Featured

Julybrary – The Winston Brothers Series

⇒ “Everyone in Green Valley, Tennessee knows that the six bearded Winston brothers have been imbued with an unfair share of charm and charisma… and are prone to mischief.” – Penny Reid

A few years ago, I got a free Kindle download of Truth or Beard, Penny Reid’s first Winston Brothers book — a spin-off of her Knitting in the City series. I had every intention of reading the book right away – I was intrigued by the book cover and finding a cute, funny romance is always a bonus with free downloads.

However, as any reader with an overflowing TBR list can tell you, reading that book right away was a long-shot at best.

So here we are, many moons later, and I am just now getting around to experiencing Penny Reid’s Winston boys… er… men. And, man oh man, am I sorry that I waited so long!


If you are already familiar with Jethro, Billy, Cletus, Duane, Beau, Roscoe, and their sister, Ashley, then you are in good company with this large family from small-town Tennessee. And if you’ve never really thought about serving your romance up with an extra large dose of sexy beard and classic literary middle names, then you may end up being as surprised as I am now that this whole brotherhood has now made my Man Crush Monday list:

-Penny Reid

What makes a good romance for you? Is it all about the characters; how beautiful they are or how hot their chemistry is? Is it all about the circumstances of the story; their meet-cute or how they overcome obstacles? Or is it all about the boom-chicka-wow-wow for you? <wink, wink!>

Whatever it is, I am sure that you’ll find some element of everything you love about reading romance in this series by Penny Reid. The characters are quirky and comical, each in their own way. The story lines are well-thought out and connected, even though each book could be read as a standalone (but why would you want to do that?!?! You wouldn’t, so let’s just forget I ever said anything. Moving on…)

The thing I like best about this series is that it managed to actually make me laugh! Not just an acknowledgement like, “Yes, that was humorous, now on to the next paragraph.” Nope. This was a genuine stop-reading-for-a-moment-because-I-just-lost-my-place-in-the-book-because-I-was-laughing kind of humor (even though I was listening to it on audiobook, the general example still applies.)


Let’s look at each of these books in publishing order…

Duane

This is Duane’s story. He’s the serious twin. His brother Beau is the one everyone likes. Everyone, including Jessica James – who has had the hots for Beau Winston since childhood. And she has hated Duane. But, as we all know, there’s a thin line… well, you know.

Jethro

This eldest Winston brother hasn’t always been on the right side of the law and there used to be a time when he much preferred pushing the limits rather than toeing the line. But those days are behind him now. And he’s not looking for anyone to rock his boat – that is, until Sienna Diaz comes to town.

Cletus

Fan favorite, Cletus, is easily the brains of the brotherhood. He always has a trick up his sleeve and his personal motto should just be, “I’ll handle it.” (In actuality though, it’s more like, “Hold my sausage.”) So what could be more of a mismatch than Cletus and Jennifer Sylvester, the Banana Cake Queen?

Beau

This Winston brother is the one the whole town loves – especially all the ladies! He’s got a ladykiller reputation and the looks to back it up. Beau finds a way to spread his charm around everyone he meets – until he meets Shelly Sullivan.

Roscoe

You know how it is when your ex keeps popping up everywhere? Well, that’s where Roscoe is now. For years Simone Payton has been on his mind, and for those same number of years, Simone has been trying to forget about Roscoe Winston.

Scarlet St. Claire

OK, no, I am not trying to trick you. I know Scarlet isn’t technically one of the Winston brothers, BUT her story is pivotal to perhaps the most anticipated story of the whole lot. Scarlet St. Claire is Claire McClure and she and Billy Winston can’t stand to be in the same room with each other. But why…?

Billy

His name is William Shakespeare. Not joking. But nothing about Billy is a joke. He is serious. He doesn’t laugh, doesn’t even smile. He is moody and quiet, and stubborn. And he is heart-wrenchingly in love.


Intrigued? You should be. I am loving getting to know this family and experiencing all of their forays into love. I am starting book #5 now, which I want to read so fast, but then it’ll only put me that much closer to the end of the series and… noooooo! Just noooooo!

What will I do without these beards in my life? Thankfully I won’t have to find out for another 2 books, and then there are the Cletus cozy mystery spin-offs and the Knitting series, and… Penny Reid, you’ve got me hooked!

Penny Reid

The Bride Test (The Kiss Quotient, #2)

“He could give her every thing she wanted, a green card, real diamonds, his body, but love? Stone hearts didn’t love.” -The Bride Test by Helen Hoang


Author: Helen Hoang

(3.91 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Contemporary Romance

Format: Hardcover (BOTM Edition)

Publication Date: May 7, 2019, by Berkley

Pages: 296 (Hardcover)

#TheBrideTest #HelenHoang


He was strange and tactless and very possibly an assassin, but when she looked at his actions, all she saw was kindness.

Whenever I’m reading a romance novel, I look for a hook that draws me in – something different from the usual tropes that we’re all so used to. I’ve done the difficult woman/heart-of-gold man thing, the playboy-meets-wholesome-girl thing, and the rich girl/poor guy vice-versa thing countless times before.

But when I read the blurb on the inside jacket of The Bride Test, I knew I was holding something a little different. An MC with autism… in a romance novel? And a hardworking immigrant mother who is determined to do everything she can to provide a better life for her daughter? I’m in! Before I get too far ahead of myself and give the whole story away, let’s check out the blurb…

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.
As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.
With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love. 


She couldn’t cry. She was supposed to be happy for the both of them because he didn’t know how.

I hate when this happens, but so often I can’t help it; I start reviewing a book before I’m even done with it. I’m writing the review in my head even as I’m reading the words on the page. It’s distracting, and it’s not fair – especially if I’m nowhere close to the last page.

The premature review-writing usually occurs when I am not at all interested in what’s going on in the pages in front of me. It’s my brain moving on to the next task because it’s bored or supremely dissatisfied.

But by the time I closed the back cover on The Bride Test, I realized that I had no idea what I was going to write in this review. I hadn’t thought about it at all – the book kept me that engaged. In fact, I probably could have finished this book in one sitting if I didn’t have to spend the rest of my time adulting!

Love wasn’t complicated. You either felt it or you didn’t. There was nothing to “figure out”.

So since I didn’t spend half the book ruminating over what I was going to say about it, I had time to really enjoy reading it! The things I enjoyed most are the unconventional main characters, the way the author lets the action play out without over-explaining, and especially how she develops Esme into a wonderful example of strength and self-determination.

I wanted to give it at least one more star than I did; however, there are some important plot points that Hoang glossed over and left readers hanging with even after the epilogue. That’s grating to me – there shouldn’t be a lot of questions at the end of a standalone romance novel! That’s not allowed!

But 3.5 stars is a very respectable rating and I stand by it. This was a good book and I would recommend it to others, especially those who like a little saucy with their sweet (how many authors can successfully make a haircut seem sexy?)! Check it out and see if you have the same questions at the end that I do (and if you end up day-dreaming about sexy men with dimples and teacher glasses!).


Helen Hoang

Helen Hoang is that shy person who never talks. Until she does. And the worst things fly out of her mouth. She read her first romance novel in eighth grade and has been addicted ever since. In 2016, she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in line with what was previously known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Her journey inspired THE KISS QUOTIENT. She currently lives in San Diego, California with her husband, two kids, and pet fish. -Bio from Goodreads


Blog Tour | The Secrets of Love Story Bridge

Blog Tour | A single father gets an unexpected second chance at love in the heartwarming new novel from the author of The Curious Charms of Arthur PepperThe Secrets of Love Story Bridge by Phaedra Patrick

**Many thanks to Park Row Books and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Phaedra Patrick

(3.98 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Contemporary Romance / Women’s Lit

Format: Kindle

Publication Date: April 28, 2020, by Park Row Books

Pages: 336 (Kindle version)

#TheSecretsofLoveStoryBridge #PhaedraPatrick #ParkRowBooks


When you’re rushing around, you don’t always notice the thing beneath your feet that supports you.

Starting over isn’t always the easiest thing for people to do. Whenever there’s loss involved, it makes it all the more difficult. But, as most of us are learning now during this pandemic, there are many ways to keep going, to keep moving forward, to start over again and again.

Mitchell, the main character of Phaedra Patrick’s latest romance novel, The Secrets of Love Story Bridge, learns that beginning again is difficult, scary, and uncomfortable; but, sometimes it’s absolutely necessary. Let’s read the blurb…

It’s summer in the city and passions are soaring along with the temperature—for everyone but Mitchell Fisher, who hates all things romance. He relishes his job cutting off the padlocks that couples fasten to the famous “love story” bridge. Only his young daughter, Poppy, knows that behind his prickly veneer, Mitchell still grieves the loss of her mother.
Then one hot day, everything changes when Mitchell courageously rescues a woman who falls from the bridge into the river. He’s surprised to feel an unexpected connection to her, but she disappears before he can ask her name. Desperate to find out her identity, Mitchell is shocked to learn she’s been missing for almost a year. He teams up with her spirited sister, Liza, on a quest to find her again. However, she’s left only one clue behind—a message on the padlock she hung on the bridge.
Brimming with Phaedra Patrick’s signature charm and a sparkling cast of characters, The Secrets of Love Story Bridge follows one man’s journey to unlock his heart and discover new beginnings in the unlikeliest places.


He wasn’t a hero, or a celebrity, or a confidant. He was just a man, nothing more and often less.

What surprised me most about this book is that I was easily able to relate to a male lead in a romance novel. How novel! It was a refreshing change to see the highs and lows of a budding romance through a male perspective.

Mitchell was made even more relatable to me because he was a planner – a real Danny Tanner type (Full House). He made lists, he pinned things up, there may have been charts involved – I love that! Writers who give their characters little quirks like that instantly make them more believable and genuine. I love it when a character always tugs their ear, shuffles their feet, or wrinkles their nose. It’s a trait that you can “see” that gives them more life on the page. And because so many things start to go against Mitchell’s well-planned life itinerary, readers innately sense his frustration and discomfort. We get inside his head – a great place to be when reading romance!

…there’s no such thing as perfection, just two people trying to make the most of their time together.

I may have read more romance in recent months than I have read in my lifetime (thanks, Harlequin!). Some are winners and some are instantly forgettable. Then there are those that have little nuggets of wisdom and encouragement that stick with you.

It was uplifting to read about the highs and lows of a single father bouncing back from unimaginable loss and opening himself back up to life and love. Although I was hoping for a less predictable ending, getting there was still a pleasant journey.


The Secrets of Love Story Bridge is available now at any of the following retailers:


Phaedra Patrick

Phaedra Patrick is the author of The Library of Lost and Found, Rise and Shine, Benedict Stone and The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, which has been published in over twenty countries around the world. She studied art and marketing, and has worked as a stained-glass artist, film festival organizer and communications manager. An award-winning short story writer, she now writes full-time. She lives in Saddleworth, UK, with her husband and son.


The Sun is Also A Star

“The universe stops and waits for us.” -The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon


Author: Nicola Yoon

(4.08 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / YA / Romance

Format: Hardcover

Publication Date: November 1, 2016, by Delacorte Press (Hardcover)

Pages: 384 (Hardcover)

#TheSunIsAlsoAStar #NicolaYoon


Maybe part of falling in love with someone else is also falling in love with yourself.

Romance. Yuck! OK, now that I got that out of my system, I LOVED this book. How is that even possible? How is it that a sardonic old cynic like myself can go gaga over a book that is entirely about two kids falling head over heels in love with each other? The answer is simpler than you think, but let’s read the book blurb together first…

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.
Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store – for both of us.
The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?


No obstacles in the way, please. No one needs to get bruised up falling in love. I just want to fall the way everybody else gets to.

The Sun is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon is a book that I originally included in my March Movie Madness challenge. I wanted to read the book then watch the movie and compare the two.

Then, in only a matter of days, the world changed.

With all the upheaval from jobs and schools, I was more than a little distracted. Instead of having more reading time, I actually find that I now have less. Instead, I am spending most of my time entertaining an 11 year old girl who is substituting me for all of her very talkative friends.

OK, so I didn’t finish this book during my March challenge, but I still really wanted to read it and watch the movie (the movie is still pending). I really surprised myself with how much I actually liked to read about these two people finding each other in such a random – or not? – way.

We’re meant to walk through this world together. I see it in her eyes. We are meant to be.

So how did Nicola Yoon manage to tug at my heart strings with this entirely cute book? Like I said before, the answer is easy: she included a character with whom I identify. Natasha isn’t a starry-eyed romantic. She believes in science and rules and facts. She doesn’t have a use for love or romance and, amazingly, she finds both. Yes, Natasha is a fictional character, but doggone it, I like to think that if her heart can be turned from the “darkside”, then there is hope for the rest of us!

The poetic heart is not to be trusted with long-term decision-making.

Give me a book like this any day – short chapters that let you travel through the story at breakneck speed or as leisurely as you’d like. And each chapter another insight into who these people are that we’re following all over NYC. I loved getting to know their families, those other motivations for the people that want to have some influence over them. Those other opinions and actions definitely make a difference to our main character and to the outcome of their stories.

In the end, this is more than a love story. It’s a story about fate and circumstance, about timing and how the decisions that others make have lasting effects on our own lives, time and time again. There is probability, there is chance, and there is a certain science behind the chemistry between two people and the possibility that they will be together forever. One can always hope.

The Sun is Also a Star Book Playlist:

  • Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit (1st trip to USCIS bldg / Natasha)
  • Bob Dylan – Blowin’ in the Wind (Daniel at home)
  • Bob Marley – No Woman, No Cry (Natasha at home)
  • Temple of the Dog – Hunger Strike (Record Store)
  • Pearl Jam – Yellow Ledbetter (Coffee shop)
  • Abba – Take a Chance on Me (Norebang karaoke / Daniel)
  • Soundgarden – Fell on Black Days (Norebang karaoke / Natasha)

Ready Player One Movie Trailer

Nicola Yoon

Nicola Yoon grew up in Jamaica and Brooklyn and lives in Los Angeles with her family. She’s also a hopeless romantic who firmly believes that you van fall in love in an instant and that it can last forever. -Bio adapted from book cover


P.S. I Still Love You (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, # 2)

“They were just pretending. Until they weren’t.” -P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han


Author: Jenny Han

(4.13 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / YA / Romance

Format: Paperback

Publication Date: January 31, 2017, by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Pages: 337 (Paperback)

#PSIStillLoveYou #JennyHan #ToAllTheBoysIveLovedBefore


Lara Jean, I think you half-fall in love with every person you meet. It’s part of your charm. You’re in love with love.

Ahhh, high school. I remember it well. All the teen angst and uncertainty. Does he like me? Do I like him? Does he like her more than me? Do we have a pop quiz in Algebra today? All of these were very scary prospects in 11th grade. Lara Jean Covey can definitely relate to teen angst. Let’s check out the blurb…

Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter. They were just pretending. Until they weren’t. And now Lara Jean has to learn what it’s like to be in a real relationship and not just a make-believe one. But when another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him suddenly return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once? … Lara Jean is about to find out that falling in love is the easy part.


But the act of writing a letter, … it’s far more deliberate. … A letter is something to keep.

Since I’m highlighting stories this month that went from page to screen, P.S. I Still Love You is the perfect book to review today – especially since its highly anticipated Netflix premier was all the rage this past February.

I read the sequel to Lara Jean’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before story and I loved it almost as much as the original. But would I like the movie just as much as the book? Is that always and forever going to be the thing with page-to-screen? Are we always doomed to compare the two and proclaim which one is better? Can we ever just… love them both? <gasp!>

All I can say is, if that boy was my boyfriend, I’d never let him go.

So, the short answer is, yes. Just as I would advise Lara Jean that it is entirely possible to love two guys at the same time, we can definitely love both the book and the movie adaptation the same way. While I absolutely prefer the way the book handles this story, the movie has its own charm which I also really appreciate.

Jenny Han captures the heart of her characters so well. Readers get totally wrapped up in the lives of these teenagers – their loves, their disappointments, and their ability to bounce back from all kinds of craziness. I remember those days! And, just like I felt with To All the Boys…, the final chapter came much too quickly.

I loved this romantic YA novel and – dare I say it? – I’m really looking forward to Always and Forever, Lara Jean… the book AND the movie!


P.S. I Still Love You Movie Trailer

Jenny Han

Jenny Han is the author of bestselling books that have been published in more than thirty languages. A former librarian, Jenny earned her MFA in creative writing at the New School. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. -Bio from http://dearjennyhan.com/


The Kissing Game

“I bet you a kiss you can’t resist me.” -The Kissing Game by Marie Harte

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Sourcebook Casablanca, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Marie Harte

(2.86 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Adult Romance / Contemporary

Format: Kindle

Publication Date: February 4, 2020, by Sourcebooks Casablanca

Pages: 320 (Kindle version)

#TheKissingGame #MarieHarte


…to say Rena was a romantic was like saying Picasso had toyed with painting.

Picture your perfect Valentine’s Day celebration. Does it involve an embarrassingly large flower delivery? An uber-cuddly teddy bear holding a dozen red roses? Or maybe an insanely big diamond being handed to you by the man of your dreams who just happens to be down on one knee? Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a day to celebrate love, but it’s also a day that can pack on the pressure – especially if your relationship is anything like Rena and Axel’s. Check out the blurb…

Rena Jackson is ready. She’s worked her tail off to open up her own hair salon, and she’s almost ready to quit her job at the dive bar. Rena’s also a diehard romantic, and she’s had her eye on bar regular Axel Heller for a while. He’s got that tall-brooding-and-handsome thing going big time. Problem is, he’s got that buttoned-up Germanic ice man thing going as well. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, Rena’s about ready to give up on Axel and find her own Mr. Right. Game on. At six foot six, Axel knows he intimidates most people. He’s been crushing on the gorgeous waitress for months. But the muscled mechanic is no romantic, and his heart is buried so deep, he has no idea how to show Rena what he feels. He knows he’s way out of his depth and she’s slipping away. So, he makes one crazy, desperate play.


I try to forget I want a boyfriend, a lover, a friend who’ll put me first. But that desire for love is always there.

You’ve got a beautiful, single, driven woman and you’ve got a handsome, single, successful, dedicated man; it’s a recipe for a classic love story, right? Mmm… maybe. You’ve got the love story part right anyway. But nothing about Rena and Axel’s love story could be considered “classic”.

He’s a giant, moody brawler, and she’s a headstrong businesswoman longing for a real-life love. So what could possibly keep them apart? Try a violent father, bad timing, and a gang of white supremacists. Yeah, that’ll do it.

Heller is great and all, but he’s too wild. And honestly, I don’t think he could romance his way out of a kissing booth.

OK, so this romance has some serious draws – a hunky leading man and a charming leading lady, some serious roadblocks to love, and a large supporting cast that keeps the dialog busy. So why only 2 stars?

Well, I had no preconceived notions going into this cute-covered romance. It’s my first by this author, so I had no idea what to expect or what I’d be getting into. Turns out, although the premise was entirely appealing, the actual story was less than it had the potential to be. There was a lot of repetitive action and several senseless misunderstandings that seemed manufactured for the sake of adding conflict. Guys, I really, really wanted to like this book so much more than I actually did.

However, if you are looking for a quick, VDay-themed, sex-infused romance, or if you’re just really into hot German men – oh, and hunky firefighters! – then don’t count this one out.


The Kissing Game is available February 4, 2020 at any of the following retailers:


Marie Harte

Award-winning author Marie Harte has been writing professionally since 2005. She’s both a NY Times and USA Today bestselling author and has written over 110 books and counting. Marie writes books with heat and humor.
-Bio courtesy of marieharte.com