Monday, June 10, 2024

Review: The Summer Escape by Jill Shalvis

The Summer Escape by Jill Shalvis
Series: Sunrise Cove, Book 6
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
The Summer Escape
ISBN: 9780063235816
Release Date: June 11, 2024
Source: Author
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Jill Shalvis Reading Order

Anna Moore didn’t just wake up one day and decide to go on a wild quest—especially since her life no longer lends itself to wild anything—so how in the world does she end up racing against the clock with Owen Harris, a sexy, enigmatic adventurist, to prove her beloved dad innocent of stealing a million-dollar necklace?

It’s all Wendy’s fault. Her older, bossy sister, who’s seven months pregnant and on bed rest in their small Lake Tahoe hometown, is desperate to clear their departed dad’s name. Owen, though, is convinced he’s guilty as hell and wants to return the jewelry back to its rightful owner—his elderly great aunt. Together Anna and Owen go on a scavenger hunt for clues to the past (with Wendy remotely along for the ride via an earbud, supplying a running wry commentary to boot).

On opposing sides and suspicious of each other as they are, Anna and Owen still can’t deny the inexplicable and explosive chemistry between them on this heart-stopping adventure, the outcome of which will prove the necklace isn’t the only thing stolen—their hearts have been as well.

A mystery brings two lonely hearts together in The Summer Escape. Jill Shalvis is an author I’ve enjoyed for years, but I had mixed feelings about her latest Sunrise Cove outing.

Anna is a private investigator whose latest case is deeply personal. She found an antique coin of her father’s but it may be stolen. She’s joined on her quest for the truth by the man whose great-aunt may have been robbed. Owen is an adventurer who, like Anna, carries hidden scars. They both have felt lost and alone with very few people they can rely on. Anna doesn’t like to trust others and Owen never fully lets down his walls. But of course, the two of them are inescapably drawn to one another.

Shalvis’s writing usually draws me in from the start but with The Summer Escape I had a bit of a harder time. Anna and Owen’s chemistry didn’t spark for me much at the beginning, likely because they were overshadowed by the third main character, Anna’s sister, Wendy. Wendy is eight months pregnant with triplets and is on bed rest, but that doesn’t stop this larger-than-life personality from chiming in. Shalvis often includes over-the-top friends or family members in her stories and Wendy is one of the more lively and persistent ones. Whether you find this charming or annoying is really reader preference, and I was in the latter camp.

At about the halfway mark The Summer Escape heats up and it feels like Anna and Owen find their footing. Their chemistry gets more fun and flirty and the story feels like it finds its focus. The mystery comes to a satisfying conclusion and the love story ends with a happily ever after that is charming. I enjoyed Shalvis’s writing and I liked that there were emotional hurdles to conquer that balanced out the frothy humor and social media-inspired quips. That being said, I could have used a bit more from the world – it felt like something was missing from the story to make it feel whole.

The Summer Escape is the sixth book in the Sunrise Cove series but it completely stands on its own. If you know Shalvis, you know that there are going to be some scene-stealing animals along for the ride and they were absolutely too cute for words. Honestly, I would have enjoyed much more time with Turbo, Clawdia, and Jennifur. Adorable animals aside, this was an OK read for me overall. It’s not bad, but I have enjoyed so many other wonderful books by Shalvis that it was a bit of a disappointment.

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

Monday, May 27, 2024

Review: Twelfth Knight by Alexene Farol Follmuth

Twelfth Knight by Alexene Farol Follmuth
Publisher: Tor Teen
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance 
Twelfth Knight cover
ISBN: 9781250884893
Release Date: May 28, 2024 Source: Publisher
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Viola Reyes is annoyed.

Her painstakingly crafted tabletop game campaign was shot down, her best friend is suggesting she try being more “likable,” and her school's star running back Jack Orsino is the most lackadaisical Student Body President she’s ever seen, which makes her job as VP that much harder. Vi’s favorite escape from the world is the MMORPG Twelfth Knight, but online spaces aren’t exactly kind to girls like her—girls who are extremely competent and have the swagger to prove it. So Vi creates a masculine alter ego, choosing to play as a knight named Cesario to create a safe haven for herself.

But when a football injury leads Jack Orsino to the world of Twelfth Knight, Vi is alarmed to discover their online alter egos—Cesario and Duke Orsino—are surprisingly well-matched.

As the long nights of game-play turn into discussions about life and love, Vi and Jack soon realise they’ve become more than just weapon-wielding characters in an online game. But Vi has been concealing her true identity from Jack, and Jack might just be falling for her offline…

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night gets the reimagined in a high school setting treatment a la ‘90s and early 2000s rom coms in Twelfth Knight. Alexene Farol Follmuth pays homage to The Bard while making this story fully her own and the result is a delight.

It’s grumpy meets sunshine with Vi and Jack. Vi is a gamer who – thanks to rampant sexism in the gaming world – plays as a male knight named Cesario in her favorite MMORPG. Jack “Duke” Orsino is a football star whose world turns upside down when his knee is busted. Jack’s at a crossroads in his life and it doesn’t help that his girlfriend, Olivia, is avoiding him. When his friend recommends he pass the time with Twelfth Knight, Jack ends up teaming up with Cesario and the friendship he develops with his online friend is a stark difference to the bickering he and Vi do in real life.

What will happen when Jack learns that his sword-wielding friend is the same sharp-tongued grump he’s falling for? I’ll leave readers to find out. But I will say that this was an absolutely charming story with well-drawn characters and an entertaining plot. I liked seeing Cesario and Duke Orsino open up to each other online while Jack gets over, under, and through Vi’s barriers in the real world. There are just enough references to Shakespeare’s play to keep an enthusiast entertained but not so many that this book can’t stand on its own.

Twelfth Knight is about letting down your walls, letting people see the real you, and trusting that they will be there and love you as you are. I loved the gaming aspects, both seeing it through the experienced Vi’s eyes and the new-to-gaming Jack’s viewpoint. Jack and Viola are joined by a wonderful cast of characters who are as endearing, flawed, and unique as they are. All in all, this was a fun read that also took its characters on engaging journeys of personal growth.

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

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Review: Wild Man by Kristen Ashley

Wild Man by Kristen Ashley
Series: Dream Man, Book 2
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Wild Man cover
ISBN: 9781455599202
Source: Publisher and Purchased By Reviewer
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

She’s about to walk on the wild side…

While filling the display case in her bakery, the bell over the door sounds and Tessa O'Hara looks up to see the man of her dreams. Within thirty seconds he asks her out for a beer. But after four months of dating, she discovers he's an undercover DEA agent-and he’s investigating her possible role in her ex-husband’s drug business. For Tess, this means their relationship is over.

Brock disagrees. He’s committed to his anti-drug mission, but he’s fallen in love with the beautiful woman who's as sweet as her cupcakes – and he’ll do anything to win her back. Standing between Tess and Brock are their own exes, one of them a drug lord who’s determined to get what he wants. Now as danger threatens, can Brock break the rules he’s lived by and let loose his wild side to protect the woman he loves?

I have a confession to make: after reading the first Dream Man book, Mystery Man, I was pretty indifferent to Brock. But since I try to avoid skipping books in a series whenever possible – and I was really excited to dive into the third Dream Man book – I figured I’d give Wild Man a try. I’m so glad I gave Brock a chance. He surprised me in all the best ways and is one of my favorite Kristen Ashley heroes. He’s a wild and sexy alpha male, strong and protective, and just plain hot. He’s got a huge heart and will do anything for those he loves. Brock isn’t perfect; at forty-five he’s incredibly set in his ways and has a few bad habits he’ll never change. But his flaws make him a three-dimensional character and the fact that he isn’t perfect and does make mistakes is what makes him a more interesting hero. Tess is sweetness and sprinkles with some hidden scars. She survived an abusive marriage and didn’t let it crush her spirit. She gets swept up by Brock but also has her way of tempering him when it’s important.

Wild Man doesn’t actually have a big conflict in the romance. It’s more family drama and outside forces that Brock and Tess face together. There isn’t a strong plot but that honestly didn’t matter that much because it was enjoyable enough to follow the main characters through their daily lives. It’s Kristen Ashley, so there are the usual larger-than-life supporting characters. Actions and especially reactions tend to be dialed up to eleven and you just have to go along for the ride. I’ve read Wild Man several times over the past few years and each time it’s highly entertaining. In true Kristen Ashley fashion it’s over the top and the large cast of characters isn’t shy about getting up in each other’s business. But Brock and Tess are at the heart of it all and theirs is an engaging story to watch unfold.

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

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Review: Mind Games by Nora Roberts

Mind Games by Nora Roberts
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Romantic Suspense with Paranormal Elements 
Mind Games cover
ISBN: 9781250289698
Release Date: May 21, 2024
Source: Publisher
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As they do each June, the Foxes have driven the winding roads of Appalachia to drop off their children for a two-week stay at their grandmother’s. Here, twelve-year-old Thea can run free and breathe in the smells of pine and fresh bread and Grammie’s handmade candles. But as her parents head back to suburban Virginia, they have no idea they’re about to cross paths with a ticking time bomb.

Back in Kentucky, Thea and her grandmother Lucy both awaken from the same nightmare. And though the two have never discussed the special kind of sight they share, they know as soon as their tearful eyes meet that something terrible has happened.

The kids will be staying with Grammie now in Redbud Hollow, and thanks to Thea’s vision, their parents’ killer will spend his life in supermax. Over time, Thea will make friends, build a career, find love. But that ability to see into minds and souls still lurks within her, and though Grammie calls it a gift, it feels more like a curse—because the inmate who shattered her childhood has the same ability. Thea can hear his twisted thoughts and witness his evil acts from miles away. He knows it, and hungers for vengeance. A long, silent battle will be waged between them—and eventually bring them face to face, and head to head…

Thea Fox’s idyllic childhood is shattered forever when her parents are murdered. Though she’s in Kentucky with her grandmother when it happens, Thea can see everything as it happens and is instrumental in putting the killer away for life. But the killer has the same gift as Thea and as she grows up, he is edging ever closer in her mind. Now as an adult, successful, talented, and with a burgeoning relationship, Thea’s going to have to face down the monster she’s been waging a silent war with for years.

Mind Games is a romantic suspense with a healthy splash of the paranormal. At its heart, it’s Thea’s story. Nora Roberts takes readers from Thea’s childhood in Redbud Hollow through college and into adulthood as Thea grows and thrives in the aftermath of a horrific tragedy. I adored Thea’s grandmother, Lucy, and her brother, Rem. They have strong personalities and are as vital to her story as the hero. Thea’s career as a video game designer was also entertaining to watch and I liked that Roberts spent time on it. The killer she helped put away is always in the background, however. While he’s locked up in prison, he and Thea share a psychic talent that is increasingly intruding on Thea’s mind. It’s different having a villain who isn’t physically a threat and that makes it interesting. Thea (and thus the readers) never know when he’ll break through the barrier she puts up to keep him out.

While Mind Games is a romantic suspense, the romance doesn’t begin until the latter half of the story. Ty is a single dad who guards his privacy and whose past has made him wary of trusting others. I adored watching Ty with his son and can see why Thea falls for him. He and Thea have an easy chemistry that makes their slide into a relationship enjoyable to watch unfold. The romance is understated but I really enjoyed the story as a whole so I didn’t mind.

Mind Games kept me hooked from first page to last. The characters were interesting, the setting vibrant, the romance sweet. There was humor, heart, and action aplenty, and the climax of the story was satisfying. Roberts never fails to draw me in and this book was no exception.

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 28, 2024

Review: The Goldie Standard by Simi Monheit

The Goldie Standard by Simi Monheit
Publisher: Sibylline Press
Genre: Fiction 
The Goldie Standard cover
ISBN: 9781960573971
Release Date: May 7, 2024
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo

Hilarious and surprising, this unapologetically Jewish story delivers a present-day take on a highly creative grandmother trying to find her Ph.D granddaughter a husband who is a doctor—with a yarmulke, of course.

Goldie Mandell is opinionated, assertive, and stuck in an Assisted Living Facility. But even surrounded by schleppers with walkers, pictures of sunrises, fancy fish tanks, and an array of daily activities to complement the tepid tea and stale cookies on offer, her salt-free plate is full. She’s got a granddaughter to settle, an eager love interest named Harry to subdue, and precious memories of her happy marriage to fellow Holocaust survivor Mordy to draw upon.

Maxie Jacobson is young, brilliant, and newly single, not by choice. But she’s got her science career, a grandmother to care for, and her whole life ahead of her. When Maxie takes on the role of her grandmother’s medical advocate, she has no idea Goldie operates with the single purpose of securing Maxie with Dr. Right. Instead, Maxie is distracted by her grandmother’s unexpectedly charming long-haired, sandal-wearing, peculiarly-named driver, T-Jam Bin Naumann, definitely wrong in every way.

The Goldie Standard is an intense, often bittersweet read. Author Simi Monheit’s debut novel follows grandmother Goldie Mandell throughout her life in a mix of present-day scenes and flashbacks while also featuring Goldie’s granddaughter, Maxie, who finds herself at a crossroads of her own.

The description of the book doesn’t truly capture what the story is like. Yes, Goldie is determined to find her granddaughter a Jewish doctor to marry and yes, Maxie ends up falling for artist/driver/adjunct professor T-Jam Bin Naumann instead. But it’s not a romcom or even a comedic novel like I expected. Rather Goldie is switching back and forth between past and present. She was a child in Nazi Germany and we see what happened to her there, her escape, and her immigration to America. We follow her marriage, children, love and loss woven throughout, and now as a somewhat crotchety grandmother in an assisted living facility. Goldie isn’t the sweet and endearing type, but she is interesting. Maxie, in turn, is a modern Jewish girl getting her Ph.D. and one who doesn’t always understand her grandmother. The two learn about each other over the course of the book and both grow in ways they probably didn’t expect.

The Goldie Standard wasn’t an easy read for me and some of what was touched on reminded me of my relatives. It also isn’t generally the kind of story I read for fun. I didn’t love the characters exactly, but I found them honest and realistic. Goldie in particular was a layered, complex character. I wished for some more of that for Maxie and the supporting cast. I’m glad I read The Goldie Standard. It’s not my usual fare but Monheit did draw me in and delivered a strong, emotionally charged 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, April 27, 2024

Review: The Lady Plays with Fire by Susanna Craig

The Lady Plays with Fire by Susanna Craig
Series: Goode’s Guide to Misconduct, Book 2
Publisher: Zebra
Genre: Historical Romance 
The Lady Plays with Fire cover
ISBN: 9781420154818
Release Date: April 23, 2024
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

As the daughter of a clergyman, Julia Addison knows she’ll never be able to fulfill her lifelong dream of acting on the stage. But writing forthright reviews of the Season’s most popular plays for Mrs. Goode’s Magazine for Misses, popularly known as Goode’s Guide to Misconduct is surely the next best thing. Even better, she’s got a ticket to Ransom Blackadder’s latest irritating satire about English society. Best of all, she’s sharing a theater box with the gruff but handsome Lord Dunstane, which is enough to make Julia call for an encore…

Graham McKay, the Earl of Dunstane, rarely leaves his home in the Scottish Highlands. Why would he? Nothing about London has ever held his interest—until he meets Julia. But when Graham realizes she is the critic who panned his last play—and she discovers he is in fact the man behind Blackadder’s wicked pen—will it bring down the curtain on their romance—not to mention the magazine that published the humiliating review? Or can an unexpected collaboration set the stage for a scandalous love affair?

A Scottish earl who secretly writes scandalous plays and the daughter of a clergyman who secretly pens reviews are a perfect match in The Lady Plays with Fire. Susanna Craig’s second Goode’s Guide to Misconduct novel features two likeable characters who are taken with each other in person while unknowingly sparring with one another behind the scenes.

Julia Addison wished to be an actress once upon a time, but now the lady’s companion has settled into writing reviews as “Miss on Scene.” Graham is an earl who used his Ransom Blackadder alter ego to pull his estate out of danger. Blackadder is cynical and cutting but Graham is rather sweet. He’s gruff at first but there’s a marshmallow heart inside of him that I found endearing. Julia is kind and sweet as well, but she’s got a steel spine that won’t let her back down. When Mrs. Goode’s Magazine for Misses is targeted because of Blackadder she’s determined to convince the playwright’s patron to sway the author to something less dangerous, never knowing the man she’s dealing with is the writer himself.

Julia and Graham make a charming couple and they have an easy chemistry that makes The Lady Plays with Fire entertaining. For a book centered around the theater this is not a dramatic read; rather it’s a fun and engaging romance that’s good to escape with. I quite enjoy Julia and her fellow “Goode girls” and am very much looking forward to seeing where Craig takes them next.

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

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Review: Archangel’s Lineage by Nalini Singh

Archangel’s Lineage by Nalini Singh
Series: Guild Hunter, Book 16
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy 
Archangels Lineage cover
ISBN: 9780593550014
Release Date: April 23, 2004
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Nalini Singh Reading Order

Raphael and Elena are experiencing their first ever year of true peace. No war. No horrors of archangelic power. No nightmares given flesh. Until…the earth beneath the Refuge begins to tremble, endangering not only angelkind’s precious and fragile young, but the very place that has held their most innocent safe for eons.

Amid the chaos, Elena’s father suffers a violent heart attack that threatens to extinguish their last chance to heal the bonds between them and make sense of the ruins of their agonizing shared history.

Even as Elena battles grief, Raphael is torn from her side by the sudden disappearance of an archangel. But worse yet is to come. An Ancestor, an angel unlike any other, stirs from his Sleep to warn the Cadre of a darkness so terrible that it causes empires to fall and civilizations to vanish.

This time, even the Cadre itself may not be able to stop a ticking clock that is counting down at frightening speed…

It has been a time of peace in the world and Raphael and Elena are finally feeling able to relax just a bit. Then tremors rock the Refuge and it seems the world is once again in danger. Only this time it isn’t a mad archangel or some other identifiable threat, but something far more unpredictable…

Archangel’s Lineage is a wildly addictive read full of interesting worldbuilding and fascinating characters. It’s classic Nalini Singh in a way that I truly enjoy and I absolutely hated to put this book down.

We’ve taken another time jump in the Guild Hunter world and Raphael and Elena have now been together for about two decades. Their love and passion for one another is just as strong but there’s a settled quality to their relationship that is just as enjoyable to read about as their tumultuous beginning. I loved seeing them together and the strength of their relationship shines even when they’re apart. The world is in danger in Archangel’s Lineage, but there are also personal stakes. Elena’s father has a heart attack and it brings home not only her strained relationship with him but the realization of how little time the immortal angel has with her mortal loved ones. There’s a bittersweet quality to parts of this story; I really liked seeing Elena come to terms with the knowledge that not all of her friends and family will be with her forever, and that’s okay.

As for the more global threat of natural disasters and the Refuge being in danger…well, this is a plotline I don’t want to say too much about. Much of the fun of the story is experiencing the twists and turns as our beloved characters take them. Singh’s worldbuilding continues to delight and I liked seeing how she brought everything together. Singh perfectly balances the energy of the primary plot while allowing her characters room to breathe and be enjoyed. The result is a wholly satisfying read that ends one chapter of the Guild Hunter series while leaving room for new ones to begin. I absolutely adored Archangel’s Lineage from first page to last – it’s action-packed, romantic, interesting, and completely engaging.

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, April 17, 2024

Review: Otherworldly by F.T. Lukens

Otherworldly by F.T. Lukens
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Genre: Male/Non-Binary Young Adult Fantasy Romance 
Otherworldly cover
ISBN: 9781665916257
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Seventeen-year-old Ellery is a non-believer in a region where people swear the supernatural is real. Sure, they’ve been stuck in a five-year winter, but there’s got to be a scientific explanation. If goddesses were real, they wouldn’t abandon their charges like this, leaving farmers like Ellery’s family to scrape by.

Knox is a familiar from the Other World, a magical assistant sent to help humans who have made crossroads bargains. But it’s been years since he heard from his queen, and Knox is getting nervous about what he might find once he returns home. When the crossroads demons come to collect Knox, he panics and runs. A chance encounter down an alley finds Ellery coming to Knox’s rescue, successfully fending off his would-be abductors.

Ellery can’t quite believe what they’ve seen. And they definitely don’t believe the nonsense this unnervingly attractive guy spews about his paranormal origins. But Knox needs to make a deal with a human who can tether him to this realm, and Ellery needs to figure out how to stop this winter to help their family. Once their bargain is struck, there’s no backing out, and the growing connection between the two might just change everything.

Myths and magic meet everyday humans just trying to survive in Otherworldly. F.T. Lukens has delivered a story of an ordinary teenager struggling in a city that has been trapped in an eternal winter for the past five years and a liminal being desperate to experience life.

Ellery and Knox are easy protagonists to like. Ellery works hard and stands out by being ordinary in a story of so many large personalities. Ellery is a skeptic when it comes to the supernatural, but a whole new world opens up in front of them when they meet Knox. Knox is a familiar who can only stay in the human realm when bound to a bargain. A bargain is struck between the two and Ellery will help Knox experience the world while they search for answers as to why the goddess has abandoned their part of the world. The love story that develops is sweet and charming.

Ellery and Knox’s journey takes the two of them all over and puts them in the path of multiple magical beings. I really liked the world Lukens built in Otherworldly. The magic is well thought-out and the supernatural beings are interesting. There’s a lot to like about this story but for me, the trouble was the incredibly slow pace of the book. Otherworldly is missing some of the humor I’ve enjoyed so much in Lukens’s other works and it’s logical why it isn’t in here. That being said, even without the humor I expected some kind of spark or energy to pull me into the story. This book was very easy to put down, which was a pity. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, but the pace kept me from liking this book as much as I wanted to. However, the story does pick up in the last quarter of the book and finished strong.

Otherworldly has a lot to recommend it – likeable protagonists, a strong supporting cast, themes of love in many forms, choice, found family, and standing up for what is right. I liked the book overall, but the slow pace did detract from my enjoyment.

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 7, 2024

Review: The Night Island by Jayne Ann Krentz

The Night Island by Jayne Ann Krentz
Series: The Lost Night Files, Book 2
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Paranormal Romantic Suspense 
The Night Island cover
ISBN: ‎ 9780593639856
eBook Source: Publisher
Audiobook Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Talia March, Pallas Llewellyn, and Amelia Rivers, bonded by a night none of them can remember, are dedicated to uncovering the mystery of what really happened to them months ago—an experience that amplified innate psychic abilities in each of them. The women suspect they were test subjects years earlier, and that there are more people like them—all they have to do is find the list of others who took that same test. When Talia follows up on a lead from Phoebe, a fan of the trio’s podcast, she discovers that the informant has vanished.

Talia isn’t the only one looking for Phoebe, however. Luke Rand, a hunted and haunted man who is chasing the same list that Talia is after, also shows up at the meeting place. It’s clear he has his own agenda, and they are instantly suspicious of each other. But when a killer begins to stalk them, they realize they have to join forces to find Phoebe and the list.

The rocky investigation leads Talia and Luke to a rustic, remote retreat on Night Island in the Pacific Northwest, where the Unplugged Experience promises to rejuvenate guests. Upon their arrival, Talia and Luke discover they are quite literally cut off from the outside world when none of their high-tech devices work on the island. It soon becomes clear that Phoebe is not the first person to disappear into the strange gardens that surround the Unplugged Experience retreat. And then the first mysterious death occurs…

After a “lost night” where three women woke up with heightened psychic abilities, Talia March has become an expert at finding what is lost. Particularly, lost bodies. It’s enough to give anyone nightmares, but on her quest to uncover what happened to her and her friends that night she won’t give up. Her search for answers leads her to a woman who may have information…only when she arrives to make the exchange for it, the woman is missing. Instead, Talia meets Luke, a man who has unique skills and a lost night of his own. Unlikely allies at first, Talia and Luke head to the isolated Night Island for the Unplugged Experience, their only lead to find the missing informant. Night Island is a place of almost otherworldly foliage and hidden dangers. If Talia and Luke want to make it out alive, they’re going to have to rely on each other.

The Night Island is an entertaining second installment to Jayne Ann Krentz’s Lost Night Files series. This time it’s Talia and Luke who take center stage and they are likable, albeit haunted protagonists who fit each other like lock and key. The have an easy chemistry which makes them an appealing couple and their romance is both swift and understated. If you’re familiar with Krentz’s work, it follows a formula. I did wish for the love story to feel a bit more earned, but I still like the formula enough that my quibbles didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.

At the heart of The Night Island is the mystery on the titular location. Psychic energy, paranormal powers, lethal assassins, and deadly fauna are all things Luke and Talia have to face over the course of the story. I liked watching them work together to put the pieces of the puzzle together and find out more about the paranormal experiments that are being done. I don’t want to say too much and spoil the story, but suffice it to say this was an engaging second installment to an overarching mystery. The ever-expanding Lost Night Files team is entertaining and I am very much looking forward to seeing how they pull everything together in the next 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.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Review: Matzah Ball Blues by Jennifer Wilck

Matzah Ball Blues by Jennifer Wilck
Series: Holidays, Heart and Chutzpah, Book 2
Publisher: Harlequin Special Edition
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Matzah Ball Blues cover
ISBN: 9781335594617
Release Date: March 26, 2024
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Harlequin

Why is this night different from all other nights?

For starters, Jared Leiman is home for the holidays. Because though he and Caroline Weiss were high school sweethearts, their post-college lives took them in different directions. Jared became a big-time entertainment lawyer in LA, while Caroline became a fitness instructor and stayed in town to care for her sick mother. And though her mother passed away three years ago, Caroline is finally free to go where she chooses. Meanwhile Jared, who inherited custody of his baby niece after a tragic accident, is suddenly a family man.

So now Caroline wants to leave her hometown in the dust, whereas Jared might just set up roots there. Because there is one thing that Browerville, New Jersey, offers the two of them that no other place does…each other!

Passover gives a second chance to former high school sweethearts in Matzah Ball Blues. In the year since his brother’s death, entertainment lawyer Jared Leiman hasn’t quite come to grips with the loss or being a father to his toddler niece. Taking a break from the high pressure and long hours of his job, he returns home to visit his parents for Passover and runs into – literally – his ex-girlfriend Caroline Weiss.

Jared and Caroline broke up when he went to college and she stayed home to care for her terminally ill mother. Jared broke her heart all those years ago, but he was a kid afraid of responsibility. Now he’s a man coming terms with loss and caring for others. I liked watching Jared grow over the course of the story, to take care with others and recognize that the life he’s living no longer suits him or his niece. Coming home brings it all back to him and his feelings toward Caroline come rushing back. Caroline is finally free of responsibility and she wants to live her life, to experience the things she put on hold. Jared should be the opposite of what she wants now, but old feelings come rushing back quickly. Their romance was both a slow burn and a surprisingly fast trip into feelings. I felt like them falling back in love was heavily built on a foundation we didn’t see and it didn’t always feel earned.

A secondary plot involving potential fraud at Caroline’s work adds some intrigue to the story but overall this was a slower paced book. I liked the romance well enough and I enjoyed seeing Caroline actively work to grow her career, but it felt like something was just missing from Matzah Ball Blues to keep me entertained. The conflict may have worked better in a shorter format where there wasn’t as much repetition.

One thing I really enjoy about the Holidays, Heart and Chutzpah series is author Jennifer Wilck’s excellent Jewish representation. Passover traditions in particular are highlighted in this book and Wilck does a great job of bringing them to life. While I was so-so on the story overall, Wilck’s care and attention to Jewish traditions engaged me and definitely made me want to read 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.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Review: Speculations in Sin by Jennifer Ashley

Speculations in Sin by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Below Stairs Mysteries, Book 7
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Historical Mystery 
Speculations in Sin cover
ISBN: 9780593549919
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Jennifer Ashley Reading Order

Kat Holloway is distressed to learn that Samuel Millburn, husband of the woman who looks after her daughter, has been accused of embezzling funds from the bank where he works as a clerk. The accusation is absurd, and Samuel’s wife fears that her husband will not only lose his post but be imprisoned. Kat vows to uncover the truth.

When she discovers the bank is involved in shockingly murky business dealings, Kat realizes she’s treading in dangerous waters. She turns to her confidante and handsome suitor, Daniel McAdam, for help. To exonerate Samuel, Kat and Daniel may have to expose the unseemly financial dealings of prominent aristocrats and government officials, and even those working to bring down the royal family. Kat will risk everything to protect the man who has sacrificed so much for her daughter, even if it means endangering herself and the friends she has come to love.

Cook Kat Holloway is back sleuthing again when her best friend’s husband is accused of embezzlement. Speculations in Sin takes Kat into the unfamiliar world of finance, a place where reputation is worth its weight in gold and where a man like Sam Millburn can be tossed to the wolves for an institution to save face. Sam is not only Kat’s friend – he and his wife opened their home to Kat’s daughter, so this case is deeply personal.

Kat is walking a tightrope as ever, balancing her position and duties with amateur sleuthing, her relationship with her daughter, and her slowly developing romance with Daniel McAdam. Daniel is by Kat’s side every step of the way, as are her friends. I loved watching Kat among the friends she has made, from Lady Cynthia to Tess and beyond. These connections are integral to the story and the worldbuilding. They are also what interested me the most about the story. As much as I enjoy Jennifer Ashley’s writing, I will say that the mystery didn’t grab my attention this time around. It wasn’t complex enough to carry the story and seemed to drag, taking the book down with it. The resolution, while somewhat satisfying, didn’t wow me like I had hoped. All in all, this was just an OK entry into the Below Stairs series. Any time spent with Kat and company is enjoyable, but Speculations in Sin had a lackluster mystery that didn’t live up to the previous installments.

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, March 3, 2024

Review: Once Persuaded, Twice Shy by Melodie Edwards

Once Persuaded, Twice Shy: A Modern Reimagining of Persuasion by Melodie Edwards
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Once Persuaded Twice Shy cover
ISBN: 9780593440797
Release Date: February 27, 2024
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

When Anne Elliott broke up with Ben Wentworth, it seemed like the right thing to do…but now, eight years later, she’s not so sure.

In her scenic hometown of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Anne is comfortable focusing on her successful career: filling her late mother’s shoes as town councilor and executive director of her theater company. She certainly keeps busy as the all-around wrangler of eccentric locals, self-centered family members, elaborate festivals, and the occasional attacking goose. But the more she tries to convince herself that her life is fine as is, the more it all feels like a show—and not nearly as good as the ones put on by her theater company. She’s the always responsible Anne, always taken for granted and cleaning up after other people, and the memories of happier times with Ben Wentworth still haunt her.

So when the nearby Kellynch Winery is bought by Ben’s aunt and uncle, Anne’s world is set ablaze as her old flame crashes back into her life—and it’s clear he hasn’t forgiven her for breaking his heart. A joint project between the winery and Anne’s theater forces both Ben and Anne to confront their complicated history, and as they spend more time together, Anne can’t help but wonder if there might be hope for their future after all.

Melodie Edwards puts a fresh spin on a Jane Austen classic in Once Persuaded, Twice Shy. Edwards brings Anne and Wentworth to the modern era but keeps the original spirit alive in this story, and I was absolutely delighted.

Anne is all business all the time, having stepped into her late mother’s shoes seamlessly and taken on the role of town counselor and theater director. Between narcissistic family members, a sweet but loose cannon assistant, dramatic actors, demanding townspeople, and a chaotic neutral (possibly chaotic evil) goose, Anne’s time is constantly in demand. Then the new owners of her former home – Kellynch Winery – come to the theater and bring the past back to haunt her. The Fairchilds’ nephew is none other than Ben Wentworth, the man Anne dumped eight years ago after being persuaded he was a bad match.

If you’re familiar with Persuasion, you’ll see all of the high points of that novel reimagined in a new way. If you’ve never read Austen’s novel, don’t worry – you won’t be lost. Edwards makes this story and its characters stand on their own. I adored the romantic angst as Anne’s reunion with Ben makes her face the past and deal with the breakup she pushed out of mind for years. Anne has become someone she doesn’t entirely recognize and it was great to see her come into her own over the course of the story. Her hurt and loss over Ben are feelings she has to contend with as well, as is the jealousy at seeing him now successful, powerful, and seemingly indifferent to her. Though the story is told from Anne’s point of view, you can easily read Ben’s emotions like you can in the original. Edwards truly captures the heart of Persuasion in Once Persuaded, Twice Shy and her skill ensures I will definitely 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.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Review: Not Your Crush’s Cauldron by April Asher

Not Your Crush’s Cauldron by April Asher
Series: Supernatural Singles, Book 3
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Paranormal Romance 
Not Your Crushs Cauldron cover
ISBN: 9781250808035
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Olive Maxwell much prefers teaching about the Supernatural world to taking part in it and leaves the magical shenanigans to her two sisters. After assigning her college students a project designed to nudge them outside their comfort zones, Olive realizes she’s never once stepped a toe out of her own . . . and it’s about time that changed. Her first trip into the unknown? Moving in with her longtime crush and friend . . . tattooed, motorcycle-riding, and pleasantly pierced Baxter Donovan.

Bax Donovan, Guardian Angel not-so-extraordinaire, has acquired so many black marks on his record it looks like a Scantron test. He’s been given one last chance to keep his Guardian wings—a high-profile Assignment he knows all too well. Olive is usually as low-risk as it gets. Hell, she wrote the safety manual. But something landed her on the Guardian Angel Affairs radar, and he guesses it has something to do with the heart-pounding stunts she’s determined to check off her Dare I Docket list.

Keeping Olive out of trouble is about to be his toughest Assignment. He’s at real risk of shattering the only Guardian Angel code of conduct rule he’s yet to break: Don’t fall in love with your Assignment. And he isn’t so sure that’s a bad thing.

If love doesn’t play by the rules, why should they?

The youngest Maxwell triplet steps out of her comfort zone and into the light in Not Your Crush’s Cauldron. Staid professor Olive Maxwell would much rather be in a corner reading a book than doing something wild and crazy. Then she assigns her students a project about stepping outside their comfort zones and realizes she hasn’t ever put a toe out of hers. Determined to change that, Olive comes up with her own list…but never expected her new roommate to tag along.

Guardian Angel Bax Donovan has wanted Olive for years but has never mustered up the courage to express it. Then he finds himself with Olive as his latest assignment and he’s soon blasted out of his own comfort zone trying to keep up with the beautiful witch.

Friends-to-lovers is a wonderful trope and April Asher shows why in Olive and Bax’s sprightly romance. The attraction between Bax and Olive has been simmering for years but they just needed that push to act on it. I thoroughly enjoyed watching these two overcome their fears and do things to break out of the rut they’re in. Out of all the Supernatural Singles stories so far this one has the lowest stakes but it’s still engaging. Bax and Olive have an easy chemistry that makes their romance fun and entertaining. They’re both likeable protagonists who need a slight shove to come into their own and I really liked their journeys.

Not Your Crush’s Cauldron is the third book in the Supernatural Singles series and to fully enjoy it you should definitely read at least Not the Witch You Wed (the first book) before diving into this one. Olive’s sisters play strong supporting roles and Vi in particular continues on the path she started in her book. I really liked seeing more of the world Asher has created and though the last Maxwell triplet has now found her happily ever after, I hope that doesn’t spell the end of this series. All in all, Not Your Crush’s Cauldron is a magical romp with a bookish witch, a tattooed angel, and a sweet and spicy romance.

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, February 18, 2024

Review: Not Your Ex’s Hexes by April Asher

Not Your Ex’s Hexes by April Asher
Series: Supernatural Singles, Book 2
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Paranormal Romance 
Not Your Exs Hexes cover
ISBN: 9781250808011
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

For her entire life, Rose Maxwell trained to become the next Prima on the Supernatural Council. Now that she’s stepped down, it’s time for this witch to focus on herself. And not think about her impulsive one-night stand with Damian Adams, a half-Demon Veterinarian who she can’t get out of her head. Neither of them is looking for a relationship. But when Rose is sentenced to community service at Damian’s animal sanctuary it becomes impossible for them to ignore their sparking attraction. A friends-with-benefits, no feelings, no strings arrangement works perfectly for them both.

After a sequence of dead-end jobs, it’s not until Rose tangos with two snarly demons that she thinks she’s finally found her path. However, this puts Damian back on the periphery of a world he thought he left behind. He doesn’t approve of Rose becoming a Hunter, but if there's one thing he's learned about the stubborn witch, it was telling her not to do something was one sure-fire way to make sure she did.

Working—and sleeping—together awakens feelings Damian never knew he had...and shouldn't have. Because thanks to his ex's hex, if he falls in love, he'll not only lose his heart—but his humanity.

Former Prima Apparent Rose Maxwell is at loose ends. No longer next line to run the Supernatural Council – a role she’s trained for her whole life – she’s determined to find what her new “thing” is. But after an equine rescue mission goes wrong, Rose ends up doing community service at an animal sanctuary run by none other than her super hot one-night stand. Damian Adams is grumpy, not in the least of which is due to a soul hex that could cause the half-demon side of him to take over should he ever fall in love. Now Rose is in his path, knocking his socks off at every turn. Neither can forget their previous encounter so what’s wrong with a little no-strings-attached fun while they work together? Nothing, except they’re clearly meant to be…

Not Your Ex’s Hexes is a sprightly and fun continuation of the Supernatural Singles series. Rose is powerful and smart, but she hasn’t yet found her place in the world after giving up the role she’s trained for. She finds it when working with Damian, however. Both rescuing animals and becoming a Hunter call to her. Damian has no issue with the former, but the latter nearly cost him everything back when he was a teenager and he doesn’t want to see Rose hurt – or worse. The two of them spar but respect each other’s strength. It was fun to see Rose find her gifts and I liked watching Damian open up and learn to find happiness again. The two of them have great chemistry and I enjoyed watching them work and play together.

The course of true love doesn’t run smooth when a hex is involved for one of the parties and I was interested to see how April Asher would make things work for our protagonists. The result is a satisfying end to the love story, but that’s all I’ll say about that. Along the way, Rose and Damian are aided by their family and friends (whether or not they want to be). I thoroughly enjoy the world Asher created with its witches, angels, demons, vampires, and more. I finished Not Your Ex’s Hexes ready to dive right into the next adventure featuring Rose’s sister Olive because I am absolutely charmed by the Supernatural Singles world.

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

Monday, February 12, 2024

Review: The Catch by Amy Lea

The Catch by Amy Lea
Series: The Influencer, Book 3
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
The Catch cover
ISBN: 9780593336618
Release Date: February 13, 2024
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

In a last-ditch effort to rescue her brand from the brink of irrelevance, Boston fashion influencer Melanie Karlsen finds herself in a rural fishing village on the east coast of Canada. The only thing scarier than nature itself? The burly and bearded bed-and-breakfast owner and fisherman, Evan Whaler—who single-handedly disproves the theory that Canadians are “nice.”

After a boating accident lands Evan unconscious in the hospital, Mel is mistaken for his fiancée by his welcoming yet quirky family, who are embroiled in a long-standing feud over the B&B. In a bold attempt to mend family fences, Mel agrees to fake their engagement for one week in exchange for Evan’s help with her social media content.

Amid long hikes and campfire chats, reeling in their budding feelings for each other proves more difficult by the day. But is Mel willing to sacrifice her picture-perfect life in the city for a chance at a true, unfiltered love in the wild?

Fashion influencer Melanie Karlsen is a fish out of water in The Catch. Author Amy Lea’s final installment in the Influencer trilogy is a mix of While You Were Sleeping and The Proposal, with Lea’s charming characters thrown in.

Mel’s brand is sinking and when a mix-up with a resort partner lands her in need of a place to stay in Nova Scotia, she ends up in Cora’s Cove at the inn of one very grumpy Evan Whaler. She’s sunshine (with a bit of bite), he’s grumpy. She’s a city girl, he’s at home in the great outdoors. All these are romance catnip and Lea makes them her own in this story. Evan is irritated with Mel at first but as you get to know him through her eyes you learn why. Evan may seem grumpy but he’s a sweetheart once you get past his guard. He also comes with a family who are big and loving when they’re not fighting with each other. For Mel, it’s not just Evan that’s a draw but his whole family. Mel is achingly lonely in a crowd and I loved watching her find her place in Cora’s Cove. She’s one who always has her guard up but among the Whalers she finally starts to let people in. It’s lovely to see her come into her own over the course of the story, to find a blend between the influencer bombshell and the unplugged Mel.

The romance between Evan and Mel is slow burn, especially since they start out at odds. They clash, they bicker, but there’s definite chemistry from their initial meeting onward. And once things heat up you can’t keep these two apart. I loved the mix of sweetness and spice in their story. Add in the Whaler family as a whole and The Catch is simply a heartwarming read.

Mel’s story is the third in the Influencer trilogy but it can easily be read as a standalone. Fans of the series will like the glimpses they get of Crystal and Tara but if you’re new to Lea’s work you can jump in here without issue. If you want to be swept away to an idyllic coastal Canadian town to enjoy a charming romance with humor and heart then The Catch is the read for you.

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, February 6, 2024

Review: The Duke’s All That by Christina Britton

The Duke’s All That by Christina Britton
Series: Synneful Spinsters, Book 3
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Historical Romance 
The Dukes All That cover
ISBN: 9781538710449
Release Date: February 6, 2024
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo

A heartbreaking betrayal. A secret life. A love that deserves a second chance.

Iain MacInnes, Duke of Balgair, has spent the last thirteen years believing his wife is dead—until he receives word that she is very much alive and living under an assumed name on the remote Isle of Synne. He sets off with only one goal in mind: bring his wife back to Scotland where he can divorce her and expose her for the liar she is.

After a devastating deception by the man who was supposed to love her, Seraphina did what was necessary to keep herself and her sisters safe. And though she’s still haunted by the events that tore her world apart all those years ago, she’s made a happy life on Synne, surrounded by loyal friends and building a secret career as a popular author. Now that Iain has found her, however, all that is at risk.

Despite their long separation, the attraction between Iain and Seraphina still burns strong. But with so much hurt and betrayal between them, can they possibly find their way back to each other?

The Duke’s All That is a second chance romance with a lot of heart. Seraphina and Iain fell in love at a young age, but were torn apart due to lies and manipulation not long after they were wed. Thirteen years later, Iain discovers that his long-lost wife is alive and well and is determined to secure a divorce from the woman who broke his heart. What he finds is a woman haunted by the past. Seraphina has survived much and has come out the stronger. She escaped the clutches of her evil father and made a life for herself and her sisters, one far different than the gilded cage they were raised in.

It was easy for me to like both Seraphina and Iain. Seraphina is a survivor and her strength and determination made me want to see her find peace and be able to let down her guard. Iain is a strong and handsome Scotman who has his own baggage he needs to come to terms with, but he has a good heart. Author Christina Britton shows how the young couple was torn apart but also doesn’t make their reunion easy on them. They have to confront their fears, their vulnerabilities, and risk opening their hearts. Seraphina in particular has walls that are high even with those she loves and it’s understandable why. I really liked watching her and Iain together as they learned who they are now, after everything they’ve been through.

The Duke’s All That is emotional and sweet at the same time (with a dash of humor and some surprisingly touching moments brought by Seraphina’s parrot). Britton made it easy to be swept up into the personal and romantic journeys of Iain and Seraphina. If you’re a fan of the Synneful Spinsters series you’ll enjoy brief glimpses of Seraphina’s fellow Oddments, but you can jump into this one as a standalone too. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I look forward to revisiting it.

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, February 4, 2024

Review: Work It Out by Eva Siedler

Work It Out by Eva Siedler
Publisher: Entangled: Amara Next
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Work It Out cover
ISBN: 9781649376299
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Entangled

With the lead role in a huge action film up for grabs, actor Jake Newman has ninety days to get in shape. How does a man grow abs without the tabloids watching his every move? By sneaking off to a high-end health resort in his Arizona hometown to supersize his biceps…Thor style. Oh, and hope no one discovers the real reason he bailed from Los Angeles—or the teeny little health issue he’s hoping to keep from everyone.

Especially his cute, sunshiny, and absolute hard-ass new trainer.

Former gymnast Rayah Summers has poured everything she has into her desert dream: a full-service resort that helps people transform their bodies and lifestyles. But a run of bad luck has her on the brink of bankruptcy —and the Hollywood hunk with insanely sexy dimples is all that’s standing between her and disaster.

Now everything depends on her success: her future, her roof over her head, and especially her trainers—who are more family than employees. Rayah can’t afford for anything to go wrong… and no one’s able to explain why Jake Newman keeps collapsing during even the lightest workouts.

Now it’s a balance beam nightmare, with Rayah trying to keep her business afloat—all while managing her staff’s drama, keeping her celebrity client a secret, and not falling for him or his devilishly sexy grin. And it’s just a matter of time before Jake’s secrets threaten not only her dreams, but the chosen family she’s found…

Jake Newman needs to get in shape quickly if he hopes to land the next big superhero role. Rayah Summers owns a full-service fitness resort in his hometown. It’s a match made in heaven. Or it would be, if Jake wasn’t hiding a secret that could cost them both everything.

I had mixed feelings about Work It Out. Jake is an actor with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a disorder he wants to keep a secret – especially considering he wants to land a superhero role. The problem isn’t his medical condition – it’s that he keeps it a secret from Rayah when starting an extreme diet and exercise regime. Jake lacks some maturity which made me kinda “meh” on him as a character. He does have some cheesy charm, however, and his adorkableness could be cute. Rayah is a former gymnast who is determined to make her resort a success not only for herself but the found family she has working with her. I liked Rayah’s determination and wished we’d gotten more into her backstory and personality outside of Explosion business and her burgeoning relationship with Jake. Their romance is cute, but may be a bit campy for some readers.

Work It Out follows a fairly predictable path and it did leave me wanting a bit more. Eva Siedler wrote in some secondary characters that had a lot of potential and made me want to dive deeper into them. About three-quarters of the way through the book it really picked up the pace and that’s when I truly became invested in Rayah and Jake’s story. It’s a pity the book took so long to capture my attention because when it did I was glued to the pages. So while overall I thought Work It Out was just OK, there’s enough there that I liked that I would absolutely pick up another one of Siedler’s 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.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Review: Random in Death by J.D. Robb

Random in Death by J.D. Robb
Series: In Death, Book 58
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Futuristic/Mystery/Suspense 
Random in Death cover
ISBN: 9781250289544
Release Date: January 23, 2024
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
J.D. Robb Reading Order

Jenna’s parents had finally given in, and there she was, at a New York club with her best friends, watching the legendary band Avenue A, carrying her demo in hopes of slipping it to the guitarist, Jake Kincade. Then, from the stage, Jake catches her eye, and smiles. It’s the best night of her life.

It’s the last night of her life.

Minutes later, Jake’s in the alley getting some fresh air, and the girl from the dance floor comes stumbling out, sick and confused and deathly pale. He tries to help, but it’s no use. He doesn’t know that someone in the crowd has jabbed her with a needle—and when his girlfriend Nadine arrives, she knows the only thing left to do for the girl is call her friend, Lieutenant Eve Dallas.

After everyone on the scene is interviewed, lab results show a toxic mix of substances in the victim’s body—and for an extra touch of viciousness, the needle was teeming with infectious agents. Dallas searches for a pattern: Had any boys been harassing Jenna? Was she engaging in risky behavior or caught up in something shady? But there are no obvious clues why this levelheaded sixteen-year-old, passionate about her music, would be targeted.

And that worries Dallas. Because if Jenna wasn’t targeted, if she was just the random, unlucky victim of a madman consumed by hatred, there are likely more deaths to come.

When the pool of potential victims is vast and the killer’s method of picking targets seems random, Lieutenant Eve Dallas and her team won’t rest. Random in Death is fast-paced, tense, and engaging. There’s no down time for Eve, Roarke, Peabody, or McNab as they try to form a profile of a killer who selects their victims at random.

The In Death series can be roughly divided into stories that are primarily case-centric and those that are mainly character-centric. This story is the former, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be invested in it. I loved watching Eve and company put together the clues to form a picture of the villain. The deaths in this book weigh heavily on Eve, as all the victims she stands for do, and to see the innocence snuffed out was heartbreaking. I really enjoyed seeing the pieces of the puzzle come together as Eve and her team (with the help of their civilian consultant, Roarke) work tirelessly to form a picture from not much. And the picture is that of a psychopath with a brilliant mind.

Even with the timeline of the cases being so tight, we still get to see the characters we know and love over the course of the story. Roarke continues to watch out for his cop, the “great house project” of Mavis, Leonardo, Peabody, and McNab moves along, some other fan favorites have a small role to play, and we get to see more of Nadine’s boyfriend, rock star Jake Kincade. You can read this book pretty much as a standalone, but you’d be missing out on the characters and relationships if you aren’t at least familiar with the series.

Regardless of whether you’re a longtime fan of the In Death series or are just looking for an interesting mystery to get caught up in, Random in Death is sure to please. With fifty-eight full-length novels in this series and counting, J.D. Robb shows no sign of slowing down – and with a mystery as solidly entertaining as this one there’s no reason to. I thoroughly enjoy every outing with Eve and Roarke and Random in Death is no exception.

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, January 9, 2024

Review: The Bright Spot by Jill Shalvis

The Bright Spot by Jill Shalvis
Series: Sunrise Cove, Book 5
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
The Bright Spot cover
ISBN: 9780063235755
Release Date: January 16, 2024
Source: Author
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Jill Shalvis Reading Order

Luna Wright is a lot of things, but sweet and trusting isn’t on the list. However, she’s a sucker for the underdog and a hard-luck story. Adopted at birth, with scant knowledge of her biological family, she’s created her own inner circle, a motley crew which includes her bestie Willow, to help her run the struggling but charming Apple Ridge Farm.

With a farm-to-table café as well as a menagerie of rescued animals (complete with a baby goat who keeps escaping to the pantry to eat the secret stash of decidedly not organic potato chips), it’s the best home she’s ever known. But when the owner Silas, who they secretly call The Grinch, passes away, Luna discovers the farm is now under control of his investment manager, the enigmatic Jameson Hayes….and her. And that Silas had many, many secrets.

Now Luna’s carefully controlled corner of the world is threatened and she—along with some help from her friends—has to dig deep to find true strength and the real meaning of love and family.

A sunny, welcoming farmer, her beloved family and friends, and a protagonist in a suit who is on leave from his big city job are all that stand between greedy people and saving a farm with adorable rescue animals. This may sound like a Hallmark movie formula, but the cast of characters are signature Jill Shalvis. The Bright Spot is fast-paced and lively, with ridiculously cute animals and bubbly characters who are easy to adore.

Luna is a farmer who has a gift for making people love her. She works tirelessly to make Apple Ridge Farm a success, but when the owner passes away, she learns she has inherited half of the farm with the other half going to some stiff-necked investment manager. Only Jameson isn’t just a numbers geek in a suit. He’s kind, caring, and fits right into the misfit family that makes up Apple Ridge Farm. He and Luna have sparks from the beginning and it’s not long before they’re falling fast for each other.

The Bright Spot follows a predictable path, but it’s a path Shalvis does well. The quirky characters – who have zero boundaries when it comes to their friends who are like family – are familiar to anyone who enjoys Shalvis’s work. As much as I enjoyed them, because I am so familiar with Shalvis’s books I didn’t feel much fresh and new, nor did the characters feel like they had much depth. This didn’t bother me overmuch, to be honest (I enjoy a good, fluffy read). The only real snag I hit with this book was the secondary plotline involving Luna’s best friend, Willow. This could just be reader preference, but I found her a bit irritating and irrational. Even though Shalvis showed why, there wasn’t enough depth to her for me to feel connected or understanding enough that I was invested in Willow’s story.

Overall, The Bright Spot is bright, fluffy, and fun to read. The animals (especially DZ the goat) were a definite bright spot but the humans were mostly charming as well. This is a solid beach read with the humor and heart I’ve come to expect from anything Jill Shalvis writes.

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

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Review: Last Call at the Local by Sarah Grunder Ruiz

Last Call at the Local by Sarah Grunder Ruiz
Series: Love, Lists & Fancy Ships, Book 3
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Last Call at the Local cover
ISBN: 9780593549063
Release Date: January 2, 2024
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Raine Hart is used to the challenges of living with ADHD. It’s why she ditched her life in Boston to busk around Europe as a traveling musician. No boss. No schedule. No one to disappoint but herself. But when a careless mistake in Ireland leaves her unable to perform, she sees no other option but to give up her nomadic life.

Since inheriting the Local, Jack Dunne has wanted to make the pub his own. But the baggage of running a family business and the intrusive thoughts that stem from his OCD make changing things a challenge.

Over a pint with handsome, tattooed Jack, Raine accidentally insults him and the pub. Instead of taking offense, Jack, impressed by her vision of what the pub could be, offers her a job bringing it to life.

But when Raine and Jack develop feelings for one another their opposite lifestyles won’t accommodate, it becomes clear the pub isn’t the only thing that needs reinventing. As the end of their business collaboration draws near, they’ll have to find a way past the limits they’ve placed on themselves or let go of a love that could last a lifetime.
Last Call at the Local is a slow-burn romance that is as cozy as a big hug. I absolutely loved Jack and Raine and their love story warmed my heart. Sarah Grunder Ruiz delivered some of the best ADHD rep and hands down the best OCD rep I’ve seen so far in Raine and Jack and it made this story truly special.

Raine Hart is a travelling musician making her way around Europe when she lands in Cobh, Ireland and has her stuff stolen. She ends up at the Local and when she gives her opinion of the rather empty pub to the owner. Instead of telling her to leave, he offers her a job. Like recognizes like, and as a fellow owner of a messy brain Jack Dunne sees possibilities rather than problems with Raine. Jack is a cat dad with an adorable floof named Sebastian and a pub that could use some revitalization. What follows is a sweet, funny, heartwarming story of finding someone who loves you for all that you are and not just when everything in your brain is perfect.

I loved watching Jack and Raine flirt and banter. Even more, I loved the realism that came from how their OCD and ADHD manifested. Grunder Ruiz skillfully weaves the challenges Jack and Raine face while never making them people who identify solely by their neurodivergence. Raine is a brilliant musician who is scared to take that leap into sharing her own music with the world. Jack is a tattoo artist as well as a pub owner, but his relapse has taken that joy from him. They are full and complete people separately but they really come into their own together, each giving the other courage and understanding that helps them grow.

I loved the world Grunder Ruiz creates in the Local. The family and friends of Jack and Raine are a delight and fill out the story perfectly. Jack and Raine are the heart of the book, however, and they charmed the heck out of me. Their chemistry is divine and their love story left me smiling. Raine and Jack aren’t perfect, but they’re the perfect characters to enjoy a truly lovely romance about. I loved Last Call at the Local from beginning to end and I cannot wait to read the rest of Grunder Ruiz’s Love, Lists & Fancy Ships 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.