I’m still ridiculously behind on my summer TBR, but I’ve read some great books along the way! This Best of list looks a little different than my usual ones – not only did it take two months to read six worthy books, but they’re also such an interesting mix of romances. If you’d asked me in May what my favorite books of July and August would be, I would’ve anticipated a completely different list. But sometimes it’s awesome to be surprised in such a great way!
My Best of lists usually feature more shirtless guys, I’ve gotta be honest, lol. Funny Business is the only non-illustrated cover in the mix, and it’s written by an author whose work I love 9 times out of 10. Funny Business was a low angst, high humor read, and another solid romance from Kayley Loring. I could say the same about Just Not That Into Billionaires – it’s a light and quirky read from an author whose work I’m really starting to love. On the other end of the spectrum, What If You & Me and Wait For It are both heavier, more emotional love stories by authors whose work I’m just getting acquainted with. I’ve been loving this series by Roni Loren, and I’ll definitely read more by Jenn McKinlay in the future. Another new-to-me author joining this list is Sonia Hartl, whose Heartbreak for Hire was such an interesting, unique romance. I loved the concept behind that steamy romance, and I also loved the depth that was revealed along the way. Rounding out the list is The Soulmate Equation, a spring release that I finally got around to reading – and am very glad that I did!
I just finished my first 5-star read of September, so I’m looking forward to seeing where the month takes me! My September TBR was initially pretty packed, but release dates have been shuffling around like crazy, and it’s starting to open back up. I honestly have no idea how the month will go! But my husband will be heading back to the classroom soon, so I expect that I’ll make some more progress on that TBR.
If you missed my September Release Calendar, you can find it here – there are so many books to look forward to!
I’ve got my review for each of my favorite summer reads below – you can’t go wrong with any of these!
Why is there something so absolutely swoon-worthy about a grumpy werewolf of a hero showing his vulnerable side? I loved the raw intimacy in this neighbors to lovers romance, which features two broken people healing together. It pairs a fierce and resilient heroine with a lovable and hurting hero, and the combination makes for one compelling read. This slow-burning love story doesn’t get dragged down by the weight of their pasts (which contain MANY triggers), but there is plenty of emotion and heartache. We got a peek at this heroine in the first book in this series of interconnected standalones, and I was intrigued by her then. But this was so much better than I anticipated; I loved it from start to finish.
The story follows Andi, a true crime podcaster whose past has shaped the person she is today. While most people see her bubbly exterior, not many know about the emotional scars that she carries. So when Andi meets her new neighbor, she feels a connection to him. Hill lost the career he loved, the woman he thought he’d marry, part of his leg, AND his confidence as the result of one on-the-job accident, and now he’s struggling to get himself out of the fog of depression. But Andi is a ray of sunshine in his life, and she might just be exactly what he needed to find his happy again.
Please be aware that the story explores SO MANY different things that some readers may find triggering, from depression and mental health to sexual assault and much more. It’s all handled with care and only serves to make the story richer, but the themes are front and center throughout the whole book. I didn’t find this to be overly heavy or particularly angsty, but there are definitely moments of that.
The first book in this series was a very solid read, so I was definitely looking forward to this. The dynamic in this one is right up my alley – I love a kind and protective cinnamon roll/alpha combo, and that’s what we get with Hill. He is a guy who once had everything that he thought he wanted, but it was all taken away with one accident. That’s left him reeling, and Andi is his perfect complement. They fit together so well BECAUSE they’ve both had such traumatic experiences – they understand each other in a way that many others wouldn’t. That makes the growth in intimacy so very fulfilling; there’s a patience and care to the steamy scenes that’s both enticing and comforting. I loved the connection between these two, and there was never a dull moment for me. I am definitely looking forward to more from the series – this was an excellent read. I received an early copy and am voluntarily leaving a review of this heartfelt romance.
This was unexpected in the BEST of ways. The nuanced storyline had me hooked from start to finish – I absolutely LOVED it! I loved how distinctive and unique it felt, with a story that gets richer and more complex as it progresses. It’s funny and sexy, lighthearted and subtle – while still packing an emotional punch that makes an impact. The contrasts and shifting perspective make for such a rich, intricate read. And the romance? Is my favorite kind of “enemies” to lovers scenario, with a side of instant attraction and plenty of sexual tension. Our sweet, cinnamon roll of a hero is a hot professor who wears sweater vests, blushes at compliments, and growls during a few seriously steamy scenes. This slow emotional burn is one of the more unique romances that I’ve read this year, and I devoured it in one sitting.
The story follows Brinkley, a woman who started an unconventional job after a breakup left her raw and hurting. At Heartbreak for Hire, Brinkley is paid to take men’s egos down a notch, at the request (and compensation) of those they’ve hurt along the way. But when Brinkley feels an immediate attraction to one of her targets – who seems to be a genuinely sweet, interesting guy – she’s forced to readjust her perspective on the job. Is she really helping others, or just adding more hate into the world? And when Brinkley’s former target, Mark, becomes her new co-worker, the friction between them sparks into something that has the potential to be a whole lot more.
So this definitely wasn’t the book that I was expecting from the somber cover and interesting blurb – it was better. Lighter, steamier, funnier, richer. Brinkley doesn’t make the most reliable narrator, and her skewed perspective allows the story to unwind in such an interesting way. This starts out sexy and focused on H4H, but the romance and personal growth are front and center throughout. I loved that Mark is such a major part of Brinkley’s journey, but she also finds strength and confidence within herself. Difficult subjects like gaslighting, sexual harassment, and more play a big role in the story, but this somehow doesn’t feel heavy. Brinkley is jaded and hurting when the book begins, so her thoughts and feelings evolve as the book progresses. There’s an intentional shift and that was great to see. I also loved Mark and Brinkley together – their chemistry is pretty powerful, and there are a few fan-worthy scenes here. The steam is sprinkled throughout the book, and every situation is important to their development as a couple. That first intimate moment reveals SO MUCH about both characters, and the subtlety is so well done. All in all, this is a refreshing, fascinating read – and I couldn’t put it down. I was lucky enough to receive an early copy and am voluntarily leaving a review of this intelligent romance.
Well, this was a surprise! I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this book, but it turned out to be an intimate little treat. I’d consider this to be along the lines of an American version of The Flatshare – if you liked the focus on personal growth and slow burn women’s fiction-turned-romance feel of that book, then you’ll probably enjoy this one as well. Romance is at the heart of it (complete with a few fan-worthy scenes), but both characters need to go on a journey of self-discovery before they’re able to let love in. I loved the broken, vulnerable hero who finds his strength along the way, and I loved the romance that simmers in the background. It’s a slower-paced love story that probably won’t be for everyone, but the intimate moments shine.
The story follows Annabelle, a twice-divorced 28-year-old who has lost her confidence. When one of her exes re-proposes, it’s the catalyst to finally make some changes. Annabelle moves across the country for a new job, and her friends set her up with a place to stay. The only problem? Her new landlord, a wealthy and mysterious retiree who frequently leaves stern notes that detail all the ways she is annoying him. Though Annabelle assumes Nick is a cranky senior citizen, he’s actually a thirty-something guy who is dealing with his own issues. He’s struggling with the changes in his life, and Annabelle is a fascinating distraction. As the two connect, they discover that their broken pieces fit together perfectly.
I’ve always been a fan of unique meet cutes, and this certainly has one. We meet Nick and Annabelle as individuals, and the notes are the only thing that tie them together for much of the book. Both characters are fully developed, though I think Nick is really the star. His journey is an interesting and impactful one – a man who had let money and power consume his life, until a health scare (a stroke) forced him to re-evaluate everything. There’s an emphasis on mental health, as well as plenty of emotional moments and self-reflection… plus some serious chemistry and a touch of steam. I’ve never read a romance quite like this one, so it kept me hooked from start to finish – even though it’s definitely got a laidback, slow feel in a lot of ways. The romance does feel a little rushed, though it’s a major part of the story. That would really be my only complaint about this heartfelt romance; I sincerely enjoyed it the whole way through.
There’s something about Martin’s writing style that just WORKS for me, and this was another great example. I loved the light, quirky feel and the grumpy/sunshine dynamic. I’ve also never read a book quite like this one – it’s an interesting mix of tropes, with a dash of enemies to lovers, second chance, fake relationship, Vegas wedding, and opposites attract all mixed together. Ultimately, this feels most like a second chance romance, with a touch of angst juxtaposed against all of the lighthearted humor. These two former frenemies/co-workers got married in Vegas ten years ago, and they’ve got very different interpretations of the situation. While one element of their backstory rubbed me the wrong way, the vast majority of this was GREAT. The subtle angst underneath the rom com makes this a layered and interesting read, while the excellent writing kept me hooked along the way.
The story follows Benny and Francine, two total opposites who worked together one summer. Francine was a ballerina on the rise, while Benny was an awkward tech nerd who always seemed to be scowling. It’s not until ten years later that Francine discovers something very important – they’re married. Apparently, a drunken night on the town led to marriage, and Francine had no idea. When she seeks out Benny in hopes of having a quick divorce, Francine gets more than she bargained for. Turns out, Benny knew they were married the whole time – and she makes a very convenient wife. Benny is now a tech mogul who has schooled his awkwardness into submission, and he’s more closed off than ever.
At the surface, this is a light and fun rom com – there’s plenty of humor, and it plays up the tropes. But Martin excels at writing stories that dig a little deeper, so there’s a lot more going on. We see how the years have changed these two, and how vastly different their responses to the night in Vegas were. I’m not usually one to enjoy miscommunication, but it does work here – this felt fresh and unique is so many ways. I was fascinated by Benny; he’s spent years molding himself into a different person, and he’s completely closed himself off to Francine. I loved the cinnamon roll nerd hidden underneath his alpha exterior, and the complexity of his character is one of the best parts of this book. The opposites attract dynamic was also great, as is their shared history. These two have such chemistry, and their connection is obvious. It’s a unique, bingeable read – and I had no trouble devouring it in one sitting. I received an early copy and am voluntarily leaving a review of this lighthearted romance.
Minor spoilers for those curious about the safety: my knee jerk reaction was to feel a little icky about it. Francine wasn’t aware that she was married, so that’s one thing… but Benny did. The press also knows he’s married, so, theoretically, every woman he hooked up with during the years apart thought he was cheating on his wife (which he kinda was). Realistically, he hadn’t seen his wife (who he never slept with) in years (and she left him), so I’m grudgingly okay with this. But not every reader will be. There’s no OW/OM drama at all, but that aspect of their history is important to the story – and I actually think it’s better for it. The romantic in me doesn’t necessarily agree, lol.
Everybody loves a sexy, grumpy nerd – right? I certainly do! That made it easy to fall for this slow-burning, science-filled romance. I’d like to make a joke that this book has as much chemistry as a science textbook, but that seems like a step too far, lol. Our couple does have a definite connection though, and the chemistry builds along the way. It took about a quarter of the book before I was truly loving it (I partially blame the narrator), but by that point I was all in. It’s different and interesting and gets progressively better. Our mysterious, moody hero is a secret cinnamon roll nerd who steals the show later on. The initial enemies to lovers vibes switch over to something much sweeter, and I loved the build in intimacy. The focus is on the emotional connection, but there are also some sexy moments to heat things up.
The story follows Jess, a single mom who has reached the point where dating doesn’t hold any appeal, and getting ready for the day involves throwing on whatever clothes are on top of the pile. She loves her daughter and gets the affection she needs from her, so why add someone else into the equation? When Jess discovers that the hot jerk who frequents her favorite coffee shop is one of the main scientists behind an up-and-coming genetics-based matchmaking service, she finds herself taking one of the tests. And soon gets paired up with the hot jerk himself. According to the data, Jess and River are a near-perfect match, and his company stands to benefit from the positive PR their pairing would garner. Though the two can barely tolerate each other, they agree to give a relationship a chance, and it’s not long before these strangers are having a change of heart.
I’m still pretty new to CL’s work, but this blurb was too enticing to ignore. It’s a little different than the typical romance, and I loved the focus on the emotional connection. The evolution of this relationship from start to finish is incredible, and the subtlety in the story is outstanding. There’s an awkwardness to their interactions that is just so completely compelling, and the shifting dynamics were fascinating. River makes a mysterious hero (we don’t get his perspective), and he feels like a completely different person by the end – though, looking back, it’d be easy to interpret scenes differently. I love it when I want to flip back to the meet cute to experience it with fresh eyes, and I did exactly that once I finished this book. It’s stellar the whole way through, and I had no trouble devouring it in one sitting.
Bookshop Hardcover: https://bookshop.org/a/18118/9781982123963
🎧 Audio note: The audio is pretty average, honestly. Single narrator (female) with a sharp, nasal voice. It took awhile for me to settle into her style, and she’s definitely not one of my favorites. That being said, it’s well done. There were no obvious issues, and I had no trouble telling the characters apart. Once I got used to the narrator’s voice, it was easy to tune out. The length of the book is perfect for the workday – just a bit longer than a day at the office, and no need to continue on to a second day. It’s a slow burn romance with mild steam later in the story, nothing too scandalous. I do recommend the audio overall.
The lightest, funniest book I’ve read all year certainly deserves a 5-star rating… even if it’s not a cut and dry one. I loved the playfulness of this exceedingly low angst romance, and I loved the sexual tension. It’s got likable characters and such a unique vibe; it’s so, so easy to tell that it’s written by Loring. This is the perfect jumping in point for new fans – the story kicks off a brand new series of standalones, but there are (brief) appearances from some old favorites. I’ll be the first to admit that the relationship is shallower than I’d like and the emotional connection is lacking, but I had a great time reading this – and it absolutely flew by.
The story follows Owen, a single dad whose career in comedy is really starting to come together. Three years ago, Owen was heckled by a drunken (yet sexy) fan while telling some tired jokes about his failing marriage. And he’s been heckled by the same woman on social media since. When they finally meet face-to-face, Owen is at a very different place in his life, and his heckler is the potential new nanny to his son. Chemistry sparks between them immediately, and Owen knows that it’s a bad idea to take Frankie on tour with him – they are sure to cross some lines, and that might not be the best thing for either of them.
Loring has such a distinctive writing style that’s incredibly easy to binge. I had no trouble reading this in one sitting, and I had a smile on my face the whole time. There definitely could’ve been more relationship development and I think some of the humor could’ve been replaced with more swoon, but it was such a sweet/sexy read. There are great family moments paired with steamy, intense scenes, and I loved the combination. Owen is such a good hero, and I loved how strong Frankie is. They had some combustible chemistry, and make a perfect pair. It’s not my favorite from the author, but it does an outstanding job of introducing this new series – and I am so ready for more.
Did you see my September Release Calendar?
It includes the September releases I’m excited about AND 200+ upcoming books that are available for preorder! Check it out here.
Fair warning: it’s only been a week since this calendar went up, and there have already been plenty of changes to release dates. I can’t keep up with the Covid shuffle going on!
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