Monday, August 30, 2021

Review: Breaking Badger by Shelly Laurenston

Breaking Badger by Shelly Laurenston
Series: The Honey Badger Chronicles, Book 4
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: Paranormal Romance 
Breaking Badger cover
ISBN: 9781496730145
Release Date: August 31, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

It’s instinct that drives Finn Malone to rescue a bunch of hard battling honey badgers. The Siberian tiger shifter just can’t bear to see his fellow shifters harmed. But no way can Finn have a houseful of honey badgers when he also has two brothers with no patience. Things just go from bad to worse when the badgers rudely ejected from his home turn out to be the only ones who can help him solve a family tragedy. He’s just not sure he can even get back into the badgers’ good graces. Since badgers lack graces of any kind…

Mads knows her teammates aren’t about to forgive the cats that were so rude to them, but moody Finn isn’t so bad. And he’s cute! The badger part of her understands Finn’s burning need to avenge his father’s death—after all, vengeance is her favorite pastime. So Mads sets about helping Finn settle his family’s score, which has its perks, since she gets to avoid her own family drama. Besides, fighting side by side with Finn is her kind of fun—especially when she can get in a hot and heavy snuggle with her very own growling, eye-rolling, and utterly irresistible kitty-cat…

Breaking Badger is a wacky, violent, high-octane thrill ride from beginning to end. It’s chaotic in only a way Shelly Laurenston’s honey badgers can be, in that in any other author’s hands this level of craziness would likely be a mess but Laurenston mostly keeps it together.

Mads is a honey badger/hyena hybrid with some nightmare family members out to get her. Fortunately, she has her beloved sport, basketball, and – since middle school – her honey badger teammates. The five of them work hard and play harder but after landing in the middle of a firefight with some tigers, Mads finds herself often in the path of the Black Malones. Finn Malone and his brothers are determined to find out who killed their father and their best shot at getting information requires some help from the honey badgers. If only his brother hadn’t pissed them off… But Mads seems like one of the more sane badgers so he goes to her for help. What follows is a violent, sometimes disjointed ride with action that almost never stops.

I admit, it took me a while to get into Breaking Badger. I don’t mind violent action scenes but it felt at times like overkill and honestly Mads doesn’t have a whole lot to do for much of this story. She seems like an afterthought in her own book, which is a pity. There’s a lot of potential to her and I felt like some of the things about her past that were hinted at (her relationship with her father, for example) were missed out on. It’s not a good sign that Mads could have been dropped from this book and not all that much would have been lost. Finn is an angry, growly tiger who doesn’t have as much of a personality as I would have hoped for (Mads’s coyote easily stole the show from him). He’s interesting when he’s with Mads and when the two of them are alone they actually start to come alive. I would have loved to see more of their romance but it was skimped on in favor of the action. Around the halfway point the book picks up and there feels like order in the chaos and starting there, I was in for the ride.

Though ostensibly this is a book about Mads and Finn, it really is about the MacKilligan sisters with a dash of Malone family drama and a whole host of cameos from the Pride series. I love the MacKilligans, so I didn’t mind spending more time with Max, Charlie, and Stevie. They’re funny and endearing in their own scary ways and I was highly entertained by them. Breaking Badger is the kind of book it’s hard for me to put a rating on because there are some things I really enjoyed. Even with the issues I had with the plot and lack of romance, Laurenston’s writing is entertaining, unique, and left me looking forward to the next installment of The Honey Badger Chronicles.

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, August 27, 2021

Review: A Duke Worth Fighting For by Christina Britton

A Duke Worth Fighting For by Christina Britton
Series: Isle of Synne, Book 3
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Historical Romance 
A Duke Worth Fighting For cover
ISBN: 9781538717554
Release Date: August 24, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo

Daniel Hayle, Duke of Carlisle, returned from Waterloo a hero, and he has the wounds to prove it. But he dreads the coming London season as he never did the battlefield, where his lack of social skills is certain to make it difficult to find a wife. What he needs is someone to help him practice socializing with the ton. Someone who isn’t frightened away by his scars…

Margery Kitteridge is still mourning the loss of her husband. So when she receives a blackmail letter accusing him of desertion, she’s desperate to protect his reputation. The answer to her troubles appears in the form of a damaged, reclusive—and much-too-desirable—duke in need of a wife. She proposes an alliance: she’ll help him find a bride, in return for the money to pay off the blackmailer. But working so closely together awakens passions they never imagined possible, and reveals secrets that might tear them apart.

Return to the Isle of Synne in A Duke Worth Fighting For. Christina Britton takes readers on a journey of healing and finding love after loss. It’s a heartfelt, emotional, and oh-so-satisfying read.

Daniel endeared himself to me from the first. He’s a man who has always been shy and perhaps socially awkward. Coming back from the war with vicious scars and a limp has made it harder for him because shallow people aren’t ones to hold back their opinions. Daniel is kind-hearted and I wanted him to find someone who would bring him happiness, not mere tolerance which is all he thinks he can hope for. Despite her plans never to remarry, Margery is just the person for him. She’s a widow who has known love and loss and doesn’t think she could or should find love again. But when her grandmother throws her into Daniel’s path, she becomes his guide to Synne society and his fiercest champion.

It’s clear that Daniel and Margery are made for each other, but Britton doesn’t make it easy on them. Daniel has to learn to expect more for himself and Margery has to come to terms with her grief. I was rooting for them both every step of the way. Though Britton hits on some hard topics in this book, there are lighthearted moments as well. Daniel and Margery have an easy chemistry and it makes the pages of the story fly by. The attraction between them is sizzling and they are just as a good a match in bed as out.

A Duke Worth Fighting For is the third book in the Isle of Synne series but it can easily be read as a standalone. Past Isle of Synne heroes and heroines make appearances which will delight fans of the series and will surely make new readers want to enjoy those tales. I love the world Britton has built where family born and made come together to support one another. One of my favorite parts of this book was the scenes between Margery and her best friend, Lenora, where Britton showcases the simple comfort of having a best friend by your side. All in all, I greatly enjoyed A Duke Worth Fighting For and I hope to revisit Synne 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.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Review: The Highlander's Pirate Lass by Heather McCollum

The Highlander's Pirate Lass by Heather McCollum
Series: The Brothers of Wolf Isle, Book 2
Publisher: Entangled: Scandalous
Genre: Historical Romance 
The Highlanders Pirate Lass cover
ISBN: 9781649371188
Release Date: August 23, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Entangled
Heather McCollum Reading Order

Eliza Wentworth is no lady. After the notorious pirate Jandeau murdered her family, she vowed to spend the rest of her life at sea, saving others. She’d rather be firing cannons than embroidering pillows—or worse, bowing to the demands of a husband. But when she’s stranded on an island off the coast of Scotland, now she is the one in need of help. And, annoyingly, that help comes not only from a man, but a man she struggles to resist.

Highlander Beck Macquarie has never met a woman like Eliza. He hasn’t met many women, period, thanks to the blasted curse set upon Wolf Isle decades ago. To save the clan, he needs a wife and bairns, and rough-around-the edges Eliza is anything but wife material. She has no intention of staying once she’s able to set sail again. He should let her go. But the desire between them is impossible to ignore.

When she asks Beck to teach her the ways of the bedroom while she bides her time on his island, he can’t say no. As they learn more about each other, though, past trauma and secrets resurface. Now, Eliza must choose between the freedom and comfort of the only life she’s ever known and sacrificing it all to save the people she loves…including Beck.

The second Macquarie finds love – or will find it if he can keep the woman of his dreams from sailing off with his ship – in The Highlander's Pirate Lass. Heather McCollum’s second Brothers of Wolf Isle is an engaging adventure with spirited characters and a lively romance.

As a girl, Eliza was rescued from the clutches of the evil pirate Jandeau. Since then it’s been her mission to sail with her adoptive father and rescue others from the same horrors her family faced. Eliza is brave, free, and does not need a man; I liked her bluntness and spine. Beck is the second eldest Macquarie and he’s immediately captivated by Eliza. But his home is cursed until all the Macquarie brothers marry and understand the true meaning of love. So falling for a woman who never wants to wed would be disastrous…wouldn’t it?

Beck and Eliza have an easy chemistry. He’s a good, honorable man. She’s a woman on a mission to rescue others. Neither tries to make the other be something they’re not. Rather, they are both faced with questioning the paths they are on. Are they doing what they truly want or what is expected of them? And will they give up what they think they want in the name of love? It’s not an easy question for either of them but attraction and growing feelings cannot be denied.

It was easy to fall into Eliza and Beck’s story because they’re likeable characters and the world McCollum has built is wonderful (the disgusting, evil villain aside). You don’t have to have read The Highlander's Unexpected Proposal to enjoy this story (though it is a delight). Fans of McCollum’s Highland Isles series will also be happy to see familiar faces pop up in this tale. All in all, I really enjoyed The Highlander's Pirate Lass. Highlanders, pirates, endearing characters, and a lovely romance are a sure recipe for success.

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, August 22, 2021

Review: Hitched to the Gunslinger by Michelle McLean

Hitched to the Gunslinger by Michelle McLean
Publisher: Entangled: Amara
Genre: Historical Romance 
Hitched to the Gunslinger cover
ISBN: 9781649370358
Release Date: August 24, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Entangled

Gray “Quick Shot” Woodson is the fastest gun west of the Mississippi. Unfortunately, he’s ready to hang up his hat. Sure, being notorious has its perks. But the nomadic lifestyle—and people always tryin’ to kill you—gets old real fast.

Now he just wants to find a place to retire so he can spend his days the way the good Lord intended. Staring at the sunset. And napping.

When his stubborn horse drags him into a hole-in-the-wall town called Desolation, something about the place calls to Gray, and he figures he might actually have a shot at a sleepy retirement.

His optimism lasts about a minute and a half.

Soon he finds himself embroiled in a town vendetta and married to a woman named Mercy. Who, judging by her aggravating personality, doesn’t know the meaning of her own name. In fact, she’s downright impossible.

But dang it if his wife isn’t irresistible. If only she’d stop trying to steal his guns to go after the bad guys herself.

There goes his peace and quiet…

All Gray “Quick Shot” Woodson wants to do is find a place to retire where he can settle down and take a nap. Needless to say, naps aren’t in Gray’s future in Hitched to the Gunslinger. Author Michelle McLean pairs a grumpy gunslinger motivated by food and peace and quiet with a spitfire orchard owner whose cooking leaves something to be desired. It’s a rollicking rom-com as these two strike sparks then slide into love faster than Gray can pull a pistol.

Gray is grungy, grumpy, and being bested by his nag of a horse when he arrives in Desolation. Mercy is defending her land against the book’s villain who wants to snatch it from her by fair means or foul. Gray’s surprise arrival gives Mercy the opportunity to buy time by claiming the fearsome gunslinger is her fiancé. Gray goes along with it in exchange for a place to rest his head and some cooking to fill his belly. From the start, Gray and Mercy strike sparks off one another, but for me it took until halfway through the book for Hitched to the Gunslinger to hit its stride. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the story other than I didn’t find Gray or Mercy particularly compelling until the halfway point. I just wanted more from them, Mercy especially. McLean’s gives readers glimpses into Gray’s past that help fill out his character (the reason he’s so fond of daisies stood out in particular) and I only wish Mercy had been given the same attention.

Hitched to the Gunslinger found its footing for me as Gray became part of the town of Desolation. I loved the town residents and the way they banded together, always supporting and never judging one another. Desolation gave the story life and made me smile more than once. I enjoyed watching the residents make Gray feel welcome and manage to nudge him into being what they needed. As Gray finds himself he and Mercy become a stronger couple and by the end of the story I was rooting for them as they faced down a villain and his hired guns. All in all, I liked Gray and Mercy’s tale. It’s a fun romance with a strong supporting cast plus a few animals who threaten to steal the show for good measure.

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, August 8, 2021

Review: Battle Royal by Lucy Parker

Battle Royal by Lucy Parker
Series: Palace Insiders, Book 1
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Battle Royal cover
ISBN: 9780063040069
Release Date: August 17, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Four years ago, Sylvie Fairchild charmed the world as a contestant on the hit baking show, Operation Cake. Her ingenious, creations captivated viewers and intrigued all but one of the judges, Dominic De Vere. When Sylvie's unicorn cake went spectacularly sideways, Dominic was quick to vote her off the show. Since then, Sylvie has used her fame to fulfill her dream of opening a bakery. The toast of Instagram, Sugar Fair has captured the attention of the Operation Cake producers…and a princess.

Dominic is His Majesty the King’s favorite baker and a veritable British institution. He’s brilliant, talented, hard-working. And an icy, starchy grouch. Learning that Sylvie will be joining him on the Operation Cake judging panel is enough to make the famously dour baker even more grim. Her fantastical baking is only slightly more troublesome than the fact that he can’t stop thinking about her pink-streaked hair and irrepressible dimple.

When Dominic and Sylvie learn they will be fighting for the once in a lifetime opportunity to bake a cake for the upcoming wedding of Princess Rose, the flour begins to fly as they fight to come out on top.

The bride adores Sylvie’s quirky style. The palace wants Dominic’s classic perfection.

In this royal battle, can there be room for two?

Sylvie Fairchild and Dominic De Vere have been at loggerheads ever since she was a contestant on Operation Cake, a Great British Bake Off-style show. She accidentally beaned him with a unicorn hoof, he voted her off the show, she loves edible glitter and fantasy, he’s a staid traditionalist, he’s grumpy, she’s sunshine… you get the idea. Four years later, Sylvie has a successful shop on the same street as Dominic’s and they’re still poking at each other. It’ll only get worse now that Sylvie is also a judge on Operation Cake. Sylvie and Dominic are also competing for the contract of a lifetime: the opportunity to make the cake for Princess Rose. The monarchy loves Dominic’s style but the bride is drawn to Sylvie’s personal, fantastical touch. The stakes have just been raised on Dominic and Sylvie’s personal battle. Which baker will prevail? More importantly, will being in close quarters cause the simmering attraction that’s always been between them to boil over?

Battle Royal is sweet, sassy, and sparkling! Lucy Parker swept me away with this enemies-to-lovers/opposites attract romance. There’s fondant and fun for ages, but Parker gives the book emotional depth that will hit you in unexpected moments.

I wish Sylvie were real just so I could be friends with her (and go to her amazing bakery, Sugar Fair). She’s bright, sparkly, and so loveable, but there’s a core of loneliness to her. I loved that she had a found family and Parker does a great job showing those relationships but my heart still broke for Sylvie and all she’s lost. I adored Sylvie’s sweetness and spine of steel, her determination, and her whimsy. Dominic is a harder nut to crack at first. He comes across as cold and foreboding; a staid traditionalist who will never color outside the lines. But Parker does an excellent job of showing his true character and his growth without changing him completely. There’s a core of loneliness in Dominic that broke my heart and I wanted to see him find love. He seems like he’s made of ice but he really does have a good heart, one that’s slightly battered. He is unexpectedly sweet and incredibly supportive; he just has trouble showing it sometimes. Dominic and Sylvie’s romance starts off slow burn but once things turn you’re in for a ride. The two of them are not as different as they seem and I loved how well they complemented one another. It’s a bumpy ride for them at times but I truly enjoyed watching their relationship unfold.

Relationships – romantic, familial, and between friends – are at the heart of Battle Royal. I enjoyed how Parker interwove all types of relationships throughout the story. The one small issue I had with the book is there were a lot of plot points vying for attention (to give them away would spoil the book) and the elimination of one or two would have given the others room to breathe and develop better. Even with that issue, I still adored Battle Royal from beginning to end and I cannot wait to see what Parker has in store for Dominic’s sister, Pet.

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, August 1, 2021

Review: If the Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy

If the Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy
Series: Meant to Be, Book 1
Publisher: Hyperion Avenue
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
If the Shoe Fits cover
ISBN: 9781368053372
Release Date: August 3, 2021
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

If the shoe doesn’t fit, maybe it’s time to design your own.

Cindy loves shoes. A well-placed bow or a chic stacked heel is her form of self-expression. As a fashion-obsessed plus-size woman, she can never find designer clothes that work on her body, but a special pair of shoes always fits just right.

With a shiny new design degree but no job in sight, Cindy moves back in with her stepmother, Erica Tremaine, the executive producer of the world’s biggest dating reality show. When a contestant on Before Midnight bows out at the last minute, Cindy is thrust into the spotlight. Showcasing her killer shoe collection on network TV seems like a great way to jump-start her career. And, while she’s at it, why not go on a few lavish dates with an eligible suitor?

But being the first and only fat contestant on Before Midnight turns her into a viral sensation—and a body-positivity icon—overnight. Even harder to believe? She can actually see herself falling for this Prince Charming. To make it to the end, despite the fans, the haters, and a house full of fellow contestants she’s not sure she can trust, Cindy will have to take a leap of faith and hope her heels— and her heart—don’t break in the process.

Cinderella meets The Bachelor in If the Shoe Fits. Julie Murphy’s first Meant to Be story is a heartwarming, fun, modern-day fairytale.

Cindy has recently graduated from Parsons but all the emotions she bottled up after the death of her father are coming to the surface and she’s still struggling with moving forward in life. With no job prospects in sight, Cindy moves back to LA and the home of her stepmother, Erica Tremaine. Erica is the executive producer of Before Midnight, a Bachelor-style reality dating program. When a couple of contestants drop out, Cindy and her stepsisters are pulled in as replacements. What better way for the shoe-obsessed Cindy to jumpstart her career than to have her designs on national television? The one thing Cindy doesn’t count on is falling for Henry, the handsome suitor who is a perfectly imperfect Prince Charming.

I adored Cindy from the start. She’s fat, she owns it, and she loves her body as-is. She strikes a chord with the Before Midnight audience because she loves herself and has an eye for fashion, even though the fashion industry itself is sizeist as can be. Cindy is the kind of heroine you can root for and though she’s at a crossroads in her life in this book I liked seeing her find her way and claim her future. Along the way she makes friends with many of the her fellow contestants and they’re all interesting characters in their own right. I don’t love the concept of a dating show backdrop but Murphy made it work. There are also plenty of fun Cinderella nods from characters to the iconic fashion moments, although I was glad to see the wicked stepmother and ugly stepsisters trope was ditched for complicated but still loving relationships that are far more appealing.

Cindy’s relationship with herself is at the heart of If the Shoe Fits but that doesn’t mean Murphy skimps on the romance. Henry is charming and I enjoyed unwrapping his character over the course of the story. Henry is also struggling a bit at the start of this book – a reality show isn’t something he would normally have signed himself up for – and I enjoyed as the layers of his character are revealed. I had some questions about him and his future by the end of the book, but even with those I was still satisfied by the more modern ending to this fairytale Murphy crafted. If the Shoe Fits is a delight from beginning to end. Murphy’s take on Cinderella is inclusive, positive, and completely charming.

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.