Like many of you I’ve changed the genres I’ve been seeking out during the pandemic because my emotional state already seems a bit wobbly. I've read Abby Jimenez’s The Friend Zone and, since that book had me in knots, I was kind of dreading this one tbh, especially at this moment in time. But for much of the book The Happy Ever After Playlist is a freaking delight, crackling with humor and devotion of all kinds, giving me enough drive to get through the heavy parts because I knew there would be even happier stuff on the other side.
We met Sloan in The Friend Zone, where she encouraged her BF Kristen to accept true love and where she suffered the tragic loss of her own fiancé. Set two years later, THEAP opens with her stuck in a pretty stagnant state. A dog—someone’s lost pet—helps pull her out of it.
Sloan eventually learns that the dog’s owner’s name is Jason and he’s a musician currently traveling in Australia, and before she knows it they’re texting and then eventually, finally meeting in person.
Even when Jimenez has held my heart crushed between her fingers I’ve never doubted her characters’ love for each other. It sings. It dances. In this case, I felt Jason’s love like it was a tangible thing & that made what was to follow a little easier to bear. This book is INTENSELY romantic and gives me some major flutters.
As much as I appreciated how THEAP is lighter in angst than I had anticipated, I was kinda surprised that Brandon—and Sloan’s feelings about moving on from him—didn’t take up even more of the story. There’s also a scene with Jason when he’s initially processing that her fiancé died and his reaction is a little off-putting. To be clear, Sloan is definitely devastated by Brandon’s loss but I expected even more introspection, maybe even more guilt, about dating someone new...although maybe I’ve just read too many books like that and that’s just my problem ;).
There are a couple of things about the plot that I was somewhat resistant to but overall this book is a joy...with some heartache thrown in. It’s sooo funny—there’s one line from Kristen I’ve been wanting to share with people so badly haha—and I stan a creative, talented couple who care about their careers...and making it work with someone very special.
I felt the love in this one, people!
The Happy Ever After Playlist releases on April 14th. Thanks to Forever Pub & Grand Central Pub for my complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Happy release day to Mira Lyn Kelly's Dirty Hookup! This is a kinda sorta enemies to lovers sports romance written by a contemporary romance author I always enjoy. Read on for my review and more deets.
One look and I know… this chick hates me.
I should walk away, find some puck bunny to gleefully sit on my lap and tell me what a big, hot, hockey stud I am--totally true, BTW. But there’s just something about this feisty redhead I can’t let go. She’s got an edge to her that’s sexy as hell and a smart mouth that’s been tying me up since the night I met her.
She tells me to forget it, we’re not happening. But this isn’t the kind of woman a guy ever forgets. Especially when the air starts to sizzle and pop every time we get within ten feet of each other. She’s in my head and under my skin, and all I can think about is the way she looked at me that one time.
Like she already knew how it could be between us.
I’m not the kind of guy a girl like her takes home… But maybe I want to be.
I picked up Mira Lyn Kelly’s Dirty Hookup with an internal sigh of pleasure this weekend. Mira’s books are just so easy to read, to tumble into and smile over.
So much of Dirty Hookup is charismatic. Pro hockey player and perennial playboy Quinn O’Brian pretty much falls for bike repair store manager George Bowen the first time he sees her. The problem is that this isn’t the first time he’s seen her.
They actually met 6 years ago when they had a blistering day and night together and he made sweet promises that dissolved soon after. George hasn’t gotten over the experience but apparently Quinn has, because he doesn’t indicate that he’s ever met her before.
And yet, in this present moment, he’s assertive about being attracted to her and wanting to get to know her better. Is Quinn a liar? Or is there a possibility that he doesn’t remember and he really is that into her?
As you can see, the plot’s pretty twisty. But I was there for most of it because Mira Lyn Kelly writes mesmerizing character dynamics and big guys who fall hard. Quinn’s kind of annoyingly persistent at times—he admits to himself that his methods aren’t the best—but he’s also absolutely infatuated and it’s cute seeing the big guy with stars in his eyes.
And to compound the swoony feeling Mira frequently includes characters from other books so this one seems filled with love. (S/out to Vaughn and Natalie!)
But despite how much this book sparkles, how much I love George’s independent nature and Quinn’s vulnerability with her, there are a couple of things about Dirty Hook-Up that I didn’t embrace. During their first hook-up George is honest about her intention but not her motivation, and some readers might not be cool with how close it comes to a kind of revenge.
Second, this romance seems to get oddly patriarchal in its conclusion and that confused and bothered me. George is a force throughout the book and then suddenly, it’s all about her male relatives.
After a really great beginning and middle—and all the crazy sexual tension, the incredible stoking of internal drama within both leads—the ending’s kinda disappointing to me.
This ended up being a 4⭐️ read. I can’t wait to catch up with the characters—and find a new couple to crush on—in the next book.
Thanks to the author for a complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Where to Get Your Copy
Apple Books: https://apple.co/2wmtpyP
ADD IT TO GOODREADS: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/48459380-dirty-hookup
About the Author
Hard core romantic, stress baker, and housekeeper non-extraordinaire. Mira Lyn Kelly is the USA TODAY bestselling author of more than a dozen sizzly love stories with over a million readers worldwide. Growing up in the Chicago area, she earned her degree in Fine Arts from Loyola University and met the love of her life while studying abroad in Rome, Italy… only to discover he’d been living right around the corner from her back home. Having spent her twenties working and playing in the Windy City, she’s now settled with her husband in Minnesota, where their four amazing children and two ridiculous dogs provide an excess of action and entertainment.
Thanks to the author for the complimentary ARC and Give Me Books for the promotional materials. All opinions included are my own.
I think my review of Julia Quinn’s First Comes Scandal could be summed up with this sentence: I enjoyed this book and found a lot to admire in it, but I didn’t love it.
Med school student Nicholas Rokesby proposes to his neighbor (and his best friend’s sister) Georgiana Bridgerton. Lest you think this gesture is borne of romance, Nicholas’s father has ordered him to propose because Georgie was deliberately ruined by an idiot-scoundrel.
But to their great surprise, Georgie and Nicholas start noticing things about the other, and those things are actually quite entrancing, now that they think about it.
I picked up this JQ book because with everything going on these days, I wanted something comforting. I found it.
I also found a book that addresses the plight of women spectacularly (capable of being ruined so easily, among other things). Three cheers to Julia for writing a non-rake hero who often agrees with Georgie’s less conventional beliefs and behaviors and for making her heroine at least somewhat aware of her privilege. The proposal scene is just *chef's kiss.
The banter between Georgie and Nicholas is pleasing and the exploratory sex scenes between the two relatively inexperienced friends-to-lovers, sexy.
But tbh, Nicholas comes across as strangely arrogant at times given how otherwise modest he is, and a bigger problem for me: some aspects of the book, including the development of their feelings, seem a bit rushed and need more groundwork laid.
On the whole, the book feels kinda domestic and cozy but also peopled with characters who are quietly rebellious. That’s an attractive combination, but while First Comes Scandal was a delightful way to spend my afternoon, it just didn’t grab my heart (or sometimes my interest) like so many of her other books do.
CW: a disgusting, selfish man who ruins Georgie; asthmatic heroine
First Comes Scandal releases on April 21, 2020. Thanks to Edelweiss+ and Avon Books for my complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Q: did you grow up on a farm or have you ever visited one?
You might know that second chance romance isn’t my thing, but Carly Bloom’s written my ideal low on the angst, high on the fuzzies version in Cowboy Come Home.
Claire Kowalski fell in love with cowboy Ford Jarvis two years earlier, and vice versa, and then he left her. Now he’s back to serve as temporary ranch foreman on her dad’s ranch and the chemistry between them’s as strong as ever. But as a rule cowboys don't settle down, especially Ford, and as long as they can stop kissing maybe they can be friends.
Um yeah. Friends.
Like the first book in the series that I adored, Big Bad Cowboy, Cowboy Come Home’s funny and hopeful, with a sense of community that’s really comforting to read. I just really like all of the characters and so wanting their HEA is something I don’t even have to think about.
Claire and Ford’s story is especially poignant and Ford’s shyness when it comes to sharing his feelings is often delightful (but also sometimes frustrating, because I’m like, FORD, NOOOOOO!) There’s a great grovel here, folks, and it is greatly deserved so thank you, Carly, for messing with my emotions so wonderfully.
Though the Cinderella angle is a bit much for me at times, this book has its heart in the right place (is that something people say?) and it proves again why Carly Bloom has a distinctive HEA voice. I’m a big big fan of hers and can’t wait to see what she writes next!
Cowboy Come Home releases on March 31. Thanks to Forever Pub & Grand Central Pub for my complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
To enter my Giveaway, check out my Instagram post here.
Save Yourself is the best kind of memoir, especially for scary days like these: it’s funny & hard-hitting, tackling topics like Little Gay Kid-Oweens & Catholicism with equal verve. It’s smart & irreverent; it’s exceptional storytelling with a lot of heart.
Cameron Esposito describes herself as a “queer gay lesbian human being” who grew up in a family & community where Catholicism reigned. She came out at age 20 & in her memoir traces how she found her way to becoming a comic and an advocate for other comics.
Cameron’s had a really interesting life & maybe more important, she tells a good story.
But as funny as it is, Save Yourself isn’t just jokes & bright funny snippets of life. Pain turned into laughs. It’s also—in some memorable moments—an assessment of her pain, & the sources of that pain, itself.
The fact is that the Catholic Church—its decrees & expectations & how those were upheld (at least at some time in her life) by family members, friends, & a heavily religious college—plays a huge role in the book & her life story. Spoiler alert: the Catholic Church doesn’t have a lot of positive things to tell Cameron about homosexuality & womanhood in general.
And though Cameron finds welcome in the comedic world, it’s also a place where she’s been, as she writes, objectified—& where she’s been moved to help by “mak[ing] space” for other comics who identify as female.
Save Yourself takes on challenging topics like the Church, disordered eating, and rape, but for all its serious consideration and occasional skewering, it’s hopeful and also kinda joyous, too (or maybe that’s how I felt reading it, the joy of resilience and of finding the funny). It’s that combination that’s so winning.
5⭐️. Save Yourself is available now. Thanks to Grand Central Pub & Forever Pub for my complimentary copy and for hosting this giveaway. All opinions provided are my own.
Q: how do you feel when you hear a favorite author is stepping outside of his/her comfort zone in a big way?
Tessa Bailey is one of my favorite contemporary romance authors and when she announced she was writing a paranormal rom com I was excited...& a little nervous. But I’m going to shout it from my rooftops (remember, social distancing): Reborn Yesterday was a divine way to spend my time.
Mortician Ginny is more than a little freaked out when the handsome dead man she’s about to embalm wakes up. Turns out he’s a vampire named Jonas and he’s supposed to get rid of all of Ginny’s memories that feature him. Only he doesn’t, because (1) he’s irresistibly drawn to Ginny and (2) she’s in danger.
Funny and a little kooky and a lot sexy, Reborn Yesterday has maybe one of my favorite sexytimes Tessa’s written. There’s dirty talk and vampire happenings and furniture moving and it’s lusciously sweet too?!?!
The heroine is adorable & dare I say a little adorkable, the hero is romantic, devoted, & wildly protective, & I cannot *repeat, CANNOT* wait for the second book because every scene with two particular secondary characters had me internally panting for more.
Before you open this book up, maybe prepare yourself for Drama (that’s different from lowercase “d” drama) because the plot and characterization are kinda no-holds barred with that trademark Tessa intensity. There’s one scene that felt a bit much to me, but most of it gave me those heart eyes because she knows how to write Good Chemistry.
Reborn Yesterday is such a great book that made me happy, which I extra appreciate right now. I can’t wait to see what Tessa writes next. I mean, I think (by this mean, I’m definitely sure) she can do anything.
4.33⭐️. Reborn Yesterday is out now. Thanks to Social Butterfly PR for my complimentary ARC and the promotional materials; all opinions provided are my own.
Download your copy today!
Apple Books: https://apple.co/2tzVd1b
Amazon Worldwide: http://mybook.to/rebornyesterday
Add to Goodreads: http://bit.ly/2Sbr29P
Tessa Bailey is originally from Carlsbad, California. The day after high school
graduation, she packed her yearbook, ripped jeans and laptop, driving cross-country to
New York City in under four days.
Her most valuable life experiences were learned thereafter while waitressing at K-Dees,
a Manhattan pub owned by her uncle. Inside those four walls, she met her husband,
best friend and discovered the magic of classic rock, managing to put herself through
Kingsborough Community College and the English program at Pace University at the
same time. Several stunted attempts to enter the workforce as a journalist followed, but
romance writing continued to demand her attention.
She now lives in Long Island, New York with her husband of eleven years and seven-
year-old daughter. Although she is severely sleep-deprived, she is incredibly happy to
be living her dream of writing about people falling in love.
Amazon Author Page: https://amzn.to/2NSjQgA
Join her Reader Group: http://bit.ly/2uoDGZP
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Marisa Kanter’s contemporary YA What I Like About You is super cute and also hard-hitting, like that one pocket-sized woman on Friends who Joey dates and who fiercely punches him when she laughs.
On her mega popular bookstagram and Twitter accounts she’s Kels, an amazingly inventive YA reader who pairs books with cupcakes and whose best friend is Nash, whom she’s never met in person. IRL she’s Halle, who’s very uncomfortable in some social settings, doesn’t have many (any?) friends except her brother, and stumbles across Nash at a library in a town she’s just moved to. She should just tell him who she really is—his online BFF Kels. But feelings.
As they start spending more time together, things predictably get confusing. Her own budding feelings for Nash are complicated by the fact that Nash actually has a crush on Kels, which he’s never revealed to her, and she actually is Halle & Kels, even if the guy she really likes doesn’t know that.
Yikes. Though the beginning of this conflict feels kinda thin to me—Halle doesn’t really seem to consider the long-term effects of her deception—by the middle and end I was agog, waiting to see how she and Nash would get over the hurdle. I had hope, but Halle really does some questionable things throughout the book that merit quite a bit of forgiveness. And I actually loved that.
But while Kanter really brings our sweet & snarky Halle to a moment of reckoning, she also shows how it’s possible for someone to take solace in social media anonymity, to hide their true opinions behind it, and to step away from their phone when things start feeling too hard. That’s the temptation of online life.
Kanter also gets major points for featuring a diverse cast of characters, engaging with mental and emotional health from panic attacks to grieving, and tackling general conversations surrounding YA books, like matters of audience.
This is a romance but even more than that, it’s a self-mance (this is me running with that word) and I was there for it.
4.25⭐️. What I Like About You is out on April 7, 2020. I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
Dear Enemy is intense, it’s rich, it’s pretty much as magnetic as you’d prob expect if you’re familiar with Kristen Callihan’s other work. By the end of it, my heart was happy and satisfied and also mildly exhausted from all the feeling. I felt as if I’d gone on a real emotional journey. Like I had done some hard introspection and retrospection and fallen in love along the way.
Macon Saint and Delilah Baker were adolescent combatants who are brought back together through the antics of Delilah’s kinda awful sister, Sam—who also happens to be Macon’s high school ex. Now a thriving and confident chef, Delilah hasn’t forgotten how cruel Macon was to her as preteens & teens; for his part, famous actor Macon privately recognizes how horrid he was and has his own Delilah-related scar tissue.
Against their better judgment, they forge an agreement: Delilah will be his assistant and chef until her sister Sam returns with what she took from Macon or for a year, whichever comes first.
There are so many things that I want and need in order for a bully-type romance to grab my heart and Dear Enemy has it. Macon’s done much of the work on his own but he has another breakthrough or two in the book and they’re big ones. He’s remorseful and willing to give Delilah what she asks for; he’s worked through some of the insecurities and fears that troubled him and that contributed to him lashing out as an adolescent, even if he isn’t totally unaffected by them today. That’s what really makes Dear Enemy feel different to me from some other bully romances I’ve read, like LJ Shen’s Vicious: he’s a different person now.*
I love, love, love how thoughtfully Callihan portrays the effects of what Macon and Delilah said to each other and how Delilah shows how it’s possible to be extremely confident and also occasionally dogged by doubts when you're not like how others tell you you should be. (I love how Macon is also dogged, though his triggers are different.) And how Delilah takes a flaming sword of words to the notion that “boys are meanest to the girls they like the best."
And I love how Callihan takes their past—the site of their former battles—and turns it into a source of common ground for them, something the characters recognize as the book progresses. It's kind of amazing how she does it, actually. Dear Enemy is a gorgeous book written by a woman who is familiar with the heart, who writes beautifully of the ways we can hurt and love each other, and at the end of the day, I loved it.
*Let it be known that I didn’t like how he still called her “tot,” especially since it bothered her so much in the past. He doesn’t seem to have malicious intentions and she still calls him “con man,” but he doesn’t seem as bothered by his nickname as she was, and that makes a difference.
Dear Enemy is out on March 31st. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for my complimentary ARC; all opinions provided are my own.
Q: what’s the last book you were thrilled to get?
If you only knew how much I fervently hoped for this book. Let’s just say that I have been waiting for Tom Severin’s face-plant into love since the first book I read from the Ravenels series.
A mercenary businessman and, in one memorable incident, a mercenary friend, Tom’s been asking for a HEA from the beginning. That’s what Lisa Kleypas gives us in Chasing Cassandra, with a woman who is exquisitely soft but also unexpectedly stubborn and Tom’s perfect pairing.
Tom’s immediate attraction for Cassandra burns through his numbness but, after proposing marriage to her, he maintains that he’s unable to love. All Cassandra wants is her own family to love and to be loved by so she declines his invitation.
An almost classic kind of conflict and yet Kleypas does it beautifully. Their first meetings are just so gentle that I fell in love with the pairing on the spot. He can’t help but feel for Cassandra and you know that he’s wrong about being able to love and YOU WILL ADMIT IT SOON, TOM, WHETHER YOU WANT TO OR NOT.
I wasn’t expecting this book to be soooo funny (Tom, please join #romancestagram) or to see children born from the unions of characters in her other books pop up (Helloooo, Mr. Westcliffe). The body positivity is beautiful, though I wanted to see Cassandra own her beauty and power even more.
The crisis feels a little untraditional to me, and it’s fitting for the book. In Chasing Cassandra it’s Tom’s subtle, eventual wearing down that’s lovely, the inevitable and yet so slow you could miss it phenomenon akin to ice melting in a glass.
BRB going to read this one again.
CW: sexual assault
I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Edelweiss+ and Avon Books but all opinions provided are my own.
I’m going to be upfront: I’ve been slogging through some of my recent reads and it was a straight-up joy to read someone who’s a really good writer again. Who kind of dazzles the senses with a fun NYC life but doesn’t skimp on the emotion either. The writer in question’s Lauren Layne, the book’s Yours in Scandal, and I adored it: the sweetness, the tartness, and thank God *pumps fist* the steam.
NYC Mayor Robert Davenport has just been christened Man of the Year. People love him and this kind of designation and the name recognition that comes with it could help make him governor. But the People want the mayor to date someone! The 35 yo bachelor thing isn’t working for him anymore, according to his campaign manager Martin.
The smart and also slightly sleazy Martin has an idea: Robert can try to get to know Adeline Blake, formerly Addie Brennan, the incumbent governor’s once “wild” child now estranged daughter who fell out of sight for a few years and returned with a new name and identity.
Robert’s got morals and a heart but he also wants to win against the incumbent, who’s apparently corrupt and highly immoral but manages to hide it all behind closed doors. So Robert compromises: he’ll hire Adeline as his party planner and try to get her to confide in him about her father. Without telling her that he knows who she really is.
But from the moment they meet Robert's like *wow. And so is she. What could possibly go wrong?
Layne thoughtfully sets up the conflicts between Robert and Addie and they make sense. Addie’s over-corrected her image and actions in an effort to start a new life but this leads to some internal strife. Despite the part Adeline plays in public, part of her is still Addie. And she's all too aware that as Adeline or Addie, becoming involved with the mayor would be a huge no-no given the public’s (and social media’s) long memory.
I love how Addie takes responsibility for her past actions but also refuses to be shamed. And Robert responds beautifully; her past actions and relationship to the incumbent won’t have a positive effect on his campaign but he also never shames her, publicly or privately--and he recognizes how his own uber virtuous past and present offer its own problems.
The backstory of each lead is finely rendered, and it’s easy to see how Addie & Robert have a lot in common despite their reputations and varying responses to politics. Speaking of the latter, Yours in Scandal is maybe Layne’s most relevant book yet—it’s willing to engage with the good and dirty side of politics and social media.
Though there’s a weird mini dating triangle that makes me uncomfortable and a couple of Robert's actions have me slightly furrowing my brow because I didn’t love love them, overall this romance and its leads give me the heart eyes. (It’s debatable if this is a good look for me.) Three big cheers for Addie, in particular, who’s not perfect and has a past but who recognizes that she’s just as deserving of that HEA as anyone else. Get it, Addie!
Yours in Scandal is out on March 10th. I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
About the Author
When my toddler and infant sleep--or are otherwise engaged--I write, read, and eat lots of chocolate.