Saturday, June 25, 2022

Review: Fake It Till You Bake It by Jamie Wesley

Fake It Till You Bake It by Jamie Wesley
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Fake It Till You Bake It cover
ISBN: 9781250801852
Release Date: June 21, 2022
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Jada Townsend-Matthews is the most reviled woman in America after turning down a proposal on a reality dating show. When she comes home to lick her wounds, Jada finds herself working at San Diego's newest cupcake bakery, Sugar Blitz, alongside the uptight owner and professional football player Donovan Dell.

When a reporter mistakenly believes Jada and Donovan are an item, they realize they can use the misunderstanding to their advantage to help the struggling bakery and rehabilitate Jada's image. Faking a relationship should be simple, but sometimes love is the most unexpected ingredient.

A fake romance between a football player/cupcake shop owner and a woman at a crossroads in her life turns real in Fake It Till You Bake It. It’s a romance with a lot of potential, but I struggled with rating this book because I wanted to like it a lot more than I did.

Donovan likes order and Jada’s arrival upends his carefully structured life. She’s the most reviled woman on social media after turning down a marriage proposal on a reality dating show. When she comes into his shop and insults his cupcakes, Donovan is irritated – but also incredibly attracted. Then her grandmother – the owner of the football team Donovan plays for – asks Donovan to give Jada a job and things only get more confusing. Cue a mixture of kitchen mishaps, fake dating, image rehabilitation, and finding love where you least expect it and you have a recipe for a delightful book. Jada is prickly at first, but a lot of that is armor against the censure of the world and those who should love her but have beaten down her self-esteem. Jada intrigued me because her attitude masks vulnerability and a fear of messing up and being judged. She comes into her own over the course of the story and I liked seeing her find her way planning events and becoming a part of Sugar Blitz. Her personal journey was the strongest plotline of this book and I was cheering for her to believe in herself and her abilities, to carve her own path and be able to overcome the haters and the parents who criticize her for being dyslexic and not following in their prestigious footsteps.

Where I struggled with Fake It Till You Bake It was the writing. Jamie Wesley had all the elements of an engaging story but as much as I wanted to fall into it I never did. Jada and Donovan are characters ripe with potential and though there’s a lot I enjoyed about Jada’s personal journey, Donovan’s kind of fell flat (also, he and his partners are professional football players and none of the work or training that goes into that is ever shown). The romance was also flat, lacking any zip or zing that would have kept me from putting down the book as often as I did. That being said, I really liked that Donovan supported and believed in Jada. They fit well; I just wanted some more sparks. The book isn’t bad, but it's slow-paced and never came alive. Add in a last-minute series of obstacles that felt more manufactured than organic and I finished the story feeling just OK about the read overall.

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, June 11, 2022

Review: The Friendship Pact by Jill Shalvis

The Friendship Pact by Jill Shalvis
Series: Sunrise Cove, Book 2
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
The Friendship Pact cover
ISBN: 9780063095465
Release Date: June 14, 2022
Source: Author
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Jill Shalvis Reading Order

Alone in the world, Tae Holmes and her mother April pretty much raised each other, but as Tae starts asking questions about the father she’s never met, April, for the first time in her life, goes silent. To make matters worse, Tae is dangerously close to broke and just manages to avoid financial meltdown when she lands a shiny new contract with an adventure company for athletes with disabilities and wounded warriors.

Her first big fundraiser event falls flat, but what starts out as a terrible, horrible, no-good night turns into something else entirely when Tae finds herself face-to-face with Riggs Copeland. She hasn’t seen the former Marine since their brief fling in high school, and while still intensely drawn to him, she likes her past burned and buried, thank you very much. Hence their friendship pact.

But when April oddly refuses to help Tae track down her father, it’s Riggs who unexpectedly comes to her aid. On a hunt to unlock the past, the two of them find themselves on a wild ride and learn a shocking truth, while also reluctantly bonding in a way neither had seen coming. Now Tae must decide whether she’s going to choose love … or walk away from her own happiness.

The Friendship Pact is a sweet story about love, both romantic and familial. Jill Shalvis’s second Sunrise Cove novel takes readers back to the Tahoe area and introduces us to characters whose pasts aren’t as far behind them as they may think.

All her life, it’s been Tae and her mother, April, raising each other. The two of them have an admittedly codependent relationship but there’s real love and support there that made me smile. Tae’s event company is taking off but the night of her first big fundraiser she has a run in with a man who knew her father. Tae has questions about the man she never met, but she doesn’t want to hurt April by pushing for information. That same night Tae also runs into Riggs, her high school fling. Riggs is back in Sunrise Cove for a few months to help out with Adrenaline HQ, his brother’s company and Tae’s client. The attraction between the two is instantaneous but Riggs only wants to be friends because he’s leaving for a job in Washington, D.C. soon.

Tae and Riggs are classic Jill Shalvis protagonists: likeable, slightly quirky characters who are a bit messy. There’s humor and heart all over The Friendship Pact, which is also typical of a Shalvis novel. Tae has trouble trusting and Riggs has trouble communicating but even so, the two of them just click. It’s easy to fall into their story and their romance is sweet with a bit of spice. Tae’s relationship with her mother and Riggs’s relationship with his brother is just as important to the story as the romance. April was fifteen when she had Tae and she did what she could for her daughter but wishes she could do more and make up for past hardships. April is coming into her own in this book and she was so interesting I wish we’d explored her character more. And Jake, Riggs’s brother is a veteran who runs an adventuring company for other wounded warriors and (at Tae’s suggestion) for at-risk youths. Jake has a solid sense of self, but he and his brother have some issues from their upbringing they must work out. I liked seeing he and Riggs work through their relationship and come out stronger.

The Friendship Pact is all about love, family, and trust. Shalvis blends heavier issues with her signature humor and it works well, resulting in a satisfying read. All in all, Riggs and Tae’s story is a great summer read, whether you’re on the lakeside or just wish you were.

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 30, 2022

Review: Never a Duke by Grace Burrowes

Never a Duke by Grace Burrowes
Series: Rogues to Riches, Book 7
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Historical Romance 
Never a Duke cover
ISBN: 9781538706985
Source: Publisher
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Ned Wentworth will be forever grateful to the family that plucked him from the streets and gave him a home, even though polite society still whispers years later about his questionable past. Precisely because of Ned’s connections in low places, Lady Rosalind Kinwood approaches him to help her find a lady’s maid who has disappeared.

Rosalind is too opinionated—and too intelligent—and has frequently suffered judgment at the hands of polite society. Despite her family’s disdain for Ned, Rosalind finds he listens to her and respects her. Then too, his kisses are exquisite. As the investigation of the missing maids becomes more dangerous, both Ned and Rosalind will have to risk everything—including their hearts—if they are to share the happily ever after that Mayfair’s matchmakers have begrudged them both.

As a young boy, Ned helped save a duke in prison and was rescued by him in return. Now fully grown, Ned is a Wentworth and a successful banker, but society still gossips about his past. Lady Rosalind Kinwood requests Ned’s aid precisely because he can move between worlds. Her lady’s maid is missing and no one will take her concerns seriously. As the two look into the disappearance it becomes clear that there’s more to it than they expected. And the longer Ned and Rosalind are around each other, the harder it is for both to deny how very well they’re suited. But love isn’t enough to make a match between an earl’s daughter and a former pickpocket…is it?

Ned Wentworth finally gets a happily ever after of his own in Never a Duke. I’ve adored Ned since he was a brave young boy in the first Rogues to Riches book and was delighted that Grace Burrowes gave Ned his own story.

Ned loves the Wentworth family but he holds himself somewhat apart from them. There are bits of his past he won’t talk about and even parts of his life now he keeps separate. He’s successful as a banker but there’s something missing in his life. Rosalind is the catalyst for Ned coming into his own. From the first, he’s drawn to her. Rosalind is an outsider in her home as well, though unlike the Wentworth family, her father and brothers are cutting and cruel. Ned and Rosalind’s romance is soft and sweet. He sees, admires, values, and is attracted to Rosalind for all that she is. She, in turn, is someone he can lean on, can trust with the most vulnerable parts of himself. There are hidden sweet spots to Ned that just made me smile and sigh. He and Rosalind simply fit and I absolutely adored them together. It was easy to get lost in the pages of Never a Duke because I so enjoyed the romance.

To best enjoy this story, I recommend at the very least reading the first Rogues to Riches book, My One and Only Duke, in order to get a sense of the Wentworth family dynamics. As a fan of the series, I really enjoyed seeing Ned find his place in the Wentworth family. The Wentworths tend to shove their way into each other’s problems and for someone quieter and more reserved like Ned it can be a bit much. But he finds his way and I liked how his family grew to understand him better and was able to show their love and support for him in ways that matched Ned’s personality rather than their own.

The case of the missing lady’s maid is what first brings Rosalind and Ned together and it’s an intriguing one. I won’t spoil what happens, so suffice it to say that the mystery only grows and Burrowes takes readers on a journey from Mayfair to the docks and everywhere in between. The resolution was a bit rushed (along with a few other revelations) at the end. The story would have benefitted greatly from an extra couple of chapters to handle the fallout of the mystery and the information that comes to light during the search. I went back and forth on how to rate Never a Duke because I wanted more from the ending. However, since I adored Rosalind and Ned so much and because I found their love story so satisfying, I can safely say that even with the issues I had I still loved this book. I look forward to revisiting Ned and Rosalind in the near future.

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

Friday, May 27, 2022

Review: The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian
Series: The Queer Principles of Kit Webb, Book 2
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Historical Romance 
The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes cover
ISBN: 9780063026254
Release Date: June 7, 2022
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Marian Hayes, the Duchess of Clare, just shot her husband. Of course, the evil, murderous man deserved what was coming to him, but now she must flee to the countryside. Unfortunately, the only person she can ask for help is the charismatic criminal who is blackmailing her—and who she may have left tied up a few hours before…

A highwayman, con artist, and all-around cheerful villain, Rob Brooks is no stranger to the wrong side of the law or the right side of anybody’s bed. He never meant to fall for the woman whose secrets he promised to keep for the low price of five hundred pounds, but how could he resist someone who led him on a merry chase all over London, left him tied up in a seedy inn, and then arrived covered in her husband’s blood and in desperate need of his help?

As they flee across the country—stopping to pick pockets, drink to excess, and rescue invalid cats—they discover more true joy and peace than either has felt in ages. But when the truth of Rob’s past catches up to him, they must decide if they are willing to reshape their lives in order to forge a future together.

Cat Sebastian returns to her world of Georgian era Robin Hoods in The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes. Marian and Rob’s story begins almost where The Queer Principles of Kit Webb ended, with a planned heist gone wrong. Now Marian must flee to the countryside and the one person she can turn to for help also happens to be the man who has been blackmailing her.

It’s grumpy meets sunshine for Marian and Rob, and I loved that Marian was the prickly one. I adored her serious nature and how she shows her love for people by taking care of them and putting everything in order. Rob, in turn, wears his heart on his sleeve for all to see and has no shame about it. He’s a charming thief and though blackmail isn’t something he normally engages in, he did so with Marian. The two of them first connect through the blackmail letters which were wonderfully funny and instantly showed the personalities of both protagonists. When Marian needs help, Rob is there to lend a hand and the two take turns taking care of each other. They were equals in every way, which I loved. They also understood and respected each other’s likes, needs, and boundaries, in bed and out, and the result is an utterly satisfying romance.

Rob and Marian are both at crossroads in this book and I liked that each had to stop and figure out what they wanted from each other and out of life. They find a true sense of joy, companionship, and freedom together which added depth to the romance. Their story is just plain fun and I absolutely loved that they carved out a life that works for them rather than let society dictate what their lives should look like. All in all, The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes was a delight and I hope Cat Sebastian has more books planned that are set in this world.

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, May 25, 2022

Review: Wicked Beauty by Katee Robert

Wicked Beauty by Katee Robert
Series: Dark Olympus, Book 3
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Genre: Erotic Contemporary Polyamorous Romance 
Wicked Beauty cover
ISBN: 9781728231792
Release Date: June 7, 2022
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

She was the face that launched a thousand ships, the fierce beauty at the heart of Olympus...and she was never ours to claim.

In Olympus, you either have the power to rule...or you are ruled. Achilles Kallis may have been born with nothing, but as a child he vowed he would claw his way into the poisonous city's inner circle. Now that a coveted role has opened to anyone with the strength to claim it, he and his partner, Patroclus Fotos, plan to compete and double their odds of winning.

Neither expect infamous beauty Helen Kasios to be part of the prize...or for the complicated fire that burns the moment she looks their way.

Zeus may have decided Helen is his to give to away, but she has her own plans. She enters into the competition as a middle finger to the meddling Thirteen rulers, effectively vying for her own hand in marriage. Unfortunately, there are those who would rather see her dead than lead the city. The only people she can trust are the ones she can't keep her hands off—Achilles and Patroclus. But can she really believe they have her best interests at heart when every stolen kiss is a battlefield?

Helen Kasios may be stunningly gorgeous and come from a powerful family, but that isn’t the shield many think it is. Her father was abusive, her siblings – the new Zeus and Aphrodite – are too wrapped up in the politics of Olympus to put family first, and she has also survived an abusive relationship. Helen is not content to be someone’s pawn; she wants to claim her own destiny, to be seen as an equal to the power around her. To do that, she needs to claim the title of Ares. But she’s not the only one vying for the title – and no one, not even those who know her best, believe she can take it. A host of competitors and three trials stand between her and the position she wants more than anything. Two of those competitors are Achilles Kallis and Patroclus Fotos, partners who are determined to see Achilles win the competition. Achilles is as frustrating as Patroclus is kind, but both tempt her in different ways…and she them. How can she fall for two men when they’re bound to be pitted against each other on the battlefield? Then again, how can she not when they are the first two to see the real her?

Wicked Beauty is ferociously hot, fast-paced polyamorous romance. It features two hotheads determined to grasp their destiny and one more cautious member of the triad to balance them out. Helen is smart, determined, and possesses hidden vulnerabilities. She’s trying to drown out the voices in her head telling her she’s not good enough and grasp the title she desperately wants. For her, being Ares is freedom and equality. For Achilles, an orphan who grew up powerless, the title is everything. It’s the only thing he’s ever wanted besides Patroclus. There’s hurt and vulnerability in Achilles that’s masked by strength and confidence. He can be boorish, but Katee Robert hints at more beneath the surface, though unfortunately we only get glimpses of it. He and Patroclus have been together in an open relationship for a decade but even though they love each other their relationship is on shaky ground. From the start it’s clear neither expects the other to stay forever and they’re both trying to savor every moment. Helen rocks their already shaky foundation by bringing jealousy into the mix. It takes a while for the three to find their footing, to realize they make a good team in bed and out. Unlike the other two, Patroclus grew up in a loving household. He’s good at strategizing, which is fortunate since both Achilles and Helen are reactionary – they need someone who will stop and think. In turn, they keep Patroclus from getting too in his head. Like Achilles, Patroclus is an interesting character, but I would have loved to dive deeper into him (for example, seeing why he’s so brilliant rather than constantly being told).

Lust comes easy to our three heroes but they have a rocky beginning. Still, once they settle in they are a seriously hot triad. I can see why they work, but I had some trouble with the romance. Robert develops Helen well and I can see how she suits both men. And I really did like Patroclus and Achilles together and with her. They see the real Helen and fall for her just as she is, respecting her strength, intelligence, and ambition. However, the aforementioned rocky foundation to Patroclus and Achilles’s relationship is not satisfyingly addressed. We start to get there at the end but I wish there had much more to make me feel like the entire throuple was solid.

The competition to determine the next Ares is the second most fraught battleground (after the bedroom) in Wicked Beauty. I liked the trials and would have enjoyed seeing even more of it and the interactions between our characters and their competition. Robert gives extra nods to Greek mythology in the trials which is entertaining. As for who becomes the newest member of the Thirteen, I won’t spoil what happens but I am torn. I can see why Robert wrote it the way she did but there’s something not quite satisfying about it. Perhaps had more attention been paid to the aftermath instead of rushing and wrapping up the ending it would have been more satisfactory. Another chapter or two would have made the ending as a whole feel more complete. I wanted just a bit more – even an epilogue – to feel satisfied with the story and the romance.

I have a hard time rating Wicked Beauty because Robert’s writing is addictive and the book is sexy as hell. It’s enjoyable but also frustrating at times because with more depth it could have been great. Helen is a well-crafted heroine and I enjoyed her journey, but I wanted some more from her men. Taking Wicked Beauty as it is, I did enjoy the ride and read almost all of it in one sitting. I’m very much looking forward to what Katee Robert has in store for future Dark Olympus books. There are characters here (Callisto, Atalanta, and Athena in particular) who I am desperate to read more about and Robert throws out some information at the end that has me curious what the future of Olympus will look like.

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 24, 2022

Review: The League of Gentlewomen Witches by India Holton

The League of Gentlewomen Witches by India Holton
Series: Dangerous Damsels, Book 2
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Historical Fantasy Romance 
The League of Gentlewomen Witches cover
ISBN: 9780593200186
EBook Source: Publisher
Audiobook Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the teahouse…

Miss Charlotte Pettifer belongs to a secret league of women skilled in the subtle arts. That is to say—although it must never be said—witchcraft. The League of Gentlewomen Witches strives to improve the world in small ways. Using magic, they tidy, correct, and manipulate according to their notions of what is proper, entirely unlike those reprobates in the Wisteria Society.

When the long lost amulet of Black Beryl is discovered, it is up to Charlotte, as the future leader of the League, to make sure the powerful talisman does not fall into the wrong hands. Therefore, it is most unfortunate when she crosses paths with Alex O’Riley, a pirate who is no Mr. Darcy. With all the world scrambling after the amulet, Alex and Charlotte join forces to steal it together. If only they could keep their pickpocketing hands to themselves! If Alex’s not careful, he might just steal something else—such as Charlotte’s heart.

As the prophesized heir of Black Beryl and the niece of the formidable head of the Wicken League, it is Charlotte Pettifer’s duty to retrieve Beryl’s long-lost amulet…even though she’d much more like to be strolling through Hertfordshire like Elizabeth Bennet. But duty calls and thus Charlotte must answer. Except all the witches and pirates in the area are also trying to steal it, which is rather irritating. And none of her competition is so maddening as pirate Alex O’Riley. The rogue is no Mr. Darcy but soon Charlotte decides she has no better option than to join forces with the man to retrieve her amulet. Their partnership is temporary as there is no way that a witch could ever fall in love with a pirate…is there?

The League of Gentlewomen Witches is a delightful romp filled with magic and – despite witches’ love for orderliness – mayhem. India Holton’s second Dangerous Damsels novel has all the wit and charm of the first but the story and romance feel like they have more depth.

Charlotte isn’t entirely likeable at the start of The League of Gentlewomen Witches and I quite liked that. For all that she references Elizabeth Bennet, Charlotte is somewhat of an Emma Woodhouse. Charlotte comes into her own over the course of the story, though definitely not like a Jane Austen heroine would. I enjoyed watching her rebel and become more of a free spirit (within witchy reason, of course). As for Alex, the Irish pirate is a dashing rogue with some hidden wounds caused by those who should have loved and protected him as a child. The two of them clash and spar at first, but there’s an attraction neither can deny for very long. They slide into love seamlessly and it was a delight to see.

Charlotte and Alex are not the only ones searching for the amulet – or for our adventurous heroes. Pirates and witches alike are on their tail which provides action and amusement. If you enjoyed The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels then you’ll like revisiting with Cecelia and Ned, along with some other familiar pirates. There are quite a few viewpoints and characters with their own agendas in this book and there’s definitely at least one that could have been eliminated to make the story feel tighter. Still, The League of Gentlewomen Witches is great fun and as a Janeite I was particularly charmed by all the Austen references. Holton has style in spades and the world she has created is vibrant and highly entertaining. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what she does next with the Dangerous Damsels book.

FTC Disclosure: I purchased the audiobook 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.

Review: A Duke for Diana by Sabrina Jeffries

A Duke for Diana by Sabrina Jeffries
Series: Designing Debutantes, Book 1
Publisher: Zebra
Genre: Historical Romance 
A Duke for Diana cover
ISBN: 9781420153774
Release Date: May 24, 2022
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Sabrina Jeffries Reading Order

Self-made civil engineer Geoffrey Brookhouse has unexpectedly inherited the dukedom of Grenwood. But he has a secret that could ruin his family. Hoping to save his timid sister from that fate, he seeks to marry her off to a respectable, protective gentleman. With the London Season imminent, Geoffrey hires Elegant Occasions to orchestrate her debut. Yet Lady Diana Harper, spirited fashion expert, proves more than he bargained for. Suddenly, Geoffrey’s sister is emerging from her shell, and he is beleaguered with social invitations and gossip! Worse, Diana is attempting to transform him into a presentable duke—when all he really wants is to make her his own…

Diana doesn’t know what to make of the handsome, disheveled duke. The man bristles at the very idea that his fashion faux pas might spoil his sister’s chances. Yet Geoffrey’s stubbornness simply inspires Diana to ruffle his feathers—by setting him on a course of self-improvement. Although there’s something endearing, even irresistible about his flaws, can a man who hates the ton tolerate a woman who makes her living catering to them? Little does either know that they have more in common than they suspect—and that two can create a society all their own…

After Diana’s parents’ scandalous behavior ruins her and her sisters’ prospects, they make a choice: to become independent by using their talents to start Elegant Occasions, a party planning business. Diana is knowledgeable about all things fashion, and four years later Elegant Occasions is a successful, discerning business. When they agree to take on the new Duke of Grenwood as a client to help prepare and plan his sister’s debut, Diana decides it isn’t just the young lady who needs her help. The duke, a civil engineer who never expected to inherit, is brash and unrefined. However, it’s lust at first sight for both Diana and Geoffrey and the longer they’re around each other the harder it is to resist the pull between them.

Sabrina Jeffries kicks off her Designing Debutantes series with A Duke for Diana. Diana and Geoffrey’s romance is fast-paced and fun with protagonists who are equally matched. Both of them are talented and have put their skills and knowledge to use to become successful in their fields. I enjoyed learning about Elegant Occasions and could have happily read about that more because it was an engaging concept. I loved seeing Diana work with Rosy, Geoffrey’s sister, and help her come into her own.

As for the romance, at first Diana and Geoffrey rub each other the wrong way and their verbal sparring was fun. But between their mutual attraction and Diana helping Rosy, there’s no way “Lady Disdain” and the “Almighty Grenwood” could stay apart for long. But Geoffrey has a secret, one that drives him to see his sister safely wed and prevents him from taking a wife. The obstacles Jeffries sets out for her hero and heroine to overcome didn’t feel as big as they were presented to be and did feel a bit like they were thrust in there to cause some drama in an otherwise low-stakes romance. The ending of the book was satisfying and though I liked where everyone ended up it did feel a bit rushed. Even though I had a few quibbles with A Duke for Diana, I enjoyed the book overall and I’m looking forward to seeing what Jeffries has planned for Diana’s sisters.

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.