Charm City Rocks by Matthew Norman

Are you looking for a contemporary fiction book with a dash of romance? One that doesn’t have romance as the major theme? If so, I recommend Charm City Rocks by Matthew Norman. While there is romance, there are other themes and relationships focused throughout which, in my opinion, lean this title more about friendships and family and less about romance.

Billy Perkins is an independent music teacher working out of his apartment above Charm City Rocks, a record shop in Baltimore. He’s happy. He loves his job and loves being a single dad to his nerdy teenage son, Caleb.

Margot Hammer is the former drummer of the band Burnt Flowers. They used to be famous until Margot had an infamous meltdown on television. Now she is a recluse living alone in New York City. After a new music documentary is released highlighting Burnt Flowers, Margot finds herself somewhat unwillingly thrust back into the spotlight. When a new publicist assigned to her by her label shows up on her doorstep, Margot knows she’s in for quite the life change.

Billy and Caleb have been watching this new music documentary together. When Billy mentions to Caleb that he has always had a crush on Margot, Caleb gets an idea. You see, Caleb is having difficulty choosing what college to go to because he thinks that Billy is lonely. Late one night, Caleb works out a plan to get Margot to visit Charm City Rocks.

In the cold light of day, Caleb thinks his plan is a dream, but imagine his surprise when Margot and her publicist show up in Baltimore. Her label has decided that she needs the publicity, so when the opportunity to play with a young band in Baltimore pops up, they jump at the chance. When they arrive however, they are greeted by Caleb, Billy, and the very confused owner of Charm City Rocks. This messy introduction puts Billy and Margot on a collision course to figuring out what really makes them happy.

What set this book apart for me was its unique storytelling. Norman writes from the perspectives of multiple different characters: Billy, Caleb, Margot, and more. Supporting characters are so much more in this book – readers get a glimpse into their lives and how fully they impact and interact with each other. This was a quick, charming, quirky read, one that is humorous, relatable, and goofy. This book doesn’t focus only on romantic love, which was a relief. Norman writes about family, both found and ones you’re related to, as well as finding yourself and discovering what you really need. Pick up this feel-good contemporary romance for a palette cleanser.

The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Do you have a favorite romance novel trope? Some examples of the most common tropes are friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, forbidden lovers, secret identities, forced proximity, second chance, and fake relationships. This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the romance tropes, instead these are ones that have popped up in the romance books I have read in the past couple months. My latest romance read, The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon, featured two of these tropes: enemies to lovers and fake relationship.

Shay Goldstein has been working at a Seattle public radio station for almost a decade. Hired on for an internship when she was 19, Shay has worked her way up to producing her own show. Working at PPR is her dream and she can’t imagine working anywhere else. The one wrinkle: working with Dominic Yun, her newest colleague who just graduated with his masters in journalism and who will not shut up about having his masters. He’s the hot new thing at the station and Shay can’t stand him.

At a pitch meeting for new ideas, Shay proposes a new show where two exes talk about their relationship and deliver relationship advice on air. Their boss decides Shay & Dom should host, despite the fact that they have never dated and frankly can’t stand each other(though the hatred feels more fueled by Shay than Dom). Their new show, The Ex Talk, skyrockets to fame, their popularity soars, and their lie grows bigger and bigger. The more time Shay and Dom spend together, the more they realize they might not actually hate each other. Their deception looms, leaving the two knowing that if the truth comes out, their careers and budding relationship will end.

This title is loosely related to the book, Business or Pleasure by the same author, which I read last year and LOVED. I have yet to read a title by this author that I haven’t enjoyed.

Lore Olympus: Volume One by Rachel Smythe

I have talked about my love for Greek mythology on the blog before, so when I found a WEBTOON about Greek mythology, I knew I would love it. Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe is a printed/published comic book series that began as a WEBTOON comic of the same name. As of this writing, there are five published volumes of Lore Olympus! (And all are owned by the Davenport Public Library and available for you to check out – the sixth is set to be published hopefully in May 2024!)

Lore Olympus: Volume One introduces readers to the messy, glitzy world of forbidden love, scandal, gossip, and wild parties in Olympus. The Greek pantheon is a wild group of gods and goddesses, spiraling out with numerous other family members. This retelling focuses on Hades and Persephone, putting a modern twist on a classic tale – the parts that occur in Olympus happen in modern times, while the parts that take place in the mortal realm happen in the original classic timeline(no cell phones etc. in the mortal realm).

Persephone was raised in the mortal realm, but her mother, Demeter, has allowed her to live in Olympus after she promises to train as a sacred virgin. Her roommate, Artemis, takes her to a party one night that changes her entire life. Persephone bumps into Hades, feeling a spark and tether to this God who is incredibly charming, yet misunderstood. The world of Olympus is new and confusing to her with the swirling mess of politics and relationships that govern day-to-day life. Figuring out who to trust is hard enough, let alone trying to figure out what’s happening with her powers and where she fits in amongst the established in Olympus.

I LOVE Greek mythology. So Much. This whole series is right up my alley. Hades and Persephone are adorable. The artwork is also especially beautiful. I highly recommend you read the other published volumes and check out the Lore Olympus WEBTOON if you wish.

Love Everlasting Volume 1 by Tom King

Love Everlasting: Volume One is a graphic novel that was published in 2023. It contains Love Everlasting #1-5 and was written by Tom King, artist Elsa Charretier, colorist Matt Hollingsworth, letterer Clayton Cowles, and editor Marla Eizik. This book caught my eye as the cover reminded me of Jamie S. Rich and Joelle Jones’s Lady Killer. (The familiar cover is Issue #1 and an image can be found on the Dark Horse website.)

‘Love is everlasting.’ That is what Joan Peterson is told immediately before she is murdered. Shocking, right?! In Joan’s world though, being murdered is a frequent occurrence. She has been caught in a never-ending cycle of deadly romance for as long as she can remember. After each death, Joan wakes up in another timeline with a new, yet somehow the same, problem: a man wants to marry her. Every time she falls in love, says yes to marriage, she is dramatically torn from that world and catapulted into another one with more disastrous love on her horizon. Joan is confused about how she even started on this path, wanting to break free, but unsure of how. Readers are at a loss right alongside her. Towards the end of this first volume, Joan starts her journey to escape this maddening cycle of love and death. Will she escape? Only time will tell.

You Lucky Dog by Julia London

‘She’d done everything right. She’d gotten good grades in school, had gotten a good job, and had worked hard. She’d been a decent daughter, a better sister. She didn’t do drugs or drink much. She’d done everything right. It was not supposed to be this way. She was supposed to have it all by now, not be worrying about how to pay her rent.’ – Julia London, You Lucky Dog

Every once in a while, I need a reading break. When that happens, I look up feel good romances that I know will make me smile or laugh. My latest feel good read was You Lucky Dog by Julia London. I won’t lie – the cover hooked me first, giving me 101 Dalmatians vibes with the twisted together leashes. That plus basset hounds and I was ready to start reading. You Lucky Dog is the first in the the Lucky Dog series.

Carly Kennedy is struggling. Her new business, Carly Kennedy Public Relations, is not going well. She only has two clients, yet they are the neediest clients she has ever had and demand so much of her time. Her parents are divorced and are both now going through separate midlife crises that are way too much. Her mother bought her sister a basset hound WITHOUT asking her, causing said sister to completely melt down. Baxter, the basset, is now Carly’s problem. Baxter is a sad basset hound. In fact, Carly thinks he may be depressed. He can frequently be found with his head wedged in the corner of the room no matter Carly’s best efforts to coax him out. Baxter is growing on her though.

Yet another inconvenience is dropped on Carly’s plate when she comes home from work late one night to discover an imposter basset hound in her house. Her dog walker has switched out her sad basset for this perkier female basset who has no boundaries. This one is on her couch, chewing on things she shouldn’t be touching!

Max Sheffington is also confused. His happy basset hound, Haxel, has been replaced by this depressed male basset hound who, for some reason, will not get out of the corner of the room. Max is even more bewildered when Carly shows up on his front step demanding her dog back. It doesn’t help that Carly is pretty and extremely opinionated, facts that distract Max and simultaneously captivate him. He was expecting his dog walker, something that this gorgeous woman is not. Carly was expecting a stuffy old man given the name of the man she was told had her dog. Instead she finds a handsome man who is corrupting poor Baxter! Her dog is sprawled on the couch and has clearly been eating macaroni and cheese.

What most surprises Carly is that Baxter seems to be at home at Max’s house. He loves Hazel and follows her around. Since Baxter’s mood has improved, Carly decides that she needs to spend more time with Hazel and Max to keep him happy. It doesn’t take long for Carly to realize that there are feelings buzzing between her and Max, even though the two couldn’t be more different. Their lives end up being completely altered by an accidental dog swap.

While I enjoyed the premise, I found myself wanting to shake Carly at points (to be fair, I find myself more likely to want to shake the main characters when I’m reading romance – just TALK to each other already). Some of the solutions to her problems were right in front of her face, but she was just not seeing them. Regardless of my frustrations, this novel was adorable and exactly the brain break I needed. The main characters were both genuinely nice and cared about all the people in their lives. The fact that the author made Max’s brother autistic was a breath of fresh air. His portrayal was done sensitively and seeing him through Max’s eyes from both a scientific and familial point of view was also realistic. All in all, I enjoyed this book and am already searching for the second book, It Started with a Dog.

This title is also available in large print, as a Libby eBook, and Libby eAudiobook.

Lucky Dog series

  1. You Lucky Dog (2020)
  2. It Started with a Dog (2021)

‘That was the problem with social media—there were people in the world who seemingly existed just to tear other people down, but you couldn’t give them any oxygen. You couldn’t let them steal your mojo. And the best way to keep your mojo intact was to stay off social media and allow your publicist to post for you and monitor comments.’ – Julia London, You Lucky Dog

A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey

“Thing is, when you put something back together it’s never exactly the same as it was before.”
― Laura Taylor Namey, A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow

A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey is gorgeously written, exactly what my heart needed. Even though this cover is bubblegum pink, it deals with heavy topics like grief and heartbreak in a sensitive manner. The writing pulled me in from the start with richly descriptive settings and characters that popped off the page.  (FYI the companion book, A British Girl’s Guide to Hurricanes and Heartbreak, is set to be released at the end of September 2023 and I CANNOT WAIT!)

Lila Reyes did not have ‘spend a summer in England’ on her wishlist after graduation. If everything had worked out the way she planned, she would be moving in with her best friend, taking over as head baker at her abuela’s bakery, and spending more time with her boyfriend. Her plans destroyed when the Trifecta happened. Lila, like her plans, fell apart.

After a twenty mile run leaves Lila crying in a field and her family searching for her, her parents, worried about her mental health, send her to Winchester, England for three months. Her instructions are to relax, reset, and recharge. A complete change of scenery is in order, which combined with a family member she hasn’t seen in years has the possibility to rejuvenate her(if Lila would open up a bit). The lack of anything Miami, no sun, no flavorful food, and grumpy people has Lila anxious and wishing desperately to go back home to Miami.

Lila’s attitude changes when she meets Orion Maxwell. Orion is a clerk in his family’s teashop. He doesn’t swoop in to solve Lila’s problem, quite the opposite. Orion has his own heap of problems, helping him understand that Lila needs an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. Volunteering to be her personal tour guide, Orion takes Lila on trips across the English countryside, showing her that England isn’t as bad as she thinks. Instead England is charming and full of people who only want to help. Lila realizes that the future she originally wanted just months ago may not be where her heart is anymore; part of her may have fallen for England and the boy who showed her how to trust again.

This book is also available as a Libby eBook and Libby eAudiobook.

“I’ve grown to find peace and acceptance in not fighting what I can’t control.”
― Laura Taylor Namey, A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow

Did this book catch your interest? Join See YA and discuss this book with us at our October meeting! See YA is our adult book club with a teen book twist. See why so many teen books are being turned into movies and are taking over the best seller lists.

Registration is not required. Books are available on a first-come, first-serve basis at the Eastern Avenue library. We meet the first Wednesday of the month at Eastern at 6:30pm. Stop by the service desk for more information.

October 4A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey

November 1 Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Relationships : learning to love by the School of Life

Who doesn’t need more help with their relationships? Whether you are single and seeking companionship or have been in a long-term relationship for decades, everyone has something to learn when it comes to interpersonal connection. Fortunately for all of us we have The School of Life.

The School of Life is a team of writers and educators who offer articles, books, films, therapeutic services and even an app to help teach people how life can be lived and what can make it truly worthwhile, effective and fulfilling. Their book Relationships: learning to love offers readers strategies to find love and maintain it over time. If you want to become the kind of partner that can foster satisfying, long-term relationships, check out Relationships: learning to love. You’ll be glad you did!

You may be interested in other books by The School of Life, that can be found in the Davenport Public Library’s Learning and Literacy Collection (LC), including: On being nice: a guide to friendship and connection and On failure

 

 

 

 

The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston

Have you ever picked a title to read based purely on the cover? My latest read, The Dead Romantics by Ashley Poston, was one I picked for that reason. Lucky for me, it ended up being right up my alley: ghostwriters, handsome editors, a family-run funeral home, literal ghosts, and a love story.

Florence Day no longer believes in love. This wouldn’t be a problem except that she is the ghostwriter for a very prolific romance author. Her job demands that Florence believe in love. She has her terrible ex-boyfriend to blame. He crushed her heart and left her standing in the rain after their breakup.

When Florence meets with her new editor, she’s distracted to find that he’s incredibly handsome. However, he won’t give her an extension for her book deadline and even mentions getting legal involved if she misses her current deadline! Florence is distraught, but all her work worries cease to matter when she receives a devastating phone call from home. She has to return home for the first time in a decade. Florence’s father has died.

Her tiny hometown has never understood her. Although she misses her eccentric family, their funeral parlor, and the sweet sounds of a warm Southern night, Florence was desperate to escape as soon as she could. Now that she’s back, it seems as if nothing has changed. Her feelings are thrown for a loop when she discovers a ghost standing on the porch of the funeral parlor, confused about why he’s there. Florence must help him pass on, but is unsure how. The ghost’s unfinished business, combined with her own grief, will have Florence confused about what she believed about herself. Does she really think romance is dead and that love stories are lost to her forever?

This title is also available in the following formats:

Romance Reads: Part of Your World series by Abby Jimenez

“Grace costs you nothing”
― Abby Jimenez, Part of Your World

Let me be completely honest here: the reason why I checked out this book is because the title had me singing ‘Part of Your World’ from ‘The Little Mermaid’ movie. One of the main characters also has red hair, so…. it was pretty much a given that I would read this book.

Part of Your World by Abby Jimenez is a modern fairy tale, a bit of a reverse Cinderella story. (Bonus: it’s dual points-of-view, so you get to see the story unfold from both main characters’ perspectives, which is a major plus for me in romance novels!) If you like books by Casey McQuiston or Emily Henry, you should like this title (or really anything else by Abby Jimenez). Some content warnings as provided by the author: Emotional abuse by side character, on page gaslighting by side character, and on page physical abuse of a secondary character. Main character is an emergency room doctor – there are brief mentions of fatal accidents of minors, though we don’t see these on the page. Let’s talk about the book!

Alexis Montgomery has grown up knowing exactly what her life will be like. Her parents are extremely wealthy and expect Alexis to carry on the prestigious family legacy of world-renowned surgeons who have been working at the same hospital for 125 years. Alexis is tired though. She’s tired of disappointing her father by being seen as ‘only’ an emergency room doctor in his eyes, even though she does immediate good in her job. Alexis doesn’t want to live up to her family’s dreams anymore, but she doesn’t really have a choice.

On her way from a family funeral, Alexis finds herself stranded outside a small-town. She meets Daniel Grant, a small-town carpenter with his own family legacy. Daniel’s family has lived in the same small town for over 100 years, filling the town’s needs with their giving hearts. He may not have gone to college, but he is perfectly content with his future. When Daniel meets Alexis though, he starts to question what he thought he wanted. After that first night, the two start to spend as much time together as they possibly can. Their lives couldn’t possibly be more different; they are, in fact, worlds apart. From the beginning though, the two feel an instant connection. Living in their happy bubble is not feasible in the long term. It’s only a matter of time before word of their relationship gets out. The fallout of that could destroy everything they have created together.

“Love follows you. It goes where you go. It doesn’t know about social divides or distance or common sense. It doesn’t even stop when the person you love dies. It does what it wants.”
― Abby Jimenez, Part of Your World

This book is also available in the following formats:

Part of Your World series

  1. Part of Your World (2022)
  2. Yours Truly (2023)

Thank You for Listening by Julia Whelan

“Of course there should be an HEA. I’m so sick of this question. It’s a Romance! That’s the deal we make with our readers. It’s misogyny, plain and simple. You don’t see anyone telling Mystery readers they’re silly and unserious for wanting to know by the end of the book who the murderer was. Fuck off.
–June French in Cosmopolitan”
― Julia Whelan, Thank You for Listening

Julia Whelan is one of my favorite audiobook narrators with over 450 audiobook narrations under her belt (she’s probably much closer to 500 by the time of this posting). She is also an author! In 2018, Whelan debuted My Oxford Year and then followed up with Thank You for Listening in August 2022. Her latest book, Thank You for Listening, caught my interest as soon as I read the premise: an audiobook narrator has a one-night stand in Vegas with a stranger and then embarks upon recording a romance novel by a late author who picked her specifically for the project.

Sewanee Chester never thought she would end up being an audiobook narrator, but after a disastrous accident ended her career as an actress, she somehow found herself narrating. Sewanee found satisfaction working in a sound booth. This job also allows her time to care for her grandmother who is ailing. When her boss falls ill, Sewanee flies to Las Vegas to fill in for him at a book convention where she meets a charming stranger and spends a dizzying night with him.

Once back home, Sewanee learns that a late beloved romance novelist wanted her to perform her last book alongside another audiobook narrator, Brock McNight, considered the industry’s hottest voice. He is also incredibly secretive – no one knows who Brock McNight really is. While Sewanee doesn’t necessarily believe in what romance novels are selling, she owes her audiobook career to her initial success as an audiobook narrator. After much debate, Sewanee decides to take on this project.

The more Sewanee and Brock work on the book, the closer they become. Granted they are hiding behind anonymity as both are operating under their pseudonyms. They make a real connection. The longer they work together, Sewanee finds herself dreaming and hoping again. Reality crashes down yet again when secrets are revealed, leaving Sewanee and Brock left standing unsure in their truths. The two must take their own journeys of acceptance as they work together.