Tag Archives: romance

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.

The Blue Bistro by Elin Hilderbrand

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The Blue Bistro by Elin Hilderbrand

Hilderbrand, Elin. The Blue Bistro. St. Martins, 2010. 336 pp. ISBN 9780312628260. $16.99

*****

Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money for fine dining or vacations; my parents took my brother and I over the Cape Cod Canal to visit Edaville Railroad once, when we were maybe 4 & 6, and it took me 20 years to return. The strong sense of deja vu at the sight of scrub pines, weathered shingle homes, and salt tang air made me immediately feel like I’d come home. The Cape is magical, and I feel the odd sense of homecoming every time I return.

Besides the fact that The Blue Bistro is set on a romantic and charming Nantucket Island off the coast of my native Massachusetts, I am not sure I can completely place what I find so compelling about it that I’ve read this book about 20 times in the last ten years. Is it the fly on a wall feeling to the restaurant industry? The encapsulation of summer on the Cape? The hopeful but doomed romance? The mouthwatering menu descriptions? All of the above.

Adrienne is on the run from her latest relationship disaster when she lands on the island. No stranger to the hospitality industry, she ends up as the first lady hostess at a playful and upscale fine dining beachfront restaurant at the whim of the boyishly handsome co-owner Thatcher who takes an instant liking to her. The Bistro is opening for it’s final season (no one will tell her why) and she’s not only learning the ropes of the restaurant industry, she’s trying to figure out the relationship between Thatcher and Fiona, the very private and reclusive chef who doesn’t give interviews, come out of the kitchen, or show up at staff meal, even as she falls for him.

Articles about The Blue Bistro that Adrienne digs up help tell the story of its rise to fame, while plot, character and setting are further revealed not only through Adrienne’s present day narrative, through emails and postcards to her father and friend, and through flashbacks and reflections about her past lovers as she struggles with figuring out why she is so adrift, and how to make this relationship different. She has a thing for assholes. Thatcher isn’t one, but his heart, for all his denied it, seems to be committed elsewhere.

The pacing of the summer season helps to drive the plot. June is a soft open, the fourth of July over the top, the rest of the month is the first steep hill of a roller coaster, and then August is a frenzy of tomato specials and guests stealing the silverware as the last day rockets ever closer.

The drama between the various characters is completely spot on. I only waited tables for about a year, but the credit card wars, flitations between staff, old school kitchen brigand style, and kids making a mess at a fancy night out all rang true. The descriptions of food will make you drool and have you out of bed at 2am to put together a poor substitution of Fiona’s creme fraiche and caviar dip with hand cut potato chips (Ruffles and dill dip made with mayo, sour cream, and dried dill, don’t judge me).

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

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

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.

Well Traveled by Jen DeLuca

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Well Traveled by Jen DeLuca

DeLuca, Jen. Well Traveled. Well Met #4. Berkley, 2022. 336 pp. ISBN 9780593200469 $17.00

****

Attorney Louisa, Mitch’s cousin who had a cameo in Well Matched, is at the heart of this fourth book in the warm, sweet renaissance faire themed series by DeLuca. While on a business trip in North Carolina and stalled by lack of case discovery from her sources, she slips out to the local renaissance fair for a break, hoping to recover some of the magic from her time with her grandparents at the Willow Creek faire. She runs into Stacey and tries to focus on hard cider, men in kilts, and a lovely Saturday afternoon, but her cell phone never ceases it’s incoming messages and calls. Frustrated with a waste of five years chasing partner without promotion, her demanding boss, and her family’s expectation, she quits her job and skips her cell phone into a laundry tub prop, and kind Stacey takes Lulu into the motorhome she and Daniel McLean have been traveling in with the band he manages… the Dueling Kilts.

As Lulu tries to find her place in the faire, helping with merch and deep frying turkey legs, her cousin Mitch kindly advises her to stay off the grid, enjoy this time to rediscover herself and her wants and needs. He even promises to fend off the family. Pragmatic Lulu eventually setting herself up as the receptionist for a trio of spiritual advisors hawking their tarot reading, rune interpreting and palmistry skills, and slowly succumbs to the possibility of another lens to view life through.

Of course, there is a love interest: Dex, whose reputation for a different girl in every city precedes him. Fans of the series will remember him as Stacey’s ex, easy on the eyes, magnetic, charming, but a little tone deaf and superficial. He wastes no time turns his tiger’s eye gaze on Lulu but she scoffs at him. Unable to flirt with her, he starts to talk to her, and they forge a real connection, but while she definitely thinks he’s hot, she’s oblivious to the fact he’d rather spend a night in with her, chatting, then hooking up with a very flexible member of an acrobatics troupe, a fact her discloses while they have an argument in a thunderstorm that leads to consummating their relationship in the camper.

Seemingly at odds career-wise, with Lulu intending to return to a law practice of some kind in spite of her new-found interest in tarot, and Dex feeling like he has no skills beyond making up verses to Drunken Sailor and shredding on Whiskey in the Jar, even though he’s a darn good planner and problem-solver, they seem doomed until he finds a way to make a grand gesture and admit he’s in love with her. Given how distasteful Dex is throughout the series and even at the beginning of this book, I did find his change of heart difficult to believe; slower pacing and more demonstrations of his changing would have worked a little better for me as a reader willing to suspend my disbelief that people can pivot so quickly. Other things I appreciated: Lulu is no spring chicken at 37; she tells Stacey that her body isn’t too big, the clothes are just too small when she catches her being critical of her plus-size; a secondary character is gay and no one bats an eye (I’d LOVE to read that tale!); Caitlyn makes an appearance (when is she getting her own book?).

I loved Lulu’s journey in this book; her personality, her openness and challenging of her long-held habits and beliefs. I loved how every faire had its own personality and cast, and I loved the distinct personalities and subtle nod to maiden/mother/crone (or is it MacBeth’s witches?) who bond with Lulu while she attracts clients and books spa sessions. As in other volumes, the writing is artful and often funny; allusions abound, and the setting makes me want to lace up my bodice and hit King Richard’s Faire.

Glimpses of Simon and Emily’s wedded bliss, Mitch and April’s domesticity, and Stacey and Daniel’s steadfast partnership pay fan service to loyal readers, and the return to Willow Creek to see April on the field as a pawn in the chess match is priceless.

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

Well Matched by Jen DeLuca

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Well Matched by Jen DeLuca

DeLuca, Jen. Well Matched. Well Met #3. Berkley, 2021. ISBN 978-0593200445 336 pp. $

I pre-ordered a copy of this third book in a series I love–and then BOUGHT THE EBOOK THE DAY IT CAME OUT–because I couldn’t wait another three days to read it. Jen DeLuca, you’re welcome for the double purchase; Target, take a lesson from Amazon and deliver, not ship, preorders on the date they debut. Anyway, reader, it was WORTH IT.

April, the winsome Emily’s elder sister who in Well Met supplied the “help recovering from a broken leg” premise that brought Emily to Willow Creek, Ren Faire and her Simon, is faced with seeing her ex at their daughter’s high school graduation festivities. While mourning this fate and getting hit on at a local watering hole, her friend Mitch (remember Mitch? The One in the Kilt?) comes to her rescue, pretending to be her #fakeboyfriend and date.

As payback Mitch ends up helping April make some small renovations to the home she intends to put on the market when her daughter Caitlin graduates, and then April returns that favor by posing as Mitch’s girlfriend at a family event over a long weekend where there is #OnlyOneBed and #OneThingLeadsToAnother and of course their mutual attraction, friendly sparring and friendship is the #RealDeal. And then Mitch kindly steps up again at graduation to support April with grace and solidarity in front of the ex. Because he’s Mitch, and noble, and true.

Independent April has to go and ruin it by dismissing her own desires because Mitch is younger and she’s done with raising kids, and he is (just?) the local gym teacher… but even April sees the dishonesty in reducing him when he is, in fact, an excellent educator who has real impact on the lives of his charges. She claims to be happy with keeping it casual–after all, Mitch has a bit of a reputation–but he boldly refuses to be her secret paramour.

This third book in the Well Met series delivers a strong voice that is unique from Emily and Stacey, the Ren Faire details that make this series stand out, humor and pathos and fully developed characters. You don’t have to buy two copies, but it’s a 2021 must-read for modern romance fans who enjoy full settings and attention to detail.

Go back to Well Met for Emily and Simon’s story, and don’t miss book two, Well Played, which features Emily’s wedding and her best friend Stacey’s romance. I’m so excited a fourth book, Well Traveled, featuring Mitch’s favorite cousin, is in the works.

Well Played by Jen DeLuca

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Well Played by Jen DeLuca

DeLuca, Jen. Well Played. Well Met #2. Berkley, 2020. 324 pp. ISBN 978-1-9848-0540-9 $16

****

Stacey gets her man in this sequel to Well Met. In the tenth and eleventh years of the Willow Creek Renaissance Faire, serving wench Beatrice (her alter ego) has been casually hooking up with Dex McLean, the hot guitarist of Dueling Kilts, a pub band on the fair circuit. Dex has a girl in every port and she’s the lucky one in Willow Creek… or maybe not. Thinking they might be more than just a four week fling, Stacey sends a drunken DM inviting Dex to get to know her better after his band departs… and in the harsh light of morning is relieved to find a response to her message that is warm and sweet, instead of a brush off. DMs lead to emails lead to texts over the next year. The feeling of distance and anonymity results in insights and honesty, sharing of hopes and dreams, and an exchange of sweet messages through the off-season that reveals an unexpected depth to seemingly shallow pretty boy manwhore Dex.

As Stacey is on the verge of meeting Dex again, she makes an unexpected discovery to the real identity of the man she’s been messaging with and catches him in his lie. After some deliberation, and realization that she does have strong feelings, she decides to give the relationship a real chance, knowing it could all come to a halt at the end of the Willow Creek tour spot. But, he’s sweet, kind and her cat Benedick approves, so…

This mistaken identity tale is reminiscent of Cyrano de Bergerac, with the exchange of messages modernized in emails and texts. Stacey is going through a bit a quarter-life crisis, tethered to home due to concerns for her mother’s health. Like Emily, her college dreams got cut short, and her eye for style serves her well and helps her come into her own.

Recurring characters pop up: April becomes a friend, Emily and Simon have their wedding on the fairgrounds, Caitlyn is now part of a roving and performing madrigal group that Stacey was once a part of. Female friendship and family are prominent, and Stacey’s voice is distinct from Emily’s. Simon has loosened up a bit about the Faire, and new details (vendors, lyrics and bits from performances, new costumes) further develop and refresh the familiar setting.

Don’t miss the other books in the series, Well Met, Well Matched, and the anticipated Well Traveled (December 2022)!

Well Met by Jen DeLuca

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Well Met by Jen DeLuca

DeLuca, Jen. Well Met. Berkley, 2019. 336 pp. ISBN 978-1984805386 $16.00

*****

A new-to-Ren-Faire girl falls for the pirate alter-ego of Faire-obsessed local English teacher when Emily relocates to cozy small town Willow Creek to care for her niece and older sister. Chores unexpectedly extend from chauffeuring and housework to shadowing fourteen-year-old Caitlin through the tenth season of the high school’s summer fundraiser, a renaissance faire. Emily gets roped in as a volunteer because minors under age sixteen have to be accompanied by a parent or guardian. She is met with disdain right away for not filling out her application correctly by an uptight man who turns out to be in charge of the whole shebang. Emily isn’t quite sure why she rubs Simon the wrong way, and sets her sights instead on buff Mitch, lured by his sunny attitude and the promise of glimpsing him in a kilt. Before she knows it, Emily is deep in Elizabethan boot camp learning drinking songs, chest squeezed into a bodacious bodiced bosom, as she develops her persona of serving wench Emma.

The cosplay allows her to get to know a tight knit group of friends, including friendly and bubbly Ren Faire veteran Stacey, and Emily begins to set down roots, getting a job at a local used bookstore. Family, both by blood and by interest and proximity, is a strong theme; her stay with her sister allows them to bond in a way they never have, as April is twelve years older. Emily’s grappling with a lot of loss as she grows into her new role: a recent breakup with her long-term boyfriend lead to a subsequent loss of her apartment, so the timing for moving in with April and Caitlyn couldn’t have come at a better time.

The character development is wonderful, the writing funny, insightful and hot. I don’t generally like enemies to lovers romances but the characters are so clearly misunderstanding one another, versus simply being mean. The Ren Faire culture is vibrant and authentic with deep fried turkey legs, battle chess, madrigals, vendors, and dust. Literary allusions abound, as Emily was an English major and shares a love of Shakespeare with Simon–even as she cannot resist needling him about the multiple authors theory (conspiracy?)

Don’t miss book two, Well Played, which features Emily’s wedding and her best friend Stacey’s romance, and book three, Well Matched, which focuses on Emily’s sister April and Mitch. The fourth book, Well Traveled, featuring Mitch’s favorite cousin, comes out in December 2023.