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.

Review: History of Us by Stacey Agdern

History of Us by Stacey Agdern
Series: Friendships and Festivals, Book 2
Publisher: Tule Publishing
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
History of Us cover
ISBN: 9781953647948
Release Date: June 24, 2021
Source: Author
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Tule Publishing

Do they have a future together, or is their relationship ancient history?

Anna Cohen, perpetual assistant at the Manhattan Museum of Jewish History, lands a golden chance to curate her own exhibit when her boss sends her to Rockliffe Manor, New York. She’s to assist an influential Jewish family as they organize an exhibit of their own in time for the town's Summer Days Festival. While she's there, Anna just needs to convince them to part with some of their archival history for an upcoming exhibition—something they’ve always refused—and not get involved with her ex, the family’s heir. Again.

Jacob Horowitz-Margareten wants to help save the world. Despite having no time to spend organizing his family’s archives, he’s always had a soft spot for Anna. The chance to spend more time with her intrigues him, but he doesn’t trust her boss or the museum she works for with the tangible bits of his family’s rich history.

As they work together, Anna and Jacob need to decide what’s more important: their history or the story their hearts are telling them.

History of Us is an enjoyable second chance romance with two protagonists who are clearly made for each other but who have to find a way to make their lives work together. Anna and Jacob have been on-again/off-again for years; loving each other has never been their problem. But sometimes love isn’t enough, especially when one of them never stops moving. Jacob has a soul-deep need to do everything he can to try and make the world a better place. It’s an admirable goal and his heart is definitely in the right place but he feels like he has to be perfect and he’s stretching himself so thin you can see he’s in danger of tearing himself apart. Anna is an assistant curator with a passion for Jewish history and great ideas for blending history and modern political ideas.

The Jewish representation in History of Us is where the book shines brightest. Stacey Agdern weaves into the story the obstacles many Jews face today, the veiled antisemitism that is often faced. With Jacob’s work and Anna’s exhibit she also delves into how many Jews have and do take part in social justice movements. There’s also discussion of Gilded Age Jews, exploring personal history, and more. It’s all fascinating and Agdern does it extremely well, grounding the book in reality.

The romance is where I struggled with the story a bit. It’s not bad – not by a long shot – but the passion and energy that is found in the real world issues seems to be understated in the romantic fantasy element. I wanted the romance to grab me more, to care about Jacob and Anna as a couple as much as I did about their work and their passion for community. I liked them, make no mistake, and I wanted them to get together because the history they had came through. But overall I was left wanting a bit of excitement and feeling from the romance. I needed more show less tell. Even with this issue, the community Adgern builds in her books and the religious and cultural elements of History of Us are so rare to find in romance novels that I will definitely be back for more Friendships and Festivals stories.

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.

Review: To Sir, with Love by Lauren Layne

To Sir, with Love by Lauren Layne
Publisher: Gallery Books
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
To Sir with Love cover
ISBN: 9781982152819
Release Date: June 29, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Perpetually cheerful and eager to please, Gracie Cooper strives to make the best out of every situation. So when her father dies just months after a lung cancer diagnosis, she sets aside her dreams of pursuing her passion for art to take over his Midtown Manhattan champagne shop. She soon finds out that the store’s profit margins are being squeezed perilously tight, and complicating matters further, a giant corporation headed by the impossibly handsome, but irritatingly arrogant Sebastian Andrews is proposing a buyout. But Gracie can’t bear the thought of throwing away her father’s dream like she did her own.

Overwhelmed and not wanting to admit to her friends or family that she’s having second thoughts about the shop, Gracie seeks advice and solace from someone she’s never met—the faceless “Sir”, with whom she connected on a blind dating app where matches get to know each other through messages and common interests before exchanging real names or photos.

But although Gracie finds herself slowly falling for Sir online, she has no idea she’s already met him in real life…and they can’t stand each other.

To Sir, with Love is as bubbly as a glass of good champagne. It’s a sprightly romance inspired by Parfumerie, The Shop Around the Corner, and You’ve Got Mail and I adored it so much that I read the book in one sitting.

Gracie is a New York Cinderella who put aside her dreams of becoming an artist to run her family’s Manhattan champagne shop after the death of her father. I adored Gracie’s sunny nature and found her tendency to use her dreams as a shield for rejection relatable. Gracie believes in true love and Prince Charming but she just hasn’t found it yet. The closest thing she has to that is the mysterious “Sir” who she met on a blind dating app. They’ve never met, don’t know each other’s names or what they look like, but there’s a connection there that makes her smile and dream. The exact opposite reaction she has to Sebastian Andrews, the man who is trying to buy out her business and turn it into some high rise. Sebastian is gorgeous but he’s also the enemy. And what Gracie doesn’t know is that he’s also Sir.

Gracie is instantly charming and endearing. She’s got a kind heart but she does mess up with Sebastian because she’s not perfect (and what kind of story would it be if she were?). Sebastian is a Mr. Darcy type. He seems aloof and it’s easy for people to have misconceptions about him but underneath the suit is a loving, funny man with a good heart that can be bruised. I loved watching Gracie fall for him and it’s clear he’s equally taken with her. The elephant in the room is, of course, him wanting to buy out the lease for Bubbles & More while she is trying to keep her father’s dream alive even as the market changes and makes that dream unsustainable. Gracie doesn’t need to give up her fairytales but she does need to live in reality a bit more and to also take a chance and go for what she wants instead of wondering what might have been. Her personal journey was every bit as satisfying as the romance.

In To Sir, with Love Lauren Layne delivers sparkling banter and fun characters who grab your heart and don’t let go. The romance between Gracie and Sebastian made me smile and sigh the way a top-tier romantic comedy would. Their chemistry is excellent both when they meet in person and when they write to each other as Sir and Lady. There is such warmth and kindness to this book that it’s like a big hug. The supporting cast is well-defined and I want books for them all because they’re every bit as likeable as Gracie and Sebastian. All in all I absolutely adored To Sir, with Love; it’s the perfect pick-me-up book.

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.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Review: The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton
Series: Dangerous Damsels, Book 1
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Historical Fantasy Romance 
The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels cover
ISBN: 9780593200162
Release Date: June 15, 2021
EBook Source: Publisher
Audiobook Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

A prim and proper lady thief must save her aunt from a crazed pirate and his dangerously charming henchman in this fantastical historical romance.

Cecilia Bassingwaite is the ideal Victorian lady. She's also a thief. Like the other members of the Wisteria Society crime sorority, she flies around England drinking tea, blackmailing friends, and acquiring treasure by interesting means. Sure, she has a dark and traumatic past and an overbearing aunt, but all things considered, it's a pleasant existence. Until the men show up.

Ned Lightbourne is a sometimes assassin who is smitten with Cecilia from the moment they meet. Unfortunately, that happens to be while he's under direct orders to kill her. His employer, Captain Morvath, who possesses a gothic abbey bristling with cannons and an unbridled hate for the world, intends to rid England of all its presumptuous women, starting with the Wisteria Society. Ned has plans of his own. But both men have made one grave mistake. Never underestimate a woman.

When Morvath imperils the Wisteria Society, Cecilia is forced to team up with her handsome would-be assassin to save the women who raised her--hopefully proving, once and for all, that she's as much of a scoundrel as the rest of them.

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels is a fantastical romp through Victorian England. Pirates, flying houses, a villain with delusions of grandeur…there’s a lot of quirky goodness to be found in India Holton’s debut. Holton’s style and irreverent humor will appeal to fans of Gail Carriger.

Cecilia Bassingwaite is a pirate whose wings are slightly clipped by her overprotective aunt and the pirate society she belongs to. But when assassin Ned Lightbourne appears on her doorstep, Cecilia thinks she finally has her chance to join the Wisteria Society. She just has to foil the pesky assassination attempt first. Except Ned is more than what he seems and his mission isn’t quite clear and oh dear, he is a rather tempting man. Cecilia can’t seem to keep the delicious rogue out of her mind and the land-bound pirate does seem to be equally attracted to her. Together they have to unravel several plots, the most pressing being the threat of Captain Morvath who is determined to rid England of strong women.

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels is quirky and fun. It has a lot going on – kidnappings, assassination attempts, multiple pirate plots, a romance, the politics of family and the Society – and I won’t go into it because this is a story that benefits from the plot being unfolded. The book does take a while to gain steam, but overall it’s a charming romp. Cecilia and Ned have an easy banter though the romance did leave me wanting just a bit more. The various characters were all unique and the world Holton has built is an interesting one (the flying pirate houses made me grin) and I hope to learn more about it in future Dangerous Damsels books. As I mentioned before, there is a lot going on in this story but the one downside is you don’t seem to go too deep into a lot of it. There’s a lot of style over substance in this story but oh, does Holton have style.

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.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Review: Once Upon a Royal Summer by Teri Wilson

Once Upon a Royal Summer by Teri Wilson
Publisher: Hallmark Publishing
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Once Upon a Royal Summer cover
ISBN: 9781952210181
Release Date: June 15, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

A theme park “princess” meets a single dad…who turns out to be a real prince!

Lacey found her dream job: playing a princess character at a popular fairytale theme park in sunny southern Florida. Her diamond tiara might not be real, but the smiles of the children she meets every day certainly are. It’s just too bad that her ex-boyfriend was never impressed with her career choice.

Henry, the crown prince of Bella-Moritz, is trying to fulfill his young daughter’s birthday wish: to be a normal girl with a normal life. That’s why they’re pretending to be ordinary tourists at an American amusement park. Henry lost his wife four years ago, and he’s been going through the motions ever since. But could a meeting with a make-believe princess lead to real love?

Once Upon a Royal Summer is an insanely cute fairytale romance that will make your heart sing. Teri Wilson charmed my socks off with this tale of a theme park princess who falls for a real life prince.

Lacey has her dream job in playing Princess Sweet Pea at Once Upon a Time, a popular Florida theme park. Her reasons for it broke my heart but also showed Lacey’s nature: she’s kind, compassionate, and so sweet. Many people don’t understand why she loves what she does, but that doesn’t dim her sunny, funny nature. Henry, crown prince of Bella-Moritz is a widower with a daughter who he wants to give a chance to be a regular child. Their trip to Once Upon a Time is a break from reality for both of them. Rose is immediately captivated by Princess Sweet Pea…and so is Henry. With Lacey playing tour guide for the royals, it’s easy for both father and daughter to become attached. Rose is just precious and Henry is a real Prince Charming who loves his daughter and his people. The fact that Wilson can make a story so sweet without it becoming saccharine is a testament to her skill as a writer.

Once Upon a Royal Summer made me smile over and over again. It’s a kind, gentle book with a positive message that just warms your heart. A theme park princess shouldn’t be a match for real royalty and yet every step of the way Lacey is on equal footing with Henry. The two of them make a lovely pair and their modern-day fairytale romance made me smile and sigh. I adored Once Upon a Royal Summer from beginning to end; it’s definitely a story I’ll revisit whenever I need sunshine and sweetness in my life.

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.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Review: Love For Beginners by Jill Shalvis

Love For Beginners by Jill Shalvis
Series: Wildstone, Book 7
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Romance 
Love for Beginners
ISBN: 9780063025431
Release Date: June 8, 2021
Source: Author
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Jill Shalvis Reading Order

What would you change if you had to start your life—and love life—over again?

When Emma Harris wakes up from a coma she learns that her fiancé and her BFF have fallen in love, she’s lost her job, and the life she knew is gone. Overwhelmed but grateful to be alive she starts over from scratch. Not as easy as it sounds, of course. But she’s never been a quitter, even if she wishes she could quit rehab, where her hot but evil physical therapist, Simon, puts her through the wringer.

Eager for a new beginning, Emma opens a doggy day care. Unfortunately, the only space she can afford is owned by her childhood nemesis Ali Pratt. But hey, she’s been through worse, right? She tries to roll with the punches, but a friend drops his grandpa off at the doggy day care in desperation then on top of that, she and Ali bring the term ‘frenemies’ to a whole new level. And then another grandparent shows up. And another.

In the midst of all that, Emma realizes she’s accidentally fallen for Evil PT. But the most horrifying thing of all is that Ali just might have turned into the best friend she’s ever had. And as Emma grows from the pain of her past and takes on her new path, she comes to realize that life isn’t what you’re given, it’s what you make of it.

Love for Beginners is a warm hug of a book. It’s sweet, has characters who are easy to like even though – or perhaps because – they are flawed, and all the relationships are ones you root for.

Emma survived being hit by a car, a coma, and defied the odds and learned to walk again. She’s grateful to be alive but her life has changed forever. I liked Emma’s spirit, her determination, and her sunshiny nature. She has a natural likeability but she’s also human with flaws and a bit of messiness. She’s still recovering physically and mentally and her biggest champion is her sexy physical therapist, Simon. Simon is the kind of hero who makes you swoon with his caring nature and talented hands. But Simon comes with a lot of ties and he’s spreading himself so thin in trying to keep promises to his family that he isn’t fully living. He and Emma have excellent chemistry and their romance is sweet with a hint of spice.

The third major character in this book is Alison, Emma’s high school nemesis and Simon’s cousin. Alison wears perfection like armor and she’s my favorite of the bunch. She’s an introvert and struggles to open up and make friends, which has led to her losing the man she loves. When she and Emma become unlikely business partners, it opens Alison up and helps her grow as a person. I wanted to see her find happiness and I had no doubt Jill Shalvis would provide a satisfying ending for her…after making Alison work for it, of course. All three main characters learn and grow over the course of Love for Beginners, becoming the people they’re meant to be, and their journeys are highly entertaining.

Love in all its forms plays a strong role in this book. Romantic, familial, and love between friends weaves through everything, connecting all the characters in the book. It would also be remiss of me not to mention Hog and Killer, two dogs who threaten to steal the show every time they’re on the page. The dogs are almost as important as the humans in this story and it made me smile and added another layer of warmth to this tale. All in all, I really enjoyed Love for Beginners. It’s a story of overcoming obstacles, living a full life, and opening yourself up to possibilities.

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.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Review: The Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat Sebastian

The Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat Sebastian
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Male/Male Historical Romance 
The Queer Principles of Kit Webb cover
ISBN: 978-0063026216
Release Date: June 8, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Kit Webb has left his stand-and-deliver days behind him. But dreary days at his coffee shop have begun to make him pine for the heady rush of thievery. When a handsome yet arrogant aristocrat storms into his shop, Kit quickly realizes he may be unable to deny whatever this highborn man desires.

In order to save himself and a beloved friend, Percy, Lord Holland must go against every gentlemanly behavior he holds dear to gain what he needs most: a book that once belonged to his mother, a book his father never lets out of his sight and could be Percy’s savior. More comfortable in silk-filled ballrooms than coffee shops frequented by criminals, his attempts to hire the roughly hewn highwayman, formerly known as Gladhand Jack, proves equal parts frustrating and electrifying.

Kit refuses to participate in the robbery but agrees to teach Percy how to do the deed. Percy knows he has little choice but to submit and as the lessons in thievery begin, he discovers thievery isn’t the only crime he’s desperate to commit with Kit.

But when their careful plan goes dangerously wrong and shocking revelations threaten to tear them apart, can these stolen hearts overcome the impediments in their path?

A retired highwayman is pulled in for one last job by an aristocrat too tempting for his own good in The Queer Principles of Kit Webb. After a job went terribly wrong, Kit put his role as Gladhand Jack behind him and now makes his living as a respectable coffee shop owner. He’s bored out of his mind and more than a bit grumpy when a flamboyant lord waltzes into his shop and makes a tempting proposition: he knows Kit’s alter ego and wants to hire him for a heist that tempts Kit beyond belief.

Edward Percy, Lord Holland, is running out of time to save himself and his best friend (now stepmother) from losing everything. Kit is his only chance and though it takes him a while, Percy manages to convince Kit to teach him how to rob his father. The two men should have nothing in common and indeed, have lived incredibly different lives. Kit has known loss and heartbreak, but also has known love and friendship. Percy has survived growing up in a viper pit and knows how to keep everyone at arm’s length. He has blind spots a mile wide, especially when it comes to seeing what the rich and titled do to regular folk, but Percy isn’t a bad person. I enjoyed watching his eyes open and see Percy come into his own, into a man who is not only happy but comfortable living a life unlike he had expected. And Kit, who has a lonely air about him sometimes struggles to adjust to his disability, comes alive bantering with Percy. The two of them are an excellent match and they had extremely entertaining chemistry. Percy is gay and Kit is bi and both are fully aware of the dangers they face in 1750s London, but I really appreciated that there was no questioning or shame about their sexuality.

The one downside to The Queer Principles of Kit Webb is that the first half of the book is incredibly slow. I did enjoy how Percy tweaked Kit’s nose, but banter alone wasn’t enough to keep the story going. However, at the halfway point the book picked up and became incredibly addictive. Kit and Percy are both flawed, interesting, kind-hearted characters who have their own code they abide by. It was easy to fall into their romance and root for them to find the happily ever after they so deserved.

The heist runs through the background of The Queer Principles of Kit Webb and was the other issue I had with the story. It was fine, but not particularly exciting for reasons other than it brought Percy and Kit together. The climax of the story felt rushed and though I could see where the pieces were coming together I was still left wanting a bit more. I won’t spoil the story but a few things felt unfinished, though if Cat Sebastian plans to write a sequel (and the door is definitely left open for one) then I’m sure the bits left hanging will come together. Even with the issues I had, I still really enjoyed Kit and Percy’s story and devoured it in one day. I do hope to see them again in a future book because they’re such a delight and Sebastian penned a few supporting cast members who are just begging for a story.

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, May 29, 2021

Review: One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Genre: Female/Female New Adult Contemporary Romance with Paranormal Elements 
One Last Stop cover
ISBN: 9781250244499
Release Date: June 1, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.

But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.

Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.

Romance, mystery, and finding family all come together in One Last Stop. Casey McQuiston’s sophomore novel brings a bit of magic to the New York City subway as August falls for a mysterious woman who has somehow slipped through time and is stuck on the Q line.

August comes to New York City looking for home. She’s a little lost, lonelier than she ever would admit, and somehow manages to find roommates who become family. Myla, Niko, and Wes, along with their neighbor, Isaiah, and the crew at the pancake place August works at become family and are my favorite parts of One Last Stop. From Myla’s blazing energy to Niko’s kind and knowing soul to Wes’s grumpy and scared heart to Isaiah’s patience and fabulous drag persona, everything about the people who become August’s family grabbed my heart. These folx came alive on the page and their vibrant personalities endeared them to me and made me miss them whenever they weren’t in a scene.

At the heart of One Last Stop are August and Jane. August has been a loner for so long it breaks your heart and I enjoyed watching her come into her own over the course of the story. Jane is a mystery I don’t want to spoil by delving into too deeply. She’s displaced in time, having somehow gotten stuck on the Q line since sometime in the 1970s. Jane is both porcupine and marshmallow. She will fight anyone who is bigoted or a bully but she also is tender at unexpected moments. The mystery of how she got stuck is just one of the many things you learn about her over the course of the story and I liked watching August peel back her layers. Their romance is solid, but for me it was one of the least interesting things about the book and I never felt truly invested. The chemistry just wasn’t there and I know McQuiston can deliver chemistry (Myla and Niko? Fantastic chemistry).

I’m torn on rating One Last Stop because there are a lot of things I like about it. McQuiston’s lyrical prose captured me at times and the love and support between August and the family she made grabbed my heart and didn’t let go. But the first half of the book was incredibly slow and if I hadn’t loved McQuiston’s debut novel so much I might not have stuck with this one. It did pick up in the second half but I still finished the story thinking I liked specific things about it a lot more than the book as a whole.

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 28, 2021

Review: Neon Gods by Katee Robert

Neon Gods by Katee Robert
Series: Dark Olympus, Book 1
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Genre: Erotic Contemporary Romance with D/s and Paranormal Elements 
Neon Gods
ISBN: 9781728231730
Release Date: June 1, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Society darling Persephone Dimitriou plans to flee the ultra-modern city of Olympus and start over far from the backstabbing politics of the Thirteen Houses. But all that's ripped away when her mother ambushes her with an engagement to Zeus, the dangerous power behind their glittering city's dark facade.

With no options left, Persephone flees to the forbidden undercity and makes a devil's bargain with a man she once believed a myth...a man who awakens her to a world she never knew existed.

Hades has spent his life in the shadows, and he has no intention of stepping into the light. But when he finds that Persephone can offer a little slice of the revenge he's spent years craving, it's all the excuse he needs to help her—for a price. Yet every breathless night spent tangled together has given Hades a taste for Persephone, and he'll go to war with Olympus itself to keep her close…

A woman desperate to escape. A man who is only supposed to be a myth. A bargain that will become more than either could have imagined. Welcome to the world of Neon Gods, an insanely hot and surprisingly fun retelling of the Hades/Persephone myth. Katee Robert swept me off my feet with this decadent romance filled with seriously hot love scenes and a romance that is so sweet it made me melt.

Hades has spent his life in the shadows but Persephone brings light into his life. She’s not the biddable, sunshiny socialite she portrays in public. Beneath the mask is a bright, energetic woman whose passions match his own. And while Hades may have the image of being the fearsome king of the lower city, beneath all that lies a generous, marshmallow heart that made me melt. He’s growly and protective, she’s not one to take any shit from him, and the two of them have crackling chemistry. Their banter made me smile and the way Hades cared for Persephone made me swoon. I loved their romance so much I absolutely hated to put Neon Gods down.

Persephone ran to the lower city to escape an engagement to Zeus she knows would be deadly. Hades has been out for revenge ever since Zeus murdered his parents thirty years ago. The two of them come up with a plan: Zeus likes the pretense that Persephone is untouched so Hades will “tarnish” her. What follows is actually an exploration of her desires and it was sizzling hot. Hades enjoys public escapades but no matter what they’re doing he always makes absolutely sure that it’s what she wants. Their kinks align and consent is at the forefront so everything about the erotic scenes is incredibly hot. It’s the heart of the Hades/Persephone romance that grabbed me, but damn the sex scenes were utterly delicious.

I adored Neon Gods from beginning to end. Hades is definitely up there on my list of favorite heroes. The fact that the dark and sexy lord of the Underworld has got the gooiest center imaginable just knocked my socks off. And Persephone, who sees beneath masks and who has an honest and caring heart that has survived the politics of the upper city, is his perfect match – the queen to his king. Their romance is one of equals and it made Neon Gods incredibly addictive. I also loved the world Robert created for the Dark Olympus series. While there’s a certain paranormal element to the isolation of Olympus, overall it’s set in a human realm. The Thirteen are not gods, but rather humans who possess a title and inhabit a role. It’s a fascinating world and I cannot wait to learn more about it in the next Dark Olympus book, Electric Idol.

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, May 23, 2021

Review: Undercover Duke by Sabrina Jeffries

Undercover Duke by Sabrina Jeffries
Series: Duke Dynasty, Book 4
Publisher: Zebra
Genre: Historical Romance 
Undercover Duke cover
ISBN: 9781420148589
Release Date: May 25, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Sabrina Jeffries Reading Order

Along with his stepsiblings, Sheridan Wolfe, Duke of Armitage, is determined to finally solve the mysteries behind the suspicious deaths of their mother’s three husbands. Tasked with investigating a possible suspect, Sheridan finds himself in dangerous proximity to her captivating daughter, Vanessa Pryde. But still haunted by a tragically lost love, the duke is resolved to resist the attraction—and avoid any “scheming” husband-hunters. Besides, lovely Miss Pryde seems utterly smitten with a roguish London playwright…

Vanessa thinks a little scheming may be in order—for it’s Sheridan she truly has her sights, and her heart, set on. Her theatrical flirtation is intended only to break through his business-like demeanor and guarded emotions. And as Sheridan’s jealousy becomes aroused, the two soon find themselves propelled into a scheme of an altogether different kind, involving a pretend engagement, a secret inquiry—and a perhaps not-so-secret leap into true love…

The last of the Dowager Duchess of Armitage’s children meets their match in Undercover Duke. Sheridan and Vanessa are both characters who intrigued me in previous Duke Dynasty books so I was eager to dive into their story. With this book Sabrina Jeffries has penned a solidly entertaining romance and a satisfying wrap-up to the overarching Duke Dynasty mystery of who murdered the Dowager Duchess’s three husbands.

Sheridan Wolfe, Duke of Armitage, is determined not to fall in love. He’s known heartbreak and he doesn’t want to feel that kind of pain again. But with his sister-in-law nearing the end of her pregnancy, the task of questioning his half-brother’s aunt about the mysterious deaths plaguing their family falls on him. Sheridan needs a way to get the woman to talk to him and the opportunity is presented to him by his half-brother’s cousin, Vanessa Pryde. Vanessa wants to catch the eye of a rakish playwright and she wants Sheridan’s help making the man jealous. Pretending to court Vanessa will put Sheridan in a good place to question her mother. The only problem is, the longer he’s around Vanessa the more difficult it is to resist her. And there’s one thing he doesn’t know: it’s actually him Vanessa has set her sights on.

Undercover Duke works because Vanessa and Sheridan have an easy chemistry that makes them work as a couple. They complement one another perfectly and though there are secrets and mix-ups worthy of a Shakespeare play in this story, I trusted Jeffries to bring everything together, which she did. It was easy to fall into Vanesa and Sheridan’s romance and the smooth rhythm of their story made it a great comfort read. The other storyline – that of who murdered Sheridan’s mother’s husbands and why – finally comes to a conclusion in this book. I enjoyed watching the pieces of the puzzle come together was satisfied by how everything played out. All in all, I greatly enjoyed Undercover Duke; it has likeable leads, solid chemistry, and a fast-paced romance with just enough mystery to tie everything together.

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, May 22, 2021

Review: Joyful, Delicious, Vegan: Life Without Heart Disease by Sherra Aguirre

Joyful, Delicious, Vegan: Life Without Heart Disease by Sherra Aguirre
Publisher: She Writes Press
Genre: Health and Wellness 
Joyful, Delicious, Vegan cover
ISBN: 9781647420635
Release Date: May 25, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo

We can all learn how to enjoy good health naturally at any age—and it starts in our kitchens by changing how we eat. In Joyful, Delicious, Vegan: Life Without Heart Disease, Sherra Aguirre equips readers with the simplest, most effective way to prevent or reverse heart disease, our number one killer here in the US—especially for African American women, who are on the front lines of the fight against heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses.

In this empowering guide to healthy eating, Aguirre shares her own story of reversing hypertension and other heart disease symptoms, despite a long family history; she presents current knowledge about the effectiveness of a plant-based diet in reversing disease; and she offers up recommendations from two world-renowned cardiologists who have demonstrated results with patients for many years. Joyful, Delicious, Vegan: Life Without Heart Disease guides readers in building a simple food plan around their particular needs with delicious anti-inflammatory foods and provides support for developing the habit of mindful eating. Aguirre explores ways in which choosing a vegan diet and eating consciously are compassionate acts that can positively impact many areas of our lives—and includes tips to help readers sustain results. Full of tips for success based on Aguirre’s personal experience and the experience of others, Joyful, Delicious, Vegan: Life Without Heart Disease is a source of inspiration, encouragement, and staying power for all readers.

I have mixed feelings about Joyful, Delicious, Vegan and mulled over this book for quite some time before writing a review. Let’s start with the good – Sherra Aguirre’s writing is positive, relatable, and easy to enjoy. Though I’m not a doctor there doesn’t seem to be any bad advice in this book. Aguirre tells readers what worked for her to reverse hypertension and heart disease symptoms, namely a mostly raw vegan diet. An abundance of fresh plants and an avoidance of frankenfoods in your diet is a pretty solid way to improve your health. Aguirre’s writing is empowering and may be beneficial to those who are wary.

One of the issues I had with this book is that most of the research and supporting evidence to back the author’s claims are anecdotal, not peer-reviewed, or come from controversial sources. I wish there had been more scientific claims to back up what Aguirre says. There is also a negative feeling toward Western medicine in this book which I understand in some ways but in others it’s a bit off-putting as medication is sometimes the only option people have when diet alone won’t fix things. And though Aguirre advises a mostly raw vegan diet to reverse heart disease symptoms, a good portion of the recipes in this book aren’t raw. Aguirre points out you can look online for recipes in places like Pinterest, which is true, but then why purchase this book? All in all, I found Joyful, Delicious, Vegan to be a good source for tips and tricks, but readers should take the sources provided with a grain of salt.

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 18, 2021

Review: Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall

Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall
Series: Winner Bakes All, Book 1
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake cover
ISBN: 9781538703328
Release Date: May 18, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Following the recipe is the key to a successful bake. Rosaline Palmer has always lived by those rules—well, except for when she dropped out of college to raise her daughter, Amelie. Now, with a paycheck as useful as greaseproof paper and a house crumbling faster than biscuits in tea, she’s teetering on the edge of financial disaster. But where there’s a whisk there’s a way…and Rosaline has just landed a spot on the nation’s most beloved baking show.

Winning the prize money would give her daughter the life she deserves—and Rosaline is determined to stick to the instructions. However, more than collapsing trifles stand between Rosaline and sweet, sweet victory. Suave, well-educated, and parent-approved Alain Pope knows all the right moves to sweep her off her feet, but it’s shy electrician Harry Dobson who makes Rosaline question her long-held beliefs—about herself, her family, and her desires.

Rosaline fears falling for Harry is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. Yet as the competition—and the ovens—heat up, Rosaline starts to realize the most delicious bakes come from the heart.

Alexis Hall kicks off the Winner Bakes All series with the fast-paced, entertaining Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake. Anyone who enjoys Great British Bake Off will delight over the delicious bakes Rosaline and her co-competitors make. And though it choux is hard to compete with that, it’s truly the characters themselves who are the star (bakers) of the show.

I really liked Rosaline. She’s a single mom with a precocious daughter who she does her best for. Her relationship with her parents is extremely strained but she’s got the support of her best friend (and ex-girlfriend) Lauren and I loved that relationship. Rosaline nabs a spot on Bake Expectations, a Great British Bake Off style show, and she hopes the prize money and exposure will put her on the path toward doing something she loves while still being able to provide for her daughter. I loved Rosaline’s strength, determination, and heart and her flaws made her human. I enjoyed watching her journey over the course of the story and where she ends up was incredibly satisfying.

Where Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake falters for me is the romance. The vast majority of the book Rosaline spends with Alain and it’s frustrating. I understand why she’s with him for quite some time but the red flags will be waving for readers long before they come through to Rosaline. Unfortunately the sheer amount of time spent with Alain became draining and it also meant there was not much time left for Rosaline’s romance with Harry, who I absolutely loved. Rosaline is quick to stand up for what’s right and has done an amazing job teaching her daughter to stand up against bias, but she doesn’t see the biases she herself holds for quite some time. Harry is an electrician whose poor grammar and straightforward outlook on life make Rosaline question her beliefs and the assumptions she makes. I loved Harry; he’s got a heart of gold, is patient, and is so, so kind and sweet. The romance falters only due to lack of page time and had the book been a bit longer it would have really shone.

Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake balances fluffy and fun with unpleasant realities. Hall doesn’t hesitate to take on prejudice of all sorts and though I loved that about this book there were also enough “teachable moments” that even someone like me who agrees with every one will be taken out of the story a bit by the sheet number. Still, I really enjoyed Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake overall. There were so many characters and relationships to love and when you add in the backdrop of Bake Expectations how could I not like this story? I cannot wait to see what Hall comes up with for the next Winner Bakes All story.

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, May 8, 2021

Review: Wet and Reckless by Samanthe Beck

Wet and Reckless by Samanthe Beck
Series: Private Pleasures, Book 4
Publisher: Entangled: Brazen
Genre: Erotic Contemporary Romance 
Wet and Reckless cover
ISBN: 9781640636064
Release Date: May 10, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Entangled

She’s a walking, talking disturbance of his peace…

When former Navy SEAL West Donovan trades covert ops for small-town cop, he craves calm and order. Rescuing a sexy, law-bending hitchhiker during a rainstorm raises his gut-level trouble detector—plus a few things south of his gut—into the red zone. He vows to help this particular tumbleweed find her way and keep it professional, but when she becomes his downstairs neighbor, professionalism is sorely tested. He’s got red lingerie infiltrating his laundry, sultry songs invading his bedroom, and suddenly he’s the one in need of rescue.

Aspiring singer/songwriter Roxy Goodhart ventures to Bluelick, Kentucky to outrun her latest mistake. It’s a doozy, involving a lying ex-manager, a dire lack of cash, and a teensy bit of grand larceny. Landing in the long, strong, entirely too tempting arms of the law is no way to keep a low profile while she re-builds her “L.A. or bust” fund. Taking an apartment that—oops—puts her under West… his path every day doesn’t help. Testing his impressive reserve is beyond reckless, but she’d love to test it…all…night…long.

Opposites attract in Wet and Reckless. Samanthe Beck’s fourth Private Pleasures book is smokin’ hot and tons of fun with characters who are easy to like. West is a strong, serious, by-the-book cop and Roxy is a confident, sassy musician with tons of talent and a secret that could ruin everything. At first they’re like oil and water but the sexual attraction between them is impossible to ignore. I loved the banter, the tension, and the pull neither could resist.

Roxy and West shouldn’t work as a couple but they fit together perfectly. West is straight-laced (outside of the bedroom) and protective and Roxy is outgoing in confident in ways that drive him wild. Roxy teaches West to unbend and he helps her face her problems instead of running away. Roxy’s past has plenty of heartbreaking moments and I wanted to see her find home and become the person she’s meant to be. Neither she nor West is perfect; West can be stubborn and not see shades of grey and Roxy can be impulsive and, well, reckless. But their flaws help build their characters and I loved to watch them grow over the course of the story.

Wet and Reckless is sexy as can be but it’s the characters and the heart they have that make the book memorable. This is the fourth installment of Beck’s Private Pleasures series but having not yet read the first three books I can say with confidence Roxy and West’s story stands on its own. I really liked the town of Bluelick and the people in it make me eager to read the stories I’ve missed. All in all I really enjoyed Wet and Reckless. It’s a fast-paced, sexy ride with characters who are easy to like and a romance you can root for.

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 4, 2021

Review: The Lady Has a Past by Amanda Quick

The Lady Has a Past by Amanda Quick
Series: Burning Cove, Book 5
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Historical Romantic Suspense with Paranormal Elements 
The Lady Has a Past cover
ISBN: 9781984806888
Release Date: May 4, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Investigative apprentice Lyra Brazier, the newest resident of Burning Cove, is unsettled when her boss suddenly disappears. Lyra knows something has happened to Raina Kirk, and tracks down her last known appearance at an exclusive hotel and health spa. The health spa is known for its luxurious offerings and prestigious clientele, and the wealthy, socialite background Lyra desperately wanted to leave behind is perfect for this undercover job. What Lyra lacks in investigative experience she makes up for in gut instinct, and her gut isn’t happy that she’s saddled with a partner by Luther Pell, Raina’s dangerous lover, who wants to bring in someone with more experience to help.

Instead of the suave, pistol-packing private eye she expected, though, Simon Cage is a mild-mannered antiquarian book dealer with a quiet, academic air, and a cool, remote gaze. Lyra suspects that Simon is much more than what he seems, and her instincts are confirmed when they arrive at the spa and pose as a couple: Simon has a unique gift that allows him to detect secrets, a skill that is crucial in finding Raina.

The unlikely duo falls down a rabbit hole of twisted rumors and missing socialites, discovering that the health spa is a façade for something far darker than they imagined. With a murderer in their midst, Raina isn't the only one in grave danger—Lyra is next.

1930s glamour meets deadly secrets in The Lady Has a Past. The world and characters Amanda Quick has created in the Burning Cove series never fails to entertain and this time is no exception. I had a difficult time putting this book down because I liked all four leads so much and I was absorbed in the mystery.

Lyra Brazier has been an apprentice investigator for four whole days when her boss, Raina Kirk, leaves town. Lyra and Raina’s lover, Luther Pell, know Raina must be in danger. Lyra is determined to investigate and Luther knows he’s too close to the case to be objective so he sends Simon Cage with Lyra to the luxury hotel and spa Raina was headed to. Simon is an antiquarian book dealer who is more than what he seems. His closed-off personality clashes with Lyra’s vibrant openness which means, of course, they’re meant to be together. I loved Lyra’s optimism; many mistake it for naïveté but she’s sharp, knows what she wants, and can get people to talk. Simon opens up with her – it helps that she doesn’t blink at his supernatural talents. They make a solid pair of investigators and I enjoyed watching them delve into the mystery of who kidnapped Raina and why. What’s more, I enjoyed their romance. Simon is only looking for a fling when he comes to Burning Cove and Lyra has no intention of getting married. Both find more than they bargained for in each other and it was easy to fall into their romance.

Raina Kirk and Luther Pell have been background characters for most of the Burning Cove series and I have been waiting to learn more about them. The Lady Has a Past delves into the background of the East Coast investigator with secrets and the shadowy businessman with ties to the government and the criminal underworld. I love Riana and Luther together and even if I hadn’t adored Lyra and Simon (which I did) I would be invested in this book because of them. Quick takes our protagonists for a ride in this story and there are multiple layers to the mystery that I won’t spoil. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed every part of The Lady Has a Past and I look forward to revisiting Lyra, Simon, Luther, and Raina again soon.

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.