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: Fated Blades by Ilona Andrews

Review: Fated Blades by Ilona AndrewsFated Blades (Kinsmen, #3) by Ilona Andrews
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Kinsmen #3
Pages: 222
Published by Montlake on November 23, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

An uneasy alliance between warring families gets heated in this otherworldly novella from bestselling author Ilona Andrews.
At first glance, the planet Rada seems like a lush paradise. But the ruling families, all boasting genetically enhanced abilities, are in constant competition for power―and none more so than the Adlers and the Baenas. For generations, the powerful families have pushed and pulled each other in a dance for dominance.
Until a catastrophic betrayal from within changes everything.
Now, deadly, disciplined, and solitary leaders Ramona Adler and Matias Baena must put aside their enmity and work together in secret to prevent sinister forces from exploiting universe-altering technology. Expecting to suffer through their uneasy alliance, Ramona and Matias instead discover that they understand each other as no one in their families can―and that their combined skills may eclipse the risks of their forbidden alliance.
As the two warriors risk their lives to save their families, they must decide whether to resist or embrace the passion simmering between them. For now, the dance between their families continues―but just one misstep could spell the end of them both.

My Review:

This book was an absolutely delightful surprise in more ways than one!

First, I have to say that it was a surprise that it existed. The first two books in the Kinsmen series, Silent Blade and Silver Shark, came out over a decade ago. When I reviewed them both in 2014 for the late and much lamented Science Fiction Romance Quarterly, they were all there were.

But that’s a long time ago in, let’s call them, “book years”.

They were both terrific – although unfortunately terrifically short – and I stopped hoping for more a long time ago. Yet here we are.

After a very long hiatus, the Kinsmen series is back in Fated Blades. And it’s every bit as much fun as the previous books, as well as blissfully more than a bit longer.

That’s always been my one complaint about the series – that the books aren’t nearly long enough. And it’s still true – although getting better each time.

The story, on its surface, is simple enough. This is an enemies to lovers story with a vengeance. Literally. The Adlers and the Baenas have been enemies and rivals for centuries – all the way back to the founding of the colony on the planet Rada.

A rivalry that has occasionally bloomed into a hot war, but has always simmered as a lukewarm if not cold conflict between merciless rivals. An evenly matched antagonism between rival clans with the same business interests and the same dedication to continuing the extreme martial training of their ancestors.

But the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And this story begins when Ramona Adler stalks into Matias Baena’s office – into the heart of her enemy’s territory – because she and Matias have a desperate common cause – he just doesn’t know it until her one-woman invasion of his family’s corporate tower.

His wife has run off with her husband. Not that either of them loves their arranged spouse any more than those spouses love them. Or anyone but themselves. This betrayal isn’t nearly that simple.

Both companies have invested all their resources, pushing themselves to the brink of collapse, in order to research the genetic modifications that made them both the warrior clans that they are. And both of their spouses have run away with each other and with all of both companies’ research with the intent to sell it to the highest bidder.

Leaving both companies, and both families, destroyed in their wake. Not that either of their errant spouses give a damn.

Ramona and Matias must ally with each other – their deadliest rival – in order to stop the destruction of everything they hold dear.

In their hunt to stop their traitorous spouses, they discover two things. That said spouses are even bigger traitors than either of them thought.

And that Ramona and Matias, the heirs of generations of mutual hatred, are each other’s perfect match. In love and in war.

Escape Rating A-: Fated Blades is a tremendously fun use of all of the best tropes in science fiction romance – not that most of them can’t be applied to other types of romance as well!

But seriously, the thing about SFR is that both sides have to be balanced. The SFnal worldbuilding has to be self-consistent and hold together, and the romance has to be a solidly satisfying romance set in that well-built SFnal world.

Fated Blades delivers a story that walks that tightrope balance beautifully.

Even three books in, the world of the Kinsmen has plenty of facets to explore – but what we do have feels solid. It’s a well-established Earth-diaspora colony in a sector filled with more of them. The world of Rada and its sector read like a livable place that is just enough like our own time and place to seem familiar while being just different enough to seem exotic. Rada and its sister worlds have an established history that we get just enough glimpses of to think we know what’s going on and what went on in their past.

While the real enemy that they face is the stuff of SFnal nightmares that combine the Reavers from Firefly with every 21st century totalitarian nightmare into an enemy that must be feared, respected and eliminated to the last soldier and damn the diplomatic consequences.

At the same time, the romance combines the classic enemies to lovers trope with just a touch of fated mate syndrome and more than a bit of the crash and mutual rescue dynamic of Shards of Honor. A winning combination if ever there was one.

I had a great reading time returning to the Kinsmen universe, even after all these years. I loved the stuttering, back and forth relationship between Ramona and Matias, although I wish I’d gotten a bit more about their families and how their part of this universe came to be. I’d love to read more in this world, hopefully sooner rather than quite this much later after the previous book.

And they’re still too damn short.

Review: An Invincible Summer by Mariah Stewart + Giveaway

Review: An Invincible Summer by Mariah Stewart + GiveawayAn Invincible Summer by Mariah Stewart
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Series: Wyndham Beach #1
Pages: 378
Published by Montlake on May 1, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

It was a lifetime ago that recently widowed Maggie Flynn was in Wyndham Beach. Now, on the occasion of her fortieth high school reunion, she returns to her hometown on the Massachusetts coast, picking up right where she left off with dear friends Lydia and Emma. But seeing Brett Crawford again stirs other emotions. Once, they were the town’s golden couple destined for one another. He shared Maggie’s dreams—and eventually, a shattering secret that drove them apart.
Buying her old family home and resettling in Wyndham Beach means a chance to start over for Maggie and her two daughters, but it also means facing her rekindled feelings for her first love and finally confronting—and embracing—the past in ways she never thought possible. Maggie won’t be alone. With her family and friends around her, she can weather this stormy turning point in her life and open her heart to the future. As for that dream shared and lost years ago? If Maggie can forgive herself, it still might come true.

My Review:

It’s not that summer is invincible, even if it sometimes feels that way. It’s that during this particular summer Maggie Flynn, along with her besties Lydia and Emma, discover that their friendship, tried and tested and true, makes them invincible.

Not in spite of, but because of, the 50+ years it has been supporting and sustaining them. Although definitely in spite of all the challenges that life has thrown their way.

The story begins in the summer of their 40th high school reunion, making all three women 58 give or take a few months. Lydia and Emma have lived in tiny Wyndham Beach Massachusetts all their lives, while Maggie left to work in Philadelphia and ended up staying there for 30 years, through marriage, two daughters – and the still recent death of her beloved husband.

When Maggie comes back for the reunion, she discovers that in spite of the years and the miles and the tragedies, Wyndham Beach is still – or again – the place that she thinks of as home. Even though both of her adult daughters live in the Philly area, and she loves them and sees them often, Wyndham Beach, where she grew up and where Lydia and Emma still live, is the place that calls her heart.

Even if she has to face the heartbreak she left behind all those years ago in order to stay.

Escape Rating A: This is EXACTLY the kind of story I think of as “women’s fiction”. And as much as I dislike that phrase, I LOVED this book.

One of the things I loved was Maggie. It was terrific to see a story centered on a woman near my own age that focused on her and not on her 20something daughters. Not that Maggie’s daughters aren’t important to the story and not that they don’t get their share of pages, or of Maggie’s attention. And certainly not that they don’t have their own issues to deal with over the course of the book.

But the focus here is on Maggie. She’s the person at the center, it’s about her friendships, her adult relationships with her daughters and her possibilities for romance. She’s the one turning a corner in her life and she’s the one who has to make decisions about her future.

A future that the story dives into from all sides with the acknowledgement that at not-quite-60 Maggie still has plenty of life to live and love to give and that she’s not ready to step back from life. The same is also true of her friends Emma and Lydia.

In other words, Maggie may be a grandmother, but that is far from the entire focus of the rest of her life. It doesn’t have to be and it probably shouldn’t be.

The terrific thread that runs through the story is the way that all of the women, Maggie, Lydia, Emma and Maggie’s daughters Natalie and Grace are ALL at inflection points in their lives. And that all of them grasp their respective bulls by their horns and wrestle their lives into the shapes that they want to live. If romance happens for any of them, it’s the icing on a cake they’ve baked themselves with help from each other.

Also, the issue in Maggie’s past that was holding her back, while the shape of it, so to speak, was obvious early on, the exact nature of the original issue and the way it got resolved was both surprising and lovely.

Honestly, the whole book was just a lovely, charming read from beginning to end.

This is one of those cases where a story turned out to be the right book at the right time. I fell into the lives of Maggie, her friends and her daughters with a contented sigh, and was sorry to fall out of Wyndham Beach at the end. So I’m very happy to see that there will be a second book in this series, Goodbye Again, just in time to pull me out of the winter doldrums next February. That beach is going to sound awfully good about then!

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

I am really, really pleased to be able to give a copy of An Invincible Summer away to one very lucky US/CAN winner. I loved this book and hope the winner will too! (As far as the question in the rafflecopter, I haven’t been to a single reunion since the 10th. I wasn’t close to anyone in high school haven’t had the urge to go and probably won’t. YMMV)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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