Q: who are your fave historical fiction writers?
The Four Winds begins in 1921 when 25 year old spinster Elsa Wolcott, who’s denied love & acceptance by her upperclass family & feeling stifled in their home & her life, sleeps with Rafe Martinelli, an 18 year old Italian-American man.
Pregnant & summarily denounced by her family, Elsa is sent to marry & live with Rafe & his parents. Reflecting on the fact that she is not loved, still, Elsa resolves to give her baby the family & home she never had.
The book picks back up in 1934 where we learn the effects on Elsa of living in that kind of marriage & trying to keep a home & farm going. Then the dust storms & Great Depression get worse & that’s where the story really takes off.
The Four Winds makes it clear from the Prologue that it’s a story about women, & that’s what we get as Elsa tries to protect her family in TX & across the country in CA. Elsa’s story also becomes a migrant camp worker’s story. The parallels between then & now—when the rich get richer off the work & hardships of those who do the work, when politicians & police work to support the system that keeps rich white people rich—are strong.
Kristin Hannah is a masterful writer & my emotions were definitely engaged—but while Elsa & her arc are inspiring, her story also feels overtly representative in some ways, symbolic. I felt some distance from her. That feeling is underscored for me by the ending, which is well-written but which I didn’t like on a couple of different levels.
This isn’t my favorite of Hannah’s books, & I do have some quibbles, but it’s another stunning offering. I’m grateful that we have this exploration of the power & strength of women & mother-daughter relationships during one of the US’s most tumultuous moments. A story that gives hope & assurance of some kind in the good people are capable of even as it points out some of the worst acts of humanity.
4⭐️. The Four Winds is out on 02/02/21. Thanks to the publisher & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
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: what “read” percentage of a book makes you stay up to finish it? When I’m reading a romance on my Kindle & hit 65% I almost always finish it that day.
My husband wanted to watch Schitt’s Creek last night & I said sorry, my friend, I’m 81% into a thriller & I have to find out who the killer is. Especially since throughout the course of this charismatic book I suspected probably 7 different from people. (I am a suspicious reader 🤣.)
Nalini Singh’s Quiet in Her Bones is seductively creepy, much like the characters themselves. It’s got twists & turns & it all revolves around the reality that people are complicated, to put it mildly, capable of kindness & care & harm & secrets & for at least one of the people in the book, murder.
Famous writer & personality Aarav Rai is recovering from surgery at his father’s home when he receives word that human remains have been found in a Jaguar car in a forest & all signs indicate that they are those of Nina Rai—Aarav’s tempestuous & also, as he says, loving mother who disappeared 10 years ago.
Aarav is determined to solve her murder & summarily continues watching neighborhood going-ons from his window, interviewing the same neighbors who lived amongst them 10 years ago, & trying to piece together his own memories.
A carousel of suspects offer themselves up to Aarav & the reader, including his toxic father. The tension is high, the paranoia is sublime (unreliable narrator who also repeatedly refers to himself as a sociopath, anyone?), the Auckland imagery is atmospheric & used to great effect.
I have to say, while I generally stick to the HEA side of things this was great fun. In that uncomfortable, everyone-could-be-a-murderer kinda way.
4.5 ⭐️. Quiet in Her Bones releases on 02/23/21. Thanks to Berkley Publishing & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Welcome to my blog tour stop for Denise Williams' How to Fail at Flirting! Read on for the blurb, my review, and a little about the author. Thanks for being here!
One daring to-do list and a crash course in flirtation turn a Type A overachiever’s world upside down.
When her flailing department lands on the university's chopping block, Professor Naya Turner’s friends convince her to shed her frumpy cardigan for an evening on the town. For one night her focus will stray from her demanding job and she’ll tackle a new kind of to-do list. When she meets a charming stranger in town on business, he presents the perfect opportunity to check off the items on her list. Let the guy buy her a drink. Check. Try something new. Check. A no-strings-attached hookup. Check…almost.
Jake makes her laugh and challenges Naya to rebuild her confidence, which was left toppled by her abusive ex-boyfriend. Soon she’s flirting with the chance at a more serious romantic relationship—except nothing can be that easy. The complicated strings around her dating Jake might destroy her career.
Naya has two options. She can protect her professional reputation and return to her old life or she can flirt with the unknown and stay with the person who makes her feel like she's finally living again.
Denise Williams’ debut How to Fail at Flirting had me awash in feelings when I finished it in the early hours of Sunday. This shining book offers so much—from the quirkiness of its characters to its shrewd assessment of academia to its sexiness, its sensuality, & its sweetness.
Math education professor Dr. Naya Turner’s friends tell her her volume has been lower since her last relationship—a relationship which the reader learns was abusive. Her friends make a list of things they want her to do to bring back her more adventurous side, sparking her to start a convo with the guy next to her when her friends can’t show up to their proposed night out.
Jake is a “hot nerd” & they meet over & over again while he’s in town, each of them openly not revealing personal details to the other.
But Jake has a closer connection to Naya than either of them knows, a connection that raises her stress as people discuss the worth of her department & her non-tenured position is considered possibly dispensable.
How to Fail at Flirting is smart & bold & adorkable. It turns out that while virtual school math has me all I enjoy it very much when the heroine & hero have an appreciation of numbers. I love a professor heroine, especially one who jokes with a hero about the sexy appeal of an empty email inbox.
The book’s observations about academia feel astute & also true to my own experience as a grad student & there’s a scene where one of the leads wants to take care of the other one during a bout with illness which I know is catnip for some of us.
Before you proceed with this one, know that past abuse is a not small part of the storyline, and that the ex in question does make a violent re-appearance in the story.
Also there’s a twist in here that might bother some. I thought it was handled well but wanted to mention it...very vaguely ;) .
This is one of those romances with two really nice people & I was rooting for their happiness, for everything to work out, for them to be together forever, & my heart really enjoyed the experience. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Denise Williams writes next!
4 ⭐️. How to Fail at Flirting is out now. Thanks to Berkley Publishing & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
About the Author
Denise Williams wrote her first book in the 2nd grade. I Hate You and its sequel, I Still Hate You, featured a tough, funny heroine, a quirky hero, witty banter, and a dragon. Minus the dragons, these are still the books she likes to write. After penning those early works, she finished second grade and eventually earned a PhD in education, going on to work in higher education. After growing up a military brat around the world and across the country, Denise now lives in Des Moines, Iowa with her husband, son, and two ornery shih-tzus who think they own the house.
Author photo © D&orfs Photography 2019
Thanks for joining me on my stop! You can read more of my romance reviews here or by following me on Instagram. Hope to see you again soon!
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.
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!