Report Card: December 2023 Romance New Releases

How Many December 2023 Romance New Releases Did I Read?

Whew–got through December holidays, family craziness, travel, and (of course) reading romance new releases. Every month, we love to preview the brand-new and most-anticipated new books. Love to find some unique plots and themes, along with some tried-and-true favorite tropes and themes. And we love to read as many of them as we can. Will we ever read 100%? Undoubtedly, no. Will we try? Heck yeah. 

So let’s see our first report card, which covers the December New Release List. We’re pretty generous with the grading scale; otherwise A’s and B’s would be downright impossible and Darcy’s type-A personality might lose it. We’re still not sure we can ever get an A, but we’ll see how it shakes out.

85-100% of books finished = A
65-84% = B
50-64% = C
40-49% = D
>40% = F. 

Here’s the bullet list, and please see below for actual reviews or romance new releases (and reasons for DNFs–it doesn’t mean the book was bad, just that it wasn’t for me (Darcy)). Lots of pretty good, but not great, books, with a couple clear favorites.

  1. Same Time Next Year by Tessa Bailey – Read, 2.9 stars
  2. The Gentleman’s Gambit by Evie Dunmore – Read, 3.5 stars
  3. The Second Chance Year by Melissa Wiesner – Did not read
  4. Technically Yours by Denise Williams – Did not Finish
  5. Among the Heather by Samantha Young – Read, 3.8 stars
  6. My Darling Bride by Ilsa Madden-Mills – Read, 3.3 stars
  7. Keep This Between Us by Albany Archer – Read, 3 stars
  8. Raiders of the Lost Heart by Jo Segura – Read, 4 stars
  9. Sable Peak by Devney Perry – Read, 3.7 stars
  10. Four Steps to the Perfect Revenge by Lilian Monroe – Did not Finish
  11. Game On by Seressia Glass – Read, 4 stars
  12. The Stage Kiss by Amelia Jones – Did not Finish

Read 8 of 12 (67%)
Grade: B

A marriage-of-convenience, hockey romance novella that's not as simple as a green card.

Canadian Sumner is so close to making it in the NHL, but his time is up in the U.S. unless he can get Britta, the woman he (not so) secretly loves to marry him. Immediately. His teammates, including her brother, rally and persuade Britta to take the plunge–strictly for convenience. He can stay in the U.S. and there’s something in it for her too….

So, this book was fine; liked some things and hated others. Sumner = just an amazing and wonderful human. Loyal, selfless, loving, dependable (and hot too of course). How could anyone not love him? Well, annoying Britta does her best. No matter how many times Sumner proves he loves her and would never leave her, she pushes him away. She’s so irrationally afraid of relationships that it’s beyond ridiculous, even for a romance book. Yes, she has some legitimate reasons for her fears, but at some point it’s just ludicrous. 

It gets better, but 3 stars is generous. 

Rating: 2.9
Steam: Medium
Themes and Tropes: He Falls First, She’s a Commitment Phobe, Hockey, Marriage of Convenience
Pair With: Warm Winter Wines

Find more Tessa Bailey books reviews on our Reviews page!

Book Four in the League of Extraordinary Women series, The Gentleman’s Gambit is full of fun and personality. 

Catriona devotes herself to the suffragist movement and her academic work with her father in 1800s England. The last thing she needs is to be stuck with daddy’s scholar guest, Elias. But Elias isn’t a scholar at all; he’s there to take back previous artifacts stolen from his home country. Which begins with enticing Catriona…

The tension manifests from the start. Two people–one with ulterior motives and one determined not to fall in unrequited love again–just can’t help themselves. As they get a deeper understanding of each other, who knows what will unfold. 

The Gentleman’s Gambit was a perfect fourth book in the series. Finally, Catriona gets her moment to shine! And while the book is a little ridiculous and a lot fun, it touches on serious topics–the suffragist movement, the British and others stealing priceless artifacts from the Middle East, other restrictions on women. It dragged a bit at times, but overall I loved the main characters and enjoyed the story. 

Rating: 3.5
Steam: Medium
Themes and Tropes: Opposites Attract, Proximity, Different Worlds, 1800s England Politics
Pair With: Regency Wines

From the Cover:

In this unforgettable story full of charm, wit—and just a bit of magic—a woman down on her luck is given a second chance at fixing her life and trying one year all over again. Perfect for readers of Josie Silver and Rebecca Serle. 

Sadie Thatcher’s life has fallen apart in spectacular fashion. In one fell swoop, she managed to lose her job, her apartment, and her boyfriend—all thanks to her big mouth. So when a fortune teller offers her one wish, Sadie jumps at the chance to redo her awful year. Deep down, she doesn’t believe magic will fix her life, but taking a leap of faith, Sadie makes her wish, opens her eyes, and . . . nothing has changed . And then, in perhaps her dumbest move yet, she kisses her brother’s best friend, Jacob.

When Sadie wakes up the next morning, she’s in her former apartment with her former boyfriend, and her former boss is expecting her at work. Checking the date, she realizes it’s January 1 . . . of last year .  As Sadie navigates her second-chance year, she begins to see the red flags she missed in her relationship and in her career. Plus, she keeps running into Jacob, and she can’t stop thinking about their kiss . . . the one he has no idea ever happened. Suddenly, Sadie begins to wonder if her only mistake was wishing for a second chance.

From Me (Did Not Read):

I just couldn’t get myself in the mood to read this. Maybe I’ve read too many my-life-is-a-dumpster-fire books lately and just couldn’t take the plunge when there are so many books out there I’m dying to read. 

From the Cover:

Pearl Harris has learned the hard way to be careful in work and in love. When she is appointed acting director of OurCode, a nonprofit aimed at inspiring high schoolers to code, she has a chance to make lasting change for the organization, but a scandal has put their reputation at risk. Further complicating matters, Pearl didn’t expect the one man she hasn’t stopped thinking about in seven years to be the newest member of her board of directors.

Cord Matthews fell for Pearl when they met in an elevator seven years ago. She’s just his type: smart, capable, and makes him laugh, but when she broke his heart, he decided love wasn’t for him. After five years with no contact, their connection is immediate despite the many roadblocks in their way and Cord must consider breaking his ban on serious relationships. But going public with a romance between them might derail Pearl’s career. 

From Me (Did Not Finish):

It started a little dull and wasn’t really holding my attention. I wanted to see if it got better, but then came the dual timeline and that was it. I’m not a fan of back-and-forth chronology; sometimes it works well but most of the time it distracts me and wrecks my focus. So maybe this book ended up being great, but it just wasn’t for me. 

Perfect Setting: a Luxury, Members-Only, celebrity retreat club in the Scottish Highlands.

 Among the Heather combines so many romance staples, then you add in two classic characters: hardworking spitfire Aria, Hollywood daughter who wants to be successful in her own right, and famous actor North who came from nothing and just loves acting.

Angry and mis-judgey sparks fly from the start—North sees Aria as a trust-fund baby who only got her job because of daddy; Aria pins North as the typical spoiled and selfish celebrity. And she’s had enough of those.

Aria has a TON of insecurities and North isn’t so trusting either, given the way his longtime girlfriend backstabbed him and broke his heart. He tries, but Aria’s not easily won over, and this is where the story drags a little bit. North does SO MUCH to show her she can trust him and believe him, but it takes her forever to get past her mistrust. 

Once they let each other in, it’s lovely, with some really meaningful moments and sweet gestures (and some hotness of course). And there’s some drama and danger from the side plots to make it about more than just Aria and North.

For more, check our full review of Among the Heather

Rating: 3.8
Steam: Medium
Themes and Tropes: Enemies to Lovers, Close Proximity, Celebrity/Actor
Pair With: Your favorite scotch (yuck). If you’re not a scotch fan, maybe a celebrity actor’s wine.

Emmaline flees Vegas to escape her abusive boyfriend. Graham heads out to the desert to go full-throttle on his new Lamborghini. When said dangerous boyfriend gets too close and Emmaline sees an opening, into the Lamborghini she goes…little does she know Graham will find her. 

When he does, he comes with a proposal: if she marries him, he won’t call the cops. He needs to get married to secure his family’s inheritance, she needs to stay out of trouble. And as we all know, these marriages of convenience are never actually convenient and definitely turn hot. 

The book was cute and witty–loved the banter among the family and the characters. Loved how both main characters sacrificed and cared for their families. Didn’t love the third-act obstacle (kind of dumb), and the characters could have used more depth. But overall, a fun, easy read and I can’t complain too much. 

Rating: 3.3
Steam: Medium
Themes and Tropes: Fake Relationship, Marriage of Convenience, Athlete/Football
Pair With: Wines from Darling Wines, Sonoma, CA. 

Tuesday’s psycho and power-hungry family sends her off to a small-town to supposedly rehab her image and work at a smaller company the family just bought. 

She doesn’t expect to meet amazing human and hot, hot guy Bond on her first night and develop instant feelings. And boy are they both surprised when they collide at the office on Monday and discover they’re colleagues….

Overall, I liked the book because of the cute story, cute ideas, nice characters, and almost love at first sight. But I had a real problem with character depth (or lack thereof). Almost every character was so one-dimensional; everyone was either all-good (Bond’s family) or all-bad (Tuesday’s family and ex, mayor’s son). And the secret relationship was ridiculous after a while. Still, it’s a fun, entertaining, and enjoyable read. 

Rating: 3
Steam: Medium to high (a bit gratuitous)
Themes and Tropes: Secret Relationship, Colleagues, Small Town, Terrible Family, Instant Attraction
Pair With: Texas Wines. 

If archaeologist Corrie never sees fellow archaeologist Ford again, it’ll still be too soon. Bitter rivals since Ford stole a career-changing fellowship from Corrie and continued undermining her from there, the last thing they want is to work together. But this is an epic project: uncover the remains of mythical ancient figure Chimalli and the treasures believed buried with him.

And the stakes are too high for both. Ford needs the promised payout to pay for his mother’s cancer treatment, and Corrie has devoted her entire professional life studying and seeking Chimalli, who she believes is her ancestor.

Of course, they’re at each other’s throats right away and the story is heavily stacked against Ford. It’s hard early on to see how Ford could ever look like a decent guy. Right away, he behaves like a first-class jerk and undermines her at every chance. Plus, there’s the classic story of the white male using nepotism to get opportunities that others worked harder for and deserved more—super annoying to say the least. But don’t worry, Corrie has her idiot and not-so-nice moments as well.

Still, Raiders of the Lost Heart was a lot of fun—interesting characters, unique surroundings, and some mystery involved. I’m always a sucker for archaeology (my fantasy dream job in another life), and it was easy to picture the dig site deep in the Mexican jungle. Plus the descriptions were excellent without going on for too long.

I ended up loving the characters together—I mostly came around to Ford though I have some lingering animosity toward him. The side characters rounded out the book nicely, and the story comes full circle in a fascinating way.

If you’re into enemies-to-lovers, close proximity (in a jungle no less), mystery, and some steam, this book should be up your alley! I listed to the audio–excellent.

For more reviews and books to add to your TBR list, check out our Reviews page. 

Rating: 4
Steam: Medium
Themes and Tropes: Enemies to Lovers, Proximity, Isolated Location, Academic/Career Rivals, Mystery/Thriller, Archaeologists
Pair With: Rye Whiskey. I’ve never had it, but it’s the drink of choice in this book. Here are some ideas for rye cocktails.

In Sable Peak, Book Six of the Edens series, love brews (eventually) between the last unattached Eden brother, Mateo, and the younger Vera Gallagher, who’s new in town and been through more trauma than most can imagine.

Mateo returns to the family home in Montana after years of flying planes in Alaska. Known as a player who’ll never fall in love or get attached, he suddenly learns he has a newborn daughter back in Alaska. So off he goes to get her and bring her home, where his family instantly welcomes her and surrounds them both with love.

In a bit of a tangled background, Vera and her dad lived off the grid for years after the world believed he killed Vera’s mother and sisters in cold blood. Family friend and detective Vance (who’s engaged to Mateo’s sister) finds her, figures out what happens, and finds a way to bring her back into the world. She’s drawn to Mateo, but he only sees her as a friend….

Sable Peak was a good read. Not as good as Crimson River, and better than Jasper Vale. I loved the warmth and affection among the Edens—you can feel the family closeness and they seem like real people. The author does a lovely job of integrating the different personalities and making them seem like a real (if somewhat too-good-to-be-true) family.

Vera’s perseverance, vulnerability, and love, and her effort to deal with all her trauma made me root for her. Mateo’s transformation from lost, to wonderful dad, to figuring out his life was rewarding to see. And watching these two broken souls find some love and peace among the wreckage was lovely. Plus, so many emotional and poignant moments.

It took a while for the book to get going—the unrequited love went on for a long time—but the story needed some groundwork. You could read Sable Peak without the others, but I’d recommend at least reading Crimson River first so you can get all of Vera’s background.

Rating: 3.7
Steam: Medium
Themes and Tropes: Past Trauma, Unrequited Love, Single Dad, Small Town
Pair WithWines from Montana

From the Cover:

Even after their breakup, Ellie Davis can’t seem to shake her ex-fiancé. First it was the cheating, then it was the rumors, and now she finds out Jason’s been trying to get his greedy hands on her parents’ property. Where does it end? With revenge, Ellie decides.

Enter Fernley Island’s OddJobs app. When the local boat mechanic she hires sends his nephew instead, Ellie has to readjust her plans to account for Hugh Hartford, who’s handsome, brooding, and only in town for a few days. But he keeps showing up, so Ellie keeps hiring him. Little does she know Hugh has his own reasons for investigating Jason Brownlow…

As more evidence against Jason turns up, so does the heat between Ellie and Hugh. But if revenge is a dish best served cold, can their spark survive—or will the secrets between them burn it out?

From Me (Did Not Read):

I just couldn’t get started on this one, and couldn’t get myself in the mood for a revenge story. But I bet it was good. I’ve enjoyed Lilian Monroe books in the past and love her style. No reason to think this wouldn’t stack up.

Brilliant consultant/gamer instantly clicks with also-brilliant but often clueless CEO. Fun ensues.

In Game On, professional consultant Samara moonlights as a high-profile gaming influencer. When she calls out Artemis games online for obvious racism and sexism in a popular game, she gets the internet’s—and CEO Aron’s—attention. In a good way. He’s your classic guy that wants to do better with diversity and inclusion but needs to be hit over the head with how it affects more marginalized groups.

So they start working together and sparks fly, but they’re able to keep things professional for a while. Aron’s a methodical thinker and Samara’s gun-shy about getting involved with him. 

I liked Game On much more than I thought I would. I’m not a gamer and don’t know much about video games, and while the book is about a gaming business, it’s really much more broadly about online communities, internet backlash, and media coverage that could apply to any high-profile industry.

LOVED Samara—she’s smart, confident, unapologetic, brave, loving, cares deeply for her family and friends, and is always true to herself. I liked Aron a lot too—he’s also caring, honest, bright, and interesting. His forthright nature is a huge winner; no game-playing.

The third-act breakup seemed really inconsistent with the character and relationship development throughout the book. I’m not going any further with spoilers, but we can vent together if you felt the same way and want to discuss!

Still, Game On is a strong book with interesting and resilient characters, a (mostly) honest, adult relationship, and realistic but fun themes.

You can also check out our full review of Game On

Rating: 4
Steam: Low to Medium
Themes and Tropes: Workplace/professionals, Online Behavior, Enemies(ish) to Lovers
Pair With: Georgia Wines

From the Cover:

Actress Eden Blake’s biggest claim to fame is a mortifying pharmaceutical commercial for male enhancement pills. That is until the female lead on the nationwide tour of Broadway’s hit Pride & Prejudice musical abruptly quits and Eden is called up to fill the role.

Broadway royalty Brennon Thorne is set to play Darcy. Despite Brennon’s reputation as being “a dream to work with,” Eden’s first impression of him is more like a nightmare. 

Brennon can’t disguise his disdain for understudies like Eden. But as Eden and Brennon take the stage playing Jane Austen’s most memorable characters, their reality begins to mirror Elizabeth and Darcy’s—explosive chemistry and all. Together, they power through press performances and curtain calls, even as rumors of Brennon’s checkered romantic past resurface and prove to Eden that he can’t be trusted.

From Me (Did Not Finish):

Retellings are so hit-or-miss for me. I really don’t like knowing what’s coming, especially when I know there’s lots of annoying before the happy ending. Which is Pride & Prejudice for you. I didn’t feel like suffering through the Wickham-esque parts, etc. But the writing was good and it was probably a great book, just not for me.