Cara Bastone’s Just a Heartbeat Away is a slow burn romance; it’s also an exploration of grief, loneliness, & happiness that hit me with emotion from the first words & left me certain that I’d just read something special.
When the book opens pre-k teacher Via DeRosa is kindly telling the freshly widowed & single dad Sebastian Dorner that he isn’t taking care of his son Matty properly. She gives him a break-down of things he should/could do for his son & it’s the shock that Sebastian needs to bring him out of a spiral.
Two years later Via’s the freshly hired counselor at Matty’s new school & Sebastian remembers what a service she did for him...& notices for the first time how beautiful she is. But she’s dating someone else & about 15 years younger. Still. Feelings.
This is one of those books where the leads’s hearts are mapped out & the author does it all gently & yet firmly. The difficult convos where Via & Sebastian bond over shared grief are really well done.
While emotions tied to rising up from grief & trying to connect with others are very much themes of the book there’s such happiness too. Such a sense of rightness. I can only say that Cara Bastone is an emotionally astute treasure.
Also she’s a freaking goddess of the slowwwww burn. There’s one quote about chocolate that had me internally gasping...& reading as greedily as I could.
What else do I love about Just a Heartbeat Away? How it’s a real journey for both characters. Neither sees the other in a romantic way for quite some time & that definitely affects the plot. The charming band of secondary characters (Tyler, you’re next!). And most of all, how kind Via & Sebastian are. How much they deserve to be happy & how happy I was when they finally are.
Just a Heartbeat Awayis out now. Thanks to Harlequin & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Tropes: childhood friends to lovers; brothers’s best friend
🤩 Q: do you like the brother’s best friend trope?
I’m the oldest of my siblings & I always wanted an older brother. The idea of a big brother’s best friend wasn’t even on my radar then but now—I’m very happily married but I really like the trope 🤣.
Emma Salah’s Dirty Tactics puts a spin on it. The hero & heroine have known each other since adolescence & have secretly had feelings for each other since then. Before the book begins they’ve kissed a couple of times—once recently—& our heroine Reagan wants more but the hero Zac says no.
She’s going to make him want her. He wants to make her lose interest. Which one will win?
It took me some time to warm to Zac. Sometimes he comes across as have my cake & eat it too. But at least Reagan is aware of what a dick he occasionally is.
And let’s talk about Reagan for a sec. A sports agent who has to fight for her career, she pursues what she wants when it comes to Zac, too.
The family dynamics in this read are thoughtfully complicated & Zac’s inner conflict feels realistic. Zac wasn’t always my fave but he has a lot of work to do & by the end he understands & embraces that.
Dirty Tactics is steamy! & the heroine is a go-getter & that’s a thrilling combo in my book. Just check out the content warning before you dive in.
Past abuse of hero & his mom. The hero deals with fallout with both parents on the page.
Dirty Tacticsis available now. Thanks to Carina Press & Netgalley for my complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
There are some writers who really get the emotional stuff—who open up their characters & reveal the intricacies of what makes them human: fallible & lovable—and Jenny Holiday is one of them.
Like @b.andherbooks noted, Paradise Cove is a pretty emotionally devastating romance. It’s also touching, sexy as hell, & hopeful.
Physician Nora just temporarily re-located to Moonflower Bay. Almost immediately she meets the handsome, dependable Jake Ramsey, who’s still reeling from his infant son’s death & his subsequent divorce years earlier—& who doesn’t want to get past the former event at all.
Eventually & beautifully Nora & Jake become friends & then BFFs...even if the whole town is shocked by that development. And somewhere along the way they start sleeping together, both of them asserting that it’s sex & friendship only.
Jake & Nora are truly admirable characters who give so much of themselves to others. If Fixer men is your kink then you’ll love Jake and if competence porn is your thing you’ll love both leads. The chemistry between them is hot & take no prisoners, & their friendship gives me all the warm fuzzies.
Holiday’s taken on a huge project with this book, incorporating grief on and off the page, & it feels nuanced & sincere. But I did feel like some of the big moments in Nora and Jake’s relationship—how they come together, how they break part, & reconnect—kinda feel like whimpers in some ways instead of having the full emotional effect I would like. That’s maybe because the grief they’re dealing with, that Jake in particular is so ravaged by, is so tremendous & understandably has a huge effect on any entanglements he has with others.
Paradise Cove is a stunning entry to Jenny Holiday’s Matchmaker Bay series. Maybe most of all, I’m just glad to see this couple get their HEA.
CW: death of child (off page); death of grandparent (on page); heroine cheated on by former partner (off page)
Paradise Coveis out on 07/28. Thanks to Netgalley & Forever Publishing & Grand Central Publishing for my complimentary e-ARC & the latter two for my finished print copy; all opinions provided are my own.
On a basic level Yaffa S. Santos’s A Taste of Sage calls to me: enemies to lovers set in the creative & delicious restaurant world, with some magical realism elements thrown in the mix. And let’s go ahead and give a round of applause to the person(s) who designed the cover because it’s a vibrant slice of happiness.
But unfortunately the more that I read of this upcoming release, the more I was confused by its execution, taken out of the story in the passages where narrative subtlety is lacking, & ultimately pretty shocked by a direction the plot takes.
Lumi cooks a spontaneous daily menu of Dominican food at the restaurant she’s just opened. At a catering job she meets famed chef Julien Dax, who arrogantly—& w/out knowing her identify—insults her food to her face. Oops.
Shortly thereafter Lumi’s restaurant goes under & she ends up interviewing with Julien. Lumi gets the job after a very brief interview & has to figure out how to put up with the uber traditional, conceited jerk who rubbed her the wrong way from the get-go. For his part, Julien feels a strong attraction for Lumi but it’s up for debate whether he’ll be able to tear down her walls.
Food is more than a profession for the hero & heroine in ATOS; there’s a lot of love for it and for the act of creativity that Lumi nurtures with her plates. Full recipes are even included throughout the book. There’s potential in Lumi’s and the book’s overall devotion to food & in Julien’s later care of Lumi.
But I didn’t feel like I really emotionally connected with the characters, even when they were at their lowest, & on the whole ATOS feels emotionally thin to me. This romance just isn’t for me.
graphically described burn injuries
ATOS is out on 05/19. Thanks to Avon Books & Edelweiss for the complimentary ARC; all opinions provided are my own.