This summer has been a great season of reading for me. I read 26 books in July alone! I’ve had to admit in the past that a big quantity of books read doesn’t always equal a quality reading life, but this summer the fast pace has really been working for me. It’ll be interesting to see if I maintain the breakneck pace or if it slows down some with the arrival of fall in the coming months.

Here are the books that have made my summer all-star list so far. I’ve got an adult fantasy trilogy, romance set at the CERN supercollider, lady scientists traveling through time, hilarious historical romance, and more!

Captive Prince Trilogy by C.S. Pacat

This trilogy came out several years ago, and my impression is that it created quite a stir. Some of the reviews I read led me to expect sexual assault and violence on every page, but that is not what these books are about. This trilogy is ultimately a love story between two men who never should have become allies, let alone anything more personal. Damen is a prince, in line to inherit his father’s throne, who is betrayed by his older half-brother, reported dead and sold as an anonymous slave to an enemy country. Damen knows he can’t reveal his true identity to anyone--instead, he bides his time until he can escape back home and retake control of his kingdom. But when he’s given as a gift to Laurent, the enigmatic prince of the rival nation whose brother Damen killed in battle, the question of who to trust becomes a whole lot murkier. 

Rarely is the first book in a trilogy the weakest--it seems like more often, authors start with a great premise and then fizzle out as they try to stretch their story into three volumes. However, each book in this trilogy is better than the one before it, and each one has a clear narrative purpose. It was refreshing to read a story so intentionally structured. You’ll definitely want to binge these one after the other. I also liked how these are unapologetically adult fantasy--there’s so much YA fantasy out there, and it’s great for that audience, but I personally love fantasy about grown-up people doing grown-up things, with a level of darkness and high stakes that you just don’t get with YA. 

Top Secret by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

I was not sure I was going to like Top Secret--it’s set at a frat house, after all, and frat boys are not and never have been my jam. But I have to admit I was curious about the premise--a romance between two frat brothers, I mean come on! I also love it when romance audio books have two different narrators playing the lead roles, so I went for it. And it was so good! Keaton and Luke live in adjacent rooms at the frat house, but they don’t know each other well and actually find each other pretty annoying. Through some slightly goofy plot wrangling, they end up chatting anonymously on a dating app and falling for each other You’ve Got Mail-style, but then of course things get complicated when they realize each other’s true identity. 

Love and Gravity by Rebel Carter

My favorite part of this book was the setting--I have never read a book set at the CERN supercollider! Grace is a lab assistant who loves taking care of her science nerds--she’s always anticipating everyone’s needs and her job gives her a sense of purpose. Her orderly world is thrown for a loop when Anton, a scientist she hasn’t met in person but has developed a bit of a crush on over the course of many email and phone exchanges, shows up in Geneva in the flesh to work with her research team. Unfortunately, before they can be introduced, Anton orders her to fetch him coffee and is generally a self-important jerk. I loved this initial conflict because as someone who works in an assistant role, I place a high value on how people treat others, especially people like secretaries, receptionists, waitstaff, etc. who are perceived as “the help.” I was very curious to see how Grace and Anton would be able to move past their disastrous first meeting.

Game of Hearts by Cathy Yardley

I’m still happily chugging my way through the Fandom Hearts series, and Game of Hearts is so good it rivals the first book and still my favorite, Level Up. Kyla wants to be a costume designer but spends most of her time working as a mechanic at her family’s garage. When her brother breaks his arm and can’t help out around the shop for several weeks, out of desperation Kyla calls their old friend Jericho to ask if he can fill in. When Jericho shows up, it’s super awkward because he hasn’t been in town in years and Kyla has--ahem--grown up quite a bit in the meantime. They fight their attraction for a while because of age difference, brother’s best friend bullshit reasons, but of course eventually they wise up and get naked. This whole series is like a warm hug, I just love it.

Locked Box by Eve Dangerfield

Super steamy romance set in Australia! Julia’s dream is to be a game designer, but she’s currently working in an IT role for the local police station. She’s had a crush on Max ever since she started working with him--maybe even before that--but has never acted on it because he’s married (although unbeknownst to Julia, he’s separated from his wife). When Julia gets locked in the evidence room late on a Friday, she thinks her luck couldn’t get any worse--until Max, in coming to her rescue, inadvertently gets locked in there with her. *scandalous eyebrow* Fair warning, this gets a little angsty as Max takes an annoyingly long time to decide whether he can date Julia openly or not, but overall it’s a fresh take on the forbidden workplace romance trope.

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

This is one of those twisty, many-tentacled novels that eventually come together in the end in surprising ways. It all starts in 1967, when a group of four women scientists invent a time machine. The machine only allows travel to time periods after the machine was invented, and time travelers aren’t able to substantially change events. Some sections of the story take place back in the ‘60s, some take place roughly in present day, and of course some characters exist in multiple timelines at different ages. 

When I describe the nitty-gritty details, the book sounds dense and confusing, but the reading experience isn’t like that at all. It feels like you’re unraveling a mystery like a tightly wound ball of yarn. Barbara, one of the scientists who suffers a mental breakdown after time travel, and her granddaughter Ruby are incredibly compelling characters, and I was completely sucked into their lives. Intense, brilliant but callous Margaret was fascinating in an entirely different (scary) way. I think this would appeal to readers of both literary fiction and speculative fiction--it’s very smart but doesn’t get bogged down in the scientific minutiae. It’s more concerned with the effects of time travel on people and what power like that could do to change a person.

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai

Alisha Rai is an auto-buy author for me. I don’t care what she writes, I just know I want to read it. And The Right Swipe is really good--I won’t be surprised if this is the book that catapults her fully into romance author stardom. It’s different in tone from her previous Forbidden Hearts trilogy--while it still deals with realistic issues, in this case workplace harassment and brain injury in NFL players, there’s less of an edge. Which admittedly will likely make it more palatable for a wide audience, although I have to admit I really enjoy the thread of darkness that some of her earlier work has. 

In this book, Rhiannon is CEO of a dating app company, and Samson is a former professional football player and current public face of one of Rhiannon’s competitors. When they see each other professionally, it’s a little awkward because they hooked up one night a while back and afterwards, he ghosted her. I didn’t 100% feel the chemistry between Rhiannon and Samson, unfortunately, maybe because there was so much external conflict going on for both of them? It was a little disappointing because chemistry between the leads is something I thought Rai got so perfectly right in the Forbidden Hearts series. Anyway, this one doesn’t go to the top of my personal favorites list, but I hope it leads to lots of commercial success for the author because I really want her to keep writing. 

The Governess Game by Tessa Dare

This is only my second Tessa Dare novel, but I’m already a big fan of her light-hearted, humorous take on historical romance. She has these great one-liners that remind me of Oscar Wilde. Such as: “I have never been wistful a day in my life. I am entirely devoid of wist.” That kind of joke just hits me right on my funny bone. In The Governess Game, Alexandra is not of the aristocracy (yay!) but has to make her own living setting clocks in rich people’s homes. Through a series of slightly goofy events, she ends up unwittingly being hired as a governess for the two young wards of Chase Reynaud, the heir to a dukedom and, by all accounts, an incorrigible rake. Chase has baggage with a capital B and is convinced he’s not fit to be anyone’s guardian, much less anyone’s husband or father, and therefore has sworn off anything other than casual, one-night flings. Alex is smitten with him but heard him loud and clear when he said he’d never consider seducing her, so she throws herself into governessing as best she can--and that’s not easy, either, because Chase’s two wards are quite the hilarious handful. I’m looking forward to the next in the series, The Wallflower Wager, which comes out this week.


Today’s my birthday, which I’ve shamelessly used as a blanket excuse all month long to read whatever the f*ck I want. Of course, I’m a blogger with a day job who doesn’t even request ARCs anymore, so one would think my reading choices would always be completely up to me. And they are! I just keep *forgetting* that I’m beholden to no one when it comes to books. So here’s a whole bunch of books I’ve been reading and loving this month, with no unifying theme other than they get the much-coveted Taryn Seal of Approval. (Okay, it’s mostly romance. I do what I want.)

Mercedes Thompson series by Patricia Briggs

First off, I hardly ever allow myself time for rereading due to my aforementioned issues, but this summer I was suddenly in the mood to get caught up with the Mercedes Thompson series, which I started reading back in 2013. Several books had come out in the intervening years, and due to my Swiss cheese memory I decided to start back at book #1 instead of just jumping in with the titles I hadn’t read. Unsurprisingly, I remembered very few of the major plot points! 

I have much enjoyed catching back up with coyote shapeshifter and VW mechanic Mercy and her friendly neighborhood werewolf pack, and the reread has shown me the ways I’ve grown as a reader in the past six years. I’ve read a lot more fantasy and paranormal romance now than I had back when I first picked these up, and I think they’re a good entry point to the genres because they’re pretty heavy on exposition (you don’t have to guess at how the magic works--Mercy will tell you everything you want to know). One of the hooks that I remember sucking me in when I first read the series was the romance, but having read a lot more romance now, I feel like these are on the cooler end of the heat scale (eh, you can’t win ‘em all). I’m a more critical reader now, too, when it comes to appropriation and white people writing characters from other cultures, and while my impression is that Briggs has done a fair amount of research into Native cultures, I’m not convinced she always writes with perfect sensitivity (one cringe-y example: Darryl, who is biracial, is always described as “exotic”). 

At this point I’ve got a few books still to go, and I’m looking forward to seeing what crazy shit Mercy gets into in the books that are brand-new to me.

The Gone Dead by Chanelle Benz

I read the whole thing in a day because I couldn't put it down. This is a literary mystery set in Mississippi about a woman who returns to her father's hometown to find out the truth about his death. Officially it was ruled an accident, but the reaction of locals (including her own family members) as she investigates makes it clear there's more to the story. I was totally sucked in--so atmospheric, I could practically feel the sticky heat of the South as I read.

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite

Historical lady romance with astronomy and embroidery! You can see why I pre-ordered this, yes? Lucy is an astronomer and mathematician whose heart is broken because her lover just abandoned her to marry a man. On impulse, she flees to London to meet Catherine, the widow of an explorer with whom she’s corresponded over the years. Catherine is looking to sponsor someone to translate an important new astronomy text from the French, a job Lucy wants and knows she’s qualified for despite the sexism and snobbery of the academic circles of the time. Catherine didn’t have a happy marriage, and while she’s secretly relieved to be rid of her husband, she’s not sure what widowhood holds for her or what she has to offer the world now that she’s not attached to a man. Catherine and Lucy don’t exactly hit it off at first, but their slow-growing connection is super sweet, and I loved the way they join forces to fight gatekeeping men. I especially loved the ending, as it shows how wonderfully positive LGBT stories can be even when set in times that weren’t kind to such folks.

The Chai Factor by Farah Heron

Romance between an engineer and a baritone from a barbershop quartet! Irresistible! Amira is finishing up the last few weeks of her graduate degree and has come home to her grandmother’s house for some peace and quiet, not realizing that her grandmother has rented out the spare rooms to a barbershop quartet with a singing competition to prepare for. It’s the perfect setup already, but in case that wasn’t enough, Amira also has a meet-cute on the train with the baritone from said quartet—a big, red-bearded lumberjack looking dude who saves her from a creepy guy’s advances. I loved how abrasive Amira is—she goes nuclear first and asks questions later—and how the narrative doesn’t require her to change to be worthy of love. (She still has to apologize sometimes, because that’s life, but Duncan likes her fiery personality.) I also loved the clash of cultures (Duncan is white, Amira is Indian-Canadian and Muslim) and how Amira refuses to be a vehicle for a white person’s enlightenment. There are a lot of supremely satisfying mic-drop moments.

American Fairytale by Adriana Herrera

I was all about the first book in the Dreamers series, and I loved this follow-up just as much. Milo, a social worker, has a sexy encounter with a stranger at a fancy fundraising gala. At work the next day, his boss introduces him to Tom, the new donor who’s bankrolling their latest project AND (you guessed it) the same guy Milo just got up close and personal with. Although they vow to keep things professional, sometimes chemistry is too strong to ignore (!!). I just love this series. The characters all feel so real, which is not a thing I expected to say about a billionaire romance. There's no manufactured drama here--the conflicts are genuine, and complicated, and not solvable with a single conversation. The side characters are always delightful, too, funny and warm and surrounding the main characters with perspective and support. There's just something deeply comforting about a social worker being provided funds to make people's lives better. Also, Sean Crisden is probably my favorite audio book narrator ever. I don’t think there’s an accent, age, or gender he can’t effortlessly convey.

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

When I first heard the setup for this book, all that registered was “young widow” and it went immediately on my oh-no-no list. I don’t do books about people losing their spouses, especially if those people are anywhere close to my age. But after a recommendation from my sister-in-law Belinda, I took a closer look and learned that the setup isn’t quite that simple. Evvie has decided to leave her husband and is literally in the driveway packing the trunk when she gets a call that he’s been in a car accident. When he dies soon after, she doesn’t feel like she can tell anyone how she really felt about him, so everyone in her little Maine town assumes she’s grieving. When the opportunity arises for her to rent out part of her house, she goes for it, knowing she can use the extra cash. Her new roommate turns out to be Dean, a professional baseball player who’s been sidelined with the yips. They get to know and like each other but agree from the beginning that they won’t ask about each other’s issues—no dead husband or pitching talk allowed. But of course it’s only a matter of time before those barriers start coming down. I liked how messy and imperfect Evvie was—this was one where I really wasn’t sure how she and Dean were going to reach their happily ever after.