Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Review: For the Love of the Bard by Jessica Martin

For the Love of the Bard by Jessica Martin
Series: Bard’s Rest, Book 1
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
For the Love of the Bard cover
ISBN: 9780593437438
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

To go for it or not to go for it? That is the question when two former high school flames return to their Shakespeare-obsessed hometown for a summer of theater and unexpected romance, in a laugh-out-loud rom-com from debut author Jessica Martin.

Literary agent and writer Miranda Barnes rolls into her hometown of Bard’s Rest with one goal in mind: to spend the summer finally finishing her YA novel, the next installment in her bestselling fantasy series. Yet Miranda’s mother, deep in the planning stages for the centennial of the town’s beloved annual Shakespeare festival, has other ideas.

Before you can say “all’s fair in love and war,” Miranda is cornered into directing Twelfth Night—while simultaneously scrambling to finish her book, navigating a family health scare, and doing her best to avoid the guy who broke her heart on prom night.

When it comes to Adam, the veterinarian with a talent for set design and an infuriating knack for winning over Miranda’s dog, the lady doth protest too much. As any Shakespeare lovers knows, the course of true love never did run smooth, and soon Miranda realizes she’ll have to decide whether to trust Adam with her heart again.

Miranda Barnes is a literary agent by day, bestselling YA author by night. After the backlash of her last novel, she’s in a bit of a slump and has returned home to Bard’s Rest to write her next book. But her mother – head of the centennial committee for the town’s annual Shakespeare festival – needs help. Which means Miranda is soon drafted to not only direct a production of Twelfth Night but to work with Adam Winters, who broke her heart in high school. Adam is a veterinarian with an easy smile and a winning personality, but Miranda can’t be charmed when she’s still referred to as “Backup Barnes” because of him. Or can she? Soon sparks are flying and it’s up to Miranda to decide if she wants to risk a broken heart again by taking a chance on an old flame.

For the Love of the Bard is a wonderfully funny, entertaining romance. If you enjoy Shakespeare – or more accurately, puns about the Bard’s plays – you’re in for a treat. I adored Jessica Martin’s debut novel and I can’t count the number of times it made me smile. The Shakespeare-loving town of Bard’s Rest was a delight and because I’m a sucker for a good pun, Martin had me giggling. I wish Bard’s Rest were real because I’d love to go to their festival.

Miranda is a likeable heroine who is juggling helping out with her family, trying to write her next novel, and being knocked off her feet by Adam. I enjoyed watching Miranda find her way over the course of the story and decide how she is going to shape her life. Adam is an easy hero to adore with his kind heart and easygoing charm. I really liked the banter between Adam and Miranda and was rooting for them every step of the way. Their family and friends (human and animal) help round out the world and bring even more energy to the story. I liked seeing Miranda’s various relationships develop, and even when it comes to a potential mean girl, Martin doesn’t do what’s expected which was nice. Nerdiness is celebrated in this book and I loved that. The story slowed down a bit on the latter half, but even with that I still thoroughly enjoyed For the Love of the Bard. I cannot wait to return to Bard’s Rest and see what Martin has in store for Miranda’s sister Portia.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Review: The Sweetheart List by Jill Shalvis

The Sweetheart List by Jill Shalvis
Series: Sunrise Cove, Book 4
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
The Sweetheart List cover
ISBN: 9780063235694
Release Date: June 13, 2023
Source: Author
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Jill Shalvis Reading Order

What makes life sweet?

• Freshly baked bread
• A cool lake on a hot summer day
• The comfort of a cozy bookstore
• Second chances and new beginnings

When Harper Shaw’s life falls apart, she knows it’s time for a change. She removes everything that doesn’t spark joy—from her soul-sucking job to eating kale to making lists—and sets off for the last place she was happy, Lake Tahoe (who wouldn’t feel good there, right?) to fulfill her dream of opening her own bakery.

With her Sugar Pine Bakery in between a tavern, owned by sexy, grumpy Bodie Campbell, and a bookstore, run by her new BFF, she feels a peace she’s never experienced since…well, forever.. Then she meets Ivy, a teenage runaway, who barrels into her heart. She sees a lot of herself in Ivy and takes her under her wing, but the teenager has secrets…

When those secrets explode, it changes Harper’s new world, and she’ll learn, it’s never too late to start over, it’s never too late to figure out your life, and best of all, it’s never too late to let yourself believe in love.

New beginnings are oh-so-sweet in The Sweetheart List. Jill Shalvis’s latest Sunrise Cove novel is warm, welcoming, and wonderfully entertaining. Harper, Ivy, and Bodie are endearing characters and I adored every step of their journeys.

Harper Shaw is in need of a fresh start, so she heads to Sunrise Cove, the last place she was truly happy. Harper is sunny, funny, and kind, but also incredibly lonely. Since the death of her mom she hasn’t had anyone who stayed and chose her. Harper knows what it is to have no one to rely on but herself which is why she immediately connects with Ivy, a teenage runaway. The two of them hit it off from the start and I loved seeing the trust between them build. Someone who has always had family to rely on, even when he tried to put up a wall between them? Bodie Campbell. The former ATF agent is recovering from internal and external wounds at the beginning of this book and he doesn’t want love or any complications. Then Harper knocks him off his feet and the not-as-tough-as-she-looks Ivy tugs on his heartstrings. What happens next is a whole series of complications, ones that could make all three of their lives better if they have the courage to open their hearts.

It was easy to fall into The Sweetheart List. Shalvis’s classic humor is there, complete with a scene-stealing animal and a host of family and friends who are up in each other’s business. I really enjoyed Harper and Bodie’s romance; it was sweet with just a bit of a kick to keep things interesting. Their love story made me smile and I was rooting for them every step of the way. Their maternal/paternal relationships with Ivy were lovely to read about. Ivy’s secret, which could change everything, is woven through the story and is as important as the Harper/Bodie romance.

The Sweetheart List is every bit as sweet as the name implies. It’s a lovely, fast-paced read to be swept away by whenever you’re in the mood for an escape. Between the endearing characters, the humor, and the heart, it’s a charming pick-me-up that’s perfect for any season.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Review: Unfortunately Yours by Tessa Bailey

Unfortunately Yours by Tessa Bailey
Series: A Vine Mess, Book 2
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Unfortunately Yours cover
ISBN: 9780063239036
Release Date: June 6, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

After losing her job and her fiancé in one fell swoop, Natalie Vos returned home to lick her wounds. A few months later, she’s sufficiently drowned her sorrows in cabernet and she’s ready to get back on her feet. She just needs her trust fund to finance her new business venture. Unfortunately, the terms require she marry before she can have the money. And well, dumped, remember?

But Natalie is desperate enough to propose to a man who makes her want to kill him—and kiss him, in equal measure.

August Cates may own a vineyard, but he doesn’t know jack about making wine. He’s determined to do his late best friend proud, no matter what it takes. Except his tasting room is empty, his wine is disgusting (seriously, he once saw someone gag), and his buddy’s legacy is circling the drain. No bank will give him the loan he needs to turn the business around... and then the gorgeous, feisty heiress knocks on his door.

Natalie has haunted August's dreams since the moment they met, but their sizzling chemistry immediately morphed into simmering insults. Now, a quickie marriage could help them both. A sham wedding, a few weeks living under the same roof, and then they can go their separate ways—assuming they make it out alive. How hard could it be?

There’s just one thing they didn’t account for: their unfortunate, unbearable, undeniable attraction.
There’s a fine line between loathe you and can’t live without you in Unfortunately Yours. Tessa Bailey gives Natalie Vos her happily ever after in this second Vine Mess book that, unfortunately, was not my cup of tea (or glass of Cabernet, if we’re going to be on-theme).

Natalie has long been an outsider, even among her own family. She’s both worked hard and acted out all her life to not be ignored but there’s a core of loneliness to her that broke my heart. I liked seeing the vulnerable side of Natalie whose smarts and insight had a lot to offer, and I really wish I’d seen more of that developed because it gave her character depth. August Cates is the one man who sees her and he drives her absolutely batty. The former Navy SEAL is now running a winery in memory of his best friend, but he sucks at it. When Natalie needs access to her trust fund (hampered by archaic terms) and August needs to be taken seriously by the wine community to get a small business loan, they decide on a marriage of convenience. A sham wedding and close quarters mean it’s impossible for these two stubborn people to go from locking horns to…well, you get the idea.

I wanted to love Unfortunately Yours as much as I’ve loved other books of Bailey’s. However, I simply struggled with this one. August just didn’t work for me. No matter how many times Bailey reminds readers that he’s huge and a former Navy SEAL, August came off as a caricature of a giant, protective alpha male to me. Between his cringy jokes and absurd horniness he came off like a teenager rather than a thirty-something veteran. The banter between he and Natalie didn’t work for me at all and the whole book just came off as hyper-hormonal rather than hot, shallow rather than believable, and the insta-love strained credulity to the breaking point. There were some good points to the book (Menace the cat) and some opportunities for more development that were sadly missed (Natalie’s relationship with her family). Not every book will be for every reader and Natalie and August’s story is a case of the characters just not being for me.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Review: B’Nai Mitzvah Mistake by Stacey Agdern

B’Nai Mitzvah Mistake by Stacey Agdern
Series: Last Girls Standing, Book 1
Publisher: Tule Publishing
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
B’Nai Mitzvah Mistake cover
ISBN: 9781958686782
Release Date: June 1, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Tule Publishing

Sharing isn’t caring when it comes to your big day.

Judith Nachman loves working as a project manager at the Mitzvah Alliance charity, and after five years, it’s finally her turn to have the bat mitzvah of her dreams. Judith is enjoying every single moment of the process—until she learns she has to share her day with the annoying hockey player who derailed her sister’s career.

Retired hockey player Ash Mendel is determined to start an organization to support Jewish athletes, and the first step is to have his bar mitzvah. He's not sure what he wants his day to look like, but he knows he definitely wants forgiveness from Judith, the woman he's sharing the date with.

But Judith’s nephew needs to interview an athlete, and Ash needs professional advice for his foundation, so they exchange favors. Except as they get to know each other and their worlds start to mingle, Ash and Judith will have to decide whether sharing their lives as well as their B'Nai Mitzvah is the best decision they could make, or the biggest mistake of their lives.

B’Nai Mitzvah Mistake is a sweet romance with fantastic Jewish representation. Stacey Agdern has a wonderful way of depicting Judaism in her books, from the religious standpoint, the cultural standpoint, education, mitzvot, and the sense of community. I loved Ash and Judith’s passion and learning over the course of the book and this is where Agdern’s writing shines.

I struggled heavily with rating B’Nai Mitzvah Mistake because the representation was so well done and highlighting Jewish athletes (hockey players in particular) made my heart sing. I also really loved Judith and Ash studying for their B’Nai Mitzvot and how their lessons enhanced the story. That being said, the heart of the story is the romance between Judith and Ash and this is where I didn’t feel the spark. I’ve adored past romances of Agdern’s but Ash and Judith just didn’t have the chemistry I wanted. The main obstacle in the romance is the fact that Ash set back Judith’s sister’s career as a sports agent years ago. Judith, loyal and loving sister that she is, doesn’t want to forgive Ash and definitely does not want to share her Bat Mitzvah date with him. But as she gets to know him, she starts falling for the man and is torn between her feelings for him and her loyalty to her sister. I had a really hard time with this because the push-pull felt inauthentic and forced. The love story came across as stilted and the drama made it easy to put the book down. It’s a disappointment because outside the main storyline there was so much to enjoy about this book. At the end of the day, the romance just wasn’t my cup of tea. That being said, the Jewish representation was great and I’ve enjoyed other books of Agdern’s so I’ll definitely be looking forward to the rest of the Last Girls Standing series.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.