Review: Pets of Park Avenue by Stefanie London

Review: Pets of Park Avenue by Stefanie LondonPets of Park Avenue (Paws in the City, #2) by Stefanie London
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, relationship fiction, romantic comedy, women's fiction
Series: Paws in the City #2
Pages: 336
Published by HQN Books on December 6, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

"One of the year's most delightful rom-coms."—New York Times bestselling author Julia London on The Dachshund Wears Prada
The perfect romcom for dog lovers! Pets of Park Avenue is the story of a self-confessed hot mess who learns that life is more fun when things don't go according to plan.

What do you do when The One is also the one who broke your heart?

Self-proclaimed hot mess Scout Myers is determined to prove she’s finally got her act together. Raised by grandparents who saw her as her wayward mother’s wayward daughter, Scout’s used to being written off. So when the opportunity for a promotion arises at Paws in the City, the talent agency where she works, Scout is desperate to rise to the occasion. With shared custody of her little sister also on the line, Scout can’t afford a single mistake…like suddenly needing a canine stand-in for an important photoshoot. Luckily (or not) she knows the owner of the perfect pup replacement: the estranged husband she walked out on years ago.
On the surface, it appears Lane Halliday’s life has been blissfully drama free without Scout, but she suspects her handsome-as-ever not-quite-ex-husband doth protest too much. Working together even feels like old times—except for all that lingering, unresolved tension. But Scout’s not sure she’s ready to confront the reasons she left Lane, and when their plans to finalize the divorce become very real, Scout starts to wonder whether second chances might be worth a little hot mess.
Paws in the CityBook 1 - The Dachshund Wears Prada

My Review:

Pets of Park Avenue combines a second chance at love romance with a bit of a comedy of errors wrapped around the paws of an adorably fluffy little Bichon Frisé who seems to be experiencing nearly as much sad fluff as her people.

Both the one she still has and the one that only thinks she got away.

This followup to The Dachshund Wears Prada follows the second member of the Paws in the City media team, that self-proclaimed hot mess – and Isla’s best friend – Scout Myers. When the small agency’s star Bichon Frisé, Sasha, is accidentally dyed hot pink in the middle of a big opportunity for both the dog and the agency, Scout is the one sorta/kinda in charge of their canine charge.

At least, she’s the one who feels responsible for the accidental dye-job. Because being held responsible for every accident that happens in her vicinity and taking the blame for all the fallout is just what her cold, rule-bound, hidebound grandparents have conditioned her to do.

Theirs was not a house in which the phrase “shit happens” was ever even uttered, let alone believed. If Scout was nearby, it must have been her fault – whether it was or not. Because Scout was just like her mother, their wayward daughter, and had to be straight-jacketed into proper behavior no matter how much it broke her spirit.

Reining Scout in was the only way her grandparents could hope to save Scout’s little sister Lizzie from her terrible influence. So they did. At every opportunity. Until they kicked her to the curb at age 21. For not being properly obedient and respectful and for not following every last one of their stifling and arbitrary rules.

So Scout feels responsible for the temporarily pink Bichon, and needs a well-behaved substitute until the dye and the resulting buzz-cut grow out. Which is where her not-exactly-ex-husband, and his suddenly not-exactly-perfectly-behaved Bichon come in.

Scout ran out on both the man and the dog five years ago because, well, reasons. Reasons that they never told each other. They were together for one glorious month and have been separated for five years of limbo but Scout needs a dog just like Sasha, and Twinkle Stardust (yes, really) is her best chance to fix what’s broken.

With the agency and possibly with herself.

What she really needs is to either put her past behind her or, perhaps, put it back in front of her again. She’s a bit older, possibly wiser, and trying to be more responsible. Because she wants custody of her teenage sister. Because she needs to start adulting.

And because she’s never found anyone to remotely match the one that she left behind.

Escape Rating B: The thing about Pets of Park Avenue that made this one so interesting was that it’s Scout’s discovery that she doesn’t need to get it together because she’s had it together all along. It’s also about the difference between what is said and what is meant, and that’s a sad and often hard lesson to learn.

In other words, Pets of Park Avenue isn’t as light and fluffy as one of the Bichon Frisés. I missed The Dachshund Wears Prada, at least the social media account that both establishes Isla as a media influencer AND gets her in so much trouble. Because the voice of the Dachshund that Isla puts out there is wry, funny and so very sharply observant that it gives the book a lighter tone than this one in spite of just how much Isla also needs to overcome.

Scout IS a hot mess in this book, but not for any of the reasons she thinks she is. She’s a hot mess because that’s all she’s ever been told she can be, and she’s taken that lesson so very much to heart. Throughout the story, it seems as if her grandparents are the villains of the piece. And they kind of are.

But they also kind of aren’t. Or at least, they didn’t intend to be. But what they meant versus what they said and how they said it, how much they saw AND treated Scout as if she was a carbon copy of her mother, sent their relationship and Scout herself off in some terrible directions that she spends the whole story dealing with.

The second-chance-at-love romance was, at first, heartbreaking. But as the story continues, they are both forced to acknowledge that they were just too young and too impulsive. The bitter turns to sweet as they look back at themselves and look now at each other in order to figure out what direction they need to go, together or apart. Either way would have made a satisfying ending, but I preferred the direction they chose – if only to give Twinkle Stardust her own happy ever after.

So The Dachshund Wears Prada had a whole lot more lightness in it. Pets of Park Avenue was leavened with a bit more bittersweet. I’m looking forward to seeing what just what kind of canine and human drama we’ll get in Confessions of a Canine Drama Queen next summer!

Review: Ship Wrecked by Olivia Dade

Review: Ship Wrecked by Olivia DadeShip Wrecked (Spoiler Alert, #3) 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 #3
Pages: 416
Published by Avon Books on November 15, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

After All the Feels and Spoiler Alert, Olivia Dade once again delivers a warm and wonderful romantic comedy about two co-stars who once had an incredible one-night stand--and after years of filming on the same remote island, are finally ready to yield to temptation again...
Maria's one-night-stand--the thick-thighed, sexy Viking of a man she left without a word or a note--just reappeared. Apparently, Peter's her surly Gods of the Gates co-star, and they're about to spend the next six years filming on a desolate Irish island together. She still wants him...but he now wants nothing to do with her.
Peter knows this role could finally transform him from a forgettable character actor into a leading man. He also knows a failed relationship with Maria could poison the set, and he won't sabotage his career for a woman who's already walked away from him once. Given time, maybe they can be cooperative colleagues or friends--possibly even best friends--but not lovers again. No matter how much he aches for her.
For years, they don't touch off-camera. But on their last night of filming, their mutual restraint finally shatters, and all their pent-up desire explodes into renewed passion. Too bad they still don't have a future together, since Peter's going back to Hollywood, while Maria's returning to her native Sweden. She thinks she needs more than he can give her, but he's determined to change her mind, and he's spent the last six years waiting. Watching. Wanting.
His shipwrecked Swede doesn't stand a chance.

My Review:

This third book in the Spoiler Alert series may seem a bit detached from the previous books, Spoiler Alert and All the Feels. Which makes total sense as all of Peter and Maria’s scenes in the infamous (and fictional) God of the Gates TV series (all resemblances to the final seasons of Game of Thrones indubitably intended) were filmed on a tiny, remote island off the coast of Ireland.

The Aran Islands substitute for the remote island where the characters they play in the series, Cyprian and Cassia, were literally shipwrecked early in the book series that was adapted – sometimes very badly indeed – for the hit TV series. An island where their characters spend six long and frustrating years pining for each other, transforming from enemies into lovers.

Into dead. Because it’s that kind of series. As we know even if we never watched the thing.

Life has imitated art more than a bit, as Peter and Maria also spent their six years filming the series pining for each other every bit as much as their characters did. Only to give in to temptation after the cameras film their final scene – just before they are scheduled to leave the island and go their separate ways.

While they don’t immediately end up dead in real life – because they haven’t really been guarding a hellmouth for six years that has finally opened to bring their doom – their much longed-for relationship keeps tolling its own death knell even as they find ways to spend yet more glorious days and nights together.

Both Peter and Maria came to that deserted island with some serious abandonment issues, and not just in romantic relationships. They may love each other, they certainly want each other, but they can’t seem to get past the trauma in their pasts to realize that they both want the same things – but are no good at expressing what they need and want to the most important person either of them will ever find.

Their characters were shipwrecked, and the real-life (relation)ship that fans have been shipping throughout the entire run of the series looks like it’s wrecked as well. Unless they can find a way to turn it into an HEA with a little bit of luck and a whole lot of the one thing that Peter is bad at – communication.

Escape Rating A-: The beginning of this was just a bit jarring – not their one-night stand, not at ALL – but that the story went all the way back to the early days of the series, back when the showrunners were still adapting the author’s work. When the scripts were still more than halfway decent even if the two showrunners were already scum.

The earlier books in the series, Spoiler Alert and All the Feels, started during the final seasons of the series, at the point where the showrunners had gone past the author’s work and were, well, winging it. Badly. Destroying all the character arcs and most of the characters along with them. Both of those earlier stories center around stars of the series behaving badly because they so desperately want to reveal that the final season is AWFUL with a capital AWE and they fall in love either while behaving very badly (All the Feels) or while violating their NDA (non-disclosure agreement) in new and creative – literally and literarily – ways (Spoiler Alert and All the Feels).

Peter and Maria and their film crew, while not exactly shipwrecked themselves, are isolated from the rest of the cast and crew except via group chats and off-season convention appearances. Their story arc was completely separated from everyone else’s and so are they.

Which doesn’t mean that they don’t deal with the shittiness of the showrunners every bit as much as the rest of the cast – or maybe even a bit more because the showrunners think their physical isolation gives them some sort of psychological advantage. Or simply because they are asshats. Which they most definitely are.

And that’s where one of the more interesting threads of the (book) series in general and this entry in it in particular comes in. Peter and Maria are playing shipwrecked Vikings. They are both big people – which is appropriate for the characters they play. So, while the books don’t specify that they are bigger than the usual Hollywood actors, it seems like good casting.

But the showrunners, being slimeballs, have a plan to make Maria – and by extension Peter, but honestly it’s aimed at Maria – go on a crash diet before her second season because they’re supposed to be starving on the island. And she refuses and makes it stick – even in the face of being fired and re-cast. Maria is righteously all about body positivity, and not wrecking her body for life for anyone or anything, and she’s very aware that her body positivity campaign has played extremely well in the media. AND that the slimy showrunners are already in trouble on every side and need her way more than she needs them.

Those showrunners pulled similar shitty stunts on the plus-sized heroines of both Spoiler Alert and All the Feels and got their heads handed to them both times, but it was terrific to see it happen again – with bells on – this time around.

Oh yeah, there’s a romance in here too. And it’s a bit of a heartbreaker – not that it doesn’t come around to an HEA in the end. As it should. Because ALL the best shipping fics do – no matter how much angst the characters have to go through along the way.

But it’s a heartbreaker both because they nearly break each other’s AND because they’ve had both of theirs broken so many times in ways that have nothing to do with romance but still rear their ugly heads when they might just manage to reach that HEA. Because they’re both afraid of getting left – again – and think they’d rather walk away than have it happen. Again.

Not that they’re both equally stubborn and clueless about it or anything like that.

Last but not least, and speaking of things coming around again, the book series as a whole is rooted both in fanfiction as a labor of love and in the complaints and gossip about the final seasons of the real TV series, Game of Thrones. Which also ran two seasons beyond the last published book in its series and also did “interesting” things with its characters and their arcs. Earlier in the book series I wondered whether Spoiler Alert  would lose the pointedness of some of its inside jokes after Game of Thrones finished.

But then House of the Dragon came along, a prequel series based on the same author’s work that is equally unfinished in book form. So we might have more of Spoiler Alert  to look forward to no matter how, if, or whether House of the Dragon ever floats your shipping boat.

And that is an EXCELLENT thing!

Review: Riverside by Glenda Young and Ian Skillicorn + Giveaway

Review: Riverside by Glenda Young and Ian Skillicorn + GiveawayRiverside: The feel-good, life-affirming story of love, friendship, family and new beginnings by Ian Skillicorn, Glenda Young
Narrator: David McClelland, Melanie Crawley, Becky Wright, Lisa Armytage, Gerard Fletcher, Toby Laurence, Glen McCready, Penelope Rawlins, Keith Drinkel, Michael Chance
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: family saga, romantic comedy
Pages: 336
Length: 3 hours 51 minutes
Published by Wyndham Media Ltd. on July 21, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon

The feel-good, life-affirming story of love, friendship, family, and new beginnings!

Changes are coming to the riverside town of Ryemouth, and while some of the community are excited by new beginnings, others are finding it hard to let go of the past.

A new 14-episode audio soap with a cast of loveable characters you'll want to laugh and cry along with.

Susan and her boyfriend Dave can't wait to open their new café and deli, The Old Engine Room. But Susan's dad, George, is not so thrilled. He's never approved of Dave, who used to hang out with the wrong crowd. Can the happy young couple win George round?

Mary and Ruby have been friends since the first day of infant school, even though their lives have turned out very differently. Mary has a contented family life with husband George and daughter Susan. Poor Ruby has never been so lucky in love. Then she meets her teenage crush in surprising circumstances. Mary has her doubts about the charming Paul. Will Ruby finally get her own happy ever after?

Dave wants to put his past behind him. His dream is to make a success of the business, and one day be a good husband and father, like his own dad, Mike. Yet, he's forced to keep a secret from everyone he loves. Who should he turn to for help out of a tricky situation?

When the community comes under threat from developers, can everyone put their differences to one side to defend the town they love?

Riverside is full of romance, heartbreak and secrets, as well as gentle wit and humor.

The Riverside audiobook drama is based on the popular weekly magazine serial written and created by Glenda Young.

My Review:

A small town, a big change and two families whose reactions to that change and fortunes as a result of that change have gone in somewhat different directions. And in the middle, a young couple, not exactly Romeo and Juliet, but still caught in the tension between their two sets of parents but wanting to make a go of their own life – together.

If only they can get their parents – or at least get her acerbic, reluctant, pessimistic dad – to see that his perpetual “glass half-empty” attitude is driving a wedge between his daughter and her happiness. The one thing he wants more than anything else.

Once upon a time, Ryemouth was a shipbuilding town. A time that is not so long ago that Mike Brennan and George Dougal didn’t both spend 30 years of their working lives at the shipyard. But Mike and George are in the 50s now, both trying to figure out what happens next in their lives.

And that’s where the story gets its tensions from. It’s not that Mike and George are enemies, more that their fortunes have taken different turns afterwards. George fights change at every turn, while Mike embraces it – with the result that the Dougals have had a more difficult economic time in the aftermath of the shipyard closure, while the Brennans are doing well.

That George’s daughter Susan and Mike’s son Dave have been dating seriously for a while is just part of the simmering undercurrent. Mike is opening a new restaurant as part of the gentrification of the land that used to be that old shipyard. His son is the manager, and George’s daughter Susan is the assistant manager – putting her in constant company of a man George already doesn’t approve of.

Then again, George doesn’t approve of change much at all. And isn’t in the least shy about saying so at pretty much every opportunity. The families will need to find a way for everyone to do more than co-exist. They need to support their kids and launch them successfully into their own futures.

The parents just have to figure out how to get out of their own way. Well, at least George does.

Escape Rating B: If the premise of this sounds comfortably familiar, it should. It’s pretty much the opening scenario for every soap opera ever. And there’s a reason for that comfort, because this format is a lovely way to introduce all sorts of sometimes cozy, occasionally uncomfortable, and frequently just close enough to real situations to tug at the heartstrings.

What makes Riverside a bit different from the usual run of soaps – in addition to its small-town English setting – is that the story is told entirely in audio. But it’s not a radio play. The story is told through just the voices of the characters. There is minimal narration and very little in the way of sound effects – mostly ringing phones and doorbells.

In order for this to work, the voices have to be distinct and the actors have to be excellent at telling their part of the story through tone and inflection – because the listener doesn’t have anything else to go on.

The story that is told in Riverside is comfortably familiar. Two families, who have known each other since the parents grew up together – if not longer – have to work their way through ties of friendship and thorny knots of contention to support the next generation. While that next generation has their own issues to deal with.

But the way the story is told makes everything fresh and new, whether it’s the way that George is finally able to weaponize his hatred of change for the good of the community, Mary Dougal’s best friend Ruby and her lifelong misadventures in romance, or young Dave Brennan forced to confront the misadventures of his not so distant youth before they consume the hope of his present – and his future with Susan.

So if you’re looking for a way to while away a few hours that will pass very swiftly, listening to the trials and triumphs of the Dougals and the Brennans in Riverside is a lovely way to make a Sunday drive go just that much faster – without breaking the speed limit!

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Giveaway to Win 5 x Audio copies of Riverside (Open to UK/US)
*Terms and Conditions –UK/US entries welcome. Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Extra Witchy by Ann Aguirre

Review: Extra Witchy by Ann AguirreExtra Witchy (Fix-It Witches, #3) by Ann Aguirre
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, paranormal romance, romantic comedy
Series: Fix-It Witches #3
Pages: 368
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on October 4, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

After two failed marriages, Leanne Vanderpol is here for a good time, not for a long time. She only loves the witches in her coven, and she cares more about her career than happily ever after. A difficult past makes her skittish, and she doesn't trust relationships to stick. But when she decides to run for city council instead of wasting her talents cleaning up messes for the mayor's office, she fears her past could be used against her.
Unless she can find the right husband to shore up her political career...
Trevor Montgomery might have peaked in high school. He was popular then, and in college as well, but he partied away his future, met the wrong person, and everything fell apart. Now he's jobless, dateless, and hopeless, at least according to his toxic family. Then a chance meeting with the redhead of his dreams offers an unexpected ray of light just when he needs it most.
Can a woman who doesn't believe in forever find true love with a man who's stopped believing in anything at all?
The third in an adorable witchy rom-com series by New York Times bestselling author Ann Aguirre, perfect for fans of:The bonds of sisterhoodA career-driven heroine who thinks she isn't marriage materialA pan hero who struggles with depressionAnd a shocking family secret

My Review:

I picked this up because this is the third book in the Fix-It Witches series and in spite of my very mixed reaction to the first two books, Witch Please and Boss Witch, I was determined to finish the series. Even if I had to rage read my way through this final book.

Which I pretty much did. At least right up until the halfway point – when it got better. And kept on getting better from there until the end.

But that first 50% was one hell of a slog.

First, there’s the pattern of the series as a whole, in that the second book in the Fix-It Witches series, Boss Witch, picked up the action in the middle of Witch Please and re-told the second half of THAT story from a new perspective. Which means that the action of this third book in the series begins in the middle of the second book and proceeds to tell some of that same story from yet another point of view – and in considerably more detail.

To make that part of the long story short, this is not a series where you really need to worry about not having read the previous books, because you will read at least half the previous book before you learn if anything truly new happens in the one you have in hand.

What made the first half of this one particularly hard to get through were the parts of Boss Witch that got repeated. We already know that Leanne Vanderpol seemed to have married Trevor Montgomery totally out of the blue because we see that event from an outside perspective in the earlier book.

But the deets…well the deets are a bit of a hot mess and so are both Leanne and Trevor. Trevor is Titus the Cinnaman’s best friend, so we met him back in Witch Please. From the outside, it seems like 30-something Trevor hasn’t figured out what he wants to do when he grows up. That would be the kind explanation.

The unkind description would be that he hasn’t grown up, and that his life resembles that of Shaggy (Scooby-Doo’s human) a bit too much. That’s certainly what his parents would say, when the truth is that Trevor has been sunk in a clinical depression for a long time and doesn’t see much of a way out even though he really would like to find one.

Which is where Leanne enters his life.

Leanne is a doormat with ambitions. She doesn’t mean to be a doormat, but she is the person everyone relies on to take care of things she shouldn’t have to take care of because that’s pretty much how her flighty, witchy mother raised her. Or truthfully didn’t raise her but left her to raise herself. Her boss, the city manager, is dumping on her and her irresponsible mother has just arrived in town and Leanne is having a bit of a meltdown because she can’t let herself let out all the crap she’s holding in.

Neither Leanne nor Trevor remotely have their shit together – no matter how much it seems like Leanne does on the surface. The first half of the story sinks under the weight of their collective inability to figure out what to do with their lives to a degree that might have worked well in their 20s but not when both are in their mid-30s.

When they get together anyway, the story doesn’t merely pick itself up. It actually starts to shine way more than I was expecting by that point. Separately, they are each a mess. Together, they make each other strong in their broken places.

Enough for both of them to finally start getting their own acts together. They just have to get out of their own ways to realize that not only have they caught feelings for each other – but that they deserve the happiness and fulfillment that comes with them.

Escape Rating B-: The rating is considerably higher than I thought it was going to be in the first half of the book. Their romantic comedy-esque marriage of convenience starts out as plenty convenient but not remotely comedy. They are both way too messed up for that.

But giving each other a truly secure foundation, something neither of them has ever had, is the making of both of them in a way that was rather delightful and completely unexpected – even if they did connect so quickly that I wondered if their insta-love was at least partly fueled by some kind of witchcraft.

Still, the second half of this one had a lightness and a verve and a witchy spark that was missing in the first half, and Leanne and Trevor turned out to be a couple whose whole was literally greater than the sum of their original parts. So I’m glad I made myself finish, but I don’t think I’ll be coming back to this witchy Midwestern town even if the series continues.

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!