Lexington Avenue is sexy without being as overt as most of Layne’s previous books. There’s one scene in particular that gave me that red-cheeked-swoony-stomach feeling.
The only thing that I missed is some of Scott’s direct engagement with his past with Claire. He’s pretty tight-lipped throughout Love—a source of frustration for Claire—and I wanted more of those specific walls to come down.
Everything else felt like sunshine and strawberry lemonade, cupcakes and HEA to me.
I received a complimentary copy of this ARC via Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
Wow wow wow.
Not the most skillful beginning to a review, but that’s honest to God how I felt when I finished the last line of Kerrigan Byrne’s historical romance How to Love a Duke in Ten Days. Byrne’s books are so immersive, so luxuriously written, that each one feels like an experience, a journey that you’ve taken with the characters from one deep emotion to another.
Her books don’t just toy with darkness. They’re unafraid to tackle the most challenging of topics, and in the case of the opening chapter of How to Love a Duke, it’s Lady Alexandra Lane’s rape by the headmaster at her school when she’s 17. Ten years later, Alexandra is an accomplished Doctor of archaeology who avoids putting herself into one on one situations with men, who has no intentions of marrying ever, and who is struggling with how to figure out the best solution—any solution—to her blackmail problem.
When she sees the possibility of a marriage of convenience to a duke, she takes it, even though Piers Atherton is also known as the Terror of Torcliff and is unabashed about his desire to marry for revenge.
Byrne’s books are swimming in feelings. The passion is at a whole different level on every front—the characters lust and fight and desire powerfully—they want things they shouldn’t and sometimes their best impulses war with their worst. She’s a brilliant writer, crafting a story that’s bold and atmospheric and characters that are forged in the fire of suffering, without everything feeling too dour.
How to Love a Duke has this distinctive style, but it also has a lightness that made it my favorite of her books despite the many passages that are sad, disturbing, and difficult to read. In some of her other work, I’ve sometimes felt like the women were more passive than I would like—I didn’t doubt their strength or their love stories but I had flickers of worry that they were being used too much for redemptive purposes.
But the female friendship in How to Love a Duke is critical to the story itself, and there’s no denying that Alexandra and her friends, the Red Rogues, are brave, intelligent, and resourceful, willing to do nearly anything to fight back against the people who have hurt them and who would continue hurting them. I can’t wait to see where their beautifully fierce friendship goes next (that Epilogue!).
Then there’s Piers, who’s entertaining, devoted, and honest with Alexandra, who's occasionally stupid when it comes to matters regarding her, but who isn’t afraid to admit to his mistakes. His weakness for Alexandra, juxtaposed with how terrifying he can be to others, is purely lovely. Their maddening sexual tension kept me engrossed (slooooow burn, anyone?!) and I was so relieved to finish the book in one day so that I wouldn’t be held in suspense any longer.
Finally, the ending is exquisite. There’s no doubting the HEA of this one, folks.
This was a 5 star read for me and I’m so excited about the rest of the series. It’s sure to be luscious and lusciously dark, and by the time of its release I should be emotionally recovered enough to read it 😉.
This book includes a fairly detailed description of Alexandra’s rape and then very frequent flashbacks to the incident, as well as descriptions of Alexandra’s present physical, emotional, and mental response to being touched by men (the Duke in particular).
She kind of hated to be such a mom cliché, but honestly: would you look at these floors?!
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I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author but all opinions provided are my own.
Sink or Swim’s Jiya Dalal has always wanted (1) to fly and (2) her best friend Andrew Prince, but she has neither. Now she’s in her late twenties and ready to do whatever it takes to get closer to her dreams, even if that means letting go of the man she’s loved since she was a child.
This book is about choosing to act, really. The choice to follow passions/to accept oneself/to take a chance on someone/to let go of guilt, like the ferocious kind that Andrew Prince has been carrying around, when life says it might be easier to live with the status quo.
But Jiya and Andrew have both reached the point of no return in Sink or Swim, and yearning forever isn’t going to work anymore because Bailey’s books are ultimately happy and hopeful, dammit. Bailey shows us, this is what happens when people have finally had enough, when they’ve decided to take their happiness from the world no matter what that little voice in their head says and I love how that freeing results in something beautiful.
Jiya and Andrew’s decisions to reject the status quo—even when it wants to hold on with two grasping hands—took me through all the emotions, from the tortured to the boundlessly happy. Because the past has a tight grip in this book, especially when it manifests itself in the form of a very real villain *spits on his grave* who keeps showing up at the most inopportune times. But you can’t keep a good (amazing) romance writer down, and the ending of this book—the final chapters—are stunning, destined to be re-read and skimmed when I need a quick HEA fix in the future.
I’ll also be skimming the insanely sexy parts of Sink or Swim, because we’re talking Tessa Bailey here. I love how she writes a variety of sexual dynamics in her books and how hard she pushes the limits. I’ve often been surprised by them and by what’s intrigued me and what I find a little personally off-putting. It sounds silly to say to read these books for educational reasons, but…maybe read these books for educational reasons.
I’m going to miss this Beach Kingdom series. These men and women who are effortlessly adorable even as they’re a wee bit tormented. Who make big, rom-com worthy gestures. Who grab a second chance and hold on tight.
Thanks to Netgalley for my complimentary copy of this book. All opinions provided are my own.
If there’s ever a book to get lost in, it’s Jenn Bennett’s The Lady Rogue.
First of all, that title. Second, nearly every other thing about the book.
I’m not kidding: this cross-Asia-and-Europe adventure of thrilling proportion—set in 1937 and featuring an intrepid heroine and hero on the hunt—is so great. The Lady Rogue seems to have been created with maximum entertainment in mind, from the journal excerpts to the legends to the Big Bad Ring itself, and it succeeds beautifully. It’s sassy, smart, and bold, like the heroine herself.
Theodora (Theo) Fox can’t believe it when her father Richard “Damn” Fox abandons her with a companion so that he can search for a magical ring believed to have belonged to Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula. But her father doesn’t return when he’s supposed to. Instead, Richard sends Huxley Gallagher, or Huck, in his stead, with his mysterious journal and warnings about the danger his search has put them all in.
Theo’s great quest takes off with her looking for her father, who is looking for a ring, while she’s accompanied by the young man, Huck, who broke her heart.
Bennett makes these characters come alive. Their motivations, quirks, and insecurities are blissfully and skillfully made clear, and I felt like I came to know them. Also like I would love to read a book written by nearly any one of them, or perhaps join them for tea on a very long train ride.
And you can see history’s charisma in The Lady Rogue, too: it’s in the description of the hotels and trains, the towns Theo and Huck visit, the caravan they stay in, the stretches of wilderness they pass through, and it feels cinematic in nature. Like one of those gorgeous classic films, when everything was done in a big way.
Zingers fly between Theo and Huck but there's also an underlying camaraderie that can't be ignored, even if they were estranged for over a year before the book opens. The book is pretty chaste, but the passionate feeling between Theo and Huck explodes off the page.
I’ve been a huge fan of Jenn Bennett’s YA contemporaries (if you haven’t read them yet, do that already), and I was so excited to see that she was writing YA historical fantasy and that she was super excited about this book. You can sense that excitement—that joy—from beginning to end. The Lady Rogue is fun, even as Theo and Huck are scared (nearly) witless, even as they try to figure out a way out of the messes they’re in.
And I'd follow them every step of the way, because Bennett makes it impossible to do otherwise.
"IF THERE'S ANYTHING WORSE THAN KNOWING YOU'RE OUT OF PLACE, IT'S BEING TOLD YOU FIT IN."
I've seen a quote before about how lucky we are to live in the time of Beyonce. Yes, a million times, yes. But I think we’re also lucky to live in a time where romance novels are so stupendously written, when they’re not afraid of tackling critical national conversations we’re having, when they articulate our most fervent (and most hopeful/lovely) wishes more beautifully than we could have ever hoped, and when they light us on fire with the joy of companionship, love, and sex.
The historical romances I’ve read lately have been particularly insane (in a great way): first, I read Julie Anne Long’s Lady Derring Takes a Lover; then I read Tessa Dare’s The Wallflower Wager; and finishing this triumvirate of books that Left Me Awed is Sarah MacLean’s Brazen and the Beast, which has gotten a lot of hype and is even better than I had hoped.
The heroine of MacLean’s BandB, Hattie, is bold and confident, a real go-getter who’s been battered by the less than nice opinions of others but who gives those opinions a big f you, and Whit is divine, an alpha you don’t want to anger but who also possesses a luscious weakness for a close circle of people, the heroine foremost among them.
Their romance is stellar and MacLean’s writing should be held up as an example of how people should/could write about love. Also being a woman who is constantly critiqued or found wanting. Also how to be brave. On The Voice, the coaches tell the contestants not to stay at a 10 the whole time—to choose when they do a run—and MacLean observes those dynamics, Blake, Adam, Alicia, and Kelly (my favorite coaches)! She’s delicate when she needs to be and can decimate an army of foes when she needs to, and every bit of it is dramatic and suspenseful in the way that the best romances—whether they’re romantic suspense or not—are.
This is a gushing review on par with how I used to attack people with compliments after I had one or two drinks in college, but it’s the truth. Historical romance is for everyone and this book in particular could teach people more than a thing or two.
Hattie and Whit are for the ages (and Nora and Nik too).
Really good milk chocolate, a cuddle, a Tessa Bailey book...these are all wonderful things that make me feel seriously happy. Our resident Dirty Talk Queen (the aforementioned Bailey) is at it again, releasing Sink or Swim, the latest in her Beach Kingdom series, on August 20th. I'm so excited to participate in this sensational cover reveal and can't wait to read the book in a few days!
First, the Blurb.
Andrew Prince wakes up before everyone else. He schedules the bar shifts, demands perfection from Long Beach’s lifeguards—most of all himself—and makes sure the family debts are paid. His unfaltering worth ethic might leave him exhausted, but it comes with one advantage. It distracts him from the love he’s been harboring since childhood for the girl next door—who he cannot have.
Jiya Dalal has dreams. To fly a plane, see the world below…and prove irresistible to her best friend, Andrew. But she needs to be a good daughter first, which is becoming an increasingly difficult task, since her parents expect a good marriage and the man she loves with all her heart refuses to pursue the blistering connection between them. Just when she’s beginning to believe Andrew truly doesn’t want her, a moonlight tryst on the beach exposes his true feelings. But an echo from the past kept them apart before…and it’s only growing louder with every stolen kiss…
Childhood best friends to (hopefully) lovers?! Swoon, swoon, swoon. And now here's the cover:
Hellooo. And if that's not enough to whet your appetite, an excerpt:
Jiya looked up and found Andrew watching her intently. “What is this, Andrew?”
“We’re dancing,” he rasped, his gaze slightly unfocused.
“You’ve never danced with me like this before.”
His gaze strayed to her lips, before he resolutely dragged them away. “Do you want to stop?”
“No and that’s the problem.” Come on, Mrs. I Don’t Play Games Anymore, bring up the elephant in the room. It’s not going away. “You’ve been different with me lately. Is it...” She took two bracing breaths. “Is it because I’m dating?”
He started to deny it, then changed his mind. “Might be. Yeah. I know that’s fucked up,” he said. “You’ve always been min—my best friend. We won’t have this if you start dating someone seriously. If you...”
“Get married?” His complexion turned gray. “Mmm.” Cement caked her insides, but she was used to it by now. She’d loved Andrew since she was a child. She’d waited patiently for him to love her back—as more than a friend—and he hadn’t. He’d done nothing about it. So while she yearned to dissect his every word and rejoice in them, ached for what he was feeling, she couldn’t do it anymore without being a fool. “Ask me the question, Andrew. The one you ask me every night.”
A line formed between his brows. “Can I do anything for you, Jiya?”
“Yes.” She took his face in her hands. “You can stay my friend. No matter what happens. Fine, things are changing in my life. But I couldn’t bear it if I ever lost what we have. Just stay my friend. Promise me.”
His jaw bunched. “You know I’d cut my heart out before saying no to you, right?”
“Then you have your answer.” He wet his lips. “But we’re finishing the dance.”
!!! Can't wait to read this one soon. If you haven't checked out the Beach Kingdom series yet, you can read Mouth to Mouth or Heat Stroke (m/m and my personal favorite) in the meantime!
About Tessa Bailey:
Tessa Bailey is originally from Carlsbad, California. The day after high school graduation, she packed her yearbook, ripped jeans and laptop, driving cross-country to New York City in under four days.
Her most valuable life experiences were learned thereafter while waitressing at K-Dees, a Manhattan pub owned by her uncle. Inside those four walls, she met her husband, best friend and discovered the magic of classic rock, managing to put herself through Kingsborough Community College and the English program at Pace University at the same time. Several stunted attempts to enter the work force as a journalist followed, but romance writing continued to demand her attention.
She now lives in Long Island, New York with her husband of eleven years and six-year-old daughter. Although she is severely sleep-deprived, she is incredibly happy to be living her dream of writing about people falling in love.
There you have it, folks! How about that cover?
Thanks to the author for providing me with these materials and a complimentary copy of the book. All opinions provided are my own.
She leaned forward, her fingers resting on her neck, and whispered to the best friend who would never judge her: “I’m sorry for being weird today. It’s just that I’m irrationally sad that Liam and Miley broke up.”
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I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher but all opinions provided are my own.
Would you like your hero and heroine to be overall decent people but slightlyyyyy sketchy? And they live in a black+white=gray world, where they’re willing to risk everything to do what they feel like is right (even if it’s something that’s not technically legal?) And how steamy do you want it? Sexy and bold, with heroes who usually aren’t super expressive, even in the ending, but who would do anything for their partner?
You’ve come to the right place.
Outfox is Brown’s latest release, a dramatic, high-octane, high-stakes ride.
Drex Easton has a personal stake in finally capturing the con-man/serial killer he’s been following for years. When Drex’s partners tell him they think they’ve found the killer in Charleston, South Carolina, he’s only too willing to risk everything—including a superior FBI agent’s wrath—to try to take this guy down. Drex’s case is pretty slim, especially since the guy Jasper is married, which would be a pretty big breach in the alleged con-man/serial killer’s MO.
Jasper’s wife is Talia Shafer, and as soon as Drex sees her, bam, it’s instalust all the way. Does she know that her husband is almost definitely the murderer Drex has been chasing? Is she complicit in his crimes? Or is she an innocent victim?
Sandra Brown really knows how to write alpha heroes who are instantly stricken by the heroine, and I love it. The slick, manipulative personality that Drex takes on is no match for his lust and while his devotion to his admirable mission is stronger, he can’t help but want Talia in every way.
But there was a pretty big problem for me. On one hand, it’s uber sensual/exciting/passionate, how Drex’s drawn to her even though he knows he shouldn’t be and vice versa. On the other, Talia’s married, and she’s the wife of the man he’s hunting, so it’s not even close to being aboveboard. It’s part of that whole black+white=gray world I mentioned earlier.
Like in all of Brown’s books that I’ve read, the mystery is compelling and Brown’s writing is smart and punchy, but there are some aspects of the plot that I wasn’t as convinced by. There was at least one substantial conclusion that Drex and his partners seem to jump to, and I’m obviously not an expert, but I was surprised no one was saying, let’s wait before we get totally crazy here.
And a bigger lapse for me is that I wanted more from Talia’s characterization throughout the book. She’s beautiful and warm and ambitious—all the good things—but without getting too spoiler-y, the twists she takes later would have been even more convincing had there been more notice before. As it is, there were moments when her responses almost seemed shallow because they felt a little too spontaneous.
These plot quibbles aside, Outfox is uber romantic (if you can ignore that whole already-married thing--hey! her husband is probably a serial killer), with one of Brown’s more expressive heroes, and a really lovely Epilogue. All-around it’s a 3.5-4 star read for me, a gray area that I’m happy to leave gray.
Last Friday Daniel, Raymond, and I went to my doctor’s appointment and heard the ultrasound tech say these words: it’s a girl! Daniel and I had said that we wouldn’t care what sex the baby is (and I really believe that’s true), but we were pretty excited about this news for multiple, multiple reasons. One of them is that that we’ve had a girl name picked out in the Event of a Girl since my first pregnancy.
This is actually a big deal for us. I’ll tell you why.
First, I’m not someone who's dreamed of naming my child the same name since I was a child. In fact, if I look back over that long list of names that I’ve dreamed about, most of them now make me laugh, or marvel at what I was drawn to at that particular moment in time to make that particular name sound like the name for my offspring.
The first name I remember loving is Felicity Autumn. She would probably look like Keri Russell and love Autumn. The second name I remember is Daphne. She would probably be British. Sophia would probably play the violin and tell me that my jeans didn’t fit properly. And so on.
But the name we’ll be giving our third baby has held my interest and adoration for nearly five years now, and it’s partially because I love it and it reminds me of my childhood, and it’s partially because I’ve become convinced that picking out a baby name with my partner is one of the most challenging exercises we will undertake as a couple and when you find a name you can agree on, that’s it, that’s the one, no more talking. Picking out a baby name requires so much compromise. It involves so much diplomacy (on my part. Maybe on his part too, although that’s doubtful. Daniel isn't much for diplomacy). It necessitates frequently hearing the word “no” or its counterparts (an astonished laugh; an “are you serious?!”) or sometimes just an attractive bug-eyed stare (like your partner just started pulling down his or her pants in a Food City).
It’s more challenging than determining the temperature of the car for road trips. Or the radio station. What color you should paint your spare bathroom. How you should save money for your kids. Etc. etc.
This is where I should probably say something like: it’s hard finding a name that both people like. And this is true for probably every couple. But you all. Another truth is that my beloved husband—who is incredibly kind and thoughtful, extremely smart and handsome, etc.—is also brutally honest about his likes and dislikes (but only when you ask him for his opinion, a necessity when picking a name), and he happens to dislike most names. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that he happens to dislike most names I throw out there.
I would characterize my naming preference as mostly Classic Book, supplemented with some I Casually Knew a Person Named This and They Were Attractive and Charismatic in Some Kinda Way. Daniel’s is largely: I Browsed Every Branch of my Danish-American Family Tree and This is What I Like. These two categories sometimes overlap, but not often. At all.
I don’t fault Daniel for wanting a family name. In fact, I think it’s lovely to name a baby after a cherished family member. But sometimes, and I say this with so much love, family names aren’t great. Including my own. Sometimes they’re amazing. But I repeat, sometimes family names aren’t great. Sometimes you can’t imagine yelling them across a playground, for example. Or hearing them at a high school graduation and recognizing them as your child. Or seeing them penciled in on a Scantron. Or associating them with the baby growing in your belly.
The fact is that baby-naming is a historic challenge for Daniel and I, starting when I was pregnant with Sam. Gather round and I’ll tell you a story:
We ran through a long list of names and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that my beloved husband rejected nearly every one. But somehow Samuel made the cut for both of us.
There was another contender, though. A long-held name in Daniel’s family that Daniel really wanted, and that I didn’t connect with at all. It just didn’t feel like a name that I would ordinarily name my child, and that felt really important to me. (I’m not sharing the name out of respect for my husband and his family, because it’s a good name, it just wasn’t the one I would choose).
I began imagining a future Samuel, and probably Daniel began imagining a future x. As the time grew closer, Daniel said I could name the baby whatever I wanted, but that just didn’t feel right to me either, mostly because I knew how much he had become invested in his name. How could I ask him to give up something he felt so strongly about (even though I had made him aware of my reservations from the beginning)? But I didn’t want to give mine up either.
This is probably where you're frustrated with me, and I don’t blame you. What did you want, Jessica? Here’s what I wanted: Daniel to say, I’ve changed my mind about my name entirely and I would pick your name, Jessica.
Dear Reader, this was not going to happen.
After the first day in the hospital, and hearing repeatedly that we should pick a name, I suggested to Daniel that he should flip a coin. We assigned sides for each name and he flipped the quarter…so hard that it bounced off the ceiling tile—knocking it awry in the process—and was never seen again. Or maybe it was seen again, by some excited soul who had no idea that it was actually a very significant quarter for our family.
So then we drew names. Twice.
Samuel it was, and I was struck anew with the beauty of the name and the rightness of it.
The second time around, I was feeling so tender-hearted about our first naming debacle that I gave Daniel 51% naming rights for the baby’s first name if it was a boy. This was a risk but I think it paid off. We settled on Raymond, another family name of Daniel’s that was not one in serious contention the first go-round, and a name that I grew to love.
But I grew smarter, and stronger, and before we even tried to have the third baby, I claimed 100% naming rights on the whole name. I can name the baby anything I want, and that power has me feeling a little bit like a villain in a Marvel movie, flush with power and set on taking over the world, and a little like Leslie Knope with a binder full of possibilities.
Now could be my chance for Felicity Autumn or Daphne or Sophia. Maybe Maggie Rose, a name I loved in my early 20s.
But I’m not going that far back in my roots.
We’ll be using the only name to make it successfully through three rounds of vetting, and we’re super excited about it.
This post was meant to be a little joking, a little serious. Obviously we are primarily grateful to be having a third child, period, and even more grateful that so far everything indicates our baby is healthy and safe. But I’m also a little grateful that I have 100% naming rights. Is that so wrong?
Q: Tell me about your baby-naming experience!
*This title was inspired by Christina Lauren’s lovely Love and Other Words. Read it and weep! Literally. But also smile.
Give me that HEA, please.