Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Review: Otherworldly by F.T. Lukens

Otherworldly by F.T. Lukens
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Genre: Male/Non-Binary Young Adult Fantasy Romance 
Otherworldly cover
ISBN: 9781665916257
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Seventeen-year-old Ellery is a non-believer in a region where people swear the supernatural is real. Sure, they’ve been stuck in a five-year winter, but there’s got to be a scientific explanation. If goddesses were real, they wouldn’t abandon their charges like this, leaving farmers like Ellery’s family to scrape by.

Knox is a familiar from the Other World, a magical assistant sent to help humans who have made crossroads bargains. But it’s been years since he heard from his queen, and Knox is getting nervous about what he might find once he returns home. When the crossroads demons come to collect Knox, he panics and runs. A chance encounter down an alley finds Ellery coming to Knox’s rescue, successfully fending off his would-be abductors.

Ellery can’t quite believe what they’ve seen. And they definitely don’t believe the nonsense this unnervingly attractive guy spews about his paranormal origins. But Knox needs to make a deal with a human who can tether him to this realm, and Ellery needs to figure out how to stop this winter to help their family. Once their bargain is struck, there’s no backing out, and the growing connection between the two might just change everything.

Myths and magic meet everyday humans just trying to survive in Otherworldly. F.T. Lukens has delivered a story of an ordinary teenager struggling in a city that has been trapped in an eternal winter for the past five years and a liminal being desperate to experience life.

Ellery and Knox are easy protagonists to like. Ellery works hard and stands out by being ordinary in a story of so many large personalities. Ellery is a skeptic when it comes to the supernatural, but a whole new world opens up in front of them when they meet Knox. Knox is a familiar who can only stay in the human realm when bound to a bargain. A bargain is struck between the two and Ellery will help Knox experience the world while they search for answers as to why the goddess has abandoned their part of the world. The love story that develops is sweet and charming.

Ellery and Knox’s journey takes the two of them all over and puts them in the path of multiple magical beings. I really liked the world Lukens built in Otherworldly. The magic is well thought-out and the supernatural beings are interesting. There’s a lot to like about this story but for me, the trouble was the incredibly slow pace of the book. Otherworldly is missing some of the humor I’ve enjoyed so much in Lukens’s other works and it’s logical why it isn’t in here. That being said, even without the humor I expected some kind of spark or energy to pull me into the story. This book was very easy to put down, which was a pity. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, but the pace kept me from liking this book as much as I wanted to. However, the story does pick up in the last quarter of the book and finished strong.

Otherworldly has a lot to recommend it – likeable protagonists, a strong supporting cast, themes of love in many forms, choice, found family, and standing up for what is right. I liked the book overall, but the slow pace did detract from my enjoyment.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Review: The Night Island by Jayne Ann Krentz

The Night Island by Jayne Ann Krentz
Series: The Lost Night Files, Book 2
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Paranormal Romantic Suspense 
The Night Island cover
ISBN: ‎ 9780593639856
eBook Source: Publisher
Audiobook Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Talia March, Pallas Llewellyn, and Amelia Rivers, bonded by a night none of them can remember, are dedicated to uncovering the mystery of what really happened to them months ago—an experience that amplified innate psychic abilities in each of them. The women suspect they were test subjects years earlier, and that there are more people like them—all they have to do is find the list of others who took that same test. When Talia follows up on a lead from Phoebe, a fan of the trio’s podcast, she discovers that the informant has vanished.

Talia isn’t the only one looking for Phoebe, however. Luke Rand, a hunted and haunted man who is chasing the same list that Talia is after, also shows up at the meeting place. It’s clear he has his own agenda, and they are instantly suspicious of each other. But when a killer begins to stalk them, they realize they have to join forces to find Phoebe and the list.

The rocky investigation leads Talia and Luke to a rustic, remote retreat on Night Island in the Pacific Northwest, where the Unplugged Experience promises to rejuvenate guests. Upon their arrival, Talia and Luke discover they are quite literally cut off from the outside world when none of their high-tech devices work on the island. It soon becomes clear that Phoebe is not the first person to disappear into the strange gardens that surround the Unplugged Experience retreat. And then the first mysterious death occurs…

After a “lost night” where three women woke up with heightened psychic abilities, Talia March has become an expert at finding what is lost. Particularly, lost bodies. It’s enough to give anyone nightmares, but on her quest to uncover what happened to her and her friends that night she won’t give up. Her search for answers leads her to a woman who may have information…only when she arrives to make the exchange for it, the woman is missing. Instead, Talia meets Luke, a man who has unique skills and a lost night of his own. Unlikely allies at first, Talia and Luke head to the isolated Night Island for the Unplugged Experience, their only lead to find the missing informant. Night Island is a place of almost otherworldly foliage and hidden dangers. If Talia and Luke want to make it out alive, they’re going to have to rely on each other.

The Night Island is an entertaining second installment to Jayne Ann Krentz’s Lost Night Files series. This time it’s Talia and Luke who take center stage and they are likable, albeit haunted protagonists who fit each other like lock and key. The have an easy chemistry which makes them an appealing couple and their romance is both swift and understated. If you’re familiar with Krentz’s work, it follows a formula. I did wish for the love story to feel a bit more earned, but I still like the formula enough that my quibbles didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.

At the heart of The Night Island is the mystery on the titular location. Psychic energy, paranormal powers, lethal assassins, and deadly fauna are all things Luke and Talia have to face over the course of the story. I liked watching them work together to put the pieces of the puzzle together and find out more about the paranormal experiments that are being done. I don’t want to say too much and spoil the story, but suffice it to say this was an engaging second installment to an overarching mystery. The ever-expanding Lost Night Files team is entertaining and I am very much looking forward to seeing how they pull everything together in the next book.

FTC Disclosure: I purchased the audiobook and received the eBook for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Review: Matzah Ball Blues by Jennifer Wilck

Matzah Ball Blues by Jennifer Wilck
Series: Holidays, Heart and Chutzpah, Book 2
Publisher: Harlequin Special Edition
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Matzah Ball Blues cover
ISBN: 9781335594617
Release Date: March 26, 2024
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Harlequin

Why is this night different from all other nights?

For starters, Jared Leiman is home for the holidays. Because though he and Caroline Weiss were high school sweethearts, their post-college lives took them in different directions. Jared became a big-time entertainment lawyer in LA, while Caroline became a fitness instructor and stayed in town to care for her sick mother. And though her mother passed away three years ago, Caroline is finally free to go where she chooses. Meanwhile Jared, who inherited custody of his baby niece after a tragic accident, is suddenly a family man.

So now Caroline wants to leave her hometown in the dust, whereas Jared might just set up roots there. Because there is one thing that Browerville, New Jersey, offers the two of them that no other place does…each other!

Passover gives a second chance to former high school sweethearts in Matzah Ball Blues. In the year since his brother’s death, entertainment lawyer Jared Leiman hasn’t quite come to grips with the loss or being a father to his toddler niece. Taking a break from the high pressure and long hours of his job, he returns home to visit his parents for Passover and runs into – literally – his ex-girlfriend Caroline Weiss.

Jared and Caroline broke up when he went to college and she stayed home to care for her terminally ill mother. Jared broke her heart all those years ago, but he was a kid afraid of responsibility. Now he’s a man coming terms with loss and caring for others. I liked watching Jared grow over the course of the story, to take care with others and recognize that the life he’s living no longer suits him or his niece. Coming home brings it all back to him and his feelings toward Caroline come rushing back. Caroline is finally free of responsibility and she wants to live her life, to experience the things she put on hold. Jared should be the opposite of what she wants now, but old feelings come rushing back quickly. Their romance was both a slow burn and a surprisingly fast trip into feelings. I felt like them falling back in love was heavily built on a foundation we didn’t see and it didn’t always feel earned.

A secondary plot involving potential fraud at Caroline’s work adds some intrigue to the story but overall this was a slower paced book. I liked the romance well enough and I enjoyed seeing Caroline actively work to grow her career, but it felt like something was just missing from Matzah Ball Blues to keep me entertained. The conflict may have worked better in a shorter format where there wasn’t as much repetition.

One thing I really enjoy about the Holidays, Heart and Chutzpah series is author Jennifer Wilck’s excellent Jewish representation. Passover traditions in particular are highlighted in this book and Wilck does a great job of bringing them to life. While I was so-so on the story overall, Wilck’s care and attention to Jewish traditions engaged me and definitely made me want to read more of her work.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Review: Speculations in Sin by Jennifer Ashley

Speculations in Sin by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Below Stairs Mysteries, Book 7
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Historical Mystery 
Speculations in Sin cover
ISBN: 9780593549919
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Jennifer Ashley Reading Order

Kat Holloway is distressed to learn that Samuel Millburn, husband of the woman who looks after her daughter, has been accused of embezzling funds from the bank where he works as a clerk. The accusation is absurd, and Samuel’s wife fears that her husband will not only lose his post but be imprisoned. Kat vows to uncover the truth.

When she discovers the bank is involved in shockingly murky business dealings, Kat realizes she’s treading in dangerous waters. She turns to her confidante and handsome suitor, Daniel McAdam, for help. To exonerate Samuel, Kat and Daniel may have to expose the unseemly financial dealings of prominent aristocrats and government officials, and even those working to bring down the royal family. Kat will risk everything to protect the man who has sacrificed so much for her daughter, even if it means endangering herself and the friends she has come to love.

Cook Kat Holloway is back sleuthing again when her best friend’s husband is accused of embezzlement. Speculations in Sin takes Kat into the unfamiliar world of finance, a place where reputation is worth its weight in gold and where a man like Sam Millburn can be tossed to the wolves for an institution to save face. Sam is not only Kat’s friend – he and his wife opened their home to Kat’s daughter, so this case is deeply personal.

Kat is walking a tightrope as ever, balancing her position and duties with amateur sleuthing, her relationship with her daughter, and her slowly developing romance with Daniel McAdam. Daniel is by Kat’s side every step of the way, as are her friends. I loved watching Kat among the friends she has made, from Lady Cynthia to Tess and beyond. These connections are integral to the story and the worldbuilding. They are also what interested me the most about the story. As much as I enjoy Jennifer Ashley’s writing, I will say that the mystery didn’t grab my attention this time around. It wasn’t complex enough to carry the story and seemed to drag, taking the book down with it. The resolution, while somewhat satisfying, didn’t wow me like I had hoped. All in all, this was just an OK entry into the Below Stairs series. Any time spent with Kat and company is enjoyable, but Speculations in Sin had a lackluster mystery that didn’t live up to the previous installments.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Review: Once Persuaded, Twice Shy by Melodie Edwards

Once Persuaded, Twice Shy: A Modern Reimagining of Persuasion by Melodie Edwards
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Once Persuaded Twice Shy cover
ISBN: 9780593440797
Release Date: February 27, 2024
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

When Anne Elliott broke up with Ben Wentworth, it seemed like the right thing to do…but now, eight years later, she’s not so sure.

In her scenic hometown of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Anne is comfortable focusing on her successful career: filling her late mother’s shoes as town councilor and executive director of her theater company. She certainly keeps busy as the all-around wrangler of eccentric locals, self-centered family members, elaborate festivals, and the occasional attacking goose. But the more she tries to convince herself that her life is fine as is, the more it all feels like a show—and not nearly as good as the ones put on by her theater company. She’s the always responsible Anne, always taken for granted and cleaning up after other people, and the memories of happier times with Ben Wentworth still haunt her.

So when the nearby Kellynch Winery is bought by Ben’s aunt and uncle, Anne’s world is set ablaze as her old flame crashes back into her life—and it’s clear he hasn’t forgiven her for breaking his heart. A joint project between the winery and Anne’s theater forces both Ben and Anne to confront their complicated history, and as they spend more time together, Anne can’t help but wonder if there might be hope for their future after all.

Melodie Edwards puts a fresh spin on a Jane Austen classic in Once Persuaded, Twice Shy. Edwards brings Anne and Wentworth to the modern era but keeps the original spirit alive in this story, and I was absolutely delighted.

Anne is all business all the time, having stepped into her late mother’s shoes seamlessly and taken on the role of town counselor and theater director. Between narcissistic family members, a sweet but loose cannon assistant, dramatic actors, demanding townspeople, and a chaotic neutral (possibly chaotic evil) goose, Anne’s time is constantly in demand. Then the new owners of her former home – Kellynch Winery – come to the theater and bring the past back to haunt her. The Fairchilds’ nephew is none other than Ben Wentworth, the man Anne dumped eight years ago after being persuaded he was a bad match.

If you’re familiar with Persuasion, you’ll see all of the high points of that novel reimagined in a new way. If you’ve never read Austen’s novel, don’t worry – you won’t be lost. Edwards makes this story and its characters stand on their own. I adored the romantic angst as Anne’s reunion with Ben makes her face the past and deal with the breakup she pushed out of mind for years. Anne has become someone she doesn’t entirely recognize and it was great to see her come into her own over the course of the story. Her hurt and loss over Ben are feelings she has to contend with as well, as is the jealousy at seeing him now successful, powerful, and seemingly indifferent to her. Though the story is told from Anne’s point of view, you can easily read Ben’s emotions like you can in the original. Edwards truly captures the heart of Persuasion in Once Persuaded, Twice Shy and her skill ensures I will definitely be on the lookout for more of her work.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Review: Not Your Crush’s Cauldron by April Asher

Not Your Crush’s Cauldron by April Asher
Series: Supernatural Singles, Book 3
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Paranormal Romance 
Not Your Crushs Cauldron cover
ISBN: 9781250808035
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Olive Maxwell much prefers teaching about the Supernatural world to taking part in it and leaves the magical shenanigans to her two sisters. After assigning her college students a project designed to nudge them outside their comfort zones, Olive realizes she’s never once stepped a toe out of her own . . . and it’s about time that changed. Her first trip into the unknown? Moving in with her longtime crush and friend . . . tattooed, motorcycle-riding, and pleasantly pierced Baxter Donovan.

Bax Donovan, Guardian Angel not-so-extraordinaire, has acquired so many black marks on his record it looks like a Scantron test. He’s been given one last chance to keep his Guardian wings—a high-profile Assignment he knows all too well. Olive is usually as low-risk as it gets. Hell, she wrote the safety manual. But something landed her on the Guardian Angel Affairs radar, and he guesses it has something to do with the heart-pounding stunts she’s determined to check off her Dare I Docket list.

Keeping Olive out of trouble is about to be his toughest Assignment. He’s at real risk of shattering the only Guardian Angel code of conduct rule he’s yet to break: Don’t fall in love with your Assignment. And he isn’t so sure that’s a bad thing.

If love doesn’t play by the rules, why should they?

The youngest Maxwell triplet steps out of her comfort zone and into the light in Not Your Crush’s Cauldron. Staid professor Olive Maxwell would much rather be in a corner reading a book than doing something wild and crazy. Then she assigns her students a project about stepping outside their comfort zones and realizes she hasn’t ever put a toe out of hers. Determined to change that, Olive comes up with her own list…but never expected her new roommate to tag along.

Guardian Angel Bax Donovan has wanted Olive for years but has never mustered up the courage to express it. Then he finds himself with Olive as his latest assignment and he’s soon blasted out of his own comfort zone trying to keep up with the beautiful witch.

Friends-to-lovers is a wonderful trope and April Asher shows why in Olive and Bax’s sprightly romance. The attraction between Bax and Olive has been simmering for years but they just needed that push to act on it. I thoroughly enjoyed watching these two overcome their fears and do things to break out of the rut they’re in. Out of all the Supernatural Singles stories so far this one has the lowest stakes but it’s still engaging. Bax and Olive have an easy chemistry that makes their romance fun and entertaining. They’re both likeable protagonists who need a slight shove to come into their own and I really liked their journeys.

Not Your Crush’s Cauldron is the third book in the Supernatural Singles series and to fully enjoy it you should definitely read at least Not the Witch You Wed (the first book) before diving into this one. Olive’s sisters play strong supporting roles and Vi in particular continues on the path she started in her book. I really liked seeing more of the world Asher has created and though the last Maxwell triplet has now found her happily ever after, I hope that doesn’t spell the end of this series. All in all, Not Your Crush’s Cauldron is a magical romp with a bookish witch, a tattooed angel, and a sweet and spicy romance.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Review: Not Your Ex’s Hexes by April Asher

Not Your Ex’s Hexes by April Asher
Series: Supernatural Singles, Book 2
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Paranormal Romance 
Not Your Exs Hexes cover
ISBN: 9781250808011
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

For her entire life, Rose Maxwell trained to become the next Prima on the Supernatural Council. Now that she’s stepped down, it’s time for this witch to focus on herself. And not think about her impulsive one-night stand with Damian Adams, a half-Demon Veterinarian who she can’t get out of her head. Neither of them is looking for a relationship. But when Rose is sentenced to community service at Damian’s animal sanctuary it becomes impossible for them to ignore their sparking attraction. A friends-with-benefits, no feelings, no strings arrangement works perfectly for them both.

After a sequence of dead-end jobs, it’s not until Rose tangos with two snarly demons that she thinks she’s finally found her path. However, this puts Damian back on the periphery of a world he thought he left behind. He doesn’t approve of Rose becoming a Hunter, but if there's one thing he's learned about the stubborn witch, it was telling her not to do something was one sure-fire way to make sure she did.

Working—and sleeping—together awakens feelings Damian never knew he had...and shouldn't have. Because thanks to his ex's hex, if he falls in love, he'll not only lose his heart—but his humanity.

Former Prima Apparent Rose Maxwell is at loose ends. No longer next line to run the Supernatural Council – a role she’s trained for her whole life – she’s determined to find what her new “thing” is. But after an equine rescue mission goes wrong, Rose ends up doing community service at an animal sanctuary run by none other than her super hot one-night stand. Damian Adams is grumpy, not in the least of which is due to a soul hex that could cause the half-demon side of him to take over should he ever fall in love. Now Rose is in his path, knocking his socks off at every turn. Neither can forget their previous encounter so what’s wrong with a little no-strings-attached fun while they work together? Nothing, except they’re clearly meant to be…

Not Your Ex’s Hexes is a sprightly and fun continuation of the Supernatural Singles series. Rose is powerful and smart, but she hasn’t yet found her place in the world after giving up the role she’s trained for. She finds it when working with Damian, however. Both rescuing animals and becoming a Hunter call to her. Damian has no issue with the former, but the latter nearly cost him everything back when he was a teenager and he doesn’t want to see Rose hurt – or worse. The two of them spar but respect each other’s strength. It was fun to see Rose find her gifts and I liked watching Damian open up and learn to find happiness again. The two of them have great chemistry and I enjoyed watching them work and play together.

The course of true love doesn’t run smooth when a hex is involved for one of the parties and I was interested to see how April Asher would make things work for our protagonists. The result is a satisfying end to the love story, but that’s all I’ll say about that. Along the way, Rose and Damian are aided by their family and friends (whether or not they want to be). I thoroughly enjoy the world Asher created with its witches, angels, demons, vampires, and more. I finished Not Your Ex’s Hexes ready to dive right into the next adventure featuring Rose’s sister Olive because I am absolutely charmed by the Supernatural Singles world.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.