July Book Reviews

It's July book reviews time and the #PHSBookReviews team were all over this month's list of potentially awesome reads. Let's see what they thought about their selections...

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Side Chick Nation by Aya de León

Fed up with her married Miami boyfriend, savvy Dulce has no problem stealing his drug-dealer stash and fleeing to her family in the Caribbean. But when she gets bored in rural Santo Domingo, she escapes on a sugar daddy adventure to Puerto Rico. Her new life is one endless party, until she's caught in Hurricane Maria--and witnesses the brutal collision of colonization and climate change, as well as the international vultures who plunder the tragedy for a financial killing, making shady use of relief funds to devastate the island even more. Broke, traumatized, and stranded, Dulce's only chance to get back to New York may be a sexy, crusading journalist who's been pursuing her. But is she hustling him or falling for him?

Meanwhile, New York-based mastermind thief Marisol already has her hands full fleecing a ruthless CEO who's stealing her family's land in Puerto Rico, while trying to get her relatives out alive after the hurricane. An extra member in her crew could be game-changing, but she's wary of Dulce's unpredictability and reputation for drama. Still, Dulce's determination to get justice draws Marisol in, along with her formidable Lower East Side Women's Health Clinic's heist squad. But their race-against-the-clock plan is soon complicated by powerful men who turn deadly when ex-side chicks step out of the shadows and demand to call the shots…

Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Ali

I can’t talk about this book without first talking about de León’s Author’s Note. In it, she talks about the process of writing this novel, about how Hurricane María hitting Puerto Rico changed her plan for the narrative, and how her research and work with a sensitivity reader helped to shape the final book. But there’s one section that particularly stands out for me:

Ultimately, I stand by the whole of this book, and by the larger story I am hoping to tell about colonization, climate change, and the need for women of color to be leaders in transforming both. Surprisingly, I have found heist fiction has proven a fitting genre for this story: as these character have had to battle law and custom to find small pockets of justice and reparation. Similarly, the extended family of Puerto Rico will have to keep battling laws, customs, history, and entrenched power structure to get the justice and reparations that the island deserves.

This sums up for me the huge scope of this novel. It is a romantic suspense. It is a feminist heist. It is concerned with sex workers and abuse and activism. It is romantic as hell and it brings hope. And it is political. The comparison drawn in the title, and throughout the narrative, between the characterisation of a ‘side chick’ and the relationship that Puerto Rico has with the US, is nuanced and challenging and de León deserves to be a key voice within romantic fiction.

An outstanding book.

Miss Prim's Greek Island Fling by Michelle Douglas

An idyllic island retreat...with her Mr. Wrong!

After a devastating betrayal, Audra Russel escapes to her brother's Greek island to lick her wounds. Only she soon finds her brother's best friend, Finn Sullivan, is holidaying there too! He may be recovering from a near-fatal accident but the irresistible daredevil is intent on showing buttoned-up Audra how to have a good time - and now that she's started, she doesn't ever want to stop!

Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Megan

After escaping to the beautiful Greek Island of Corfu to lay low and find her normal again, Audra Russel has found herself at her brother’s vacation house. Audra is a people pleaser or more like family pleaser, she helps everyone in the family with a variety of duties in the large family company but after a rough and public break up from a conniving boyfriend all she wants to do is recover in peace and maybe just allow herself to dream about what she really wants out of life. However, when shattering glass and hearing multiple languages being spoken wake her up in the middle of the night she calls the island police to cuff her intruder. But then again that's before she finds out it's Finn Sullivan.

Handsome, healing, and drunk Finn decides his best option is to crash at best friend Rupert Russel's vacation house. Little does he know Rup's little sister had the same idea. And even though he used his key to get in, he still ends up in handcuffs. Daredevil extraordinaire, Finn, is recovering from a terrible skiing accident that left him injured and wondering what's next. Being orphaned young from thrill seeking parents and put in boarding school Finn becomes like another son in the Russel family because of his friendship with Rup. Finn is trying to follow Rup's rules but Audra is more tempting than he ever imagined.

Audra and Finn each have a plan to help the other heal from their wounds without making it obvious but when then dares are made, sparks fly, and kisses sizzle there's so much to enjoy. Ms. Douglas creates a fabulous banter between the two. Not only are your cheering them individually but as a couple as well. A perfect anytime read! This sweet romance will keep you entertained and hooked to the very end even added a heartfelt epilogue that leaves you satisfied.

Love from A to Z by S. K. Ali

A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.

An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.

But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.

When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.

Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.

Then her path crosses with Adam’s.

Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.

Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.

Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.

Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…

Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Ali

This is the closest thing to an inspirational Muslim romance I've ever read, and it's utterly charming. Ali has created a wonderful YA romance that should be on your TBR list. There's something quite magical about her prose, particularly when our two main characters are in self-reflective mode.

Zayneb is the kind of strong, independent heroine that I love to read; she's an activist, a young woman who refuses to ignores the wrongs done her and the way in which prejudice colours the way that she's treated by other people. She's linked to Adam through a flight to Doha that they both take, but also through a notebook that they both have. Inspired by The Marvels of Creation and Oddities of Existence, by Zakariya Qazwini in the 1270s, the notebook encourages those writing in it to note down the marvels and oddities in their day to day life, kind of like a journal.

I love how this motif is threaded throughout the book, and made me reflect on how it is that I view the world. Everyone thought of their moments and experiences in terms of marvels and oddities, then I think we'd notice more that connects us than divides us.

The romance itself is a slow burn, with a very satisfying ending made me weep buckets, and is a perfect answer to the debate in Romancelandia last month, surrounding the discussion of sex scenes in romances. This has no sex scenes, and has barely any physical touching at all, but it is unbelievably emotionally moving and truly romantic. One for the keeper shelf.

Saint by Chantal Fernando

Dear Skylar, Five years. That’s a long time to go without talking to somebody, especially someone who was such a huge part of your life…

A letter from my first kiss and my childhood everything…from prison.

He may be nicknamed Saint, but this sweet, sexy biker most definitely has a wild streak. Hearing from him draws me right back into the Knights of Fury motorcycle club—the people I’ll always think of as family.

He’s still the only man I’ve ever wanted.

Each good, old-fashioned letter from my “prison pen pal” has my heart racing. Which is nothing compared to how I feel when Saint surprises me in person, as a free man.

I was just a kid the last time we saw each other, but the connection between us now is anything but innocent.

He’s the type of man who would do anything to protect his woman. And with my world crashing down around me, that’s exactly what I’m going to need.

Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Tamara

I'm not a big fan of the MC theme, but this one is really good. The story is unpredictable and keeps you on your toes. The romance arc is a bit different than usual, neither Sky nor Saint are uncertain about their love. The focus is on everything else surrounding the couple.

Saint and Sky’s love is logical and real, he was waiting for her and she finally came to him when she was old enough. They are easy with each other. How sad is life when you realize that your mom, the only person that is destined to love you unconditionally, is trying to end your life? Family isn’t always blood and that is the most important message. I loved every minute of this book.

Often, women in clubhouses in MC books are described poorly, skimpy clothes, questionable morals, and no self-respect. I was dreading that part in this book, but it never came and I'm thankful for that.

His Exception by Nia Arthurs

It happened in a flash. One minute, I was making coffee in the office, and the next I'm dying in the back seat of my car while my boss races to the hospital.

There I lay, in cubicle three, praying that it's just severe cramps and I'm not passing out a whale, when he walks in. All six-foot-four, broad-shouldered deliciousness in a lab coat.

My gynecologist.

He doesn't date patients and I don't get with men who've seen me naked before the first date. But resisting our sizzling attraction is more than I can handle. By the time he leaves, I've decided. The doctor will just have to make an exception.

Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Ali

CW: Miscarriage

I’m obsessed with Nia Arthurs’ writing. She’s funny and irreverent, with a skill for capturing the minutia of day to day life and romance that is utterly engaging, and His Exception, a medical romance, is no exception (pun intended!). Plus, I love reading books that aren’t US and Euro-centric (this, like a number of her books, is set in Belize).

This novel starts where no other romance novel I’ve ever read has started; with the heroine in extreme pain, having a miscarriage for a pregnancy that she didn’t know she had. Arthurs deals with the experience sensitively, with nuance and without judgement, and it’s the most unique way for the heroine to meet our hero. It doesn’t, however, cast a shadow over the rest of the narrative, and Arthurs is to be commended for that.

The romance between Shawn and Portia is sweet and funny, with twists and turns that you don’t expect, and navigates the complexities that come with the power imbalance between a doctor falling for a patient.

A must-read.

Crooked Rock Braves by Pamela Sanderson

Linda and Arnie are the should have been that never happened.

Linda Bird has poured her heart into building a community for Indians in the city, but the setbacks keep coming and her supporters are losing faith. In college, Arnie Jackson was a sexy-but-aggravating rival. Now she needs his help if Crooked Rock is going to succeed. Turns out he’s still sexy, he’s still aggravating, and she’s never gotten over him.

Arnie has dealt with every challenge Indian Country has thrown at him, but nothing could have prepared him for the accusations that bring his leadership into question. Linda has been his most loyal friend—equal parts stubborn and dazzling—and she’s the only one he trusts to help him through this crisis.

They have always been right for each other, but it's never been the right time—until now.

Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Ali

The whole of Pamela Sanderson’s Crooked Rock series has stolen my heart. Sanderson is herself a citizen of the Karuk Tribe, which means that this is the #ownvoices First Nations romance series that needs a place on your shelf right now. Set in the Crooked Rock Urban Indian Center, it follows Linda and Arnie who we’ve known since the very first book in the series.

But it’s not easy for either of them. These are characters whose community has been challenged and whose lives are intertwined, and that makes their romantic journey all the more satisfying. Our romance hero has a panic attack on page, and there is sacrifice in order for them to get their HEA, but it is so so worth it.

I think, however, that my favourite aspect of this book, and of all the books that preceded it, is the very real sense of community and found family that is found within its pages. It’s a charming romance from a writer whose writing reflects a world that she knows, and a writer who should be an autobuy.

Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi

Sana Khan is a cheerleader and a straight A student. She's the classic (somewhat obnoxious) overachiever determined to win.

Rachel Recht is a wannabe director who's obsessed with movies and ready to make her own masterpiece. As she's casting her senior film project, she knows she's found the perfect lead - Sana.

There's only one problem. Rachel hates Sana. Rachel was the first girl Sana ever asked out, but Rachel thought it was a cruel prank and has detested Sana ever since.

Told in alternative viewpoints and inspired by classic romantic comedies, this engaging and edgy YA novel follows two strong-willed young women falling for each other despite themselves.

Rated: 4.5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Ali

I really enjoy romances where (one of) the romance heroine(s) might be read by some readers as ‘dislikeable’. I’m putting that in quotation marks because I believe that what marks a romance heroine as dislikeable is often what would mark a romance hero as very likeable indeed, and so playing with these ideas always endears me to an author. Plus, I didn’t actually find either of these heroine dislikeable; they’re both focused on what they want from life, and sometimes mess up – as all teenagers do – and that to makes them relatable.

This is a really sweet, if a little cheesy at times, romance. One of the key things that I really liked is that this isn’t a coming out romance. It was really refreshing to read an f/f romance where sexuality wasn’t a key focus of the narrative; instead it focuses on the enemies to lovers aspect of high school relationships. Sana and Rachel appear to come from very different backgrounds, but there’s more that unites them than separates them, and I found that Safi manages to balance the development of their relationship with their individual character arcs well.

I particularly enjoyed the filming of Rachel’s project, with the discussions surrounding the role of Helen in The Odyssey, beautifully opening up dialogue around the perception and observation of women. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Awakened by Moni Boyce

Secret lineage, a ruthless vampire, and forbidden love.

Willow Stevens dreams of stardom are eclipsed by the real nightmares of a sinister man haunting her dreams. Unbeknownst to her, Eli Walker, her hot but snobbish co-worker, may know the reason nightmares plague her, but their history shows he is more prone to reject her, than help her.

Then Willow passes out at work only to wake in Eli's apartment. There she has her chance to learn more about her heritage. But, knowing why the vampire king stalks her doesn't make the nightmares disappear. If anything, they become more real as she now faces off against a slew of creatures she'd always believed were myth.

That Eli is one of those creatures is just her luck. Secret witch guild or not, his natural ways are casting spells her heart can't escape. As a Protector his only focus should be her safety. Anything else is forbidden. He plans to stay on task, but some women break a man, or tempt him to break the rules.

Can Eli keep Willow alive and safe from the vampires long enough for her to grow her own powers or will both cast aside rules for a reckless passion that will only lead to danger?

Rated: 4 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Ali

It takes a lot for me to pick up a book with vampires these days, probably due to the veritable glut of them that I read a few years back, but the blurb of Awakened immediately appealed to me. There’s Willow, a young woman who’s been having the weirdest dreams only to discover that she’s an oracle of all things; there’s Eli, her sexy co-worker turned Protector, who awakens more than just her understanding of magic; and then there’s the centuries old vampire king who’s stalking her.

In this fast-paced, entertaining paranormal romance, Moni Boyce deftly balances narrative action with character development, and we can’t help but be enchanted by the smart, feisty Willow. But it’s the darker moments in the book that captured me the most; Boyce has a way of painting the terror and horror of Willow’s dreams that had me hooked from the start. Definitely a series to keep an eye out for.

The Rake's Enticing Proposal by Lara Temple

The rake has a proposition…

Will she accept?

Part of The Sinful Sinclairs: When globe-trotting Charles Sinclair arrives at Huxley Manor to sort out his late cousin’s affairs, he meets practical Eleanor Walsh. He can’t shake the feeling that behind her responsibility to clear her family’s debt, Eleanor longs to escape her staid life. Chase can offer her an exciting adventure in Egypt… But that all depends on her response to his shocking proposal!

Rated: 3 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Cailin

Chase Sinclair is going through the notebooks and journals left to him by his dead cousin in an attempt to figure out what quest his cousin Huxley needed him to go on just weeks before passing. Ever practical, Eleanor “Ellie” Walsh is trying to keep a friend from being trapped into courtship by pretending to be his fiancé as he surveys Huxley Manor and the land that has been left for him to manage. Ellie and Chase bump into each other in Huxley’s old study and begin a tepid alliance to avoid Lady Ermintrude and her two daughters.

In their time together they work through Huxley’s papers to uncover the quest Chase was needed for. As they uncover clues through the Desert Boy novels, and Huxley’s notebooks, they also begin to find feelings for one another. While both attempt to deny these feelings, they find that the next step in this adventure is in Egypt. Chase proposes that Ellie comes with him on this quest as his sister’s companion so that she can also see this mystery through to the end.

Up to this point, the story moves very, very slowly, and in the last five chapters Chase and Ellie go to Egypt with his family, figure out what Huxley was trying to tell Chase, admit their feelings and get their H.E.A.. Overall I enjoyed this novel, I liked how important family was to Chase and Ellie, and while the romance moved a little slower than I normally enjoy, it was consistent and I could see the progression in their feelings as each character fought against their personal obstacles to a H.E.A.. So, while the romance was there, sometimes I had to dig through the mystery aspect to find it.

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.

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