I received a complimentary copy of this book via Edelweiss+ but all opinions provided are my own.
You know that line in Friends when Monica says on Richard’s answering machine, “I’m breezy!” Well Kerry Winfrey’s Waiting for Tom Hanks is breezy. It’s adorable and quirky and pretty much effervescent, and I read it in one delightful afternoon.
This book has a really cute love story, but what really hit me with the feels is how everything about their story—and so much of the heroine’s life philosophy—is a tribute to the rom-com. You all, I love a rom-com, and the better it is, the happier I am…but my secret is: it doesn’t even have to be very good for me to really like it.
Waiting for Tom Hanks is a romance. It’s also chock-full of insightful and funny commentary on the rom-com, and most of it, though not all, is provided by our heroine, Annie Cassidy. Rom-coms remind Annie of her best memories with her mother, and the greatest representation of the future love that her mom believed Annie had coming to her is Tom Hanks. The. Tom. Hanks. *sigh.
No one quite understands her thing for Tom Hanks, especially film star Drew Danforth, a Chris Pratt-like hero who has transformed from approachable cute to ripped action star, and who is notorious for the pranks he pulls on red carpets.
This is not a book without substance, but the problems are overcome fairly easily and it reads smoothly. I smiled quite a lot, I think; I also got secondhand embarrassment for Annie, who is smart and ambitious with an admirable sense of humor, and who also gets herself into some awkward situations.
Though I tend to prefer a bit more drama in my reads, Waiting for Tom Hanks made a lovely, funny afternoon for me, offering a heroine and a love story that feels fresh and new, and reminding me of the parts of my rom-com memory that are still powerful enough to give me heart eyes.
Want other romances set in the film industry? Try Melonie Johnson’s Once Upon a Bad Boy (reviewed on my blog) and Julie James’s Just the Sexiest Man Alive.
Everything about Christina Lauren’s The Unhoneymooners makes me happy.
The cover. Hubba hubba.
The premise. It’s a fake romance between two adversaries who just want to cash in on the honeymoon that their respective food-poisoned siblings—married to each other—can no longer go on.
The heroine. Defensive, funny, and passionate, who makes sometimes makes snap judgments but is working on it, dammit.
The hero. Stuffy, but only around her, who is not unreasonable but who does believe buffets are death wishes for everyone and that's just a fact.
Other things to mention: the humor, which is out of this world, and the fantastic way the authors have drawn the family dynamics here. It feels authentic with their fights and their squabbling and their digs at other’s expense, but it’s also lovely.
What a wonderful escape.
Q: Would you pretend to be someone else--like your twin sibling--to go on a free vacation? I think I would, but I would be terrified. *still a goody-goody.
Thanks to Grand Central Pub & Forever Pub for this beautiful print copy, which I read for my review, and Netgalley for a complimentary e-copy. All opinions provided are my own.
It’s a dramatic beginning: lightning flashes. The heroine’s brother is bleeding out on a table. Soldiers are coming, ready to make an arrest. And our heroine Katherine holds a gun on our hero, believing him to be a threat to her family.
It only gets better from there. A Rogue by Night is full of intrigue, plots, and drama. It’s also terribly sweet, with a swoonworthy love story and two main characters who deserve every bit of happiness that’s coming their way—provided they can be wily enough, daring enough, to grab it.
Bowen does a stellar job portraying Katherine and our hero Harland—making them aspirational characters that also feel human. Characters I admired and also grew to love.
Katherine’s an intrepid heroine, willing to do pretty much anything to save the people she loves, and even take care of random strangers she knows need medical care. She’s resourceful and talented, able to stitch someone up and dive to bring up a smuggler’s haul and put on an Oscar-winning performance like a pro. She’s beautiful and in case it wasn’t clear—really smart—but I wasn’t annoyed by her because *ticks fingers*: she’s also highly defensive, she jumps to conclusions, particularly about our hero, and she’s not always tactful.
All of this made me love her more. Yay for imperfect heroines.
And Harland? He is a dream. He's also selfish a couple of times, willing to do things that would keep him closer to Katherine even as he kept his secrets. And again, his mistakes, his fears, his humanity made me love him more.
A Rogue by Night is a big slice of sweetness, with some tartness thrown in. It’s another wonderful romantic offering from an author I think needs to be read more. Thanks to Kelly Bowen for writing a duo that I’ll be smiling about for a good while to come.
Q: What’s one of your favorite books featuring a physician as a main character?
I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
Sometimes you have a satisfying relationship with a man who seems like exactly what you want; other times he dies and you discover that he’s already married with another (inadvertent) mistress on the side.
But in this story about female empowerment, the three women form a pact to help each other weed through other possible liars/cheaters/unsuitables, and a true female friendship is born.
Passion on Park Avenue sparkles, but it’s also substantive, with characters who have suffered their share of heartbreaks even if they are all rich and pretty. Layne is a beautiful writer; every sentence falls smoothly, every character is fleshed-out, and as a reader, I had all the faith that she was taking me to a stellar HEA in the specific lovely way that Layne does it.
Each wronged woman’s voice in Passion on Park Avenue packs a punch, and Naomi’s is my favorite. She’s a one-liner champ, usually aimed toward the man who wronged them all. She’s sophisticated and determined, wry and intimidating, and also, far underneath, scared. She’s been carrying a lot of baggage, and part of it involves our hero, Oliver, who used to torment her as a child, and part of it involves Oliver's dad, who was awful.
But you can’t keep a boss heroine down, especially this one, who is unapologetically ambitious and determined (even if she can’t manage to make herself reveal her real identity to Oliver). This becomes even more of a pickle after she deliberately pursues an apartment in their building under Oliver's misapprehension...
The secret identity trope is kind of a hard one for an over-sharer like myself. When I read books like this and the character thinks how they should tell the truth but…, I think: TELL IT ALREADY. It’s well done here—Layne makes it really clear why Naomi has such a hard time with it and why the past still has a stranglehold on her, the break-up will rip your heart out, and the reconciliation, which involves a literary allusion that always makes me beam, will piece it back together.
And speaking of piecing things together *wink* there are no explicit sex scenes in this book. This is not really a spoiler because Layne has shared this on her Instagram account. Is the book still really good? Yes. Is it still sexy? Yes. Did I miss the scenes? Yes.
What’s even better than finishing a book that grabs you by the heart? Knowing that there are at least two more coming. *Raises a mug of champagne in toast.
Q: what's your celebratory drink of choice? Mine is champagne.
I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
I love a female action hero. Those characters resonate with me now more than ever, thanks to the largest biceps I’ve ever had—courtesy of carting around my giant babies.
So maybe it’s no surprise that I found the premise of Melonie Johnson’s Once Upon a Bad Boy to be delightful: Sadie Gold has just received the role of a lifetime, starring as an action hero in what’s sure to be a blockbuster film. To her shock, she realizes that the stunt coordinator on set is none other than Bo Ibarra, the man she grew up with and who broke her heart over a decade ago.
They both have secrets that they’re holding onto; will they break them apart for good?
This was my first Melonie Johnson book, and *cue dramatic voice*: it won’t be my last. It was hot and passionate. It was a celebration of female friendship, with friends who support one another and also tease, which rang authentic to me. And Johnson is a skilled writer, thoughtfully rendering the evolution of Sadie and Bo’s relationship (and beautifully showing how their feelings were/are possible of existing over a period of time, despite their years apart) and writing thrilling stunt scenes that are exciting and cinematic. They felt behinds-the-scenes-ish.
One last impressive aspect of the book is how Johnson handles Sadie’s revelation to Bo. Content warning ahead:
Johnson handled the topic of a past abortion adeptly and admirably, portraying how painful Sadie still found the subject, but also how she was certain that she made the right decision for herself. I appreciated how Johnson made it clear that it was possible for both of those things to be true.
Once Upon a Bad Boy is really good romance. Sign me up for more! (Also, I’d like to watch Sadie’s movie IRL).
Q: Who is your favorite female action hero? I'm a hugeeee fan of Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman. Does that count if she's a superhero?
I received a complimentary copy of this beauty from Grand Central Pub and Forever Pub but all opinions provided are my own.
April Hunt’s Deadly Obsession is best-friend’s-little-sister, romantic suspense magic. It’s got the drama, the romance, and the mystery that you’re looking for, and a HEA that will leave you momentarily satisfied—but only because you’re so excited to read the next books in the series.
One of my romantic novel weaknesses is a confident, ballsy heroine who’s ready to fly and a brave hero who is suffering from a temporary lapse in courage.
Knox Steele, former soldier, is back in town after years away, and it’s not to join the Steele Ops company his brothers formed. Civilian crime scene investigator Zoey Wright can’t help but notice—she’s been in love with him since she was a teen, even when it was apparent that he never saw her in any way other than his best friend’s little sister.
But there are insane sparks between them, even as the Cupid Killer continues killing women around DC and Zoey finds herself threatened…
Zoey is an approachable heroine despite how admirable she also is. Suffering from a longtime heart condition, she decided after her last major surgery that she’s going to really live, no matter how much her brother and others try to wrap her in cotton. In occasional moments, she has a lack of confidence, but for the majority of the book, she’s kicking butt and taking names, putting herself out there in ways that show how courageous she really is.
And Knox is alpha male perfection, strong and willing to take on anything—except maybe staying with Zoey and living in DC.
Deadly Obsession is so, so good, and my favorite of the April Hunt’s books I’ve read. I can’t wait to see where she goes next! Roman, please!
Q: Zoey takes on a new job as a crime scene investigator. If you could have another job--realistic or not--what would it be? I'd like to work at a bookstore (and wear cardigans and call myself Kathleen Kelly. Thank you.)
I’m going to borrow from Joey of Friends acclaim to summarize Helen Hoang’s fantastic The Bride Test: a sexy, kind, smart, hero and heroine who want someone to accept them? Good. The funniest scene with hammer pants that one could conceive of? Good. Lots of scenes with Khai’s brother Quân? Good.
Like lots of other people, I was bowled over by Hoang’s first release, The Kiss Quotient. The Bride Test definitely avoids the dreaded second book will-it-live-up-to-the-hype question—smashes it to smithereens, in fact.
It starts with our hero Khai’s mother, presenting our heroine, Mỹ, with an offer: to leave Vietnam and come to the United States as her son Khai’s fiancé, and convince him to go through with the engagement. Though Esme—as Mỹ calls herself in the US—has a huge motivation behind her decision to accept the proposition, she also has a tough task ahead of her: Khai does not believe that he’s capable of loving others, and he does not want to marry. Ever.
The relationship between Esme and Khai took me on a tour of all the feelings: hilarity (see hammer pants above); frustration; pride; lust; and lots of secondhand happiness. Given how she’s presented Esme and Khai earlier in the book, Hoang portrays the evolution of their relationship authentically, and beautifully. It doesn’t just happen; it requires trust and work, and that’s something lovely.
It also requires that Esme and Khai believe in their own value, something that Esme has trouble with at first. Seeing her grow throughout the book as she becomes her own heroine is its own kind of rush.
And the cherry on top of it all? How Hoang surrounds Esme and Khai with an amazing set of interesting, nuanced family members—characters who are characters. They are loving and quirky and fun to watch/read. And also hot. Thanks, Quân.
There was one small aspect of the reconciliation at the end that bothered me—it seemed a little too easily resolved, especially since the deception in question was kind of a big one, in my mind—but everything else was wonderful, offering further proof of why Helen Hoang is one of the best romance writers out there.
I received a complimentary copy of this book via the publisher, but all opinions provided are my own. Thanks, Berkley!
Q: What second book are you excited to read this year?
I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
She’s a charmer of beasts who has a bounty on her head. He’s the assassin in charge of killing her.
That sounds like the perfect premise of a fantasy romance to me.
Smart and wildly inventive, Maxym M. Martineau's Kingdom of Exiles had me captivated from the first page. It’s the kind of book I can really sink my teeth into: a morally complex, live-life-on-the-edge-of-danger heroine and hero (who are determined to kill and/or use the other for much of the book!)*, a diverse round of secondary characters, and a true dilemma facing them all that I have faith they’ll overcome, even if I don’t see how.
Even better are the closing pages, where Martineau ties up things just enough to leave me satisfied, but also leaves enough undone to hint at the craziness to come. Because when the final paragraph is over, there are still secrets between the characters—secrets each narrator has hinted at to the reader—and secrets which are guaranteed to wreak absolute havoc in a future book.
Kingdom of Exiles is enemies to lovers done splendidly. Martineau took me on a gripping adventure that left me wanting more: more of her originality, drama, romance. She has a lot to bring to the genre—she already has this very impressive addition—and the exciting news is that I think she’s just getting started.
*Seriously, I had big reservations about some of the things the hero and heroine were doing but they show major growth throughout the book.
TNW Arbitrary Rating: 4.25 stars. (See how useless my rating scale is?)
Q: What fantasy romance read do you recommend to everyone? One of mine is Naomi Novik's Uprooted.
I’ve never read a Sara Richardson book before, and I haven’t read very many cowboy romances at all—outside of a few Nora Roberts, I think—so Hometown Cowboy was a fun adventure in trying something new.
It was also just a great book: emotional, tender, and sexy, with an adorable heroine and hero who kind of stumble into love.
The romance between perennially-looking-for-love Jessa Mae Love and always-focused-on-bull-riding Lance Cortez starts in somewhat She’s All That fashion, when Jessa Mae’s caught wearing a brand-new bra that does wonderful things for her bust and Lance suddenly notices her. Though Lance’s attention is caught, his attraction doesn’t stop there (luckily for all parties concerned, us readers included).
Jessa Mae might be known for having a number of broken engagements, but Lance also discovers that--besides being beautiful--, she’s devoted to the people she cares about, and as he notes on a couple of occasions, she’s not afraid to put herself out there emotionally.
But Lance needs Jessa Mae to help take care of his dad, her good friend, so that he can concentrate on winning the Worlds bull riding competition. And there’s no way that Lance wants to get involved with Jessa Mae, anyway, because he does not want to be in a relationship, will never want it, and she’s got that written all over her.
Dear Readers: what do you think will happen?
Richardson takes us on an emotionally resonant ride.
Lance’s efforts to navigate his way through relationship life are sometimes pretty funny, especially when he takes advice from other people. But they’re mostly kind of lovely, because he’s someone who’s been scared of love for so long. And I respected Jessa Mae, who may be nice, but proves that she’s no pushover.
The chemistry between Jessa Mae & Lance is stellar, and Richardson has a number of promising secondary characters who revolve around our two lovebirds, helping them on their journey and only rarely discouraging them (though I'm not quite sure what to think about Naomi!).
Hometown Cowboy is a beautiful read that's not afraid to tackle the tough stuff. A love story about people figuring out how to love, and doing it really well. **heads off to read more of Richardson’s books.
Q: who are your favorite cowboy romance authors? I'm thinking I need to spend a little more time in this genre!
**I received a complimentary copy of this book from Grand Central Publishing and Forever Pub but all opinions included are my own.
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?
About the Author
When my toddler and infant sleep--or are otherwise engaged--I write, read, and eat lots of chocolate.