Thursday, September 24, 2020

Isn't It Romantic?: The Sequel Edition

Well Played

Jen DeLuca
Series:Well Met, #2
Age/Genre: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Berkley
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Another laugh-out-loud romantic comedy featuring kilted musicians, Renaissance Faire tavern wenches, and an unlikely love story.

Stacey is jolted when her friends Simon and Emily get engaged. She knew she was putting her life on hold when she stayed in Willow Creek to care for her sick mother, but it's been years now, and even though Stacey loves spending her summers pouring drinks and flirting with patrons at the local Renaissance Faire, she wants more out of life. Stacey vows to have her life figured out by the time her friends get hitched at Faire next summer. Maybe she'll even find The One.

When Stacey imagined "The One," it never occurred to her that her summertime Faire fling, Dex MacLean, might fit the bill. While Dex is easy on the eyes onstage with his band The Dueling Kilts, Stacey has never felt an emotional connection with him. So when she receives a tender email from the typically monosyllabic hunk, she's not sure what to make of it.

Faire returns to Willow Creek, and Stacey comes face-to-face with the man with whom she’s exchanged hundreds of online messages over the past nine months. To Stacey's shock, it isn't Dex—she's been falling in love with a man she barely knows.
It's been five years since Stacey's mother got sick and she put her life on hold. Five years since she had any real direction. Working at a placeholder job, living in her parents' garage apartment, and having no real romantic prospects, she sends a "drunk text" to her Faire hook-up. To her surprise, he responds, and she finds herself falling in love with him via their months long exchange. Imagine her dismay when she eagerly awaits his return only to find her suitor is NOT who she thought he was. 

It was so wonderful to return to the Faire! Being in this world is always a treat, and though there were a few changes, here and there, it still held the same magic as it did in the previous book, Well Met. Not only did we get to return to all the ladies and lords of Willow Creek, but we got to attend a wedding! I don't know about you, but I love when the author incorporates previous couples in a companion series, and it was fun to catch up with everyone again. 

What's notable about both of DeLuca's books is that they are not just about the romance, but also about the heroine's personal journey. As I mentioned, Stacey felt stuck and left behind. Her friends were getting married and having babies, and well, she had a cat. I won't pretend I couldn't relate, because I could. I appreciated her struggle with making changes in her life, and also proving to herself that she wasn't who everyone thought she was. That there was a lot more to her, and she just had to believe that about herself. I found I was really proud of Stacey and how much she grew in this story, and it was quite satisfying seeing her making so much personal progress. 

Let's not forget the romance! I don't want to reveal too much here, though to be honest, I was able to guess the identity of the suitor. Still, I am staying mum on his name, but I will say that I adored him! At first, I wasn't sure about him for multiple reasons, but it was easy to see that he viewed Stacey with hearts in his eyes. He was so sweet, and he more or less owned me even before his identity was confirmed. I thought his written correspondence was fabulous, but he was also charming in person. I already mentioned Stacey's growth, but I thought these two grew a lot together as well. 

This book also did a great job getting me excited about the next couple. It was easy to see what was happening between them, and when my suspicions were confirmed, I might have done a little happy dance. Is it wrong that I keep hoping DeLuca will expand the list of main players? I enjoy this world so much and cannot imagine it ending with the next book. (Are you listening, Jen DeLuca?)

Regardless, it was a treat getting to watch one of our favorite wenches fall in love and get her life on track. The trifecta of laugh, smile, and swoon was met, and I finished this book with a huge smile on my face. 

Tools of Engagement

Tessa Bailey
Series: Hot & Hammered, #3
Age/Genre: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Avon
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Hair, makeup, clothing, decor... everything in Bethany Castle's world is organized, planned, and styled to perfection. Which is why the homes she designs for her family's real estate business are the most coveted in town. The only thing not perfect? Her track record with men. She's on a dating hiatus and after helping her friends achieve their dreams, Bethany finally has time to focus on her own: flip a house, from framework to furnishings, all by herself. Except her older brother runs the company and refuses to take her seriously.

When a television producer gets wind of the Castle sibling rivalry, they’re invited on Flip Off, a competition to see who can do the best renovation. Bethany wants bragging rights, but she needs a crew and the only member of her brother's construction team willing to jump ship is Wes Daniels, the new guy in town. His Texas drawl and handsome face got under Bethany's skin on day one, but the last thing she needs is some cocky young cowboy in her way.

As the race to renovate heats up, Wes and Bethany are forced into close quarters, trading barbs and biting banter as they remodel the ugliest house on the block. It's a labor of love, hate, and everything in between, and soon sparks are flying. But Bethany's perfectly structured life is one kiss away from going up in smoke and she knows falling for a guy like Wes would be a flipping disaster.

In Tessa Bailey’s latest rom-com, two enemies team up to flip a house... and the sparks between them might burn the place down or ignite a passion that neither can ignore!
I have been impatiently awaiting this romance since I got a peek at these two in the previous book, Love Her or Leave Her. Just those glimpses of sexy cowboy Wes riling up prim and proper Bethany was enough to convince me they would be a winning combination. They had an abundance of chemistry and sparks between them, but what really got me aboard this ship, was the depth of their understanding of one another. 

This was a May-December romance - Bethany 30 years old, while Wes was only 23. I had reservations at first, not necessarily because there was an age difference, but when I think of a 23 year old man, he's not usually looking to settle down. Wes, however, was much older than his chronological age. He had to grow up fast due to bouncing around the foster care system his whole life and caring for his oft troubled younger sister.  You could say he was wise beyond his years, but it wasn't just that. Stepping in to care for his niece, Laura, when her mother up and disappeared, made him realize there was more to life than parties and one-night stands. The kid claimed his heart and made him want more, made him believe he deserved more and could have more. [Yes, I am tearing up right now.]

Then we had Bethany,  the "perfect" Castle. From the outside, she appeared to have it all together, but that image didn't quite line up with reality. Fearing that people would see through her shiny veneer, she held them at arm's length, never allowing herself to make any deep connections. The shell she kept around herself was quite fortified, but Wes just kept chipping away at it until it cracked. I could actually hear the cracks forming during their interactions, and they were some of the most beautiful and tender moments of this book. 

I also have to mention how great a well-placed little kid can make a story. Laura was spectacular. So sweet, cute, and adorable, she often stole the show and definitely melted my heart. I know some people may think that her storyline would weigh down this rom-com a bit, but for me, it just gave it more heart. I saw Laura as diving force for Wes and Bethany. Having her in their lives pushed them to view things in a different light, and it helped propel them towards making some meaningful life changes. 

I really adored this couple. It was beautiful watching them find a "home" in each other. A safe place, where they could be themselves and not worry that it would cause the other to leave. It was such a pleasure returning to Port Jefferson too! Bailey gave this crew a beautiful send off at the end of this book, and I will miss the Castle clan and the Just Us League very much. 

**ARC received in exchange for an honest review.

Do you like house flipping shows?
Let us know in the comments!

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