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: 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!








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!








Book Review: The Holiday Trap by Roan Parrish

Title: The Holiday Trap
Author: Roan Parrish
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication date: September 6, 2022
Length: 442 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Purchased

Rating: 3 out of 5.

For fans of Alexandria Bellefleur and Alexis Hall comes a charming, hilarious, and heartwarming LGBTQIA+ romcom about two separate couples finding love over the holidays from acclaimed author Roan Parrish!

Greta Russakoff loves her tight-knit family and tiny Maine hometown, even if they don’t always understand what it’s like to be a lesbian living in such a small world. She desperately needs space to figure out who she is.

Truman Belvedere has just had his heart crushed into a million pieces when he learned that his boyfriend of almost a year has a secret life that includes a husband and a daughter. Reeling from this discovery, all he wants is a place to lick his wounds far, far away from New Orleans.

Enter Greta and Truman’s mutual friend, Ramona, who facilitates a month-long house swap. Over the winter holidays, each of them will have a chance to try on a new life…and maybe fall in love with the perfect partner of their dreams. But all holidays must come to an end, and eventually Greta and Truman will have to decide whether the love they each found so far from home is worth fighting for.

The Holiday Trap has some cute moments, but is far too long and has way too many implausible plot points and annoying characters moments to rise above a 3-star read.

Our two main characters, Greta and Truman, are stuck in lives that clearly aren’t working for them. Greta’s large family is smothering and overly involved and controlling, and living on an island in Maine, there’s really no escaping their endless interference. Truman thinks his life in New Orleans is going well, until he discovers that his boyfriend of one year actually has a family, and Truman is just the bit on the side.

When a mutual friend suggests that they swap places for the holidays, Greta and Truman both agree — because really, it couldn’t be any worse than their current situations. And of course, in their new locations, they each find exactly what they’re looking for — love, community, and purpose.

Greta falls immediately in love with an outspoken, quirky woman who demands honesty and teaches Greta about stating one’s own needs and listening to others. She also finds meaning through a local gardening club, and becomes involved with a community garden and the beekeepers she meets.

Truman arrives on the island with low expectations, but soon discovers that his very favorite author may once have lived there, and then stumbles across the man of his dreams at the local florist shop.

For both, true love seems to arrive within approximately three weeks, so that before their brief swap agreement is even over, they’ve both resolved to make it permanent and start their lives over in their new locations. They’ve also changed themselves in significant ways, learning to speak up and pay attention to what they really want and what makes them happy.

Also (and annoyingly) in this brief time, they find themselves overflowing with amazing new ideas for how to improve their friends’ business ventures, which the friends seem to appreciate and embrace. (If I were in any of the friends’ shoes, I would find this intrusive and presumptuous AF, but hey, maybe that’s just me).

There are sweet interludes and funny moments, but overall, this romance drags on, has too many personal epiphanies crammed into such a short amount of time, and takes its perfect romances far over the edge into not-at-all-believable territory. And the fact that Greta and Truman seem to always have the perfect idea that perfectly solves other people’s challenges… so incredibly annoying.

I’m not sure why this is called The Holiday Trap. It’s not especially about the holidays, other than taking place during December when holidays are happening, and I have no idea what “trap” has to do with anything. Nobody ends up trapped in their new locations or relationships. May The Holiday Swap was already taken?

In terms of steaminess, this book’s sex scenes are graphic, so be aware of that if you prefer understated steam rather than outright step-by-step descriptions of intimate encounters.

Overall, the plot really doesn’t hold up particularly well. Truman is an endearing character and Greta is okay, but their huge personal awakenings and finding of soulmates just don’t feel plausible. The Holiday Trap is good entertainment, but I’ve read a lot better.

Audiobook Review: Well Traveled (Well Met, #4) by Jen DeLuca

Title: Well Traveled
Series: Well Met, #4
Author: Jen DeLuca
Narrator: Brittany Pressley
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: December 6, 2022
Print length: 304 pages
Audiobook length: 9 hours, 29 minutes
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Purchased (audiobook); e-ARC via NetGalley

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Renaissance Faire is on the move, and Lulu and Dex are along for the ride, in the next utterly charming rom-com from Jen DeLuca.

A high-powered attorney from a success-oriented family, Louisa “Lulu” Malone lives to work, and everything seems to be going right, until the day she realizes it’s all wrong. Lulu’s cousin Mitch introduced her to the world of Renaissance Faires, and when she spies one at a time just when she needs an escape, she leaps into the welcoming environment of turkey legs, taverns, and tarot readers. The only drawback? Dex MacLean: a guitarist with a killer smile, the Casanova of the Faire… and her traveling companion for the summer.

Dex has never had to work for much in his life, and why should he? Touring with his brothers as The Dueling Kilts is going great, and he always finds a woman at every Faire. But when Lulu proves indifferent to his many plaid charms and a shake-up threatens the fate of the band, Dex must confront something he never has before: his future.

Forced to spend days and nights together on the road, Lulu’s interest in the kilted bad boy grows as he shows her a side of himself no one else has seen. The stresses of her old lifestyle fade away as she learns to trust her intuition and follow her heart instead of her head. But when her time on the road is over, will Lulu go with her gut, or are she and Dex destined for separate paths?

Four books in, Jen DeLuca’s Well Met series is going strong, consistently hitting the sweet spot of mixing unexpected romantic pairing with a super fun setting — the world of Renaissance Faires.

In Well Traveled, the focus shifts to Louisa “Lulu” Malone, whom we met in book #3 (where she was introduced as the cousin of the male romanctic lead). Here, Lulu takes center stage, and she’s a great character to tag along with.

Raised in a high-achieving, highly competitive family, Lulu is an intensely driven attorney working her butt off for partner status… but getting passed over year after year with promises that it’ll be different next time. Out of town on a pointless assignment, Lulu decides to unwind by visiting the nearby RenFaire (which she associates with her beloved cousin Mitch), but even in her few moments of relaxation, the demands of work keep her cell phone ringing and buzzing the entire time. Finally pushed too far, Lulu quits in dramatic and memorable style, but then doesn’t quite know what to do with herself.

Fortunately, the nearby performing group all know Mitch, and with his encouragement, invite Lulu to tag along with them for the next few stops on the Faire circuit, which will eventually lead to Mitch’s hometown, a place of refuge for her. With nothing else on the horizon, Lulu accepts the offer, and soon finds herself on the road and camping out with the Dueling Kilts — whose guitar-playing singer Dex is hot and charming, but has the reputation of being the ultimate player and king of the pick-up and hook-up.

Lulu and Dex become friendly, and Lulu also starts to find herself in this new world of Faire life. She learns how to put on a bodice and skirt and wander the lanes of Faire, making herself useful by serving turkey legs or passing the tip basket after Dueling Kilts performances. When she comes across a trio of fortune tellers who draw huge crowds that they can never quite accommodate, Lulu realizes that they need her help, and soon becomes their de facto “office manager”, organizing their schedules, taking appointments, and along the way, shedding her own skepticism and learning more about tarot, gems, and crystals.

The central storyline has two main points of focus — Lulu’s search for purpose, and her growing attraction to Dex. Lulu does not want to return to the old-boys-club world of corporate law, but she does still love her profession, and wants to figure out how to practice law without selling her soul. Meanwhile, as they travel together and share a small camper in very close quarters, Lulu’s connection to Dex deepens, and she begins to see that there’s more to him than the flirty, sexy guy who supposedly has a woman at every Faire.

What can I say? This book is sweet and loads of fun, and makes me want to chuck it all and run away with the Renaissance Faire! Lulu’s search for meaning is touching and relatable, and I enjoyed seeing her struggle not just with her romantic life, but with embracing her need for emotional fulfillment and recognizing that success doesn’t have to mean making work the only focus of her life.

I did get annoyed toward the end of the book, when miscommunications and assumptions seem to derail her relationship with Dex and threaten to permanently separate them. Of course, this is a romance, so a happily-ever-after is guaranteed. Yes, of course there has to be an obstacle before the HEA resolution, but the obstacles here seemed a little short-sighted and silly for such a smart woman to see as insurmountable.

All in all, this is yet another super enjoyable installment in a terrific series. I haven’t seen any promises of a 5th book yet, but I certainly hope there’s another on the way! I always enjoy these visits to the RenFaire. Let’s lift a tankard of mead and give a big huzzah to the world of Well Met!

Book Review: The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston

Title: The Dead Romantics
Author: Ashley Poston
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: June 28, 2022
Length: 366 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A disillusioned millennial ghostwriter who, quite literally, has some ghosts of her own, has to find her way back home in this sparkling adult debut from national bestselling author Ashley Poston.

Florence Day is the ghostwriter for one of the most prolific romance authors in the industry, and she has a problem—after a terrible breakup, she no longer believes in love. It’s as good as dead.

When her new editor, a too-handsome mountain of a man, won’t give her an extension on her book deadline, Florence prepares to kiss her career goodbye. But then she gets a phone call she never wanted to receive, and she must return home for the first time in a decade to help her family bury her beloved father.

For ten years, she’s run from the town that never understood her, and even though she misses the sound of a warm Southern night and her eccentric, loving family and their funeral parlor, she can’t bring herself to stay. Even with her father gone, it feels like nothing in this town has changed. And she hates it.

Until she finds a ghost standing at the funeral parlor’s front door, just as broad and infuriatingly handsome as ever, and he’s just as confused about why he’s there as she is.

Romance is most certainly dead . . . but so is her new editor, and his unfinished business will have her second-guessing everything she’s ever known about love stories.

This was a good one!

The plot synopsis is almost too complicated, but once you get into the story, the pieces fit. Basically, Florence is a ghostwriter for one of the most successful romance writers in the industry, but she’s behind on turning in the last book she has under contract. After a harsh betrayal and break-up a year earlier, she just can’t envision true love and happy endings any more. But the clock is ticking, and not finishing is really not an option.

Florence’s family owns the funeral home in a small southern town. She grew up with parents who were infuriatingly romantic and in love, and their home was filled with joy. Florence also has a secret — she sees dead people. Both she and her father have the gift of seeing and being able to interact with ghosts, but when this becomes public during Florence’s teens, she faces so much ridicule and bullying that she swears never to return to her hometown again.

Now an adult living in Manhattan, she’s stayed away for ten years, but is forced to go back and deal with the past when her father dies suddenly. Amidst the turmoil of family grief and planning a funeral, the ghost of Florence’s brand new editor shows up on her doorstep, which is especially concerning since she had no idea that he’d died.

Dead Romantics is a love story, but it’s so much more. It’s a loving depiction of a family that celebrates life and views death as just another part of the journey. It’s also a look at the internal life of a writer, and it’s a study of what it means to feel lost and hopeless and burdened by shattered illusions.

I love how Florence’s family is shown, and I love the rituals they invent and embrace to celebrate the life of a man who seems like the perfect husband and father. I also really enjoyed the strangeness of Florence getting to know the ghost of a man she’d only met once, and how their connection is able to develop and bridge the obvious gap between a living woman and a man who’s passed on.

I won’t give anything away… but I couldn’t see how there could be a solution to their situation that made sense.

There were no happily ever afters between an undertaker’s daughter and her ghost.

Surprise! The ending totally works, satisfied me, and left me feeling upbeat and cheery.

The writing is quite lovely, and having suffered a family loss recently myself, I found that certain passages really resonated:

I’d always written how grief was hollow. How it was a vast cavern of nothing. But I was wrong. Grief was the exact opposite. It was full and heavy and drowning because it wasn’t the absence of everything you lost—it was the culmination of it all, your love, your happiness, your bittersweets, wound tight like a knotted ball of yarn.

There’s a certain character who deserves to suffer some truly bad karma and I felt a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see that happen… but then again, that’s not what this story was really about.

Overall, I’m really glad that I picked up Dead Romantics and gave it a try. It was just the right mixture of sentiment, humor, sadness, and joy that I needed this week. Having read this author’s Once Upon a Con YA trilogy, I was curious to see how she’d do with her adult fiction debut. I’m happy to report that she nailed it!