Tropes: part of an expanded universe; MFM; FMC with past trauma; small-town romance; found family
There is a long list of reasons I enjoy Lexi Blake’s writing as Sophie Oak’s Unexpected Bliss, book 13, in her Nights in Bliss series. I’ll give you the reasons in a moment, but it’s important to underscore the heart of this story: Blake’s own experience infused into her FMC, Elisa’s journey. One of the main reasons I love teaching writing is the promise of learning about the writer through their story-telling. Our filters (past experiences, values, upbringing, etc) find purchase in our writing. When it’s soulful and filled with pain, we, the reader, feel it too, and in many instances, we find the author’s experience reflecting our own. This creates a tether to the story that adds profundity to it. It’s why we cry or laugh or feel butterflies in our stomachs because we find a little bit of ourselves in it. Blake’s bravery in offering bits of her story through Elisa’s journey makes Unexpected Bliss compelling and thoughtful and passionate, and I loved every moment of it. It’s brave. It’s insightful. And it tugs at your heart. That’s just the start. Here are the other reasons I loved this story:
Elisa perfectly balances the literal and sometimes brooding Hale and the charming, stubborn Van. Where Hale and Van struggle, Elisa excels. The three have been crafted to complete each other.
Elisa’s connection to Mel. Mel’s character has challenged the veracity of aliens if you’ve “lived” in Bliss through the pages of Blake’s romances. In this book, Mel and Elisa find something in the other that they didn’t know what missing.
I love a found family trope, and it’s beautifully constructed in this story.
The expanded universe of Bliss is always a treasure. Blake gifts her readers with a trove of past characters, which means you spend a lot of time getting caught up with the various couples. Even more, the next generation infuses the pages of this book.
While Blake follows her usual story pattern (two of the throuple recognize their love for each other while the third believes they don’t have a future together), it doesn’t matter because we know they’re headed for a happy ending, and we’re treated to some delicious spice while they figure it out.
If you love MFM romances and you’ve never been to Bliss, Colorado, today’s the day to start. If you’ve been to Bliss, but you’ve yet to grab Unexpected Bliss, it’s like pulling on your favorite sweater on a chilly day: it leaves you feeling warm and satisfied until the very end
I don’t think I’ve read a romance where the MMC and FMC are adorable from their meet-cute. Lauren Rowe’s expanded billionaire and rock-star universe inspires good romances. Her newest offering, Hacker in Love, was created for her fans, and she gifted Henn and Hannah to them. From the moment they meet, it’s clear they’re soulmates, and much of Hacker in Love is them falling heavily in lust and love with each other. Here’s the thing. I love Henn and Hannah’s journey, BUTTTT..and I hate to say this because I adore Lauren Rowe, Hacker in Love feels like filler. Yikes! I hate saying it. This book is steamy, and Henn and Hannah are clearly soulmates, but Hacker in Love feels like what Solo was to the Star Wars universe. It fills gaps and summarizes plotlines from the other stories in the universe. As such, at times, it feels disjointed. The tension of the story is Henn’s secretive life. As it gets doled out over the space of the story, Hannah’s story feels uneven. They’re soulmates, yet he doesn’t fully trust her until almost the very end of the story. It feels inconsistent with their journeys. I love Lauren Rowe, so I wanted to love this story, but I didn’t. I appreciated it for what it was: a love letter to the fans as they waited for Rowe to find her writing voice again. Was hanging out again with many of Rowe’s favorite characters wonderful? Yes. Did Hannah and Henn give me a cavity from their sugar and spice relationship? For sure. Would I want to read their story again? Probably not. Lauren Rowe filled the gaps with Henn’s story, but I’m not sure that they needed filling.
Tropes: friends to lovers; opposites attract; slow burn; close/forced proximity; college romance; new adult romance; contemporary romance; STEM FMC
Allie Winters’s Can’t Fight It is a bit of a revelation. There are some tropes that don’t entice me as much as others, namely friends to lovers and sometimes slow-burn (specifically when the pacing is off). However, with Winters’s newest Smartypants Romance book, I found Winters’s pacing appropriate and chemistry-inducing. I was compelled forward through Winters’s romance as her main characters, Tessa and Austin, navigate moving past first impressions (Tessa is initially frightened by Austin’s large stature), learn the complexities of each other, move through life (she’s a student researcher/future grad student and he’s a boxer turned eventual business person), and fall in love. What grounds their story is their mutual respect for each other which begins as neighbors turned friends but eventually becomes attraction due to Austin’s protection and kindness for Tessa. Winters crafts Austin to be physically overwhelming, but he has the biggest heart and shows unending kindness towards Tessa. And Tessa becomes Austin’s motivation to consider more for his life. She impresses on him to stand up for himself with his father and challenge himself to attend school. Before there is love and attraction between Tessa and Austin, they are the other’s biggest ally. And this is why I fell in love with their story.
Readers should know that this is a serious slow-burn romance. In fact, Can’t Fight It is a romance between introverts, but it felt real to me. There are several lessons to be learned from this story: overcoming fear (literal and perceived); accepting that failure is a part of the learning process; and recognizing that loving and protecting someone doesn’t make them a burden; it’s a byproduct of one’s love for the other. Smartypants Romance continues to tell compelling stories.
Brooks Huntley is the last guy on earth I should ask to take my virginity.
He’s a decade older than me. Lethally hot. And so far out of my league it’s not even funny. The biggest downside to my plan, though?
Brooks is my older brother’s best friend.
I see Brooks every day when I deliver muffins to his office. With his swaggering confidence and sexy smirk, it’s no wonder I’ve always had a crush on him. But I’m not looking to cause any trouble—at first. I just want to give my V-card a long-overdue swipe.
Too bad I have no game when it comes to picking up guys—but Brooks is a master at charming the pants off women. While Brooks himself is off-limits, who better to study for tips on how to get laid?
When he offers me a weekend away at a five-star resort as thanks for satisfying his sweet tooth, I say yes—with the caveat that he comes too. That way I can watch him in action. He counters with a caveat of his own: he’ll come, but my brother can never find out.
On our secret getaway, I do my best to learn from Brooks and take someone new home. But I fail so miserably that Brooks steps in and kisses me “to show me how it should be done.”
And can I tell y’all, I just melted.
Now can I convince him to show me how everything should be done?
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Jessica Peterson writes romance with heat, humor, and heart. Heroes with hot accents are her specialty. When she’s not writing, she can be found bellying up to a bar in the south’s best restaurants with her husband Ben, reading books with her adorable daughter Gracie, or snuggling up with her 70-pound lap dog, Martha.
A Carolina girl at heart, she fantasizes about splitting her time between Charleston and Asheville, but currently lives in Charlotte, NC.
Smart Move, an all-new grumpy sunshine sweet romance by Amanda Pennington, is LIVE in Kindle Unlimited!
Ivy Lunden is Team Keep Things Casual…
I am Toby Azumah’s opposite in every way. I’m a pessimist; he’s an optimist. I’m into art; he’s into sports. Still, I’m highly entertained by our flirtationship.
When he finally talks me into a date, everything goes wrong. Chaos descends on my orderly life when my mother falls and needs nearly round-the-clock care. Add in my nosy neighbor, and my peace of mind has been turned inside out.
When Toby, Mr. Best-Case Scenario himself, offers to help, I’m skeptical. A relationship with him would only make things more chaotic, right? Or maybe Toby is the real deal, and giving him a chance is a smart move after all.
Toby Azumah is Team Happily Ever After…
I’ve wanted to take the mysterious, beautiful Ivy Lunden to dinner ever since we met, and I’m confident she just needs a little time to warm up to the idea of us. But nothing goes according to my daydreams.
Despite a no-show date, some flirty texts, and the fierce ways she protects herself and her mom, I see through the chaos and smoke to the real Ivy. The Ivy she rarely shows to the world.
How can I convince her I’m making the smart move and playing for keeps?
‘Smart Move’ is a full-length contemporary romance and can be read as a standalone. Book #7 in the Work For It series, Educated Romance World, Penny Reid Book Universe.
Amanda Pennington lives outside Louisville, Kentucky with her husband in their fixer-upper house. When she’s not writing, Amanda loves traveling, running, and reading anything within reach. More information is available at www.amandacpennington.com.
“Aly Stiles delivers the perfect romantic comedy with Look Smart. I found myself laughing throughout and wondering what the secondary characters would do next. The connection between Nate & Nat filled my heart with pure joy and was immediately rooting for their HEA.” -Author Andrea Johnston
Look Smart, an all-new star-crossed lovers workplace romantic comedy from Aly Stiles, is LIVE in Kindle Unlimited!
Nate Hanover’s future was set. The perfect girlfriend, the perfect career… He’s the perfect man with the perfect life—until he lost it all this summer. Now he’s not sure about anything, except that no one can know the truth lurking behind his “perfect” facade. Especially not at this week’s high-stakes corporate circus known as Tele-Con.
Natalie McAllister has no time for games. After working nonstop since… ever, she’s one win away from the dream promotion she’s been chasing for years. All she has to do is land the Sandeke Telecom account at this week’s telecom conference and life will be perfect.
But when a chance encounter leads these strangers to an incredible night of intimate soul-searching, “perfect” might look different than they thought. With so much on the line, it’s a good thing they’ll never see each other again. Well, not until the following morning when they learn they’re competing for the same account, their firms despise each other, and a nut-obsessed enigma named Chad Smith is the key to their success. Oh, plus their forbidden connection is still fully charged and more off-limits than ever.
What could go wrong when the perfect night explodes into the perfect storm?
‘Look Smart’ is a full-length contemporary romance and can be read as a standalone. Book #6 in the Work For It series, Educated Romance World, Penny Reid Book Universe.
Can’t Fight It, an all-new friends to lovers college romance from Allie Winters, is now available in Kindle Unlimited!
Mousy bookworm. Psychology nerd. The kind of girl who constantly sticks her foot in her mouth.
The last thing I am is the type to attract the intimidating, motorcycle-riding guy in the apartment next door. Especially when that mouth of mine gets me in trouble and he overhears me talk smack about him…
So no one’s more surprised than me when he shows up as a participant in the psych study I’m running on campus. Or when he generously offers me some much-needed self-defense lessons. Or when we grow closer than I thought possible. It turns out some people aren’t at all what they seem at first glance. They can actually be everything you never knew you wanted in a man.
The thing is, Austin Langford is so far out of my league, it’s laughable. Muscled boxers don’t go for nobodies like me. I need to forget about this one-sided attraction.
Even when it feels like I can’t fight it.
‘Can’t Fight It’ is a full-length contemporary romance and can be read as a standalone. Book #3 in the Lessons Learned series, Educated Romance World, Penny Reid Book Universe.
An hour and a half later, I’m ahead of schedule as my fifth participant finishes. That only leaves one more.
And as I decided last night, it’s not a big deal at all. Just because he makes me sort of… flustered… doesn’t have to mean anything.
I head out into the lobby, my stomach jumping around a bit as the main door opens, but it’s not my guy.
Not that he’s my guy.
Half a minute later, it is him, though.
He runs a hand through his dark blond hair, natural streaks of lighter blond sprinkled throughout, and searches the lobby, looking for…
Our gazes lock, my belly dipping low for a moment at the way he seems to take me in all at once, his movements slowing, then speeding up as his heavy footfalls sound on the carpeted floor, getting closer, closer…
I bite my lip, containing the unintelligible noise that itches to escape, and hold up a hand instead, waving.
God, why can’t I be normal?
I spin around, silently berating myself as I lead us down the hall. Every time, I forget how much of the room he seems to take up, how my brain goes a little fuzzy, how my lips seem to get looser. I just need a minute to acclimate to him. To remember how to be myself.
“Lexie was telling me last night about the boxing you and Ethan do. She said you’re really good.”
There, that was totally normal. I breathe a sigh of relief, glad that my mouth is at least temporarily in working order.
He tilts his head in acknowledgment, taking off his worn leather jacket to hang on the back of his chair. He’s got a different henley on this week, this time a charcoal color that complements the gray of his eyes. “I do all right.”
“She said you’re undefeated. Twenty wins or something?”
He shrugs, taking a seat. “Yeah, I guess.”
I don’t know why, but the way he says it has me smiling as I sit behind the desk. “You’re awfully humble.” Other guys would brag if they had that kind of skill.
Rubbing at the back of his neck, he says, “I mean, it’s punching people. It’s not important or anything. Not like what you do.”
I stare at him for a moment. “You think my study’s important?” I didn’t get the impression he even thought all that much of it last week.
His mouth opens and closes, then he leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Everything that goes on in this building must be, right?”
“Yeah, you could view it like that. But you shouldn’t sell yourself short. It would be cool if I knew how to do what you can.”
What would it be like to watch him box? To see him in action?
He looks over at me, a small smile on his lips. “You want to box?”
I can’t help the laugh that escapes me. “Can you imagine me in a ring? I’d get pounded flat in about a second.”
His smile grows. “We have some girls that come to the gym and train. Even Mia comes in and punches the heavy bags.”
I shake my head. “No, I’d be ridiculous. Although, I’ve always wanted to learn some self-defense moves.” Maybe it would help me feel better prepared if something were to ever happen again. Maybe if my mom had known…
No. Best not to go down that path.
“I could teach you.”
It takes me a moment to process his words. “You’d teach me self-defense?”
He shrugs. “Yeah, sure.”
Have I completely misinterpreted all our previous interactions? I thought he was barely tolerating me.
About Allie Winters
Allie is the author of the Suncoast University series, the Bishop Brothers series, and the Lessons Learned series. She lives in sunny Florida with her husband, daughter, and two cats. A librarian by day, she spends her nights writing happily ever afters. She enjoys reading, playing video games, and all things Disney.