I received a complimentary copy of this book via Edelweiss+, but all opinions provided are my own.
I have zero chill when it comes to Tessa Bailey and/or her books. They’re so, so good. Intense and sexy (nearly fatally so), but also with some kind of buoyancy that prevents them from feeling too dark, no matter what subject she’s tackling.
So please keep my reviewer biases in mind.
But Fix Her Up is her latest offering, and it’s wonderful. Best friend’s little sister / fake romance / tomboy dresses in oversized secondhand clothes and voluntarily gets a makeover for herself and puts herself out there in relationships and work…magic. It works on so many levels, from the first moment when Georgie, said tomboy, throws a carton of old ice cream (yuck!) on our down-and-temporarily-out hero’s back, to the end, when Georgie and hero…you didn’t think I was going to reveal a spoiler, did you?
Our down-and-temporarily-out hero is Travis Ford, who, after a debilitating injury, has been released from his last baseball team and returned to Port Jefferson to wallow in takeout containers and alcohol. Georgie Castle, his best friend’s little sister—and also the woman who has loved Travis since she was a child—is the only one capable of scaling the castle walls (definitely not looking at his naked body), and bringing him back to life by throwing aforementioned old ice cream at his fantastically sculpted back.
Billed as a rom-com, Fix Her Up is definitely funny, especially the opening scene when Georgie really lets things fly. It’s approachable humor, but no less smart for it.
But as funny as it is, the book hit me more on an emotional level. What we have in Fix Her Up is a story about two people who want others to see them differently—as something more than an annoying little sister or a baseball has-been. For people to see them as worth it, and Bailey explores their vulnerabilities beautifully, even as they grow throughout the book.
They’re also two people who have vigorous, athletic, sizzling sex. No one writes a sex scene like Tessa Bailey. This is a fact of life.
If you haven’t read Tessa Bailey, you must. Then you must read another.
TNW arbitrary rating: 5 stars.
Q: Do you watch any sports? I occasionalllllly watch football, but only enough to pester my husband with questions, like what’s happening and I still don’t understand what a down is (not a question, I know), and also to impress people with the random trivia I know about players (which I learn from Ellen and also tasteful pre-game interviews).
When I was around six, I remember watching my mom walk around—probably putting away folded clothes—and I asked her what the word “love” meant. It’s been a long time since that moment, but I still remember the suddenness of it—my feeling, maybe of confusion, maybe a little bit of panic,--that the word meant something even more than what I thought I knew.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s compulsively readable City of Girls is about love, in a nutshell. The different kinds of love and the different ways it’s expressed: the love that we stumble into and seek out, that we chase and run away from, and that we deny ourselves or that’s denied us. Outward love and self-love; friendship and physical love and emotional.
It’s all there in City of Girls, the story of Vivian and New York City and the men, and importantly for this book, the women, she meets along the way.
From the first pages of the novel, I was mesmerized by Vivian’s written response to a woman named Angela; Angela has asked Vivian to answer the question “What was I to her father?” it turns out that the question is pretty complicated. Vivian tells Angela how she came to be in NYC in the early years of the 40s, how she became a costume designer, how she spent her days and nights exploring what made her feel alive, and how it results in a sex scandal that takes her years to recover from.
If this were a Thomas Hardy novel, her story would have probably ended soon after, and in a terribly tragic way. But this isn’t ultimately a story about punishment or castigation, even though Vivian regrets the hurt she caused others and is unflinchingly honest about her mistakes, failings, and moments of self-absorption. It’s a book that’s about love (see above) and growth and connection, about satisfaction, as Vivian says, and happiness, and that’s something that I needed to read.
That I wanted to read, as well. City of Girls is beautifully, compellingly written. Vivian is funny and astute, introspective without being dour, and endlessly interesting. I recognized bits and pieces of myself in her—some things that I like and some things I don’t. And Gilbert evokes a New York—of the 40s through 60s primarily—that I’ve never experienced but that I was fully engrossed in, even as it all felt modern. (Which is part of the point, I think. As Vivian says in her narration, we tend to think that belonging to a younger generation means we’re doing something newer, bolder, that we are modern and by default, the people before us weren’t, and of course that’s a silly delusion/lie we tell ourselves).
City of Girls was not always easy to read, even as it was. Gilbert pulled at my emotions, and at moments, my uncomfortable secondhand emotions were running strong, but the sentences unfurled smoothly, beautifully, wonderfully, and I couldn’t wait to see where Vivian was going to take Angela (me).
Thank you Elizabeth Gilbert for this lesson in loving others.
Mary Catherine Starr and I laugh about being moms all the time. Sometimes it’s something our kids have done. Or taking stock of how our bodies have changed. Or just how crazy motherhood is—how it’s possible to feel every feeling there is, whiplash style, and how absolutely impossible it is to prepare for, no matter how much you have prepared for it.
It felt like today was a good time to take stock of my mom life. Samuel is turning four on Saturday. Raymond is 18 months old.* And though it feels like I’ve largely settled into the life of a mom of two—in the same way that one can settle into the life of the wrangler of a lovable but also destructive celebrity or a not-so-highly-trained demolitions expert—each day also brings surprises.
Here are some things that I’ve learned/am learning as the result of being a mom:
Strategize, strategize. Which kid to get in the car-seat first. Which kid you hold and which holds your hand when you walk through a parking lot alone. Which one goes to sleep first / which one will wake up first. How much each kid will eat for dinner. Which parent will prepare each child’s plate. How many snacks to pack for the road. How to give your 1.5-year-old a juice box safely because he will throw a fit if his brother has one and he doesn’t. Do not try to put his juice in a sippy cup. This is offensive.
And going along with this, do not ever assume that your 1.5-year-old is not fully capable of doing every single thing your much older child can do. This angers him. But maybe also don’t think that they’re actually capable of doing every single thing your much older child can do. It’s a fine line, I get it.
Sometimes it’s worth it to have a little mess if it buys you a few minutes of peace first. Have to pick up some raisins off the floor because it was more important to sit on the couch than to insist that your child sit at the table? So what. Enjoy that couch time.
Having a sibling will put a totally different spin on young toddlerhood. Sam had temper tantrums as a 1.5-year-old, but they weren’t about an older sibling taking his favorite toy of the moment or his snack or turning the cold water off in the bathtub or turning the cold water on. This sibling dynamic has been really interesting to watch. Sometimes Sam and Ray kiss and hug each other. Most of the time they wrestle. Sometimes Ray watches Sam like he’s a benevolent God. Sometimes like he’s a vengeful and unpredictable one.
But don’t make the mistake of assuming that the youngest child is always the victim. *shakes head no.*
If you have both kids at home by yourself, bathroom time is a bit dangerous. Here’s my advice: put the tv on, select a bathroom closest to the living room, and leave the door open when you have to use the bathroom. Or maybe put the youngest in the crib for a minute. Or maybe just don’t use the bathroom at all.
You will never, ever get the amount of sleep you think you will. Sometimes you’ll get more than you thought. Most of the time you’ll get less. But try to cuddle with your partner as much as you can. It really makes a difference.
And speaking of sleep, wow, but training your child to go to sleep in his bed and stay in his bed is a _____. There were times when it was easier to let Sam sleep in our bed than to fight him into sleeping in his own bed throughout the night. But I say this to stay at home moms in particular: it's so important to set boundaries, and for me, my bed is one of them. We put so much time and work into getting Sam to sleep in his own bed; he is remarkably stubborn. But it totally changed my life when we broke-through.
Do not buy one of anything when you have more than one kid. See one of my latest blog posts about the Thermos FunTainer. Lesson learned.
You will not be 100% happy about being a mom at all times. First of all: for over a year after having Sam, I experienced postpartum anxiety and depression. I had never felt like that before in my life, and it was all that I could think about. I had the worst thoughts about myself and my life and my future. There was no way that I could have imagined that I’d feel like this—happy and hopeful—today, and that’s because of therapy and medication and also the support of my family and friends. You might not have experienced postpartum anxiety and depression or something similar, but the bottom line is that being a mom is hard. It can feel isolating and confusing and frustrating in moments, and that can produce a lot of guilt that’s hard to let go of. But talk to people and give yourself a break. Those perfect moms don’t exist—and if they do, there are only two or three of them and they only exist on Facebook.
Take your kids' questions seriously. Sam has been asking all kinds of interesting questions lately—about the human body, the Loch Ness monster, animal stories from when Daniel and I were growing up—and I love how curious he is and how he holds onto everything we say. This is also a good place to remind you that you shouldn’t say the word camel-toe in front of your children.
You will love the people who love your kids; you will harbor secret/not-so-secret resentment toward anyone who you feel has slighted them. Thank you to everyone who has taken such good care of my boys.
I think that's good on the unsolicited but well-meaning parental advice front, don't you? *Look for a follow-up post in the future: Life with Three Kids, because Daniel and I are adding to our family again in December 2019. We are excited and happy and scared and excited again.
There are some books that feel perfect, that shine with the force and beauty of Cary Grant’s smile, and Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston is one of them. Reduced to its basics, it’s a m/m romance between the FSOTUS (First Son of the United States) and a British prince, but it’s much more than that. It’s one of the most romantic love stories that I’ve ever read, and it’s got a place in my heart and top 100 Books list forever.
Alex Claremont-Diaz has always hated Prince Henry. Henry is stuffy and stilted, fake and boring, at least in Alex’s eyes. He’s a “fairy-tale prince,” and that’s something Alex doesn’t relate to, even though Alex himself “is the golden boy of the United States.”
The antagonism between them erupts at a royal wedding and before they know it, a wedding cake is ruined and they’re forced to pretend that they’re actually friends instead of bitter enemies. Proximity reveals that there are other emotions at play between them, and what follows is fantastically sexy, so sensual, sweet, and exhilarating that I couldn’t wait to read the next chapter.
But, of course, we’re still talking about a m/m romance between a First Son and a British royal in line to the throne, so we know that the HEA will not be easily granted—even if it is absolutely glorious when it arrives.
Part of the difficulty is that Alex has never identified as anything as other than straight; he’s also half-Mexican and First Son of the United States, factors which produce their own pressures, and his mother is running for her second term. And Henry’s always had to hide who he is. He’s gotten little family support, and he can’t conceive of a way for him to be both British prince in line for the throne and a gay man in a publicly committed relationship.
At no point did I forget the many obstacles in the way. But this book is ultimately about hope, optimism, and living an “honest” existence. It’s about choosing something better, whether that’s a presidential candidate or a life where you can be with the person you love, and those things kept shining through, even when the future between Alex and Henry seemed most uncertain.
The things that Alex and Henry notice about each other; the words they write; their first fumbling revelations to the other. It’s all so beautiful, and every word felt real to me, every step they made toward each other felt like a readerly wish I had made had been granted.
Red, White & Royal Blue is so, so special.
Q: What's your favorite royal romance? This one is mine, hands down, forever and ever, kthanksbye. In real life, it's Harry and Meghan.
About the Author
When my toddler and infant sleep--or are otherwise engaged--I write, read, and eat lots of chocolate.