B O O K R E V I E W : The Roughest Draft

Many thanks to Berkley Romance for a gifted copy of The Roughest Draft by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka out THIS Tuesday, January 25, 2022!

When Katrina Freeling and Nathan Van Huysen met at a writer’s retreat, they immediately felt a synergy they turned into a successful writing partnership. Three years ago, their book topped bestseller lists, was translated into multiple languages, and was courted for film rights. But, by the time they finished the book, they’d had a falling out so severe, they haven’t spoken since. Though many have speculated on the reasons behind their professional breakup, neither have ever revealed details.

Now, both are facing personal dilemmas that would be solved if they fulfilled their contract for one final manuscript. They agree to spend two months together writing in the same Florida beach house where they crafted their bestseller. Three years of hatred, though, isn’t easy to overcome, and if they don’t work out their relationship, they might not be able to achieve writing magic.

Authored by a husband-wife writing team, the book provides interesting insight into the process of co-writing and the demands following a literary success. It also asks how much writers can separate life and fiction—Nathan and Katrina have opposing opinions. The book also has a great cast of secondary and tertiary characters I’d have liked to have seen even more of: Harriet, a sarcastic writer who lives nearby; Jen, Nathan’s blunt agent; and Liz, the pair’s eclectic editor. Chris, Katrina’s cutthroat agent, is more one-dimensional, and I wish he’d had greater depth of characterization.

As Katrina and Nathan argue plot points, they confront their personal demons, and at times Katrina frustrated me with her long-standing and extreme self-sabotage which at times seemed to conflict with how she was described (confident, direct, flirtatious). Nathan explains, that book conclusions are “the culmination and subversion of everything preceding, the satisfaction of expectations and the joy of the unexpected.” I did feel this way by the end of the book!

The fabulous cover, I think deliberately evokes Emily Henry’s book. I think readers who like her books would enjoy The Roughest Draft as well as those who like frenemies to lovers!

B O O K R E V I E W : The Siren of Sussex

Thanks to Berkley Publishing or including me on the book tour for The Siren of Sussex by Mimi Mathews which went on sale January 11 and for a gifted copy of the book.

In this historical romance, Evelyn Maltravers arrives in London for the season determined to find a wealthy husband. It is the only way she can ensure the future of her younger sisters and her beloved horse since her family lives only on a small inheritance of her Aunt Nora. Yet, with her penchant for blurting out honest opinions and looks that have been overshadowed by her older sister’s, Evelyn knows that she’ll be overlooked in the ballrooms. Instead, she has a plan to bewitch a potential suitor through her riding prowess. She just needs a phenomenal riding habit as part of her wardrobe—and she knows just the designer, the tailor who dressed the Pretty Horesbreakers.

Ahmad Malik, able to flatter every size and shape with his designs, has worked with beautiful women before but none have bewitched him like Evelyn. She, too, confesses her love, but with barriers of race and class, not to mention Evelyn’s need to provide for her family, a happy ending between them is impossible, unless they are willing to put aside their dreams and flout the expectations of polite society.

Evelyn’s spunk and determinedness won me over. She was resolved not to be boxed in by the rules of what “ladies” should do. I also found Ahmad completely swoony with such an interesting backstory.

Evelyn made friends with three other women participating in the season (all of whom will have their own books in the series, I believe). They gravitate towards each other because they are awkward and not popular among society men, but that’s what makes them so endearing, and I look forward to seeing more of them.

The book is also, of course, filled with references to 1860s fashion and history. I was particularly amused by the older adults’ fascination with spiritualism, including crystal balls, seances, and spirit advisors—based on real events, but it also touched on more serious issues such as colonialism.

Fans of Evie Dunmore’s A League of Extraordinary Women will enjoy this!

Note: This has lots of sexual tension but is closed door!

Impeccably researched, brimming with passion and chemistry, and a loving tribute to Victorian fashion and horsemanship, The Siren of Sussex is a page-turning, powerful, and endearing love story about two people rising above the pressures of society to follow their hearts. A five-star fantastic read!—Syrie James, USA Today bestselling author

R E V I E W : A Holly Jolly Diwali by Sonya Lalli

A Holly Jolly Diwali 
by Sonya Lalli

Niki Randhawa has always strived to be a perfect Indian daughter, choosing a tech career over music, her passion, and always following the rules, including dating men of whom her parents would approve. Her carefully planned future shatters, however, when she’s laid off from her job.

Realizing that always doing the “right” thing hasn’t led to success or happiness, Niki impulsively books a flight to Mumbai to attend the wedding of her friend, Diya.

At a lively Diwali celebration, Niki eyes the band’s bass player, later to learn he is London musician Sameer Mukherji, a close friend of Diya. During the wedding celebration and subsequent group honeymoon, Niki and Sam grow closer, with Sam encouraging Niki to follow her passion. Living in different countries, their fling, no matter what feelings it might generate, can only be finite—unless the both take risks, reveal secrets, and stray from the expected path.

My favorite part of the book was the Indian setting, both Mumbai and Goa, which were vividly described. There is also a great sibling relationship between Niki and her older sister.

An important theme throughout the book is familial and cultural expectations and how they shape us and how miscommunication or faulty assumptions can intensify them. It also addresses colorism, class, and gender and income inequality in India.

While I liked Niki and Sam, and was even convinced that the wedding/ honeymoon environment could engender a rapid attraction, they also had communication issues, which at times were frustrating but also necessary to move the plot. For example, I wished Niki hadn’t deflected so much with humor.

Though the book has a fun Christmas scene, Diwali is celebrated in October or November. But, I am here for non-Christmas love stories!

Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review and to @berittalksbooks for organizing the #berkleywritesstrongwomen #berkleybuddyreads!

R E V I E W: Well Matched by Jen DeLuca

Single mother April Parker raised her daughter in Willow Creek, but now that Caitlin is graduating and leaving for college, she plans to sell her house and move to the city. Before she can list it, though, she has a long list of updates and repairs from her real estate agent to deal with.

Mitch Malone, the handsome, gym teacher, is a player known for wearing a revealing kilt at the town’s Renaissance Faire. When he asks April to pose as his girlfriend at an upcoming party for his grandparents’ anniversary, she agrees—as long as he helps her with her home repairs.

As they spend time together, their relationship heats up, especially when Mitch’s family dinner turns into a family weekend, but April reminds herself that she will be moving soon. What started as just an act, though, could turn into more—if April could let go of her plans, but even Mitch might not be enough to keep her in Willow Grove.

I enjoyed Well Matched as much as Well Met, the first book in the series. Mitch’s cousin, Lulu, was hilarious, and his family was infuriating—thinking he settled when becoming “only” a gym teacher—but they also began to come around. This book had several scenes at the Faire because April, the quintessential non-joiner, volunteered as a ticket-taker to support Caitlin. Seeing the Faire from that front-of-house perspective was different and fun. The couples from Well Met and Well Played made appearances as well.

A good choice for those who like the fake-dating trope or age-gap romances.

Some open-door steam.

Thanks to Berkley Romance and NetGalley for an advanced reading copy in exchange for an honest review! I also ordered a signed, finished copy from Mostly Books (Tucson, AZ) and got stickers and a print of April and Mitch!

R E V I E W: The Twelve Days of Snowball by Kristen McKanagh

Adorable kitty Snowball, a lovable troublemaker, recently found her forever family at the Weber Haus bed and breakfast settling in as greeter, entertainer, and sometimes matchmaker. Her first success, in fact, was getting Emily and Lukas together. She loves everyone but Daniel Aarons, a ruggedly handsome contractor—who almost ruined her plans.

This Christmas, though, brings a new manager to the growing inn, Sophie Heidt, who had been betrayed at work and in love by her last boyfriend.

A master snoop, Snowball realizes that that Sophie and Daniel have a growing attraction to each other. But when Emily has family emergency and Lukas and owner Miss Tilly leave with her, entrusting the inn to Sophie, Daniel’s interference infuriates Sophie. Snowball knows she’ll have to be more proactive to get these two together —and her best plans involve causing trouble!

Told from three points of view—Sophie’s, Daniel’s, and Snowball’s, The Twelve Days of Snowball is a cute Christmas enemies-to-lovers romance. I enjoyed how “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was humorously woven into the novel. Giselle, Sophie’s nemesis in planning the Christmas Market on the Weber Haus grounds, was fun to hate. The second half of the book, in particular, moved quickly, as Sophie and Daniel began to admit their feelings but face unexpected obstacles. And of course, Snowball was precious throughout!

Thanks to Kristen McKanagh and Let’s Talk Books Promo for including me on the tour and for a signed, gifted copy of the book!