I received a complimentary copy of this book via Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
I’ve got that anxious, excited feeling I used to get in English class because I was bursting with stuff to say, and it’s about Maria Vale’s Forever Wolf. This isn't the first time I've thought this about one of her books: I’ve never read a romance novel like this before.
Forever Wolf is the third in Vale’s The Legend of All Wolves series, and it’s beautiful. It’s also the darkest book in a romance series that doesn’t shy away from the dark.
The first thing to say about the plot is that this is a shifter romance, about wolves.
Our heroine Varya is a shielder—a position of esteem—in the Great North pack. She journeyed to the pack alone after all the wolves in her former pack died, and to her, the pack is everything. She’s known for upholding order, even when that devotion doesn’t exactly win her any friends.
But then she runs across an injured wolf, Eyulf, and on him she smells her old home. She has a connection with him, even as she knows that there will never be a place for him in her pack. But is there a place for him with her?
Vale’s books have lots of action, if you like that sort of thing.
But you also need to know that Vale's a gorgeous writer. The pack, the place the pack inhabits, the outside world, it’s all fantastically rendered. Throughout each novel in the series, she shows how pack can offer home, stability, and community, but how its very nature can be inclusive, sometimes leaving no place for outsiders like Eyulf. It also often requires great personal sacrifice, even as it gives much.
Sometimes in romance, the reader is made aware of the tremendous odds facing the main characters, but semi-miraculously, those odds are surmounted in the final pages. Vale does something different, something that I think is braver.
Not every problem is miraculously erased or overcome in her books.
Make no mistake: she writes romances and her characters do end up together, but not always in the ways you’d expect. In that way and others, Maria Vale writes paranormal romances that feel really realistic. Sometimes—a lot of times—we don’t get unqualified happy endings.
Parts of Varya and Eyulf’s story might make you slightly sad; there might even be some disappointment or frustration.
But on balance, Forever Wolf reminds us that there’s no discounting how huge love is, how it can buttress us up even as we’re facing huge change or loss.
No, Vale’s books aren't joy-filled romps, and you’ll probably feel like your heart is breaking at least once when you read one, but they are books that are absolutely suffused with love. Are you reading them yet?
Picture a crumbling estate managed by a severely grumpy theatre critic and television host, Griff. Griff looks like Lucius Malfoy and, in my head, has the voice and gravitas of Alan Rickman.
You with me?
To Griff's great dismay, his brother has signed a contract allowing basically a choose-your-own-adventure play (based on a game based on Jane Austen characters) to be performed at a theatre on their estate.
Who’s playing Lydia Bennet?
Why, none other than Freddy Carlton, a delightfully irrepressible actress who has taken her fair share of knocks in Griff’s column.
What follows is spectacular. There’s banter galore, between an icy, acerbic critic-by-trade (a Slytherin!) who is used to managing everything in his life, and a frequently underestimated, plucky dynamo who is trying to figure out how she can honor herself and what she wants without losing her dad’s respect and affection.
There’s also plenty of steam.
The love scenes are exciting to be sure, but they’re also poignant and real—they’re full of moments we all long for and they're also approachable, they’re inhabited by characters who are lovely and attractive but not physically or otherwise perfect. It’s so well done, and truly lovely.
Finally, there’s an exciting historical mystery that Freddy and Griff try to uncover that lends extra pathos to The Austen Playbook.
If you want to see romance beautifully done, pick up The Austen Playbook or any of Lucy Parker’s other books. She’s very special.
The Naptime Writer also recommends: Lauren Layne’s Walk of Shame; Sarah Skilton’s Fame Adjacent.
**I received a complimentary copy of this book via Netgalley, but all opinions provided are my own.
Q: Who is a grumpy personality you can’t get enough of?
First, 1991-1992: Annika has always had a difficult time communicating with others. She doesn’t always read social cues or respond to situations in the ways that others believe she should. While some people are antagonistic or uncomfortable around her, it’s her lack of pretense, and her warmth and honesty, among other traits, that Jonathan likes so much.
But Annika and Jonathan’s relationship ends. Ten years later, they run into each other. Annika wants to be with him again, but is Jonathan willing to take another chance?
Told from Annika and Jonathan’s perspectives in 1991-92 and 2001, Tracey Garvis Graves’s The Girl He Used to Know is an insightful second chance romance with a giant pained-but-still-hopeful heart. It’s that hopefulness that I loved about this book and its characters; the hope that people can change for themselves in the ways that matter and that the changes willfully undertaken can help them become better partners; the hope that differences can be overcome and challenges can be met when people are willing to fight.
This is a lovely romance told in simple and affecting prose, but it also reminds us that love—being in love—requires work. A real commitment to each other and to staying together. And that how we feel about ourselves matters when it comes to how we feel in and about our relationships. These things are made apparent when Annika and Jonathan re-connect in 2001 Chicago, and their future together is so uncertain.
For those reasons, The Girl He Used to Know feels authentic to real life, where a HEA is not guaranteed, where people fall in and out of love all the time, and where sometimes love isn’t enough (and of course, sometimes it is). It’s a love story with teeth, and I savored every minute of it.
I was given a complimentary copy of The Girl He Used to Know via She Speaks.
I never realized how much I was looking for an indomitable heroine until I met the women who populate Sarah J. Maas’s books. And I never understood how much it would mean to me that an indomitable heroine be flawed—that is, like a normal person who makes mistakes and not a perfect person who becomes a perfect sacrifice—until I encountered Aelin in Maas’s Throne of Glass series.
Because it actually means something that the same person who could protect others and make tough decisions, who could make sacrifices for the good of others and save the world, could also be a person whose personality is sometimes abrasive, and who often does cringe-worthy and occasionally awful things, AND does both those good and bad (mostly good) things as a woman.
The truth is that for a long time I admired those perfect heroic characters, and a lot of times in my reading experience, those perfect heroic characters were men. Another truth is that for a long time, I felt uncomfortable reading about flawed women, because I wasn’t always (and to some degree, still am not) entirely comfortable with some of my own flaws. And another truth on top of that one: I’m trying to be aware of my own gender biases, the ones that whisper softly that women should be polite and nurturing and selfless, humble and kind, and that flare up when I see women who don’t seem to be embodying those values.
I am a work in progress.
As much as I love being a mom, treasure it, adore it, there’s also quite a bit of guilt and self-recrimination tossed into the mix. I frequently compare my own actions and thoughts to some idealized notion of mommyhood that I feel I’ve seen exhibited by other moms in my life, or moms in books or movies. I had a rough time with the weight of that guilt for a while, and it was hard, and sometimes still is, to walk away from it. It’s long-lasting, guilt, and once you feel it, it’s difficult to forget about.
That’s not to mention the day-to-day inadequacy I sometimes feel, the kind that’s not really related to being a mom, but maybe to being a woman. Did I really say that? Why don’t I understand that? Why are my ankles so thick? Why am I not more like _____?
But books, and characters like Aelin, help.
Some people like to pretend that books don’t matter, that words are meaningless. But like someone else once noted—books can make us “brave” (I’m so sorry that I can’t remember who said this. I think I saw it on Twitter.) Words have power, and a series of words that are masterfully strung together can make us admire and love and dislike and hate characters; those strung together words can not only intrigue us, they can invest us in characters’s decisions, question them. They can make us wonder what we would do in the respective character’s situation. And if a time comes necessary, as that one unremembered source above suggested, the responses we’ve had to books and characters and specific actions we’ve read about can help us see the right thing, and give us the motivation to do it.
Sarah J. Maas writes beautifully, terrifically. On a basic literary level, you’re missing out on quite a lot if you haven’t read her. But for me, the biggest part of her appeal comes from the fact that she writes flawed women and I am a flawed woman.
I’ve done good things and I’ve done some bad and I can be funny and annoying and smart and not-very-smart and kind and rude and sometimes I can hit a note like Adele(ish) and sometimes I glance around and make sure no one heard me sing, it's so bad, and it’s all okay, because I’m human and I'm trying. It can be tempting to dwell on the areas where we’ve failed or might fail. But I want to believe—I do believe—that mistakes and heroism (on a small or big level) are not incompatible; that identifying as a woman and being a hero are not incompatible. That flawed women are capable of saving the world and doing it with a smirk--or smile, or frown, whatevs, you be you--on their faces.
For much of this book, the main characters are consumed with thoughts about impending death—specifically, death caused by a centuries-long curse—and yet Sophie Jordan’s This Scot of Mine gave me so much happiness, both reading the book and later, when I found myself daydreaming about a HEA fiercely fought for.
There’s something about the zealous interplay between the main characters: the stubborn, resourceful, and utterly magnificent Lady Clara Autenberry, who is so determined to avoid marriage to her repulsive intended that she tells him she is pregnant by someone else (a huge no-no in their society but the lie results in her freedom from the engagement and her exile to Scotland), and the kind, honorable, and also (*praise hands*) virile Laird Hunt MacLarin, who has feared the curse haunting his family since he was born. You know, the curse that basically dooms any males in his family to death upon conceiving their first son.
I kind of got goosebumps the first time that Clara and Hunt meet one another because Jordan does it so deliciously. There’s so much fire between them, and while initially it’s pretty antagonistic, you can see how easily it can (and will) be turned into something sweeter, though no less passionate.
Then there’s the plot of this fantastic book, which really gets going with Clara’s lie, and includes so many dramatic moments that kept me invested and thrilled to how sensational it all was. A curse! A marriage that starts with a lie! A terrifying granny, making threats in the dark! You get the picture.
I would have liked to have seen a bit more relationship evolution between Clara and Hunt that wasn’t specifically related to the curse. I didn’t doubt the strength of their relationship in any way, but I felt like I was missing some of the work showing how they became so emotionally invested in one another.
But there was so much that I was wild about in This Scot of Mine, and reading it was a joyful, diverting experience that I could hardly bear to stop until the last words were read. I can’t wait to read the rest in the series.
**I received a complimentary copy of this book via Edelweiss+ but all opinions provided are my own.
It’s only January 30th, but I feel really confident saying that Jenny Holiday’s latest release Three Little Words is one of my best reads of the year. I know, I know, this kind of enthusiastic statement is very unlike me, as I’m usually reluctant to gush (lies, lies), but this book is amazing/lovely/powerful/everything that I’ve ever wanted.
Like the rest of Holiday’s Bridesmaids Behaving Badly series, Three Little Words is set around one of the best friend’s weddings. In this case, it’s the wedding of Wendy and Noah, whose love story was featured in It Takes Two. Here’s what you need to know about this book: Chef Bennett Buchanan and model Gia Gallo are trying to get to the aforementioned wedding when they first meet, but unfortunately for them, inclement weather conditions are making that difficult.
Their first impressions of the other are less than stellar. But despite her rudeness at the ticket counter, there’s something about Gia, and despite his good-ole-southern-boy charm, there’s something about Bennett.
A road trip commences, and it’s awkward and confessional and wonderful. Gia and Bennett both come to the road trip packing big emotional baggage, and to their surprise, they find an audience in the other. But despite the things they tell each other—and their overwhelming chemistry—they’re looking for different things in the relationship department: Gia never wants to be in one, and Bennett doesn’t do “casual.”
Three Little Words is by turns hilarious (Bennett’s reaction to the food makeover shows killed me) and sad, and does both equally well; it’s inspirational and raw and hopeful, and above all, it’s heartwarming. I felt so much reading this book, and by the end of it, I already missed the characters but I was also relishing the secondhand HEA glow.
If you want a book that tells a beautiful love story--and that tells a story about people finding their way to better versions of themselves—read Three Little Words. Prepare to fall in love.
**I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley, but all opinions provided are my own.
If you’ve been reading Jill Shalvis’ Heartbreaker Bay series, Playing for Keeps is the book you’ve been (anxiously) waiting for. Sadie, a wisecracking, budding tattoo artist, and Caleb, the successful inventor/businessman she calls “Suits,” have had it out for each other since the beginning. Take cover, because anytime they’re near the other, sparks—and insults—fly. So what gets things moving in a more positive direction in this book? The sweetest stray dog, which Sadie names Lollipop, and which, in true frenemy fashion, Sadie and Caleb both want to adopt.
Sounds like we have everything we need for a heartwarming contemp. romance. But with Jill Shalvis, we get more.
Like flashes of humor, of the self-deprecating and throwing-zingers-at-the-enemy variety, that make Playing for Keeps something more than sweet. And, while I wouldn’t call this book angsty, there is some darkness, too, revealing new depths to the main characters and their road to HEA, and making it all the more satisfying when everything comes together. (That Epilogue…)
There’s an authenticity to the characters and this book—where Sadie and Caleb have come from, their successes, and the mistakes they continue to make, today—even as Shalvis is building a love story that dreams are made of.
**I received an ARC of this book via Edelweiss+ but all opinions are my own.
It's here! It's here!
I'm so excited to be part of the Book Blitz for Kate Meader's Illegally Yours. Meader has long been one of my favorite romance authors because her books fiercely embody that steamy + sweet combo romance aficionados are always talking about--and they're beautifully written, too.
Her book Down with Love, the first in this Laws of Attraction series, is on my 100 Books list (read it if you haven't already!), and Illegally Yours, the second in the series, is another stellar offering. It's so good!
Read more below for a synopsis, exclusive excerpt, The Naptime Writer Need to Know, and info about a giveaway and our author herself, Kate Meader.
Rule #1: Never fall for your client.
Rule #2: Never fall for your client’s fiercely protective, smoking hot sister-in-law.
I’m the kind of guy who believes that everyone deserves the best legal representation money can buy—which just so happens to be me, Lucas Wright. Give me your henpecked, your cuckolded, your irreconcilable differences yearning to break free! And if you’re the bad guy in your marriage, that’s cool too. Your green is as good as anyone’s.
Tell that to Trinity Jones. It’s my job to destroy her sister—the soon-to-be ex-wife of my a-hole of a client—and Trinity’s “big sis” instincts are dialed up to the max. I admire that. I admire her. But she won’t stop me from representing my client to the best of my ability.
Not even if my chemistry with Trinity is undeniable. Not even if we can’t keep our hands off each other. Not even if she injects life into a heart assumed to be long dead.
Because when faced with a choice between love and duty, the job will always win—or at least that’s what I thought before I met Trinity . . . and suddenly conflict of interest never felt so right.
This ebook includes an excerpt from another Loveswept title.
I smile at the last couple of women who are signing up for the Whiskey, Women, and Song mailing list.
“So, only women at these things?” one of them asks.
“Think of it as a safe space, a place for women to meet and not feel the pressure to be on all the time.”
“I like the idea,” her friend says as she writes down her email address. “As long as it’s not filled with lawyers.”
Her friend cackles and they walk out the door laughing.
Wow, this has been a really positive experience. Good people, even with the “mistaken identity” snafu at the beginning, a brand of shade I’ve been living all my life. I’m smiling as I turn, eager to share my good vibes with someone.
One minute he was talking to Aubrey, the next, the air is a void I feel like a punch. What the hell is wrong with me?
It’s just a hot guy. There are lots of hot guys. And this one is the wrong, hot guy. Too gorgeous and too much trouble and--
Thank the gods, he came back.
“Thought you skedaddled out of here.”
“No, you didn’t.” He lifts the case of half-empty bottles onto the dolly and secures it with the bungee cord I use. “Ready?” He’s already dragging my wares into the corridor.
I follow, noting how quiet it is in the office. We pass a couple of open doors with people at desks, heads down, poring over depositions or whatever lawyers pore over at seven in the evening. But other than them, no one is around to watch our departure.
Lucas calls for the elevator.
The air crackles with possibility. I’m suddenly very nervous.
The doors open and we step inside. Lucas situates the dolly and then he backs me up against the wall before the doors have closed. His eyes burn into me, branding me with sensual purpose.
“We’re goo—” His mouth descends on mine. We’re goo. I’m goo. A hot, melting puddle of neurons and blood vessels and other things that make up my weak, weak body.
I’m not good at being kissed. I don’t enjoy being on the passive end of a smooch, so I do what any modern woman who hasn’t gotten any in a while would do:
I eat Lucas’s face off.
I can’t help it. One touch of his mouth to mine and it’s a flame to kindling. My lips take on a life of their own: greedy, grasping, gimme-all-the-sugar. He moans at the contact of our tongues and that moan sets off vibrations throughout my body. Every cell is on fire.
We’re both fighting for supremacy here, neither of us willing to surrender. It’s war. It’s brutally beautiful. How wonderful to feel so well matched with a kiss.
I’m ready to see how well we fit in all the other areas. His chest to mine, our hips rocking together, that moment when he sinks inside me, deep and true. I need it so badly I can already feel it. I want to feel everything with this man after so long sublimating my needs to others.
Seems we’re on the same page. We both go for the respective ass grab, and this simultaneously mutual move shifts something. Separating, we laugh into the kiss.
It’s a lovely moment that I’ll never forget. But it breaks the spell and twists it into something else, something deeper as we stare at each other for a long, ultracharged moment.
“Wow,” he murmurs.
The elevator doors open. Aubrey is on the other side, her cat’s mouth curving into a grin. Neither of us has pressed the button to escape this floor.
Lucas hits twenty-five and smiles at Aubrey. “Take the next one, princess.”
He’s back to kissing me before the doors close.
I know there are a million reasons not to do this. I can only think of the one reason why we must: I need Lucas Wright more than I’ve ever needed anything.
I need something for me. Someone who sees me, if only for a sparkling star-filled moment. I expect I’ll fall back into sanity, but hopefully, not too soon.
THE NAPTIME WRITER NEED TO KNOW.
There’s a lot that I love about romance novels, but one thing is that for all their HEA, they’re also not afraid to tackle the more complicated parts of our lives: the sadness or hardships that we’ve carried with us and that make accepting a HEA difficult. We see that in Illegally Yours, and it lends authenticity to the characters, especially Lucas, who can come across as a little over-the-top.
Lucas Wright is a divorce attorney, partner and friend to Max, whom we met (and fell in love with) in Down with Love. He’s British and outrageous. He’s a sexy charmer who can sometimes appear unrelenting in his attempt to entertain. But he’s also kind and sensitive and haunted.
And then there’s kickass Trinity Jones, who is wearing a catsuit (a catsuit!!!) when we first meet her. More evidence of her kickassery: she refers to herself as “Whiskey Woman” on her business cards. Trinity's cultivating her reputation as a whiskey sommelier, a task made more difficult by virtue of the fact that the field is predominantly comprised of white men.
I adore so much about this pairing. The older woman-younger man. The practical, no-nonsense Trinity and the dramatic, extravagant Lucas.
But underneath it all, Trinity and Lucas are supremely protective and loving—and devoted to their families in ways both seen and unseen.
The chemistry between our leads is hot, hot, hot!, a state of affairs that’s certainly helped—though not limited to—the fact that their relationship is initially forbidden. And then there’s the sweetness, too; they lift each other up. There’s a solidity to their relationship that’s beautiful—for all of Lucas’s play—and that’s reinforced by the particularly lovely ending.
Illegally Yours is sooo good, folks.
BUY IT HERE.
Amazon CA: https://amzn.to/2RDdmWA
Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/2CwCwvN
Amazon AU: https://amzn.to/2RyxTvs
ABOUT KATE MEADER.
Originally from Ireland, USA Today bestselling author Kate Meader cut her romance reader teeth on Maeve Binchy and Jilly Cooper novels, with some Harlequins thrown in for variety. Give her tales about brooding mill owners, oversexed equestrians, and men who can rock an apron or a fire hose, and she’s there. Now based in Chicago, she writes sexy contemporary romance with alpha heroes and strong heroines who can match their men quip for quip.
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Reader’s Group | Bookbub | Goodreads | Newsletter | Amazon Author Profile
ENTER THE GIVEAWAY.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from IndieSage PR, but all opinions provided are my own.
Last year I finished a remarkable book—Marie Marquardt’s Flight Season—and then read the author’s notes, where she talked about writing a book in which people experience suffering. It’s not fun to think about suffering or talk about it. Sometimes we might shy away from the memories when we have suffered, or maybe even worse, watched someone we love suffer. Sometimes we are aware that relatively speaking, we have suffered very little, and we wonder when our something big will happen, or if it will, and if we’ll be strong enough.
Two amazing books that I’ve read more recently have focused on day-to-day suffering and both have opened my heart and eyes a little more than they were before.
I’ve seen Katherine Center’s How to Walk Away on multiple Best of Lists so I had to read it. Margaret Jacobsen has always been terrified of planes (in particular, plane crashes), so when her serious boyfriend Chip, who is trying to get his pilot’s license, wants to take her on a plane ride, it takes a little while to convince her. But convinced she is, and though she gets engaged on the flight, she’s brought back to Earth when the plane crashes.
She wakes up in the hospital severely injured, and she, like many of the other characters who knew her before, wonder whether the pre-crash Margaret is gone, and who she is now, and what her new life looks like.
I loved this fierce, funny, painful book that tackles not only the physical and emotional aftermath of the crash, but also strained family dynamics and romantic love. Margaret, the narrator of How to Walk Away is conversational and approachable, yet she (and the book itself) possesses a sensitivity and astuteness that left me stunned.
When we’re talking about suffering, there aren’t any easy answers, and we see that in Katja Millay’s YA book, The Sea of Tranquility. This book was so difficult to read at times, so painful, and it’s one that will stay with me.
Nastya Kashnikov starts at a new high school. She dresses very provocatively and does not talk to anyone by choice, including her family. Josh Bennett has a “force field” around him. He’s alone at school and home and that’s how he wants it.
Neither character wants to want someone. But they’re drawn to each other, even as they resist opening themselves up. What events happened in each other’s past, to make them the person they are today? And is the person they are today “okay”? How can they make each other happy if they’re not happy themselves?
The Sea of Tranquility is about people who hurt. The hurts they can’t hide and the ones they do.
I wanted the characters in this book to be “okay.” I wanted them to learn quickly so they could be happy, because they deserved to be happy. But this is another book about suffering, about getting to a place of happiness, and how that can be incredibly difficult and sometimes even something people fight against.
Brilliant, tender, sad, The Sea of Tranquility is a devastating and hopeful portrayal of human hurt.
Sometimes you might want to read a romance with a huge, huge jerk who falls in love.
Class, we call those heroes alphaholes, and L. J. Shen writes them superbly. Men who snarl. Who say the cruelest, crudest things, particularly to our heroine. Who seem so close to being irredeemable that you wonder if it’s actually possible for the main characters to have a HEA.
But with Shen’s books, it is. Her books are dishy, juicy, and naughty, and I feel the perfect amount of voyeur when reading them because the characters and their lives are so alien to me.
With her latest release, The Kiss Thief, Shen tackles the arranged marriage trope. Nineteen-year-old Francesca Rossi is beautiful and accomplished and she’s dreamed of marrying Angelo Bandini for years. But in one night, her father, Arthur, head of the Chicago Outfit, promises her in marriage to Senator Wolfe Keaton, a ruthless man who has dirt on Arthur and promises to use it.
Wolfe is not a nice person, and his plans to make Francesca’s father miserable include making her miserable as well. He puts his plans into effect ASAP, and the results are truly cringeworthy.
But Francesca is warm and quirky, and before he knows it, Wolfe finds himself doing things for her that he never imagined. Is it possible for Wolfe to allow himself to care about her? And for her to let go of the love she’s had for Angelo for so many years? Also, on an entirely unrelated note, how well does vengeance go with new marriages, particularly if the person being targeted is the bride’s father?
Though I tore through the pages of The Kiss Thief, this book didn’t resonate with me quite as much as some of Shen’s other books have (i.e. Bane and Dirty Headlines), and I think it comes down to these simple facts about the characters. Francesca is 19 and (understandably) unsure about a lot of things, and this, added to other factors like Wolfe’s intense vengeance plot and the complex lover’s triangle, led to some behaviors and decisions that I wasn’t entirely crazy about (even though I also recognized that those behaviors and decisions seemed fairly realistic to the characters, given what we knew about them).
But I still enjoyed this book very much, and here’s why: The Kiss Thief is glamorous and magnetic, and I fell into the story right away. I don’t usually identify with Shen’s characters, but I’m enthralled by them and eager to see what manner of mischief is about to transpire next. They’re always unpredictable, and enticingly dramatic, and this book was no exception.
I received a complimentary copy of the book from the author, 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.