Review of “Shadows of the White City” (The Windy City Saga #2) by Jocelyn Green

Green, Jocelyn. Shadows of the White City. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2021. 

ISBN-13: 978-0764233319 | $15.99 USD | 384 pages | Historical Fiction/Christian Fiction

Blurb 

The one thing Sylvie Townsend wants most is what she feared she was destined never to have–a family of her own. But taking in Polish immigrant Rose Dabrowski to raise and love quells those fears–until seventeen-year-old Rose goes missing at the World’s Fair, and Sylvie’s world unravels.

Brushed off by the authorities, Sylvie turns to her boarder, Kristof Bartok, for help. He is Rose’s violin instructor and the concertmaster for the Columbian Exposition Orchestra, and his language skills are vital to helping Sylvie navigate the immigrant communities where their search leads.

From the glittering architecture of the fair to the dark houses of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods, they’re taken on a search that points to Rose’s long-lost family. Is Sylvie willing to let the girl go? And as Kristof and Sylvie grow closer, can she reconcile her craving for control with her yearning to belong?

Review 

4 stars 

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

Shadows of the White City picks up a couple decades after the first book, following a much-older Sylvie. While the first book provides some background for her as a character and her relationships with some supporting characters, the book can be read as a stand-alone. 

Like the first book, Jocelyn Green takes an event I knew rather little about and brought it to life, although admittedly, I did know a bit more about the 1893 grWorld’s Fair, although my main frame of reference is in true crime, and this book has nothing to do with that, they just share the same setting, although it’s not lacking in mystery and anguish with a mysterious disappearance. Even so, it was fascinating to learn about the sheer scale of the event, especially when thinking about the sheer scale of it, which she also breaks down in her ending historical note. 

Sylvie is very much the standout here, dealing with her daughter’s disappearance and the questions of what happened, and her grief as a parent is well-conveyed, even as someone who doesn’t have and doesn’t plan to have children of my own. And the fact that the relationship she has with Rose was established through adoption added another layer to me, as I feel like I rarely see stories with fairly positive rep for adoptive families, or adoption in general.

And while romance is not the main focus, I liked that the bond that develops between her and Kristof never felt forced or over-or underdone…it was a friendship that grew into more in the midst of the other intense things going on, and it was well incorporated. 

I enjoyed this installment in the series and I can’t wait to see where the next book takes these characters! If you like emotionally gripping, evocative historical fiction with a strong mystery thread throughout, I think you’ll enjoy this. 

Author Bio

Jocelyn Green inspires faith and courage as the award-winning and bestselling author of numerous fiction and nonfiction books, including The Mark of the King; Wedded to War; and The 5 Love Languages Military Edition, which she coauthored with bestselling author Dr. Gary Chapman. Her books have garnered starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly, and have been honored with the Christy Award, the gold medal from the Military Writers Society of America, and the Golden Scroll Award from the Advanced Writers & Speakers Association. She graduated from Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, with a B.A. in English, concentration in writing. She loves Mexican food, Broadway musicals, strawberry rhubarb pie, the color red, and reading with a cup of tea. Jocelyn lives with her husband Rob and two children in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Visit her at www.jocelyngreen.com.

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Review of “Yesterday is History” by Kosoko Jackson

Jackson, Kosoko. Yesterday is History. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Fire, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1492694342 | $17,99 ISD | 320 pages | YA Time Travel Romance 

Blurb

A romantic, heart-felt, and whimsical novel about letting go of the past, figuring out what you want in your future, and staying in the moment before it passes you by.

Weeks ago, Andre Cobb received a much-needed liver transplant.

He’s ready for his life to finally begin, until one night, when he passes out and wakes up somewhere totally unexpected…in 1969, where he connects with a magnetic boy named Michael.

And then, just as suddenly as he arrived, he slips back to present-day Boston, where the family of his donor is waiting to explain that his new liver came with a side effect—the ability to time travel. And they’ve tasked their youngest son, Blake, with teaching Andre how to use his unexpected new gift.

Andre splits his time bouncing between the past and future. Between Michael and Blake. Michael is everything Andre wishes he could be, and Blake, still reeling from the death of his brother, Andre’s donor, keeps him at arm’s length despite their obvious attraction to each other.

Torn between two boys, one in the past and one in the present, Andre has to figure out where he belongs—and more importantly who he wants to be—before the consequences of jumping in time catch up to him and change his future for good.

Review

3 stars 

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

Yesterday is History has an intriguing premise and I like how it pulled from a real-world concept like organ donation to explain something supernatural like time travel. It’s fairly lighthearted while still packing an emotional punch…one that left me feeling very conflicted.

I love the intent of the story and the way it was delivered. Andre is a Black gay teen, but I like that this is a story that proudly states that it doesn’t center Black pain, instead choosing to send Andre on adventures similar to other teens his age, like falling in love (with two very different people) and coming of age, while dealing with his unique ability. And apart from some light implications in regards to homophobia when he travels back to 1969, this is what this is: a celebration of Black queer identity that isn’t tied to trauma. 

However, I did feel the romances he becomes entangled suffers from the same imbalance that plagues many a love triangle in YA romances: a clear preference for one love interest over the other, to the point where I was rooting for the “wrong” guy. It resulted in me feeling disappointed when I reached the end to find out how it all worked out, even though I had a feeling that that was where it would be headed due to the stakes. The ending is optimistic, but I didn’t really believe in the relationship that Andre ended up in by the end, when their other prospective partner was so much more compelling. 

I do think it does ultimately have a good message in spite of my own personal hang-ups in regards to the romance. I think this is a sweet YA book that also gives us a lot to think about in the guise of an engaging story. 

Author Bio

Born and raised in the DC Metro Area, Kosoko Jackson has worked in non-profit communications for the past four years. His debut, YESTERDAY IS HISTORY, comes out 2021 by SourcebooksFire.

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Review of “The Last Tiara” by M.J. Rose

Rose, M.J. The Last Tiara. [United States]: Blue Bos Press, 2021. 

ISBN-13: 978-1952457098 | $15.99 USD | 437 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb

 

From New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller M.J. Rose (“One of the master storytellers of historical fiction.” —New York Times bestseller Beatriz Williams) comes a provocative and moving story of a young female architect in post-World War II Manhattan, who stumbles upon a hidden treasure and begins a journey to discovering her mother’s life during the fall of the Romanovs.

Sophia Moon had always been reticent about her life in Russia and when she dies, suspiciously, on a wintry New York evening, Isobelle despairs that her mother’s secrets have died with her. But while renovating the apartment they shared, Isobelle discovers something among her mother’s effects—a stunning silver tiara, stripped of its jewels.

Isobelle’s research into the tiara’s provenance draws her closer to her mother’s past—including the story of what became of her father back in Russia, a man she has never known. The facts elude her until she meets a young jeweler, who wants to help her but is conflicted by his loyalty to the Midas Society, a covert international organization whose mission is to return lost and stolen antiques, jewels, and artwork to their original owners.

Told in alternating points of view, the stories of the two young women unfurl as each struggles to find their way during two separate wars. In 1915, young Sofiya Petrovitch, favorite of the royal household and best friend of Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna, tends to wounded soldiers in a makeshift hospital within the grounds of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg and finds the love of her life. In 1948 New York, Isobelle Moon works to break through the rampant sexism of the age as one of very few women working in a male-dominated profession and discovers far more about love and family than she ever hoped for.

In M.J. Rose’s deftly constructed narrative, the secrets of Sofiya’s early life are revealed incrementally, even as Isobelle herself works to solve the mystery of the historic Romanov tiara (which is based on an actual Romanov artifact that is, to this day, still missing)—and how it is that her mother came to possess it. The two strands play off each other in finely-tuned counterpoint, building to a series of surprising and deeply satisfying revelations.

Review 

2.5 stars

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

The Last Tiara interested me, due to my fascination with all things Russian, and at least in some aspects, it delivers.  The background is well researched, exploring a courtier’s life in the years leading up to the downfall of the Romanovs and the aftermath, juxtaposed with her daughter delving into that past through researching an old tiara found among her mother’s things. 

However, having read a few M.J. Rose books before, I found myself let down. In some ways it mirrors the others, being an “artifact book” surrounding something from a particular time period. The plot is also briskly paced, keeping me fairly engaged in both timelines, at least superficially. 

But as I went on, I found I just didn’t care. Neither Isabelle nor Sofiya grabbed me as protagonists, as both felt very surface-level and lacked depth. Stuff would happen, and I just didn’t feel invested, and that’s sad to say about a book that partly takes place during the Russian Revolution, given what I know about what happened to the Romanovs and some of those loyal to them. 

This book was fine, although it’s definitely not the best book I’ve read from M.J. Rose. I do think it will work for a more plot driven reader who doesn’t require much in terms of character development, as that is this book’s strong point. 

Author Bio

New York Times Bestseller, M.J. Rose grew up in New York City mostly in the labyrinthine galleries of the Metropolitan Museum, the dark tunnels and lush gardens of Central Park and reading her mother’s favorite books before she was allowed. She believes mystery and magic are all around us but we are too often too busy to notice… books that exaggerate mystery and magic draw attention to it and remind us to look for it and revel in it.

Her most recent novel, The Last Tiara, will be published Feb 2, 2021

Rose’s work has appeared in many magazines including Oprah Magazine and she has been featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, WSJ, Time, USA Today and on the Today Show, and NPR radio. Rose graduated from Syracuse University, spent the ’80s in advertising, has a commercial in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and since 2005 has run the first marketing company for authors – Authorbuzz.com

The television series PAST LIFE, was based on Rose’s novels in the Reincarnationist series. She is one of the founding board members of International Thriller Writers and currently serves, with Lee Child, as the organization’s co-president.. 

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Review of “This Golden Flame” by Emily Victoria

Victoria, Emily. This Golden Flame. Toronto, Ontario: Inkyard Press, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1335080271 | $18.99 USD | 384 pages | YA Fantasy

Blurb

 

Orphaned and forced to serve her country’s ruling group of scribes, Karis wants nothing more than to find her brother, long ago shipped away. But family bonds don’t matter to the Scriptorium, whose sole focus is unlocking the magic of an ancient automaton army.

In her search for her brother, Karis does the seemingly impossible—she awakens a hidden automaton. Intelligent, with a conscience of his own, Alix has no idea why he was made. Or why his father—their nation’s greatest traitor—once tried to destroy the automatons.

Suddenly, the Scriptorium isn’t just trying to control Karis; it’s hunting her. Together with Alix, Karis must find her brother…and the secret that’s held her country in its power for centuries.

Review

3.5 stars 

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

There’s a lot to like in This Golden Flame, namely the fact that it’s a book that proudly features aroace rep, something that we don’t see enough of in similar YA fantasy books. 

Given that romance isn’t the driving force of the story (it does crop up in the background here and there, and I felt it was done in a fairly natural way), I liked the focus on other types of relationships between characters, like Karis’ with her long-lost brother, and the platonic bond between her and the other main character, the automaton Alix. 

The world building is also fairly solid. Inspired by Greek mythology, I found the Scriptorum an interesting place and one I’d like to explore more in another book, even if it follows new characters. 

I did find the writing style choices a bit off-putting, and this is very much one of those first person dual books where you quickly forget whose head you’re in and quickly hunt for the name of the other main character for a reminder as to whose perspective it is. 

This book has a lot going for it, and the main issues appear to be more technical, although I realize even that is subjective. It is a unique book and one I enjoyed for the most part, and think anyone looking for a different take on YA fantasy might like this. 

Author Bio 

Emily Victoria is a Canadian prairie girl who writes young adult science fiction and fantasy. When not word-smithing, she likes walking her over-excitable dog, drinking far too much tea, and crocheting things she no longer has the space to store.

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Review of “Make Up Break Up” by Lily Menon

Menon, Lily. Make Up Break Up. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2021. 

ISBN-13: 978-1250761996 | $16.99 USD | 330 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

Make Up Break Up, the sparkling and heartfelt romantic comedy debut from Lily Menon

Love, romance, second chances, fairy-tale endings…these are the things Annika Dev believes in. Her app, Make Up, has been called the “Google Translate for failing relationships.”

High efficiency break-ups, flashy start-ups, penthouses, fast cars…these are the things Hudson Craft believes in. His app, Break Up, is known as the “Uber for break-ups.” It’s wildly successful—and anathema to Annika’s life philosophy.

Which wouldn’t be a problem if they’d gone their separate ways after that summer fling in Las Vegas, never to see each other again. Unfortunately for Annika, Hudson’s moving not just into her office building, but into the office right next to hers. And he’ll be competing at the prestigious EPIC investment pitch contest: A contest Annika needs to win if she wants to keep Make Up afloat. As if it’s not bad enough seeing his irritatingly perfect face on magazine covers when her own business is failing. As if knowing he stole her idea and twisted it into something vile—and monumentally more successful—didn’t already make her stomach churn.

As the two rival app developers clash again and again—and again—Annika finds herself drawn into Hudson Craft’s fast-paced, high velocity, utterly shallow world. Only, from up close, he doesn’t seem all that shallow. Could it be that everything she thought about Hudson is completely wrong? Could the creator of Break Up teach her what true love’s really about?

Review

2 stars 

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

A quick glance at her backlist will tell you that Sandhya Menon loves the opposites-attract trope, and that has not changed with her adult debut under the pen name Lily Menon. However, while the trope has worked well in her YA books, particularly her three Dimple and Rishi books, Make Up Break Up feels like a poor imitation of that book and a lack of understanding of what made it work. 

The one positive is the heroine, Annika. She isn’t always the most likable, but I admired her drive and her dedication to her company. If the book had focused more on her growth in a more women’s fiction direction or had a more compelling love interest, I would have said this book was much better. 

I can’t tell you one unique thing about Hudson. He runs a rival company and he and Annika hooked up in the past. Big whoop. 

And they also have radically different approaches when it comes to love. Oh my gosh, was this hammered in so much. What makes an opposites-attract or enemies-to-lovers work is the gradual realization that they have something deeper in common. But when the common denominator is lust, and one participant isn’t well defined on top of that, it just got old fast. 

I don’t think this is a completely horrible book, and if you’re looking for a light read to engage you for a grief period, you can’t go wrong, as it is very fast paced and engaging, in spite of the issues that prompted frustration. And it’s entirely possible that my bias for her YA books has tainted my perspective, as there are others who’ve read the book and enjoyed it far more. 

Author Bio

Lily Menon has always been enamored of romantic comedies and happily-ever-afters in all shapes and sizes. Her very first love story, written at age nine, was about a handsome young boy who wooed the heroine with books, chocolates, and a very fat puppy. Now Lily lives with her own handsome boy (who indeed wooed her with books, chocolates, and fat puppies) in the mountains of Colorado, where she spends her days dreaming up kissing scenes and meet-cutes.

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Review of “Taming Wild Horses” (Wild Horse Ranch #2) by Mila Nicks

Nicks, Mila. Taming Wild Horses. [Place of publication not identified]: Mila Nicks, 2021. 

ASIN: B08F2XJGPO | $3.99 USD | 287 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb 

He’s ready to be a better man…

Chase Collins started the summer a brooding, broken man. He was content keeping to Wild Horse Ranch, where he could tend to horses and stew in peace. When Samara Grant reentered his life, she changed everything, and now he wants to prove to her—and himself—he can be the good guy he always hoped to be. What he doesn’t know is that it’s darkest before the dawn…

She’s done running from the past…

Only a summer in Lutton, Texas. That’s what Samara Grant told herself when she arrived. Now months into living in the small town, she’s carved out a life for herself managing her grandma’s B&B, riding horses and falling in love for the first real time in her life. After so many years spent running, she wants happiness, but unfortunately her tragic past is back to haunt her…

He’s not letting things go that easily…

Reed Ward is supposed to be the guy who has it all. He comes from the most prestigious family in Lutton. He’s handsome. He’s charming. He always gets the girl—so why is it that he’s on the sidelines watching his life go up in smoke? His family’s torn apart, his Ranch is no longer his, and the woman that’s supposed to be his wants his best friend. One things for sure: he’s not going down without a fight…

Taming Wild Horses is book 2 of 3 in the Wild Horse Ranch Series. It is an interracial love story with a medium heat level. It contains adult content not suitable for readers under the age of 18. 

In the series 

#1 Chasing Wild Horses 

Review 

4 stars 

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

Multi-book romances following the same couple can be a hard sell, especially in trying to make each story feel complete, yet continually challenge the couple in a believable way. Mila Nicks handles it well with Taming Wild Horses, second in her Wild Horse Ranch series. 

Chase and Samara are still an engaging couple who are still dealing with their respective pasts while learning to grow together as a couple. It’s nice to know that, while there was somewhat of a satisfying ending for them in book one, that there is still more to explore where they are concerned. 

And in spite of being a bit of an antagonist, Reed is a compelling character and one I’d like to know more about. I don’t know what I want for him yet,  but he’s well written and nuanced, so he doesn’t feel one-note.

And like the first book, there’s a sense of history, with sections of the book devoted to Bucky and Bunny’s civil-rights era love story, and I enjoyed seeing that developed more. I did find myself wishing it was more prominent this time around and hope there is more of it in the forthcoming book. 

Author Bio

Mila Nicks is on a mission to pen heartfelt and entertaining love stories featuring women of color.

When she isn’t penning diverse love stories, you can find her globetrotting, sampling new cuisines, and spending quality time with her spunky pet Chihuahua, Zayden.

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

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Review of “Wings of Ebony” by J. Elle

Elle, J. Wings of Ebony. New York: Denene Millner Books/Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1534470675 | $19.99 USD | 368 pages | YA Fantasy

Blurb

In this riveting, keenly emotional debut fantasy, a Black teen from Houston has her world upended when she learns about her godly ancestry and must save both the human and god worlds. Perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Tomi Adeyemi, and The Hunger Games!

“Make a way out of no way” is just the way of life for Rue. But when her mother is shot dead on her doorstep, life for her and her younger sister changes forever. Rue’s taken from her neighborhood by the father she never knew, forced to leave her little sister behind, and whisked away to Ghizon—a hidden island of magic wielders.

Rue is the only half-god, half-human there, where leaders protect their magical powers at all costs and thrive on human suffering. Miserable and desperate to see her sister on the anniversary of their mother’s death, Rue breaks Ghizon’s sacred Do Not Leave Law and returns to Houston, only to discover that Black kids are being forced into crime and violence. And her sister, Tasha, is in danger of falling sway to the very forces that claimed their mother’s life.

Worse still, evidence mounts that the evil plaguing East Row is the same one that lurks in Ghizon—an evil that will stop at nothing until it has stolen everything from her and everyone she loves. Rue must embrace her true identity and wield the full magnitude of her ancestors’ power to save her neighborhood before the gods burn it to the ground.

Review

3 stars

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

Wings of Ebony has a lot of potential as a great read. And for many, it could be one, full stop. There is a great message at its heart, inspired by the ongoing systemic racism in our contemporary world. That aspect overall is impactful, making the comparison to Angie Thomas an incredibly apt one.

Rue herself is a unique protagonist, being a strong young Black woman who stands up for what she believes in. Regardless of any unevenness in the execution of the other story elements, I felt she was a great character to follow, and one I really rooted for, given the issues she was facing. 

However, the decision to try to balance the real-world with a magical one was a bit poorly realized, with the backstory often info dumped casually and needlessly and the magic of Ghizon not really feeling well realized as a result.

It has received a lot of positive early buzz, and with good reason. I think this is one of those books worth reading and seeing if it works for you. 

Author Bio

J. Elle was born in Houston, Texas, and is a first-generation college student with a bachelor’s in journalism and MA in educational administration and human development. An advocate for marginalized voices in both publishing and her community, J. Elle’s passion for empowering youth dates back to her first career in education. She’s worked as a preschool director, middle school teacher, and high school creative writing mentor. In her spare time, she volunteers at an alternative school, provides feedback for aspiring writers, loves on her three littles, and cooks up dishes true to her Texas and Louisiana roots. Wings of Ebony is her first novel.

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Review of “Reunited on Dragonfly Lane” (Sweetwater Springs #7) by Annie Rains

Rains, Annie. Reunited on Dragonfly Lane. New York: Forever, 2021. 

ISBN-13: 978-1538703403 | $8.99 USD | 347 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

In this romantic adventure, anything is paws-ible when a single shop owner makes a connection with her new vet.

Boutique owner Sophie Daniels certainly isn’t looking to adopt a dog the day veterinarian Chase Lewis convinces her to take in Comet. A rambunctious puppy with a broken leg may not be the best choice for a first-time pet owner. And house calls from the handsome doctor — her high school sweetheart who’s just moved back to Sweetwater Springs — may not be the best choice for her heart either.

Chase has come home to help his nephew but finds that he’s forgotten just how much he enjoys small-town life. However, sooner or later, he’s going to have to face the past and his unresolved feelings for Sophie. Now that Comet needs both their help, Chase is going to let the four-legged matchmaker work his canine magic. Then Chase will prove to Sophie that first love is even better the second time around.

Includes the bonus novella A Wedding on Lavender Hill!

Review 

3 stars 

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

Reunited on Dragonfly Lane was another book I picked up almost solely because of the cute dog on the cover. And the pun in the blurb (“paws-ible?) warmed my heart and made me chuckle. 

And given my past experiences with small-town romance, I felt like I enjoyed it well enough in comparison. It’s a fun, cozy story set in a picturesque small town, and in that aspect, it works. There’s a real element of community, and even jumping in with book 7, I didn’t feel like I missed out on anything in terms of that dynamic that may have been established prior. 

I did find the romance itself a bit lackluster. On the surface it’s got a lot of potential, and a lot of that is due to them bonding over Comet, a dog with an injured leg. But in spite of them having a past romance together, I just never felt like there was anything substantial between them. They do have some qualities that made me at least like them somewhat and feel they had potential on their own, especially Chase, with his familial problems as he finds himself taking care of his nephew with his brother in jail. But I never got the impression that these two together made sense. 

I understand Annie Rains is well loved in the small town romance genre, especially given her books are on the sweet side with no sex. However, despite some of those elements often working for me, they just didn’t this time. I do feel a more experienced reader of her work will enjoy this, given the largely favorable early reviews from people who are presumably part of her established audience. 

Author Bio

Annie Rains is a contemporary romance author who writes small town love stories set in fictional towns on the coast of North Carolina. Raised in one of America’s largest military communities, Annie often features heroes who fight for their countries, while also fighting for a place to call home and a good woman to love. When Annie isn’t writing, she’s spending time with her husband and 3 children, or reading a book by one of her favorite authors.

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Review of “Highland Defender” (Scots and Swords #2) by Kathryn Le Veque

Le Veque, Kathryn. Highland Defender. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1728210131 | $8.99 USD | 384 pages | Medieval Romance

Blurb 

Gladiator meets Fight Club in the Scottish Highlands in a new series from USA Today bestselling author Kathryn Le Veque

Ashamed of a choice that cost good men their lives during battle, Bane Morgan escapes to Edinburgh to forget his past. But the more time he spends away from his Highland home, the more he’s filled with regret and despair.

Lucia Symington knows something about despair. Forced to work off a family debt for a clan with little moral compass and a particular hatred for her, Lucia loses herself a little more each day. When a chance meeting with Bane gives them both a glimpse of what their future together could be, Bane turns to the Ludus Caledonia to find the warrior still within him. The Highland Defender has returned…but his quest to free his lady could cost him everything…

“Gripping, impassioned romance.”—Tanya Anne Crosby, New York Times bestselling author

In the series

#1 Highland Gladiator

Review

4 stars

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

Highland Defender is another solid installment in Kathryn Le Veque’s Scots and Swords series. While it is the second in a series, it works as a stand-alone.

I really liked both of the main characters, Bane and Lucia. Bane has been through a lot in his life, being plagued with regret for his past mistakes. Meanwhile, Lucia is a maid working for a domineering, cruel mistress, yet she hasn’t not fully lost her spirit. 

With the story surrounding a journey to prove himself, Bane joins the Ludus Caledonia as a fighter, with this being a wonderful twist on the trope of “hero-saves-damsel.” 

With rich historical detail embedded into the narrative, Le Veque proves her status as a proficient author of medieval Highlander romance. Whether you’re a longtime fan of Le Veque or a relative newbie to her work as I am, I think you’ll enjoy this book. 

Author Bio

Juggernaut Indie author Kathryn Le Veque is a ‘tour de force’ in publishing.

Kathryn is a critically acclaimed 21-time USA TODAY Bestselling author, a charter Amazon All-Star author, an Indie Reader top seller, and a #1 bestselling, award-winning, multi-published author in Medieval Historical Romance with over 100 published novels.

Among her many accomplishments, she is the CEO of Dragonblade Publishing, the #1 Historical Romance e-book publisher on Amazon. In 2020, Kathryn collaborated with Sourcebooks publishing for a Medieval Fight Club series set in Scotland.

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Review of “The Vanishing at Loxby Manor” by Abigail Wilson

Wilson, Abigail. The Vanishing at Loxby Manor. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-0785232957 | $16.99 USD | 336 pages | Regency Romance/Gothic Romance/Christian Fiction 

Blurb 

A story of second chances and secrets, this mysterious Regency romance will transport you to 19th-century England as one young lady reunites with her childhood love to find his missing sister.

Her friend is missing.

After five years abroad, Charity Halliwell finally returns to Loxby Manor, the home of dear friends—and her lost love. No longer a young girl, she is now haunted by a painful secret and the demise of her dreams. Instead of the healing and happiness she hopes to find, she encounters a darkness lurking in the shadows of the once-familiar house. When her friend, Seline, disappears the very night of her arrival, Charity is determined to uncover the truth.

Her only hope is the man who broke her heart.

Branded a coward, Piers Cavanaugh has lived the last five years as an outcast far from his family home. When his sister presumably elopes with a stable hand, Piers joins forces with an unlikely partner—the one woman he thought he’d never see again. Together they launch an investigation that leads to strange nightly meetings in the ruins of an old abbey and disturbing whispers of a secret organization. The more they learn, the more desperate the situation becomes. 

The house seems determined to keep its secrets.

As they struggle to piece together the clues, Charity and Piers also endeavor to rebuild their friendship. One cryptic letter changed everything between them. To find happiness they will have to overcome the grief and shame keeping them apart. But first they must discover why Seline vanished and confront the growing fear that she may never return. 

Settle in, because once you start The Vanishing at Loxby Manor, you won’t be able to put it down. 

Praise for The Vanishing at Loxby Manor

Vanishing at Loxby Manor cleverly combines Regency romance with Gothic intrigue, and the result is a suspenseful, thoroughly entertaining read. Charming and lovely.”—Tasha Alexander, New York Times bestselling author of In the Shadow of Vesuvius

“Like each of Wilson’s novels, The Vanishing at Loxby Manor drew me in from the start and didn’t let go. From the heartfelt characters to the twists that kept me guessing, I relished each turn of the page. Wilson is a master at historical mystery, and I cannot wait for her next story.”—Lindsay Harrel, author of The Joy of Falling

“Abigail Wilson’s latest Gothic romance hits the notes readers have come to expect from her talented pen: romance, shadows and intrigue and a brilliantly executed atmosphere. She is a master at her craft and a rare stand-out in a popular genre.”—Rachel McMillan, author of The London Restoration 

“Weaving a shadow of mystery among the gilded countryside of Regency England, Wilson’s tale of love lost, buried shame, and secret societies is a delicious blend of romance and intrigue. Splash in gorgeous historical Regency details, and murder brewing around every stone, and readers will be burning through the pages until the riveting end.”—J’nell Ciesielski, author of The Socialite 

“A gothic romance that is filled with great characters and a mystery that unfolds chapter by chapter. A perfect blend of mystery, family relationships, lost years, and star-crossed love. Be warned, you won’t be able to walk away from these characters.”—Cara Putman, award-winning author of Flight Risk Sweet but mysterious Regency Romance with Gothic tonesA stand-alone novelBook length: approximately 90,000 wordsIncludes discussion questions for book clubs

Review 

4 stars

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

Abigail Wilson once again crafts an excellent blend of mystery and romance with The Vanishing at Loxby Manor. It has her signature Gothic flair, feeling both atmospheric and deeply emotional.

I truly identified with Charity due to her past sexual assault. It was dealt with sensitively, with her attempts to cope in the aftermath and reluctance to trust again feeling realistic. 

Piers is also vulnerable due to his own past, but he’s also a very sweet person, providing a sense of balance that Charity needed. 

Ultimately, both of them being guarded of their pasts lends to the secretive nature of the characters throughout the book, which also extends to the secondary characters and the mystery itself. There is definitely a question of the issue of trust, and ultimately, betrayal. 

This is another solid book by Abigail Wilson, and one I think will delight fans of Regency and/or Gothic romance. 

Author Bio

Abigail Wilson combines her passion for Regency England with intrigue and adventure to pen historical mysteries with a heart. A Registered Nurse, chai tea addict, and mother of two crazy kids, Abigail fills her spare time hiking the National Parks, attending her daughter’s gymnastic meets, and curling up with a great book. In 2017, Abigail won WisRWA’s Fab Five contest and in 2016, ACFW’s First Impressions contest as well as placing as a 2017 finalist in the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. She is a cum laude graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and currently lives in Dripping Springs, Texas, with her husband and children.

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Review of “The Titanic Sisters” by Patricia Falvey

Falvey, Patricia. The Titanic Sisters. New York: Kensington, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1496732569 | $15.95 USD | 368 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb 

Spanning from rural Ireland, to New York and Texas in the early 1900s, Patricia Falvey’s The Titanic Sisters explores the relationship between two sisters whose lives take very different directions after they survive the perilous voyage from Ireland to America aboard the Titanic.

“The enchanting saga of two Irish sisters…This new chapter of Titanic lore is worth plunging into.” —Publishers Weekly From the acclaimed author of The Girls of Ennismore comes a captivating and extraordinary tale of perseverance and bravery. This touching saga of sisterhood–perfect for fans of Fiona Davis and Marie Benedict–follows two young Irish women yearning for independence and adventure, as they set sail on RMS Titanic–the “ship of dreams”–only to be faced with the tragedy of that fabled maiden voyage… Delia Sweeney has always been unlike her older sister–fair and delicate compared to tall, statuesque Nora, whose hair is as dark as Donegal turf. In other ways too, the sisters are leagues apart. Nora is her mother’s darling, favored at every turn, and expected to marry into wealth. Delia, constantly slighted, finds a measure of happiness helping her da on the farm. The rest of the time, she reads about far-off places that seem sure to remain a fantasy. Until the day a letter arrives from America . . . A distant relative has provided the means for Delia and Nora to go to New York. Delia will be a lowly maid in a modest household, while Nora will be governess for a well-to-do family. In Queenstown, Cork, they board the Titanic, a majestic new ocean liner making its maiden voyage. Any hope Delia carried that she and her sister might become closer during the trip soon vanishes. For there are far greater perils to contend with as the ship makes its way across the Atlantic . . . In the wake of that fateful journey, Delia makes an impulsive choice–and takes Nora’s place as governess. Her decision sparks an adventure that leads her from Fifth Avenue to Dallas, Texas, where oilfields bring unimagined riches to some, despair to others. Delia grows close to her vulnerable young charge, and to the girl’s father. But her deception will have repercussions impossible to foresee, even as it brings happiness within reach for the first time . . .

Review

2 stars

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

The Titanic Sisters is a bit of a disjointed, confusing read. While I knew from the blurb not to expect too much of a focus on the Titanic itself, but more the two sisters in the aftermath, it just felt poorly executed and fairly predictable, not to mention being a slog that did not reward the reader due to those reasons.

I felt neither sister was a very intriguing character. Delia was the more intriguing of the two, with the stronger, more developed character, and definitely the one I had the teensiest bit more sympathy for. Nora is very much the favored child and reading about her, especially initially, made me scoff at her entitlement. She goes through something of an arc, but given that Delia was more interesting to read about, I struggled to care.

I also struggled to care when Nora finally put things together and the promised confrontation in the blurb happened. It ended up being a weird misunderstanding due to another aspect with who each ends up associating with over the course of the book, and while Nora’s are hinted at being nefarious, again I just didn’t care enough about the sisters to be invested. 

I feel like this concept had potential, it just wasn’t in the right hands to fully realize all the nuances to make the story constantly compelling. But there were others who did enjoy it more than I did, which makes me suspect it could also be a “me” thing. If the premise appeals to you, I still think it might be worth trying to see if it works better for you. 

Author Bio 

Patricia Falvey is an Irish-born writer living in Dallas, Texas. She is the author of the critically acclaimed The Yellow House, and The Linen Queen. Both are historical novels set in Northern Ireland. Her third novel, The Girls of Ennismore, set in the west of Ireland and focusing on the Easter Uprising of 1916 was published in the U.S. in March, 2017. Her latest novel, THE TITANIC SISTERS, will be out January 26, 2021 and is available for pre-order.

Patricia immigrated alone to the U.S. at the age of 20 and forged a long and successful career in the financial services industry, rising to a Managing Director for a major consulting firm where she oversaw a national tax practice. However, she never lost sight of her dream of becoming a published author and in 2008 walked away from her old career to give her dream a chance. In 2010 her courage was rewarded with the publication of The Yellow House. She views this phase of her life as her “Second Act” and strongly encourages anyone with a dream to pursue it no matter what their age. It’s never too late!

When not traveling around the scenic backroads of her beloved Ireland doing research and visiting friends and family, Patricia likes hanging out with good friends in Texas and enjoying the “craic” – which loosely translated from the Gaelic means lively conversation, storytelling, laughter and good times. She also enjoys teaching and mentoring fledgling writers, speaking to book clubs, watching PBS British television programs, and attending the theater.
For more on Patricia and her books, visit her website at : www.patriciafalveybooks.com

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Review of “The Knockout” by Sajni Patel

Patel, Sajni. The Knockout. Mendota Heights, MN: Flux, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1635830590 | $17.99 USD | 360 pages | YA Contemporary 

Blurb 

A rising star in Muay Thai figures out what (and who) is worth fighting for in this #ownvoices YA debut full of heart.

If seventeen-year-old Kareena Thakkar is going to alienate herself from the entire Indian community, she might as well do it gloriously. She’s landed the chance of a lifetime, an invitation to the US Muay Thai Open, which could lead to a spot on the first-ever Olympic team. If only her sport wasn’t seen as something too rough for girls, something she’s afraid to share with anyone outside of her family. Despite pleasing her parents, exceling at school, and making plans to get her family out of debt, Kareena’s never felt quite Indian enough, and her training is only making it worse.

Which is inconvenient, since she’s starting to fall for Amit Patel, who just might be the world’s most perfect Indian. Admitting her feelings for Amit will cost Kareena more than just her pride—she’ll have to face his parents’ disapproval, battle her own insecurities, and remain focused for the big fight. Kareena’s bid for the Olympics could very well make history—if she has the courage to go for it.

Review

3.5 stars 

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

I enjoyed Sajni Patel’s adult romance debut last year, so I was curious to read more from her. And I was drawn to The Knockout due to liking the idea of a heroine who did martial arts, as I had not read many books that featured that, at least not contemporary ones. 

This book ended up being a bit of a mixed bag for me. I did like the martial arts aspect, with the heroine being into Muay Thai and a big competition being a big part of the story. I didn’t know anything about this particular type of martial arts, so it was interesting to learn about it and that atmosphere. 

Kareena is also a pretty interesting character. I was particularly drawn to how she felt she had to hide this vital part of herself due to the judginess of her peers, and I was happy that ultimately it turned out she was accepted for doing what she loved. 

The blurb also suggested cultural conflict as a major theme, and I liked how well that was conveyed. Kate a is largely disconnected from the conservative traditions upheld by her parents, but it never felt like either side was right or wrong. Her parents obviously try their best to support her dreams, even as they are faced with issues of their own, like her father’s health issues. That prompts Kareena’s guilt and leads her to shoulder some of the burden. It was nice that while cultural divide was a key theme, the family wasn’t divided over it, as has been the case in some similar books. 

I found Amit really lacking as a  love interest. It felt like he didn’t have a ton of substance, and Kareena doesn’t even trust him, so it creates constant drama. 

This is a fun book that also tackles some pretty important issues, and I enjoyed it in spite of its minor flaws. If you’re looking for a unique diverse YA, I think you’ll like this one. 

Author Bio 

Sajni Patel was born in vibrant India and raised in the heart of Texas, surrounded by a lot of delicious food and plenty of diversity. She draws on her personal experiences, cultural expectations, and Southern flair to create worlds that center on strong Indian women. Once an MMA fighter, she’s now all about puppies and rainbows and tortured love stories. She currently lives in Austin where she not-so-secretly watches Matthew McConaughey from afar during UT football games. Queso is her weakness and thanks to her family’s cooking, Indian/Tex-Mex cuisine is a real thing. She’s a die-hard Marvel Comics fan, a lover of chocolates from around the world, and is always wrapped up in a story.

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Review of “Won’t Go Home Without You” (Richardson #2) by Cheris Hodges

Hodges, Cheris. Won’t Go Home Without You. New York: Dafina, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1496731890 | $8.99 USD | 320 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

A refuge in good times and bad, there’s nothing the four very different Richardson sisters won’t do to sustain their family’s legacy–a historic bed-and-breakfast in Charleston, South Carolina. Now, as one sister celebrates new love, another’s heart is sorely tested…

One night only–that’s all Robin Richardson-Baptiste will give the husband she once adored. She thought nothing could shatter their storybook marriage–not illness or a life-saving operation that left her unable to have children. For her husband, Dr. Logan Baptiste, told her in a thousand unspoken ways their love was all he needed. But now, in the face of overwhelming evidence, his co-worker, Kamrie, claims Logan fathered her son.

Logan can’t recall what happened with Kamrie–and DNA never lies. He does know he’s never stopped loving his gentle, courageous wife. But doing whatever it takes to uncover the truth, and save his marriage, not to mention his career, will challenge them like never before. And one night of undivided attention and desire may be the only thing to heal their hearts, reveal all–or shatter things beyond repair…

In the series 

#1 Owner of a Broken Heart 

Review

4 stars 

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

Won’t Go Home Without You is the second in Cherie Hodges’ Richardson sisters series, and while I really enjoyed the first book and would also recommend it, I think this book can be read as a stand-alone. 

With this book, Hodges manages to take a concept that is quite delicate to an interesting place, with a marriage being tested by a paternity claim, although Logan denies it’s his. It brought a new dimension of rebuilding love and trust in the relationship between him and Robin that I had not seen in other books about estranged spouses, and I appreciated how it was handled. Both of them still love each other, and I very much rooted for them as they negotiated the hurdles being thrown at them. 

I liked that there was also a light bit of intrigue as Logan tried to negotiate the situation with this other woman and her motivations. He enlists a private investigator to help unravel all of it, and I enjoyed seeing it all come together. 

And while the family aspect is still very much a supporting role, I did appreciate seeing the sisters’ reactions to the situation and how protective they were of her, as that is something that felt realistic even if they did go a bit overboard. 

I liked this book overall, and in spite of the subject matter, it’s a fun, fairly light and hopeful contemporary romance that made for a great palate cleanser after a few weightier books. If you love diverse contemporaries, I think you’ll enjoy this one. 

Author Bio

Cheris Hodges was bitten by the writing bug at an early age and always knew she wanted to be a writer. She is a 1999 graduate of Johnson C. Smith University and a freelance writer in Charlotte, North Carolina. A native of Bennettsville, South Carolina, Cheris loves hearing from her readers.

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Review of “The Mask of Mirrors” (Rook & Rose #1) by M.A. Carrick

Carrick, M.A. The Mask of Mirrors. New York: Orbit Books, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-0316539678 | $16.99 USD | 672 pages | Fantasy

Blurb 

“For those who like their revenge plots served with the intrigue of The Goblin Emperor, the colonial conflict of The City of Brass, the panache of Swordspoint, and the richly detailed settings of Guy Gavriel Kay.” —Booklist (starred review) The Mask of Mirrors is the unmissable start to the Rook & Rose trilogy, a darkly magical fantasy adventure in which a con artist returns to the city that betrayed her, determined to have her revenge—only to find that her fate might be to save it.This is your past, the good and the ill of it, and that which is neither . . .Arenza Lenskaya is a liar and a thief, a pattern-reader and a daughter of no clan. Raised in the slums of Nadezra, she fled that world to save her sister. This is your present, the good and the ill of it, and that which is neither . . .Renata Viraudax is a con artist recently arrived in Nadezra. She has one goal: to trick her way into a noble house and secure her fortune. This is your future, the good and the ill of it, and that which is neither . . .As corrupt nightmare magic begins to weave its way through the city of dreams, the poisonous feuds of its aristocrats and the shadowy dangers of its impoverished underbelly become tangled—with Ren at their heart. And if she cannot sort the truth from the lies, it will mean the destruction of all her worlds.
Praise for The Mask of Mirrors:

“Utterly captivating.” —S. A. Chakraborty, author of The City of Brass

“This novel will catch hold of your dreams and keep you from sleeping.” —Mary Robinette Kowal, author of The Calculating Stars

“Ushers you into the fascinating city of Nadezra, replete with complex politics, intricate magic, and mysteries that readers will be racing to unravel.” —Andrea Stewart, author of The Bone Shard Daughter

“A fantastically twisty read.” —Fran Wilde, author of the Bone Universe trilogy

“Lush, engrossing, and full of mystery and dark magic, The Mask of Mirrors is sure to please fantasy readers looking to dial up the intrigue.” BookPage

“A tightly laced plot dripping with political intrigue. Carrick has built a strong foundation for things to come.” Publishers Weekly

Review 

3 stars 

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

I requested The Mask of Mirrors on the strength of the premise alone (the pretty cover helped!), but was intrigued to find out M.A. Carrick is actually a writing team, consisting of established fantasy authors Marie Brennan (her Natural History of Dragons has been on my TBR forever!) and Alyc Helms. And while I had a lot of issues with this book, I can still see a lot to like here.

This book is slow…and dense. And coming off another slow-burn read (I blame myself, I somewhat planned my reading this way, with ARCs and whatnot), I just was not in the mood for another book where I had to really work to feel invested, especially when this one comparatively did not feel as worth it. I’m used to fantasy being a bit of slower build, but I didn’t even feel like that was the reasoning for it? The world building was complex, but not in a way that felt understandable…there’s a character guide at the end, but I felt like I needed more to really understand what all these political factions meant. 

I did like some of the characters somewhat. Ren was all right as a lead, although she does fall into the trap of feeling a bit too perfect to the point where the conflict becomes nonexistent. Some other characters did have some potential and feel more multifaceted, even if they weren’t really given their due, such as Grey, who is really underused. 

I think this book has a lot of potential, and am cautiously optimistic to see where the series can go from here, with most of the setup (flawed as it is) under its belt. And it has attracted a diverse array of opinions, many leaning more toward the favorable, so it’s possible others might enjoy it more than I did. 

Author Bio

M.A. Carrick is the joint pen name of Marie Brennan(author of the Memoirs of Lady Trent) and Alyc Helms (author of the Adventures of Mr. Mystic). The two met in 2000 on an archaeological dig in Wales and Ireland — including a stint in the town of Carrickmacross — and have built their friendship through two decades of anthropology, writing, and gaming. They live in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Review of “In the Garden of Spite” by Camilla Bruce

Bruce, Camilla. In the Garden of Spite. New York: Berkley, 2021. 

ISBN-13: 978-0593102565 | $26.00 USD | 480 pages | Historical Thriller

Blurb

An audacious novel of feminine rage about one of the most prolific female serial killers in American history–and the men who drove her to it.

They whisper about her in Chicago. Men come to her with their hopes, their dreams–their fortunes. But no one sees them leave. No one sees them at all after they come to call on the Widow of La Porte.

The good people of Indiana may have their suspicions, but if those fools knew what she’d given up, what was taken from her, how she’d suffered, surely they’d understand. Belle Gunness learned a long time ago that a woman has to make her own way in this world. That’s all it is. A bloody means to an end. A glorious enterprise meant to raise her from the bleak, colorless drudgery of her childhood to the life she deserves. After all, vermin always survive.

Review 

4 stars 

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

In the Garden of Spite is the second book I’ve read about Belle Gunness in the span of a few months, and I’m excited to see more books about her coming out. I generally found this one a bit of a mixed bag, but I liked it for the most part. 

This book is a bit slow, starting off in Belle and Nellie’s youth prior to their immigration to the US. So, the story does not pick up until about ⅔ of the way through. However, it does add some necessary context to their background, and a contrast as Belle goes down the dark path of serial murder. 

As a result, the pacing is a bit odd, the POV switch between the sisters sometimes feeling rather jarring. I could also understand why this was done, to create a fuller picture of the two of them, but it did result it the story feeling clunky at times. 

I liked receiving insight into what Belle’s mindset might have been as she began to descend to murder. And that last third or so when she was fully invested in her scheme was absolutely thrilling, and this is where I think Nellie’s portion also paid off as she began to come to the realization of who Belle really was. 

This book was an enjoyable, thrilling read, and one I would recommend to fellow historical true crime fans. 

Author Bio

Camilla Bruce was born in central Norway and grew up in an old forest, next to an Iron Age burial mound. She has a master’s degree in comparative literature, and have co-run a small press that published dark fairy tales. Camilla currently lives in Trondheim with her son and cat. 

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Review of “These Violent Delights” by Chloe Gong

Gong, Chloe. These Violent Delights. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1534457690 | $19.99 USD | 449 pages | YA Historical Fantasy

Blurb

The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

Perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Descendant of the Crane, this heart-stopping debut is an imaginative Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River.

Review

5 stars 

These Violent Delights is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in 1920s Shanghai. One of the first things I noticed was the setting and how the complex atmosphere of the time period made for the perfect backdrop for an R& J retelling, with all the clashing political ideas and the tensions and segmentation between the different ethnic groups as a result of colonialism (the Opium Wars being not that distant a memory at the time this is set). 

Juliette is definitely my favorite character in this book. I liked that she was determined to fight for her family’s cause, showing her ambition, strength, and strong will. Roma is equally cunning and can seem a bit cold, but beneath that is deep love for those he cares about. And while there is a romance between them, it’s not as much as you would expect, while still being very much present and full of tension due to the family conflict. 

I enjoyed this book and its fresh retelling of a popular classic. Whether you love or hate Romeo and Juliet, I think you’ll enjoy this book! 

CW: blood, violence, gore, character deaths, explicit description of gouging self (not of their own volition), murder, weapon use, insects, alcohol consumption, and parental abuse. (ca. Chloe Gong’s website)

Author Bio

Chloe Gong is an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, studying English and International Relations. During her breaks, she’s either at home in New Zealand or visiting her many relatives in Shanghai. Chloe has been known to mysteriously appear by chanting “Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s best plays and doesn’t deserve its slander in pop culture” into a mirror three times. You can find her on Twitter @thechloegong, check out her website at thechloegong.com or email her at chloegongwrites@gmail.com.

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Review of “Happy Singles Day” by Ann Marie Walker

Walker, Ann Marie. Happy Singles Day. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1728216492 | $14.99 USD | 288 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

Single and proud of it! Oh, oops…

As a Certified Professional Organizer, everything in Paige Parker’s world is as it should be. Perfect apartment, perfect office, perfect life. And now, the perfect vacation planned to honor Singles Day. After all, what’s better than celebrating her pride in being single? Because who needs a man anyway? They have zero taste in quality television, leave the toilet seat up, and sleep with your best friend. No thanks. Her life is fine just the way it is.

As the owner of a now-dormant bed & breakfast, Lucas Croft’s life is simple and quiet. It’s only him and his five-year-old daughter, which is just the way he likes it. Because who needs a woman anyway? They nag you to clean up your stuff, want the toilet seat put down, and expect the dishes to be done the same day the meal is cooked. No thanks. His life is fine just the way it is.

But when Paige books a room that Lucas’ well-intentioned sister listed without his knowledge, their two worlds collide. If they can survive the week together, they just might discover exactly what they’ve both been missing.

“Adorable, romantic, funny, and sexy!”—Kirkus Reviews for Black Tie Optional

Review

3 stars 

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

Happy Singles Day is a fun book in anticipation of Valentine’s Day, celebrating loving oneself regardless of being with a partner, and in some ways, it works. While it is a romance, so the couple ends up together, I like that the story reinforces the idea that this isn’t the be-all, end-all. 

I liked that Paige was very career oriented, and while I did want that fleshed out a bit more, I did enjoy her portrayal for the most part. Meanwhile, I struggled to warm up to Lucas. I get he was grieving, but he acted like such a jerk for a lot of the book. That contributed to killing the mood quite a bit. 

I did like that there were some sweet supporting characters. Lucas’ four year old daughter is sweet, and the dogs, the reason I picked this up, had some cute scenes, even if I felt there should have been more page time dedicated to them (to be fair, it could be all about them, and I might still say that!) 

I enjoyed this book, even if there were aspects that I didn’t care for. If you’re looking for something fun to read in anticipation of Valentine’s Day, I think you’ll enjoy it, perhaps even more than I did. 

Author Bio

Ann Marie Walker writes steamy books about sexy boys. She’s a fan of fancy cocktails, anything chocolate, and 80s rom-coms. Her super power is connecting any situation to an episode of Friends and she thinks all coffee cups should be the size of a bowl. If it’s December she can be found watching Love Actually but the rest of the year you can find her at AnnMarieWalker.com where she would be happy to talk to you about alpha males, lemon drop martinis or supermodel David Gandy. Ann Marie attended the University of Notre Dame and currently lives in Chicago.

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Review of “The Secrets of Colchester Hall” by Sophie Barnes

Barnes, Sophie. The Secrets of Colchester Hall. [Place of publication not identified]: Sophie Barnes, 2021. 

ISBN-13: 978-1393404026 | $2.99 USD | 114 pages | Historical Romance/Gothic Romance

Blurb 

As one of six possible candidates vying for Viscount Sterling’s hand, Lady Angelica has been invited to stay at his grand manor for a week-long house party. But an unpleasant feeling lurks within Colchester Hall. It’s almost as if someone’s watching Angelica just beyond the edge of her vision. And while she tries to explain the chill creeping up behind her as merely a draft, she can’t shake the feeling that something disturbing might be at play.

When Sterling decides she’s the woman he wants, can Angelica accept her new home and the sinister secrets she fears it might hold, or will she give up on true love because of what could prove to be nothing more than her own imagination?

NOTE: This novella was previously included in the anthology, Wicked Liasons

Review

3.5 stars 

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

I did not intend to read another Sophie Barnes book again any time soon, given my issues with her last several releases and my promise to stop faithfully reading authors in hopes they’ll be good and letting myself suffer. But The Secrets of Colchester Hall is one of those rare examples of her stepping outside her wheelhouse, and I just had to check out her take on Gothic romance, despite my own complicated feelings about the genre. 

And while I’m not in love with it, as it’s still too short to be substantial and has some of the same pitfalls of other SB shorts or not having enough room to fully flesh out her high concept ideas, it’s definitely better and more interesting. While the genre is new to her, Barnes captures the Gothic atmosphere well, with a mysterious undertone that kept me on the edge of my seat. 

While I didn’t find myself overly invested in the characters, I enjoyed them for what they were, finding myself in their relationship in the midst of the odd things going on around them. 

This is a nice short Gothic read, capturing the best of the genre, that will appeal to ardent fans. And even if you’re not, it will scratch the itch for an atmospheric historical romance novel. 

Author Bio

Born in Denmark, Sophie has 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.

She has studied design in Paris and New York and has a bachelor’s degree from Parson’s School of design, but most impressive of all – she’s been married to the same man three times, in three different countries and in three different dresses.

While living in Africa, Sophie turned to her lifelong passion – writing.

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. She currently lives on the East Coast.

Stay in touch by signing up for my newsletter: http://eepurl.com/JX68n 

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Review of “Someday My Duke Will Come” (Isle of Synne #2) by Christina Britton

Britton, Christina. Someday My Duke Will Come. New York: Forever, 2021, 

ISBN-13: 978-1538717509 | $8.99 USD | 352 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

A fake engagement becomes the real thing in this historical romance that New York Times bestselling author Grace Burrowes calls “first-rate Regency fun!”

Lady Clara Ashford had no intention of ever getting married. A rogue took advantage of her innocence when she was young, and she’s spent her whole life trying to make sure no one finds out. But now that her sister is engaged, Clara’s well-meaning aunt has set her sights on Clara. Desperate to avoid the matchmaking schemes, Clara’s not sure what to do — until her neighbor, the new Duke of Reigate, shows up on her doorstep in need of her help.

Quincy Nesbitt reluctantly accepted the dukedom after his brother’s death, but he’ll be damned if he accepts his brother’s fiancée as well. The only polite way to decline is to become engaged to someone else — quickly. Lady Clara has the right connections and happens to need him as much as he needs her. But he soon discovers she’s also witty and selfless, and if he’s not careful, he just might lose his heart.

In the series

#1 A Good Duke is Hard to Find

Review 

4 stars 

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

I’m glad I gave this series a second shot, as Someday My Duke Will Come was much better, likely due to the tropes involved being more to my liking. And while this is the second of the series, it works perfectly well as a stand-alone, with the couple from the previous book only being background characters in this one. 

Quincy was one of the more intriguing characters from the prior book, and I enjoyed getting to know him better. The crazy events of his past were intense, and his mother is a piece of work. I admired his courage in the face of adversity, and that there was a balance of him being shaped by those experiences without it letting him be defined by them to the point of embitterment. There were some secrets about his past that were unclear even to him, and the reveal of those secrets was incredibly satisfying. 

Clara is a great heroine. She has secrets from her own past that have shaped her, and I love her dedication to her family, as she thinks she won’t ever settle down and marry and have one of her own. 

I enjoyed the dynamic of the two together, with Clara initially stepping up and helping Quincy evade matrimonial machinations, and that and their existing friendship translating well into a sizzling romance. 

If you love a good friends-to-lovers/fake engagement story, this one is great and checks all the boxes. And if you just happen to love historical romance with complex, yet endearing characters, I also think you’ll enjoy this. 

Author Bio

Christina Britton developed a passion for writing romance novels shortly after buying her first at the tender age of thirteen. Though for several years she turned to art and put brush instead of pen to paper, she has returned to her first love and is now writing full time. She spends her days dreaming of corsets and cravats and noblemen with tortured souls.

She lives with her husband and two children in the San Francisco Bay Area. A member of Romance Writers of America, she also belongs to her local chapter, Silicon Valley RWA, and is a 2017 RWA® Golden Heart® Winner. You can find her on the web at www.christinabritton.com, Twitter as @cbrittonauthor, or facebook.com/ChristinaBrittonAuthor

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Review of “Lana’s War” by Anita Abriel

Abriel, Anita. Lana’s War. New York: Atria Books, 2021. 

ISBN-13: 978-1982147679 | $17.00 USD | 336 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb

From the author of the “fast-paced, heartbreaking, and hopeful” (Kristin Harmel, author of The Room on Rue AmélieThe Light After the War, a riveting and heartfelt story of a young woman recruited to be a spy for the resistance on the French Riviera during World War II.

Paris 1943: Lana Antanova is on her way to see her husband with the thrilling news that she is pregnant. But when she arrives at the convent where he teaches music, she’s horrified to see Gestapo officers execute him for hiding a Jewish girl in the piano.

A few months later, grieving both her husband and her lost pregnancy, Lana is shocked when she’s approached to join the resistance on the French Riviera. As the daughter of a Russian countess, Lana has the perfect background to infiltrate the émigré community of Russian aristocrats who socialize with German officers, including the man who killed her husband.

Lana’s cover story makes her the mistress of Guy Pascal, a wealthy Swiss industrialist and fellow resistance member, in whose villa in Cap Ferrat she lives. Together, they gather information on upcoming raids and help members of the Jewish community escape. Consumed by her work, she doesn’t expect to become attached to a young Jewish girl or wonder about the secrets held by the man whose house she shares. And as the Nazis’ deadly efforts intensify, her intention to protect those around her may put them all at risk instead.

With Anita Abriel’s “heartfelt and memorable” (Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author) storytelling, Lana’s War is a sweeping and suspenseful tale of survival and second chances during some of the darkest days of history.

Review 

3.5 stars

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

Lana’s War is an intriguing book about World War II and the efforts of the French Resistance. It is well researched and engaging, providing a great sense of the atmosphere of the time period, and along with some beautiful descriptions of the French Riviera.

The story is engaging and fast-paced, not stopping to meander much, which means you likely won’t be bored by this book. The intrigue of the goings-on within the Resistance are compelling and will keep you invested. 

I did have mixed feelings about the characters. I felt the opening with Lana’s loss of her husband and unborn child was strong and emotionally resonant, and I felt the result being her over-analysis of situations and reluctance to engage with her feelings was only natural. However, it did also result in my feeling a bit detached from her when she did emote, and the romance she develops over the course of the book did not move me, in spite of it being very pivotal to her personal arc. 

This book is pretty good, and I like what it has to offer the World War II subgenre of historical fiction as a whole, in spite of my nitpicks. If you’re looking for a book about the French Resistance during World War II, I think you’ll enjoy this. 

Author Bio 

Anita Abriel was born in Sydney, Australia. She received a BA in English Literature with a minor in Creative Writing from Bard College. She lives in California with her family and is the author of The Light After the War which was inspired by her mother’s story of survival during WWII.

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Review of “Beauty Among Ruins” by J’nell Ciesielski

Ciesielski, J’nell. Beauty Among Ruins. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-0785233565 | $16.99 USD | 416 pages | Historical Romance—World War I/Christian Fiction

Blurb 

In Ciesielski’s latest sweeping romance, an American heiress finds herself in Scotland amid the fallout of the Great War, and a wounded Scottish laird comes face-to-face with his past and a woman he never could have expected.

American socialite Lily Durham is known for enjoying one moment to the next, with little regard for the consequences of her actions. But just as she is banished overseas to England as a “cure” for her frivolous ways, the Great War breaks out and wreaks havoc. She joins her cousin in nursing the wounded at a convalescent home deep in the wilds of Scotland at a crumbling castle where its laird is less than welcoming.

Alec MacGregor has given his entire life to preserving his home of Kinclavoch Castle, but mounting debts force him to sell off his family history bit by bit. Labeled a coward for not joining his countrymen in the trenches due to an old injury, he opens his home to the Tommies to make recompense while he keeps to the shadows. But his preference for the shadows is shattered when a new American nurse comes streaming into the castle on a burst of light.

Lily and Alec are thrown together when a series of mysterious events threatens to ruin the future of Kinclavoch. Can they put aside their differences to find the culprit before it’s too late, or will their greatest distraction be falling in love?

Review 

4 stars

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

Beauty Among Ruins caught my attention because of its unique premise: a World War I book set in Scotland? The two have always seemed mutually exclusive, especially where secular publishing is concerned (if you know what I mean). I can only think of one previous book set in the same time period that had a Scottish lead (this one the heroine), and that one was also Christian fiction. 

I enjoyed getting historical context for the setting, which I don’t think I ever got before, with my history education about the World Wars being so general and the specifics filled in by books. But I loved the depiction of the crumbling Scottish castle serving as a convalescence home for soldiers, and how evocative the setting was, while also simultaneously depicting the gravity of the situation. 

I really liked Alec as a lead, and I think there was a great balance of broodiness due to him being wounded and other qualities, like his dedication to his crumbling estate, so that does not define him (not entirely anyway). It’s also so refreshing, given my previous lack of luck with Highlander romance due to them including things when it comes to hero characterization that just aren’t my cup of tea a lot of the time 

Spirited Lily makes for a great match for him, bringing light to his life and persisting in spite of challenges. A grumpy/sunshine dynamic is not always my favorite, but Ciesielski makes it work here.

I enjoyed this book and the new perspective it provided about a setting I’m typically mixed on. If you love World War I, Scotland, and/or sweet romance, I think you’ll enjoy this book. 

Author Bio

With a passion for heart-stopping adventure and sweeping love stories, J’nell Ciesielski weaves fresh takes into romances of times gone by. When not creating dashing heroes and daring heroines, she can be found dreaming of Scotland, indulging in chocolate of any kind, or watching old black and white movies. Winner of the Romance Through the Ages and the Maggie Award, she is a Florida native who now lives in Virginia with her husband, daughter, and lazy beagle. Learn more at www.jnellciesielski.com.

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Review of “Yellow Wife” by Sadeqa Johnson

Johnson, Sadeqa. Yellow Wife. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1982149109 | $26.00 USD | 288 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb

“A fully immersive, intricately crafted story inspired by the pages of history. In Pheby, Sadeqa Johnson has created a woman whose struggle to survive and to protect the ones she loves will have readers turning the pages as fast as their fingers can fly. Simply enthralling.” —Lisa Wingate, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours

Called “wholly engrossing” by New York Times bestselling author Kathleen Grissom, this harrowing story follows an enslaved woman forced to barter love and freedom while living in the most infamous slave jail in Virginia.

Born on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia, Pheby Delores Brown has lived a relatively sheltered life. Shielded by her mother’s position as the estate’s medicine woman and cherished by the Master’s sister, she is set apart from the others on the plantation, belonging to neither world.

She’d been promised freedom on her eighteenth birthday, but instead of the idyllic life she imagined with her true love, Essex Henry, Pheby is forced to leave the only home she has ever known. She unexpectedly finds herself thrust into the bowels of slavery at the infamous Devil’s Half Acre, a jail in Richmond, Virginia, where the enslaved are broken, tortured, and sold every day. There, Pheby is exposed not just to her Jailer’s cruelty but also to his contradictions. To survive, Pheby will have to outwit him, and she soon faces the ultimate sacrifice.

Review

5 stars

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

Books like Yellow Wife remind me how deficient my grade school education about slavery was, as while there were elements that I recognized, I came away horrified to find out there was something that education had not touched on, in this case slave jails and the harsh conditions those sent their faced at the mercy of the jailers. This provided a new, even bleaker shadow to the already dark knowledge of the realities of the slave trade. 

Pheby is a mixed race woman who had a somewhat interesting position as the daughter of a slave and her master, technically being born into bondage, but also being sheltered by  her father from the worst of it and even received a somewhat genteel education, being able to read and play piano, until she is sold by his wife. My heart broke for her as she found herself ripped away from all she knew, finding herself having to face reality for the first time head on, seeing others being beaten, and being forced to sleep with and bear children for her jailer. Through it all, she perseveres and even manages to regain some of her power back, and I am in awe of her strength and fortitude in such bleak circumstances.

This is a dark book, but one that is so raw and relevant, centering triumph over oppression.

Author Bio

Sadeqa Johnson is the award-winning author of four novels. Her accolades include being the recipient of the National Book Club Award, the Phillis Wheatley Award and the USA Best Book Award for best fiction. She is a Kimbilo Fellow, former board member of the James River Writers, and a Tall Poppy Writer. Originally from Philadelphia, she currently lives near Richmond, Virginia, with her husband and three children. To learn more, visit www.sadeqajohnson.net.

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Review of “The Brass Queen” by Elizabeth Chatsworth

Chatsworth, Elizabeth. The Brass Queen. Brentwood, TN: CamCat Publishing, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-0744300093 | $26.99 USD | 450 pages | Gaslamp Fantasy

Blurb 

She knows a liar when she sees one. He knows a fraud when he meets one.

In a steam-powered world, Miss Constance Haltwhistle is the last in a line of blue-blooded rogues. Selling firearms under her alias, the “Brass Queen,” she has kept her baronial estate’s coffers full. But when US spy J. F. Trusdale saves her from assassins, she’s pulled into a search for a scientist with an invisibility serum. As royal foes create an invisible army to start a global war, Constance and Trusdale must learn to trust each other. If they don’t, the world as they know it will disappear before their eyes.

If you like the Parasol Protectorate or the Invisible Library series, you’ll love this gaslamp fantasy—a rambunctious romantic romp that will have you both laughing out loud and wishing you owned all of Miss Haltwhistle’s armaments.

Review

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

I find myself once again at a loss with The Brass Queen, as it reminds me again why steampunk is so hit-or-miss for me. To be fair, this book being comped to the Parasol Protectorate should probably have been a red flag; I hated book one, and didn’t get why people were so in love with that series. 

I will say I think Elizabeth Chatsworth has potential as a writer, and with fairly engaging prose even amid the other myriad flaws. But it only made up for it so much, and I eventually couldn’t take it anymore. 

Steampunk world building almost always confuses me unless the author takes extra care with it, and I wasn’t a fan of the way it was done here. It didn’t feel well thought out to balance the historical and steampunk/fantastical elements, and ultimately just left me feeling disconnected.

And the characters failed to engage me whatsoever. I had a feeling there was meant to be some sort of humorous interplay between Constance and Trusdale, but it wasn’t there. And the characters generally lacked depth, only going so far as, “she’s intelligent and stubborn!” And Trusdale is just a nothing character, more show than substance. 

Based on what I’ve seen, I’m definitely in the minority on this one, but that is to be expected. I think if you u love steampunk more, or are looking for something similar in the vein of Parasol Protectorate, you’ll probably love this book. 

Author Bio

Elizabeth Chatsworth was born in the city of Sheffield in Yorkshire, England. After gaining a degree in English Literature, she traveled the globe until she finally settled in Connecticut, USA. Her home is shared with her husband and their rambunctious Yorkshire Terrier, Boudicca. Elizabeth is a professional voice actor. She enjoys archery, cosplay, video games, and baking (but never at the same time). There’s a rumor she possesses the world’s best scone recipe. Contact her at http://www.elizabethchatsworth.com to see if it’s true.

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Review of “The Wife Upstairs” by Rachel Hawkins

Hawkins, Rachel. The Wife Upstairs. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1250245496 | $27.99 USD | 304 pages | Thriller 

Blurb 

“Compulsively readable…a gothic thriller laced with arsenic.”––EW

Named an Indie Next Pick and #1 LibraryReads Pick for January 2021

One of the “Most Anticipated Books of 2021”––Newsweek
One of the “Best New Books Coming Out in 2021” ––PopSugar
One of the “Most Anticipated Thrillers of 2021” ––She Reads
One of the “Best and Most Anticipated Thrillers of the Year” ––Mystery and Suspense Magazine
One of the “Most Anticipated Books of 2021” ––CrimeReads

A delicious twist on a Gothic classic, Rachel Hawkins’s The Wife Upstairs pairs Southern charm with atmospheric domestic suspense, perfect for fans of B.A. Paris and Megan Miranda.

Meet Jane. Newly arrived to Birmingham, Alabama, Jane is a broke dog-walker in Thornfield Estates––a gated community full of McMansions, shiny SUVs, and bored housewives. The kind of place where no one will notice if Jane lifts the discarded tchotchkes and jewelry off the side tables of her well-heeled clients. Where no one will think to ask if Jane is her real name.

But her luck changes when she meets Eddie Rochester. Recently widowed, Eddie is Thornfield Estates’ most mysterious resident. His wife, Bea, drowned in a boating accident with her best friend, their bodies lost to the deep. Jane can’t help but see an opportunity in Eddie––not only is he rich, brooding, and handsome, he could also offer her the kind of protection she’s always yearned for.

Yet as Jane and Eddie fall for each other, Jane is increasingly haunted by the legend of Bea, an ambitious beauty with a rags-to-riches origin story, who launched a wildly successful southern lifestyle brand. How can she, plain Jane, ever measure up? And can she win Eddie’s heart before her past––or his––catches up to her?

With delicious suspense, incisive wit, and a fresh, feminist sensibility, The Wife Upstairs flips the script on a timeless tale of forbidden romance, ill-advised attraction, and a wife who just won’t stay buried. In this vivid reimagining of one of literature’s most twisted love triangles, which Mrs. Rochester will get her happy ending?

Review 

5 stars 

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

The trend of enjoying every Jane Eyre retelling I’ve picked up more than the original source material continues with The Wife Upstairs. And while I did have some misgivings, they pertain more to how some a story largely steeped in Victorian values would translate to a contemporary-set domestic thriller. But given my experience with what the genre has to offer, I should not have doubted, as it utilizes the conventions to a tee to translate this retelling to the new setting, with Hawkins knowing how to balance giving the reader what they expect from a retelling while also knowing when to subvert it. 

In the original novel, none of the major players aside from Jane come of as sympathetic, and whether that was by design on Charlotte Brontë’s part or not, Hawkins uses that to her advantage in her characterizations. Jane maintains the sense of naïveté that she is stripped of upon learning the truth, without being difficult to follow or relate to. Eddie Rochester is given an increasingly malevolent characterization as the story goes on and we find out what he has done to his first wife through her eyes. However, this is also contrasted by a comment on her instability from his perspective, amping up this idea that, even in the final pages, it’s hard to know who to trust, and ultimately, Jane is fortunate to have escaped it all. It is very much in keeping with the complex literary analyses of the Bertha character in Jane Eyre and how that depiction is tainted with bias by being filtered through both Rochester and Jane, with her POV not being told until over a century later in Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. 

This book was a page turner as all the best thrillers are, keeping me enthralled all the way through and not letting me put it down. If you have read Jane Eyre in the past, this book has a lot to offer both ardent fans and cynical critics. And even if you haven’t, I think you can still enjoy this as an engaging thriller in its own right that hits all the right notes and will suck you in and not let you go. 

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Review of “Angel of Greenwood” by Randi Pink

Pink, Randi. Angel of Greenwood. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1250768483 | $18.99 USD | 304 pages | YA Historical Fiction 

Blurb 

Randi Pink’s The Angel of Greenwood is a historical YA novel that takes place during the Greenwood Massacre of 1921, in an area of Tulsa, OK, known as the “Black Wall Street.”…

Seventeen-year-old Isaiah Wilson is, on the surface, a town troublemaker, but is hiding that he is an avid reader and secret poet, never leaving home without his journal. A passionate follower of W.E.B. Du Bois, he believes that black people should rise up to claim their place as equals.

Sixteen-year-old Angel Hill is a loner, mostly disregarded by her peers as a goody-goody. Her father is dying, and her family’s financial situation is in turmoil. Also, as a loyal follower of Booker T. Washington, she believes, through education and tolerance, that black people should rise slowly and without forced conflict.

Though they’ve attended the same schools, Isaiah never noticed Angel as anything but a dorky, Bible toting church girl. Then their English teacher offers them a job on her mobile library, a three-wheel, two-seater bike. Angel can’t turn down the money and Isaiah is soon eager to be in such close quarters with Angel every afternoon.

But life changes on May 31, 1921 when a vicious white mob storms the community of Greenwood, leaving the town destroyed and thousands of residents displaced. Only then, Isaiah, Angel, and their peers realize who their real enemies are.

Review

5 stars

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

I was lamentably uninformed about the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 prior to picking up this book, but it piqued my interest due to its relevance to today’s continued fight against racial injustice, and gained even more significance in the wake of the recent riot in Washington DC.

The book does a great job of conveying the event in context without sugarcoating anything. There’s a stark darkness in the lead up to and during the attack itself that is poignant and definitely sticks out in my mind as we continue to grapple with these issues and the fallout from racial violence that goes uncondemned  a hundred years later. Randi Pink does not flinch from depicting the event for what it is, an act of domestic terrorism, and holding both the white men and women involved accountable.

However, there is also a ray of hope and light. The central narrative follows teenagers Angel and Isaiah, who initially seem somewhat unlikely friends, but end up bonding and falling for one another after their teacher offers them both work. There was something so sweet in their interactions with each other, finding out about the things they do have in common. It was incredibly heartwarming to read about them bonding, while also having a countdown to the riot coming with the passage of pages and in-story time, creating the perfect tonal balance that ultimately left me shattered in the best way. 

This was an incredibly enlightening read, and one I hope many will pick up to educate themselves about the Tulsa Massacre and the deeper issue of racial violence in relevance to our political climate today. While it is marketed to teens first and foremost, this is one I think will absolutely resonate with adults as well. 

Author Bio 

Randi Pink grew up in the South and attended a mostly white high school. She lives with her husband and their two rescue dogs in Birmingham, Alabama, where she works for a branch of National Public Radio. Into White is her fiction debut.

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Review of “The Forever Girl” (Wildstone #6) by Jill Shalvis

Shalvis, Jill. The Forever Girl. New York: William Morrow, 2021. 

ISBN-13: 978-0062897855 | $16.99 USD | 400 pages | Women’s Fiction

Blurb

New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis does it once again with a heartfelt story of family, forgiveness, and secrets that have the power to change the course of more than one life.


When Maze returns to Wildstone for the wedding of her estranged bff and the sister of her heart, it’s also a reunion of a once ragtag team of teenagers who had only each other until a tragedy tore them apart and scattered them wide.

Now as adults together again in the lake house, there are secrets and resentments mixed up in all the amazing childhood memories. Unexpectedly, they instantly fall back into their roles: Maze their reckless leader, Cat the den mother, Heather the beloved baby sister, and Walker, a man of mystery. 

Life has changed all four of them in immeasurable ways. Maze and Cat must decide if they can rebuild their friendship, and Maze discovers her long-held attraction to Walker hasn’t faded with the years but has only grown stronger.

In the series 

#1 Lost and Found  Sisters

#1.5 The Good Luck Sisters

#2 Rainy Day Friends

#3 The Lemon Sisters

#4 Almost Just Friends 

#5 The Summer Deal 

Review 

5 stars 

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

The Forever Girl is the sixth in Jill Shalvis’ women’s fiction Wildstone series, and like the others, is a stand-alone, with the books being connected on a peripheral level due to them sharing the same small town setting. And once again, she manages to create a multilayered story equally about family bonds and finding lasting love. 

I loved that the central cast was a group of former foster siblings reunited as adults. I’ve read a couple books lately that talked about the intricacies of the foster system and adoption from different perspectives, so this was a welcome addition. 

Maze is a complex heroine, and while she’s definitely not always likable, I liked the examination of her choices and how they impacted her future. Ultimately, I could relate to her journey of finding self-love and reaching out to those she loves. 

Her relationships with the others are also beautiful and reflect her journey, while also allowing them to be characters in their own right. She and Walker find they still have feelings for one another, and he has issues of his own that are dealt with. The others also have issues with each other that are discussed with both frankness and sensitivity. 

This was a heartfelt story that is perhaps my favorite of Shalvis’ Wildstone books so far. If you love Shalvis’ previous work, or love books that are a good balance of family (going beyond blood) relationship and romance, then I think you’ll enjoy this. 

Author Bio

Multiple New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jill Shalvis lives in a small town in the Sierras full of quirky characters. Any resemblance to the quirky characters in her books is … mostly coincidental. Look for Jill’s bestselling, award-winning heartwarming and full of humor novels wherever books are sold and visit her website for a complete book list and daily blog detailing her city-girl-living-in-the-mountains adventures. Her most recent book, THE SUMMER DEAL, was published in June and her next book, MISTLETOE IN PARADISE, comes out in December.

Look for Jill’s THE SUMMER DEAL and get all her bestselling, award-winning books wherever romances are sold. Visit http://www.jillshalvis.com for a complete book list and fun blog detailing her city-girl-living-in-the-mountains adventures.

Connect with Jill:
http://instagram.com/jillshalvis
http://facebook.com/JillShalvis
http://twitter.com/jillshalvis

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Review of “Gin Cat Jive” (Hep Cats of Boise #1.5) and Sable Dark” (Hep Cats of Boise #2) by Al Hess

Gin Cat Jive

Blurb

Mazarin’s idea of the perfect Valentine’s gift for his beloved Em is restitution from the woman who did Em wrong.

Heading into a rival speakeasy for a little romantic revenge isn’t anything Mazarin can’t handle, and besting Em’s ex at a jive contest should be harmless fun. With a plan, plenty of skill cutting a rug, and Reed by his side, he can pull this off.

But there’s something fishy about this wingding. Reed’s crippling anxiety doesn’t make him the best dance partner, and if anyone discovers Mazarin is an AI, it could spell trouble.

Problems compound when a surprise new update is installed in Mazarin’s software—without his consent—and he suddenly has much more to contend with than trying to win a Valentine’s rag.

Review

5 stars 

This was pure cuteness! We once again follow the AI Mazarin, prepping for a romantic day with Em on Valentine’s Day. Following closely on the heels of reading the prior two stories, this was just a nice fluffy little pillow of a tale, fully embodying Al Hess’s promise of bringing the “cozy and uplifting” themes to typically “gritty” worlds. And it’s also just a nice sweet interlude for a couple I’ve come to love from reading the series so far. 

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Sable Dark

Blurb

Mazarin has everything an AI could want: a hep holographic body, a joyfriend she’s dizzy for, and asylum from Wave, the shady AI megacorporation that once held her captive. In their clutches, she’d been confined to the anxious brain of her host, Reed, serving as his navigator. Now separate, they enjoy a friendship and the knowledge that Wave’s lead engineer, Phil Rice, who terrorized them for months, is locked away in a court-ordered hospital stay.

But when Rice escapes, Reed’s stress skyrockets. Though Mazarin is no longer in Reed’s brain, their connection lingers, and she can’t resist the desire to stick close and protect them both from Wave. If Rice abducts Reed, it means certain death, and there’s no telling what the megacorp would do to Mazarin if she’s captured.

Reed’s sudden nosebleeds, paranoia, and skewed sense of perception lead Maz to believe more is at play than his galactic anxiety. With Rice on the loose, she can’t be too careful. Desperate for a solution to Reed’s deteriorating health, Mazarin risks her safety venturing into the company of untrustworthy AI, decoist gangsters, and even Wave themselves, to find help for her beloved pilot before it’s too late. 

Review

4.5 stars

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

Sable Dark is the sequel to Mazarin Blues, picking up where the characters left off in that book. The story has a great balance of developing the recurring characters more, while also introducing new ones and new stakes. 

Mazarin is still an absolute delight as a character, even now that they’re separated physically  from Reed, who they were bonded with in the prior book. However, their presence is still there to help Reed in a new capacity. Also, the term “joyfriend” is just delightful to read every single time, and I just love Maz and Em together in general, as I already noted in my short story review. 

Sable is introduced as a new AI, and it was fun to see their interactions with Maz, as well as how there is a contrast between them, which definitely sets them apart from what I think of when the concept of AI comes up, with there being maybe one that you grow attached to in the entire story typically, and the others seeming impersonal. 

I also loved seeing more nuance to Reed’s character, building on his already established anxiety. It’s hinted there’s more going on with that, and delving into that aspect was fun, yet treated with care.

Getting more insight into Wave through them working to thwart engineer Phil Rice provides an additional layer of tension and danger that wasn’t in the first book, I liked seeing Maz and Sable work together to fight back and bring him down. While people who preferred the more relaxed atmosphere of book one may be a bit dismayed at the slightly darker tone of this one, I personally liked the compromise of there being more to do, while also not feeling like it goes too far into that dark, intense territory. 

If you enjoyed the first one, I would not hesitate to recommend also picking up this one. 

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Author Bio

Al lives in the middle of the Nevada desert, and when not hunched before a computer screen, he can be found hunched over an art desk.

Author of the post-apocalyptic Travelers Series and the 1930s flavored dystopian series, Hep Cats of Boise, Al writes cozy and uplifting stories in normally gritty genres.

Review of “You Have a Match” by Emma Lord

Lord, Emma. You Have a Match. New York: Wednesday Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1250237209 | $18.99 USD | 320 pages | YA Contemporary

Blurb

 A new love, a secret sister, and a summer she’ll never forget.

From the beloved author of Tweet Cute comes Emma Lord’s You Have a Match, a hilarious and heartfelt novel of romance, sisterhood, and friendship…

When Abby signs up for a DNA service, it’s mainly to give her friend and secret love interest, Leo, a nudge. After all, she knows who she is already: Avid photographer. Injury-prone tree climber. Best friend to Leo and Connie…although ever since the B.E.I. (Big Embarrassing Incident) with Leo, things have been awkward on that front.

But she didn’t know she’s a younger sister.

When the DNA service reveals Abby has a secret sister, shimmery-haired Instagram star Savannah Tully, it’s hard to believe they’re from the same planet, never mind the same parents — especially considering Savannah, queen of green smoothies, is only a year and a half older than Abby herself.

The logical course of action? Meet up at summer camp (obviously) and figure out why Abby’s parents gave Savvy up for adoption. But there are complications: Savvy is a rigid rule-follower and total narc. Leo is the camp’s co-chef, putting Abby’s growing feelings for him on blast. And her parents have a secret that threatens to unravel everything.

But part of life is showing up, leaning in, and learning to fit all your awkward pieces together. Because sometimes, the hardest things can also be the best ones.

“A YA contemporary set at summer camp? Count us in.” —BuzzFeed

“Heartfelt and engaging, You Have a Match is a masterclass on love in all its forms.” —Sophie Gonzales, author of Only Mostly Devastated and Perfect on Paper

“A bright summer tale of connection and self-discovery.” —Booklist

“A cute, feel-good coming-of-age story.” —Kirkus

Review

4 stars 

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

Emma Lord is a new-to-me author, but I had heard a lot of good things about her first book (although I have yet to get around to it), and You Have a Match sounded interesting. And while there are some issues I have with it, it’s a fun book that I really enjoyed. 

Despite what I may have expected from what I heard about Lord’s previous work, this book was less of a romance and more of a story about sisters finding each other. There is a romance that plays a role in the book, however it’s not the main focus. 

I enjoyed the characters and the relationships, particularly Abby and Savannah as they learn more about each other. It was interesting to see them get to know each other, and they played off each other really well.

I also think it’s great that this book is providing a perspective for people who’ve been adopted or who have found out about secret siblings and other relatives due to adoption, since the topic isn’t one I’ve seen talked about a ton and absolutely should be promoted more across the board. 

I did think that Abby doing it because of her friend/love interest  Leo, who himself is a transracial Filipino adoptee in a white family was…interesting? My friend, Aarya, unpacks a lot of the issues with usage of these DNA services  for BIPOC, and I think she discussed them more concisely than I did, so I’ll defer to her on this.

But I will say I agree that Lord did the smart thing by not to unpack things from his perspective, while also being concerned at the way this is used to include rep without having to bother with exploring cultural aspects, as well as all the biases in the algorithms of DNA services. 

This is a fairly good book regardless of some of its flaws, and I can’t wait to read more from Emma Lord in the future. I strongly recommend it if you’re looking for a sweet story about newfound sisterhood. 

Author Bio

Emma Lord is the author of TWEET CUTE and upcoming YOU HAVE A MATCH, and a digital media editor living in New York City, where she spends whatever time she isn’t writing either running or belting show tunes in community theater. She graduated from the University of Virginia with a major in psychology and a minor in how to tilt your computer screen so nobody will notice you updating your fan fiction from the back row. She was raised on glitter, a whole lot of love, and copious amounts of grilled cheese

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Review of “Em’s Gator Club” (Hep Cats of Boise #0.5) and “Mazarin Blues (Hep Cats of Boise #1) by Al Hess

I didn’t know what to expect going into my first book by Al Hess, but they’re an author friend, and I agreed to read ARCs their two new releases (the first of which is reviewed here, the second of which will be included in a later review), and also ended up with two novellas in the same series thanks to signing up for their newsletter. However, their work is pitched as “cozy and uplifting stories in normally gritty genres,” with this series in particular being a fun 1930s inspired dystopian, and in spite of my complicated relationship with dystopians and “cozy” renditions of gritty stories (see: the numerous times I’ve expressed my confusion at the existence of cozy mysteries), I was largely optimistic due to the premises sounding intriguing.

Em’s Gator Club 

Blurb

Swing, software, and shady deals at the heart of future Boise’s subculture.

The swingin’ cats of Boise don’t just come to the Gator Club for jazz and gin, but for what Emery Wilson offers in the back room. They deal in contramods—nanobot software and devices unobtainable through legal means.

Though many dealers make their living from sex mods and dope injections, Em—who has hemiplegia and knows how it feels to have a disability—gives away innovative medical aids and prosthetics for cheap. But altruism is hurting their wallet. If they can’t come up with rent for the club by the fifth, the jive will close and Em will be out on the street.

Enter Joe: a square with an urgent need to cure his addiction to a powerful new drug, and a wad of dough if Em can help. But commissioning a cure means Em will have to venture into the foul domain of shady programmer, risking reputation and appetite.

When commissioning the cure becomes more complicated—and dangerous—than first expected, Em will need to use wits, grit, and their own contramod to keep the club, and themselves, alive.

Review

4 stars

This is a brief story and more of a teaser for what’s to come, but I think it‘s worth the read nonetheless. I liked the world building setting up for more in the series as it goes on. And the positive ownvoices  non-binary rep in the form of the lead character, Em, is top-notch. 

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Mazarin Blues

Blurb

Having an obnoxious AI in your head will really cramp your style, daddy-o.

Introvert Reed Rothwell is part of a subculture of art deco era enthusiasts, pushing back against bland mainstream society and its mandated technology. Stuck with an AI assistant in his head is bad enough, but when he’s inflicted with a forced upgrade to a new beta version, named Mazarin, the navigator starts to take on feelings and opinions of his own.

When rumors spread of beta navs turning on their pilots, Reed is determined not to become a victim. Mazarin hasn’t become violent yet—the AI is sympathetic and understanding—but with beta participants coerced into slitting their own throats, it’s only a matter of time before Reed is next.

The AI megacorporation already has an unhealthy interest in Reed, and all the beta testers who have sought help for their navigators have disappeared. The swingin’ cats of the deco scene have the means to illegally terminate Reed’s AI. But Mazarin has never tried to harm Reed—he loves Reed.

Grappling with ridding himself of intrusive technology, the morality of hurting his self-aware AI, and avoiding the attention of a company that wants to sweep Reed’s existence under the rug might be too much for one hep cat to handle. 

Review

4 stars

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

This book was…odd? But in a good way. It’s so charming and unlike anything I’ve ever read before, even though there are bits and pieces of the familiar in it.

Reed is an incredibly relatable lead character, and I could relate to his experiences with anxiety and depression through living with tbose issues and having family who deal with mental illness. Seeing him grow more comfortable in his skin was beautiful.

While sci-fi tech has always been a bit hit-or-miss for me, I love Mazarin as a character. There’s something fun about an AI with a personality that makes them seem real, and Mazarin is perfect in that regard, with a great sense of humanity and a deep capacity to love.

The world is still consistently interesting, and I really liked that there was a balance between a sense of the near future and a hankering back to the past with some of the vintage style. And the characters come together in a community that is unapologetically inclusive, especially when it comes to sexuality and gender, including a prominent supporting role for the prequel’s protagonist, Emery. 

I enjoyed this book, and am glad the release for the next book is occurring simultaneously, so I can dive right into it afterwards. And if you’ve always wanted to try dystopians, but find them a bit too dark for your taste, I think this is a great alternative. I would also recommend it to anyone looking for a sci-fi story with a primarily LGBTQ+ cast. 

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Author Bio

Al lives in the middle of the Nevada desert, and when not hunched before a computer screen, he can be found hunched over an art desk.

Author of the post-apocalyptic Travelers Series and the 1930s flavored dystopian series, Hep Cats of Boise, Al writes cozy and uplifting stories in normally gritty genres.

 

Review of “Can’t Help Falling” (Forever Yours #2) by Cara Bastone

Bastone, Cara. Can’t Help Falling. Toronto, Ontario: HQN, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1335013292 | $9.99 USD | 376 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb 

The more you resist,

the deeper you’ll fall

Serafine St. Romain doesn’t need her psychic powers to know she’s no longer in Tyler Leshuski’s good graces. True, she did tear him to pieces when he asked her out, accusing him of being shallow and selfish. Despite the energy crackling between them, the gorgeous sports writer is a no-strings, no-kids kind of guy. And Serafine, raised in the foster system, intends to be a foster parent herself. She won’t compromise that dream, even for a man as annoyingly appealing as Tyler.

In a simpler world, Tyler would already have gotten Serafine out of his system. For him, women equal fun. Not this kind of bone-deep, disconcerting desire. Life gets even more complicated when he becomes the guardian of his much younger sister. Suddenly, he’s way out of his depth. Serafine’s the only person who can connect with Kylie. He can’t jeopardize that for a fling.

But maybe…just maybe…he’s finally ready to risk everything on forever.

In the series

#0.5 When We First Met

#1 Just a Heartbeat Away

Review

3 stars

While I really enjoyed book one, I find myself struggling to figure out how I feel about Can’t Help Falling. It had potential, but in some ways, it lacked the magic that made the previous book work.

The two leads as characters are fine. I found Fin relatable, even if she was a bit prickly and even arrogant. I can see why some would dislike her, but I wasn’t turned off by her like some were. But unlike some unlikable heroines, I wasn’t super drawn to her either. Like the prior book, I did want a bit more of the foster child background explored a bit more, but I did like that this motivated her to want to be a foster parent herself. 

Tyler felt a bit more well-rounded, starting off the book as a bit of an overgrown fuckboy, set in his ways. I liked seeing his evolution as he became his long-lost sister’s caregiver, and the sibling/surrogate-parent relationship is well done.

I think where the story falls apart is that the  romance isn’t executed well. There’s an attempt at a sort-of-enemies-to-lovers vibe, but while I could understand Fin and Tyler being at odds, I never got the sense they really fit together. The transition didn’t make a lot of sense, and the chemistry wasn’t really there. 

This book was still enjoyable, and in keeping with Bastone’s slow-burn style. While I don’t think it lives up to its predecessor, I think fans of that style will still enjoy it and some may even find it works better for them. 

Author Bio

Cara Bastone is a full time writer living and writing in Brooklyn with her husband, son, and an almost-goldendoodle. Her goal with my work is to find the swoon in ordinary love stories.

She’s been a fan of the romance genre since she found a grocery bag filled with her grandmother’s old Harlequin Romances when she was in high school. She’s a fangirl for pretzel sticks, long walks through Prospect Park, and love stories featuring men who aren’t crippled by their own masculinity.

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Review of “The Faberge Secret” by Charles Belfoure

Belfoure, Charles. The Fabergé Secret. London: Severn House, 2021. 

ISBN-13: 978-0727890863 | $28.99 USD | 256 pages | Historical Fiction/Thriller 

Blurb

New York Times bestselling author Charles Belfoure takes readers on a breathless journey from the gilded ballrooms of Imperial Russia to the grim violence of the pogroms, in his latest thrilling historical adventure.

St Petersburg, 1903. Prince Dimitri Markhov counts himself lucky to be a close friend of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra. Cocooned by the glittering wealth of the Imperial court, the talented architect lives a life of luxury and comfort, by the side of his beautiful but spiteful wife, Princess Lara. But when Dimitri is confronted by the death and destruction wrought by a pogrom, he is taken aback. What did these people do to deserve such brutality? The tsar tells him the Jews themselves were to blame, but Dimitri can’t forget what he’s seen.

Educated and passionate, Doctor Katya Golitsyn is determined to help end Russian oppression. When she meets Dimitri at a royal ball, she immediately recognizes a kindred spirit, and an unlikely affair begins between them. As their relationship develops, Katya exposes Dimitri to the horrors of the Tsar’s regime and the persecution of the Jewish people, and he grows determined to make a stand . . . whatever the cost.

Review

3 stars

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

I’ve read several books about the Romanovs, but never any outside the insular familial perspective, and while there was room for nuance about the divide between their lives and the suffering of the people in many of those, it was refreshing to pick up The Fabergré Secret, about an aristocrat who is exposed to the outside world and the suffering more directly, allowing him to ponder these ethical questions about whether Revolution is right. 

The world around the characters is well researched and immersive, really capturing a snapshot of the lead-up to the Revolution in 1905 and the political issues at play at the time, from Nicholas’ inefficiency as a ruler to the rampant anti-Semitism endorsed by Nicholas and others in positions of  power and influence. There is also a balance of compassion shown in Nicholas and Alexandra’s heartbreak in their quest to have an heir, ending with the birth of Alexei and his diagnosis of hemophilia, while also showing it as another point of weakness in the future for the Russian monarchy that would lead to their eventual downfall just over a decade later. 

However, this book was more “high-concept, poor execution” for me, particularly in terms of the characters. I didn’t really connect with any of them. Dimitri, in spite of being the protagonist, wasn’t that compelling, even though I felt for him slightly as he found out his marriage was a sham. Katya is slightly more interesting, being an outsider who exposes him to the world and its imperfections, but she still did not compel me to feel overly drawn to her. 

This is a fairly enjoyable book from a history perspective, even if it never really does much with its major characters to endear them to the reader. I do think Russian history buffs will enjoyed this story, especially as the 1905 revolution gets a lot less discussion than the later 1917 revolutions, and you can already see a lot of the symptoms that would eventually doom Nicholas and Alexandra at work here, with some good ethical questions being posed around the subject for its characters about loyalty vs. doing what is right. 

Author Bio

Charles Belfoure is the New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Architect and House of Thieves. An architect by profession, he graduated from the Pratt Institute and Columbia University, and he taught at Pratt as well as Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland. His area of specialty is historic preservation, and he has published several architectural histories, one of which won a Graham Foundation national grant for architectural research. He has been a freelance writer for The Baltimore Sun and The New York Times. He lives in Maryland.

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Review of “Indigo” by Beverly Jenkins

Jenkins, Beverly. Indigo. 1996. [Place of publication not identified]: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.

ISBN-13: 978-1495368219 | $16.99 USD | 393 pages | Historical Romance

Blurb

As a child Hester Wyatt escaped slavery, but now the dark skinned beauty is a dedicated member of Michigan’s Underground railroad, offering other runaways a chance at the freedom she has learned to love. When one of her fellow conductors brings her an injured man to hide, Hester doesn’t hesitate even after she is told about the price on his head. The man in question is the great conductor known as the “Black Daniel” a vital member of the north’s Underground railroad network, but Hester finds him so rude and arrogant, she begins to question her vow to hide him.

When the injured and beaten Galen Vachon, aka, the Black Daniel awakens in Hester’s cellar, he is unprepared for the feisty young conductor providing his care. As a member of one of the wealthiest free Black families in New Orleans, Galen has turned his back on the lavish living he is accustomed to in order to provide freedom to those enslaved in the south. However, as he heals he cannot turn his back on Hester Wyatt. Her innocence fills him like a breath of fresh air and he is determined to make her his, but traitors have to be found, slave catchers have to be routed and Hester’s refusal to trust her own heart have to be overcome before she and Galen can find the freedom only love can bring.

Review 

5 stars 

I received a copy of Indigo as part of a Secret-Santa book exchange, and upon finding myself needing to put down a different book due to it being far more objectionable than I first naively realized, I decided to give this a go, in hopes that starting off with a book lauded by Beverly Jenkins fans as one of her best  (I’d not her best, period) would set the right tone as I kick off the 2021 reading year. 

And it does indeed. While there has been a lot of talk lately about older romances and how they haven’t aged well, Jenkins proves that she was always ahead of her time, writing works that stand the test of time even without the benefit of rose-colored glasses. Having read some of her more recent work, I’m glad to see her attention to detail has been a constant since early on in her career, bringing to light some of the untold stories of African Americans in the 19th century that go beyond the sad stories of slavery that some people assume is all the Black history of the era can offer. 

The romance, while not my favorite of the Jenkins books I’ve read, is definitely engaging and swoonworthy. I loved the interplay between Hester, who works as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and Galen, working undercover as Black Daniel escorting slaves to freedom. The setup is pure tropey goodness to balance out some of the tougher topics: a headstrong independent woman encounters a charismatic, sexy man and is determined to resist him and preserve her independence…yet falls anyway. Yet, even though it’s familiar, in Jenkins’ hands, it absolutely works, especially as both are so well-rounded.

Another Jenkins trait I’ve come to like that I’m glad to see she’s done for a while is really developing this sense of community. I see the origins here of some beloved characters and families, some of whom I’m familiar with, others less so, it’s fun to see some of the origins of the extended world Jenkins has built in her books. It also highlights a very realistic sense of community that likely existed during this period among African-Americans in this situation, and I found myself both charmed and enlightened. 

While I am still lamentably behind on my reading of Beverly Jenkins’ backlist, that is something I hope will change in 2021, as I do own several of them. I really loved this book, and I can see why this one is hyped so much by her ardent fans. I will be echoing the sentiment and encouraging anyone who hasn’t read it to do so. You won’t regret it. 

Author Bio

Beverly Jenkins is the recipient of the 2018 Michigan Author Award by the Michigan Library Association, the 2017 Romance Writers of America Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as the 2016 Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for historical romance. She has been nominated for the NAACP Image Award in Literature, was featured in both the documentary Love Between the Covers and on CBS Sunday Morning. Since the publication of Night Song in 1994, she has been leading the charge for inclusive romance, and has been a constant darling of reviewers, fans, and her peers alike, garnering accolades for her work from the likes of The Wall Street Journal, People Magazine, and NPR. If you would like to be notified when Beverly Jenkins has new releases, events, and other news, sign up for her newsletter at www.beverlyjenkins.net

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2020 Reading Wrapup: Favorite Books/Authors, Reading Stats, and Goals

Summary of Goals and How I Did 

Clearly, I was overambitious for myself in 2020, but to be fair, I’m sure none of us imagined the turn this head would take. I remained very focused on some of my major goals, while veering off course on and even forgetting others. 

  1. Goodreads Goal: I think lockdown made me Super Reader, which is weird, because my day to day wasn’t significantly altered. I started at a respectable (for me) 300, increasing it as I surpassed each goal, until I ended up at 760 (which I also somewhat surpassed at 764).
  2. Diverse authors: see below stats. Generally, I did pretty well in terms of reading pretty widely, reading from a variety of perspectives and backgrounds. 
  3. PopSugar/reading challenges: I had no memory that this was a goal, and why I selected this one in particular. They went out the window very quickly. I did participate in the Ripped Bodice’s annual Summer Bingo, as well as FallIntoRom Bingo and the ongoing (till the end of February) SnowInLove Bingo. 
  4. Diversify blog content: yeah, this one was a fail. I am still getting a ton of engagement on a now-somewhat outdated post about racial diversity, so I guess it’s a partial win? I just wish those people would  have seen my thoughts have evolved somewhat now I’ve seen Bridgerton, as I expressed in that review, and The whole point of that original post was a reaction to the reactions for the casting with little context, with the new review having more depth and exploration to the topic. 

Book Stats

Diversity 

BIPOC: 340

LGBTQ+: 96

Fat Rep: 8

Authors with Disabilities: 3

Jewish: 6

Muslim: 9

Genre Stats

  • Historical Romance
    • Medieval: 7
    • Tang Dynasty: 2
    • Feudal Japan: 1
    • Georgian: 11
    • Colonial.Revolutionary: 3
    • French: 1
    • Regency: 149
    • Victorian: 58
    • Civil War: 5
    • Reconstruction: 2
    • Western: 22
    • Gilded Age: 23
    • Opium War: 1
    • World War I: 3
    • 1920s: 2
    • World War II: 2
    • Civil Rights: 2
    • Recent/Contemporary/Post 1970s History: 1
  • Contemporary Romance: 152
  • Paranormal Romance
    • Paranormal 14
    • Steampunk: 4
    • Time Travel: 3
    • Fantasy: 16
    • Futuristic: 2
    • Sci-Fi: 2
  • Romantic Suspense: 7
  • Contemporary/Women’s Fic: 37
  • Historical Fiction: 109
  • Science Fiction: 17
  • Fantasy: 92
  • Horror: 2
  • Christian Fiction: 43
  • Mystery: 20
  • Race Theory: 9
  • History: 29
  • Bio: 12
  • Literary Criticism: 1
  • True Crime: 3
  • Humor: 3
  • Politics: 2 
  • Classic: 3
  • Verse: 3

Other/Misc.

New-to-Me Authors: 567

ARCs: 346

Indie: 179

Dukes: 28

DNF: 35 (some counted as part of the total, some not)

Other Random Goodreads Stats 

Pages Read: 226,250 (likely skewed due to weird calculation stuff with editions and only reading partial bits of some books at one point)

Books read: 764 (possibly skewed due to edition shelving errors)

Shortest book: Once Upon a Time in Silver Lake by Mindy Kaling (11 pages)

Longest book: Have Yourself a Merry Little Scandal anthology (1,777 pages), (disputed, due to only having read the Nicola Davidson novella the first time around)

Average book length: 296 pages

Most popular: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Audible Audio by Rosamund Pike)

Least Popular: Beastly Beauties and Gentleman Monsters by Sabrina Dorre

Average rating: 4.0

Highest rated on GR: A Virtuous Ruby by Piper Huguley

Best Books of 2020

I held myself to more or less  the same standards as I did the previous year, prioritizing the books I felt were memorable and impactful in the long term. And given parts of 2020 felt like they were eons long, it was definitely a good test for the lasting impact for a lot of these and how I continued to think about them long after I read them. 

  1. The Prince of Broadway by Joanna Shupe: While I absolutely enjoyed both of the entries in the Uptown Girls we got this year (I believe publishing counts late December releases toward the following year?), this one edged out its successor due to the strength of its characters. In particular (Fuck Yeah) Florence. It’s rare to meet a historical heroine that doesn’t want marriage or children, and doesn’t inexplicably change her mind by the end of the book, along with her hero, but in this case, Florence remains strong in her convictions. This is also one of the best crafted revenge plots I’ve ever read, simply by making the change of having Clay be upfront about his intentions with Florence from the start. There is still some heartbreak due to lying by omission, but I appreciated that he respected her from the start, and that, while he is using her, she’s also using him, and it ends up becoming a beautiful partnership. 
  2. The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan: Courtney Milan came back with a vengeance after her rough patch. On the heels of the implosion of RWA she was at the center of last December and the resulting reckoning with racism in the industry, she released this unapologetically inclusive book with a half-Chinese duke with more affinity for his Chinese roots and the grumpy Chinese sauce making heroine he’s adored for years. It’s wonderfully fluffy, but also full of Milan’s penchant for historical research, rooted in Milan’s own family history.
  3. Never Kiss a Duke by Megan Frampton: There are two duke-related things I hate: the general presence of alpha dukes, and the lack of understanding some have about the conditions for disinheritance. This is one of those books that gets it right on both counts. Sebastian having to unlearn his privilege by making his own way is great to watch. Pairing him with the hard-working Ivy for a delightful twist on the boss/employee dynamic also makes it a winner. 
  4. The Rakess by Scarlett Peckham: No doubt my favorite book of the year. While it’s definitely not for everyone, due to the amount of sensitive content and high angst factor, I liked how Scarlett Peckham worked to examine and subvert the rake archetype, exploring the ways it is possible and also critiquing why we cannot apply the trope to a cis woman as we do to a cis man because of social stigmas, at least not in a historical. And one of the things I also appreciated is the way the story really examines Sera’s demons; a lot of traditional rake narratives have this undertone of trying to fill a void and having mental health issues that are magically fixed because they find “the One.” While I do feel there is absolutely a need for more sex positive stories for women who unapologetically love sex, I also appreciate this book fully exploring it as a coping mechanism and not having her find love with the right person be her sole source of healing, as I feel this is something that is touched on in traditional rake narratives, but rarely fully explored. 
  5. Daring and the Duke by Sarah MacLean: This book was absolutely a surprise for me, as the first two Bareknuckle Bastards books were pretty “meh.” I was blown away by this one with its competent heroine in Grace and Ewan now repentant and seeking to win back the woman he loves. The bananas overarching plot of the series also concluded in a satisfying way, indicating that love wins over money or power. 
  6. Love is a Rogue by Lenora Bell: Lenora Bell moves away from her typical devilish dukes with hearts of gold for this one with a dynamic that hits a bit closer to home for her (she’s married to a carpenter and admits this story was inspired by how they met), following a roguish carpenter and a bookish wallflower. In some ways, it is rather tropey, but it is so in the very best way. Beatrice won me over in her first appearance in Bell’s previous book, and she and the lady knitters are in action once again for some fun series setup potential. Ford is also roguish in the best way, while also being nuanced, with a conflict that really stands out for how he navigates his own cross-class romance after having seen the destructive impacts for himself. 
  7. Confessions in B-Flat by Donna Hill: A moving and relevant read, I loved how it depicted the romance between two people fighting for civil rights, but with two different methods. They learn from each other, grow together, see their love tested due to their struggles, and ultimately triumph, providing a hopeful story for readers as the Black Lives Matter movement continues to fight in the present day in a similar vein to their forebears. The text is also interspersed with photos and links to video clips of civil rights leaders, corresponding to events portrayed in the book, creating a truly immersive reading experience that allows the reader to feel like they are truly living history through the book. 
  8. Fair as a Star by Mimi Matthews: This one almost didn’t make the list, but then I started thinking about it again after getting into a Twitter fight with someone over the fact that certain now infamous historical characters need therapy, and they asked, in response, some outlandish stuff, like inclusion of jacuzzis (mixed in with some stuff that does actually happen in this fant-historical genre, like the prevalence of women surviving childbirth). But I digress. I love the way this book depicts in such a realistic way that still feels appropriate to the time period. I loved that Beryl’s depression received care from talking things through with the local curate, Mark, translating to them falling in love in such a sweet way. It’s such a standout portrayal of an issue that continues to be stigmatized, both in fiction and real life. 
  9. The Gold Digger by Liz Tolsma: I have a morbid obsession with Belle Guinness’ story, and I love that Liz Tolsma breathed new life into it with an exploration of family ties through the perspective of Belle’s sister who begins to become aware of who Belle is upon the arrival of the brother of a man who answered Belle’s ad. 
  10. Lush Money by Angelina M. Lopez: Cis man billionaires? So overrated (with the exception of Blake from Courtney Milan’s Trade Me, an honorable mention for this list). Lady billionaires? Bring ‘em on! While I have yet to continue the series, this is the book that taught me a lady alphahole is exactly what I like, even if the men make me want to stick pins in my eyes. Roxanne is a freaking badass! Not that Mateo isn’t intriguing as well, because he absolutely is. And despite the potentially” ick” concept, it totally works and is ultimately swoonworthy! 
  11. Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade: Olivia Dade is one of my favorite discoveries this year, and her Avon debut is perhaps my favorite of hers (although the competition is stiff!) I loved its allusions to fandom culture (which I can understand might be alienating to some people who aren’t as well versed in it), and the unapologetic body positivity. 
  12. Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall: Hall once again demonstrates his range as an author by making the rom-com his own. Luc strikes the perfect balance of being troubled, yet still sympathetic, and Oliver is just the sweetest, making for one of the best fake relationship books I ever read. 
  13. Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert: Yay for bi rep! Dani is an example of a wonderful sex positive heroine. And Talia Hibbert being the master of creating such nuanced characters as she is, surprised me with adorable romance-reading Zaf, defying his outer appearance of broody toughness. The way she flipped the script on the typical tropes of grumpy/sunshine and romantic/skeptic was wonderful. And the way it depicts proper mental health care, including characters going to therapy is also something to celebrate, given the continued stigma toward mental health and the ways some romance tropes can reinforce that. 
  14. Call Me Maybe by Cara Bastone: The strength of this one is in the balance between storytelling and great production quality. Vera and Cal are such endearing characters, and with the two voice actors bringing them to life, I couldn’t help but feel like I was experiencing a real life couple bonding instead of just reading a book. The plot was original and the plot twist around Cal’s identity incredibly well executed. 
  15. The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs: I read a lot of books with a variety of endings, but few impact me emotionally for extended periods of time. But with this one, I contemplated the tragedy that was Lucia Joyce’s life for weeks. I mourned the loss of such potential due to the fact that mental health care was so rudimentary in her time, and the fact that she was also a woman, so while her father may have exhibited similar demons, he at least could call it a part of his genius. And the way she was pretty much abandoned after he died, as she had such a horrible relationship with her mother…it was too awful. 
  16. Jackie and Maria by Gill Paul: While it’s definitely not historically accurate, this book definitely sent me on a journey of feels, from sadness to rage to happiness at the ultimate triumph of Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Maria Callas. They went from friendly acquaintances to bitter rivals over their love for the same man, who used and betrayed both of them, and I can’t express how much I wanted to strangle him (and then remembering he was already dead). The final moments when the two were finally able to get over their resentment with one another is truly beautiful, and truly reinforces the idea that women should not let worthless men come between them. 
  17. Brontë’s Mistress by Finola Austin: The Brontës as a family have always intrigued me due to their shared genius, and the ways the dark tragedy of their lives is often mirrored in their most famous works. But while the sisters thrived and became famous authors (even if solely under pseudonyms, in Emily and Anne’s cases) before their premature deaths, their brother, Branwell, was considered the family failure, with an uneven work ethic, descent into drug and alcohol addiction, and a torrid affair with the married Lydia Robinson, the wife of his employer. This book explores the situation from Lydia’s perspective, and while she’s hardly sympathetic, I think her portrayal was also nuanced to show why she was this way, showing how she was conditioned due to her gender and station, so her behavior can at least be rationalized on some level. 
  18. The Romanov Empress by CW Gortner: Maria Feodorovna is one of the Romanov family that hasn’t received as much discussion in history books as her more notorious and ill-fated son and daughter-in-law, but I loved how CW Gortner reimagined her, both as Nicholas’ mother in the wake of the growing turmoil and as a woman in her own right. I loved her relationship with her sister, Alix (Queen Alexandra of the UK and wife of Edward VII) and her marriage to her husband, Alexander III. She lived a tragic life, but was a survivor through and through, and I love how the narrative captured her hope to be reunited with her family, even though the reader knows what really happened. 
  19. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid: This was a bit of a surprise to me in how much it resonated with me. I liked how, amid all the books focused on Black issues, this one dared to tackle the everyday microaggressions and fake wokeness on the part of allies that all of us who are not Black should use as a cautionary tale about how not to behave. 
  20. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell: This is a fabulous book for the MeToo era, looking at the complexities of being a victim and a survivor of sexual abuse, especially when it happened as a teen and at the time, the person deluded themselves into believing it was love. It never romanticizes the issue, but allows you to follow Vanessa on her journey toward realization and healing on her own terms. 
  21. The Night Swim by Megan Goldin: Another MeToo-inspired story, yet a very different take, from an outsider covering a case and finding herself on a quest to get another victim justice. With so many questions and twists and turns, the story demonstrates how there really is no closure in such circumstances. 
  22. When No Is Watching by Alyssa Cole: It’s often concerning when a romance author tries another genre, but with suspense baked into Alyssa Cole’s writing DNA already, and her tendency to not shy away from the tough issues facing Black people, the transition (although that may be the wrong word, as she is still much very much a part of Romancelandia) feels seamless. This story builds on the very real-world fear of gentrification, and how racism is steeped in our country’s history, juxtaposing that with the “boogeyman” that inspires many of the racist actions on the part of white people against Black people. The story is gripping and educational, and still has a bit of a romance that will leave readers satisfied. 
  23. Green Bone Saga by Fonda Lee (series so far): This was a case of an author taking something I wasn’t sure I’d be into (the mafia world) and making me love it by adding flawed, dynamic characters and a culturally rich contemporary Asian inspired world. The family/clan dynamics are so interesting, and I love how the characters do see real consequences for their ambition. 
  24. The Burning (series so far) by Evan Winter: While I can’t say how my opinions will change going forward, these first two entries have been perfect, capturing the evolution of a revenge plot to perfection. While not my favorite trope in any genre, I like the way it analyzes the grief and anger that sent Tau down this path and the consequences arising from it, with a real examination of the choices he has going forward to create the potential of either continuing down this path or realistically reevaluating his choices. 
  25. The Poppy War (series) by RF Kuang: this is a great example of a comparable read to the previous pick in a spiritual sense, and one that explores the full extent of corruption and going down that dark path. Rin also has a lot of anger, but she, being modeled on the despotic Mao Zedong, goes deep into the darkness and reaches that point of no return, yet never stops being an engaging protagonist to read about, and one I was sad to part from upon finishing the third bookz 
  26. You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson: A fluffy gem of a book, I love how it took a concept that I’m not super interested in, that of a character competing for prom queen, and got me invested. Instead of following a super glam character, it follows intelligent Liz hoping to take advantage of the scholarship awarded to the prom king and queen. The tensions are high between competitors, and I liked how the book flipped the script by having Liz fall for one of her competitors, resulting in a fresh take on a familiar story. 
  27. The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert: This is a very important book in a pivotal year in American politics. It highlights the importance of voting and counteracting voter suppression tactics against legal citizens, in this case (and many other cases) Black people. To see Marva so passionate in getting young people like her coming of age to register and cast their ballots is beautiful to see. And Duke’s growing awareness about the importance of the power of his vote through his rights being challenged is also incredibly powerful. 
  28. This is My America by Kim Johnson: This book is another poignant book about Black issues and their impact on Black youth in particular. Focused on the way mass incarceration has impacted Black people and their families disproportionately, I rooted for Tasha as she fought for changd, and I have started to become more informed about the situation, reading nonfiction books that also tackle the issue (The Real Jim Crow makes a wonderful companion to this book). 

Favorite New Authors 

  1. Olivia Dade: In my several years of romance reading, it’s been rare to come across unapologetically fat, or even just plus-size heroines who don’t have to change to get their HEA. But Olivia Dade’s heroines don’t, and their fatness isn’t something they let define them, even as they do embrace in the face of fatphobia. She also writes heroes who aren’t (usually) Hollywood/model type hunks (the aforementioned Spoiler Alert being the exception), and they love the heroine as she is no matter what. 
  2. Scarlett Peckham: One of the two authors who made me see the appeal of the hotter historical. And the fact that her heroines are the complex, alpha ones in their relationships appeals to my id in a big way. While The Rakess is my favorite for how it unpacks and analyzes the rake and ruined woman tropes, the first two in her Charlotte Street series are awesome as well. 
  3. Nicola Davidson: The second of the two authors to, er, turn me on to the erotic historical. While I didn’t feel any of her books quite fit within the parameters I’d set for myself when making the list, I like that she consistently strikes that balance between story and sex. And the one full length book I read from her, Duke in Darkness, absolutely deserves an honorable mention for being poignant in its depiction of PTSD, in addition to the excellent romantic and sexual chemistry. 
  4. Mimi Matthews: I’ve fallen out of love with a lot of historicals on the sweeter end (well, a lot of historicals period), but Mimi Matthews is the exception, perhaps because her plots are so unique. I haven’t read many of her books yet, something I hope to change in 2021, but I like how she can write a soft story about a heroine dealing with depression and finding love and healing in the same person, and switch gears to a story of revenge and reunited love. Her style is very distinct and evocative, and I always feel a balance of satisfaction and longing for more as I finish her books. 
  5. Cara Bastone: Her work was the biggest surprise to me this year, starting with the stellar Call Me Maybe, leading me to pick up some of her other work, as opposed to the other way around, where I felt compelled to try to adjust to the audio format due to an author I was already familiar with choosing to work with Audible. But regardless of the primary medium of consumption, Bastone is a talented, unique writer that actually had me excited to read her work, in spite of not being into contemporaries that much up to this point. 
  6. RF Kuang: The Poppy War is an exemplary first fantasy trilogy from a young up-and-coming author, one that shows Kuang’s talent that I hope will continue to shine through going forward. She writes a unique and compelling take on fantasy, that isn’t afraid to be dark and gritty, taking its protagonist, Rin, into the darkness and breaking readers’ hearts as they become invested in her journey and are conflicted with the tough choices she makes. 
  7. Fonda Lee: She has really challenged me this year by making me root for the complex antihero, while also drawing the line between making these characters all sympathetic and relatable yet not romanticizing what they’re engaging in. She also expertly translates her own real life skill with Kung fu into some of the most compelling and original fight scenes I’ve ever read. 
  8. Evan Winter: Yet another author who explores some dark themes, but does so in his own way. I love his passion for fantasy as a genre that is recognizable in his writing and what I’ve seen in his online presence, yet how he also conveys the importance of wanting to provide a book for his son to be able to read someday, given that most of the authors in the fantasy genre are white. While he takes a less research-grounded approach than the prior two authors on this list, he has his own cultural background that he infused into the text of his stories in a compelling way. 

Goals for 2021

Since my goals for 2020 were kind of a mixed bag, I definitely want to keep them reading oriented and around giving myself joy. While I do still plan to taking risks in terms of diversifying my reading, a lot of it 

  1. Goodreads Reading Goal: I don’t know what the future holds for me once again as the COVID situation continues to evolve. I could get a job in 2021, maybe I won’t. I’ll probably start off modest (by my standards anyway), but I still haven’t fully decided. 
  2. Stop giving authors (and “styles?”) chances on the off chance “the next will be better”: My gosh, did I do this a lot. From the disastrous to the just plain dull, I feel like I’ve continued to reach for authors who’ve either been up and down for me because of stylistic elements I do like and getting burned by the stuff I really don’t, or finding myself really burned by authors writing in styles and genres I’ve soured on. I’m not going to write off any debut authors I see potential in without giving a second chance, but I plan to break the cycle with some I’ve just picked up out of habit, and found myself usually frustrated. The exception to this is Alyssa Cole. I have not loved all her contemporaries, but I enjoyed them enough that I’m not annoyed by them the way some of these other authors’ work annoys me. And the f/f book next year gives me a lot of hope it could be better, and I’m not just saying that out of habit this time! 
  3. Continue reading diversely (BIPOC, LGBTQ+, people w/ disabilities, etc.): I don’t plan on setting an amount to reach for once again, but I hope that I can continue to consistently reach for books that are outside the typical white, allocishet, able bodied, Christian narrative. I found so many good stories this year that covered so many unique experiences, even within the same marginalizations, and it was rewarding to see some that mirrored aspects of my own life, and enlightening to read about the experiences of others, and I hope to continue doing that going forward. 
  4. Participate in more reading prompt events (at least 2, including Ripped Bodice Bingo, but am encouraged to do more): Clearly, I thrived primarily in the social aspect of the reading challenges, which is ironic, given I typically am a bit of a lone wolf. So, in the spirit of that, I’m going to make a goal that I will continue to participate in book bingos and other readathons if I find them manageable, with a goal of one being the Ripped Bodice Bingo (provided it happens next summer, which I hope it will), and at least one  other event. However, SnowInLove, which is ongoing from December 2020 to February 2021, will not count toward this goal for 2021. 
  5. Finish writing my short story/start working on book one of my romance trilogy: This one is more of a writerly goal, something I haven’t talked about much on here. But I am working actively on a short story that will be published in a charity anthology by Romance Cafe Books, who I’ve reviewed for in the past. I’ll probably have more info when I’ve finished and submitted and everything is more finalized, but yeah, it’s coming out in June! And I’m hoping that could be a prequel to a historical romantic suspense series I’ve been planning for a while, but haven’t been sure where to start. 

Review of “Just a Heartbeat Away” (Forever Yours #1) by Cara Bastone

Bastone, Cara. Just a Heartbeat Away. Toronto, Ontario: HQN, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1335045379 | $7.99 USD | 391 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb 

Some people change your life

Others change your heart

Newly widowed dad Sebastian Dorner was unraveling at the edges–until his son’s teacher, Via DeRosa, threw him a lifeline. Now two years later, they reconnect at Matty’s new school, and an inconvenient but unmistakable jolt of attraction crackles between them. But why does the first person to spark with Sebastian in years have to be a millennial? Is twentysomething Via really too young for him or does fortysomething Sebastian just feel too damn old?

A former foster kid, Via’s finally forged the stable life she’s always dreamed of–new job, steady income, no drama. The last thing she needs are rumors about her and a single dad at school. But why does she keep being drawn into his capable, worn-flannel orbit? And why does being around Sebastian, Matty and even their dog, Crabby, seem to spark so much want?

They’re trying to ignore the tension threatening their friendship. But sometimes what’ll heal you is just a touch–and a heartbeat–away…

Review 

4 stars

Cara Bastone became an author I wanted to watch for with her Audible Original, Call Me Maybe, although I did not anticipate getting to another of her books so soon. However, while Just Another Heartbeat Away is a bit different stylistically and tonally, it still delivers and makes me want more of her engaging writing and wonderful characters. 

I wasn’t sure about the characters having an age gap, as the guy being older is usually a no for me. But as there’s no issues with imbalances of power, it’s a cute story about two people thrown together over a shared interest in his kid, and I really liked that. And the fact that  they spend a lot of the time fighting their feelings and yearning for one another? It’s a slow-burn that could easily fall flat, but it doesn’t, and it only makes them coming together over time more rewarding. 

The characters themselves also have a lot of depth to them in their own right, which I think helps to make the story’s pace work. Sebastian went through losing his wife, and seeing him and Matty navigating that grief and transition as a major part of the plot was really sweet. And there’s the little things, like his interactions with the other widowed parents at school, that just made him stand out as a unique hero. On the other hand, I did want Via’s background as a former foster kid to be a little more prominent…it’s there and it explains her motivations to an extent, but I did feel Sebastian’s life did overpower that. 

I really liked this book, and hope to get to the next book somewhat soon (and am already so excited for the release of book 3!). If you love a good slow burn, a single dad, or an age gap romance (or all three!), I think you’ll enjoy this! 

Author Bio

Cara Bastone is a full-time writer who lives and writes in Brooklyn with her husband, son and an almost-goldendoodle. Her goal with her work is to find the swoon in ordinary love stories. She’s been a fan of the romance genre since she found a grocery bag filled with her grandmother’s old Harlequin Romances when she was in high school. She’s a fangirl for pretzel sticks, long walks through Prospect Park, and love stories featuring men who aren’t crippled by their own masculinity. For more about Cara, visit her website at https://www.carabastone.com/.

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Review of “One of the Good Ones” by Maika and Maritza Moulite

Moulite, Maika, & Maritza Moulite. One of the Good Ones. Toronto, Ontario: Inkyard Press, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1335145802 | $18.99 USD | 384 pages | YA Contemporary 

Blurb

The Hate U Give meets Get Out in an honest and powerful exploration of prejudice in this stunning novel from sister-writer duo Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite, authors of Dear Haiti, Love Alaine.

ISN’T BEING HUMAN ENOUGH?

When teen social activist and history buff Kezi Smith is killed under mysterious circumstances after attending a social justice rally, her devastated sister Happi and their family are left reeling in the aftermath. As Kezi becomes another immortalized victim in the fight against police brutality, Happi begins to question the idealized way her sister is remembered. Perfect. Angelic.

One of the good ones.

Even as the phrase rings wrong in her mind—why are only certain people deemed worthy to be missed?—Happi and her sister Genny embark on a journey to honor Kezi in their own way, using an heirloom copy of The Negro Motorist Green Book as their guide. But there’s a twist to Kezi’s story that no one could’ve ever expected—one that will change everything all over again.

Review 

5 stars 

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

I had never read anything by Maika and Maritza Moulite before, but I was drawn to the premise of One of the Good Ones and its present-day relevance. 

This book is multilayered, rich with Black  history and how the cycle of racism repeats itself in the depictions of the lives of its contemporary protagonists, sisters, Kezi, Happi, and Genny, and friend Shaqueria, juxtaposed with the sisters’ grandmother during the Civil Rights era. 

And while the “flow” of the story could have been troublesome, with the jerking back and forward in time and following multiple different people, I found this comparatively easy to follow compared to other books in a similar vein, and felt each character managed to bring a sense of their own experience of the shared racial trauma. 

I think this book has a lot to say about what it means to be considered “one of the good ones,” and to have that determined based on skin color alone. If you’re looking for a YA book that unpacks our present moment that also has a bit of suspense to it (it’s being comped as “The Hate U Give meets Get Out”), I would strongly recommend this one. 

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Review of “Our Darkest Night” by Jennifer Robson

Robson, Jennifer. Our Darkest Night. New York: William Morrow, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0062674975 | $17.99 USD | 384 pages | Historical Fiction

Blurb

To survive the Holocaust, a young Jewish woman must pose as a Christian farmer’s wife in this unforgettable novel from USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Robson—a story of terror, hope, love, and sacrifice, inspired by true events, that vividly evokes the most perilous days of World War II.

It is the autumn of 1943, and life is becoming increasingly perilous for Italian Jews like the Mazin family. With Nazi Germany now occupying most of her beloved homeland, and the threat of imprisonment and deportation growing ever more certain, Antonina Mazin has but one hope to survive—to leave Venice and her beloved parents and hide in the countryside with a man she has only just met.

Nico Gerardi was studying for the priesthood until circumstances forced him to leave the seminary to run his family’s farm. A moral and just man, he could not stand by when the fascists and Nazis began taking innocent lives. Rather than risk a perilous escape across the mountains, Nina will pose as his new bride. And to keep her safe and protect secrets of his own, Nico and Nina must convince prying eyes they are happily married and in love.

But farm life is not easy for a cultured city girl who dreams of becoming a doctor like her father, and Nico’s provincial neighbors are wary of this soft and educated woman they do not know. Even worse, their distrust is shared by a local Nazi official with a vendetta against Nico. The more he learns of Nina, the more his suspicions grow—and with them his determination to exact revenge.

As Nina and Nico come to know each other, their feelings deepen, transforming their relationship into much more than a charade. Yet both fear that every passing day brings them closer to being torn apart . . .

Review

4.5 stars

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

I love when World War II books find ways to tread new territory largely unexplored by its predecessors in the genre, and while I can’t say the experiences of Italian Jews in the Holocaust and the work of some Gentile families in sheltering them is a completely untapped subject, I found it compelling to read about in Our Darkest Night, especially as there once again is a personal connection to the subject matter on the part of author Jennifer Robson, which translates into evocative prose that really transports the reader into the era. 

The story is slowly paced, so it does take time to get to the “meat” of the story. But it makes for a compelling payoff, as I found myself truly connected to the characters as they went through what they did. 

The romance was beautiful and provided a nice ray of hope in the midst of all the turmoil happening around them, and definitely would not discourage any romance readers who aren’t against World War II as a time period or find it too depressing from picking it up, as it is more on the optimistic side, in spite of that darkness. 

This is a wonderful book that makes a unique addition to the generally oversaturated World War II historical subgenre. In addition to the aforementioned recommendation, I think those who love the subgenre but have been looking for something a bit different, given the largely untapped nature of this specific aspect of the Holocaust, would enjoy this. 

Author Bio

Jennifer Robson first learned about the Great War from her father, acclaimed historian Stuart Robson, and later served as an official guide at the Canadian National War Memorial at Vimy Ridge, France. A former copy editor, she holds a doctorate in British economic and social history from the University of Oxford. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and young children.

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Review of “The Thief of Blackfriars Lane” by Michelle Griep

Griep, Michelle. The Thief of Blackfriars Lane. Uhrichville, OH: Shiloh Run Press, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1643527154 | $15.99 USD | 320 pages | Victorian Romance/Christian Fiction

Blurb

There’s Often a Fine Line Between a Criminal and a Saint
 
Constable Jackson Forge intends to make the world safer, or at least the streets of Victorian London. But that’s Kit Turner’s domain, a swindler who runs a crew that acquires money the old-fashioned way—conning the rich to give to the poor. When a local cab driver goes missing, Jackson is tasked with finding the man, and the only way to do that is by enlisting Kit’s help. If Jackson doesn’t find the cabby, he’ll be fired. If Kit doesn’t help Jackson, he’ll arrest her for thievery. Yet neither of them realize those are the least of their problems.

Review

3 stars

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

The Thief of Blackfriars Lane is the third Michelle Griep book I’ve finished (fourth overall I’ve attempted), and I find myself once again at a loss as to why I keep giving her chances. The bones of a good story are there, but something is just missing. 

Griep excels at immersive, atmospheric writing, and it’s at its best here as she moves from her typical Regency setting to a darker, grittier Victorian London. While I’ve read other books in this setting, what Griep did with it in the context of a more Christian fiction perspective, while still making it evocative and compelling is definitely a strong point.

And Kit was fairly interesting. I have read a few swindler/band of thieves stories in different genres within the past couple years, and I like that Griep made the archetype her own. Jackson was also fairly likable, a constable new to his job who genuinely cares for other people. I wasn’t super invested in them, but they were decent people and their romance was sweet. 

I just feel like something missed the mark, mostly in the mystery side. I found myself simultaneously confused and underwhelmed by it, with so many intricate threads making it hard to piece together, and thus feeling poorly thought through. 

I don’t know if I’ll pick up another Michelle Griep book after so many that were “just ok.” But I believe she has a pretty loyal established audience, and they’ll enjoy it. And if you want a more “PG” story of the Victorian underworld, it might be worth giving it a shot to see what you think. 

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Review of “The Falling in Love Montage” by Ciara Smyth

Smyth, Ciara. The Falling in Love Montage. New York: HarperTeen, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-0062957115 | $17.99 USD | 355 pages | YA Contemporary 

Blurb

Saoirse doesn’t believe in love at first sight or happy endings. If they were real, her mother would still be able to remember her name and not in a care home with early onset dementia. A condition that Saoirse may one day turn out to have inherited. So she’s not looking for a relationship. She doesn’t see the point in igniting any romantic sparks if she’s bound to burn out.

But after a chance encounter at an end-of-term house party, Saoirse is about to break her own rules. For a girl with one blue freckle, an irresistible sense of mischief, and a passion for rom-coms.

Unbothered by Saoirse’s no-relationships rulebook, Ruby proposes a loophole: They don’t need true love to have one summer of fun, complete with every cliché, rom-com montage-worthy date they can dream up—and a binding agreement to end their romance come fall. It would be the perfect plan, if they weren’t forgetting one thing about the Falling in Love Montage: when it’s over, the characters actually fall in love… for real.

Review

This is what I get for putting my faith in paid-by-publishers romance lists compiled by people who likely haven’t read all the books on the list. The Falling in Love Montage, in spite of its title and the cover depicting both leads, is the first time I’ve been really duped by the “is it a romance or not?” question when it comes to marketing, as even with eerily similar cover styles between romance and “women’s fiction,” the blurbs usually make it pretty obvious. But this one, highlighting the importance of the romance to the story, was deceptive, and the solo first person narration from Saoirse alone also did not serve as an indicator. And even the general direction of the narrative did not hint at this as the general outcome. Because an unhappy ending isn’t a dealbreaker for me on its own. An unhappy ending in a book pitched a romance? That definitely is.

And it’s not like there were some cataclysmic circumstances that come between them either…they break up because of moving on with the next phase of their lives, which is realistic, but left me feeling burned when every indicator suggested this would be a sweet fun teen romance. 

That said, there are some things it does fairly well. Saoirse resonated with me as a character, with how she’s dealing with the possibility of how she could follow her mom’s footsteps down the road to dementia and the angst she feels about that. And her reconciling her dad’s actions was quite moving, as well as her actually bonding with her new stepmom. 

And while it’s not meant to last (and I am bitter about it), the romance was cute as they went through the motions of it all. 

This was a massive disappointment, because as a romance reader, I expected something different, even keeping in mind the difference in the teen and adult audiences (the list maker should probably have kept that in mind themselves). If you don’t mind an unhappy ending, then I think you’ll enjoy this more. But if you’re looking for a happy queer romance, an antithesis to the needlessly melodramatic Happiest Season? This is not it. 

Author Bio

Ciara Smyth studied drama, teaching, and then social work at university. She thought she didn’t know what she wanted to be when she grew up. She became a writer so she wouldn’t have to grow up.

She enjoys jigging (verb: to complete a jigsaw puzzle), playing the violin badly, and having serious conversations with her pets. Ciara has lived in Belfast for over ten years and still doesn’t really know her way around.

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Review of “Lord of Mistrust” (Trysts and Treachery #4) by Elizabeth Keysian

Keysian, Elizabeth. Lord of Mistrust. La Verne, CA: Dragonblade Publishing, 2020.

ASIN: B08P2G74YL | $0.99 USD | 300 pages | Historical Romance—Tudor/Elizabethan

Blurb 

Following their hearts could destroy the monarchy.

Headstrong Chloe dresses as a boy and runs away to her birth mother to escape a horrendous marriage. She’s shocked to discover that her parent owns a bawdy house, and is in no position to help- nor will she reveal the identity of Chloe’s father. When a street accident throws Chloe into the lap of the tempting Robert Mallory, he offers distraction and adventure, but his stubborn refusal to trust her endangers them both.

Hot-headed Robert Mallory is battling to protect his sister, his livelihood, and his honor. He’s a spy who can’t follow the rules and distrusts everyone, particularly the delectable young woman from the bordello. Having endangered her, then rescued her from a nest of traitors, he learns that Chloe is the natural daughter of the one man he can’t afford to upset, Sir Mortimer Fowler. Offering marriage to save Chloe’s reputation is out of the question, as Fowler needs her for bait in a deadly trap.

Robert is faced with an impossible choice. He’s desperate to save Chloe, but if he follows his heart, the security of the entire realm is at risk.

In the series

#1 Lord of Deception

#2 Lord of Loyalty

#3 Lord of the Forest

Review

3.5 stars

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

Lord of Mistrust was a fast read (read during the few hours of a blackout, in fact, when I found I had not much else to do). Like the first three in the series, it’s an engaging historical chock-full of intrigue and danger, and it kept me on the edge of my seat.

Chloe and Robert are both wonderful characters in their own right, both navigating the cutthroat world of Elizabethan England, her fleeing an arranged marriage and finding out some family secrets and him working as a spy for Sir Francis Walsingam. 

But while there is a bit of a spark between them, I didn’t feel like the romance was developed enough amid everything else going on with all the politicking and espionage. I ended up feeling satisfied with the way those external plotlines were resolved, while feeling very lukewarm feelings about the two being together. 

This wasn’t a bad installment in the series, but it definitely falls slightly short of the previous three in terms of my personal enjoyment. But I think if you like a good combination of history(especially the Tudors!), mystery/intrigue,  and romance, you’ll still enjoy this one for what it is. 

Author Bio

Elizabeth first started writing fiction when she was eight, encouraged to do so by her Head Teacher father, who needed something to keep her quiet during school holidays. Her favorite topics were mermaids, ghosts, Norman knights and quests, and she illustrated and decorated her own books. She emerged from the world of her imagination to read History at the University of London, after which she spent many years working as an archaeologist and artifact illustrator. She then became a primary school teacher, after which she moved to museum education work, and display and collections management.

Elizabeth has been involved in Medieval, Tudor, and English Civil War re-enactment and has enjoyed sword-play and traditional archery, excelling in neither. She lived for seven years on a Knights Templar estate in Essex where she pursued her interest in historical textiles, cookery and medicine. She loves anything to do with the past, and still looks down holes in the ground to see if there’s anything archaeological in them. There generally isn’t.

She has been writing as a hobby since moving to the West of England in 1997, the landscape and history of which have inspired the international bestselling WAYWARD IN WESSEX and WANTON IN WESSEX series, now published by Entangled Publishing.

She has also written BEGUILING THE BARON for Soul Mate Publishing, and self-published the MARRY IN HASTE SERIES, as well as the bestselling Victorian romantic saga, WORKHOUSE WAIF.

She is currently working on an exciting  Tudor era romance series for Dragonblade Publishing, called TRYSTS AND TREACHERY.

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Review of “Rules for an Unmarried Lady” (Once Upon a Bride #3) by Wilma Counts

Counts, Wilma. Rules for an Unmarried Lady. New York: Lyrical Press, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1601839114 | $4.99 USD | 229 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

Witty and well-read, best friends Henrietta, Harriet, and Hero know that real love is rarely as simple as a fairy tale. But with the right partner, it can be sweeter—and even more satisfying. . .

A single woman of means generally does not choose the company of seven rambunctious children over the haut ton. Yet since the tragic loss of her sister and brother-in-law, the Honorable Harriet Mayfield has found purpose and pleasure in caring for her orphaned nieces and nephews. If her unorthodox views about how to raise the newly minted Earl of Sedwick and his siblings put her at odds with their strict grandmother, well, so be it. The children’s uncle, Colonel Lord Quinton Burnes, however, is a far more complicated—and charismatic—problem . . .

Accustomed to having his slightest word obeyed, Quint hardly knows what to make of the bewitching bluestocking who has taken on the role of guardian in his absence. Quint’s mother wants Harriet gone, the sooner the better. She has the perfect bride in mind for him—someone not at all like kindhearted, loyal Harriet. But if he and Harriet can only withstand meddling and misunderstandings, their unconventional attraction might yet come to a delightfully happy ending . . .

In the series 

#1 My Fair Lord

#2 It Only Takes a Kiss

Review

2 stars

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

Rules for an Unmarried Lady is a perfectly serviceable, fine historical romance, one I selected due to remembering the author from having read a book and a half (I did DNF one of her books for a weird plot including the heroine spending a large part of the book married to someone who was  not the hero), and wanting to see what she was writing these days. And it was fine, but not much to write home about and a bit implausible at times. 

Quint (I love how I read two books back to back with heroes with this name)  and Henrietta aren’t that interesting. Henrietta is a bit more so of the two, being forward thinking, but the romance did little to entice me. 

I did like the interactions with the children, which saved the story somewhat, but it was a bit slow and staid, which is saying a lot because I don’t think based on the page counts listed in various places that it’s that long. 

I don’t think this is a completely objectionable book, it just felt a bit too mild and slow for me. I think it could work for someone newer to historical romances, or someone looking for a more gentle read (while also keeping in mind there are some explicit bits). 

Author Bio

Before moving to Nevada in 1994, Wilma Counts taught high school English and social studies in Germany to dependents of American forces stationed there. She loved the kids, but hated meaningless paperwork. She especially enjoyed her work with Advance Placement English, Model United Nations, and student exchanges with a Russian school.

Wilma grew up in Oregon, a product of the Leave It To Beaver era. She holds degrees in education and international relations. Having traveled widely, she is keenly interested in politics and international relations. She freely admits to being a C-SPAN junkie.

A member of the Romance Writers of America, she has written two Regency novels and a novella for Zebra. Willed to Wed is slated for publication in September, ’99, and My Lady Governess in February, ’00. Her current projects include another Regency and a novel set in the American West. She contributes a regular column on grammar and usage to the local RWA newsletter. Besides her interest in travel and writing, Wilma is an avid reader and she loves to cook, garden, and gamble—not necessarily in that order. 

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Review of “Instant Karma” by Marissa Meyer

Meyer, Marissa. Instant Karma. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2020.

ISBN-13; 978-1250618818 | $18.99 USD | 390 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

Blurb 

In this young adult contemporary romance, a girl is suddenly gifted with the ability to cast instant karma on those around her—both good and bad.

Chronic overachiever Prudence Barnett is always quick to cast judgment on the lazy, rude, and arrogant residents of her coastal town. Her dreams of karmic justice are fulfilled when, after a night out with her friends, she wakes up with the sudden ability to cast instant karma on those around her. Pru giddily makes use of the power, punishing everyone from public vandals to karaoke hecklers, but there is one person on whom her powers consistently backfire: Quint Erickson, her slacker of a lab partner and all-around mortal enemy. Soon, Pru begins to uncover truths about Quint, her peers, and even herself that reveal how thin the line is between virtue and vanity, generosity and greed . . . love and hate.

Review

4 stars 

Marissa Meyer is one of those authors whose work  I would have been into in theory, but I found myself feeling just “ok” about the first in the Lunar Chronicles and never feeling a desire to continue (while also somehow finding it to be perfectly fine and good…big maybe just better as a stand-alone?). However, I was curious what she would do with a YA contemporary, and when I found out Instant Karma was Beatles-inspired? I was intrigued. 

The concept is a lot of fun, with light magical elements, and I loved seeing Prudence attempt to bring karmic justice to the world, only to find that her slacker nemesis is immune to her powers! Prudence does take a bit of time to warm up to, given she is a bit judgmental, but I ultimately liked her as she grew over the course of the book. 

And this is a case where there’s a strong foundation to the “enemies” part of “enemies-to-lovers,” while also providing enough buildup for the romance to feel genuine. I liked seeing Prudence learn more about Quint as they spent time together, and finding out there are things he cares deeply about. As someone who has sometimes struggled in the typical school subjects against “Prudence” types, but thrived in more specific fields when I could hone in on my own skills and interests, I really resonated with who Quint was in that regard, even if our interests aren’t aligned, and admired his love for animals. 

The one question I did have was, with all the Beatles references, how relevant is it to the YA audience today? I could see the argument that their music is timeless and has crossed generational boundaries due to parents introducing into to their children or grandchildren, or perhaps they go out of their way to research classic music due to their own curiosity (I personally looked into their discography after seeing the John Lennon biopic, Nowhere Boy, which featured one of my favorite actors at the time, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, as Paul). And I suppose there is the argument that a proven classic works better than a recent hit that could become dated. But it is still a concern I had, especially since not all the references feel super mainstream to non-fans (how well known is the song “Dear Prudence,” anyway, if you’re not a Beatles fan?) 

I really enjoyed this book, and hope Marissa Meyer writes more contemporaries in the future. I don’t know how much crossover appeal from her SFF there will be, but I think it is telling that I’m excited for more in this vein from her, whereas the first of a series left me feeling comparatively underwhelmed. I think if you’ve tried Meyer’s work in the past and didn’t love it (and I have spoken to at least one other person who felt similarly  about the Lunar Chronicles), I think you might like this one better. And if you haven’t read her work, but like fun contemporary romances, I think you’ll like this one! 

Author Bio

Marissa Meyer is the #1 New York Times-bestselling author of The Lunar Chronicles, Heartless, The Renegades Trilogy, and Instant Karma, as well as the graphic novel duology Wires and Nerve. She holds a BA in Creative Writing from Pacific Lutheran University and a MA in Publishing from Pace University. In addition to writing, Marissa hosts The Happy Writer podcast. She lives near Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and twin daughters.

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Review of “Bridgerton” (Netflix Series)

Note: This review is largely spoiler-light, but not completely spoiler-free for the Bridgerton Netflix series. It will also contain spoilers for multiple books in the Bridgerton series to provide context for specific points. 

Content warnings: Episode 2 contains a graphic birth scene in the beginning. The end of episode 6 contains the infamous sexual assault scene at the conclusion. 

Background

Perhaps more than anything before, Bridgerton has shown the existence of several different factions in Romancelandia. We all could collectively come together for one particularly scathing review who resorted to derogatory terms and cautioned “Austenites” to beware, as it’s just another day of someone shitting on romance. But the polarizing opinions as production and promotion moved forward is something to keep in mind for context. Keep in mind, I’m a fan of Julia Quinn and the Bridgerton series, but I firmly consider them problematic faves and in need of unpacking without rose-colored glasses. 

There were people like me who were excited without restriction. Any scrap of news merited a celebration. We posted in fan groups, counting down the days. Yes, there would be changes, but as long as they kept to the source material’s heart, it was all good. And the potential for more romance adaptations from big companies if this went well was likely. 

But, this brings me to the other two factions. The next is one I’ve addressed in my statement on the casting, although I’d like to address that the method employed was “color conscious” casting rather “color blind.” This is by no means the sole complaint of the “purists,” whose complaints have only piled up as promos have come out. The speculation about whether one of the brothers could be gay did my head in. I got into arguments with more than one person who cited “historical accuracy” and the idea that gay men were frequently imprisoned, or sentenced to death. Never mind the existence of a number of m/m historicals that prove that the gay HEA is possible (both with and without acknowledging wider societal hurdles). And I love how people are totally fine with these random new characters (as that’s who they’ve been confirmed to be) being gay without further context, purportedly resigned the fate they’ve assigned to gay men, but can’t imagine their faces experimented sexually before settling down? Anthony was a notorious rake for fucking crying out loud! Sexual fluidity is a thing! And if they balk at that, but believe these men wouldn’t get the pox from their raking, or that a woman would survive eight pregnancies unscathed back then, it says a lot about what they’re willing to accept in their historical romance fantasies, which everyone has a right to see themselves included in.

Nevertheless, even with these so-called radical changes, the show was still marketed as for “fans of the books,” and with indications of loyalty to the source material. And this segues into the more legitimate criticisms from skeptics. In spite of JQ herself promoting the hell out of it and saying she’s happy with what’s been done, there are still (understandably) some misgivings from people clued in to her past mistakes, the chief of them being how JQ was a member of the “marginalized people don’t get happy endings”brigade at one point, having expressed that opinion on a panel in the presence of several Black historical romance authors. I would like to believe she’s tried to learn, given her earnest promotion of authors like Courtney Milan, Vanessa Riley, and and Beverly Jenkins, but others have highlighted the irony that she was the one to get the glossy Shondaland treatment, when any one of the aforementioned authors, or other BIPOC authors with more consistent track records seemed like a more natural fit instead of injecting Black people into an all-white world, and not doing it with enough sensitivity to racial politics. 

And given the…ick factor…of the rape scene in The Duke and I, the early reviews seemed to provide no hope that this was changed or addressed. The scene was very much a product of its time (the book came out in 2001), before we had serious conversations about consent in romance, and these conversations have shined a light on the wrongness of it all. To not take this into account in the age of MeToo seems incredibly short sighted and upends all their talk about creating a progressive take on the period drama. Not to mention that by having the Duke be Black, the subtext of the scene just gets even worse in terms of adding racial undertones to the scene that previously weren’t an issue. 

And as much as I like the idea that a Regency romance can have marginalized people existing in positions of power, and can understand them running with the concept of Queen Charlotte being part-Black, as that’s long been a point of speculation, I do think it’s fair that others have had concerns for how they chose to address it, at least in all promotional interviews. Queen Charlotte providing entree for these aristocrats is fine in theory without fuller context, but in reality, slavery was still legal. And note that works by other authors like Vanessa Riley and Courtney Milan do their research to ensure they’re working within the realm of plausibility that does not handwave away the struggles BIPOC faced. For example, with her latest, The Duke Who Didn’t, Milan’s biracial Duke springs from a junior branch who wasn’t expected to inherit the title, and thus they were allowed to marry as they pleased. Riley, meanwhile, delves into the real lives of Black people of the era for inspiration, from the everyday layperson to Dorothy Korean Thomas, mistress to William IV, the focus of her forthcoming historical novel, Island Queen. 

And while it’s fair to say that everyone should be entitled to a fantasy (as I noted in my aforementioned comments about gay men), in this case, there needs to be a balance of acknowledging the problems of the past and providing a hopeful ending for them, due to the history of systemic racism. 

And so, I ask: why choose this series as the first major Hollywood histrom production? So much is riding on it to determine the future of possible adaptations, and while I understand picking it due to it being so revered, yet the controversies have turned off or at least left a vocal portion of Romancelandia feeling skeevy. The genre is the most lacking in high-budget, good quality film and television adaptations, with exceptions given to the dozens of Austen adaptations, Fifty Shades,  and iterations of romance-adjacent properties (Confessions of a Shopaholic, Crazy Rich Asians), and while many contemporary  books have been optioned by Hollywood studios, and Netflix currently also is airing Virgin River, based on the Robyn Carr books, this one being the first historical  put a lot of pressure on it to do well to show people a historical romance television series could sell to the masses in a similar way. I have also seen the opinion from a few optimistic BIPOC reviewers highlighting this as a positive first step, so I think it is positive to engage and enjoy, while also not being ignorant of the flaws. 

Review

General Thoughts/World Building

No good adaptation I’d completely word-for-word. And fans of the same source material will have different ideas of what constitutes a good adaptation. But in my personal opinion, it does a good job of taking the Bridgertons and expanding on it.  Julia Quinn has been fairly up-front about writing books that aren’t super historically detailed without feeling too inauthentic, but the show fleshes the story out. Queen Charlotte is a principal character, and you see glimpses of the delirious King George and the possible impact his madness may have had on her. 

As I previously noted, the Queen Charlotte theory is an intriguing thing to run with, but I also respected people’s concerns for the way she was being used to incorporate Black aristocrats into the story without interrogating the racial politics of the time. I did find it a tad jarring, for the reasons I stated prior. I appreciated seeing more Black faces overall in all walks of life, especially since it does reflect history as it was (Mondrich being inspired by a real life Black boxer is so cool!) I’ve , much as many want to deny it and pretend ignorance, but the way it was done for characters like Lady Danbury and the Duke weren’t that convincing, due to the way it just hand waves away the wider world colonialism going on during the time period. 

Characters/Story Arcs/Relationships

I haven’t read the book in a while, but the reputations of the characters, Simon and Daphne, are a bit divisive in Romancelandia, especially that of Daphne, for the reason of the scene of dubious consent (some interpret the book scene as a moment of non-consent). I feel like the show remedied it slightly by having both be sober instead of him being drunk, but I still feel the fact they some people interpret as nonconsensual and some (especially readers who’ve been reading romance since the days of the bodice ripper, like one I spoke to who denied thinking of was rape) don’t shows that it’s still a problem. And the fact that it could have been avoided (in both iterations) with total honesty? The fact that the violation is brushed under the rug once again is a bit frustrating and I did think it was weird that they would still have romantic interludes while they were meant to be “oceans apart,” however I did ultimately find it satisfying that they came back together in a way that felt more authentic and real. 

Speaking of which, the Marina character seems to have been included to portray this lesson of honesty in action (verbalized by Colin), as well as setup, as she is Sir Philip’s late wife in To Sir Philip, With Love. I did question at first that there were some obvious Cinderella undertones to her relationships with Lady Featherington and even the Featherington sisters, given the plot of An Offer from a Gentleman, but who can say what will happen where that book is concerned? 

And now for the brothers. I definitely remember Anthony being a hypocrite and overprotective Papa Bear who was also sleeping with opera singers on the side, because Societal double standards, but I definitely don’t remember him being such an arse to pretty much everyone, and he was definitely made much more so with some of the changes and additions. He underestimates Daphne and is overbearing and managing about her love life, which I could take to an extent, although some of his choices in managing her life crossed the line here that they didn’t in the book. He is obviously rude to Simon, and I did appreciate that the tension did get some satisfactory fulfillment, since the duel was so anticlimactic in both mediums.  But him also being so hot-and-cold with his mistress? Like, he’s in love with her and claims to want to protect her, but then he cuts her loose, but then he’s sniffing at her skirts again, making more promises he can’t keep? When she finally kicked him to the curb, I was happy, and I can’t wait for Kate to get him in line (although there’s definitely another opera singer in the mix…hopefully Siena doesn’t go back to him next season!) I do like that he does have a bit of an arc of growth, with hints at his fatalistic nature (a big part of his arc in The Viscount Who Loved Me), and what could have factored into the decision of the practical union he wants at the beginning of that book (beyond the anticipation of his own demise, that is). 

Colin is a lot of fun, and I liked seeing that balance between the Colin we know and love and the one who is experiencing his first real love and disappointment. 

Benedict is the most “mysterious” of the brothers, perhaps in large part as he was the least defined by the point in the story we’re at. He’s very open about his artistic talents, more so than he was in the books, and it led him to some “interesting” places, some of which were highlighted by some of the promotional material. Given his acquaintance with Henry Granville, one half of the much-remarked upon and gossiped-about gay couple from the trailers, and some conversations they have about forbidden love, I do wonder how that sets up for Benedict’s own future romance, especially since we don’t know how book loyalty vs. liberties will fare going forward, and his and Sophie’s arc in particular has been the subject of much speculation (although without much basis at this point). 

Much has been made of how the actors for the Bridgerton boys look like brothers, but I love how they act like brothers too. They, Daphne, Eloise, and the rest all come together convincingly to play a rambunctious family that feels true to how they were written. Look no further than the infamous dinner scene, with the pea throwing, one of the first to be revealed in advance of release. The chemistry is there, and one of the key selling points for any book fan unsure of whether they want to watch the show.

And the little scenes of one or two of them together are just as great as the bigger group moments. While there are some book accurate ones, like Daphne and Anthony’s late night talk and Violet and Daphne’s “sex talk” (if it can be called that), there are other moments, like several between Benedict and Eloise that made me smile. Eloise is such a firebrand and I love now she and Benedict relate to one another in terms of not really feeling like they fit into what Society expects.

I liked the fleshing out of Penelope as a character, in her friendship with Eloise, her unrequited love for Colin, and the resulting frenemy relationship with Marina. She is genuinely a good person, contrasted with her selfish family, but I liked seeing moments of her vindictiveness, especially as that plays into her identity as Lady Whistledown. For in the book, the Marina plot and how it intersects with the Featheringtons expertly foreshadows and ultimately makes the the reveal, in a way that, if you were only reading along with The Duke and I for the first time prior to or along with watching this season, you would know she’s Whistledown prior to the point when most book readers did, in her own book later in the series. While I do wonder if it will kill the suspense going forward, I do think it was a clever thing to do for the already existing audience going forward, especially since the books did end with scenes from Whistledown’s POV. 

The series also gave me a lot of renewed respect for Lady Danbury. I never disrespected her, but I think I appreciated her more after this portrayal. Something about the subtle  showing of her relationships with both Simon and his mother, and how she connected with Simon as a boy by talking about how she transformed herself from a shy young woman into the fearsome dragon. I definitely need her story. It doesn’t have to be a romance, I just want something in any medium with her as the main character. 

Overall Opinions

While I definitely understand the issues people have raised and my opinions align on a few of them, I still enjoyed this and hope it does well enough to merit future seasons (a second season is said to already be in development). And as for the more petty issues of book accuracy, related to casting choices and plot, I feel like people were splitting hairs with little to go off. I can understand avoiding the show due to the baggage that comes with the author and the source material, or our concern over your mental well-being where sensitive content is concerned. But I do feel that fans who love the books will like the show if they consider it as “inspired by” and “paying homage to” their favorite series, with many moments that are directly lifted from the pages or feel reminiscent of it, although embedded among a bit of dramatic license. I personally enjoyed it for the most part, and think it’s worth watching for fans of the books, or Regency romance in general, who are open to slightly different take on the genre. Here’s hoping that this will indeed see more Hollywood interest in romance, and historicals in particular, and that this will lead to more deals for stories like the aforementioned titles and other awesomely diverse historicals. 

Review of “A Spy in the Struggle” by Aya de Leon

De León, Aya. A Spy in the Struggle. New York: Dafina Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1496728593 | $15.95 USD | 352 pages | Thriller

Blurb 

Aya de León’s International Latino Book Award-winning, action-packed, sexually-charged, politically significant novels have been described as “a rallying cry” (The Washington Post) and praised for their “poetic and savvy descriptions of women’s inner and external challenges that are reminiscent of Sister Souljah’s or Ntozake Shange’s work” (Bitch Magazine). Now she takes on issues of climate justice, corporate corruption, and government surveillance of marginalized activists in an electrifying story about a high-powered attorney who goes undercover to infiltrate a Bay Area activist group.

The Washington Post Featured Thriller That Will Have You On The Edge Of Your Seat
Bustle’s Most Anticipated Reads for December
Book Riot Featured Hispanic Heritage Month Book
CrimeReads Most Anticipated Crime Books of Fall 2020
Novel Suspects Featured December New Release

“A passionately felt stand-alone with an affecting personal story at its center.” – The Washington Post

Winner of the International Latino Book Award, Aya de Leon, returns with a thrilling and timely story of feminism, climate, and corporate justice–as one successful lawyer must decide whether to put everything on the line to right the deep inequities faced in one under-served Bay Area, California community.

Since childhood, Yolanda Vance has forged her desire to escape poverty into a laser-like focus that took her through prep school and Harvard Law. So when her prestigious New York law firm is raided by the FBI, Yolanda turns in her corrupt bosses to save her career–and goes to work for the Bureau. Soon she’s sent undercover at Red, Black, and Green–an African-American “extremist” activist group back in her California college town. They claim a biotech corporation fueled by Pentagon funding is exploiting the neighborhood. But Yolanda is determined to put this assignment in her win column, head back to corporate law, and regain her comfortable life…

Until an unexpected romance opens her heart–and a suspicious death opens her eyes. Menacing dark money forces will do anything to bury Yolanda and the movement. Fueled by memories of who she once was–and what once really mattered most–how can she tell those who’ve come to trust her that she’s been spying? As the stakes escalate, and one misstep could cost her life, Yolanda will have to choose between betraying the cause of her people or invoking the wrath of the country’s most powerful law enforcement agency.

“Part of a new wave of espionage fiction from authors of color and women, many of whom place emphasis on the disturbing nature of being forced to spy on one’s own.” – Crime Reads, Most Anticipated Books of Fall

Review

4 stars 

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

A Spy in the Struggle was a wildcard pick primarily based on the blurb, and I had little idea what to expect. But I think I’ve found a new author to follow in Aya de León, who crafts an intriguing thriller infused with relevant social issues. 

In fact, the way the social issues were handled was one of the first things that stood out to me. I loved the balance of really delving into issues like the Flint water crisis and the impacts of gentrification with seriousness, while also not being afraid to add a dose of humor. The organization’s name “Red, Black, and GREEN!” is one I imagine always being said with a chirpy emphasis on the “GREEN!,” and had to laugh when Yolanda commented on their acronym, RBG, asking if they meant Ruth Bader Ginsburg. While I’m fairly sure the book would likely have been completed (at least drafted?) prior to Ginsburg’s passing, it’s a fun pun that has deeper resonance now.

I did struggle at times with Yolanda as a protagonist, finding her a bit short sighted and judgmental. But I think her flaws only make for a great arc for growth as she begins to really question which side is really good or bad. 

I appreciated the romance, even if it wasn’t the most impactful part of the book for me. It is well balanced with the rest, not feeling like too much for a primarily thriller book, while also not feeling forced. 

This book was enjoyable overall, and I liked that it was engaging, while also making me think about social issues. If that sounds good to you, I think you’ll like this book. 

Author Bio

Aya de León continues the legacy of June Jordan as the Director of Poetry for the People, teaching poetry and spoken word. Kensington Books publishes her Justice Hustlers feminist heist novels, which have won first place International Latino Book Awards and Independent Publisher Awards. Her latest in the series is SIDE CHICK NATION the first novel published about Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. In 2021 Kensington will publish her first spy novel, about FBI infiltration of an African American eco-racial justice organization. Aya’s work has also appeared in Guernica, Writers Digest, Essence, Bitch Magazine, Ebony, VICE, The Root, Ploughshares, and on Def Poetry, where she writes about race, class, gender, culture and climate action.

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Review of “Marriage by Arrangement” (Nights at the Mahal #1) by Sophia Singh Sasson

Sasson, Sophia Singh. Marriage by Arrangement. Toronto, Ontario: Harlequin, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-978-1335209290 | $5.25 USD | 215 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

When a business proposal turns
very personal…

Rule #1: Don’t fall for the client.

Because he’ll rock your world…

Architect Rani Gupta will never let a man compromise her career or freedom again. Which is a problem now that her newest client is irresistible hotelier Arjun Singh—aka the sexiest bachelor in India. A little fling with this gorgeous man would be scandal enough. But a fake engagement might just be more trouble than they bargained for—especially if Arjun has a prior arrangement!

Review 

4 stars

I needed a reset after a few abominable reads, so I turned to Marriage by Arrangement, one of my stockpile of Harlequin Desires from recent months I had acquired simply because the cover was hot and unapologetically featured models of color. And it’s definitely one of the better books from the line I’ve read, managing to tackle multiple cultural and workplace issues with depth and sensitivity.

I really liked Rani, and how she was in a unique position as a divorced Indian-American woman, with all the negative stigmas that drew from people within her culture. I admired the way she embraced her freedom and could hold her own, both in personal and professional contexts, while also being vulnerable and relatable. Arjun was also great, and I rooted for him as he tried to negotiate the pressure from his traditional family with his attraction to Rani. They work very well together, and I appreciated that he liked her for her, without trying to make her into something she wasn’t. 

There is some deception that had me feeling a bit mixed, but I felt it was worked out fairly well. And given the limited word count/page time Sasson had to work with, I feel she managed to bring everything to a satisfactory conclusion.

This is a fun, culturally rich story that really shows the potential of a Harlequin series romance in the hands of the right author and with the right ideas. If you love diverse contemporaries with feisty, independent heroines and heroes who are more than a match for them, I think you’ll like this one. 

Author Bio

Sophia puts her childhood habit of daydreaming to good use by writing stories she wishes will give you hope, make you laugh, cry, and possibly snort tea from your nose. She was born in Mumbai India, has lived in the Canary Islands, Spain, Toronto, Canada, and currently resides in Washington DC. She loves to read, travel, bake, scuba dive, watch foreign movies, and hear from readers. Contact her at http://SophiaSasson.com or Readers@SophiaSasson.com

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Review of “Earl’s Well That End’s Well” (The Way to a Lord’s Heart #5) by Jane Ashford

Ashford, Jane. Earl’s Well That Ends Well. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1492663478 | $7.99 USD | 352 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

 

How to help a lonely Earl…

Arthur Shelton, Earl of Macklin, has helped four young noblemen recover from grief and find love, but he’s learned to live his own life as a widower. Yet when he returns home after traveling, his estate feels too empty, and he quickly heads to London. There, he encounters Teresa Alvarez de Granada, a charming Spanish noblewoman and is immediately entranced.

There is no room for earls in the quiet, safe life Teresa has finally found for herself. The earl might be charming and handsome, but she knows firsthand how dangerous attraction can be. But the more determined Teresa is to discourage Arthur, the more entangled they get, and it’s only a matter of time before her respect for him starts to feel a lot like love.

“An irresistible love story.”—Library Journal for A Duke Too Far
“Absolutely delightful…strong characters and interesting obstacles…a must-read.”—Night Owl Reviews for Brave New Earl
“Expertly crafted…another triumph of nuanced characterization and sparkling wit.”—Booklist for Nothing Like a Duke

In the series

#1 Brave New Earl 

#2 A Lord Apart

#3 How to Cross a Marquess

#4 A Duke Too Far 

Review

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

  New goal for 2021: stop giving authors chances after books burn me so severely in hopes of getting something different next time. Earl’s Well That Ends Well is mostly a continuation of the previous book’s sense of pure boredom and nothingness (so much so I apparently didn’t finish it), so I don’t know why I decided to review this. 

I did like that this focused on an older couple, so I had hope they would at least be interesting. Nope! This was so boring. They had no chemistry, no substance. I skimmed, hoping something would happen, and…nothing. 

And apparently there was a mystery plot? One of the lower-star reviews I read to see if someone else felt the same sense of nothingness mentioned it. What mystery plot? That would involve there being some perceptible end goal, with a buildup of suspense. I didn’t get any of that. 

I can’t say who would enjoy this, given my adverse reaction. I suppose if you love a more “traditional” style Regency romance? 

Author Bio

Jane Ashford discovered Georgette Heyer in junior high school and was entranced by the glittering world and witty language of Regency England. That delight was part of what led her to study English literature and travel widely in Britain and Europe. She has lived in New York, Boston and LA. Today, she is somewhat nomadic.

Jane has written historical and contemporary romances. Her books have been published in England, Spain, France, Italy, Sweden, Slovakia, Denmark, Russia, and Latvia, Croatia and Slovenia as well as the U.S. She has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award by RT Book Reviews.

Her website is https://www.janeashford.com/ and her Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/JaneAshfordW… If you’d like to subscribe to Jane’s monthly newsletter go to www.eepurl.com/cd-O7r and sign up.

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Review of “Rent a Boyfriend” by Gloria Chaloe

Chao, Gloria. Rent a Boyfriend. New York: Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1534462458 | $18.99 USD | 390 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

Blurb

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before meets The Farewell in this incisive romantic comedy about a college student who hires a fake boyfriend to appease her traditional Taiwanese parents, to disastrous results, from the acclaimed author of American Panda.

Chloe Wang is nervous to introduce her parents to her boyfriend, because the truth is, she hasn’t met him yet either. She hired him from Rent for Your ’Rents, a company specializing in providing fake boyfriends trained to impress even the most traditional Asian parents.

Drew Chan’s passion is art, but after his parents cut him off for dropping out of college to pursue his dreams, he became a Rent for Your ’Rents employee to keep a roof over his head. Luckily, learning protocols like “Type C parents prefer quiet, kind, zero-PDA gestures” comes naturally to him.

When Chloe rents Drew, the mission is simple: convince her parents fake Drew is worthy of their approval so they’ll stop pressuring her to accept a proposal from Hongbo, the wealthiest (and slimiest) young bachelor in their tight-knit Asian American community.

But when Chloe starts to fall for the real Drew—who, unlike his fake persona, is definitely not ’rent-worthy—her carefully curated life begins to unravel. Can she figure out what she wants before she loses everything?

Review

4 stars 

I had never read Gloria Chao before, but have  been interested for a while, especially since one of her prior books has been acclaimed within the YA book community. And Rent a Boyfriend had a charming concept, drawing comparisons to other Asian rom-coms, like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and The Kiss Quotient.

I like how culturally rich it was. The story is inspired on an actual practice in some Asian countries of procuring a fake boyfriend to bring home, and I loved the exploration of one of the reasons for this, as even though I’m from an Asian American family, this is never something I had to consider too seriously, but understand the emphasis some families still place on marriage for their children and the measures the children go to to avoid it. And while it’s not explicitly a holiday book, I like how it incorporates the holiday season and depicts how a Taiwanese family would celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s (both Solar and Lunar), providing a timeline for the growth of both the familial and romantic relationships.

The parent-child dynamic is well-explored. While the parents, especially Chloe’s mother, seem overly steeped in tradition and determined to enforce their will on their daughter, I like how we also get insights into how they do actually care. The sections with the mother’s voice messages are my favorites, as they highlight how she cares for Chloe, and wants the best for her, even if they don’t see eye to eye, and can be a bit of a meddling busybody. 

The romance was also cute. While it’s less prominent than the marketing makes out, it’s still a major part of the book, and I liked how things develop between Chloe and Drew as things go from professional to a possible real relationship. 

This is a cute book, one that balanced the aspects of the story well. I do feel that some romance fans might be disappointed by the emphasis being on the family stuff (based on some of the reviews I’ve seen), but if you like a story that focuses just as much on family relationships as on the romance, I think you’ll like it. 

Author Bio

Gloria Chao is the critically acclaimed author of American PandaOur Wayward Fate, and the upcoming Rent a Boyfriend. When she’s not writing, you can find her with her husband on the curling ice or hiking the Indiana Dunes. After a brief detour as a dentist, she is now grateful to spend her days in fictional characters’ heads instead of real people’s mouths.

Visit her tea-and-book-filled world at GloriaChao.Wordpress.com, and find her on Twitter and Instagram @GloriacChao.

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Review of “The Princess and the Rogue” (Bow Street Bachelors #3) by Kate Bateman

Bateman, Kate. The Princess and the Rogue. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2021. 

ISBN-13: 978-1250306098 | $7.99 USD | 304 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

 

A princess in disguise is forced to live with a rogue in order to protect her from danger in this fun, sexy regency romance from Kate Bateman.

In The Princess and the Rogue, Bow Street agent Sebastien Wolff, Earl of Mowbray, doesn’t believe in love—until a passionate kiss with a beautiful stranger in a brothel forces him to reconsider. When the mysterious woman is linked to an intrigue involving a missing Russian princess, however, Seb realizes her air of innocence was too good to be true.

Princess Anastasia Denisova has been hiding in London as plain ‘Anna Brown’. With a dangerous traitor hot on her trail, her best option is to accept Wolff’s offer of protection—and accommodation—at his gambling hell. But living in such close quarters, and aiding Wolff in his Bow Street cases, fans the flames of their mutual attraction. If Anya’s true identity is revealed, does their romance stand a chance? Could a princess ever marry a rogue?

A princess in disguise is forced to live with a rogue in order to protect her from danger in this fun, sexy regency romance from Kate Bateman.

In The Princess and the Rogue, Bow Street agent Sebastien Wolff, Earl of Mowbray, doesn’t believe in love—until a passionate kiss with a beautiful stranger in a brothel forces him to reconsider. When the mysterious woman is linked to an intrigue involving a missing Russian princess, however, Seb realizes her air of innocence was too good to be true.

Princess Anastasia Denisova has been hiding in London as plain ‘Anna Brown’. With a dangerous traitor hot on her trail, her best option is to accept Wolff’s offer of protection—and accommodation—at his gambling hell. But living in such close quarters, and aiding Wolff in his Bow Street cases, fans the flames of their mutual attraction. If Anya’s true identity is revealed, does their romance stand a chance? Could a princess ever marry a rogue?

In the series

#1 This Earl of Mine 

#2 To Catch an Earl 

Review

1.5 stars

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

The Princess and the Rogue (and my entire experience with the Bow Street Bachelors series) has taught me that sometimes it’s probably better to not continue to beat a dead horse when something is not working for you. The first two books were fine, but not remarkable, but I had foolish hope that things could improve (I also recall receiving the ARC for this one before even reviewing the previous book, so I only had book one to go off, and this I had only been burned once at the time). 

But while the first two were ok, this one was just…unsalvageable, and I stuck it out longer than I maybe should have. To be fair, there are glimmers of potential, mostly related to the heroine. While it is implausible, I liked the homage to Anastasia, and was intrigued to follow Anya as she fled from home, and feel the storyline would have been interesting, if the hero were actually a decent person. 

And that brings me to the frustration with this book that I tried to deal with for way too long, in hopes that the intrigue would capture my attention enough to forget his boorishness. To be fair, the blurb literally mentions them meeting in a brothel, but the fact that he believes she’s a courtesan while there (I forget the circumstances of her being there), and they have this “titillating” (actually disturbing, in my opinion) encounter, and then a bit later, he finds out she’s working for his aunt, and is like, “She’s trying to fleece you?!?” I can’t respect men who get horny for women, but also think the worst of them because they aren’t (or at least don’t appear to be) “proper ladies.” Her link to the missing Russian princess that concerns him due to his work for Bow Street *was* interesting, but it was overtaken by a continuation of his lust for her, culminating in them sleeping together. I finally gave up after they reached the conversation about “we slept together, we need to marry,” and she refused. Like, so get the context, but this has always been one of my most loathed tropes, although the reasoning has changed over time, now being that the guy is always doing so with a clear disrespect for the heroine’s desires to make up for the fact that he was led by his cock, when he could’ve tried controlling his desires? I mean, I know it takes two to tango, but still. 

I just found this book to be so annoying and wasting a great premise on an overly “roguish” hero who I couldn’t be bothered about. I did take a peek at the ending and found I cared even less, since I knew it would be an HEA anyway. I think if you like a generous helping of rakes, rogues, and scoundrels, this will work better for you, as it is an objectively ok book that I struggled with personally. 

Author Bio

Kate Bateman, (also writing as K. C. Bateman), is the #1 bestselling author of Regency, Victorian, and Renaissance historical romance. Her Renaissance romp, The Devil To Pay, is a Romance Writer’s of America 2019 RITA® Finalist and her Regency-set A Counterfeit Heart (Secrtes & Spies series) won the 2018 Book Buyer’s Best contest for Best Historical Romance.

Kate wrote her first historical romance in response to a $1 bet with her husband who rashly claimed she’d ‘never finish the thing.’ She gleefully proved him wrong. Her books feature her favorite intelligent heroines, (badasses in bodices!) wickedly inappropriate banter, and heroes you want to both strangle and kiss.

When not traveling to exotic locations ‘for research’, Kate leads a not-so-secret double life as a fine art appraiser and on-screen antiques expert for several TV shows in the UK, each of which has up to 2.5 million viewers. Before writing romance, Kate was director and valuer at her own UK Auction House, Batemans in Stamford, Lincolnshire. She currently splits her time between Illinois and her native England and writes despite three inexhaustible children and that husband… who still owes her that dollar.

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Review of “The Rancher Meets His Match” (The Millers of Morgan Valley #4) by Kate Pearce

Pearce, Kate. The Rancher Meets His Match. New York: Zebra Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1420152555 | $8.99 USD | 352 pages | Western Romance

Blurb

For the hardworking folks of Morgantown, home really is where the heart is. But sometimes it takes leaving for a while to figure that out. In New York Times bestselling author Kate Pearce’s fourth Millers of Morgan Valley novel, Kaiden Miller uses his carpenter skills to renovate the a rundown neighboring ranch for the ailing owner, the father of his childhood nemesis, Julia Garcia. Can these two old foes ignore the sparks between them?

Kaiden Miller may be the family jokester, but he takes his work on their ranch very seriously. And as a sought-after master carpenter to boot, he’s busier than ever. Still, when he’s asked to renovate the neighboring ranch, he’s more than willing. The owner, Juan Garcia, is ailing, and Kaiden expects to find the property pretty run down. He doesn’t expect to find his old nemesis–Juan’s daughter, Julia–overseeing his work…

Julia’s not sure why Kaiden never liked her. But if working with him makes life easier for her father, so be it. Yet to her surprise, not only is Kaiden great with her father, he’s great with her too. As the weeks pass, it becomes harder to ignore their simmering attraction. And when Julia’s boss turns up with a sweet deal, both she and Kaiden will have to decide where their loyalties–and their hearts–lie…

In the series

#1 The Second Chance Rancher

#2 The Rancher’s Redemption

#3 The Rebellious Rancher 

Review

2 stars 

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

I’m mutuals with Kate Pearce on Twitter, and I believe she’s also currently living in Hawaii (not anywhere near me, however), so I wanted to try some of her work. However, I feel The Rancher Meets His Match made a poor first impression. Not due to being fourth in a series, as it stands alone well enough, but the book just lacked spark. 

Kaiden and Julia have a lot of potential with the history there, and Kaiden being Julia’s brother’s former friends. But it just felt like a real romantic mismatch, with the two constantly fighting, and the only time they’re not is when they’re in bed, which is a recipe for disaster for me, who likes when romantic interests get along without sex being involved. I could see them starting off with some animosity, but the buildup of tension toward the sexy scenes just turned me off. 

The family drama was more interesting, with things being touched on hinting at backstory to the character interactions, but based on a glance at the blurbs of the prior books, this is probably not something I missed there, unless these are recurring characters. 

I didn’t like this one, but I think this was just a miss for me, and I’m interested in exploring Kate Pearce’s backlist and future releases. And if you like Western romance with an emphasis on family drama, I think this one could work a bit better for you. 

Author Bio

NYT and USA Today bestselling author Kate Pearce was born into a large family of girls in England, and spent much of her childhood living very happily in a dream world. Despite being told that she really needed to ‘get with the program’, she graduated from the University College of Wales with an honors degree in history.

A move to the USA finally allowed her to fulfill her dreams and sit down and write that novel. Along with being a voracious reader, Kate loves to climb the volcanoes and lie on the beach in her new home in Hawaii

Kate is a member of RWA and is published byNAL Signet Eclipse, Kensington, RipTide and Virgin Black Lace/Cheek.

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Review of “The Chanel Sisters” by Judithe Little

Little, Judithe. The Chanel Sisters. Toronto, Ontario: Graydon House, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1525895951 | $17.99 USD | 400 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb 

A novel of survival, love, loss, triumph—and the sisters who changed fashion forever

Antoinette and Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel know they’re destined for something better. Abandoned by their family years before, they’ve grown up under the guidance of pious nuns preparing them for simple lives as the wives of tradesmen or shopkeepers. At night, their secret stash of romantic novels and magazine cutouts beneath the floorboards are all they have to keep their dreams of the future alive.

The walls of the convent can’t shield them forever, and when they’re finally of age, the Chanel sisters set out together with a fierce determination to prove themselves worthy to a society that has never accepted them. Their journey propels them out of poverty and to the stylish cafés of Moulins, the dazzling performance halls of Vichy—and to a small hat shop on the rue Cambon in Paris, where a business takes hold and expands to the glamorous French resort towns. But when World War I breaks out, their lives are irrevocably changed, and the sisters must gather the courage to fashion their own places in the world, even if apart from each other.

Review 

3 stars

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

I didn’t know much about Coco Chanel or her background prior to picking up this book, and upon coming to the end of the book and the historical note, I realized a lot of that was by design, and not just my lack of knowledge of fashion history. So, I was intrigued to read a book that peeled back the layers of her mysterious persona and peered into her early life through the eyes of Antoinette, the Chanel sister forgotten to history. 

I like the way the story manages to realistically bring to life the Chanel sisters’ early life in a strict Catholic orphanage and then Gabrielle’s rise to fame and adoption of the “Coco” nickname, with Antoinette and their aunt, Adrienne (who is close to them in age) also contributing. 

As Antoinette dies young, the book does not go into some of the more controversial moments in Coco’s later life, like her association with the Nazis, apart from a mention in the author’s note. While I did want more clarity on this, I can also understand why it wouldn’t fit narratively. 

Prose and pacing wise, it was a bit odd at times. It does drag at times, especially towards the end, and there are passages that summarize time passing that made the book feel more nonfiction than historical fiction. 

I still enjoyed this, and feel this was an interesting book. If you love historical fiction about women forgotten to history, or fashion history, I think you’ll enjoy this. 

Author Bio

Judithe is the author of two novels, The Chanel Sisters, to be released December 29, 2020, and Wickwythe Hall, award-winning historical fiction set during World War II.

She grew up in Virginia and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia. After studying at the Institute of European Studies and the Institut Catholique in Paris, France, and interning at the U.S. Department of State, she earned a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law where she was on the Editorial Board of the Journal of International Law and a Dillard Fellow. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and three children, where she is working on her third novel. When she’s not writing or practicing law, Judithe enjoys riding horses, reading, scouring the fields during Round Top Antiques Week, and volunteering. 

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Review of “Among the Beasts & Briars” by Ashley Poston

Poston, Ashley. Among the Beasts & Briars. New York: Balzer & Bray, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0062847362 | $17.99 USD | 338 pages | YA Fantasy 

Blurb

Cerys is safe in the kingdom of Aloriya.

Here there are no droughts, disease, or famine, and peace is everlasting. It has been this way for hundreds of years, since the first king made a bargain with the Lady who ruled the forest that borders the kingdom. But as Aloriya prospered, the woods grew dark, cursed, and forbidden. Cerys knows this all too well: when she was young, she barely escaped as the woods killed her friends and her mother. Now Cerys carries a small bit of the curse—the magic—in her blood, a reminder of the day she lost everything. The most danger she faces now, as a gardener’s daughter, is the annoying fox who stalks the royal gardens and won’t leave her alone.

As a new queen is crowned, however, things long hidden in the woods descend on the kingdom itself. Cerys is forced on the run, her only companions the small fox from the garden, a strange and powerful bear, and the magic in her veins. It’s up to her to find the legendary Lady of the Wilds and beg for a way to save her home. But the road is darker and more dangerous than she knows, and as secrets from the past are uncovered amid the teeth and roots of the forest, it’s going to take everything she has just to survive.

Review

4 stars

Ashley Poston has been one of those authors I’ve heard about for a while and thought I’d like, from her fairytale fantasy to her more modern fairytale homages. And the title Among the Beasts & Briars caught my attention, due to the way it name-dropped major fairytale archetypes, but the summary suggested something more inspired by fairytales in general, as opposed to a specific retelling of one or another, and I liked that. 

While it definitely is not sophisticated in its world building (the fairytale vibe delivers completely), I didn’t mind in the slightest. Even without specifics, there is still an atmospheric, creepy feel to the forest that feels like the setting of our childhood tales fleshed out. 

The characters are charming and intriguing, fleshing out the typical characters you’d expect to see in a story like this. Cerys, the Royal gardener’s daughter, is an unlikely heroine, one without magic, but is brave and selfless, and has survived when others close to her have been lost to the woods. And Fox…I love the twist of him turning into a human, and there’s that question of what his true form actually is. Bear/Vala is an absolutely cuddly furball and completely huggable. 

This is such a light and fun, yet still engrossing and epic story. If you love fairy tales, I think you’ll love this book. 

Author Bio

Ashley Poston’s is a part-time author and full-time fangirl. She was born in rural South Carolina, where you can see the stars impossibly well…

Tweet her at @ashposton and read her inner-most rambles at www.ashposton.com.

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