March is a big month for new releases and I’ve got reviews of three today, two of which you can snap up right now and one of which is out next week. I honestly loved all of these so… Go for broke and support your local Indie? Or The Ripped Bodice or Love’s Sweet Arrow depending on how your local Indie feels about romance books. Anyway, keep reading for my thoughts on The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren, If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane, and Dear Enemy by Kristen Callihan. I was very fortunate and received each of these in exchange for an honest review on Netgalley from the various publishers.
The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren
Quick Synopsis: Carey has been Melissa Tripp’s assistant since the start of Melissa and Rusty’s rise to fame and she’s been there for the ups and downs of their marriage. Now, on the eve of Melissa and Rusty’s book tour and the announcement of a Netflix show, Carey and James (lead engineer and Rusty’s assistant) are tasked with the herculean task of keeping Melissa and Rusty from throwing it all away. And along the way, Carey and James may or may not catch feelings for one another.
My Thoughts: I think this book is for the people who are more invested in HGTV than not and who wonder what the behind the scenes drama is with Chip and Joanna, but who want that story with an actual HEA as well. And if you liked Set It Up on Netflix, plus HGTV, I think this book will work for you! While it is a romance, there is definitely a lot of time spent with Melly and Rusty, so I think YMMV on your enjoyment depending on how critical it is that the sole focus of the book is about the romance.
Personally, I really liked the chemistry between James and Carey and how that fit with the overall story. I really appreciated that part of this book is about James figuring out how to support Carey (and wanting to support Carey) as she’s treated like crap by Melly and as she navigates some of her physical limitations/difficulties related to a disorder related to her hands. I think seeing men try and fail at supporting their partner is actually really powerful for some reason. I can’t really explain it. And I loved that Carey doesn’t forgive James right away when he messes up. But I also liked that it didn’t get too dragged out because I also hate that. I wish that we had gotten to see a bit more at the end with Melly and Carey or even Melly and Rusty, but ultimately, I really liked this book! As always, Christina Lauren have a great writing style for flying through a book and really sucking you in.
If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane
Quick Synopsis: Laurie thinks she and her live in boyfriend (they’ve been together for 18 years!) are living their HEA until one night she comes home and discovers that he’s just not here for that anymore. One day she and a coworker, Jamie, cook up a plan that they’ll fake date in order to achieve their goals. Laurie’s goal is to make her ex regret the break up and Jamie’s goal is to get a promotion to partner.
My Thoughts: If you’re anything like me, you may find it near impossible to not dive head first into a book about fake dating. And if you are, then go forth because despite not being a romance, in the sense that this book is really about exploring Laurie and her journey to healing/recovering from a breakup of a relationship of 18 years, this book does the fake dating trope so well! And I especially love that Jamie and Laurie are attorneys and so they do fake dating in the most legit way, aka, they make a contract. Also, heads up, this DOES end with an HEA so it IS a romance in that sense.
The book starts out a little slowly, it takes a while to get to the fake dating, which was the part I was most excited about, so I had to keep reminding myself that this book is contemporary fiction and not a romance. Eventually, the break up happens and then Laurie’s kind of spinning internally trying to figure out what she did wrong. I really appreciated that despite the awfulness of the break up (I mean, 18 years!!!), Laurie spinning out doesn’t seem to effect her job. There are times in the book where her job is effected and that was troubling, but mostly she’s clearly excellent at her job and that was really lovely to read about. I really enjoyed Laurie’s friends, Emily especially, and her no nonsense approach to fake dating is a terrible idea, and then a 180 because Jamie’s fit.
Mostly, I really liked Jamie and the evolution of his character as Laurie got to know him better. I really appreciated that part of the story. I also really liked the discussion about relationships that occurred in this book. It felt very modern and centered in the dating scene today.
This book is maybe a little too long and it does drag at times, which is why I gave it a four star rating, but I would recommend because I thought it was really fun and clever. I kind of wanted to just keep reading about Jamie and Laurie for a while longer at the end of the book because I was enjoying my time with them. I would also really like spin off books for both Emily and Nadia, so… is that a thing in contemporary fiction? I’m too spoiled with romance.
If you need content warnings or if you would like content warnings, please check my Goodreads review because I put a few of them in spoiler tags so I’m afraid to include them all here.
Dear Enemy by Kristen Callihan
Quick Synopsis: Macon Saint and Delilah Baker grew up together and they did not get along. And think Draco/Hermione kind of not getting along and not just real petty childhood things. I mean, granted, instead of Draco standing by while Hermione is literally tortured, Macon just gives Delilah the nickname tator tot and then stands by while everyone at SENIOR PROM laughs at her because the catering pans have all been replaced with tator tots. But Macon has always been a part of Delilah’s life because he dated her sister, Sam. And now, they’re all grown up and Macon’s a big star on a Game of Throne style show and Delilah is a chef and Sam is… a thief. To protect Sam, if only for their mother’s sake, Delilah enters Macon’s orbit and… Well, eventually you get an HEA.
My Thoughts: I really, really loved this. Kristen Callihan is so, so good at deep characterization and that skill is definitely put to use here. Delilah and Macon have very real flaws and quirks and personalities. It’s easy to see and understand their chemistry and I loved watching them slowly work their way toward one another. This is definitely a slow burn, but the sexual tension builds up so, so nicely and you can see them really working through their past history and coming to terms with it. I loved how they would disclose information to kind of explain their thought processes, but in a guarded fashion that felt true to life.
And, given that this book is about a couple who knew one another as children/teenagers, I also loved that this book specifically calls out the “boys will be boys” and “boys tease girls they like” mentality and shuts it down because YES. Speaking of that discussion, the side characters in this book are incredible. I love North and I love Delilah’s mom and her best friend.
There are lines in this book that just absolutely destroyed me and scenes that made me laugh out loud. Honestly, I can’t recommend this book enough. Other things you may want to know are that Delilah is described as being curvy and also she’s a chef so you should definitely not read this while hungry or you will be very sad you are not a chef. (Okay, that might just be me.)
There are several CWs though so I’m going to try and list them all here: stalking, injury requiring wheelchair use and pain, bullying, emotional manipulation, child abuse (discussed, but not seen on page), discussion of adoption, car accident, death of parent/grief discussions… I think that’s all of them, but I may have missed a few.
So this was a very successful grouping of advanced copies! Are you thinking of picking any of them up? Have you already read any of them? Let me know!