BOOK REVIEW: Head Over Heels, by Hannah Orenstein

BOOK REVIEW: Head Over Heels, by Hannah OrensteinTitle: Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein
Published by Atria Books
Published: June 23, 2020
Genres: Romance
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

The past seven years have been hard on Avery Abrams: After training her entire life to make the Olympic gymnastics team, a disastrous performance ended her athletic career for good. Her best friend and teammate, Jasmine, went on to become an Olympic champion, then committed the ultimate betrayal by marrying their emotionally abusive coach, Dimitri.
Now, reeling from a breakup with her football star boyfriend, Avery returns to her Massachusetts hometown, where new coach Ryan asks her to help him train a promising young gymnast with Olympic aspirations. Despite her misgivings and worries about the memories it will evoke, Avery agrees. Back in the gym, she’s surprised to find sparks flying with Ryan. But when a shocking scandal in the gymnastics world breaks, it has shattering effects not only for the sport but also for Avery and her old friend Jasmine.

I have loved every single one of Hannah Orenstein’s books since her debut Playing With Matches, and I have it on good authority that I will love every single book she’ll write, too. Head Over Heels follows the (now-alternate universe) trajectory of Avery, a former gymnast with the Olympics in view, becoming a coach to an up-and-coming gymnast when Avery moves back to her hometown after a breakup and a need to start fresh in some way. However, when Avery returns home, she feels like she’s living in the shadow of her former life. Reconnecting with her past and reconciling the future that never was, Avery has to confront everything she has tried to leave behind — her childhood friend who ended up going to the Olympics and doing everything she dreamed of doing, her parents, her former coach, her former crush, and all of the intricacies and difficulties associated with what she has tried to leave behind.

One thing that Orenstein does really well in each of her books is a balance between that perfect rom-com fluff and an engaging amount of emotional and thematic depth. To me, the characters and their reactions and responses to the world in which they live seem true and well-balanced. The settings in which these characters exist and the world created for them feels like something I could watch on a big, cinematic screen and in which I could get lost for a few hours. I don’t know the first thing about gymnastics aside from a casual viewing here and there whenever the Olympics are on television, but Orenstein makes you care and makes you want to know more, and it’s obvious this is a subject dear to her heart. She tackles the heavier subjects and the #metoo movement within the gymnastics sphere incredibly well and with a lot of grace, and that’s something I think is difficult to achieve.

This is a well-rounded contemporary romance that kept me hooked from the first page, so if you’re looking for a bright summer romance with a lot of heart, check out Head Over Heels, and then read the rest of Orenstein’s fiction if you haven’t yet!

Many thanks to Atria for sending me an advance reader’s copy; all opinions are my own!

BOOK REVIEW: This Earl of Mine & To Catch an Earl, by Kate Bateman

BOOK REVIEW: This Earl of Mine & To Catch an Earl, by Kate BatemanTitle: This Earl of Mine by Kate Bateman
Series: Bow Street Bachelors #1
Published by St. Martin's Press
Published: October 29th 2019
Genres: Romance
Pages: 325
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

Introducing the Bow Street Bachelors―men who work undercover for London’s first official police force―and the women they serve to protect. . .and wed?

WILL A FALSE MARRIAGE
Shipping heiress Georgiana Caversteed is done with men who covet her purse more than her person. Even worse than the ton’s lecherous fortune hunters, however, is the cruel cousin determined to force Georgie into marriage. If only she could find a way to be . . . widowed? Georgie hatches a madcap scheme to wed a condemned criminal before he’s set to be executed. All she has to do is find an eligible bachelor in prison to marry her, and she’ll be free. What could possibly go wrong?

LEAD TO TRUE AND LASTING LOVE?
Benedict William Henry Wylde, scapegrace second son of the late Earl of Morcott and well-known rake, is in Newgate prison undercover, working for Bow Street. Georgie doesn’t realize who he is when she marries him―and she most certainly never expects to bump into her very-much-alive, and very handsome, husband of convenience at a society gathering weeks later. Soon Wylde finds himself courting his own wife, hoping to win her heart since he already has her hand. But how can this seductive rogue convince brazen, beautiful Georgie that he wants to be together…until actual death do they part?

A wealthy heiress who needs to marry and become a widow to run her business in peace? YES. Georgiana chooses a prisoner on death row to marry, though little does she know she’s chosen an earl. I’m not entirely up to par on writing about romance since I had avoided the genre for too long, but I really enjoyed the chemistry between Georgiana and Benedict. The dance they do after Georgiana figures out he’s not only a prisoner, but an earl working as a Bow Street runner, feels realistic and drew me in immediately.

When I had requested and been approved for To Catch an Earl, I hadn’t realized it was the second in the series, so I borrowed this from the library as soon as I could! I read it in like two sittings because I wanted to know how everything developed and resolved, and I was left completely satisfied.

BOOK REVIEW: This Earl of Mine & To Catch an Earl, by Kate BatemanTitle: To Catch an Earl by Kate Bateman
Series: Bow Street Bachelors #2
Published by St. Martin's Press
Published: June 30 2020
Genres: Romance
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

A case of secret identities finds reunited lovers on opposite sides of the law in this fun, flirty Regency romance.

There's only one case Bow Street agent Alex Harland, Earl of Melton, hasn't cracked: the identity of the mysterious woman who stole a kiss from him before he left for war. He's neither forgotten—nor forgiven—her for leaving him wanting. When he starts investigating the Nightjar, an elusive London jewel thief, he keeps running into the alluring Emmy Danvers, who stirs feelings he hasn't felt in years.

Even though Emmy's loved Alex for years, she can’t risk revealing her heart, or her identity as the Nightjar. With Alex on her case, Emmy knows that her secrets are in danger of being discovered. Their cat and mouse game heats up with every interaction, but when Emmy’s reputation—and life—is at risk, will Alex realize that some rules are made to be broken for love?

The second of the Bow Street Bachelors was not as strong of a connection between the main characters as I felt there was with the first. Emmy, for a jewel thief, wears a personalized signature scent even when she’s thieving, and it seems a little obvious that if, narratively speaking, she excels at this work she wouldn’t wear such an obvious tell? Alex, having inhaled that scent four years previously, is driven to distraction by that scent in his memories until he meets Emmy again.

The tension and connection didn’t seem as polished or as well developed as I felt it was in the first in the series, but the twists and the plot otherwise kept me engaged! The enemies to lovers trope didn’t play out as promised on the cover copy, and I felt Alex had it figured out too soon (with little reaction between both of them about it until much later), so I felt like it dragged in some places as well because of that. It’s an enjoyable read nonetheless and sets up for the third in the series.

An advance reader copy was provided by the publisher and Netgalley; all opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: To Have and To Hoax, by Martha Waters

BOOK REVIEW: To Have and To Hoax, by Martha WatersTitle: To Have and to Hoax by Martha Waters
Published by Atria Books
Published: April 7th 2020
Genres: Romance
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

In this fresh and hilarious historical rom-com, an estranged husband and wife in Regency England feign accidents and illness in an attempt to gain attention—and maybe just win each other back in the process.

Five years ago, Lady Violet Grey and Lord James Audley met, fell in love, and got married. Four years ago, they had a fight to end all fights, and have barely spoken since.

Their once-passionate love match has been reduced to one of cold, detached politeness. But when Violet receives a letter that James has been thrown from his horse and rendered unconscious at their country estate, she races to be by his side—only to discover him alive and well at a tavern, and completely unaware of her concern. She’s outraged. He’s confused. And the distance between them has never been more apparent.

Wanting to teach her estranged husband a lesson, Violet decides to feign an illness of her own. James quickly sees through it, but he decides to play along in an ever-escalating game of manipulation, featuring actors masquerading as doctors, threats of Swiss sanitariums, faux mistresses—and a lot of flirtation between a husband and wife who might not hate each other as much as they thought. Will the two be able to overcome four years of hurt or will they continue to deny the spark between them?

With charm, wit, and heart in spades, To Have and To Hoax is a fresh and eminently entertaining romantic comedy—perfect for fans of Jasmine Guillory and Julia Quinn.

I have very much been in the mood for reading romances because they’re light and fun and take you away from the world for a bit, and To Have and To Hoax is a fun regency romance in which a husband and wife suffer from misaligned communication and miscommunication, and now resort to playing games with each other to try to win each other’s attention and affection. And of course none of it goes as planned.

The main characters are immature, stubborn, and insufferable, but it is a delight to read because the situations in which they found themselves resulted in witty dialogue and believable chemistry. For me, I thought that the games they played went on a little too long which made the middle of the book drag a bit, and I thought the chapters could be too long and possibly better broken into shorter ones, especially when the point of view changed. The core of the argument that drove Audley and Violet apart was not revealed until well into the book, leaving you guessing as to what could possibly drive two people apart for four years other than sheer stubbornness and an inability to talk about it. Otherwise the pacing was good and kept me interested to find out what shenanigans the characters got up to next.

Ultimately, I think my favorite parts of the entire book involved Violet’s friends and how each of them were involved in Violet’s schemes, and I hope Waters writes more about them, because I think their stories would be just as entertaining to read!

If you are in the mood for a more modern twist on regency romance, definitely check this one out.

Thank you to Atria for sending me an advance reader’s copy; all opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Waiting For Tom Hanks, by Kerry Winfrey

BOOK REVIEW: Waiting For Tom Hanks, by Kerry WinfreyTitle: Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey
Published by Berkley
Published: June 11, 2019
Genres: Romance
Pages: 288
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Goodreads

Can a romcom-obssessed romantic finally experience the meet-cute she always dreamed of or will reality never compare to fiction, in this charming debut adult novel from Kerry Winfrey.

Annie is twenty-seven years old, single, and obsessed with romantic comedies (she and her mother watched them religiously, before her mom died). Her dating life is limited by the expectations she’s formed from these movies. She is not as open to new experiences as she might be, because she’s waiting for her Tom Hanks–i.e., a guy she’ll find in the perfect, meet-cute romantic comedy way. When Annie does finally meet her perfect match, it’s not quite in the way she expected, and she’s forced to reckon with the walls she’s built around herself over the years.

“It doesn’t matter how someone in a romantic comedy affords their absurdly nice house, or whether or not their profession makes sense, or if technically they’re sort of stalking someone they heard on a call-in radio show. What matters is that they have hope. Sure, they find love, but it’s not even about love. It’s the hope that you deserve happiness, and that you won’t be sad forever, and that things will get better. It’s hope that life doesn’t always have to be a miserable slog, that you can find someone to love who understands you and accepts you just as you are.”

I’ve been reading a lot of romance this year, and it’s helped a lot through the more stressful and difficult times of this year. It’s light, fluffy, and a perfect escape from reality for a little bit. I do tend to gravitate toward historical romance, but some of the contemporary romances I’ve read this year have been super cute. I really enjoyed Kerry Winfrey’s Waiting For Tom Hanks because it ties in those Nora Ephron romantic movies with someone who has modeled their expectations around the characters Tom Hanks portrays in the romantic movies in which he’s starred.

The story explores Annie’s expectations versus reality and how she comes to terms with meeting her “Tom Hanks” and how he differs from and goes beyond her expectations throughout the course of the story. Drew is the good-looking Hollywood star who has come to film a romantic comedy in the town in which Annie lives, and they have their own movie-perfect meet-cute, but she has self-doubts that Drew actually is interested in her for real reasons rather than whatever she has concocted in her mind. As she and Drew get to know each other and sparks develop, Annie begins to learn more about herself and her past that shatter everything she’s ever known and reveal truths with which she must come to terms and make adjustments in order to grow and be who she needs to be rather than who she wants to be.

I loved the romantic comedy references sprinkled throughout the story, and the cast of characters is so much fun. I loved her friend Chloe, and I can’t wait to read the forthcoming book about her! Annie’s Dungeons & Dragons playing uncle, Don, was such an amazing character to include, and I don’t know if I’ve seen many nerdy characters like these portrayed positively in contemporary fiction like this (though my pool of reference is fairly small, so correct me if I’m wrong), and I hope to see more of him in the upcoming sequel and beyond!

This is a breezy, cute romantic story that I read in two sittings because I couldn’t put it down, so if you like Nora Ephron comedies and contemporary romance in general, definitely look into this one.

BOOK REVIEW: The Widow of Pale Harbor, by Hester Fox

BOOK REVIEW: The Widow of Pale Harbor, by Hester FoxTitle: The Widow of Pale Harbor by Hester Fox
Published by Graydon House
Published: September 17th 2019
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Maine, 1846. Gabriel Stone is desperate to escape the ghosts that haunt him in Massachusetts after his wife's death, so he moves to Pale Harbor, Maine, where there is a vacancy for a new minister. Gabriel and his late wife had always dreamed of building their own church, and Pale Harbor is the perfect opportunity.

But not all is as it seems in the sleepy town of Pale Harbor. Strange, unsettling things have been happening, and the townspeople know that only one person can be responsible: Sophronia Carver, a widow who lives with a spinster maid in the decaying Castle Carver on the edge of town. Sophronia is a recluse, rumored to be a witch who killed her husband.

When Gabriel meets her, he knows the charming, beautiful woman cannot be guilty of anything. Together, Gabriel and Sophronia realize that the mysterious events have one thing in common: they all contain an element from the wildly popular stories of Mr. Edgar Allan Poe. And when the events escalate to murder, Gabriel and Sophronia must find the real killer, before it's too late for them both.

The Widow of Pale Harbor is an atmospheric historical romance with ties to Edgar Allan Poe’s writing that kept me gripped from beginning to end. Sophronia Carver lives in Pale Harbor, Main, and must come to terms with accusations of witchcraft, murder, and unsettling incidents that keep happening to her and to her immediate surroundings. Gabriel Stone arrives to the sleep coastal town to fill the vacant minister’s position, but from what in his past is he running?

As the incidents begin to escalate, Sophronia and Gabriel realize that these incidents are the work of a twisted individual. Once they realize that the incidents are inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe, they must discover who is behind it all or risk being the next victims of a gruesome attack. In the midst of all of this, Sophronia and Gabriel realize that their attraction toward each other is undeniable, but parts of their respective pasts are holding them back. Gabriel accepted the position in Pale Harbor as a testament to his dead wife, even though he has little care for Transcendentalism or preaching in general. Sophronia must reconcile her past, the accusations of murder thrown toward her, and her limited freedoms before opening up her heart to someone else.

I love the Gothic as a genre. It’s claustrophobic, evoking a sense of dread and wonder at the same time, and delightfully creepy. I love the visuals of a woman scorned in some way standing on a moor overlooking her estate in contemplation, and The Widow of Pale Harbor satisfies every one of those want and hopes I had when I learned about Hester Fox’s second novel. This is a worthy sophomore work, and it’s definitely one to check out if you’re interested in Gothic-style fiction, mysteries, and Transcendental America. Fox wove all of this into a compelling and complex narrative with all sorts of delightful and macabre twists, and it’s one of my favorite reads of the year.

Thank you to Graydon House/Harlequin for sending me an advance reader’s copy to include in a promotional book tour! All opinions are my own.