Friday, May 24, 2024

Winner - - The Heiress's Daughter

 




The randomly chosen winner

of a print copy of

The Heiress's Daughter by Anne Gracie is:

AmyH

Congratulations!

Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com



Thursday, May 23, 2024

Review - - A Gamble at Sunset

A Gamble at Sunset
by Vanessa Riley
Betting Against the Duke - Book 1
Publisher: Zebra Books
Release Date: May 21, 2024
Reviewed by PJ
 


When a duke discovers the woman he loves was tricked into marrying another, the master chess player makes the now-widowed Viscountess the highest-stakes wager of his life in a last-ditch effort to win her affection: he will find husbands for her two sisters—or depart forever. Thus begins a sparkling new series from acclaimed author Vanessa Riley.


Georgina Wilcox, a wallflower with hidden musical talents, is furious when her reclusive older sister—the recently widowed Viscountess—refuses sorely needed help from the Duke of Torrance, the only gentleman who has shown kindness to the bereft Wilcox sisters. Georgina decides to get back at her sister and shock the Viscountess by kissing the first willing stranger she meets in the enchanting gardens of Anya House. Unfortunately, her sister is not the sole witness. A group of reporters and the 
ton’s leading gossips catch Georgina in a passionate embrace with a reticent composer, Lord Mark Sebastian.

The third son of an influential marquis, the tongue-tied Mark is determined to keep the scandal from ruining Georgina’s reputation and his own prospects of winning the celebrated Harlbert’s Prize for music. Under the guise of private voice lessons, the two embark on a daring gamble to fool the 
ton into believing that their feigned courtship is honorable while bolstering Georgina’s singing genius to captivate potential suitors. Sexist cartoons, family rivalries, and an upcoming ball test the fake couple’s resolve. Will their sudden fiery collaboration—and growing attraction—prove there’s nothing false about a first kiss and scandalously irresistible temptation?

PJ's Thoughts:

I love fake engagements. I love complex families. And I love well-researched historical romances with secrets, betrayals, and unexpected turns. Riley uses all of these in the first book of her new trilogy, laying the groundwork for what I expect will be a compelling and deeply emotional payoff at the end. 

Riley breathes life into these characters and into the fabric of the city and times in which they live. She takes her time with the Wilcox sisters, with Mark, and especially with the Duke of Torrance, unfolding their stories slowly, with dips and turns, as we begin to understand what drives each of them. And, as we eventually come to learn, there are unexpected layers that will make their journeys all the more complex. I was fascinated by the fear, hope, desperation, and determination all roiling beneath the surface of these enigmatic characters. 

There's a lot of set up in this first book with attention given to each of the sisters as well as Mark and the duke. I'm okay with that. While I enjoyed Georgina's and Mark's slowly progressing romance, the real meat of this story is in the dynamics among the sisters and, especially, each of their relationships with the duke. There are so many layers to be explored and I am here for all of them.

While the storyline for Mark and Georgina is brought full circle in this first book, there are many more threads to be explored further in the next two books. I am already looking forward to Scarlett's journey in book two. This brilliant young woman with a scientific mind has already shown a propensity for pushing boundaries, uncovering secrets, and challenging the patriarchy. I'm eager to discover what Riley has in store for her. 



Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Review - - Bayou Redemption

Bayou Redemption
by Susan Sands
Louisiana - Book 4
Publisher: Tule Publishing
Release Date: May 21, 2024
Reviewed by PJ
 


She wants to find Mr. Perfect, but first she needs to fine tune her own Ms. Perfect…

Skilled cardiac surgeon Elizabeth Keller is determined to turn over a new leaf. Not easy when you live and work in the same small town where you grew up and your family’s rocked by scandals. Plus there’s the painful fact everyone remembers your brilliant, beautiful, blonde mean girl adolescence. But Elizabeth doesn’t give up easily. Ask anyone including the new hot surgeon gunning for her job.

When Dr. Charlie Beaudoin arrives in Cypress Bayou, he’s relieved to put the past and New Orleans behind him. His new partner is as gorgeous as she is captivating, and definitely suspicious of his professional intentions. At first Charlie works to establish respect, trust and friendship with Elizabeth because he needs the job. But when a hurricane threatens the town and hospital, he and Elizabeth pull together to create a safety plan and soon the lines between professional and personal blur.

But when the skies clear and secrets and threats surround them, will their budding romance and fragile trust survive?


PJ's Thoughts:


I love a good redemption character arc but after reading the first two books in Susan Sands' Louisiana contemporary romance series, redemption is not a word I would have associated with cardiac surgeon, Dr. Elizabeth Keller. Far from it. But, in book three, Elizabeth began showing subtle clues that perhaps there was more to her than readers had thus far seen. Perhaps this was a character who actually was worthy of redemption. 


Bayou Redemption is Elizabeth's story and it's everything I could have wanted. There are no easy fixes for Elizabeth, especially in a small town where people have known her since birth and have long memories. For a true redemption to occur, I need to see accountability, remorse, growth, and a true desire to change. Sands gives all that and more in this character. By the end of the book, I was actively cheering for Elizabeth, a woman who I had once actively jeered. She won me over completely. Kudos to the author because earlier in the series that is something I would have told you could never happen. 


Woven among the threads of Elizabeth's redemption are family ties, mended friendships, workplace complications, a hurricane, a touch of mystery, and a new cardiac surgeon who just might hold the key to healing Elizabeth's wounded heart completely. I love the relationship that grows between Charlie and Elizabeth, beginning as adversaries (at least in Elizabeth's mind), then gradually allies, friends, and finally, partners of the heart. They both deserved a happily ever after and theirs was one I bought into hook, line, and sinker. 


If  you enjoy chaste, small-town romance with a vibrant community, fully-developed characters, complicated relationships, Southern charm, and heart-tugging, feel-good romance, give this book a try. It can stand on its own but for a complete understanding of the scope of Elizabeth's growth, plus the journeys of the characters with whom she has a long - and complicated - history, I recommend reading the four series books in order. I loved them all. They are, in order: Home to Cypress Bayou, Secrets in Cypress Bayou, A Bayou Christmas, and Bayou Redemption


 

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Review - - The Prince's Bride

The Prince's Bride
by Charis Michaels
Hidden Royals - Book 2
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: May 21, 2024
Reviewed by PJ



Lady Marianne “Ryan” Daventry was betrothed to an obscure French prince when she was just a baby. Years later, the young prince entered exile and was never heard from again. Lady Ryan considers the betrothal off; she can hardly marry a dead man. Now another French royal has inherited the princedom and he claims the old betrothal still stands—with himself as the bridegroom. Rather than fight the cruel new prince, Lady Ryan sets out to reveal him as an imposter. She needs only to locate the original lost prince and prove he’s still alive.

Prince Gabriel d’Orleans is still living, but he’s very difficult to find. He goes by the name of Gabriel Reign and lives in the forest, working as a horse trainer for wealthy clients. He’s hardly a pauper, but he’s also not a prince. His life in the woods conceals his true identity and keeps him safe—but also alone.

Using an old childhood letter as her only guide, Lady Ryan sets out for Savernake Forest to find the missing prince. When danger thrusts them together unexpectedly, Lady Ryan is shocked at his rustic life and his commitment to his new identity. More shocking is her fierce attraction to the rugged horseman. Meanwhile, Gabriel never planned to be discovered and he certainly never planned on falling in love. But passion has a way of upending the most careful of plans, and even the strictest boundaries are no match for a love story that is meant to be.


PJ's Thoughts:


I had a hard time putting this one down. Charis Michaels kicks things off with a bang (actually, it's a scream) that throws Gabriel and Ryan together and into an inevitable journey that held me spellbound from start to finish. 


There's so much to love about this book, beginning - and ending - with Gabriel and Ryan. He's a loner (for good reasons), rarely leaving the safety of the forest. She's determined to drag him into the open. He lives in a cave. There's only one bed. And a waterfall. She'll do whatever it takes to save her family. He only wants her gone. But he also wants her. It's a no-win situation. Or, is it?


I loved the chemistry between these two but more so the tenderness that grows as they begin to know one another as adults. Gabriel is such a complex, decent man, sweet and innocent in some ways while strong and determined in others. He has, after all, been living a reclusive life for many years. Ryan, a strong, competent woman who has always put others first, is fierce in her determination to save her family but will she do so at the expense of this man who has been through so much already? The deep conversations between them are heart-tugging. The care that develops - on both sides - seems inevitable and only makes their journey more compelling and endearing. The love and assistance that comes from unexpected sources fills their lives with laughter, hope, and the long-awaited joy of reunion. And the final scene encompasses all of my swoony, big girl, fairytale dreams.  


I'm not sure I've ever read a story quite like this before. It's fresh, fun, heartwarming, romantic, deeply emotional, and checked all of my happy reader buttons. Fans of book one in the series, Say Yes to the Princess, should enjoy seeing Elise (Gabriel's sister), Killian, and their growing family while readers new to the series should have no trouble beginning with The Prince's Bride, if that's their preference. I, however, am glad I read the books in order and am already looking forward to discovering what happened to their youngest sister in book three. 








Monday, May 20, 2024

Review & Giveaway - - The Heiress's Daughter

The Heiress's Daughter
by Anne Gracie
The Brides of Bellaire Gardens - Book 3
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: May 21, 2024
Reviewed by PJ
 



Heiress Clarissa Studley yearns to be loved for more than her fortune. Warmhearted, but plain and shy, she wishes to marry, but has two firm rules: no rakes and no fortune-hunters — her father was both, and she’ll never forget the misery he caused.

 
So, when Race, Lord Randall, starts to pay Clarissa attention, she knows she must keep him at a distance. Attractive and charming he might be, Race’s reputation precedes him and she’s observed first hand his flirtatious ways with London society beauties. But Race sees a beauty in Clarissa that others cannot, and for the first time in his life, he is truly in love. And when a rival for Clarissa's affections appears — a handsome, wounded war hero, heir to his great-aunt’s fortune — Race becomes desperate as Clarissa seems tempted to make a safer, tamer choice.
 
Can Race convince Clarissa that his love is true and that she can trust him with her heart? And can Clarissa put aside her unhappy past, and follow her heart, despite the risk of loving a rake?

PJ's Thoughts:

One of the things I most enjoy about Anne Gracie's books is the relationships, especially the families formed. Whether biological, by marriage, or chosen, her family units are treasures that leave me sighing with delight and eager for return visits. In The Heiress's Daughter, we're treated to all three within the lush, private area of Bellaire Gardens. 

Of course, comprising those family units are Gracie's characters and developing those characters is another of her many skills. I love the time and care she takes to bring them to life, giving them layers and intricacies that make them feel so very real. Clarissa and Race (who are first introduced in book two of this series, The Rake's Daughter) are excellent examples of that. How could I not love both of them, and especially love them together? If Clarissa's back story did not tug at my heart, I would have no heart. What that woman was put through by someone who should have loved, encouraged, and supported her. To become the kind, generous, loyal woman she is in spite of the treatment she received is testament to the special person she is, one worthy of the great love she feels is beyond her reach.

And then there's Race: handsome, flirtatious, liaisons scattered in his wake, and not a fortune hunter. In other words, a rake, just as Clarissa's father had been. But, is he really? There are so many hidden layers to this character and I'm here for all of them. He falls first. He falls hard. And he's willing to put in the work to convince Clarissa of his genuine feelings for her, which is not easy. It's safe to say I fell just as hard for him as Clarissa eventually does. I love his kindness, his humor, and his steadfast determination to bring Clarissa to the point where she sees - and believes - the beauty that makes her precious to him. Did I mention how much I adore this guy? 

If you enjoy character-driven stories with plenty of humor, feel-good emotion, family dynamics, and happy endings, look no further than Anne Gracie's The Heiress's Daughter. It's an absolute delight. 

This book stands well on its own but I enjoyed it much more for having read books one, The Scoundrel's Daughter and two, The Rake's Daughter first. Reading book two gave me a much better understanding of Clarissa, her back story, and her relationship with her sister (heroine of book two) while reading book one allowed me to better enjoy the characters from that book as well as the events in their lives that play out in The Heiress's Daughter. For more information about books one and two, click on the titles to read my reviews. 


Have you read Anne Gracie?

Do you have a favorite book or series by her?

Have you ever lived in or visited a group of homes with an internal shared garden?

Clarissa has a fondness for roses and even makes creams and rinses using them. Do you garden? What are your favorite flowers to grow or simply enjoy?

One randomly chosen person who posts a comment before 11:00 PM, May 22 will receive a print copy of The Heiress's Daughter.

*U.S. only
*Must be 18
 

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Winner - - Tomorrow is for the Brave

 




The randomly chosen winner of

a print copy of

Tomorrow is for the Brave by Kelly Bowen is:

Diane Sallans

Congratulations!

Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com


Saturday, May 18, 2024

Winner - - Mistakes We Never Made

 



The randomly chosen winner

of a print copy of

Mistakes We Never Made by Hannah Brown is:

Jami Birnbaum

Congratulations!

Please send your full name and mailing address to

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com


Winner - - Three Little Wishes

 



The randomly chosen winner

of a print copy of

Three Little Wishes by Debbie Mason is:

Shari

Congratulations!

Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com


Friday, May 17, 2024

Review - - Random in Death

Random in Death
by J.D. Robb
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: January 23, 2024
Reviewed by Nancy



Jenna’s parents had finally given in, and there she was, at a New York club with her best friends, watching the legendary band Avenue A, carrying her demo in hopes of slipping it to the guitarist, Jake Kincade. Then, from the stage, Jake catches her eye, and smiles. It’s the best night of her life.

It’s the last night of her life.

Minutes later, Jake’s in the alley getting some fresh air, and the girl from the dance floor comes stumbling out, sick and confused and deathly pale. He tries to help, but it’s no use. He doesn’t know that someone in the crowd has jabbed her with a needle—and when his girlfriend Nadine arrives, she knows the only thing left to do for the girl is call her friend, Lieutenant Eve Dallas.

After everyone on the scene is interviewed, lab results show a toxic mix of substances in the victim’s body—and for an extra touch of viciousness, the needle was teeming with infectious agents. Dallas searches for a pattern: Had any boys been harassing Jenna? Was she engaging in risky behavior or caught up in something shady? But there are no obvious clues why this levelheaded sixteen-year-old, passionate about her music, would be targeted.

And that worries Dallas. Because if Jenna wasn’t targeted, if she was just the random, unlucky victim of a madman consumed by hatred, there are likely more deaths to come.

Nancy’s Thoughts:

Few series reach fifty-eight books. Most run out of steam well before then, and the last few often seem pale retreads of the earlier ones. I’m happy to report that this is not the case with Random in Death. The plot is tight and twisty, and we learn new things about familiar characters.

As you can see from the blurb, Eve Dallas’s friend Nadine Furst and her lover, Jake Kincaid, play prominent roles in this story. Regular readers have often seen Nadine step to the fore, but this is the first extended look at Jake and at the two of them as a couple. Jake may be astoundingly famous, but he’s a decent guy, the kind fans would hope Nadine would fall for. He and Avenue A offer their help at every step of the investigation. At the end, they offer something priceless, which I won’t spoil, to Jenna’s family. 

The murder appears to be random, with Jenna crossing the killer’s path at the wrong time. But is it? Aware that a random killing is among the hardest to solve, Eve and her team search doggedly for an explanation of why Jenna and why now. Before they find the answers, the killer makes a mistake that gives them a lead.

Many of the elements of the story are standard police procedural components. Where did the murder weapon come from? Who had access to the components? Did the killer know the victims? If not, did they fit a type? What keeps the story in Random in Death fresh is the array of characters. Robb gives each victim a family different from the others, uniting them grief or anger for their daughters.

Along the way, other familiar characters play their roles. We learn what Jamie Lingstrom is doing. He’s a tech genius who wants, much to Roarke’s frustration, to become a cop rather than work in the much more lucrative private sector for Roarke or someone like him. Jamie teams up with Quilla, a clever, independent teenager who first appears in Concealed in Death. They play an important role in the investigation.

There are also updates on the joint building project of Peabody and McNabb and on Mavis and her family. Dr. Louise DiMatto and former licensed companion Charles Monroe contribute to the hunt, as do Dr. Charlotte Mira, Eve’s homicide cops, and the forensics team at Cop Central. We see these characters frequently, the scenes with Nadine and Jake offer a new, interesting element. Nadine has had relationships before, but this one seems different. And, of course, there’s Roarke, who has evolved in the series into Eve’s very effective partner in crimefighting as well as in life. Overall, though, I think the continuing appeal of this series is Robb’s ability to keep the plot fresh without letting it get scattered and to add a bit here and there to the characters readers already know and like.

Random in Death can stand alone, but readers who start with this book will miss Eve’s evolution from a loner to someone with an extensive found family and the gradual growth of her relationship with Roarke that eventually forged them into a unit. Given the tight plot, great pace, and beautiful character bits, I rate this book as five stars, highly recommended.

~Nancy


Thursday, May 16, 2024

Review & Giveaway - - Tomorrow is for the Brave

Tomorrow is for the Brave
by Kelly Bowen
Publisher: Forever
Release Date: May 14, 2024
Reviewed by PJ



1939, France
: Lavish parties, fast cars, and a closet full of the latest fashion—to the average eye, socialite Violet St. Croix seemingly has it all. But what she truly wants is a life full of meaning and purpose. So when France falls to Germany, Violet defies her parents’ wishes and joins the war effort.  With her impeccable skill for driving under pressure, she is soon sent to North Africa to shepherd French Foreign Legion officers carrying valuable intelligence through dangerous territory.

But as the Allies encounter one mishap after another, Violet becomes convinced there is a spy in their ranks. And when her commanding officer is murdered, Violet realizes she might be the only one who can uncover the traitor and save the lives of countless soldiers on the front lines. Convincing others to believe her is difficult enough. Finding someone she can trust just might be impossible.

PJ's Thoughts:

I have a book hangover. I started reading Tomorrow is for the Brave yesterday. It didn't take long before I realized that I may as well toss my to-do list to the side. Clearly, nothing was going to be accomplished until I had read the entire book and I didn't care. I was that deeply immersed into the life of Violet St. Croix. With each chapter read, I was that much more invested in her, a woman who defied her family - and 
fiancĂ© - to do what was right for her country, a woman who risked her life on the front lines of the WWII North Africa campaign, a woman who became a symbol of hope against the murderous Nazi regime, a woman who seemed to be the only person willing to entertain the idea that there might be a deadly spy among them. I simply had to know what happened next!

Kelly Bowen, a historical romance auto-buy author for years, has now become one of my go-to authors for WWII historical fiction. Her research is impeccable with fictional and actual events - and people - woven together into compelling stories that are darn near impossible to put down and a sense of place that puts the reader in the middle of whatever is occurring. Each time I looked up from the pages of this story, it took me a minute to realize that I was reading a book in the comfort of my home in 2024 and not on a twisty coastal road in southern France in 1939 or a dug-out desert bunker in North Africa in 1941. It's that immersive and realistic.

Bowen's character development is so complete that it's difficult to not think that these were actual people who lived. Violet, George, and Henri, in particular, are characters who engaged my interest - and affections - completely. I was right there with them through all of the peaks and valleys of their intertwined journeys and fully invested in what happened to them. (While all three of these characters are fictional, Violet was inspired by a real woman, Susan Travers, the only woman to ever serve in the French Foreign Legion. Be sure to read the Historical Note at the back of the book for more information about Travers as well as events depicted in the book.)

As if the trials of war weren't enough, Bowen has also woven a deadly mystery through this book with plenty of twists and turns to keep me guessing as to the actual identity of the "spy among us." Just when I decided I had figured out the spy's identity, she would throw another twist into the mix that had me second guessing. I love when authors stump me like that. I did finally figure it out but even then, it in no way took anything away from the suspense and danger as events played out.  

If you're in the mood for a compelling, immersive, coming-of-age story featuring a young woman raised in the lap of luxury who leaves it all behind for a greater purpose amidst the turmoil and danger of WWII, finding courage, love, and a sense of self in the process, look no further than Tomorrow is for the Brave by Kelly Bowen. It has my highest recommendation. 

~~~~~~~~


Have you read any of Kelly Bowen's books?

In Tomorrow is for the Brave, Violet is both an accomplished driver as well as mechanic, very unusual for a woman of her time. How are your driving/mechanic skills? Any wanna-be car racers among us?

I love historical fiction, especially those set in the WWII era. Have you read any WWII books lately that you would recommend?

One randomly chosen person who posts a comment before 11:00 PM, May 18 will receive a print copy of Tomorrow is for the Brave. 

*U.S. / Canada only
*Must be 18

 

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Review - - Love, Lies and Cherry Pie

Love, Lies and Cherry Pie
by Jackie Lau
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Release Date: May 7, 2024
Reviewed by PJ



Mark Chan this. Mark Chan that.

Writer and barista Emily Hung is tired of hearing about the great Mark Chan, the son of her parents’ friends. You’d think he single-handedly stopped climate change and ended child poverty from the way her mother raves about him. But in reality, he’s just a boring, sweater-vest-wearing engineer, and when they’re forced together at Emily’s sister’s wedding, it’s obvious he thinks he’s too good for her.

But now that Emily is her family’s last single daughter, her mother is fixated on getting her married and she has her sights on Mark. There’s only one solution, 
clearly: convince Mark to be in a fake relationship with her long enough to put an end to her mom’s meddling. He reluctantly agrees.

Unfortunately, lying isn’t enough. Family friends keep popping up at their supposed dates—including a bubble tea shop and cake-decorating class—so they’ll have to spend more time together to make their relationship look real. With each fake date, though, Emily realizes that Mark’s not quite what she assumed and maybe that argyle sweater isn’t so ugly after all…

PJ's Thoughts:

I hadn't read Jackie Lau before this book so I really didn't know what to expect. What I discovered was a charming rom-com with strong Asian-Canadian roots, complex family dynamics, a cute fake (to real) romance, and a delightful Toronto setting. I need more books set there. It's a city I grew up visiting but haven't been to in much too long. 

There's a lot to like about this book. First of all, there's Emily's family. Lau does a great job of creating this loving, but very complicated, family of four sisters and their parents. The tensions are visceral but the strong bond is as well. The young nieces are hilarious and so well drawn. The babysitting scene between the nieces and Mark is one of my favorite scenes in the book and when I knew this man was a keeper. Parental relationships are also well developed, especially the one between Emily and her mom. I love how this relationship evolves over the course of the story. There's a discussion between them near the end of the book that I wasn't expecting but that brought me to tears. For good reasons. 

Friendships are also an important part of Emily's life. The relationships with her two girlfriends are lively, supportive, funny, and real. I enjoyed the humor and heart that they brought to the story. 

The first half of the book is almost entirely from Emily's point of view so I was surprised - but pleased - when it suddenly shifted to Mark's. It was fun to get inside his thoughts and see things from his perspective. The second half picked up the pace and I became more invested in their relationship, largely due to that dual perspective. 

If you're looking for a fun, slow-burn, rom-com with emotional depth, strong Asian-Canadian rep, drool-worthy food, matchmaking mamas, and a hard-won happy ending, give Love, Lies, and Cherry Pie a try. 


Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Review - - Love at First Book

Love at First Book
by Jenn McKinlay
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: May 14, 2024
Reviewed by PJ
 


Emily Allen, a librarian on Martha’s Vineyard, has always dreamed of a life of travel and adventure. So when her favorite author, Siobhan Riordan, offers her a job in the Emerald Isle, Emily jumps at the opportunity. After all, Siobhan’s novels got Em through some of the darkest days of her existence.


Helping Siobhan write the final book in her acclaimed series—after a ten-year hiatus due to a scorching case of writer’s block—is a dream come true for Emily. If only she didn’t have to deal with Siobhan’s son, Kieran Murphy. He manages Siobhan’s bookstore, and the grouchy bookworm clearly doesn’t want Em around.

Emily persists, and spending her days bantering with the annoyingly handsome mercurial Irishman only makes her fall more deeply in love with the new life she’s built – and for the man who seems to soften toward her with every quip she throws at him. But when she discovers the reason for Kieran's initial resistance, Em finds herself torn between helping Siobhan find closure with her series and her now undeniable feelings for Kier. As Siobhan's novel progresses, Emily will have to decide if she’s truly ready to turn a new page and figure out what lies in the next chapter.

PJ's Thoughts:

Okay, who among us has had the occasional fantasy of moving to an Irish village and falling for the hot owner of the local book shop? Just me? That is certainly not what Emily had in mind when she accepted author Siobhan Riordan's offer to be her assistant but that's exactly what happened. Well, that's what happened after a fair amount of push and pull between the "let's modernize the bookshop" Em and the "change is not in my vocabulary" Kier. Oh, and did I mention that Kier - the bookshop owner - is also Siobhan's overprotective son? Or that there's a very good - and secret - reason for the fact that fans have been waiting ten years for her to write the final book in her wildly popular book series? Or that Em's main reason for moving to Ireland was to escape her suffocating existence under her emotionally abusive mother's thumb? Yeah, there's a lot going on in this book. I may have used more than a few tissues but there was also plenty of laughter and a whole lot of fun. 

Jenn McKinlay creates multi-layered stories with relatable characters with complex layers, giving them emotionally challenging circumstances, realistic flaws, and undeniable chemistry, then guides them through the fray, as they evolve and grow into the best versions of themselves. Sometimes there is heartache. Also, anger and frustration. But, just as often, there's humor, friendship, romantic awakenings, and love. 

I loved the chemistry - and conflict - between Em and Kier. It was fun to watch them spar and then, eventually, come together...for his mother and for themselves. I really rooted hard for these two.

The relationship that developed between Siobhan and Em was heartwarming and also heart-wrenching. After a lifetime of emotional abuse from her own mother, it was wonderful to watch Em flourish under the nurturing attention of Siobhan. My only real quibble with the book is that we didn't get to see resolution between Em and her mother on the page. I really wanted that. 

The sense of place that McKinlay created transported me straight to that Irish village. I could hear the music from the pub, feel the mist on my skin, hear the lyrical tilt of voices from the locals, and want nothing more than to book a flight tomorrow. If this book doesn't make you want to visit Ireland, I don't know what will.

If you enjoy contemporary fiction with humor, heart, romance, complex characters, an Irish bookshop (complete with a broody - did I mention hot - Irish owner), and emotional depth, add Love at First Book to your summer reading list. 

For those of you who read McKinlay's Summer Reading (May 2023 - click to read my review), Emily Allen is the best friend of Sam, Summer Reading's main female character. Em is a secondary character in that book and Sam and Ben appear in Em's story, Love at First Book. You don't have to read the books in order but I enthusiastically recommend them both. 

This may be a bit of a spoiler but for those readers for whom these may be triggers, I feel it's important to know. Also, the impending death is revealed early in the book. 

Content Warning: emotionally abusive parent, cancer, death