A Fake Girlfriend for Chinese New Year & A Big Surprise for Valentine’s Day

When I read Donut Fall in Love two weeks ago I was reminded almost viscerally of two of Jackie Lau’s novellas from her Holidays with the Wongs series. The chemistry between Donut’s Ryan and Lindsay had the same sort of feeling that A Fake Girlfriend for Chinese New Year’s Zach and Jo did, and it made me want to revisit them, and with Chinese New Year this week (February 1st) I needed no further inducement to pick it back up and give myself a Monday evening treat. Once I did, I remembered that in my review of A Big Surprise for Valentine’s Day back in 2020 I had wished that it had been told as one larger story with Fake Girlfriend, so I decided to go ahead and read them back to back and see how that effected my reactions.

It worked splendidly.

A Fake Girlfriend for Chinese New Year (Holidays with the Wongs, #3)

I had fond feelings for A Fake Girlfriend for Chinese New Year from my initial reading of it, but had rounded down to 3 stars from 3.5 as far as star ratings go (I have now rounded it up to 4 instead). In this novella Zach is afraid of a repeat blind date set-up by his mother and grandmother, still mortified from Thanksgiving.  His two older brothers are now in relationships so he feels that the pressure to also find a girlfriend will all be squarely focused on him (I appreciate how Lau makes this his fear and something not even on his family’s radar – no one is up to any shenanigans but him). To prevent attention he doesn’t want Zach approaches his friend Jo with a favor: would she be willing to pretend to be his girlfriend for a few weeks to keep the pressure off from his family. They both live in his hometown and have a friendship built on broken engagements and hobbies, so Zach thinks this is safe for them. What he doesn’t know if that Jo has secretly been falling for him for the past two years of their four-year friendship and that he has some feelings for her that he is being dumb about since he has sworn off relationships entirely since his broken engagement. Lau does a great job layering in the emotions and the natural progression that “fake” dating will have when two people do have a legitimate emotional connection, and the way it all builds to a crescendo across 95 pages while playing with both friends to lovers and fake relationship worked a charm for me.

A Big Surprise for Valentine's Day (Holidays with the Wongs, #4)

On the high of the ending of Fake Girlfriend the being dumped into a break-up prologue before a flashback of six weeks should have felt like being doused in cold water, instead in made me all the more ready to settle in and enjoy the parallel story of Amber and Sebastian in A Big Surprise for Valentine’s Day. Amber is the youngest of the four Wong siblings and after a rough few years getting herself settled into her career and managing to date only terrible men, she gives herself a moratorium – no dating for now. She’s missing the physical connection, though, if not the emotional one and a run-in with Sebastian Lam in the grocery store family planning aisle finds them both with a partner for some no strings attached sex. Sebastian is newly back in the area after moving home following medical school, is the childhood best friend of Zach, and has a reputation for being the “good son” to Amber’s “wild child”.

I was rooting for this pair from their meet cute both times I’ve read this. Lau plays with Opposites Attract, although that’s more perceived than actual, as well as Older Brother’s Friend and Friends with Benefits. Amber is taking steps to correct missteps in her past, Sebastian is letting himself discover what he wants his life to be, and they are each working on healthy boundaries with their families While this is probably the steamiest of the novellas (with sex being the driver of the relationship at least initially) what I took away from this one the most this time is how quietly and steadfastly kind the leads are to each other throughout. Not to say there isn’t tension and some drama (this one does open with a big break-up) it still leaves room for a certain sweetness to balance the whole package.  

You should read these, but I strongly suggest that you start with the first novella in the series A Match Made for Thanksgiving and then just read them all in quick succession. It’s a great way to get acquainted with Lau and you’ll thank me.

And They Lived Happily Ever After (CBR14 #10)

And They Lived Happily Ever After

Representation on the page matters, and while finding representation that feels exactly like you can be some of the most affirming experiences out there, finding representation that speaks to a component of your life that isn’t exactly how you experience it is also incredibly important. Beharrie includes in her acknowledgements that a lot of what we see on the page in And They Lived Happily Ever After draws from her own experiences with Anxiety, and as usual, when an author so very obviously writes from a place of emotional truth the results have the possibility of being truly outstanding.

I have Anxiety and it looks almost nothing like Gaia’s does in the book. I don’t get classic panic attacks, and because of that it took well into my middle 30s to get it diagnosed and named so that I could start dealing with it actively – and even that only happened because I checked a box on an intake form, expecting it to be an ‘also ran’ to my depression, and not as it turns out the star of the show. Like Gaia though, I spent a long time thinking that this was just how I processed, accepting a certain amount of unspoken shame that I didn’t function like “everyone else”. Its this piece, this beautiful, delicate emotional piece – that is refracted in shame and guilt in Jake’s arc – that makes this such an important read.

But I should back up and tell you what this book is about. And They Lived Happily Ever After is the story of successful romance author Gaia Anders who has a secret: she experiences whatever she wrote that day in each night’s dreams, living it through the eyes of her protagonist and when she wakes up any changes that happened in the dream show up in her draft.  It started on her 18th birthday and after 12 years, and a childhood in the foster care system, Gaia now trusts the world in her books and dreams more than the real world. Enter into her real-world Jacob Scott, brother of her best friend Seth, who is a single-minded workaholic with his mind set on keeping the family business, and the family, from falling apart. After a blistering make-out with Gaia at Seth’s party he knows he’s going to have her on his mind, but he isn’t expecting to interact with her in his dreams (because who would?). He is however taken with Gaia, has always been a little infatuated with his brother’s best friend, and isn’t going to let a little magical dreaming get in the way of finding out what they can be to each other. Even if that means facing their fears and changing their lives, for the better.

As much as I loved this book (and I did) I’m going with four stars because the pacing was a little uneven for me. We spent a lot of time with Jake and Gaia in the early aftermath of the first time Jake experiences one of Gaia’s dreams with her, and from there we skip through time over the course of a couple months, but when and how the characters interact – and who they interact with – wasn’t always handled evenly. There are some major “aha” moments (from all of the major characters, not just our lead pair) that go zipping by. I did appreciate though how honestly Beharrie dealt with the vagaries of being seen at your lowest, of having to acknowledge that a problem even exists before you can begin to be ready to confront it, how there are all sorts of ways to be unhealthy in relationships, and some of those ways are coded as expected or wanted, but that doesn’t make them healthy. There’s also a great undercurrent of what we owe each other in relationships of all kinds.

Little Weirds (CBR14 #9)

Little Weirds

What a delightful, odd, heartfelt book.

I put this one on my to read list following watching Jenny Slate’s Netflix special Stage Fright which is a mix of a stand up and documentary. When I finished Stage Fright I was much more interested in Slate than I had been before. Having now finished Little Weirds which she wrote at about the same time, I feel as though I have had an interesting, if not entirely understandable, view into her mind. If only everyone wrote so honestly.

It is difficult to categorize this one, as Slate’s unique style bounces around. Initially I was put off by it, but by putting my faith in her introduction which she categorizes as a “Guide for Consumption” I settled in and let her wordscapes wash over me I suddenly cared less about trying to figure it out and instead decided to just go with it, to embrace what was on offer. Little Weirds is a personal, introspective look at battling grief, of finding a way through heartache, of attempting to put on a brave face about what is coming next all while trying to make meaning out of this weird, little life we’re given. It is also often incredibly abstract, which does put a bit of distance between reader and author, even when we’re being invited in. Slate seems primarily occupied with finding the ways to be kind to herself and sharing that goal with her reader. But there is a reason I’m not rating this higher and its primarily that while I was pleased to have read each essay, I was often looking for more.

Seduction (CBR14 #8)

Seduction: A History From the Enlightenment to the Present

Dear God, the self-indulgent heterosexual, masculine arrogance that is evident on the nearly 500 pages of this book is enough to make me want to hurl it across the room. Instead, I finished it (while skimming entire sections as needed, I’m not here to punish myself) because while this book does contain interesting information and occasionally a look at some of the past three centuries’ literary output through the angle of the seduction narrative (thus the two stars I am awarding it) it unfortunately buckles under its own weight and its author’s inability to stick to the thesis. Knox continuously undercuts his points and inflates his page count by not adhering to his own narrative goal stated in the subtitle.

I found almost nothing but problems with this book.

Seduction: A History from the Enlightenment to the Present begins with a look at the narrative of seduction in 18th century English literature, but it quickly devolves to a handful of biographies of writers who had a hand in shaping the narrative, those whose work Knox would argue is linked to it, or those caught up in morality laws –already too broad a target. But even that is not the largest of the book’s sins: because at the end of the day, this really isn’t a book about seduction due to the author’s chasing of his own peccadillos and the incredible blind spots shown in the narrative.

The more subtle problem with the book was it seems Knox did not grasp the importance of the root cause of all the uproar surrounding seduction: children and paternity. In the chapters focusing on Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley Knox acknowledges and then proceeds to talk around the real and lasting emotional and legal consequences of affairs that led to children out of wedlock. You only need to look to the chapter focusing on Mary Shelley to see the problems of Knox’s narrative. Dozens of pages are spent on the Shelley-Byron origin tale, including mind numbing pages on Byron’s traveling companion Polidori and his publication of The Vampyre (which has no real bearing on anything), but the important points in the chapter are an examining of Shelley’s Frankenstein through the lens of fathers abandoning bastard children and the story of Norton and her crusade for women’s rights including her decades of writing and work which culminated in going to court to argue that laws regarding divorce and children should be about morality and not just property. But neither woman fall comfortably within Knox’s definition of seduction, and therefore the chapter around them blossoms to include those that do which only serves to dilute the points which are important.

There’s also the issue of the overwhelming heterosexuality of the book. Seduction is inextricably linked to homophobia and sodomy laws but there is almost no mention of anything vaguely related to queer history in the book. Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment, Lord Byron and Jack Johnson’s accusations of sodomy, and a passing description of Carmilla as sapphic are briefly mentioned, but there is no analysis of how they fall into the larger queer history in the context of seduction narratives. In a book so long, which attempts to cover so many other angles, and brings in so many other factors that impact the way seduction is understood – race, economics, nationality, age – it feels purposeful to leave out anything that does not qualify as heterosexual in a book so inextricably linked to sex and sexual relations.

The reading experience left me feeling the exact opposite that I did reading Halle Rubenhold’s The Five (a book which I was reminded of as Knox does not bother to unpack or contradict the idea that the women killed by Ripper were prostitutes). The Five is written in accessible language, inviting the reader in while Seduction features language that is unnecessarily “eloquent” and the use, and frankly misuse, of certain terminology meant to show the intelligence and education of the author instead muddies meaning – even for those who are familiar with it. In her book Rubenhold takes the large socioeconomical tides of the time and uses them to tell the story of the women, and in Seduction that doesn’t happen, we are no better informed about the larger society than at the beginning. Instead, we are left with the self-important writings of Knox, who has the possibility of doing real damage by purporting a narrative that leaves out entire swathes of the populace and doubles down on placing women in the position of victim only. I hope someday we get a version of this book written by a historian such as Rubenhold (Knox is a non-fiction buyer for Waterstones with advanced degrees in International Relations and Economics in addition to his undergraduate work in Modern History) or perhaps a literary scholar familiar with the Romance genre. Either of those lenses would be far better than this.

Donut Fall in Love (CBR14 #7)

Donut Fall in Love

After the debacle of Always, in December I decided to make sure the next thing I read didn’t make me angry (don’t worry, future angry reviews will come – and soon –  I just usually like to give myself 24 hours to get eloquent with the rage) so I put down the two books I was reading and went back to an ARC that I had not been able to get to before the deadline (my apologies to the fine folks at NetGalley and Berkley) because I know a Jackie Lau romance is going to make my heart happy – and Donut Fall in Love is no exception.  

There is a certain alchemy to the way Lau writes books that feel like sitting down with a quick snack and a cup of tea, while also making them steamy. I am on the record of being all for it. Lau is an author who knows how to include excellent food in her books and this one made me daydream about the donut shop my sister used to work at, but its more than that. I enjoy reading along as two people are dumb about their feelings, get less dumb about those feelings at different rates, and eventually stop being dumb about their feelings and Lau nails that as well. But that is not all that is happening in Donut Fall in Love as Lau unpacks some bigger emotional truths, in this case how we handle grief and how it interacts with larger family dynamics. 

We join the story as actor Ryan Kwok has returned to Toronto following completion of the promotional tour for his latest film, a rom-com staring Asian leads that is getting less-than-stellar reviews. The recent death of Ryan’s mother and years of constant work have led him to take some time off near his remaining family to be supportive and connected. He struggles, especially with not knowing how to talk to his dad—who now trolls him on Twitter instead of talking to him on the phone. Our meet cute happens when Ryan collides with baker Lindsay McLeod at her shop and knocks two dozen specialty donuts onto the floor. Lindsay lingers in Ryan’s mind and after he signs up for a celebrity episode of Baking Fail (think Nailed It), he asks Lindsay to be his baking instructor. As Lindsay and Ryan spend time together, they begin to form a bond and things heat up in the kitchen, and outside of it.  

Donut Fall in Love shares some ground with Lau’s previous book The Professor Next Door with a heroine who is settled into her career and life, building a version of herself she believes she wants. Lindsay has sworn off romantic relationships following some emotional scars years earlier, instead enjoying casual hook-ups in the intervening years. Lau sets up her leads with emotional baggage that is relatable to the reader and matched to each other, in this case a shared lack of serious relationships in their recent pasts, while also providing hurdles to be gotten over – specifically Ryan’s fame and the intrusions it causes into their otherwise quiet lives. In this book we watch the pair grow into a functional relationship which showed growth for both parties, even when it felt as though the characters were too easily falling back into the same mental loops. The only drawback here is that sometimes Lau falls back on telling the reader how the characters are feeling, instead of letting the characters’ behaviors and actions do the speaking.  

This felt more like Ryan’s book than Lindsay’s even though the narrative is split between them, but I do not think that was a negative. Also, in the “not really a negative” category is I wonder if Lau turned her steaminess down a smidge with this book as it is her pub trade debut. While steamy, this was not exactly the steam level I am accustomed to in works such as her novella A Big Surprise for Valentine’s Day.  

I received this book as an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley, it has not affected the contents of this review. Donut Fall in Love published October 26th, 2021. 

Always, in December (CBR14 #6)

I don’t normally suggest reviewing a book while angry at it, but here we are. I should probably wait to further reflect on why I’m feeling this way. But. But I have already angrily thrown it into the return slot at the library and after four hours of being annoyed, and having it come right back to front of mind the moment I was done watching the finale of the Station Eleven adaptation I have decided to try to purge my anger into digital ink and just be done with it.

Because I am actively angry at Always, in December. Here’s why:

  • I was lied to by the publisher (or whoever else shelved this thing) – this book is not a Romance, and it is being advertised as such.
    • I will concede that there is a romance plot line, but it pretty much wraps up at the end of the first section and then the fallout of that arc propels the rest of the book.
    • If that first section had a different final ending than the book, it would be a great Romance novella.
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  • Simultaneously, the characters are hollow. Which is incredibly frustrating because Emily Stone appears to be a confident and competent writer but her female lead is so dragged down by grief and loss that she is emotionally quite empty, and her male lead is a cypher throughout. Even in his own section (of which he only gets one of the four major ones) the reader isn’t let in on the secret the book is trying to keep and therefore we are left without the ability to know the character.
    • This book also commits the grave sin of a problem that could be solved by an honest conversation. Sections 2-4 are a litany of missed opportunities for either character to speak emotional truth.
Writing Pet Peeves #1: Foreshadowing From Hell - sera ashling
  • The book is emotionally manipulative. I clocked what was happening at about the 2/3rds mark – that the book wasn’t going to deliver on the Romance tropes but instead head to a darker ending – at that point I flipped to the end to see just how bad this was going to be (VERY BAD) and then went back and finished and at every single point that Stone could use the plot to wring tears from her reader she did. But they weren’t earned in the characters, those moments instead banked on the readers own losses and hit emotional cues to bring them up.
    • This book attempts to do what Jojo Moyes did in Me Before You (your mileage may vary, that book worked for me) but it falls short in major ways. Moyes crafted two beautifully well-rounded protagonists who affect the courses of each other’s lives in big ways, and perhaps more importantly in small ways. Stone does not achieve that.
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  • There is an unrelenting undercurrent of fat phobia and disgust running through the book, but most noticeably in the later sections. I’m hard pressed to think of an example where any sort of roundness or softness was used as a positive descriptor in this work and by the midway point I was actively on the lookout.
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  • Most importantly it handles grief, illness, and death in ways that I don’t think are necessarily healthy while not providing a Content Warning.
    • The CW should include multiple deaths of loved ones; off page cheating; heart attack; cancer, sudden unexpected death

You’ve Got Red on You (CBR14 #5)

You've Got Red on You: How Shaun of the Dead Was Brought to Life

You’ve Got Red on You details the story of how 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, a low-budget British movie about Londoners battling zombies in a pub, became a horror-comedy whose fan base only continues to grow and with each passing year cements its place in pop culture history. Clark Collis takes the work he did on his 2017 oral history of the movie for Entertainment Weekly and grows it into the definitive look at a movie that would simultaneously help revive a genre while inventing a new one (the zombie romcom) and help launch the careers of some creatives you may have heard of (Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, Nick Frost, Lucy Davis, Kate Ashfield, Peter Serafinowicz, Bill Nighy) and other “below the line” talent you may not have, but whose work continues to entertain.

This 400-page beastie follows the creative journey of the movie’s talent – and how they all came together – from inception through to the production, the distribution and reception, and the evolving place the movie and its creatives have found themselves in during the nearly two decades since. Collis accomplishes a lot in this work, providing what will likely become the bedrock of definitive biographies of the main artistic contributors to the movie, as well as deep dives into the genre of horror movies, and zombie movies in particular, which influenced Wright and Pegg as they conceived and wrote the screenplay giving the reader the necessary information to understand both how they got there, but also what an uphill climb it was to get this movie financed at the time when zombie movies had gone out of fashion. Further, he paints a picture of both the movie production landscape at the turn of the last century, as well as the nascent days of online film journalism.

Collis takes the best parts of an oral history, having the personal accounts of people directly involved in the moment, and expands the view on who might be included in a movie’s history. There is not a creative department unheard from, or an angle on the life cycle of a movie left unexamined. But Collis doesn’t just leave it there, he builds a narrative that drives the book forward, having a clear authorial voice while sharing so much real estate with the words of those involved. You’ve Got Red on You is tightly organized book (with great chapter titles) that incorporates details of day-to-day shooting, pages of set photos, and promotional materials into the story it is telling. It also includes portions of the early brainstorming sheets done by Pegg and Wright as well as storyboards sketched by Wright and his brother Oscar which let the reader in on the process of creating the now iconic images from the movie.

The final chapter of the book brings readers up to date on the post-Shaun lives of the cast and crew, and honestly, I would read any book Collis would choose to write about any of those pursuits (Hot Fuzz is my favorite of the Cornetto Trilogy, but Shaun holds a special place in my heart as the first zombie movie I ever liked) or whatever he may tackle in future. I heartily suggest this one to fans of Shaun of the Dead or the people involved, or how movies are made. There’s something here for almost everyone.

A Lady by Midnight (CBR14 #4)

A Lady by Midnight (Spindle Cove, #3)

I can always trust Tessa Dare to bust a slump, and as exhaustion is one of my last remaining COVID symptoms, I’m not so much slumped as I am distractable. A Lady by Midnight took care of it either way, and I enjoyed my evening with it so much that I’m rating it five stars, and I know that I am one of the few around Cannonball Read to do so. I get it, but I’m also keeping my rating as is.

I am currently working my way through a large non-fiction tome where the author seems to be taking themselves a bit too seriously (Clement Knox’s Seduction review forthcoming eventually) and yesterday I just could not focus on it at all, and as it was a section on Casanova, I thought it best to just put it down and pick something else up. Lucky for present me, past me had ordered A Lady by Midnight before American Thanksgiving but the crush of books that needed reading in December in order to fulfill my reading challenges pushed it right off my to read pile for the month. But there it was calling to me from atop my bookcase.

It had been almost four years since my last time to Spindle Cove with A Week to be Wicked, but it mostly came back to me – certainly the town and its residents broadly if not the particulars of the books I had already read in the series (including A Night to Surrender and Any Duchess Will Do). I did remember though the two leads, who were introduced in the first novel and have been floating around in the periphery of the stories since. Kate Taylor is the town’s music instructor, she’s also an orphan who has been making her own way in the world since she was brought to a foundling school around age five. She’s managed to maintain an inner spark, and Spindle Cove as provided her with safety and friends, but she is still in search of family, and love. She’s certainly not expecting to find either of those things in Corporal Thorne, the militia commander in charge at Spindle Cove who arrived the year before and has seemingly made it his mission to ignore her at every turn. Thorne however has his own reasons for acting as he has, and with a family of aristocrats arriving claiming that Kate is their long-lost cousin he finds himself announcing that he is her fiancé, in order to keep her safe. It however complicates things tremendously.

Dare sticks with the things in her writing that I appreciate the most, this book has most of her standard features: in Kate we have an independent lady making her way in the world, the plot pretty closely aligns to a Marriage of Convenience, focusing on an engagement of convenience, the smolder and steamy sexy times are present (even if we’re about 2/3rds of the way through the book before Kate and Thorne get past kissing, there’s a lot happening in this story), sincere emotions are on display – specifically in actions, and Thorne might be her most wounded hero. These is a lot of heaviness to the plot of this one, but as its Tessa Dare it was also silly at time, funny, and sexy, which is what I am looking for when I pick up on of her books. Once all the pieces are on the board the narrative takes off and never really slows down, right through to the epilogue (and I really would have loved another chapter between the end and the epilogue). This one  is all about love, the shapes it takes, the ways we express it (or don’t), where we look for it… and it worked for me even when it shouldn’t have.

Love & Other Disasters (CBR14 #3)

I received an ARC of Love & Other Disasters from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Love & Other Disasters publishes January 18th, 2022.

Love & Other Disasters

I love when you can tell that a book was written from an authentic place, that the author is taking their own feelings, their own emotions, and building out from there to tell an honest story that they hope will resonate with readers. Anita Kelly does just that in Love & Other Disasters and I’m so glad to have been able to spend time with it and its characters over the past several days. I was initially pulled in by its arrestingly pretty cover which I was pleased to discover is a faithful representation of the actual  characters.

Love & Other Disasters is an nb/f adult contemporary romance centered around contestants on a televised cooking show for non-professionals. There’s a significant cash prize for the winner, and it would make an immense difference in the lives of our leads Dahlia and London. Neither dream of becoming a professional chef, but each wants to take their love of cooking, and what it gives them, and turn it into something more. Anita Kelly built characters of equal footing on parallel arcs, and it serves the story so well – each are struggling with emotional baggage from their “real” lives, each have uncertainty waiting for them upon their return, each are not really sure what their next steps are, and each is hesitant about what even to do with all these emotions they are feeling about each other.

One of the dynamics I loved about this was that Dahlia and London don’t necessarily instantly fully grapple with their attitudes and attraction to one another but find that they are drawn to each other over time and have feelings that they can’t ignore, and everyone else has already noticed. Since the narrative is handed back and forth, we are also treated to each character’s inner monologue and motivations, which makes some scenes so funny (the cows!) and others so painful (the fight!). Kelly makes sure the reader has the information to understand the full emotional landscape of her characters, weaving it in as they go, and then drops the reader in to enjoy the fully realized ride.

This is Kelly’s full length debut, and it is a stunning work. It is also first in a series of three and I am SO intrigued by what will come next based on Anita Kelly’s website blurb and mood boards.

One Minute to Midnight & Resolutions (CBR14 #1-2)

Having always intended to spend New Year’s Day home and reading I had stashed a light, fun read in my Kindle account to help kick off the year. Then, scrolling through Twitter this morning I saw a link to another and thought – yes, let’s do this.  About half the time I start my Cannonball Reads off with a romance (although my first Cannonball book ever, Pope Joan, was definitely NOT) so it felt like the absolute right way to start off CBR14.

One Minute to Midnight

One Minute to Midnight by Jasmine Luck

My impulse buy this New Year’s Day, and proof that authors absolutely should include links in their tweets about their books, especially if they are on sale.

This short story is all about transitions. We meet our lead as New Year’s Eve takes a wrong turn when Amber is subjected to a public break-up, for not being “fun.” She sets out in search of adventure and finds a handsome stranger to celebrate the night with instead. I’m not usually interested in books about one-night stands, and this story makes it clear at the end that Amber is not intending to start up a relationship with Diego at the end of their New Year’s Eve together, but the way in which Jasmine Luck frames it worked for me.

The reader immediately empathizes with Amber as we pick up with her directly after her boyfriend breaks up with her at a New Year’s Eve Party while making out with someone else. What bumped this one up to a four for me was that at the end of the story when said jerk ex tries to make a half assed apology Amber is able to take the past several hours – where she went to a bar alone, struck up a conversation with a handsome guy, navigated the sexual politics of hooking up, and several orgasms – and tells her ex in quick decisive language that they are done and deciding for herself what feels right, all while a very handsome naked man is standing in her apartment beckoning her back to bed.


Resolutions by Lucy Eden

This one is a novelette featuring the time-honored friends-to-lovers trope around the tradition of resolutions. The previous year Lucy had chickened out of telling her best friend Mike that she was in love with him when the fear of ruining their friendship got the best of her. Mike had similarly intended to reveal his feelings to her, but her speech about not ruining their friendship had him deciding that someone else would have to do (apparently this character features in another of Eden’s books and gets a better treatment, so that’s good news). Fast forward eleven months and the list that Lucy had gone home that night and the list of resolutions Lucy had written while drunk and heartbroken about needing to get over Mike falls out of her bag only for Mike to pick it up and decide to help Lucy finish the list… and perhaps get it right this time.

I liked this one more while I was reading it than I did once I started thinking about reviewing it. I’m not so excited about how Lucy characterizes Mike’s ex Chellie (she of the other book) as lesser than based on her good looks and social media savvy. Eden does a successful job of writing great scenes of Mike wooing Lucy with activities he’s thought up specifically to fulfill her resolution goals, and some great steamy scenes, it felt like we were missing the quiet moments between the characters to let the shift of perceptions settle.  Which meant that while the relationship building from friends to more worked for me (even with Mike not leading with the fact that he had broken up with Chellie), the narrative felt uneven in places.

This one does come with a bonus Spotify playlist that I do suggest listening to while reading, and an epilogue told entirely from Mike’s POV which after getting the rest of the story from Lucy’s was a nice addition.