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.
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.
I took so many notes about it & this is where I landed: it’s an enjoyable read with an admirable heroine, a nice guy hero, & an engaging game development premise. I loved dipping my toes into the world of gaming but there’s also enough misogyny from the gamers to make this reader mad over & over again for said heroine. And the romance isn’t super successful for me, so I’d label LAFS as fiction with romantic elements.
But onto the plot!
Melody Joo has gotten a job as Production Assistant for a game development company. Through a series of events she ends up leading the team developing her game idea involving a band of strippers & the women they encounter as they try to survive against zombies.
She’s supposed to work with Nolan MacKenzie, an intern & a relative to her annoying jerk boss, & a man she assumes won’t be capable of offering her assistance. In the course of developing her game she’s targeted by some absolutely trash people who are angered by the fact that she’s a woman &/a Korean American woman. She also just works with coworkers who are similarly dismissive of women/not supportive of women. Gross!
But I’m a big fan of the heroine, who refuses to give up or give in, to cow to the disgusting trolls who feel comfortable harassing her from their computers & to her often inhospitable work environment.
It took me a while to like the hero, who ticked me off the first time I met him & then slowly grew on me—though he still comes across as fairly lackluster.
Though Melody & Nolan’s romance feels on the periphery & some of her responses to him confuse me, I did appreciate that they learn to genuinely respect & support each other. This is a kissing only romance, btw .
Overall I enjoyed getting a peek into a world that I don’t know a lot about & it was exciting & uplifting seeing a heroine rise above the trolls & all the other people trying to bring her down. But I do feel like the romance trajectory isn’t clear enough for me & while I don’t shy away from a complicated character, so many of the the secondary characters provoke a strong emotional response from me—as in I disliked most of them.
I’m really curious to see what another reader will think about this one!
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.
Q: what’s some of your fave YA fantasy lit.? Drop them below and help a woman out!
Wow. I’m going to start with some of the typical words I see in fantasy reviews but honestly, Adrienne Young’s Fable *is immersive. I did feel transported. And a little awed, tbh.
Like the other books of Young’s I’ve read, Fable features a strong young woman (major understatement) who has to fight for herself. Her food. Her shelter. Her life.
Years before, after her mother died, the man that no one knows is Fable’s father dropped her off on a thieves’s island & never came back. Now she’s a dredger, someone who dives underwater & finds pyre that she can sell to traders. Every block she brings back to the surface is working toward her ticket off the island & back to her father.
When things go pear-shaped Fable makes an earlier exit than she planned—on the ship of West, a helmsman who regularly purchased her pyre & the closest thing she has to someone she can trust (but that’s still a long way off). He & his crew want nothing to do with Fable. But they’re all drawn together in ways they probably don’t want to be.
Some fantasy books have the worldbuilding down beautifully but they lack the emotional component that makes a book really stick for me. But Fable has both & her story grabbed at my heart.
I love love love that Fable is a female character who makes her own way, even as my heartstrings were pulled at what she’s gone through & how visceral those images are. Her life’s been all about strategy & survival since her father left her but she’s still soft in some ways. Still able to be shocked. Still able to care.
The only aspect of this book that feels a little thin to me is her relationship with West. I watched it develop rapaciously & gobbled up every little sign but I’d love to see more emotional intimacy between them. Hopefully that will come in the second book!
Fable is far from a lighthearted read. It’s sometimes violent & sad & scary, but it also made my heart happy.
Fable is out on 09/01. Thanks to St. Martin's Press and 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.
Tropes: road trip; childhood friends to enemies to lovers; opposites attract
Q: what’s something you really need for a long car drive?
I can think of few social situations that would be more awkward than going on a road trip with someone you’ve had difficulty conversing with—especially if that person is your former best friend who dropped you like a hot potato.
So it’s against her better judgment that Megan agrees to drive from Florida to Quebec with her former BFF Scarlett. They haven’t spoken in years, since the aforementioned hot-potato-dropping. Since then, both women have been pretty stagnant in the job department & Megan’s realized that, like Scarlett, she’s bi. A fact which she hasn’t yet revealed to Scarlett.
The childhood friends to enemies to lovers dynamic in Hairpin Curves totally hooked me. I love how both women carp at each other & then remember the vulnerable things about their former BFFs that stop them from drawing real blood.
As they travel closer toward Quebec making small detours along the way, the ice starts thawing & the attraction they’ve both been secretly harboring is no longer deniable. That’s when the book gets 🥵.
Emotionally, Hairpin Curves satisfies as well. It’s funny but also moving, & I loved how the road trip turns into an opportunity for Megan & Scarlett to re-conceive what their lives could be like.
The only real place the book falls short for me is the ending, where the resolution feels a bit rushed. But all things considered, Hairpin Curves is a journey I definitely recommend taking (*wink).
Hairpin Curvesis out on 07/28. Thanks to Harlequin Publishing and Netgalley for my complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Tropes: workplace romance; second chance; enemies to lovers.
🥃 Q: have you read any romance novels set where you live?
Max Abbott is a bit taken aback when Quinn Bazemore, the woman he fell in love with 13 years ago & then DUMPED, matter-of-factly strides back into his life like the Business Queen she is & says hi, everyone, I’m working with you on a new product roll-out.
Max and his family own King’s Finest Distillery & they’re going to use fruit from Quinn’s grandfather’s orchard to produce fruit-flavored brandies. As a PR pro Quinn’s got a lot to add to their initiative...even if Max doesn’t want to bring her on-board.
But Quinn’s determined to ignore the memories of their one summer, even if that’s proving impossible for both of them.
This second chance romance is a scrumptious, dishy treat with lots of layers. Reese Ryan crafts a story that feels complex despite it’s shorter length—there’s the history between Quinn & Max, their efforts to roll-out their product, & a family rivalry that I think will get more air-time in the next book.
There are some elements of Quinn & Max’s story that feel a little thin to me, but for the most part I felt satisfied by the emotional depth of A Reunion of Rivals, particularly after Max starts opening up.
That guy took a little while for me to warm up to—until his secrets started spilling out. Then I discovered he was mushy soft on the inside & as emotionally devastated by Quinn as I had hoped.
And Quinn—what a woman. I love her professionalism, her confidence. There are a couple of times where she puts Max in his place & I was so happy to see her standing up for herself and for the younger woman whose heart had been broken.
A Reunion of Rivals is a great intro to the Abbott family and their distillery. I’m definitely coming back for more (ya know, at some point. Anyone else’s TBR getting out of control?).
CW: the heroine was previously harassed & lied about at work and resigned (off page)
A Reunion of Rivals is available now. Thanks to Harlequin Publishing and 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.