Monday, June 10, 2024

Review: The Summer Escape by Jill Shalvis

The Summer Escape by Jill Shalvis
Series: Sunrise Cove, Book 6
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
The Summer Escape
ISBN: 9780063235816
Release Date: June 11, 2024
Source: Author
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Jill Shalvis Reading Order

Anna Moore didn’t just wake up one day and decide to go on a wild quest—especially since her life no longer lends itself to wild anything—so how in the world does she end up racing against the clock with Owen Harris, a sexy, enigmatic adventurist, to prove her beloved dad innocent of stealing a million-dollar necklace?

It’s all Wendy’s fault. Her older, bossy sister, who’s seven months pregnant and on bed rest in their small Lake Tahoe hometown, is desperate to clear their departed dad’s name. Owen, though, is convinced he’s guilty as hell and wants to return the jewelry back to its rightful owner—his elderly great aunt. Together Anna and Owen go on a scavenger hunt for clues to the past (with Wendy remotely along for the ride via an earbud, supplying a running wry commentary to boot).

On opposing sides and suspicious of each other as they are, Anna and Owen still can’t deny the inexplicable and explosive chemistry between them on this heart-stopping adventure, the outcome of which will prove the necklace isn’t the only thing stolen—their hearts have been as well.

A mystery brings two lonely hearts together in The Summer Escape. Jill Shalvis is an author I’ve enjoyed for years, but I had mixed feelings about her latest Sunrise Cove outing.

Anna is a private investigator whose latest case is deeply personal. She found an antique coin of her father’s but it may be stolen. She’s joined on her quest for the truth by the man whose great-aunt may have been robbed. Owen is an adventurer who, like Anna, carries hidden scars. They both have felt lost and alone with very few people they can rely on. Anna doesn’t like to trust others and Owen never fully lets down his walls. But of course, the two of them are inescapably drawn to one another.

Shalvis’s writing usually draws me in from the start but with The Summer Escape I had a bit of a harder time. Anna and Owen’s chemistry didn’t spark for me much at the beginning, likely because they were overshadowed by the third main character, Anna’s sister, Wendy. Wendy is eight months pregnant with triplets and is on bed rest, but that doesn’t stop this larger-than-life personality from chiming in. Shalvis often includes over-the-top friends or family members in her stories and Wendy is one of the more lively and persistent ones. Whether you find this charming or annoying is really reader preference, and I was in the latter camp.

At about the halfway mark The Summer Escape heats up and it feels like Anna and Owen find their footing. Their chemistry gets more fun and flirty and the story feels like it finds its focus. The mystery comes to a satisfying conclusion and the love story ends with a happily ever after that is charming. I enjoyed Shalvis’s writing and I liked that there were emotional hurdles to conquer that balanced out the frothy humor and social media-inspired quips. That being said, I could have used a bit more from the world – it felt like something was missing from the story to make it feel whole.

The Summer Escape is the sixth book in the Sunrise Cove series but it completely stands on its own. If you know Shalvis, you know that there are going to be some scene-stealing animals along for the ride and they were absolutely too cute for words. Honestly, I would have enjoyed much more time with Turbo, Clawdia, and Jennifur. Adorable animals aside, this was an OK read for me overall. It’s not bad, but I have enjoyed so many other wonderful books by Shalvis that it was a bit of a disappointment.

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

Monday, May 27, 2024

Review: Twelfth Knight by Alexene Farol Follmuth

Twelfth Knight by Alexene Farol Follmuth
Publisher: Tor Teen
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance 
Twelfth Knight cover
ISBN: 9781250884893
Release Date: May 28, 2024 Source: Publisher
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Viola Reyes is annoyed.

Her painstakingly crafted tabletop game campaign was shot down, her best friend is suggesting she try being more “likable,” and her school's star running back Jack Orsino is the most lackadaisical Student Body President she’s ever seen, which makes her job as VP that much harder. Vi’s favorite escape from the world is the MMORPG Twelfth Knight, but online spaces aren’t exactly kind to girls like her—girls who are extremely competent and have the swagger to prove it. So Vi creates a masculine alter ego, choosing to play as a knight named Cesario to create a safe haven for herself.

But when a football injury leads Jack Orsino to the world of Twelfth Knight, Vi is alarmed to discover their online alter egos—Cesario and Duke Orsino—are surprisingly well-matched.

As the long nights of game-play turn into discussions about life and love, Vi and Jack soon realise they’ve become more than just weapon-wielding characters in an online game. But Vi has been concealing her true identity from Jack, and Jack might just be falling for her offline…

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night gets the reimagined in a high school setting treatment a la ‘90s and early 2000s rom coms in Twelfth Knight. Alexene Farol Follmuth pays homage to The Bard while making this story fully her own and the result is a delight.

It’s grumpy meets sunshine with Vi and Jack. Vi is a gamer who – thanks to rampant sexism in the gaming world – plays as a male knight named Cesario in her favorite MMORPG. Jack “Duke” Orsino is a football star whose world turns upside down when his knee is busted. Jack’s at a crossroads in his life and it doesn’t help that his girlfriend, Olivia, is avoiding him. When his friend recommends he pass the time with Twelfth Knight, Jack ends up teaming up with Cesario and the friendship he develops with his online friend is a stark difference to the bickering he and Vi do in real life.

What will happen when Jack learns that his sword-wielding friend is the same sharp-tongued grump he’s falling for? I’ll leave readers to find out. But I will say that this was an absolutely charming story with well-drawn characters and an entertaining plot. I liked seeing Cesario and Duke Orsino open up to each other online while Jack gets over, under, and through Vi’s barriers in the real world. There are just enough references to Shakespeare’s play to keep an enthusiast entertained but not so many that this book can’t stand on its own.

Twelfth Knight is about letting down your walls, letting people see the real you, and trusting that they will be there and love you as you are. I loved the gaming aspects, both seeing it through the experienced Vi’s eyes and the new-to-gaming Jack’s viewpoint. Jack and Viola are joined by a wonderful cast of characters who are as endearing, flawed, and unique as they are. All in all, this was a fun read that also took its characters on engaging journeys of personal growth.

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, May 14, 2024

Review: Wild Man by Kristen Ashley

Wild Man by Kristen Ashley
Series: Dream Man, Book 2
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Wild Man cover
ISBN: 9781455599202
Source: Publisher and Purchased By Reviewer
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She’s about to walk on the wild side…

While filling the display case in her bakery, the bell over the door sounds and Tessa O'Hara looks up to see the man of her dreams. Within thirty seconds he asks her out for a beer. But after four months of dating, she discovers he's an undercover DEA agent-and he’s investigating her possible role in her ex-husband’s drug business. For Tess, this means their relationship is over.

Brock disagrees. He’s committed to his anti-drug mission, but he’s fallen in love with the beautiful woman who's as sweet as her cupcakes – and he’ll do anything to win her back. Standing between Tess and Brock are their own exes, one of them a drug lord who’s determined to get what he wants. Now as danger threatens, can Brock break the rules he’s lived by and let loose his wild side to protect the woman he loves?

I have a confession to make: after reading the first Dream Man book, Mystery Man, I was pretty indifferent to Brock. But since I try to avoid skipping books in a series whenever possible – and I was really excited to dive into the third Dream Man book – I figured I’d give Wild Man a try. I’m so glad I gave Brock a chance. He surprised me in all the best ways and is one of my favorite Kristen Ashley heroes. He’s a wild and sexy alpha male, strong and protective, and just plain hot. He’s got a huge heart and will do anything for those he loves. Brock isn’t perfect; at forty-five he’s incredibly set in his ways and has a few bad habits he’ll never change. But his flaws make him a three-dimensional character and the fact that he isn’t perfect and does make mistakes is what makes him a more interesting hero. Tess is sweetness and sprinkles with some hidden scars. She survived an abusive marriage and didn’t let it crush her spirit. She gets swept up by Brock but also has her way of tempering him when it’s important.

Wild Man doesn’t actually have a big conflict in the romance. It’s more family drama and outside forces that Brock and Tess face together. There isn’t a strong plot but that honestly didn’t matter that much because it was enjoyable enough to follow the main characters through their daily lives. It’s Kristen Ashley, so there are the usual larger-than-life supporting characters. Actions and especially reactions tend to be dialed up to eleven and you just have to go along for the ride. I’ve read Wild Man several times over the past few years and each time it’s highly entertaining. In true Kristen Ashley fashion it’s over the top and the large cast of characters isn’t shy about getting up in each other’s business. But Brock and Tess are at the heart of it all and theirs is an engaging story to watch unfold.

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

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Review: Mind Games by Nora Roberts

Mind Games by Nora Roberts
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Romantic Suspense with Paranormal Elements 
Mind Games cover
ISBN: 9781250289698
Release Date: May 21, 2024
Source: Publisher
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As they do each June, the Foxes have driven the winding roads of Appalachia to drop off their children for a two-week stay at their grandmother’s. Here, twelve-year-old Thea can run free and breathe in the smells of pine and fresh bread and Grammie’s handmade candles. But as her parents head back to suburban Virginia, they have no idea they’re about to cross paths with a ticking time bomb.

Back in Kentucky, Thea and her grandmother Lucy both awaken from the same nightmare. And though the two have never discussed the special kind of sight they share, they know as soon as their tearful eyes meet that something terrible has happened.

The kids will be staying with Grammie now in Redbud Hollow, and thanks to Thea’s vision, their parents’ killer will spend his life in supermax. Over time, Thea will make friends, build a career, find love. But that ability to see into minds and souls still lurks within her, and though Grammie calls it a gift, it feels more like a curse—because the inmate who shattered her childhood has the same ability. Thea can hear his twisted thoughts and witness his evil acts from miles away. He knows it, and hungers for vengeance. A long, silent battle will be waged between them—and eventually bring them face to face, and head to head…

Thea Fox’s idyllic childhood is shattered forever when her parents are murdered. Though she’s in Kentucky with her grandmother when it happens, Thea can see everything as it happens and is instrumental in putting the killer away for life. But the killer has the same gift as Thea and as she grows up, he is edging ever closer in her mind. Now as an adult, successful, talented, and with a burgeoning relationship, Thea’s going to have to face down the monster she’s been waging a silent war with for years.

Mind Games is a romantic suspense with a healthy splash of the paranormal. At its heart, it’s Thea’s story. Nora Roberts takes readers from Thea’s childhood in Redbud Hollow through college and into adulthood as Thea grows and thrives in the aftermath of a horrific tragedy. I adored Thea’s grandmother, Lucy, and her brother, Rem. They have strong personalities and are as vital to her story as the hero. Thea’s career as a video game designer was also entertaining to watch and I liked that Roberts spent time on it. The killer she helped put away is always in the background, however. While he’s locked up in prison, he and Thea share a psychic talent that is increasingly intruding on Thea’s mind. It’s different having a villain who isn’t physically a threat and that makes it interesting. Thea (and thus the readers) never know when he’ll break through the barrier she puts up to keep him out.

While Mind Games is a romantic suspense, the romance doesn’t begin until the latter half of the story. Ty is a single dad who guards his privacy and whose past has made him wary of trusting others. I adored watching Ty with his son and can see why Thea falls for him. He and Thea have an easy chemistry that makes their slide into a relationship enjoyable to watch unfold. The romance is understated but I really enjoyed the story as a whole so I didn’t mind.

Mind Games kept me hooked from first page to last. The characters were interesting, the setting vibrant, the romance sweet. There was humor, heart, and action aplenty, and the climax of the story was satisfying. Roberts never fails to draw me in and this book was no exception.

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 28, 2024

Review: The Goldie Standard by Simi Monheit

The Goldie Standard by Simi Monheit
Publisher: Sibylline Press
Genre: Fiction 
The Goldie Standard cover
ISBN: 9781960573971
Release Date: May 7, 2024
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo

Hilarious and surprising, this unapologetically Jewish story delivers a present-day take on a highly creative grandmother trying to find her Ph.D granddaughter a husband who is a doctor—with a yarmulke, of course.

Goldie Mandell is opinionated, assertive, and stuck in an Assisted Living Facility. But even surrounded by schleppers with walkers, pictures of sunrises, fancy fish tanks, and an array of daily activities to complement the tepid tea and stale cookies on offer, her salt-free plate is full. She’s got a granddaughter to settle, an eager love interest named Harry to subdue, and precious memories of her happy marriage to fellow Holocaust survivor Mordy to draw upon.

Maxie Jacobson is young, brilliant, and newly single, not by choice. But she’s got her science career, a grandmother to care for, and her whole life ahead of her. When Maxie takes on the role of her grandmother’s medical advocate, she has no idea Goldie operates with the single purpose of securing Maxie with Dr. Right. Instead, Maxie is distracted by her grandmother’s unexpectedly charming long-haired, sandal-wearing, peculiarly-named driver, T-Jam Bin Naumann, definitely wrong in every way.

The Goldie Standard is an intense, often bittersweet read. Author Simi Monheit’s debut novel follows grandmother Goldie Mandell throughout her life in a mix of present-day scenes and flashbacks while also featuring Goldie’s granddaughter, Maxie, who finds herself at a crossroads of her own.

The description of the book doesn’t truly capture what the story is like. Yes, Goldie is determined to find her granddaughter a Jewish doctor to marry and yes, Maxie ends up falling for artist/driver/adjunct professor T-Jam Bin Naumann instead. But it’s not a romcom or even a comedic novel like I expected. Rather Goldie is switching back and forth between past and present. She was a child in Nazi Germany and we see what happened to her there, her escape, and her immigration to America. We follow her marriage, children, love and loss woven throughout, and now as a somewhat crotchety grandmother in an assisted living facility. Goldie isn’t the sweet and endearing type, but she is interesting. Maxie, in turn, is a modern Jewish girl getting her Ph.D. and one who doesn’t always understand her grandmother. The two learn about each other over the course of the book and both grow in ways they probably didn’t expect.

The Goldie Standard wasn’t an easy read for me and some of what was touched on reminded me of my relatives. It also isn’t generally the kind of story I read for fun. I didn’t love the characters exactly, but I found them honest and realistic. Goldie in particular was a layered, complex character. I wished for some more of that for Maxie and the supporting cast. I’m glad I read The Goldie Standard. It’s not my usual fare but Monheit did draw me in and delivered a strong, emotionally charged tale.

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, April 27, 2024

Review: The Lady Plays with Fire by Susanna Craig

The Lady Plays with Fire by Susanna Craig
Series: Goode’s Guide to Misconduct, Book 2
Publisher: Zebra
Genre: Historical Romance 
The Lady Plays with Fire cover
ISBN: 9781420154818
Release Date: April 23, 2024
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

As the daughter of a clergyman, Julia Addison knows she’ll never be able to fulfill her lifelong dream of acting on the stage. But writing forthright reviews of the Season’s most popular plays for Mrs. Goode’s Magazine for Misses, popularly known as Goode’s Guide to Misconduct is surely the next best thing. Even better, she’s got a ticket to Ransom Blackadder’s latest irritating satire about English society. Best of all, she’s sharing a theater box with the gruff but handsome Lord Dunstane, which is enough to make Julia call for an encore…

Graham McKay, the Earl of Dunstane, rarely leaves his home in the Scottish Highlands. Why would he? Nothing about London has ever held his interest—until he meets Julia. But when Graham realizes she is the critic who panned his last play—and she discovers he is in fact the man behind Blackadder’s wicked pen—will it bring down the curtain on their romance—not to mention the magazine that published the humiliating review? Or can an unexpected collaboration set the stage for a scandalous love affair?

A Scottish earl who secretly writes scandalous plays and the daughter of a clergyman who secretly pens reviews are a perfect match in The Lady Plays with Fire. Susanna Craig’s second Goode’s Guide to Misconduct novel features two likeable characters who are taken with each other in person while unknowingly sparring with one another behind the scenes.

Julia Addison wished to be an actress once upon a time, but now the lady’s companion has settled into writing reviews as “Miss on Scene.” Graham is an earl who used his Ransom Blackadder alter ego to pull his estate out of danger. Blackadder is cynical and cutting but Graham is rather sweet. He’s gruff at first but there’s a marshmallow heart inside of him that I found endearing. Julia is kind and sweet as well, but she’s got a steel spine that won’t let her back down. When Mrs. Goode’s Magazine for Misses is targeted because of Blackadder she’s determined to convince the playwright’s patron to sway the author to something less dangerous, never knowing the man she’s dealing with is the writer himself.

Julia and Graham make a charming couple and they have an easy chemistry that makes The Lady Plays with Fire entertaining. For a book centered around the theater this is not a dramatic read; rather it’s a fun and engaging romance that’s good to escape with. I quite enjoy Julia and her fellow “Goode girls” and am very much looking forward to seeing where Craig takes them next.

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.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Review: Archangel’s Lineage by Nalini Singh

Archangel’s Lineage by Nalini Singh
Series: Guild Hunter, Book 16
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy 
Archangels Lineage cover
ISBN: 9780593550014
Release Date: April 23, 2004
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Nalini Singh Reading Order

Raphael and Elena are experiencing their first ever year of true peace. No war. No horrors of archangelic power. No nightmares given flesh. Until…the earth beneath the Refuge begins to tremble, endangering not only angelkind’s precious and fragile young, but the very place that has held their most innocent safe for eons.

Amid the chaos, Elena’s father suffers a violent heart attack that threatens to extinguish their last chance to heal the bonds between them and make sense of the ruins of their agonizing shared history.

Even as Elena battles grief, Raphael is torn from her side by the sudden disappearance of an archangel. But worse yet is to come. An Ancestor, an angel unlike any other, stirs from his Sleep to warn the Cadre of a darkness so terrible that it causes empires to fall and civilizations to vanish.

This time, even the Cadre itself may not be able to stop a ticking clock that is counting down at frightening speed…

It has been a time of peace in the world and Raphael and Elena are finally feeling able to relax just a bit. Then tremors rock the Refuge and it seems the world is once again in danger. Only this time it isn’t a mad archangel or some other identifiable threat, but something far more unpredictable…

Archangel’s Lineage is a wildly addictive read full of interesting worldbuilding and fascinating characters. It’s classic Nalini Singh in a way that I truly enjoy and I absolutely hated to put this book down.

We’ve taken another time jump in the Guild Hunter world and Raphael and Elena have now been together for about two decades. Their love and passion for one another is just as strong but there’s a settled quality to their relationship that is just as enjoyable to read about as their tumultuous beginning. I loved seeing them together and the strength of their relationship shines even when they’re apart. The world is in danger in Archangel’s Lineage, but there are also personal stakes. Elena’s father has a heart attack and it brings home not only her strained relationship with him but the realization of how little time the immortal angel has with her mortal loved ones. There’s a bittersweet quality to parts of this story; I really liked seeing Elena come to terms with the knowledge that not all of her friends and family will be with her forever, and that’s okay.

As for the more global threat of natural disasters and the Refuge being in danger…well, this is a plotline I don’t want to say too much about. Much of the fun of the story is experiencing the twists and turns as our beloved characters take them. Singh’s worldbuilding continues to delight and I liked seeing how she brought everything together. Singh perfectly balances the energy of the primary plot while allowing her characters room to breathe and be enjoyed. The result is a wholly satisfying read that ends one chapter of the Guild Hunter series while leaving room for new ones to begin. I absolutely adored Archangel’s Lineage from first page to last – it’s action-packed, romantic, interesting, and completely engaging.

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.