I am really, really lucky to receive a number of review copies from Netgalley, for which I am extremely thankful. I also occasionally drag my feet on reviewing them, but Ever After Always by Chloe Liese is out today! And the physical copy of Scandal in the VIP Suite by Nadine Gonzalez is as well, I believe, though you could get the ebook since January 1st. But!! Flirting with Forever by Cara Bastone doesn’t come out until January 26th so I’m ahead of the game there. Regardless, thanks to Netgalley for the copies of these books. Now let’s jump into me actually reviewing them!
Ever After Always by Chloe Liese
“If that’s not the ending you want, then you get out of that trajectory. You change the narrative.”
My first five star read of 2021! I knew this book was likely to really work for me because (a) I love the way Liese writes her romances, (b) marriage in trouble appears to be my favorite trope still, and (c) Liese really does such a brilliant job with mental health and inclusively writing her romance to incorporate neuro diversity. This book was absolutely brilliantly done, in my opinion, from the anxiety rep to the marriage counseling to the overall emotionality of it. It also could not have come at a more serendipitous time given that some themes in this book echo Untamed by Glennon Doyle and Burnout by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski and the importance of protecting your joy and what makes you, you. Anyway, enough rambling about how much I loved this and let me actually attempt to review it for you.
Ever After Always is, as I said, a marriage in trouble romance between Freya and Aiden who have been married for nearly 10 years. When they decided to start trying to have a child, Aiden’s anxiety related to money due to growing up in poverty really spiraled and he found himself withdrawing from Freya, even though that’s not what he wanted. When Freya kicks him out, Aiden goes to Washington, but comes home only about a week later. The two agree to try marriage counseling, the Bergman brothers intervene, and they resolve to pretend to be happy on a family vacation to celebrate Freya’s parents anniversary.
At no point in this book is there a magic solution presented, which I appreciate. There is no, if Freya just loves Aiden enough and in the right way, his anxiety will go away. There are steps forward and steps backward. It is remarkably well done, in my opinion, and never, ever devalues the work that it takes to have a successful marriage. I also think that it did such a good and respectful job of discussing how there is trauma from growing up with food insecurity and in poverty. And! This book discusses sexual difficulties in men! I feel like that’s representation we so rarely see in general, but especially not in romance and I thought it was well done as well.
The Bergman Brothers are, as usual, such a delight to read about. They are, as always, entirely over the top, but in a way that I really appreciate. There is one scene that had me asking wtf is happening, but even with that scene, I think it still was absolutely remarkable. I really love the large family dynamics at play here and I’m thrilled we still have several Bergman siblings to go.
Scandal in the VIP Suite by Nadine Gonzalez
Scandal in the VIP Suite had a lot of the hallmarks of a solid category romance, most especially the fact that it was a very quick read and when I had to sit it down, I was anxious to pick it back up. It wasn’t quite a perfect book for me though, which I think is because I really didn’t understand Nina or Julian as characters. The build up of their relationship was interesting but it moved alternately too fast and too slow at times for me to ever feel like I really understood the emotional development. However, all things considered, I enjoyed it and look forward to reading more from Gonzalez in the future! She appears to have quite a category backlist so I’m looking forward to exploring some of those.
Scandal in the VIP Suite follows Nina Taylor, a memoirist who wants to write fiction who has come to Miami specifically to fulfill her mother’s dream of staying in the Oasis room at this fancy hotel. When she arrives at the hotel, she’s told that her room has been given away to a Hollywood hot shot. Through a series of events, Nina and Julian wind up sharing the Oasis suite for a few days until another room can be prepared for Nina. There are a lot of hijinks that ensue, including, but not limited to, Nina falling into a pool and Julian rescuing her.
I really enjoyed all of the creative elements that came into this story. Julian is in Miami because he wants to make a film based on a screenplay he wrote. Although we don’t learn much of the script, what we did learn and what we saw was definitely intriguing! I wish there had been more behind the scenes once that plot line really took off, but category length means some things must be sacrificed, I suppose. There’s also the fact that Nadine keeps a journal and so occasionally we would see snippets of what she would write in her journal.
As I said at the beginning, I enjoyed this book, but never managed to be completely invested in the romance because of the pacing. I think category romances can be really wonderful and fulfilling, which is why I keep reading them, but sometimes the scope of a story means I wind up feeling like we’re missing scenes I really wish we could see. That was definitely the case with this book. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to reading more from Gonzalez in the future!
Flirting with Forever by Cara Bastone
Not me chanting, “don’t be done, don’t be done,” as I got to the end of this book, nope. I just… I want to live in this little corner of Brooklyn with Mary and Via and Fin and John and Sebastian and Tyler forever. Plus Kylie and Matty obviously.
This installment in the Forever Yours series follows Mary, a 37 year old woman whose mother won’t leave her alone about the importance of finding a spouse and having a child because she’s basically got one foot in the grave. So when Mary’s date says, “You’re older than I was expecting,” she does what any self-respecting woman would do and leaves. John is the son of one of Mary’s vendors so he gets roped into apologizing for putting his foot in his mouth. Slowly the two build a friendship and ever so slowly, that transitions into more.
I should also mention that John is a public defender and his job plays a relatively large role in the book because of how integral it is to his character. So there’s a good amount of commentary here on the important role public defenders play in the judicial process. There was one line about how a particular victim of a crime didn’t want vengeance, but justice, unlike a lot of victims that bothered me a bit, as a person who works with victims of crimes. I think, on the whole, the majority of victims do want justice and not vengeance, but that’s just me.
Now, let’s talk about feelings. Both Mary and John are such genuinely good people that this slow build of both of them being a little (a lot) in their heads about their respective hang ups had me deeply sympathetic and also swooning over every step forward and groaning every time they let something get in the way. Both Mary and John feel like real people. Mary is the kind of bubbly and effusive that people cannot resist being drawn to and John comes off at first meeting like a bit of a jerk. So watching the two of them navigate their complex family dynamics, their rich work lives, and their respective friend groups to come together is just like watching two people you love IRL figure out how to work things out. It’s… magical. And there’s a scene where Mary is thinking about how much she misses Cora, her deceased best friend, that had me texting one of my best friends to remind her that I love her. This book absolutely had me swept away in my feelings and I adored it so much.
CW: discussion of fertility, toxic parental relationships, grief (drunk driving accident and cancer), discussion of criminal justice system, breaking and entering
And there you have it! Three books that, on the whole, I really recommend. I have to say that I am both a Chloe Liese and Cara Bastone fangirl because of Nick and I’m so grateful to her for bringing both of these amazing authors into my life. It’s because of her reviews of the first books in both the Bergman Brothers series and the Forever Yours series that I picked up these books and that was such a great decision.