An Uneasy Alliance by Kyra Radcliff

I received a complimentary copy of this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest and voluntary review.

Published on: 27 April 2020
Published by: Dawn Hill Publications
Type: standalone, series
AuthorKyra Radcliff
Read: 30 July 2020
Shelved: 30 July 2020
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Get here:  Amazon USA /  Amazon UK


A bitter beginning that led to the sweetest ending…
The last thing small town mayor, Katherine James, wants is a call that her brother is behind bars. Not a good look. When she goes to see him, however, he swears that he’s innocent and is being framed by the brother of the woman he loves.
Set on doing whatever it takes to get her brother out of this horrific predicament without employing her powers as mayor, Katherine finds herself agreeing to a bizarre deal with the cunning and wickedly handsome Tate Reilly: Be his live-in social secretary for one month in exchange for dropping the charges against her brother.

Sounds easy enough, right?

But when a quiet, unassuming beauty falls under the command of an arrogant, hot-as-sin jerk, things are bound to get interesting. It’s not long before the searing attraction between the two threatens to consume them both.

Weeks later, when the tables turn and Tate finds himself on the other end of the stick this time around, Katherine throws him the same deal that he’d thrown her.
During their last deal, things had gotten far too hot and heavy to contain.

This time, their blazing passion just might burn the house down. 


The Characters

Katherine James is a smart, witty, and determined Mayor of Blissmore who is a saint for what she has to go through with her incarcerated brother, Keith. She was able to save the island of Blissmore from poverty by helping increase interest in investing in the island in the span of three years.

Tate Reilly is a venture capitalist with a company that he started from the ground-up. He is also the tall, dark, brooding, loud-mouth thorn in Katherine’s life as he decides to hire Kathrine to be his live-in social secretary for two weeks in exchange for dropping the robbery charges of Katherin’s brother, Keith. Tate’s character is odd because he hired Katherine immediately, knowing that she is related to someone he distrusts his sister to be with, without doing any background checks, etc before whisking away to his mansion. I will just give the benefit of the doubt that he believes that Katherine will not rob him when he’s asleep.

No woman has stood a chance with me, once I’ve made up my mind. Katherine, I’m going to make you mine.

— Tate, An Uneasy Alliance

The Review:

The story is good and although it’s not a new theme, verging on the underdog story. The writer is British and uses a few British terms but not to the point that readers will not understand (or have to whip out Google searches) per word – which I appreciate. The balance of terms makes the wording relatable.

It was hard to relate the characters at first but as I read further in I can see the uniqueness to each. I like fierce and strong heroines and can see it in Katherine. It’s sad to see her be “abused” by Tate without him knowing the truth. Tate is intense but also all-over-the-place with the way he seesaws between hate and lust for Katherine. The accusations are unfounded and very “shallow” that if only he knows how much she is taking just for the love her brother. I can see why Katherine is cautious and feels that the arrangement is like an entrapment, especially with all the “push and pull” from Tate.

I like how the story turned unexpectedly (I don’t want to spoil the fun of this book) when readers think that it’s the end. I like this and commend the author for pulling this well without making it turn cheesy.

The bond of Katherine and her brother, Keith, is wonderful in siblings that lost their parents. You see her talk to Keith with respect, even if she knows that her brother was wrong on how he went about asking for the hand of Samantha (Sam). Although Tate and his sister, Sam, took care of each other without their parents (also died in an accident), their relationship is different from Katherine-Keith. The juxtaposition of the sibling relationship of Katherine versus Tate is very blatant. I am in awe on how Katherine did deliver “reality” to Tate in order to see that Sam is already an adult and will have to decide things for herself soon or else lose her forever.

Comments:
1.) The book can get confusing since the POV quickly changes without letting readers know so you should be patient and “readjust” yourself on this. One moment you’re in Katherine’s headspace then the next paragraph, you jumped to Tate. A suggestion if this goes back for reissue/republishing to have the POV indicated or move to the next chapter so readers can shift POV slowly.
2.) Scene changes can be abrupt with no separators i.e. from an evening discussion to driving out the next morning. It knocks you off one scene to another. Separators will surely help if the author would want to still continue with the chapter.
3.) The pacing threw me off at times (most likely because separators were lacking) as there are scenes that were slower versus some that glazed through, especially in the end. Maybe it would have benefited the book to have a section as “epilogue” to help readers readjust with the story.

Overall, I like the book. It’s easy to read and relate though both character’s self-doubt of what is going on between them can get a bit tiring especially when they bicker. The chemistry is good and mutual thus makes the scene believable. The unexpected part in the middle of the book as the story turned in another way was great. I would recommend this book for easy reading with a siding of “revenge”.
I cannot wait to see what other books come out for Kyra Radcliff.

The Best Laid Plans by Cameron Lund

Published on: March 20, 2016
Type: standalone, series
Type: standalone, teen/young adult
Author: Cameron Lund 
Read: 28 July 2020
Shelved: 29 July 2020
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Get it here:  Amazon | Google Books

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Synopsis

High school senior Keely Collins takes on firsts, lasts, and everything in between in this sweet, sex-positive rom-com for fans of Meg Cabot and Jenny Han.

It seemed like a good plan at first.
When the only other virgin in her group of friends loses it at Keely’s own eighteenth birthday party, she’s inspired to take things into her own hands. She wants to have that experience too (well, not exactly like that–but with someone she trusts and actually likes), so she’s going to need to find the guy, and fast. The problem is, she’s known all the boys in her small high school forever, and it’s kinda hard to be into a guy when you watched him eat crayons in kindergarten.

So she can’t believe her luck when she meets a ridiculously hot new guy named Dean. Not only does he look like he’s fallen out of a classic movie poster, but he drives a motorcycle, flirts with ease, and might actually be into her.

But Dean’s already in college, and Keely is convinced he’ll drop her if he finds out how inexperienced she is. That’s when she talks herself into a new plan: her lifelong best friend, Andrew, would never hurt or betray her, and he’s clearly been with enough girls that he can show her the ropes before she goes all the way with Dean. Of course, the plan only works if Andrew and Keely stay friends–just friends–so things are about to get complicated.

Cameron Lund’s delightful debut is a hilarious and heartfelt story of first loves, first friends, and first times–and how making them your own is all that really matters.


Review

Keely Collins is a senior student of Prescott High who cannot wait to get out of Vermont to head West Coast for university. Talks of virginity and “giving up ” to boys brought about a lot of pressure on Keely since she’s the “last virgin” in Prescott though she’s not really sure that she is ready to give up her virginity with just anyone.
As she plans her future and recently turned 18, bumped into Dean who is a college boy in Eastern Vermont University, near her area and even invites him to her prom.

Andrew is Keely’s friend since they were kids. He’s fun and outgoing. He and Keely share the same love for film and Hitchcock movies. They have been best friends forever and “wingman/wing-person” to him. Senior year brought up Andrew’s status as he opened himself up more to dating, parties, and girls. Keely is not happy with how Andrew has been taking advantage of the girls he dated around the school then throws them away after he’s done. He’s become a player in her eyes, which doesn’t sit well for her but still, she’s there to support him in whatever way she can.

Dean is the college guy that every high school senior would like to date and have. He is termed “James Dean” by Keely’s group when they first bumped into him at Dunkin Donuts.
He is taking film at the college near the video store that Keely is working at and even got to interview her for the job. He’s experienced and is very interested in Keely especially they have many things in comment with regards to videos, movies and film. Keely later invited him to be her prom date and told him that her “promise” can be fulfilled after.


This is a coming-of-age book that deals with friendships, self-acceptance, and young love. It’s a good read, especially for a first book. The audience is geared to the younger market and is well-suited for them to see how others are also in the same place as where they are at this age.

The stories of high school are what it is…high school. There are petty things that used to be considered important for younger adults versus what we would consider issues now as an adult. I get it since emotions and new experiences start coming out around that time. As you read through it and absorb it, it’s what you see way back, 20/30 years ago, and even up to today. It’s nothing new in the story.

I appreciate the thoughts Keely had with regards to her virginity, peer-pressure, friends, and even her best friend Andrew. The characters are a lot – a group of friends who may or may not have Keely’s best interest but still her friends, nonetheless. Hannah, her sidekick, is wonderful and as the “voice of reason” for Keely as she herself navigates her own emotions and heart on Charlie. There’s the mean girl, Danielle, that later shows how fragile and broken she is; Ava who took matters on her own hands (spectacularly, I might add), Chase and his gang of guys, etc. It’s a lot of growing up for all these characters that since they normally move in groups, it’s hard to connect with just one of them. I like the characters but had some trouble connecting/relating to them on a deeper level. You get to connect in all of them in a small amount of time so understanding youth and emotions aren’t as deep as I would have liked.

I have to make a comment on how lightly the parents are treating their own kids – granted that they have been rooting for their kids to get together…but the punishment for throwing a party, dating, late nights out, etc and being caught were glazed over but maybe I’m being too strict. The kids in the story did get away with a lot of crazy things.

Initially, this is a difficult one to start off for me. I am not against these types of genre – I like it but it’s not my favorite. It’s up there for 2020 reads for me since there are a lesson and after-thoughts. Anytime I finish a book and get all analytical – I recall my past experiences and start comparing, it’s not a bad thing…but might not be an absolutely good thing either. A lot of the appreciation to the book comes after or when I take breaks to think about it…which is okay and good – since you don’t see the potential of a book till it’s the end and you go back to re-read a few excerpts again.

These types of plot/story will never stop piquing people’s interest again and again. I do have to say that it’s geared to a younger audience that would hopefully learn from it and appreciate what Lund wanted to let them know based on the current situation.

Sometimes life isn’t perfect. It isn’t a movie. I can’t direct it, can’t edit out the scenes that I don’t like. Life is messy and complicated and full of misunderstanding. And that’s okay. Whatever happens, I can’t wait.
I’m so ready.

— Keely, The Best Laid Plans

Cameron Lund is a young adult author, singer/songwriter, and cheese enthusiast.

Originally from the middle of the New Hampshire woods, she moved to the beach to study film at the University of California, Santa Barbara and has stayed out west ever since. Her love of travel has taken her to more than 25 countries–there’s nothing she loves more than writing while on an adventure somewhere, preferably with a view of a waterfall.

Cameron’s debut novel, THE BEST LAID PLANS, is out now! Her next novel HEARTBREAKERS AND FAKERS will be out Spring 2021 with Razorbill (PenguinTeen). She is represented by Taylor Haggerty of Root Literary, with film rights handled by Mary Pender-Coplan at United Talent Agency.

Connect with Cameron
Website | Instagram | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon

Elastic Hearts (Hearts #3) by Claire Contreras

Published on: March 20, 2016
Type: standalone, series, HEA
Series: Hearts #3.0
AuthorClaire Contreras
Read: 22 May 2019 / 28 July 2020
Shelved: 22 May 2019 / 29 July 2020
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Get: Elastic Hearts 

Victor Reuben.
Most sought out divorce attorney in LA.

Nicole Alessi.
Soon to be ex-wife of Hollywood’s biggest star, Victor’s latest client and his boss’s daughter.

In such a high profile divorce, they can’t afford any extra drama. Luckily, neither one of them has anything to hide.
Unless you count the mind blowing sex they had…
Once…
Twice…
Three times all those years ago.

As long as they leave the past where it belongs, they’ll be fine. But with her wearing those tight dresses and him giving her those heated glances, keeping their hands to themselves is proving to be more difficult than either one of them realized.
It won’t be long before the paparazzi start to smell smoke, and where there’s smoke… 


The Characters

Nicole is a young, bright woman who works in the film industry as a costume designer. She met Victor early on at a bar that later found out that Victor works for her father. After a few office encounters, Victor decided that with Nicole still being so young (just graduated college and will be starting a new job) and the boss’ daughter, they decided it was wiser to just break things off before it goes deeper. She then met Gabriel (Gab), a famous film star, who Nicole hesitantly started seeing to try to get over Victor. She dives into the world of show business – the good and the bad – as things started to get serious with Gab to the point that he proposed to her and they got married. She’s still a feisty spite-fire when it comes to her interaction with Victor and those lighthearted moments do take the tension off.

Victor is a smart, determined and career-driven lawyer whose specialty is in divorce law. He works for Nicole’s father and is geared up to be promoted as a partner in the company. He’s allergic to relationships and doesn’t believe in marriage, given what he sees everyday. Too bad, his short-encounters with Nicole imprinted his heart, even dating around all these years. He was surprised to know that the rare time, Nicole came to the office, she was already engaged to someone else. Thinking how wrong he was with Nicole…that he meant something to her or that she didn’t believe in marriage. He tried to get the news over by working more and trying to achieve his goal – to become “partner”.

After a quick introduction to what happened between Victor and Nicole at the start of the book, readers are fast-forwarded to 5 years later, where Nicole’s marriage is not working out and she has filed divorce papers to Gabriel. The scenario is even messier since there are accusations of infidelity, drugs and alcohol that is typical for Hollywood. Nicole gracefully tries to get everything done as quick as possible. Fortunately, her dad is a top-notched attorney who owns a law firm that specializes in divorces and made Nicole sign a prenuptial agreement. Too bad, due to conflict of interest, her dad cannot do the proceedings and enlisted his top attorney, Victor, for the job, in exchange for his partner position.

Some thoughts…

Upon getting the gist of the plot, I already know that this is a good and bad idea all at the same time. Compared to the books, this one is going to be messy and destructive. I can already feel that Victor is a very emotional and brooding type of a guy from the other books (recalling Book 1 with Oliver and Victor on the “secret relationship”), what more now that he’s in front of all the drama/action. The thing that makes me push on with this book that I know it’s a second chance book so this should be interesting – on how both very strong people will succumb to being committed to each other and let the world know about it.

The chemistry between the two main characters is seen/read clearly. It’s not even about pride or sanity anymore but more on ethics. Anything that could happen while the divorce proceedings between Victor and Nicole can be the cause of legal action or even worst, the end of Victor’s career. In the end, there are a lot of “stop signs” as Victor and Nicole keep meeting for her case. I am in a more level frame of mind but the torture of being in very close and intimate contact with her attorney drove me crazy in many of the chapters. They can be explosive and at the same time hilarious (apologizing on this) since just when you think something massive is going to happen, it dials down and comes out funny. I can’t help how I enjoy the bantering and the underlying comments that come in my head for it. Check out an excerpt below. There are many more “smirking moments” in the book that is to bate serious, brooding Victor. Pure genius!

N: You have to be the most self-assured person on planet Earth. You’re the one calling meetings at crazy hours.

V: And you’re the one who’s coming, no questions asked.

N: That’s how I usually like to come. No questions asked.

— Nicole and Victor, Elastic Hearts

POVs are on both characters but it can be a bit confusing in some ways since Victor and Nicole are very confused about their own situations. There were twists in the book that you can tell is tearing each other since they cannot disclose things else it would jeopardize the divorce proceedings and undermine everything.

It is sad when Nicole recalls Gab being a man from humble beginnings, to later turn into someone different within a few years into their marriage. The movie industries do change a person. It’s either for the better or the worst and sadly, most succumb to the latter. On the other hand, Nicole still maintains to be a good, loving wife and upholds integrity wherein she will not “throw anyone under the bus” just to further her career/cause but it’s also a fault that people around her like Gab and Darryl, his manager, is willing to exploit. When Darryl proposed a deal that has Nicole couldn’t refuse, Victor (and her father) was not happy with the possibility that it would result in Nicole getting hurt and damaged in the end.

Forgiveness always feels like a possibility in the presence of hope.

— Nicole, Elastic Hearts

Victor has grown throughout the book series and this being his story – I can see the growth and maturity shaping him after all these years. I think he did meet “the one” (in Nicole) but due to her age (she was 4/5 years younger than him) and his career, he learned to let her go. Now, after securing his job with the firm, and finding out that he might get another chance with Nicole, he is torn again with another dilemma on ethics. I totally can understand his feelings…timing is never right somehow and this time, it is totally out of anyone’s control till everything gets settled in the divorce.

Now that I knew she possibly felt more for me, I wasn’t sure what I felt for her. This version of me felt like he was ready for that. For something more. For something real. As stupid as it f*cking was, I thought maybe I could have it with Nicole. Maybe in another life. A different time, Our timing was complete sh*t.

— Victor, Elastic Hearts

I love Claire’s character development from Book 1 to this book, Book 3. I was concern about how she would be able to top the last book since I was enthralled with the art of the written word. I am so happy to hear Victor’s story and find out how his tough and driven exterior finally meets the lovely, independent and fierce Nicole. They surely make a lovely pairing.

Don’t believe the hype…Being single is overrated, especially when you think you’ve found someone you can stand to be with continuously.

— Victor, Elastic Hearts

I’m sad that the series is done. Thank you for sharing these characters with us, Claire!

FYI : Just noticed that there seems to be a theme for the Hearts series that is unique. I appreciate how Claire tries to correlate each book with a subtle theme.
I’m not sure if this is intentional but if not, it’s surely a happy coincidence since love does happen in all themes and the most unlikely areas.

Book 1 – Art & Culture vs Doctor, Arts & Science
Book 2 – Books / Written Words vs Photography/Visual Art, Verbal & Visual
Book 3 – Television/Movies vs Law, Fantasy & Reality


Let me know what you think in the comments.


Claire Contreras is a New York Times Best Selling Author who traded her psychology degree to write fiction. Don’t worry, she still uses her knowledge on every single one of her characters.
She’s a breast cancer survivor (x2), who was born in the Dominican Republic, raised in Florida, and currently resides in Charlotte, NC with her husband, two adorable boys, and French bulldog.
Her books range from romantic suspense to contemporary romance and are currently translated in over fifteen languages. When she’s not writing, she’s usually lost in a book.

Torn Hearts (Hearts #1.5) and Paper Hearts (Hearts #2) by Claire Contreras


Torn Hearts
Published on: August 17, 2016
Published by: Wattpad
Type: standalone, series, cliffhanger
Series: Hearts #1.5
AuthorClaire Contreras
Read: February 2019 / 25 July 2020
Shelved: February 2019 / 25 July 2020
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Get: Paper Hearts – official site
Paper Hearts
Published on: September 9, 2015
Type: standalone, series, HEA
Series: Hearts #2.0
AuthorClaire Contreras
Read: 27 February 2019 / 26 July 2020
Shelved: 28 February 2019 / 26 July 2020
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Get: Paper Hearts – official site
**Note: my copy had Book #1.5 in Book 2

Torn Hearts
I met a boy once.
He made my heart go into a frenzy every time he looked at me, and my knees go weak whenever he touched me. Our love was so beautiful, that even its demise was bittersweet.
I met a girl once.
Her world, full of possibilities, made me feel like even I had a chance at being someone. She believed in me. She loved me. We were so secure, that even our breaking point seemed hazy.
Until we reached it. 

Paper Hearts
I lost her. No, I didn’t lose her. I threw her away. She was my best friend. I was never supposed to fall in love with her. I was careless. She was heartbroken. I thought I was doing fine. But here she is, years later, forced to work with me, reminding me why I fell in love with her in the first place. And this time I’m going to do everything in my power to never let her go. 


Review on Torn Hearts

Then we’ll take a break and meet at the end of the road.

— Mia and Jensen, Torn Hearts

Mia Bennett is a successful and fierce photographer who has been down on luck. She pushes people to be the best versions of themselves and even come to terms with letting go, people who she loves so that they would be able to go reach their dreams. She sacrificed a lot and is still doing it until she was offered a job in NYC for a photography shoot. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for her.

Still, every once in a while, I wonder. And nothing is more haunting than regret.

— Mia, Torn Hearts

Jensen Reynolds came from very humble beginnings and is an aspiring writer who moved from California to NYC to pursue his writing degree. He was encouraged by Mia and when they parted, they decided to take a break but promise to be back for each other. Somewhere along the way, Jensen got a colleague pregnant then had to face the consequences of his decision.

Backstory: This is the story of Mia and Jensen in preparation for Book 2. It is good to be able to see how far they go back, the road that they have taken, and where things will be leading. The book takes the readers to the beginning of the relationship, their break due Jensen moved to NYC to study being a writer then five years later at Estelle and Oliver’s wedding (Hearts #1).

Each has of the main character’s own baggage to handle – Mia’s disapproving parents, Jensen’s family history – that had a huge impact on how the couple turned out to be. It’s more gut-wrenching than Book #1 with both characters are living with their decisions that broke each others’ hearts in the end. They agreed before Jensen’s move that they will wait for each other…till Jensen had to break the news to Mia that shattered her world apart.

Things kept happening so quickly that my emotions were beaten and battered so much. My heart broke when Jensen disclosed that he’s going to be a father, especially when both promised to connect again when he came back from NYC but I guess circumstances just aren’t in their favor now.

I chose my own destiny and whether it’s good or bad, I had to accept the consequences of my actions.

— Jensen, Torn Hearts

I strongly recommend that readers read this prequel before going to Paper Hearts. It set the stage to where the characters are and how long it’s been when they do meet up to see if their chance will come up again.


Review on Paper Hearts

The story continues on with Mia and Jensen and I will tell you that it’s a gut-wrenching one again. The POV is done more on Mia’s side but we still get Jensen’s side. How the story is told in this book is very different from the previous book series. I find it refreshing actually since it gives homage to Carrie of Sex & the City but with Jensen as a freelance writer (for a magazine, a Sunday column, a children’s book series) while writing a novel about second chances. This is what this series/book is all about and I’m loving it! A lot of forgiveness, healing, and redemption between the two characters. It’s amazing! Re-reading this book got me excited again and helped me remember why I end up really loving the way Jensen was so determined to get his Mia back.

The conversations between Mia and Jensen are witty and showed us how compatible they are since they seem to be in-tune with each other that even when circumstances set them apart, the pull towards each other, no matter how far and how unlikely the timing, is inevitable.

Mia is as stubborn as can a shunned woman expected to be. Basing on her side of the story, it is sad about what happened to her relationship with Jensen. She was his #1 fan and pushed him to strive to be the best but at the same time, she inflicts so much pain unto herself – with him leaving, with him finding another and starting a family without her, sending care packages to Jensen c/o Patty after their breakup, his adoptive mom, etc. It’s just so much pain to bear for anyone, no matter how strong they are. I think her pure break-point (in her POV) has always been that Jensen decides on how his story will end without factoring her in when he decided to marry Olivia’s mom in the first place.

Love like this is worth fighting for.

— Jensen, Paper Hearts

Jensen’s weakness used to only be for Mia but in the book, we get to meet the other light of his life, his daughter – Olivia. I’m glad that he did find “space” to share his stories and experiences with the column and the books. I think the whole world/subscribership is watching the story unfold in his column and it was adorable.

They both decide (after much determination of Jensen to fight for Mia) that they start seeing each other…the thing is that it’s on a limited time since Mia’s NYC stint is temporary and she is offered another job after back in California.

Estelle’s reminder to Mia about dating a single parent is true (and stands for all) that the Jensen comes as a package with his daughter, his ex, her family and whoever will be with his ex…that Mia had to think hard if she wanted to be with him.

I’m all for Team Jensen on this. He laid out everything for Mia and hoped for the best in his pursuit. The reward at the end was pure bliss and I cried like there’s no tomorrow! Overall, I fully recommend Torn Hearts and Paper Hearts – super duper love and still swooning in from Jensen Talks’ entries, his words to Mia – all in a spectacular ending even until two epilogues!

Real love stories never end.

— Jensen, Paper Hearts

Claire Contreras is a New York Times Best Selling Author who traded her psychology degree to write fiction. Don’t worry, she still uses her knowledge on every single one of her characters.
She’s a breast cancer survivor (x2), who was born in the Dominican Republic, raised in Florida, and currently resides in Charlotte, NC with her husband, two adorable boys, and French bulldog.
Her books range from romantic suspense to contemporary romance and are currently translated in over fifteen languages. When she’s not writing, she’s usually lost in a book.

Kaleidoscope Hearts (Hearts #1) by Claire Contreras

Published on: January 20th 2015
Type: standalone
Series: Hearts #1
AuthorClaire Contreras
Read: 27 February 2019 / 24 July 2020
Shelved: 28 February 2019 / 24 July 2020
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Get : Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple Audio Book

He was my older brother’s best friend. 
He was never supposed to be mine. 
I thought we would get it out of our system and move on. 
One of us did. 
One of us left.
Now he’s back, looking at me like he wants to devour me. And all those feelings I’d turned into anger are brewing into something else, something that terrifies me. 
He broke my heart last time. 
This time he’ll obliterate it.

This is a standalone book. 


The Characters

Estelle “Elle” Reuben is a widowed gallery owner/artist who moved temporarily into with her brother as she waited for the sale of her home she shared with her deceased fiance, Wyatt. She owns gallery owner with her diseased fiance, Wyatt, and has been a staunch supporter of her teaching art so he set-up an area where she gets to share art classes to kids/teens and on the side, painting parties to help fund the gallery. After a year of mourning, she starts to re-learn and push on with her life without him. She started allowing people to set her up and easing back to the dating scene after moving with her brother. With her brother still hanging out so much at home and with Oliver, a mistake from her past, Elle is cautious with him since she almost didn’t survive the last time.

“The difference is that it’s already broken but I use the pieces to rebuild it. The difference is that the heart has a second chance, and maybe it’ll get broken again, but it’s already shattered, so maybe the fall won’t be as bad.”

Elle, Kaleidoscope Hearts

Oliver “Bean” Hart is a pediatrics resident who is Elle’s brother, Victor’s, best friend and is considered a “player”. He and Elle shared an ‘almost something’ and now, he wants an “in” again after all these years. He’s got a complex of flirting with Elle but still being cautious of letting her brother, Victor, know. He is torn between pushing something with Elle or just keeping things status quo. Basically, he cannot decide for himself what he wants more.

This is what happens when you stop living in the moment. People grow up. They change, they move on, and you find yourself wishing you had looked up in time to talk with them.

Oliver, Kaleidoscope Hearts

Not a fan of:
Although there’s hardly much I do not like about the book there are some minute details that I wished were handled a little more, like…

1. The discovery of the secret relationship was less talked about or even “glazed over’ as what a few of my friends, who I recommended the book to said. Yes, it would have been nice than what was written but I needed to remind them that the “fight” or the “discovery” is not the main of the book but more of centering between Elle and finding two loves in her life. How it got all sorted out for Victor and Oliver…they are brothers who care about each other. I’m sure they had their own “talks” while readers like me stayed with Elle for bigger changes in her life.

2. There were some run-ons sentences or phrases here and there but all negligible since the story took over everything for me.

Just some thoughts on the main characters…

Elle:
1. She’s been grieving so long on the book that some readers may find this as dragging, wherein something goes right then self-doubt happens that pushes her 10 paces back.
An example is when she tries her best to shun Oliver’s advances or just getting to know her more then she comes out with a reply that is totally off tangent to what he is trying to do – “ask Jen or the other nurses on the floor”, etc. It’s seemed okay initially but to have it repeat so many times in quite a few parts of the book can be ridiculous.

2. She keeps comparing past Oliver and Wyatt so much that she’s taking out the new experiences in what could happen between the two of them. It seems unfair for Oliver, who wanted her for so long, to be compared to someone who had her and experienced her earlier. She doesn’t see how much Oliver is trying to make up for everything (missed firsts, second chances, etc) without her going into a panic or starts destroying the good that is happening in front of her.

She needs to get over her doubt of saying yes to Wyatt, to accept he’s gone and to move on to the best version of her that is left by Wyatt. Everyone is rooting her on this.

I am thankful for Wyatt and everything he gave me, but I decided I wouldn’t change who I was for anybody again – especially a man.

Elle, Kaleidoscope Hearts

Oliver
1. A lot of the flashbacks are from Oliver’s POV, which is interesting while the present ones are Elle’s. I think Claire is trying to balance the two main characters by trying to be consistent in POV but focused on the more tormented one – Elle.

2. He is a changed man after all this year – his hesitation to enter into any relationship is how he wanted to first focus on school – work/career until he is able to achieve a certain standard of living to offer Elle. This a noble goal and very reasonable…too bad, he missed out on giving Elle reassurances of his plans, instead of just expecting her to wait for him.

She made me smile on days that laughter seemed impossible. She made me see hope in things I didn’t know existed. That was when she truly became my Estelle. She just didn’t know it. Hell, neither did I.

Oliver, Kaleidoscope Hearts

What I like…

1. The storyline is a simple one – playboy coming back and focusing on the girl that got-away to see if they had a chance…a second chance but what I love is learning more about what didn’t work out for the two of them in the first place. Where did their paths grow apart and how? It was a lot of self-discovery as individuals and as a couple. The intimacy shared by both of them is scorching!

2. Elle’s grieving segments are heavy and may feel dragging or depict Elle as weak but since I can relate to the death of Wyatt based on a good friend’s experience. Same age though not the same physical built but a real tragic loss that anyone wouldn’t be able to recover easily especially a very loved on. Some may say that she’s been controlled too much by her ex but I didn’t read it like that but more like her turning and becoming on her own in the end.

I don’t want to say that I feel complete when I’m with him – because I’m complete without him – but when I’m with him, I feel like a better version of myself. And I think that’s what has always drawn me to Oliver. He makes me feel good about who I am, and I don’t feel like I need to change or pretend when I’m around him. I’m just me and being me has never felt better.

Elle, Kaleidoscope Hearts

3. I liked the imagery of the characters and story that Claire brought through her words and with the use of art. The kaleidoscope hearts that Elle makes is what this whole book symbolizes that I’m amazed the comparison to love, second chances, healing, molding into a better version of you after being “broken” is just perfectly woven into the story that it’s impossible not to like. It’s hard not to like and I’m glad that I am fortunate enough to read through this book. There are so many really awesome quotes that I had such a hard time choosing what to use!

The hearts I make are shattered, but whole. They’re kaleidoscopes that beam under the sun. They signify hope in love when you’ve lost it because, like love, you can look at a kaleidoscope a thousand different ways and find something new every time. Shattered or not, if you look carefully enough, you’ll find something beautiful in them, and all beautiful things are a little broken.

Elle, Kaleidoscope Hearts

4. Before I forget: the supporting characters on Vic, Jenson, Mia, Hannah & Thomas, Micah, Dallas, Felicity, etc are all wonderful people in their own right. I enjoyed the sharing and empowering Mia on her road to healing. She’s a big influence in pushing Oliver and Elle together. I cannot wait to see her own story in the next series.

Highly recommend this book to readers of contemporary romance genre!


Claire Contreras is a New York Times Best Selling Author who traded her psychology degree to write fiction. Don’t worry, she still uses her knowledge on every single one of her characters.
She’s a breast cancer survivor (x2), who was born in the Dominican Republic, raised in Florida, and currently resides in Charlotte, NC with her husband, two adorable boys, and French bulldog.
Her books range from romantic suspense to contemporary romance and are currently translated in over fifteen languages. When she’s not writing, she’s usually lost in a book.

Connect with Claire
Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | Amazon | Website

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

Published on: 10 April 2019
Published by: Quercus
Type: Stand-alone, no cliffhanger, HEA
AuthorBeth O’Leary
Read: 7 February 2020 / 21 July 2020
Shelved: 8 February 2020 / 23 July 2020
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Get it: Flatshare – official site | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Being nice is a good thing.
You can be strong and nice. You don’t have to be one or the other.

— the Flatshare, Beth O’Leary

Tiffy and Leon share a flat
Tiffy and Leon share a bed
Tiffy and Leon have never met…


Tiffy Moore and Leon Twomey each have a problem and need a quick fix.

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Leon has a flat that he only uses 9 to 5. Tiffy works 9 to 5 and needs a place to sleep. The solution to their problems? To share a bed of course…

Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.

As Leon and Tiffy’s unusual arrangement becomes a reality, they start to connect through Post-It notes left for each other around the flat.

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…

Can true love blossom even in the unlikeliest of situations, even if you never see one another, or does true love blossom when you are least expecting it?


Tiffany “Tiff” Moore is an assistant editor to a small and specialized publication that produces crafting and DIY books. She’s been dumped by her on-again-off-again boyfriend for three months already but is still staying at his flat. She finally decided that she’s had enough and urgently needs to move out when their last fight was about him bringing his new girlfriend to the flat. But earning minimum wage at a quirky publishing house means that her choices are limited in London.

Leon Twomey is a palliative nurse who works nights, is out all weekends, and needs cash.
He has a girlfriend who is getting fed up with not having enough time with him since he is more concerned with other people’s welfare than his own. He has made so many good connections in the clinic that he does still get emotional to some of the patients especially when he can see them in pain. Along with working night shifts looking after the terminally ill, his sole focus is on raising money to fight his brother’s unfair imprisonment.

Coming into this book and finding out it’s from a British writer (totally no offense to this), I was worried that there might be too much British slang or technical stuff that only a local person would understand. I was gearing up my search engines if I need to…but as I start on, I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to follow along and became an enjoyable read. I had no issues and really got connected to the characters well.

The concept is new, even the characters themselves find this arrangement uniquely weird, mostly on Tiffany’s part due to her initial hesitation. I like the duality of the story – being in both minds at the same time. It reminds me a bit of the movie, Sliding Doors, meets You’ve Got Mail all rolled into one. This is with the two different characters’ POV – separate moving pace their stories while interacting with each other through Post-It – all rolled into one.

Photo Credit: Libro.fm

Tiffy seems to be a nice woman that I could be friends with but with a bit of ‘cracks’ here and there because of her ex. She’s trying her best to move on while keeping her favorite eccentric writer, Katherin, happy and writing away. Tiffy is always the “it” gal to handle all of Katherin’s crazy antics so as to get the book done. I’m a fan of Katherin! She’s hilarious and realistic…eccentric to a point but definitely a memorable character for me.
I am furious with Justin, Tiffy’s ex, on the way he treats her throughout their relationship and even after as Tiffy later recalls based on the situation and actions that she is in. It all sounded like emotional abuse that she needed her best to get out of that ‘rut’ to start seeing herself-worth. It was good and bad to read through it but I’m sure that that’s the only way that Tiffy can realize that she saved herself from a weak and horrible man.

At the start of the book, Leon seems so caught up with so many things like work and his brother that he couldn’t find the time to focus on anything outside of that. As things progressed, he started adding more than just caring for the people in the clinic, he went into knowing them better and learning what would make their stay better (or even their life better after they are gone) plus finding the time to be a better version of himself. Too bad that he had to realize this after Kay left him but still, I believe that he stayed with her just to keep things as status quo. Kay didn’t seem to care much about Leon’s brother, Richie, or any of the people at his work to build a connection for the “life plan” that she was talking about.

Ironically, Tiffy and Leon might be flatmates but both main characters did not meet up but somehow found a way to communicate via Post-it noes instead. I was eager/curious about how things would be even if it’s just via notes. Both have their own quirks – Leon’s character seems too serious/uptight to me and is so cautious of everything. I was more worried about how Tiffy would be able to ‘adapt’ to sharing a space with such a person, as what she mentions – Leon didn’t even leave space for her things when she moved in.

Tiffy’s and Leon’s friends are all wonderful and reading about their stories and how they help Tiffy and Leon really makes the ‘heaviness’ of some of the book’s section less dreary.
For Tiffy’s friends, it has to be Mo, Gerty, and Rachel. All three were great supporting characters that are like good – bad consciences that guided Tiffy through her post-Justin life.
For Leon, it’s definitely Mr. Prior. I laughed, cried, and cried some more for his story but very grateful that he did get his own HEA at the cost of all the hassle for Leon.

Remind myself that there is no saving of people —people can only save themselves. The best you can do is help when they’re ready.

― Beth O’Leary, The Flatshare

Tiffy and Leon’s story is witty with heavy scenes inter-woven into it like
(1) how Tiffy had to realize how she was emotionally manipulated and gaslighted so badly by Justin due to her supposed inadequacies – which is NOT TRUE, or
(2) how Leon had to learn what real love for someone is all about through Mr. Prior and later comparing his relationship with Kay, or
(3) Holly’s story, or
(4) Richie’s struggles that I can feel each conversation he had with Leon.
I felt so awful about all of those.

I appreciate how both characters, Tiffy and Leon, grew up and learned that they do not want/have to be alone anymore and can start taking risks. Leon realizes that big gestures are sometimes overrated – very very true!

The length can be a bit lengthy since the pace is slower as the author would like to develop the characters better and get us, reader, to connect/feel to them. I was rushing a bit since I wanted to know what happens to them so there was a bit of skimming on some parts that I felt were ‘slow’ but all worth it since I re-read the last few sections again to ride through the “happiness” in the end.

As I get through the book, I realized how uplifting the theme could be – on how to gracefully come out of an “emotionally abused relationship”, ironically for both of them, and finding time to “connect” with people again after such an experience.

I love this book and cannot wait to read more from the author.

“It was never home until you were there, Tiffy.”

― Leon, The Flatshare
There three (3) book covers that all looked great! : Hardbound Edition (first published) / US Version / UK Version

Beth O’Leary studied English at university before going into children’s publishing. She lives as close to the countryside as she can get while still being within reach of London, and wrote her first novel, The Flatshare, on her train journey to and from work.
You’ll usually find her curled up with a book, a cup of tea, and several woolly jumpers (whatever the weather).

Connect with Beth
Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Bookbub

Bad Penny by Staci Hart

Published on: 23 May 2017
Published by: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Type: Stand-alone, no cliffhanger
AuthorStaci Hart
SeriesTonic Book 2
Read : 14 July 2020
Shelved : 21 July 2020
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

She says she has a three date rule. She thinks she doesn’t do serious. She thinks she’s prepared for me.

And I’m about to prove her wrong.

Penny has no idea I’m the chubby, nerdy kid she went to high school with—I shed that baby fat on a surfboard after graduation, though I am still a massive nerd, spending the bulk of my time and energy coding my video game. The last thing I expect to find in New York is her.

The second I see her smile, I recognize her: the girl I’d crushed on since sophomore year. The girl who dated the biggest asshole in our school—the same guy who might have ruined her for me.

She can tell herself all day that she won’t fall for me, but she doesn’t stand a chance. Because I know exactly what I want, and it’s her. And I’ll do whatever it takes to have her.

But everyone has limits, and Penny will test mine. And the moment I have her heart in my hand is the moment I stand to lose her forever.
*A standalone contemporary romantic comedy*


Penny: smart, creative, and fun-loving tattoo artist from Tonic. She is a fierce supporter of her friends especially in Tonic with what happened to her boss, Joel. She is always trying to set-up her good friend, Veronica, with no such luck yet. She was hurt by a mutual friend that she and Bodie hung out with back in high school, which made her become a commitment-phoebe and instilled her 3-dates rule before dumping the guy she’s seeing to protect herself. She’s a player in the female sense of it.

I wish I could let myself fall helplessly in love, but I’d done that once, and when it had ended and I had been left alone to put myself back together, I’d known without a doubt that love wasn’t for me.

— Penny, Bad Penny

Bodie (Diddle): a techy geek who used to go to the same school as Penny but was unrecognizable after a few years of surfing and staying in the West Coast. He moved to NYC to start his twin brother, Jude, and Phil’s gaming start-up business after being pink-slipped.

Based on the last Tonic book series, I was ready for Penny! She’s a pure spit-fire with her opinions and is very passionate about defending her friends and tattoos. I realized also that she has her own piercings in interesting places as per the book. How she picked up her mates is basically anywhere and everywhere…even as wholesome as an ice cream parlor, which the story starts off. She’s as interesting as the hair color she would sport aside from her dressing style which is out-of-this-world! She’s definitely a unique character.

Bumping into Bodie twice in one day, first at the ice cream shop then next at Circus Club, is very coincidental especially given the population of NYC but this is a romance book and we shall let the Fates decide that they are meant to be. I am biased in stories that have the male hero be a confident partner to a supposedly confident but very unsure heroine lead with regards to the relationship. The opposite of what normal romance novels are based on my experience. Bodie is the ever-persistent guy and has made it his mission to have Penny in the end. He’s been her crush for so long and to have her right there was just too much to not give it a go. He was willing to have her whatever way she gave him. His easygoing manner set a big difference in how Penny sees herself in this relationship with Bodie. He’s always been there for Penny even before the hooked up and she was with Rodney, her ex, in high school so it’s not a very insta-love/lust book but more like a second chance or a chance book to prove himself worthy of her and to see where this relationship would end up.

Introducing everyone in Tonic when Bodie went to get a piece done really “sealed the deal” for me though Penny might not see it as anything. Having her Tonic family meet Bodie is huge and I’m so happy that somehow, it happened so her friends can see their relationship as it should be…a really meaningful one. Penny let Bodie (a.k.a. heart-ninja) get her heart without knowing it!

The scenes are hot and intense between Penny and Bodie. Penny is as brash to her friends as with her encounters with Bodie that makes me smile and snicker as I read on. Bodie, on the other hand, also has his crazy thoughts on how he feels and can get pretty out-there also. They do make a perfect pair; now if only Penny is willing to accept it or let her head stop being psychotic to settle with the idea of it.

There is no doubt that both of them are in the same wavelength in and out of the bedroom but when Penny’s crazy mind comes in Peggy, as what her friends termed it, she starts building her walls again for self-preservation and self-doubt. Further conflict came after Rodney, user and jerk, came back into the picture and did a massive gesture that pushed Bodie and Penny apart. With that, the pressure of maintaining things ‘comfortable’ for Penny and the upcoming proposal for Bodie’s game, it all really blew up to crazy proportions. Things just went sideways for both of them after that.

Penny was a white-hot flame, and I was made out of wax. Holding her would ruin me.

— Bodie, Bad Penny

I appreciate wonderful friends for the main characters in the story. Although, Bodie has Philip and Jude, his twin, to manage him during his ‘down moments’, it’s Penny’s friends, Ramona and Veronica, who are the important ones guiding her to Bodie in the end.

Expect a HEA ending, but not after getting your self gutted to the brim with a meat grinder then molded up to fry…then later somehow ended up whole after the burn.

He had changed me, rearranged me, and as I sat in that bar with an empty glass in my hand, I new I’d never be the same. Even if I did fucked it up, even if I’d lost him forever, I’d learned something important.
I wanted to trust someone else with my heart.
Bodie had shown me what it was like to be with someone I trusted, someone who cherished me and whom i wanted to cherish. He’d taught me that letting someone in was a risk, but the reward was immeasurable.

— Penny, Bad Penny

Staci Hart has been a lot of things up to this point in her life: a graphic designer, an entrepreneur, a seamstress, a clothing and handbag designer, a waitress. Can’t forget that. She’s also been a mom to three little girls who are sure to grow up to break a number of hearts. She’s been a wife, even though she’s certainly not the cleanest, nor is she the best cook. She’s also super, duper fun at a party–especially if she’s been drinking whiskey–and her favorite word starts with f and ends with k.

From roots in Houston to a seven year stint in Southern California, Staci and her family ended up settling somewhere in between and equally north in Denver, where snow is magic and the mountains have become home. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, gaming, or designing graphics.

Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane

Published: 1 January 2019
Published by: HarperCollins
Type: Stand-alone, no cliffhanger
AuthorMhairi McFarlane
Read : 10 February 2020 / 19 July 2020
Shelved : 11 February 2020 / 20 July 2020
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (edited from 4 stars)

Rating: 4 out of 5.


Get the book: Amazon | Kobo | Audioble


Synopsis

Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to rise again…

If there’s one thing worse than being fired from the grottiest restaurant in town, it’s coming home early to find your boyfriend in bed with someone else.

Reeling from the indignity of a double dumping on the same day, Georgina snatches at the next job that she’s offered – barmaid in a newly opened pub, which just so happens to run by the boy she fell in love with at school: Lucas McCarthy. And whereas Georgina (voted Most Likely to Succeed in her school yearbook) has done nothing but dead-end jobs in the last twelve years, Lucas has not only grown into a broodingly handsome man, but also has turned into an actual grown-up with a business and a dog along the way.

Meeting Lucas again not only throws Georgina’s rackety present into sharp relief, but also brings a dark secret from her past bubbling to the surface. Only she knows the truth about what happened on the last day of school, and why she’s allowed it to chase her all these years


Review

Georgina/Georgia Horspool is a creative, smart, witty and was voted the most likely to succeed in high school but things happened on the way to university that handicapped her from becoming a writer. She dropped out of university when her father passed away and her relationship with her mother was cordial at best. She worked a few waiting staff jobs to fund herself and Jammy, her pet turtle. She worked as a waitress at a restaurant until her untimely termination then unexpectedly got hired to work at an event in a new pub that Lucas, the boy she dated back in high school who she disappointed, is a co-owner to.

I’m finding my irrelevance hard to accept because there’s nothing I’ve ever trusted more in my life than that first flush of how I felt about him. It was pure heady instinct, I never had to question it for a second. But if Lucas didn’t feel it too, if I could be so utterly wrong about this reciprocation, I can never trust my judgement again. If that wasn’t two people falling in love, then what the hell is this?

Georgia’s thoughts, Don’t You Forget About me

Lucas McCarthy is the co-owner of the Wicker that Georgina later worked at. He and Georgia used to be classmates and even dated in secret during their last year in high school. He moved back to Dublin to help with the family business of owning pubs. He and his brother Devlin took over the business after their father passed away and expanded to Sheffield, the hometown of Georgia, their hometown. He initially didn’t acknowledge of knowing Georgia since he was hurt early on in their secret relationship in high school.

“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”

— Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Previous review : I have to admit even after re-reading this book for the second time, that I had a tough time reading through the first few chapters and had to push myself to get through the book.

Firstly, after re-visiting the book again, I didn’t need much push/motivation in trying to finish it compared to the first time. I understood better where I needed to focus on and where my first apprehension was coming from all the bad luck / drama Georgina runs into – unemployment due to her bad boss, infidelity of her boyfriend (to someone quite close) and her family running her crazy.

**Word of warning: the language written can get a bit overwhelming since there is a lot of British slang and colloquial words that I threw me off at times. Just be patient and understand that the reward will come in the end as long as you stick to it.

I enjoyed all the 70s, 80s, and 90s references. I appreciate the flashbacks in a really uplifting era when things were a lot simpler – from Elvis to Blondie to Matrix. The backstory flashbacks were good and a great segway when the previous scene was heavy. It is well written and the humor that came with the flashbacks made me snicker often, especially the one when she and Robin were in the hallway after finding him in a compromising position with Lou as he and his neighbor bantered away. It was priceless!

I had a grand time getting to know the supporting characters in the book. They are as colorful as they come…from Nana Hoggs, Cleo, Rav, Jo, Ester, Patsy (Georgia’s mom) and even Robin. These characters really made me connect and feel for Georgia and supported her in their own way.
Nana Hoggs is a pure comic relief with her ‘don’t care’ attitude that I think Georgia can learn a thing or two for her view in life and dealing with people. I really cheered on when she spoke up with regards to Geoffrey being a pig at the dinner table.
Patsy and Ester might seem like the evil ones but keep reading on. I will find that all three are protecting each other in the best way that they know how. I’m saddened to hear that the family’s secret affected them all even after Georgia and Ester’s father’s death. The heart-to-heart talk Georgia had with her mom was so sad but they did work things out and mended the relationship.
Rav, Cleo and Jo are wonderful pals to help Georgia find her way to her HEF. I think it’s important to mention that it was Rav who referred her to a wonderful counselor, Fay, that helped Georgia through hard times in her life that even her friends and family didn’t know happened to her. There were so many secrets between each other that it wasn’t healthy anymore. Her counseling sessions help her in many moments in the book, where Georgia would recall sayings and advice of Fay that I realized are very important to her decisions in the end.

“It’s like aggressive hygge. Celebrate how great you are and what a nice time you have by yourself. Refuse to partake in the self-loathing we’re virtually commanded to, in this sick society.”

Clem, Don’t You Forget About Me

Robin, the villain ex, is a horrible person but a needed one to push Georgia in the end. I can’t believe the things that do come out of his mouth and his fingers (when he texts). It’s just all wrong to have him be with someone like Georgia (or any girl for the matter) in the first place. I wanted to kick his sorry a** to the curb so many times that I cannot understand how he can be successful with his ‘ego’ towards life and women in general. Georgia had to play ‘dirty’ and did well in the end by putting him in his place.
I also like Milo, her nephew, even if he couldn’t be bothered but the drawing he gave her and was emphatic with her plight is cute enough to win me over.

I didn’t realize how brave and strong Georgina started to become throughout the book when she tries so much to please everyone around here at the cost of suffering for it. She has taken on so many things – in and out of the family house (i.e. trying to hold a job while finding a way back to writing). Inside the family, she’s trying her best to keep her deceased father’s secret that in the end drove a wedge between her and her mom and still keeping her sanity with limited funds. On the outside, she has to work closely with Lucas, who seems to not remember her and want nothing to do with her, while keeping a big secret that somehow ended their relationship from him.

I love the comic relief of the ‘open-mic’ themes which became a healing exercise for Georgia and later on, for Lucas (even if he doesn’t want to admit it) because he got to know her more in her writing and sharing sessions. It doesn’t help that Robin was there to share their memories (most not good and pathetic) to try to win Georgia back but all in all, it was a cathartic experience for all. The break between Robin and Georgia was crazy and descriptive enough that I felt I was there and felt so shocked as Georgia but I’m happy that it turned out that way else it would be a he-said-she-said. With the break and participating for “open mic”, it pushed her to open herself up to writing her experiences and later found the voice to be braver than she’s ever been.

I love how Mhairi ties it all in the end:
1) how love and forgiveness still reigned true to any good story,
2) second chances can happen, we just needed time to grow, and
3) the truth, no matter how late, will always heal everyone, making everything even better the second time around. 


Mhairi McFarlane was born in Falkirk, Scotland in 1976. She went to school in Nottingham, studied English Literature at Manchester University and then returned to Nottingham to delight its citizens with her journalism. After roles as trainee reporter, reporter, feature writer and columnist, she realised she’d climbed to the very top of the mountain at the Nottingham Post and at age 31 decided to write a novel. Some very skint years followed, during which she thought she might’ve made a huge mistake.
Her debut novel, the romantic comedy You Had Me At Hello, was an instant hit upon being published in December 2012. It’s since become HarperCollins’ best selling ebook to date, has been translated into 16 languages and is being developed as a major feature film, with Mhairi writing the screenplay. The follow up, Here’s Looking At You, was published in December 2013 and made the Sunday Times Bestseller list.
Mhairi’s first hardback title for HarperFiction, It’s Not Me, It’s You, is published on November 6th 2014.
She’s currently working on her fourth novel, adapting You Had Me At Hello for screen and developing a comedy-drama script for television.

Connect with Mhairi
Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Website

Tonic by Staci Hart

Author: Staci Hart
Series: Standalone
Release date: October 13, 2016
(Sub)genres: Contemporary Romance
Get it at: Staci’s Site
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Read: 12 July 2020
Shelved: 14 July 2020

“Heads and hearts are connected by threads impossible to cut completely.”

~ Joel, Tonic

Joel Anderson doesn’t take anything seriously.

Not his relationships, which have been few and far between since his brutal divorce. Not the drama of working in a tattoo parlor, which seems to be around every corner. When things get him down, he smiles and cracks a joke. But he’s not the kind of man you cross, or you’ll find yourself at the wrong end of his fists.

Annika Belousov takes everything seriously.

Like her job as a reality television producer, given that she typically has something to prove. Or her love life, which is defined by a series of requirements — affluent, ambitious, accomplished, to name a few. Definitely her family, who worked their whole lives to afford her every opportunity, a sacrifice she doesn’t take lightly. When she’s tapped to produce a reality show at Joel’s shop, she doesn’t think twice, just goes in for the kill, as if there were any other way.

The second Annika walks into Joel’s shop, he makes it his mission to crack her open, but she’s not having it. He’s all wrong — too crass, too hairy, too un-serious. But it doesn’t take her long to find out there’s more to him than smirks and tattoos. And what she finds could put her career and his heart on the line.

Not that Joel cares. Because for the first time in a long time, he’s found his tonic. 


The Characters.

Joel: the owner of Tonic tattoo parlor and is tall, dark and a bearded bear. He has a temper when he loses “control” and after being caught so vulnerable in his last relationship, he chose to lock them uptight and just be alone. He has a brother, Shep, who works at the shop with him since their parents died when they were a young age. He lives just above the tattoo shop, which makes his job, his life. He is the ex-husband of Liz who married Hal, a competitor tattoo parlor around the neighborhood. Annika named him ‘Hairy’ and didn’t like him upon the first impression since he got under her skin and wouldn’t stop pursuing her until she told him off. He is a big softie for kids and cats, as in the example of Kira and Kaz.

“He watched me in a way that made my heart speed up. “That’s not what I see.”
I met his eyes. “What do you see?”
“Snow. Cold and soft, the sum of an infinite number of beautiful pieces. And when the light hits just right, you shine.”
I had no words, my mind blank as my eyes hung on to his like a lifeline.”

― Joel & Annika, Tonic

Annika: executive producer of the upcoming reality tv show that Joel and his tattoo team is part of. She is the only daughter of Russian immigrant parents (Max and Dina), who escaped during the Cold War with the help of her Uncle Andre, part of the Russian mafia. She is a fur-mommy to Kaz, a 13-year-old rescued cat that found its way to Annika’s parent’s laundry shop’s dumpster when he was still a baby, and an aunt to Kira, who she shares a place with her cousin, Roxy.

She is as determined to pursue and succeed in the world of television and just finished working at a previous cut-throat reality tv series with Lacey, mentor and friend. She is starting to film a new series filmed in a tattoo shop, Tonic, where she meets Joel, the main owner of the shop. She is a dichotomy of personalities – a laid-back aunt at home AND a serious, no-nonsense executive producer at work. She compartmentalizes her job and functions well until Joel came into her life and turned it upside down.

“He watched me in a way that made my heart speed up.
“That’s not what I see.”
I met his eyes. “What do you see?”
“Snow. Cold and soft, the sum of an infinite number of beautiful pieces. And when the light hits just right, you shine.”
I had no words, my mind blank as my eyes hung on to his like a lifeline.’

― Joel and Annika, Tonic

The Start (Stop) of Something.

The chemistry and humor between Joel and Annika is kind of funny from the start. There’s so much “push and pull” going on that it gets a bit confusing since Annika would say something totally opposite to what she feels. I get it that since Annika is young so maybe all this “wishy-washy” mind is all because she’s attracted to an older man that’s totally opposite to what she’s exposed to in the past.

The relationship turned into something else by the time Annika really got into ‘terms’ with her relationship. I like how she opened up to her cousin, Roxy, and told her everything that made her concern with starting anything with Joel. It was very evident that they were so attracted to each other that they can ‘sense’ each other as they entered any room. Everyone in and out of the shop/show saw it but themselves or at the least, Annika who has been denying the connection from Day 1.

The Big Fallout.

I have to say that Joel acted very immaturely for a 38-year-old man, who runs a successful business. He seems to be very ignorant on how to act in the relationship department, which could probably account for the failure of his first marriage by sweeping/ignoring the problem through intercourse. He blows up in front of everyone (when he specifically told Annika, he wouldn’t do at the start) and blames Annika for lying to him. He was an uncontrollable freak and was not reasonable enough to listen to her side when he out-rightly told her to do what she needed to do to ‘get the job done’. I understand that it was wrong of Annika to leave it out but she was also instructed by her boss, Lacey, not to mention anything. I get also that she took it the wrong way with being intimate with Joel before the big reveal the next day and she was acting like it was ‘the end-of-the-world’ that made Joel lose his mind but Joel from the start, kept pushing himself towards her, if you read back. It was all a ‘me-me-me’ but nothing about them and her or the rest of the people around them.

Take for example: When Kaz died, it was nice of him to go to the funeral for Kira but when he told off Annika that he didn’t come for her, even if it’s true though so not(!), was inappropriate and wrong. Everyone was grieving and if only he asked her how Kaz died and realizing that it was Annika discovered Kaz dying beside her he would have been and should have been more respectful in front of everyone. I cried ugly on this part also since it was just wrong.

The Resolution.

Even after Annika came to apologize to Joel and ask his permission for a new proposal for the storyline of the shop, the whole outburst and ‘ultimatum’ are so alpha dominant (but in a more immature sense) got me all frustrated again. In all of this, I think Annika did the right thing to get everyone to continue with the show. She gave up her dreams for Joel…it’s a very mature action for a young lady.
Joel’s epiphany couldn’t have come at a better time. All the words and emotions that came all out – it was ‘passion puke’ – and it couldn’t be stopped by the time he was at Annika’s doorstep with a cute present. I also cried ugly in this part. Staci just gets it for me when things ‘right’ themselves in the end.


The Writing.

Overall, the story and plot were good. I can see Staci trying a different approach with the characters balancing totally hating to loving each other. I enjoyed the references of the 70s and present-day mesh-ups, especially with Joel’s tone-deaf singing vs Annika’s Elsa angelic voice. The comparison of the bear to the ice fox is good and I can better match their personalities with these spiritual animals for both of them.

Staci got me feeling things for the characters though not as deeply as her past characters. I was more frustrated with the ‘pushing-pulling’ that puts everything in a weird light immediately to feel and give into the relationship for the two main characters.


Staci has been a lot of things up to this point in her life: a graphic designer, an entrepreneur, a seamstress, a clothing and handbag designer, a waitress. Can’t forget that. She’s also been a mom to three little girls who are sure to grow up to break a number of hearts. She’s been a wife, even though she’s certainly not the cleanest, nor is she the best cook. She’s also super, duper fun at a party–especially if she’s been drinking whiskey–and her favorite word starts with f and ends with k.

From roots in Houston to a seven year stint in Southern California, Staci and her family ended up settling somewhere in between and equally north in Denver, where snow is magic and the mountains have become home. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, gaming, or designing graphics.

Living Out Loud/Love Notes (The Austens #4) by Staci Hart

Published: 30 January 2018
Type: Stand-alone, no cliffhanger
Author: Staci Hart
Series: The Austen Book 4
Read : 2 July 2020
Shelved : 2 July 2020
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A Love Notes is previously titled Living Out Loud.

The second Annie Daschle tumbles into my arms, I’m a goner.

When she asks if we’re hiring at Wasted Words, I can only say yes, even though we aren’t—it’s that early on that I realize I can’t say no to her. Not when she asks me to show her around New York, even though I already know I should stay away. Not when she asks if we’re friends because I want her so much more than that.
But she isn’t mine, and she never can be.
She’s ten years younger than me–fresh out of high school, never been kissed. She’s my employee, just a kid with a heart condition that’s stopped her from living out loud like she’s always wanted. She’s never dated, never had a boyfriend, never lived, and I can’t be the one to break her heart the first time. I can’t be the one to show her what could be.
But God, how I want to.
Within a few staggering heartbeats, Annie and I are caught in the middle of something we can’t find our way out of, with no clear answers and no rules. And the moment she’s in my arms again, I realize she can’t control her heart. Not the decisions it makes.
Not the moment it stops.

Inspired by Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility.


The Characters.
Annie Daschle is a young 18 year old child protege who was uprooted with her family from Texas to NYC to live with their estranged Uncle John’s help (mom’s brother), after her father’s death. She has a serious heart condition that unless treated may cut short her life. Given this, she is very mature for her age and is like an “old soul” in a body of a young lady. As a promise to herself, she navigates through adjusting in her new home to hopefully getting through her “bucket list” in the hopes that she will live long enough to finish them. Bringing her camera (from her dad) along for each step of her new life in NYC. Her love of music weaves through her blood and with her sisters, they all help out their sick mother in her wheelchair (from a car accident that killed their father) and get through another big life decision earlier than expected.

LIVING OUT LOUD—or Things Annie Daschle Has Never Done and Is Ready to Do Already
1) Get a job. A real job with a paycheck and coworkers and maybe even benefits.
2) See falling snow.
3) Make a snowman.
4) Have a picnic in Central Park.
5) Get a tattoo.
6) Meet a boy,
7) Who will take me on a real date,
8) And kiss me.
9) *And maybe be my boyfriend.

~ Annie’s list from Living Out Loud by Staci Hart

Greg Brandon is one of the managers of Wasted Words bookshop/bar where Annie applies to tick off one of the items on her list. Bumping into her at the door was Fate indeed. Greg is not the type of guy who wants commitment and has a realistic view on where he should place Annie in his life, even if the attraction is stronger than anything he’s experienced in the relationship department. For a guy who hardly looks at girls as just customers (based on the past books), Greg is somehow committed to helping Annie complete her list and stand by her in a lot of other things as the book progressed.

Uncle John and Aunt Susan are just lovely people. I can see the love between the couple and even to his sister. The backstory is mentioned on why they became estranged and this is also based from ultimatum given out by Annie’s grandparents to Uncle John and her mom that set the stage for everything.

The Plot.
This is a heavy one!
It’s a lot of pushing and pulling between a girl (Annie) and two boys (Greg and Will) ; a girl (Annie) and a boy (Greg), and life versus death (before and after surgery). It’s the typical good boy/bad boy conflict but the good boy, Greg, doing a lot of sacrificing and soul-searching, etc. I’m so glad that he did speak up in the middle of the book and quite this internal punishment to himself! He is older but I think the age gap is just right since Annie seems to be so grounded and mature in some ways.

I cannot fault Annie for all her actions and to be conflicted especially she’s still so young at 18. She still has to experience a lot before really knowing what she wants especially having to decide which guy is right for her. Her list is what makes everything so interesting and does give Greg a way into knowing her.

Her connection with William, although it seems to be ‘real’ in her head, but I can read through the writer’s subtle hints that it’s just all in her head and most likely to be “manipulating” her. I do appreciate William somehow growing up and making better decisions (versus his history with Greg’s sister which was horrific to learn) even if at the cost of being punched by Greg in the end.

I love how Annie finds beauty and fun in every little thing she does. She’s such a gifted pianist that I think that is a big chunk of why she perseveres and takes determined steps with her condition to be the best version of herself.

I really enjoyed the segment of Greg skateboarding with Annie at the back (which is on this book’s cover) and really made a lasting impression for the two main heroes.

“Be my very last first.”

– Annie Living Out Loud

The love story behind Annie’s mom and dad are echoes through the book and vibrates to the next generation that will help in the character development of Annie.

This book is a really good one…very Jane Austenest with all the running emotion with a modern twist to it and I really enjoyed it.

On another note: Elle & Ward’s story will be out soon in Pride and Papercuts, out in September 2020. Watch out for more details.


Staci Hart has been a lot of things up to this point in her life: a graphic designer, an entrepreneur, a seamstress, a clothing and handbag designer, a waitress. Can’t forget that. She’s also been a mom to three little girls who are sure to grow up to break a number of hearts. She’s been a wife, even though she’s certainly not the cleanest, nor is she the best cook. She’s also super, duper fun at a party–especially if she’s been drinking whiskey–and her favorite word starts with f and ends with k.

From roots in Houston to a seven year stint in Southern California, Staci and her family ended up settling somewhere in between and equally north in Denver, where snow is magic and the mountains have become home. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, gaming, or designing graphics.