Saturday, April 29, 2023

Review: In the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune

In the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Dystopian/Sci-Fi 
In the Lives of Puppets cover
ISBN: 9781250217448
Release Date: April 25, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

In a strange little home built into the branches of a grove of trees, live three robots—fatherly inventor android Giovanni Lawson, a pleasantly sadistic nurse machine, and a small vacuum desperate for love and attention. Victor Lawson, a human, lives there too. They’re a family, hidden and safe.

The day Vic salvages and repairs an unfamiliar android labelled “HAP,” he learns of a shared dark past between Hap and Gio–a past spent hunting humans.

When Hap unwittingly alerts robots from Gio’s former life to their whereabouts, the family is no longer hidden and safe. Gio is captured and taken back to his old laboratory in the City of Electric Dreams. So together, the rest of Vic’s assembled family must journey across an unforgiving and otherworldly country to rescue Gio from decommission, or worse, reprogramming.

Along the way to save Gio, amid conflicted feelings of betrayal and affection for Hap, Vic must decide for himself: Can he accept love with strings attached?

What makes us human? What makes us more than the base we are created to be? TJ Klune asks these questions and more in the fantastical dystopian adventure, In the Lives of Puppets. This book is inspired by Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, but there are bits of Frankenstein, Wall-E, and more, brought together and added upon by Klune’s unique voice and characters.

In a strange home built among the trees lives a unique family: inventor android Giovanni Lawson, an anxiety-ridden vacuum named Rambo, sadistic medical robot Nurse Ratched, and Victor Lawson, a human inventor. When Vic discovers an android among the scrap yards, he brings him back to life. HAP (or Hysterically Angry Puppet) has a past hunting humans, but can he be more than his programming? When Gio is taken by the Authority, Vic, Hap, Rambo, and Nurse Ratched must venture far beyond the forest and rely on each other to survive.

Klune weaves in love in all its forms in this book. Love can be pure and it can be horribly complex, filled with strings. Questions of forgiveness, redemption, and what makes us human, alive, and more than our parts rise over and over again. There’s a lot to like about In the Lives of Puppets. For all its points of inspiration it still feels like a unique book and the world building is top-notch. The characters are all complicated and well-drawn; I defy anyone to read this and not fall in love with Rambo, the chatty, utterly endearing vacuum I wish were real because I’d want to adopt him. The adventures our protagonists take reveal the characters complexities and I’d hate to spoil the journey of discovery by talking about it to much. That being said, as much as I enjoyed the individual parts of In the Lives of Puppets, I struggled with putting a rating on the story. I have loved other books of Klune’s and have been dazzled by his prose and characters. This book wasn’t as engaging as some of his others; in fact, it was quite slow and I had no trouble putting it down. The world was well-drawn but didn’t suck me in the way other worlds of his have (perhaps because of all the references to other works) and that was hard for me to forget.

Even though it wasn’t the most compelling of Klune’s work for me, I still overall recommend In the Lives of Puppets. The message is strong and well-delivered, the characters endearing, and the story overall beautiful and bittersweet.

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, April 24, 2023

Review: The Lady Knows Best by Susanna Craig

The Lady Knows Best by Susanna Craig
Series: Goode’s Guide to Misconduct, Book 1
Publisher: Zebra
Genre: Historical Romance 
The Lady Knows Best Cover
ISBN: 9781420154795
Release Date: April 25, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Serving as the advice columnist, ‘Miss Busy B.’, for an often-subversive ladies’ magazine is the perfect outlet for Daphne Burke’s outspoken nature. But when she advises a young lady of the ton, to break off her engagement to a notorious rake, the consequences take Daphne beyond the page and into her real life.

Miles, Viscount Deveraux, sometimes known as “that devil Deveraux” needs a respectable bride by the end of the Season, and he’s bet a fortune that he can get one. Now, his fiancée has not only changed her mind—but done it publicly, in a letter to London’s most infamous magazine. With the stakes high and time short, it seems reasonable to him that the columnist responsible should come to his rescue and marry him instead.

Fortunately for Miles, Daphne is eager to escape the pressures of the London marriage mart. She agrees to a courtship. But at the end of two weeks, she intends to turn him down in a big, splashy, scandal that will ruin her reputation and set her free. There’s just one shocking wrinkle: Who knew being ruined by a rake could be so much fun?

Take one rakish viscount and pair him up with an oft-overlooked lady with a quick tongue and a quicker quill and you have The Lady Knows Best. Susanna Craig has started off her Goode’s Guide to Misconduct series with a bright and fun romp.

Daphne Burke comes from a family of exceptional people. And though she loves her siblings, she can’t quite shake the feeling that she’s the uninspiring, unimpressive Burke. Then she gets the chance to be an advice columnist for a subversive women’s magazine and Daphne feels a rush of excitement. Until her advice to break off an engagement lands her in hot water with Miles, Viscount Deveraux. “That devil, Deveraux” has wagered that he will be wed by the end of June and when he discovers Daphne is the one who advised his fiancée to cry off, he blackmails her into finding a new bride. Daphne offers up herself, much to his surprise and intrigue, but little does he know that she plans to turn the tables on him. What neither can expect is their courtship to start to feel like it could lead to something real and true.

Miles is a rake who hasn’t always made the best decisions, but he’s a charming hero. He’s got a good heart, cares for his loved ones, and is quietly vulnerable. I couldn’t resist him and honestly he was just a fun character who made it easy to fall into the story. Daphne, who has her scheme to free herself of Miles and the marriage mart, didn’t instantly win me over but I grew to like her. She’s committed to misunderstanding Miles at first but as she starts to see the real man she relaxes and became a heroine I enjoyed. She and Miles have a fun chemistry that made the pages of their story fly by.

Daphne and Miles are the heart of The Lady Knows Best but there are many supporting characters who filled out the story and added a lot of charm. Three of Daphne’s siblings are the protagonists of Craig’s Rogues and Rebels series, but you don’t have to have read those books to enjoy this one (though I am now eager to do so). Daphne’s fellow Goode girls, so to speak, are interesting future heroines I very much am looking forward to learning more about. And finally, it would be remiss of me to not mention Alastair, Miles’s best friend and a lord I absolutely cannot wait to get his happily ever after. All in all, I really enjoyed Miles and Daphne’s romance. It was bright, entertaining, engaging, sweet (with a bit of spice), and made me smile.

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, April 16, 2023

Review: Playing it Tough by Amy Andrews

Playing it Tough by Amy Andrews
Series: Sydney Smoke Rugby, Book 8
Publisher: Entangled: Brazen
Genre: Erotic Contemporary Romance 
Playing it Tough cover
ISBN: 9781649374417
Release Date: April 17, 2023
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Entangled

Cosmetic tattoo artist Orla Stewart doesn’t do anything in half measures. She went from being the ultimate party animal to living a life that’s ridiculously straight and narrow. Turns out, cancer can change a girl. A lot. Adios to delicious cheeses, boozy dance parties and easy men. Hel-lo to celibacy and a sweet house-sitting gig with a massive pool. Until one very hot, very unwelcome intruder turns things upside down.

American rugby import Ronan Dempsey’s partying is trashing both his reputation and his game—and risking his chances for making the US Olympic team. He needs to clean up, and the pool house belonging to a family friend is the perfect place to hideaway. No. More. distractions. Which is exactly when a gorgeous, pink-haired hellion knocks Ronan on his ass…

The chemistry is instantaneous, charged, and absolutely, completely, totally off-limits. Proximity makes temptation nearly impossible to resist. Now it’s a deliciously torturous game of pushing boundaries and holding out. It’s just a matter of time before someone breaks…

The hottest players on the pitch are back in Playing it Tough. This time it’s the Sydney Smoke’s American rookie, Ronan Dempsey, meeting his match in a pink-haired tattoo artist.

Ronan has been living it up as the Sydney Smoke’s newest star, but when he realizes his game is suffering he calls a halt to his partying ways and takes a vow of celibacy for the season. He doesn’t expect his willpower to be challenged by his new neighbor, Orla Stewart. Orla used to be a party girl but for the past three years she’s been on the straight and narrow. With the women in her family having died from or battled hard against breast cancer she is determined to do everything she can to negate her risks. She also doesn’t want to get close to anyone for fear of the pain of loss. Her walls are ten miles high, but Ronan is a skilled climber. He isn’t put off by Orla’s prickliness and his charm gets through her tough exterior.

Falling in lust is easy, but forming a true and lasting relationship isn’t as simple for these two. The attraction between them burns bright and hot, but it’s the emotional beats that make this romance for me. Orla has gone through a lot and though she’s a warrior she is also keeping herself from living a full life. I loved watching her embrace pleasure. Ronan is a sweetheart through and through. He’s tempting as all get-out but it’s his metaphorical strong shoulders and loving nature that made him shine for me. Amy Andrews made it easy to root for them and I adored watching them fall from lust to love. Their openness and unwillingness to shy away from hard conversations and realities took their romance from sexy fun to something strong and true.

Playing it Tough is the eighth book in Andrews’s Sydney Smoke Rugby series but it can easily be read as a standalone. Past protagonists make cameos in this story and I enjoy any time spent with these endearing rugby stars and those who love them. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Orla and Ronan’s story and I am very much looking forward to more Sydney Smoke Rugby 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.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Review: What Happens in the Ballroom by Sabrina Jeffries

What Happens in the Ballroom by Sabrina Jeffries
Series: Designing Debutantes, Book 2
Publisher: Zebra
Genre: Historical Romance 
What Happens in the Ballroom cover
ISBN: 9781420153798
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Sabrina Jeffries Reading Order

A young military widow, Eliza Pierce is enjoying both freedom and financial success as part of Elegant Occasions. When her late husband’s best friend, Nathaniel Stanton, the Earl of Foxstead, hires Elegant Occasions to help another young widow of an officer become part of high society, Eliza wonders why. Is the woman a relative? Or is she the earl’s mistress and her adorable toddler his child? If so, why does he take Eliza in his arms every chance he gets…

Foxstead’s family situation makes it difficult for him to marry, so his visceral attraction to his best friend’s widow is an unwelcome complication. Burdened by family secrets and those of his commanding officer, he’s determined to do his duty even when it means being around Eliza every day. But how can he resist when the fetching Eliza keeps tempting him to break his own rules? For if he dares to expose the truth, will she ever forgive him? Or will she banish him from her life forever…

A widow with no intention to marry again is knocked off her feet by her attraction to her late husband’s best friend in What Happens in the Ballroom. Sabrina Jeffries’s second Designing Debutantes book sees Eliza Pierce meet her match in an earl who isn’t as rakish as his reputation suggests.

Nathaniel Stanton, Earl of Foxstead, is a man with many secrets, one of which has brought him to Eliza’s door. He made a promise to help launch Mrs. Jocelin March into society and help her find a husband, so he engages the help of Eliza and her sisters to do so. The attraction Nathaniel has always felt for Eliza comes rearing back the minute he sees her. And Eliza, no blushing debutante, isn’t afraid of the pull between them. But having survived a bad marriage, Eliza has no desire to wed again. And even if she did, she can tell Nathaniel is hiding something and that’s enough to warn her off. As attraction becomes more, Eliza’s hesitance and Nathaniel’s secrets threaten to derail their burgeoning relationship.

It's easy to fall into What Happens in the Ballroom. Eliza and Nathaniel are likeable protagonists, they have solid chemistry, and Jeffries’s writing is wholly entertaining. I enjoyed being swept away by their romance which had a good mix of humor, heat, and heart. While there are emotional moments and lessons to be learned by the characters for them to get their happily ever after, it’s not a wildly dramatic book, which was nice. It may sound tame, but I just plain liked this story. It was sweet and fun and I’m very much looking forward to seeing Verity Harper get her 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.