Saturday, March 18, 2023

Review: The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway by Ashley Schumacher

The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway by Ashley Schumacher
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance 
The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway cover
ISBN: 9781250840240
Release Date: March 14, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo

Since her mother’s death, Madeline “Gwen” Hathaway has been determined that nothing in her life will change ever again. That’s why she keeps extensive lists in journals, has had only one friend since childhood, and looks forward to the monotony of working the ren faire circuit with her father. Until she arrives at her mother’s favorite end-of-tour stop to find the faire is under new management and completely changed.

Meeting Arthur, the son of the new owners and an actual lute-playing bard, messes up Maddie’s plans even more. For some reason, he wants to be her friend - and ropes her into becoming Princess of the Faire. Now Maddie is overseeing a faire dramatically changed from what her mother loved and going on road trips vastly different from the routine she used to rely on. Worst of all, she’s kind of having fun.

Ashley Schumacher’s The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway is filled with a wise old magician who sells potion bottles, gallant knights who are afraid of horses and ride camels instead, kings with a fondness for theatrics, a lazy river castle moat with inflatable crocodile floaties, and a plus-sized heroine with a wide open heart… if only she just admits it.

The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway is a sweet, funny, sometimes heartbreaking story of finding yourself after loss. Maddie Hathaway has grown up on the Renaissance Faire circuit, but after the loss of her mother almost a year ago she’s at sea, struggling with grief. When she arrives at Stormsworth, the faire her mother loved the most, she’s aghast to find it changed and under new ownership. She’s also taken aback by Arthur, the son of the new owners and a bard who dubs her “Gwen” and who is persistent in his attempts to be her friend. Maddie doesn’t want to let anyone new into her heart for fear of the pain of losing them, but Arthur has a way of getting under her skin. Before she knows it, she’s going on adventures and letting go of her routine, which scares her but it’s also thrilling.

It’s easy to adore Maddie and Arthur. I wanted to hug Maddie who was sad and vulnerable but finds herself and learns to move forward over the course of the story. Arthur is sweet, determined, and very careful and considerate of others’ feelings. He’s got a charm offensive which is adorable but he also has vulnerabilities. I liked watching them become friends and fall for one another and it isn’t a smooth ride for them. Grief, fear, and insecurities aren’t small obstacles and author Ashley Schumacher doesn’t treat them as such. The result is an ending that is not only satisfying but feels earned.

Despite its heavy themes, The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway is light on its feet and has plenty of fun. From knights riding camels because they’re afraid of horses to moats with crocodile floaties to more, Schumacher blends the bright with the dark. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this story with its good heart and endearing characters.

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 5, 2023

Review: The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by KJ Charles

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by KJ Charles
Series: The Doomsday Books, Book 1
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Genre: Male/Male Historical Romance 
The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen cover
ISBN: 9781728255859
Release Date: March 7, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Abandoned by his father, Gareth Inglis grew up lonely, prickly, and well-used to disappointment. Still, he longs for a connection. When he meets a charming stranger, he falls head over heels—until everything goes wrong and he's left alone again. Then Gareth's father dies, turning the shabby London clerk into Sir Gareth, with a grand house on the remote Romney Marsh and a family he doesn't know.

The Marsh is another world, a strange, empty place notorious for its ruthless gangs of smugglers. And one of them is dangerously familiar…

Joss Doomsday has run the Doomsday smuggling clan since he was a boy. When the new baronet—his old lover—agrees to testify against Joss's sister, Joss acts fast to stop him. Their reunion is anything but happy, yet after the dust settles, neither can stay away. Soon, all Joss and Gareth want is the chance to be together. But the bleak, bare Marsh holds deadly secrets. And when Gareth finds himself threatened from every side, the gentleman and the smuggler must trust one another not just with their hearts, but with their lives.

After an affair with an anonymous lover ends poorly, a heartbroken Giles Inglis learns of the death of his father. With nothing for him in London, the lonely Giles travels to his new home in Romney Marsh to take up the baronetcy. His new home comes with family members he’s never met and digging through his father’s papers piques his interest in the local habitat. But his new life isn’t all family bonding and beetles for Giles. Romney Marsh’s chief industry is smuggling and the Doomsday family rules. When Giles agrees to give testimony against a captured smuggler, he’s thrown for a loop when he’s thwarted by Joss Doomsday…the lover he can’t get over. The sparks between them are still there, but there’s more at stake now. For Romney Marsh is full of secrets that can get the two men killed.

The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen is a truly wonderful romance. I adored Giles and Joss from the start and I loved watching the two, one unsure, the other charming, fall in love.

Joss is the head of the Doomsday clan and though he loves his family, the infighting is tearing at him. He’s got pressure on all sides, so many people relying on him, and nothing is left for himself. Nothing except Giles, that is. Giles is lonely and awkward, feeling unwanted and just trying to find his place in the world when he comes across smugglers. Giles broke my heart but I loved seeing him grow, to find joy and a life that made him happy. On the outside, Joss and Giles couldn’t be more different. Joss is the head of a smuggling clan surrounded by family and Giles is a budding naturalist whose been so lonely for most of his life. The two fit like lock and key and I loved watching them lean on each other, be there for one another. It isn’t always easy for them and there are a lot of bumps in the road, but KJ Charles made every up and down worth it for a supremely satisfying happily ever after.

Danger lurks in the background of The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen, threatening our heroes. Charles twines mystery, threats, family drama, and more through the story. I won’t spoil what happens because the fun of the book is learning what the heroes must face, but everything winds together perfectly. Charles perfectly blends the action with the quieter, character-driven moments. The result is a wonderfully entertaining story I hated to put down and one I cannot wait to revisit. I loved this story from beginning to end and I’m very much looking forward to the next Doomsday book.

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.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Review: The Wolf and the Wildflower by Stacy Reid

The Wolf and the Wildflower by Stacy Reid
Publisher: Entangled: Scandalous
Genre: Historical Romance 
The Wolf and the Wildflower cover
ISBN: 9781649372611
Release Date: February 27, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Entangled
Stacy Reid Reading Order

London is buzzing with the news that James Winters, the Duke of Wulverton—thought lost at sea a decade ago—survived in the harsh wilderness of the Yukon. Now he’s been returned to his family, his responsibilities, and a nightmarish world of artifice and noise. He has three weeks to become a refined, elegant duke for the Queen…or doom the entire family to ruin and scandal.

Promising psychologist Jules Southby knows a lot about disguises. She’s secretly been living as a boy since birth, enjoying the freedoms of men and knowing little about how to behave like a woman. When she meets the alluring duke, she’s unprepared for his raw, masculine beauty and icy intelligence…or that he can see through her darkest secret.

Jules has very little time to transform the duke into a true semblance of an English gentleman. Yet his very presence seems to unravel her in every way. Their attraction is stark and achingly real—and forbidden. But loving the lost duke would mean losing every sacrifice she’s made to earn her freedom…

A duke newly returned from being lost in the Yukon for a decade and a psychologist who has lived her entire life disguised as a male are an unlikely yet perfect match in The Wolf and the Wildflower. Stacy Reid leans into the type of far-fetched premise found in old-school historical romances but are far less common nowadays. The result is an entertaining, dramatic ride.

All of London – and most of his own family – believes James Winters, the Duke of Wulverton, to be feral after his rescue and return to England. James has survived nearly impossible conditions and has come out remarkably well. The things everyone is scandalized by are perfectly logical given what he’s been through, as Jules sees from the first. Jules Southby has been disguised as a boy since birth. At twenty-three, there are things she yearns for that she cannot have without risking revealing herself. But she also enjoys the freedoms of men and the ability to study and become a psychologist. James sees through her disguise from the first and she too is able to see beyond what others perceive of him. The two of them strike an agreement to be honest with each other and I thoroughly enjoyed watching both James and Jules peel back each other’s walls.

The attraction between James and Jules is instantaneous but the romance builds as they learn to know one another. There’s mutual respect and understanding that goes with the passion. I enjoyed watching them fall in love and seeing their mutual attraction build into heated encounters. I also really liked that Reid kept me guessing how things would work out for the wolf-like duke and his wildflower. James’s mother wants him to find a woman of his station to marry and be his duchess. Jules doesn’t want to leave the freedom and opportunities she has living as a man. Both clearly want one another and have a deep pull they cannot ignore. The result is high drama and emotion that leads to a satisfying happily ever after.

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, February 18, 2023

Review: One Duke Down by Anna Bennett

One Duke Down by Anna Bennett
Series: Rogues to Lovers, Book 2
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Genre: Historical Romance 
One Duke Down cover
ISBN: 9781250793935
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Miss Poppy Summers is determined to keep her family’s fishing business afloat. Her poor widowed father has fallen ill, and her foolhardy brother has moved to London, leaving her precious little time to read or pursue her own dreams. But she’ll do anything for her family, so she cheerfully spends mornings in her rowboat, casting her nets. The very last thing Poppy expects or wants to find tangled in them is a dangerously attractive man. Especially one with a head wound—who’s convinced he’s a duke.

Andrew Keane is the Duke of Hawking, but he’s having the devil of a time convincing his fiery-haired rescuer of that fact. The truth is he came to the seaside resort of Bellehaven Bay to escape his life in London. Unfortunately, someone in Bellehaven wants to kill him—and he intends to find out who. He implores Poppy to tend to his injuries and hide him on her beach, reasoning it will be easier to find his attacker if that man assumes Keane is already dead. She wants no part of the scheme but can’t refuse the generous sum he offers in exchange for food and shelter while he recovers. It’s a mutually beneficial business arrangement…nothing more.

Under Poppy’s care, Keane regains his strength—and a sense of purpose. As they work together to solve the puzzle of his would-be murderer, he’s dazzled by her rapier wit and adventurous spirit; she’s intrigued by his mysterious air and protective streak. Though Poppy’s past gives her every reason to mistrust someone like Keane, the seawalls around her heart crumble in the storm of their passion. But when clues hint at the prime suspect in Keane’s attempted murder, Poppy must decide where her loyalties lie. Torn between the world she’s always known and the one she’s always dreamed of, she’ll need true love for a shot at her fairytale ending.

One Duke Down is a sweet, romantic, totally addictive read. I loved coming back to Anna Bennett’s Bellehaven Bay, this time to see fisherwoman Poppy Summers fall in love with injured duke Andrew Keane.

Poppy is hardworking, kind, and secretly yearns for just a bit more. She loves her family, her friends, Bellehaven Bay, and her secret reading nook, but when her life takes an adventurous turn with a mysterious washed-up man claiming to be a duke it’s for the better. Keane is a wealthy, privileged duke but he’s also a good and kind man. That doesn’t stop someone from trying to kill him, though. Safe in Poppy’s cove and hiding from the world while he tries to figure out who wants to kill him, Keane starts to change. He sees the world through Poppy’s eyes and learns to be better. I loved the small changes they made in each other and how they brought their two worlds together to make one that would suit them both.

Poppy and Keane’s romance is easy to become swept away by. Keane is a romantic, eager to prove himself worthy of Poppy’s trust. Poppy has reason to not trust the nobility, but between her friends and Keane she learns to take a risk for a chance of happiness. I absolutely loved everything about Keane and Poppy’s love story. The two of them fit so well and I adored how it wasn’t just attraction turned to deeper feelings but respect and liking as well. There’s a solid foundation to their romance and Bennett eschews false drama in favor of showing how strong Keane and Poppy are as a couple.

One Duke Down is a historical romance that will make you smile and sigh. I adored it from beginning to end and cannot wait to revisit Poppy and Keane in the future. I love Bennett’s Rogues to Lovers series; the strong friendships between the heroines, the picturesque seaside town, and the love stories that remind me why I love this genre all come together beautifully.

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.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Review: Sleep No More by Jayne Ann Krentz

Sleep No More by Jayne Ann Krentz
Series: The Lost Night Files, Book 1
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Paranormal Romantic Suspense 
Sleep No More cover
ISBN: ‎ 9780593337820
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Seven months ago, Pallas Llewellyn, Talia March, and Amelia Rivers were strangers, until their fateful stay at the Lucent Springs Hotel. An earthquake and a fire partially destroyed the hotel, but the women have no memory of their time there. Now close friends, the three women co-host a podcast called the Lost Night Files, where they investigate cold cases and hope to connect with others who may have had a similar experience to theirs—an experience that has somehow enhanced the psychic abilities already present in each woman.

After receiving a tip for their podcast, Pallas travels to the small college town of Carnelian, California, to explore an abandoned asylum. Shaken by the dark energy she feels in the building, she is rushing out when she’s stopped by a dark figure—who turns out to be the women's mysterious tipster.

Ambrose Drake is certain he’s a witness to a murder, but without a body, everyone thinks he’s having delusions caused by extreme sleep deprivation. But Ambrose is positive something terrible happened at the Carnelian Sleep Institute the night he was there. Unable to find proof on his own, he approaches Pallas for help, only for her to realize that Ambrose, too, has a lost night that he can’t remember—one that may be connected to Pallas. Pallas and Ambrose conduct their investigation using the podcast as a cover, and while the townsfolk are eager to share what they know, it turns out there are others who are not so happy about their questions—and someone is willing to kill to keep the truth from coming out.

A podcaster and a writer, both with heightened paranormal abilities, are on a quest for answers in Sleep No More. Jayne Ann Krentz kicks off her Lost Night Files series with multiple interconnected mysteries that will draw you in as you follow the heroes’ search for the truth.

Ambrose Drake is nearing his breaking point. After a stay at the Carnelian Sleep Institute something happened to him, heightening his paranormal powers to the point where he can’t trust himself to sleep and not be lost to a dreamworld or sleepwalk off a cliff. He’s also sure he witnessed the aftermath of a murder during that lost night. He goes to one of the hosts of The Lost Night Files podcast on his search for answers. Pallas Llewellyn knows all about missing memories and powerful psychic abilities. She and her two friends experienced a missing night of their own that also increased their paranormal skills. Now they investigate cold cases and the one Ambrose presents intrigues her. As the two of them dig deeper into their search, there are people in Carnelian who would do anything to stop them. Danger abounds but Pallas and Ambrose make a good team. They’re not frightened of each other’s abilities – indeed, they balance one another really well. I liked how they worked as a team and how that lead to them forming a romantic relationship.

Sleep No More is more heavy on the suspense and paranormal than it is on the romance, but it still worked because Ambrose and Pallas made such a good pair. The story was solidly entertaining but if you’re familiar with Krentz’s work it will follow a pattern that didn’t make it as exciting as it could be. The formula is one I’m well familiar with so I wanted a bit more of something new, but overall I liked the story. I enjoyed watching Pallas and Ambrose put the pieces of an ever-expanding puzzle together and I’m definitely going to want to learn what happens in future Lost Night Files books.

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 12, 2023

Review: Secretly Yours by Tessa Bailey

Secretly Yours by Tessa Bailey
Series: A Vine Mess, Book 1
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Secretly Yours cover
ISBN: 9780063238985
Release Date: February 7, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Hallie Welch fell hard for Julian Vos at fourteen, after they almost kissed in the dark vineyards of his family’s winery. Now the prodigal hottie has returned to Napa Valley and when Hallie is hired to revamp the gardens on the Vos estate, she wonders if she'll finally get that smooch. But the grumpy professor isn’t the teenager she remembers and their polar opposite personalities clash spectacularly.

One wine-fueled girls’ night later, Hallie can’t shake the sense that she did something reckless—and then she remembers the drunken secret admirer letter she left for Julian. Oh shit.

On sabbatical from his ivy league job, Julian plans to write a novel. But having Hallie gardening right outside his window is the ultimate distraction. She’s eccentric, chronically late, often literally covered in dirt—and so unbelievably beautiful, he can’t focus on anything else. Until he finds an anonymous letter sent by a woman from his past.

Even as Julian wonders about this admirer, he’s sucked further into Hallie’s orbit. Like the flowers she plants all over town, Hallie is a burst of color in Julian’s grayscale life. For a man who irons his socks and runs on tight schedules, her sunny chaotic energy makes zero sense. But there’s something so familiar about her... and her very presence is turning his world upside down.
A professor bound by schedules and orderliness meets his match in a gardener who’s the essence of chaos and color in Secretly Yours. Julian is buttoned-up and reserved. He learned as a child to help his anxiety by using schedules but he’s taken it to the nth degree. I adored the stuffy professor who is both flummoxed and incredibly attracted to Hallie. Hallie took a bit longer to grow on me but she eventually did. She’s mourning the loss of her grandmother, who was her rock. Because she feels like she’s losing bits of her grandmother with every change, she becomes irresponsible and overly chaotic. She finds herself and her path, embracing her whirlwind self but maturing. And Julian learns to love letting go, to embrace the color that Hallie brings into his world. They both have journeys to take and I enjoyed watching them take them.

The romance was sweet and entertaining but not my favorite of Tessa Bailey’s. Hallie had such a huge crush on Julian from high school that she measured all other men against him for fifteen years. He, in turn, didn’t really know her nor did he remember her when they meet as adults. A combination of events leaves Hallie to one night drunkenly leave him a secret admirer love letter. I actually really liked what the love letters did but the initial setup just left me a bit indifferent. Still, by the end of the story I was rooting for Julian and Hallie and I loved where they ended up.

Secretly Yours kicks off the Vine Mess series and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Hallie and Julian’s family and friends. I definitely finished the book wanting to read about Julian’s sister, Natalie, who is also at a crossroads in her life. All in all, I thought Hallie and Julian’s book was an energetic and fun romance and it left me wanting more Vine Mess books.

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.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Review: Breaking All the Rules by Amy Andrews

Breaking All the Rules by Amy Andrews
Publisher: Entangled: Amara
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Breaking All the Rules cover
ISBN: 9781682815861
Release Date: January 24, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible | Entangled

Sometimes you gotta toss your whole life into a burning dumpster to find what’s most important…

Beatrice Archer has always done everything she’s supposed to —worked her ass off, ignored her non-existent personal life, and kept her mouth shut. Now she’s over it. The rat race, respectability…the underwire bras. She’s taking her life back. Starting with moving to Nowhere, Colorado to live life on her own terms.

Now Bea gives exactly zero forks. Beer for breakfast. Sugar for everything else. Baggy sweats and soft cotton undies FTW. Then a much younger and delightfully attractive cop is called to deal with her flagrant disregard for appropriate clothing outside the local diner (some folks just don’t appreciate bunny slippers) and Bea realizes there’s something missing from her little decathlon of decadence…and he might be the guy to help her out.

When it comes to breaking rules, Officer Austin Cooper is surprisingly eager to assist. He’s charming, a little bit cowboy, and a whole lot sexy. But Bea’s about to discover that breaking the rules has consequences. And all of the cherry pies in Colorado can’t save her from what’s coming…

Ad exec Beatrice Archer has had enough with the LA rat race and her misogynistic boss. She’s quit her job and – after throwing a dart at a map – moved to Credence, Colorado where she drinks beer for breakfast, has pie for dinner, and her life is all Dean Winchester and sweatpants 24/7. She’s followed the rules all her life and where has it gotten her? Now she’s determined to break all the rules and her unexpected ally is sexy cop Austin Cooper. Austin is charmed – and deliciously dangerous to Bea’s state of mind – but throwing caution to the wind she falls into his arms. But what happens when reality intrudes on the new life Bea has built?

Breaking All the Rules is zany, fun, and an all-around good time. Bea has thrown her orderly life into chaos and is embracing the messy at the beginning of this book. She’s a hoot but there’s deeper soul-searching to be done over the course of the story. Bea has lived her life coloring within the lines and it was fun to see her break out of it. She needed to find what she wanted out of life and though it wasn’t a smooth path to finding that, it was an entertaining journey. Falling for a cop ten years younger than her wasn’t even on her radar, but who could resist Austin? He’s kind, charming, and totally dazzled by Bea even when she’s got unwashed hair and is eating ice cream in her bunny slippers. The age difference between them isn’t as big an obstacle as Bea seems to think and these two soon-to-be-lovers are a great fit from the start. Their banter was fun and their romance so easy to be charmed by.

Breaking All the Rules isn’t the first book set in Amy Andrews’s Credence, Colorado but you can easily jump in here without missing anything. The town is one I’d love to live in, filled with welcoming residents and pie so delicious I was ready to salivate along with Bea. All in all, I enjoyed Bea’s journey; I was rooting for her to claim the direction her life would take, I thought her romance with Austin was sweet with a good dash of spice, the town of Credence was wonderful, and the cherry on top was one very regal scene-stealer, a snaggletooth cat named Princess.

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.