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.