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Outspoken (Love Beyond Words, #2) by Raina Ash

Hi All!

I hope everyone’s week is going well!

Recently I read the second installment in the Love Beyond Words series, Outspoken, by Raina Ash, and I’m excited to share my thoughts with you all!

Last year I received the first book in this wonderful series, Nonverbal, as an ARC courtesy of BookSirens and Raina Ash and I was BLOWN AWAY! I immediately started following Raina on every platform I had so I could stay up to date with her new releases, including her awesome newsletter. So, when BookSirens alerted me that Raina Ash had posted Outspoken for review, I literally ran to my computer so I could jump on that ARC.

First things first, check out my review of Nonverbal here: Clickety-click

Now, let’s get to my book 2 review!

Genre:  Romance

Publication Date: March 22, 2023

BookSirens Blurb:

He’s been infatuated with his best friend’s sister since the day they met…

Too bad she was too wasted at that party to remember him.

Six years later, Amber is fresh out of rehab and trying to make her life work sober. She’s barely coping, her college professor hates her, and she’s certainly not prepared for the attraction simmering between her and her brother’s best friend.

Miguel is exactly the kind of guy she’d normally avoid: loyal, family-oriented, intense. He’s known to move too fast and fall too hard in every single relationship. He’d give her the world, but she knows it’s better to push him away.

They’re opposites and completely wrong for each other. Doesn’t he see that? Giving in to their feelings would complicate both of their lives.

Miguel has a sick mother and a delinquent nephew to care for, and there’s one thing he wants that Amber can never offer. Some sacrifices are simply too great, and she refuses to be the one to take away his dreams.

If only they didn’t have such a problem staying away from each other…

Outspoken is the second book in the Love Beyond Words series. This found family romance features a protective cinnamon roll hero who falls first and a resilient takes-no-BS heroine who is his complete opposite.

Expect plenty of soulmate kisses, lovable family members, romance under the stars, and an emotionally complex story that will linger in your heart for days.

Content Warning: Strong language, drug use / addiction, and discussions about suicidal ideation.

What I liked about the book:

1. I appreciated the helpful callbacks to Nonverbal in this sequel. They reminded me of some of the things I had forgotten about in the year between reading the books and helped to get me back into the mindset of these peoples’ lives.

Further, these callbacks served to introduce the reader to Paige and Brody from book 1 in the event they hadn’t read it, and they were done very well. No unnecessary information, just enough to get the idea of what has happened and everyone’s personality. This was perfect for allowing Outspoken to be a standalone.

2. I loved how flawed both of our MCs were! Miguel was super clingy and told everyone Amber’s baggage, while Amber was flighty and battling various addictions.

These two definitely had some moments that I wasn’t sure if they were going to come back from, but isn’t it the imperfections that make us love them more??

3. I loved the new characters we met! All of Miguel’s family were awesome, but especially his mother and Angel.

His mother was the perfect amount of sassy and wise. She definitely had the lines that had me cracking up the hardest!

Angel you could just tell was a beautiful but tortured soul. His love and respect towards Miguel’s mother showed how compassionate he could be and how much he hurt for adults who didn’t think badly of him. I also loved his relationship with Amber and how they were able to connect. I didn’t love his treatment of Miguel, but hey, the kid was that: a kid.

If we get another book in this series, I hands down want it to be Angel a couple years in the future!!! I think he would make for such an interesting MMC and I would like to meet the person that can go toe to toe with him!

4. I absolutely loved the big bro/little sis dynamic that Miguel and Paige developed. They are both so genuine and I loved that the author made them friends instead of making them standoffish towards one-another like I’ve seen similar set ups in other books play out for characters.

5. While I frequently got frustrated with decisions Amber made, I 100% felt seen. Amber’s anxiety and coping mechanisms were perfection. Her spiraling thoughts, her wanting to just shut her brain off for a couple minutes with the use of recreational drugs, and then the ultimate understanding that she would feel worse after doing that and the “darkness” would never truly go away because of drug use, resonated on a whole different level with me.

During my first couple years in Big 4 public accounting, I worked my ass off. I worked my ass off to prove to my superiors that I was smart enough to be there even though I came from a state school as opposed to all of them coming from the same private school. I worked my ass off to prove to my peers that even though I was the only woman I not only deserved to be there, but was even better than all my male peers. I worked my ass off to prove that dedication and long hours made me worth investing in. Unfortunately, all of this is bullshit and shouldn’t have ever had to be proven nor did it make a dent in the age-old women-in-the-workplace ideals some hold tight to, but it also led to a very serious problem with alcohol.

How to describe me during this period: 24. Top performer. Closet alcoholic.

I remember many nights of having a meltdown, screaming and crying, while still checking excel formulas for an audit that would end up getting extended anyways. I remember vividly lining up a row of shots (whiskey, of course), and placing them on the side of my computer as “motivation” to get through the night. Motivation that after just a couple more checks of the excel, I could drink my stress away for a couple hours, let that darkness and anxiety subside, before having to repeat the same process again the next day. And this was my life for about 3 years.

Using a lot of the same mechanisms that Amber used (coloring, writing, breathing exercises, etc.), I was able to overcome my hurdle just as Amber did hers. In a lot of ways, this book was a very personal experience for me and allowed me to see the growth not just in Amber, but in myself and to recognize all the hard work that goes into getting yourself out of the deepest depths of your own darkness. Like Amber said, it will never simply “go away”, but we learn to cope and live with it, to where its not quite as dark as it once was.

I love having gone on this journey with Amber and I love how well and accurate Raina Ash handled this sensitive topic. Beautifully done.

What could have been better:

1. I thought the whole professor/camgirl thing was a little out of left field and every time it got brought up it just delayed the pace in my opinion. For me, if the professor had been less reluctant to change his ways and Amber actually won in some sort of case against him, that would have been more victorious and a more gratifying win for me than it currently exists.

Final Thoughts:

I now am in need of an Angel-centric story!

Final Rating: 

4 stars!

Thank you to BookSirens and Raina Ash for the free copy of this book. The opinions expressed above are voluntary and my own.

Want to check out what else our girl Raina is working on? Hop on over to her social media accounts using the below:

Goodreads | Instagram | Website

While you’re at it, let’s be antisocial together!

Goodreads | Instagram | Gmail

Charm City Rocks by Matthew Norman

Hi All!

I hope everyone’s week has been great!

A couple “fun facts” about me:

  • When I was in high school, I played guitar and sang in an all-girl band called Forbidden Fruit,
  • I was a college radio DJ, and
  • I’m definitely one of those people who argue that some albums need to be listened to on vinyl to get the full experience.

With all of that said, this past week I read Charm City Rocks by Matthew Norman. As a lover of music (obviously) and romance, this seemed like it would be perfect for me!

How did this one play out for me? Did it hit the right note or was it a bit off-key? Let’s find out?

Genre:  Romance

Publication Date: June 6, 2023

NetGalley Blurb:

When a single dad meets the former rock star crush of his youth, everything they thought they knew about happiness and love is thrown into chaos in this hopeful, heartwarming romantic comedy.

Billy Perkins is happy. No, for real. It’s kind of his thing, actually. And why wouldn’t he be? He loves his job as an independent music teacher and his apartment in Baltimore above a record shop called Charm City Rocks. Most of all, he loves his brainy teenage son, Caleb. Although not the world’s most traditional parent, Billy has plenty to teach his son about art and manhood before Caleb goes off to college.

Margot Hammer, on the other hand, is far from happy. The former drummer of the once-famous rock band Burnt Flowers, she’s now a rock and roll recluse living alone in New York City. When a new music documentary suddenly puts Margot back in the spotlight, she begins to realize how much she misses her old band and the music that gave her life meaning.  

Billy has always had a crush on Margot. But she’s a legitimate rock star—or at least, she was—so he never thought he’d meet her. Until Caleb, worried that his easygoing dad might actually be lonely, cooks up a scheme to get Margot to perform at Charm City Rocks.

It’s the longest of long shots, but Margot’s label has made it clear that any publicity is an opportunity she can’t afford to miss. When their paths collide, Billy realizes that he maybe wasn’t as happy as he thought—and Margot learns that sometimes the sweetest music is a duet.

What I liked about the book:

1. I loved that this was a later in life romance (Is that what we call it when they’re in their forties???…That decade is creeping up real fast for me so let’s hope not!). I especially loved the scene where they were laying in bed pointing out their own flaws to one another, not in a “make me feel better about my flaws” way, but in the way you could tell these people were totally content with one another and comfortable with their flaws being on display in front of the other. And the fact that this turned into them making love was *chef’s kiss*.

2. I loved the characters and that we got to see the story from so many different perspectives. From the perspectives of both MCs, their two kids, their ex-lovers, and even a really cool co-dad, we got to see all sides of the story, which was nice. It made it so you didn’t hate the exes of the MCs (well, except maybe Lawson) and really showed that people recall and experience the same situation very differently.

For me, this also served as a real wake up call. If Buzzfeed created one of those quizzes where you find out which character in the book you are, I would undoubtedly wish to be a Poppy and end up being a Robyn. Robyn was fine, but I definitely saw a lot of Ghost of Christmas Future in her and I didn’t love it…

3. This very much seemed to serve as a love letter to Baltimore and I loved it! With the neighborhoods portrayed, the overall ambiance of music everywhere, and the food(!), I was intrigued if this is truly what Baltimore is like. I have never been to Baltimore, but with this story I have a new destination in mind!

What could have been better:

1. Overall, I was not a big fan of the writing style. It was a very direct, sometimes too sharp style. I tend to prefer more descriptive and flowy wording for romance books.

Also, this was written from the third POV so some of the more emotional or charged moments Could have been better suited to a first person POV. For a romance book, I feel third POV is a tricky feat because it takes a lot more work to invoke the butterflies in readers, or at least it does for me. Because of that, the giddiness I typically look for when reading a romance book was mostly missing.

2. There was a lot of downtime in the book. There were definitely major plot points, but overall, there were a lot of gaps where nothing really happened. I think this is typically where the romance is supposed to make you feel giddy but see item 1 above.  

3. I’m not a fan of fade to black scenes in romance books. We were told so much about how often the couple had sex, but there was nothing on page besides kissing. With Billy being a total cinnamon-roll, Margot being insecure and emotionally stunted, and them specifically pointing out their own flaws, I was looking for them to worship one another at least once.   

Final Thoughts:

Cute later in life romance, perfect for anyone who likes romance novels with little to no spice.

Final Rating: 3 stars

Thank you to NetGalley, Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, and Matthew Norman for the advanced copy of this book. The review above is reflective of my honest opinions.

Alice in the Joker’s Last Laugh (Alice: Pick a Card, #5)

Hi All!

I hope everyone’s week is going well!

This week I read the last book in the Alice: Pick a Card Series, “Alice in the Joker’s Last Laugh”. Like usual, I laughed, I cried, and I wanted more Kaeden Hart!

This journey through Wonderland with Alice has been such a fun and wild ride! I’ve been so fortunate to be gifted with review copies of each book in the series, and it’s quite bittersweet to me that it’s finally come to an end.

Please note, given this is book 5 in the series, I won’t be giving away any spoilers and will be keeping my review fairly vague. Hopefully this inspires you to check out the series even more!

Before we get started, here are the links to my reviews for the first four books in the series:

Book 1: Alice in the Land of Clovers

Book 2: Alice in the City of Diamonds

Book 3: Alice in the Palace of Spades

Book 4: Alice in the Prison of Hearts

And without further ado, let’s find out who got the last laugh in the series finale!

Genre:  Fantasy, Romance, New Adult, Fairy Tale Retelling

Publication Date: December 12, 2022

Booksirens Blurb:

Once upon a time, there was a girl in a magical world who longed to go home…

That girl was me.

I thought going home would solve all of my problems, but I was proven wrong when I was forced through the Jabberwock’s looking glass against my will. Trapped in Oxford, I was made to watch as the one I loved and everything I knew turned to stone.

But I was never one to stay where I belong, nor listen to others’ warnings, so I returned, only to be thrown into a world of disarray.

Chess is threatening war, the Kingdom of Hearts has been drained of color, and the one true heir to the throne of Cards is missing. At the same time, the man behind it all, my husband, sits gloating with a title that was never meant to be his, surrounded by a parade of Alice look-alikes. The secrets he holds could lead to Wonderland’s damnation…

But in the end, it is I who holds all the cards.

What I liked about the book:

1. After all the speculation of book 4 and B.A. Lovejoy being taken aback by reader’s enthusiasm over Kaeden Hart, I was quite happy with this ending. I won’t say much more than that, but I will leave you with this: everything and everyone ended where it was supposed to.

2. I loved how much of Alice in the real world we got to see, and just how much Wonderland has impacted her. For someone who was adamant about going home, she really didn’t fit in when she got there.

I also loved how TERRIBLE Peter was. I was legit worried about her fancying him in book 1, and I’m glad the author rid him of all redeeming characteristics finally.

3. I liked how the author left the ending up for spinoffs/returns to Wonderland. I’m really hopeful that we will get to see other stories in Wonderland, featuring different main characters, but with potential pop ins from our original favorites.

4.  Let’s talk about those covers. I don’t feel I’ve appreciated them enough in my past reviews, but these covers are the things of book hoarders’ dreams. They are pretty, they have the style down pat while throwing in enough details specific to the book the cover is referencing, and they are just plain intriguing. These are the types of books you buy for the cover so your bookshelf looks gorgeous.

5. Like the past books, I loved the political events that took place and those that we still haven’t seen finished by the end of the book. Further evidence that we need spinoffs! I also really enjoyed getting more insight into the history of Wonderland. The history has been so artfully crafted throughout this series and it’s quite well done.

6. In typical B.A. Lovejoy fashion, there were several lines I LOVED:

“I was fairly certain that if I had stopped thinking, then everything would have been easier. Stupid people were very often the happiest of people…To be stupid was truly a gift, one which I wished most vehemently that I could receive. Unfortunately, I wasn’t smart enough to be stupid.”

“My grandmother had been a housewife, my mother too, and my sister was a housewife; and if they had their way, I would be a housewife as well…Which was why Wonderland was so captivating, because I had been more there. A clock repairer, an almost-dragon slayer, a noble, and a prisoner. That was far more lives than a woman could have expected to live in England.”

Not really a tough choice for me either…

“But I liked Reginald better, because he was far softer than Cornelius, and far kinder; one should never underestimate the appeal of a quiet man.”

Like mother like daughter???

“The echoing realization that for every action and inaction, for every choice that I had blindly made and for every decision that I had blindly rushed into, there was a cost, even if it not my cost to pay.”

And this was the moment that Alice finally grew up!

“ ‘I am a delight,’ I proclaimed, knowing that I very well was not.”

This is basically me every day of my life 🤷🏼‍♀️

What could have been better:

1. My biggest gripe in this book, and really all of them looking back, is it seems like the author wrote a whole story and then decided where to break it up into chunks.

The good part of this is it’s cohesive as hell. It picks up right where it left off in the previous book and it really sucks you back in quickly.

The bad part of this is it doesn’t work well if you don’t toss the reader bones back to the previous books. There were several times I had to go read my highlights from the previous four books just to understand what the hell was going on or what people were referring to. For such a long series, I would have appreciated more throwbacks/nods to things previously established in prior books so I didn’t have to do this.

2. Alice’s mother had a much bigger role in Wonderland than we originally anticipated, and I’m sad we didn’t get to learn more about it. I felt we were really teased with her backstory and then it never got fleshed out.


Final Thoughts:

This was a good end to a great series.

Final Rating: 4 stars

Thank you to Booksirens and B.A. Lovejoy for the opportunity to read this book. The opinions expressed above are my own, honest opinions.

Liked this review and want more of my rantings? Let’s connect!

Goodreads | Instagram | Gmail

Nobody Puts Romcoms In The Corner by Kathryn Freeman

Hi All,

My name is Britt and I’m a romcom addict. A few of my favorites include Always Be My Maybe, 27 Dresses, 10 Things I Hate About You, and When Harry Met Sally. Nothing gets my heart fluttering better than a quick-witted conversation full of sexual innuendos, the smart one making the grumpy one fall to his/her knees, and a wonderful HEA.

That’s why I jumped at the chance to read Nobody Puts Romcoms In The Corner. As a lover of love, this premise sounded so good to me. I’ve read a couple books lately that I was looking for this vibe with that ultimately just fell flat, but I had high hopes this would be the one to satisfy me.

So did I get the HEA I was looking for? Let’s find out!

Genre:  Romantic Comedy

Publication Date: February 27, 2023

NetGalley Blurb:

The perfect pick me up romcom for fans of Beth O’Leary, Sophie Kinsella and Sophie Ranald!

Sally is a classic romantic and Harry is a classic cynic, but when a drunken bet leads the new flatmates to (badly) recreate ‘the lift’ from Dirty Dancing, and the video goes viral (#EpicRomcomReenactmentFailure), they both realise there’s potential financial benefit in blundering their way through the romcom lexicon for their suddenly vast social media following.

Now, as Harry and Sally bring major romcom moments to new life – including recreating that classic diner scene – their faking it turns to making…out and suddenly they’re living a real life romcom of their own! But like all the greatest love stories, the road to happily ever after is paved with unexpected challenges for this hero and heroine…

What I liked about the book:

1. I kind of know what I’m talking about when it comes to Romcoms, so believe me when I say, Kathryn Freeman NAILED IT! This had the perfect mixture of friction, comedy, and swoon. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that more perfectly invoked those same feelings I get when I watch a good romcom. I was so giddy reading this the entire time, that I could not put it down!

2.  I loved that we got to see such rich characters in our MCs.

While Sally may have been the lover of all things love, she was also fierce and strong. What the book pointed out so well is just because someone loves love, doesn’t mean they’re blind to reality. We love the HEA, but we realize life is not a fairy tale by any means, we just want the zaps and tingles, or “fuzzies” and “bells”. IS THAT SO MUCH TO ASK?!?! I loved the realistic take on this as a cynic with a love of romcoms.

Likewise, Harry was a true enigma himself and I loved it. With his outer shell of cynicism and sarcasm, it’s easy to bypass his soft-heart and protective nature of those he truly loves. For a guy so convinced love doesn’t exist, he sure did fall pretty hard for our leading lady pretty fast ❤️

Above all else, they had truly sizzling chemistry! I totally bought it that these two were meant to be from the very beginning and the happy butterflies in my tummy and I loved watching it play out!

3. Of course I loved the mix in with social media and the reenactment fails. Reading these scenes having the actual ones in my mind had me laughing so hard! It took the best moments of romcoms and poked fun at them, but still pushed our MCs into real love which was my ultimate hope and dream for this beautifully opposite couple.

4. Spin off potential! It’s there, you all, and I can’t wait to see if Kathryn expands on this group! I can just see something between Amy and Jack. MARK MY WORDS!

5. I did not realize when I requested this book that it was SUPER British. That’s kinda on me, knowing the publisher is HarperCollins UK 🤦🏼‍♀️. There were definite times I had to reread things to understand what the author was trying to tell me, but once I got into it, it was just such a quaint little addition to the story I really enjoyed. I loved all the phrases and imagining their English accents. Ultimately, it gave this story an extra little pop.

6. Finally, we got a couple doses of body positivity for Sally, who was not plus size but also not stick-thin. I loved that this was incorporated given the social media involved, but also Harry’s take on it was so heartwarming.

What could have been better:

1. It would have been nice to have more background into both of the hard parts of their lives. I felt like except for the mediation points for Harry, we didn’t learn too much about his backstory from more than him just telling us. Same with Sally, there was a lot of history there with her and her sister that wasn’t explored as much as I had hoped. I think this story really could have benefitted from at least one flashback for each MC giving us a little more detail and connecting us more to their plights.

Final Rating: 4.5 stars!

Thank you to HarperCollins UK, One More Chapter, and Kathryn Freeman for the free copy of this ARC. The opinions expressed above are honest and voluntary.

Want to check out what else Kathryn has worked on? Hop on over to her social media accounts using the below:

Goodreads | Instagram | Website

While you’re at it, let’s be antisocial together!

Goodreads | Instagram | Gmail

How the Grump Saved Christmas by Claire Kingsley

Hello Babblers!

We are now officially in my favorite part of the year! The stretch between fall and winter has always been my favorite, being the introverted bookworm I am. Give me a cup of spiked eggnog, a roaring fire, a good throw blanket, and a couple dozen books and I’m perfectly fine ignoring the outside world until January 2nd.

It’s also one of my favorite times of the year, because fantastic authors like Claire Kingsley deliver lovey-dovey holiday stories that us devoted readers can gobble up!

This year, Claire allowed us to travel back into Tilikum (home of the Bailey brothers and the Haven heathens) with How the Grump Saved Christmas. Once I saw that red, snow-covered truck with the Bailey Brothers logo I was a goner! I knew I had to get my hands on this small-town romance.

Genre: Romance

Publication Date: November 17, 2022

Reading Source: Kindle Unlimited

Goodreads Blurb:
Hardworking Isabelle Cook has a serious problem. Her family farm, site of Tilikum’s Christmas Village, is in trouble. Big trouble. And worst of all? The man trying to buy it is none other than the grumpiest, grinchiest man of them all—Elias Stoneheart.

That’s a big nope. She’s not letting him get involved. Not with his heart made of coal.

Elias Stoneheart is in the business of making money, not friends. Especially when his boss is promising a long-awaited promotion. All he has to do is convince one struggling family to sell their farm.

The problem? It’s Cook Family Farm. And Isabelle Cook is his ex.

He might have history with Isabelle, but this is just business. A Christmas-loving farm girl is not going to come between him and his ambition.

And Christmas? He hates it. Christmas Village needs to go.

But as Elias spends time in the small town, holiday spirit—and Isabelle—get under his skin. And she might be the only one who can melt the ice around his heart.

Author’s Note: a sassy farm girl takes on a grumpy businessman in this stand-alone, snowy, small-town Christmas romance. Saucy banter, a guard donkey, plenty of holiday cheer, and a heartwarming happily ever after that will make you believe in the magic of Christmas.

What I liked about the book:

1. Let’s start with the obvious, this setting is to die for! I love Tilikum and I love holidays with snow, so this was a slam dunk for me!

2. I love Grinchy holiday romances! I love watching the person that hates Christmas end up having the best Christmas of all and spreading all kinds of holiday cheer as they save the day. Elias’s transition was so fun to watch, from his care for his assistant’s daughter with cerebral palsy down to his little lumberjack outfits!

3. I liked the MCs enough. I loved that this was a second chance romance and this couple definitely had hard history together.

Isabelle is hardheaded and throws herself into work, to the detriment of the rest of her life. I liked her determination and I liked her rationale for doing this once we found out what it was, but I also thought she was too hardheaded at times when it came to Elias. One moment she was too hard on him and the next she was falling into old habits. I get it, she was conflicted, but it was a little annoying the way it played out at times.

Elias was fun to watch transition from grump with nothing to jolly guy with it all. He was definitely sarcastic and an ass at times, but he had a great heart when he it let it shine. He was good, but he doesn’t have anything on those Baileys!

4. I really liked Elias’s assistant Alice and her daughter Maddie. For me, they really made this story glow. I loved how Alice was one of the only ones Elias would let in, how she gave him shit, but still did a killer job not only in the office but as a single mom to Maddie. Honestly, I wanted so bad to see her end up with a Haven. But that other guy is cool I guess…

Maddie was probably one of my favorite Claire Kingsley characters to date. A little girl full of joy with cerebral palsy that she didn’t let get her down and the brain of a thirty-year-old; it doesn’t get much better than that!

5. The thing I loved the most about this story was how Claire overlapped the timeline with her last book in the Bailey Brothers series Rewriting the Stars. So many of the conversations, events, and moments from Rewriting the Stars were given a new viewpoint and twist in this story, and I loved watching them match up!

What could have been better:

1. This was not spicy at all! Claire doesn’t usually go crazy with graphic sexual situations, but I was expecting something at least! The “spicy” scenes left a lot to be desired, especially for a second chance romance.

Final Thoughts:

It’s fun, it’s festive, and it has a lot of heart, just like all other books by Claire.   

Final Rating: 4 grumpy stars!

Love & Panic by Raina Ash

Hello Babblers!

Happy Saturday! It’s my favorite time of the year and I’m beyond blissed out right now with all the amazing ARCs I’ve been getting. A great thank you to all the wonderful authors, publishers, and the couple of people that find my reviews funny enough to keep letting me read in exchange for my dad jokes.

This last week, I was awarded a copy of Love and Panic by Raina Ash. This is my second run-in with Ash, and I absolutely loved her first book I read, Nonverbal, so I had high hopes for this one. Needless to say, it didn’t disappoint!

Let’s get into the specifics!  

Genre: Romance

Publication Date: November 17, 2022

Trigger Warnings: Suicide

BookSirens Blurb:
She saved his life. It’s only fair he helps her live hers…

Being a shut-in is not your average lifestyle. But after losing her parents, suffering several car accidents, and experiencing crippling anxiety and OCD, Natalie is done with the outside world. And with friends ghosting.

In her apartment, she’s safe. Protected.

Achingly alone.

Sure, her cat provides decent company, but when Natalie wakes with a pounding heart and calls 9-1-1—certain she’s dying but really having a panic attack—she realizes a little human contact might be nice. Especially the kind that comes from the cute firefighter in her apartment building. He asks her on a date. The problem is, to go out with Mr. Cute Firefighter, she actually has to go out…

Enter Dean.

Former pediatric surgeon. Alcoholic by choice. Massive grump. Ever since a family tragedy left him divorced and shattered, Dean is more than happy to spend his days drinking and racing toward death. Until he passes out in the snow in front of Natalie’s building, minutes from getting flattened by a bus, changing both of their fates forever.

Their agreement is simple: She’ll give him a safe place to drink during the holidays. He’ll be her guide to the outside world.

As their unlikely friendship leads to unexpected feelings, both must face hard truths about themselves and how they live. Have they found in each other what they’ve needed most? Or a heartbreak that will push them both over the edge?

What I liked about the book:

1. I love grumpy/sunshine romances and this one was so good! I love watching a real grump fall to his/her knees for the Golden Retriever equivalents of the human world, and that is exactly what we got with Natalie and Dean.

With her positive vibes, endless supply of Christmas movies, and her ability to be snarky right back, him and his Grinch complex really had no shot in hell at not falling for her.

(insert cute picture of dog because I can)

Similarly, his ability to protect her on such a basic level because of his medical background and his patience (that somehow, he was able to scrounge up for her alone), made him such an obvious choice for her. The moment these two met, it clicked for me how perfect ending up with a doctor would be for her and I loved it!

2. Raina Ash writes neurodivergent characters well! I loved seeing someone with OCD and panic attacks realistically depicted and still shown as loveable. As someone who has managed OCD my entire life, I received a lot of validation and hope from this book. There were so many times where Raina described an episode or a thought process of Natalie’s and I felt completely seen.

As someone who has had the same whirlwind, paralyzing thoughts as Natalie, THANK YOU FOR THE REPRESENTATION OF MY PEOPLE AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

3. I loved how imperfect both of our MCs were and that they both had to struggle with their own problems together and apart. It was so realistic and definitely didn’t feel like Dean just rode in as the Knight in Shining Armor to save the little OCD girl.   

I’ve been around my fair share of alcoholics and showing Dean as two people/personalities was perfect! Loved his kind, gentle side he showed for Natalie and Oliver, but also loved how realistic his drunk, dark side was. The switch Raina was able to flip on his personality really sold me on she knows what she is writing about.

The ways they were able to be there for each other were great, but I honestly loved seeing the growth they each had when they stepped apart. It shows that you really have to work on yourself, no one can “fix” you but you.

4. Obviously, I loved the holiday setting and all the snow. This was the perfect time for Raina to release this book and I thoroughly enjoyed it kicking off my holiday reading!

What could have been better:

1. With as much as these people pined for each other, I was expecting more in the spice department. I mean, she had handcuffs for god’s sake and not once was someone restrained for kink! (Isn’t that a rule where you can’t show a gun and then not have it go off? The same should be said for bedroom restraints!) I also was expecting more growls from Dean and dirty talk, neither of which were present, sadly.

Final Thoughts:

Raina Ash is a godsdamn treasure and we need to keep her writing.  

Final Rating: 4 drunk on love stars!

Thank you to Booksirens and Raina Ash for the free copy of this book. I am voluntarily leaving an honest review.

Want to check out what else our girl Raina is working on? Hop on over to her social media accounts using the below:

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War of Shadows by Emma V.R. Noyes

Hello Babblers!

I hope everyone’s week is off to a great start!

I’ve highlighted this excellent person trait (read as: flaw, if you must) of mine before, but I am nothing if not a completionist. That’s why when Emma V.R. Noyes posted on her Instagram that she was offering ARC copies of War of Shadows (the third and final installment of The Sunken City trilogy), I immediately raised my hand to contribute! I loved Emma’s first two books in this series, as well as all of her hilarious Instagram posts, so of course I wanted to sign up to highlight this phenomenal author again….plus, I’ve bought all her books in paperback after reading the e-ARCs, but I really wasn’t looking forward to waiting until December to read this final installment, so I’m also being a tad bit selfish, BUT MOSTLY THE HIGHLIGHTING AUTHORS THING!

Looking back, I rated The Sunken City (book 1) 5 stars for the perfection that it was and marked it as my favorite fantasy book during my 2022 mid-year check in. I also rated The Fallen Witch (book 2) 4.5 stars, with my biggest gripe being the flippancy of the love triangle.

So, going into book 3, I was fully expecting to have another fiver on my hands. What I was not expecting was to not like this book! I still love Emma and I’m going to be as delicate as I can, but yeah, not my favorite.  

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Publication Date: December 6, 2022

Goodreads Blurb:

The Fallen Witch has risen, bringing chaos back with her. The Ten Kingdoms have splintered. Amare and her friends are on the run. Tectixa is dead set on raising the oceans, wiping out all of humanity in the process. And, as if that weren’t enough, Lukas’s first love is back from the dead.

Before Amare can ask what this means for their relationship, Lukas and Phoebe are stolen away, sending her into a magic-fueled rage. Now, if she wants to save the man she loves and protect the Ten Kingdoms from all-out war, she’ll have to go undercover, pretending to get close to the witch she despises most of all.

Alliances will be formed, trust will be broken, and true love will be the final test.

What I liked about the book:

1. I liked how much page time Tectixa actually got in this book. Typically, we don’t get to see too much of the main baddie except in times of fighting, but I really liked the approach Emma took with allowing her to seem like an ally at times.

2. The perfections that are Lukas Mason and Maoke kept my heart fluttering right to the end. I would read a spin off on either of their backstories in a heartbeat!

3. I like being right! Now, I’m not going to spoil anything by telling you which of my predictions were correct from books 1 and 2, but let’s just say it was quite a huge percentage.

What could have been better:

1. I hate being right! I love when a book keeps me on my toes and goes a completely different route than I think it’s going to! Unfortunately, Emma and I must be on the same wavelength about where this story was going to go, which made it really hard for me to keep reading at times.

2. I really did not like the first third or so of the book. It was supposed to be a lot of backstabbing and strategies within strategies, but it just wasn’t cohesive to me. That mixed with a lot of new characters made it hard for me to get invested in this one. Plus, Lukas wasn’t even really there for the first third so…

3. Speaking of cohesive, one of my bigger gripes with this book was it felt like there were a lot of little bits just thrown together around the overarching plot. Like the author was trying to patch together enough words to make a third story, and by doing that, the story had a lot of pacing issues for me. I would much rather this have been a duology with each book having a slightly larger page count, but with better flow from start to finish.

4. Besides Lukas and Maoke, I really didn’t like anyone by the end of the story, which is crazy because I loved nearly everyone at one point!

Tectixa? – I did not buy her motivations and her feelings changing the way they did. There was so much potential for her to be such a badass villain and to cause a lot of big problems, but then it just fell flat and resolved itself in the most Hallmark-esque way I’ve ever seen. Needless to say, I didn’t care for it.  

Mira? – so forgetful and kinda boring. During one chapter her name was mentioned again and I was like “Who the fuck is Mira?”. This is not the reaction I should have had to this character with how big of a deal she was supposed to be.

Finn? – where the hell was he most of this book?

Shoa? – where the hell was she most of this book?

Cora? – for the love of God, stop being so judgy!

Phoebe? – I have less opinions on her now than when she was dead.

Amare? – She was by far the largest disappointment of this series. She went from a total badass who was going to be a Queen Pirate Witch, to a whiny middle school girl with minimal strategy skills and a wicked jealousy streak. My respect for Amare slowly sank with each installment of this series and was nonexistent at the end.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, the series was still good, but after the perfection that was book 1 and near perfection that was book 2, I was expecting a lot more from this story’s ending. The end results were right, but the execution was where the story lost me.

Final Rating: 3 sunken stars

Thank you to Emma V.R. Noyes for the free copy of this book. I am voluntarily leaving an honest review.

Want to follow Emma and check out her next projects? Check out her social media below.

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While you’re at it, let’s be antisocial together!

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Fighting for King by Gillian Archer

Hello Babblers!

Hope your weekend is going well!

I, myself, am getting a little sentimental. We’re coming up on the one-year mark of having my own blog (which is completely unbelievable to me!), but I also got an ARC for the second book in the Star Studded series by Gillian Archer, Fighting for King. The first book in the series, Falling for Rome, was posted the first day I started my blog and a quote of mine was even featured on the author’s website, so this series holds a special place in my heart.

With my review of Falling for Rome (whoops, how did this review of book 1 get here?: Falling for Rome). I put my money on King being my favorite. So how did he stack up? I fell for Rome, but would I fight for King? Let’s find out!

Genre: Romance

Publication Date: November 17, 2022

NetGalley Blurb:

The Nanny Factor! Is there something more going on between Actor Kingston Grier and his new nanny? Stay tuned…

Kingston: Who knew it would be such a challenge finding a nanny who could focus on my daughter without getting sidetracked by trying to get into my bed? I can’t even make eye contact without them thinking I’m flirting. I’m not.

Until Briar arrives, and finally we have a nanny who’s there for Zoe. But why does this Mary Poppins have to be so damn hot?

Briar: My divorce left me with more than my share of trust issues. Not that I’m looking at my new boss that way. Kingston might be a Hollywood hunk, but the guy has the personality of a potato. His daughter couldn’t be more different. One look into her doe eyes, and I am in love.

Somehow Kingston and I go from barely speaking to talking all night long. And our attraction becomes impossible to deny. Just when everything’s finally going right, intimate pictures of us are leaked and the fallout is insane. When I signed up for this job, I knew I’d do anything to protect Zoe—I just never expected how much I’d want to fight for King.

What I liked about the book:

1. Similar to book one, this sequel had fantastic writing. Gillian Archer is a pro at creating genuine and lovable heroines you want to be BFFs with and flawed heroes you can’t help but want more of.

Briar had all of my love from the beginning with her sad backstory. This woman had went through two things I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, and yet still maintained kindness and a hopeful attitude. I also loved that she was a divorced, older (as in, not nineteen) nanny.

We’ll get to King in a bit, but he was not the main man for me in this one. I mean, obviously, yes, he was the MMC, but he is not the one who stood out and made me want more. That honor goes to…NIX! I know, I can’t believe it either after the hate I had for him in book 1! With him finally being clean, him helping to mend the battles in their family, and his “help” to Briar , he had me seeing him in a new light. Dare I say, I think he’ll be my favorite Grier brother? UGGGHHHH, no matter how hard I try these bad boys just keep finding me! 😉

2. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine, but I really like the nanny/employer trope and this one was done well.

I liked how Briar was actually competent at her job because of her background in teaching. I also liked that the couple wasn’t thrown together 24/7 like a lot of less-preferable nanny/employer trope books I’ve read. And, of course, there’s the perk of an adorable child! Though, I did like that the book definitely didn’t shy away from the struggles of watching a toddler all day, because let’s be real, it’s not all giggles and rainbows.

3. I liked the additional people we met in this one so much that I wasn’t even that mad that Rome and Sophia weren’t in it much.

Briar’s parents are hilarious, especially with King being one of her mom’s celebrity hall passes…AWKWARD! But hilarious!

Mak is the strong, silent type buddy you know has a lot going on under the surface. He definitely served as the swift kick in the ass to the couple everyone needs every once in a while.

And lastly, I actually liked Joyce (King’s mom). She was understanding, warm, and seemed to be the only one that could keep Nix in line. Despite her history, I couldn’t help but trust her this time around.

4. King is supposed to be the actor who plays Captain America, so of course I immediately think of my future baby daddy Chris Evans. Point? That cover is spot on! Great job whoever decided on that cover because you nailed the sexiest man alive look. Seriously, am I the only one that wants to trace his beard lines with my tongue? Just me? Alright…

What could have been better:

1. I was a little underwhelmed with King, but I think that’s because of my high hopes going into the sequel. Don’t get me wrong, he was great once he wasn’t so prickly. Unfortunately, I think the best term to describe him for the first half of the book is off-putting, which is not a glowing recommendation. I’m all for the grumpy x sunshine trope, but that wasn’t really what happened in this book either. He was just…off-putting.

2. I feel like another thing the books in this series have in common so far are shit best friends. I didn’t care for Molly in book 1, and I definitely didn’t care for Lyla in this one. I feel with how genuine the FMCs are in this series they deserve better.  

Final Thoughts:

I would verbally spar, for King; I would fight for Briar.

Final Rating: 4 don’t sleep on this beauty stars!

Thank you to NetGalley and Gillian Archer for the free copy of this book. I am voluntarily leaving an honest review.

Ledge by Stacey McEwan

Hello Babblers!

I hope you’ve had a good week and are looking forward to the weekend as much as I am.

It’s tax season in public accounting, which means my brain is mush, my resume is flying everywhere it can reach, and my mind wants, nay, needs books! The more fantasy/sci-fi romance I can get my hands, the better shot I have at surviving until October 17!

Which brings me to my current review: I can’t believe I won a copy of this book! I never win anything! The happy dance that ensued when I found my wish had been granted on NetGalley was completely graphic and uncoordinated, but happy nonetheless.

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Publication Date: (First published October 31, 2021) September 13, 2022

NetGalley Blurb:

The stunning debut novel from TikTok sensation Stacey McEwan (stacebookspace), Ledge is the fantasy quest of the year, with a sizzling enemies to lovers romance.

In a place known as The Ledge, a civilization is trapped by a vast chasm and sheer mountain face. Rations are small, living is tough and there is no way to escape without befalling a deathly drop. What’s more, every season the people must present themselves as a human sacrifice to the Glacians – mysterious winged creatures who reside beyond The Ledge.

Dawsyn, axe wielder and only remaining member of her family, has so far avoided the annual culling, but her luck has run out. She is ripped from her icy home with no idea what will happen to her on the other side. Enslaved? Murdered? Worse?

Fortunately, a half-Glacian called Ryon offers to help them both escape, but how can she trust one of the very creatures that plagued her life? Dawsyn is a survivor, and she is not afraid to cut anyone down to live.  

What I liked about the book:

1. This book had Game of Thrones vibes. I’m not sure if it was because I imagined the Ledge to basically be the Wall or because of all the political tomfoolery, but I absolutely adored it and imagined the setting from the GoT world while reading.

2. This book also had a lot of the same things I loved about Laura Thalassa’s Four Horsemen series. It had the collapsed civilization, the warrior heroine with a smart mouth, the hulking hero with supernatural abilities, and even some winged vigilantism (shout out to Daddy Death from “Death”!).

3. Ryon had wings! That automatically promises he’s a 5/10 in my book. Unfortunately, he stayed there, but I’d still take him for a ride!

4. There were moments I was like “What the hell is she doing? She’s acting like an uncontrollable child”, but then I thought this through and realized it was actually great character insight on the part of the author. You have this woman, who has grown up in a wasteland with very little adult guidance in her formative years. You can’t expect her to act like a functioning adult. Through her bouts of childishness and her yearning for the familiarity Ryon’s group of friends had with one another, the author definitely knew this character.

5. Because I didn’t like or dislike any of the characters (everyone was pretty meh), the end scene was exactly what this book needed to give it an extra spark. I won’t spoil it, but if I had liked the characters I would have been devastated. Instead, my indifference brought the evil villain in me out: “Yes, kill [insert person here]. KILL [HIM/HER]!”

What could have been better:

1. This book is definitely not instalove, but how fast they went from enemies (lite) to falling for one another was a bit unrealistic. I think I feel this way because the story told us so rather than having actually let us experience them forming a close bond. I feel there was a lot of potential between these two characters and it ultimately did not manifest as well as I had hoped.

Also, the steamy scenes had good buildup but were ultimately…unsatisfactory. We got a bunch of delicious sexual tension and playful banter, to get like two lines of fucking. This was the written equivalent of when your partner finds the G-spot and then quickly loses it and doesn’t find it again. RIP orgasm and, therefore, my sanity.

 2. I felt this book had a lot of potential for worldbuilding, and it just wasn’t there. The magic wasn’t expanded on, the history of the Glacians was non-existent, and the characters were surface level at best.

Final Thoughts:

This book was good enough that I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt it was all set-up work for the next two books in the trilogy. This means I will likely be reading book two when it comes out, which means I’ll be reading the final book because I have the compulsive need to finish things.

If you enjoy books by Sarah J. Maas and Laura Thalassa, you may enjoy this one!

Final Rating: 3.5 I’m-on-the-ledge stars

Special thank you to NetGalley, the publishers Angry Robot, and Stacey McEwan for this gifted copy! My opinions expressed above are honest and voluntary.

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