Review: J. Sterling’s Bitter Rival

When I signed up to read an ARC of Bitter Rival, I was interested in two things about the book’s blurb: (1) it is an enemies-to-lovers book and (2) it’s set in the world of wine. Now, I’m not necessarily a wine-drinker, but I love new settings in romance books, and I thought Bitter Rival would offer something interesting.

Bitter Rival is a modern day Romeo and Juliet without the deaths at the end. The main characters, Julia and James, have been raised next door to each other. Their parents (and grandparents) have held a bitter feud that, quite frankly, Julia knows nothing about the details. She is simply raised to dislike her neighbor, James. Additionally, they have competing wineries which adds to the rivalry. Unfortunately (or fortunately for romance readers), Julia and James are attracted to each other. For James, his unrequited interest in Julia remains hidden, and he’s confused as to why she seems so hostile towards him when he has shown an interest in her.

Bitter Rival an easy story. It isn’t trying to do something more. I expected it to be more angsty, and I thought, after reading the blurb, that James would be a jerk. That is not the case here. There is tension in the book, and, as a reader, you wonder how the situation will be resolved. You root for James and Julia. Well, at least, I was rooting for James. He is not a jerk. He makes it known in many ways that he is interested in a relationship with Julia. He believes her to be his soul mate. It is Julia who is the hold-out for most of the story and the genesis of the tension in the story. She also made this reader incredibly frustrated. And here’s why…

For one, she is a gifted wine creator. She is able to make wine blends that win awards. This means she could write her ticket to any winery. Yet, she remains loyal to her family’s winery to a detriment especially when her father treats her horribly. I thought she could have made better choices to allay the stress in her life. Instead, she perpetuates the rivalry, to a fault. There were many times when I felt like banging my head against a wall at her inability to see beyond the rivalry to opportunity — in her career and with James.

Thankfully, the supporting cast of characters (along with James) save the story. James’s friend, Dane, and Julia’s friend, Jeanine, lend some much-needed humor and wisdom to the story. They balance the James’s and Julia’s angry parents and Julia well.

Overall, Bitter Rival is your typical enemies-to-lovers story except both of the main characters don’t really ascribe to the typical trope. In the end, we learn from this story that we should fully understand our family histories before making choices for our own lives. I would recommend it.


In love and romance,

Professor A


I teach students to write for college. I love to read writers who write romance. Why not review and promote the writing of people who love to write romance? Win-win for me

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