Monday, July 26, 2021

Review: Men Are Frogs by Saranna DeWylde

Men Are Frogs by Saranna DeWylde
Series: Fairy Godmothers, Inc., Book 2
Publisher: Zebra
Genre: Fantasy/Paranormal Romance 
Men Are Frogs cover
ISBN: 9781420153156
Release Date: July 27, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible


Disgraced wedding planner Zuri Davis is so relieved to be offered a job with Fairy Godmothers, Inc., she’s willing to trade the high-rise excitement of Chicago for the small-town charm of Ever After. Falling for one of her grooms, even unintentionally, was enough destroy her career—and also to prove that all men are indeed frogs. But when she meets gorgeous B&B owner Philip Charming, who definitely lives up to his name, even she is tempted to test that theory…


Three hundred years as a frog by day and himself by night, is enough to test any man’s patience--even if Philip knows he deserved Petunia’s curse. It certainly taught him not to mess around when it comes to making promises. And stubborn, proud Zuri is a woman he’d like to promise his heart and everything else to—if only he weren’t a sometimes-frog. Can he hope for True Love’s Kiss from a woman whose trust has been so thoroughly broken?

Men Are Frogs is such a fun book! It has a fairytale romance with a true Prince Charming, a wedding planner with a heart of gold, a love story that will make you smile, and friendships that will warm your heart.

Zuri Davis is a wedding planner whose personal life and career took a hit when she found out her boyfriend was actually the groom in a wedding she was planning. She isn’t sure she believes love is in the cards for her when she is offered the position of wedding planner in the small town of Ever After, Missouri. Zuri has a tight bond with her twin, Zeva, but otherwise she’s quite lonely. She’s charmed by the magic of Ever After, although how magical the place is she doesn’t know at first. I adored watching her make friends with the residents of her new home (the strong female friendships in this book are fantastic). I wanted to hug Zuri and let her know she is definitely fit for the happily ever after she gives to others. She’s kind, generous, and truly listens to people. And though she’s done kissing metaphorical frogs to find her prince, maybe she needs to give an actual frog a chance.

Phillip is a frog prince – literally. He’s been cursed for nearly three hundred years to be a frog by day, only getting to be his Prince Charming self at night. I liked that Phillip has already done some growth at the beginning of the story. He apologizes and means it to the fairy godmothers he wronged, not because of what happened to him but because of what he did. He’s a good man with a kind heart and a sense of humor. I liked seeing his friendship with the beastly Hunter and to see him open himself up to more bonds of friendship with beings that others may be wary of. He and Zuri are a perfect match and they click from the very beginning. Both of them become their best selves over the course of Men Are Frogs and I liked how Saranna DeWylde tested them and their burgeoning relationship in an organic way. Zuri and Phillip are a couple you can root for and though some might not enjoy the insta-love aspect to their romance, I didn’t mind because it’s a fairytale, so why not?

Men Are Frogs delighted me from beginning to end. It’s an adult fairytale with charm, humor, and quirkiness. I cannot wait to see who fairy godmothers Petunia, Bluebonnet, and Jonquil pair up 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.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Review: Much Ado about Nauticaling by Gabby Allan

Much Ado about Nauticaling by Gabby Allan
Series: Whit and Whiskers Mystery, Book 1
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: Mystery 
Much Ado about Nauticaling cover
ISBN: 9781496731067
Release Date: July 27, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Whitney Dagner is your tour guide to a Pacific paradise that’s to die for—only to find it’s a place people are also willing to kill for—in Gabby Allan’s Much Ado About Nauticaling, first in the Whit and Whiskers Mystery series.

After far too many years in the Los Angeles corporate world, Whitney Dagner has come home to Santa Catalina Island off the California coast to help her brother Nick run Nautically Yours, the family tourism business. Between gift shop shifts selling all manner of T-shirts and tchotchkes and keeping her feline Whiskers in fine fettle, she pilots the Sea Bounder, a glass bottom boat showing tourists the underwater sights of aquatic plants, marine life—and a murder victim?

The self-proclaimed “Master of the Island,” Jules Tisdale was a wealthy man with business interests throughout Catalina who was about to be honored as Person of the Year before someone strangled him with his own tie and tossed his body into the water. That someone appears to be Nick, who had a raw deal from Jules and no alibi the night of his murder. To clear her brother’s name, Whit will have to investigate Jules’ shady associates and not exactly grief-stricken family members—with the unwelcome help of Felix Ramirez, police diver and Whit’s ex-boyfriend who’s looking to rekindle their relationship.

Much Ado about Nauticaling is a breezy mystery with likeable characters and a fast pace. I wanted to love Gabby Allan’s first Whit and Whiskers story, but I had too many issues with the characters’ actions and the plot.

Like many a cozy mystery protagonist, Whitney doesn’t go looking for murder victims – they seem to find her. In this case, it’s Catalina’s “Person of the Year” Jules whose body floats on by under the window of her glass bottom boat. It’s a tragedy made worse when Whit’s brother is suspected of the crime. Whitney is determined to clear Nick’s name and catch the real killer. So far it’s all part of the cozy mystery formula and I was ready to go for a ride (albeit one with a slow start). The problem for me was Whitney’s methods of investigation. Mainly, that to say she lacks subtlety is an enormous understatement. She pretty much tells all and sundry what she’s doing, what her thoughts are… without spoiling it I’ll simply say there’s amateur sleuth and then there’s outright ridiculousness.

Whit is helped on her fact-finding mission by a number of townsfolk, some perhaps with their own motives (not always clearly defined). Her most trusted compatriots are her ex-boyfriend and best friend, Felix and Maribel, both of whom are likeable but not incredibly well-defined. I had some questions about both of them and their roles in the investigation, especially since they both worked for the police. Suspending disbelief aside, I do wish they had more to contribute (especially Felix who looks to be a fun character if we learn more about him). The mystery of who killed Jules and why is OK and wraps up in a satisfying enough manner, but there were a lot of loose threads left hanging. Some of these perhaps will continue in another book but I think there are some red herrings in here that flopped because there was no resolution.

Much Ado about Nauticaling fell flat for me but I would give the next book in the series a try. The setting was charming (murder aside) and there’s the potential for the characters to grow and become more engaging. Plus, there’s an adorable cat who steals the show – how could I not give Whiskers another chance?

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 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: Bellinger Sisters, 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.