Review of “The Devil Comes Courting” (The Worth Saga #3) by Courtney Milan

Milan, Courtney. The Devil Comes Courting. [Place of publication not identified]: Courtney Milan, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1937248680 | $4.99 USD | 416 pages | Victorian Romance

Blurb 

Captain Grayson Hunter knows the battle to complete the first worldwide telegraphic network will be fierce, and he intends to win it by any means necessary. When he hears about a reclusive genius who has figured out how to slash the cost of telegraphic transmissions, he vows to do whatever it takes to get the man in his employ.

Except the reclusive genius is not a man, and she’s not looking for employment.

Amelia Smith was taken in by English missionaries as a child. She’s not interested in Captain Hunter’s promises or his ambitions. But the harder he tries to convince her, the more she realizes that there is something she wants from him: She wants everything. And she’ll have to crack the frozen shell he’s made of his heart to get it.

In the series 

#1 Once Upon a Marquess 

#1.5 Her Every Wish

#2 After the Wedding 

#2.5 The Pursuit Of…

#2.75 Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure

Review 

4 stars 

I received an ARC from the author and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

The Devil Comes Courting is the long-awaited third installment in the Worth Saga, and it’s absolutely worth it. After two uneven predecessors, this book is utterly enjoyable and almost as much a return to form as last year’s “surprise” release, The Duke Who Didn’t. 

And part of that could be because the book had such a long gestation period, inspired by an idea early in Milan’s career and serving as the primary structural point for the Worth Saga, as she discusses in her author’s note, resulting in this one being the strongest of the series thus far. 

And as is typical of her work, Milan looks to history, taking poetic license in believable ways to create a narrative that conveys important issues. Amelia was taken from her mother by English missionaries as a child. I loved how it explores the impact it had on her, especially as she finds her way back to her mother. 

It was also great to see Grayson as a hero, given we’ve already met his brother and uncle in prior stories. While he didn’t win me over as much as a character, I was intrigued by his work with the telegraphic network, and really enjoyed the development of his romance with Amelia. 

This is another winner from Courtney Milan, and I’m glad it’s finally coming out into the world, after such a long wait. Courtney Milan devotees will be satisfied (and left begging for more, especially as there’s a teaser for The Return of the Scoundrel and Wedgeford Trials #2!), and new fans who love a well-researched historical romance will likely be just as delighted. 

Author Bio 

Courtney Milan writes books about carriages, corsets, and smartwatches. Her books have received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Booklist. She is a New York Times and a USA Today Bestseller.

She lives in the Rocky Mountains with her husband and an exceptionally perfect dog.

Before she started writing romance, Courtney got a graduate degree in theoretical physical chemistry from UC Berkeley. After that, just to shake things up, she went to law school at the University of Michigan and graduated summa cum laude. Then she did a handful of clerkships. She was a law professor for a while. She now writes full-time.

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Review of “Anchored Hearts” (Keys to Love #2) by Priscilla Oliveras

Oliveras, Priscilla. Anchored Hearts. New York: Zebra Books, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1420150193 | $15.95 USD | 352 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb 

Sparkling with humor, romance, Latinx culture, and the unique island energy of Key West, Florida, the acclaimed Keys to Love Series by USA Today bestselling author Priscilla Oliveras is the perfect summer read. Sparks fly for a second time when award-winning photographer and prodigal son Alejandro ends up back home, forced to face the familia–and the girl he left behind–for the first time in years. Can these two Key West natives learn to put away old hurts and embrace a new future under the tropical sun?

A big-hearted, beautiful book about first love, second chances, and finding one’s place in the worldAn exceptional getaway of a book!”—Emily Henry, New York Times bestselling author of Beach Read 

“Anchored Hearts has it all: undeniable chemistrybelievable roadblocks, a heartwarming world, and a lush Key West setting that leaps off the pageAlejandro and Anamaría’s love story is not to be missed!”—Mia Sosa, USA Today bestselling author of The Worst Best Man 

PopSugar Best Romance of April

Key West is the ideal backdrop for the summer read you need! Perfect for fans of Abby Jimenez, Jasmine Guillory, and Jen DeLuca, this gorgeous and stirring new love story from the author of Island Affair will touch your heart…

Award-winning photographer Alejandro Miranda hasn’t been home to Key West in years—not since he left to explore broader horizons with his papi’s warning “never to come back” echoing in his ears. He wouldn’t be heading there now if it wasn’t for an injury requiring months of recuperation. The drama of a prodigal son returning to his familia and their beloved Cuban restaurant is bad enough, but coming home to the island paradise also means coming face to face with the girl he left behind—the one who was supposed to be by his side all along . . .

Anamaría Navarro was shattered when Alejandro took off without her. Traveling the world was their plan, not just his. But after her father’s heart attack, there was no way she could leave—not even for the man she loved. Now ensconced in the family trade as a firefighter and paramedic, with a side hustle as a personal trainer, Anamaría is dismayed that just the sight of Alejandro is enough to rekindle the flame she’s worked years to put out. And as famillia meddling pushes them together, the heat of their attraction only climbs higher. Can they learn to trust again, before the Key West sun sets on their chance at happiness?

“Vibrant…A stunning romance of first love found again.”— Kirkus Reviews STARRED REVIEW

“Oliveras’ portrayal of family and social media ties are reminiscent of Alisha Rai’s romances.” – Booklist STARRED REVIEW

In the series 

#1 Island Affair 

Review

3.5 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

Anchored Hearts is the second in the Key West-set Keys to Love series. It can work as a stand-alone. Once again, Priscilla Oliveras brings her signatures of culture and equal focus on familia and romance to the table, and while I wasn’t blown away by this one (having similar issues as I did with the first), it’s still a fairly enjoyable read. 

While I can’t say I found the romance super memorable, I did like both Anamaria and Alejandro. They have a pretty straightforward second-chance romance: the relationship fell apart due to choices they made years ago, and are now older and wiser, yet still have feelings for each other. 

The family dynamics are also great, and informs the romance in a compelling way. Anamaria has shown her devotion to her family  by giving up on her and Alejandro’s shared dreams to care for her father following his heart attack and is now a firefighter like others in her family, while Alejandro is contending with the fact that he is returning to his family injured after leaving on somewhat bad terms. 

This is a fairly lighthearted read, perfect for the warmer weather of spring and summer. If you love a sweet contemporary romance, you’ll surely like this one. 

Author Bio 

PRISCILLA OLIVERAS is a USA Today bestselling author and 2018 RWA® RITA® double finalist who writes contemporary romance with a Latinx flavor. Proud of her Puerto Rican-Mexican heritage, she strives to bring authenticity to her novels by sharing her Latinx culture with readers. She and her work have earned praise from the Washington Post, New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Redbook, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist, among others. Priscilla earned her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University and currently serves as adjunct faculty in the program and teaches the online class “Romance Writing” for ed2go. While she’s a romance genre junkie, Priscilla also considers herself a sports fan, beach lover, and Zumba aficionado, who often practices the art of napping in her backyard hammock.

To follow along on her fun-filled and hectic life, visit her on the web at https://prisoliveras.com/books/, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/prisoliveras, or on Twitter and Instagram via @prisoliveras.

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Review of “Her First Desire” (A Logical Man’s Guide to Dangerous Women #2) by Cathy Maxwell

Maxwell, Cathy. Her First Desire. New York: Avon Books, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-00062897305 | $7.99 USD | 384 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

If you love Lenora Bell and Tessa Dare, you’ll love the next book in New York Times bestselling author Cathy Maxwell’s Logical Man’s Society series about a delicious battle of the sexes between a determined woman and a stubborn gentleman. 

She arrived in town, beautiful and bold and declaring that she’s inherited property that  that he has already claimed! As a member of the local Logical Men’s Society, Ned Thurlowe prides himself on thinking clearly and calmly at all times. And it’s clear that the meeting place of the society—a local tavern—is his even if the men have turned it to shambles.

But Ned’s claim is challenged Gemma Estep, who’s announced she’s decided to turn it into some sort of respectable tea garden for the local ladies. Ned challenges Gemma, and in doing so behaves most illogically, for though he wants to dismiss her, he also can’t help but desire her.

Gemma has had enough of men telling her what to do, and she’s vowed to make her own way in the world. And Ned Thurlowe is ruining her plans. Not only has he laid claim to her property, pitting them in a heated fight for its ownership, he’s also arousing in her feelings she’s never sensed before.

And although they argue, they quickly discover they have more in common than they’d each ever dreamed—could their disagreement be turning into desire?

In the series

#1 His Secret Mistress

Review

2 stars

I received an ARC and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

Ouch…I typically like Cathy Maxwell’s books, but Her First Desire is a major misfire. And that sucks, as it’s a successor to a book I really enjoyed and there were elements of the premise of this one that appealed to me. 

I really liked Gemma’s determination to have her own life following a bad marriage by taking ownership of her uncle’s tavern. And Ned was great in theory, as I liked that he worked as a doctor (and that this series so far has featured untitled working, although still genteel, heroes), and claimed to have a logical mind.

But then, there’s the men’s club…it was a part of the first book, but not so much that it irked me. But Ned is an enthusiastic member and eternal bachelor, and while that’s not unusual, the way this manifests in his character was off-putting. One of his first actions was to lay false claim to the tavern too, in order to get Gemma riled up, because of his attraction. 

What followed was the most lukewarm battle-of-the-sexes ever, not providing me any reason to think better of him, and actually making me think worse of her for associating with him due to him having his head stuck up his ass. He does improve slightly, but I never warmed up to him. 

This book really frustrated me, and while I have seen mixed opinions on this one, so I would take my opinion with a grain of salt, it’s good to know I’m not alone in thinking a great concept got lost in execution. 

Author Bio 

CATHY MAXWELL spends hours in front of her computer pondering the question, “Why do people fall in love?” It remains for her the mystery of life and the secret to happiness.

She lives in beautiful Virginia with her children, horses, dogs, and cats.

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Review of “Wild Women and the Blues” by Denny S. Bryce

Bryce, Denny S. Wild Women and the Blues. New York: Kensington, 2021. 

ISBN-13: 978-1496730084 | $15.95 USD | 352 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb 

Ordinary People meets Chicago the musical as played out in the city’s Black Belt, Wild Women and the Blues is a mainstream historical fiction novel that weaves the stories of a grieving film student in 2015 and an ambitious chorus girl in 1925 in a tale of history, love, and secrets that only family can define.

1925: Chicago is the jazz capital of the world, and the Dreamland Caf is the ritziest black-and-tan club in town. Honoree Dalcour is a sharecropper’s daughter, willing to work hard and dance every night on her way to the top. Dreamland offers a path to the good life, socializing with celebrities like Louis Armstrong and filmmaker Oscar Micheaux. But Chicago is also awash in bootleg whiskey, gambling, and gangsters. And a young woman driven by ambition might risk more than she can stand to lose.

2015: Film student Sawyer Hayes arrives at the bedside of 110-year-old Honoree Dalcour, still reeling from a devastating loss that has taken him right to the brink. Sawyer has rested all his hope on this frail but formidable woman, the only living link to the legendary Oscar Micheaux. If he’s right–if she can fill in the blanks in his research, perhaps he can complete his thesis and begin a new chapter in his life. But the links Honoree makes are not ones he’s expecting…

Piece by piece, Honoree reveals her past and her secrets, while Sawyer fights tooth and nail to keep his. It’s a story of courage and ambition, hot jazz and illicit passions. And as past meets present, for Honoree, it’s a final chance to be truly heard and seen before it’s too late. No matter the cost…

Review 

3 stars

Wild Women and the Blues is one of my most anticipated 2021 releases, and it definitely delivers on the hype. Denny S. Bryce perfectly captures the time period of the Roaring Twenties and its art, music and culture, while also presenting its continued relevance in multiple ways in the contemporary time set ninety years later. 

I was immediately gripped by Honoree’s story, and how she came from humble origins, but had dreams of dancing, and her rise sees her encountering many famous celebrities of the day. But I also liked seeing how she navigated the darker underbelly of the era, and her story took many shocking twists and turns I did not fully expect. 

The elderly Honoree looking back at her life is again a highlight in the 2015 chapters, and I liked how the two timelines complemented one another in that respect. 

I was comparatively less won over by Sawyer. There were attempts to flesh him out with his family drama, but I really just didn’t care. I was intrigued at how his story intertwined with Honoree’s, and he does work as a good filter for the older Honoree’s story, but as a character in his own right, he was fairly bland. And the POV switches felt a bit too jarring, and didn’t really flow all that well. 

For Honoree’s narrative on its own, I think it’s a great story, only held back by the subjective issues I found with the contemporary narrative. This book has received a lot of praise from others, and it is definitely worth reading to gauge your own opinion. 

Author Bio 

An award-winning author, Denny won the RWA Golden Heart® and was a three-time GH finalist, including twice for WILD WOMEN AND THE BLUES. She also writes book reviews for NPR Books and entertainment articles for FROLIC Media.

The former professional dancer is a public relations professional who spent over two decades, running her marketing and event management firm. For nearly 10 of those years, however, she wrote and read Buffy/Spike fan fiction. A devoted fan of genre TV, some of her favorites include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Angel (the TV series). She is also a classic film buff and an early 20th-century American history lover.

She is represented by Nalini Akolekar, Spencerhill Associates. A member of the Historical Novel Society, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and Novelists, Inc., she is a frequent speaker at author events and lives in Northern Virginia.

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Review of “Heart on a Leash” (Hearts of Alaska #1) by Alanna Martin

Martin, Alanna. Heart on a Leash. New York: Jove, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-0593198834 | $7.99 USD | 368 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb

Young pups teach frozen hearts new tricks when a pack of rescue huskies inspire love and romance in a coastal Alaskan town fractured by feuding families.

Taylor Lipin has made it her life’s mission to leave her hometown and its ridiculous, century-old feud with the Porters behind. But when her sister needs help running the family inn, Taylor agrees to return to Helen, Alaska on a temporary, definitely not longer than two weeks, basis. Or so she thinks, until she’s quite literally swept off her feet and into enemy territory by three happy huskies and their drool-worthy owner, Dr. Josh Krane.

Though Josh didn’t grow up in Helen with the rest of his Porter cousins, he’s heard the stories: Porters rescue huskies. The Lipins are cat people. Keep to your pack. But Taylor is too tempting to give up–plus, his dogs love her.

As Taylor and Josh grow closer, tensions in the town escalate and the need for secrecy starts taking a toll. Soon they’ll need to decide whether their newfound love is just a summer fling or if they’ve found their forever home.

Review 

3.5 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher and am posting an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Heart on a Leash caught my eyebecause of the adorable huskies on the cover. And while there were some cute dog moments, there are other aspects I came to enjoy. 

I’ve never been to Alaska, and Alanna Martin perfectly captured the image of life in a little part of that state for me. And given that family dynamics play such a big role in the story, I did like getting that sense of the two families in relation to the town itself. 

While they come from feuding families, a la Romeo and Juliet, the romance between Taylor and Josh was quite cute. I wasn’t overly connected to them, but as a lighthearted small-town romance pairing, they work. 

And I’m not opposed to a bit of family drama, which I expected given the premise. But drama felt a bit much, with some members of the two  families choosing the feud over love, making things too complicated for Josh and Taylor. Families are messy and I respect that Martin wanted to be true to that, but it all felt so petty. 

I did like this book overall for what it is, and I love that the series will have an emphasis on rescue huskies playing a role in leading their humans to love. If you love small-town romance or books that feature adorable dogs, I’d keep an eye out for this one. 

Author Bio

Growing up, Alanna Martin wanted to be an astronaut, a doctor, and an actor – possibly all at once. After nine years of studying psychology, she somehow became a writer instead. This turned out to be the best career choice of all because she can work in her pajamas while drinking wine. She firmly believes in the power of fluffy books, long walks in the woods, and that there’s no such thing as too much coffee.

If she’s wasting time online, it’s most likely on twitter where you can find her at @ta_martin or on instagram at @tamartinauthor. You can also check out her website for updates at alannamartin.com.

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Review of “An Earl, The Girl, and a Toddler” (Rogues and Remarkable Women #2) by Vanessa Riley

Riley, Vanessa. An Earl, the Girl, and a Toddler. New York: Kensington, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1420152258 | $15.95 USD | 320 pages | Regency Romance 

Blurb 

Acclaimed author Vanessa Riley infuses the ballroom settings of Regency England with hints of Demerara Island and Jamaican flair in Rogues and Remarkable Women, her series revolving around The Widow’s Grace, a secret society of widows battling society to regain their money and a chance at love everlasting. In this sweeping, swoon-worthy second installment, a shipwrecked woman searches for her memories and becomes entangled with a conflicted nobleman who holds more answers than he realizes…

An OMag.com & Bibliolifestyle Most Anticipated Romance of 2021
PopSugar Best Romance of April
Publishers Weekly Top 10 Romance of Spring 2021

A witty and moving story from the acclaimed author of A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby, about the lengths to which a woman will go for the love of her child…and the love of a man who knows her worth. Breaking with traditional Regency rules and customs, Vanessa Riley pens an unforgettable story perfect for fans of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton, Evie Dunmore, and Eloisa James looking for something fresh and stirring!

“Elaborate storytelling…a more diverse Regency world than is traditionally found. Well-researched, with a fascinating author’s note at the end…A historical romance of impressive heft.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Fans of Shonda Rhimes’ adaptation of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton books will devour this series.” – Booklist STARRED REVIEW

“Move over, Bridgertons. There’s a new set of scandalous aristocrats waiting to take London society by storm.” – Library Journal

Masterminded by the ton’s most clever countess, the secret society The Widow’s Grace helps ill-treated widows regain their reputations, their families, and even find true love again—or perhaps for the very first time . . .

Surviving a shipwreck en route to London from Jamaica was just the start of Jemina St. Maur’s nightmare. Suffering from amnesia, she was separated from anyone who might know her, and imprisoned in Bedlam. She was freed only because barrister Daniel Thackery, Lord Ashbrook, was convinced to betray the one thing he holds dear: the law. Desperate to unearth her true identity, Jemina’s only chance is to purloin dangerous secrets with help from The Widow’s Grace—which means staying steps ahead of the formidable Daniel, no matter how strongly she is drawn to him . . .

Married only by proxy, now widowed by shipwreck, Daniel is determined to protect his little stepdaughter, Hope, from his family’s scandalous reputation. That’s why he has dedicated himself not just to the law, but to remaining as proper, upstanding—and boring—as can be. But the closer he becomes to the mysterious, alluring Jemina, the more Daniel is tempted to break the very rule of law to which he’s deevoted his life. And as ruthless adversaries close in, will the truth require him, and Jemina, to sacrifice their one chance at happiness?

RAVES FOR A DUKE, A LADY, AND A BABY

“One of the best historicals I’ve read in years.” —Kristan Higgins, New York Times bestselling author

“Smart and witty . . . the perfect historical read.”—Julia Quinn, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“Expertly crafted romance.” —Publishers Weekly, STARRED review

“Riley gifts readers a sparkling love story” —Entertainment Weekly

In the series 

#1 A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby

Review 

4 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

An Earl, the Girl, and a Toddler is the second in Vanessa Riley’s Rogues and Remarkable Women series. It works more or less as a stand-alone, although there are some overarching elements with the Widow’s Grace that do make the story richer when read in order. 

Just like the first book, this is told in a mix of first and third person, and I think it worked a little better this time around. There seemed to be more of a purpose to the first person style for Jemina, as the plot revolves around her having amnesia. I still felt it left Daniel’s POV feeling a bit disjointed, but generally, the flow was better this time around.

I also really liked the characters and their relationship. Both really stood out due to being BIPOC during the Regency, even while also being part of the upper classes, so it was interesting to explore the intersection of the two. I loved Daniel’s care for his young stepdaughter and how Jemina over time became part of their little found-family unit as well. Riley tends to take her time fleshing out the romance, especially as she’s known for writing on the sweeter end of the spectrum, but just as she always does, she made me feel the love between her characters and root for them amidst all the obstacles thrown at them. 

And Riley’s dedication to weaving in historical detail remains exceptional. I always come away from her books having learned something, and this was no different, as she unpacked everything from women’s uneasy place in society to race in the Regency to some historical figures who have largely existed on the margins of history and played some role in inspiring the content of the book. 

This is another fabulous book from Vanessa Riley. If you’re looking for a more racially diverse take on Regency romance. 

Author Bio 

Vanessa Riley writes Historical Fiction and Historical Romance (Georgian, Regency, & Victorian) featuring hidden histories, dazzling multi-culture communities, and strong sisterhoods. She promises to pull heartstrings, offer a few laughs, and share tidbits of tantalizing history.

You can find her at: 

www.vanessariley.com

https://www.facebook.com/VanessaRileyAuthor

http://www.twitter.com/VanessaRiley

https://www.youtube.com/regencymaid

https://www.instagram.com/vanessarileyauthor 

Sign up for her newsletter to get access to free stories, giveaways, and more at: 

www.VanessaRiley.com

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Review of “Tempting a Gentleman” (The Hadfields #1) by Rache Ann Smith

Smith, Rachel Ann. Tempting a Gentleman. Highlands Ranch, CO: Penford Publishing, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-195112110 | $3.99 USD | 219 pages | Regency Romance 

Blurb 

An East-side girl meets a West-end boy, and a clash of cultures ensue.

Emma Lennox doesn’t have time for love. Running a successful dress shop and carrying out her duties as a key Network member consumes all her time and energy. But when she agrees to attend the Hadfield ball, she is thrown into the company of the unassuming Mr. Neale, who has agreed to act as dance master.

Christopher Neale, lead barrister of Neale & Sons, will have to marry if he wants to claim his birthright to become a Protector of the Royal Family (PORF). After two fruitless years of searching for a suitable wife, a brief encounter with a woman on his brother’s front steps proves to be his undoing.

Challenged with the task of instructing the enigmatic Emma on how to dance, Christopher soon finds himself falling for his reluctant student. Emma is determined to remain self-sufficient and knows that marriage for any independent woman would be a legal disaster.

Will Emma’s resolve not to marry remain steadfast against Christopher’s skill as a barrister and a lover?

In the series

#1 Revealing a Rogue 

Review

3.5 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

Tempting a Gentleman has me feeling rather conflicted. On the one hand, I’m glad that this story works more or less on its own, although with some connections to the first in the series through the character relationships and the continued presence of the PORFs. 

And the romance is pretty good. I liked both Christopher and Emma, with them coming from different backgrounds, but each having these PORF connections, and him having to work to win her over after being enchanted. It’s so nice after reading about a couple emotionally stunted heroes to have one who’s confident in his feelings. And I really liked that Emma is dedicated to her profession and the unique position it gives her with the PORFs, and that she’s not ready to give it up, presenting a good challenge. Her being the one with barriers that come down is rewarding. 

Yet, I still felt I wanted something a bit more. It’s funny, given I stumbled at first with the external plot stuff/intrigue when I first entered this world, given the book I started with, and now I really miss it. But I also appreciate it for what it is as a nice, fairly uncomplicated romance. 

This book was enjoyable, in spite of my mixed feelings. If you’re looking for a nice, straightforward historical romance, I recommend picking this up. 

Author Bio 

Rachel Ann Smith writes steamy historical romances with a twist. Her debut series, Agents of the Home Office, features female protagonists that defy convention.

When Rachel isn’t writing, she loves to read and spend time with the family. She is frequently found with her Kindle by the pool during the summer, on the sidelines of the soccer field in the spring and fall or curled up on the couch during the winter months.

She currently lives in Colorado with her extremely understanding husband and their two very supportive children.

Visit Rachel’s website for updates on cover reveals and new releases – www.rachelannsmith.com

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Review of “The Road to Rose Bend” (Rose Bend #1) by Naima Simone

Simone, Naima. The Road to Rose Bend. Toronto, Ontario: HQN, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1335502988 | $9.99 USD | 400 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb 

If it was only about her, she might never have come back to Rose Bend.

But it’s not only about her anymore.

Sydney Collins left the small Berkshires town of Rose Bend eight years ago, grieving her sister’s death—and heartbroken over her parents’ rejection. But now the rebel is back—newly divorced and pregnant—ready to face her fears and make a home for her child in the caring community she once knew. The last thing she needs is trouble. But trouble just set her body on fire with one hot, hot smile.

Widower and Rose Bend mayor Coltrane Dennison hasn’t smiled in ages. Until a chance run-in with Sydney Collins, who’s all grown-up and making him want what he knows he can’t have. Grief is his only connection to the wife and son he lost, and he won’t give it up. Not for Sydney, not for her child, not for his heart. But when Sydney’s ex threatens to upend everything she’s rebuilt in Rose Bend, Cole and Sydney may find that a little trouble will take them where they never expected to go.

Review

3 stars 

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

The Road to Rose Bend seemed promising as a racially diverse steamy small-town romance in a sea of comparable titles that are largely mostly white and/or lower heat, with a few exceptions. However, while the book did deliver on these aspects, it did also come on very strong with some of the darker elements highlighted in the blurb. 

Naima Simone excels at writing great chemistry that works from the characters’  initial encounter into the relationship building, and of course includes some sexy scenes. The push-and-pull between Sydney and Cole due to the stakes of their respective situations is excellent. 

I also really liked the dynamic of Sydney being pregnant with her awful ex’s child. This leads to a lot of judgment by the others in the town, but Cole is so accepting of all her choices, making their dynamic fairly healthy in spite of the other issues in the story.

And it’s those issues that bogged the story down. I like Simone’s desire to torture her characters, thus making for a rewarding HEA. But after a while, it was a lot. There was the ex stuff, with him wanting custody, Sydney’s issues with her parents, and Cole’s own deceased wife and child. And the ending just didn’t feel like it provided a satisfactory resolution to all these issues. I can understand the concept of recovery being a process, but with that in mind, I felt that the issues should have been less complex, as it was so loaded with trauma without much hope. 

This is a good read, but with those massive caveats. There is a lot to love here, but I think this is a case where your mileage may vary in terms of how much angst you prefer. 

Author Bio

Published since 2009, USA Today Bestselling author Naima Simone loves writing sizzling romances with heart, a touch of humor and snark. Her books have been featured in The Washington Post and Entertainment Weekly, and described as balancing “crackling, electric love scenes with exquisitely rendered characters caught in emotional turmoil.”

She is wife to Superman, or his non-Kryptonian, less bullet proof equivalent, and mother to the most awesome kids ever. They all live in perfect, sometimes domestically-challenged bliss in the southern United States.

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Review of “The Lord I Left” (Secrets of Charlotte Street #3) by Scarlett Peckham

Peckham, Scarlett. The Lord I Left. New York: NYLA, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1641971249 | $5.99 USD | 320 pages | Historical Romance 

Blurb 

He’s a minister to whores… She’s a fallen woman…

Lord Lieutenant Henry Evesham is an evangelical reformer charged with investigating the flesh trade in London. His visits to bawdy houses leave him with a burning desire to help sinners who’ve lost their innocence to vice—even if the temptations of their world test his vow not to lose his moral compass…again.

As apprentice to London’s most notorious whipping governess, Alice Hull is on the cusp of abandoning her quiet, rural roots for the city’s swirl of provocative ideas and pleasures—until a family tragedy upends her dreams and leaves her desperate to get home. When the handsome, pious Lord Lieutenant offers her a ride despite the coming blizzard, she knows he is her best chance to reach her ailing mother—even if she doesn’t trust him.

He has the power to destroy her… She has the power to undo him…

As they struggle to travel the snow-swept countryside, they find their suspicion of each other thawing into a longing that leaves them both shaken. Alice stirs Henry’s deepest fantasies, and he awakens parts of her she thought she’d foresworn years ago. But Henry is considering new regulations that threaten the people Alice holds dear, and association with a woman like Alice would threaten Henry’s reputation if he allowed himself to get too close.

Is falling for the wrong person a test of faith …or a chance at unimagined grace?

In the series 

#1 The Duke I Tempted 

#2 The Earl I Ruined 

Review

4.5 stars 

The Lord I Left is the third in the Secrets of Charlotte Street series, and given my excellent track record with the series so far, I regret not finding a way to read this one sooner. It’s epic and heartbreaking, taking tropes that I’ve often had issues with and subverting them, then meshing them with elements I adore to create the perfect concoction. 

Having Henry be a clergyman and Alice  a fallen woman is a difficult rope to walk, and Peckham masters it. While the conflict between them is still about the difference of values and how much either is willing to or should compromise (hint: she rightfully stands her ground in the matter), he never belittles her for her profession, even if he does suggest her leaving the trade and that she could be an “asset” for his work as a minister to other whores to show them the way. With so many of the genre’s predecessors depicting sex worker heroines who leave the profession and are even “saved” from it by the wealthy/connected hero, it’s nice to see more books like this one where the heroine ultimately continues working, and her man grows from trying to reform sex workers through repentance to reforming their working conditions. 

The only weakness is that, while I feel Alice had her moments of strength, she wasn’t as assertive of a character as other Peckham leads. It does not detract from the story much, however, as it still works, and Henry is the one with more evolving to do. 

This book is absolutely beautiful, and I can’t wait for whatever Scarlett Peckham releases next in either of her  series (or even something completely new). If you love steamy historical romance with a bit of kink, I recommend giving this book and the rest of the series a try! 

Author Bio 

Scarlett Peckham fell in love with romance novels as a child, sneaking paperbacks from the stash in her grandmother’s closet. By the time she came of age she had exhausted her library’s supply and begun to dream of writing one of her own. 

Scarlett studied English at Columbia University and built a career in communications, but in her free hours always returned to her earliest obsession: those delicious, big-hearted books you devour in the dark and can never bear to put down. Her Golden Heart®-winning debut novel, The Duke I Tempted, was named a Best Romance Novel of 2018 by BookPage and The Washington Post and called “astonishingly good” by The New York Times Book Review.

Scarlett recently moved to Los Angeles after spending most of her life in Brooklyn and London. When not reading or writing romance she enjoys drinking immoderate quantities of white wine, watching The Real Housewives, and dressing her cat in bowtie.

Scarlett is represented by Sarah Younger at the Nancy Yost Literary Agency and spends far too much time on Instagram and Twitter. You can drop her a line at scarlett [at] scarlettpeckham [dot] com

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Review of “Black Moon Rising” (Paranormal Hunters #2) by Mila Nicks

Nicks, Mila. Black Moon Rising. [Place of publication not identified]: Mila Nicks, 2021.,al

ASIN: B08L8W4YCF | $3.99 USD | 313 pages | Paranormal Romance 

Blurb 

Philadelphia. Boston. New York City.

Selene Blackstone is finally getting the chance to explore like she’s always dreamed. Once stuck in her hometown Brimrock, with the curse broken, she’s a free witch. Together in their trusty caravan Ghost, she and her paranormal investigator boyfriend Aiden O’Hare are traveling cross-country filming for their show, Paranormal Hunters.

Their first case brings them to the colonial town Maresburg, Virginia, where the Mhoon Hotel is said to be one of the most haunted in the country. At the century-old hotel, guests experience nightmares so frightening they’re heart-stopping – literally. Selene and Aiden only have a couple of weeks to figure out if this case is a scammer at work, or if there’s some truth to what they say: dreams do come true. And so do nightmares.

In the series 

#1 Black Witch Magic 

Review 

4 stars

I received an ARC from the author and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

Black Moon Rising continues the adventures of Selena and Aiden as they’re now a team filming their show Paranormal Hunters. It was fun to see how things panned out for them after they found themselves thrown together during the previous book, and it’s great to see that they have a fairly stable romantic relationship while also working together. As a result, the romance does feel a bit sidelined for the paranormal elements, but this is a great example of a series that can work between an established couple without an excessive amount of interpersonal drama. 

But the series trajectory also allows for some engagement with cool places with a rich history. I enjoyed soaking up the vibe of Maresburg, even as I was questioning whether the paranormal encounters were real along with them, and things got increasingly more dangerous. 

This is a great second installment in the series, and I’m excited to find out what will happen next. If you like paranormal romance involving witches, curses, and hauntings, I think you’ll enjoy this fun series. 

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 “A Wicked Bargain For the Duke” (Hazards of Dukes #3) by Megan Frampton

Frampton, Megan. A Wicked Bargain for the Duke. New York: Avon Books, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-0063023086 | $7.99 USD | 400 pages | Victorian Romance

Blurb 

The author of the “sparkling” and “steamy” (Entertainment WeeklyNever Kiss a Duke returns with the delightful third book in the Hazards of Dukes series as a rigid duke enters into marriage  with a rebellious lady.

Thaddeus, the new Duke of Hasford, holds his new title reluctantly, but his sense of duty is strong. Task number one: find a wife and secure an heir. He thinks he’s found the perfect choice in Lady Jane Capel—until her sister Lavinia bursts onto the scene. Vivacious, rebellious, and strikingly beautiful, Lavinia is determined to keep him away from her shy, sweet sister. And she’s also determined not to think so much about his broad chest and strong thighs.

When Lady Lavinia and Thaddeus end up in the most compromising position, witnessed by Lavinia’s mother and nearly everyone at a party, they’re forced to get married to protect their reputations. With no love between them, but with an heir to conceive, they strike a bargain in bed. Only Lavinia demands passion, and Thaddeus complies, with both of them realizing this marriage of convenience may turn into much more…

In the series

#1 Never Kiss a Duke

#2 Tall, Duke, and Dangerous

Review 

2.5 stars 

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

I wasn’t a fan of the previous book in the Hazards of Dukes series, but I had hope for A Wicked Bargain for the Duke, as I found Thaddeus and his position as reluctant Duke compelling. However, I found myself severely underwhelmed once again. 

There are some good points. The heroine, Lavinia, is great. She’s a great sister, watching out for Jane when their parents are both ignorant of both their desires. I also really liked her industriousness, working as a writer. And I also really liked the sex positivity, where she can hold her own in the bedroom after her initial awkward attempts with the Thaddeus. 

However, Thaddeus confused me. On the one hand, I liked that he showed genuine care for those working for him, with it even being pointed out how un-ducal that was. But he was also so casually misogynistic to the point of being difficult to like, which trumps any grounds for “historical accuracy.” His desire for a modest wife is not out of the ordinary, but his weird justifications for it and why Lavinia was unsuitable were ridiculous. She reads? She must have interests outside of being a duchess that would occupy her too much! Never mind what the intelligent mind of a reader could bring to the table in that regard. He does apologize at one point for disrespecting her, but it still didn’t make up for it in my eyes.

The romance was also poorly developed. In theory, it works. They’re both practical list-makers who use this device various times throughout the book, and I expected to see some bonding on a deeper level with stuff like that. But most of the book is the sexual stuff at night and ignoring each other during the day, and then being like, “why aren’t they spending time with me?” And instead of just asking and using that as a moment of catharsis, they just continue in their empty union with their assumptions. 

It sucks that I didn’t enjoy this one more, because I saw so much potential in this and I’m also aware of the personal health struggles Megan Frampton was going through while working on this book (acknowledged in her dedication), which magnifies the guilt. But I have a feeling, based on the polarizing early reviews of this one, that while I’m not alone in my opinions, there are also others who liked or even loved this one. If this book interests you, I would give it a try. 

Author Bio 

Megan Frampton’s love affair with books began when her parents moved her to a remote town in New Hampshire where there was only one television station. And then the TV broke. She devoured every book of fiction in her well-read parents’ library, finding special joy in Georgette Heyer and the fairy tales collected and translated by Andrew Lang. Megan majored in English literature at Barnard College and worked in the music industry for fifteen years. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband (her former intern) and her kid.

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Review of “Parachutes” by Kelly Yang

Yang, Kelly. Parachutes. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0062941084 | $18.99 USD | 476 pages | Contemporary 

Blurb 

Speak enters the world of Gossip Girl in this modern immigrant story from New York Times bestselling author Kelly Yang about two girls navigating wealth, power, friendship, and trauma.

They’re called parachutes: teenagers dropped off to live in private homes and study in the US while their wealthy parents remain in Asia. Claire Wang never thought she’d be one of them, until her parents pluck her from her privileged life in Shanghai and enroll her at a high school in California. Suddenly she finds herself living in a stranger’s house, with no one to tell her what to do for the first time in her life. She soon embraces her newfound freedom, especially when the hottest and most eligible parachute, Jay, asks her out.

Dani De La Cruz, Claire’s new host sister, couldn’t be less thrilled that her mom rented out a room to Claire. An academic and debate-team star, Dani is determined to earn her way into Yale, even if it means competing with privileged kids who are buying their way to the top. When her debate coach starts working with her privately, Dani’s game plan veers unexpectedly off course.

Desperately trying to avoid each other under the same roof, Dani and Claire find themselves on a collision course, intertwining in deeper and more complicated ways, as they grapple with life-altering experiences. Award-winning author Kelly Yang weaves together an unforgettable modern immigrant story about love, trauma, family, corruption, and the power of speaking out.

Review 

5 stars

Parachutes may just be in the running for the best book I’ve read this year. Just as she does with her middle grade work, Kelly Yang takes on hard-hitting topics with such care, speaking both from her own experience with the culture of sexual assault in schools and also careful research into the lives of “parachutes,” exchange students from China studying in the US. 

She really encapsulates how multifaceted the experience can be for the students: exciting, anxiety-inducing, and filled with a multilayered intensity of trying to assimilate while also going through the typical teen issues. 

The story also highlights the harrowing narrative of sexual assault in school from multiple angles, with a fellow student as a perpetrator, and when the teacher is the offender. While I was sadly ill-informed about the similar culture that exists in high schools (particularly prestigious ones like in the novel), the story plays out in a similar way to many prominent cases seen in the news from higher education, showing how prevalent the problem is, and yet how few institutions really care. Even Yang’s own alma mater, Harvard Law, which she mentions in the author’s note, is just getting the hint they need to do better. 

I really liked seeing Claire and Dani be drawn as very different, from their cultural backgrounds to their interests, and seeing how them sharing the same house impacted them, especially when it turns out they both unknowingly like the same guy. And while I wasn’t sure about how to feel about Dani after she found out, especially given that led to the chasm widening between them, and her being a vulnerable target for another parachute to use to seemingly get himself back into proximity to Claire, but I liked the poetic symbolism that both were dealing with the pain of sexual assault. While it can be easy to ask, “why didn’t Dani try to do more sooner when she found out?,” I think both needed to let their stories play out the way they did to get over their grudges against each other, and ultimately, while they both had to face humiliation at the hands of the school, they ended up coming out stronger together, with allies who believe in them and a refusal to be silent any longer. 

This is a triumphant book encapsulating a multitude of issues. With the utmost discretion in mind (take heed of the content warnings!), I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a hard-hitting multicultural contemporary. 

CW: scenes depicting sexual harassment and rape 

Author Bio 

Kelly Yang is the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of FRONT DESK, winner of the 2019 Asian Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature, PARACHUTES (YA debut, novel, Harpercollins) and THREE KEYS (Front Desk Sequel, Scholastic). She was born in China and grew up in Los Angeles. She went to college at the age of 13 and graduated from UC Berkeley at the age of 17 and Harvard Law School at the age of 20. After law school, she founded The Kelly Yang Project, a writing and debating program for children in Asia. Prior to becoming a novelist, she wrote for many years for the South China Morning Post, The New York Times, Washington Post, and the Atlantic.

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Review of “The Defiant Wife” (The 3 Mrs. #2) by Jess Michaels

Michaels, Jess. The Defiant Wife. Dallas: The Passionate Pen, LLC, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1947770492 | $4.99 USD | 235 pages | Regency Romance 

Blurb 

Pippa Montgomery never thought her life would go like this. When she found out her late husband was a bigamist and had been murdered, she thought nothing could ever be the same. When she met his brother Rhys, the Earl of Leighton, she knew it.

Now they must navigate a scandal that will tear them both apart. They must make decisions that will affect the illegitimate child Pippa’s late husband fathered behind her back. And ultimately they must fight, for as long as they can, the simmering desire between them that is bound to explode.

Two people, broken by a desperate scandal. They can only turn to each other, but they know they can never be together. Will they overcome the obstacles in their way and find a way to love one another? Or will the last consequence of one man’s conduct be the loss of a love that could last all time?

Heat Level: A lot of sweet surrender

In the series 

#1 The Unexpected Wife 

Review 

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley. I am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

The Defiant Wife is the second in Jess Michaels’ 3 Mrs. series, picking up where the last story left off, but following another wife, Pippa, as she works to rebuild her life in the aftermath. It can work as a standalone, but I think the first provides a lot of the setup that makes this one much richer, and I generally do recommend it. 

I admired Pippa’s strength of character as she faces uncertainty in the aftermath of the events of the next book, especially as the illegitimate child her bigamous husband bore with a maid has been left in her care. 

Rhys is a massive contrast with his late brother, being honorable to a fault and determined to see all of his wives well cared for. But there’s something more with Pippa, complicated by the fact that she was technically married to his brother, even if not legally. 

The romance for these two was an odd one, as when they’re together, there’s great chemistry, to the point where you question what could possibly stand in their way besides technicalities. But the myriad messes the brother left behind and Rhys’ dedication to fixing them led to them being apart for a good portion of the second half, and it slightly stagnated as a result until the final showdown with the villain of this book. Ultimately, it does make the happy ending well worth it, but I did long for more page time between them. 

This is a compelling second installment, and I’m excited to see what happens in the third. If you love Regency romance that is equal parts steam and intrigue, you’ll enjoy this one. 

Author Bio 

Jess Michaels is a USA Today Bestselling Author who likes geeky stuff like Star Wars, playing video games (she ships herself with Dragon Age’s Cullen FOREVER), Bob’s Burgers and collecting POPs!  She also drinks a LOT of Diet Coke. Probably an unhealthy amount, but it’s her only vice. She will eat (almost) anything coconut, truly anything cheesy and nothing spicy (yes, she is a walking stereotype when it comes to that). She likes cats, her dog Elton and people who care about the welfare of their fellow humans.

Although she started out traditionally published by Avon/HarperCollins, Pocket, Hachette and Samhain Publishing, in 2015 she went fully indie and has never looked back! She is lucky enough to be married to her favorite person in the world and live in the heart of Dallas.

When she’s not obsessively checking her steps on Fitbit or trying out all the new flavors of Greek yogurt, she writes historical romances with smoking hot heroes and sassy heroines who do anything but wait to get what they want.

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Review of “Lady Wynwood’s Spies: Volume 3: Aggressor” (Lady Wynwood’s Spies #3) by Camille Elliot

Elliot, Camille. Lady Wynwood’s Spies, volume 3: Aggressor. San Jose: Camy Tang, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1942225256 | $2.99 USD | 296 pages | Regency Romance/Mystery

Blurb 

Part three in a Christian Regency Romantic Adventure epic serial novel with a supernatural twist
Lady Wynwood’s Spies volume 3
One man faces death
With the help of his team, Mr. Michael Coulson-Jones has overcome the deadly Root elixir that
turned him into a monster. But now that they know more about the poisonous potion, he is faced
with an inevitable truth—unless he agrees to the risk of taking more, he will eventually die.
One man faces theft
In the meantime, a beautiful, infamous French spy and her group of thugs have landed on
English soil, intent on stealing the mysterious plant that Apothecary Jack uses to control his
underworld empire. They play a violent game of hide-and-seek with Michael’s team amidst the
rookeries of London.
One man faces rage
Then one of the team is afflicted by a savage, insane rage after exposure to the strange pollen
of Jack’s plants. The team must not only battle the French spies and Apothecary Jack, but also
a sickness of the mind tormenting one of their own.
PLEASE NOTE: This is the third book in the Lady Wynwood’s Spies series, an epic serial
novel. Each volume has a completed story arc, but this is NOT a stand-alone novel and the
story continues in volume 4.

In the series

#0.5a The Spinster’s Christmas

#0.5b The Gentleman and the Thief

#1 Lady Wynwood’s Spies, volume 1: Archer

#2 Lady Wynwood’s Spies, volume 2: Berserker

Review

4 stars 

I received an ARC from the author. I am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

Lady Wynwood’s Spies, volume 3: Aggressor continues many of the plot threads from the first two, advancing them in ways I did not expect. When it comes to these books, I do sometimes feel they are a bit ambitious, with so many plot threads and some I have to refresh my mind on, even with such a short break between books. But that’s more of a “me” thing, a drawback of reading so much, and the story overall is fairly engaging once you get into the rhythm of it. 

While I can’t say I’m overly connected to anyone as yet, there are some intriguing plot threads involving everyone. The connections between romantic couples, like Laura and Sol, and Michael and Laura, grows subtly, which says a lot, given one of my pet hates with romances in mysteries is repetition of “will-they’d won’t-they,” which is not the case here, with other things on the characters’ minds. There are also revelations, about the identity of the mother of a key character (or two), and more, and more questions about the effects of “the Root.” 

This is another solid installment in a great series, and I’m excited for the next one. And if you’re looking for an intriguing romantic Regency mystery series, definitely check this series out. 

Author Bio

Camy writes Christian Contemporary Romance and Romantic Suspense as Camy Tang and
Christian Regency Romantic Suspense under her pen name, Camille Elliot. She grew up in
Hawaii but now lives in northern California with her engineer husband and rambunctious dog.
She graduated from Stanford University in psychology with a focus on biology, and for nine
years she worked as a biologist researcher. Then God guided her path in a completely different
direction and now she’s writing full time, using her original psychology degree as she creates
the characters in her novels. She was a staff worker for her church youth group for over 20
years and she currently plays on one of the Sunday worship teams. She also loves to knit, spin
wool into yarn, and is learning Japanese. Visit her websites at https://www.camytang.com/ and
http://www.camilleelliot.com/ to read free short stories and subscribe to her quarterly newsletter.
Email:
camy@camytang.com
Website: https://www.camilleelliot.com/
Blog: http://camys-loft.blogspot.com/
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorCamilleElliot
Facebook reader group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/717132412221628
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/291940.Camy_Tang
Goodreads reader group: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/49078
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/camytang/
Amazon author page: https://amazon.com/Camille-Elliot/e/B00J7I8B9I
Bookbub author page: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/camille-elliot
Newsletter signup: https://mailchi.mp/camytang/camille-elliot-website
Agent: Wendy Lawton at Books and Such Literary Agency

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Review of “Sex and Vanity” by Kevin Kwan

Kwan, Kevin. Sex and Vanity. New York: Doubleday, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0385546270 | $26.95 USD | 315 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb 

A GOOD MORNING AMERICA Book Club Pick

Kevin Kwan’s new book is his most decadent yet. —Entertainment Weekly

The iconic author of the bestselling phenomenon Crazy Rich Asians returns with the glittering tale of a young woman who finds herself torn between two men: the WASPY fianc of her family’s dreams and George Zao, the man she is desperately trying to avoid falling in love with.

On her very first morning on the jewel-like island of Capri, Lucie Churchill sets eyes on George Zao and she instantly can’t stand him. She can’t stand it when he gallantly offers to trade hotel rooms with her so that she can have a view of the Tyrrhenian Sea, she can’t stand that he knows more about Casa Malaparte than she does, and she really can’t stand it when he kisses her in the darkness of the ancient ruins of a Roman villa and they are caught by her snobbish, disapproving cousin Charlotte. Your mother is Chinese so it’s no surprise you’d be attracted to someone like him, Charlotte teases. The daughter of an American-born Chinese mother and a blue-blooded New York father, Lucie has always sublimated the Asian side of herself in favor of the white side, and she adamantly denies having feelings for George. But several years later, when George unexpectedly appears in East Hampton, where Lucie is weekending with her new fianc , Lucie finds herself drawn to George again. Soon, Lucie is spinning a web of deceit that involves her family, her fianc , the co-op board of her Fifth Avenue apartment building, and ultimately herself as she tries mightily to deny George entry into her world–and her heart. Moving between summer playgrounds of privilege, peppered with decadent food and extravagant fashion, Sex and Vanity is a truly modern love story, a daring homage to A Room with a View, and a brilliantly funny comedy of manners set between two cultures.

Review

3 stars 

Following up a massive hit trilogy can be a lot of pressure, especially when said trilogy (or at least one of three with prospects of more) has received the Hollywood treatment. With that in mind, Sex and Vanity is a decent effort. While I felt it lacked the emotional core that made the Crazy Rich Asians books work, I found what I was looking for in other respects: humorous reference-heavy prose (often through the use of footnotes) detailing a satire of the ultra-rich. 

I wasn’t overly connected to anyone in particular, due in part to the omniscient narrative style and the aforementioned lack of real substance to the characterizations.And the romance between her and George just didn’t appeal to me. At first, it was all right, but over time, I just didn’t care, and found them flat and boring. 

There are some weighty topics discussed amidst the opulence, like racism and classism, with George being ostracized by society for his background (which he doesn’t care about) and how Lucie’s biracial identity and Asian features have led to her being treated differently in Western society. But these topics get a bit lost in the lack of depth to the characters. 

This is an enjoyable escape, even if it does feel like a pale imitation of its predecessors. If you’re looking for a fun social satire of the wealthy, I think this is a great book to get lost in for a bit. 

Author Bio 

KEVIN KWAN is the author of Crazy Rich Asians, the international bestselling novel that has been translated into more than 30 languages.  Its sequel, China Rich Girlfriend, was released in 2015, and Rich People Problems, the final book in the trilogy, followed in 2017.  For several weeks in 2018, the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy commanded the top three positions of the New York Times bestseller list – an almost unprecedented single-author trifecta, and the film adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians became Hollywood’s highest grossing romantic comedy in over a decade.  In 2018, Kevin was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.

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Review of “These Feathered Flames” by Alexandra Overy

Overy, Alexandra. These Feathered Flames. Toronto, Ontario: Inkyard Press, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1335147967 | $19.99 USD | 496 pages | YA Fantasy 

Blurb 

Three Dark CrownsmeetsWicked Saintsin this queer #ownvoices retelling of “The Firebird,” a Russian folktale, by debut author Alexandra Overy.

When twin heirs are born in Tourin, their fates are decided at a young age. While Izaveta remained at court to learn the skills she’d need as the future queen, Asya was taken away to train with her aunt, the mysterious Firebird, who ensured magic remained balanced in the realm.

But before Asya’s training is completed, the ancient power blooms inside her, which can mean only one thing: the queen is dead, and a new ruler must be crowned.

As the princesses come to understand everything their roles entail, they’ll discover who they can trust, who they can love—and who killed their mother.

Review 

2 stars 

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

These Feathered Flames sounded incredibly promising: a queer retelling of “The Firebird?” Granted, I don’t know the original tale very well, but I don’t think that was a factor in my lack of enjoyment, especially as I’ve enjoyed books influenced by Russian folklore in the past. 

And I think a couple of the other early critical reviews have helped me to pin down why that is: this virtual tome of a book (clocking in at just under 500 pages) is too much on the character-driven side, without much emphasis on plot. Nothing happened. It just ended up being a bit of a slog through chapter after chapter of introspection, without much action. For the length it is, I would have expected more: more world building (where the heck are we? Not in actual Russia, but I can’t say more than that beyond “vague fantasy world inspired by Russsia”), more development of the magic and political systems, more keeping the story going. 

And the characters were…ok. The author pitched the relationship between Izaveta and Asya as very similar to Sansa and Arya, and that does come through. Each has their own unique challenges in their respective roles, and in theory, if works. I just never fully felt connected to them on a deeper level, even though I was spending so much time in their heads. If there had been some balance between being told through their internal monologue and some action expressing similar things, I might have felt more for them. 

This is a good example of a great concept, but poor execution. But it also depends on your reader preferences, as if you like a slower story with emphasis on character thought over action, it might work better for you. 

Author Bio 

Alexandra grew up in London and moved to Los Angeles to pursue her undergraduate degree in history at UCLA, followed by her MFA in screenwriting also at UCLA. She loves writing in all formats, from novels to screenplays to graphic novels, always centring on fierce women and morally grey characters, often with a bit of magic and murder. Her debut novel, These Feathered Flames, releases April 20 2021 from Inkyard Press.
When she’s not writing, she can be found baking, fangirling over her favourite books, or cuddling her cat.

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Review of “First Comes Like” (Modern Love #3) by Alisha Rai

Rai, Alisha. First Comes Like. New York: Avon Books, 2021. 

ISBN-13: 978-0062878151 | $15.99 USD | 432 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb 

Beauty expert and influencer Jia Ahmed has her eye on the prize: conquering the internet today, the entire makeup industry tomorrow, and finally, finally proving herself to her big opinionated family. She has little time for love, and even less time for the men in her private messages—until the day a certain international superstar slides into her DMs, and she falls hard and fast.

There’s just one wrinkle: he has no idea who she is.

The son of a powerful Bollywood family, soap opera star Dev Dixit is used to drama, but a strange woman who accuses him of wooing her online, well, that’s a new one. As much as he’d like to focus on his Hollywood fresh start, he can’t get Jia out of his head. Especially once he starts to suspect who might have used his famous name to catfish her…

When paparazzi blast their private business into the public eye, Dev is happy to engage in some friendly fake dating to calm the gossips and to dazzle her family. But as the whole world swoons over their relationship, Jia can’t help but wonder: Can an online romance-turned-offline-fauxmance ever become love in real life?

In the series 

#1 The Right Swipe

#2 Girl Gone Viral 

Review 

4 stars 

I didn’t love the previous book as much as others seemed to, but First Comes Like is a wonderful return to form for Alisha Rai. The book unpacks serious issues, such as the cultural and generational divide in Indian families, while also not foregoing its overall lighthearted tone. 

I’ve liked Jia since her initial appearance in Wrong to Need You as one of Sadia’s many sisters, and the other one (besides Sadia) determined to thwart family expectations by becoming a beauty influencer instead of following the family path into the medical field. It was interesting to see how the family has evolved since the end of that book, especially since that book so heavily involved Sadia as the black sheep of the family. Their relationships aren’t perfect, but it’s nice to see Jia’s new path for herself respected by her family. 

Meanwhile, Dev is also trying to assert himself in the industry independently from his powerful Indian film titan family, and I feel that made him a nice counterpart for Jia, especially since meddling (in a very unorthodox, messed up sense) on the part of some of his family is what throws them together. 

I really liked the slow, gradual pace of their romance. Traditionalist values are a heavy influence in the circles the Dixit family run in, and that plays a role, but more in the sense that it’s what motivates Dev and Jia to make certain pivotal decisions in response to scandalous headlines. I’m definitely not opposed to the more hot-and-heavy stuff, as Alisha Rai has done this well in prior books, but I really liked seeing a sweet courtship that built up to the steamy stuff, even if the reason it all started was unconventional. 

This is a really sweet book, capping off a fun series exploring the complexities of love in the digital age. If you love diverse contemporary romance, I think you’ll enjoy this one. 

Author Bio 

Alisha Rai pens award-winning contemporary romances. Her novels have been featured on the IndieNext and the LibraryReads lists, and been named Best Books of the Year by Washington Post, NPR, New York Public Library, Amazon, Entertainment Weekly, Reader’s Digest, Kirkus, “O” the Oprah Magazine, and Cosmopolitan Magazine. When she’s not writing, Alisha is traveling or tweeting. To find out more about her books or to sign up for her newsletter, visit www.alisharai.com.

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Review of “Betting on Duke’s Heart” by Royaline Sing

Sing, Royaline. Betting on a Duke’s Heart. Fort Collins, CO: Entangled Publishing, 2021.

978-1649371393 | $3.99 USD | 424 pages | Victorian Romance 

Blurb 

Aetius White, the Duke of Saxton, couldn’t save his father, but he’ll be damned if he won’t save the man’s dream. He’ll acquire a Triple Crown–winning horse at any cost, even marriage. Luckily, the lovely lady in mind loves challenges as much as he. Certainly he can win her heart without losing his own…

Hell will freeze over before Miss Dina Campbell agrees to marry a horse-mad man who wants her dowry of a prize stallion, no matter what her father wants. The duke may be handsome, but he’ll have to prove he is a suitable match for her before she’ll even consider the offer. And there’s no way this love-averse man will ever succeed with the wager that she has planned…

Review 

3 stars 

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

Betting on a Duke’s Heart intrigued me, as I was excited to see yet another book with an Indian heroine, although that excitement was also tempered with a healthy dose of apprehension, due to the uproar over a similar (delayed) title, also featuring an Indian woman and a duke. And while I can’t speak to the rep in this case, just as I couldn’t in the other, I found this book interesting and refreshing…with caveats. 

I loved the prominent placement of Indian culture and mythology. As the romance proceeds, each chapter is headed with an epigraph relating a tale from the Mahabharata, “The Love Saga of Nala and Damayanti,” and over time, you can see how it parallels the romance between Dina and Aetius. And generally, I could feel like Royaline Sing was coming from a really authentic place and embedding her own cultural experience in the story, in addition to acknowledging the largely ignored (in historical romance novels, anyway) South Asian population in England by this time. 

I really liked how Sing addressed the power dynamic, in terms of gender. As she noted in her author’s note, a marriage act amendment meant women were no longer the  property of their husbands, allowing Dina more agency when she married Aetius. While him being a Duke still presents some unmentioned, but implied problems, given her background, I found that their romance was more balanced as a result, and fairly sweet and fairly easy to root for. Dina is strong willed, and Aetius respects that. 

But at the same time, a few things bogged the story down. One was the large role horses played. Horse racing, breeding, the feeling of being on horseback. Some of that is understandable…Aetius is called “the Bareback Duke,” after all. I love when heroes actually have particular hobbies that aren’t drinking and whoring, especially if it serves as a bonding point for him with the heroine. But it got really repetitive, and even though it did help them bond, it also ended up distracting me more than anything else. 

I also struggled with the character motivations at times, especially towards the end, when the Black Moment happened. Aside from echoing the myth, I had no idea what happened with them, and why. 

This is a sweet romance, and even with these major caveats, I did enjoy it enough to keep an eye on what Royaline Sing writes next. 

Author Bio 

As my first fiction work, I’ve a notebook length movie script, featuring my favorite stars. I was probably ten. It hasn’t seen the light of the day (And it won’t).

But story telling lingered. Though I have a software engineering job, the creative world teased from afar. So one day, I finally put the pen to the paper (or my fingers to the keyboard?) and started writing.

Now, I write through the noise of my lovely two kids, a very supportive (but sweetly clueless) husband and a bank job where numbers rule.

Born and brought up in India, I’m a huge fan of Bollywood romantic movies and the music. I also like all things Marvel! I love to travel and so many destinations are on my bucket list. (hint: some pictures here give the clues!)

I am currently writing Historical Romances, with heroines setting their own norms and coming to toes with heroes worth loving.

I am represented by the wonderful Sara Megibow at KT literary Agency.

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Review of “Front Desk” (Front Desk #1) by Kelly Yang

Yang, Kelly. Front Desk. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic Inc., 2018.

ISBN-13: 978-1338157796 | $16.99 USD | 286 pages | MG Contemporary 

Blurb 

Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

Review 

5 stars 

I’ve seen a lot of praise for Kelly Yang’s work lately, with Front Desk being chief among them. And upon reading it, I can see why. While it is a reflection of Yang’s experience as an immigrant in the 90s, a lot of the issues remain the same, such as the struggles immigrants face in coming to the US in order to make a new life, in many cases dealing with poverty and being confronted with racism. Despite being a middle grade book, it does not sugarcoat the experiences Mia, her family, and their friends deal with, and nor should it, especially if it is reflective of the real lived experiences Yang had between the ages of eight and twelve. 

Mia herself is a wonderful protagonist. I love her strength and determination to seek out happiness for herself and her parents. One facet of the story is that she wants to be a writer, but a stumbling block is English not being her first language. I loved seeing her persevere in her mastery of English through writing letters and essays. These passages show her grammatical corrections and expanding vocabulary, and it’s beautiful to get to see her literary development throughout, while also using it to serve a purpose in many parts of the narrative. 

I loved this book, as it really made me reflect on how fortunate I am to have been born here in the US, especially upon reading Yang’s note on how the Chinese immigrant experience had changed within the last century. This is an important read that I feel transcends its age group, and everyone should read it!

Author Bio 

Kelly Yang is the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of FRONT DESK, winner of the 2019 Asian Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature, PARACHUTES (forthcoming YA debut novel, May 2020, Harpercollins) and THREE KEYS (Front Desk Sequel, Sept 2020, Scholastic). She was born in China and grew up in Los Angeles. She went to college at the age of 13 and graduated from UC Berkeley at the age of 17 and Harvard Law School at the age of 20. After law school, she founded The Kelly Yang Project, a writing and debating program for children in Asia. Prior to becoming a novelist, she wrote for many years for the South China Morning Post, The New York Times, Washington Post, and the Atlantic.

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Review of “The Young and the Ruined: Compromised” by Janna MacGregor, Tammy Andresen, Meara Platt, Merry Farmer, Annabelle Anders, and Tabetha Waite

MacGregor, Janna, et. al. The Young and the Ruined: Compromised. [Place of publication not identified]: Annabelle Anders, 2021.

ASIN: B08H7ZF7BF | $4.99 USD | 692 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb 

These members of the peerage are young, beautiful and full of trouble… the sort that might just get a lord or lady ruined. Don’t miss out on this set of six stories of romance, passion and a fair bit of societal difficulties…

Two Ruins Make a Right by Janna MacGregor – Lady Nellwyn ‘Nell’ Whitton and Mr. James Richardson hate each other. A jilting will do that to a betrothed couple, no matter the reason. After eight years, fate steps in when Nell stumbles upon a house party where James will pick a new wife. They must reconcile their past when Nell’s sister and James’ cousin are found in a compromising position. One ruination leads to another. Only this time, will it make it right?

Laird of Longing by Tammy Andresen – Lady Sophia Everclear doesn’t regret fleeing the rake who attempted to trap her into marriage, But perhaps she should not have stowed away on a ship bound for Scotland. The problems? There are too many to count. But the largest, most annoying one is Captain Ewan McLaren. The tall and brawny Scot says exactly what he thinks, and he doesn’t think much of Sophia. Still. He’s all she’s got, and fortunately, for her, his heart is even bigger than his lectures. Which makes her wonder. What else, beside talking, might his mouth be good at?

A Rescued Heart by Meara Platt – Annie Whitcomb often helped out her father in his medical practice in their quiet seaside village, and his worst patient without doubt was Major Peter Croft. His surly disposition and abuse of spirits and opium to ease the pain of his battle injuries left him fit company for no one. Yet, when her father unexpectedly passes away, leaving her destitute and with nowhere to turn, it is Peter who comes to her with a startling proposition… marry him.

How to Avoid a Scandal (Or Not) by Merry Farmer – Lady Diana Pickwick has hated John Darrow, Lord Whitlock for years, so why can’t she seem to stay away from him? John has had his eye on Diana from the moment they met, and baiting her has been so much fun. But when they are accidentally caught in a compromising position and forced to marry, their games are over. Or have they just begun?

Trapped with the Duke by Annabelle Anders – Miss Collette Jones, as the illegitimate daughter of a baron, is determined to become a respectable teacher. The Duke of Bedwell isn’t interested in respectable teachers. He’s interested in being proper, honorable, and fulfilling his duties to his title. So what is Bedwell to do when honor demands he show more than a little interest in one particular respectable teacher? Why, marry the chit, that’s what.

A Captivating Compromise by Tabetha Waite – Younger brothers have become a bane to Miss Garnett Younghusband’s existence. As she travels out one night to drag them back from Vauxhall before they destroy the family soap business, she finds that she is the one compromised at the hands of the infamous Lord Rafe Pembroke! Can anything good come from such a brief torrid affair?

Review

3 stars 

I received an ARC from Janna MacGregor as part of her street team and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

While I’ve often been burned by a new-to-me historical author of late, especially when they write tropes I dislike, I will do what I can to support the authors who’ve earned my trust. So, in spite of not having read a number of the authors in this collection before, I was eager to support Janna MacGregor and Tabetha Waite, so I was willing to keep an open mind, even if the blurbs of a couple stories already raised concerns. 

Janna MacGregor’s contribution, “Two Ruins Make a Right” felt a bit busy, with that one really embracing the soapy love triangles of The Young and the Restless, which provided inspiration for the anthology concept. I felt at times that the other couple stole page time that could have been better spent fleshing out James and Nell, especially given it was so short. And this is something that will clearly be a selling point for everyone but me, but I’m going to say it: they had sex, but I just didn’t feel like there was anything substantial between them, which I needed to believe in the relationship. I would love to see this one fleshed out into something longer, or a companion piece for the other couple, since they did divert so much attention. 

“They had sex, but I didn’t feel it was love” was a problem I had with “Laird of Longing” by Tammy Andresen. The story felt a bit more focused, since it was just the one couple, but I just didn’t feel anything for them. 

“A Rescued Heart” by Meara Platt is the gem of this collection. Characters with a long acquaintance and platonic affection have always appealed to me as a great basis for a novella, and I really felt that with Annie and Peter. Their relationship felt realistic, starting off with practical concerns and then focusing on their developing feelings. 

These next two troubled me to the point where I couldn’t get beyond the first chapter of either, and it’s all down to the heroes. I know, I should have continued to see if it got better, but I feel like there’s lines you shouldn’t cross. Merry Farmer’s is slightly less troubling, but not much. Basically, an adult man is teasing the object of his affection because he likes her. Um, that’s not romantic, and I don’t blame Diana for not liking him and don’t know if there’s anything he could do to ease my mind after that. 

As for Annabelle Anders’ contribution…it just exemplifies my aversion to most Dukes. His High-and -Mightiness doesn’t think this girls’ school is good enough for his sister, but while he’s there, he’s ogling the teacher. Ew. I know it’s a historical, but you’re writing for a modern audience of largely women in the age of MeToo, who more recently has dealt with some particularly shocking events that have reinforced their lack of safety in public spaces. I can understand if people can forget about that when they escape into a historical romance, but I cannot. 

After the double dose of shock, “A Captivating Compromise” by Tabetha Waite is a nice respite. The quirky names, like Garnett Younghusband, are an immediate attention-grabber, and while I felt the romance took a bit to get going, compared to the others, I liked this one and how romance bloomed from being compromised, which is not always the easiest thing to pull off. 

I can’t say I’m too surprised at the outcome being more lukewarm, with the ones I expected to like being the ones I did and the ones I knew I would have issues with not giving me enough early on to think it would be worth investing in. But there was at least one hidden gem I found by an author I had not tried before. Either way, definitely take my opinions with a massive grain of salt. If you love the fantasy of a sexy alpha Duke, an accidental abduction,  or the trope of the guy who can only seem to communicate their affection through teasing, then at least one or all of the stories will capture your fancy. And if you’re like me, and one of the ones I liked (even with caveats) worked, then there’s something for you too. That’s always the beauty of an anthology: there’s something for everyone. 

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Review of “Someone Wanton His Way Comes” (Wantons of Waverton #1) by Christi Caldwell

Caldwell, Christi. Someone Wanton His Way Comes. Seattle: Montlake, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1542021395 | $12.95 USD | 335 pages | Regency Romance 

Blurb 

Christi Caldwell, USA Today bestselling author of the Wicked Wallflowers series, invites you to join London’s most scandalous society in a witty romance of love, rebellion, and second chances.

Widowed Lady Sylvia Elton is out to save young ladies from the terrible fate of love and marriage. Her former husband has retained his reputation as an honorable and loving man in death, but Sylvia has privately mourned his lies and infidelity. Joined by two equally scorned and cast-off friends, Sylvia establishes the Mismatch Society. With each new liberated member, the scandalous circle wreaks havoc on the romantic prospects of London’s frustrated male peerage. But nothing prepares Sylvia for the Viscount St. John, a familiar face and her most formidable challenger.

Clayton Kearsley, the Viscount St. John, can’t allow these wantons to dismantle the Marriage Mart. Until he discovers the ringleader is his old friend’s widow, a fine woman for whom he’s carried a torch since the day they met. Thinking himself undeserving of a diamond like her, he introduced her to his best friend—a decision he now regrets deeply, knowing of the hurt she carries in secret.

Now he is positioned to match wits with this woman, who is determined to save young ladies from future heartbreak. And despite his misgivings, Clayton is entertaining fantasies that he could end their battle with a kiss. If only he had the courage to tell her how he feels—or the hope that she’d ever again let down her guard.

This meeting of the Mismatch Society is called to order…

Review 

4 stars 

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

Someone Wanton His Way Comes represents somewhat of a stylistic shift for Christi Caldwell. The story remains grounded in emotion and there are hardships the characters must overcome, but it is balanced with a bit more lightness and wit. The very premise itself is both fun and subversive, with widows and scorned women banding together to protest against the double standards of Society that allows for their mistreatment. 

I really felt for Sylvia, having had to deal with a loveless marriage to a reckless, unfaithful husband who got himself killed in an underground boxing ring, and is having to deal with the fear of losing her young son to her in-laws if she isn’t above reproach. Even with that in mind, I loved that she took the risk and engaged in a rebellion with her fellow scorned women in forming the Mismatch Society. 

Clayton was a nice breath of fresh air as a hero, as I feel like it’s rare to find histrom heroes who are more brains than brawn (or an equal amount of both). While I didn’t understand how he could be friends with the late Lord Norfolk and not want to call him out over his questionable behavior prior to his actions at the beginning of the book, I did get a sense of his complicated emotions, in that he’d always been in love with Sylvia, but encouraged her marriage to Norfolk thinking they would be happy and that he didn’t deserve her, then being dismayed when Norfolk proved an unfaithful husband. While I did feel like it was a bit of a weak conflict to work with—that and the “I’ll die young” thing—I was more or less engaged with him as a hero and their relationship overall.

It should be noted that, while there are some elements that do stand alone, like the romance and the Society, there are some overarching elements in the plot that tie into earlier books in other series, particularly In the Dark with the Duke, which starred Sylvia’s sister, Lila. It provides greater context for the role the villains play into the plot, and in some ways, this book continues the tradition of Caldwell’s Montlake titles being even more closely tied to each other within the wider realm of CaldWorld, as we’ve seen with prior series that spin off into each other (Sinful Brides and Wicked Wallflowers, for example). 

I think this will be a gem for her established reader base. And while I would generally discourage new historical romance readers from starting there is still much to enjoy if you do make this your starting point into CaldWorld. 

Author Bio 

Christi Caldwell is the USA Today bestselling author of numerous series, including Lost Lords of London, Sinful Brides, Wicked Wallflowers, and Heart of a Duke. She blames novelist Judith McNaught for luring her into the world of historical romance. When Christi was at the University of Connecticut, she began writing her own tales of love—ones where even the most perfect heroes and heroines had imperfections. She learned to enjoy torturing her couples before they earned their well-deserved happily ever after. Christi lives in southern Connecticut, where she spends her time writing and looking after her twin girls and amazing son. Fans who want to keep up with the latest news and information can sign up for her newsletter at http://www.ChristiCaldwell.com.

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Review of “Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes” (Pandava #3) by Roshani Chokshi

Chokshi, Roshani. Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes. Los Angeles: Disney/Hyperion, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1368013857 | $16.99 USD | 386 pages | MG Fantasy 

Blurb 

War between the devas and the demons is imminent, and the Otherworld is on high alert. Fourteen-year-old Aru Shah and her friends are sent on a mission to rescue two “targets,” one of whom is about to utter a prophecy that could mean the difference between victory and defeat. Turns out the targets, a pair of twins, are the newest Pandava sisters, though the prophecy says that one sister is not true.When the Pandavas fail to prevent the prophecy from reaching the Sleeper’s ears, the heavenly attendants ask them to step aside. Aru believes that the only way to put the shine back on their brand is to find the Kalpavriksha, the wish-granting tree that came out of the Ocean of Milk when it was churned. If she can reach it before the Sleeper, perhaps she can turn everything around with one wish.Careful what you wish for, Aru . . .

In the series 

#1 Aru Shah and the End of the Time 

#2 Aru Shah and the Song of Death 

Review 

4 stars 

Aru Shah is the third book in the series, and perhaps the funniest. I mean, the others were humorous too, but I think it really took time to get into the rhythm of mythology with pop culture references. But this time, each in-joke got a laugh out of me. 

The characters remain delightful, as we once again are reunited with the core group from the past two, as well as introduced to some new characters in the two remaining Pandava sisters, Sheila and Nikita, the former of which delivers a prophecy that is overheard by demons. The two are a study of contrasts, with Nikita being the more guarded one, while Sheila is still cautious, but more bubbly. There is also another new character, Prince Rudy, who is an arrogant prince, who also has some vulnerabilities. Meanwhile, the returning characters continue to develop, with Aru dealing with facing her father, and Mini becoming more confident. Brynne and Aiden remain delightful supporting characters, adding humor and light to the situation. 

And once again, the cultural elements are top-notch. The story takes place around the celebration of Holi, with turmoil escalating among the gods, and they are on a quest to find the Tree of Wishes. 

This book is another fun adventure, although it does have a cliffhanger, so I’m glad I’m just  catching up before the release of book four. If you loved the prior books, you’ll enjoy this one too. And if you love Roshani Chokshi and/or Percy Jackson/Rick Riordan, it’s definitely not too late to give this series a try! 

Author Bio 

Roshani Chokshi is the author of commercial and critically acclaimed books for middle grade and young adult readers that draws on world mythology and folklore. Her work has been nominated for the Locus and Nebula awards, and has frequently appeared on Best of The Year lists from Barnes and Noble, Forbes, Buzzfeed and more. Her New York Times bestselling series includes The Star-Touched Queen duology, The Gilded Wolves, and Aru Shah and The End of Time, which was recently optioned for film by Paramount Pictures.

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Review of “She Drives Me Crazy” by Kelly Quindlen

Quindlen, Kelly. She Drives Me Crazy. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1250209153 | $17.99 USD | 288 pages | YA Contemporary Romance 

Blurb 

“A little sweet, a little sharp.” —Booklist, starred review

High school nemeses fall in love in Kelly Quindlen’s She Drives Me Crazy, a queer YA rom com perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Casey McQuisten.

After an embarrassing loss to her ex-girlfriend in their first basketball game of the season, seventeen-year-old Scottie Zajac gets into a fender bender with the worst possible person: her nemesis, Irene Abraham, head cheerleader for the Fighting Reindeer.

Irene is as mean as she is beautiful, so Scottie makes a point to keep her distance. When the accident sends Irene’s car to the shop for weeks’ worth of repairs and the girls are forced to carpool, their rocky start only gets bumpier.

But when an opportunity arises for Scottie to get back at her toxic ex—and climb her school’s social ladder—she bribes Irene into an elaborate fake- dating scheme that threatens to reveal some very real feelings.

From author Kelly Quindlen comes a new laugh-out-loud romp through the ups and downs of teen romance, perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli.

Review 

4 stars 

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

She Drives Me Crazy is a delightful queer contemporary that surprised me. It seemed to have a fairly simple premise and I thought it would be fairly typical, and a nice palate cleanser after a couple of more intense books. And in a way, it is that, but it is so much more. 

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the romance itself, as enemies-to-lovers is so hit-or-miss for me. But I feel like Quindlen created a balance that is so hard to master with this trope by having Scottie and Irene start off with genuine enmity, but come to an understanding of each other as the story goes on, with the two having a bit more in common with regards to toxic people in their lives they ought to cut out, but are still attached to in some way. 

On a related note, I did feel a bit more attached to Irene as the story went on than Scottie, as I feel like one of the problems with first person is I feel like the protagonist doesn’t really feel as well defined as the people around them. And a huge part of that played into the darker tone the book took about halfway in with a dark revelation about Irene’s relationship with her “friend.” 

That plays into my reluctance to call this book a rom-com, in spite of its branding. So many books seem to want to have their cake and eat it by branding themselves as lighthearted but also delve into tough topics that could catch people off guard, and while the book overall is lighthearted, that plot twist really altered the tone of the book for me. 

Nevertheless, I did enjoy this overall, and think as long as you go in with that knowledge, this book is an enjoyable book that will resonate with readers. And if you love queer romance, I absolutely recommend picking it up!

CW: Bullying, toxic relationship, homophobia/biphobia

Author Bio 

Kelly wrote her first story, a gripping tale about the Easter Bunny, when she was six years old. Her traditional debut, Late to the Party, releases April 21, 2020, from Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press. She is also the author of the self-published novel Her Name in the Sky, which was featured on BuzzFeed, Bustle, and AfterEllen.

Kelly graduated from Vanderbilt University with a degree in English Literature and American Studies. She spent two years teaching middle school math with Teach for America in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She currently lives in Atlanta, where she is on the leadership team of a non-profit for Catholic parents with LGBT children

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Review of “Kingdom of Souls” (Kingdom of Souls #1) by Rena Barron

Barron, Rena. Kingdom of Souls. New York: HarperTeen, 2019. 

ISBN-13: 978-0062870957 | $18.99 USD | 485 pages | YA Fantasy 

Blurb 

Magic has a price—if you’re willing to pay.

Born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. But each year she fails to call forth her ancestral powers, while her ambitious mother watches with growing disapproval.

There’s only one thing Arrah hasn’t tried, a deadly last resort: trading years of her own life for scraps of magic. Until the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, and Arrah is desperate to find the culprit.

She uncovers something worse. The long-imprisoned Demon King is stirring. And if he rises, his hunger for souls will bring the world to its knees… unless Arrah pays the price for the magic to stop him.

Review 

4 stars 

I had seen a lot of polarizing opinions about Kingdom of Souls, some enjoying it, others not so much. I think a lot of it is about expectations: I got myself into the mindset that this would be dark and heavy (the length also suggested some weight to it), and that helped me to mentally prepare for what was to come. 

I enjoyed Barron’s exploration of West African mythology in her middle grade book, Maya and the Rising Dark, and this book does have a similar basis, but more mature and drawn-out. The first part of the book contains a lot of exposition about the mythos, which I personally didn’t mind, but I can see why it might bore some readers. 

Arrah is an intriguing character, and I liked the flip on a common trope to have her be the one without magic on a magical society. She makes sacrifices to obtain power, and that is such a nice break with tradition as well, from the all-powerful, pure protagonist. 

But the one flaw is…the romance. I just didn’t get the hype with Rudjek at all, in spite of the text going on about him. Plus, there’s a love triangle, and it just didn’t feel needed? With all this intense stuff going on within Arrah’s family, I just didn’t care to see the romance become such a prominent part of the book. 

Otherwise, this is a brilliant dark YA fantasy with crossover for adult readers. If this book appeals to you, I strongly encourage you to pick it up. 

Author Bio 

Rena Barron grew up in small-town Alabama where stories of magic and adventure sparked her imagination. After penning her first awful poem in middle school, she graduated to writing short stories and novels by high school. Rena loves all things science fiction and fantasy, ghosts, and superheroes. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading or brushing up on her French. Rena is the author of the young adult fantasy novel Kingdom of Souls, the first in a trilogy and a 2019 Junior Library Guild Selection. Recently, film rights sold to Warner Bros. with Michael B. Jordan (“Black Panther”) producing and Misan Sagay (“Belle”) writing the screenplay. Maya and the Rising Dark is the first book in Rena’s middle grade contemporary fantasy trilogy set in Chicago.

Visit her online at www.renabarron.com.

She is represented by Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc.

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Review of “The Paris Apartment” by Kelly Bowen

Bowen, Kelly. The Paris Apartment. New York: Forever, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1538718155 | $15.99 USD | 416 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb

A remarkable novel of passion, intrigue, and bravery during the world’s darkest hours, and one woman’s fight to uncover the truth more than a half century later.

London, 2017: When Aurelia Leclaire inherits an opulent Paris apartment, she is shocked to discover her grandmother’s hidden secrets—including a treasure trove of famous art and couture gowns. One obscure painting leads her to Gabriel Seymour, a highly respected art restorer with his own mysterious past. Together they attempt to uncover the truths concealed within the apartment’s walls.

Paris, 1942: The Germans may occupy the City of Lights, but glamorous Estelle Allard flourishes in a world separate from the hardships of war. Yet when the Nazis come for her dearest friends, Estelle doesn’t hesitate to help them, no matter the cost. As she works against the forces intent on destroying those she holds dear, she can’t know that her actions will have ramifications for generations to come.  

Set seventy-five years apart, against a perilous and a prosperous Paris, both Estelle and Lia must unearth hidden courage as they navigate the dangers of a changing world, altering history—and their family’s futures—forever. 

Review 

5 stars 

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

When Kelly Bowen announced she was writing a World War II historical novel, I was both excited to see what she’d bring to the table and a bit apprehensive, as she was essentially moving from one oversaturated subgenre (Regency romance) to another (World War II historicals). However, just like her Regencies were charming and inject her own flair to that genre(even if her more recent offerings weren’t necessarily my cuppa), she brings her own style to the table with The Paris Apartment. 

I was immediately drawn into the lives of the central characters, both past and present. While it was not immediately obvious how all the threads tied together, the story was engaging enough that I was able to take it all in and soon became engrossed. 

The lives of both Estelle and Sophie are both deeply moving, as they both work in their own ways for the Resistance movement against the Nazis. That their stories, while fictional, are based on the lives of real women who participated in the Resistance effort, makes it all the more poignant. 

Meanwhile, Lia is Estelle’s granddaughter who inherits Estelle’s former apartment that played a pivotal role in her Resistance activities. She did not know much about her grandmother’s early life prior, and I enjoyed seeing her find out more about that part of her grandmother’s life. She also works with Gabriel, Sophie’s great-nephew, who is an art appraiser, in the process, and the two have a sweet romance. It’s very understated compared to the relationships in Bowen’s prior books, but it’s no less delightful. 

I adored this book, and while I’m not sure all of Kelly Bowen’s established romance fan base will agree, I like that she’s branching out and trying new things, while also showing she hasn’t completely forgotten her romance roots. If you love historical fiction and want a fresh take on World War II, I think you‘ll enjoy this one! 

Author Bio

 

Award-winning author Kelly Bowen grew up in Manitoba,  Canada, and attended the University of Manitoba, where she earned  Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in veterinary studies.  She worked as a research scientist before realizing her dream to be a  writer of historical fiction. Currently, Kelly lives in Winnipeg with  her husband and two sons.  

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Review of “Lord of the the Manor” (Trysts and Treachery #5) by Elizabeth Keysian

Keysian, Elizabeth. Lord of the Manor. La Verne, CA: Dragonblade Publishing, 2021.

ASIN: B08YJ1TGJZ | $2.99 USD | 172 pages | Historical Romance—Tudor

Blurb 

To her, he represents authority and power. To him, she spells sedition and danger.

Orphaned at birth, Cecily Neville owes more than her name to the former hospitallers of Temple Roding. She was still a child when the reformation wrenched her home and adopted family from her and now, like the few surviving monks, she lives in fear that her past could take a deadly toll. Her closest friend is her precious peregrine falcon, Charlemagne. Her greatest enemy is Allan Smythe, the new owner of Temple Roding.

Grieving over the loss of both wife and child, Smythe throws his heart and soul into reviving the old hospitaller commandery that he’s bought in partnership with his brother-in-law, Kennett Clark. He can’t risk being distracted by the mysterious but tempting Cecily and her murdering bird. However, when Smythe is forced to save her from his brother-in-law’s lecherous clutches, the unscrupulous Kennett vows to destroy them both.

On a knife-edge, Smythe can’t afford to relax the rents owed by Cecily and her fellow villagers. If he doesn’t demolish her former home for profit, he risks losing everything to Kennett. But when necessity forces him to employ Cecily, there’s more at stake than his future and his battered heart. Something lies hidden in the depths of the hospitaller commandery that could solve all of Smythe’s problems… or threaten his life.

It all depends on whether he, or the very determined Cecily, finds it first.

In the series 

#1 Lord of Deception 

#2 Lord of Loyalty 

#3 Lord of the Forest 

#4 Lord of Mistrust 

Review 

4 stars

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

Lord of the Manor is the fifth in the Trysts and Treachery series, although it completely stands alone. In fact, it’s set earlier than the prior books (which, upon going back to check, I realized aren’t even in strict chronological order), during the reign of Edward VI. However, this just presents unique challenges for the protagonists to face, what with the boy king and the concern of preventing the succession of the Catholic Mary as a backdrop. 

In terms of the romance, it’s not my favorite in the series, but it is an intriguing one. I was drawn in by Cecily, especially as there were some secrets from her past that could rear its head. I could see why the grief-stricken Smythe warmed to her in spite of their initial enmity. 

And like in the previous books, there are some twists and turns, although it didn’t feel as epic in scope as some of the escapades in prior books. I don’t hold it against the book too much, as it was still fairly exciting. 

While I believe this is the last book (according to everything I’ve seen), I would be happy to read more books from Keysian in the future, especially set in the Tudor period. And I think other fans of historical romance will enjoy this. 

Author Bio 

Elizabeth Keysian is an international bestselling author of heart-pounding Regency romances, set mostly in the West of England. She is working on a fresh series for Dragonblade Publishing called Trysts and Treachery, which is set in the Tudor era. Though primarily a writer of romance, she loves to put a bit of mystery, adventure, and suspense into her stories, and refuses to let her characters take themselves too seriously.

Elizabeth likes to write from experience, not easy when her works range from the medieval to the Victorian eras. However, her passion for re-enactment has helped, as have the many years she spent working in museums and British archaeology. If you find some detail in her work you’ve never come across before, you can bet she either dug it up, quite literally, or found it on a museum shelf.

Social media/web links

Newsletter http://eepurl.com/cxe369

Amazon page https://www.amazon.com/Elizabeth-Keysian/e/B06VVL9JMB/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Twitter https://twitter.com/EKeysian

Facebook https://m.facebook.com/LizKeysian

BookBub https://www.bookbub.com/profile/elizabeth-keysian?list=about

Website https://elizabethkeysian.com/

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Review of “Soulstar” (The Kingston Cycle #3) by C.L. Polk

Polk, C.L. Soulstar. New York: Tor.com, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1250203571 | $17.99 USD | } 303 pages | Fantasy/Romance 

Blurb 

With Soulstar, C. L. Polk concludes her riveting Kingston Cycle, a whirlwind of magic, politics, romance, and intrigue that began with the World Fantasy Award-winning Witchmark. Assassinations, deadly storms, and long-lost love haunt the pages of this thrilling final volume.

For years, Robin Thorpe has kept her head down, staying among her people in the Riverside neighborhood and hiding the magic that would have her imprisoned by the state. But when Grace Hensley comes knocking on Clan Thorpe’s door, Robin’s days of hiding are at an end. As freed witches flood the streets of Kingston, scrambling to reintegrate with a kingdom that destroyed their lives, Robin begins to plot a course that will ensure a freer, juster Aeland. At the same time, she has to face her long-bottled feelings for the childhood love that vanished into an asylum twenty years ago.

Can Robin find happiness among the rising tides of revolution? Can Kingston survive the blizzards that threaten, the desperate monarchy, and the birth throes of democracy? Find out as the Kingston Cycle comes to an end.

In the series

#1 Witchmark

#2 Stormsong

Review 

5 stars 

Soulstar is the third in the Kingston Cycle, and it’s definitely recommended you read them in order, in spite of them following different protagonists. You get such a deep sense of the world over the three books, even if each character’s individual arc is more or less complete. 

After really enjoying the prior book, I wasn’t sure where we’d go from there. Robin didn’t make a massive impression on me then, but I quickly grew to like her as the lead. She’s in a very different position in society than Miles or Grace, facing persecution as a witch. The fact that she’s also a Black woman adds further parallels. 

The politics of the world have always been an intrinsic part of the story, but with this book focusing heavily on the fight for justice, I feel like that message resonated much more, especially what with the history of systemic racism and doing the work to be anti-racist has become more prominent recently. 

Like the prior books, there’s a queer romance, and while it’s not a significant part of the plot, it’s enough that readers will be satisfied. Zelind, Robin’s spouse, didn’t blow me away as a love interest, but I really liked the indication of kher gender fluidity with the use of “khe/kher” pronouns. It’s been great to see the unapologetic queerness and acceptance of all types of love and gender identities in this series. It provides a nice balance, to show that while there are still issues of race and class, LGBTQ+ people are accepted. 

This is a solid conclusion to the trilogy, and I can’t wait to see what CL Polk writes next! If you love fantasy that centers queer people, I think you’ll enjoy this.

Author Bio 

C. L. Polk (they/them) is the author of the World Fantasy Award winning novel Witchmark, the first novel of the Kingston Cycle. Their newest novel, The Midnight Bargain, is a finalist in the CBC Canada Reads Competition.

After leaving high school early, they have worked as a film extra, sold vegetables on the street, and identified exotic insect species for a vast collection of lepidoptera before settling down to write fantasy novels.

Mx. Polk lives near the Bow River in Calgary, Alberta, in a tiny apartment with too many books and a yarn stash that could last a decade. They ride a green bicycle with a basket on the front.

They drink good coffee because life is too short. They spend too much time on twitter. You can subscribe to their free newsletter on TinyLetter, or subscribe to their Patreon for additional content.

Mx. Polk is represented by Caitlin McDonald of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.

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Review of “When Stars Rain Down” by Angela Jackson-Brown

 Jackson-Brown, Angela. When Stars Rain Down. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-0785240440 | $17.99 USD | 368 pages | Historical Fiction/Christian Fiction 

Blurb 

In When Stars Rain Down, Angela Jackson-Brown introduces readers to a small, Southern town grappling with haunting questions still relevant today—and to a young woman whose search for meaning resonates across the ages.

This summer has the potential to change everything.

The summer of 1936 in Parsons, Georgia, is unseasonably hot, and Opal Pruitt senses a nameless storm brewing. She hopes this foreboding feeling won’t overshadow her upcoming eighteenth birthday or the annual Founder’s Day celebration in just a few weeks. She and her Grandma Birdie work as housekeepers for the white widow Miss Peggy, and Opal desperately wants some time to be young and carefree with her cousins and friends.

But when the Ku Klux Klan descends on Opal’s neighborhood, the tight-knit community is shaken in every way possible. Parsons’s residents—both Black and white—are forced to acknowledge the unspoken codes of conduct in their post-Reconstruction era town. To complicate matters, Opal finds herself torn between two unexpected romantic interests—the son of her pastor, Cedric Perkins, and the grandson of the woman she works for, Jimmy Earl Ketchums. Both young men awaken emotions Opal has never felt before.

When Stars Rain Down is so powerful, timely, and compelling that sometimes I found myself holding my breath while reading it. Rarely have I been so attached to characters and felt so transported to a time and place. This is an important and beautifully written must-read of a novel. Opal is a character I will never forget.” —Silas House, author of Southernmost

“Angela Jackson-Brown interrogates race, love and family with empathy and style, making her an author you will want to read again and again. This tale of America’s tragic past is both compelling and cinematic as the Pruitt and Ketchum families struggle in the mire of racism in the 1930s. It’s a moving novel that boldly illuminates the past but also speaks directly to today’s politics and the power of faith. You will fall in love with the book’s resilient protagonist Opal. I certainly did.” —Crystal Wilkinson, author of The Birds of Opulence

“In this world there are writers and there are artists. Angela Jackson-Brown is both.” —Sean Dietrich (Sean of the South), author of Stars of AlabamaSouthern historical storyStand-alone novelBook length: 101,000 wordsIncludes discussion questions for book clubs

Review 

5 stars 

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

When Stars Rain Down drew my attention due to it being a book by a Black author about racial issues in the notoriously white Christian fiction genre, which has often flirted with racist or white savior archetypes. This book is a historical fiction novel set in the 1930s, but also serves as a reminder of the continued legacy of systemic racism in the present, with many haunting parallels in the text. Jackson-Brown takes great care in depicting these realities, resulting in a poignant story that packs a punch. 

You really feel a sense of the community divide, especially the pain and fear the Black community live with. Opal lives with foreboding about what’s to come, yet tries to have optimism about the little things, and it while it is great to have Black heroines who want to be high achievers, it’s important to see Opal with her desire for simple happiness with her family and finding love, because at times, even that is beyond her reach. I also really liked Granny and her resilient faith in the face of adversity. 

This is such an emotionally rich, moving book, and a great contribution to a genre that is largely lacking in ownvoices stories by Black authors. I would encourage anyone who loves historical and/or Christian fiction to add this to their reading list. 

Author Bio 

Photo: Chandra Lynch, Ankh Productions

Angela Jackson-Brown is an award-winning writer, poet and playwright who teaches Creative Writing and English at Ball State University in Muncie, IN. She is a graduate of Troy University, Auburn University and the Spalding low-residency MFA program in Creative Writing. She has published her short fiction, Creative Nonfiction, and poetry in journals like The Louisville Journal and the Appalachian Review. She is author of Drinking From a Bitter Cup (WiDo Publishing, 2014), House Repairs (Negative Capability Press, 2018), and her latest novel, When Stars Rain Down, which will be published by Thomas Nelson, an imprint of HarperCollins, in the spring of 2021.

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Review of “A Pho Love Story” by Loan Le

Le, Loan. A Pho Love Story. New York: Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1534441934 | $19.99 USD | 406 pages | YA Contemporary Romance 

Blurb 

When Dimple Met Rishi meets Ugly Delicious in this funny, smart romantic comedy, in which two Vietnamese-American teens fall in love and must navigate their newfound relationship amid their families’ age-old feud about their competing, neighboring restaurants.

If Bao Nguyen had to describe himself, he’d say he was a rock. Steady and strong, but not particularly interesting. His grades are average, his social status unremarkable. He works at his parents’ pho restaurant, and even there, he is his parents’ fifth favorite employee. Not ideal.

If Linh Mai had to describe herself, she’d say she was a firecracker. Stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and spark and fire. She loves art and dreams pursuing a career in it. The only problem? Her parents rely on her in ways they’re not willing to admit, including working practically full-time at her family’s pho restaurant.

For years, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring phở restaurants. Bao and Linh, who’ve avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition.

But then a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao together despite their best efforts and sparks fly, leading them both to wonder what took so long for them to connect. But then, of course, they immediately remember.

Can Linh and Bao find love in the midst of feuding families and complicated histories?

Review 

4 stars 

A Pho Love Story is a sweet Vietnamese romance evoking Romeo & Juliet…but with a happy ending. I wasn’t really sure what to expect going in, but I’m really glad I didn’t have a ton of expectations, as it allowed me to enjoy it a lot more. 

I liked the development of the relationship between Bâo and Linh, and how the two more or less avoided each other prior to being thrown together, but never bought into the feud. Getting to know each other leads them to question what happened, and while I didn’t fully feel the stakes at times (they seemed to be able to meet openly a bit too much), it was more or less well developed otherwise. 

They both are also grappling with family expectations and that forms a realistic conflict for both throughout. The significance of their culture and the struggles their respective families faced, especially in terms of war-related trauma and loss, informs their present actions, and I like that this story honors that. 

This book is a sweet story with a deep message at its core. And of course, as the title suggests, there’s food, and you’ll definitely be craving pho and other Vietnamese dishes while reading this. If any of that appeals to you, I recommend picking this up! 

Author Bio 

Credit: Loan Le

Loan Le holds an MFA degree in fiction from Fairfield University, where she also earned her bachelor’s degree. A Pushcart Prize-nominated writer, Loan has had her short stories appear in CRAFT LiteraryMud Season Review, and more. She is an editor at Atria Books, a Simon & Schuster adult imprint. A Phở Love Story is her first novel. Visit her website at writerloanle.com and find her on Twitter @loanloan and Instagram @loanloanle.

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Review of “A Taste for Love” by Jennifer Yen

Yen, Jennifer. A Taste for Love. New York: Razorbill, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-0593117521 | $17.99 USD | 322 pages | YA Contemporary Romance 

Blurb 

For fans of Jenny Han, Jane Austen, and The Great British Baking ShowA Taste for Love, is a delicious rom com about first love, familial expectations, and making the perfect bao.

To her friends, high school senior Liza Yang is nearly perfect. Smart, kind, and pretty, she dreams big and never shies away from a challenge. But to her mom, Liza is anything but. Compared to her older sister Jeannie, Liza is stubborn, rebellious, and worst of all, determined to push back against all of Mrs. Yang’s traditional values, especially when it comes to dating.

The one thing mother and daughter do agree on is their love of baking. Mrs. Yang is the owner of Houston’s popular Yin & Yang Bakery. With college just around the corner, Liza agrees to help out at the bakery’s annual junior competition to prove to her mom that she’s more than her rebellious tendencies once and for all. But when Liza arrives on the first day of the bake-off, she realizes there’s a catch: all of the contestants are young Asian American men her mother has handpicked for Liza to date.

The bachelorette situation Liza has found herself in is made even worse when she happens to be grudgingly attracted to one of the contestants; the stoic, impenetrable, annoyingly hot James Wong. As she battles against her feelings for James, and for her mother’s approval, Liza begins to realize there’s no tried and true recipe for love.

Review 

3 stars 

A Taste for Love is another cute YA multicultural romance that caught my eye. My opinions upon reading are that it’s cute, and there are some things it does really well…but I wasn’t super blown away by it. 

First, the positives: Liza’s cultural conflict resonated with me quite a bit as a fellow East Asian (although I’m only a quarter Chinese). The other members of my family aren’t as demanding as Liza’s mother, but I could definitely relate to the feeling of being more Westernized. The statement, “Good thing she hasn’t found the pile of historical romances on the top shelf of my closets I’m pretty sure she’d have an aneurysm at the number of Julia Quinn and Eloisa James book I’ve hoarded” (Yen, 63) gave me pure joy to read, as while I don’t have to hide my love historical romance, it’s definitely something I’ve gotten crap for from family members who don’t understand. 

The baking competition and the related dating shenanigans was fun too, especially if it meant getting to see the characters cook drool worthy food. It was a great concept that I really enjoyed. It’s definitely another book that made me hungry! 

But I felt the romance itself a bit lukewarm. I never really felt any connection between Liza and James, and while I did warm up to him a bit by the Big Romantic Moment at the end, I struggled staying invested and really caring about the fate of their relationship. 

This is a cute book, and while I did have my issues with some aspects, I did like what it was trying to do overall, and think others may like the parts I didn’t care for more than I did, especially if they’re within the target demographic. 

Author Bio 

Jennifer Yen began her writing career in the fourth grade, when her teacher took the detective story she wrote and turned it into a printed book as a gift to her. The encouragement of her teacher, as well as her love for reading and telling stories, kept her writing about the worlds that exist in her imagination.

While Jennifer’s penned everything from poetry to fanfiction, her passion lies in young adult and adult fiction. Drawing from her own experiences growing up as an Asian American, she especially loves writing about family, food, and of course…love!

Jennifer now lives in Texas with her adorable rescue dog. She spends her days healing the hearts of others, and her nights writing about love, family, and the power of acceptance. She believes in the magic of one’s imagination, and hopes her stories will bring joy and inspiration to readers.

If you find Jennifer wandering around aimlessly, please return her to the nearest milk tea shop.

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Review of “Lore” by Alexandra Bracken

Bracken, Alexandra. Lore. Los Angeles: Hyperion, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1484778203 | $18.99 USD | 466 pages | YA Fantasy 

Blurb

A NEW STANDALONE CONTEMPORARY FANTASY

Every seven years, the Agon begins. As punishment for a past rebellion, nine Greek gods are forced to walk the earth as mortals, hunted by the descendants of ancient bloodlines, all eager to kill a god and seize their divine power and immortality.
 
Long ago, Lore Perseous fled that brutal world in the wake of her family’s sadistic murder by a rival line, turning her back on the hunt’s promises of eternal glory. For years she’s pushed away any thought of revenge against the man—now a god—responsible for their deaths.
 
Yet as the next hunt dawns over New York City, two participants seek out her help: Castor, a childhood friend Lore believed long dead, and a gravely wounded Athena, among the last of the original gods.
 
The goddess offers an alliance against their mutual enemy and, at last, a way for Lore to leave the Agon behind forever. But Lore’s decision to bind her fate to Athena’s and rejoin the hunt will come at a deadly cost—and still may not be enough to stop the rise of a new god with the power to bring humanity to its knees.
 
From the #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Darkest Minds comes a sweepingly ambitious, high-octane tale of power, destiny, love, and redemption.


(Please Note: Given the darkness of the source material, this book contains more mature content than my past work in the form of more graphic depictions of violence and discussion/mention of sexual assault, and therefore may not be the right fit for all readers.)

Review 

4 stars 

Lore has received a lot of buzz lately, in part due to being featured in a book box which several BookTubers featured on their channels. Having come off a high from other mythology-related books, and waiting on the library queue for others, this hit the spot perfectly. With a grasp on mythology similar to Percy Jackson, but with a sensibility that evokes familiar YA titles, Alexandra Bracken combines these elements to create a refreshingly original story. 

It’s a bit of a long book, epic in scope, but you never feel the sense that it’s that big. The plot proceeds at a brisk pace, and it never felt predictable even though it had familiar elements as a basis. It’s brutal in the sense that the mythology often is. However, the narrative also challenges the old fashioned elements of the old myths, particularly in terms of misogyny. 

The characters also were also pretty interesting. Lore herself is a compelling protagonist, with a balance of confidence and vulnerability, who has had some tough experiences. Castor is also an intriguing character, who also has had some realistic struggles. I did want to see a bit from his perspective, instead of solely from Lore’s especially since it would still work with the third person limited POV. I did really like the romance, and how it happened gradually between friends and comrades. It wasn’t this big epic thing, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I liked seeing something a bit different in a YA fantasy. 

As of now, this appears to be a standalone, and that’s fine, but I did want more, as it felt like there was some stuff not fully resolved, although there is an element of finality to it at the same time. I do hope this is at least not the last we see from Bracken working with these characters in any capacity. This is a fabulous book, and one I think fans of Greek mythology who are looking for more will enjoy this. 

Author Bio 

Alexandra Bracken was born in Phoenix, Arizona. The daughter of a Star Wars collector, she grew up going to an endless string of Star Wars conventions and toy fairs, which helped spark her imagination and a deep love of reading. After graduating high school, she attended The College of William & Mary in Virginia, where she double majored in English and History. She sold her first book, Brightly Woven, as a senior in college, and later moved to New York City to work in children’s book publishing, first as an editorial assistant, then in marketing. After six years, she took the plunge and decided to write full time. She now lives in Arizona with her tiny pup, Tennyson, in a house that’s constantly overflowing with books. 

Alex is a #1 New York Times bestselling and USA TODAY bestselling author. Her work is available across the world in over 15 languages. 

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Review of “When the Stars Go Dark” by Paula McLain

McLain, Paula. When the Stars Go Dark. New York. Ballantine Books, 2021. 

ISBN-13: 978-0593237892 | $28.00 USD | 384 pages | Mystery/Thriller

Blurb 

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Wife comes an atmospheric novel of intertwined destinies and heart-wrenching suspense: A detective hiding away from the world. A series of disappearances that reach into her past. Can solving them help her heal?

“A powerhouse of a novel that is guaranteed to keep the reader up all night.”—Kristin Hannah, author of The Four Winds

Anna Hart is a seasoned missing persons detective in San Francisco with far too much knowledge of the darkest side of human nature. When tragedy strikes her personal life, Anna, desperate and numb, flees to the Northern California village of Mendocino to grieve. She lived there as a child with her beloved foster parents, and now she believes it might be the only place left for her. Yet the day she arrives, she learns that a local teenage girl has gone missing.

The crime feels frighteningly reminiscent of the most crucial time in Anna’s childhood, when the unsolved murder of a young girl touched Mendocino and changed the community forever. As past and present collide, Anna realizes that she has been led to this moment. The most difficult lessons of her life have given her insight into how victims come into contact with violent predators. As Anna becomes obsessed with saving the missing girl, she must accept that true courage means getting out of her own way and learning to let others in.

Weaving together actual cases of missing persons, trauma theory, and a hint of the metaphysical, this propulsive and deeply affecting novel tells a story of fate, necessary redemption, and what it takes, when the worst happens, to reclaim our lives—and our faith in one another.

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 loved Paula McLain’s historical novels, so it was a no-brainer to me to pick up her next book, whatever it was. And the fact that it happened to be a contemporary thriller didn’t bother me too much, especially as there was still some element of history (albeit more recent) baked into the backstory. 

And McLain does pull off this transition to a new genre. The book is consistently engaging, keeping me more or less interested, guessing throughout the twists and turns, and wanting more. I did feel, upon reaching the conclusion, that something was still missing, but it’s more or less fairly solid. 

But then we come to the characters, and why this genre is so hit-or-miss for me: I failed to make a genuine connection. Anna as the lead just didn’t evoke any emotion from me, and while I was slightly more moved by the stories of the victims and those close to them, it was mostly surface level, based more on human compassion than truly resonating with them. 

I can see why this book has gotten a lot of buzz, as McLain is a talented author, and I think this will work for some people who like thrillers more than I typically do, especially if they also happen to know her from her previous historical work and can more easily make that genre transition. 

Author Bio

Paula McLain is the author of the New York Times and internationally bestselling novels, The Paris Wife, Circling the Sun and Love and Ruin. Now she introduces When the Stars Go Dark (April 13, 2021), an atmospheric novel of intertwined destinies and heart-wrenching suspense. She received an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996, and is also the author of two collections of poetry, the memoir Like Family: Growing Up in Other People’s Houses, and the debut novel, A Ticket to Ride. Her work has has appeared in The New York Times, Real Simple, Town & Country, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Good Housekeeping, and elsewhere. She lives with her family in Cleveland, Ohio.

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Review of “Aru Shah and the Song of Death”(Pandava Quartet #2) by Roshani Chokshi

Chokshi, Roshani. Aru Shah and the Song of Death. Los Angeles: Disney-Hyperion, 2019. 

ISBN-13: 978-1368013840 | $16.99 USD | 381 pages | MG Fantasy 

Blurb

Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents best-selling author Roshani Chokshi and her sequel to Aru Shah and the End of Time.
Aru is only just getting the hang of this whole Pandava thing when the Otherworld goes into full panic mode. The god of love’s bow and arrow have gone missing, and the thief isn’t playing Cupid. Instead, they’re turning people into heartless fighting-machine zombies.
If that weren’t bad enough, somehow Aru gets framed as the thief. If she doesn’t find the arrow by the next full moon, she’ll be kicked out of the Otherworld. For good.
But, for better or worse, she won’t be going it alone. Along with her soul-sister, Mini, Aru will team up with Brynne, an ultra-strong girl who knows more than she lets on, and Aiden, the boy who lives across the street and is also hiding plenty of secrets. Together they’ll battle demons, travel through a glittering and dangerous serpent realm, and discover that their enemy isn’t at all who they expected.

In the series 

#1 Aru Shah and the End of Time 

Review 

4 stars

Aru Shah and the Song of Death is a charming second installment in the series. Picking up where the first left off, it expands on mythos introduced in the first book, introduces a few new characters, while also containing the same quirky charm of the first book. 

Aru remains a fun protagonist to follow in this one. She has a lot of snarky one-liners and her interactions with the others is delightful. I did miss Mini and Boo, as they were absent for part of the book for  reasons, but we still get some lovely moments with her. And it was great seeing how new characters  Brynne and Aiden fit in. Aiden in particular is so sweet, with his “caregiver” type of personality, looking after everyone and keeping the peace. 

The story also combines the familiar quest archetype (once again there is that Percy Jackson feel) with an exploration of the Hindu mythology. There are familiar figures from the previous book, while introducing us to more as the story becomes more expansive. 

The story also has quite a few zany pop culture (mostly Disney) references. I was charmed by how the reference to Mulan and “Make a Man Out of You” was worked in, and there’s also this tangent about how the crab that features on the cover is connected to the crab Tamatoa from Moana. As this is also published by Disney, it’s not shocking, even if it is a bit odd, as i don’t recall these types of references from the first book. And I also know pop culture references can be hit-or-miss with some people.

I had fun with this book overall, and can’t wait to pick up the next one (and the forthcoming fourth book)! If you like middle grade fantasy, especially in a similar vein to Percy Jackson, I think you’ll enjoy this series! 

Author Bio 

Roshani Chokshi is the author of commercial and critically acclaimed books for middle grade and young adult readers that draws on world mythology and folklore. Her work has been nominated for the Locus and Nebula awards, and has frequently appeared on Best of The Year lists from Barnes and Noble, Forbes, Buzzfeed and more. Her New York Times bestselling series includes The Star-Touched Queen duology, The Gilded Wolves, and Aru Shah and The End of Time, which was recently optioned for film by Paramount Pictures.

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Review of “In a Book Club Far Away” by Tif Marcelo

Marcelo, Tif. In a Book Club Far Away. New York: Gallery Books, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-982148096 | $16.00 USD | 400 pages | Women’s Fiction 

Blurb

From the author of Once Upon a Sunset and The Key to Happily Ever After comes a heartwarming and moving novel following three Army wives—estranged friends—who must overcome their differences when one of them is desperate for help.

Regina Castro, Adelaide Wilson-Chang, and Sophie Walden usedto be best friends. As Army wives at Fort East, they bonded during their book club and soon became inseparable. But when an unimaginable betrayal happened amongst the group, the friendship abruptly ended, and they haven’t spoken since.

That’s why, eight years later, Regina and Sophie are shocked when they get a call for help from Adelaide. Adelaide’s husband is stationed abroad, and without any friends or family near her new home of Alexandria, Virginia, she has no one to help take care of her young daughter when she has to undergo emergency surgery. For the sake of an innocent child, Regina and Sophie reluctantly put their differences aside to help an old friend.

As the three women reunite, they must overcome past hurts and see if there’s any future for their friendship. Featuring Tif Marcelo’s signature “enchanting prose” (Amy E. Reichert, author of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake) and the books that brought them together in the first place, In a Book Club Far Away honors the immense power of female friendship and how love can defy time, distance, and all old wounds.

Review 

4 stars

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

Sometimes, the third time really is the charm, and that is the case with In a Book Club Far Away by Tif Marcelo. My first two attempts with her work weren’t bad, but I didn’t fully connect to the characters, even if they worked on a conceptual level. Yet, this concept, about women bonded by their book club, spoke to me, even if other aspects, like that of a military wife and mother,  were outside my lived experience. 

Adelaide, Regina, and Sophie are all intriguing characters with complex inner lives which I was drawn into as the story unfolded. There was also this big question around why Regina and Sophie stopped speaking years ago, even though each maintained a friendship with Adelaide, which I felt was well-explored and foreshadowed through the back-and-forth between past and present. The struggles of being a military spouse are also well conveyed, and how it can often feel like you’re not really able to depend on anyone, even your husband, during tough times, and that serves as a strong source of common ground for the three women. 

I also really liked seeing the role the book club played in their friendship and their lives. It really bonded them; and bonds them again as they come back together. And I liked the fact that their book choices were so varied. From nonfiction (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks) to romance (His at Night by Sherry Thomas), they read broadly, and I enjoyed how this reflected in the themes of the story. The latter is particularly interesting, as while I haven’t personally read it, it reflects the author’s experience as a romance reader and author (her early books were more romance leaning) and her existing connections to the community. Some not in the know would pick up Fifty Shades (there is a reference in there) or some other popular title as a first romance for their characters, but this one reflects a deep level of thought on her part. 

This book is deeply emotional and heartfelt, and really resonating with me as a book lover and providing insights into the lives of military families which I only had peripheral knowledge of in the past. While I did have some minor issues with it, like feeling the ending was a bit rushed, I enjoyed it overall and would recommend this book to others who love heartfelt women’s fiction or books about books (and book clubs). 

Author Bio 

Tif Marcelo is a veteran army nurse and holds a BS in Nursing and a Master’s in public administration. She believes and writes about the strength of families, the endurance of friendship, heartfelt romances, and is inspired daily by her own military hero husband and four children. She hosts Stories to Love Podcast, and she is also the author of Once Upon a Sunset, The Key to Happily Ever After, and the Journey to the Heart series.

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Review of “Victories Greater Than Death” (Universal Expansion #1) by Charlie Jane Anders

Anders, Charlie Jane. Victories Greater Than Death. New York: Tor Teen, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1250317315 | $18.99 USD | 288 pages | YA Science Fiction 

Blurb 

Outsmart Your Enemies. Outrun the Galaxy.

“Just please, remember what I told you. Run. Don’t stop running for anything.”

Tina never worries about being ‘ordinary’–she doesn’t have to, since she’s known practically forever that she’s not just Tina Mains, average teenager and beloved daughter. She’s also the keeper of an interplanetary rescue beacon, and one day soon, it’s going to activate, and then her dreams of saving all the worlds and adventuring among the stars will finally be possible. Tina’s legacy, after all, is intergalactic–she is the hidden clone of a famed alien hero, left on Earth disguised as a human to give the universe another chance to defeat a terrible evil.

But when the beacon activates, it turns out that Tina’s destiny isn’t quite what she expected. Things are far more dangerous than she ever assumed–and everyone in the galaxy is expecting her to actually be the brilliant tactician and legendary savior Captain Thaoh Argentian, but Tina….is just Tina. And the Royal Fleet is losing the war, badly–the starship that found her is on the run and they barely manage to escape Earth with the planet still intact.

Luckily, Tina is surrounded by a crew she can trust, and her best friend Rachel, and she is still determined to save all the worlds. But first she’ll have to save herself.

Buckle up your seatbelt for this thrilling YA sci-fi adventure set against an intergalactic war from internationally bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders

Review

4 stars 

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

Victories Greater Than Death is a fun, super-queer space adventure, and definitely fulfilled my expectations. While I did take a bit to get into the world building and wanted it to be a tad more fleshed out, I did more or less enjoy the story overall. 

Tina is a great protagonist, and has a good balance of strength and vulnerability. She starts off with a fairly black-and-white mindset about the conflict and possible resolutions, but as she grows, so does her worldview, and it’s great to see that evolution. 

I also really enjoyed how inclusive it was. I did feel a tad overwhelmed at times with the large cast of characters, not all of whom I felt I really knew by the end of the book, but I liked that Anders put effort into creating a truly diverse cast, including compassionate rep of people of other races and ethnicities, and including a rainbow of LGBTQ+ rep. The characters also include their pronouns when introducing themselves, which is something I’ve unfortunately never seen before in a book, but really hope catches on! 

And while I definitely wanted more page time for the romance, as it did feel a bit rushed, I liked what we got. Tina and Elza have such a sweet dynamic! And the way the relationship is explored through the lens of their identities, such as Tina having never really been attracted to anyone before Elza, and Elza navigating relationships as a trans person with all its complications, is so compassionate and lovely, and really spoke to me on multiple levels. 

This is a fun first entry into a planned trilogy, which I will be keeping my eye on in the future. And given what I’ve heard about Charlie Jane Anders’ other work, I’m also curious to check those out. And if you’re in the mood for a fun queer space opera, I recommend checking this out! 

Author Bio 

Charlie Jane Anders is the author of Victories Greater Than Death, the first book in the young-adult Unstoppable trilogy, along with the short story collection Even Greater Mistakes. Her other books include The City in the Middle of the Night and All the Birds in the Sky. Her fiction and journalism have appeared in The New York TimesThe Washington PostSlateMcSweeney’sMother Jones, the Boston ReviewTor.comTin HouseConjunctionsWired Magazine, and other places. Her TED Talk, “Go Ahead, Dream About the Future” got 700,000 views in its first week. With Annalee Newitz, she co-hosts the podcast Our Opinions Are Correct.

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Review of “The Dictionary of Lost Words” by Pip Williams

Williams, Pip. The Dictionary of Lost Words. New York: Ballantine Books, 2021. 

ISBN-13: 978-0593160190 | $28.00 USD | 400 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb

In this “delightful debut” (Newsweek) based on actual events, as a team of male scholars compiles the first Oxford English Dictionary, one of their daughters decides to collect the “objectionable” words they omit.

“A marvelous fiction about the power of language to elevate or repress.”—Geraldine Brooks, New York Times bestselling author of People of the Book

Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the Scriptorium, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Young Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word bondmaid flutters beneath the table. She rescues the slip, and when she learns that the word means “slave girl,” she begins to collect other words that have been discarded or neglected by the dictionary men.

As she grows up, Esme realizes that words and meanings relating to women’s and common folks’ experiences often go unrecorded. And so she begins in earnest to search out words for her own dictionary: the Dictionary of Lost Words. To do so she must leave the sheltered world of the university and venture out to meet the people whose words will fill those pages.

Set during the height of the women’s suffrage movement and with the Great War looming, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men. Inspired by actual events, author Pip Williams has delved into the archives of the Oxford English Dictionary to tell this highly original story. The Dictionary of Lost Words is a delightful, lyrical, and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words and the power of language to shape the world.

Review

3 stars

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

The Dictionary of Lost Words has an intriguing premise, exploring the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary and how the contributions of women have been ignored. It also explores the value of words, and how they can mean different things to men and women. I did particularly like this, as it explores the concept of what is valued in a subtle way, and being set in the midst of the suffrage movement, the preservation of the words men don’t find valuable, or perhaps even find obscene, is a revolutionary act. 

However, in spite of these grand themes, I struggled to connect with the book. The main character, Esme, feels pretty bland, pretty much a blank slate, so as she goes through the story, I didn’t really feel anything for her. I did like some of the supporting characters, and the influence in real life historical figures, however. 

The pacing also felt a bit uneven, often feeling dry and staid, to the point where I almost wanted to DNF. However, I persisted and found it got better as it went on. 

This book has received a lot of praise from others, so it’s possible that the book just wasn’t entirely for me. But I do overall see the merit in the book, even if I felt a disconnect with the execution. I think if you like feminist historical fiction, you should give this a try to see what you think. 

Author Bio 

Pip was born in London, grew up in Sydney and now calls the Adelaide Hills home. She is co-author of the book Time Bomb: Work Rest and Play in Australia Today (New South Press, 2012) and in 2017 she wrote One Italian Summer, a memoir of her family’s travels in search of the good life, which was published with Affirm Press to wide acclaim. Pip has also published travel articles, book reviews, flash fiction and poetry.

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Review of “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Reid, Taylor Jenkins. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. New York: Atria Books, 2017. 

ISBN-13: 978-1501161933  | $17.00 USD | 390 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb 

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Review 

4.5 stars 

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s books have been massively hyped in the last few years, to the point where I became very intimidated by them. However, their premises always appealed to me, especially that of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, especially as, while I don’t know a ton about classic Hollywood films on a technical level, I’ve looked into the personal lives of various classic film actors with rabid interest. Reid plays into that, with the story unfolding like a tell-all where the screen legend divulges the secrets behind the headlines after decades of speculation. 

And I ate it up, devouring the book within hours of picking it up. Evelyn is a compelling protagonist, who finds herself putting up a facade because of Hollywood’s lack of acceptance of LGBTQ+ people at the time (she starts her career in the 1960s). While she clarifies early on she is bisexual and does have feelings for many of the men she marries, the great love of her life is a woman and fellow actress, Celia. I love that their relationship was dynamic, with its jealousy and passion, and they flit out of each other’s lives as Evelyn tries to make things work with a certain husband, only to find themselves coming back together again. 

I really liked that the husbands were all so different, and the monikers applied to them in the narrative really suit each of them. I loved how it also allowed for the demonstration of different types of love, as while Evelyn and Harry’s marriage was more of a cover for their same-sex relationships with other people, they made a choice to have a child together in the “traditional” way and were thus bonded in that sense. 

And while having multiple first-person narrators is often a bugbear for me, Reid makes it work stylistically so you’re never lost. I do think that the attempt to layer in some personal drama for the interviewer, Monique, fell a bit flat, given how little page time is spent with her character, however, but it does make for a nice parallel with Evelyn’s story, seeing she took away a message of living one’s life honestly and for oneself instead of for others. 

This book was literally unputdownable for me, and I can’t believe I waited this long to pick it up. On the off chance I’m not the last person to pick this up, anyone who hasn’t should absolutely rectify that immediately. You won’t regret it. 

Author Bio 

Taylor Jenkins Reid is the author of Daisy Jones & The Six, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, One True Loves, and three other novels. She lives in Los Angeles. You can follow her on Instagram @tjenkinsreid.

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Review of “A Thousand Ships” by Natalie Haynes

Haynes, Natalie. A Thousand Ships. 2019. New York: Harper, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-0063065390 | $27.99 USD | 348 pages | Historical Fiction/Retellings

Blurb

Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, a gorgeous retelling of the Trojan War from the perspectives of the many women involved in its causes and consequences–for fans of Madeline Miller.

This is the women’s war, just as much as it is the men’s. They have waited long enough for their turn . . .

This was never the story of one woman, or two. It was the story of them all . . .

In the middle of the night, a woman wakes to find her beloved city engulfed in flames. Ten seemingly endless years of conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans are over. Troy has fallen.

From the Trojan women whose fates now lie in the hands of the Greeks, to the Amazon princess who fought Achilles on their behalf, to Penelope awaiting the return of Odysseus, to the three goddesses whose feud started it all, these are the stories of the women whose lives, loves, and rivalries were forever altered by this long and tragic war.< p>A woman’s epic, powerfully imbued with new life, A Thousand Ships puts the women, girls and goddesses at the center of the Western world’s great tale ever told.

Review

4 stars

The Trojan War is a part of Greek mythology that always fascinated me, and A Thousand Ships appealed to me because it centered the conflict on the perspectives of the women involved. While the large cast of characters makes this a daunting task, especially for the relatively short (for the scale of the story) page count, I feel like it presents a fairly broad fictionalized overview of these central figures. It does suffer from not allowing any of the women to really shine on their own, but a combination of a few different narrative styles (first and third, and even the perspective of Penelope told through letters to her missing husband Odysseus) makes for an engaging story. 

But each of the women are interesting, allowing the reader to become fairly invested in their individual narratives. All of them, gods and humans alike, are flawed and they sometimes make foolish decisions, just like the men do. For example, the war began because the gods decided to meddle, with Aphrodite offering Paris the affections of Helen, who, unbeknownst to him, was married to King Menelaus, leading to Paris stealing her away after he accepted her bribe over the more “sensible” (in relative terms of this conflict) offers from Athene or Hera. 

I was disappointed that my favorite character from the original tale, the cursed seer Cassandra, was largely relegated to shared passages with other Trojan women, getting only one section of her own. However, in the grand scheme of things, a lot of the Trojan women got similar treatment, and I’m glad it also allowed Haynes to highlight some of the lesser known stories, like that of Briseis and Chryseis, as much as the major players. 

This is an enjoyable book, although the presentation is non-linear, and feels more akin to linked vignettes or short stories than a novel. As such, I can see why some have enjoyed this, while others found this book a bit too unfocused and scattered. I feel if you’re looking for something more intimate and character-focused, you won’t find that with this book. But if you don’t mind a story that more broadly explores the varied perspectives of the characters involved in the Trojan War, I think you’ll enjoy this. 

Author Bio

Natalie Haynes, author of THE FURIES (THE AMBER FURY in the UK), is a graduate of Cambridge University and an award-winning comedian, journalist, and broadcaster. She judged the Man Booker Prize in 2013 and was a judge for the final Orange Prize in 2012. Natalie was a regular panelist on BBC2’s Newsnight Review, Radio 4’s Saturday Review, and the long-running arts show, Front Row. She is a guest columnist for the The Independent and The Guardian. Her radio series, Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics, was first broadcast in March 2014.

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Review of “The Smuggler’s Daughter” by Kerry Barrett

Barrett, Kerry. The Smuggler’s Daughter. New York: HQ, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-0008430160 | $16.99 USD | 384 pages | Historical Mystery 

Blurb 

‘I loved this book! I was hooked from the start… I devoured this.’ NetGalley reviewer, 5 stars

Only she knows the truth. Only she can save them.

1799
Emily Moon lives with her mother in an inn on a clifftop in the darkest reaches of Cornwall. After her father mysteriously disappears, her mother finds solace at the bottom of a bottle, and the only way to keep afloat is to turn a blind eye to the smugglers who send signals from the clifftops. But Emily knows that the smugglers killed her father to ensure his silence, and she will not let his murder go unpunished…

Present day
After a case ends in tragedy, police officer Phoebe Bellingham flees to Cornwall for a summer of respite. But rather than the sunny Cornwall of her dreams, she finds herself on storm-beaten cliffs, surrounded by stories of ghosts and smugglers – and the mysterious Emily Moon, who vanished without a trace over two centuries ago. As rain lashes down around her, Phoebe determines to find the truth behind the rumours – but what she uncovers will put herself in danger too…

A haunting and moving timeslip novel perfect for fans of The Girl in the Letter, The Forgotten Village and The Witchfinder’s Sister.Readers LOVE The Smuggler’s Daughter!

Gripping and unputdownable… A brilliantly told story and one I keep thinking about since I finished reading it.’ NetGalley reviewer, 5 stars

Creepy, atmospheric and gripping, a really great read.’ NetGalley reviewer, 5 stars

Ticked all of the boxes for me… One of those books that draws you in straight away… I found it difficult to put down.’ NetGalley reviewer

‘Atmospheric and gothic… Gives you the odd shiver up your spine… A really enjoyable read.’ NetGalley reviewer

‘An intriguing story full of adventure, imaginative characters, history, and beautiful Cornwall scenes.’ NetGalley reviewer

‘I could literally hear and smell the waves crashing on the rocks… Kept me gripped throughout… Twists along the way.’ Yeah Lifestyle

Review 

3.5 stars 

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

The Smuggler’s Daughter is a dual-timeline mystery, and while I was a bit nervous about how I’d fare with it upon noting how it was structured, with both being in first-person (I’ve been known to forget whose head I’m in even with headings), since I got into the rhythm of it. And the two voices are fairly distinct, with Emily’s subtly reflecting her time period. 

Ultimately , I did grasp onto Emily more, and that was likely in part due to the fact that she is what we today would consider to be autistic. I could empathize with how she‘s viewed differently by the townsfolk due to this, and provides a healthy reminder of why I’m glad to have been born in the present, even if that still isn’t without its own challenges for neurodiverse folks. 

But I did still like Phoebe’s story to an extent, even if I wasn’t as personally invested in it. As an investigator, I liked how she applied her skills to looking into the mysterious goings-on of the Moon Inn (which serves as the setting connection), including a thread that ties into finding out what happened to Emily when she disappeared after she made some discoveries in relation to her father’s death and the local smuggling activities. I did admittedly gloss over a bit more in her chapters, wanting to get back to Emily. 

While I didn’t feel like this book was as balanced in sucking me in to both character arcs as I desire with dual-timeline novels, I still enjoyed this one a solid amount, even if more for the historical elements. It offers a lot of familiar elements (the atmospheric Cornwall setting, a la the novels of Daphne du Maurier), with a fresh twist, and should satisfy fans of historical fiction who also like a bit of mystery. 

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Review of “My Epic Spring Break (Up)” by Kristin Rockaway

Rockaway, Kristin. My Epic Spring Break (Up). New York: Underlined, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-0593180112| $9.99 USD | 256 pages | YA Contemporary Romance 

Blurb 

A fun and upbeat paperback original romance about a girl who finds a cheat sheet for love.

Spring break . . . heartache?

For coder extraordinaire Ashley, high school is all about prepping for college. Her love life? Virtually nonexistent. She’s never been on a date. Never been kissed. Never been in love.

When her plans veer off course, Ashley realizes she might be missing out on her high school experience. Now that spring break is finally here, Ashley vows to have fun . . . and, for the first time, follow her heart.

Starting with Walker Beech, her gorgeous, maybe-not-so-unrequited crush. But with Jason Eisler–her childhood friend turned prankster–in the picture, trouble is bound to follow. Will Ashley’s epic spring break lead her to love, or will her heart crash and burn?

“Smart, fun, fast-paced.” —USA Today bestselling author of The Kiss Quotient Helen Hoang on Kristin Rockaway’s How to Hack a Heartbreak

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 read a previous adult book by Kristin Rockaway and enjoyed it, so was interested in her upcoming YA title, My Epic Spring Break (Up). It didn’t blow me away or anything, but it’s fun and sweet, with elements that ultimately appealed to my id. 

I don’t know a ton about coding, but it was presented in a way that wasn’t overwhelming. And it was fun to see a competitive event more related to science/tech featured, as I feel like I don’t see that too often. 

I didn’t find Ashley to be super well fleshed out, and she did lean into some teen stereotypes. However, I don’t think that’s a mark against it, due to it being appropriate for the target audience. 

The romantic elements are where the book really shines for me. Love triangles can be a bit hard to invest in, but Rockaway writes one that is interesting and worth investing in. I can remember being a similar age to Ashley and aspiring to date the hot guy, and that is a common aspect of wish-fulfillment in many properties made for teens. But I like that the story explores that, having Ashley make bad decisions because of Walker, and then over time come to that realization that he’s not right for her. It may not be the only story with this outcome, but I appreciated the level of self-awareness. And the fact that her relationship with her childhood friend Jason is also changing and bringing up questions…it just made me so happy to see how things resolved between them. 

I did think it was interesting how at one point, Ashley is at a Taylor Swift concert, and the music plays a role in her epiphany. But that also really calls into question the weird time-warp contemporaries have been in since the beginning of COVID. I understand not wanting to acknowledge it. But I also find it interesting the way it handled it, referencing songs up to Lover, when surely at some point in production, Folklore at least had come out? Although the circumstances of the making of  Taylor Swift’s two quarantine records does make it a bit contradictory to the goal of the scene. However, it did mess with my head and I ultimately read way too much into it, given this is a YA contemporary romance, and it’s probably not that deep. 

Weird overly analytical nitpicks aside, this is a fun book. Maybe not something that will cross over to adult readers well, but that’s totally fine! I think teens will like this fun romance, especially if they like coding. 

Author Bio

Kristin Rockaway is a native New Yorker and recovering corporate software engineer. After working in the IT industry for far too many years, she finally traded the city for the surf and chased her dreams out to Southern California, where she spends her days happily writing stories instead of code. When she’s not working, she enjoys spending time with her husband and son, browsing the aisles of her neighborhood bookstores, and trying to catch up on sleep.

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Review of “Band of Sisters” by Lauren Willig

Willig, Lauren. Band of Sisters. New York: William Morrow, 2021. 

ISBN-13: 978-0062986153 | $27.99 USD | 519 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb 

A group of young women from Smith College risk their lives in France at the height of World War I in this sweeping novel based on a true story—a skillful blend of Call the Midwife and The Alice Network—from New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig.

A scholarship girl from Brooklyn, Kate Moran thought she found a place among Smith’s Mayflower descendants, only to have her illusions dashed the summer after graduation. When charismatic alumna Betsy Rutherford delivers a rousing speech at the Smith College Club in April of 1917, looking for volunteers to help French civilians decimated by the German war machine, Kate is too busy earning her living to even think of taking up the call. But when her former best friend Emmeline Van Alden reaches out and begs her to take the place of a girl who had to drop out, Kate reluctantly agrees to join the new Smith College Relief Unit.

Four months later, Kate and seventeen other Smithies, including two trailblazing female doctors, set sail for France. The volunteers are armed with money, supplies, and good intentions—all of which immediately go astray. The chateau that was to be their headquarters is a half-burnt ruin. The villagers they meet are in desperate straits: women and children huddling in damp cellars, their crops destroyed and their wells poisoned. 

Despite constant shelling from the Germans, French bureaucracy, and the threat of being ousted by the British army, the Smith volunteers bring welcome aid—and hope—to the region. But can they survive their own differences? As they cope with the hardships and terrors of the war, Kate and her colleagues find themselves navigating old rivalries and new betrayals which threaten the very existence of the Unit.

With the Germans threatening to break through the lines, can the Smith Unit pull together and be truly a band of sisters?

Review 

4 stars 

Band of Sisters, the latest from Lauren Willig so thoroughly captured my attention that I read it in less than a day. And that’s saying a lot, given it’s just over 500 pages, and the beginning starts off fairly slow. And while I have a small twinge of regret at gobbling up this book so quickly, I think it’s also a testament to how compelling it is. 

Once again, Lauren Willig has managed to pick a compelling subject on which to base her book. There have been many works on the roles of women during the World Wars, but I didn’t know specifically about the “Smithies,” graduates of Smith College who came together to provide aid in France, a ragtag group that became a sisterhood. The women faced hardships they didn’t bargain for, but they bravely faced down the harsh living conditions, the lack of food, the uncertainty around missing and dead family members, and tending to the sick. Willig conveyed the stakes of the situation very well, and this is a wonderful tribute to a group of women who should be more widely known. 

There is a rather large cast, so it was a bit difficult to fully connect with everyone equally. There is enough to get a snapshot of everyone, and the letters that begin each chapter provide poignant details into their lives. As for Kate, one of the main characters, could be hard to connect to, due to her judgmental nature. But I did ultimately think she grew, even if it was slow going. While I typically prefer more of a character-focused, insular narrative, I didn’t mind the broader focus with a slightly deeper emphasis on one or two of the women, as the plot and background information were so compelling. Although other character-driven readers might feel differently, so you should keep that in mind. 

And like most Lauren Willig books, there are fun Easter eggs to her prior works. The main one is a reference to her writer friends and sometimes-co-writers.  Beatriz Williams and Karen White, with a cheeky multiple name-drop. There’s also an almost-reference/missed opportunity in the form of the Scarlet Pimpernel. The characters bring him up multiple times, including an explicit mention of him being fictional. I was a bit disappointed that someone didn’t casually remark that he was in fact real, and not the only flower-named spy from that period in French history…but I don’t recall her more recent historical fiction titles referencing Pink Carnation, even if her first few did. 

I really enjoyed this book, and think it’s another winner from Lauren Willig, even if it’s not my absolute favorite. If you love historical fiction about seldom-celebrated remarkable women and their achievements, I think you’ll enjoy this one. 

Author Bio 

Lauren Willig is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than twenty works of historical fiction, including Band of SistersThe Summer CountryThe English Wife, the RITA Award-winning Pink Carnation series, and three novels co-written with Beatriz Williams and Karen White. Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages, awarded the RITA, Booksellers Best, and Golden Leaf awards, and chosen for the American Library Association’s annual list of the best genre fiction. An alumna of Yale University, she has a graduate degree in history from Harvard and a JD from Harvard Law School. She lives in New York City with her husband, two young children, and vast quantities of coffee.

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Review of “One Thing Leads to a Lover” (Love and Let Spy #2) by Susanna Craig

Craig, Susanna. One Thing Leads to a Lover. New York: Lyrical Press, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1516110599 | $7.99 USD | 291 pages | Regency Romance 

Blurb 

Opposites attract more than trouble in the latest captivating Regency romancefromSusanna Craig.

Amanda Bartlett, widowed Countess of Kingston, is a woman beyond reproach. Married at nineteen, she dutifully provided the Earl with an heir and a spare before his death three years ago. Since then, Amanda has lived a simple, quiet life. A life that, if she were honest, has become more than a trifle dull. So when an adventure literally drops into her lap, in the shape of a mysterious book, she intends to make the most of it—especially if it brings her closer to a charismatic stranger. . . .

Major Langley Stanhope, an intelligence officer and master mimic known as the Magpie, needs to retrieve the code book that has fallen into Amanda’s hands. The mistaken delivery has put them both in grave danger and in a desperate race to unearth a traitor. It’s also stirred an intense, reckless attraction. Langley believes the life he leads is not suitable for a delicate widow, but it seems he may have underestimated the lady’s daring . . . and the depths of their mutual desire. . . .
PRAISE FOR WHO’S THAT EARL

“Craig delights with a fast-paced, intrigue-filled plot and expertly developed characters. Regency fans will eagerly anticipate future installments.”
—Publishers Weekly, STARRED review

In the series 

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Review 

3 stars 

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

While I wasn’t a huge fan of the first book in the series, finding it a bit all over the place, I did have hopes for the series. However, while One Thing Leads to a Lover is merely adequate, a step up by comparison, but a reminder that I did promise myself I would stop continuing with series that didn’t engross me. 

I did like the characters for what they were, especially Langley. I could empathize with his insecurities and anxiety, trying to blend in instead of standing out. He’s a rare breed, when the genre favors more bold and broody types, and while not overly invested, I found him likable. 

Amanda is also a fairly compelling lead, and one I rooted for. I chafed as she dealt with her domineering mother’s exacting nature, leading to her shrinking into herself. She did take a while to really stand up for herself, but in the circumstances, I get it. And the relationship between the two, while it didn’t rock my socks off, was rather sweet. 

But the mystery element was once again forgettable. It had a lot of potential, what with him searching for a code book and her assisting, but I just never felt the stakes. Perhaps I’ve read too many thrillers recently, so I’m expecting something more high-octane than this, but even the cozy mysteries I read semi-recently had more action and a clear vision of the mystery trajectory than this? Then again, romantic suspense-y stuff has always frustrated me, because I like intense stuff, and my complaints are similar to those of the first book, so I’m not surprised. 

I liked some aspects of this, but was sadly underwhelmed, and likely won’t continue with the third (especially as the epilogue, teasing what comes next, didn’t excite me). However, those who do like spy romance and historical romance with subtle mystery elements will likely enjoy this more than I did. 

Author Bio 

Almost as soon as she could hold a pencil, Susanna Craig began writing stories. Today, she pens award-winning Regency-era romance novels that blend history and heart with a dash of heat. An English professor, wife, and mom, she’s currently finding her happily ever after in Kentucky while holding onto her Midwestern roots. Find her online at http://www.susannacraig.com.

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Review of “The Magician’s Lie” by Greer Macallister

Macallister, Greer. The Magician’s Lie. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2015. 

ISBN-13: 978-1492628996 | $14.99 USD | 352 pages | Historical Thriller 

Blurb 

USA TODAY BESTSELLER

“This is a book in which storylines twist, spiral and come together again in an ending as explosive as a poof of smoke from your chimney…or a top hat.”–Oprah.com

Master of historical fiction Greer Macallister weaves the tale of a notorious female illusionist who stands accused of her husband’s murder–and she has only one night to convince a small-town policeman of her innocence.

The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of the early 20th century, renowned for sawing a man in half on stage. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, with young policeman Virgil Holt in the audience, the magician swaps her trademark saw for a fire ax. Is it a new version of the illusion, or an all-too-real murder? When Arden’s husband is found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, the answer seems clear.

But when Virgil happens upon the fleeing magician and takes her into custody, she has a very different story to tell. Even handcuffed and alone, Arden is far from powerless-and what she reveals seems unbelievable. Over the course of one eerie night, Virgil must decide whether to turn the illusionist in or set her free… and it will take all he has to see through the smoke and mirrors.

Water for Elephants meets The Night Circus in The Magician’s Lie, a spellbinding historical adventure of deception, fact, and the surprising number of truths in between.

Review 

4 stars 

After enjoying my first Greer Macallister book, I decided to pick up The Magician’s Lie, which had been on my TBR for a while and was stylistically similar with the framing device as a confrontational event for the protagonist, and a look back and how she got there. And while I didn’t enjoy this one as much as Macallister’s other book, I found it nonetheless engaging. 

Once again, the narrative goes back and forth between the two time periods, one following the night of Arden’s arrest and then flashing back as she tells her story of her origins, how she became a magician, and met her husband. Even with this being an earlier work, Macallister is consistent in being able to braid the two connected narratives together in a way that makes sense and keeps you guessing until it comes together at the end. I did feel a bit let down by the end of this one, as it felt rushed, but it was more or less interesting throughout up until that point and felt that the ending could have done with more fleshing out. 

Arden is also an interesting lead. I liked how her being a female illusionist flips the famous archetype on its head, down to one of her most well known illusions being the Sawed Man, instead of a woman as many male magicians are known for. She is also very sympathetic, and while at first there is uncertainty, her narrative attaches her to you, to the point where you become certain of her innocence. 

This is a compelling historical thriller with a real magical quality. If you love historical thrillers, I think you’ll enjoy this one. 

Author Bio 

Raised in the Midwest, Greer Macallister earned her MFA in creative writing from American University. Her debut novel THE MAGICIAN’S LIE was a USA Today bestseller, an Indie Next pick, and a Target Book Club selection. Her novels GIRL IN DISGUISE (“a rip-roaring, fast-paced treat to read” – Booklist) and WOMAN 99 (“a nail biter that makes you want to stand up and cheer” – Kate Quinn) were inspired by pioneering 19th-century private detective Kate Warne and fearless journalist Nellie Bly, respectively. Her new book, THE ARCTIC FURY, was named an Indie Next and Library Reads pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and a spotlighted new release at PopSugar, Libro.fm, and Goodreads. A regular contributor to Writer Unboxed and the Chicago Review of Books, she lives with her family in Washington, DC.

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Review of “Lady August” by Becky Michaels

Michaels, Becky. Lady August. Boston(?):  Mildred Press, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1735140124 | $3.99 USD | 300 pages | Regency Romance 

Blurb 

August Summer thinks she is a nobody until a London solicitor barges into her employer’s drawing room, revealing not only is she the daughter of an earl but a wealthy heiress as well. Optimistic about a new life, she travels to her ancestral home of Linfield Hall, only for her brother to banish her to London to live with her aunt, a dowager duchess with a reputation.

When Lord Bolton asks him to fetch his illegitimate daughter, solicitor Samuel Brooks does not expect himself to become so invested in the young woman’s debut after wanting nothing to do with dinners and balls before. But as August navigates her way through this new world of the British aristocracy, Brooks is the one who is most dazzled by her unexpected charms.

Since society demands every young girl must marry, August decides she will accept nothing less than someone’s heart in exchange for possession of her newfound fortune. Forced to reexamine his negative views of love and marriage or lose August forever, Brooks soon realizes his heart is the only thing in danger of becoming possessed.

Review 

3 stars 

I received an ARC from the author/publisher via Hidden Gems. I am voluntarily posting a review. 

Lady August continues two “grand” traditions (curses?) that have contributed to my embitterment to new-to-me Regency romance authors: the “illustrated cover” and the “emotionally stunted hero.” As for the former, it stings primarily because I was drawn to the cover art by Leni Kauffmann, whose art really stands out among the pack. Although a “cover buy” (or whatever the equivalent is for review copies)  with little consideration for the content is always going to be a gamble, as I’ve often found out. 

Meanwhile, the latter had me feel like I was reading an updated version of The Duke and I without the really problematic stuff (or really any of the scores of books where the hero has an unrealistically large chip on his shoulder and you just want to drop-kick him into the 21st century and drag him to therapy). While I was excited Brooks actually had a profession instead of being another lord, my excitement dimmed with his first declaration he would never marry; and then repeated it, rubbing it in so you know what the plot twist making him marry is going to be. And the reasoning was so weird, like he’d seen his parents’ marriage fail due to his father being horrible, and he’d also seen other marriages fall apart. But by making that choice, he’s proving the point of the “nature vs. nurture” debate. He has good intentions, and if he tries, he has the potential to persevere. Sure, some follow in the destructive paths of their parents, but others go in the opposite direction character wise  without refusing to live their life. 

And of course, his past plays a role in influencing the Big Misunderstanding with August…at that point, I didn’t even know if I wanted them together, which is horrible to say about a romance. 

There are some good elements here. August is a lovely heroine, and I feel like she had a lot of potential, especially with her shadowy background. I rooted for her to triumph against her former lover and “wicked stepmother,” and I did appreciate that Brooks looked out for her in that regard…I just feel like them getting together was a mistake, or at least the way it happened was. 

I do think Becky Michaels has talent, as I found the story engaging enough to read in an afternoon, and there are some other little subplots that intrigued me, making me hope we haven’t seen the last of these characters. And even if not, I am totally willing to give her another chance if the premise appeals to me more. I just have a massive bone to pick with this specific character archetype. However, I do realize that archetype is featured so often because it’s popular with readers, so I think if that’s your catnip, you’ll love this book. 

Author Bio 

Becky Michaels is a historical romance author and self-proclaimed Anglophile. After graduating from Boston University with a degree in English, she reluctantly decided to get a day job but never stopped writing—or dreaming. THE LAND STEWARD’S DAUGHTER, a Regency romance set in 1815 England, is her debut novel. Despite the cold winters and high rent, she still lives in the Boston area with her boyfriend and cat.

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Review of “The Arctic Fury” by Greer Macallister

Macallister, Greer. The Arctic Fury. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1728215693 | $14.99 USD | 432 pages | Historical Thriller 

Blurb 

In early 1853, experienced California Trail guide Virginia Reeve is summoned to Boston by a mysterious benefactor who offers her a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: lead a party of 12 women into the wild, hazardous Arctic to search for the lost Franklin Expedition. It’s an extraordinary request, but the party is made up of extraordinary women. Each brings her own strengths and skills to the expedition- and her own unsettling secrets. A year and a half later, back in Boston, Virginia is on trial when not all of the women return. Told in alternating timelines that follow both the sensational murder trial in Boston and the dangerous, deadly progress of the women’s expedition into the frozen North, this heart-pounding story will hold readers rapt as a chorus of voices answer the trial’s all-consuming question: what happened out there on the ice?

Review

5 stars 

The Arctic Fury is a historical fiction book that caught my attention upon its release, due to its premise of women explorers in the Arctic. However, I did not expect to be so blown away by this book. I knew there would be some element of suspense, with the loss of life and the question of Virginia’s culpability as the leader. What I did not expect was all the twists and turns. 

The main surprise was Virginia herself. As the story opens, I wasn’t sure what to think of her, which I think was the intent, but then the reveals about her past trauma and what it ultimately stems from came out and led to my jaw dropping at the clever way the parallels were crafted. 

The cast of characters is also compelling, and the story is written in a way where you get to know each of the women, and genuinely are upset when there are fatalities. As for the dual-timeline structure, I felt it worked really well together, with a real sense of there being a trial for Virginia, then flashing back to get the answers to what happened. 

This is my first book by Greer Macallister, but definitely  not my last. And if you love a compelling historical thriller, I recommend this one. 

Author Bio 

Raised in the Midwest, Greer Macallister earned her MFA in creative writing from American University. Her debut novel THE MAGICIAN’S LIE was a USA Today bestseller, an Indie Next pick, and a Target Book Club selection. Her novels GIRL IN DISGUISE (“a rip-roaring, fast-paced treat to read” – Booklist) and WOMAN 99 (“a nail biter that makes you want to stand up and cheer” – Kate Quinn) were inspired by pioneering 19th-century private detective Kate Warne and fearless journalist Nellie Bly, respectively. Her new book, THE ARCTIC FURY, was named an Indie Next and Library Reads pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and a spotlighted new release at PopSugar, Libro.fm, and Goodreads. A regular contributor to Writer Unboxed and the Chicago Review of Books, she lives with her family in Washington, DC.

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Review of “Violet City” (The Volkranian Chronicles #1) by Page Morgan

Morgan, Page. Violet City. [Place of publication not identified]: Page Morgan, 2021. 

ISBN-13: 978-1733682015 | $3.99 USD | 210 pages | Sci-Fi Romance 

Blurb

He came to destroy. Then he met her.

In the chaos of an alien invasion, Penelope Simmons wants one thing: to get to her mom before the world ends.

But after stumbling upon an unearthly chemical weapon, and being hunted down by a tenacious and surprisingly human-looking Volkranian, Pen becomes entangled in an uprising of intergalactic proportions.

To stay alive, Pen and her alien captor will have to trust each other. To save the world, they’ll have to decide which species—human or Volkranian—is worth dying for.

Review

3 stars 

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

I picked up Violet City due to remembering the author from our brief interactions during Entangled Publishing’s Historical FB group parties (she also writes historical romance for them as Angie Morgan, although I actually haven’t read any of those books yet). The book also sounded pretty interesting.

Stylistically, this book seems to struggle to figure out what it wants to be, and while I can’t speak to her past work, I feel like it reflects my first impression of all her author identities mixed together. It’s primarily trying to be YA, but it also feels a bit like it’s trying to skew younger (upper middle grade/younger side of YA), while also wanting to be a bit sexy, including a steamy scene. That’s not to say YA can’t be a bit steamy (even if it isn’t full-on ACOTAR-explicit, which this isn’t), but the writing and the content choices suggested different things at times. 

Yet, there are some good elements here. I don’t read a ton of alien-oriented romance (a lot of it sounds a bit too out there for me), and I liked what was included here, although it wasn’t as prominent as I expected based on the premise. 

The characters are fun, although not overly remarkable. I did like Pen and that she did have real teenage concerns, like about her mother, in the midst of this crisis. And I did want more development for Rowan, but the romance itself was sweet overall. 

This is a fun story, although perhaps not the best intro to Page Morgan’s work overall. I’ll definitely be looking for more of her work to try across her different pen names. I’ll also keep an eye on this series, as while it’s very flawed, it has a lot of potential. And I think if you’re looking for a fun YA alien/dystopian romance, this is a pretty solid effort that is worth giving a try. 

Author Bio 

Page is the author of THE BEAUTIFUL AND THE CURSED, THE LOVELY AND THE LOST, and THE WONDROUS AND THE WICKED, young adult gothic thrillers critically acclaimed by Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, School Library Journal, VOYA, and The Bulletin. Page’s novels have been an IndieNext selection, a Seventeen Magazine Summer Book Club Read, and a #1 Amazon bestseller. Her next book, THE LAST HUNTSMAN, is a reimagining of the Huntsman and Magic Mirror from the tale of Snow White.

She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and their three daughters, an English Pointer, an arrogant cat, two boring bearded dragons, a one-eared bunny, a bunch of chickens, and during the summer and fall, their neighbor’s two sweet horses.

Page also writes adult historical romance under the name Angie Morgan. Find out more at www.AngieMorganBooks.com

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Review of “To Love and to Loathe” (The Regency Vows #2) by Martha Waters

Waters, Martha. To Love and to Loathe. New York: Atria Books, 2021. 

ISBN-13: 978-1982160876 | $16.99 USD | 384 pages | Regency Romance 

Blurb 

The author of the “hilarious…joyful, elegant” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) To Have and to Hoax returns with an effervescent, charming, and swoon-worthy novel about a man and woman who never agree on anything—until they agree to a no-strings-attached affair in this Regency-era romp.

The widowed Diana, Lady Templeton and Jeremy, Marquess of Willingham are infamous among English high society as much for their sharp-tongued bickering as their flirtation. One evening, an argument at a ball turns into a serious wager: Jeremy will marry within the year or Diana will forfeit one hundred pounds. So shortly after, just before a fortnight-long house party at Elderwild, Jeremy’s country estate, Diana is shocked when Jeremy appears at her home with a very different kind of proposition.

After his latest mistress unfavorably criticized his skills in the bedroom, Jeremy is looking for reassurance, so he has gone to the only woman he trusts to be totally truthful. He suggests that they embark on a brief affair while at the house party—Jeremy can receive an honest critique of his bedroom skills and widowed Diana can use the gossip to signal to other gentlemen that she is interested in taking a lover.

Diana thinks taking him up on his counter-proposal can only help her win her wager. With her in the bedroom and Jeremy’s marriage-minded grandmother, the formidable Dowager Marchioness of Willingham, helping to find suitable matches among the eligible ladies at Elderwild, Diana is confident her victory is assured. But while they’re focused on winning wagers, they stand to lose their own hearts.

With Martha Waters’s signature “cheeky charm and wonderfully wry wit” (Booklist, starred review), To Love and to Loathe is another clever and delightful historical rom-com that is perfect for fans of Christina Lauren and Evie Dunmore.

In the series 

#1 To Have and to Hoax

Review 

2.5 stars 

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

After the polarizing mess of To Have and to Hoax, To Love and to Loathe is more understated. But it didn’t do anything for me and is much more likely to sink into the recesses of my memory. 

Diana seems like exactly the sort of character I’d like: the widow who doesn’t want to marry again seeking to shake off her staid lifestyle with a bit of fun. But I never really warmed up to her, and not to mention she does some really questionable things, liking outing a queer side character to her friends (the historical context compounds the already icky action). 

And Jeremy was just another rake ready to make good, and I just never really felt like there was a reason to care. And for a pair who apparently had a somewhat antagonistic relationship in the past, the banter is shockingly banal. Even THatH, as in bad taste as I found some of it, at least seemed to try. These “rom-com” books really aren’t as funny as they promise to be, and it sucks. 

And with setups like the widow and the rake in an affair, there really needs to be convincing stakes to make me care if they get together long-term, much less marry. It felt like Diana changed her mind so suddenly without a convincing reason. What is with most historical romances feeling the need to be conventional and have the characters end up married or declare intent to marry  just because? I loved the books I read last year that didn’t feel the need to do that, and the affection was actually more obvious there! And it‘s not like they never have to get married! If they care about the legitimacy of their children (and as a peer, he probably does), they can marry if and when that happens, but I just didn’t think this was genuine, and would have been totally fine with the two just remaining committed lovers for the time being. 

So, in spite of my hopes, I’ve found that Martha Waters is likely not for me. I do think that there is objective improvement so anyone who didn’t like the first book due to the immense pettiness, but was interested in Waters; style overall might like this better than I did. And if you happened to like the first in all its over-the-top nature, this book is a bit different, but I still think you’ll be satisfied with this book.

Author Bio

 

Martha Waters is the author of To Have and to Hoax and To Love and to Loathe. She was born and raised in sunny South Florida and is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. By day, she works as a children’s librarian, and loves sundresses, gin cocktails, and traveling. Sign up for her newsletter for periodic book news and reading & travel recs: http://tinyletter.com/marthawaters

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Review of “Hello, Cruel Heart” by Maureen Johnson

Johnson, Maureen. Hello, Cruel Heart. Glendale, CA: Disney Press, 2021.

ISBN-13: 978-1368057769 | $17.99 USD | 352 pages | YA Historical Fiction

Blurb 

An electric new story of teenage Cruella de Vil in an original novel inspired by the upcoming Walt Disney Studios Live Action Film, Cruella.

Swinging London, Summer 1967. Sixteen-year-old Estella, gifted with talent, ingenuity, and ambition, dreams of becoming a renowned fashion designer. But life seems intent on making sure her dreams never come true. Having arrived in London as a young girl, Estella now runs wild through the city streets with Jasper and Horace, amateur thieves who double as Estella’s makeshift family and partners-in-(petty)-crime. How can Estella dedicate herself to joining the ranks of the London design elite when she’s sewing endless costumes and disguises for the trio’s heists?

When a chance encounter with Magda and Richard Moresby-Plum, two young scions of high society, vaults Estella into the world of the rich and famous, she begins to wonder whether she might be destined for more after all. Suddenly, Estella’s days are filled with glamorous parties, exclusive eateries, flirtations with an up-and-coming rock star, and, of course, the most cutting-edge fashions money can buy. But what is the true cost of keeping up with the fast crowd-and is it a price Estella is willing to pay?

Review 

2.5 stars 

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

Hello, Cruel Heart is a sort of prequel/companion novel to the upcoming Cruella film, and one of the things I had to keep in mind was that both the film and book appeared to be reimagining Cruella’s narrative, including the time in which the story takes place, with the book being set in 1967 and the film in the 70s, while the original book came out in the 50s, and the original animated Disney movie in 1961. 

That being said, I do think the book replicates the era fairly well, with its sense of the rock ‘n roll lifestyle in all its decadence. 

I did struggle to really connect to the character though. Estella never really came alive to me. She has some of the basic hallmarks of the Cruella character, like a love for fashion and attempting to balance high-society connections with seedier associates. I just never really got to know her beyond that. I mean, it’s not shocking, as  she’s hardly known as a villain with a lot of depth. But I also feel like this story would make a lot more sense in context with what Disney are trying to do with the film, instead of going in blind with nothing but the premise of the new film and prior knowledge of her as the one-note villain in the original. 

This book is fun, and I’m open to revisiting the book once I know more about Cruella. I do think it would also be wise to wait to read until you’ve seen the film and are looking for more about her backstory. 

Author Bio 

Maureen Johnson is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of several YA novels, including 13 Little Blue EnvelopesSuite ScarlettThe Name of the Star, and Truly Devious. She has also done collaborative works, such as Let It Snow with John Green and Lauren Myracle (now on Netflix), and several works in the Shadowhunter universe with Cassandra Clare. Her work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, Buzzfeed, and The Guardian, and she has also served as a scriptwriter for EA Games. She has an MFA in Writing from Columbia University and lives in New York City.

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Review of “And Now She’s Gone” by Rachel Howzell Hall

Hall, Rachel Howzell. And Now She’s Gone. New York: Forge, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1250753175 | $27.99 USD | 384 pages | 384 pages | Mystery/Thriller 

Blurb 

Isabel Lincoln is gone.

But is she missing?

It’s up to Grayson Sykes to find her. Although she is reluctant to track down a woman who may not want to be found, Gray’s search for Isabel Lincoln becomes more complicated and dangerous with every new revelation about the woman’s secrets and the truth she’s hidden from her friends and family.

Featuring two complicated women in a dangerous cat and mouse game, And Now She’s Gone explores the nature of secrets — and how violence and fear can lead you to abandon everything in order to survive.

Review 

5 stars 

After reading my first Rachel Howzell Hall book, I was eager to pick up another. And Now She’s Gone also promised to be a deliciously intense thriller, although I didn’t expect it to be as wild as it ended up being. 

It starts off as your conventional investigator type story, with Gray taking on a missing person case. Meanwhile, while nuggets of the missing woman’s life are revealed, we get flashbacks of Gray’s as well, highlighting the trauma she experienced in her past. 

But then, as the story went on, it took a turn. Gray’s past grows continually dire, with her dealing with abuse from her husband, and it’s coming back to haunt her in the present, with him having come to find her, in spite of her having changed her name and attempted to move on. 

Meanwhile, the missing woman has proved herself to not be who she claims to be, with multiple aliases and a dark past that begins to look less and less like Gray’s and more like something much more sinister. My jaw dropped with each plot twist, especially when the truth of who she was came out. 

This book is fabulous, and may even be one of the best thrillers I’ve read. If you’re looking for a thriller that will keep you guessing and leave you in shock upon its conclusion, I absolutely recommend picking this up. 

Author Bio 

RACHEL HOWZELL HALL, author of the bestseller and Anthony Award-, Lefty Award- and ITW-award nominated They All Fall Down (Forge), writes the acclaimed Lou Norton series, including Land of Shadows, Skies of Ash, Trail of Echoes, and City of Saviors. She is also the co-author of The Good Sister with James Patterson, which was included in the New York Times bestseller The Family Lawyer. She is currently on the board of directors for the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and lives in Los Angeles.

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Review of “Careless Whispers” (Jackson Falls #3) by Synithia Williams

Williams, Synithia. Careless Whispers. Toronto, Ontario: HQN, 2021. 

ISBN-13: 978-1335419989 | $9.99 USD | 384 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb 

She’s falling in love with the one man she can’t trust…

Elaina Robidoux knows how people view her: coldhearted, ambitious, ruthless. But it doesn’t matter. Running the family business is all she’s ever wanted and she’s so close she can almost taste it…until her father fires her and hires her nemesis—arrogant, unflappable Alex Tyson. Elaina may be hurt but she refuses to be defeated, so she throws herself into creating a business of her own. But she never dreamed that to close her first deal, she’d need Alex’s help… 

Alex understands the power of a family legacy better than most and the last thing he wanted was to take that from Elaina. Her beauty and fierce strength are undeniable, but there’s a softer side that no one but him seems to see. She’s been taught that emotions are a liability, yet one impulsive kiss starts a chain reaction that neither of them wants to stop. But can love ignite—and survive—when secrets and loyalties collide?   

“[An] exceptional tale of forbidden love.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review, on Forbidden Promises

Praise for Synithia Williams’s Jackson Falls series

“Williams (His Pick for Passion) makes waves with this exceptional tale of forbidden love.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review, on Forbidden Promises

A romance for readers looking for equal parts passion and family drama.” Kirkus Reviews on Forbidden Promises

“Politics, passion, and family drama combine to make a deliciously soapy second-chance, brother’s-best-friend romance. Readers of Alisha Rai’s Forbidden Hearts series or Reese Ryan’s Engaging the Enemy will be tantalized and surprised by the many twists and turns.” —Library Journal on Forbidden Promises

In the series 

#0.5 The Promise in a Kiss

#1 Forbidden Promises

#2 Scandalous Secrets 

Review 

4.5 stars 

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

Careless Whispers is the third in the Jackson Falls series. It can work as a stand-alone, however there is some drama and character backstory from the first book that influences this one, so I think it would be a good idea to read that one first. 

I had mixed feelings about Elaina going in. I like a complicated heroine, but I also didn’t know how I’d feel after having seen her through India and Travis’ perspective first. However, that ended up only enriching my experience, as she’s wonderfully complex and layered, always wanted her father’s respect but has made some mistakes that have led him to undervalue her. To have someone she actively dislikes be given the position she wants is yet another slap in the face, as she can’t seem to succeed in either her professional or personal life, and I felt for her, while rooting for her to succeed. That her siblings actually do have a lot of respect for her and they end up being the ones to help her when their father is determined to cut her down yet again is incredibly rewarding. 

I really liked Alex, especially as he never saw Elaina in the same adversarial light she did him. He seems able to manage these complicated people, from placating Grant Robidoux to challenging Elaina both personally and professionally. He is the sort of balance she needs, being supportive, yet also having goals of his own. 

As a final note, given my disappointment with the way the politics unfolded in Byron’s book, I did like seeing that he did end up becoming mayor in Jackson Falls. However, that does only continue to illustrate the issues I broached in that review, and present the reality in action that red states can have blue communities, and not commenting on the deeper implications of his senatorial loss vs. his local win still feels a bit in bad taste. 

I liked this book overall, and this is the strongest in terms of the character development and romantic arc. If you’re looking for a soapy, dramatic romance, I think you’ll like this. 

Author Bio 

Synithia Williams has loved romance novels since reading her first one at the age of 13. It was only natural that she would one day write her own romance. When she isn’t writing, Synithia works on water quality issues in the Midlands of South Carolina while taking care of her supportive husband and two sons. You can learn more about Synithia by visiting her website, www.synithiawilliams.com.

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