Tag Archives: NetGalley

The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas

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The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas

Armas, Elena. The Spanish Love Deception. Atria, 2022. ISBN 9781668003275 $16.99.

****

Catalina needs a date to her sister’s wedding. In Spain. And her ex and his fiance are attending. Desperate for a date, the least-likely prospect ever–her annoying, humorless, cold, (handsome) colleague Aaron–volunteers to go with her. They’ve rubbed each other the wrong way since his first week at InTech, the engineering consulting company they both work for. She says no, but… then she’s is voluntold to put on a full day fair for prospective clients (since women know all about party planning and socializing, ugh, misogyny) and Aaron doesn’t come to her defense in a meeting. He DOES step up to help her plan the event though, and after a bout of stubbornness, she accepts his offer. In return for being her date to her sister’s wedding, she agrees to accompany him to a social engagement, which turns out to be a bachelor auction to raise money for an animal charity. Then they’re off to northern Spain, where there is #JustOne!Bed, a Wedding Cup to compete for in the bachelor/bachelorette party games, and much drinking. They present a united front that fools her ex, her family, and themselves. The physicality of their relationship is sultry, slow and sexy.

Enemies to lovers works best for me when the characters are not out and out mean to one another. There is snarky banter and bad feelings but it turns out these two have just been misunderstanding one another from their first meeting. Lina’s attraction is slow growing and confusing, made more complicated by Aaron’s recent promotion.

I loved the Spanish phrases sprinkled throughout (generally easy to decipher in context when left untranslated) and Spanish cultural and geographical details, deftly defined within the structure of the narrative. Also we get a hint of Lina’s coworkers crush on her cousin (a teaser for Rosie and Lucas’s story takes place in The American Roommate Experiment).

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

The Plus One by Mazey Eddings

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The Plus One by Mazey Eddings

Eddings. Mazey. The Plus One. St. Martin’s Press, 2023. 304 pp. ISBN 9781250847041 $16.99

****

“She’d known him her entire life, but this felt like the first time she was ever really seeing him.” *swoon*

Childhood nemeses decide to fake date for a wedding in Mazey Edding’s latest romance novel. Thankfully, they annoy the crap out of each other more than are mean or true enemies. When Indira walks in on her boyfriend Chris in a compromising position with a blonde and a jar of peanut butter, she grabs her stuff and her feral cat and crashes with her brother and his fiance. Both doctors themselves, they are hosting their old friend (and her sparring partner) Jude, on leave from a doctors-without-borders type stint that he’s doing to get a free ride through medical school. The time with GHCO has left its mark: sleepless nights, low energy, tension, survivor guilt, and little laughter now make up the once fun and funny Jude. Dira, a psychiatrist, slowly comes to recognize Jude’s behaviors as suffering from PTSD from the atrocities he’s witnessed. While her training and background are handy, she doesn’t see her role as fixing him.

The cheating ex is the cousin of a groom and in the wedding party, so not only will Dira have to make nice, but of course, one-up the asshole. Enter Jude, who finds being around her comforting, and they decide it’s a win-win to act as supports for one another at the upcoming nuptials and many prep sessions and outings leading up to the wedding. They don’t talk about the fact she remembers their last hug before he went away, and he remembers the details of her cheesesteak order. Finding her old journals leads to her sharing some of what she wrote about him, and them reminiscing the occasions he was chivalrous instead of just a teenage douchebag.

The novel features forced proximity, only one tent!, relentless roasting, naked people getting walked in on (accidentally), hurt/comfort and fake dating, along with were real mental health and grief issues that are handled beautifully by imperfect adults. Snippets of Dira’s own therapy sessions are interspersed and are wonderfully reassuring for all of us that self-awareness is a huge part of coping and healing.

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

Miss Matched by Wendy Million

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Miss Matched by Wendy Million

Million, Wendy. Miss Matched. Wattpad, 2023. 368 pp. ISBN 9781990259593. $17.99

** 1/2

Wattpad is not quite self-published, but close to, and has the quality I expect from the platform. This dating app gone wrong tale is a second chance romance. Tayla has been matched by Soulmates Reunited (at an exorbitant fee) with her ex, and wants her money back. She agrees to give Simon another chance if he will refund half her fee. He wants to bring the company down on it’s knees for false advertising, and taking women’s life savings on a promise of something that may not exist–he’s been matched by the service four times as the only soulmate for one lucky woman, and one match is not taking no for an answer and there is a restraining order involved.

Told in alternating points of view, there is drama, humor and tension, and the book is well-paced, but nothing particularly stood out in terms of character growth, setting, language or writing.

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

Bear With Me Now by Katie Shepard

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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.

A Guide to Being Just Friends by Sophie Sullivan

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A Guide to Being Just Friends by Sophie Sullivan

Sullivan, Sophie. A Guide to Being Just Friends. Jansen Brothers #3. St. Martin’s Press, 2023. 336 pp . ISBN 9781250624208. $16.99

**

This is a fairly stand-alone novel, last in a series about three wealthy brothers. I started reading it, was bored by it, dropped it after 40 pages, and went back to finish it and had to start over because I couldn’t recall a single detail.

The oldest Jansen, Wes, has sworn off love, and in the opposite of a meet-cute, accuses Hailey of being Hayden, his missing date, when they cross paths in the coffee shop where he is being stood up. Hailey is new to town and fresh off the Hollywood craft services circuit, recovering from an emotional abusive relationship and has started her own salad in a cup to go business right next door to a popular bakeshop. She quickly ends up in the inner circle of the Jansen brothers and their loves, and she and Wes agree to forgive and embark on a friendship. He helps her with technical and social media part of marketing, while she encourages his artistic talents. They cook, play video games, watch romance comedies and sci-fi thrillers and fall in love, denying it until a drunken kiss obliterates their friendship. Some angsting follows, they decide to make a go of it until something ruins it and they have to break up, have an epiphany, and get back together.

Something fell flat for me in this romance novel. The bones are there and the writing is solid (except for calling a path cutely paved, what does that even mean?), but I think it just seemed two-dimensional, from Hailey’s absent and obsessed with one another parents, to a kid from the community center with two doctor parents who are never around, who jumps in to become Hailey’s delivery boy, to the mysterious falling out with the Jansen brother’s mean father (maybe alluded to in other books in the series?) to the fast, fiercely loyal friendships and quick resolution. Maybe it’s that in spite of the title and a brief foray into Wes’s sketches of their inside jokes, a guide to just being friends isn’t delivered.

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

Hazel Fine Sings Along by Katie Wick

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Hazel Fine Sings Along by Katie Wick

Wick, Katie. Hazel Fine Sings Along. Wattpad Books, 2023. ISBN 9781990778582. $18.99

***

I do have a biased and allergic reaction to self-published books — I figure if it’s really good, an established publishing house will pick up a manuscript and put it through the professional editor wringer. Editing is everything. You might even note in my reviews, I am more likely to cast blame on an editor for errors, inconsistencies, and plot holes than to blame the writer. I haven’t been in the habit of checking who the publisher is before I request items on NetGalley (although, if it’s from #Berkley, it’s usually an automatic seal of approval for me!). I sometimes get 10% through a book, sigh, wonder if it’s self-published, and then flip to the title page to confirm my evidenced hypothesis.

I didn’t get too far in Hazel Fine Sings Along before wondering if it was self-published; not quite. Wattpad is an online platform for books (most often written episodically, like serialized fanfiction) to find readers, and in this case, the cream rises to the top. I did find two typos, and sometimes the plotting and styling was a little amateurish, but no worse than a Colleen Hoover novel, which I understand are beloved but don’t do it for me.

The novel opens with Hazel Fine leaving the fleabag motel she’s been staying at with her rescue rabbit. to get to the open call for a musical competition called The Sing Along (think American Idol) with her fake ID and fake identity. The story takes us through the competition, alliances, fallouts, and resolution of the full season, with a side of romance. Supporting characters are interesting: her bestie Amber is a sex worker with a child, portrayed with positivity and sensitively; Benji, already a TikTok star in his own right, helps to create interest (and deflect a lecherous producer) by staging a fake relationship with Hazel. The drama is high but not over-the-top, and Hazel’s past is revealed at a good pace. Her love interest, Nick, is on the production side of the show. A songwriter and pianist, he’s mysterious, attractive and kind. It was hard to suspend my disbelief that Hazel’s forgiveness for her parents actions was so quick and complete, when boundaries can be an acceptable; we are not obligated to maintain relationships, even with family members, who are not good for our mental health.

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

Better than Fiction by Alexa Martin

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Better than Fiction by Alexa Martin

Martin, Alexa. Better than Fiction. Berkley, 2022. 336 pp. ISBN 9780593337226. $17.00

****

This was a great back-to-back read with Summer Reading: both feature a book-loathing protagonist who fall for their complete opposite: a reader. In this case, nature photographer Drew Young is managing the book store she inherited from her Gran instead of pursuing her dreams of art and travel when bestselling romance author Jasper Williams crosses her path and decides she should be the one to show him around Denver, the setting for his work in progress. She agrees, and in return, he will trade sightseeing dates for book-related ones for each novel that he recommends and she completes. To add to the tension, Drew is struggling to keep her grandmother’s business alive–and her toxic father, who wants her to sell the business, keeps interceding to contest the will and access what he perceives as his rightful cut.

The Colorado setting is incredibly vivid, brought to life through Drew and Jasper’s eyes. Drew is lucky to have not one but two ride or dies, her half-sister Daisy who she is just getting know, and her tough, tell it like it is bestie Elsie, with more kids than I could track and another on the way. A set of elderly book club ladies are deftly drawn and leap off the page. Drew is multi-faceted and delightfully awkward and equally delightfully, Jasper not only eats it up but has a charming, not entirely serious manner of being suave in that way of cute and successful (maybe formerly nerdy) men who don’t know how hot they are: a little goofy, a little geeky, a little artless, and very endearing. Drew believes that Jasper will move on and skip town when he turns in the draft of his latest novel, but their chemistry and support of one another indicates otherwise.

The writing is clever; because Jasper writes romances and everyone except Drew reads them, there is a sort of running commentary on how the story is following romance tropes (or not). Stylistically, though, the telling instead of showing kept this from being a five-star book for me. Multiple chapters start out after some action has taken place, and describe the action in past tense, instead of putting the characters (and reader) in the moment. On the surface it looks like a rookie mistake, but given the accolades this great story has received, it somehow works. I found it frustrating because I wanted all the nitty gritty details.

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

Not That Kind of Ever After by Luci Adams

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Not That Kind of Ever After by Luci Adams

Adams, Luci. Not That Kind of Ever After. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2023. ISBN 9781250842206.

***

Bella is in a snit that her best friend and roommate Ellie is marrying Mark, who Bella thinks is boring and unlikeable. She says it out loud one too many times and creates a rift. She finds some solace in posting about a date gone bad on a confessional creative writing website, giving her story of woe a fairy tale theme, and B.Enchanted is born. At the encouragement of Ellie’s serial dater brother Marty, she tries to take his advice and just have fun instead of looking for the one, but tries to fit subsequent dates to the fairy tale theme as well. The reworkings are very clever and the stories entertaining.

While there is a lot of hilarity, there is a lot of immaturity as well (for starters, straight out hating the man who makes her best friend happy because she thinks he’s dull), and Bella’s stream of conscious narrative can be too minutely detailed. Still, she experiences character growth and makes appropriate apologies and reparations, and the happily ever after is sweet and fitting.

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

Summer Reading by Jenn McKinlay

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Summer Reading by Jenn McKinlay

McKinlay, Jenn. Summer Reading. Berkley, 2023. 480 pp. ISBN 9780593545720 $17.00

***1/2

Chef Sam, summering at her family’s cottage on the Vineyard–think renovated but still working class Portuguese, not cottages like the Gyllenhalls or Kennedys have “cottages.” Passed over for a promotion in part due to the gender and in part due to disability (WHERE IS THE LAWSUIT???), Sam is home to regroup and lick her wounds. The timing is perfect, as she’s needed to keep an eye on her 14-year old half brother Tyler during her parent’s planned vacation to Europe. How hard can it be to keep a brilliant teenager fed and watered? Sam meets a hottie on the ferry and accidentally knocks his book into the water. Struggling with dyslexia, books are a challenge for Sam, but she does love stories, and fangirls over Stephen King and horror novels to her new crush, who she bumps into the next day while dropping her off at robotics camp at the public library. Turns out Ben is the interim library director. The cute, motorcycle-riding librarian is spending the summer trying to uncover the identity of his father and is sure he was conceived on Martha’s Vineyard. Opposites attract and he not only appreciates all of her workarounds, but helps her with new ones, from smutty romance novel read-alouds to scribing her dream cookbook. Sam lands a gig cooking happy hour cocktails and special events for a local business, and rediscovers the Martha’s Vineyard, making the Oak Bluffs setting come alive for readers.

I love Berkley romances, foodie novels, novels infused with cultural details, AND libraries, so not sure why this one isn’t resonating strongly with me. Something about this stream of consciousness style is amatuer and off-putting to my ear. It fits the voice of the character, an out-of-work chef with dyslexia and ADHD, pretty well, but the casual tone coupled with didactic intrusions to educate readers about dyslexia and ADHD detract from the narrative, like when Sam is pursuing a cooking magazine and stops to complain about the typeface, that lacks clear differentiation between b, d, and p for people with dyslexia (1 in 10 people have it, though the stat I’m familiar with as a librarian is 1 in 5). I don’t disagree that it’s an issue, or that it needs to change, I’m just not convinced this is this advocacy issue was handled as deftly as dyslexia in Spoiler Alert. Still, the author’s note is well-justified, and I appreciate that the publication favors bold instead of italics and a friendly font.

Sam is a well-rounded and absolutely brilliant character, and her growth as Ben helps her to see herself as he sees her helps her to squash her inner critic. The intimate scenes feel blow-by-blow wooden instead of intimate and passionate, but points for consent and protection. Many plot points feel very surface: a friend’s cancer scare and confrontation with her parent and pursuit of her own dreams, Sam’s not pursuing litigation for her previous boss’s illegal firing, Ben not confronting his infuriating mother on the page, and even the deepening sibling relationship between Tyler and Sam focuses on dance moves and handshakes, him trying some new foods, and quickly realized denouements with their mutual dad. The authentic recipes at the end are a nice touch, but if the cookbook had been a stronger element, there could have been more, and interspersed. Overall, I like the plot, setting and characters, but am not in love with the editing/execution of this one.

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

Exes and O’s by Amy Lea

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Exes and O’s by Amy Lea

Lea, Amy. Exes and O’s (The Influencer #2) by . Berkeley, 2023. 400 pp. ISBN 978-0593336595 $16.99.

****

Art imitates life when a bookstagrammer who writes romance novel (author Amy Lea) writes a romance novel about a a NICU nurse who moonlights as a romance novel bookstagrammer. Tara needs a new roommate when her current roomie gets engaged, and her bestie’s fiance’s best friend Trevor happens to have a room available. Their meet-cute is her discovering him banging a one-nighter over the kitchen island, but they bond over Cheetos and homemade cupcakes. Desperate for a date to a Valentine’s Day fundraiser, Tara decides to revisit all of her exes to determine if any of them are worthy as a second chance romance, a la High Fidelity‘s Rob Gordon. Trevor is in on the plan and stays updated on her progress; meanwhile she tries to get the stalwart Boston firefighter to open up about his love life and past. They settle into blissful co-habition.

The pacing and structure is excellent: Tara’s sometimes-crazy journey to reconnect with her ex-boyfriends is paralleled with her social media posts (presented in script form) that define various romance tropes–it’s a very clever introduction to those not in the know (and for Trevor, who expands his reading with thrillers). they both grow as characters and complement one another really well.

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