Sweethand (2021)

by N.G. Peltier
ASN/ISBN: B08GV497WC
Publication: March 30, 2021
Series: Island Bites #1

(Review at the End)

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DESCRIPTION

After a public meltdown over her breakup from her cheating musician boyfriend, Cherisse swore off guys in the music industry, and dating in general for a while, preferring to focus on growing her pastry chef business.

When Cherisse’s younger sister reveals she’s getting married in a few months, Cherisse hopes that will distract her mother enough to quit harassing her about finding a guy, settling down and having kids. But her mother’s matchmaking keeps intensifying.

Cherisse tries to humour her mother, hoping if she feigns interest in the eligible bachelors she keeps tossing her way, she’ll be off the hook, but things don’t quite go as planned. Turns out for the first time in ages, she and Keiran King, the most annoying man ever, are on the island at the same time. Avoiding him is impossible, especially when Keiran’s close friend is the one marrying her sister, and he’s the best man to her maid of honour.

Keiran doesn’t know what to make of Cherisse now. They’ve always butted heads. To him she’s always been a stuck-up brat who seeks attention, even while he secretly harbored a crush on her. Now with Cherisse’s sister marrying one of his good friends he can’t escape her as the wedding activities keep throwing them together.

When things turn heated after a rainy night of bedroom fun, they both have to figure out if they can survive the countdown to wedding day, without this turning into a recipe for disaster.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

N.G. Peltier is an anime watching, book reading, video-game playing, story writing kinda girl.

A devourer of words and books from a young age, she enjoys writing romance and creeping people out with the Caribbean folklore stories she grew up hearing.

A Trinidadian born and raised, she currently lives in Trinidad with her mountain of ideas and characters battling each other for whose story get told next.

She is represented by Lauren Abramo of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC

Website | Goodreads


REVIEW

**I was provided a copy of the book by the author. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

First, let’s admire the cover. I adore it so very much! I love the color scheme with the warm tones giving off such a cozy, homey feeling. It’s reminiscent of one of my other favorite covers, A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow, which exudes similar feelings but with a bit cooler tone. Just in case it wasn’t enough that Cherisse is a baker and bakes so many delicious goodies, the cover also made me crave tangerines and sherbert. (Yes, food is always on my mind.)

Did what was on the inside live up to the beauty of the outside? Yes, for the most part it does. I enjoyed the novel and liked both lead characters.

Cherisse is confident and advocates for herself. She’s smart and knows her worth so when someone like Keiran tries to minimize who she is and what she does, she is more than willing to kill with kindness. Keiran is musically talented (for the most part) and petty too. He’s a genuinely nice guy, but just not to Cherisse. This is a classic case of two nice people (friends swear they’re both great individuals) who just can’t seem to be nice to each other. For some reason, they bring out the worst in one another, and, luckily for us, we get to read about their evolution from hate to love. Being forced to work together on the wedding festivities puts them in close proximity (squee!), and they slowly, although somewhat begrudgingly, overcome their misconceptions of each other. Overcoming one’s biases is a consistent theme in the book, and Cherisse and Keiran’s evolving relationship portrays it well.

I enjoyed the antics and the development of their relationship up until nearly the end. Everything was going well until the third act conflict hit. It didn’t seem like such an overwhelming obstacle but maybe to Cherisse’s character it is. I was hoping for something just a bit…more. The solution was cute, but it was also swift and led to an abrupt ending. Also, I never used to care about epilogues but, darn it, I think I’ve gotten so spoiled with the prevalence of epilogues in romance novels that I was extremely sad there wasn’t one in here. It would have helped with the book’s ending because I really really want to know what happens next in their relationship.

There were a few things I could see coming from pages away but it did not mean I enjoyed the book any less. It was nice to bask in the feelings those moments evoked because Cherisse and Keiran had great banter often followed by inner turmoil over what they were feeling toward one another. There were a few subplots I wanted more about. They served their purpose to push the romance along but then I kept wondering what happened next. Since this is just the first book in the series, maybe I can get some closure in the next book even if it’s a quick throwaway to say this is what happened with that thing that happened in the first book.

Overall, it was a good read. If you’re an enemies-to-lovers fan, this book will hit the right spots.

Into the Crooked Place (2019)/City of Spells (2021)

by Alexandra Christo
Series Review

**Includes spoilers for Into the Crooked Place.**

**I was provided copies of both books through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed them. All opinions are my own.**

intothecrookedplace_cover

Into the Crooked Place
ASN/ISBN:  9781250318374
Publication: October 8, 2019


Into the Crooked Place (2019) invites readers into a gritty underworld through the eyes of four individuals: Wes the underboss of Creije with eyes and ears everywhere; Tavia the busker with a moral code; freedom fighter Saxony who is hiding among crooks; and warrior Karam who serves as Wes’s bodyguard. Christo has crafted a bleak world where the only thing you can trust is that the people around you are more than willing to betray you. The authorities, with few exceptions, are just as untrustworthy as the crooks they are meant to police. When Wes enlists Tavia, Saxony, and Karam, to help protect the city he loves, it’s unclear whether they can truly trust one another.

The book switches between the four main characters, interspersed with chapters told from the point of view of a few minor characters. Through their chapters, we learn about their motivations, their regrets, and their plans. We also get to see the lies they tell each other. With the book switching between the four, I didn’t feel connected to any of them, although I did gravitate toward Tavia as my favorite character. While I enjoyed the first book in the duology, it’s very much an introduction from the characters to the world, so it’s not as exciting as it could be. It’s easy to see the book is building to something possibly bigger that can’t be contained in a single volume. The ending makes up for a somewhat slow start.

cityofspells_cover-1

City of Spells
ASN/ISBN: 9781250318404
Publication: March 9, 2021

City of Spells (2021) is the exciting conclusion to the duology. The loss of Wes is more detrimental than expected. Tavia was said to have been the glue, but Wes was the mastermind. While Wes is left to fend for himself, Tavia, Karam, and Saxony are forced to look for allies to help bring down the Kingpin.

Because the first book already introduced the world and our characters, City of Spells doesn’t require as much time setting up what will happen here. They have to find allies and take down the Kingpin. Although Tavia and Karam maintain their status as main characters, I couldn’t help but feel they were, in many ways, relegated to the background in favor of Wes and Saxony. Karam doesn’t get to do as much except try to maintain peace between Saxony and Tavia. I wish there had been more chapters for Tavia but she doesn’t have as much to do here either so those things feed into each other. Of course, that could just be me being partial to her and wanting more pages allotted to her.

Despite a fairly straight-forward plot, there are enough twists and revelations in the book to ensure readers forge ahead; I couldn’t put it down once I got through the beginning. I can’t help but praise Christo for the ending of City of Spells: it was so good, maybe even better than the one for Into the Crooked Place.

Overall, the duology is a good read with edge of your seat action as each book heads toward their individual conclusions. There is enough world building to make Creije come alive. With a focus on the underbelly of the city, it’s difficult to fully realize the entire Creije society, its governing system, and the rest of the realms. There were times when a sense of place was missing for me. Even though both books have points where the story slows down or drags just a bit, Christo makes up for it with explosive endings–she excels at them. I was impressed with the endings for both books. Also, I don’t really talk about it for fear it might be spoilery but there is also romance and yes, I liked it. It’s only a small part of both books and doesn’t distract from main story.

Down Comes the Night (2021)

by Allison Saft
ASN/ISBN: 9781250623638
Publication: March 2, 2021
Series: N/A


**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

After messing up, yet again, Wren is suspended from the Queen’s Guard and forced to head back to the abbey. After receiving a request from Lord Lowry of Colwick Hall to help heal one of his servants, Wren decides to head to the estate to put her magic to better use and to use her presence there as a diplomatic opportunity to return to the Queen’s Guard. Once there, she realizes that all is not as it seems when she recognizes the servant she is to heal is Hal Cavendish, an enemy to the Crown.

Down Comes the Night is one of my most anticipated reads this year. A YA fantasy with gothic vibes? Who wouldn’t want to read it? While there were elements I would have liked more of, overall, it generally does what it sets out to do–capture our hearts and leave us captivated–but you have to get past the beginning to get there. The beginning of the book attempts to immerse readers in the world Saft’s created and to familiarize us with Wren’s current predicament. Like in any fantasy novel, establishing the world is crucial. While interesting with its ongoing political conflicts and magic system, I was a bit turned off at the beginning largely due to a lovelorn Wren constantly lamenting over her love for best friend Una and not having those feelings reciprocated. It’s not until Wren arrives at the manor that she seems finally in her element and turns into the character I hoped she would be–compassionate and competent, less caught up in a tortuous, somewhat unrequited love. It is also at the manor that the writing itself takes on the tone I was hoping for–mysterious and slightly eerie. Had the book begun and ended at Colwick Hall and been able to retain the air of mystery cultivated at the manor, I likely would have enjoyed it a lot more–not that the other parts weren’t well written; it was just better there.

Once I got to the manor, where the gothic atmosphere settles in, I couldn’t stop turning the pages. The general plot is predictable, but Saft’s writing is engaging; I had to continue reading to confirm my suspicions. The mystery that forces Wren and Hal to work together is fairly straightforward. Saft drops enough clues throughout that, when paired with my suspicions, the reveals didn’t come as a complete surprise. I didn’t mind but what I did want was more blood and gore (I know. I know. For someone who stays away from thrillers, mysteries, and horror I sure do want more of what I don’t normally read in here accompanied with all the fixings, which might be a byproduct of not reading them but wanting a lot when I finally do.) The characters are well developed, with Wren and Hal fleshed out and the side characters also receiving backstories of their own. I felt like I knew them all well and understood their motivations. I think the Queen has the potential to be a more complex character and would love more on her. There’s still much to Wren’s background that remains a mystery whereas we learn a lot about Hal. The romance is a slow-burn (and I cheered when there was just a single bed…heh) and cultivated well.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel. It works as a standalone, but there’s a lot present that lends itself to the possibility of additional books. Individuals expecting a fully immersive gothic novel may come away a bit disappointed because, above all, it is a YA fantasy that contains elements of the gothic genre. (And I know it sounds a bit silly to explain it as such, but the novel isn’t as dark and creepy as what I would normally deem a gothic novel. It’s certainly atmospheric in parts, so it could still be a gothic YA fantasy. Semantics? Probably…Maybe my mind overly emphasized the gothic part prior to reading it.) Readers who head into the novel with this understanding will appreciate the book much more.

The Girl Band Series (2017-2018)

by Pippa Grant
**Reviews are at the End. Click here to Jump to Reviews**

PRESENTING THE NEW COVERS FOR

THE GIRL BAND SERIES

BY PIPPA GRANT


I am an avid reader of Pippa Grant novels because they are hilarious. I think she might be my most read author. It’s a series cover re-reveal, and I was very happy to jump on board to help with the promotions through Give Me Books to celebrate. I was provided with copies of the latter three books, which did not affect my review. I’ve combined my reviews of the books, much like my romance interludes. I’ve placed them all at the end just to make it easier. I’ll also provide a side-by-side comparison of the covers as well.


Mister McHottie Ebook Cover

The best enemies make the best lovers…

There are things I hate:
Bratwurst in any form, my neighbors boinking like farm animals at 3AM, and Chase Jett.

Mostly I hate Chase Jett. It’s been ten years since he took my virginity—I’d make a bratwurst joke, but the unfortunate truth is that it would have to be a brat-best joke, and yes, it kills me to admit that—and now he’s not only a billionaire, he’s also my new boss.

Turns out our hate is mutual. And this kind of hate is horrifically twisted, filthy, and banging hot.

I just might have to hate him forever.

Mister McHottie is the hilariously sexy romantic comedy that your mother warned you about, complete with an organic happy-ever-after (or seven), a Bratwurst Wagon, ill-advised office pranks, and no cheating or cliffhangers. (Photo: Wander Aguiar)

Free in Kindle Unlimited
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Stud in the Stacks Ebook CoverHe’s a librarian by day and the ideal fake boyfriend by night.

When it comes to women, I know what they want. And all day long, I give it to them. Dark, broody, and sexy? You got it. Need to laugh? I’m your guy. Desperate for something to put you in the mood? You’ve come to the right place, kitten.

Every morning when my library opens, there’s a line around the block, the ladies flocking to me in need of their next book boyfriend. I’m that dude. The one who knows his way around the romance section.

And after years of study, my skills don’t stop at the day job. Need a fake boyfriend, fiancé, or friend-with-benefits? I know that plot. I also know to keep my heart off the table, because love is only real between the pages of a book.

So when Parker Elliott needs a temporary fake boyfriend for a reunion, of course I step in. She rocks a mean guitar, she has no idea how sexy she is, and we have something of a history.

Easy, right?

Yep. Piece of cake.

Except this time, I’m actually in danger of falling in love.

Stud in the Stacks is 55,000 sexy, hilarious, sometimes embarrassing words, complete with tacos, romance novel love, unicorn parties, and no cheating or cliffhangers. (Photo: Rafa Catala)

Free in Kindle Unlimited
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Rockaway Bride Ebook CoverA Rock Star Kidnaps a Runaway Bride…Kidnapping the bride seemed like a good idea at the time.

Her fiancé stole my fortune, so I stole his woman.

Tit for tat. Or tat for tit. However you want to look at it.

The one thing I didn’t expect?

Willow Honeycutt, preschool teacher, boy band super fan, is completely crazy.

And somehow she’s turned the tables on me.

Now, she’s holding me hostage, and she won’t let me go until we hit every item on her sparkly new, completely insane bucket list.

And that last item?

That last item might cost me more than any fortune.

It very well might cost me my heart.

Rockaway Bride is a romping fun romance between a down-on-his-luck rock star and a boy band-loving preschool teacher, complete with a road trip, handcuffs, and fun with nuns. This romantic comedy stands alone with no cheating or cliffhangers and ends with a rockin’ awesome happily ever after. (Photo: Furious Fotog)

Free in Kindle Unlimited
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For anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of an unsolicited d*ck pic… The Hero and the Hactivist Ebook Cover

He has the muscles of Adonis, an ego bigger than the sun, and a very clear desire to get back in my pants. Which would be fantastic if he weren’t a SEAL and I wasn’t a criminal.

Although, I prefer the term avenger. 

I’m a hacktivist, cleaning up the cesspool of cyberspace one scam artist and troll at a time, and I sometimes bend a few rules to get justice done.

He’s a military man with abs of glory, sworn to uphold the letter of the law no matter its shortcomings. And if he’d known who—or what—I was, I doubt he would’ve banged me at my best friend’s wedding reception.

Or come back for more.

Which is why he’s now the only thing standing between me and one very pissed off internet troll who’s figured out where I live.

I’m pretty sure he’ll get me out of this alive—and quite satisfied, thank you very much—but I’m also pretty sure this mission will end with me in handcuffs.

And not the good kind of handcuffs.

The Hero and the Hacktivist is a romping fun SEAL / Best Friend’s Brother / Robin Hood in Cyberspace romance between a meathead and an heiress, complete with epic klutziness, terrible leg warmers, and an even worse phone virus gone wrong. This romantic comedy stands alone with no cheating or cliffhangers and ends with a fabulously fun happily ever after. (Photo: Wander Aguiar)

Free in Kindle Unlimited
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pippa Grant is a USA Today Bestselling author who writes romantic comedies that will make tears run down your leg. When she’s not reading, writing or sleeping, she’s being crowned employee of the month as a stay-at-home mom and housewife trying to prepare her adorable demon spawn to be productive members of society, all the while fantasizing about long walks on the beach with hot chocolate chip cookies.

Website
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REVIEW

The Girl Band Series is a quartet by Pippa Grant starring each member of an all girl pop music cover band: Ambrosia (Bro/Sia), Parker, Willow, and Eloise. Each book contains Grant’s signature humor, and each book gets a little bit zanier than the last. If you’re going to read anything by Pippa Grant, you have to prepare for the absurd and suspend your belief at some things. Ha…Of course, I say it in a positive way because I enjoy her novels so much. I previously did a mini-review of Rockaway Bride, which I’ve included here and some additional words. My choice of leading men here? Definitely Knox and then the other three are a bit of toss up with Dax just slightly ahead. Overall, the series is a lot of fun, an overall 3.5 stars, but there were two that I liked more than the others.

#1: Mister McHottie

As hot as Mister McHottie is, this was probably the book I liked the least in comparison to the other books in the series. Overall, it’s still a book with parts I know I will probably reread again. Chase was a closely family friend, best friend to Sia’s twin brothers, but an incident before college involving a Bratwurst Wagon led to a bad breakup. It was funny and I laughed through most of the book but Chase and Ambrosia (Bro/Sia) had a really intense kind of love–the hate you so much I want to smash your head in then make love to you after–and I wasn’t really into it. They do have great chemistry and can be pretty hilarious when paired with her twins. The book moved so quickly, I was more than half way finished before I realized how far I was into the book.

“If you sleep with any of my friends, so help me, I will rub ghost chilis all over your mouth guard, smear Icy Hot in your cup, and I’ll call ESPN and tell them you still wet the bed.”

#2: Stud in the Stacks

Knox is the swoon-worthy kind of lead. He’s a former exotic dancer and the book opens to his hot moves. It was pretty funny. He’s a librarian and supports causes trying to eliminate literacy. He loves romance novels and he’s a blogger, Mr. Romance. Did I mention that he was a librarian? This book was great! How could I not fall for the hot librarian who advocates for romance novels and matches people with romance novels? He’s nearly perfect! I liked the plot of this one a lot and the surprises had me laughing. Parker’s vulnerability and insecurities were things I identified with so I was rooting for her to kick butt at her high school reunion, with or without Knox. I loved how Knox loved her for just being her and helped to boost her self-esteem.

“I do believe I finally understand the term hot mess. And that’s me. A total hot mess.”

#3: Rockaway Bride

Being one of the first Pippa Grant novels I read, Rockaway Bride remains close to my heart. It helped to solidify Pippa Grant as one of my favorite steamy rom com authors (the other being Kayley Loring). Being taken hostage by Dax, which quickly unravels and spirals out of hand for Dax, might have been the best thing to happen to Willow. It ends up being a trip to unleash her true self, the one who likes the bad boy and taking risks, the one she’s kept locked away so her mother would never have to worry about her. Her bucket list is insightful about who she really is and it’s also inspiring. I also cannot forget the nuns on a bus Dax and Willow encounter–who would have thought?! Ha… Of the four novels, this was probably the most consistent book for me. If it hadn’t dragged a bit at the end, I think this would have been a near 5 star for me.

“I want to be brave. And bold. I want to have stories to tell my grandchildren someday. Okay, maybe not this story, but a girl has to start somewhere.”

#4: The Hero and the Hacktivist

I liked Eloise immediately when I first read Rockaway Bride. I was excited to learn more about her after reading the the first three books. She projects this overly sexual persona but is also very secretive. She’s always propositioning the Berger Twins (Sia’s brothers), Parker’s brothers, and even Willow’s stepbrothers, but only Rhett (Parker’s Navy SEAL brother who keeps appearing out of nowhere in the second book…heh) has taken her up on her offer. The funny but albeit heartbreaking thing about this is that she’s completely surprised that he does and keeps wondering why. In this book we find out why Eloise seems to keep people at a distance, and yes, she’s the hacktivist in the title. The beginning of the book is pretty hilarious but as it began to wind down, it got more serious (e.g. bad guys looking for her, Rhett beating people up, knives in warmers). It was still funny in places, but didn’t keep the same tone it had in the beginning. I still enjoyed it, of course.

“…the closer you let people, the more they let you down and the greater possibility you’ll let them down too.”

So…how about those covers?

I appreciate the consistency the new covers bring, from the playful candy colored backgrounds to the fonts utilized in the titles. Now, it looks and feels like the books are part of a single series as opposed to being standalone novels. Random observations…For The Hero and the Hacktivist, there’s emphasis on his biceps and the addition of dog tags–here, now you’re a SEAL! And the rockstar? Let’s give you a guitar! Ha…Both covers are similar in that aspect. I think I’ll miss the old Mister McHottie cover and the Rockaway Bride cover. The first one because it’s a bit of a tease and the latter because of the mood and filter used. Otherwise, I do like the new covers.

Romance Interlude 2.5


The Strike Out (2021)
by Meghan Quinn
ASIN/ISBN: B08RNFL4C6
Publication: January 4, 2021
Goodreads Summary
Series: Brentwood Boys (Baseball Romances)

One liner: Holt pursues Harmony but she isn’t looking for a relationship.

Harmony and Holt have such great chemistry together. As annoying as Holt was, I had to give him credit for working so hard to get Harmony to give him a chance. While their romance is the focus, I enjoyed Holt’s conversations with his dad the most. In many of the novels I’ve been reading, the leads usually have bad relationships with their parents or their parents are no longer with him so it was refreshing to read about a healthy one. It was sweet that one of the first people he wanted to talk to about Harmony was his dad. While it was a good read, there were a few things I wasn’t a fan of…like some of Holt’s tendencies. Then there were were a few things that happened closer to the end that felt like they came out of no where.


Rules of Engagement (2020)
by J.T. Geissinger
ASIN/ISBN:
Publication: January 28, 2020
Goodreads Summary
Series: N/A

One liner: Quarterback looking for a wife through a matchmaking service discovers his real match might be the matchmaker.

Mason needs a wife to help him clean up his image. Despite his grumpy nature, he’s a sweetheart but not many people get to see it. Maddie is the good natured matchmaker who Mason’s agent seeks out to help find a wife. She doesn’t realize Mason’s only looking for a marriage of convenience until they finally meet and, to make matters worse, there are sparks between the two. I liked Maddie more than I liked Mason because she’s so happy all the time and she loves pink–hahaha, reminds me of me. What I liked best about her was her ability to see through Mason’s prickly nature and how she would remind him what a great person he actually is. Their bantering was top notch–so fun–and they have great chemistry. Maddie’s aunt was unexpected with her talk of auras and seances. While most chapters alternate between Maddie and Mason, I liked the additional perspectives of Maddie’s aunt and Mason’s agent from time to time.

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me (2016)
by Mariana Zapata
ASIN/ISBN: B01CDDTGRY
Publication: February 28, 2016
Goodreads Summary
Series: Standalone but appearances by other characters from other books

One liner: After quitting to work for herself, Vanny’s former boss shows up at her apartment asking her to come back.

Zapata has a way with slow burn romances. She makes her readers work as much as she does her characters and the ending is so satisfying. Despite her novels being tomes, I’ve never regretted picking them up. Especially with this particular book, the first 100 pages didn’t feel like it was 100 pages at all whereas I’ve read other books that make 20 pages feel like an eternity. I liked Vanny and how she was just genuinely nice despite Aiden being Aiden. What is Aiden like? He works hard but is closed off. He never greets her despite all her attempts at being nice to him. Despite living with his teammate Zac, they can’t really be called friends either. He’s a wall (physically and emotionally) and then as soon as he does something nice, I couldn’t help but swoon. Despite being over 600+ pages, I couldn’t put it down.

Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood (2021)

by Gary Paulsen
ISBN: 9780374314156
Publication: January 12, 2021


**I was provided a copy of the book by the publisher through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Hatchet was a book I read for class probably when I was around 10 or 11 years old. I remember enjoying it at the time, although I remember less of it now than those books I chose to read as opposed to those I had to. The draw of this particular book was that it is a middle grade nonfiction book, Paulsen’s memoirs. It’s supposed to be a glimpse into those moments that shaped him into who he is today. How does one write a memoir that will still maintain the interest of middle grade readers? You write it exactly like Paulsen does.

The memories are carefully selected, with the first half of the book focused on only a few months of life when he was five. It’s clear this is when his love for the wilderness began and likely when he was at his happiest. It moves forward through his childhood until we meet the librarian who made an impact on his life and, finally, we are thrust forward again until he enlists in the army. 

Paulsen allows readers to serve as observers in his life like they’re reading a novel rather than someone’s memoirs. Written in the third person, it reads more like fiction than not, which I liked, but just as I settled into it like I would any other novel, I would be reminded differently: these are moments he lived through; no, this is not fiction. It’s these moments in particular that struck a chord with me. It’s also these moments when the imagery in the book is at its best. 

Young or old, if you’re a fan of Gary Paulsen or his books made an impact on your life, this is a worthwhile read. Some of the content might be mature for those who are younger, but it doesn’t exactly fit into YA either. If you’re a librarian or an educator, or someone who just genuinely cares about kids, the section on the library and the role the librarian played in his life was especially meaningful. I hope the librarian knew how much she positively affected his life. It made me cry. However, I’m a pretty sentimental person and cry at a lot of things. The section reinforced why I chose to be an educator.

**1/12/2021 Update: I attended a Webinar on release day and Paulsen didn’t mention whether the librarian knew but he did reiterate her role. He said she was the difference between life and death in his life. Made me teary again.**

Clues to the Universe (2021)

by Christina Li
ISBN: 9780063008885
Publication: January 12, 2021
Series: N/A


**I was provided a copy of the book by the author and publisher through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

(I apologize in advance for being longwinded in this review–it turned into something more like a book report…hehe)

Clues to the Universe is a slice of life novel about two seventh graders. While it deals with multiple aspects of growing up, including bullying and making new friends, it is grounded in dealing with loss. Ro and Benji are individually trying to come to terms with not having their dads around, neither realizing that maybe what they need is a peer for support along the way. A mix-up in class forces Ro and Benji to talk and become science partners, making a deal that Ro will help Benji find his dad while Benji agrees to help Ro with her rocket. Slowly, the relationship becomes more than something obligatory; it blossoms into a friendship.

Their specific situations are different–Benji’s father appears to have left of his own accord while Ro’s father died–but are also similar in many ways. Both Ro and Benji take after their fathers. Like her father, Ro has her head in the stars, and she’s trying to build a model rocket–a project they never had the chance to complete. Similar to his father, Benji loves art, and his hands can’t keep still because he’s always doodling away. They’re each trying to maintain a connection to their father in some way.

While they are somewhat opposites of each other, Ro and Benji fit together well. Benji is more likely to just go along with whatever is happening but is in many ways content in his environment. Ro is very precise, trying to maintain control over what she can while looking for that next step. It’s this latter element of being content with stability as opposed to moving forward that causes friction in their relationship. While differences may exist, sometimes it’s the differences that will foster positive growth, pushing us to be better versions of ourselves. It’s this aspect of the book that I enjoyed the most, seeing the changes in both Ro and Benji as they started spending more time together.

Another aspect of the book is Li’s ability to tease out Ro and Benji’s developing friendship through small things like who Ben thinks of when someone refers to his friend. I especially enjoyed how she anchored their individual perceptions of their friendship in the things they loved. Benji’s realization comes with his observations about characters drawn in comics but for Ro, it’s slightly different because of her personality. Being inclined toward science, observations offer her evidence to support her theories so it makes sense that the more they hang out, the more likely they can be considered friends. Other times, it has to really hit her in the face because she’s so goal-oriented, her mind on a single purpose, that she doesn’t pay attention to anything else. If the above doesn’t really do a good job of it, let me just sum it up: Li does a superb job with the characterization of her 7th grade leads. They’re both well-developed characters with Benji and Ro each experiencing growth through their new found friendship.

This is a story about two lonely individuals who didn’t realize how much they needed support and understanding from someone with similar experiences and unexpectedly found solace and strength in each other. Individuals who have experienced any kind of loss, not just that of a parent, will be able to relate to the heartbreak and yearning as well as to asking questions that don’t necessarily have answers.

The Hot Mess and the Heartthrob (2021)

by Pippa Grant
ASIN/ISBN: B08RY8WSY4
Publication: January 7, 2021
Series: Bro Code Series #4

**Jump to Review**

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You don’t know me, but you do know me. I’m your neighborhood hot mess single mom, doing my best to keep my head above water while running my little slice of heaven and keeping my youngest from shoving marbles up his nose, which is exactly what he’s doing the first time Levi Wilson, pop star god, world’s sexiest man, and my all-time number one celebrity obsession, walks into my bookstore.
 
Related: I’m writing this from beyond the grave, because I’ve died of mortification and am now residing in an alternate universe.
 
I have to be.
 
Because Levi Wilson came back.
 
And we had a moment.
 
Like, a moment moment. The kind that makes me remember that adult pleasure isn’t all about hoping the lock holds in the bathroom so your kids don’t interrupt on the rare occasion you feel like taking an extra-long mommy-time shower.
 
So when he proposes a no-strings fling?
 
Count. Me. In.
 
Thrill of a lifetime, right?
 
Surely, nothing will go wrong…
 
The Hot Mess and the Heartthrob is a rockin’ fun, sexy romantic comedy featuring a celebrity panty-melter who doesn’t know what he’s been missing, a sassy single mom hanging on by a string, three adorable children who would never burst in on a woman when she’s on a toilet (ha!), and shameless ovary-busting moments between a guy who never thought he’d be a dad and a family who thought they got along just fine without him. It stands alone and comes complete with a happily-ever-after (though you’d never go wrong to read the other Bro Code series books first).


Bro Code Series
(click for Goodreads link)

Bro Code #1
Bro Code #2
Bro Code #3

EXCERPT from The Hot Mess and the Heartthrob

One day. I would like to go one single day without someone in my orbit making a poor life decision.

“Stop squirming,” I order my four-year-old son, who should be at preschool, but who’s been banished for the week because of lice.

Yep.

Lice.

Heaven forbid we have one issue at a time.

Adding to my list of issues? Being that mom who can’t get her shit together while Levi Flipping Wilson is watching. And not only watching, but actively engaging in trying to help. “Hey, bud, I bet I can hold still longer than you can. Wanna see?”

I know my agenda on any given day will include interruption for something my children do that I never would’ve expected in a million years, but that’s a lot easier to deal with when I don’t have an audience.

Especially an audience made up of one famous man whose songs get me through the day—and night—when I don’t have enough free focus to read or listen to an audiobook, and who keeps stealing glances at me like he’s trying to figure out what kind of rabid creature I am. Normally, customers aren’t allowed back in the stockroom with me, which is where I dragged Hudson when I realized what he’d done to his nose, but leaving Levi out there with the customers who’d figured out who he was seemed like a bad idea.

Especially when his date skewered me with a look that clearly said get him out of here or I’ll burn this place down.

It’s a bookstore.

Highly flammable.

Not taking chances.

Especially if there was a reason they were looking at maternity and early childhood development books. His date doesn’t look pregnant, but god knows that’s when pregnancy is hardest.

Hudson finally stills, and I manage to smear a little more Vaseline gently around his nostril. “How did you get a marble in your nose?”

“I pushed hard.” He beams. “I gots stars in there too.”

I squeeze my eyes shut and count to two, because I know if I get as high as three, he’ll find a way to suck the marbles deeper into his sinus cavities, and I don’t know how a doctor will get that out without having to cut his nose open, and oh my god, he’s four and he’s about to be disfigured for life because I thought he’d actually sit still and listen to Yasmin reading books for neighborhood storytime while I re-stocked a few shelves.

“How many stars?” I inquire through clenched teeth.

“Four. Or maybe seven. Or maybe one. I forgets.”

“You are so lucky you’re cute.”

“Do you have a vacuum?” Levi asks.

I twist my head to gape at him.

He shoots a help? look at his date, then shrugs at me. “If he won’t blow it out, maybe you can suck it out. Like with one of those sucky tools the dentist uses.”

“That’s…possibly not a terrible idea.”

“Happens on occasion.” He grins, which makes my heart basically stop because he’s stupidly gorgeous.

I could stare at him all day, but I have a preschooler with marbles up his nose to attend to.

“Mama,” Hudson says, “look.”

He scrunches his nose, which makes his nostrils swell, closes his mouth, and blows, and one shoots out and lands on Levi’s shoe.

My son has just snotted my favorite musician’s Italian leather loafers.

“I win! I holded still!” He breaks into his preschool dance routine, but the poor kid got his moves from me, which means to a casual observer, he probably looks like he’s having a seizure while choking on a piece of gum and tripping over barbed wire.

Levi Wilson, however, is not fazed. He squats down to Hudson’s level. “Rematch.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pippa Grant is a USA Today Bestselling author who writes romantic comedies that will make tears run down your leg. When she’s not reading, writing or sleeping, she’s being crowned employee of the month as a stay-at-home mom and housewife trying to prepare her adorable demon spawn to be productive members of society, all the while fantasizing about long walks on the beach with hot chocolate chip cookies.

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REVIEW


**I was provided a copy of the book by Give Me Books as part of the promotional campaign. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

In prior posts, I’ve gushed about how much I enjoy Grant’s books. They’re hilariously absurd with a lot of heart, and there is more than one of her male leads I will gladly accept as my book boyfriend–Beck Ryder currently reigns supreme. The Hot Mess and the Heartthrob and Levi is not an exception to this. Surprisingly, it started off relatively tame. (I KNOW RIGHT?!) No burning fires, no jilted brides, and no kidnapping. (WHAT?!) It was sweet, saccharine even, and I found myself “teeheeing” within the first few pages of the book.

Grant sure knows how to capture the feelings of meeting an idol you adore…in the most mature, non fangirl way of course…of course. Okay, there is inner fangirling (just breathe) and also the horror when sh*t hits the fan at the same time. HA. She manages to get in some hilarious moments throughout the book, but I liked this book particularly for its heart. I don’t know how she does it. Just when I think I’ve read all there is, Grant concocts something that makes me laugh or something that turns me into a puddle of goo.

I enjoyed the chemistry between Levi and Ingrid. Ingrid’s kids are her world but they can be a handful. Levi is patient and adores her kids. Ingrid isn’t as confident in herself as she used to be, but Levi looks at her like she’s the best thing in the world. (Sigh…Can someone look at me like that?) It isn’t a passionate, off the charts whirlwind romance. It’s better. It’s the kind that seeps into your skin and crawls into the corners to fill the holes you didn’t know you had. Yup, I’m pretty sentimental so there were quite a few times that I had to dab my eyes.

If 2020 was a difficult year, and you’re looking for something to help you start 2021 on a happy note, pick up The Hot Mess and the Heartthrob. While #4 in the Bro Code Series, it can be read as a standalone but you’d be doing yourself a favor in reading all the books. (Book boyfriend Beck Ryder’s book is America’s Geekheart, Bro Code #2)

Romance Interlude 2.1

Happy New Year!! Here is the first interlude of the year. I contemplated posting last Saturday but was unable to review appropriately until this week. First, it seemed like 2020 would never end and then all of a sudden it was already 2021.


RomeAntically Challenged (2020)
by Marina Adair
ISBN: 9781496727664
Publication: July 28, 2020
Goodreads Summary
Series: When in Rome #1

One liner: Annie takes a job in Rome and gets a surprise when the owner of her rental unexpectedly returns.

There are multiple layers to the book that I did not expect. Annie is adopted and struggles in this in-between place, wondering where she belongs. Her adoptive parents are white but she is Asian, specifically Vietnamese. While I also struggle with feelings of belonging, I balance a different in-between. As a child of the refugees, I struggle with being enough–Hmong/Asian enough and American enough. Annie’s struggle resonated with me. The book is also largely about a father who doesn’t feel like he quite belongs in his makeshift family. He shares the privilege of fatherhood with two other individuals, his best friend and his daughter’s stepfather. Here are two individuals with different struggles, both trying to figure out where they belong and finding love along the way. Despite so many different things going on, the book never feels like it takes too much on its shoulders and provides a good balance. I enjoyed it.


Love on the Ropes (2020)
by Aviva Vaughn
ISBN: 9781947420205
Publication: September 25, 2020
Goodreads Summary
Series: Love in Action #1

One liner: One-sided work crushes end up being not so one-sided during a work retreat.

I picked up the book because the beginning hooked me. I needed to know why Clint was sitting in his car spying on Erin, wondering if Erin had moved on, and why he thought it might be too late for them. It was a somewhat sweet romance between two coworkers who were attracted to each other but I struggled with how much I liked this book. Half of the book takes place during a work retreat involving a ropes course and building team work while the other half is back at their work place. Their relationship was a bit of a slow burn, which I didn’t mind but I disliked the lack of communication and secrets. I did like Vaughn’s writing and will definitely pick up her other books but the ending was just so-so. I liked that Clint wasn’t an alpha male and how he was a bit flustered to be around Erin. It was cute.


IOU: A Romantic Comedy (2020)
by Kristy Marie
ASIN: B087WJKCG3
Publication: April 29, 2020
Goodreads Summary
Series: Standalone but interconnected

One liner: After walking in on her cheating boyfriend and former friend/roommate, Ainsley James seeks out Maverick Lexington for a favor.

Sure, rumors are that Ainsley James is crazy but who wouldn’t be after coming home to find the two people you trust stabbing you in the back? I completely understood why she did what she did and loved that the book started with a bang…well, with flames (heh). I liked how feisty Ainsley was. Maverick grew on after I realized he wasn’t all that he seemed. My favorite part is when Ainsley goes back to her apartment to get her stuff and she takes the bread. She bought it so she’s taking it. Petty? Yeah. But I’d do the same thing if I was the one who bought the bread! I’m now sorry that I kept passing on this book when it constantly appeared as a recommended read.


Thrive (2020)
by Shain Rose
ISBN: 9780062672124
Publication: December 2, 2020
Goodreads Summary
Series: Stonewood Brothers #3

One liner: Close friends realize they may be more than friends but different hurdles need to be overcome before they can be together.

I was hooked as soon as I started reading it. Rose quickly establishes the relationship between Jay and Mikka, and the attraction they have for one another despite both clearly trying to maintain they are just friends. I try to stay away from certain content but it wasn’t clear until a bit later into the book that an abusive relationship is one of the obstacles Jay and Mikka’s friendship has to overcome. Rose portrays what happens in an abusive relationship very well. She compares it to having an addiction, and I think in many ways she’s right. There’s the belief that it’s just a one-time thing and wanting to stop and leave but being afraid or believing it won’t happen again. One of the highlights of the novel is side character Lorraine, the owner of the bed and breakfast Mikka and Jay stay at. She tells it like it is and, like Mikka, I loved her all the more for it. This was nearly a 5-star read for me but I didn’t like Mikka’s back and forth on the status of her relationship with Jay. Additionally, I wasn’t quite sold on the ending. Overall, I liked the book and look forward to reading more by Rose. (Content Warning: It’s not immediately clear from the synopsis but there is an abusive relationship that is central to the story as well as drug addiction.)

Fairy Godmothers, Inc (2020)

by Saranna DeWylde
ISBN: 9781420153149
Publication: December 29, 2020
Series: Fairy Godmothers, Inc. #1


**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Fairy Godmothers, Inc. is a cross between the movie Enchanted (fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously) and television series Once Upon a Time (beloved characters in the middle of somewhere no one really knows). Our fairy tale characters are real, and they live in a town in Missouri called Ever After. With magic depleting, a plan is hatched by three fairy godmothers to replenish it by having their godchildren, Lucky and Ransom, pretend to marry one another as a publicity stunt. Love increases magic so maybe having a fairy tale wedding will increase the number of weddings booked at the castle.

With this being the first in what looks to be a series with the same name, our fake bride Lucky and fake groom Ransom have to split the story to their “happily ever after” with introducing readers to the town and its cast of characters. Lucky has a particularly interesting backstory but it isn’t until halfway through the book that we get to learn more about her. I really wish more time had been spent on it. There’s an additional reveal that happens in the story closer to the end that I did not think was necessary to the story.

Overall, the book is entertaining, and Lucky and Ransom’s road to forever is pretty hilarious. This is a 3.5 star read for me. I liked the overall premise of the series (4 stars) but everything happened so quickly I didn’t get to spend time with our main couple as much as I wanted (3 stars).