I am slowly catching up on all of my NetGalley ARC reviews. Luckily, I’m kinda ahead of actually finishing stuff on time (yay me!), mainly because I’ve been reading and procrastinating on reviews.
So there are four quick—hehe, not—reviews on four fun contemporary romances!
Reviews stacked in order of publication date.
Heartbreak for Hire by Sonia Hartl
I’m afraid of waking up one day and realizing no matter how far I run from my past, it will always define me. Trying to overcome it is still giving it control.
Brinkley Saunders was once a rising star in the academic world—just like her mom—when she left it all after a traumatizing heartbreak. Now she works secretly as a Heartbreak for Hire, a secret agency specializing in bestowing a little comeuppance on asshole men. Life is good, and Brinkley is working on saving up enough money for a down payment to open an art gallery, until she messes up and breaks rule #1: she almost sleeps with a target. Worse: her boss is hiring men for the first time, and her target is one of the hires. Brinkley and her coworkers aren’t sure what to do, but they do no one thing: the men need to go. Starting with Mark.
“You’re so pretty. Men love to take advantage of a pretty face, but you already know this…If you don’t learn how to exert power over men on a professional level, you will always be a silly, pretty little toy. This is making you stronger.”
Despite what might seem a low three-star rating, this was an enjoyable contemporary romance! Solid sexy sex scenes, a decent plot (I enjoyed the H4H aspect but wished some other aspects [Margo’s manipulation] were addressed further), a messy heroine who dresses her cat in sweaters because she’s (the cat) is a fashionista, and decent chemistry between lovers.
Brinkley’s navigation of her rocky relationship with her mother was something I greatly empathized with, and I also understood how she went from one emotionally abusive relationship to another (her ex to her boss), because it can be really hard to differentiate when bad interpersonal relationships are all you’ve ever known. You’ve been keyed to believing people even when they are gaslighting you, because that is what manipulation does. Which meant that Brinkley was even more prone to ricochet into rejection when the “twist” that threw her and Mark apart (you knew this had to be coming, it’s in like 98% of contemporary romances), even when that twist was contrived as hell.
Again, solid and entertaining throughout, although the geography of Chicago confused the hell out of me (Brinkley lives on Michigan Ave and works in I think downtown Chicago and her mom works in Northwestern, but she visits her mom for weekly lunch breaks like that’s just a quick trip on the L? That’s an hour train ride one way—Northwestern is in Evanston not Chicago).
So maybe a couple eyebrow raises at the geography and the weak half-breakup, and experience this novel as one of self-growth and learning to navigate hard relationships. Plus the backstabbing world of academia.
Years of playing the academic game had taught me some finite rules about human nature and self-proclaimed experts. Everyone in the room was afraid of being exposed as an imposter. The more vocal I became in my disdain, the more other critics would follow my opinion or risk the accusation of an unsophisticated palate.
I received this ARC for an honest review.
Heartbreak for Hire releases July 27, 2021, from Gallery Books.
If the Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy
His hobbies include sailing, water polo, high-stakes Scrabble, and returning his mother’s phone calls.
Cindy is returning to LA after a disastrous senior year as a fashion designer, where the grief from her father’s sudden death three years before hit her. She has no job prospects, no future in shoe design, and is going to lick her wounds babysitting her step-siblings throughout the summer for her stepmother, who is the executive producer of the hit-reality dating show, Before Midnight. When three contestants exit the show before filming begins, Cindy is convinced to join as a contestant—it’ll help raise her profile and possibly get her a position in fashion. Except she’s the first plus-sized contestant in the show’s history, and she’s already met Prince Charming.
“You think I could steal you away for just a few?”
This was a delightful rom-com!
I’ve always loved Julie Murphy and was so excited to see her adult (technically New Adult) debut! This is a closed door romance, so in case you were hoping for sexy scenes, there aren’t any—but there’s a ton of swooning to be had.
I don’t watch reality TV (not since my stepmother passed), but I loooove the SNL bits and I adored One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London. And If the Shoe Fits is going to get a lot of comparisons, because they both have plus-sized main characters obsessed with fashion who are on a reality dating show. However, where Bea was the bachelorette, Cindy is one of the herd.
Henry leans over and in a loud whisper says, “For the record, there was definitely room for two on that door. Jack died in vain and I stand by my case, Your Honor.”
I really liked Henry, and I liked his chemistry with Cindy…and I completely get the ending (although I wanted more pages! It was so abrupt!) because how can you tell if something is real or not when it’s all be tv and fantasy and twenty other women vying for their fifteen minutes of fame? Also, I like a person who understands that there was, in fact, room for two on that door.
But love interest aside, I feel that this story really shown with its portrayal of Cindy and her family, and also with the other contestants. Murphy did a solid job turning some tropes—The Southern Belle, The Mean Girl, The Librarian—on their heads, and I really, really enjoyed it. Stacey the librarian is the best character of all, and this has one of the most accurate representations of what a librarian actually does (yes, it’s pretty much coming up with programs on the cheap and answering the same questions over and over and over at the reference desk).
Plus, I was so happy that this was a Cinderella retelling where the stepmother is not evil!
Erica and Cindy’s relationship is not all gumdrops and glitter—it’s a work in progress, of two people trying to do right by each other, of a woman bringing her stepdaughter into the family out of love for her and the memory of her husband. It’s working through grief and relationships, where the tight unit of family expands to accommodate one more.
Anywho, it’s fun and fresh and delightful, with lovely takes on family, ambition, and love.
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.
If the Shoe Fits releases August 3, 2021, from Hyperion Avenue.
The Royals Next Door by Karina Halle
Bear shifters are all the rage right now, and I’m not complaining.
Piper Evans is just your regular, boring twenty-something: elementary school teacher by day, romance blogger by night, caregiver to her mother throughout. And life is just peachy (kinda) on her tight-knit island home, at least, until the Duke and Duchess arrive and rent out the home right next to hers. Suddenly Piper is inundated by a wave of paparazzi and feelings for the royals’ hot but close-mouthed bodyguard, Harrison. Could her summer get even weirder?
I’m used to the dog-ate-my-homework excuses at work, and generally the more outlandish they are, the more they seem to be true. I mean, unless their homework was eaten by velociraptors or something.
The book starts off with a student vomiting into Piper’s purse (it was right by the trash bin), and her day just goes downhill from there.
At least, however, it goes up, as she has a meet-uncute with Harrison the personal protection officer, and then later meets Monica and Eddie, the British Duke and Duchess who are totally, 100% not at all stand-ins for another British royal couple who were hounded by the press with racist slurs, treated poorly by the rest of the royal family, said fuck it to royal life and all of the crap, and bunkered down in British Columbia for a hot minute while pregnant. (In case you are wondering, I am totally Team Meghan).
While there are some off-the-walls moments (security in trees, missing ids, etc.), I really enjoyed how this leaned into the quieter moments of fame and the harder aspects of mental illness and new relationships and fitting in.
Piper is viewed as an outsider because her ex is well connected throughout the town (his parents literally own everything) and she left him not-quite-at-the-altar after discovering he’d cheated on her (yet again) the night of his bachelor party. Being a small town and influential parents, guess who came out on top in that event? Not Piper.
Her relationship with her mother is one that I really enjoyed reading, and I really like the establishment of boundaries and real-talk at the end, where her mother tells her that while she might have dependent personality disorder and borderline personality disorder, Piper has been creating her into even more of a dependent, and that it’s time to let mom stand up on her own a bit. This was refreshing, because so often caregivers are treated to the oh look at me and my woes approach, while the people they are caring for are considered unworthy of more than pity, much less any sort of agency. So it was nice to see mom push back against Piper, and recognize (and call out) their codependent relationship.
Piper’s relationship with Harrison was solid if nothing spectacular, likewise with her relationship with Monica (Eddie is mostly off doing…who knows?). They were both people with baggage who needed to work through that and find a way to move on, and how that moving on looked.
Overall, it’s enjoyable, and it satisfied my gossipy sweet tooth and need for all things royal. Plus, there was a nice parallel between private and public expectations for behavior, both for royals and teachers of young children.
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.
The Royals Next Door releases August 31, 2021, from Berkley.
A Lot Like Adiós by Alexis Daria
Picking someone up at the airport in New York City was the biggest of favors, and Michelle hoped the big jerk appreciated it.
Thirteen years ago, Michelle and Gabe were best friends. Until Gabe left for LA, ghosting Michelle and his family. When out of the blue, Michelle is contacted by Gabe’s business partner (and then Gabe) offering to hire her for a marketing campaign for their new NYC-branch gym, Michelle is intrigued, but has some ground rules. First: Gabe has to be the one to work for her. Second: He stays with her during the pitch. Third: She wants answers on why the hell he left.
“It was awful, Mich. I couldn’t decide between the condom brand’s core values, and then suddenly my dad was right there.”
I don’t often read a lot of second-chance romances, mainly because I feel that there’s generally a reason two people separated, but I could not pass up the second book in the Primas of Power series!
And I was not disappointed. The sex scenes are fucking fire, and the chemistry between Gabe and Michelle is hot as hell.
Plus, this is a story of two thirty-one year olds who *technically* have it all and are realizing they’re actually stuck in a rut and lost sight of what was really important. But figuring out how to move forward and what they really want is the thing that’s holding them back—and I loved reading all about it!
Throughout it all is Gabe’s relationship with his parents, a theme of estrangement and reconciliation and boundary setting that was touching and heartbreaking and so familiar, and it was really, really well done. It shows that change is possible, reunification is there, and while the past can never really be forgiven, perhaps it can be understood and let go.
And, of course, there are the families! I really cherished the interactions between family members, particularly a memorable condom-buying scene, and Michelle’s relationship with the other primas (who do not get enough page time, and I need more grandma!!).
I also adored the fact that this book is about two bisexual Latinx characters, neither of whom want children or to necessarily get married, despite the pressure heaped upon them by their families. It was so refreshing to read in a contemporary romance, which so often seem focused on marriage as the end game (with children as an eventual inevitability). Gabe and Michelle were perfectly content to be kick-ass tia/tio, and it was awesome.
Oh! And there is a fantastic fanfiction sub-theme running throughout. Or, fanfeek.
You couldn’t pick your family, but you could choose how you played the cards you were dealt.
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.
A Lot Like Adiós releases September 14, 2021 from William Morrow.