IT TAKES A VILLA by Kilby Blades

June 3, 2022

From the publisher:

For the reasonable price of $1, Natalie Malone just bought herself an abandoned villa on the Amalfi Coast. With a detailed spreadsheet and an ancient key, she’s arrived in Italy ready to renovate―and only six months to do it. Which seemed reasonable until architect Pietro Indelicato began critically watching her every move…

From the sweeping ocean views to the scent of the lemon trees, there’s nothing Pietro loves more than his hometown. And after seeing too many botched jobs and garish design choices, he’s done watching from the sidelines. As far as he’s concerned, Natalie should quit before the project drains her entire bank account and her ridiculously sunny optimism.

With Natalie determined to move forward, the gorgeous architect reluctantly agrees to pitch in, giving her a real chance to succeed. But when the fine print on Natalie’s contract is brought to light, she might have no choice but to leave her dream, and Pietro, behind.

https://amzn.to/3zghCjn

I was very excited to read this book because my husband and I have discussed the possibility of buying one of these $1 (Euro) homes in Sicily, but we can’t really afford the time or the money needed for rehabbing the homes. Lorraine Bracco (Sopranos, Goodfellas) also has Sicilian roots, and she bought one of these homes and turned the reno into an HGTV show, My Big Italian Adventure, which was a lot of fun to watch. This book revolves around one of these homes in a fictional town on the Amalfi coast of Italy.

Natalie, or Natalia as her name becomes Italianized, purchased an old inn with her grandmother. But her grandmother passes away before they can get to Italy and even start the rehab. Money is tight, but an inheritance from a man she never heard of helps get her the money she needs to move forward with the project on her own. When she arrives, she finds the inn uninhabitable, but there is a separate garage where she can live until the inn is updated.

The small town has a council in charge of this project and her fellow renovators meet weekly to share tips and help. There is some political infighting between the council chair, who is the mayor, and his son, Pietro, a renowned architect who has renovated buildings all over Italy. Pietro runs into Natalie when she is trying to get her building permit, but it is August, and pretty much most of Italy is on vacation. Her Italian isn’t very good (yet) so she is a bit confused until Pietro steps in to explain in English.

There is a definite spark when they meet, but Natalie has too much work to do and she’s not looking to get involved. On the other hand, Pietro’s reaction reminded me of the “thunderbolt” Michael gets when he sees Apollonia for the first time in The Godfather – if you aren’t familiar with the reference, it’s basically love at first sight. Pietro has her back, and with his influence, knowledge, and skills, Natalia’s renovation gets going.

The is a slow growing romance with enough turmoil to keep things interesting. The politics in the town and the troubles some of the other renovations run into are the subplots, and they help shape this book into something more than just a romance. There are some funny moments, a bit of intrigue with the mysterious bequest, and some steamy scenes as well. All in all, a terrific read for me!

6/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

IT TAKES A VILLA by Kilby Blades. Entangled: Amara (May 24, 2022). ISBN: 978-1649372086. 352p.

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KNOCKED UP IN ALASKA by Samanthe Beck

May 20, 2022

Captivity, Alaska: Book 3

From the publisher:

Everyone in Captivity, Alaska now knows Lilah Iquat’s big (and getting bigger) secret. She’s knocked up. Pregnant. All it took was a foolish decision with lasting consequences. Now Lilah’s going it alone—with the help of the town. But with one particular craving getting stronger, Lilah has her eyes on just one thing: too-sexy Ford Langley.

Ford may be out of the army, but his Special Forces sense of honor and duty hasn’t disappeared. Which is exactly why Lilah is fully off-limits, hands-off, and don’t even think about it, Ford. She’s too young and too bright for a man who’s seen too much, too soon. He’ll hold to his code—even if it kills him. And it just might.

Now Lilah is showing Ford how much light and life and love he’s missing out on, testing every last shred of his resolve. But with a baby on the way and the whole town involved, Ford and Lilah are about to learn the hard way that life never goes according to plan…especially when it comes to love.

https://amzn.to/3lITBK5

It’s amazing to me how an author can create characters in a location that somehow stays with me for months and months. The second book in this series, Playing Dirty in Alaska, came out in January, yet when I took a dive into this new book, I felt right at home. It was great catching up with my not-so-long-lost friends from Alaska.

This time, the story centers around Lilah, who is best friends with Bridget and Izzy (from the first two books in the series.) Lilah grew up at the Inn that is the center of this tourist supported town. Her mother, Rose, worked her way up from housekeeping to hotel manager, and it seems Lilah is following in her footsteps in more ways than one.

Rose was a single mother, and she drummed it into Lilah’s head not to follow that same path. She was a very strict mother, and Lilah is a very good girl and almost always obedient. Except for that one night in the hot tub with Shay…

That was Lilah’s only sexual experience. When she found out she was pregnant, she immediately told Shay. The next day Shay was in a fatal plane crash, leaving the very scared and pregnant Lilah on her own. She hides the pregnancy as best as she can, but eventually she gets too big to hide it. When her mother finds out, she is incensed, and throws Lilah out. She ends up bouncing around between Bridget’s house and Ford’s. She is strongly attracted to Ford, and he to her, but he realizes how young she is, only 21, and inexperienced, especially compared to a Special Forces veteran. He puts her on a pedestal, but she really would rather be in his bed.

There are lots of ups and downs before the relationship heats up, including another baby-turned-teenager showing up to turn Ford’s life upside down. This is a sweet, sexy romance that really took me on an emotional ride. I couldn’t help but empathize with both Lilah and Ford. And one of my favorite four-legged characters makes an appearance as well.  

I mentioned this in my review of Wild in Captivity, the first book in this series. A giant Husky/Malamute mixed dog named K’eyush, or Key for short, is one of the more memorable characters. The dog is brilliant and talks – he somehow says his favorite peoples’ names. Anyone who has spent any time poking around my website knows that I am a cat person, but I also love dogs. Well, animals, in general, although I am afraid of birds. My husband has gotten me a tiny bit obsessed with this dog: K’eyush the Stunt Dog and I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the dog in the book and the dog in the video. So I reached out to the author, who confirmed she is also a K’eyush fan and was inspired to use a dog with similar traits in the book. I love when my worlds collide like that!

5/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

KNOCKED UP IN ALASKA by Samanthe Beck. Entangled: Amara (May 16, 2022). ASIN: B09Y479G6V. 360p.

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Spotlight Review: ACROSS THE AISLE by Stephanie Vance

May 10, 2022

From the publisher:

Tough as nails DC lobbyist Dallas McGrath can’t believe she’s being ordered to reach a legislative compromise with the opposition. And not just with anyone…with the most arrogant, obnoxious lobbyist in DC, Grant Pierce. He always finds a way to get under her skin, and it usually starts with that kissable mouth of his turning up into an annoying smirk. Well, this is one negotiation she plans to win at any cost.

Career lobbyist Grant Pierce knows he shouldn’t enjoy ruffling the feathers of the opposition this much, but he can’t help it. Almost no one leaves him without a witty comeback—except Dallas McGrath. Maybe it’s her sharp mind, or maybe it’s the sexy way she bulldozes his every argument. Either way, he’s got the perfect plan to put her off her game. He suggests they negotiate at baseball games, jazz clubs, and nap studios—but even he’s not prepared for what happens next…

https://amzn.to/3P8LpzV

I was very excited to read this as it is set in the political world of Washington D.C. It doesn’t feel like there are many romances in that setting for some reason, and I find it interesting. Maybe romance writers don’t want to dip their toes into politics because of how divided this country is today, but Vance really nailed it. There is no discord or references to all the division and, let’s call it what it really is, insanity that is going on in this country right now, so that alone made this a pleasurable read.

I didn’t know a whole lot about how lobbyists work (other than by throwing money at every person who could possibly help them achieve their ends) and now I feel a little better informed, albeit in an entertaining way. And isn’t that the best way to learn?

Dallas McGrath and Grant Pierce and two lobbyists on opposing sides of an agricultural issue. Naturally, they hate one another. Dallas has the additional stress of a father who is heavily invested in the outcome. So when they are forced to work together to reach a compromise (I did mention this is fiction, yes?) they also fall in love. Trust, on the other hand, remains an issue that ultimately can cripple the fledgling relationship.

The only downside to this novel is that it may be hard to follow how the American political structure works if you are not already familiar with it, as in all you international readers. I think Vance does a really good job with it, but I am very politically aware so take that under advisement. Vance works in that world so her point of view is from the inside. Need I say a happy ending is achieved?

5/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

ACROSS THE AISLE by Stephanie Vance. Entangled: Amara (May 9, 2022). ASIN: B08X3DV4KY. 240p.

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CHASE WILDE COMES HOME by Jennifer Ryan

May 6, 2022

Wyoming Wilde, Book 1

From the publisher:

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Ryan begins a brand-new series with a western set romance between a former soldier and the mother of his child. Perfect for fans of Diana Palmer, Linda Lael Miller, and BJ Daniels.

They’re tough, tender, and sometimes tormented; they’re the Wildes of Wyoming, three brothers whose family ties are as strong as their wills.

Chase Wilde never expected to fall in love, especially with Shelby Payne. Years before, one passionate night had drawn these two lost souls together. Then Chase left on deployment with the Army, while Shelby raised their baby alone. Now he’s back, a wounded warrior determined to turn his life around. Shelby knows what it’s like to lose everything, including her own family. So she offers him a bargain: if he can prove himself to be the man he says he is, she will let him into their daughter’s life…and maybe even into hers.

Chase knows it will take a lot to prove to Shelby that there’s more between them than the single night they spent together. She’s everything he’s ever wanted, including the voice of reason he needs to reconcile his past and be the man he wants to be for them both. But just as their lives come together, she’s torn away from him by a dangerous person from her past, and saving her means saving himself . . . because he can’t live without her.

https://amzn.to/3ycmVjr

Ryan writes good romances with interesting characters, and this is no exception. This is the first book of a new series, and it looks to be a really good one. There are three Wilde brothers, and this story centers around the eldest, Chase.

Talk about a damaged character; PTSD from a stint in the armed services, and a painkiller addiction. Just to make matters even worse, right when Chase is about to be released from rehab, a friend ODs in front of him and he uses mouth-to-mouth to try and save her. Instead, he ends up with the drugs in his system from touching her, and extends his stay in rehab another week.

Chase’s family is mad at him to begin with because they feel like he helped their mother end her life when she was dying of cancer. There are a lot of hard feelings all the way around, so when he finally is released, he’s not even sure where he’ll stay. To his surprise, Shelby is waiting for him as he walks out.

Chase and Shelby had a life-changing one night stand before he left for the army. They met in the bar in town, and the next morning went their separate ways. But Shelby got pregnant, and Chase takes that responsibility to heart.

Shelby is another damaged character. She is the result of her mother’s being raped, and as an infant, her mother tried to drown her then committed suicide. Her grandparents raised her but Shelby knew that every time they looked at her, they saw what happened to their daughter. She grows up the talk of the town and very much alone.

Shelby and Chase have strong feelings for one another, but there are so many hurdles in the way of their happily every after. There is also quite a bit of suspense running through this romance because the man who raped her mother has been released from prison. He stalked her mother until he kidnapped her, and now he seems to be just as obsessed with his daughter and granddaughter.

Ryan touches on a lot of serious issues, making this much darker and deeper than many romance novels. She does a really good job building the suspense of the stalker/rapist and the romance, but rules are rules and a happy ending is reached. I am looking forward to the next book in this series – some breadcrumbs were laid so we can see where it is going and I can’t wait!

5/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

CHASE WILDE COMES HOME by Jennifer Ryan. Avon (March 29, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-0063111400. 400p.

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BIRTH OF A BABY DADDY by Piper Rayne

May 6, 2022

The Baileys, Book 3

From the publisher:

If you’re having fun living your bachelor life in your Alaskan hometown and out of nowhere a woman shows up holding a baby she insists is yours, you need a plan-a birth plan.

BP Step #1 – Lift your jaw off the floor.

BP Step #2 – Figure out the baby’s age-do the math.

BP Step #3 – Try to remember the woman and with any luck, her name.

BP Step #4 – Double check that she’s not confusing you with your twin brother.

BP Step #5 – Ignore your five sister’s scowls as your entire family watches the drama unfold. There’s only one thing you shouldn’t do.

BP Step #6 – Don’t assume she’s there because she wants your daughter to call you Daddy. You’ll only end up disappointed.

Time to figure out a new plan-one that changes her mind.

https://amzn.to/3kMq1Tn

Piper Rayne and Hoopla – a marriage made in heaven! I found the third book in this series through my library and it looks like they have the rest.

I’m not usually that big a fan of oops babies creating a romance, but Rayne does it so well she’s changed my mind. Denver and Rome Bailey are twins. When Harley shows up with 2-year-old Calista in tow, she’s looking for the baby daddy, who told her his name was Denver. Denver was involved in a wilderness accident, where he saved his client, a famous music producer. The story goes viral and Harley is convinced she’s found her one night stand. Calista has a medical condition, so Harley wants the family medical history. She figures she’ll show up, get what she needs, and take off again. Little does she know that Denver wasn’t her one night stand – Rome was. And he wants to be a proper father to his daughter, not at all what Harley had planned for.

The Baileys are a large family and an important one in this small Alaskan town. Harley and Rome try to work things out, and one thing leads to another and they become a family – and it is a lot of fun until they get there! Looking forward to book four.

5/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

BIRTH OF A BABY DADDY by Piper Rayne. Piper Rayne (May 1, 2019). ISBN: ‎978-1987925524. 290p.

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Spotlight Review: THE HOMEWRECKERS by Mary Kay Andrews

May 3, 2022

From the publisher:

Summer begins with Mary Kay Andrews, in this delightful summer read about flipping houses, and finding true love.

Hattie Kavanaugh went to work restoring homes for Kavanaugh & Son Restorations at eighteen, married the boss’s son at twenty, and became a widow at twenty-five. Now, she’s passionate about her work, but that’s the only passion in her life. “Never love something that can’t love you back,” is advice her father-in-law gives her, but Hattie doesn’t follow it and falls head-over-heels for a money pit of a house. She’s determined to make it work, but disaster after disaster occurs, and Hattie’s dream might cost Kavanaugh & Son their livelihood. Hattie needs money, and fast.

When a slick Hollywood producer shows up in her hometown of Savannah, Georgia, she gets a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: star in a beach house renovation reality show called The Homewreckers, cast against a male lead who may be a love interest, or may be the ultimate antagonist. Soon, there’s more at stake than bad pipes and dry rot: during the demolition, evidence comes to light that points to the mysterious disappearance of a young wife and mother years before.

With a burned out detective investigating the case, an arsonist on the loose, two men playing with her emotions, and layers upon layers of vintage wallpaper causing havoc, it’s a question of who will flip, who will flop, and if Hattie will ever get her happily-ever-after.

https://amzn.to/3vZfeKK

I love that with her thirtieth book in thirty years, MKA has gone back to her mystery roots. Many years ago, I was a bookseller for Borders Books & Music, a large chain of bookstores (think Barnes & Noble, but with a better collection) when I discovered the Callahan Garrity mystery series by Kathy Hogan Trocheck and I loved them. When as Mary Kay Andrews, she turned towards romance/chick lit, I went along for the ride. So I can say with some certainty that I like her writing style, and the genre just doesn’t matter to me. I feel like my summer doesn’t begin until I get the new MKA book, so hello summer!

This book was an especially fun one, involving a reality TV show on a HGTV-type network. Since I spend half my weekend watching that channel, this book was right in my wheelhouse. Mo is a producer in search of his next hit when he stumbles across Hattie working on restoring an old Victorian house in Savannah. She’s a beautiful young woman running a job site, and Mo is hooked. To his surprise, Hattie has no interest in becoming a celebrity but he is determined to make her one anyway.

After a series of events leaves Hattie hurting for money, she acquiesces and “Saving Savannah” is born. However, Mo’s contact at the network hates the title and wants to create a home renovation/dating show called “The Homewreckers.” She sends a celebrity interior designer, Trae, to Savannah to “help” with the renovation of the 100 year old beach house on Tybee Island. And in the process, a romance between Hattie and Trae will help jumpstart the series.

Hattie is a young widow with quite the back story, and she works for her father-in-law, Tug, renovating these old Savannah houses. But as they start the demolition, a wallet is found in the wall. It belongs to a young woman and mother who had gone missing seventeen years earlier, a beloved teacher at the girls school where Hattie went. The police are brought in and get to work trying to figure out how it ended up in the walls of the home. A short time later there is a dumpster fire at the job site, pictures of Hattie & Trae having a romantic dinner go viral, and a body is found. This is not your typical reno!

The Homewreckers has a bit of mystery and a bit of romance, and the combination makes this an unputdownable read. I loved it!

5/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE HOMEWRECKERS by Mary Kay Andrews. St. Martin’s Press (May 3, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-1250278364. 448p.

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LESSONS FROM A ONE NIGHT STAND by Piper Rayne

April 29, 2022

The Baileys, Book 1

From the publisher:

If you’re a guy like me, and you find yourself having banged your sexy new boss—the school principal—in the back of your Jeep one drunken night, here’s a few takeaways based on my experience…

Lesson One: Always get her FULL name.

Lesson Two: Consider asking what she does for a living.

Lesson Three: Find out why she’s moved to town. Get details. Details are crucial.

Lesson Four: Don’t alter her bio in front of an auditorium of high school students unless you know she has a sense of humor for that sort of thing.

Lesson Five: If you ignore Lesson Four, apologize instead of flirt when you’re sent to the principal’s office.

Lesson Six: NEVER sleep with her again.

Lesson Seven: Pay attention to this one—it’s the most important of them all.

Don’t fall for your one-night stand.

Class dismissed.

https://amzn.to/35HKncD

I’m still enmeshed in Piper Rayne’s world. I read the second book of this series, Advice From a Jilted Bride, then went back to find the first. Her books are all one night reads for me and my guilty pleasure of late! I love books set in Alaska, and while the setting is fun, it’s the characters that make this series.

The plot is fairly straight forward; Holly is the new principal at the high school, filling in for the principal on maternity leave. Shortly after she arrives in town, she meets Austin Bailey, for all intents and purposes the male head of his household. The Bailey family lost their parents in a snowmobiling accident, and Austin stepped up to take care of everyone. He blows off steam by having one night stands with tourists, and Holly is just his type.

What he didn’t realize was that she isn’t a tourist, but a new resident. All sorts of problems arise, not the least of which is he a coach at the high school and she is his boss. Things go from bad to worse before they get better, and there is a lot of sexy fun along the way.

Looking forward to reading the next book in the series!

4/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

LESSONS FROM A ONE NIGHT STAND by Piper Rayne. Piper Rayne Incorporated (February 6, 2019). ISBN: ‎978-1987925487. 340p.

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ADVICE FROM A JILTED BRIDE by Piper Rayne

April 22, 2022

The Baileys, Book 2

From the publisher:

What’s a girl to do after being ditched at the altar by text message? That’s right. Text. Message. How does she pick up the pieces and move on? I’m no Dear Abby but here’s a little free advice…

Advice #1 – First, purge your apartment of all things him—by tossing his belongings off the balcony.

Advice #2 – Do not, I repeat do not, throw anything out into the hallway because you’ll injure your hot new neighbor.

Advice #3 – When said neighbor brings over Chinese food do not let him stay and keep you company. It’s awkward when you realize he’s your boss.

Advice #4 – Accept his offer to help you with your side business but think twice before using a date to his sister’s wedding as collateral.

Advice #5 – Investigate who your mystery neighbor really is. Don’t trust his word even if he’s the world’s best kisser.

If you listen to nothing else, pay attention to that last one. It’s the most important and will save you a lot of heartache.

Xo,

LOVESICK IN LAKE STARLIGHT

https://amzn.to/35HKncD

After reading two of Piper Rayne’s series, I’m still looking for more. I found this book on Hoopla, and hope to find the rest of the series from my library. I am really enjoying Rayne’s writing style and it doesn’t seem to matter where the books are set. They are just fun, sexy reads, and this is no exception. This book stands alone just fine, but I still want to read the rest of the series.

Brooklyn Bailey is our jilted bride, whose fiancé sent her a text message breaking things off while she was literally at the altar. Luckily, her big family is there to support her and when she goes back to the apartment she shared with her fiancé, he is nowhere to be found. Luckily, he left all his stuff though, and Brooklyn releases some stress by tossing it all off the balcony of the apartment she is now stuck with. At one point she throws a book and it flies through the open door of the apartment, hitting Wyatt, her hot new neighbor, in the face. There is an instant attraction there, but Brooklyn is just coming off a bad breakup, and Wyatt is only in this small Alaskan town temporarily, as the new manager of the hotel where Brooklyn is a housekeeper.

There is some fake dating and other fakery going on here, and there are a lot of laughs before they reach their happy ending. The overly large Bailey family makes for what looks like a good series, so I’m on the hunt for more of the Baileys. A super fun, one night read for me; if you are looking for some light entertainment, look no further.

4/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

ADVICE FROM A JILTED BRIDE by Piper Rayne. Piper Rayne Inc. (March 18, 2019). ISBN: ‎978-1987925517. 380p.

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THE SUMMER GETAWAY by Susan Mallery

April 22, 2022

From the publisher:

One woman takes the vacation of a lifetime in this poignant and heartwarming story about the threads that hold a family together from #1 New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery.

Single mom Robyn Caldwell needs a new plan for her future.  She has always put her family first.  Now, with her kids grown, she yearns for a change. But what can she do when her daughter has become the most demanding bride ever, her son won’t even consider college, her best friend is on the brink of marital disaster and her ex is making a monumentally bad decision that could ruin everything?

Take a vacation, of course. Press reset. When her great-aunt Lillian invites her to Santa Barbara for the summer, Robyn hops on the first plane to sunny California.

But it’s hard to get away when you’re the heart of the family. One by one, everyone she loves follows her across the country. Somehow, their baggage doesn’t feel as heavy in the sun-drenched, mishmash mansion. The more time Robyn spends with free-spirited Lillian, the more possibilities she sees—for dreams, love, family. She can have everything she ever wanted, if only she can muster the courage to take a chance on herself.

“The perfect escape for readers wanting to get away.”—Booklist

https://amzn.to/3xK1BBG

Mallery has the skill to take an almost unbelievable situation and turn it into something that is clearly happening, with characters you can’t help but root for, and she does it really well. In this case, Robyn is fed up with her life. Her cheating ex is too reliant on her, her kids are growing up, and she is coming up on a balloon mortgage of sorts that she has not prepared for.

Robyn’s daughter has turned into bridezilla, and there is little she can do about it other than persevere. Her ex is dating their daughter’s fiance’s twin sister (read that again) and making life uncomfortable for everyone. Her boss and good friend is contemplating an affair and won’t listen to reason. Her doctor boyfriends lets slip that he doesn’t have much respect for her, and at this point, Robyn doesn’t have a whole lot of respect for herself. When her favorite great great aunt invites her to stay with her for as long as she wants, Robyn packs her bags and runs off to the other coast, shocking her family.

Once there, she meets Mason, a long lost relative of her deceased uncle, who is set to inherit the crazy mansion where they are all staying. Robyn learns she is to inherit the furnishings of the home which includes many priceless pieces of art and other ephemera, not to mention antiques galore. Cataloging it all alone could take a year or more. There is something about Mason that draws Robyn in, and he is completely smitten with her.

Meanwhile, her family starts following her across the country and before long, everyone she ran away from is there with her. Lots of craziness ensues, but love always prevails. This is a wonderful, feel good story with a lot of laughs and some tears shed along the way. If you like family fiction with a touch of romance, then you should love this book as much as I do.

4/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE SUMMER GETAWAY by Susan Mallery. HQN; Original edition (March 15, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-1335479990. 416p.

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Spotlight Review: MEANT TO BE by Jennifer Probst

April 19, 2022

Twist of Fate, Book 1

From the publisher:

Two broken hearts discover an unpredictable path to healing in an emotional romance about fate and second chances by New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Probst.

It’s been two years since Chiara Kennedy lost her dearest friend, Rory. Chiara misses everything about her. Rory’s widowed husband is another story. Sebastian Ryder is a man Chiara had secretly wanted, let slip away, and hoped to never see again. Then fate throws them together for an unexpected one-night stand and a morning after of new challenges.

Sebastian had a soul mate in Rory. Shutting down after his tragic loss, he kept a cool distance from everyone—including Chiara, with whom he once shared a deep if fleeting affection. That was over and done with a long time ago. But when they meet again, old emotions resurface along with a heart-wounding past that haunts them both.

As Chiara and Sebastian grow closer, finally getting to know each other, Chiara struggles with feelings of guilt even as she cherishes her second chance with Sebastian. Will fate allow them to overcome the past, or are they destined to always wonder if they are truly meant to be?

https://amzn.to/3EcbBEO

This is a terrific start to a new series! Chiara and Sebastian met a bar and spend the whole night just talking. But Chiara was not looking for any kind of relationship; she, along with her three best friends, were starting up a new business. They created a website for women, a sort of lifestyle/self help kind of place, and Chiara was completely devoted to making it successful. A year or so later, her best friend and business partner, Rory, introduced her boyfriend to the group. It was Sebastian, and in a moment of bad decision making, Chiara pretended she was just meeting him for the first time, and he went along with it. After that, Chiara tried to keep her distance, leading her friends to think she didn’t like him much.

In actuality, she thought he was perfect for Rory and thought if Rory knew they had any kind of history, she would push him away. Rory and Sebastian got married, then tried to start a family, but were unsuccessful and immersed themselves in the treatments available to them. Then Rory suddenly dies. Drowning in grief, Sebastian walked away from her friends and family and drowned himself in his work as a high school guidance counselor and volunteer at a youth center.

Two years later, Chiara was at a bar, trying to help a co-worker with research on a story about how to get rid of creepy guys in a bar while not actually leaving. It wasn’t going well, the creepy guy wouldn’t take a hint. But Sebastian happened to be there that night and saw what was happening. He swooped in, grabbed the drink creepy guy bought for Chiara, and downed it. Creepy guy took off, so mission accomplished. Except the drink was roofied, and Sebastian was going down.

This was no meet-cute but Chiara spent most of the night watching over him, making sure he was breathing. She finally goes to bed and a short while later dreams she is having amazing sex with Sebastian. It turns out that it wasn’t a dream, and guess what happens next.

Chiara and Sebastian both have a lot of issues with their families and difficult childhoods, and they bond over that. Eventually their relationship deepens, but Chiara is ever mindful that he was Rory’s husband, and they both have a lot of guilt.

This book was unputdownable – I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. I loved these characters and can’t wait to see what happens next. But no worries, Chiara and Sebastian get their happy ending.

Just have to add that I hate the cover of this book. If I saw this on the shelf, I wouldn’t touch it. It’s just so generic and boring, and the book is anything but! Amazon Publishing needs to step up its cover game.

4/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

MEANT TO BE by Jennifer Probst. Montlake (April 19, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-1542034807. 319p.

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