Best of January 2023

I’m not sure which six books I expected to make the list this month, but a few disappointments left room for some unexpected delights – and three new-to-me authors!

Final Offer was one of my most anticipated reads of the new year, so I was ecstatic when I received an ARC, AND it lived up to my extremely high expectations. The vibe is heavier and angstier than the other books in the series, with a hero who feels a lot more like an antihero. I loved the complexity and the tension, which made it a richer, multi-faceted read.

I also had an ARC for Georgie, All Along, which I saved for just the right day. And I’m so glad that I did! The strangers(ish) to roommates to lovers slow burn had me so engaged with the story, and I loved that it was so introspective and thought-provoking, while still being so swoony and romantic. Another great read from Kate Clayborn, for sure.

Then we’ve got the new-to-me authors, including debut author Ellie K. Wilde. On a night when I was struggling to figure out what to read – knowing that I’d been DNFing books all week – I stumbled upon this debut and ended up jumping right in. The he falls first/one-sided enemies to lovers vibes had me hooked, and I loved the writing style. It was such a sexual tension-filled read as well, with some truly electric moments. Such a delightful surprise, and I’m looking forward to the next interconnected standalone in the series.

Speaking of sexual tension, Tis the Season for Revenge definitely lived up to the hype. I saved it for the holidays, but this super spicy read could easily be enjoyed during any season. The playful feel and Legally Blonde-style heroine made the story one-of-a-kind, and it had an immensely bingeable quality. It’s also full of spice and everything not-so-nice, which I certainly didn’t complain about.

On the other end of the spectrum, Do I Know You? was equally unique, but in an entirely different way. The marriage in trouble romance – written by an actual married couple – was quiet and insightful, full of emotion and tension of a different variety. I loved watching this couple find their way back to each other, and the storyline was compelling in its uniqueness.

Finally, I read Amy Lea’s room-ance, Exes and O’s, which lived up to the adorableness of the cover. While I enjoyed the first book in the series, Set on You, Exes and O’s was a step above – and I loved watching these strangers to roommates to friends to lovers SLOWLY figure out their situation.

Each book had a totally different feel, but they all helped make my reading month pretty great! Here’s hoping that February goes just as well.

If you missed my February 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!


TOP PICKS

From the moment we met this couple on the page together, I knew this love story was going to be something special. The TENSION snaps and crackles immediately, and it’s obvious that there is both a lot of love and HURT between them. This (anti)hero is perhaps the most “broken” man I’ve ever rooted for in a love story; he’s actively addicted, terrified of feeling his pain, and forced to confront the one woman who has always held his heart. It’s a treacherous road to happily ever after, with grit and depth that makes the story feel even richer. And I think this only could’ve been a second chance romance, because it’s their shared history that ties them together – even when this heroine would love nothing more than to run away. It’s not all heartache and angst though, there are some fiercely (bitter)sweet moments that showcase all of the reasons why this couple is perfect together. This is easily the heaviest book in the series, but it’s also the most powerful.

The story follows Cal, a man who has struggled with addiction for over a decade. While some would say that he has the kind of life most would envy, there always seem to be roadblocks in his path to happiness. And some of those roadblocks are Cal himself; he’s his own worst enemy. So when an inheritance requires Cal to spend the summer with the woman whose heart he shattered six years ago – then convince her to sell the place she calls home – it brings out the worst in him. Though Cal has loved Alana for years, she’s spent the time apart hardening her heart. Living together, even temporarily, tests their relationship in a way neither one could’ve anticipated. It will either be the end of them, permanently, or it will be the thing that finally gets Cal to expect more from himself.

It’s no secret throughout the series that Cal is an addict – he’s a functioning alcoholic who has also leaned on pills in the past. That’s what tore Cal and Alana apart the first time, and it’s also the thing that prevents them from having a future. I was surprised by just how “broken” Cal is, though I hate to use that word here. He’s simply a man fighting his demons, and they often get the best of him. It became obvious how emotionally invested I was in his love story when I was completely and utterly disappointed by some of his actions. I loved that Asher didn’t go with the “love heals all” path; Cal doesn’t instantly change his ways because Alana is back in his life. I also really respected Alana and her strength throughout the story. It’s clear that she loves Cal, but she also knows she deserves better. That brings about a ton of conflict and so much tension, giving this a raw and emotional edge. The moments that were good between them were GREAT, and I was aching for them to find their way together. And when they finally did? It felt incredible.

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3uCJoDp


What a gorgeous love story! This is EASILY my favorite of Clayborn’s romances (so far), and the bar was already pretty high. I loved the instant zap of connection I felt towards these characters, from those awkward first encounters to the subtle shifts in their relationship. I loved this grumpy hero – a man who shows his prickly exterior to hide the soft spots he’s got inside. Every time he revealed another layer of himself, I adored him even more. Yeah, he stumbled along the way, but learned from his mistakes and got up to try again. And I loved, loved, loved how these two total opposites find their way together in a way that felt rich and deep. There’s small town goodness, emotional moments, and such a great progression from near-strangers to tentative roommates to lovers. The steamy moments were so intimate and electric, and the introspective tone of the whole story was both fulfilling and unique.

The story follows Georgie, a woman who can only think about the present – and her present situation is a hot mess. She’s never seemed to do things like everyone else, and that has left her jobless, single, and back home (hopefully) temporarily, crashing at her parents’ place while they’re away. But when Georgie discovers that her flaky parents have accidentally double-booked their home, she finds herself with a roommate. Georgie never met Levi, but she knows him by reputation – he was always known as the troublemaking brother to her teenage crush. Now a broody and reserved man, Levi is the complete opposite of Georgie’s chaos. Spending time together reinforces the fact that they both need to make some changes in their lives, but spending time together also brings them closer. As these two work through their internal struggles, they realize that they might just have been perfect for each other all along.

I avoided looking up details and decided to dive right in, because Clayborn’s one-of-a-kind love stories have never steered me wrong. She has a way of writing that feels so all-encompassing and different; vibrant and distinct in a way that I haven’t experienced from anyone else. And the streak continues with Georgie, which is a small town/roommates romance on its surface, but something all-together different in the details. The vibe is so unique, with that introspective quality and a softer, quieter feel. Plus, both characters are complex and interesting, with backstories that felt authentic and raw. I loved peeling back their layers – especially Levi, let’s be honest – and I loved how they came together as works in progress still figuring themselves out. There are some truly SWOONY moments in here, some moments of extreme connection, and it ended up being such an engrossing read. Those final chapters had me smiling like crazy, and that’s how I know a book really made an impact. I loved it!

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3C3nbSX


The banter and sexual tension in this he falls first/one-sided enemies to lovers romance made it such an engaging read; I loved watching these two bicker, and the attraction that sparked between them was palpable. It’s also got a playful feel that makes the pages fly by, paired with an undercurrent of emotion that digs a little deeper. The hero is the kind of lovable grump who shows his marshmallow center sooner rather than later, and I absolutely adored his persistence, patience, and unwavering devotion. Our heroine might consider them to be enemies, but it was clear from the start that our hero had an entirely different opinion. Watching this love story unfold from both perspectives was so dynamic, and I had no trouble devouring every page. For a debut, this was pretty spectacular, and it’s the kind of book that has me excited to read more from the author – I loved it!

The story follows Jude, an interior designer whose career was derailed three years ago when she worked on a project for a notoriously grumpy chef. He’s now back in town and opening another restaurant, which could be just the kickstart Jude’s career needs – or so she thinks. Turns out, Theo has no interest in working with Jude, so spending time together is sure to be torture for them both… for very different reasons. The grumpy Theo may have a soft spot for Jude, but he’s focused on his restaurant, and the attraction he feels for her is nothing but a distraction. Tensions rise as they work together, and it’s not long before Theo realizes that he may have messed up. By giving Jude a very real reason to hate him, he may have missed out on his chance at something great.

I had no idea what to expect going into this, but I love an office rivals romance and the blurb intrigued me. So I was taken aback by just how much I loved the vibe – it plays up those classic tropes while also feeling fresh and different, and the writing is much stronger than I’d expect from an indie debut. Sure, there’s a typo here or there and a few subplots that could’ve been cleaned up, but the heart of the story was really fantastic. Wilde also does an excellent job of building up the sexual tension, with some truly fan-worthy scenes. It’s what I’d call a HOT slow burn, with some seriously scorching moments to ratchet up the tension. The overall vibe is lighthearted and playful though, with tons of swoony moments thrown in the mix. It was easy to see that Theo was completely GONE for his girl, and I loved the major “he falls first” vibes paired with that enemies-ish tension. The slow build in intimacy showcased the shifts in their relationship, and Wilde handled that transition deftly. It was very strong for a debut, and easily one of the best rom coms I’ve read in awhile. So you can be sure that I’ll be checking out the next installment in this series of interconnected standalones.

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3HqyBU1


Sometimes you start reading a book and get a great feeling about it almost immediately – there’s something that pulls you in and lets you know that it’s going to be a good one. That’s how I felt about this. It was clear from the first few pages that the dynamic was WORKING for me, with a complex, layered storyline and a unique feel. I loved that we got both perspectives, because it showcased how entirely disconnected this married couple is – they have been unintentionally hurting each other in the worst ways, and inflicting damage to their relationship one piece at a time. That added a complexity that I loved, and it was so interesting to pinpoint the little snippets of hurt, the wrong moves and the right ones. It’s a quieter romance that’s probably best enjoyed by readers who have been in a long-term relationship. You can feel the LOVE between these two, and I SO appreciated how dedicated they were to making it work.

The story follows Eliza and Graham, a couple that married while they were in their early twenties. They love each other dearly, but both acknowledge (at least to themselves) that something has been off about their relationship. So when Eliza’s mother-in-law gifts them a getaway for their fifth anniversary, she’s almost dreading the experience. Spending a week alone with her husband – in an extremely romantic setting, no less – does not sound like Eliza’s idea of a good time at the moment. When the hotel accidentally books them two rooms, well… it doesn’t sound like a terrible idea to Eliza. And when Graham and Eliza find themselves pretending to be strangers in the hotel bar, it sparks a whole other idea. They’ll try to find their way back together by learning about each other all over again.

When I initially heard the concept, I was very excited to read this. I love a good marriage in trouble romance, and I also love books that surprise me. I have never read a romance with a storyline quite like this one, and that kept me on my toes throughout the whole thing. Seeing the subtle shifts in their relationship, analyzing each interaction – it made the experience that much more immersive. And I LOVED that Graham and Eliza were both steadfast in their love for each other; there was no doubting that the desire to make things work was there, with no OW/OM drama. That made it easier to empathize with both of them, and cranked up the angst in certain moments. They’re both likable characters, though Graham was particularly adorable. Hearing about his insecurities was so endearing, and watching him slowly find his confidence was really great. There’s such a mix of angst, banter, playfulness, and heartache – that made it such a dynamic read. If I have one complaint, it’s that I wouldn’t have minded if everything was turned up another notch. But I had a great time reading this, and it easily held my interest the whole way through.

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3Y2EKLz


HONORABLE MENTION

It’s rare that a book has as much PERSONALITY as this one, something that truly makes it sparkle and shine. That’s definitely the best part about this absolutely bonkers rom com – the journey is a little offbeat, a whole lot spicy, and a ton of fun. There’s a reason why everyone has been loving it, and love it I did. It’s apparent from the first few pages that it’s going to be a wild ride, and you just have to acknowledge that up front. Our heroine makes a rash, drunken decision, and her justification for following through with that is a little shaky. She quickly realizes her error, and that is further showcased by just how fantastic this couple’s relationship is… you know, other than the (not so) tiny secret between them. I loved that the heroine finds herself again one piece at a time, and the deeper undertones of this otherwise light and SUPER spicy rom com give it some extra weight. I devoured it in one sitting and enjoyed it the whole time.

The story follows Abbie (28), a woman whose heart is shattered when her boyfriend of four years dumps her out of the blue. It isn’t until the breakup that Abbie realizes she let the relationship overtake her life, molding herself into the woman she thought her ex wanted – and losing herself along the way. Heartbroken and angry, a drunken Abbie decides to get revenge. So when she randomly matches with the boss her ex hates on a dating app, Abbie concocts the perfect plan – dating her ex’s terrible boss and making sure that she’s on his arm at the company holiday party. Damien (42) is only looking for something casual, and her ex made it clear that his boss is no prize anyways. But the more Abbie gets to know Damien, the more she realizes the error of her ways. They actually have a real connection, and Abbie may have forfeited her chance with the dream guy she’s quickly falling for.

I’ve been meaning to check out this new-to-me author’s work, and this one seemed like the perfect fit. It’s a lighthearted holiday romance with an original storyline, different enough to stand out from the crowd. I loved that Abbie is not the typical heroine; she’s definitely got Elle Woods (Legally Blonde) vibes, and it was great to see her own that. I also loved that Damien adored the parts of Abbie that she was most self-conscious of, and how he could see past the vixen facade. He was such a sweetheart, such a loving and supportive guy. And their chemistry was excellent – both in AND out of the bedroom. There’s a ton of spice, and it was not always 100% to my personal taste, but I really enjoyed the connection between them. The hidden depth was also great, which contrasted with the sexy, playful side of the story. There’s discussion of emotional and physical abuse, which was handled well. And I liked that the story went there. All in all, this ended up being an engaging read, one which is perfect for any time of the year, but even better around the holidays.

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3C68z5o


I’m torn between 4 and 5 stars, but the ending had me absolutely SWOONING, so I’m choosing to round up. There’s a lot to love about this room-ance – a strangers to roommates to friends to lovers slow burn with fun, slightly off-kilter vibes and a hero whose feelings I wanted to figure out. The opposites attract dynamic REALLY worked here, with a vibrant, messy, hopeless romantic (romance book-loving!) heroine and the closed-off, tidy, commitment-phobic womanizer she finds herself sharing an apartment with. These two are so different that they truly don’t see each other as realistic love interests for… ah, quite awhile… and even if our heroine did, she’s too distracted by her pursuit of a second chance romance to see what’s in front of her. That means there were some frustrating moments of obliviousness and some OM/OW drama, but I suppose that’s to be expected in a book where there heroine is hoping to get back together with (any one) of her ten exes. All in all, it was a lighthearted and playful read with an undercurrent of emotion that kept things interesting.

The story follows Tara, a woman who loves love. She’s a romance book influencer who always puts her heart on the line, and that means she’s been burned more than a few times. When Tara finds herself living with a stranger after her latest breakup, she realizes that something needs to change. So when an idea sparks – find her ten exes and see if one is the one who got away – Tara latches onto the ill-advised plan. Her sexy but completely emotionally unavailable roommate, Trevor, can’t help but intervene, and the two soon find themselves bonding over the experience. The two couldn’t be more different, but they discover that they make great friends. And if there’s the spark of something more between them, well, Tara is determined to pretend it doesn’t exist. Trevor is no romance hero, and she needs to remember that.

I read Lea’s debut, Set on You, and I remember loving how different it felt. It wasn’t a homerun for me, but there was a ton to love about it. So I went into this cautiously optimistic and smitten with that gorgeous cover. I love a roommate romance, and a romance book-loving heroine paired with a commitment-phobic hero sounded like a great combination. And it was! The opposites attract dynamic is definitely the most compelling component; I loved how these two fit together, first in friendship, then in love. They smooth out each other’s jagged pieces and accept each other for who they are, which was really great to read. Sure, I was a little frustrated by the journey sometimes. Tara is so optimistic and focused on her second chance project that she overlooked what was right in front of her, and Trevor was clearly doing everything he could to keep his distance. It’s the OM/OW drama that almost dropped my rating, but that’s the only part I didn’t like. I loved trying to figure out Trevor’s feelings (we only get Tara’s perspective), and the whole journey was both comfortingly familiar (all that book talk!) and refreshingly different. I can EASILY see the growth between books one and two, which has me excited to read more from Lea in the future. The books are loosely tied together (not required reading), and I’m looking forward to the next one.

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3FkXTAs


Did you see my February Release Calendar?

It includes the February 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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