Review and Giveaway | Dirty Letters, Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward

Black and white image of a handsome, brooding young man with wavy dark hair and a black shirtWhen I was in grade school, I wanted a pen pal. Blame it on Sweet Valley Twins, where Elizabeth Wakefield’s best friend Amy Sutton had a pen pal who came to visit. This was before social media was a thing (ahem), and so the idea of connecting with a near-stranger hundreds, possibly thousands of miles away, seemed like a fun and inexpensive way to learn about life in other countries.

Now imagine having a pen pal, becoming BFFs with him over all the angsty, tumultuous teenage years, then having him grow up to look like this cover model. Oh, and he also happens to now live in the same country as you and be a world-famous rock star. Um, sign me up, please!

In all seriousness, while Dirty Letters does have a fair amount of steam (I can never look at a Furby in the same way again), it also has a lot of angst and pain and all sorts of emotions. Griffin and Luca have to work hard for their happily ever after, and Keeland and Ward make sure the payoff is well worth it.

See, while Griffin and Luca form a strong bond over the letters they exchange as children, both experience tragedies in their late teens that result in Luca ghosting Griffin completely, and Griffin never forgiving her for that. Fast forward eight years, and Luca is sorting out her deceased father’s estate when she finds Griffin’s rage-filled final letter, and decides to try to reconnect and explain why she stopped writing. Their low-key childhood crushes on each other have developed into more adult feelings, and their letters soon get pretty hot and heavy.

I love that Keeland and Ward don’t let the childhood misunderstanding and the letter-writing format drag on for too long, as the story really kicked off for me when Griffin and Luca finally meet in person. The bulk of the story focuses on the conflict between their wildly different lifestyles — Griffin is a rock star hounded by paparazzi, and Luca is living with severe anxiety (and I think agoraphobic?) with a huge fear of crowds. So the life of a rock star’s girlfriend is definitely not for her.

I absolutely loved Luca as a character. I loved the little details like how she shops at a grocery store after midnight so she can avoid the crowds, and I also love the quirkier details like her having a pet pig. The various aspects of her vulnerability felt real, and I loved how much she developed and worked through her fears over the course of the book. I liked her friendship with Doc, the bird-watcher therapist, who was such a sweet elderly man and very much a father figure to Luca.

To be honest, Griffin took a while to grow on me. I thought his angry letter to Luca when she stopped responding was immature, and honestly a bit scary. Even after they reconnected as adults, I was turned off by his letter being all judgemental about the “shallow” women he meets who “make it easy” to have sex with them. And I was especially turned off when Griffin hired an investigator to find Luca and take photos so he could see what she looked like now.

Fortunately, he improved as a character after they meet in person, and I think it’s because playing off of Luca allows him to show off his sweeter side. I love how much he was in love with Luca, and how committed he was to ensuring her comfort and happiness. In one absolutely beautiful scene, sets things up so she can listen to him perform without having to deal with the crowds and the noise.

Overall, this is a steamy romance that is surprisingly more sweet than the premise suggests. Luca and Griffin are both complex characters, who must move a bit outside their comfort zone to be together, and I love that the decision to do so was not at all easy, but is ultimately well worth the wait.

Giveaway

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Want to read Dirty Letters for yourself? Enter here for your chance to win 1 copy of Dirty Letters by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward!

Giveaway Details:
– Canada Only (excl. Quebec—full rules found in the T&C on Rafflecopter)
– Giveaway begins on November 11th and ends on November 28th at 11:59 pm EST
– Winner will be drawn randomly through Rafflecopter, contacted via email & will have 48 hours to claim their prize

Blog Tour

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Check out the rest of the Dirty Letters blog tour below:

Review | The Temptation of Gracie, Santa Montefiore

TemptationOfGracieCoverThe Temptation of Gracie is a lovely read, the kind of the book to enjoy while wrapped up in a blanket with a cup of tea. It’s the story of three women — Gracie, who has lived the past 40 years in a sleepy village in Devon, her high-powered and workaholic daughter Carina, and Carina’s 17-year-old daughter Anastasia — who travel to a castle in Italy for a weeklong cooking class. What Carina and Anastasia don’t realize is that Gracie has lived in Italy before, and that this castle is linked to a passionate romance from Gracie’s past.

First of all, I love the idea of a weeklong cooking class in an old Tuscan castle. How incredible would it be to learn how to cook delicious pasta dishes — made with fresh, all natural ingredients! — in such a beautiful, evocative setting? The class is run by a mother-daughter duo, which just adds to the intimate, homey feel, and I love the idea that such an experience can shift your whole relationship with food and eating.

I love the family dynamics as well between Gracie, Carina and Anastasia. I love how they were all somewhat distant from each other in the beginning, but the location and the food help them let down their defences and become closer to each other. I found it sweet how Gracie and Anastasia bonded over a boy Anastasia had met in Tuscany. To Carina’s concern, Gracie responds that it’s good for young people to have at least one wild, passionate fling even though it’ll more than likely end in heartbreak, and that youth of Anastasia’s generation are savvy enough to know how to be careful. I found that whole subplot sweet, and love how the experience of love can forge bonds across generations.

One thing that fell short for me was the romance from Gracie’s past. I wanted to be swept away by this storyline, and I wanted to believe in a youthful passion so strong that Gracie still remembers it 40 years later. And to some extent, the affair was passionate. Gracie was certainly in love with a wealthy, powerful man, and he broke her heart (of course) due to external circumstances beyond his control. But I never quite bought into his love for Gracie (at least until the very end of the book, where it was a bit too little, too late). He makes Gracie do something that she feels conflicted about, and the way he convinces her to do it anyway made me wonder if he liked her for herself or for what she could do for him (in this case, have revenge on a greedy family member).

The present-day update on this romance also fell short for me. The conflict in the present-day hinges on a big reveal that comes courtesy of Anastasia and close to the end of the book. The problem was that this reveal was pretty obvious to me early in the book, and so it was more frustrating than anything that Gracie kept missing the signs and misunderstanding the situation.

I also wasn’t a fan of the subplot featuring a busybody from Gracie’s village in Devon, who wanted to organize a grand funeral for another resident, but hated not having Gracie around to do the grunt work. This character and subplot bookended the main story, and while it added atmosphere as well as provided insight on Gracie’s life in Devon, it just dragged on too long, particularly at the end. I would have much preferred to see how Gracie’s life turned out myself rather than hear about it secondhand in the midst of a flurry of activity over a funeral for someone we never even met.

Still, overall, I enjoyed the story. The Temptation of Gracie is a feel-good book that’ll make you emit a happy sigh and want to cook spaghetti with your family members. The conflicts and drama are heartfelt but fairly light, and you can just imagine what a beautiful movie this would make.

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Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Well Met, Jen DeLuca

WellMetCoverWell Met is a light-hearted enemies to lovers romance against the backdrop of a small town Renaissance faire. Emily joins the fair’s group of volunteers as a favour to her sister and to her niece, and butts heads against Simon, the fair’s serious organizer, who doesn’t appreciate Emily’s lackadaisical attitude. It turns out Simon has a deeply personal reason for wanting the fair to be just perfect, and Emily learns they have more in common than she first realized.

I love the chemistry between the leads, particular when they’re in role as a Captain Blackthorne the pirate and Emma the tavern wench. Unlike Emily, I never really minded Simon’s seriousness. (My one big minus for this book was Emily’s utter cluelessness at the potential reasons behind Simon’s churlish behaviour and at the considerate things he did on the down low.) Still, like Emily, I totally found Simon’s flirtatious pirate persona hot, and I loved their in-character banter. I also love how their feelings for each other expanded beyond their fair characters and into the real world.

The unabashed cheesiness of the Renaissance faire setting definitely added to the charm. Situations like the wench costume’s tight bodice (not a corset, as Simon points out!), the choreographed battles, and above all, the staged handfasting ceremony (!) all factored into the romance.

I also love the family dynamics, with Simon’s unwavering devotion to his brother Sean’s legacy and Emily’s instinctive generosity in helping her sister manage daily tasks after a major injury. The relationship between Emily and her older sister was so sweet, and I love how much they supported each other.

Finally, I love the secondary characters, particularly Mitch the hot flirty guy in a kilt and Stacey the other tavern wench. I love how they, and Chris the bookstore owner and Renaissance fair queen, so easily welcome Emily into their community’s family feel, and make an effort to include her, a newcomer, in the town’s events. I’m excited to learn that the next book will be Stacey’s story, and from the preview excerpt in this book, seems that it will have a dynamic of a hot guy who isn’t a serious romantic prospect and a sweet guy friend who likely turns out to be the hero. I found Stacey to be a dynamic, compelling character, and I can’t wait to see her find her HEA.

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Thanks to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.