The One That Got Away by Charlotte Rixon

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Date of Publication: August 15th, 2023

Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Fiction, Adult, Chick Lit, Contemporary Romance, Adult Fiction, Womens Fiction

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

Two years together.
Twenty years apart.
One day to change their story.

2000. Benjamin’s world is turned upside down the night he meets Clara. Instinctively, he knows that they are meant for each other, but a devastating mistake on their last night at university will take their lives in very different directions.

20 years later, Clara has a high-profile job and a handsome husband. But despite the trappings of success, she isn’t happy, and she knows that a piece of her heart still belongs to Benjamin, the boy she fell in love with years earlier. The boy whose life she fears she ruined.

When a bombing is reported in the city where they first met, Clara is pulled back to a place she tries not to remember and the first love she could never forget. Searching for Benjamin, Clara is forced to confront the events that tore them apart. But is it too late to put right what went wrong?

Across the miles and spanning decades, Charlotte Rixon’s The One That Got Away is a sweeping, poignant story about growing up, growing apart, the people who first steal our hearts, and the surprising, winding roads that love can take us on, for readers of Jill Santopolo, Rosie Walsh, and Colleen Hoover.

First Line:

It’s a hotter day than anyone anticipated for April and he’s sweating, but not just because of the heat.

The One That Got Away by Charlotte Rixon

When Benjamin met Clara at university, he knew she was the one. But, two years into their relationship, they are forced apart by a horrible and devastating mistake. That mistake takes Clara and Benjamin in different directions. Fast forward twenty years later, Clara, a successful journalist in an unhappy marriage, is shocked to hear about a bombing in the city where she and Benjamin first met. Rushing to the city, Clara doesn’t know if he is dead, alive, or injured. Will Clara find Benjamin? What happened that night twenty years ago? And who is the bomber, and why did that person target the football (soccer for Americans) stadium?

When I read the blurb for The One That Got Away, I was mildly intrigued. I like books that span decades, and I also like when those books are recent with characters around my age. That is why I decided to accept the St. Martin’s Press widget. But now that I have read it, I am very unimpressed.

The One That Got Away is a medium-paced book that is set in the city of Newcastle in, England. The storyline for this book moved slowly. That slowness kept making me lose interest, and I had to force myself to keep reading.

The storyline of The One That Got Away is centered around Clara and Benjamin. This storyline was chaotic. It was a dual POV storyline (Clara and Benjamin). That is not what bothered me. The author did clearly label the chapters. What bothered me was that it ping-ponged back and forth in time. One chapter would be in the early 2000s, the next in 2023, then the 2010s, and so on. I couldn’t get a handle on anything happening.

I couldn’t stand Clara. When she was first introduced, I thought she was a little immature but chalked it up to her age. But, as the author continued with the book, I disliked her. She came across, even in her 40s, as immature and selfish. She constantly lied to herself, her friends, husband, and Benjamin. She ruined the book for me.

On the flip side, I liked Benjamin. He got the short end of the stick when it came to Clara. I also felt he was made so oblivious by love that he was willing to overlook her behavior. When the mistake happened, and Clara cut ties with him, I pitied him. But, in a way, his life turned out so much better than Clara’s. My only fault with him is that he didn’t push Aiden after the party, and something was clearly wrong.

This book’s storylines with Benjamin and Clara are so chaotic that I will not start explaining or unraveling it. I found some more well-written than others. I also wish the mistake had been revealed sooner in the book instead of being talked about and around.

The bombing storyline was maybe the only straightforward one in the book, and it shocked me. I was wrong about who I thought it was. I also was heartbroken over why that person chose to do what they did. Looking back, it made sense. I just wished that Aiden had told someone sooner.

The end of The One That Got Away was a HEA. Clara was finally living her best life after cutting some dead weight out. I disagreed with the romantic angle, but hey, good for them. I also loved seeing how Aiden turned out!!

I would recommend The One That Got Away to anyone over 21. There is language, nongraphic sexual situations, and violence. There are references to childhood sexual abuse, alcoholism, child abandonment, cheating, and attempted rape.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, NetGalley, and Charlotte Rixon for allowing me to read and review The One That Got Away. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books like The One That Got Away, then you will enjoy these books:

Hello Stranger by Katherine Center

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Date of publication: July 11th, 2023

Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Fiction, Contemporary Romance, Womens Fiction, Adult, Adult Fiction

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | IndieBound | Indigo

Goodreads Synopsis:

Sadie Montogmery has had good breaks and bad breaks in her life, but as a struggling artist, all she needs is one lucky break. Things seem to be going her way when she lands one of the coveted finalist spots in a portrait competition. It happens to coincide with a surgery she needs to have. Minor, they say. Less than a week in the hospital they say. Nothing about you will change, they say. Upon recovery, it begins to dawn on Sadie that she can see everything around her, but she can no longer see faces.

Temporary, they say. Lots of people deal with this, they say. As she struggles to cope―and hang onto her artistic dreams―she finds solace in her fourteen-year-old dog, Peanut. Thankfully, she can still see animal faces. When Peanut gets sick, she rushes him to the emergency vet nearby. That’s when she meets veterinarian Dr. Addison. And she’s pleasantly surprised when he asks her on a date. But she doesn’t want anyone to know about her face blindness. Least of all Joe, her obnoxious neighbor who always wears a bowling jacket and seems to know everyone in the building. He’s always there at the most embarrassing but convenient times, and soon, they develop a sort of friendship. But could it be something more?

As Sadie tries to save her career, confront her haunting past, and handle falling in love with two different guys she realizes that happiness can be found in the places―and people― you least expect.

First Line:

The first person I called after I found out I’d placed in the North American Portrait Society’s huge career-making yearly contest was my dad.

Hello Stranger by Katherine Center

I am a vast Katherine Center fan. I have read almost all of her books and have loved them. So, when the publisher sent me an email inviting me to review Hello Stranger, I immediately accepted. And guess what? I loved it. I loved it so much that I gave it a rare 5-star review. This book did everything. It made me laugh and cry, and more importantly, it allowed me to connect with the characters.

Hello Stranger is a fast-paced book that takes place entirely in Houston, Texas. Almost all of Katherine Center’s takes place there, and I feel that she makes Houston an exciting place to live.

The plotline for Hello Stranger was unique. Before this book, I think I had only heard of face blindness mentioned on TV. And even then, I thought it was something the author made up. So, reading about it in this book (and googling it on my phone) made it fascinating.

Sadie is a struggling portrait artist living in a hovel on the roof of her best friend’s parent’s building. When a near accident reveals that she has a condition called cavernoma that requires immediate brain surgery, she declines. Earlier that day, Sadie had found out she had placed in a yearly contest that could be huge. But, given no choice (her mother died of the same thing), Sadie undergoes surgery only to discover that she has face blindness (prosopagnosia). To a portrait artist, this is career-ending, but Sadie decides to make the most of it. During this same time, she meets an enigmatic veterinarian when Peanut, her dog, suddenly gets sick. She also meets Joe, a resident in the building she lives in, who is happy to help Sadie when she needs it. Not disclosing her condition to them, Sadie starts dating and falling in love with both. With a deadline approaching and trying to choose between two men, Sadie must make a choice. Along the way, she also comes to terms with her estranged family and their choices. Can Sadie reconcile with her family? Who will she choose? Will she let Joe and the veterinarian know about her face blindness? And what about the contest? What sort of portrait will she paint?

The characters in Hello Stranger were well-written and wonderfully three-dimensional. Initially, I was not too fond of a couple of characters, but I liked them at the book’s end. The only character I consistently did not like was Parker. There was a particular sort of evilness to her, and it only amped up as the book went on.

  • Sadie—I loved her. She was one of the more authentic characters I have read in a book. She made me laugh (I annoyed my husband with the giggling I was doing), and she made me cry. But mostly laugh. I loved how she adapted to face blindness and used it in her art. I also loved how she was with Joe. I understood why she was so upset with her family, too. If I had been treated that way (being sent away to a special school for something that wasn’t even her fault), I would have had zero contact with them. It showed how forgiving (well, in a way, forgiving) she was. And I got her frustration with Parker. I wanted to punch that woman’s face (and I am not a violent person). She did some and said some unforgivable things to Sadie throughout the book.
  • Joe—Ok, so when I read that conversation that he was having about the overweight women who sat on his face and wouldn’t leave, I thought the same thing as Sadie. But, as I got to know him through the book, I started to like him. I thought he was good for Sadie. He even offered to help her with her portrait, which got pretty steamy for a minute. Then a lightbulb went off. I’m not going to say what, but I will say that it must have been confusing to him during a specific scene. I didn’t blame him for being angry.

Hello Stranger fits perfectly into the romance genre. I liked that the author took a more gradual approach to Sadie and Joe’s romance. There was no Instalove. Sadie didn’t like Joe because of the conversation I mentioned above. But, once the friendship turned to romance, it was awesome. What I also liked about this book is the author didn’t even mention that sex. Instead, the author had Sadie and Joe kiss a couple of times (and it was super hot), and the author kept it at that.

The storyline with Sadie, the contest, and her face blindness was well-written and well-researched. I loved seeing how Sadie tried to identify people (gait, hair, voice, personality). I also liked how the author incorporated it into the contest. I am not an artist (not even close to it) and had no clue how an artist with face blindness would use a grid to help paint people. But the author explained that (and I did a little research on my own).

The storyline with Sadie and her family was heartbreaking. It also made me extremely mad at her father and stepmother. I know her stepmother was trying to help during the book (and she did get brownie points for the dress) but believing Parker over Sadie was wrong. When overhearing what that witch said to her at the contest and what she did, I was furious for Sadie. I cried angry tears for her. Thankfully Sadie’s dad did hear and did try to set things right, but still. I had steam coming out of my ears. I hope Parker gets help (it sounds like she needs it).

The storyline with Sadie, Joe, and the veterinarian made me laugh. I figured everything out fairly early in the book. But it was fun to watch Sadie try to juggle two men. I winced during the breakup scene, and I felt so bad when Joe flipped out on Sadie. I 100% understood Joe’s anger and confusion (I would have been confused too). I did say (out loud), “This is why you tell people you have face blindness.

The end of Hello Stranger was what I expected it to be. Sadie and Joe got their HEA. But, more importantly, other things were also on the way to being healed. I was sad when the book ended because I wanted to see where Joe and Sadie were in 5 years.

I recommend Hello Stranger to anyone over 16. There is no sex (a couple of kissing scenes), mild language, and very mild violence.

I want to thank Saint Martin’s Press and Katherine Center for allowing me to read and review Hello Stranger. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you liked reading Hello Stranger, you will enjoy these books:

No Two Persons by Erica Bauermeister

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Date of publication: May 2nd, 2023

Genre: Fiction, Books about Books, Contemporary, Literary Fiction, Adult, Adult Fiction, Womens Fiction, Short Stories, Novel

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

One book. Nine readers. Ten changed lives. New York Times bestselling author Erica Bauermeister’s No Two Persons is “a gloriously original celebration of fiction, and the ways it deepens our lives.”

That was the beauty of books, wasn’t it? They took you places you didn’t know you needed to go…

Alice has always wanted to be a writer. Her talent is innate, but her stories remain safe and detached, until a devastating event breaks her heart open, and she creates a stunning debut novel. Her words, in turn, find their way to readers, from a teenager hiding her homelessness, to a free diver pushing himself beyond endurance, an artist furious at the world around her, a bookseller in search of love, a widower rent by grief. Each one is drawn into Alice’s novel; each one discovers something different that alters their perspective, and presents new pathways forward for their lives.

Together, their stories reveal how books can affect us in the most beautiful and unexpected of ways—and how we are all more closely connected to one another than we might think.

First Line:

The story on Alice’s computer screen had been finding its way into words for more than five years, or maybe forever.

No Two Persons (The Writer) by Erica Bauermeister

No Two Persons is a story about how one book can change someone’s life. It follows the lives of Alice, the author, and nine people who read her book, Theo. It details how Theo changed or helped change each person’s life (for better or worse). An emotional read, No Two Persons will get under your skin and make you wonder: How many lives will this book affect?

The plotline for No Two Persons initially follows Alice, the author of Theo. It explains her background (distant parents, death of an older brother from an overdose) and how she wanted to write but felt she couldn’t. It wasn’t until college, and an observant professor, that Alice finally throws off her parents’ expectations and writes Theo. After that, the plotline goes from prepublication (when Alice was searching for a publisher) to her ARC reader to her readers and then back in a circle to the publisher.

I won’t lie and say I wasn’t affected by this book because I was. I found a connection with every single character. The ones that stood out to me the most were the new mother (who worked for the publisher), the free driver, and the homeless teenager. I could see a bit of myself in each of those characters.

I liked that the book did interconnect the stories. I didn’t realize, at first, that they were interconnected until almost the end of the book. Then I briefly reread, and a lightbulb went over my head. This book also went full circle. It started and ended with Alice.

I would recommend No Two Persons to anyone over 21. There is language, mild violence, and sexual situations.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, NetGalley, and Erica Bauermeister for allowing me to read and review No Two Persons. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoyed reading this review of No Two Persons, then you will enjoy reading these books:

Other books by Erica Bauermeister:

Another Chance at Happiness by Dani Phoenix

4 Stars

Publisher: Dani Phoenix

Date of publication: August 24th, 2022

Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Women’s Fiction

Trigger Warnings: Cheating, Divorce, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, physical child abuse, video game addiction, attempted parental alienation

Purchase Links: Kindle | B&N | Kobo

Goodreads Synopsis:

Newly independent after a long-awaited divorce from an emotionally abusive husband, LELA is finally following her dreams. She reaches out to her former lover, NATHAN, to inspect her potential B&B purchase. Months later, he appears with startling news of his own impending divorce. Lela grabs at this chance to be with him but soon discovers her insecurities, his guilt, his wife’s underhanded manipulations, and his family’s firm feelings about his marriage and their relationship threaten their chance at happiness.

Trapped in an unfulfilling marriage with a wife who criticizes and rejects him, Nathan struggles with pride and feelings of failure both as a husband and as a father. He willingly sacrifices his own happiness for his boys and his faith; however, the sudden revelation of his wife’s own infidelity gives him the push he needs to seek out his own happiness, with Lela.

First Line:

Rolling the stem of her martini glass between her fingers, Lela readjusted her legs, tucking her left underneath her right.

Another Chance at Happiness by Dani Phoenix

Lela is happy to start over after her divorce from her husband. Running a bed and breakfast has always been a dream of hers. When the property needs inspection, Lela immediately thinks of her ex-lover, Nathan, and contracts him to do the job. What she wasn’t expecting, or wanting, was her feelings for Nathan to return or for them to start a relationship again.

Nathan is struggling. He is married to a woman who constantly puts him down and criticizes everything he does. Nathan feels he has failed in his duty as a father, a husband, and a Christian. He is unwilling to divorce since it goes against his religion, and he feels stuck. The only time Nathan truly felt himself was when he was with Lela. So when he discovers his wife has been cheating on him and she wants a divorce, he thinks he can start a relationship with Lela. As Lela and Nathan get closer, the more Nathan’s ex-wife tries to drive a wedge between them. Will Nathan and Lela ever get their shot at happiness? Or will Nathan’s family and ex-wife succeed in ruining their happiness forever?

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I started reading Another Chance at Happiness. From the blurb, I knew it was a second-chance romance with Christian themes. I wasn’t expecting this book to affect me so much. I was in tears for more than half the book because I could relate to what Nathan’s children were going through. I was also in tears for Lela because she got the short end of the stick in everything.

There are trigger warnings in Another Chance at Happiness. They are:

  1. Cheating— Nathan and Lela cheated on their spouses with each other and other people (on and off page). Lela’s husband cheated on her (which led to their divorce and off page), and Nathan’s wife cheated on Nathan (on page).
  2. Divorce—Lela has been divorced from her husband for a while (off-page). Nathan is separated from his wife at the beginning of the book and is waiting for her to sign the papers (on page).
  3. Verbal AbuseLela’s mother verbally abused her when she was younger (on page but through memory). Her husband verbally abused her and her children (off-page). Nathan’s wife and father verbally abused Nathan (both off and on page).
  4. Emotional AbuseLela’s mother emotionally abused her (on page but through memory). Nathan’s wife emotionally abused him (off and on page).
  5. Physical Child AbuseLela’s mother physically abused her (on page but through memory).
  6. Video Game AddictionLela’s husband was addicted to playing video games and would neglect his kids while Lela was out (on page but through memory)
  7. Attempted Parental Alienation—Throughout the book, Nathan’s wife tries to alienate his children from him (on and off page). At one point in the book, Nathan’s family joins in (off-page).

If any of these triggers you, I suggest not reading the book.

Another Chance at Happiness is a medium to a fast-paced book set in Colorado. About 90% of this book takes place in Lela’s bed and breakfast, with some scenes set in the Rockies and at Nathan’s house.

This book deals with serious issues, and the author wastes no time diving in. The main storyline centers around Lela and Nathan’s relationship (past and present), Nathan’s relationship with his wife, and Lela running her bed and breakfast. The author doesn’t hide or make excuses for Nathan and Lela’s past relationship or how it ended. The way she presented it was two unhappy people looking for happiness. But I did lift an eyebrow at how they connected. Come on, Craigslist? Lela and Nathan’s relationship was very rocky in the past and the present. Mainly because Nathan’s ex-wife was playing games with him. Poor Nathan felt he had to walk on eggshells around her because she threatened to pull visitation with his sons.

I couldn’t believe how awful Nathan’s wife was. She completely tore this guy down to the point where he didn’t have self-esteem (the body hair comments hurt me to read). Now, Nathan was a cheater, but his wife acted awful. She conveniently forgot that she cheated too, and not only that but she got caught. She was nasty towards Lela (the voice messages and the false reviews left on her B&B’s site) and would flex her control over the kids and Nathan. I seriously wanted to punch her. But she crossed the line when she got Nathan’s family involved. That was the nastiest, most uncomfortable Thanksgiving scene I have ever read. It was followed up by Nathan’s sister’s visit to Lela, and the ultimation Lela was given.

I also couldn’t get over how willing Nathan’s wife was to use their children as pawns. She would undermine everything Nathan did and try to erase any relationship Nathan wanted with his boys. Nathan refused to say anything bad about their mother in from of his boys. But Nasty McNastyton didn’t hesitate, and it caused significant issues with Nathan’s older son. Again, I wanted to punch her.

I did like Lela. She was very open about admitting her past mistakes (including how she met Nathan). She stayed in an abusive relationship so her kids could grow up with two parents – which you shouldn’t do. Kids always know if their parents are unhappy, and Lela’s three adult children knew. She did love Nathan, but she should have known that Nathan’s wife would go nuclear once she found out about their relationship (past and present). After that disastrous Thanksgiving and its repercussions, I didn’t blame her for what she did. I would have done the same.

I liked Nathan, but I felt that he was a hot mess. He shouldn’t have entered a relationship with Lela so soon after discovering his wife’s cheating. It just made things so much more complicated. He was a good father, though, which is the only reason he agreed to make things work with his wife. But I wouldn’t say I liked that he used Lela (and yes, he did), and I didn’t think Lela deserved him until the last part of the book. When the Thanksgiving disaster happened, he did NOTHING to defend her.

What I liked most about this book is it’s messy and raw. While I might not have agreed with how Nathan and Lela did things, it worked for them. My only complaint is that the Christian angle got a little much towards the end of the book, not with Lela (I would class her more as spiritual) but with Nathan. If you are miserable in your relationship and the other person is just as miserable, end it!!!! But I know that divorce is frowned upon in some Christian religions, and I got why Nathan stayed.

A couple of twists in Another Chance at Happiness happened at the end of the book. One, I did see coming, but I figured it wouldn’t happen. The other twist occurred shortly after. While I was happy it happened, I almost didn’t want it to, mainly because that person had gone on with their life and was learning to be happy again.

I would recommend Another Chance at Happiness to anyone over 21. There are language, violence, and sexual situations. Also, see the trigger warning list above.

Many thanks to Novel Cause and Dani Phoenix for allowing me to read and review Another Chance at Happiness. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoyed reading this review of Another Chance at Happiness, then you will enjoy reading these books:

The Second You’re Single by Cara Tanamachi

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin

Date of publication: January 31st, 2023

Genre: Romance, Contemporary Romance, Contemporary, Womens Fiction, Chick Lit, Fiction, Humor, Adult, Adult Fiction

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | Alibris | Powells | IndieBound | Indigo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

Cheerfully irreverent, bitingly funny, and filled with romantic charm, The Second You’re Single is all about navigating the most romantic month of the year, and how love always seems to arrive when you least expect it.

Freelance writer Sora Reid believes in inertia. She’s the odd one out in a close-knit family of go-getters, including her Japanese-American mom, who hints about her need to lose weight, and her soon-to-be married, overachieving younger sister, who needs her to have a date for the wedding, since a wedding party couples’ dance with their Scottish great uncle Bob simply won’t do. For Sora, minimal input, minimal expectations is the way to go. She’d rather stay at home with her insufferable neighbor and her adorable pitbull.

The one thing that disrupts her inertia: an intense dislike for Valentine’s Day. What is it with the commercial love machine? Why do we pin our hopes on one romantic day, when staying home with a package of bacon and a bottle of tequila would be way better? Sora’s been betrayed and disappointed more than once and her heart is starting to feel like her Grandma Mitsuye’s antique Japanese ceramic bowl, with its many gold-filled cracks.

When her pledge to stay single in February inspires readers to #gosolo, Sora has a responsibility to empower her readers. But relationships aren’t built to last, so it shouldn’t be that hard. Right?

Enter Jack Mann. A muscle-bound baker who looks like he lifts logs on the weekends, Sora hasn’t thought of Jack since they were in elementary school together. When they see each other at the local grocery store and the attraction hits hard, Sora knows she has to shut it down, quick. She can’t #gosolo AND get the guy. She can’t let down her readers. And relationships always end, so why should Jack be any different–even though he’s confounding all her long-held expectations of love?

First Line:

Valentine’s Day has snuck up on me like a porch pirate.

The Second You’re Single by Cara Tanamachi

When I first read the blurb for The Second You’re Single, I didn’t like it. I am not a huge Valentine’s Day fan, but I am not an all-out hater. So I sat on this invite for a while. I wanted to make sure that I wanted to read a book about a bitter woman complaining about Valentine’s Day. I was confident and glad I did because this book was nothing like I thought it would be. It wasn’t a book about a bitter woman complaining about Valentine’s Day, that’s for sure.

Before I get into the review, I want to let you know that this book has several trigger warnings. They are body shaming (multiple people shame Sora about her weight throughout the book), fatphobia (ex’s new girlfriend and Jack’s ex both make comments), miscarriage (Sora and her ex), cancer (Jack’s niece had leukemia as a toddler), cheating (both Jack and Sora’s exes cheated on them. Also Sora’s sister gets cheated on by her fiancee), bullying (Jack was severely bullied by classmates growing up, Sora experienced online bullying towards the end of the book), death of a parent (Sora’s father dies before the book starts but she is still working through grief), verbal abuse (Sora’s father verbally abused them), neglect and its repercussions (Jack’s ex), stalking (Jack’s ex), and depression (Sora). If any of these trigger you, I recommend not reading this book.

The storyline for The Second You’re Single was funny and interesting. Sora had just found out that her ex was lying to her. He was married with children….not the single DJ she was led to believe. Disillusioned with men and the holiday that caters only to people in relationships, Sora writes an article for the online magazine she works for promoting #gosolo for February. What she wasn’t expecting was how much it resonated with people. She wasn’t expecting Jack to walk into her life right as #gosolo took off, and she certainly wasn’t expecting to fall in love with him. Can Sora keep her promise to her readers about going solo for the month of February? Will she be able to keep her relationship with Jack under wraps? What about Jack’s blonde model ex-girlfriend? Will Sora be able to compete with her?

The Second You’re Single was a fast-paced, hilarious romance that takes place in Chicago. Let me clarify that it takes place in winter in Chicago. I was cold even reading this book.

The characters in The Second You’re Single were well-written. I was able to connect with all of them, even the “villains” (aka Jack’s ex and Sora’s neighbor). Some characters I wished had more page time, and others I wished were scaled back.

  • Sora—While I loved her character, I thought she was a hot mess for most of the book. I did think that she was depressed for a good part of the book, and guess what? She had reason to be. She had a tough few years with some awful things happening to her. I would have been surprised if she wasn’t depressed. She couldn’t trust her feelings when it came to Jack (because his ex was semi-stalking him), and she needed to be single until March 1st. Again, I wasn’t surprised when everything blew up in her face. But it was after that made me impressed with her. Oh, and her love of bacon. I think she and my 9-year-old would get along great. She also cut through the BS when it came to her sister. But I wish that it had been sooner.
  • Jack–Did he have his issues? He did. He comes across as too needy and a little desperate at the beginning of the book. He was also too kind to his ex. He took everything that woman did with grace and understanding; that was amazing. I also liked that he understood Sora’s situation with solo February. But I didn’t think he got how big it was until he was forced to the side and hidden away. I didn’t blame him for feeling the way he did. I would have done the same thing.

The Second You’re Single fits perfectly into the romance genre. It was a friends-to-lovers trope with a healthy dose of Instalove thrown in. I am not a fan of Instalove but I did like it in this case. Because Sora and Jack knew each other in elementary school (Sora was Jack’s only friend, and she stood up for him against bullies), Jack loved her back then. So, it wasn’t hard for me to imagine them falling for each other within a few weeks of their meeting. Oh, let’s not forget the comedy angle of this book too. I was dying laughing at the one-liners that Sora had.

The storyline with Sora, Jack, their relationship, the #gosolo challenge, and Jack’s ex was interesting. I didn’t know how anything would end except Sora and Jack’s relationship. As I said above, I thought Jack was too nice to his ex, and it did come back to bite him in the butt, big time. Their breakup wasn’t unexpected (it happens in all romances), but what was unexpected was Sora’s come to Jesus moment with her best friend (who is a therapist) after. Everything said was true, and I liked that Sora took what she said to heart. The #gosolo challenge was fun, and I could see it happening in real life (maybe it has?).

There were several secondary storylines that I enjoyed reading. There are some that I hope the author follows up on (Jack has several unmarried brothers and Sora has a sister).

The end of The Second You’re Single was your typical HEA. I was surprised at who was instrumental in pushing Sora and Jack back together. But, considering what happened and the talk this person had with Jack, I should have seen it coming. I loved seeing Sora and Jack’s changes, both together and separately. But, it was the scene on the playground that got me. I was laughing and crying at once.

I recommend The Second You’re Single to anyone over 21. There are sexual scenes and situations, language, and mild violence. Also, see my trigger warnings above.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin, NetGalley, and Cara Tanamachi for allowing me to read and review The Second You’re Single. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoyed reading this review of The Second You’re Single, then you will enjoy reading these books:

A Guide to Being Just Friends (Jansen Brothers: Book 3) by Sophie Sullivan

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin

Date of publication: January 17th, 2023

Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Contemporary Romance, Adult, Fiction, Womens Fiction, Chick Lit, Audiobook, Adult Fiction, Clean Romance

Series: Jansen Brothers

Ten Rules for Faking It—Book 1

How to Love Your Neighbor—Book 2 (review here)

A Guide to Being Just Friends—Book 3

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | Alibris | Powells | IndieBound | Indigo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

A playful and emotional romantic comedy from the author of Ten Rules for Faking It

Hailey Sharp has a one-track mind. Get By the Cup salad shop off the ground. Do literally everything possible to make it a success. Repeat. With a head full of entrepreneurial ideas and a bad ex in her rearview, her one and only focus is living life the way she wants to. No distractions.

Wes Jansen never did understand the fuss about relationships. With a string of lackluster first dates and the pain from his parents’ angry divorce following him around, he’d much rather find someone who he likes, but won’t love. Companionship, not passion, is the name of the game.

When Hailey and Wes find each other in a disastrous meet cute that wasn’t even intended for them, they embarrassingly go their separate ways. But when Wes finds Hailey to apologize for his behavior, they strike a friendship. Because that’s all this can be. Hailey doesn’t want any distractions. Wes doesn’t want to fall in love.

What could possibly go wrong?

First Line:

Salad paid the bills. At least, it was supposed to.

A Guid to Being Just Friends by Sophie Sullivan

I’ll admit this; I didn’t read the blurb when I accepted the invite from St. Martin’s Press. I saw the title and the cover (in the widget email they sent) and made my decision from that. To be clear, I rarely accept books based on the title and/or cover. So, I was a little hesitant when I saw it next on my reading schedule. But, once I realized what series this book was a part of, I was excited to read it.

A Guide to Being Just Friends is the 3rd (and final) book in the Jansen Brothers series. While readers can read this as a standalone, I recommend reading the first two books before picking this one up. I recommend this so you, as a reader, can understand some of the relationships discussed in this book.

There are some trigger warnings that I want to warn you about in this book. Hailey (the main character) is fresh out of an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship. In one scene, her ex tries (and stress tries) to verbally abuse and manhandle her, but Wes stops it. Wes’s parents are divorced, and Hailey’s family is dysfunctional (her parents love each other and ignore her). If any of these triggers you, I recommend not reading this book.

A Guide to Being Just Friends is a medium to fast-paced book that takes place entirely in San Verde, California. The pacing of the book fluctuates during it.

As mentioned above, A Guide to Being Just Friends is Wes and Hailey’s love story. Hailey has just opened a restaurant that only serves salad (By the Cup) and is focused only on getting it off the ground and making money. She has no room for a relationship or wants one after what her ex-boyfriend has done to her. Wes couldn’t agree more with her. He is still dealing with the wounds of his parent’s divorce and has been on several not-so-great first dates. All he wants is companionship. So meeting Hailey and developing feelings for her was not part of his master plan (the same goes for Hailey). While being in a relationship is not in the cards for either of them, they will settle for being just friends. But their feelings grow, and being just friends is starting to sound not so great. Will Hailey and Wes wake up and see that the person they want the most is standing in front of them? Or will they forever be just friends?

I like going into a book and knowing at least one of the characters. For me (and I don’t know about you), it made connecting with the other main characters easier. I also liked seeing a different side of that character than what was portrayed in other books.

  • Hailey: I liked her. She was super focused on getting her business off the ground and wouldn’t let anything or anyone distract her. She was also one of the sweetest people in the book and didn’t deserve the treatment she got from her parents, ex-boyfriend, and Ana. I also liked that she overcame all the self-doubt and self-esteem issues that her ex gave her. Of course, since this is a romance, I wanted to shake her when it came to Wes. But I understood why she was holding herself back.
  • Wes—I was talking about him in the above paragraph. I liked seeing little glimpses of him in the previous two books. I did have a view of him from what I read. So it was nice for that view to be expanded and for how he acted explained. Wes had a lot on his plate, a lot of pressure from his father and Ana (the CEO of a company he’s trying to buy). Plus, he had awful luck on the relationship front. The blind dates the author showed were horrible. I did like his character growth, though. By the end of the book, he wasn’t afraid to do what was right for him (and yes, that involved Ana and her meddling ways!!)

The secondary characters were interesting. They should be since they were all previous characters in the other two books. A couple of new characters were introduced (Hailey’s cousin and her group of friends), and I hope the author decides to create another series in this world. I would love to see some of those people get their HEAs!!

A Guide to Being Just Friends fits perfectly into the romance genre. I liked that this romance took months to ignite and just as long to get off the ground. I love those types of romances. They seem more genuine, and (because I am a weirdo) I can picture them lasting in real life.

There is sex in A Guide to Being Just Friends. But it isn’t graphic. The author sets the mood, starts the sexual encounter, and ends the chapter. The next chapter is the following day with a satisfied hero and heroine. I am a fan of smut and graphic sex scenes, but sometimes it is nice to let my imagination do what it does best. And it did its best in this book. Also, there were only a couple of sex scenes.

The main storyline is Wes and Hailey’s romance. As I said, the author made this into a slow-burn romance, and I liked it. She also made it as realistic as possible. Hailey and Wes went through what I considered the usual ebb and flow until everything exploded. There was only one thing that I disagreed with: Ana. She was a vindictive, nasty person. What she did to Hailey (and let’s not forget what she tried to do) was pretty low.

Several secondary storylines enriched the main storyline. The secondary storyline that stands out to me the most was the landlord raising the rent on the apartments and shops where Hailey had her business. I loved how the author kept me wondering what would happen there and then melded it into the main storyline. It was perfect!!

The end of A Guide to Being Just Friends made me an emotional mess. I cried during the big reveal scene. I was mad because of what Hailey assumed was happening between Ana and Wes. I was happy because that assumption wasn’t true. And the epilogue. It was freaking perfect!!! I couldn’t have asked for a better epilogue than that.

I would recommend A Guide to Being Just Friends to anyone over 21. There is language, mild violence, and very mild sex scenes. Also, see my content warning above.

I want to thank St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin, NetGalley, and Sophie Sullivan for allowing me to read and review A Guide to Being Just Friends. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoyed reading A Guide to Being Just Friends, then you will enjoy reading these books:

The Rom-Com Agenda by Jayne Denker

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin

Date of publication: January 10th, 2023

Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Adult, Fiction, Contemporary Romance, Adult Fiction, Womens Fiction, Chick Lit

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | Alibris | Powells | IndieBound | Indigo | BetterWorldBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

A Most Anticipated Romance by PopSugar!

Vibrantly funny, endearingly sweet, and a love letter to all things rom com, Jayne Denker’s The Rom Com Agenda is a story of two people finding love right when they least expect it.

You know how the story’s supposed to go…but love makes its own plans.

STEP 1: Find yourself
Leah Keegan is used to being alone, especially after taking care of her sick foster mother for the past year. But now there’s nothing keeping her in the sweet town of Willow Cove. It’s time to move on. Again.

STEP 2: Win back the one who got away
Eli Masterson thought he and Victoria were meant to be together until she decided to jet off to Rome for a year. Eli is determined to win her back. But how?

STEP 3: Become a romantic hero
Changing Eli’s physical appearance is easy, but to turn Eli into the sophisticated-yet-vulnerable ideal man, his girl pals force him to watch classic rom-coms. And take notes.

STEP 4: Fall in love?
Inadvertently drawn into the makeover scheme, Leah ends up being Eli’s guide through the wild world of meet-cutes and grand gestures. Even though she believes Eli doesn’t need to change a thing about himself. Even though she just might be falling for Eli . . . and Eli falling for her.

“The perfect swoony, slow burn, sentimental romantic comedy that we all deserve .” –New York Times bestselling author Jenn McKinlay

First Line:

Leah Keegan was positive she was not meant to be a superhero.

The Rom-Com Agenda by Jayne Denker

Even though I like (and love) other genres, romance is the backbone of my reading experience. I was hooked when I started reading Harlequin book of the month romances in middle school. I also love rom-com. If I am in a bad mood or feeling blah, I can turn on Netflix and find many of them. So, when I got the invite to review from the publisher, I didn’t hesitate to accept it. But I was disappointed with The Rom-Com Agenda. Not that I didn’t like it (I did). The story fell short of my expectations.

The Rom-Com Agenda is a medium-paced book set in upstate New York. Leah had returned to Willow Creek to care for her sick foster mother. Now that her foster mother passed, Leah is at a loss for what to do. She holds multiple jobs, trying to make ends meet, when she overheard a disastrous proposal and break-up. Leah meets that man, Eli, when his sister and her friends are determined to give him a makeover and goes into the shop where Leah works. Leah is welcomed into the group by everyone (including Eli) and learns that Eli is determined to win back his girlfriend. That is when the Rom-Com agenda is formed. Eli must watch every rom-com movie the girls recommend to him to become a swoon-worthy man. They hope that he will learn something from them. Leah volunteers to watch them with him, and a connection is formed. Leah starts to fall for Eli, but she knows she is on limited time. Her foster mother’s son is coming back to town to sell the house, and Leah won’t have a place to stay. So, falling in love is the last thing on her agenda. Will Eli learn anything from the movies? Will Leah have to leave Willow Creek? And most importantly, will Leah and Eli admit their feelings for each other?

I loved the secondary characters and Leah in The Rom-Com Agenda. They were fleshed out, and I did form an attachment to them. The main characters were tough to like. Well, not Leah. She was sweet and reserved. It was Eli, and I’ll explain it in his section below. Let’s say that desperate is never good and comes off poorly.

  • Leah—She was a sweetheart. I wanted to scoop her up and shield her from the bad things in the world. I also couldn’t believe how reserved she was. I get why. I’m not going to get into her backstory, but it was excruciating and affected how she thought other people saw her. She decided to help Eli because she was a kind person and knew he was hurting. I loved seeing her character grow and understand her self-worth.
  • Eli—I couldn’t stand him. He is the reason why I rated this book three stars. He came across as desperate. What he did to Victoria (his ex) was not cool. They had only been dating for maybe two months when she went to Rome for a year. What did Eli do? He proposed marriage and then refused to accept the break-up. I was like, “what the heck, dude?” When his sister and friends decide to make him over (to help him get over her), he obsesses over her. I couldn’t even with him. I wanted to smack him and say, “Helloo, Leah, idiot.” This went on for almost the whole book.

The Rom-Com Agenda did fit into the romance genre, but it was slow-burn. The author went for a more relaxed, natural feel for the romance. While I did appreciate it, I sometimes wished it moved a little faster. But, overall, it was a good fit for the book.

The storylines in The Rom-Com Agenda felt a little meh to me. I was not too fond of that pseudo-love triangle in which the author tried to put Eli, Leah, and Victoria. As I mentioned above, it came across as forced and super creepy on Eli’s end. I did like the storyline where Eli’s friends tried to help him out of his depression, but I did find it odd that they wanted him to watch rom-com instead of him diving back into the world of dating. As for the storyline with Eli and Leah, I did like that one. It was sweet to watch them fall in love (even if Eli didn’t admit it to himself and kept obsessing over freaking Victoria).

There were a couple of trigger warnings in The Rom-Com Agenda. They were the death of a loved one by cancer, mental illness, foster care, and caregiver burnout. If any of these triggers you, I recommend not reading this book.

The end of The Rom-Com Agenda was your typical HEA. I liked that Eli and Leah got their HEA. I would love to see more books in this world. There are several characters that I would like to see more of.

I recommend The Rom-Com Agenda to anyone over 21. There is mild violence, mild language, and very mild sexual situations. Also, see my trigger warnings above.

If you enjoyed reading The Rom-Com Agenda, then you will enjoy reading these books: