Hubscher, Libby. Play for Me. Berkley, 2023. 368 pp. ISBN 9780593547229 $17.00.
Not every romance has to involve a book store of bake shop. When the rookie pitcher is too injured to play, trainer Sophie Doyle makes a controversial call on a player that rabid Red Sox fans think cost the series — and costs her the job, as well as her relationship and housing. She finds work at a New Hampshire boarding school where her clients are wrestling with academics and other extra curriculars as well as athletics. Faculty housing is sparse and utilitarian and all-male, but it only takes one almost-glimpse of skin in the shared bathroom for a lock to get installed. Conflict arises when a student who excels at both baseball and piano is pulled in two directions, and music instructor Jonas is as convinced is a prodigy at piano as Sophie is that is a prodigy at baseball. When grumpy Jonas, a former concert pianist, reveals he can barely play, Sophie has physical therapy exercises that may help him limber his hands.
The writing and relationships are excellent. I love both music and baseball, and found the entry point fairly low, readers do not need to know a lot about or be passionate about either to engage with the story and characters. The subplot of Sophie’s dad, struggling with a Parkinson’s diagnosis, adds depth and the other roommates (a gay couple) add color. As might be fitting with a private school setting, the sex is discreet and behind closed doors even though their attraction is evident and encouraged by students.
I received a free, advance reader’s review copy of #PlayForMe from #NetGalley.
Ashley, Allison. The Roommate Pact. Harlequin, 2023. 400 pp. ISBN 9780778334248 $18.99
Firefighter Graham and nurse Claire are roommates with a joking agreement to embark on a friends with benefits relationship if they are still single at forty; as soon as they voice the option, they suddenly start to notice just how attractive the other is. She’s determined not to fall for a first responder whose life is constantly on the line. When Graham breaks a leg in a minor climbing accident and needs companion care, Claire realizes she cares more than she thought. Voiceless due to getting intubated, she starts sleeping in his bed since he can’t call out if he needs something. Their early communication after the accident is by notes and texts while his voice heals, and then Graham begins unburdening his thoughts and feelings to what he believes to be a defunct email address of Claire’s.
Tension ratchets up when Claire washing Graham’s hair becomes a sensual experience ,and again when he decides to help her with her dating profile. When she brings him to see his parents, there is Just!One!Bed! and of course she gets along perfectly with his well-meaning, match-making parents–and even becomes friendly with his dog. They do consummate the relationship, but the nitty gritty after the hot makeout sessions is left off the page.
Chapters alternate points of view, and Graham’s heartfelt emails are swoon-worthy. The story is well-plotted and well-paced with good character development and sensory writing. This takes place in the same universe as Would You Rather–Claire is the one who tricks Noah and Mia into confessing their feelings, and Graham and Claire’s chemistry is palpable there; and although Noah and Mia appear in The Roommate Pact, it does work as a stand-alone interconnected novel rather than part of a series. Overall, this is a solid hurt/comfort romance with a very satisfying slow burn of friends falling in love.
I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #TheRoommate Pact from #NetGalley through the author’s publicist.
Baird, Ginny. Right Girl, Wrong Side. Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2023. 352 pp. ISBN 9781728256559 $16.99
A high school grudge over a school election carries through decades in this Romeo and Juliet styled story. Evita Machado (not McCoy) and Ryan Hatfield were sort of friends in high school as lab partners, but the feud between their mothers meant there was no chance of pursuing a relationship. A vacation rental gone awry results in a double-booking and the two families are forced into proximity on their Nantucket vacation. A serious of petty, selfish and possessive actions from the elders in both families result in ratcheting up of tensions; the kids just want to all get along, and Ryan thinks Evita is still pretty cute.
While the relationship building is charming and the cultural details wonderful, the cringey behavior of the parents made this a tough read for me to get through.
I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #RightGirlWrongSide from #NetGalley.
Mae, Lauren H. Wish Lists and Road Trips. Headline Eternal, 2023.352 pp. ISBN 9781035401673. $17.99
When two strangers miss getting back on their cruise ship, they agree to travel together to get back to the States. Neither seems to be in a good place to embark on a new relationship: beautician Brit has recently called off her wedding (the cruise was to be her honeymoon) to a man who works with his dad in the family business, while real estate developer Nick is fulfilling his deceased brother’s charge to scatter his ashes on a number of adventures. On their journey, they encounter multiple setbacks that hint they may not make it to their final destination in time for Brit to purchase the auctioned property that will launch her business and new, independent life; Nick is determined to help her get there on time.
Road trips tell you a lot about a person, from the snacks they select to the music they choose to how they deal with travel snafus. The plot works wonderfully to reveal character. Watching Nick and Brit get vulnerable was heartfelt, but sometimes he was written a little too overprotectively, diminishing her agency.
Pair with Seat Mate by Cara Bastone when you’re looking for good road trip books that delve into relationships, obligation and career goals as well as romance.
I received a free advance readers review copy of #WishListsAndRoadTrips from #NetGalley.
Ruiz, Sarah Grunder. Luck and Last Resorts (Love, Lists & Fancy Ships, #2). Berkley, 2022. 336pp. ISBN 978-0593335444 $17.00
This is the second marine romance I read in the last year (Float Plan being the first). Nothing says forced proximity like being stuck on a boat together! Nina has just accepted the chief steward position on a yacht that caters to rich people who often behave badly; her ex, smooth-tongued Irish chef Ollie will be the ship’s cook. He’s convinced he can win her over again, and if he can’t, he’ll go back to Ireland, which Nina finds oddly unsettling. She doesn’t want to get back together, but neither does she want him to leave the country for good. They agree to be friends, but true love finds its way.
I haven’t read the first in the series (Love, Lists & Fancy Ships) but didn’t feel I missed out on anything. I really enjoyed the details of professional sailing, a part of the hospitality industry that I have not given a lot of consideration. The tension of whether they would get back together or not was drawn out (and I felt badly for Ollie through most of the novel). The characterizations were real, complex and well-developed.
I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #LuckAndLastResorts from #NetGalley.