Tag Archives: NetGalley

The Reunion by Elizabeth Drummond

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<em>The Reunion </em>by Elizabeth Drummond

Drummond, Elizabeth. The Reunion.

In this former boarding school rivals enemies to lovers romance, a photographer and influencer cut off by her family proposes a fake engagement to a fellow alum who needs business capital, because the school will pay for their high profile wedding if the Head Boy and Head Girl get married.

I am generally okay with reading about initial dislike based on misunderstanding, but not so okay with people being mean and snarky to one another. Lucas goes along with Posy’s plan to get them both the capital they need to achieve their dreams, discover they have more in common than they thought, and slowly fall in love in spite of a vow to NOT do that, all the while deceiving friends and family. I didn’t find the plot very believable or the characters compelling or likeable, and it’s 2022, so let’s just stop with the fat jokes, m’okay?

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

Twice in a Lifetime by Melissa Baron

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Twice in a Lifetime by Melissa Baron

Melissa Baron. Twice in a Lifetime. Alcove Press, 2022. pp. ISBN $17.99

****

Time is just a construct, and this romance combines elements from one of my favorite novels, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger with remnants of The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver. In this poignant story, Isla, on a sort of retreat from a very hard year, gets a text message from a stranger who seems to know her (and of her struggles with depression). Ewan seems to think he is her husband–or will be–and wants to save her from a fate he’s unwilling to disclose. The development of their relationship and the mystery behind what they are to one another made this unputdownable. Savvy readers will guess earlier than I suspected; I am not generally a fan of mystery, because I want to be entertained and lose myself in my reading, rather than figure things out. The tension was wonderfully drawn out, the romance sweet (if on lighter side) and the letdowns piercing. Excellent plotting, pacing, and character development… and a very satisfying conclusion.

Sidenote: The ARC was one of those annoyingly vertical formats where a slip of the thumb sent me back to the beginning of the book, and like rock-climbing I had to book mark each chapter as I went so I could easily find my place again. This is a HUGE pain in the tookus, so I have to really love a book from the get-go to stumble through this painful process of reading it.

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

Witcha Gonna Do by Avery Flynn

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<em>Witcha Gonna Do </em>by Avery Flynn

Flynn, Avery. Witcha Gonna Do. Berkley, 2022. 336 pp. ISBN 978-0593335215. $17.00

***
I fell in love with Cate Tiernan’s Sweep series as a young adult librarian about twenty years ago (I might or might not but definitely do still have a three-in-one compendium of the first volumes–ICYMI, the series is concerned with a magical teen who doesn’t know her heritage who gets caught up in a love triangle with two other powerful witches). I’m surprised I have not pursued more books in this vein: charming magical realism romance like The Charmed List, which I really enjoyed for its more complete, and better-paced world-building.

Witcha Gonna Do is a classic enemies to lovers romance. Tilda is an anomoly in her gifted family, and she keeps getting matched with hot, sauve Gil, who figures out pretty quickly she isn’t non-magickal, she is in fact, an amplifier. Powergrabs (and attempts to prevent them) ensue.

The voice –and language–are youthful and may not appeal to all romance readers.

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

One Night Stand After Another by Amanda Usen

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One Night Stand After Another by Amanda Usen

Usen, Amanda. One Night Stand After Another. 210 pp. Independently Published, 2022. ISBN 979-8843334680$13.99

**

Plot what plot? I am not adverse to sexy stories, bring them on! But this one straddling the line between romance and erotica. In this second chance romance, crocheter Clara has a run in with a high school flame at another ex’s wedding, and Zane makes it his mission to help her launch her business in between his own restaurant dealings. The road trip plot helped further the story. I cringed at how hard Zane had to work to gain Clara’s attention and affection and the over the top gifting of yarn and meals and hotels reminded me too much of my first relationship and accusations of attempts to buy my affection (it worked, but it’s an immature and not necessarily sustainable and very superficial way to relate to one another).

I did not find a strong enough story between the blow by blow by blowjob details. This novel opens with a dirty fantasy… and the fantasies are more detailed and better-written than the actual sex between the characters, which is an interesting choice/commentary on reality of relationships. I love books about love, sex and food, and the crochet as wearable art is unique. This one should have done it for me, but just didn’t. Independently published, and it shows.

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

The Getaway by Emily March

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The Getaway by Emily March

March, Emily. The Getaway. Forever, 2022. 384 pp. ISBN 978-1538707371 $15.99

*

Women’s fiction. Mom finally puts her foot down when her very privileged children refuse to stop their infighting. Slow pacing, introduction of too many characters, and exposition instead of action meant I didn’t enjoy the writing; descriptions of multiple sets of holiday dishes and decor meant I didn’t enjoy the entitlement and couldn’t relate and put this one down at 32% complete.

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

28 Disastrous Dates: A (Mostly True) Humorous Memoir by Poppy Mortimer

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28 Disastrous Dates: A (Mostly True) Humorous Memoir by Poppy Mortimer

Mortimer, Poppy. 28 Disastrous Dates: A (Mostly True) Humorous Memoir. Poppy Mortimer, 2022. 332 pp. ISBN 978-0645463903. $14.99

**

In this dating tell-all, Poppy recounts dates with many men who portrayed themselves as other than they were and shares lessons learned along the way. Told chronologically, each encounter leads to self-reflections about herself and deal breakers. While unflinchingly honest, it lacked the humor of Chelsea Handler and was formulaic, unflattering and not compelling. This is self-published, and it shows in the amatuer writing; editing might have helped.

(As an aside: the ingenue depicted on the cover totally looks like Taylor Swift, and it would be hilarious if Poppy was just a psuedonym…)

Just My Type by Falon Ballard

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Just My Type by Falon Ballard

Ballard, Falon. Just My Type. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2023. 368 pp. ISBN 978-0593419939 $17.00

***

Serial monogamist and relationship columnist Lana Parker was expecting a proposal when her boyfriend of four years tells her it’s just not working, and even though she agrees, she’s still low-key devastated, exacerbated by an out-of-the-blue text from Seth Carson, The One That Got Away (and Broke Her Heart) when their high school relationship ended abruptly. The morning after she drowns her break up sorrows in alcohol with her bestie May, she gets an alert on her phone about a mandatory on-site work meeting, and drags her hungover ass in… only to learn her ex is joining their team as part of a publishing merger. Her boss smells the unfinished business vibes between Seth and Lana, and sets up a competition between them: Seth, the player, has to embark on a long term relationship and NOT have sex, while and Lana, the afraid to be alone heroine, has to remain single and have a one-night stand (a challenge she issues for herself). They must detail their experiences in weekly columns, tallying likes and comments weekly, and then the public will vote for a fan favorite to get a promotion to their own serious journalism column.

Pop culture and LA references abound, and Lana is a self-professed sci-fi geek who dreams of moving to an entertainment features column instead of giving dating advice. She’s a great friend and a decent writer but too easily manipulated, and her behavior towards Seth is not completely unwarranted, but I have trouble with women that are too mean and too immature and too inconsistent, and she occasionally veers into pretty unattractive behavior to someone she supposedly is still in love with. On the other hand, I loved the fake date setups and their boss trying to throw them together, but didn’t love that it was for hits and sales, rather than for its own merit and their happiness. The therapy sessions, group chat (Get a Room!) with the other journalists, and the great chapter headings that excerpt former and new columns are a nice touch.

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

The American Roommate Experiment by Elena Armas

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The American Roommate Experiment by Elena Armas

Armas, Elena. The American Roommate Experiment. Atria, 2022. 400 pp. ISBN 978-1668002773 $18.00

***

This is a sweet, sultry international flavored romance that I liked a little better that it’s prequel. While Lina is on her belated honeymoon, her apartment is a natural refuge for her best friend when Rosie’s apartment is uninhabitable. But Lina’s cousin Lucas is in town as a tourist on the last weeks of his visa, and Lina promised him a place to crash. Rosie, a closet romance writer, has been harboring a secret crush on Lucas ever since she started following his Instagram after they failed to meet at the Lina’s wedding due to his barely disclosed surfing accident that has taken him off the national circuit. Lucas must be feeling some vibes too, because he suggests Rosie crash with him, and offers to help Rosie through her writer’s block through a series of dates designed to take them from acquaintances to lovers.

Not so much an enemies to lovers romance, there is an initial meet not-cute when Rosie thinks Lucas is breaking into Lina’s apartment. Frankly, there might be more deception here than in the Spanish Love Deception: Rosie with her crush and new career, both with their feelings and pasts, Lucas with his injury, and hiding their relationship from Lina.

Still, the romance novel plot while not unique is well-done, the writing is good, and the tension palpable. Spanish culture and the New York setting round out the details through language, food, familial expectations and geography. This is a solid spin-off.

A tiny quibble: the last book by this author was The Spanish Love Deception… why isn’t this called The Spanish Roommate Experiment, since it is a Spaniard encroaching on an American’s territory? Why isn’t the Spoiler Alert series called Guardians of the Gates? Why I am not making a lot of money working in publishing instead of moonlighting as an unpaid review? The world will never know.

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

Kiss Her Once for Me by Alison Cochrun

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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

Not the Plan by Gia de Cadenet

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Not the Plan by Gia de Cadenet

de Cadenet, Gia. Not the Plan. Dell, 2023. 320 pp. ISBN 978-0593356647. $17.00

**

I really wanted to love this novel. I thought it might be straight read-a-like for Casey McQuiston’s Red, White and Royal Blue–a romance about less than perfect people of color in a political setting. When Isadora, chief of staff to a state rep, accidentally spills coffee on a hot stranger at the airport, things escalate a bit to typical travel stress… but when they are seated next to one another, she decides to drop any instinctual snarkiness and be kind. Their meet cute doesn’t evolve to an exchange of contact information… and no one is more surprised than Isa when Karim turns out to be the new intern at the rival representative’s office. Although from the same party, the interoffice politics are likened to the drama of the Montagues and Capulets (another Shakespeare allusion, this publishing season is full of them) and she can’t be seen fraternizing with the enemy.

Trust is difficult for both Karim and Isadora; he’s struggling to extricate himself from a toxic marriage to a person with poorly managed bipolar disorder, and as he slowly lets down his guard and reveals his past abusive relationship, the symptoms and behaviors he describes very closely mirror those of Isadora’s manipulative, emotionally stunted and demanding mother. The portraits of and compassion for the mental health of others rings true, even as Karim and Isa struggle to set healthy and reasonable boundaries with difficult personalities. Adding to Isa’s stress are her career goals in a men’s world; her reputation is impeccable and political dealings on the level, but she knows just one perceived slip will lead to scandal and being accused of sleeping her way to the top. All she wants is to see her majority leader make it from the state to federal playing field.

The relationship progresses at a believable pace based on their mutual attraction, interests, and values. Supportive roles played by Karim’s brother and Isa’s (gay) best friend and co-worked provide space to vent and add to character development. The political setting gives a glimpse into how the sausage is made, and even the sordid scandal that comes at the denouement rings true. In an ugly scene, Karim and Isadora encounter and deal with sexualization (her) and racial slurs (him) and cope with it well.

As a reader who favors humor, a clever turn of phrase, painterly descriptions and sensory detail, I found the writing straight-forward but too monotonous and pedestrian for my taste–even through the multiple sex scenes, which were blow-by-blow detail and went on for 20+ ebook pages. The repetitive “blunt, honest?” before laying down a truth was overused, as were their pet names (the creative “beautiful” and “gorgeous”). While de Cadenet avoids the pitfalls of telling instead of showing and intersperses dialogue with action with success, there are long passages of exposition, and the vocabulary and actions were not varied like those of a seasoned storyteller. I plodded through, picked up Kiss Her Once for Me by Alison Cochrun as a palate cleanser, and bingo: stellar writing, carefully chosen details, neuroses on full display, quirky characters. Better writing and better editing could have Not the Plan a four-star story.

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