Thursday, November 30, 2023

Review: Born to Be Badger by Shelly Laurenston

Born to Be Badger by Shelly Laurenston
Series: The Honey Badger Chronicles, Book 5
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: Paranormal Romance 
Born to Be Badger cover
ISBN: 9781496730176
Release Date: November 28, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Emily “Tock” Meyerson-Jackson is on a mission to rid the world of shifters trafficking humans for hunting and cash. And now that she’s narrowed down her suspects to a brutal coalition of male lions, nothing will get between this honey badger and her prey—not even a dog-loving Tiger with absolutely no time management skills. Doesn’t matter that Shay Malone is ferociously adorable. With a war brewing between cat families, Tock doesn’t have time to lounge around with a football-playing tiger shifter. But when she realizes the coalition is also responsible for the death of Shay’s father, she’s forced to partner up with the flirtatious feline…

Revenge is most definitely on the menu for Shay and his tiger shifter brothers. But when it comes to Shay’s alluring partner in crime-solving, so is seduction. Tock might be a bad-ass of a honey badger, but she’s awfully cute when she’s flashing her fangs, which she’s pretty much doing all the time these days. Good thing revenge is a dish best served hot. Because when it comes to Tock, Shay knows just how to turn up the heat…

Born to Be Badger is a wild ride filled with action, adventure, and big personalities. Shelly Laurenston’s newest entry into her ever-expanding shifter world is seriously fun.

Tock is a honey badger who is no-nonsense and obsessed with time. She’s blunt to a hilarious degree and has a way of just taking care of things that I really liked. Shay is a tiger with soft, squishy feelings, absolutely no time management skills, and a daughter to get to math camp on time – even when bad guys are after him and the woman he’s supremely attracted to. Tock tries to ignore him at first, but you can’t ignore a tiger trying to get your attention. Shay and Tock just click from the start and I loved them together. They’re funny, her relationship with his daughter is sweet without being saccharine, and I just enjoyed reading about them. Their romance is slow burn and understated to the point that I wish there had been a bit more time devoted to it, but I honestly didn’t mind too much because I just liked them together. There’s an easy chemistry between them that makes them stand out and the two of them stand on their own without being overwhelmed by the giant personalities of the sizeable supporting cast.

Born to Be Badger continues several plots from the Honey Badger Chronicles and Laurenston’s other shifter series, but doesn’t entirely have one of its own outside of Tock and Shay’s understated love story. Normally this would bother me but it kind of works in this book because the daily lives of Tock, Shay, and their friends and family are interesting on their own. I liked seeing Tock and her teammates continue their chaotic (sometimes bloodthirsty) ways and Laurenston introduces several interesting plots that I expect to see continued in future books. So in terms of the series, it’s a bridge book, maybe even filler, but it doesn’t feel that way. Quite simply, this book is fun. There are shenanigans, dozens of shifters, and intriguing hints of what’s to come. I had a blast reading Born to Be Badger and it’s zany, frenetic energy, unique characters, and Laurenston’s entertaining storytelling make it a book I’ll enjoy over and over.

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, November 21, 2023

Review: There Should Have Been Eight by Nalini Singh

There Should Have Been Eight by Nalini Singh
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Thriller 
There Should Have Been Eight cover
ISBN: 9780593549766
Release Date: November 21, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Nalini Singh Reading Order

Seven friends.
One last weekend.
A mansion half in ruins.
No room for lies.
Someone is going to confess.
Because there should have been eight…

They met when they were teenagers. Now they’re adults, and time has been kind to some and unkind to others—none more so than to Bea, the one they lost nine long years ago.

They’ve gathered to reminisce at Bea’s family’s estate, a once-glorious mansion straight out of a gothic novel. Best friends, old flames, secret enemies, and new lovers are all under one roof. But when the weather turns and they’re snowed in at the edge of eternity, there’s nowhere left to hide from their shared history.

As the walls close in, the pretense of normality gives way to long-buried grief, bitterness, and rage. Underneath it all, there’s the nagging feeling that Bea’s shocking death wasn’t what it was claimed to be. And before the weekend is through, the truth will be unleashed—no matter the cost…

There Should Have Been Eight is a tense, claustrophobic thriller that is incredibly addictive. I have mixed feelings about the mystery, but I have to give Nalini Singh high marks for making this a real page-turner. Her writing is dark, evocative, and the mystery is compelling though your milage may vary on how you like the resolution.

Luna has had the same group of friends since she was a teenager, but now the group of eight is down to seven. Bea, bright, shining, beautiful Bea who Luna was obsessed with is long gone. At a get-together in a remote estate, things start to go wrong. And as they’re trapped, the past comes rearing back to life as secrets, betrayals, and a twisted web of deceit comes to life.

Luna is an interesting narrator. Her obsession with Bea remains strong, even years after her death. How she views her remaining friends – Darcie, Ash, Nix, Kaea, Aaron, Vansi – plus Aaron’s fiancée, Grace, isn’t quite objective. She’s a photographer, and though the lens gives her some distance she isn’t unbiased and her obsession with Bea makes her dig into old wounds. Luna is also losing her sight, and the impending loss of her vision has her questioning what she sees in the shadows, in some expressions. The questions she has around Bea’s death come raging back during this trip as the ghosts of the past are stirred up.

Luna isn’t the only one fixated on the past. Things start happening, pranks that escalate to true harm, as the storm that locks the group in at the estate rages on. Some of the group are blameless, some are not, but all are in harm’s way; no protection of innocents in this story. Singh starts off easy then ratchets up the tension until the climax. The revelations come fast at the end as the tale spins slightly out of control. For such a tightly written novel the way everything came together (key in a mystery) felt a bit off. The ending didn’t quite work for me, but that could be chalked up to reader preference.

There Should Have Been Eight drips with gothic mystery and Singh’s talent for writing an engaging thriller is on display. Not every bit of the story worked for me, but I found it wholly compelling nonetheless.

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, November 20, 2023

Review: Do Your Worst by Rosie Danan

Do Your Worst by Rosie Danan
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary Romance with Paranormal Elements 
Do Your Worst cover
ISBN: 9780593437148
Release Date: November 14, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Riley Rhodes finally has the chance to turn her family’s knack for the supernatural into a legitimate business when she’s hired to break the curse on an infamous Scottish castle. Used to working alone in her alienating occupation, she's pleasantly surprised to meet a handsome stranger upon arrival—until he tries to get her fired.

Fresh off a professional scandal, Clark Edgeware can’t allow a self-proclaimed “curse breaker” to threaten his last chance for redemption. After he fails to get Riley kicked off his survey site, he vows to avoid her. Unfortunately for him, she vows to get even.

Riley expects the curse to do her dirty work by driving Clark away, but instead, they keep finding themselves in close proximity. Too close. Turns out, the only thing they do better than fight is fool around. If they’re not careful, by the end of all this, more than the castle will end up in ruins.

Do Your Worst is seriously hot, tons of fun, and incredibly addictive. A bold and bright curse breaker + a stalwart archaeologist determined to repair his reputation = one heck of a good time.

Riley Rhodes is determined to be the first person in her family to turn curse breaking into a legitimate business. An opportunity to break an ancient curse in the Scottish Highlands is perfect. What she doesn’t expect is there to be a grumpy archeologist determined to get her kicked off the site. It’s been less than a year since Clark Edgeware faced betrayal and a massive career setback. He’s committed to rebuilding his image and the last thing he needs is some quack – no matter how distractingly sexy – messing up his job site. Clark and Riley are each determined to make the other leave, but with the help of the curse, they’re about to learn firsthand why enemies to lovers is such an enduring trope.

Riley and Clark are both a delight for different reasons. Riley is energetic, smart, and brave; she’s faced more criticism than you can imagine and she’s got tough skin. That doesn’t mean no one can get under it – Clark sure does. Clark is a gentleman in the streets and I bet you can figure out what that means in the sheets. He’s grumpy and still stinging from the wounds of betrayal when he meets Riley. Though he tries to get her fired, he can’t help but be drawn to her and what she shows him starts to open his mind. Clark has been hurt and the wounds not yet healed, so my heart broke for him a couple of times over the course of the story. I loved watching both he and Riley come into their own. They each have a journey to make individually as well as one to go on as a couple.

Enemies to lovers isn’t my favorite genre but Rosie Danan could make it so if they were all written like Clark and Riley. I absolutely loved the crackling chemistry that lit up the page – Do Your Worst is seriously hot. Add in a mystery revolving around how to break the curse, research that takes some very sexy turns, family drama, and entertaining hijinks and you’ve got one wonderfully entertaining story. I finished Riley and Clark’s story eager for a re-read and I cannot wait to see what Danan comes up with 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.

Monday, November 13, 2023

Review: Inheritance by Nora Roberts

Inheritance by Nora Roberts
Series: The Lost Bride Trilogy, Book 1
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary Romance with Paranormal Elements 
Inheritance cover
ISBN: 9781250288325
Release Date: November 21, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

1806: Astrid Poole sits in her bridal clothes, overwhelmed with happiness. But before her marriage can be consummated, she is murdered, and the circle of gold torn from her finger. Her last words are a promise to Collin never to leave him…

Graphic designer Sonya MacTavish is stunned to learn that her late father had a twin he never knew about—and that her newly discovered uncle, Collin Poole, has left her almost everything he owned, including a majestic Victorian house on the Maine coast, which the will stipulates she must live in it for at least three years. Her engagement recently broken, she sets off to find out why the boys were separated at birth—and why it was all kept secret until a genealogy website brought it to light.

Trey, the young lawyer who greets her at the sprawling clifftop manor, notes Sonya’s unease—and acknowledges that yes, the place is haunted…but just a little. Sure enough, Sonya finds objects moved and music playing out of nowhere. She sees a painting by her father inexplicably hanging in her deceased uncle’s office, and a portrait of a woman named Astrid, whom the lawyer refers to as “the first lost bride.” It’s becoming clear that Sonya has inherited far more than a house. She has inherited a centuries-old curse, and a puzzle to be solved if there is any hope of breaking it…

After her engagement ends and her career takes an unexpected turn, Sonya MacTavish is ready for a fresh start. What she doesn’t expect that to entail is an inheritance from an uncle she never knew existed. Said inheritance includes a stunning Victorian manor on the Maine coast that comes with, shall we say, unearthly residents. Seven brides were lost, one per generation. Their spirits and others are anchored to the house… Along with an evil that lurks, displeased with Sonya’s arrival. With her best friend, Cleo, beside her, and handsome lawyer Trey for support, Sonya starts to unravel the mystery of Lost Bride Manor.

Inheritance is engaging, interesting, and at times richly atmospheric. Nora Roberts has opened up her Lost Bride trilogy with an utterly addictive beginning.

Sonya was easy for me to like from the start. She takes a few hits, but she’s strong, smart, and determined. With the support of her loved ones, she gets a fresh new start when she moves to Maine. She didn’t expect to fall in love at first sight with the manor she inherited, nor the charming town nearby. She also didn’t count on her new ghostly roommates. It takes a while for Sonya to believe, but I loved learning about the ghosts and their different personalities alongside her. The son of her late uncle’s best friend, Trey Doyle has had a lifetime to become accustomed to the hauntings of the manor. Trey is sexy, kind, and supportive – how could Sonya or I resist him? He and Sonya just click from the start and though Inheritance is only the beginning of their story, I definitely can’t wait to see where Roberts takes them.

Along for the ride are Sonya’s best friend, Cleo, and Sonya’s newfound cousin, Owen. Sparks fly between the two and – as with our main couple – I’m very much looking forward to seeing where Cleo and Owen go. I enjoyed the various love stories in this book, from the love of family to that of friends to the possibilities of what’s to come and to love lost but lingering. I don’t want to say too much about the ghostly residents or the Big Bad as much of the fun of the story is learning things alongside Sonya.

Inheritance is beautiful, sad, and hopeful all at once. It’s got some creepy vibes (if you’re easily spooked like me) and a touch of gothic atmosphere. This is not a self-contained book, however; it’s the first part of a much larger story and ends with a bit of a cliffhanger. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Inheritance. It was easy for me to get caught up in the story; I loved the world and the journey Sonya and company are on so far. I cannot wait to see what happens 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.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Review: Plot Twist by Erin La Rosa

Plot Twist by Erin La Rosa
Series: The Hollywood Series, Book 2
Publisher: Canary Street Press
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Plot Twist cover
ISBN: 9781335458117
Release Date: November 14, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

She’s written off more than she can chew…

Romance author Sophie Lyon’s ironic secret just went viral: she’s never been in love—and it’s ruining her reputation. With a manuscript deadline looming, Sophie makes an ambitious plan to overcome her writer’s block: reunite with her exes (including her last girlfriend Carla, the one person she could have loved) to learn why she’s never fallen in love, and document it all for her millions of new online followers.

Luckily, Sophie’s reclusive landlord, Dash Montrose—a former teen heartthrob—has social media all figured out and is willing to help. What he doesn’t mention is that he’s an anonymous online crafter, a hobby that helps him maintain his sobriety. No one knows about his complicated relationship with alcohol, and with a family that’s Hollywood royalty, Dash has to steer clear of scandal.

As Sophie and Dash grow closer, they discover a heat between them that rivals Dash’s pottery kiln. But Sophie needs to figure out who she is outside her relationships, and Dash isn’t sure he’s stable enough for the commitment she deserves. So Sophie suggests what any good romance author would: a friends-with-benefits arrangement. Surely a strictly casual relationship won’t cause any trouble…

Romance author Sophie Lyon’s big secret has just gone viral: she’s never been in love. After a hit debut novel, she’s got a terrible case of writer’s block and – when combined with her recent TikTok revelation and a looming deadline – she’s in trouble. Her solution? Go back through her exes and see where things went wrong. Along for the ride (somewhat reluctantly) is her sexy landlord, Dash Montrose. Dash is Hollywood royalty, but he’s quit acting to focus on maintaining his sobriety. He doesn’t want any upheavals to his carefully constructed peace and Sophie is a whirlwind filled with complications. But the two of them are drawn to each other and the longer Dash spends helping Sophie the more impossible their mutual attraction is to resist…

Erin La Rosa leans hard into tried-and-true romance tropes in Plot Twist. You’ve got grumpy + sunshine, best friend’s brother, only one bed…it’s cute and fitting when you have a heroine who’s a romance author. I had mixed feelings about Sophie and Dash’s story but overall it was fun.

Dash was an easy hero for me to like. He’s Hollywood royalty and being shoved into acting from a young age didn’t help him in the slightest. He’s a recovering alcoholic, less than two years into his sobriety and he’s focused on that. He’s holed up in his home, using crafting as an outlet while he tries to determine what direction he wants his life to take. I was rooting for Dash and even though he’s (very slightly) grumpy I found him an endearing hero who was there to cheer on and bolster Sophie. His family life is messy and I wish we’d explored the dynamics there a bit more because it was interesting and had potential.

Sophie is a hot mess in the beginning of Plot Twist. Her looming deadline is weighing on her and she can’t capture the magic of her bestselling debut. I never fully connected with Sophie, but I liked that she eventually started to realize that maybe she was part of the problem when it came to her past relationships not working. She’s messy, flawed, and screws up, but takes the time to realize her flaws and doesn’t balk when her best friend and sister point them out. She and Dash have good chemistry and it made their romance work. It’s sweet and sexy, with some good humor thrown in (Richard the squirrel made use of his cameos).

La Rosa makes the most of the romance tropes she employs and that’s generally fun. That being said, some of the drama – especially at the end of the book – felt forced and rushed when it could have been woven in better over the latter half of the story. There were real issues in this book that gave it depth and could have been explored more to take this from good to great. And while I didn’t mind all the TikTok references, I’m worried this book will start to feel dated quickly. While Plot Twist didn’t dazzle me, I liked it and La Rosa’s writing enough that I’ll be on the lookout for more of her work.

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

Monday, October 2, 2023

Review: Highland Surrender by Heather McCollum

Highland Surrender by Heather McCollum
Series: Sons of Sinclair, Book 5
Publisher: Entangled: Amara
Genre: Historical Romance 
Highland Surrender cover
ISBN: 9781649374950
Release Date: October 24, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Entangled
Heather McCollum Reading Order

With his family’s honor on the line, Norse warrior Erik Halverson has no choice but to follow the orders of the royal house of Denmark. Now he must follow his destiny—and royal command—to sail to Scotland, find his enemy’s weakest link, and abduct her. Their mistake, of course, was thinking the Sinclair lass wouldn’t fight back.

From the moment her four brothers took control of their clan, Hannah Sinclair has learned to stand tall and defend herself. So when a big, brawny, and admittedly handsome warrior tries to abduct her, she isn’t about to give in. And the more he tries, the more she’s determined to make it as hard as possible...and enjoy it all the while.

Now Norway’s greatest warrior has a Highland hellcat on his hands, and Odin help him, he can’t resist her. But with the brutal Sinclair brothers coming after them, Erik is out of options. War is inevitable. And when a man is forced to choose between duty and passion, only one will win…

The sister of the infamous Sinclair Horsemen finally steps out of the shadows in Highland Surrender. I’ve been oh-so-hopeful that Heather McCollum would give Hannah Sinclair a chance to shine and she definitely does in this book.

Hannah is happy for her brothers and their wives and loves her nieces and nephews, but she’s lonely in the crowd. She wants a baby of her own but none of the men of her clan tempt her – not even the ones who may not be frightened of her legendary brothers. Enter silver trader Erik Halverson. The brawny Norseman is awfully fearsome for a supposed trader but Hannah isn’t going to let that stop her. She sets out to seduce him…only to find herself kidnapped.

Erik has been sent on a mission by Dowager Queen Sophie: he’s to kidnap Hannah and thus keep the Sinclair Horsemen under Sophie’s control. He doesn’t expect a strong and stubborn lass to fight back and knock him off his feet. Erik isn’t a bad person and his reason for doing Sophie’s bidding is understandable. He’s caught between a rock and a hard place and is trying to justify to himself why he’s doing something he knows is wrong.

The attraction between Erik and Hannah burns bright and hot and I liked how they went toe-to-toe with each other. Hannah has learned alongside each of her brothers and is just as brave and true as any of them. She’s Erik’s equal in every way and teaches him a thing or two along the way. If political machinations weren’t in their path, I imagine it would be mostly smooth sailing for this love story. But villains, politics, threats, and fears all make the road to happily ever after a rocky one for Hannah and Erik.

Highland Surrender is the fifth book in McCollum’s Sons of Sinclair series but you can jump in here if you haven’t read the others. There is a large supporting cast including Hannah’s brothers, sisters-in-law, a couple of mischievous children, and Erik’s brothers-in-arms who all have roles to play in the story. To her credit, McCollum never lets the supporting characters overshadow the main ones; not an easy feat with so many strong personalities. I liked all the different relationships and how each one shined and impacted the story.

Highland Surrender has passion, family drama, political intrigue, and romance. It’s an engaging story and a fitting end to the Sons of Sinclair series.

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, September 23, 2023

Review: Bare Essentials by Jill Shalvis and Leslie Kelly

Bare Essentials by Jill Shalvis and Leslie Kelly
Publisher: Harlequin
Genre: Erotic Contemporary Romance 
Bare Essentials cover
ISBN: 9780373430406
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Harlequin
Jill Shalvis Reading Order

Naughty But Nice
Lingerie model Cassie Tremaine Montgomery intends to have her revenge on the citizens of her hometown—starting with seducing the sheriff, Sean "Tag" Taggart. Tag, however, isn't cooperating. He's more than willing to set the sheets on fire with her, but he's asking for more than just sizzling sex…. He knows Cassie's not as tough as she pretends. And he knows she cares about him—even if she won't admit it. So he'll just turn up the heat until she concedes there's more between them than this red-hot passion.

Naturally Naughty
Kate Jones, the girl from the wrong side of the tracks, is home. And she's got an agenda. To get revenge on the man who humiliated her mother, Kate's going to seduce that man's son—the town's golden boy, John Winfield Jr.—and then leave him drooling in a puddle of lust. However, when she finds herself seduced by a sexy stranger named Jack, little does she guess that the tables have just been turned…

Naughty But Nice by Jill Shalvis

Cassie Tremaine Montgomery has returned home to Pleasantville with revenge on the brain. She grew up being called trashy and had unwanted advances made right, left, and center. She doesn’t expect that her first day back she’ll get pulled over by hunky Sheriff Sean “Tag” Taggart. Tag lights a fire in Cassie and the attraction is mutual. But while Cassie is fine with a no-strings affair, she isn’t keen on having a real relationship. Tag, however, is determined to make Cassie see just how good they can be together.

I’m a fan of Jill Shalvis so I was excited to dive into one of her backlist titles I hadn’t yet read. Naughty But Nice has a bold heroine and an alpha hero. Should be a simple matter of chemistry plus spice plus fun, right? Not so much. The people of Pleasantville treated Cassie and her family like garbage and sexualized her from a young age, so it’s easy to see why she doesn’t have fond memories of the place. The town she grew up in is no longer the same and Cassie’s walls slowly come down as she realizes that not everyone is out to attack her. That being said, the first half of the book just made me sad for Cassie. She was assaulted and insulted and people just focused on her looks and how desirable she was. That made even the attraction Tag felt for her less than appealing. The story did improve as it went on and I liked the friends Cassie made over the course of the story. The romance between her and Tag is heavily built on lust and was just so-so for me. I know Shalvis was aiming for deeper connection between the two but that fell a bit flat for me. Overall, Naughty But Nice was just an OK read for me.

Naturally Naughty by Leslie Kelly

Kate Jones is home and – like her cousin – wants revenge. Kate’s revenge is more specific: she wants to get back at the man responsible for a lot of her childhood hardships. However, with him gone the next best target is his son, J.J. Winfield. It’s a surprise to Kate that J.J. is none other than Jack, her one-night stand who she hasn’t been able to stop thinking about…

Naturally Naughty is a good girl going bad and it’s a lot of fun to read. Kate is known as the sweet cousin, but she’s got a lot of spice in her. The death of his father has opened Jack’s eyes to some of the problems in his family. He has a heavy weight on his shoulders trying to make things right. Kate knocks him off his feet as much as he does her. The two of them have a heaping dose of mutual attraction that no amount of good intentions can make them ignore. I liked watching them dance around each other; the sexual tension was entertaining and their chemistry made the pages fly by. I liked their happily ever after and this story definitely made me want to look for more of Leslie Kelly’s work.

Bare Essentials is a duology of two cousins needing to confront their pasts in order to have a chance at a happier future. It’s sexy, entertaining, and though it had its flaws it was overall enjoyable.

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.