Monday, March 12, 2018

Review: Baking Lessons by Katie Allen

Baking Lessons by Katie Allen
Series: Off Guard, Book 2
Publisher: Carina Press
Genre: Contemporary Romance
ISBN: 9781488081156
Release Date: March 12, 2018
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N

Leah loves everything about her bakery—the heavenly smells, the satisfaction of feeding people and, of course, unlimited cookies. The only thing she doesn’t like is her uptight landlord’s daily visits. Sure, the man’s drop-dead gorgeous, but for someone with an insatiable taste for treats, he’s anything but sweet.

Army vet Hamilton knows he comes off as rigid. He just can’t seem to bite his tongue around Leah—he might be a virgin but he can imagine a dozen better ways to use his mouth. But when the woman he considers absolutely delicious is threatened by an unwanted admirer, Hamilton intervenes, captivating Leah with his softer side.

Now the man Leah couldn’t avoid is swiftly becoming the one she can’t resist. Unrelenting temptation soon overwhelms them both, leading to an indulgence in everything they’ve been craving. But when past actions bring a fallout neither imagined, they’ll be forced to confront whether their affair is half-baked—or something to savor forever.

Baking Lessons is fricking adorable! It’s sweet and fun and sexy all rolled into one.

Leah is a talented baker who is as sweet as the treats she makes. She may tweak Hamilton’s nose as often as she can in the beginning of the story when he’s merely her uptight landlord, but she also can’t resist feeding him. She’s a friendly, funny heroine with boatloads of charm and a good heart. Not to mention her baking skills will make you wish her shop was real. As for Hamilton… Katie Allen made me sigh over him. He’s sexy, intelligent, protective, and incredibly sweet (I know I keep using that word, but it fits this book and its characters perfectly). He’s also so precise in every way and I adored it, even though I could see why Leah wanted to good-naturedly mess with him. But beneath his formal and Thor-like exterior is a socially awkward man who truly has difficulty with things being messy. Leah is the first person he’s ever wanted to “get messy” with, and I loved that she (1) worked to understand him instead of trying to change him and (2) helped him feel safe enough to move out of his comfort zone with her.

The first half of Baking Lessons flies by as Leah and Hamilton tease, flirt, and get to know one another. I can’t count the number of times the two of them made me smile and the way they fell for one another felt organic. There’s no false drama, no game-playing and it was incredibly easy to root for Leah and Hamilton to get together. Once the sexual tension boils over and they hit the sheets (and the shower, the stairwell, etc.) Baking Lessons gets seriously steamy. When Ms. Allen turns the heat on high the book is still fun, but I felt like some of the momentum of the first part was lost. I also kept hoping we’d see more of Hamilton’s background and that we don’t is a missed opportunity. Even with these few quibbles, I adored Hamilton and Leah and their romance was a delight. I’ve never read Ms. Allen’s books before, but now I will definitely keep an eye out for 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.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Review: Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs

Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs
Series: Alpha & Omega, Book 5
Publisher: Ace
Genre: Urban Fantasy
ISBN: 9780425281314
Release Date: March 6, 2018
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N

They are the wild and the broken. The werewolves too damaged to live safely among their own kind. For their own good, they have been exiled to the outskirts of Aspen Creek, Montana. Close enough to the Marrok's pack to have its support; far enough away to not cause any harm.

With their Alpha out of the country, Charles and Anna are on call when an SOS comes in from the fae mate of one such wildling. Heading into the mountainous wilderness, they interrupt the abduction of the wolf--but can't stop blood from being shed. Now Charles and Anna must use their skills--his as enforcer, hers as peacemaker--to track down the attackers, reopening a painful chapter in the past that springs from the darkest magic of the witchborn…

Charles Cornick is less than thrilled to be left in charge of his father’s pack while Bran is away, but when the wildlings – the werewolves too broken to live safely even among the Aspen Creek pack – are attacked, the Marrok’s absence becomes an even bigger problem. For Charles and Anna are about to discover that the attack on the wildlings isn’t random, isn’t a crime of opportunity. There’s dark magic at play and the clock is ticking. Charles and Anna must use all their power to unravel a plot that could tear the heart of those they hold dear.

Burn Bright is part mystery, part fairytale, part action-packed adventure. It’s imaginative and interesting, as one would expect a Patricia Briggs story to be. I adore Charles and Anna and they are as solid as ever, so any time spent with them is time well spent.

Burn Bright keeps Charles and Anna closer to home and I loved getting to see more of their pack, the interactions among members, and the internal politics. Also, the fact that the newest attack against werewolves is in the heart of the Marrok’s territory gives the threat an added intensity. Characters we know and care about are in danger and it made me incredibly eager to jump into this book’s mystery. The one downside of this story is that – after the initial attack – it does take a while for momentum to build. At times the book seems to meander into side stories, but keep with it because Ms. Briggs makes sure the climax packs a punch. I likely had a death-grip on my book for the last quarter of the story – it was just that exciting. I wish I could say more, but I want to avoid spoilers since every detail plays into the resolution of the mystery.

Burn Bright is the fifth full-length book in the Alpha & Omega series, and you should at least be familiar with the world before diving into this story. As I mentioned before, the relationships and politics of the pack play an important part in this book and that was one of my favorite aspects of it. I really enjoyed getting to see more of characters we normally wouldn’t, like Leah, Charles’s stepmother. She’s not a beloved character, but I liked getting to see a different side of her. Burn Bright is also part of the larger world of Mercy Thompson and fans of that series will likely be excited that this book is woven closely with concurrent Mercy Thompson storylines. As I have not yet read Mercy’s books, I felt like I was missing something; not enough to detract from my enjoyment of this story, but enough to be noticeable. Burn Bright did definitely make me move Mercy’s books up in my proverbial to-be-read pile so that I can go back and more fully enjoy the little things in the Alpha & Omega series I missed the nuances of.

If you’re a fan of Patricia Briggs, you definitely don’t want to miss Burn Bright. Charles and Anna are strong, engaging characters and the world Ms. Briggs has developed is – to put it mildly – seriously awesome.

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 4, 2018

Review: The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman

The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman
Series: The Invisible Library, Book 3
Publisher: Ace
Genre: Fantasy
ISBN: 9781101988688
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N

Never judge a book by its cover...

Due to her involvement in an unfortunate set of mishaps between the dragons and the Fae, Librarian spy Irene is stuck on probation, doing what should be simple fetch-and-retrieve projects for the mysterious Library. But trouble has a tendency to find both Irene and her apprentice, Kai—a dragon prince—and, before they know it, they are entangled in more danger than they can handle...

Irene’s longtime nemesis, Alberich, has once again been making waves across multiple worlds, and, this time, his goals are much larger than obtaining a single book or wreaking vengeance upon a single Librarian. He aims to destroy the entire Library—and make sure Irene goes down with it.

With so much at stake, Irene will need every tool at her disposal to stay alive. But even as she draws her allies close around her, the greatest danger might be lurking from somewhere close—someone she never expected to betray her…

The Invisible Library series has been hit-or-miss for me, and The Burning Page falls into the “miss” category. After enjoying The Masked City as much as I did, I eagerly dove into Irene and Kai’s latest adventure, only to find myself bored for the majority of the book.

The biggest issue I have is that neither the main characters nor the Library itself feel fully developed. I’ve been waiting to learn more about the Library and with the institution under attack by the series’ big bad, Alberich, it felt like the perfect opportunity for insight. Alas, the threat of the destruction of the Library didn’t actually add tension to the story (not once did I actually feel like Irene wouldn’t pull something out of her hat and save the day), nor did it allow readers to go below the surface of the Library’s workings. Alberich throws out some interesting tidbits and there seems to be some internal grumblings among the Librarians, but apparently any new information will have to wait to be explored in future books. As for the characters, both Kai and Vale have grown sort of stale. Kai, who charmed me in previous books, was borderline unlikeable at times and though I allow a lot of leeway considering he’s a dragon (and thus aligned with order), his stubbornness felt like he hadn’t learned anything so far. As for Vale, he still hasn’t risen above a pale imitation of Sherlock Holmes, and when you throw in the painfully awkward forced intimacy between him and Irene, I was just left wanting more. Which brings me to Irene herself. She’s the heart and soul of this series and she falls flat as a character. I don’t need my protagonists to be likeable (she is neither likeable nor unlikeable), but I do want them to be interesting. Irene has unfortunately become a rather generic sort of hero with a possible interesting backstory (presumably to be revealed in future books) who rushes headlong into danger and relies heavily on the Language.

What captured my interest about the first book in the series, The Invisible Library, was the potential in the world. Genevieve Cogman set up a world of infinite possibilities and I was so excited to see what she would do. But the possibilities are largely squandered due to a heavy reliance on the Language, which now seems to be without limits. That’s largely why the stakes feel fairly low in The Burning Page – Irene’s use of the Language seems to fix pretty much everything.

I struggled with rating The Burning Page because it isn’t altogether bad. The beginning and the end are highly entertaining and when Ms. Cogman’s writing is focused she can deliver exciting scenes. But on the whole, The Burning Page felt like it could have been a novella and nothing would have been lost. The story was treading water for most of its length and that just doesn’t make for interesting reading. Even though this ultimately wasn’t the book for me, there’s so much potential in this series that I’ll be giving the next book a shot.

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 25, 2018

Review: Wanderlust by Lauren Blakely

Wanderlust by Lauren Blakely
Publisher: Audible Studios / Lauren Blakely Books
Genre: Contemporary Romance
ISBN: 9781977566614
Paperback Release Date: March 20, 2018
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Buy it here: Audible | Amazon | B&N

The first time I met him, his sexy British accent almost talked me into giving him my number on the spot. The second time, he nearly charmed the panties off me with his wit. Then I learned he’s the key to success in my new job in Paris. The man who tempts me into fling-worthy dirty daydreams has turned out to be my personal translator, and his accent is the hottest thing I’ve ever heard.

My mantra is simple — Don’t mix business with pleasure. I do my best to resist him as he teaches me how to converse with my co-workers, navigate the metro and order the perfect bottle of wine at dinner. But I also figure out how to tell the charming and clever man what I most want to say — that I want him to take me back to his flat — tonight.
Except there’s a catch…


One more assignment before I take off on my big adventure…
And it involves the toughest work ever — resisting the fetching American woman I spend all my days with. But you know what they say about best intentions. Soon, we’re spending our nights tangled together, and I don’t want to let her go. The trouble is, my wanderlust is calling to me, and before we know it I’ll be traveling the globe to fulfill a promise I made long ago.

What could possibly go wrong with falling in love in Paris? Nothing…unless one of you is leaving.

I am completely in love with Wanderlust. It’s beautiful, romantic, sensual, and fun, with a whole lot of heart. Joy is, well, joyful. She’s immediately endearing and is so lively that she practically pops off the page. She’s the kind of heroine you want to be friends with and she just plain charmed the heck out of me with her attitude, big smile, intelligence, and her love of things like pink doors, hidden angels, and red umbrellas. It’s easy to see why Griffin fell for her and she for him. Griffin isn’t just a sexy hero (though that doesn’t hurt). He’s also playful, interesting, smart, and as likeable as Joy. Like Joy, Griffin is in Paris to start fresh; only he doesn’t plan to stay. He made a promise to his dying brother and fulfilling it means his time in Paris is almost up.

Griffin and Joy hit it off from the start and their interactions made me grin. Because they’re working together (she’s a chemist and he’s her interpreter), they try to resist the pull between them, which made the sexual tension all the more delicious. Their love story is absolutely wonderful because you see them become friends first and the fall from lust and friendship to something more is seamless. When they do give in to their mutual attraction, Wanderlust gets incredibly sexy. In bed and out, Griffin and Joy are a perfect match. Their love story is bright and exciting, but that doesn’t mean it or they lack depth. Both of them are fully developed, well-rounded characters. I feel like there’s no way to do them justice in this review because I cannot adequately express how happy these two made me. Their journey is one best experienced for yourself and I defy you not to fall in love with them.

Joy and Griffin are the heart of this book, but Paris itself is every bit as important to the story. Lauren Blakely does an incredible job of transporting readers to the City of Light – not to the famous sites we all know, but to the smaller shops, alleys, and hidden treasures. Griffin is British and Joy is from Texas, and the fact that neither of them are native Parisians added to the story. I was able to fall in love with Paris alongside Joy and the sheer romance of the setting had me sighing thanks to Ms. Blakely’s writing.

I listened to Wanderlust on audio and I highly recommend enjoying the book this way. Good narrators enhance already wonderful stories and I don’t think you can get much better than Grace Grant and Richard Armitage. Grace Grant perfectly captures Joy’s spirit, but it’s Richard Armitage (also known as John Thornton, Thorin Oakenshield, etc.) whose narration is to-die-for. He not only brings Griffin to life, but his voice is like melted chocolate and makes Wanderlust an aural delight.

I cannot recommend Wanderlust highly enough. It’s an utterly enchanting story with characters you care about and a romance that makes you laugh, swoon, and sigh. This is the first book of Ms. Blakely’s I’ve read/listened to and I cannot wait to glom up her backlist!

FTC Disclosure: This book was purchased by me. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Review: Playing House by Amy Andrews

Playing House by Amy Andrews
Series: Sydney Smoke Rugby, Book 5
Publisher: Entangled: Brazen
Genre: Erotic Contemporary Romance
ISBN: 9781640633902
Release Date: February 12, 2018
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N

Eleanor is content with her boring life—mostly. She’s even fine being the quirky sister in a bevy of beauties. So imagine her surprise when one of her brother’s Sydney Smoke mates hits on her at an engagement party. Her. The weird sister, who wears vintage dresses and prefers her books to parties.

Bodie is shocked the next morning to find the soft, sexy virgin who seduced him with corsets is his best friend’s little sister. If he could kick his own ass, he would. And two months later, she’s got an even bigger surprise for him. Now he needs to convince the corset-loving wallflower that he loves her uniqueness if they’ve got a chance at forever.

He always did love a challenge…

A shy, quirky heroine who prefers books to parties. A sexy-as-hell hero with a sweet side. A scorching one night stand that becomes so much more. Put those three ingredients together and you’ve got a recipe for a highly entertaining romance. And when you add in Amy Andrews’s fast-paced style and signature humor then it’s clear to see why I couldn’t resist Playing House.

Eleanor is such a fun heroine. She grew up on a steady diet of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer and is in love with the fashion, manners, and romantic ideals of the nineteenth century. She’s also turned her love of Victorian fashion into a profitable business, which I found to be a delight to read about. Eleanor feels like the ugly duckling of her family, but she’s so much more than the kooky wallflower she sees herself as. Bodie is immediately captivated by Eleanor and I loved that he wasn’t just taken with her looks, but showed interest in what she was passionate about. Bodie grew up with a shark of a father and between that and his cheating ex-fiancée, he’s wary of falling for someone who will turn out to simply want him for his trust fund or his status a rugby star. Eleanor is a breath of fresh air to him in many ways and it’s clear from the outset that one night with her will never be enough. I could melt with how sweet Bodie could be. He may have wealth, privilege, and good looks, but he has worked hard to become successful and he’s got a heart of gold. I was rooting for him and Eleanor to become more than simply lovers because they were such likeable characters.

Eleanor and Bodie’s story is filled with erotic moments, and it’d be remiss of me not to at least mention how hot Playing House is. But what stood out to me were the quieter moments and if I had one (minor) niggle it’d be I wish there were more of them. Bodie and Eleanor are very different, but they complement one another perfectly. I liked watching them learn about each other. And when the two of them are handed a major surprise, I really liked that they handled life’s curveball fairly well. Their road to happily ever after isn’t smooth sailing. Insecurities, pain, and heartbreak made the story feel more real and may have even had me sniffling at one point. But I knew Ms. Andrews wouldn’t let readers down and the ending of Playing House left me with a smile on my face.

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, January 28, 2018

Review: The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary Romance
ISBN: 9780399587672
Release Date: January 30, 2018
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N

A groomsman and his last-minute guest are about to discover if a fake date can go the distance in this fun and flirty debut novel.

Agreeing to go to a wedding with a guy she gets stuck with in an elevator is something Alexa Monroe wouldn’t normally do. But there's something about Drew Nichols that's too hard to resist.

On the eve of his ex’s wedding festivities, Drew is minus a plus one. Until a power outage strands him with the perfect candidate for a fake girlfriend…

After Alexa and Drew have more fun than they ever thought possible, Drew has to fly back to Los Angeles and his job as a pediatric surgeon, and Alexa heads home to Berkeley, where she’s the mayor’s chief of staff. Too bad they can't stop thinking about the other...

They're just two high-powered professionals on a collision course toward the long distance dating disaster of the century--or closing the gap between what they think they need and what they truly want…

An elevator glitch + two charming characters + cheese and crackers = one of the most delightful meet-cutes I’ve read in a long time. Jasmine Guillory sets the stage for an effervescent romance from the very first page of The Wedding Date. Alexa and Drew have instant chemistry and they’re a whole lot of fun to read about.

Alexa is a heroine who’s easy to root for and adore. She’s successful, intelligent, and kind. She’s confident in her job as chief of staff to the mayor of Berkeley, but she’s plagued by some very relatable insecurities in her personal life. When she agrees to Drew’s spontaneous request to be his date to an ex’s wedding, Alexa lets go of her inhibitions for a whirlwind weekend of fun. I was so eager to see her find happiness with Drew, a pediatric surgeon who made me smile right alongside Alexa when they first meet. Drew is a sexy, fun hero to start with, but he loses some of his shine over the course of the story. He’s not a bad hero, but because his character isn’t explored as deeply as Alexa’s is, his commitment phobia and moodiness stand out in an unappealing way a few times. I do wish we’d gotten to know his character better because it would have made the romance stronger.

The Wedding Date is a book I have a hard time rating, because there are some things I really love about the book and some things I struggled with. I loved that Alexa opened Drew’s eyes to some of the everyday struggles a person of color faces and that she, a black woman, faces in particular. Alexa’s candor adds depth and realism to what would otherwise be a fairly breezy story. I also loved that both Alexa and Drew are successful thirty-somethings with high-power, demanding careers. That they understand and support one another in their work really had me rooting for them. What kept me from falling in love with this story like I wanted to was the middle of the book. It’s disappointingly repetitive. Either Alexa or Drew flies to meet the other, they eat, have sex, and don’t talk about their relationship or what their expectations are. The same thing keeps occurring with very little change, and I wish I’d seen more of their conversations or activities outside eating, sex, and the occasional party so that I could feel more of a connection to their romance. I also had a hard time with the fact that a lot of the conflict stemmed from miscommunication or simply an unwillingness to talk to one another about a problem. I did understand why Alexa was reticent to do so (to a certain extent), but when the same patterns kept emerging, it dragged the book down. That being said, the end of the book was so sweet, so lovely that I circled back around to falling for Alexa and Drew.

The Wedding Date is Jasmine Guillory’s debut novel and I cannot wait to read more from her. Alexa and Drew have quite a few wonderful friends whose books I’m dying to read. In fact, it’d be remiss of me to talk about this book and not mention Carlos, Drew’s awesome best friend and my new book crush. Carlos is friendly, incredibly patient, and caring and I absolutely cannot wait for his book. Until then, I will definitely revisit my favorite moments from The Wedding Date because when Alexa and Drew work, their book shines.

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, January 23, 2018

Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
Series: The Invisible Library, Book 1
Publisher: Ace
Genre: Fantasy
ISBN: 9781101988640
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N

One thing any Librarian will tell you: the truth is much stranger than fiction...

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all of the different realities. Most recently, she and her enigmatic assistant Kai have been sent to an alternative London. Their mission: Retrieve a particularly dangerous book. The problem: By the time they arrive, it's already been stolen.

London's underground factions are prepared to fight to the death to find the tome before Irene and Kai do, a problem compounded by the fact that this world is chaos-infested—the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic to run rampant. To make matters worse, Kai is hiding something—secrets that could be just as volatile as the chaos-filled world itself.

Now Irene is caught in a puzzling web of deadly danger, conflicting clues, and sinister secret societies. And failure is not an option—because it isn’t just Irene’s reputation at stake, it’s the nature of reality itself…

Enter the world of the Library, an interdimensional organization that collects important books from as many alternate dimensions as possible. Genevieve Cogman’s debut has an exciting premise and there’s a ton of possibilities to this world, but I struggled a bit with the execution.

The Invisible Library follows the journey of Irene, a junior Librarian, as she takes on Kai, a new apprentice, and is sent to an alternate version of Victorian-era London to steal an important book of fairytales. What should be a routine mission is anything but. The world is chaos-infested, one of the side effects of that being supernatural creatures exist, including the Fae. Things go wrong for Irene almost from the start, and she catches the attention of Vale, an alternate version of Sherlock Holmes, the powerful Fae Lord Silver, and an enemy of the Library who threatens to destroy not just Irene, but the whole world.

There are quite a few things that I liked about The Invisible Library. The premise is fantastic and of course a bibliophile like myself is ready and eager to enjoy a book about people who love books. The seemingly infinite number of alternate worlds means there’s a host of possibilities to explore, and I liked how Ms. Cogman set up the powerful forces of Fae and dragons and their respective representations of chaos and order. In short (so as to avoid spoilers), all the elements of a great story are there. That being said, the story did not live up to its parts. The world building was a case of tell, rather than show. There were seemingly endless amounts of exposition that slowed the book’s pace to a crawl. The characters aren’t very well developed (not even our principals, Irene and Kai, though Kai did charm me), most likely because there was no time to do so. Everything but the kitchen sink seemed to be thrown into this story, and quite a bit of it could have been cut without impacting the narrative. Less might have been more for a first book, as I’d have liked to have delved more into the characters and the different kinds of magic.

The Invisible Library is the kind of book I struggle with rating. While I did have a number of issues with this book, I can’t say I didn’t like it. The second half of the story found its footing and the pacing did pick up. More importantly (to me, anyway), I think Ms. Cogman has a great imagination and I’m excited to learn more about the world of the Library. There’s a lot of interesting information exposited in The Invisible Library that I didn’t unpack because it’d spoil the story. Suffice it to say that – while I struggled with the writing overall – the premise has me hooked and I look forward to seeing what Irene and Kai get up to in The Masked City.

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.