Well Played (Well Met #2) by Jen DeLuca

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ARC provided by Berkley Romance (thank you!)
Publication: September 22nd 2020 by Berkley

1.) Well Met ★★★★

Full disclosure: I do consider this author my friend, so there could be subconscious biases here, but this rating, this review, and these thoughts are honest and my own!

“It all started with a necklace.”

When I tell you that Ren Fest romances are maybe a kink of mine, I am being completely truthful. I grew up going to a renaissance faire in Michigan every summer for my whole life. It was always such a magical experience walking through the gate and feeling like I entered a completely new world, filled with magic and music and fae and I truly looked forward to it every summer! Now I’m much older, and I live in a very warm place, and you know… we have this whole pandemic going on, so Well Played was just the perfect romance escape for me.

The second book stars Stacey, who was the other tavern wench with Emily in book one! This book starts out at the end of the faire, and we quickly learn about Stacey’s friends with benefits situation she has going on with Dex, one of the brother in The Dueling Kilts band!

But with faire season coming to and end, and Dex and his band going to the next one, Stacey is thrust back into her life where she is a receptionist living in a studio apartment over her parents’ garage. After college, she had big dreams to move away from her childhood small town, and going to New York to pursue her passion for all things fashion, but her mother started having health complications and she felt like she was much more needed at home with her family.

Emily has a lot of exciting things going on after everything that happened in Well Met, and Stacey is helping her and her sister, April, plan many things! She is also taking part in both of their separate book clubs which are vastly different, and it just really warmed my heart, because we love a good bookstore setting too, am I right?

Stacey is very much feeling the pressure of society’s expectations because she is approaching her later twenties, and she is still very much single, and very much aware because of social media that her friends (who did move away form Willow Creek) are starting their lives and even their own families. So one night, after missing her summer fling a little too much, and maybe drinking a little too much wine as well, she writes to Dex via the band’s facebook DMs. And after waking up slightly mortified, she realizes that she received a very nice message back.

“A watched pot never boils, and a watched phone never… lights up with a text. Something like that.”

After this, we get to see Stacey live this year of her life corresponding with maybe the love of her life, while also prepping so much for the next summer’s Ren Fest! But as the dates go by, and the anticipations builds and builds, she starts questioning a lot of things. (Somewhat spoiler alert and warning: do not be like me, get too curious for your own good, and look at the cover of this book to see the dude’s hair color!)

That’s pretty much all I can say without giving anything else away! I will say that I didn’t like how Stacey had to do almost everything, even though she is valid, I just wish the love interest would have proven himself (and his sincerity with his mistakes) a lot more in every situation. Truly, Stacey was a bit too good for him, in my humble opinion. Also, I feel like at times Stacey would feel a bit dated, or not like she was twenty-seven. No one that age is #PSLs in 2020, I’m so sorry baby.

But if you’re looking for a cute romance, with some amazing settings, and some really swoon-worthy banter, then I really suggest picking this one up! Also, Stacey is plus-sized and talks about her body image and her journey with her confidence a lot and I really loved that as well. Also, this has a really great subplot about family expectations and how hard it can be to leave your family, especially when you feel like they need you! Yet, how it is also really important to chase your own dreams and live the life you want to live, regardless of how unconventional it may seem to others!

Overall, this was just such a fun read! And I truly believe Jen’s settings are a tier above. Also, the next book, Well Matched, is Mitch and April’s book and when I tell you the thought of them together makes me banshee scream with love, whew.

Trigger and Content Warnings: talk of loss of a loved one in the past (to cancer), talk of difficulty conceiving children in the past, talk of heart attacks in the past, a lot of talk and thoughts of body image, anxiety depiction, and catfishing.

4
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99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

“Maybe he’s 1 percent mine. That has to be enough.”

Sally Thorne’s long awaited and most anticipated sophomore release, 99 Percent Mine was truly a wild ride for me. I’ll be honest, it took me a while to warm up to this story and especially to this main character, but I ended up enjoying this one for the most part. But, sadly, it is no The Hating Game, or at least it wasn’t for me.

This story stars Darcy Barrett who is a wedding photographer who is currently working at a bar, while also living in a house that her grandmother left to her and her twin brother, Jamie, after she passed away. Darcy has never been known to stay in one place for long, but she can no longer find her passport, so she is sort of stuck in the town she has grown up in. Plus, the house that was left to Darcy and Jamie desperately needs to be completely remodeled.

And one night when Darcy is coming home from work at the bar, she realizes that the contractor on the remodeling job is none other that her and Jamie’s best friend, Tom. Who also is the one guy who has been able to get under Darcy’s skin and into her heart, except when she had the opportunity to finally have him, she completely blew it, and now he is engaged to someone else.

Sounds like a pretty good read, right? I actually adored the set up and the actual unique setting of this story. Okay, now that we have the basic premise out of the way, I want to talk a little bit more about Darcy and why she was the main reason I didn’t enjoy this story for the first fifty perfect. For one, Darcy is written to be so edgy and quirky and constantly let’s you know it. I lost count of how many times she or other characters remarked on her short hair and nipple piercing. (Side note, who gets one nipple pierced in 2019? Like, come on.) But basically, this was all super annoying and felt so forced to me.

Next, Darcy is living with a very serious chronic heart condition, which she completely ignores throughout most of the book. This ended up being very triggering for me. I don’t want to make this review about me and my family, but if you’ve seen a few other reviews I have talked about my dad’s heart condition before, and how much it has impacted me, my family, and my anxiety’s life. So, reading about a character that just didn’t give a shit was really bothering to me. Especially since she relies on her twin brother to literally save her life. Trust me, I completely understand depression and not caring to better yourself or take care of your health, but she just chose to rely on her brother and make really poor choices, no matter her mental state. And friends, I promise you, no dick is ever worth your health or your life. I swear to every higher power.

“I’m the client. I’m his best friend’s sister. I’m Mr. and Mrs. Barrett’s weak-hearted daughter. I’m the liability he swore to take care of.”

Okay, let’s talk some more about Tom. I loved Tom, completely. But sometimes Darcy’s over aggression and scary behavior towards him was too much for me. And all the ugly jealously and nasty things she would say about his fiancé? Like, come on, let’s not. Also, Darcy does some very grey-area cheating attempts in this book that made me kind of uncomfortable!

And the last thing that bothered me was the not so great sibling relationship. Plus, Jamie just read so insufferable! You all know my brother is my best friend in this entire world and I just don’t really enjoy seeing not great sibling bonds in stories, even though the story constantly tries to make you feel like they at least had a good relationship for most their lives. Especially since Darcy and Jamie’s dynamic was so weird and I felt like I was missing so much. I really think this book would have benefited from way more actual flashbacks for Darcy, Jamie, and Tom’s childhood. Like, I think it would have improved this book so much.

Oh my gosh, I sound so negative, but I promise I did end up enjoying this read. The sex scenes were 11/10, I won’t lie. And the angst and the payoff felt so damn satisfying. Also, Sally Thorne just knows how to write amazing banter in general. From making me swoon, to making me cry, to making me laugh out loud, this author really can weave words together so damn well. Oh, and I loved Darcy’s best friend, Truly, so much! Like, give me her book please! But only her, you feel me?

Overall, this was a fun read even if it took me a little bit to warm up to Darcy and all the situations she had going on. Plus, I think this was a really fun and unique play on the friends to lovers trope. The writing is great, the pace is fast and fantastic, the banter will make you giggle, and the romance will have you fanning yourself! I for sure think that if you enjoyed The Hating Game that there is a good chance you will enjoy this one, too, even though it really is completely different. But I’m mostly excited to see what Sally Thorne does next!

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Content and trigger warnings for talk of loss of a loved one, alcoholism, a very serious chronic heart condition (and threat of failure) throughout the entire book, assault (unwanted grabbing of her wrist in a threatening manner in a empty parking lot), and a few questionable comments/jokes made about people’s cultures (like going to bury nametags in the Japanese forest, Aokigahara).

The Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke, #1) by Tessa Dare

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“Charming princes weren’t always what they seemed. Shining armor went out of fashion with the Crusades. And if fairy godmothers existed, hers was running several years late.”

Wow, The Duchess Deal single-handedly restored my faith in historical romances. Seriously, all of 2018 has been me being disappointed with every historical book I pick up, but this one? Friends, I was laughing out loud, I was clutching my pearls, I was melting into a puddle of goo on the ground. This book made me feel everything, and I can’t wait to read so much more by Tessa Dare in the new year!

The Duke of Ashbury – After coming back from the war, most of his body is completely burned and scarred. It has taken him a long while to recover, but when he does his engagement is broken off from his betrothed. Now, Ash keeps himself mostly locked away on his estate, but he is in desperate need to sire a son.

Emma Gladstone – Seamstress, who made the wedding dress for Ash’s fiancé. Yet, no one paid her once the wedding got canceled. But Emma has been living on her own, and is in desperate need of the money, so she marched right up to the Duke’s estate to ask for it.

“Your days will be yours to do whatever you wish.” His voice darkened. “Your nights, however, will belong to me.”

Yet, the Duke is not only willing to pay Emma for her dress, he is also willing to make her an offer that is very hard to refuse; he asks her to marry him and allow him to make her a Duchess, even though she has been on her own and doesn’t have a name that holds any power. But the marriage offer isn’t because of romance, but convenience. Ash will expect Emma to wed him in name only, but he will come to her every night to try to conceive a child, and once she is pregnant, he will give her a house of her own to raise his heir in. And Emma’s friend secretly needs a place to lie low for a few months, and Emma also realizes that this is an opportunity that could change her world forever.

I only really have two negative things to say. First being that Ash would jump to conclusions a little too much for me. Emma does every single thing to prove she is being sincere, and I get that because of what happened to him that it would be hard to believe, but my good dude was being pretty dumb at times. The only other thing, that completely doesn’t impact this review, is that the cover of this book is a little not cool. I do think Ash’s burns are mostly on one side of his body, but I still think that whoever picked this cover could have done better and given us some really cool representation.

“You’re here…In my heart. Somehow you crashed your way into it when I wasn’t looking. The same way you barged into my library, I suppose. But you’re here now, inside.”

Overall, this was just a treat to read. Every scene with the cat had me giggling out loud. The entire staff that Ash employs are the real MVPs and them just wanting him to be happy really warmed my heart. The banter in this book was perfection! I loved Emma so very much, and she was easily a main protagonist that I just wanted to protect at all costs. And this book was hella steamy. Like, unexpectedly steamy. But your girl was living for it. I can’t wait to continue on with this series and to devour much, much more by Tessa Dare!

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Content and trigger warnings for abandonment, emotional abuse, talk of past war themes, and just for a main character that has very low self-esteem, who is constantly belittling himself.

Buddy read with Julie at Pages and Pens! ❤

And I read this for #smutathon, which is being hosted by Lainey and Riley! ❤

Merry Inkmas by Talia Hibbert

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“…Princesses like no-strings sex just as much as the next girl.”

Oh, friends, please pick this one up for the holiday season! It was so heartwarming, so atmospheric, and brought me so much joy to read! I loved both protagonists, I loved the wintery setting, I loved the Christmas tattoo shop, and I completely recommend this one with my entire heart. And now I need to go and read everything by Talia Hibbert.

This is an ownvoices novel, starting a Black woman that is working as a barista in a coffee shop part-time while she goes to college. And she has a regular customer who makes her pretty weak in the knees with his flirting, even though nothing ever comes from it. That is, until one night, before closing, and Bailey’s friend John comes in, who is homeless and cold. She is trying to warm him up, when her boss comes out of the back and acts like a complete jerk, until the mystery man witnesses it all and takes action.

“Boring guys finish last,” she corrected, pushing the completed forms back to him. “Nice guys finish anywhere they want. Especially when they look like you.”

Cash is a white tattoo artist, who knows how needed a helping hand can be. He not only takes John under his wing, but also offers Bailey a new job at his tattoo shop. Even though they are completely drawn to each other. Bailey and Cash both haven’t had easy lives growing up, and they have such a realistic bond and attraction to each other, and it makes it completely impossible not to root for them. Especially when Cash invites Bailey to his mom’s for Christmas, since she would be all by herself. But Cash has a policy; he only will date a woman for ninety days before he calls it quits, because he refuses to truly ever let anyone in.

“Funny; he’d been a hell of a lot more charming when she was just serving him coffee.”

But the romance in this is seriously perfect. This book is only a tiny bit over two-hundred pages, but I think I was smiling, or crying, or smiling and crying on every single one. This book is funny, this book is swoon-worthy, and this book has so many important themes; from Cash and Bailey starting an interracial relationship, to Bailey also being plus sized, to it also staring a homeless, queer character, to showing that the terrible things that happen to us in the past do not have to dictate what we become in the future, to really celebrating abuse survivors (from physical abuse to neglect), this book is a damn gift to the world. I also think this story has a main character on the autism spectrum, but it doesn’t say the word(s) on page.

Overall, this was just a treat to read. And this epilogue? 11/10. This story was just so sex positive and steamy, so funny and so endearing, so enthralling and so un-put-downable. And Bailey is the female protagonist I’ve always wanted, she’s strong, and brave, and so empathetic! Ah, this book just had it all; I only wish it was longer! This is the best holiday romance I’ve ever read, and I hope you all pick this up this holiday season.

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Content and trigger warnings for talk of cancer, talk of past domestic violence, talk of past child abuse, and talk of past statutory rape.

My Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren

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ARC provided by the publisher via Gallery Books in exchange for an honest review.

“I wonder whether I’m single not because I haven’t met the right person yet, but because I’m not the right person yet.”

Okay, at this point I know I sound like a broken record, but Christina Lauren is such a hit or miss author for me. And I honestly feel like their releases alternate between me loving and me feeling “meh” about. Sadly, My Favorite Half-Night Stand ended up being a story that was very “meh” to me. It wasn’t believable, I was never really invested, and never in a million years would I want to date the main character.

So, the basic premise of this book is that there is a close-knit group of friends who all work sort of together. But they constantly hang out outside of the workplace, and they really are their own little found family. Oh, and they are all supposed to be super smart and super unlucky with dating. Yeah, it gave me Big Bang Theory vibes which is never a good sign. But anyways, they all need dates to this big event (which doesn’t even happen in the book, by the way) so they all download a dating app.

And this book does have a lot of multimedia, because we get to see these friends text and be in group chats with one another. But I will say, these people aren’t that much older than me, and really have a hard time understand basic internet lingo when they talk to each other. Real talk, my grandma memes better than these thirty-year-olds. But anyway, I should tell you all about the group of friends.

“…no matter how objectively pretty she is, Millie Morris has always been off-limits. But mostly I think she’s been off-limits because she’s never shown any particular interest in any of us.”

Basically, Millie helps all four dudes with their dating profiles. Including Reid, the guy who she considers her best friend, but who she slept with at the very beginning of this book. And basically, the guys don’t think that Millie’s profile is up to snuff, even though she literally wrote theirs for them. So, she makes another one, that’s more edgy and sexy or whatever, and she gets matched with Reid. And sends him something that she feels like will make it obvious that it is her, you know, instead of just telling him, and she basically catfishes him for the entirety of the book. And yikes, it was not enjoyable to read.

Millie’s actions are read apologetically because she has had a hard home-life growing up, and has essentially run away from it. She doesn’t talk to the guys about her past, or what is going on back home, but she feels like she can be open and honest with Reid while pretending to be this other woman. Which in and of itself is gross, but then later in the book, she actually reads what he has written to her aloud to other people. It is so gross, and I honestly disliked Millie throughout this entire book. Therefore, it was really hard for me to root for this relationship, because Reid deserved a hell of a lot better.

Overall, this just wasn’t for me. Which is actually funny, because Reid and I have similar jobs, which I was so damn hyped about when I first started this one. Sadly, that was the only thing I ended up being hyped about. And I’m so bitter that we didn’t get to see Obama in this, after this party announcement that was the reason the entire book premise started! Also, catfishing is never cool, but especially to your best friend and someone you’re having sex with. I will say that most of my friends who have also received ARCs of this one, have really loved it. So, maybe take this review with a grain of salt, but I just really didn’t like it. But I hope if you pick it up that you will enjoy it more than me! Happy reading!

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Content and trigger warnings for catfishing, loss of a loved one in the past, talk of cancer, diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, and some questionable comments about people’s physical appearance.

 

One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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“I am finishing up dinner with my family and my fiancé when my husband calls…”

Do you ever read a book and know that you’re reading it at the exact moment in your life when you needed to read it? Because that is me with One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I know a three star rating doesn’t seem that high, but the message of this book spoke louder to me than maybe any other book this year. The universe really lined up for me with this one.

The basic premise of this story, that I’m sure you all have heard many times before, is that it is about a girl who fell in love at first sight, freshman year of high school, with a boy and she ends up marrying him. They grew up together in a very small town in Massachusetts, but together they traveled the world and set up home base in California. She thought she was living the happiest life that she could, until he goes missing in a helicopter crash and is presumed dead.

She then moves back to her small hometown, and begins to run her family’s bookstore. And two years after the love of her life was lost, she falls in love with a boy she has also known almost her entire life. And for the first time in a long time, she is happy. That is, until the missing husband is officially declared alive.

Emma – The woman torn between two men.
Jesse – The missing husband.
Sam – The fiancé.

But once Jesse comes back into Emma’s life, she realizes that she isn’t the same girl anymore. She’s 31 and feels a lot differently about her life than she did at 21. And friends, that is the real reason this book is extremely hard for me to review. I’ve never been married, and I’ve never had a partner presumed dead *knocks on wood forever*, but Emma’s life really reminds me of my own.

This book handles such an important and not talked about discussion on how you want different things at different points in your life. And, I’m being really honest here, this is something that I’m currently struggling with. I was born and raised in Michigan, where all my family still live, but I knew I never wanted to stay. After college, I moved to a big city on the west coast, I am still able to travel a lot, and I don’t have to check in with anyone. But the past few years, as I’m getting older, I’m really thinking about wanting a family, and maybe moving back to the east coast to be closer to my family (and to have seasons, I really miss seasons!) I feel like I’m probably not alone in this, but life just goes so damn fast and I’m so scared I’m going to let something pass me by, but seeing Emma be the person she wanted to be a 31, not 21, was really moving and emotional to me. Like, more emotional than any kind of sad love triangle could be. So again, this is a hard book to rate.

“People aren’t stagnant. We evolve in reaction to our pleasures and our pains.”

I did enjoy this story though, and I won’t say any spoilers, but she did get with the guy that I wanted her to pick! I will say that she does have sex with both men, during very short in-between periods, but I feel like it was done very realistically, and it didn’t bother me at all. Yet, again, it did bother many of my friends, so use caution. Also, content and trigger warnings for underage drinking, thoughts of suicide, loss of a loved one, depression depiction, grief depiction, PTSD depiction, grey area cheating, and talk of cancer.

Besides this book impacting me way more than any romantic contemporary should, my favorite part of this book was Emma’s best friend, Olive, who is bisexual, half Korean and half Jewish, and just kept proving that she was such an amazing friend who really unconditionally loved Emma. I also really loved Emma’s parents and I thought they were very realistic and heartwarming. I even enjoyed Emma’s journey with his sister, Marie, even if it made me a little sad at times. Oh, and I loved the inclusion of Marie’s twins (Emma’s nieces) who were hearing impaired and used ASL. Taylor Jenkins Reid always makes me books very inclusionary and I very much appreciate it.

“I think I’m heading into a time in my life where words and labels will lose their meaning. It will only be the intent behind them that will matter.”

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. I loved the messages of people changing and living the life they want to at whatever time in their life they want to live it. I’m sorry if I was a little too personal in this post; but if you feel similarly to the way I’m feeling, or to the way Emma felt – I promise you aren’t alone.

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Buddy read with Sue & Amy! ❤

 

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

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ARC provided by Berkley in exchange for an honest review.

“Deciding to spend your life together shouldn’t be a surprise”

I loved The Wedding Date earlier this year, and when I found out that this was going to star one of the side characters I knew I couldn’t resist putting in an ARC request. This was a joy to read, from the first page to the last. Both of Jasmine’s books have been so intelligently, beautifully, and masterfully crafted.

The Proposal is an ownvoices novel that follows a woman who is completely blindsided by a marriage proposal at Dodger Stadium. Yet, before the camera crews come in to make a terrible situation even worse, she is saved by a stranger in the stands, and his sister.

Nikole Paterson – Black, freelance journalist, and the woman who just got surprise proposed to after only five months of dating her partner.

Carlos Ibarra – Latino, pediatrician, the stranger in the stands that we already were introduced to in The Wedding Date.

And we get to see these two build a friendship, and maybe something more, after everything went down at Dodger Stadium. Neither one of them are at a point in their life where they are willing to start something new, but they have each other’s backs and prove that they are there for one another.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Nik and Carlos with my whole heart, but Nik’s friends almost stole the show for me in this novel. Dana is an actress, black, and a lesbian, and has the freakin’ cutest f/f side romance ever. Like, please, I need a full-length novel right this second. And Courtney is a cupcake shop owner, Asian, and plus sized. And I think I had a smile from ear-to-ear every time she was on the page. Seriously, Nik, Dana, and Courtney are the definition of friendship goals and it was a joy to read.

But probably my favorite thing in this book were the seamlessly woven important themes. There was also such a subtle, yet loud, message about how easy it is to not realize you are in an emotionally abusive relationship. And sometimes you don’t start to realize until you are completely secluded from your friends and family. Yet, it also shows that there always can be ways out, even if you have to wait a while, and that it is never too late once you realize when someone is being abusive.

There was also such a beautiful discussion about how important it is to reclaim your safety after you have been violated or felt that it was threatened. Throughout this story, we see Nik take those steps, and it just meant a lot to me, personally. I also loved how she had friends helping along the way.

The reason I did end up giving this four stars, and not five, was because I felt like Carlos acted a little questionably at the end. Trust me, it pains me to say, because I do love him so much. Yet, with the way he and Nik met, you would think that he would understand how she would react to a (quicker) repeat. I’m trying to be vague, but his actions just left me side-eyeing a little at the end, and just dampened my enjoyment overall.

Yet, I still loved this book, and I think Jasmine Guillory is such an impressive author. I can’t wait to read any and everything she writes. The romance world just needs more books like The Proposal and The Wedding Date! I completely recommend this one!


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The quote above was taken from an ARC and is subject to change upon publication.

Content and trigger warnings for public humiliation, racist comments (always in a negative light and challenged), talk of past emotional abuse, brief assault (slap on the butt), talk of past loss of a loved one, brief mention of child abuse, brief mention of past miscarriage, and pregnancy complications.

Buddy Read with Lilly, Stephanie, & Leigh! ❤

❤ I also read this for Contemporary-a-thon!