Fresh FIction Box Not To Miss

Miranda Owen | Favorite Reads of 2021

December 16, 2021

As a woman, I sometimes feel like I’m too critical of female protagonists. Tess Greene, the heroine in DISASTER GIRL by Michelle Dayton, is realistically flawed, but I admire her determination, intelligence, and her mix of toughness and plenty of heart. It’s something the hero in this story admires too, and why he ends up falling for her. Tess had a somewhat chaotic childhood, constantly doing damage control. As a result, that became kind of what she does for a career. This story involves revenge porn, and Tess collaborates with potential employee and tech geek she’s hopelessly attracted to, Max Hampshire, to bring down the sleezebag behind it all. I like characters who are multifaceted, and Tess qualifies for sure. She’s not the stereotypical cold-hearted businesswoman. She’s had some life experiences that have made her more guarded, but she cares about a lot of people and is fiercely loyal. Since the story is told strictly from Tess’s perspective, you naturally sympathize with her, and you relate to her insecurity about Max’s feelings for her. The chemistry between Tess and Max is phenomenal and the witty banter makes the steamy scenes even better when they eventually happen.

I have fallen down the rabbit hole of YA romance a million times over. I think I find them so appealing because their usually stories about a period of growth and change in the main characters’ lives. In BETTER THAN THE MOVIES by Lynn Painter, quirky heroine Liz Buxbaum is very passionate when it comes to things like movies and music, but rigid when it comes to making her mind up about people. She tends to keep people in a certain box in her mind, and forever they will stay. Romcom movies have been a big influence on how she behaves and how she sees life. It may sound a little odd, but those films are a strong connection to her late mother. I found it amusing whenever Liz tries to engineer romantic “chance meetings” with the boy she’s majorly crushing on–most of which end badly. Strangely enough, it’s Wes Bennet, the boy she believes to be her lowkey nemesis, who invariably comes to her rescue. There is a PRIDE AND PREJUDICE vibe with this story. Whether you’re a fan of YA romance or not, I suggest making this book the YA romance you take a chance on. I’ve been immersing myself in oodles of YA romance, and lots of it has been good, but I think this gets it just right.

I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a Cynthia Eden book I don’t like. DON’T PLAY WITH ODIN is part of Eden’s Trouble for Hire series. This story has a lot going for it: dark humor, delicious tension, and a fabulous romance. Odin is clueless about relationships and about how hot he is. Maisey Bright walks into Odin’s office and wants to hire him for his PI services because she suspects her neighbor of being a psycho. I don’t normally go for romantic suspense, but I will make an exception for Cynthia Eden. In DON’T PLAY WITH ODIN, Eden takes a classic Alfred Hitchcock vibe and joins it with superb eroticism. There are enough twists and turns in this story to make you question everything you thought you knew. The one constant is Odin. He has enough reasons to be overconfident, but he’s just not that guy. Even when he’s not sure if Maisey’s suspicions are well-founded, he believes in her and is the strong and sexy source of support she needs. There’s a wonderful balance of suspense, hard-boiled detective story, with a brief and highly amusing “pretend romance” thrown in.

Anna, the heroine in PAUSE by Kylie Scott, wakes up from a coma after being in a car accident. She finds that some time has passed, and her life has drastically changed. Her husband was grossly disloyal, and now she’s rebuilding her life. Enter hot tattoo artist Leif, who she finds she has a connection to because of the car accident. They become roommates, friends, and eventually much more. With stories like this, I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. There’s usually a ridiculous misunderstanding or contrived plot point to make me roll my eyes, but not so in this case. Most of the story is about the two main characters figuring their life out and falling in love along the way. This is exactly the kind of character-driven romance I adore. I really liked Anna because she is strong and isn’t easily led astray, even though she’s at a crossroads in life. Likewise, Leif isn’t a stereotype either. He’s a good-looking guy but he’s not aggressive or obnoxious. He woos Anna by being her friend, somebody who will listen to her, and who respects her boundaries. This is a re-read for me and one of my favorite Kylie Scott books.

When the description for DEATH IN CASTLE DARK by Veronica Bond said that it took place at a castle with a dinner theater troupe, I was instantly sold. It has all the usual cozy mystery trappings: fun situations with fab characters and a hint of romance. But, in addition to the lighter aspects, there are some genuinely spooky and spinetingling moments. Nora Blake is an actress—as well as amateur sleuth—and is excited about having free room and board at an actual castle while flexing her acting muscles. Initially everyone at the castle seems welcoming and she’s hopeful about her situation. However, once there’s a death on the premises, things take a decidedly dark and gothic turn. People who seemed friendly before, now seem slightly creepy, and Nora doesn’t know who to trust. I loved it! I highly recommend this to mystery fans, and I can’t wait for the next installment.

While HATE ME UNDER THE MISTLETOE by Kelly Jamieson isn’t exactly an “enemies-to-lovers” story in the traditional sense, main characters Amy and Ryder have a complicated past. Amy had a crush on Ryder when they were teens, but Ryder didn’t think exploring anything with Amy would have been appropriate or remotely feasible at the time. She was miffed to say the least. Now, years later, they find themselves snowed in at a cabin in the woods. Excellent. There are a few tense and prickly encounters, but maturity and necessity eventually win out. Once they start talking to each other and getting to know the people they are now, they can give in to their natural attraction. Amy doesn’t make any bonehead desperate moves to try and attract Ryder, and Ryder doesn’t try and rub it in that Amy used to be angry with him in the past and has now warmed to him. In other books, things often go in a different direction, and thankfully Kelly Jamieson avoids this in a believable way. HATE ME UNDER THE MISTLETOE is lots of festive fun and full of sexy Christmas-y goodness.

As a fan of E.J. Copperman’s paranormal cozy Haunted Guesthouse mystery series, I was eager to read JUDGEMENT AT SANTA MONICA. The second book in Copperman’s “Jersey Girl Legal Mystery” series features family lawyer Sandy Moss, who finds herself through into unusual cases by TV Patrick McNabb. The humor and quick banter in this book are reminiscent of the screwball comedies of the 1940s. In this story, Sandy has two cases she’s working on, and dealing with a few assassination attempts that may or may not be connected to both cases. The lighter moments are often delightfully farcical and are balanced by dangerous situations. Because Patrick is such a larger-than-life personality, Sandy and the reader aren’t sure when to take him seriously. One of the things I love about this author’s books are the realistic and likable female protagonists. All the elements work together beautifully in JUDGEMENT AT SANTA MONICA and, as is often the case with this author, I am eager for the next in the series.

I love the Meg Langslow mystery series by Donna Andrews. For me, they’re a guaranteed good read. You get pulled into the various mysteries, and chuckle at Meg’s somewhat eccentric yet lovable family. Meg is like the ring master keeping everything together. THE TWELVE JAYS OF CHRISTMAS is no exception. In this installment, an odious houseguest dies, wary visitors must watch out for divebombing birds and beware of wombats in the basement. I like how there are a few different mysteries for Meg and the readers to sort through and decide if they are in any way connected. Having multiple elements of mystery in one novel keeps things interesting. Adding the hassles and joys of Christmas just adds another layer. It makes the lighter moments more enjoyable, and it adds an interesting contrast to the terrifying ones. As with other books in this series, although there are plenty of laughs, interesting bird facts, and family member shenanigans, there are moments that really have you afraid for Meg.

One of my favorite romance tropes is “friends-to-lovers.” In NICK AND NOEL’S CHRISTMAS PLAYLIST by Codi Hall, Nick and Noel have been BFFs for years and have a family connection. When Nick gets out of the military, hoping to cement things with his longtime girlfriend (whom nobody else likes), things don’t work out the way he planned because she dumps him. Coincidentally around the same time, Noel’s current sweetie steps out on her in a public way, causing them to part ways. To save face when the exes show up at the same bar, they give the impression that they are a new couple by kissing. What could go wrong? Friendship is a huge theme in this book and it’s interesting to see the variety of friendships play out. The author also shows that Nick’s ex has another side to her, rather than just the nasty one she normally show (but I have to admit that I was rooting for her to have some minor mischief to happen to her). I’m also glad this story was told from both perspectives because Nick and Noel don’t always reveal how they truly feel about each other. This is such a cute story, with great characters, sexual tension galore, and swoon-worthy moments.

I don’t normally read sci-fi or fantasy novels, but Ruby Dixon’s Ice Planet books are some of the best romances with a sci-fi/fantasy setting. I first discovered this series when the author was self-publishing them and I’m thrilled the fanbase has exploded on TikTok and inspired amazing fan artwork, too. Since the series is getting a new lease on life by being re-issued by Berkley, I hope that one day there will be maps of the ice planet just like there are for the Harry Potter and Hobbit worlds. In this series, a bunch of human women have been kidnapped by alien and, thankfully, escaped their captors and made it safely to an ice planet inhabited by wonderous, terrifying creatures and blue warrior hotties. In recent books, newcomer and alien outcast, Juth, and his son, Pak, are on the fringes of society. The locals have been trying to make them feel welcome, but Juth is extremely cautious. Steph, a human woman, tries to connect with the father and son by leaving supplies for them to find. In STEPH’S OUTCAST, some upheaval caused by a Godzilla-type monster comes out of the sea, leading to “snowed in” romance trope plotline. Juth mistakenly thinks that Steph’s a little more into him than she really is, and his lovey-dovey behavior toward her is adorable. And, as with every book in this series, there is a balance of character-driven storytelling and red-hot romance.

Miranda Owen is a Fresh Fiction senior reviewer. You can see more of her reviews and columns here.


DISASTER GIRL by Michelle Dayton

Disaster Girl

The only thing she knows better than walking into a disaster is digging herself out of one.

Tess Greene knows disaster—dating disasters, computer disasters, family disasters, you name it. But just when her life is finally almost perfect, she’s targeted by an internet celebrity who runs a revenge porn site admired by douchebags across the country. She has one month before the entire world will have an up-close-and-personal view of her sexual history. Tess has always handled everything on her own, but for this disaster, she needs backup.

Max Hampshire, a brilliant hacker, is exactly the lifeline Tess needs. What she doesn’t need is Max himself. She does not need his quick wit, sexy black-framed glasses, or all-around sweetness. The last guy who helped Tess left with his life crushed and his heart broken, so she knows that staying far away from Max would be safer for everyone.

But safety isn’t really an option when dealing with sleazy predators—or love…

Romance Contemporary [Tule Publishing, On Sale: May 25, 2021, e-Book, ISBN: 2940162506379 / eISBN: 9781953647818]

A fierce fabulous heroine, a sweet and geeky hero who fall in love while demolishing a cyber villain



Better Than the Movies

In this rom-com about rom-coms, in the spirit of Kasie West and Jenn Bennett, a hopeless romantic teen attempts to secure a happily-ever-after moment with her forever crush, but finds herself reluctantly drawn to the boy next door.

Perpetual daydreamer Liz Buxbaum gave her heart to Michael a long time ago. But her cool, aloof forever crush never really saw her before he moved away. Now that he’s back in town, Liz will do whatever it takes to get on his radar—and maybe snag him as a prom date—even befriend Wes Bennet.

The annoyingly attractive next-door neighbor might seem like a prime candidate for romantic comedy fantasies, but Wes has only been a pain in Liz’s butt since they were kids. Pranks involving frogs and decapitated lawn gnomes do not a potential boyfriend make. Yet, somehow, Wes and Michael are hitting it off, which means Wes is Liz’s in.

But as Liz and Wes scheme to get Liz noticed by Michael so she can have her magical prom moment, she’s shocked to discover that she likes being around Wes. And as they continue to grow closer, she must reexamine everything she thought she knew about love—and rethink her own ideas of what Happily Ever After should look like.

Romance Comedy | Young Adult Romance [Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, On Sale: May 4, 2021, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781534467620 / eISBN: 9781534467644]

Loads of fun with complex characters and a few surprises!


DON’T PLAY WITH ODIN by Cynthia Eden

Trouble For Hire #2

Don't Play With Odin

Big, bad, and currently out of his element…

Odin Shaw thought he’d spend his life on a battlefield. But fate had other plans, and now the ex-Special Forces operative has just landed a new job at his best friend’s PI office. It’s one hell of a life change, and the giant “Viking” is trying to adjust, fast, but then she walks into his life.

Delicate, beautiful, and hunting a killer…

Maisey Bright has been following the news. She knows that the small PI firm just helped track a killer and get the perp locked away—so Maisey figures that the towering man sitting behind the massive desk will be perfect solution for her current predicament. The cops don’t believe her story, so Maisey has no choice. She wants to hire Odin. The job in question? Well, she needs him to help her find proof—irrefutable evidence—that her next-door neighbor is a serial killer.

The gorgeous ones are always a little bit crazy…

Odin figures the case will be a snap. He’ll prove that Maisey’s neighbor is most definitely not a serial killer. He’ll do it in record time, and he’ll score some extra cash for the PI firm. Maybe he’ll even score some points with the lovely—but obviously way too crime-enthusiast-obsessed—Maisey. Piece of cake.

It’s not a piece of cake. It’s a freaking nightmare.

When Odin steps into Maisey’s world, things seem off from the very beginning. Her neighbor is suspicious as hell, and when Maisey is nearly kidnapped after leaving her job, Odin realizes there is much more to the case than meets the eye. A whole lot more. He stays at Maisey’s place to protect her—and to keep an eye on her neighbor. But the close proximity to the maddening Maisey stirs a fierce desire inside of Odin. Maisey is smart, off-beat, sexy…and when he kisses her, Odin is a goner.

But first, the killer…

Odin and Maisey set off to uncover the truth about her neighbor, and as they dig deeper into the disappearances of three wome, Odin begins to suspect that Maisey may be dead right. He also realizes that he is falling for a woman who now seems be the target of a killer. Looks like it might be time for Odin to go to battle once more. Because there is no way—no way—that anyone will hurt Maisey.

Author’s Note: Calling all true-crime enthusiasts! Maisey is your girl. She spends her nights listening to podcasts and sleuthing, but when she suspects that a killer is living next door, Maisey knows that she needs a professional partner…so Odin Shaw enters the picture. Odin has muscles for days, and he doesn’t even blink when he faces danger. He’s just the PI that she wants. Danger, romance, twists—time for their story to begin.

Romance Suspense | Romance Erotica Sensual [Self-Published, On Sale: July 13, 2021, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781952824401 / ]

A charming love story with plenty of passion, a detective story, and an adrenaline high!


PAUSE by Kylie Scott


An unpauseable new romance from New York Times bestselling, Audie Award winning author Kylie Scott!

When Anna wakes up from a coma after a car crash, she discovers life has gone on without her. Her husband has been unfaithful—with her best friend—and she’s been long since replaced at work. While her old life is a distant memory, her new life feels like an empty shell. Then she meets the stranger who saved her life during the crash, and he changes everything.

Leif Larsen—tattooist, joker, and player—has his own scars thanks to the crash that put Anna in a coma. Helping her move on from her failed marriage, and create a new life, sounds like a perfect distraction. So when he needs a new roommate, he invites Anna to begin her new life with him.

Although their lives may have been put on pause, together they just might find a way to heal.

Romance Contemporary [Independently Published, On Sale: July 13, 2021, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780648457312 / eISBN: 9780648457305]

A compelling character-driven story paired with a romance that sizzles!



Dinner and a Murder

Death in Castle Dark

Actor Nora Blake finds her dream job when she is cast in a murder-mystery troupe that performs in an imposing but captivating old castle. When she stumbles upon a real murder, things take a nightmarish turn in this first book in an exciting new series.

Maybe it was too good to be true, but when Nora Blake accepted the job from Derek Corby, proprietor of Castle Dark, she could not see any downsides. She would sink her acting chops into the troupe’s intricately staged murder-mystery shows, earn free room and board in the fairy tale–like castle, and make friends with her new roommates, which include some seriously adorable kittens.

But something sinister lurks behind the walls of Castle Dark. During Nora’s second performance, one of her castmates plays the part of the victim a little too well. So well, in fact, that no one can revive him. He has been murdered. Not ready to give up her dream gig—or to be the next victim—Nora sets out to see which one of her fellow actors has taken the role of a murderous real-life villain.

Mystery [Berkley, On Sale: July 27, 2021, Mass Market Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780593335871 / eISBN: 9780593335888]

A fun setting, a spellbinding mystery, and hidden wickedness!



Romancing the Rink #1

Hate Me Under the Mistletoe

What happens under the mistletoe stays under the mistletoe…

Amy’s life isn’t living up to the famous Heller family brand—her love life and her career—and she just wants to be alone for Christmas. So she takes off to a friend’s secluded mountain cabin. Ho fu*king ho.

Ryder’s workaholic tendencies have made him super successful in his business, but he hasn’t spent time with family for years. That’s all he wants this Christmas, plus a little down time at a cabin in the mountains. He loves Christmas and can’t wait for the family ugly sweater contest!

When Ryder walks in on Amy at an “awkward” moment, she can’t believe the man she’s hated since she was sixteen has shown up here. He has to leave. But Mother Nature has other ideas when a blizzard shuts down the entire region…

Amy thinks a good place for Ryder’s Christmas cheer is up his ass. Ryder thinks Amy’s grown up into a smokin’ hot babe. Christmas is all about giving, and he’s got a really big package for Amy. Maybe naughty is the new nice…

Romance Contemporary | Romance Holiday | Romance Erotica Sensual [Self Published, On Sale: October 26, 2021, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781988600642 / eISBN: 9781988600567]



Jersey Girl Legal Mystery #2

Judgment at Santa Monica

Hollywood stars, sunshine, stabbings . . . New Jersey prosecutor turned LA family lawyer Sandy Moss is back with a bang in the second book in this fun, witty and fast-paced cosy legal mystery series.

The last person family lawyer Sandy Moss expects to walk into her courtroom, right in the middle of a trial, is TV star Patrick McNabb: prime suspect in her first (and she hopes, last) murder case.

Sandy knows what Patrick’s like. Friendly, overconfident, dazzlingly handsome . . . and a well-meaning menace. But his request seems harmless enough. His dear friend Cynthia is getting divorced, and he thinks Sandy’s perfect for the job. She accepts – because he’s Patrick and there is no denying him.

But of course it’s not that simple. Soon Sandy’s tangled up in yet another murder – and Patrick, who’s currently playing a private detective on TV, believes he’s essential to solving the whole thing . . .

Mystery Legal | Mystery Cozy | Mystery Woman Sleuth [Severn House, On Sale: September 1, 2021, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781780298122 / ]

Everything I want in a mystery – great characters, stellar storytelling, and a few chuckles!



Meg Langslow Series #30

The Twelve Jays of Christmas

The cast of Donna Andrews’ New York Times bestselling Meg Langslow mystery series is back for an unforgettable holiday story in The Twelve Jays of Christmas.

Meg and Michael’s annual holiday celebration is well underway, with a throng of out-of-town relatives staying at their house. Hosting these festivities is a little harder than usual—they have to relocate all the events normally held in their library, currently occupied by Roderick Castlemayne, the irascible wildlife artist who’s creating twelve paintings of birds to illustrate Meg’s grandfather’s latest nature book.

Still, the celebrations continue—and the entire family rejoices to learn that Meg’s brother Rob and his longtime fiancée Delaney have finally decided to tie the knot. Unfortunately, they decide to do this in the middle of Meg and Michael’s annual New Year’s bash, dashing their mothers’ hopes of planning the wedding to end all weddings.

Delaney’s mother sneaks into town so she and Meg’s mother can secretly plot a way to talk the happy couple into having a big bash. Hiding her only adds to Meg’s holiday stress—it’s almost a full-time job fending all the visitors who want to confront Castlemayne—reporters, bill collectors, process servers, and several ex-wives in search of unpaid alimony.

Then someone murders Castlemayne in the middle of a blizzard and sets loose the birds he was painting. Can Meg help the police crack the case before the killer strikes again? Can she keep Christmas merry in spite of the body in the library? Can she negotiate a compromise between Rob and Delaney and their disappointed mothers? And can she recapture the twelve escaped jays before they begin nesting in the Christmas tree?

This intrigue-filled Christmas mystery takes readers home to Caerphilly to join in Meg’s family’s holiday celebration—including, of course, another baffling mystery.

Mystery Hobbies | Mystery Cozy [Minotaur Books, On Sale: October 12, 2021, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781250760180 / eISBN: 9781250760197]

Fabulous flights of fancy, chilling mystery, holiday cheer, and a few psychos!



Mistletoe Romance #1

Nick and Noel's Christmas Playlist

Curl up this Christmas with a sparkling romance filled with:

  • Irresistible friends-to-lovers romance
  • The kiss that changed everything
  • Warm nights on the family Christmas tree farm
  • All your favorite Christmas songs!

Nick Winter is just out of the military, and his Christmas homecoming is not going as planned. What was supposed to be a memorable holiday with his long-time girlfriend goes sour when he learns she cheated on him while he was stationed overseas. At least Nick can rely on his usual shift at the family Christmas tree farm with his best friend, Noel Carter, and her endless supply of Christmas tunes to lift his spirits. A night of fun together is just what he needs to forget about his ex.

But then they kiss. And it feels…so right.

If Noel can turn Nick’s Blue Christmas merry and bright, this might be the last Christmas Nick spends with a broken heart. This year, they’ll be Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree as a couple—as long as Nick’s ex doesn’t go standing under any mistletoe.

“Codi Hall brings all the feels.”—Monica Murphy, New York Times bestselling author

Romance Contemporary | Romance Holiday [Sourcebooks Casablanca, On Sale: October 5, 2021, Trade Size / e-Book, ISBN: 9781728251172 / eISBN: 9781728251196]

Amazeballs, with great characters and a double shot of sexy and sweet!



Icehome #14

Steph's Outcast

Ever since we found the two Outcasts, it’s been my goal to get them to join our beach tribe. Handsome, impossible Juth has resisted all my efforts to recruit him and his small son. He’s made it very clear that he doesn’t belong with us.

But when I’m trapped at Juth’s side as the beach is invaded by monsters, everything changes. He talks to me instead of pointedly ignoring me. We become friends. Heck, we even share a few stolen kisses. And when the rescue party arrives, he announces to everyone that I’m his mate and he’s joining the tribe.

Which is great except…I never agreed to anything? If I point out I’m not Juth’s mate, he’ll pack up and leave with his son. He sure won’t give me more of those toe-curling kisses or touch me like it’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to him.

So…I guess I’m mated? Because I’m not sure I can give any of that – or Juth – up.

Romance Fantasy | Romance Erotica Sensual | Romance Science Fiction [Self Published, On Sale: July 10, 2021, e-Book, ISBN: 9798533005326 / ]

A love story with a hot out-of-this-world single dad and the human woman he adores!

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