Anchored Hearts (2021)

By Priscilla Oliveras
ASN/ISBN: 9781420150193
Publication: April 27, 2021
Series: Keys to Love #2

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

Oliveras gives us a slow burn second-chance romance with leads who still have lingering feelings for each other. Anamaria is a firefighter medic with a burgeoning fitness business. Alejandro is a globe-trotting photographer guilted into returning home to his hometown to assuage his mother’s and his abuela’s concerns over his broken tibia. When they meet again–not through fate but the meddling of their mothers, which could be considered a kind of fate–it’s hard not to recall what they used to be to each other, especially when seeing one another instantly reignites emotions each long thought dissipated.

With second chance romances, the time apart is a pivotal element. Anamaria found herself during their separation, growing into the person she was meant to become. Staying in the Keys and close to family hasn’t stifled her growth but bolstered it, bringing with it an added confidence in herself and her goals. Now, she only needs to find the courage to seize the opportunities her hard work has created for her. Alejandro is an award-winning photographer, but when we meet him, nothing about him has changed very much except for his career accomplishments. Despite the twelve years apart, the emotional growth for him happens within the pages whereas Anamaria’s already done most of it outside of the book’s present timeline. Anamaria was mature enough to recognize what he is now only beginning to understand, that sometimes choices are not mutually exclusive. His situation was complicated by a father who had different expectations for him, which also further manifested into undue pressure from him on his relationship with Anamaria.

The love for family and the sense of place was soothing for me. The family dynamics were heartwarming, Alejandro and his father’s complicated relationship aside. I loved how family was a positive consideration as opposed to being viewed as a hindrance. Loving where you’re from was also seen as a positive attribute that I appreciated, and helped me to identify better with Anamaria’s character, leading me to like her character a lot more as compared to Alejandro.

I was generally not a fan of Alejandro. His selfishness and impatience largely contributed to their relationship’s demise when Anamaria just needed more time, something he was unwilling to give her. I’m not fully blaming him, but I also kind of am placing a lot of it on him…hahaha. Take that with a grain of salt since I’m fully on Anamaria’s side here. He couldn’t see beyond himself and his desires. It could be argued that Anamaria was the same, but she didn’t harbor the same kind of selfishness he did. She understood his desire to leave Key West and supported his endeavors. He wanted her life to revolve around him but was unwilling to do the same for her. Time apart, I guess, helped push him into a more mature individual even if he only just recognized it after returning home. (Hmm…maybe 12 years didn’t do as much I just wrote it did.)

Priscilla Oliveras’s writing flows so effortlessly, transitioning from the past to the present to feelings both old and new. I loved it. The descriptions are mesmerizing, and the longing between Anamaria and Alejandro over what was and the instances of what could have been packs a punch. I enjoyed the book a lot. It’s standalone, and Luis’s story is mentioned here whenever Luis and his love interest show up. You don’t need to read the first book to enjoy this one. I haven’t read the first book but may do so now because I enjoyed Oliveras’s writing so much.

Accidentally Engaged (2021)

by Farah Heron
ASN/ISBN: 9781538734988
Publication: March 2, 2021


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

Reena is adamant about not marrying someone her parents choose for her. Then she meets the hot guy who just moved across the hall from her. Unfortunately, Reena finds out Nadim not only works for her dad, but he’s also the guy she’s supposed to marry. She tries to remain steadfast in her resolve to stay away from him, inadvertently preventing herself from recognizing the sparks they have. Their relationship only becomes more complicated after they pretend to be engaged so Reena can enter a cooking contest.

The book has this almost languid, easy-going flow to it, and the characters never feel like they’re in a rush, so I never felt like I needed to rush through the book either. It was nice to not feel compelled to devour it one sitting even though that’s ultimately what I ended up doing because it was my choice (or so I tell myself). It flows so well that I slipped into Reena’s life with ease. No sooner had I begun the book than I immediately connected with Reena; she felt like a friend. She’s hypercritical of herself, mostly because her siblings are doing seemingly well even after certain setbacks in their lives (except for her perfect brother who’s never had a setback of course). On top of that, her parents can’t help but also poke at what she already sees as flaws in herself. Despite this, she still has this easy-going attitude. Her desire to find lasting love and pursue her dreams also made her someone easy to identify with.

My favorite part is when Reena asks Nadim to take care of Brian, her sourdough starter. When she returns, what happens after is pretty funny and showcases just how nice a guy Nadim is. Nadim is extremely likeable–mostly. He has such a sweet and playful disposition it almost feels like he doesn’t know how to yell at anyone. He’s also funny and, more importantly, he respects her and supports her dreams (swoon). Heron does a superb job of building chemistry between Reena and Nadim (they have a lot of it).

I thoroughly enjoyed Accidentally Engaged. The romance is light and Reena and Nadim have so much chemistry (did I already mention that?). I recommend it for those looking for a friends-to-lovers/relationship of convenience rom-com full of heart and good food–you’ll need to have munchies on hand or you’ll have to stop reading to go in search of some. Despite knowing the leads pretend to be engaged to enter a cooking contest, I don’t know why I was unprepared for the amount of cooking and baking. I was reading this in the middle of the night while craving for bread, cheese, samosas, and anything that showed up in the book. You have been warned.

Amelia Unabridged (2021)

by Amy Schumacher
ASIN/ISBN: 9781250253026
Publication: February 16, 2021

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

The summer before they go to college, best friends Jenna and Amelia attend a book festival so they can meet author N.E. Endsley, whose books have significantly impacted Amelia’s life. Unfortunately, Jenna gets to meet him while Amelia doesn’t, leading to a fight, and Amelia is reluctant to forgive her despite Jenna heading off to Ireland shortly after. Before Amelia gets a chance to mend their friendship, Jenna is killed. Now, she needs to figure out how to move forward without the person who has always been by her side.

First drawn in by the beautiful cover, I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to read Amelia Unabridged after reading the description. I didn’t want another book leaving a melancholic imprint but I couldn’t help myself. Amelia Unabridged is so many wonderful things. It’s at once beautiful, tragic, and magical. It didn’t leave the sense of longing I expected it to, so it hit me a bit differently but still in a good way.

It’s a story about dealing with grief but where I thought it would be about looking for closure, as in life, closure was just one small piece. The book instead focuses on trying to figure out what’s next. Jenna has always been the one to pave the way for them. The way, ever since becoming best friends, has always been together. Jenna’s death pushes Amelia to contemplate moving forward, alone. Even after her death, Jenna remains a catalyst when the unexpected book arrives, and Amelia finds herself in Michigan. Amelia’s courage to stand on her own is tested throughout the book.

The book is also very much a YA romance novel. This is likely what helped to soften the blow of Jenna’s death for me. As Amelia is grappling with her grief, she makes connections to someone else trying to do the same; only it’s been more difficult for him. Together they try to find the answer to the question of whether moving on also means losing connection to those who have passed on.

Generally, I liked the flowery language. It’s what made the book and Michigan feel so magical. However, there were times I could get lost or distracted trying to connect all the different pieces of a single scene. Amelia would be looking at or doing something but in her head, she would also be seeing her whales. While I might not fully understand Amelia’s whales, I have a loose theory about them. I liked her whales and sometimes they were the most vivid images. I swear I could see them floating, shimmering through the town when Amelia saw them as well.

The book moves at a contemplative pace. I never felt rushed, nor was I constantly trying to guess or think ahead about what was coming next. It was one of those rare books where I was present in the moment. Everything held so much meaning. I was pushed to read every word and feel the emotions running through Amelia as she grappled with Jenna’s death and tried to find the courage to define her future.

It’s a book for book lovers. Readers will appreciate the many references to other stories scattered throughout the novel. The bookstore in Michigan Amelia finds and gets to stay at is out of a book lover’s dream. It had me on Google searching for future travel destinations that would have similar accommodations.

Overall, Amelia was a satisfying read. While I shed tears in a few places, it didn’t leave quite the impact I thought it would, but I was still left in awe. Again, it’s a beautifully written book.  I’m buying it for my shelf.

Really Quickly on Amelia’s Whales:
In case this is more SPOILERY than I think, you might want to pass on this. I apologize.

Amelia’s constant mention of whales brings this magical, dream-like state to the book. Whales are the largest creatures, yet limited in population in such a vast place. They’re generally social creatures but not all are. When Amelia says the whales used to be orcas but have changed to become blue whales, it’s a significant indication of her current state. Orcas are social, and normally travel in groups but blue whales are quite solitary. Losing Jenna, the one person who was truly her “family,” leads Amelia to be the lone person left. But maybe Amelia isn’t the only blue whale, maybe her love interest is a blue whale too, and like calls to like. Whales have different frequencies and the calls of whales can be heard across distances so, naturally, they can hear one another. More importantly, they can help each other overcome their grief.

A Very Friendly Valentine’s Day (2021)

by Kayley Loring
ASIN/ISBN: B08RCZ2NK1
Publication: January 14, 2021
Series: Standalone – connected to A Very Bossy Christmas (2020)

**Jump to Review**

Get ready to spend Valentine’s Day with Eddie and Birdie!

A Very Friendly Valentine’s Day
is out today.

Goodreads
Amazon: US | UK | CA | AU

EDDIE: Cancel your dinky little roomette on the train. I’m booking us two of the big bedroom suites. 

BIRDIE: I’ll cancel it AFTER you’ve booked the other sleeper rooms. And reimburse you.

EDDIE: Don’t worry about it. Just cancel your tickets. I got this. Round trip. I’m on the Amtrak website right now.

BIRDIE: You don’t have to leave NYC when I do! You’ll hardly be able to spend any time with your Instagram girlfriend that you’ve never met!

EDDIE: It’s fine. She’ll be fine with it. Cancel your tickets.

BIRDIE: You aren’t going to stop texting me until I’ve canceled them, are you?

EDDIE: Damn right I’m not. Just do it. You can thank me later.

***

EDDIE: Um. Did you cancel your tickets?

BIRDIE: Yes, Edward. I canceled them.

EDDIE: Okay, because it turns out they only had one Family Bedroom from LA to Chicago. But the good news is I booked it for us. It’s the biggest room they had. The bad news is I booked it for us. And it’s the only sleeper room they have left now.

EDDIE: In related news, there was also only one room left from Chicago to New York. 

EDDIE: Hands up if you’re excited! *man raising hand emoji*

BIRDIE: I am so mad at you right now.

***

BIRDIE: I’ve compiled a list of ground rules re shared train bedroom. Check your email, please read carefully, and refer to it again on the ninth of February. Thank you.

EDDIE: *nerd face emoji* Received. I have some notes. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Before writing steamy romantic comedy novels, Kayley Loring got a BFA in creative writing from a Canadian university and had a fifteen-year career as a screenwriter in Los Angeles (under a different name). She mostly wrote PG-13 family comedies that studios would pay her lots of money for and then never make into movies. In 2017 she decided to move to the Pacific Northwest and write about all the fun stuff that she wasn’t allowed to write about in those PG-13 scripts. Now she’s breathing cleaner air and writing dirtier words. It’s an adjustment she’s happily getting used to.

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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.**

Best friends Birdie and Eddie straddle the line between friendship and possibly something more. While both are attracted to each other, Birdie doesn’t want to ruin a 6-year friendship and Eddie is trying really hard to stay faithful to his hot Instagram model girlfriend whom he has never met IRL. Separately, they make plans to head to New York for Valentine’s Day–Eddie to meet his girlfriend and Birdie to attend a Tedx talk–but decide to make the trip together.

A Very Friendly Valentine’s Day is short and sweet (short as in over 200 pages but under 300) Because it’s short, there isn’t a lot of room to digress from our leading couple. As a friends-to-lovers romance, this book hits all the good stuff from the angst of being in close quarters to the jealousy that occurs when someone tries to hit on your best friend…the one who you are very definitely not in love with. The chemistry and the angst start right away, making it easy to root for Birdie and Eddie. Missing was the endearing and very hilarious family bantering, although we hear from Eddie’s mom and his brother as well as get appearances from his cousins. However, as Eddie’s cousin Billy laments in the book, a lot of holidays like Christmas and New Year’s can be spent with family but Valentine’s Day is often about having a significant other so it makes sense that families only make brief appearances in this particular book. (Not that Valentine’s Day can’t be about friends and other relationships–I’m all for it. I’m just repeating what Billy said. Don’t shoot me.)

As a fan of rom coms, A Very Friendly Valentine’s Day is an example of why Loring has quickly become one of my favorite authors. I was reading this at 2AM because I couldn’t put it down. I had to self-ostracize to the living room because I kept laughing too much. If you’re a fan of friends-to-lovers and laughing (because laughing is one of life’s best cures!), this is the perfect novel to head into Valentine’s Day with.

Side note: As soon as I was done, I had to go reread A Very Bossy Christmas again (yup…you read that right, reread again as in I’ve already reread it a few times) because I needed some more laughs. Now that the single Cannavale brothers have had their stories, I very much need a story about Maddie’s niece Piper. I love her.

A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow (2020)

by Laura Taylor Namey
ISBN: 9781534471245
Publication: November 10, 2020


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

After devastating changes in her life, Lila is forced to take a one-way flight to stay with her Aunt Cate in Winchester, England. Despite her initial hesitation and desire to return home to Miami, Lila starts to appreciate the town. Not only is she making new friends, but she’s also sharing her love of cooking, creating a new community that begins to rival the one at home.

A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow is so many things. It’s about family. It’s about culture. It’s about loss in its many forms. It’s about reconciling the changes that come with growing up, growing apart, and ultimately growing into the unexpected. There is so much packed into this novel but it’s ultimately Lila’s resilience that will leave a lasting impact.

When we meet Lila, she’s broken and still reeling at the unfairness of being forced to spend summer away from the city and the people she loves. But little by little, through cooking and baking, she begins to carve a place for herself in a town that is so different from Miami and yet begins to call to her in a similar way. Despite the challenges and the changes in her life, she trusts in her skills, allowing her to successfully fuse English and Cuban flavors into her culinary creations. When she allows her certainty in the kitchen to trickle into the rest of her life, we finally get to see the Lila that she was…but now a bit wiser.

While it’s a guide to tea and tomorrow, I found more tomorrow than tea, and Lila’s guidance about tomorrow is immeasurable. A traditional recipe that has been perfected may produce the same flavors to a tee (pun intended…hehehe) but sometimes accommodations have to be made; experimentation may be necessary to discover new and possibly better flavors. Lila’s experiences allowed me to reflect on my own life, and I am all the better for it.

A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow enfolds you like the wool knit sweaters Lila wears, warm and comforting even if a little prickly at first. Once you settle into it, you wonder how you might survive without it. When I finished reading, I felt a sense of loss in having to say goodbye to Lila and Winchester. The introspection it provided was invaluable. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend reading it with a cup of tea–my favorite, mint steeped 3-5 minutes with water at full boil–and a warm blanket, making sure a pastelito isn’t too far away.

A Stitch in Time (2020)

by Kelley Armstrong
ISBN: 9781596069688
Publication Date: October 13, 2020/October 31, 2020
(Goodreads/Amazon shows 10/13 while Netgalley provided me with 10/31 but it seems to be available already)

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

Time slips, lost love, and a haunted manor…oh my! As a child, Bronwyn visited Thorne Manor nearly every summer but stopped due to extenuating circumstances.  She becomes convinced William, a boy she befriends after traveling to the past, was just a figment of her imagination and ghosts aren’t real.  Of course, this all changes after the first ghost appears when she returns to Thorne Manor, and she accidentally meets William again.     

A Stitch in Time is a story for those who are faint of heart but still want to enjoy a book with ghosts in it.  It’s not terribly scary—this comes from someone timid about anything frightening—so the book is certified for reading alone at night but just to be safe you should leave the light on.  The ghosts won’t have you hiding under the covers but they’re creepy enough that you’ll shrink into yourself to get away from the pages while your eyes stayed glued for what’s coming next. 

Part of the reason why it isn’t as scary is that the haunting of Thorne Manor takes a backseat to the romance. I always find rekindling lost love to be compelling and Armstrong makes a strong case for Bronwyn and William reuniting.  What’s better than lost love except lost love separated by hundreds of years? Also, can you deny them a relationship after how they meet again more than twenty years later? (Rawr!) While I liked the romance a lot, sometimes the excessive focus on the romance meant less time for the mysteries surrounding the ghosts. (I never thought I’d say that…ever.)

I like time slips but one of the most difficult things about crafting a book with time travel is all the rules that come with it, and the book didn’t seem to have many of those.  Overall, the book is entertaining but it is best enjoyed when the time travel rules, or lack of them, can be overlooked.