A Sexy Romance Novel That Goes Down as Smooth as a Glass of California Chardonnay
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Steamy sex scenes. Relatable characters who worked on themselves instead of trying to change each other. All set in Napa wine country. The reviews are in, and our book club reviewers had lots to say about Tessa Bailey's Secretly Yours, the first GH+ Reads pick of 2023.
Here's the deal: As part of our new GH+ Reads program, members of Good Housekeeping's GH+ membership program were eligible to opt in and receive an early digital copy of Secretly Yours. They also received a short survey to fill out with their feedback — and over 200 members did just that. Of those, more than 80% had never read a Tessa Bailey book before, but over 80% finished this one, calling it a "quick read" that went down as smooth as a glass of California Chardonnay.
Want to join GH+ Reads? Join our membership program right now, then watch your inbox for our exclusive GH+ member newsletter. Four times a year, we'll announce a new book and the first 1,000 members to opt in will get a free digital copy to read before anyone else — and a chance to tell us what you think.
Written by the author Entertainment Weekly has called "the Michelangelo of dirty talk," this fun, flirty new rom-com follows gardening genius and self-proclaimed hot mess Hallie Welch, who falls in love with the tightly-wound Julian Vos, the now-professor who she just so happened to almost kiss one time during a high school party at his family's vineyard.
Years after that fateful encounter, Vos is back in their small Napa town to write his novel, and Hallie has been hired to landscape his family's property. Of course, their opposite personalities clash despite Hallie's smoldering crush, which doesn't exactly improve after Hallie leaves Julian a "secret admirer" note after a wine-fueled girls night. Hijinks ensue, tension rises and so does the temperature as sparks fly between them and they both learn more about each other — and themselves — in the process.
GH+ Reads reviewers weigh in
Readers called out Bailey's relatable characters, steamy sex scenes, realistic dialogue and the small-town setting as highlights. One noted that she'd just returned from a trip to Napa and could see the area in her mind's eye as she read. Others enjoyed Bailey's humor, the opposites-attract trope and the romantic escapades, although the author's frank approach to sexuality was a little much for some. "I'm not a big romance reader," admitted one person. "But I have to admit, the sex scenes were steamier than I expected."
Lots of respondents enjoyed that the heroine, Hallie, wasn't picture-perfect, calling out her physique and scatterbrained personality as refreshing attributes that made the book feel more real. "She was more realistic than many romance heroines — a little scattered and curvy," noted one. "I liked how the characters thought, spoke and acted like real people," said another. "They all had flaws and things to work on."
Readers who also live with anxiety or other mental health challenges also appreciated that Julian and Hallie aren't perfect. "The characters in Secretly Yours were struggling through their own inner struggles and finding courage to love themselves in a way that inspired me to look at my own struggles with an open heart," another reader wrote.
Another self-proclaimed longtime romance fan called it a blend of You’ve Got Mail and a book called Spells for Forgetting, and others liked the way the perspectives bounce between characters so the reader feels like they're getting a more balanced view of the story.
Here are more of our readers' thoughts on the book...
I liked the story arc with the main characters. The male protagonist had an especially good character development that I enjoyed reading. The writing was laid back and I felt like I could put myself in Napa with them while I read. The author did a good job of putting into writing what debilitating anxiety can do to a person but she doesn’t leave it in a negative light. It was a lighthearted read that would be fun to read at the beach. Just make sure you’re alone for those steamy sex scenes! — Book Lover in Birmingham, AL
Quirky characters and an old-school secret admirer letter gave this book a unique twist. This book added unique elements to the typical romance book love scenes. — Bibliophile in Guymon, OK
I absolutely loved the care that went into the characters' backstories and their thoughts and feelings. They were totally people I would love to know in real life and they had such an authentic connection and love story. It wasn't hokey or fake. — Romance Reader in Henderson, NC
I liked the witty banter and the epistolary romance that springs up between the characters - letter writing is a lost art form, and having the two leads challenge each other’s perceptions through letters is very romantic. Having the letters be a physical thing is a bit more swoon inducing than printing out an email or a text. — Page Turner in Anaheim, CA
I loved how perfectly "imperfect" the two main characters were. Then making it even more enjoyable was that each person's imperfection was what the other needed to complement and bring out the best in the other. It obviously was planned that way but felt so genuine and organic. I like reading about people that aren't depicted as ideal or the traditionally sought out partner and then them finding someone despite that. I also enjoyed the side story aspects of her growing as an individual based on her honoring her grandmother and him stepping out of his comfort zone to reclaim a part of who he is and his family legacy. — Book Buff in Spencer, IN
I loved that the main character was a curvy girl who was seen as desirable by her romantic interest. I also loved that the romantic interest character had anxiety and thought that it was portrayed well and taken seriously. As a person who suffers from severe anxiety, I appreciated how the author handled it. — Reader Extraordinaire in Butte, MT
This book was totally not something that I would have picked on my own but I really did enjoy reading it. I liked that the two main characters were polar opposites of each other but when they were together they brought out the best in each other. The two found aspects of their personalities that they were unaware they had. — Astute Analyzer in Menomonee Falls, WI
I loved the characters and how their worries were communicated to the reader. They seemed to live in paradise but grappled with issues familiar to a lot of us, things we don’t want to talk about and keep locked away. It was very cathartic to relate to these human beings and how they all worked together to overcome what seemed insurmountable. — Storyline Whisperer in Stamford, CT
The thoughtfulness of the two lead characters touched my heart. Hallie loved her grandmother's friend and in turn, Julian fell for her personality and did what he could to help. Lots of feel good moments in the story. — Book Fan in Pompano Beach, FL
As someone who is married to their "polar opposite," I really enjoyed this book, found it very relatable, and had a hard time putting it down! This is my first Tessa Bailey book and probably the first realistic "romantic comedy" I've read, so I very much enjoyed Hallie's humor and appreciated that the number of "steamy" scenes were just right to balance out the story. I look forward to reading more of Tessa Bailey's books! — New Rom-Com Reader in San Luis Obispo, CA
The characters were well developed, the storyline was engaging, and the situations were realistic and nicely described. It was easy to relate to the characters and their "flaws." A winery and a love story; a perfect combination! — Library Devotee in Salisbury, MD
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