Review: Drunk on Love by Jasmine Guillory

Review: Drunk on Love by Jasmine GuilloryDrunk on Love by Jasmine Guillory
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Pages: 400
Published by Berkley Books on September 20, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

An intoxicating and sparkling new romance by New York Times bestselling author Jasmine Guillory. Margot Noble needs some relief from the stress of running the family winery with her brother. Enter Luke: sexy, charming, and best of all in the too-small world of Napa, a stranger. The chemistry between them is undeniable, and Margot is delighted that she lucked into the perfect one-night stand she'll never have to see again. That is, until the winery's newest hire, Luke, walks in the next morning. Margot is determined to keep things purely professional, but when their every interaction reminds her of the attraction still bubbling between them, it proves to be much more challenging than she expects.
Luke Williams had it all, but when he quits his high-salary tech job in Silicon Valley in a blaze of burnout and moves back to Napa to help a friend, he realizes he doesn't want to tell the world--or his mom--why he's now working at a winery. His mom loves bragging about her successful son--how can he admit that the job she's so proud of broke him? Luke has no idea what is next for him, but one thing is certain: he wants more from the incredibly smart and sexy woman he hooked up with--even after he learns she's his new boss. But even if they can find a way to be together that wouldn't be an ethical nightmare, would such a successful woman really want a tech-world dropout?
Set against a lush backdrop of Napa Valley wine country, nothing goes to your head as fast as a taste of love--even if it means changing all your plans.

My Review: 

The meet-cute that uncorks Drunk on Love is a classic for a reason. Strangers meet in a bar, at a party, or wherever – although in this particular case it’s a neighborhood bar with excellent drinks and great food. They strike up a conversation on one pretext or another and simply hit it off in a way that neither of them can resist.

So they don’t. A great meal, a fantastic night, and a not too terribly awkward morning after and then they’ll never see each other again. Or so one or both of them believes.

Then they do meet again, later that morning after, in the most awkward way possible. And so it begins.

In the case of Margot Noble and Luke Williams, what makes that awkward morning after into an even more awkward gift that is just going to keep on giving – at least for the reader – is that the new job that Luke walks into in the tasting room of a local winery turns out to be the family winery belonging to Margot and her brother Elliot.

Elliot Noble is the winemaker, Margot Noble is the business manager, which means Elliot mostly gets to work behind the scenes, while Margot is out front, managing the finances, drumming up business, schmoozing restaurants to get them to offer and promote Noble wines – and, you guessed it, running the tasting room at the winery.

In other words, Margot is Luke’s new boss. Which is where this romantic comedy kicks into high gear – and sometimes even gets drunk on the Noble Family Wineries’ products. Because neither of them can forget the best night either of them has had in a long, long time – if ever. And they both know it can’t happen again as long as Luke is working in Margot’s tasting room

But they both want it to. So, so bad. Because they already know it’ll be so, so good. If they can just find a way to make it – or let it – happen.

Escape Rating B: I loved the way that Drunk on Love started, and even more so as Margot was a bit older than Luke which is one of my favorite tropes.

Very much on my other hand, this one middled in places that aren’t necessarily my cup of tea – or that I just wasn’t in the mood for at the moment, leaving me with some mixed reading feelings.

The kickoff for this was a winner. Absolutely. There’s always something delicious in a forbidden romance but there are few non-squicky ways to make that happen in the 21st century. This is one that works.

That there is a certain amount of deception in this kind of romance is a given. What drove me bananas about the story wasn’t so much the coverup of their relationship but rather the lies they are telling themselves about pretty much everything else.

Luke is back home in Napa because he burned out at his high-paying, high-powered, high-tech job but can’t manage to tell anyone about it – in some ways, not even himself. So in order to cover that up he covers up more stuff until he’s at the bottom of a pit of lies and just can’t seem to stop digging.

Margot, on the other hand, is doing very well in her position but can’t believe that her brother thinks she is or even wants her there. Their relationship is filled with nothing but tension that might or might not still have a cause. They’re in the middle of a giant misunderstandammit and can’t seem to find a way clear of it.

It’s not just that Margot and Luke are standing in their own ways, but that the way they are doing so stands in the way of any potential future happiness. It’s hard to watch these two very sympathetic and likeable characters flail around at reaching their HEA, but once they do it’s very much earned.

So if you like a bit of angst mixed with witty banter between a couple of really great people who need a few good swift kicks to move them to an HEA, try a glass – or a chapter or two – of Drunk on Love. If you prefer the witty banter in your romcom to be undiluted, grab a copy of the author’s The Wedding Date – a bubbly delight from the very first sip to the last.

Review: The Holiday Trap by Roan Parrish

Review: The Holiday Trap by Roan ParrishThe Holiday Trap by Roan Parrish
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: F/F romance, Hanukkah romance, holiday romance, M/M romance, romantic comedy
Pages: 312
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 6, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

For fans of Alexandria Bellefleur and Alexis Hall comes a charming, hilarious, and heartwarming LGBTQIA+ romcom about two separate couples finding love over the holidays from acclaimed author Roan Parrish!
Greta Russakoff loves her tight-knit family and tiny Maine hometown, even if they don't always understand what it's like to be a lesbian living in such a small world. She desperately needs space to figure out who she is.
Truman Belvedere has just had his heart crushed into a million pieces when he learned that his boyfriend of almost a year has a secret life that includes a husband and a daughter. Reeling from this discovery, all he wants is a place to lick his wounds far, far away from New Orleans.
Enter Greta and Truman's mutual friend, Ramona, who facilitates a month-long house swap. Over the winter holidays, each of them will have a chance to try on a new life...and maybe fall in love with the perfect partner of their dreams. But all holidays must come to an end, and eventually Greta and Truman will have to decide whether the love they each found so far from home is worth fighting for.

My Review:

There’s a saying about “blooming where you’re planted”, but with the best will and the most love in the world, that’s not always possible. No matter how much a person may love their hometown or their family or their job or whatever is keeping them in place, the place may not be a great fit for them

And sometimes we need to be kicked out of our not-quite-comfy little pots before they become ruts. Or plots, as in “the only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions” kind of plots.

Both Greta Russakoff and Truman Belvedere each need a good, swift kick out of their always slightly squirmy but suddenly seriously uncomfortable pots. Which is where their mutual friend and regular sounding board Ramona comes in.

Greta needs to get away from her close-knit-to-the-point-of-codependency family on teeny, tiny, Owl Island, Maine. Truman needs a getaway from a spectacular failure of a relationship in New Orleans. Ramona suggests a house swap. For the entire month. Of December.

What happens to Greta and Truman is that both of their worlds expand once they transplant themselves. In New Orleans, Greta finds friends and community. She’s able to spread her wings in a place where she’s not literally the only lesbian in town, and where her every single act isn’t discussed ad infinitum, ad nauseum AND reported back to her parents and sisters. She loves them all but finds the extreme insularity of the town and especially her family a strait-jacket.

In New Orleans she can breathe. She can be herself without everyone around her trying to lovingly push her to conform – at least on the outside. And there’s someone she can fall in love with in a place that warms her heart and soul.

Truman is a fish out of water, but a fish that is more than willing to try living on land once he thaws out and gets some warmer clothes. Now that he’s out of his comfort zone, he’s willing to see if he can fit into this new place. And discovers that the townspeople, as curious as they are about Greta’s temporary guest, are more than willing to let him warm himself in their friendship.

Especially Ash, a local boy who managed to leave, but got sucked back to Owl Island as an adult when his mother was diagnosed with dementia. Now Ash is juggling a failing florist shop, his mother’s declining health and the loss of her true self even as he’s with her – and a rapacious land developer who wants to buy the prime downtown real estate where his shop is located. Ash doesn’t have nearly enough spoons to start a relationship with a man who’ll be leaving in a month.

But he does it anyway – then breaks both of their hearts when he can’t cope.

Before the month’s even half over, Greta knows she wants to stay in New Orleans, not just because of her new love, but because it’s where she belongs. She’s a hothouse varietal just like the carnivorous plants she desperately tries to keep alive on Owl Island – a climate for which neither they, nor she, are suited.

Truman wants to stay in Maine, with Ash, in this quirky little town that has healed his heart and shown him that he has more to give than just his overdeveloped sense of order.

All Greta has to do is deal with her smothering family. All Truman has to do is convince Ash that he doesn’t have to let himself be smothered by his responsibilities. That help – and love – are eagerly waiting for him to just let them in. Before their lives take them in directions that all of them will regret. Forever.

Escape Rating A: Part of what makes The Holiday Trap such a fun read is that it is a holiday romance that doesn’t center on the holidays at all. That the holiday that gets more emphasis in this holiday romance is Hanukkah and not Xmas was absolutely the flame that lights all the menorah candles in this story.

But the way the holiday was treated encapsulated the whole point of the story. Because it’s not the holiday, it’s that the tribe gathers for the holiday and the traditions that surround that gathering.

The Russakoffs are the only Jewish family on Owl Island. For her family it has become important to celebrate the holidays with the whole community while at the same time cleaving unto themselves as a tight tribe of their own. Which leads straight into the issues that cause Greta to practically flee into the night.

Because no one in Greta’s family is ever supposed to say what they really want or need. They have been coerced by longstanding tradition to always seek a compromise and to suffer in silence if their needs don’t get considered. It’s all out of love, it’s all done with the best intentions, and the tradition did begin with some excellent reasons as they are a family of six – mom, dad and four daughters – and during the early years there just wasn’t quite enough to go around. Nobody went hungry, no one went without any necessities, but treats, toys and outings all had to be shared, so what got bought or eaten or done was the thing that displeased the least amount of people rather than what was actually desired by anyone.

It’s good for children to learn to compromise, it’s good for all humans and we need a little more of it in the world. But it can easily reach a point where, instead of everyone saying what they do want and meeting in the middle, everyone starts asking for what they think everyone else wants or will accept. It’s can work if everyone accepts that’s the way it works, but if the family brings in an outsider – like a son or daughter in law – or if one of the children leaves the cozy nest and is in a place where they have to stand up for themselves, or if one or more of the grown children is just too different to compromise their entire self all the time in order to get along and not rock the boat, you get the situation Greta finds herself in, where as much as her parents and sisters love her they keep trying to push her to fit into the family codependency and she just can’t. And won’t. And shouldn’t have to.

Truman’s situation is more self-inflicted. He’s both broken-hearted and completely embarrassed and kicking himself from New Orleans to anywhere he can take himself off to because he’s spent a year in a relationship with a douchebag and ignoring all the many, many, red flags that should have told him that he was someone’s dirty secret and not remotely the love of their life. Because they already have one of those and Truman is not it.

I liked Truman’s story, and it made a very nice foil for Greta’s, but I LOVED Greta’s story. It’s not just that she’s Jewish, although that certainly helped because there aren’t nearly enough Hanukkah romances in this world. But when Greta takes herself away from home, she goes to one of the most fascinating cities in the U.S. if not the world and makes a place for herself in it. I’m a sucker for stories set in New Orleans and Greta’s discovery of the city and herself captured me from the very first page.

That Greta’s family strongly resembles one I very nearly became a part of and gave her side of this house swap a whole lot of extra resonance that I wasn’t expecting. At all. But it helped me understand so much of where she was coming from because everyone means so very well, they have so much the best intentions and can be so, so good at laying on the guilt when someone doesn’t conform.

To make a much longer story than I intended a bit short, The Holiday Trap is an excellent holiday romance that puts its emphasis on the romance and the relationships that surround a romance and make a village – big or small – without getting into the religious aspects of any holiday. This could have been set at Thanksgiving and it still would have worked – it just wouldn’t have been nearly long enough.

But speaking of things that were not quite enough, the one person we don’t get nearly enough of is Ramona the almost magical matchmaker. I’d love to see more of her talents in a future story!

Review: A Proposal They Can’t Refuse by Natalie Cana

Review: A Proposal They Can’t Refuse by Natalie CanaA Proposal They Can't Refuse by Natalie Caña
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Series: Vega Family Love Stories #1
Pages: 336
Published by Mira on June 7, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Natalie Caña turns up the heat, humor and heart in this debut rom-com about a Puerto Rican chef and an Irish American whiskey distiller forced into a fake engagement by their scheming octogenarian grandfathers.
Kamilah Vega is desperate to convince her family to update their Puerto Rican restaurant and enter it into the Fall Foodie Tour. With the gentrification of their Chicago neighborhood, it's the only way to save the place. The fly in her mofongo--her blackmailing abuelo says if she wants to change anything in his restaurant, she'll have to marry the one man she can't stand: his best friend's grandson.
Liam Kane spent a decade working to turn his family's distillery into a contender. Now he and his grandfather are on the verge of winning a national competition. Then Granda hits him with a one-two punch: he has cancer and he has his heart set on seeing Liam married before it's too late. And Granda knows just the girl...Kamilah Vega.
If they refuse, their grandfathers will sell the building that houses both their businesses. With their futures on the line, Kamilah and Liam plan to outfox the devious duo, faking an engagement until they both get what they want. But soon, they find themselves tangled up in more than either of them bargained for.

My Review:

This story may have elements of a rom-com, but it absolutely does not start with anything remotely resembling a “meet cute”. The first meeting we witness between Kamilah Vega and Liam Kane is clearly not their first meeting. Their grandfathers have been best friends since before their parents were born, Kamilah and Liam have known each other since childhood – even if they can’t seem to stand each other as adults.

But the real reason that their meeting in the opening of this story isn’t a meet-cute is because the first interaction we see between Kamilah and Liam is when she punches him in the junk. Hard and fast. (I can still hear him wheezing in agony from here.)

That opening scene sets up a surprising amount of the action in this “proposal”, even if that’s not obvious to the players in that particular scene.

Both the Vega Family and the Kane Family owe their hearts, their souls and their origin to this two octogenarians, Kamilah’s beloved Abuelo, Santiago Vegas and Liam’s cantankerous grandpa Killian served together, bought a former blacksmithy in Chicago’s Humboldt Park together, and have raised their businesses and their families side-by-side.

Now the old men, the misbehaving delinquents of their senior citizens’ home, have come to their grandchildren with an offer that neither Liam nor Kamilah can afford to refuse.

Kamilah wants to modernize the Vega Family’s Puerto Rican restaurant to compete with the new, bougie eateries that are moving in on the gentrifying neighborhood. Her parents and her siblings never listen to anything she says, always brushing her off with tales of childhood misdemeanors – even though she has a degree in the culinary arts and is the person they all rely on to get shit done.

She still gets shit on to the point of abuse by pretty much everyone in the family – even though she’s right. They have to either compromise a bit to stay in business – or let the family business fade away with so many other local institutions that are being washed away in the tide of gentrification.

Liam just wants his grandpa to stick around long enough for them to realize Liam’s father’s dream. The Kanes are whiskey distillers, and the signature blend that Connor Kane put up before he died in a boating accident is about to mature. Killian has cancer that he’s not planning to even think about treating. Liam wants him to at least try to stick around – because he can’t bear the thought of losing anyone else.

The old men still own those family businesses and the building that houses both the businesses AND the families, even if they’ve left it to the next generation to run those enterprises. So the deal is simple. Kamilah gets her shot at running the restaurant, Liam gets his grandpa to enter treatment, and in return Liam and Kamilah get engaged and move in together – even though they haven’t been able to be in the same room with each other without breaking into a fight since they were children. And in return their grandfathers don’t sell the building out from under them all..

Nobody’s motives are remotely pure in this arrangement, but everybody gets something they want. Except, of course, for Kamilah and Liam’s friends and family – who all believe that this fake relationship is real.

Unless, of course, it is.

Escape Rating B: I’m not exactly sure that this book is a romantic comedy. It is certainly a romance, but I didn’t think a bit of it was funny – at least not once we learn what the grandfathers are up to besides switching out ALL the decaf at their community with espresso. And even that’s not really all that funny, as someone nearly had a heart attack from the caffeine surprise.

These families are both hot messes, with Kamilah and Liam being the biggest messes of them all. A big part of this story is them revealing to each other exactly what’s packed inside the emotional baggage that each of them has been lugging around since they were children. The unpacking of that messy luggage is heartbreaking all by itself without factoring in Killian’s cancer diagnosis.

It’s also not funny that the Vegas’ treatment of Kamilah, as much as they love her and as much as they mean well, borders on abuse. Nothing she does is ever right, nothing she says is ever taken seriously, and she’s beaten down at every single turn with a recitation of her failures going all the way back to early childhood. Whatever they think they’re accomplishing, all they’re really doing is undermining her self esteem while expecting her to pick up everyone’s slack.

That Kamilah has turned into a martyr about it may not be a healthy reaction – but it’s not a surprising one either. She’s learned that the only way to get anything approaching what she wants is to be a big underhanded about it – in ways that eventually bite her in the ass.

Liam still blames his father for dying when Liam was 11. His grandmother died in the same accident and his grandfather drove Liam’s mother away in the aftermath. Liam expects all relationships to end in people leaving him, as his grandfather is about to do. He pushes everyone away and doesn’t know how to make himself stop.

Kamilah’s manipulations run smack into Liam’s need to push people away before they leave him – giving him the perfect excuse to expose everyone’s machinations in this mess into the bargain. It’s not funny at all. It’s downright tragic.

What makes this story work is that they get the help they both need. It’s not so much a complete happy ever after as it is a happy work in progress with a sincere hope of ever after. Love doesn’t conquer or cure all – nor should it. There’s too much that needs fixing in this case. But it does provide a firm foundation to stand on to get the work done.

That’s a lesson we don’t see often enough in romance, but I’m definitely here for it.

Review: As Seen on TV by Meredith Schorr

Review: As Seen on TV by Meredith SchorrAs Seen on TV by Meredith Schorr
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Pages: 352
Published by Forever on June 7, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Fans of the Hallmark Channel and Gilmore Girls will adore this delightful rom‑com about a city girl who goes in search of small-town happiness, only to discover life—and love—are nothing like the TV movies.
Emerging journalist Adina Gellar is done with dating in New York City. If she’s learned anything from made-for-TV romance movies, it’s that she’ll find love in a small town—the kind with harvest festivals, delightful but quirky characters, and scores of delectable single dudes. So when a big-city real estate magnate targets tiny Pleasant Hollow for development, Adi knows she’s found the perfect story—one that will earn her a position at a coveted online magazine, so she can finally start adulting for real . . . and maybe even find her dream man in the process. 
Only Pleasant Hollow isn’t exactly “pleasant.” There’s no charming bakery, no quaint seasonal festivals, and the residents are more ambivalent than welcoming. The only upside is Finn Adams, who’s more mouthwatering than the homemade cherry pie Adi can’t seem to find—even if he does work for the company she’d hoped to bring down. Suddenly Adi has to wonder if maybe TV got it all wrong after all. But will following her heart mean losing her chance to break into the big time?

My Review:

As Adina Gellar discovers, life is NOT like a Hallmark movie. Except when it is.

It could be said that 25-year-old Adina Gellar is experiencing a “failure to launch”. She’s still living with her mother in their rent-controlled NYC apartment. She’s graduated from college, but she’s looking for a job in journalism – and that’s one field that very much isn’t what it used to be. So she has two low-paying jobs as a spin instructor and a barista so that she can contribute something to household expenses. And she keeps cold-calling the editor of one lifestyle publication hoping that one of her ideas will click. She’s trying, but it seems like not very hard because her nest is much too comfortable.

She’s also fed up with the dating scene after yet another first date where the guy can’t be bothered to show up. She’s done.

But she’s addicted to Hallmark movies, so when she sees a profile of a big time New York City real estate developer who has bought up a huge building site in a little town about 2 hours outside the city, she thinks she’s found a story straight out of one of those Hallmark movies she loves so much.

She even manages to sell the story to that editor she keeps calling. Now all she has to do is spend a week or two in beautiful, rustic Pleasant Hollow and write a story about its wonderful small town ambiance, close-knit community, and fears of losing its identity and heritage in the face of a big, bad developer coming in and gentrifying the place.

Adi assumes that Pleasant Hollow is going to be just like all the quirky, plucky, welcoming little towns that she’s seen in all those Hallmark movies. And that she’ll find a hunky, handsome local who will sweep her off her feet.

None of Adi’s Hallmark fueled hopes and dreams about Pleasant Hollow turn out to be remotely true. Except for one. She does find a hunky, handsome man who does sweep her off her feet – after he laughs at her rather a lot – and justifiably so. But Finn Adams isn’t local.

He’s the on-site representative for that supposedly greedy developer that Adi was planning to cast as the villain in her story. But bad boys need love too – and so do slightly naïve would-be journalists.

Escape Rating C-: I really, really wanted to like this and I just didn’t. The idea had the potential for so many happy feels – rather like the Hallmark movies that inspired it. But it was let down by its main character.

Adi is naïve to the point of ridiculousness. We’re not surprised that Finn has fun misdirecting her, we’re just surprised that she’s so gullible as to fall for it. I know that I lot of people LOVE Hallmark movies – and I’ve certainly enjoyed the books that some of them have been based on, but does anyone believe that anything in them is real? Seriously?
That being said, I kind of liked the schadenfreude of Adi discovering that small towns – or at least the small town she was visiting, were absolutely nothing like what she’d seen on TV.

While I did like Adi’s relationship with her mother, as well as her lovely friendship with her lifelong bestie Kate, Adi herself just wasn’t enough to carry the book. Although it certainly made for a fairytale ending that she not only got the guy but that she managed to fail upwards in her journalism career in a way that would be perfect for a Hallmark movie – but in real life only happens to cis, straight, white men who got much luckier in the difficulty setting for their life than the even the regular lowest difficulty setting would allow.

Your reading mileage may definitely vary, but I think the next time I’m looking for the equivalent of Hallmark movie feels I’m going to go back to Virgin River – even though that’s on Netflix.

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: Gouda Friends by Cathy Yardley

Review: Gouda Friends by Cathy YardleyGouda Friends (Ponto Beach Reunion #2) by Cathy Yardley
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, relationship fiction, romantic comedy
Series: Ponto Beach Reunion #2
Pages: 304
Published by Montlake on March 22, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Two high school BFFs reunite and endeavor to fix each other’s lives in this geeky romance from the author of Love, Comment, Subscribe.
Tam Doan dumped her boyfriend after he threw away her gourmet cheese. Sure, it’s a little more complicated than that, but the point is, he had it coming. Newly single and unemployed, Tam calls up her best friend from high school and utters the emergency code word—goldfish. Next thing she knows, she’s on a plane back home.
Josh O’Malley was a troubled, unconfident teenager. Now he’s the successful owner of a multimillion-dollar ghost kitchen. Tam, his high school BFF and fellow member of the Nerd Herd friend group, was instrumental in building his self-esteem. When she calls him out of the blue, he jumps at the chance to return the favor.
Josh and Tam immediately get to work fixing her life—but again, it’s complicated. Their close friendship was always a lifeline between them; a blooming romance might confuse things. Still, at least one thing is for certain: their chemistry is un-brie-lievable.

My Review:

The question isn’t “Who Moved My Cheese?” when Tam Doan trudges into the apartment she’s been sharing with her boyfriend for the past six years after a “terrible, horrible, no-go0d, very bad day” with a suitcase she never got to use for a business trip she got to arrange but not take with a company that has burned out her last nerve.

She expects to find her extra-special treat, her saved for emergencies gouda cheese shipped to New York City from her favorite premium cheese maker in Seattle in the back of the refrigerator. She does not expect to find her boyfriend of six years sleeping with his ex in their bed.

Howsomever, she finds the douchecanoe in the bed and no cheese in the fridge. And it’s the last of all the damn straws and her give-a-fuck is completely broken. She’s too tired, hangry AND pissed to notice whether her heart is broken as well.

All she’s certain of is that she’s outta there – for good. And that she feels free. Also broke, lonely and not sure where she’s going to spend the night because her ex has isolated her from all of her friends and she rightfully doesn’t trust their mutual friends – meaning his – as far as she can throw them. Or him.

So she calls her ride or die bestie from childhood, high school AND college, the one person who not merely promised to always be there for her but who has always delivered. She calls Josh O’Malley back home in Ponto Beach California (near San Diego) and uses their codeword for “Need help NOW!” And Josh delivers, as he always has and always will.

In this case a plane ticket from NYC to San Diego. She has the weekend off, he has a place she can stay. Along with 48 hours to help her figure out who moved her cheese in the metaphorical sense, help her figure out what her cheese actually IS these days, and give her the space and tools she needs to find it and get it back.

Just like she did for him when he sent the code five years ago. It’s not so much that he’s paying it back or forward, because their friendship is much deeper than that. It’s that he’s always been there for her, she’s always been there for him, and that’s the way it’s always going to be.

Even if part of the cheese that both of them still need to find is whether they can navigate their way into the relationship that everyone they grew up with has thought they had all along.

Escape Rating A: This friends into lovers with just a slight touch of fauxmance turned unexpected romance was a delight – and the inevitable cheesy lines and even cheesier jokes just added to the fun!

As funny as it is that Tam leaves her douchecanoe ex more over the cheese than the cheating, it’s not really about the cheese. Well, as it turns out, it kind of is about the cheese. In all the best ways all along the way of this delightful romance.

First, it’s about his lack of respect for Tam’s stuff, which is really just a symptom of his lack of respect for Tam’s whole entire self. It just takes the cheese to make her finally see it. Or finally admit it to herself. The relationship has been toxic all along, while Tam has made excuse after self-effacing, self-sabotaging excuse rather than admit that everything about her life in New York was a poor choice she backed into out of fear of failure.

Taking that impulsive, life-saving trip back to Ponto Beach is Tam’s chance at making a fresh start. All she has to do is find a new job and a place to live while ignoring her ex’s attempts to drag her back into his mess, along with the voices of her family telling her that she has to take any job in order to be safe and secure if never as successful as she should be. No pressure!

But what Tam NEEDS is to figure out what she really wants. It’s exactly what she did for Josh five years ago, when Josh hit rock bottom and she helped him find his own bliss. Now it’s his turn to help her – and he’s all in for it.

All they both have to do is find a way to preserve their life-saving and soul-deep friendship while moving it to the next level. A possibility that scares both of them more than half to death.

I picked up Gouda Friends because I loved the author’s Fandom Hearts series (start with Level Up and be prepared for a sweet, funny, geeky blast!). Gouda Friends feels like it takes everything I loved about that series and well, leveled it up. Josh and Tam – and their entire Nerd Herd – are geeky and nerdy in all the best ways, but now they are adults doing their best at adulting and still relying on the friends who have seen them through EVERYTHING in their lives.

One of the things I loved about this romance is just how huge a role friends and friendships play in their HEA. This is a romance with a GINORMOUS side of relationship fiction and the combination was just wonderful. It’s also terrific that as much as I loved the Nerd Herd, it’s not necessary to have read the first book in the series (Love, Comment, Subscribe) in order to get right into Gouda Friends. But now that I have read this one, I definitely want to read that. And the next book in this series, Ex-Appeal, hopefully later this year. There are plenty of Nerds in that Herd who still need to find their HEAs and I’m definitely here for it!

Review: The Hookup Dilemma by Constance Gillam

Review: The Hookup Dilemma by Constance GillamThe Hookup Dilemma by Constance Gillam
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Pages: 309
on November 16, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Perfect for fans of Jasmine Guillory, this laugh-out-loud #OwnVoices story proves that sometimes the least perfect arrangement can lead to something perfect for them.
Rashida Howard has never been a one-night-stand kind of woman, but she has good reason for making an exception with Elliott after meeting him in a bar. Cliché? Yes. Utterly amazing? Absolutely. Regrets? None.
Elliott Quinn is a workaholic. The one night he decides to break his routine, he has an encounter with the woman of his dreams. But no matter how amazing they are together, work will always come first.
Both of their lives get turned upside down when they find themselves on opposite sides of an ongoing fight between Elliott’s company and Rashida’s community. Though their chemistry is undeniable, neither of them will risk their integrity…or their heart.
And just when they think they might have found a solution that benefits both sides, they uncover a secret that will change everything.

My Review:

One way of thinking of The Hookup Dilemma is as a sexing-to-love romcom. The title certainly leads in that direction. But it’s not nearly that simple a story to describe, to the point where I might need some arithmetic notation or something similar. Because it’s more like sex to enemies to (frenemies AND lovers) to (frenemies OR lovers) to an HEA so big it encompasses an entire community.

It all begins with that hookup. An instant connection that leads to an evening of very hot sex with no strings attached and no plans for doing it again. Not that they didn’t do it plenty of times that night.

The thing is that both Elliott and Rashida want to do it again – and not JUST the sex. With each other. As often as possible. A possibility that intrigues Elliott and scares Rashida to the point where she does a nearly literal midnight flit, leaving a sleeping Elliott in a suite in the Ritz Carlton in downtown Atlanta. They know nothing about each other except their first names and that they’ve just had the best sex of their entire lives.

She never expects to see him again. She’s not interested in a relationship. He’d love to see where their chemistry might lead them, but he has no leads on her identity and not nearly enough information to get any.

When they meet again it’s a case of worlds colliding the way continents collide through plate tectonics, complete with the earth shaking and volcanos rising to spew molten lava. They meet at a Zoning Board hearing in the neighborhood where Rashida grew up and where her beloved grandmother still lives. Rashida, her Grammy, and Grammy’s neighbors are there to protest the zoning change to convert a parcel in their neighborhood to commercial use. The plan is to bring in high-end stores like Whole Foods – stores that the neighborhood of mostly retired senior citizens on fixed incomes won’t be able to afford to shop at. It’s the opening wedge of gentrification and everyone knows it.

The request to rezone was made by the new owner of the property, the construction company owned by Elliott’s father. Elliott is stuck carrying the ball on this project for his old man, who is recovering from a massive heart attack. And the company needs this project to succeed in order to get itself back on track after years of questionable financial decisions – made, of course, by Elliott’s father.

Elliott is caught between a rock, a hard place, and a community that plans to stonewall him every step of the way. He’s torn between pursuing a relationship with Rashida and keeping the peace in his relationship with his steamroller of a father.

Rashida’s all in on saving her grandmother’s home. She may be falling for Elliott, but her grandmother was there for her when she needed a refuge and a place to heal. Now it’s her turn to support her Grammy.

Rashida knows exactly what she wants, even if she’s having a bit of difficulty figuring out how to get it. Elliott has been too busy reacting to his father’s demands – his entire life – to completely figure out what he wants for himself. Let alone stick to it. But Elliott has to decide whether what he really wants to do is cave into his father one more time, or stick to his guns, get his father to retire before he has ANOTHER heart attack, and go all in with Rashida on a project that will actually help the neighborhood instead of bulldozing it.

Because if he doesn’t “man up” he’s going to lose it all, one way or another.

Escape Rating A-: The blurb is correct that this does have a similar feel to many of the books in Jasmine Guillory’s Wedding Date series – particularly The Wedding Party. It also has more than a touch of Alyssa Cole’s When No One is Watching, which is a suspense thriller about gentrification of a neighborhood not unlike the fictional Millhouse.

So this is kind of what When No One is Watching would have been if the author had written it with her romance hat on instead of her thriller hat.

This is also one of those stories where the tension keeping the couple apart isn’t a will they/won’t they? They already have and they can’t seem to stop from having each other again every time they’re alone.

Instead, this is a story about herding the elephant out of the room so they have a chance. Which is really difficult to do if they aren’t both ready to lay hands on that elephant and PUSH!

What makes this book so good is that once the story gets past the meet-cute, the issues that they face together and separately are very real and very much in the way.

Rashida’s issues are, well, not exactly easy but they are at least straightforward. She wants to save her Grammy’s neighborhood. She wants to save her Grammy’s house. She wants to save her Grammy’s friends’ houses. She also needs Grammy and her friends to stop driving their gas-guzzlers – sometimes without licenses – before they have more serious accidents than they’ve already had. Underlying all of that is saving a place that Rashida loves AND allowing her Grammy and her friends to live their retirements in their own homes as long as they are able to rather than be forced out by corporate greed or corporate desperation.

All of that is a very real struggle. Forms of that struggle are happening everywhere, all the time.

Elliott’s issues are, in some ways, a lot smaller than Rashida’s, but in other ways a whole lot bigger. In comparison, honestly, the idea that it’s Elliott’s father’s company going bankrupt because of his father’s poor business decisions vs driving Rashida’s grandmother and her friends out of their homes, Rashida’s situation feels more serious.

Underneath that, however, is Elliott’s very real fear that if he can’t get his father to slow down and obey his doctor’s orders the man is going to have another heart attack and die. Really, really, soon. But that doesn’t mean Elliott should keep kowtowing to the man when he’s so clearly in the wrong and so completely unwilling to listen to any advice from anyone at all. Which is a huge chunk of what caused that heart attack in the first place.

So the issues that keep Rashida and Elliott are not simple, and the solutions are not going to be easy. Reaching for them is going to cause a LOT of short term trouble in order to reach a long term HEA.

And that’s what made this story so very appealing. Read it for yourself and see what I mean!

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: All the Feels by Olivia Dade

Review: All the Feels by Olivia DadeAll the Feels (Spoiler Alert, #2) by Olivia Dade
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Series: Spoiler Alert #2
Pages: 385
Published by Avon on November 16, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Following Spoiler Alert, Olivia Dade returns with another utterly charming romantic comedy about a devil-may-care actor—who actually cares more than anyone knows—and the no-nonsense woman hired to keep him in line.
Alexander Woodroe has it all. Charm. Sex appeal. Wealth. Fame. A starring role as Cupid on TV’s biggest show, God of the Gates. But the showrunners have wrecked his character, he’s dogged by old demons, and his post-show future remains uncertain. When all that reckless emotion explodes into a bar fight, the tabloids and public agree: his star is falling.
Enter Lauren Clegg, the former ER therapist hired to keep him in line. Compared to her previous work, watching over handsome but impulsive Alex shouldn’t be especially difficult. But the more time they spend together, the harder it gets to keep her professional remove and her heart intact, especially when she discovers the reasons behind his recklessness…not to mention his Cupid fanfiction habit.
When another scandal lands Alex in major hot water and costs Lauren her job, she’ll have to choose between protecting him and offering him what he really wants—her. But he’s determined to keep his improbably short, impossibly stubborn, and extremely endearing minder in his life any way he can. And on a road trip up the California coast together, he intends to show her exactly what a falling star will do to catch the woman he loves: anything at all.

My Review:

I was really looking for some fanfiction to read, but I’ve reread my faves so many times that I’ve practically memorized them. So I picked up the next best thing, even though it won’t be published until mid November and I really shouldn’t post the review until late October but here I am anyway. It’s early June and I’m reading All the Feels and loving every minute of it.

When I say it’s the next best thing to fanfiction, it’s way closer (literally as well as figuratively) than the old Ma Bell commercial about “long distance is the next best thing to being there”. Which honestly might have been true at the time, but does not preclude a huge gap between the two experiences. It just means that there wasn’t anything better sitting in that gap.

Which is pretty much how I felt when I started All the Feels, so that I could get, well, all the feels.

But speaking of spoilers, and Spoiler Alert, and kind of giving you a spoiler alert, All the Feels doesn’t so much take place after Spoiler Alert as it does in parallel with it. It takes place at the same time, during those nine months between closing out the filming of the last season of God of the Gates and the broadcast of the final episode.

So the stories spoil each other just a bit if you read them in order and a whole lot more than a bit if you read All the Feels first.

Consider yourself warned. Then go ahead and read them anyway because they are both marvelous!

Escape Rating A: This was, totally, absolutely and screamingly obviously, the right book at the right time for my reading – even if it really messed with my posted schedule. I needed the feels from this book, so I dove right in and wasn’t sorry I spent the whole day with it glued to my face.

One thing I keep wondering about is how well these books will “wear” over time. Because the TV series that Marcus (Spoiler Alert) and Alex (All the Feels) are starring in, caught up in the filming and promoting of and regretting more than a bit at many points, is all too clearly a poke in the eye with a sharp stick at the final season of Game of Thrones. A poke that works really well right now but may date the whole thing in the future. I really hope these stories hold up though because they have awesome things to say about romance and fake life in Hollywood and the real people who are caught up in it and loving yourself as you are and accepting yourself and accepting that you are worthy of love and consideration as you are and standing up for yourself and just SQUEE.

I want to hug this book so hard – and hug Lauren along with it.

Ironically, this story has one of the same elements as the book that I was rage-reading just beforehand that made me pick this up (I think that book was Someone to Cherish but I didn’t write it down at the time and now it’s driving me crazy trying to remember.). Lauren begins this story believing that everyone in her life is more important than she is, that everyone else’s feelings are worth all the consideration and hers are worth none, and generally being a doormat. (Unlike the other book, Lauren has given these people power over her not because law and society have decreed that she must but because she’s been brought up to be that way by a family that doesn’t realize they are abusing her and honestly each other.

Lauren has to learn to stand up for herself – and she finally does and that’s part of what makes this one so good.

On the other hand, Alex, who on the surface looks like he has it all and is acting out like a spoiled brat, turns out to be nothing of the sort. Much of the story is Lauren taking up more space in the world while Alex learns to, not so much take up less space as to get out of his own damn way.

That they fall into “like” long before they fall in love is what makes the romance work. They need to like each other – and they need to learn to like themselves – before they have a chance at love. When they finally both get there, it’s obvious that there’s still a lot of work for both of them to do, but they are on the right path.

Relationships take work, so the ending of this story had, pardon me, all the right feels. They love each other, they want to make it last and they know they have a lot of work to do both separately and together in order to make a go of it. We see them take the first steps and it’s just lovely.

And OMG I hope this series continues, because the entire thing is just plain marvelous and I want MORE!

Review: While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory

Review: While We Were Dating by Jasmine GuilloryWhile We Were Dating (The Wedding Date, #6) by Jasmine Guillory
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Series: Wedding Date #6
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley Books on July 13, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Two people realize that it's no longer an act when they veer off-script in this sizzling romantic comedy by New York Times bestselling author Jasmine Guillory.
Ben Stephens has never bothered with serious relationships. He has plenty of casual dates to keep him busy, family drama he's trying to ignore and his advertising job to focus on. When Ben lands a huge ad campaign featuring movie star Anna Gardiner, however, it's hard to keep it purely professional. Anna is not just gorgeous and sexy, she's also down to earth and considerate, and he can't help flirting a little...
Anna Gardiner is on a mission: to make herself a household name, and this ad campaign will be a great distraction while she waits to hear if she's booked her next movie. However, she didn't expect Ben Stephens to be her biggest distraction. She knows mixing business with pleasure never works out, but why not indulge in a harmless flirtation?
But their lighthearted banter takes a turn for the serious when Ben helps Anna in a family emergency, and they reveal truths about themselves to each other, truths they've barely shared with those closest to them.
When the opportunity comes to turn their real-life fling into something more for the Hollywood spotlight, will Ben be content to play the background role in Anna's life and leave when the cameras stop rolling? Or could he be the leading man she needs to craft their own Hollywood ending?

My Review:

Once upon a time in 2018 there was a book titled The Wedding Date. I picked it up on a whim. Honestly. I was looking for something happy and I got an offer for an advanced copy at just the right time. That was one of the best whims I ever indulged in, because that book was just an awesomely lovely and damn near perfect romance.

Fast forward three occasionally rather strange years and that wedding date has turned into an entire series that wraps itself around the friends of that original couple, and their friends and family, and hopefully and so on, discovering their own HEAs.

Quite often through either a meet-terribly-cute or a fake date or fake romance or some combination of all of the above. And this entry in the series is no exception.

Junior Advertising Executive Ben Stephens meets Oscar-nominated actress Anna Gardiner in what could best be described as a meet-cute professional edition. He’s supposed to be part of the team – meaning sitting at the table to represent diversity without being permitted to say anything – for an extremely important presentation to a big tech firm that plans to advertise their new smartphone as a lifestyle accessory. She’s the “talent”, the actress who will star in the commercials. Her contract gives her veto power over the campaign that no one seriously expects her to exercise.

But all his bosses are stuck at the airport, so he and an even more junior assistant are supposed to make the presentation they honestly created, all by themselves, at least until their corporate bigwigs finally show up. Anna is both wowed and charmed by Ben, and pleased as punch to see him take that unexpected chance and shoot for the win.

That all of the companies that present after him pull the same stunt that his intended to pull, bringing along an employee of color to fake diversity without letting them actually do anything puts Ben and his company ahead of the pack – even if it happened by accident.

But Anna, who knows first hand what it’s like to be picked second or third for a part because the powers that be just can’t believe that a black actress will have the same universal appeal as a white one, also knows how things work. So she firmly puts her vetoing foot down and says that she’ll  do the commercials only with Ben’s company and only if Ben gets to be the lead on the project.

It’s a win-win-win from the very first day of production. But the sparks that Anna and Ben ignite behind the camera have the potential to cause them both no end of trouble – if they can’t resist indulging in them.

Both know that it’s bad policy to get involved with someone at work – or with someone they are working with – even on a temporary basis. Both have professional plans and goals that have the potential to be seriously derailed if they take their eyes off the prize they are seeking. Both of them have traumatic secrets in their pasts that they are afraid to share with anyone except their therapists. And they are both equally afraid of sharing that they even HAVE therapists because neither of them is in a position where they can appear weak. Ever.

When a family crisis pushes Anna into relying on Ben for a quick getaway and a long drive to reassure her that whatever put her beloved dad into the hospital this time isn’t serious, Ben and Anna let their walls come down much further than they ever intended.

And neither of them is able to put those walls back up. No matter how hard they try. Not even when Anna’s manager convinces her to pretend they’re faking it – to the point where they almost believe it themselves.

Escape Rating A-: My two absolute favorite books in this series are the first book, The Wedding Date, and the 4th book, Royal Holiday. But I’ve enjoyed every single book in the series because these are romcoms for readers who don’t necessarily love romcoms. The issues that arise between every couple in the series feel real, feel part and parcel of their personalities and their situation. There are no misunderstandammits here. What goes wrong is not something that could be resolved with a simple conversation because it goes much too deep for the solution to be nearly that easy.

Howsomever, unlike the first three books which take place almost simultaneously, the most recent books in the series stand very much alone. Not that there aren’t recurring characters – Ben’s brother was one of the members of The Wedding Party, after all. But it’s not necessary to know Theo from the earlier book to enjoy his cameo here. Especially the part where Ben and Theo are carrying a suitcase full of giggling actress.

As much as I enjoyed reading While We Were Dating – because I was really looking for a happy place and certainly found it here – it felt like I’d read bits of this story before – and relatively recently at that. I think if you put You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria, Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert and Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai into a plot blender the resulting story would have most of the elements of While We Were Dating.

Since I loved all three of those books, it’s not exactly a surprise that I’d enjoy something that blended the three of them. And if you liked any of those or any of the previous books in the Wedding Date series you’ll probably like the others too. Just in case you’re looking for something fun and happy to read like I was.

Back when I first read The Wedding Date I loved the hell out of it but never expected it to turn into a series. But every single follow-up to that first marvelous book has been a great big ball of fun, so I sincerely hope that there are more books on the horizon. For reasons that will be plenty clear if you read While We Were Dating, I would LOVE to see Anna’s manager get his romantic comeuppance. Even the Tin Man eventually got a heart..

Review: Talk Bookish to Me by Kate Bromley

Review: Talk Bookish to Me by Kate BromleyTalk Bookish to Me by Kate Bromley
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, romantic comedy, women's fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Graydon House on May 25, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Inspiration can come from the most unlikely—and inconvenient—sources.
Kara Sullivan’s life is full of love—albeit fictional. As a bestselling romance novelist and influential bookstagrammer, she’s fine with getting her happily-ever-after fix between the covers of a book.
But right now? Not only is Kara’s best friend getting married next week—which means big wedding stress—but the deadline for her next novel is looming, and she hasn’t written a single word. The last thing she needs is for her infuriating first love, Ryan Thompson, to suddenly appear in the wedding party. But Ryan’s unexpected arrival sparks a creative awakening in Kara that inspires the steamy historical romance she desperately needs to deliver.
With her wedding duties intensifying, her deadline getting closer by the second and her bills not paying themselves, Kara knows there’s only one way for her to finish her book and to give her characters the ever-after they deserve. But can she embrace the unlikely, ruggedly handsome muse—who pushes every one of her buttons—to save the wedding, her career and, just maybe, write her own happy ending?
"A fun and sexy romp, with chemistry that gave me all the feels!" —Jennifer Probst, New York Times bestselling author of Our Italian Summer
"Add this book to your TBR list immediately!" —Sarah Smith, author of Faker

My Review:

Romance book tropes are not nearly as much fun to experience in real life as they are between the pages of the best-selling romance novels that Kara Sullivan writes. Or so she discovers when it seems like all of her favorite tropes are happening to her, all at once, when her muse is on strike and she runs into her ex in a meet-not-so-cute at her best friend’s pre-wedding party.

Some of Kara’s favorite tropes are enemies-to-lovers, forced proximity and forbidden love, and she gets all of those and more in this second-chance at love story. Which is, of course, yet another romantic trope.

Now that I think about it, Kara REALLY should have paid more attention to her list of favorite tropes from the very beginning. It would have saved her a lot of heartbreak – but it might have also prevented her chance at her very own HEA.

Not to mention keeping her from missing the deadline to submit her next book!

Escape Rating B: I’m putting the rating in really, really early because I really need to talk about this book and the myriad mixed feelings it gave me. Because there were lots. Bunches. Oodles.

A LOT.

For me, this didn’t read so much as a second chance romance as it did a kind of “unfinished business” romance. Kara and Ryan fell in love in college, and it was one of those stars blazing in the night overwhelming kinds of love that happens when we’re young and not yet jaded and haven’t felt anything quite like it before. It’s that first romance on the cusp of adulthood, when you can imagine spending the rest of your life with this person and you’re old enough for that to be real but you may not be quite mature enough to get through the hard parts.

Kara and Ryan didn’t so much break up as explode while both of them were dealing with terrible situations in their birth families. But it feels like when they broke up they weren’t really done with each other, so when they meet again ten years later, everything that wasn’t resolved back then comes back up now. Unfortunately along with bringing back all the feelings, they regurgitate the bad parts as well.

So Kara’s angst at seeing Ryan again is laid on top of her angst about her next book along with her long held grief and guilt at the sudden death of her father and the arguments they were having at the time he died.

(This was the part that gutted me. My dad also died suddenly, although thankfully not in the midst of us arguing. It’s been almost 30 years now and sometimes the grief still cuts like a knife. I was just so there for Kara that I almost couldn’t go on with the book.)

Also, I don’t know why, but I went into this one thinking that it would be a rom-com. It has all of the witty banter of a rom-com, but as funny as Kara’s and Ryan’s verbal interactions sometimes are, the story at its heart isn’t funny.

Now that I think about it, this might be verging on what some of my bookish friends are calling “sad fluff”. What happened between Kara and Ryan back in college ended sadly, and both of them have been sad about it for pretty much the entire intervening time – at least all of that time when they weren’t still seething with anger.

And what happens in the present, well it ends well. It ends with the chance of happiness. But it doesn’t end with a happy ever after because their relationship still isn’t ready for that. In some ways I’m glad to see a story that is set up as a romance not quite end romantically just because it’s a romance. An HEA at the point Kara and Ryan are at the end wouldn’t feel earned.

But it’s also weird to read a romance that doesn’t end in an HEA or HFN.

Talk Bookish to Me wasn’t quite as bookish as I was expecting, although her portrayal of just how much damn work it is to be a bookstagrammer made me glad that every time I investigated the possibility I backed off. Bookstagram is neat but I’m so much more about the words than about the pictures that I can’t even. So that bit made me perversely happy.

As I said earlier, this one gave me a ton of mixed feelings. Both while reading and after. Your reading mileage may vary but please be advised that emotions in bookish mirror may be closer than they appear.