Publisher: Gallery Books

Sunday Spotlight: To Sir, with Love by Lauren Layne

Posted June 20, 2021 by Rowena in Features, Giveaways | 4 Comments

Sunday Spotlight is a feature we began in 2016. This year we’re spotlighting our favorite books, old and new. We’ll be raving about the books we love and being total fangirls. You’ve been warned. 🙂

Lauren Layne is one of my favorite authors and I’m super thrilled to be featuring the first chapter of her upcoming release, To Sir, with Love. This book releases on June 29th so there’s not a long wait at all.

Sunday Spotlight: To Sir, with Love by Lauren LayneTo Sir, with Love by Lauren Layne
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: June 29, 2021
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 288
Add It: Goodreads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books

Love Is Blind meets You’ve Got Mail in this laugh-out-loud romantic comedy following two thirty-somethings who meet on a blind dating app—only to realize that their online chemistry is nothing compared to their offline rivalry.

Perpetually cheerful and eager to please, Gracie Cooper strives to make the best out of every situation. So when her father dies just five months after a lung cancer diagnosis, she sets aside her dreams of pursuing her passion for art to take over his Midtown Manhattan champagne shop. She soon finds out that the store’s profit margins are being squeezed perilously tight, and complicating matters further, a giant corporation headed by the impossibly handsome, but irritatingly arrogant Sebastian Andrews is proposing a buyout to turn the store into a parking garage. But Gracie can’t bear the thought of throwing away her father’s dream like she did her own.

Overwhelmed and not wanting to admit to her friends or family that she’s having second thoughts about the shop, Gracie seeks advice and solace from someone she’s never met—the faceless “Sir”, with whom she connected on a blind dating app where matches get to know each other through messages and common interests before exchanging real names or photos.

But although Gracie finds herself slowly falling for Sir online, she has no idea she’s already met him in real life…and they can’t stand each other.

This book is a cute contemporary romance that features two characters that don’t get along at first but come to fall in love with each other. Their journey made for an entertaining few hours so check out this excerpt and be excited about this release with me.

Excerpt

My dear lady,

I’m not sure how to say this politely, so I’ll just say it. You’re incorrect in every sense of the word. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried a lemon sorbet on a hot summer day in the city. Ice cream, by comparison, is so very pedetrian. I thought I knew you.

Yours in gentle contempt,
Sir
______________________________________

To Sir, with equal contempt, less gentle:

I stand by my assertion that sorbet is an affront to frozen treats everywhere. I’ll see your lemon sorbet and raise you a pistachio gelato any day of the year.

Lady

One

“What am I looking at here? What is that smile?”

I drop my cell phone back into my bag and turn my full attention to the baby settled on my thighs, my hand resting protectively over his warm tummy. I wipe a tiny bit of drool from his adorable mouth. “That smile is me plotting to steal this baby. And maybe the baby’s beautiful daddy.”

My best friend is unfazed by my threats to steal her child and husband. “Never going to work. Felix assures me he’s partial to Jewish women. Oh, and he likes big boobs.”

“I can convert.” I make a cooing noise at the baby. “And get a boob job.”

“I hope those fake boobs produce milk. Because Matteo here’s still breastfeeding.”

“You’re a boob man already, hmm?” I ask the baby, who wraps tiny fingers around my own and shakes, grinning at me.

“Not for long,” Rachel says. “I’m trying to wean the little bastard, but bottles make this one gassy.”

“Farts from bottles?” I look over. “That’s a thing?”

“Oh, trust me,” Rachel says in a dark tone. “It’s a thing. Too bad there’s not a return or exchange policy for children.”

“No need.” I make smooching noises at the baby. “I’m stealing him, remember?”

“So you said in your attempt to distract me, but back to your Disney princess smile over whatever you were looking at on your phone. I’ve known you for over twenty years, and I know that smile. You’re in your Cinderella mode.”

“I do not have a Cinderella mode.”

“You totally do,” Rachel says. “I just watched you feed half your sandwich to the pigeons. Who you named.”

“Are you even a real New Yorker if you don’t befriend pigeons in Central Park?”

“And then you sang to them,” Rachel continues.

“I hummed. A slight but crucial distinction.”

“Mmm-hmm, and what song did you hum?”

I purse my lips and refrain from answering the question.

I’d been humming “It Had to Be You,” Frank Sinatra style. To the pigeons. Which, when not in my so-called Cinderella mode, I know are basically sky-rats.

This isn’t looking good for me, and we both know it.

Rachel very slowly shakes her head. “Gracie Madeleine Cooper, you are in love and you didn’t tell me.”

I snort. “That’d be a hell of a feat, considering I haven’t been on a second date in almost six months and waaaaay too many first ones.”

She holds out her palm. “Phone.”

“What?”

“That dreamy smile comes on your face every time you check your phone.” She reaches over me to grab my purse in the confident, overbearing way of a best friend of twenty years. “Let me see it.”

“What? No! Here,” I say, trying to maneuver Matteo into her arms. “Let’s trade. Your baby for my privacy.”

Her jaw drops. “You never want privacy! You have a secret!”

“I do not have a secret!”

I do. I totally have a secret, and it’s delicious and also a tiny bit embarrassing to admit, even to someone who’s held my hair back over the toilet of a Coney Island bathroom after too much blue cotton candy.

I manage to safely get the baby back into her arms, and Matteo takes my side and starts to fuss, granting me a brief reprieve from my best friend’s prying. As though reading my mind about the hair thing, Rachel shifts Matteo to her shoulder and hands me a hair band. “Tail me,” she orders, turning her back to me.

Obediently, I gather her thick hair and attempt to wind the elastic around her mass of gorgeous curls. I smile as a childhood memory bubbles up. Me, on the first day of third grade at a new school, my ponytail a lumpy mess, courtesy of my widowed father who did his best but didn’t know the first thing about little girls’ hair.

Rachel, the definitive alpha of Jefferson Elementary’s third-grade class, had taken one look at my stricken face, marched over, and announced that she needed to practice her French braiding and that I was her muse.

We’ve been styling each other’s hair ever since.

“You have the best hair,” I say, tucking an errant curl into the band and studying my handiwork.

“Attempt to distract from the matter at hand rejected,” she says, turning back around.

“You’re such a weirdo.” But I sigh and relent. “Okay, if I tell you what’s going on, you have to promise not to lecture.”

She makes a mock-wounded face. “If you care about me at all, you wouldn’t ask me to deny my true nature.”

“Fine,” I relent. “But as you lecture, at least try to remember that I already have an older sister who has yet to grasp that I’m thirty-three and not ten.”

“I will take it into consideration. Proceed.”

I take my time, leaning back on the green park bench, studying the cheerful energy of Central Park at lunchtime on a late summer’s day.

I exhale. “So there’s this dating app.”

“Tinder?”

“No.”

“Hinge?”

“No.”

“eHarmony?”

“Okay, you rattled those off way too quickly for someone who’s been married for seven years,” I say. “And it’s called MysteryMate.”

Rachel makes a face. “Oh, I don’t like the sound of this at all. There is no good use for the word mate outside of the Discovery Channel.”

“Yeah, the name’s not great,” I say.

Their tagline’s even worse: Love at no sight. And that’s not even the embarrassing part of my secret.

“So how does it work?” she asks.

I reach over and rip off a piece of her unfinished sandwich and toss it to my pigeon friends, Spencer and Katharine, as in Tracy and Hepburn.

“So, you know how Tinder is all about first impressions based on someone’s photo?” I say. “Well, this is sort of the opposite. There are no photos. No names, even. Instead you choose from these little cartoon avatar things and a screen name, and the app matches you with potential mates.”

I emphasize the word deliberately with a grin, and she rolls her eyes. “Okay, I get it. The app is all ‘beauty is on the inside.’ What happens after you’re matched?”

I shrug. “You message each other. If you click, you set up a meeting in person.”

“But what if the other person’s hideous?”

I give her a gently chiding look, and she shrugs as she rubs the baby’s back. “It’s a fair question. A meeting of the minds is nice, but physical attraction is hot.”

“Well, so far, none of the guys I’ve decided to meet in person have been hideous.”

“But one of them was hot, huh? Oh wait, no. You said you hadn’t been on any second dates.”

“I haven’t,” I say a little glumly. “All of the men have been perfectly nice, all pleasant looking in their own way. But no chemistry. None.”

Rachel tilts her head. “Then why the Cinderella mode? You only ever revert to that when you’ve got a crush.”

I take a deep breath. “Okay. Here’s the part where you’re going to want to dust off your best lecturing voice.”

Rachel taps her throat and hums like a singer warming up her voice. “Okay, ready. Hit me.”

“There’s this guy on the app I really like talking to. But . . . we haven’t met.”

“Hmm.” She purses her lips. “No lecture yet. But why not just meet him and see if you have chemistry?”

I bite my lip. “He’s not really available.”

“Then what’s he doing on a dating app?”

“He didn’t actually sign up for the app. He was at a friend’s bachelor party, and I guess one of them got drunk and thought it would be hilarious to steal his phone and set up a profile on his behalf.”

“Okay, but if you guys hit it off—”

“He has a girlfriend,” I interrupt.

“Ohhhhhhhh,” Rachel says, eyes widening. “That’s tricky. Wait. You’re having a cyber affair! With a cheater!”

“I’m not. I’m really not!” I repeat at her look. “And he’s not a cheater. After we matched, I messaged him, and he explained right away what had happened and that he wasn’t looking for a relationship. If he were looking for some sort of weird Internet affair, would he have told me about his girlfriend right away?”

“No,” she admits. “But then why are you two still talking?” “We’re just friends,” I say, shrugging. “After he replied to my message, I replied saying no problem, and then he replied, and then I replied. Somewhere along the line we discovered both of our first crushes are from Empire Records—”

“I’d forgotten about that! You loved A.J.”

“Still do,” I say with a nod. “He had a thing for Corey. We both live in Manhattan, we’re both highly suspicious of oatmeal, we both lost our dads to lung cancer four years ago, we both put mustard on our scrambled eggs—”

“So gross.”

“We don’t, however, like the same ice cream, apparently.” “You’re smiling that smile again,” Rachel says. “Sweetie. I’m not buying this just friends thing. You’re in love with this guy.”

“I’ve never met him!”

Rachel’s lips purse as she shifts Matteo to her other shoulder. “Does Lily know about this?”

“That I sometimes message a male friend? Why would I bring it up?”

I don’t add that I might have mentioned it, if the last time we had dinner Lily had not been going on and on about a documentary she’d just watched about online predators.

“Caleb?”

“Yes,” I say sarcastically. “My younger brother loves to hear all about his sister’s love life.”

“Ah-ha! So it is a love life.”

Whoops. I definitely walked right into that one.

“Did I tell you Caleb moved to New Hampshire?” I ask in an admittedly lame attempt to change the subject.

“Yes, and I still don’t fully comprehend moving out of a rent-controlled loft in SoHo to a barn in New Hampshire, but quit trying to distract me. Does anyone know about this? I need backup that this is nuts.”

“Keva knows,” I say, referring to my friend and upstairs neighbor.

Rachel looks away with just the slightest flinch, and I feel instant regret. She and Keva have met a couple of times and get along, but I sense she’s sometimes jealous of the friendship.

“Hey,” I say gently, pushing my finger into her forearm. “You’re still First Bestie.”

“I know,” Rachel says with a sigh. “It’s just another reminder that living out in freaking Queens means I don’t get to see you as often or get to know the daily details of your life anymore.”

“But you have a yard,” I point out.

“It’s more like a patch of dirt, but . . .” Rachel grins. “Yeah, I have a yard. My mother is scandalized. I swear, half the reason she wanted me to bring the kids into Manhattan today was because she’s worried they’re not getting enough concrete.”

Amy and Sammy, Rachel’s other two kids, are spending the day with her mom in Morningside Heights, which is the only reason I’m not fussing more that I don’t get to see my de facto niece and nephew. Grandma trumps best friend, and though I’m careful not to mention it, Rachel’s fears about Astoria being too far away from her old life aren’t totally unfounded. It’s at least an hour by train, which means I don’t get to see her or her family as much as I’d like.

Rachel gives me a sly look. “What do you think he looks like?”

Medium height. Wiry build. Longish brown hair, warm brown eyes. Big smile.

“I haven’t thought about it,” I say casually.

“Uh-huh. Liar. In these fantasies of yours, is he by any chance a musician and a Sagittarius?”

“Okay, that’s impressive,” I admit.

“I know,” she says, looking mollified to have best-friend status restored. “But you forget that we spent all of middle school and most of high school discussing our future husbands in very specific detail.” She pauses. “Damn, I was far off.”

“You mean your hot Puerto Rican husband isn’t a blond surfer named Dustin? Get out.”

“Oh, Dusty. What might have been,” she says dreamily before turning back to me. “Aren’t you worried your mystery guy could be, like, a hundred? With gout and gingivitis? What if his girlfriend is a caretaker at his nursing home, and the most action he gets is a sponge bath?”

“That would be fine,” I say primly. “I can be friends with someone of a different generation.”

I send out a silent plea to SirNYC. Please don’t get sponge baths.

Rachel takes a last bite of her sandwich, then scrunches the paper wrapping into a ball with a sigh. “I want to warn you about catfishing, but honestly this is too adorable, assuming you don’t do anything dumb. Like agree to meet him in a back alley.”

I let my eyes go wide. “Wait, so I shouldn’t have wired my life’s savings to his overseas account and then given him my home address when he asked to see my panty drawer?”

“Aren’t you funny. Here, want to give my arms another break?”

“Absolutely,” I say, taking the baby and kissing his head. “How’d you manage to escape with this one? Grandma Becca would have snatched him right up.”

“Oh, she tried. But though she’d die for her grandkids, she’s not big on diapers, so all it took was a casual mention of eruptive poops to secure some Auntie Gracie time.” She gives a slight sniff. “Joke’s on me though. I think he’s just backed up my lie with a very real diaper situation that needs to be addressed.”

“You want to change him at the shop?” I ask, gathering up the remnants of our lunch as she straps Matteo to her chest in some fancy-looking sling thing.

One of the best things about the champagne shop I own and run is that it’s just across the street from Central Park.

Rachel gives me an apologetic look, and I shake my head before she can speak. “You need to get back. Don’t worry about it.

“I do. Ugh. I’ve become one of those moms, huh? Can’t be apart from her Littles for more than two hours.”

“Those are the good kind of moms,” I reassure her as we begin making our way toward the west side of the park.

Rachel tosses our garbage into the green trash can and links her arm in mine, careful not to jostle Matteo. “You don’t have to walk this way with me,” she says, checking her watch. “Doesn’t the shop open at noon?”

“Josh and May are there. Plus, I need to get flowers for the counter, and Carlos on Seventy-Fourth and Broadway always has the best ones.”

“Damn, I miss those pop-up Manhattan flower carts. Almost as much as I miss May. Give her a squeeze for me, it’s been way too long. And wait, who’s Josh?”

“Newish hire. Mostly helps with inventory and stocking, but it’s sweet to watch him overcome his shyness customer by customer.”

“I’m surprised you even know what shyness looks like. Have you ever met a human being who didn’t instantly adore you?”

“Blake Hansel, fifth grade.”

“No, he just really adored you, in the pull-her-pigtail kind of way,” Rachel says as we exit the park and step onto the bustling Central Park West sidewalk. We embrace, careful not to smoosh the baby between us.

I pull back and give Matteo a proper goodbye, unapologetically inhaling his sweet baby smell, mingled with—yep, there’s the eruptive poop. “Goodbye, handsome. You sure you don’t want to run away with me?”

“You, young lady, will text me more often,” Rachel orders with a pointing finger as she begins walking backward uptown toward her parents’ place in Morningside Heights.

I salute in acknowledgment and wave goodbye.

The second my best friend’s back is turned, I pull out my phone to see if I have more messages from him.

Okay, fine. So maybe I’m a tiny bit in love with a man I haven’t met.

My dear Lady,

Pistachio gelato, you say. That’s my mother’s favorite, on the very rare occasions she lets herself eat food with actual flavor or calories. Alas, I confess the often-added green food coloring creeps me out.

Yours in renewed devotion to sorbet,
Sir
______________________________________

To Sir, with alarm,

Did you just compare me to your mother? Not sure how I feel about that…

Lady
______________________________________

My dear Lady,

I hear it now. I take it back and reassure you that in no way do I think of you as my mother.

Yours in apology,
Sir

Copyright © 2020 by Lauren Layne. From TO SIR, WITH LOVE by Lauren Layne , published by Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed by permission.

Giveaway Alert

We’re giving one lucky winner their choice of one of our Sunday Spotlight books. Use the widget below to enter for one of this month’s features.

Sunday Spotlight: June 2021

Are you as excited for this release as we are? Let us know how excited you are and what other books you’re looking forward to this year!

About Lauren Layne

Lauren Layne is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of more than two dozen romantic comedies. Her books have sold over a million copies, in nine languages. Lauren's work has been featured in Publishers Weekly, Glamour, The Wall Street Journal, and Inside Edition. She is based in New York City.


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Sunday Spotlight: In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

Posted October 4, 2020 by Casee in Features, Giveaways | 7 Comments

Sunday Spotlight is a feature we began in 2016. This year we’re spotlighting our favorite books, old and new. We’ll be raving about the books we love and being total fangirls. You’ve been warned. 🙂

Sunday Spotlight: In a Holidaze by Christina LaurenIn a Holidaze by Christina Lauren
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: October 6, 2020
Point-of-View: Alternating First
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 336
Add It: Goodreads
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One Christmas wish, two brothers, and a lifetime of hope are on the line for hapless Maelyn Jones in In a Holidaze, the quintessential holiday romantic novel by Christina Lauren, the New York Times bestselling author of The Unhoneymooners.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year…but not for Maelyn Jones. She’s living with her parents, hates her going-nowhere job, and has just made a romantic error of epic proportions.
But perhaps worst of all, this is the last Christmas Mae will be at her favorite place in the world—the snowy Utah cabin where she and her family have spent every holiday since she was born, along with two other beloved families. Mentally melting down as she drives away from the cabin for the final time, Mae throws out what she thinks is a simple plea to the universe: Please. Show me what will make me happy.
The next thing she knows, tires screech and metal collides, everything goes black. But when Mae gasps awake…she’s on an airplane bound for Utah, where she begins the same holiday all over again. With one hilarious disaster after another sending her back to the plane, Mae must figure out how to break free of the strange time loop—and finally get her true love under the mistletoe.
Jam-packed with yuletide cheer, an unforgettable cast of characters, and Christina Lauren’s trademark “downright hilarious” (Helen Hoang, author of The Bride Test) hijinks, this swoon-worthy romantic read will make you believe in the power of wishes and the magic of the holidays.

Excerpt

The vacation has always been the celebratory red circle on my calendar countdown. The cabin is my oasis not only because Andrew Hollis is here, but also because it’s the perfect winter cabin, the perfect amount of snow, the perfect people, and the perfect level of comfort. The perfect Christmas, and I don’t want to change a thing.

So did I just completely ruin everything?

I lean forward and hug my knees. I am a mess.

“You’re not a mess.”

I startle, looking up to find Andrew standing over me, grinning and holding a steaming mug of coffee. With a view of his face in the bright morning light—mischievous green eyes, the shadowy hint of stubble, and pillow creases on his left cheek—my body reacts predictably: heart takes a flying leap off a cliff and stomach sinks warm and low in my belly. He is both exactly who I wanted to see right now and the last person I want to know what’s bothering me.

Trying to remember what my hair looks like, I pull the blanket up to my chin, wishing I’d taken the time to put on a bra. “Was I talking to myself?”

“You sure were.” He smiles, and Lord, if the sun doesn’t come out from behind the clouds. Dimples so deep I could lose all my hopes and dreams inside them. I swear his teeth sparkle. As if on cue, a perfect brown curl falls over his forehead. You have got to be kidding me.

And oh my God, I made out with his brother. Guilt and regret mix sourly in the back of my throat.

“Did I reveal my plans to overthrow the government and install Beyoncé in her rightful place as our fearless leader?” I ask, deflecting.

“I must have come in after that part.” Andrew gazes at me with amusement. “I just heard you say that you’re a mess.”

Something’s in his expression, some playful twinkle I can’t quite translate. Dread gives me a swift kick to the solar plexus.

I point to his face. “What’s happening here?”

“Oh, nothing.” He sits down beside me, puts his arm around my shoulders, and plants a kiss on the top of my head. The kiss is distracting enough for the dread to dissolve, and I work to not grab for him as he pulls away. If I could ever be on the receiving end of a long, tight Andrew Hollis hug, it would be the affection equivalent of chugging down a tall glass of water on a scorching day. I know I’ve never deserved him—he’s too good for any mortal—but it never stopped me from wanting him anyway.

A film of unease settles back over me when he laughs out my name against my hair.

“You’re awfully chipper this morning,” I say.

“And you are not,” he remarks, leaning forward to playfully study my face. The headphones around his neck fall forward slightly, and I can tell he never bothered to turn off the music; “She Sells Sanctuary” by the Cult filters tinnily through them.

“What’s going on, Maisie?”

This is what we do together; we become our old-person characters Mandrew and Maisie. We make our voices shaky and high-pitched—to play, to confide, to tease—but I’m too freaked out to play along.

“Nothing.” I shrug. “Didn’t sleep well.” The lie feels oily on my tongue.

“Rough night?”

“Um . . .” My internal organs disintegrate “Sort of?”

“So you and my brother, huh?”

Everything in my head is incinerated. Brain ash blows out onto the snow. “Oh my God.”

Andrew’s shoulders lift when he laughs. “You two kids! Sneaking around!”

“Andrew—it’s not a thing—I don’t—”

“No, no. It’s okay. I mean, no one is surprised, right?” He pulls back to get a look at my expression. “Hey, relax, you’re both adults.”

I groan, burying my face in my arms. He doesn’t get it, and worse—he really doesn’t care.

His tone softens, instantly apologetic. “I didn’t realize you’d be so freaked out. I was just messing with you. I mean, to be honest I figured it was just a matter of time before you and Theo—”

“Andrew, no.” I look around, desperate now. A surprise escape hatch would be a great discovery. Instead, a glint of silver catches my eye—the sleeve of Andrew’s hilariously awful holiday sweater hanging over the edge of the trash can. Miso, the Hollises’ corgi, got ahold of it on Christmas Eve and Lisa must’ve decided it was beyond saving. I wouldn’t mind joining it in the trash right now. “It’s not like that between us.”

“Hey. It’s fine, Maisie.” I can tell he’s surprised at the degree of my alarm, and he puts a reassuring hand on my arm, misinterpreting my meltdown: “I won’t tell anyone else.”

Mortification and guilt surge in my throat. “I—I can’t believe he told you.”

“He didn’t,” Andrew says. “I came back to the house last night because I left my phone in the kitchen, and saw you two.”

Andrew saw us? Please, let me die here.

“Come on, don’t make such a big deal about a little kissing. You’re talking to the guy whose mom moves the mistletoe around the house every day. Half this group has kissed each other at some point.” He gives me a noogie and, if possible, my mortification deepens. “Dad sent me out here to call you in for breakfast.” He playfully jabs my shoulder, like a pal. “I just wanted to give you some shit.”

With a little wink, Andrew turns and heads back into the house, and I am left trying to find my sanity.

Giveaway Alert

We’re giving one lucky winner their choice of one of our Sunday Spotlight books. Use the widget below to enter for one of this month’s features.

Sunday Spotlight: October 2020

Are you as excited for this release as we are? Let us know how excited you are and what other books you’re looking forward to this year!

About Christina Lauren

Yes, there are two of us! Lauren (on the left) and Christina (on the right).

Christina Lauren is the combined pen name of long-time writing partners and best friends Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings. The #1 international bestselling coauthor duo writes both Young Adult and Adult Fiction, and together has produced fifteen New York Times bestselling novels. They are published in over 30 languages, have received multiple starred reviews, won both the Seal of Excellence and Book of the Year from RT Magazine, been inducted into the Library Reads Hall of Fame, named Amazon and Audible Romance of the Year, a Lambda Literary Award finalist and been nominated for several Goodreads Choice Awards. They have been featured in publications such as Forbes, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Time, Entertainment Weekly, People, O Magazine and more. Their third YA novel, Autoboyography was released in 2017 to critical acclaim, followed by Roomies, Love and Other Words, Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating, My Favorite Half-Night Stand, and the Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal starred The Unhoneymooners, out May 2019.


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Review: The Sinner by J.R. Ward

Posted June 17, 2020 by Casee in Reviews | 0 Comments

Review: The Sinner by J.R. WardReviewer: Casee
The Sinner by J.R. Ward
Series: Black Dagger Brotherhood #18
Also in this series: Lover Unbound, Lover Avenged, Lover at Last, Lover at Last, The King, The Shadows, The Beast, Lover Enshrined, The Chosen, Lover Mine, The Thief, The Savior, Where Winter Finds You, Lover Unleashed
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: March 24, 2020
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Point-of-View: Alternating Third
Content Warning: View Spoiler »
Genres: Paranormal Romance
Pages: 498
Add It: Goodreads
Reading Challenges: Casee's 2020 Goodreads Challenge, Goodreads Challenge
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
three-half-stars
Series Rating: three-stars

A sinner’s only hope is true love in this passionate new novel in J.R. Ward’s #1 New York Times bestselling Black Dagger Brotherhood series.
Syn has kept his side hustle as a mercenary a secret from the Black Dagger Brotherhood. When he takes another hit job, he not only crosses the path of the vampire race’s new enemy, but also that of a half-breed in danger of dying during her transition. Jo Early has no idea what her true nature is, and when a mysterious man appears out of the darkness, she is torn between their erotic connection and the sense that something is very wrong.
Fate anointed Butch O’Neal as the Dhestroyer, the fulfiller of the prophecy that foresees the end of the Omega. As the war with the Lessening Society comes to a head, Butch gets an unexpected ally in Syn. But can he trust the male—or is the warrior with the bad past a deadly complication?
With time running out, Jo gets swept up in the fighting and must join with Syn and the Brotherhood against true evil. In the end, will love true prevail...or was the prophecy wrong all along?

It’s been awhile since I read this book, but I’m going to give this review my best shot.

Syn isn’t officially in the Black Dagger Brotherhood, but he fights along side them in the war that threatens the vampire race. Something the Brothers don’t know is that moonlights as a mercenary. He has some part of him (I just tried to look it up and couldn’t find it) that needs violence. Likely literally needs it or he goes crazy. When he takes a new contract, he is given the name of a journalist at the local newspaper. No problem for Syn. Give him a name and it’s done. Only it doesn’t go at all like what he expected.

Jo Early has been trying to prove that vampires exist. Along with her journalist partner, Bill, they embark on a journey that takes them to some pretty bad places. Fortunately (or unfortunately) for Jo, she doesn’t remember any of it. She doesn’t know that the very vampires that she is trying to prove exist have made her forget what she’s looking for. What those vampires don’t expect is to find a half-breed that may or may not transition into a vampire. All Jo knows is that she probably has cancer and is dying.

While out fighting the Lessers, Syn smells her. Yes, that would be Jo. He smells her and goes bonkers. When he comes face-to-face with her, he knows exactly who she is. His mate. His reason for living. Too bad Syn doesn’t think he’s good enough for her. Well, not at first. At first the two really hit it off even though their first meeting didn’t go well. Then Syn realizes that Jo is way too good for him and there is no way that he’s going to be the one that helps her through her (probably) transition.

I know I say it every time I review a book in this series, but seriously. I can’t quit it and it drives me nutso. There is something about these characters that is so compelling to me. I couldn’t tell you why. One thing I really loved in this book was everything from Butch’s point of view. I’ve always loved Butch as a character and that hasn’t changed since the first book.

The big bad in JRW’s Fallen Angels series has come over into this series. I’m unsure how I feel about that. Honestly, I like this big bad better than the Omega. She (yes, she) is just more interesting. I think she’s going to bring a lot to the series, but I still think it is kind of a copout. Overall, I enjoyed this book but I didn’t love it.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Black Dagger Brotherhood

three-half-stars


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Sunday Spotlight: The Sinner by J.R. Ward

Posted March 22, 2020 by Casee in Features, Giveaways | 3 Comments

Sunday Spotlight is a feature we began in 2016. This year we’re spotlighting our favorite books, old and new. We’ll be raving about the books we love and being total fangirls. You’ve been warned. 🙂

Sunday Spotlight: The Sinner by J.R. WardThe Sinner by J.R. Ward
Series: Black Dagger Brotherhood #19
Also in this series: Lover Unbound, Lover Avenged, Lover at Last, Lover at Last, The King, The Shadows, The Beast, Lover Enshrined, The Chosen, Lover Mine, The Thief, The Savior, Where Winter Finds You, The Sinner, Lover Unleashed
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: March 24, 2020
Point-of-View: Alternating Third
Genres: Paranormal Romance
Pages: 512
Add It: Goodreads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
Series Rating: three-stars

A sinner’s only hope is true love in this passionate new novel in J.R. Ward’s #1 New York Times bestselling Black Dagger Brotherhood series.

Syn has kept his side hustle as a mercenary a secret from the Black Dagger Brotherhood. When he takes another hit job, he not only crosses the path of the vampire race’s new enemy, but also that of a half-breed in danger of dying during her transition. Jo Early has no idea what her true nature is, and when a mysterious man appears out of the darkness, she is torn between their erotic connection and the sense that something is very wrong.

Fate anointed Butch O’Neal as the Dhestroyer, the fulfiller of the prophecy that foresees the end of the Omega. As the war with the Lessening Society comes to a head, Butch gets an unexpected ally in Syn. But can he trust the male—or is the warrior with the bad past a deadly complication?

With time running out, Jo gets swept up in the fighting and must join with Syn and the Brotherhood against true evil. In the end, will love true prevail...or was the prophecy wrong all along?

Excerpt

Route 149
Caldwell, New York

Behind the wheel of her ten-year-old car, Jo Early bit into the Slim Jim and chewed like it was her last meal. She hated the fake-smoke taste and the boat-rope texture, and when she swallowed the last piece, she got another one out of her bag. Ripping the wrapper with her teeth, she peeled the taxidermied tube free and littered into the wheel well of her passenger side. There were so many spent casings like it down there, you couldn’t see the floor mat.

Up ahead, her anemic headlights swung around a curve, illuminating pine trees that had been limbed up three-quarters of the way, the puff y tops making toothpicks out of the trunks. She hit a pothole and bad-swallowed, and she was coughing as she reached her destination.

The abandoned Adirondack Outlets was yet another commentary on the pervasiveness of Amazon Prime. The one-story strip mall was a horseshoe without a hoof, the storefronts along the two long sides bearing the remnants of their brands, faded laminations and off -kilter signs with names like Van Heusen/Izod, and Nike, and Dansk the ghosts of commerce past. Behind dusty glass, there was no merchandise available for purchase anymore, and no one had been on the property with a charge card for at least a year, only hardscrabble weeds in the cracks of the promenade and barn swallows in the eaves inhabiting the site. Likewise, the food court that united the eastern and western arms was no longer offering soft serve or Starbucks or lunch.

As a hot flash cranked her internal temperature up, she cracked the window. And then put the thing all the way down. March in Caldwell, New York, was like winter in a lot of places still considered northerly in latitude, and thank God for it. Breathing in the cold, damp air, she told herself this was not a bad idea.

Nah, not at all. Here she was, alone at midnight, chasing down the lead on a story she wasn’t writing for her employer, the Caldwell Courier Journal. Without anyone at her new apartment waiting up for her. Without anyone on the planet who would claim her mangled corpse when it was found from the smell in a ditch a week from now.

Letting the car roll to a stop, she killed the headlights and stayed where she was. No moon out tonight so she’d dressed right. All black. But without any illumination from the heavens, her eyes strained at the darkness, and not because she was greedy to see the details on the decaying structure.

Nope. At the moment, she was worried she was about to provide fodder for True Crime Garage. As unease tickled her nape, like someone was trying to get her attention by running the point of a carving knife over her skin—

Her stomach let out a howl and she jumped. Without any debate, she went diving into her purse again. Passing by the three Slim Jims she had left, she went straight-up Hershey this time, and the efficiency with which she stripped that mass-produced chocolate of its clothing was a sad commentary on her diet. When she was finished, she was still hungry and not because there wasn’t food in her belly. As always, the only two things she could eat failed to satisfy her gnawing craving, to say nothing of her nutritional needs.

Putting up her window, she took her backpack and got out. The crackling sound of the treads of her running shoes on the shoulder of the road seemed loud as a concert, and she wished she wasn’t getting over a cold. Like her sense of smell could be helpful, though? And when was the last time she’d considered that possibility outside of a milk carton check.

She really needed to give these wild-goose chases up.

Two-strapping her backpack, she locked the car and pulled the hood of her windbreaker up over her red hair. No heel toeing. She leftright-left’d it, keeping the soles of her Brooks flat to quiet her footfalls. As her eyes adjusted, all she saw were the shadows around her, the hidey-holes in corners and nooks formed by the mall’s doorways and the benches pockets of gotcha with which mashers could play a grown‑up’s game of keep away until they were ready to attack.

When she got to a heavy chain that was strung across the entry to the promenade, she looked around. There was nobody in the parking lots that ran down the outside of the flanks. No one in the center area formed by the open-ended rectangle. Not a soul on the road that she had taken up to this rise above Rt. 149.

Jo told herself that this was good. It meant no one was going to jump her.

Her adrenal glands, on the other hand, informed her that this actually meant no one was around to hear her scream for help.

Refocusing on the chain, she had some thought that if she swung her leg over it and proceeded on the other side, she would not come back the same.

“Stop it,” she said, kicking her foot up.

She chose the right side of the stores, and as rain started to fall, she was glad the architect had thought to cover the walkways overhead. What had been not so smart was anyone thinking a shopping center with no interior corridors could survive in a zip code this close to Canada. Saving ten bucks on a pair of candlesticks or a bathing suit was not going to keep anybody warm enough to shop outside October to April, and that was true even before you factored in the current era of free next-day shipping.

Down at the far end, she stopped at what had to have been the ice cream place because there was a faded stencil of a cow holding a triple decker cone by its hoof on the window. She got out her phone.

Her call was answered on the first ring.

“Are you okay?” Bill said.

“Where am I going?” she whispered. “I don’t see anything.”

“It’s in the back. I told you that you have to go around back, remember?”

“Damn it.” Maybe the nitrates had fried her brain. “Hold on, I think I found a staircase.”

“I should come out there.”

Jo started walking again and shook her head even though he couldn’t see her. “I’m fine—yup, I’ve got the cut through to the rear. I’ll call you if I need you—”

“You shouldn’t be doing this alone!”

Ending the connection, she jogged down the concrete steps, her pack bouncing like it was doing push-ups on her back. As she bottomed out on the lower level, she scanned the empty parking lot—

The stench that stabbed into her nose was the kind of thing that triggered her gag reflex. Roadkill . . . and baby powder?

She looked to the source. The maintenance building by the tree line had a corrugated metal roof and metal walls that would not survive long in tornado alley. Half the size of a football field, with garage doors locked to the ground, she imagined it could have housed paving equipment as well as blowers, mowers, and snowplows.

The sole person-sized door was loose, and as a stiff gust from the rainstorm caught it, the creak was straight out of a George Romero movie—and then the panel immediately slammed shut with a clap, as if Mother Nature didn’t like the stink any more than Jo did.

Taking out her phone, she texted Bill: This smell is nasty.

Aware that her heart rate just tripled, she walked across the asphalt, the rain hitting the hood of her windbreaker in a disorganized staccato. Ducking her hand under the loose nylon of the jacket, she felt for her holstered gun and kept her hand on the butt.

The door creaked open and slammed shut again, another puff of that smell releasing out of the pitch-black interior. Swallowing through throat spasms, she had to fight to keep going and not because there was wind in her face.

When she stopped in front of the door, the opening and closing ceased, as if now that she was on the verge of entering, it didn’t need to catch her attention and draw her in.

So help her God, if Pennywise was on the other side . . .

Glancing around to check there were no red balloons lolling in the area, she reached out for the door.

I just have to know, she thought as she opened the way in. I need to . . . know.

Leaning around the jamb, she saw absolutely nothing, and yet was frozen by all that she confronted. Pure evil, the kind of thing that abducted and murdered children, that slaughtered the innocent, that enjoyed the suffering of the just and merciful, pushed at her body and then penetrated it, radiation that was toxic passing through to her bones.

Coughing, she stepped back and covered her mouth and nose with the crook of her elbow. After a couple of deep breaths into her sleeve, she fumbled with her phone.

Before Bill could say anything over the whirring in his background, she bit out, “You need to come—”

“I’m already halfway to you.”

“Good.”

“What’s going on—”

Jo ended the call again and got out her flashlight, triggering the beam. Stepping forward again, she shouldered the door open and trained the spear of illumination into the space.

The light was consumed.

Sure as if she were shining it into a bolt of thick fabric, the fragile glowing shaft was no match for what she was about to enter.
The threshold she stepped over was nothing more than weather stripping, but the inch-high lip was a barrier that felt like an obstacle course she could barely surmount—and then there was the stickiness on the floor. Pointing the flashlight to the ground, she picked up one of her feet. Something like old motor oil dripped off her running shoe, the sound of it finding home echoing in the empty space.

As Jo walked forward, she found the first of the buckets on the left. Home Depot. With an orange-and-white logo smudged by a rusty, translucent substance that turned her stomach.

The beam wobbled as she looked into the cylinder, her hand shaking. Inside there was a gallon of glossy, gleaming . . . red . . . liquid. And in the back of her throat, she tasted copper—

Jo wheeled around with the flashlight.

Through the doorway, the two men who had come up behind her without a sound loomed as if they had risen out of the pavement itself, wraiths conjured from her nightmares, fed by the cold spring rain, clothed in the night. One of them had a goatee and tattoos at one of his temples, a cigarette between his lips and a downright nasty expression on his hard face. The other wore a Boston Red Sox hat and a long camel-colored coat, the tails of which blew in slow motion even though the wind was choppy. Both had long black blades holstered handles down on their chest, and she knew there were more weapons where she couldn’t see them.

They had come to kill her. Tracked her as she’d moved away from her car. Seen her as she had not seen them.

Jo stumbled back and tried to get out her gun, but her sweaty palms had her dropping her phone and struggling to keep the flashlight—

And then she couldn’t move.

Even as her brain ordered her feet to run, her legs to run, her body to run, nothing obeyed the panic-commands, her muscles twitching under the lockdown of some invisible force of will, her bones aching, her breath turning into a pant. Pain firework’d her brain, a headache sizzling through her mind.

Opening her mouth, she screamed—

Black Dagger Brotherhood

Giveaway Alert

We’re giving one lucky winner their choice of one of our Sunday Spotlight books. Use the widget below to enter for one of this month’s features.

Sunday Spotlight: March 2020

Are you as excited for this release as we are? Let us know how excited you are and what other books you’re looking forward to this year!

About J.R. Ward

Author J.R. Ward wearing sunglasses

J.R. Ward is the author of over thirty novels, including those in her #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling series, The Black Dagger Brotherhood. There are more than 15 million copies of Ward’s novels in print worldwide and they have been published in 25 different countries around the world.

After graduating from law school, Ward began working in healthcare in Boston and spent many years as Chief of Staff of one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation. She lives in the south with her incredibly supportive husband and her beloved golden retriever. Writing has always been her passion and her idea of heaven is a whole day of nothing but her computer, her dog and her coffee pot.


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Review: Marriage on Madison Avenue by Lauren Layne

Posted January 7, 2020 by Rowena in Reviews | 2 Comments

Review: Marriage on Madison Avenue by Lauren LayneReviewer: Rowena
Marriage on Madison Avenue by Lauren Layne
Series: The Central Park Pact #3
Also in this series: Passion on Park Avenue, Love on Lexington Avenue
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, Gallery Books
Publication Date: January 28, 2020
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Point-of-View: Alternating Third
Cliffhanger: View Spoiler »
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 288
Add It: Goodreads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
four-stars
Series Rating: four-stars

From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Layne, comes the final installment of the Central Park Pact series, a heartfelt and laugh-out-loud romantic comedy that’s perfect for fans of Sally Thorne and Christina Lauren.

Can guys and girls ever be just friends? According to Audrey Tate and Clarke West, absolutely. After all, they’ve been best friends since childhood without a single romantic entanglement. Clarke is the charming playboy Audrey can always count on, and he knows that the ever-loyal Audrey will never not play along with his strategy for dodging his matchmaking mother—announcing he’s already engaged…to Audrey.

But what starts out as a playful game between two best friends turns into something infinitely more complicated, as just-for-show kisses begin to stir up forbidden feelings. As the faux wedding date looms closer, Audrey and Clarke realize that they can never go back to the way things were, but deep down, do they really want to?

Marriage on Madison Avenue is the final book in the Central Park Pact series by Lauren Layne and IMO, it was the weakest book in the series. I still enjoyed it but not nearly as much as I enjoyed Love on Lexington Avenue and Passion on Park Avenue. I was bummed out about not enjoying this book nearly as much as I was prepared to love it because it’s got the best friends to lover trope and a fake relationship trope that I’m super trash for but I was disappointed in a bunch of little things that I didn’t completely recover from by the end of this one.

Audrey Tate and Clarke West have been best friends for as long as they can remember. Since they were kids. They have amazing chemistry that everyone but themselves can see but they’ve never gone down that road before because they’ve always been such great friends and who wants to mess with that? Not these two for sure. Audrey is a social media influencer and when the haters start to talk about her in a not so great light, a fake engagement to her best friend seems like the way to fix her problems. When Clarke’s ex-girlfriend tries to come back into his life, he’s got his own reasons to want a fake engagement to his best friend. So Audrey and Clarke become “engaged” and plan to only keep up the ruse for a little while, just until the rumors about Audrey die down and Clarke’s ex-girlfriend goes away. Only things don’t go down the way that they planned and before they know what’s what, their engagement goes on longer and longer and starts to feel a lot more real with each passing day.

Here’s what I did like about this book. The book still had the strong female friendship that I adored in the previous books and I loved seeing how protective both of the previous heroes were over Audrey…even against Audrey’s own best friend. I loved seeing Alexis Morgan make an appearance in this one. I also still really enjoyed both Clarke and Audrey individually and the romance was still a good one even though I had some issues.

The lack of communication between Clarke and Audrey had me rolling my eyes down the street. You guys are best friends, you tell each other everything but you can’t tell each other that you’re in love with each other? Clarke, you let Audrey find out about your Dad’s deal on the day of your wedding? You guys love each other so much, have each other’s back but you let each other settle for a marriage of convenience instead of pushing each other to hold out for true love the way that you guys both deserve? On top of that, the way that their engagement kept getting bigger and bigger when they had every intention of calling it off made me mad too. They were wasting so many people’s time and it just annoyed the crap out of me. I would have much preferred the conflict to be more about Clarke and Audrey figuring out that they’ve been in love with each other for a long time without the drag out, knock down fake engagement that started to piss me off the longer it went on and the deeper Audrey and Clarke got into the planning of a fake wedding.

Despite my issues, Lauren Layne still kept my attention throughout this entire book and though I was still annoyed with both Clarke and Audrey, I was glad that they got their heads out of their asses and figured their shit out. I thought the ending was rushed but by the time that came around, I was ready for the happy ending so I wasn’t too annoyed with that. So while this book wasn’t one of Layne’s best, it wasn’t all bad. I came for the female friendships and wasn’t disappointed in the least in that department.

Final Grade

Grade: 3.5 out of 5

The Central Park Pact

four-stars


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