July may have been a rocky reading month for me, but I ended up with some GREAT reads. I think it says a lot that my Best of July list only includes one July release, lol, though three of these came out in June. I had to look a little harder than usual for books that resonated with me, so three new-to-me authors made this list. And that’s an awesome thing! Two of my top picks this month are by authors I hadn’t heard of prior to July, so I can’t complain about my reading month in the end!
Let’s talk about the one true July release first – Spare Me. It’s another excellent addition to a series that I’ve been loving, and tons of steamy fun. I loved this unlikely couple, and the sweet, nerdy hero was adorable. The whole book was bright and funny.
Then we’ve got two June releases from new-to-me authors, which were both fantastic in different ways. Elsie Silver’s Flawless was emotional and swoony, featuring a hero with a bad reputation. I loved the slow build in intimacy, and I found myself unexpectedly loving a book featuring an aging bull rider. Who knew? Another great book with stellar forced proximity is Hannah Bonam-Young’s debut, Next of Kin. This strangers to roommates to lovers romance features two young adults who are trying to get custody of their respective siblings, and the whole found family dynamic was so good. I devoured it at record speed, and look forward to more from the author.
Rounding out my top picks for the month is Kristen Callihan’s Fall, a book that’s been sitting on my TBR for far too long. Callihan’s VIP series has been so strong that I’ve been slowly savoring it over the course of several years, and Fall was equal parts heavy and uplifting.
Finally, I’ve got two honorable mentions – books that provided me with great reading experiences. The Dead Romantics was unpredictable and unique, with a fresh and interesting storyline that straddles the line between women’s fiction and romance. The more I think about it, the more I like it. I also posted my review for Faking Ms. Right, which was steamy, tropey fun, featuring a boss/employee dynamic that gets thrown off balance when they fake a relationship.
I’m looking forward to August! It may be a quieter release month overall, but I’ve already read a few excellent ARCs. If you missed my August Release Calendar, you can find it here – there are so many books to look forward to!
I’ve got my review for each of this month’s best books below – you can’t go wrong with any of these!
An EASY 5-star rating for me – I loved it! When I stumbled upon this debut romance, I had zero expectations, so I couldn’t have predicted the level of SWOONS or the plethora of heartfelt moments. I’ve never read a storyline quite like this one, and the near-constant forced proximity made for a book that absolutely FLIES by and a relationship that evolves quickly. Our hero is surly and standoffish at first, but it’s not long before his heart starts thawing. And MY heart? Well it practically melted from witnessing this gruff mechanic holding a baby and stepping up to take care of his little brother. Both of these characters have recently become caretakers for their siblings, and the found family element was GREAT. They fit together seamlessly, and this debut author deftly balances serious situations with sweet and playful ones. It’s the kind of lighthearted, uplifting romance that has grittier undertones that give the story weight without bringing it down.
The story follows Chloe, a 24-year-old who has just struck out on her own when she gets a phone call that changes her life. Turns out, Chloe’s birth mother just had another child, and she’s as ill-equipped to be a mom now as she was when Chloe was young. After meeting her baby sister for the first time, Chloe knows that she’s meant to keep her – but she doesn’t yet have the financial stability to raise a baby on her own. So when child services sets her up with a new roommate who is trying to get custody of his deaf teenage brother, it’s an overwhelming and unexpected situation. And Warren (23) isn’t the kind of warm and bubbly guy who will make their new living arrangement easier – he’s a little rough around the edges, angry at the world, and determined to keep Chloe at arm’s length. But it’s not long before Chloe starts seeing a softer side of Warren, and they form a family of their own.
For a book that tackles SO MANY heavy, potentially triggering topics – read the CW on this one – it’s actually a very light and fresh story most of the time. If I had one complaint (I really don’t) it’d be that it could’ve dug a little deeper into some of Warren and Chloe’s hangups – but I immensely enjoyed the light, swoony feel of the story. The roommates situation and grumpy/sunshine dynamic worked in a big way, and I loved watching Warren transform before my eyes. The story is told exclusively from Chloe’s point of view, but it was easy to see him fall. There are plenty of tender moments, several steamy ones, and SO much focus on the found family. The book is actually pretty short, but Chloe and Warren spend so much time together that it didn’t feel rushed. I was just impressed by how much this debut author packed into the pages. And if this is her debut? Then I’m very excited to see what comes next.
Flawless is right – I absolutely LOVED this from start to finish. I’ll admit that I’m a cover hoe and that’s the primary reason I checked out this new-to-me author’s work, so I had no idea what was in store for me when I started reading. But this gripped me from the first few pages, and I loved the electric connection between these characters. It’s not quite enemies to lovers, more like strangers who resent having to be around each other, and I loved the friction that formed from their frustration (sexual and otherwise, lol). Our hero has a bad reputation, but it wasn’t long before I was falling hard for him – his vulnerability and insecurities were so endearing, and it was easy to see how deep his feelings ran. And by the end? Whoa boy, he took me by surprise in the best of ways, which made for some super swoony moments. And some super steamy moments. The buildup of all that forced proximity (including an only one bed situation) made this slow burn to SIZZLE even more impactful. It’s an all-around stellar read that didn’t disappoint at any turn.
The story follows Rhett (32), an aging bull rider whose body is starting to fail him. While he’s been putting his life on the line for over a decade, the aches and pains are beginning to wear on him. So when an unfortunate PR situation puts his career on the line, Rhett is frustrated and resentful. He risks his health every time he gets on a bull, and the fans who once built up his confidence now threaten to take away the one thing that makes him feel like a success. Add to that, Rhett’s agent has assigned him a “babysitter” in the form of his sexy but uptight daughter. Summer (25) is tasked with keeping Rhett in line, and his partying, playboy reputation makes her believe that will be quite the feat. But Rhett is nothing like Summer expected, and it’s not long before she’s seeing the real man who lives beneath the cocky persona.
Now… I’m not someone who usually reads romances about bull riders and ranchers. I definitely have before, but it’s never been something that’s felt fresh or relatable to me. This did. It took only a few pages for me to start rooting for Rhett and Summer – it was obvious that these two opposites would easily attract. I loved how Summer falls for Rhett’s true self, and it was clear that he was aching for someone to do so. Playboys always seem to fall the hardest, and that’s definitely the case here. Rhett falls hard and fast, putting up a valiant effort to resist but soon tumbling in a big way. I really appreciated that Silver didn’t play up his playboy past or add a lot of unnecessary drama; Rhett’s done a lot of growing on his own, but he’s been stuck with a manhoe label even though it doesn’t fit as well as it used to. And once he meets Summer? There’s no going back. It was easy to see how much she irrevocably changes him, and they were so absolutely perfect together… in AND out of the bedroom. It’s got plenty of spice, but the focus is on their connection – and that was consuming and vivid. I love being surprised by books, and this is a great example. It’s nothing like I would’ve expected, but everything that I wanted.
I adored Managed so much that I was almost hesitant to continue the series after reading what remains one of my all-time favorite books, but it was FINALLY the right time for me to sit down with Fall. And it lived up to all of my expectations! Once again, Callihan does an excellent job of slowly building up the intimacy, drawing two very different characters together, and developing a relationship that feels so fulfilling. Throughout the series (not required reading, but helpful), Jax has been a major character, but also something of a mystery. In attempting to take his own life, Jax forever changed every other character in his orbit, and the series has revolved around those lingering effects. Here, we finally get his story, and it was more hopeful and upbeat than I expected. I love the idea of two strangers having a chance meeting that changes everything, and it was the perfect scenario for this broken hero. It was great seeing the light come back into his eyes, and watching John embrace his true self versus the “Jax” rock star persona he’s perfected over the years. Finding love as his true self. It’s a slow-burning love story that really struck a chord with me, and it was absolutely worth the wait.
The story follows John, a man who has long been known as the reckless rock star, Jax. While he was once famous for being a talented (and incredibly sexy) musician, John is now infamous for being the man who attempted to end his life. He’s finally gotten to a place where day to day life is manageable, if not a little boring. But one chance encounter with a stranger at a grocery store – who soon becomes his temporary neighbor – has a spark coming to life in John. Stella sees John as the man he is today, and she thinks he’s enough. She thinks he’s worthy. And as the two develop a friendship that feels like more, something awakens in John. But the demons of both of their pasts are never far from the present, and they’ll have to dig deep to survive the fall.
Rock star romances can go one of two ways for me, but I kind of love watching a manhoe be brought to his knees the instant he meets the right girl. Working for something that’s always come easy, or working towards something he’s never experienced. And that’s the case here. As Jax, John has gotten used to the rock star lifestyle – his newly discovered (treatable) STI proves it – but there are certain experiences that he’s missed out on. He’s never experienced true intimacy, or a relationship that feels like more than a fleeting connection. I loved watching him appreciate the “simple” things in life, and it felt like he was truly falling for the first time. Uncertain and unsteady, John is off-balance in a way he hasn’t been before. I also loved that he’s still broken in many ways, but finds a strength within himself. The book isn’t overly heavy or weighed down by John’s past, but it’s always there in the background. Stella makes the perfect partner for him – she also has darkness in her past, and it was interesting to see the parallels in their very different lifestyles. They were really great together, and I LOVED that John took the time to woo her. I’m so glad that I finally sat down to read this – it just increased my already-overflowing love for the series.
We all need a sexy nerd like this one in our lives – this hero is adorable… and also kind of a caveman. I loved him, and I loved this refreshingly low angst rom com from start to finish. While the whole Summersweet series has been great, this is easily one of my favorite installments. The chemistry between this unlikely couple is obvious from their first encounter, and the roommates situation allowed for just the right kind of proximity. I loved watching these two discover all of the ways they could bring out the best in each other, and pairing a sweet and swoony hero with a firecracker of a heroine was so much fun. This also might be the HOTTEST installment of the series yet; once our shy and reserved hero starts falling for his girl, he can’t seem to contain himself – and I wasn’t complaining! The whole book was an absolute blast to read, and it reminded me why I always drop what I’m doing and dive into the newest Summersweet adventure as soon as it’s available.
The story follows Ryan, a math teacher who knows that he’s a nerd. He’s always been the shy and timid type, which was as much of a problem back in high school as it is today. It’s not that Ryan is embarrassed about who he is – he owns it – but being single again has reminded him that no girl will ever be happy with the boring guy for the long haul. So when a sexy, tattooed stranger comes crashing into Ryan’s life, it’s a shock to his system. Not only did Danica make one heck of a first impression, but Ryan also kinda-sorta agreed to let her come live with him. A favor to a friend has turned into something entirely unexpected, and it’s not long before these two total opposites are realizing just how well they complement each other. Danica brings out a side of Ryan that threatens to spiral out of control, and neither one is sure how long they can sustain that feeling.
If you’re new to the Summersweet series, no worries – this can easily be read as a standalone. It’s actually a great place to jump into the series. But… why would you want to skip the other books? They’ve all been tons of fun; carefree, comedic adventures that are full of romance. Spare Me has the same energy – upbeat, off-kilter, funny, and sexy. The sense of community has grown with every new installment, and the cast of characters is all part of the fun. Ryan and Danica are the stars here though; their love story is front and center. It was easy to see how perfect they were together, and I loved how Danica brings out a whole different side of Ryan. He’s a genuinely nice guy – a true cinnamon roll – which made his alpha side all the more impactful. I wasn’t expecting the level of spice between these two! That all made for one sexy and unpredictable ride. I devoured this in one sitting, and there was never a dull moment. I loved it.
Charming and poignant, this ghost story is a little bit romance and a little bit women’s fiction. Our hero is a ghost, so that causes plenty of tension, naturally. But as someone who exclusively reads romance novels, I wasn’t making an exception for this. There’s a sweet and swoony love story wrapped up in the center of a somewhat heavy book about grief and processing loss. Mixing bleak moments with hopeful ones, this intricately weaves together so many important themes in a masterful way. And the ghost puns! SO MANY ghostly references within the text, I loved it. The romance reader in me gobbled up every little bit of the romance; I personally wanted a stronger focus on that, but that’s because I’m greedy. One of the best parts of the book is how it balances the light with the dark – there’s as much time spent on the pain of death as there is the hope for the future. And that one-of-a-kind feel is what makes this a truly special book – a truly special romance novel – even if this romance reader wanted a stronger focus on that element.
The story follows Florence, a woman who ghostwrites for a famous romance author. When her own debut novel failed, Florence was worried that her career was over, but she’s found success being the woman behind the scenes. At least she did, until her own love life imploded a year ago. Now Florence is on a tight deadline to produce a happily ever after, and she just doesn’t have it in her. She’s starting to think that love is dead, and the sudden death of her father certainly doesn’t do anything to change her mind. So when Florence’s sexy and stern new editor shows up on the funeral home’s doorstep – as a ghost – she’s not sure what to think. Florence and Ben only met briefly before he became a ghost, and neither one is sure whether Florence is supposed to be helping Ben find peace or whether he’s supposed to help Florence wrap up her novel while processing her father’s death. Either way, as these two near-strangers spend time together, they begin to wish that they’d gotten closer before Ben crossed to the other side.
You’re probably still skeptical about whether this is a romance novel or women’s fiction, because of the ghost situation. I would call this a romance novel for readers who enjoy elements of women’s fiction, because the book is truly Florence’s journey, and that doesn’t always involve Ben. But… yeah, it’s a romance too. While much of the book is emotional and full of grief (not only is Ben grappling with the fact that he’s no longer amongst the living, but Florence’s father has just passed away), it’s also got a funny, uplifting side. It’s hopeful. It’s a little bit swoony. I loved the opposites attract vibes between Ben and Florence, and how they definitely wouldn’t have found their way together if Ben hadn’t experienced this time with her. Florence is a chaotic mess of a woman who communicates with ghosts, so that’s not something the controlled, workaholic Ben would’ve been able to handle pre-accident. There are these tiny shifts to the dynamic along the way, and Poston does a masterful job of tying everything together perfectly. That’s why this romance reader is willing to round up her rating – while I was greedy for more romance, this is the kind of book that I’m going to be reflecting on for a long time. And it had exactly the kind of ending I wanted.
With fan-worthy steam, a playful feel, and tons of sexual tension, this grumpy/sunshine romance absolutely flies by. It’s an office romance with a side of fake relationship, pairing up two total opposites who have never really gotten to know each other. Once this boss and his assistant interact outside of the office, their entire dynamic shifts – and then it’s on. The lovable grump of a hero is endearing and just a little bit sweet, so he is the perfect match to our bright and bubbly heroine. I loved the forced proximity, which makes for plenty of hot and sexy moments to keep things interesting. I’m not sure why I left this one on my TBR for so long, but I’m very happy that I finally made time for it – the whole thing was great.
The story follows Everly, an executive assistant who has learned how to deal with her cold and aloof boss. She’s been working for Shepherd for three years now, but they never actually communicate in a meaningful way. It’s all business between this boss and his assistant, which is why a late night call from Shepherd leaves Everly so surprised. His demand that she meet him at a party – and wear something sexy – has Everly confused… until she gets there. Turns out, her cold-hearted boss has a soft spot for his dad, and Shepherd doesn’t have the heart to tell his dad that the gold-digger on his arm is his recent ex. One thing leads to another, and Everly soon finds herself agreeing to play the role of Shepherd’s fake girlfriend, even going so far as to move in temporarily. But sleeping next to the boss who has never taken the time to get to know you is sure to change any relationship.
I think I left this on my TBR for so long because some readers thought Shepherd had been lusting after his assistant while continuing to be a playboy or that he only saw her after she looked hot one night. I didn’t see it that way at all. While Shepherd acknowledges that Everly is attractive (BEFORE that night), he goes out of his way to keep their relationship professional – and has never looked past her sweet and unassuming exterior. It’s not until they both let down their guards and see beneath the surface that the dynamic shifts. I loved that they have that shared history while also learning about the things that make them right for each other one step at a time. The forced proximity is a definite win here, and I loved the roommates element. The sexual tension ratchets up over time, and then this got so steamy and intimate towards the end. Their closeness allows them to open up in a meaningful way, and that made for some excellent moments.
Did you see my August Release Calendar?
It includes the August releases I’m excited about AND 200+ upcoming books that are available for preorder! Check it out here.
Check out this week’s new releases here.
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