Review of “A Secret Surrender” (The Pretenders #1) by Darcy Burke

Burke, Darcy. A Secret Surrender. Beaverton, OR: Darcy Burke Publishing, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1944576868 | $4.99 USD | 294 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

Set in the world of The Untouchables, indulge in the saga of a trio of siblings who excel at being something they’re not. Can a dauntless Bow Street Runner, a devastated viscount, and a disillusioned Society miss unravel their secrets?

A survivor of the mean streets of London’s East End, Selina Blackwell has learned to be a chameleon, and in her current iteration as a fortune-teller, she’s able to provide a Season for her sister. Only, Madame Sybila can’t be a chaperone, so Selina takes on another identity as the proper Lady Gresham. But when a Bow Street Runner takes too much of an interest in her business, it seems the crimes of her past will finally come to light.

Determined to prove that Madame Sybila is a fraud bent on fleecing London’s elite, Harry Sheffield enlists the help of the alluring Lady Gresham in exchange for introducing her to Society’s best. With his busy career and aspirations for the future, Harry has no time for marriage, but an affair is just right—until he discovers the lady’s disarming secret. Whatever his feelings for her, he can’t ignore who she is and who she’s been. And when she holds the key to the one case he couldn’t solve, he must choose justice or love.

Review

4 stars

I received an ARC from the author through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A Secret Surrender is the first in Darcy Burke’s new series, The Pretenders. And while there are some connections to previous series, particularly those in her expanded “Untouchables” world, it can be read as a stand-alone, which I can attest to, having read only a few of the previous books in that world.

While the premise has been a bit hit-or-miss for me, I was glad to see it was another new book that had the law-abiding hero falls for a heroine involved in slightly nefarious activities. And I admired Selina for doing what she had to do to ensure Beatrix had a good future and didn’t have to resort to the same wheeling-and-dealing she did after a hard life on the streets, even though I knew it was only a matter of time before her house of cards fell.

I also liked Harry and his strong sense of justice, and how it comes into question when he falls for Selina in one of her guises and eventually finds out her game, admittedly much later than I would have liked. While I do feel like both came from a similar place of wanting to do good, even if they pursued this in different ways, I wanted more from the ending, as I’ve found myself wondering how people can trust each other again so quickly after such a massive betrayal. 

I still found this book fairly solid, and I can’t wait for the next one for Beatrix’s story. I recommend this to all historical romance lovers. 

Author Bio

Darcy Burke is the USA Today Bestselling Author of sexy, emotional historical and contemporary romance. Darcy wrote her first book at age 11, a happily ever after about a swan addicted to magic and the female swan who loved him, with exceedingly poor illustrations. Join her Reader Club at http://www.darcyburke.com/readerclub.

A native Oregonian, Darcy lives on the edge of wine country with her guitar-strumming husband, their two hilarious kids who seem to have inherited the writing gene, two Bengal cats and a third cat named after a fruit. In her “spare” time Darcy is a serial volunteer enrolled in a 12-step program where one learns to say “no,” but she keeps having to start over. Her happy places are Disneyland and Labor Day weekend at the Gorge.

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Review of “Lady of Secrets” (Ladies of the Civil War #1) by G.S. Carr

Carr, G.S. Lady of Secrets. Charlotte, NC: Brown Lady Publishing, 2020.

ASIN: B083N3L2KR | $4.99 USD | 310 pages | Historical Romance—Civil War

Blurb

Her secret mission. A country divided. His impossible love.

Henrietta Wright is a Free Colored woman who teaches reading and writing to anyone who enters her classroom. At least she was, until a drunken night with friends catapults her down a path of intrigue, coded messages, and intelligence operations. All in service of the Union Army. She can’t tell anyone what she’s doing, including the handsome Irishman she knows she shouldn’t want, but can’t seem to resist.

Since stepping onto American soil, Elijah Byrne’s only goal has been to survive another day. That is until Henrietta burst into his life and made him want more. She was never meant to be his – her fiancé can attest to that – but she makes him long for things men like him aren’t lucky enough to have. When she asks for his help, he can’t resist tumbling with her into a clandestine expedition that could cost them everything—including their lives.

Review 

4 stars 

I found out about G.S. Carr when she was a guest in a Facebook group, doing a reading from this very book, Lady of Secrets. Intrigued, I picked it up, and while this is my first from her, it definitely won’t be my last. 

I loved the two lead characters, Henrietta and Elijah. Their love is forbidden, and I enjoyed reading about them negotiating a way they could be together. And their relationship is such a sweet one, where he doesn’t want to see her getting into danger, even if they aren’t together, which becomes difficult when she decides to go on a mission for the Union Cause. 

The research developing the atmosphere is impeccable, providing insight into the lives of free Blacks during the Civil War, and the role some of them played in helping the Union. 

There are some minor flaws when it comes to pacing and a slight overabundance of subplots that aren’t fully resolved by the end, but it is possible that they will be addressed in a future book. 

In general, this is a great book by a rising star in indie romance publishing. If you loved either Alyssa Cole’s Loyal League or Beverly Jenkins’ many magnificent historicals, I think you’ll love this one too.

Author Bio

Raised in Charlotte NC, G.S. Carr has always enjoyed indulging in her imagination. At a very young age she had a thirst for reading and the many possibilities it helped come alive in her mind’s eye. She consumed books like they were the air she needed to survive. It seemed inevitable that her love of reading would transcend into a desire to create her own stories. She began writing poetry and stories at the age of 10. By the time she was thirteen she found her passion in the romance genre and has not looked back ever since.

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Review of “Chasing Wild Horses” by Mila Nicks

Nicks, Mila. Chasing Wild Horses. [United States]: Mila Nicks, 2020.

ASIN: B089NBTN1H | $3.99 USD | 334 pages | Comtemporary Romance

Blurb

A slow-burn romance between two outsiders from opposite worlds:

He’s the biggest outcast in town…

Chase Collins has never met a horse he didn’t like. Too bad he can’t say the same for people. In his hometown Lutton, his poor reputation follows him like a dark shadow. It’s best for everyone if he sticks to where he belongs. At least on Wild Horse Ranch, he’s safe from judgment. Then one day a familiar face from 10 years ago shows up out of the blue.

She’s a wanderer who comes and goes…

Samara Grant is a nomad at heart. She doesn’t like staying put for too long. But when her Grandma Bunny passes away, she has to put her carefree lifestyle on hold to handle her affairs. She might have spent childhood summers in Lutton, Texas, but it’s no place to live. She wants to get in and out as fast as possible. Little does she know life has other plans.

Together, they form an unbreakable bond…

When Samara feels like she’s losing control of her life, she decides to take it back. She asks Chase to teach her how to ride. Neither expect to find common ground—and a fiery attraction—when Chase agrees. But their blossoming relationship isn’t celebrated by everyone. The closer Chase and Samara get, the more an unforeseen enemy seeks to tear them apart… 

Review

4 stars

I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Chasing Wild Horses is the first in a new series from Mila Nicks, and I’m intrigued at the direction it’s going in so far, exploring the modern day relationship between Chase and Samara and its parallels to Bucky and Bunny’s forbidden love in the 1960s.

I was a bit unsure what I was getting into at first, in spite of having read Nicks before, because this is such an extreme slow burn, taking its time to establish who the characters are before delving into their relationships with one another. But it ultimately pays off when it picks up. Chase and Samara’s relationship develops in a convincing way, and I rooted for them as they faced issues that echoed the ones Bunny and Bucky faced. 

The one minor issue I had was that it ended abruptly, but a quick glance at the excerpt of book two shows that both storylines continue there. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

This is a wonderfully original contemporary romance, and one I’d recommend to romance fans, especially those who love slow burn. 

Author Bio

Mila Nicks has a thing for romance. Chick lit, chick flicks, you name it, she’s there. She’s all about basking in a quality, well-told love story. It’s why she’s decided to use her passion for writing to pen love stories featuring women of color.

When she’s not engrossed in all things romance, she’s probably out shopping, sampling food off of someone else’s plate, or hanging with her feisty and dangerous pet chihuahua, Zayden.

For more on Mila, including upcoming releases and story freebies, check out her website and subscribe to her newsletter: https://www.milanickswrites.com/ 

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Review of “The Secrets of Saffron Hall” by Clare Marchant

Marchant, Clare. The Secrets of Saffron Hall. London: Avon Books UK, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0008406288 | $15.93 USD | 400 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb

Two women. Five centuries apart.
One life-changing secret about to be unearthed…

1538
New bride Eleanor impresses her husband by growing saffron, a spice more valuable than gold. His reputation in Henry VIII’s court soars – but fame and fortune come at a price, for the king’s favour will not last forever…

 2019

When Amber discovers an ancient book in her grandfather’s home at Saffron Hall, the contents reveal a dark secret from the past. As she investigates, so unravels a forgotten tragic story and a truth that lies much closer to home than she could have imagined…

An enchanting historical novel about love and hope in dangerous times, perfect for fans of Lucinda Riley and Kathryn Hughes.

Review

3 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I was drawn to the premise of The Secrets of Saffron Hall, due to my love of all things Tudor. And in that regard, my expectations were satisfied. The Tudor portion of the book is engaging and feels true to the period, with its great rewards for those in favor, but the lingering fear of the fates of those who fall out of it.

I was engrossed in Eleanor’s day-to-day life as she runs the home and grows saffron while her husband is away, and while the Saffron element did sometimes feel a bit repetitive, I more or less enjoyed her perspective of the tense times, especially given the events going on in the background: the religious persecutions, executions, and Henry’s shifting interest between wives (mourning Jane Seymour, the reluctant marriage to Anne of Cleves and annulment, and his ill-fated marriage to Catherine Howard). 

I found Amber’s chapters less interesting, aside from the supplemental information about the book. There were some good elements there for her, like dealing with grief following a stillbirth, but I still found it harder to become invested in her storyline as much as I did Eleanor’s.

This is still a fairly good book, and one I would recommend to fans of dual timeline historical novels. 

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Review of “American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt” by Stephanie Marie Thornton

Thornton, Stephanie Marie. American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt. New York: Berkley, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0451490902 | $16.00 USD | 432 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb

A sweeping novel from renowned author Stephanie Marie Thornton…

Alice may be the president’s daughter, but she’s nobody’s darling. As bold as her signature color Alice Blue, the gum-chewing, cigarette-smoking, poker-playing First Daughter discovers that the only way for a woman to stand out in Washington is to make waves–oceans of them. With the canny sophistication of the savviest politician on the Hill, Alice uses her celebrity to her advantage, testing the limits of her power and the seductive thrill of political entanglements.

But Washington, DC is rife with heartaches and betrayals, and when Alice falls hard for a smooth-talking congressman it will take everything this rebel has to emerge triumphant and claim her place as an American icon. As Alice soldiers through the devastation of two world wars and brazens out a cutting feud with her famous Roosevelt cousins, it’s no wonder everyone in the capital refers to her as the Other Washington Monument–and Alice intends to outlast them all. 

Review 

5 stars 

I knew very little about Alice Roosevelt prior to picking up American Princess, but was intrigued by what I heard about her as a bit of a wild child and trailblazer in a virtual author event with Stephanie Thornton when she was promoting her more recent release about Jackie Kennedy. 

Thornton captures the spirit of a complex woman who lived an extraordinary life, meeting and forming relationships with many prominent politicians over the course of her ninety-six years. I loved how Alice’s relationship with her father was depicted, given there is that famous quote about Roosevelt being unable to control her. But ultimately, it was a relationship of great love, even if it was a flawed one that echoed in her relationships with others close to her, like her relationship with her own daughter. And while she was definitely not always likable, she was definitely fascinating and a woman I’d have loved to meet. 

I also enjoyed getting a sense of the political landscape of the times she lived from her perspective. The evolving relationship between the two branches of the Roosevelt family was of particular interest, due to their contrasting ideologies, especially since, while FDR was more distantly related, Eleanor was Alice’s first cousin. 

I loved this book, and would recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction, especially about the presidents and their families.

Author Bio

Stephanie Thornton is a high school history teacher by day and lives in Alaska with her husband and daughter.

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Review of “Vying for the Viscount” (Hearts on the Heath) by Kristi Ann Hunter

Hunter, Kristi Ann. Vying for the Viscount. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2020.

ISBN-13; 978-0764235252 | $15.95 USD | 348 pages | Regency Romance/Christian Fiction 

Blurb

For Hudson, the newly titled Viscount Stildon, moving to England from India where he was born and raised was already an arduous enough endeavor. When he learns the fate of the racing empire he inherited along with his title depends upon him getting in the good graces of another stable owner, he’s even more at a loss.

The stable at the neighboring estate has been Miss Bianca Snowley’s refuge for years, and when a strange man appears to be stealing the horses, she jumps to their protection without a second thought. Upon learning Hudson is actually the new owner, she can’t help but be intrigued by the area’s newest eligible bachelor.

Any thought of romance is quickly set aside, however, when Hudson proposes they work together to secure suitable spouses for each other. As their friendship grows, Hudson and Bianca begin to reconsider what they truly want in life. But will societal expectations and the weight of their responsibilities keep them from pursuing their true desires?

Review 

5 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a review.

Vying for the Viscount is an exciting start to Kristi Ann Hunter’s latest Hearts on the Heath series. While I admit to not being super into horses, I was pleased the relevant information was conveyed without being confusing or beating me over the head, and provided just as much for the non-horse lover to enjoy.

Hudson, Lord Stildon has recently returned from India, and is mystified by the societal customs in England, something which I could empathize with. I like that it allowed him to be unaffected by the snobbery that many of his class have, and as a result, when he encounters someone who doesn’t fit the mold of society strictures, due to something like illegitimate birth, he doesn’t think less of them for it, and treats them like human beings. 

Bianca Snowley is also likable, and dealing with an unpleasant situation in the form of her mean stepmother, evoking comparisons to Cinderella. I rooted for her to gain strength to fight against her, and she does over time. 

The romance between the two is a gradual one, first starting as friends trying to help one another, but the tension is well built up, foreshadowing when they finally make the move toward admitting their feelings toward one another. 

And while this is a new series and can stand on its own, there are appearances from characters from previous series that will please longtime fans of Hunter’s books. My personal favorite is Hawthorne House’s Trent and his pineapples! 

This is another winner for Kristi Ann Hunter, and one I think her fans and new Regency readers alike will adore. 

Author Bio

Kristi Ann Hunter graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in Computer Science but always knew she wanted to write. Kristi is an RWA Golden Heart contest winner, an ACFW Genesis contest winner, and a Georgia Romance Writers Maggie Award for Excellence winner. She lives with her husband and three children in Georgia. Find her online at www.kristiannhunter.com.

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Review of “The Soldier’s Lady” by Susanne Dietze, Janette Foreman, Gabrielle Meyer, and Lorna Seilstad

Dietze, Susanne, et. al. The Soldier’s Lady: 4 Stories of Frontier Adventures. Uhrichville, OH: Barbour Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1643526058 | $14.99 USD | 448 pages | Historical Romance—Western/Christian Fiction 

Blurb

Adventure and Romance Await at Frontier Forts
 
Join four adventurous women making their home at Old West forts. Faced with daily challenges—and stubborn men—they bring civility to the frontier.
 
The Colonel’s Daughter by Gabrielle Meyer
Minnesota, 1828—Fort Snelling
Major Nathaniel Ward is tasked with guarding his commanding officer’s daughter, Ally Benson, from the amorous soldiers at Fort Snelling, but he finds the hardest person to keep in line is himself.
 
Frontier of Her Heart by Susanne Dietze
California, 1854—Fort Humboldt
All is fair in love and war, but the contest of wills between fort cook Emily Sweet and Assistant Surgeon Boyd Braxton is all about pride, not romance. . .until they must work together to stop an epidemic.
 
Save the Last Word for Me by Lorna Seilstad
Kansas, 1864—Fort Riley
Determined schoolteacher Adelina Dante believes every man, woman, and child deserves the chance to read and write, but when she approaches Colonel Isaac Scott about why he should allow his illiterate soldiers to attend special classes, she’s the one who gets educated in matters of the heart.
 
Forever Fort Garland by Janette Foreman
Colorado, 1879—Fort Garland
Annie Moreau arrives at Fort Garland to marry her soldier pen pal, Martin, but encounters two surprises—Martin has died in battle and she’s been corresponding with dashing Captain Jefferson Gray all along.

Review

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

“The Colonel’s Daughter” by Gabrielle Meyer

4 stars

This one was sweet, and I liked the historical significance (even if I did cringe at the mention of some of the names of the real people who inspired this story). I liked and rooted for Nathaniel and Ally, but it was her mother that almost stole the show for me. The conflict of her mother not wanting Ally to also be a military wife was well presented, and I liked how the journey toward them working through this issue. 

“Frontier of Her Heart” by Susanne Dietze

5 stars

One of the first things that caught my attention with this one was the epidemic plotline, and how it starkly resembles what we are going through today, albeit on a bit of a smaller scale. I also enjoyed the sweet romance between the fort cook Emily and surgeon Boyd happening in the midst of it all. 

“Save the Last Word for Me” by Lorna Seilstad

3 stars

I feel like this one had a lot of potential, it just didn’t fully land. The setup for two people with differences was great, but I didn’t feel like Adelina and Isaac came together in a believable way, given all their initial differences. 

“Winning the Lady’s Heart” by Janette Foreman

5 stars

This one is no doubt the gem of the collection. I loved how it depicted the uncertainty that might come with mail-order brides and other arranged-marriage situations, with there being deception on one partner’s part. And while what Jefferson chose to do wasn’t right, I couldn’t help but feel for him, especially as his feelings came to light.

***

This is another fairly solid collection from Barbour Books, and one I recommend to anyone looking for historical romance with military heroes.

Author Bios

Susanne Dietze began writing love stories in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she’s the award-winning, RITA®-nominated author of several romances who’s seen her work on the Publisher’s Weekly, ECPA, and Amazon Bestseller Lists for Inspirational Fiction. Married to a pastor and the mom of two, Susanne lives in California and loves fancy-schmancy tea parties, the beach, and curling up on the couch with a costume drama and a plate of nachos. You can visit her on her website, www.susannedietze.com

A former high school English teacher, turned stay-at-home mom, I’m passionate about inspirational, God-centered romances and teaching people to see themselves as having worth in God’s eyes.

I am a proud member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), secretary of the ACFW Dakotas chapter, and am represented by Tamela Hancock Murray at the Steve Laube Agency.

When I sneak in time for my extra hobbies, I love to read, quilt, make cloth dolls, and draw. A graduate of York College and Black Hills State University, I make my home in the northern Midwest with my amazing husband, polydactyl cat, bird-hunting dog, and the most adorable baby twin boys on the planet.

Gabrielle Meyer lives in central Minnesota on the banks of the Mississippi River with her husband and four young children. As an employee of the Minnesota Historical Society, she fell in love with the rich history of her state and enjoys writing fictional stories inspired by real people and events. She can be found on her personal blog at www.gabriellemeyer.com, or her group blog, www.coffeecupsandcamisoles.blogspot.com, where she writes about her passion for history, Minnesota, and her faith. 

For as long as I can remember, I loved writing. I even dreamed in plots. I also grew up attending antique auctions nearly every weekend, so history was as much a part of my life as chores on our farm in Iowa, reading books, and playing with Barbies.

So, writing historical romances fit perfectly. Times may change, the style of clothes, the way we speak, but the common threads that unite us remain the same. Couples fall in love. Injustices
happen. We fight for what we believe in. We struggle. We endure. We grow.

After graduating from York College in York, Nebraska with an A.A. and then receiving a B.S.Ed. from Lubbock Christian University, I met and married the love of my life, David. God had
written our love story, and I knew from the moment we met that he was the one. It was not love at first sight by any means, but I was so sure he was “it” that I wrote that I’d met the man I would marry in my diary. We pledged our hearts to one another two and half years later.

I taught high school English until my oldest child was born. After that I began my career as a professional wiper. I wiped noses, counter tops, tiny tushes, tears, and scraped knees.

Deciding that my children were now older and less in need of my constant supervision, I started pursuing my first love again –writing. After joining American Christian Fiction Writers, I found a wonderful critique group and began studying the craft of writing.

David and I have three children ages 18, 16, and 11. We also work in youth ministry and teach youth and adult Bible classes.

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Review of “The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne” by Elsa Hart

Hart, Elsa. The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne. New York: Minotaur Books, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1250142818 | $26.99 USD | 352 pages | Historical Mystery 

Blurb

From the author of the acclaimed Li Du novels comes Elsa Hart’s new atmospheric mystery series.

London, 1703. In a time when the old approaches to science coexist with the new, one elite community attempts to understand the world by collecting its wonders. Sir Barnaby Mayne, the most formidable of these collectors, has devoted his life to filling his cabinets. While the curious-minded vie for invitations to study the rare stones, bones, books, and artifacts he has amassed, some visitors come with a darker purpose.

For Cecily Kay, it is a passion for plants that brings her to the Mayne house. The only puzzle she expects to encounter is how to locate the specimens she needs within Sir Barnaby’s crowded cabinets. But when her host is stabbed to death, Cecily finds the confession of the supposed killer unconvincing. She pays attention to details—years of practice have taught her that the smallest particulars can distinguish a harmless herb from a deadly one—and in the case of Sir Barnaby’s murder, there are too many inconsistencies for her to ignore.

To discover the truth, Cecily must enter the world of the collectors, a realm where intellect is distorted by obsession and greed. As her pursuit of answers brings her closer to a killer, she risks being given a final resting place amid the bones that wait, silent and still, in the cabinets of Barnaby Mayne.

Review 

3 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I wasn’t sure at first what I was getting into with The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne; it sounded a bit odd, but still interesting. And while the first 20% or so is a bit slow, the story picks up and ultimately pays off. 

The story has a classic mystery vibe, with some readers evoking comparisons to Agatha Christie (an author I have yet to read, to my shame). The environment of the curious collection of Barnaby Mayne truly comes to life, in a way that you can picture it right before your eyes. 

The mystery is complex enough to be engaging, justifying the slightly slower pace to set up  the plot, and get things in motion. 

I did find something a bit lacking when it came to the characters, however. I never really connected with anyone, even Cecily. While I like that she’s independent and intelligent, I felt there was a sense of shallowness to her relationships with other people that may have been accurate to the period, but did not really endear me to her or anyone else. 

I have mixed feelings about the book, but I find the author’s writing style engaging, and would be interested to read more from her in the future. If you love stories with a classic, Christie-esque mystery feel, then you should still check out this book, to see if it works out better for you. 

Author Bio

Elsa Hart is the author of three acclaimed mystery novels set in eighteenth-century China. The most recent, City of Ink, was one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2018. The daughter of a journalist, Elsa was born in Rome and spent much of her childhood abroad, attending international schools in Moscow and Prague. She is drawn to stories about travelers throughout history, and likes to put her own characters in places that are unfamiliar to them.

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Review of “A Foreign Crown” (Royal Regency #1) by Jen Geigle Johnson

Johnson, Jen. A Forbidden Crown. American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1524413668 | $15.99 USD | 240 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

Following a devastating series of misfortunes, Lady Aribella Bardsley has bravely shouldered the responsibilities of her household. But just as the bleakness of her situation threatens to overwhelm her, a summons arrives from the Queen with a providential offer: Aribella’s presence is requested as a lady-in-waiting at the palace.

Prince Layton Wilhelm’s family has clung to their neutrality in the war for far too long. As the youngest of the King of Oldenburg’s eight sons, Layton is determined to prove his worth and is unwilling to turn a blind eye to Napoleon’s encroaching privateers. When Layton embarks on a journey to England, it is for one purpose: to petition the British navy for aid. But when he becomes acquainted with the lovely Lady Aribella, he cannot deny their powerful connection. Amid the intrigues and schemes within the walls of the palace, Layton and Aribella know a future together is impossible—but torn between loyalty and love, will they risk everything to follow their hearts?

Review 

5 stars

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

While the Regency is an obscenely popular time period in historical romance, I can think of very few that involve the Royal Family playing significant roles in the plot. And that’s the charm of A Foreign Crown: we see the fictional Aribella and Prince Layton interacting with Prinny, Queen Charlotte, and the princesses, as well as a fairly believable portrait of what it might have been like for them as King George III was ill, and all of them trying to figure out what to do.

And Layton, as a prince of a fictional country, provides the story with more of a broader scope of European politics , as he is in England to establish diplomatic relations while the war against Napoléon is raging. I like that he’s trying to do the right thing, even trying to sacrifice his own happiness when he falls for Aribella. 

I really liked Aribella as well, and how she was a genuinely caring person. I could empathize with her feeling compelled in her own way to do what was expected of her in terms of marriage to someone suitable whom she doesn’t love, while falling for Layton. 

This is a delightful sweet romance, and one I’d recommend to Regency and royalty fans! 

Author Bio

Jen Geigle Johnson once greeted an ancient turtle under the water by grabbing her fin. Other vital things to know: the sound a water-ski makes on glassy water and how to fall down steep moguls with grace. No mountain is too steep for her to climb, yet. During a study break date in college, she sat on top of a jeep’s roll bars up in the mountains and fell in love. She discovered her passion for England while kayaking on the Thames near London as a young teenager.

Now an award-winning author and mother of six, she loves to share bits of history that might otherwise be forgotten. Whether in Regency England, the French Revolution, or Colonial America, her romance novels are much like life is supposed to be: full of adventure. She is a member of the RWA, the SCBWI, and LDStorymakers. She is also the chair of the Lonestar.Ink writing conference.

Twitter—@authorjen
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Review of “Court of Lions” by Somaiya Daud

Daud, Somaiya. Court of Lions. New York: Flatiron Books, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1250126450 | $18.99 USD | 320 pages | YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Blurb

Two identical girls, one a princess, the other a rebel. Who will rule the empire?

After being swept up into the brutal Vathek court, Amani, the ordinary girl forced to serve as the half-Vathek princess’s body double, has been forced into complete isolation. The cruel but complex princess, Maram, with whom Amani had cultivated a tenuous friendship, discovered Amani’s connection to the rebellion and has forced her into silence, and if Amani crosses Maram once more, her identity – and her betrayal – will be revealed to everyone in the court.

Amani is desperate to continue helping the rebellion, to fight for her people’s freedom. But she must make a devastating decision: will she step aside, and watch her people suffer, or continue to aid them, and put herself and her family in mortal danger? And whatever she chooses, can she bear to remain separated, forever, from Maram’s fiancé, Idris? 

In the series

#1 Mirage 

Review 

4 stars 

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

This is a wonderful second book in the series. I loved seeing both Amani and Maram come into their own, and both find happiness in spite of what was expected of them.

Let’s start with Maram: I liked what was done with her this time around, particularly that she’s queer. Her relationship with Aghraas was one of the best parts of this book. I didn’t always think much of Maram, dismissing her as another spoiled princess at times, but it was cool to see her have these tender moments. And I also liked seeing her grappling with her mixed heritage, and trying to figure out if she’s the right person for the role of ruler…the internal growth on her part was splendid, as was the development of her relationship with Amani, given it originally started off in a horrible place.

And Amani and Idris’ arc started off with a bit more “will-they-won’t-they” angst for my taste this time, but I was won over by them as a couple as the story went on. 

I enjoyed this book overall, and look forward to what Somaiya Daud releases next. If you’re looking for a  rich, immersive Moroccan inspired fantasy, I recommend this series highly. 

Author Bio

Somaiya Daud was born in a Midwestern city, and spent a large part of her childhood and adolescence moving around. Like most writers, she started when she was young and never really stopped. Her love of all things books propelled her to get a degree in English literature (specializing in the medieval and early modern), and while she worked on her Master’s degree she doubled as a bookseller at Politics and Prose in their children’s department. Determined to remain in school for as long as possible, she packed her bags in 2014 and moved the west coast to pursue a doctoral degree in English literature. Now she’s preparing to write a dissertation on Victorians, rocks, race, and the environment.

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Review of “The Black Midnight” (True Colors) by Kathleen Y’Barbo

Y’Barbo, Katherine. The Black Midnight. Uhrichville, OH: Barbour Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1643525952 | $12.99 USD  | 256 pages | Historical Romance/Romantic Suspense

Blurb

Two Series of Murders Seem Mysteriously Connected
Step into True Colors — a series of Historical Stories of Romance and American Crime

Three years before Jack the Ripper began his murderous spree on the streets of London, women were dying in their beds as The Midnight Assassin terrorized the citizens of Austin, Texas. Now, with suspicion falling on Her Majesty’s family and Scotland Yard at a loss as to who the Ripper might be, Queen Victoria summons her great-granddaughter, Alice Anne von Wettin, a former Pinkerton agent who worked the unsolved Austin case, and orders her to discreetly form a team to look into the London matter.

The prospect of a second chance to work with Annie just might entice Isaiah Joplin out of his comfortable life as an Austin lawyer. If his theories are right, they’ll find the The Midnight Assassin and, by default, the Ripper. If they’re wrong, he and Annie are in a bigger mess than the one the feisty female left behind when she departed Austin under cover of darkness three years ago.

Can the unlikely pair find the truth of who is behind the murders before they are drawn into the killer’s deadly game? From Texas to London, the story navigates the fine line between truth and fiction as Annie and Isaiah ultimately find the hunters have become the hunted. 

In the series

The Pink Bonnet by Liz Tolsma

The Yellow Lantern by Angie Dicken 

The White City by Grace Hitchcock 

The Gray Chamber by Grace Hitchcock

The Blue Cloak by Shannon McNear

The Green Dress by Liz Tolsma

The Red Ribbon by Pepper D. Basham (October 2020)

The Gold Digger by Liz Tolsma (December 2020)

Review 

3.5 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Black Midnight had a great concept, playing with one of several theories going around concerning the Jack the Ripper murders: that they are connected to similar murders that occurred a few years prior in Austin, Texas. 

And to a certain extent, the book is convincing in working with these connections and making the possibility they were committed  by the same person believable. I also feel like I learned something about the Midnight Assassin case, which I wasn’t familiar with before. 

And the idea of having the heroine be a relation of Queen Victoria is a cool one, as it allows her access to the Queen in a way not many others would have, and while her being a Pinkerton agent is a bit implausible, I could forgive it for the sense of gravitas it lent to the Ripper case as it proceeded, particularly when her relative, Prince Eddy, is implicated. 

However, I found myself perplexed at Annie’s exact biological relationship to the Queen, as it’s a mathematical impossibility for her to be Victoria’s great-granddaughter as it is repeatedly stated (presumably daughter to one of the other children of the future Edward VII, given how she refers to Prince Eddy as her “uncle.” Prince George (George V) did not marry Mary of Teck until 1893, and she was actually engaged to his brother prior to Prince Eddy’s untimely death. Eddy and George’s younger sister, Louise, did not marry until the year the book is set. This anachronism may not bother others (and for all I know it could be corrected in the final copy), but it really bothered me, especially since the author presented herself as a history buff. 

However, the book is still fairly solid and apart from those nitpicks. If you like true crime and speculating about “what if these two cold cases are connected?” them you might like this. 

Author Bio

Kathleen Y’Barbo is a multiple Carol Award and RITA nominee and bestselling author of more than 100 books with over two million copies of her books in print in the US and abroad. A tenth-generation Texan and certified paralegal, she is a member of the Texas Bar Association Paralegal Division, Texas A&M Association of Former Student and the Texas A&M Women Former Students (Aggie Women), Texas Historical Society, Novelists Inc., and American Christian Fiction Writers. She would also be a member of the Daughters of the American Republic, Daughters of the Republic of Texas and a few others if she would just remember to fill out the paperwork that Great Aunt Mary Beth has sent her more than once.

When she’s not spinning modern day tales about her wacky Southern relatives, Kathleen inserts an ancestor or two into her historical and mystery novels as well. Recent book releases include bestselling The Pirate Bride set in 1700s New Orleans and Galveston, its sequel The Alamo Bride set in 1836 Texas, which feature a few well-placed folks from history and a family tale of adventure on the high seas and on the coast of Texas. She also writes (mostly) relative-free cozy mystery novels for Guideposts Books.

Kathleen and her hero in combat boots husband have their own surprise love story that unfolded on social media a few years back. They now make their home just north of Houston, Texas and are the parents and in-laws of a blended family of Texans, Okies, and a family of very adorable Londoners.

To find out more about Kathleen or connect with her through social media, check out her website at www.kathleenybarbo.com.

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Review of “More Than Just a Pretty Face” by Syed M. Masood

Masood, Syed M. More Than Just a Pretty Face. New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0316492355 | $17.99 USD | 352 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

Blurb

For fans of Becky Albertalli and Jenny Han, a sweetly funny YA debut about falling in love, family expectations, and being a Renaissance Man.Danyal Jilani doesn’t lack confidence. He may not be the smartest guy in the room, but he’s funny, gorgeous, and going to make a great chef one day. His father doesn’t approve of his career choice, but that hardly matters. What does matter is the opinion of Danyal’s longtime crush, the perfect-in-all-ways Kaval, and her family, who consider him a less than ideal arranged marriage prospect.

When Danyal gets selected for Renaissance Man, a school-wide academic championship, it’s the perfect opportunity to show everyone he’s smarter than they think. He recruits the brilliant, totally-uninterested-in-him Bisma to help with the competition, but the more time Danyal spends with her . . . the more he learns from her…the more he cooks for her . . . the more he realizes that happiness may be staring him right in his pretty face.
In this young adult debut full of depth and heart, author Syed M. Masood will have readers laughing, sighing, tearing up, and shouting “YES!” at the top of their lungs.

Review

5 stars

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

More Than Just a Pretty Face piqued my interest as part of the current crop of YA rom-coms, and this one featuring religion and culture as components in the character identities was another part of its appeal. 

I liked Danyal, and how the story sees him working toward a goal in the form of the Renaissance Man competition to demonstrate his true worth, and ultimately coming into his own. 

And him originally being having an unrequited crush on someone else, but then coming to notice the somewhat unassuming Bisma as she helps him prepare for the competition, was really sweet, and I found the development of their relationship believable.

I also liked that Bisma’s not the ideal match in the eyes of many traditional Muslims due to a scandal in her recent past, and her parents were upfront with Danyal, and he accepted this about her, even defending her later when the secret gets out. 

This is an utterly wonderful book, and one I recommend to anyone who loves multicultural romantic comedies. 

Author Bio

I grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, and currently live in Sacramento, California. There have been plenty of stops in between though. I’m a first generation immigrant, twice over. I’ve been a citizen of three different countries and lived in nine cities. I am, as Goethe, said, “nothing but a wanderer […] on this earth.”

Living among different people, in different countries at fascinating times in their histories, has shaped both my view of the world and my writing. Ultimately, human beings are the same everywhere (despite the fact that they tell themselves, everywhere, that they are different from each other), and the theme of this fundamental human unity informs everything I write.

As to my life outside of writing, I went to the William and Mary School of Law, and before that attended the University of Toronto, where I studied English Literature. I am currently practicing as an attorney and must “measure out my life in coffee spoons” on a daily basis.

Some members of my family will tell you that I’m also a poet. This isn’t true. I wrote a few poems in Urdu when I was a teenager, and I’ve never heard the end of it…which I wouldn’t mind, honestly, if they were any good. As it is, I’m very happy living in prose, thank you very much.

Other interests include good food, video games, sitcoms, and books of all kinds. Most of my time that doesn’t go to writing or billable hours is consumed by my two children, four and two years of age.

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Review of “Sisters of Sword and Song” by Rebecca Ross

Ross, Rebecca. Sisters of Sword and Song. New York: HarperTeen, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-0062471413 | $17.99 USD | 458 pages 

Blurb

From the author of The Queen’s Rising comes a thrilling YA stand-alone fantasy about the unbreakable bond between sisters. Perfect for fans of Ember in the Ashes, Sky in the Deep, and Court of Fives.

After eight long years, Evadne will finally be reunited with her older sister, Halcyon, who has been proudly serving in the queen’s army. But when Halcyon appears earlier than expected, Eva knows something has gone terribly wrong. Halcyon is on the run, hunted by her commander and charged with murder.

Though Halcyon’s life is spared during her trial, the punishment is heavy. And when Eva volunteers to serve part of Halcyon’s sentence, she’s determined to find out exactly what happened. But as Eva begins her sentence, she quickly learns that there are fates much worse than death.

Review

4 stars

Having loved Rebecca Ross’ Queen’s Rising duology, I was excited to see what she would do next. And the premise of Sisters of Sword and Song appealed to me, centering on the complex relationship between sisters.

I liked both Evadne and Halcyon, and how the story follows them both from their initial position as opposites envious of what the other has, to coming into their own, each in their own right. I also love that, in spite of wishing to be like the other, they are protective of each other, and it’s wonderful to see such a nuanced, yet still grounded sibling  relationship in a YA fantasy, as it feels like some of the other books I’ve read lately have featured either only children or fierce, bloody sibling rivalry. 

The world building is also immersive, to the point that I was a bit disappointed that it was a stand-alone, in spite of my initial relief. I loved the Grecian feel, but it didn’t feel like it was just “Greece, but with different names.” The magic system is also a lot of fun, with the different gods and associated relics, some of which are specifically noted as “unaccounted for.”

I really enjoyed this book, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves YA fantasy. 

Author Bio

Rebecca Ross was born and raised in Georgia, where she continues to reside with her husband, her lively Australian Shepherd, and her endless piles of books. She loves coffee, the night sky, chalk art, maps, the mountains, and growing wildflowers in her yard. And a good story, of course.

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Review of “Sweetest in the Gale” (There’s Something About Marysburg #3) by Olivia Dade

Dade, Olivia. Sweetest in the Gale: A Marysburg Short Story Collection. Stockholm?: Hussies and Harpies Press, 2020. 

ASIN: B08B14HHMJV | $4.99 USD | 303 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

3 stories + 3 couples = 6 lonely hearts finding happily-ever-after at last.

“Sweetest in the Gale”: Much ado about love…

Candy Albright has always stomped confidently through the halls of Marysburg High, passionate and loud and entirely devoted to her students and her various English department initiatives. From his first day as her colleague, Griff Conover couldn’t look away, despite his best efforts.

After a summer apart, though, Candy returns to school a changed woman. Muted. Dimmed. Bowed by a grief Griff recognizes all too well, but doesn’t yet understand. And when they’re thrown together to coordinate a poetry project, he can’t resist the urge to read between her lines once and for all–even if doing so means he’ll have to confront his own loss…and his own lonely, longing heart.

“Unraveled”: The more tightly wound a man is, the faster he unravels…

Math teacher Simon Burnham–cool, calm, controlled–can’t abide problems with no good solution. Which makes his current work assignment, mentoring art teacher Poppy Wick, nothing short of torture. She’s warm but sharp. Chaotic but meticulous. Simultaneously the most frustrating and most alluring woman he’s ever known. And in her free time, she makes murder dioramas. Murder dioramas, for heaven’s sake. But the more tightly wound a man is, the faster he unravels–and despite his best efforts, he soon finds himself attempting to solve three separate mysteries: a murder in miniature, the unexplained disappearance of a colleague…and the unexpected theft of his cold, cold heart.

“Cover Me”: First comes marriage…

Elizabeth Stone has no health insurance. No savings. No one to turn to when she finds a lump on her breast…except James Magnusson, her friend of over twenty years. When he offers her a marriage of convenience for healthcare coverage, she’d be a fool to say no. But given the emotions she’s buried for so long, saying yes might lead to a broken heart.

James won’t take no for an answer. Not when marriage could save Elizabeth’s life, and not when he’s finally realized how much he needs her. Even during his doomed first marriage, James considered Elizabeth a special friend–one he had to keep at a safe distance. Now he’s free, and Elizabeth is his wife…but will they finally have the chance to be together, only to have everything torn apart?

Content guidance for “Cover Me”: This story contains discussions of breast cancer, an on-page mammogram and biopsy, and a definite happily-ever-after.

This book contains one entirely new story (“Sweetest in the Gale”) and two stories previously published in the He’s Come Undone and Rogue Acts anthologies. The latter stories have been lightly edited since their original publication, and “Unraveled” has a new epilogue.

Review

Sweetest in the Gale is a collection of short stories set in the same “world” as her previous Marysburg books, one new and two previously published and lightly edited. However, just as her novels stand on their own, these stories are great stand-alone pieces, and could serve as a great entry point into Olivia Dade’s writing, just as much as they would please fans who’ve read her other work. In signature Olivia Dade fashion, the stories combine humor with heart, tackling tough topics with a light touch. 

“Sweetest in the Gale”

5 stars

I love the tender way this story conveys grief, with both Candy and Griff navigating through it as individuals, while a project at work throws them together. I love how sweet and understanding they are of one another, paving the way for them to slowly enter a relationship as a couple. 

“Unraveled”

4.5  stars

I don’t have much to say I didn’t already say when I reviewed this in its original form in He’s Come Undone. However, I love the edition of the epilogue and how it feels like a natural conclusion/“afterward” to the story, and not something tacked on for convention’s sake. 

“Cover Me” 

5 stars

Perhaps the most heartwarming, I loved how it combined my favorite trope friends to lovers with marriage of convenience, a trope I know I like, but rarely can think of titles that stand out that fit the trope. I love that James wanted to marry his best friend to ensure Elizabeth had access to insurance to cover the care she needed, and how it eventually grew into more for both of them. 

Author Bio

Olivia Dade grew up an undeniable nerd, prone to ignoring the world around her as she read any book she could find. Her favorites, though, were always, always romances. As an adult, she earned an M.A. in American history and worked in a variety of jobs that required the donning of actual pants: Colonial Williamsburg interpreter, high school teacher, academic tutor, and (of course) librarian. Now, however, she has finally achieved her lifelong goal of wearing pajamas all day as a hermit-like writer and enthusiastic hag. She currently lives outside Stockholm with her patient Swedish husband, their whip-smart daughter, and the family’s ever-burgeoning collection of books.

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Review of “The Lost Jewels” by Kirsy Manning

Manning, Kirsty. The Lost Jewels. New York: William Morrow, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-0062882028 | $16.99 USD | 336 pages | Historical Fiction

Blurb

From the author of The Song of the Jade Lily comes a thrilling story of a family secret that leads to a legendary treasure.

Why would someone bury a bucket of precious jewels and gemstones and never return?  

Present Day. When respected American jewelry historian, Kate Kirby, receives a call about the Cheapside jewels, she knows she’s on the brink of the experience of a lifetime. 

But the trip to London forces Kate to explore secrets that have long been buried by her own family. Back in Boston, Kate has uncovered a series of sketches in her great-grandmother’s papers linking her suffragette great-grandmother Essie to the Cheapside collection. Could these sketches hold the key to Essie’s secret life in Edwardian London? 

In the summer of 1912, impoverished Irish immigrant Essie Murphy happens to be visiting her brother when a workman’s pickaxe strikes through the floor of an old tenement house in Cheapside, near St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The workmen uncover a stash of treasure—from Ottoman pendants to Elizabethan and Jacobean gems—and then the finds disappear again! Could these jewels—one in particular—change the fortunes of Essie and her sisters? 

Together with photographer Marcus Holt, Kate Kirby chases the history of the Cheapside gems and jewels, especially the story of a small diamond champlevé enamel ring. Soon, everything Kate believes about her family, gemology, and herself will be threatened.

Based on a fascinating true story, The Lost Jewels is a riveting historical fiction novel that will captivate readers from the beginning to the unforgettable, surprising end.

Review

5 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Lost Jewels is a gem of a book, no pun intended. Inspired by the real-life mystery surrounding the unearthing of the Cheapside Hoard, Manning provides answers to the questions surrounding this mysterious cache of jewels through a masterful blend of fact and fiction. 

The thing that stuck with me is how personal the story was, through the development of the main characters, Kate and Essie, and their relationship with one another. Kate loved her grandmother, but came to realize that her grandmother had secrets and a life before her that was key to connecting her grandmother with the Jewels. 

Essie’s life in turn was conveyed poignantly, with her humble origins and how she felt she had to care for her large family. I especially loved her bond with her sister Gertie, and loved the way that relationship endured even after Essie left London. 

I love how this story overall shows the powerful impact of jewels, in spite of the way they are commodified and dismissed as a result. As Manning notes in her endnotes, “the story of a jewel is always about power, love, and loyalty,” (P.S., 4) a concept that certainly resonates throughout the book.

This book is absolutely stunning, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction. 

Author Bio 

Kirsty Manning grew up in northern New South Wales. She has degrees in literature and communications and worked as an editor and publishing manager in book publishing for over a decade. A country girl with wanderlust, her travels and studies have taken her through most of Europe, the east and west coasts of the United States and pockets of Asia. Kirsty’s journalism specialising in lifestyle and travel regularly appear in magazines, newspapers and online.
With husband Alex Wilcox, Kirsty is a partner in the award-winning Melbourne wine bar Bellota, and the Prince Wine Store in Sydney and Melbourne.

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Review of “Poe Dameron: Free Fall” by Alex Segura

Segura, Alex. Star Wars: Poe Dameron: Free Fall. Los Angeles: Disney-Lucasfilm Press, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1368051668 | $17.99 USD | 380 pages | YA Sci-Fi

Blurb

Learn more about the dashing hero from the new Star Wars films! Telling a story hinted at in The Rise of Skywalker….

It’s been a few years since Poe’s mother passed away, and Poe and his father, who was a pilot for the Rebellion, have had more and more trouble connecting. Not sure what he wants to do with his life, teenage Poe runs away from home to find adventure, and to figure out what kind of man he is meant to be.

Review 

3.5 stars

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Poe Dameron: Free Fall piqued my interest due to my love for the character and interest in his backstory, particularly since it also involved Zorii, who we were introduced to in Rise of Skywalker. While I’m a staunch FinnPoe shipper, I was willing to be swayed as to the viability of Poe and Zorii as a potential pairing if their history was compelling enough. 

Poe’s story on his own is compelling. I liked learning about his origins prior to joining the Resistance, and how his parents’ role in the prior Rebellion against the Empire impacted him. 

And there are some interesting things done with Zorii’s character too, in terms of giving her a bit of a complex history and past of her own. A secret about her was revealed that I did not anticipate, and I enjoyed the way it was grappled with, to an extent. 

However, I didn’t think much of their relationship, even as friends. I never got the sense they truly connected, not in the way that Finn and Poe did, even with them being apart for the majority of both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. That could just be my bias coming through, but their friendship felt very shallow, and there wasn’t a real sense of depth there. 

This is still a fun book, and it will excite other Poe fans who were upset that he wasn’t given that much to do in the sequel trilogy. 

Author Bio

Alex Segura is a novelist and comic book and podcast writer. He is the author of the Anthony Award-nominated Pete Fernandez Miami Mystery series, which includes SILENT CITY, DOWN THE DARKEST STREET, DANGEROUS ENDS, BLACKOUT, and the upcoming MIAMI MIDNIGHT, all via Polis Books. He has also written a number of comic books, including the best-selling and critically acclaimed ARCHIE MEETS KISS storyline, the “Occupy Riverdale” story, ARCHIE MEETS RAMONES and THE ARCHIES one-shot and monthly series. He also co-created and co-wrote the LETHAL LIT podcast for Einhorn’s Epic Productions and iHeart Radio, which was named one of the Five Best Podcasts of 2018 by The New York Times. He lives in New York with his wife and son. He is a Miami native.

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Review of “Brass Carriages and Glass Hearts (Proper Romance Steampunk Series #4)” by Nancy Cambell Allen

Allen, Nancy Campbell. Brass Carriages and Glass Hearts. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1629727370 | $15.99 USD | 320 pages | Steampunk Romance

Blurb

A steampunk retelling of Cinderella.

Emmeline O’Shea has been an outspoken advocate for the shapeshifter community, which has come under unjust attack from a political body known as the PSRC (Predatory Shifter Regulations Committee), and her robust efforts have landed her a prestigious position as the spokesperson for the International Shifter Rights Organization. She has been selected to give the final address in Scotland before they vote on legislation that will grant protective rights to the shifter community. Because she is fundamentally changing the laws, she is also receiving death threats.

Oliver Reed is a by-the-book detective-inspector who has dealt with Emme’s borderline-illegal activism in the past, and there is little love lost between the two. When his superior tasks Oliver with guarding Emme around the clock to keep her safe until the summit is over, he is frustrated. He has several open cases requiring his attention, and his spare time is occupied with chasing down leads about the whereabouts of his brother, Vincent, a rogue vampire bent on causing trouble in Scotland.

When their airship is hijacked, Emme and Oliver are forced to parachute away before they exit British soil. They take refuge in Emme’s family’s hunting lodge where Oliver is introduced to her abusive stepsisters.

Together the pair must make their way to Edinburgh so as not to miss the summit meeting where Emme will be key in helping to pass legislation that will disband the corrupt PSRC. But between her vindictive sisters and Oliver’s rogue vampire brother, they face danger at every turn, not to mention dealing with their growing attraction for each other.
When Emme is kidnapped – leaving behind only one shoe as evidence – Oliver must find her before it’s too late – and the summit ends at midnight.

In the series

#1 Beauty and the Clockwork Beast

#2 Kiss of the Spindle 

#3 The Lady in the Coppergate Tower

Review

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher through Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Brass Carriages and Glass Hearts is the fourth in Nancy Campbell Allen’s Steampunk series, but it works well as a stand-alone. I did, however, enjoy the other books in the series and their clever spins on fairy tales, and definitely recommend them for that aspect.

And that is one of the things that had me a bit perplexed going into this one. It’s definitely not a traditional Cinderella story, with many of the associated motifs only coming into play late in the game. That’s not a mark against it, as the books have gradually deviated further from the original tales that inspired them. 

That said, the story is still fairly solid, and the characters engaging. I loved Emme’s involvement in the Shifter community, in part because it’s such a unique thing to read about a Shifter rights activist. I like how, in a way, that represented an additional connection between paranormal/steampunk and the Victorian setting, with the background of real life progressive movements, like the suffragettes, going on at the time. 

And, as in real life and in some comparable historical romances, Oliver presents the more traditional, law-abiding opposition, but without being oppressive toward the heroine and her cause to the point that them being together or having feelings for each other feels unbelievable. 

I really enjoyed this book, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys steampunk or paranormal romance with a slight fairytale feel. 

Author Bio 

Nancy Campbell Allen is the author of fourteen novels, including Beauty and the Clockwork Beast,Kiss of the Spindle, and The Lady in the Coppergate Tower. She has been a speaker at numerous writing conferences and events. She has a degree in elementary education and is the mother of three children.

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Review of “Deceived” (The Wicked Woodleys #2) by Jess Michaels

Michaels, Jess. Deceived. Dallas: The Passionate Pen, LLC, 2015. 

ASIN: B015BS3KNE | $4.99 USD | 236 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

* * * A hot historical romance from USA Today Bestselling Romance Author Jess Michaels * * *

Josie Westfall spent a lifetime feeling alone and bullied and an unfortunate incident involving her best friend’s brother, Evan, only made things worse. Still, when she and her mother are invited to the wedding he will be attending, they can’t exactly refuse. She hopes to avoid him, but instead they are thrown together and she is shocked to find that she actually begins to like the man she’s thought of as an enemy for years.

Evan has always felt terrible about what he said to Josie years before, but he’s never quite been able to make it up to her. When he tries, he discovers Josie may have a few secrets and some information about his missing sister. Now he must decide, should he betray her by trading on the unexpected attraction between them and discover what she knows? Or could the possibility of love be worth more than anything else?

Length: Full-length novel
Sensuality level: Hot and steamy

This book can be read as a stand-alone novel, but is part of a series (The Wicked Woodleys). 

In the series

#1 Forbidden 

Review

3 stars 

I don’t know what to think about Deceived. I’m feeling very mixed, as while there are some good ideas here, and the intent was great, I still feel a bit let down, even though I did consider it to be a possibility with the premise. 

I found both characters much more engaging this time around in comparison to the previous book, in terms of both being fleshed out and both being more complex, although this did not come without caveats. 

I wasn’t as bothered by Josie’s self-esteem issues, even finding them relatable, as someone who has gone through similar things. The over-emphasis on these thoughts  is a little tiresome, but I can vouch for them being realistic.

However, I found myself more disappointed with Evan. I do feel he properly stoned for the initial childhood bullying, however he was also  not fully aware of how the psychological impact of that bullying, piled on top by others, impacted her, leading to him (albeit reluctantly) using her as a pawn to try to wheedle information about his missing sister. I don’t believe  that he fully atones for that specifically, or makes enough of a grovel/Grand Gesture to make that forgivable. I understand his intent of caring for his family and wanting to find out what happened to Claire, but the fact that she literally marries him and becomes part of his family, and he still does this? And thinking she isn’t worried about Claire too, believing she’s hiding something from him and his family?

I wanted so much more for these two, as I think they do work well together, it’s just the conflict wasn’t resolved in a satisfying way. However, I still have hope that this series will improve, especially as more breadcrumbs are unveiled about the elusive Claire. And if you happen to like hot historical romance and the blurb of this book appeals to you, I do encourage you to try it for yourself to see if you enjoy it more than I did. 

Author Bio


USA Today Bestselling author Jess Michaels likes geeky stuff, Vanilla Coke Zero, anything coconut, cheese, fluffy cats, smooth cats, any cats, many dogs and people who care about the welfare of their fellow humans. She is lucky enough to be married to her favorite person in the world and live in the heart of Dallas.

When she’s not obsessively checking her steps on Fitbit or trying out new flavors of Greek yogurt, she writes erotic historical romances with smoking hot heroes and sassy heroines who do anything but wait to get what they want. She has written for numerous publishers and is now fully indie and loving every moment of it (well, almost every moment).

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Review of “You Had Me at Hola” by Alexis Daria

Daria, Alexis. You Had Me at Hola. New York: Avon Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0062959928 | $15.99 USD | 320 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

“I could not get enough of Jasmine and Ashton! I adored Jasmine–her ambition, her confidence, her attacks of self-doubt, and especially her hilarious, snarky, and loving cousins. She and Ashton have such a steamy, swoony, love story that I didn’t want the book to end!”–Jasmine Guillory, New York Times bestselling author

RITA® Award Winning author Alexis Daria brings readers an unforgettable, hilarious rom-com set in the drama-filled world of telenovelas—perfect for fans of Jane the Virgin and The Kiss Quotient.

Leading Ladies do not end up on tabloid covers.

After a messy public breakup, soap opera darling Jasmine Lin Rodriguez finds her face splashed across the tabloids. When she returns to her hometown of New York City to film the starring role in a bilingual romantic comedy for the number one streaming service in the country, Jasmine figures her new “Leading Lady Plan” should be easy enough to follow—until a casting shake-up pairs her with telenovela hunk Ashton Suárez. 

Leading Ladies don’t need a man to be happy

After his last telenovela character was killed off, Ashton is worried his career is dead as well. Joining this new cast as a last-minute addition will give him the chance to show off his acting chops to American audiences and ping the radar of Hollywood casting agents. To make it work, he’ll need to generate smoking-hot on-screen chemistry with Jasmine. Easier said than done, especially when a disastrous first impression smothers the embers of whatever sexual heat they might have had. 

Leading Ladies do not rebound with their new costars. 

With their careers on the line, Jasmine and Ashton agree to rehearse in private. But rehearsal leads to kissing, and kissing leads to a behind-the-scenes romance worthy of a soap opera. While their on-screen performance improves, the media spotlight on Jasmine soon threatens to destroy her new image and expose Ashton’s most closely guarded secret.

Review 

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I didn’t entirely know what to expect from You Had Me at Hola, but the cover is on fire, and the blurb piqued my interest, particularly the telenovela setup. And, ultimately, I really enjoyed this one.

Jasmine and Ashton are both relatable, in spite of being celebrities. I could understand Ashton wanting to keep certain aspects of his life out of the public eye, and inadvertently delaying telling Jasmine about it, in spite of them bonding outside of work. I also related to Jasmine’s humiliation at some of the headlines about her love life, and felt Daria managed to replicate how it feels in a way someone who hasn’t been through that experience could understand. 

And while the occasional shifts to scenes from the show they’re filming can be a little jarring, I like how it provides insight into the show, while also providing that contrast to show where the actors’ minds are at in terms of their real life relationship while filming the scene through subtle textual cues. 

I also loved the role friends and family played in this book, presenting lots of angles for potential spinoffs, whether it be further installments surrounding the telenovela world, or a plethora of family and friends. 

On the whole, this is a solid book and definitely has me excited to read more from her, both in terms of  backlist and future titles. If you love steamy contemporary romance, especially one focused on television drama on- and off-camera, then you’ll love this one. 

Author Bio

Alexis Daria is a native New Yorker and award-winning author writing stories about successful Latinx characters and their (occasionally messy) familias. Her debut Take the Lead won the 2018 RITA® Award for “Best First Book” and was one of the “Best Romance Novels of 2017” in The Washington Post and Entertainment Weekly. Her super powers include spotting celebrities in NYC, winning Broadway ticket lotteries, and live-tweeting.

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Review of “The Winter Duke” by Claire Eliza Bartlett

Bartlett, Claire Eliza. The Winter Duke. New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0316417341 | $17.99 USD | 426 pages | YA Fantasy

Blurb

An enchanted tale of intrigue where a duke’s daughter is the only survivor of a magical curse.

When Ekata’s brother is finally named heir, there will be nothing to keep her at home in Kylma Above with her murderous family. Not her books or science experiments, not her family’s icy castle atop a frozen lake, not even the tantalizingly close Kylma Below, a mesmerizing underwater kingdom that provides her family with magic. But just as escape is within reach, her parents and twelve siblings fall under a strange sleeping sickness.

In the space of a single night, Ekata inherits the title of duke, her brother’s warrior bride, and ever-encroaching challengers from without—and within—her own ministry. Nothing has prepared Ekata for diplomacy, for war, for love…or for a crown she has never wanted. If Kylma Above is to survive, Ekata must seize her family’s power. And if Ekata is to survive, she must quickly decide how she will wield it.

Part Sleeping Beauty, part Anastasia, with a thrilling political mystery, The Winter Duke is a spellbinding story about choosing what’s right in the face of danger.

Review 

3.5 stars

There’s a lot to love about The Winter Duke. While I did want the world a bit more fleshed out, it’s charming and provides a nice twist on the pseudo-Medieval (ish) fantasy. 

For one, can we talk about the fact that, once Ekata takes up the mantle of Duke, there are many obstacles in her way in which she has to prove herself worthy…but she is able to choose who she wants to marry, whatever their gender, and it’s not a big deal, “just because HiStOrIcAl AcCuRrAcY!” It’s so nice to have a  fictional world that doesn’t feel the need to include oppression of an oppressed group in the real world, just because it takes inspiration from a real world historical place and time. 

And I did more or less like and root for Ekata. I could empathize with her as she tried to figure it all out, stumbling at times along the way. While she doesn’t always make the wisest decisions, I felt it was realistic. 

And while I did feel like the romance wasn’t as prominent as I wanted it to be, I liked Inkar…she’s incredibly sweet. 

However, I did feel like the world was a bit underdeveloped and confusing. So much talk about “Above” and “Below,” without providing much to flesh it out. I got the sense that “Above” was more icy, and “Below,” was more aquatic based, but I wanted more. 

This is still a fairly fun book, and I think it’s still worth reading for YA fantasy readers for the great representation. 

Author Bio

Claire Bartlett lives in an enchanted forest apartment in Copenhagen with too many board games and too few cats.

Get more detailed information, like how many board games is too many, how many cats is too few, and what book-related beauties I’m working on by signing up for my newsletter.

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Review of “This is My America” by Kim Johnson

Johnson, Kim. This is My America. New York: Random House Books for Young Readers, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0593118764 | $17.99 USD | 416 pages | YA Contemporary 

Blurb

“Incredible and searing.” Nic Stone#1 New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin

The Hate U Give meets Just Mercy in this unflinching yet uplifting first novel that explores the racist injustices in the American justice system.

Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time–her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?

Fans of Nic Stone, Tiffany D. Jackson, and Jason Reynolds won’t want to miss this provocative and gripping debut.

Review 

5 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

While This is My America is being released amid our current movement in support of Black Lives Matter, it’s also a reminder of the long history of racism against Black people and how that continues to be perpetuated in the criminal justice system. 

I was heartbroken and enraged at the very real story depicted of Tracy and her family, with her father in prison and on death row for a crime he did not commit, and her brother with a promising future put in jeopardy due to him being blamed for the death of a white classmate. And as Tracy worked, attempting to lobby with the criminal justice organization Innocence X for help, as well as investigate what really happened, I was awestruck by what she found out about the history of racism in town. 

This book is phenomenal, an absolute must-read for everyone, and a great starting point or addition to your anti-racist reading list. 

Author Bio

KIM JOHNSON held leadership positions in social justice organizations as a teen and in college. She’s now a college administrator who maintains civic engagement throughout the community while also mentoring Black student activists and leaders. She is also the graduate advisor and member of an historically Black sorority. This Is My America is her debut novel and explores racial injustice against innocent Black men who are criminally sentenced and the families left behind to pick up the pieces. She holds degrees from the University of Oregon and the University of Maryland, College Park.

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Review of “Miss Janie’s Girls” by Carolyn Brown

Brown, Carolyn. Miss Janie’s Girls. Seattle: Montlake, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1542023047 | $12.95 USD | Women’s Fiction

Blurb

A bittersweet reunion becomes a time for looking back and starting over in a heartwarming new novel from New York Times bestselling author Carolyn Brown.

Miss Janie is at the end of a long and full life, but she has no intention of crossing that finish line until she’s found her girls…

It’s been ten years since Teresa and Kayla shook off the dust of Birthright, Texas, went their separate ways, and never looked back. Apart from their foster mom, Miss Janie, they don’t have many fond memories of their hometown. Or of each other. Still, neither can forget the kind woman who opened her home and heart to two teenagers in need.

When a private investigator—who just happens to be Miss Janie’s handsome nephew—tracks them both down and tells them Miss Janie is dying, Teresa and Kayla know deep down that they’ve got to be there for her as she had been there for them.

With Teresa and Kayla together again under the same roof, old tensions may flare, but with Miss Janie’s help, they might rediscover that home is the perfect place for new beginnings.

Review 

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Miss Janie’s Girls is a heartwarming book about a dying woman who wants to be reunited with her two foster daughters, who left and parted ways years ago. It was an emotional and original read that stands out, because I rarely see books that center the relationships between foster parents and children, much less any that highlight the enduring relationship between them after they are parted because of the way the system works. 

I loved getting to know Miss Janie, Teresa, and Kayla, and the intimate details of the situation that made it more heartbreaking. I was particularly moved by how Janie’s past, having been forced to give up her children she gave birth to as a teen, shattered her, and becoming a foster mom helped her to heal.

And the role that plays again in the present, as she’s suffering from cancer and Alzheimer’s, and she wants once again to connect with them…that’s beautiful. 

And given that Teresa and Kayla faced hardship both before coming to Miss Janie’s, and after leaving, I was glad to see them both finding happiness and love upon their return to Birthright, with Teresa even falling for Noah, Janie’s great-nephew, an incredibly sweet romance. 

This is a delightful book, and one I recommend to fans of heartfelt women’s fiction. 

Author Bio

Carolyn Brown is a New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author and a RITA finalist with more than one hundred published books to her name. Her books include romantic women’s fiction and historical, contemporary, cowboy, and country music mass-market paperbacks. She and her husband live in the small town of Davis, Oklahoma, where everyone knows everyone else, including what they are doing and when—and they read the local newspaper on Wednesdays to see who got caught. They have three grown children and enough grandchildren and great-grandchildren to keep them young. For more information, visit http://www.carolynbrownbooks.com.

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Review of “Notes of Love and War” by Betty Bolté

Bolté, Betty. Notes of Love and War. [United States]: Mystic Owl Publishing, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1733973649 | $4.99 USD | 382 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb

Audrey Harper needs more than home and hearth to satisfy her self-worth despite being raised with the idea that a woman’s place is in the home. Working as a music critic for the city newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland, during the Second World War, she’s enjoyed both financial freedom and personal satisfaction in a job well done. When she uncovers evidence of German spies working to sabotage a secret bomber plane being manufactured in her beloved city, she must choose between her sense of duty to protect her city and the urgings of her boss, her family, and her fiancé to turn over her evidence to the authorities. But when her choices lead her and her sister into danger, she is forced to risk life and limb to save her sister and bring the spies to justice.

Set against the backdrop of the flourishing musical community during the 1940s in Baltimore, Notes of Love and War weaves together the pleasure of musical performance with the dangers of espionage and spying.

Review

4.5 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

After reviewing Betty Bolté’s previous 2020 release, I was intrigued to read more from her. And Notes of Love and War is another solid book, showing her dedication to historical research, this time delving into a subject much closer to her heart: Maryland where she grew up, set during World War II. 

I was a bit confused at first, due it feeling rather leisurely paced, without the intrigue promised by the blurb. But it allows the reader to become acquainted with Audrey and her world as things change around her thanks to her brother, and later her father, going off to war, and developing a friendship that turns romantic. 

And in that sense, it fits the title, since letters connecting parted family and friends plays a key role in the development of the story. I enjoyed observing the changes in her relationship with Charlie largely through letters, and in their rare in-person meetings. 

And when things took a turn toward the more suspenseful, I felt close to Audrey and her sister and could truly fear for their lives. 

This is a delightful, original historical novel, and one that made me feel like I came away having learned something new about one of the most popular time periods. I recommend this if you love historical fiction, especially set during World War II. 

Author Bio

When I sit down to write, the goal for my historical stories is to bring the lives of people in the past to life for my readers. I write both historical and contemporary stories featuring strong, loving women and brave, compassionate men. No matter whether the stories are set in the past or the present, I love to include a touch of the paranormal. In addition to romantic fiction, I’ve written several nonfiction books, and earned a Master of Arts in English in 2008. I’m a member of Romance Writers of America, the Historical Novel Society, the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and the Authors Guild. Find out more about me at www.bettybolte.com.

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Review of “Paradise Cove” (Matchmaker Bay #2) by Jenny Holiday

Holiday, Jenny. Paradise Cove. New York: Forever, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1538716540 | $7.99 USD | 368 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

From the USA Today bestselling “master of witty banter” (Entertainment Weekly) comes a hilarious and heartwarming romance about a big city girl who never expected to find the man of her dreams in the tiny town of Matchmaker Bay.
Dr. Nora Walsh has just been dumped in spectacular fashion, making it the perfect time for a major life change. She figures taking over the medical practice in tiny Matchmaker Bay for a couple of years will help her get over her broken heart, and then she can head back to the big city. But when the first man she sees looks like a superhero god, she wonders if maybe there’s something to small-town living after all.
Jake Ramsey also has a broken heart — one he never expects to heal. He doesn’t need people anyway and is content hiding out in his secluded cottage on the beach. But after helping Nora with a medical emergency, he finds himself opening up to the witty, warmhearted doctor. Soon the local matchmakers are working overtime to pair them off, and Jake begins to wonder if his campaign to get Nora to stay is for the town or because he can’t bear the thought of her leaving.

In the series

#1 Mermaid Inn

Review

Warning: There are spoilers in this review, as the specific thing that bothered me cannot be discussed without revealing said spoilers. Proceed with caution. 

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Have you ever had a book that you were mildly enjoying, then something that you find personally  objectionable (although not morally wrong, just enough that it’s a personal dealbreaker when reading) jumps out at you in the last act? That was my experience with Paradise Cove.

The setup is fine: both Nora and Jake have experienced heartbreak in their pasts, and I felt for both, particularly Jake, having lost a child. I like how Jake’s grief manifested, particularly when it came to his feelings for Nora and the idea that maybe he didn’t deserve it.

And I did feel the transition from becoming friends when she initially comes to town and becoming lovers was fairly well done, although I didn’t feel like there was anything substantial I liked about them as a couple.

That brings me to that big issue I had with this book: the last-act pregnancy. When secret babies and accidental pregnancies are advertised in the blurbs, it really depends on other factors as to whether I’ll even pick it up, much less if I’ll even become invested, so this way, keeping it as a surprise that no one else warned me about pisses me off. 

Anyway, birth control was brought up in the book, which I initially appreciated, but then there’s a moment that should have been a red flag when they talked it over and said they’ll stop using condoms and Nora will just take the pill. And later it goes into how much she enjoys sex without condoms. But of course, she conveniently (for the plot) forgets to take her pills while away somewhere, leading to an accidental pregnancy, serving as the catalyst for these two people who haven’t confirmed they want to be serious with each other to do so. 

I have no beef with anyone who enjoys plotlines revolving around accidental pregnancies. And I also acknowledge people are fallible, so a situation like the one depicted could happen. Instead, I object to not being warned that this element was in the book, and I want to reiterate that it’s something I personally just don’t want to read about, and the execution of it just felt like an overly convenient way for the couple to get over their issues and finally settle things. 

So, should you read this book? I guess it’s down to whether the situation described is also a pet peeve for you or not. It’s a fairly charming book otherwise, and it does have its good points, just not enough to overwhelm my personal dealbreakers.

Author Bio 

Jenny Holiday started writing in fourth grade, when her awesome hippie teacher, between sessions of Pete Seeger singing and anti-nuclear power plant letter writing, gave the kids notebooks and told them to write stories. Most of Jenny’s featured poltergeist, alien invasions, or serial killers who managed to murder everyone except her and her mom. She showed early promise as a romance writer, though, because nearly every story had a happy ending: fictional Jenny woke up to find that the story had been a dream, and that her best friend, father, and sister had not, in fact, been axe-murdered.

From then on, she was always writing, often in her diary, where she liked to decorate her declarations of existential angst with nail polish teardrops. Eventually she channelled her penchant for scribbling into a more useful format. After picking up a PhD in urban geography, she became a professional writer, spending many years promoting research at a major university, which allowed her to become an armchair astronomer/historian/particle physicist, depending on the day. Eventually, she decided to try her hand again at happy endings—minus the bloodbaths. You can follow her on twitter at @jennyholi or visit her on the web at jennyholiday.com.

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Review of “Unmasked Heart” (Challenge of the Soul #1) by Vanessa Riley

Riley, Vanessa. Unmasked Heart. Mableton, GA: Gallium Optronics, LLC, 2015. 

ASIN: B00WDR6C7S | $4.99 USD | 412 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

Shy, nearsighted caregiver, Gaia Telfair always wondered why her father treated her a little differently from her siblings, but she never guessed she couldn’t claim his love because of a family secret, her illicit birth. With everything she knows to be true evaporating before her spectacles, can the mulatto passing for white survive being exposed and shunned by a powerful duke who has taken an interest in her?

Ex-warrior, William St. Landon, the Duke of Cheshire, will do anything to protect his mute daughter from his late wife’s scandals. With a blackmailer at large, hiding in a small village near the cliffs of Devonshire seems the best option, particularly since he can gain help from the talented Miss Telfair, who has the ability to help children speak. If only he could do a better job at shielding his heart from the young lady, whose honest hazel eyes see through his jests as her tender lips challenge his desire to remain a single man.

Review

4 stars

Unmasked Heart is another gem from Vanessa Riley. I love the Cinderella archetype, and I like the twist on it exploring a biracial woman and her treatment by her white family. 

Riley depicts the marginalizations that Gaia faces due to being mixed-race with incredible sensitivity. The sordid nature of her conception and the associated assumptions were painful to read, but made the revelation of the truth much more rewarding.

William is an interesting hero, given he has some secrets of his own. I admired the depiction of him as a father of a child with a disability, and it felt realistic and not stereotypical or sensationalized. 

I did have some issues with the editing, which others have noted. This resulted in some issues with clarity in the text. 

That aside, this is a fairly solid book, and one I recommend for anyone looking for more diverse historical romance.

Author Bio

Vanessa Riley writes Regency and Historical Romances of dazzling multi-culture communities with powerful persons of color. Vanessa writes for historical romance readers who admire and acquire books that showcase women who find joy in sweeping kisses and strong sisterhoods. Even in the darkness, she promises to give you laughs and to show you how light always prevails and how love always, always wins.

Vanessa holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering and a master’s in industrial engineering and engineering management from Stanford University. She also earned BS and MS in mechanical engineering from Penn State University. She has been a radio anchorwoman and church announcer. She is President-Elect of The Beau Monde, a specialty History Chapter. She is also a member of Georgia Romance Writers, NINC, and Historical Novel Society. She is on the Board of Directors of Christian Book Lovers Retreat where readers escape for a weekend of fun, faith, and connection to the author community.

Vanessa loves cooking her Trinidadian grandma’s cake recipes and collecting Irish crochet lace.

I am represented by Sarah Younger of the Nancy Yost Literary Agency.

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Review of “The Way You Tempt Me” (Pure Talent #1) by Elle Wright

Wright, Elle. The Way You Tempt Me. New York: Dafina, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1496725776 | $7.99 USD | 320 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

Brilliant and ambitious, the high-powered team behind the Pure Talent Agency manages the best creatives in the business. In this sizzling new series, they gamble big on every wild-card, industry-outsider client–and on delicious, unexpected, crazy-irresistible passion . . .

The heir-apparent to Pure Talent, ex-playboy Xavier Starks had it all figured out. With an engagement to Hollywood’s hottest actress and his innovative expansion plans, he can finally prove to his dad, Jax, that he’s responsible enough to step into a leadership role at their company. Until a jilting-gone-viral puts Xavier back in the relentless social-media spotlight, out of the running for partner–and in competition with the last person he ever expected: his very-grown-up childhood friend and girl-next-door . . .

With her acclaimed sports talent roster and unparalleled instincts, agent Zara Reid knows she can take Pure Talent to the next level. To make the most of her mentor Jax’s faith in her, she’ll go head-to-head and scheme-to-scheme with Xavier to prove she’s got what it takes. But suddenly, long days working too close together turn into reckless, insatiable nights. Now, being co-workers-with-benefits means Zara and Xavier must face their secrets, dare to trust–and negotiate the toughest game of all–love.

Review

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Way You Tempt Me piqued my interest with the mention of my catnip trope, childhood friends-to-lovers, and a pretty intriguing, cutthroat premise surrounding a talent agency.

The leads are both likable and fairly nuanced, and I liked that both were career focused. Xavier is trying to shed his playboy ways and prove his worth to his dad, a nice flip on the trope of the wayward rich playboy heir, showing his trial-and-error as he tries to show he’s matured. Zara is also working really hard in her career, and I liked seeing that as a big part of her character. 

As both are after the same position, there is some competition. But I like how well the underlying romantic tension was conveyed, and that, ultimately, it wasn’t mean spirited.

This is a sweet, fluffy, and glitzy  read, and I enjoyed every moment of it. If you love romances about the glamorous world of celebrities, then you’ll enjoy this one. 

Author Bio

Elle Wright is an award-winning author of edgy contemporary romance loaded with heat, humor, and scandal. Her novels feature strong, intelligent, courageous, beautiful, yet flawed, heroes and heroines of color.  

There was never a time when Elle wasn’t about to start a book, wasn’t already deep in a book—or had just finished one. She grew up believing in the power of reading to transform, to heal, and to enhance life and love. She became a lover of all things romance after her mother convinced her take a chance and read something new. Writing stories of unconditional love through adversity has become as necessary to her as reading. When she’s not writing complex characters and using every day experiences to craft her next story, she’s spending quality time with her family and friends, watching old Rom Coms, or trying to solve crimes on her favorite Investigative Discovery Channel shows. 

A proud Michigander and University of Michigan alum (GO BLUE!), Elle lives her own friends-to-lovers romance with her real-life hero of many years. She is also mom to three young adults who inspire her to be better.

Elle loves to connect with her readers. You can find her online at ElleWright.com, Facebook ElleWrightAuthor, Twitter@LWrightAuthor, Instagram: @lrwrightauthor.  

Elle is a member of Novelists, Inc. (NINC), Romance Writer’s of America (RWA) and the Cultural, Interracial, and Multicultural Special Interest Chapter of Romance Writer’s of America (CIMRWA). She is a co-founder of Rose Gold Press. She’s represented by LaToya Smith of LCS Literary Services.

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Review of “A Shot to the Heart” (Sass and Steam #1.75) by Catherine Stein

Stein, Catherine. A Shot to the Heart. [Michigan]: Catherine Stein, LLC, 2020. 

ASIN: B08BS5J35C | $2.99 USD | 192 pages | Steampunk Romance

Blurb

The best shot of these Olympic Games is coming from Cupid’s bow.

Competitive archer Cora Maxwell will let nothing stop her quest to compete at the 1904 Olympic Games. Not even a devastating injury to her arm. With the help of a mechanical device known as the Electro-Flex, Cora has worked her way back to top form—and she’s found a long-distance friend in the machine’s inventor. She’s ready to shoot for gold and she’s thrilled to have a fan to cheer her on.

Inventor Adam Levett harbors a secret love for his athletic friend, but he values their friendship too highly to risk revealing his feelings. When they meet in person for the World’s Fair and the Olympics, he plans to cheer her to victory, but he won’t allow himself to hope for more. Until a searing kiss makes him suspect the attraction might not be as one-sided as he’d believed.

As the days tick down to Cora’s competition, strange disturbances at the Fair threaten both Adam’s career and her Olympic dream—as well as their evolving relationship. But these friends are no quitters, and together they square off against rogue dragons, electrical mishaps, and vicious competitors. Because in these Games, only true loyalty can win the heart of a champion.

In the series

#1 Eden’s Voice

#1.5 What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve

Review

4 stars 

I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

With my initial review of the first full novel in this series, I discussed some of my issues with the steampunk genre and how they manifested in that book more so than in Catherine Stein’s other series, even though I found things I enjoyed. And while techy steampunk can be a hard sell for me, I feel I enjoyed it much more this time around.

The characters are splendid, as is their relationship arc. I love a good friends-to-lovers romance, and Cora and Adam certainly have a unique one. I like Cora in particular for her athletic drive, even with some of the obstacles a disability put in her way. And I love inventor Adam…he’s such an awesome, supportive guy! 

And a consistent thread through most of the series so far is using steampunk tech to assist people with disabilities, and I’ve come to appreciate that aspect a lot more. The Electro-Flex is such a cool device! 

I enjoyed this one quite a bit, and think it’s a great addition to the series, or starting point for new readers. 

Author Bio

Award-winning author Catherine Stein believes that everyone deserves love and that Happily Ever After has the power to help, to heal, and to comfort. She writes sassy, sexy romance set during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Her books are full of action, adventure, magic, and fantastic technologies.

Catherine lives in Michigan with her husband and three rambunctious girls. She loves steampunk and Oxford commas, and can often be found dressed in Renaissance Festival clothing, drinking copious amounts of tea.

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Review of “Deal With the Devil” (Mercenary Librarians #1) by Kit Rocha

Rocha, Kit. Deal with the Devil. New York: Tor, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1250209368 | $17.99 USD | 336 pages | Sci-Fi Romance

Blurb

Deal with the Devil is Orphan Black meets the post-apocalyptic Avengers by USA Today and New York Times bestselling author duo Kit Rocha.

Nina is an information broker with a mission—she and her team of mercenary librarians use their knowledge to save the hopeless in a crumbling America.

Knox is the bitter, battle-weary captain of the Silver Devils. His squad of supersoldiers went AWOL to avoid slaughtering innocents, and now he’s fighting to survive.

They’re on a deadly collision course, and the passion that flares between them only makes it more dangerous. They could burn down the world, destroying each other in the process…

Or they could do the impossible: team up.

This is the first book in a near-future science fiction series with elements of romance.

Review

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

While I’m new to Kit Rocha’s work, I was still ridiculously pumped for Deal with the Devil, because of the series title. I mean, Mercenary Librarians?! YES, please! And Bree and Donna are the loveliest people ever on Twitter (Bree in particular for her advocacy of libraries in the wake of the Macmillan library embargo, which is now fortunately in the past…for now), contributing to the hype even more.

And this is…pretty good. It’s apparently set in the same post-apocalyptic world as their other, self published works, but you don’t have to be familiar with those to grasp the semantics of this one. I liked their imagination of what near-future crumbling America might look like, even though it is a bit surreal to read while the world is actually falling apart. 

I flip flopped a bit on the romantic aspect, liking Nina as a strong female lead, but not really feeling overly invested in Knox, or the pairing of the two of them. There’s a lot about the physical/sexual reactions they have to each other, and I wanted a bit more emotional depth to their relationship. 

However, I did like the team as a whole, and the “found family” aspect. And the way we occasionally got insights into different members’ thoughts, while having the majority of the book be centered on Knox and Nina, was well done, ensuring the book felt well balanced. I absolutely cannot wait to see where the follow-up books take them! This book is a fairly solid post apocalyptic romance, and one that I think will please veteran KR readers and new ones alike. 

Author Bio

Kit Rocha is the pseudonym for co-writing team Donna Herren and Bree Bridges. After penning dozens of paranormal novels, novellas and stories as Moira Rogers, they branched out into gritty, sexy dystopian romance.

The Beyond series has appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists, has been nominated for best erotic romance in the RT Reviewer’s Choice award five times, and won in 2013 and 2015.

Contact Information

You can contact Bree & Donna at kit@kitrocha.com

Bree & Donna are represented by Sarah Younger at NYLA. For rights inquiries about their books, contact rights@nyliterary.com

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Review of “The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows” (Feminine Pursuits #2) by Olivia Waite

Waite, Olivia. The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows. New York: Avon Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0062931825 | $6.99 USD | 416 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

When Agatha Griffin finds a colony of bees in her warehouse, it’s the not-so-perfect ending to a not-so-perfect week. Busy trying to keep her printing business afloat amidst rising taxes and the suppression of radical printers like her son, the last thing the widow wants is to be the victim of a thousand bees. But when a beautiful beekeeper arrives to take care of the pests, Agatha may be in danger of being stung by something far more dangerous…

Penelope Flood exists between two worlds in her small seaside town, the society of rich landowners and the tradesfolk.  Soon, tensions boil over when the formerly exiled Queen arrives on England’s shores—and when Penelope’s long-absent husband returns to Melliton, she once again finds herself torn, between her burgeoning love for Agatha and her loyalty to the man who once gave her refuge.

As Penelope finally discovers her true place, Agatha must learn to accept the changing world in front of her. But will these longing hearts settle for a safe but stale existence or will they learn to fight for the future they most desire?

In the series

#1 The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics

Review 

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I had heard mixed things about The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows, with the main critiques being the uneven pacing and the focus more on the politically driven external plot with the romance being secondary. However, while I struggled a bit with book one for similar reasons, I was only marginally bothered by these issues. 

For one thing, I think this is a great execution of slow-burn that really allows both Agatha and Penelope to shine and the tension to crackle while waiting for the long-awaited kiss (and more). And the two exchange letters early on, focused equally on business and pleasure, and I felt there was just as much relationship development in those as there was when they interacted in person. I did want a bit more of their respective family dynamics, since I expected them to play a larger role, however.

As a history geek, I loved the detail put into the social and political stuff in this one, a stark contrast to the science in the previous book which left me a bit cold. It did overtake the plot to an extent, but I wasn’t overly bothered by it, as it did come back to Agatha and Penelope and their work toward change in the end. 

I did enjoy this book, even though the choices made seem to be a bit divisive. If you are at all interested in a politically driven queer historical romance, then I would recommend giving it a try to see if it works for you. 

Author Bio 

Olivia Waite writes historical romance, fantasy, science fiction, and essays. When the birds are propitious, she sends out the Oliviary:a newsletter full of links, recommended books, and great pieces from all over the great wide internet.

You can reach out to her on Facebook, Twitter, or follow one of her glorious Pinterest boards. To pitch books for review, write to her at: olivia.waite.books@gmail.com.

She is represented by Courtney Miller-Callihan of Handspun Literary.

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Review of “Incendiary” (Hollow Crownn #1) by Zoraida Córdova

Córdova, Zoraida. Incendiary. Los Angeles: Hyperion, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1368023801 | $18.99 USD | 450 pages | YA Fantasy

Blurb

I am Renata Convida.
I have lived a hundred stolen lives.
Now I live my own.

Renata Convida was only a child when she was kidnapped by the King’s Justice and brought to the luxurious palace of Andalucia. As a Robari, the rarest and most feared of the magical Moria, Renata’s ability to steal memories from royal enemies enabled the King’s Wrath, a siege that resulted in the deaths of thousands of her own people.

Now Renata is one of the Whispers, rebel spies working against the crown and helping the remaining Moria escape the kingdom bent on their destruction. The Whispers may have rescued Renata from the palace years ago, but she cannot escape their mistrust and hatred–or the overpowering memories of the hundreds of souls she turned “hollow” during her time in the palace.

When Dez, the commander of her unit, is taken captive by the notorious Sangrado Prince, Renata will do anything to save the boy whose love makes her place among the Whispers bearable. But a disastrous rescue attempt means Renata must return to the palace under cover and complete Dez’s top secret mission. Can Renata convince her former captors that she remains loyal, even as she burns for vengeance against the brutal, enigmatic prince? Her life and the fate of the Moria depend on it.

But returning to the palace stirs childhood memories long locked away. As Renata grows more deeply embedded in the politics of the royal court, she uncovers a secret in her past that could change the entire fate of the kingdom–and end the war that has cost her everything.

Review

4 stars

Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova is the first in what promises to be an engaging new series. While the general concept is not wholly original, Córdova infuses the story with her own spin, taking influence from Inquisition-era Spain. And while the pacing is fairly slow at first, it does pick up as the book goes on, and finishing left me desperate for the as-yet-still-untitled sequel.

The magic system is what drew me to the story, and the story delivers on that promise. I liked how focused it was on the mental and emotional aspects, and liked how intricately each “class” was depicted, especially in terms of the impacts of these powers, particularly those of the Moria, which Renata is the “class” to which Renata belongs. 

Given that aspect of her, that makes Renata an intriguing character. I loved how her struggle with being feared was depicted, along with dealing with the resurfacing of memories from her time in the palace. It added a sense of internal conflict I don’t often see in protagonists in similar “rebellion” stories.

This a fun story, and one that I hope gets a lot of love from the community. If you love YA fantasy, and are looking for one with a unique magic system, then I strongly recommend this one. 

Author Bio

Zoraida Córdova is the author of many fantasy novels for kids and teens, including the award-winning Brooklyn Brujas series, Incendiary, and Star Wars: A Crash of Fate. Her short fiction has appeared in the New York Times bestselling anthology Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View, Star Wars The Clone Wars: Stories of Light and Dark, Come on In: 15 Stories About Immigration and Finding Home, and Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft. She is the co-editor of Vampires Never Get Old: Eleven Tales with Fresh Bite. Her debut middle grade novel is The Way to Rio Luna. She is the co-host of the podcast Deadline City with Dhonielle Clayton. Zoraida was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. When she isn’t working on her next novel, she’s planning a new adventure.

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Review of “Falling for Mr. Townsbridge” (The Townsbridges #3) by Sophie Barnes

Barnes, Sophie. Falling for Mr. Townsbridge. [United States]: Sophie Barnes, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1393004066 | $2.99 USD | 105 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

He knows he ought to forget her…

When William Townsbridge returns from Portugal and meets Eloise Lamont, the new cook his mother has hired, he’s instantly smitten. The only problem of course is that she’s a servant – completely off limits for a gentleman with an ounce of honor. But as they become better acquainted, William starts to realize he must make Eloise his. The only question is how.

 Eloise loves her new position. But William Townsbridge’s arrival threatens everything, from her principles to her very heart. Falling for her employer’s son would be monumentally stupid. All it can lead to is ruin, not only for the present, but for her entire future. So then the simplest solution would be to walk away. But can she?

In the series

#1 When Love Leads To Scandal 

#2 Lady Abigail’s Perfect Match

Review

3 stars

I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I admittedly went into Falling for Mr. Townsbridge a tad jaded, as while I anticipated going in relatively blind, another friend pointed out the “smarmy” nature of the hero in her ARC review. And while I tried to keep an open mind, I found my opinion was fairly similar to hers.

While I understand the historical pressures people in the Regency were under to marry within their class, I think Will’s way of trying to stick to that while also being able to satisfy his desires was wrong, in that he basically offered Eloise her dream, but on the condition of being his mistress. He gets talked around at the end by his much more compassionate mother and sister, but without any depth to his character that may have come from a longer book, all you get is him being a creep who doesn’t seem to respect her because she’s a servant. 

And it’s a shame, because Eloise has a ton of potential as a heroine. I loved that she had goals, and wanted to work for them, as well as maintaining her honor. Not to mention, I would have loved to see her story developed more.

More than anything, this is a story that suffers due to being restricted by its short length. I think the problems could potentially have been addressed had there been time to flesh out the characters more and have them (especially Will) really confront the issue at hand instead of having him mess up, and then have it immediately solved with an intervention that shifts his perspective. 

Author Bio

Born in Denmark, USA TODAY bestselling author Sophie Barnes spent her youth traveling with her parents to wonderful places all around the world. She’s lived in five different countries, on three different continents, and speaks Danish, English, French, Spanish, and Romanian with various degrees of fluency. But, most impressive of all, she’s been married to the same man three times—in three different countries and in three different dresses.

 When she’s not busy dreaming up her next romance novel, Sophie enjoys spending time with her family, swimming, cooking, gardening, watching romantic comedies and, of course, reading.

Website: http://www.sophiebarnes.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BarnesSophie

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorSophieBarnes/

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Review of “I Kissed Alice” by Anna Birch, with Illustrations by Victoria Ying

Birch, Anna. I Kissed Alice. New York: Macmillan/Imprint, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1250219855 | $18.99 USD | 320 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

Blurb

“Rivals-to-lovers, mistaken identity, and slow, slow burn… A loving homage to fandom and queer girls.”
—Victoria Lee, author of The Fever King

For fans of Leah on the Offbeat and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, Anna Birch’s I Kissed Alice is a romantic comedy about enemies, lovers, and everything in between.

Rhodes and Iliana couldn’t be more different, but that’s not why they hate each other.

Rhodes, a gifted artist, has always excelled at Alabama’s Conservatory of the Arts (until she’s hit with a secret bout of creator’s block), while Iliana, a transfer student, tries to outshine everyone with her intense, competitive work ethic. Since only one of them can get the coveted Capstone scholarship, the competition between them is fierce.

They both escape the pressure on a fanfic site where they are unknowingly collaborating on a webcomic. And despite being worst enemies in real life, their anonymous online identities I-Kissed-Alice and Curious-in-Cheshire are starting to like each other… a lot. When the truth comes out, will they destroy each other’s future?

An Imprint Book

“The swoony queer romcom of my heart… Pitch-perfect.”
—Rachel Hawkins, New York Times-bestselling author of Prince Charming and Her Royal Highness

Review

2.5 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher  via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

I Kissed Alice sounded right up my alley, involving queer love and fanfic creators who (unknowingly) are collaborators on an online comic, while competing for a scholarship in real life.

I love the detail that went into conveying snippets of said comic, with simple, yet appealing illustrations. I also loved the interstitial online  conversations, highlighting “Alice” and “Cheshire’s” relationship, as well as having other readers commenting and interacting occasionally, creating a truly immersive experience.

However, I feel a bit conflicted as to the story itself. Iliana and Rhodes aren’t horrible characters (although their POVs aren’t super distinct from one another), but I felt like they were more “enemies” that didn’t quite work transitioning into lovers outside of cyberspace, given how hostile they were to each other. And given the initial reason they hated each other, which has nothing to do with them competing, but instead is focused on their jealousy of each other’s relationship with their mutual friend, I found it very underwhelming.

I think certain people will like this, particularly if they don’t mind an angstier YA read. But it’s just a case of it being not for me, even though I had every hope it would be.

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Review of “Would I Lie to the Duke” (Union of Rakes #2) by Eva Leigh

Leigh, Eva. Would I Lie to the Duke. New York: Avon Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0062932426 | $7.99 USD | 368 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

In the second book in Eva Leigh’s new 80s movie-inspired Union of the Rake’s series, an ambitious entrepreneur pretends to be a lady of means and she catches the eye—and heart—of a duke.

When an ambitious entrepreneur pretends to be a lady of means, she catches the eye—and heart—of a duke…

Jessica McGale’s family business desperately needs investors and she’s determined to succeed at any cost. But she knows London’s elite will never look twice at a humble farm girl like herself. Posing as “Lady Whitfield,” however, places her in the orbit of wealthy, powerful people—most notably the Duke of Rotherby. His influence and support could save her company, but Jess never expected the effect he’d have on her.

Society thinks Noel is a notorious, carefree duke who dabbles in investments, but there’s a side to him that only his closest friends see. When he crosses paths with Lady Whitfield at a business bazaar, his world tilts on its axis. She’s brilliant and compelling, and brings him to his knees like no woman has before. Trust is difficult for Noel, but Jess makes him believe anything is possible . . 

As time ticks down on her Cinderella scheme, the thought of achieving her goal at Noel’s expense breaks Jess’s heart. He doesn’t just want her now, he wants her forever. But will her secret end their future before it begins?

In the series 

#1 My Fake Rake

Review 

3.5 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher through Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I loved My Fake Rake (although I was a bit more critical of it at the time than it likely deserved, and have since come to view it more favorably), so I had high expectations for Would I Lie to the Duke, especially with it being pitched as featuring a “sexually submissive duke.” However, the actual book has me feeling a little conflicted.

First, the good: I liked the way the friendship between the men in the  Union of Rakes was much clearer than in the previous book. While Rotherby (aka Noël) played a role in that book, I kinda didn’t know what to make of him until I got to know him here, whereas the relationship between him, McCameron, and Sebastian is much clearer. 

And Noel is simply a sweetheart. I love that he is incredibly in touch with his feelings and doesn’t deny them upon meeting “Lady Whitfield.” And that he finds himself enjoying letting the woman take control in the bedroom…*chef’s kiss* (Do note that this is not BDSM, however). 

My conflicted feelings come into play with Jess and her actions. I understand her motivation for doing what she did at the beginning, but I find it hard to understand letting it go on for so long, especially once things got intimate between them. And ultimately, I wasn’t sure if the repercussions of that were dealt with deeply enough, although I appreciated that he never made a big deal about her being lower in status.

I did still enjoy this book, and look forward to the next one and getting to know McCameron a bit more. I recommend this if you loved any of Eva Leigh’s previous books, or love sexy Regency romance. 

Author Bio

Eva Leigh is a romance author who has always loved the Regency era. She writes novels chock-full of determined women and sexy men. She enjoys baking, spending too much time on the Internet, and listening to music from the ’80s. Eva and her husband live in Central California.

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Review of “The King’s 100” by Karin Biggs

Biggs, Karin. The King’s 100. Salt Lake City: Immortal Works LLC, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1734386684 | $14.99 USD | 322 pages | YA Fantasy

Blurb

Sixteen-year-old princess, Piper Parish, is a disappointment to the citizens of Capalon, a STEM-structured kingdom where innovation is valued above all. Her older sister, the queen, views Piper’s tears during their parents’ funeral as a weakness, not to mention her strange affinity for singing. When Piper receives an anonymous note stating her mother is still alive and living in the enemy kingdom of Mondaria, Piper chooses to risk death and flees Capalon to prove once and for all that she’s not just the queen’s defective little sister.

Posing as a Mondarian citizen named Paris Marigold, Piper bumps into a cute black-haired boy named Ari who encourages her to audition for the King’s 100, an esteemed performance court of singers, magicians, and drummers. Piper lands a spot as a singer and dives head-first into a world of glittering dresses, girl-code, sugar, blackmail, and physical contact-all while taking direction from an evil maestro.Under Mondarian law, Piper will be killed if her identity is revealed. But living a life without the freedom to love might actually be the most dangerous risk of all. 

Review

3 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

The King’s 100 drew my interest, as while it did have some familiar elements of YA fantasy, like the central   quest and some elements of intrigue, there were some unique elements that appealed to me, like STEM as the structure behind the kingdom. 

And it does try to be engaging. The best part was the way the value system is portrayed, and how Piper is shown to stick out, due to her tendency toward emotion as opposed to cold practicality. I did kind of want the concept developed a bit more, though, especially to explore the history behind the current system. 

As for the plot itself, I found it fairly engaging and page turning. My main complaint with Piper’s story is how she allowed herself to constantly be sidetracked by other things, like her potential love interest, instead of focusing on the goal of finding her mother. 

There are some great ideas here, but I feel like they got a bit lost in the execution. I do look forward to what comes next for the series, however, to see if it can build on the concept more. I recommend it to fans of YA fantasy.

Author Bio

Karin earned her bachelor’s degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Purdue University and served as an event planner for two Big 10 universities and various non-profits for over eight years before becoming a stay-at-home-mom. She enjoys chocolate-covered peanuts, uninterrupted sleep and singing with other people. Karin lives in Ohio with her husband, daughter, cat and dog.

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Review of “You Should See Me in a Crown” by Leah Johnson

Johnson, Leah. You Should See Me in a Crown. New York: Scholastic Press, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1338503265 | $17.99 USD | 324 pages | YA Contemporary 

Blurb

Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.

But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.

The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?

Review

5 stars

You Should See Me in a Crown was another find from Book Twitter, with it being one of the recent releases being promoted. And the premise sounded awesome: intelligent Black queer girl competing for prom queen to win a scholarship, and falling for the competition?! Sign me up!

And it’s ultimately a bundle of pure, fluffy delight. And its main strength is how it feels so fresh, while also feeling familiar, due to its fresh spin on tried-and-true tropes. Liz and those in her friend group are hilarious, and I enjoyed the banter between her and her love interest. 

And while it does tend toward a lighthearted tone, I admire how more serious topics were broached. Seeing her brother and his struggle with sickle cell disease was so sweet for me, as while I’d heard about it, I had never seen it depicted before, so I liked seeing such a compassionate representation of the condition. 

This is such a delightful book, and I can’t wait to see what Leah Johnson does next. If you love diverse YA contemporaries, then I strongly recommend this one. 

Author Bio

Leah Johnson (she/her) is a writer, editor and eternal Midwesterner, currently moonlighting as a New Yorker. Leah is a 2021 Lambda Literary Emerging Writers Fellow whose work has been published in BuzzFeed, Autostraddle, Catapult, and Electric Literature among others. Her bestselling debut YA novel, You Should See Me in a Crown was named one of Cosmo‘s 15 Best Young Adult Books of 2020, and was an Indies Introduce and Junior Library Guild selection. Her sophomore novel, Rise to the Sun is forthcoming from Scholastic in 2021.

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Review of “The Single Mom’s Second Chance” (Sweet Briar Sweethearts #7) by Kathy Douglass

Douglass, Kathy. The Single Mom’s Second Chance. Toronto, Ontario: Harlequin, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1335894755 | $5.99 USD | 288 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

She could use a shoulder to lean on…

Facing the fight of her life after a cancer diagnosis, widow Roz Martin is forced to ask her estranged brother-in-law to help care for her children. Being there for his nieces and nephew is a no-brainer for gym owner Paul Stephens. But being there for the woman who’d betrayed him by marrying his half brother is hard. Especially when he discovers the feelings he once had for Roz never died…

From Harlequin Special Edition: Believe in love. Overcome obstacles. Find happiness.

Discover more true-to-life stories in the Sweet Briar Sweetheart series.
All books are stand-alone but were published in the following order:
1. How to Steal a Lawman’s Heart
2. The Waitress’s Secret
3. The Rancher and the City Girl
4. Winning Charlotte Back
5. The Rancher’s Return
6. A Baby Between Friends
7. The Single Mom’s Second Chance

In the series

#1 How to Steal a Lawman’s Heart

#2 The Waitress’s Secret

#3 The Rancher and the City Girl 

#4 Winning Charlotte Back 

#5 The Rancher’s Return

#6 A Baby Between Friends

Review

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

I hadn’t read any Kathy Douglass before, but I was intrigued by The Single Mom’s Second Chance, particularly how it would handle the sometimes controversial concept of in-laws in love (something that doesn’t bother me as long as there’s no cheating) and the inciting incident of a cancer diagnosis. 

And it works well on both counts. The story is fairly low-angst, but does delve into the issues at hand with enough care that the diagnosis never feels like it was done lightly. It leads Roz and Paul to reckon with their feelings for one another, and whether things can still work between them, in spite of what happened in the past. 

And of course, there’s the kids. I loved seeing the role they played in the story and shaping Roz and Paul’s more mature romance. 

This was a nice sweet read, full of hope and the power of second chances. And with a picturesque small-town setting, it’s sure to delight fans of small-town romance. 

Author Bio

Kathy Douglass came by her love of reading naturally – both of her parents were readers. She would finish one book and pick up another. Then she attended law school and traded romances for legal opinions.

After the birth of her two children, her love of reading turned into a love of writing. Kathy now spends her days writing the small town comtemporary novels she enjoys reading.

Kathy loves to hear from her readers and can be found on Facebook.

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Review of “The Butterfly Room” by Lucinda Riley

Riley, Lucinda. The Butterfly Room. [United States]: Blue Box Press, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1952457074 | $6.99 USD | 402 pages | Historical Fiction/Women’s Fiction

Blurb

Full of her trademark mix of unforgettable characters and heart-breaking secrets, The Butterfly Room is a spellbinding, second-chance-at-love story from #1 International bestseller Lucinda Riley.

Posy Montague is approaching her seventieth birthday. Still living in her beautiful family home, Admiral House, set in the glorious Suffolk countryside where she spent her own idyllic childhood catching butterflies with her beloved father, and raised her own children, Posy knows she must make an agonizing decision. Despite the memories the house holds, and the exquisite garden she has spent twenty-five years creating, the house is crumbling around her, and Posy knows the time has come to sell it.

Then a face appears from the past – Freddie, her first love, who abandoned her and left her heartbroken fifty years ago. Already struggling to cope with her son Sam’s inept business dealings, and the sudden reappearance of her younger son Nick after ten years in Australia, Posy is reluctant to trust in Freddie’s renewed affection. And unbeknown to Posy, Freddie – and Admiral House – have a devastating secret to reveal…

Review 

3 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A new Lucinda Riley release is always exciting for me, and while The Butterfly Room seemed a little different from the other books I’ve read from her, I was still intrigued. 

And while I’m used to the slow-burn nature of Riley’s books, I feel like this one in particular was a bit too slow and all over the place, with multiple plot threads and many characters who I struggled to sort out, and the result being I was only invested in what I assumed was the main plot, based on the blurb.

The main plot with Posy and Freddie, and the secret that tore them apart is compelling. I was invested in their relationship, as well as Posy’s look back at her life growing up, and felt for her as her initially idyllic life was turned upside down, and later when Freddie’s revelation as to why he left the first time also impacted her perception of her life back then. 

And I did enjoy one of the subplots, with Sam and Amy and the way his poor decisions have impacted their marriage, even though it was rather toxic. However, the other subplot between Nick and Tammy, and aside from being marred by pointless secrets as well, I can’t think of much about it that’s particularly remarkable.

Unfortunately, this book was just ok. However, I already was fairly sure it wouldn’t be as epic or engrossing as, say, Riley’s Seven Sisters books. I do think the central plotline makes it worth giving it a try, as it is the most reminiscent of Riley’s style. 

Author Bio

Lucinda Riley was born in Ireland, and after an early career as an actress in film, theatre and television, wrote her first book aged twenty-four. Her books have been translated into thirty-seven languages and sold twenty-five million copies worldwide. She is a No.1 Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller.

Lucinda is currently writing The Seven Sisters series, which tells the story of adopted sisters and is inspired by the mythology of the famous star cluster. It has become a global phenomenon, with each book in the series being a No.1 bestseller across the world. The series is currently in development with a major Hollywood production company.

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Review of “Forbidden” (The Wicked Woodleys #1) by Jess Michaels

Michaels, Jess. Forbidden. Dallas: The Passionate Pen, 2015.

ASIN: B013708NBC | $4.99 USD | 251 pages | Regency Romance/Erotic Romance

Blurb

* * * A hot historical romance from USA TODAY Bestselling Romance Author Jess Michaels * * *

Jude Samson has worked for the Woodley family for such a long time that he is seen as a brother. But he has very unbrotherly feelings toward the youngest of the clan, Lady Audrey. When they find themselves off at the family’s country estate, long simmering desires will come to the forefront and Jude won’t be able to stop himself from taking that one, oh-so-forbidden taste.

After seeing what it has done to her family, Audrey is afraid of passion. But the moment Jude touches her, fear is washed away by intense and powerful lust. Only Jude has a secret that could destroy everything that is beginning to develop between them. And when it comes out, it will change everything.

Review 

3.5 stars

I was excited to read more from Jess Michaels, especially when I found out her Wicked Woodleys series is currently available in KU. And the blurb for Forbidden in particular appealed to me, hitting on a few of my favorite tropes, like friends-to-lovers and cross-class romance where the heroine is higher in rank. 

I very much liked and felt for Jude. I understood his sense of not really belonging to the aristocratic world, given the way his father’s family ostracized him, yet also finding a home with the much more compassionate Woodleys and feeling immense guilt for betraying them, both in aiding one daughter in absconding with a scoundrel (something I wish had been fleshed out a little more) and in entering into an affair with another, Audrey. 

I’m a bit less sure what to think about Audrey. I can understand being afraid of giving into passion, given what it’s done to her family, but given how much depth is put into Jude’s backstory and development, she almost feels bland by comparison. She does have a bit of a plot arc of finding her sister, but I never had the sense there was a full fledged character arc  for her. 

And while this is definitely hotter than the other more recent Michaels books I’ve read (although more in the frequency of the scenes than the “heat” of the scenes themselves), I still felt their chemistry and was invested in that aspect as much as the external plot, even if I wasn’t 100% invested in both characters. 

I enjoyed this one, and will definitely be continuing the series to see what the Woodleys get up to next. I recommend this to anyone who loves erotic historical romance.

Author Bio 

USA Today Bestselling author Jess Michaels likes geeky stuff, Vanilla Coke Zero, anything coconut, cheese, fluffy cats, smooth cats, any cats, many dogs and people who care about the welfare of their fellow humans. She is lucky enough to be married to her favorite person in the world and live in the heart of Dallas.

When she’s not obsessively checking her steps on Fitbit or trying out new flavors of Greek yogurt, she writes erotic historical romances with smoking hot heroes and sassy heroines who do anything but wait to get what they want. She has written for numerous publishers and is now fully indie and loving every moment of it (well, almost every moment).

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Review of “The House in the Cerulean Sea” by TJ Klune

Klune, TJ. The House in the Cerulean Sea. New York: Tor, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1250217288 | $26.99 USD | 398 pages | Fantasy

Blurb

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

Review

5 stars

Friends have raved about The House in the Cerulean Sea, so I was curious to give it a try. It sounded like a fun, whimsical read, a style I had not read a ton of in adult fantasy. 

And it somehow manages to be “adult,” while capturing a sensibility that feels youthful, something that was also pointed out by my friend Aarya in her review. 

Linus Baker’s character development deeply resonated with me, as he went from being a fairly by-the-book sort of person, steeped in the bureaucracy of his department and his role as a caseworker, to developing a new sense of compassion and belonging upon ingratiating himself with Arthur and the children, who are all so alive and provide both a sense of gravitas and light simultaneously.

And while it isn’t primarily a romance, there is a subtle m/m romantic thread there between Linus and Arthur, conveyed so beautifully in addition to everything else. 

I strongly recommend pretty much everyone read this book. It’s beautiful, and a great balance of funny and heartfelt. 

Author Bio 

TJ KLUNE is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author (Into This River I Drown) and an ex-claims examiner for an insurance company. His novels include The House in the Cerulean Sea and The Extraordinaries. Being queer himself, TJ believes it’s important—now more than ever—to have accurate, positive, queer representation in stories.

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Review of “The Woman Before Wallis” by Bryn Turnbull

Turnbull, Bryn. The Woman Before Wallis. Toronto, Ontario: Mira, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-0778361022 | $17.99 USD | 384 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb

“Brimming with scandal and an equal amount of heart…a sweeping yet intimate look at the lives of some of history’s most notorious figures from Vanderbilts to the Prince of Wales… A must-read.”—Chanel Cleeton, New York Times bestselling author of When We Left Cuba and Next Year in Havana

“Bryn Turnbull takes a story we think we know and turns it on its head, with captivating results… A beautifully written, meticulously researched and altogether memorable debut.”—Jennifer Robson, USA TODAY bestselling author of The Gown

For fans of 
The Paris Wife and The Crown, this stunning novel tells the true story of the American divorcée who captured Prince Edward’s heart before he abdicated his throne for Wallis Simpson.

In the summer of 1926, when Thelma Morgan marries Viscount Duke Furness after a whirlwind romance, she’s immersed in a gilded world of extraordinary wealth and privilege. For Thelma, the daughter of an American diplomat, her new life as a member of the British aristocracy is like a fairy tale—even more so when her husband introduces her to Edward, Prince of Wales.

In a twist of fate, her marriage to Duke leads her to fall headlong into a love affair with Edward. But happiness is fleeting, and their love is threatened when Thelma’s sister, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, becomes embroiled in a scandal with far-reaching implications. As Thelma sails to New York to support Gloria, she leaves Edward in the hands of her trusted friend Wallis, never imagining the consequences that will follow.

Bryn Turnbull takes readers from the raucous glamour of the Paris Ritz and the French Riviera to the quiet, private corners of St. James’s Palace in this sweeping story of love, loyalty and betrayal.

Review

4.5 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

While everyone knows about the scandal surrounding Edward VIII’s abdication in order to marry Wallis Simpson and their subsequent antics as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, I knew less about the women he was associated with prior to getting together with her. And while The Woman Before Wallis is in part about Edward’s relationship with Thelma, it’s just as much about who she was in her own right.

While it did take a bit to get into the ebb-and-flow or the story, as it goes back and forth between 1934, after the demise of Thelma’s marriage and as her affair with Edward is crumbling and following her sister Gloria’s custody battle, and the years leading up to it, exploring both her marriage and the good times with Edward as their relationship began, I found it ultimately rewarding. I like that it centered her relationship with her sister and mother, thus helping to shine a light on how her family shaped her worldview, especially in regards to men and money. 

It is also interesting to see how Turnbull approaches both Edward and Wallis from Thelma’s perspective. I was intrigued that the two associated with each other during Thelma’s relationship with Edward, although ultimately not surprised, given the way high society people tend to restrict themselves to an insular set. Wallis’ aspirations to rise socially, and the altering nature of her interactions with Thelma are well done, foreshadowing a shift in the dynamic as time goes on. And while abdication was likely not something seriously considered until 1936, I love how, even though she is in love with him, Thelma does convey a sense of Edward’s weakness and lack of suitability to step into the role as king, in comparison to his younger brother. 

This is a masterful work of historical fiction, conveying real life events of notable people from the perspective of someone who may not be as well known to the average person, aside from a supporting player in others’ stories. If you love historical fiction about the Royal Family, the Vanderbilts, and historical women who aren’t that well known, then I recommend this book highly. 

Author Bio

When she was eleven years old, Bryn Turnbull accidentally put her foot through a single-pane window while leafing through a well-worn copy of Sandman (Volume 2). The incident, which resulted in a trip to the hospital, five stitches, and a unique application of superglue, taught her two things: one, that reading is not, and should not be attempted as, a full-contact sport; and two, that writers can create worlds within a book so absorbing, so completely and utterly all-encompassing, that they can drive readers to such distraction as to forget the outside world entirely.

Today, Bryn is a writer of historical fiction. Equipped with a Master of Letters in Creative Writing from the University of St. Andrews and a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from McGill University, Bryn, who resides in Toronto, writes books intended to drive readers to similar levels of distraction – to transport them into different eras and different worlds, but hopefully not into the hospital.  

With a penchant for fountain pens that leak ink onto her fingers, antique furniture, and traveling, Bryn is, admittedly, an old soul with limited patience for modern conveniences – but if you want to get in touch with her, email – that most ancient of online technologies – is the best way to do it. 

Bryn is represented by Kevan Lyon of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Her debut novel, The Woman Before Wallis, will be released by Mira on July 21, 2020.

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Review of “Take a Hint, Dani Brown” by Talia Hibbert

Hibbert, Talia. Take a Hint, Dani Brown. New York: Avon Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0062941237 | $15.99 USD | 384 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

Talia Hibbert returns with another charming romantic comedy about a young woman who agrees to fake date her friend after a video of him “rescuing” her from their office building goes viral…

Danika Brown knows what she wants: professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension. But romance? Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. Romantic partners, whatever their gender, are a distraction at best and a drain at worst. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits—someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom.

When brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and ex-rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. But before she can explain that fact, a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Now half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae—and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out, his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse?

Dani’s plan is simple: fake a relationship in public, seduce Zaf behind the scenes. The trouble is, grumpy Zaf’s secretly a hopeless romantic—and he’s determined to corrupt Dani’s stone-cold realism. Before long, he’s tackling her fears into the dirt. But the former sports star has issues of his own, and the walls around his heart are as thick as his… um, thighs.

Suddenly, the easy lay Dani dreamed of is more complex than her thesis. Has her wish backfired? Is her focus being tested? Or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint?

In the series

#1 Get a Life, Chloe Brown

Review

5 stars

Take a Hint, Dani Brown is another winner for Talia Hibbert, being just as fabulous as the first book in her Brown Sisters series, if not even better. Once again, she has created two dynamic, sympathetic lead characters that shatter stereotypes. 

Dani is bisexual, sex-positive, and academically driven, and I love her for it. I admired her drive to succeed in her field, even at the expense of romance and personal happiness, and loved watching all her plans in that regard slowly unravel as her plans for no-strings-attached sex turned to more. 

And Zaf…I’ve love that he’s another in the recent trend of fictional men who love romance novels, especially his reasoning for it as providing hope for a happy ending that he very much needed in the wake of losing loved ones years ago. And I could also relate to his struggles with anxiety and his description of how it manifests, and I loved seeing such compassionate representation of that on the page. 

And even while delving into tough topics, Hibbert is also laugh-out-loud funny at times. The inciting incident being a viral moment where Zaf saves Dani from an elevator, the inclusion of social media to document the momentary obsession with #DrRugbae had me in stitches, as did Zaf and Dani’s friendly banter. 

Seeing Red and Chloe again (albeit briefly), and getting a cheeky reference to their auspicious first meeting was also a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Eve. 

This book is a ton of fun, and I loved every moment of it. If you love contemporary romance, you won’t want to miss this one! 

Author Bio

Talia Hibbert is a USA Today bestselliing author who lives in a bedroom full of books. Supposedly, there is a world beyond that room, but she has yet to drum up enough interest to investigate.

She writes sexy, diverse romance because she believes that people of marginalised identities need honest and positive representation. Her interests include beauty, junk food, and unnecessary sarcasm. She also rambles intermittently about the romance genre online.

Talia self-publishes via Nixon House and is represented by Courtney Miller-Callihan at Handspun Literary.

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Review of “How to Start a Scandal” (The London School For Ladies #2) by Madeline Martin

Martin, Madeline. How to Start a Scandal. Toronto, Ontario: Harlequin, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1335505668 | $6.50 USD | 288 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

Experience the variety of romance that Harlequin Series category romance lines have to offer. Browse and discover the Series that’s right for you. With more than 60 new releases every month, Harlequin has your romance reading covered. Kick-start a love affair with Harlequin!

You’ve picked Harlequin Historical: Be seduced by the passion, drama and sumptuous detail of Harlequin Historical—from the intensity of ancient Rome, to the grandeur of the medieval court, to the decadence of Regency aristocracy.

From Waterloo…to the spotlight of the ton!Days after returning from the battlefields, Seth Sinclair finds himself in a glittering ballroom with one tedious task: finding a wife. He must put aside the military and prove his worth as the new Earl of Dalton. The only problem? Lady Violet Lavell, the one woman he can’t keep his eyes off, who knew him before he went to war. How can he be worthy of her now that he’s become so changed by the horrors of battle?

USA TODAY Bestselling Author

In the series

#1 How to Tempt a Duke

Review

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

How to Start a Scandal intrigued me based on the short blurb, in addition to having heard Madeline Martin’s name mentioned a few times in my romance reading life. 

And my interest was further piqued upon opening the book and finding out that the hero, Seth, is dealing with PTSD (or “melancholy,” as it was known then) in the aftermath of returning from war. This is depicted subtly and beautifully, showing its effects on him in triggering situations, like upon hearing the sound of drums or being in a large crowded ballroom, yet the sensation being almost indescribable. I appreciated how Martin didn’t “cure” him through him finding love, but have him, by the end, still recovering, but making progress.

I also appreciated that Violet was also a nuanced and deeply troubled character by her own past, in addition to being able to provide a soothing influence on him. She’s hidden a secret about a scandalous mistake she made in her first Season, and while I did cringe a bit at Seth jumping to conclusions instead of trying to hear her out (even if it was difficult for her to reveal all the details), I did understand where he was coming from as well, even if he did hurt her in the process. 

I did wish that the big confrontation with the villain  at the end had been better foreshadowed, as it felt like it came out of almost nowhere, with the exception of how it relates to the misdeeds committed by Seth’s deceased brother. 

This is a very sweet and fun book, and I’ll definitely be reading more Madeline Martin books in the future. I recommend this to historical romance lovers. 

Author Bio

Madeline Martin is a USA TODAY Bestselling author of Scottish set historical romance novels filled with twists and turns, adventure, steamy romance, empowered heroines and the men who are strong enough to love them.

She lives a glitter-filled life in Jacksonville, Florida with her two daughters (known collectively as the minions) and a man so wonderful he’s been dubbed Mr. Awesome. She loves Disney, Nutella, cat videos and goats dressed up in pajamas. She also loves to travel and attributes her love of history to having spent most of her childhood as an Army brat in Germany.

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Review of “My Calamity Jane” (The Lady Janies #3) by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Hand, Cynthia, et. al. My Calamity Jane. New York: HarperTeen, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-0062652812 | $18.99 USD | 544 pages | YA Historical Fiction

Blurb

Hold on to your hats: The authors who brought you the New York Times bestseller My Plain Jane, which Booklist praised as “delightfully deadpan” (starred review) and Publishers Weekly called “a clever, romantic farce” (starred review), are back with another irreverent historical adventure.

Welcome to 1876 America, a place bursting with gunslingers, outlaws, and garou—better known as werewolves.

And where there are garou, there’re hunters: the one and only Calamity Jane, to be precise, along with her fellow stars of Wild Bill’s Traveling Show, Annie Oakley and Frank “the Pistol Prince” Butler.

After a garou hunt goes south and Jane finds a suspicious-like bite on her arm, she turns tail for Deadwood, where there’s talk of a garou cure. But rumors can be deceiving—meaning the gang better hightail it after her before they’re a day late and a Jane short.

In this perfect next read for fans of A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, bestselling authors Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton bring their signature spark to the side-splittin’, whopper-filled (but actually kind of factual?) tale of Calamity Jane.

Review

Unlike the first two books, I wasn’t as familiar with the historical figures or setting of My Calamity Jane, so that may have impacted my investment.

Stylistically, I had just as much fun reading it, cracking up several times, particularly with the fun asides the authors inserted into the text, breaking the fourth wall and inserting wacky anachronisms. 

Calamity Jane, Frank, and Annie are objectively great characters, and I enjoyed their hijinks to an extent, but, without a real frame of reference for them and finding Westerns a bit hit-or-miss as a genre in general, I found something missing. 

While this book is a bit of a disappointment to me, I think it’s only because of the nature of these books and how they play with history, so those who know the figures or stories involved would likely enjoy it more. I do still love what these three authors do together and I hope this isn’t the last time they collaboratively “ruin” our history. 

Author Bios

Cynthia Hand is the New York Times bestselling author of several books for teens, including the UNEARTHLY trilogy, THE LAST TIME WE SAY GOODBYE, MY LADY JANE (with fellow authors Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows), THE AFTERLIFE OF HOLLY CHASE,  MY PLAIN JANE (also with Ashton and Meadows) and THE HOW AND THE WHY. Before turning to writing for young adults, she studied literary fiction and earned both an M.F.A. and a Ph.D. in fiction writing (but don’t call her Dr. Hand, because that’s a cartoon super villain.) She currently resides in Boise, Idaho, with a husband who loves typewriters as much as she does, two cats, two kids, a crazy puppy, and an entourage of imaginary friends. Find her at www.cynthiahandbooks.com or @CynthiaHand on Twitter.

Brodi Ashton is the author of the EVERNEATH trilogy. and  DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY with Balzer and Bray and MY LADY JANE and MY PLAIN JANE with HarperTeen. She received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Utah and a master’s degree in international relations from the London School of Economics. Brodi has an active following on her blog, which can be found at www.brodiashton.blogspot.com. She lives in Utah with her family. Follow her on Twitter at @brodiashton.

Jodi Meadows wants to be a ferret when she grows up and she has no self-control when it comes to yarn, ink, or outer space. Still, she manages to write books. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy, the ORPHAN QUEEN Duology, and the FALLEN ISLES Trilogy (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen), and a coauthor of MY LADY JANE and MY PLAIN JANE (HarperTeen). Visit her at www.jodimeadows.com

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Review of “Inheritors” by Asako Serizawa

Serizawa, Asako. Inheritors. New York: Doubleday, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0385545372 | $26.95 USD | 288 pages | Historical Fiction

Blurb

“This splendid story collection is a sword through the heart.”–Ben Fountain

From the O. Henry Prize-winning author comes a heartbreakingly beautiful and brutal exploration of lives fragmented by the Pacific side of World War II.

Spanning more than 150 years, and set in multiple locations in colonial and postcolonial Asia and the United States, Inheritors paints a kaleidoscopic portrait of its characters as they grapple with the legacies of loss, imperialism, and war.

Written from myriad perspectives and in a wide range of styles, each of these interconnected stories is designed to speak to the others, contesting assumptions and illuminating the complicated ways we experience, interpret, and pass on our personal and shared histories. A retired doctor, for example, is forced to confront the horrific moral consequences of his wartime actions. An elderly woman subjects herself to an interview, gradually revealing a fifty-year old murder and its shattering aftermath. And in the last days of a doomed war, a prodigal son who enlisted against his parents’ wishes survives the American invasion of his island outpost, only to be asked for a sacrifice more daunting than any he imagined.

Serizawa’s characters walk the line between the devastating realities of war and the banal needs of everyday life as they struggle to reconcile their experiences with the changing world. A breathtaking meditation on suppressed histories and the relationship between history, memory, and storytelling, Inheritors stands in the company of Lisa Ko, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Min Jin Lee.

Review

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Inheritors caught my interest due to the blurb, and despite being a bit more literary than I typically go for, I found this an interesting read, highlighting the stories of a family across the generations in both Japan and the US through all the hardships they experienced. I feel like it’s not something that was taught enough in school, apart from the late 19th century immigration and World War II.

And while it’s not a linear narrative, and thus it did feel a little jarring, even with the guide at the beginning, I enjoyed how each section felt distinct due to the different styles, and how these vignettes (as that’s what it reminded me of) delved into such impactful topics, despite the fact that there wasn’t a ton of page time for every person’s story. I especially liked the interview that unveils a long-hidden murder, and how poignantly that was conveyed. 

I enjoyed this book, and liked trying something a bit outside my comfort zone. If you love family-oriented stories, then I think this is worth giving a try. 

Author Bio

ASAKO SERIZAWA was born in Japan and grew up in Singapore, Jakarta, and Tokyo. A graduate of Tufts University, Brown University, and Emerson College, she has received two O. Henry Prizes, a Pushcart Prize, and a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. A recent fiction fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, she currently lives in Boston. Inheritors is her first book.

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Review of “Fair as a Star” (Victorian Romantics #1) by Mimi Matthews

Matthews, Mimi. Fair as a Star. [United States]: Perfectly Proper Press, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1733056984 | $3.99 USD | 194 pages | Victorian Romance

Blurb

From USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews comes a Victorian tale of love and longing in a quaint English village.

A Secret Burden…

After a mysterious sojourn in Paris, Beryl Burnham has returned home to the village of Shepton Worthy ready to resume the life she left behind. Betrothed to the wealthy Sir Henry Rivenhall, she has no reason to be unhappy–or so people keep reminding her. But Beryl’s life isn’t as perfect as everyone believes. 

A Longstanding Love… 

As village curate, Mark Rivenhall is known for his compassionate understanding. When his older brother’s intended needs a shoulder to lean on, Mark’s more than willing to provide one. There’s no danger of losing his heart. He already lost that to Beryl a long time ago. 

During an idyllic Victorian summer, friends and family gather in anticipation of Beryl and Sir Henry’s wedding. But in her darkest moment, it’s Mark who comes to Beryl’s aid. Can he help her without revealing his feelings–or betraying his brother?

*Fair as a Star is a novella, approximately 50,000-words in length.

Praise for the Novels of Mimi Matthews

“Readers will be hard put to set this one down before the end.” –Library Journal, starred review

“[A] gripping, emotional Victorian romance… Historical romance fans should snap this one up.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review

“As always, Matthews attention to historical accuracy is impeccable.” –Kirkus Reviews

“It seems that I say each book that Mimi Matthews pens is her best writing, but it appears to be true.” –The Romance Reviews

“Mimi Matthews is an exceptional story-teller.” –Passages to the Past

“[Matthews’] books are classics and remind me of Georgette Heyer and Mary Balogh…simply wonderful.” -Jane Porter, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author

“Mimi Matthews writes so beautifully I’ll happily follow her imagination anywhere.” -Kate Pearce, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author

Content Warning: Fair as a Star contains discussions of mental illness and domestic violence.

Review

5 stars

I received an ARC from the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Mimi Matthews has been recommended by a few people as an author of sweet/no-sex romance, so she has been on my radar for a while. And Fair as a Star sounded interesting, so I thought it would be a good entry point into her books. 

And it’s a wonderful book that delves into mental health in such a beautiful way with Beryl. Set in a time when both quack cures and abusive mental institutions were common, I love that instead it focuses on Beryl as a real person with depression without the dramatic/Gothic elements so often associated with Victorian literature, and it felt so refreshing to see. 

And her relationship with Mark is incredibly sweet as well, and I love his approach to Beryl’s illness, and how it’s influenced by his vocation as a clergyman. 

This is a  sweet story and it definitely has me excited to try more from her. If you love sweet historical romance, I recommend this one highly. 

Author Bio

USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews from Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats.

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Review of “The Do-Over” by Jennifer Honeybourn

Honeybourn, Jennifer. The Do-Over. New York: Swoon Reads, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1250194688 | $18.99 USD | 240 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

Blurb

In The Do-Over, a teenage girl gets the chance to redo her past in this smart and charming YA novel by the author of When Life Gives You Demons, Jennifer Honeybourn.

Emelia has always wanted to fit in with the A crowd. So, when Ben, the hottest guy in school, asks her out, she chooses him over Alistair, her best friend—even after he confesses his feelings to her.

Six months later, Emilia wonders how her life would have been different if she’d chosen Alistair instead. Haunted by her mistake, she finds a magical solution that promises to rectify the past. As a result, everything in her life is different.

Different, but not better.

What happens if her second chance is her only chance to make things right?

Review

4 stars

The Do-Over feels reminiscent of a lot of the fun teen rom-coms, notably 13 Going On 30. I also felt it had some slight vibes of the more recent Isn’t It Romantic, but for the teen set. It’s fairly predictable, in the sense that the moral is to “be careful what you wish for,” but the story also provides some comfort in that predictability, particularly when things fall into place at the end. 

Emilia isn’t always likable…she makes bad, self-serving  choices, and that’s the whole reason for wanting to do things over to begin with. But on some level I could still identify with her, as I remember what things were like for me at her age and not really belonging. 

I love her relationship with her friend-turned-love-interest, Alistair, and how they complement each other. I wish the plot had allowed for more exploration of their relationship, instead of her figuring out how to make things right with him when things kept going wrong, but I understand why.

This is fairly cute, but I do think this is a book that is solely for teen readers going through this stuff right now, and I don’t think it should be critiqued too harshly for accurately suiting the audience it’s meant for. 

Author Bio

Jennifer Honeybourn works in corporate communications in Vancouver, British Columbia. She’s a fan of British accents, Broadway musicals, and epic, happily-ever-after love stories. If she could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, she’d have high tea with Walt Disney, JK Rowling, and her nana. She lives with her husband, daughter and cat in a house filled with books. WESLEY JAMES RUINED MY LIFE is her first novel.

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Review of “A Virtuous Ruby” by Piper Huguley

Huguley, Piper. A Virtuous Ruby. 2015.  [United States]: Lilaceae Press, 2020.

ASIN: B087XX47Z3 | $2.99 USD | 226 pages | Historical Romance

Blurb

An unexpected love in a small, Southern town. Migrations of the Heart, Book 1 After fifteen months of hiding from the shame of bearing an illegitimate child, two words drive Ruby Bledsoe to face the good citizens of Winslow, Georgia. Never again. She vows to speak out against injustice. For her sisters. For her parents. For her infant son, Solomon. When she comes to help an injured mill worker, she bristles when a tall, handsome man claiming to be a doctor brushes her aside. Despite his arrogance, Ruby senses he’s someone like her, whose light skin doesn’t quite hide who he is. Up north, Dr. Adam Morson easily kept his mixed race a secret. Now that he’s in Georgia, summoned by his white father, he can feel restrictions closing in around him. Something powerful draws him to the beauty whose activist spirit is as fiery as her name. And soon, Adam wants nothing more than to take Ruby and her child far from Georgia’s toxic prejudice. But Ruby must choose between seeking her own happiness and staying to fight for the soul of her hometown.

Review

5 stars

A recent essay piqued my interest in A Virtuous Ruby by Piper Huguley, an author I had read been introduced to in an anthology and long desired to read more from. And if this book is an indicator of her body of work, I am eager to read more. 

In an opening note to the book, Huguley notes that she was inspired by Tess of D’Urbervilles, inspiring a more optimistic end for its tragic heroine. And she certainly does so with Ruby, a survivor of sexual assault with an illegitimate child. I admired how firm she was in her convictions about her identity, when some black and mixed-race people who could do so elected to pass for white and escape persecution. 

Meanwhile, Adam is one such person who has chosen to do this, although Ruby isn’t fooled. I love how she encourages him to acknowledge his history, and how it poignantly depicts his struggle between deciding between the privilege he would receive from passing and fully embracing his identity as a black man and the hardships he and his ancestors faced. 

This is an utterly beautiful story, both historically rich and incredibly relevant, and one I recommend to every romance reader. 

Author Bio

Piper Huguley seeks to make new inroads in the publication of historical romance by featuring African American Christian characters.  The Lawyer’s Luck and The Preacher’s Promise, the first books in her “Home to Milford College” series, are Amazon best sellers.  The Mayor’s Mission, published in Winter 2014.  The next entry in the series, The Representative’s Revolt will publish in Spring 2015. She is a 2013 Golden Heart finalist for her novel, A Champion’s Heart—the fourth book in “Migrations of the Heart”. The first book in the series, A Virtuous Ruby, was the first-place winner in The Golden Rose Contest in 2013 and was a Golden Heart finalist in 2014. The first three books in the “Migrations of the Heart” series, which follows the loves and lives of African American sisters during America’s greatest internal migration in the first part of the twentieth century, will be published by Samhain Publishing in 2015.  She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and son.

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Review of “The Heart of a Hellion” (The Duke’s Bastards #2) by Jess Michaels

Michaels, Jess. The Heart of a Hellion. Dallas: The Passionate Pen, LLC, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1947770348 | $4.99 USD | 270 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

Selina Oliver has always enjoyed all the pleasures life offers. As one of the infamous Roseford Bastards, why shouldn’t she? But Selina has a secret, one that could tear her world apart. She is also the Faceless Fox, a brazen thief who for years has been stealing the finest jewels of the nastiest women of the ton. Now her brother has invited her to a country party where one of the prizes she craves most will also be at her fingertips. How could a wily fox resist this henhouse?

Derrick Huntington has spent a life maintaining control and discipline. From his years in the army to his current place as an investigator for the ton’s elite, he never wavers from his duty. Now he and his partner are sent to an exclusive country party with one task: catch the Faceless Fox before they strike again and finally unmask the villain who has been intriguing him for years.

Investigator meet criminal in a wild chase that will involve seduction as distraction, unexpected respect and a love that could change both their lives forever. If only they can survive it.

In the series

#1 The Love of a Libertine 

#3 The Matter of a Marquess (coming Fall 2020)

Review

5 stars 

The Heart of a Hellion is another winner for Jess Michaels. Once again, she provides a story rich in character depth and intrigue, centering on one of my recent favorite tropes of criminal heroine/investigator hero. 

Michaels excels at crafting sexual tension that radiates off the page, and that is certainly the case for Selina and Derrick. I rooted for them as they fell for each other, while also wondering how it would all work out, as even though Selina did what she did for noble reasons, demonstrating she’s not actually that different from law-abiding Derrick, she still broke the law, and she became resigned to accepting the consequences.

And while definitely not a romantic suspense, there was a question of “whodunnit” at one point, that kept me on the edge of my seat wondering who it could be, especially since Selina, who is blamed for the offense, did not do it. And when it was revealed who it truly was and their connection to Selina, I also felt the sting of betrayal. 

I loved this book as much as the first, if not more, and I can’t wait to see what comes next for this ragtag bunch of ducal bastards. And if you love steamy Regency romance (equip your fire-resistant pants!), then you’ll love this one. 

Author Bio

USA Today Bestselling author Jess Michaels likes geeky stuff, Vanilla Coke Zero, anything coconut, cheese, fluffy cats, smooth cats, any cats, many dogs and people who care about the welfare of their fellow humans. She is lucky enough to be married to her favorite person in the world and live in the heart of Dallas.

When she’s not obsessively checking her steps on Fitbit or trying out new flavors of Greek yogurt, she writes erotic historical romances with smoking hot heroes and sassy heroines who do anything but wait to get what they want. She has written for numerous publishers and is now fully indie and loving every moment of it (well, almost every moment).

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Review of “The Lost Girls of Devon” by Barbara O’Neal

O’Neal, Barbara. The Lost Girls of Devon. Seattle: Lake Union Publishing, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-154202725 | $14.95 USD | 352 pages | Women’s Fiction 

Blurb

One of Travel + Leisure’s most anticipated books of summer 2020.

From the Washington Post and Amazon Charts bestselling author of When We Believed in Mermaids comes a story of four generations of women grappling with family betrayals and long-buried secrets.

It’s been years since Zoe Fairchild has been to the small Devon village of her birth, but the wounds she suffered there still ache. When she learns that her old friend and grandmother’s caretaker has gone missing, Zoe and her fifteen-year-old daughter return to England to help.

Zoe dreads seeing her estranged mother, who left when Zoe was seven to travel the world. As the four generations of women reunite, the emotional pain of the past is awakened. And to complicate matters further, Zoe must also confront the ex-boyfriend she betrayed many years before.

Anxieties spike when tragedy befalls another woman in the village. As the mystery turns more sinister, new grief melds with old betrayal. Now the four Fairchild women will be tested in ways they couldn’t imagine as they contend with dangers within and without, desperate to heal themselves and their relationships with each other.

Review

4 stars

The premise of The Lost Girls of Devon drew my attention, especially the multi-generational domestic drama. I did find the connections between the women a bit hard to follow at first, this is a book with a lot of intricacies and once I got into it, I did enjoy it for what it is.

While all four of the central women in the family play central roles in each others’ lives, Zoe and her strained relationship with her mother, Poppy is the focal point. I love how Zoe’s abandonment issues are reckoned with, but it’s also balanced by showing Poppy’s perspective on the matter, and that Poppy wanted to chase her dreams because her mother didn’t, establishing a cycle of how mothers’ behavior impact their daughters.

I enjoyed the chapters from Isabel the most, however, because of how it deals with such raw trauma of dealing with sexual assault at the hands of high school “friends,” and how she can’t bring herself to discuss it with her mother, creating yet another gulf between mother and daughter. 

I did find myself a bit disappointed that the “missing friend” aspect wasn’t more pronounced, however given how the book had been pitched, I should have expected it would be a mere subplot, although it was the most intriguing part of the blurb for me. 

I enjoyed this book, and was moved by the story of mothers and daughters and the traumas and betrayals that caused division between them. If you love stories about the messy relationships between mothers and daughters, I think you’ll enjoy this one. 

Author Bio

Barbara O’Neal is the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Amazon Charts bestselling author of more than a dozen novels, including When We Believed in Mermaids, The Art of Inheriting Secrets, and How to Bake a Perfect Life. She lives in the beautiful city of Colorado Springs with her beloved—a British endurance athlete who vows he’ll never lose his accent. To learn more about O’Neal and her works, visit her online at http://www.barbaraoneal.com.

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Review of “Unveiling Love: The Complete Regency Suspense Tale” by Vanessa Riley

Riley, Vanessa. Unveiling Love: The Complete Regency Suspense Tale. Mableton, GA: Gallium Optronics, 2016. 

ASIN: B01H0K1C61 | $5.99 USD | 573 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

Winning in the courts, vanquishing England’s foes on the battlefield, Barrington Norton has used these winner-take-all rules to script his life, but is London’s most distinguished mulatto barrister prepared to win the ultimate fight, restoring his wife’s love?

Amora Norton is running out of time. The shadows in her Egyptian mind, which threaten her sanity and alienate Barrington’s love, have returned. How many others will die if she can’t piece together her shattered memories? Can she trust that Barrington’s new found care is about saving their marriage rather than winning the trial of the century?

This is the complete novel with all four episodes. Enjoy this romantic suspense and meet old friends, William and Gaia, from Unmasked Heart. The love and drama continues.

Review

5 stars

Having enjoyed Vanessa Riley’s other episodic romance, The Bargain, I decided to pick up Unveiling Love. And while I’m still not a fan of the format, I do like how Riley uses it here to tackle a multi-faceted story with both a larger over-arching arc and smaller sub-plots. 

Vanessa Riley’s books are always such a treat, because they are chock-full or research into the lives of black and mixed-race people during the Regency, and her characters, and this book is no different, with its intricacies in the character relationships. 

I rooted for Barrington and Amora to work through the issues haunting their marriage, especially since Amora was plagued by trauma and fragmented memories, which have seen her imprisoned in an asylum. 

I loved this book, and I can’t wait to read more from Vanessa Riley. If you’re looking for a more diverse take on the Regency era, then I recommend this book (well, collection) highly. 

Author Bio

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