Contemporary Fiction

LOVE AT FIRST SPITE by Anna E. Collins

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Dani does not regret playing paintball in her wedding dress on the day that should have been her wedding. She does regret running into Wyatt Montego, the most intimidating architect at the firm where she works, while drunk at the bar afterward and managing to get paint on his probably-expensive shirt. And of course that wouldn’t have happened if she had realized how self-centered, controlling her ex was before getting engaged to him, buying a house with him, and then suffering the humiliation of being cheated on with their realtor.

But once she sobers up, Dani realizes that the house might provide her with the perfect opportunity for revenge. Since her ex-fiance refused to let her buy the adjacent lot for studio space, she could buy it now and build some giant monstrosity on it to block his view. She could use all her skills as an interior designer to make it exactly the sort of house he’d hate. She just needs an architect to design it. Enter Wyatt Montego. Apparently not bearing any sort of grudge for the paint-on-the-shirt incident, Wyatt stuns Dani by volunteering to design the house for free. Of course they’ll have to keep their relationship professional since they work for the same firm. But that won’t be too difficult since Wyatt isn’t exactly the most personable man in the world (however gorgeous he might be) and there’s no way he could be interested in Dani.

Right?…

This steamy RomCom was tons of adorable fun. The Pride and Prejudice vibe was intentional (several reverences to Bridget Jones) and well-executed, and the Spite House was an original concept with the potential to inspire vengeful glee in anyone who can relate to Dani’s frustration with being constantly undermined by her ex. I highly recommend this novel to fans of the genre and the enemies-to-lovers and workplace romance tropes.

AN ACCIDENTAL ODYSSEY by KC Dyer

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Gia has always had a fraught relationship with her Greek father, an emotionally distant professor and notorious philanderer. But when he has a mini-stroke, she’s at his hospital bedside immediately, even though it means blowing off the wedding cake tasting with her wealthy socialite fiance. And then when her father discharges himself from the hospital and runs off to Greece chasing down the archaeological trail of an historical Odysseus–without his medication–Gia surprises her fiance and herself by hopping a plane to chase after him.

Though her fiance was understanding about the cake tasting, he is decidedly less understanding about her unexpected trip. And following a big fight, Gia engages in something she’d never have believed herself capable of–a wild one-night-stand in the janitor’s closet of a Greek bar. When the next morning comes and she patches things up with her fiance, she starts to make plans to head back home and put the whole Greek misadventure behind her. That is, before she visits her father’s dig and discovers that her one-night-stand is in fact her father’s colleague, a young and extremely attractive archaeologist named Raj. Suddenly, Gia is unsure of everything–her relationship with her fiance, her relationship with her father, her career trajectory–and it seems like the only way to sort out her life is to continue on her accidental journey of self-discovery across the Mediterranean.

The second in a loosely-connected series, this novel sits on the border line of contemporary spicy romance and women’s fiction. To me, Gia’s own self-discovery takes the lead with the romance in step just behind, but the romance has a strong presence as well. The idyllic Mediterranean setting and travel theme was especially welcome in the midst of pandemic isolation; reading this book was like a mini-vacation in itself. This will be an excellent choice for book clubs with readers who enjoy either romance or women’s fiction (or both!), especially since the romance, though spicy, lacks explicit sex scenes if members of your book club can’t handle steam.

DEAR MISS METROPOLITAN by Carolyn Ferrell

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In 2008, the BOSS MAN kidnapped three Black girls and spent the next ten years raping, torturing, aborting, and brainwashing them. Though two of them (and the infant daughter of the third) eventually break free, the trauma of captivity winds its way into their pasts and futures, coloring all of the smaller traumas of their childhoods with abusive or controlling parents and the blossoming possibilities in their future relationships with siblings, counselors, and friends. And as they sort through their memories and emotions to find the truth of what they experienced and who they are, the two survivors are always searching for the truth of what happened to Jesenia, the one who always gave them hope but who didn’t walk out of the house with them on the day of their freedom.

This novel is heavy, both in its subject matter and its experimental literary style. The poetic vignettes, often stream-of-consciousness, appear out of chronological order which creates a unique atmosphere. On the one hand, the jumbled puzzle pieces of the story and the constant effort of picking apart poetry and fantasy from reality prevented me from being fully immersed in the story. On the other hand, the disjointed confusion was an immersion of its own, a sharing in the main characters’ experience of their trauma, unsure of what happened when, what was real and what was imaginary. And the use of fantastical imagery for rape and torture somehow made those moments more graphic and disturbing than a more grounded account would have. Though a thread of mystery runs throughout the novel, this story is neither a mystery nor a thriller. It is a poetic exploration of trauma that will not be for everyone. But for readers who are looking for something to sink into, a story that will challenge them mentally and emotionally and stay with them long after they put the book down, I would recommend DEAR MISS METROPOLITAN.

WELL MATCHED by Jen DeLuca

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After eighteen years as a single mom in a small town, April is ready for a change. In fact, she’s been planning it for the last decade: when her daughter leaves for college, she’ll sell the house and move into an apartment in the city. She’ll be farther from her younger sister, but closer to work. And it’s not like there’s anything else tying her to this town.

When her sister’s friend Mitch, a high school gym teacher and star of the annual summer Renaissance Faire, begs her to fake being his girlfriend at a family reunion, April sees a perfect opportunity to get some help with the repairs she’ll need to do to sell the house. She’s not sure anyone will believe she’s dating Mitch, what with him being a decade younger and the hottest man who has ever donned a kilt, but all he’s really asking her to do is show up and fake an attraction. Not that that will be difficult. But when she sees how Mitch’s family belittles him, April finds herself leaping to his defense and realizes that her attraction to Mitch might not be that shallow–or one-sided. After an unexpected night of passion, April is left wrestling with her emotions. Because in all her years of practical planning for the future, she never once considered the possibility of falling in love.

With fake dating drama and major communication fails, WELL MATCHED draws out the angst you hope for in a contemporary rom-com. Though kilts are promised (and delivered), the Ren Faire portion of the novel is comparatively small. More accurately, this story is about a divorced single mom finding the courage to let herself love again and a high school gym teacher accepting himself and his value to his community. Each has been devalued by people close to them (the hero by his extended family and the heroine by her ex) and it is through their fake relationship and real friendship that they regain their individual senses of self-worth. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this one on the Ren Faire angle alone, I would absolutely put it in the hands of fans of steamy contemporary rom-coms.

THE SURVIVORS by Alex Shulman

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The police officer finds the three brothers on the front porch of their childhood home. Two of them are battered and bleeding. One of them is clutching an urn. It was Benjamin who made the emergency call, afraid that his two brothers were finally going to kill one another, the culmination of a lifetime of disagreements and tension. But as Benjamin remembers both the immediate past–the earlier hours that led to the police call–and the more distant past of a childhood with his alcoholic parents, he is forced to confront the complexities of their dysfunctional family life and the truth about a long-gone summer day that changed their lives forever.

Told by alternating the past and the present, THE SURVIVORS is a slow boil suspense-driven novel with a literary feel. Though suspense fans may grow frustrated with the novel’s gradual, relationship-centric start, readers who love stories of dysfunctional families will be hooked from the first chapter. Ultimately, the story is one of adults coming-of-age, reconciling with the consequences of their pasts on their futures. I’d recommend it to adult readers (and book clubs) who enjoy literary fiction about family dysfunction.

WE ARE INEVITABLE by Gayle Forman

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Aaron’s family business is going extinct. No one comes into the bookstore anymore. Aaron doesn’t blame them. It’s not just that books are cheaper and easier to get online. It’s that the bookstore itself is crumbling. Shelves are literally crashing to the ground, books scattered in disorganized chaos. And the dinosaurs who run the bookstore–Aaron and his father–have been in a similar condition since a tragedy broke up their family. Aaron has been holding on as best he can, running the business and trying to keep his father sane, but it’s not enough. Their debts will bury them. Although his father won’t entertain the notion, Aaron knows their only chance is to sell to a local real estate shark, even if it means going behind his back. But when Aaron reconnects with his brother’s best friend, he is gradually swept back up into the vibrant and caring community of his small town. As hope begins to blossom around him, Aaron begins to wonder–is it possible to survive when the asteroid has already struck?

This novel is quiet in its heartbreak and loud in its hope. Aaron’s grief rings throughout all of his actions while the undercurrent of love from everyone around him lifts him up until he can see a path forward. It’s a must-read for fans of contemporary fiction, both teens and adults, and will be a wonderful pick for book clubs!

Amazon.com: We Are Inevitable (9780425290804): Forman, Gayle: Books

PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION by Emily Henry

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Poppy has worked hard to create her perfect life. She has a New York apartment, an influencer best friend who takes her along to the fanciest restaurants, and her dream job as a writer at an upscale travel magazine that actually pays her to take ritzy, exotic vacations. So why does she feel such a deep sense of dissatisfaction? Why, when her boss is assigning her a posh gig on Santorini in the Mediterranean, is she wistful for a rainy beach week in a dive bar in Florida?

Simple: Alex Nilsen. She hasn’t spoken to her former best friend and travel partner in two years, not since the disaster on their Croatia trip that made everything awkward between them. When a text of “hey” turns into a conversation that makes her realize how much she’s missed him–and how much of his life she’s missed–Poppy knows this might be her last chance to get Alex back in her life. She turns down the Santorini feature and joins Alex on a budget trip to his brother’s wedding in Palm Springs. But time and memories of Croatia have left a mark on the relationship, and Poppy isn’t sure they’ll be able to restore their friendship. And even if they do, will friendship alone be enough?

True Story: I didn’t plan to buy this book since contemporary rom-coms are hit or miss for me, but when my toddler accidentally bought it on my Kindle, I gave it a whirl. And what a happy accident that was! I laughed so hard through this book. The banter! Loved both the hero and heroine and just enjoyed every minute I spent with them. Fans of the genre, or anyone who enjoys witty dialogue and adults who aren’t afraid to be silly together, pick this one up! Highly recommend it.

GROWN by Tiffany D. Jackson

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Enchanted needs to sing like she needs to breathe. The white girls at her school say she sounds like Beyonce, but that’s only because they don’t know many Black singers. Enchanted’s passion is the classic singers–the ones she and her grandma used to sing along with–Gladys Knight, Aretha, Nina Simone.

When she auditions for Music LIVE, the judges aren’t impressed with her dated sing choice or her timid performance, but 28 year old superstar Korey Fields is. He convinces her parents to let Enchanted tour with him, his newest protege. But there’s a darkness to Korey that Enchanted didn’t see at first, and the whirlwind that she thought would lead her to fame and love instead carries her down into terror, abuse, and ultimately a pool of blood on the floor of Korey’s penthouse.

I cannot adequately express how powerful and moving this book is. Enchanted’s voice is so strong. Even with the immense power her abuser holds over her, even when she is confused and heartbroken and doubting herself, she holds on. She fights when she’s able (and when she isn’t able to fight emotionally, mentally, the author makes it very clear that it is NOT her fault that she is in this situation). And she survives.

And the community around her! Reading this book as an adult and a parent, I wept at some of the scenes where her parents defend her. Jackson incorporates their voices directly through police interview transcripts and minutes of mom group meetings to provide a deeper perspective on how a whole community is affected by and responds to the violent abuses of a powerful man. Not all adults react in a positive way, but many do–from the parents, to the psychiatrist, to the flight attendant who notices something amiss. A reader will come away from this book knowing that there is help out there. That they are not alone in their experiences and they do not need to be alone in their rescue and recovery. As dark as the subject matter is, a reader will come away from this book with hope.

TW: This book could definitely trigger survivors of sexual violence and/or abusive relationships, but FWIW it didn’t trigger me. I think it was the strength of Enchanted’s voice and the knowledge from Chapter One that she will escape–that there will be some form of justice–that kept me from going to a dark place. But every survivor’s journey is different, so definitely exercise caution.

EVVIE DRAKE STARTS OVER by Linda Holmes

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Evvie Drake was leaving Tim. She was literally in the car, her suitcase packed in the trunk, when her phone rang. There had been an accident. Her husband was dead.

One year later, Evvie’s life does not resemble the freedom she imagined she’d find without Tim. Her family and friends think it’s grief, but really it’s something else. Guilt. Guilt for the lack of grief. Guilt that she ever wanted to get away from Tim, who was in everyone else’s eyes, completely and utterly perfect. Guilt for the remote possibility that the universe had known she wanted to escape and had taken the matter into its own hands.

But when she takes in a former all-star baseball pitcher as a lodger, Evvie gradually begins to enjoy life again. Because Dean is full of possibility–new friendship, new project, new distraction. What Evvie doesn’t count on is that in trying to fix Dean’s life, she may have to confront the darkness in her own past and the ghosts Tim left behind.

An engaging contemporary romance, EVVIE DRAKE is a fun read and great book club book for groups that enjoy “women’s fiction.”

THE PERFECT COUPLE by Elin Hilderbrand

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The maid of honor’s body washed up on the Nantucket beach the morning of the wedding.  It was the bride who found her.  Needless to say, the wedding was canceled.  Now it is up to the chief and his lead detective to interview the shell-shocked bridal party and figure out what happened.  The simplest explanation, of course, would be that it was an accident.  Girl has too much to drink, goes for a late night swim, washes up on the beach the next morning.  But what about the abandoned kayak that belongs to the father of the groom?  Why does the other bridesmaid seem so reluctant to discuss the MOH’s love life?  Why was the bride on the beach so early in the morning carrying a suitcase?  And where is the best man?  As the investigation unfolds, it becomes clear that everyone has at least one secret and no one is as perfect as they seem.

A character-driven mystery, this novel will appeal to some mystery fans, but also realistic fiction fans who like some good old-fashioned family dysfunction.  In the end, exactly what happened is less important than the complex web of relationships between the characters.  A fast and enjoyable summer read!