Dolly Sickles

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If you’ve ever had a beef with your homeowners association, you’re going to relate to Alexa Martin’s newest rom-com, Next-Door Nemesis. Because in the world of suburbia, the HOA is everybody’s enemy.

When Collins Carter moves back to her childhood home in the wake of a professional meltdown and bad breakup, she’s not expecting to run into Nathaniel Adams. They were friends once, until Nate opted for the greener pastures of teenage popularity and morphed from her best friend to nemesis nearly overnight.

Unfortunately, time has been good to Nate. He’s a hotshot realtor living his best, most successful life right next door to Collins’ parents. He’s also the current vice president of the local HOA, and struts around like he’s the king of his own little fiefdom. Martin uses Nate and Collins’ yearslong derision for each other to set up one fun disaster after another. Nate insists on being in control of everything concerning the neighborhood, while Collins creates roadblocks left and right to throw him off course. She soon has the brilliant idea to dethrone Nate on the next vote for HOA president, which for him would be tantamount to full, total failure. Collins’ embrace of chaos makes her the perfect foil for Nate’s perfection: It’s fun to see her chip away at his levelheaded facade, and it’s just as fun to see him lose his cool.

Martin uses the seemingly lighthearted HOA battle to reveal the deeper emotions both characters are trying to navigate. Winning the presidency isn’t the true goal of either character—rather, the election becomes an outlet for each to fight for control over their own destinies. It doesn’t take long for the cracks in their supposed antagonism to appear, and for the reader to realize that Collins and Nate actually love each other. Both are equally worthy of redemption, and equally capable of giving each other a second chance.

All the hallmarks of Martin’s appeal (as seen in contemporary romance gems such as Intercepted and Better Than Fiction), are present: an enviable, robust friend squad; snappy dialogue; and a slow, but very hot romantic buildup. It’s sexy. It’s steamy. And it sure is fun.

Two former best friends go to war over their local homeowners association in Alexa Martin’s steamy and extremely fun rom-com Next-Door Nemesis.
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The second book in Lucy Parker’s Palace Insiders series, Codename Charming, is a light-hearted rom-com that perfectly deploys the grumpy-sunshine and fake dating tropes. Unbelievably fun on every page, it’s another all-around winner from Parker.

Petunia “Pet” De Vere is the personal assistant of Johnny Marchmont, a goofy, lovable British royal who stops just shy of being a himbo. He’s the perfect boss for Pet, who is very proficient at her job and happy to adapt to whatever Johnny throws at her. But when a blundering moment between them goes public, the tabloids assume there’s more to their relationship than duty. Johnny is a happily married man, so the palace higher-ups ask Pet to fake a relationship with Johnny’s stoic bodyguard, Matthias Vaughn, in order to immediately quash rumors of an affair.

Matthias is the opposite of his charge. Johnny goes with the flow, affably making his way through life and duty, and Matthias is there to pick up the pieces and provide a stalwart wall of support. He grew up in the foster system, and always felt like he was merely tolerated in the places he lived, rather than accepted. His history, however painful, has made him well-suited for his profession, where his serious reserve is a major asset. Having proved his indispensability time and again, Matthias agrees to the fake relationship with the very perky Petunia.

Matthias and Pet are enjoyable characters with rich backstories. They’re refreshingly mature, understanding how they fit into the narrative of the royal institution and Johnny’s life. When they gamble on a real relationship, they not only have to face the normal fears that come when you let love in, but also balance them with their individual duties. No matter what happens between them, they must maintain their professional focus given that their lives unfold, at least partially, in the public eye. 

As usual, Parker surrounds her couple with a robust cast of fun supporting characters who never overshadow the two central figures. Even if you aren’t a professed Anglophile, Codename Charming is a breezy read that’ll have you smiling and dreaming of fish and chips—and maybe a quiet bodyguard who’s over the moon for you.

Lucy Parker’s breezy and winning new rom-com, Codename Charming, follows a reserved royal bodyguard and the perky personal assistant of the prince he protects.
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Thea Guanzon bursts onto the scene with a tale of political intrigue and ancient magic in The Hurricane Wars.

This fantasy romance opens in the middle of a war, one that’s been raging for 10 years between the Sardovian Allfold and the Night Empire. We’re introduced to orphaned soldier Talasyn, who as a Lightweaver, someone who can summon energy in the form of light, is the last hope for her people. But before she can reach a temple in a faraway land that will boost her power, she’s intercepted by Prince Alaric, heir to the Night Empire and a Shadowforge (the opposite of Talasyn’s abilities). Talasyn and Alaric should be diametrically opposed. But then, Alaric offers an uncharacteristic olive branch.

The Hurricane Wars is a beautifully written tale of freedom and oppression, of passion and apathy. Guanzon’s narrative is full of vibrant imagery—floating castles, falling boulders and streets paved with gold—and extensive world building exploring how enchanters imbue the elements with hues of emerald and sapphire. As she explains in her Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, the Filipina writer has essentially created an otherworldly version of her country, mirroring its centuries of foreign rule and volatile cyclones, volcanoes and earthquakes.

There’s a lot at stake in this enemies-to-lovers romance, and tensions run high from the first page to the last. Talysyn is the light to Alaric’s darkness, both literally and figuratively, and Guanzon leans into the elemental push and pull of their relationship. The book is lengthy and twisty to the extreme, and there are as many characters as settings to keep up with. Catching up with the action in chapter one feels like jumping onto a moving treadmill, because there are so many details to absorb before you feel up to speed.

An underdog rebel fighting against an imperial oppressor is a familiar tale. However, Guanzon’s intricately imagined world and spirited writing style mark her as an exciting new voice in the realm of fantasy romance. The Hurricane Wars is an entertaining start to a sure-to-be epic series.

The Hurricane Wars marks Thea Guanzon as an exciting new voice in the realm of fantasy romance.

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