THE EX HEX by Erin Sterling

New York Times bestselling author Rachel Hawkins, writing as Erin Sterling, casts a spell with a spine-tingling romance full of wishes, witches, and hexes gone wrong.

Nine years ago, Vivienne Jones nursed her broken heart like any young witch would: vodka, weepy music, bubble baths…and a curse on the horrible boyfriend. Sure, Vivi knows she shouldn’t use her magic this way, but with only an “orchard hayride” scented candle on hand, she isn’t worried it will cause him anything more than a bad hair day or two.

That is until Rhys Penhallow, descendent of the town’s ancestors, breaker of hearts, and annoyingly just as gorgeous as he always was, returns to Graves Glen, Georgia. What should be a quick trip to recharge the town’s ley lines and make an appearance at the annual fall festival turns disastrously wrong. With one calamity after another striking Rhys, Vivi realizes her silly little Ex Hex may not have been so harmless after all.

Suddenly, Graves Glen is under attack from murderous wind-up toys, a pissed off ghost, and a talking cat with some interesting things to say. Vivi and Rhys have to ignore their off the charts chemistry to work together to save the town and find a way to break the break-up curse before it’s too late. 


Title : The Ex Hex
Author : Erin Sterling
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 320
Genre : paranormal romance
Publisher : Avon
Release Date : September 28, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

As we all know, the problem with a popular book is that sometimes you don’t expect to like it. Hype, expectations, being a contrarian.. all those things. And sometimes, well, sometimes you’re find yourself hopping on that bandwagon. Because this? This was a lot of fun.

It’s my favourite story. I want it played at both my wedding and my funeral. I want to do it as a dramatic monologue at an open mic night. I want–
I get it. But seriously, it wasn’t that big of a deal.
You almost ran your ex-boyfriend over with a car, and then left him lying in the literal dirt on the side of the road. It is such a big deal, you absolute queen.”

This is a light (and quick! one sitting for me) read that feels almost Practical Magic-y with the small town setting but flipped on its head; instead of just the Owens being witches, the town is populated with many, including it’s own witch college. Adding to those vibes, though, is the focus on the family (an aunt and a cousin, and there’s a great relationship with both) as well as one of them being.. not reluctant or resistant to use magic but just tending to not.

I think that if you keep calling him ‘the Dickbag’, you can’t also act like you’re a matchmaking tween in a Disney movie.”
I contain multitudes.

I realize I’m saying a lot but also saying very little but honestly this is a bit of a surface level read plot-wise. We have a second chance romance — they start off nineteen-ish and oh man the weird panic I felt thinking this was actually NA.. so glad for the time jump! — and a curse that is maybe more than it appears, even when it wasn’t meant to be real, and.. that’s kind of it, really? The romance takes up a lot of space, even though it’s mostly them being together again instead of agonizing why they shouldn’t be (surface level, see), and the big conflict is fixed remarkably quick with little fuss. And then there’s this whole element about the true history of the town, and the founders, but that all just kinda seems to get swept under the rug to make way for the HEA.

In general there are a few things that get mentioned and swept aside, used as a touchstone but never returned to, and I won’t spoil them, as I’ve talked about the plot enough already, but.. they exist. Again, it’s not perfect, but if you go along with it, and don’t think to hard, you can still enjoy it.

Seriously, dude, don’t care whose dad you are or how fancy a witch you are, keeping talking shit about my cat, and I will personally kick you down this mountain.

So, no, it won’t stand-out, it won’t probably win over many romance fans, and likely even less PNR fans, but somehow I still had a good time. This had some quippy lines, some funny situations, just brushes up against spooky without ever really getting dim (much less dark) at all, and also had some steamy times. Plus, after having just spent a week with a complex fantasy series.. I enjoyed, nay, delighted, in the lighthearted vibe.

Oh, also? Talking cat.

ps, I won’t be rounding up for a few of the reasons listed above but a l s o because of the presence of at least two, possibly three, references to A Certain Wizarding World which, come on, everyone, I thought we were done with this?

ALL THE FEELS by Olivia Dade – double review!

Following Spoiler Alert, Olivia Dade returns with another utterly charming romantic comedy about a devil-may-care actor—who actually cares more than anyone knows—and the no-nonsense woman hired to keep him in line.

Alexander Woodroe has it all. Charm. Sex appeal. Wealth. Fame. A starring role as Cupid on TV’s biggest show, God of the Gates. But the showrunners have wrecked his character, he’s dogged by old demons, and his post-show future remains uncertain. When all that reckless emotion explodes into a bar fight, the tabloids and public agree: his star is falling.

Enter Lauren Clegg, the former ER therapist hired to keep him in line. Compared to her previous work, watching over handsome but impulsive Alex shouldn’t be especially difficult. But the more time they spend together, the harder it gets to keep her professional remove and her heart intact, especially when she discovers the reasons behind his recklessness…not to mention his Cupid fanfiction habit.

When another scandal lands Alex in major hot water and costs Lauren her job, she’ll have to choose between protecting him and offering him what he really wants—her. But he’s determined to keep his improbably short, impossibly stubborn, and extremely endearing minder in his life any way he can. And on a road trip up the California coast together, he intends to show her exactly what a falling star will do to catch the woman he loves: anything at all.


Title : All The Feels
Author : Olivia Dade
Series : Spoiler Alert #2
Format : eARC / eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 416
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Piatkus
Release Date : October 26, 2021

Reviewer : Micky / Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Body-positivity
Judgement
Friends to witty more

The start and ongoing premise to All The Feels starts with a judging a person by their appearance, judging Lauren the plus-sized heroine. This story is the journey back from that initial judgement and this man really was good guy, not one to go solely by supposed ideal appearances at all. I appreciated so much how this story navigated these issues while packing a great plot around it.

All The Feels picked up the batton where Spoiler Alert left off, with Alex an actor from the same series as the previous book and there was a fan fic element too. Alex for me, was such an adorable character, he had ADHD and he was a walking, self-depricating, guilt-ball. Lauren with her therapist background and babysitter role was able to inject some positivity to his sense of self over time.

This story was something of a slow burn. I appreciated the time passing, the friendship evolving and the chemistry building. Then everything was pretty much unleashed and much fun to read.

I didn’t always find the fan fic excerpts (which were few and far between) easy to read, they jarred me a bit with the flow. In this story, I didn’t feel like it added much but then when I remember the soulmate one, that was pretty special.

This series is shaping up so well and I’m excited to own some special editions of these two books when book two releases.

Thank you to Piatkus Books for the early review copy.


Hollis’ 2.5 (maybe rounded up?) review

Let’s just get the joke out of the way now. All the Feels only gave me some feels.

Okay, moving on.

But seriously. I don’t know if maybe Spoiler Alert just caught me at the right time or what but this one only had a few moments that actually worked for me. Mostly the discussion around Alex and his mum. I got a little misty about all that so, yes, those scenes had all the feels but the rest? Eh.

While I absolutely appreciated the role and presence of all the body positivity overall I just didn’t love this one or the characters. Both had their lovely moments but in general I didn’t like either one and so together it was hard to root for them.

Also don’t play a drinking game with the words “rubbed her forehead” or “rubbed her temples” or “Nanny Clegg”. You will regret it.

Oddly enough, where I found the fanfiction elements in book one to be fun (at least from what I remember) I found them very out of place with this storyline. I didn’t mind the jokes and delight about tropes but the actual writing of fic? It just seemed out of character.

I will definitely read on in this world but maybe I’ll scale down my expectations for book three. I’m definitely here for all the positive rep and love that Dade will likely give us more of that. Also, I just love the snarky commentary around this not-GoT but definitely GoT show at the centre of the plot. It’s incredibly satisfying.

THE HEART PRINCIPLE by Helen Hoang – double review!

A woman struggling with burnout learns to embrace the unexpected—and the man she enlists to help her—in this heartfelt new romance by USA Today bestselling author Helen Hoang.

When violinist Anna Sun accidentally achieves career success with a viral YouTube video, she finds herself incapacitated and burned out from her attempts to replicate that moment. And when her longtime boyfriend announces he wants an open relationship before making a final commitment, a hurt and angry Anna decides that if he wants an open relationship, then she does, too. Translation: She’s going to embark on a string of one-night stands. The more unacceptable the men, the better.

That’s where tattooed, motorcycle-riding Quan Diep comes in. Their first attempt at a one-night stand fails, as does their second, and their third, because being with Quan is more than sex—he accepts Anna on an unconditional level that she has just started to understand herself. However, when tragedy strikes Anna’s family she takes on a role that she is ill-suited for, until the burden of expectations threatens to destroy her. Anna and Quan have to fight for their chance at love, but to do that, they also have to fight for themselves. 


Title : The Heart Principle
Author : Helen Hoang
Series : The Kiss Quotient (book three/companion)
Format : e-ARC / eBook
Page Count : 304
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Corvus/Atlantic Books
Release Date : September 2, 2021 / August 31, 2021

Reviewer : Micky / Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ / unrated 


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Love is messy
Grief is messy
Life is messy

My expectations coming into The Heart Principle were altered by things I’d seen on the author’s social media. I came into this expecting it to be different from the previous two in the series…and it was…and I’m okay with that. This story was definitely Anna’s book, Anna’s journey with some Quan on the side. I think some readers will miss that he wasn’t the full focus but I really liked Anna, her realisations, her evolving self awareness and her vulnerability. I could definitely have managed more Quan focus because as a character and great human, he was superb.

Anna’s character and her new diagnosis felt utterly raw. Anna’s reaction to the diagnostic news really resonated with me (not the same diagnosis), how she reacted, how it floored her, I could really relate to that. Later, how Anna grieved felt tangible and while some of that inertia of grief isn’t the most engaging thing to read about, it was and felt real.

I couldn’t stand Priscilla, I hated that dismissal she aimed towards Anna and having experienced that from my own mother, I seethed on her behalf. So much of this story that was personal to the character and author, felt personal to me too. This really isn’t your average romance, it’s messy and complicated but it’s rich.

There’s a lot of processing to do reading this and coming out of it; it still has me thinking. I will say that I wanted a little more depth in the closing quarter of the book but overall, this was a memorable journey and the most gritty of the three books. Helen Hoang really brought a portion of herself to this book and I am the richer for reading it.

Thank you to Corvus Books for the review copy.


Hollis’ unrated review

This is such a complicated reading experience and I’m really going to struggle putting some thoughts down, I think, and urge you to try this for yourself no matter what I come up with. Just know this might not be what you expect of it.

I knew pretty early on in the unfolding of this story that this was going to be very personal. Just from following the author, her struggles — all posted on public platforms — I could see the writing on the wall with this one. And she goes on to confirm it in the author’s note, too, just incase you think I’m reading too much into it. So the thought of “rating” or expressing dislike on something that is all but half a memoir is kind of uncomfortable. But if you go into this book expecting a romance ala what the cover is selling? You might end up with some buyer’s remorse.

Lately we’re seeing more and more romances toe the line of women’s fiction (or whatever you want to call it) where the romance is central, yes, but there are other topics that play just as (if not more) prominent a role. In this case I think there is equal page time given to both.. however, because of the structure of the story, you take turns reading about one thing and then another. The first part? Romance. Delightful. Sweet. Sexy. An irritating character or two. Some cameos. Everyone is having a good time and if we just quietly side-eye how quickly one of these two is moving and feeling? That’s okay. We can roll with it. The second part? Devastating. Uncomfortable. Frustrating. Hard to read. Over the course of a few different issues, really. Romance is on the back burner. And part three? A really rushed resolution that gives us a happily ever after but doesn’t resolve every single issue — which is often the case in women’s fiction but somehow, in this romance, feels.. unsatisfying? Not because I needed a bow tied on everything but I felt wound up so tight from part two and I wasn’t given enough time to decompress and process and see the character do the same. I don’t know how to explain it. But suffice it to say, yes, rushed.

That said, I am not calling this women’s fiction, nor am I hating on that genre — this year alone I’ve rated at least two of them five stars — it’s just that this feels a little bit of both, but not quite either.

Thus.. it’s an odd reading experience. But it’s obviously also a very personal one. Is Anna’s creative burnout, the fear of failing those who are watching her so closely, the author’s own manifested fear post-success of The Kiss Quotient? So much of Anna comes from the author (which she also explains was her reason to switch from third person to first) and the more I think about the elements of this story, the realer and realer is seems. And I haven’t even touched on the more obvious real-life elements she put onto the page.

I’m sure aspects of this will mean a lot for all sorts of readers or make them feel seen. I don’t want to dismiss that representation or impact. I just don’t know how it works as a whole when each section didn’t feel tuned to the same frequency.

What I’ve also yet to mention is that if you are expecting this to be Quan’s book? It isn’t, really. If you’re expecting the character represented by the woman on the cover to exude the energy she’s giving us with that pose? You won’t get it (this happens more and more due to illustrated covers, I think we’re all getting used to it, but it bears mention). This is a lot of things but between expectations and marketing I’m not sure it all lines up. And hey, it is what it is, I imagine the author did not anticipate her own circumstances to go the way they did during the course of writing this book, either.

So, again, how does one rate this? If you’re me, you don’t.

I absolutely don’t want to discourage anyone from reading this. I love this author, I love her works, and there is so much courage in putting these experiences out into the world in the form of fiction for people, like myself, to critique. I will absolutely read whatever else she puts out. But was this satisfying? Worth the wait? Everything I wanted? A great experience? I would say no. But the why of that no is due to all the aforementioned reasons above.

THERE WITH YOU by Samantha Young – double review!

For Regan Penhaligon, there’s no better place to run to than the exclusive Ardnoch Estate in the remote Scottish Highlands. Her impulsive behavior has finally caught up with her and Regan’s visit with her sister, Robyn, is an opportunity to hide from someone who has grown dangerously obsessed with her.

Determined to make amends for her mistakes, Regan plans to repair her relationship with Robyn by staying close. And when an offer of help comes from Thane Adair, Regan gratefully accepts.

Widower, Thane, needs a new nanny housekeeper for his two young children and when they bond with Regan Penhaligon, he offers her the job. But as the weeks pass and the complex American reveals who she really is, Thane struggles with his growing attraction to her.

Regan never expected to feel so intensely for Thane, but she can’t deny her passion for him or her love for his children. When someone from Thane’s past threatens his family, Regan wants to be his pillar of support. However, his continued inability to trust her might just destroy their chance at future happiness… and the person who drove Regan to Ardnoch might snuff out her chance for any future at all.


Title : There With You
Author : Samantha Young
Series : Adair Family #2
Format : e-ARC
Page Count : 374
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Self Published
Release Date : August 24, 2021

Reviewer : Micky/Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★.5/ ★ ★.5


Micky’s 4.5 star review

Headlines:
Too Scot to handle
Gentle suspense
Sense of family

I’m already getting sad that this is marked as a three book series on Goodreads and retailers as I know I will want more than three books from this family and setting. I really enjoyed book one and I loved book two. This series is clearly building into a favourite contemporary romance/romantic suspense.

While the suspense in There With You felt gentler than book one, it was no less gripping. There was something very tangible about Thane and Regan’s story. With a nanny(ish) trope and the most engaging family, this story had me struggling to put my kindle down for the 24 hours that I read it. Thane could be an a**e but he had valid reasons and Regan was so misunderstood; I really enjoyed people realising her character just by being around her for a while.

“These Adair men…emotionally constipated, I tell you.”
“So what are we? The laxative?”

The chemistry between these two was so believable and had all the feels, as did the reluctant emotional connection. On top of that, I have been reflecting on the thoroughness of plot points, large and small in many of Samantha Young’s books and There With You was a great example of this. I was never once left feeling something was loose ended, nor were things neatly tied; she hits a great balance.

Sign me up for more Adair, I want more, I need more and I will definitely re-read this series. Oh, and I read this book in Gairloch on the NW coast of the highlands…pretty perfect all round.

Thank you to the author for the early review copy, this has not affected this unbiased review.


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

(insert song clip gif of Chris Pine singing Agony from Into the Woods here)

Phew, well, I had expected this one to go a little awry considering Regan didn’t make a favourable non-impression in book one, and it’s true her introduction here was rocky and I was not very inclined towards her, but while she did grow on me a bit she won’t be a favourite. Instead what ruined this was Thane, the love interest.

This went hot and cold and then back and forth more chaotically than a spring day in Canada. It was actually painful. But somehow, what was worse, was this preoccupation with people making assumptions about Regan. She’s leaving, she won’t stay; she’s young (twenty five, but from the amount of times it was mentioned you’d think she was eighteen) and will regret settling; she doesn’t know her own mind or her own feelings. Did anyone fucking ask her what she’s doing or what she wants before she was forced to set things straight multiple times because everyone was, once again, steering her around as if they knew her? No. No they did not. I may not have really liked her but ugh she deserved better.

And tied into the age thing, I’m sorry, this isn’t a historical novel, why was there such a preoccupation with her being a little bit younger and taking up with the single dad? Just because she’d started out as the nanny? Who cares what the town had to say? Again, she was not underage. The whole reason for this relationship being played out on the downlow was just dumb.

Don’t even get me started on Robyn and Regan’s mother. Do not.

Anywayyyy yeah this wasn’t a favourite. I’m kind of glad there’s only one more member of Robyn and Regan’s family that’s left to hook up with an Adair because it’s getting to be A Lot (and I can only imagine how weird the family tree will look). So after Mac seals the deal with Arro in book three, which I’m sure will be angsty as hell but I’m keen on it regardless because Mac has been a gem this whole series, I think I know who might wind up with one of the remaining brothers; and as this is a five book series, which makes sense as there’s five siblings, I guess the last one will be a surprise. Though I’m not too enthused about what I assume will be book four (Brodan) because he was a gross jerk in this one.

But yes, I’m reading on.

NEON GODS by Katee Robert

He was supposed to be a myth. But from the moment I crossed the River Styx and fell under his dark spell… he was, quite simply, mine.

Society darling Persephone Dimitriou plans to flee the ultra-modern city of Olympus and start over far from the backstabbing politics of the Thirteen Houses. But all that’s ripped away when her mother ambushes her with an engagement to Zeus, the dangerous power behind their glittering city’s dark facade.

With no options left, Persephone flees to the forbidden undercity and makes a devil’s bargain with a man she once believed a myth… a man who awakens her to a world she never knew existed.

Hades has spent his life in the shadows, and he has no intention of stepping into the light. But when he finds that Persephone can offer a little slice of the revenge he’s spent years craving, it’s all the excuse he needs to help her—for a price. Yet every breathless night spent tangled together has given Hades a taste for Persephone, and he’ll go to war with Olympus itself to keep her close…

A modern retelling of Hades and Persephone that’s as sinful as it is sweet.


Title : Neon Gods
Author : Katee Robert
Series : Dark Olympus (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 380
Genre : myth retelling / romance
Publisher : Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date : June 1, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

I was close to rounding up on this one but.. there was too much about this particular retelling’s worldbuilding that haunted me for too long. And, in fact, it was only upon starting this review, as I started to talk (write) it out, that I actually started to piece together some of those holes. Sorta. But that doesn’t take away the fact that I found it so distracting for the whole duration of the book. Nor does it solve all the worldbuilding issues. There’s something about this modern but still removed but still modern Olympus that just breaks my brain.

As for the romance.. listen, if I don’t think too hard about how rushed Persephone’s character growth/arc/reveal was, the romance is sweet with a touch of spice. I want to be able to champion the female lead and poke holes in the male but sadly, in this case, as much as I could appreciate Persephone over the course of the story, I never really felt we got to see that duality in her to explain why she’d been one way only to reveal herself as something else. Yes, yes, being able to explore herself, removing masks, yes, it’s all told to us but I didn’t see it because I didn’t see her the other way. A few offhand comments do not a character make. Maybe if we’d spent less time early on to establish that Hades was a fussing mother hen and Persephone needed to eat a few more meals, that page time could’ve gone towards a better foundation.

But yeah, Hades is soft. I don’t really know if this is supposed to be a true D/s romance, maybe it just flirts with the concept (I’ll check some reviews), but even when he was D.. he was soft. I didn’t mind that at all, either. This isn’t a criticism.

Instead my criticisms are definitely worldbuilding and the fact that I couldn’t get a handle on a few things until the end. Sometimes retellings are hard when you know enough about the source or the myth and you just end up tripping yourself up instead of enjoying the homage. This was one of those for me. I also expected to see one of the more famous parts of this myth incorporated and Robert flirted with the idea but didn’t quite commit. So because I expected that, and therefore some angst, and didn’t get it, that also sort’ve twisted me up. Expectations, whatcha gonna do.

This did guarantee I would be humming Eurydice by The Crüxshadows almost the whole time I read this, though. I’m exposing my early aughts goth child with that reference but I don’t even care. What a jam. What a moment. Excuse me while I lose myself in a playlist..

I’m sad to say but for this reader this definitely didn’t live up to the hype. But, minor irritants with my brain not cooperating over those worldbuilding bits, I didn’t hate my time with this, either. Which is why I will read on.

53 LETTERS FOR MY LOVER by Leylah Attar

This is not your typical love story. 
It’s not so black and white. Lines are crossed. 
Walls are smashed. Good becomes bad. 
Bad becomes very, very good.

Shayda Hijazi—the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect daughter. For thirty-three years, she has played by the rules, swallowing secrets, burying dreams and doing whatever it takes to anchor her family. Shayda Hijazi is about to come face to face with the one thing that can rip it all apart, the one thing her heart has always been denied: Love.

Troy Heathgate—untamed, exhilarating, dangerous—a man who does exactly as he pleases. Life bends to his will. Until he comes across the one thing he would give it all up for, but can never have.

Born on the same day in opposite corners of the world, their lives collide. And nothing is ever the same again. 

Spanning three decades, 53 Letters for My Lover is a fiercely sensual, emotional ride to the heart of an epic, forbidden love that defies it all—an intimate exploration of love, loyalty, passion, betrayal, and the human journey for hope, happiness and redemption.


Title : 53 Letters For My Lover
Author : Leylah Attar
Series : 53 Letters For My Lover (book one)
Format : eBook
Page Count : 398
Genre : romance
Publisher : Pitch73 Publishing
Release Date : June 17, 2014

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Micky has been waiting for me to read this since 2015.. this probably isn’t how she expected to be repaid by me finally reading it.

As usual I did not have any real clue what this was about before going into it so suffice it to say I was immediately off balance by this story because it seemed to be setting up a cheating plotline. Additionally when we first meet the love interest, he isn’t put in a very flattering light. And I wonder if this was done on purpose. I’m sure the author knew she would have to make this convincing for her readers and we had to be right alongside the MC with fighting off our desire for this connection, this affair. I can appreciate that in hindsight. But it made my early enjoyment pretty low.

Strangely, I was won over. Not always. I found some elements of this story to be a little all over the place, including some of the character behaviours, almost as if scenes from something else had been spliced in to an existing manuscript. But then.. I was totally pulled under by the sheer loveliness of some of this; the irresistible connection. The love. Also? It was smoking hot. I feel like we don’t get sex scenes like this anymore? 2014, you were something else. Come back, I miss you.

So, yes, a little bit of a mixed bag. I’m so glad I finally read this; mostly because I’m cashing in a very overdue promise but also because the good? Was very good. Obviously this won’t be for everyone but honestly if not for the recommendation, and had I actually known the plot, I probably wouldn’t have ever picked it up.

Also, as a bonus for my fellow Canucks, this is set in Toronto. And while it doesn’t go overboard with sight seeing or references, it was still fun to see little name drops and occasionally be able to picture where a scene was unfolding.

Also also? Make sure you read the novella that follows this. I won’t be reviewing it for the blog but it’s required reading for sure.

THE SOULMATE EQUATION by Christina Lauren – double review!

Single mom Jess Davis is a data and statistics wizard, but no amount of number crunching can convince her to step back into the dating world. Raised by her grandparents–who now help raise her seven-year-old daughter, Juno–Jess has been left behind too often to feel comfortable letting anyone in. After all, her father’s never been around, her hard-partying mother disappeared when she was six, and her ex decided he wasn’t “father material” before Juno was even born. Jess holds her loved ones close, but working constantly to stay afloat is hard…and lonely.

But then Jess hears about GeneticAlly, a buzzy new DNA-based matchmaking company that’s predicted to change dating forever. Finding a soulmate through DNA? The reliability of numbers: This Jess understands. At least she thought she did, until her test shows an unheard-of 98% compatibility with another subject in the database: GeneticAlly’s founder, Dr. River Pena. This is one number she can’t wrap her head around, because she already knows Dr. Pena. The stuck-up, stubborn man is without a doubt not her soulmate. But GeneticAlly has a proposition: Get to know him and we’ll pay you. Jess–who is barely making ends meet–is in no position to turn it down, despite her skepticism about the project and her dislike for River. As the pair are dragged from one event to the next as the “Diamond” pairing that could make GeneticAlly a mint in stock prices, Jess begins to realize that there might be more to the scientist–and the science behind a soulmate–than she thought.


Title : The Soulmate Equation
Author : Christina Lauren
Format : eBook (overdrive)/Paperback
Page Count : 365
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Gallery Books/Piatkus Books
Release Date : May 18, 2021/August 5, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis/Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★/ ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

I have been so disappointed by the last handful of CLo novels so I guess it was about time my luck changed.

I saw a lot of early buzz and excitement for this release but I expected nothing less. What intrigued me was seeing the same excitement from other often-disappointed CLo fans. That made me sit up and take notice.

It’s so hard for me to be inspired to pick up a book during the working week and yet I sat down the same night my library hold came in and I d e v o u r e d the whole thing. It made me laugh. It made me soft. It maybe even made me tear up once.

Is the premise of this book a little outlandish? Yes (if it’s based in real science pls insert my apologies here but I suspect not). Did some elements of the romance veer a little too quickly into the all-systems-go lane once the hook had taken over, particularly after the way their previous interactions had gone? Yes. Did I hate the financial conflicts with the MC’s mother? A thousand times yes (this kind of plot is a huge issue for me in general though so I didn’t expect anything different). So, is it perfect? No. But I had such a great time.

There’s a core group of supporting characters that are funny and charming and lovely, the reluctant connection between humans who don’t seem to click, or are so different, as a base for the romance is always (often) a hit, and I was definitely feeling the chemistry even in this lower range of heat we’ve come to expect from the new CLo books. Though I do think maybe there was more going on this time than there has been. Coincidence? I think not.

Suffice it to say I had a really good time and while I will not hold out hope that this trend will remain true with what’s to come from this duo, there’s a reason I keep picking these authors up. When they are good, they are good.


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Lets have more geeky scientist/mathematician combos
Fakey breaky goodness
Sold down the river for River

The Soulmate Equation seemed to find that sweet spot of the right push and pull alongside sweetness and angst; everything was in good measure to formulate the ideal equation for a story. Sorry, I’ll stop using title puns now. But seriously, the characters and plot brought a cross of Darcy with The One and equaled a lose-yourself read.

River Pena was all of Darcy’s best angles: arrogance, dismissal but alluringly handsome. I felt on a string from his first ‘Americano’ sighting. Jess, a single mom with her own brand of geek was a great protagonist with the best family to read about.

…the only thing she could focus on was the way he spoke like he was reading aloud from a textbook. God, Siri carried on a more familiar conversation.

This couple’s journey carried elements of awkwardness but staying for the journey to reach the delicious chemistry was worth the wait. This story really grew for me, especially from a third into the book. The way River stepped up in certain situations was complete swoon territory. There wasn’t a lot of on-page steam but you felt every inch of chemistry between these two.

I thoroughly enjoyed this standalone from Christina Lauren and I can’t see a day when I will not be reading their offerings.

Thank you to Piatkus Books for the review copy.

HOT COPY by Ruby Barrett

Corinne Blunt knows what people think of her—she’s an icy, unapproachable executive. It’s the price she’s had to pay to get to the top. But there’s knowing you have a reputation in the office, and there’s hearing your new intern laugh when someone calls you “Blunt the C*nt” in the elevator on his first day.

She’d hoped to finally find an ally in Wesley Chambers, but she’s not about to let him off the hook for joining the office boys’ club. Taking refuge in the professional boundaries between them, she relegates Wes to assistant work—which would do the trick, if he weren’t so eager to prove he’s a decent human being.

Wes is sincerely apologetic, insisting it was a misunderstanding, and to her surprise, Corinne believes him. Being forced to work together was one thing, but long hours at the office with what turns out to be a kind, thoughtful man soon has their business relationship turning personal, and things get complicated—fast. Could this be something more serious than either of them dared to hope for? Or is their relationship just playing into the harmful power dynamics Corinne’s had to endure her entire career?


Title : Hot Copy
Author : Ruby Barrett
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 297
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Carina Press
Release Date : April 13, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated


Hollis’ unrated review

If you craved the dynamic from The Proposal but wanted it to get the full sexy treatment? You might like this. At least, that’s what I thought to expect about this when going into it (because I don’t read blurbs). Except in Hot Copy not only is there an age gap (I was still on board) but he’s an intern.. not the assistant (I’ve edged a foot off the board at this point).

The latter would’ve been pushing it a bit to begin with but this went a step further. Everyone is not only consenting but also adult however it made for a frustrating parallel to the very real, and pervasive, inappropriate conduct happening all around the couple. As if to say, “this is okay because want it and aren’t sleazy about it”? I don’t know. I could probably have put my brain on hold about the whole thing if not for all the ick going on around them because it kept reminding me that this wasn’t great. But, when I could check my brain out for a second, I appreciated the switch up of the dynamics we’re used to seeing play out.

Except Corinne kept wrongfooting the whole relationship (or not-relationship) which is ironic as they get off on the wrong foot because she wrongly attributes something to him. So, I mean, maybe it’s not ironic. Maybe that initial interaction was foreshadowing for the whole story. He would be everything sweet, caring, kind, understanding, dedicated, and she would abuse it, not appreciate it, take it for granted.

Which isn’t to say Wes is perfect as he becomes so wholly invested in her that his real life suffers for it. And then the one time he doesn’t put Corrine first.. well, lets just say I fucking hated that particular argument.

What frustrates me about the whole experience though is that this could’ve been really good. There’s an emotional thread woven through the story that really got me choked up at times and while I thought the repetition of that same element was maybe too much.. I still cried at a certain scene near the end. I wasn’t immune. But yeah, the nitpicky part of me wishes it had been similar but not the same.

I’m mixed about my feelings so I’m totally copping out and not rating this (at least for now). I would definitely read from this author again as I thought the writing was surprisingly solid for a debut but this particular dynamic/romance will definitely be polarizing.

If you’re down for a bit of a messy romance, and are craving something to fog up the glasses, check out some reviews and see if this’ll be your cup of tea.

SEVEN DAYS IN JUNE by Tia Williams – double review!

Seven days to fall in love, fifteen years to forget and seven days to get it all back again… From the author of The Perfect Find, this is a witty, romantic, and sexy-as-hell new novel of two writers and their second chance at love.

Brooklynite Eva Mercy is a single mom and bestselling erotica writer, who is feeling pressed from all sides. Shane Hall is a reclusive, enigmatic, award-winning literary author who, to everyone’s surprise, shows up in New York.

When Shane and Eva meet unexpectedly at a literary event, sparks fly, raising not only their past buried traumas, but the eyebrows of New York’s Black literati. What no one knows is that twenty years earlier, teenage Eva and Shane spent one crazy, torrid week madly in love. They may be pretending that everything is fine now, but they can’t deny their chemistry-or the fact that they’ve been secretly writing to each other in their books ever since.

Over the next seven days in the middle of a steamy Brooklyn summer, Eva and Shane reconnect, but Eva’s not sure how she can trust the man who broke her heart, and she needs to get him out of New York so that her life can return to normal. But before Shane disappears again, there are a few questions she needs answered. . .

With its keen observations of Black life and the condition of modern motherhood, as well as the consequences of motherless-ness, Seven Days in June is by turns humorous, warm and deeply sensual. 


Title : Seven Days in June
Author : Tia Williams
Format : e-ARC / eBook (overdrive)
Page Count :337
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Quercus
Release Date : June 2, 2021

Reviewer : Micky / Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 5 star review

Headlines:
Swept away by second chances
Dialogue dream
Epic summer read

This wasn’t my first Tia Williams book, but it had a completely different vibe. It was deeper, more desperate with the kind of longing that makes you feel. This was a second chance story that was full of emotion but also delightfully light in the moment.

Eva (Genevieve) was a mother, a writer and a women who had shelved her own life to some extent. She had a hidden disability and got through the days. She had some friends that were the family she’d never really had.

When Shane entered the story, everything froze. The connection, my word, the connection was magnetised. There was a huge story to tell with these two that was mostly in the contemporary but it did have some past chapters that were woven cleverly and not over-used.

“I idealize you in fiction because I idealized you in real life.”

What I loved about this story and the writing was the dialogue. I have so many highlights on my kindle that just tickled me or made me feel. I lived for this story in the 24 hours that I read it and I truly didn’t want it to end. The cover is glorious and really just captures these two.

I would challenge anyone not to need this couple together. I loved the humility of Shane, the hope of Eva despite her life and the ebb and flow of life getting in the damn way.

Shane was her lighthouse. If he went dark, she’d be lost, treading black water forever.

This was the kind of sweeping romance that just made my summer and I recommend this to all my romance-reading friends.

Please note there are a number of triggers in this book – please look on other reviews or DM me if you want more info.

Thank you to Quercus for the early review copy.


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

Based on the cover of this book, I had no idea what was waiting for me. I knew Micky had raved about this earlier in the year and so I’d added it to my TBR but otherwise? I had no expectations, no concept, and no real urge to pick it up and devour it. And wow what a mistake that was.

You can’t imagine what you were like then.
I know what I was like.”
You don’t. You burst into my solitude, demanding to be seen. You were overwhelming. Just wild and weird and brilliant, and I never had a choice. I liked everything about you. Even the scary parts. I wanted to drown in your fucking bathwater.

While I didn’t get the same easy five-star feelings from this one, it’s so close. Because this story was beautiful, compelling, raw, emotional, and just utterly captivating. I started this late last night and was so mad at myself for doing so because I couldn’t stay up to finish it and had to be pulled away. Which makes for a complete change from my only other experience with this author (a very very early DNF of The Perfect Find).

Girls are given the weight of the world, but nowhere to put it down. The power and magic born in that struggle? It’s so terrifying to men that we invented reasons to burn y’all at the stake.

It’s so hard, after the magic of this read, to try and sum up or quantify or pitch this book to others because I won’t do it justice. But this is a story of second chances, drama, family, grief, pain, addiction, laughter, and passion. The chemistry is electric, the insider book community commentary is hysterical, the inclusion of chronic illness, particularly one of the invisible disabilities, was so well done, and every single character had presence.

Shane Hall, you’re not scary anymore.”
I know. I put the ‘hug’ in thug.”


As annoyed as I am for waiting so long to read this, I’m also kind of pleased this was an end of the year read because I want all my next few reads to be like this one. Close 2021 with a bang.

She wanted to figure out who she was – and then be her, delight in her. Delight in everything! Have an actual life and live it! She vowed to herself to be honest – with herself and with others. In pain? Admit it. In love? Claim it. Life was too short to be anything but herself.

Pick this book up. You won’t regret it.

HERE WITH ME by Samantha Young – double review!

Settled in the tranquil remoteness of the Scottish Highlands, Ardnoch Estate caters to the rich and famous. It is as unattainable and as mysterious as its owner —ex-Hollywood leading man Lachlan Adair—and it’s poised on the edge of a dark scandal.

After narrowly escaping death, police officer Robyn Penhaligon leaves behind her life in Boston in search of some answers. Starting with Mac Galbraith, the Scottish father who abandoned her to pursue his career in private security. To re-connect with Mac, Robyn will finally meet a man she’s long resented. Lachlan Adair. Hostility instantly brews between Robyn and Lachlan. She thinks the head of the Adair family is high-handed and self-important. And finding closure with Mac is proving more difficult than she ever imagined. Robyn would sooner leave Ardnoch, but when she discovers Mac is embroiled in a threat against the Adairs and the exclusive members of the estate, she finds she’s not yet ready to give up on her father.

Determined to ensure Mac’s safety, Robyn investigates the disturbing crimes at Ardnoch, forcing her and Lachlan to spend time together. Soon it becomes clear a searing attraction exists beneath their animosity, and temptation leads them down a perilous path.

While they discover they are connected by something far more addictive than passion, Lachlan cannot let go of his grip on a painful past: a past that will destroy his future … if the insidious presence of an enemy lurking in the shadows of Ardnoch doesn’t do the job first.


Title : Here With Me
Author : Samantha Young
Series : Adair Family #1
Format : eARC / eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 506
Genre : Romantic Suspense
Publisher : Self Published
Release Date : May 11, 2021

Reviewer : Micky / Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Broody v ballsy
Sinister escalations
Feisty female lead

I love a good romantic suspense read and Here With Me reminded me very much of a Nora Roberts read in that genre. I think that’s a pretty high accolade. This was a long book but it didn’t feel it.

The meeting of a Bostonite and a Scot on a highland estate was the premise for this read but there was a rich plot of Robyn’s estrangement from her dad, Mac and some sinister goings on at the exclusive club that Lachlan owned.

Lachlan was the right level of brooding with character depth and Robyn was such a great, confident and feisty character. I loved Robyn’s attitude towards Lachlan and how their antagonism grew into something more.

The suspense plot was good, with periods of tension but not constant. To be fair, I guessed the person behind the things happening on the estate early on but it didn’t affect my enjoyment. I am here for more from this series and I curious as to whether they will all be suspense. Here With Me will appeal to On Dublin Street fans even with the suspense added in, the characters have a similar vibe.

Thank you to the author for the early review copy.


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Having never read anything by this author before I didn’t quite know what to expect. I had seen friends really enjoy this series and thought hey, my library has it, why not. And while we started off a little rocky with some inconsistent details that my brain refused to let go of, despite the fact that it was pretty silly, and I wasn’t quite sure how to deal with the love interest, Robyn quickly won me over; and honestly she’s the reason I enjoyed this so much.

We love to see a strong, badass, kickass, capable, woman — but one who doesn’t also fall into the pitfalls some authors lean into by also making her emotionally closed off or invulnerable. Robyn was very well rounded, very open with her thoughts and feelings and communicated them well, and honestly I don’t think Lachlan deserves her. But I did warm to him over time; Young gave him some realistic reasons for the way he was but.. he still didn’t make a great impression and did still frustrate me at times as he continually stumbled over things, screwed up, and had to make amends. Again and again. But. I respect how the author made him challenge himself and his emotional response to some things (I’m thinking of one particular instance) even if half the time his family had to kick his ass to get it all moving in the right direction.

I did guess who was behind the big whoddunit it of the story pretttyyyy early on and I want to make a comment about something kind of obvious that was a huge red flag clue but I don’t want to hint or spoil at anything for anyone else so I’ll zip it. So that was a little annoying to live through b u t I also appreciate that we got to see how frustrating it can be for investigators when clues don’t add up in a neat way, you’re fooled by what’s right in front of you, and cases drag out. There was no quick solve here and that did feel pretty realistic.

I’ll admit one thing I really dislike in a story is getting a backstory via internal exposition and then immediately having it explained in dialogue as well; it’s one thing to have it come up a chapter or two before and then it’s expressed in dialogue later but Young often had it back to back and I was a bit annoyed by that. I don’t know if that’s a style choice or it just happened to show up in this one. Not my favourite.

This book, and likely the series, is made up of some pretty complicated and complex dynamics; in both sibling and parental relationships and I did enjoy some of it but others kind of drove me batty. I’ll be interested to see how the second book plays out considering I feel zero compassion towards the new leading lady (though I’m sure she’ll be made out to have reasons for her actions) whereas I have plenty for the love interest. So maybe my bias will switch out for that one? Who knows.

Here With Me is definitely a little over the top in some ways, a bit dramatic, but there’s a backbone of really good emotional beats and discussion around family and forgiveness that, as mentioned, was carried by a great leading lady. I might not be awarding top marks but I devoured this (not short) book in one sitting so maybe that says enough.

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