I’m Reading: Highland Games by Evie Alexander

Zoe uproots everything when her great-uncle leaves her a run-down cabin in the Scottish Highlands. The cabin is the scene of her happiest childhood memories, and she hopes it will be where she finds herself and her future away from the pressures of London life. But her rosy memories of a rustic summer are no match for the reality of a leaky, ramshackle hut in winter without plumbing, electricity, or a front door. Or for the massive, muscular estate manager for the Kinloch castle who seems determined to be rid of her.

Rory is under enormous pressure to make the Kinloch castle profitable in the face of enormous debt, or lose his job. All he really wants is to fix up the abandoned cabin on the estate and live out the solitary life he wants, away from the stress of work and memories. When a strange, magnetic London woman claims his cabin and turns his world upside down, he must find a way to scare her off, or lose his last hope of peace and quiet.

I was fortunate enough to be a beta reader for this book and received an ARC copy.

This debut romcom is a delicious, sexy delight. The characters bring sparks and wit to the enemies-to-lovers trope, with banter and shenanigans that made me laugh out loud. I love that Zoe gives as good as she gets, and meets Rory blow-for-blow in the battle of wits and pranks. I also love the found family and the town as a secondary character. For me, it had the mark of great immersive setting, in that I want to move to my own cabin in the Scottish Highlands and see if I can become part of their family, too.

But OH THE CHEMISTRY between the lead characters, here. It builds well, with the fire of animosity turning to physical attraction, then we peel back the layers of the characters to reach something deeper. It hits all the romance buttons for me, and I think we can look forward to a lot of great stories from this debut author.

For more on this and the author’s future works, visit Evie Alexander’s website at https://eviealexanderauthor.com/

I’m Reading: So Not My Thing by Melanie Jacobson

Elle Jones has learned the hard way that the Internet is forever. After a humiliating teenage rejection by her pop star crush went viral, it threatened to follow her forever. But she regrouped and rebuilt. She’s now on track to a wildly successful career in New Orleans real estate…until the man who wrecked her life walks through the door. Miles Crowe doesn’t recognize her when he asks her to help him find the perfect spot for his new jazz club. She plans to make him fire her as quickly as possible, before he learns the truth and makes her re-live her teenage humiliation all over again.

I’ll admit to being a sucker for enemies to lovers. There’s something about this classic romance trope that gets to me. Maybe it’s the idea of people actually growing and changing, or maybe it’s the best example of love conquering all. Or, you know, it could just be that the witty competitive banter is usually so dang sexy.

At any rate, Melanie Jacobson does it just right. So Not My Thing is smart romance. The conflict is real, as is the past hurt. The characters are deliciously competent at what they do. Both have actual, nuanced flaws, and have to do the work on themselves and grow as people to get what they want. The stakes are highly personal, which for me are the best kind of stakes. The world won’t end if they fail, but they’ll be better people if they succeed.

The city of New Orleans is itself a richly developed secondary character in the book, and one we fall in love with. Reading this makes me crave the place, but not just to visit. I want to belong to the place like Elle does, have her deep roots and connection to the community. It’s woven into both main characters’ identities as part of the story itself, not just a backdrop. You couldn’t transplant these people and conflicts to any other place and have it make sense. It has to be New Orleans.

If I have one complaint, it’s that I would have liked an epilogue. I know they’re not everybody’s jam, but I like to spend a little time with the characters after an emotionally tense ending, to wind down and transition back to real life. It’s like pillow talk for the soul. I particularly miss that transition when I’m invested in the people and their happiness.

But I am invested, which is why I can recommend this book. The people, the music, the lives and relationships all come together in a place I’m hungry to spend more time in. My preference for romance usually runs high-steam, but this author packs more sensual tension into a kiss than others do in entire on-page sex scenes. All that adds up to a place in my re-reads for this book. I suspect the same will be true for the rest of the author’s catalog.

For more information on So Not My Thing and Melanie Jacobson’s other works, visit the author’s website at https://www.melaniejacobson.net/

I’m Reading: The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas

Catalina Martín has a problem. When she discovered that her newly-engaged ex would be best man at her sister’s wedding in Spain, she may have accidently let slip that she would be bringing a date. Not just a date, though, a boyfriend. A handsome, charming, non-existent boyfriend. It was that or showing up single (again) and playing the poor pitiful sad girl (again.)

As W-Day draws near, Catalina must consider taking the offer of a date from the last man on earth she would willingly spend time with. Her fellow engineer Aaron is a humorless, soulless asshole who lives to make her miserable. It’s out of the question. She doesn’t even know why he offered, except maybe to mess with her. Why would a man who hates her guts want to fly to Spain to pretend to be her boyfriend?

And why, as the sparks fly and his touch lights up her body, does it feel less and less like pretend?

The Spanish Love Deception is everything I’m looking for in a feel-good, enemies-to-lovers romcom. It’s witty, quirky, and steamy. The characters are sharp, the secondary story meaningful, and the sexual tension is through the roof. The writing craft is solid, and while I would describe it as The Proposal meets The Hating Game meets telenovelas, the voice, the heart, and the nicely balanced classic romance tropes makes this book a phenomenon all its own.

(Minor spoiler alert)

My one complaint about this book is that Aaron joins the company after Lina, in the same role, yet he is being promoted ahead of her. The author isn’t shy about other elements of workplace discrimination, but this doesn’t even seem to show up on the characters’ radars. If she’s a highly competent engineer and team leader who has been there longer, why wasn’t she considered for the promotion? A company would normally post the position internally and interview applicants, not just pluck someone from the team arbitrarily to promote. Why would HR allow this, and why doesn’t Catalina fight it, or at least resent it? If Aaron is simply better for the job, I feel that the author needed to sell me on it more. I feel like this should have been caught by beta readers, at least.

***End Spoiler Alert***

But that is me being SUPER PICKY about an otherwise great book that I got very invested in reading. The rest of the story is solid. We get some of my absolute favorite romance tropes (Fake relationship feels all too real! Then grumpy one is soft for the sunshine one! and THERE’S ONLY ONE BED!). The romance is swoon-worthy, and the characters are real people you want to spend more time with.

This amazing debut goes on my re-read list, and I’m eagerly awaiting the chance to read more from Elena Armas!

Visit the author online at https://www.authorelenaarmas.com/

I’m Reading: The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker

Calla Fletcher is pure city girl. A banking analyst and aspiring social media influencer in Toronto, her life is all about fancy coffee and high fashion. Then she gets the call. Her estranged biological father, an Alaska bush pilot and small airline owner, is sick. Calla must decide if she wants this chance to repair things with the man she thinks abandoned her and her mother long ago. Venturing into the wild frontier of Bangor, she learns that their history is more complicated than she’d ever imagined. She doesn’t belong here, but the Alaskan tundra has its appeal, as does the surly young pilot who works for her dad and seems to hate everything about Calla. More than anyone, Calla knows better than to fall in love with a bush pilot. In the end, the sky cowboys always break your heart.

This was a delightful, well-rounded contemporary romance. The delicious enemies-to-lovers trope, the heartbreaking complexity of family, and the beautiful natural setting come together in a book I couldn’t put down. The side-characters were well-developed, and Bangor became a place I want to explore in as many sequels as the author wants to give me. The author manages to capture the bleak hardness of the wilderness, and the struggles of those who live there, without sacrificing its beauty and charms. If I had one complaint, I’d say the romantic tension felt slightly rushed, but the writing craft is so strong it didn’t hurt the story a bit. After finishing The Simple Wild, I’m ready to blow most of my book budget on Tucker’s other works!

Read an excerpt, find ordering options, and see the author’s other work at https://www.katuckerbooks.com. Remember to check your local library, and encourage them to stock the authors you enjoy!

Content warnings for this book are below, and may include spoilers. If you ever have questions about the contents of books I’ve reviewed, please reach out to me via the contact form, or on Twitter at @JoGeekly. I’m always happy to help you decide if a book I’ve enjoyed is safe for you to enjoy as well!


Content warning: The story contains multiple depictions and descriptions of parent death, cancer, divorce, and parent estrangement. We also see characters experiencing fear of flying, and depictions and references to plane crashes.

I’ve added this and many other books to Does the Dog Die, a crowdsourced website that lists common trauma triggers in media content.

I’m Reading: Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur

Elle’s blind date with the beautiful, snobby sister of her new business partner is a disaster, but she considers that emblematic of her life in general. It’s for the best, really. Darcy strikes her as a particular kind of stick-up-the-butt snob who would hate everything about Elle and her chaotic life. But every time her mother asks if Elle is seeing anyone, it’s one more reminder that Elle is a failure in her family’s eyes.

Darcy is fresh off a painful breakup and done with her brother’s pressure to “get out there” and open her heart up again. All she wants to do is stay in and stay the course of her quiet, orderly, successful life. Her brother’s latest setup for her (with an astrologist, of all people) was the final straw. But she never could say no to her baby brother’s puppy-dog face. When he tries to push her into speed dating, she lies and tells him the date with Elle was a raging success, just to get him off her back.

Elle and Darcy’s fake relationship makes both their families happy, even if it comes with an agreed-on expiration date. Falling for each other was never part of the plan, but the chaotic pull of Elle’s gravity turns out to be too much for Darcy to resist. As Elle learns to believe in her value and Darcy learns to open her heart, they both find themselves reaching for the stars.

This is a great, tightly-written contemporary romance. I’ve seen it billed as a Pride and Prejudice meets Bridget Jones’s Diary, but I’m not sure I agree completely with that comparison. The elements of P&P are more about the characters than the plot. We have the aloof, snobby love interest with a cinnamon roll bestie-brother; and the free-spirited woman with catty sisters, passive father, and judgy mother. Bridget Jones is more of a stretch. Sure, Elle thinks she’s a mess, but she’s actually pretty together with a successful career about to launch. Her brain weasels come straight from her parents. She doesn’t need anyone to hand her success, either. She knows what she wants to do from the start, she pursues it, and she’s damn good at it. That competence makes Elle much more likeable and relatable than Jones.

Overall, I found it charming, sexy, funny, wholesome, and well-written. The romantic and sexual tension are nicely crafted, and there are moments of lovely imagery and connection. I highly recommend it to any fans of contemporary romance. Check out the author and their work at www.alexandriabellefleur.com, and look for the book at your local library!

I’m Reading: Finding Joy by Adriana Herrera

Warning: Contains Spoilers

26-year-old American Desta Joy Walker begin his life in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The country was his father’s first love as well as the place of his death. When Desta tries to follow in his father’s footsteps as an aid worker, he finds the shoe doesn’t quite fit. He reconnects with his heritage and understands the love his father held for Addis Ababa, but feels the pull of a social work career back in the U.S. He must balance his own identity and calling against his parents’ dreams. The stakes for his decision skyrocket when he falls hard for the gentle, beautiful Elias Fikru. Both under the pressure of family legacy and in a place where gay relationships are illegal, they risk everything if they choose to be true to themselves.

This was a beautiful mix of steamy-hot sex and sweetly beautiful love of all kinds. We fall for the beauty of Ethiopia through the eyes of the character, and our hearts break for him and Elias for the intense pressure and danger they face together. The blend of Ethiopian and Dominican cultures and their fierce family loyalty is a rich tapestry to frame the story and the decisions the characters face.

The only downside for the story for me isn’t a downside for many: The story is low-angst. That means there’s some very real, plausible sources of conflict and danger the author chooses to leave on the table and not throw at the characters. They would greatly increase tension, but for some, tension is not always the goal. Some people want their happily-ever-after without putting their characters through hell and breaking them, first. I would chalk this up to simple differences in taste, rather than anything actually wrong with the story.

Similarly, some reviewers have mentioned the sex scenes being “out-of-tone” for the slow, sweet pacing of the story. They are indeed high-steam and graphically erotic, but I wonder if the same reviewers would complain if the main characters were M/F? This is a sensuous story, where the food, coffee, and other richly detailed textures of life in Ethiopia are an integral part of the story. I think the author brings the same sensual details to the love scenes.

You can find this and the author’s other books at https://adrianaherreraromance.com/

Content Notice: Contains LGBTQ discrimination and ethnic discrimination

I’m Reading: A Cruel Kind of Beautiful by Michelle Hazen

Jera McKnight has sworn off men. Relationships will only end in heartache, since her last boyfriend convinced her she could never keep a man happy. Instead she pours her heart into her drums, making music and fighting towards the big time with her best friend Danny and lead singer, Jax.

When gorgeous Jacob accidently throws a newspaper through her window, her vow to remain single gets a new challenge. He’s sweet, considerate, and hot as hell. But he’s hiding a secret of his own, and trust comes hard to both of them.

Michelle Hazen is a recognized queen of steam. I usually begin with authors who offer at least one book free, either through the library, Kindle Unlimited, or a giveaway. If we click, I start buying up their whole catalog. Hazen is an exception to that rule. So many experienced romance authors recommended her as a master class on sexual tension that they convinced me to sprang for the first book. Then I devoured the series.

If you like things steamy, dark, and even kinky, this series is for you. Hazen deals with serious topics like addiction and sexual dysfunction that many writers won’t touch, but blends gritty realism with hope in a way that sucks you in and won’t let you go. Her characters are tortured, but not gratuitously so. The tension is excruciating, but delicious. Her prose is deep and dark, pulling you into sensuous details that make the music as rife with steamy tension as the sex. The wit is sharp, and the conflicts real, but there’s just enough light to balance the shadows, and we know that we won’t be left in despair at the end.

If you couldn’t tell, I highly recommend!

A Cruel Kind of Beautiful is the first in the Sex, Love, and Rock & Roll series. To learn more or find purchasing options, visit the author’s website at https://michellehazenbooks.com/

Content notice for gaslighting, women’s sexual dysfunction, drug and alcohol use/abuse, and light (in this book) BDSM. The books in the series get darker as they go, dealing with serious addiction, death, overdose, and heavier (but well-depicted and consensual) BDSM.

I’m Reading: The Match by Sarah Adams

Evie works for Southern Service Paws, helping clients with disabilities match with highly trained service dogs. When she gets an email to meet with the father of Sam, an eleven-year-old girl with epilepsy, Evie is especially eager to help someone with her own diagnosis find independence. The problem is that the email setting up the meeting didn’t come from Sam’s incredibly hot, incredibly rude father. It came from Sam.

Jake has been living in constant fear since his daughter’s epilepsy diagnosis. As a single dad, he’s terrified of getting the everyday parenting gig wrong, on top of keeping Sam safe during her seizures. There’s no room in his life for complications like love, especially after Sam’s mother walked out of their lives and never looked back. When a beautiful woman storms their table in a coffee shop insisting she has a meeting with him, Jake finds out his daughter conspired to bring them together. Evie is too vibrant, too attractive, and Jake needs to make sure she never wants to see him again.

The Match is a feel-good wholesome rom-com an abundance of heart. I’m personally a fan of heavy steam in my romance, and I was surprised to fall so deeply in love with a book that never goes further than make-out sessions on the couch. For me, the characters sell the book. We fall absolutely in love with Jake as parent of the year. He stresses adorably over single-dadhood and doing right by Sam. Evie is a messy, disorganized do-gooder with high competence and a strong uge to help others despite her upbringing among the self-centered elite. Sam is a well-written kid with devious smarts, relatable fears, and a giant heart that pulls the two main characters together. The secondary characters are smart, funny, and adorably bawdy, with strong voices of their own.

There are a few under-developed moments and threads (the antagonists in particular), but overall I found the plot highly satisfying and the characters endearing. It’s earned a high spot in my re-read pile. I’m glad I gave it a chance, despite its high ranking in the “clean and wholesome” category. It proves once again that a good story transcends categories, and we should never put our tastes in too narrow a box.

(I DESPISE the use of the term “clean” to describe books without sex, but that’s a rant for another day.)

Content notice: Book contains emotional abuse by the MC’s parents, including gaslighting and attempted emotional and financial coercion into a non-consensual relationship. Very brief on-page sexual assault (unwanted kiss).

I read The Match (book one of It Happened in Charleston) on Kindle Unlimited. Check with your local library, or visit Sarah Adam’s website to find this and her other work.

I’m Reading: Verity by Colleen Hoover

If you’re a fan of the classic gothic romance Rebecca, this modern Indie romantic suspense will give you all the steamy thrills and chills you’re looking for, with polished, sophisticated prose and sympathetically broken characters.

Lowen Ashleigh is a struggling author who travels upstate to the gloomy home of Verity Crawford, a famous author who is unable to finish her bestselling series after a tragic car accident. Tragedy has followed the Crawfords, who lost two children in the years before the accident. A sympathetic Lowen must fight her attraction to Verity’s husband, Jeremy and do the job she came for, but the discovery of a secret manuscript of Verity’s life revealed that tragedy may not be all that it seems.

Hoover plays beautifully with the gothic tropes, but in a way that will appeal to the sensibilities of modern readers. The melodrama is brought with a light touch. The twists and turns are deeply satisfying, deliciously dark, and dripping with atmosphere. I did think the ending could have used some tightening, but the effect was there and left us questioning everything we thought we knew.

I thought I’d struggle with the darker themes, with so much darkness in the world right now. Instead, I found myself tearing through the book, riveted. I finished it in a single sitting. None of the darkness felt gratuitous to me, and the pacing helped sell it as an organic part of the story development. The writing itself is excellent, with small touches of imagery and symbolism that thrill the senses of readers who enjoy the play of language. The deep POV flirts hard with elements of unreliable narrator and gaslighting essential to the gothic atmosphere.

There’s a reason why this Indie book rides so high in category rankings. It deserves its place!

Available through Kindle Unlimited. Check your local library, or visit the author online for purchasing options at https://www.colleenhoover.com/portfolio/verity/

Content notices for child abuse, trauma, neglect, death, murder, and ableism. This is a dark book with dark themes. If you have questions about any potential trauma triggers in the book, please reach out to me here or via Twitter DM @JoGeekly and I’d be happy to give you more info to make an informed consent decision on whether or not to read.

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: