Christmas Book Review: “Merry Ex-Mas” by Courtney Walsh

It’s that time of year already, and I’m totally happy about it! I’m talking about time to read Christmas stories. I have quite a few on my TBR from last year still, so here’s hoping I get to some this season. The first one I have crossed off my list is a new RomCom release from author Courtney Walsh: Merry Ex-Mas.

About the Book

I haven’t been home for Christmas in eight years.

But that’s about to change. This year, I’m traveling to my small hometown to convince my producer to make me the permanent host of Good Day Denver.

The plan: Charm viewers by sharing my favorite family Christmas traditions, and in turn, get the likes, clicks and shares to land the job.

Not the plan: Running into my ex-boyfriend.

In my house.

For Christmas.

But here he is, a guest of my mother, who apparently had more trouble letting go of Max Weber than I did.

Unfortunately, he is as handsome and charming and talented and annoying and frustrating and flirty as ever.

Even more unfortunately, he seems to have a plan of his own—to convince me to give him a second chance.

Which is not happening.

There’s just one problem—my viewers love him. More than that, they love us. Me and Max. My ex.

The boy who broke my heart.

The boy I now have to fake flirt with to win over the hearts of my viewers.

But it’s not their hearts I’m worried about. . . it’s mine.

Merry Ex-Mas is a sweet, small town, second chance romance with a dash of not-so-fake flirting, a tiny bit of enemies to lovers and just enough forced proximity to make things sizzle.

Goodreads | Amazon | BookBub

Review

Merry Ex-Mas by Courtney Walsh is an ADORABLE, hilarious, romcom of a Christmas story, filled with Christmas traditions and an emotional second chance romance. When Marin’s trip home turns into an opportunity for a work promotion, a little forced proximity and fake dating come into the mix with Max — and he’s clear up front his flirting will NOT be fake 🙂

There’s something about Courtney Walsh’s stories when she uses a second chance trope (delightedly, there have been a few!): she writes just the right amount of history and angst for the reader to be curious and invested in the couple from an early point. In Max’s case, especially, I liked that he is certain of his goals and endgame where Marin is concerned nearly from the beginning. They have to work through grief and hurt to get back to a healthy place in their relationship with each other and their perspective on life, and they do so in a way that’s realistic and natural. Themes of identity and belonging come into play amidst all the twinkling holiday traditions and banter.

A few of my favorite little things about Merry Ex-Mas: I swooned when Max bought Marin her favorite coffee creamer; Marin’s mom, Lydia, is hilarious and discerning; talk of genuine smiles; Marin’s clumsiness; the phrase “leave room for Jesus”.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Audiobook Review: The Enemy by Sarah Adams

Welcome! I’m sharing about Sarah Adams’ romcom The Enemy, the second book in her “It Happened in Charleston” duology. It recently released in audiobook!

About the Book

It’s been twelve years since I’ve seen him, twelve years since he won our war of wits by outsmarting me with a tactic I didn’t even know was allowed. But tonight…I’m going to resurrect the battle. 

Ryan Henderson is back in town for our best friends’ wedding, and I plan on showing him exactly how much I don’t care about him—or the almost kiss he ruthlessly dangled over me after graduation. But things have changed since then. I’m a successful bakery owner now, and I plan to rub every delicious detail of my life in his ugly face. There’s just one problem: his face is gorgeous. He wasn’t supposed to look like this or pursue me like a sexy guided missile. I have to stay strong until the wedding is over and Ryan scurries back into whatever alternate universe he escaped from. His interest in me is nothing but a continuation of the games we played in high school…right? 

But the longer he stays, the more I wonder if I’m wrong and his tender smile and heated attentions are genuine. Maybe it’s not a game. Ha! Who am I kidding? This is Ryan we’re talking about. Of course it’s a game—a game called war—and this time I will win.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The Enemy is a fun frenemies-to-lovers romcom with a foodie element, southern charm, and ANTICS. In true Sarah Adams fashion, this story follows an extremely relatable heroine, June, as she maid of honor duties for her BFF while encountering her high school nemesis (whom she’s secretly crushed on forever), Ryan, as the best man. Hilarity ensues as Ryan, also pining for “June Bug” forever, engages in a war-like effort to win her over as a friend and convince her they have a real connection that could result in major romantic sparks. And does it ever!

I love how Sarah Adams is able to portray truly laugh out loud situations that feel believable then turn around and have you feeling deep emotions as you get to know the heartaches and past of the characters.

A quick note about the audiobook: it has one of the BEST male narrators I’ve heard in contemporary! Both narrators do a good job, but he knocks it out of the park and just *sounds* like I imagine Ryan to be, with all his personality.

Thank you to Netgalley for the audiobook review copy. This is my honest review.

Mini Book Reviews, edition 3

It has been a while since I’ve posted mini reviews! These books are ones I read for “me”, not with any review or critique in mind, but are some I greatly enjoyed and wanted to share a bit about in this corner of the blogosphere.

Please visit the Goodreads links in each title to learn more about each book!

A Stroke of Malice and A Wicked Conceit by Anna Lee Huber (Lady Darby Mysteries 8 and 9) | 1832 Scotland, Historical Mystery

These two books are, of course, FANTASTIC mysteries in this series! I love so many things about these characters and the development of their stories. Huber wields setting skillfully to influence the tone of the story and make each of these mysteries unique. A Stroke of Malice, in particular, was fascinating to see unfold as the identity of the victim remains in doubt for a large part of the story.

Of course, I am happily satisfied with the way Gage and Kiera’s relationship continues to be a factor, with their romance and dynamic broadening to include a larger cast of familiar characters. And Anderley and Bree have some interesting things happen (maybe between them?) in these two books, so I am excited to see that develop. I really enjoyed the return to Edinburgh for the setting of A Wicked Conceit.

On Wings of Devotion by Roseanna M. White (The Codebreakers 2) | 1917 London, Historical Romance

I LOVE this book and series! What an engaging historical romance. I was riveted by both the historical setting and bits of suspense AND the unfolding friendship-to-romance between Ara and Cam. He’s the brooding, wounded type with a soft heart who knows immediately what a gem Arabelle is — and he does everything in his power to support her.

Provenance by Carla Laureano | “Jasper Lake” and Denver, CO; Pasadena, CA, Contemporary Romance

Carla Laureano writes raw and realistic characters, and Kendall and Gabe are my newest favorites! Their journey to romance begins with a tentative and unlikely friendship, and I love seeing them recognize and bring out the best qualities in each other. This storyline doesn’t shy away from tough questions and themes, everything from identity, heritage, faith, abandonment, and even a Christian perspective of sexuality are examined. The small town mountain lake setting is idyllic and charming (and is a good contrast to the largely urban feel of Laureano’s recent series set in Denver), and the fascinating topics of architecture and small town politics are thoroughly explored.

Falling in Somerset by Jenny B. Jones | Sugar Creek, Arkansas and Bath & London, England, RomCom

Falling in Somerset is a cute and sweet romance. I loved getting to know the bookish heroine and the sports-loving, totally-a-catch hero, Duke. This little novella combines a friends-to-lovers situation with a little bit of a fake-dating scenario AND a trip to Bath, England, with all kinds of nods to Jane Austen through a “cultural” experience that turns hilarious. I especially liked how Duke is head-over-heels from the very beginning and how Tillie learns a little more about her best friend and a lot about her own strengths over the course of the story.

Review: “Meet Me in the Margins” by Melissa Ferguson

I have been on a historical fiction binge lately, so I decided to change it up by reading Melissa Ferguson’s latest romcom novel! Thanks for stopping by to check out my review of Meet Me in the Margins, a standalone novel.

About the Book

Savannah Cade is a low-level editor at Pennington Publishing, a prestigious publisher producing only the highest of highbrow titles. And while editing the latest edition of The Anthology of Medieval Didactic Poetry may be her day job, she has two secrets she’s hiding.

One: She’s writing a romance novel.

Two: She’s discovered the Book Nook—a secret room in the publishing house where she finds inspiration for her “lowbrow” hobby.

After leaving her manuscript behind one afternoon, she returns to the nook only to discover someone has written notes in the margins. Savannah’s first response to the criticism is defensive, but events transpire that force her to admit that she needs the help of this shadowy editor after all. As the notes take a turn for the romantic, and as Savannah’s madcap life gets more complicated than ever, she uses the process of elimination to identify her mysterious editor—only to discover that what she truly wants and what she should want just might not be the same. Melissa Ferguson’s latest—a love letter to books, readers, and romance—will leave fans laughing out loud and swooning in the same breath

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Meet Me In the Margins is a FUN romcom with a good balance of emotional depth — you might even say it is a blend of comedy and women’s fiction. I appreciate the humor Melissa Ferguson always brings to her stories with her unique voice. Her heroines are always relatable and her stories bring out the comedy and sentiments of everyday life.

Some hilarious situations with a Valentine’s Day trip to the courthouse, quirky authors, and a witty dart game are a few things that made me laugh in this story. As Savannah edits her own novel, tongue-in-cheek moments about writing and romance add fun to the story. Through all of the lighthearted moments, though, is an underlying story and growing experience for Savannah herself, enlightening her of insecurities and her own worth. I have to admit, I did NOT like her family for a good portion of the novel. But through some key friendships, and especially with the compassion and encouragement of the hero, Savannah comes into her own in her family and career roles.

While some have compared elements of this novel to the classic “You’ve Got Mail”, I think the note-exchanging elements are presented in their own way (not like the movie at all), and the subsequent friendship that blooms “in the margins” as a result is something I was rooting for! Plus, there’s a strong representation of the publishing industry as a backdrop to the story, which will appeal to book and story lovers alike.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Top Ten Tuesday: 2021 Releases *Still* on my TBR

It’s another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl!

Top Ten Tuesday at The Green Mockingbird

Today’s official topic is 2021 Releases I Was Excited to Read But Didn’t Get To. I could have placed quite a few books on this list, but I have chosen my top 10 want-to-read-soon books, all of which are on my shelves (physical or virtual!). Which of these books should I read first?!

2021 Releases *Still* on my TBR

Every Word Unsaid by Kimberly Duffy | Goodreads

The Mistletoe Countess by Pepper Basham | Goodreads

Heart in the Highlands by Heidi Kimball | Goodreads

The Gold in These Hills by Joanne Bischof | Goodreads

Yours is the Night by Amanda Dykes | Goodreads

Pudge and Prejudice by Allison Pittman | Goodreads

The Cheat Sheet by Sarah Adams | Goodreads

Provenance by Carla Laureano | Goodreads

Autumn by the Sea by Melissa Tagg | Goodreads

Glory Falls by Janine Rosche | Goodreads

Did you share a TTT post this week? What is still on your TBR from last year? Have you read any of these books?

Best of 2021 ~ Books & Blog Posts

Welcome to my annual “best-of” celebration!

I set a Goodreads reading goal at 80 books! Last year I exceeded this number, but this year I didn’t quite get there with 74+ ,which is fine by me! It’s an ideal, not something I really payed attention to working toward.

Looking back at my reading habits of 2021, I see I have read quite a bit of historical fiction! I’ve included more titles in the histfic category for this best-of list. If you’d like to see all of the books I read and read more extensive reviews, check out my 2021 Goodreads Year in Books or browse my blog archives.

THE (self-imposed) RULES: because sometimes I need to keep things brief, I’m choosing to share 3 things that describe each of these stories along with a link to Goodreads and my review (if applicable). At the end, I’ll be sharing popular posts on the blog this year.

All titles are inspirational fiction unless noted with *.

Best Books of 2021

Novellas

The Journey of Runs-Far by Lori Benton | Review

Redemption. Family ties. Freedom.

Snowbound by Carla Laureano | Review

Rivals. Sentimentality. Blizzard.

Split Time

On the Cliffs of Foxglove Manor by Jaime Jo Wright | Review

Atmospheric. Sibling bonds. Hope.

The London House by Katherine Reay | Review

Truth. History’s influence. Healing.

Hope Between the Pages by Pepper Basham | Review

Legacy. Longing. Story.

Contemporary

Let It Be Me by Becky Wade | Review

Dialogue! Magnetic romance. Identity.

Is It Any Wonder by Courtney Walsh | Review

Genuine characters. Forgiveness. Idyllic setting.

Beyond the Tides by Liz Johnson | Review

Dreams. Lobster determination. Joy.

Thriller & Suspense

John Eyre by Mimi Matthews* | Review

Brilliant retelling. Gothic. Threads of light.

The Curse of Morton Abbey by Clarissa Harwood* | Review

Sacrifice. Classic influence. Conquering love.

A Brush with Shadows by Anna Lee Huber* | Review

Setting as a character. Personal mystery. Married relationship growth.

Historical

The Ice Swan by J’nell Ciesielski | Review

Intrigue. Trust. Romantic prose.

Tidewater Bride by Laura Frantz | Review

Tender romance. Endurance. Riveting events.

When Twilight Breaks by Sarah Sundin | Review

Intelligent romance. Justice. Sacrificial Love.

Mountain Laurel by Lori Benton | Review

Epic story. Lyrical. Grace.

A Portrait of Loyalty by Roseanna M. White | Review

Fitting title. Unique perspective. Patterns.

The Mozart Code by Rachel McMillan (2022 release) | Review

Nuanced romance. Bravery. Sacrifice and loyalty as love.

Most popular posts:

North and South 2004. Drama, love, & social commentary in my favorite miniseries.

Most popular new book reviews:

As always, thank you for being a blog reader in 2021 and beyond. Many thanks and appreciation to the publishers and authors who have graciously included me on their review teams this year. It has been a joy to be a part of this bookish community!

What are your favorite books you read this year? Do we share any favorites? Did you post a list of favorites on your blog or social media? I’d love for you to share in the comments!

Review: “It Happened in Nashville” Duology by Sarah Adams

Let’s review! A “duology”, by definition, is a pair of related novels, plays, or movies. In author Sarah Adams’ “It Happened in Nashville” duology, two romcom novels are connected by a brother and sister — setup for some hilarious moments and fun tropes.

About the Books

The Off-Limits Rule

I have found rock bottom. It’s here, moving in with my older brother because I’m too broke to afford to live on my own. But that’s okay because we’ve always been close and I think I’m going to have fun living with him again.

That is until I meet Cooper…

Turns out, my brother has very strong opinions on the idea of me dating his best friend and is dead set against it. According to him, Cooper is everything I should stay away from: flirtatious, adventurous, non-committal, and freaking hot. (I added that last part because I feel like you need the whole picture.) My brother is right, though. I should stay away from Cooper James and his pretty blue eyes. He’s the opposite of what I need right now.

Nah—Who am I kidding? I’m going for him.

The Temporary Roomie

What happens when you have to play nice with your greatest enemy? Revenge.

Drew Marshall may have let me move into his spare bedroom while my house is being renovated, but don’t think for one second his kindness comes without strings. Big, ugly, fake relationship strings.

That’s okay, though, Dr. Andrew. I’ll agree to your terms, move into your house, and act like your girlfriend when the big day comes; but I also plan to make your life miserable—make you pay for what you did to me.

I may not be good at forgiving or forgetting, but I’m excellent at getting even.

The Off Limits Rule on Goodreads | The Temporary Roomie on Goodreads

My Thoughts

The Off Limits Rule
Hilarious in so many ways, this story affords its leads with time for friendship and romance. The chemistry between them is fantastic, as is the banter. I loved the “off limits” element of their relationship (her brother Drew realllly doesn’t want them to be together for reasons, but he doesn’t know the whole story) because it allowed for that bro-friendship to deepen. It also caused the couple’s (somewhat) restrained moments to be sweet and, on Cooper’s part, show his genuine tenderness for Lucy and empower her and enlighten insecurities.

So. Many. LOL moments! Froot loops, Italian accents, ladders and moonlight swims, grumpy brothers, Tahiti and grocery shopping! I feel like Sarah skillfully portrays Lucy as an extremely relatable heroine: her mom-ness, insecurities, fears, heart for Levi (the most darling little boy), and the way she learns to relax and feel wanted again. This book left me smiling over all the feels!


The Temporary Roomie
This is romantic comedy enemies-to-lovers at it’s best! While it combines more tropes (sister’s bff, pregnant mom romance, etc), at its heart is a rivalry that’s as hilarious as it is important to the growth and heart of the story. Instead of meaningless motives for the animosity, the reader gradually sees how the defenses are a shield for hurt and heartache for the heroine. And, for the hero, they are a release in a way that was surprising and complex.

Oh, and did I mention how FUNNY it is?! I LOLed over their sarcastic banter and rivalry over the snowman mug, especially. While it stands alone, I think it’s best enjoyed as part of the duology because the 2 main couples feature actively in both stories (and oh how it’s fun to catch up with Lucy and Cooper in this book!).

And y’all, the romance in this one made me realize I may have A Thing for medical professional heroes (maybe it’s the setup for another way they can care for & obsess over the heroines?!), because when Drew goes all professional pulse checker a few times in this one I melted.

Content note: a few *very* mild expletives throughout each, some innuendo (PG13ish), and both romances are closed door.

Top Ten Tuesday: A Tour of the British Isles in Fiction

It’s another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl!

Top Ten Tuesday at The Green Mockingbird

Today’s topic is “Favorite Book Settings”. I could go SO MANY directions with this topic, because setting is a very important part of story to me. A well written, immersive setting is like an armchair adventure to a place (or time) the reader has never been. I’ve decided to keep my choices to the UK and Ireland, or the British Isles as those islands are collectively known.

A Tour of the British Isles in Fiction

Scotland

Five Days in Skye by Carla Laureano | Contemporary adventure and love story (with a chef!), and an exploration of the Isle of Skye. My Review

Beauty Among Ruins by J’nell Ciesielski | An estate in the idyllic Scottish Lowlands is the setting for this WWI mystery and romance. My Review

A Bound Heart by Laura Frantz | This heart-deep story begins on the Isle of Kerrera, an island in the Scottish Hebrides, during the 18th century. My Review

England

The London Restoration by Rachel McMillan | Historical romance that explores the architecture of the city — and of a relationship — in post-WWII London. My Review

The Winter Companion by Mimi Matthews | Historical romance set on the coast and rambling moors of Devonshire, complete with a Dartmoor pony. My Review

Just the Way You Are by Pepper Basham | A witty romance unfolds between an Appalachian single mom and an English actor, with a healthy dose of humor and a family mystery, too. My Review

The Brontë Plot by Katherine Reay | A contemporary story of self-discovery sees the heroine, Lucy, travel to England and the Brontë’s ancestral town of Haworth — with plentiful literary references! My Review

Wales

A Song Unheard by Roseanna M. White | A little suspense and beautiful music combine in this WWI-era romance set mostly in Wales. My Review

Ireland

Star Rising by Janet Ferguson | This contemporary romance finds the characters in an unlikely pairing while on a tour of Ireland. Beautiful sights and comical mishaps combine with depth in this adventurous story.

As Death Draws Near by Anna Lee Huber | This enthralling historical tale finds newlywed investigators trekking from England to Dublin to solve a mystery. My Review

Did you share a TTT post this week? What is your favorite setting? Have you read any of these books?

Review: “Very Sincerely Yours” by Kerry Winfrey

Today I’m sharing a review of Very Sincerely Yours, a romcom by author Kerry Winfrey.

Review

A charming and heartwarming new romantic comedy by the author of Waiting for Tom Hanks, Kerry Winfrey.

Teddy Phillips never thought she’d still be spending every day surrounded by toys at almost thirty years old. But working at a vintage toy store is pretty much all she has going on in her life after being unceremoniously dumped by her longtime boyfriend. The one joy that she’s kept is her not-so-guilty pleasure: Everett’s Place, a local children’s show hosted by Everett St. James, a man whom Teddy finds very soothing . . . and, okay, cute.

Teddy finds the courage to write to him, feeling slightly like one of the children who write to him on his show. He always gives sound advice and seems like he has everything figured out–and he pretty much does: Everett has a great support system, wonderful friends, and his dream job. But there’s still that persistent feeling in the back of his mind that something’s missing.

When a woman named Theodora starts writing to Everett, he is drawn to her honesty and vulnerability. They continue writing to each other, all the while living their lives without meeting. When their worlds collide, however, they must both let go of their fears and figure out what they truly want–and if the future they want includes each other.

Goodreads | Amazon

About the Book

Very Sincerely Yours is a really cute romcom with a pop culture feel that explores how life doesn’t always turn out like you expect.

I loved the You’ve Got Mail feeling of much of this story, with an email-friendship at the heart, and even a reference to a lovely fall day. But Teddy and Everett have their own unique challenges to a romance, adding a good bit of realism to the comedy while exploring the dangers of being a workaholic and the misguided way some people try to earn others’ affection. At its heart, it’s a delicate reminder of how dreams don’t have an expiration date.

The hero’s character pays clear homage to Jim Henson and Mr. Rogers, yet he comes off as original and very endearing. The way Everett portrays the importance of understanding and relating to children is one of his best qualities (because who doesn’t love a guy that’s genuinely good with kids?!). His little sister is my FAV with her no-nonsense demeanor! Teddy’s roommates, too, add to the great supporting cast with their personalities.

“When it’s really love, you don’t have to lose yourself. Falling in love should make you more yourself.”- best unexpected advice from Sophia, Teddy’s sister.

Content note: some mild to strong expletives throughout, sensuality, and closed-door romance scenes.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Review: “Plot Twist” by Bethany Turner

Fans of romcoms (of the book or film variety) will want to take note: Plot Twist by Bethany Turner is not to be missed! Read on for more about the novel and my thoughts on this cute story.

About the Book

An aspiring screenwriter has a chance encounter with an actor who could be the man of her dreams. Over the next ten years, she’ll write the story . . . but will he end up being the star?

February 4, 2003, promises to be a typical day for Olivia Ross—a greeting card writer whose passion project is a screenplay of her own. But after she and a handsome actor have a magical meet-cute in a coffee shop, they make a spontaneous pact: in ten years, after they’ve found the success they’re just sure they’re going to achieve, they’ll return to the coffeehouse to partner up and make a film together. The only problem? Olivia neglected to get the stranger’s name. But she doesn’t forget his face—or the date.

For the next ten years, every February 4 is marked with coincidences and ironies for Olivia. As men come and go and return to her life, she continues to write, but still wonders about the guy from the coffee shop—the nameless actor she’s almost certain has turned out to be Hamish MacDougal, now a famous A-lister and Hollywood leading man.

But a lot can happen in ten years, and while waiting for the curtain to rise on her fate, the true story of Olivia’s life is being written—and if she’s not careful, she’ll completely miss the real-life romantic comedy playing out right before her eyes.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Bethany Turner’s romcoms are always fresh and brimming with pop culture. Plot Twist offers the same zest and smart plotting, but with celebrity references amped up thanks to the the LA setting and culture. This story is especially unique with its timeline and take on romance yet full of beloved tropes and one of the BEST roommate relationships I’ve come across in a while. And the hero, y’all. He’s unexpected and lovable and quite the surprise!

Plot Twist and Films
These movies all have a connection to Plot Twist 😉

I absolutely laughed and highlighted my way through this novel. The celebrity name dropping and movie references make my heart happy, particularly as a movie buff. Its setting and cast of characters are a natural springboard for Hollywood happenings. And the way the actor Hamish MacDougal resembles real-life actor Gerard Butler is uncanny 😉 and hilarious.

Plot Twist is simultaneously a unique romcom and a story that harkens back to classic and beloved romcom tropes through its wry moments of spontaneity and over the top IRONY. It has, to name a few, meet cute(s) (yes, plural), a bachelorette auction, celebrity sightings, a Hallmark-like greeting card company, dreaded exes showing up at the most inopportune times, and a bff relationship to envy.

The timeline works for the story, checking in with Olivia and friends every February 4th for ten years, and is in favor of the character development. While it could feel abrupt, Turner takes her time with each “day” and builds complexity by catching up events of the past year and showing another crazy day in Olivia’s life. Olivia learns to how to be comfortable in her own skin. along the way, and she learns to appreciate the heroes in her life who come and go — and one hero, in particular, who is there for her all along.

My very favorite part of this story is the BFF relationship Olivia has with her roommate, Fiona. Fiona is pivotal to the plot in many ways. While the romance and zany comedy are a huge part of the story, my takeaway is that a relationship like Olivia and Fiona’s is as important in life as a HEA (happily ever after).

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.