Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Like Lovers Do by Tracy Livesay (Girls Trip #2)

Summary from Goodreads: Tracey Livesay continues her fun-filled Girls Trip series with this romance that will tug at your heartstrings.

Sometimes faking it can lead to the real thing…

Driven and focused, Dr. Nicole Allen is an accomplished surgeon. With a tough past, Nic’s gone above and beyond everyone’s expectations. But when she disciplines an intern—a powerful donor’s son—a prestigious fellowship she’s awaiting is placed in jeopardy. 

Coming from a successful family who runs a medical business empire, Benjamin Reed Van Mont is the black sheep, having chosen to start his own business instead. Though he’s not ready to settle down, he knows when the time comes it definitely won’t be with a workaholic doctor like his friend Nic—even if she’s had him re-examining his edict…more than once. 

When Ben’s status-climbing ex-girlfriend finds her way back into his orbit, Nic proposes a swap of services. She’ll spend the week with Ben on Martha’s Vineyard, pretending to be his girlfriend—but only if he’ll have his family intervene on her behalf so she won’t lose her fellowship. How hard can the charade be? 

But as they’re about to discover, they’ve sorely underestimated their true feelings for each other…

For my 140th read of 2020 (which completes my Goodreads reading goal in August, woo!) I present: mind-blowing hammock sex.

That’s it. That’s the review.

Jk. But the first time Nic and Ben have sexytimes they do it in a goddamn hammock and this is the “can you have sex while on horseback” question of 2020 contemporary romance. It’s amazing. Tracy Livesay is a queen.

Ok, for realz, Nic is a rockstar chief resident in orthopedic surgery headed to a prestigious sports medicine fellowship and Ben has been her landlord and best friend for three years. Nic is career-driven and avoids long-term relationships, preferring short hook-ups, and Ben is balls-deep in love with Nic but doesn’t want a career-driven partner because his parents were awful about putting him second to their careers. Near the end of Nic’s residency, she reprimands a new resident (intern?) – rightly – for blowing off a Black man with health problems and a septic joint to go watch a [sexy] spinal-fusion surgery. However, Racist Bro Surgeon goes whining off to his daddy, who is a major donor to the hospital, and Daddy threatens not only the end of Nic’s residency but also her fellowship placement. Nic doesn’t have a lot of ammunition at her disposal to fight back – she’s a woman, she comes from a less-advantaged background, she doesn’t have a prestigious family name, and she’s Black. She’s a tiny, tiny minority in a very dude-heavy, dick-swinging surgical specialty.

She does, however, have an ace up her sleeve. Ben’s family the Van Monts have generational clout in medicine from generations of doctors. When Nic tells Ben what happened, he offers to ask his parents to put in a good word for her. It’s what friends do, after all, despite the fact that he a) refused to go into the medical profession and b) walked away from working for the family foundation to start his own financial advising firm. When Nic hears that Ben’s ex Tinsley has invited herself to a friend vacation with plans to get Ben back in her clutches – which Ben definitely does not want – Nic offers to accompany Ben as his girlfriend. [Note: I want to make clear – as Ben does in the book – that this is not a quid pro quo situation and that Nic is not obligated to fake date Ben so he’ll call his mom for her.] But while they’re on Martha’s Vineyard, fake dating leads to realistic kissing to maybe something so much more.

I love it.

Nic is amazing and smart and strong – and a much more communicative orthopedic surgeon than I’ve ever encountered because we’re working with some of them on a couple of projects and they’re all allergic to checking their email – and Ben is such a cinnamon roll. The trope at play might be Friends to Lovers but there’s really no thunderblot “wow, Friendo is hot now!” moment. It’s this slow realization that the love between Ben and Nic has existed quietly for some time and they have to take the risk that being intimate and opening up is worth it.

Around the developing romance are two really good examinations about family and relationships. First, through the elitist and racist actions of Tinsley toward Nic, Ben starts to examine his own blind-spots and unintentional microaggressions about race. It leads to him developing a better relationship with Nic and also with a new client at his firm (I kinda hope, given the way Livesay wrote a few scenes with this character, that he’s being set up for a future book because we aren’t given many details about him and I’d really like to know more). Second, both Ben and Nic have built their lives and careers in reaction to perceived choices made by each of their parents. So they, separately, have to clear up some misconceptions with the older generation before they realize they can make a life together.

Did I mention that I love it?

Content warning: Ben’s obnoxious ex-fiance Tinsley is the Spoiled Racist Barbie among the cast of characters in Martha’s Vinyard but you definitely don’t sympathize with her and wish the rest of the characters would just murder her and put her body in the Sound. Also Spoiled Racist Bro Surgeon, but he’s on the page less. [Spoiler: the racists get their comeuppance.]

Like Lovers Do is out now! Even though it’s a book 2, you can definitely read it out of order, because I have book 1 but haven’t read it yet (SORRYYYY) but definitely need to go read it now! And look at that pretty cover.

Dear FTC: I read a digital copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

From Alaska With Love by Ally James

A soldier has six weeks to convince the only woman he has ever longed for to take a chance on life with him in Alaska….

Sara’s letters were the only bright spot during Gabe’s devastating tour in Iraq. With each new correspondence he fell harder, needed her more, wanted to be with her. Now, after initially rejecting his offer to meet, she’s shown up at the door of his isolated cabin in Alaska looking for…what? Gabe’s not sure what made Sara change her mind, but he knows he never wants to let her go.

Major Gabe Randall is everything Sara Ryan wants but nothing she feels she deserves. A modern-day spinster, Sara hides behind family obligations and the safe, quiet life she’s resigned herself to living. But secretly, even though she may have stretched the truth about who she is in her letters to him, she wants Gabe. Will he still want her when he discovers the real woman behind the pen?

Once they meet, Gabe asks her for six weeks in Alaska. Six weeks to spend getting to know each other, and then she’ll have to decide whether they are better together or apart.

I’ve had the galley for From Alaska With Love kicking around in my iPad for a while so it caught my eye while I was scrolling around for something to read (I apologize to all September galleys, my brain is like a hamster with a squeaky wheel right now). Now, there’s going to be a spoiler in this review, so be forewarned.

This was a sweet but ultimately just OK contemporary romance. I loved the meet-cute – a random Letter to a Soldier, posted on a whim, sparks an email conversation, and eventually Facetiming sessions, between a career military man deployed in Iraq and a woman stuck in her life as the unappreciated nanny to her niece (who she loves, she doesn’t begrudge her little niece any of that, it’s the rest of the family that proves the problem). So after developing a lovely long-distance relationship where they get into the reality of Gabe’s deployment and Sara’s kind of garbage family, Gabe and Sara agree to meet – he buys her a plane ticket to meet him in Alaska where he’s stationed when not on deployment. But he decides to surprise her at her home in North Carolina first – and this is where I got real mad at a choice the author made in this book.

Here be a spoiler: Sara’s brother answers the door and when Gabe introduces himself, THE BROTHER SAYS HE’S SARA’S HUSBAND. And the scene devolves into something really uncomfortable from there. Gabe is hurt, very hurt, because Sara hasn’t told her family about him, and has also not told them she has agreed to visit Alaska in one week, and Sara can’t articulate why she thinks she owes her (omg, such garbage) family despite the way they treat her. AND NEITHER OF THEM IMMEDIATELY THROAT PUNCH HER BROTHER. Y’all, I have two younger brothers and there is no way on this Earth would either of them just say that as a joke or to protect me from some perceived rando dude because GROSS. They would just be like “I’m her brother, who the hell are you?” And done. You’d get the same fallout and revelations from the scene without the shitty panic and grossness of that statement.

So I had to pause a bit – did I want to finish the book after this scene? It happens about halfway through the book. I went ahead and finished, because the correspondence between Gabe and Sara was so nice and I was hoping the author would get that level of sweetness back.

It did get there, although Gabe was an ice-cold twerp for a week after Sara arrived in Alaska. He only thawed toward her after overhearing a phone conversation Sara has with her cousin where he realizes how her family treats her and why she kept him a secret. From there he has a one-eighty in his attitude and we’re back to that lovely relationship from the first half of the book. So the romance turns out in a satisfying way (the letters come back into play and allll the heart-eyes for that). There are some beautiful scenes in Alaska with the Northern Lights and a fancy Christmas party before we get to the HEA. But Gabe and Sara never really TALK about the elephant in the room, namely why she never told anyone about Gabe except for her cousin. The reader knows how poorly she was treated by her mother, her sister-in-law (who I wanted to push down a well), her brother, and various extended relatives (the opening page of the book is kind of infuriating with respect to which family member you dislike the most). But I felt that Gabe and Sara didn’t quite do the emotional labor for this part.

So there are a lot of sweet scenes around one big, honking stumble. Plus a cute dog.

Dear FTC: I read a galley I got from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Legal Affair by Nisha Sharma (The Singh Family #2)

Summary from Goodreads:

Rajneet Hothi built her empire with sweat, blood, and information. She knows everything there is to know about Ajay Singh, the future CEO of Bharat, Inc., as well as how crucial he is in securing her future. But she didn’t expect the passion that burst between them the first time they went head-to-head. She’d never felt anything like it before, especially during her marriage to her soon-to-be-ex-husband. When her company is blamed for her ex’s dirty dealings with Bharat, she’s forced to prove that Ajay is no match for her in the art of business or seduction.

Ajay shouldn’t trust Raj or her company. He’s on the verge of losing everything his family has worked to achieve, but he can’t stop thinking about the breathtaking way Raj opens her mind, body and heart to him. Throwing his infamous caution to the wind, he tempts the gorgeous CEO into his bedroom and boardroom. He soon realizes he wants Raj by his side and he’s willing to fight the people he’s always protected to be with her.

When Raj and Ajay discover the source behind Bharat’s leak, they must trust each other and work together to defy the odds and save the Singh legacy. 

I have been WAITING for the followup to Nisha Sharma’s The Takeover Effect. *eeeeeeeee*

Small spoiler: The opening chapter of The Legal Affair hangs on whether you remember what happened in the “foiling the hostile takeover of Bharat by this REAL trash company who got inside help from garbage family members” denouement of The Takeover Effect. So while you can read The Legal Affair without having read Takeover, however, go read Takeover because HAWT lawyers doing lawyer stuff and also having bananas-hot sex. You’re welcome.

Beginning aside, once I refreshed my memory Legal hits hot, fast, and hard. Raj’s company is in the information business; she was the one who provided the information about what was happening during the Bharat takeover. Ajay is set to take over Bharat as CEO from his father when the Board makes its formal vote to approve his appointment at their next meeting. However, a movement inside the Board, seemingly caused by an IP leak that traces back to Raj’s company and her garbage soon-to-be-ex-husband, calls into question Ajay’s ability to lead the company. Relationships within the Singh family start to fray under the stress while Raj faces the risk of her past coming to light if she fights her ex. What no one expected was for Ajay and Raj to have incredible chemistry in the boardroom as well as the bedroom…and for them to become an almost unstoppable force together.

Despite the heady Manhattan setting and feel that the characters are self-made business royalty, the books in the Singh Trilogy are also very much about the family relationships. The relationships that support us, but can also hurt us at the same time. Sharma expertly uses these webs to underpin the plot. If corporate espionage and arguments about intellectual property rights get you going plus incredible hot-but-tender sexual chemistry – and one very, very adorable tiny Chihuahua puppy who will melt your heart – get yourself a copy of The Legal Affair. (Did I mention it was hot? Ajay and Raj are serious dirty talkers. Also, I would totally watch a Netflix series adaptation of these books and we don’t even have book 3 yet!)

The Legal Affair is out August 18 from Avon Impulse!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

stuff I read

On the Corner of Hope and Main by Beverly Jenkins (Blessings #10)

Citizens of Henry Adams, Kansas, know there’s never a dull moment in their small town… Trent July has been the mayor of this historic town for the past four years, but now he’s ready to let someone else take up the mantle. Barrett Payne, a former Marine, decides he wants the job. But when a surprise candidate also enters the ring, the town has opinions on who would be the best candidate. And of course that’s not the only drama…

As the residents of Henry Adams have learned, life will throw obstacles their way, but it’s how they come together and rise above these challenges that keep the bonds of their close-knit community strong.

I whoopsed up slightly when I requested On the Corner of Hope and Main from William Morrow. They were up front about it being the tenth entry in the Blessings series but I was thinking “series” like Ms. Bev’s Destiny or Old West romance series. In those series there’s a bit more separation between the couples’ stories so they can read more as linked stand-alones. But the Blessings series is true serialized storytelling, much like a soap opera, where the “main character” is the population of the town. The individual characters move forward and back in prominence depending on whether their subplot needs to come to the fore.

So if you’ve been reading Ms. Bev’s Blessing series, this is a really solid, entertaining continuation of the lives and happenings and shenanigans of the population of Henry Adams, KS. There’s an election for mayor that doesn’t go NEARLY as anyone planned, Bernardine’s trash ex-husband shows up to cause problems, and a certain felonious porcine character makes a reappearance.

However, if you, like me, had not read any of the previous books you might be at sea for a bit until you catch up. Which took me about 100 pages. I kept backing up to re-read so I could keep the many characters and their relationships straight. But it was a fun read once I had everyone straightened out. Ms. Bev really lets her sarcastic side fly at times and she’s created some really gorgeous blended families. Plus, this small town that has blossomed with the infusion of Bernardine’s money and love is really compelling. Someday, I’ll back up and pickup the earlier books.

On the Corner of Hope and Main is out now!

Dear FTC: I read a finished copy I received from the publisher.

stuff I read

You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria

RITA® Award Winning author Alexis Daria brings readers an unforgettable, hilarious rom-com set in the drama-filled world of telenovelas—perfect for fans of Jane the Virgin and The Kiss Quotient.

Leading Ladies do not end up on tabloid covers.

After a messy public breakup, soap opera darling Jasmine Lin Rodriguez finds her face splashed across the tabloids. When she returns to her hometown of New York City to film the starring role in a bilingual romantic comedy for the number one streaming service in the country, Jasmine figures her new “Leading Lady Plan” should be easy enough to follow—until a casting shake-up pairs her with telenovela hunk Ashton Suárez. 

Leading Ladies don’t need a man to be happy

After his last telenovela character was killed off, Ashton is worried his career is dead as well. Joining this new cast as a last-minute addition will give him the chance to show off his acting chops to American audiences and ping the radar of Hollywood casting agents. To make it work, he’ll need to generate smoking-hot on-screen chemistry with Jasmine. Easier said than done, especially when a disastrous first impression smothers the embers of whatever sexual heat they might have had. 

Leading Ladies do not rebound with their new costars.

With their careers on the line, Jasmine and Ashton agree to rehearse in private. But rehearsal leads to kissing, and kissing leads to a behind-the-scenes romance worthy of a soap opera. While their on-screen performance improves, the media spotlight on Jasmine soon threatens to destroy her new image and expose Ashton’s most closely guarded secret.

You Had Me at Hola is Alexis Daria’s Avon debut (I love her Take the Lead, set behind the scenes of a “Dancing with the Stars”-type show). It is a fun, entertaining, and steamy romance set behind the scenes of a new telenovela filming for a “major streaming service” (and check out that awesome cover). In between chapters of Jasmine and Ashton “in real life” are fun insertions of scenes in the show as they are shot where Jasmine’s and Ashton’s characters overlap with their real-life selves. Daria hits it out of the park in creating the show Carmen in Charge – I would totally watch it and cheer on its amazing, diverse creative team if it were real! Daria really knows her way around the entertainment industry (look, if you haven’t read Take the Lead go do that). Jasmine and Ashton were such excellent characters, too. They each have some stuff to work through – Jasmine feels like she doesn’t get support from her family in both her career and her dating life (her two cousins are pretty awesome and that’s it) and Ashton has PTSD, and maybe a little paranoia, from a crazed fan’s break-in attempt years ago. I would have maybe had them grovel a teensy bit more to each other at the end since they said some really below-the-belt stuff during their big blow-up. And Ashton’s dad is a love 💖.

PS: Paparazzi are trash scum and wtf, people, don’t take sneaky pictures of famous people out minding their own business, that’s rude. It did make me feel a little sad when Jasmine is basically like “we sign up for some of this when we’re famous” – and yeah, I can see the press interviews and such, but the garbage invasions of privacy? Nah. No one deserves that.

You Had Me at Hola is out today!!

Dear FTC: I read a finished copy of this book that the publisher sent to me.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

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Summary from Goodreads:
Wanted:
One (fake) boyfriend
Practically perfect in every way

Luc O’Donnell is tangentially–and reluctantly–famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go.

I’m not sure what I was expecting for Alexis Hall’s new Sourcebooks Casablanca release, Boyfriend Material, but it definitely wasn’t a hilarious rom-com narrated by Luc, a neurotic, paparazzi-averse twenty-something. His parents are rock-star famous but his dad walked out when he was three. Luc accidentally gets some (more) bad tabloid press, which affects his fund-raising job at a coleoptera charity – hilariously acronymed CRAPP – and must acquire a respectable, “proper” boyfriend ASAP. He gets set-up with Oliver, a very, very respectable, upstanding barrister with a stable, very staid, acceptable, non-paparazzi-bait lifestyle (incidentally, Oliver is also incredibly hot in his three-piece suits). So they agree to fake date – Oliver will appear in some “good” paparazzi photos and attend the Beetle Drive as Luc’s plus-one and Luc will come to Oliver’s parents’ ruby wedding anniversary do. (FAKE DATING, WHEE!!!!) So when does fake dating – involving sweet dinners at vegan pop-up restaurants, glass sculpture exhibits, quick lunches by the Gladstone statue, and meeting Luc’s batty-but-sweet mom Odile and her “special” curry and her mad-as-pants bestie Judy – become real dating with vulnerability and feelings and OMG PANIC??

Much of Boyfriend Material is Luc freaking out about feelings and learning to have feelings and be an adult and then maybe learning that Oliver isn’t quite as put-together as he thought. The entirety of the book is narrated from Luc’s perspective which makes his journey from panicked, emotionally-fraught bellend back to functional-ish adult feel very intimate and personal. You are 100% in Luc’s corner as the reader even if you want to bonk him over the head for being such a twerp on occasion. It also helps some of the tension in the plot, since it keeps Oliver’s point-of-view off the table throughout the book. When you hit the point-of-no return in this plot, when Oliver also to meet Luc halfway emotionally, it is delicious in the resolution.

Luc has a turn-of-phrase that had me snort-laughing in many places. For serious. On Luc’s and Oliver’s first “date” Oliver, who is a criminal defense attorney, says Luc can ask him that question that people always ask. Luc panics and asks if Oliver ever has sex in the wig….I died. Because that definitely isn’t the question Oliver is thinking of. Hall also absolutely shreds upper-class posh manners. One of his work colleagues is a posh twit, with an even posher, twittier girlfriend, who is a walking punchline about the declining mental acuity of the British landed aristocracy. There is a running joke about “dick pics” that includes the deepest deep cut from The Slipper and the Rose, a Cinderella musical from the 1970s (I screamed in delight, I love that movie). There’s a birthday party with Oliver’s friends that is delightful and then there is Luc’s friend group who are the absolute best, loveable friends who are there for him throughout the book despite said bellend-ness (and they’re hilarious).

I’m going to give a content warning, delightful though this book is. Both Luc and Oliver experience some really garbage casual homophobia – that very casual upper-class British kind that approves of being a Good Gay and not a Bad Gay. There is also an instance of really, really shitty casual homophobia (look, three out of four of Luc’s and Oliver’s parents are garbage, two of them because of said homophobia among other things). Given that this is an #ownvoices novel from Alexis Hall, I think this experience is probably fairly true to life, unfortunate as it is. I trust how Hall has shown how these situations play out. But it doesn’t make it any easier to read especially since Luc and Oliver are so likeable.

The steam level is low-boil/fade-to-black but definitely not G-rated. It definitely fits with this couple. Oliver is a character who doesn’t have casual sex and Luc is trying to turn his relationship-status around. A more descriptive type of sex scene would feel intrusive in this book. (For reference, the only other Alexis Hall book I’ve read is For Real which is SO HOT that I was sure my face was going to catch on fire during one scene, the pie scene. You know the one.)

I would love to see this adapted for a movie. My brain has already cast Matthew Goode and Matthew Rhys as Oliver and Luc (look, Matt Rhys always looks vaguely nervous about something IRL and I shipped them hard in Death Comes to Pemberley) although they’re twenty years too old. I would also accept as Luc the guy who plays Jaskier in The Witcher, Joey Batey, who is both closer to the right age and can handle Luc’s humor but I’m not sure who would match him for Oliver then.

Boyfriend Material is out tomorrow, July 7!!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley – but our finished copies arrived at the store on Friday while I was finishing this review so OF COURSE I have already purchased one.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs

Summary from Goodreads:

In this thought-provoking, wise and emotionally rich novel, New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs explores the meaning of happiness, trust, and faith in oneself as she asks the question, “If you had to start over, what would you do and who would you be?”

There is a book for everything . . .. Somewhere in the vast Library of the Universe, as Natalie thought of it, there was a book that embodied exactly the things she was worrying about.

In the wake of a shocking tragedy, Natalie Harper inherits her mother’s charming but financially strapped bookshop in San Francisco. She also becomes caretaker for her ailing grandfather Andrew, her only living relative—not counting her scoundrel father.

But the gruff, deeply kind Andrew has begun displaying signs of decline. Natalie thinks it’s best to move him to an assisted living facility to ensure the care he needs. To pay for it, she plans to close the bookstore and sell the derelict but valuable building on historic Perdita Street, which is in need of constant fixing. There’s only one problem–Grandpa Andrew owns the building and refuses to sell. Natalie adores her grandfather; she’ll do whatever it takes to make his final years happy. Besides, she loves the store and its books provide welcome solace for her overwhelming grief.

After she moves into the small studio apartment above the shop, Natalie carries out her grandfather’s request and hires contractor Peach Gallagher to do the necessary and ongoing repairs. His young daughter, Dorothy, also becomes a regular at the store, and she and Natalie begin reading together while Peach works. To Natalie’s surprise, her sorrow begins to dissipate as her life becomes an unexpected journey of new connections, discoveries and revelations, from unearthing artifacts hidden in the bookshop’s walls, to discovering the truth about her family, her future, and her own heart.

I’d never read Susan Wiggs before but The Lost and Found Bookshop came across my radar in the HarperCollins catalog. Romance set in a bookstore? Sign me up! It was a fun read. I liked this book, but I didn’t LOVE it like I wanted to.

There’s a lot going on here. Natalie suffers the dual loss of her mom and her boyfriend in the same plane crash, but then also finds that her mom’s bookshop in San Fransisco is almost a complete financial loss and her grandfather is very slowly eroding away as dementia sets in. The handyman her mother hired to do the urgent repairs on the historic building (Peach) turns out to be a competent, (very) attractive, book-reading guy with a cute book-obsessed kid. Plus there’s a lot of family history to discover in the building since it dates back to before the 1906 earthquake. So there’s a lot to work with. The storyline of Natalie’s grandfather, Andrew, and his POV chapters are handled so well, with great sensitivity to both how he feels as his memory slips more and more and also the stress it places on Natalie to care for him as he “relives” her mother’s death every time he forgets and remembers.

But the book felt a little flat to me. There’s a secondary character, a middle-grade author, introduced to give Peach some competition in the “love interest” department. That guy has a secret that, when it was finally revealed, I found very hard to believe that it hadn’t been leaked already due to the Rick Riordan-level of fame the guy had. Consequently, so much time is spent with Guy B that the actual romance with Peach is crammed into the very end of the book. So it’s a very slow burn that could have used a lot more pining and spending time with each other alone, in my opinion (i.e. at no point did I want to yell “just kiss you dorks” at the book). I also felt that the author didn’t follow through on some details. It’s noted that Natalie has the kind of abs you only get from yoga class – but we never see her take a yoga class or any sort of physical activity of any kind (I don’t recall her ever thinking about it, even to lament being too exhausted to bother with exercise or missing space for a daily yoga practice or something). And then late in the book some weed is smoked without ever referencing this before (look, the weed is fine, they are in San Francisco, but it just felt out of left field particularly when it’s noted Natalie finished off her mom’s Ambien prescription earlier in the book). And so on. These are little nitpicky things because they feel tacked on as a way to try and flesh out character. They pulled me out of the scene like snagging my finger on a splinter.

So there were a lot of pieces of this book I really liked, but they didn’t all fit together in the most satisfying way for me.

The Lost and Found Bookshop is out July 7!

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley of this book that we received at the store in our last galley box before COVID19 hit.
Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Harbor by Rebekah Weatherspoon (Beards & Bondage #3)

Summary from Goodreads: Betrayed and set adrift…

Months before she’s set to walk down the aisle, assistant district attorney Brooklyn Lewis suffers an unthinkable loss. It’s bad enough her fiancé is violently taken from her, but along with her grief she must also process the fact that the man of her dreams was unfaithful. Friends and family want to see her heal, but Brooklyn doesn’t know how to move on from trauma and deception until she discovers she’s not the only one broken by this tragedy.

A light in the storm…

Attorney Vaughn Coleman and his partner Chris Shaw have also lost the love of their lives, who was found lifeless in the same bed as Brooklyn’s fiancé, taken from them by the same killer.

Unmoored by grief, Brooklyn, Chris, and Vaughn fall into a relationship that both fulfills them and threatens to pull them under the waves of guilt, but they soon realize it may take the love of three people to bring their battered ships back to shore.

*This romance features a polyamorous relationship between two men and a woman, with BDSM overtones*

FEEEEEELINGS. Harbor made me feel alllll the feelings. (Before I get into the review, I will give a brief content warning that the pre-chapter 1/off-page backstory contains cheating by romantic partners and death of romantic partners; there is also homophobia/kink-shaming on the page/related by characters’ family members.)

The Beards & Bondage series (Haven, Sanctuary) concludes with an expertly-written poly/menage BDSM romance between three people brought together by the violent deaths of their romantic partners. Vaughn and Shaw lost their partner Corrine and Brooklyn lost her fiance Josh when Corrine and Josh were murdered by Corrine’s stalker – while they were together romantically. The affair was revealed during the police investigation which complicates the survivors’ grief. In a meeting after the funerals, Vaughn, Shaw, and Brook feel an immediate emotional connection, but Brook chooses to walk away for the time being. Getting involved in her dead fiance’s lover’s partners’ lives is messed up, right? Maybe? No? Over a year later, she contacts the two men, deciding that perhaps she would like to explore their connection and see if there is more in the relationship than just bonding over shared trauma.

Each book in this series turns on the trauma-bonding between the main characters but I really feel like Rebekah excelled in this book, giving each character time to explore his or her own grief and trauma and wants and needs as the relationship progressed. The attention to detail in how Brook processed trauma versus Vaughn versus Shaw made them feel like actual real people processing their emotions right in front of me. The action of Harbor also takes place over a considerable time period – almost eighteen months prior to the epilogue – which really lends to the reality of this romance and allowed the characters to bond as people and also develop the trust needed in a BDSM relationship. The BDSM scenes, while certainly explicit, are exquisitely written. Rebekah could give a masterclass in how to make a scene hotter than hot but without using awkward euphemisms. The banter between each character was also so well-done. Brook and Vaughn converse differently than Brook and Shaw and Shaw and Vaughn, being in a long-term relationship, have their own conversational tics. Then you have Brook and her sister Liz – who is amazing in Sanctuary, do recommend. Nothing feels artificial – like I said, everyone feels like a real person instead of an invented character in a book.

Poly romances in general are harder to me to get into because it feels like – in my head – there are too many people and emotions to keep track of. I did not have this issue with Harbor – each character’s motivations and needs are very clear and they all worked together toward a beautifully satisfying emotional outcome. I also want to stress the significance of having three Black romantic main characters – including a plus-sized Black woman being worshipped by two gorgeous men – on the page. Mainstream romance publishing still hasn’t quite got the memo on diversity of all kinds, so Harbor is self-published. I can’t order in paperbacks of Harbor to sell in my store, at least not yet, but I can tell you to go buy Rebekah’s books via your e-book retailer of choice and use your dollars to show that a polyamorous romance with Black characters is what you want in your romance reading.

Harbor released on Tuesday, June 30, and if you haven’t yet read Haven and Sanctuary pick those up two and have yourself a wild reading weekend.

Dear FTC: I read a copy of this book that I purchased on my Nook.