Unorthodox Love by Heidi Shertok

Unorthodox Love by Heidi Shertok

Shertok, Heidi. Unorthodox Love. Alcove Press, 2023. ISBN 9781639103768. $17.99


Our heroine Penina comes from a community of modern Orthodox Jews, where marriage at a young age and having lots of children is highly prized. As an infertile woman, finding a marriage match has not come easily to her, and a traditional shadchan is heroically making a last ditch effort into finding a mate for Penina. Meanwhile, she spends her days volunteering in a local hospital’s NICU, working her jewelry shop job, maintaining her social media presence as a frum fashionista, and going on hotel lobby dates with unsuitable men. When her boss goes out on medical leave and his attractive (secular) son takes over the jewelry store, sparks fly, but handsome Sam annoys the heck out of her,and somehow, their bodies keep colliding in ways that are against the strict rules around unmarried, unrelated male and female proximity. Penina’s sister is in danger of losing her home due to her husband;s failed businesses, and Penina becomes determined not just to marry, but to marry wealthy; when Sam learns she’s become engaged and will settle for a marriage in name only, he has some opinions.

This is a wonderfully authentic portrayal of navigating a complex culture. So many details ring true, from festival observances to the love and obligations of family politics to the Israeli-accented English of Penina’s sister. Shertok tells Penina’s story with a lot of humor and honesty and never devolves to deprecation. The writing is descriptive (the clothing descriptions are amazing!) and evocative, and characters and situations relatable whatever your religious or cultural affiliations.

I received an advance reader’s copy of #UnorthodoxLove from #NetGalley.

Happy Birthday to Meeee…


I recently joined a Romance Reader’s group on Facebook and someone posted they bought themselves (or were gifted?) a book for each year for their recent birthday, prompting a LOT of readers to post their ages and the number of books they anticipate for their next birthday. I don’t have a lot of spare dollars to spend, and doubted my family would buy into this idea even if I helpfully provided a curated and prioritized list of what I’d like to add to my collection… but I did somehow manage to acquire a staggering number of items in celebration of my 48th birthday, thanks to advance reader’s editions, the Library’s book sale, Book Outlet, Thrift Books, Better World Books, Target, and Little Free Libraries around town.

Want to gift a book to me? I have a registry on and my local affiliate is the Book Rack in Arlington MA.

Here’s the rundown:

  1. 48 Clues Into the Disappearance of My Sister by Joyce Carol Oates
  2. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
  3. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
  4. The Bodyguard by Katherine Center
  5. Book Lovers by Emily Henry
  6. The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick
  7. Egg: A Dozen Ovatures by Lizzie Stark
  8. Eight Perfect Nights by Lia Louis
  9. Everything, Everything by Nicola June
  10. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
  11. Float Plan by Trish Doller
  12. The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin
  13. The Garden of Ruth by Eva Etzioni-Halevy
  14. The Girl With Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts
  15. Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute by Talia Hibbert
  16. Hook, Line, and Sinker by Tessa Bailey
  17. Icebreaker by Hannah Grace
  18. In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren
  19. In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
  20. Inside the Titanic: A Giant Cutaway Book by Hugh Brewster, illus. by Ken Marschall
  21. It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey
  22. Just Haven’t Met You Yet by Sophie Cousens
  23. Kiss & Tell by Adib Khorram
  24. Little Moments of Love by Catana Chetwynd
  25. The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
  26. Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood
  27. Malkah’s Notebook: A Journey Into the Mystical Aleph-Bet by Mira Z. Almiras
  28. Maine by Courtney Sullivan
  29. The Marriage Game by Sara Desai
  30. My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
  31. One Night on the Island by Josie Silver
  32. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
  33. Sadie on a Plate by Amanda Elliot
  34. Say Yes to the Duke by Eloisa James
  35. Secretly Yours by Tessa Bailey
  36. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  37. The Shortest Distance Between Love and Hate by Sandy Hall
  38. The Singles Table by Sara Desai
  39. Starring Sally J. Freidman as Herself by Judy Blume
  40. Still Alice by Lisa Genova
  41. The Suite Spot by Trish Doller
  42. A Taxonomy of Love by Rachel Allen
  43. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  44. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zavin
  45. The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
  46. What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick
  47. What Is My Plant Telling Me?: An Illustrated Guide to Houseplants and How to Keep Them Alive by Emily L. Hay Hinsdale
  48. You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld

The Second Mrs. Astor by Shana Abe

The Second Mrs. Astor by Shana Abe

Abe, Shana. The Second Mrs. Astor: A Heartbreaking Historical Novel of the Titanic. Kensington Books, 2021. 336 pp. ISBN 978-1-4967-3204-0. $16.95


My Mt. Everest obsession is rivaled only by the the Titanic disaster. This historical novel with romantic elements covers the courtship of business magnate, inventor, war veteran, and millionaire John Jacobs Astor IV with a socialite nearly thirty years his junior, a year after his divorce from first wife Ava. Madeleine Force first notices him on a Bar Harbor beach when she is a young teen, and four years later, catches his eye. Society is abuzz and her mother dubbed La Force Majeure as she tries to position her daughter to wed the colonel. They announce their engagement just after she turns eighteen in some effort to avoid scandal. Their wedding in the ballroom of Astors Newport mansion makes the society pages and amps up early twentieth century paparazzi. They escape to Egypt and then onto Europe for an extended honeymoon, and then the newly pregnant couple book passage to New York on the brand spanking new unsinkable ship of dreams: RMS Titanic.

The carefully constructed narrative moves back and forth in time and tense, opening shortly after the famous disaster at sea. The premise is that Madeleine is sharing the story of her and Jack’s love directly to her newborn son Jakey in first person, complete with occasional strike-throughs as she controls the narrative. The story then switches to third person, observational style. It’s amazingly well done, as is the writing. Even as the reader knows the inevitability of the staggering loss to come, the book is unputdownable. The vocabulary is rich with details of travel, food, fashion, and other trappings of Edwardian society. Madeleine’s close relationships with her parents and sister, and her antagonistic one with step-son Vincent, who is her age and does not approve of his father’s new wife, are deep, emotional and nuanced.

The research is meticulous; descriptions of the ship, the timeline of events, and the aftermath are drawn from primary sources. Much has been made of the end of Astor’s life: his devotion to his wife and her delicate condition, his promise to find her after, his assistance and kindness in his last hours. Madeleine chooses to be kind over everything else, with consistency. Themes of wealth, fame, and the role of women are beautifully integrated, and the marriage is presented as a love match, with chaste but sensual details. Though they never exchange “I love yous,” Madeleine and Jack do confess their love for one another.

This is a wonderfully romantic and tragic read for anyone caught up in Jack and Rose’s epic love story from the 1997 award-winning film Titanic directed by James Cameron, remastered and back in theatres this Valentine’s Day for its 25th anniversary.

Anon Pls by Deuxmoi

Anon Pls by Deuxmoi

Deuxmoi. Anon Pls. William Morrow, 2022. 287 pp. SBN 978-0063257801 $19.59

In the vein of The Devil Wears Prada and The Nanny Diaries, art imitates life in a tell-all expose style of what it’s really like to work in a social media driven fashion industry. Cricket Lopez just wants a promotion, but her evil, demanding boss won’t relent, and after a potential client pushed by Cricket resells some gifted merch instead of wearing and promoting it, it seems like hell will freeze over before she gets promoted. In a drunken fit, she posts about the snafu on her anonymous fashion account that’s been gathering dust, inviting other people to send their tidbits about celebrities: celebrity sighting, famous people they’re just like us, and especially, famous people behaving badly. It goes viral, her boss threatens to fire anyone associated with the account, and Cricket cowers but powers on. Soon, celebrities are responding to correct misunderstandings and fight for their good names, and everyone wants to know who the brains behind the anonymous tipline account is. As on the popular blind item account, no attribution of authorship is given.

Either I’m really out of touch or all celebrities were fabricated. There was lots of product name dropping, butI didn’t even bother to look up Chelsea boots and jeans; it was disappointing that the generally writers could not be bothered to describe articles of clothing by more than a brand name. I powered through, partially hooked by a love interest who wants a scoop and offers advice and phone sex.

I read a digital ebook edition of Anon Pls through my local public library via OverDrive.

If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales; Cale Dietrich

If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales; Cale Dietrich

Gonzales, Sophie and Cale Dietrich. If This Gets Out. St. Martin’s Press, 2022. 416 pp. ISBN 9781250805805 $18.99 $18.99


The members of Saturday, a fictional band modeled after One Direction, met at music camp as teens, and now at eighteen are hugely famous and on their first international tour. The singers are increasingly chafing at the archetypal boxes that management presses them into: the bad boy, the goofy one, the sexy one, the boy next door. The tour doesn’t leave any time for actual touring, it’s one locked hotel room after another. And fans have gone from cheering at a distance to smothering in their screaming adoration. Told in alternating chapters by Zach and Ruben, If This Gets Out details their affectionate friendship and growing attraction, Zach coming to terms with coming out, and the response from their colleagues, management, families and fans. Ruben has known he was gay for a long time, but recognizes their brands are designated to cultivate a wide fan base, and keeps things discreet. Management has been telling him since he was sixteen that he can’t come out; they promise that he and Zach can disclose their relationship publically “after Russia” but as time goes on, it seems like NO time is a good time to rock the boat.

This novel for teens is a sex (not TOO detailed), drugs and rock and roll lifestyle expose and critique that feels disturbingly realistic as it captures the sexualization of youth and homophobia still present in the entertainment industry and the high pressure environment of impossibly perfect standards and exhausting schedule that successful performers endure. The character development is strong as the members push through stereotypes and strain at their confines. Ruben’s passive-aggressive (possibly narcissistic, if I were diagnosing) mother is a piece of work, constantly berating him for not being good enough; Zach is sweet but confused, Jon is open minded but comes from a super-religious family, and his dad happens to be the big deal music producer that formed their boy band; Angel is delving into drugs and getting out of control. Ruben and Zach’s romance is fraught with fear but also passion. When the lovers try to spin the narrative on their own, the management company turns on them… but then their moms show up as a united front.

This novel could have gone so wrong, and read like bad 1D fanfiction, but it beautifully explores insecurity, anxiety, and a lot of other complicated emotions about people who love each other, change, and spend a lot of time in proximity. For another more adult look at romance while boy-band famous, read The Idea of You by Robinne Lee.

I checked this ebook out of the local library via #OverDrive.

If The Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy

If The Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy

Murphy, Julie. If the Shoe Fits (Meant to Be). Disney-Hyperion, 2021. 304 pp. ISBN 9781368050388 $26.99


Recent fashion school grad and shoe designer Cindy is feeling aimless and creatively blocked. Giving up on her dreams of designing shoes and eventually her own fashion line in NYC, she returns to the west coast home she shares with her (nice) stepmother and (nice) stepsisters. Her stepmother Erica is the brains behind Before Midnight, a bachelor-style reality television series. When two contestants are out of the running before filming begins, Erica decides all three of her girls should join the show and compete for the gentleman in question–who turns out to be the seatmate that Cindy had a moment with on the plane trip home. Cindy and Henry agree to pretend not to know one another, and even though they have a tiny history and major chemistry, she has to watch him woo a plethora of other women.

The other contestants, family and crew allow Cindy to develop supportive and adversarial relationships with other women, and create drama. In a twist, her stepsisters are generous and supportive even as they are vying for the suitor. Cindy is plus-sized and comfortable in her own skin, and a wonderful fat heroine. Most pleasing of all is that queer and trans characters are 100% accepted, and the main character follows her own dreams. The fashion details are fun and there is also a lot of behind the scenes about the fakeness of reality television and the influence of producers on the desired outcome. Readers who love all the gory intimate details may be disappointed. That said, this is a little superficial, shallow, sanitized and Disney-fied. Still, if the shoe fits is a sweet story and a strong start to the princess-themed series.

I received a free advance reader’s copy of#MeanttoBeIftheShoeFits from #NetGalley.

Meet Cute by Helena Hunting

Meet Cute by Helena Hunting

Helena Hunting. Meet Cute. Forever, 2019. 384 pp. ISBN 978-1538760185. $15.99


Kailyn and Dax literally run into each other on their first day of law school. Dax was a teenage heartthrob on Kailyn’s favorite television show and to make matters even more embarrassing, she fangirls all over him…and bumps into him again later. They spend law school debating one another and competing for the top spot, and when Kailyn’s father passes away, she asks Dax to turn in her final paper… and he turns it in late, ruining her class standing. When they next meet, Dax’s parents have died in a terrible accident and leave him as the legal guardian for his thirteen year old sister. Kailyn is managing the trust, and when Emme’s aunt challenges the guardianship and sues for custody, Kailyn is established as Emme’s conservator. Her boss promises her a partnership at the law firm, more pro bono hours, and great benefits if she can reel Dax in to firm. She decides NOT to reveal this detail, making the plot not as sweet as the book’s cover hints.

It turns out Dax has always liked Kailyn with her fancy patterned hose and pencil skirts, brains and curves. Their chemistry is real, but she has put herself in an unethical position by sneaking around and dating him while becoming a support for his sister. The book details Aunt Linda’s escalating attempts to present Dax as being unfit to parent, Kailyn’s dilemma about when to reveal her motives, and Dax and Emme moving through their grief.

While I didn’t find Kailyn particularly likeable, her moments with Emme and her soothing Dax through parenting a teenager were redeeming. I didn’t find the writing strong or compelling, there was more showing than telling, and for two self-aware, supposedly smart adults, they didn’t figure out the mystery too well.

Love, Hate & Clickbait by Liz Bowery

Love, Hate & Clickbait by Liz Bowery

Bowery, Liz. Love, Hate & Clickbait. Harlequin, 2022. 336 pp. ISBN 9780778311898 $15.99


Political campaigner Thom is convinced that his employer, the governor of California, will be the next POTUS, and is only in the job for how far it will launch his own career. He vehemently dislikes his co-worker, data analyst Clay, who comes off as smug (Clay thinks Thom is pretentious). When the governor makes an off-handed remark about her lack style because she doesn’t have enough gays on staff, there’s an uproar. What do you do when you can’t spin it? subvert the narrative. Clay and Thom are caught in an intense argument during the fallout, and a reporter snaps and posts a photo that makes it look like there’s about to share a heated kiss. The governor offers a promotion and raise to both men if they agree to fake-date throughout the campaign–and things escalate from a few gads about town, and spending a LOT of time together, and eventually getting off together under the guise of being the only options for the time being. When the governor demands a proposal at the Santa Monica pier, they gamely go along; how far will they take it, and at what cost.

At the beginning of the novel neither are out; in fact, Thom breaks up with his girlfriend in chapter one, choosing work over her; Clay’s preferences were very subtle and not disclosed until at least midway through the novel. When Thom realizes that he is in fact attracted to Clay, the subject is dispatched in about a paragraph that he’s open to whatever and it’s NBD, really. Thom is distanced from his family, and it’s never resolved, and pretty sad. Homophobia and bullying are barely addressed. A side plot with Clay’s first tech start up and some challenges with his current project are not fully resolved, except he settles when charged with a lawsuit. The narrative exposes problems with fame, politics and clickbait, but doesn’t take a strong stance in analyzing.

This book is terrific for wonks! I had to look up a few things, including stump speech, body man and pork. While in most cases I discerned from contact, I found Political Dictionary really helpful. The writing is sharp, funny, and set firmly in present day, and there are some really lovely moments of introspection, witty banter, and steamy sex…but the lack of character development and Thom almost always being terrible made this a 3-star instead of a 4-star book for me. It was a fun read and very entertaining.

Love, Hate & Clickbait might be a read-alike for Red, White and Royal Blue or Not The Plan, for those who like their romance with a side of politics.

I received a free copy of #LoveHate&Clickbait from #NetGalley.

Overheard by Maya Banks

Overheard by Maya Banks

Banks, Maya. Overheard. (Unbroken, #2). AudioGO, 2013. 3 hours. ISBN 978-1620648896 $19.95


I love Maya Banks, truly, but this was not one of her better books. Gracie dumps her boyfriend because the sex is terrible, and then one of her best (male) friends, Luke, overhears her telling another (female) friend about her interest in exploring sex that’s not so vanilla, and decides her and their other best friend Wes should introduce Gracie to threesomes and light bondage. Luke starts with taking her out on a date, and then invites her to go away Valentine’s Day weekend, where they have amazing sex in a little cabin in the woods and his take charge attitude and Wes showing up make her cream. But when Gracie overhears Luke confessing he eavesdropped on her fantasies, she flips out, cuts and runs, mostly because she thinks their behavior was okay if they all love each other, but if Luke isn’t in love with her, her desires, and the sex, is… humiliating? shame-worthy? embarrassing? This seems like bad messaging to me.

I love the idea–very hot!–but the deceit, not so much. I recognize this is the second book in a series, but had trouble discerning setting of the story and occupations for the characters, but I guess it didn’t really matter… except in the Sweet series, the characters relationships are clearly defined, and consent is important, and the sex scenes are super hot, with delicious descriptive writing (although, I’m pretty sure one of those books also had a woman whose lover makes her come publically on a club’s dance floor). Also, it does have a HEA, but it’s unclear what the relationship will be, going forward: was the threesome a one-time thing? So it did not feel completely wrapped up.

The brevity of the book made for a frustrating read, with little character development, a misunderstanding that results in immature behavior, and fast processing and forgiveness. Gracie’s ex crosses boundaries and shows up uninvited twice, and tries to slut shame her because she has gotten nipple rings and wants to experiment in bed. The so-called best friends NEVER discuss consent, hard lines, safer sex or previous sexual histories. I get there is a fantastical element, but it could have been addressed in a forward or author’s note, like in responsible porn where there’s a disclaimer that all actors are of age, and the scenes depict scenes that meant to be fantasy and not do as we do here.

Cover image is for the ebook, but I listened to this in audio format, and found the Southern lilt of the characters distracting. Coupled (ha!) with their immature behavior, they read as not too bright, which was a turnoff.

I listened through OverDrive via my public library.

A Thousand Boy Kisses by Tillie Cole

A Thousand Boy Kisses by Tillie Cole

Cole, Tillie. A Thousand Boy Kisses. CreateSpace, 2022. 352 pp. ISBN 978-1530496198 $11.99


Thor-lookalike Rune moves from Olso to Georgia (USA) at age 5 and instantly falls in love with Poppy, the winsome, green-eyed girl next door. A handshake seals their promise to be besties forever. When her beloved mamaw passes away a few years later, she leaves Poppy with a glass jar of paper hearts, instructing her EIGHT-YEAR-OLD grand-daughter to record 1,000 kisses from her soulmate. By high school, Rune and Poppy are more than friends, with a number of kisses that matter memorialized in the jar. Not all the kisses make it, only the ones that Poppy deems make her heart feel like bursting. At fifteen, Rune’s father is relocated back to Oslo for a few years and while heartbreaking, he and Poppy consummate their love and promise to keep in touch (and promise to save their lips only for one another). And then, after two months of talking every day, she ghosts him after two months. It’s a surly, smoking, and smoking-hot Rune that returns two years later. Still dressing all in black, his insides seem to match the tough bad-boy exterior he projects. Their confrontation–and reconciliation–is inevitable.

The actions of the characters are generally appropriate to age group. For example, Rune screaming at his parents that he hates them. The complex emotions just aren’t there, though, and the writing is sappy, the dialogue repetitive and wise beyond years, the emotional manipulation and possessiveness and slut-shaming were cringy, and the epilogue very unsatisfying and unbelievable. Poppy’s love for music and Rune’s skill and love for photography with an old-fashioned point and shoot SLR camera adds some depth. Some plot points, like moving prom up by a few weeks or getting permission to sit in on a music dress rehearsal, feel a little far-fetched. The author hits you over the head with symbolism instead of allowing for nuance (how many times can one person reference Footprints–with no attribution! However, I was raised Roman Catholic, and as a teenager, had Margaret Fishback Powers’ allegorical poem posted on my bedroom door). Interestingly, A Thousand Boy Kisses is a book filled with faith that allows for teenage sex without guilt or repercussion (unless the whole getting cancer thing is implied as punishment for underage sex).

This book’s cover kept popping up on the romance group I just joined on Facebook, to rave reviews. I read it fairly quickly through Kindle Unlimited, laughed and nodded at the one-star reviews on GoodReads, and settled somewhere in the middle. I was a huge fan of Lurlene McDaniel tearjerkers in my teenage years (and early in my career as a young adult librarian, until they veered too Christian and too formulaic). Sometimes, though, you just need a good cry, and a sorrowful book can help get you there.