February 2024 Reading Wrap-Up: Part 2

Welcome, book friends!

If you’d prefer to listen to these reviews, you can check out the full episode on The Bookmarks ‘n Blankets Podcast on your favorite podcast platform or listen below.

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Here are the rest of the books that I read in February 2024. I read four NetGalley ARCs (advanced reader copies), and six short stories (from Amazon Prime’s short story collections). Prime members can read/listen for free!

Contemporary Romance

Love, Unscripted by Denise Hunter

Format: Digital eBook
My GR Rating: 5
Learn more on GoodReads

GR Description: The perfect boyfriend only exists on paper…doesn’t he?

Fresh off the heels of a bad breakup, Chloe Anderson poured her heart into penning the perfect boyfriend—and the result was an off-the-charts debut beach read that resonated with women worldwide. Now, Chloe’s scripted hero is headed for Hollywood, with her book destined to become a major motion picture.

When Chloe gets wind that silver screen bad boy Liam Hamilton has been cast as the ideal-in-every-way hero of her novel, she’s horrified by the film director’s choice. How could a player like Liam possibly do Chloe’s perfect hero justice? Unafraid to speak her mind, Chloe lets her executive producer know she’s one hundred percent opposed to the casting. And oops—the call is on speakerphone, where the annoyingly attractive Hollywood star hears Chloe’s unbridled outrage firsthand.

With Liam’s reputation already on the rocks, his agent concocts a PR plan to upgrade Liam’s image while putting the story—and the film—in the spotlight. The catch? During the movie’s filming in Chloe’s cute hometown of Stillwater, North Carolina, Chloe and Liam will fake a wholesome, committed relationship. Both stand to gain something from the arrangement. Liam’s fans will see him in a new light, while Chloe can boost her struggling social media following and further her writing career. What could possibly go wrong?

As author and actor navigate the waters of the PR relationship, they’re unpre­pared when their professional agreement turns into an actual friendship. And when serious sparks start to fly—well, that’s an unread chapter for both of them.

My Review:

This was my first Denise Hunter book, and I loved it! It wasn’t quite a five-star read for me, but it was very, very close, so I went ahead and rounded up. It’s a clean contemporary romance that doesn’t have any language or spice, which are my preferred stories, so I really appreciated that aspect of it. 

At first, I thought this was just a light, cute, fluffy romance. I was enjoying it but not totally blown away, but then, it took a turn in the second half of the book, especially in the last quarter of the story, and it went deeper, past trauma surfaced, and strong emotions rose. I was already invested, but the last part of the book really pulled at my heart and made me fall in love with the characters and their story even more. I’m always looking for good character development along with an interesting, entertaining plot. This book hit all of my favorite elements. 

I loved the two main characters, Chloe and Liam, and their romance. They were from two completely different worlds, but when they got together…sparks! There was so much great chemistry between them. The banter was on point, and it got deep with their emotions. There was a level of maturity and emotional intelligence from the couple, which I always prefer in my romances. It wasn’t a surface-level romance. There was depth, authenticity, relatable problems, and miscommunication. I connected with both characters in so many ways. I also enjoyed the scenes where they were each taking care of the other when they got sick, even though it was still new and fresh into their “relationship.” They were already starting to care for each other. It was so endearing and cute. There are so many great scenes of them together!

I think I loved the side characters as much as the main characters. Getting to know Chloe’s family and friends as well as the other town’s people immersed me more into this sweet story. I loved how they rallied around Chloe, and she had their love and support during this whole ordeal. We were also introduced to some of Liam’s family and friends, which helped his backstory. There were some great messages about letting go, forgiveness, not jumping to conclusions, and communication. 

I also loved the charming Southern town in North Carolina as the setting. It gave small town vibes and felt very cozy. This would be a perfect read for spring, summer, or as a beach read. 

Read if you like:

  • (Slightly) Enemies-to-lovers
  • Opposites attract
  • Movie star/Celebrity romances
  • Fake dating
  • Forced proximity

Overall, I loved this charming, adorable story. I laughed, teared up a little, and smiled the whole way through it. This is one of those romances that makes you giddy the entire time while reading it! It was such an easy read because I wanted to know what was going to happen next and couldn’t put it down. Now, I want to read everything by Denise Hunter. I can’t wait to get my hands on another one of her books! Highly recommend!!

Contemporary Romance with Magical Realism

Expiration Dates by Rebecca Serle

Format: Digital eBook
My GR Rating: 4
Learn more on GoodReads

GR Description: Daphne Bell believes the universe has a plan for her. Every time she meets a new man, she receives a slip of paper with his name and a number on it—the exact amount of time they will be together. The papers told her she’d spend three days with Martin in Paris; five weeks with Noah in San Francisco; and three months with Hugo, her ex-boyfriend turned best friend. Daphne has been receiving the numbered papers for over twenty years, always wondering when there might be one without an expiration. Finally, the night of a blind date at her favorite Los Angeles restaurant, there’s only a name: Jake.

But as Jake and Daphne’s story unfolds, Daphne finds herself doubting the paper’s prediction, and wrestling with what it means to be both committed and truthful. Because Daphne knows things Jake doesn’t, information that—if he found out—would break his heart.

Told with her signature warmth and insight into matters of the heart, Rebecca Serle has finally set her sights on romantic love. The result is a gripping, emotional, passionate, and (yes) heartbreaking novel about what it means to be single, what it means to find love, and ultimately how we define each of them for ourselves. Expiration Dates is the one fans have been waiting for.

My Review:

I really enjoyed this sweet romance with a touch of magical realism. I thought the concept was creative where Daphne randomly receives pieces of paper with a guy’s name on it and the amount of time they will date. Then, one day, she receives a piece of paper without an expiration date on it. From there, we go on this romantic journey with Daphne as she figures out what she truly wants in life while also carrying a big secret and the emotions surrounding it. 

This is told in first person POV (Daphne) and has past and present timelines. Sometimes, these dual timelines bother me and feel jarring as we skip back and forth, but it didn’t this time. I really enjoyed learning about Daphne and her past boyfriends. She shares when she received other pieces of paper with names and expiration dates, how she met other guys from her past, and what happened with them. We learn about her through these flashbacks, which made me connect with her more and understand her more in the present. She was a likable character – funny, charming, flawed, guarded, emotional, strong, and confident. I enjoyed watching this character grow and develop throughout the book. 

I also enjoyed the romance in this book. It made me laugh, cry, swoon, and everything in between. There is a tiny bit of spice but it’s not too explicit. It did get steamy at times without revealing too much, which I appreciated since I prefer closed-door romances. I loved the banter between Daphne and Jake as well as Hugo, her friend. There is definitely some emotional depth and maturity in this story. I would not consider this a light, fluffy romcom but more of a romance drama with some humor. There is also a nice twist at the end that I didn’t expect. 

Daphne was born and raised in Southern California (L.A. area), so there’s a lot of description about this city. The imagery painted by the author was so vivid that it almost felt like I was in CA with the characters. In a way, this story also felt like the author wrote a love letter to this state. It’s quite obvious she knows the area very well as she names streets, restaurants, shops, etc. I felt completely transported to CA. 

Daphne also comes from a Jewish family, where we meet her parents, and they are in multiple scenes. So I really enjoyed watching the family dynamics between them and then learning more about the Jewish culture, customs, and habits. I also LOVED a scene toward the end with Daphne and her dad. It was so touching and made me cry. Loved it! 

However, this book did lean toward the liberal/progressive side in tone. Also to note, there is one gay side character. And, there is some language. 

Overall, this was an incredibly moving, emotional, heartfelt story. It was extremely relatable and thought-provoking. I loved the messages about choosing with your heart and not letting fear stop you. Time isn’t promised to anyone; therefore, we must live for today and not let the fear of the unknown (or future) get the best of us. Life is a choice, and we can choose to live it fully or let it pass us by because we’re too scared of what may or may not be. Never take your time with someone for granted because it is precious, and people come in and out of our lives for a reason. It’s also about vulnerability and not being afraid to open up to others. They may surprise you!

I also appreciated that the chapters were short and overall, it’s a short read. I got through it in just a few days. This is my first book by this author, and I definitely want to read more by her now. Highly recommend!!

Historical/Regency Romance

Earls Trip by Jenny Holiday

Format: Digital eBook
My GR Rating: 3 (2.5)
Publication Date: April 23, 2024
Learn more on GoodReads

GR Description: Even an earl needs his ride-or-dies, and Archibald Fielding-Burton, the Earl of Harcourt, counts himself lucky to have two. Archie (the jock), Simon (the nerd), and Effie (the goth) have been BFFs since their school days, and their annual trip holds a sacred spot in their calendars. This year, Archie is especially eager to get away—until an urgent letter arrives from an old family friend, begging him to help prevent a ruinous scandal. Archie’s childhood pal Olive Morgan must be rescued from an ill-fated elopement—and her sister Clementine must be rescued from rescuing Olive. Suddenly the trip has become earls-plus-girls.

This . . . complicates matters. The fully grown Clementine, while as frank and refreshing as Archie remembers, is also different to the wild, windswept girl he knew. This Clem is complex and surprising—and adamantly opposed to marriage. Which, for reasons Archie dare not examine too closely, he finds increasingly vexing.

Then Clem makes him an indecent and quite delightful proposal, asking him to show her the pleasures of the marriage bed before she settles into spinsterhood. And what kind of gentleman would he be to refuse a lady?

My Review:

This book was mediocre but still a fun, entertaining read. I’ve definitely read better Regency Romances.

This is a case where the story is light on the plot and focuses more on the characters, but it could’ve been improved with a bit more focus on the plot. I was very bored with this story and had to force myself to push through it. It took me about a month to read it because it wasn’t keeping my attention very well. I think the first thing that was a turnoff was the writing style. It felt very repetitive, some phrases were just too silly for me, some scenes didn’t make sense because they lacked explanation and detail, and some descriptions were just too drawn out. Sometimes, it took too many words to get a simple point across to the reader. Some of the content also felt too modern for a historical romance. Plus, the chapters were incredibly long – way, way too long in my opinion. I had a lot of problems with the writing and wouldn’t consider this top-tier, professional writing. It could’ve used a good editor. 

As for the story, there are plenty of funny scenes and comedy dispersed throughout the chapters. It was full of light-hearted fun. I was really engaged in the first quarter of the book, but then it went downhill for me. The middle stalled out and became very boring, and then the ending was lackluster. By the time I got to the end, I just didn’t care anymore and wanted it to be over.

The three main guys were an interesting trio. These characters were quirky, charismatic, and likable; however, at times, I didn’t feel their chemistry together. It was a bit consistent. It also felt like the guys acted more like how girls would act together and not manly men of the era. They felt soft, too emotional, and easily persuaded by each other like girlfriends would be together. They didn’t feel like strong, masculine men, as I would’ve preferred. However, they cared for each other in huge ways. I liked the camaraderie between them and how they created this tradition of taking an Earl’s trip each summer.  

But then this year, their annual trip was altered when a pair of sisters entered the story. They are both sassy, strong-willed, and independent women, but I found them irritating for the majority of the book. One of the sisters is a vegetarian, and that seemed to play a large part of her identity, which became boring and repetitive. She is also a feminist and anti-marriage. These modern concepts made the story feel disjointed for the time period it was supposed to be in. It didn’t feel like it fit in this historical fiction book at all. It felt forced and more like political/activist propaganda, which I didn’t like at all. This was probably my biggest turnoff of the book. 

There is a slow burn, friends-to-lovers romance in this story. It was a decent romance, but I wanted more from it. I wanted to go deeper, and we didn’t. There are also a couple of spicy scenes, which I didn’t care for because I prefer closed-door romances. It’s not super graphic but it was enough to make me feel uncomfortable reading it. I would rate it at least PG-13. 

I couldn’t really connect to any of the characters, and the plot was so boring. I also didn’t care for the writing style, so this author may not be for me. I don’t know if I’ll read another book by her. Unfortunately, this one just didn’t work too well for me. It was just okay. It did make me laugh and there were parts I enjoyed, but it also induced a lot of eye-rolling and confusion due to the poor writing. I don’t know if I recommend it, but if it sounds interesting to you, maybe give it a try. You may have better luck with it than I did.


City of Stardust by Georgia Summers

Format: Digital ebook
My GR Rating: 2
Learn more on GoodReads

GR Description: The Everly family is cursed. Every generation is destined to lose their best and brightest, taken by a woman named Penelope, who never ages, never sickens, and never forgives a debt.

When her mother vanishes in the middle of the night, the curse falls on Violet Everly—unless she can break it first. To do so, she must descend into a seductive, magical underworld of power-hungry scholars, fickle gods, and monsters bent on revenge. And at the edges of the world, she’ll find the City of Stardust, where the Everly story began.

My Review:

I was so excited to read this fantasy novel. The cover is absolutely gorgeous, and the summary sounded like something I would enjoy. Unfortunately, this was a big miss for me. 

My biggest complaint was the sudden POV changes. This story is told by multiple characters, and sometimes, the POV changes right in the middle of a page or even a paragraph. We don’t get any notice of the change coming. We’re just suddenly thrust into another person’s head. It felt so disjointed, confusing, and jarring that it constantly took me out of the story, which became increasingly frustrating the further I got into the story. 

The pacing was also poorly done. The first half of the book was very slow-paced, and I became rather bored with it, though I was still intrigued, hoping it would get better. It did…and it didn’t. It does pick up in pacing in the second half of the book, specifically the last quarter. However, it still didn’t pull me into this world. I wanted a lot more fantasy elements. I wanted many more action sequences. I wanted the story to surprise me and take me on a wild ride, which it failed to do. Ultimately, it felt like nothing really happened. 

The story had a unique premise but needed better execution. It was very atmospheric but the world-building felt a bit sloppy. The story was a bit complex and hard to follow at times. I wasn’t even sure what I was reading about for the majority of the story. Unfortunately, it’s not a story that will stick with me long-term. It’s not very memorable. 

The writing is beautiful but it’s overshadowed by too much flowery description and not enough dialogue and substance. I found myself skimming the majority of the book. I felt like not enough details and information were given; therefore, it was difficult to visualize locations, settings, and the world being built. 

As for the characters, I couldn’t connect to any of them; therefore, I didn’t really care about any of them. They all lacked character development and felt one-dimensional and flat. The romance felt forced, and I didn’t get any chemistry from the main couple. There is some language but no spice (clean, closed-door romance), just a few kissing scenes. 

If I wasn’t reading this for NetGalley, I probably would’ve DNF’d it in the beginning. Overall, this had so much potential but ended up being a big disappointment for me. I didn’t really like any aspect of it, and can’t recommend it.

The Improbable Meet-Cute Short Story Collection

Worst Wingman Ever by Abby Jimenez

Format: Digital ebook
My GR Rating: 4
Learn more on GoodReads

GR Description: They’re falling in love, yet they’ve never met. Maybe fate can intervene in a heartwarming “what-if” short story about new beginnings by the New York Times bestselling author of Yours Truly.

Holly is dealing with the impending death of her grandmother and still reeling from a bad breakup. One bright spot: a Valentine’s Day card on Holly’s windshield—even if it wasn’t meant for her. An amusing mistake soon turns into a lovely exchange of anonymous notes, little acts of kindness, and a growing affection between two strangers. What happens when one of them has to say goodbye?

My Review:

Of all the short stories in the Meet-Cute collection, this was my favorite one. Even though it was a quick read, it felt fully developed. I was pleasantly surprised by how emotional and heartfelt it went in just a few short pages. I thought the plot was creative and fun. I liked the characters and their banter. I thought the romance was done well. I liked the family dynamics with Holly. It was very cute. If this story was fleshed out into a full-length novel, I would pick it up. Definitely recommend this one!

Royal Valentine by Sariah Wilson

Format: Digital ebook
My GR Rating: 3
Learn more on GoodReads

GR Description: Princess Ilaria has had it up to her tiara with the paparazzi, her own wild reputation, and the public eye. Trading places with her assistant, Ilaria wants just one blissfully ordinary weekend. Then a handsome photographer with a sexy Scottish burr offers to be her guide. Sparks fly, but how long can they last? Ilaria’s secret has to come out—and it could ruin a perfectly serendipitous romance.

My Review:

This short story was super cute and very cheesy, which I didn’t mind. It reminded me of the classic movie, Roman Holiday. I appreciated that this was a clean, closed-door romance. I felt transported to Europe. I enjoyed the characters and watching them get to know each other. It did feel insta-love, which is a trope I do not like, but I didn’t mind it in this story. I liked it, but it’s not original. I’ve seen/read this type of story before, but I still enjoyed myself. If it sounds interesting to you, then give it a try. I recommend it for a short read.

The Exception to the Rule by Christina Lauren

Format: Digital ebook
My GR Rating: 3
Learn more on GoodReads

GR Description: One typo, and a boy and girl connect by chance. Wishing each other a happy Valentine’s Day isn’t the end. In fact, it becomes a friendly annual tradition—with rules: no pics, no real names, nothing too personal. As years pass, the rules for their email “dates” are breaking, and they’re sharing more than they imagined—including the urge to ask…what if we actually met?

My Review:

I enjoyed the first half of the story where we read emails between the main couple. It was really sweet and cute. I wished the whole story was in that format, until maybe the end where, of course, they finally meet. But then, the story took a turn in the second half where we saw them in-person, and it just went downhill for me. I didn’t like the sexual innuendos used, and the dialogue was cringey. I didn’t appreciate the vulgar language and immaturity of the characters. These authors are just not for me. I will not read anything else by them. Do not recommend.

With Any Luck by Ashley Poston

Format: Digital ebook
My GR Rating: 3
Learn more on GoodReads

GR Description: Every person she kisses finds their true love, and it’s never her—until now, in this funny and magically romantic short story by the New York Times bestselling author of The Dead Romantics.

Audrey Love is cursed to be the person before you find your soulmate, the girl you dump for your true love. So when her best friend disappears hours before his Valentine’s Day wedding, Audrey fears that she did the unthinkable and kissed him at last night’s bachelor party. With help from the best man, she retraces her steps to find the missing groom and, with any luck, a true love of her own.

My Review:

This was not a memorable story. However, it did remind me of one of my favorite romcom movies, My Best Friend’s Wedding. Another short story that had an interesting plot, but the execution was done so poorly. It was confusing about who the love interest was. Then once we found out, I didn’t feel any chemistry between them. Honestly, I didn’t like any of the characters. It was too cheesy. There is some spice that I didn’t care for. There is also a non-binary side character with they/them pronouns, so the grammar didn’t make any sense and made it hard to read (eye-roll). The MFC gets drunk the night before and can’t remember anything. I didn’t like to read about a woman, not in control of herself. Didn’t care for this one. Do not recommend.

Rosie and the Dreamboat by Sally Thorne

Format: Digital ebook
My GR Rating: 2
Learn more on GoodReads

GR Description: For a hopeful and hopeless romantic, it’s love at first sight—with a little twist.

Rosie Whittaker and her sister are up for some Galentine’s pampering at a day spa. Getting locked inside a flotation tank is so Rosie. Enter a firefighter hero determined to pry this luckless pearl out of her high-tech shell. All Rosie has to go on is a dreamy voice and a flirty sense of humor. Remain calm, Rosie. This could be what you’ve been waiting for. Is this the man she’s waited for her whole life?

My Review:

This was a strange romance story that I didn’t really care for. It has an interesting plot, but the execution was terrible. It was incredibly unrealistic. The dialogue was cringey. The ending was ridiculous. The whole thing was just messy. It was just a silly, weird story that I do not recommend.

Drop, Cover, and Hold On by Jasmine Guillory

Format: Digital ebook
My GR Rating: 1
Learn more on GoodReads

GR Description: This Valentine’s Day, Daisy Murray has her heart set on binge-watching rom-coms. Instead, an earthquake traps her inside a bakery with its impossibly rude and insufferably handsome owner and head baker. They already have a history: she’s always smiled, he’s always scowled. Where better to finally get to know each other than amid the disaster? Then again, they have no choice. Besides, it could have its sweet, undeniable, and unpredictable perks.

My Review:

Unfortunately, this story and writing were not for me. It was just…BAD! I didn’t like anything about it. I thought the plot sounded incredibly unrealistic. There was insta-lust and some scenes that got spicy, which didn’t make any sense. No likable characters. The dialogue was cringey. The writing was just terrible. I skimmed most of it just to finish it. Do NOT recommend!!

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