4⭐️. Tropes: age gap; workplace romance; opposites attract
Q: do you enjoy watching home improvement shows?
Tessa Bailey always brings the heat & Tools of Engagement is no exception. This romance takes us back to Port Jefferson with a hot, charming former rodeo rider now raising his niece & the perfectionist house stager who happens to set his blood on fire.
I’ve been waiting for Bethany Castle’s HEA and couldn’t wait to see how Bailey would deliver it.
Though Bethany’s a successful house stager for her family business she wants to be a contractor too. When her brother ignores her wish she shares her plans to flip a house in a grand, public fashion, & in the words of Bethany, aforementioned rodeo rider Wes Daniels Jerry Maguires it.
Now Bethany & Wes are working together to flip a house that most would run from & wrestling their feelings for each other. To compound the difficulties they’re facing, Bethany’s pride leads her to agree to participate in a sibling flip face-off for a renovation show. Oopsie.
On a characterization & chemistry level this book is *chef’s kiss. Take Bethany, who’s so committed to the performance of perfection that she breaks out in hives. Bailey writes her beautifully, I think: Bethany’s sure of herself in some ways, in others she’s very afraid, & all of it seems to rest on an crazy amount of behind the scenes prep & work & inner coaching—a constant pressure that she needs to be “on.”
Wes is a dream. He wants & needs a home—even though he wouldn’t admit it—& he is steadfast & supportive. The lengths he goes to for Bethany & his niece...Sorry. Is it possible for a voice to crack from emotion in a review?
I love the emotion of Tools of Engagement but where it falls short for me in some ways is in execution. I wanted more about Bethany’s professional transition. I wasn’t as invested in the reality tv plot but I think I maybe needed more there too.
Tools is another satisfying trip to Port Jeff & the adorable (& also ferocious in the bedroom) couples who make their lives there.
Tools of Engagement is out on 09/22. Thanks to Avon & Edelweiss for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
The ARC of Juliette Cross’s Don’t Hex and Drive arrived on my Kindle at the perfect time. The *only* problem is that I started reading it at 9 pm AND THEN I JUST COULDN’T STOP until it was 1 am and I remembered I have small kids who enjoy power games (aka waking me up whenever they want).
The chemistry between leads in this PNR is unreal & one of my fave dynamics is at play: the hero’s used to people tripping over themselves to please him & the heroine gives a big, fat Hell No & then goes about her day.
In this book the hero, a vampire & Bollywood actor named Devraj Kumar, literally hits the witch & healer heroine Isadora Savoie with his car. Despite his best efforts to win her over afterwards, she’s not interested.
But the attraction’s immediate & substantial on Dev’s part, despite the fact that as a Stygorn, a supernatural tracker of sorts, he’ll be leaving New Orleans soon. Isadora just does it for him—even when she barely gives him the time of day— which brings me to another layer of that catnip of mine & which I think I’ve seen illustrated on Twitter or somewhere recently: a hero who is captivated by the heroine over and over again & you can tell his wheels must be spinning because THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE. He’s never felt this way. When I encounter this in a romance I’m reminded of a cartoon figure with with stars over his head...after he’s been hit by a large object 🤣.
Plot-wise there are a couple of directions the book goes in that I question. But I told you about the satisfying dynamics going on, the chemistry, and now I’ll say that the steam is super satisfying. In a major way. Brava! And I love the rep of a socially awkward heroine.
Don’t Hex and Drive is a delightful, sexy beast of a book that I (mostly happily) lost sleep over. CW: . . . Kidnapped human women who are used & abused for their blood.
Don't Hex and Drive is out on 09/08. Thanks to the publisher & Netgalley for my complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
It’s not rare to read stories of costars who start canoodling off-stage too. But that’s exactly the kind of press coverage Jasmine Lin and Ashton Suarez, leads of a new telenovela being developed by a Netflix-like company, want to avoid in Alexis Daria’s You Had Me at Hola.
Jasmine’s become prime paparazzi fodder after her rockstar bf cheats on her and unceremoniously dumps her. Recently she created a list of rules for turning herself into a Leading Lady. And Ashton’s got a secret life away from the cameras he’d do anything to protect.
Though their relationship starts off inauspiciously, for both of them their new show Carmen in Charge is a way to take their careers to the next level.
But what happens when chemistry & attraction start to outweigh their logical plans? I bet you can guess 🤣.
There’s so much about this romance that had me singing:
⭐️ Two leads who are emotionally soft with each other & genuinely good people.
⭐️ A family-centric romance novel.
⭐️ The breakthroughs Jasmine & Ashton have.
⭐️How much Latinx culture is part of this book. Latinx culture feels joyously incorporated in the romance itself—and as Jasmine and Ashton say, it’s great to see it as central to the decision of the cast and script for the telenovela they’re both starring in.
But when kissing starts happening and a big secret is still kept I literally wrote in my notes “I hope the grovel is freaking huge”...and I was kinda disappointed. Yes the characters are emotionally mature and yes one of them makes a big gesture but I personally feel like the grovel level doesn’t meet the level of the offense appropriately.
(And also like part of Jasmine’s storyline feels somewhat rushed.)
While the ending’s a bit of a letdown for me, I really enjoyed this one and highly recommend it. I’m always on board for an engaging, sexy smooch-fest of a book with two people-not-looking-for-love but finding-it-anyway. Check it out!
You Had Me at Holais available 08/04. Thanks to Avon & Edelweiss for my complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Chloe Sanderson didn’t want her best friend Annie to write a screenplay based off the IRL pizazz she has with her boss, Nick Velez. But now the play’s becoming a movie and everyone’s wondering if she and Nick are a thing. With real romantic feelings.
Definitely not her, though.
If you like fun and funny romance, I highly recommend Kerry Winfrey’s Not Like the Movies. I don’t know what I looked like when I read this one but on the inside I was very smiley.
Like a good trope? This one has some one bed, some I’m sick-and-he-came-to-take-care-of-me, and even a vague love triangle that’s obviously not going anywhere (the only kind I can handle). Also some workplace romance and opposites attract. It’s a plethora of tropes that Winfrey seemingly joyously plays with.
Chloe’s a queen of kindness, a huge fan of yacht rock, and a devotee of pie—she’s also coping with some big stuff like her father slowly losing his memory due to Alzheimer’s. She has a lot to work through in order to accept a HEA and the book’s pretty one-sided in that it’s her perspective and mostly her fears, wants, and needs.
That’s not a bad thing, though there were times I wanted to hear from Nick some more. He’s a patient love interest who likes Bon Iver and also pushes back when he needs to (huzzah, Nick!). He also adores Chloe with every cell of his body and that’s obvious even when they’re arguing over music. Not Like the Movies covers some heavy topics but if you want something snappy and effervescent—if you want to finish something and think “that was cute!” with gusto—it could be for you.
Thanks to Berkley & Edelweiss for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
🎳 Q: bowling is an important activity in this romance. How do you feel about bowling? Are you good? Awful?
🥵🥵🥵. Okay, sorry, had to get that string of emoji out of the way first. How do I always forget how perfectly dirty Joanna Shupe’s books are?! It’s inexcusable!
The Devil of Downtown is Shupe’s latest foray into the Gilded Age and it’s basically a treasure trove of some of my favorite things.
⭐️ A romance between a criminal kingpin and a “do-gooder.”
⭐️ A hero who is turned on by the “stern” tones of the heroine. In this case, said criminal kingpin is absolutely infatuated with do-gooder’s “brass ones” because she refuses to be cowed by him, the man they all fear.
⭐️ Steam, steam, steam!
⭐️ An aggressive, ruthless hero who is squishy soft on the inside BUT ONLY for the heroine and a philanthropic heroine who is hard as steel—as the hero notes on several occasions. She’s ambitious (for the sake of others) and not willing to ultimately compromise herself, even for him. The Devil of Downtown feels luxuriously enjoyable and it’s not without some commentary on deserting husbands and the police, too. I absolutely love the dynamic between the hero Jack and heroine Justine—I imagine him continually internally gaping at how unimpressed she is by his efforts to intimidate.
I have two quibbles, though. One is part of the ending, which I don’t want to get into because of spoilers. And the second, which makes me sound like a bad person, is that for a little while Justine only enjoys helping people (no hobbies, Justine?), and that can come across as a little one dimensional. But then she likes helping people, bowling, *and* being intimate with the most powerful criminal leader in Manhattan so 👍🏻, I’ll allow it 🤣. .
This is a fantastic historical and I loved every second of it.
The Devil of Downtownis out on 06/30. Thanks to Avon Publishing and Netgalley for my complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
All the praise hands to books that make us happy during this time and Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material is one of them for me. I love this book so and it’s going on my shelves as soon as I can get my grabby hands on it.
Luc is the son of two 80s rockers, one of whom abandoned him when he was 3. As a minor celebrity he garners his fair share of paparazzi coverage & it’s always negative. But one particular article puts his job at a charity in jeopardy & to save it he asks an uptight barrister with a good reputation to be his fake boyfriend.
Oliver is said barrister. And *be still my heart* because I am a fiend for an uptight hero. You know the type: they’re so proper and often seen as stiff, condescending, & judgmental (and sometimes they are!) but they’re also—at least in Oliver’s case—protective & loving & find it difficult to express their feelings. Ahhhhh!
I’d also like to take this opportunity to say that Luc is *not* uptight but he is so yearning & he loves his mother; he’s often snarky & not always the nicest, even to his friends, but he has a big heart & does some hard emotional work & deserves a million Oliver snuggles, okay?!
Boyfriend Material is so so so funny and Alexis Hall’s portrayal of friendship is divine. I love when friends are loving & supportive and also not 100% perfect. Even the loveliest of friends don’t always say or do the right things (and can sometimes push on our bruises unintentionally). But they can also read your heart & accompany you on road trips so you can chase your heart’s desire.
As funny as this book is it’s also not afraid to explore hurt and insecurity, but in a way that didn’t leave me feeling emotionally devastated.
In closing I’d like to say again: I love this book so much. I do wish there had been a (totally) on the page love scene and an Epilogue because as a previous review established, my soul is thirsty, but this book is also so wonderful as is & I would like to hug Luc and Oliver forever.
Boyfriend Materialis out on 07/07. Thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
4.5⭐️. Enemies to lovers, road trip, opposites attract.
Q: what’s your favorite game?
Here’s what we have: a cross-country trek to a game tournament between two men who are competitors & heavily dislike the other (and also look like Armie Hammer and Kit Harington. This is just speculation but let a girl live). What could possibly go wrong—and right (kissing, kissing, kissing!)? Annabeth Albert’s Conventionally Yours is delightful & I adored it. Told from dual perspectives, we get to see where Conrad (handsome, brawny, “Disney-hero”-like) and Alden (good with kids but seemingly awkward/grumpy/reserved with most adults, cute) assume or see the worst in each other. We also the moments when they start picking up on the fact that no, the other person is not the worst person ever. They’re actually pretty cute.
Albert compellingly sketches the conflicts both characters are facing in their families & shows how both they’re moved to meet the challenges facing them. I especially love how Albert portrays Alden’s neurodiversity and his anxiety, which sometimes makes him snap at other people. (<— me. It’s hard to explain how worrying about something irrational can lead to you being mean to someone cute in your vicinity but if you have anxiety, you get it, I think).
The romance between Conrad & Alden is low-angst though still high stakes because I wanted both leads to admit IMMEDIATELY that they loved each other and that—thank God for the sake of the story—didn’t happen right away.
I will admit that my thirsty soul wanted more steam on the page but Thirsty Soul was appeased by the slow burn and all the ways Conrad and Alden are sweet to each other.
This book is great. I’ll take four more like it, please.
outing not by choice, subsequently cut off by parents
Conventionally Yours is available now. Thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca and Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.