Thanks to Harlequin Publishing & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Q: are you/were you “good” at first dates? My husband was only the second person I dated & I think I was probably very awkward but also I must have been cute in some way .
Last year someone’s review compared Cara Bastone’s debut to Kate Clayborn’s writing & I was there so fast. Since then I’ve loved reading more of Bastone’s work. The burn is so slowwwwwwwww, the relationships are so deeeeeeeppp, the kissing stuff—when it finally happens—is so delicious.
Flirting with Forever is another wonderful installment, focusing on 37 year old Mary Trace—a gorgeous shop owner who is the last member of her close friend group who has not found her One yet—& John Modesto-Whitford, a public defender who is very grumpy & often rude.
When they’re set up on a blind date by John’s mother, he actually says to Mary, “I thought you’d be younger”—or something like that—& Mary ends up leaving.
But after meeting again at a block party they form an arrangement whereby Mary will run John’s mother’s other date suggestions by John to get his opinion before she wastes her time. Along the way Mary realizes there’s some secret kindness in John & he realizes more than ever that he was an idiot & not very nice to her & he’s been FRIEND ZONED.
This book is a delight & the tropes keep coming & they don’t stop coming (I’ve been waiting to use Smash Mouth lyrics in a review.) There’s older woman/younger man; enemies to friends to lovers; sunshine & the grumpy; & some money difference conflict, with her having a lot more money & coming from a wealthier background than he did.
The chemistry between them is so sexy; the hero is a big grump w/ a heart of gold; & the plot is straightforward. The end started to drag a scotch for me but Flirting with Forever is another winner & I really want this series for my shelves.
4 ⭐️. Flirting with Forever is available on 01/26/21.
Thanks to Berkley for inviting me to join the blog blitz for the first 5⭐️ book I read this year: Megan Crane's Special Ops Seduction. Read on for my review!
Q: what’s your fave song to dance to at a wedding?
Special Ops Seduction wowed me in a big way with some of my kryptonite: an ice cold hero who can barely engage with the heroine because of his *very* reluctant feelings for her; a nuanced, standout heroine who’s a physical powerhouse & the only female on her special ops team; fake dating (!) for the job; & a pivotal sex scene that’s an exquisite mix of steam & emotion.
I ate this one up with a spoon.
Bethan Wilcox is immensely capable. She’s worked very hard for her military & special ops accomplishments & while she loves what she does, she’s also drawn a thick line between how she comes across in public & her outrageously soft, cushy home.
If Bethan is secretly decadent, Jonas Crow is—to no one’s surprise—ascetic inside & out. He’s stoic to the extreme & afraid of having good feelings, especially when they’re sparked by Bethan.
Pretending to be a fake couple for an op really shakes them up in the best possible way.
Megan Crane really has her pulse on every emotion I wanted wrung from me with this one; when I say that this ending made me happy. Well. Jonas has denied himself for so long that when he finally reaches out I wanted to cheer. Or cry. Or both.
Sexy, thoughtful, & with leads I adored, this book is practically wrapped with a bow for all lovers of romantic suspense.
Chemical warfare plot line. Also, the hero almost dies before the story begins & he didn’t want to be saved. There are flashbacks.
5 ⭐️. Special Ops Seduction is available now. Thanks to Berkley Publishing & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC & to Berkley for inviting me to be part of the blog blitz. 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.
️Q: what’s the most unusual shifter romance you’ve read? Mine is this series--it has centaurs!
G. A. Aiken/aka Shelly Laurenston is all too willing to go there. The books I’ve read of hers are bananas, w/ ferocious “unlikable” likable heroines, crass language, & bold storylines, & it’s an altogether entertaining free for all.
The Princess Knight is the second book in The Scarred Earth Saga, this one focusing on Gemma Smythe, a necromancer war monk & sister of the blacksmith queen Keeley.
Gemma’s a brave & sometimes reckless warrior who frequently gets into shouting (& physical) matches with her sister/queen & kinda hates Amachi warrior Quinn, a centaur whom everyone else is alternately charmed & irritated by.
I did want more physical chemistry between Gemma & Quinn *throughout* the novel but this is another thrilling/fun to read/visceral explosion of a fantasy with romantic elements that I recommend to anyone wanting something unforgettable.
4 ⭐️. If this enemies to lovers sounds good to you definitely start with the first in the series: The Blacksmith Queen. The Princess Knight is out 11/24. Thanks to Kensington Press & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Sophie Sullivan’s Ten Rules for Faking It wasn’t quite what I expected going into it. I enjoyed this book, its sweetness, its occasional humorous moments, its strong female friendship, & how sensitively it was written, but I also didn’t expect it to revolve *so much* around the heroine’s self-described severe social anxiety.
The heroine Everly’s anxiety is referenced in the blurb. But I do want to be clear that that is actually a really big part of the book—of the plot & of Everly’s arc.
At the beginning of Ten Rules radio show producer Everly Dean gives an accidental on-air tirade about her cheating ex. People are interested in the story.
Her boss, Chris Jansen, who secretly has feelings for Everly but who’s also determined to re-locate back to NYC once he gets the okay from his boss dad, decides to turn lemons into lemonade. He proposes that Everly do a bachelorette kinda thing: she’ll go on dates with carefully selected men & eventually choose one as winner, all the while documenting her experiences for the radio station blog.
Everly agrees because her Ten Rules of Faking It suggests that it would be a good way to get out of her so-called comfort zone. & why would the hero even propose this idea? Chris knows his professional plans & while he wants Everly, he also wants her to “be happy.” (He also wants to bring in ad money.)
Watching Everly & Chris move from people who barely talk to close friends who support each other & offer understanding is quite heartwarming. I love how he recognizes signs that she’s experiencing anxiety & over the course of the book, how he assures her that she’s strong & someone he wants & wants to be with.
Everly’s increasing willingness to be vulnerable with others & to, as she notes, come to terms with who she is, anxiety & all, is beautiful. I have anxiety & that line about self-acceptance stopped me in my tracks.
Perhaps my biggest issue with the book has to do with the conflicts. The first conflict feels so sustained to me & then shortly after it was resolved the other popped up, & the pacing of those felt somewhat emotionally frustrating to me as I was reading it.
Also, I thought it was odd that therapy is only suggested for Everly once, & very obviously ignored on her part. It seems strangely included to me—not to mention that I see a lot of value in therapy itself.
This book has some moments that really touched me, & I think it has a lot of good things to say. But execution-wise, it isn’t always my cup of tea.
3.5 ⭐️. Ten Rules for Faking It is out on 12/29. Thanks to St. Martin’s Press & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Fashion this or that:
High heels or flats
Jeans or dress
Novelty tee or button down
Rebecca Zanetti’s Driven is a series stand-out with crackling chemistry & a mystery that kept me guessing.
Angus Force, disgraced former FBI agent & now head of a top secret ops group, can’t get over the idea that the serial killer who killed his sister is still alive. Even though all signs indicate that he died years ago.
Another fact about Angus: he doesn’t like psychiatry, & Dr. Nari Zhang, the psychiatrist paired with their misfit team, alternately turns him on & pushes his buttons.
Then bodies start turning up, their murders looking similar *and* different in some ways to those committed by the serial killer Angus chased & killed, & Angus and Nari have to decide if it’s worth losing their careers, their lives, to follow through with Angus’s idea that the dead serial killer is actually still alive, murdering new people.
I’ve been following the vaguely combative relationship between Angus & Nari for books now & I couldn’t wait to see how it played out in Driven.
This book an is sexy 🥵. Let me just get that out there. I had the sense while reading that there are also quite a number of those scenes & I’ll be honest, I didn’t hate it.
The mystery is intriguing & I did that cute thing while reading where I suspect multiple people of being vicious murderers . Driven is high-octane with lots of thrills & by the end of it, I wanted Angus & Nari to go on a vacation.
But I will admit to some unease regarding Angus’s drinking, which is also something that previous books have set up. It’s lessened considerably in Driven but there’s still the threat of him returning to that place.
Admittedly, I’m coming at this book with a background of family alcoholism but I wanted Angus to address it head-on in some meaningful way, instead of characters, including the heroine, speculating about his drinking & dancing around it.
But overall this is a great read with a strong heroine I really liked—one who refuses to just fall in line—quite a lot of steam, & endearing secondary characters.
4 ⭐️. Driven is available on 01/26/21. Thanks to the publisher & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Within the first chapter of When a Rogue Meets His Match I knew Elizabeth Hoyt had my number.
A lean, fighting machine of a hero who’s frequently described as having glittering black eyes & who is a so-called bully man for a Duke; said hero can’t help but watch & appreciate our heroine Messalina & want her even though she loathes him...I didn’t stand a chance, okay?
Gideon Hawthorne uses violence to do the Duke of Windmere’s dirty work & to collect debts. Raised in St. Giles he’s since made a fortune & plans on using Messalina to help win over aristocratic investors in his business ventures. It only helps that he’s long wanted her, the Duke’s niece.
Messalina has always believed the worst of her Gideon. It doesn’t help matters when her uncle threatens her into marrying him. But she begins to see Gideon in a new light now & again, which confuses her & makes her question her decision to leave him after securing enough funds to provide for herself & her sister.
In case I didn’t make it clear, this hero really does things for me. From his physical description to his mannerisms to his big feelings for Messalina which he doesn’t immediately recognize as love. Of course you love her, you adorable deadly fool.
But the “mysterious task” the Duke has given him in exchange for “giving”Messalina to him in marriage & Gideon’s own so-called manipulative nature could ruin everything.
I love how Hoyt explores class differences w/ a working-class hero trying to force his way into an unreceptive aristocratic class & how Messalina tries to help him. How he and their marriage make her realize things about life for those in each class. How she & their marriage make him realize how to show & express love.
Like in the other Hoyt books I’ve read, the characters (esp the males) are often gray & willing to contemplate stepping over the line into black. There’s quite a lot of violence in this book.
But the violent antihero with a secret mushy heart really worked for me 🤣.
[cw: memories of a child who was hanged for theft.]
4.5 ⭐️. When a Rogue Meets His Match is out on 12/01. Thanks to Forever Pub, Grand Central Pub, & Netgalley for the complimentary copies of this book. All opinions provided are my own.
I’ve been waiting to get my greedy mitts on S. Young’s Bound by Forever for so long, it seems. Her True Immortality series has:
✅ Thrilling worldbuilding. Fae, werewolves, & vampires in a modern setting.
✅ A keen sense of sexual tension
✅ An overarching story that links these standalones together & that helped me determine the pairing for this book in advance. I’ve been weak for these MCs for months bc
✅ S. Young takes the sunshine & the grumpy trope & puts it in a blender. The sunshine one goes a *little* dark in this romance!
Bound by Forever features Fae psychic (& possessor of other super abilities) Niamh Farren, who’s struggling after her brother was murdered by a group of witches hunting for another Fae. Now she’s a vampire killer & taking little effort to hide her tracks from the people who want to kill her or use her.
Why? Niamh is one of the keys to opening the gate that leads from Faerie to the “normal” human world.
A Fae friend hires forbiddingly grumpy Kiyo, a Japanese immortal werewolf mercenary, to be her bodyguard. But this task is made much more difficult bc Kiyo doesn’t trust her.
The chemistry between Niamh & Kiyo is engrossing & their push & pull gives me those romance thrills. Kiyo is frequently an asshole & pushes Niamh away time & time again. Then he feels remorse—because of course he can’t help but want to be close to her—& I knew at some point he was going to tumble with a giant crash *TIMBERRRRR!
S. Young has done really cool things with her world-building & Niamh & Kiyo cover its terrain like the badasses they are. I love how powerful they are, how they run into trouble & use their ingenuity & superhuman abilities to get out.
Watch out for violence & gore in this one if it’s not your thing.
If you’re a fan of paranormal romance—or if you’ve never read it before & want to give it a shot—I recommend that you start with the beginning of this series, War of Hearts. Get ready for a series that’s entertaining, sexy, & full of characters resistant to falling in love (how cute is that?).
4 .5⭐️. Bound by Forever is out on 11/17. Thanks to the author 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: what’s on your weekend TBR?
[Note: this romance has a deadly virus plot line.]
An energetic romantic thriller with lots of kissing & huge stakes, April Hunt’s Fatal Deception is the latest installment in her Steele Ops series & with the broodiest (to borrow from the book) hero yet.
Roman’s a former special ops who lost his leg in an incident in Africa that he hasn’t told his family about. He keeps to himself, he broods—as others regularly accuse—, & he pretty much falls into lust the first time Dr. Isabel Santiago refuses to be cowed by him.
Isabel, a virologist, wants a special love story. She also wants to find the virus that’s been stolen from her lab before it’s unleashed.
Then it *is* unleashed, in Alaska, & she & others, including her security detail which Roman is part of, have to do what they can to save people from a horrible virus that someone is deliberately infecting people with.
Fatal Deception has explosive attraction, a super smart heroine who doesn’t back down, a lot of feelingssss, & a strong sense of suspense.
The virus plot might not be for everyone, especially right now, but Hunt keeps its devastation fairly minimal, all things considered. I did question a couple of things about the plot—specifically in regards to Isabel’s security & how involved the government would have been in the case of a virus leak—but I am obviously not any kind of expert 🤣.
In terms of their relationship, Hunt convincingly portrays the things in their past that hold them back, but I would have loved a little more more on their interpersonal issues (how he gives orders, as Isabel notes, & how she doesn’t enjoy that.) That seems like a big part of their dynamic throughout the book—& something Isabel struggles with—but it’s not really addressed at the end.
With that being said, I do love how both leads have strong personalities & how they stand up for what they want with each other, how sexy the book is, & how quickly Roman is enamored—even if he won’t admit it.
This was a 4⭐️ read for me.
[another CW: there’s an off-putting seizure joke in here—someone compares their dancing ability to one. I will be offering feedback on this when I submit my review.]
4⭐️. Fatal Deception is out on 11/10. Thanks to the publisher & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Give me that HEA, please.
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