Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Take A Hint, Dani Brown (The Brown Sisters #2) by Talia Hibbert

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Talia Hibbert returns with another charming romantic comedy about a young woman who agrees to fake date her friend after a video of him “rescuing” her from their office building goes viral...

Danika Brown knows what she wants: professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension. But romance? Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. Romantic partners, whatever their gender, are a distraction at best and a drain at worst. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits—someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom.

When brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and ex-rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. But before she can explain that fact, a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Now half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae—and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out, his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse?

Dani’s plan is simple: fake a relationship in public, seduce Zaf behind the scenes. The trouble is, grumpy Zaf’s secretly a hopeless romantic—and he’s determined to corrupt Dani’s stone-cold realism. Before long, he’s tackling her fears into the dirt. But the former sports star has issues of his own, and the walls around his heart are as thick as his... um, thighs.

Suddenly, the easy lay Dani dreamed of is more complex than her thesis. Has her wish backfired? Is her focus being tested? Or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint?

Source: ARC provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review, Netgalley

The second book in The Brown Sisters series introduces us to the sassy, brazen and highly ridiculous Dani who livens up any space that she's in. She's intoxicating which is exactly how Zaf feels about her. The two of them work in the same building - she a professor, he a secruity guard - and when a video of him rescuing her during an emergency drill gone wrong goes viral, they're instant superstars. Couple goals, baby! They decide to egg it for what it's worth so they pretend to date, playing it up to the gawkers to gain publicity for his youth program, Tackle It. As a former rugby player who's been through his own fair share of emotional turmoil, he espouses the importance of mental health especially in young boys whom society tells it's wrong to show emotions. A relationship, even a fake one is untested territory to Dani who likes to avoid commitment. 

Talia Hibbert writes the BEST banter! Zaf and Dani flirt, bait each other and toss out quick retorts which amuses and keeps things lively. There's not a boring moment when these two have the most insane chemistry! Dani is straight up confident in her sexuality and her desires, and Zaf is equally honest. Attraction aside they do approach the concept of relationships differently, in part due to their personal struggles. Zaf suffers from anxiety but has developed ways to cope. I liked how Hibbert demonstrated the way his anxiety manifests showing that it differs for everyone. I was awed by how she had Dani be so patient and supportive through this because Dani isn't one to put someone ahead of herself. After a bad experience she vowed never to compromise for anyone ever so the fact that this vivacious person could be so quiet during one of Zaf's episodes and just be present with him is one of the little things that makes Hibbert's characters so lovable. Zaf's sensitivity and insistence on being in touch with his emotions is the anti-alpha move and I am all for it. Dani's effusive embrace of her femininity and sexuality makes her one of the most appealing characters I've ever read. Seriously, Dani and Zaf breathe new life for relationship dynamics. I'm not giving anything away here but let me just say that the ending is super sweet and shows how much they evolve.

Talia Hibbert is an enigmatic writer. I love how she phrases things, sets up situations and takes quirky to new levels. Though it's only the second book of hers I've read I know for sure that I can never know what to expect from her or her characters. Take A Hint, Dani Brown is genuinely hilarious, sexy and aspirational. It's good-feel vibes through and through.

~ Bel

Friday, June 26, 2020

I Was Told It Would Get Easier by Abbi Waxman

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Squashed among a bus full of strangers, mother-daughter duo Jessica and Emily Burnstein watch their carefully mapped-out college tour devolve into a series of off-roading misadventures, from the USA Today bestselling author of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill.

Jessica and Emily Burnstein have very different ideas of how this college tour should go.

For Emily, it’s a preview of freedom, exploring the possibility of her new and more exciting future. Not that she’s sure she even wants to go to college, but let’s ignore that for now. And maybe the other kids on the tour will like her more than the ones at school. . . . They have to, right?

For Jessica, it’s a chance to bond with the daughter she seems to have lost. They used to be so close, but then Goldfish crackers and Play-Doh were no longer enough of a draw. She isn’t even sure if Emily likes her anymore. To be honest, Jessica isn’t sure she likes herself.

Together with a dozen strangers–and two familiar enemies–Jessica and Emily travel the East Coast, meeting up with family and old friends along the way. Surprises and secrets threaten their relationship and, in the end, change it forever.

Source: advance copy in exchange for an honest review

If there ever was a book that I needed to speak to me this summer it's this one! While it's not a revolutionary topic - that of mother-daughter relationships - it's brilliant and witty in displaying the harrowing minefields that come with said relationship. The story itself made me feel as if the author had shadowed me taking notes on all the ups and downs of my day. 

As a high-powered attorney Jessica's worked hard to make a good life for her and Emily. She's thrived in her career and enjoys mentoring other women to be as successful as she has been. However, as she's achieved so much professionally she's also lost touch with her daughter. Emily knows her mother loves her but feels she has to compete with her career to get her attention. She's also feeling a little lost at the moment not knowing exactly where she fits in especially with all this stress of choosing a college.

While Jessica and Emily had their occasional issues connecting, I found empathy for both of them. I felt solidarity with Jessica for all that she was trying to bridge that divide with Emily. Waxman is amazing at spacing and timing the dialogue. She'll have the mother-daughter duo either mirroring each other's thoughts or going in opposite directions with their way off assumptions about the other. It's comedic gold as it shows how much they in fact do have in common and think alike even if they're awkward in each other's company. They're essentially blundering their way through this trip, hashing out their quarrels while also dealing with new complications at work and school. This will make for a memorable trip indeed!

It's a special thing when a book strikes a chord with you and helps to make sense of those tumultuary moments. In my case it's been cathartic. Laughing along with Jessica and Emily, and also at myself while showing me things in a new light, I felt reassured that someone else gets it. Gaining new awareness was an unexpected and welcome benefit of reading this novel. There were a few times when I wished I could jump through the pages (or my Kindle, in this instance) and yell, "Me too, sister!" because wow, Waxman totally nailed all the jumbled up emotions, questions and insecurities that arise throughout the ever-changing dynamics between mothers and daughters. With clever dialogue and humour, IWTIWGE is entertaining summer reading, for sure!

~ Bel

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon

USA Today bestselling author Farrah Rochon launches a new series about three young women who become friends when the live Tweeting of a disastrous date leads them to discover they've all been duped by the same man.

Samiah Brooks never thought she would be "that" girl. But a live tweet of a horrific date just revealed the painful truth: she's been catfished by a three-timing jerk of a boyfriend. Suddenly Samiah-along with his two other "girlfriends," London and Taylor-have gone viral online. Now the three new besties are making a pact to spend the next six months investing in themselves. No men, no dating, and no worrying about their relationship status . . .

For once Samiah is putting herself first, and that includes finally developing the app she's always dreamed of creating. Which is the exact moment she meets the deliciously sexy, honey-eyed Daniel Collins at work. What are the chances? When it comes to love, there's no such thing as a coincidence. But is Daniel really boyfriend material or is he maybe just a little too good to be true?

Source: ARC provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Samiah is horrified when a public boyfriend-gone-bad encounter turns viral but on the plus side, she comes away with two new friends, London and Taylor. Their friendship makes the humiliation worth it as it's a new experience for her to have friends when she's devoted most of her attention to her career these past few years. As a POC in a competitive tech industry, she has to go the extra mile to prove that she deserves her seat at the table. Her work, her professionalism and her choices are met with more judgement than for most people. As she's continued to thrive at work she's finally, with the encouragement of her new friends, feeling brave enough to work on her own personal project. The three of them agree to swear of men for a while so they can focus on themselves. Samiah's supposed to be focused on her side project but with Daniel, the latest hire now in the picture, her attention is divided. Daniel is great. He's pleasant, considerate, easy on the eyes and appears to be several levels up from her previous jerk of a boyfriend. He's interested in Samiah as well but he has his own agenda at the company and it may affect her work. Getting involved with her would put himself and his secret at risk and also pose a major risk for both of them professionally and personally. So is it worth it?

Reading books featuring WOC who are the full package brings an immense feeling of pride. It's reassuring to know they're out there and that those stories can be inspiring, insightful and entertaining. Samiah, London and Taylor are vibrant, smart, bold and successful. The honesty that's laid bare in how Samiah carries her achievements and feels the extra weight of responsibility is something that POC and WOC feel all the time, no matter their line of work. That continual burden to prove that they deserve their achievement is not an imagined thing. Not only that, but also how a POC/WOC responds when issues arise in the workplace is mentally exhausting. Advocating for oneself becomes an exercise in how to speak up without creating discomfort or offending others, lest one be seen as a "troublemaker". Any reader unfamiliar with this will get a glimpse through Samiah's interactions at work.

As for Samiah and Daniel ... yeah, they're good together. They've met their perfect match in each other and sparks fly every which way. As it's a workplace romance and they tiptoe around the boundaries adding a bit of extra sauciness now and then. 

The Boyfriend Project was my first time reading Farrah Rochon and I certainly like her style. Set in Austin, a city that I've visited once briefly and am rather obsessed with, I liked her references to locations in and outside of the city. Samiah has a few surprises up her sleeve and that's one of the many things I liked about her character. Pick this one up for your next read!

~ Bel

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton

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In 1935 three women are forever changed when one of the most powerful hurricanes in history barrels toward the Florida Keys in New York Times bestselling author Chanel Cleeton's captivating new novel.

Everyone journeys to Key West searching for something. For the tourists traveling on Henry Flagler's legendary Overseas Railroad, Labor Day weekend is an opportunity to forget the economic depression gripping the nation. But one person's paradise can be another's prison, and Key West-native Helen Berner yearns to escape.

The Cuban Revolution of 1933 left Mirta Perez's family in a precarious position. After an arranged wedding in Havana, Mirta arrives in the Keys on her honeymoon. While she can't deny the growing attraction to the stranger she's married, her new husband's illicit business interests may threaten not only her relationship, but her life.

Elizabeth Preston's trip from New York to Key West is a chance to save her once-wealthy family from their troubles as a result of the Wall Street crash. Her quest takes her to the camps occupied by veterans of the Great War and pairs her with an unlikely ally on a treacherous hunt of his own.

Over the course of the holiday weekend, the women's paths cross unexpectedly, and the danger swirling around them is matched only by the terrifying force of the deadly storm threatening the Keys.

Source: advanced copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

In her latest historical fiction, Chanel Cleeton combines suspense and Mother Nature to weave a fascinating tale of three women from different backgrounds who briefly cross paths. 
Helen, is a local and an expectant mother who's trapped in an abusive marriage. Mirta is in Key West on her honeymoon. It's the young Cuban's first experience of America with a new husband she barely knows. Then there's Elizabeth, a young debutante who's family has fallen from grace, engaged to be married but running off to find a long lost someone who could change her fortune. These women only interact once before the hurricane arrives but that is enough to set things in motion. It's not that them meeting initiates anything; it's more the intriguing connections that unbeknownst to them tie them together.  

On first encounter, all three women appear to be either helpless, demure or trouble. I did feel sorry for Helen's situation but she soon showed me why that was misguided. I'm not sure if she knew she was strong all along or just finally had enough of her husband's abuse but she was a force to be reckoned with. Mirta is all class and naiveté when she first arrives. Her husband's dubious connections makes her wonder what line of work he's into but she isn't afraid to ask questions and he's so gentle with her. If anything, I was quite fascinated by their relationship, finding their storyline incredibly sensual. With the story told from three POVs I honestly couldn't wait to get back to Mirta everytime. Elizabeth is the kind of girl you want your daughters to be - full of confidence (even faking it when in doubt), gutsy and unrelenting when she wants something. All three of them show the power of resilience and fortitude. The impending Labor Day hurricane proves to be a catalyst that brings their own true natures out. 

I've made no secret of my love of Cleeton's work. Her beautiful storytelling continues to bring wonderment and I enjoy learning about new historical details. I looked up pictures of Key West, the railroad and the different landmarks mentioned which enriched my reading experience. Cleeton also brings to light the plight of soldiers who returned from WWI and who were living in less than stellar conditions at settlements in Key West. While she doesn't go in depth into those veteran camps, learning of them led me to do my own research. Add to that the Depression that had taken hold of the country, this is an America that's going through the most uncertain and difficult of times. Cleeton doesn't romanticize this period but it's with this backdrop that Helen, Mirta and Elizabeth miraculously find love and strength during the most dire of circumstances and come through stronger, bursting with renewed hope. The Last Train to Key West is riveting to the very last page!

~ Bel

Monday, June 15, 2020

Adamantine Release Day Blitz

We have a release day blitz for Rosie Weir’s debut sci-fi romance, Adamantine! Check out the excerpt and grab your today!

Title: Adamantine

Author: Rosie Weir

Genre: Sci-Fi Romance

About Adamantine:

Deep in the Appalachian Mountains, a brilliant scientist and his daughter retreat from a catastrophic global plague. Worried for Molly’s future, James crafts the ultimate gift for his lonely little girl: A sentient AI charged with the task of protecting her and keeping her company in the event he is no longer able to do so. His creation, Will, is bestowed with an expansive intellect, superhuman strength, and a fierce protective streak. However, as year go by, Will’s feelings start to change from duty and service to something more. At eighteen, Molly knows little of the world beyond a collection of grainy VHS classics. Life with Will and James is idyllic. But Will’s mission to protect involves keeping dangerous secrets, including some that could destroy the trust between them forever. Will struggles with the rigid self-discipline of his programming, versus turbulent, irrational feelings that grow stronger each day. True love can’t exist without honesty and risk; the two things Will has been programmed to control at all costs. But trouble is brewing outside their sheltered utopia, and ignorance might be a luxury neither of them can afford any longer. From the primitive heights of the Appalachian Mountains to the revolutionary scientific breakthrough hidden within, Adamantine, a story of love, sacrifice, and sentience is scheduled to be released in June 2020.

Grab Your Copy Today:

Amazon | Apple Books | Kobo | B&N | Publisher

Exclusive Excerpt:

Fatigue lines circled James Walkers eyes and forehead; dry canals of wrinkled flesh ran down the sides of his face. A flood of light washed over him, flickering ever so often. He found himself hissing at that inconvenience before resuming his examination. James spent months inspecting every piece of hardware and taking voice notes—he was ready to proceed. 

“James Walker, Ph.D.,” he said into the recorder. “After meticulous examination that produced minor wins and fails, everything seems to be in order. The mechanism is responsive. I’m proceeding to the next step—implementation. Cooling systems have taken to the previous modifications, refer to doc-234. Internal examinations will continue intermittently.”  

James clicked off the recorder and sighed. He walked across the room and paused inches from his destination, letting his eyes scan the table and its contents. The thin, silicone-based polymer suit reflected the soft light in the room. The project was close to completion and when he thought of what was at stake, the usual litany of questions and doubts arose. He scratched his stubble and pushed aside thoughts of consequence. He knew all too well that one wrong move might bring down his research like a flimsy deck of cards. 

“Positivity doesn’t exist in the realm of fringe science, but you have to try,” he muttered under his breath. Those words fueled James, who focused on the most favorable outcome. 

The augmented bio-hybrid suit had muscles, tendons, and ligaments designed to replicate the human body—an exact replica. He rolled the table close to the gurney then proceeded to couple the parts together. It took thirty minutes of concentrated effort to get the body sheathed. James took a step back and admired his masterpiece. It reminded him of a Renaissance anatomical painting he once saw in a museum. A smile tugged at the corner of his lips, but he wiped it away with the back of his hand. He attached a transfusion tube to the small glass cylinder filled with dense liquid. He injected the mixture into the body’s cervical vertebrae. Spider-like microscopic nanocells hurried down the spine and spread into the hybrid suit. The muscle tissues expanded and solidified over the impenetrable frame underneath. 

James watched the process unfold. His heart beat in double time, eager to move to the next phase. The pulsating vibe in his ears synced with his anxiety. He ambled to a wall lined with metal cabinets and retrieved the synthetic skin from its compartment. At the table, he arranged them over the entire body like a giant jigsaw puzzle. He watched the panels of skin adhere to one another. His hands imprisoned within his pockets to resist the urge to touch. Soon, skin covered the mechanical suit and a man lay in its place. The transformation was a success.  

About Rosie Weir:

 Rosie Weir is an authoress by passion and now profession. She penned her first story at the age of 10 and has been writing ever since. Obsessed with science fiction, horror, and sometimes dark historical romances, her writing repertoire is wide-ranging and wildly diverse. On a quest to tell unconventional stories, human behavior and humanness are at the heart of all her literary works; stories that inspire readers to rethink and reshape their perspectives. When she’s not busy writing, she’s baking and chasing after a tiny, and rambunctious human. Her debut novel, Adamantine, is scheduled to be released in June 2020 with The Champagne Book Group.   

Connect with Rosie:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | Goodreads

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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Recipe for Persuasion (The Rajes #2) by Sonali Dev

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From the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors comes another, clever, deeply layered, and heartwarming romantic comedy that follows in the Jane Austen tradition—this time, with a twist on Persuasion.

Chef Ashna Raje desperately needs a new strategy. How else can she save her beloved restaurant and prove to her estranged, overachieving mother that she isn’t a complete screw up? When she’s asked to join the cast of Cooking with the Stars, the latest hit reality show teaming chefs with celebrities, it seems like just the leap of faith she needs to put her restaurant back on the map. She’s a chef, what’s the worst that could happen? 

Rico Silva, that’s what.  

Being paired with a celebrity who was her first love, the man who ghosted her at the worst possible time in her life, only proves what Ashna has always believed: leaps of faith are a recipe for disaster. 

FIFA winning soccer star Rico Silva isn't too happy to be paired up with Ashna either. Losing Ashna years ago almost destroyed him. The only silver lining to this bizarre situation is that he can finally prove to Ashna that he's definitely over her. 

But when their catastrophic first meeting goes viral, social media becomes obsessed with their chemistry. The competition on the show is fierce…and so is the simmering desire between Ashna and Rico.  Every minute they spend together rekindles feelings that pull them toward their disastrous past. Will letting go again be another recipe for heartbreak—or a recipe for persuasion…? 

In Recipe for Persuasion, Sonali Dev once again takes readers on an unforgettable adventure in this fresh, fun, and enchanting romantic comedy.

Source: advance e-galley provided in exchange for an honest review

In this retelling of Persuasion, former couple Ashna, a chef and Rico, a retired elite footballer are reunited on a reality cooking show where she's forced to confront all the insecurities plaguing her.

I've never read Persuasion so I don't know how closely Dev's version follows it but on its own it's a turbulent family drama filled with heightened emotions and sad backstories. Ashna's father died years ago saddling her with the responsibility of running his restaurant, Curried Dreams. She never aspired to owning or running a restaurant but does it for the sake of her father's legacy, much to the detriment of her own health and happiness. Rico for all his success on the pitch is now searching for his next career move off of it so when he discovers that Ashna is doing the reality cooking show he gets the idea that he should go on it as well. He could then revisit their relationship and get the answers he needs about their breakup. Once he arrives, he realizes that he's not even sure what he wants out of this awkward reunion.

Dev's writing is, as ever, phenomenal. There's so much life in her descriptions that it's as if she's inserted you into those scenes. You can sense everything and it's a talent that's so magical, so hers. Perhaps it's because of that I had a difficult time with parts of the story, especially concerning Ashna's complicated relationship with her father and estranged mother. Ashna's pain touched me on such a personal level that I'd have to stop and take a few breaths before continuing. As if her story wasn't convoluted enough, her mother, Shobi's sudden appearance makes Ashna feel as if she's been ambushed. For reasons that are completely my own, I didn't like Shobi at first but as she got to tell her story in fragments, I gradually felt more empathy towards her, and it was all I could do not to holler at her and Ashna to just speak and listen to each other.

Rico's story isn't all sunshine and roses either but he seems to have found some measure of peace in the years gone by. To be honest, I was super grateful that Rico was more put together than Ashna and Shobi. He was a good counterbalance to their combined grief. Any more and it would've been too overwhelming for me. The moments when Rico and Ashna shine are during the cooking competition when they manage to set aside their awkwardness to create amazing, mouthwatering recipes. Those moments become a sweet respite from the heaviness permeating the rest of the story. I was curious about some of the recipes they concocted and even looked up a few that I might try on my own.

Recipe for Persuasion evoked many feelings in me and that is certainly what I expect from an incredible story - something that makes me react, feel and question. As I said at the beginning, I've never read Persuasion so I don't know how it compares. To me it's about healing as all the characters in Dev's retelling are confronting their feelings, as distressing as they are, opening up to their vulnerabilities as they've never done before. It's frightening and risky but they all come through. To that effect, I also think that what romance there is between Rico and Ashna is overshadowed by Ashna's longstanding pain, and Shobi's story arc. I didn't take it as a romantic comedy in the way of whimsy but rather as an intense and earnest story, written from the heart, that will affect each reader differently.

~ Bel 

⚠️ Recipe for Persuasion contains sensitive themes; content warnings are listed below. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, highlight to see them. ⚠️

alcoholism (memory - Ashna of her father, Shobi of her husband) , suicide (memory -Ashna's father), finding a parent dead (memory - Ashna finding her father after his suicide), parental estrangement (Ashna's mother who was away for most of her childhood), rape (memory - Shobi's), parents' accidental death (memory - Rico's parents),  forced marriage (Shobi and Ashna's father), panic attacks (Ashna), a visit to an abortion clinic (memory - Shobi's), mention of family's death in a plane crash (relative of Ashna, a side character's backstory)