Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Review: All Fired Up

I just loved Dylan Newton’s novel How Sweet It Is when I read it last year (review here). I was really excited to revisit the characters and town in All Fired Up and Newton did not let me down!

Here’s the book’s description:
As a successful book publicist, Imani Lewis works night and day to promote her authors.  It’s her dream job, but she’s become a total workaholic. So when her grandmother invites her to stay for the summer as she recovers from surgery, Imani happily agrees. But being back in the same small town as her one-night stand may not be quite the relaxing break she envisioned…
Zander Matthews wakes up every day determined to enjoy the present because he knows from his time in the Marines that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. But he’s never gotten over the beautiful woman who blew through town a year ago, then disappeared. And he doesn’t want to be hurt again. So they agree to a deal: he’ll help Imani fix up her grandmother’s house as long as they stay firmly in the friend zone.
Whether it’s repairing tiles in his ceramics studio, dodging nosy neighbors, or soothing the most obnoxious parrot ever, Zander never fails to make Imani laugh. And soon their friendly banter is turning ever flirtier. But since Imani’s stay is temporary and Zander can’t be tied to anything beyond the most tenuous plans, will she be able to handle it when things get all fired up?
The reader has to get over some miscommunication in this romance because Zander and Imani refuse to have a full conversation about how they felt about their one-night stand and what that means for a relationship going forward. Sometimes that drives me absolutely up the wall, but I think I was in a good space when I read this one and I was able to let it go. I also really wanted the pair of them to work out and realize they were totally right for each other so maybe that allowed me to ignore their issues with communicating!

Thinking back, I think the relationship that stole the show in this book wasn’t Zander and Imani but Imani and her grandmother. Their bond was so strong and I love seeing relationships like that in books. I also just loved her grandmother so much! She was one feisty and smart lady and was too much fun to read about.

I was totally rooting for Imani and Zander to get together but knew it was SO important for them each to figure out their own lives first. Imani was clearly not happy at work, even though she was hella competent and so amazing at her job. Zander also had a great thing going but he hadn’t quite gotten a handle on the whole Adulting thing (not that I’m judging – I’m still struggling with a few areas of Adulting myself!) I knew once they sorted out their shit, the romance would follow and the pay off would be so worth it. (Spoiler alert: it was!)

The first two books were pretty connected with the women being best friends and the men being brothers. I’m not sure how book three will feel since we don’t know the third brother too well and there was no obvious love interest introduced. I’m still looking forward to it!

Content warnings in this one include the death of Imani’s mother in a house fire – which occurred when she was young but is discussed and there’s a triggering incident for her – and a complicated birth/labour scene near the end of the book.

I very much enjoyed All Fired Up and am eagerly awaiting Dylan Newton’s next novel. She’s created such a wonderful small town and characters that you just can’t help but fall in love with!

*An egalley of this novel was provided by the publisher, Forever, via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Monday, August 1, 2022

Review: Every Summer After

My word, THIS BOOK. It’s hard to believe that Every Summer After is Carley Fortune’s debut novel. I’m sure you’ve been seeing this one everywhere and let me tell you, my friends. The. Hype. Is. Real. If you read only one more book this summer, make it this one.

Here’s the book’s description:
Six summers to fall in love. One moment to fall apart. A weekend to get it right.
They say you can never go home again, and for Persephone Fraser, ever since she made the biggest mistake of her life a decade ago, that has felt too true. Instead of spending summers in cottage country, on the glittering lakeshore of her childhood, she stays in a stylish apartment in Toronto, keeping everyone a safe distance from her heart.
Until she receives the call that sends her racing back to Barry’s Bay and into the orbit of Sam Florek—the man she never thought she’d have to live without.
For six summers, through hazy afternoons on the water and warm summer nights working in his family’s restaurant, Percy and Sam had been inseparable. And when Percy returns to the lake, their connection is as undeniable as it had always been. But until she can confront the decisions she made, they’ll never know whether their love is bigger than the biggest mistakes of their past.
Told over the course of six years in the past and one weekend in the present, Every Summer After is a gorgeously romantic look at love and the people and choices that mark us forever.
It’s hard to say exactly what my favourite part of this book was. I just loved everything about it. The writing. The characters. The romance. The setting. The depth of emotions. Gah. SO GOOD.

So, let’s start with the setting. Barry’s Bay is a real place in Ontario, the province I live in. While I didn’t grow up in that exact area, my hometown is on a bay so I had no problem picturing the cottages and what life would have been like there. I loved how easy it was to place myself in Barry’s Bay and found myself kind of nostalgic for past summers, before adulting got in the way.

This novel is, essentially, a romance. But to call it such will signal, to some people, that it’s a simple tale. It is not. Percy and Sam’s story is far from simple, even though it starts out that way as they become friends, and then something more, after Percy’s parents buy the cottage next to the house where Sam, his older brother, and mom live. Something Major happened to cause the pair to break up and, while it’s hinted at throughout and I felt like I knew the reason, the actual revelation was a shock. The pair did not have an easy road to travel to get back to each other but reading as they figured it out was so satisfying.

There’s a lot of grief in this book. Sam’s dad had died a few years before he and Percy meet, and the reason Percy goes back to Barry’s Bay in the present is a tough one to handle. While I do think everyone and their cousin needs to read this book, if you’re going through a particularly rough patch, perhaps wait to read this one.

I really liked how the book was written and the story was told. It started in the present and then moved back in time. It all made sense, with each chapter clearly labeled so you know what timeline you’re in. The story moved forward with each past section providing more information and insight into the now chapters.

The Readers’ Guide in the back of the book was also a great read and shed a bit of light on the how and why of Fortune’s novel. Fortune and her family moved to Barry’s Bay when she was eight and, while her parents sold the house many years ago, she and her husband and children, rent a cottage nearby every summer. In the summer of 2020 (*shudders*), they were able to have an extended stay and she was hit with the need to write a book. Every Summer After is the result. I could feel the nostalgia when I was reading the book and learning more about Fortune’s background made it all make so much sense.

Every Summer After is a must read. I wanted to dive back into Carley Fortune’s debut novel the second I finished it and have plans to reread it next summer. Buy this book, read it, love it, tell everyone you know about it. You won’t be disappointed.

*A copy of this novel was provided by the publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Friday, July 29, 2022

Review: Read Between the Lines

You’ve Got Mail is one of my favourite classic rom coms. A lot of that has to do with how bookish it is but also because Nora Ephron was a genius. When I heard Read Between the Lines was a kind of sort of retelling of the movie, I had to read it. And, happily, Rachel Lacey’s novel gave me all the same feels that the movie did.

Here’s the book’s description:
Books are Rosie Taft’s life. And ever since she took over her mother’s beloved Manhattan bookstore, they’ve become her home too. The only thing missing is her own real-life romance like the ones she loves to read about, and Rosie has an idea of who she might like to sweep her off her feet. She’s struck up a flirty online friendship with lesbian romance author Brie, and what could be more romantic than falling in love with her favorite author?
Jane Breslin works hard to keep her professional and personal lives neatly separated. By day, she works for the family property development business. By night, she puts her steamier side on paper under her pen name: Brie. Jane hasn’t had much luck with her own love life, but her online connection with a loyal reader makes Jane wonder if she could be the one.
When Rosie learns that her bookstore’s lease has been terminated by Jane’s family’s business, romance moves to the back burner. Even though they’re at odds, there’s no denying the sparks that fly every time they’re together. When their online identities are revealed, will Jane be able to write her way to a happy ending, or is Rosie’s heart a closed book?
This book was a winner for me because of the homage it paid to You’ve Got Mail. Simple as that. Well – maybe not quite that simple. I enjoyed Lacey’s storytelling as well and definitely think the story could have suffered if a less talented author had tried to tackle it. There were small changes to the novel that I really liked. Instead of an online chatroom, the women “met” on Twitter. And Jane isn’t the owner of a big box bookstore but she is involved in the book world because she’s an author. And – get this – Rosie’s dog’s name was Brinkley! Too. Good.

I do have to say that I absolutely hated the third act break up. I knew it was coming and I was just so annoyed that it had to happen. I could tell the women had a lot of stuff they had to work out before they could really commit to a relationship together, but I think I would have appreciated them actually taking the time to work on it instead of creating more unnecessary drama. Given this is a romance novel, I didn’t dock my rating, but it irked me enough that I felt I should mention it. It’s something to keep in mind for mood readers like me who might not be into a cliched break up and Happily Ever After right at the end of a story.

Jane and Rosie had their differences, but they worked so very well together as a couple. They clearly cared about each other – even as their professional lives were at major odds – and, as a reader, you couldn’t help but be drawn to them, just as they were drawn to each other.

And I, like Jane, was also totally drawn to Rosie’s group of friends. Which is a good thing because there’s another book out in this series that features Lia and Grace, Rosie’s two best friends. No Rings Attached sounds absolutely delightful.

Read Between the Lines was such a fun rom com. Rachel Lacey will be an author I keep an eye on and I’ll have to read some of her backlist, too!

*A copy of this novel was provided by the Canadian distributor, Thomas Allen & Son, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.* 

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Review: Bloomsbury Girls

Natalie Jenner’s debut novel, The Jane Austen Society, was one of my favourite reads of 2020. When I learned she’d have a new book coming out this year, I was thrilled. Bloomsbury Girls won’t hit my top ten list for 2022 but it was a really enjoyable historical fiction that I loved reading.

Here’s the book’s description:
Bloomsbury Books is an old-fashioned new and rare book store that has persisted and resisted change for a hundred years, run by men and guided by the general manager's unbreakable fifty-one rules. But in 1950, the world is changing, especially the world of books and publishing, and at Bloomsbury Books, the girls in the shop have plans:
Vivien Lowry: Single since her aristocratic fiance was killed in action during World War II, the brilliant and stylish Vivien has a long list of grievances - most of them well justified and the biggest of which is Alec McDonough, the Head of Fiction.
Grace Perkins: Married with two sons, she's been working to support the family following her husband's breakdown in the aftermath of the war. Torn between duty to her family and dreams of her own.
Evie Stone: In the first class of female students from Cambridge permitted to earn a degree, Evie was denied an academic position in favor of her less accomplished male rival. Now she's working at Bloomsbury Books while she plans to remake her own future.
As they interact with various literary figures of the time - Daphne Du Maurier, Ellen Doubleday, Sonia Blair (widow of George Orwell), Samuel Beckett, Peggy Guggenheim, and others - these three women with their complex web of relationships, goals and dreams are all working to plot out a future that is richer and more rewarding than anything society will allow.
The biggest issue I had with this novel was that there were simply too many characters to keep track of. Jenner made that work with JAS but I had trouble caring about and connecting with every single character who popped up in this book – and I wanted to care about them all! They were all important in their own way, but I can’t help but think the story could have been tighter and better if some of the side characters remained strictly to the side and didn’t try to become a more developed character.

If you’re not a fan of slower historical fiction stories, you might not enjoy this one. I, however, quite like them and it was great to read and get a sense of what it would have been like in 1950s London, especially for women. The three main women, Vivien, Grace, and Evie (who readers will remember from JAS), were all so different and that made the story really interesting to me. They were approaching life in different ways but they were all hemmed in by the same rules for and stereotypes about women.

I was, unsurprisingly, a huge fan of the setting of this book. Not only that it was set in London (and I was reading it just as my sister was there) but that it took place at a bookstore. I mean, swoon! I desperately wanted to be wandering London with the characters and spending all my time working in Bloomsbury Books. It made my book loving, wanderlust heart very happy.

Bloomsbury Girls was a really lovely historical fiction title that I think many readers will enjoy. Natalie Jenner has a knack for finding interesting historical tidbits and weaving them into a story full of characters you enjoy meeting. I cannot wait for her next book!

*An egalley of this novel was provided by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Monday, July 25, 2022

Review: How to Love Your Neighbor

I had unintentionally missed reading How to Love Your Neighbor back when it was first released in January (can I blame a new school semester?). But once I got into Sophie Sullivan’s novel, I didn’t want to stop reading! It was a super fun read.

Here’s the book’s description:
Interior Design School? Check. Cute house to fix up? Check.
Sexy, grumpy neighbor who is going to get in the way of your plans? Check. Unfortunately.
Grace Travis has it all figured out. In between finishing school and working a million odd jobs, she’ll get her degree and her dream job. Most importantly, she’ll have a place to belong, something her harsh mother could never make. When an opportunity to fix up—and live in—a little house on the beach comes along, Grace is all in. Until her biggest roadblock moves in next door.
Noah Jansen knows how to make a deal. As a real estate developer, he knows when he's found something special. Something he could even call home. Provided he can expand by taking over the house next door--the house with the combative and beautiful woman living in it.
With the rules for being neighborly going out the window, Grace and Noah are in an all-out feud. But sometimes, your nemesis can show you that home is always where the heart is.
This wasn’t a perfect read, though, so I’ll get some of that out of the way first. Grace and Noah both had some serious parental issues. Grace’s mom wasn’t very maternal so Grace left home at 18. Her mom is toxic and continues to reach out for money. Noah, on the other hand, has an overbearing father who clearly wants to control all his children. Those are some deep problems to deal with but it sometimes seemed like it was just a plot point to check off. Like – how terrible can these parents be and how much drama can they cause for the couple before they’re able to rise above their upbringing and rule the day together forever for the rest of their lives? I just didn’t think it added enough to the overall story and every time their parents were mentioned, it kind of pulled me out of the book.

Noah was a bit of an ass when he and Grace first met but he was self-aware enough to (eventually) realize how his actions were affecting her. The book’s description paints this as more of an enemies-to-lovers kind of story. And they were, technically, enemies but simply because of logistics. Noah wanted the house. Grace owned the house. It was completely business, not personal. (But that wasn’t something Grace could wrap her head around, which I get.) So, I was able to get behind the enemies-to-lovers, a trope that’s usually not my cup of tea.

Noah and Grace were lovely humans, once you got to know them. They each have a certain, hard exterior they put up to keep themselves from getting hurt but they don’t realize the full extent of those walls until they start spending more time together. I was totally rooting for them and found their banter too adorable.

I hadn’t realized that this book is part of a series about Noah and his brothers so I’m definitely going to go back to read Ten Rules for Faking It and I’m really looking forward to A Guide to Being Just Friends as well.

And I just loved the design part of this story! It gave me all the best HGTV vibes and it was too fun to read as Grace designed Noah’s house.

How to Love Your Neighbor was a lot of fun to read. Sophie Sullivan’s novel is a great choice for a summer weekend (or evening…or anytime, really!) if you’re looking for a sweet and entertaining romance.

*An egalley of this novel was provided by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.* 

Monday, July 18, 2022

Review: Starry-Eyed Love

Starry-Eyed Love is the second novel in Helena Hunting’s Spark House series. In this book, we get to read about London, one of the three sisters the series focuses on. I was pleasantly surprised by the first book, When Sparks Fly (review here), and I think I enjoyed this one even more!

Here’s the book’s description:
Having just broken up with her boyfriend, London Spark is not in the mood to be hit on. Especially not when she’s out celebrating her single status with her sisters. So when a very attractive man pays for their drinks and then slips her his number, she passes it right back to him with a ‘thanks, but no thanks’. As the business administrator for their family’s event hotel, the Spark House, London has more important things to worry about, like bringing in new clientele.
As luck would have it, a multi-million-dollar company calls a few months later asking for a meeting to discuss a potential partnership, and London is eager to prove to her sisters, and herself, that she can land this deal. Just when she thinks she has nailed her presentation, the company’s CEO, Jackson Holt, walks in and inserts himself into the meeting. Not only that, but he also happens to be the same guy she turned down at the bar a few months ago.
As they begin to spend more time together, their working relationship blossoms into something more. It isn’t until their professional entanglements are finally over, that London and Jackson are finally ready to take the next step in their relationship. But between Jackson’s secretive past and London’s struggle with her sisters, London must question where she really stands - not just with Jackson, but with the Spark House, too.
I think this romance came along for me just at the right time. It’s been a little while since I actually read it (school really gets in the way of writing blog reviews!) so, thinking back, I’m not sure exactly what it was that made me bump up the rating for this book to 4 stars. You know me though – I’m all about how a book made me feel vs how “good” it is. I was all in for this romance and the fact that I was completely invested made me really enjoy my reading time.

There was a lot of miscommunication in this book. Neither London nor Jackson really share how they’re feeling as they’re both worried the other might not want the same things. Plus, London was hiding SO MUCH from her sisters. They have such a close relationship, but this novel showed that they weren’t really talking to each other. How did neither of her sisters realize how beaten down London was getting?

I really liked the romance – miscommunication aside – between London and Jackson. Normally I hate reading about billionaire heroes because there’s always a serious power imbalance between him and the heroine and that makes me feel icky. But Jackson was a solid dude and you could tell he respected London and truly wanted her and her family business to succeed. They had time to get to know each other as they worked as business partners before finally giving into the romantic feelings they had for each other. I think that allowed for a more solid foundation of a relationship.

I’m definitely looking forward to book three in the Spark House series after enjoying Starry-Eyed Love so much. When Helena Hunting does romance right, she does it right and this series is a great one to dive into this summer.

*An egalley of this novel was provided by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Review: A Curse of Blood and Stone

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you know I don’t read fantasy too often. What I do read often is every single book K.A. Tucker writes! The second novel of her Fate and Flame series, A Curse of Blood and Stone, is published today and I completely devoured it!

Here’s the book’s description:
From jewelry thief to interloper to queen-in-waiting, Romeria flees Cirilea a traitor to all. But the yawning distance between her and Zander troubles her more than any king’s bounty on her head. While Zander may have escaped by her side, he seeks to regain his throne, and no immortal will ever welcome her as Islor’s queen. She fears it won’t be long before Zander abandons her as everyone else she’s ever loved has.
Zander sacrificed his crown to save Romeria’s life, yet he dreads what her existence means for the future of his realm. As Ybaris’s plan to destroy Islor unfurls, a more insidious threat, orchestrated by rival fates, lurks beneath the surface. He can offer his allies no honest explanation for why he protects the Ybarisan princess and takes counsel from Queen Neilina’s caster, leading those closest to doubt his wisdom—and his allegiance.
As their company aims for the Venhorn Mountains, steered by prophecy, Romeria is desperate to wield her newfound abilities to undo Princess Romeria’s treachery before the kingdom tears itself apart. But with the mortal rebellion swelling, bolstered by the gift of Ybaris’s poison, it may already be too late.
It had been over a year since I read A Fate of Wrath and Flame so there were a few details of the world Tucker had built that I had completely forgotten. I was a bit worried at first, to be honest, that I had so many gaps in my memory. But I kept reading and all the necessary particulars came rushing back and I was immediately sucked back into Romeria and Zander’s story. I’m already jealous of the people who haven’t discovered this series yet and can read these two back-to-back. But be warned – you’ll feel just like I do right now. Which is impatient (already) for the next book in the series!

I don’t consider myself an expert on the fantasy genre so there may be things that aren’t “done” in that world but, to me, this book did what a fantasy should. It swept me away to a whole other world and introduced me to rules and creatures that we would never encounter. There were a few times when I found it difficult to wrap my head around who was what kind of creature and what curse affected who, but I tried not to focus on the nitty gritty details when I was confused and just went with it.

Tucker, being the kind of writer she is, not only built an intriguing fantasy world but created characters that I love reading about. Romeria and Zander each narrate alternating-ish chapters, both telling their story in the first person. Romeria has the bulk of the chapters with Zander’s many chapters filling in blanks and providing more tension and depth to the novel. There are two other chapters from two different characters that also let the reader know what else is happening elsewhere. You’d think that would all be confusing but it’s really not!

This is a fantasy romance (romance fantasy? Romantic fantasy?) so the love story between Romeria and Zander is just as important as the battle they’re preparing for in the world they’re in. The couple aren’t exactly a couple at the start of the novel and I wondered if they’d be able to work through the outside forces at play that were trying to keep them apart. Which is kind of amusing since one of the outside sources was a prophecy (prophecy? That might not be the exact word Tucker chose) that said the two were destined to be together. Minor spoiler (but, duh, it’s a romance): the pair do make up their differences which allowed for a few sexy scenes between them. *fans self*

I was completely hooked on A Curse of Blood and Stone from the first page and only got more sucked in as I read K.A. Tucker’s latest novel. I’m so glad there’s more to come in this series but it’s going to be tough to wait for the next installment!

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About the Author
K.A. Tucker is the internationally bestselling author of the Ten Tiny Breaths and Burying Water series, He Will Be My Ruin, Until It Fades, Keep Her Safe, The Simple Wild, Be the Girl, and Say You Still Love Me. Her books have been featured in national publications including USA Today, Globe & Mail, Suspense Magazine, Publisher's Weekly, Oprah Mag, and First for Women.
She currently resides in a quaint town outside of Toronto.

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My review of A Fate of Wrath and Flame 

*An egalley of this novel was provided by the author via Valentine PR for the purpose of a review for a blog and Instagram tour. All opinions are honest and my own.*