✍🏻 Professor Romance’s 5++ ⭐️ Review: Jessica Peterson’s Southern Seducer ✍🏻

Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️++

I was only a short way through Jessica Peterson’s Southern Seducer when I realized how much I had missed reading her brand of romance while she was away on maternity leave. If you’ve read any of my reviews for her books, you’ll realize quickly how excited she makes me over her intent in making romance MORE. Yes, the romantic relationships are key elements of her books, but she always gives us MORE to consider, and Southern Seducer is no different. As you read chapter after chapter of this new book, I think what you realize quickly is that Jessica Peterson, more than any of her other books, is bleeding herself onto the pages, and she’s grafted a romance that tackles some of life’s most difficult times. 

The romance of Southern Seducer is a combination of sweet, soulful, and seductive. Her hero and heroine, Beau and Annabel “Bel,” inhabit one of my favorite but confusing tropes: best friends to lovers. Peterson has crafted a friendship that can withstand anything. At the core of their journey, though, is the overwhelming nature of expectations when they aren’t balanced with the reality of life. Both Beau and Bel struggle with a sense of expectation that is a creation of their own minds. As such, their lives feel messy as they fail to meet those pristine expectations. Each has their own story which highlights their difficulties. It is their deep abiding friendship that sees them through that mess and leads them into a relationship that truly sits in the divide between expectation and reality. Peterson composes these reverent moments between the two, as they grow deeper in their friendship and love. From Beau’s first words of solace to Bel on her diagnosis of postpartum depression, I wanted more. My favorite moments in this book aren’t the steamy ones. They rarely are. They are the moments where humanity is spoken and it brings a sense of peace for the characters. Each of those moments leads you deeper into Beau and Bel’s exemplification of love. There is a tenderness with this couple, even while there are moments of hilarity and sensuality too. Peterson’s ability to construct these layers for her characters is an additional reason I’ve missed her romances. I’m thankful that Beau and Bel have brought us back to Peterson’s brand of Southern romance. 

Life is messy. I think this is the ultimate truth of Jessica Peterson’s Southern Seducer. I think we live in a time when that message is screaming at us. So many people are holding tight to their control when, quite frankly, it feels more important to live in each moment. To be messy. To acknowledge that we aren’t “okay” right now. Even more, that we can ask people to walk us through the difficulties of our lives. This is the truth that both Beau and Bel have to learn in Jessica Peterson’s carefully drawn story of two friends finding a depth of love beyond their imaginations. Reading this truth as it’s revealed in this impassioned story was important, just as I imagine it was important for Jessica Peterson to write it on the page. Beau and Bel are us; they are striving to meet their carefully constructed intentions for their lives. Yet, when their lives don’t meet those ideologies, through their love for each other as friends, they allow themselves to accept the now and to accept their messiness. If we don’t need a book like this right now, then I don’t know what we need. Beau and Bel’s story is perfect in its imperfection. Grab this one fast because it is ALL the stars.

In love and romance, 

Professor A

✍🏻 Professor Romance’s 4 ⭐️ Review: Alex Grayson’s Lead Player ✍🏻

Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Who doesn’t love the idea of going to a bar one night, meeting the eyes of an incredibly handsome man, deciding that you want to spend one night with him, finding out quickly that the two of you have instant chemistry, and taking that beautifully built, $exy man home to a night of ecstasy? That is the start to Alex Grayson’s newest book, Lead Player. What her heroine, Alaina, doesn’t realize is that she has spent the night with the lead guitarist for Phenix AND he’s the best friend to her best friend’s fiance. Thinking they would never meet again, Alaina realizes quickly that she cannot escape Enzo’s force field of hunkiness so easily. However, she struggles with the fact that he has lived a fast life of music and women. She is looking for a partner, a man to share her life, not a man who will disappoint her when he leaves her easily. Grayson’s Lead Player asks the questions: can Enzo give Alaina her “happily ever after” and will Alaina trust him enough to allow him into her life? Those questions become the breeding ground of fiery chemistry, a side story of an obsessed young woman, and a big secret that threatens any final happiness for Enzo and Alaina. 

What did I love about Lead Player:

  1. Obviously, Enzo and Alaina’s coupleship is everything you love in a romance. These two have chemistry for days, and it’s apparent from the first chapter of this book. I think Enzo is initially attracted to Alaina physically; however, her personality and way of rejecting him piques his interest in her because she is different from the myriad of women prior to her. That’s catnip for romance readers. When a formerly promiscuous hero becomes enamoured to the point of changing his lifestyle, you can’t help but LOVE that type of romance. And Grayson writes this well for her readers in Lead Player. Add in the type of heroine able to take this “playboy” hero to his knees, and you find yourself “all in” to this type of romance. You’ll find this in Lead Player.
  2. The cavalcade of supporting characters. Grayson juggles the friendship group between Enzo and Alaina nicely. She teases their stories without letting them overpower Enzo and Alaina’s, which is no easy feat. I’ve read stories where authors have attempted to introduce a group of characters, and they become mired and confused in providing parallel stories through them. That isn’t the case in Lead Player. Even more, these other characters, namely Alaina’s best friends, Juliet and Nikki, are her strength. When the romance unravels, as it does in all romance books, they provide her with the support to endure it. They also offer her wisdom and promises of physical harm to the hero, which is what you hope your best friends would do for you. The characterizations feel real and grounded, and this is definitely Grayson’s strength as a writer.
  3. The plot. I enjoyed Enzo and Alaina’s journey. It feels seamless, although I really want to question Enzo a bit more. I mean…why Alaina? We know he wants a deeper connection with women beyond the one-nigh stand, but he also isn’t interested in relationship “things” yet. I’m not sure that there is a specific moment when he makes this different choice for himself, and I would love to understand his “why” more beyond his growing deeper interest in Alaina. 

Overall, Lead Player engaged me in Enzo and Alaina’s story. I haven’t read K. Bromberg’s books yet, so I know I’m missing out on her Everyday Hero world. I know that it makes these “universe” books more profound when the reader is a devoted fan of the original author. However, Alex Grayson has crafted a story that captures your heart. It’s enough without the K. Bromberg sentimental influence. Enzo and Alaina’s story is the type of romance that readers like me end with a smile and feeling of contentment when the last page turns. 

In love and romance,

Professor A

✍🏻 Professor Romance’s 5 ⭐️ Review: Helena Hunting’s Kiss My Cupcake – releasing TOMORROW ✍🏻

Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

“‘God, you’re beautiful.’ He squeezes both of my hands. ‘You look like you were made for me.’ I squeeze back. ‘That’s because I am.'”

There are times in your life when you just need to laugh. Maybe it’s the stress of the day-to-day or maybe it’s something far more onerous. No matter the reason, laughing is INDEED the best medicine. I didn’t realize until Chapter 1 of Helena Hunting’s newest romance, Kiss My Cupcake, that I needed a good laugh. And every chapter after that chapter reminded me again why I adore her stories, why they make me swoon and chuckle and become awestruck by her ability to weave contemporary romance tropes with the type of humor that feels absurd at times but natural to real life. Since I stepped into her Pucked world, I have never turned back, and Kiss My Cupcake is more of the same type of humor you love from Helena Hunting. 

This story follows two business owners. Blaire is opening a cupcake/Instagram-ready cocktails business. This woman is 1950s-inspired, driven, organized, and creative. Unbeknownst to Blaire, her business neighbor, the hipster-looking, Brawny man-inspired, Ronan, is in the process of reimagining and renovating his grandfather’s bar, The Knight Cap. From the moment these two meet, the sparks fly. Over time, these two enemies realize a partnership will save their businesses from a corporate, cookie-cutter bar. As they work together, those initial sparks are grounded more in chemistry than anything. However, these two are also competing for the title of Best Bar in the Pacific Northwest. Who will win? Even so, will Blaire and Ronan’s burgeoning romantic relationship survive?

From the start, I was all in with Blaire and Ronan. While seemingly opposites, these two are actually more alike than different. One is the yin to the other’s yang, and the initial disdain they feel for each other is simply kindling for a growing blaze of chemistry. And to be clear, this fire is a slow burn. A real slow burn. I think what I love about Hunting’s characterizations here is her need to build a story before that chemistry builds to a bonfire. It’s what I think makes her an exceptional writer. She recognizes that romance is built through a careful plodding of that chemistry-build, and it allows the reader to believe the relationship, even when some of the circumstances seem unbelievable. If you’re a fan of a steadily growing relationship, not a quick jump in the sack, then you WANT this book. 

It’s so hard to say what I love most about this book because it all conspires to grab your heart. Blaire and Ronan’s characterizations and chemistry are obviously the best part. However, the families of both Blaire and Ronan add an additional layer of color. Gramps is my FAVORITE character of this story. With his Scottish accent and life lessons, you will fall madly for him. With Blaire’s family, Hunting illustrates how she’s set apart from other romance writers: the ludicrous finds its reality. When I read a Hunting romance, I belly-laugh. Kiss My Cupcake is no different. Yet, even between laughs, I’m caught up in the story of this book. Blaire and Ronan’s need to prove themselves, their burgeoning coupleship, and their eventual happy ending make this book the perfect afternoon (or evening or morning) read. This is the type of book you can sit outside with your favorite alcoholic beverage while the sun is high in the sky (or setting) and get lost. It’s really easy to do with Kiss My Cupcake

When I began reading Helena Hunting’s newest book, I intended to use it as a shield of protection for my heart. I was reading another ARC with quite a bit of angst (something very different from Hunting’s stories), and I was going to read a couple of chapters of Kiss My Cupcake and a couple of chapters of the other book, alternating between the two. My hope was that Hunting’s book would save me from the anxious feelings that you feel when reading an angsty book. What happened was typical for me while reading one of Hunting’s romances: I couldn’t stop reading it. While the other book could hold my attention, I didn’t want to leave Blaire and Ronan because the hilarity, the storytelling, the characters, and the plot drew me in and suspended me. I found myself negotiating: “just a couple of more chapters” and I will take a break. After two hours, I finally resolved myself to keep reading until the end because Blaire and Ronan are quite magical. From unicorn martini glasses to va-jay-jay cupcakes to axe-throwing, plaid-wearing bartenders, Kiss My Cupcake is the perfect savior from the most horrible of days. Grab this one QUICK and fall in deep.

In love and romance, 

Professor A

✍🏻 Professor Romance’s 5 ⭐️ Review: Tia Louise’s Reckless Kiss ✍🏻

Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

“Being in Deacon’s arms means being supported by a partner who will fight for me, who will hold my hand when I have to fight, who will wait for me when I need some space, and who won’t give up until I’ve slain my monsters.

Together, our love is healing. Our love is creative and pure. Our kisses are reckless, but they’re not irresponsible. We’re wild and free, like the horse in my painting. Our spirit is groundbreaking and revolutionary, brave enough to heal the wounds of the past and forge a future of unity.”

If I had to use one word to describe Tia Louise’s Reckless Kiss, it would be stunning. By my estimation, this book, this glorious romance of two people so fated for each other, so connected through their souls, is Louise’s most cerebral, most eloquent, and most viscerally romantic and sensual to date. Every page reveals truths that feel important to today. If you think you’ve come to Reckless Kiss expecting a re-telling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet or a modern-day Hatfields and McCoys, then you will be disappointed. Instead, Louise invites us into a world of romance where the underlying message is deeper than the love between her characters, Deacon and Angelica.

To be honest, the blurb for Reckless Kiss does not truly envision the beautiful essence of this story. Throughout the first twenty percent of the story, I breathlessly waited for Angelica and Deacon to fall apart given their families’ differences. Without revealing anything, that isn’t this story. Louise’s last two books revealed a Deacon who seems incredibly self-possessed that he feels like the rock for characters such as Noel and Mindy. Financially, he inspires them, but we don’t really see the true qualities of Deacon’s character until he’s coupled with Angelica. Together, these two are romance perfection. Seriously. Every moment you find them on the page, your heart melts for them because they complete each other. In Wait for Me and Here with Me, there was the allusion of Deacon with Noel and Mindy, but it’s clear in Reckless Kiss that Angelica would always be his. He feels alpha in those former books, but Angelica wields a power over Deacon that makes it clear she was always fated for him. Like Romeo and Juliet, this makes their coupling otherworldly. They feel ethereal in their coupledom, which makes Deacon’s name for Angelica (“Angel) even more profound. Louise has written an erotic, exquisite story for these two, and you will fall madly for them.

What is more provocative about this story, though, is its significance. Of the Tia Louise books I’ve read to date, for me, this is the most intelligent, the one with an intellectualism that underscores Deacon and Angelica’s fated love. This book is about promises kept, culture, prejudice, familial bonds, and identity. In Reckless Kiss, Tia Louise provides an answer to prejudice by crafting a beautiful abiding love between two intelligent, strong individuals, intertwining cultures, bridging gaps. Louise allows promises to be kept; she speaks to the need to control actions and ideologies; she doesn’t point fingers to one side of the debate on prejudice. Instead, she wisely shows her readers that the same thinking resides on both sides, and she challenges us to do better. Her book’s elements feel important and insightful, and quite frankly, it was nothing like I thought it would be, which made it a profound read for me. From highlighting microaggressions to illustrating how different characters co-opted parts of Angelica’s identity, the judiciousness of Reckless Kiss is its best part, even when Deacon and Angelica’s love is elemental to the story. 

This book has many secrets, but like Deacon, it holds and keeps its promises too. It instructs us that change can happen, that people can be better, and that love will win if it’s unselfish and unconditional. Tia Louise’s title might be Reckless Kiss, but it is anything but reckless in its truth.

In love and romance, 

Professor A

✍🏻 Professor Renshaw’s 4 1/2 ⭐️ Review: Winter Renshaw’s Trillion ✍🏻

Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 1/2

Oh, Winter Renshaw, I don’t know how you do it. Every book you write proffers up a hero who is too buttoned-up and shut off, and in a manner of pages, you unravel them. You can’t help but cringe at their emotional unavailability because you know, as the reader, that, with the love of an intelligent, emotionally-mature heroine, they will be brought to their knees. Waiting for that moment feels like both an eternity and a second; it comes, and the beauty of your writing is realized. This is the case with Renshaw’s newest book, Trillion. This is a story beautifully wrought, emotionally intense, and glaringly intense. If you love trillionaire heroes and emotionally complex heroines, then you MUST grab Trillion now. Like, immediately. 

One of the first observations of any Renshaw book is the fluidity of storytelling. Every time I pick up one of her books, Trillion included, the story moves forward quickly that I grow sadder and sadder as the pages turn because I hate for the story to end. This is a testament to Renshaw’s style and ability to build her narrative. I will say that sometimes the last eighth of her book feels rushed. In Trillion, the chapters became shorter, when I wanted them to be longer. And there were some plot issues for me. Namely, Sophie’s (her heroine) reasoning for her choices in the latter part of the book. To be honest, they feel a little contrived for the purposes of the story (I’m not saying more because this book holds too many secrets and I refuse to spoil them). I am not sure if Renshaw runs out of steam toward the end, but her later chapters don’t always feel as beautifully developed as her earlier ones. That being said, this book’s facility engages you from the start to the end, marking Renshaw’s impressive writing capacity. 

Trey and Sophie make for two of my favorite heroes and heroines in Renshaw’s book universe. She said in her acknowledgments that she allowed her characters to write this story. That she began with the intent of focusing on Trey as the trillionaire hero, but Sophie’s overpowered his story at some point. And quite honestly, thank goodness! Sophie’s story is important, especially right now. Honestly, I think Renshaw could have taken her message further. Again I don’t want to divulge her secrets for readers who have yet to read Trillion, but in our world today, her struggles are being played out in real-time. To fully understand Trey and Sophie in Trillion, you must simply understand this sentence: they are two sides of the same coin. While Trey is the richest man in the world and controls every aspect of his life to the nth degree, Sophie is no different in her need for control with a bank account with fewer zeroes. When their coupling wields the sword to undo their careful control, Renshaw’s message is realized. This is the “sweet spot” of Renshaw’s storytelling, and you can’t help but revel in it. 

Trillion is a carefully constructed story of two wills, two hearts, and two experiences. Each moment of Winter Renshaw’s romance feels carefully plotted and engaging. I thought it would take me time to move through Trey and Sophie’s journey. What I found is a story of two souls aching for the other. Yes, there is angst; yes, the story can feel overwhelming. Yet, the end is a promise that each struggle is worth it at the moment. Trillion is a story about a past, a present, and an enviable future. 

In love and romance,

Professor A

✍🏻 Professor Romance’s 4 1/2 ⭐️ Review: L.B. Dunbar’s Speak from the Heart ✍🏻

Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 1/2

I did not read L.B. Dunbar’s Sound Advice when it was released several years ago. Over the past year, I have fallen hard for Dunbar’s brand of over-40, small-town romance. She has this way with crafting characters that feel and seem realistic but with sprinkles of fiction. For this reader, I can get lost in Dunbar’s stories quite easily and find myself planted in them. 

Enter Dunbar’s revised Sound Advice now entitled Speak from the Heart and the charm of the romances I’ve come to love finds itself once again in this story. I can’t tell you what she has done differently from the original. What I can tell you is that I didn’t want to stop reading this story because Jess and Emily Post (I see your genius there, L.B.) represent the parts of our humanity that fear vulnerability and choice. Below the depths of the simplicity of Dunbar’s small-town romance lies the deep-rooted theme of wanting to be chosen. At the heart of this story is a plea: choose me; pick me. And that prayer smacks you right in your heart. 

The reasons to add this to your library TODAY:

Emily Post. As far as heroines go, you will adore Emily. For one, she’s incredibly insightful. She understands Jess’s daughter, Katie, in a way that her father oftentimes misses. She’s quirky. Jess calls her a “hot mess,” and she might be, but this part of her personality humanizes her, makes her seem real. She’s ambitious: she wants a career predicated on her work ethic and drive. She has strived for much of her life to seek after the reward of a coveted journalist’s spot, but her misogynistic boss only sees the perceived weakness of being a woman. This is not a major point of this story, but it’s one to pay attention to. Dunbar uses all of these traits to endear you to her heroine, and she does it well. I appreciated Emily much more than I did her hero, Jess.

Jess. It took me some time to enjoy Jess. Honestly, it took me almost three-fourths of the book. Here’s the thing: I adore grumpy heroes. There is nothing more satisfying than a surly hero who is redeemed to a point of adoration. They will always have shades of irritability to their persona, but it usually becomes possessiveness for the heroine. But Jess, well, he begins to become humanized, yet regularly falls back behind his hardened shell. Oftentimes, it feels contrived. Jess is the rollercoaster ride of Dunbar’s Speak from the Heart. Sometimes, you want to sit in the front seat of it; sometimes, you simply don’t want to get on because it’s a little bumpy when it could be engineered to be smoother. Thankfully, Emily reminds him of what it means to live more abundantly, and slowly, he begins to break his hardened shell. However, for much of this story, these two dance around a future, and it can be so darn frustrating. Yet, that tension and discord is the reason we love romance, and Dunbar creates stories that balance that tension with a sensuality and romance that you simply don’t want to leave. 

The extended family members. From Jess’s daughter, Katie, to his sister, Tricia, to Emily’s grandmother, Elizabeth, Speak from the Heart is fraught with additional ideas about mutism and trauma, divorce, and senility/dementia/Alzheimer’s. Dunbar deftly weaves these stories in the midst of Jess and Emily’s burgeoning romance, bracing it within the realm of the real world. There are no billionaires here, no rich trips to Bali. Instead, Dunbar’s story illustrates the difficulties of falling in love when the real world beckons for your attention. It’s one of the many reasons to read this book as well as her other ones because she’s a wizard at making the “real” better and realizing these stories on the page, ameliorating real life with the beauty of romance.

From its first page, Speak from the Heart captured my heart. There is something special about Jess and Emily’s journey, as they struggle to live life and avoid falling in love. When your hurts feel heavier than the promise of feeling adored and cherished, you run…until there is no more place to run and hide in. So…as L.B. Dunbar carefully suggests, we have to face it and accept it. In doing so, the rewards will always outweigh our fears. If you do one thing today, it’s to “pick” Dunbar’s Speak from the Heart. You will not regret this one.

In love and romance,

Professor A

✍🏻 Professor Romance’s More than 5 ⭐️ Review: Top Shelf Romance’s Never Let Go ✍🏻

Overall Grade: More than ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

I have to be honest with this review. I am very choosy when I decide to read a romance anthology. When I saw the release information for Top Shelf Romance’s Never Let Go anthology, a compilation of stories from Kandi Steiner, Ella James, Tijan, and Alessandra Torre, I decided to jump in because I adore Kandi Steiner and I had yet to read A Love Letter to Whiskey (her contribution to the anthology), and I had been intrigued with Tijan’s Teardrop Shot. What I found in my foray into this anthology is Top Shelf Romance’s genius in curating specific stories behind the theme of the book. That title Never Let Go isn’t just a title; it is the essence of this anthology. With that theme, the stories of this book take you on epic journeys of romance that oftentimes slow your heart, hurt your stomach, titillate you, and draw you through what are sometimes difficult moments in the stories by these authors. This book felt heavy with promise, and it didn’t disappoint in the least. I have spent the last few days drowning in the stories that feel substantial but make you work for that happily ever after. For this reader, it was a glorious journey that still weighs heavy in my heart. 

Each of the stories was compelling. I had not read any of them prior to reading the anthology so I found myself entrapped by Ella James’s Sloth. James’s ability to create each moment of Cleo and Kellan’s story is overwhelming and beautiful and careful and engaging. I couldn’t stop. It’s 500 pages, and James provoked me to keep going even when the story became hard. Even when I wanted to throw my phone at the wall because their journey became difficult. Even when I wanted to reach through my screen and pummel Kellan for perceived curtness and disinterest. This story inspired me; it grabbed me; and it pulled me in, leaving me with a huge story hangover. 

Alessandra Torre’s Love in Lingerie, the fourth story of the anthology, was actually the first one I read. I knew Steiner’s novella would make my heart bleed, so I decided to begin with what I perceived as a safer choice. To be clear, there is no safe choice here. Like the other stories of this anthology, Torre’s Trey and Kate are perfection. Seriously. Their chemistry bleeds off the page. Torre drives you through their story as they refuse to move their relationship beyond friendship even though the burn between them is palpable. Torre’s skill in moving the story forward without allowing the characters to give in until just the right time is the definition of edging. I found myself lost in Trey and Kate’s relationship praying that they would have more, knowing that Torre wouldn’t let me down. For me, Love in Lingerie was a perfect place to start. 

Tijan surprises me. Each book that I have read, I come away wanting to know more about her process as a writer. Teardrop Shot is no different. I read Rich Prick earlier in the year, and it has such a different feel from Teardrop Shot. Like Sloth, like Love in Lingerie, and like Steiner’s A Love Letter to Whiskey, Teardrop Shot embraces the journey. Much like James’s Sloth, there is a secret in its story though, and that secret drives the gravity of it. In that gravity lies the brilliance of Tijan’s story. For me, Teardrop Shot drilled a small hole in my heart, and I found myself re-reading parts of the book because I didn’t want to let go of Tijan’s Reese and Charlie. One of my favorite parts of Tijan’s characterizations in this book and her other sports romances (that I’ve read thus far) is her ability to craft quirky, compelling heroines. Don’t get me wrong; Tijan’s Reese is a dreamy hero whom you fall in love with instantly. He’s the rock for Charlie that she requires. He’s created just for her, as Tijan illustrates in her story and I think that’s the reason I love Teardrop Shot the most. The vulnerability and precariousness of these two characters both compel you forward and hold you rapt. I wanted the story to both finish and continue. Like the other stories in this anthology, we are reminded that life progresses at an even, sometimes tedious, pace, and Tijan along with the other writers compose stories that allow readers to walk every step with the characters. That was my favorite part of Never Let Go.

Lastly, Steiner’s A Letter to Whiskey finds its brilliance in both her allusion and personification of Whiskey through Jamie Shaw. One of my favorite parts of writing, in general, is an author’s articulation of story through devices that illustrate their genius. Steiner keenly illustrates that through her style and construction of her story. Along with that, she points to the truth of her story when her heroine suggests “[I] think sometimes life is about embracing what hurts, because pain is one of the vivid emotions we can feel. Pain reminds us that we are alive, and I’ll always appreciate that stinging reminder.” I think this is why readers love angsty romances such as Steiner’s book. While it’s difficult to read Jamie and B’s journey, it reminds us that mixed in with the love and fun of life is a vat of pain, that we need that balance to truly acknowledge and understand the glories of living. That is the truth for each of these stories, and it’s an important one, hence the reason this book feels essential. 

Top Shelf Romance’s Never Let Go anthology feels weighty and beautiful. Yes, it puts its readers through the paces of romance. But when this reader finished it, I felt as though I met an achievement. It also seemed like such a worthy bit of reading. While you must journey through the trials of Steiner’s, James’s, Tijan’s, and Torre’s heroes and heroines, every bit of it is a journey worth taking. Never Let Go is the best money you will spend today, tomorrow, and in weeks to come. 

In love and romance,

Professor A

✍🏻 Professor Romance’s 4 1/2 ⭐️ Review: Carly Phillips’s Dare to Tempt, book 2 of the Dare Nation ✍🏻

Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 1/2

I had mentioned in my review for Dare to Resist that I had missed out on Carly Phillips’s previous Dare stories. Even after reading Dare to Resist, the first book of her newest series, Dare Nation,  I didn’t feel as though I needed to read the other books for context as Phillips does such a fantastic job of connecting you to the characters from those books. I also mentioned in that review that Dare to Resist felt busy, and I struggled to like Austin Prescott for most of the story. Trust me, I love an alpha-hole, but he read as vain and self-involved until Quinn humanizes him (thank you, Lord). At the end of Dare to Resist, it was clear that Austin’s brother, Damon, finds himself in a predicament: he is accused of using PEDs to enhance his performance after coming off of a concussion. Thus, Dare to Tempt becomes a little bit romantic suspense and a little bunch of hate-to-love, a compelling combination of romantic tropes. 

In comparing the two books, Dare to Tempt won my heart. For one, it didn’t have the busyness of storylines as Dare to Resist did. Phillips clearly wrote individual struggles for both Austin and Quinn in that book plus adding in a secret baby, and you found your head spinning. In Dare to Tempt, Carly Phillips flexes her romance muscle by coupling two characters, Damon and Evie, and keeping their story focused.  At first glance, these two seem like oil and vinegar, and Phillips sets up the tension of the story right away when Damon passes judgment on Evie based on her appearance. Right at the beginning, Phillips hits us with the idea that we ought not to “judge a book by its cover” as Evie quickly schools Damon. At that moment, Phillips began to win me over. 

Next, Phillips crafts my favorite type of heroic archetype: the alpha-male hero with a soft heart. While Damon makes a quick judgment about Evie, after she proves him wrong, quite quickly Phillips has Damon devolve into a compassionate protector. There is no lingering with Damon in his disbelief over Evie. He recognizes her worth and ability quickly.  The second aspect of the story that I appreciated from Phillips is the crafting of Damon’s thinking. It is easy for alpha heroes to reduce their heroines. They hide it behind their protective and “loving” nature. Damon appears to follow this suit, but Phillips writes this well in that he rationalizes his thoughts about Evie and his want to protect her that she creates a feminist in Damon. This doesn’t undermine his alpha tendencies; instead, it illustrates productive ways of crafting heroes in today’s society. Damon goes from 0 to 5 stars through Phillips’s careful depiction of him. 

Thirdly, Evie is the type of heroine who challenges typical heroine archetypes. She’s strong, dogged in her pursuit of Damon’s truth. Like strong women, however, she struggles with vulnerability, and this becomes a third message of Phillip’s Dare to Tempt. She illustrates the challenges for women who are intelligent and strong to allow themselves to be vulnerable as it looks like weakness. This becomes Evie’s struggle through the book, but Damon’s ability to allow her the space to reconcile it is my third favorite part of this book. 

Lastly, I loved the romantic suspense of this story. Carly Phillips carefully intertwines that part of the story with Damon and Evie’s journey. There are a few times when it seemed as though Evie forgets her investigative work, but Phillips reintroduces it into the story, revealing the resolution at just the right time. 

If you are new to Carly Phillips, and you don’t know where to start, you could absolutely go back to the beginning and read the extended Dare universe. However, if you want to jump in feet first, Dare to Resist and Dare to Tempt, the newest book of the Dare Nation series, are a great place to begin. Phillips’s romances involve fiery chemistry, insightful storytelling, and a complex family that has a character for anyone. For me, thus far, Dare to Tempt is my favorite of the Dare Nation books. Yet, I can’t wait for Jaxon’s story because marriage of convenience plus playboy baseball player feels like a winner.

In love and romance,

Professor A

✍🏻 Professor Romance’s 5 ⭐️ Review: Kandi Steiner’s Ritual ✍🏻

Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

I have a massive book hangover from Kandi Steiner’s Palm South University series. I’ve spent the past month preparing for the newest book in this series, Ritual, and every open moment has found me invested in the lives of Steiner’s characters: Skylar, Bear, Adam, Cassie, Erin, Jess, and Ashlei. Let me say this here: if you ever think about the money you spend on books, and some books feel like you don’t get your money’s worth, look no further. There is so much story in Steiner’s Palm South U series that it feels lie a bargain buying one of these books. 

Ritual, the newest book of the series, is no different. Here we find our favorite sorority and fraternity brothers continuing life in South Florida. Like the first four books in the series, they are met with drama, fun, and lots of time “Netflix and chilling.” I think what I love most about this series is its connection to reality. Many of the blurbs that speak to the “reality television” aspect of this series aren’t wrong. I teach college writing for a living and one of the reasons I didn’t jump into this series after reading Black Number Four (the book that crosses over the PSU book, Legacy) is my need to avoid college-aged students’ lives outside of my classroom. My mind allows me to see them as “kids” when I know this isn’t the case. This series makes you acknowledge the often precarious situations college students might find themselves as they learn to navigate the adult world. However, as I’m a BIG Steiner fan and wanting to read her booklist, I decided to embrace the Palm South U series on the advent of Ritual’s release, and it did not disappoint. If this is Kandi Steiner’s take on “reality television,” then sign me up if she ever gets it made into a series. Through her storytelling and commitment to reality, she has made me fall in love with her Palm South characters. 

So why read Ritual:

  1. It’s hot. With seven different characters, there are seven different points of view and stories, landing them in the bedroom sometimes more than we see them in class. 
  2. Steiner hits on real-world college stories. Ritual does more of this as a few of the characters will be graduating and entering the work world. We already see Ashlei in her internship with Okay, Cool. However, if you think Brandon and Ashlei are settled after book four, there is more coming in Ritual. Her internship illustrates the complication with workplace relationships, and it’s possible that Brandon and Ashlei won’t find their happy ending. We need these stories, laden with heartbreak because they remind us that every age endures pain. Oftentimes with romance, we read stories of billionaires or people settled in their lives. The Palm South series and, by extension Ritual, illustrates the challenges of finding yourself as you grow more deliberately into adulthood, and trauma and heartbreak don’t miss this age group. 
  3. The diversity of characters in this series makes it compelling. There are different colors, different sexualities, different socioeconomic backgrounds, and different levels of maturity in this story. In Ritual, we especially see Bear and Becca’s challenges as black people. This is also important as it reminds you that romance is not only white; it’s diverse and different. 
  4. Steiner takes her time in telling these stories. Like I said earlier in this review, you feel like you get your money’s worth and more because the storytelling is dense. That isn’t a negative here. It means that with Steiner’s careful storytelling you get the depth and breadth of story that can be missing in your average romance book. It’s impressive when you feel as though you know the characters well because Steiner takes care to fully develop their lives. It’s why they feel like people you know because their stories feel grounded in reality and like our own. That is definitely my favorite aspect of this series, of Ritual

Now, what would I love to see in the next book of the series, Hazed? (If you haven’t read the series, don’t read further…run and READ this series.)

  1. Kade and Jess grow into “a thing” in Ritual, but I really, really want her with Jarrett. If that isn’t meant to be, then I want Jess to have her space to challenge Jarret’s actions from book 3 in the forthcoming book. 
  2. More of Kip and Skyler. I fell for them first as I read Black Number Four before this series, so I want to see their happy ending progress. 
  3. Definitely more of Adam and Cassie. I know romance requires tension to build towards a climax and offer up the falling action, but these two need to “just be” for a bit given their constant challenges in their relationship.  
  4. I would love to explore Erin and Bear more. I know this is a big part of Ritual, but there is more there, and I need it. 
  5. If at all possible, Ashlei mends her broken heart. She’s one of the most interesting characters of this series as she is Steiner’s bisexual character,  and her relationships seem more fluid and interesting than the others, as they question attraction. I’m curious to see the direction Steiner takes with her. 

Had I known the wealth of storytelling in the Palm South University series, I would have dived in sooner. Thankfully, Kandi Steiner’s newest book, Ritual, is here, and I was forced to embrace college life. However, this has also left me bereft, as I. NEED. MORE of this series. As a college prof, if you think this series is only fiction, you are incorrect. The stories of these characters are the lives of my real-life students, and the challenges Steiner highlights in Ritual illustrate that trauma, heartbreak, and love are not exclusive for billionaires or the late 20/early 30 set. Love, life, and melodrama can be found anywhere. And thank goodness for that…

In love and romance,

Professor A

✍🏻 Professor Romance’s 4 1/2 ⭐️ Review: Prescott Lane’s Knox, book 1 of the Merrick Brothers’ series ✍🏻

Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 1/2

What do you get when you mix a little second chance romance, a handsome Hollywood movie star, a woman with a secret occupation, and some romantic suspense? The answer: Prescott Lane’s newest book, Knox. Knox is the first book of the Merrick Brothers’ series, and it’s a great start to a duet of books that mixes some sensuality with some sweetness. 

Knox follows the second chance romance of Mae and Knox. Mae and Knox meet as six-year olds, and their love affair begins. Throughout high school and college, these two fall deeply in love, but Knox’s interest in making a career in Hollywood derails their future. This story begins five years later. Mae still lives in Knox’s hometown, and she is a secret radio show host. One night, Knox hears Mae’s voice, and he is reminded of his reasons for loving her. His mission becomes winning her over. However, Mae’s heart was broken in the past, and she is reticent to try again with Knox. Will Hollywood’s Sexiest Man win Mae’s heart again?

Overall, I loved this story. For much of the it, Knox is a dreamy romance hero. He wants a life with Mae that he inconveniences his life for her. While his motives are oftentimes selfish, it’s purely due to his love for Mae, and romance readers can’t help but love a hero who is driven by his love. My one criticism of Knox is his inability to realize sooner that Mae was the missing link in his life. Lane crafts his character to realize it after hearing her voice. At that point, there is no turning back, but his re-interest in Mae seems quick after staying away from her for five years. Even more, throughout the story, I questioned by he didn’t fight for her more in the past. That being said, Knox easily makes up for it in the present. You root for him to finally get Mae, but Lane carefully creates enough tension between these two for a time that you are engaged to the very last page. 

Additionally, Mae is so likable. This is a woman who was spurned by the only true man she’s ever loved, and she morphs that pain into a lucrative career. Even when Knox comes back to Haven’s Point to woo Mae, she maintains this inner strength in the face of her deepest heartbreak. There are a stoicism and intelligence with Mae that the reader cannot help but adore.  However, Mae also becomes the impetus for the tension in this story. For obvious reasons, she fears a relationship with Knox, making his journey towards bringing her into his life difficult. As the story unfolds, Mae’s battle against her self and her love for Knox lends the gravity to Lane’s Knox. And it’s reasonable. Every step of the way, as Mae fights her interest in Knox, you believe it. That is my favorite part of Lane’s newest book. 

Lastly, Prescott Lane doesn’t make it easy on her reader. While her hero and heroine struggle for their second chance happy ending, she incorporates a bit of suspense. Interestingly enough, for most of the book, this plays a backseat to Knox and Mae’s evolving relationship. However, when it feels necessary to shake up their relationship, she incorporates more of that romantic suspense to add layers to her book. This makes the story more compelling. Additionally, the ancillary characters of this book, namely Mae’s grandmother, Gigi, provide some humor and wisdom to Knox when Mae and Knox’s romance feels slow. There is a great mix of tension, $exiness, wit, and mystery. 

The reason I stole a ½ star back from my review revolves around the style of the writing. Prescott Lane lays out her story well, and it flows for the most part. Sometimes, however, the word flow feels stilted, and you find yourself slowing down as the story progresses. That would be my only criticism of this story. However, I am now officially invested in The Merrick Brothers, so much so that I already preordered Ryder’s story, book 2 of this duet. 

In love and romance, 

Professor A