Well Met (Well Met #1) by Jen DeLuca (audiobook) – Narrated by Brittany Pressley

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The faire is Simon’s family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn’t have time for Emily’s lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she’s in her revealing wench’s costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they’re portraying?

This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can’t seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – C+

There was quite a bit of pre-publication buzz about Jen Deluca’s Well Met, and positive reviews together with the fact that I’ve enjoyed Brittany Pressley’s work in the past suggested it would be an audiobook I’d enjoy, so I requested a copy for review. The final verdict? Mixed feelings. The narration is excellent, but the story and characters felt somewhat underdeveloped. I also missed the dual PoV that’s common in so many contemporary romances. There’s a reason we don’t get the hero’s perspective, but the lack of it does make him seem rather two-dimensional, which, for a hero-centric reader/listener like me, wasn’t ideal.

After losing her job and breaking up with her long-term boyfriend, Emily has temporarily relocated to the small Maryland town of Willow Creek to be with her older sister, who is recuperating from a car accident. She figures it’s as good a place as any to lick her wounds and figure out where she goes from here. Emily has also assumed the role of ‘Adult in Charge’ when it comes to her niece, Caitlin, and when the story opens has driven her to the local high school on a Saturday morning so that Caitlin can sign up to take part in the town’s annual Renaissance Faire. Cait is very excited about joining the faire for the first time – but Emily isn’t so enthusiastic when she’s informed that because her niece is only fourteen, she won’t be able to ‘do Faire’ unless she’s accompanied by an adult. Gah! But what can Emily do? Cait is so excited and would be SO disappointed not to be able to take part so Emily agrees… although her first glimpse of the gorgeous Mitch – “Tall, blond, muscled, with a great head of hair and a tight T-shirt. Gaston crossed with Captain America with a generic yet mesmerising handsomeness” is what really tips the balance.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Goalie Interference (Hat Trick #2) by Avon Gale and Piper Vaughn (audiobook) – narrated by Kirt Graves

goalie interference

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Ryu Mori has had a stellar season as goalie for the Atlanta Venom. So when he’s called into management’s office, he’s expecting to hear he’s the new starting goalie for the team, not that some new guy – an incredibly hot, annoyingly bratty rookie – is here to compete for his spot.

Not everyone gets to play in the best league in the world. Emmitt Armstrong knows that, and he’s not about to waste the opportunity after grinding his way from the bottom to the top. If the Venom are looking for a meek, mild-mannered pushover, they’ve got the wrong guy.

Ryu doesn’t want to admit the other goalie’s smart mouth turns him on. Beating Armstrong at practice feels good, sure, but there are other more fun ways to shut his rival up.

In this league, it’s winner takes all. But there’s more to life than winning, and if Emmitt and Ryu can get past their egos and competitive natures, they might just discover they work better as partners than they ever imagined possible.

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B-

Although Goalie Interference is the second book in Avon Gale and Piper Vaughn’s Hat Trick series featuring the Atlanta Venom ice-hockey team, it can be listened to as a standalone without any problem. (The first book, Off the Ice is enjoyable (probably my favourite of the two) and well-narrated by Kirt Graves, so if you like the sound of this, chances are you’ll like that one as well!) Goalie Interference is an enemies-to-lovers story with a difference, in that both leads play for the Venom rather than opposing teams, so the dynamic is perhaps a little different, too. I enjoyed the story overall, although I did find myself asking questions about certain aspects of it (more later) and found the ending a little flat, but I’ll definitely be picking up the next book when it comes out.

After a few seasons as the Venom’s back-up goalie, Ryu Mori expects – quite reasonably – that after the team’s starting goalie is traded to another team, he will automatically step into that slot. He’s dedicated, works hard, knows his team and is a damn good goalie – so when he learns that he’s going to be sharing goal-keeping duties with rookie Emmitt Armstrong, Ryu is not exactly overjoyed.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Rebound (Pucks and Rainbows #1) by L.A. Witt (audiobook) – Narrated by Michael Ferraiuolo and Nick J. Russo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A 40-something single dad, a 20-something hockey star, and a whole lot of baggage. No, this couldn’t possibly blow up in their faces.

Officer Geoff Logan has his plate full. His cop’s salary and Marine retirement aren’t enough to make ends meet. He’s got war wounds and demons that are in it for the long haul. His teenagers are, well, teenagers, plus they’re pissed that he left the boyfriend they loved. Can’t a guy catch a break?

Seattle Snowhawks center Asher Crowe has it all. A seven-figure salary. A literal house on a hill. A stable, loving relationship with an amazing boyfriend. At least, that’s what the world sees. Behind closed doors, he’s been living in a private hell, and when he finally works up the courage to end things, his boyfriend refuses to go quietly.

One call to the cops, and suddenly Geoff and Asher’s paths cross. But is the connection between them simple chemistry? Kindred spirits? Or just a pair of lonely hearts looking for a hot distraction?

And even if it’s more than physical, is there really a future for two men from such vastly different worlds? Especially when the past comes knocking?

Rating: Narration; A – Content; B+

Rebound, book one in L.A. Witt’s Pucks & Rainbows series, pairs a twenty-something hockey star with a forty-something cop and ex-marine, both of whom have recently ended long-term relationships with abusive partners. Naturally, both men bring a lot of emotional baggage to the table, so maybe a no-strings rebound fling is what they both need, a simple distraction while they deal with all the other stuff going on in their lives and sort themselves out. It’s a well-written – if slightly predictable – story featuring two engaging leads that takes a realistic look at the issue of domestic abuse in gay relationships and the perceptions – personal and public – that come with it.

When Officer Geoff Logan and his partner Laura are called to a disturbance at a local restaurant, Geoff is surprised to recognise one of the parties involved as up-and-coming hockey star, Asher Crowe, centre for the Seattle Snowhawks. While Geoff and Laura wait for back-up, Geoff talks to Asher about the fight and learns Asher had just broken things off with Nathan – his long-term , physically abusive boyfriend – having deliberately chosen to do so in a public place in the hope that Nathan wouldn’t make a scene… which obviously didn’t turn out as Asher had hoped. Geoff, who has very recently ended a six-year relationship with a man who manipulated him emotionally for years, sees something of himself and his own situation in Asher, and after seeing him safely home, tells the younger man to call him if Nathan ignores the warnings he’s been given to stay away and offers to check up on him at the end of his shift – an offer Asher gratefully accepts.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Twice Shy (New Milton #3) by Sally Malcolm

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The last thing Joel Morgan wants is to fall in love again. Scarred by his failed marriage, Joel’s determined to keep his life emotionally stable—which means taking a job teaching fourth grade, fixing up his house on weekends, and avoiding absolutely all romantic entanglements. And he’s doing great.

Until he meets sweet but struggling single dad, Ollie Snow.

Following the tragic death of his sister and her husband two years earlier, Ollie became the legal guardian of their two young sons—much to the horror of the boys’ conservative grandparents. They think Ollie’s too young and too unreliable to raise their grandsons. So to prove them wrong, Ollie’s determined to parent the boys without anyone’s help.

Until he meets reserved but caring teacher, Joel Morgan.

As the only two men in the school’s Parent-Teacher Association, Joel and Ollie are thrown together over a series of fundraising events, and somewhere between the Beach Fun Run and the Fall Festival they fall in love. But Ollie has another reason for moving to New Milton—a reason he’s keeping close to his chest—and Joel’s wounded heart won’t trust a man with secrets.

Dare they hope for a future together, or will their past pain keep them apart forever?

Rating: A-

When I reviewed Perfect Day, the first in Sally Malcolm’s series of m/m contemporary romances set in the fictional Long Island resort of New Milton, I called it “the sort of book you finish with a heartfelt sigh of satisfaction and a dreamy smile”.  Something about the author’s writing just clicks with me; her protagonists and secondary characters are always three-dimensional and attractively flawed, the dialogue flows naturally and her stories are imbued with genuine warmth and humour.  Best of all, she writes the most gorgeously romantic romances; not sappy or tooth-rottingly sweet, but romances that evolve organically and contain what is – for me, anyway – the perfect amount of angst and conflict.  She manages this all over again in her third full-length New Milton novel, Twice Shy, in which she introduces us to school teacher Joel Morgan, who retreated to New Milton after his marriage – and his life – imploded, and Ollie Snow, a young, single, gay man whose life was changed irrevocably a couple of years earlier when his sister and brother-in-law were killed in a car accident and he was given custody of their two young sons.

Ollie was just twenty-two and enjoying life at grad school – where he was studying to be an architect – when he received that life-changing news.  He was surprised, to say the least, to be named guardian of baby Luis and four-year-old Rory, and immediately put his life on hold in order to fulfil his sister’s last wishes, despite the fact that her husband’s parents disapproved and did everything they could to try to gain custody of the boys themselves.  It was tough on Ollie, whom they tried to paint as too young and flighty for such responsibility, but the will was iron-clad and after the case was settled, he moved to New Milton in hopes of making a fresh start.  He dropped out of school and now works at a dead-end job in a call centre in order to support his small family.  It’s not easy and money is tight, but he loves the boys dearly and even though he’s pretty much always exhausted, and often just downright lonely, he’s determined to do the best he can for them.

Joel Morgan had a seemingly perfect life as an investment banker in New York until his wife divorced him after he told her he was bisexual. It’s not that he deliberately hid it; he was in love with Helen and that was all that mattered to him, but after eight years of marriage, Joel realized he needed to tell her the truth.  Not because he wanted anyone else, but because it felt wrong to keep it a secret and because he felt the need for her to see him as the person he truly was.  But Helen’s reaction – one of utter disgust – floored him and sent him into a downward spiral of depression which took him a long time and a lot of therapy to crawl out of, and ever since, he’s taken great care to put himself and his mental health first, having cocooned himself in his safe, unentangled life.  Once he got himself back together, Joel retrained as a teacher and now works at the Elementary School in New Milton.  Being one of the few male members of staff, he frequently gets roped into helping with the various fundraising events run by the PTA (Parent Teacher Association), which is where he first meets handsome, charming and obviously out and proud single dad Ollie Snow, and feels, for the first time in years, a visceral pull of awareness… one he ruthlessly suppresses. He’s only too aware of his tendency to fall hard – and has therefore made up his mind it’s best not to fall at all.

You can read the rest of this review about All About Romance.

Wicked Lies Boys Tell by K. Webster (audiobook) – Narrated by Teddy Hamilton and Jacob Morgan

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

I’m in love with my best friend.

Lie.

I’m in love with my enemy.

Truth.

But they’re the same.

They. Are. The. Same.

Lines in my world are blurry between fantasy and reality. Truth and lies. Love and hate.

Copeland Justice is my enemy. My once best friend. The sadist in my heart plucking and pulling at every thread of who I am until I’m unraveled at his feet.

His mouth says he hates me. His eyes burn with animosity for me. His heart beats for someone else.

But Copeland Justice is the best liar of us all.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – C-

That right there, those names listed in the “narrated by” part of the header tell you precisely why I picked up Wicked Lies Boys Tell. And as expected, Teddy Hamilton and Jacob Morgan aced the narration in this New Adult GFY story about two long-term friends who fall out and then fall in love, their terrific performances helping to paper over the cracks in the story – of which there are quite a few; tempering the predictability and softening the sharp edges of some of the more obvious stereotyping.

Penn McAlister and Copeland (Cope) Justice have lived next-door to each other all their lives and have been best friends ever since they can remember. But that all changed one night when they were sixteen and Penn, who had known for quite some time that he liked boys and not girls, and liked his best friend the best of all, kissed Cope and Cope punched him in the face.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

His to Defend (NOLA Knights #1) by Rhenna Morgan

This title may be purchased from Amazon

His world. His rules. Her love.

Though his methods may be rough, when it comes to protecting what’s his, Russian vor Sergei Petrovyh’s heart is always in the right place. That’s never been more true than when the gorgeous Evette Labadie asks him for a job. He knows enough to keep his hands off someone as beloved by the locals as Evie, but there’s something about her that calls to him—no matter how badly he burns to make her his.

Don’t think Evie hasn’t noticed the powerful Russian mafia boss who makes her favorite diner a regular stop. How can she not? He’s as hot as his reputation is dangerous. But everyone in her struggling New Orleans neighborhood knows he’s the man to turn to. And right now she needs money to get her son out of trouble.

Her other needs—needs she knows damn well Sergei can more than satisfy—will have to wait.

Evie soon finds herself playing Cinderella to a man who, despite what people believe, is definitely more prince than villain. She can’t help falling deeper in love with each passing day. But when a turf war between Sergei and a rival brings violence to her doorstep, Evie must come to grips with loving a man who will do anything to defend her…or walk away from her best chance at a happily-ever-after of her very own.

Rating: C-

I haven’t read a book by Rhenna Morgan before, so when I saw she was starting a new series, I decided that was as good a place as any to jump in and picked up His to Defend – first in her new NOLA Knights series – for review. The novel starts well, introducing and fleshing out the main characters quickly and smoothly, but the bulk of the story moves at a snail’s pace, and while the sex-scenes are steamy and well-written, the romance goes from zero to sixty so fast I was in danger of whiplash.

Single mother Evie Labadie has been dismissed from her cleaning job, and needs to find another job quickly if she’s going to be able to scrape together the money for her seven-year-old’s school fees. Entering the diner owned and run by her oldest friend (where her son Emerson waits for her after school), Evie notices – not for the first time – the large, charismatic and very handsome man sitting quietly in a booth at the back – and decides this might finally be the time to ask for his help.

Sergei Petrovyh is Russian Bratva and everyone around there knows it. Since moving to New Orleans, he’s been slowly helping the community, ridding the streets of the scum who prey on the locals, intent on earning their loyalty by protecting them when they can’t protect themselves – all with the aim of controlling the majority of the enterprise in the area and wiping out the competition. He’s known to be ruthless but fair, trading in favours and quid pro quo – and hasn’t missed the way Evie, the neighbourhood darling, always looks at him whenever she sees him at the diner. He likes the boldness of her unabashed perusals, the way her gaze challenges him – but has never pursued her, knowing the respect he is working to earn within the community would take a serious hit were he to mess around with her. He’s surprised – and pleased – when Evie approaches him to ask for his help getting a new job, and decides on the spot that helping her is the perfect way to further his plans to ingratiate himself with the community; everybody knows and loves Evie, so helping her helps him, too.

Evie had no idea that when Sergei told her to turn up at a gorgeous, plantation style house in the Garden District on Monday morning that she was going to be working for him – and living in – managing his house and estate, and no idea that bringing her into his personal space was a statement of intent on his part.  The attraction Evie already feels for Sergei  only grows more powerful  the more she witnesses his kindness towards Emerson and his obvious respect and consideration for her;  and Sergei is determined to make her his, no matter his belief that he’s undeserving of the “touch of someone so light and good” because “the darkness in him was too thick.”

I realised, as I was reading this, that I haven’t read a romance in which the hero is a mobster before.  But now I have read one, I confess that I’m somewhat ambivalent.  In this story Sergei is a great guy and perfect romantic hero material (if you’re into alpha males with a capital ‘A’.)  The author makes it clear what he does for a living – and there’s a scene towards the end of the book that reinforces that – he never lies to Evie, never tries to sugarcoat the truth of what he does and she goes into the relationship with her eyes open, knowing where Sergei’s money comes from and accepting the possible dangers that come with being in a relationship with a man like him.  We’re told that Sergei and his crew have cleaned up the streets of the district, and that he’s working to make life better for those in the area – he’s an ‘enlightened’ mobster if you will – but I still couldn’t quite ignore the ‘mobster’ part of that phrase.  I know the crime boss with a heart of gold is a popular trope… I’m just not sure it’s one for me.

I was also very much NOT impressed in the scene in which Sergei and Evie get carried away and, in the heat of the moment, have unprotected sex.  When Evie expresses her dismay afterwards, Sergei’s response is to say that Emerson will make a great big brother and then:  “… we will not be using condoms again. I will not have anything between me and my bride.”

He’s magnanimous enough to say that she can use other contraception (my words), but honestly, I wished she’d just kneed him in the balls and stormed off.

Evie is an engaging heroine. Life hasn’t dealt her the best of hands – her parents are dead and the only relative she has left is a scumbag uncle she avoids – but she’s clever, resourceful and independent, she’s a good mother and Emerson is her main priority – and I appreciated that the author doesn’t send her down the TSTL path when the opportunity opens up.  Emerson is a cute kid, but Ms. Morgan keeps on telling us how serious he is for a seven-year-old and that he’s old for his years, so that it eventually starts to sound like an excuse: ‘hey, I know he sounds like a teenager, but I couldn’t make him that old without putting Evie into her mid-thirties!’

I had a problem with the pacing of the romance as well.  When Evie first approaches Sergei in the diner, he doesn’t intend to make a move – mostly because he’s so bad and she’s so good (eyeroll).  But within a couple of chapters, he’s done an about-face and is actively pursuing her, and after not much longer is making it clear he wants something permanent with her.  It’s too fast and without much foundation; sure Evie’s a great person – funny, sexy, compassionate and a good mother, but Sergei goes from ‘she’s too good for me’ to ‘Mine!Mine!Mine!’ so fast I thought I’d skipped a few chapters.  The overall pacing was pretty slow, too, with large chunks of not much happening in the middle and then a bit of a suspense plot introduced near the end.

There are plenty of four and five star reviews of His to Defend on Goodreads that seem to put my opinions in a minority. On the plus side, the writing is strong, the central characters are likeable and I enjoyed the suspense element introduced in the last part of the story, but maybe this author – or this trope – just isn’t for me.

American Love Story (Dreamers #3) by Adriana Herrera

This title may be purchased from Amazon

No one should have to choose between love and justice.

Haitian-born professor and activist Patrice Denis is not here for anything that will veer him off the path he’s worked so hard for. One particularly dangerous distraction: Easton Archer, the assistant district attorney who last summer gave Patrice some of the most intense nights of his life, and still makes him all but forget they’re from two completely different worlds.

All-around golden boy Easton forged his own path to success, choosing public service over the comforts of his family’s wealth. With local law enforcement unfairly targeting young men of color, and his career—and conscience—on the line, now is hardly the time to be thirsting after Patrice again. Even if their nights together have turned into so much more.

For the first time, Patrice is tempted to open up and embrace the happiness he’s always denied himself. But as tensions between the community and the sheriff’s office grow by the day, Easton’s personal and professional lives collide. And when the issue at hand hits closer to home than either could imagine, they’ll have to work to forge a path forward… together.

Rating: A-

Adriana Herrera’s Dreamers, a series about a group of four Afro-Latinx friends who live and work in and around New York, seems to get better and better with each book.  American Love Story is the third instalment and I loved it.  It’s complex and romantic while remaining grounded in reality; the two leads are principled men who come from completely different worlds and their HEA is hard work and hard won; the secondary characters are well-rounded and the relationships between them well-written, and I loved the romance, which is intense, sexy, angsty, tender and superbly developed.  On top of all that, the author tackles some difficult topics – institutionalised racism among them – and takes a long, hard look at the immigrant experience in the US, and does it so skilfully that the reader is completely drawn into the world she has created. There are no info-dumps or soapboxes here, just a damn good story that isn’t afraid of telling some unpleasant truths while also telling a tale of love, friendship, shared experience and shared ideals.

Around a year before this story begins, Haitian born Patrice Denis, a Black economics professor and activist, met Assistant District Attorney Easton Archer, and the insanely hot chemistry between them led to some insanely hot hook-ups.  At the end of his visit to Ithaca (to help his friend Nesto (American Dreamer) set up his business) Patrice went back home and that was that – except now, he’s accepted a tenure-track position at Columbia University, and even though he strenuously denies it when his friends tease him about his having moved to Ithaca because he wants to reconnect with Easton, deep down, Patrice can’t help but admit – to himself – that there is perhaps just a tiny kernel of truth to their teasing.  But anyway, it doesn’t matter. Even though Patrice is completely captivated by Easton all over again the moment he sets eyes on him once more, there’s no possibility of anything long-term happening between them. They’re too different; he a black immigrant who has worked doubly hard for everything he has, Easton from a background of wealth and white privilege; he a long-time activist for racial justice, Easton part of the system which is failing people of colour so badly. No, being with Easton would mean compromises Patrice just isn’t prepared to make.

Easton is still desperately attracted to Patrice, and senses the reverse is true, but he remembers Patrice’s tendency to keep him slightly at a distance and to close himself off when things get too heavy, so Easton doesn’t push.  He makes his interest clear and waits for Patrice to come to him – which Patrice eventually does, and they resume their physical relationship, but this time, they start to spend time together out of bed as well as in it, and to Easton’s delight (and Patrice’s confusion) start to get to know each other properly, talk about some of the issues that have arisen between them and are building a real relationship.  The connection between them is as strong as it ever was, and they take care to communicate with each other, but even so, it’s not easy or simple. Patrice can be very judgmental, and holds everyone –including himself – to an incredibly high standard, not taking time for himself, feeling he doesn’t deserve to be happy while there is still so much of the good fight to be fought.  He’s passionate in his beliefs, and he’s right to be angry about the injustice faced by Black and Brown people on a daily basis – but he’s also exhausting to be around, and his desire for perfection takes a serious toll on his relationship with Easton, who feels like he’s constantly treading on eggshells around him:

 “I can’t be in a relationship where I’m constantly one mistake from being iced out.”

The big external conflict in the story comes when the local police in start performing more traffic stops than usual on young men of colour.  Easton is every bit as furious about what’s going on as Patrice is, but is in a tricky situation.  He wants to talk to the sheriff and make it clear the situation is unacceptable and must stop, but he’s ordered to take a softly-softly approach by his boss, who doesn’t want to rock the boat and lose the support of local law enforcement.  Easton is a good man and a highly respected lawyer who cares passionately about justice and has built a reputation for aggressively prosecuting cases of sexual assault and domestic violence; he wants to see the officers responsible for the stops receive more than a slap on the wrist and to suggest that the department should have some anti-racism training.  But his hands are tied and he’s forced to sit back and wait.  Patrice recognises Easton’s frustration and appreciates his desire to do more, but he doesn’t have the luxury of being able to wait and see, a fact that’s brought home to Easton in a forceful and scary way.

Patrice and Easton are two complex, flawed and very well-realised characters, and while there’s no question they care for each other deeply, the author doesn’t gloss over the difficulties inherent in their relationship.  In spite of their intense and powerful mutual attraction, Patrice feels, deep down, that being with Easton will mean having to compromise his beliefs, while Easton struggles under the weight of expectation placed upon him by those around him, including his incredibly judgmental father and his boss, who is trying to persuade him to run for DA.  Much as he wants to be with Patrice, he slowly comes to the realisation that he can never live up to his expectations and that he can’t be in a relationship with someone who won’t meet him halfway.

“I can’t keep getting pushed away every time things go awry.  My parents have made me feel like I wasn’t enough, my whole life.  I can’t do that with you too…”

Both men learn new things about themselves, each other and the world around them as a result of their association.  Easton, who has worked hard against injustice, comes to see there’s even more he can do, while Patrice has to learn that his insistence on perfection isn’t having a good effect on those around him and that he needs to achieve a better balance in his life if he’s not to run himself into the ground. When the novel ends, it’s clear that Patrice and Easton are in it for the long haul, and committed to making things work between them – and work it is; American Love Story is quite possibly the only romance I’ve ever read that ends with the central couple acknowledging that that work is just beginning.

As with the other novels in the series, there’s much to enjoy in addition to the complex, well-written romance.  The supporting cast is strongly characterised and the relationships between them are brilliantly drawn; these guys would do anything for one another and know they have each other’s backs, no matter what.  Ms. Herrera has created a group of relatable, engaging individuals and continues to portray their experiences as immigrants to the US with incredible insight, showing clearly what they bring to the table and their passion for what they do.

If you’re already following this series, then you’ll need no encouragement from me to pick up American Love Story as soon as it’s released; if you haven’t, then it can be read as a standalone (all the books in the series can), or you could just hop back to American Dreamer and start there.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.