Spotlight Review: SAVVY SHELDON FEELS GOOD AS HELL by Taj McCoy

September 27, 2022

From the publisher:

A sexy romance about a plus-size sweetheart who gets a full-life makeover after a brutal breakup and falls for the incredibly hot contractor renovating her home.

Savvy Sheldon spends a lot of time tiptoeing around the cracks in her life: her high-stress and low-thanks job, her clueless boyfriend and the falling-apart kitchen she inherited from her beloved grandma—who taught her how to cook and how to love people by feeding them. But when Savvy’s world starts to crash down around her, she knows it’s time for some renovations.

Starting from the outside in, Savvy tackles her crumbling kitchen, her relationship with her body, her work–life balance (or lack thereof) and, last but not least, her love life. The only thing that doesn’t seem to require effort is her ride-or-die squad of friends. But as any home-reno-show junkie can tell you, something always falls apart during renovations. First, Savvy passes out during hot yoga. Then it turns out that the contractor she hires is the same sexy stranger she unintentionally offended by judging based on appearances. Worst of all, Savvy can’t seem to go anywhere without tripping over her ex and his latest “upgrade.” Savvy begins to realize that maybe she should’ve started her renovations the other way around: beginning with how she sees herself before building a love that lasts.

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“A heartfelt, hopeful, and humorous exploration of the importance of learning to love yourself…a joy to read.” –Booklist, STARRED review

“This novel is a paean to self-care and support systems . . . A true highlight of the book is its depiction of food, as Savvy is a great cook, and McCoy delights in describing the delicious dishes she whips up. . . . Full of positivity, good food, and love.” —Kirkus Reviews

“McCoy populates Savvy’s world with a diverse cast of immediately endearing friends and family, especially besties Joan and Maggie, who reinforce positivity and love for Savvy and help her prioritize the things that make her happy. With a focus on heartbreak and reflection, Savvy’s story has every flavor of love. McCoy is sure to win fans.” —Publishers Weekly

https://amzn.to/3QZbBwM

I love seeing a debut author get so much love; and in this case, it is well deserved. Savvy is a complex character and she carries this story. Her love interest is Spencer, who she originally thinks is homeless. Once they get past that, there are still issues, mostly stemming from Savvy’s insecurities.

Savvy is a plus-size Black woman who was in a relationship for six years, and when her boyfriend dumps her he tells her it’s because she’s too fat and works too much. Pretty horrible, to say the least. Savvy decides to get her “revenge” body on and starts hiking, playing tennis, and doing Bikram yoga. As she and Spencer get to know one another, they constantly run into her ex at every turn. Fortunately, Spencer is most understanding and Savvy’s best friends always have her back and then some.

I loved watching Savvy learn to love herself. The home renovation and the cooking were just bonuses for me. I admit to skimming the pages-long descriptions of tennis matches, but that is a minor complaint in an otherwise excellent debut. I am looking forward to seeing what McCoy brings us next.

9/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

SAVVY SHELDON FEELS GOOD AS HELL by Taj McCoy. @HarlequinBooks; Original edition (March 22, 2022). ISBN:‎  978-0778311843. 320p.

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DRUNK ON LOVE by Jasmine Guillory

September 23, 2022

From the publisher:

An intoxicating and sparkling new romance by New York Times bestselling author Jasmine Guillory.

Margot Noble needs some relief from the stress of running the family winery with her brother. Enter Luke: sexy, charming, and best of all in the too-small world of Napa, a stranger. The chemistry between them is undeniable, and Margot is delighted that she lucked into the perfect one-night stand she’ll never have to see again. That is, until the winery’s newest hire, Luke, walks in the next morning. Margot is determined to keep things purely professional, but when their every interaction reminds her of the attraction still bubbling between them, it proves to be much more challenging than she expects.

Luke Williams had it all, but when he quits his high-salary tech job in Silicon Valley in a blaze of burnout and moves back to Napa to help a friend, he realizes he doesn’t want to tell the world—or his mom—why he’s now working at a winery. His mom loves bragging about her successful son—how can he admit that the job she’s so proud of broke him? Luke has no idea what is next for him, but one thing is certain: he wants more from the incredibly smart and sexy woman he hooked up with—even after he learns she’s his new boss. But even if they can find a way to be together that wouldn’t be an ethical nightmare, would such a successful woman really want a tech-world dropout?

Set against a lush backdrop of Napa Valley wine country, nothing goes to your head as fast as a taste of love—even if it means changing all your plans.

“Suffused with tenderness and delight, this is Guillory’s best book yet.”—Booklist, starred review

“The lush background and Guillory’s signature blend of sexy, sweet, and funny keep the pages flying. This is a gem.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Guillory’s latest, imbued with her signature heat, wit, and scene-stealing secondary characters, is sure to be popular.”—Library Journal, starred review

https://amzn.to/3QY10ly

A book set in wine country? Count me in! And in Guillory’s talented hands, this book is a fun, sexy romance with a trip to Napa on the side.

After inheriting the winery from their favorite uncle, Margot has been running the business side while her brother is the actual winemaker. She’s a rarity in Napa, a black woman running a winery. She’s growing the business with their wine tastings growing in popularity, and she really wants to upgrade the area surrounding the tasting room with some nice landscaping. Then she wants to celebrate it with an anniversary party for the vineyard. Her brother, on the other hand, thinks that is all a lot of stress for nothing. But Margot perseveres, and eventually, he gives in.

Margot’s best friend owns a restaurant/bar in town, and Margot hangs out with her when she can. When a good-looking younger man sits next to her at the bar and starts flirting, Margot decides to go for it. Luke will be gone soon, thus making him the perfect one night stand. Until she gets to work in the morning and her brother introduces his new hire – Luke. Margot cannot carry on with an employee; that would break every rule in the HR handbook. Despite their amazing chemistry, Margot holds firm to her hands-off policy and Luke reluctantly goes along with it.

As they work together, they get to know one another and that’s not helping either. Luke is a natural in the tasting room and the customers love him. Luke worked in the tech industry until he couldn’t bear it another minute and quit. As a Black man in Silicon Valley, Luke and Margot share being a minority in their respective industries. On the other hand, he is surprised to find how much he is enjoying this job he took just so he would have something to do, and a lot of that has to do with spending time with Margot.

Meanwhile, Luke hasn’t told his super proud mom that he quit; instead he tells her he’s on sabbatical. His best friend had an ugly breakup and he wants to be there for her, too, which his mom interprets as they are dating. He doesn’t deny that either, keeping his mom in the dark about his life. We know that never ends well.

Margot and Luke have an interesting journey to reach their happily ever after, and it was so much fun going along for the ride. This is another terrific romance from one of my favorite authors.

9/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

DRUNK ON LOVE by Jasmine Guillory. Berkley (September 20, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-0593100882. 400p.

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NORA GOES OFF SCRIPT by Annabel Monaghan

July 22, 2022

From the publisher:

Named one of the Best Beach Reads of Summer 2022 by The Washington Post • USA Today • Cosmopolitan • Southern Living • Country Living • Business Insider • Buzzfeed • Book Riot • The Augusta Chronicle

Nora’s life is about to get a rewrite…

Nora Hamilton knows the formula for love better than anyone. As a romance channel screenwriter, it’s her job. But when her too-good-to work husband leaves her and their two kids, Nora turns her marriage’s collapse into cash and writes the best script of her life. No one is more surprised than her when it’s picked up for the big screen and set to film on location at her 100-year-old-home. When former Sexiest Man Alive, Leo Vance, is cast as her ne’er do well husband Nora’s life will never be the same.

The morning after shooting wraps and the crew leaves, Nora finds Leo on her porch with a half-empty bottle of tequila and a proposition. He’ll pay a thousand dollars a day to stay for a week. The extra seven grand would give Nora breathing room, but it’s the need in his eyes that makes her say yes. Seven days: it’s the blink of an eye or an eternity depending on how you look at it. Enough time to fall in love. Enough time to break your heart.

Filled with warmth, wit, and wisdom, Nora Goes Off Script is the best kind of love story—the real kind where love is complicated by work, kids, and the emotional baggage that comes with life. For Nora and Leo, this kind of love is bigger than the big screen.

“Monaghan’s witty adult debut novel perfectly captures the apprehension and excitement of infatuation blended with life’s complications.” —Washington Post

“The perfect escape from reality…In the best way.” —USA Today

https://amzn.to/3ArEyNf

I picked up this book because of all the buzz, but also because Nora is one of my best friends. Not this Nora, of course, but a namesake. I’m happy to report that this Nora represents the name well.

Nora’s husband leaves her and their kids after years of her supporting him and him belittling her. All she truly feels is relief and now has the ability to pay her bills without her ex running up the credit cards. Nora writes romance movie scripts for a Hallmark type channel. But once her husband leaves, the best way she knows how to deal with all her anger is to write it. She writes her breakup and to her surprise, her agent tells her that while it is not a good fit for the romance channel, she sells it to a film company who is making it into a big budget movie with the Sexiest Man Alive, Leo, set to star as her ex.

The film company wants to film a bit on her property, a unique space with a house in need of repair along with an out building called the Tea House. It’s a charming stone cottage and is Nora’s office. The film crew arrives and Nora finds out the star is staying in an Airstream on her property. But he keeps wandering into her house, drinking her booze, and eating her food. He’s so good looking she doesn’t complain but would certainly appreciate a thank you now and then. She never gets one.

Leo decides to stay on after the film crew leaves. He offers Nora $1000 a day to stay in the Tea House for a week, and she needs the money for sure so she agrees. Leo is an interesting character. He’s been so successful for so long he has no idea how regular people live. He hasn’t been in a store or bought groceries in years, so he follows Nora around asking questions and buying her stuff now and then. They spend a lot of time together and Nora finds herself falling for the star. To her shock, he tells her he is falling in love for the first time in his life.

Leo is also spending time with her kids, and her son is set to star in a Dickens play. Leo helps him learn his lines and ends up directing the school play. But shortly before the night it goes live, he gets offered an action film and mega millions to star in it. He has to go to L.A. to audition, meet with the director, and so forth. He promises to return in time for the play’s opening, but he doesn’t. In fact, he ghosts Nora.

Heartbroken, life goes on and once again Nora finds her writing this part of her life into a movie script. She tries to give it the romance channel spin and a happy ending, but her agent tells her to lean into it and write her truth. She struggles with it but eventually finds her way and it sells for a ton of money.

Meanwhile, her kids are also missing Leo and Nora is just miserable. This goes on for months until the film is nominated for several Oscars, including a screenwriting nomination for Nora. When shortly after that her son doesn’t show up for school, Nora is frantic. She calls Leo, who finds him. Leo and Nora finally talk, and that gets them to their happy ending.

I was immediately drawn into this story, and I really couldn’t put this book down. The characters come to life on the page, and the dialogue rings true. I loved seeing these characters grow together and find their way back to one another. I’m looking forward to more from this author – this was her first adult book and I hope she writes another soon.

7/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

NORA GOES OFF SCRIPT by Annabel Monaghan. G.P. Putnam’s Sons (June 7, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-0593420034. 272p.

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THE HOTEL NANTUCKET by Elin Hilderbrand

July 15, 2022

From the publisher:

“The queen of beach reads” (New York Magazine) delivers an immensely satisfying page-turner in this tale about a summer of scandal at a storied Nantucket hotel.

Fresh off a bad breakup with a longtime boyfriend, Nantucket sweetheart Lizbet Keaton is desperately seeking a second act. When she’s named the new general manager of the Hotel Nantucket, a once Gilded Age gem turned abandoned eyesore, she hopes that her local expertise and charismatic staff can win the favor of their new London billionaire owner, Xavier Darling, as well as that of Shelly Carpenter, the wildly popular Instagram tastemaker who can help put them back on the map. And while the Hotel Nantucket appears to be a blissful paradise, complete with a celebrity chef-run restaurant and an idyllic wellness center, there’s a lot of drama behind closed doors. The staff (and guests) have complicated pasts, and the hotel can’t seem to overcome the bad reputation it earned in 1922 when a tragic fire killed nineteen-year-old chambermaid Grace Hadley. With Grace gleefully haunting the halls, a staff harboring all kinds of secrets, and Lizbet’s own romantic uncertainty, is the Hotel Nantucket destined for success or doom?  

Filled with the emotional depth and multiple points of view that characterize Hilderbrand’s novels (The Blue Bistro, Golden Girl) as well as an added dash of Roaring Twenties history, The Hotel Nantucket offers something for everyone in this compelling summer drama. 

“Bring on the fresh-baked gougères and the hydrangea-blue cashmere throws: A classic fictional setting—the grand hotel—gets the Hilderbrand treatment. The beloved beach novelist’s 28th book is another tour de force…Honestly, who needs Nantucket. It could hardly be more fun than this book.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“Hilderbrand is the absolute queen of the beach reads, and her latest offering is dishy and fun, as a classic Nantucket hotel attempts to reinvent itself with a new billionaire owner. It might look glamorous on the outside, but behind closed doors, there is plenty of dysfunction among the staff, drama on the guest side, and a bad reputation the place can’t shake from a tragic fire in 1922.”―Mackenzie Dawson, New York Post

https://amzn.to/3ArEyNf

The Hotel Nantucket has been abandoned for many years. The locals all think it is cursed, and haunted by a woman killed in a fire one hundred years earlier. When a billionaire purchases the hotel and pours millions of dollars into renovations, Lizbet sees it as an opportunity. She has just broken up with her partner of fifteen years after she accidentally sees a sext on his phone. She carefully copies all 137 messages, then dumps him. Her ex is a chef and she worked the front of one of the most successful restaurants in Nantucket, but she is out. She lands the job of general manager of the hotel, and works hard on the renovations and hiring the new staff. The billionaire has one goal; he wants to own the hotel that finally gets “five keys” on a travel blog that has never given more than four.

The first headache arrives in a family who wants to check in for the entire summer, pays cash and explains she is in the middle of a divorce and her credit cards are all frozen. Edie, working the front desk, can’t get hold of Lizbet and agrees not only to the cash payment, she upgrades the family to a suite. There are two children, one of whom is a chess prodigy and the other is a Nancy Drew fan bound and determined to ferret out the true story of the ghost who is haunting the hotel. And they have a pit bull. Lizbet is not happy about it but has no options here.

The front desk manager is a seductress looking for her next meal ticket. There were so many red flags thrown at her interview I couldn’t believe she got the job, but she proves herself repeatedly, mostly by gaining lots of positive reviews from the men she sleeps with. The head of housekeeping, Magda, hires her staff but when one of them bows out at the last moment, she hires the next person through the door. Chad is a recent college graduate and a rich, preppy young man. Magda cannot believe he actually wants to clean rooms, but he convinces her to give him a try, thus the nickname she gives him, Long Shot. He is working through some massive guilt about something he did, but we don’t find out all that happened until almost the end.

There is a bar attached to the hotel that serves amazing food as the chef, Mario, was hired away from a top tier restaurant. Mario and Lizbet eventually start dating, but she ends it when she thinks he is also dating their young, beautiful yoga instructor. Lizbet and Mario are the romance of the book, until we find out there is another romance going on that no one knew about.

There are a lot of threads to this story and Hilderbrand artfully weaves them all together, enmeshing us in this unputdownable book. In addition to the fabulous novel, she includes a travel guide of sorts to Nantucket, with hotels, restaurants, and all the sights rated and recommended. If you are planning a trip to Nantucket, (and who doesn’t want to go after reading this book!) you are all set. Another winner from one of my most dependable authors out there – Hilderbrand never disappoints.

7/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE HOTEL NANTUCKET by Elin Hilderbrand. Little, Brown and Company (June 14, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-0316258678. 416p.

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FAKE IT TILL YOU BAKE IT by Jamie Wesley 

July 15, 2022

From the publisher:

A reality star and a cupcake-baking football player pretend to be a couple in order to save his bakery in this sweet and sexy romance from Jamie Wesley, Fake It Till You Bake It.

Jada Townsend-Matthews is the most reviled woman in America after turning down a proposal on a reality dating show. When she comes home to lick her wounds, Jada finds herself working at San Diego’s newest cupcake bakery, Sugar Blitz, alongside the uptight owner and professional football player Donovan Dell.

When a reporter mistakenly believes Jada and Donovan are an item, they realize they can use the misunderstanding to their advantage to help the struggling bakery and rehabilitate Jada’s image. Faking a relationship should be simple, but sometimes love is the most unexpected ingredient.

Fake it Till You Bake It is a sweet confection of a novel, the perfect story to curl up with and enjoy with a cupcake on the side.

https://amzn.to/3yBoRAG

Jada was on a Bachelor-type reality show, but when she won and got the proposal, she said no. When pressed, she said she had met someone right before she started on the show, and wanted to pursue that relationship. She becomes the most reviled woman in the social media sphere for turning down the sweet, handsome Dr. John. She goes home to regroup and hide out, for the most part. Her parents have had it with her. They are both scientists, as is her sister, and none of them understand why she didn’t pursue a loftier goal. But her grandmother, who inherited an NFL team from her husband, does understand and always her back.

Jada’s friend drags her out of the house to go to a newish cupcake store. Jada makes a few snarky remarks in earshot of one of the owners, who happens to be a football player on her grandmother’s team. He takes great offense, and she won’t give him an inch despite the delicious cupcake she’s trying.

Jada’s parents are cutting her off, financially, so she goes to see her grandmother, hoping to convince her to let her have her trust fun a few months early. But her grandmother has another idea; one of her star football players, Donovan, is in her office, too. Donovan agrees to hire Jada, but when he finds out she is his nitpicky customer, he is torn. His new contract is under negotiation and he doesn’t want to rock the boat, so he agrees to hire Jada.

She is a shit baker, and she is the first one to admit that, especially after she almost burns down the bakery. But Donovan is so patient and kind with her that she can’t help but want to try and please him. The more time they spend together, the more they realize they are developing feelings for one another.

Jada can’t bake, but she is social media savvy for sure. When some of her “fans”, i.e. women who hate her for turning down the bachelor, show up at the cupcake shop, she impulsively kisses Donovan, claiming he is the man she was hoping to connect with. She talks him into fake dating her, and it goes really well. Social media goes wild and people start pouring into the struggling bakeshop. When Jada suggests holding evening events, like a neighborhood book club, in the bakery after hours, Donovan reluctantly agrees. Business is booming, so who is he to argue with success.

Between Jada’s events and her social media following, business is booming. These enemies become lovers but this is no easy trip down Lovers Lane, there are enough hurdles to give the football player a real workout. This is a good enemies-to-lovers romance, but even though the male protagonist is an athlete, everything takes place in the off season, so to me, it doesn’t fall into the sports romance category. But it is a terrific story with a lot of laughs, great characters, a bit of heat, and enough drama to keep the pages turning. I’m hoping this is the first book of a series; Donovan has two partners in the bakery that are also his teammates – seems like a natural.

7/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

FAKE IT TILL YOU BAKE IT by Jamie Wesley. Griffin (June 21, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-1250801852. 336p.

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HOTTIE ON HER SHELF by Christi Barth

July 15, 2022

From the publisher:

Hallie Scott expected the hangover from her thirtieth birthday. She did not expect to find her calm, orderly life as Swan Cove’s head librarian to completely change overnight when her best friend added Hallie to the mayoral ballot because of one little remark. One. Now she’s going head-to-head with the small coastal town’s prominent “prince,” Fitz Montgomery…whose charm is about to get seriously checked.

All Fitz wants is to prove himself, beyond being the latest in the unbroken line of Montgomery mayors. Nobody, least of all Fitz, expected the town’s cute-as-hell librarian to step up and run against him. Hallie’s definitely in over her head, which is a problem, since Fitz wants a fair fight. But is he helping Hallie level the playing field…or arming his opponent?

Hallie and Fitz are on completely different sides. Their backgrounds, their lives, their ongoing ebook vs paperback argument. But they’re both about to learn that the art of war is nowhere near as complicated as falling for the enemy…

https://amzn.to/3awkyPa

This was as cute a book as the title suggested! I always love a librarian protagonist, and Hallie is a good one; not exactly a stereotype, but I recognized her among my co-workers for sure. She’s smart and determined and always has the facts on her side. So after ranting about the mayor, her best friend puts Hallie’s name on the ballot and the race is on.

Hallie may be many things, but a politician she is not. Her opponent, Fitz Montgomery, is his family’s heir apparent. The Montgomery’s own many of the businesses in town, live in a huge home, and have basically run things in this small town for over a hundred years. Fitz is the latest Montgomery to become mayor, after his uncle retired and moved to Florida. Turns out there is more to that story, but no spoilers here.

Fitz sincerely welcomes the competition. He is not comfortable being mayor, but tries to do a good job anyway, and wants a fair fight. At their first event, Hallie’s fact spouting doesn’t earn her any admirers and she knows it. Fitz offers to help her learn to be a politician and Hallie eventually acquiesces. That forces them to spend some time together and they both realize they are developing feelings for one another.

This is a really fun, contemporary rom-com with some nice surprises along the way. Both of these characters have more depth than meets the eye, and as they learn about one another, we can see they are meant to be together, despite Hallie’s being born on the wrong side of the tracks. Librarians will love this for sure, and so will readers who enjoy small town romances with an enemies to lovers vibe.

7/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

HOTTIE ON HER SHELF by Christi Barth. Entangled: Amara (July 11, 2022). ASIN: ‎B0B1BWBH5F. 325p.

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FIRST BRIDE TO FALL by Ginny Baird

July 8, 2022

Majestic Maine, Book 1

From the publisher:

A shy woman. Her outdoorsy crush. And the bet that could bring them together…or implode spectacularly.

Nell Delaney will do almost anything for her parents and her two sisters. But enter a marriage of convenience to save the family’s coffee shop? Too far. So Nell and her sisters strike a deal: whoever hasn’t found love in thirty days has to step up to take one for the team. The good news? Nell knows the perfect guy to fall in love with. The bad news? She’s going to have to pretend she likes the outdoors…a lot.

Adventure guide Grant Williams knows immediately that Nell is not exactly Little Miss Outdoorsy. She’s a walking natural disaster―an amazingly adorable disaster. And whoa, their chemistry is unbelievable. Everything between them is so perfect, he’s not even a little bit shocked when he starts thinking of forever…

Right up until he catches the town gossiping about the Delaney sisters’ bargain and realizes she’s just using him to win a bet. His family’s unreliable reputation means he can’t just dump one of the town’s sweethearts. No, she needs to dump him. If she’s going to pretend to be the perfect doting bride, well, he’ll just pretend to be the worst bachelor on the market.

Let the games begin…

Each book in the Majestic, Maine series is a STANDALONE:

1. First Bride to Fall

2. Second Bride Down

https://amzn.to/3ArEyNf

The premise of this series is a bit farfetched, but it’s such a good romance that it didn’t matter. Three sisters are told by their parents that the only way to save their family business and home is for one of them to marry the son of their former business partner who screwed them over. So the three girls decide whoever isn’t married or engaged within 30 days will have to be the bride.

Nell is the oldest of the sisters, and she has always taken care of her siblings to the point where she still makes them lunch! These women are all adults, in fact Nell is pushing 30 so she really needs to take a step back. She has always prioritized taking care of her family and friends over herself, but she doesn’t want to the bride of anyone except Grant. The only problem is Grant doesn’t know she’s alive.

Grant was a couple of years ahead of Nell in high school, and a popular, well liked boy who always had a girlfriend. Nell was a bit of a loner with typical high school low self esteem. They both still live in this small town in Maine, but she works for the family coffee business, and he owns an outdoor adventure store and guide business. With the clock ticking, Nell decides it’s now or never. She signs up for a “moderate” hike with Grant and arrives late and inappropriately dressed for the hike. But there is definite chemistry between them.

When Nell’s fear of heights throws her into a panic, Grant stays behind to help her down. But then she lands badly and twists her ankle, the skies open up and they are in a deluge which wipes out the bridge and the road back. Luckily, Grant has a fishing cabin nearby, so he helps her get there to dry off and wait out the storm. Since they can’t get back until the bridge and road is repaired, they get to spend the night together; Grant takes the couch and gives Nell the bed. He takes good care of her sprained ankle, makes her dinner, and really makes her feel special.

The next morning, Grant decides to see if he can get through on the back road, and by clearing a fallen tree, he makes it back to town to her family’s cafe. He is truly smitten and wants to surprise Nell with her favorite coffee and breakfast pastry. But while he’s there, her sisters let slip the bet and somehow think he and Nell are engaged. Instead, he is enraged by hides it well. He cooks up a plan to act like a Neanderthal so that Nell will break up with him. Instead, she realizes that something’s up, Grant is not the same man she has loved from afar all these years.

They manage to really piss each other off and Nell quickly plans to become the bride to save her family. I was so involved with this romance that I couldn’t put the book down and was totally invested in their happily ever after. I imagine the other two books in this trilogy will be about the other sisters, and I am looking forward to their stories.

7/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

FIRST BRIDE TO FALL by Ginny Baird. Entangled: Amara (June 28, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-1649372109. 352p.

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BY THE BOOK by Jasmine Guillory

June 17, 2022

A Meant To Be Novel, Book 2

From the publisher:

Sometimes to truly know a person, you have to read between the lines.

Isabelle is completely lost. When she first began her career in publishing after college, she did not expect to be twenty-five, still living at home, and one of the few Black employees at her publishing house. Overworked and underpaid, constantly torn between speaking up or stifling herself, Izzy thinks there must be more to this publishing life. So when she overhears her boss complaining about a beastly high-profile author who has failed to deliver his long-awaited manuscript, Isabelle sees an opportunity to finally get the promotion she deserves.

All she has to do is go to the author’s Santa Barbara mansion and give him a pep talk or three. How hard could it be?.

But Izzy quickly finds out she is in over her head. Beau Towers is not some celebrity lightweight writing a tell-all memoir. He is jaded and withdrawn and―it turns out―just as lost as Izzy. But despite his standoffishness, Izzy needs Beau to deliver, and with her encouragement, his story begins to spill onto the page. They soon discover they have more in common than either of them expected, and as their deadline nears, Izzy and Beau begin to realize there may be something there that wasn’t there before.

Best-selling author Jasmine Guillory’s achingly romantic reimagining of a classic is a tale as old as time . . . for a new generation.

“Endearing….A sweet read.” Kirkus Reviews

https://amzn.to/3tJfMnz

This is the second book of a series, but in an interesting twist a different author, Julie Murphy, wrote the first book, If the Shoe Fits. That book was a modern day retelling of Cinderella; this books is the modern day retelling of Beauty and the Beast. It’s a great premise for a series (see the Fairy Tale Series by Eloisa James for an historical retelling of these stories and more.)

Isabelle has always wanted to be a writer, but realistically, she takes a job in publishing. As a Black woman, she is definitely in the minority at work, a not uncommon phenomenon in the publishing industry. But she keeps her head down and works her butt off as an editorial assistant. One of her responsibilities is to stay on top of authors to make sure they meet their deadlines. Or as their million dollar child star author, Beau Towers, demonstrates, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by,” generally credited to Douglas Adams. Beau is so far past his deadline that they are inches away from giving up on the project.

Isabelle has been sending him reminder emails weekly with no response. Phone calls never get through, either. It’s gotten to the point where she is convinced no one is actually reading her emails; not the early earnest ones, and not the latest snarky ones. Not Beau, and not her boss who she copies on every email. When her boss takes Izzy to California for a book convention, Izzy gets the idea that she should go visit their reclusive author and maybe if she gives him a pep talk, in person, he will get writing.

Izzy arrives at his Santa Barbara estate and is shocked when he throws her out of his house. His assistant follows her out but slips and twists her ankle. Izzy helps her back inside and when Beau sees her, they have a bit of a showdown. He demands that she start giving him pep talks immediately.

Beau ends up asking her to stay for a few days, and she works hard at breaking through his tough shell. Those few days turn into a few weeks, and their relationship starts softening and growing as they get to know one another. Izzy still has to do all her regular work remotely, but Beau is the priority as she gets him to actually start writing.

I loved spending time with these characters and their snappy, often laugh out loud funny moments. The romance develops slowly, making that happy ending all the more heartfelt. This was a fun read, and I can’t help but wonder which author will be writing the next book in this series. I’m looking forward to it. And since the publisher is Disney, I can’t help but wonder if movies will be made!

6/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

BY THE BOOK by Jasmine Guillory. Hyperion Avenue (May 3, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-1368053389. 320p.

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THE EMMA PROJECT by Sonali Dev 

June 17, 2022

The Rajes Series #4

From the publisher:

Emma gets a fresh Indian-American twist from award-winning author Sonali Dev in her heartwarmingly irresistible Jane Austen inspired rom com series.

No one can call Vansh Raje’s life anything but charmed. Handsome—Vogue has declared him California’s hottest single—and rich enough to spend all his time on missions to make the world a better place. Add to that a doting family and a contagiously sunny disposition and Vansh has made it halfway through his 20s without ever facing anything to throw him off his admittedly spectacular game.

A couple years from turning forty, Knightlina (Naina) Kohli has just gotten out of a 10-year-long fake relationship with Vansh’s brother and wants only one thing from her life…fine, two things. One, to have nothing to do with the unfairly blessed Raje family ever again. Two, to bring economic independence to millions of women in South Asia through her microfinance foundation and prove her father wrong about, well, everything.

Just when Naina’s dream is about to come to fruition, Vansh Raje shows up with his misguided Emma Project…. And suddenly she’s fighting him for funding and wondering if a friends-with-benefits arrangement that’s as toe-curlingly hot as it is fun is worth risking her life’s work for.

https://amzn.to/3QoHv6S

I am so sorry that this series has come to an end. I loved spending time with the Rajes. But on the bright side, it ends with another terrific book. If you haven’t read the earlier books, I think this one stands alone okay, but it is so much richer for having met all these characters before.

Vansh and Naina are at the heart of this book, but even Esha gets her own romance, which made me so happy. Vansh is the baby of the Raje family; in fact, they call him the Baby Prince. Naina was engaged to his eldest brother, but they broke it off when he met someone else. It turned out that they were really just using each other and had no real relationship beyond a friendship. Naina is twelve years older than Vansh, and is fiercely independent. She comes from an abusive family, and has pretty much decided on staying single forever, if only to piss off her father. She has been working for over ten years on a nonprofit devoted to getting medical care to all the women in India, especially those in rural villages. Her dream is on the verge of becoming a reality when Jiggy Mehta, a local tech genius/billionaire, offers her funding. 

But then Jiggy meets Vansh and decides that Naina could share her windfall with his idea of helping the homeless in San Francisco. It’s a noble idea, of course, but Naina was counting on that money. Vansh convinces her that they should work together but spending all that time together leads to something more. Their chemistry is off the charts and Naina agrees to a friends with benefits scenario, but if you’ve ever read a romance novel, you know how that will go!

Esha is the eldest cousin of the Rajes and is mentioned in all the books, but her story comes out more fully here. The lone survivor of a plane crash that killed her parents when she was 8 years old, she has suffered from visions and seizures over the years. She has spent most of her life in the family home called the Anchorage. She hasn’t left the property in more than 30 years. One of her visions is a bird that no one else sees, until she meets Sid. He comes looking for the bird and Esha is shocked that he can see it, not to mention she doesn’t know what he’s thinking or feeling, like she does with her family. She feels better, more “normal” when she’s with Sid and decides to pursue the relationship further, but doesn’t let her family know.

All these storylines are engrossing, and I couldn’t put this book down. Lots of love and laughter, meddling family members, and some steamy love scenes all at play here. I highly recommend this series, and this book.

6/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE EMMA PROJECT by Sonali Dev. Avon (May 17, 2022). ISBN: ‎ 978-0063051843. 416p.

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FOUR WEDDINGS AND AN AUNTIE by Jesse Q. Sutanto

May 6, 2022

Aunties, Book 2

From the publisher:

The aunties are back, fiercer than ever and ready to handle any catastrophe—even the mafia—in this delightful and hilarious sequel by Jesse Q. Sutanto, author of Dial A for Aunties.

Meddy Chan has been to countless weddings, but she never imagined how her own would turn out. Now the day has arrived, and she can’t wait to marry her college sweetheart, Nathan. Instead of having Ma and the aunts cater to her wedding, Meddy wants them to enjoy the day as guests. As a compromise, they find the perfect wedding vendors: a Chinese-Indonesian family-run company just like theirs. Meddy is hesitant at first, but she hits it off right away with the wedding photographer, Staphanie, who reminds Meddy of herself, down to the unfortunately misspelled name.

Meddy realizes that is where their similarities end, however, when she overhears Staphanie talking about taking out a target. Horrified, Meddy can’t believe Staphanie and her family aren’t just like her own, they are The Family—actual mafia, and they’re using Meddy’s wedding as a chance to conduct shady business. Her aunties and mother won’t let Meddy’s wedding ceremony become a murder scene—over their dead bodies—and will do whatever it takes to save her special day, even if it means taking on the mafia.

“Sutanto deftly blends preposterous humor (British slang, mafia posers) with enduring devotion to prove ‘there is no right or wrong way to ‘being Asian.’”—Booklist

“Charming, chaotic, and sometimes ridiculous, this tale will appeal to anyone who both adores and is embarrassed by their family, which is just about everyone.”—Publishers Weekly

“You can’t help but get a kick out of the auntie’s outrageous stunts and their even bigger hearts. Keep your friends close and these four aunties closer.”—Kirkus

https://amzn.to/3KRHxjr

It was so much fun to spend some time with Meddy and her aunties again! This is the sequel to Dial A for Aunties, and Sutanto lived up to the hype and met (maybe even surpassed) expectations.

Meddy is finally getting married and her mom and the aunties are busy planning the wedding. Yes, Meddy is certainly old enough to plan her own wedding, but why deprive her family the pleasure. They meet up with a wedding planner, the grandmother of the family much like Meddy’s, only instead of aunties, there are uncles. The granddaughter is the photographer and makes Meddy feel like she found a new friend, and uncles doing hair and makeup and floral arrangements. Everything is in place and going smoothly until Meddy overhears her photographer on the phone talking about taking someone out at her wedding. Meddy confronts her, and the young woman basically blackmails Meddy and her aunties into letting them do the job and keeping quiet about the possible murder.

This leads to all sorts of shenanigans, along with the aunties taking British slang lessons with hilarious results. There is so much to love here; the humor, the family, and of course, the wedding. It all comes together in an over the top, laugh out loud crime spree of sorts. This series is most reminiscent of early Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books, with similar madcap humor and a touch of romance. I loved it.

5/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

FOUR WEDDINGS AND AN AUNTIE by Jesse Q. Sutanto. Berkley (March 29, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-0593333051. 304p.

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