Tag Archives: anxiety

While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory

While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory

Guillory, Jasmine. While We Were Dating. Berkley, 2021. 352 pp. ISBN 9780593100851 $16.00


Ad-man Ben Stephens gets to lead on a pitch to a technology company because of a travel snafu–he’s aware that he did most of the work on the presentation: and knows he will get the least amount of credit from his firm, being not only young but a person of color. He rises to the occasion in spite of being flustered when the talent–beautiful and bodacious Ocsar-nominee Anna Gardiner–shows up; she and her smart manager wrote veto power into her contract. Ben gets the gig contingent on Anna’s request that he be the lead producer on the phone commercial they’re going to make.

To Anna’s delight, Ben is a safe, respectful person for the cast and crew and sensitive to institutionalized misogyny in many small moments, in part from his brief stint as a back-up dancer. Ben and Anna share similar interests and sense of humor, and they hit it off. When Anna’s father has a health scare and she can’t get a flight home, Ben offers to drive her. Bonding happens during the road trip, filled with requisite tunes and snacks. They get to the hospital just as her dad is checking out, and Ben has to pretend to be her driver. Crisis averted, there is #JustOne!Bed at the hotel and she sleeps with him, NOT because she feels she owes him anything, but because they genuinely like and respect one another. Her manager thinks Ben might be the perfect foil to pose as her boyfriend until her most recent film premieres, Ben good naturedly agrees (he’s not looking for anything long term and only his therapist seems to see a problem with his reluctance to commit), but then …. falls in love.

Subplots include Anna’s management of her anxiety and how fame and celebrate strain mental health; Ben’s discovery that his absentee father had a third child, a sister who found him through a DNA matching service–should he tell his older brother Theo? He wants Theo all to himself, and there might not be enough love to go around!) and the power struggles in the superficial film industry over race, color, size, gender and popularity. Each protagonist has a wonderful support network: a best friend to confide in, and family is really important: Ben is close to brother Theo, and his girlfriend Maddie, a stylist, saves the day. Anna, too, has a loving brother and parents who might not always understand her, but support her completely.

I didn’t find this as compelling as Guillory’s first novel, and am trying to pinpoint why. I struggled to get through this, didn’t write a review right away, wanted to provide one to boost my NetGalley completion rate, couldn’t remember a thing and had to re-read it… and slogged through it again. While We Were Dating has a lot going on, and the writing and characters felt simplistic. The author absolutely elevates important issues to the forefront for the romance readership without being didactic, using humor and empathy. The red carpet details were fun–and the publicist realities and paparazzi behaviors are abhorrent and terrifying. I like celebrity/regular person pairing but do find them very … fanfiction-y.

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

Paris Daillencourt is About To Crumble by Alexis Hall


Hall, Alexis. Paris Daillencourt is About To Crumble. (Winner Bakes All, #2) Forever/Grand Central Publishing, 2022. 368 pp. ISBN 9781538703335 $15.99


Alexis Hall is sort of like the James Patterson of the romance genre: he pumps out a pretty decent bestseller every 4-6 months. In this one, Paris, a wealthy ball of anxiety, goes on a competitive baking show when his larger than life Glaswegian sex goddess roommate signs him up for it, where he meets Tariq a sweet Muslim man abstaining from sex until marriage. They embark on an relationship with an agreement to be honest with one another, but Tariq comes to the honest conclusion he cannot in fact handle Paris’s Parisienne-ness, and they split which prompts Paris to seek a diagnosis and get some professional help in managing his GAD.

Conversations about penises and consent; race, class, colonialism, and religion; celebrity, fame, and social media; and toxic masculinity and mental health are the chunky, hefty, salty peanut butter to the decadent chocolate that is the two weekly baking challenges. That’s not to say that part is going smoothly–except with every challenge Paris is sure he’s getting sent home and he wins the two in a row. The hosts are hilarious caricatures of the worst of competition cooking shows. I did squirm at jokes about Nazis, homophones, and anti-semites, but they were lambasting them, not supporting them. Tariq and Paris work through several misunderstandings and conflicts in very a healthy, mature, and realistic manner. The first half of the narrative is focused on the filming and the crumbling of Paris, while the second half is focused on the airing of the showing and rebuilding of Paris.

Sometimes I’m not sure if Hall is trying too hard or just truly over the top brilliant and funny, but the acknowledgements and book club questions at the end are as screamingly funny as other moments in the books, so I’m going with authentic, real deal. The dialogue is fast paced and whip smart, and Paris is so painfully awkward it’s not to be believed … except I DO know people like that. Hall puts the comedy in romantic comedy for sure. Some readers may find the humor and situations cringe-worthy but I know others will eat it up. Side note: Paris texts his absentee parents once a week, and they never reply; this added a poignant counterpoint to the shenanigans. The recipes at the end are a nice touch. And the cover art is pretty perfect: a rainbow layer cake that hints at the baking theme, the seven-episode art of the competition, the character complexities, the LGBTQIA+ cast, and the delicious story.

Perfect for fans of The Great British Bake-off or Rosaline Parker Takes the Cake (also by Hall) which has some of the best qualities of Paris Daillencourt—great foodie descriptions, warm relationships and quirkier characters—with the anxiety and penis jokes dialed back.

I received a free advance readers review copy of # from #NetGalley.

Bear With Me Now by Katie Shepard

Bear With Me Now by Katie Shepard

Shepard, Katie. Bear With Me Now. Berkley, 2023. ISBN 9780593549292 $17.00


A mental breakdown while managing his mother’s charity lands Teagan in rehab — while not an alcoholic, his collegiate sister Sloane decides it’s the perfect opportunity to address her casual coke habit and his crippling anxiety and panic attacks with one blow. She enrolls them in a wilderness retreat center retreat in where they encounter equally terrifying bears, kale smoothies and Darcy: an ex-military jack of all trades who wants to be an interpretive ranger but can’t get through her GI bill degree due to her undiagnosed learning disabilities. Darcy’s ex-roommate and former hookup has borrowed her car, leaving her stranded in Big Sky just as she’s trying to cobble together a plan when the wellness center closes for the season. A misunderstanding leads Darcy to think Teagan is an alcoholic in denial; she takes him under her wing and provides him with his own custom, wilderness-based recovery curriculum when it’s clear making ashtrays and birdhouses and attending mindful seminars and therapy are not up his alley. When it becomes clean Teagan needs to get back to attend to his business, Darcy gets hired on as Teagan’s sober companion. She doesn’t quite fit it, but they work well as a team and as partners. She hasn’t had a lot of stability in her life and has serious reservation about being good enough and fitting in, but their chemistry is genuine and he is a wonderful foil for her warm, loving chaos.

A subplot of the foundation running art through it for profit adds drama and tension. The Montana setting is described lushly and conservation is a strong theme throughout. Shepard introduces unique characters and handles addiction and mental illness deftly.The sex scenes are a perfect blend of tender, awkward, funny and real, and sex is defined as more than just PiV – Teagan’s medication makes full arousal and penetration challenging, so they need to be creative and communicate.

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

Kiss Her Once for Me by Alison Cochrun

Kiss Her Once for Me by Alison Cochrun

Cochrun, Alison. Kiss Her Once for Me. 368 pp. Atria Books, 2022. ISBN 978-1982191139 $17.99


I feel the same about LGBTQIA+ romance as I do about science fiction novels: as long as the plot is engaging, the setting is strong, the characters compelling (and their names pronounceable), I’m in, even though I don’t self-identify as a science fiction fanatic or queer. I selected this from NetGalley’s offerings months ago, tugged in by the twisty premise of demisexual girl gets fake engaged for money to her ex’s brother. I felt like I just wasn’t in the mood for a queer romance, or a holiday story, and avoiding cracking open my ARC until there were only about three days left on the ticking clock of the review window. I could not put this one down and finished it just in time.

Told in flashbacks that describe a webcomic series based on a perfect romantic snow day with a mysterious Jack one a year ago, and Ellie’s present day dilemma (should she confess the terms of the engagement to Jack? Disclose to Andrew Jack is the manic pixie dream butch from last Christmas?), the only thing that could make this more perfect is if the described comic sections were actual panels…or if the entire book was a graphic novel, hint, hint, @SimonAndSchuster, get on it already!

Ellie is an empathetic character. An animation school grad who got her dream job and then got let go for not being able to cut it, she landed at a coffee-shop with a terrible boss where Instagramming foam creations on lattes is her artistic outlet. Denied a promotion and facing eviction because her terrible! mother is exhorting her as payback for RAISING her, a wealthy investment banker/hedge fund type overhears her plight, takes her on a date, and suggests they catch two birds with one stone and get engaged to solve her financial troubles and allow him access to his inheritance that will only be unlocked if he marries. Ellie drunkenly agrees, and Andrew whisks her off to spend the holidays at his family’s cabin (read: mansion) to introduce her to his relatives and solidify the relationship. His sister Jacqueline/Jack turns out to be the beautiful butch baker from last year’s Powell’s excursion. In a side plot, her best friend–trans tattooed kindergarten teacher Dylan–was Andrew’s super-sekrit hookup last year when Jack was skipping the family festivities and hooking up with Ellie.

The characters are three-dimensional and pop off the page, and they are also delightfully messy and unexpected. Andrew and Jack’s Korean-Americanism is a subtle undercurrent. The rich widowed grandmothers are best buds with an it’s five o’clock somewhere attitude, and in spite of their imbibing, are more astute than they initially let on. Only Andrew and Jack’s father is stereotypical, with a piece on the side and outdated, unsupportive, critical attitudes. Pop culture is a strong secondary character in the novel, with Alexa playlists popping up to provide the perfect pop music soundtrack. Cochrun pays homage to Taylor Swift, Celine Dion, Fun Home, and While You Were Sleeping. Portland has a life of its, with its lack of snow planning, coffee culture, and queer pride.

It’s difficult not to contrast Kiss Her Once for Me with Not The Plan, which I read in the same week. Both couples have a keyword that means time to tell the truth; “honesty game?” works for Jack and Ellie in a way “blunt, honest?” does not for Isa and Karim. The slow burn and careful respect is hot with Jack and Ellie, and plodding and wooden with Isa and Karim. The detailed sex scenes in Kiss Her Once For Me incorporate sensory detail and delicacy, emotion and acceptance, and make unsexy parts sexy, instead of focusing just on erogenous zones. Bodies in Not The Plan are described in gym-honed terms, firm and perfect, while in Kiss Her Once for Me the imperfections are adualated: stretch marks and soft bellies and hairy legs are celebrated as “so fucking perfect.”

Ironically, what makes Kiss Her Once for Me a 5 star (perfect!) book is how it celebrates messy, looking at failures as falls you can pick yourself back up after. “It’s not a failure to let people see you imperfections, it’s vulnerability,” says the best friend who seems to have her shit together but failed her bar exam. Words to take to heart.

I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #KissHerOnceForMe from #NetGalley

The Do Over by Suzanne Parker

The Do Over by Suzanne Parker

Parker, Suzanne. The Do Over. Avon, 2023. 384 pp. ISBN ‎ 978-0063216051 $16.99


On the verge of landing an executive position, Lily Lee, start-up consultant and empowering author, discovers she has failed her background check due to being a few credits shy of her diploma. She will need to return to Carlthorpe College, not just to make up a class, but to meet graduation requirements that have changed in the last ten years. This oversight also threatens her personal integrity and second book deal. Insult to injury is bumping into her college boyfriend Jacob Cho (the one that broke her heart, natch!) who is now a T.A. for one of her required computer science courses–unless she can get off the waitlist for statistics.

In the midst of the drama, Lily gets the opportunity to try things she missed out on and re-experience a frat party (attending doesn’t improve with age) and stocking up on road trip and dorm snacks, but adding to her stress is her first book simultaneously getting criticized, mansplained AND borderline plagiarized by a white dude intent on creating a series of feminist business books with his sister to both bury Lily’s work and use her for an “urban” edge.

Lily’s Korean ancestry helps to round out her characterization in terms of her relationship with (and expectations of) her family. Dialogue is sprinkled with Korean terms and she references favorite Korean dishes. I recognize it is not the job of the author to educate this white girl on banchan and translations, but I appreciated the effort and level of detail that Park went to.

Also appreciated are the details of Lily’s anxiety, which manifested in college, and which she still goes to somes lengths to downplay or hide until pressed. Luckily, relief comes in the form of a ride-or-die bestie, Mia, who keeps showing up on campus for support; her new roomie; Beth, a baker with a case of extreme positivity; and a puppy-ish group of young Asian students who form a study group. Lily is able to be real and honest and is accepted when she discloses her stressors and coping mechanisms, and coming clean about her mental health helps to direct her next work in progress.

The romance feels less central to the plot than Lily’s coming of age: standing up to the dean that could have prevented the credits mishap, disclosing her anxiety, confronting a privileged male, rethinking her career goals, and reframing her work. Amends with Jake happen too, but way late in the book, and not until after the two violate Title IX by falling into bed together (she was going to drop his class, then doesn’t) and then deciding to keep it professional. To my disappointment, sexy scenes are kept behind firmly closed (and locked) doors.

What stopped this from being a four-star book for me was that it was billed as a second-romance and there is a HEA, but I wanted more Jake and more steam. The author (or editor’s) choice to flashback to his devotion even as they are breaking up, in the form a promise no matter what Jake will always pick up when Lily calls, is placed way too close to her actually needing him to follow through on that promise. In another flashback, her reaction to his needing to follow through on the events that lead to her separation are immature. His apology for it ten years later seems unnecessary. He (immaturely) asks her to no be mad, to be happy — you cannot tell other people how to feel. At thirty-two, these characters should be a little more evolved.

One last bone to pick: the reference to women as females as though they are biological specimens is a personal pet peeve. It’s great Lily is the first lady to be a intern with the prestigious company Solv, but multiple times throughout the book there are references to humans as female (and not just by the statistician protagonist) that made me squirm and made the book feel dated in a time when we are evolving from gender as biology and sex as binary to a spectrum. Since I read this in ARC, it’s not too late to fix it.

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