“Fall in love with Jill Shalvis! She’s my go-to read for humor and heart.”—Susan Mallery, New York Times bestselling author
Beloved New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis begins a new series—Sunrise Cove—set near beautiful Lake Tahoe, with a heartwarming story of found family and love.
During the snowstorm of the century Levi Cutler is stranded on a ski lift with a beautiful stranger named Jane. After strong winds hurl the gondola in front of them into the ground, Levi calls his parents to prepare them for the worst…but can’t bring himself to say goodbye. Instead, wanting to fulfill his mother‘s lifelong wish, he impulsively tells her he’s happily settled and Jane is his girlfriend—right before his phone dies.
But Levi and Jane do not.
Now Levi’s family is desperate to meet “The One.” Though Jane agrees to be his pretend girlfriend for just one dinner, she’s nervous. After a traumatic childhood, Jane isn’t sure she knows how to be around a tight-knit family that cherishes one another. She’s terrified and a little jealous. But an unexpected series of events and a host of new friends soon show Jane that perhaps this is the life she was always meant to have.
As Jane and Levi spend more time together, pretend feelings quickly turn into real ones. Now all Jane has to do is admit to herself she can’t live without the man she’s fallen in love with and the family she’s always dreamed of.
I received an ARC from the publisher and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own.
The Family You Make is the first in a new romantic women’s fiction series from Jill Shalvis. I felt the romance in this one was a bit more pronounced in this one than in her previous series, although it is very much sharing page time with Jane’s personal journey.
I really liked becoming invested in a new small town, especially during the winter. This provides good grounds for stakes and tension among the characters. I also liked the emphasis on found family being as important as , if not more so than, blood relatives, with Jane finding herself being enveloped in a new loving family, after dealing with childhood trauma.
Jane was pretty easy to root for, even as she did push everyone away, as I could understand her reasoning for doing that. And Levi is a great partner for her, because of how he supports her, and he has a family who loves him and is prepared to embrace her as one of their own as well.
And while balancing two romances, along with character development can be a bit hard, I did feel like Shalvis managed to make the friends/enemies-to-lovers dynamic between Charlotte and Mateo. It provides a nice balance of fun to the more emotional relationship between Jane and Levi.
This is incredibly cozy and heartwarming, and will delight both longtime fans of Jill Shalvis’ work and new readers looking for a romantic women’s fiction/contemporary read.
Multiple New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jill Shalvis lives in a small town in the Sierras full of quirky characters. Any resemblance to the quirky characters in her books is…mostly coincidental. Look for Jill’s bestselling, heartwarming and full of humor novels wherever books are sold. Visit http://www.jillshalvis.com/ for a complete book list and fun blog detailing her city-girl-living-in-the-mountains adventures.
2021 was a weird reading year for me. While I read a metric-ton, I feel like the books I maintained a consistent love for was much lower than 2020, and I very frequently felt myself feeling slumpy, and even books that wowed me in the moment felt very forgettable a week or two later. But there were a handful of books that stood the test of time, more or less. Here they are, arranged by author, instead of somewhat clumsily by genre lines.
Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley: A masterpiece of a debut novel. Simultaneously a love letter to Ojibwe culture and deep dive into the issues Native American communities face, I found myself engaged on multiple levels with this one. I love how Boulley takes her time to establish Daunis and her relationships with her family and tribe, then peeling back the layers once things come to a head in an act of violence.
Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor: A fabulous retelling of The Great Gatsby with a murder mystery element. Flashing back and forth between a detective’s investigation and the principle women of the narrative during the thick of the timeline of the original book, I loved observing the scandalous events of that summer from Daisy, Jordan, Catherine, and Myrtle’s perspectives, chafing at the complex role of women in the 1920s, and joining in solidarity as each of their animosity to one or more of the major male characters grows.
All the Feels by Olivia Dade: Big! Harpy! Energy! I adore Lauren and her tough exterior, hiding a softness and vulnerability, and “delightful asshole” Alex, a TV star dealing with a lot more than meets the eye. Olivia Dade always knows just how to balance humor and heart, and she hits the mark here.
The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan: Sex positive and with great, nuanced Jewish rep in both leads, I adored this book. Naomi is an awesome heroine with a lot of depth, and while Ethan does feel a bit less developed by comparison, they’re a lovely couple and I loved seeing them working together.
The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow: I loved the beauty of this one, with people finding hope in darkness through the enjoyment of the arts. Ellie is a rebel librarian in a dystopian near-future, and Morris is an alien who is part of the species meant to be her enemy, but he finds kinship with her, and develops a passion for music of his own. The ace representation is particularly notable here, with Ellie expressing what it means for a human, and Morris also finding a connection with the sentiment based on his own practices and feelings.
No Getting Ogre You by ML Eliza: It’s short, but no less sweet (and hot!) This was my first exposure to the world of monster romance, a subgenre I plan to continue dabbling in, and I’m glad it was with an author I already love, albeit writing in a bit of a different style and under a brand-spanking-new pen name. Crug is an absolute sweetheart, and I loved the way he and Jacquelyn developed a rapport in spite of the language barrier.
Gentleman Seeks Bride by Megan Frampton: This book redeemed what I thought would be a subpar series for me with just the right collection and execution of tropes. I mentioned my slowly developing love for the “kissing lessons” trope in that review, not to mention the “best friend’s sister/brother’s best friend” trope without the misogynistic baggage that often plagued many similar books in the past. And the way Thomas and Jane ultimately found a creative solution to their problems (albeit not without alternately expressing their passion for each other and angsting over the impossibility of it all)? *Chef’s kiss*
These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong (duology): This epic Romeo & Juliet historical fantasy duology broke me…and I was totally fine with that. You pretty much know what you’re getting when anyone evokes the name of the infamous Shakespearean tragedy, but I love how Chloe Gong infused it with so much more recent and relevant culture, history, and life, transplanting the action to 1920s China and following rival gangs. Juliette’s a badass, yet also incredibly vulnerable, and Roma is just the sweetest, and as much as I knew what was coming, I couldn’t help but wish for better for both of them.
If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich: Gonzales and Dietrich dig deep into the issues that plague the music artists, to great effect. Ruben and Zach, the two leads and two members of boy band, deal with their realization of feelings for each other, while reckoning with the expectations from their label and the industry at large that micromanage their image, including keeping them closeted, but also driving another member to substance abuse to cope with mental health issues, and other dark things. I loved this tribute to the darker side of boy-band culture, and fame in general, and it both spoke to the fangirl in me and made me think about celebrity culture in a different way.
Never Fall for Your Fiancee by Virginia Heath: If I were somehow chosen to give a cover or front page quote for this one, I’d call it delightfully fun and chaotic. It’s tropey in the best way, and it gave me a similar blend of familiarity and surprise that I got from Megan Frampton’s book. I loved Hugh and Minerva, and especially appreciated seeing how their complex, dysfunctional relationships with their respective fathers impact them today. And on that note, there’s some surprises in that regard for Hugh that really rugged at my heartstrings and made me respect his mother a whole lot. And the supporting cast is just a delight, a sign that this series is very likely going to be consistent fun as we move onto their stories.
Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert: The Brown Sisters series has been a sequence of hits, and while I can’t say this one was my favorite, I have a lot of love for it all the same. Eve is the chaotic youngest Brown sister, and Jacob is a perfectionist, and it’s definitely one of the better iterations of grumpy/sunshine I’ve read. And the fact that it explores the differences in the way it explores how autism manifests in men vs. women is also fabulous.
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson (series): This is one of those series that surprised me. I thought upon finishing book one that this was just your typical mystery/thriller series, but for teens. But I was shocked how gritty it got, especially by the third book. The supporting cast is largely morally gray in the first two, and while there’s a stark plot twist in the third book that is definitely divisive among readers, I personally loved it.
The Midnight Girls by Alicia Jasinska: Badass villainous witch-girls and an enemies-to-lovers dynamic?! Yes, please! Marynka and Zosia are a great sapphic blend of grumpy/sunshine (quite literally, as one reviewer pointed out) and uncompromisingly giving into one’s darker impulses without the pressure to change or reform for the sake of love. Another plus is Jasinska’s immersive writing, creating a beautiful world inspired by Polish history and infused with winter vibes.
The Last Dance of the Debutante by Julia Kelly: I went into this one with a mild sense of optimism based on the blurb, in spite of my past baggage with this author. However, this book surprised me. One factor was getting to engross myself in a time period that I haven’t read much about. But I was mostly captured by Lily as a protagonist, and her cynicism, which only grows as she finds out some long-buried family secrets. And the general way it highlights what I’d often heard but not really read a ton about in the battle between tradition and modernity among the aristocratic families amid the turmoil brought by the World Wars is fascinating, both on a personal, individual story level and in general, thinking back to all the stories I’d read set in earlier time periods where all these rules were everything.
Midnight in Everwood by M.A. Kuzniar: Another wintry fantasy, albeit of a somewhat different variety! I loved the balance of whimsy and darkness, sweeping me away into the magical world of Everwood along with Marietta. And while Marietta’s predicament is a familiar one for those who read a lot of historical fiction, it’s conveyed in a fresh way. She forms bonds that empower her over the course of the book, and it made for a fabulous holiday read.
Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee: I’ve loved seeing so many queer books wifh messy leads this year, but this one absolutely stood out from the pack. Noah is multiracial and trans, but I love that this book isn’t an “identity” story, any more than it is just about him and the other queer characters just being who they are and growing into better people by the end. Noah has good intentions, but makes some mistakes…big ones. Some people will find him unlikable. But I found him endearing, even if he does have his frustrating moments.
The Wife in the Attic by Rose Lerner: I’ve always said retellings of Jane Eyre more accurately give the “Jane” character what she deserves, and that is absolutely true with this one. The master of the house is portrayed as the toxic boss he is, and while there are some moral questions surrounding Lady Palethorp, she is still a much more engaging love interest for Lerner’s lead, Deborah. Add in some discussion of the position of Jews during the Regency period and a tie-in to Lerner’s popular Lively St. Lemeston series, and it’s perfect.
Bombshell by Sarah MacLean: In my opinion, this is Sarah MacLean’s best book. She’s always written strong heroines, but I love that they’re front and center here. Sesily and the other women are wonderful to read about, and her relationship with Caleb is swoonworthy! I’m incredibly excited for what comes next for the Hell’s Belles!
Dusk’s Darkest Shores by Carolyn Miller: I appreciated this book for a number of reasons, in part due to the depiction of the blind hero, Adam. I liked the depiction of him becoming accustomed to his condition, and while I chafed at the people around him praying for a “cure,” I am glad the story did not go in that direction. And while the love interest, Mary, does look on him with some pity at first, the relationship is not built on that, and they grow to love one another in a beautiful way.
Mirror Monster On My Wall by Tam Nicnevin: This is the sexy, empowering alt-Regency fairytale retelling of my dreams! I love how Alice was able to triumph over the abuse from her tyrannical stepmother and the pursuit of a lecherous suitor, and found a group of queer monsters who accept her for her.
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan: A masterwork of queer Asian fantasy, one of the highlights for me was the exploration of gender identity. The protagonist takes on the mantle of her deceased brother, Zhu Chongba, and in doing so, takes on the path to his prophesied destiny and shedding her own previously aimless one. However, I appreciate that unlike other stories of women dressing as men to advance in sexist societies, there’s a real interrogation of her gender identity and sexuality, amidst all the brutality that she experiences as part of becoming a soldier. The romances, while not the central part of the narrative, are also compassionate and deal with the different narratives of queer people, from Zhu navigating a relationship with a woman and articulating her gender identity in relation to that, to the rival eunuch general Ouyang and his own taboo homosexual relationship.
Neon Gods by Katee Robert: This is the year I discovered there is a way to make Hades/Persephone work for me, as this is one of two books retelling the Greek myth that made my list. Persephone has experience of the world, and is a competent badass, while Hades is a secret cinnamon roll who worships her. And conveniently, both have a Zeus problem…and Zeus being the antagonist may just be the best thing about this book, given all the mess he caused that gets glossed over, because OMG, Hades is the god of death!
Fake It by Lily Seabrooke: This book is such a delightful warm hug! I loved the general cozy atmosphere, and the romance between Avery and Holly is everything! I loved this sweet take on fake dating between a restaurant manager and a celebrity chef, particularly the self-aware mutual pining, even if they knew they shouldn’t!
“Sold to the Duke” by Joanna Shupe (from the Rake I’d Like to F… anthology): While I did not rate the stories individually in the RILF anthology, that was more for the sake of practicality than anything else. However, the Shupe contribution of all of them is absolutely the standout, and would have gotten 5 stars. It took a premise that sounded skeevy at first, and flipped it on its head, emphasizing both Eliza’s dire situation and her determination to resolve it on her own. Blackwood is also a thoroughly decent man with regrets for how he played a role in the death of his friend and Eliza’s brother, and his path to redemption, while allowing him to assist in Eliza achieving her dreams without handing it all to her with his ducal influence was definitely a plus.
Big Bad Wolf by Suleikha Snyder: This is a stellar first outing for a paranormal/dystopian series, and that’s saying a lot, given there are some elements here I’m not the biggest fan of. The world building is immediately interesting, with how it reckons with our present dark world and its impact on marginalized people, and that was the biggest motivation for me to pick it up initially. As for the romance, I loved the dynamic between Joe and Neha, where she doesn’t allow him to revel in his self-pity, but instead challenges him to be better.
The Devil and the Heiress by Harper St. George: I love the way this book took the traditional setup of what you expect with a hero using the heroine, and subverting it. Christian’s self-awareness about the ickiness of his original intent is refreshing, and I love how Violet didn’t just give in because she loved him, but really made him work to show his feelings.
The Spinster’s Swindle by Catherine Stein: Inspired by Rumpelstiltskin, this is a “heroine seeking revenge” romance I loved. Lydia is an awesome heroine who evolves in a realistic way. And Max is incredibly sweet, and I love how he’s just so done with his father’s conman ways. And the bi rep! Both leads are bi, but I especially appreciated the rep with Lydia, as she is explicitly mentioned as having past relationships with women.
Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone: A delightfully original thriller, I loved the pure revenge against misogynistic evangelical Christian hypocrites. And it can be hard to make a character who openly calls herself a sociopath likable, but a whole lot of self-awareness and a dash of humor in the narrative voice make Jane a delightful protagonist. And as the book goes on, I adored getting insight into the mutually loving relationships she did form, in spite of her general detached demeanor. My heart hurt every time Jane reminisced about Meg and her fate, and I found her intimate relationship with Luke surprisingly sweet.
Drag Me Up by R.M. Virtues: More Hades/Persephone love! I loved Black trans badass Persephone, and big softie Hades! Both have family issues that are also so well conveyed (#ZeusProblems once again). And then there’s the world building in an alternate version of Las Vegas…absolutely awesome.
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao: High concept and absolutely an unexpected success (on the publishing end of things, anyway; we readers knew it was going to be awesome!), this book is epic. Sci-fi with giant mechas, while also being a love letter to Chinese history? Yes, please! The heroine, Zetian, is a delightful reimagining of the infamous empress of the same name, navigating a world with the odds stacked against her and ultimately thriving. And while romance isn’t the central focus, I just love the bi and polyam rep, which immediately makes it stand out from many of the typical tropey YA SFF books you’ve seen before.
What were your favorites of 2021? Feel free to share (especially if they’re some of the same books)!
When a spell saves her life by sending her to her mother’s homeland, Estyria finds herself in a world she’d believed to exist solely in bedtime stories – a realm where gods walk the earth, magic is real, and political intrigue strikes close and hard. <br/>As Scion to a noble House and caught in a competition for the throne, she has mere weeks to learn to navigate the murky waters of court and tangled loyalties. <br/>More than a crown and the well-being of a country is at stake. Two men are bound to her by destiny and their fates depend upon her choice. Sethalor, who holds secrets and memories lost to her, vows to defy the very gods to keep her safe. Aedrian, who agreed to protect her out of love for his prince, but comes to see in her a ruler he would give his soul to protect. <br/>Through assassinations, poison, and shifting alliances, can Estyria keep the realm, her heart and the people she loves safe?
I discovered Ekaterine Xia through Twitter and one of the Love All Year anthologies, and I had her on the list of authors I wanted to read more from when I had the chance. Phoenix Chosen particularly stood out to me, because of the dynastic China-esque setting, but with a magical twist.
The writing quickly immerses the reader into the world and the story, transporting the reader along with the protagonist, Estryia, to this new world. I really liked the explicit influences in the setting, and it feels really unique compared to a lot of the fantasy romances I’ve read thus far, taking influence from the wuxia genre and having a similar feel to a Chinese court drama series.
Estriya is a great heroine to follow, as like the reader, she’s learning about everything and taking it all in for the first time. I appreciate how she attempts to draw on what she’s learned in the past to navigate her environment, and over time, becomes more capable, especially as more complex challenges are thrown at her.
I also enjoyed her bonds with both Seth and Aedrian, as well as the one they have with each other. Seth tends to be very calm and collected, but he can be reckless when either of the other two is in trouble. Meanwhile, Aedrian is more aggressive and hot-headed, with somewhat…complex…feelings toward Seth, which are shaped by their shared history.
I did feel like the pacing was a bit uneven at first, with it feeling very episodic initially until somewhere in the middle when the main action picked up. However, while that did result in my engagement flagging a bit, I can appreciate it on a craft level, especially as it helps provide the necessary setup and context.
I enjoyed this book, and am excited to read more from this series. If you’re looking for a non-Eurocentric take on fantasy romance, I recommend trying this one.
Ekaterine writes love stories. Be it reuniting estranged lovers in alternate universe dynastic China or star-crossing lovers in a gigantic space-fading jellyfish, the end goal is the same: to explore love, its meaning, and the price of love.
She currently lives in Taiwan, home to some of the best food you’ll find on the planet and flying cockroaches. No, the two don’t quite balance each other out, but thanks for asking.
Victorian high society’s most daring equestrienne finds love and an unexpected ally in her fight for independence in the strong arms of London’s most sought after and devastatingly handsome half-Indian tailor.
Evelyn Maltravers understands exactly how little she’s worth on the marriage mart. As an incurable bluestocking from a family tumbling swiftly toward ruin, she knows she’ll never make a match in a ballroom. Her only hope is to distinguish herself by making the biggest splash in the one sphere she excels: on horseback. In haute couture. But to truly capture London’s attention she’ll need a habit-maker who’s not afraid to take risks with his designs—and with his heart.
Half-Indian tailor Ahmad Malik has always had a talent for making women beautiful, inching his way toward recognition by designing riding habits for Rotten Row’s infamous Pretty Horsebreakers—but no one compares to Evelyn. Her unbridled spirit enchants him, awakening a depth of feeling he never thought possible.
But pushing boundaries comes at a cost and not everyone is pleased to welcome Evelyn and Ahmad into fashionable society. With obstacles spanning between them, the indomitable pair must decide which hurdles they can jump and what matters most: making their mark or following their hearts?
I received an ARC from the publisher and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own.
The Siren of Sussex is one of my favorite Mimi Matthews books so far. I’ve always appreciated that she gives a glimpse of the world outside the ballrooms and glittering town- and country-houses, and this one is no different. She draws on a lot of true-to-life people and events from the Victorian era, presenting a perspective of what it was like, while also walking that line of making relatable to us in the present day.
I was intrigued, if a bit nervous, about Ahmad as a hero, especially given recent controversies around the way part-Indian characters and their identity are portrayed in historical romance, even by authors who share that identity. But while I can’t speak to the issue fully from an ownvoices perspective, I did feel like he was well-written, and his backstory in the context of colonialism portrayed with compassion. I appreciated that he didn’t let people, especially that awful Lady Heatherton, push him around, and while he has been through a lot, I love that he was able to find his passion for dress-making and tailoring through it.
Evelyn is a lovely heroine too. I love her passion for horses (even if I’m not much of a fan myself), and how that’s how she wants to distinguish herself, in lieu of marriage prospects. While I love the typical bookish heroines, it’s nice to have one whose pursuits are different. And I really felt for her as I saw the sad state her family was in, due to her sister’s impulsive, lust-addled choices, and the fact that the man she chose values money over honor. And given he has an equally unscrupulous brother, who Evelyn has a history with, I couldn’t help but feel like it was like Elizabeth and Darcy in the aftermath of Lydia’s elopement, if Darcy was actually as big of an ass as Elizabeth thought.
The romance between Ahmad and Evelyn is really sweet. There’s a sensuality to it as well, although it maintains Matthews’ typical closed-door approach. I really liked how sweet and tender it was, with most of the drama being external issues, like “how can we be together if I have no prospects and your family is on the brink of social ruin?” I really appreciated how they negotiated these problems, and the ending felt right for what I wanted for them.
There’s a subplot concerning spiritualism, and that might be the only part that missed the mark for me. I am aware of the craze that was taking place around the time the book is set, and did find it somewhat intriguing, but also felt like it didn’t “fit” with the rest of the narrative.
This book is beautiful, and I’m already excited for more, especially as it’s been revealed who book two is about. If you love historical romance and don’t mind low-steam/closed door, I strongly recommend keeping an eye out for this one!
USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats.
A bighearted novel about falling in love, making a mess, and learning to let go. When You Get the Chance is the next effervescent novel from Emma Lord, New York Times bestselling author of the Reese Witherspoon YA Book Club pick You Have a Match.
**Most Anticipated Books 2022 by Bustle**
**An IndieNext Pick**
Nothing will get in the way of Mille Price’s dream of becoming a Broadway star. Not her lovable but super introverted dad, who raised Millie alone since she was a baby. Not her drama club rival, Oliver, who is the very definition of Simmering Romantic Tension. And not her “Millie Moods,” the feelings of intense emotion that threaten to overwhelm. Millie needs an ally. And when an accidentally-left-open browser brings Millie to her dad’s embarrassingly moody LiveJournal from 2003, Millie knows just what to do—find her mom.
But how can you find a new part of your life and expect it to fit into your old one without leaving any marks? And why is it that when you go looking for the past, it somehow keeps bringing you back to what you’ve had all along?
I received an ARC from the publisher and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own.
When You Get the Chance is my second full read by Emma Lord (really enjoyed You Have a Match, temp-DNFed Tweet Cute), and like my previous read from her, I liked it. I did enjoy the other book a bit more consistently, but I found this one overall pretty charming.
One thing I appreciate, given how much of a hot-button issue this is in contemporary-writing circles, is that Emma Lord is generally aware of the media her target audience and teen characters would be familiar with, and uses older media in a creative way. While I admit, as a onetime LiveJournal user, it was a trip to have that serve as an clue to the dad’s past and mom’s identity (and I’m definitely not alone, given there was a panicked Twitter thread about how this premise made some people feel old a while back), I can acknowledge that I’m not the target audience, and Emma Lord and other YA authors today aren’t writing for me, while also saying I got something out of it.
That brings me to the centrality of parental relationships in this one. Millie’s relationship with her dad is lovely, and I wish that had been more of a focus, especially since he’s the parent who raised her. I did like that Millie was interested in knowing about her mom, but at the end of the day, while I did appreciate getting clarity on the mom’s reasons for leaving, I feel like that just reinforces the fact that her dad deserved more for being the parent who stuck it out, especially given the way it played into the conflict of him not wanting her to leave home to pursue her Broadway dreams.
I also really liked Millie as a lead in general, especially with her passion for the theatre. I love how she’s just herself without reservations. She’s loud and dramatic, but she’s also very sympathetic and self-aware.
The romance is quite cute, although I don’t know if it’s my favorite part of the book. It’s kind of an enemies/rivals-to-lovers thing, and I did like her and Oliver together, but I wasn’t necessarily in love with them as a couple.
This book is really cute, and if you like YA contemporaries, I think you’ll enjoy this one.
Emma Lord is the NYT bestselling author of You Have a Match and Tweet Cute, a BuzzFeed market editor, and dessert gremlin living in New York City, where she spends whatever time she isn’t writing or running or belting show tunes in community theater. She graduated from the University of Virginia with a major in psychology and a minor in how to tilt your computer screen so nobody will notice you updating your fan fiction from the back row. She was raised on glitter, a whole lotta love, and copious amounts of grilled cheese.
Fans of Netflix’s Bridgerton series will love this enchanting story of a spy who finds himself entangled with the most intriguing bluestocking—from the series that delivers “both emotional intensity and lush sensuality, and vivacious writing enhanced by ample measures of wit.” (Booklist, Starred Review)
Rafe Davies might seem like just another charismatic rake, but in reality, he is one of the crown’s most valuable agents. As relentless as he is reckless, Rafe has never come upon a mission he couldn’t complete. But when he encounters the intriguing-yet-prickly lady’s companion Miss Sylvia Sparrow while on assignment at a Scottish house party, he finds himself thoroughly distracted by the secretive beauty. Though most women would be thrilled to catch the eye of a tall, dark, and dangerously handsome man, Sylvia is through with that sort of adventure. She trusted the wrong man once and paid for it dearly. The fiery bluestocking is resolved to avoid Rafe, until a chance encounter between them reveals the normally irreverent man’s unexpected depths–and an attraction that’s impossible to ignore. But when Sylvia begins to suspect she isn’t the only one harboring a few secrets, she realizes that Rafe may pose a risk to far more than her heart.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own.
The Rebel and the Rake is the second in the League of Scoundrels series. It can be read as a stand-alone. I did enjoy this one a bit more than the first, so I’m definitely more optimistic going forward about Emily Sullivan as an author.
I liked the characters overall. I particularly liked the exploration of Sylvia’s political leanings. Her role in the anarchist and suffragette movements, especially with Sullivan’s added context as to the overlap between the two, is fascinating. The fact that her activities attracted scandal and worse was also exciting to me.
I waffled a bit on Rafe. He didn’t bug me in the same way the hero of the previous book did, but I still felt a bit rattled all the same. A random gardener is talking to Sylvia, a poor, “defenseless,” woman? Better go charging in without any further evidence! I mean, the gardener ended up being up to no good in the end, but there was very little indication he was a threat. I also found him trying to get Sylvia’s estranged brother to “give her what she was owed” more presumptuous than a romantic gesture. But I did generally like them together, even if I wasn’t super won over by then as a couple. They do make a pretty fun team, both romantically and as crime solvers.
The pacing is a bit on the slow side, especially in terms of developing the mystery element. While the romance is obviously the central part, I did feel like there was a lot of meandering along for a good chunk before things really picked up.
While I enjoyed this one only marginally more than the first, I definitely see the appeal, and I found it to be a fairly pleasant read overall, even if it didn’t exactly hit me in the feels. If you like historical romance with a bit of mystery, you might like this one.
Emily Sullivan is an award-winning author of historical romance set in the late Victorian period. She lives in New England with her adorable baby and slightly less adorable husband. She enjoys taking long drives, short walks, and always orders dessert.
Her other talents include baking chocolate chip cookies, correctly identifying guest stars in old Simpsons episodes, and not overwatering her houseplants.
A steamy fling with an old crush who doesn’t do commitment? What was she thinking! Find out in the conclusion to Reese Ryan’s Bourbon Brothers series.
What happens when you say yes to a bad boy?
Even if divorcée Renee Lockwood were willing to give love a second chance, she wouldn’t choose Cole Abbott. The sexy, successful real estate developer doesn’t do commitment. But he’s perfect for a no-strings fling—exactly what Ren needs now that she’s moved back home to raise her son. Mind-blowing pleasure with the man she once crushed on is harder to quit than Ren expected. Impossible, in fact. Is time running out before the bad boy bolts…or will the results of her experiment surprise her?
I received an ARC from the publisher and am voluntarily posting a review.
The Bad Boy Experiment is the final book in the Bourbon Brothers series. It can be read as a stand-alone, as I have missed all but one and didn’t feel too lost. There is a sense of it feeling a bit crowded with all the previous characters living their HEAs, but that’s par for the course for a series conclusion, and I’m excited to go back and read what I missed.
Reese Ryan always writes such engaging characters and such wonderful takes on familiar tropes. I really appreciated Renee’s character, especially in how it explored her role as a single mom to an autistic child. While I can’t speak specifically to the accuracy of the representation, the inclusion is great.
I also really liked Renee’s relationship with her grandfather, and how he really believed in her despite her challenges. And he’s implied to be a bit of a meddling matchmaker, as it’s his actions that bring her and Cole back together.
I really liked seeing these two people who’ve always liked each other, but things never happened due to them being on different paths, finally finding their way to each other. And it’s interesting how they complement each other, with Renee having a lot of drive, and Cole kind of being a bit of a black sheep of the family, at least in terms of not really excelling academically and not working in the same business with the rest of his family.
This is a great book, both in its own right and as a conclusion to the series overall. Whether you’ve read the series or not, it’s absolutely worth checking out, especially if you like category and/or contemporary romance.
Reese Ryan is the author of twenty published works of romantic fiction and counting. Her stories feature a cast of flawed, complex characters. She presents her characters with family and career drama, challenging love interests, and life-changing secrets while treating readers to an emotional love story with unexpected twists.
Born and raised in the Midwest, she now resides in Central North Carolina. She treads the line carefully between being a Northerner and a damned Yankee, despite her insistence on calling soda pop. She gauges her progress by the number of “bless your lil’ hearts” she receives each week. She is currently down to two.
Reese, an advocate for the romance genre and diversity in fiction, is the past president of her local Romance Writers of America chapter, a panelist at the 2017 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and the 2018 Donna Hill Breakout Author.
A captivating debut fantasy inspired by the legend of the Chinese moon goddess, Chang’e, in which a young woman’s quest to free her mother pits her against the most powerful immortal in the realm and sets her on a dangerous path—where choices come with deadly consequences, and she risks losing more than her heart.
Growing up on the moon, Xingyin is accustomed to solitude, unaware that she is being hidden from the powerful Celestial Emperor who exiled her mother for stealing his elixir of immortality. But when Xingyin’s magic flares and her existence is discovered, she is forced to flee her home, leaving her mother behind.
Alone, untrained, and afraid, she makes her way to the Celestial Kingdom, a land of wonder and secrets. Disguising her identity, she seizes an opportunity to learn alongside the Crown Prince, mastering archery and magic, even as passion flames between her and the emperor’s son.
To save her mother, Xingyin embarks on a perilous quest, confronting legendary creatures and vicious enemies across the earth and skies. When treachery looms and forbidden magic threatens the kingdom, however, she must challenge the ruthless Celestial Emperor for her dream—striking a dangerous bargain in which she is torn between losing all she loves or plunging the realm into chaos.
Daughter of the Moon Goddess begins an enchanting, romantic duology which weaves ancient Chinese mythology into a sweeping adventure of immortals and magic, of loss and sacrifice—where love vies with honor, dreams are fraught with betrayal, and hope emerges triumphant.
I received an ARC from the publisher and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own.
Daughter of the Moon Goddess draws inspiration from Chinese mythology, and pulls off the execution in grand style. It’s epic, evoking the feel of those classic epic poems in prose form.
The world is so well-conveyed and immersive, and I love the little tidbits of Chinese culture and myth that make up the layers of this story. It all feels so alive and drew me in.
The writing is gorgeous. This is Sue Lynn Tan’s debut, and she perfectly manages all the elements to keep the reader engaged, in particular plot and pacing. I did balk a little at the high page count, but I almost didn’t feel it with how much was going on. Even in the quieter, subtle moments, I didn’t feel bored.
Xingyin is a lovely character, and it was great watching her growth over the course of the story, as she faces down challenges to save her mother. And while that relationship is the most central to Xingyin’s arc, it’s not the only one. She forms valuable bonds with others which I became invested in pretty easily. This does include romance, and a bit of a love triangle with two different people. While love triangles aren’t my favorite, I appreciated the way this was executed, making both love interests viable candidates for Xingyin’s love.
I adored this book, and am excited for the next book and anything else Sue Lynn Tan writes in the future. If you’re looking for a beautifully written Chinese mythology-inspired romantic fantasy, I think you’ll like this one.
Sue Lynn Tan writes fantasy novels inspired by the myths and legends she fell in love with as a child. Born in Malaysia, she studied in London and France, before settling in Hong Kong with her family.
To spark interest in Avery’s restaurant, and to revitalize Holly’s image, a fake relationship is the answer to both their problems.
And the start of a pressing new problem: falling in love.
Avery Lindt finally opened her dream restaurant—and there’s no customers. She’s staying optimistic, though: she’s confident she can fake it till she makes it, roll with the punches, and find a way to save her luxury restaurant, Paramour.
But it gets harder when she gets restaurant mogul and star chef Mike Wallace angry, and finds herself on the other end of a campaign to shut down Paramour.
Celebrity chef Holly Mason’s show is in trouble: people are bored with her routine of helping struggling restaurants. Worse, her ex-boyfriend Mike Wallace is making backdoor deals trying to steal the starring role.
Luckily, Holly’s agent Tay has a solution: ditch her show plans for the season, throw their lot in with luxury restaurant Paramour against Mike Wallace’s racketeering operation of a restaurant partnership. The cherry on top? A fake relationship between Holly and Avery to stir up drama.
It would already be a mess if Holly and Avery weren’t already struggling to hold back their attraction for one another. Despite their promise not to date, the lines between acting and reality get awfully blurry sometimes.
Fake It is an 80,000-word fake-dating celebrity romance between a disillusioned TV cooking star and a bright-eyed restaurant owner who’s sure she can manifest a solution to her hard times if she believes hard enough. Features an agent named Tay who calls their brilliant ideas “inspir-Tay-tion,” plenty of descriptions of food that made me hungry while I wrote the book, and a cute bisexual trans girl who gets to fall in love. Content warnings for open-door sex scenes that get a little bit kinky, a gross man who won’t stop calling his ex-girlfriend babe, and sapphics getting in the way of their own feelings, like they always do.
I discovered Fake It on Twitter a while back, in a thread highlighting recent/upcoming releases at the time by trans women authors with trans women leads. Upon reading the premise more recently, I was intrigued. And having finished it, I think I’ve fallen in love. Lily Seabrooke herself professes to write soft, cozy, and sweet stories, and this is definitely that. It’s not without conflict, but it strikes that perfect balance of having problems for the leads to resolve, while also not being over-the-top dramatic.
I love both Avery and Holly, and their dynamic together is pure perfection. But they’re also fabulous as individuals. I love Avery’s dedication to her work, but also the self-consciousness and disbelief in Holly’s attraction, which was conveyed in a believable way without it becoming grating. Avery is also trans, and I love how that’s a huge part of who she is, but the story doesn’t fall into the trap of making her the target of hate just because she’s trans.
And then there’s Holly, and I love how instantly gone she is for Avery the moment she meets her. There’s the pre-established connection with Holly having previously dated the arrogant celebrity restaurateur/critic/host guy Mike, who is trying to sabotage Avery’s business, so Holly is already inclined to think well of Avery initially. But to see how the immediate attraction developed, and how aware she was that, despite her best efforts, she wouldn’t be able to keep things in the professional/“fake dating” territory with Avery was so great, and such a contrast to the way other fake-dating stories I’ve read have been executed.
I love the real sense of community among these characters, motivating me to make time to read the next book in the series. Olivia in particular was an unexpected gem, and I’m glad she gets some love in a newsletter exclusive short.
I loved this so much, and I think everyone should read it too, especially if they’re looking for something sweet that includes awesome sapphic and trans rep.
Lily Seabrooke is a lesbian, trans woman, and a writer of tenser, heartfelt lesbian romance. She lives in central Michigan with her family (an espresso machine and a houseplant), and she writes soft stories that make you feel good—they’re cozy little books to read in cozy little nooks, and she hopes they make you feel a little warmer.
She is most notable for saying “oh my gosh” a lot. Like, really. She says it a lot. It gets kind of old.
The author of the “sweeping, stirring, and heartrending” (Kristin Harmel, author of The Room on Rue Amélie) The Light Over London returns with a masterful, glittering novel that whisks you to midcentury Britain as it follows three of the last debutantes to be presented to Queen Elizabeth II.
When it’s announced that 1958 will be the last year debutantes are to be presented at court, thousands of eager mothers and hopeful daughters flood the palace with letters seeking the year’s most coveted invitation: a chance for their daughters to curtsey to the young Queen Elizabeth and officially come out into society.
In an effort to appease her traditional mother, aspiring university student Lily Nichols agrees to become a debutante and do the Season, a glittering and grueling string of countless balls and cocktail parties. In doing so, she befriends two very different women: the cool and aloof Leana Hartford whose apparent perfection hides a darker side and the ambitious Katherine Norman who dreams of a career once she helps her parents find their place among the elite.
But the glorious effervescence of the Season evaporates once Lily learns a devastating secret that threatens to destroy her entire family. Faced with a dark past, she’s forced to ask herself what really matters: her family legacy or her own happiness.
With her signature “intricate, tender, and convincing” (Publishers Weekly) storytelling, Julia Kelly weaves an unforgettable tale of female friendship amid the twilight days of Britain’s grand coming out balls.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own.
The Last Dance of the Debutante is my second attempt reading a Julia Kelly historical novel, and I found this one to be a much better reading experience overall.
The time period, being set in the late 1950s with World War II in recent memory, is interesting, and I feel like there aren’t nearly as many books that highlight the postwar impact in the decades that followed. And that it specifically followed the last “official” social Season, preceding the decline of the debutante, when I’d read so many books set in prior eras about it was a draw too. I love that Kelly depicted how the war and women’s roles in it shaped the worldview of some of the rising crop of debs, while previous generations of women still clung to it as the Way for their daughters, even though they too have lived through these changes and also had to navigate them.
I enjoyed seeing all of it through Lily’s eyes. Even if it’s more what her mother and grandmother want, I love that, at least early on, she tried to make the best of it and formed connections, including a few true friends. But her reluctance also gives her a sense of cynicism about it, which only grows as things wear on, and she realizes how ignorant of/numb to reality some of the people in society are.
There’s a big secret Lily learns about her past part-way into the book that especially colors this assessment, and my heart truly broke for her when it all came out. And the fact that everyone involved only thought of themselves, whether it be for the sake of self-preservation or financial gain? I was livid on Lily’s behalf, and am glad she got the last word in each encounter.
This book is fabulous, and I love the balance between the glitz and glam of the final, full social Season and the complex emotional turmoil of a reluctant debutante coming into her own. If you love historical fiction, you won’t want to miss this one!
Julia Kelly is the international bestselling author of historical women’s fiction books about the extraordinary stories of the past. Her books have been translated into 13 languages. In addition to writing, she’s been an Emmy-nominated producer, journalist, marketing professional, and (for one summer) a tea waitress. Julia called Los Angeles, Iowa, and New York City home before settling in London.