📚 Q: what’s one of your top 10 (or so) reads of the year?
I really wanted to write a top ten list but of course it was difficult. Like so many others have said this year has felt so segmented; time has felt taffy-like, & there are some books I *remember* loving like Beach Read, even if it feels like I read them months ago WHEN I WAS A DIFFERENT PERSON.
I love how these lists send me into an existential crisis 😆.
So this is my list of 11 most memorable, top reads of 2020, with the caveat that I actually read so many amazing books that aren’t included here. A big hurray to all the authors who made our year better!
Cara Bastone’s Just a Heartbeat Away
Adrienne Young’s Fable
Emily Henry’s Beach Read
Charlie Adhara’s Big Bad Wolf series
Scarlett Peckham’s The Rakess
Ilona Andrews’s Sapphire Flames
Joanna Shupe’s The Devil of Downtown
Alexandria Bellefleur’s Written in the Stars
Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material
Talia Hibbert’s Take a Hint, Dani Brown
Roan Parrish’s In the Middle of Somewhere
Q: what’s one of your fave romance small towns?
Last week I started Jill Shalvis’s The Forever Girl, immediately had my heart squeezed by the talented hands of an Emotional Wizard, & decided that I would continue reading it another day 🤣.
Yesterday was the day & I approached it full steam ahead, both really enjoying it & determined to see this couple get their HEA.
The book opens with four friends/foster siblings gathered at the grave of the boy they lost & whom they all miss greatly.
Mazey Porter, called Maze & sometimes Mayhem Maze, also feels terribly guilty for his death, a guilt that has made her act out in certain ways & that hasn’t been helped by her fear of abandonment & of being vulnerable w/ others.
Walker Scott is also there at the grave, a man she lived with for a year when they were teens, the man she drunkenly married as a young 20-something in Vegas, the man she tries to ignore—& who does the same to her—even though she can never fully do that.
Three years of not talking later, when one of their foster siblings hatches a plan to have them all back in the same Wildstone house for a week, Mazey & Walker can’t stay away from each other. Maybe this time they can figure it out...once the truth about Mazey’s fake boyfriend/best friend she roped into accompanying her comes out, that is.
This book is hardhitting in the emotional department, from the friendships to Mazey & Walker, to another foster sibling, Cat. If you like found family then The Forever Girl might be your jam because it’s all about grabbing on tight to the people you feel are your own.
While the relationship between Mazey & Walker isn’t quite as steamy as I would like, the chemistry is there & I love how complementary they are.
That leads me to my critique of this novel—it just feels obvious to me that they belong together, that they know it too, despite what they think sometimes & say—& this plus the forced proximity & how he’s always seeking her out—I don’t know 🤷🏻♀️—the tension, the will they or won’t they, is a little weak for me.
Still, this is a really great read written by an author who knows how to play the heart like a musical instrument .
References to past abuse, parental neglect, & death of a child. There’s also an insensitive joke comparing someone’s dancing to a seizure.
4 ⭐️. The Forever Girl is out on 01/12/21. Thanks to William Morrow & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Q: how close are you to the ocean? I’m about 6.5 hours away from Charleston or Hilton Head, SC, the beaches we’ve taken our kids to the most.
The blurb! The cover! The premise (workplace enemies to lovers)! You could have colored me intrigued by Angie Hockman’s Shipped & it ended up being a cute, zippy read that fell a *little* short of my high expectations.
Henley Rose Evans, marketing manager for a cruise line, is up for a promotion. The problem is that her nemesis Graeme Crawford-Collins, the man who once accepted praise for something she came up with, is also up for the same position.
The second problem is that both Henley & Graeme will be on the same cruise trip as they travel throughout the Galápagos Islands. Afterwards they’ll craft proposals for improving customer experience on that line & their boss will base his promotion decision on who is most successful.
With sparkling descriptions of the setting, a heroine with a big growth arc, & a hero who, despite what the heroine initially thinks, is a “kind” person (my secret kryptonite), Shipped has a lot to delight. There are bursts of humor & moments when women save the day, even bringing down a nasty villain.
But there’s one aspect of Henley & Graeme’s journey to love that rubs me the wrong way, & though it’s a blip in the scheme of things it doesn’t reflect 100% well on the hero to me. & honestly I would have also enjoyed seeing the hero in a truly embarrassing moment because the heroine has a few incidents of unintentional public humiliation while the hero is all too often Mr. Charming/Mr. Capable. But that’s probably just me 🤣.
All things considered, this is a fun, non-steamy, relatively gentle, enemies to lovers read in a setting that really comes alive.
references to abuse of someone close to heroine.
4 ⭐️. Shipped is available on January 19, 2021. Thanks to Gallery Books & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
This series has been my intro to Christie Craig and after really liking the second book I couldn’t wait to read cold case detective Connor Pierce’s story in Don’t Look Back.
A built, attractive police officer with commitment & guilt issues, Connor is basically asking to fall in love 🤣. Only he wouldn’t see it that way.
He’s been avoiding it since his wife divorced him, and after he killed a teen involved in a drug-dealing related shootout.
But he can’t help his attraction to Brie Ryan, an FBI agent who’s gone undercover trying to find out more about her sister’s murder.
Violent events bring them together on an investigation.
The chemistry between Connor & Brie is fun to watch & I love how Craig plays with their romantic pacing with Connor’s actions (though I do think Brie acts a bit immaturely in response.)
Brie had me cheering with her unwillingness to settle for scraps, with how she stands up for herself & her needs & wants.
The mysteries are intriguing & it was a distracting read post-election which I appreciated, but I also have a couple of issues with the book. I don’t quite understand how Brie got her FBI job—how she became exactly qualified her for the position—& there’s a moment with some sexist jokes that annoyed me.
Overall I enjoyed this one & will definitely read more by Christie Craig, but the second book is definitely my fave of the series.
[CWs: this book has quite a lot of violence & violent images. References to rape. Reference to miscarriage.]
3.5 ⭐️. Don't Look Back is out on 12/15. Thanks to Forever Pub & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Ok so the plot of Rachel Lynn Solomon’s The Ex Talk is pretty different from the movie While You Were Sleeping. But also I was reminded of that goodness because:
✅enemies to lovers
✅ heroine is tied so strongly to memories of her father
✅ heroine’s life is in a state of suspension
✅ the approachability of the narration. Remember how good Sandra Bullock’s voiceover is? It’s so home-y.
✅ deception plot
The Ex Talk gave me some good feelings.
Shay Goldstein grew up loving public radio & when her boss gives her the chance to be a host she jumps on it even though she’ll be required to (1) host with her enemy, Dominic Yun & (2) lie to viewers that she & Dominic dated briefly.
Their program The Ex Talk is largely about relationships that have ended & she & Dominic will use their fake dating turned fake break-up as part of the show’s premise.
Dominic is more reluctant to do the show but caves in the end.
What could possibly go wrong? Especially when the two start realizing that the other isn’t so bad after all.
I love how straight-up of a beta hero Dominic is. How they’re both imperfect; he’s occasionally annoying & she’s realistically at times self-absorbed & not always sugar sweet. The steam. The deep convos—I felt like this couple really got to know each other. The age gap—Shay’s the oldest. How many times he says the wrong thing & then apologizes. The meditations on grief & Shay’s moving conclusions about it.
But I’ve gotta say, the overall deception plot bothered me. Probably because I’m wary about those in general; probably because there’s so much lying in & related to US politics right now that I’m a little sick of it tbh. But also, I just really don’t want people associated with the news to lie—even though Dominic & Shay’s show was more of a human interest-related show it seems to cross some not-so-small ethical lines for me.
The Ex Talk is fun, it’s sensitive, it’s authentic. It wrestles with grief & honesty & loneliness & also portrays petty fights over the best sound booth. ALL THINGS CONSIDERED it is a breath of FRESH AIR (get it?!).
4.5 ⭐️. (Might be a little high--I waffled a little--but I’m feeling what I’m feeling this morning.) The Ex Talk releases on 01/26/21. Thanks to the author for my free copy which I won in a giveaway. All opinions provided my own.
Q: do you think the personality traits associated w/ your astrological sign are accurate?
You have to read this book! (I added an exclamation point to make the sentence seem less demanding 🤣.) But seriously, I love this book from the first page to the last.
Alexandria Bellefleur’s Written in the Stars has everything I want: steam, laughs, & just enough emotion to make me feel alive (; ) ) AND it has the uptight/reserved + charmer dynamic between leads that I love so hard.
Elle Jones & her BFF have made names for themselves as astrologers & they’re in the process of integrating their services into a popular dating app. The guy behind the dating app—now a friend to Elle—sets her up on a blind date with his sister Darcy.
Darcy Lowell is a beautiful actuary. She’s also sophisticated & reserved & doesn’t appreciate Elle’s job or when Elle spills wine on her dress.
But after the date, after Darcy has complained to someone about how it went (& after Elle overhears her ), Darcy finds herself telling her brother that she & Elle are dating so he’ll stop with the date suggestions. & then Elle goes along with Darcy’s lie for reasons, & soon Elle & Darcy are spending more time together because this has to be convincing dammit! & feelings start happening.
What a delightful ride this book is.
The back stories are developed well; each character has her own emotional baggage & it’s convincingly & thoughtfully related to their present. There are bursts of humor throughout—this is a funny one!—& there’s also a scene where one of the leads stands up for the other with family (which I know is catnip for some of us).
The female friendships are authentic & the pacing is 100—I just couldn’t wait to read more of this opposites attract, fake dating romance that is by turns hilarious & tender.
It gave me a million warm fuzzies to see how both leads feel free to be themselves with each other.
I wanted an epilogue . But over & over again this book is wonderful & happiness-inducing & I am a B I G fan.
5⭐️. Written in the Stars releases on 11/10. Thanks to Avon Books & Edelweiss for the complimentary ARC; all opinions provided are my own.
Q: have you had any experience riding a horse / have you had a horse? We had a couple growing up & my grandparents raised minis!
Would you believe that If the Boot Fits is my first Rebekah Weatherspoon book? Probably *won’t* surprise you to know how much I enjoyed it.
A low-angst one-night-stand-was-so-good-I-want-more romance with a curvy & confident heroine & a cowboy/Oscar-winning hero, this book is a delight.
Amanda McQueen is an assistant to an actress who treats her horribly. On a night off she attends an after-Oscars party where she meets Samuel Pleasant, recent winner of an Oscar. They go back to his hotel room for a night of no-names, no-strings sex & Amanda leaves the next morning without saying bye.
Fast forward to a short while later when she goes to Samuel’s family ranch for a wedding & sees the man she set the sheets on fire with.
Can they bridge the gaps between them & will she tell the truth about what her job is? That she’s an assistant and not quite the writer she says?
So many things about this book are so well done: the Cinderella angle, the tension between leads, their banter—this heroine is a smart ass & . Their substantive convos including about the challenges of finding the right roles in Hollywood if you’re a Black man, how important family is to them both, how freaking sexy she is & how she owns it.
If the Boot Fits is fun & steamy & obviously written by a really talented author. Really looking forward to reading more by Rebekah Weatherspoon!
4 ⭐️. If the Boot Fits is out on 10/27. Thanks to Kensington Books and Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
I love how the authors Christina Lauren surprise us from book to book—from the contemplative, heart wrenching Love and Other Words to the face-sweating heat of Beautiful Bastard.
In the case of their newest release In a Holidaze, I was once again impressed by their versatility but unfortunately didn’t fall for the love story.
After an inebriated make-out session with a friend who just happens to be the brother of the man she’s had unrequited feelings for for years, Maelyn Jones asks the universe to “show me what will make me happy.”
The universe decides to make her relive her Christmas vacation, the one her family does every year with her parents’s college friends & their kids, including Theo, the aforementioned friend she kissed, & Andrew, his brother & the man she’s harbored romantic feelings for.
The question becomes: what does Mae’s happy life look like? & who is front & center in it?
Though this romance shares a basic premise with the movie Groundhog Day it feels fresh & entertaining in Christina Lauren’s hands, peppered with approachable wry & sometimes crass humor.
Mae’s a likeable heroine—she goes on a fun evolution from someone who, in her words, tries to be so careful to someone who isn’t afraid to upset the balance a bit.
Where the book falls short for me is with the brothers, both of whom come off as rather one-note for me. The brother her heart ends up truly desiring feels too perfect; I couldn’t get a sense of his flaws or that Mae could see any, & that veered a little too close to putting-him-on-a-pedestal-adoration for me.
After a sustained period of not warming to him, I couldn’t fully relax into their romance, a sensation that was made more unsettling by the unpredictability of the time travel plot itself.
With that being said, I like this book: it’s sweet, sexy, and funny. The premise is great & the writing is warm & cozy. The romance just doesn’t rock my (holiday) socks off.
3.5⭐️. In a Holidaze is available now. Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Jenny Holiday, author of this adorable, smack you in the feelings romance, calls it “a Hallmark-style Christmas book” in the Acknowledgments & while I haven’t watched a Hallmark movie before I definitely got some of those isn’t-this-book-cuddly-&-cozy vibes I associate with the genre.
I’m a big fan of Jenny Holiday’s books. They’re emotionally resonant, they’re sexy, & they’re beautifully written. A Princess for Christmas is all of those things: it’s also , super sweet, & it features a working class, kind hero & *these are a few of my fav-o-rite things.*
The Princess of Eldovia, Marie, is in NYC to secure a market for one of her country’s chief exports. While there she unexpectedly has to take a cab driven by our hero, Leo, who has two jobs & is basically living paycheck to paycheck while taking care of his orphaned sister.
The gulf between them is huge, for obvious reasons.
Like I said before Holiday is so skilled at writing emotion. A Princess for Christmas sparkles with feeling. It’s funny, it’s warm, it’s real. Both leads have anxiety; they buy pads for his preteen sister together—>those are just a couple of moments that plucked my heart like a guitar string.
Also the attraction between them is a dream & I love how Leo notices ALL OF THE THINGS about Marie.
In short I love so much about this book. But there are a couple of things that I have reservations about.
First, there’s a loose love triangle plot because Marie is a *princess* & there’s a suitor her father favors. My problem is that I don’t feel like the book is upfront enough with the reader about Marie’s plans with this (ie is she actually engaged? Is she on the way there?), her feelings, if she is in some way possibly acting or feeling inappropriately because of that possible relationship, etc.
The book moves pretty slowly in the steam department so it wasn’t a huge issue; still, I was a little confused about the basics of the potential love triangle for part of the book & when it comes to that trope in particular I don’t want it to be any more complicated/unclear than it needs to be.
Moving on (somewhat), I wanted Marie to take on an even more active role in choosing her future—for growth reasons. And finally, I feel like some logistical aspects of the resolution are rushed.
So in the end this wasn’t a “perfect” read for me. But it was really enjoyable & sweet, with leads who deserve happiness dammit! & we all need more of that.
4⭐️. A Princess for Christmas is out on 10/13. Thanks to Avon Publishing & Edelweiss for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Thanks for joining me on my blog tour stop for Jane Igharo's Ties that Tether!
(For an #ownvoices review, you might check out Jite’s @now_booking. She's one of my favorite reviewers & I appreciated her insights on this book in particular.)
One night Azere Izoduwa acts impulsively & has a one night stand with a handsome stranger. Then she learns that said stranger is her new co-worker. *Then* she learns that she’s pregnant & she’ll have to inform her Nigerian mother (of Edo heritage), a woman who strictly upholds the traditions & behaviors of their old village & demands that Azere do the same, that the father of her illegitimate child is white.
Jane Igharo’s Ties that Tether compellingly & thoughtfully considers Azere’s predicament: after having immigrated to Canada when she was 12, she’s tried to take on aspects of Canadian life & culture while also respecting & honoring her Nigerian history & culture, the latter of which often seems to necessitate that she act in specific ways her parents dictate.
Not only does she feel a need to have her mother’s approval; Azere lives with the deathbed promise she made to her father, to not marry a white man. To make her life & family with an Edo man.
But against these pressures & wants Azere weighs her attraction toward the father of her baby, Rafael Castellano, who grows more enticing.
I really enjoyed this book, how Igharo portrays Azere’s conflict between her family, her own fears about the erasure of Edo culture from her life, & her feelings for Rafael. Also lovely? Writing a hero & heroine who are imperfect but who respect one another, who offer forgiveness & grace to each other.
I was a little less enamored with how quickly their feelings seem to develop for the other, his deception plotline, & a love triangle aspect of the plot which detracts somewhat from the central romance arc for me—although it is nicely related to Azere’s internal conflict.
All things considered, I really enjoyed this debut. Sensitive heroes, sensitively rendered conflicts, characters who grow, plus some steam=a giant yes please.
a difficult labor, including a placenta complication.
3.5⭐️. Ties that Tether is out today. Thanks to Berkley Publishing & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Give me that HEA, please.
Join my mailing list.
Want to receive a weekly email with links to my latest blog posts? Sign up below!