Thanks to partners NetGalley and One More Chapter for the digital ARC of Cassie Connor’s Love Under Contract. The book is out tomorrow!
Cassie Connor’s Love Under Contract plays with several romance tropes—fake dating, love (well, lust) at first sight, opposites attract—and it does so in an engaging way. When Rebecca Madison learns that her sister is going to marry Rebecca’s own ex, she’s miserable. The best way she can come up with to save face is inspired by The Wedding Date: she can pay her recent one-night-stand partner to be her date for the engagement party. And, since Rebecca is an attorney, she’ll draw up an unbreakable contract that requires no sex and no kissing and no feels with absolutely no loopholes.
Of course, that’s not quite what happens. When she and Hudson Strong, a furniture designer in need of some quick money, make their way from England to the U.S., she discovers that he’s even more appealing than she first thought. As he charms everyone in sight, including her, Rebecca realizes that the way she’s always approached her life, with a firm focus on work at the sacrifice of family, partners, and friends, may not be quite as appealing as she previously thought and that her outlook is rooted in some pretty deep places.
This was a fun, quick read, and I absolutely loved Hudson and his family. I thought that Rebecca’s revelations about why she focused on what she did were believable, and I liked the way that each new step with Hudson helped her to see herself more clearly. While I thought the writing could have been a bit stronger, Connor has a real touch with characters, and the relationship itself felt real. This steamy read is well worth picking up for fans of open-door romance!
Thanks to partners NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the egalley of Erin Hahn's Built to Last, which will be published next week, on October 18!
This is a sweet and satisfying second-chance romance about two child stars who are trying to recapture their love. Shelby Springfield and Cameron Riggs starred with Lyle Jessup—their former friend and Shelby's ex-boyfriend—on a super-popular tv show when they were teenagers. Shelby and Cameron had a secret romance before Cameron left the show, and her life, leaving Lyle to console her.
A decade later, Shelby has created a new career for herself with her dad, restoring furniture in the old homes he flips. Cameron has become a successful documentary filmmaker. They're brought back together, ironically, by Lyle, who has an idea for a new home renovation show, one that he'll produce. For very different reasons, they agree, despite their reservations about Lyle's involvement.
As they start to become reacquainted, they also understand things about each other that weren't clear before. I read this one in close to one sitting, drawn in by Hahn's compelling characters, intriguing plot—fueled by flashbacks that illuminate the past, and steamy romance.
Thanks to Bradeigh Godfrey, NetGalley, and Blackstone Publishing for the egalley of Bradeigh Godfrey's Imposter, which will be out on Tuesday!
Bradeigh Godfrey is going on my list of must-read authors! First, it was her collaboration on The Beach Trap that grabbed my heart, and now her suspense novel Imposter bent my brain in the best possible way.
Imposter is the story of two sisters, Lilian and Rosie. As children, they were incredibly close, with Lilian often acting as a mother to Rosie. When Lilian left for medical school, however, Rosie's feelings of abandonment began the slow process of driving them apart.
Now, it's been too long since they've seen each other. Lilian is reeling from a professional trauma and learning to be a good mom for her adorable baby girl when Rosie gets in touch, suddenly desperate to see her sister and to tell her something of vital importance. They're driving to dinner when they're in a car accident, and Rosie's injury has left her unable to communicate or to recognize her significant others: Lilian and Rosie's fiance.
Lilian is determined to figure out what her sister wanted to tell her and to rebuild their relationship. But the barriers to both goals are larger than she'd imagined.
Imposter is a propulsive, deliciously twisty suspense novel whose flawed characters made the plot even more compelling. I absolutely loved it!
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Harlequin Books for the digital ARC of Jean Meltzer’s Mr. Perfect on Paper. The book is out today!
Dara Rabinowitz is a third-generation Jewish matchmaker . . . who hasn’t made a match for herself. She’s used her family’s expertise to create a wildly successful Jewish dating app and teams up with her grandmother to go on a morning show with the aim of promoting the newest update of the app.
The host of the morning show just so happens to be Dara’s non-Jewish crush, Chris Steadfast. Chris is desperate to grab attention for the show, which is in danger of being canceled. So, when Dara’s grandmother embarrassed her completely by sharing Dara’s list of “must haves” in a man, Chris sees an opportunity: his show will focus on the attempt to find the perfect man for Dara. But is her perfect man really the man she’s envisioned?
Like Meltzer’s debut novel, The Matzah Ball, Mr. Perfect on Paper shows off the author’s touch with characters. Dara lives with generalized anxiety disorder, and the way that’s woven into the plot works beautifully to show how Dara works to cope with different situations. Her commitment to her Judaism is also such an important part of the novel that was a big strength for me.
I didn’t find the chemistry between Dara and Chris quite as believable or compelling as I would have hoped based on The Matzah Ball, but I liked their individual storylines, which alternate between their points of view, and watching Dara’s dates with potential matches is hilarious.
Overall, this is a sweet, unique romance novel that I enjoyed from beginning to end, even if the central relationship wasn’t the strongest component.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Avon Books for the digital ARC of Julia Whelan’s Thank You for Listening. The book will be out on Tuesday, August 2!
Julia Whelan is one of my all-time favorite audiobook narrators (I know I’m not alone!). Once I found out that she was a writer, too, I was eager to discover if her talents traveled. Oh, they do, my friends. They do.
Thank You for Listening immerses us in the world of audiobook recording and, specifically, romance audiobooks. After an accident ended Sewanee Chester’s career as an actress, she transferred her talents—her deep connection to characters’ motivations, her facility with languages and voices—to narration. While she started in romance, she long ago transferred her allegiance to literary fiction.
When her career takes her to an audiobook conference, Sewanee—who is definitely not looking for romance and, in fact, has rejected the idea of happily ever afters altogether—is nonetheless drawn into a one-night stand with a charming, clever stranger. She returns home knowing that the relationship won’t go anywhere but feeling more desired than she has in a while.
All at once, opportunities arise: Her best friend, now a successful actress, thinks that her new movie may offer Sewanee a chance to act again. Then, Sewanee has a chance to record with Brock McNight, the undisputed king of romance audio, for mind-boggling amounts of money, and they strike up a friendly relationship via text, one complete with flirting and humor and sooo much cleverness.
Suddenly, Sewanee’s life looks full of promise that she’s not sure she should trust.
I don’t want to share more of the plot, but it’s not what won me over anyway. This is a smart, beautifully written novel whose characters are unbelievably empathetic and compelling. Everyone from Sewanee’s grandma to the other audiobook narrators Sewanee works with is well drawn and quirky and real. The book is funny and offers the charm and banter of the best rom coms on the page and screen. I absolutely loved Thank You for Listening and will be looking for more work by Julia Whelan immediately.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Algonquin Books for the digital ARC of Oscar Hokeah’s Calling for a Blanket Dance.
Oscar Hokeah’s Calling for a Blanket Dance is a combination of novel and connected short stories, a consideration of the life of Ever Geimausaddle. Ever’s father immigrated from Mexico; his mother’s ancestors are members of the Cherokee and Kiowa nations, and Ever moves, through the book, between his different heritages.
Beginning in 1976, when Ever is a baby, the narrative shares Ever’s story through a multitude of voices. We hear from his grandparents, his mother, his sister, his aunts, distant relatives . . . but not, for the longest time, from Ever himself. The voices are distinct and opinionated, and they drive home the way the truth of someone can shift both because of the point of view of the storyteller and because we, as people, grow and change.
There are some recurring themes through the book, traditions that serve as anchors and which older generations are often striving to pass on to keep them alive. There’s a reverence for ceremony but for a ceremony that is alive and that changes with those who are enacting it.
Hokeah’s writing is stunning, and this is a book that I’m sure I’ll be revisiting. Calling for a Blanket Dance has become one of my top reads this year.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Macmillan Usa for the digital ARC of Tasha Suri’s What Souls Are Made Of. The book is out today!
I’m a long-time fan of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights—I first read it in high school and fell in love with the Gothic setting, with the brilliant frame structure as housekeeper Nelly tells the multi-generational story to a random traveler, with the doomed love stories that plague the residents of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange.
I’m also always in for a retelling, so Tasha Suri’s What Souls Are Made Of, a YA retelling, was an easy sell for me.
I can’t share a full review of the book since I want to avoid spoilers, but here are some thoughts:
Suri zooms in here on the time after Heathcliff has overheard Cathy saying that she couldn’t be with him because, essentially, he’s beneath her. In Wuthering Heights, he leaves without hearing the end of her declaration or giving her the chance to explain, and he doesn’t come back (to Wuthering Heights or the narrative itself) until years later. I love the idea that we find out what is happening with Heathcliff during their separation, filling in that narrative gap.
I enjoyed Suri’s decision to alternate points of view so that we see both characters’ self-discovery through this period of time. Suri also brings in some clever revelations about Cathy and her older brother Hindley that illuminate some elements of the story. Overall, though, I found Heathcliff’s half of the book to be more engaging, a real addition to the original, and I thought the new characters who Heathcliff meets in Liverpool were great. Since Brontë’s original novel centers on Nelly’s storytelling, the shift to two, first-person points of view that reveal Cathy and Heathcliff’s inner thoughts is a big change.
Suri makes clear from the beginning that, while Heathcliff doesn’t know all of the details of his background, he does know that he’s the child of immigrants, and that heritage is a large reason why Hindley—and Hindley and Cathy’s mother—treats him poorly. His growing knowledge of his heritage also informs the coming of age story centered on his time in Liverpool, offering insights into colonialism and into the prejudice that he faced. (These decisions echoed, for me, another Wuthering Heights retelling, Maryse Condé's Windward Heights, set in Guadeloupe.) As Heathcliff learns more about his past, some childhood memories become clearer, as does his understanding of who he is now.
Cathy’s sections hewed more closely, of course, to the original narrative, and Suri doesn’t truly depart from her original arc until later in the novel. (Many reviews/synopses I’ve seen give away a lot of Cathy’s revelations, so I recommend picking up the book without too much background reading.)
While What Souls Are Made Of didn’t quite capture the magic of Wuthering Heights for me, I do think that it’s a thoughtful and compelling book that is perfect for its YA audience.
Thanks to PartnerS NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for the digital ARC of Rachel Lynn Solomon’s See You Yesterday in exchange for an honest review. The book is out today!
I love a time loop story. Groundhog Day. Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall. Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. Russian Doll. And now? Rachel Lynn Solomon’s See You Yesterday takes its place among my favorites.
I’m regrettably late to Solomon’s work, but I’m so excited to read more—she excels at both YA and adult romance. In See You Yesterday, Solomon uses the time loop premise to explore exactly what a fresh start can mean.
Barrett Bloom has been convinced that college will be the best time in her life, a new beginning after the wretchedness of her high school experience. She’s entering college a loner whose best friend is her mother, but she’s determined that she’ll pursue a career in journalism, bond with her roommate, and generally just get her life together
Then, she finds out that her high school nemesis is her roommate, she blows her interview for the school newspaper, and she has a horrible experience in physics, a class she doesn’t even want to take. Add in a tragic ending to a sorority party, and Barrett has had a worse day than she could have imagined. She goes to bed, ready for a second chance.
And she wakes up in the same day.
Solomon makes great use of the pop culture references we all know as Barrett tries to figure out how to escape her loop. Eventually, she discovers that she’s not alone, that an uptight guy named Miles is looping with her. So they—grudgingly—join forces to figure out how to escape September 21.
I could not have loved this book more. Barrett is such a phenomenal character: she’s smart and somehow both optimistic AND cynical. She wants to believe that people are good, even though they’ve shown her, again and again, that they aren’t. As she and Miles try different ways of conquering the time loop (conducting research, doing good deeds, seeking vengeance, conducting more research), she starts to view both her past and her future through a new lens.
This is a brilliant novel that makes me even more eager to read absolutely everything Rachel Lynn Solomon has written. Do yourself a favor and pick up See You Yesterday right away!
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Berkley Romance for the digital ARC of Amy Lea’s Set on You in exchange for an honest review. The book is out today!
Amy Lea’s debut novel, Set on You, begins at the gym. Crystal Chen is a fitness influencer whose body positivity has earned her a huge instagram following, sponsorships, and a career as a physical trainer. She has good friends and loves her family, despite their concerns that her career isn’t stable.
Scott Ritchie enters her life with an act of theft. Yes, he steals her preferred squat rack at the gym. What begins with loathing slowly begins to change as Crystal admits first her attraction to Scott and then his other positive qualities. Since she’s coming out of a relationship with a man who betrayed her trust, however, she’s hesitant to start something new . . . particularly since Scott also just broke up with his girlfriend.
What I liked most about this one was the consideration of Crystal’s dedication to body positivity and her shifting understanding of what that phrase means to her and to her followers. She wants to be someone who is constantly confident and proud of her body, despite the dismissive and nasty comments she regularly receives. But is that constant confidence realistic? What is the best way to handle comments that tear her down?
Set on You will appeal to a variety of readers and is perfect for fans of enemies-to-lovers romances. It’s a fun, sweet, thought-provoking romance.
Thanks to partners NetGalley, Knopf Doubleday, and Pantheon Books for the digital ARC of Julia Glass’s Vigil Harbor in exchange for an honest review. The book is out today!
I’d read only one of Julia Glass’s prior novels—her debut Three Junes, winner of the National Book Award—when I requested an advance copy of Vigil Harbor. I was drawn in by the synopsis, focused on an isolated community in the midst of the consequences of climate change. Honestly, I didn’t give thought to much else, to plot or writing or even characters, but all of those facets of this novel exceeded my expectations.
Vigil Harbor moves through a large cast of characters, shifting from one perspective to the next, as they consider the elements of their past that have led them to their current identities as individuals and as a community.
Each character is precisely drawn as a unique individual inextricably woven into the lives of the others. Brecht, who dropped out of college after witnessing a horrific explosion in New York, lives with his best friend Noam in the home of Brecht’s mother and stepfather, Austin. Austin, an architect, works both to comfort his family and to wrestle with a tragic loss from his past. Mike is reeling from the end of his marriage. The list of characters spools out from there, all woven together by their mutual past and by a desire to escape something outside of Vigil Harbor.
Tragedy pervades their stories, but so does hope, and there’s a whimsy, a touch of myth and story, that pushes this book out of the realm of the typical. This near-future book is rooted in the way that climate change plagues society through disasters both natural and man-made, and watching the way those disasters alternately push people apart and together again is a captivating process. I absolutely could not stop reading this book, which blends beautiful writing, compelling characters, and a propulsive plot. It’s a masterful work of fiction.
I'm Jen Moyers, co-host of the Unabridged Podcast and an English teacher.