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Together, Apart by Erin A. Craig

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ARC was provided by NetGalley and Random House in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published after the release date (October 20th, 2020)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Talk of pandemic (covid-19), grief, anxiety (The Rules of Comedy), talk of homophobia (Socially Distant Dog-Walking & Stuck with Her), mentions of death, brief allusions to racism (The Boy Next Door), depictions of panic attacks (Stuck with Her)

An anthology that normalizes feelings and social situations during the current pandemic of 2020? I think this is brilliant! If I’m being honest, when I got approved for this arc, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t read the synopsis because I like to go into some anthologies without knowing too much. I’m pleasantly surprised! I really enjoyed this and a lot of pre-reading thoughts I had were cast away immediately (like thinking I was going to be overwhelmed).

This wasn’t exactly a perfect read though. I think one of my biggest issues with anthologies, in general, is some of the stories are too short when I really want more. That’s been on of the biggest, most consistent factors when I read any anthology. And that was definitely the case while reading this anthology. There were some stories in this anthology that I really wanted more details or just one or two more pages. To be honest, I think this anthology could have been a bit longer than it was. Despite that, there were some real gems in this book that I loved and felt my heart swell with warmth.

I will also say that this book is very diverse. Not only are the authors diverse, but a lot of the stories in this book are diverse. There’s ownvoices stories such as queer rep, Asian rep, Indian rep, Black rep, etc… all the way to showing different situations during the pandemic, different family dynamics and living situations, and how we never truly know what’s happening in someone’s life. I really loved and appreciated all of this representation in this book, and I think there’s going to be many readers who are going to pick this book up and see themselves within these pages. I know I sure did and the amount of validation for a lot of the feelings I’ve been feeling since this pandemic started, all found within these pages. Truly, this book is going help many readers.

Of course, with all anthologies, bind-ups, etc… that find their way into my library, I like to do a break down with a mini review for each story that shares my thoughts and feelings!

Love, Delivered by Erin A. Craig ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I won’t lie, this one probably hit the closest to my heart out of all the stories in this anthology. For starters, this is short story is by Erin A Craig, who’s writing I absolutely fell in love with right around this time last year. Erin just has a way of writing that hooks my attention and makes me feel all of the feelings. And it was no surprise that I her short story left me feeling super soft and sappy. Our main character of this short story is trying to navigate life, not just from the pandemic, but from moving into a new house and having two parents who are barely around, but also doctors working the frontlines during the pandemic. With her parents constantly gone and with everyone still trying to get everything set up from the move, Millie orders pizza and soon meets the cute pizza delivery boy, Luke, and suddenly, Millie doesn’t feel so alone in the world. My heart! This hit me in all the soft spots of my soul. Family is everything to me and seeing another person who has parents on the frontline during the pandemic, it was a critical hit. And adding the family own pizza business into this story? *chef’s kiss* Truly, this story kicked this book off in an amazing direction and just stole my heart immediately.


The Socially Distant Dog-Walking Brigade by Bill Konigsberg ⭐⭐⭐
This is one of those stories that I wish we would have gotten a page or two more. I thought I was going to love this more than I did (mostly due to the dogs), but I definitely didn’t enjoy it as much. I think the reason for this is due to wanting just a little more details or having that extra page or two. We follow two dog walkers, Kaz and Daxton, as they walk their dogs every day together and the conversations they have together. Among this short story is the bigger discussion of homophobia and how sometimes the people we care about most, can be the ones who hurt us the most painful way. Along with this story being so short, I also wanted to see a little more from these characters. I think this would have really hit the nail on the head if we saw them have a conversation about how one of them stood up to their parents to correct them on their homophobic ways. Despite the shortness and some missing details, I did enjoy this. I just wanted to see a little more from these two quirky, queer boys!

“I felt the slightest jolt of joy, imagining more conversations with the cute, queer boy who said not Normal things.”


One Day by Sajni Patel ⭐⭐⭐
I debated about my feelings for this short story for so long and I think my biggest want for this story was to laugh a little more or feel a swoon towards these characters. And though my heart strings weren’t pulled too much, this is a very cute short story that many readers will love. When Bobby is looking for an escape for some peace and quiet, and crawls out onto her balcony, that quiet becomes disrupted when the boy across the way won’t stop playing his guitar. Before Bobby knows it, she’s throwing her shoe and soon becomes sucked into a mission of reclaiming their shoe. As I said, this is very cute, but I really wanted to laugh a little more or feel connected to the characters just a little bit more. But I loved the writing of this short story and the story line was the cutest. I was pleasantly surprised and overall enjoyed this short story.

““One day” couldn’t come soon enough, but it would come.
I couldn’t wait for our “one day.””


The Rules of Comedy by Auriane Desombre ⭐⭐⭐
Harper is starting a new high school and has social anxiety, but the biggest thing Harper is dealing with is a crush on her classmate, Alyssa. But things change when Harper watches Alyssa’s coming out TikTok and soon she realizes she might have a chance at dating her. This is probably one of the weaker short stories throughout this anthology. While I enjoyed the social anxiety rep and queer rep, it felt like the romance was pushed off to the side to focus on the sibling relationship more. And while I love sibling relationships, it felt like that relationship and the conflict that happens within that bond draws most of the reader’s attention. Also, the romance in this story felt… off. I don’t know if it was from the romance being instant love or if it was from a lack of bond/connection between the two characters, but I just had no interest in the main character and love interest.


The New Boy Next Door by Natasha Preston ⭐⭐⭐
Quinn has been given a mission: talk to the new boy, Archer, who just moved into her neighborhood. As this pair begin to talk to one another, a friendship begins to bloom and maybe into something a little more. For starters, I love when extrovert personalities bring out the socialness in an introvert and we see plenty of that in this short story. However, this is the other weakest story in this entire book. The biggest flaw, the countless Twilight references. I’m not the biggest fan of Twilight, I try to avoid it whenever I can when reading and this short story killed a lot of the mood for me with those references. This is a cute story, it just would have been a better reading experience if there weren’t so many Twilight references.


Love with a Side of Fortune by Jennifer Yen ⭐⭐⭐⭐
When her superstitious mother drags her off to have her fortune told on her birthday, Michelle just wants it to be done and over with especially since she doesn’t believe in any of it. However, when Evan Kwon walks into her family’s restaurant, Michelle can’t help feeling the sparks fly. I absolutely loved this short story! Another gem within this anthology. I laughed, I swooned, and just really enjoyed my time reading this short story. I also love how Michelle’s best friend helped her sneak out of the house so she could go on a date with Evan. This was just a really fantastic read! However, I do think many readers will end up being annoyed by the mother in this story and if I’m being honest, the mother was definitely a bit much at times for me too.


The Green Thumb War by Brittney Morris ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this story. I definitely think this story is going to be overlooked and if I’m being honest, this is a true gem of a short story. This short story is about two people becoming friends with one another and I was living my best life reading this book. We need books with more platonic friendships! I also want to point out that this book normalizes therapy. Often times when I’m reading books, there’s a stigma around therapy and I’m really glad the author included the talk of therapy in this book. With the pandemic happening, I don’t think many people have considered therapy and I think this was an excellent way to say, “Hey! It’s okay to seek help in these hard times.” I just really appreciated this book.


Stuck with Her by Rachel Lippincott ⭐⭐⭐⭐
This is another one of my favorite stories. It might be my most favorite of this whole collection of short stories. We follow Allie who stayed in the dorms instead of going home when quarantine hit. Unfortunately for Allie, every night her roommate, Mia blasts music and can be found snacking on Allie’s pop tarts. I loved this one so, so much. I do have to warn there are anxiety and panic attack depictions in this short story, but I loved the way the author had the roommate instantly be right there, willing to do anything to help Allie. There’s also the hard discussion of homophobia and how not all families are accepting of those who are lgbtqiap+. Also, even though this is a roommates to lovers kind of story, I loved how the sound speaker was used as such an important device on bringing the two main characters together. Truly, this is the cutest and I love it! This was just an all around great short story and truly, I wish we had just a little bit more because I flew through this one too quickly.

“And… the second thought is, as her arms tighten around me, my eyelids slowly closing, that… I don’t hate it. I don’t hate sitting here, my face pressed into Mia’s warm, sandalwood-smelling shoulder. I don’t hate the way her hand feels in mine, and the way she always knows, good or bad, exactly what to say. I don’t hate her.”


Masked by Erin Hahn ⭐⭐⭐
Out of all the stories, this one seems like the most unlikely thing to happen. While most of the stories have been more realistic, this one definitely feels like a one and billion chance of happening. Our story follows Gray, who decided if she can’t attend prom then she’s going to put her dress to good use by making masks from her dress. That’s where Jude comes in. Jude’s uncle needs masks at his store and Gray is happy to help out. Thus, the friendship between Gray and Jude sparks, but Jude has a pretty big secret and Gray is determined to find out the truth. Honestly, I wanted this story to be a little more realistic. I’m not saying this situation couldn’t happen, but it definitely through me off compared to the rest of the short stories. However, there were some really cute moments in this story and I really enjoyed Gray’s determination. Also, the Romeo and Juliet reference was so, so good!

Overall, I gave Together, Apart three stars because out of a possible 45 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 9 stories) this collection accumulated 31 stars (69%)! But, if half stars were a thing, I would totally give this 3.5 stars, because it is almost exactly that when you tally all the stars up!

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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Scorpio Hates Virgo (Signs of Love #2) by Anyta Sunday

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☄️ Leo Loves Aries ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
☄️ Leo Tops Aries ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Loss of a loved one, grief, abandonment, homophobia, mentions of a heart stroke, alcoholism, allusions to toxic relationship, sex

If you couldn’t tell, I’ve fallen in love with Anyta Sunday’s writing and the characters she creates. Not only the characters, but how everything is beautifully woven together. I really enjoyed the first book and a half of this series so far and I’m eager to keep continuing on with this series. They’re always so charming, so fluffy, and just a really fun time. Plus, this is a self-published author and I really want to make sure I’m supporting more self published authors.

Percy Freedman has moved back to the cul-de-sac, to the only warm and welcoming home he’s every know, his Aunt’s house. Though the circumstances are far from good. Percy returns to the hollow home, after his Aunt’s passing, deciding the only way to get on with life is to the sell the home and put this all behind him as soon as possible. Though denying the grief, Percy is determined to flee as soon as possible. Only Percy’s denial of grief can’t fool his nemesis, Callaghan Glover. And even though Percy is determined to sell the house, he gets lured into a game of Sherlock Gnomes. Maybe, just maybe, Percy might realize he’s always had a place to call home and it really is the grief talking.

“I want to feel everything you´re willing to give me, and I hope you´re willing to give me everything”

Callaghan has been going to college for paleontology masters or as Percy likes to call it, “Jurassic Park studies”, but recently moved back home to be with his family, after his father abandoned his mother and siblings. Cal is also Percy’s nemesis or at least according to Percy, anyway. Cal has never seen their relationship as that dynamic. Anyone in the neighborhood could tell you that Cal cares about everyone especially when it comes to Percy. So after Percy moves back home after the passing of his aunt, Cal does everything he can to show Percy how much he cares and is really there for him. But Percy in convinced that they’re only nemesis.

I loved the dynamic between Percy and Cal. It’s not only an enemies to lovers situation, but the slow burn was done to perfection. I mean, it’s a real slow burn. Up until 70% of the way through, it’s banter for days and endless subtle flirting. Percy is not only grieving the loss of his aunt, but recently got out of a bad relationship, a relationship that was trying to chain him down during his grieving. And after everything that happens with his cousin, Percy is very vulnerable and truly believes no one will every love him. So Percy really has is guard up with Cal. However, in my opinion, Cal is very obvious with how he feels about Percy, how much he cares, and I loved the everything Cal did traced back to his love for Percy. I really loved some of their moments together like the Zombie Apocalypse game. That whole entire section was so good! It was just really wonderful to see the pull that they had to one another throughout this entire book.

Now, it’s stated from the beginning that Percy is gay, but we don’t know Cal’s sexual identity until closer to the end. And I don’t want to say he’s discovering his sexual identity throughout this book because during the section where Percy and Cal are discussing their sexual orientation, Cal seems somewhat aware that he’s demi-pan. I think this is the first book I’ve read with demisexual-pansexual representation, as well. I really appreciate that the author chose to include a character like Cal especially since pansexuality and demisexuality aren’t often represented in books. I just really appreciate seeing that. Also, I loved that they had so many moments where they were vulnerable with one another, but I really appreciated that particular moment between them. It was probably one of my favorite moments shared between Cal and Percy.

“I guess we really are earth and water.”
“Because together we’re mud?”
“Together we stick.”

I also loved that the author gave us so much more outside of the romance. I loved the theme of community in this book. I loved how the neighborhood came together, not just with the Sherlock Gnomes game, but also when Percy needed help. I really loved seeing those moments. We also have found family in this book. Although, it takes Percy forever to realize he’s always welcomed in the Glover’s home. The fact they actually sit down and have dinners together made my heart so warm and full. But the theme I loved the most was the grief; how you can move on, recover from loss without entirely leaving your old life behind. I really loved that theme with my whole heart and soul. And I think many readers will appreciate that.

Overall, I think I loved this book more than I did the first book. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the first book, but I just loved this book so much. I really enjoyed my time reading this book and seeing how little things from the first book were connected to this book. I loved the main character and love interest so much in this book. I think some readers might not like this book as much as the first because this book is a true slow burn romance, but if you’re lover of slow burn romance with good banter then you’ll probably enjoy this book. I definitely love it and I picked up Gemini Keeps Capricorn right after I finished.

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Leo Tops Aries (Signs of Love #1.5) by Anyta Sunday

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☄️ Leo Loves Aries (Signs of Love #1) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Sex

This was such a cute and steamy novella to follow up the first book in this series! In case you’re not familiar, the first book follows Theo and Leone who are trying to find amazing dates for one another after they both suffered their partners cheating on them. When Jamie Cooper comes back into Theo’s life, Theo tries to set Jamie and Leone up, only he doesn’t realize Jamie is into him and Theo might be falling for Jamie, as well.

This novella was super steamy, precious, and will have you clutching your pearls. Theo and Jamie have a little wager to see who can hold out the longest. Things are tense between the two and the banter to push each other to the edge will have you clutching your pearls. But neither Theo nor Jamie are ready to throw in the towel. And we see these two stubborn partners push each other to their limits.

I really loved how tense things were between Jamie and Theo. The stakes felt very high and there were so many moments where I thought one or the other was about to give in. From their morning wake up to cherry picking with Leone and Sean, they can’t get enough of each other and you see how deeply they’re attracted to one another. Their chemistry is like a flame and it burns so brightly throughout this novella.

What I wasn’t expecting was to encounter Jamie’s ex-boyfriend again. However, I really loved the aftermath of that encounter. The heartfelt moment Theo and Jamie share was so heart warming. I really loved how they talked about the situation and how vulnerable we got to see them with one another. I really love moments that are like this and the transition from this moment to the ending was absolutely flawless.

Overall, this was a fun novella to follow up the first book to this romance series. It was steamy, spicy, pearl clutching, and just so, so good! I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but Anyta Sunday is a self published author. I highly recommend checking out her books and supporting her especially if this series has caught your attention. So far I’ve really been enjoying my time in this series and can’t wait to continue on!

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Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Misgendering, transphobia allusions to dead-naming, depictions of gender dysphoria, loss of a parent (in the past), loss of a loved one, death, grief, references to blood magic and cult themes, ritualistic self-harm, abandonment, bullying, kidnapping, brief mention of racial profiling, mentions of deportation, mentions of child abuse

“Don’t mourn me.
If you cry for me, I grieve your pain.
Instead, if you sing to me, I’ll always live and my spirit will never die.”

Before reading this review, please check out Adri’s review, their full vlog, and their interview with Aiden Thomas! They’re content for this book is the reason I became even more hyped about reading this book. So please check those links out!

I knew I was going to love this book with my whole heart. Also, I had a feeling it would make my favorite books of 2020 and I predicted it was going to be a five star read. What I didn’t predict was being surprised with how long it took me to realize the Mayan mythology, the way so many of the themes hit close to home, and I certainly didn’t expect to be sobbing my eyes out for an hour after finishing this book. This truly is a beautiful debut novel and I hope everyone picks this book up soon!

Yadriel wants nothing more than to be accepted for who he really is by his traditional Latinx family. With the help of his best friend Maritza to preform the ritual and sets out to help his family locate the ghost of his cousin Miguel. Except, Yadriel summons the wrong ghost. When Julian Diaz appears instead of his cousin, Yadriel thinks he can help him move on, but Julian isn’t going to go quietly and might be the only link Yadriel has to what happened to Miguel. This unlikely pair will team up to get what they want, but sometimes he worst thing isn’t summoning the wrong ghost, it’s falling for one.

“Julian was the most alive person he’d ever met. Even as a spirit, he was bright and full of constantly moving energy. A sun crammed into the body of a boy. Yadriel didn’t want to see him without his light.”

I really loved Yadriel as our main character (though I love Julian just as much). First off, Yadriel is a precious cinnamon roll and you can’t tell me otherwise. However, I loved how Yadriel being trans is so closely tied to the story and the magic system. I’m not trans or Latinx myself, so I can’t speak about either of those representations. However, I appreciate intimacy and how meaningful it was to have an inside look at what life is like for a trans person especially a trans POC. I also loved how the negative got balanced out with the good. Yes we see the hardships Yadriel experiences, but we also get to see Yadriel be loved, cherished, and valued for who they are by people who care about him. I love that we have that balance because it’s so important to show the bad with the good. And honestly, it might be my favorite thing about this whole book next to the family dynamics. I’m really glad Aiden put both is this book and wove it so beautifully throughout this story.

Of course I have to take a moment to talk about Julian, my other favorite cinnamon roll of this book. Julian is your classic case of a kid with a rough background, who’s fiercely loyal and protective of the ones he cares about, and who everyone else (like teachers and a certain brother) have given up on. Julian is a character I could connect with immediately because I’m a person who’s fiercely loyal and protective of those I care about. He’s such an endearing character and the way he slowly falls in love with Yadriel was just beautiful, heart warming, and I’m super soft knowing these two cinnamon rolls found such a deep love with one another.

Circling back, one of the most clearest messages throughout this entire book is the emphasis of tradition and acceptance. There are countless references to various Latinx cultures and how Yadreil, though loved by his family, isn’t truly accepted by his family as a whole because they don’t adhere to the cultural traditions. This leads to a lot of internalized hurt and conflict about their feelings toward their family. There was a quote that really stuck out to me and really hits close to home. I debated on including it, but I feel that it’s too important not to include. However, by the end of this book we see the growth and we see the family begin to be more accepting, realizing you can have traditions and have space for acceptance and change.

“But belonging meant denying who he was. Living as something he wasn’t had nearly torn him part from the inside out. But he also loved his family, and his community. It was bad enough being an outsider; what would happen if they just couldn’t–or wouldn’t–accept him for who he was?”

Of course I have to talk about family dynamics and how big a theme family is throughout this book! Aiden truly gives us the full diversity of family dynamics. Yadriel comes from a large Latinx family. However, Yadriel is technically from a single parent home, more specifically a single father home. I can’t begin to express how important this representation is. Far too often, we rarely see the single parent household in books and when we do, it’s usually the single mother household. This is probably my second or third book I’ve read that has the single father home dynamic and I know there’s going to be readers out there who will feel seen by that representation. We also have the older sibling taking care of the younger sibling home dynamic and the found family dynamic. Julian comes from the home life of just him and his brother against the world. On top of that, Julian has a found family among his group of friends that often stay with Julian and his brother, Rio. I loved this so much and I think this is one of the more underrated family dynamics that I wish we saw more often in books.

“​Growth isn’t a deviation from what we’ve done before, but a natural progression to honor all those who make this community strong.”

Overall, I could write a dozen wonderful things this book does, about all the things that were done right and how much I loved them. I think the best way to go into this book is to know how deeply loved it is by some many people in the book community, how much good this book is going to do for trans youth everywhere, and just the beautiful way Aiden writes. Truly, this is an incredible book that I love with my whole heart. And if there’s one thing you take away from my review, it’s this… I don’t read overly hyped books often, I’m not a person who’s often on the hype train of books by certain authors, but this book truly is worth all the hype and I love it, with my whole heart and soul. The representation throughout this book is incredible and I hope so many readers fall in love with this book.

Buddy Read with Robin at Paperbacks and Planners 🧡

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Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku, Vol. 1 (Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku #1-2) by Fujita

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Mentions of sexual harassment, mentions of anxiety, alcoholism

Friends, this was the absolute cutest! I had a fantastic time reading this and I had such a hard time setting this down. This is such a whimsical, charming, and perfectly geeky book for those who are looking for a book to brighten their day up. And you might just laugh yourself silly like I did. This manga has also been made into an anime, you an watch the trailer HERE.

We follow Narumi, a secret fujoshi who seems to be down on her luck with relationships. Until one day, she reconnects with her childhood friend Hirotaka, a secret hardcore gamer, at their office job. This sparks Narumi suggestion they should go out for drinks to catch up with one another. And while they’re catching up, Narumi reveals to Hirotaka how hard it is to find someone who accepts her for who she truly is. To Narumi’s surprise, Hirotaka offers a solution. And this is their story.

This manga focuses on two different relationships. The main relationship this manga focuses around is Narumi and Hirotaka. Not only do they work together, but when they’re together they’re absolutely precious. Since they’ve known each other for such a long time, we see soft moments like when they can tell the other is upset or aren’t acting like themselves. We also get some really great moments where we see their personalities show a different side compared to when they’re in the work place. The other relationship this manga also focuses on is between Kabakura and Hanako, friends and coworkers to Narumi and Hirotaka. Their relationship is intense, they fight almost constantly, and the tension between them is so thick you could cut it with a knife.

“We’re together because I love you and I like seeing you doing things that make you happy.”

I really enjoyed Hirotaka and Narumi together. Their interactions with one another were so cute and wholesome, but they have a deep understanding of each other. They have some really precious moments that really show how much they care about one another, not only as couple, but also as two individuals who have been friends for such a long time. I really loved that. I also really appreciated how we see both couples in this manga on double dates. I rarely see the double dating in books. So that was a pleasant surprise that I really enjoyed. I also really adored how close Hanako and Narumi are in this manga. They cosplay together and seem really protective of one another. I’m always here for a friendship that’s positive especially between two women.

I only had two issues with this manga. The first one was with the second relationship, the one between Hanako and Kabakura. I felt like we never got to see them be soft and gentle with one another. For the majority of this book, they’re constantly arguing at each others throats, insulting one another, and there’s even a scene where Hanako tries to pressure Kabkura into cosplaying when he specifically says no. We see maybe one or two moments between them where they’re being gentle to one another, but the majority they’re fighting with one another. I’m hoping in future books, we see more moments shared between them where they’re being kind to one another or loving.

My second struggle with this manga was no solid story line or plot. It felt like there were outlines of a plot or story line, but for the most part it felt like this manga was just sharing moments between Hirotaka and Narumi. It felt very repetitive because of no solid story line or plot. With that being said, I’m hoping in future volumes we’ll see change of scenery and things won’t have a repetitive feeling to it. We’ll see an actually story form of how their love is growing, maybe we’ll see some character development, and maybe we’ll see some end goal within this book.

“If my smile could reach the person I love… I think I’d explode with happiness.”

Overall, I really did have a fantastic time reading this book. I loved how we follow two geeky people who’ve been friends since childhood form a relationship. They’re incredible sweet to one another and Fujita has an incredible way of capturing that. I also really enjoyed the art style. Fujita has a way a capturing the emotions of characters and make a panel play to the moment. And the way Fujita writes has such a subtle way of saying so much meaning with saying very little, I really loved that. It was just a really great times reading this manga. I’m really eager to give the anime a try and see how similar it is to the manga. But if you’re looking for something funny, charming, and wholesome then I can’t recommend this manga enough!

Buddy read with Kayla from Books and Blends 🧡

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Well Played (Well Met, #2) by Jen DeLuca

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ARC was provided by NetGalley and Berkley in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (September 22nd, 2020)

🌹 Well Met ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Talk of loss of a loved one (in the past, to cancer), talk of fertility hardships, talk of heart attacks (in the past), a lot of talk and thoughts of body image, depictions of anxiety, and catfishing

“It all started with a necklace.”

I’m back again with more of the wench life! But seriously, I absolutely adore Renaissance Festivals and actually, I usually attend the Maryland Renaissance Festival almost every year. Every time fall rolls around, I would automatically be plotting, planning when my trip of the year would happen. And of course I would dress up in costume. You can’t go to the Maryland Renaissance Festival without getting into a costume (usually in Elven attire). However, with the pandemic happening, this might be the first year I don’t attend Renn. Fest. and my heart is truly saddened by that thought. So being able to read the next book in this series has brought some comfort and happiness into that hole that’s formed in my chest.

Our story follows Stacy, the other tavern wench from the first book. If you remember in the first book, faire was starting to hit that point of the last round before it closes for the year. And this is where we pick up in book two. As faire is beginning to end, Stacy finds that she’s eager for some change and we quickly discover her friends with benefits relationship with Dex, one of the brothers from the Dueling Kilts, who preform at the Willow Creek Renaissance Festival every year.

But that’s the trouble with faire coming to a close, everyone gets back to their normal routine and that means the Dueling Kilts move onto the next big gig, usually the Maryland Renaissance Festival. So when Stacy is thrust back into her usual routine; working in a dentist office as a receptionist, living the cozy life in her studio apartment, and coming home to the only guy who seems to love her unconditionally (a.k.a. Benedick the cat), Stacy begins to reevaluate her life. After college, Stacy had left her small town life behind and moved to New York where she was going to pursue her passion for fashion, but when her mother started having health complications, Stacy dropped everything immediately to be where she was needed most, with her family.

“And together, that flickering light and that sense of yearning made me want something new. A life on the road. A life somewhere other than here.”

With all of her friends, who have left Willow Creek behind, starting their lives (thanks to social media) and the realization she’s entering her later twenties still single, Stacy begins to feel the weight and pressure of society’s expectations. So one night when she’s missing her summer fling something fierce (and maybe the wine had a little extra help in this), Stacy gets the courage to write up a message to Dex, on the Dueling Kilt’s band page. After waking up with a killer hangover and a lot of mortification, Stacy soon realizes she’s received a response.

One message turns into two, two turns into a week’s worth of messages, and soon we see Stacy live her life through a year while texting the guy she’s falling for. We see Stacy help Emily with planning her wedding, join a book club, and of course, keep cracking jokes with Mitch. We also see Stacy help a lot more with the prepping of the Willow Creek Renaissance Festival, but despite all these wonderful things happening, with the anticipation at an all time high, Stacy begins to question a lot of things.

You’ll just have to pick up this book come this September if you want to know what happens with Stacy because going any further would just spoil the book. If you’re looking for a cute romance with that amazing small town setting (of course, the Renaissance Festival setting too) and the deep roots of community then I can’t recommend it enough! Of course, the romance is super cute too. I really enjoyed the romance and there’s some really good banter in this book. Stacy is also plus sized and she talks about her body, her body image, and her journey with her confidence. I really appreciated that especially myself being plus sized, I have a deep appreciation when plus size representation is done well.

“His words squeezed my heart, and I couldn’t take a good deep breath.”

I also have to talk about the family aspect of this book. There’s definitely a of subplot in this book that focuses on family, family expectations, and how hard it can be to leave your family especially when you feel like they need you to be close. But we also see the other side of that where your family wants you to live your life and chase down your dreams. There was a moment between Stacy and her mother, and I just felt the biggest surge love for the relationship these two characters have. I ended up really missing my own family after that and I ended up sending off a bunch of emails to them. There’s so many moments about family in this book that hit close to home and I really loved that about this book.

I think held back from the full five star this time for plethora of reasons. There were a lot of times reading this book where it felt like Stacy had to do a lot of the work. Relationships are hard, but it’s not a two way street and both people have to make an effort to make it work. I just didn’t see that happening on the love interest side of things. In all honesty, it felt like there was an over-use of the excuse “but I’m not like so-and-so” to not do the work that builds the foundation of the relationship. On the topic of relationship foundation, I definitely felt like there was a huge lack of communication and honesty between Stacy and the love interest. There were times where big, important things felt like they were forgiven too quickly or swept under the rug to escalate their relationship quicker. I think for myself, I would have liked to have seen a more in depth conversation happen between the two, but that might be the married person in me talking (so take this with a grain of salt). And as much as I enjoyed Stacy, there were a lot of times where she felt dated. There were times where I forgot that she was twenty-seven and I just wanted to see her do something that wasn’t predictable.

“You’ll never be alone. Not if I have anything to say about it.”

Overall, I really enjoyed my time reading this book! This was exactly what I needed to feel a bit better with cancelling my Renaissance Festival plans for this year. Also, I didn’t mention this anywhere else in this review, but I freaking adore Stacy’s cat, Benedick. That cat was fantastic, Stacy dresses him up with dragon wings, and I just love that ball of floof so darn much! Anyway, I’m super excited because after I finished reading this, I went to check to see if there was another book in this series. Now, I was saying this for the last handful of chapters of this book and I swear, the screech that left my body was loud enough to make the whole neighborhood wake up. Well Matched, the third book in this series, is April and Mitch’s book and my heart, my soul, and my mind have all abandoned me and are waiting for 2021 to hurry up! I’m so excited and I truly cannot wait for this book!

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Racism, xenophobia, homophobia, bullying, character being outed, mentions of divorce

“When matters of the heart are involved, it’s difficult to be careful.”

My heart it hurts, in all the best ways! I wasn’t expecting this book to hurt me the way that it did and I knew I would love this book from the start, but oh how I loved the experience of reading this book. This book is so beautifully written and it’s so much more than a cute romance of “enemies to lovers”. It’s so much more than that and it truly touched a piece of my heart.

We follow a Bengali girl named Nishat, who just came out to her parents and now feels the heavy weight of their rejection of her lesbian identity, and to prevent herself from crumbling in the process. On top of this harden silence, Nishat has to deal with the racism and homophobia at her school, while dealing with the culture appropriation happening during her business class’s competition by the girl she has a crush on.

I loved Nishat as our main character. She’s so unapologetically herself in a world that constantly tries to bend and break her. She’s fierce and she has no problem speaking her voice. I truly appreciate how the author took the time to pay attention to the little details with Nishat and her personality. The pay off is just beautiful, heartbreaking, and I think many readers are going to fall in love with her because of those details.

“What I want more than anything else in the world is to feel like being myself isn’t something that should be hidden and a secret.”

Throughout this book we see many relationship, many family dynamics. So let’s start with the family dynamics first. I loved Nishat’s family and how big it is. I love how we get moments with Nishat’s grandparents. I love seeing those bonds in book. We also have the family dynamic with Flávia. Flávia is from a single mother home and you know, I have a super soft spot for that family dynamic. Reading the experience Flávia’s mother went through made my heart turn to an absolute puddle.

As for the relationships, there’s two that really stuck out to me. The first relationship is between Nishat and her younger sister, Priti. I loved this sibling bond. You know I’m a soft heart for sibling relationships and the way these two love each other despite the hardships, just warmed my heart. This relationship spoke the loudest to throughout the whole book. There were times where the romance felt like it fell in the shadow of the sibling bond. The second relationship was between Flávia and Nishat. This romance was so precious and there were many times where I really wanted them to be together. There’s so many layers to their relationship and watching them come together was just a lovely experience.

However, this story is far from cute. If anything, the romance is cute, but this book deals with a lot of important topics. There’s a lot of talk of racism and homophobia laced throughout this book and all of it intertwines with Nishat’s culture, culture appropriation, and those making a profit off that cultural appropriation. Not only does the author handle this in many layers, but does it in a way where it gets the point across. The author also adds additional content to lighten the mood with lighthearted content and I really appreciated how well everything balanced out.

“Maybe… sometimes people don’t see the things they do as wrong, but they can see the wrong in what other people do – especially if it’s done to someone they care about.” I say “When it happens to someone else, it doesn’t feel as important as when it happens to someone we love.”

I can’t speak for the representation in this book, but I will link some reviews below that you should check out. What I can speak on is my own coming out. I was really blessed to not had a parent who was homophobic or reject my bisexuality in the way Nishat’s parents reject her. However, I’m Apache and coming out to my aunts and my uncle as two-spirited, it was something that still impacts me now. They still have a hard time processing that I like both men and women, they constantly have homophobic slip ups, and I constantly get questioned on my choice for not marrying someone who’s also Native. So seeing Nishat’s grief of having to hide who she is and feel her heartache echoing through these pages just rippled through my soul, and I could relate so much to Nishat in those moments.

I think the main reason why this wasn’t a full five stars was due to some missing details. I feel like we didn’t see enough of Nishat’s friends. I know they’re side characters, but I feel like there should have been more engagement in conversation between them than what we really got in this book. The other issue I had was how Nishat’s parents all of a sudden started to support Nishat and her lesbian identity. I think I just wanted more conversations to happen between Nishat and her parents, but I did appreciate that we see Nishat’s parents taking the time to try and learn.

Overall, I really loved this book and even though I only gave it four stars, it’s still getting placed on my top books for 2020. This book has so many important topics and they deserve to have the spotlight that they deserve. I loved how deep this story dived and I loved the growth of the relationships and connections throughout this book. And I’m not going to lie, finally seeing the racism being challenged in this book made my heart swell. I truly loved this book and I think many readers are going to fall in love with this book, see themselves within the pages of this book, and I can’t wait to see what else this author has in store for us.

Below are some reviews to take a look at, but you should uplift their voices and support them as well!

🏵️ Fanna’s Review

🏵️ Zaheerah’s Review

🏵️ CW’s Review

🏵️ Jaime’s Review

🏵️ Sabrien’s Review

Read for Dragons & Tea Book Club August 2020 Pick 💚

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Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

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ALC was provided by Libro.fm and Sourcebooks Casablanca in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published after the release date (July 7th, 2020)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Homophobia, minor scenes of heterosexism, racist remarks, mentions of cancer, mentions of drug and alcohol abuse, mild depictions and mention of eating disorder, mentions and depictions of emotional abuse (parent to child)

Let me say that I truly wanted to love this book. I really wanted to fall in love with these characters, get caught up in the story line, and gush about it with all of you, but this book wasn’t for me. Even though I gave this book the rating I did, this isn’t a bad book. There are many elements in this book that I know many readers will love. This just wasn’t it the right book for me and that’s okay. I still liked some elements and I hope to share those all with you.

Luc O’Donnell is looking for a fake boyfriend. One that’s perfect and won’t make Luc stand out in a negative light. You see, Luc O’Donnell is famous, reluctantly famous from both of his parents being rock stars, once upon a time ago. After twenty years, Luc is back in the public eye and after one bad photo, it seems like his life is about to fall apart. Thus, Luc starts a fake relationship with Oliver Blackwood. He’s absolutely perfect in Luc’s eyes, too perfect, but just perfect enough for Luc to fall in love with.

I really loved some of the moments that Luc and Oliver shared. Some of them were really sweet, really touching, and I liked the way they seem to balance each other out. Luc is fully disorganized, works for a charity for dung beetles, and not the best in social situations. Oliver is the absolute opposite; he’s serious, a barrister, vegetarian, and thoroughly organized. Complete opposites of each other that somehow balance each other out very well.

“I don’t want fine. Fine isn’t enough. Isn’t not about the open fire or whatever other clichés you can conjure up, but yes, I want a connection. I want you to care as much as I care. I want you to need it and want it and mean it. I want it to matter.”

I also really liked the family dynamic for Luc. You know I couldn’t have this review without talking about the family dynamic. Luc has spent his entire life raised by his mother since his mother and father split from one another. Luc and his mother are very protective of one another. There are a couple moments shared with Luc and Oliver or Luc’s mother and his father, Luc immediately becomes protective of his mother and runs defense to prevent his mother from getting hurt. I loved it so much. I love seeing family dynamics where that love and loyalty is fierce, an undeniable powerful form of love.

Despite these fantastic elements, it wasn’t enough to distract me from the issues I had with this book. The first thing that really struck me from the moment I started reading this book was how much I really disliked Luc’s character. The majority of this book is spent with Luc being really terrible to his friends, overwhelming hateful to his estranged father (which I understand, but it was to the point where it was impossible to focus on the story line when that hatred would be shoved into your face in the chapter), and there’s even a few moments when Luc and Oliver are together where Luc is really terrible and offensive. I just didn’t like his character at all. Nothing in this book made me want to sympathize with him or feel very connected to him. I don’t mind a flawed or broken character, but the fact he only had a few moments where he realized he messed up or the fact that it took 75 percent of this book before Luc started having a turn around, I just wasn’t here for it.

Another issue I had with this book was the whole cycled loop of this hot and cold relationship. Luc and Oliver have this constant break up, get back together dynamic and it was the most annoying element. Now, I’m a full believer that two broken people can heal each other. However, there was a huge lacking of communication, a big lack of honesty, and the constant on and off with their “fake relationship” made it hard to believe it was even a fake relationship. Even though their personalities balanced each other out, it was hard to believe in the relationship between them because Oliver and Luc were so up and down. You could listen to Katy Perry’s Hot n Cold while reading this book and it would fit perfectly. While on the topic of the relationship, I really didn’t enjoy how Luc’s best friend kept trying to force them together. It felt very unnatural and near the end it made me feel a bit uncomfortable.

My biggest issue with this book is with one particular scene that’s about 80-90 percent through the book. Oliver and Luc end up going to some lunch to celebrate Oliver’s parents’ anniversary. I’ll be honest, I completely disliked this entire scene. In this one particular scene, there’s a jab at couples who are in situations where they’re being pressured to have children. This rubbed me the wrong way and the apology was far too short to my liking. Then during the toast there’s a sexist remark toward Oliver’s mother from his father. It was never challenge, none of the characters tried to say anything in her defense, I haven’t seen anyone talk about how Oliver’s mother could be “replaced” in their reviews. I had to pause and relisten to the entire passage to make sure I heard it right. Then, the icing on this scene, was the constant homophobic remarks. It’s not challenged immediately, in fact, you have to read halfway through the scene before Luc tries to challenge the statements, but ultimately everything gets brushed off and excused. If we had been exposed to Oliver’s parents sooner, I feel like (as the reader) you would be able to expect them doing something like this. However, that wasn’t the case and it came out so far from left field that when it happened, I was shocked. And homophobia shouldn’t be used for shock value when it’s a serious issue.

“The conversation hadn’t so much died on us as been taken out back and shot in the head. And I knew I should be playing paramedic but I couldn’t quite bring myself to or work out how.”

With all of this being said, I feel like this book would have benefited from Oliver’s perspective. This entire book is told from the perspective of Luc and with that perspective we suffer details because we’re never exposed to Oliver’s perspective. If I’m being honest, being inside Luc’s perspective was draining some of the time and I feel like Oliver’s perspective would have helped add a little more stability to the story as a whole.

Overall, I just didn’t enjoy my experience with this book. It feels like I read a completely different story compared to everyone else. I truly wish I could have experienced the story everyone else has been enjoying, talking and raving about, but maybe I’m too much of a critical reader for this book. However, this isn’t me telling you not to pick it up. Even though my reading experience was bad, I still want to encourage others to pick this book up if it interests you, and make your own conclusions.

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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The Perfect Hope (Inn Boonsboro Trilogy, #3) by Nora Roberts

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💐 The Next Always (InnBoonsBoro Trilogy, #1) | ⭐⭐⭐⭐

💐 The Last Boyfriend (InnBoonsBoro Trilogy, #2)| ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Death, loss of a loved one, talk of cheating & adultry, toxic relationship, talk of parental abuse, scene of assault, scene of graphic war themes (Ryder’s dream)

We have finally reached the end of this trilogy. I just don’t want this series to end, ever. I love these characters, this town, and just every bit that went into making this trilogy. I say this all the time, but this really is a great series to read if you’re new to Nora Robert’s work. I truly love this series and it will always have a piece of my heart.

If you haven’t guessed by now, we’re following Hope Beaumont and Ryder Montgomery in this book. Hope was recruited by Avery MacTavish and Clare Brewster to move to BoonsBoro to be the inn keeper at Inn BoonsBoro. Even though her friends are happy to have her and Justine is thrilled to have such a confident inn keeper, Ryder Montgomery is anything but happy about it all. Of all the Montgomery boys, Ryder is the hardest nut to crack. He’s anti-social and can’t see Hope as anything other than a city girl. But after a New Year’s kiss, things have somehow shifted between the unlikely pair and soon they’ll realize what their hearts’ desires are.

“Time with a friend was as refreshing as a nap.”

💐 Hope Beaumont – The inn keeper for the newly redesigned Inn BoonsBoro by the Montgomery. Recently moved to BoonsBoro for a fresh start and the former manager of a D.C. hotel. She’s confident, independent, and right where she wants to be in life…except for in the love department. And constantly sparring with Ryder Montgomery.

💐 Ryder Montgomery – The hardest, most stubborn, alpha male of the Montgomery family. He’s anti-social and hard to figure out, but he’s honest and fair. But there’s only one person who gets under his skin and her name is Hope Beaumont.

💐 Elizabeth/Eliza – The spirit who lives at the historical inn the Montgomery family is fixing up. Waiting at the inn for her Billy to return to her.

💐 Justine Montgomery – Sassy mother of the Montgomery brothers and the head boss over every project the Montgomery boys take on.

💐 Beckett & Own Montgomery – Brothers to Owen Montgomery, Beckett the architect and husband to Clare Brewster/Montgomery, father of three boys and Owen the organizer of the Montgomery family and engaged to Avery MacTavish.

💐 Clare Brewster/Montgomery & Avery MacTavish – Best friends to Hope. Clare is the wife of Beckett Montgomery, mother of three boys with an exciting bundle of love on the way and Avery is the fiance of Owen Montgomery, owner of MacT’s Restaurant and Tap Room.

I say this all the time as well. I love these characters. They’re fantastic and I swear, Justine is such a delightful, sassy, take no b.s. character that I absolutely love. They’re wonderful in their own ways and they’re always there for one another. Even more so in this book. We really see how everyone rallies to Hope and how Ryder stands by her in very specific moments.

“It’s never simple.” Avery slid an arm around Hope’s waist. “It shouldn’t be. Because being with someone should matter enough to be at least a little bit complicated.”

I’m not going to lie, I loved the way Hope and Ryder somehow balance each other out and are exactly what one another need. Hope can handle herself and throw it right back at Ryder when he’s being alpha. She challenges him, gets under his skin, but despite all that, she’s drawn to him because he’s stable and honest. Ryder drives Hope up a wall, always assumes she’s just a city girl, but he’s drawn to her for her strong will and independence. Not to mention, their intimacy and chemistry is 10/10.

Of course, I have to talk about the sense of family and community in this book. Being that this is in a small town setting, it’s very much small town vibes. I really wanted to point this out because even though Hope has Avery and Clare, she’s essentially still on her own in a new environment. So when a certain incident arises in this book, we really see how the Montgomery family flocks to her defense and surrounds her in that family love. I love books that that sense of family and community, the way they rally to someone who has carved out a space of importance.

“But you stand up for me. You tell me the truth. You make me laugh, and you make me want. You let me be and feel who I am. And you fell in love with me even when you didn’t want to.”

We finally get a conclusion for Eliza and Billy in this book. We learn all about them, their story, and we receive a final closing moment with Eliza and all the main characters. While I’m still not a fan of the paranormal element, I liked how their story was wrapped up.

However, I do want to take a moment to address Ryder’s dream though. First, please make sure you practice self-care when you read that section. Most importantly, this is probably the most conflicting thing that could have been added into this book. Despite the paranormal element and how I dislike it, I liked that so much more than this one scene. Now, it might be reading too much into it, but this was an indirect way of trying to represent trauma and possible PTSD. Basically, Ryder is “dreaming” yet he’s really reliving someone’s trauma and death during the war. For those who don’t know, those who suffer with PTSD or trauma can have flashbacks while they sleep. After this dream concludes, Ryder exhibits all the reactions of someone who just had a flashback. He’s woke up drenched in sweat, his heart was pounding, even when he talks with his family later on he says it felt so vivid, like he was living through it. I completely understand why we learned about this person’s death through Ryder’s “dream.” However, a character shouldn’t be having traumatic or PTSD flashbacks if they have never experienced trauma or have PTSD. There has never, ever been any indication that Ryder experienced something traumatic and there has never, in the whole trilogy, been a statement that Ryder has PTSD. So, I was not a fan of this particular scene and truly wish that whole scene had be executed in a completely different way.

Overall, I still enjoyed this book despite the paranormal element and despite the conflict with the trauma/PTSD representation in this book. The epilogue in this book is also lovely. It’s about Avery and Owen’s wedding. However, I’m still holding on to a glimmer of hope that one day we’ll get a novella about Hope and Ryder’s wedding. Fingers crossed. But I can’t recommend this trilogy enough. I love it with my whole heart and I’m constantly recommending it to fellow readers.

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The Last Boyfriend (Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy, #2) by Nora Roberts

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💐 The Next Always (Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy, #1) – ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warning: Loss of a loved one, minor obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), talk of cheating/adultry, talk of abortion, talk of divorce, grief

Friends, this is probably my favorite out of all three of the books in this trilogy. I usually don’t like having favorites when I a trilogy or series, but this book just has my whole heart, and hits so close to home. And even though there’s the paranormal element in this book, it doesn’t have such a huge role in this books as it does with the other two books. And I just really love how Avery and Owen remind me of the way my spouse and I came into each other’s lives. I just love this book so, so much!

💐 Avery MacTavish – Owner of the popular pizza place, but has plans to run her own restaurant one day and wants nothing more than to play her part in helping the Montgomery family. Only she never planned for her feelings for Own Montgomery to be in the picture.

💐 Owen Montgomery – The softest, most organized boy and probably my favorite Montgomery boy. He has minor OCD and shows how things have to be done a certain way or it’s the highway. And in all his organization and needing to have a plan for everything, he never planned for Avery MacTavish to shake things up every plan he’s ever had.

💐 Elizabeth/Eliza – The spirit who lives at the historical inn the Montgomery family is fixing up. Waiting at the inn for her Billy to return to her.

💐 Justine Montgomery – Sassy mother of the Montgomery brothers and the head boss over every project the Montgomery boys take on.

💐 Beckett & Ryder Montgomery – Brothers to Owen Montgomery, Beckett the architect and husband to Clare Brewster/Montgomery, father of three boys and Ryder the muscles, the alpha male, of the Montgomery family.

💐 Clare Brewster/Montgomery & Hope Beaumont – Best friends to Avery. Clare is the wife of Beckett Montgomery, mother of three boys with an exciting bundle of love on the way and Hope just moved from D.C. to BoonsBoro, who now works as the inn keeper.

“Love runs the engine”

We follow Avery MacTavish who has never had any time to slow down. She runs the local pizza shop that always seems to be busy and every once in a while does she get a short pause to enjoy the little things in life. With a plan in mind, she wants nothing more than to take over an empty lot, the Montgomery family purchased, to turn into the restaurant of her dreams. But despite all of her planning, she never imagine Owen Montgomery, her lifelong crush, to play such a huge roll in her future. Owen Montgomery has had everything planned down to the final details with a backup plan in store. While the inn keeps him busy, he can’t stop his eyes or his mind from wandering to Avery MacTavish. Despite all of his fine planning, he never imagined Avery coming into to life and shaking up every plan for the future he’s ever had. Together, they’ll navigate what it means to be in a relationship and show each other that their future plans can include one another.

I said this before with the first book, but I’ll say it again here, I love all of these characters. They’re so thoroughly developed and you really get a feeling of who they are as individuals, but also when certain characters come together into the relationships forming. I also really love how we have a character who has some obsessive compulsive disorder aspects. Even though it’s minor, it’s still nice to see that kind of representation.

Of course, I have to talk about the family dynamics. Oh wow, when I say this book hits close to home, damn if it doesn’t hit close to home. For starters, Justine Montgomery is a character that deserves so much praise. Not only is she a widow and raise her three boys into wonderful men, but she’s a business woman and doesn’t tolerate any b.s. from anyone. She also talks about what it means to want companionship after the death of her husband. This leads to her having a conversation with Owen about her expressing her feelings and how she wants to have some fun in her life again, with a certain Will B. MacTavish, Avery’s father. Speaking of the MacTavish family, Avery’s mother walked out of her life at a very young age and was raised by her father, Willy B. Every time I read about Avery being raised by her father, my heart gets all warm for all the dad parents out there who are doing it all on their own. Single dads don’t get the spotlight they truly deserve and I’m glad we have such a strong, positive father-daughter relationship in this book. And when I mean this book hits close to home, even though I was raised in a single mother household, my father walked out on my life at a young age too. So it lands a certain way especially after Avery’s mother does come back into the picture and boy, it hit so hard. So you really see some great family dynamics in this book and I’m just really appreciative that there’s so much positivity, but it also shows the reality and the hardships that come with them.

What I love most about this book is the way Owen and Avery balance each other out. They’re so similar, yet so different in so many ways. Together, they’re like this unstoppable force that keep each other held together with love and determination. Without Owen, Avery would probably run herself into the ground and without Avery, Owen would never branch outside of his plans. Out of all of the couples in this trilogy, I truly love and appreciate the way Owen and Avery work. Plus, their conversations and the way their intimate scenes are set up, they hit all my expectations. And I also have to appreciate the way Avery’s father reminds Owen that even though she has the nickname, “Little Red Engine,” she still has bruises deep within her and Owen really provides a space where Avery can drop all her barriers, to show her vulnerable side.

“I want you to be careful with her, Owen. She’s had other boyfriends, but you’re different. You’ve got history and connections, and she’s had a sweet-on going. She’s tough, my girl, but she’s got places that bruise easy. It’s easy to forget that, so…don’t. I guess that’s it.”

This book also tackles so many important things that I don’t often find in the romance books I read. We really see Avery and Owen try to navigate what it means to love someone since childhood into adulthood and more so from Avery’s part, but trying to believe you’re worthy of love when someone who should have loved you and been there for you, rejects you. Now, I also want to state a warning, there is also a scene where abortion is talked about and it brings up a lot of discussion of pro-choice, pro-life, and when we should or shouldn’t include someone in these situations. I’m not going to talk about my feelings or opinions on that one, but there’s a whole scene of that in the book and it’s there to spark neutral discussion. I’ll just say this, there’s a lot of themes revolving around Avery’s mother that are there to spark discussion among readers.

“No matter how bad things are, and sometimes they were bad in our house, you want your mother to be there, to love you. And when she doesn’t, you feel . . . less.”

The only reason this book didn’t get the five stars is of course, the paranormal element. I truly believe this would have been better without the paranormal element. While it doesn’t bother me that it’s there, it feels like it’s unnecessary at times. However, I understand why the paranormal element was thrown in and I know many readers love it. For this particular series, the paranormal element just doesn’t work for me. If you’re not a fan of paranormal elements, out of all the books in this trilogy, this book has the least amount of paranormal in it.

Overall, I love this series so much and I really love this particular book. I just really love the positive representation of family dynamics, the way Owen and Avery mesh so well together, and of course, Justine Montgomery throwing her wild business plans all over the place. It’s just a really fun time and it’s just my favorite of all three of these books. I mentioned in my review of the first book that I get asked about Nora Roberts all the time and I truly think this is one of the best series you should read if you’re new to Nora Roberts. It’s just a great way to be introduced to her writing and the way she tends to write couples. Ugh, I truly love this series with my whole heart.

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