JUST LIKE MAGIC by Sarah Hogle 

December 16, 2022

From the publisher:

The holidays were never her thing, until she accidentally conjures the Holiday Spirit…before her very eyes.

Bettie Hughes once knew the comfort of luxury, flaunting a collection of designer purses and an enviable dream home in Hawaii. That was before she lost all her money. Long obsessed with her public image, Bettie boasts an extravagant lifestyle on social media. But the reality is Bettie is broke and squatting in Colorado, and her family has no idea.

Christmas, with its pressure to meet familial expectations, is looming when Bettie plays a vinyl record of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” backward and accidentally conjures up Hall, the Holiday Spirit, in the form of a charming and handsome (if offbeat) man. Once the shock wears off, Bettie knows she’s stumbled upon the greatest gift: a chance to make all her holiday wishes come true, plus a ready-made fiancé.

But as some of Bettie’s wishes lose their charm, she finds herself thrown off-kilter by Hall’s sweet nature. Suddenly, grumpy Bettie is finding her heart merry and light. But the happier she gets, the shorter Hall’s time on earth grows. Can Bettie channel the Christmas spirit and learn to live with goodwill toward all men? Or will her selfish ways return as soon as the holidays are over?

One of PopSugar‘s Best Books of 2022
One of Country Living’s Best Christmas Romances 2022
One of PopSugar’s Best New Holiday Romances 2022
One of Buzzfeed’s Best Romance Novels 2022

https://amzn.to/3PxfYA4

If you can’t have a bit of magic at the holidays, when can you? Hall is some sort of spirit, the Holiday Spirit to be exact, come to earth in beautiful male human form to help Bettie get her holiday spirit back. She measures less than 2 on the holiday spirit scale, and he needs to get her back up towards 10 again. Unfortunately, I didn’t like Bettie so I didn’t really care if she had holiday spirit or not.

But don’t worry! Bettie learns to be a better person because of Hall, but I had to slog through almost half of the book before I started enjoying it. Honestly, the only reason I didn’t put it down was because Caitlin (a former reviewer here) recommended it. She also warned me it was slow going in the beginning, but because I read on a Kindle, and the Kindle provides stats as you go, it wasn’t until I had read 44% of the book that I started to like it. By the end, I understood why so many people are raving about it.

Bettie comes from a family of super successful people, starting with her grandmother, a retired movie star, and her namesake. Bettie is a social media influencer with millions of followers. She was also super successful until most of her money was blown by her crazy, out-of-control spending and the rest stolen by the people around her. She is pretty much flat broke, homeless, and feeling vindictive. She is squatting in a house where the owner had died several months earlier. She keeps waiting for someone to show up and kick her out, but her luck is holding.

When she accidentally spills something on Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” record and plays it backwards, Hall appears, her Holiday Spirit guide, if you will. She can ask him for anything and if she adds the magic words, “make my wish come true” he has to do it. Within reason. Apparently, there is “legislation” regarding holiday spirits that involve all sorts of rules. Nonetheless, he helps her get revenge on some people, conjures her up her own home, and goes with her as her fiancé to her family home for Christmas. She is wearing Elizabeth Taylor’s engagement ring, since she wished for it.

As Bettie and Hall spend time together and she sees how is able to charm her entire family of self-centered miscreants, Bettie’s own behavior starts changing for the better. Actually, her whole family is changing because of Hall. Bettie is full of the holiday spirit by Christmas Eve, and sometime during the night Hall disappears. His work here is done – except there are so many more things he wants to try, human/Earth-type things, and he really misses Bettie, and she really misses him.

There is some magic involved in getting Bettie & Hall to their happy ending. I loved the second half of the book enough to recommend it. If you like some holiday magic in your romance, this is the book for you.

12/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

JUST LIKE MAGIC by Sarah Hogle. G.P. Putnam’s Sons (October 4, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-0593539859. 368p.

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Spotlight Review: THE CHRISTMAS Wish by Lindsey Kelk 

December 13, 2022

From the publisher:

Can a little Christmas magic mend a broken heart?

Newly single lawyer Gwen Baker is hoping that a family Christmas―countryside, a mountain of food and festive films―will salve the sting of her career hanging by a thread and her heart being trampled on. Because everyone else has their life sorted: even Dev, her boy-next-door crush, is now a tall, dark and handsome stranger with a fiancée. She can’t help wishing her future was clearer.

Then Gwen wakes up to discover it’s Christmas day all over again. Like Groundhog Day but with eggnog. And family arguments. On repeat.

As she figures out how to escape her own particular Christmas hell, Dev is the one bright spot. He might be all grown-up but underneath he’s just as kind and funny as she remembers.

Maybe, just maybe, her heart can be mended after all.

But how do you fall in love with someone who can’t remember you from one day to the next?

https://amzn.to/3hb7YrK

Groundhog Day is one of my favorite movies; we watch it every February! So I was happy and a tiny bit scared to read this Christmas version. What if I hated it?? But I am happy to say that I worried for nothing. I loved this book!

This is a very British romcom, full of quirky characters, foods I had to look up (Hobnob is a cookie, I learned,) and a wonderful family that celebrates Christmas together every year, despite the fights and feuds. Gwen is the youngest daughter and as such, has always felt competitive with her older sister, Cerys. Cerys is beautiful, a lawyer like their father. and married to a misogynistic man. Gwen is also a lawyer, working for one of the top law firms in London, making her father very proud. Except she hates her job, and after a client put his hands on her, she clocked him and ended up basically suspended for two weeks. Her boyfriend of a few years just dumped her after admitting to having an affair with his receptionist, so Gwen is struggling, to say the least.

Christmas is always hectic at home, but one crazy thing after another happens, and when Gwen wakes up the next day, she is shocked to find out it is Christmas day. Again. And it keeps happening. Gwen is convinced that one of the family made a Christmas wish on the sixpence her mother baked into the Christmas pudding, but no one is admitting to getting it. She decides the only way to get out of this time loop is to make sure everyone’s wishes come true.

The only bright spot in all of this is that in trying to find out their wishes, Gwen also learns a lot about her family. Plus all the craziness is laugh-out-loud funny. It also gives Gwen time to reconnect with Dev, the boy next door that she had a massive crush on all through high school. They lost touch and hadn’t seen one another in about ten years. Rumor has it that he’s engaged, so Gwen is determined to keep her distance and not be the other woman, but it’s not going to be easy.

This book is such a fun read that I don’t want to give anything away. If you are looking for a Christmas romance that will have you laughing and smiling all the way through it, then this is the book for you. It certainly was for me – I loved it!

12/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE CHRISTMAS Wish by Lindsey Kelk. HarperFiction (November 15, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-0008544645. 352p.

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LAST CIRCLE OF LOVE by Lorna Landvik

December 9, 2022

From the publisher:

A funny, heartwarming story about a feisty group of women who shake, spice, and heat things up with a “recipe” book for romance, from the bestselling author of Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons.

Newly installed at All Souls Lutheran, Mallory “Pastor Pete” Peterson soon realizes that her church isn’t merely going through turbulent waters, but is a sinking ship. With the help of five loyal members of the Naomi Circle, the young, bold minister brainstorms fundraising ideas. They all agree that the usual recipe book won’t add much to the parish coffers, but maybe one with all the ingredients on how to heat up relationships rather than casseroles will…

Pastor Pete has her doubts about the project, but it turns out the group of postmenopausal women has a lot to say on the subject of romance. While Charlene, the youngest member at fifty-two, struggles with the assignment, baker-extraordinaire Marlys, elegantly bohemian Bunny, I’m-always-right Velda, and ebullient Edie take up their contributions enthusiastically. After all, their book is really about cooking up love in all its forms.

But not everyone in the congregation is on board with this “scandalous” project. As the voices of opposition grow louder, Pastor Pete and these intrepid women will have to decide how hard they’re willing to fight for this book and the powerful stories within―stories of discovery, softened hearts, and changed lives.

https://amzn.to/3K3dM0g

A women’s group at a struggling church is at the heart of this new novel from Landvik (Chronicles of a Radical Hag, Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons.) Set in a small town with two competing churches, All Souls has a newish, young pastor but a declining population, while the newer, richer church across town is thriving. Pastor Pete has a young child, but luckily, her husband is a stay-at-home parent so she can spend more time caring for her flock. Determined to raise needed funds, the women ditch their usual bake sale and cookbook fundraiser for a try at a book they are tentatively calling, “The ABC’s of Erotica.” Each woman will contribute, along with anyone else they can wrangle into helping. The entries have more of a sweet romance tilt and a distinct lack of erotica, but the name alone gets people talking. Landvik usually excels at creating novels with quirky characters and small-town charm, but there are so many characters and subplots here that the charm gets short shrift. 

Verdict: Church-goers will recognize these characters and feel at home here. Should delight Fannie Flagg or Debbie Macomber fans.

©Library Journal, 2022

12/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

LAST CIRCLE OF LOVE by Lorna Landvik. Lake Union Publishing (December 6, 2022). ISBN: 978-1662506260. 288p.

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A CALIFORNIA CHRISTMAS by Brenda Novak 

December 9, 2022

Silver Springs, Book 7

From the publisher:

Spend the holidays in Silver Springs, where the greatest gift of all is the love you never expected.

Up-and-coming TV anchor Emery Bliss can’t imagine anything more humiliating than the sex tape her ex revenge-posted online. That is, until it causes her to lose her job on top of her self-esteem. Seeking solace—and anonymity—in Silver Springs, Emery isn’t looking to get involved with another man any time soon. But when she’s thrown back into contact with Dallas Turner, she sees something that his many detractors have missed.

Being home for the holidays and his adoptive mother’s wedding isn’t where mountain climber Dallas feels most comfortable. Thanks to his troubled childhood, he’d rather be on a rock face alone than trying to connect with people. Emery, however, makes him want to overcome his past…somehow.

Both Emery and Dallas had been planning on a quiet, solitary Christmas, but the sparks between them are lighting a fire strong enough to last—possibly forever.

https://amzn.to/3W5sd9b

With this book, I think I am all caught up on this series, which is good, but also makes me sad. Hopefully, there will be more – I’m not ready to leave Silver Springs behind.

Emery’s co-anchor and boyfriend doesn’t react very well when she dumps him for being a controlling jerk. He has a secret sex tape with her that he releases online – revenge porn, especially difficult for someone in the public eye. Emery is devastated that he could do something like that to her, but he denies it. Instead, he blames his housemate. But he would have no reason to tape them (he’s gay) or leak the tape, but there’s really nothing to be done.

Then things go from bad to worse when she is fired from the TV station where she thought she would be launching her career. The boyfriend gets fired, too, but then rehired a short time later. Emery is livid and eventually hires a lawyer to sue the station for wrongful termination. Meanwhile, she goes home to Silver Springs for some solitude while she considers her next move.

Dallas is a world-renowned mountain climber, taking risks that most people don’t. He has been climbing for years, but finally has a sponsor, so the money is pouring in now. He goes home for Christmas, to the New Horizons school that his mom runs. He was one of the troubled boys she adopted, and he feels honored to help her out by teaching the boys to climb.

When Dallas and Emery meet up, the chemistry is palpable, but she doesn’t know what her future will bring, and he is bound to be alone, climbing his mountains. They have a lot to conquer to find their happy ending, but in Novak’s hands, a happy ending is guaranteed. Another terrific holiday romance from one of my favorite authors!

Silver Springs series in order:

  1. Finding Our Forever
  2. No One But You
  3. Until You Loved Me
  4. Right Where We Belong
  5. Unforgettable You
  6. Christmas in Silver Springs
  7. A California Christmas
  8. Home for the Holidays (novella)
  9. When I Found You
  10. Keep Me Warm at Christmas

12/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

A CALIFORNIA CHRISTMAS by Brenda Novak. MIRA; Original edition (October 13, 2020). ISBN:‎ 978-0778310129. 368p.

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KEEP ME WARM AT CHRISTMAS by Brenda Novak 

December 9, 2022

Silver Springs, Book 10

From the publisher:

Maybe this Christmas can thaw his frozen heart—and heal hers.

Hollywood starlet Tia Beckett knows one moment can change your life. Her career had been on the fast track before a near-fatal accident left her with a debilitating facial scar. Certain her A-lister dreams are over, she agrees to house-sit at her producer’s secluded estate in Silver Springs. It’s the escape from the limelight Tia’s been craving, until she discovers she’s not the only houseguest for the holidays. And her handsome new roomie is impossible to ignore.

Artist Seth Turner has good reason to keep his distance. Losing his wife after only a few years of marriage has left a deep scar, even if he is still happy to spend a semester teaching art classes at the New Horizons Boys Ranch for troubled teens. Despite nursing her own wounds, Tia finds her curiosity piqued by enigmatic Seth, whom she recognizes as something of a kindred soul. Maybe spending Christmas together could be another game changer for both of them—this time, for good.

https://amzn.to/3Hlf2Nk

I love Brenda Novak and I love this series, and somehow I missed this book! If I haven’t read it, it’s new to me and I’m always happy to find a new book to love! In a way, I feel lucky that I missed this when it came out, because this season I get to read THREE Brenda Novak Christmas romances! I started with Christmas in Silver Springs, now this one, and up next, A California Christmas. Life is good!

Seth and Tia are two scarred individuals; both have emotional scars, but Tia’s stems from a horrific car accident that has left her with bad scarring on half her face. That would make anyone unhappy, but Tia is an actress who recently had her first big break, a starring role in a movie that is generating lots of Oscar buzz. But with her looks gone, she knows her career is over, almost before it started. She is being hounded by the paparazzi, all gunning for a picture of her damaged face, so when the producer of her film offers up his home in Silver Springs if she would agree to water the plants and take care of his bird, she jumps at the chance to hide. And off she goes.

Seth grew up with some serious issues, and that landed him at New Horizons, a school for troubled boys where the owner eventually adopts him. He becomes one of eight boys that she has adopted, all troubled, and she gives them the love and guidance that was lacking in their lives. Turns out Seth has a real talent for art, and his career takes off when he is a young man. He married the love of his life, but a few years later, she dies, leaving him bereft. It’s been a few years, but he is still married in his heart, certain he will never meet anyone else, and nor does he want to.

Tia and Seth recognize the trauma they each have faced and eventually form a tentative, somewhat friendly relationship. And then it becomes more. But can they both overcome their tragedies and find a future together? At Christmastime, anything is possible!

I loved these characters and it is always a joy to be back in Silver Springs. These books stand alone pretty well, but I think maybe start with the first one to get the backstory, then move on to any of the others. I have been jumping around and still have another one to go, but I have loved all of these books. If you like romances with some substance, then this series is perfect for you. It was for me.

Silver Springs series in order:

  1. Finding Our Forever
  2. No One But You
  3. Until You Loved Me
  4. Right Where We Belong
  5. Unforgettable You
  6. Christmas in Silver Springs
  7. A California Christmas
  8. Home for the Holidays (novella)
  9. When I Found You
  10. Keep Me Warm at Christmas

11/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

KEEP ME WARM AT CHRISTMAS by Brenda Novak. MIRA; Original edition (September 28, 2021). ISBN:‎ 978-0778311256. 416p.

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SHIP WRECKED by Olivia Dade 

December 9, 2022

From the publisher:

After All the Feels and Spoiler Alert, Olivia Dade once again delivers a warm and wonderful romantic comedy about two co-stars who once had an incredible one-night stand—and after years of filming on the same remote island, are finally ready to yield to temptation again…

Maria’s one-night-stand—the thick-thighed, sexy Viking of a man she left without a word or a note—just reappeared. Apparently, Peter’s her surly Gods of the Gates co-star, and they’re about to spend the next six years filming on a desolate Irish island together. She still wants him…but he now wants nothing to do with her.

Peter knows this role could finally transform him from a forgettable character actor into a leading man. He also knows a failed relationship with Maria could poison the set, and he won’t sabotage his career for a woman who’s already walked away from him once. Given time, maybe they can be cooperative colleagues or friends—possibly even best friends—but not lovers again. No matter how much he aches for her.

For years, they don’t touch off-camera. But on their last night of filming, their mutual restraint finally shatters, and all their pent-up desire explodes into renewed passion. Too bad they still don’t have a future together, since Peter’s going back to Hollywood, while Maria’s returning to her native Sweden. She thinks she needs more than he can give her, but he’s determined to change her mind, and he’s spent the last six years waiting. Watching. Wanting.

His shipwrecked Swede doesn’t stand a chance.

“a smart, stellar contemporary… A banger of a finish, and an absolute joy.”  — New York Times Book Review

“a sexy, funny, heartwarming enemies-to-friends-to-lovers romance… The story pulls readers in with well-developed, likable characters, and an unputdownable plot.” — Library Journal (starred review)

“Dade returns with another superbly entertaining, boldly sensual love story that unabashedly champions body positivity and delivers a cast of unforgettable characters, including a heroine who knows her own self-worth and isn’t afraid to fight for what she wants in life. Combine this with wit-infused writing and some love scenes hot enough to keep any Viking couple warm during those cold winter nights, and the result is another impactful romantic triumph from Dade.” — Booklist

https://amzn.to/3Vdm8rf

Can a career-driven man make room in his heart and home for a woman who may be stronger than he is? Why yes, yes he can, only the timing has to be just right. Peter and Maria meet one night in a sauna and the attraction is undeniable. They end up in bed together, but when Peter wakes up the next morning, Maria is gone. She didn’t leave a note, he doesn’t even know her last name or why she even left. He really wanted to see more of her, but that ship has sailed. Until he goes to audition for a leading role in a hit Game of Thrones type series.

Peter lands the part and his co-star and love interest is none other than Maria. Both of these characters describe themselves as tall and fat, so they are surprised the network is going with them. Maria is smart enough to know that she needs safeguards in her contract to prevent the studio from forcing her to lose weight, and when that does come up moving into the second season, she stands her ground. Peter, on the other hand, is willing to do whatever the studio wants to keep his job. Luckily for him, Maria prevails.

Since they are working so closely together on a deserted island off of Ireland, with a small crew, for a six-year gig, they form a friendship. Peter is so career-focused that he knows he has to keep his hands off Maria, as much as he wants her because it could ruin the TV show. But on the last night of filming, he makes his move. Being best friends throughout the six years of the series was great, but once the sex becomes part of their relationship, you know these two are going to be happy forever. Except…

Maria moves into Peter’s home in an exclusive part of Los Angeles. But when he is offered the lead on a CSI-type show, he accepts, even though it will mean he will be away from Maria for months on end for the three years of his contract. She is smart and strong enough to know that she will not be happy under those circumstances, so she leaves him and goes back home to Sweden to spend time with her very close-knit family.

That should be the end of things, but of course, it isn’t – this is a romance, after all! And it’s a really good one with well-developed characters who learn and grow and eventually find their happy ending, but not before there is a lot of angst, laughs, and some steamy sex. Dade delivers another terrific romance that is in a class by itself; the lovers-to-enemies-to-friends-to-lovers romance. Don’t miss it!

12/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

SHIP WRECKED by Olivia Dade. Avon (November 15, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-0063215870. 416p.

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Spotlight Review: WELL TRAVELED by Jen DeLuca 

December 6, 2022

Well Met, Book 4

From the publisher:

One of Amazon’s Best Romances of December
An Indie Next Pick
A December LibraryReads Pick

The Renaissance Faire is on the move, and Lulu and Dex are along for the ride, in the next utterly charming rom-com from Jen DeLuca.

A high-powered attorney from a success-oriented family, Louisa “Lulu” Malone lives to work, and everything seems to be going right, until the day she realizes it’s all wrong. Lulu’s cousin Mitch introduced her to the world of Renaissance Faires, and when she spies one at a time just when she needs an escape, she leaps into the welcoming environment of turkey legs, taverns, and tarot readers. The only drawback? Dex MacLean: a guitarist with a killer smile, the Casanova of the Faire… and her traveling companion for the summer.

Dex has never had to work for much in his life, and why should he? Touring with his brothers as The Dueling Kilts is going great, and he always finds a woman at every Faire. But when Lulu proves indifferent to his many plaid charms and a shake-up threatens the fate of the band, Dex must confront something he never has before: his future.

Forced to spend days and nights together on the road, Lulu’s interest in the kilted bad boy grows as he shows her a side of himself no one else has seen. The stresses of her old lifestyle fade away as she learns to trust her intuition and follow her heart instead of her head. But when her time on the road is over, will Lulu go with her gut, or are she and Dex destined for separate paths?

https://amzn.to/3VxcKi5

This is one of my favorite series, and it’s not because I love Renaissance Faires; in fact, I’ve never been to one. I used to know a guy who worked in one, traveling all over the west coast for a few years, until he got a real job. And I love the Gilmore Girls, and there is a RenFaire connection there (which I just rewatched for the hundredth time!) But honestly, I give all the credit for my delight in RenFaires to the author, Jen DeLuca. While I probably still won’t go to one, I love her books that are set there.

Louisa is an attorney who has been busting her butt to make partner for five years now. She has watched one white guy after another, usually with way less experience than she has, move up the ladder. One of the founding partners is a woman, but the one case she worked on with her didn’t lead anywhere. She is sent to North Carolina to take a deposition and her boss is driving her crazy for this interview that really won’t have any bearing on the case. She has a day to kill and there is a Renaissance Faire in town. Her cousin runs the one in the small town in Maryland where she lives, so she is familiar.

At her wit’s end after several phone calls from her boss, she finally confronts him and he admits that they are promoting a guy who has half the experience she has. She quits her job and hangs up on her boss. Infuriated, she ends up throwing her phone into a tub of water where the “laundry girls” are working, one of the shows at the RenFaire. Stacey happens to be there, and Louisa knows her from her cousin’s RenFaire. Stacey gives her the hug she needs and suggests she take some time off from the real world, and hang with her at the Faire. Louisa agrees, and her life changes immediately.

For one thing, she doesn’t have a phone. She is unplugged and off the grid, and finds she likes hanging with Stacey, her boyfriend and all their friends. Except for Dex. He is a musician with the Dueling Kilts and hooks up with a new girl at every faire. Everyone warns her away from him. But once he gets the message that she’s not going to be one of his girls, he finds that he likes just hanging out and talking with her. And she likes hanging out with him.

Dex and Lulu, the nickname she is known by her family, become friends. And then they become more than friends. But when a fantastic job offer falls into her lap, she knows that it is time to go. She can’t ask Dex to leave the Faire, and she can’t keep traveling with them. But because this is a romance, and DeLuca is so good at this, with some angst and a twist, they do get their happy ending.

I don’t think these books need to be read in order, they all stand alone. But you get to know these characters and they overlap throughout the series, making it a bit more fun for the reader who has read them all. That said, you can easily start here and if you love this as much as I did, you can go back and read the rest.

The series in order:

12/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

WELL TRAVELED by Jen DeLuca. Berkley (December 6, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-0593200469. 336p.

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MOM JEANS AND OTHER MISTAKES by Alexa Martin 

December 2, 2022

From the publisher:

Two best friends say “I do” to living together, for better or worse, in this bold women’s fiction novel from Alexa Martin.

Jude Andrews is famous. Well, at least on Instagram. Her brand is clean eating, good vibes, Pilates, and casually looking like a sun-kissed goddess. In real life, however, she’s a total disaster. She has a strained relationship with her fame-hungry mom and her latest bad decision emptied out her entire savings account.

Lauren Turner had a plan: graduate medical school and become the top surgeon in the country. But when she became unexpectedly pregnant, those plans changed. And when her fiancé left her, they changed again. Now navigating the new world of coparenting, mom groups, and dating,  she decides to launch a mommy podcast with all the advice she wishes someone had given her.

Jude and Lauren don’t have much in common, but maybe that’s why they’ve been best friends since the third grade. Through ups and downs, they’ve been by each other’s sides. But now? They’re broke, single, and do the only thing that makes sense—move in together, just like they talked about when they were teenagers. Except when they were younger, the plan didn’t include a five-year-old daughter and more baggage than their new townhouse can hold.

“Full of laughter, romance, and a few startup scares, the latest from sports romance author Martin (SnappedBlitzed) packs a punch…Readers of this hilarious, heartfelt novel will feel like they’re chatting with their BFF. It dives deep into family issues but keeps readers on their toes as Jude and Lauren deal with what life throws at them.”Library Journal

“I can’t wait to see what she writes next.”USA Today

https://amzn.to/3Vdm8rf

I missed this when it came out in September, but I’m so glad I found it! This book is a bit of a departure for Martin who has been writing the best sports romances, although her most recent book, Better Than Fiction, didn’t have sports figures but rather was a romance between an author and a bookseller (right in my wheelhouse!) This book moves her out of the romance genre and into women’s fiction, and she does it with the same strong storytelling, character building skills that are in all her books.

Let me add kudos to Berkley for not forcing her to change her name to some pseudonym because she’s writing in a new genre. I hate when publishers do that. Most recently I felt like I was scammed because Scandalized by Ivy Owens was publicized as this fabulous debut novel, but turns out it was written by Lauren Billings, half of the “Christina Laurens” writing duo that has written several terrific books. Because this was only written by Billings, they changed her name altogether which I totally don’t understand. Why have this bestselling author write under a pseudonym? No wonder it was so well written – this woman is a pro! Why not tell people that? Even after dealing with them for over 20 years, I still don’t understand how publicists’ minds work.

Anyway, back to Mom Jeans. This is a book about women’s friendships and it was so good! Jude and Lauren have been friends since they were kids. When Lauren’s husband dumps her and their daughter, they move in with her parents, but that just isn’t a sustainable way to live. There is too much friction there; Lauren dropped out of medical school when she got pregnant, and her lawyer mother is none too thrilled about that. So Jude, Lauren, and her young daughter all move in together and form their own “sister wives” family. Everybody benefits until Jude makes a tragic mistake that sends Lauren packing.

Meanwhile, Lauren’s ex has found a new girlfriend, Stephanie, and surprisingly, Lauren really likes her – she’s kind and thoughtful and so good to her daughter. Her ex, on the other hand, is an arrogant doctor and has been pretty much absent from their lives until he hooks up with Stephanie. Then he decides to sue for custody and things get really ugly.

Lauren is a Black woman, and her ex is a white doctor, so they feel the odds are in his favor. Jude comes up with the idea of doing a podcast on parenting, thinking it will give Lauren an edge in the custody battle. Jude is a social media influencer with millions of followers, and she is really good at her job. Taking those influencer skills to promote a new podcast is a surefire way to help it get off the ground. “Mom Jeans and Martinis” takes off, and Lauren finds herself loving her new job.

I loved this story of strong women helping one another. These characters are flawed for sure, but watching them grow and change is half the fun. I learned about social media influencers and how that all works, so that was interesting, too. All in all, Martin’s first women’s fiction book is a terrific read. Frankly, I will read anything this woman writes and I’m really looking forward to her next book!

11/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

MOM JEANS AND OTHER MISTAKES by Alexa Martin. Berkley (September 7, 2021). ISBN:‎ 978-0593198896. 384p.

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SINGLE AND READY TO JINGLE by Piper Rayne

December 2, 2022


From the publisher:

The girl who loves Christmas falls for the Grinch—it’s a Christmas miracle.

What started as a dumpster fire of a blind date turns into a deal.

In truth, it probably didn’t help that I showed up dressed like an elf but that’s a story for another time. Our start was rocky at best which is why it’s so frustrating that I can’t stop thinking about his sexy British accent. Or the way his chest and arms fill out his suit. Or his perfect hair with that single streak of grey at the front.

Santa likes lists and so do I, so here’s all the reasons why Andrew and I aren’t right for each other:

He’s my brother’s best friend
He’s the biggest grump I’ve ever met.
He hates Christmas.

That last one is big for a girl like me who thinks that the entire month of December should be a national holiday. So, when he calls for my help in planning his firm’s holiday party, I can’t pass up the opportunity to grow my small business. Bonus, we make a deal, and he agrees to attend three holiday events with me so I can make him fall in love with Christmas. As if I’d pass up an opportunity to make a Grinch’s heart grow three times its size.

It isn’t long until I discover Andrew has a very real reason to hate Christmas and I start to see him in a different light. That’s when the Christmas miracle begins.

https://amzn.to/3gIEEbQ


I love Piper Rayne books and this was a really fun read. The meet-cute is Christmas-appropriate; Andrew and Kenzie met on a dating app and arranged to have dinner together. To Andrew’s horror, the crazy woman in the elf costume, replete with bells on her elf shoes, is his date. Kenzie is an events planner, and her previous engagement ran late. She had the option of going home to change and being super late or showing up in her costume. She picked the latter.

Things get even more complicated very quickly when they realize that Kenzie is Andrew’s best friend’s little sister, who he calls Mac. short for MacKenzie. Kenzie’s brother and Andrew met in law school, but Kenzie’s never met him before. Andrew is pretty sure his buddy isn’t going to be thrilled that he is dating his kid sister, but since he is anti-Christmas (for good reason, it turns out) there is no way he is going to date the elf once this dinner is over.

Andrew is up for partner in his law firm, and the competition is one ass-kissing lawyer. When the senior partner’s trophy wife can’t find a party planner to meet her standards for the firm’s Christmas party, Andrew recommends Kenzie. It’s short notice and the woman is a bit nutso, but Kenzie agrees to do it but only if she can take Andrew on three holiday-themed outings. She is determined to get the Scrooge out of him.

Enemies to lovers is always a fun device, and Piper Rayne are masters at it. This book has it all – it’s laugh out loud funny, heartwrenching on occasion, has some real heat in the bedroom, brings the holiday cheer, and of course, the requisite happy ending. I loved it.

11/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

SINGLE AND READY TO JINGLE by Piper Rayne.  Piper Rayne Inc. (November 13, 2022). ISBN: 979-8887140902. 250p.

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MARRYING THE KETCHUPS by Jennifer Close 

December 2, 2022

From the publisher:

An irresistible comedy of manners about three generations of a Chicago restaurant family and the deep-fried, beer-battered, cream cheese-frosted love that feeds them all—from the best-selling author of Girls in White Dresses

Here are the three things the Sullivan family knows to be true: the Chicago Cubs will always be the underdogs; historical progress is inevitable; and their grandfather, Bud, founder of JP Sullivan’s, will always make the best burgers in Oak Park. But when, over the course of three strange months, the Cubs win the World Series, Trump is elected president, and Bud drops dead, suddenly everyone in the family finds themselves doubting all they hold dear.

Take Gretchen for example, lead singer for a ’90s cover band who has been flirting with fame for a decade but is beginning to wonder if she’s too old to be chasing a childish dream. Or Jane, Gretchen’s older sister, who is starting to suspect that her fitness-obsessed husband who hides the screen of his phone isn’t always “working late.” And then there’s Teddy, their steadfast, unfailingly good cousin, nursing heartbreak and confusion because the guy who dumped him keeps showing up for lunch at JP Sullivan’s where Teddy is the manager. How can any of them be expected to make the right decisions when the world feels sideways—and the bartender at JP Sullivan’s makes such strong cocktails?

Outrageously funny and wickedly astute, Marrying the Ketchups is a delicious confection by one of our most beloved authors.

“Close…drops readers smack into Oak Park, a leafy Chicago suburb, and lets them hear the hiss of fryers hitting hot oil and catch an ice-cold Old Style sliding across the bar… Close lets each character’s unique personality shine. Fans of Tracey Lange’s We Are the Brennans and Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Malibu Rising will fall in love with these maddening, loving, stubborn relatives. Setting nostalgia against progress, tradition against rebirth, Close outlines the cousins’ grief and personal growth as they work with, and against, one another.” —Booklist, starred review

“[An] amusing, engaging novel about life, death, and the restorative power of a grilled cheese sandwich… Well-drawn characters always keep you interested in what happens next. Close navigates their entanglements and dissolutions with wry humor: She understands the difficulties and distractions of modern romance. As Jane, Gretchen, and Teddy struggle to find their footing, the close-knit Oak Park neighborhood is changing, too. But is that so terrible? Like marrying the ketchups, a long-standing kitchen task now deemed unsanitary, traditions can adapt to a new world order. Just like the Sullivans. An entertaining family story with realistic, interesting characters.” —Kirkus

https://amzn.to/3FqJbtt

I’ve had this book for quite a while (it came out in April) and it’s another that was lost on my Kindle. Then two good friends recommended it so I dug it up. I struggled with this book, it took me about a week to get through it, and when I turned the last page, my first thought was “what a stupid book.” I’m sorry, but that’s my truth.

There are a lot of characters, none of which is a main character or protagonist as a few vie for that title. The big events that define the book – the Cubs winning the World Series, Trump getting elected, and the family patriarch dying, are really on the periphery of this story. The Sullivan family owns a bar/restaurant and that is the thing that ties them together. I just never felt invested in these characters or their lives, and without that, I struggled.

This is literary fiction, and the writing is fine if not a bit dull, and the story is definitely character driven without a whole lot of plot. I wasn’t always a fan of the choices these characters made and I never really felt like I got to know these people. There are some funny moments, which were enjoyable. And for readers who don’t understand the title reference, for years restaurants that served (usually) Heinz ketchup via a bottle on the table, would, at the end of the day, combine half empty bottles and refill the rest so they would have full bottles on every table. Apparently, this is not the most sanitary practice, so I’m not sure if restaurants still do that or not.

Regular readers of this site know that I struggle with negative reviews. I’ve reached the point in my life where if I hate a book, I put it down and don’t finish it or review it. I didn’t hate this book, it just felt mediocre to me. All in all, not my favorite.

11/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

MARRYING THE KETCHUPS by Jennifer Close. Knopf (April 26, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-0525658870. 320p.

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