Sunday, December 31, 2023

Review: On the Plus Side by Jenny L. Howe

On the Plus Side by Jenny L. Howe
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
On the Plus Side cover
ISBN: 9781250837882
Release Date: December 26, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Everly Winters is perfectly happy to navigate life like a good neutral paint color: appreciated but unnoticed. That’s why she’s still a receptionist instead of exploring a career in art, why she lurks but never posts on the forums for her favorite makeover show, On the Plus Side, and why she’s crushing so hard on her forever-unattainable co-worker. When no one notices you, they can’t reject you or insist you’re too much.

This plan is working perfectly until someone secretly nominates Everly for the next season of On the Plus Side. Overwhelmed by the show’s extremely extroverted hosts and how much time she’ll have to spend on screen, she finds comfort in a surprising friendship with the grumpy but kind cameraman, Logan. Soon Everly realizes that he’s someone she doesn’t mind being noticed by. In fact, she might even like it.

On the Plus Side is a story of being authentically yourself and finding love (self-love and romantic) along the way. Jenny L. Howe does an amazing job of representing a plus size heroine who loves herself but also struggles with her image. Everly is loud, bold, and an artist, but she’s repressed all three things for years. Content-ish to fade into the background, to modulate her voice, to work as a receptionist rather than go for a design job she wants, and secretly moon over a coworker, Everly is shocked to learn she’s been chosen to be on her favorite reality show, On the Plus Side. The show’s vibrant hosts are a whirlwind, pulling Everly outside her comfort zone and making her face what she’s hidden about herself. Also along for the ride is plaid-wearing cameraman Logan, who is better than any fantasy Everly had about her coworker.

I loved Everly’s journey. Her mother has pushed her to tame herself, to hide in the background, but Everly has a bold personality and style she wants to let shine. The reality show helps her reclaim herself and I loved that journey. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Everly show her art, to grow professionally as well as personally. As for the romance, she and Logan are an excellent pair. They have an easy chemistry and how can you not swoon over a guy who thinks you’re perfect just as you are?

On the Plus Side is a love story; self-love, romantic love, and the love between family, friends, and the community you build. I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of Everly’s journey and I’m very much looking forward to reading more of Howe’s work.

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.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Review: Gwen & Art Are Not in Love by Lex Croucher

Gwen & Art Are Not in Love by Lex Croucher
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Genre: LGBTQIA+ Young Adult Fantasy Romance 
Gwen and Art Are Not in Love cover
ISBN: 9781250847218
eBook Source: Publisher
Audiobook Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

It’s been hundreds of years since King Arthur’s reign. His descendant, Arthur, a future Lord and general gadabout, has been betrothed to Gwendoline, the quick-witted, short-tempered princess of England, since birth. The only thing they can agree on is that they despise each other.

They’re forced to spend the summer together at Camelot in the run up to their nuptials, and within 24 hours, Gwen has discovered Arthur kissing a boy and Arthur has gone digging for Gwen's childhood diary and found confessions about her crush on the kingdom's only lady knight, Bridget Leclair.

Realizing they might make better allies than enemies, they make a reluctant pact to cover for each other, and as things heat up at the annual royal tournament, Gwen is swept off her feet by her knight and Arthur takes an interest in Gwen's royal brother. Lex Croucher’s Gwen & Art Are Not in Love is chock full of sword-fighting, found family, and romantic shenanigans destined to make readers fall in love.

Hundreds of years after the famed fall of Camelot, England has a new Arthur and Gwen in Gwen & Art Are Not in Love. As you can guess from the title, our main characters are not about to be swept off their feet… At least, not by each other. They may be betrothed, but they loathe one another. On top of that, Gwen is hopelessly crushing on the kingdom’s lone female knight and Art is a general gadabout who finds himself swiftly falling for Gwen’s brother. What are two decidedly not in love nobles to do? Why not put aside their differences and cover for each other?

Gwen & Art Are Not in Love starts off a bit slow as Art and Gwen clash, but it picks up steam as the two come together to, well, not be together. I really loved Gwen and Art’s growing friendship over the course of the story – it’s likely my favorite thing about the book. Gwen is formal and grumpy, but it hides a loneliness I don’t even think she sees at first. Art is impulsive and rarely serious, but his jokes cover a lot of pain. I liked seeing the two of them come into their own over the course of the story. I listened to this story on audiobook, and I feel like this is definitely a case where the narrators added to the story. Sarah Ovens hit the right notes as Gwen, but Alex Singh really made Art come alive for me. I’m not sure if I’d have enjoyed Art as much as I did had I just read the book. Singh brings such personality to the role that he really elevated it for me.

A romp with gay best friends would have been a solid story for me because Gwen and Art could be so much fun. But there’s romance here as well. Gwen has a major crush on Bridget and Art can’t help but fall for Gabriel. I do wish we’d have gotten Gabe and Bridget’s points of view because that would have rounded out the story much better. Still, as it stands I enjoyed seeing our protagonists fall in love, overcome obstacles, and take a risk on letting their true selves show.

I won’t spoil the story, but I will say that in the last quarter of the book Gwen & Art Are Not in Love takes a turn from fun romp with romance and adventure to violent and quite dark, with political machinations taking center stage in the final act. I can see what Lex Croucher was building to so I can’t say it came out of nowhere, but the shift in tone felt abrupt and I’m not sure I was satisfied with how the ending came about, but your mileage may vary.

I had mixed feelings about Gwen & Art Are Not in Love but overall I think it was entertaining. The middle of the book was delightful but the slow beginning and the change of tone at the end weren’t really my cup of tea. Still, there’s a lot to enjoy about this story – I love what Croucher did with the Arthurian legend and the friendships in this book were top-notch. Gwen and Art may not have been in love, but the themes of love, family, and finding the courage to stand up for who you are shine through this book.

FTC Disclosure: I purchased the audiobook and received the eBook 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, December 18, 2023

Review: A Lady’s Rules For Ruin by Jennifer Haymore

A Lady’s Rules For Ruin by Jennifer Haymore
Series: The Lions and the Lilies, Book 2
Publisher: Entangled: Amara
Genre: Historical Romance 
A Ladys Rules For Ruin cover
ISBN: 9781649374516
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Entangled

She’s found the perfect plan to avoid marriage…

Miss Frances Cherrington has long been criticized as independent and prickly. And she’s fine with it. Truth be told, she’d prefer to be a spinster—damn her family’s desires. But it’s a conversation with the devilishly handsome yet highly infuriating Earl of Winthrop that inspires the perfect escape from her nuptial troubles. Frances could ensure that no one will marry her—by happily ruining her own reputation…

The Earl of Winthrop knows more about ruin than anyone suspects. He’s just uncovered a secret that would tear his name—and everything he’s worked for—to the ground. Certainly, marriage is out of the question…to say nothing of his growing attraction to the forthright and delectable Miss Cherrington.

Though all London is abuzz with Frances’s “disgrace,” she’s determined to use her freedom however she sees fit. Even if it means spending more time with a man who sets her body on fire. But when Frances’s misdeeds catch up to her, the ruinous disaster she finds herself in blazes out of control, taking all of her options with it.

An earl who any marriage-minded woman would set her sights on falls for a woman determined to remain unmarried in A Lady’s Rules For Ruin. Jennifer Haymore’s second Lions and the Lilies story follows a dashing earl with secrets and a “ruined” young lady embracing her freedom.

Frances doesn’t want to marry and she sets about making sure she ruins her reputation. With that accomplished, she’s free to find what actually interests her in life. But her outings keep putting her in the path of the Apollo of the ton, the Earl of Winthrop. The dashing earl should be shallow and irritating…and yet he’s anything but. Evan has been charmed by Frances from the start; her prickly exterior doesn’t faze him. But then his life takes a turn when he discovers his deceased father’s secrets. Not only does he have half-brothers he never knew of, but what he has learned about his father makes him determined to remain unwed.

While Frances and Evan both claim to never want to marry, it’s clear to see that they’re made for each other. They simply click and Evan’s newfound brothers help bring them together. Jasper, Bobby, and Mark are endearing and I loved seeing Frances and Evan bond with them. The romance is slow to build as much of the story is focused on family drama, but Haymore still made Evan and Frances’s connection strong. It did take me a while to get into the story because of the slow start, but once things got moving I was hooked.

A Lady’s Rules For Ruin is an entertaining romance with a hero and heroine who are easy to like. Frances and Evan are both at a crossroads in this book, but they find their way together, making a family before they are even aware of it. All in all I enjoyed this entry in the Lions and the Lilies series and I am very much looking forward to seeing Evan’s remaining friends find love.

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.