“Appassionata” by Emma Barry

As a person who also experiences anxiety (though of a different type than depicted here), Kristy’s journey spoke to me on multiple levels. I appreciated how she related to her life’s various elements, from her artistry to her agent to her old “friend” Brennan. I enjoyed even more how Brennan did not sugar-coat his interactions with Kristy, but neither did he ever try to “fix” her. The way these characters come together is as sexy and dramatic as any symphony. While I think they threw the “l-word” around too early (I’ll blame the alcohol), I absolutely buy that Kristy and Brennan will somehow find their happily ever after together. (4 stars)

“Unraveled” by Olivia Dade

“Unravel” is precisely what Simon does throughout this story. The subtle alterations in his characterization and narrative voice show us more than could ever be portrayed by statements of fact. Dade’s depictions of both characters are masterful, dropping them both into a normal situation and then heightening it with the unique inclusion of, of all things, murder dioramas. The interweaving conflicts/mysteries of the diorama, the missing teacher, and Simon’s growing fascination with Poppy are a fun and exciting read. I think I was half in love with both Simon and Poppy by the end of this short tale, which makes for an even more satisfying happily ever after. (5 stars)

“Caught Looking” by Adriana Herrera

“Idiots in love” is my favorite romance trope lately. What I especially appreciated about this story is how Hatuey takes so long to get his act together—and how Yariel promptly takes up the mantle of being dumb once these two memorable characters finally collide. Frankly, Yariel is kind of a mess for most of this book, “undone” in the best way possible. I usually want to smack characters upside the head when they resist communicating, but in this instance, Yariel has a good reason for running hard in the opposite direction at first. Part of me wishes that we’d seen more onscreen resolution of that particular conflict, but at the same time, it’s also a refreshing change to read about characters who honestly want what’s best for their loved ones, regardless of any previous issues. Overall, the best part of this story is how absolutely in love these two men are—once they both stop being idiots. (4.5 stars)

“Yes, And…” by Ruby Lang

I find it fascinating that the three women romantic leads featured in this anthology have similar passions for the arts. In this case, Joan is an actress hosting the improv class Darren attends accidentally. As someone who did improv for years, part of me wishes that Darren had stuck with the course. However, I love the idea of two characters who can’t seem to stay away from each other, even when there’s not much on the surface to draw them together besides physical attraction. Their arc follows a real-world path that should be considered the norm rather than the passionate extremes sometimes featured in romance novels. Darren finds ways to support Joan while never taking away her agency, and Joan inspires Darren to make changes in his life that never drastically alter the character on the page. Authors and actual humans in search of romance should take note of this lovely example of a healthy relationship. (4 stars)

“Tommy Cabot Was Here” by Cat Sebastian

I have one of the ebook readers that allows you to highlight passages, and I often have to resist the urge to highlight every other line of Sebastian’s writing. Her use of language is just that good, from description to characterization to narrative. Every character, including the secondaries, often come alive on the page. Even better, the conflicts and situations she places her characters in always come with that delicious gut-punch of emotion that makes reading her work an absolute delight. I purchased this anthology on the weight of her inclusion, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the other four novellas, this story alone was worth the price admission. This story could have fallen into many stereotypes, but Sebastian tweaks her characters to always defy expectations. It doesn’t hurt that Tommy and Everett fall into my most recent favorite romance trope of “idiots in love.” Overall, their journey back to each other after a lifetime of yearning is a satisfying read, perfect for the upcoming holidays for anyone looking for an excellent anthology with a solid ending. (5 stars)

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

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