5-star reads were few and far between for me this month, making them feel even more special when I found them. After loving Elsie Silver’s Heartless in October, I went a full four weeks(!) without a 5-star read, which is unheard of for me. It was only after another reader recommended Amanda Gambill’s Honestly, I’m Totally Faking It that I started to have better luck. I devoured that hysterical and nuanced romance from a new-to-me author, and it definitely turned my reading month around. With a very memorable meet cute and a great hero, it was a compelling, dynamic read. I loved it.
Speaking of new-to-me authors, I finally tried Ana Huang. King of Wrath is the start of a new series of interconnected standalones, so it seemed like the perfect place to jump in. And it was! I actually tried it on a weeknight and enjoyed the immersive writing style so much that I decided to save it for the holiday weekend when I could give it the binge it deserved. It was soapy and sexy, easy to devour.
Another (almost) new-to-me author makes the list. I’ve only read a few holiday novellas from Devney Perry before, but I one-clicked the audio version of Juniper Hill when it was on sale for Black Friday, and I binged it in a day. This single mom/roommates romance hit the right notes, and it’s got me excited to read more from the author. Plus, the audio was excellent.
Last, but absolutely not least, is a book that I was hoping to love – and I did! Meghan Quinn always swings for the fences, which can make for a miss here or there, but this marriage in trouble romance was devastatingly addictive. Also excellent on audio, Untying the Knot was a powerhouse of a read, and I loved seeing this couple’s journey every step of the way. It’s easily my favorite of Quinn’s 2022 releases, and it has reinforced why I’m always eager to dive into her books.
In December, my plan is to alternate between the books remaining on my 2022 TBR – romances with the potential to make my Best of the Year list – and easy holiday romances. I had a lot of luck doing things this way last year, and I ended up discovering some very, very good books and a ton of great new-to-me authors along the way. I also tossed a lot OFF of my TBR in the process, which I can’t complain about either.
If you missed my December 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!
Devastatingly brutal yet poignant and hopeful, this marriage in trouble romance put me through my paces emotionally – and I loved it! Switching between past and present, we see the highs and lows in this couple’s relationship, with the chemistry and connection in their early days punctuating the loss of a love that was once vibrant and full of life. Initially, I wondered if there were too many flashbacks, but they served such an impactful purpose – showcasing just how many important promises our hero lost sight of, and revealing the ways in which he unintentionally inflicted (nearly) irreparable damage to their relationship. He’s steadfast and loyal, the perfect counterpart to a heroine whose past hurts have caused her to run scared more than once. It was easy to see all of the ways they were great together, which just made the present day conflict even more excruciating. I empathized with both characters, and I was absolutely rooting for them to find their way back together again. It’s a powerhouse of a read, juxtaposing playful, banter-filled moments with achingly raw and tender scenes. Plus, whoa boy was the spice INTENSE – this couple knows each other well, so that knowledge and trust takes things to a whole other level.
The story follows Myla, a woman who thought she had found her forever love. While her abusive mother made it difficult to accept love into her life, she found that with Ryot. But when the former pro baseball player retired, he lost sight of the promises they made together. His neglect has inflicted damage to their marriage, and Myla believes that it has reached its breaking point. Ryot disagrees. He was blindsided when Myla asked for a divorce, and he’s willing to put in the work to make things right again… if only he knew what he did wrong. Weaving flashbacks with present day, we see how this swoony and smitten man won his dream girl… and how he lost her along the way.
I’ve read some exceptional books by Quinn, and this will be among my favorites. It truly does have a little of everything, from the initial sparks and chemistry to the heartache and angst. I think this story only could’ve worked laid out this way – I know that I would’ve had some issues with the way Myla and Ryot’s relationship progressed in the past, and Myla is also the kind of heroine whose insecurities threaten to overwhelm any story. With the story switching between past and present, we didn’t have to linger in that headspace for too long at any one time. And those flashbacks served such a great purpose, showing how Ryot’s distraction with work is one of the worst things he could’ve done, given their history. I’m also impressed that I genuinely liked both characters throughout the whole story – Myla is a spitfire, and Ryot is kind, patient, and loving. That’s why it hurt so much when they were hurting each other, and this is one of the only books to made me cry this year. There’s also more potentially triggering content than anticipated (no cheating or OW/OM drama), including a central (non-couple) character who is battling cancer. The whole book is designed for maximum devastation, slowly building back into something that is hopeful and richer because of the struggle. A fantastic read.
There’s just something so absolutely delicious about peeling back the layers of a prickly grump, figuring out what makes him tick and finding that gooey marshmallow center hiding beneath his beautiful but thorny exterior. And that is where this playful grumpy/sunshine romance shines! This one came on my radar out of nowhere, so I went in with zero expectations and no idea what kind of vibe I’d find once I started turning the pages. But it gripped me almost immediately, with a relatable heroine, a great meet cute, and an exceedingly memorable scene that sparks the fake relationship dynamic. I snort-laughed, I swooned, and I savored the slow burn to SIZZLE romance that kept me hooked to every page. The slow build in intimacy and balance between laugh out loud moments, tender interactions, and pure chemistry made this such a nuanced and engaging read. We only get the heroine’s perspective, and I loved unraveling the mystery that is our curmudgeonly hero. This couple was GREAT together, and I devoured it at a rapid pace. I loved it!
The story follows Rach, a woman who is endlessly upbeat, even though nothing seems to be going her way. So when she accepts an assignment as the assistant to a difficult boss sight unseen, Rach is optimistic that it will lead to good things. Unfortunately, her first interaction with her new boss does not go as expected… at all. After she accidentally flashes millions of people on live TV, Rach’s new boss publicly claims that she’s his girlfriend. As a politician with a reputation to uphold, it’s the only reasonable explanation for why a woman would be walking around his home in her birthday suit. The real reason is a little more complicated, lol, but Rach soon finds herself taking on the role of fake girlfriend. Spending time with Pres allows her to discover that his bark is much worse than his bite, and there’s actually a funny, nerdy man lurking beneath the surface. But Rach knows that Pres would never accept her as a real partner if he knew the full story, so the only relationship they can have is of the fake variety.
The blurb only scratches the surface, there is a whole lot to love about this book. It’s like all of my favorite tropes were mixed together to make the perfect recipe for romance – strangers with a unique meet cute, grumpy/sunshine, opposites attract, fake dating, and a complicated office dynamic. All major wins for me. I loved trying to figure Pres out, and Rach was such a great heroine that I didn’t mind being in her headspace the whole time. I also loved that the story was more complex than it might seem on the surface. It’s got that fun cover and a hysterical first act, which made me think it would be pure rom com. But as the story progressed, the intimate moments shone, and there were some deeper themes that developed along the way. We see how these two very different people have had similar experiences that have shaped them into the people they are today, and they both just want to feel like enough on their own. That’s one of the things that I loved about Pres the most – he was constantly building Rach up, nurturing her self-esteem and becoming a better man in the process. Not that he wasn’t already secretly a sweetheart, but they really brought out the best sides of each other. Their chemistry was also SO good, and I was surprised by just how spicy this gets – in a good way! It put me through my paces emotionally, with everything from laugh out loud comedy to heartache and tension that I felt through the pages. I was completely invested in their relationship, and that made this one of the easiest 5-star ratings I’ve given in awhile.
My first Ana Huang, and it was a good one! I can see why this author has become so popular – this was soapy and spicy, with a compelling marriage of convenience/forced engagement romance that develops between two strangers who are not very enthusiastic about the arrangement. Their relationship is a slow burn, especially emotionally, and it simmers in the background before coming to a full boil. I loved that this had darker undertones without going all in – it just added a layer of tension that made the story more interesting, but it never went over the top. I also liked the way that this introduced some characters whose stories I’d love to read; a true series starter that sets things up without being bogged down by too many threads. Would I have liked fewer time jumps and more swoony moments? Absolutely, but this easily held my interest the whole way through – and it’s got me excited to read more from the author.
The story follows Vivian, a woman who thought she’d have her freedom for another year or two. While Vivian is a modern, independent woman, she doesn’t want to damager her relationship with her parents by refusing the arranged marriage that she is sure will come sooner or later. But she never expected that her new fiancé would be Dante, a man whose reputation precedes him. He soon makes it clear that their one-year engagement will be a business arrangement only, as will the loveless marriage that is set to follow. To keep up appearances, Vivian moves in with Dante, and it’s there that she gets to know her fiancé. Not just the cold businessman who leaves for weeks at a time without notice, but also the sweatpants-wearing guy who sneaks into the kitchen late at night. As the two become closer, Dante finds himself softening towards his fiancée – but there’s one major issue that he knows will be a problem down the road.
Huang’s writing style is so immersive and bingeable, it was easy to get drawn in within a few pages. I loved the vibe, and I always love a good strangers to lovers romance. A marriage of convenience as well, though this is more of an engagement of convenience. The roommates situation was great, and I loved the quieter moments with them together. It’s sexually charged, with plenty of tension. The only thing that I didn’t love were the repeated time jumps – it would move forward a week or a month at a time, and that sort of extinguished some of the building sexual tension. I guess I just wanted to know what they were doing in the gaps that we missed, especially since they were living together. But that’s really my only complaint, the rest of this was a very solid read. Dante makes an interesting hero, and it’s easy to see that there might be some shades of gray in future installments to the series. This stands on its own (with a HEA), but also sets up the series well and leaves a few threads feeling unfinished. It’s a quick, devourable read with lots of chemistry, likable characters, and some spicy moments. A definite win for me.
So bingeable, with a hero who is the sweetest man underneath his frosty exterior, this made for the perfect introduction to this small town series. Yes, I skipped right to the book with the tropes I was most interested in, lol, and I have no regrets. It’s clear that the series is tied together enough that each book will have readers intrigued about future installments, but the books will also read as standalones with no trouble at all. I loved getting to know the characters, and the hero ended up being even better than anticipated – a man whose past hurts lead him to make an intimidating first impression, but who is actually loyal and loving underneath it all. I absolutely melted at the (plentiful) scenes with him caring for the heroine’s newborn baby, and the scenes with him showing extreme competence in the kitchen were just as addictive. The romance builds quickly once they get past the initial friction, and that made for an easygoing, devourable story. It’s engaging enough to hold your interest the whole way through, yet laidback enough to feel low angst and tender.
The story follows Memphis, a former heiress who has just arrived in a small, rustic town, hoping to make a new life for herself. While she once lead a very different life, the birth of her son – only two months ago – has vastly changed Memphis’ perspective on things. Penniless and alone, overwhelmed and trying her best, Memphis is disheartened when she discovers that her new landlord is a sexy grump of a man who clearly doesn’t want her around. Memphis has not only invaded Knox’s home, but also his workplace, and it’s not long before the two come face-to-face again and again. But Knox is determined to keep Memphis at arm’s length, and Memphis is determined to prove that she can make it on her own – so the tension that simmers between them is clearly just bottled up irritation… right?
I’m pretty new to Perry’s work, as my only experience with her writing is a Christmas novella or two. But I’ve been intrigued by this series for awhile now, so I decided to choose my first full-length novel from her wisely. And that ended up being a great strategy, because this was the kind of romance that hits all the right notes for me. We’ve got an endearing, swoonworthy hero; a resilient heroine who stands up for herself when necessary; a unique, dynamic setting; and a touch of suspense to keep things interesting. It’s the kind of read that’s a little tougher to describe – it’s not a rom com, it’s not overly angsty, but it’s compelling with a hint of emotion. There’s a touch of spice, but the focus is on the emotional connection. And the length was perfect for bingeing in one sitting. So this was a great re-introduction to Perry’s work, and it’s got me excited to read more from the author.
Did you see my December Release Calendar?
It includes the December 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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