I’m Reading: Outmatched by Callihan and Young

Rhys Morgan is a former heavyweight champ in desperate need of cash to keep his gym afloat. Parker Brown is a wealthy environmental research scientist in desperate need of a fake relationship to satisfy a misogynistic boss. It was supposed to be just business. Neither expected to fall in love.

It’s a classic collection of tropes (fake relationship, opposites attract), but the authors make it all fresh again with a cast of genuinely human, lovable, vivid characters, broken in all the right places, and a masterful thread of steamy attraction that stitches them together piece by piece. This book is in my perpetual re-read pile. In fact, I came back to it this weekend for the third time.

I think my favorite part about the book is that the characters actually grow as people. It isn’t one sacrificing everything that makes them happy for the other. Instead, they both have to step outside their comfort zone, accept mistakes and compromises, and become better people in order to get what they want. For me, wanting to be a better person is much more romantic than some big personal sacrifice that makes you miserable. The latter just isn’t sustainable. Relationships should build you up, and Rhys and Parker are both stronger and better for their love. As a reader, that’s deeply satisfying. Combined with witty dialogue, adorable fierceness, touching vulnerability, and expertly crafted steam, this should be in the TBR list of anyone who enjoys contemporary or sport romances.

Get more information by visiting the authors online at:



I’m Reading: Hands Down by Mariana Zapata

(Warning: Contains spoilers).

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me was my first Mariana Zapata. It was for a lot of folks as it became the exemplar for slow-burn, enemies to lovers with a fake relationship. I went on to read almost everything in Zapata’s catalog, and they continue to be comfort-food favorites I return to again and again. In her series there are two vivid, dynamic side characters I’ve been chomping at the bit to see in their own HEA, and Sweet, loving, loyal Zac “Snack Pack” Travis is one of them.

So I was a little disappointed when I read it the moment it came out. It was unlike any of Zapata’s other pairings, really. The angst was light. There weren’t any tortured dark anti-heroes to tame. There wasn’t that edge of barely-restrained violent tension. It was the first Zapata book I could safely recommend to a friend with PTSD because it lacked triggering events like domestic violence or stalking. It was even slower-burn than usual, with only a sweet kiss or two at the big moment, and a later sex scene almost as an afterthought. The attraction throughout was more playful than sexual.

I didn’t like it at first. I was looking for dark, tortured anti-heros, fierce sexual tension, and rough angst. But I read it again a few months later and realized quickly what I had missed. The book was an absolutely spot-on-perfect story for Zac. Everything from the laid-back pacing to the sweet, playful atmosphere and the struggle with self-doubt was everything we loved about Zac in Wall of Winnipeg.

Part of why I admire Zapata as a writer so much is her range. Many of my favorite authors perfect a very specific kind of romance trope and specialize in that trope. Zapata, while keeping her slow-burn, dabbles in everything from enemies to friends, figure skating to biker gangs. Some of her books took longer for me to really appreciate because I had slipped into expectations based on previous books. In this case, I expected a certain kind of tortured hero, and forgot everything I fell in love with when I first met “Big Texas” Travis. He has always been, at core, the most loyal friend anyone could have.

That’s what brought me around and put this book in my top-five Zapata re-reads. So many writers take a beloved side character and either flatten or twist them to make them fit a preconceived pattern when they take the spotlight. Instead, Zapata preserved Zac’s essence. He’s a goofball, a loyal friend, and cinnamon roll all the way down. True to his nature, his story is one of a deep, intimate friendship, full of trust and laughter, tipping ever-so-gently into romantic love. It’s the only love story that makes sense for him, the only way it could ever have been.

Most of Zapata’s work is available on Kindle Unlimited. Visit the author at https://www.marianazapata.com/

I’m Reading: Teardrop Shot by Tijan

I’m not that much of a sports person, but a few indie authors have managed to write sports romances so good they transcend subgenre and becomes just plain good books. Mariana Zapata’s a perennial favorite of mine that way, but with Teardrop Shot, Tijan makes a strong bid for my list of favorite romances.

Weird, quirkyCharlie is at rock bottom, having just lost her relationship and her job, when an old friend pops into her life and offers her a brief reprieve: a few months at the boutique camp she’d worked at before a dark secret led her to cut away all ties with her former life. She didn’t know the offer would put her face-to-face with her celebrity crush, the basketball god Reese Forster. She really didn’t expect her crush to become her friend, weighed down with secret baggage of his own. But when they become much more than that, the unresolved burdens of their past might just be too heavy to bear.

The book is often pitched as a rom-com in tone, and it certainly has its laugh-out-loud moments. Charlie copes with stress by blurting out weird and distracting questions, and their banter together is fast and witty. But do not go into this book expecting light. It dives deep into some really intense, painful topics, and handles the psychological complexities deftly. The things that have broken Charlie and Reese are not the usual suspects for the genre, however, and I appreciate the unique challenges they face.

What Tijan really excels at is friendships, especially caring, enduring platonic friendships that jump off the page. The romance with Reese is rooted in that kind of friendship and it adds a lot of depth and nuance to their romantic attraction. The steam is deliciously crafted and plentiful, and the emotionality of the attraction makes it even sexier. It’s a roller-coaster of a read, though, with joyful, loving highs and deep, heartbreaking angst. Go into this book expecting to take a rough emotional journey with Charlie and Reese, and trust Tijan to see you safely through it.

For more info and purchasing options, visit Tijan online.

Content warning: Book deals heavily and well with mental illness in relationships, addiction, suicide, and survivors guilt.

I’m Reading: Saddled, by Linda G. Hill

I’m finding myself more and more drawn to light, uncomplicated, wholesome reads. When everything around me is bleak, I want my fiction to be escapism. That’s why Saddled was such a refreshing read, both as a beta reader and a purchaser.

A woman executive at a condom manufacturing company falls hard for a new temp. But she’s responsible for the no-dating policy at work, and to complicate things, she discovers his alter-ego. By day he’s a talented, aspiring public relations rep. By night he’s Saddle McFleshbomb, a professional stripper.

Delightfully feminist, unabashedly raunchy, and sex-worker positive, this romance is a perfect weekend retreat into a gentler, wholesome world of ridiculous co-workers and happy endings. Best of all, you can leave your hat on.

Saddled is available on Amazon. 

I’m Reading: Eve Silver’s Dark Gothics

When I told my partner about wanting to write some gothic elements into my current book, he asked me how many gothics I’d read and enjoyed. I’d read the classics of course, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. They weren’t my favorites. Northanger Abbey was my second-least-favorite Jane Austen, although I found out later that it was intended as a parody of the genre. So why was I looking for gothic elements if I didn’t like gothics?

It was the modern stories that caught my excitement. The Australian Gothic bleakness of Jane Harper’s The Dry. The bleak and haunting beauty of urban decay I explored through Urbex in my 20s. The Southern Gothic aesthetic I saw living in Georgia and North Florida.

In response, he loaned me Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, the classic gothic that caught the imagination of Hitchcock. I was hooked. This was the voice I was looking for.

So when I started reading indie author Eve Silver’s Dark Gothic series, I knew what to expect from the genre. In the first book, Dark Desires, the heroine is cast out alone into the world and takes up service to a handsome and imposing doctor. The doctor proves to be a figure of mystery, and there may be gruesome secrets hiding in his secret laboratory.

I loved the unique twist of her work as an artist, putting her on some equal footing of skill with the Doctor, even if the social class structures of the time prevent her being considered his actual equal. The genre demands a damsel in distress, but as a character she is given strengths and real practical skills, instead of being a simple fainting beauty.

If readers struggle to enjoy the series, the issue might be unfamiliarity with the genre. The books are a delicious example of the classic gothic style, from language to overwrought suspicion of the love interest, to looming and evil villain. The author adds a subtly modernist social dynamic and a lot of intense steam to create a thoroughly satisfying new classic.

The erotic and romantic tension are one of the modern elements, although crafted in a classical voice that goes well with the historical setting. When Eve Silver brings the steam, she brings it! So turn down the lights, get out the wine and petit-fours, and take a journey into a world of brooding doctors with dark secrets, a murderer who stalks the streets of London, and a young artist fallen from high society who must win her way by her wits and heart.

Find the series and excerpts at evesilver.net.

I’m Reading: Mariana Zapata

If you asked me last year what romance tropes I was fairly “meh” about, the list would have included sports romance and slow-burn. Reading Mariana Zapata has reminded me once again that it isn’t about the trope; it’s about the writing.

I started with The Wall of Winnipeg and Me on recommendations from an agent. Despite knowing nothing about American football, I was drawn right into the characters and fascinated by their struggles. The main character, Vanessa, hooked me, and I wanted to cheer when she took absolutely no more nonsense from Aiden. I loved the deep POV and slightly unreliable narrator, as Aiden’s motivations and inner self slowly unfolds from behind the curtain of Vanessa’s annoyance and assumptions. I love that Vanessa has her own dreams to pursue and defends them so strongly. I loved it so much I re-read it three times in as many months, and went hunting for more.

After devouring Zapata’s entire Kindle Unlimited catalog, I put her squarely among my favorite authors. I think they are all on my re-read list, but my top three are definitely:

1. The Wall of Winnipeg and Me
2. Under Locke
3. Lingus

With From Lukov with Love a close tie for third.

Dear Aaron was a really interesting take on the epistolary novel, as the MC exchanges emails with a soldier stationed overseas for the first half of the book. I’ve never really connected well with epistolary novels, but if you’re a fan of the style, this should resonate well.

You can see Zapata’s full catalog with descriptions and purchase links at https://www.marianazapata.com/books. Many of her books deal with sensitive subjects such as childhood and domestic abuse, so individuals with trauma histories should beware. Most or all are available as audiobooks.