Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review: To Sir, with Love by Lauren Layne

Posted August 11, 2021 by Rowena in Reviews | 3 Comments

Review: To Sir, with Love by Lauren LayneReviewer: Rowena
To Sir, with Love by Lauren Layne
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: June 29, 2021
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Point-of-View: First Person
Cliffhanger: View Spoiler »
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 288
Add It: Goodreads
Reading Challenges: Rowena's 2021 Goodreads Challenge, Rowena's 2021 Review Pile Challenge
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
four-stars

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.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a Lauren Layne book and I’m happy to report that To Sir, with Love was another fun one that took me no time at all to read from beginning to end. Layne writes such witty, fun, and charming romances and this was no exception. This wasn’t my favorite of her books but it was still a good one and I expected no less from Mrs. Layne.

This book follows our heroine, Gracie Cooper, a wine shop owner, and, Sebastian Andrews, the guy who wants to buy her shop space as they fall in love. Gracie isn’t a fan of Sebastian’s because, at every turn, he’s trying to run her out of the shop space where she runs her family wine shop. Sure, the wine shop isn’t doing as well as she would hope and sure, the wine shop was more her Dad’s thing than hers but for the time being, she was running the shop and out of love for her father, she kept his dream alive even long after he was gone.

She doesn’t have much of a love life but she does have a fun and flirty online relationship with a man named “Sir” and even though she’s sporting a mean crush on him, it’s not going to go anywhere because Sir is already taken. Their online friendship will make more sense if you read it but I thought it was cute. I also enjoyed seeing Sebastian and Gracie circle each other in real life and then being the complete opposite online without knowing it. Lauren Layne does humor really well in her books and it’s showcased here in this book.

Overall, this book was a light, fluffy romance that made me smile throughout. Gracie and Sebastian ended up being a great couple and their story was a fun one. Sebastian was a swoony hero and Gracie was a strong heroine who went through a lot to finally be able to stand on her own two feet and live her own life without the strings of family obligations. I was glad for her and loved seeing her and Sebastian fall in love. The secondary characters added more charm to this story and I really loved the relationship that Gracie had with her siblings and her friends. Gracie and her siblings didn’t have the perfect relationship and Gracie had some resentments that she was working on but I enjoyed seeing how much they cared about each other and how supportive they were of each other as well. I definitely recommend this book if you’re already a fan of Lauren Layne because it’s a great addition to her backlist but if you’re also looking for a sweet romance with humor, this one fits the bill.

4 out of 5

four-stars


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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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Throwback Thursday Review: Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson.

Posted April 22, 2021 by Rowena in Reviews | 10 Comments

Throwback Thursday Review: Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson.Reviewer: Rowena
Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Point-of-View: First Person
Cliffhanger: View Spoiler »
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 368
Add It: Goodreads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
four-stars

Amy Curry thinks her life sucks. Her mom decides to move from California to Connecticut to start anew--just in time for Amy's senior year. Her dad recently died in a car accident. So Amy embarks on a road trip to escape from it all, driving cross-country from the home she's always known toward her new life. Joining Amy on the road trip is Roger, the son of Amy's mother's old friend. Amy hasn't seen him in years, and she is less than thrilled to be driving across the country with a guy she barely knows. So she's surprised to find that she is developing a crush on him. At the same time, she's coming to terms with her father's death and how to put her own life back together after the accident. Told in traditional narrative as well as scraps from the road -- diner napkins, motel receipts, postcards--this is the story of one girl's journey to find herself.

This review was originally posted on April 28, 2011.

Always listen to Ames when she recommends a book to read because she always hits it out of the park with her book pimps. This is one of the books that Ames told me a long time ago to read and though I really wanted to read it, I kept putting it off until finally…I picked it up and couldn’t put it down.

Oh man did I love this book. It starts off great and ends spectacular. I loved it. Every bleeping single thing about it. I really enjoyed getting to know Amy through her adventures but also getting to know Roger as well. I’ll be honest and tell you that I seriously wanted to go on a road trip after reading this book. It was that fantastic!

One of the things that I really enjoyed about this book was the traveling journal that Amy kept throughout the trip. Seeing the receipts for the places that her and Roger ate at made me that much more apart of their journey. I thought it was adorable.

Even though this book was a little on the light side, I think Matson did a wonderful job of keeping us right smack dab in the middle of Amy’s grief. She didn’t make light of it or breeze over it in the story, she added it to the story and I appreciated the addition. Once we finally got the entire story, I already knew it but still, it was nice how she slid that in and didn’t just leave us hanging with it all. I’m glad that we found out exactly what happened. I felt like Roger, finding out bits and pieces of it until Amy was ready to tell the story.

I can’t remember ever feeling like the story slowed or dragged because for me, I couldn’t read this book fast enough. When I was finished with the book, I went back and read through my favorite parts of the book. Yes, I enjoyed the book that much. I thought that both Amy and Roger were great characters that I’d love to revisit over and over again. I can already tell that this book is going to be one of my comfort reads in the future, one of those books that I come back to just because.

I definitely recommend this book, it was light and cute and just an all around great read. If you’re looking for something light, contemporary and cute, this is the book for you. The characters are charming, the story flows nicely and you’re not going to want to put it down. Just a fabulous all around read.

4 out of 5

four-stars


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Sunday Spotlight: Better Than the Movies by Lynn Painter

Posted April 18, 2021 by Holly in Features, Giveaways | 1 Comment

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: Better Than the Movies by Lynn PainterBetter Than the Movies by Lynn Painter
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 4, 2021
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 368
Add It: Goodreads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books

In this rom-com about rom-coms, in the spirit of Kasie West and Jenn Bennett, a hopeless romantic teen attempts to secure a happily-ever-after moment with her forever crush, but finds herself reluctantly drawn to the boy next door.

Perpetual daydreamer Liz Buxbaum gave her heart to Michael a long time ago. But her cool, aloof forever crush never really saw her before he moved away. Now that he’s back in town, Liz will do whatever it takes to get on his radar—and maybe snag him as a prom date—even befriend Wes Bennet.

The annoyingly attractive next-door neighbor might seem like a prime candidate for romantic comedy fantasies, but Wes has only been a pain in Liz’s butt since they were kids. Pranks involving frogs and decapitated lawn gnomes do not a potential boyfriend make. Yet, somehow, Wes and Michael are hitting it off, which means Wes is Liz’s in.

But as Liz and Wes scheme to get Liz noticed by Michael so she can have her magical prom moment, she’s shocked to discover that she likes being around Wes. And as they continue to grow closer, she must reexamine everything she thought she knew about love—and rethink her own ideas of what Happily Ever After should look like.

Excerpt

CHAPTER TWO

“A woman friend. This is amazing.
You may be the first attractive woman I have not wanted to sleep with in my entire life.”
—When Harry Met Sally

Michael was back.

I propped my feet up on the kitchen table and dug my spoon into the container of Americone Dream, still beside myself with giddiness. In my wildest dreams, I wouldn’t have imagined the return of Michael Young.

I didn’t think I’d ever see him again.

After he moved, I daydreamed for years about him coming back. I used to imagine I was out taking a walk on one of those gloriously cold autumn days that whispered of winter, the air smelling like snow. I’d be wearing my favorite outfit—which changed with each imagining, of course, because this fantasy started back in grade school—and when I’d turn the corner at the end of the block, there he’d be, walking toward me. I think there was even romantic running involved. I mean, why wouldn’t there be?

There were also no less than a hundred brokenhearted entries in my childhood diaries about his exit from my life. I’d found them a few years ago when we were cleaning out the garage, and the entries were surprisingly dark for a little kid.

Probably because his absence in my life was timed so closely with my mother’s death.

Eventually I’d accepted that neither of them were coming back. But now he’d returned.

And it felt like getting a little piece of happiness back.

I didn’t have any classes with him, so fate couldn’t intervene by throwing us together, which sucked so badly. I mean, what were the odds that we’d have zero occasions for forced interaction? Joss had a class with him, and clearly Wes did as well. Why not me? How was I supposed to show him we were meant to go to prom and fall in love and live happily ever after when I didn’t ever see him? I hummed along to Anna of the North in my headphones— the sexy hot tub song from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before—and stared out the window at the rain.

The one thing in my favor was that I was kind of a love expert. I didn’t have a degree and I hadn’t taken any classes, but I’d watched thousands of hours of romantic comedies in my life. And I hadn’t just watched. I’d analyzed them with the observational acuity of a clinical psychologist.

Not only that, but love was in my genes. My mother had been a screenwriter who’d churned out a lot of great small-screen romantic comedies. My dad was 100 percent certain that she would’ve been the next Nora Ephron if she’d just had a little more time.

So even though I had zero practical experience, between my inherited knowledge and my extensive research, I knew a lot about love. And everything I knew made me certain that in order for Michael and me to happen, I would need to be at Ryno’s party.

Which wasn’t going to be easy, because not only did I have no idea who Ryno even was but I had zero interest in attending a party filled with the jocks’ sweaty armpits and the populars’ stinky beer breath.

But I needed to get reacquainted with Michael before some awful blonde who shall remain nameless beat me to him, so I’d have to find a way to make it work.

Lightning shot across the sky and illuminated Wes’s big car, all snuggled up against the curb in front of my house, rain bouncing hard off of its hood. That assbag had been right behind me all the way home from school, and when I’d pulled forward to properly parallel park, he’d slid right into The Spot.

What kind of monster parked nose-first in a street spot?

As I honked and yelled at him through the torrential down- pour, he waved to me and ran inside his house. I ended up having to park around the corner, in front of Mrs. Scarapelli’s duplex, and my hair and dress had been drenched by the time I burst through my front door.

Don’t even ask about the new shoes.

I licked off the spoon and wished Michael lived next door instead of Wes.

Then it hit me. “Holy God.”

Wes was my in. Wes, who had invited Michael to the party in the first place, would obviously be attending. What if he could get me in?

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: April 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 Lynn Painter

Lynn Painter Headshot

Lynn Painter lives with her husband and pack of wild children in Nebraska, where she is a weekly contributor to the Omaha World-Herald and an avid fan of napping. When working on a new book, she can often be found sound asleep on her office floor. Some might say she should grow up and stop randomly dozing off like she's a toddler, but Lynn considers it part of her writing "process."


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Sunday Spotlight: A Warm Heart in Winter by J.R. Ward

Posted December 13, 2020 by Casee in Features, Giveaways | 2 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: A Warm Heart in Winter by J.R. WardA Warm Heart in Winter by J.R. Ward
Series: Black Dagger Brotherhood #18.5
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: Pocket Books
Publication Date: December 1, 2020
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Point-of-View: Alternating Third
Genres: Paranormal Romance
Pages: 496
Add It: Goodreads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
Series Rating: three-stars

#1 New York Times bestselling author J.R. Ward is heating things up this winter with a holiday novel featuring some of her most iconic Black Dagger Brothers.
In this romantic and sexy addition to the #1 New York Times bestselling Black Dagger Brotherhood series, a beloved couple has everything arranged... until it all goes horribly wrong.
Blay and Qhuinn always intended to do a proper mating ceremony, but life has a way of getting in the way. With a pair of young, responsibilities to the King, and a grueling fighting schedule, the two are exhausted and overwhelmed. When Qhuinn gives his male the proposal of a lifetime, however, they are excited for their special night and more in love than ever.
Everyone in the Black Dagger Brotherhood’s mansion gets into the preparations, and the after party takes on epic- and immortal- proportions when Lassiter forms the Party Planning Committee. The celebrations promise to be all that the couple deserves... until a Nor’easter land locks Caldwell in a fierce storm, and things go from lighthearted to deadly dangerous.
Battling nature and responding to emergencies, Blay and Qhuinn get separated, and when a catastrophic chain of events puts one of their lives in jeopardy, the night they had so looked forward could mean the end of everything...

Excerpt

Qhuinn, son of Lohstrong, entered his family’s home through its grand front door. The instant he stepped over the threshold, the smell of the place curled up into his nose. Lemon polish. Beeswax candles. Fresh flowers from the garden that the doggen brought in daily. Perfume—his mother’s. Cologne—his father’s and his brother’s. Cinnamon gum—his sister’s.

If the Glade company ever did an air freshener like this, it would be called something like Meadow of Old Money. Or Sunrise Over a Fat Bank Account.

Or maybe the ever popular We’re Just Better Than Everyone Else.

Distant voices drifted over from the dining room, the vowels round as brilliant-cut diamonds, the consonants drawled out smooth and long as satin ribbons.

“Oh, Lillie, this is lovely, thank you,” his mother said to the server. “But that’s too much for me. And do not give Solange so much. She’s getting heavy.”

Ah, yes, his mother’s perma-diet inflicted on the next generation: Glymera females were supposed to disappear from sight when they turned sideways, each jutting collar-bone, sunken cheek, and bony upper arm some kind of fucked-up badge of honor.

As if resembling a fire poker would make you a better person.

And Scribe Virgin forfend if your daughter looked like she was healthy.

“Ah, yes, thank you, Lilith,” his father said evenly. “More for me, please.”

Qhuinn closed his eyes and tried to convince his body to step forward. One foot after another. It was not that tough.

His brand-new Ed Hardy kicks middle-fingered that suggestion. Then again, in so many ways, walking into that dining room was going into the belly of the beast.

He let his duffle fall to the floor. The couple of days at his best friend Blay’s home had done him good, a break from the complete lack of air in his family’s house. Unfortunately, the burn on reentry was so bad, it made the cost/benefit of leaving nearly equal.

Okay, this was ridiculous. He couldn’t keep standing here like an inanimate object.

Turning to the side wall, he leaned into the full-length antique mirror that was placed right by the door. So thoughtful. So in keeping with the aristocracy’s need to look good. This way, visitors could check their hair and clothes as the butler accepted coats and hats.

The young pretrans face that was reflected back at him was all even features, good jawline, and a mouth that, he had to admit, looked like it could do some serious dam-age to naked skin when he got older. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking. Hair was all Vlad the Impaler, spikes standing up straight from his head. Neck was strung with a bike chain, and not one bought at Urban Outfitters—he’d taken it off his twelve-speed. All things being equal, he looked like a thief who had broken into the mansion and was prepared to trash the place looking for sterling silver, jewelry, and portable electronics.

The irony was that all the Goth bullcrap wasn’t the most offensive part of his appearance to his family. In fact, he could have stripped down, hung a light fixture off his ass, and run around the first floor playing José Canseco with the art and antiques and not come close to how much the real problem pissed off his parents.

It was his eyes.

One blue. One green.

Oopsy. His bad.

The glymera didn’t like defects. Not in their porcelain or their rose gardens. Not in their wallpaper or their car-pets or their countertops. Not in the silk of their under-wear or the wool of their blazers or the chiffon of their gowns.

And certainly not EVER in their young.

Sister was okay—well, except for the “little weight problem” that didn’t actually exist, and a lisp that was going to be dealt with through oral surgery—oh, and the fact that she had the personality of their mother. And there was no fixing that shit. Brother, on the other hand, was the real fucking star, a physically perfect son pre-pared to carry forth the family bloodline by reproducing in a very genteel, non-moaning, no-sweat situation with a female chosen for him by the family.

Hell, Luchas’s sperm recipient had already been lined up. He was going to have to mate her as soon as he went through his transition—

“How are you feeling, my son?” his father asked in a gentle voice.

“Tired, sir,” a deep voice answered. “But this is going to help.”

A chill frog-marched up Qhuinn’s spine. That didn’t sound like his brother. Way too much bass. Far too mas-culine. Too…

Holy shit, the guy had gone through his transition. Now, Qhuinn’s Ed Hardys got with the program, taking him forward until he could see through into the dining room. Father was in his seat at the head of the table. Check. Mother was in her chair at the foot of the table opposite the kitchen’s flap door. Check. Sister was facing out of the room, all but licking the gold rim off her plate from hunger. Check.

The male whose back was to Qhuinn was not part of the SOP.

His brother was twice the size he’d been when Qhuinn had been approached by a doggen and told to get his things and go to Blay’s.

Well, that explained the vacay. He’d assumed his father had finally relented and given into the request Qhuinn had filed weeks before. But nope, his sire had just wanted the defect out of the house because the change had come to his brother.

Had Luchas laid the chick? Who had they used for blood—

Their father, never the demonstrative type, reached out a hand and gave Qhuinn’s brother an awkward pat on the forearm. “We’re so proud of you. You look . . . perfect.”

“You do,” Qhuinn’s mother piped in. “Just perfect. Doesn’t your brother look perfect, Solange?”

“Yes, he does. Perfect.”

“And I have something for you,” Lohstrong said, in a voice that got husky.

The male reached into the inside pocket of his sport coat and took out a small, black velvet box.

Qhuinn’s mother started to tear up and dabbed care-fully under her eyes.

“This is for you, my son.”

The box was slid across the white damask tablecloth, and Luchas’s now-big hands shook as he took the thing and popped the lid.

Qhuinn could see the flash of gold all the way out in the foyer.

Luchas just stared at the signet ring in silence, clearly overwhelmed, as their mother kept up with the dab-dab, and even their father grew slightly misty. And Solange snuck a roll from the bread basket.

“Thank you, sir,” Qhuinn’s brother said as he put the heavy gold ring on his forefinger.

“It fits, does it not?” Lohstrong asked.

“Yes, sir. Perfectly.”

“We wear the same size, then.”

Of course they did.

At that moment, their father glanced away, like he was hoping the movement of his eyeballs would take care of the sheen of tears that had come down over his vision.

He caught Qhuinn lurking outside in the foyer. There was a brief flash of recognition. Not the hi-how’re-ya kind or the oh-good-my-other-son’s-home stuff. More like when you were walking through the grass and noticed a pile of dog shit too late to stop your foot from landing in it.

The male looked back at his family, locking Qhuinn out sure as if he’d closed an actual door.

Clearly, the last thing Lohstrong wanted was for such a historic moment to be ruined—and that was probably why he didn’t do the hand signals that warded off the evil eye. Usually, everyone in the household performed the ritual when they saw Qhuinn. Not tonight. The head of house didn’t want the others to know who was in their midst.

Qhuinn pivoted and went back to his duffle. Slinging the thing over his shoulder, he took the front stairs to his room. Usually, his mother preferred him to use the ser-vants’ set, but that would mean he’d have to cut through all the love in there.

His bedroom was as far away from the others’ as you could get, all the way over to the right. He’d often won-dered why they didn’t take the leap completely and put him in with the doggen—but then the staff would prob-ably quit.

Closing himself into his quarters, he dumped the duffle onto the bare floor and sat on his bed. Staring at his only piece of luggage, he figured he had better do laundry soon as there was a wet bathing suit in there.

The maids refused to touch his clothes—like the evil in him lingered in the fibers of his jeans and his T-shirts. The upside was he was never welcomed for formal events anyway, so his wardrobe was just wash-n-wear, baby—

He discovered he was crying when he looked down at his Ed Hardys and realized that there were a couple of drops of water right between all those buckles and leather.

Qhuinn was never getting a ring.

Ah, hell . . . this hurt.

He was scrubbing his face with his palms when his phone rang. Taking the thing out of his biker jacket, he had to blink a couple of times to focus.

He hit send to accept the call, but he didn’t answer.

“I just heard,” Blay said across the connection. “How are you doing?”

Qhuinn opened his mouth to reply, his brain coughing up all kinds of responses: Peachy fucking jim-dandy. At least I’m not “fat” like my sister. No, I don’t know if my brother got laid.

Instead, he said, “They got me out of the house. They didn’t want me to curse the transition. Guess it worked because Luchas sure looks like he came through it okay.”

Blay swore softly.

“Oh, and he got his ring just now. My father gave him . . . his ring.”

The signet ring with the family crest on it, the symbol that all males of good bloodlines wore to attest to their value to their lineage.

“I watched Luchas put it on his finger,” Qhuinn said, feeling as if he were taking a sharp knife and drawing it up the insides of his arms. “Fit perfectly. Looked great. You know, though . . . like, how could it not—”

He began weeping at that point.

Just fucking lost it.

The awful truth was that under all his counter culture fuck-you, he wanted his family to love him. As prissy as his sister was, as scholar-geek as his brother was, as re-served as his parents were, he saw the love between those four. He felt the love among them. It was the tie that bound them, the invisible string from one heart to the others, the commitment of caring about everything from the mundane shit to any true, mortal drama. The only thing more powerful than that connection . . . was what it was like to get shut out from its expression.

Every fucking night of your life.

Blay’s voice cut in through the heaving. “I’m here for you. And I’m so damned sorry . . . I’m here for you . . . just don’t do anything stupid, okay? Let me come over—”

Leave it to Blay to know that he was thinking about things that involved ropes and showerheads.

In fact, his free hand had already gone down to the makeshift belt he’d fashioned out of a nice, strong weave of nylon—because his parents didn’t give him money for clothes and the one proper buckle-and-strap combo he’d owned had broken years ago.

Pulling the length free, he glanced across to the closed door of his bath. All he needed to do was tie the thing to the fixture in his shower—God knew those water pipes had been run in the good old days when things were strong enough to hold some weight. He even had a chair he could stand up on and then kick out from underneath him.

“I gotta go—”

“Qhuinn? Don’t you hang up on me—don’t you dare hang up on me—”

“Listen, man, I gotta go—”

“I’m coming over right now—” Lot of flapping in the background like Blay was getting his shit together. “Qhuinn! Do not hang up the phone—Qhuinn . . . !”

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: December 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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