THE ROM-COM AGENDA by Jayne Denker 

February 10, 2023

From the publisher:

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.





Spotlight Review: SECRETLY YOURS by Tessa Bailey

February 7, 2023

Vine Mess, Book 1

From the publisher:

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!

2/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

SECRETLY YOURS by Tessa Bailey. Avon (February 7, 2023). ISBN:‎  978-0063239029. 384p.







February 3, 2023

The Finlay Donovan Series, Book 3

From the publisher:

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.

1. Finlay Donovan is Killing It

2. Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead

3. Finlay Donovan Jumps the Gun

2/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

FINLAY DONOVAN JUMPS THE GUN by Elle Cosimano. Minotaur Books (January 31, 2023). ISBN:‎  978-1250846037. 304p.





THE SWEET SPOT by Amy Poeppel

February 3, 2023

From the publisher:

Amy Poeppel brings her signature “big-hearted, charming” (The Washington Post) style to this wise and joyful novel that celebrates love, hate, and all of the glorious absurdity in between.

In the heart of Greenwich Village, three women form an accidental sorority when a baby—belonging to exactly none of them—lands on their collective doorstep.

Lauren and her family—lucky bastards—have been granted the use of a spectacular brownstone, teeming with history and dizzyingly unattractive 70s wallpaper. Adding to the home’s bohemian, grungy splendor is the bar occupying the basement, a (mostly) beloved dive called The Sweet Spot. Within days of moving in, Lauren discovers that she has already made an enemy in the neighborhood by inadvertently sparking the divorce of a couple she has never actually met.

Melinda’s husband of thirty years has dumped her for a young celebrity entrepreneur named Felicity, and, to Melinda’s horror, the lovebirds are soon to become parents. In her incandescent rage, Melinda wreaks havoc wherever she can, including in Felicity’s Soho boutique, where she has a fit of epic proportions, which happens to be caught on film.​

Olivia—the industrious twenty-something behind the counter, who has big dreams and bigger debt—gets caught in the crossfire. In an effort to diffuse Melinda’s temper, Olivia has a tantrum of her own and gets unceremoniously canned, thanks to TikTok.

When Melinda’s ex follows his lover across the country, leaving their squalling baby behind, the three women rise to the occasion in order to forgive, to forget, to Ferberize, and to track down the wayward parents. But can their little village find a way toward the happily ever afters they all desire? Welcome to The Sweet Spot.

Amy Poeppel (Musical Chairs) writes charming, humorous family stories, and this is a good one. Lauren is married with three kids and a rambunctious dog, living in a dilapidated brownstone in Greenwich Village with a bar, the Sweet Spot, in the basement. She is an artisan who has landed a contract with a high-end home accessories store, owned by an entrepreneur/TV home improvement star, Felicity. When Felicity casually mentions she is having an affair with a married man and is pregnant, Lauren blithely suggests she should chase her happiness. The next thing she knows, Meredith, the now ex-wife of the baby daddy, is on a rampage, spewing vitriol and swearing vengeance. Meredith goes down the rabbit hole, fulfilling every scorned woman’s fantasies until she finally realizes it isn’t helping her feel any better. Olivia, a bright young woman who works for Felicity, loses her job over this, and while she and Lauren become collateral damage here, somehow, the three women become friends. When Melinda’s ex leaves the baby with her to chase Felicity across the country. Melinda gets her new friends to help out in this Shakespearean comedy of errors.

Verdict: Quirky characters breathe life into this lighthearted family farce that should appeal to readers who enjoy Curtis Sittenfeld, Cathleen Schine, or Eleanor Brown

©Library Journal, 2023

1/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE SWEET SPOT by Amy Poeppel. Atria/Emily Bestler Books (January 31, 2023). ISBN:  978-1982176457. 400p.



Spotlight Review: MUSICAL GAMES by Evie Alexander  

January 31, 2023

The Kinloch Series, Book 4

From the publisher:

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.




DO I KNOW YOU? by Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka

January 27, 2023

From the publisher:

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.





Spotlight Review: EXES AND O’S by Amy Lea

January 17, 2023

The Influencer Series, Book 2

From the publisher:

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.





Spotlight Review: HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS AND UNFAIRLY CUTE by Talia Hibbert

January 10, 2023

From the publisher:

From the New York Times bestselling author of the Brown Sisters trilogy, comes a laugh-out-loud story about a quirky content creator and a clean-cut athlete testing their abilities to survive the great outdoors—and each other.

Bradley Graeme is pretty much perfect. He’s a star football player, manages his OCD well (enough), and comes out on top in all his classes . . . except the ones he shares with his ex-best friend, Celine.

Celine Bangura is conspiracy-theory-obsessed. Social media followers eat up her takes on everything from UFOs to holiday overconsumption—yet, she’s still not cool enough for the popular kids’ table. Which is why Brad abandoned her for the in-crowd years ago. (At least, that’s how Celine sees it.)

These days, there’s nothing between them other than petty insults and academic rivalry. So when Celine signs up for a survival course in the woods, she’s surprised to find Brad right beside her.

Forced to work as a team for the chance to win a grand prize, these two teens must trudge through not just mud and dirt but their messy past. And as this adventure brings them closer together, they begin to remember the good bits of their history. But has too much time passed . . . or just enough to spark a whole new kind of relationship?

 “A zippy rom-com with strong characterization, bursting with Gen Z–approved verbal sparring and stolen kisses.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A great addition to any library’s YA shelves, especially where there’s a gap in the collection for love stories featuring Black teens.”—David Roberts, School Library Journal

I loved all of Hibbert’s books, so when this book start showing up on all the “2023 romances not to be missed” lists, I was all in. This book is firmly set in young adult (YA) territory, not something I read very often. I haven’t been a YA for more years than I care to think about! But my love for this author won out, and I’m very glad I read it.

Celine and Brad are our main protagonists in this friends-to-enemies-to-lovers romance. And they happen to be Black, and both have some mental health issues. Brad has been struggling with OCD but through therapy has learned how to manage it. For the most part. Celine has some self-esteem issues, yet comes across as really full of herself, the know-it-all of the school. Luckily, her grades reflect that, but deep inside she knows she’s different, and not necessarily in a good way.

Their mothers are best friends, and Celine and Brad were as well until they got to high school. Football (soccer) star Brad becomes one of the most popular kids, and Celine feels like he is leaving her behind. They are either ignoring one another or sniping at one another, there is no in-between with them. Until they both apply for this very prestigious scholarship program.

Brad wants the scholarship because that will give him the freedom to live on his own, without having to deal with a roommate. His OCD is best managed when he doesn’t have to deal with other people’s messes. Celine wants the scholarship because one of the sponsors is the law firm where the father who abandoned her works, and she wants to rub his face in her success.

This scholarship competition involves two camping trips where all the students will be constantly observed and graded on their teamwork and leadership skills. The top three scores win full rides to the college of their choice. And just having gone through the process – it is limited to only 20 participants – can give these students a formidable leg up, both in their college choices and careers that lie ahead. But both Celine and Brad know that sniping at each other is going to cause them both to lose, so a truce is declared. As they work together, they both start remembering why they were such good friends and eventually, their fake friendship becomes real again. And then it becomes something more.

I am no judge as to what teens or 20-somethings like in a book, so all I can say is that I loved it. The story was completely absorbing, and I couldn’t help but care about Celine and Brad. I wanted them to find their happy ending, even though they were so young and still had their whole lives ahead of them. It all rang true to me, especially the way they both struggled to find the courage to say “I love you.” I met my husband when I was 17, and he was 19, and here we are 40+ years later, so I believe that you can find your person at any age if you’re lucky!

1/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS AND UNFAIRLY CUTE by Talia Hibbert. Joy Revolution (January 3, 2023). ISBN:‎ 978-0593482353. 336p.






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?

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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.





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?

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.