Sunday, December 31, 2023

Review: On the Plus Side by Jenny L. Howe

On the Plus Side by Jenny L. Howe
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
On the Plus Side cover
ISBN: 9781250837882
Release Date: December 26, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Everly Winters is perfectly happy to navigate life like a good neutral paint color: appreciated but unnoticed. That’s why she’s still a receptionist instead of exploring a career in art, why she lurks but never posts on the forums for her favorite makeover show, On the Plus Side, and why she’s crushing so hard on her forever-unattainable co-worker. When no one notices you, they can’t reject you or insist you’re too much.

This plan is working perfectly until someone secretly nominates Everly for the next season of On the Plus Side. Overwhelmed by the show’s extremely extroverted hosts and how much time she’ll have to spend on screen, she finds comfort in a surprising friendship with the grumpy but kind cameraman, Logan. Soon Everly realizes that he’s someone she doesn’t mind being noticed by. In fact, she might even like it.

On the Plus Side is a story of being authentically yourself and finding love (self-love and romantic) along the way. Jenny L. Howe does an amazing job of representing a plus size heroine who loves herself but also struggles with her image. Everly is loud, bold, and an artist, but she’s repressed all three things for years. Content-ish to fade into the background, to modulate her voice, to work as a receptionist rather than go for a design job she wants, and secretly moon over a coworker, Everly is shocked to learn she’s been chosen to be on her favorite reality show, On the Plus Side. The show’s vibrant hosts are a whirlwind, pulling Everly outside her comfort zone and making her face what she’s hidden about herself. Also along for the ride is plaid-wearing cameraman Logan, who is better than any fantasy Everly had about her coworker.

I loved Everly’s journey. Her mother has pushed her to tame herself, to hide in the background, but Everly has a bold personality and style she wants to let shine. The reality show helps her reclaim herself and I loved that journey. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Everly show her art, to grow professionally as well as personally. As for the romance, she and Logan are an excellent pair. They have an easy chemistry and how can you not swoon over a guy who thinks you’re perfect just as you are?

On the Plus Side is a love story; self-love, romantic love, and the love between family, friends, and the community you build. I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of Everly’s journey and I’m very much looking forward to reading more of Howe’s work.

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, December 27, 2023

Review: Gwen & Art Are Not in Love by Lex Croucher

Gwen & Art Are Not in Love by Lex Croucher
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Genre: LGBTQIA+ Young Adult Fantasy Romance 
Gwen and Art Are Not in Love cover
ISBN: 9781250847218
eBook Source: Publisher
Audiobook Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

It’s been hundreds of years since King Arthur’s reign. His descendant, Arthur, a future Lord and general gadabout, has been betrothed to Gwendoline, the quick-witted, short-tempered princess of England, since birth. The only thing they can agree on is that they despise each other.

They’re forced to spend the summer together at Camelot in the run up to their nuptials, and within 24 hours, Gwen has discovered Arthur kissing a boy and Arthur has gone digging for Gwen's childhood diary and found confessions about her crush on the kingdom's only lady knight, Bridget Leclair.

Realizing they might make better allies than enemies, they make a reluctant pact to cover for each other, and as things heat up at the annual royal tournament, Gwen is swept off her feet by her knight and Arthur takes an interest in Gwen's royal brother. Lex Croucher’s Gwen & Art Are Not in Love is chock full of sword-fighting, found family, and romantic shenanigans destined to make readers fall in love.

Hundreds of years after the famed fall of Camelot, England has a new Arthur and Gwen in Gwen & Art Are Not in Love. As you can guess from the title, our main characters are not about to be swept off their feet… At least, not by each other. They may be betrothed, but they loathe one another. On top of that, Gwen is hopelessly crushing on the kingdom’s lone female knight and Art is a general gadabout who finds himself swiftly falling for Gwen’s brother. What are two decidedly not in love nobles to do? Why not put aside their differences and cover for each other?

Gwen & Art Are Not in Love starts off a bit slow as Art and Gwen clash, but it picks up steam as the two come together to, well, not be together. I really loved Gwen and Art’s growing friendship over the course of the story – it’s likely my favorite thing about the book. Gwen is formal and grumpy, but it hides a loneliness I don’t even think she sees at first. Art is impulsive and rarely serious, but his jokes cover a lot of pain. I liked seeing the two of them come into their own over the course of the story. I listened to this story on audiobook, and I feel like this is definitely a case where the narrators added to the story. Sarah Ovens hit the right notes as Gwen, but Alex Singh really made Art come alive for me. I’m not sure if I’d have enjoyed Art as much as I did had I just read the book. Singh brings such personality to the role that he really elevated it for me.

A romp with gay best friends would have been a solid story for me because Gwen and Art could be so much fun. But there’s romance here as well. Gwen has a major crush on Bridget and Art can’t help but fall for Gabriel. I do wish we’d have gotten Gabe and Bridget’s points of view because that would have rounded out the story much better. Still, as it stands I enjoyed seeing our protagonists fall in love, overcome obstacles, and take a risk on letting their true selves show.

I won’t spoil the story, but I will say that in the last quarter of the book Gwen & Art Are Not in Love takes a turn from fun romp with romance and adventure to violent and quite dark, with political machinations taking center stage in the final act. I can see what Lex Croucher was building to so I can’t say it came out of nowhere, but the shift in tone felt abrupt and I’m not sure I was satisfied with how the ending came about, but your mileage may vary.

I had mixed feelings about Gwen & Art Are Not in Love but overall I think it was entertaining. The middle of the book was delightful but the slow beginning and the change of tone at the end weren’t really my cup of tea. Still, there’s a lot to enjoy about this story – I love what Croucher did with the Arthurian legend and the friendships in this book were top-notch. Gwen and Art may not have been in love, but the themes of love, family, and finding the courage to stand up for who you are shine through this 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.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Review: A Lady’s Rules For Ruin by Jennifer Haymore

A Lady’s Rules For Ruin by Jennifer Haymore
Series: The Lions and the Lilies, Book 2
Publisher: Entangled: Amara
Genre: Historical Romance 
A Ladys Rules For Ruin cover
ISBN: 9781649374516
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Entangled

She’s found the perfect plan to avoid marriage…

Miss Frances Cherrington has long been criticized as independent and prickly. And she’s fine with it. Truth be told, she’d prefer to be a spinster—damn her family’s desires. But it’s a conversation with the devilishly handsome yet highly infuriating Earl of Winthrop that inspires the perfect escape from her nuptial troubles. Frances could ensure that no one will marry her—by happily ruining her own reputation…

The Earl of Winthrop knows more about ruin than anyone suspects. He’s just uncovered a secret that would tear his name—and everything he’s worked for—to the ground. Certainly, marriage is out of the question…to say nothing of his growing attraction to the forthright and delectable Miss Cherrington.

Though all London is abuzz with Frances’s “disgrace,” she’s determined to use her freedom however she sees fit. Even if it means spending more time with a man who sets her body on fire. But when Frances’s misdeeds catch up to her, the ruinous disaster she finds herself in blazes out of control, taking all of her options with it.

An earl who any marriage-minded woman would set her sights on falls for a woman determined to remain unmarried in A Lady’s Rules For Ruin. Jennifer Haymore’s second Lions and the Lilies story follows a dashing earl with secrets and a “ruined” young lady embracing her freedom.

Frances doesn’t want to marry and she sets about making sure she ruins her reputation. With that accomplished, she’s free to find what actually interests her in life. But her outings keep putting her in the path of the Apollo of the ton, the Earl of Winthrop. The dashing earl should be shallow and irritating…and yet he’s anything but. Evan has been charmed by Frances from the start; her prickly exterior doesn’t faze him. But then his life takes a turn when he discovers his deceased father’s secrets. Not only does he have half-brothers he never knew of, but what he has learned about his father makes him determined to remain unwed.

While Frances and Evan both claim to never want to marry, it’s clear to see that they’re made for each other. They simply click and Evan’s newfound brothers help bring them together. Jasper, Bobby, and Mark are endearing and I loved seeing Frances and Evan bond with them. The romance is slow to build as much of the story is focused on family drama, but Haymore still made Evan and Frances’s connection strong. It did take me a while to get into the story because of the slow start, but once things got moving I was hooked.

A Lady’s Rules For Ruin is an entertaining romance with a hero and heroine who are easy to like. Frances and Evan are both at a crossroads in this book, but they find their way together, making a family before they are even aware of it. All in all I enjoyed this entry in the Lions and the Lilies series and I am very much looking forward to seeing Evan’s remaining friends find love.

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

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Review: Born to Be Badger by Shelly Laurenston

Born to Be Badger by Shelly Laurenston
Series: The Honey Badger Chronicles, Book 5
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: Paranormal Romance 
Born to Be Badger cover
ISBN: 9781496730176
Release Date: November 28, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Emily “Tock” Meyerson-Jackson is on a mission to rid the world of shifters trafficking humans for hunting and cash. And now that she’s narrowed down her suspects to a brutal coalition of male lions, nothing will get between this honey badger and her prey—not even a dog-loving Tiger with absolutely no time management skills. Doesn’t matter that Shay Malone is ferociously adorable. With a war brewing between cat families, Tock doesn’t have time to lounge around with a football-playing tiger shifter. But when she realizes the coalition is also responsible for the death of Shay’s father, she’s forced to partner up with the flirtatious feline…

Revenge is most definitely on the menu for Shay and his tiger shifter brothers. But when it comes to Shay’s alluring partner in crime-solving, so is seduction. Tock might be a bad-ass of a honey badger, but she’s awfully cute when she’s flashing her fangs, which she’s pretty much doing all the time these days. Good thing revenge is a dish best served hot. Because when it comes to Tock, Shay knows just how to turn up the heat…

Born to Be Badger is a wild ride filled with action, adventure, and big personalities. Shelly Laurenston’s newest entry into her ever-expanding shifter world is seriously fun.

Tock is a honey badger who is no-nonsense and obsessed with time. She’s blunt to a hilarious degree and has a way of just taking care of things that I really liked. Shay is a tiger with soft, squishy feelings, absolutely no time management skills, and a daughter to get to math camp on time – even when bad guys are after him and the woman he’s supremely attracted to. Tock tries to ignore him at first, but you can’t ignore a tiger trying to get your attention. Shay and Tock just click from the start and I loved them together. They’re funny, her relationship with his daughter is sweet without being saccharine, and I just enjoyed reading about them. Their romance is slow burn and understated to the point that I wish there had been a bit more time devoted to it, but I honestly didn’t mind too much because I just liked them together. There’s an easy chemistry between them that makes them stand out and the two of them stand on their own without being overwhelmed by the giant personalities of the sizeable supporting cast.

Born to Be Badger continues several plots from the Honey Badger Chronicles and Laurenston’s other shifter series, but doesn’t entirely have one of its own outside of Tock and Shay’s understated love story. Normally this would bother me but it kind of works in this book because the daily lives of Tock, Shay, and their friends and family are interesting on their own. I liked seeing Tock and her teammates continue their chaotic (sometimes bloodthirsty) ways and Laurenston introduces several interesting plots that I expect to see continued in future books. So in terms of the series, it’s a bridge book, maybe even filler, but it doesn’t feel that way. Quite simply, this book is fun. There are shenanigans, dozens of shifters, and intriguing hints of what’s to come. I had a blast reading Born to Be Badger and it’s zany, frenetic energy, unique characters, and Laurenston’s entertaining storytelling make it a book I’ll enjoy over and over.

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, November 21, 2023

Review: There Should Have Been Eight by Nalini Singh

There Should Have Been Eight by Nalini Singh
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Thriller 
There Should Have Been Eight cover
ISBN: 9780593549766
Release Date: November 21, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Nalini Singh Reading Order

Seven friends.
One last weekend.
A mansion half in ruins.
No room for lies.
Someone is going to confess.
Because there should have been eight…

They met when they were teenagers. Now they’re adults, and time has been kind to some and unkind to others—none more so than to Bea, the one they lost nine long years ago.

They’ve gathered to reminisce at Bea’s family’s estate, a once-glorious mansion straight out of a gothic novel. Best friends, old flames, secret enemies, and new lovers are all under one roof. But when the weather turns and they’re snowed in at the edge of eternity, there’s nowhere left to hide from their shared history.

As the walls close in, the pretense of normality gives way to long-buried grief, bitterness, and rage. Underneath it all, there’s the nagging feeling that Bea’s shocking death wasn’t what it was claimed to be. And before the weekend is through, the truth will be unleashed—no matter the cost…

There Should Have Been Eight is a tense, claustrophobic thriller that is incredibly addictive. I have mixed feelings about the mystery, but I have to give Nalini Singh high marks for making this a real page-turner. Her writing is dark, evocative, and the mystery is compelling though your milage may vary on how you like the resolution.

Luna has had the same group of friends since she was a teenager, but now the group of eight is down to seven. Bea, bright, shining, beautiful Bea who Luna was obsessed with is long gone. At a get-together in a remote estate, things start to go wrong. And as they’re trapped, the past comes rearing back to life as secrets, betrayals, and a twisted web of deceit comes to life.

Luna is an interesting narrator. Her obsession with Bea remains strong, even years after her death. How she views her remaining friends – Darcie, Ash, Nix, Kaea, Aaron, Vansi – plus Aaron’s fiancée, Grace, isn’t quite objective. She’s a photographer, and though the lens gives her some distance she isn’t unbiased and her obsession with Bea makes her dig into old wounds. Luna is also losing her sight, and the impending loss of her vision has her questioning what she sees in the shadows, in some expressions. The questions she has around Bea’s death come raging back during this trip as the ghosts of the past are stirred up.

Luna isn’t the only one fixated on the past. Things start happening, pranks that escalate to true harm, as the storm that locks the group in at the estate rages on. Some of the group are blameless, some are not, but all are in harm’s way; no protection of innocents in this story. Singh starts off easy then ratchets up the tension until the climax. The revelations come fast at the end as the tale spins slightly out of control. For such a tightly written novel the way everything came together (key in a mystery) felt a bit off. The ending didn’t quite work for me, but that could be chalked up to reader preference.

There Should Have Been Eight drips with gothic mystery and Singh’s talent for writing an engaging thriller is on display. Not every bit of the story worked for me, but I found it wholly compelling nonetheless.

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, November 20, 2023

Review: Do Your Worst by Rosie Danan

Do Your Worst by Rosie Danan
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary Romance with Paranormal Elements 
Do Your Worst cover
ISBN: 9780593437148
Release Date: November 14, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Riley Rhodes finally has the chance to turn her family’s knack for the supernatural into a legitimate business when she’s hired to break the curse on an infamous Scottish castle. Used to working alone in her alienating occupation, she's pleasantly surprised to meet a handsome stranger upon arrival—until he tries to get her fired.

Fresh off a professional scandal, Clark Edgeware can’t allow a self-proclaimed “curse breaker” to threaten his last chance for redemption. After he fails to get Riley kicked off his survey site, he vows to avoid her. Unfortunately for him, she vows to get even.

Riley expects the curse to do her dirty work by driving Clark away, but instead, they keep finding themselves in close proximity. Too close. Turns out, the only thing they do better than fight is fool around. If they’re not careful, by the end of all this, more than the castle will end up in ruins.

Do Your Worst is seriously hot, tons of fun, and incredibly addictive. A bold and bright curse breaker + a stalwart archaeologist determined to repair his reputation = one heck of a good time.

Riley Rhodes is determined to be the first person in her family to turn curse breaking into a legitimate business. An opportunity to break an ancient curse in the Scottish Highlands is perfect. What she doesn’t expect is there to be a grumpy archeologist determined to get her kicked off the site. It’s been less than a year since Clark Edgeware faced betrayal and a massive career setback. He’s committed to rebuilding his image and the last thing he needs is some quack – no matter how distractingly sexy – messing up his job site. Clark and Riley are each determined to make the other leave, but with the help of the curse, they’re about to learn firsthand why enemies to lovers is such an enduring trope.

Riley and Clark are both a delight for different reasons. Riley is energetic, smart, and brave; she’s faced more criticism than you can imagine and she’s got tough skin. That doesn’t mean no one can get under it – Clark sure does. Clark is a gentleman in the streets and I bet you can figure out what that means in the sheets. He’s grumpy and still stinging from the wounds of betrayal when he meets Riley. Though he tries to get her fired, he can’t help but be drawn to her and what she shows him starts to open his mind. Clark has been hurt and the wounds not yet healed, so my heart broke for him a couple of times over the course of the story. I loved watching both he and Riley come into their own. They each have a journey to make individually as well as one to go on as a couple.

Enemies to lovers isn’t my favorite genre but Rosie Danan could make it so if they were all written like Clark and Riley. I absolutely loved the crackling chemistry that lit up the page – Do Your Worst is seriously hot. Add in a mystery revolving around how to break the curse, research that takes some very sexy turns, family drama, and entertaining hijinks and you’ve got one wonderfully entertaining story. I finished Riley and Clark’s story eager for a re-read and I cannot wait to see what Danan 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.

Monday, November 13, 2023

Review: Inheritance by Nora Roberts

Inheritance by Nora Roberts
Series: The Lost Bride Trilogy, Book 1
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary Romance with Paranormal Elements 
Inheritance cover
ISBN: 9781250288325
Release Date: November 21, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

1806: Astrid Poole sits in her bridal clothes, overwhelmed with happiness. But before her marriage can be consummated, she is murdered, and the circle of gold torn from her finger. Her last words are a promise to Collin never to leave him…

Graphic designer Sonya MacTavish is stunned to learn that her late father had a twin he never knew about—and that her newly discovered uncle, Collin Poole, has left her almost everything he owned, including a majestic Victorian house on the Maine coast, which the will stipulates she must live in it for at least three years. Her engagement recently broken, she sets off to find out why the boys were separated at birth—and why it was all kept secret until a genealogy website brought it to light.

Trey, the young lawyer who greets her at the sprawling clifftop manor, notes Sonya’s unease—and acknowledges that yes, the place is haunted…but just a little. Sure enough, Sonya finds objects moved and music playing out of nowhere. She sees a painting by her father inexplicably hanging in her deceased uncle’s office, and a portrait of a woman named Astrid, whom the lawyer refers to as “the first lost bride.” It’s becoming clear that Sonya has inherited far more than a house. She has inherited a centuries-old curse, and a puzzle to be solved if there is any hope of breaking it…

After her engagement ends and her career takes an unexpected turn, Sonya MacTavish is ready for a fresh start. What she doesn’t expect that to entail is an inheritance from an uncle she never knew existed. Said inheritance includes a stunning Victorian manor on the Maine coast that comes with, shall we say, unearthly residents. Seven brides were lost, one per generation. Their spirits and others are anchored to the house… Along with an evil that lurks, displeased with Sonya’s arrival. With her best friend, Cleo, beside her, and handsome lawyer Trey for support, Sonya starts to unravel the mystery of Lost Bride Manor.

Inheritance is engaging, interesting, and at times richly atmospheric. Nora Roberts has opened up her Lost Bride trilogy with an utterly addictive beginning.

Sonya was easy for me to like from the start. She takes a few hits, but she’s strong, smart, and determined. With the support of her loved ones, she gets a fresh new start when she moves to Maine. She didn’t expect to fall in love at first sight with the manor she inherited, nor the charming town nearby. She also didn’t count on her new ghostly roommates. It takes a while for Sonya to believe, but I loved learning about the ghosts and their different personalities alongside her. The son of her late uncle’s best friend, Trey Doyle has had a lifetime to become accustomed to the hauntings of the manor. Trey is sexy, kind, and supportive – how could Sonya or I resist him? He and Sonya just click from the start and though Inheritance is only the beginning of their story, I definitely can’t wait to see where Roberts takes them.

Along for the ride are Sonya’s best friend, Cleo, and Sonya’s newfound cousin, Owen. Sparks fly between the two and – as with our main couple – I’m very much looking forward to seeing where Cleo and Owen go. I enjoyed the various love stories in this book, from the love of family to that of friends to the possibilities of what’s to come and to love lost but lingering. I don’t want to say too much about the ghostly residents or the Big Bad as much of the fun of the story is learning things alongside Sonya.

Inheritance is beautiful, sad, and hopeful all at once. It’s got some creepy vibes (if you’re easily spooked like me) and a touch of gothic atmosphere. This is not a self-contained book, however; it’s the first part of a much larger story and ends with a bit of a cliffhanger. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Inheritance. It was easy for me to get caught up in the story; I loved the world and the journey Sonya and company are on so far. I cannot wait to see what happens 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, November 11, 2023

Review: Plot Twist by Erin La Rosa

Plot Twist by Erin La Rosa
Series: The Hollywood Series, Book 2
Publisher: Canary Street Press
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Plot Twist cover
ISBN: 9781335458117
Release Date: November 14, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

She’s written off more than she can chew…

Romance author Sophie Lyon’s ironic secret just went viral: she’s never been in love—and it’s ruining her reputation. With a manuscript deadline looming, Sophie makes an ambitious plan to overcome her writer’s block: reunite with her exes (including her last girlfriend Carla, the one person she could have loved) to learn why she’s never fallen in love, and document it all for her millions of new online followers.

Luckily, Sophie’s reclusive landlord, Dash Montrose—a former teen heartthrob—has social media all figured out and is willing to help. What he doesn’t mention is that he’s an anonymous online crafter, a hobby that helps him maintain his sobriety. No one knows about his complicated relationship with alcohol, and with a family that’s Hollywood royalty, Dash has to steer clear of scandal.

As Sophie and Dash grow closer, they discover a heat between them that rivals Dash’s pottery kiln. But Sophie needs to figure out who she is outside her relationships, and Dash isn’t sure he’s stable enough for the commitment she deserves. So Sophie suggests what any good romance author would: a friends-with-benefits arrangement. Surely a strictly casual relationship won’t cause any trouble…

Romance author Sophie Lyon’s big secret has just gone viral: she’s never been in love. After a hit debut novel, she’s got a terrible case of writer’s block and – when combined with her recent TikTok revelation and a looming deadline – she’s in trouble. Her solution? Go back through her exes and see where things went wrong. Along for the ride (somewhat reluctantly) is her sexy landlord, Dash Montrose. Dash is Hollywood royalty, but he’s quit acting to focus on maintaining his sobriety. He doesn’t want any upheavals to his carefully constructed peace and Sophie is a whirlwind filled with complications. But the two of them are drawn to each other and the longer Dash spends helping Sophie the more impossible their mutual attraction is to resist…

Erin La Rosa leans hard into tried-and-true romance tropes in Plot Twist. You’ve got grumpy + sunshine, best friend’s brother, only one bed…it’s cute and fitting when you have a heroine who’s a romance author. I had mixed feelings about Sophie and Dash’s story but overall it was fun.

Dash was an easy hero for me to like. He’s Hollywood royalty and being shoved into acting from a young age didn’t help him in the slightest. He’s a recovering alcoholic, less than two years into his sobriety and he’s focused on that. He’s holed up in his home, using crafting as an outlet while he tries to determine what direction he wants his life to take. I was rooting for Dash and even though he’s (very slightly) grumpy I found him an endearing hero who was there to cheer on and bolster Sophie. His family life is messy and I wish we’d explored the dynamics there a bit more because it was interesting and had potential.

Sophie is a hot mess in the beginning of Plot Twist. Her looming deadline is weighing on her and she can’t capture the magic of her bestselling debut. I never fully connected with Sophie, but I liked that she eventually started to realize that maybe she was part of the problem when it came to her past relationships not working. She’s messy, flawed, and screws up, but takes the time to realize her flaws and doesn’t balk when her best friend and sister point them out. She and Dash have good chemistry and it made their romance work. It’s sweet and sexy, with some good humor thrown in (Richard the squirrel made use of his cameos).

La Rosa makes the most of the romance tropes she employs and that’s generally fun. That being said, some of the drama – especially at the end of the book – felt forced and rushed when it could have been woven in better over the latter half of the story. There were real issues in this book that gave it depth and could have been explored more to take this from good to great. And while I didn’t mind all the TikTok references, I’m worried this book will start to feel dated quickly. While Plot Twist didn’t dazzle me, I liked it and La Rosa’s writing enough that I’ll be on the lookout for more of her work.

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, 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.