Monday, October 2, 2023

Review: Highland Surrender by Heather McCollum

Highland Surrender by Heather McCollum
Series: Sons of Sinclair, Book 5
Publisher: Entangled: Amara
Genre: Historical Romance 
Highland Surrender cover
ISBN: 9781649374950
Release Date: October 24, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Entangled
Heather McCollum Reading Order

With his family’s honor on the line, Norse warrior Erik Halverson has no choice but to follow the orders of the royal house of Denmark. Now he must follow his destiny—and royal command—to sail to Scotland, find his enemy’s weakest link, and abduct her. Their mistake, of course, was thinking the Sinclair lass wouldn’t fight back.

From the moment her four brothers took control of their clan, Hannah Sinclair has learned to stand tall and defend herself. So when a big, brawny, and admittedly handsome warrior tries to abduct her, she isn’t about to give in. And the more he tries, the more she’s determined to make it as hard as possible...and enjoy it all the while.

Now Norway’s greatest warrior has a Highland hellcat on his hands, and Odin help him, he can’t resist her. But with the brutal Sinclair brothers coming after them, Erik is out of options. War is inevitable. And when a man is forced to choose between duty and passion, only one will win…

The sister of the infamous Sinclair Horsemen finally steps out of the shadows in Highland Surrender. I’ve been oh-so-hopeful that Heather McCollum would give Hannah Sinclair a chance to shine and she definitely does in this book.

Hannah is happy for her brothers and their wives and loves her nieces and nephews, but she’s lonely in the crowd. She wants a baby of her own but none of the men of her clan tempt her – not even the ones who may not be frightened of her legendary brothers. Enter silver trader Erik Halverson. The brawny Norseman is awfully fearsome for a supposed trader but Hannah isn’t going to let that stop her. She sets out to seduce him…only to find herself kidnapped.

Erik has been sent on a mission by Dowager Queen Sophie: he’s to kidnap Hannah and thus keep the Sinclair Horsemen under Sophie’s control. He doesn’t expect a strong and stubborn lass to fight back and knock him off his feet. Erik isn’t a bad person and his reason for doing Sophie’s bidding is understandable. He’s caught between a rock and a hard place and is trying to justify to himself why he’s doing something he knows is wrong.

The attraction between Erik and Hannah burns bright and hot and I liked how they went toe-to-toe with each other. Hannah has learned alongside each of her brothers and is just as brave and true as any of them. She’s Erik’s equal in every way and teaches him a thing or two along the way. If political machinations weren’t in their path, I imagine it would be mostly smooth sailing for this love story. But villains, politics, threats, and fears all make the road to happily ever after a rocky one for Hannah and Erik.

Highland Surrender is the fifth book in McCollum’s Sons of Sinclair series but you can jump in here if you haven’t read the others. There is a large supporting cast including Hannah’s brothers, sisters-in-law, a couple of mischievous children, and Erik’s brothers-in-arms who all have roles to play in the story. To her credit, McCollum never lets the supporting characters overshadow the main ones; not an easy feat with so many strong personalities. I liked all the different relationships and how each one shined and impacted the story.

Highland Surrender has passion, family drama, political intrigue, and romance. It’s an engaging story and a fitting end to the Sons of Sinclair series.

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, September 23, 2023

Review: Bare Essentials by Jill Shalvis and Leslie Kelly

Bare Essentials by Jill Shalvis and Leslie Kelly
Publisher: Harlequin
Genre: Erotic Contemporary Romance 
Bare Essentials cover
ISBN: 9780373430406
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Harlequin
Jill Shalvis Reading Order

Naughty But Nice
Lingerie model Cassie Tremaine Montgomery intends to have her revenge on the citizens of her hometown—starting with seducing the sheriff, Sean "Tag" Taggart. Tag, however, isn't cooperating. He's more than willing to set the sheets on fire with her, but he's asking for more than just sizzling sex…. He knows Cassie's not as tough as she pretends. And he knows she cares about him—even if she won't admit it. So he'll just turn up the heat until she concedes there's more between them than this red-hot passion.

Naturally Naughty
Kate Jones, the girl from the wrong side of the tracks, is home. And she's got an agenda. To get revenge on the man who humiliated her mother, Kate's going to seduce that man's son—the town's golden boy, John Winfield Jr.—and then leave him drooling in a puddle of lust. However, when she finds herself seduced by a sexy stranger named Jack, little does she guess that the tables have just been turned…

Naughty But Nice by Jill Shalvis

Cassie Tremaine Montgomery has returned home to Pleasantville with revenge on the brain. She grew up being called trashy and had unwanted advances made right, left, and center. She doesn’t expect that her first day back she’ll get pulled over by hunky Sheriff Sean “Tag” Taggart. Tag lights a fire in Cassie and the attraction is mutual. But while Cassie is fine with a no-strings affair, she isn’t keen on having a real relationship. Tag, however, is determined to make Cassie see just how good they can be together.

I’m a fan of Jill Shalvis so I was excited to dive into one of her backlist titles I hadn’t yet read. Naughty But Nice has a bold heroine and an alpha hero. Should be a simple matter of chemistry plus spice plus fun, right? Not so much. The people of Pleasantville treated Cassie and her family like garbage and sexualized her from a young age, so it’s easy to see why she doesn’t have fond memories of the place. The town she grew up in is no longer the same and Cassie’s walls slowly come down as she realizes that not everyone is out to attack her. That being said, the first half of the book just made me sad for Cassie. She was assaulted and insulted and people just focused on her looks and how desirable she was. That made even the attraction Tag felt for her less than appealing. The story did improve as it went on and I liked the friends Cassie made over the course of the story. The romance between her and Tag is heavily built on lust and was just so-so for me. I know Shalvis was aiming for deeper connection between the two but that fell a bit flat for me. Overall, Naughty But Nice was just an OK read for me.

Naturally Naughty by Leslie Kelly

Kate Jones is home and – like her cousin – wants revenge. Kate’s revenge is more specific: she wants to get back at the man responsible for a lot of her childhood hardships. However, with him gone the next best target is his son, J.J. Winfield. It’s a surprise to Kate that J.J. is none other than Jack, her one-night stand who she hasn’t been able to stop thinking about…

Naturally Naughty is a good girl going bad and it’s a lot of fun to read. Kate is known as the sweet cousin, but she’s got a lot of spice in her. The death of his father has opened Jack’s eyes to some of the problems in his family. He has a heavy weight on his shoulders trying to make things right. Kate knocks him off his feet as much as he does her. The two of them have a heaping dose of mutual attraction that no amount of good intentions can make them ignore. I liked watching them dance around each other; the sexual tension was entertaining and their chemistry made the pages fly by. I liked their happily ever after and this story definitely made me want to look for more of Leslie Kelly’s work.

Bare Essentials is a duology of two cousins needing to confront their pasts in order to have a chance at a happier future. It’s sexy, entertaining, and though it had its flaws it was overall enjoyable.

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 11, 2023

Review: My Rogue to Ruin by Erica Ridley

My Rogue to Ruin by Erica Ridley
Series: The Wild Wynchesters, Book 4
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Historical Romance 
My Rogue to Ruin cover
ISBN: 9781538726112
Release Date: September 12, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Marjorie Wynchester has always let her siblings take the lead when it comes to planning their investigations. But someone in London is trying to pass off counterfeits, and this time she's the only one with the skill needed to find the culprit. Soon, all the evidence leads her straight to Lord Adrian Webb.

Adrian is a roguish scoundrel of the first order, but he never meant to get caught up in a forgery scheme. Especially one that’s snowballed out of control. Now a blackmailer is out to ruin him, and the most alluring woman he's ever met is trying to put him behind bars.

Every time Marjorie thinks she has Adrian figured out, her assumptions turn on their head. He’s a heartless scoundrel. A loyal brother. A smooth liar. A good kisser. Er…wait… Is winning her affections just one more attempt to avoid the law? Or is it possible he’s not such a rogue after all?

The Wild Wynchesters have returned in My Rogue to Ruin and this time it’s artist Marjorie at the heart of their latest mission. Her target? Lord Adrian Webb, a scoundrel and rogue like no other. A man banished from England seven years ago, only to return and begin counterfeiting coins, preying on the Wynchesters’ vulnerable clients. Except, when Marjorie goes undercover she learns Adrian isn’t all that he seems. In fact, he’s not exactly a willing participant in this treasonous plot. Can she free him and save the day? More importantly, can she do so without losing her heart to the rogue?

My Rogue to Ruin is fast-paced and fun. Marjorie is one of the less outrageous Wynchester siblings, usually more at home in her art studio than out and about like her siblings. But lately she’s been feeling at loose ends. Her siblings are moving on, falling in love…their family is changing and Marjorie – for all that she loves her siblings’ partners – isn’t fond of change. Especially since she doesn’t know her place in this shifting world. Then a case comes along that she can finally take the lead on. Her art expertise has her going undercover to bring down a forger. And that forger is an artist who threatens to throw Marjorie off her game.

Adrian is a charming rogue, but he’s not a bad person. In fact, he’s quite a good person who has made a number of mistakes. He’s a loving brother who has been separated from his family for quite some time and he’s lonely. Marjorie brings hope and love back into his life. The two of them have sparkling chemistry that makes this book delightful. I liked that they were both clever, resourceful, and talented. They complemented one another quite well. And of course, close quarters make their slide into love quick and easy. It’s surviving the story’s villain that will be hard. Luckily for Adrian and Marjorie they have the whole Wynchester family to help them. The Wynchesters can be a bit over-the-top sometimes but in this book they didn’t overtake the main couple, which I really appreciated.

Erica Ridley’s Wild Wynchesters romances always have action, love, and family. My Rogue to Ruin is no exception and it’s entertaining from beginning to end. I finished Marjorie and Adrian’s story a well-satisfied reader and I’m very much looking forward to the final two Wynchester siblings getting 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.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Review: A Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel by KJ Charles

A Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel by KJ Charles
Series: The Doomsday Books, Book 2
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Genre: Male/Male Historical Romance 
A Noblemans Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel cover
ISBN: 9781728255880
Release Date: September 19, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Major Rufus d’Aumesty has unexpectedly become the Earl of Oxney, master of a remote Norman manor on the edge of the infamous Romney Marsh. There he's beset on all sides, his position contested both by his greedy uncle and by Luke Doomsday, son of a notorious smuggling clan.

The earl and the smuggler should be natural enemies, but cocksure, enragingly competent Luke is a trained secretary and expert schemer—exactly the sort of man Rufus needs by his side. Before long, Luke becomes an unexpected ally...and the lover Rufus had never hoped to find.

But Luke came to Stone Manor with an ulterior motive, one he's desperate to keep hidden even from the lord he can't resist. As the lies accumulate and family secrets threaten to destroy everything they hold dear, master and man find themselves forced to decide whose side they're really on…and what they're willing to do for love.

Major Rufus d’Aumesty knows battle but he is wholly unprepared for the war within his own family when he unexpectedly inherits an earldom. The d’Aumestys are disasters, to put it kindly, and his uncle is constantly challenging his right to the title. His uncle’s latest scheme involves Luke Doomsday, a member of the famous Romney Marsh Doomsday clan. Except Luke becomes the ally Rufus didn’t know he needed. His secretarial skills are top-notch and Rufus begins to believe that with Luke’s help, Stone Manor may just become what it needs to be. That would be enough, but then there’s also the mutual attraction that drives both men wild. The one fly in the ointment? Luke came to Stone Manor for reasons of his own, and when the truth is revealed it could destroy everything…

Return to the gothic moors of KJ Charles’s Doomsday books, where danger lurks around every corner and love can be found if you’re willing to risk opening your heart. A Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel is an entertaining adventure with secrets, danger, love, and hope.

Rufus is unprepared to become the Earl of Oxney but he steps up to do his duty nonetheless. Rufus is easy to adore; for all that he’s brash and has a temper he is genuinely caring and kind. He’s got a big heart and a heavy sense of responsibility which makes it hard for him to not give multiple chances to people who don’t deserve it. I loved Rufus and wanted him to be able to claim his place and take care of those around him. Luke is key to that, but he’s also potentially the key to destroying everything. Luke was a bit harder for me to warm up to. He comes to Stone Manor for reasons of his own (though if you’ve read the first Doomsday book you can likely guess) and he has a lot of built up anxiety, resentment, and pain to work through. He frustrates himself at times, which I thought was relatable and interesting.

Luke and Rufus are instantly attracted to one another and it’s easy to see why. They have great chemistry and complement one another perfectly, in bed and out. But Luke’s secrets are of course going to come out. I won’t spoil what happens but I did like how Charles handled it, making her characters confront what Luke did and the cost of it. The happily ever after felt more earned with this obstacle rather than it being there for false drama.

A host of secondary characters fill out the pages of A Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel. Some of said characters are dastardly to the extreme and some had the chance to learn and grow. I liked watching some of the relationships develop between characters over the course of the story. If you enjoyed The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen then you’ll like the glimpse into the lives of Joss and Giles thirteen years later. You don’t have to have read that book to enjoy this one, so long as you don’t mind spoilers. But to skip it would be a shame because it is so good.

I really enjoyed A Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel and hated to put it down. Charles’s writing drew me in, the characters were compelling, and the plot fast-paced. I waffled a bit on how to rate this for a few reasons (and forgive the vagueness as I avoid spoiling the story). There were some twists this story took near the end that felt unwarranted and took away slightly from the ending (for me). All in all, I didn’t love Rufus and Luke’s story like I did Giles and Joss’s, but I was still highly entertained from beginning to end.

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 3, 2023

Review: Witches Get Stuff Done by Molly Harper

Witches Get Stuff Done by Molly Harper
Series: Starfall Point, Book 1
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Genre: Paranormal Romance 
Witches Get Stuff Done cover
ISBN: 9781728276793
Release Date: September 5, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Juggling newfound witchy powers, a house full of ghosts, and verbal battles with the handsome local librarian is almost too much for a new witch to manage. But falling in love with said librarian wasn't on her to-do list…

From the moment Riley Everett set foot in Starfall Point, magic bubbled inside of her. But with only her late aunt's journals and a cantankerous live-in ghost butler to instruct her on all things witchy—including her newly inherited Victorian haunted house—Riley seeks out a coven for sisterhood and support. The last person she expects to be drawn to is the town's frustrating, yet ridiculously attractive head librarian.

Edison Held knows almost everything there is to know about Starfall Point, but Shaddow House was always off-limits, thanks to its elusive owner. If he can convince the new owner, Riley, to let him take a peek inside, there's so much he could learn. But as he gets closer to Riley, he's fascinated by her dazzling wit and fiery spirit. Edison will do whatever he can to help Riley keep her family legacy alive, especially if it means spending more time with the captivating new witch in town.

Welcome to Starfall Point, where the houses are picturesque, the smell of fudge is piped out into the streets, and the house on the hill is very, very haunted. Riley Everett knows nothing about this when she travels to Starfall to meet the aunt she never knew existed. Then – BAM! – on the ferry ride over the magic hits and Riley learns she’s got an inheritance like nothing she could ever have imagined: Riley is now the caretaker of Shaddow House and its ghostly residents.

Witches Get Stuff Done is a cozy paranormal rom com with magic, mayhem, friendship, and found families. Molly Harper’s first Starfall Point is entertaining, fast-paced, and good fun.

Riley’s inheritance is a lot for one person to take, so what’s a witch to do? Form a coven, of course. The two women Riley is drawn to, Alice and Caroline, are delightful. I liked how the three of them clicked immediately and slid into the business of helping ghosts with ease. But her new friends aren’t the only ones Riley is drawn to. After a slightly gross non-meet cute, Riley can’t help but be captivated by Edison Held, town librarian. The two of them don’t get off to the best start, but it’s not long before they’re irresistibly drawn to one another. Like the friendships Riley makes, her romance with Edison is sweet and charming.

I struggled with rating Witches Get Stuff Done because on the one hand, I really enjoyed it. The story entertained me, I loved learning about the ghosts and the lore of Shaddow House, and I’m eager to read the next Starfell Point book. That being said, I cannot deny that the book and its characters are shallow. If you want depth of character, this isn’t the story for you. But if you want light and cozy entertainment with witchy vibes? Then you’re in for a treat.

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 26, 2023

Review: Curves for Days by Laura Moher

Curves for Days by Laura Moher
Series: Big Love from Galway, Book 1
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Curves for Days
ISBN: 9781728278056
Release Date: August 22, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

How is Rose Barnes supposed to build the home (and life) of her dreams when her big, burly contractor keeps scowling at her?

Rose Barnes has got curves for days—and to Angus Drummond, the big, bearded contractor working on her new house, she's the perfect thorn in his side. Little does she know Angus is perturbed on a daily basis by his attraction to this cheery, smart-ass woman with her sunshiny enthusiasm, her kindness, and her beautiful body.

Angus feels he has a debt to pay to the world and doesn't deserve love until he pays it. Best to keep his mind on his work and his hands to himself. But the more Rose sees of Angus's gruff, honorable thoughtfulness, and the more rusty laughter she surprises from him, the more she wants him too.

As their unlikely friendship becomes love, antagonism turns to partnership, and Rose's house becomes a home. But Rose is keeping a secret that could blow up everything with Angus, and sure enough, it comes to light at the worst possible time…

After winning the lottery, Rose Barnes has set out to finally live her life. Through a twist of fate (or rather, a twist of bad weather) she ends up in Galway, North Carolina. The welcoming town feels like the home she’s always wanted and the cute little Victorian fixer-upper is the house of her dreams. Or at least, it can be with the help of a good contractor.

Angus Drummond is a veteran who is always looking to give back. When he’s not helping vets, he’s a contractor. He’s big, bearded, and grumpy, and has no chance against the sunshiny Rose. Her curves make his mouth water and she constantly surprises him. But for a man who always feels like has to give more than he takes, what will happen when he learns her secret?

Curves for Days is sweet, fun, and tugs on the heartstrings at unexpected moments. Laura Moher’s debut romance packs a lot of heart and has me hoping she’s got plenty of stories planned in her Big Love from Galway series.

It was easy for me to love Rose. She absolutely broke my heart at the beginning with how lonely she was. She was hurt badly in the past and has struggled for so long that I wanted to see nothing but good things in her life. Winning the lottery gives her a shot to live a life and give back to others, which she grabs with both hands. I loved watching her try and find ways to do good wherever she could. I also loved watching her become confident in her body. She’s sweet, kind, and never stops learning. She’s easy to root for because she’s the kind of person you’d want in your life if she were real. Angus, in turn, is a veteran who carries scars both internal and external. He can be set in his ways and Rose shakes things up. I loved that he couldn’t stop himself from falling for her and the two of them just slide into love so sweetly.

Curves for Days is fast-paced for the most part and I liked watching Angus and Rose build a life together, sometimes without them realizing it. The story did feel like it was spinning its wheels a bit in the middle, but everything came together in the end. I loved the town of Galway and the friends Rose makes along the way. Almost everyone is warm and welcoming and those who are not have a story of their own to tell. It’s a lovely story with good people and a kind heart. I finished it looking forward to more Big Love from Galway books.

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

Review: The Highlander’s Secret Avenger by Heather McCollum

The Highlander’s Secret Avenger by Heather McCollum
Series: The Brothers of Wolf Isle, Book 4
Publisher: Entangled: Scandalous
Genre: Historical Romance 
The Highlanders Secret Avenger cover
ISBN: 9781649371201
Release Date: August 21, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Entangled
Heather McCollum Reading Order

Drostan Macquarie, the fierce battle-hardened Highlander, was still a young lad when his father first warned him of the ancient curse on the Macquarie clan. Should any of our kin sire a bastard, the entire clan will be cursed to die out. Drostan vowed then to live his life alone, far from the reach of the curse. But on the eve of Beltane, a sizzling kiss with a mysterious lass ignites Drostan’s blood…and threatens his vow.

Amelia MacLeod is on the run, desperate to escape her past, and an abusive family. But Wolf Isle isn’t just a place to hide, it may be her only hope of redemption—if she can doom her clan’s enemy, the Macquaries. Only, she imagined her enemy would be a hideous brute, not a big, brawny, and kind-hearted Highlander like Drostan.

Because now Amelia’s discovered a way to destroy the Macquarie Clan for good—if she can bring herself to infiltrate the clan, seduce Drostan, and bring about the Macquarie curse. Of course, she hasn’t accounted for the far-reaching consequences of her own dark past…or her traitorous desire for the Highlander she came to destroy.

A woman determined to avenge her brother falls for the very man she’s come to destroy in The Highlander’s Secret Avenger. Heather McCollum returns to Wolf Isle and the Macquarie brothers who are trying their best to break the family curse.

Drostan Macquarie rescues kittens and damsels in distress, so how can you not adore him? The Macquarie brothers must find the true meaning of love and not father any children out of wedlock in order to break the family curse. Drostan is determined to not be the cause of his family’s downfall…and then he meets Lia. The mysterious woman with secrets won’t tell him why she wants to come to Wolf Isle, but even with the red flags in front of him Drostan can’t help but fall for her beauty and strength.

Amelia MacLeod is desperate to escape her brutal brother and thinks the only way to find safety at home is to prove her worth by destroying the Macquaries. Of course, once she gets to know them and their clan she can’t bring herself to do it, but will the lies catch up with her? Drostan isn’t the monster she was raised to believe he was, and she falls hard and fast for the Highland warrior. Lia and Drostan have an easy chemistry that makes the pages of The Highlander’s Secret Avenger fly by. I really liked them together and their romance had a good mix of sweetness and spice. I was rooting for Lia’s secrets not to come between them, but what happens I’ll leave readers to discover.

Lia and Drostan’s story is the fourth in the Brothers of Wolf Isle series but you can jump in here if you like. The evil pirate Jandeau is always a threat in the background, ready to destroy the brothers and the women they love. There’s also the family curse, which features heavily in this story. I look forward to the Macquaries breaking the curse and seeing their home and loved ones safe and sound. I am very much looking forward to the youngest Macquarie brother finding love and breaking the curse once and for all.

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 19, 2023

Review: Home for the Challah Days by Jennifer Wilck

Home for the Challah Days by Jennifer Wilck
Series: Holidays, Heart and Chutzpah, Book 1
Publisher: Harlequin Special Edition 
Home for the Challah Days cover
Genre: Contemporary Romance
ISBN: 9781335594228
Release Date: August 22, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Harlequin


Turning the bitterness of the past…

Into a sweet future!

When big-city advocate Sarah Abrams returns home for the High Holy Days, she’s got a lot on her mind—especially whether to marry her perfect-on-paper boyfriend. The last person she wants to encounter is Aaron Isaacson, her first love and the one who broke her heart. But after Aaron and Sarah join forces to fight an act of hate, it’s clear that their deep connection never abated. If only they could forgive one another for the past…in time for a sweet new start!

A new year brings a second chance at love for two former sweethearts in Home for the Challah Days. Jennifer Wilck brings excellent Jewish representation – religion, culture, and community – to her first Holidays, Heart and Chutzpah book.

Sarah left her hometown for DC and she’s rarely looked back. She has a successful job, a boyfriend with political ambitions, and she has turned herself into someone fit, successful, and independent. But in a Hallmark-level twist, she’s back home for the High Holy Days and returning to her small hometown brings her in contact with the boy she left behind. Aaron runs his family’s deli and even though he and Sarah broke up ten years ago, the feelings they had for each other never died. Of course, layering over that is a measure of bitterness for how things ended. Will Sarah choose her high-power life in DC and the perfect-on-paper boyfriend who wants to marry her? Or will she choose her hometown and the man she never quite got over?

I had mixed feelings about Home for the Challah Days. I liked Sarah and it was interesting to see her find herself and start to question how she let herself be molded into someone who didn’t entirely fit her. She had friends as well as Aaron that she disappeared from when she went to DC and I would have loved to see more of her reconnecting with them. Aaron, I struggled with. He’s hotheaded and angry and it bugged me how he kept comparing the Sarah he knew with the Sarah who is there now, as if one was better than the other rather than different. I never fully warmed up to Aaron and it made me hard to root for the romance. The love story leans heavily on the foundation built in the past and Wilck did a fair job of showing us said foundation. However, there was something missing for me – a romance, a spark, something of that nature – that made the romance fall a bit flat.

Home for the Challah Days is more than just the love story, however. It’s about community and Judaism and this is where Wilck’s writing shines. Aaron and Sarah are both really invested in their community and Wilck weaves this throughout the story perfectly. Even in a town as friendly as theirs, there’s still antisemitism and harsh realities of hatred to face. There’s also hope, allyship, friends, and family to counter the dark. It’s a dose of reality in an otherwise television special love story that grounds the story. So even though I had mixed feelings about Aaron and Sarah’s story, there was enough that I did really like about the book that I’m looking forward to the next Holidays, Heart and Chutzpah 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.

Saturday, August 5, 2023

Review: Codename Charming by Lucy Parker

Codename Charming by Lucy Parker
Series: Palace Insiders, Book 2
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Codename Charming cover
ISBN: 9780063040106
Release Date: August 15, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Petunia De Vere enjoys being the personal assistant to lovable, bumbling Johnny Marchmont. But the job has its share of challenges, including the royal’s giant, intimidating bodyguard, Matthias. Pet and Matthias are polar opposites—she’s spontaneous and enthusiastic, he’s rigid and stoic—but she can sense there’s something softer underneath that tough exterior…

For Matthias Vaughn, protecting others is the name of the game. But keeping his royal charge out of trouble is more difficult than he imagined because everywhere Johnny goes, calamity ensues, and his petite, bubbly assistant is often caught in the fray. Matthias hates the idea of Pet getting hurt and he’s determined to keep everyone safe, even if it means clashing with his adorable new coworker.

When a clumsy moment leads to a questionable tabloid photo, the press begins to speculate that Pet is romantically involved with Johnny. To put an end to the rumors, the royal PR team asks Pet and Matthias to stage a fake relationship and the two reluctantly agree. But as they spend more time together outside of work, they begin to wonder what real emotions this pretend connection might uncover. Especially when a passionate kiss leaves both of their heads spinning…

Petunia De Vere is the personal assistant to the newest member of the royal family. It’s a job she excels at, but she never expected her career to include being launched through the air by her accident-prone boss. Johnny Marchmont is a sweetheart, but his mishaps are quickly becoming a habit and Pet is frequently in the crosshairs. This doesn’t sit well with Matthias Vaughn, Johnny’s intimidating bodyguard and frequent catcher of Pet. When the tabloids try to stir up trouble for Johnny and make up a story about him and Pet, the royals’ PR teams ask Pet and Matthias to pretend to date and dispel the rumors. The only problems is the fake dating starts to feel all too real…

Codename Charming is a delight! It’s sweet, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking – Lucy Parker absolutely nailed it. I’ve been so eager to read Matthias and Pet’s story ever since their brief encounter in Battle Royal and it was definitely worth the wait.

Matthias is a case of still waters running deep. The former foster child, now royal bodyguard, is familiar with loss, loneliness, and pain. Matthias is protective and has a huge heart that most don’t take the time to see. His looks make him intimidating but he’s oh-so-gentle in reality. Pet is the sunshine to his grumpy. She’s a whirlwind of bright energy and she’s so warm and welcoming I wish she were real so I could be friends with her. But Pet’s sunny exterior also masks pain and vulnerability. Life hasn’t always been as easy for her as one might think, but that doesn’t stop her from being kind and generous. She and Matthias may be pretending to date for the paparazzi but the attraction between them is one hundred percent real. Their romance is a slow burn delight. I loved the tension building between them as they find love, support, and happiness together.

Some books just lift your spirits and Codename Charming is one of those for me. Pet, Matthias, their friends and family are hilarious and this book actually made me laugh out loud. Parker’s mix of humor and heart was top-notch and just left me smiling. You don’t have to have read Battle Royal to enjoy this book but I highly recommend it anyway.

Codename Charming is the perfect story to be swept away by. It’s as charming as the title suggests and is filled with endearing characters, hilarious antics, moments that will tug on your heartstrings, and a love story that is wholly romantic.

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

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Review: Ghosted by Amanda Quain

Ghosted by Amanda Quain
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance 
Ghosted cover
ISBN: 9781250865076
Release Date: July 25, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Hattie Tilney isn’t a believer. Yes, she’s a senior at America’s most (allegedly) haunted high school, Northanger Abbey. But ever since her paranormal-loving dad passed away, she’s hung up her Ghostbusters suit, put away the EMF detectors, and moved on. She has enough to worry about in the land of the living—like taking care of her younger brother, Liam, while their older sister spirals out and their mother, Northanger’s formidable headmistress, buries herself in work. If Hattie just tries hard enough and keeps that overachiever mask on tight through graduation, maybe her mom will finally notice her.

But the mask starts slipping when Hattie’s assigned to be an ambassador to Kit Morland, who’s just transferred to Northanger on—what else—a ghost-hunting scholarship. The two are paired up for an investigative project on the school’s paranormal activity, and Hattie quickly strikes a deal: Kit will present whatever ghostly evidence he can find to prove that the campus is haunted, and Hattie will prove it’s not. But as they explore the abandoned tunnels and foggy graveyards of Northanger, Hattie starts to realize that Kit might be the kind of person who makes her want to believe in something—and someone—for the first time.

Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey gets a contemporary, gender-bent take in Ghosted. Amanda Quain has taken some of the best things from the beloved classic novel and turned it into something heartwarming and new.

Since the death of her father, Hattie Tilney has tried to be the perfect student, the perfect daughter, the perfect older sister…the perfect everything. It’s her senior year at Northanger Abbey, a high school that’s also a hot spot for ghost hunters everywhere. Hattie just has to focus on making it through the year and hopefully winning her mother’s approval. Then she’s assigned to be an ambassador to Kit Morland, a junior who has transferred to Northanger on a ghost-hunting scholarship. Kit’s sunny disposition and passion for the paranormal digs up ghosts in Hattie’s past she’d rather leave behind. But somehow Kit gets under her skin and Hattie starts believing that maybe the lonely, haunted parts of her she tries to ignore have a shot at healing.

I adored Hattie. She’s trying so hard to be perfect, to not let anyone see the haunted, sometimes lost girl that she doesn’t let anyone in. Her family has been broken since the death of her father; her mother is the headmistress of Northanger and would prefer to bury herself in her work than acknowledge her children, her older sister is wild and out of control, and her younger brother is withdrawn. I wanted to see Hattie let down her walls, to let people in. And though she tries to resist his charm, Kit gets past her guard. Kit is a breath of sunshine; he’s lively, passionate, and so open and honest you can’t resist his charm. His personality is infectious and with him Hattie starts to change, to open herself up and confront the wounds of her past. The two of them are such a delight together and their worlds open up together. I adored watching them go from friends to more and they absolutely made me smile.

Ghosted isn’t a straight retelling of Northanger Abbey, but rather inspired by it. You can see the familiar characters and plot points of Austen’s novel in this work, which I absolutely loved. But if you haven’t read Northanger Abbey, never fear: this book stands on its own. All in all, I adored Ghosted. Hattie’s journey tugged on my heartstrings and Kit was so full of sunshine I couldn’t resist him. Quain balances love, loss, grief, and growing in a coming of age story that’s engaging and sweet.

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, July 21, 2023

Review: Not That Duke by Eloisa James

Not That Duke by Eloisa James
Series: Would-Be Wallflowers, Book 3
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Historical Romance 
Not That Duke cover
ISBN: 9780063139626
Release Date: July 25, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Eloisa James Reading Order

Bespeckled and freckled, Lady Stella Corsham at least has a dowry that has attracted a crowd of fortune-hunting suitors—which definitely doesn’t include the sinfully handsome Silvester Parnell, Duke of Huntington, who laughingly calls her “Specs” as he chases after elegant rivals.

And then—

The worst happens. Marriage.

To the duke. To a man marrying her for all the wrong reasons.

How can Silvester possibly convince Stella that he’s fallen in love with the quirky woman he married?

I’m a big fan of golden boy members of the ton falling for wallflowers so it was with great eagerness that I dove into Not That Duke. I really liked Silvester in Eloisa James’s previous Would-Be Wallflowers novel, The Reluctant Countess, so I was excited to see him fall in love.

And he did. With someone other than the heroine. I admit I’m not the biggest fan of a hero or heroine thinking they’re in love with another so spending the first half of the book watching Silvester chasing Yasmin (of The Reluctant Countess) wasn’t my favorite thing. Silvester, who was so charming in that book, was charming because he adored the heroine. When it came to Stella, he was lustful but didn’t impress me much. If it weren’t for her inconvenient attraction to him, I don’t think Stella would have been overly impressed with the duke either. Short, bespeckled, freckled, and unfashionable, Stella isn’t a dazzling diamond of the first water. However, she is a heroine I really liked. She’s funny, smart, and kind and I wanted to see her get a happily ever after where she was someone’s first choice. Stella isn’t Silvester’s first choice but she is the right choice and about halfway through Not That Duke picks up. Stella and Silvester have chemistry, but the duke has a lot to learn if he’s going to be the hero Stella deserves.

Because of Silvester I wasn’t wowed by the romance, but there are a host of secondary characters who did make this book enjoyable. Silvester’s mother, an original in her own right, is charming and eccentric. She appreciates Stella’s brain and personality from the start and the two of them made a fun duo. There are also appearances by Merry (of My American Duchess) and a surprising turn of a mean girl who evolves into someone I’d actually like to read a book about. And it would be remiss of me to not talk about Specs, Stella’s adorable kitten who is a scene-stealer.

Not That Duke is the third book in James’s Would-Be Wallflower series and unless you really don’t mind spoilers I would recommend reading The Reluctant Countess first. The first half of this book runs concurrent to the other and I don’t think it benefits from it. If you (like me) hated all the page time given to the villainous Lydia, well then brace yourselves because she’s back and as irritating as ever.

I had mixed feelings about Not That Duke but James’s writing was entertaining and Stella and Silvester had good chemistry (when the latter managed to pull his head out of his you-know-what). The supporting characters were engaging and I liked where everything ended up. I’m a longtime fan of Eloisa James so even with the aforementioned mixed feelings I’m still very much looking forward to her next book.

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

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Review: Resonance Surge by Nalini Singh

Resonance Surge by Nalini Singh
Series: Psy-Changeling Trinity, Book 7
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Paranormal Romance 
Resonance Surge cover
ISBN: 9780593440704
Release Date: July 18, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Nalini Singh Reading Order

StoneWater bears Pavel and Yakov Stepyrev have been a unit since birth, but now Pavel’s life is veering in a new direction, his heart held in the hands of Arwen Mercant, a Psy empath—and the only man who has ever brought Pavel to his knees.

This is it. A point of irrevocable change. For Pavel…for Arwen…for Yakov…and for another pair of twins whose bond has a far darker history.

A low-Gradient Psy, Theodora Marshall is considered worthless by everyone but her violently powerful twin, Pax. She is the sole person he trusts in their venomous family to investigate a hidden and terrible part of their family history—an unregistered rehabilitation Center established by their grandfather.

Places of unimaginable pain designed to psychically wipe minds, leaving the victims shells of their former selves, the Centers are an ugly vestige of the Psy race’s Silent past. But this Center was worse. Far, far worse. And now Theo must uncover the awful truth—in the company of a scowling bear named Yakov, who isn’t about to take a Marshall at face value…especially a Marshall who has turned his dreams into chilling nightmares.

Because Yakov is the great-grandson of a foreseer…and he has seen Theo die in an unstoppable surge of blood. Night after night after night…
Family, the good, the bad, and the in-between is at the heart of Resonance Surge. I find Nalini Singh’s StoneWater bears oh-so-delightful so it was with great pleasure that I dove into the Stepyrev twins’ book.

The descendant of a powerful F-Psy, Yakov Stepyrev has dreamed of his mate for years…and now dreams of her blood. When the woman of his visions appears before him, Yakov is determined to change her fate. But Theodora Marshall isn’t one to make it easy on him. Theo has survived her abusive, powerful grandfather and in the aftermath of his death is determined to find answers about an unregistered Psy rehabilitation Center. What the two discover, I will leave readers to find out. The evil of some who rose to power under Silence is not to be underestimated. Each piece of the puzzle Theo and Yakov find leads to more and the picture they unearth is anything but pleasant.

As dark as some of the subject matter is, there is also plenty of light to be found in Resonance Surge. The bears like to be underestimated and sneakily play up their fun sides, which is always charming. And the romance between Yakov and Theo is at the center of the book, giving that edge of love and hope to overcome the darkness. Theo has only ever been able to trust her twin, Pax, and she’s hesitant to lean on him too much, afraid of being a drain. StoneWater assigns Yakov to assist her investigation and the handsome bear changeling quickly becomes someone she can depend on. Yakov gets under her defenses right away and she under his. Singh also dives into an ongoing romance that has been at the very edges of the Psy-Changeling Trinity series: that of Pavel Stepyrev and Arwen Mercant. The other Stepyrev twin and his oh-so-fashionable E are dancing around mating. Their relationship was so sweet I ached to see more of it and wish they’d had a bigger part of the story.

Resonance Surge mostly takes a breather from the larger overarching series plotlines, focusing instead on the romance and a mostly contained set of issues. I loved seeing more of the StoneWater bears; anytime spent with them is a good time. And for fans of the series there are appearances from a few other past heroes and heroines which is an added treat. Singh wraps up Theo and Yakov’s story in a satisfying manner, but also manages to put readers on tenterhooks with the ending, waiting to see what will happen 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.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Review: What’s a Duke Got to Do With It by Christina Britton

What’s a Duke Got to Do With It by Christina Britton
Series: Synneful Spinsters, Book 2
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Historical Romance 
Whats a Duke Got to Do With It cover
ISBN: 9781538710425
Release Date: July 11, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo

The last thing Katrina Denby expected to find in her garden is the body of the man who ruined her three seasons ago. No matter that his death is a tragic accident, the rumors are enough to kill any woman’s prospects. With two scandals now hounding her, the best she can hope for is a hasty marriage of convenience—until her first love shows up in her drawing room, reminding her of all the reasons why she wanted a love match. If only he weren’t already engaged…

Sebastian Thorne, Duke of Ramsleigh, knows what he has to do to save the dukedom from the crushing debts and scandal his father left: marry and marry well. He’s picked the lady, too—a baron’s daughter who is pleasant, if a little boring. But seeing Katrina again makes him want to throw all those perfectly laid plans out the window. The first chance he had with her, he chose his duty over his heart. Doing so again might prove utterly impossible.

Katrina Denby, companion to Lady Tesh, finally gets her happily ever after in What’s a Duke Got to Do with It. Katrina came to the Isle of Synne already having suffered a scandal and now the same man whose actions ruined her name years ago is found dead trying yet again to climb into her window. Katrina’s reputation is in tatters and her only hope of not only salvaging her name but protecting those she loves from being hurt by association is to marry. Of course, that’s when the only man she ever wanted to wed comes through the door.

Sebastian, Duke of Ramsleigh, fell equally hard for Katrina years ago. But just as he was about to confess his feelings his father died, leaving him mired in debt and scandal. He’s still struggling to find enough money to support those who depend on him and the only way to do so is to marry for money. Which is when the penniless woman of his dreams comes back into his life…

What I liked best about What’s a Duke Got to Do with It is that Sebastian and Katrina are both such kind characters. They have good hearts and sweet natures; neither of them deserves what life has thrown at them. It was hard to see Katrina be hit over and over without cause, even knowing that author Christina Britton had to have the aforementioned happily ever after waiting for her at the end. It’s clear from the start that Sebastian and Katrina are meant to be, but love isn’t enough with the obstacles in their way. I adored them together and was rooting for them to find a way to make things work out so they could be together. Britton kept me guessing on how it would work but the end result was a satisfying one.

What’s a Duke Got to Do with It has a sweet romance, two protagonists who are easy to adore, and a host of supporting characters I enjoyed reading about. I love spending time on the Isle of Synne and I cannot wait to see what Britton has in store for Katrina’s fellow Oddments.

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, July 8, 2023

Review: Business or Pleasure by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Business or Pleasure Rachel Lynn Solomon
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Business or Pleasure cover
ISBN: 9780593548530
Release Date: July 4, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Chandler Cohen has never felt more like the ghost in "ghostwriter" until she attends a signing for a book she wrote—and the author doesn’t even recognize her. The evening turns more promising when she meets a charming man at the bar and immediately connects with him. But when all their sexual tension culminates in a spectacularly awkward hookup, she decides this is one night better off forgotten.

Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. Her next project is ghostwriting a memoir for Finn Walsh, a C-list actor best known for playing a lovable nerd on a cult classic werewolf show who now makes a living appearing at fan conventions across the country. Chandler knows him better from their one-night stand of hilarious mishaps.

Chandler’s determined to keep their partnership as professional as possible, but when she admits to Finn their night together wasn’t as mind-blowing as he thought it was, he’s distraught. He intrigues her enough that they strike a deal: when they’re not working on his book, Chandler will school Finn in the art of satisfaction. As they grow closer both in and out of the bedroom, they must figure out which is more important, business or pleasure—or if there's a way for them to have both.

A terrible one-night stand is an unexpected end to a meet-cute and an even more unexpected start to a romance, but it does make things interesting in Business or Pleasure. Rachel Lynn Solomon’s newest is a sex-positive romance that isn’t afraid of honesty and open communication. I really enjoyed Finn and Chandler’s love story; it was sensual, fun, and the fact that it was such a healthy romance made it stand out.

Chandler is a ghostwriter whose life is kind of at a standstill. She doesn’t expect the shakeup she didn’t know she needed to come from her terrible one-night stand turning out to be a C-list actor from a college werewolf show needing a ghostwriter for his new memoir. Finn may have been bad in bed, but the deal he’s offering is too good to pass up. And when Chandler reveals to him that their night together wasn’t exactly mind-blowing, Finn is embarrassed but doesn’t get his masculinity in a twist over it. Instead, he’s an eager pupil, ready to learn the art of satisfaction. Between trips to conventions, drafting the book, and lessons in the bedroom, Chandler and Finn lower their guard and open up to one another. Their relationship developed organically over the course of the book and I really liked that. Chandler and Finn are complex, well-drawn characters with realistic thoughts, fears, and foibles. I really enjoyed seeing them come out of their shells and embrace their potential. Solomon manages to blend sex education, mental health discussions, career anxiety, and more into the story, intertwining it with our protagonists’ growth and the romance.

Business or Pleasure is sexy and engaging, which characters who face their fears and are open and vulnerable with each other. Solomon has delivered a romance with depth and isn’t afraid to let things get messy. I finished Chandler and Finn’s book a well-satisfied (no pun intended) reader and I’m very much looking forward Solomon’s next book.

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

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Review: The Dane of My Existence by Jessica Martin

The Dane of My Existence by Jessica Martin
Series: Bard’s Rest, Book 2
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
The Dane of My Existence cover
ISBN: 9780593437452
Release Date: July 4, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Portia Barnes is the youngest managing partner in her law firm’s history, and she and her stilettos are poised to step into the role of her dreams—leading the firm’s new Boston office. But first she’s taking a summer sabbatical in her hometown of Bard’s Rest, New Hampshire, where she discovers something’s rotten in the midst of the town’s annual Shakespeare festival.

Hotshot commercial developer Benjamin Dane is sniffing around Bard’s, and while Portia isn’t necessarily a Shakespeare fanatic like the rest of her family, she’s not about to let him bulldoze the town’s beloved outdoor theater. Yet to Portia’s dismay, Ben proves as skilled as she is when it comes to outworking, outmaneuvering, and one-upping the competition. While she’s never hesitated to wage war against hyper-successful alpha males, Portia is caught off guard by Ben’s openness and lack of arrogance. As her own long-constructed walls start to come down, Portia begins to wonder if he might be more than an archnemesis.

With her heart on the line and the future of the town hanging in the balance, Portia faces an impossible decision—Ben or Bard’s?—unless she finds a way to broker the merger of her life, and ensures the curtain falls on a happy ending for everyone.

Return to Bard’s Rest, where Shakespeare puns and potential romances are aplenty. In The Dane of My Existence, Jessica Martin’s charming creation of a town is a constant delight, but it’s lawyer and rogue non-Shakespeare lover Portia Barnes at the heart of this tale.

It wasn’t easy to become the youngest managing partner at her law firm, but Portia did it. Now on a sabbatical until she moves into her new office, Portia is at loose ends. She’s not like the rest of her family and the idea of loosening up and not working is alien to her. No dust will settle on her skills though, because Bard’s Rest is at risk. Developer Benjamin Dane is sniffing around her beloved town looking to build condos that could certainly impact the town’s charm and main source of revenue. With a new opponent, Portia’s in her element…until her attraction to Ben knocks her off her feet. Ben is the perfect sparring partner and I really enjoyed their banter. Ben and Portia are well matched on every level. I loved that they understood each other’s commitment to and enjoyment of their work. That they grew to trust each other enough with their whole selves, even the imperfect bits. Portia and Ben’s slide from enemies to lovers to more worked because they had great chemistry and fit perfectly. Portia isn’t warm and cuddly on the surface and Ben likes that about her (as did I) and doesn’t seek to change her, which I really appreciated.

But the course of true love never did run smooth, so of course Martin doesn’t make it easy on her hero and heroine. As much as they’d like to, Ben and Portia can’t forget they’re at odds and if one of them wins it means the destruction of something else to the other. I was very much looking forward to seeing what happened and Martin made all the bumps in the road worth it in the end.

The Dane of My Existence is the second book in the Bard’s Rest series. If you don’t mind some minor spoilers then you can jump in here without any confusion. The Barnes family and their friends bring this town to life in delightful ways and really help the story shine. I liked Portia’s interactions with her sisters, best friends, and townsfolk. Bard’s Rest is a place I absolutely love spending time in and I hope for more romances set in this town.

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, June 21, 2023

Review: For the Love of the Bard by Jessica Martin

For the Love of the Bard by Jessica Martin
Series: Bard’s Rest, Book 1
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
For the Love of the Bard cover
ISBN: 9780593437438
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

To go for it or not to go for it? That is the question when two former high school flames return to their Shakespeare-obsessed hometown for a summer of theater and unexpected romance, in a laugh-out-loud rom-com from debut author Jessica Martin.

Literary agent and writer Miranda Barnes rolls into her hometown of Bard’s Rest with one goal in mind: to spend the summer finally finishing her YA novel, the next installment in her bestselling fantasy series. Yet Miranda’s mother, deep in the planning stages for the centennial of the town’s beloved annual Shakespeare festival, has other ideas.

Before you can say “all’s fair in love and war,” Miranda is cornered into directing Twelfth Night—while simultaneously scrambling to finish her book, navigating a family health scare, and doing her best to avoid the guy who broke her heart on prom night.

When it comes to Adam, the veterinarian with a talent for set design and an infuriating knack for winning over Miranda’s dog, the lady doth protest too much. As any Shakespeare lovers knows, the course of true love never did run smooth, and soon Miranda realizes she’ll have to decide whether to trust Adam with her heart again.

Miranda Barnes is a literary agent by day, bestselling YA author by night. After the backlash of her last novel, she’s in a bit of a slump and has returned home to Bard’s Rest to write her next book. But her mother – head of the centennial committee for the town’s annual Shakespeare festival – needs help. Which means Miranda is soon drafted to not only direct a production of Twelfth Night but to work with Adam Winters, who broke her heart in high school. Adam is a veterinarian with an easy smile and a winning personality, but Miranda can’t be charmed when she’s still referred to as “Backup Barnes” because of him. Or can she? Soon sparks are flying and it’s up to Miranda to decide if she wants to risk a broken heart again by taking a chance on an old flame.

For the Love of the Bard is a wonderfully funny, entertaining romance. If you enjoy Shakespeare – or more accurately, puns about the Bard’s plays – you’re in for a treat. I adored Jessica Martin’s debut novel and I can’t count the number of times it made me smile. The Shakespeare-loving town of Bard’s Rest was a delight and because I’m a sucker for a good pun, Martin had me giggling. I wish Bard’s Rest were real because I’d love to go to their festival.

Miranda is a likeable heroine who is juggling helping out with her family, trying to write her next novel, and being knocked off her feet by Adam. I enjoyed watching Miranda find her way over the course of the story and decide how she is going to shape her life. Adam is an easy hero to adore with his kind heart and easygoing charm. I really liked the banter between Adam and Miranda and was rooting for them every step of the way. Their family and friends (human and animal) help round out the world and bring even more energy to the story. I liked seeing Miranda’s various relationships develop, and even when it comes to a potential mean girl, Martin doesn’t do what’s expected which was nice. Nerdiness is celebrated in this book and I loved that. The story slowed down a bit on the latter half, but even with that I still thoroughly enjoyed For the Love of the Bard. I cannot wait to return to Bard’s Rest and see what Martin has in store for Miranda’s sister Portia.

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, June 12, 2023

Review: The Sweetheart List by Jill Shalvis

The Sweetheart List by Jill Shalvis
Series: Sunrise Cove, Book 4
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
The Sweetheart List cover
ISBN: 9780063235694
Release Date: June 13, 2023
Source: Author
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Jill Shalvis Reading Order

What makes life sweet?

• Freshly baked bread
• A cool lake on a hot summer day
• The comfort of a cozy bookstore
• Second chances and new beginnings

When Harper Shaw’s life falls apart, she knows it’s time for a change. She removes everything that doesn’t spark joy—from her soul-sucking job to eating kale to making lists—and sets off for the last place she was happy, Lake Tahoe (who wouldn’t feel good there, right?) to fulfill her dream of opening her own bakery.

With her Sugar Pine Bakery in between a tavern, owned by sexy, grumpy Bodie Campbell, and a bookstore, run by her new BFF, she feels a peace she’s never experienced since…well, forever.. Then she meets Ivy, a teenage runaway, who barrels into her heart. She sees a lot of herself in Ivy and takes her under her wing, but the teenager has secrets…

When those secrets explode, it changes Harper’s new world, and she’ll learn, it’s never too late to start over, it’s never too late to figure out your life, and best of all, it’s never too late to let yourself believe in love.

New beginnings are oh-so-sweet in The Sweetheart List. Jill Shalvis’s latest Sunrise Cove novel is warm, welcoming, and wonderfully entertaining. Harper, Ivy, and Bodie are endearing characters and I adored every step of their journeys.

Harper Shaw is in need of a fresh start, so she heads to Sunrise Cove, the last place she was truly happy. Harper is sunny, funny, and kind, but also incredibly lonely. Since the death of her mom she hasn’t had anyone who stayed and chose her. Harper knows what it is to have no one to rely on but herself which is why she immediately connects with Ivy, a teenage runaway. The two of them hit it off from the start and I loved seeing the trust between them build. Someone who has always had family to rely on, even when he tried to put up a wall between them? Bodie Campbell. The former ATF agent is recovering from internal and external wounds at the beginning of this book and he doesn’t want love or any complications. Then Harper knocks him off his feet and the not-as-tough-as-she-looks Ivy tugs on his heartstrings. What happens next is a whole series of complications, ones that could make all three of their lives better if they have the courage to open their hearts.

It was easy to fall into The Sweetheart List. Shalvis’s classic humor is there, complete with a scene-stealing animal and a host of family and friends who are up in each other’s business. I really enjoyed Harper and Bodie’s romance; it was sweet with just a bit of a kick to keep things interesting. Their love story made me smile and I was rooting for them every step of the way. Their maternal/paternal relationships with Ivy were lovely to read about. Ivy’s secret, which could change everything, is woven through the story and is as important as the Harper/Bodie romance.

The Sweetheart List is every bit as sweet as the name implies. It’s a lovely, fast-paced read to be swept away by whenever you’re in the mood for an escape. Between the endearing characters, the humor, and the heart, it’s a charming pick-me-up that’s perfect for any season.

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.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Review: Unfortunately Yours by Tessa Bailey

Unfortunately Yours by Tessa Bailey
Series: A Vine Mess, Book 2
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Unfortunately Yours cover
ISBN: 9780063239036
Release Date: June 6, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

After losing her job and her fiancé in one fell swoop, Natalie Vos returned home to lick her wounds. A few months later, she’s sufficiently drowned her sorrows in cabernet and she’s ready to get back on her feet. She just needs her trust fund to finance her new business venture. Unfortunately, the terms require she marry before she can have the money. And well, dumped, remember?

But Natalie is desperate enough to propose to a man who makes her want to kill him—and kiss him, in equal measure.

August Cates may own a vineyard, but he doesn’t know jack about making wine. He’s determined to do his late best friend proud, no matter what it takes. Except his tasting room is empty, his wine is disgusting (seriously, he once saw someone gag), and his buddy’s legacy is circling the drain. No bank will give him the loan he needs to turn the business around... and then the gorgeous, feisty heiress knocks on his door.

Natalie has haunted August's dreams since the moment they met, but their sizzling chemistry immediately morphed into simmering insults. Now, a quickie marriage could help them both. A sham wedding, a few weeks living under the same roof, and then they can go their separate ways—assuming they make it out alive. How hard could it be?

There’s just one thing they didn’t account for: their unfortunate, unbearable, undeniable attraction.
There’s a fine line between loathe you and can’t live without you in Unfortunately Yours. Tessa Bailey gives Natalie Vos her happily ever after in this second Vine Mess book that, unfortunately, was not my cup of tea (or glass of Cabernet, if we’re going to be on-theme).

Natalie has long been an outsider, even among her own family. She’s both worked hard and acted out all her life to not be ignored but there’s a core of loneliness to her that broke my heart. I liked seeing the vulnerable side of Natalie whose smarts and insight had a lot to offer, and I really wish I’d seen more of that developed because it gave her character depth. August Cates is the one man who sees her and he drives her absolutely batty. The former Navy SEAL is now running a winery in memory of his best friend, but he sucks at it. When Natalie needs access to her trust fund (hampered by archaic terms) and August needs to be taken seriously by the wine community to get a small business loan, they decide on a marriage of convenience. A sham wedding and close quarters mean it’s impossible for these two stubborn people to go from locking horns to…well, you get the idea.

I wanted to love Unfortunately Yours as much as I’ve loved other books of Bailey’s. However, I simply struggled with this one. August just didn’t work for me. No matter how many times Bailey reminds readers that he’s huge and a former Navy SEAL, August came off as a caricature of a giant, protective alpha male to me. Between his cringy jokes and absurd horniness he came off like a teenager rather than a thirty-something veteran. The banter between he and Natalie didn’t work for me at all and the whole book just came off as hyper-hormonal rather than hot, shallow rather than believable, and the insta-love strained credulity to the breaking point. There were some good points to the book (Menace the cat) and some opportunities for more development that were sadly missed (Natalie’s relationship with her family). Not every book will be for every reader and Natalie and August’s story is a case of the characters just not being for me.

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 3, 2023

Review: B’Nai Mitzvah Mistake by Stacey Agdern

B’Nai Mitzvah Mistake by Stacey Agdern
Series: Last Girls Standing, Book 1
Publisher: Tule Publishing
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
B’Nai Mitzvah Mistake cover
ISBN: 9781958686782
Release Date: June 1, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Tule Publishing

Sharing isn’t caring when it comes to your big day.

Judith Nachman loves working as a project manager at the Mitzvah Alliance charity, and after five years, it’s finally her turn to have the bat mitzvah of her dreams. Judith is enjoying every single moment of the process—until she learns she has to share her day with the annoying hockey player who derailed her sister’s career.

Retired hockey player Ash Mendel is determined to start an organization to support Jewish athletes, and the first step is to have his bar mitzvah. He's not sure what he wants his day to look like, but he knows he definitely wants forgiveness from Judith, the woman he's sharing the date with.

But Judith’s nephew needs to interview an athlete, and Ash needs professional advice for his foundation, so they exchange favors. Except as they get to know each other and their worlds start to mingle, Ash and Judith will have to decide whether sharing their lives as well as their B'Nai Mitzvah is the best decision they could make, or the biggest mistake of their lives.

B’Nai Mitzvah Mistake is a sweet romance with fantastic Jewish representation. Stacey Agdern has a wonderful way of depicting Judaism in her books, from the religious standpoint, the cultural standpoint, education, mitzvot, and the sense of community. I loved Ash and Judith’s passion and learning over the course of the book and this is where Agdern’s writing shines.

I struggled heavily with rating B’Nai Mitzvah Mistake because the representation was so well done and highlighting Jewish athletes (hockey players in particular) made my heart sing. I also really loved Judith and Ash studying for their B’Nai Mitzvot and how their lessons enhanced the story. That being said, the heart of the story is the romance between Judith and Ash and this is where I didn’t feel the spark. I’ve adored past romances of Agdern’s but Ash and Judith just didn’t have the chemistry I wanted. The main obstacle in the romance is the fact that Ash set back Judith’s sister’s career as a sports agent years ago. Judith, loyal and loving sister that she is, doesn’t want to forgive Ash and definitely does not want to share her Bat Mitzvah date with him. But as she gets to know him, she starts falling for the man and is torn between her feelings for him and her loyalty to her sister. I had a really hard time with this because the push-pull felt inauthentic and forced. The love story came across as stilted and the drama made it easy to put the book down. It’s a disappointment because outside the main storyline there was so much to enjoy about this book. At the end of the day, the romance just wasn’t my cup of tea. That being said, the Jewish representation was great and I’ve enjoyed other books of Agdern’s so I’ll definitely be looking forward to the rest of the Last Girls Standing series.

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.