Book Review: Happy Place by Emily Henry

Title: Happy Place
Author: Emily Henry
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: April 25, 2023
Print length: 385 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Harriet and Wyn have been the perfect couple since they met in college—they go together like salt and pepper, honey and tea, lobster and rolls. Except, now—for reasons they’re still not discussing—they don’t.

They broke up six months ago. And still haven’t told their best friends.

Which is how they find themselves sharing the largest bedroom at the Maine cottage that has been their friend group’s yearly getaway for the last decade. Their annual respite from the world, where for one vibrant, blue week they leave behind their daily lives; have copious amounts of cheese, wine, and seafood; and soak up the salty coastal air with the people who understand them most.

Only this year, Harriet and Wyn are lying through their teeth while trying not to notice how desperately they still want each other. Because the cottage is for sale and this is the last week they’ll all have together in this place. They can’t stand to break their friends’ hearts, and so they’ll play their parts. Harriet will be the driven surgical resident who never starts a fight, and Wyn will be the laid-back charmer who never lets the cracks show. It’s a flawless plan (if you look at it from a great distance and through a pair of sunscreen-smeared sunglasses). After years of being in love, how hard can it be to fake it for one week… in front of those who know you best?

A couple who broke up months ago make a pact to pretend to still be together for their annual weeklong vacation with their best friends in this glittering and wise new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Emily Henry.

Emily Henry’s books have become must-reads for me, and this deceptively bright-looking book is a total win.

From the eye-wateringly hot pink cover to the title itself, we readers might safely assume that this is a carefree, joyous, lighter-than-air book. Think again! While lovely and full of funny and sweet moments, there is also a great deal of sorrow, heartache, and heartbreak in this novel.

Harriet, Cleo, and Sabrina are the core of a tight-knit friend group, going back to their early college days, when the three very different young women became the best of friends. Over the years, their group expanded to include Parth (now engaged to Sabrina), Wyn (the love of Harriet’s life), and Kimmy (Cleo’s beloved). Even after their college glory years ended, the six stayed together through thick and thin, and no matter the geographical distances between them, they met up each summer at Sabrina’s summer house in Maine for a sun-splashed week of joy, laughter, and crazy adventures.

But now, everything is changing. Sabrina’s father is selling the house, and this will be their final chance for one last week there together. Harriet is shocked upon arrival to find Wyn there — the two broke up five months earlier but haven’t told anyone, and Harriet had understood that he’d stay away. She’s determined to tell the truth, until Sabrina and Parth announce that they’ll be getting married that week, just them and their best friends. How can Harriet and Wyn announce the end of their own seemingly perfect romance and put a downer on Sabrina and Parth’s wedding? They decide to fake it — they’ll pretend to still be together for the sake of the group’s happiness, then go their separate ways again once the week ends.

What could go wrong?

For starters, Harriet and Wyn clearly still love one another. Harriet is hurt and furious — Wyn dumped her over the phone without an explanation — but beneath that, she still loves him deeply. As they spend time together, it becomes clear that their relationship and break-up are much more complicated that we initially understand. There are layers of hurt, of misplaced expectations, and trauma and misguided self-doubt stemming back to their childhoods that get in the way, over and over again.

Beyond the romance, one of the best aspects of this book is the friend group and its changing dynamics. What happens when best friends grow up and grow apart? Can their closeness survive when their separate lives pull them in such different directions?

I loved how thoughtful this book is in its approach to relationships and friendships. It captures the reality of growing up yet wanting to hold on to the best parts of the past, and the challenge of finding new ways to relate as life pulls people in different directions.

The relationship between Harriet and Wyn is lovely and overwhelmingly sad at times. These are two people who love each other deeply, yet face the very real possibility that they just don’t fit together any more. I also felt Harriet’s career and future were handled quite sensitively, in ways that I wouldn’t have expected.

I may be making this sound very serious, but there are also moments of utter silliness and great joy, and the banter between the friends, as well as between Harriet and Wyn, is just so funny and amusing. There’s so much humor here, as well as the deeper emotional impact, making Happy Place a consistently enjoyable and touching experience.

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by the always outstanding Julia Whelan — and not surprisingly, she absolutely nails the characters’ voices and sets the right emotional tone for each scene.

What more can I say? Happy Place is a must-read.

Book Review: Advika and the Hollywood Wives by Kirthana Ramisetti

Title: Advika and the Hollywood Wives
Author: Kirthana Ramisetti
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: April 11, 2023
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Rating: 2 out of 5.

At age 26, Advika Srinivasan considers herself a failed screenwriter. To pay the bills and keep her mind off of the recent death of her twin sister, she’s taken to bartending A-list events, including the 2015 Governors Ball, the official afterparty of the Oscars. There, in a cinematic dream come true, she meets the legendary Julian Zelding—a film producer as handsome as Paul Newman and ten times as powerful—fresh off his fifth best picture win. Despite their 41-year age difference, Advika falls helplessly under his spell, and their evening flirtation ignites into a whirlwind courtship and elopement. Advika is enthralled by Julian’s charm and luxurious lifestyle, but while Julian loves to talk about his famous friends and achievements, he smoothly changes the subject whenever his previous relationships come up. Then, a month into their marriage, Julian’s first wife—the famous actress Evie Lockhart—dies, and a tabloid reports a shocking stipulation in her will. A single film reel and $1,000,000 will be bequeathed to “Julian’s latest child bride” on one condition: Advika must divorce him first.

Shaken out of her love fog and still-simmering grief over the loss of her sister—and uneasy about Julian’s sudden, inexplicable urge to start a family—Advika decides to investigate him through the eyes and experiences of his exes. From reading his first wife’s biography, to listening to his second wife’s confessional albums, to watching his third wife’s Real Housewives-esque reality show, Advika starts to realize how little she knows about her husband. Realizing she rushed into the marriage for all the wrong reasons, Advika uses the info gleaned from the lives of her husband’s exes to concoct a plan to extricate herself from Julian once and for all.


What did I just read?

Last year, I read author Kirthana Ramisetti’s debut novel, Dava Shastri’s Last Day, and absolutely loved it. Naturally, when I saw she had a new book, I had to grab a copy.

Let’s just say expectations were high. So you can imagine the letdown when I realized that this new book makes no sense.

In Advika and the Hollywood Wives, 26-year-old Advika is mired in grief and loneliness two years after the tragic death of her twin sister Anu, especially once their parents, deep in their own mourning, pack up and move back to India. Advika is left alone in LA, working random bartending jobs to pay the bills and struggling to fulfill her earlier promise as a screenwriter. While tending bar at a post-Oscars party, her life is changed when five-time Oscar-winning producer Julian Zelding approaches her, instantly smitten.

A whirlwind romance, full of luxury gifts and romantic getaways, assuages Advika’s deep need to fill the void in her life, and within months of meeting him, she finds herself agreeing to marry this much older, very wealthy and powerful man.

Doubts creep in — hard and fast — when tabloids blast news about Julian’s first wife, recently deceased, whose will provides a $1 million bequest to Julian’s newest “child bride”, on condition that she divorce him. For Advika, this strange offer ignites a need to learn more about Julian’s three past marriages, and the more she digs, the more convinced she becomes of her need to escape his clutches.

Where to even begin to pick this all apart? Advika goes into the relationship and marriage with her eyes open, except when she’s being willfully ignorant. For example, Julian asks her early on not to Google him, so she doesn’t. Really? There’s no way it makes sense for this smart Millennial* not to do at least a drop of research on the older guy trying to shower her with money.

*For whatever reason — yet another thing that doesn’t make sense to me — the story is set in 2015, rather than now. I was going to describe Advika as Gen Z, but given the year the book is set, that would make her a Millenial. Same issues re technology and Googling apply!

Advika lets herself get totally wrapped up in Julian’s world and blocks out everyone she’s known previously — by her own free will. And as he attempts to control more and more of her life, and she suspects that her actions are probably being monitored by Julian’s household staff, she stays, and stays, and stays.

But really, Advika seems pretty okay with her marriage until the news about the first wife’s will comes out. She may not be in love with Julian, but she’s attracted to him and enjoys their affluent lifestyle. She interprets the first wife’s strange offer as a warning, basically Evie trying to save Advika, but honestly? I assumed that it was Evie’s way of getting a smidge of revenge on her ex by wrecking his newest marriage and exposing him to tabloid gossip. (It turns out that Advika is correct about Evie’s intentions, but that doesn’t mean it’s at all logical for Advika to jump to that conclusion!)

It’s as if Advika’s eyes are opened to the fact that she married a man she doesn’t actually know or love. As she researches his former wives, she uncovers some truths about how controlling he was in all of those relationships… but why does she need this research before making a move? Why, once she realized she was unhappy and wanted out, would she not simply have left? She was never a prisoner. She was never physically prevented from leaving their home. She’s be leaving behind all the money, jewels, and fancy cars, so is it just about the money? But that’s not how Advika’s struggle is presented — her life is depicted as if she’s trapped. IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE!

There’s an epilogue with a totally obvious reveal… and that’s about it. Clunky writing, plot points that seem to be building toward much more dramatic revelations, pointless mention of people and items that seem like they could be clues (but end up not mattering), and awkward realizations about how she fails repeatedly to be a good friend — there’s just so much here that doesn’t work. The story tries to build tension around whether Advika is being followed and electronically monitored, and what really happened with Julian’s former wives, but ultimately, it mostly amounts to not much at all.

What a disappointment. This book feels unpolished and half-baked. Any initial sympathy for Advika evaporates quickly, and we’re left following a young woman who can’t make a decision and doesn’t understand the basic give-and-take of real friendship. I read Advika and the Hollywood Wives very quickly, mainly because I kept waiting to see when the big pay-off would appear. (It doesn’t.) So, I guess the most positive thing I can say is that it kept my attention… just not really for great reasons.


Book Review: Late Bloomers by Deepa Varadarajan

Title: Late Bloomers
Author: Deepa Varadarajan
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: May 2, 2023
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Rating: 3 out of 5.

An Indian American family is turned upside down when the parents split up thirty-six years into their arranged marriage​ in this witty, big-hearted debut.

“Equal parts funny and heartbreaking, Late Bloomers is a charming story about starting over, stumbling, and finding yourself at any age.”–Jennifer Close, author of Marrying the Ketchups

I have a soft spot for underdogs. And late bloomers. You’ve told me a lot of things about yourself, so let me tell you something about me.

After thirty-six years of a dutiful but unhappy arranged marriage, recently divorced Suresh and Lata Raman find themselves starting new paths in life. Suresh is trying to navigate the world of online dating on a website that caters to Indians and is striking out at every turn–until he meets a mysterious, devastatingly attractive younger woman who seems to be smitten with him. Lata is enjoying her newfound independence, but she’s caught off guard when a professor in his early sixties starts to flirt with her.

Meanwhile, Suresh and Lata’s daughter, Priya, thinks her father’s online pursuits are distasteful even as she embarks upon a clandestine affair of her own. And their son, Nikesh, pretends at a seemingly perfect marriage with his law-firm colleague and their young son, but hides the truth of what his relationship really entails. Over the course of three weeks in August, the whole family will uncover one another’s secrets, confront the limits of love and loyalty, and explore life’s second chances.

Charming, funny, and moving, Late Bloomers introduces a delightful new voice in fiction with the story of four individuals trying to understand how to be happy in their own lives–and as a family.

Late Bloomers is the story of an Indian-American family struggling to figure out their paths in life after husband and wife Suresh and Lata get divorced. Their grown children, Priya and Nikesh, don’t particularly understand what’s going on with their parents, but they’re too immersed in their own complicated lives to fully engage or even ask.

Meanwhile, Suresh goes on one disastrous date (via dating website) after another, and Lata is considering going on the first-ever date of her entire life. While Suresh is astonished by all the lies people tell online, Lata is both amazed and intimidated when a nice man starts paying attention to her.

The story is set sometime in the past (iPhones and online dating exist, but people play music on CDs and watch DVDs) — so maybe 15 years or so ago? The lack of specificity actually made me a little nuts early on. Would it have hurt to stick a date on the first page of the first chapter?

Late Bloomers flows pretty quickly, but I never found myself all that engaged. It’s a nice enough story, but the biggest dramatic moment of the book is when an 8-year-old gets upset and runs away from a birthday party, and everyone has to go look for him. (Spoiler: He’s fine.) Chapters are narrated variously by Suresh, Lata, Priya, and Nikesh, and not all of them are equally likable or able to hold a reader’s (i.e., my) attention. Starting the book with a Suresh chapter feels like a mistake — he’s not pleasant to spend time with, and that made me drag my feet a bit about continuing.

Late Bloomers is a pleasant read — not exactly a page-turner, but interesting enough to want to see through. Of all the characters, Lata is the one who’s most endearing and whose future I felt most invested in. There are a few tangential story threads that are a bit weird (like the younger woman who moves into Suresh’s house for a pretty flimsy reason), but whenever the four main characters come together in their various combinations, the story picks up and is much more entertaining.

The novel shows four different people opening their eyes to new ways of being and thinking about their lives, after accepting the status quo for far too long. Whether it’s people in their 50s starting to date again, or their adult children reexamining their own decisions, Late Bloomers focuses on the possibility of personal growth and making big changes, no matter where in life a person is. Overall, the message is positive, although it takes quite a few mistimed conversations, evasions of truth, and heaps of the characters’ self-doubts to get there.

Recommended for when you’re looking for something domestic and on the non-stressful side to read. Save


Book Review: Off the Map by Trish Doller

Title: Off the Map
Series: Beck Sisters, #3
Author: Trish Doller
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication date: March 7, 2023
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Library

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Carla Black’s life motto is “here for a good time, not for a long time.” She’s been travelling the world on her own in her vintage Jeep Wrangler for nearly a decade, stopping only long enough to replenish her adventure fund. She doesn’t do love and she doesn’t ever go home.

Eamon Sullivan is a modern-day cartographer who creates digital maps. His work helps people find their way, but he’s the one who’s lost his sense of direction. He’s unhappy at work, recently dumped, and his one big dream is stalled out—literally.

Fate throws them together when Carla arrives in Dublin for her best friend’s wedding and Eamon is tasked with picking her up from the airport. But what should be a simple drive across Ireland quickly becomes complicated with chemistry-filled detours, unexpected feelings, and a chance at love – if only they choose it.

Content warning: Loss of a parent, dementia.

Call me late to the party, but I only discovered Trish Doller’s loosely connected contemporary romance series a couple of months ago. After finishing Float Plan, I moved on to The Suite Spot as soon as I could, and here I am, just a few weeks later, to report back on book #3, Off the Map.

In Off the Map, the main character is the best friend of Anna from Float Plan. Carla works as a bartender at a cheesy pirate-themed restaurant in Fort Lauderdale during tourist season, each year saving up as much as possible to fund her true passion in life, world travel. During her time away from the bar, she goes wherever the road takes her, living on beaches or off-roading in her trusty jeep, enjoying flings but never making plans beyond the here and now.

As a child, Carla’s beloved father Biggie used travel as a way to distract his young daughter from her mother’s abandonment. Each summer, as soon as school was out, they’d hit the road for adventure and exploration. Biggie is a larger than life character, an ex-hippie and Vietnam vet who loves his daughter, his friends, and his music — but eight years before the story opens, Biggie was diagnosed with dementia. And his immediate response was to hand Carla the keys to Valentina (the jeep) and demand that she go off on more adventures, not wanting her tied down or forced to witness his decline.

As Off the Map starts, Carla has come to Ireland for Anna and Keane’s wedding. Keane’s brother Eamon is tasked with picking Carla up and driving her from Dublin to the small town where the wedding will take place. But that would be too straightforward! After giving into their mutual attraction and having an extremely enjoyable night together, Carla discovers that Eamon has never pursued his own dreams of travel and adventure, instead maintaining the steady, reliable existence his family seems to expect of him.

With Carla urging him on, Eamon revs up his classic Land Rover and the two set out for the wedding… but with plenty of detours along the way. As they travel, their connection deepens, and by the time they arrive at their destination six days later, it’s clear that this is way more than a fling.

Reading about Carla and Eamon’s escapades is quite fun (although it’s absolutely feeding the fire of my own wanderlust). I personally wouldn’t want to camp wild or go off-roading, but reading this book let me indulge my fantasies of traveling the world without strings or limitations.

The chemistry between the couple is immediate and fiery, but it’s not just hot sex (of which there is plenty; this book gets a steamy rating) — there’s also tenderness, intimacy, and prolonged kissing, just for the sake of kissing. I appreciated how the author depicts the growing trust and connection between the characters. Yes, their sexual connection is instantaneous, but it’s heightened and deepened by their personal and emotional connection.

Carla’s relationship with Biggie is complicated, and becomes the focus of the last quarter or so of the book, as she finally realizes that she needs to return home and be with him, whether or not that’s what he’s instructed her to do. Carla’s time with Biggie is sweetly and sensitively depicted, and I found it very moving.

Being a romance, Off the Map of course has complicating factors that seem to send Carla and Eamon in diametrically opposed directions before bringing them back together. The ending is lovely but bittersweet, and seems very fitting for the characters and their story arcs.

I enjoyed Off the Map very much (although Float Plan is still my favorite of the three books), and hope there will be more set in this world. The characters in the Beck Sisters books are wonderful, and I want more of them!








Book Review: Said No One Ever by Stephanie Eding

Title: Said No One Ever
Author: Stephanie Eding
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication date: April 4, 2023
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A peaceful vacation turns into a roller coaster ride of family drama.

Two handsome men with competing agendas cause mix-ups and betrayal.

Sometimes you have to put your foot down to get what you really want in life.

Ellie Reed’s self-esteem can’t take any more of her family’s constant criticism and attempts to control her life. But when she rents an Airbnb on a gorgeous farm in Montana, she encounters a whole new set of family drama and finds herself the caretaker of a barn full of farm animals, caught between two handsome men competing for control of the farm, and the sudden best friend of a spunky elderly widow whose outrageous ideas just might change her destiny…

Spring has sprung.. and what better time is there to enjoy a fish-out-of-water story about a city girl staying on a Montana farm?

In Said No One Ever, Ellie’s life is a mess. Her job as a freelance medical transcriptionist is being phased out, she’s just broken up with her boyfriend of six years (a nice optometrist who’s perfect for Ellie’s family, if not for Ellie), her apartment lease is about to run out, and she has no idea what to do about any of this.

Her overbearing family constantly compares Ellie to her high-achieving older sister, and they have a plan: Ellie should become her sister Avery’s nanny (for three out-of-control littles) and live rent-free in her late grandmother’s house, where she’ll handle fixing it up while getting it ready to sell. Ellie is SO not on board with any of this, but she’s seriously lacking in options.

Needing a break, Ellie books a tiny-house Airbnb rental on a farm in Montana. She looks forward to wide-open spaces, peace and quiet, and some alone time. She gets exactly none of what she expects.

Her host, Marilyn, is picked up by an ambulance within minutes of Ellie’s arrival, before Ellie even gets a chance to meet her. Ellie is left with Marilyn’s hyperactive bulldog Hilda and a barn full of animals — and clearly, the sheep and donkey need care, but Ellie has zero clue what to do. A visit to Marilyn at the rehab/nursing home results in a list of instructions for animal care, plus a budding friendship with the older woman, who is zesty, free-spirited, and full of schemes and dreams.

The arrival of Marilyn’s grandson Warren threatens to derail Ellie’s vacation. Apparently, the family had no idea about Marilyn’s Airbnb plans and is horrified… not to mention that the tiny house Ellie is living in is actually Warren’s, and he’s supposed to be staying there for the next month.

As Ellie settles in, she becomes close to Marilyn, starts to get to know the locals, and has a very grumpy/argumentative dynamic with Warren… which clearly means there are sparks just waiting to fly!

There are plenty of shenanigans, usually caused by Marilyn and her partner-in-crime roommate Belle (the two of them delight in scandalizing the nursing home staff and flirting with the hunky young man from food service) — although some of the misadventures have to do with wandering farm animals as well. Drama is provided through Marilyn’s daughters, two hard-charging businesswomen who have no patience for the farm or their mother’s wishes, and are determined to sell, make a good profit, and move Marilyn to a nursing home closer to them in Spokane.

Now, you might think that an Airbnb guest who’s in town for just a few weeks should have no part in all this farm and family drama… and while that would undoubtedly be the case in real life, in Said No One Ever, that’s clearly not what’s going to happen! Ellie becomes completely wrapped up in the farm and Marilyn’s life, and soon she’s a pivotal player in finding a way to make sure Marilyn gets what she wants.

Although presented as a romance (which it is!), I think my favorite thing about Said No One Ever is the wonderful relationship that develops between Ellie and Marilyn. Ellie still misses her own grandmother, and in Marilyn, she finds an elderly woman to fill some of the empty spaces in her heart. Marilyn’s sense of adventure and spunk are just what Ellie needs, as she involves Ellie in quests and adventures and just plain fun.

The romance in the book is a slow burn. At first, there’s the suggestion that this will be a love triangle story (and that’s certainly what the blurb describes), but that’s actually not the case. Warren is the obvious love interest, and the other guy — the sexy neighbor with smooth come-ons and heavy-handed flirtation — is ruled out almost immediately, especially when his underhanded manipulative side becomes clear.

I really enjoyed Said No One Ever, with only a few very minor quibbles:

  • The farm antics are cute, but especially in the first third of the book, a bit too much. I didn’t need quite that much time spent on following Ellie as she learns how to feed the animals, clean their stalls, and collect eggs from the henhouse.
  • Maybe this is just me, but why would a woman staying alone, on a farm, miles from other people, with no expectation of seeing anyone, still put on makeup every day? (Again, maybe this is just me…). A few times, when there’s an unexpected visitor at the farm, Ellie hopes her mascara isn’t smudged. (If I were alone in a tiny house on a farm, I would not be putting on mascara… and probably wouldn’t even bother with a hairbrush!)
  • This is more a quibble about the trope than about the book — but only in romance novels would an out-of-towner become that enmeshed in the locals’ lives within a week of arriving. But hey, it’s fiction, and I can suspend my disbelief for the sake of a sweet, engaging read.

For those who like to know these things in advance, the steam level here is sweet. No sex scenes, nothing more intimate than kissing and descriptions of feeling attraction.

The writing is lots of fun, full of laughter and snark and quippy dialogue, not to mention the farm craziness that leaves Ellie at wit’s end:

Since arriving in Montana a single woman, her first sort-of-date involved wrangling a rooster and the second came with a garden hose and a runaway donkey. Of course it did. Her life had fallen into absolute bedlam.

That’s not to say that there aren’t more serious themes embedded in the story. I found certain elements especially moving. While Marilyn is funny and upbeat, the struggle she (along with Warren and Ellie) goes through to maintain her independence and to keep control over her own life can be very difficult to read about. While essentially an upbeat book, Said No One Ever still had me on the edge of my seat at certain parts when Marilyn’s future was on the line — which I think says a lot about how emotionally connected I’d come to feel about the characters.

Also, Ellie’s relationship with her parents and sister, while often played for laughs, is quite sad. They don’t see her for who she is or value her choices at all — so much of their interaction with her is about controlling her life, making decisions for her, and trying to convince Ellie that they, not her, know what’s best for her. Hmmm, sounds like a parallel to Marilyn’s life. I see what the author did there!

As you can tell, I really enjoyed this sweet story of love, friendship, and independence, and the gorgeous Montana setting is an absolute treat! I shouldn’t be surprised that I loved the characters and story — I felt the same way after reading the author’s previous novel, The Unplanned Life of Josie Hale. Looks like Stephanie Eding will be going on my authors-to-watch list!


Book Review: Same Time Next Summer by Annabel Monaghan

Title: Same Time Next Summer
Author: Annabel Monaghan
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication date: June 6, 2023
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The ultimate summer nostalgia read, about an engaged woman who comes face to face with her first love who she hasn’t seen in fourteen years, but who she spent every summer with from age five to seventeen when he broke her heart, calling into question everything she thought she knew about their love story, and herself.

“An unforgettable love story…Bursting with the magic of first love, it’s everything I want in a summer romance.”–Carley Fortune, author of Every Summer After

Beach Rules:
Do take long walks on the sand.
Do put an umbrella in every cocktail.
Do NOT run into your first love.

Sam’s life is on track. She has the perfect doctor fiancé, Jack (his strict routines are a good thing, really), a great job in Manhattan (unless they fire her), and is about to tour a wedding venue near her family’s Long Island beach house. Everything should go to plan, yet the minute she arrives, Sam senses something is off. Wyatt is here. Her Wyatt. But there’s no reason for a thirty-year-old engaged woman to feel panicked around the guy who broke her heart when she was seventeen. Right?

Yet being back at this beach, hearing notes from Wyatt’s guitar float across the night air from next door as if no time has passed–Sam’s memories come flooding back: the feel of Wyatt’s skin on hers, their nights in the treehouse, and the truth behind their split. Sam remembers who she used to be, and as Wyatt reenters her life their connection is as undeniable as it always was. She will have to make a choice.

I usually wait to read ARCs until right before their release dates, but in this case, waiting was not an option! I absolutely loved Annabel Monaghan’s first adult novel, Nora Goes Off Script, so naturally I had to read her upcoming new release, Same Time Next Summer, just as soon as I had it in my hands. And while the new book didn’t delight me quite as much as the previous one, I still found lots to love.

As the blurb describes, Same Time Next Summer is heavy on nostalgia, capturing the wonder and joy of summers on the beach and first love. Adult Samantha has her teen summer memories safely locked away behind her daily life of routine and safely drawn lives. Teen Sam loved to surf and swim in the ocean; adult Sam sticks to swimming laps in an indoor pool, where distances are precise and predictable. Teen Sam, daughter of artists, loved to create, design, draw — adult Sam works as an HR consultant enforcing carefully worded policies and staring at spreadsheets full of data. Life feels well-ordered and complete, with nicely checked boxes, and all that’s left to do is hammer out the details of her upcoming wedding to her perfect fiancé.

Sam once knew the wild, passionate exuberance of teen love, but now as an adult, her definitions and expectations have changed:

There has never been a moment where I felt like he was a part of me; he is just right next to me, a partner. Love like this is so much more manageable, so much less terrifying. […] This kind of side-by-side love feels like a manageable kind of joy. I now understand that this is what grown-up love is.

When Sam’s parents encourage her to consider having the wedding at the local inn near their beach house on Long Island, she and Jack go for a visit just to please them. Upon arrival, Sam discovers that her teen love Wyatt is staying at his family’s house next door, after more than a decade of silence and separation. With Wyatt so close by, the floodgates open, and soon Sam ends up questioning her feelings, her plans, and essentially, who she truly wants to be.

The author does a wonderful job of evoking the sensations of summer — the feel of the sand, the sound of the waves, the sights and sounds and tastes that make up a perfect beach getaway. The joys of summer love come through clearly as well — teen Sam and Wyatt are so obviously mad for one another, but also best of friends and so good for one another. The writing powerfully captures the tremendous pain of heartbreak and how it can change someone so thoroughly:

Putting a person back together isn’t easy, but if you’re smart about it you can reassemble yourself in a totally different, better way. Turn carefree into careful; bandage up your heart and double check the adhesive.

The reasons for their breakup are slowly revealed (I was certain I’d figured out the answer as of the very first chapter — it was surprising and fun to be proven wrong), and meanwhile, we see Sam’s adult life in light of who she used to be. We know long before Sam does that her current life and future plans are not right for her, but it takes quite a lot for her to open her eyes and figure it all out.

There’s some lovely writing in Same Time Next Summer. Sam does quite a lot of soul-searching, and we get Wyatt’s point of view too. Some reveals are a bit obvious, but still, I enjoyed seeing how the pieces came together. By having both Sam and Wyatt as POV characters, we readers are able to see what they missed, or where their perceptions led them away from one another. It’s quite sad… but a happy ending is pretty much guaranteed (I mean, take a look at the cover! OF COURSE there’s a happy ending). The strength of the story is in seeing how these two characters find their way back to one another.

Same Time Next Summer is a quintessential beach read — highly recommended for days in the sun as the waves crash nearby.








Book Review: The Suite Spot by Trish Doller

Title: The Suite Spot
Series: Beck Sisters, #2
Author: Trish Doller
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication date: March 8, 2022
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Library

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Trish Doller’s The Suite Spot is a charming romance novel about taking a chance on a new life and a new love.

Rachel Beck has hit a brick wall. She’s a single mom, still living at home and trying to keep a dying relationship alive. Aside from her daughter, the one bright light in Rachel’s life is her job as the night reservations manager at a luxury hotel in Miami Beach—until the night she is fired for something she didn’t do.

On impulse, Rachel inquires about a management position at a brewery hotel on an island in Lake Erie called Kelleys Island. When she’s offered the job, Rachel packs up her daughter and makes the cross country move.

What she finds on Kelleys Island is Mason, a handsome, moody man who knows everything about brewing beer and nothing about running a hotel. Especially one that’s barely more than foundation and studs. It’s not the job Rachel was looking for, but Mason offers her a chance to help build a hotel—and rebuild her own life—from the ground up.

Content warning: Attempted sexual assault and (off-page) death of a child.

After finishing Float Plan last month, I knew I needed more of the Beck sisters! In this loosely-related follow-up, the sister of Float Plan‘s main character takes center stage. Rachel is a single mom who devotes herself to raising her three-year-old daughter Maisie, since Maisie’s dad is unreliable, to say the least.

When Rachel loses her job after a VIP guest tries to assault her, she’s despondent and desperate. She’s been blacklisted from all the management-level jobs at luxury hotels in the area, and dreads the idea of going back to where she started, doing housekeeping in sleazy motels. When a friend refers her to a brewery and inn looking for a manager — on an island in Ohio! — it seems like Rachel’s best chance for a fresh start.

Of course, nothing is quite as promised — the inn’s charming cottages haven’t actually been built yet, and the inn’s owner, Mason, seems stuck when it comes to moving his plans forward. Mason has a tragic past, but Rachel’s arrival seems like the spark he needs to slowly come back to life.

There’s a lot to love about The Suite Spot. First of all, can I just say that I want to move to Kelley’s Island RIGHT NOW and live in one of the fabulous cottages that Rachel designs and decorates? The setting of the story sound gorgeous — a rustic, small-town vibe with trees, lake, and sky for that back-to-nature feel.

Rachel and Mason are a slow burn. There’s instant attraction, but after the loss he’s suffered, he’s hesitant about spending time around a woman with a small child, afraid of painful memories resurfacing. While they tiptoe around each other initially, Rachel and Mason have an obvious connection, and he cautiously warms to Maisie eventually too. (She’s adorable, naturally.)

There’s quite a bit of time spent on the construction and decorating details, and sure, maybe we could have had a bit less detail on antique shopping and auctions, but I actually didn’t mind — it all plays into my fantasy of running away to live in a lakeside cabin for a month (or forever).

There’s not a ton of drama, which is fine — the story is pleasant and sweet, I liked the romantic elements, and it was heartening to see Rachel’s successes as well as her discovery of new connections and friendships within the island community.

I also liked the body positivity, as Rachel is curvy and beautiful, and despite getting some nasty comments earlier on, she carries herself with confidence, and knows just how attractive Mason finds her.

So, if I liked this book quite a bit (which I did), why only 3.5 stars? The ending drama just… sucked, to put it bluntly. Yes, the romance genre pretty much demands that after the main characters get together and fall beautifully in love, there has to be some sort of crisis — a breakup, a misunderstanding, SOMETHING has to get in the way before they reunite and get to be completely happy.



In The Suite Spot, the crisis is unbelievable (my eyes practically got stuck after all their rolling), and the resolution comes within about a minute. In a nutshell, Rachel gets a letter stating that her loser ex is demanding joint custody, with a mediation date set for the following month in Florida. Rachel has a major panic attack, and decides on the spot that she and Maisie have to move back to Florida.

She does not consult a lawyer. She does not explore other options. She does not fly to Florida for the mediation and to see what might come of it. She packs up her car and Maisie, says good-bye (tearfully) to Mason (her one true love) and her perfect job, and leaves.

After looking for jobs (all crappy) and apartments (all crappy) back in Florida, she finally gets to the mediation session, where all is resolved within about 10 minutes, and a perfect plan is agreed to by which she and Maisie return to their wonderful lives in Ohio and Maisie’s dad will see her a couple of weeks in the summers, which is really all he wanted in the first place.


This was all so unnecessary. Yes, the dramatic crisis is a pretty much unavoidable element in contemporary romance fiction, but this story didn’t need it, and it certainly didn’t need this particular set of plot developments. It was all pretty ridiculous, and then got fixed in the blink of an eye anyway, so why bother?

Apart from this late-in-the-book annoyance, I actually really enjoyed The Suite Spot. The characters, relationships (romance and friendships), and setting are all delightful, and the dialogue and interpersonal moments are well-written and sparkling.

Overall, The Suite Spot is worth reading and highly enjoyable, if you can ignore that annoying 10% or so. The next book in this series (Off the Map) has just been released, and it’s a sure bet that I’ll be reading it just as soon as my library hold comes in.








Book Review: Float Plan by Trish Doller

Title: Float Plan
Author: Trish Doller
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication date: March 16, 2021
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Library

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Critically acclaimed author Trish Doller’s unforgettable and romantic adult debut about setting sail, starting over, and finding yourself…

Since the loss of her fiancé, Anna has been shipwrecked by grief—until a reminder goes off about a trip they were supposed to take together. Impulsively, Anna goes to sea in their sailboat, intending to complete the voyage alone.

But after a treacherous night’s sail, she realizes she can’t do it by herself and hires Keane, a professional sailor, to help. Much like Anna, Keane is struggling with a very different future than the one he had planned. As romance rises with the tide, they discover that it’s never too late to chart a new course.

In Trish Doller’s unforgettable Float Plan, starting over doesn’t mean letting go of your past, it means making room for your future.

I really didn’t know what to expect from Float Plan — I’m so glad I gave it a chance!

I expected a light-hearted book about sailing… but what I got was a story about grief and loss, starting to live again after tragedy, and finding a way to discover joy and hope even in dark times.

Content warning: This book deals significantly with suicide and the impact on those left behind. For readers for whom this might be a triggering topic, I would advise proceeding with caution, if at all.

As Float Plan opens, it’s been 10 months since Anna’s fiancé Ben took his own life. Although he’d been struggling with depression, his suicide was a complete shock, and left Anna bereft, deeply in mourning, and unable to to move forward.

One of Ben’s pet projects had been charting a sailing trip through the Caribbean — a trip that he and Anna never got to take. But when Anna gets a reminder on her phone on the day that their trip should have begun, she impulsively heads back to their sailboat and sets out, determined to follow the course that Ben charted.

However, Anna has limited experience as a sailor and has never sailed solo, and after some near misses (as well as an embarrassingly bad drunken night out in her first port of call), she realizes that maybe she shouldn’t be attempting this journey on her own. Enter Keane, an experienced sailor available to assist in exchange for passage to Puerto Rico. He’s charming, considerate, and an excellent sailor, but has his own sorrows and disappointments to face down.

Together, Anna and Keane set sail, experiencing beautiful high points amidst the islands they visit, as well as dangerously rough seas and emotional low points too. And as expected, their professional agreement leads them to forming a close friendship that eventually becomes something even greater, if only they can allow themselves to feel what they’re feeling.

While some of Anna’s decision’s seem dubious, I could easily believe that a young woman suffering such awful grief would decide to take on a risky adventure that she wasn’t actually prepared for. With Keane there to assist, Anna had the opportunity to stick to her plan, but also get the skills and knowledge she needs to accomplish what she set out to do. This was not the dreaded storyline of a woman needing a strong man to save her; instead, this story showed two people able to support one another through hard times and whose abilities and personalities complemented each other. In some ways, Anna and Keane rescue one another, yet it’s also very much a partnership.

Of course, the armchair tourist appeal is a huge plus! I was both loving the descriptions of the gorgeous seas and islands and hating the fact that I wasn’t along for the ride!

I really enjoyed Anna and Keane’s chemistry, the slow development of their romantic feelings, and the way the author gives Anna time and space to come to terms with Ben’s death. She’s given room to vent her anger and her sorrow, and ultimately to realize that she can and does have a life without Ben in it. She’ll always love him, but she can also have love again without him.

At the start of the book, Anna is 25-years-old and working at a pirate-themed bar in Florida. My only two small complaints are (1) it’s not really clear to me how she was able to afford to literally sail off on the spur of the moment and have the funds to support the journey, and (2) there’s no discussion of what Anna’s plans for her life were prior to Ben’s death. Education? Career goals? Never mentioned.

Other than that, I though Float Plan gave a lovely view of rediscovering hope after suffering a terrible loss. The characters are memorable, and their dynamic was terrific to watch unfold. The next book by the author focuses on Anna’s older sister, and while I don’t know more than that, I liked Float Plan so much that I’m eager to read the next book too!








Audiobook Review: Lessons at the School by the Sea (Maggie Adair, #3) by Jenny Colgan

Title: Lessons at the School by the Sea
Series: Maggie Adair / Little School by the Sea
Author: Jenny Colgan
Narrator:  Alex Tregear
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: Originally published 2018; reissued 2023
Print length: 304 pages
Audio length: 7 hours, 6 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased (audiobook); E-book ARC from the publisher/NetGalley

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The summer holiday brings new passion and new challenges in the enchanting third book of Jenny Colgan’s utterly delightful School by the Sea series, set at a girls’ boarding school in Cornwall.

School is out, following a bit of saucy scandal at Downey House…

Beloved high school teacher Maggie Adair had been comfortably, if somewhat ambivalently, engaged to her dependable long-distance boyfriend Stan. But in the heat of summer, Maggie’s attraction to her colleague David McDonald has caught fire. Now both are facing an uncertain future as they try to figure out how to stay committed to their careers–and each other.

Meanwhile, the girls of Downey House–mercurial Fliss, glamorous Alice, and shy, hard-working Simone–have had long summers at home, which weren’t quite the respite they had been hoping for. But the new school year is thankfully here, and it will bring new pupils and lots of fresh challenges for students and teachers alike at the school by the sea.

Welcome back to the School by the Sea! This charming series focuses on Maggie Adair, a dedicated teacher from Glasgow who takes a job teaching English at a posh boarding school in Devon. Three books into the series, we’ve seen Maggie grow into her role and truly make a difference in the lives of her students… as well as struggle to reconcile her engagement to her long-term boyfriend with her growing feelings for the sensitive, handsome English teacher over at the boys’ school.

Book #3, Lessons at the School by the Sea, picks up immediately after the ending of the 2nd book, which ended (spoilers for those who haven’t read it!) with a scandalous scene at a train station, as David attempts to make a grand romantic gesture while Maggie’s train is leaving the station, and Maggie (inadvisably) pulls the emergency brake. Oh dear.

As we return to the scene of their fairly mild crime, both Maggie and David are in quite a bit of trouble, facing possible criminal charges and (even worse!) the shame of bringing embarrassment to Downey House. The only solution is separation — David loses his job, and Maggie is allowed to stay on, but with the stipulation that the two must have no contact.

Needless to say, Maggie is somewhat despondent when the new school term starts in the fall, and she’s not the only one. A new year means new worries and drama among the school girls as well, and even the headmistress has her own personal life complications to sort out.

It’s all quite sweet and lovely, entertaining in a gentle sort of ultra-British way. For American readers, the ins and outs of boarding school life may seem somewhat impenetrable (although at least we have some exposure from other pop culture — it’s like Hogwarts minus magic, but with social media).

Speaking of social media — about ten years elapsed between the publishing of the second and third books, even though the books’ timeline is a seamless continuation. So, it’s a little jarring in book #3 to suddenly see the students obsessed with their phones, wifi access, Snapchat, Insta, and social media gossip. The author does a good job of weaving all this into the ongoing story, but as readers, we do sort of have to pretend that they’ve had this stuff all along.

The series as a whole is quite fun, and I love how well we get to know all the characters, adults and teens. This volume seems to spend a bit less time on the girls’ part of the story, but that’s okay — I was more invested in Maggie and David’s story than the rest, although I did enjoy it all.

Another thing I really appreciate about these books is how lovingly the value of education, and especially literature, is portrayed. Maggie and David both enrich their students’ lives through their commitment and compassion, but also because they so carefully and consciously choose literature that both challenges and enriches their students.

Hmmm — many of Jenny Colgan’s other books include recipes. The School by the Sea books should include reading lists!

The author mentions in her introduction that she’s envisioned this as a six-book series. Yes, please! While I don’t see anything on her website yet that says that there will be more, a reader can always hope.

Book Review: Nora Goes Off Script by Annabel Monaghan

Title: Nora Goes Off Script
Author: Annabel Monaghan
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication date: June 7, 2022
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Library

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Nora’s life is about to get a rewrite…

Nora Hamilton knows the formula for love better than anyone. As a romance channel screenwriter, it’s her job. But when her too-good-to work husband leaves her and their two kids, Nora turns her marriage’s collapse into cash and writes the best script of her life. No one is more surprised than her when it’s picked up for the big screen and set to film on location at her 100-year-old-home. When former Sexiest Man Alive, Leo Vance, is cast as her ne’er do well husband Nora’s life will never be the same.

The morning after shooting wraps and the crew leaves, Nora finds Leo on her porch with a half-empty bottle of tequila and a proposition. He’ll pay a thousand dollars a day to stay for a week. The extra seven grand would give Nora breathing room, but it’s the need in his eyes that makes her say yes. Seven days: it’s the blink of an eye or an eternity depending on how you look at it. Enough time to fall in love. Enough time to break your heart.

Filled with warmth, wit, and wisdom, Nora Goes Off Script is the best kind of love story–the real kind where love is complicated by work, kids, and the emotional baggage that comes with life. For Nora and Leo, this kind of love is bigger than the big screen.

What a breath of fresh air! It often feels like all contemporary romance novels tell versions of the same story, with the same plot beats, but Nora Goes Off Script offers a taste of something new and different, even while checking many familiar boxes.

Nora writes screenplays for romance channel movies, and is good at it. She describes it at one point in the book as being akin to doing Mad Libs — give her a gender, a location, and a career, and she’ll turn it into a romance movie. Is it the real estate mogul falling for the owner of a struggling country inn? Or the big city lawyer who finds love and happiness baking cupcakes in a small town? There has to be a break-up, then a big, grand reunion (preferably at a signficant town event), and then a more-or-less chaste kiss… and a very happy ending, of course.

But… Nora finds herself significantly less inspired to create on-screen romances after her selfish jerk of a husband leaves her and her two children after years of living off Nora’s earnings while also putting her down. When she does commit a version of her true story to paper, she ends up with a screenplay that gets optioned as a Hollywood movie, with the hottest stars and a big-name director on board — and they want to film on her property, where she’s located the story.

Nora and her kids live in their falling-apart country home in rural New York, but Nora’s pride and joy is the tea house, a gorgeous little outbuilding on the property where she does her daily writing sessions. It’s this place that inspires the movie — called The Tea House — and it’s also this place that calls to Leo Vance once filming has ended.

Leo is successful, sexy, and already an Oscar winner, but he’s not happy. Spending time at Nora’s place gives him a hint of life away from Hollywood and the spotlight, so when shooting ends, he offers Nora a ridiculous amount of money to be able to stay in her tea house for one more week. She’s still recovering from the debts her deadbeat ex ran up, so she agrees.

And day by day, sunrise by sunrise, Leo and Nora start to connect. He’s insatiably curious about her life, delights in the simple joys of family time, and even offers to help direct her son’s school play. Nora’s initial annoyance at having Leo in her space quickly turns to enjoyment of his company, and soon it’s clear that there’s more than friendship and appreciation of the sunrise going on.

I found Nora and Leo absolutely delightful together. They bring out sides of one another that had long been dormant, and provide support and joy in all sorts of lovely ways. Yes, there are plenty of Hollywood-star-falling-for-an-ordinary-person romances out there, but this one truly felt special.

I loved Nora’s devotion to her kids, her practicality, and her determination to make her life work. She’s creative, but also highly organized, and keeps her children physically and emotionally well cared for even on her hardest days. I couldn’t help but admire her resilience, and her clear-eyed view of her jerky ex-husband seemed quite healthy to me.

Leo is also lovely — a guy who everyone wants a piece of, but who craves the family and connections that he’s been without for too long. Together, Nora and Leo just work, and it’s very sweet to see how good they are for one another.

Now, this is a romance, so naturally there’s a giant misunderstanding and a break-up, which is heartbreaking for both characters (and the reader!). And really, this is the only part that annoyed me a bit, because two adults should have figured out there was more to the story, or at the very least, made one last attempt to communicate… but alas, in this fictional world, they both have to suffer through heartache and regrets before (not at all a spoiler) finally getting to a well-earned happy ending.

I’ve probably given away more plot details than I should have, but honestly, the joy of this book is in spending time with the characters and seeing the love story unfold. It’s a heart-warming story, but it’s never saccharine, and I loved the little moments just as much as the big dramatic ones.

Nora Goes Off Script is a wonderful reading experience, and I’ll definitely be looking forward to reading more by this author. If you’re looking for a pick-me-up or need a break from dire/gloomy/heavy reads, this is the one to check out!