Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur {review}

Written in the Stars

Genre: Contemporary Romance

 

My Review -Stars

This was presented to me as a FF Pride And Prejudice retelling but it’s more inspired by Darcy and Elizabeth’s personality types than the plot, for which I am grateful. Faithful P&P retellings have their place but I’m much more interested in seeing the character archetypes in other settings than I am in, say, reading about an updated Wickham take off with spoiled Lydia.

In this version, Darcy is a buttoned up actuary and Elle is a social media astrologist. Darcy’s brother Brendan is Elle’s business partner—his dating app One True Pairing has just hired Elle’s company to provide an astrological component. He wants nothing more than for his sister to find love and he’s constantly setting her up on blind dates and she’s had enough of it. Darcy and Elle start off on the wrong foot and the date goes poorly and that should be that. Only Darcy decides fake dating Elle will get her brother off her back for a while. Elle’s not completely convinced but she would love for her family to think she’s not a complete mess and Darcy is exactly the kind of person they admire. They come up with rules and then it’s only a matter of time for the rules to get chucked out of the window.

This was a very enjoyable 4 star read about halfway through and then I'm not entirely sure what happened but I could not get enough of the story and tore through the rest of it. I absolutely loved it! This is entirely because of Darcy and Elle. They were so fully drawn and I really empathized with their respective hopes and fears and the way those things got tangled up in one another. Darcy is terrified of falling in love after a bad breakup. She doesn’t want to give anyone a chance to break her heart again but Elle makes her feels things no one else ever has. Elle, on the other hand, has dreamed about finding her person her whole life and she’s all in once she and Darcy to give their fake relationship a real shot, even though she’s worried Darcy doesn’t believe in love.

There were so many cute details. They have different texting styles! Elle bought Darcy a scraggly Christmas tree to cheer her up! The way Elle sees the stars! Elle drags Darcy into a thrift store! Darcy’s secret soap opera fandom! Brendan’s dreamy eyed romanticism! The cilantro plant! Plus, I loved Elle’s relationship with her best friend and business partner Margot.

There was only one aspect I didn’t like and it’s a testament to the author that I understood why she did things that way. Elle’s family treats her horribly. They think she’s a mess and her parents push her to get stable jobs with benefits, in spite of her massive success with Oh My Stars. Her siblings are alternately smug and condescending passive-aggressive jerks. I could not understand why she still spent time with them. Why put yourself around toxic people? But this speaks to Elle’s optimism and her hope for things to change. If only the people we love would magically treat us the way we want them to. Instead, Elle has to stop pushing her hurt feelings down and call them out. Only then can lasting change happen. It’s not perfect—and it’s not a chance I’d give my own family members necessarily—but it’s incredibly true to who Elle is and in the end, I respected the development of this particular arc.

A couple of last notes. First, while this is marketed as a romcom and has a breezy tone, I never laughed out loud. It’s a very cute, very enjoyable story and perhaps it’ll make other people laugh. I’m a tough customer when it comes to what I consider a romcom. Don’t get me wrong: I love books that get me to laugh out loud and I came in primed to do so here. But alas, the humor was too subtle. Second, this is set during Thanksgiving and Christmas but it 's not a holiday romance. However, it’s perfect if you want some holiday-adjacent reading. 

Character notes: Elle is bisexual. I did not note Darcy identifying as a particular sexuality. They are both white. Elle's brother is married to a man and her best friend Margot is pansexual. I’m a cis-het woman so I’ll defer to LGBTQ+ readers on how the representation fared. This is set in Seattle.

CW: toxic family, past death of grandmother, heroine’s ex cheated on her, heroine’s mother dealt with depression after divorcing, heroine’s father cheated on her mother 

 

Synopsis

With nods to Bridget Jones and Pride and Prejudice, a charming #ownvoices queer rom-com debut about a free-spirited social media astrologer who agrees to fake a relationship with an uptight actuary until New Year’s Eve—with results not even the stars could predict!

After a disastrous blind date, Darcy Lowell is desperate to stop her well-meaning brother from playing matchmaker ever again. Love—and the inevitable heartbreak—is the last thing she wants. So she fibs and says her latest set up was a success. Darcy doesn’t expect her lie to bite her in the ass.

Elle Jones, one of the astrologers behind the popular Twitter account, Oh My Stars, dreams of finding her soul mate. But she knows it is most assuredly not Darcy... a no-nonsense stick-in-the-mud, who is way too analytical, punctual, and skeptical for someone as free-spirited as Elle. When Darcy’s brother—and Elle's new business partner—expresses how happy he is that they hit it off, Elle is baffled. Was Darcy on the same date? Because... awkward.

When Darcy begs Elle to play along, she agrees to pretend they’re dating to save face. But with a few conditions: Darcy must help Elle navigate her own overbearing family over the holidays and their arrangement expires on New Year’s Eve. The last thing they expect is to develop real feelings during a fake relationship.

But maybe opposites can attract when true love is written in the stars? 

 

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Disclosure: I received an advanced copy from Avon in exchange for an honest review.


Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust {review}

Girl  Serpent  Thorn

Genre: YA Fantasy

 

My Review - 5 Stars

“It was the shame she had to cling to, not the power. It was the shame that made her still feel human. She was a human as dangerous as a div, but unlike a div, she refused to enjoy being deadly or to revel in her monstrosity.”

I loved Bashardoust’s first novel Girls Made of Snow and Glass so I was very excited when I heard about her new book. It was inspired by the poisonous girl in a garden from Rappaccini’s Daughter and the Persian epic Shahnameh (or the Book of Kings.) Reading this solidified how I want to read more non-Western fairy tales and myths in the coming year.

Soraya was cursed to be poisonous to the touch and consequently hasn’t touched anyone in 18 years. She wears gloves at all times and remains in Golvahar, the oldest of the palaces. Her twin brother Sorush is the shah and about to be married to her former friend Laleh, bringing her family back to Golvahar. My heart really went out to Soraya. Can you imagine never touching anyone or being touched in return? She experienced so much loneliness and isolation with no hope of reprieve unless her curse can be broken. Because of this isolation, she knows very few people but we get to know those people fairly well as things unfold and they brought so much to story.

I don’t want to say much more than that because I loved experiencing all the twists and turns of this plot. Not everyone is who they seem and many of the characters have secrets. Add in Soraya’s determination to break the curse at almost any cost and you have a high stakes plot that doesn’t quit.

One of the most interesting parts to me was how much longing and yearning Soraya experienced and how she kept having to tamp down her hopes of ever having more. Then to not have that barrier in place anymore…whew. The story does a great job examining the line between hero and monster and what it means to belong. Soraya has to really grapple with who she is and what her power means. She can be dangerous if she wants but is that what she wants and what will it mean for her family if she acts on that?

She really comes into her own as the story progresses and it was such a great evolution of her character. She’s strong but imperfect and that’s all I ever want in my heroines. The odds were really against her as the Shahmar takes control. I loved watching her navigate all the political intrigue and betrayal, especially as she had to reconcile with her own actions. The Shahmar is a layered character in his own right but I’ll let you figure out why for yourself.

Soraya is bisexual and while there are a couple of possible love interests, the moment we met Parvaneh, I knew something more was there. Parvaneh is a pairk, the most human-looking of the divs, and a prisoner when we first encounter her. I loved how Soraya and Parvaneh danced around one another at first. I do wish we’d gotten to see more of them together at the end, once the dust had settled, but that’s a minor wish compared to how thoroughly I enjoyed this story. I can’t wait to see what Bashardoust does next.

CW: isolation, kidnapping, threat of murder/execution, murder, villain executed his own family in the past, religious shaming

 

Synopsis

A captivating and utterly original fairy tale about a girl cursed to be poisonous to the touch, and who discovers what power might lie in such a curse...

There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming...human or demon. Princess or monster.

 

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Disclosure: I received an advanced copy from Flatiron Books in exchange for an honest review.


The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon {review}

The Boyfriend Project

Genre: Contemporary Romance

 

My Review - 4 Stars

So much goes down on Twitter daily that it can be easy to lose track of what's happened but I’ll never forget the live tweet of a date that went wrong as a few women realized they were dating the same man, dumped him, and went out for drinks on their own. If that debacle sounds like the perfect setup for a romance novel, let me introduce you to The Boyfriend Project.

Samiah, London, and Taylor meet when they realize the same guy catfished them and form a strong friendship instead. All three women have struggled to make friends in Austin, either due to work or the plain difficulty of meeting new like-minded people once you’re no longer in school. Samiah has her sister but that’s about it and she hasn’t thought much of it since she’s so focused on her life goals. But when London and Taylor come into her life in this unconventional fashion, she soon realizes how much she needs them. They challenge each other to devote the time they’d spend trying to find a boyfriend to move forward toward a dream. In Samiah’s case, that's developing a friendship app, which honestly sounds amazing. I adored the friendships at the center of this story and I cannot wait to read London and Taylor’s respective stories!

But this is a romance so you’re probably wondering who Samiah’s love interest is. This is where Farrah Rochon tightens the screws on her characters. One would think after Samiah dumped someone who’d been lying to her, honesty would be paramount for her next partner and you’d be right. Only that’s not what we’re getting because Daniel is undercover for work.

If I'm going to read a lie of omission plot, work-related reasons are the only one that work. He can't tell Samiah who he really is or what he's doing at Trendsetters (which seems like the coolest place to work) but he’s intensely drawn to her. Samiah’s not a suspect but dating someone while undercover isn't exactly looked well upon by the higher ups. Plus, there’s the fact that he could get pulled away the instant the case is solved and not even have time to say goodbye to Samiah. It’s a quandary and I did get rather tired of how wishy-washy Daniel was about it. Either accept that you’re being selfish and go after her or leave her alone already!

Even so, I loved their relationship. They were so good together and I really appreciated how they tried to balance their career goals against what they want in their personal lives. The story does a great job highlighting their respective careers, how they deal with racism and microaggressions (Samiah is Black and Daniel is Black-Korean American), and how to not lose sight of what matters. I’m excited to see what Rochon does with the rest of the series!

CW: racism, microaggressions, reference to side character being hit by a bus while riding his bicycle resulting in long hospitalization, reference to side character's infertility and fertility treatments, side character’s pregnancy and healthy delivery

 

Synopsis

 

 

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Disclosure: I received a free advanced copy from Forever Romance in exchange for an honest review.


American Sweethearts (Dreamers #4) by Adriana Herrera {review}

American Sweethearts

Genre: Contemporary Romance

 

My Review - 5 Stars

What a bittersweet end to an impressive series. Adriana Herrera has given us an immeasurable gift with each installment of the Dreamers series and I am sad to see it come to a close but also delighted Juan Pablo and Priscilla finally got their HEA.

J and Pris have had a fairly antagonistic relationship in the previous three books but here they’re trying to be on their best behavior for Tom and Milo’s wedding in the Dominican Republic, although snark and skepticism still slip through, especially on Pris’s part. They’ve had an on and off relationship since they were 14 but two years ago it became decidedly off as Priscilla had enough of Juan Pablo’s sketchy ways. Now 35, she’s reevaluating every part of her life, particularly her career as a cop, and she misses her friend. And he misses her too and wants to show that he’s changed.

Actions speak louder than words, especially given their history, but words still matter. J has gone to therapy and he’s made some overt changes in his life, including the way he decorates his home, just like they’d always discussed. He has the tea Pris usually drinks when she has cramps and a hot pad and is ready to nurture her. This was so sweet to see. He’s clearly a different man! But he struggles on the communication side of things and I really loved watching him figure out how to express himself, even when he overstepped his bounds.

Pris’s journey is more about making peace with the need to take a risk. Not only with giving Juan Pablo a second chance but turning her side hustle as a sex toy shop and podcast into her full-time gig. It’s a big risk regardless but it feels especially big because she doesn’t want to let her immigrant parents down and it doesn’t have the same stability or even prestige that being a cop has. She’s carrying such a big burden on her own and I loved watching her let J in and help carry the load.

Those two have ferocious chemistry, making for some very hot and memorable scenes. There are ups and downs along the way, making for a very satisfying HEA. I love that Pris doesn’t want to have kids and they’re both fine with being a child-free couple—this is always great to see in romance.

Like I said, I’m very sad to see this series end but what a delightful ride it’s been. I can’t wait to see what Herrera does next!

A final note, more for myself than anything else. Professional ethics, particularly for health care workers, matter a great deal to me and I was concerned during the chapter where Juan Pablo is training Yariel Cuevas, a Yankees player, and we learn that they used to hook up. Physical therapists cannot date their clients and that wouldn’t change while working for a baseball team, even if he only provides PT on the off-season. So I clarified the nature of Juan Pablo and Yariel’s relationship with Herrera. She told me they casually hooked up when Yari was in his rookie year and J was not working with him as his PT. So phew! No ethical violations there. Fun fact: Yariel will get his own story in the He’s Come Undone anthology, which I cannot wait to read.

CW: racism, microaggressions, references to child abuse cases, case involving suspected child predator and a 12 year old who gets pregnant and miscarries and runs away, reference to the predator being stabbed ostensibly in self-defense, hero’s cop father was shot in the line of duty and ultimately retired from the force, heroine almost shot on the job two years prior, colorism

Representation: Priscilla is Dominican, Juan Pablo is Puerto Rican and Italian American

 

Synopsis

Juan Pablo Campos doesn’t do regrets. He’s living the dream as a physical therapist with his beloved New York Yankees. He has the best friends and family in the world and simply no time to dwell on what could’ve been.

Except when it comes to Priscilla, the childhood friend he’s loved for what seems like forever.

New York City police detective Priscilla Gutierrez has never been afraid to go after what she wants. Second guessing herself isn’t a thing she does. But lately, the once-clear vision she had for herself—her career, her relationships, her life—is no longer what she wants.

What she especially doesn’t want is to be stuck on a private jet to the Dominican Republic with JuanPa, the one person who knows her better than anyone else.

By the end of a single week in paradise, the love/hate thing JuanPa and Pris have been doing for sixteen years has risen to epic proportions. No one can argue their connection is still there. And they can both finally admit—if only to themselves—they’ve always been a perfect match. The future they dreamed of together is still within reach...if they can just accept each other as they are.

 

Buy the book:

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Disclosure: I received an advanced copy from the author. The author is a friend.


Whiteout by Adriana Anders {review}

Whiteout

Genre: Romantic Suspense

 

My Review - 5 Stars

I’ve been a fan of Adriana Anders’s writing since the moment I picked up Under Her Skin. While I don’t read much romantic suspense, I was excited to learn she was taking on the subgenre because I knew she would do it justice and that it would avoid the aspects I typically don’t like in those stories. I was right: Whiteout was so good!

Give me a grumpy-sunshiney pairing any day and I’ll be happy. Put them together in the highest of high stakes situation and I’ll read with my heart in my throat. Angel and Ford have to flee for their lives across Antarctica, which is high stakes in itself and all the higher because the sun is about to go down for the season and there will be no hope if they’re still out in the elements. GAH. I feel cold just thinking about it.

Ford Cooper is a class Adriana Anders hero: haunted and gruff and yearning. He’s neurodiverse. He’s grumpy. He just wanted to be left alone with his ice samples. He also was very ready for chef Angel to be done with the season and out of his hair so he no longer had to think about why she affected him so strongly. But there’s no avoiding her when they’re the only two survivors after members of their team turn out to not be who they thought they were.

Angel Smith came to the South Pole as a way of starting fresh after a devastating accident. She’s there to cook and to think about what’s next. She’s not at all equipped to run for her life and I was so impressed by the way she rose to the occasion again and again, no matter what happened to her and Ford. Such a badass! It’s also worth noting that I loved the way she talked about food and feeding people. She brought such warmth and nurturing into Ford’s life and it was so lovely to watch him respond to that.

This was such an intense story. There’s only one tent! They had to join sleeping bags to stay warm! They ran out of food about halfway through the journey! I was very stressed out for them, especially because Anders kept tightening the screws. I'm generally not a fan of villain POVs but here it was used to great effect and only deepened my horror at the conspiracy at work. There are big things at play as the series continues and I cannot wait to see how they play out.

As for Angel and Ford, I simply loved them together and I’m so glad the forced proximity literally forced them to confront their feelings for one another. There are some great side characters as well and I loved the concept of Polies as found family, really highlighting Anders’s gift at crafting vibrantly complex characters. Bring on book two!

CW: hero is neurodiverse, murder, violence, crevasse and other Antarctic dangers, concern for hypothermia, past infidelity, knee injury due to past car accident, past car accident fatality, past death of loved ones, hero served in the Army, hero’s father died of alcoholism

 

Synopsis

Angel Smith is ready to leave Antarctica for a second chance at life. But on what was meant to be her final day, the research station is attacked. Hunted and scared, she and glaciologist Ford Cooper barely make it out with their lives…only to realize that in a place this remote, there's nowhere left to run.

Isolated in the middle of a long, frozen winter with a madman at their heels, they must fight to survive in the most inhospitable—and beautiful—place on earth. But the outside world depends on what Ford and Angel know and, as their pursuers close in and their new partnership burns bright and hot, they will stop at nothing to make it out of the cold alive.

 

Buy the book:

Amazon (affiliate link) | Barnes & Noble

 

Disclosure: I received an advanced copy from Sourcebooks Casablanca in exchange for an honest review. The author and I are friendly online.