Rebecca reviews Bait and Switch by Blythe H. Warren

 Bait and Switch is a sweet, moving and well-written romance which you’ll definitely want to read twice.

Our protagonist is dedicated marine biologist Liv Cucinelli who specializes in one-night stands. After an educational event at her aquarium, she is unexpectedly reunited with Mira Butler. Mira, the same woman who had ruined Liv’s life and college career almost two decades earlier, just happens to be the mother of Liv’s new favourite student, Cassie. Although Liv is determined to hold onto her lifetime grudge and remain hating Mira, she soon learns the truth about what happened all those years ago and her perspective on Mira begins to change. As Liv becomes Cassie’s babysitter, she and Mira build a tentative friendship which soon blossoms into a sweet romance.

I like that the plot advances quickly and smoothly while Warren avoids unnecessary angst and drama. The reveal about the history between Mira and Liv is really well-executed. As the women navigate their newfound connection and their own past hurts and insecurities, they also encounter difficulties at their jobs, Mira’s homophobic and ableist mother as well as issues in revealing their romantic relationship to their friends and families. I love that the characters feel like real people and they mature emotionally as the novel progresses. Liv is a funny and relatable protagonist and her first-person narration works well, adding just the right amount of humour and sarcasm to the narrative. Although the novel is from Liv’s point-of-view, Warren does a great job with the other characters. Mira is nuanced and well-written as she deals with her overbearing and horrible mother as well as her trust issues stemming from a cheating husband. She is definitely not the same woman whose ignorance and homophobia accidentally contributed to the fake rumour that destroyed Liv’s life.

While the book has a sweet and well-developed romance, I like that Warren shows us who these characters are outside of their relationship with each other. Liv has a wonderfully hilarious friendship with fellow commitment-phobe Patsy who she goes to for advice and who she neglects as her relationship with Mira intensifies. I also enjoy the fairly big role that the aquarium has in the book as well as the fact that Liv is ambitious and loves her job. The bond between Cassie and Liv is really special and heart-warming.

Did I mention how well Warren executes the usual tropes? Kid bringing two vastly different people together? Check. But, there’s a welcome twist: Cassie is a smart and friendly teenager who is also deaf. It’s nice that her difference isn’t her defining feature and she isn’t side-lined in the narrative. She’s a wonderful character who acts age appropriately and, even if you hate kids making an appearance in your books, you will definitely like Cassie.

Warren really makes the trope of enemies to friends to lovers her own. Liv and Mira are both well-defined characters with flaws and they do not fall instantly into perfect love. Instead, there are believable tensions and conflicts which are resolved quickly but naturally and with ample communication. Their relationship develops at a comfortable pace but there is definitely enough tension and heat to keep you interested. And, I can’t forget the found family trope paired with the holiday season because it’s handled just as heart-warmingly as you can imagine (if you can’t: think cuddling on the couch while watching Christmas movies, meaningful Christmas gifts…adorable!). Bait and Switch is a really well-written book with a wonderful happy ending. If you like excellently developed characters, a great romance, and you’re looking for a feel-good book, don’t miss this one!

Rebecca is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. Come say hi at her brand new blog: https://rebeccareviews.tumblr.com/


Rebecca reviews Echo Point by Virginia Hale

Virginia Hale’s debut novel Echo Point is a quick and well-written read which packs substance and heat and has a sweet slow-build romance.

Our protagonist is Bron who, after many years away, has returned to Australia after her sister Libby’s death. Bron has spent the last three months trying to come to terms with her grief and her new role as the legal guardian to Libby’s young daughter, Annie. However, Libby’s best friend, Ally Shepherd, is soon released from jail and moves in with Bron and her family. At first, Bron does not trust Ally and does not understand the dedication that Ally inspires from Bron’s stepmother, Jackie and half-brother, Daniel. Ally and Bron seem like polar opposites but they soon grow to admire and depend upon each other as they take care of Annie and start forming a relationship with each other. This novel is quiet and isn’t heavily plot-driven at all but I think that really works here because the focus is on the well-developed characters and the familial and romantic relationships.

The romance between Bron and Ally is a comfortable slow-burn. They have known each other since they were young and Ally even has a longstanding crush on Bron. I really like that these women learn to appreciate each other as both people and lovers. I am also very appreciative of the fact that Bron and Ally act like adults and although there is ample tension and heat between them, the novel avoids unnecessary drama or angst. Most importantly, I like that their relationship encourages them both to grow as characters. I also admire the fact that Hale features a romance between older women (Bron is 40 and Ally is 33) because so many books tend to focus on younger characters.

This novel is much more than just a romance. Echo Point also sensitively and realistically explores family relationships, forgiveness and healing, and learning to cope with loss. Bron’s family is trying to live with Libby’s death while also supporting young Annie who deals with the loss of her mother and the changes in her life in a way that seem realistic for her age and situation. Meanwhile, Ally has many issues to deal with and she is attempting to readjust to life in society after her time in prison. I love the found family trope and I particularly like the positive and realistic way that Hale presents this concept through Bron’s family’s loving acceptance of Ally as well the actual dynamics of Bron’s family.

The characters in this book are memorable and well-developed. However, I think that perhaps Daniel and his girlfriend could have been trimmed for cohesiveness. I know that seemingly brash Ally who is actually very loyal and has a heart-of-gold will quickly become the favorite for many readers. But, I love quiet and conservative Bron because she is relatable as she attempts to manage the changes in her life as best as she can. Her struggles with balancing her ambitions and taking care of Annie are really well-done. Surprisingly, I also really like how Hale writes Bron’s six-year-old niece, Annie. I think that children are often written too maturely for their ages or overstay their welcome. But, I am pleasantly surprised at how sweet and realistic Annie is and her relationships with both Bron and Ally are heartwarming.

Echo Point is a great debut from Virginia Hale and I would definitely read it again. If you like well-written romances and realistic characters, add Echo Point to your to-read list!

Rebecca Cave is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. Come say hi to her on her brand new blog: https://rebeccareviews.tumblr.com/  


Danika reviews Riptide Summer by Lisa Freeman

When I finished Honey Girl, I was eager to dive into the sequel–mostly because I was absorbed by the setting (1972 Californian beach culture), but also because Riptide Summer promised to break the rule that “Girls don’t surf.”  I’m glad that I got see more of Nani and her life, but overall I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the first book. I don’t feel like I have a lot to say about this book that is different from the first book, just a few thoughts:

[Spoilers]

  • It’s not surprising that Nani’s relationship with Rox fell apart. I was rooting for them, but it was despite the obvious instability in their arrangement. It was disappointing, but not unrealistic, for them to so quickly turn on each other.
  • I felt like the characterization wasn’t as strong in this volume–Claire, for instance, is barely present, and I completely forgot her personality.
  • I did like that Nani started surfing, but it wasn’t until halfway through the book, and in secret. I would want to see more of her after the secret came out, and how she dealt with this new side of beach culture.
  • My favourite part of the whole book was Windy, the new love interest, and we barely get to see her at all! If there is another sequel that focuses on them and Nani’s new surf life, I would pick that up.
  • I wasn’t sure from the last book whether Nani was bi or gay, but despite wanting to kiss and date guys, she seems to decide that she’s a lesbian by the end, because she enjoys sex with women more. Unfortunately, this is also wrapped in a lot of biphobia: she tells Rox that she’s a lesbian, no matter what she says, and says she doesn’t want to be one of those funny kine girls who also date guys. The idea that someone can be attracted to more than one gender and that’s fine doesn’t really come up at all.

[End spoilers]

This series felt a little fractured, actually, like they were originally supposed to be one story and then were separated into two volumes. Riptide Summer didn’t seem to have its own arc; it just followed along where Honey Girl left off. I wish this had been condensed in some way, whether that was making Honey Girl and Riptide Summer one book, or skipping over a lot of Riptide Summer and getting more into the surfing plot line and the romance with Windy.