Saturday, September 24, 2022

Review: The Rivals of Casper Road by Roan Parrish

The Rivals of Casper Road by Roan Parrish
Series: Garnet Run, Book 4
Publisher: Harlequin Special Edition
Genre: Male/Male Contemporary Romance 
The Rivals of Casper Road cover
ISBN: 9781335724205
Release Date: September 27, 2022
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Harlequin

He’s in it to win it

Until he falls under his neighbor’s spell.

Bram Larkspur’s rugged, sexy looks belie his fear of all things horrifying. But as Casper Road’s newest resident, he’s excited to join the annual Halloween decorating contest. The competition is keen, especially from six-time champion, architect Zachary Glass. But when enigmatic Zachary sparks a prank war, it’s game on—until one sizzling kiss turns these rivals into allies. Now only one thing scares Bram: how quickly he’s losing his heart to Zachary.

A prank war between two neighbors turns out to be something special The Rivals of Casper Road. Roan Parrish returns to Garnet Run in this sweet Halloween-time romance of finding your heart and home.

Bram is a sweetheart who sees the best in people. After having his heart broken, he made his way far from everything and everyone he ever knew and finds himself in Garnet Run. He quickly fits into his new neighborhood, but the one person who isn’t immediately won over is his neighbor, Zachary Glass. Zachary is a man who likes routine, order, and everything as he thinks it should be. He’s the six-time winner of the Casper Road Halloween decorating contest and there’s no way this newcomer is going to break his streak. Though Parrish never explicitly states it, Zachary appears to be neurodivergent and is stressed when things don’t go how he plans. He’s also a man who is very alone and convinced no one will stay with him. His wounds broke my heart and even though he makes mistakes with Bram, I was looking forward to seeing him get his happily ever after. Bram’s gentleness and understanding help Zachary branch out and Zachary’s straightforward honesty makes Bram feel safe. Their romance is engaging and the happily ever after heartwarming.

The Rivals of Casper Road is the fourth book in Parrish’s Garnet Run series but it can easily be read as a standalone. Fans of the first three books will delight in revisiting their favorite characters and seeing what they’ve been up to since their happily ever afters. I liked the friendly residents of Garnet Run and how they filled out the world Parrish created. There are some campy moments in this story (and some flaws in the more adorable moments of creating shelters for feral cats), but overall I found it a comfortable read with imperfect characters whose flaws make them all the more interesting. I finished Zachary and Bram’s story a satisfied reader and I’m looking forward to catching up on the Garnet Run books I’ve missed.

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, September 18, 2022

Review: The Duke's Rules of Engagement by Jennifer Haymore

The Duke's Rules of Engagement by Jennifer Haymore
Series: The Lions and the Lilies, Book 1
Publisher: Entangled: Amara
Genre: Historical Romance 
The Dukes Rules of Engagement cover
ISBN: 9781649372918
Release Date: September 27, 2022
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Entangled

Some matches are made in hell…

Joanna Porter loves being one of London’s hottest up-and-coming matchmakers. But her heavenly vocation is about to turn into a nuptial nightmare—thanks to the Duke of Crestmont. He’s as handsome as he is insufferable and obsessed with all things proper. Matching him would cement Jo’s status as England’s greatest matchmaker. Except, of course, the impossible-to-please duke refuses all of her most eligible ladies…confirming his status as a complete and utter pain in her petticoats.

The Duke of Crestmont can’t believe he needs a matchmaker—let alone this spitfire of a woman whose kissable mouth and dancing, impertinent gray eyes tease him ruthlessly. But the people of his estate are counting on him to find a duchess. A proper lady with a flawless pedigree and immaculate deportment. So why can’t he stop himself from wanting his pert, lively matchmaker…instead of the perfect duchess?

Now the entire ton is watching as this determined, audacious matchmaker takes on the most powerful man in London in USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Haymore’s lively new Regency romp. And this show might just be the most outrageous one yet…

Rule number one of being a matchmaker? Never fall for your client.

Of course, rules are made to be broken which is why The Duke’s Rules of Engagement is so entertaining. Jennifer Haymore spins a delightful yarn of a London matchmaker who manages to break through the walls of a duke’s heart.

Joanna Porter loves love, even though she’s never found it for herself. When the Duke of Crestmont comes to her doorstep seeking the perfect duchess, she knows this will be her most challenging client yet. The duke doesn’t want a love match, which goes against everything Jo stands for. To find him the ideal wife, Jo has to first get past the duke’s walls. The only problem with that is she soon finds herself falling for a man who could never wed someone like her.

Jo is an endearing heroine. She’s kind, determined, and just a good person you’d want as a friend. I love that she made a successful matchmaking business in Regency London and that she really worked to find the perfect partner for her clients. Matthew, the impossible-to-please duke in question, has a marshmallow heart behind his stone walls. He was hurt badly in the past and seeks to keep himself from experiencing that kind of pain ever again. He knows he needs to marry and beget an heir, but none of the perfect ladies Jo introduces him can tempt him when the matchmaker herself is so distracting. Matthew is a handsome duke, yes, but he’s also quietly vulnerable and a bit of a geek; I loved how Jo also became fascinated by his interests. The two of them simply fit, if they could ignore class differences long enough to see that they’re perfect for one another.

The Duke’s Rules of Engagement is a wonderfully entertaining historical romance and Haymore makes it easy to be swept up in Jo and Matthew’s love story. It’s not all smooth sailing for these two, but the happily ever after makes it worth it. This is the first book I’ve read by Jennifer Haymore and I look forward to reading more by her, especially if the books involve Matthew’s best friends.

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, September 5, 2022

Review: Holiday Heroine by Sarah Kuhn

Holiday Heroine by Sarah Kuhn
Series: Heroine Complex, Book 6
Publisher: DAW
Genre: New Adult Urban Fantasy 
Holiday Heroine cover
ISBN: 9780756416539
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Nobody loves Christmas like Bea Tanaka—so when her family visits her for a special holiday celebration, she’s beside herself with joy.

After years of chaos, questionable decisions, and flirtations with the supervillain path, Bea is finally thriving. She’s got a sweet, new gig hunting demons in Maui, she’s working hard to hone her powers, and her big sister Evie is proud of her at last. In fact, everyone is so proud of her that she can’t tell them the truth: she’s feeling lost and adrift. She and her boyfriend Sam Fujikawa are struggling to make their long-distance love work, and her powers are displaying some intriguing new elements—elements that could lead her down an evil, mind-controlling path once more.

When her family’s holiday visit is disrupted by otherworldly monsters rising out of the Maui ocean, Bea throws herself into the battle—until she’s suddenly and mysteriously transported to the perfect Christmas back in San Francisco, surrounded by her family and an excess of merrymaking.

As she finds herself trapped in the bizarre holiday rom-com of her nightmares, Bea must unravel a treacherous demon plot, save the world from unspeakable evil, and resist the siren song of a supervillain destiny. And hey, maybe she’ll find time for a little holiday cheer after all…
Get ready for a wild ride with Holiday Heroine. Christmas and kaijus go hand-in-hand in Bea Tanaka’s second outing.

After making the leap from the family nest in San Francisco, Bea is determined to show her loved ones that she is thriving in Maui. She’s determined to blend in, make no waves, and keep her dangerous powers under lock and key. Yet though she’s made a close group of friends for herself already, Bea desperately misses her boyfriend, Sam, her sister, Evie, and everyone at Jupiter/Tanaka, Inc. When her family shows up for a visit, things start to go terribly wrong. Kaiju are popping up in Maui and Bea’s powers are out of control. When she passes out only to wake up in a mysteriously perfect Christmas in San Francisco, Bea knows she can’t just luxuriate in the holiday rom-com of her dreams. She has to get to the bottom of what’s happening before she loses everything and everyone she loves.

Bea is a vibrant heroine who has tamped down on her sparkly, over-the-top personality. She’s determined to be normal, to resist her powers and the supervillain path they could potentially take her on. She broke my heart more than once because she’s dimmed her light so much. I wanted to see her be the strong, confident, rainbow disco ball of a heroine she’s meant to be. Author Sarah Kuhn doesn’t make things easy on Bea in Holiday Heroine. Our brilliant heroine still has a lot to learn about being herself and it was great to see her bumpy journey to happily ever after. I can’t say much about that journey because it would spoil the story. Suffice it to say Kuhn takes readers on a twisty paranormal adventure.

I had a hard time rating Holiday Heroine because there’s a lot I love about the Heroine Complex world. Bea and her loved ones are all unique, well-drawn, endearing characters and I enjoy any time spent with them. But this book did drag for the first half as Bea – and readers – have no idea what’s happening or why. It’s only at the halfway point that things start to pick up. From there the repetition makes sense as Bea has lessons to learn, but unlike every other book in this series I didn’t have a hard time putting this one down, which was a pity. Still, even though this wasn’t my favorite Heroine Complex book I did love the way it turned out. Love in all its forms is key to this story and the way Kuhn flushed out Bea’s relationships with everyone in her life – especially herself – made this story shine.

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, August 27, 2022

Review: Accomplished by Amanda Quain

Accomplished by Amanda Quain
Series: Georgie Darcy, Book 1
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary 
Accomplished cover
ISBN: 9781250817815
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Georgiana Darcy should have been expelled after The Incident with Wickham Foster last year – at least if you ask any of her Pemberley Academy classmates. She may have escaped expulsion because of her family name, but she didn’t escape the disappointment of her big brother Fitz, the scorn of the entire school, or, it turns out, Wickham’s influence.

But she’s back for her junior year, and she needs to prove to everyone – Fitz, Wickham, her former friends, and maybe even herself – that she’s more than just an embarrassment to the family name. How hard can it be to become the Perfect Darcy? All she has to do is:

- Rebuild her reputation with the marching band (even if it kills her)
- Forget about Wickham and his lies (no matter how tempting they still are), and
- Distract Fitz Darcy — helicopter-sibling extraordinaire — by getting him to fall in love with his classmate, Lizzie Bennet (this one might be difficult…)

Sure, it's a complicated plan, but so is being a Darcy. With the help of her fellow bandmate, Avery, matchmaking ideas lifted straight from her favorite fanfics, and a whole lot of pancakes, Georgie is going to see every one of her plans through. But when the weight of being the Perfect Darcy comes crashing down, Georgie will have to find her own way before she loses everything permanently—including the one guy who sees her for who she really is.

The younger Darcy sibling steps into the spotlight in Accomplished. Amanda Quain’s modern take on Pride and Prejudice is a delight, thanks to its likeable protagonist and fun twists on Jane Austen’s beloved characters.

After the incident with Wickham Foster last year, Georgie Darcy is persona non grata with her Pemberley Academy classmates. Her brother, Fitz, is frustrated with her and is helicopter parenting from the nearby college. So what will she do to gain his trust and win back her classmates’ affection (or at least dampen their disdain)? Georgie will become the Perfect Darcy. Except it’s not as easy as it looks and her efforts seem to be hurting rather than helping. The only person willing to talk to her is band leader and all-around good guy Avery. Still, if she can keep her grades up, charm her marching band team, and distract her brother by matchmaking him with his classmate, Lizzie Bennet, then all should be forgiven, right?

Georgie is kind, determined, and a little naïve. She’s grown up in the lap of luxury and doesn’t quite see her own privilege, though she starts to learn over the course of the book. Because Georgie is a nice protagonist who was taken advantage of by Wickham, who fed on her loneliness, it was heartbreaking at times to see her iced out by all those around her when she tried so hard. I liked seeing Georgie come into her own over the course of the book. She makes mistakes, yes, but she learns from them. By her side is Avery, her incredibly sweet best friend who isn’t put off by the drama Wickham caused. Also by her side (though she can’t always see it) is her brother, Fitz. The elder Darcy is doing his best to take care of his sister and though he makes mistakes as well, I loved watching their relationship develop.

Accomplished focuses on a relatively minor Austen character but there are plenty of spins on Pride and Prejudice that will delight any Janeite. I absolutely loved Bingley being a frat boy – any scene with him is sure to make the reader smile. The references to Lady Catherine de Burgh also made me laugh. I thoroughly enjoyed Accomplished and appreciated how Amanda Quain paid homage to Austen while still creating a story and a heroine that could stand on their own.

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 21, 2022

Review: The Highlander’s Tudor Lass by Heather McCollum

The Highlander’s Tudor Lass by Heather McCollum
Series: The Brothers of Wolf Isle, Book 3
Publisher: Entangled: Amara Next
Genre: Historical Romance 
The Highlanders Tudor Lass cover
ISBN: 9781649371195
Release Date: August 22, 2022
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Entangled
Heather McCollum Reading Order

Callum Macquarie would give anything to go back to the Highlands and Wolf Isle. Instead, he’s stuck circling an undefended English castle in too-tight breeches, longing for his bed and his plaid. But he has an oath to keep: to bring home the bonny Anna Montgomerie and her sister before that devil of a blaggard pirate Jundeau finds them first. Only the lass he’s come to rescue has no interest in going back to Scotland with him. Or ever.

To hell with Callum and his oath. Anna won’t step one foot in Scotland—no matter the danger. Not after what she’s left behind, and not while there’s a chance she can remain in England. But she has a plan. And the only hitch involves a braw, fiercely protective highlander who refuses to leave…and whose touch burns hotter than fire.

Now Anna and Callum are caught between the threat coming for Anna. Staying means danger. Leaving means death. And a blazing attraction that could spoil everyone’s plans.

The middle Macquarie brother finds love – if he can convince the stubborn woman of his dreams to come to Scotland with him – in The Highlander's Tudor Lass. Callum Macquarie yearns to be taken seriously by his brothers, which is why he’s determined to fulfill his sister-in-law’s request that he bring her sisters Anna and Dora home to Wolf Isle. Except when he comes upon the Montgomerie sisters, Anna beans him with a pomander. This is not the laughing, sweet woman he expected to find. Anna has fled Scotland and is now serving the young English princess, Elizabeth Tudor. She has no intention of going back to Scotland, not now, not ever. But with a pirate bent on revenge hunting for the Macquarie brothers and the Montgomerie sisters, Anna and her sister aren’t safe at Sudeley Castle. And the longer Anna is around Callum, the more she’s torn between the life she has told herself she wants and the promise of what could be between her and the handsome highlander.

Anna and Callum are both easy to like. Anna is strong and protective, determined to do what’s best for those in her care. She hasn’t had anyone she could lean on for a long time and she knows that evil can lurk even where there should be safe harbor. Callum has strong shoulders and a good heart. He desperately wants to be taken seriously by his brothers, which leads him to make mistakes, but at his heart he’s a strong and kind warrior. He shows Anna he believes in her and wants her to be free, not stifled like she is among the English lords and ladies. The two of them have great chemistry and it was easy for me to fall into their story.

Threats abound in The Highlander's Tudor Lass. There are court machinations at Sudeley, a suspicious lord bent on sweeping Anna off her feet, and the evil pirate Jandeau is always a danger. Heather McCollum weaves these threads through the romance, never taking the focus off Anna and Callum. I adored these two strong and sweet protagonists and was delighted by their happily ever after. McCollum’s highlander heroes always delight as do the women who love them. I’m looking forward to seeing what McCollum has in store for the next Brothers of Wolf Isle 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.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Review: Nobody’s Princess by Erica Ridley

Nobody’s Princess by Erica Ridley
Series: The Wild Wynchesters, Book 3
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Historical Romance 
Nobodys Princess cover
ISBN: 9781538719589
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Nothing happens in London without Graham Wynchester knowing. His massive collection of intelligence is invaluable to his family’s mission of aiding those most in need. So when he deciphers a series of coded messages in the scandal sheets, Graham’s convinced he must come to a royal’s rescue. But his quarry turns out not to be a princess at all… The captivating Kunigunde de Heusch is anything but a damsel in distress, and the last thing she wants is Graham’s help.

All her life, Kuni trained alongside the fiercest Royal Guardsmen in her family, secretly planning to become her country’s first Royal Guardswoman. This mission in London is a chance to prove herself worthy without help from a man, not even one as devilishly handsome as Graham. To her surprise, Graham believes in her dream as much as she does, which makes it harder to resist kissing him…and falling in love. But how can she risk her heart if her future lies an ocean away?

The Wild Wynchesters are back and it’s Graham Wynchester at the center this time in Nobody’s Princess. Graham has a hunger for knowing everything, which is why he takes note of the gorgeous woman who seems to be gathering intelligence of her own around Mayfair. Kunigunde de Heusch is the companion of the Balcovian princess, but her true desire is to be a member of the Royal Guardsmen. Her time in England is her chance to prove herself the equal of her brothers, two of her country’s finest Royal Guardsmen. She’s taken aback by the charming, handsome Graham at first and the way he offers to help. Kuni doesn’t need anyone’s help, but she soon finds herself whisked away into the world of the Wynchesters. The more she learns about the unique family, the more she desires to become a part of it. But her lifelong dream isn’t something she can toss away, even for a family as welcoming as the Wynchesters and a man as tempting as Graham. The clock’s ticking until it’s time for Kuni to return to Balcovia, but it’s becoming harder for her to tear herself away.

Kuni is strong, smart, and stubborn. She has tried so hard to be a part of her family and has worked so hard to try for the chance at becoming a Royal Guardswoman – not just for herself but to be a role model for girls in Balcovia – that now the chance is almost within reach she cannot seem to see beyond it. And it’s clear from the start that although Kuni would be an amazing Guardswoman, she’d be an even better Wynchester. The quirky family welcomes Kuni immediately and she becomes involved in their quest to help people in need. Kuni is also entranced by Graham, the former circus performer turned intelligence gatherer. Graham has long been captivated by the idea of being acknowledged by royalty and Kuni is the closest he’s gotten to it. But fantasies aside, he’s drawn to the brave, determined woman. Their romance is an extremely slow burn but sweet.

I liked Nobody’s Princess but I’m sad to report it’s not my favorite Erica Ridley novel. The Wynchester family members have always been presented as unique, but fully-formed characters and in this story many of them felt reduced to one character trait. The family is such an important part of this book and the series that this brought down the book a bit. And though I enjoyed Kuni and Graham together, they were missing some of the spark I expect from Ridley’s couples. Things picked up near the end and the happily ever after was sweet, but it was slow going for the first part of the story. The book could be repetitive at times and it felt like much of the story was spent with the characters spinning their wheels until it was time to wrap things up – perhaps in a shorter format the story would have been stronger. As I said, I did like the ending and Graham with his good heart and dreams was a good match for Kuni who has a strong sense of purpose and a yearning heart. But this story never grabbed my attention the way the first two Wynchester books did and I just wanted a bit more. Still, I look forward to seeing more of Kuni and Graham as more Wynchester siblings find their happily ever afters.

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 7, 2022

Review: Forever, Plus One by Wendy Warren

Forever, Plus One by Wendy Warren
Series: Holliday, Oregon, Book 2
Publisher: Harlequin Special Edition
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Forever Plus One cover
ISBN: 9781335724144
Release Date: August 23, 2022
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Harlequin

Rescued…by the brother of the (ex-)groom!

Nikki Choi loves the boisterous family she was adopted into as a baby. But dreams of her own happy-ever-after are dashed when her fiancé suddenly calls off the wedding. Leave it to her BFF to come to her rescue! Evan Northrup is the perfect faux beau, offering support and making no demands—making her feel loved. But the single dad seems intent on keeping things pretend, while Nikki is shocked to be falling wildly, deeply for her old friend…

Forever, Plus One is a heartwarming best friends-to-lovers romance that tugged on my heartstrings. Wendy Warren’s second venture into Holliday, Oregon is an engaging romance filled with characters who are easy to adore.

Nikki Choi was just dumped six weeks before her wedding. Nikki is smart, loving, and beautiful but her relationship with her ex played into her insecurities and she’s now trying to claim herself again. She’s coming up on her thirty-seventh birthday and has serious anxiety about finding love and starting a family in a way that feels deeply relatable. Evan Northrup, the older brother of her ex-fiancé, has been her best friend for years and offers to save her from the awkwardness of the upcoming summer of weddings she’s attending by pretending to be her boyfriend. Evan is a single father whose son is the center of his world. He’s a loving dad and a great best friend, but he has issues about commitment after the way his marriage ended and the parade of stepmothers he’s had all his life.

Friends-to-lovers, single parents with sweet children, and commitment phobia are all common in romances, but Warren makes everything feel fresh in this story thanks to her wonderful characters. Nikki is adopted and even growing up with a family who loves her unconditionally it doesn’t mean she hasn’t struggled in the past. And even being a high school guidance counselor with a degree in Psychology doesn’t protect her from having body image issues; issues that her fitness fanatic ex fed into. And Evan has deep-seated insecurities about his own ability to have a relationship that he has to confront. Warren doesn’t make it easy on them, but the way things worked out made every bump in the road worth it. Nikki and Evan are simply meant to be, no matter that they’ve hidden it from themselves for years.

Forever, Plus One is the second book in the Holliday, Oregon series but it can easily be read as a standalone. I adored revisiting Eden and Gideon (of Moonlight, Menorahs and Mistletoe) and thoroughly enjoyed my time in Holliday. And it would be remiss of me to discuss this book without mentioning Nikki’s family. I absolutely loved the Choi family and they helped make the world of this story come alive. Not to mention Noah, Evan’s son, is so sweet with Nikki and I adored their relationship. The surprising emotional hits for me in this book were scenes Nikki and Evan had with their parents. Those brought tears to my eyes and really rounded out the book well.

Forever, Plus One was a true joy to read. The characters came alive, the romance was a satisfying slow burn built on a healthy foundation, and the happily ever after made me smile. I cannot wait to revisit Nikki and Evan again!

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, August 6, 2022

Review: Storm Echo by Nalini Singh

Storm Echo by Nalini Singh
Series: Psy-Changeling Trinity, Book 6
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Paranormal Romance 
Storm Echo cover
ISBN: 9780593440674
Release Date: August 9, 2022
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Nalini Singh Reading Order

Silence has fallen. The Psy are free to feel emotion. Free to love. But Silence was never a prison for Ivan Mercant. The biggest threat to his future lies dormant in his brain—a psychic monster that wants only to feed. And now, the brutal leash he’s kept on that monster is slipping. He prepared for this day, for the end of Ivan Mercant…but that was before he met Lei.

As primal as she is human, this wild changeling brings color into his life, laughter to his soul. Then the dream shatters in a rain of blood, in silent bodies in the snow. Lei is gone. Vanished without a trace…until he meets strangely familiar eyes across a busy San Francisco street.

Soleil Bijoux Garcia is a healer who has lost everything. She exists in a world of desolate aloneness…till the day she finds herself face-to-face with a lethal stranger. The animal who is her other half knows this man, but her memories are tattered fragments. Sorrow and a need for vengeance are all that drive her. Her mission? To kill the alpha of the DarkRiver leopard pack.

But fate has other plans. Soon, a deadly soldier who believes himself a monster and a broken healer might be all that stand between life and death for the entire Psy race…
Storm Echo is sensational! It’s romantic, entertaining, and deeply interesting. Nalini Singh’s latest Psy-Changeling Trinity novel is the kind of book that makes you want to cancel plans so you can keep reading – it’s that engaging.

Ivan Mercant knows love and absolute loyalty thanks to his grandmother and cousins. But even with them he’s often an island unto himself – the knowledge that he carries a toxic power in him so deeply embedded that he’s wary of ensnaring anyone in his web. Then he meets Lei, a changeling who bursts into his world with brightness and color and laughter…before she disappears in an event of violent madness. Over a year later Ivan comes face-to-face with Soleil Bijoux Garcia, a changeling whose human side doesn’t know him, but whose cat can sense an unbroken bond between them.

Ivan is a Psy whose cold exterior covers a vulnerable heart that absolutely melted me. He’s dominant and protective, but so sweet I could swoon. Soleil is a healer who backs down from nothing and no one. She’s a changeling who needs pack but has been isolated for most of her life. I won’t spoil what happens when she comes to San Francisco looking for answers, but suffice it to say it’s satisfying. Fans of the Psy-Changeling series will know that given the location of this book they’re sure to meet old friends again. I loved that Singh incorporates both the Mercant and DarkRiver worlds in this book. It’s a true treat see these two packs/families that are so different yet so similar.

At the heart of Storm Echo is the love story between Soleil and Ivan. These two fit like lock and key and I was swept into their romance from the first. Ivan is a man with titanium shields but they’re no match for his cat’s claws. Soleil has a spine of steel that won’t let Ivan go and the way they just gripped each other, so to speak, grabbed my heart in turn. There’s such love, care, and passion in their romance that it makes me smile just to think about it. I dare you not to fall in love with these two protective souls.

The overarching series mystery of the denigration of the PsyNet and the damage caused by the Scarabs is at the forefront of this story and it’s fascinating. I love how Singh brought about more questions and answers, her worldbuilding top-notch as we delve deeper into Psy minds and powers. I can’t say much about this plot without spoiling things so I’ll leave it by saying that I finished Storm Echo desperately eager to see what Singh will do next. I cannot recommend Soleil and Ivan’s story highly enough. Nalini Singh is in top form in this thrilling, romantic tale!

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

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Review: The Secret of Bow Lane by Jennifer Ashley

The Secret of Bow Lane by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Below Stairs Mysteries, Book 6
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Historical Mystery 
The Secret of Bow Lane cover
ISBN: 9780440001799
Release Date: August 2, 2022
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Jennifer Ashley Reading Order

A stranger who appears on Kat's doorstep turns out to be one Charlotte Bristow, legal wife of Joe Bristow, the man Kat once believed herself married to—who she thought died at sea twelve years ago. Kat is jolted by Charlotte’s claims that not only was Joe murdered, but he had amassed a small fortune before he died. Charlotte makes the cook an offer she cannot refuse—if Kat can discover the identity of Joe's murderer, Charlotte will give her a share of the fortune Joe left behind.

With the help of Daniel McAdam, her attractive and charismatic confidante, Kat plunges into her own past to investigate. When it becomes apparent that the case of Joe’s death goes far deeper than simple, opportunistic theft, Kat and Daniel's relationship is put to the test, and Kat herself comes under scrutiny as her connection to Joe is uncovered. She must race to catch the real killer before she loses her job and possibly her life.

Gifted cook and not-so-amateur sleuth Kat Holloway is back with a cold case that hits close to home in The Secret of Bow Lane. When Charlotte Bristow – the legal widow of the man Kat had once believed herself married to – shows up on her doorstep with a tale of murder and a lost fortune, Kat is taken aback…but also intrigued. With the help of her friends (and the man who is slowly becoming much more than a friend) Kat looks to the past for answers, and learns more than she bargained for. It’s a cold case, but because of how closely it’s tied to Kat’s past it’s a very interesting one. I enjoyed learning more about Kat’s history and to see her interact with those who knew her before she had become the woman she is today. Along the way, author Jennifer Ashley also doles out more information about Daniel McAdam, which I was equally excited by. Kat and Daniel have a very slow burn romance but as they open up to each other more and we learn more about their pasts, the two become closer and the love story moves forward.

The Secret of Bow Lane is the sixth novel in the Below Stairs series and to fully enjoy it you should at least be familiar with the cast of characters before diving into this book. Kat and Daniel’s relationship is one of many connections in this story that makes the world come alive. I adore the entire supporting cast, from Cynthia to Mr. Thanos to Tess and beyond. All the characters are well-drawn and come with unique personalities and voices that help make the book come alive. With its enjoyable characters, Ashley’s engaging writing style, and an interesting mystery that both stands on its own and moves overarching plots forward, there’s no way The Secret of Bow Lane could fail to entertain. I finished Kat’s latest adventure a well-satisfied reader and I’m looking forward to seeing where Jennifer Ashley takes our favorite cook 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.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Review: The Accidental Pinup by Danielle Jackson

The Accidental Pinup by Danielle Jackson
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
The Accidental Pinup cover
ISBN: 9780593437339
Release Date: July 19, 2022
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Rival photographers are forced to collaborate on a body-positive lingerie campaign, but they might have to readjust their focus when sparks fly.

Photographer Cassie Harris loves her job—her company Buxom Boudoir makes people look beautiful and feel empowered with her modern twist on classic pinup photography. Cassie’s best friend, Dana, is about to launch her own dangerously dreamy lingerie line and wants Cassie to shoot and direct the career-changing national campaign. But company politics and Dana’s complicated pregnancy interfere, and Cassie finds herself—a proud plus size Black woman—not behind the camera but in front of it.

Though she’s never modeled herself, Cassie’s pretty sure she can handle the sheer underwear and caution tape bralettes. She’s not sure she can work so intimately with the chosen photographer, her long-time competitor in the Chicago photography scene, Reid Montgomery. Their chemistry is undeniable on set, however, and feelings can develop faster than film…

Rival photographers can’t resist the undeniable chemistry between them in The Accidental Pinup. Danielle Jackson has delivered a fresh and fun romance in Cassie and Reid’s story.

Cassie Harris is a talented photographer with a keen eye and a sharp mind. She has a successful boudoir photography business, but no matter how hard she works or how good she is, she keeps losing jobs to Reid Montgomery whose pinup style photos lack the twist and imagination of hers. When Cassie’s best friend, Dana, launches a major, inclusive lingerie line, Cassie knows she’s finally going to get her chance to show that she can create a successful national campaign. Except the execs don’t want a plus size Black woman behind the camera, they want none other than Reid. They do want Cassie to model and when she’s able to get the role of art director out of it, she agrees. Neither she nor Reid expect their mutual attraction to be so distracting, however. And the longer the two rivals are around each other, the more interesting things get.

Cassie is an easy heroine to root for. She’s vibrant, funny, honest, and hardworking – she’s the kind of person you’d want to be friends with and Buxom Boudoir is the place you’d want to work. I understood her frustration with constantly being passed over for jobs in favor of straight white males like Reid – the racism and sexism she constantly deals with is easy to see. Reid is a slightly adorkable hero who is immediately struck by Cassie. He doesn’t see the privilege he has until it’s pointed out to him, but he mostly means well. He does have a secret, however…one that could ruin everything with Cassie. Jackson makes Reid’s motivations for what he’s doing understandable, even knowing he is absolutely in the wrong. That she does makes it possible to easily fall into his and Cassie’s romance. It’s flirty and fun, mixing romantic fantasy with real world truths.

The Accidental Pinup flew by for the most part and I was totally charmed by it. It is a bit insta-lovey, but whether you can fall into the fantasy or aren’t a fan of how quick things happen is really reader preference. The ending did, however, feel a little fractured. The last quarter of the book kind of pulled things down with time jumps, things feeling like they instantly happened, and a lack of smoothness present in most of the book. And while I finished the story satisfied with the romance and Cassie’s personal arc, I had a couple of questions about Reid. But even with these issues I still really enjoyed The Accidental Pinup overall. Cassie and Reid’s friends and family fill out the world of this book and make it all the brighter. I cannot wait to see what Danielle Jackson comes up with 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, July 5, 2022

Review: A Matter of Temptation by Stacy Reid

A Matter of Temptation by Stacy Reid
Series: A Matter of Temptation, Book 1
Publisher: Entangled: Amara
Genre: Historical Romance 
A Matter of Temptation cover
ISBN: 9781649372246
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Entangled
Stacy Reid Reading Order

Miss Wilhelmina “Mina” Crawford is desperate. Having been ruined in the eyes of society years ago for one foolish, starry-eyed mistake, she spends her days secreted away at her family’s crumbling estate, helping her brother manage the land but not able to truly live life the way she’s always dreamed. When her brother admits to just how dire their finances have gotten, she takes it upon herself to procure employment…but the only one who will even consider the scandalous idea of a female secretary is the brilliant, ruthless, and infuriating Earl of Creswick.

Simon Loughton, the Earl of Creswick, needs help if he wants to finally pass the reform bill he’s been championing for years and secure the vote for England’s most vulnerable constituents. Too bad help comes in the form of a woman with breathtaking nerve, fiery red hair, and a sense of humor to match.

Now temptation—disguised as a lovely, clever-mouthed devil—lives and works under Simon’s very roof. And Mina finally feels as though she’s truly living life to her wildest dreams. But even the most incendiary of kisses can’t incinerate Mina’s past…or the shocking secret that could ruin them both.

An earl and his unconventional choice of a secretary make a perfect match in A Matter of Temptation. Simon, an earl in the thick of politics, working to pass a reform bill, should be looking for a wife who is above reproach. Mina is the daughter of a viscount, but her past has a scandal that keeps her hidden from society and she carries a secret that could ruin her. Falling in love would be a terrible mistake for them both, but it’s also an irresistible temptation with two people as well matched as Mina and Simon.

Mina is smart and kind but because of a scandal in her past she’s considered “ruined.” She’s closed herself off because of it before she meets Simon. With him she finds that she can be herself, can give into the yearning need to be free. I loved seeing her find joy over the course of the story; she comes alive when she realizes she’s free to be herself around someone who accepts and understands her. Simon has thought himself cold, remote, but Mina sparks a fire in him he didn’t think he was capable of. He’s a cinnamon roll hero, one who opens his arms to Mina rather than close them off because she isn’t what society believes a woman of her standing should be. He’s sweet and loving, someone who uses his position of power to try and make the world better. With Mina, he’s also free to be just himself and it was so sweet watching these two fall for each other. Though their romance starts out as slow burn, when things heat up they truly sizzle. Mina and Simon are matched in passion as well as intellect, making it easy to enjoy their story.

Stacy Reid never fails to entertain and A Matter of Temptation is no exception. It’s a romance that is by turns sensual and sweet, featuring two bright, genuinely good characters who are interesting and intelligent. I look forward to revisiting Mina and Simon again.

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

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Review: Fake It Till You Bake It by Jamie Wesley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Review: The Friendship Pact by Jill Shalvis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 30, 2022

Review: Never a Duke by Grace Burrowes

Never a Duke by Grace Burrowes
Series: Rogues to Riches, Book 7
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Historical Romance 
Never a Duke cover
ISBN: 9781538706985
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Ned Wentworth will be forever grateful to the family that plucked him from the streets and gave him a home, even though polite society still whispers years later about his questionable past. Precisely because of Ned’s connections in low places, Lady Rosalind Kinwood approaches him to help her find a lady’s maid who has disappeared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 27, 2022

Review: The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Review: Wicked Beauty by Katee Robert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Review: The League of Gentlewomen Witches by India Holton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: A Duke for Diana by Sabrina Jeffries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Review: The Servant and the Gentleman by Annabelle Greene

The Servant and the Gentleman by Annabelle Greene
Series: Society of Beasts, Book 3
Publisher: Carina Press
Genre: Male/Male Historical Romance 
The Servant and the Gentleman cover
ISBN: 9780369717511
Release Date: May 17, 2022
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Carina Press

William Hartley’s wealth and social standing often make up for his short temper, but they can’t cure his claustrophobia. He’d lost hope of finding help for it, until meeting Josiah Balfour. In a moment of panic, Josiah’s presence is a balm to his senses, leaving Hartley calm for the first time in months.

Josiah Balfour knows his place—and it’s not in the bed of a gentleman. As the administrator for the Society of Beasts, he’s responsible for the club’s well-being. When a threat to the Society emerges from an unexpected quarter, it falls to Josiah to deal with it. But Hartley is willing to help, even if it involves posing as a couple to infiltrate a rival club.

Josiah needs Hartley’s prestige to help him save the Society, while Hartley simply needs Josiah. Their relationship might be a sham, but the desire between them is all too real. Stuck in close quarters with everything they love on the line, they discover that everything might just include each other.

A fake relationship quickly becomes something much more in The Servant and the Gentleman. Annabelle Greene’s third Society of Beasts novel shows that not everything about the beloved gentlemen’s club is as good as it seems and the book is the richer for it.

Josiah Balfour is the head administrator of the Society of Beasts. He’s used to cleaning up messes, even as members of the club snub him for it because he’s not a gentleman. Josiah is hardworking and kind but he sometimes gets frustrated with the elitist society members he works for. One of the snobbiest is William Hartley, one of the club’s founders. Despite this, Josiah can’t quite stop himself from thinking about the gorgeous man. And when Hartley has a panic attack, Josiah is the one to calm him, which forges the beginnings of a bond between the two. When a rival club threatens the Society of Beasts and Josiah and Hartley pretend to be a couple in order to uncover the leader behind this new club, things become real all too quickly.

I’ll say up front, Hartley isn’t easy to like at first and that’s on purpose. He’s a snob who is rude to servants and anyone he thinks is beneath him. He’s rich, beautiful, and connected and can’t see beyond his own privilege. I wasn’t sure how Greene would make me like him but she did. Josiah opens Hartley’s eyes to his attitude and Hartley isn’t too thrilled with what he sees in himself. I enjoyed watching the peacock become a person, albeit one who is still wholly himself. Josiah is a great hero from the start but he learns to assert himself over the course of the story. Mutual desire helps he and Hartley find common ground and there’s no imbalance of power in their romantic relationship. Greene treads a fine line with this and does so excellently. Josiah gives back as good as he gets and consent is at the forefront of every sensual encounter. The love story between Josiah and Hartley is surprisingly romantic given their beginnings and it was delightful to discover how sweet Hartley could be.

A rival club that is open to men of all classes threatens the Society of Beasts but opens our heroes’ eyes to the flaws of the club. I won’t spoil what happens but suffice it to say I really enjoyed that Greene didn’t sugarcoat that Hartley and his co-founders were elitist. They’re not bad men at heart but with Josiah’s help they come to see how to become better people.

The Servant and the Gentleman is an entertaining romance with well-crafted characters and a wonderfully satisfying ending. I hope Greene pens more books set in this world as there are definitely secondary characters I would love to see get their chance to shine.

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.