Sunday, April 25, 2021

Review: Highland Warrior by Heather McCollum

Highland Warrior by Heather McCollum
Series: Sons of Sinclair, Book 2
Publisher: Entangled: Amara
Genre: Historical Romance 
Highland Warrior cover
ISBN: 9781682815700
Release Date: April 27, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Entangled
Heather McCollum Reading Order

Joshua Sinclair was once the fiercest and most notorious warrior of the mighty Sinclair clan of Northern Scotland. But now there’s nothing and no one that can make him take up arms again. Except a beautiful woman, it seems.

When Kára Flett, daughter of a fallen Norse chief, finds herself unexpectedly sheltering the strongest, most brutal warrior in the land, she throws together a risky and outrageous plan to bring him to her side. Threats of violence bounce right off him. Offers of gold seem to entice him even less. Desperate enough to use the pleas of the village children to sway him, she’s shocked when he’s completely unmoved. There’s only one tactic left for her: seduction.

Her hasty proposition falls completely by the wayside, though, as she and the Highlander come together in a carnal inferno. But bringing him into her life also brings his enemies to her clan’s doorstep—the very clan Kára is trying to protect. And as their feelings deepen, Joshua will have to decide between duty and love once and for all.

Can the Horseman of War ever truly find peace? Joshua Sinclair is certainly going to try. He was raised by his father to be a warrior and to aid his clan in conquering Scotland. After disagreeing with his eldest brother in Highland Conquest, Joshua has set out on his own, training other warriors. But after truly seeing the cost of war Joshua is worn in spirit and looking for peace. It’s unlikely he’ll find it on Orkney Isle. After training the Lord Robert Stuart’s men to defend themselves against the locals, he sets off for home…only to find himself captivated by Kára Flett, Chief of the Orkney people. Kára will do anything to defend her people, including seducing and trying to sway the Horseman of War to her side. Joshua cannot be swayed by anyone. Who will win the battle of wills?

Heather McCollum had a bit of a hard task in Highland Warrior. Joshua was not the most likeable character in the first Sons of Sinclair book. Hot tempered and ready for war, I wasn’t sure he’d make a great hero. I was so glad I was wrong. The Joshua in this book is a wise warrior seeking peace. He has come into his own and is trying to do what’s best. He knows that isn’t working for the evil Lord Robert Stuart but he also knows he needs to extract himself diplomatically as the man is the king’s uncle.

Kára has known so much pain and loss and she still keeps fighting to protect her people. I loved her spirit and determination. She’s doing what she can to save her people and years of pillaging, death, and the threat of rape have not broken her. She and Joshua come together explosively at the beginning of the story and from there things only get more interesting. The two of them make a good pair – each of them is honest, strong, and protective by nature. They aren’t perfect, but they’re doing their best. I liked them together and their love story developed organically.

McCollum weaves fact and fiction together wonderfully in Highland Warrior. She also manages to keep this book moving at a fast pace despite the heavy topics and the threat Kára and her people are under – not an easy feat. I truly wasn’t sure how Kára and Joshua would make it out alive and though I won’t spoil it I will say McCollum made the ending feel earned. I finished Highland Warrior a well-satisfied reader and I’m looking forward to seeing what is coming for the next two Sinclair brothers.

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, April 24, 2021

Review: Heiress in Red Silk by Madeline Hunter

Heiress in Red Silk by Madeline Hunter
Series: A Duke’s Heiress, Book 2
Publisher: Zebra
Genre: Historical Romance 
Heiress in Red Silk cover
ISBN: 9781420149999
Release Date: April 27, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

In one life-changing windfall, Rosamund Jameson goes from struggling shopkeeper to heiress—and co-owner of a new business. Not only will her sudden fortune allow her to move her millinery shop to fashionable London, but Rosamund will be able to provide her younger sister with a proper entry into society. The only hitch for resourceful Rosamund is her arrogant, infuriatingly handsome business partner…

Kevin Radnor is shocked that his late uncle, the Duke of Hollinburgh, bequeathed half his company to a total stranger—worse, a beguiling beauty who can only hinder his enterprise. But Rosamund insists on an active, equal partnership, so Kevin embarks on a plan: a seduction that will lead to a marriage of convenience, giving Rosamund the social status she needs, and guaranteeing him the silent partner he desires. Yet as this charismatic gentleman sets his flirtation in motion, he begins to wonder who is seducing whom—and if he can learn to share himself body and mind, without losing his heart…

When a shopkeeper learns of a life-changing inheritance it sets the stage for a battle of wills between her and the man whose enterprise she now owns half of. Heiress in Red Silk is the second book in Madeline Hunter’s Duke’s Heiress trilogy and while I liked the heroine and enjoyed the fact pace of the book, I had mixed feelings about the story overall.

Rosamund Jameson is nobody’s fool. A smart, sensible businesswoman and a gifted milliner, Rosamund is easy to like. She’s a genuinely nice person and her small vulnerabilities endeared her to me. When she finds out that her inheritance includes half a business enterprise, she isn’t cowed by the other owner, Kevin Radnor. Kevin wants her to give up her half of his enterprise or at the very least to be a silent partner. Rosamund has no interest in doing either. She knows what it takes to make a successful business even if no one wants to give her credit because she’s a tenant farmer’s daughter. Her only fault was trusting someone she should not have and trying to be someone other than herself sometimes in order to fit into a mold. She’s smart, successful, and practical and I stayed up reading Heiress in Red Silk because I wanted to see her succeed.

Kevin is where I had trouble with Heiress in Red Silk. He’s not a bad person per se; in fact, there are times when he comforts Rosamund that he’s got true potential. But oh does that man have trust issues and a short temper. He’s quick to blow up and blow things out of proportion, especially when it comes to his invention. I understood a bit of it but it grew wearing when he didn’t grow. His default is to try to take over, belittle others when he’s angry, and he’s so distrustful I’m not sure why Rosamund fell for him. There’s definite lust between them and – to give Hunter credit – genuine chemistry. I liked the practicalities of their relationship that Kevin and Rosamund discussed. But love? I didn’t buy it. Unearned declarations at the eleventh hour didn’t satisfy me on the romance part.

As I previously mentioned, Heiress in Red Silk is the second book in the Duke’s Heiress trilogy. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Heiress for Hire but it was still and OK read for me. My biggest issues were the hero and the romance that fell a bit flat, so since I happen to like Kevin’s cousin quite a bit, I’m eager to see him find the last remaining heiress and finish the trilogy on a high note.

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, April 19, 2021

Review: The Soldier and the Spy by Annabelle Greene

The Soldier and the Spy by Annabelle Greene
Series: Society of Beasts, Book 2
Publisher: Carina Press
Genre: Male/Male Historical Romance 
The Soldier and the Spy cover
ISBN: 9780369700124
Release Date: April 20, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Carina Press

A beholden man finds himself falling for the war hero he’s destined to double-cross.

Three hundred pounds for one night of protection. It’s a job offer, but it’s also a ruse. Captain Benjamin Frakes, war hero and de facto head of the Society of Beasts—a club for gentlemen who prefer gentlemen—is tempted to turn it down. But August Weatherby, the sexy, brazen stranger making the offer, has captivated him completely.

August is hardly the flush flirt he claims to be, however. An indebted man, desperate to save his infirm sister, August makes an ideal pawn for a lord eager to bring down the Society of Beasts once and for all. But August’s charge to find evidence against Frakes is at odds with his own virgin desire to entice the captain into showing him the true meaning of pleasure.

As August’s infiltration pushes him deeper into the beguiling world of delights behind the Society’s closed doors, he and Frakes discover new ways to push the boundaries of their own cravings. But with mounting pressure to complete his devious mission, August finds himself torn between the man his heart yearns for and the sister whose life depends on his betrayal.

August Weatherby is a desperate man. His sister is ill and he’s made a muck of trying to get enough money to take care of her. He’s indebted to a vicious blackmailer who has it out for the founders of the Society of Beasts. In order to save himself and his sister, August has to bring down Captain Benjamin Frakes, the head of the Society. It was supposed to be a simple task: seduce the man, uncover his secrets. But sparks fly instantly between August and the curt captain and the longer his ruse goes on, the more divided August’s loyalties become. How can he betray the good man he’s falling for? Yet with enemies closing in on him, how can he do anything but?

There’s no sophomore slump in Annabelle Greene’s Society of Beasts series. The Soldier and the Spy is even more engaging than The Vicar and the Rake. I was sucked into August and Benjamin’s story from the first and wound up devouring it in one sitting.

Benjamin is the perfect soldier, which makes living in peacetime hard. After the events of The Vicar and the Rake Benjamin is left alone and in charge of the Society of Beasts. He’s heartbreakingly lonely and used to men who only want him for his reputation. August throws him off his game and though he wants to reject the arrogant young pup, he can’t stop thinking about him. As for August, he’s gotten himself into a total mess and he honestly doesn’t know what to do. He’s been raised to play roles which is the only tool in his arsenal left when the money runs out and his sister needs care. So when a blackmailer corners him and he feels he has no way out, he puts on a mask to complete the task.

I loved how fun and flirtatious August could be. He’s got a wicked sense of humor and it made me laugh to see him vex Benjamin so thoroughly. If it weren’t for the deception underneath everything, theirs would be a bright and bubbly romance full of banter. There is lightness in it, but underneath it all there are two types of mounting tension. The sexual tension as Benjamin tries to resist the lure of August is utterly delicious. When Benjamin finally gives in and takes what he wants, things get steamy. But it’s the heart and vulnerability both men show that really made me smile and sigh. The tension over August’s lies – his mission being to ruin a good and honest man – isn’t as pleasant. Normally this would be a big turnoff for me, but Greene makes it work in this story. There’s good character growth for both men as they fall in love and I couldn’t stop reading because I wanted to see what would happen next for them as individuals and as a couple.

The Soldier and the Spy is the second book in the Society of Beasts series and Greene provides enough background information that if you don’t mind major spoilers for the first book you can jump in here. I loved seeing more of the Society and the whole secret world its members inhabit. I finished August and Benjamin’s book a well-satisfied reader and I’m very much looking forward to the next Society of Beasts 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.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Review: How to Catch a Duke by Grace Burrowes

How to Catch a Duke by Grace Burrowes
Series: Rogues to Riches, Book 6
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Historical Romance 
How to Catch a Duke cover
ISBN: 9781538753835
Release Date: April 13, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

“I have come to ask you to kill me, my lord.”

Miss Abigail Abbott desperately needs to disappear—permanently—and the only person she trusts to help her do that is Lord Stephen Wentworth, heir to the Duke of Walden. Stephen is brilliant, charming, and—when he needs to be—absolutely ruthless. So ruthless that he proposes marriage instead of "murder" to keep Abigail safe.

Stephen was smitten the instant his sister introduced him to Abigail, a woman with the dignity and determination of a duchess and the courage of a lioness. When she accepts his courtship of convenience, he also discovers she kisses like his most intimate wish come true. For Abigail, their arrangement is a sham to escape her dangerous enemies. For Stephen, it's his one chance to share a lifetime with the lady of his dreams—if only he can convince her his love is real.

The brilliant and enigmatic Lord Stephen Wentworth has met his match in a no-nonsense inquiry agent. I was looking forward to seeing what kind of woman Grace Burrowes would pair Stephen with and she did not disappoint. How to Catch a Duke is an engaging read thanks to its two well-drawn, unique leads and the refreshing openness that characterizes their romance.

Abigail Abbott is exhausted and at the end of her rope when she goes to Stephen for help. Someone is after old letters for reasons she cannot understand. But she won’t continue to put her household in danger so her last resort is to go to Stephen for help faking her own death. Except for as clever as Abigail is, Stephen is far more conniving and isn’t about to let the most intriguing woman he’s ever met vanish. He convinces her to agree to a fake courtship; his family is untouchable and thus the protection will extend to her while they figure out why someone is after the letters. Abigail knows there’s no way a match between her and a duke’s heir could ever be made real. But Stephen is a Wentworth. And Wentworths never let anything like society’s silly opinions stand in their way.

Abigail and Stephen make a great match. Stephen has a big heart and he loves deeply, but he also has a devious mind and would likely have gone down the wrong path at a young age if his cousin hadn’t taken him in hand and redirected his energies. Abigail is a straight-talking inquiry agent who cuts right through the façade Stephen wears and sees him for all that he is. I loved their frank talks and the banter between them. I also really loved that both of them are vulnerable. Abigail is statuesque and comments from others about her looks have made her a bit self-conscious. And Stephen, whose knee was smashed and didn’t heal properly is incredibly self-conscious about his scars, the use of his canes, and his fear of humiliation. I loved that each of them saw the other for the gorgeous person they were. Neither dismissed the other’s vulnerabilities but they made it clear how they saw them and helped build their confidence. They truly fell for each other in a fairly low drama way and their support for one another gave their romance a rock-solid feel.

The mystery of who is after Abigail and why is interesting and played out in a mostly satisfying manner. More importantly, the mystery served to draw Abigail and Stephen together and I was most invested in the love story. And it wouldn’t be a Rogues to Riches novel without at least a few additional Wentworths playing a role and I enjoyed visiting with Quinn, Jane, Duncan, Matilda, and Ned. If you’re new to the series, Burrowes avoids spoilers so you can easily start with How to Catch a Duke and pick up on the family dynamics. All in all, I greatly enjoyed How to Catch a Duke. The Wentworth family is refreshingly different from the norm and any outing with them is guaranteed to be entertaining.

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, April 1, 2021

Review: The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan

The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan
Series: The Shameless Series, Book 2
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
The Intimacy Experiment cover
ISBN: 9780593101629
Release Date: April 6, 2021
Ebook Source: Publisher
Print Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Naomi Grant has built her life around going against the grain. After the sex-positive start-up she cofounded becomes an international sensation, she wants to extend her educational platform to live lecturing. Unfortunately, despite her long list of qualifications, higher ed won't hire her.

Ethan Cohen has recently received two honors: LA Mag nominated him as one of the city's hottest bachelors and he became rabbi of his own synagogue. Low on both funds and congregants, the executive board of Ethan's new shul hired him with the hopes that his nontraditional background will attract more millennials to the faith. They've given him three months to turn things around or else they'll close the doors of his synagogue for good.

Naomi and Ethan join forces to host a buzzy seminar series on Modern Intimacy, the perfect solution to their problems--until they discover a new one--their growing attraction to each other. They've built the syllabus for love's latest experiment, but neither of them expected they'd be the ones putting it to the test.

It’s early yet but I can safely say that The Intimacy Experiment is one of my favorite books of the year. Naomi and Ethan grabbed my heart from the very first page and didn’t let go. Their story is engaging, sex-positive, tender, sensual, and totally addictive. Naomi is a former porn star turned co-CEO of Shameless, an inclusive sex education start-up. Ethan is a former physics teacher who became a rabbi of a Reform synagogue. You read both of those correctly. How could I resist seeing what Rosie Danan would do with such a pairing? She knocked me off my feet, that’s what she did.

Naomi has a tough outer shell that hides her vulnerable core. She was hurt at a pivotal age by someone she trusted and was let down in the aftermath by those who should have protected and supported her. She’s as prickly as a cactus but with a heart that cares deeply. I loved her intelligence, wicked sense of humor, her strengths and her flaws. I especially loved her commitment to inclusive sex education, sex positivity, and respect for sex workers. She’s not the kind of heroine you see in romance novels which is a shame, because if you write a character as well as Danan does Naomi then she’s someone I want to read about all day every day. As for Ethan… Be still my heart; he’s a swoon-worthy hero. Ethan’s kindness, patience, and love of learning made me smile and sigh. He’s good down to his bones and so earnest it disarms Naomi. On paper they shouldn’t work but people are so much more than the basics. Naomi and Ethan are perfect together. Their romance grabbed my heart because they become so vulnerable with each other. There’s sizzling sensuality and banter, of course, but there’s also tenderness, sweetness, and the letting down of walls. I hated to put this book down because I was so invested in Ethan and Naomi’s story.

Ethan is a rabbi whose synagogue is failing and when he meets Naomi at a teaching conference they team up to host a seminar on modern intimacy. It will give Ethan a chance to bring new members into the synagogue and it gives Naomi the lecturer experience she wants when higher ed institutions keep rejecting her. The seminar gives more to them and their local Jewish community than either could have imagined. I loved how freely they discussed all aspects of intimacy; there’s emotional honesty in every part of The Intimacy Experiment which is part of what makes the story so appealing.

I can’t talk about The Intimacy Experiment without mentioning how wonderfully done the Jewish representation is. As a Reform Jew from L.A. this story makes my heart so happy because I see in this book places and people I know. But Danan writes in such a way that no matter where you’re from or what you believe, you can connect with these characters and their journey. This book has heart and lots of it. I cannot recommend The Intimacy Experiment enough and I am chomping at the bit to read more of Rosie Danan’s work!

FTC Disclosure: I received the ebook edition of 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.