Exclusive by Melissa Brayden

Exclusive
Category:
Published: 3/15/22
A big break leads to an unexpected connection.

Skyler Ruiz has had enough of covering small town news After years of flailing, her big break finally comes in the form of a reporter position in San Diego. She gets to be close to family and friends and she will be working with her idol and crush, Caroline McNamara. Carrie isn’t exactly welcoming to the new reporter but when she realizes that Sky is more than just a pretty face, their relationship takes an unexpected turn.

My love affair with lesbian fiction started with Melissa Brayden. I devoured all of her books and haven’t looked back. Whether it’s the love I felt for Brooklyn and Jessica in Kiss the Girls or the empathy I felt for Isabelle Chase in Eyes Like Those, her characters always find a way into my heart. And I can now add Skyler and Carrie that list. I adore Skyler. She has such an intense drive to succeed but isn’t willing to compromise her ideals to make that happen. She is goodness personified and can’t understand Carrie’s aloofness when she first arrives at the station, considering how kind Carrie is to everyone else.

When Carrie starts opening up, Sky, couldn’t stop herself from falling if she tried. Carrie isn’t just her crush, she’s someone Sky admires professionally. This story is told from Skyler’s point of view, so we know a lot more of what she is feeling as the story progresses. I would have liked to have gotten more about Carrie’s backstory but through her interactions with Skyler, we are witness to her insecurities and vulnerability but also to how kind and compassionate she is. Carrie and Skyler are wonderful for each other and I really enjoyed their story.

I enjoyed Ty and Grace and Skyler’s aunt, who provides her the love her mother has always been too busy to give her. And what a treat it was to Emory and Sarah from Melissa’s book, Heart Block. Melissa Brayden’s books have always been a source of comfort, like seeing a friend you’ve lost touch with but can pick right up where you left off. They have always made my heart happy and this one does the same.

An ARC was received from Bold Strokes Books via NetGalley for an honest review.

 

Missed Connection by Stephanie Shea

Missed Connection
Category:
Published: 2/25/22

Avery Dimaano just wants to go home. After a disastrous vacation that began with her getting dumped and concluded with her ingesting way too much alcohol, she just wants to get back to the safety of her job at Gia and the comfort of her friends. She doesn’t plan on spending 14 hours on a flight with Kyla Logan, telling each other stories of their lives, holding hands through turbulence and sharing one hot kiss as they leave each other at the airport, seemingly forever. No, Avery didn’t plan for Kyla but who can plan for moments that change your life forever.

Kyla Logan is a travel influencer, jetting around the world taking photos for her socials and mostly avoiding her strained relationship with her mom. After meeting Avery, she can’t stop thinking about her. When Avery reaches out to wish her a happy birthday, a friendship forms, with both trying to ignore their underlying attraction.  Avery needs to be in San Francisco for her best friend’s wedding. She might as well go a few weeks early and see Avery. As fate would have it, an accident at Avery’s apartment forces her to leave for a few weeks and Avery is more than happy to share her rental with her. Of course, the fact that there is only one bed won’t cause any issues at all.

We met Avery in Chef’s Kiss. She is Jenn’s best friend and HR manager at Gia, Jenn’s restaurant. Stephanie Shea gives us characters in Kyla and Avery, who are both struggling with family issues and their undeniable chemistry. While Avery is the “straight” woman in this story, she is the stronger of the two and less afraid of the connection. Avery knows what she wants and doesn’t care if she should be freaked out by being attracted to a woman for the first time. I love Avery’s strength and that she doesn’t experience gay panic. It is what it is and why would she deny herself something that feels so right.

Kyla and Avery have an intense chemistry but what I love even more are the moments of calm that they find with each other. They really are each other’s person. The supporting characters are all wonderful and it was great catching up with Jenn and Val. There are a lot of family dynamics is this book and those characters were vital in showing us how Ky and Avery came to be the women they are and how their views of relationships were formed.

Stephanie Shea is such a phenomenal writer. She writes books that have this beautiful, almost poetic cadence while creating characters that are relatable and endearing. When I think I possibly couldn’t love any characters more than Jenn and Val, she brings Avery and Kyla into my life. With every book, I become more of a groupie.  I’m certain if you read this or any of Stephanie’s books, you will agree she has a special talent and is one of the best writers in our community.

An ARC was received from the author for an honest review.

 

Beyond the Blue by TJ O’Shea

Beyond the Blue
Category:
Author:
Publisher:
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.

The Forever and the Now by KJ

The Forever and the Now
Author:
Published: 2/18/22

Bron McIntyre is an art teacher who has a favorite bench where she sketches her favorite bridge in the city centre of Melbourne. It’s her happy place where she goes to relax after a long day of teaching children. On this particular day her face settles on a beautiful woman and she begins sketching her almost as if her hands are moving of their own accord. She notices a cyclist heading straight for the woman and leaps to her rescue. She arrives just in time for the cyclist to fly past the woman, causing her smoothie to explode all over her skirt and shoes. Bron offers Kate tissues and they chat on Bron’s bench.

After weeks of meeting and chatting the bench becomes “their” bench. A friendship forms. And although Bron is crushing hard, she knows that Kate’s straight since her divorce from Neil has just been finalized. Maybe not so straight after all, because there’s flirting and then a moment that changes everything. Kate finally has someone who doesn’t belittle her, but instead, lifts her up and loves her exactly as she is. And Bron, who though she was perfectly content having a great job and a wonderful family, acknowledges that she has found her missing piece.

Bron’s family plays a huge part in the book and they are all wonderful. From her foul mouthed, full of love sister Siobhan, to her wise, therapist sister Janine, to fluid pronoun JJ. They are all a window into Bron and I couldn’t possibly love them more. Kate doesn’t have a supportive family. Her mother thinks Neil was her one shot at happiness and she is a fool to throw that away. She cares more about appearances than Kate’s happiness and Neil is just the worst, who, I spent way too much time cursing at, but not apologizing, like Bron’s does when she curses.

KJ is one of the writers whose words speak directly to my heart. Whether it’s the sweetness of Sam and Abby in Coming Home, the magic of Cath and Rica in Art of Magic or the mystery of Felicity and Tal in Ignis, KJ’s artistry is unmatched. With The Forever and the Now, she has written a story unlike anything I have read before, and it is her most beautiful book to date.

If you put a book in front of me and told me to tell you who the author is without looking, I could immediately tell you when it’s a KJ book.  It’s the way her “voice” comes through so beautifully, It’s in the way she writes self-deprecating humour and the way she uses imagery so vividly that I can picture each scene as if I am living in the world she’s describing.

This book is written in first person from Bron’s perspective as she and Kate fall in love, make mistakes that threaten that love, fight to find their way back to each other and ultimately experience tragedy.  KJ has made it known that this isn’t a happily ever after. When I got to the end on this book I was reduced to a quivering mess of tears. Even thinking back to it, my eyes are tearing up. However, I can’t bring myself to regret the experience and I am certain that Kate and Bron would feel the same.  Life isn’t always rainbows and unicorns. It is about finding someone who makes you laugh, who holds you when you need to be held and who looks into your eyes and sees your soul. This is a love story that I know years from now I will still be reaching for, wishing I could experience it for the first time all over again.

ARC received from the author for an honest review.

 

Plain English by Rachel Spangler

Plain English
Category:
Publisher:
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
Category:
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.

 

 

Girl Island by Kate Castle

Girl Island
Category:
Author:
Published: 12/21/21
Teenage Girls Can Be Savage

Ellery Holmes has received a scholarship to the prestigious Kings Academy. Before classes begin, she goes on a PE trip with other student athletes. Things don’t go as planned and she finds herself stranded on an island with her former best friend, Skye, Miss Ramsey and several of her new classmates. It isn’t long before the dangers they face come from within their ranks.

This book is touted as Mean Girls meets Lord of the Flies. I came for the tagline, but I stayed for Ellery.  With Ellery, Castle created a memorable character who was the heart and soul of the story.  She is brave, intelligent and someone who sees people for who they are and isn’t concerned with impressing anyone by being someone she isn’t.  Dawkes is a wonderful character who is looked down upon by the mean girls. It is no wonder she gravitates to Ellery, who shows her kindness and treats her as an equal.

I don’t normally read YA books, however, I tore through this in just a few hours. It held my interest the entire time and had my heart racing at times. The book also shows how one’s true colors are revealed in times of tragedy. If you are looking for a book with nonstop action that will keep you on the edge of your seat, then Girl Island is one you should check out. I highly recommend it.

ARC received from the author for an honest review

Blinded by Love by Claire Highton-Stevenson

Blinded by Love
Category:
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
Category:
Author:
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
Category:
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.