Beyond the Blue by TJ O’Shea

Beyond the Blue
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Published: 2/17/22
A wonderful debut from TJ O'Shea

Mei Sharpe is a widow after the death of her husband of 30 years. It’s been two years but she is just going through the motions and not really living. When she meets Lt. Morgan Kelly, Mei can’t deny that some outside forces may be at work. Morgan is tasked with heading up a newly formed cold case division, which is housed in the basement where Mei works in the morgue. The two women form a friendship after they begin having lunch together every day and start spending time together outside of work. There is something there that goes beyond friendship, if Mei can only find the listen to her heart.

This is TJ O’Shea’s debut novel, and I am looking forward to seeing more from her. I really enjoyed it and the characters were wonderful. They are both strong women who have suffered so much grief. I always love reading a story where characters overcome pain to find happiness. I appreciated that Mei’s gay panic didn’t last too long. It’s understandable that a woman who had never thought she would be attracted to a woman and who was married to a man for so long, would freak out a bit when she realized she had feelings for a woman. It didn’t take her long to move past it and for that I was happy.

Morgan is really a ray of sunshine who comes into Mei’s life and lights it up. Mei is very proper and serious while Morgan loves to laugh and have fun, which is something Mei didn’t realize was missing in her life. Everyone needs a Morgan, someone who is goodness personified, someone who doesn’t take herself too seriously and someone who shows care and concern to everyone she encounters.

There have been so many wonderful debut novels released lately in the lesfic community. I am going to add TJ O’Shea to the list of impressive debut authors who we can expect great things from in the future. I highly recommend giving this book and this new author a read.

ARC provided by Bella Books via NetGalley for an honest review.

Plain English by Rachel Spangler

Plain English
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Published: 2/15/22

Plain English is the third book in Rachel Spangler’s English Series. I enjoyed the first two books, Full English and Modern English, and this one is just as enjoyable. It can be read as a standalone as the two MC’s are new additions to the series. I have never been to an English village, but these books make me feel like I’m there, exploring the beauty of the idyllic village of Amberwick.

Lady Phillipa Anne Marion Farne-Sacksley of Mulgrave or Pip as she prefers to be called, is the cousin of Victoria, from Modern English. Pip is a player who has no problem finding women to spend time with.  At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be more to Pip, but there is so much beneath the surface that only come to light after Pip crashes her motorcyle in Claire’s yard.

Claire Bailey moved from the hustle and bustle of London to the village of Amberwick to open an art gallery and live close to her grandparents. She is drawn to Pip the moment she sees those hypnotic blue eyes and rakish good looks. She is determined not to give into Pip’s charm because Pip is exactly her type, and she always has to deal with the inevitable heartbreak when she gets left behind. The pull is too strong for both of them, so they decide to just enjoy each other until Pip leaves town.

Pip’s journey is what makes this book special. Through her relationship with Claire, someone who is unassuming and genuine, she finds the courage to come to terms with the pronouns that fit. When a character evolves into their true self, it’s impossible not to be sucked in and follow willingly as they come to terms with who they are and what that realization means to not only them, but to those around them.

In this third book in the series, we not only get to experience Pip and Claire’s love story, but we get to catch up with Brogan and Emma and Vic and Sophia. I adore both of these couples and what I like most is how Pip, Emma and Vic find people who aren’t with them for money or social status. They actually care about the person behind the public persona. This book is a beautiful journey of two people who find the best parts of themselves when they find each other. I hope we get more books in this series and the next should feature Brogan’s niece Reg. She is a character with the potential to be the strongest in the series. I highly recommend escaping to Amberwick and sharing in Pip and Claire’s journey.

ARC received from Bywater Books via Edelweiss for an honest review.

One Step at a Time by Lily Seabrooke

One Step at a Time
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Published: 2/7/22

Remington Bennett comes to Port Andrea to be an apprentice at a bakery for the summer in hopes of getting a permanent position. She is bisexual but is determined not to fall for a woman. That plan is tested as soon as she arrives in town and saves Dana Gallagher from falling at the train station. The next day Remi arrives for her first day of work and discovers the beautiful woman from the train station is her mentor. The more time the two spend together, the stronger their connection becomes, and Remi has to decide if she will stick to her plan or follow her heart.

Lily Seabrooke’s books make me happy. And what do we need more right now than something that brings a little happiness. Her characters are so likable you can’t help but want the very best for them. Dana is devoted to her career and isn’t looking to meet someone, which of course, is when the perfect person comes along. Where Dana is innovative as a chef, Remi is technical, where Dana is more serious, Remi is playful. They balance each other out and that makes the best partnership, in love and in the kitchen. Their path to happiness isn’t without complications to overcome, most of which comes from Remi’s fear of her family and their control over her life.

While I love Remi and Dana, my favorite thing about this book is I get more Avery Lindt from my favorite of Lily’s books, Fake It. Avery is not only one of my book crushes, she is Remi’s good friend and also her lesbian fairy god mother, doling out sage advice that she hopes will lead Remi to follow her heart straight to Dana. Avery is still loved up with her “hot celebrity girlfriend” Holly and wants her friend to find the same happiness. There are many memorable lines in this book but one of my favorites is Avery talking to Remi, “You like her, she likes you. Why not? We humans overcomplicate everything we do. The key to being happier is usually to do less, to stop questioning.” I think we could all stand to heed Avery’s advice. She is a wise woman with a hot celebrity girlfriend. 😉

Lily Seabrooke writes from her heart and it shows on every page. That is one of the things I love most about her writing, along with her ability to write witty banter.  A sense of humor is a vital way to deal with lifes ups and downs and it has gotten me through some very difficult times. Lily is so skilled at writing characters who deal with serious issues with humor.  The supporting cast also bring a lot of humor and heart into the story. Along with Avery, Dana’s sister, Serefina and Monica and Emmanuel from the bakery, you will have plenty of reasons to smile while reading this book.
I adore Lily Seabrooke and I adore this book. I highly recommend escaping life for a few hours by reading One Step at a Time.

An ARC was provided by the author via Booksprout for an honest review.

 

 

Blinded by Love by Claire Highton-Stevenson

Blinded by Love
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Published: 1/13/22
Love Always Sees the Way

Hannah Pascoe’s life is forever changed when a terrorist bomb explodes outside of a restaurant where she’s meeting her date. She wakes up in the hospital only able to see shapes and has a hard time accepting that her sight won’t return. Erica is a volunteer support worker who helps people adapt after losing their eyesight. Erica helps Hannah get into a rehab facility where they spend a lot of time together and feelings develop that neither was prepared for.

I really enjoy Claire Highton-Stevenson’s writing. In this one, she brings us a character in Hannah, who goes through a gamut of emotions from anger, self-pity and finally acceptance. I could easily put myself in Hannah’s place and feel the despair she felt. It’s not often we think about what we would do if suddenly our vision was reduced to only shadows and shapes and we could no longer experience the beauty of a sunrise or gazing into a woman’s eyes.

Erica has worked with many others in the same position, and she treats her, not as someone who is broken, but as someone who can have a full life with a different way of thinking and some adjustments. I liked Erica and Hannah together and how their relationship progressed. The rest of the characters were well developed and integral to Hannah’s journey. I really enjoyed this story and look forward to what comes next from Claire Highton-Stevenson.

An ARC was provided by the author for an honest review.

 

 

No Strings by Lucy Bexley

No Strings
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Published: 1/13/22

Lucy Bexley has a beautiful mind. Not like that math guy Russell Crowe played in the movie, back when Russell Crowe was relevant. No, Lucy Bexley’s mind comes up with amazing things like puppet sex jokes, a cat named Ratatouille and accidental pot gummy ingestion. All of these and more make No Strings the first must read of 2022.

Elsie Webb is the creator and puppeteer for Fangley Heights, a popular kids show. The show is in its third year and Elsie’s contract negotiations are stalled. The latest contract offer from the network is insulting and she is done being undervalued. When the head of the network dies and his daughter is put in charge temporarily, a new contract is far from the only thing she finds herself wanting.

Jones Haelstrom flies back to New York for her father’s funeral and is only planning to stay a few days. But soon she finds herself taking care of her six year old brother when his mother needs some time away and also running the network. The more time she spends with Elsie and Bentley the more she begins to feel like she has finally found a home.

The first meeting between Elsie and Jones is a metaphor for their relationship. Jones braces for the worst, but then gets hit with the hammer Elsie throws at her, a prop hammer that bounces right off. Elsie constantly surprises Jones in the best way. Jones has dealt with anxiety, depression and hypomania for years and people either want to fix her or simply don’t understand her. Elsie washes her dishes, takes her for a walk and is just there for her.

Elsie is the perfect mix of serious and silly. She takes care of Jones while wrapping that care in a joke. Jones feels like she skipped childhood and went straight to middle age. With Elsie she can let go and have fun and begins to see life in bold colors instead of the boring gray she was existing in.

The supporting characters are wonderful. Bentley is adorable and you can’t help but feel for him. At six years old he loses his father and then his mother disappears. His sister, who is decades older is now taking care of him. He wakes up with nightmares each night, but with Elsie’s help, Jones and Bentley begin to forge an unshakable bond. Bentley gains a sister but also a fun, puppet making playmate in Elsie.

Elsie’s roommate and best friend, Avery, is the best. They tell Elsie when she’s being unreasonable and point out Elsie’s feelings when “casual” is no longer an option. And they also leave edibles lying around so we can experience Jones really letting go.

Lucy Bexley is absolutely hilarious, and I laughed so much reading this book. But what makes her special is how well she combines comedy with serious subjects. Jones depression and anxiety are handled beautifully, and Elsie’s reaction is how everyone should handle dealing with someone who has mental health issues. Elsie doesn’t treat Jones as a burden or someone she needs to fix, she treats her as if she’s perfect exactly as she is. She lets her be vulnerable while bringing out her delightfully absurd side.

I have had this book for a few weeks and have already read it three times. It makes me happy, and I know it will do the same for you. Thank you, Lucy Bexley for sharing your quirky, beautiful mind with us!

An ARC was provided by the author for an honest review.

 

At First Glance by Melissa Tereze

At First Glance
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Published: 12/28/21

Faye is a successful romance novelist who craves the kind of love she writes about. She spends her days writing at her local bistro and her evenings home alone.  An evening out with her friend Phoebe changes not only her life but also her way of thinking. The eyes of the woman who gives her a lap dance looks familiar, but she doesn’t know any strippers. She has no idea those eyes belong to the gorgeous new barista at the bistro.

Talia works at the bistro during the day just to keep herself busy. Dancing at Vision provides more than enough money for her to live comfortably. She loves dancing and is one of the best pole dancers in Europe. She thinks Faye is beautiful but would never pursue anything with her. She was burned in the past when she opened up her heart only to have it crushed.

Talia and Faye complement each other perfectly, even though, on the surface they shouldn’t fit at all.  Faye’s initially shocked to discover Talia is the dancer from the club. She quickly realizes that Talia is so much more than her job and she wants to know her. We should all strive to be like Faye, to not judge someone for what they do but to see the person they are inside. Talia is a pole dancer, but she’s so much more than that and Faye’s see’s all of the things that make her special.

Talia wants nothing more than to bring the Faye’s smile back, but can she trust that Faye won’t hurt her the way everyone else has. Melissa Tereze is one of my favorite writers. The way she takes the time to develop her characters makes me feel like I know them completely, her books are always super sexy but are also deeply emotional. And I absolutely love how regardless of the age differences between the characters, they both behave like adults and communicate with each other.

Faye’s mother is an absolute gem of a character and made me laugh out loud several times. She’s completely without a filter and I love that in my characters. Phoebe, Faye’s best friend is the judgmental asshole in the story, who sees nothing wrong with paying Talia for a lap dance but doesn’t see her someone worthy of her friend’s affection. So many people sit in judgment of others and what we all need to do is to look at the person, not the preconceptions we have in our heads of who they are. This is yet another stellar book from a wonderful writer.

ARC given by the author for an honest review.

 

 

The Great Charade by Gerri Hill

The Great Charade
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Published: 12/7/21

Two years ago Abby Carpenter took her girlfriend Holly home with her for Christmas. Holly slept with Abby’s brother, Aaron, while they were there. Last year Holly went home by herself and promptly slept with Holly behind her brothers back. Now, she’s going home again for Christmas and Holly and Aaron are engaged. So, of course, she needs a fake girlfriend to take with her so she doesn’t get seduced by Holly again. And that’s where landscape artist, Nic, comes in. Abby asks Nic, a complete stranger, to accompany her for ten days to her family’s home for the holiday. Nic agrees with one stipulation.

Gerri Hill’s books were some of the first I read when I began reading lesfic. She has written some fantastic books. This book has some good moments but getting to those was difficult. The sexual ping pong Holly does between brother and sister is cringeworthy along with Nic agreeing to go along with the charade in exchange for sex. Once Abby and Nic arrive at Red River, the book becomes more enjoyable.

The chemistry between the two characters is convincing and I actually grew to like them a lot. Nic isn’t as callous and arrogant as she seems in the beginning. She has endured a great deal of trauma in her life and has serious walls around her heart to protect herself. The scenes with Nic enjoying snow for the first time were delightful. She displayed such a childlike innocence that Abby couldn’t help but get drawn in. Abby is a good character as well, although her weakness where Holly is concerned bothered me.

Along with the two main characters, Abby’s mom, is my favorite. She is kind and supportive and helps to give Nic the kind of Christmas she never had growing up. The scenes with Abby, her mom and Nic are lovely, as are the ones in Red River with Abby and Nic exploring the idyllic town. It wasn’t enough to help me get over Nic demanding sex in exchange for going with Abby or Holly sleeping with both siblings with no regard to eithers feelings. This wasn’t my ideal Gerri Hill book but it might be the one for you.

ARC provided by Bella Books via NetGalley for an honest review

Cuffing Season by Monica McCallan

Cuffing Season
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Published: 12/5/21
A back in your arms story

Maeve Murphy finds herself back in Kingsford after her mother’s death. Her father needs help keeping his bar in business.  She’s staying just long enough to do her part and then she is heading back to New York City to resume her photography career. Bianca Rossi is a receptionist at the vet clinic and works at Murph’s Bar.  She loves everything about Kingsford and everyone in the town loves her. Bianca always has a positive attitude and a smile. Everyone wants to be her friend, everyone but Maeve. Bianca doesn’t understand the attractive, aloof woman.  After extending the friendship branch on more than one occasion, Maeve finally accepts. Friendship leads to someone more. Will Bianca have her heart broken when Maeve returns to the city? Will Bianca cuff her to the bed so she can’t leave?

This book is not at all what I thought it would be about when I saw the title. I thought Monica McCallan had decided to have a go at writing erotica. But, no such luck, cuffing season occurs when the weather gets chilly and short term relationships are formed to help pass the time during the cold. I am a serious Monica McCallan devotee. Her books always make me smile and bring characters into my life that I wish were real so I could befriend them or cuff them, whichever they are agreeable to. 😉

When a character returns to their hometown they usually find that what kept them away isn’t as important as what brings them back. Maeve didn’t want to return to Kingsford but her mother’s sudden death changes Maeve’s plans. She left to live a bigger life and to escape her father’s disapproval of her career. Maeve is a complex character. She doesn’t really have friends and is fine being on her own, at least she’s trying to convince herself she is. You can’t be hurt if you build a wall around your heart. Bianca is all sunshine and sappy Christmas movies. She loves her town and the people in it. She “sees” Maeve more than anyone else. She looks beneath the surface to the vulnerable woman Maeve tries so hard to hide. Where others look at Maeve and see someone who is standoffish, Bianca can see the sadness that consumes Maeve. Sadness at the loss of her mother and sadness at the loss of the life she left behind and the life she feels stuck in.

Bianca is Maeve’s equal. She may seem more emotionally available because on the surface she is but when you look closer, she brings out in Maeve the feelings she has but tries so hard to repress. Maeve can’t help but to open up and let Bianca in because she needs someone regardless of how hard she tries to pretend she doesn’t and Bianca knows Maeve is the one meant for her and who will kill all the spiders.

When I think I can’t possibly love Monica McCallan mores as a writer, she says, “hold my tiny dog whilst I make some word magic” Not only has she created two more beautiful, nuanced characters in Bianca and Maeve but she brings back Quinn and Sawyer from Back in Your Arms and I couldn’t be more thrilled to catch up with them.  This is the perfect book to sit in front of the fireplace and enjoy with a piping cup of hot cocoa and those annoyingly cheerful Christmas songs playing in the background.

A Closer Look by Michele L. Rivera

A Closer Look
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Published: 12/3/21

Tessa Pearson is a wedding photographer who has no interest in being in a relationship. After a long day taking photos of happy couples, she just wants to sit on her couch watching old movies and crotchet a blanket. Thankfully, her best friend, Megan, intervenes before Tessa can get ten cats and all of the seasons of Matlock on DVD.

Harley Cooper is hired by Megan to be Tessa’s dating coach. Tessa doesn’t need a dating coach and certainly not one who is as cocky and intrusive as Harley. Harley has been hurt and will never let that happen again, not to mention that she has a strict policy of getting involved with someone she’s working with. But the more the time the two spend together, the harder it is to deny their attraction.

This was an enjoyable book. Michele Rivera always writes relatable characters who are easy to root for. Harley may be a little arrogant outwardly but it’s just her way of keeping herself protected. When you get beneath the surface, she has a big heart and really wants to help people find their person, even if she has decided love isn’t for her. Tessa is just as closed up emotionally. She takes pictures of the most important day in a couple’s life, but is convinced she doesn’t want that for herself.

Michele Rivera’s books are shorter than I would like for them to be. Really that’s the only complaint I have about her books. She writes with humor and a lot of heart and those are the things I want most while I’m reading. I want to escape life for a while with a good book while enjoying a few laughs with characters I want to be friends with. You will want to be friends with Tessa and Harley as I do when you read this book. I’m looking forward to what Michele Rivera comes up with next.

 

 

 

Caribbean Dreams by Karen Klyne

Caribbean Dreams
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Published: 12/15/21

Caribbean Dreams by Karen Klyne is a lovely story of two women who find the last thing they’re looking for while on a Caribbean cruise.

Steph Graves is not winning Employee of the Month after she gets caught having sex with a client at her family’s funeral home where she works. She decides to take a cruise to try to figure out her life and to escape her once again disappointed family.

It’s been six months since Cori Lewis’s partner died. Going on a cruise isn’t really what she wants to do but she will be able to see her brother and grandparents in Jamaica and she has to do something to get her life back on track.

When Steph and Cori meet in the singles group on the ship they strike up a friendship, which turns to attraction the more time they spend together. Will they have the courage to make their Caribbean dreams come true or will their relationship sink before it begins?

Karen Klyne has given us a really well written book. Cori and Steph are such wonderful characters. I really felt for Cori.  She has been through so much and her confidence has been shattered. She has to regain her sense of self and have fun again and Steph is a big help in that regard. Despite Steph’s recent disappointing behavior, Steph doesn’t take herself too seriously. Cori is drawn to Steph’s kindness, charm and sense of humor, while Steph sees the sadness in Cori’s eyes and wants to bring her smile back.

What I enjoyed almost as much as the romance were the vivid descriptions of the excursions the characters engaged in.  The Caribbean is the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited and being taken back there again was a delightful experience, especially given how limited travel has been for the last year and a half. If you want a Caribbean vacation from the comfort of your home with romance sprinkled in, then this is a book you will enjoy.