Under A Painted Sky (2015)

by Stacey Lee
ASIN/ISBN: 9780606383912
Publication: March 17,2015

Under A Painted Sky is Lee’s debut novel. I’m a few years behind, but it could have been worse. I might have missed it altogether. It’s a stunning debut that immediately hooked me from the first line: “They say death aims only once and never misses, but I doubt Ty Yorkshire thought it would strike a scrubbing brush. This harrowing tale of the long and dangerous trek west on the Oregon Trail is told through Samantha, a young Chinese girl who accidentally kills a man in self-defense. Although only trying to protect herself, she knows she will be charged with murder simply because the law will not take the side of a Chinese girl. Samantha is rescued by Annamae, a slave who seizes the opportunity to pursue her freedom, and together they flee west disguised as young men, Sam and Andy. En route to their destinations, they’re joined by cowboys Cay, West, and Peety, individuals also fleeing from circumstances of their own.

Lee is able to convey the harsh realities of the Oregon Trail from stampedes to the threat of bandits on the loose, but she provides a more nuanced tale by having the main character be Chinese American, someone born in the U.S. yet still viewed as perpetually foreign. Utilizing a person of color as the main character provides a different perspective of the world during this period. Anti-Asian sentiment is featured prominently in the story beginning with the predicament Sam finds herself in and the all-around vitriol environment from the use of racial slurs to how she is generally treated. One of the more pivotal moments strikes when Sam appears on a wanted poster except the picture isn’t her at all, feeding into the stereotype that all Asians look alike. Lee also captures the U.S.’s racist history through Andy’s stories about her siblings, which are heartbreaking as she relates them to Sam. 

Sam and Andy’s relationship is the highlight of this story. They start as strangers thrown together by extenuating circumstances and are forced to trust one another. This shared experience forces them to bond with each other but eventually, it grows into something stronger. They look out for one another and inspire courage in each other. They begin to regard each other as more than friends; they begin to feel like sisters.

Found family is a heartwarming trope I love, and I especially enjoyed it here as Sam, Andy, and the trio of cowboys slowly worm their way into each other’s hearts. The conversations they have are often hilarious, and Cay’s antics provide much-welcomed comic relief. As their fondness for one another grows, Sam also develops a crush on one of the cowboys. Unexpectedly, I was gutted by the romance in this novel and was left upset for a few days. It wasn’t even a full-blown romance but more of an unrequited crush. I would reread some of the scenes over and try to make better sense of why it affected me so much but would come away slightly more devastated each time, repeatedly breaking my own heart. (I don’t understand why Lee did this to me!! Why???) I’m attributing it to having connected with Sam and the pain that comes with having a crush.

Overall, this was such a wonderful read centered around loss and friendship. I couldn’t put it down, and even after I finished reading it, I still didn’t want to. I just kept right on thinking about it. Stacey Lee is a phenomenal writer and reminded me why I used to adore historical fiction. If she is at the helm, I’ll be reading more books from this genre.

Romance Interlude 2.8

These interludes have turned into more of me ranting than actual reviews. I apologize profusely for that and also because it will likely remain this way. I like having these as outlets so I can shout about how much I love a book or gripe about how much a book was just okay. So far, I’ve been on a roll with romance books that are “just ok” so I’ve been doing more rereads, which means less interludes. Hopefully it will pick back up soon. If you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear about them!


The Accidental Kiss (2019)
by Heatherly Bell
ASN/ISBN: B07P16B1MD
Publication: April 25, 2019
Goodreads Summary
Series: Miracle #1

One liner: Best friends are secretly in love with each other and are unsure about whether they should move their relationship to the next step due to occupational hazards.

Friends-to-lovers is one of my favorite tropes so I was looking forward to this one. The opening is hilarious because Charley is trying to chase down her foster sister’s baby daddy. The problem is that she doesn’t know who it is so she’s just tracking down men in her foster sister’s life and basically scaring the sh*t out of them. I loved the opening and thought I would really like the book but there were parts I liked a lot and others were just okay. Eventually, it started to drag just a bit. I enjoyed Charley and Dylan’s friendship. They were perfect for each other, balancing one another out, but their fears kept them apart, specifically Charley’s unwillingness to stay in one place long enough and Dylan’s fear that being a firefighter could mean leaving behind someone he loved should anything happen. The whole sunset kiss legend wasn’t something I was particularly fond of. It felt a bit cheesy to me in this context. I loved the epigraphs! Here are a few of two of my favorites: “I just don’t want to look back and think, ‘I could have eaten that’ “and “Each month has an average of 30-31 days, except the last month of pregnancy, which is 1,453 days.” Funny, right?


Dante’s Angel (2015)
by Laurie Roma
ASN/ISBN: B08K9HLS77
Publication: September 27, 2020
First Published: November 21, 2015
Goodreads Summary
Series: Breakers’ Bad Boys #3

One liner: Zoe is a musical prodigy hiding her identity in Breakers while working for and falling in love with Dante Fox.

The first half of the book was good and there was a lot of chemistry between Zoe and Dante. One of the most memorable parts of the book is the opening when Dante heads back from the gym and finds Zoe playing her violin in his bar. This set the tone for the first half of the book–lots of repressed feelings from both Dante and Zoe and a somewhat slow burn. I was on board for the majority of the book–despite some cringey/cheesy lines–but then the last portion I didn’t enjoy where the book was headed and the dialogue between Dante and Zoe also got cringier at times. The book doesn’t drag. I was nearly done with the book when I remembered to check progress.


Rush (2013)
by Beth Yarnall
ASN/ISBN: 9781940811987
Publication: October 13, 2013
Goodreads Summary
Series: Pleasure at Home

One liner: Miyuki Price-Jones is being stalked so her employer hires bodyguard Lucas Vega to protect her.

This one took me a while to finish because I kept jumping from book to book. While it started off interesting enough, I was close to DNF-ing it because it went from strangers to insta-lust in just a few pages. It’s insta-lust and not love. I know it happens but it just didn’t work well here for me. I tried setting that aside, and when I successfully did that, I could enjoy the story a lot better. Then another problem arose: there was so much going on. Not only was there a stalker, but there were protestors, Miyuki had secrets, and Lucas had some personal things going on including his family and an ex-fiance. There were not enough pages to thoroughly give attention to everything so some of these storylines didn’t go very far. When the book was solely on Miyuki and Lucas, it wasn’t bad. The storyline I was most disappointed with was Miyuki’s family secret and her relationship with her brother. One minute he was a jerk and all of sudden he wasn’t. There was a lot of potential there.

Romance Interlude 1.7

I’m a definite mood reader. I read whatever I feel like reading at that moment, thus these random books here and there. I don’t really read an entire series unless the books feature the same characters or are not standalones or the it sounds really interesting or….just kidding. Hence, #6 from a series here, #2 from a series there, then some other book from a different series…I’m everywhere! I think that’s something I’m thankful for about romance novels. The books within a series are often interconnected but they can be read as standalone. I can just read one book and then jump ship to another series. Perfect for my many moods.


The Chocolate Temptation (2014)
by Laura Florand
ISBN: 9780988506534
Publication: January 14, 2014
Goodreads Summary
Series: Amour et Chocolat #6

One liner: Sous chef seduces the intern who is trying not to fall for his advances.

Sarah is an American intern who gave up her engineering career to become a patisserie and Patrick is the French sous chef who saw her potential. First, there’s the power imbalance that I’m not particularly found of–intern vs. boss–so I wasn’t sure how much I would like it. Their largest hurdles were themselves. If they could have talked things out, it would have been easier to bear…but it takes forever for them to get there. Patrick is frustrating because it’s he gives all these mixed signals. The best parts were their interactions in the kitchen but scenes in the kitchen became more sparse as the book came to an end. The ending was only so-so, making it feel a bit dragged out.


Crazy for the Competition (2015)
by Cindy Madsen
ASIN: B00XTX1TH8
Publication: June 9, 2015
Goodreads Summary
Series: Hope Springs #2

One liner: Competitors for a property are forced to work together and fall for each other.

It felt like I was reading a Hallmark movie (this is a compliment). Small town? Check. Leads competing over an inn? Check. Making a float? Check. I sympathized with Quinn because she tried so hard to meet her parents’ expectations, even forgoing the type of guy she normally dates to someone her parents would prefer instead. They still never seemed to be pleased with her except for dating the guy they liked who turns out to not be a great guy. Then there was this whole conversation about “it is my culture, you don’t understand” that made me go, “What? Isn’t it universal to try to respect our parents and, to an extent, try to fulfill their dreams for us?” There is a spectrum, maybe from not at all to anything and everything, about how far people might go or feel obligated to try to do that but c’mon. It wasn’t a bad read but this part made me cringe.


The Heart’s Game (2014)
by Christa McHugh
ISBN: 9781940559940
Publication: July 5, 2014
Goodreads Summary
Series: The Kelly Brothers #4

One liner: A woman’s one night stand thinks she’s pregnant with his child, but she’s actually serving as a surrogate for her brother.

One night stands that turn into more than one night, possibly a relationship are always fun. I especially like when the love interest who is all “I only do one night stands” is the one that suddenly wants the relationship. I liked the beginning of this with the Jenny being a gamer and making the first move. Miscommunication was the main barrier for between Jenny and Dan. I hate that trope so I wasn’t too fond of it. It was a pretty quick read and not too bad. This one goes into depth with a Vietnamese wedding, which I appreciated. Unfortunately, I don’t know very much about Vietnamese weddings so I don’t know how accurate it is portrayed. Originally part of my Tropeical Readathon TBR, I’m glad that I finally picked it up.


Keeping Score (2016)
by Sara Rider
ISBN: 9781501132810
Publication: November 7, 2016
Goodreads Summary
Series: The Perfect Play #2

One liner: Injured soccer player is in a battle of wills against the team physiotherapist because she refuses to have him look at an injury.

I liked Jaime’s personality. She’s the fun one. It’s not a party until she arrives. She loves her teammates and is the one who tries to motivate everyone. I loved the camaraderie between the women. Despite having an injury, she goes out of her to avoid Alex Martinez, the hot team physiotherapist. It gets pretty amusing when Alex starts messing with her back. Eventually we find out there are multiple reasons for this and why Jaime is the fun, playful one on the team. While there’s this whole keep the reader guessing about what’s going on, it was pretty predictable. Everything wasn’t too bad until probably the end, which ruined all the goodness I thought the book had going on. It felt rushed and didn’t seem plausible. Had the ending been different, I think this would have been a 3, maybe even a 4 for me.

Romance Interlude 1.4


Not My Romeo (2020)
by Isla Madden-Mills
ISBN: 9781542021883
Publication: August 18, 2020
Goodreads Summary
Series: The Game Changers #1

One liner: A case of mistaken identity leads to romance between a librarian and professional quarterback.

Elena mistakes Jack for the weatherman she is supposed to meet on a blind date and Jack doesn’t correct her. She’s unaware of the mix-up because she doesn’t pay attention to sports, and she also doesn’t seem to watch the news. This is especially plausible with the variety of outlets we can use to avoid all these things. The rest of the book remains as entertaining as Elena signing the NDA as Juliet Capulet. I enjoyed the book a lot and there was very little downtime. I would definitely recommend Not My Romeo.


A Lie for A Lie (2019)
by Helena Hunting
ISBN: 9781542015356
Publication: October 15, 2019
Goodreads Summary
Series: All In #1

One liner: Hockey team captain and graduate student unexpectedly meet again in Chicago after an unplanned tryst in Alaska.

The book starts of interesting with Rook and Lainey meeting on a plane, both on their way to Kodiak Island in Alaska. Somewhat isolated on the island, they give in to their attraction but Rook gets called away before too long. What happens on the island is probably the best part of the book. It’s after their accidental meeting in Chicago where the book begins to lose a bit of steam and starts jumping around. A lot of things happen in the last quarter of the book that should have been spaced out a lot more. While it was initially good, the ending was a bit disappointing because so many things happened when the book was wrapping up.


Pucked (2015)
by Helena Hunting
ISBN: 9780993800139
Publication: May 3, 2015
Goodreads Summary
Series: Pucked #1

One liner: Team captain has a one-night stand with new teammate’s sister and tries to pursue a relationship with her.

I liked how Hunting wrote Violet to be both loud and sexually comfortable with herself. She was refreshing as a main character. Her relationship with her step-brother was pretty endearing despite neither being touchy-feely. It was clear they were close even though neither particularly liked to express how much they cared about one another. It kind of bothered me a bit that Violet made these snarky comments about how not-so-smart her step-brother was, especially when he was super protective of her. While I liked reading Pucked, once things were resolved, it went on for a chapter or two too long. I felt the additional pages weren’t necessary and affected the overall experience so I had to drop 1/2 a star. Also, All In is apparently a spin-off from the Pucked series but I read A Lie for A Lie first.

Romance Interlude 1.3

I am thankful for…college campus romances. There are so many of them out there, and I am not complaining. So many are sports themed! And again, I’m not complaining. I am not athletically-gifted but I sure am glad there are romantic leads who are.


The Deal (2015)
by Elle Kennedy
ISBN: 9781775293934
Publication: February 24, 2015
Goodreads Summary
Series: Off-Campus #1

One liner: Hockey player asks music major to help tutor him in exchange for getting her crush to notice her.

I read this back in August and enjoyed it. I didn’t realize just how much I liked it until I found myself rereading my favorite parts throughout summer and into fall, even rereading the entire book more recently. Garrett ended up being this really sweet guy and I liked Hannah a lot. It was fun to see Garrett fall over his feet for this girl who didn’t really care who he was. I liked her immunity to Garrett’s charm…until she wasn’t. (I mean, a girl can only take so much swooniness.) There are several subplots but they do not take away from our central couple, instead enhancing the relationship. (Content Warning: The characters share their personal experiences with rape and abuse. A minor character we meet closer to the end is also in an abusive relationship. I didn’t expect this so it was a bit jarring at first.)


The Setup (2020)
by Meghan Quinn
ISBN: 9798684487699
Publication: September 10, 2020
Goodreads Summary
Series: Baseball Romances

One liner: Meddling moms set up their college-aged kids who are both athletes at the same university.

The book started out really good. Initially irritated with his mom, Lincoln becomes more enamored with Indie the longer he hangs out with her. Indie, on the other hand, remains insistent about not starting a relationship and concentrating on soccer despite their mutual attraction. That’s also why they seem perfect for each other–they’re both focused on their athletic careers. I loved Lincoln and as much as I liked Indie, I could not get past how unhealthy she was for him. I also disliked the multiple time jumps at the end of the novel. This is a book that I would have given a higher rating but aspects of Indie’s character and the ending just wouldn’t allow me to give it. (Just thinking about it is sort of bringing my mood down. I liked the beginning so much.)

**Quick note: I Hate You and I Promise You don’t seem to fall into an official series but both take place at the same university with leads that show up in the other’s book. They can be read as stand-alone but just know you’ll see cross-appearances.


I Hate You (2019)
by Ilsa Madden-Mills
ISBN: 9781085802116
Publication: August 20, 2019
Goodreads Summary
Series: N/A **

One liner: After a public break-up, exes realize they aren’t over each other.

While I enjoyed it when I was reading it, I couldn’t remember much of it after. I needed to skim it again to recall what happened, which isn’t really a good thing especially since I read it so recently. Despite liking each other, Blaze and Charisma are commitment phobic. This gets revealed as we learn more about them on their way back to each other, going from lovers to enemies to friends to lovers again. The book was good but I’m not sure this is one I would read again. It had its moments but nothing that made my heart ZING!!! I do like Madden-Mills’s writing and will likely be reading more from her (obviously…see book below…hehehe).


I Promise You (2020)
by Ilsa Madden-Mills
ISBN: 9798694398961
Publication Date: October 8, 2020
Goodreads Summary
Series: N/A **

One-liner: Quarterback finally finds the girl he’s been searching for since freshman year but neither makes a good second impression on the other.

I liked that Dillon wasn’t necessarily this smooth talking playboy, although he is most definitely a playboy. When he finally meets Serena again after three long years, he’s pretty much all in but still gives her space to figure out if this is what she wants. I’m happy to announce he is not an alpha male that grunts and pulls Serena every which way he pleases. (Woohoo!) Serena’s still getting over a bad breakup and is hesitant to get into a relationship. Her quirk is that she spouts random facts–I know more about Oreos than I ever really wanted to know. As her Nana says, “it grows on you.” I can’t say the book left me with zings but it was an entertaining read that helped passed the time.