An utterly delightful and surprising family drama—think Moonstruck and My Big Fat Greek Wedding set in New Jersey—about a boisterous, complicated Italian family determined to help their widowed mother find a new boyfriend.
Lively widow Varina Paladino has lived in the same house in Wyldale, New Jersey, her entire life. The town might be slightly stuck in the 1960s, when small businesses thrived and most residents were Italian, but its population is getting younger and the Paladinos are embracing the change. What Varina’s not embracing, much to her ninety-two-year-old mother’s dismay, is dating. Running Paladino’s Italian Specialties grocery, caring for her mother, and keeping her large, loud Jersey Italian family from killing one another takes up all of Varina’s energy anyway.
Sylvia Spini worries about her daughter Varina being left all alone when she dies. Sylvia knows what it is to be old and alone, so when her granddaughter, Donatella, comes to her with an ill-conceived plan to find Varina a man, Sylvia dives in. The three men of the family—Dante, Tommy, and Paulie—are each secretly plotting their own big life changes, which will throw everyone for a loop.
Three generations of Paladinos butt heads and break one another’s hearts as they wrestle with their own Jersey Italian love stories in this hilarious and life-affirming ode to love and family.
It’s been a few years since DeFino’s The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses,) but it was worth the wait for this story of a big, boisterous Italian family, replete with New Jersey-mutated-Italian lessons.
The family includes a couple of sons, their wives, exes, and kids; Donatella’s best friend, a gay man abandoned by his Italian family and taken in by hers; and “Vicky,” the haunted record-playing Victrola. The family matriarch, Sylvia, is approaching her 93rd birthday and is worried about her widowed daughter, Varina. Together with her favorite grandchild, Donatella, the two of them cook up a scheme to attract single grandfathers looking for love as possible matches for Varina. Meanwhile, Varina books herself a secret cruise and finds a new best friend, her daughter gets a diagnosis that surprises no one, and a new baby is on the way.
Verdict: There are a lot of laughs despite the mayhem and drama, and of course, many family dinners (with recipes!) but it’s the love that permeates and elevates this terrific Italian family saga. Adriana Trigiani fans will feel right at home here. There is an older book, certainly less well known than Trigiani, and maybe even more food-centric but a good read-alike, Angelina’s Bachelors by Brian O’Reilly.
Vibrantly funny, endearingly sweet, and a love letter to all things rom com, Jayne Denker’s The Rom Com Agenda is a story of two people finding love right when they least expect it.
You know how the story’s supposed to go…but love makes its own plans.
STEP 1: Find yourself Leah Keegan is used to being alone, especially after taking care of her sick foster mother for the past year. But now there’s nothing keeping her in the sweet town of Willow Cove. It’s time to move on. Again.
STEP 2: Win back the one who got away Eli Masterson thought he and Victoria were meant to be together until she decided to jet off to Rome for a year. Eli is determined to win her back. But how?
STEP 3: Become a romantic hero Changing Eli’s physical appearance is easy, but to turn Eli into the sophisticated-yet-vulnerable ideal man, his girl pals force him to watch classic rom-coms. And take notes.
STEP 4: Fall in love? Inadvertently drawn into the makeover scheme, Leah ends up being Eli’s guide through the wild world of meet-cutes and grand gestures. Even though she believes Eli doesn’t need to change a thing about himself. Even though she just might be falling for Eli . . . and Eli falling for her.
A Most Anticipated Romance by Popsugar and Goodreads!
“You’ll be obsessed with every page.” – Cosmo
“Denker spins rom-com gold in this vibrant, genre-savvy tale… A funny and poignant ride, enhanced by sparkling prose and a stellar lineup of supporting characters.” – Publishers Weekly
“A sweet and slow-burn love story, showcasing in-depth knowledge of romantic comedies and featuring a supporting cast worthy of their own novels.” – Library Journal
This author was new to me and I’m so glad I found her! If you love watching romcoms, you will definitely appreciate this book.
Leah is working one of her many part-time jobs, painting a boat house. In fact, her nickname becomes “Kirk” and all you Gilmore Girls fans will get the joke. There is a couple outside the boathouse, and Leah overhears the woman saying that she’s ending things. Eli takes it hard, and his sister and their friends decide to help him win her back. It won’t be easy; Victoria isn’t just leaving Eli, she’s leaving the country and moving to Italy for a year. She does leave Eli with her cat, though. <eye roll>
The man makeover begins with buying him a new and more stylish wardrobe. Leah is working at Thousand Island Dressing, a clothing shop in this small Western New York town, and she is helpful in picking out some new clothes for him. Then she suggests they take the new stuff next door to have it tailored. Turns out Leah is the tailor, as well.
Somehow Eli’s entourage gets Leah involved in their project. There’s only one problem; she really likes Eli, and the attraction is mutual. Leah was placed in the foster system when her mom’s mental health declined so much that she was institutionalized. The last foster home for Leah was in this small town with Cathy, a foster mother who had a biological son and a couple of younger foster daughters. When she ages out of the system, Leah ends up back with Cathy to take care of her as she is dying from cancer.
We learn what an unselfish and caring person Leah is, and what a good person Eli is as well. Everyone can see they are made for each other, but Eli stubbornly thinks Victoria is the love of his life. Leah tries to protect her heart from him, but fails spectacularly. Until he comes around.
This was a really fun read for me. I loved all the romcom film discussions, the slow burn of romance, and the small town – even the severe winter plays an enchanting role here. I loved these characters, and seeing them find their happy ever after was positively swoon-worthy! And that’s not something I say very often (or ever!)
2/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch
THE ROM-COM AGENDA by Jayne Denker. Griffin (January 10, 2023). ISBN: 978-1250821485. 320p.
From Tessa Bailey—#1 New York Times bestselling author, TikTok favorite, and “the Michelangelo of dirty talk” (Entertainment Weekly)—comes a steamy small town rom-com about a starchy professor and the bubbly neighbor he clashes with at every turn…
Hallie Welch fell hard for Julian Vos at fourteen, after they almost kissed in the dark vineyards of his family’s winery. Now the prodigal hottie has returned to Napa Valley and when Hallie is hired to revamp the gardens on the Vos estate, she wonders if she’ll finally get that smooch. But the grumpy professor isn’t the teenager she remembers and their polar opposite personalities clash spectacularly.
One wine-fueled girls’ night later, Hallie can’t shake the sense that she did something reckless—and then she remembers the drunken secret admirer letter she left for Julian. Oh shit.
On sabbatical from his ivy league job, Julian plans to write a novel. But having Hallie gardening right outside his window is the ultimate distraction. She’s eccentric, chronically late, often literally covered in dirt—and so unbelievably beautiful, he can’t focus on anything else. Until he finds an anonymous letter sent by a woman from his past.
Even as Julian wonders about this admirer, he’s sucked further into Hallie’s orbit. Like the flowers she plants all over town, Hallie is a burst of color in Julian’s grayscale life. For a man who irons his socks and runs on tight schedules, her sunny chaotic energy makes zero sense. But there’s something so familiar about her… and her very presence is turning his world upside down.
“This sexy opposites-attract romantic comedy features witty banter, steamy dialogue, and well-developed characters… Readers will devour Bailey’s latest (after Hook, Line, and Sinker) in one sitting, then go back to again and again to pick up on its intricate subtleties. Highly recommended.” — Library Journal (starred review)
“With her latest addictively readable rom-com, the cheeky humor and full-blown sexiness that are organic elements in all of Bailey’s writing are in full, glorious bloom. The end result is a lushly sensual romance that brilliantly exploits the opposites-attract trope between a buttoned-up, by-the-book academic and a cheerfully chaotic Earth goddess-gardener for the maximum amount of love and laughter.“ — Booklist
“A haughty professor and a spirited gardener face off in this raunchy and enchanting rom-com from bestseller Bailey… The witty banter and gripping tension will make this a treat for the author’s many fans.” — Publishers Weekly
Bailey is one of my favorite authors, and I am thrilled she is starting a new series! The setting is a family winery, so reading with a glass of wine was practically a requirement (that I very much enjoyed.) I’m happy to say this book was unputdownable.
Julian is a professor at Stanford, but he has come home to his family winery and is staying in the guest house. He is on sabbatical, writing a novel. He craves the peace and quiet of the area, so when a beautiful young woman shows up, three barking dogs in tow, and proceeds to start digging around the yard, he is really thrown off his schedule. For one thing, he can’t take his eyes off of her…
A few years earlier, wildfires reached the vineyard. Julian saved his sister’s life, then had a major panic attack. His father was furious about his mental health issues (because that’s always helpful) and he takes off, divorcing Julian’s mom for whatever his reasons, and leaving his family vineyard in her hands. He is trekking around Europe and hasn’t been heard from since he left.
Julian has suffered from anxiety for quite a while, and the way he manages it is to keep to a schedule. Every day he writes out his hour-by-hour schedule for the day, and that brings him calm. Until Hallie shows up.
Julian is so strongly attracted to Hallie that he almost doesn’t mind that she has thrown him off schedule. Hallie has her own issues as well. Her mother is gone, and the grandmother who raised her has recently passed away. She felt like her grandmother was her anchor, and kept her in check, so without her, she is just living a chaotic life. Talk about opposites – Hallie is all lightness and smiles and chaos, and Julian is all dark and somber and rigid. What he doesn’t remember is that he almost kissed Hallie at a party when they were in high school, and she has harbored enough of a crush on Julian – despite not having seen him for fifteen years – that she is still a virgin.
The chemistry between these opposites is off the charts, but it takes a lot of laughter, some steamy sex, anonymous “secret admirer” letters, and a bit of serious angst before these two find their happy ending. I loved spending time with these characters and can’t wait for the next book in the series. Don’t miss it!
From USA Today bestseller and Edgar Award nominee Elle Cosimano, comes Finlay Donovan Jumps the Gun―the hilarious and heart-pounding next installment in the beloved Finlay Donovan series.
“Fresh, heartfelt and witty, Finlay Donovan Jumps the Gun is a twisty page-turner, and its relatable heroine Finlay Donovan is irresistible!” ―Janet Evanovich, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Stephanie Plum series
Dating. Diapers. And dodging bullets. Who said single moms can’t have fun?
Finlay Donovan has been in messes before―after all, she’s an author and single mom who’s a pro at getting out bloodstains for rather unexpected reasons―but none quite like this. After she and her nanny/partner-in-crime Vero accidentally destroyed a luxury car that they may have “borrowed” in the process of saving the life of Finlay’s ex-husband, the Russian mob got her out of debt. But now Finlay owes them
Still running the show from behind bars, mob boss Feliks has a task for Finlay: find a contract killer before the cops do. Problem is, the killer might be an officer.
Luckily, hot cop Nick has started up a citizen’s police academy, and combined pressure from Finlay’s looming book deadline and Feliks is enough to convince Finlay and Vero to get involved. Through firearm training and forensic classes (and some hands-on research with the tempting detective), Finlay and Vero have the perfect cover-up to sleuth out the real criminal and free themselves from the mob’s clutches―all the while dodging spies, confronting Vero’s past, and juggling the daily trials of parenthood.
“Fasten your seat belts . . . murder most madcap.”―Kirkus Reviews
“Finlay’s strong narrative voice carries the reader . . . This is good, fast fun.”―Publishers Weekly
“Readers who love fast-paced, action-packed mysteries should pick this up.”―Library Journal
One of CrimeReads’ “Most Anticipated Crime Fiction of 2023” One of Bookbub’s “Winter’s Most Anticipated Mysteries and Thrillers” One of SheReads’ “Most Anticipated Thrillers Coming in 2023” One of Novel Suspects’ “Most Anticipated Crime Fiction Coming in Early 2023” One of BookRiot’s “New Year New Mystery & Thrillers to Read in January”
I loved the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich, but I had to stop reading them. They became so formulaic and silly that it just wasn’t fun to read them anymore, as much as I miss those crazy characters. But in a few short years and three books, Finlay Donovan has filled that void for me.
Finlay is an author who writes romantic suspense, but her latest endeavor has her editor up in arms. She hates the book, and Finlay knows why. But she just can’t seem to make herself write the sex scenes that are necessary to complete the story. Finlay’s sister is a cop, and she suggests that Finlay and Vero, her best friend and nanny, go to this citizen’s police academy training camp. It’s for a week, they would live in dorms, and her ex will keep the kids. Maybe she’d pick up some useful information for her books, plus she’d get to spend some time with Nick, the hot cop she can’t stop thinking about.
Each of these books ends on a cliffhanger, so this one picks up where the last one left off. There are Russian Mafia, too many dead bodies. and lots of money at stake which just amps up the suspense even while we can’t stop laughing – truly a gift. These books are a little bit darker than the Stephanie Plum series, but they lean more black comedy than anything else. I found myself ripping through the book as I just couldn’t put it down.
These books really need to be read in order; the first two are available in paperback now. If you enjoy a fast-paced, laugh-out-loud mystery with a touch of romance, you will love this series. I certainly do.
He’s never been kissed, and she’s about to rock his world…
Bubbly actress Sam is on the brink of the bigtime — all she needs is one lucky break. But when she drops everything for the chance to meet Hollywood’s biggest star, she blows it by blurting out a lie.
Now, she’s got ten days to write an album with a man who wants nothing to do with her.
Shy electrician Jamie has never set foot outside Scotland — or his comfort zone. Then beautiful and vivacious Sam gatecrashes his world, and he’s unwillingly swept up in her grand plan. But though Jamie has the voice of an angel and the body of a god, he’s never even kissed a girl… and fame is the last thing on his mind.
As the songs emerge, so do feelings — but Sam’s determination to reach the top is matched only by how fast her lies are catching her up.
When the duo are offered the opportunity of a lifetime, the spotlight illuminates their glaring differences. Can Sam and Jamie face the music, or will fame tear them apart?
Musical Games is a steamy, slow-burn, grumpy/sunshine, laugh-out-loud, dual POV romantic comedy. Featuring an extremely hot virgin hero and a big-hearted heroine with a runaway mouth — there’s no cheating, no cliff-hanger, and you’re guaranteed a happy ever after (HEA).
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this series is a lot of fun, and this latest installment was a good read. It’s a contemporary romance set in the Scottish Highlands, one of my favorite settings. What is it about men in kilts? And let me add that each of these books stands alone, so start with whichever one you can get your hands on!
Sam plays a slut on a British soap, but when her best friend, Zoe, invites her to the Highlands to meet a superstar producer, she calls out with a “granny dying” excuse and takes off. Zoe has arranged for her to stay with a good friend, Morag, and her son, the super hot Jamie. Sam is a bit obsessed with him since Zoe sent her a video of him playing guitar and singing a beautiful song – that he wrote. On the other hand, Jamie isn’t thrilled that the gorgeous actress will be staying in the room next door. Jamie is 27 years old, and never even kissed a girl, much less anything else. He falls for Sam the minute he meets her, and she’s completely entranced with him, although no one would ever know.
Jaimie is an electrician by day, and songwriter/singer in his spare time. When he plays his song at the local pub, he is shocked when Sam starts singing and harmonizing along. When the Hollywood producer seems interested, she lies and tells him they have been working on an album together. He asks for a chance to hear it the following week; he is looking for music for the movie he is shooting.
Sam’s gift of mimicry gets Jaimie out of work for a week so they can work on these songs together. Sam is dangerously attracted to him, which could put a crimp in her plans to make it big in Hollywood. Jamie is recalcitrant and quiet, her complete opposite. But somehow they find their way together, but not without a lot of drama, fun, and sex.
This was a terrific read; fast-paced, funny, and just steamy enough to keep things interesting. I highly recommend!
1/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch
MUSICAL GAMES by Evie Alexander. Emlin Press (January 22, 2023). ISBN: 978-1914473074. 336p.
One of.. Amazon’s Best Romances of January · Buzzfeed’s Romance Books To Look Out For In 2023
When a couple starts to feel like they’re married to a stranger, a flirtatious game of pretend becomes the spark they need to reignite their relationship.
Eliza and Graham are anticipating an anything-but-sexy, weeklong getaway to celebrate their five-year anniversary. Nestled on the Northern California coastline, the resort prides itself on being a destination for those in love and those looking to find it. For Eliza and Graham, it might as well be a vacation with a roommate.
When a well-meaning guest mistakes Eliza and Graham for being single and introduces them at the hotel bar, they don’t correct him. Suddenly, they’re pretending to be perfect strangers and it’s unexpectedly…fun? Eliza and Graham find themselves flirting like it’s their first date, and waiting with butterflies in their stomach for the other to text back.
Everyone at the retreat can sense the electric chemistry between Eliza and Graham’s alter egos. But when their scintillating game of roleplaying ends, will they still feel the heat?
This was a very different kind of romance as the main characters are already married. They both love one another, but as they get ready to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary, they both are feeling the distance between them. When they are gifted with a week-long stay at a beautiful resort, they head out for the long drive.
Graham is a corporate lawyer who enjoys his work. Eliza is an audiobook narrator, an actor, who loves her job. The drive to the resort is fairly quiet and not very comfortable as these two have some serious communication problems. Eliza is hoping that this trip will help with that.
When they arrive, they discover they had accidentally been booked into two different rooms. Graham is shocked when Eliza says they’ll keep both of them. He takes the upgraded luxury suite and she takes the basic hotel room, then they decide to meet up in the bar for happy hour.
Graham is confused, he doesn’t understand why Eliza is doing this but goes along with it. He meets another guest at the hotel. David is there for a singles workshop for the week and provides Graham with a wingman and a new friend. The next thing you know, Graham and Eliza are pretending not to know one another, and a roleplaying game begins.
They spend the week getting to know one another all over again, in hopes they will be able to rekindle their romance. It was refreshing to see a couple who truly love one another work on their marriage without any infidelity or other drama entering their lives. Anyone who has been married for any length of time knows that marriages are not static – they have their ups and downs. It’s the commitment to one another and the love for one another that keeps things going here and I enjoyed seeing them find their way back to one another.
The book alternates chapters between Graham and Eliza, so we always know what the other is thinking. This is not a quick read – it is a long, slow process to get them where they need to be for their happily ever after, and I liked that it wasn’t a quick fix. I enjoyed this book written by a husband and wife writing team, which I thought unusual, especially for a romance. This one gets my recommendation.
1/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch
DO I KNOW YOU? by Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka. Berkley (January 24, 2023). ISBN: 978-0593201954. 352p.
By beloved USA Today bestselling author Joanna Shupe, the fourth installment in the Fifth Avenue Rebels series about a secret affair between a free-spirited heiress and an uptight duke which turns more passionate than either could have imagined.
A rebellious heiress.
A duke in dire straits.
An anonymous midnight tryst.
To escape the shackles of marriage, Nellie Young purposely ruined her reputation a long time ago. Now she dedicates herself to hedonistic pleasures only, like kissing a handsome stranger in the ocean under the moonlight…
To save his estate, the proper Duke of Lockwood must marry the perfect bride—wealthy, with an unblemished reputation. While in New York he’s the perfect gentleman, and no one knows he’s suppressing his darkest desires. The last thing he needs is another scandal.
Except Nellie sees through Lockwood’s charade, straight to the real man underneath. This uptight duke is far more than he lets on, and she can’t resist him. Their secret affair turns scorching, far more than either expected. And when his beautiful rebel finds an unconventional cause, Lockwood has to decide if he’s willing to sacrifice everything to keep her.
I read the first book in this series, The Heiress Hunt, and really enjoyed it. I’m sorry I missed the next two but will go back and read them for sure. This is the fourth and probably the last book in this series.
Nellie Young is the daughter of a railroad magnate who lost her mother way too soon. This is set during the Gilded Age, the boom years of the 1880s in New York City. If you’ve enjoyed the HBO show, The Gilded Age, you will feel right at home here. And here’s a terrific teaser: Teddy Roosevelt makes an appearance.
The Duke of Lockwood is desperate to marry an heiress. His father lost all their money, and all he has left is his home in London and his country home. And a mother who is waiting none too patiently for him to do his duty and marry rich. Unfortunately, the Duke has met and proposed to a few young heiresses in NY, but all those engagements were broken. There are lots more debutants for him to choose from so he isn’t too worried.
Lockwood had a serious illness as a child which left his heart weakened. The doctors prescribe daily exercise, and he chooses to swim. While in New York, he swims in the ocean, usually late at night. The book opens with such a swim, but in this case as he is headed back to shore, he spies a beautiful young woman – could she be a mermaid? As he gets closer she wraps herself around him and he realizes that she is both naked and not a mermaid. Nellie is completely enchanting, at least until she realizes that he is not the man she thought she would be meeting during her midnight swim.
Lockwood is immediately smitten, but Nellie knows who he is and that she is not the demure, scandal-free girl for him. She has been flouting the rules of society since her debut and is quite up front about it. Nonetheless, they keep running into each other and soon enough realize they have this incredible chemistry, so hot it consumes them both.
Nellie is bound and determined to help women learn about their bodies, reproduction, and birth control despite the fact that it is illegal for women to learn such things. It was an interesting parallel to what has been going on in this country since Roe was overturned.
There are many obstacles to overcome before Nellie and the Duke find their happy ending, and fun for us, they maneuver down a scorching hot road to get there. If you enjoy steamy historical romances, you won’t want to miss this one. I loved it.
1/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch
THE DUKE GETS EVEN by Joanna Shupe. Avon (January 24, 2023). ISBN: 978-0063045071. 384p.
I read most of this series last year, and I finally got the last three books in the series that I hadn’t read – thank you, public library! I really loved this series. There is a lot of humor and some steamy sex. The characters all overlap in these books as they are all members of the fictional Florida Fury hockey team, but they can also be read as standalones. I didn’t read them in order, and I still enjoyed every book. If you like hot sports romances, this is a terrific series. I was able to find almost all the books at my library – frankly, if I had a little more patience, I would have found them all!
Three professional hockey players from the Florida Fury attend a New Year’s Eve party at the team owner’s mansion and spend time with three very different women. As the countdown to midnight begins, each of them is hoping to start the new year off right with a kiss. But if that happens, does it mean they’re destined to see these women again? A sneak peek into Piper Rayne’s upcoming series, Hockey Hotties!
The one adjective used to describe my entire hockey career. I prefer to call it hard work, at least I did until my game went to complete crap. I haven’t scored in eight games and the team owner is talking about trading me.
I’ve never believed in superstitions. Never needed one. I suppose I was “lucky” in that way. But now the best way to refer to me is desperate. I’d wear the same socks for an entire year just to be the high-scoring center I used to be.
Imagine my surprise when after spending New Year’s Eve with a woman, I score a hat trick in the next game—that’s three goals in one game for you non-hockey lovers. Now, I have to track her down and bribe her to do it again before every game. Get your mind out of the gutter, I’m not talking about it.
I find her and when I get to know her better, I end up spending more time thinking about her than my game, but she’s made it clear she wants no part of me. She’s going to learn that I didn’t become a professional hockey player without having to fight for what I want.
One word that comes to mind when someone talks about me. I like to think of it as protection, watching out for the ones I love. But now I’m spending more time in the penalty box than on the ice and the team owner isn’t happy.
Finding myself across the room from the hot therapist I kissed on New Year’s Eve only makes me push my problems down further. I want couch time with her but not the kind she’s used to.
I decide to lie to her just to finish off my therapy so I can do what I really want—date her—even if she says she doesn’t date hockey players. Just when my therapy sessions are up and I’ve made some headway with Paisley, it’s my parents who throw another wrench in my plans.
If I abide by my parent’s wishes to marry the one they’ve chosen, I’ll lose Paisley forever. But if I go against my parents, I’m failing my deceased best friend all over again.
It’s Ford and Lena’s destination wedding and every professional hockey player joining them for the big day are ready to let loose. But between vacation hook-ups, one player falling into bed with the boss and a surprise guest at the resort, there’s more action—and complications—than any of them could have predicted.
Note to Readers: This is a companion piece to the Hockey Hotties series but does not have to be read to enjoy any of the books in that series.
I have a reputation for being tight-lipped. You learn quick when you become a professional hockey player to be guarded with the media, so I’ve worked hard to cover up the mistakes of my youth.
But when I’m traded to the Florida Fury, where my ex–best friend is the starting right wing, I’m forced to confront my past. Ford and I have a lot of history, especially when it comes to his little sister, Imogen.
My heart still lurches in my chest when I see her. My hands want to reach out and touch her. My mouth wants to keep apologizing.
She’s the only woman who ever made me want more. But she’s also the one who fell victim to my most regrettable decision.
I’m not a believer in fate, but I must be back in her world for a reason. I’ve fought for everything I’ve gotten and I’m not backing down from what I know will be the best thing in my life.
My mom always said you don’t get a second shot at making a first impression. I’ve remembered that my entire career. Especially since I’m one of the few black men who play professional hockey.
I’m calculated and respectful in the way I speak to my coaches, the owners, and the media. I’ve never taken a risk… until her.
I could blame it on the fact that for once I pushed away the pressure of my career for the ocean waves, the sand, and good times with my new teammates. But those are excuses because the minute I saw her at the airport, something lit up inside me and the best week of my life was spent with her in my bed.
After our week in paradise, we said goodbye, exchanged phone numbers and both assumed that unless one of us was flying through the other’s city on the opposite side of the country, our vacation fling was over.
Then one night after practice I see her. She’s here. In my city. Telling me she moved here for a job. If that’s not fate tell me what is.
I’ve never wanted a second shot more than I do this time, but she’s determined to leave what we were on the island we left behind.
The last thing any professional hockey player wants is to be the old man in the game. The guy who doesn’t know when it’s time to retire. Still, I can’t bear the thought of leaving the game.
This past year I’ve reflected on all my regrets, and I told myself that once I retire it’ll be the time to settle down and start a family. But this is where it gets tricky.
I think I’ve found her—my Mrs. Although she’ll deny our connection to anyone who asks. We’ve been sleeping together casually and since I’m still playing hockey, I’ve let her get what she wants—me—whenever she wants.
After being told my career as a player is over, the owner of Florida Fury grants me a shot to stay in the game. A coaching position I didn’t know I wanted until it was offered. The catch? He’s also passing the family business down to his daughter.
Who’s his daughter?
The woman who’s been in and out of my bed for the past year. Which means the woman I intend to make my wife is now my new boss.
A romance novel-obsessed social media influencer revisits her exes on her hunt for true love in this romantic comedy from the author of Set On You.
Romance book connoisseur Tara Chen has had her heart broken ten times by ten different men—all of whom dumped her because of her “stage-five clinger” tendencies. Nevertheless, Tara is determined to find The One. The only problem? Classic meet-cutes are dead, thanks to modern dating apps. So Tara decides to revisit her exes in hopes of securing her very own trope-worthy second-chance romance.
Boston firefighter Trevor Metcalfe will be the first to rush into a burning building but the last to rush into a relationship. Love just isn’t his thing. When his new roommate Tara enlists him to help her reconnect with her exes, he reluctantly agrees. But Tara’s journey is leading him to discover his own new chapter.
The more time they spend together, the more Tara realizes Trevor seems to be the only one who appreciates her authentic, dramatic self. To claim their happily ever after, can Tara and Trevor read between the lines of their growing connection?
One of Amazon’s Best Romances of January · A January LibraryReads Pick · One of Buzzfeed’s Romance Books To Look Out For In 2023
“The resulting romance is as sensitive and swoony as it is self-aware, playfully engaging popular romance tropes. This is a winner.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Lea’s follow-up to Set on You (2022) is a hilarious, relatable exploration of life and love, filled to brimming with soft moments, small gestures, and a clear love of the romance genre itself…A comically delightful romance about how the best love stories are found where you least expect them.”—Kirkus (starred review)
This was my first book from this author, but I will be looking for her first book, Set on You for sure. This one reads fine as a standalone; I didn’t realize it was even part of a series. What this book really is is an homage to the romance genre, and I loved that!
Tara is a romance book YouTube/TikTok influencer. She loves all kinds of romance, and even though her romances haven’t worked out, she is eternally positive that the right “one” is out there, just waiting for her. When her roommate gets engaged, she ends up swapping apartments with the fiance – he moves in, and she moves into his old apartment with his old roommate.
This is one the funniest meet-cutes ever! Tara is moving in while Trevor, her new roommate, is at work – he’s a firefighter and they work opposite shifts. Or so she thinks. Instead, she opens the door to find him banging someone on the kitchen counter. She ends up hiding in the bathroom and once he gets rid of the girl, they talk through the door until she feels like she can comfortably come out. Turns out that Trevor is a bit of a man whore with no interest whatsoever in any kind of relationship. He’s all about the one night stand – something that Tara has never had. As she points out, she doesn’t sleep with a man unless she knows his middle name.
Tara and Trevor are firmly in the friend zone, despite how attracted to him that she is. Tara is still recovering from a bad breakup; she was engaged to a doctor in the hospital where she is a nurse, but he dumps her shortly before the wedding. It’s taken her months to get over it, especially because there is no avoiding him. And of course, he’s already seeing someone else.
One of Tara’s favorite romance tropes is the second chance romance. In fact, her grandmother just got married to her childhood sweetheart, giving Tara the idea that maybe she should revisit her exes and see if anything can be rekindled. Trevor becomes her confidant and wingman, and he stops bringing random women home. They hang out a lot, watch TV and share meals and confidences. She learns about his background and why he is so gun shy of any kind of relationship. He bails her out of one bad date after another, and her feelings for him continue to grow. When he finally admits that he has feelings for her, too, they both find their happy ever after.
This was a really fun, fast, unputdownable and thoroughly enjoyable read. There are a lot of laughs, a bit of heat, and the characters truly come to life on the page. If you love rom-coms, don’t miss this one!
1/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch
EXES AND O’S by Amy Lea. Berkley (January 10, 2023). ISBN: 978-0593336595. 400p.
The truth about a small-town scandal is about to unleash one wildly unexpected romance…
Single dad Joe McCann is focused on running his ranch and raising his daughter. He has no desire to help Millie unearth his late wife’s past, especially if it means revealing painful secrets. Until his daughter teams up with Millie, and the widower cowboy finds himself agreeing to help them with their project—and opening the door to a deep attraction he thought he’d never find again.
Millie Parkman Dayton is still healing from the fatal car accident that claimed her husband and turned her into the focus of local gossip. But when she’s thrown together with the attractive rancher who shares in her tragic past, new rumors begin to fly in Last Ride, Texas.
SPRING AT SADDLE RUN by Delores Fossen. HQN; Original edition (May 25, 2021). ISBN: 978-1335549570. 352p
An unexpected inheritance rekindles a red-hot romance just in time for Christmas…
Janessa Parkman spent one long-ago summer in Last Ride, Texas, trying to bond with her estranged father, Abe. Turns out that was plenty of time to fall hard—and crash badly—for Brody Harrell, who managed Abe’s ranch. Everyone believed Brody would inherit Colts Creek one day, but now, fifteen years on, Abe’s will reveals the shocking truth—Janessa gets everything, and she must agree to stay in town for three months…through Christmas.
Brody’s attraction to Janessa burns hotter than ever. Though he refuses Janessa’s offer to give him the ranch, refusing her is impossible. Misunderstanding drove them apart once before, and secrets and betrayals run through both families. But what starts as a temporary Christmas fling might turn into a love strong enough to last every holiday season yet to come.
CHRISTMAS AT COLTS CREEK by Delores Fossen. HQN; Original edition (October 26, 2021). ISBN: 978-1335454577. 336p
Can two old friends rekindle the spark that brought them together when their pasts are littered with land mines?
The chance to be near his young son is the only thing that could entice former SWAT commander Matt Corbin back to his hometown. Matt has only a few happy memories of his tough childhood in Last Ride, Texas, and most of them involve Emory Parkman. Once his teenage crush, she’s now living in a cottage on his late grandfather’s ranch, which seems like a good omen…until Matt learns Emory is looking into his family’s history, a subject he’d prefer remained closed.
Emory’s wedding-gown designs are said to bring luck—to everyone but her. Though twice bitten by romance that went sour, she’s tempted to take a chance on the rancher next door. Emory and Matt’s long-ago attempts at love never got a fair chance, but all these years later, their attraction is stronger than ever. Maybe by unearthing some of his ancestors’ long-buried secrets, she can help him finally cast off the past’s shadows and prove to Matt that the third time’s the charm.
SUMMER AT STALLION RIDGE by Delores Fossen. Entangled: Amara (December 27, 2022). ISBN: 978-1649370952. 448p
This series was my first time reading Delores Fossen. According to Amazon she has written 239 books, and no, that’s not a typo. I think they may be counting each type of publication as a book – so the paperback, the audiobook, and the Kindle version would count as three books. Her author description says she’s sold over 140 novels, so either way, that’s a lot of books! It looks like she wrote a lot of those short Harlequin romances, and I don’t generally read those. I’m just glad I found her now – better late than never!
I actually read this series in order, but there is another book that came out in November that I haven’t found yet; Mornings at River’s End Ranch is book 4 of the Last Ride, Texas series and my library doesn’t have it. Yet. I requested they purchase it though, so hopefully, I’ll get it soon. Then in March, A Texas Kind of Cowboy, book 5, comes out. I already got the review copy, but I’m waiting to read it until I get book 4. There are a few more books coming out in 2023 so even more to look forward to! I do love a good Western/Cowboy/Rancher romance, and this series is terrific. There is a lot of drama with these well-developed characters, so I couldn’t help but care about them.
Even though I read these in order, they can all stand alone pretty much. There is a bit of overlap, it is a series after all, but nothing that can’t be understood. I have read other series out of order, and often you just know there are missing pieces of the story, but happily, that is not the case here.
These books are on the sweet side of romance with a lot of angst until the happy ending, but there is also a bit of heat. If you want a bit of sex rather than the complete lack of it in inspirational type romances, but don’t want tons of graphic sex, these books may be perfect for you. I read all across the heat index, but sometimes when it is one sex scene after another, or extremely graphic sex scenes, I just end up feeling like a voyeur, and I don’t enjoy those books as much. I guess I like a modicum of restraint, but not too much! I think Fossen finds a happy medium, at least in this series.
I am really looking forward to the next book, and I highly recommend this series.