September Book Reviews
It's September reviews time and once again, our hard-working and dedicated #PHSBookReviews team, have been turning pages well into the wee small hours!
Would you like your book reviewed by one of our team? Are you an avid romance reader who would be interested in becoming a PHS Reviewer? If so, then we would LOVE to hear from you! Just send us a message via our book reviews page and we will get back to you ASAP.
Goalie Interference by Avon Gale & Piper Vaughn
Ryu Mori has had a stellar season as goalie for the Atlanta Venom. So when he’s called into management’s office, he’s expecting to hear he’s the new starting goalie for the team, not that some new guy—an incredibly hot, annoyingly bratty rookie—is here to compete for his spot. Not everyone gets to play in the best league in the world. Emmitt Armstrong knows that, and he’s not about to waste the opportunity after grinding his way from the bottom to the top. If the Venom are looking for a meek, mild-mannered pushover, they’ve got the wrong guy. Ryu doesn’t want to admit the other goalie’s smart mouth turns him on. Beating Armstrong at practice feels good, sure, but there are other, more fun ways to shut his rival up. In this league, it’s winner takes all. But there’s more to life than winning, and if Emmitt and Ryu can get past their egos and competitive natures, they might just discover they work better as partners than they ever imagined possible.
Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Mercy Carlile
Avon Gale and Piper Vaughn did it again! I adored book one of this series and book two is just as good! These two authors make hockey and romance go together like chocolate and peanut butter, both are good separate but together they are magical.
To start, their writing voice is so clear and precise. When reflecting on this read it occurred to me the writing almost falls away, allowing the story and characters to come through in the most authentic and honest way. The depiction of queer men of color in hockey elevated the story and touched me deeply. I haven’t come across representation quite like this in romance and I can’t wait for more.
As always, the heat level knocked my socks off...these two authors know how to make a shower extra steamy! The tension was brilliantly utilized.
After two books, the Atlanta Venom feel like a familiar team I’m rooting for! I love that with each new book we get to understand the players more and I can’t wait for them to play again.
Work for It by Talia Hibbert
Between men like us, trust doesn't come easy.
In this village, I’m an outcast: Griffin Everett, the scowling giant who prefers plants to people. Then I meet Keynes, a stranger from the city who’s everything I’m not: sharp-tongued, sophisticated, beautiful. Free. For a few precious moments in a dark alleyway, he’s also mine, hot and sweet under the stars… until he crushes me like dirt beneath his designer boot.
When the prettiest man I’ve ever hated shows up at my job the next day, I’m not sure if I want to strangle him or drag him into bed. Actually—I think I want both. But Keynes isn’t here for the likes of me: he makes that painfully clear. With everyone else at work, he’s all gorgeous, glittering charm—but when I get too close, he turns vicious.
And yet, I can’t stay away. Because there’s something about this ice king that sets me on fire, a secret vulnerability that makes my chest ache. I’ll do whatever it takes to sneak past his walls and see the real man again.The last thing I expect is for that man to ruin me.
Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Ali
It's no hidden secret I'm a fan of Talia Hibbert. Her books are funny, heartwarming and beautifully written. But Work for It is on another level.
Not only is this now my favorite Hibbert novel, it's also up there as one of my favorite romance novels of all time. It's not an easy read though - there's nothing easy about being broken apart in the reading experience - but Olu and Griff are protagonists I truly loved. Olu doesn't believe he deserves an HEA, he doesn't believe anyone can truly love him and accept him without being dragged down by his depression.
Mental health representation in romance is important. It's even more important that it's not presented as something which needs to be fixed before the character is deserving of a HEA. We need people to love us as we are, and Griff does just that.
This book was especially precious to me. I saw a HEA that did not compromise, and I saw lovers who accepted each other for who they were. It was something I needed. As was Talia's Author Note at the end of the book, I felt as if she were talking to me directly, and for that I can't thank her enough. Plus there's the setting (an elderflower harvest in a small village), the tropes (enemies to lovers) and the extended family we've already fallen for (hey there Lizzie!). And of course, Hibbert's prose.
"We're face to face, hip to hip, and our palms still kiss."
I cannot recommend this book enough.
Tiny House, Big Love by Olivia Dade
On camera. Up close. In denial--but not for much longer...
After a relationship gone bad, Lucy Finch is leaving everything behind. Her old home, her old job, her old insecurities. Even Sebastián Castillo, her protective but intensely private friend of almost twenty years. Before she moves halfway across the country, though, she has one last request for Seb: She wants him to help her choose a tiny house on cable television. And maybe during the filming process, she can discover once and for all whether his feelings for her are more than platonic...
Sebastián would rather do anything than appear on HATV. But Lucy needs him, and he can't say no. Not when she's about to leave, taking his heart with her. Hiding how he feels with a television crew watching their every move will prove difficult, though--especially when that crew is doing their sneaky best to transform two longtime friends into a couple.
Tiny spaces. Hidden emotions. The heat generated by decades of desire and denial. A week spent on camera might just turn Lucy and Seb's relationship from family-friendly to viewer discretion advised...
Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Ali
Reality TV shows are my guilty pleasure, and reality TV shows with romance narratives...well... So when I read the blurb for Olivia Dade's Tiny House, Big Love, I had high hopes, and I wasn't disappointed. This is a delightfully fluffy romance, with two best friends who clearly care deeply about each other. What's even more delightful, is the fact they both fancy each other. A lot. There's a whole lot of 'I've got to hide my true feelings so I don't ruin our friendship' which I am here for.
Sometimes you read a romance which just makes you happy. It lights you up from the inside and you find yourself incapable of doing anything but smiling, and this is exactly how I felt about this book. Lucy and Seb are characters who really deserve to be happy, especially when they're dragged to see home after awful home as part of the TV show. It's a delightful twist on the forced proximity trope, with the two forced to be together on camera, although it's kind of by choice.
And the scene in the loft... Just trust me, read this book. You will not regret it.
Man vs Durian by Jackie Lau
Durian is my nemesis. We have a long, painful history. In my opinion, the spiky fruit smells like natural gas and rotten onions with eau de vomit. Bleh.
So when Valerie Chow spills her durian ice cream all over me, I shouldn’t fall in love.
But despite her fondness for durian, Valerie is beautiful and delightfully prickly and stares at me when I take off my soiled shirt. And somehow, this chance encounter leads to me agreeing to be her fake boyfriend to get her mom off her back about her dating life. Her supposed boyfriend is a pediatric resident, but no big deal, right? My job’s in landscaping, but I can pretend to be a doctor.
I’ll charm Valerie and her family, and I’ll figure out why she’s scared of relationships and gave up her career in software development. I’ll even take her to a durian dessert shop. And if I do a great job at being her fake boyfriend, maybe she’ll want me to be her real one…
Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Ali
Fake relationship alert!
Yes, Jackie Lau's latest is a fake relationship and those of you have read her books before, know this is a trope she has mastered. Big time. And Man vs Durian is no different.
But this book is about more than just the deliciousness of Peter pretending to be Valerie's boyfriend whilst putting up with her love for durian, it's much much more. Lau takes on orgasms in a big way - there's no magic penis here. Valerie struggles to orgasm and it's not something Peter feels inadequate about, or makes her feel bad for. There are discussions in this book that need to be read.
Additionally, we have a grumpy heroine. I love a grumpy heroine. The grouchiness combined with a sweet, sunshiney hero, makes me so damn happy.
These are complexly drawn characters who truly deserve their Happy Ever After - with or without durian.
Learning to Love by Jennifer Wilck
Dina Jacobs is a single librarian who has never fit in due to her off-the-charts intelligence, frizzy
hair and rounder-than-socially-acceptable figure. She left her past behind until she receives an invitation to her ten-year high school reunion, and all her insecurities return. Adam Mandel is a single corporate attorney who just missed his third deadline at his father's law firm, the law firm where he is up for junior partner. With his reputation on the line, Adam needs all the help he can get to convince his father that he deserves the promotion. When Dina and Adam run into each other on a deserted road, Dina thinks Mr. Flashypants can't possibly be interested in someone like her. Adam thinks Dina is just the person to help him improve his reputation. Lies and insecurities force them to take a look at themselves. Can they trust each other to look beyond the surface?
Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Tamara
This is my kind of romance book! I loved it from first to last page. Dina and Adam are exactly what each other needs. I feel for Adam when a few of his mistakes made him a target and he suffers even after making everything right. Because of his father, Adam questions whether he’s good enough for Dina. She, on the other hand, has decided she will not be defined by her family or their success. I really enjoyed that aspect of her.
I enjoyed every word, the character development, and storyline. The author has a way with words and she’s now on my TBR list. I realized how perfect this book was for summer nights. So perfect, that I finished it in one night.
One of the best books I’ve read this summer!
Sapphire Flames: A Hidden Legacy Novel by Ilona Andrews
In a world where magic is the key to power and wealth, Catalina Baylor is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, and the Head of her House. Catalina has always been afraid to use her unique powers, but when her friend’s mother and sister are murdered, Catalina risks her reputation and safety to unravel the mystery.
But behind the scenes powerful forces are at work, and one of them is Alessandro Sagredo, the Italian Prime who was once Catalina’s teenage crush. Dangerous and unpredictable, Alessandro’s true motives are unclear, but he’s drawn to Catalina like a moth to a flame.
To help her friend, Catalina must test the limits of her extraordinary powers, but doing so may cost her both her House–and her heart.
Rated: 4.5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Imogene
If you have already devoured Ilona Andrews' first three Hidden Legacy novels, stop immediately! Go and buy, borrow, or beg a copy and then come back. I’ll wait. You ready? I mean, there may be spoilers. Okay… Three years after the events of Wildfire (and the super sweet Diamond Fire novella) in which Nevada Baylor and the dangerously handsome Mad Rogan wreaked havoc with society, things have dramatically changed. It’s now up to middle sister Catalina to keep the family, and the family business, Baylor Investigations, running. Plus the family’s status as a newly minted part of the powerful and dangerous society of the rich and paranormally gifted is a bit like juggling wasps nests and flaming swords while standing on one foot. As you do.
Admittedly, I had my doubts about Catalina as a protagonist. She had previously been rather overshadowed by her older sister. However, those three years have given her a maturity and a gravity she previously lacked. She is aware of her strength as a businesswoman, and as a Prime.
Although she still has her troubles with her power. Unlike other magic users who must consistently practice and work to increase their gifts, Catalina has spent her life suppressing hers.
Our Catalina is a Prime Siren. Meaning from the moment she was born, she had the power to make people love her, madly, obsessively, kidnappingly. As part of her PI work, she’s even learned how to use her abilities on suspects. Or attempted murderers. Only those who truly love her of their own free will are immune. It’s just too bad she was forced to use her siren song on the one person she really wants. Hot, handsome, King of the Instagram selfie, Prime, and actual Count, Alessandro. Mysterious, possibly dangerous, appearing in her bed, following her around, saving her life, Alessandro. Frustratingly secretive Alessandro who has just discovered her adolescent crush...
Black Tie Billionaire by Naima Simone
How do you pretend to be a couple…
...When the passion is real…
During a blackout, heiress Shay Neal leaves a gala with the man she knows she wants but shouldn’t have—Gideon Knight, her brother’s worst enemy. Except he doesn’t know who she is.
But now she’s his fake fiancé, his way of settling the score with her brother. And Gideon still doesn’t know the truth about that night…
Rated: 4.5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Ali
They say you should never judge a book by its cover, but whoever said that had clearly never seen the cover of Naima Simone's Black Tie Billionaire. I will admit I am delighted to see the effort Harlequin have been putting into their former Kimani authors' covers recently, and this one is no different.
The book itself is deliciously tropey. Enemies to lovers. Mistaken identity. Fake relationship. But each of these is cultivated and drawn deftly and cleverly. It's a romance of high stakes, of longed for revenge and a bid for personal freedom in Shay's attempts to get out from under her brother's thumb.
The passion between Shay and Gideon is fiery. It scorches the reader through the page, and I loved the unique twist of Gideon not realizing the woman he had a passionate one night stand with, is the woman he's asking to be his fake fiancé.
It's a romance which is so much fun, and one I thoroughly enjoyed. I shall be making sure I buy the rest of Simone's backlist.
Arctic Heat: A Gay Romance (Frozen Hearts Book 3) by Annabeth Albert
Owen Han has a fresh lease on life—he’s kicked cancer’s ass and is roaring through his bucket list. The former investment banker hopes to find his next challenge in Alaska, volunteering alongside park rangers and fulfilling his childhood dreams of snowy winters and rustic life. Of course, those dreams did tend to feature big strapping mountain men in vivid detail… Ranger Quilleran Ramsey would like to be anywhere other than dealing with newbie volunteers. And really, the only thing he needs less than a green volunteer “partner” is the flirty attentions of a buff city boy who doesn’t look ready to last a week, let alone an Alaskan winter. They’re all wrong for each other, even if Quill’s traitorous body enjoys the flirting more than it should. As the weeks pass, the two snowbound men give in to temptation. But can their seasonal romance last until spring? For them to have a future together, each will have to trust the other…while hoping that the harsh elements and omnipresent dangers don’t destroy what happiness they’ve found in the moment.
Rated: 4 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Dani
Let me kick things off by saying if any of the following rock your boat, preorder this book immediately: forced proximity, sharing body heat to stay warm, grumpy-sunshine pairing, M/M romance.
On the flip side, this book does need a few content warnings for cancer, abusive relationships, grief, negative reactions to coming out, and snow-related accidents, including car crashes. Yeah, there were a few quite scary incidents.
In Arctic Heat, we have two rather different personalities. Owen Han is an “aggressively extroverted” reformed businessman tackling a bucket list after facing his mortality. He loves talking to people to the point of craving it, which made spending seven months largely isolated in Alaska an interesting choice for him. On the other hand, Quill is incredibly introverted, willfully isolating himself with his job. Interactions with people are done when necessary for the job and are quite perfunctory. So, throwing these two together in a cabin sounds like a recipe for disaster.
I really didn’t know how these two would figure it out, but it somehow did out of sheer necessity. Cuddles seemed to work remarkably well. Plus, as is so important in relationships, they each had their own interests and time to themselves to balance out time together. They also talked. Like adults. Actually, like adults should do, but don’t seem to. And honestly, Quill just needed someone to love him and accept him as is so he could be introverted while also not fearing rejection, something which drove him to keep everyone at a distance.
I’d be remiss if I did not mention a big aspect of this book that kept me hooked: the heat. Annabeth kept the tension going by making it seem like these two couldn’t possibly progress before giving us just a little bit more of development in the physical intimacy department. She drove me crazy before throwing me a bone(r) before I exploded. And wow, did those scenes warm me up. Even just the first kiss was intense!
Anyone who knows me, knows I like books that teach me something, and Arctic Heat did that in a few ways. For a start, there was the treatment and impact of a certain kind of cancer. I also learned about what a ranger is and what their various responsibilities are. (Alaska sounds gorgeous, by the way.) And finally, with several LGBTQ+ characters in the book – not just the main couple – I had the opportunity to reflect on different experiences of coming out, plus what life can be like for people already out.
I’m not sure if this book would have hit my radar if not for The Pink Heart Society, so I’m very glad I’m part of this reviewing team. This was an unexpected treat for me!
Her Viking Warrior by Gina Conkle
Eighteen years ago, Bjorn was exiled from Vellefold. Honor-bound to return, he’ll fight for the settlement…then walk away. First, he must work with his childhood friend, now a beautiful, high-ranking Viking lady. Fierce of spirit, Ilsa will do anything to save her people, including convincing the banished son to take the jarl’s seat. But she has her doubts about the stone-hearted Viking, despite the lust between them. It’s only a matter of time before Bjorn discovers that Ilsa is hiding dangerous secrets, secrets that may jeopardize all they’ve worked for. When the darkest hour comes, the once-rejected warrior must choose: rescue his men, the Forgotten Sons—or Ilsa, the woman he craves, body and soul.
Rated: 4 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Rachel
This is the story of Bjorn and Ilsa. Bjorn was banished by his father, the Jarl, because of his stepmother’s manipulation. Bjorn vows never to return, but years later he is surprised by his childhood friend Ilsa, who manages to track him down. She explains his father is dying, and the village needs him and his warriors to help fight their enemies. Filled with bitterness and anger, at first, he refuses, but after being forced to help, he soon realizes he must protect the people, no matter how he feels about his father. All the while his attraction towards Ilsa grows stronger, even though he is not sure he can trust her.
I thought this story was well written. It was kind of slow going at first but eventually picked up. The characters were well rounded, and I really liked the pairing of Bjorn and Ilsa. I could see their chemistry from the beginning. Ilsa is a strong female protagonist who proves to be just as strong as Bjorn. The author reminds us of the role of women at that time. Even though Ilsa has become the Jarl’s head advisor and brought Bjorn and his men to Vellefold, her father doesn’t even acknowledge her success. Also, the world building was great. You feel like you’re there.
Overall, Amazing story. Highly recommend it.
Love & the Laws of Motion by Amanda Weaver
Astrophysicist Olivia Romano has always preferred to stay close to her family in Brooklyn—even at the expense of her academic career. But with her advisor missing in action and an unscrupulous professor undermining her work, she’s forced to rely on the reformed-hacker-turned-elite-computer-genius whose sexy smile she can’t get out of her head. Nicholas DeSantis cut ties with his family at eighteen, running away from his old-school Italian American neighborhood to make it big in Silicon Valley. When Livie comes to him for help, he can’t resist the project or the quirky woman behind it. Moving into the Romano house in his old neighborhood seems like the perfect short-term solution, if he can just continue to avoid his own family. But while living together makes working with Livie easier, fighting his growing attraction to her becomes a whole lot harder. When Livie’s research is sabotaged, Nick takes a huge risk to get her the proof she needs to salvage her career. Moving forward means leaving Brooklyn and spreading her wings at last—just when Nick might finally be ready to put down some roots.
Rated: 4 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Dani
A reformed hacker and astrophysicist pair up to make discoveries in space? YES PLEASE. I love nerdy, smart heroes and heroines, so having the two of them in one book had me raring to go as soon as I read the blurb. Never mind that I knew, going in, that some of the computer-related stuff might be a bit off. I willingly ignored inaccuracies for the chance to read glorious geekery.
Livie, our heroine, passed up the opportunity to do her PhD at top universities in the US so she could work alongside an amazing astrophysicist examining primordial blackholes. (Yeah, doesn’t that sound cool already?) After being awarded funding for their research, Livie manages to find Nick, a former hacker and all-round coding genius, who just so happened to come from the same neighborhood. The attraction on her part was immediate, but Nick was engaged to an aspiring model, and the task at hand was more important anyway.
Except the universe put Livie and Nick in a position of working closer together than they anticipated. The forced proximity, the late hours working, the stargazing. Coming as a shock to no one reading, these things all led to Nick and Livie giving in to some very sexy temptation. And because cheating is a big No for me, I want to reassure anyone who might be worried about that happening here that it doesn’t. By the time a relationship developed, Nick was no longer engaged. Phew.
It wasn’t all fun and data, though. Both Livie and Nick had their own issues, and both forced the other to confront their personal demons in some way. Livie was a lot nicer about it, but Nick’s strong words really kicked Livie in the backside to some major personal growth I absolutely loved. Livie went from this quiet academic without a voice to a snarky, strong badass thanks to a little heartbreak, which really connected with me. That heartbreak did make me cry, though, as it was written in a very relatable way that dredged up some memories for me!
However, not everything worked for me. I appreciate this is a very personal thing, but it was a little off-putting to read about how small and thin Livie was. Nick was very fixated on her large chest and slim waist. I know there are many women who are thin, but with everything else in media portraying skinny as the only way to be attractive, it always takes me out of the story a bit when I see it in romance novels. Especially when a heroine has a great sister who cooks Italian food and doesn’t exercise (as far as was shared with me as a reader). And while we’re at it, how is Nick so slim but muscular if he’s always on a computer? I’d expect that physique requires some gym time. Again, a personal thing, but reading and reviewing is a personal experience for me.
All-in-all, this is one for you nerds out there! Pair it with some pasta, though, as that’s what I’m craving now I’ve finished.
What are you reading this month? Have you recently read a book you think everyone should hunt down? Let us know in the comments or join the PHS community on Social Media using #amreading And authors, if you want us to review your book, check out the guidelines here.