Just Like in the Movies (2021)

by Heidi Rice
ASN/ISBN: 9780008372576
Publication: March 12, 2021


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

Ruby becomes part-owner of The Royale movie theatre when her boss and best friend Matty suddenly dies. While she’s intent on making sure The Royale continues running, her new co-owner Luke, Matty’s nephew, would rather rid his hands of the crumbling theatre. Ruby will need Luke’s help to save the theatre, but he’s not exactly the easiest person to get along with.

Just Like in the Movies was a treat to read. We can only hope to have friends and a supportive community such as Matty’s, especially someone like Ruby. Ruby’s earnestness to save the Royale Theatre and to celebrate her best friend Matty’s life was endearing. 

Sharing a similar love of rom-coms, I liked Ruby almost immediately, nearly just as fast as I found Luke unlikeable. Ruby is kind and likeable but has never ventured too far from home until Matty’s death thrusts her into a new role. She’ll fight for what she believes in, but she doesn’t feel the same about herself; she doesn’t exactly believe in herself.

It’s easy to dislike Luke, especially with his attitude and suspiciousness over Matty’s intentions in leaving him part ownership of the theatre. Of course, I’d be suspicious as well should something like that happen to me (as if it would ever be likely, except, you know, like in the movies and books…lol), but his quick assessment of Ruby irritated me. His automatic assumption, as expected, is that Ruby was Matty’s mistress. He’s a grumpy character with what seems like a heart of gold, and eventually, it becomes a bit difficult to dislike him, even though I tried. I really did.

The story is fairly straight-forward with Ruby trying to keep The Royale open and Luke finding himself more or less roped into helping out. There are several funny scenes throughout the book, and I liked the chemistry between Ruby and Luke as they learn more about one another.

Ultimately the ending was a satisfying one, but I couldn’t help but wish that Ruby’s lesson in all this had been a more prominent theme throughout the book. It seemed to have just dawned on her at what felt like the last minute. I would recommend this book to those who like movies in their romance novels with characters who grow from hate to love. Those who enjoyed Waiting for Tom Hanks may enjoy this novel as well.

Yes & I Love You (2021)

by Roni Loren
ASN/ISBN: 9781728229614
Publication: March 2, 2021
Series: Say Everything #1


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

Being bullied in school and living with a neurological disorder has rendered Hollyn Tate with a lack of confidence and severe anxiety in the presence of strangers, preventing her from meeting new people and making meaningful relationships outside of her existing ones. This all begins to change when Jasper Deares, the new hire at WorkAround’s cafe, enters the picture. Jasper is an aspiring actor who needs help with his career endeavors. When Hollyn’s boss requires her to start putting videos on her popular blog or risk losing her job, Jasper might just be the person she needs.

Yes & I Love You is a light romance with flawed characters and an abundance of positive messages to live by. Hollyn’s blogging allows her to do what she loves, giving her a platform to showcase how smart and witty she is but it also protects her from interacting with people. She needs an extra push to find her voice outside of her very popular online persona Miz Poppy. While she would like to meet people and be “normal,” her social anxiety and her self-consciousness over having Tourette’s serve as barriers. Jasper is a nice, aspiring actor looking for his big break. He has a strong tendency to want people to like him, a disposition he attributes to being a foster child, and he also has ADHD. He gives off the perception that he doesn’t have his life together, and to an extent, he doesn’t, but he is doing what he loves, so what “together” means can be subjective here as well as what “normal” actually is. Despite a disastrous beginning, their relationship is one filled with positive reinforcement. I loved the positive messages relayed throughout their relationship with each other–messages I needed to also hear.

I appreciated the neuro-diverse representation. While I can’t speak to how authentic the Tourette’s representation is, the depiction of social anxiety is done fairly well. Different people will have different experiences and symptoms, but I was able to relate to some of what Hollyn experienced. While improv might not be the solution for everyone, and it doesn’t necessarily “solve” Hollyn’s social anxiety nor is it meant to, it does help push her to take small steps to become more comfortable with who she is around strangers. Little steps and a willingness to try, along with people who support you, can help make a difference.

While I enjoyed the book, it would have been nice to see more of Hollyn’s relationships outside of Jasper. For instance, I wanted more of Andi, the talkative podcaster who researches serials killers in an office close to Hollyn. (The next book is her book) At one point, a girl’s night is planned, and then it never comes to fruition on the page nor do I hear about it again. I liked Fritz, Jasper’s friend, and it would have been nice to see a potential friendship established there as well.

Overall, this was an enjoyable romance. I was rooting for Hollyn and cheered when she made the first positive steps toward creating the connections she was looking for and the life she wants.

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
Goodreads || Amazon: US | UK | CA | AU ||Audio: Amazon | Audible


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
Goodreads || Amazon: US | UK | CA | AU ||Audio: Amazon | Audible


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
Goodreads || Amazon: US | UK | CA | AU ||Audio: Amazon | Audible


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
Goodreads || Amazon: US | UK | CA | AU ||Audio: Amazon | Audible


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
Facebook | Facebook Group | Twitter | Instagram
Goodreads | Bookbub | Book+Main


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.

The Knockout Rule (2021)

by Kelly Siskind
ASN/ISBN: 9781988937168
Publication: February 24, 2021
Series: Showmen Series (they’re all standalones though)


**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.** (I liked it so much I couldn’t help but buy a print copy of the book…just saying.)

For the first time in a long time, Eric finally feels seen by someone outside of his family. His temporary physiotherapist Isla loves poetry and sees him as the linguist he is, not just his boxer persona Brick Smash. She likes his intellect a lot more than what he does in the boxing ring. Because Eric doesn’t know if she likes him, he’s been hesitant to do anything about his feelings. Unfortunately, his manager and friend Preston is interested in her too. Eric winds up caught in the middle when Preston suddenly asks him for help “wooing her.” Because the book alternates between the leads, it’s pretty clear who Isla likes, but choosing him goes against what she believes in. Isla struggles with trying to figure out what she should do: give in to her feelings or give in to her feelings. Sometimes, it’s not your head at war with your heart, but your feelings at war with each other.

I was excited to read The Knockout Rule and didn’t realize it was the fourth in the Showmen series until about halfway through. I hadn’t connected well with the female lead in the prior book The Beat Match, so I’m glad I didn’t have that hanging over me, potentially biasing how I might have perceived this book early on. You do not need to have read any of the other books because they are all standalones. The Knockout Rule was completely unexpected and comes close to being a 5-star read for me.

Within the first few pages, I knew I would like Isla. She’s smart, witty, and funny. Like Isla, I was unsure about what to expect of Eric so was surprised to find out he was more than his boxing persona. He is a linguist–my cousin who is also linguist said I have to let you all know that Eric is a master of tongues (heh…linguists are great wingmen/wingwomen for each other)–and enjoys poetry. While he may have enjoyed boxing once, he now does it solely to help his family with their financial struggles. Eric and Isla are moderately complex characters with compelling backstories making it all the easier to root for them to find the ending I was hoping for.

While I’ve never seen Cyrano de Bergerac, I’ve read enough about it to feel like I have. (Quick summary: Two men in love with the same women but one has a large nose so he is self-conscious about. He writes love letters for the other guy to woo her.) I can’t help but jump at any opportunity when this is the leading trope in a novel. Eric’s role as Cyrano doesn’t get as much page time as I hoped, with Preston only popping up when seemingly convenient to move the story forward and disappearing just as quickly. Although I was disappointed by this eventual revelation, the play at least stays relevant in that Cyrano’s nose, here Eric’s boxing, is actually the bigger barrier. The potential for romance between our leads is complicated by this fact. In the beginning, I wondered how Siskind might work this out when Eric’s life revolved around boxing, and Isla was determined to root it out of her life. Ultimately the solution is one that Siskind set up rather well, maybe even a little too easily.

The central romance is a lot of fun with leads who somewhat become friends before they become lovers. However, it’s hard to say whether they were ever really friends in the first place because the chemistry is nearly always present and both recognize the possibility of feelings beyond friendship almost right away. As noted by a review on Chonky Books (it’s a really great review so should also check it out), some of it is fueled by lust and I agree. They do, however, still have enough of a connection that it’s easy to see the jump into what both claim is love. And Eric in love…some of the words out of his mouth made me melt. Eric and Isla are at ease with one another, and their shared love of poetry make them compatible partners who not only appreciate one another’s physical attributes but also their intellectual ones as well.

This leads into what was probably my favorite attribute of this entire book. Siskind successfully wooed me with the written word. I’ve gone back to read my abundance of highlights a few times over, always pausing momentarily to soak in the words, to ruminate in the feelings they evoke. Then there are the poems Siskind includes that are so simple yet feel so profound. At times I was elated, and other times I was left bereft. In this way, this book was also unexpected. I need more poets in my romance novels if it will always be like this.

Original Photo by Enache Georgiana on Unsplash

Bet the Farm (2021)

by Staci Hart
ASN/ISBN: 9798710185599
Publication: February 23, 2021
Series: Small Town Romance

(Review at the End)

Bet the Farm is LIVE and available from your favorite online book retailer! This heartfelt, flirty story of opposites attract from Staci Hart is just what you need. Happy reading! 💕

Amazon | AppleBooks | Kobo | B&N | Goodreads


Description

Olivia Brent has one summer to save the dairy farm she just inherited. But there’s one problem, and it’s not her lactose intolerance.

Jake Milovic.

The brooding farmhand has inherited exactly fifty percent of Brent Farm, and he’s so convinced the city girl can’t work the land, he bets she can’t save it in a summer. 

Determined to prove him wrong, Olivia accepts what might be the dumbest wager of her life.

His strategy to win seems simple: follow her around, shirtlessly distracting her between bouts of relentless taunting. And it’s effective—if his dark eyes and rare smiles aren’t enough to sidetrack her, the sweaty, rolling topography of the manbeast’s body would do the trick.

What they don’t know: they’ll have to weather more than each other. 

Mysterious circumstances throw the farm into disarray, and with the dairy farm in danger, Olivia and Jake have to work together. But when they do, there’s more to fear than either of them imagined. Because now their hearts are on the line, and the farm won’t be the only casualty if they fail.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Staci has been a lot of things up to this point in her life — a graphic designer, an entrepreneur, a seamstress, a clothing and handbag designer, a waitress. Can’t forget that. She’s also been a mom, with three little girls who are sure to grow up to break a number of hearts. She’s been a wife, though she’s certainly not the cleanest, or the best cook. She’s also super, duper fun at a party, especially if she’s been drinking whiskey. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, sleeping, gaming, or designing graphics.

Amazon | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Website | Newsletter


REVIEW

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

Bet the Farm is a romance set in a rural farming town in California, which I thought was a nice change from most small town settings. It gives a different view of California that most people aren’t exactly used to–something other than tech, beaches, and palm trees. The plot is fairly straight forward with city girl Olivia returning home to her roots to help save the farm she recently inherited from her grandfather.

Olivia is a regular Pollyanna with her happy-go-lucky attitude while Jake is a complete grump and set against any kind of changes Olivia wants to make to the farm. I liked Olivia. Her earnestness at helping with the farm is sweet. At times, her attitude annoyed me because she would feel bad for doing something that she shouldn’t have had to feel bad about because Jake was making her feel bad. She wasn’t flawless, but she didn’t have to apologize for so many things. Unlike the typical city girl with a farm on her hands, Olivia doesn’t want to return to the city nor does she want to sell the farm. Returning to the farm is returning home for her. While Olivia wants to stay, Jake would prefer she leave back to New York and allow him to manage the farm the way her grandpa always did. Jake draws the the line at just about every corner, including drawing the line between them. Jake is so fickle, he irritated me a lot. Just about everything would set him off, and Olivia would take the brunt of it. He would do something that showed he cared and then he’d run off or get mad. Don’t even get me started on how he never really apologizes to Olivia for being such a sh*t to her–if he did and I forgot, it’s likely because it didn’t sound like he meant it at all. I’m getting frustrated just thinking about him right now!

Olivia and Jake have some shared history but it wasn’t enough for me to root for them. In fact, I was rooting for Olivia and another character in the book despite knowing he wasn’t meant to be end game. He was charming, and they had chemistry even if Olivia said she supposedly didn’t feel it. I was never quite on board with the direction of Olivia and Jake’s relationship also because they butted heads more than they got along, which isn’t necessarily bad especially if there are undercurrents of attraction. Again, while each would explain there was something there, I never quite felt it the way I felt in Hart’s other books. (Spoiler but not really a spoiler because it is a romance novel…when they’re together, they’re pretty great together but the getting there wasn’t something I entirely I found convincing…or I just disliked Jake a lot. Ha!)

Despite my frustration with Olivia, Jake, and their relationship, Hart doesn’t disappoint in her writing. It’s probably the biggest reason why I continue to read her novels. I was frustrated with her characters here but I couldn’t be frustrated with her descriptions. Some of my favorite parts in this book come from the beginning when Olivia describes riding in the car and looking out the window or the feeling of coming home and still feeling her grandfather everywhere. These were the moments I just wanted to give the book 5 stars everywhere–it was the what and the way Hart made me feel.

Bet the Farm might not be the best fit for readers looking for a bold female lead but I would recommend this book for Staci Hart fans. I’d also recommend this book for those who like small town romances with hate-to-love as a central trope.

Love at First (2021)

by Kate Clayborn
ASN/ISBN: 9781496725196
Publication: February 23, 2021


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

After inheriting his estranged uncle’s apartment, Will returns to the apartment and unexpectedly meets Nora, the girl he saw only once but never stopped thinking about. Will doesn’t understand why his uncle would leave him the apartment and immediately makes it clear that he has no plans to live there, instead opting to turn it into a vacation rental. Nora and the rest of the building residents are vehemently against this, so Will finds himself at odds with the girl he never forgot. Despite their feud, Nora and Will are constantly thinking about the other as well as hoping to catch a glimpse of the other.

I’d been reading so many books where things between the leads get hot and heavy fast, where emotions (and limbs) just fling off the pages, that I’d forgotten what a slow, subtle romance could do, what it could feel like. It didn’t immediately take hold of me, and my interest may have waned a bit in the beginning, but then I began to fall into its rhythm–slow and steady. Rather than an onslaught of passion, it was whispers of attraction. It was the little things Will and Nora noticed about one another–a thumb silently rubbing a palm, the pink indentations from wearing glasses–that slowly seeped its way in. Before I knew it, I was smiling, and then there were flutters, the zings appearing and multiplying as Will and Nora gravitated toward one another despite their current predicament. The book left a lasting impression, one filled with a long sigh of contentment.

This is a slow read, but one that is so good. If you have the patience and the time, you’ll be rewarded with a quiet romance filled with quirky side characters–Dr. Gerald Abraham was my absolute favorite. The story alternates between Will and Nora so you know exactly how they feel about one another, how each struggles with their feelings, and why the problem isn’t necessarily one easily contributed to just communication. They’re both still processing grief in their own ways. Nora is protective of her found family but also resistant to change. Will hides his wounds and is hesitant to start a relationship despite how attracted he is to Nora. There are things each has to work through before they can decide what the next step is. Clayborn’s beautiful prose provides us a snapshot into their lives and I am so glad got to read it.

It Takes Two (2018)

by Jenny Holiday
ASIN/ISBN: B0763KN497
Publication: June 26, 2018
Series: Bridesmaids Behaving Badly #2

**This is going to be a bit of a long one. Sorry!**

I’ve read It Takes Two a few times since first picking it up towards the end of 2020. I just finished reading the entire novel again and am currently picking my favorite parts to reread. I never thought about doing a review on it, but I realized I wanted to, maybe even needed to, because it kept creeping onto my reread list. When I first read it, I liked it but didn’t think I’d be reading it again. Sometimes there are books like that. On the first reading, it was good but not great, and then on the subsequent readings I didn’t know I would do (heh), it just got a little better each time. My subconscious knew before I did that it would be a favorite read. It’s nearly a comfort read now because I keep picking it up when I need a break or am stressing over things. Part of it is knowing what will happen but a lot of it has to do with the plot and Holiday’s writing. Also, maybe I feel a bit of camaraderie with Wendy, who always has her armor ready.

It Takes Two is a mix of friends/rivals-to-lovers, unrequited love, and forbidden love–all tropes I enjoy reading. Holiday weaves a romance about how the past can mold us into who we are today and how something seemingly insignificant can have greater consequences than we realize. That’s the case for Wendy Liu, who hides her vulnerability under a tough exterior because two events inextricably changed her life: her dad’s death and the boy she liked standing her up. When she sees Noah again, after avoiding him as much as possible for seventeen years, it forces Wendy to confront how his actions changed her, how much more it affected her than she remembered or even gave credence to, realizing that maybe it still holds some power over her.

Noah’s feelings for Wendy are slightly more complicated because she embodies so many different roles in his life. Forced to grow up too fast when his dad died, Noah’s played the protective older brother to Jane, and by extension to Wendy, for so long. Despite being his sister’s best friend, they have their own connection too. Not only has he taken on the role of being a surrogate older brother, but he’s also always felt like Wendy understood him, seeing him when most people didn’t. Despite his insistence on Wendy being like family, he’s also thought about her in non-sibling ways. Noah, bless his heart, is not as attuned to Wendy as much as he thinks he is. It’s not clear what his feelings are toward her, at least it’s not clear to him.

Their longstanding and very petty rivalry is entertaining as they try to outdo each other. It’s as simple as who doesn’t get shotgun in Jane’s tiny car–that’s right they fight over being polite and giving up shotgun for the other person–to who gets to pay for Jane’s wedding dress. They’re also constantly baiting one another into competing as well. Some of my favorite scenes are Noah picking on Wendy but then inwardly cringing and chastising himself for doing it. It slowly begins to feel like their bickering and competitiveness has just been a long courtship, possibly even foreplay, with their attraction to one another just simmering below the surface. Neither, of course, fully recognizes what is going on, which is funny because they’re both lawyers. The evidence is all there. They just need to piece it together.

It’s a well-crafted story with complex characters. While it largely takes place in the present, the flashbacks we get are handled well–intermixed with the present to provide insight into the current status of their relationship. It’s usually Wendy or Noah jolted back to reality from remembering rather than separate chapters that interrupt the present-day timeline. When I first read it, I wasn’t a fan of the constant flashbacks because I wanted more of the present, but I like them more now. Holiday presents the same events but through the eyes of both Wendy and Noah, allowing readers to see the event through different perspectives. They’re reminders that two people can be together, sharing the same moment, and feel things so differently, or maybe even feel the same thing and not know it. They’re also reminders that there are some things in our past that we cannot easily escape, especially if it’s the person we’ve always loved.

I’ve been reading so many romance novels, but one of the reasons I liked this book so much more was because it made me feel more grounded. Similar to how I liked Helena Hunting’s Meet Cute for its predictability, I liked It Takes Two for being grounded in something closer to my reality (if my best friend had a hot brother who I had a crush on and might feel the same too…hahaha…that alternate reality). Wendy wasn’t swept off her feet by some millionaire or a famous person; she wasn’t swept off her feet at all. It certainly wasn’t about this all-consuming passion that could no longer be controlled. And for the record, I don’t mind any of those types of books at all. It Takes Two felt like it could be someone’s real story where the constant ache of having been hurt long ago by someone you like never completely goes away; those feelings have just been buried away until seeing that person again pushes it to the surface. And, when it does, maybe there can be a happily ever after.

The Mask of Mirrors (2021)

by M.A. Carrick
ISBN: 9780356515175
Publication: January 19, 2021
Series: Rook & Rose #1



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

Along with her sister Tess, Ren returns to the city she was born in to work a long con. Pretending to be a long lost cousin, Ren shows up at House Traementis, hoping to be added onto the family registrar so she and Tess can live off the fortunes of the family and never want for anything again. However, living among the elite is nearly as dangerous as being a river rat. Ren isn’t the only one living underneath a mask, nor is she likely the most dangerous.

The world is complex, making for a rich experience with well rounded characters. Political intrigue is core to the story, with players wearing multiple faces. The noble families play nice with each other but many are trying to undermine the other to ensure the success of their individual houses. With the noble families controlling the wealth, social unrest is also rampant due both to racism and classism. There are LGBTQIA+ characters. The head of houses can be male or female so heirs can be sons or daughters. The first half establishes a solid foundation and hints at the events of the second half of the book but it’s also a painfully slow burn. The initial focus is on Ren’s insertion into noble society, establishing and cultivating the relationships necessary for her to be included in House Traementis’s family registrar. It takes a long time for much to happen beyond this. I grew frustrated and impatient because of the promise of “nightmare magic weaving through the city” and “Ren at its heart” yet there was not much related to these, or the connections were at first unclear until I got to the second half of the book. The second half is more eventful but it takes patience to get there.

Religion and the magic system are crucial to the story but were confusing to me. While magic is mentioned in the book description, I kept wondering if it would show up at all or if it was outlawed since it took a while to appear. When it does, Carrick tries to be as detailed as possible but it’s still difficult to understand, especially numinatria. Numinatria required a more extensive explanation than what the book provided. Visuals would have been especially helpful here. The best I could do was picture it being similar to a pentagram but more complicated–more lines, more symbols, more connections, more meanings. In addition, I wasn’t really sure about the actual importance of the actual masks even though duality and masks were running themes. The purpose of the masks were not clear to me and how they fit into the Vraszenian religion.

Ren is a likeable heroine and can even seem too perfect, but I didn’t mind. She is smart and calculating, both qualities needed to successfully pull off this con. Her decisions are always strategic, motivated by securing her family’s future and possibly more. While Ren is the character we get to know best, there are multiple viewpoints from a slew of characters including Ren’s sister Tess, the head of House Traementis Donaia Traementis, heir Leato Traementis, hawk captain Grey Serrado, crime lord Derossi Vargo, and additional side characters. It can be a bit difficult to keep track of them all.

The Mask of Mirrors is a good book if you have patience and have the glossary bookmarked–you’ll need to flip back and forth until you’ve familiarized yourself with the world Carrick has built. After I finished reading it, I needed time to think about whether I really liked it. Because the first half didn’t meet expectations with its uneventful and slow pace, I was still on the fence but working through the details helped. I realized I liked it a lot more than I thought I did. Swiping back through the pages and reviewing the pieces helped me to make more sense of certain things. To fully appreciate the intricacies, I think the book warrants another reading–yes, all 600+ pages of it. I’ll probably do it again soon.