Review: The Heir Affair (Royal We #2) by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Making it up the aisle was the easy part: After marrying the heir to the throne, Rebecca “Bex” Porter must survive her own scandals as she adjusts to life in the glamorous British royal family, in this “highly anticipated” follow-up to The Royal We, the “fun and dishy” bestseller and NYT Summer Reading List pick inspired by Will and Kate’s romance (People).

After a scandalous secret turns their fairy-tale wedding into a nightmare, Rebecca “Bex” Porter and her husband Prince Nicholas are in self-imposed exile. The public is angry. The Queen is even angrier. And the press is salivating. Cutting themselves off from friends and family, and escaping the world’s judgmental eyes, feels like the best way to protect their fragile, all-consuming romance.

But when a crisis forces the new Duke and Duchess back to London, the Band-Aid they’d placed over their problems starts to peel at the edges. Now, as old family secrets and new ones threaten to derail her new royal life, Bex has to face the emotional wreckage she and Nick left behind: with the Queen, with the world, and with Nick’s brother Freddie, whose sins may not be so easily forgotten — nor forgiven.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

The Heir Affair publishes June 16, 2020. 

I remember being very pleasantly surprised by how much I loved The Royal We and I was so excited to see it was finally getting a sequel. Much like the first book, it wasn’t really what I was expecting it to be, but it was everything. This is easily my favorite book of the year so far.

I decided to re-read the first book before jumping into The Heir Affair and I’m glad I did. I loved it just as much the second time around, maybe even more. I found myself still getting very anxious or sad at parts, even though I knew how everything turned out, which I think is a real testament to the writing. I am so invested in these characters and I already miss them.

The Heir Affair picks up soon after The Royal We ended. The first book was written to be a standalone and it ended on a very positive note of implied Happily Ever After. However, that’s not quite how things turned out. And really, can we expect anything to be that easy for Bex and Nick? Right as the royal wedding was ending, Clive published his story about Bex and Freddie and the public immediately turned on them. Bex and Nick end up running away from their problems for awhile and get to start married life in their own private bubble, which they’ve always thrived in. Once they have to return to reality, though, they have to face everything they’ve ignored – especially the Freddie of it all.

I would love to tell you that things were easily worked out and it was all cute and funny and happily ever after. And while there was definitely a lot of cute and funny, there is so much more substance to it than that. That means that along with the fun banter and the highs, there were also some real lows. It gave my cold, black heart some FEELINGS and I loved every minute of it, even when I kind of hated what was happening sometimes. There are a lot of layers to this story, but at the forefront are the big three relationships: Bex and Nick, Nick and Freddie, and Bex and Freddie. There is just so much emotion there to unpack and I felt all of it. They each had to work at mending their relationships and coming to terms with their feelings and I think it wrapped up in realistic and satisfying ways, if not quite the neat little bow I like things tied up in.

As I mentioned previously, I absolutely love the characters in this series. I loved seeing Bex’s friends, Cilla, Gaz, and Bea again. We didn’t see quite as much as Cilla as we did in the first book, but both Gaz and Bea had some good subplots. I had absolutely hated Bex’s twin sister, Lacey, in the first book and was kind of hoping she’d be killed off or something here, but she was actually quite palatable in this one. She was the character I wished she was in the first book. I loved watching Bex begin an actual relationship with members of Nick’s family, especially the queen. And of course, my dear Freddie. He grew up so much in this book and while my heart broke for him time and time again, I like to think that he’s found his own happily ever after. I still wouldn’t mind a Freddie spin-off, though. And can I just say that one of my favorite things about this series is that Freddie’s nickname for Nick is Knickers. I love the relationship between these brothers and they really put me through the wringer in this one.

Overall, I absolutely loved The Heir Affair. This review does not even come close to expressing how much. The cute cover and overall storyline may fool you into thinking this is just a light and easy Romance, but it is emotional and intense – in the very best of ways. It’s very character driven and has many threads to connect, but I think the authors did a great job of tying everything together. There were a couple things left a little more open than I like, though, which I have my fingers crossed means that another book will be coming in the future. This is a must read for anyone who’s read The Royal We and if you haven’t started this series yet, you really should.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Always a Bridesmaid (Getting Hitched in Dixie #2) by Cindi Madsen

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Violet Abrams has always been in love with everything love and weddings. Good thing, too, since she’s been a bridesmaid no less than seven times. Sure her turn was next, she’d been planning her own nuptials meticulously in a treasured three-ring binder…until her longtime boyfriend left her for someone else.

Fast-forward to the day of his wedding, an ill-advised match being lit to said binder, and the fire department getting called to her sister’s bakery. Violet’s always been a little impulsive and a lot awkward, but having to explain to the super-cute firefighter, Ford Maguire, why she was setting fire to a bunch of wedding dress photos? Worst day ever.

Except now her bridesmaid expertise has her helping Ford cover his “man of honor” duties in his best friend’s upcoming wedding. Ford may be a “bridesdude,” but forever is the last thing on his mind. And if there’s one thing a perpetual bridesmaid knows, it’s the importance of a happily ever after.

Each book in the Getting Hitched in Dixie series is STANDALONE:
* Just One of the Groomsmen
* Always a Bridesmaid

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

Always a Bridesmaid publishes May 26, 2020. 

I really loved Just One of the Groomsmen and have been eagerly awaiting another book in the series. I am happy to report that I enjoyed Always a Bridesmaid just as much as Just One of the Groomsmen – maybe even more.

One of the things I loved about the first book so much was the group of friends. I loved being able to revisit them and enjoyed their always fun banter. I also liked how they always look out for each other. I’m glad that we got to see Addie work on planning her wedding to Tucker. I really enjoyed getting to know Ford better this time around. He was a great leading man and I definitely shipped him with Violet. I thought their romance was so cute and I really enjoyed watching it unfold.

I thought Violet was a likable main character, as well. She had a lot of baggage in the form of a cheating ex and tenuous relationship with her father and step-mother, but I liked how she was determined to move forward. She also has pretty severe ADHD and I thought that was interesting to read about. I did think she maybe acted a little more bi-polar sometimes than someone with just ADHD, but it did make me look at ADHD in a new light and have more understanding for people who live with that.

Overall, I really loved Always a Bridesmaid. I loved Ford and Violet together and really shipped their romance. I also loved seeing Ford’s group of friends again and all of his adorable dogs. I definitely recommend this series to Romance fans and can’t wait for Easton’s book next!

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

When their foster-turned-adoptive mother suddenly dies, four brothers struggle to keep open the doors of her beloved Harlem knitting shop, while dealing with life and love in Harlem.

Jesse Strong is known for two things: his devotion to his adoptive mom, Mama Joy, and his reputation for breaking hearts in Harlem. When Mama Joy unexpectedly passes away, he and his brothers have different plans on what to do with Strong Knits, their neighborhood knitting store: Jesse wants to keep the store open; his brothers want to shut it down.

Jesse makes an impassioned plea to Kerry Fuller, his childhood friend who has had a crush on him her entire life, to help him figure out how to run the business. Kerry agrees to help him reinvent the store and show him the knitty-gritty of the business, but the more time they spend together, the more the chemistry builds. Kerry, knowing Jesse’s history, doesn’t believe this relationship will exist longer than one can knit one, purl one. But Jesse is determined to prove to her that he can be the man for her—after all, real men knit.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

Real Men Knit publishes May 19, 2020. 

I have to admit that I wanted to like this book much more than I actually liked it. The synopsis sounded cute and I liked that there was a diverse cast. I was looking forward to some fun family dynamics between the brothers, too. Unfortunately, I found everything that happened really lackluster.

I wasn’t very impressed with the writing, though it did get better as it went on. The first couple chapters were extremely heavy on the internal monologues that set up the story was a massive info dump of characters and circumstances. I would have liked to have seen things start out a little more naturally and get to know the characters in a more authentic way. After two chapters I almost decided to DNF it since I knew I couldn’t take a whole book written in this way. However, I kept reading and it got a little better. There were still some parts where I skimmed when things got a little dense, but it became much easier to read.

While I liked Jesse and Kelly well enough, all the other characters were pretty one-dimensional. I was really looking forward to seeing the relationship between the brothers, but it was pretty underwhelming. I had a hard time even telling some of them apart. I expected to see them bond and come together as they grieved the passing of their mother, but that didn’t really happen. I felt like there was so much potential there and it just didn’t live up to it.

Overall, Real Men Knit left me underwhelmed. I really wanted to like it, but poor character development and a writing style I didn’t connect with kept me from really enjoying it. There were a few funny or cute moments, but they were too few and far between to make up for the rest of the story. While the book wasn’t for me, I’m sure there will be some others than can overlook the issues I had with it and enjoy the romance.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2.5 Stars

Review: The Bright Lands by John Fram

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

The town of Bentley holds two things dear: its football, and its secrets. But when star quarterback Dylan Whitley goes missing, an unremitting fear grips this remote corner of Texas.

Joel Whitley was shamed out of conservative Bentley ten years ago, and while he’s finally made a life for himself as a gay man in New York, his younger brother’s disappearance soon brings him back to a place he thought he’d escaped for good. Meanwhile, Sheriff’s Deputy Starsha Clark stayed in Bentley; Joel’s return brings back painful memories—not to mention questions—about her own missing brother. And in the high school hallways, Dylan’s friends begin to suspect that their classmates know far more than they’re telling the police. Together, these unlikely allies will stir up secrets their town has long tried to ignore, drawing the attention of dangerous men who will stop at nothing to see that their crimes stay buried.

But no one is quite prepared to face the darkness that’s begun to haunt their nightmares, whispering about a place long thought to be nothing but an urban legend: an empty night, a flicker of light on the horizon—The Bright Lands.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

The Bright Lands publishes July 7, 2020. 

Ok, let me first say that when I requested this book, I was binging Friday Night Lights and I didn’t exactly read the full synopsis. I saw football and Texas and secrets and that was enough for me. The Bright Lands ended up being much different than I was expecting. It wasn’t exactly the kind of book I usually go for, but the characters made me keep reading.

This review is going to be short because most of my thoughts on the plot would be full of spoilers. So what can I actually say? The story was told through multiple points of view and I think those were well done. It really moved the story along and I was invested in all the characters. Early on in the story I wasn’t sure if this was a book I wanted to finish, but the characters kept me going. I expected a small town mystery, but there were definite Horror vibes, too. Horror is not really my genre, so take it with a grain of salt when I say it made me take a lot of things way less seriously than I otherwise would have. There are also major themes of hypocrisy and  homophobia, along with a lot of drugs, violence, assault, pedophilia, and demons (some metaphorical, one real). We spend most of the book waiting to find out what the mysterious Bright Lands are and while I did come to have my suspicions, it ended up being another eye rolling disappointment.

Overall, The Bright Lands wasn’t really for me. I didn’t appreciate the horror aspects and the overall tone of resentment and regret made me a little more depressed during already depressing times (though you can also take that as a compliment to the writing, I guess). I did really like the multiple POVs and was invested in the characters, though. While the story itself wasn’t really my cup of tea, I think there are a lot of readers out there that will enjoy this one a lot more than I did.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2.5 Stars

Review: Admission by Julie Buxbaum

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Tell Me Three Things comes an of-the-moment novel that peeks inside the private lives of the hypercompetitive and the hyperprivileged and takes on the college admissions bribery scandal that rocked the country.

It’s good to be Chloe Wynn Berringer. She’s headed off to the college of her dreams. She’s going to prom with the boy she’s had a crush on since middle school. Her best friend always has her back, and her mom, a B-list Hollywood celebrity, may finally be on her way to the B+ list. It’s good to be Chloe Wynn Berringer–at least, it was, until the FBI came knocking on her front door, guns at the ready, and her future went up in smoke. Now her mother is under arrest in a massive college admissions bribery scandal. Chloe, too, might be facing charges, and even time behind bars. The public is furious, the press is rabid, and the US attorney is out for blood.

As she loses everything she’s long taken for granted, Chloe must reckon not only with the truth of what happened, but also with the examination of her own guilt. Why did her parents think the only way for her to succeed was to cheat for her? What did she know, and when did she know it? And perhaps most importantly, what does it mean to be complicit?

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review. 

Updated Publication Date for Admission: December 1, 2020

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard about the big College Admission Scandal. Many wealthy parents, including a couple celebrities, used a “consultant” to cheat their kids into prestigious colleges. Admission is an account of a fictional family facing the fall out. However, if you’re hoping for more emotional insight than you’ve seen on the news – or that Lifetime Channel movie – then you’re going to be a little disappointed.

The crimes of Chloe’s parents are taken directly out of the headlines and seems to be a combination of both Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, though I definitely felt more of a tilt towards Loughlin. The story read a lot like the Lifetime movie of the scandal, except the movie was a little more interesting. The slow pace and unlikable characters made the book a chore to get through. There is even a part early on where Chloe is in English class discussing a book and is reminded that readers don’t need to like characters in literature, which feels like a cop out for not making the characters of this book more developed or empathetic.

The chapters alternate between Now and Then, with the Now chapters starting with the FBI showing up and the Then chapters starting with Chloe struggling to study for the SATs. I have to say I found the Now chapters much more interesting. Most of the Then chapters felt a little like filler that basically just highlighted all the ways that Chloe was unaware of her rich, white privilege. There are snippets of Chloe ignoring the weird things her parents were doing – telling her she has ADHD to get accommodations on the SAT, going through her phone to find a picture where she has a good tan that someone might be able to confuse for some Argentinian heritage, etc. The past chapters also chronicled her relationship with her best friend and friend-turned-boyfriend, who were both pretty underdeveloped caricatures.

I think the story would have benefited by adding some other POVs. Or even making at least one of the characters a little more calculating. Here everyone knows what they’re doing isn’t on the up and up exactly, but they also don’t think it’s really that bad. The whole point of the story seems to be to cast a light on how privileged people don’t fully grasp their privilege and it’s effect on others. All explained to us by a privileged white lady…

Overall, I found Admission pretty disappointing. The main character was whiny and unrelatable, there wasn’t really anything in the story that you haven’t already read in the news, and the overall moral of the story about wealthy, white privilege came across as kind of trite. Also, the cute romance I expect from a Buxbaum book was almost completely missing here. The one bright spot in the book was Chloe’s sister, Isla, who was the only character who didn’t feel like a complete cliche, even if she was a little unrealistic.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2 Stars

Review: Chasing Lucky by Jenn Bennett

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Budding photographer Josie Saint-Martin has spent half her life with her single mother, moving from city to city. When they return to her historical New England hometown years later to run the family bookstore, Josie knows it’s not forever. Her dreams are on the opposite coast, and she has a plan to get there.

What she doesn’t plan for is a run-in with the town bad boy, Lucky Karras. Outsider, rebel…and her former childhood best friend. Lucky makes it clear he wants nothing to do with the newly returned Josie. But everything changes after a disastrous pool party, and a poorly executed act of revenge lands Josie in some big-time trouble—with Lucky unexpectedly taking the blame.

Determined to understand why Lucky was so quick to cover for her, Josie discovers that both of them have changed, and that the good boy she once knew now has a dark sense of humor and a smile that makes her heart race. And maybe, just maybe, he’s not quite the brooding bad boy everyone thinks he is…

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review. 

Updated Publishing Date for Chasing Lucky: November 10, 2020. 

When I pick up a Jenn Bennett book, I expect a cute and quirky story with fun banter and lots of drama. Chasing Lucky was all those things.

What I Liked

-I’ve read some so-so reviews of this book, so I went in with lowered expectations and I think that worked out for me. I enjoyed Chasing Lucky. While it felt a little too long at times, I did fly through this 400+ page book in about 24 hours.

-While Josie did frustrate me (more on that later), she was mostly pretty likable.

-I adored Lucky! He was so precious. He put on a front for awhile, but once he and Josie started spending more time together, he kind of wore his heart on his sleeve and was just so sweet. He pretty much made this book for me.

-I definitely shipped Josie and Lucky together. I loved watching their friendship grow into more. I thought they went really well together. And I loved their banter!

What Didn’t Work for Me

-I felt like there were too many storylines that were just enough to add some drama, but lacked any real substance. Josie has a cousin in a horribly toxic relationship and it’s not really given the attention such a serious topic deserves. There’s a lot of stuff Josie says about her mother’s actions and possible depression that aren’t really explored. Lucky’s behavior is attributed to an event that is explained in about a paragraph and barely addressed again, even though it’s pretty obvious the boy would benefit from some mental health counseling. I just wish some of these would have been either cut out or addressed more fully. I didn’t feel closure with any of them. It just added a lot of unnecessary drama and made this book much longer than it needed to be.

-Bennett went to a lot of trouble of describing the cute and quirky town and while it sounded like it should be charming, I felt like we weren’t supposed to like it. While the town is cute, basically every person in it sucks. Except for Luck’s family.

-One of my biggest pet peeves is when all the drama is caused by lack of communication and that was basically the whole plot of this book. Josie’s family is famous for their inability to communicate and it drove me nuts. They did eventually get better by the end of the book, but it didn’t lessen my frustration with them.

-Josie does something she shouldn’t and Lucky ends up taking all the blame for it and it really made me mad that Josie just let him. Even when it became obvious that he could get in serious trouble for it, she just kept her mouth shut. I had a hard time respecting her at all for awhile.

Overall

Overall, I enjoyed Chasing Lucky. I loved Lucky and shipped Josie with him. I liked their banter and the romance. There was a little too much drama and lack of communication for me, though. I think some of it could have easily been cut out to make the book a little shorter and more focused. I think fans of Bennett will still enjoy this one, though.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3.5 Stars

Review: The First Date by Zara Stoneley

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

From the USA Today bestselling author of The Wedding Date!

Right place.
Right time.
Wrong guy …

After breaking up with her childhood sweetheart, clueless dater Rosie has found herself in a boyfriend-drought. So when she finally swipes right on a guy who seems interested, she can’t wait to meet up IRL.

Until she’s left standing alone. In a bar. Ghosted.

Enter Noah. Confident, funny … and a serial first dater. Offering to give Rosie a crash course in seduction, this could be just what she needs. Until her matchmaker turns out to be the best date she’s ever had – and Rosie wonders if she wants the fake dates to be the real ones after all …

A hilarious, heartwarming romantic comedy about what happens when the wrong guy turns up at the right time, perfect for fans of Sophie Kinsella and Debbie Johnson.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

The First Date publishes April 24, 2020. 

What I Liked

-So. Much. Banter! I loved it! Rosie and Noah had such a great give and take and I smiled so much when reading their conversations. I also really enjoyed their growing friendship. I thought they complemented each other well and I definitely shipped them.

-I liked Rosie’s relationship with her mother. As I expect in a Stoneley book, the mother was a little zany, but she wasn’t quite as crazy as she could have been. I liked that her character showed a lot of growth in the story, as well.

-I was in the mood for something light and cute and The First Date was exactly that. Was it predictable? Sure. But, that didn’t hinder any of my enjoyment of the story.

What Didn’t Work for Me

-Rosie has daddy issues for days. Which is fine, but I just felt like it was brought up way too much. Her comparing Noah to her father or recounting how awful her father can make her feel about herself was brought up repeatedly in every chapter. Sometimes it felt like it came out of nowhere and didn’t really fit in context. It was a little disappointing because I found some of her issues with her father very relatable, but I was pretty over it by the end of the story. I also don’t feel like she really got any satisfying resolution to it.

Overall

Overall, I enjoyed The First Date. I loved Rosie and Noah together so much, especially their banter. I wish the daddy issues weren’t quite so prevalent, but I did like how those issues highlighted Rosie’s mother’s growth. I’m looking forward to reading more from Stoneley in the future.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3.5 Stars