Monday, July 19, 2021

Review: Last Guard by Nalini Singh

Last Guard by Nalini Singh
Series: Psy-Changeling Trinity, Book 5
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Paranormal Romance 
Last Guard cover
ISBN: 9781984803658
Release Date: July 20, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Nalini Singh Reading Order

Termed merciless by some, and a robotic sociopath by others, Payal Rao is the perfect Psy: cardinal telekinetic, CEO of a major conglomerate, beautiful—and emotionless.

For Canto Mercant, family and loyalty are everything. A cardinal telepath deemed “imperfect” by his race due to a spinal injury, Canto cares for the opinions of very few—and ruthlessly protects those he claims as his own. Head of intel for the influential Mercant family, he prefers to remain a shadow in the Net, unknown and unseen. But Canto is also an anchor, part of a secretive designation whose task it is to stabilize the PsyNet. Now that critical psychic network is dying, threatening to collapse and kill the entire Psy race with it.

To save those he loves, Canto needs the help of a woman bound to him by a dark past neither has been able to forget. A woman who is the most powerful anchor of them all: Payal Rao. Neither is ready for the violent inferno about to ignite in the PsyNet…or the passionate madness that threatens to destroy them both.
Delve beneath the surface of the PsyNet in Last Guard. Psy Designation A gets its first true time in the spotlight as Nalini Singh expands the already vast and engaging world she’s built. I loved seeing beneath the surface to the twisting world of the Substrate where As keep the PsyNet from falling apart. But the As are stretched thin; there are too few for such a vast space. And the As that have been born were often seen as imperfect under Silence and eliminated before their A status became known. The problems stretch back before Silence and it’s utterly fascinating to see how this oft-forgotten designation plays such a crucial role in the survival of the Psy. There is a lot of information in Last Guard that goes into the history of Designation A, what went wrong, and what is continuing to fracture the PsyNet.

Canto and Payal are both hub anchors who had a brutal childhood that bonded them. Canto was nearly killed before his mother’s family found him. The Mercants never let go of one of their own so they took the angry, injured boy and gave him the love and support he needed. Canto has grown up to be a shadowy figure in the Mercant family, but a powerful one nonetheless. Abelists who think the grumpy Psy is imperfect have a shock coming when they see the power of this brilliant, caring man. Payal grew up in a nightmare and it’s a testament to her inner strength that she became someone good, honest, and true. She’s seen as a robot by many, her Silence perfect even in after its fall, but they don’t see the struggle behind the mask and the wear of having no truly safe space. Payal is at war with herself and she broke my heart more than once. She also has to deal with monsters every day in the form of her father and brother. She and Canto are bonded by shared horrors and their childhood connection has remained. Though they’ve been separated for decades, that bond does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to the romance. There’s so much going on in the world around them that the romance often takes a back seat, but nevertheless Singh made me believe in their happily ever after.

Last Guard takes the Psy-Changeling/Psy-Changeling Trinity world in new and interesting directions. The major players of the Ruling Coalition make appearances and as always it’s nice to see them. It was even more of a delightful surprise to revisit Sophia (of Bonds of Justice) who isn’t a character that pops up very often. There are many difficult topics broached in this book and it’s a testament to Singh’s talent that the book never drags because of it. There are also lighter moments, thanks in large part to the StoneWater bears, the clan that Canto’s cousin Silver mated into. The bears never fail to make me smile and oh, I do hope Singh has at least a novella planned for Arwen Mecant and his bear.

Last Guard is interesting from beginning to end. It goes more into the technical aspects of the PsyNet which may make the book a bit of a dry read for some. Payal and Canto are unique, well-drawn characters and I’m interested to see what comes from them as the world continues to build. Singh knows how to keep her characters – and her readers – on their toes.

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, July 13, 2021

Review: While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory

While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory
Series: The Wedding Date, Book 6
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
While We Were Dating cover
ISBN: 9780593100851
Release Date: July 13, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Ben Stephens has never bothered with serious relationships. He has plenty of casual dates to keep him busy, family drama he’s trying to ignore and his advertising job to focus on. When Ben lands a huge ad campaign featuring movie star, Anna Gardiner, however, it’s hard to keep it purely professional. Anna is not just gorgeous and sexy, she’s also down to earth and considerate, and he can’t help flirting a little…

Anna Gardiner is on a mission: to make herself a household name, and this ad campaign will be a great distraction while she waits to hear if she’s booked her next movie. However, she didn’t expect Ben Stephens to be her biggest distraction. She knows mixing business with pleasure never works out, but why not indulge in a harmless flirtation?

But their light-hearted banter takes a turn for the serious when Ben helps Anna in a family emergency, and they reveal truths about themselves to each other, truths they’ve barely shared with those closest to them.

When the opportunity comes to turn their real-life fling into something more for the Hollywood spotlight, will Ben be content to play the background role in Anna’s life and leave when the cameras stop rolling? Or could he be the leading man she needs to craft their own Hollywood ending?

While We Were Dating is a Hollywood fairytale romance with a good heart and a sense of humor to go along with the glamour. It’s easy to fall into Anna and Ben’s romance thanks to the likeable characters and Jasmine Guillory’s engaging style.

One of my favorite things about The Wedding Date series is that it always features characters who are committed to their careers and a heroine and hero who support and respect their partner’s work. Anna is an Oscar-nominated actress who is focused on getting a role she loves and knows will take her career to the next level. While she courts the director and tries to sway the studio’s opinion, she’s in an ad campaign that Ben is leading up. Ben is smart, funny, and the two of them click right away. Light flirtation becomes something more real when Anna has a family emergency and Ben is there for her. Ben may have easy charm and not want to commit but he’s a person you’re grateful to have in your corner in a crisis. He doesn’t think twice about going out of his way to help Anna even when they barely know each other. He’s kind, which sounds like a bland word but really isn’t; in fact, it’s what grabbed me the most about Ben.

Anna is talented, funny, and though she’s a successful actress she’s totally relatable. She also has anxiety and after going through a year where she felt isolated and panicked before getting help, she’s managing better. I loved that Guillory focused on destigmatizing talking about mental health in While We Were Dating. Anna and Ben talk about mental health in an honest way. Ben is open about being in therapy and though Anna is more guarded (how could she not be as a famous actress?) when it’s just the two of them she’s also refreshingly vulnerable. This gave an emotional depth to what would otherwise be a fairly breezy fantasy of a love story. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed While We Were Dating. It’s flirty, sensual, and fast-paced with strong beats of emotional honesty.

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, July 11, 2021

Review: It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey

It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey
Series: It Happened One Summer, Book 1
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
It Happened One Summer cover
ISBN: 9780063045651
Release Date: July 13, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Piper Bellinger is fashionable, influential, and her reputation as a wild child means the paparazzi are constantly on her heels. When too much champagne and an out-of-control rooftop party lands Piper in the slammer, her stepfather decides enough is enough. So he cuts her off, and sends Piper and her sister to learn some responsibility running their late father’s dive bar... in Washington.

Piper hasn’t even been in Westport for five minutes when she meets big, bearded sea captain Brendan, who thinks she won’t last a week outside of Beverly Hills. So what if Piper can’t do math, and the idea of sleeping in a shabby apartment with bunk beds gives her hives. How bad could it really be? She’s determined to show her stepfather—and the hot, grumpy local—that she’s more than a pretty face.

Except it’s a small town and everywhere she turns, she bumps into Brendan. The fun-loving socialite and the gruff fisherman are polar opposites, but there’s an undeniable attraction simmering between them. Piper doesn’t want any distractions, especially feelings for a man who sails off into the sunset for weeks at a time. Yet as she reconnects with her past and begins to feel at home in Westport, Piper starts to wonder if the cold, glamorous life she knew is what she truly wants. LA is calling her name, but Brendan—and this town full of memories—may have already caught her heart.

It Happened One Summer is a fast-paced and incredibly fun romance that will draw you in on page one and not let go. If you loved Schitt’s Creek you’ll recognize Alexis Rose as the inspiration for Piper. However, you don’t have to be a fan of a show to enjoy this story of a party princess landing herself in hot water then finding her true self far from the life she knows.

It’s impossible not to love Piper. She has a personality that sparkles and draws you in. Has she grown up a pampered LA princess and is spending her life partying and taking Instagram pics? Yes. But she’s kindhearted and she always means well and her sunniness and general likeability draws people to her. Getting out of her comfort zone gives her a chance to grow and find out who she truly is. Is she the party girl who loves shopping and attention? Absolutely. But that’s not all she is. I loved that Tessa Bailey didn’t knock Piper down for loving flash and glamour – there’s nothing wrong with it. And I loved watching Piper become something more. She’s been told that she’s an airhead, that there are a million girls like her, that she’s shallow and there’s nothing more to her, and so on, but that’s just not true. Her perseverance after being uprooted is something to admire and she’s just so nice I loved watching her find her place in Westport. She connects with her father’s world in ways that are delightful but I won’t spoil for the readers. Part of the joy of the story is just following Piper on her unexpected journey.

As for Brendan…oh, the grumpy fisherman with a heart of gold made me smile. He’s a widower who is stuck in his routines. That’s good when he’s on the water; he’s a captain and his men’s lives are in his hands in a dangerous profession. But on land he needs to be shaken out of his rut and that’s exactly what Piper does. Like Piper, Brendan is more than what he thinks he is and I liked watching him break out of his mold. On paper the two of them shouldn’t work but that’s what makes their romance so fun. The unlikely pair fit together extremely well. Their dynamic sparkles, their love story kept me reading late into the night, and the steaminess is off the charts. There are so many cute Piper/Brendan moments in this story I wish I could talk about but I feel like it will spoil readers’ enjoyment by revealing them. Suffice it to say they are a dynamite pair.

It Happened One Summer is a delight from beginning to end. I loved the way Bailey blends sweetness and spice, then rounds it all off with a dose of humor. The emotional moments have impact and feel earned and I finished the book with a smile on my face. I cannot wait to return to Westport to see Piper’s sister, Hannah, fall in love.

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, July 5, 2021

Review: Death at the Crystal Palace by Jennifer Ashley

Death at the Crystal Palace by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Below Stairs Mysteries, Book 5
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Historical Mystery 
Death at the Crystal Palace cover
ISBN: 9780593099391
Release Date: July 6, 2021
EBook Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Jennifer Ashley Reading Order

While attending an exhibition at the Crystal Palace, young cook Kat Holloway is approached by a woman in distress. Lady Covington is a wealthy widow convinced that her entire family is trying to kill her. Kat feels compelled to help, and she escorts the lady home to discover whether she is delusional or in true danger.

It is quickly apparent that the threat is all too real, and Kat promises aid. Her charming confidant Daniel McAdam is busy infiltrating a plot against the Crown, and she worries he will not have time to lend his sleuthing expertise. This might be for the best, as Kat fears her growing emotional entanglement with Daniel can only lead to disaster. But soon, Kat faces a more serious threat when her involvement in both investigations plunges her into peril.

Clever cook Kat Holloway is back in Death at the Crystal Palace. Every time I delve into a Below Stairs Mystery I’m ready for an interesting puzzle and intriguing characters and Jennifer Ashley did not disappoint.

While attending an exhibition at the Crystal Palace with her friends and daughter, Kat is approached by Lady Covington, wealthy widow of a railroad magnate. Lady Covington is sure she’s being poisoned and she’s convincing enough to rouse Kat’s curiosity. Kat uses her knowledge and instincts to navigate the potentially treacherous waters of Lady Covington’s household. Suspects abound and there’s a lot of legwork for Kat to do if she’s to figure out what the poison is, who is behind the poisoning, and why. Her friend Lady Cynthia Shires is on hand to help, as Kat’s usual partner in crime, Daniel McAdam, is busy with a task of his own. Kat’s expanding circle of friends fill out the world wonderfully and I adore Cynthia in particular. She plays a larger role in the story this time, especially once her parents enter the scene. It’s lovely watching her friendship with Kat deepen and I continue to root for Cynthia’s burgeoning romance with mathematician Elgin Thanos to take flight.

Speaking of romance, Kat’s own with Daniel continues to inch forward. I like the slow burn and as is common with these books, I gobbled up whatever crumbs about Daniel’s situation Ashley dropped along the way. Daniel is investigating a plot against the Crown and as much as he wants to keep that part of his life separate from Kat, there is a point at which he needs her help. Daniel and Kat’s investigations are both interesting although the personalities in the Covington case make that the more compelling storyline of the two. I loved how everything flowed seamlessly together and how each reoccurring character played their part.

Death at the Crystal Palace is the fifth Below Stairs Mystery and to enjoy the book fully you should at least have an idea of the main characters and the relationships between them. I adore the world Ashley has built and the connections that continue to deepen warm my heart. Any time spent with Kat and company is a good time and it’s because the characters Ashley has created are endearing, well-drawn, and compelling. I finished Death at the Crystal Palace satisfied with how things turned out but I cannot wait to see what mystery crosses Kat’s path 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.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Review: The Devil and the Heiress by Harper St. George

The Devil and the Heiress by Harper St. George
Series: The Gilded Age Heiresses, Book 2
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Historical Romance 
The Devil and the Heiress cover
ISBN: 9780593197226
Release Date: June 29, 2021
EBook Source: Publisher
Paperback Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Sparks fly when a runaway heiress bargains with a devilish rogue to escape a marriage of convenience.

No one would guess that beneath Violet Crenshaw's ladylike demeanor lies the heart of a rebel. American heiresses looking to secure English lords must be on their best behavior, but Violet has other plans. She intends to flee London and the marriage her parents have arranged to become a published author--if only the wickedly handsome earl who inspired her most outrageously sinful character didn't insist on coming with her.

Christian Halston, Earl of Leigh, has a scheme of his own: escort the surprisingly spirited dollar princess north and use every delicious moment in close quarters to convince Violet to marry him. Christian needs an heiress to rebuild his Scottish estate but the more time he spends with Violet, the more he realizes what he really needs is her--by his side, near his heart, in his bed.

Though Christian's burning glances offer unholy temptation, Violet has no intention of surrendering herself or her newfound freedom in a permanent deal with the devil. It's going to take more than pretty words to prove this fortune hunter's love is true…

A devilish lord in need of funds meets his match in an American heiress determined to escape a betrothal that would crush her spirit. The Devil and the Heiress is an engaging romance that charmed me thanks to its roguish hero who has a marshmallow heart and an optimistic budding writer with a spine of steel.

Violet Crenshaw has seen firsthand what can happen to a woman who is essentially sold for a title. Though her sister made a love match with an English lord, that doesn’t mean the same will hold true for Violet. In fact, her parents are determined she marry a man who will undoubtedly cage her. Determined to take charge of her own life, Violet flees London and is surprised to find a helping hand in the form of the Earl of Leigh. Except Christian has his own plans and it wasn’t chance that made him appear when Violet needed aid. He needs funds to save the one home that means anything to him and Violet is the answer to his prayers. She also intrigues him as no other woman has. The forced proximity allows them to get to know one another in a way they never would have within the confines of society’s rules. I thoroughly enjoyed their trip and watching Christian and Violet get to know each other. Their mutual attraction quickly becomes something more, but what happens when Christian’s initial plot is revealed (as it must or where would the conflict be?) I will leave readers to discover for themselves.

Christian and Violet have great chemistry and the pages of The Devil and the Heiress practically flew by. There are elements of this story that remind me of Lisa Kleypas’s Wallflower quartet and as that’s one of my favorite series it’s a definite compliment. But Christian and Violet are their own selves and they won me over. Violet can be naïve but her spirit and openness charmed the daylights out of me. And Christian made me smile and sigh. He definitely is wrong in lying to Violet, but the man has the softest heart and I could have melted over him. I adored them both as individuals and as a couple.

The Devil and the Heiress is the second book in Harper St. George’s Gilded Age Heiresses series but having not yet read The Heiress Gets a Duke I can safely say Violet’s book stands on its own. That being said, I enjoyed Violet and Christian so much that I cannot wait to go back and read August Crenshaw’s book as I wait for more Gilded Age Heiresses stories.

FTC Disclosure: I purchased the paperback 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.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Review: A Scot to the Heart by Caroline Linden

A Scot to the Heart by Caroline Linden
Series: Desperately Seeking Duke, Book 2
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Historical Romance 
A Scot to the Heart cover
ISBN: 9780062913647
Release Date: June 29, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

An Officer and a Scotsman
Captain Andrew St. James always knew he came from a noble family, but his branch grew far from the wealth and status. Nothing shocks him more than learning that he now stands as heir presumptive to his distant cousin the Duke of Carlyle. There is much for Drew to learn and adjust to—but first he goes home to Edinburgh, to tell his mother and three sisters of their startling good fortune.

A Lady and a Temptress
Ilsa Ramsay yearns for some adventure and fun, not another husband. When she discovers the handsome soldier who sweeps her off her feet for a rollicking dance is her friend’s brother, soon to be an English duke, she tells herself he’s not for her, no matter how tempting he is. But one impulsive kiss, then another, and another… says otherwise.

An Irresistible Attraction
Drew means to marry a respectable, dignified Englishwoman—a very proper future duchess. The spirited Ilsa is none of that. Still, when she’s caught in a dangerous scandal, he leaps to her aid without hesitation. And neither family duty nor future obligation can make them ignore what’s in both their hearts.

A Scot to the Heart is a delight to read from beginning to end, thanks to the utterly endearing characters Caroline Linden has created. I was so charmed by Isla and Drew that I hated to put their book down.

Drew is an appealing mix of roguish charm and honorable soldier. He’s been providing for his family ever since the death of his father and being the heir to a dukedom gives him a chance to give his mother and three sisters the lives they deserve. The real Drew is a far cry from the stiff, subservient captain we briefly met in the first Desperately Seeking Duke book and his actions make sense once you get in his head. Drew is fun with a wicked sense of humor that comes out when he’s around his family and friends. He’s honorable to the core and has a good heart.

Isla has lived much of her life lonely and restricted, first from the oppressive rules of her aunt after the death of her mother and then under her husband who essentially imprisoned her. As a widow she has freedom even if her family tries to curtail it. She’s boisterous and fun when there’s no one judging her and I loved seeing her joy when she was free and uninhibited. She and Drew are instantly attracted to one another and had such good chemistry I was delighted to be along for the ride. Their romance is a lot of fun and Linden blends humor, heart, and heat extremely well. As this book shows, Isla and Drew are a couple who will be able to stand together and take on whatever life throws at them and that makes their romance incredibly satisfying.

A Scot to the Heart is the second book in the Desperately Seeking Duke series but you do not have to have read About a Rogue in order to follow along (although it is just as charming). I loved Drew’s family and friends and hope to see them all get stories of their own. I cannot wait to see what’s to come in the next Desperately Seeking Duke book for the meager hints that have been dropped have me intrigued.

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, June 27, 2021

Review: A Duke in Time by Janna MacGregor

A Duke in Time by Janna MacGregor
Series: The Widow Rules, Book 1
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
Genre: Historical Romance 
A Duke in Time cover
ISBN: 9781250761590
Release Date: June 29, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Katherine Vareck is in for the shock of her life when she learns upon her husband Meri's accidental death that he had married two other women. Her entire business, along with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be a royal supplier, is everything she's been working for and now could be destroyed if word leaks about the three wives.

Meri's far more upstanding brother, Christian, Duke of Randford has no earthly clue how to be of assistance. He spent the better part of his adult years avoiding Meri and the rest of his good-for-nothing family, so to be dragged back into the fold is…problematic. Even more so is the intrepid and beautiful Katherine, whom he cannot be falling for because she's Meri's widow. Or can he?

With a textile business to run and a strong friendship forming with Meri's two other wives, Katherine doesn't have time for much else. But there's something about the warm, but compellingly taciturn Christian that draws her to him. When an opportunity to partner in a business venture brings them even closer, they'll have to face their pasts if they want to share each other's hearts and futures.

A Duke in Time is a story of letting go of the past and grabbing hold of your future. Christian has been running from his scandalous family’s legacy since he was a child and with the death of his younger brother, Meri, he finds himself in a mess with not one, but three widowed sisters-in-law. For a man who wants nothing to do with his half-brother, this is extremely upsetting. But what really knocks him off his feet is his attraction to Katherine, Meri’s first wife. Christian is a duke who is also a war hero. He’s determined to do his best by veterans and is honorable to the core. He’s reserved at first but he’s a case of still waters running deep. He carries old wounds from his family that he needs to face in order to move forward with his future and I liked watching him come into his own.

I really liked Katherine as a heroine. She’s a successful businesswoman with a keen mind and a generous spirit. She also has secrets that would ruin her business if they got out because of the fine line a woman who is on the edges of society has to walk in order to be successful. Her world is turned upside down when she learns that her now-deceased husband left behind not just her, but two other wives. Meri wasn’t exactly a good husband, having left her mere hours after their wedding, but this goes beyond the pale. Nevertheless, Katherine immediately befriends the other two wives and opens her home to them when they have nowhere to go. The three become fast friends which is one of my favorite parts of the book. Like Christian, Katherine has to learn to face the past and move on, which isn’t easy in her position and the time she lives in. I was rooting for her every step of the way, however.

Christian and Katherine are instantly attracted to one another and their romance is fairly low drama. Christian needs help setting up a charity for veterans and Katherine is just the woman to help him. The two of them complement one another extremely well and they fall in love seamlessly, if rather quickly. I liked them as individuals with their own unique interests and I liked them as a couple. A Duke in Time moved at a quick clip and I found it to be an enjoyable romance overall. By the end of it I was really looking forward to seeing what Janna MacGregor has in store for Meri’s other wives so I will definitely be reading the rest of the Widow Rules trilogy.

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.