Friday 29 July 2022



Title: Broken World
Series: EMP Aftermath
Author: Grace Hamilton
Publisher: Relay Publishing
Release Date: 13th July 2022

BLURB from Goodreads
No power. No law & order. No safety net. The world as everyone knows it is over.

Laurel is stabilizing a patient in the ER when the power goes out. As she struggles to keep her patients alive, she faces an ugly truth—the world as everyone knew it is over. The smart thing to do is run and try to survive, but Laurel refuses to leave her patients behind—least of all her sick mother. There’s only one choice to make. She’ll have to stay and fight.

Bear is done fighting. War and PTSD have cost him everything—his job, his self-respect, and his wife - Laurel. But when he can no longer deny the old world is gone, he gains a new purpose. Laurel is hundreds of miles away from his mountain cabin, but he knows she needs him.

After so long being a lost solider, he finally has something worth fighting for. The highways are clogged with dead cars. Frantic survivors want his truck, his tools, his supplies. He'll face treachery, desperation, and endless miles of unforgiving wilderness, but he's going to find his wife. Together, they can survive anything.

He just has to reach her. 

Goodreads Link

Great collection of different characters. Told from different POV from characters with their different ways, attitudes and thoughts on how to survive the EMP. Lots of suspense and action.
We see how similar situations affect people differently and cause them to act in strange, sometimes overly aggressive ways too.
Well written, great believable settings, certainly makes you ponder what you would do in a similar scenario.
Amazing start to another potentially great series by Grace Hamilton. Definitely makes for addictive reading!
When can I read some more of this series?!


Thursday 28 July 2022



From the New York Times bestselling author of The Last Bookshop in London
comes a moving new novel inspired by the true history of America’s library
spies of World War II. 
Title: The Librarian Spy
Author: Madeline Martin
Publisher: Hanover Square Press
Release Date: 26th July 2022 

BLURB supplied by Harlequin Trade Publishing
Ava thought her job as a librarian at the Library of Congress would mean a quiet, routine existence. But an unexpected offer from the US military has brought her to Lisbon with a new mission: posing as a librarian while working undercover as a spy gathering intelligence.

Meanwhile, in occupied France, Elaine has begun an apprenticeship at a printing press run by members of the Resistance. It’s a job usually reserved for men, but in the war, those rules have been forgotten. Yet she knows that the Nazis are searching for the press and its printer in order to silence them.

As the battle in Europe rages, Ava and Elaine find themselves connecting through coded messages and discovering hope in the face of war.

San Marco Books, Signed Copies for Preorders!
Story & Song Books, Signed Copies for Preorders!
Barnes & Noble


April 1943

Washington, DC

There was nothing Ava Harper loved more than the smell of old books. The musty scent of aging paper and stale ink took one on a journey through candlelit rooms of manors set amid verdant hills or ancient castles with turrets that stretched up to the vast, unknown heavens. These were tomes once cra­dled in the spread palms of forefathers, pored over by scholars, devoured by students with a rapacious appetite for learning. In those fragrant, yellowed pages were stories of the past and eternal knowledge.

It was a fortunate thing indeed she was offered a job in the Rare Book Room at the Library of Congress where the ar­chaic aroma of history was forever present.

She strode through the middle of three arches to where the neat rows of tables ran parallel to one another and care­fully gathered a stack of rare books in her arms. They were different sizes and weights, their covers worn and pages un­even at the edges, and yet somehow the pile seemed to fit to­gether like the perfect puzzle. Regardless of the patron who left them after having requested far more than was necessary for an afternoon’s perusal.

Their eyes were bigger than their brains. It was what her brother, Daniel, had once proclaimed after Ava groused about the com­mon phenomena—one she herself had been guilty of—when he was home on leave.

Ever since, the phrase ran through her thoughts on each encounter of an abandoned collection. Not that it was the fault of the patron. The philosophical greats of old wouldn’t be able to glean that much information in an afternoon. But she liked the expression regardless and how it always made her recall Daniel’s laughing gaze as he said it.

They’d both inherited their mother’s moss green eyes, though Ava’s never managed to achieve that same sparkle of mirth so characteristic of her older brother.

A glance at her watch confirmed it was almost noon. A knot tightened in her stomach as she recalled her brief chat with Mr. MacLeish earlier that day. A meeting with the Librarian of Congress was no regular occurrence, especially when it was followed by the scrawl of an address on a slip of paper and the promise of a new opportunity that would suit her.

Whatever it was, she doubted it would fit her better than her position in the Rare Book Room. She absorbed lessons from these ancient texts, which she squeezed out at whim to aid patrons unearth sought-after information. What could possibly appeal to her more?

Ava approached the last table at the right and gently closed La Maison Reglée, the worn leather cover smooth as butter be­neath her fingertips. The seventeenth century book was one of the many gastronomic texts donated from the Katherine Golden Bitting collection. She had been a marvel of a woman who utilized her knowledge in her roles at the Department of Agriculture and the American Canners Association.

Every book had a story and Ava was their keeper. To leave her place there would be like abandoning children.

Robert floated in on his pretentious cloud and surveyed the room with a critical eye. She clicked off the light lest she be subjected to the sardonic flattening of her coworker’s lips.

He held out his hand for La Maison Reglée, a look of irrita­tion flickering over his face.

“I’ll put it away.” Ava hugged it to her chest. After all, he didn’t even read French. He couldn’t appreciate it as she did.

She returned the tome to its collection, the family reunited once more, and left the opulence of the library. The crisp spring DC air embraced her as she caught the streetcar toward the address printed in the Librarian of Congress’s own hand.

Ava arrived at 2430 E Street, NW ten minutes before her appointment, which turned out to be beneficial considering the hoops she had to jump through to enter. A stern man, whose expression did not alter through their exchange, con­fronted her at a guardhouse upon entry. Apparently, he had no more understanding of the meeting than she.

Once finally allowed in, she followed a path toward a large white-columned building.

Ava snapped the lid on her overactive imagination lest it get the better of her—which it often did—and forced herself on­ward. After being led through an open entryway and down a hall, she was left to sit in an office possessing no more than a desk and two hardbacked wooden chairs. They made the seats in the Rare Book Room seem comfortable by comparison. Clearly it was a place made only for interviews.

But for what?

Ava glanced at her watch. Whoever she was supposed to meet was ten minutes late. A pang of regret resonated through her at having left her book sitting on her dresser at home.

She had only recently started Daphne du Maurier’s Re­becca and was immediately drawn in to the thrill of a young woman swept into an unexpected romance. Ava’s bookmark rested temptingly upon the newly married couple’s entrance to Manderley, the estate in Cornwall.

The door to the office flew open and a man whisked in wearing a gray, efficient Victory suit—single breasted with narrow lapels and absent any cuffs or pocket flaps—fashioned with as little fabric as was possible. He settled behind the desk. “I’m Charles Edmunds, secretary to General William Dono­van. You’re Ava Harper?”

The only name familiar of the three was her own. “I am.”

He opened a file, sifted through a few papers, and handed her a stack. “Sign these.”

“What are they?” She skimmed over them and was met with legal jargon.

“Confidentiality agreements.”

“I won’t sign anything I don’t read fully.” She lifted the pile.

The text was drier than the content of some of the more lackluster rare books at the Library of Congress. Regardless, she scoured every word while Mr. Edmunds glared irritably at her, as if he could will her to sign with his eyes. He couldn’t, of course. She waited ten minutes for his arrival; he could wait while she saw what she was getting herself into.

Everything indicated she would not share what was dis­cussed in the room about her potential job opportunity. It was nothing all too damning and so she signed, much to the great, exhaling impatience of Mr. Edmunds.

“You speak German and French.” He peered at her over a pair of black-rimmed glasses, his brown eyes probing.

“My father was something of a linguist. I couldn’t help but pick them up.” A visceral ache stabbed at her chest as a memory flitted through her mind from years ago—her father switch­ing to German in his excitement for an upcoming trip with her mother for their twenty-year anniversary. That trip. The one from which her parents had never returned.

“And you’ve worked with photographing microfilm.” Mr. Edmunds lifted his brows.

A frown of uncertainty tugged at her lips. When she first started at the Library of Congress, her duties had been more in the area of archival than a typical librarian role as she micro­filmed a series of old newspapers that time was slowly erod­ing. “I have, yes.”

“Your government needs you,” he stated in a matter-of-fact manner that broached no argument. “You are invited to join the Office of Strategic Services—the OSS—under the information gathering program called the Interdepartmen­tal Committee for the Acquisition of Foreign Publications.”

Her mind spun around to make sense of what he’d just said, but her mouth flew open to offer its own knee-jerk opinion. “That’s quite the mouthful.”

“IDC for short,” he replied without hesitation or humor. “It’s a covert operation obtaining information from newspa­pers and texts in neutral territories to help us gather intel on the Nazis.”

“Would I require training?” she asked, unsure how know­ing German equipped her to spy on them.

“You have all the training you need as I understand it.”

He began to reassemble the file in front of him. “You would go to Lisbon.”

“In Portugal?”

He paused. “It is the only Lisbon of which I am aware, yes.”

No doubt she would have to get there by plane. A shiver threatened to squeeze down her spine, but she repressed it. “Why am I being recommended for this?”

“Your ability to speak French and German.” Mr. Edmunds held up his forefinger. “You know how to use microfilm.” He ticked off another finger. “Fred Kilgour recommends your keen intellect.” There went another finger.

That was a name she recognized.

She aided Fred the prior year when he was microfilm­ing foreign publications for the Harvard University Library. After the months she’d spent doing as much for the Library of Congress, the process had been easy to share, and he had been a quick learner.

“And you’re pretty.” Mr. Edmunds sat back in his chair, the final point made.

The compliment was as unwarranted in such a setting as it was unwelcome. “What does my appearance have to do with any of this?”

He lifted a shoulder. “Beauties like yourself can get what they want when they want it. Except when you scowl like that.” He nodded his chin up. “You should smile more, Dollface.”

That was about enough.

“I did not graduate top of my class from Pratt and obtain a much sought-after position at the Library of Congress to be called ‘Dollface.’” She pushed up to standing.

“And you’ve got steel in that spine, Miss Harper.” Mr. Ed­munds ticked the last finger.

She opened her mouth to retort, but he continued. “We need this information so we best know how to fight the Krauts. The sooner we have these details, the sooner this war can be over.”

She remained where she stood to listen a little longer. No doubt he knew she would.

“You have a brother,” he went on. “Daniel Harper, staff sergeant of C Company in Second Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in the 101st Airborne Division.”

The Airborne Division. Her brother had run toward the fear of airplanes despite her swearing off them.

“That’s correct,” she said tightly. Daniel would never have been in the Army were it not for her. He would be an engi­neer, the way he’d always wanted.

Mr. Edmunds took off his glasses and met her gaze with his small, naked eyes. “Don’t you want him to come home sooner?”

It was a dirty question meant to slice deep.

And it worked.

The longer the war continued, the greater Daniel’s risk of being killed or wounded.

She’d done everything she could to offer aid. When the ra­tion was only voluntary, she had complied long before it be­came law. She gave blood every few months, as soon as she was cleared to do so again. Rather than dance and drink at the Elk Club like her roommates, Ava spent all her spare time in the Production Corps with the Red Cross, repairing uni­forms, rolling bandages, and doing whatever was asked of her to help their men abroad.

She even wore red lipstick on a regular basis, springing for the costly tube of Elizabeth Arden’s Victory Red, the civilian counterpart to the Montezuma Red servicewomen were issued. Ruby lips were a derisive biting of the thumb at Hitler’s war on made-up women. And she would do anything to bite her thumb at that tyrant.

Likely Mr. Edmunds was aware of all this.

“You will be doing genuine work in Lisbon that can help bring your brother and all our boys home.” Mr. Edmunds got to his feet and held out his hand, a salesman with a silver tongue, ready to seal the deal. “Are you in?”

Ava looked at his hand. His fingers were stubby and thick, his nails short and well-manicured.

“I would have to go on an airplane, I’m assuming.”

“You wouldn’t have to jump out.” He winked.

Her greatest fear realized.

But Daniel had done far more for her.

It was a single plane ride to get to Lisbon. One measly take­off and landing with a lot of airtime in between. The bottoms of her feet tingled, and a nauseous swirl dipped in her belly.

This was by far the least she could do to help him as well as every other US service member. Not just the men, but also the women whose roles were often equally as dangerous.

She lifted her chin, leveling her own stare right back. “Don’t ever call me ‘Dollface’ again.”

“You got it, Miss Harper,” he replied.

She extended her hand toward him and clasped his with a firm grip, the way her father had taught her. “I’m in.”

He grinned. “Welcome aboard.” 

Excerpt supplied by Harlequin Trade Publishing 


Madeline Martin is a New York Times and international bestselling author of historical fiction novels and historical romance. She lives in sunny Florida with her two daughters, two incredibly spoiled cats and a husband so wonderful he's been dubbed Mr. Awesome. She is a die-hard history lover who will happily lose herself in research any day. When she's not writing, researching or 'moming', you can find her spending time with her family at Disney or sneaking a couple spoonfuls of Nutella while laughing over cat videos. She also loves travel, attributing her fascination with history to having spent most of her childhood as an Army brat in Germany.

Author Website
Twitter: @MadelineMMartin
Facebook: @MadelineMartinAuthor
Instagram: @madelinemmartin

Wednesday 27 July 2022



Title: The 99 Boyfriends Of Micah Summers
Author: Adam Sass
Publisher: Viking Books
Genre: LGBTQ, YA, Romance
Release Date: 20th September 2022

BLURB from Goodreads
Micah Summers runs a popular Instagram full of drawings of his numerous imaginary boyfriends (ninety-nine so far)—though he's never had a real boyfriend before. But when a meet-cute with Boy 100 goes wrong, Micah embarks on a Prince Charming-like quest throughout Chicago to find true love—for real this time.

Will Boy 100 be the One?

Micah is rich, dreamy, and charming. As the “Prince of Chicago,”—the son of local celebrity sports radio host known as the King of Chicago—he has everything going for him. Unfortunately, he’s also the prince of imaginary meet-cutes, since he’s too nervous to actually ask boys out.

Instead, Micah draws each crush to share on Instagram with a post about their imaginary dates. Ninety-nine “boyfriends” later, his account is hugely popular, and everyone is eagerly awaiting Boy 100. So is Micah. He’s determined that Boy 100 will be different. This time, Micah will sweep the boy off his feet, for real!

So when Micah flirts with a hot boy on the L who’s wearing a vegan leather jacket and lugging a ton of library books, he is sure this is Boy 100. But right before he can make his move and ask for the boy’s number, the guy rushes off the train, leaving behind his pumpkin-embroidered jacket. The jacket holds clues to the boy’s identity, so Micah and his friends set off on a quest to return it. Along the way, Micah will discover that the best relationships aren’t fairy tales. In fact, the perfect fit—and true love—might be closer than he thinks.

Goodreads Link

Amazon US
Amazon UK 


Monday 25 July 2022



Perfect for fans of THE HATING GAME and Netflix's GREAT BRITISH BAKE-OFF (…if Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood were hot thirty-somethings), FOR BUTTER OR WORSE is the escapist enemies-to-lovers romance we all need right now.

Title: For Butter Or Worse
Author: Erin La Rosa
Publisher: HQN
Release Date: 26th July 2022

BLURB supplied by Harlequin Trade
An enemies-to-lovers mash-up of THE HATING GAME and THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE-OFF, in which two rival hosts of a massively popular cooking show have to fake a relationship to save their careers after an explosive on-air fallout, only to find their feelings for each other becoming real.

Their feelings are about to boil over...

Chef Nina Lyon dreams of cooking her way to culinary stardom and becoming a household name. She thought hosting The Next Cooking Champ! was her golden ticket, but she and her co-host/arch-nemesis Leo O'Donnell go together like water and oil and he undercuts her at every turn.

So when Nina unexpectedly quits the show--on live TV, no less--to focus on her restaurant, she doesn't anticipate the he-devil himself showing up at her door begging her to come back. Nor does she expect the paparazzi to catch them in what looks like a passionate kiss, but is actually Leo tripping into her. When the fans go crazy over Nina and Leo's "secret romance", keeping the ruse going might be the only way to save both their careers. That is, if they don't kill each other first… 

Goodreads Link

The Ripped Bodice (signed copies!):


Chapter 1:

Nina Lyon stared into her dressing room’s vanity mirror. Her palms were planted firmly against the table, but she bounced on the balls of her feet—the same way she did whenever she was nervous. And she was borderline vibrating with unease.

The average at-home viewer would never notice, because her glam team, who’d become experts at giving her the “natural” look—despite the false lashes, bronzer and endless eyebrow filler—had done a superb job. Her stylist had zipped her into a classic black jumpsuit accessorized with a gold state­ment necklace and slim python belt that cinched her waist and showed off the roundness of her hips. Even if she didn’t feel confident, she looked as flawless as a mirror-glazed cake. She was iced perfection.

“I can do this. I. Can. Do. This,” she said out loud.

“Hell yes, you fucking can!” Her sister Sophie’s voice burst through the phone. “Hell yes, you fucking can!”

Nina looked down at her best friend, Jasmine, and her sis­ter on FaceTime. If anyone could pump her up, it was her minihype team.

“Repeat after me,” Jasmine commanded. “I will not fall in my heels.”

“Now that you’ve cursed her by saying it out loud, she’s definitely going to fall,” Sophie chided.

“On this very helpful note, I should probably go.” Nina raised a playful eyebrow.

“Nothing, and I mean nothing is going to go wrong!” So­phie said.

“Just remember these words—do not fall—”

Nina interrupted her bestie, “Okay, ’bye!” Then she ended the video chat.

She exhaled sharply. Normally, she wouldn’t give Jasmine’s comment more than a passing thought. But tonight was deeply important, and something as innocuous as tripping could ac­tually be a problem.

I can do this, Nina reminded herself. It was the taping of the finale of the third season of The Next Cooking Champ! and she’d worked her entire career to get to this point. While most chefs cooked in obscurity, people knew her name. She was also a female chef, a minority in the restaurant world, and the pro­ducers had taken a chance on her. But she’d earned her spot. She’d built Lyon—a successful restaurant—on her own, and had won awards while growing a loyal clientele. To her, food was more than a meal. Food was everything.

“We need a hair-and-makeup check on Nina,” Tiffany, a producer on the show, said quickly into her headset. She had one of those inscrutable faces that meant getting a read on how she was feeling was nearly impossible until she actually spoke.

“What do you think?” Nina cautiously spun to show the full effect of the costume designer’s wardrobe choice.

“You’re sweating.” Tiffany stared at Nina’s hairline.

Okay, well, that wasn’t the answer she’d hoped for. “Wait, I’m what—”

“Walk with me,” Tiffany said, cutting her off, then turned on her Converse-sneakered heel. Nina trailed after her.

They left the cocoon of Nina’s dressing room and made their way to the soundstage, which was outfitted with cooking stations, KitchenAid mixers, multiple burners, mixing bowls, measuring cups and an alphabetized spice rack. The setup wasn’t dissimilar from her own restaurant’s kitchen…except for the reality-show part.

Nina carefully ran a finger along the top of her forehead. She was sweating, and not just because of the bright, overhead lights or the row of cameras that would soon be trained on her.

Sharp footsteps approached the soundstage, and Nina turned to see the real source of her jitters: Leo O’Donnell.

Her cohost on the show was as annoying as a piece of spinach lodged in between her front teeth. He wasn’t a chef. He was a businessman, and his only accomplishment was turning his father’s charming Italian restaurant, Vinny’s, into a bland chain. Unlike Nina, he wasn’t passionate about food—all he cared about was the bottom line.

Her cohost on the show was as annoying as a piece of spinach lodged in between her front teeth. He wasn’t a chef. He was a businessman, and his only accomplishment was turning his father’s charming Italian restaurant, Vinny’s, into a bland chain. Unlike Nina, he wasn’t passionate about food—all he cared about was the bottom line.

However, not yelling would be difficult, because Leo—aka the person whose face she pictured when she needed to pound out some dough—always knew how to provoke the worst in her.

After tonight, though, the show would wrap for the season. She’d return to the day-to-day running of her restaurant, and trade in bowls of prop food for the real thing. Instead of working with Leo, where she had to control her gag reflex, she’d be in the kitchen with Jasmine. Just the thought of her old routine was like a warm cup of cocoa—comforting and extremely necessary. As much as Nina loved mentoring the budding chefs and working with the insanely talented behind-the-scenes crew…she needed the time off. From Leo the man-child, to be more specific.

A stylist soundlessly appeared at Nina’s side and worked on the unruly flyaways that always erupted from her head under the heat of the on-camera lighting, while a man with a compact dabbed over her forehead.

“How’s my hair and makeup?” Leo stopped and cocked his chin at the exact angle for the overhead light to accentu­ate his immaculate swoop of dark hair. It was as if someone had marked, with an X, the exact spot for him to stand so he’d look his absolute best. He was close to being six feet tall and carried himself in an overly confident way that gave him even more height. He wore a crisp white shirt, unbuttoned just enough to reveal the faintest whiff of his chest hair—a touch she’d bet a hundred bucks that he’d made, and not the stylist. As he came to stand next to her, he studied her face.

“Are you sweating?” he finally asked.

“What?” Of course, he’d noticed. “No.” She self-consciously touched her hairline again.

The makeup person gave him a once-over, then smiled. “You’re set.”

Nina rolled her eyes. One of his many flaws was that he was physically flawless. The kind of man who only got right swipes and never had to pay for a drink in his life. And if any­one claimed they weren’t attracted to him, well…they’d be lying. Like people who said they hated cake. Liars. Even Nina would never deny that he was handsome, in a certain light, if you squinted hard enough. Luckily, his habit of “playfully” undercutting her canceled out any urges she might have to­ward him.

“It’s a good thing they can get your hair big enough to hide the witch hat.” Leo absentmindedly rolled up the cuff of his shirt, like he hadn’t even noticed she was there.

Nina ignored how seeing a hint of his skin made her mouth twitch, just slightly. Stop drooling.

“Don’t you want to use a little powder to take the shine off his cloven hooves?” Nina asked the makeup person, but she couldn’t help but notice that Leo’s lips twinged at her comment.

“We’re back in sixty!” Tiffany called out loudly to the crew, then turned to Nina. “Should I be worried?”

“If he can play nice, I will, too.” Nina eyed Leo, who ei­ther didn’t hear her or, more likely, chose to tune her out.

She understood why Tiffany was twitching, just like every­one else on set. For the first time in the history of the show’s three seasons, they were taping live. A ploy to boost the rat­ings, which had been steadily declining thanks to all the new reality shows cropping up…or so the network executives had explained. They needed to attract viewers to remain on the air, and stay relevant, even if it meant entering dangerous ter­ritory by taping live.

Which meant there were no editors to cut around the in­dignant stink eye Leo made every time Nina gave a food critique. The director couldn’t call “Cut!” so the audience wouldn’t hear the fake retching sounds Nina made when Leo attempted a lame dad joke. While nuanced editing created the illusion that Leo and Nina were occasionally cheeky to­ward each other, rather than mortal enemies, this time they wouldn’t have that luxury. They had to pretend to be abso­lutely delightful together—two sublime cake toppers for their audience at home. The stakes were high, and it was Tiffany’s job to keep them both in line.

“Don’t worry. I’m channeling Betty White.” Nina squeezed Tiffany’s shoulder.

In classic Tiffany fashion, she returned the gesture with a blank look.

“We both know I’m not the problem. Only one of us has an official nickname,” Leo said offhandedly, like he hadn’t just turned the stove up to high.

And now Nina was truly about to boil over, but instead she bit the inside of her cheek to keep what little cool she had.

Even after years of having “Nasty Nina” trend on Twit­ter, be used in tabloid articles and left in comments on her IG posts, the fact that she had that as a nickname genuinely hurt her feelings. She was Nasty Nina, and the word nasty was def­initely not a compliment. Especially not when trolls on Twit­ter lobbed it at her any time she so much as forgot to smile as the end credits rolled.

“I guess I should thank you for coining the nickname?” He was the reason she had one, after all.

“It was a joke. How was I supposed to know people would run with it?” He shrugged off her annoyance, like he couldn’t understand why she’d even be bothered.

That moment, captured in the holiday special during the show’s second season, was one she’d never forget. She could re­play the clip on YouTube—it had over three million views and counting—whenever she wanted. His comment had caused their relationship as coworkers to turn from placid to a rag­ing hellfire.

A contestant had baked a cake into the shape of Santa’s naughty-or-nice list. Unfortunately, the iced cursive letters weren’t easy to read. So when Leo bent down, he’d said, “Nasty or nice? We all know I’m on the nice list, but Nina…”

In response, she’d made a face. More specifically, her nos­trils flared, her eyebrows raised nearly up to her scalp and her mouth had twisted open into a horrified grimace as if trying to swallow Leo whole.

The Nasty Nina meme soon followed. His offhand “joke” resulted in #NastyNina trending on Twitter for a whole week­end. And the nickname had stuck, further adding to her cur­rent reputation problem.

Well, “problem” was more of a euphemism for “nightmare.” When the show first started, patrons had flocked to her restau­rants in San Francisco, Napa and Los Angeles. But after mul­tiple seasons in which she’d been the harsh judge, the crowds had waned. As it turned out, people didn’t want to give money to a chef who made everyone cry. Nina was never proud when one of her comments hit a nerve, but she didn’t want to sugar­coat her reactions, either. She knew women were expected to be nurturing and sweet, but that just wasn’t her style. While she liked to think of herself as a mentor, ultimately, she pre­ferred to give honest critiques that would help the contestants improve their craft. Was being candid really so wrong?

The novelty of her being a celebrity had worn off, too, and as of last month she’d quietly closed her Napa location. Her San Francisco spot had closed the year prior. All she had left was her Los Angeles restaurant—the first one she’d opened. At this point, using the show’s platform to turn her reputa­tion around was critical.

And going down as the female Gordon Ramsay had never been part of the plan. She was ambitious, worked hard and saw this as a massive opportunity. She’d signed on to the show with the hope that she could become a household name and brand herself so she’d be in every living room in America. Eventually, she’d get her own show and open more restau­rants. Maybe even bring her food to the east coast. A chef could dream!

But how could she accomplish any of that with Leo by her side? The truth was, he wanted her to be seen as the mean judge. From day one, he’d taken advantage of the fact that she was blunt, so he’d cranked up his own charm. When asked about how he “managed” working with Nasty Nina in interviews, he never came to her defense. And while she couldn’t completely prove it, she was fairly certain he’d even talked a producer into giving her the smaller dressing room. How else to explain that she got ready in a broom closet while he had enough space to fit a sectional sofa?

“We’re back in thirty!” Tiffany shouted to the set. Then added to Nina and Leo, “Remember, don’t step on each other’s

lines. That last rehearsal was a disaster.”

“I’m happy to deliver Nina’s lines, since she seems incapable of reading off a monitor.” Leo glanced beyond her and directly at Tiffany, just as easily as discarding a wilted garnish.

Whatever—she wasn’t going to let his petty antics distract her from fixing how the viewers perceived her. Well, maybe she was… “The real problem is that you think your voice is the only one worth hearing.” Nina enunciated every word, and he finally looked at her. She glared back.

“My voice is preferable to the screeching banshee noise that comes out whenever you open your mouth.” He smiled widely, his teeth as white and sparkling as a clean countertop.

“I use a pitch only dogs can hear, so no surprise that includes you.” Nina squeezed her arms tightly across her chest to keep from lunging for his throat.

“Children, this is live. And you promised to behave.” Tiffany listened to her headset. “Back in fifteen!” Tiffany walked away from them, disappearing behind the wall of cameras pointed their way.

“Did you miss a Botox session? I see a line.” She reached up to touch a finger to an imaginary spot on his forehead, and he swatted her hand away.

Her breath caught in her throat at the unexpected warmth of his skin against hers. But she immediately shook it off.

“Back in ten!”

“Why don’t you take your broom and ride off to the local coven meeting?” He ran a hand through his unfairly thick hair.

“Back in five!”

“That would be great for the show’s ratings. All alone, you’d rock that demo of viewers who love watching paint dry.” Nina smirked, happy to have the last dig before they went on-air.

“Three, two…” Tiffany’s voice faded and the red light on camera C blinked back to life.

“Welcome to the finale of The Next Cooking Champ!” Leo said in his fake, shellacked-on TV voice, which was smooth and measured in a way his natural one wasn’t.

The first time she’d heard that tone was the day they met, in a truly unglamorous casting office. When he’d walked in she’d assumed he was in the building for a different audition—leading man in an upcoming rom-com or handsome doctor in a future Shonda Rhimes drama. He had the good looks of an actor, and the arrogance of someone who wasn’t used to being told no. But, incredibly, he was there for the cooking show. He was in tailored, dark-wash jeans and a snug black shirt that fit him like poured chocolate ganache. He had thick chestnut waves, well-groomed facial hair and a distinguished nose that bent ever so slightly at the top. He was lean and de­fined, like he put in effort, but wasn’t about to say no to a slice of pizza. Or three. Which Nina preferred. She couldn’t get involved with someone who didn’t eat. Of course, now that she knew him, she would never ever, ever, ever consider being with someone like Leo.

Not that she dated. She didn’t have the time, unless you asked her sister, who thought it was more that Nina didn’t make time. Most men were intimidated by someone on tele­vision who had a reputation for being “difficult,” and her last relationship had been, well, an absolute failure.

“For those just tuning in, I’m Leo O’Donnell.”

“And I’m Nina Lyon. We have two contestants competing for the prize of two hundred thousand dollars, a cookbook deal and the title of The Next Cooking Champ,” she said, read­ing off the teleprompter.

She smiled for the cameras, but a big shot of genuine do­pamine hit her at the same time. This was the finale of the third season. Her job was hosting a beloved cooking show, and she had the privilege of helping to change someone’s life for the better. She was damn lucky to be in this position. And she was a good mentor and chef. She wasn’t going to let the fact that Leo was standing next to her diminish any of what she’d achieved.

“That’s right,” Leo chimed in. “Our contestants have one hour remaining to present us with their appetizer, entrée and dessert courses. They’re cooking live so you can really get a sense of the pressure they’re currently under.”

She would definitely get through the taping. Why had she been so stressed about being with Leo? The night wasn’t about him, or her, really. She was just excited to see the dishes the chefs made for them. She could do this.

“Let’s check in on our two finalists!” As she turned to move toward a cooking station, she caught Leo’s eye. He winked at her, a move so subtle she wasn’t even sure if the cameras caught it. But she did, and a quick flutter rose in her belly that then caused her to blink rapidly. A move she was absolutely sure the cameras did catch. He is so irritating, she told herself.

“Tell us about your entrée, Samantha.” Leo leaned across the counter, something he always did to endear himself to the contestants. “It looks like a dish I’d want to eat with a tall pint of beer.”

Samantha visibly relaxed at the comment. For all of Leo’s faults, Nina couldn’t deny how quickly he made the contes­tants feel at ease. He wanted them to succeed just as much as she did. Maybe she could remember that one positive trait whenever she wanted to stab daggers at him with her eyes.

Then he tap-tap-tapped his foot at Nina. He’d started this “fun” new tapping code during dress rehearsals. His way of signaling that he was waiting for her to speak. As if she couldn’t do her job fast enough for his liking. He’d found a secret way to irritate her, even though she’d asked him repeat­edly to stop during rehearsals.

The response flowed out of her as if the tapping from his foot had turned on the faucet in the sink. “Speak slowly and simply so Leo can understand what you’re saying.”

She instantly regretted the dig. Hadn’t she just talked her­self into trying to be nice to him? Being rude wasn’t who she was, not really. Only Leo brought out this side of her. When she watched clips from the show, she sometimes barely knew whom she was watching. She just couldn’t fake being polite with him, no matter how hard she tried. Still, this version of herself wasn’t who she wanted to be, or what she wanted the fans to witness.

He raised one thick eyebrow at her, a challenge. She’d tossed out the first grenade, and now he’d probably return with a cannon.

Shit. So much for not reacting to him. Being enemies was their dynamic—it was how they were. She just hoped they could make it through this live taping without destroying each other, and the show, in the process.

Excerpted from For Butter or Worse by Erin La Rosa, Copyright © 2022 by Erin La Rosa. Published by HQN. 


ERIN LA ROSA is a writer living in Los Angeles. As a writer for BuzzFeed, she frequently writes about the perils and triumphs of being a redhead. Before BuzzFeed, Erin worked for the comedy websites Funny or Die and MadAtoms, as well as E!s Fashion Police, Wetpaint, and Ecorazzi. Erin has appeared on CNN, Headline News, Jimmy Kimmel, and The Today Show on behalf of BuzzFeed. She is the author of Womanskills and The Big Redhead Book.

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