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 and Atria Books for the digital ARC of Rebecca Serle’s One Italian Summer in exchange for an honest review. The book is out on March 2!
Rebecca Serle has a beautiful touch with magical realism. Whether it’s dining with special people—alive and dead—in The Dinner List or a five-year journey forward in time in In Five Years, Serle uses these magic premises to wring truth from reality.
She performs that same magic in One Italian Summer. The premise here is (relatively) simple to explain: Katy is grieving the death of her mother and decides to take the trip that they had planned together. She tells her husband that she’s not sure she can be with him anymore, boards a plane, and takes the solo vacation she and her mom, Carol, have been dreaming about for years.
Carol had spent time in the small town of Positano and yearned to show Katy everything she loved about it, so Katy vows to follow the itinerary her mother had set up. Soon, she begins to enjoy small moments in a way she hasn’t been able to since her mother fell ill.
Then, one day, Katy sees her mother. Yes, she’s much younger, but it’s her. And suddenly, Katy feels as if she has a second chance to get to know her mother in a way she never had, to forge a friendship with the woman she loved so much.
Serle explores Katy’s grief, her hope, and her joy so vividly here. There’s laughter, some romance, vivid descriptions of food, and an amazing sense of the Italian landscape. One Italian Summer is a gorgeous, moving book. I absolutely could not put it down.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the digital ARC of Sophie Sullivan’s How to Love Your Neighbor in exchange for an honest review. The book is out today!
Sophie Sullivan’s How to Love Your Neighbor is the sequel to Ten Rules for Faking It (check out my review here). That book was the story of Chris and Everly, and this new one focuses on Chris’s brother Noah Jansen who is trying to make a clean break from the toxicity of his father and his company. As part of his fresh start, Noah has bought a house that he loves . . . though it’s missing a pool. His plan? To buy the property next door, raze the house, and put in the pool. The only problem is that his neighbor doesn’t want to sell.
That neighbor is Grace Travis. She’s trying for a new beginning, too. Grace is almost done with design school, she’s almost made a break from her neglectful and manipulative mother, and she’s got a brand-new home that she inherited from the grandparents she never knew. This home, of course, is the one that Noah wants to buy.
This is a fun, sweet romance. It begins as enemies to lovers, though the “enemies” part doesn’t last long. Instead, Noah and Grace pretty quickly realize that they should be friends. Noah brings on Grace to help design his house, and as they start to know each other, they realize how much they have in common and the type of support they can offer each other.
While this one didn’t quite have the depth of Ten Rules for Faking It, I absolutely enjoyed watching Noah and Grace’s relationship develop, and I recommend How to Love Your Neighbor—and whatever Sullivan writes next—to romance fans.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the digital ARC of Emma Lord's When You Get the Chance in exchange for an honest review. The book is out Tuesday, January 4!
When You Get the Chance is my second book by Emma Lord. (I loved You Have a Match and have Tweet Cute on my shelf to read ASAP.) Yes, she’s now an auto-read author for me.
This one focuses on Millie Cooper, a super-extroverted, self-described way-too-much actress who has big dreams of Broadway and has put in the work to make that a real possibility. After she learns that she’s gotten into an amazing pre-college program for her senior year, she’s ecstatic . . . until she shares the news with her dad and he’s decidedly NOT as ecstatic.
What ensues is Millie’s desperate attempt to actualize her dream into existence. First, she gets the help of her best friend and next door neighbor Teddy, an expert at geocaching and (as he says) human caching. Teddy does some research and, after the two delve into Millie’s dad’s LiveJournal from college (hello, the 90s!), begins unraveling the central secret of Millie’s life: her mother’s identity. When her dad was 20, Millie’s mother dropped her off with her dad, and that was the end of her mother’s involvement in her life. But Millie hopes that if she can find her birth mother, she’ll be on Team Millie and help convince her dad that moving across the country to this pre-college program is the right move.
The search for Millie’s mom leads to three likely candidates and the second part of Millie’s plan. She happens upon an internship with a Broadway management company where one potential mom candidate works. The only problem? Millie is vying for the internship with her nemesis: Oliver. Oliver is the manager of their fine arts school’s musical theater department, and he and Millie are *always* at odds with completely different visions for what the program should look like. So, when Georgie, the woman in charge of the internship, gives Millie and Oliver two weeks to compete and prove themselves before choosing a winner, it means that the mortal enemies have two weeks of forced collaboration, as well.
The setup is worthy of any Broadway musical, and references to shows—and especially Mamma Mia!—abound. For anyone who’s a fan of musicals, there are plenty of allusions here to feed your Broadway-loving soul. Sometimes, I have to work to get past premises like the “meeting-three-candidates-who-might-be-my-mom” kind of story, but when cast in the light of Broadway, I suspended my disbelief and just gave into the ride. Because Emma Lord has such a fabulous sense of character and because, in Millie, she created such an empathetic, realistic character, that ride is a great one. Though the plot here is so much fun, it’s watching Millie go through some pretty rough self-reflection that is the real strength of this book. Yes, there are beautiful friendships (seriously: this author REALLY understands friendship), some fun romance, and compellingly complex family dynamics (Millie’s relationships with her dad and her aunt Heather are strong anchors for the plot), but it’s Millie’s coming of age story that made me love this book so much.
Now, on to Tweet Cute.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and St Martin's Press for the digital ARC of Tracey Garvis Graves’s Heard It in a Love Song in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on November 9!
In Tracey Garvis Graves’s Heard It in a Love Song is a lovely tribute to second chances.
Layla and Josh are recovering from failed marriages. Layla left her ex after years of mental games, financial conflict, and adultery. Josh and his wife have separated because they’ve just grown in different directions, united only in their love for their young daughter.
The two meet when Josh is doing the daily school drop-off at Layla’s school, where she’s the music teacher. She took the job out of necessity, after the realities of her marriage made her dream of being a musician an unsustainable choice.
Now, she’s slowly finding her love of playing, singing, and performing again, finding her confidence again, just when she’s meeting Josh.
This is a lovely, patient romance, and Graves develops Layla and Josh vividly as individuals and friends before their romance truly emerges. It’s a fabulous choice, one that makes each character vivid and that lets the reader understand the way they’ll work together before it happens.
The novel alternates between Layla’s and Josh’s points of view, and that structure works well to let us see their different perspectives on life, love, and friendship, and to watch as their perspectives begin to move toward the other’s.
Thanks to partners NetGalley, Putnam Books, and @lovearctually for the digital ARC of Vanessa King’s A Certain Appeal in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on November 2!
I love retellings of Jane Austen novels, so when I saw that there was a Pride and Prejudice retelling coming, set in the world of New York burlesque shows, I was so excited!
Vanessa King’s A Certain Appeal met all of my expectations. Liz Bennet (called Bennet by her friends) is stage kitten at Meryton, a burlesque venue where she works with her best friends, including Jane (here, he’s her best friend and roommate and a singer in the burlesque). The performers find out that Meryton is up for sale and have high hopes that one of their own can buy it . . . with the help of a kind man named Charles. But some people are more skeptical than supportive, including Charles’s best friend Will Darcy.
Just the premise demonstrates the creativity with which King takes the building blocks of Austen’s novel and shifts them—just a bit—to our contemporary world and this setting, in particular. She ramps up the steam and the chemistry between Bennet and Darcy and modifies the subplot with Wickham to suit the modern situation, too.
I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the burlesque element, but I absolutely loved it. Every moment of the burlesque is a celebration of individual women, of their joy in their bodies, and of their power over their own sexiness. There’s tons of banter, too, which I also enjoyed, and then King deepens that element, too, showing how banter can be both inviting and standoffish.
Bennet herself is clever and confident, but she’s also still recovering from a betrayal related to her work as a designer. She sees, in the changes at Meryton, a chance to recapture her passion for her career, but she’s also fragile in a way that’s masked by her onstage presence and her quick wittedness.
Will Darcy is completely fabulous, and I loved the secondary characters so much (the relationship between Jane and Charles is just dreamy). Fans of Pride and Prejudice will love this, but I’d also recommend Vanessa King’s A Certain Appeal to anyone who just loves a good, super-steamy romance.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Forever for the digital ARC of Sajni Patel’s First Love, Take Two in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on September 21!
I absolutely loved Sajni Patel’s The Trouble with Hating You, so when I saw her new book, First Love, Take Two was available, I requested it immediately! This is a great follow-up, a steamy, second-chance romance that builds on the first book’s events but doesn’t rely on them. (I think you could read this one even if you haven’t read book one.)
Here, Preeti Patel is trying to embrace an arranged marriage with Yuvan. He checks all the right boxes: he’s part of her conservative, Indian community, and his parents are close with hers. He’s successful, as is she, and this seems like the perfect match. But she has absolutely no chemistry with him.
Preeti has been the subject of gossip before, six years ago when she had an interracial relationship with Daniel Thompson. When her father’s sisters found out that she was dating outside the culture and the race—Daniel is Black—they set the full force of community shaming upon her and her family. Daniel’s parents were no more accepting of her, and so Preeti broke off their relationship.
Since then, Preeti has built a successful career as a doctor—she’s almost done with her residency—has taken care of her parents, and has made every effort to fly under the radar of the gossip mongers. All of that has kept Daniel from the forefront of her mind and heart . . . until her friends and his sister conspire to throw them together once more.
This book does a great job dealing with a number of serious issues: anxiety and racism and touch aversion and, above all, both the blessing and curse of being part of a close-knit community. As a doctor, Preeti deals with heartbreak—miscarriage, death, and the expectations of her patients’ families—and more and more, she’s feeling overwhelmed by expectations both at work and in her personal life.
Watching Preeti and Daniel work through their relationship to support each other is fantastic: this is such a wonderful, second-chance romance, filled with a deep backstory and nuanced characters. As always in a romance series, I love seeing Liya and Jay from book one, and I have high hopes that there will be at least one more book involving Liya and Preeti’s friend group.
First Love, Take Two is a worthy, steamy, beautiful follow-up to The Trouble with Hating You.
Thanks to Partner NetGalley and Harlequin Books for the digital ARC of Jean Meltzer’s The Matzah Ball in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on September 28th!
I think that Jean Meltzer’s The Matzah Ball may be my favorite holiday read . . . ever? It’s such a beautiful balance of the notes of a romantic comedy (with a great emphasis on the comedy) and more serious content.
Here’s the premise: Rachel Rubenstein-Rosenblatt is the child of a prominent rabbi, and the position of her parents in the Jewish community means that she has been very aware—since she was a kid—that she needs to be on her best behavior at all times. She’s also, secretly, the best-selling author of Christmas-themed romances. You can see the problem.
Real-life romance has never been her thing, and she traces that challenge back to a horrible trauma at her Jewish summer camp when Jacob Greenberg, her first boyfriend, betrayed her.
Then, Jacob comes back into her life in the strangest of ways. He’s an event planner who normally works out of Europe, but he’s in New York to put on the ultimate, Hanukkah-themed event: The Matzah Ball. For true success, he needs the public approval of a pillar of the community, so he approaches Rachel’s father for his support, bringing him back into Rachel’s proximity.
The way this all spins out is great fun, but underlying it all is another of Rachel’s secrets: only her closest friends and family know that she is living with myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome (Meltzer talks in her Author’s Note about why the more medical name is more appropriate). Seeing the way Rachel’s ME affects her life, her choice of profession, and her relationships anchors the extravagance of the romantic comedy in daily reality, and as Meltzer develops those parts of Rachel and Jacob’s histories, what could be an over-the-top rom-com becomes a poignant, nuanced love story.
Go ahead and start the holiday season early and pre-order Jean Meltzer’s The Matzah Ball today!
Thanks to Partners NetGalley and Crown Books for Young Readers for the digital ARC of Jeff Zentner’s In the Wild Light in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on August 10, 2021.
Like his earlier, brilliant The Serpent King (like this book, a five-star read for me!), Jeff Zentner’s In the Wild Light begins with a strong sense of place, set firmly in the Appalachian town of Sawyer, Tennessee. Cash Pruitt is sixteen and, above all else, loves his Mamaw and Papaw, who raised him after his mother’s death, and his best friend Delaney Doyle, a genius. Cash and Delaney were first drawn together as the children of addicts, and now each offers a safe place for the other.
Delaney has gained some moderate fame in the scientific community after discovering a mold that kills bacteria and that shows great promise for the healthcare industry. When she’s offered a full ride to a private boarding school, she’s desperate to escape her circumstances, but she doesn’t want to do so alone. So, she convinces the school to also provide a full scholarship for Cash.
Cash is torn between his friendship and his loyalty to his grandparents, particularly Papaw, who is dying slowly of emphysema. Ultimately, though, they convince him to grab this opportunity, and so he and Delaney move to Connecticut and become students at Middleford Academy.
Those are the bare outlines of the plot, but they don’t reveal what makes this book special.
First, Zentner is an absolutely beautiful writer, and the book is filled with gorgeous prose as Cash works through who he is and who he wants to be and how to stay true both to himself and to those whom he loves.
Beyond the writing are the characters. The tenderness between Cash and Papaw is one of my favorite things—they love each other so much, and that love is beautiful and heartbreaking and present on every page of the novel. Delaney is brilliant and strong and also fragile, someone who has survived abuse and neglect and is now ready to step into her full potential, but not alone. Watching the way the all support and challenge each other is a lovely, moving reading experience.
Cash is so smart and so sensitive, but he’s also a teenager, one who has left his family and his hometown to step into another world filled with rich people who’ve lived lives he can hardly imagine. He’s not naive, just inexperienced, and so he’s fully aware of the risks that he’s taking while also hoping to make those he loves proud.
I can’t recommend In the Wild Light enough. Just be sure to have a box of tissues by your side. This book earns every tear.
Thanks to Partners NetGalley, Book Club Girls, and William Morrow Books for the digital ARC of Brina Starler’s Anne of Manhattan in exchange for an honest review. The book will be released on Tuesday, June 1.
I love a good retelling, and I love, love, love L. M. Montgomery’s classic novel Anne of Green Gables. My best friend and I read every L. M. Montgomery book, and we watched the 1980s adaptation with Megan Follows more than once. So when I saw that Brina Starler had a romance retelling coming out in June, I requested it immediately.
Anne of Manhattan is a contemporary retelling focused on Anne and her long-time enemy Gilbert Blythe who has been the bane of her existence since they first met, right after she moved to Green Gables on Prince Edward Island, adopted by siblings Marilla and Matthew. He immediately drew her ire by getting her in trouble with the teacher and by calling her “Carrots.” Ever since, they have been rivals at school, each vying to be the best, and while they circle each other because of their friend group, Anne can’t get over her bad feelings.
So, when—in the book’s present day—Anne is out with her friends Diana and Philippa at a bar in NYC and unexpectedly sees Gilbert across the room, she has mixed feelings. He’s from home, but he’s her enemy; he’s her enemy, but they shared that kiss . . .
What ensues is an enemies-to-lovers story of Anne and Gilbert in their last year in college, complete with flashbacks to their childhoods back home, which inform so much of their current relationship. I loved it! I re-read Anne of Green Gables a few years ago via audio (the edition narrated by Rachel McAdams is fantastic!), and I adored the graphic novel adaptation by Mariah Marsden and illustrator Brenna Thummler. This, while quite different, captures the same magic, the same bittersweet longing of the original story (with, of course, a complete emphasis on the romance—the original novel has a wider lens).
My one hesitation—and this is not a fault of the novel but is just an issue with me—is that I was a little uncertain how I felt about sweet Anne and Gilbert being at the center of such a steamy novel. I ended up being okay, but the first super-steamy scene was not entirely comfortable for me (and I’m usually totally fine with open-door romance!). Just know that this is definitely a retelling that embraces all of the conventions of its genre.
So, if you love Anne of Green Gables OR great, enemies-to-lovers romances, watch for Brina Starler’s Anne of Manhattan, coming out on June 1!
I'm Jen Moyers, co-host of the Unabridged Podcast and an English teacher.