Review: By the Book by Jasmine Guillory

Review: By the Book by Jasmine GuilloryBy the Book (Meant to Be #2) by Jasmine Guillory
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, retellings
Series: Meant To Be #2
Pages: 320
Published by Hyperion Avenue on May 3, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads


A tale as old as time—for a new generation…

Isabelle is completely lost. When she first began her career in publishing right out of college, she did not expect to be twenty-five, living at home, still an editorial assistant, and the only Black employee at her publishing house. Overworked and underpaid, constantly torn between speaking up or stifling herself, Izzy thinks there must be more to this publishing life. So when she overhears her boss complaining about a beastly high-profile author who has failed to deliver his long-awaited manuscript, Isabelle sees an opportunity to finally get the promotion she deserves.
All she has to do is go to the author’s Santa Barbara mansion and give him a quick pep talk or three. How hard could it be?
But Izzy quickly finds out she is in over her head. Beau Towers is not some celebrity lightweight writing a tell-all memoir. He is jaded and withdrawn and—it turns out—just as lost as Izzy. But despite his standoffishness, Izzy needs Beau to deliver, and with her encouragement, his story begins to spill onto the page. They soon discover they have more in common than either of them expected, and as their deadline nears, Izzy and Beau begin to realize there may be something there that wasn't there before.

Best-selling author Jasmine Guillory’s reimagining of a beloved fairy tale is a romantic triumph of love and acceptance and learning that sometimes to truly know a person you have to read between the lines.

My Review:

When we meet Isabelle Marlowe, it’s the first day of her dream job – or at least the starter job on her dream job ladder. She’s the new editorial assistant to Marta Wallace, one of the top editors at TAOAT Publishing.

That intro clues the reader into the two themes of this story. TAOAT stands for “Tale as Old as Time”, part of the chorus of the Oscar and Grammy winning song “Beauty and the Beast” from the 1991 Disney movie of the same name. By the Book is a contemporary retelling of that now-classic movie.

The second theme is conveyed by Isabelle’s passion for her brand new job. Isabelle loves books and everything about them. She loves reading, she loves editing, she loves writing, she loves looking for new books and she loves talking about books. Working in the publishing industry (also being a librarian, a nurse, or a teacher, BTW) is what’s commonly called a “passion job”. People go into those and certain other fields because they have a passion for the work. Or, at least, a passion for what they think the work will be. They know they’ll be overworked and underpaid, but they expect the joys of the job to make up for the many shortfalls.

As the story fast forwards two years, we see that Izzy’s passion for the work and everything that surrounds it has been ground out – and Izzy has been ground down – by the circumstances and drudgery that surround it. She’s even more overworked than she expected, as she is not only Marta’ assistant but also her gopher, AND as one of the very few POC on the staff of TAOAT (the publishing industry as a whole is still mostly white IRL), Izzy gets called in whenever someone needs to represent diversity in the office or the industry.

That her boss Marta seems to be modeling herself after the villainess of The Devil Wears Prada – or at least the lower budget publishing industry version – is nasty icing on top of the already tasteless cake. And Izzy’s heard from one of the other editors that Marta still doesn’t think Izzy’s up to the job – even after two years.

But Izzy and her office bestie Priya are on their way to a publishing conference in Los Angeles with Marta. They’ll still be overworked, underpaid and underappreciated – but at least they’ll be able to escape New York City’s frigid winter for a few days of California sunshine.

Izzy’s pretty much at the end of her last rope – and she’s getting sick of just hanging on. That’s when she overhears Marta complaining about a former child actor she signed for an autobiography who not only refuses to deliver a manuscript – he refuses to communicate at all. Izzy leaps before she looks into the fray, and volunteers to drive from LA to Santa Barbara to get in the would-be author’s face about his book and the lack thereof.

Driving to the beast’s coastal “castle” gets Izzy one more night in sunny California. Barging her way into the house where that beast, Beau Towers, has been holed up for a year gets her the chance of a lifetime.

A chance to read. A chance to write. And a chance to recover her passion.

Escape Rating A-: The heart of this story is in Izzy’s invasion of Beau Towers castle and what happens after. Because what happens first is that Beau is pretty damn beastly.

He gets better.

While the romance between Izzy and Beau is intended as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, it hits the obvious beats of the movie pretty hard. When Izzy starts talking to her luxurious bathtub and she’s almost sure it’s talking back, the way that those familiar beats get pounded borders on overkill.

But the romance is just so damn charming that if you liked the original at all it’s impossible not to love this version as well.

While the romance begins with a meet cute, the situations they are separately in are both pretty damn ugly. We know about the mess that Izzy is in, and we already feel for her when she barges into Beau’s house. We start out sharing her opinion, that Beau is an overprivileged, irresponsible asshole – and he does nothing to counter that impression. Quite the reverse – he leans into it in an attempt to drive Izzy away.

He’s retreated into his very own “Fortress of Solitude” and is desperate to pull up the drawbridge behind him. But Izzy’s stuck – and he’s stuck with her. Or so it seems at first.

Their work into friendship into romance works because they both have mountains to climb and shells to climb out of. She needs to find her own voice again, and he needs to get past his own hurt and shame. And they both need to do it the same way, by writing it all out – even the hard parts.

Especially the hard parts.

The more they write – separately but together in the same space – the more they expose to each other. Beau gets to see Izzy’s dreams and how much she has invested in them, while Izzy sees Beau’s pain and how much he needs to let it out so he can forgive himself.

They fall in love because they get to really know each other all the way down to the bone. And just as in the movie, once Beau is able to let out all the terrible secrets he has been hiding, he stops being a beast.

While that part was beautiful, what was even better was the way that once Izzy let herself reach for her dreams she was able to find the passion she once had for her passion job – and the success that was her due.

If it worked that way for passion jobs in real life, the world would be a much happier place!

Review: The Dachshund Wears Prada by Stefanie London

Review: The Dachshund Wears Prada by Stefanie LondonThe Dachshund Wears Prada by Stefanie London
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Series: Paws in the City #1
Pages: 336
Published by Hqn on May 3, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

"London’s characters leap off the page... It’s a delightful start to a series that promises to be good fun."—Publishers Weekly
"This is the romcom Carrie Bradshaw would have written if she were a dog person, and I'm obsessed!"—Teri Wilson, USA Today bestselling author of 
A Spot of Trouble


How do you start over when the biggest mistake of your life has more than one million views?

Forget diamonds—the internet is forever. Social media consultant Isla Thompson learned that lesson the hard way when she went viral for all the wrong reasons. A month later, Isla is still having nightmares about the moment she ruined a young starlet’s career and made herself the most unemployable influencer in Manhattan. But she doesn’t have the luxury of hiding until she’s no longer Instagram poison. Not when her fourteen-year-old sister, Dani, needs Isla to keep a roof over their heads. So, she takes the first job she can get: caring for Camilla, a glossy-maned, foul-tempered hellhound.
After a week of ferrying Camilla from playdates to pet psychics, Isla starts to suspect that the dachshund’s bark is worse than her bite—just like her owner, Theo Garrison. Isla has spent her career working to make people likable and here’s Theo—happy to hide behind his reputation as a brutish recluse. But Theo isn’t a brute—he’s sweet and funny, and Isla should not see him as anything but the man who signs her paychecks. Because loving Theo would mean retreating to his world of secluded luxury, and Isla needs to show Dani that no matter the risk, dreams are always worth chasing.
Paws in the City

My Review:

Camilla the dachshund can wear anything she wants in this pawsitively delightful romantic comedy. She even has the opportunity to wear Prada for her photoshoot with Anna Wintour’s Vogue – whether her infamous dress-a-like is present at the time or not.

This romcom starts with both a meet cute and a meet ugly – and it’s the meet ugly, along with a whole lot of ugly crying – that happens first.

Camilla’s person is gone. After a long, extravagant, philanthropic and larger-than-life life, Etna Francois Garrison is dead, leaving behind a grieving grandson, an equally grieving dog – and leaving the two of them to each other.

Theo Garrison, the press-dubbed “Hermit of Fifth Avenue”, has lost the last person in the world that he loved. Who left him her spoiled little diva of a dog as a final consolation – or a final kick in the pants to let other people into his life. Or possibly both. His beloved grandmother always did know what was best for him – not that he’s even close to admitting that a month after her death, as Camilla has ruined his carefully ordered life, as many of his bespoke suits and imported silk ties as she can find – and driven off more than a dozen pet sitters along with an entire pet sitting agency.

Camilla has cut a wide swath through Theo’s formerly regimented life. He’s desperate.

So desperate that when Camilla escapes her leash in Central Park and runs to a woman that neither Camilla nor Theo have ever met and starts actually obeying commands and offering her belly for a scratch, Theo offers this miracle pet whisperer a job on the spot.

A job that Isla Thompson is desperate enough to take. Her formerly high-powered career as a social media consultant and influencer went up in flames after a disastrous video went viral. It was explosive. Well, her former client was exploding chunks down the front of a designer dress on a phone camera that had been off up until the fatal moment. Fatal to Isla’s career, that is.

Camilla needs a person. Isla needs a job. Theo needs to get out of his self-isolating rut. But when Isla invents an Instagram persona around Camilla as “The Dachshund Wears Prada”, Isla starts out having fun but finds herself receiving career validation and the seeds of success on her own terms.

A success that has the potential to break open the wall of obsessive privacy that Theo has been building around himself for years. A wall that he might be willing to open for Isla, if he can trust her enough.

But can he?

Escape Rating A-: I picked this one for the title. Not that the cover isn’t cute as well, but this is just one of those times when the title sucked me right in and I had to find out how the book lived up to it or even just explained it.

But it does. It absolutely does. And that part of the story is a hoot – or perhaps I should say that it justifies plenty of barks of laughter.

However, underneath that lighthearted fluff – and fluffy golden fur – there’s plenty to pull at the reader’s heartstrings. (Just don’t worry about Camilla – she comes out of the story happier and better dressed than she comes into it.)

There are serious issues aplenty dealt with and worked on in this story, which reads as if it were the book baby of Batman, the death of Princess Di, and the movie Maid in Manhattan.

And by Batman, I mean the original origin story created by Bob Kane back in 1939. The one where a young Bruce Wayne watches the murder of his wealthy parents on the streets of Gotham City. Young Theo Garrison watched his gorgeous, successful and wealthy parents die on the streets of New York City, being chased to death by paparazzi in the same way that Princess Di lost her life – complete with conspiracy theories.

Theo grew up isolated, raised by his grandmother with only a few people inside his circle of trust – because every time he lets someone in they betray that trust.

Isla’s side of the story is very Maid in Manhattan, in that she is a single pseudo-mother, raising her younger sister after their mother abandoned them both. She is desperate and blaming herself for the viral video that killed her career. Not that she did anything deliberately, but the series of unfortunate events has been laid at her door and she’s not just fired, she’s blacklisted from the industry. She’s running through her savings, is determined to keep her little sister not just fed, clothed, housed and schooled but also in the ballet shoes that represent her life and her dreams, when fate in the form of Camilla and Theo intervenes.

All three of them, Camilla, Isla and Theo, have issues. Camilla bites first to keep the world at bay. Theo is afraid to care about anyone because everyone he has ever loved; his parents, his grandmother; has died and left him. He’s afraid to be hurt again so he isolates himself as completely as possible. And he has the fortune to make that very possible indeed. Isla is just running as fast as she can, giving up as much as possible, to give her little sister the love and care and security that neither of them ever really had. She wants to give Dani her dreams because Isla’s got sidetracked at age 20 when their mother left her the responsibility of raising her sister.

The relationship that grows between Camilla and Isla is charming because it’s every loving, caring, pet-person doing their damndest to bring a scared or abused fur person out of their shattered shell. The ill-advised but life-giving relationship between Isla and Theo comes out of Isla’s care for Camilla. It’s kind of the reverse of “love me, love my dog”. The Insta account of The Dachshund Wears Prada is tongue in cheek, laugh out loud funny and sharply biting social commentary all rolled into one. But the more that Isla and Theo get involved, the clearer it is that it’s also going to be the breaking point for their relationship.

The redemption and resolution at the end was wonderful because it tied up the end of their fairytale romance with just the right amount of mutual groveling and HEA fairy dust with one big beautiful bow – made, of course, out of Prada scarves.

Review: Kiss Hard by Nalini Singh

Review: Kiss Hard by Nalini SinghKiss Hard (Hard Play, #4) by Nalini Singh
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, sports romance
Series: Hard Play #4
Pages: 329
Published by TKA Distribution on May 3, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh brings you a sinfully playful contemporary romance between two sworn enemies turned partners in crime...
Daniel Esera is a young god on the rugby field, a sexy and charming man who's got the world at his feet. There's just one problem: his sudden potent attraction to his number one nemesis--Catie River. No. Just no. Not happening.
Catie River is on her way to Paralympic gold, and she's not about to allow Danny "Hotshot" Esera to derail her plans. Too bad her body isn't cooperating. Even worse? Her heart might be coming along for the ride. No. Nope. Never.
The pair are united in their desire to remain enemies... until a stranger's reckless action threatens both their careers. Now, the only way out for Catie and Danny is to pretend to be in a relationship. How bad can it be? They're adults in full control of their hormones and their hearts. There will be no kissing. No PDA. And definitely no falling in love.
Let the games begin.

My Review:

The Hard Play series has been all about the sons of the Bishop/Esera clan of New Zealand Rugby “Royalty” finding their HEAs, beginning with big brother Gabriel “T-Rex” Bishop in the precursor story, Rock Hard. T-Rex and his story were universal, squeeing, over-the-moon favorites over at The Book Pushers, so I’m always happy to see just how happy his and his “Mouse’s” HEA has turned out to be.

Gabriel Bishop is Danny Esera’s half brother – not that any of the Bishop/Esera brothers ever waste a breath on that half. The first “official” book in the Hard Play series, Cherish Hard, was all wrapped – like a vine – around the romance between Sailor Bishop, the second son in the family, and Isa Rain, the (half) sister of Catie River, Danny’s frenemy in the blended family from the day they met.

So long-time readers of this series have met these people before, back in that earlier book, and an earlier time in both their lives, as Sailor and Isa are more than a bit older than their (half) siblings. Again a half that only matters for the amount of time between their parents’ marriages and not anything to do with the amount of love in either family. (You don’t have to read the earlier books in the series to get right into the action in this one, but they are all delicious so why wouldn’t you?)

Which leads to a big part of this story, in that there was and is plenty of unconditional love in the Bishop/Esera clan, while Isa and Catie mostly had just each other. Not that their parents aren’t all still among the living, but that their presence in their daughters’ lives is a bit, shall we say, lacking.

Jacqueline Rain has always been more interested in being a corporate shark than a mother, while Isa’s father was every bit as invested in his own corporate sharkhood and not so present for his daughter. While Catie’s dad was an unreliable gambler who let his luck and the wind blow him wherever the next good time happened to be. Clive Rain loves his child, but he’s only rarely there for her. He stood steadfast for one, long, big, huge time when her legs were crushed along with her dreams of being an Olympic sprinter. But the rest of the time, Clive has been the one running.

Now Danny and Catie are all grown up, they are both sports stars in their own respective rights – Danny on the New Zealand National Rugby Team and Catie as a medal-winning Paralympic sprinter. They are also the best of enemies, snarking at each other at family gatherings and in social media. If there’s a poster couple for frenemies, Danny and Catie are it. They snark not to wound but to one-up each other in ways that are intelligent and funny rather than truly hurtful.

So, when Catie sees clean-cut, clean-living Danny stumbling and slurring his words at a big party, she knows something is wrong. Danny doesn’t drink to excess, and he doesn’t do drugs – because there’s too much riding on his good image and his success. In the best frenemy tradition, she gets Danny out of the party before he either passes out or does something stupid and unforgiveable.

Only for the news that they are holed up in her apartment in the suddenly snowbound city to potentially be as damaging to both their images as pictures of Danny under the influence might have been.

Which leads to damage control for the damage control. A fake relationship will explain their sudden cozy snowbound interlude. A fake relationship that lasts a reasonable amount of time will make the whole thing acceptable to both sets of fans and keep the media away from the real story.

And in the best tradition of fake relationship romances, when the fake turns real, neither of them are sure that the other is able to trust their very mutual change of heart.

Escape Rating A-: At first it seems like this one hits the “Trope Trifecta” – it’s a snowbound, fake relationship, enemies to lovers romance. But under those easy-to-spot covers is something with a whole lot more delicious nuance.

The one part of the trope trifecta that is unequivocally true is the snowbound part. Catie and Danny do end up spending a couple of nights stuck in her apartment during a freak snowstorm. But those other two tropes, not so much – in a very good way.

This isn’t really an enemies to lovers romance because Danny and Catie aren’t truly enemies. Not that their mutual snarkfest isn’t real, rather that it doesn’t represent real enmity. They are constantly trying to one-up each other, and they are very salty to each other both online and in person, but it’s all very much in jest in a way that only works with someone you trust not to hurt you. Which they do.

Their relationship isn’t exactly fake, either. Or rather, they already have a relationship – a relationship of true friends who snark and play-fight to keep the world at bay. They already love each other, if not romantically. There’s nothing shameful or wrong in loving your friend, and that’s what they are to each other underneath all that snark.

So this is a story about both of them reaching for more with a person who is already inside their circle of trust – but who they are afraid to trust too much because of the emotional baggage they are carrying from other relationships in their lives when that trust was broken.

Especially Catie, who loves her father but was forced at a young age to recognize that he was not in the least trustworthy – and that he’d always walk away without a second’s notice.

To make a long story short, Kiss Hard is every bit as worthy a successor to the rest of the Hard Play series as Daniel Esera is to the tradition of his family’s rugby dynasty. The joy in the story is watching Catie and Danny turn their salty friendship into a beautiful romance.

Review: Boss Witch by Ann Aguirre

Review: Boss Witch by Ann AguirreBoss Witch (Fix-It Witches #2) by Ann Aguirre
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, paranormal romance
Series: Fit-It Witches #2
Pages: 368
Published by Sourcecbooks Casablanca on April 5, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

The second in an adorable witchy rom-com series by New York Times bestselling author Ann Aguirre, perfect for fans of:
Ride-or-die female friendshipsA bisexual heroine who stubbornly refuses to accept helpA hero with an incredibly pesky moral conscienceA mouse named Benson who may or may not have all the answers to life, magic, and love (Spoiler: he does!)
Clementine Waterhouse is a perfectly logical witch. She doesn't tumble headlong into love. Rather she weighs the pros and cons and decides if a relationship is worth pursuing. At least that's always been her modus operandi before. Clem prefers being the one in charge, always the first to walk away when the time is right. Attraction has never struck her like lightning.
Until the witch hunter comes to town.
Gavin Rhys hates being a witch hunter, but his family honor is on the line, and he needs to prove he's nothing like his grandfather, a traitor who let everyone down. But things in St. Claire aren't what they seem, and Gavin is distracted from the job immediately by a bewitching brunette with a sexy smile and haunting secrets in her eyes.
Can the bossiest witch in town find a happy ending with the last person she should ever love?

My Review:

I often begin the review of a second book in a series by speaking about how it picked up where the story left off, but that’s not even accurate here.

Boss Witch picks up in the middle of Witch, Please, showing the reader the events of the second half of that first book from a different perspective in the first half of this one.

So, on the one hand, new readers won’t feel like they’ve missed much by starting here. Howsomever, readers of the previous book may start out wondering WTF is going on and whether we’re going to learn anything new about this charming (in multiple senses of the word) little Midwestern town and the witches who live there, hiding in plain sight among the mundanes.

The switch in perspective from Danica to Clementine Waterhouse, cousins and sisters-of-the-heart, as they deal with the crisis that cropped up in Witch, Please in their very separate ways.

Danica’s magic spiked out of control in that first book, spiking high enough to draw the attention of one of the dreaded – and dreadful – witch hunters. But Clementine has a plan to deal with Witch Hunter Gavin Rhys. (Clementine ALWAYS has a plan, that’s part of her function in the excruciatingly dysfunctional Waterhouse family.)

While Danica is off ‘billing and cooing’ with the love of her life, her magically mundane ‘Cinnaman’, Clementine will do what she’s done all of their lives and clean up her cousin’s mess.

But Clem is tired of being the person who gets ALL the jobs done ALL the time in their family. It’s not about work, the ‘Fix-It Witches’ shop that the cousins share. Well, it isn’t ALL about the work. It’s about Clem being the fixer-upper in their family who has taken charge and gotten the shit that needs doing done since her mother started dumping too many of her adult emotions and woes on her then-teenaged daughter.

As I said, this family is not functional, and they have never put the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional in any way, shape or form. Clem is tired, and stressed, and tired of batting clean-up all the time and then getting blamed for ‘hurting’ someone by mentioning that she’s tired of cleaning up after them. She’s a bit blunt and abrasive but she’s earned it. But she sucks it up to keep the peace – and to keep her family from having a meltdown which she will, again, have to soothe and fix.

I feel her pain. (I like Clem. Her family, on the other hand, drives me up a wall.)

So, when Clem volunteers to distract Gavin Rhys from hunting for all the witches in town, starting with her cousin Danica, it starts out as just another thing she has to take care of for everyone else.

When Clem distracting Gavin turns into Clem and Gavin distracting each other, in bed and out, Clem realizes that however it started, her relationship that shouldn’t be has become something that she’s doing just for herself – and just for him. At least until all the secrets start coming out of the woodwork to take down Clem, her coven sisters – and Gavin.

Escape Rating C+: I really need to start picking books this week where I like the characters a whole lot more than I did yesterday and today.

The Waterhouse family of witches absolutely does not put the fun in dysfunctional. The real problem at the core of the family is that Gram is more toxic than the Wicked Witch of the West, and unfortunately a big chunk of the story that repeats between Witch, Please and Boss Witch is the revelation of just how toxic and manipulative Gram really is, and just how much and how often she reaches out to damage and demean every other woman in the family – meaning her daughters and her granddaughters. She’s honestly a greater force for evil than the witch hunters – and is that EVER saying something!

One of the problems I had with Witch, Please is that even after Gram’s lies and manipulations are uncovered, she doesn’t get the comeuppance she deserves. So the story has to deal with it all again in this book, and she still doesn’t take delivery of the message. That left this reader unsatisfied with that part of the story. Again.

OTOH, the witch hunter saga does manage to get surprisingly neatly tied up with a big bow in a way that gives Gavin’s crisis of both conscience and the heart a lot of emotional weight. The way that Gavin’s situation is resolved, both as a witch hunter AND with his own uber-toxic father, was wonderfully cathartic. (If only Gavin’s dad and Clem’s Gram could share a prison cell for a while…)

But on my third hand – the one belonging to my familiar, perhaps – resolving the witch hunter danger at the end of this book, does make the thought of the third book in the series, Extra Witchy, feel more than a bit anticlimactic (no matter how many climaxes the characters manage to experience) – particularly as it looks like the first half of that story runs parallel to the second half of this one.

So, color me curious about how this all works out into HEAs all around. We’ll see when Extra Witchy drops in October.

Review: Love, Hate and Clickbait by Liz Bowery

Review: Love, Hate and Clickbait by Liz BoweryLove, Hate & Clickbait by Liz Bowery
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, M/M romance
Pages: 336
Published by Mira Books on April 26, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Politics is shaking hands and kissing coworkers
Cutthroat political consultant Thom Morgan is thriving, working on the governor of California’s presidential campaign. If only he didn’t have to deal with Clay Parker, the infuriatingly smug data analyst who gets under Thom’s skin like it’s his job. In the midst of one of their heated and very public arguments, a journalist snaps a photo, but the image makes it look like they’re kissing. As if that weren’t already worst-nightmare territory, the photo goes viral—and in a bid to secure the liberal vote, the governor asks them to lean into it. Hard.
Thom knows all about damage control—he practically invented it. Ever the professional, he’ll grin and bear this challenge as he does all others. But as the loyal staffers push the boundaries of “giving the people what they want,” the animosity between them blooms into something deeper and far more dangerous: desire. Soon their fake relationship is hurtling toward something very real, which could derail the campaign and cost them both their jobs…and their hearts.

My Review:

“Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much” as he’s tripping over that infinitely (and infamously) fine line between love and hate. Pardon me for mangling Shakespeare and mixing metaphors in the same sentence, but if the shoe fits – or in this case both shoes fit – I’m wearing them.

All three of the titular events happen in this enemies-to-lovers in a fake relationship romance. As the story begins, campaign operative Thom Morgan and pro-level geek Clay Parker are office enemies working on California governor Lennie Westwood’s pre-campaign campaign to become the next president of these United States.

Thom and Clay are office rivals because they are completely opposites. Not that either of them start out exactly likable, but they’re on totally different ends of pretty much any workplace spectrum, and they rub each other the wrong way pretty much just by breathing in each other’s vicinity.

Clay pretty much lets his geek flag fly all the time. He’s a refugee from Silicon Valley and is used to that kind of workstyle – meaning one that may be “working” 24/7 but sometimes that work looks like play and everyone is out to be the biggest nerd.. But he’s also the child of a family that loves him unconditionally and celebrated ALL of his accomplishments ALL the time. So he toots his own horn a lot. Too much. To the point of cringing absurdity – at least as far as Thom is concerned.

Thom, on the other hand, is a shark. Every relationship is calculated for the maximum benefit to him. He’s always dressed to the nines in a style appropriate to the event. He’s all about making his candidate look good so that he can make himself look good. But he’s from a family that treated him like a cuckoo in their cozy suburban nest. It’s not that anyone hated him, it’s that no one truly saw him or was there for him because he was just so different. He’s a version of Michael J. Fox’s character in Family Ties, but one that was neither supported nor even accepted by his family. He’s used to taking on protective coloration, not to blend in but just to get by.

The campaign that Thom and Clay are working on is in trouble, seemingly constantly, by huge gaffes committed by both the governor/candidate and her dysfunctional family. When Lennie is recorded making an off-the-cuff remark that the reason her hair isn’t properly styled is because there are no gays on her campaign staff, the liberal voters that her campaign is courting are up in arms.

The campaign’s answer is to have Thom and Clay pose as a gay couple working for the campaign. A candid video of them has been posted having an ugly argument that looks like it’s about to morph into throwing each other on the ground for sex instead of the kicking and punching that nearly happened for real. Twitter and Insta are both loving the picture, to the point where OMG fanfic is starting up.

With their jobs on the line, the enemies reluctantly agree to not just a temporary truce, but a fake relationship for the inevitable cameras. From both their perspectives, the whole thing is so implausible they can’t imagine it will work.

But it has to. And surprisingly, it does – at least as far as social media is concerned. Whether it can possibly save the campaign is an entirely other matter…

Escape Rating C+: This is a story that threatens to go completely off the rails at multiple points. It never quite does, but it toes that line awfully, awfully hard in multiple ways and multiple directions.

As unlikable as both Thom and Clay are in the beginning, once I got into the story it became clear that Clay’s behavior was a result of not knowing the work culture and feeling out of his depth and a bit insecure. Once he got a bit more settled the things that made him annoying smoothed out quite a bit. So I ended up feeling FOR him considerably more than I did Thom – not that in the beginning Thom seems to have any feelings whatsoever.

OTOH, Thom is both cold-blooded and narcissistic from jump, and it takes a long time for him to change and for the reader to see what is really motivating his shark-like behavior. While it was easy to see that Clay, for all his faults, was the kind of person who could give themselves in a relationship. With Thom I had to wonder if he was capable of having a real relationship of any kind with anyone but himself. He starts out with no real friends, no family (either birth or found) and no real romantic interests.

That the campaign required them to fake a romantic relationship, and that they agreed to do so, may be the trope that powers the story, but it crossed so far over so many lines that it was hard to take even though agreeing to the pretense felt very much in Thom’s wheelhouse if not Clay’s. Even though Thom is the one that has ALL the objections, mostly because he isn’t shy about pointing out that he’s “lowering his standards” to date someone like Clay.

I could see Clay falling for Thom if he was willing to let his heart sliced into bloody chunks, but that happens. People fall in love with all sorts of people who they either know or refuse to admit are either bad for them or just plain terrible.

What was harder to believe was the way that Thom slowly – very slowly – let some of his walls down. Even if he couldn’t admit to himself he was doing it. Thom’s in denial until the very end, and even then he’s more than a bit of a douche about it. Which fits his personality to a T. Even as much as Thom is dragged, kicking and screaming, into being a real human being, his redemption was a bit too pat.

But the hardest part of this story is the political shark tank they operate in. We all know that politics is a dirty business and is the epitome of the old joke about not wanting to see how the sausage is made. In fiction, especially in a romance, I think we want to see a few less of the warts that surround the process. Or more consequences for those warts. Or we want our heroes to be heroes and our villains to be villains and that’s not what happens here. Or, perhaps, all of the above.

Lennie Westwood is a piece of work, for all the negative connotations of that phrase. Thom’s colleague Felicia seems to still think that politics can do some good for people, but she’s generally a realist and a pragmatist. That Felicia sees the excesses of Westwood’s behavior and STILL thinks that getting the woman elected POTUS is her best chance at making a positive difference in people’s lives feels disingenuous at best and self-sabotage at worst. Or Felicia is playing everyone for a fool, including, quite possibly, herself.

To make a rather long story short, I ended up with extremely mixed feelings about Love, Hate & Clickbait. As much as I love both enemies-to-lovers and fake relationship romances, this one didn’t quite gel for me. As always, your reading mileage may vary.

Review: Sand Dollar Lane by Sheila Roberts

Review: Sand Dollar Lane by Sheila RobertsSand Dollar Lane (Moonlight Harbor, #6) by Sheila Roberts
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Series: Moonlight Harbor #6
Pages: 336
Published by Mira on April 26, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

USA TODAY bestselling author Sheila Roberts will have readers laughing and swooning in turn as two rival business owners compete for the homes and hearts of Moonlight Harbor.
Brody Green is finding it hard to recover after being dumped by his fiancée, Jenna Jones, then watching her walk down the aisle with someone else. Jenna is determined to make up for her love defection and find him the perfect woman, but Brody is done with love. First a divorce, then a broken engagement. From now on he’s keeping things light, no commitments. Luckily Brody’s business is booming. Beach Dreams Realty is the best real estate company in town. And the only one. Until…
Lucy Holmes needs a new start. In business, in love, in…everything. If ever there was a cliché, it was her life back in Seattle. She was a real estate broker working with her husband until she caught him trying out the walk-in shower in a luxury condo—with another agent. She’s always been the more successful of the two, and with him gone, she’s determined to build a business even bigger than what she had. Moonlight Harbor is a charming town and it has only one real estate agency. Surely there’s room for a little competition.
Or not. Looks like it’s going to be a hot market in Moonlight Harbor. And maybe these two competitors will make some heat of their own.

My Review:

“If you’re lucky enough to live at the beach, you’re lucky enough,” or so the saying goes on so many cute signs – particularly at beachfront communities.

But neither Lucy Holmes or Brody Green are feeling particularly lucky when this story begins – even though Brody already has his own house at the beach in Moonlight Harbor. Brody’s either heartbroken or cheesed off – or honestly a bit of both – that his fiancée Jenna Jones broke up with him in the previous book in this series, Sunset on Moonlight Beach, and married someone else.

Jenna owns The Driftwood Inn, a homey little B&B that seems to be the emotional if not the physical heart of tiny Moonlight Harbor. Brody, the only real estate agent in town and the head of the chamber of commerce, has no choice but to keep running into his ex and her new husband everywhere he turns.

It’s not making the hurt heal any faster, particularly since Jenna is determined to make it up to Brody for following HER heart by finding the perfect person for him to lose his to.

Lucy Holmes left her lucrative real estate business in Seattle behind – along with her marriage – after finding her husband in a cliché – and a naked clinch – with one of their junior real estate agents in a condo that Lucy was showing to prospective buyers. She gets half of everything they built together, both their marital property and their real estate business – but she needs a fresh start.

She discovers Moonlight Harbor, a little town on the Washington coast that looks like its on the cusp of discovery – and only seems to have one real estate agency in position to take advantage of the coming boom. There’s plenty of room in this growing community for two real estate agents. Or there should be. But Brody’s feeling sensitive about everything after losing Jenna, and Lucy is not only feeling sensitive about plenty herself, but NEEDS that fresh start in the worst way to get past, well, her past.

It’s a tiny town. They keep running into each other – and running after anyone in town who looks like they’re planning to buy or sell a house. Their college-age children, Brody’s son Declan and Lucy’s daughter Hannah, can’t seem to get enough of each other – enough of a worry for their parents without adding the Montague and Capulet vibes their respective parents are spreading all over town.

But the sparks that Brody and Lucy throw off every time they lock horns or glances puts the truth in another old saying about what three things kissing and real estate have in common. The guiding principles for both endeavors are “Location, location, location.”

Escape Rating B: Sand Dollar Lane is the sixth book in the author’s Moonlight Harbor series, which began with the fittingly titled Welcome to Moonlight Harbor. I haven’t read the previous books in the series – as much as I loved this author’s Life in Icicle Falls series (my favorite is Merry Ex-Mas) I think this one fell down the “so many books, so little time” conundrum.

I didn’t feel like I was missing any of the plot by not having visited this little town before – there are plenty of hints to catch a new reader right up embedded into the current action. What I think I did miss was being previously invested in Brody Green’s relationship with Jenna Jones. Her ‘torn between two lovers’ dilemma stretches over the first five books and finally ends with her marrying Seth Waters at the end of the fifth book.

So here we are in the sixth book, Jenna is happily married and Brody is miserable. (She seems to be a great person and he really did love her so his misery is completely understandable.) But, and this is where I think I missed something, I didn’t know them so I didn’t feel FOR them when this book started.

So Brody comes off as a bit of a self-absorbed jerk, and Jenna’s continuous attempts to assuage her own guilt over their breakup by awkwardly and obviously trying to match Brody up with every unattached female in their age bracket comes off as weird and intrusive. On the other hand, I’m an introvert and would want to lick my wounds in private, thankyouverymuch. Brody, Jenna and Lucy for that matter are all extroverts. So they might feel differently. Jenna certainly does, but Brody, not so much.

Lucy is every bit as salty about men and relationships as Brody is about women, but she earned it more. At the same time, she really is doing her best – and it turns out to be damn good – to wash that man right out of her hair and move forward with her own life and a fresh start.

That she turns into the Wicked Witch of the West whenever Brody gets when spitting distance is not her usual, but she’s having some trust issues about men who seem to be smooth and charming because that was her ex all over. And Brody seems to be able to turn it on and off at a moment’s notice.

In other words, this is a romance where the adults are squabbling like children on a playground and not actually adulting. It’s their newly adult children who are much closer to adulting. Not that Hannah doesn’t fall off that wagon once or twice in a really big way, but then, she’s at the age where that’s expected behavior.

But very much on my other hand, Moonlight Harbor is a lovely, close-knit community, and the people who live there seem to be utterly charming. While the romance in this particular entry in the series turned out to be not quite my cuppa, I did enjoy visiting here and I really liked the way that Lucy ‘put on her big girl panties’ and moved forward with her life. That part was terrific – even with her occasional partial transformations into Maleficent. (Although I loved the time when she had nightmares about it – not for the nightmare but because the invasion of Disney into her dreamscape was just so well done AND on point.)

To make this long story short, while I may not have fallen in love with the romance between Lucy and Brody, I did fall hard for Moonlight Harbor and would love to come back. And probably will the next time I’m in the mood for life in a lovely place that isn’t that far distant in either miles or mood from my beloved Icicle Falls.

Review: Summer at the Cape by RaeAnne Thayne

Review: Summer at the Cape by RaeAnne ThayneSummer at the Cape by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 336
Published by Hqn on April 12, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

From the beloved bestselling author of Season of Wonder and The Cliff House
 comes a poignant and uplifting novel about forgiveness, family and all the complications—and joy
that come with it

As the older sibling to identical twins Violet and Lily, Cami Porter was always the odd sister out. The divide grew even wider when their parents split up—while the twins stayed in Cape Sanctuary with their free-spirited mother, Rosemary, fourteen-year-old Cami moved to LA with her attorney father. Nearly twenty years later, when Cami gets the terrible news that Lily has drowned saving a child’s life, her mother begs her to return home to help untangle the complicated estate issues her sister left behind.
Navigating their own strained relationship, Cami readjusts to the family and community she hasn’t known for decades, including the neighbor who stands in the way of her late sister’s dream, while Violet grieves the loss of her twin and struggles to figure out who she is now, without her other half, as the little girl Lily saved pulls her back into the orbit of the man she once loved.
With poignancy and heart, RaeAnne Thayne once again delivers her charming signature blend of warmth, wit and wisdom.

My Review:

“A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on,” at least according to a quote attributed to Samuel Goldwyn. It is also sad but true that even a written contract isn’t worth that paper if one of the people who signed it can be easily proven to not be in their right mind at the time they signed.

And that’s just the situation that the owner of the Wild Hearts Glampground finds herself in when the story opens. Rosemary Porter is doing her best to make her late daughter Lily’s dream a reality, by opening the glampground that her daughter gave her heart and soul to in the months before she died saving two little girls from drowning.

But Lily was a “big picture” dreamer, who marched ahead with the glampground based on a verbal agreement to lease the land from her mother’s next-door (for certainly long distance definitions of “next-door”) neighbor, but never actually got Franklin Rafferty to sign on the dotted line as agreed.

Lily thought the lonely old man was just enjoying her frequent visits – and he probably was.

But Lily is dead and Franklin’s estranged son is returning home to take care of his father. A father who sometimes believes that his late wife is just in the other room and forgets to put his trousers back on after going to the bathroom. Jon Rafferty thinks that Lily took advantage of an old man who would have been exhibiting obvious signs of dementia for several months at the least.

He plans to evict the glampground as soon as he can get power-of-attorney awarded by the courts – which he’ll have no problem doing and he knows it.

But Rosemary put a second mortgage on her house/B&B/Yoga Retreat in order to make Lily’s dreams a reality. She needs help fighting this battle that she needs to win. And that’s where her older daughter Cami comes in. Cami is an attorney dealing with contract law. She knows exactly what she’s up against – and she’s surprised and annoyed that her mother, once the wife of a high-powered attorney, would ever have gotten herself into this fix.

That Lily went off half-cocked isn’t a surprise at all, but that her mother went even further makes this mess a potential catastrophe. One that Cami doesn’t have the time or inclination to deal with for reasons both personal and professional. But mostly personal.

So she does what she knows she has to, whether she wants to or not. She decides to take this chance to help her mother – and to connect with the woman who took herself and her twin daughters away from both the husband she was divorcing AND the daughter she thought didn’t need her.

In finally sticking herself into Sanctuary Cove, Cami finds all the things that have been missing from her life for so long. Her mother. Her remaining sister, mourning the loss of her twin at a depth even greater than the loss grieving both Cami and their mother, and who needs to make a connection to the sister she has left.

And in her “negotiations” with Jon Rafferty she finds a kindred spirit she never believed existed. She just has to decide whether what she’s found – in a place she never expected to find much of anything at all – is worth hanging on to.

Escape Rating B: Summer at the Cape is relationship fiction more than it is romance. Not that a romance doesn’t occur – actually three romances – but the romances are not the center of the story.

The heart of this story is the sometimes rocky, somewhat distant relationships between Cami, her twin sisters Violet and Lily, and their mother Rosemary. And, as it turns out at the end of the story, the relationship between their divorced parents Rosemary and Ted.

It’s also about the distant, fractured relationship between Franklin Rafferty and his son Jon.

Both families are in mourning in different ways. For the Porters, it’s pretty obvious that they are grieving Lily’s loss. But Lily was not the glue holding the family together – because it hasn’t been together in years.

When Ted and Rosemary divorced, the split the girls geographically, even though they were already somewhat split emotionally. Lily and Violet were twins, a unit unto themselves. Cami wasn’t just older, she was also extremely intelligent (think Hermione Granger) and very driven. Both parents thought that Cami needed the intellectual stimulation of living with her father in LA and going to “the best” schools. But that split became a chasm, leaving Cami to navigate the cutthroat social scene of prep school, college and law school pretty much alone while her dad continued to pour his heart and soul into his work and the twins developed an even closer knit relationship with their mother that involved a lot of shared activities and fun.

The relationship between Jon and his father fractured after his mother was killed in an automobile accident. Jon blamed his father for being too busy to have been with his mother – who then wouldn’t have been driving and wouldn’t have had the accident that killed her. They haven’t spoken in three years. Jon coming home is a chance for them to reconnect, even as he’s forced to realize that their break cost him time with the dad who is losing himself right in front of his eyes.

That Jon and Cami – from their separate places of career and distance and hurt – connect with each other is not a surprise – although it is a revelation for both of them. The second-chance at love romances of between Violet and her high school sweetheart and between Rosemary and her ex, Ted, are also part of the weave of the story.

But it’s the community that shines in this one. Not just the way that Sanctuary Cove comes together to honor Lily’s sacrifice, but also the way that the townies AND the guests of the glampground all pitch in to help Jon and save Franklin when the older man gets lost in a storm.

So, the romances may be a bit understated (Rosemary and Ted’s renewed relationship comes a bit out of left field) but if you’re looking for a heartwarming story of family and community, Summer at the Cape is a charming place to visit and you might even want to live there.

Review: The Medic by Anna Hackett + Giveaway

Review: The Medic by Anna Hackett + GiveawayThe Medic (Norcross Security #8) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Norcross Security #8
Pages: 282
Published by Anna Hackett on April 5, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

She’s a tough former soldier trying to resist the charming medic who’s going all in to claim her.
Former Norwegian special forces soldier Siv Pederson is making a new start in San Francisco. New country, new job at Norcross Security, and her new rule: no men. She’s left her annoying ex behind and her only goal is to prove herself in her new job, especially when she’s assigned to her own investigation.
What she didn’t count on was having to work with one handsome, charming, and far-too-tempting former combat medic.
After a career as an Air Force combat medic, Ryder Morgan is happy with his life. He likes working part time as a paramedic and donating the rest of his time at a free clinic in the toughest part of the city. He always thought finding “the one” wasn’t for him…until he sees gorgeous, tough Siv in a killer red dress.
Now he’ll do anything to break through her prickly shell and convince her that he’s the man for her.
As homeless people start dying, and Ryder loses a good friend, Siv and Ryder must work together to find a killer. Going undercover as husband and wife, they have to discover who’s preying on the city’s most vulnerable before more people die. As they uncover a vast web of lies, Ryder has his work cut out for him. Not only to find justice, but to prove to Siv that he’ll protect both her body and her heart.

My Review:

This OMG 8th book in the Norcross Security series reminded me just how much I love a story when the heroine kicks ass and takes names every bit as well as the hero – or even just a bit better as it proves in The Medic.

After all, that’s what Ryder Morgan is, a medic. He was a combat medic when he served, and now that he’s back in civilian life he’s a paramedic who is serving, protecting and patching up on not just one but three different fronts.

He’s a part-time paramedic with the city of San Francisco who could be full-time if he wanted to. But he’s doing his bit of paying it both back and forward by working part-time at a clinic in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, providing free medical care to people whose circumstances have either led them or left them to life on the occasionally mean streets of this generally temperate (climatologically) city. It gives him an opportunity to treat some of the men and women who served just like he did, in places and circumstances that leave scars on the soul.

And he also works part-time and on call for Norcross Security whenever one of their agents needs more patching up than a first aid kit can handle. Which happens a lot more than he’d like, particularly since one of those agents is his brother Cam, newly returned from a war he hasn’t quite managed to leave behind just yet.

But those agents also include Norcross Security’s newest agent, Siv Pederson from Norway, a former member of Norway’s Special Forces. She’s come to San Francisco to make a fresh start in a place with no memories of a relationship that went bad. It’s not that she’s grieving or mourning her ex – more that she’s kicking herself for ever getting involved with an arsehole just like her dear old (absentee) dad. In other words, a lying, cheating, empty charmer who has nothing underneath and is threatened by her strength and abilities.

At the end of the previous book in this series, The Detective, readers had a ringside seat to Ryder’s first meeting with Siv. He tried to charm her – like he has so many women before – only to find himself measuring his own length on the floor after she showed him exactly where he could stick that charm and what he could do with it when he got it there. She decked him.

He never recovered – and neither did she. This is the story of how she got past her initial impression of Ryder, while he just kept leaning into his first impression of her. All the while, in the usual Norcross Security mix of action, adventure and car chases, they manage to bring down some bad people who thought they had the right to mess with Ryder Morgan’s friends – and Vander Norcross’ city.

Escape Rating A: One of the things that love in any romance is a relationship of equals – and that’s just what we get in The Medic. It’s not just that Siv can hold her own under any circumstances with the best of Norcross Security’s agents. The icing on this particular cake is that Ryder loves her for it just as she is. That he thinks it’s hot when she takes down the bad guys. It’s not a reaction that she’s used to from either her insecure ex or her love-em-and-leave-em sperm donor who is still harping on her to be more “feminine” and less capable of taking men down and seeing through their bullshit. Quite possibly because he’s afraid that she’s seen all the way through his.

But the strength those previous men in her life have tried to control, tame and even eliminate is the thing that draws Ryder to her like iron filings to a magnet. It’s something that is refreshing to see – to say the least – because so many women are stuck dealing with entirely too many people in their lives who see a woman’s strength of any kind as something to be denigrated at every turn.

I also loved in this particular entry in the series that Siv is always proactive and not reactive. It helps that the plot of this story does not start out with Siv being in jeopardy and requiring rescue. She is never a damsel in distress – not that she can’t be in distress but that she’s never damselfied.

One of the hallmarks of this series as a whole is that the Norcross Security operators are all former military in various stages of coming all the way back home – and both Ryder and Siv are part of that. This particular story in the series extends that outward, from the successful bunch at Norcross, to the work in progress that is Ryder and Hunt’s brother Cam, to the homeless veterans on the streets of San Francisco who Ryder is doing his best to help.

As he fully acknowledges that there but for the grace of God and the help of his family, he and his brothers would be also. So he stands for them when he learns the truth of how so many are being abused by the system yet one more time.

The crime that Siv and Ryder are investigating has a ripped from the headlines feel. The unexpected (at least to both of them) romance that has them ripping each other’s clothes off is hot enough to raise the temperature in their slightly chilly city. And the pulse-pounding conclusion to their part of this series will have readers on the edge of their seats.

If that wasn’t enough, there’s a bit of a teaser at the end – as their usually is with this author’s series – for the next Norcross Security case. It looks like Cam Morgan will be taking the series back to New York City, the stomping grounds of the Billionaire Heists series in The Protector. And I can’t wait to see what happens next!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Anna has graciously allowed me to give a copy of the winner’s choice of either The Medic or The Detective as part of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week. The trick to this particular giveaway is whether or not the winner wants instant gratification or is willing to wait an extra week or two. Anna has copies of The Detective available now for giveaway, but if you can stand to wait just a bit longer, she’s more than willing to send a copy of The Medic to someone with just a bit of patience.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Sweet Home Cowboy by Maisey Yates, Nicole Helm, Jackie Ashenden, Caitlin Crews

Review: Sweet Home Cowboy by Maisey Yates, Nicole Helm, Jackie Ashenden, Caitlin CrewsSweet Home Cowboy by Maisey Yates, Caitlin Crews, Nicole Helm, Jackie Ashenden
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Jasper Creek #3
Pages: 448
Published by Hqn on March 29, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Four half sisters create the family they’ve always dreamed of in this enchanting quartet from bestselling authors Maisey Yates, Nicole Helm, Jackie Ashenden and Caitlin Crews.
The Hathaway sisters might have grown up apart, but when they agree to move to Jasper Creek, Oregon, to revitalize their grandfather’s farm, it seems a straightforward decision. Until they meet their neighborhood cowboys…
Sweet-natured Teddy has never met a man worth taking a risk on, until now. Tomboy Joey has more affinity with farm equipment than men, until a brooding cowboy changes her mind. Prickly baker Georgie can’t resist the temptation of the most forbidden cowboy of all, and sparks fly between ceramicist Elliot and the grumpy single-dad rancher next door.
The sisters’ feelings are anything but simple, but with the love and support of each other, they discover that a cowboy might be the sweetest thing of all about coming home.

My Review:

The best thing that Mickey Hathaway ever did for his four daughters was to leave before any of them were ever born – although some of their mothers would disagree. And not that his absence from their lives didn’t leave a “Dad” sized hole in all of their hearts. But that’s a hole that Mickey wasn’t capable of filling – whether he was around or not.

Teddy, Joey, Georgie and Elliott, in spite of being raised all over the country by four different women, share more than their gender-obscuring names, their violet eyes and their sperm donor. They are also all the same age, 25, as their deadbeat dad impregnated all of their mothers the same year.

(There’s a story there I wish we knew a bit more of, but it’s a humdinger all the same.)

They share a heart, a yearning to make a home together, and a curmudgeonly grandfather in tiny Jasper Creek, Oregon who has just had a heart attack but claims not to want their assistance or their presence. But grumpy is Jack Hathaway’s love language, so he might just be lying.

Whether he is or not, his health scare gives his girls the impetus they need to pull up stakes from wherever they’ve been and gather at the place their hearts all call home. The place where they have always wanted to put down roots and build the life together, as sisters, that they never had growing up.

Thus Four Sisters Farm is born. The four of them, pitching together with their creative skills and boundless love to fix the old ranch house that Jack has refused to live in for over a decade, work the land that has become a bit much for the old man, and build a self-sustaining set of businesses that will keep the farm afloat and in the hands of the Hathaway family even as it brings people and money to their little town.

Along the way, each of the sisters finds their own way to a Happy Ever After that none of them ever dreamed of when their journeys began.

Escape Rating A-: The stories in Sweet Home Cowboy are all stories of love and loss. The losses come first. It’s not just that “Dad” shaped hole in all of the girls’ hearts, it’s also the messages and the messes that each inherited from the mothers – the women that Mickey Hathaway left behind.

But it’s not just the sisters. The men that get swept into their lives – or sucked into the vortex they create – have also been through emotional wringers. The individual love stories in this four-leaf clover of a book are all about finding the person who makes you stronger in your broken places.

That his girls have come home to build their futures also helps to heal Grandpa Jack, which turns out to be the icing on this very sweet and lovely cake.

My favorite story of the four was Joey’s, written by Maisey Yates, who was is the organizer for this  Jasper Creek series. Joey was the hard-nosed, practical, fix-it, “tomboy” of the sisters. She’s kind of a blunt object, and that object is usually a hammer – whether figuratively or literally. She the one who learned to stand alone and be self-sufficient at all costs, lest she be thought weak OR be let down by relying on someone who can’t be relied upon. Learning to let go enough to let someone else in is hard, but watching Joey finally figure that out was lovely. And, just as in so many of the author’s previous works, and the reason why I picked this book up in the first place, Joey’s perspective and her issues with the cowboy she falls in love with feel real and do not require a misunderstandammit to reach that HEA.

I also enjoyed Teddy’s and Elliot’s stories, although they were different in tone to Joey’s, because they were different people and occupy different places in the kaleidoscope of the Hathaway sisters. I have to say that Georgie’s story didn’t quite work for me as well as the others did.

When I started Sweet Home Cowboy I had no idea that this was book three in a series, although that didn’t impact my reading and I didn’t feel like I needed to know what happened in the earlier books in order to get stuck right into this one. All the books in the series are written by the same group of friends that wrote Sweet Home Cowboy, and are about groups of four women returning to Jasper Creek, which is near both Copper Ridge and Gold Valley, the sites of Maisey Yates’ other long-running cowboy romance series(es). So far, Jasper Creek has featured four cousins (A Cowboy for All Seasons), four friends (A Good Old-Fashioned Cowboy), and now four half-sisters. Sweet Home Cowboy turned out to be a delicious treat of a read, so now I want to go back and see what else has happened!

Review: Savvy Sheldon Feels Good as Hell by Taj McCoy

Review: Savvy Sheldon Feels Good as Hell by Taj McCoySavvy Sheldon Feels Good as Hell by Taj McCoy
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, relationship fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Mira on March 22, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A delicious debut rom-com about a plus-size sweetheart who gets a full-life makeover after a brutal breakup.
Savvy Sheldon spends a lot of time tiptoeing around the cracks in her life: her high-stress and low-thanks job, her clueless boyfriend and the falling-apart kitchen she inherited from her beloved grandma—who taught her how to cook and how to love people by feeding them. But when Savvy’s world starts to crash down around her, she knows it’s time for some renovations.
Starting from the outside in, Savvy tackles her crumbling kitchen, her relationship with her body, her work–life balance (or lack thereof) and, last but not least, her love life. The only thing that doesn’t seem to require effort is her ride-or-die squad of friends. But as any home-reno-show junkie can tell you, something always falls apart during renovations. First, Savvy passes out during hot yoga. Then it turns out that the contractor she hires is the same sexy stranger she unintentionally offended by judging based on appearances. Worst of all, Savvy can’t seem to go anywhere without tripping over her ex and his latest "upgrade." Savvy begins to realize that maybe she should’ve started her renovations the other way around: beginning with how she sees herself before building a love that lasts.

My Review:

Living well may be the best revenge, but that’s not exactly what Savvy Sheldon has in mind when she hatches her “Revenge Plan” after her asshat boyfriend of six years dumps her and dumps on her – but only after he finishes the delicious dinner that she lovingly cooked for him.

(There are asshats and then there are TOTAL asshats, but this dude is in a class not exactly by himself but dropped in a metaphorical vat of acid along with the douchecanoe ex-boyfriend from yesterday’s book.)

When we first meet Savvy her romantic life and her self-esteem are pretty much in freefall. It’s not just that ex leaves her, it’s not even that he was pissed that she was home late from work to cook the dinner she was making for him so that he could finish it before he walked out, but it was the way he blamed everything wrong in their relationship on her. Because she’s been neglecting everything, including herself, to put in long hours at work AND attempt to keep this bastard happy.

So on his way out the door – I wish someone had told him not to let it hit him in the ass on the way out because he just so completely deserved it – he nagged and ragged and negged on the fact that she had “let herself go” and that he deserved a better looking girlfriend and planned to trade up to someone with a supermodel body.

Savvy feels heartbroken AND a little bit guilty. So she calls her fantastic crew of loyal, true blue, ride or die girlfriends to come and help her get her head on straight and figure out what her next steps are going to be.

Her initial plan is to get a “Revenge Body” and make him regret leaving her. That plan has more than a few flaws, because he’s just not worth the effort. But Savvy is – and her friends help her to see that.

Savvy’s plan, with the help and support of her besties, is to work out that thing we all have difficulty finding – a work life balance. Because she has been putting in WAY too many hours at work chasing a promotion and neglecting HERSELF. Taking care of herself by eating better, getting back to exercising, and making time to do things with her friends and her family will make her feel better about herself.

If she manages to make Mr. Wrong jealous and snag Mr. Right along the way – well, that’s icing on the cake. A cake that Savvy will bake herself, thankyouverymuch.

Escape Rating B: The total douchiness of their exes isn’t the only thing that Savvy Sheldon and Tam Doan – or at least their stories – have in common. Both stories are straddling the fence between romance and relationship fiction, although it felt like Gouda Friends was just a bit stronger on the romance side, while Savvy Sheldon’s story is just that bit stronger on the relationship – as in relationships with people other than the love interest – side.

It’s a fun read either way. They both are. Although Savvy’s story is not a romantic comedy – in spite of the publisher’s marketing campaign. Not that it doesn’t have both funny moments and a meet cute – but the emphasis in this one is just not on the romance. It’s on the friendships.

They also both center on self-care stories. Savvy has been so focused on getting ahead at work – thanks to a lifetime of lessons from her mother on making sure that she’s financially secure and stable – that she’s lived her job and dropped the ball on self-care. She’s hasn’t been making a whole lot of healthy choices in any part of her life and that’s something she needs to get a handle on.

That the initial focus of that journey is on losing weight, and that a lot of attention gets paid to how much better she looks is my one quibble with the story. It’s an understandable impulse from Sassy’s initial perspective, but it’s not any healthier than her recent lack of self-care. The more the focus shifts from how she looks to how she FEELS the better the story feels as well. (And some readers will find Savvy’s initially constant negative reflections on her body and her weight to be triggering. Some will find it entirely too familiar and probably quite a few of us – BOTH)

As much as I was happy to see Savvy find her HEA with Spencer, for me the romance felt like the icing on that cake. The cake of this story was all wrapped around Savvy’s close relationship with her friends, the loving details of the way that they supported each other’s journeys, and the fantastic way that Savvy figured out how to nurture her dreams AND have a job she loved without sacrificing her entire life to her job. She created that magical, mystical work-life balance and that part was glorious!

Her friends were all terrific and I’d love to see everyone again in another book. After all, only Joan managed to discover her HEA along Savvy’s journey. Maggie still needs to find hers!