Do you get that feeling when you read a book that you love more with every page, where you absolutely adore the characters and want to finish the book so badly but also want it to keep going forever? When it’s way too late and you need to go to work in the morning but you can’t stop yourself from reading? When you are compelled to read the book again (and again and again)? When you’ve completely tuned out the world around you? All of the above = Five stars.

I am really stingy with my five-star ratings, so here are my top 4.5+ rated books from 2023 so far. Stay tuned for all my five-star finds. Maybe you agree!

Unfortunately Yours by Tessa Bailey

Following Secretly Yours by only a few months, Unfortunately Yours is the rare sequel that bests the original.

Natalie’s always been underestimated and ignored by her winemaking family, so she left to get her business degree and kick ass in the New York hedge fund world. Until she made one mistake and wasn’t kicking ass anymore. Determined to get back to the top, she comes home for her trust fund to raise some capital. But there’s one problem—it requires a husband… antiquated, yes, but it says what it says.

Enter the smoking hot new guy in Napa and former Navy SEAL August, who wants to honor his late best friend’s legacy by running a successful vineyard. Who also happens to be Natalie’s sworn enemy. So far, his wine is terrible and he’s running out of money. So they decide to get married. What could go wrong?

It sounds like just another marriage of convenience trope, right? But wait, there’s more. The themes are woven together perfectly: Natalie’s disillusionment with her family, August’s grief and need to atone for his friend’s death, inside and outside forces spurring them on yet driving them apart. I really empathized with Natalie more than I usually can in a rom-com (and no, I don’t have a family like hers).

You know there are the rom-coms where you just roll your eyes or let yourself get super irritated over the final obstacle—Unfortunately Yours isn’t one of those books. And without spoiling it, the ending was anything but unfortunate.

          Rating: 5

          Steam: 2

          Themes and Tropes: Marriage of Convenience, Fake Relationship, Enemies to Lovers, Military Guy

          Pair with: Wines from Veteran-Owned Vineyards. See https://www.wineenthusiast.com/culture/wine/veteran-owned-wine-guide/

 

If Only You by Chloe Liese

Ziggy is the youngest in her family, youngest on the USWNT, and tired of her teammates and family treating her like a baby. She’s ready to kick a** on the field and in life, and to graduate from the kids’ table at family get-togethers. Sebastian is her brother’s self-destructive best friend and hockey star who desperately needs a reputation rebuild to keep his sponsors and his job.

So Ziggy needs some edge, Sebastian needs a reboot, and the duo decides to fake a friendship and get the good exposure each wants. From the start, they want more from each other but won’t give in; Sebastian knows he needs to get himself together and Ziggy knows she can’t push him too hard.

This story is the sweetest! Sebastian is a priceless gem and Ziggy is pretty cool too. I loved seeing a tall, athletic, and determined heroine, and watching Sebastian grow into an amazing person. There’s not a ton of emphasis on Ziggy’s soccer career; a game or two, and references to her travel and practice schedule, but not getting into the weeds.

Rating: 5

Steam: Low

Themes and Tropes: Slow Burn, Athletes/Sports, Fake Relationship, Friends to Lovers, Opposites Attract

Pair With: Wines that sponsor women’s soccer and other women’s sports. Consider Jacob’s Creek, which sponsored the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

 

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

From the Publisher (a much better summary than one I could write): Nick Russo has worked his way from a rough Brooklyn neighborhood to a reporting job at one of the city’s biggest newspapers. But the late 1950s are a hostile time for gay men, and Nick knows that he can’t let anyone into his life. He just never counted on meeting someone as impossible to say no to as Andy.

Andy Fleming’s newspaper-tycoon father wants him to take over the family business. Andy, though, has no intention of running the paper. He’s barely able to run his life–he’s never paid a bill on time, routinely gets lost on the way to work, and would rather gouge out his own eyes than deal with office politics. Andy agrees to work for a year in the newsroom, knowing he’ll make an ass of himself and hate every second of it.

Except, Nick Russo keeps rescuing Andy: showing him the ropes, tracking down his keys, freeing his tie when it gets stuck in the ancient filing cabinets. Their unlikely friendship soon sharpens into feelings they can’t deny. But what feels possible in secret–this fragile, tender thing between them–seems doomed in the light of day. Now Nick and Andy have to decide if, for the first time, they’re willing to fight.

Yes! We Could Be So Good is SO GOOD! One of the best books I’ve read in a while. The storytelling is masterful, I feel like I live next door to the characters (and would love to be friends with them), and there’s much more to the story than just romance.

A major theme of the story is the fear and danger that comes with being a gay man in 1950s New York, but it doesn’t make the story depressing or full of horrors. You get as much as genuine feel as you can of what real people like Nick and Andy had to deal with (and still do in many places), but you also get hope, acceptance, love, and layers of complexity.

You get not only the growth of Nick and Andy’s relationship, but also their relationships with their families and friends, their professions, and finding their place in the world where they have allies and can be allies to others. They love and truly support each other; they learn what matters to the other and act on it; they talk things through when something’s not going well. I just adored every bit of this book!

Rating: 5

Steam: Low to Medium

Themes and Tropes: LGBTQIA, Forbidden Love, Historical, Gay Relationship in the 1950s, Opposites Attract, Proximity, Colleagues

Pair With: Classic wines popular in the 1950s-60s, such as Bordeaux blends; also consider a classic cocktail like a gin & tonic, Manhattan, or Old Fashioned.

 

A Taste of Italian Sunshine by Leonie Mack

City girl, wine buyer, and introvert Jenn finds herself in the Italian countryside scoping out Proseccos for her boss, where she meets country boy, grappa distiller, and all-around good guy Tiziano. Of course he just happens to be the grandson of her B&B host and literally knows everyone in this tight-knit Italian community.

Tiziano plays the happy-go-lucky goofball on the surface and hides his complexities and worries from the world—will he let Jenn in? She comes across as aloof and keeps the world at arm’s length, but Tiziano slowly breaks down her walls and introduces her to love in Prosecco country.

The feeling in this book is everything! It was so real and genuine, from the characters’ depth, the relationships across the community, and the glorious setting. You really feel like you’re in Italy’s wine country experiencing the harvest, vineyards, tastings, and everything else.

The dialogue flows naturally and you can imagine the gatherings and conversations taking place; so often, dialogue is so stilted and you feel like the author is trying too hard—not the case here. The closeness of the families and community gives this book all the right feels. And of course, Tiziano is adorable—not just handsome and sexy, but a deep guy beneath his laid-back surface.

I felt so connected to the characters and the story—the main reason I gave it 5 stars. Sometimes I get swept away by the setting, and a love story set among Italian vineyards in the countryside is right up my fairy tale alley—if I were going to imagine a story for myself, this would be it. Would I love this book as much if it were set somewhere else? I think so. No, I wouldn’t love it as much if it were set in a dull, barren wasteland—the setting has to count for something—and the beautiful countryside is part of the romance to be sure, but it’s really the characters, emotions, and feelings combined with the perfect setting that did it for me.

Rating: 5

Steam: 1

Themes and Tropes: Small Town, Travel, Italy, Proximity, Opposites Attract

Pair With: Prosecco. Check out this article: https://vinepair.com/buy-this-booze/best-prosecco/

 

Yours Truly by Abby Jimenez

Briana Ortiz: smart and successful emergency room doctor, soon to be divorced from a nasty ex, has a beloved brother in kidney failure, and now hears the decision on who’s getting the big promotion—that she’s worked toward for years—is being delayed so the new guy can be considered too. What?

Jacob Maddox: the new guy, a kind and loving soul who suffers major social anxiety and comes off as aloof and difficult, and left his old job to get away from his nasty ex-girlfriend who, of course, is now engaged to his traitorous brother.

So these two are dealing with some baggage and get off on the wrong foot and it looks pretty bleak until Jacob writes the cutest letter to Briana and she realizes, just maybe, Jacob isn’t so bad. So she writes him back, and you can see where this is going. They really start to get each other and develop a beautiful friendship.

Jacob finds out he’s a perfect match to donate a kidney to Briana’s brother and decides to do it. Briana finds out Jacob’s skanky ex and his brother are getting married and Jacob needs a fake girlfriend to get him through the wedding, so she’s happy to take the role.

As the fake (and real) relationship grows, this is the point where the book drags a little bit, which is often the case with the fake relationship trope—each character wants it to be real but thinks the other person doesn’t, putting up walls and defenses for protection, and refusing to see what’s right in front of them or to take a chance with their feelings. Will they figure it out? Are they too scarred from their god-awful exes? 

Jacob = one of the absolute best book boyfriends. He is the most selfless, caring, lovely human being in just about any book I’ve read, so much so that my only criticism is that he maybe needs to grow a backbone and not let people walk all over him. If you’re looking for alpha caveman, he’s not the guy for you. If you want an absolute sweetheart, grab this book ASAP. (P.S., if you want another Abby Jimenez perfect book boyfriend, check out Daniel in Part of Your World). 

Rating: 4.5

Steam: Low

Themes and Tropes: Letters, Enemies to Friends to Lovers, Fake Relationship, Toxic Exes

Pair with: a wine subscription? Who knew there’s a Yours Truly Wine? https://www.yourstrulywine.com/

 

The True Love Experiment by Christina Lauren

Successful romance novelist Fizzy is not feeling the romance anymore. She’s never been in love, doesn’t see it happening anytime soon, and feels like her whole persona is a lie.

For serious filmmaker Connor, his career making documentaries might be dead if he can’t do a complete 180 and create a hit reality dating show for his production company. He knows Fizzy is perfect for the role, but can he talk her into it and meet her wild (and hilarious) creative demands? Can he watch her date one hot contestant after another? Can she go through with it when she figures out where her heart is?

LOVED! This one put me back on the love side of the love-lukewarm relationship I have with Christina Lauren’s books. From start to finish, the characters and storyline drew me in and held on. While I am so over the romance-novelist-as-heroine trope, Fizzy’s offbeat sense of humor and fun personality kept it from falling into the stereotype. Some miscommunications (my biggest romance pet peeve) annoyed me, but they didn’t ruin it for me.

Without giving it away, just know the ending was spectacular—the outcome was predictable but the execution wasn’t, and it blew me away (the main reason I gave it five stars).

Rating: 5

Steam: Average

Themes and Tropes: Proximity, Single Dad, Colleagues, Forbidden Love

Pair with: Rosé in a can, to remember Fizzy’s CVS run. Options include https://archerroose.com/products/rose, https://www.drinknomikai.com/main, https://www.totalwine.com/wine/champagne-sparkling-wine/sparkling-wine/rose/underwood-rose-bubbles/p/187758375

 

Ana Maria and the Fox by Liana De La Rosa

High-society Mexican Ana Maria Luna Valdes and her sisters are sent to England for safety during the French occupation to stay with their uncle. Ana Maria–always the good girl and always under her powerful father’s thumb–finally has some freedom. She’s going to take advantage of it while also trying to paint Mexico in a positive light for the British.

Powerful British politician Gideon Fox came from nothing and hasn’t lost his values or the causes he supports. As the grandson of a former slave, he’s devoted his career to stopping the Atlantic Slave Trade.

Ana Maria and Gideon are instantly drawn to each other but keep their distance—he can’t risk his political goals and she’s engaged (loveless arranged marriage, but still) and can’t risk being sent home or embarrassing her family. When circumstances force his hand, he offers it to her (purely to protect her of course, not because he wants her…).

Both main characters are flawed but genuinely good people, and the author’s character development adds some depth and makes me feel like I know who these people are and what makes them tick. It was also nice to see real issues—the slave trade and racism for example—in a Regency romance. It was fun to see English society from another perspective, and the adventure side of the story is fun too!

Rating: 4.5

Steam: 1.5

Tropes: Forbidden Love, Slow Burn, Marriage of Convenience; Sisters

Pair With: A Mexican wine, such as Casa Madero 3V Red Blend or Cabernet ($17), Bodegas Henri Lurton Chenin Blanc ($27), L.A. Cetto Nebbiolo ($23), or Gruet Brut or Rose ($16).

 

All the Right Notes by Dominic Lim

Kindhearted and talented Filipino musician Quito grew up accompanying his music teacher dad’s choir and dreaming of Broadway. Gregarious and popular Emmett is seemingly perfect—a good-looking, mixed-race, athlete with straight A’s who fits in wherever he goes.

The two meet in high school when Emmett joins the choir; Quito resents him at first (popular kid with an attitude just waltzing into the choir with a gorgeous voice) but they become friends. But after the incident in college, their friendship shatters along with Quito’s inspiration and ability to compose, while Emmett turns into a blockbuster movie star. Years later, Quito’s sweet and persistent dad is retiring and begs Quito to team up with Emmett to put on a final performance.

All the Right Notes has a little bit of everything—joy, passion, hilarity, tension, kindness, love, inclusivity, drama, empathy, and brilliant storytelling woven into a rom-com masterpiece. The characters are both unique and relatable, and their journeys give this book so much life and make it a one-of-a-kind. Rare five stars! Also excellent audio version.

Rating: 5

Steam: Low

Tropes: Second Chance, LGBTQIA+, Friendship, Family

Pair With: Sake (in a glass from Macy’s if you have one), see https://www.liquor.com/best-sake-5080946 and https://www.wineenthusiast.com/culture/spirits/best-sake/; Wines from vineyards committed to inclusivity, see https://www.makerwine.com/blog/winery-guide-lgbtq-winemakers/,   https://lgbtwinesociety.com/, https://www.wineenthusiast.com/culture/wine/lgbtq-wine-industry-pride-month/

 

Mickey Chambers Shakes It Up by Charish Reid

Mickey is a brilliant, energetic, and kind adjunct professor who’s fed up with the low pay and minimal respect she gets from the university. She stumbles into a bartending job that should help her pay the bills for the summer. Grumpy bar owner and still-grieving widower Diego starts taking online college classes and his teacher is . . . Mickey of course.

They start off with the grumpy-sunshine-enemies(ish) vibe, but it’s clear early on that there’s some serious fire between them. Their relationship builds almost against their wills and in other ways exactly what they both need and want. Major plus: the bumps they hit aren’t ridiculous, but real and fitting for the characters and the plot. And the bar crew—lots of fun banter and people who really care about it each other. I love when a book can really make a group of people seem like family.

On a separate note, the book did a great job highlighting the way colleges treat adjuncts—who are often brilliant and have valuable real-world experience and knowledge—as second-class professors. Finally, I’d stick to the printed version. I listened to the audiobook, and the narrator was great for normal scenes but was too bland for the more dramatic (i.e. sexy scenes).

I only recently discovered Charish Reid and am slowly making my way through her books. Another one to check out is The Write Escape, published in 2019. 

Rating: 4.2

Steam: Medium

Tropes: Opposites Attract, Teacher/Student, Boss/Employee, Forbidden Love, Widower

Pair With: Dive Bar drinks and cheap wine.

 

Happy Place by Emily Henry

This book had some serious and mostly-deserved buzz when it came out. But I started out hating the book and its premise: Longstanding and majorly in love couple Harriet and Wyn broke up five months ago and never told their friends or family. Then they decide to fake it for a week’s vacation with their friends rather than coming clean. Why? Who does this? It makes no sense. But, as I kept going, WOW, the storytelling really sucked me in and Happy Place ended up being one of my favorites of the year so far!

Harriet tells the story in two timelines and you see how the relationship started, grew, crumbled, and grew back stronger. Alternating timelines are tough and I often hate them, but Emily Henry rocked this one. Funny, this book has a lot of the typical things I hate—back and forth chronology, only one point of view, annoying premise—if someone told me this before I read the book, I might have skipped it, but really, it was worth it!

Rating: 4.7 (I just can’t do 5 with how annoyed I was at the beginning)

Steam: Medium

Tropes: Second Chance, Enemies to Lovers, Fake relationship, Group of Friends, Forced Proximity

Pair with: Fancy white wine from Sabrina’s wine cellar, such as Domaine Christian Moreau Pere Chardonnay ($125); Ornellaia 2019 Bianco White ($270); Eisele Vineyard 2018 Sauvignon Blanc ($144); Clarte de Haut Brion Blanc ($120). More budget-friendly options include Penfolds Chardonnay ($25); Grey Rock Sauvignon Blanc ($16); Cottesbrook Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc ($20); Dune Gris Rose ($12); and Chateau Palene Bordeaux Blanc ($12).

 

Beginning of Forever by Catherine Bybee

My first Catherine Bybee book, and it was a hit! 

Emma Rutledge knows her way around a winery and the wine business—she should, since her family owns a successful and renowned winery. She’s worked hard for a larger role in the company and to show her value as more than just the Rutledge name. But her dear old (major a**hole and sexist pig) dad does everything he can to block her path, including making her dirtbag ex-husband her boss. So she’ll take matters into her own hands and find a way to start her own winery.

Giovanni D’Angelo knows his way around wine; he’s a talented sommelier and also plays a huge role in his family’s successful restaurant. But he wants more—his own vineyard to be exact. He meets Emma on a Tuscan wine tour and there’s some instant chemistry; first friendship and then who knows…

Maybe it’s the Italian countryside, the beautiful descriptions of Temecula, or the smart and interesting characters, but this book sucked me right in and was captivating the whole way through. Emma’s family mostly sucked—especially her dad, and her mom for just rolling over until the end—but some of them came through in the end. It would have been nice for her dad to have one or two redeeming qualities, but I can live with that.

Emma and Giovanni’s character development was perfect—you see Emma going from a capable and hard-working but somewhat uncertain businessperson to someone who’ll walk into an intimidating room, confront her father, and move her business forward despite his a**holery. Gio goes from a cheesy ladies man to a loving and supportive partner; you can see how much he cares and wants to protect her without being overbearing or controlling.

Overall, I loved the book and immediately started the rest of the D’Angelos series (P.S., the fourth book in the series is coming out November 14, 2023, can’t wait!).

Rating: 4.3

Steam: Low to Medium

Themes and Tropes: Travel, Opposites Attract, Navigating Family Drama

Pair With: Temecula wine made by women and/or from women-owned or managed vineyards, such as Robert Renzoni Vineyards (Winemaker Olivia Bue) and Avensole Winery (CEO Maribeth Levine and women in management positions), and Doffo Winery (new MotoDoffo label celebrating female motorcycle riders). 

 

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

When nice, dorky, average comedy-writer Danny gets engaged to gorgeous actress Annabel, his fellow writer Sally has the perfect idea for a late-night sketch: a hilarious but also painfully true and well-established fact that an average-looking man can get a hot woman but an average-looking woman will never get a hot man (a.k.a. the Danny Horst Rule).

Sally’s not a romantic anymore and is willing to settle for decidedly unromantic occasional hookups when she can fit them into her busy schedule. When superstar musician hottie Noah is the show’s host and musical guest that week, he and Sally hit it off when they’re collaborating on sketches. But of course Sally knows this couldn’t be an actual romance—what sexy superstar known for dating models would be with a writer like her? See Danny Horst Rule 101.

If you ever wanted a glimpse into what Saturday Night Live might be like behind the scenes or have any appreciation for 30 Rock, this book is for you. The author brings so much depth to the characters, and provides social commentary that really hits the mark without going too far, with the perfect feminist themes running throughout.

Sally had me at her desire to “create characters who aren’t flawless but also aren’t ridiculous or incompetent at life.” Hot mess characters can be a lot of fun, but we also need characters who kick butt at life. Sally’s insecurities do get annoying after a while and could have been toned down a bit, probably the only reason I didn’t give it a full five stars, but overall this book killed it.

I listened to the audio version of this book and loved it—narrator did a great job and nailed the characters’ personalities.

Rating: 4.6

Steam: Average

Themes and Tropes: Celebrity, Letters and Emails, Proximity

Pair With: Non-Alcoholic Wines https://www.eatingwell.com/article/7923275/best-nonalcoholic-wines-according-to-a-sommelier/, https://www.totalwine.com/search/all?text=non%20alcoholic%20wine 

 

French Holiday by Sarah Ready

Merry DeLuca has been pining after her BFF Leo for years, and then suddenly, he’s marrying her sister? What? So of course we are required to instantly hate the gorgeous, spoiled sister, Angela—either she knew Merry loved Leo and went after him anyway (pure evil) or she didn’t know Merry was in love with him all this time (self-centered and oblivious). Angela and Leo’s constant PDA and insistence on having her sit through it is enough to further drive the knife into Merry and she’s at a loss.

Perfect timing: Merry’s flighty godmother offers her a three-month stay in what sounds like a romantic and beautiful French chateau, so off she goes and finds . . . Noah Wright, Leo’s best friend, hot travel documentary star, and her longtime mortal enemy. Neither will budge, so they’re stuck together as Noah tries to work and Merry tries to get over unrequited love. Can they strike a balance and find out they don’t hate each other after all?

I ended up loving this book, even though it was a little rocky for me in the beginning when I was cringing at most of what Merry said and hating Noah. Merry has made it a new goal to be more direct and stop backing down from things, which I loved. So no annoying heroine who just holds things in and lets people act like jerks—mostly.

Noah’s side story and the real reason he’s in France is done really well—I’m not going to give it away. Sometimes the side plots in the romances are just thrown in purely so they exist and aren’t well-developed, but this one forms a core part of the story and really helps the reader understand Noah. Both characters have their baggage and are working through it and supporting each other along the way. Even the final obstacle wasn’t dumb (thank goodness). Still hate the sister though.

Rating: 4.5

Steam: Low

Themes and Tropes: Enemies to Lovers, Proximity, Castle, Escape/Travel

Pair With: Wines from wine regions around Annecy, France, such as Savoie and Beaujolais.   

 

How to Tame a Wild Rogue by Julie Anne Long

I had to get a couple historical romances in here, too, especially one with the classic romance cover. It’s really tough in this genre to write something that stands out, given all the restrictions on women (and even men) throughout history. How to Tame a Wild Rogue was unique and a lot of fun.

Lady Daphne Worth’s selfish and spendthrift father (who is an earl) sends her out to work as a companion for money but can’t be bothered to lift a finger and work himself. Ever-resourceful Daphne finds herself climbing out the window to flee her handsy boss, and runs headlong into Lorcan St. Leger. Lorcan climbed his way out of London’s worst neighborhood to become a privateer for the Crown (among other occupations) and is highly respected (and feared) by most of London.

Lorcan’s protective instincts kick in when he sees Daphne and knows a huge storm is coming. They seek refuge in a lovely boardinghouse and must pretend to be husband and wife to take the last remaining suite. But neither sees the other as a legitimate prospect even as their walls crumble and they give in to each other. As the publisher puts it, “Crackling enmity gives way to incendiary desire—and certain heartbreak.” Sign me up!

Watching the characters develop was so much fun, but the absolute best of all (and the main reason for the high rating) was the ending—you know you’re getting an HEA in a romance novel, but I’m not giving away the details. Just know that everyone gets what’s coming to them, for the most part and the joy is off the charts!

 

Rating: 4.5

Steam: Low to Medium

Themes and Tropes: Opposites Attract, Fake Marriage, Slow Burn, Close Proximity

Pair With: Whatever you drink when you’re holed up for a storm.

 

Selina by Minerva Spencer writing as S.M. LaViolette

Lady Selina has always been the beautiful one of her five sisters and, thus, expected to marry rich and save the family fortune (or lack thereof) from her deplorable father’s gambling and waste. She’s had enough of being treated like just a pretty face, and now that two of her sisters married wealthy men, she’s ready to make some actual choices in her life and jumps on the next mail coach…

Onetime rake Caius, Marquess of Shaftsbury, now lives the life of a recluse after a carriage accident killed his wife and unborn child, as well as two servants, and left him blind and angry. He can’t keep a housekeeper, neglects his estate, and hardly gets out of bed except to go to his boxing room to throw punches.

Selina ends up in Caius’ village and hears his butler begging the housekeeper to come back when she gets an idea…she’s always been good at running the house, maybe this is a perfect opportunity to do something different with her life…

Selina is my favorite of the Bellamy Sisters series so far, and you can certainly enjoy it even if you haven’t read the first two. I love that Selina wants more in life than to be some snotty peer’s trophy wife. The way Selina and Caius interact is so much fun; you really see them both grow so much as people throughout the book, and you feel the chemistry between them (and plenty of spice, maybe a bit gratuitous at times).

And of course, there’s the irony of the prettiest woman of the ton and a blind man falling for each other!

Rating: 4.2

Steam: Medium to High

Themes and Tropes: Opposites Attract, Marriage of Convenience, Secret Identity, Proximity, Beauty and the Beast-ish, Age Gap

Pair With: Wines with some irony, such as the aptly named Irony Wines (northern California). 

 

Jana Goes Wild by Farah Heron

Jana is a brilliant and caring introvert and single mom who’s never quite fit in and always feels self-conscious in groups. I can relate. Now she’s heading to the Serengeti for three weeks with her daughter, her mom, her potential boss, lots of other people, and SURPRISE, Anil, her ex and her daughter’s dad. Their coparenting is cooperative and conflict-free, mostly because she makes sure she never has to see him. But their four-year-old is beyond thrilled to have them in the same place, so Jana braces herself for three long weeks of togetherness.

This is one of my favorites of the year so far! Maybe because the introvert in me relates so well to Jana, who’s always seen as aloof and uncaring when the opposite is true. The feminist themes are woven in nicely without being too much—how Jana was vilified for dating Anil and getting pregnant while he was married (which she didn’t even know) and how she even lost jobs and funding because of it, while Anil got off scot-free and continued to enjoy accolades and success in the same field.

But even with all that, it was still a mostly light and fun book. The secondary characters are interesting, the setting is spectacular, and the slow burn of Jana and Anil getting to know each other and where it goes held my interest.

Rating: 4.5

Steam: Low

Themes and Tropes: Second Chance, Forced Proximity, Only One Bed, Travel, Slow Burn, Single Parent

Pair with: African wines. Of the African countries, South Africa is the most well known for its wines, but wine is also produced in Tanzania where this book takes place. It’s really hard to find Tanzanian wines in the U.S., so South Africa is as close as you’re going to get. If you want a lesser-known grape, consider a Pinotage, which is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault grapes and known for being difficult to grow and make. A few highly rated Pinotages include Spier Seaward 2020 ($20); Kanonkop 2019 ($44); Braai 2020 ($18); and Beeslaar 2019 ($60).

If you want something more mainstream, South Africa pretty much has it all—many varieties and grapes in all price ranges, easily found at your local store or online.